One Year Before Impact Day
“I can’t believe you’re seriously doing this,” Sadie said, as she watched me getting ready.
“I don’t know what I’m doing yet,” I told her. “I’m just testing the waters, that’s all.”
“What do you think is gonna happen? You’re just going to stumble onto a mugging, beat up some thug, and be given the key to the city? By the way, you look ridiculous.”
“What were you expecting, a cape?” I snapped, wishing she’d just keep her mouth shut for once.
I may have been inspired by comic book heroes, but that didn’t mean I was going to dress like them. I wanted something practical, nondescript, and most importantly, easy to replace. A distinctive look could come later, if I really needed one. I wasn’t exactly going to start that way.
What I had was a sports bra, a black hoodie, and black cargo pants and combat boots I’d picked up from a military surplus store. I’d even picked up a ski mask to hide my face, because despite what TV tells you, a hood is not enough to keep your face hidden, especially when you’re in motion. I’d probably look like a criminal myself, but at least I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and nobody would be able to identify me by looking at me. Hopefully, they wouldn’t even be able to figure out that I was a girl.
“You look like you’re going to rob the liquor store,” Sadie said.
“Alright, I get it. Now, if you don’t mind, I have better things to do than stand around and be insulted.”
“Okay, I’m sorry,” she said, as I started climbing out through the window. “I’m just worried about you, that’s all.”
“Oh, please. What do you think is going to happen to me?”
I crawled out into the front yard, dusting myself off as I started to skulk away from the house. Sadie followed me out, climbing out the same way. Though I had no idea why, she seemed bound by all the same laws of physics as any other person. She was still held down by gravity and she couldn’t pass through walls or any other physical object. Unlike normal people, though, she couldn’t actually move anything, either. No matter how hard she pushed on a door, she couldn’t open or close it. She couldn’t pick up objects, and if they were placed on her, they would just sort of fall through her. So far as I could tell, it didn’t follow any logic or sense.
“Just because nothing can kill you, doesn’t mean you don’t feel pain,” she said, hurrying to catch up with me.
“A little pain never hurt anyone,” I said.
“That makes no sense,” she retorted. I ignored her.
For a while, I just wandered the streets, just generally trying to move further away from home. I had a vague idea of what I was looking for, but I wasn’t sure if I’d recognise it even when I saw it. I was actually glad Sadie was there, just as an extra set of eyes.
I thought as I walked. There are a lot of reasons people do bad things. A lot of crimes are motivated by desperation and oppression, by disenfranchised people who don’t see any better options available to them. People who are generally good can fall into a bad culture, and that can be a powerful motivator for things they wouldn’t otherwise do.
I wasn’t looking to punish those people. There wasn’t anything I could do for them, at least not directly. Interrupting a crime in progress would only lead to preventing that one specific incident, or maybe only delaying it. At worst, someone would get hurt.
The real problem, the one I really wanted to do something about, was the gangs. They’d been growing in power for years, and the police seemed powerless to stop them. Occasionally they would find and raid a hideout, or arrest some particularly careless thugs, but it wasn’t enough to make any sort of real difference.
According to rumour, more than one of them was funded by some of the city’s more excessively wealthy citizens, which did help explain why they were so untouchable. Even still, despite Sadie’s protestations that real life was not like a comic book, the problems in our city had reached an almost comic book level of proliferation. You could find evidence of the gang presence almost everywhere, and they were growing increasingly brazen in their activities.
As if to prove my point, it took only three blocks to find something that looks an awful lot like a gang activity. Three people were trying to break into a very expensive looking car, and from the way they were circling around it, it looked like they knew what they were doing.
“What do you think?” I asked Sadie, in a hushed voice.
“I think you’re gonna get your butt kicked,” she replied antagonistically.
“I mean, what do they look like to you?”
“They look like people who would kick your butt,” she reiterated.
I sighed. “Do you think they’re just some punks up to no good, or are they in a gang?”
“Oh, they’re definitely in a gang,” Sadie said, clearly expecting it to have the opposite effect. Still, it was good enough for me.
I rolled the ski mask down over my face, pulled the hood up over it, and started to creep up on them. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time, but I also didn’t want to just rush in and, as Sadie had so eloquently put it, get my butt kicked.
The three of them noticed me when I was a couple of metres away, sneaking around the corner of another car. They immediately stopped what they were doing to stare at me.
“What the fuck is this?” one of them said, a little too loudly for my taste. “Get out of here, brat. This is our turf.”
Turf? Definitely a gang, then. Good. I could feel better about disrupting their little party.
“Not anymore, it isn’t,” I said, trying to lower my voice and change my inflection. It didn’t matter what it sounded like, as long as it didn’t sound like me.
Things escalated quickly from there. Sneering at me, the one who had spoken pulled out a knife, and charged at me, fast. Sadie screamed, but thankfully they couldn’t hear her.
