They were thorough, I’ll give them that. When they ran out of bullets, they grabbed hammers and jellied my brains and organs completely, broke my bones to fragments. Then they got some kind of acid, probably part of whatever drugs they made, and they poured about a bucket’s worth over the remains.
It took me almost fifteen minutes to pull myself back together. The top half of my skull came first, clicking back together, the semi-intact parts of my brain slithering back inside it and regenerating the rest, the synapses reconnecting so as to actually process the information as my sensory organs re-grew. Once my eyes and ears worked again, I took stock of my situation. The room was smoky, no doubt from the acid reacting to my flesh, the wood floor, and whatever else was on the ground. I spared myself from regenerating my sense of smell for now.
I could still hear the gang laughing and talking shit in the apartment across the hall. Either they were too stupid to check on me, or they realized too late that trying to chemically cremate someone indoors was a bad idea, and they were waiting for the rooms on this side to air out before risking a look.
I hadn’t been lying when I told Chive I couldn’t fully bring back the deceased. And Chive had indeed guessed right that my power wasn’t automatic. I didn’t automatically regenerate, I had to will myself to heal. The thing was, in my own unique case, my consciousness stuck around even if my entire head was vaporized. That had actually happened to me twice already.
My mind, my soul, whatever it was that formed my higher reasoning, the Doorway had dislodged it from being bound to my brain alone, and instead bolted it to my very DNA. As long as a single intact cell of my body remained, I could will my power to replenish my entire form. I know this, because after the incident with the hospital, and a dozen less thorough attempts to take my own life, I jumped into an active volcano, hoping the lava would incinerate me completely, and finally let me die for my sins.
No such luck. My consciousness immediately snapped over to a vial of blood that I’d had taken during a routine check-up just days before the incident. I burst out of the vial as I reformed my body, and wept and screamed in the middle of a laboratory that had luckily been closed for the night. That’s when I decided to hide from the world forever. I didn’t even know how much of my blood was out there, splattered on battlefields, in tissues, in other vials, dissolved in sewer water. As far as I knew, I couldn’t die. Or I could die a million times just trying to slowly eliminate every possible recovery point. For as much as I suffered, I wasn’t willing to go through that much self-torture.
Chive and his thugs, though? Fuck “the balance.” Such horseshit. Only shitheads who lucked into a bit of power and desperately wanted more spoke of “the balance” and thought gunning down children in the streets somehow restored it. He wasn’t wrong that superhumans like me could be disruptive to society, catastrophically so in some cases. But wasn’t that all the more reason to not throw your fellow man under the bus? God, how many continents worth people had to be sacrificed before even animals like him understood?
I knew I had no right. I knew it wasn’t my place. I had no authority, no moral high ground from which to exact judgment. But as the last of my bones locked into place and the last of my flesh slithered into shape, I found I didn’t care. Besides, Chive and his thugs broke the deal first. Eye for an eye, wasn’t that right?
Quietly, I stood. I was naked, and my clothes were either in tatters or dissolved in the now used up acid. But that was fine. I wasn’t going to be staying in this shape for long anyway. I looked to the two dead boys, still left on the bench. I touched their legs, snaking hair-thin needles of my skin through their clothes to make contact. My one real weakness was that I had to touch skin to skin, but that was easy to overcome when I could alter my shape with surgical precision.
I fixed the bodies, jump started their brains. I’d lied about one thing, teaching the revived to function on at least a very basic level didn’t actually take that long. Not for me, anyway, not when I wasn’t worried about delicately reweaving their higher functions. Instead I pumped them full of adrenaline and tweaked their basest instincts to feed and to kill. I adjusted their sinuses and tied the scent of human flesh to their hunger. I made sure their motor skills were as smooth as I could make them with such a rushed job. Lastly, I modified their jaws to be tougher and their teeth to be pointed like a shark’s.
They sat up, blinking and drooling. They stared at me with glassy eyes, but I had already altered my scent so they didn’t recognize me as a meal. I pointed to the door. They huffed and staggered out of bed. Each picked up a discarded piece of junk, a steel pipe for one, a broken shotgun for another. I hadn’t even thought of that, but I guess there was at least a little bit of intellect, or instinct, left to know that even a bludgeon was better than a closed fist in a fight. Good, they might actually take a couple guys out before they got shot down again. Even if they didn’t, though, they’d serve their purpose. I just needed a couple seconds distraction.
