I wasn’t about to let Jackie burn down Jem’s establishment just to get at me. I dropped some energy into speed, and the world slowed again. I yanked out my wallet, keys, and phone and tossed them behind the counter at Jem’s feet. “Holdtheseplease,” I squeaked.
I then strode out of the building, walked up to Jackie and put my hand on her chest. I shifted some of my power to strength and pushed. Jackie resisted and I felt the heat of her body on my hands, though it didn’t really hurt. Cursing, I shifted the rest of the energy away from durability to strength, and that was enough to let me shove her. I slammed her down into the ground, but immediately felt my hand start to burn. I quickly shifted some energy back to durability once I had her pinned down. Even with my speed still up, though, Jackie’s fire surged up at me, forcing me to jump backwards before a geyser of flames blasted towards the sky. With my durability active, but low, I winced at the intensity of the flames.
My power was a bit tricky, you see. Whatever else they can do, a lot of superhumans have some form of super strength and durability and a decent number have some form of super speed. A lot of them can fly, too, though I’m not so lucky. Me, I don’t have anything fancy like telekinesis or fire blasts. I just have your three basics: speed, strength, and durability. It’s a pretty solid package, maybe boring compared to other powers, but tried and true.
Thing is, I could modulate these gifts. At a baseline, Level 1 for simplicity, when I just let my internal energy settle into it’s default allocation, I was strong enough to pick up and throw a car a good hundred yards, bullets from anything short of a high-powered sniper rifle only bruised me, and I was fast enough to see and react to said bullets, if not outright dodge them. I could, however, amplify one of those powers by shifting the internal energy I felt from one to the other. I couldn’t just dial the levels up and down, but I could basically move the energy in three set chunks.
At Level 2 strength, I could chuck that car a dozen blocks, but that meant dropping speed or durability. At Level 3, I could wing that car clear across a city, but that meant giving up speed and durability. At Level 3 durability I could make myself tough enough to survive having a skyscraper fall down on top of me. At Level 3 speed, I could become fast enough to pluck bullets out of the air and rearrange them into a little design on the ground before the guy firing the gun let go of the trigger.
But amplifying one power meant sacrificing one or both of the others. So, I could be strong enough to punch another tough guy through a building, but if I had my strength at Level 3, and he was even slightly super strong, or hell, just had a knife, he could kill me with one hit. At Level 3 speed, I could be so fast no one could touch me, but I’d have no strength to use against my opponent if they were also durable, and I’d have no durability to protect me if their attack did happen to be fast enough or was wide enough to catch me.
As I mentioned before, it was useful to be able to turn off my super speed so I could interact with the world normally when I was awake, or turn off my strength so I wasn’t accidentally ripping doors off their hinges all the time. It was also useful having my durability maxed out most of the time, just incase I got caught in some kind of accident or sneak attack.
In actual combat, though, it meant I had to constantly be wary of how I engaged the enemy. Case in point, Jackie was at least durable enough to match my base strength, which meant I wasn’t hurting her with that. I generally tried to fight with at least Level 1 speed, as that gave me a solid edge in most fights. Clearly I’d need it with Jackie sporting that kind of fire power. But to actually do damage, I’d have to put my strength at level 2 at least, and just touching her without durability had nearly fried the skin off my hand. It was bright red, and even though my durability and speed combined could let me heal faster and more efficiently than others, it was gunna be hurting for a while.
I set my durability to Level 2 as I watched Jackie get up. She was moving just fast enough, and her fire blast had definitely been fast enough, that I couldn’t drop my guard. She was maybe half my speed, but at this scale, that wasn’t nearly half enough for my taste.
It would have been simple to just max out my speed and run away. Or maybe grab some cars at Speed 2 and throw them at her with Strength 1. Except this wasn’t a comic book, where people just swept collateral damage under the rug. I couldn’t just grab someone’s vehicle and use it as a bludgeon, or rip a traffic sign out of the ground and use it as a spear, much as I wanted to. Car insurance didn’t tend to cover Acts of Superhumans.
“Mmmmaaaaaaaaakssssss… yoooooooo… biiiiiiitchhhhhhh…” Jackie inhaled, and I saw her flames suck inward, then all her face holes brighten from orange to yellow to nearly white.
