“I don’t go by that name anymore.” Inwardly I cursed myself. Why the fuck did just immediately admit to that? I could have still pretended to be some other random superhuman.
Chive nodded approvingly. “Good. Good girl. You didn’t lie. I’d have had to ventilate your friend’s skull if you did.” He motioned to Jamal. “In fact you know what? I think I will anyway.” He made a small twitch of his eyebrow.
I suppose, if I had been smart, I could have prepared myself for this better. I could have already boosted myself to be just fast enough to beat a trigger finger. I could have maybe hardened my skin and reached my hand over to block the back of Jamal’s head with the speed of a snake.
But I didn’t, and a quarter-second later, Jamal’s brains were splattered across my lap. The most I managed to do was not flinch, either from the gore, or the loud bang of the gun.
Chive waved to the young man’s body as it slumped over, the head falling into my lap. I knew before I even touched him that it was too late. “Well, go on,” the older man said. “Fix him up.”
I lowered my head, staring at the blown open skull. I’d seen too much, far, far too much, for this to make me freak out. Instead, I just felt that familiar coldness, that numbness from the mental calluses my mind had built to keep from breaking. That wasn’t to say I didn’t feel anything at all. I felt regret. I felt a twinge of sickness. But it wasn’t for the boy in my lap. It was because I felt nothing for the boy in my lap.
A young man, not even 18, who’d never done me wrong, who I had saved from death just a few hours ago, was now a corpse, his brains and blood staining my clothes. All I could feel was hollow.
“I can’t,” I whispered, still staring at the kid.
“Can’t? Or won’t? Tell me you’re not that cruel, Doctress.”
“My powers don’t work that way,” I said. “I can knit the flesh. I can jumpstart the heart. I can make the synapses fire again. But he won’t be there.”
Chive snorted. “So, if I had a few of my own with their heads blown open, all you could do is make them a zombie, huh?”
I looked up at him, my expression blank. “Is that what this is about? You have some wounded you want me to heal? You didn’t have to kill this one for that.”
“I did, actually, thanks to you.” Chive sneered. “You know what this punk did? You know what this little shit-lickin’ nigga did with that miraculous second chance you gave him? He got his boys together and came after us. He went and found my boys and shot them up. Three of ‘em are dead in a ditch now. I got a dozen others in the next room half bled out.”
I blinked. I didn’t even know Jamal had had a gun.
“You may be thinkin’, yeah, well, Chive, you shot them first, of course they want revenge. You may be thinkin’ that. And you know, I can’t even say that if I was their age again, I wouldn’ta done the same thing. Around here, it’s eye for an eye. ‘Cept usually, the other side can’t just pop their eyes back in.”
He leaned forward, and I could feel the glare from behind his dark glasses. “You wanna know why we hit them this morning? You wanna know what that little nigga and his spic faggot friends of his did? They thought they was hot shit. Thought they could steal from my boys. Thought they could boost my product and make a few bucks on the side without so much as a kickback to the man who got it into the city in the first place.”
So, the kid in my lap was a wannabe drug dealer, huh? I couldn’t say I was entirely surprised. I never thought of him that way, but in this kind of place, there wasn’t exactly a lot of clean career options.
Chive rambled on. “So, you see, we exist here in a balance. Eye for an eye, it’s harsh, but it levels things out. Teaches people who’s in charge, keeps things from descending into total bedlam. But then someone like you comes along. Someone like you upsets the ecosystem. You erase the hard work that was supposed to level things out. Just like you did before.”
That last line poked through my numbness. “Before?”
Chive sat back and sneered again. Or maybe that was his attempt at a sinister smile. “How you think I guess who you are, huh? Yeah, I know you from before. I remember when you and your pussy power team rocked into Chicago, and beat down another super who thought they had clearance from on high to upset the balance. I wasn’t in charge back then, but I was gunnin’ for it, and then this damn spic cunt comes plowin’ into our turf with her whore sidekick and her spic cronies, talkin’ bout how she’s gunna be the Kingpin of Crime, the Don of Dons, and other such trash.”
He ran a hand over his finely cut hair. “I remember you, healin’ your teammates when my team got sent against you. We actually managed to damage a few of you cunts. It was quite the high finding out some of you could actually get shot to death. ‘Cept down you come and just pluck them bullets out, and seal the holes up like you’re patchin’ up drywall. So when we grab that little dick licker and we make him talk and he tells us how you did it, how you stitched them back together, well, I knew right then. It doesn’t matter if you went all tranny. I knew fate had it out for me, putting us both in the same city again.”
I stayed silent and after an awkward beat, he kept going.
