1) This story is set in the Wormverse, which is owned by Wildbow. Thanks for letting me use it.
2) I will follow canon as closely as I can. If I find something that canon does not cover, then I will make stuff up. If canon then refutes me, then I will revise. Do not bother me with fanon; corrections require citations.
3) I welcome criticism of my works, but if you tell me that something is wrong, I also expect an explanation of what is wrong, and a suggestion of how to fix it. Note that I do not promise to follow any given suggestion. Posting a negative review from an anonymous account is a good way to have said review deleted.
[Author's Note: Due to critiques made by readers, this fic has been rewritten to a certain degree. Some plot elements have changed, but the overall direction is the same.]
I couldn't breathe. There was no air in the locker that wasn't tainted with the stench of the things that were sharing it with me. I couldn't breathe, and yet I had to, struggling and screaming and banging and retching.
And then something odd happened. Several odd things, in fact. At the time, it seemed as though everything happened at once, but afterward, I figured that there must have been a sequence of events, and an interval between them.
Looking back, the first odd thing was the spot of light that appeared on the side of the locker. It was so odd that my struggles and screams ceased, as if my brain were doing its best to distance itself from the horror of the situation by focusing on something new.
As bizarre as it seemed, the spot of light wasn't inside the locker at all. It was outside, some little distance away, but it was moving nearer to me, to the locker. At some point, it must have dawned on me that I wasn't seeing it with my eyes, but this was immaterial, because the second odd thing then took my attention.
The spot of light was speaking to me.
Not in words, nothing I could hear with my ears in the close, echoing confines of the locker, and nothing I could understand in any case, but there was meaning there, if I could just decipher it. It was a stream of data, almost intelligible, something like listening to someone speaking English in a very strong accent; if you listened long enough and attuned your ear to it, you could make sense of it.
And then, as the spot of light came closer, as the voice I heard without hearing grew louder, more clear, I made sense of it.
It said, You don't have to be in here if you don't want to be.
I didn't want to be in there.
And suddenly, I wasn't.
I was sprawled on the floor of the hallway, in front of the locker, looking around me with some bewilderment; the odd thing being, of course, that I had exited my locker, and left the majority of its disgusting contents behind, while not actually opening the door in the process.
Standing nearby, with several of their cronies, were Emma, Madison ... and Sophia.
And the fourth odd thing occurred to me.
I could see each of them clearly. But Sophia ... Sophia was illuminated from within by that same spot of light. The light that was still communicating data to me, more and more of which was becoming intelligible, understandable.
And suddenly, I understood a great many things.
I knew who and what Sophia Hess really was.
I knew, or thought I knew, why she had gotten away with so much at Winslow.
I knew how she had performed some of her meaner pranks.
I knew, in fact, her greatest secret.
As I struggled to my feet, I heard the girls speaking to each other.
"Holy shit." That was Emma. "Did she just ...?"
"Stay back." Sophia. "I think ..."
"What the fuck just happened?" Madison.
I got myself upright and stood swaying. Small, blackened, horrid things peeled from my clothing and plopped to the floor. My eyes fixed on the small group.
"You," I growled. "Sophia fucking Hess."
My fear, my terror, my disorientation ... it was all fading away, subsumed in a growing anger. I knew who the architect of my incarceration was. She was standing not a dozen feet from me. I lurched forward, nearly fell, regained my balance. Another step; it was becoming easier, despite the endless time I had spent trapped in the locker. My cramped muscles were becoming uncramped.
Sophia stepped forward as well, putting herself between me and the others.
"What the fuck, Hebert?" she snapped. "How did you do that?"
I laughed in her face; I couldn't help it. Her expression registered anger and confusion; she wasn't used to being mocked.
"How would you do it?" I retorted, and swung my fist.
It was a wild punch, but she was so taken aback by my laughter, my comment, that she didn't even try to dodge. I clocked her, right in the mouth.
It wasn't a hard blow, having more of an effect via surprise than anything else. Nevertheless, Sophia took a step back. She put a hand to her mouth, checked her fingers for blood. There wouldn't have been any, but I wasn't going to stop there.
