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Diary of a Professional Knockoff

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The quiet tinny sound of the dial tone was interrupted by an equally-quiet voice. “Washington County 911, what is your emergency?”

Outside the room, there was a rattling sound of the supervillain’s hatchet scraping along the sheetrock. The sound sent shivers up my spine, and made my already shaky hands tremble even more.

“This is 911, can you hear me?”

My breath was shallow and ragged, I was scared to draw more than a gasp, lest he find my hiding spot. I certainly couldn’t talk. Quietly, I pressed the keypad three times. A pause. Three more times.

The dispatcher said something, but I didn’t hear them. I was too busy staring in horror at the doorknob as it slowly turned.

Fuck, this wasn’t good. I looked down. Phone in one hand, useless laser pistol in another. I hit the laser pistol against my knee a couple times, the status LEDs flickering dimly, and leveled it at the door. My hand was shaking so hard, I was worried I’d miss, even with the short distance.

The light from the hallway cascaded across my face as the door opened. Finally, with no hope of remaining hidden, I spoke into the phone. “My name is Sara Pratt. I’m a parahuman. Please tell my parents I love them.”

 

---

 

“Sara?”

God my fucking head hurts what the hell do you want?

“Sara, are you okay?”

“Hiii,” I groaned, pushing my head off of the desk and blowing a spare strand of dirty blonde hair out of the way. It was Sergeant Cooper, her PRT uniform crisp as ever, looking down at me.

“What the hell? Why are you napping at my desk.” It was less a question and more of a please stop doing this right now.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. “Thought you were off today and my head is killing me.”

“Well, I wanted to talk to you anyway.” She walked around behind me and pulled the seat backwards in the least-subtle get out of my chair way. Reluctantly I complied, and she took my spot, looking me over like a hawk looking over a mouse.

“Did you go drinking?” she finally asked, more than a bit of incredulity in her tone.

“What? No!” I said frantically, loud enough to make me wince and clutch at my temples. I continued, quieter. “I just… under the weather? I didn’t get much sleep last night, or the night before.” I’d been restless, with pressure in my head I couldn’t get rid of and a feeling I couldn’t shake.

“Sara… it’s seven in the morning, not even the capes are here yet. Grab some knockoff Excedrin from medical, head home, get some rest, and enjoy your Independence Day. We’ll manage without you for a day.”

“No!” Ouch fucking shit. “Just… please. I don’t want to go home. I don’t… look, you wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me.”

“I…” I glanced down at the drab office carpet, stuffing my hands in my pockets. “I want to be here. Doing something. Being useful. Not at home with… with my thoughts.”

I could feel Sergeant Cooper’s eyes drilling through my skull. “Sara. What do you want to do when you’re older?”

“Work here, of course,” I said without a pause. “Admin, Image, Ops, I mean any of them really. Working for the PRT is the best.”

“And before you started here? What then?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Answer the damn question before I stop giving a shit.”

I blinked. “Uh…” What had I wanted? Had I even wanted anything? Viewers, maybe. PHO likes were nice. But writing fanfiction didn’t pay the bills, and original cape fiction was hard to compete with the real deal right out the window. “I don’t know. I figured I’d find it when I saw it?”

“And you think the PRT is ‘it’, do you?”

Was it? The last few months… they’d been nice. Fulfilling. I’d always loved cape culture, and now I was a part of it, albeit from the sidelines. It… yeah, actually. “I do.”

Sergeant Cooper stood up. “Good. Follow me.”

Before I could so much as say anything, she pushed past me and out the door. I rushed to keep up, squinting at the bright fluorescent lighting that plagued the hallway and made the back of my eyeballs hurt more. Thankfully at the speed she was walking it didn’t take long for us to make it through the narrow passages and into a dimly-lit breakroom, where a coffeepot was brewing. It wasn’t the nice one upstairs that I normally got everyone’s coffee from, but it was the closest, which I guessed was more important right now.

I slumbed down into one of the old folding chairs, resting one side of my head on the shitty plastic table, watching her pour coffee. Even though it was seven in the morning there was the brief flash of a flask, and a second later a paper cup was sitting next to my face.

“I don’t drink coffee,” I groaned, leaning up. “Thank you though.”

“You look like you’re about to die from exhaustion. Have some caffeine.” Her words were punctuated with a contented sipping sound.

I reluctantly took a sniff. It was a nice aroma, at least. Warm, a hint of...hazelnut? I wasn’t sure. I lifted the cup and took a little sip…

“Ugh this is awful,” I groaned, making a face. Bitter as fuck. Why wouldn’t it taste like it smelled?