As they staggered through the door, huffing and foaming at the mouth, my own body rapidly changed. The thing about my power is that I don’t just heal people. I don’t really “heal” them the way people think when they hear “healing powers”. My actual ability is to warp flesh, blood, and bone to my will. When I mend an injury, I just force the body’s cells back together, force the parts to move again like they should, force the cells to divide and grow, or die off and dissolve as needed, to manually repair the wound. When I cure an illness or poison, I force the body’s cells to physically push the poisons right out through the skin, or bolster and direct the body’s own defenses to obliterate the viruses and bacteria.
This power not only let me heal, it also allowed me to alter a body’s form, and not just by creating little skin thread needles. This power of directed mutation was how I changed my body from a woman to a man, and I how I could change from a man to a monster.
I grew and arranged my flesh until I was a veritable hulk, tall and broad and bulging with muscles. Bone plates sprouted and settled against my body, interlocking to form a flexible, bullet-proof armor. My arms split into two, then three, granting me six. The middle set I bulked back into powerful muscular limbs ending in dagger-like fingers. The top set I converted into long, writhing tentacles from which large, serrated teeth emerged, forming two deadly blade-whips. The bottom set I converted into bony, triple-jointed limbs, with long serrated spears like a mantis. My legs thickened, the feet and knees likewise becoming plated and extending bone spikes. My head expanded and formed a ring of swiveling tusks, with eyes splitting open in a ring around the middle to grant me 360 vision.
The floorboards beneath me creaked, straining beneath my weight, but I was already on the move. I reached the wall and paused to hear my two “zombies” let out ragged screams and half-run, half-stagger into the den of drugged out thugs. I heard the sound of metal striking flesh and teeth ripping into meat as they attacked their former comrades.
There were screams and curses. It took a few seconds longer than I’d guessed for the gunshots to go off. That was probably good, it meant my unwitting minions probably took down a couple more than I’d predicted.
As the guns roared, all concentrated on the two reanimates, I tensed my legs and blasted through the wall, stomping from one apartment into another. I emerged into Chive’s office. He’d been standing at the doorway, gun at the ready, shouting for someone to check on that “goddamn cunt”. He whirled as I exploded through the wood and before he could even whip his gun around, my left blade whip snapped forward and neatly cut his head off at the jaw. I caught his jawless skull in one meaty hand, and immediately threaded my flesh into his. For a few seconds after decapitation, the brain is still alive and functioning, albeit overloading with synaptic chaos. But I seized control of it, and I kept him alive and conscious, long enough to watch my work. The last moments of his life would be as a veritable brain in a jar, forced to watch and hear the destruction of all his hard work.
I saw that my two minions had already made short work of the two blissed out underlings on the couch and the curvy white driver. Mark, his cronies, Chive’s thugs, and the other boys I’d just healed were emptying every clip they had at me. Almost every bullet bounced off my armor, and the few that hit a fleshy spot did only surface damage that I fixed a second later. Eyes wide with panic and disbelief, they kept firing, reacting as only violent thugs knew how.
I could feel the signals of absolute horror from Chive’s head. Some terrifying part of me, thankfully small, reveled in their fear. For the most part, though, I still felt numb. This wasn’t anger. This wasn’t revenge. This was me just “fixing a mistake,” the mistake of ever thinking for a moment that I could leave my past behind me.
I crushed them under foot. I gutted them with my claws and spears. I chopped them to pieces with my blade whips. The few that finally tried to get away, I saw them with my many eyes, and I shot my skin threads to them, stabbing through their shirts to reach their bare backs. Upon contact, I made their lungs implode.
When all was said and done, there were twenty-six dead. I gave Chive’s head one last look at his broken little fiefdom. Then, with a clench of my fist, there were twenty-seven.
I shrank myself back down, converting and shedding the excess flesh as dead skin cells that piled and spread like sand throughout the room. I pulled the most intact clothes and shoes off my victims, used my power to drain the bloodstains out, and slipped them on, adjusting my body a little bit to fit the proportions. I walked out into the lawn, where two of the runners I’d needled had collapsed, their faces purple from lack of oxygen. Bad way to go, but it was the first thing that came to mind while I was dealing with so many at once.
