There were very few things, in Victoria Dallon’s estimation, that were cooler than flying. The invisible forcefield that extended a few millimeters over her skin and clothes just made it better. The field kept the worst of the chill from touching her, but still let her feel the wind on her skin and in her hair. Bugs didn’t splat against her face like they did against car windshields, even when she was pushing eighty miles an hour.
Spotting her target, she whooped and plunged for the ground, gaining speed where anyone else would be slowing down. She hit the asphalt hard enough to crack it and send fragments of it into the air, touching ground with her knee and foot, one arm extended. She stayed in that kneeling position for just heartbeats, letting her platinum curls and the cape that was draped over one of her shoulders flutter in the wake of air that had followed her descent. She met the eyes of her quarry with a steely glare.
She’d practiced that landing for weeks to get it right.
The man was a twenty something Caucasian with a shaved head, a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, jeans and work boots. He took one look at her and bolted.
Victoria grinned as he disappeared down the far end of the alley. She rose from her kneeling position, dusted herself off and ran her fingers through her hair to tidy it. Then she raised herself a foot off the ground and flew after him at an easy forty five miles an hour.
It didn’t take a minute to catch him, even with the head start she had given him. She flew just past him, grazing him. An instant later, she came to a dead stop, facing him. Again, the wind made for a dramatic flourish as it stirred her hair, her cape and the skirt of her costume.
“The woman you attacked was named Andrea Young,” she spoke.
The man looked over his shoulder, as if gauging his escape routes.
“Don’t even think about it, fugly,” she told him, “You know I’d catch you, and trust me, I’m already pissed off enough without you wasting my time.”
“I didn’t do anything,” the man snarled.
“Andrea Young!” Victoria raised her voice. As she shouted, she exercised her power. The man quailed as though she’d slapped him. “A black college student was beaten so badly she needed medical attention! Her teeth were knocked out! You’re trying to tell me that you, a skinhead with swollen knuckles, someone who was in the crowd watching paramedics arrive with an expression bordering on glee, you didn’t do anything!?”
“I didn’t do nothing worth caring about,” he sneered. His bravado was tempered by a second look over his shoulder, as though he’d very much like to be elsewhere right that moment.
She flew forward, her fists catching him by the collar. For just a moment, she contemplated slamming him up against a wall. It would have been fitting and satisfying to shove him hard enough against the brick to crack it, then drop him into the dumpster that sat at the wall’s base.
Instead, she pulled up a little, bringing the two of them to a stop. They were now just high enough above the ground that he’d feel uncomfortable with the height. The dumpster, mostly empty, was directly below him, but she doubted he was paying attention to anything but her.
“I think it’s a safe bet to say you’re a member of Empire Eighty-Eight,” she told him, meeting his eyes with a hard stare, “or at least, you’ve got some friends who are. So here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to either tell me everything the triple-E’s have been up to, or I’m going to break your arms and legs and then you’re going to tell me everything.”
As she spoke, she ratcheted up her power. She knew it was working when he started squirming just to avoid her gaze.
“Fuck you, you can’t touch me. There’s laws against that shit,” he blustered, staring fixedly over one shoulder.
She turned up her power another notch. Her body thrummed with current – waves of energy that anyone in her presence would experience as an emotional charge of awe and admiration. For those with a reason to be afraid of her, it would be a feeling of raw intimidation instead.
“Last chance,” she warned him.
Unfortunately, fear affected everyone differently. For this particular asshole, it just made him dig in his heels and become obstinate. She could see it in his body language before he opened his mouth – this was the sort of guy who reacted to anything that spooked or unsettled him with an almost mindless refusal to bend.
“Lick my hairy, sweaty balls,” he snarled, before punctuating it with a spat, “Cunt.”
She threw him. Since she could bench press a cement mixer, though it was hard to balance something so large and unwieldy, even a casual toss on her part could get some good distance. He flew a good twenty five or thirty yards down the back road before hitting the asphalt, and rolled for another ten.
He was utterly for still for long enough that Victoria had begun to worry that he’d somehow snapped his neck or broken his spine as he’d rolled. She was relieved when he groaned and began to pull himself to his feet.
“Ready to talk?” she asked him, her voice carrying down the alley. She didn’t move forward from where she hovered in the air, but she did let herself drop closer to the ground.
Pressing one hand against his leg to support himself as he straightened up, he raised his other hand and flipped her the bird, then turned and began to limp down the alley.
What was this asshole thinking? That she would just let him go? That, what, she would just bend to his witless lack of self preservation? That she was helpless to do any real harm to him? To top it off, he was going to insult her and try to walk away?