“Acquired taste,” Cooper admitted. “Suffering builds character.”

I reluctantly took another sip, trying not to let the foul fluid—or its scalding heat—touch my tongue for any longer than it had to.

“I’m sorry about the patrol the other day,” she said, sitting down across from me with a grunt. “It was too big a risk.”

“...it’s fine, I get it,” I replied, not sounding bitter at all. “Black line and all, yeah.”

She nodded, taking a swig of coffee. “Nothing happened on the patrol. That’s a worry. It’s hard to tell with precogs, but we’re hoping that being on high alert scared away whatever would’ve gone down.”

“...why is it a worry, then?”

“In case nothing was ever going to happen.”

“Which would mean…?” I trailed off.

She gave me a flat look. Right, it’d mean I was the one that caused my own death.

“Gotcha,” I replied sullenly, taking a bigger drink of the coffee. On my empty stomach it was at least starting to wake me up already.

“I’d like to try again, if you’re okay with it,” she replied. “I know it means a lot to you, and maybe with some preparedness you won’t get yourself killed this time.”

“Thanks,” I quipped. “If… if you’re okay with it, sure. I’m not gonna lie and say I wasn’t disappointed.”

“Yeah, we fuckin’ blue-balled you. I’ll ask Ley to hang around beforehand so we can catch any black lines earlier.”

I nodded.

We continued to drink in silence, me thinking about… nothing really, and Sergeant Cooper had pulled out her phone and was reviewing documents.

“Why are you here today, anyway?” I asked quietly.

“Behind on paperwork,” she said without looking up. “Ops has the same amount of forms as Admin, far more than Image, and yet none of the other departments have to spend eight hours a day driving a van. Normally I’d catch up over the weekend, but Rick and I went to the coast.”

“Rick?”

She glanced up. “My husband.”

“Wait, what?” I stammered out before feeling my cheeks turn red with embarrassment. She’s fucking MARRIED? That poor man.

“I have two kids, you dipshit,” she muttered, draining her coffee. I could tell from her expression she hadn’t taken it personally, thankfully.

“Sorry, that was rude.”

“Yeah.”

Well, this was awkward.

I slowly sipped away at my coffee, hoping it would get less awkward. It didn’t, and over an agonizing five minutes I read the stupid laminated poster about workman’s comp while she poked at her phone.

When I was done, she stood up. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?”

“Downstairs.”

Oh, okay. That’s not vague. “Cool.”

We took the shitty elevator down to the basement, and she led me through the brick-lined walls until we reached a room I hadn’t been in before. One retina scan later, and she led me into what had to have been the PRT’s underground firing range. The sharp smell of spent gunpowder filled the air, and a half-dozen booths were set up, overlooking a long expanse with some paper targets at the end. Sergeant Cooper grabbed some earmuffs off a rack and threw some at me, which I only just caught.

“Have you ever shot before?”

The smell of gunpowder was making my head worse. “Uh… do nerf guns count?”

“No.”

“Then no, I haven’t.”

“Okay. That’s good.”

“Huh? Good?”

“No bad habits,” she said with finality before unlocking a heavy-looking door and disappearing into it. She came back a minute later, holding a gun with a box of bullets tucked into her armpit.

“Uh…” I trailed off.

“Yeah?”

“I can’t help but feel like this is, um, breaking a rule or two.”

“It is,” she replied, setting the gun down at one of the booths.

“Then why are we doing this?” I felt stupid asking, but I didn’t want to get her in trouble. Or myself.

“Sara, I was part of the discussion on hiring you. In the space of a handful of months, you got hit by a car, nearly drowned, and then got stabbed. And now just the other day Ley Line says you’re about to die. You have the worst fucking luck I’ve seen. Or best, I guess, since you’re not in a grave. Now, nobody’s sending you out with a gun, but…”

“But?”

She sighed. “Let me put it this way. The Protectorate? Wards? Supervillains? They get superpowers.” She paused to point at the gun. “That is our superpower. We’re not capes. We don’t get the same protections of the so-called ‘unwritten rules’. We also have to deal with containing unknown threats, their henchmen, and also every little thing the police deal with. We’re cops. We’re targets.”

She looked away for a second, and in that instant she changed. Gone was the stern-faced assy drill sergeant. She was… something else. “When I first started out, I was a cop in Seattle. Parahuman Crimes division, before the PRT was a thing. My partner and I got ambushed. A supervillain—a high-rated Stranger—snuck up on us. Tore my partner’s throat out, and nearly took me along with him… That is what we live with, every day. The constant risk of getting murdered because we’re in over our heads.”

