Wednesday, July 25, 2018

10 : Strider


“Not that I’m doubting your capabilities, ma’am, but are you absolutely sure you can handle this on your own? We’re expecting more bounty hunters to show up soon, as well as the National Guard. It might be better if you coordinated with them.”

I gave him a smile and an eager nod. “No prob, officer! If this woman is who I think she is, well, I’ve studied on her.”

“And who do you think she is?” he said, a slightly portly man with a thick handlebar mustache.

I grinned. “I’d rather not say till I know for certain!”

He shook his head. “I’m not sure you get it. This woman can clone people with a touch, supers included, and those clones stick around even if the original is killed. They’re not as strong as the originals, but they obey her without question. We lost a dozen officers, and two supers have gone in and not come back out. I really think you should wait for back-up, at the very least.”

I waved him off. “Oh, you worry too much. I can handle it!”

He tilted his hat back and scratched this top of his head. He appraised me, noting my brown duster, blue jeans, red neckerchief, cowboy hat, and boots. It wasn’t exactly a stylish costume, and it probably would look better on a grizzled, square jawed white guy than a skinny black girl, but you wouldn’t believe how hard it was to find an actual “cowgirl outfit” that didn’t look like it was made for a porno flick.

“Look, normally, I wouldn’t care about you freaks throwing your lives away, but if she gets her hands on you, and a half-dozen bizarro versions of you join her side, you understand how that’s going to make this worse. This is a small town that doesn’t hurt anybody. We really don’t want the government having to carpet-bomb this place.”

I threw my hands up and gave a theatrical sigh. “Look, I just wanted to get some info before I went in, not get the fourth degree. I know what I’m doing.”

“It’s third degree,” he muttered.

“Whatever. So, I’m gunna go now, okay? I guess if I don’t make it back in an hour, you’ll have the satisfaction of being right.”

He scowled and glared at me. He raised a finger to wag at me. “That is not—”

—but at that moment, I stepped, and I was instantly a mile away. I still heard his words for a moment, while he was still in my sensory range. “—what I—buh… the fuck? Ah, goddamn fuckin’ bounty hunter super pieces of shit, foreign asshole thinks she can just waltz on in like she owns the place, never even heard o’ her before…” He trailed off as he stomped back to his vehicle, just beyond the range of my power.

I didn’t let it get to me. This was a huge risk, but I didn’t know a better way to confirm my suspicions. If I’d just terraported in and started a Super fight without letting the authorities know, they might panic and start shelling the place. On my way over, I’d passed up a military strike force armed with artillery guns, tanks, and missile-carrying helicopters heading this way. They’d be here in about ten minutes to set up a defensive perimeter, then wait for other supers to come in. With the Super Fem Force destroyed, no one took chances with villains like this anymore.

The officer hadn’t told me much that I hadn’t already learned from the bounty hunter network. They’d codenamed the offending superwoman Knock-Off, for her power to make inferior copies of people. That sounded kind of lame, except that among those copies were a handful of supers, and even an inferior super directed by a lunatic could be deadlier than most trained soldiers.

I might not have picked this case as my first bounty hunter mission, except for the woman’s powers. They were too similar to a former cohort of mine, and while I had no reason to believe Yrba would even be in America, I knew how volatile the situation back home could be at times. It was possible she’d been deposed and forced into exile.

Ha. Yeah right. She’d been far too eager to set herself up as Queen to let that happen.

Now, I didn’t think Knock-Off was Yrba the Replicator. I’d have been able to tell if there’d been any pictures, but the villain had kept herself disguised in ragged cloaks, making her look like some old bog-hag. Between that and her army, no one had been able to get a good visual of her before she holed herself away in one of the buildings. That also made me suspicious. If Yrba was here, she probably wouldn’t want the chance to be recognized any more than I would. But then again, if she was actually trying to hide or blend into American society, why would she be very publicly trying to take over a whole town?

So, chances are, this “Knock-Off” woman was just another of America’s many supervillains, in which case, I’d be making a bit of a name for myself taking down such a strong opponent in my first go.  I’d be doing my part to fit in, and serve the country I now called home. America wasn’t nearly as bad a place as I’d been led to believe after all. There was an actual functioning economy, for one. Functioning so well, in fact, that the poor of this country lived like kings compared to back home. For another, the continent was actually populated. A good chunk of the world could no longer say the same, and another chunk of it was doing a damn fine job joining that club.

If only I’d known then, huh?

Yeah, well. Regrets were for losers. Beating myself up for past mistakes wasn’t going to actually fix those mistakes. They were basically unfixable. Only thing I could do was start fresh somewhere else. That would just be a lot easier if old cohorts didn’t follow me across the world. I had to make sure, and joining the ASP’s bounty hunter network was the best way to do it.

With the Super Fem Force annihilated, mercenary supers were the only thing left to keep the supervillain epidemic in check. It was the one really bad thing I’d heard about this country that actually turned out to be fully true. Random superhumans were suddenly flipping their shit and acting like comic book bad guys, and no one was sure what was causing it.

A lot of people who went into the Doorways may have not had the best of intentions, but by and large, most of those who came back out didn’t want to mess up the world. Supervillainy had been super rare for the first few years. In most countries, they sent in their military, their scientists, their vetted civilians with agreements that if they made it back out, they would use their powers in service to their country or for the general betterment of society. China, India, Saudi Arabia, the EU, they had strenuous standards for entry.

America had its standards, too, but they were more willing to allow non-specialist civilians, and thus, there was always the very, very occasional nutbar who came back out, let their powers get to their head, and go do something stupid. But that’s why the Super Fem Force had been formed. And whatever they couldn’t handle, the Stiletto dealt with, at least until their little fuck up in Mexico.

