I jolted awake with a ragged gasp. I immediately flailed about me, only to find myself restricted by heavy chains that wrapped around my arms, legs and torso. I felt my body sway and realized I was hanging from the ceiling. I’d been hogtied in such a way that I was still mostly upright; it seemed like a pretty thorough and intricate job, especially using a chain. Some one in this group was a real bondage freak.
I was a bit surprised, considering I’d just gotten killed last I remembered. I was pretty sure my powers didn’t include resurrection. I was also pretty sure they did include Rank D durability and strength, so whoever hit me had to be at least an upper Rank C.
Oh, wait, they used the Class system in
. So, that would make me
Class 2, and my opponent had to have Class 3 strength. And speed, given how
fast she hit me. And flight, of course, since she’d jumped out a window to do
it. Or did her power let her propel herself like a bullet? There were just so
many weird ways superhuman powers could express. America
Well, this was embarrassing. Despite my past, I actually had very little experience fighting other supers on my own. I’d been so caught up in the possibilities of Knock-Off’s identity, and after being told how inferior her supers were, I’d just assumed I could handle it.
Yeah. Just like I handled things back home. Idiot.
So, okay. I was either dead, and this was a particularly mundane version of hell, given I was in what looked like a hastily abandoned dorm room, or somehow, something had brought me back to life.
It was dark in the room, but I could see a little bit from the glow of an unusually bright battery-powered alarm clock set on a paper-strewn desk. There was also some light coming in from the hallway, a soft white glow that seemed almost like an ambient light.
“Hello?” I called out.
Immediately, I heard a motion behind me. I jerked in my chains a bit. I would have terraported, but of course, I couldn’t. I wasn’t facing the window, but I assumed I wasn’t on the ground/basement floor. And even if I had been, it didn’t matter if I was chained up. I retained my Class 2 physicality, but I was cut off from my ground sense and terraporting if I wasn’t actually on the ground.
An inhumanly tall and lanky figure dressed in a black hooded cloak came around from behind me, stepping towards the doorway to the side. She… he…? It was hard to tell, honestly. They ducked their head around the door and said, in a voice that voiced like they were gargling sand, “She’s back.” The voice was so distorted, it didn’t help me peg a gender either.
There was a thudding as a large, stocky woman came down the hall. She was hunched, still dressed in her rags, and now that she was getting close, the stench of her was just as dreadful as her appearance. As she came in, another cracked-skin looking person, a young boy in yet more rags, followed behind. He held a lantern, in which glowed a soft white ball of light that. Despite the seeming low wattage of this mysterious light, the whole room lit up as though a dozen lamps were suddenly switched on. It was bizarre, the light in the lantern didn’t get any brighter, and yet every shadow was chased away.
Knock-Off approached me, giving me an unfortunate view of her lumpy, warty face and scraggily hair, framed by the stained bandages that served as some kind of head-scarf. When she spoke, it was with a deep, almost croaking voice.
“Good, good. Took you long enough.”
The tall thing bowed at the waist leaning over so far I almost thought it would fall over. “I serve as best I can, your—”
“Shut up,” the hag-woman said, not even looking at the cloaked figure. It snapped up into an erect stance and then just stood there, like a humanoid coat-rack in the corner.
The woman leaned close, and I held my breath for as long as I could. Thankfully, she backed away just before my air ran out. I still fought not to gag as I gasped for my next breath. She just watched me for a while.
I figured I’d break the ice. “So, I guess your grim reaper over there brought me back to life?”
“After a fashion,” the hag said.
Well that didn’t sound good.
“Am I alive or aren’t I?”
“You’re alive,” she said. “Reverser over there can wind back time for anything he touches. His original could reset whole days for something, or someone, in seconds.” She jerked a thumb at the painfully skinny man. “This sad thing takes an hour to reset five minutes.”
I frowned as my brow furrowed. “How can he reverse anything, then? If more than five minutes passes for the process, then he’d just reset the thing to even later than he started.”
