A/N: Yeah, so you can see why I didn't want that last interlude to go out as a single update. This chapter owes a great deal to Juff, Joe, and Kerbal Program, thanks to their looking over and finding its many, many errors.
Hope it's a good read.
Dad was asleep. I could see him in his chair, snoring while the tv flickered at him. Perfect.
The back door, painted a fading white that flaked off when looked at wrong, opened quietly. The kitchen was as before. I put a couple of my bags under my kitchen chair, then headed down to the basement.
Whether Dad had believed me this morning or not, it didn't look like he'd come down. The boxes were still where I'd left them, and the dust on the floor – treacherously clear over the loose basement slab – didn't seem disturbed.
The things I'd bought that I couldn't afford or explain went into the little space remaining above the duffle bag: my new cell phones, a big pack of zipties (in case today didn't work out), first aid kits, stuff like that. The costume got plucked out to make space and then stuffed into one of the now empty retail bags.
Quietly, slowly, I pushed the slab back into place, then the boxes back to where they were supposed to be. The bags I hadn't left upstairs got stuffed behind a workbench that hadn't been used in a decade. One more trip up the stairs and onto the porch got the canvas that the villain had painted me, and that went downstairs too, hidden behind my grandpa's boxes.
Sneaking back outside, I closed the door as quietly as I could. Mission accomplished. Now I only had my market bag with my costume stuffed in to carry back. The current hummed throughout me, pouring into my ring, my sneakers, my umbrella, my new necklace. It was going to be exhausting walking back downtown with four items charging. Better not to try and do the costume as well, not till I had to put it on.
It didn't take altogether long, heading back. He was still there, and it couldn't be far past three in the afternoon.
There were some cafes with outdoor seating on the coast facing side of the market and I sat on a cold, unsteady chair at the emptiest cafe till I couldn't feel my butt. Even despite the costs of the morning I still had the majority of the ten thousand I'd taken (and wasn't that insane, before last week it was more money than I'd ever held in my life). It kept me supplied with coffee. When it got dark I bought myself one of their fancy subs made from organic something filled with superfood something-else, and seeds that took twice as long to pick from my teeth as the rest did to eat. The waitresses looked at me funny, but they didn't close till six, so they were stuck with me.
Well after sunset, he gave up. I limped up, letting him keep far enough away that it was almost a struggle to pick him out. The stress of it, the worry of losing sight of him plucked at me constantly, warring with the knot of anxiety that he would turn and spot me. He seemed as skittish as me. I saw him peer into an alleyway just beyond the square, lingering. He didn't go in, thank God. I wasn't going to follow him into anywhere dangerous.
The plan was to scout out where he lived. Chance had made me stumble into him, when I'd given up on seeing my handcuffs ever again. I couldn't leave it to chance twice. They had a month of charge.
My body didn't agree. My legs were stiff now, and my gait made it look like movement was a second language. Worse, my side was throbbing. It had been getting worse all day. I didn't know if it was the aggravation of moving it around, or carrying all my shopping home rather than just spending change on a taxi. When I'd gone to the bathroom at the cafe I'd looked at it. The edges were red and angry. Little scarlet trails tracked through deep bruising all around my hip.
The corner of a residential block let me rest for a second out of sight. I could see he was keeping the coast road. He walked on the side closest to the bay, the side that the street to Archer's Bridge came off, heading out to the north-east and Maine. I could catch up to him. Just not on foot. Fuck.
What could I do? I needed a bike, or a skateboard or something. Except if my sneakers had been working it wouldn't be an issue. I reached for them, tried to get them to do their thing. Nothing. He was getting further away.
On the main street a taxi came the opposite way, heading back towards the square. I flapped my bag at it desperately. It didn't look like it had seen me, until it spun across the whole boulevard to turn left again, cutting across traffic, horns calling out.
I limped toward where he jumped up on the curb, boutique bag slapping against my side with each step, the corded handles irritating the skin of my hand. I had money now. And a phone, waiting to be charged at home. I was never walking anywhere again. The door to the back seats closed with a soft clunk, and the not-exactly luxurious sticky leather didn't matter a bit. Sitting again was heaven.
"I'll direct you. Head up Lords Street to the junction with the road to Archer's street."