“Screw you too,” she hissed through her teeth. Then she kicked the dumpster below her hard enough to send it flying down the little road. It rotated lazily through the air as it arced towards the retreating figure, the trajectory and rotation barely changing as it knocked him flat. It skidded to a halt three to five yards beyond him, the metal sides of the dumpster squealing and sparking as it scraped against the asphalt.
This time, he didn’t get up.
“Fuck,” she swore, “Fuckity fuck fuck.” She flew to him and checked for a pulse. She sighed, and then headed to the nearest street. She found the street address, grabbed her cell from her belt and dialed.
“Hey sis? Yeah, I found him. That’s, uh, sort of the problem. Yeah. Look, I’m sorr- ok, can we talk about this later? Yeah. I’m at Spayder and Rock, there’s this little road that runs behind the buildings. Downtownish, yeah. Yeah? Thanks.”
Victoria returned to the unconscious skinhead, checked his pulse, and listened intently for changes in his breathing. It took a very long five minutes for her sister to arrive.
“Again, Victoria?” the voice disturbed her from her contemplations.
“Use my codename, please,” Victoria told the girl. Her sister was as different from her as night was from day. Where Victoria was beautiful, tall, gorgeous, blonde, Amy was mousy. Victoria’s costume showed off her figure, with a white one-piece dress that came to mid-thigh (with shorts underneath) an over-the shoulder cape, high boots and a golden tiara with spikes radiating from it, vaguely reminiscent of the sun’s rays or the statue of liberty. Amy’s costume, by contrast, was only a shade away from being a burka. Amy wore a robe with a large hood and a scarf that covered the lower half of her face. The robe was alabaster white and had a medic’s red cross on the chest and the back.
“Our identities are public,” Amy retorted, pushing the hood back and scarf down to reveal brown frizzy hair and a face with freckles spaced evenly across it.
“It’s the principle of the thing,” Victoria replied.
“You want to talk about principles, Glory Girl?” Amy asked, in the most sarcastic tone she could manage, “This is the sixth – sixth! – time you’ve nearly killed someone. That I know about!”
“I’m strong enough to lift a SUV over my head,” Victoria muttered, “It’s hard to hold back all the time.”
“I’m sure Carol would buy that line,” Amy said, making it clear in her tone she wasn’t, “But I know you better than anyone. If you’re having trouble holding back, the problem isn’t here -” she poked Victoria in the bicep. “It’s here-” she jabbed her sister in the forehead, hard. Victoria didn’t even blink.
“Look, can you just fix him?” Victoria pleaded.
“I’m thinking I shouldn’t,” Amy said, quietly.
“There’s consequences, Vicky. If I help you now, what’s going to stop you from doing it again? I can call the paramedics. I know some good people from the hospital. They could probably fix him up alright.”
“Hey, hey, hey,” Victoria said, “That’s not funny. He goes to the hospital, people ask questions.”
“Yeah, I’m well aware,” Amy said, her voice hushed.
“This isn’t, like, me getting grounded. I’d get pulled into court on charges of aggravated assault and battery. That doesn’t just fuck with me. It fucks with our family, all of New Wave. Everything we’ve struggled to build.”
Amy frowned and looked at the fallen man..
“I know you’re not keen on the superhero thing, but you’d really go that far? You’d do that to us? To me?”
Amy pointed a finger at her sister, “That’s not me. It’s not my fault we’re at this point. It’s you. You’re crossing the line, going too far. Which is exactly what people who criticize New Wave are scared of. We’re not government sponsored. We’re not protected or organized or regulated in the same way. Everyone knows who we are under our masks. That means we have to be accountable. The responsible thing for me to do, as a member of this team, is to let the paramedics take him, and let the law do as it sees fit.”
Victoria abruptly pulled Amy into a hug. Amy resisted for a moment, then let her arms go limp at her sides.
“This isn’t just a team, Ames,” Victoria told her, “We’re a family. We’re your family.”
The man lying just a matter of feet away stirred, then groaned, long and loud.
“My adoptive family,” Amy mumbled into Victoria’s shoulder, “And stop trying to use your frigging power to make me all squee over how amazing you are. Doesn’t work. I’ve been exposed so long I’m immune.”
“It hurts,” the man moaned.
“I’m not using my power, dumbass,” Victoria told Amy, letting her go, “I’m hugging my sister. My awesome, caring and merciful sister.”
The man whined, louder, “I can’t move. I feel cold.”