“Shit!” The gout of flame shot from her mouth even faster than the last one. I barely had time to dodge as she unleashed a gout of flame that I felt the heat from even with my durability at level 2. The fire bored a hole in the concrete sidewalk, leaving a puddle of molten rock. A tree nearby and a couple banners caught fire from the sheer heat, and a nearby steel trashcan bent downward, weakened enough to deform.
A glance back showed me that thankfully, no one had been standing nearby. In fact, by the time I had stepped out of the diner, people had already been fleeing the area. No one was stupid enough to stick around when a person suddenly exploded into flames and turned into a jack-o-lantern monster. Not in this world. Not anymore.
I could still see people, though, slower runners only a few hundred feet away and some who’d taken too long to get out of their cars. I had to keep Jackie’s attention on me. Someone else would have to get those small fires put out. Jackie would just make more if I turned my back to handle them. I hoped I could take her down or get her away before that happened.
I spoke slowly and in a lower-pitched voice so I could be understood as I kept my speed up. To me, it sounded like I was particularly thick-headed, and it used to drive me nuts to try this trick. But I’d had enough years practice, and at least at speed 1, it worked. Speed 2, much less 3, forget it.
“Jackie… calm… down… You… want… to… beat… me… up…, fine…, let’s… take… this… to… the… closest… empty… lot…, or… go… to… the… outskirts... We… can… have… a… proper… rumble…, straighten… this… out...”
“Fuuuuuuck yooooooo, Maaaaaaaksssss! Yooooooorrrrrrrr toooooooassssssst!” she roared. She sucked in another breath, making her flaming face holes glow bright again.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I said, already strafing to the right. It was smart of her, of course, to engage me in such a compacted area. She was an annoying bitch always asking for a beat down, but she was shrewd. She made sure to call me out in a street filled with cars, lined with businesses, with civilians still in range. She even had my favorite diner figured out. She knew I couldn’t go all out in this place, and I couldn’t just run away, or she’d trash the whole area and everyone in it. Clever girl. She must have been staking me out for a while.
As I dodged her next blast, feeling the heat singe my eyebrows even with durability still up, I looked around to see what I could use as a weapon. Those fire blasts were no joke, and if she was tough enough to resist my Level 1 strength, the cops weren’t going to be able to put her down with pistols. Hell, actually, come to think, my Level 2 strength hadn’t done much more than shove her down, either. I don’t think she’d even been winded. To be fair, though, I had wanted to avoid making a crater in the street, so I hadn’t given it my all. I might have to end up doing that anyway to shut her down. Or I’d have to say fuck it and go ahead and cost some people their vehicles, and maybe a store front or three.
Boy sometimes I missed the days of being a scumbag gang leader, when I didn’t give a shit about such things. Or when I was working under Echo and I could just ask the government to foot the bill.
I hit the ground in a roll and somersaulted towards the nearest car, putting me between it and Jackie. I dug my fingers into the frame of an old Hyundai Elantra and braced myself. I dropped my durability for strength, banking that I’d be fast enough to swing the car and smack her into the air. Hopefully she couldn’t fly, and hopefully the car wouldn’t snap off in my hands and fly into a building.
However, as I tensed to move, something hit me on the side. I looked down to see what looked like a ball of gnarled vines knotted together. Faster than I could react, the thing exploded, and I was suddenly becoming wrapped in crushing tendrils. I tried to jump away, but my legs were entangled, compromising my leverage. For a moment, I saw another knot of vines hit the wall of the building behind Jackie and also explode into a tangler net.
Jackie knew I would dodge and had thrown these things to either side. I’d been distracted by the brightness of her flame, enough that I hadn’t even seen her start to throw them. By the time I reached the car, the thing was already coming at me, and I’d foolishly looked at the car instead of kept my eyes on my enemy.
Thoroughly bound as I was, I wasn’t able to dodge as I saw Jackie’s head swivel towards me, just slow enough to build suspense, but fast enough I couldn’t even try to wriggle away. Her flame cut through the street and the cars, leaving a molten line. At only level 1 durability, I could feel my skin start to burn as the jet of flame drew near. My clothes were already catching fire. I managed to max out my durability, losing speed and strength, just as the white hot flame engulfed me.