The taxi driver shrugged. He was a white guy with short hair, which was a little ominous. Still, heading through the docks towards the north end of the city where the Empire didn't have much of a foothold made it a bit better. If the villain was heading into Merchant territory then it made it less likely that the driver was going to get in my way. We set out, the soft sound of tires rolling over blacktop, before he turned up the radio. Old person rock. Great.
I caught sight of him just after the turn off. He looked nervous. Shifty. He kept looking over his shoulder before he turned onto a road into the city very stiffly.
"Just hold here for a second," I said.
He did, but grunted. "He your boyfriend? I don't want to get involved in anything."
"He's my brother," I lied. "He ran away."
Taxi driver grunted again, but said nothing. We watched my 'brother' slouch further up the road and turn right. Without my saying anything, he rolled forward to the next turn off and pulled up to the curb. We waited. The villain appeared again, turning back towards us. He was still looking behind himself regularly, not in front, and he didn't notice us. I ducked low on the backseat anyway.
When he reached the avenue again he started running down Archer's Street as fast as he could, straight along. With minimal direction, the taxi driver let him run till we saw him crest the bridge and then we set off after him. I was getting the impression this driver had been a PI in a previous life.
The villain was caught. The Bay Village was barely in the city, north of the docks, a collection of bulk built prefab apartment blocks. I saw him clearly; he went to the first complex, four stories high, and ducked into its parking garage. Light spilled out from a door and he ducked inside. It was silent, and I waited. The taxi driver shuffled in his chair, the material of it creaking. From where we were, the difference between the square apartment windows and the rectangular windows of the stairwell was clear. I didn't see him. If he lived upstairs then he hadn't used stairs. I tapped my chin.
"You found him. You want to go somewhere else?"
I pulled out forty bucks, and gave them to the driver. It was a good twenty dollars more than the fare, even with our crawling. I took out one of the loose hundreds I'd taken out the stack earlier.
"I'm going to go see if I can knock on his door." I showed him the bill. "Wait here for me, I won't be long."
He grumbled, told me he'd make a hundred bucks in an hour if he took more fares rather than wait for me, but I didn't buy it, and he'd already turned the engine off when I'd asked him to wait.
Bag close to me, I ran across the road, into the garage and to the door on the left wall. It was a little stuck out, the lock didn't fit the door well, and with a little muscle it looked like you just had to lift it a little to pull it open. I had less than a little muscle.
"Fuck," I said, for the second time this evening. Why couldn't things just be easy? I just wanted my property back. Was that too fucking much to ask?
There weren't any other doors, and I could hardly go around the apartment windows and jump into an occupied flat.
The untransformed umbrella tip got jammed under the door, as hard as I could. Gingerly, I put my weight on the handle, more, then more. I ended up standing on it and hopping. With a crunch, the door popped open.
It opened into a lobby area. The floor was a stained plain plastic, and the walls a fading pale blue with metal mail slots lining one side. There was a door to the stairwell set into the opposite corner and, on the wall immediately perpendicular to it, the door to the apartments.
Pressing my face to the thin strip of glass of the door, I saw a corridor, dark except for one open door where bright light spilled out. It closed. He'd been carrying a lot, enough that maybe he couldn't open it and close it with his hands full. I gave myself better than fifty fifty that was him.
I ducked into the stairwell, and found myself in luck. The stairs headed up in zig zagging flights, but they weren't solid to the ground; underneath them there was a gap. I hid, and put on my costume over the top of my clothes. It made the bottoms irritating but it was worth it if I had to change quickly again. I slipped my sneakers back on, and pushed the empty boutique bag under the small gap beneath the first step.
An attempt to call up my powers again did nothing, the items staying as they were. Irritating. The charge to my new gnostic necklace cut easily though, perking me up, and I cut it to my sneakers, too. I felt positively preppy. With an effort I cut the current to the ring. It had been a long time since I'd let it build up with nowhere to go, when not being shot at.
I felt like a hunter. I felt powerful. Putting on the costume, having the drop on him, prowling down his corridor. Even without my powers being fully operational. Was the energy messing with my head? Or was it more that I'd got him, that he had nowhere to hide. It was heady.
He wouldn't put up a fight, not if last night was any indication. Knowing where he lived, I'd have leverage, and he'd have to give me back the handcuffs. I could get him to spill the beans on the Merchants too, get him to tell me more about their street level operations, figure out more how an independent hero could really hurt them.
Deep breaths, Taylor.
What do I call myself if he asks? Overshadow; it had been an early rejection, and I wouldn't need it again.