Stepping forward again, I swung at her once more.
This time, she reacted as she had obviously been trained; she caught my arm, half-turned me, locked it down, turned me all the way around, and got both my arms up behind my back.
"Okay, Hebert," she snapped. "We're going to –"
I wriggled free of her grip.
Actually, no, I did not.
There was no possible way I could have gotten free of her compliance hold; she was stronger than me, and although my arms are longer, she had the leverage and the training.
But the voice, now very close, whispered to me again.
You don't have to let her hold you.
And so I didn't let her hold me. One moment, she was holding me, the next ... she wasn't.
I capitalised on my sudden advantage; driving an elbow back into her ribs – that one would have hurt – I turned and punched her again.
Or swung, anyway.
Just before my fist would have made contact, she shimmered and went ghostly, just for an instant. The instant it took for my fist to traverse the space occupied by her head.
I wasn't surprised. I knew what she could do, who she was. The voice had told me everything; or rather, it had told me all about her powers, and I had inferred from that who she was.
She went solid, swung a fist at me. I evaded it, exactly the same way that she had. Her fist hit nothing except shadowy air.
I saw the shifts of emotion on her face. All of this had taken a very few seconds; she was just now coming to the realisation that not only did I have powers – the exact same powers that she had – but she had just now outed herself to those of her friends who were not in the know.
Over her shoulder, I saw Emma's face. She had seen the same thing that Sophia had; I was using powers. Madison was confused; Emma must have known about Sophia's powers ahead of time.
More clues were clicking into place, but I was busy. I swung at Sophia once more. Of course, she evaded it by going ghostly. But I went ghostly as well.
It was a strange sensation; all bodily life signs halted. No breathing, no heartbeat, nothing. But my fist still moved, and it connected with Sophia's immaterial face just fine.
We both went solid at the same time; Sophia had her hand to her face. "How the fuck did you do that?" she demanded.
"With great fucking satisfaction," I told her.
She was barely breathing hard; I was panting fairly heavily. More of the horrid items were falling off of my clothing. She glanced down at them, and then back up at me.
"You triggered," she realised. "In the locker. You triggered."
"If you say so," I replied with a shrug. "But you locked me in there, and you're fucking going down for it."
She shook her head. "Not a chance, Hebert. I'm fitter than you, and a better fighter. And I've been doing this longer than you have."
"Really?" I asked. "So come on. This is your chance. Beat me up. Golden opportunity, right here."
I watched her hands. I watched her eyes.
And I 'listened' to the murmuring non-voice of the light-spot.
She came at me fast, practised. She knew what she was doing, all right.
Unfortunately for her, I also knew what she was doing.
It wasn't quite anticipation. But her powers were explaining themselves to me, in detail. And so I knew what little tricks she had worked out with them. And I knew what would work best in any given situation.
So I had a fair idea what she was going to do, even before she did it.
The small crowd of spectators was growing by the moment, even as we passed through each other. She'd been going to go shadow, then go solid almost at the point of contact, hitting me hard then going shadow again before I could hit back.
I went shadow when she went solid, then matched her transitions. Her shadow body passing through me gave me a little chill, but I shook it off and turned fast. I went shadow, instants before she would have hit me, then went solid just in time to kick her in the side of the knee.
Going shadow again, I reformed standing up. It made life so much easier.
"What the fuck?" she muttered, stepping back warily from me. I couldn't kick as hard as she could, but she was limping slightly. "How the fuck are you doing that?"
I grinned tightly. "I'm not the fighter you are. And I'm not a runner. But I'm as good with my powers as you are. Maybe better. You can't use 'em to cheat, not in this fight. You're gonna lose."
That brought fire into her eyes. "You just said the wrong thing, Hebert," she gritted. "I don't lose. Not ever. And definitely not to a pathetic little nothing like you."
My grin widened. "First time for everything."
I had been slightly mistaken. I couldn't pick everything she was going to do. I had thought she would try once more to gain the upper hand with her powers – Sophia was nothing if not stubborn. But she didn't. She simply launched herself at me, a fist swinging in a smooth arc.