But the past few years, all of a sudden, perfectly normal, peaceful superhumans in America would just get up one day and go rogue. America now had their Doorways sealed tight to ensure no more possible villains could be made. The novelty of superpowers had already lost a lot of its luster when so few ever came back from the Doorways, but when the few that did started losing their minds? Becoming a Super was suddenly seen as a very poor life choice in this country, no matter how much power you might gain. In fact, the greater the power, the greater the backfire, if there was a chance you’d go crazy.

It wasn’t happening anywhere else in the world, though. The Super Fem Force had died scrambling to find the cause, and they left no leads behind. Some suspected it wasn’t a condition of being super itself, but someone or something was making them act crazy. A mind control power, an insanity plague, a secret brainwashing cult, perhaps even secret experiments tampering with the Doorways backfiring after all this time. Who could say?

Well, it was all very tragic, but considering what had happened to the rest of the world, I’d take supervillains any day. As long as one of them didn’t cause another Extinction Wave. Or reshape the surface of the planet again.

Okay, no more negative thoughts. Think positive thoughts. You know one thing that was good about supervillains? Job security. Being born in the dirt and raised through a revolution, conflict was something I was very good at. Kick the shit out of people for money and do it on mostly my own terms? I don’t think I could have found a better calling.

Speaking of which, as I stood in an empty street, ruminating, I let my senses tell me what was going on through the town. Beaver Dam, Wisconsin wasn’t very big, only about 13,000 people. A typical sleepy American town, it was far away from the superhuman struggles that more often occurred in the bigger cities. For some reason, villains always liked to attack big population centers.

Not this kook, though. Instead of robbing a big city bank or threatening to blow up some skyscrapers or trying to steal a national monument, this Knock-Off woman had decided she was going to set up a little kingdom in Nowheresville. That’s one reason I had to wonder if maybe it was Yrba. I couldn’t imagine her giving up her entire Queendom for this little postage-stamp sized town, but who knew what had happened since I escaped that hellhole? Maybe her fellow Queens crippled her powers and her brain, and this was all she was capable of.

If it was her. I’d find out as soon as I could find where this invasion force was hiding out. The sun was setting and the power to the town had been cut, but I wasn’t worried about not finding my way.

The city limits were only two miles wide and about five long. It was “skinny” enough that the whole width of the town just barely fit within the mile-wide radius of my sensing power. I called it my “ground vision”, but it was a lot more than just sight. For at least one whole mile around my person, I could simply know everything that was touching the ground. Every person, every animal, every plant, every vehicle, every building. Every square inch of space I could “see” in my minds eye. I could sense every movement, “hear” every sound.  If it touched the ground, it could not hide from me, and that included the lower floors of buildings.

To escape my senses, you had to be up on top of something at least a few stories high and be completely, utterly silent. That was much harder to do than it sounded. Unless your building was made entirely of sound deadening foam, I could still “hear” enough from the echoes and tremors carried through the materials to know if a mouse was scampering across the rooftop of a house.

The only other ways to escape my ground sense, aside from just being over a mile away from me, was to be swimming in a large body of water or to fly. Flying just so happened to be a very common power among supers, but I hadn’t yet spotted anyone in the air. The town was right next a lake, but I the police officer had assured me they weren’t camped out on some platform out there.

Right now, at the southernmost edge of town, I couldn’t sense anybody in my range. All the citizens had evacuated once Knock-Off and her group of cloned cronies started terrorizing the place, punching holes in buildings, setting cars on fire, grabbing people and hauling them off to be cloned. No one was sure how many clones she could make, but conflicting reports had said there’d been at least five copies of a specific person sighted, and at least two hundred non-supers had been estimated to be part of her mob. There’d only been one copy of any of the supers, though.

If her copy power was actually unlimited, she could have made an army of a million by now, but clearly she didn’t. Unless she was being overconfident with supers on her side, I had to assume she had some kind of cap off to her power.

The officer had also said the patrols hadn’t seen anything like her clones try to leave, so unless she had another teleporter in her group, her little army still had to be here. Fortunately, with a town this small, scanning everything wouldn’t take very long.

The amount of information I gained from my ground sense all at once was immense, but some aspect of my power allowed me to parse it. I was able to pick out and focus on the details I wanted, specific beings or objects, or specific small areas, while the rest of it sort of hovered in the peripheral of my consciousness. If a new detail of import surfaced within my range, then like catching a movement out of the corner of your eye, I could snap-zoom my attention to it.

Currently, I was watching for anything remotely of human shape or step-pattern, and after a few second, determined that no one was hiding in the southern half of the town. Thus decided, I activated the second major aspect of my power: any place I could sense through the ground, I could teleport myself instantly too, as well as teleport around anyone or anything within my sensing range in contact with the ground.

I took another step, and terraported another mile in. The southernmost mile of the town fell away from my senses, while another mile to the north became open to me. Still nothing, the only living movement being from nocturnal animals going about their business, oblivious to the affairs of men and supers.

The tallest buildings in town were only three stories. Not counting a church steeple, they were a bank/office building that I’d already sensed, and a set of private school dormitories in the northern half of town. I guess if any place would be a good bunker for a small army, that was probably it. The next jump would put the campus within my “view.” One more step, and…



1 comment:

  1. Okay, so terrpaorting, if I'm gettig that right? Teleporting through the ground/earth. That's pretty unique.

    Replication is a pretty deadly power in the right hands though, even if it's imperfect.

    This will be a strange, albeit hopefully satisfying fight.