Padding the corridor to the door that had been open, I crept closer. Reached the door. There was the thud of something heavy falling. I put my ear to the thin wood.
On the other side there were voices, male voices. One of them was talking a lot, sentences and sentences, then another would talk. Shout. But shortly. It happened twice, and then the second voice was cut off by a thud. A cry of pain. A third voice, deeper still, saying something.
Something wasn't right here. Something wasn't right at all. Whatever he was doing in there, it wasn't good. He hadn't struck me as violent, not in the way that I'd seen every other parahuman be this week, barring New Wave. There was definitely something violent happening. If he was abusing someone I had to stop him but there was no way I could barge in if someone else's life was at stake.
I padded back to the garage. Head halfway out the door, the taxi was still plainly in view. The lenses in my goggles were good enough that I could see the seat where the driver should have been sitting. Fuck, the fourth. Where the hell had he gone? It worked for me right now though, and I sprint-limped out of the garage and round the corner. The windows here would look into the apartments on the right side of the corridor. I counted off the first eight, until I reached the ninth. The curtains were shut, but the bathroom window was open. Higher up, small and square, and only a fingertip gap, but I could hear them now.
" ...understand? Tinkering isn't cheap. Holding…" I missed the next bit. Holding something, drugs, guns? Holding out? Probably the last one because I heard the smack of something hard hitting something soft.
"I told you, man. Quicker glows brighter. You hired me to paint shit, not to fucking hide a–"
The smack again. Someone cried out. For a minute no one said anything, then his slow voice spoke up again. "Annie," he said, "just let her go and I'll work it off, I'll pay you back."
"You're fucking right you will, but you're in no position to negotiate with me. You almost got me fucked by the long dick of the law. I reckon she might need to work for me–"
There was a hit. Then another, then another, and the crashing of a body hitting the floor. Skidmark. Fuck, the fifth. Why did this keep happening?
I made my way back from the window. The situation had completely turned on me, and … fuck. Fuck! I was going to have to save him. I was going to have to stop Skidmark. My cell phone was at home, uncharged, and useless. It had only been four days and I was already exhausted with finding myself surprised by gang crap.
The taxi driver still wasn't in his cab, and I ducked into the building through the door I'd busted. I needed to get them out of that room, and I needed to get the cops here, and the heroes. Preferably without them seeing me. They'd asked me to stick around yesterday, and I hadn't. Being in the vicinity of the Merchant's capes two nights in a row wasn't a good look for me. If things calmed down, maybe I could just swing by once my powers were working again. Try and make deliberate contact with the heroes, smooth things out with them. The Protectorate, not the Wards.
I hobbled up two steps before I heard voices coming down from above and spun back. I limped under the stairs and dropped down. I tucked my canvas bag in a little more as their footsteps passed over my head.
Ok, go time. Up the stairs to the next floor, the corridor to the apartments was empty and as dark as the hallway below. Next to the door was a fire alarm. I smashed the glass, and the ringing bells flared to life, deafeningly loud. As fast as my over-bruised legs could carry me, I ran to the far end of the corridor, beyond the apartment I wanted, and beyond the doors to the last flats.
Doors started opening, and I pressed myself into the corner. The hope was that they'd all be in such a panic to leave that they'd not bother to look towards a dead end, and I was right. There were nine apartments on each side, and maybe two-thirds of them opened. Residents in various states of dress hurried to the stairwell, except for one guy on crutches who dinged on the elevator set into the recess next to the door to the stairs. As he waited he turned, and he saw me.
"Cape!" he said.
Stragglers turned to look at me, but the apartment I needed had already opened and the people who lived there had exited into the hallway. The family of stragglers, the last left on the floor alongside crutches man, turned to look at me, but I was already limping past them, ducking into their home. It was nice, in a cosy way. Cared for. I felt bad.
"Sorry," I said. I slammed the door in their face and drew the chain across and the deadbolts. It wasn't a nice neighbourhood, and the fact flats needed more than a key to stay secure worked to my advantage. The inside was a den that attached to a bedroom on one side and a bathroom on the other. Except the bathroom was on the opposite side to the flat immediately below us, so things weren't as identical as I'd like. I hoped they had insurance.
I checked the bedroom first, to see if there was an en suite. The whole flat was pastel colors, and there was a crib in the corner. God damn it. I really hoped they had insurance.