The hag shrugged and waved her hands. “Five minutes from before the process starts, the process doesn’t allow forward progression as it happens? I don’t know. These powers are ridiculous. The point is he didn’t so much bring you back as make it so you never died.”
She inspected me again, squinting her eyes at me. “Hmph. You’ve an interesting accent.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot.”
“You a Brit? You one of the Survivors?”
“Sure. Let’s go with that.”
She looked me over again, then shrugged and placed her grubby, gnarled hand on my face. I flinched back, and my first instinct was to bite her in self-defense, but the smell repulsed me from that thought.
I felt something like a tingling all over my body, and for a moment I felt light-headed. Then, suddenly, there was a duplicate me standing next to her. She withdrew her hand. I looked the duplicate over. It was like looking in a mirror, if that mirror had a “leprosy filter” laid over it. My doppelganger just stared blankly ahead. She was naked, but given how jacked up her flesh looked, I didn’t want to know the kind of people who would find this vision of me titillating.
The woman, obviously Knock-Off, waved to the closet of the of the dorm room. “Dress.” The duplicate of me nodded, then turned and shuffled to the closet, sliding the door open. I noticed girl’s clothes, which she shifted through. I hadn’t really paid attention to the surroundings, but now saw a few posters of cute guys, a pink pillow, a knocked over make-up set. I guess this was the girl’s dorm then.
I was so used to my ground sense that I sometimes forgot to take in the details around me visually. I really needed to break that habit.
When the clone of me was dressed, in a tank top and ripped shorts that did not do her appearance any favors, Knock-Off turned and addressed her. “State your abilities.”
Her voice was just as a messed up as the tall person’s. “Sensing all details in relation to the ground. Teleportation through the ground, self and others. Contact with ground required. Mild enhancements to strength and toughness.”
Knock-Off stroked her chin in thought. “Useful. Very useful. I thought maybe you were a high-end speedster, but this is even better. I was right to have you brought back for replication.”
“It’s appreciated,” I said dryly.
She shrugged and snapped her fingers. There was a rush of wind, and suddenly, the flying super was in the room. “Break her head open again,” said Knock-Off.
Before I could protest, she did just that.
According to the clock, it was three in the morning when I was brought back a second time. I was really starting to not like this. Most people had the decency to let you stay dead.
I opened my eyes to see Knock-Off looking at me incredulously. The tall one was back in the corner, the boy with the lantern now sitting cross-legged on the bed. Flanking either side of Knock-Off were two women in rags, their faces wrapped in bandages like mummies. I could see their glassy eyes staring at me. My own duplicate was behind them, in the doorway.
I blanched. “Can I help you?”
“You came here for the bounty on my head,” she said. “You came for my bounty.”
“Actually, I also thought you might be someone I know, but it turned out I was wrong. The bounty was added incentive.”
“Yes. You thought I was Yrba the Replicator. One of the Ten
She pointed a crooked finger at me. “One of you.”
Shit. I guess she questioned my duplicate, and the clones she made had our memories. And now that I was alive again, I had to deal with the fallout.
She shook her head, and ran her hooked fingers through her hair, her eyes wild. “Do you have any idea how much your head is worth? You came after my bounty? My bounty is a drop in the bucket compared to yours! Hahaha, I won’t have to make an army to form a commune, if I turn you into the ASP, I’ll be set for life! I could just buy a damn city! They’ll fucking give me one and throw me a parade!”
I sighed loudly. “If my head’s worth that much, just cut it off and spare me your stench already.”
“Oh, no-no-no, they’re going to want you turned in alive. After what you and your group did, they’ll want the entire world to see your execution.” Her grin stretched wide, revealing a row of crooked teeth. “What’s left of the world, anyway.”
I almost felt anger. “We didn’t do the Extinction Wave.”
She cackled. “That’s what your clone says, but it’s no matter. Everyone outside your empire thinks you did it. And after what you did to get your empire, no one is giving you the benefit of the doubt. I’m pretty sure even my word will be more trustworthy than that of a Queen.”