Amy frowned at Victoria, “I’ll heal him. But this is the last time.”
Victoria beamed, “Thank you.”
Amy leaned over the man and touched her hand to his cheek, “Slingshot break to his ribs, fractured clavicle, broken mandible, broken scapula, fractured sternum, bruised lung, broken ulna, broken radius -“
“I get the point,” Victoria said.
“Do you?” Amy asked. Then she sighed, “I wasn’t even halfway down the list. This is going to take a little while. Sit?”
Victoria crossed her legs and assumed a sitting position, floating a half foot above the ground. Amy just knelt where she was and rested her hand on the man’s cheek. The tension went out of his body and he relaxed.
“How’s the woman? Andrea?”
“Better than ever, physically,” Amy replied, “I grew her new teeth, fixed everything from the bruising to the scrapes, and even gave her a head to toe tune-up. Physically, she’ll feel on top of the world, like she had been to a spa and had the best nutritionist, best fitness expert and the best doctor all looking after her for a straight month.”
“Good,” Victoria said.
“Mentally? Emotionally? It’s up to her to deal with the aftermath of a beating. I can’t affect the brain.”
“Well-” Victoria started to speak.
“Yeah, yeah. Not can’t. Won’t. It’s complicated and I don’t trust myself not to screw something up when I’m tampering with someone’s head. That’s it, that’s all.”
Victoria started to say something, then shut her mouth. Even if they weren’t related by blood, they were sisters. Only sisters could have these sorts of recurring arguments. They had gone through a dozen different variations on this argument before. As far as she was concerned, Amy was doing herself a disservice by not practicing using her powers on the brain. It was only a matter of time before her sister found herself in a situation where she needed to do some emergency brain surgery and found herself incapable. Amy, for her part, refused to even discuss it.
She didn’t want to raise a sensitive issue when Amy was in the process of doing her a major favor. To change the subject, Victoria asked, “Is it cool if I question him?”
“Might as well,” Amy sighed.
Victoria tapped the man a few times on the forehead to get his attention. He could barely move his head, but his eyes lolled in her direction.
“Ready to answer my questions, or do me and my sister just walk away and leave you like this?”
“I… sue you, he gasped out, then managed an added, “Whore.”
“Try it. I’d just love to see a skinhead with a few broken bones go up against a superheroine whose mom just happens to be one of the best lawyers in Brockton Bay. You know her, right?”
“Brandish,” he said.
“That’s her name in costume. Normally she’s Carol Dallon. She’d kick your ass in court, believe me,” Victoria said. She believed it. What the thug didn’t understand was that even if he lost the case, the media circus that would be stirred up would do more damage than anything else. But she didn’t need to inform him of that. She asked him, “So do I get my sister to leave you as you are, or are you willing to trade some information for relief from months of incredible pain and a lifetime of arthritis and stiffness in your bones?”
“And erectile dysfunction,” Amy said, just loud enough for the thug to hear her, “You fractured your ninth vertebra. That’s going to affect all nerve function in extremities below your waist. If I leave you like you are, your toes will always feel a little numb, and you’ll have a hell of a time getting it up, if you know what I mean.”
The skinhead’s eyes widened a fraction, “You’re fucking with me.”
“I have an honorary medical license,” Amy told him, her expression solemn, “I’m not allowed to fuck with you about stuff like that. Hippocratic oath.”
“Isn’t that ‘do no harm’?” the thug asked. Then he groaned, long, loud and with the slightest rattle in his breath, as she removed her hand from his body.
“That’s just the first part of it, like how freedom of speech and the right to bear arms is just the first part of a very long constitution. It doesn’t look like he’s cooperating, Glory Girl. Should we go?”
“Fuck!” the man shouted, then winced, tenderly touching his side with one hand, “I’ll tell you. Please, just… do what you were doing. Touch me and make the pain go away, put me back together. Fix me?”
Amy touched him. He relaxed, and then he started talking.
“Empire Eighty-Eight is extending into the Docks on Kaiser’s orders. Lung’s in custody, and whatever happens, the ABB is weaker than it was. That means there’s territory for grabs, and the Empire sure ain’t making progress downtown.”
“Why not?” Victoria asked him.
“This guy, Coil. Don’t know what his powers are, but he’s got a private army. Ex-military, all of ’em. At least fifty, Kaiser said, and every one of ’em has top notch gear. Their armor’s better than kevlar. You shoot ’em, they’re back up in a few seconds. ‘Least when you shoot a pig, you can be pretty sure you broke a few ribs. But that’s not the fucked up thing. These guys? They’ve got these lasers hooked up to the machine guns they carry around. If they don’t think bullets are doing it, or if they’re after people who are behind cover, they fire off these purple laser beams that can cut through steel. Tear through any cover you’re standing behind and burn through you too.”