In the kitchen that attached to the den, I plugged the sinkhole and turned the faucet on to full strength, water rushing out. In the bathroom, they had another sink and a combination shower and bath. That was annoying; a bath would take minutes to fill, probably. I wasn't sure that the guy getting beat had minutes, not if Skidmark didn't believe it was a real fire alarm.
Knocks sounded out, someone, the owner probably, pounding on the door. Brave. I would've called the PRT and backed out if an unknown parahuman had broken into my house. I plugged the bath and set the water as quickly as I could, watching it start to fill. The sink, too.
They had a wall phone, hanging off the column that hinted at division between their den and their kitchen. I picked it up, dialed.
"Nine-one-one, what's your emergency?"
"Err, Police and PRT, please. And Ambulance."
I gave it and she repeated it back to me quickly, before she spoke again.
"The Fire Service and the BBPD are already on route to your address. Is the patient breathing?"
"Yes. He's being attacked by Skidmark, the villain, who's in the building. He's on the bottom floor."
"Are there any other villains on the premises?"
"I don't know."
"Are there any other persons in danger, ma'am?"
"I don't know."
"The Police and the PRT are on their way. I need to ask you some additional questions."
That was all I needed to hear. "I'm sorry, I can't. Just get here." I hung up, checked on the sinks. The kitchen was spilling onto the floor, the water had almost reached my feet. In the bathroom the sink was overflowing, and the bathtub was three-quarters full. That was quicker than I'd thought. Perfect.
I went to the door. The pounding was coming in fits and starts.
"You need to get out," I called through the door. "There are villains in the building and the PRT and Police are on their way."
It went quiet for a second. Holiest of holies, I heard footsteps, heading away. Someone had finally listened to me. I went to unbolt the door before I heard footsteps coming back, at speed. They slammed into the door and I flinched back, despite myself. It held, thankfully; the bolts were substantial, and the chain too. But I wasn't getting out that way.
I went back to the bedroom. There was a larger window on the back wall and turning the handle all the way up let it swing out like a door. I looked down. Maybe fifteen feet … ish. It felt a lot higher from this end. Water was beginning to creep into the bedroom. I looked around again; there were photos of the couple in Vegas, or maybe actual Paris, though probably not in this neighbourhood. This was bad, what I was doing, but there was possibly a man's life on the line, even if he was a villain. Still, I could offset it a little. I pulled out the stack I had in the pocket underneath my costume and threw most of it onto their dresser. It wouldn't help the heartbreak.
Climbing over the window-edge was an experience. The umbrella went over first, then I let myself hang from my fingertips, the movement pulling at my bullet wound. Once I was stretching down as far as I could, I dropped. It felt a lot longer than a second, my stomach swooping before I hit the narrow strip of grass bordering the building and crumpled. Nothing broke, except my dignity, and I was exactly where I needed to be.
There was no noise from the other side of the ground floor bathroom window. Either Skidmark was there and had stopped hitting his former underling, or he'd resolved the problem permanently. The fire alarm was still ringing. I waited there for minutes. There were sirens in the distance, but it felt like they weren't getting any closer.
When it happened, it happened.
"The fuck is this?!" I heard the guy from before shout, Skidmark, I presumed. Then there was a crack and a crunch, and I heard a loud smack as water came down. Curses and yelling, their swearing heading out the flat by the change in the acoustics.
"Somebody did this, the water, the fire. This is some dickbag fucking with us. Andre, you…" I didn't catch the rest. Didn't care. They wouldn't find anyone upstairs. This was my chance.
My umbrella tip levered open the bathroom window. It was a small square thing, just above my head. I rested the umbrella on it, then tried to pull myself up. It was hard work, really hard work. A lot harder than carrying the duffle bag had been. Was I already getting used to the adrenaline of being a few yards away from supervillains? The cannon of last night came back to me, booming as it fired a shot, the terror of seeing Dauntless gone mad, and the sort of firepower that real heroes and villains could bring to bear. No, that definitely wasn't it. With my toes scrabbling against the crevices in the brickwork, I pushed myself up and into the window, then stepped down onto the closed toilet inside, less quietly than I'd like. It clanked.
"Hello?" someone blubbed, quiet, hard to hear. The word was thick, abnormal. It sounded like me, the time Sophia had helped me down the stairs at school and my lip had been busted. I risked popping my head out.