She was probably right. The world outside our homeland knew almost nothing about us. They just knew that the Ten Queens were an unfathomably powerful coalition of superwomen who had not just conquered, but stolen a third of the world, just a couple months before another third got wiped out in an instant. They didn’t know our names, our exact powers, our methods, or the limits of our ambitions. They only knew us as the Ten Queens, the greatest butchers in all of human history.
The irony of it was that they weren’t even wrong. I knew for certain that none of the
Queens had performed
the Extinction Wave, because we’d been too busy committing a different
Knock-Off cackled again. “Atalanta the Terraporter. Yrba the Replicator. Xyla the Excelsior. Such ridiculous names you
chose.” She shook her head, still grinning her crooked grin. “What the hell are
you even doing here? You were a Queen! Worshipped as a Goddess! And you
gave it up, all for what? To be some no name mercenary in a land that would see
you dead the moment they found you out?”
She spread her arms, indicating the clones around her. “THESE ARE THE POWERS OF THE GODS! WE ARE THE
CHOSEN! IT IS OUR DESTINY RULE!”
I grit my teeth and shuddered, from the ear-splitting volume and the concentrated stream of rancid breath.
“You had the world in your grasp! You were everything I want to be and you just gave it up!” She reached forward and gripped me by the neck. Her eyes were wild, spittle flecking off her lips. “I should kill you for that right now!”
I hissed through grit teeth. “Being a ruler… isn’t all… it’s cracked up… to be…”
She yanked her hand back and whirled around, storming out of the room. “Keep an eye on her! Do not let her touch the ground!”
The boy with the lantern hopped up and followed his master, as did the lanky robed one. The latter had to stoop comically low to get through the door. Once the exited the room, the darkness returned, leaving the clock and the glow from outside the door as the only light source.
The silhouettes of the two mummy-women were my only company and they just stood there, staring at me. I couldn’t tell, but I had the feeling they probably weren’t even blinking.
A few minutes passed, and from down below, I heard panic wailing, and then the hag screaming some orders. I guessed she was terrorizing her other hostages. It was a little hard to tell with how loud Knock-Off was being, but it sounded like they had to be clear on the other side of the building, and a couple floors down. There were more shambling steps. I guessed she was adding more human clones to her army.
Now would be a great time for those other bounty hunters and the National Guard to stage a heroic rescue. But they probably knew it would be suicide to attack in the middle of the night, with a squadron of supers able to swoop down out of the darkness and pick them off one by one while a bunch of zombies swarmed them.
This really sucked. I had been very thoroughly put in my place that was for sure. A Queen who had ruled one-tenth of the largest continent in the world, reduced to a hog-tied piñata girl in some Podunk town on the other side of the planet. Oh, how the mighty had fallen.
Mighty. Yeah, right. I’d never been mighty. I’d just been a scrawny, starving little girl who took advantage of a riot to break the blockade and gun it for the Doorway, the divine gateway that was supposed to take us all to a promised land. I don’t know where it actually sent us, but if the few dreams I’d had on the matter were any indication, I don’t think it was a paradise. But either way, I got rejected. I came back empowered, sure, but some small part of me always knew that I had returned to Earth because something inside me had been found lacking.
I tried to compensate for that feeling of inferiority by joining up with the baddest legion of superwomen I could find, and helping them conquer a third of the world. I combined my power with theirs to perform a miracle, to undo millions of years of plate tectonics in an instant. Two whole continents became one, and we claimed it all as ours. It was the mightiest feat of superhuman power the world had ever seen. Arguably more technically impressive than even the Extinction Wave, if not as immediately devastating.
But afterwards? After that glorious moment of triumph? I was still just a little girl, suddenly playing princess and priestess to a desperate, terrified populace that simply didn’t want to die. I’d had no idea what I was doing, no idea of the cost until it was far too late.
Just like right now. Another lunatic with power was going to use me for her own ends, and I’d just bumble-fucked myself right into her lap on a silver platter.
Atalanta, the Terraporter. Reshaper of Worlds. Conquering Warlord. Queen in Exile.