After an hour of melancholy brooding, I got bored with regret, and decided to shift the mental subject. I left that life behind to start anew. To rebirth myself from the ground up. This was a rocky start, sure, but I wasn’t dead yet. Or dead again yet. Or dead again-again yet.
Atalanta was a fuck up. I was going to be better. Whoever “I” was. I hadn’t actually even settled on a codename yet, just used a placeholder so far. I’d figure out something better later. Right now, I needed to figure out how to get back on the ground.
I looked to the two silhouettes. Although I couldn’t see their faces, I had the creepy feeling that they were just staring at me, unblinking. Their breaths wheezed slightly. “So, you guys ever talk?”
“You know no one’s going to believe your boss when she tells them who I am, right? Like they’re going to believe some mental hag-witch actually caught a Queen. Like a Queen would even be outside New Gondwana.”
“Oi, clone-o-mine. You still there?”
I sighed a bit theatrically. “You guys are no fun.”
I decided to test my chains. I couldn’t really see them, but they felt like smooth iron links. With my strength I should have been able to snap them with some effort, but as I strained my limbs, they held strong. There weren’t a lot of metals that could hold back Rank D / Class 2 strength in mere chain form, so Knock-Off had somehow found an amazingly strong alloy, or this was some kind of power effect. It was a thorough as hell tie-up, too. I couldn’t even wriggle a limb free. All I managed was to set myself gently swinging back and forth a bit.
I guess I should consider myself lucky my durability was as high as my strength. The way I was tied, and the way the metal dug into me, I could tell a normal person would have suffered horrible cramps, bruising, overstretched ligaments, probably even dangerous circulation cut off. For me, it was just mildly uncomfortable.
“Hey, if I said I had to pee really bad, would you fall for it?”
Ultimately, I just waited the several hours until dawn. Things got quiet for a bit. I guess Knock-Off took a nap. I almost took one out of boredom, but opted to stay awake just in case some miraculous escape fairy appeared to grant my wishes. Hey, in a world of superhumans, it wasn’t completely impossible, right?
As the light of sunrise finally started creeping in through the window, I started slowly being able to make out the details of the room. The mummy women and my own clone were still standing where they had been the whole time, and yes, they had all been staring at me without blinking the whole night. I looked around the room, but there was nothing helpful I could see. I looked up to see where the chain was anchored, and was surprised to see that it appeared to be mounted right into the ceiling. Without any leverage, there was no way I could try and slip a hook or work a beam loose.
Knock-Off finally came back right as the sun started to peak over the horizon. “We’re going,” she grunted. “Chain! Detach her from the ceiling. Glory, grab her! Keep her off the ground!”
The mummy woman to my right, a bit taller and broader than the others, snapped out a hand and grabbed my chains, right as the part that attached me to the ceiling vanished in a puff of rapidly thinning smoke.
So the chain was a power effect. The mummy woman named Glory carried me out into the hallway, easily holding me up one-handed by the chains wrapped around my chest. I saw Knock-Out and the boy, now without his lantern. Joining them this time was a squat, stocky looking man dressed in yet more rags, but also decked out with various chains looped around his body.
“We’re heading to the town border,” Knock-Off announced. “There, I will present you as my peace offering.”
“You know no one’s going to believe you about me being a Queen, right?”
Knock-Off sneered, and motioned to my clone. “I have your testimony right here.”
“Uh, right, a weird leper-zombie that only does exactly what you tell it to. That’s not going to look suspicious.”
Her face contorted into a snarl. Or maybe just a slightly toothier sneer. “Shut up, ya little bint.”
“Bints are British. I’m South African.” I smirked. “Not that you can prove it.”
She clocked me over the head. “Chain her mouth.”
The chain covered guy flicked a finger at me, and two small chain loops appeared around my head, one looped around my mouth to the back of my head, forming a gag, the other under my chin over the crown of my head. Funnily enough, it was only then that I remembered I’d been wearing a hat when I came into town. I guess they didn’t bother retrieving it along with my head.
We went down the stairs, joining a throng of about three hundred zombie-people. I saw a handful of normal-looking folks with just a few loops of chain around their chests to link them together in a line. They were roughed up, but otherwise had intact skin and clothes that didn’t look like they’d been randomly raided from closets. They also bore striking resemblance to much of the zombie army. These were the human hostages, then. A quick glance around told me that every hostage had some clones in the army, and no clone aside from the mummy brigade looked different than them. I hoped that meant these were the only civilians taken, which would mean they were all alive.
