Petra touched a hand to her shoulder, drew it back, saw the blood on her fingers. “Well, shit.”
The man she’d been chasing was already halfway down the street. She got to her feet just in time to see someone come sprinting out of an alley, plowing into the guy headfirst.
“About time!” she called. The figure waved back at her with hands Petra knew as well as her own—because they were her own. “Watch out, he’s armed.”
But the other Petra had already resolved that problem, snatching his knife and sending it skidding back across the ground. Petra Prime took a few wobbly steps towards it, but before she could pick up the blade the night was filled with a flashing brightness that nearly knocked her off of her feet. The shock of it was enough to unravel her doppelganger, and Petra grimaced as her consciousness remerged. When she could open her eyes, she saw her opponent had been moved over to the sidewalk, and that his hands and feet were bound. That was all she had the time to take in before her attention was demanded elsewhere. Specifically, by the person standing a few yards in front of her, wearing some kind of mechanized suit.
Petra took a step back, fists curling. She was new to New Mexico, but she recognized the figure of the state’s most infamous hero. What she didn’t know was what Dawn wanted with her .
“Are you alright?”
She blinked. Not what she’d been expecting. “What, this? That’s nothing. Just a graze.”
“Yes, just a graze that’s already cost you so much blood you’re unsteady on your feet,” they responded wrly. The suit clearly altered their voice as they spoke—it shifted in tone, trailing up and down the scales, beautiful and, more significantly, untraceable to any human being. Dawn moved towards her. “Let me help you to the hospital.”
“No thanks ,” Petra spat. “I’d rather not be arrested for doing a job that nobody else in this place seems willing to do. Don’t tell me that you check into the ER anytime a fight goes south.”
“You’re right, this occupation can make it difficult to find help. But I have a friend who patches me up when I get injured. If you won’t go to the hospital, at least let me take you to see her.”
“Why should I trust you? What are you doing here in the first place?”
Dawn brushed off their suit, appearing as suavely distant as was possible with their face hidden. “On my way to a party. You looked like you needed help—both of you.”
“I was doing alright on my own,” Petra said. The effect was somewhat ruined, as she collapsed immediately afterwards.
Dawn rushed over, and Petra had just enough strength left in her to protest as she was lifted up in their arms.
“You’re just a kid ,” the hero said, surprise etching its way through the voice even with its modulations.
“I’m twenty,” Petra murmured, “probably.” And then, just as the light had moments before, darkness swarmed her vision.
When Petra came to, her shoulder was bandaged and she was lying in an unfamiliar bed. She rolled off of it quickly, or at least, one of her did. She left a double on the blankets, so that nobody would notice she was gone.
Wherever she was, it wasn’t a hospital, or a cell, or an ODAR facility—small comforts, maybe, but Petra took what she could get. Aside from the bed, the room around her held a wardrobe, a desk, and—despite the fact that the temperature had been in the 90s when she was last conscious—an electric fireplace . There was also a window. She debated making her escape, but her arm ached, and she decided that leaving likely wouldn’t be as simple as it appeared. She’d play along with whatever all of this was, for now.
Enough of the room. With a salute to the duplicate on the bed, she slipped through the door and—
She snapped back to the bed, reconnecting with herself, but she wasn’t quite fast enough. Footsteps and the not unpleasant sound of someone humming a song she couldn’t quite place made their way to her door. A knock followed, accompanied by a voice she didn’t recognize.
“Are you awake? I thought I saw you poke your head out the door. There’s breakfast if you’re hungry, although June tells me you two had a late night at the party!”
No use in feigning sleep now. Petra returned to the door, opening it to see a smiling man holding a coffee cup in one hand, newspaper tucked under his arm. He was rather incongruously wearing a bathrobe over a collared shirt and slacks.
Before Petra could settle on how to address this apparition, a new face appeared from the door across the hall. It belonged to a woman who seemed to be on the verge of panic as she saw who had come to greet Petra, but she smoothed the expression over quickly. “Sylvia! You’re up!”
Feeling as though she had become a bystander in the surreal circumstances of her own life, Petra let the newcomer pull her down the hall, throwing some excuse to the man (who she called Ben). By the time the woman stopped in what appeared to be a study—“office” didn't quite do the room justice—Petra had regained her wits and was ready for an explanation.
“Dawn, I presume?” She did her best to keep her tone as level and nonchalant as possible.
“Me?” The woman laughed, a little nervously. “No, not quite.”
“You sound almost offended, Maggie. I think you would do a fine job at being me.”
The study was occupied; Petra hadn’t noticed before. Another woman stood up from a chair in the corner, walking over to meet them. She smiled, holding a hand out. “We didn’t get the chance for introductions last night. I’m June. This is Maggie, the friend I mentioned. Don’t worry, she’s a licensed doctor. And you’re Sylvia, for now—it was the first name to come to mind when my husband asked. He...he doesn’t know about my night job. If you’d like to tell me your real name later, you may, but I won’t ask you to.”
“Why tell me yours?”
“Are you planning on selling the information to the tabloids? The government? Believe me, my dear, I’ve been accused of stranger things.” June motioned for Petra and Maggie to follow her over to the chairs before yet another fireplace. “Sit down, sit down. Can I get you anything? A glass of water? There’s breakfast ready in the dining room, but I rather thought you’d prefer to have this discussion first. How is your shoulder?”
“It feels fine. Thank you.” Petra nodded at Maggie, hoping her gratitude sounded genuine despite the distrust she knew was still radiating from her.
“Since you tried to tell me the same last night directly prior to passing out, I’m generally not inclined to believe you, but Maggie seems to feel the same—after looking you over she assured me that it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. You could do with more rest, and a good meal, but you’re free to go whenever you wish.”
June . Mulling it over, Petra thought that the name sounded familiar, in connection with a Ben and the sort of person who might own a house of this size, but she didn’t pay quite enough attention to the politics of the places she passed through to say anything for sure. “Or?”
“Or you can follow me, and we can keep talking.” The woman stood again (no wonder her home had so much space—she never seemed to stay still for long), walking over to the fireplace.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!”
But she wasn’t. Mantle, fake logs, firescreen, and all, it slid to the side, revealing a platform that Petra was sure would lower down to some secret lair.
June stepped onto the platform. “Maggie?”
The doctor shook her head. “I think I’ll go have breakfast with Ben. Make sure he doesn’t come wandering about in search of you.”
“Save some for us. We’ll join you shortly.” She turned to Petra, now. “Sylvia? What do you say?”
“This conversation. If we were to continue it...what would it be about?”
June cocked her head, as if scanning the air for the answer Petra wanted to hear. “Words of advice, from someone who’s been in the business longer than you. Resources, if you’d like them. And an offer. I won’t go into details until you decide whether or not you’re interested. It’s a dangerous proposition. But the long and short of it is that there are some people in this world who have powers that they shouldn’t, in every sense of the word. There’s an organization—”
For the first time, June’s face seemed to flicker out of her control. Petra smiled. Ah, the upper hand—how she had missed it.
“How do you know about—”
“Don’t worry, I’ll tell you everything I’ve got. If you’re taking on the Office of Developed Anomalous Resources, you won’t be doing it alone.” Petra followed her onto the platform, which slowly began to descend. “So—where do we start?”