“Yeah. I know about him. His methods get expensive,” Victoria said, “Top of the line soldiers, top of the line gear.”
The thug nodded weakly, “But even with money to burn, he’s fighting us over Downtown territories. Constant tug of war, neither of us making much headway. Been going on for months. So Kaiser thinks we should take the Docks now that the ABB are on the outs, gain some ground somewhere easier. Don’t know any more than that, as far as his plans.”
“Who else is up to something? Faultline?”
“The bitch with the freaks in her crew? She’s a mercenary, different goals. But maybe. If she wanted to branch out, now would be the time to do it. With her rep, she’d even do alright.”
“Then who? There’s a power vacuum in the docks. Kaiser’s declared he wants to seize it, but I’m willing to bet he’s warned you about others making a play.”
The skinhead laughed, then winced, “Are you dense, girl? Everyone’s going to make a play. It’s not just the major gangs and teams that are looking for a slice of the pie, there. It’s everyone. The Docks are ripe for the taking. The location’s worth as much money as you’d get downtown. It’s the go to place if you want to buy black market. Sex, drugs, violence. And the locals are already used to paying protection money. It’s just a matter of changing who they pay to. The Docks are rich territory, and we’re talking the potential for a full scale fucking war over it.”
He looked up at the blond superheroine and laughed. Her lips set into a firm line.
He continued, “You want to know my guess? Empire Eighty Eight is going to take the biggest slice of the Docks, because we’re strong enough to. Coil’s going to stick his thumb in just to spite us, ABB is going to hold on to some. But you’re also going to have a bunch of the little guys trying to take something for themselves. Über and Leet, Circus, the Undersiders, Squealer, Trainwreck, Stain, others you’ve never heard of? They’re going to stake out their ground, and one of two things is going to happen. Either there’s war, in which case civilians get hurt and things get bad for you, or there’s alliances between the various teams and solo villains and shit gets even worse for you.”
He broke into laughter yet again.
“Come on, Panacea,” Victoria said as she stood up, touched ground with her boots and brushed her skirt straight, “We’ve gotten enough.”
“You sure? I’m not done yet,” Amy told her.
“You fixed the bruises and scrapes, broken bones?” Everything that could get her in trouble, in other words.
“Yeah, but I didn’t fix everything,” Amy replied.
“Good enough,” Victoria decided.
“Hey!” the skinhead shouted, “The deal was you’d fix me if I talked! Did you fix my cock?” He tried to struggle to get to his feet, but his legs buckled under him, “Hey! I can’t fuckin’ walk! I’ll fucking sue you!”
Victoria’s expression changed in an instant, and her power flooded out, blindsiding the thug. For an instant, his eyes were like those of a panicked horse, all whites, rolling around, unfocused. She grabbed him by the shirt collar, lifted him up and growled into his ear, her voice just above a whisper, “Try it. My sister just healed you… most of you, with a touch. Did you ever wonder what else she could do? Ever think, maybe, she could break you just as easily? Or change the color of your skin, you racist fuck? I’ll tell you this, I’m not half as scary as my little sister is.”
She let him go. He collapsed in a heap on the ground.
As the two sisters walked away, Victoria pulled her cell phone out of a pouch on her belt with her free hand. Turning to Amy, she said, “Thank you.”
“Play safe, Victoria. I can’t bring people back from the dead, and once you’ve gone that far…”
“I’ll be good. I’ll be better,” Victoria promised as she dialed with one hand. She put the phone to her ear, “Hello? Emergency services? Requesting special line. New Wave, Glory Girl. Incapacitated criminal for you to pick up, no powers. No, no rush, I can hold.”
Looking over her shoulder, Victoria noted the thug, still floundering and half-crawling, “He’s not going to get up?”
“He’ll be numb from the waist down for another three hours. His left arm will be iffy for about that long, too, so he’s not going to move unless he can drag himself somewhere with just one limb. He’ll also have numb toes for a good month or so, too,” Amy smiled.
“You didn’t actually…”
“No. Nothing was broken, and I didn’t screw up anything, beyond a temporary numbness. But he doesn’t know that. Fear and doubt will complete the effect, and the suggestion becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.”
“Amy!” Victoria laughed, hugging her sister with one arm, “Weren’t you just saying you weren’t going to mess with people’s heads?”