“But I know how you live. The kid told me. Holed up in that shitty crib. Workin’ as some nobody janitor. Livin’ on the down low, about as middle of nowhere as you can get in a city. I wondered to myself what happened to you, so I looked you up.” He tapped his suit pocket, and I heard a plastic tap. I assumed he meant on his smart phone. “Happened when I still behind bars, so that’s why I didn’t hear it, but it was quite the scandal. Even with the news trying to bury the story, the internet had it plastered on every blog, every Tube site. You’re little freak out at the hospital. You screamin’ at all the hungry beggers tuggin’ at your robes. The pretty red haired angel, losin’ her shit and callin’ all us pleb mortals a bunch of diseased sacks of trash. And then you—”
“Shut up,” I whispered. I closed my eyes, and a pang of self-loathing cut through the numbness. I tried not to remember, but it had been my lowest moment. Even years later, I still had nightmares about it.
I had wanted to help people. When I exited the Doorway and found out what I could do, I had been elated. I’d joined the Super Fem Force with the intent of healing everyone I could. But between supporting my teammates in battle and going from hospital to homeless shelter to rehab clinic and back, I was running myself ragged. Non-stop requests flooding the SFF’s message system, internet sleuths finding out my identity and leaking my personal contact information, people threatening to go after my friends and family if I didn’t help them. It came to a head at
Mercy, a group of families accosting me to save
their loved ones before I could even reach the front door. I hadn’t slept in a
week. I’d had the shit beaten out of me in three super fights in a row. I’d
already cured a million people from fatal diseases and injuries, and the few
thanks I received were drowned out by the ceaseless demands. St.
I snapped. I—
I refused to think about it.
I shoved Jamal’s body off me, and ignored the wet thump it made as it hit the floor. I stared at Chive, whose smile returned to a thin, cruel smirk. He knew he’d gotten to me.
“So I think you know what I’m talkin’ about. You know you’re kind don’t belong among us. You know your very presence fucks with the world, and I don’t just mean your freaky powers. When I heard your old team got snuffed? I fuckin’ cheered. I broke out the good coke and snorted it off the tits of a thousand-dollar hooker, cuz it’s one more step to puttin’ things right again.”
”What do you want?” My voice was flat, almost still a whisper.
Chive nodded towards the door. “I got a dozen wounded guys. Heal them. Then you get the fuck out of this town before I tip the ASP where you’ve been all this time, and they send one of their Stiletto’s to handle you.”
“They were retired,” I muttered.
“Bitch, please, it’s the fuckin’ government. They may have publicly broken up, but they’re still out there, doing
shitwork.” He tapped his chest again. “I got my insider on speed dial. One tap
and you’re pinged.” His smirk widened to a grin. America
I took a controlled breath, composing myself, letting the numbness return. I nodded. “That sounds agreeable to me. After this, I wouldn’t want to stay here anyway.”
I got up, and Chive and his thugs walked me out of the room, through the living room, and into the next apartment across the hall. A knocked out wall and some half-destroyed mattresses formed an ad hoc medical ward. A dozen guys were bandaged or holding rags against one to three places each. Jamal and his gang had really done a number on them. I didn’t even ask what had happened to the rest of the kids.
A few of my new patients were barely conscious, but several tensed up as I entered to room. Chive waved a hand, and while they didn’t relax, they didn’t look about to run. No one said anything. Unlike with Jamal’s group, I took my time, going to each one and taking a few extra seconds than I needed to work the bullets out and mended the flesh. I let it be painful and I didn’t regenerate any lost blood. Fuck ‘em.
I could tell Chive didn’t approve, but for all his bluster, he knew better than to actually provoke me into a fight. It still only took a couple of minutes anyway. I didn’t want to draw it out that much and push his buttons too far either. Two of the kids were already dead by the time I got to them, but I could tell they’d been so since before I entered the building anyway.
The gang leader motioned to the corpses. “You sure you can’t bring ‘em back?”
I looked at them. “The bodies will be alive, but they’ll be like newborns or even vegetables. Brain damage sets in quickly, and that organ is too complicated for even my power to reset properly. They won’t even know how walk or use a toilet, but they’re already too grown up to learn such fundamentals quickly, if ever again. At best, after years of work, they might recover to a toddler’s state of mind. Or a dog’s.”
I glanced at him for a moment. “Trust me, it wouldn’t be worth your time trying to train them for body guard work, or whatever it is you’re thinking.”
“Not what I’m thinkin’. What I’m thinkin’ is that you can’t raise the dead. And what I’m thinkin’ is that your power ain’t automatic. You gotta will it to happen.”
I’d mostly had my back to Chive and his men as I worked, and as I explained why I wouldn’t bother resurrecting corpses. It was only now that I noticed all the boys I’d just healed had removed themselves from the room, and were coming back with guns. Chive’s personal thugs, Mark and his two cronies, they already had theirs raised. Chive stood in the center of his group, his arms crossed, his thin lips splitting into a sneer again.
He snapped his fingers, and a hail of gunfire ripped me to pieces, my own brains included.