If I had been even two feet closer, she would have clocked me hard enough to put me out for the duration. But I wasn't. I had just enough time to register what the fuck? and jerk my head back, almost out of the way. She still clipped my cheekbone, and my head jerked back, my ears ringing.
But then my instincts took over, and even as she tried to tackle me to the floor as a follow-up, I went to shadow. She came through as well, trying to wrestle me into submission.
But here was her problem; she had never had any experience in dealing with other insubstantial capes, who used her brand of powers. And the behaviour of things in that realm was not quite the same as in the real world. Sophia had no baseline to work from.
But the murmuring non-voice was filling me in on things I could do, if I wanted. I considered options for half a second, then moved my shadow-body around hers in a way that would have been utterly impossible if we were both solid. She grabbed, and missed, because I wasn't there any more.
I was behind her. Taking hold of her. Bracing myself in a way that should have been impossible in a shadow state – except that I had figured out how to let the soles of my shoes, only the barest layer of rubber, extrude from the shadow state. Against the vinyl of the school corridor, I had excellent traction.
In the shadow state, Sophia struggled as I shoved her, hard. Her mouth opened, working; if we'd been in the real world, where air acted like air, she might have screamed. Because I was shoving her toward the wall. Where we both knew there were very likely electrical conduits.
She could have gone solid, but of course I would have done the same, and she would have face-planted the wall. So she didn't. And I shoved her into the wall.
And what do you know, there were electrical conduits in there.
I felt her convulse – I only held her there for a split second; I didn't want to kill her – and then I pulled her out of the wall again. Stunned or unconscious, she went solid when I did. It seemed to be a proximity thing. Or maybe a safety thing.
"Right," I panted. "Now I'll -"
"Now you'll do what?"
The new voice came from behind me. At the same time, there was a subtle pressure in my mind. I turned my head, not letting Sophia out of my eyesight.
Twelve feet away, a young man stood, wearing an easily recognisable costume.
Velocity, of the Protectorate.
Sophia groaned and forced herself upward.
"Help," she croaked.
"Clear the corridor!" called Velocity. "Everyone back, out of the way!"
I stood there, irresolute, as Sophia painfully scrambled to her feet. She was recovering rapidly; I suspected that I should have held her there longer. If I attacked her, Velocity would defend her. And I didn't want to fight him. He was a real hero, unlike Sophia.
Everyone moved back, apart from me and Sophia. Emma had already been keeping them back a ways; now they were well beyond earshot.
I looked at Velocity. He could move faster than I could think; if I even considered attacking him, then I would lose. Being able to turn insubstantial would not help me in the slightest, there.
And then, as I focused on him, I made an interesting discovery. If I concentrated, I could move the spot of light from Sophia, to Velocity. I could even move it back, if I wanted. But I didn't want to.
Focusing it on Velocity, the data stream changed, dramatically. I could understand it more than I had originally with Sophia, but I supposed that it was due to familiarity with the 'accent'.
It was all about Velocity's powers.
"Uh, can I say something?" I ventured.
Velocity eyed me warily. "If you come peacefully, you'll have your chance to speak," he advised me.
"No," I stated flatly. "I want to say something, now. Here."
He compressed his lips. "Make it quick. And don't bother making a run for it. You've got the same powers as she does. We know all the counters to her powers, and she could never outrun me."
I took a deep breath. "My name is Taylor Hebert. Sophia's been bullying me for months," I rattled off, as rapidly as I could. "She and her friends locked me in my own locker with all this shit. That's why I attacked her. I want them punished. They did the wrong thing, not me."
I stopped for breath. Velocity was staring at me, as was Sophia.
"How the – how did you do that?" he demanded.
"Did you even hear me?" I asked.
"Oh, I heard you," he replied.
"Heard what?" asked Sophia. "She coughed, or something."
"This girl just made a statement to me at roughly one hundred to one compression speed. I understood it perfectly. What I want to know is, how is she able to speak that quickly?"
Sophia stared at me. "Oh shit," she muttered.
"Oh shit indeed," replied Velocity. "She doesn't have your powers."
He turned to look at me.
"She's a power copier."
End of Part 1