I reacted almost instinctively. It was obvious from his body language how he was going to swing; a diagonal slash aimed at my torso. Amateur. I was already moving to the side, just far enough that the knife missed me.
His momentum was still carrying him forward, and I needed to use that. I didn’t have the strength to match his. I locked the side of my right arm against his wrist, and my left just behind his elbow, one fluid movement that kept me out of the path of the knife. Inertia took care of the rest; there was a gross crunching sound as his arm broke, and his shoulder popped out.
The other two were already advancing on me, clearly not intimidated. One of them lunged at me, trying to grab me in a chokehold, but she was far too obvious about it. I managed to duck under her arms, twisting on the spot quickly enough to grab the back of her head, using her speed to direct it into the corner of the car. As she slumped to the ground, the third one grabbed my shoulders roughly.
That was a mistake. My fingers clamped down on his hand in just the right places, and with one well-practised turn I twisted his arm around behind him, hard enough to drop him to his knees. Taking advantage of his surprise, I let go of his arm, cupped my hands and bashed them against his ears. The air pressure forced into them would have ruptured his ear drums, stunning him and leaving him entirely too unsteady to do much else.
Without warning, I felt a biting pain in my shoulder. A rough force crashed into me, forcing me forward and into the car. In the reflection of the window, I could see the woman I’d thought I’d knocked out earlier – she’d grabbed the knife, and driven it into my back.
She pulled out the knife before driving it into me again, and I couldn’t keep myself from crying out in pain. She stabbed me again, twisting the knife, and I started to see stars. My back felt like it was on fire, and it was difficult to breathe.
As she pulled the knife out again, I gritted my teeth, and twisted around just far enough that I could slam the side of my hand into her throat. It wasn’t hard enough to cause any permanent damage, but she staggered back, dropping the knife and clutching her throat.
Blood was pouring down my back, and every movement made the wounds stretch, sending deep spikes of pain all through my torso. She and I just stood there, staring at each other and panting. I realised I needed to get away.
An arm wrapped around my neck, and it took me a few seconds to realise it was the guy with the broken arm. I hadn’t expected any of them to be so tenacious.
I bit into his arm, sinking my teeth in far enough to get a firm grip, then jerked my neck sideways, trying to rip out a chunk of flesh. I didn’t manage to cause him any damage, but it was enough to get him to let go, and I staggered away from him.
I had to keep myself from shouting when I saw his face. A crack ran right down the centre of it, but it wasn’t any sort of injury. His skin wasn’t split, and there was no blood. It was just a crack, as impossible as that seemed.
I ran, ignoring the pain and the dizziness. I needed to get away from them before things got any worse. Thankfully, they didn’t try to follow me. I collapsed under a tree about a block away, breathing heavily.
The wounds on my back were already starting to heal. They hurt less, and I couldn’t feel the blood flowing out anymore. Under any other circumstances, I would have taken those as bad signs, but I knew what my body was capable of. After just a few minutes, I felt completely fine again.
“What the Hell was that?” Sadie demanded, popping out from behind the tree. She must have followed me when I ran. That was good. Even though I knew nothing could happen to her, I still worried.
“Beta testing,” I said, wincing as I stood back up.
“Are you kidding me? Can you take this even a little bit seriously?”
“I am being serious,” I told her. “That was important. I learned a lot.”
“Unless you learned not to do that ever again, I don’t think you did,” she muttered.
“For starters, I’m going to need some padding,” I said, ignoring her. “Because ouch. I may heal, but I still feel bruised and sore. I also need to work on my awareness. This ski mask isn’t actually great for seeing around me. And it’s itchy and hot. Also, I need a better way to subdue people, because that was not pleasant.”
“Not pleasant? Charlie, you probably put all three of them in a hospital. You broke a guy’s arm!”
“I think I also dislocated his shoulder, but that’s exactly my point. Fighting like that isn’t exactly helpful, and they aren’t the ones I want to hurt.”
“They aren’t?” Sadie looked confused.
“Of course not,” I said. “People like that are just doing what they have to do. Or what they think they have to do. It’s the really evil ones that rise up, and end up calling the shots. They’re the ones I need to take care of.”
“And how are you going to do that?” she demanded.
“I’m not sure yet,” I admitted. “It’s a work in progress. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all that.”
“So you’re going to do this again.”
“Yeah, ‘fraid so,” I told her. “But to be honest, I’m thinking it would be better if you actually didn’t come with me, next time. You were screaming like, the whole time, and it was really distracting.”
“You just got stabbed multiple times, and you’re telling me that I was distracting?”
“It is what it is,” I said.
“You seriously need to work on your priorities,” she told me.
“Right now, my priority is a hot shower. Then as much sleep as I can get before school tomorrow. Any problems with that?”
Sadie just shook her head. I felt unreasonable happy, smiling the entire way home.
Next Week: You Don’t Have A Secret Boyfriend, Do You?