I’d almost let myself forget other people had been caught up in this. Saving them all would look good in front of the authorities, help me convince them that Knock-Out’s claims were just the deranged rantings of a lunatic.
Also, it was the right thing to do.
Glory floated about ten feet into the air and carried me over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Knock-Out was being absolutely sure I couldn’t get away. My clone had no doubt told her all of my limitations. It did make me wonder about her limitations, though. How inferior was she? Knock-Off wasn’t using her to terraport the group forward, but did that mean she couldn’t move that many at once or could she only move herself? Or was Knock-Off just doing a ground march so the army would see her coming?
I scanned the rest of the crowd, and saw that the lantern-boy was now carrying a white flag on a long wooden pole. He shambled several yards ahead of the procession, dragging the flag on the ground behind him, but no doubt was ready to wave it once the soldiers along the blockade were in site.
Okay, so what were my options? Let Knock-Off try to turn me in, and hope I could touch the ground in the exchange? No, if she managed to at least convince them enough to look into her claims, they’d keep me secured until they could be sure. I was brand new to the bounty hunter network, I had no clout, I didn’t know any other hunters who could vouch for me. My documents to get into the country had been falsified, and a much more thorough investigation would show that.
They might not believe I was a Queen, but they might find out I was from New Gondwana, and that alone would get me detained and held for questioning. As far as I had found out, I would be the first person discovered to have escaped the empire since it formed. That was attention I didn’t want.
So what else? I was hog-tied, hovering in the air, in chains strong enough to contain me. I could only imagine how tough they’d have been for the original Chain. Strong enough to hold a Rank B? A Rank A? Just how much did Knock-Off’s discount clones weaken from the original? She’d said the tall guy’s resurrection power was massively slower, but comparing a more esoteric power like revival from death with the tensile strength of a chain-link was where the whole Rank/Class power rating system got really confusing. Without my own clone doing anything yet, it was hard to judge.
I sighed through my gag, and more out of a lack of other options than a plan, I bit down on the chain as hard as I could. I was almost surprised when I felt them slowly start to bend. Huh. I think I did hear somewhere that the jaw was one of the strongest muscles in the body. I hadn’t been able to break the chain around my limbs, but the way I had been tied made it difficult to bring my strength properly to bear.
I continued my efforts, feeling my teeth creek as I fought the metal between them. After several tense seconds, during which my jaw began to ache even despite my durability, I heard a metallic snap as my incisors cut through the metal. With that chain severed, I was able to close my jaw fully, loosening the vertical chain, and give my head a quick shake to let it fall. With only a couple seconds to act before the crowd below noticed, I spit out the bit of chain left behind, then strained my head forward.
The way Glory was carrying me, she had shifted me over her shoulder, but still held me by the chain that looped around my collar bone. With the way my weight shifted the chain’s position, her fingers were just barely in biting range if I really craned my neck down. I stretched my jaw wide until it ached, then bit down on her filthy, super strong fingers. They were just slim enough I managed to get three between my teeth.
She was tough enough that her fingers didn’t come right off between my teeth, nor did they break. But I was able to twist her grip enough that her hand slipped out of the chain.
I dropped like a rock. Knock-Off had just enough time to say, “Hey! Ca—” before I hit the ground and instantly terraported myself a half-mile southward, leaving the chains behind.
Instantly, the information of my ground vision flooded into me. It was like a blind person being able to see again. I could perceive everything within my range, including all three-hundred and nineteen people still near the campus.
In the space of a second, I terraported the ten civilians as far north as I could, another half-mile from where they’d been, out of their chains. Hopefully they were close enough to the blockade to see it, or at least knew to start running further north.
In the same instant, I terraported three-hundred and eight clones a quarter mile into the ground, to join their fallen comrades in the bedrock. Along with every human clone, I managed to kill the Chain guy, the tall guy, the boy with the flag, my own clone, and four other mummified supers I never got a close look at. One of them was still alive, her body pulverizing and displacing the rock instead of the other way around. I could feel her slowly working her new skin-tight prison loose as she started trying to unbury herself. It would take her a while, though, and I could figure out how to dispose of her later.
In the same instant, I terraported Knock-Off into the vault of the city’s main bank. That would hold her for now.