The artist was under a few small fragments of roof, on a soaked bed. Water was dripping from the small hole in the ceiling, mixing with the dust on the floor. He was alone. They'd all left.
I limped over to him. He looked bad. His face was battered, one eye was half shut, and there was blood in his hair, on his clothes, everywhere. Lumps were starting to appear over one side of his face. One of his fingers didn't look right, in outline, and was purplish-blue.
"Come on," I whispered. I touched him on the arm gently, and he met my eyes. My mask lenses, at least. It explained the flinch as he recognised me. "I'm getting you out of here," I said.
He looked at the door. "They're right outside," he said, thickly.
I nodded. "We'll go through the window, okay?"
He nodded, but when he went to stand, he groaned and fell back on the bed. "I don't know if I can," he said.
I wasn't having it. I pulled him up. It was weirdly similar to the night before, except this time I was willing to hold him up. Rather than the bathroom window I went to the bedroom window on the other side of the waterfall. With minimal pushing and a pretty soundless crouch-fall from him, we got him through.
"Come on, now you," he whispered, looking up at me from where he'd spilled onto the floor.
"Get away from here. I'll catch up." He was safe now. Safer. I hadn't forgotten why I'd come. I left the window and searched the flat. I checked the kitchen, looked through the drawers. There was nothing obvious in the bedroom. Nothing on the floor, or on the dresser. Nothing on the shelf in the bathroom. Where the hell were my handcuffs?
"...not going to get past my skidmarks, and they won't try till the PRT get here. Those fucks are always too slow. Let's just grab him and–"
He was so loud I could hear him from the moment he came back into the hallway. Fuck. I hadn't found them. I left the bathroom, dived for the window as his voice got close. The window had swung shut. Fuck, number … whatever. I threw it open, dived through, no time to throw my umbrella through. It stabbed into my side as I landed.
"–the fuck was that?"
Shit. Run. Crap. Crap. Run.
I wasn't even aware of my legs anymore. I met the beat-up guy; he'd just made it to the corner of the building. I snatched him by the arm, looking back over my shoulder. Skidmark's upper body was halfway out the window. I'd never seen him before, not on the wiki, not on the news. He was black, thin. He had a mask over the top of his head that covered everything but his eyes. It was the eyes that stayed with me. Bloodshot, too big for his head, brown. His eyes fixed on me like knives. I'd never seen it before, never seen the stare a person gives when they decide to murder you.
Then I was around the corner.
I had my arm under the–
"What's your name?" I asked. He didn't hesitate to answer.
"Peyton," he said. I hadn't expected that name, not his real name. Even without his plain domino mask on.
"Come on, Peyton."
Everyone had gathered on the street directly in front of the apartment complex. There were maybe eighty or ninety people huddled together in little groups, keeping their space from each other. Even living on top of each other, this probably wasn't the sort of place where you got to know your neighbours well.
In the distance I could see a fire truck, a couple of hundred yards down the road. Between them and the crowd on the street there were Merchants. Several cars had formed a barrier across it, blocking off the road, but it wasn't the real wall. Just beyond them there was a bright multicolored strip that completely bisected the street and the ground on either side of it. Skidmark's power. He could put barriers on a surface that made it impossible to pass. Like I'd seen with Battery last night, he could make it so impossible to pass that it bounced you back as hard as you hit it.
It was hard to see through the press of people, but it looked like the taxi was still on the far side of the street. I hoped he'd come back from wherever he'd gone. I tugged on Peyton's arm but he resisted me.
"Come on," I said.
He pointed. "That's Skidmark's car. They've got my girl inside. They've got Annie."
Most of the Merchants were in the cars that had barricaded the street from the Bay proper. This car was a lot nearer, parked on the curb closest to us, and the windows were tinted. We didn't have time for this.
"How the hell am I supposed to get her out?"
He was spared from answering me. Skidmark was here. He kicked open the main door to the apartments, and looked at me again. He had a gun in his hand. There were Merchants behind him.
"Who the fuck are you?"
"I'm a new Ward!" I lied. Driving Peyton ahead of me I opened my umbrella behind us. No shots rang out. He didn't need to shoot, not with his power. We made it almost to the street, almost the crowd. A splash of colour struck the ground ahead of me, all the way to his own car.
