This morning had started so nicely. There was a certain comfort to watching Victoria snore in the early morning light.
A bullet whizzed past my ear. I twitched in annoyance, and jumped forward, attacking one of the Teacher drones. He dodged and struck me in the ribs, hard, but I propelled myself backward with a blast and vanished down a hole in the floor. The man followed, pressing an advantage that I’d let him think he had. He tried to strike me in the body again and I leaned to the side to avoid it, kicking the side of his knee. He screamed in agony but still held enough sense to try to counter as he fell sideways. I hit his other leg with my hand, and my power flared out, leaving a stump just above the knee.
I hadn’t meant to do that, but I couldn’t say it wasn’t convenient. I left the man blacked out from the pain as I trudged back up the stairs to the room above.
“You should watch your aim, little brother,” I shot to the Harbinger as I wiped the blood from my temple.
“My aim was just fine,” the small boy scoffed. “It’s just a scratch.”
I cleaned the area with a swab from my med kit as Sveta and the boy argued. They made an odd pair, but they did work well together.
Opposites attract, after all. In my case, that attraction was to someone who might as well be a paladin on a holy quest to save the world, and I was a sorceress, a hurtling ball of destruction that would ruin anything that piqued my rage. Damn paladins, always going off to do something noble, maybe get themselves killed. What’s a girl to do but follow after and make sure no enemy got close enough to touch that fragile armour?
“We’re headed up,” Sveta said, indicating a set of stairs with an exit sign above them, “You need to keep going in.”
I nodded, verified I still had the syringes. I knew my role.
“Are you okay to go? Need anything?” she tilted her head.
“Do you have anything you could give me if I did?” I asked.
“I’ll take it.”
I embraced my sister. It was quick, we were on a time limit. “Take care,” I said.
“You too,” she said. “Stay safe.” They walked up the stairs, and I took a hallway to the left, Kenzie’s tech illuminating a tiny map portion and a directional indicator in my eye.
It was cool here, and I shivered. I was definitely missing my bed.
“What do you think about, when you look at the stars?” I could feel the vibrations of her voice through her chest and my head lay on it.
“It varies. Sometimes I look at them and see the space between Agents, that area that haunts my dreams. When they wink, it feels like they’re talking to each other.”
“Just ‘mmm’?” I wrapped her arm over my chest. She massaged my scalp with her other hand.
“I think they remind me of similar things, but in different ways. Connection.” a pause. “They feel old, ancient and timeless.”
My power misfired, and I landed on my shoulder. I skidded, instead of rolling as I should, and I could feel the friction burn on my face as it dragged across the floor.
I looked down. My right arm was gone below the elbow. The left had no prosthetic left, just a jagged bar with bits of Spawner attached. Whatever Ingenue had done in giving my power back had made it stronger, fiercer, angrier. It also meant that it was eating me, consuming me to feed its fire.
I considered it a worthy sacrifice.
Sacrifice? Who’s the paladin now, sorceress?
Oh, this sacrifice wasn’t noble. It was spiteful. I would push a big red button of mutually assured destruction if I knew that Ingenue would be on the other side. I was furious that such a specious little insect, such a cockroach of a person had broken me like this. But every cockroach knows that when faced with flame, they just needed to hunker down, become less, and wait for the fire to burn out.
I’d given the yellow costumed cape and the white costumed cape everything I’d had left. The full syringe, the broken syringe, and Kenzie’s eye tech.
Good luck, little one. Let those around you help you, for once. Don’t try to fix it all on your own.
I wasn’t afraid of death. Death and I had danced many times, trading dance partners with other versions of me. One original, eight created of a new womb that connected us, stuffed with half-created memories and misremembered truths. I could die again, if it would keep Kenzie alive. If it would keep Victoria alive. I would endure.
“I thought I’d go out screaming and ranting,” I said to the boy in white. “Almost always have, except for the first time.”
“You said you had a friend?”
I nodded. “Glad it was me. Means there’s less a chance it’s her. I can handle this. Been there enough times.”
“You think you’d learn.”
I scoffed, which ached. “Yeah.”
They walked away, moving back to their group. I dragged myself towards the ladder that would pull me up towards Ingenue. Everything hurt. The stump where my arm had been was raw underneath the charred flesh, and it sang as I hauled myself toward the ladder. I used the rungs to pull myself to my feet, then looked up. Ingenue was retreating, the four other capes who’d been with her outpacing her stride.
She was alone.
I blasted with my shorter arm, and propelled myself up to the catwalk, swaying as I landed in front of her. She stopped in her tracks, wide-eyed, and I pointed my more whole arm at her and released.