That was everyone accounted for except the one clone not touching the ground. While she was air born, Glory was beyond my reach.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t beyond hers. I heard the boom of thunder as she rocketed into the air at hypersonic speeds. She hung there for maybe a quarter of a second, whipping her head around, and spotting me in a moment. She came at me like an enormous bullet, smashing right through the second floor of an office building like it was made of Styrofoam, and my reflexes were barely fast enough for me to step a mile east. More booms, a bit more distant as she searched frantically for me for a few seconds, then spotted me again. I stepped another mile north, and I swore I felt her fingers brush my cheek before I moved.
She shot into the sky again, and this time, she didn’t charge. Instead, a pink energy beam shot from her hand, striking me with laser speed. The beam struck me like a runaway truck, which even with my durability, was enough to knock the wind out of me, and knock me into the air. A moment later, I felt her grubby, steely fingers lock around my neck, hauling me into the air.
Holy Mother, if this clone was an inferior, what level had her original been?
I choked as Glory held me in her death grip, but realized it was mostly from how I was hanging off her arm. She was easily strong enough to crush my windpipe like a plastic straw, but she just held me aloft. I grabbed her forearm and took some of the weight off my neck. It was still a constricting grip, but I could still mostly breathe.
“Okay, you got me, good job,” I said with some effort.
She grabbed my arm, her fingers locking on my wrist. She then just held me there, hanging in the air. It took me a few seconds to realize why. Knock-Off’s last order, at least as much as she’d been able to finish before I moved her, was to “catch her”, her being me. Glory didn’t know what to do once this was achieved.
“I don’t suppose we could talk this out?” I said.
No response. The clones evidently didn’t react to anybody but their creator.
“Okay, look, if I tell you where your creator is, will you let me down?”
Glory just stared at me.
“I know where your boss is,” I said. “Don’t you want your boss to give you orders?”
Nothing. These clones were fucking creepy.
“Alright, look, your boss is going to die if you don’t let me touch the ground, alright?” I said. “I locked her in an airtight place. She’s going to run out of oxygen eventually.”
Even that didn’t do anything.
I sighed. “For fuck’s sake. Just let go of my neck, at least.”
No such luck. Was this thing really just going to hold me up here forever?
I kicked at her gut uselessly. I may as well have been a toddler kicking a wall. I even kicked between her legs and reached forward to pinch at her chest. Even her most sensitive bits were immune to my Rank D strength. She had to be a high Rank C in durability, at least. Again, I wondered just how powerful her original had to have been. All I could go on was the tall guy, I guess, but even using that vague descriptor, the original Glory had to be a Rank A, at least. Or a Class 5 as they called it in the ASP’s system. How the hell had Knock-Off even gotten her hands on such a person? I can’t imagine them willingly letting this creepy clone being made.
All my kicks and punches were just making my feet and hands hurt. I gave up with another sigh of exasperation. I was tough enough that hanging here like this didn’t really harm me, but this was just a ridiculous way to be beaten in a fight. Oh, well, at least Knock-Off was contained and the civilians freed. At least I got that far.
“You look like you could use some help,” came a masculine voice out of no where. I couldn’t turn my head very much, but I swiveled my eyes as far to the right as I could to see a man in light brown robes with a green sash floating up to us from the ground. He was about a dozen feet away, seemingly relaxed, but I could tell from the way he watched us, and the way he held his crooked staff, that he was ready for any sudden movement.
Even I recognized the world’s first superhuman. “Wow. Um. Yeah, that’d be great.”
He pointed his staff at the woman. Electricity crackled off the end of it. “Let her go,” he said, in a voice that boomed with authority.
“They don’t do anything without their master giving them an order. I’ve got her master locked up, though. If you’re thinking of just blasting her, she’s ultra tough, even for a clone.”
The Earth Mage didn’t speak at first. The more he stared at Glory, the more his expression shifted to one of concern. He glanced to me, then to her. He withdrew his staff and the electricity died down. “They don’t act at all?” he said.
“Doesn’t seem like it.”
He stared a few seconds more, his gaze becoming almost haunted. He floated closer and reached forward. Almost gingerly, he peeled the bandages away from her head. Once her face was revealed, the Earth Mage recoiled as though he’d been burned. It wasn’t until he said her name that I realized why.
My own eyes widened. I hadn’t recognized her without her white and gold bodysuit and huge red cape. Holding me was a clone of the one of the most powerful superhumans in the world. A woman whom even we
would have never picked a fight with without our combined power to bring to
bear. The world’s third superhuman, leader of the Super Fem Force, the hero
everyone in ,
and even most supers across the world, had looked up to. America