I spun, and another struck the ground on the other side of me. Then his power started to chase me. It was like tetris pieces, jerking closer to me in colorful strips of blue and violet. I could see it beneath what my umbrella hid behind me. Color, chasing our feet. When the first stripe got ahead of me I stumbled, but kept my balance. It slowed me enough that he got another layer under me. Then that layer got brighter. Brighter still. It was like being pushed by a full grown man. My umbrella clattered away from me, and we both fell, spilling over the sidewalk onto the street. We were yards from the crowd, who backed away from us like a wave drawing back into the sea.
Peyton groaned. I didn't have the luxury, even with my knee suddenly white-hot. I grabbed him and heaved, gasping, pulling us behind the far tire of Skidmark's truck.
"Fuck you going to do now?" called Skidmark.
It was faint but it was there. The current in me was exploding, it felt fuller than it ever had before, building quicker, the fever pitch hum boiling over, ready to burst, and I felt it. Felt the faint resonance, the pitch of my ring. It was high, it was different, but it was there.
I let it go, and the ring on my finger changed. It turned a dull, crystalline grey.
"I'm not buying it," Skidmark shouted. "That costume is a piece of shit, too shitty for a Ward."
I ignored him. My ring was different, but transformed; that second resonance was still there. The power.
"I reckon I can shoot you. Then I can shoot that snitch ass piece of shit cock-sucker you're with. And then I won't shoot his girlfriend. Not until she's made me the money I lost on my cannon, and that shit was expensive."
From this angle, with just a little duck, I could see under the car. Skidmark wasn't just ranting, he was distracting us. The feet of the gang members who had followed him out the building were heading in opposite directions, to gain sight lines around the cars and flank us.
I tried to transform my umbrella, my sneakers, but the resonance that had returned to the ring hadn't come back to them. I let my current flow back into my other things, exhaustion growing a little nearer. I hadn't been charging the ring though, so why had that come back to me but not the others?
It didn't matter, it'd let me do what I needed to.
"Peyton," I hissed, "paint the car. Paint it and make it glow as brightly as you can."
He did as I asked. He touched the car, and after a second it started to shine, more and more brightly. It wasn't Purity, it wasn't the sun, but it got to the point where it was hard to look at. Perfect.
I stood, pulling on the door's plastic door-handle. No luck. I activated my ring's power and punched the glass as hard as I could. The glass didn't crack but my fist did. And it hurt. Despite the ring, it hurt. I hissed, cradling my hand for a split second. This wasn't right. Tinkertech window? Or I wasn't as strong as I'd thought. Why did it hurt?
The light was beginning to fade. I tugged at the handle again with my ring hand. Shit. There was a feeling though, like something tickling at the hair on my arm. I touched the metal, the seam where the back door met the back panel. I pushed. It deformed. It was like pushing against taut saran wrap. I dug my fingers in and gripped the edge, ripping the door open.
I hauled Peyton onto the back seat then dived in after him. The door closed most of the way, but it was too damaged. It wouldn't click shut.
"Annie," he called through broken lips. I kept my non-busted hand on his head, keeping him down from the profile of the window. Skidmark was still at the main entrance, not approaching the car. Annie was sitting in the front seat; she was maybe twenty? No one would take her for a senior, but she was definitely young. Her straight black hair didn't cover her black eye. I didn't notice anything else; my eyes were drawn to the silver handcuffs that secured her to the passenger side door. They'd cuffed each wrist, with the chain fed through the inside handle.
"Peyton. Holy shit! What did they do to you?"
There was the crack of a pistol from outside. It hit the window, loudly, but the window didn't crack. Skidmark's tinker had definitely armored the car. I glanced through the window quickly. Skidmark was throwing layers down, between himself and the car, more and more.
"Talk later." I clambered over the armrest in the middle of the two seats upfront, easing myself into the driver's position. I checked the driver's side door, under the sun visor — nothing. The only reason he could be building a wall, the only reason I could think of, was Skidmark thought I might try and run him over, which meant…
"There's keys here. I couldn't get them to my hands." Annie tapped a foot on something in her footwell.
"Ridiculous," I said, disbelieving. The car started with a roar and I slammed it into reverse, shooting back. The crowd had all run by now, most of them fleeing down the street in the direction I wanted to go. I had never driven before. This wasn't easy. Get on the sidewalk, people.
More shots hit the car to little effect. I spun the wheel hard, just as Skidmark lay down another glowing strip. It helped us more than it hurt, turning the car sharply to face the other way. I flicked the lever to drive, and put the pedal to the floor. The tinker had done more than mess with the exterior. It roared, it leaped.
