(in which our hero acquits himself in his first superpowered donnybrook)
It feels like cold hands under a scalding tap as I point at Rashid and Jenny and shove the power out, pushing them to the back of the shop. I grab two young adult bookshelves at a distance and drag them in front of my friends to shield them, then turn to see what’s going on.
All the superguests are standing in a way I can’t not call “poised”: fists clenched, claws/weapons out, various bodyparts glowing strangely. A guy in a wheelchair levitates through the shattered window, flanked by what looks like two pairs of robot armadillos. He looks ancient.
The robodillos curl into balls and start spinning like chrome world globes. Wheelchair guy floats over to Apex Baron. Nobody else moves.
I can’t hear what wheelchair guy is saying over the high-pitched hum of the robodillos, but he’s certainly animated. Lots of gesticulation.
The robodillos’ hum drops in tone. The nonsupers in the crowd stand up from where they’d fallen or push the closest super out of the way. They stand with their heads tilted upwards. Some supers exchange looks like they know what’s going on. One guy literally sheathes his sword.
All the nonsupers nod simultaneously and turn to attack the supers. Above the robodillo hum I can hear wheelchair guy laughing.
A woman shoots blue fire from her hands at one robodillo while a guy with metal fists starts smacking into the other like a punch ball. Three hipsters in thick-rimmed glasses dogpile onto a dude with green hair, who lifts them all above his head with one freaky enlarged hand.
Behind the lectern Apex Baron has one of Wheelchair Guy’s wrists in each hand. The right one holds an old-school looking gun. A luger maybe.
Something hits me in the back of the neck and I go down hard, smacking my face as I land on a pile of scattered books.
I look up. Jenny and Rashid are standing over me. Jenny has a hardback in both hands. There’s a picture of a brain on the cover. Jenny lifts the book and swings it down at my head. Rashid brings his foot back to add power to his kick. Their eyes are all white no pupil.
I reach out with the power in both hands and grab them, pinning their arms. They struggle and I have to concentrate to hang on. Behind me something explodes. Loose pages blow thru the air above us. Jenny and Rashid go limp. We’re covered in plaster dust.
I ease them onto their backs and slowly stand up. My hands ache. I look around to see what’s what. Someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around. A guy in green-lensed glasses hands me a card. “Love to chat. Call me,” he says, then disappears in a halo of green light.
It’s a business card. Three words and an email address. “Powers Without Conflict”. I stick it in my back pocket.
Up at the lectern Apex Baron is quietly talking to his publisher. One sleeve is missing from his suit, but he isn’t even breathing hard. I, however, am shagged. My wrists are throbbing and I’m panting like an out-of-shape jogger. To be fair, it was my first official skirmish. I feel pretty good, though, considering. I experiment with ways to say the word “skirmish” as I walk over to where I left Rashid and Jenny.
I settle on “SKIRmish” over “SKIRMish” and sit cross-legged beside the guys and watch the cleanup for a moment. The adrenalin is kicking in.
Jenny & Rashid might just be asleep, but I want to be sure they’re OK, so I grab my phone to Google “supervillain brainwash after effects”. The signal’s really shit. Of course it is, idiot, I think to myself. You can’t expect full bars five minutes after a robodillo attack. Der.
I check out the other brainwashees. Some are still lying on the floor while others stand around or shuffle out the door in twos & threes. It occurs to me to wonder where Wheelchair Guy is. Can’t see him anywhere. I stand for a better look & elbow a dapper dude all tuxedoed up.
“Nice to see you again,” he says. I don’t recognise him, though. He smiles and reaches into his pocket.
“Catch this for me,” he says.
I flick the power down and out and catch the coin. “Got it that time,” he says. I look him in the eyes. He seems more familiar to me now.
“We met in that cafe downtown last week. Nice work with the bookcases,” he says.
I twig. It’s Mr. Friendly.
“Meet me there tomorrow at one.” He heads over to chat with Apex Baron. I sit down again and wait for my friends to wake up. Seems I’ve got a couple of superdates lined up.
A woman with a green crewcut is going around looking over all of the still-prone brainwashees. I hop up and wander over to talk to her.
“Your friends are going to be fine,” Greenhair says. “I’m more concerned about you, though. You’re very pale. Were you in the fight?”
On the sidelines, I say. I was looking after my friends. I had to move some shelves around. And sort of levitate them when they attacked me.
“That’s your power, is it?” she asks, reaching out to touch my throat. “Levitation?” I probably should be cagier here, but she seems nice.
Yeah, I levitate things. I mean I… use my… life chi? To come out of my hand? Or hands? Telkekinetically, I mean.
She smiles. “How long have you done this?”
Um, not long. A week, maybe.
“I can tell,” she says.
Are you going to give me your card? I ask.
“I don’t have a card,” she says. “I can give you some advice, though.”
Sure, I say.
“Be skeptical. Don’t take things at face value.”
Skeptical – okay. I can do that, I say.
“Just remember there’s different ways to put your powers to use, besides the obvious,” she says.
I repress the urge to tell her about cutting up a steak from the other side of the room and look over at Jenny & Rashid. They’re waking up.
We debrief over a cold riesling at Jenny’s place.
“So that’s what being a mindslave feels like,” R says. “I feel all weird and alpha-wavey.”
It could be the wine, I say.
“Maybe,” says R. “So – do you think you escaped the brainslavement because of your secret superpowers, Harry?”
I’m pretty crap at this secret identity stuff, aren’t I?
“Well, wading into the middle of a supervillain dustup isn’t exactly secretive.”
I didn’t really wade per se, I protest. Saved your arse, though.
I sit down next to Jenny on the couch. She’s being very quiet.
You okay? I ask.
“Mmm.” She nods unconvincingly. “I told you about tonight because I wanted you to avoid getting in any more fights.”
It was a good idea, I say, putting my arm around her. You didn’t know it was going to be a prime supervillain revenge attack target.
“I should have expected something, though. That many super-people in a room together,” Jenny says. “Is this what it’s going to be like now?”
What what’s going to be like?
“This. Us.” She takes a deep breath and looks at me for the first time since we sat down. “You.”
I’m just sort of making it up as I go along, I say. It’s not like there’s a “So You Just Went And Got Some Super Powers” manual I can read.
“Actually there is,” says R. “Department of Extranormal Affairs.” He holds his phone up to show us the DEA logo. It looks like an explosion.
“There’s an app, too,” R says, head down tapping at his screen. “I’ve just downloaded it.”
That’s cool, I say. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.
R looks up, frowning for a second, then takes the hint. “Cool. See you at work tomoz.”
I shuffle closer to Jenny as he closes the door.
You know, I say, I don’t think of it as my power so much as I think of it as our power. And I know how lame that sounds, but it’s true. When I work out what I think I should do with this thing, I say, you’ll be the first one I run it past. Goes without saying.
“Thanks,” Jenny says. “I know you would. Nice to hear you say it, though.”
We sit quietly for a moment.
“So – any ideas coming to mind?”
A guy with green hair gave me this, I say, levitating the “Powers without Conflict” card out of my shirt pocket and floating it over to her. It might be worth checking out. Sounds kind of non-fighty. I’m not in this for the fighting. Or the long-distance armoured weirdo pushing.
“How many armoured weirdos have you pushed around?” Jenny asks.
Truthfully? None. But I saw a few at the book launch.
I’m still me, I say, trying to fill the silence with something that means something.
She nods. I’m happy with that. I stand & take her hand.
Continued in Chapter 5.