Nothing happened. I howled in rage at the smirk on her face and lunged, no powered propulsion, right for her. We tumbled to the floor, Ingenue’s head and shoulders off the edge of the catwalk. I started to beat her with the ragged stump that would reach her, again and again.
“You think that I need my power to ruin a worm like you?” I heckled. “You’re nothing. You disgust me.”
As she screamed under my assault, I felt her take a different tack with her power. Now my own power was on all the time. I flew back, propelled against the guard wire before I could compensate, and I slumped to the metal below me. Ingenue made her way to her feet and started to slowly slump away, her balance ruined by her head injury.
I slumped down the hallway, drying my hair with a towel as I headed toward my room. Our room. Nominally I was still sleeping on the couch and Sveta had taken my old room, but I hadn’t actually slept on the couch at all. Victoria’s bed was big enough for two.
We still didn’t really have a label for what we were for each other. More than friends. More than platonic. The thing about broken people is that relationships don’t fit into norms. Things that might normally move fast could be slow, things that are normally slow could be fast, or could be more gradual, or could be tectonically slow. There were no guidelines, no marked paths. You had to find your own way.
That was just fine with the two of us.
I opened the door and Victoria was reading on her phone, lying overtop of the covers.
“What are you reading?” I asked, leaning against the doorframe in my bathrobe. She looked up and blushed.
“Nothing important,” she said, putting her phone away. “Are you coming to bed?”
I nodded and walked into the room as she folded back the sheets and comforter. I took the side next to the wall. I liked the security, that it felt like I didn’t need to watch my back. “No, keep reading," I said, "tell me what it’s about.” I grabbed a pillow in my hands and wrapped my legs around Victoria’s hips when she lay down next to me.
She smiled and picked her phone back up. “It’s about advances in non-tinker prosthetics and the varying levels of ability parahumans have interacting through them with their powers.”
“My prosthetics are more than sufficient, thank you for asking,” I said with mock seriousness.
“Of course!” she said hurriedly, “But it started me thinking. Like, you can’t be the only parahuman who has to deal with prosthetics, right? So what do they do? Not everyone has someone like Rain to keep a tinker prosthetic working.”
She was so enrapturing when she was excited. “Read it to me,” I said, snuggling in with pillow in hand, closing my eyes to listen.
I cut the guy-wire that held the catwalk in place and severed our portion away. Unsupported, the metal construction yawned downwards. Ingenue faltered and fell backwards, sliding down the diamond steel floor. She grasped onto the rail with all her strength, fear in her eyes.
Both my arms were gone. I could feel my power burning into my shoulder blades, making my body thin. I didn’t have much time left. I slumped over top of her and stared her in the face.
“Have you died before, cockroach?” I smiled.
“Please, let me go,” There was a damp spot on her pants.
“I have,” I said, ignoring her plea. “I know where to go, what to do. I’ll make it back by the low road. Will you?”
“I’m driven. And you know what drives me?”
She began to cry.
“There’s someone for me to come back for this time. Someone who’ll be waiting for me when I get back.”
I felt my power reach my organs. I screamed in rage, and pain and grief as my body ate itself up from the inside, taking Ingenue with it.
“When most people say they have a dream partner, they’re speaking metaphorically.” Victoria lay on the grassy hill, gazing up at the clouds.
“Are you saying I’m metaphorical? That’s very rude.”
“No, Never. You’re certainly more than metaphorical. For one, you can argue with me in addition to the other way around.”
“A literary joke? I’m disappointed.”
Victoria laughed and adjusted the device that sat around her ear. It looked like a boxier version of a Bluetooth device. Kenzie’s tech, allowing us to speak.
“What do you do during the day, when we’re not talking?”
“I explore this place. I’m doing it right now. Finding pathways, learning the geometry, making connections. I talk with Kenzie, and ensure she’s not working overtime on the solution for Tristan and me.”
“She misses you,” Victoria said. “It’s hard to keep her together sometimes, keep her on track.” a pause, “I miss you too.”
“That’s unreasonable of you,” I said. “You see me every night.”
“In the dream space, sure,” she countered. “I don’t know what I’d do without it, but it’s not the same.”
She gripped some of the grass. “I’m patient, but it will be so good to see you again. Just to see you, even if I can’t touch you, would be a gift.”
“It’s a little different for me because the dream room feels as real as anything for me, but interacting with the real world again would be nice. Seeing Kenzie, seeing a flesh and blood you.”
An alarm beeped on Victoria’s wrist, and she groaned. “I’m sorry, I have to go. Lunch break is over and I have another class to teach.”
“See you when you get back.”
“Mmm. bye for now.”
In a few hours, we’d see each other again. A door would appear, in the geometry, and I would walk in, leaning my shoulder on the door, and ask, “What are you reading?”