We were bouncing over the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street before I could control the car, rumbling over the thin strip between the Bay Village and the seawall. We crashed into big boulders, noise pointed down at the sea, and I fell up half onto the dash, the steering wheel hitting me in the ribs, the car horn squawking briefly.
Peyton groaned from where he'd fallen into the rear seat footwell. Annie was hissing, pulling at her handcuffs.
"Everyone ok?" I asked.
"Where did you learn to drive?" she asked.
I flicked it into reverse. The wheels spun uselessly. Nth Fuck.
Reaching across the central divider, I pushed Annie back against the chair. The small key to the handcuffs came out my belt and I fiddled around, unlocking it at the awkward angle. They popped open with a click, and I pulled them off. I had them, finally. Still, I wasn't quite ready to celebrate yet. I put them back in a pouch.
Annie rubbed her wrists, frowning at me, but didn't say anything. I was already looking out the window, back towards the block. We'd made it a good fifty yards from the building, but I could see a few Merchants running towards us. Merchants didn't wear particular colors like the ABB, that I knew, nor did they have specific tattoos like the Empire either. You could just tell.
"Can you run?" I asked.
Peyton shook his head. I believed him.
"We can't outrun them," said Annie, "we need to show them we're too much to handle."
Not what I was expecting to hear. Not what I was expecting to see either. She had a pistol in her hand. The passenger side glove-box was open, and I could see ammo and a couple more small guns, too.
Annie clambered into the back seats, in a whirl of bony arms and legs, the gun passing over me three times while she moved. Jesus. "Move, Peyton." She got him onto the other side of the car. "Are your powers going to be any use in scaring them off?"
I shook my head. Said, "No."
"Get a gun."
I did. There were two – one was modern, and the other was something out of a detective film, smaller and kinda brassy looking. I took it. Hopefully older and smaller meant it would do less damage to anyone I hit. Fuck. I had to do it though. It was heavier in the hand than I had expected. It felt… ominous.
The crack of Annie's pistol firing made me jump. Everything changed. The car rang like a can when they fired back. There were screams. The people from the apartments running away from the city, just scattering in every direction.
Annie had cranked the window a little so the barrel of the gun could poke through. I dropped mine, pointed the little pistol through.
Two Merchants were running away down the street towards the barricade — which was rapidly disassembling itself, junk being pushed over, car lights turning on.
It was so loud. Skidmark stood on his own, on the sidewalk, gun firing at us. I couldn't hear him but I could see him gesticulating between shots, and I knew that he was swearing. He had a man closer to us, open, walking along the coast side of the street. I took aim, fired, and I heard the crack, saw the stone shatter near his feet. He fired back, fell, shots wild, before finding his feet and running.
The next closest was almost entirely open, where he leaned against a streetlight. I moved my gun along the lip of the window, but before I fired, he fell, screamed, spinning from the shoulder.
"Shit, I think I hit one. Peyton, get me some ammo from the glove box." Annie fired again.
Skidmark was raging. This was it. He was the closest now. I aimed. The trigger was hard to pull, not emotionally — I was too numb, I was just doing — but like the first shot it took a lot of effort. The gun bucked, there was a crack, I saw a clod of the grass near his feet kick up. Did it dip low? That was twice now. I aimed. Fired. Skidmark fell.
Then he was straight back up, swearing as much before. Winged him. He shot at us rapidly, four shots in a row, until I could see he was still aiming but nothing was happening. His guys were piling into their cars. There were eight cars and five of them were already taking off, along the road that shot inland, after the bridge.
Annie fired again, one of his men had to grab Skidmark by the shoulder. He pushed at them, threw his gun to the ground — I could just faintly hear his screaming — and then he was forced into a car. The tires spun, I heard the roar of the engine and they clipped the corner. They'd left one of their guys behind, and he was running after them.
I saw why. The BBPD were here, blue lights flashing and sirens wailing, with the eerie green lights of one heavy duty van full of PRT officers. That wasn't it, wasn't how they must have got past Skidmark's power.
At the front of them all, lined in neon lights, wheel spinning in the same fluorescent blue, was Armsmaster. Leader of the Protectorate ENE, and one of the greatest tinkers in the world. He looked like a cyberpunk knight, his legendary halberd spearing feet ahead of his bike as he took the corner. Then he was gone.