I sat down heavily on the edge of the concrete step before the door. I couldn’t hear sirens. This area was effectively abandoned. No witnesses to report a Super fight, no one to hear the gunshots or the sounds of a monster crashing through a building. At least no one who didn’t know better than to mind their own damn business.
I sat there for nearly ten minutes, until the numbness in my head started to fade, and the panic started to set in. My life here was over, not that it was much of a life anyway. I could skip town, change my shape again, another man of course. I could get another shit job, find another ghetto to hide out in. I could still always do that bear-in-the-woods thing for a few months.
But that’s not what worried me. What worried me was that someone was going to find all this. Someone was going to realize what had happened. Someone was going to find out I was still alive, and leak it to the press. My existence would be known again, and for all those I’d helped, for the million-plus I’d saved, the one thing anyone would remember or care about was the one time I snapped and murdered a whole crowd of people. I’d be labeled as part of the Supervillain Epidemic, even though my freak out had occurred well before it. Hell, they’d probably retroactively edit the narrative to say I was the start of it.
When that happened, I would be hunted. With Super Fem Force gone, the only people left were bounty hunters. Or, if Chive was to be believed, one of the Stilettos would come after me.
Bear in the woods, then. It was my only option. Get as far away from civilization as I could go, and stay there for at least a few years. And that meant
Eurasia. I stood and went back
inside, fishing out as much money as I could find from the dead boys’ pockets
and from all the drawers in Chive’s office. With my power, I strained the
bloodstains out of the bills and off the credit cards I’m sure were stolen. I
fished around for the diver girl’s keys for several frustrating minutes, before
it occurred to me that she might have been too distracted by getting punched
and getting her drugs, that she probably had just left them in the ignition.
Having scavenged a total of a few thousand dollars, I figured that was as good as it was going to get. I stood and let out a slow breath to keep myself calm. My hands were shaking. I used my power on myself to force them to stop.
However, as I stood, I suddenly noticed a glint in the corner, as the sunlight at that moment happened to have shifted enough to reflect off the cracked screen of a smart phone. I froze for a moment, then glanced across the room. I noticed the way Chive’s body had fallen, the way his arm was outstretched. I noticed how it lined up with where the phone had landed in the corner.
I swallowed nervously, went over, and picked it up. I hit the side button. The screen came on, despite how bad the crack was. I swiped it to clear the lock screen and it didn’t even require a password. It was probably a burner phone intended to be ditched in a few days, so Chive didn’t bother setting one up.
What I saw turned my blood to ice. The last call he’d made was a number I recognized. It was the hotline to report a rogue super to the Department of Superhuman Affairs’ bounty hunter network.
The call had only lasted a couple seconds. He probably hadn’t actually gotten through before I decapitated him. But it meant I was out of time. Someone would already be on their way. I had to be on the road, now. I dropped the phone, already shifting my appearance to a different man. Black hair. Black skin. Goatee. A foot shorter, a couple inches broader. It strained my borrowed clothes a bit, but I could get more later. I just prayed the driver girl actually had left the keys in the car, because otherwise, I’d have to run. Once I got past the ghetto, a man of any color dressed as a thug, with a few thousand dollars bulging his pockets, running like his life depended on it? That would get the attention of the cops.
If I couldn’t get the car to start, I might have to just drop all the money and turn into a bird. I really didn’t want to do that, though. I wasn’t about to go back to my apartment now, and I needed at least some cash to get me started.
I got three feet out the door before I knew it was already too late. There was a rush of wind, and then a woman was standing before me. She was a tall
with a single white lock in her otherwise black short hair. She wore the same black
leather jacket, black jeans, and red shirt combo I’d seen her in when the SFF
had fought her and her gang down in Latina .
The same look she’d had when she was a member of the ASP’s superhuman black ops
“Max-Out,” I said, more of a croak than speech. I’d already been found by someone I knew I had no chance of stopping. She might not be able to kill me, but she could make sure I spent the rest of my eternal life locked in a cage.
She looked at me, looked at the bodies on the lawn, then disappeared for a moment. Wind rushed around me, and before I could blink, she reappeared and gave out an impressed whistle. “Jesus Christ, girl,” she said. “All I can say is you’re lucky I’m not still with the Stiletto. And you’re doubly lucky the Earth Mage needs you right now.”