I was sweaty. I'd barely done anything but I was sweaty.
Peyton laughed over Annie's response, his laugh thick because of his swollen lips. There was an ambulance, two, that I could see, coming over the bridge behind the fire trucks.
"I'll help you two to the ambulance," I said, "then I've got to run."
With Annie and I taking one side each, we pulled him out of Skidmark's truck, helped him over the sea wall and back onto the sidewalk.
"I owe you," he said. I grunted. "I mean it. I owe you, spooky market girl. You ever need anything, you hit me up. I promise." I froze. He'd put two and two together, had realised who I was.
"How?" I asked. What had given it away, was there some obvious tell that I had?
"Shoes," he said. "Never seen sneakers like that before."
I let us stumble along to the ambulances, digesting that. It was slow going. There were a couple of cop cars parked up, lights silently spinning over the dark grass, talking to the people returning to their flats. The fire service was securing the building.
"Okay," I said.
"I won't be here again. Don't have a phone at the moment,"
Annie spoke, from the other side of him. "I'll give you my cell."
"Or you can leave a message at the Palanquin, I go there," he said.
I didn't know what to say. So I didn't. The promise of a favor from another cape was nice, but it was easily given when you'd been saved from someone beating you half to death. I wasn't going to hold my breath.
An EMT met us close to the ambulance, calling his colleague over with a trolley. We lowered Peyton down.
"It was Skidmark," I offered. One of them looked at me, their eyes lingering on the mask, obviously on edge. But then they took to assessing him, taking his name, asking him questions, shining a pen torch in his eyes. His girlfriend was right there with him, hand on his hand, making encouraging noises, being reassuring. And she'd been shooting people minutes earlier.
This wasn't the peaceful day I'd wanted. But then I'd been shot yesterday, so the whole weekend was kind of a bust.
"Good luck," I said. I didn't know if they heard me. I just wanted to get home. I was so tired. My legs were jelly. I ached. Whatever strength the adrenaline had lent me was now coming due, and I was in debt.
The taxi, yards down the street past the ambulance, was still there, somehow. Its vanishing taxi driver was leaning against the front bonnet. Smoking. Like he was waiting in a Starbucks parking lot.
"Let's go," I said.
"You don't need to answer any questions?" He was frowning. I was not in the mood.
"Where were you?" I asked.
"Got tough on your brother, did you?" I stared at him through my costume lenses, he stared right back. Then he opened the back seat. I got in.
The barrel of the gun dug into my back, where I'd put it in my belt pouch. Another secret for the basement floor.
"Where to?" he asked. We rolled out, heading back into the city, the ambulances, the flashing lights sliding by, outside the window.
"Lord Street then onto Beacon Hill Parkway." It was close enough that I could walk back without too much difficulty, and he wouldn't have seen where I lived. Armsmaster and his support had to have caught Skidmark by now, or else have lost him completely. Maybe they were fighting right now, as I was heading home.
"I saw there were Merchants," the driver said. They hadn't exactly been subtle. The observation wasn't going to win him a Pulitzer. "They were pulling up, so I got out, took a look around, saw something was going down, called the police. Got you your backup."
My backup? We reached the other side of Archer's Bridge, and he turned back in his seat to face me, a business card between his fingertips. "If I'm going to be your cape chauffeur, you'll need my number. Name's Glen," he said, "and I reckon this deserves more than a hundred."
I took the card numbly. I hadn't changed back. I was still in my costume. Fuck. Fuck for the nth time plus one.
"What should I call you, anyway?" he asked.
"I was thinking Overshadow," I said. I saw his lips quirk in the rear view mirror. "It's a work in progress," I snapped.
I gave him the 1100 bucks I had left.
Dad yelled at me for disappearing when I got back (sans costume, which had been shoved beneath the back porch for now). Not a lot, not loudly, but enough that it was shocking. It should've been a bad end to a bad day, but I was elated the whole time.
Dad had a radio, an old thing from his college days that he kept in the kitchen and listened to when he was brooding. The whole time he was interrogating me it crackled away in the background. Local news.
'And to repeat, breaking news: we're receiving reports that local Brockton Bay supervillain 'Skidmark' has been arrested after a ten car chase through the city, captured by Protectorate East-North-East leader Armsmaster. Details as they become available.'
I'd done it. We'd got him.