“I’m… fuck, I’m sorry,” I said quietly, swallowing a knot in my throat. “I know that doesn’t mean much, but…”

“Don’t be,” she smirked, and suddenly the familiar Sergeant Cooper was back. “He was a Stranger, not a Brute.”

Oh. Fuck, okay.

“Enough small talk. Come on, before your caffeine wears out and you fall over.”

 

---

 

Hesitantly, I knocked on the door. My fucking head throbbed at the sound, making me wince. “Come in, Sara!” Ley Line’s faint shouting from the other side was barely audible. I pulled open the door and stepped in.

His office was surprisingly… well, the first thing I thought was sweltering. Four rotating fans were blowing hot air around, and I could see the outline on the windowsill where an air conditioner had once been. Outside of that, it was sparsely decorated, a handful of potted plants, a bookshelf with binders and PRT manuals stuffed beyond capacity. The man himself was sitting on a small couch to the side of the room, where two fans blasted him directly. If I weren’t sleep-deprived and miserable, I might’ve laughed at seeing the oh-so-professional superhero in a t-shirt and jeans. The only hint he was a cape was the hastily-donned mask.

“You called?” I asked quietly. Surprisingly, the act of talking didn’t make my head spike in as much pain.

“Yes. Sorry about the heat, Maintenance is getting it replaced, but they’re off today because of the holiday. Oh, the many woes of working in a historic landmark. Did you know that the Hillsboro precinct has central air and a swimming pool?” He didn’t sound bitter at all about that. I made a mental note to have him go swimming with Chain Link in my next chapter.

Wait. How the fuck does a case-53 made of metal even swim? That would definitely make PHO flip their ship about “suspension of disbelief” being broken. I moved the idea to the mental back burner.

“I uh. I didn’t know that,” I said dumbly, realizing I’d never responded to his question. Which in hindsight was probably rhetorical.

“...Yes, well I’m a bit jealous. However, since we’re both celebrating our Independence Day at work, I just wanted to touch base with you, I know the patrol was a bit of an uncomfortable situation.”

“Yeah, um. Thanks, I mean. For looking out for me. I mean, I’m not a fan of dying.” The words sounded… false, but I wasn’t sure what else to say. Ley gave me a weird look.

“I understand Officer Cooper had offered to give you some practical training. I’ll be checking in from time to time to make sure you don’t have any more black lines.”

I nodded slowly. “I’m still orange?”

He winced. “Yes.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, I know black is death… what’s orange?”

“Every person I’ve seen with an orange line has attempted to hurt or even kill me. Most succeeded, in one way or another. With hurting, of course, not killing.”

What the fuck? “Oh. I don’t want to hurt you though? Why would I?”

“I don’t know. Unfortunately, powers don’t come with an instruction manual, so this is all what I’ve gleaned throughout the years. Normally my sense is, shall we say, much more short-term than this. Within the space of a few hours, tops.”

“Except… it’s been months,” I replied. I was glad my headache was wearing off finally, because this was spooky as fuck. “And I’m still destined to, what, try and kill you?”

“Or cause me to be hurt, yes. Or it’s possible that somehow you’re immune to my power.”

Fuck I don’t want to hurt anyone. Why is this a thing? What the hell?

“In any case, right now your line isn’t black, which is what’s important. If you want—” He was interrupted by the phone at his desk ringing. “—One moment.” He stood up with a groan, leaving behind a Ley Line-shaped outline of sweat on the fabric of the couch, walking over to his desk. “I have to take this. Good day, Ms. Pratt.”

“Oh, uh, alright. Uhhh see ya?” I asked, heading for the door, my head spinning with questions. He only gave me a nod before I shut the door behind me, back into the air-conditioned bliss of the hallway.

That was weird.

Part of me wondered why he didn’t just keep the door open to let cold air in. Maybe it was a thing with masks. Another part of me wondered why my headache had gone away, leaving me with just a nagging restlessness, and a strange pull in the back of my mind.

 

---

 

Fun fact! On Earth Aleph, did you know that RadioShack is in danger of bankruptcy? Looking at the entrance to the store, it was kinda hard to believe. Even today, there were people bustling in and out with all matter of the latest electronics and gadgets. Why I’d stopped, I wasn’t so certain. Something about it had caught my attention. Besides, what harm would a little browsing do? I shrugged, and walked inside, taking a deep breath.

Well, as it turns out, I didn’t need a new phone, decent cameras were too expensive, and a drawing tablet was a waste of time for my talentless ass. Still, it was nice to browse.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, I found myself in the back of the store, looking blankly at the little drawers of electronic components. It was a bit nostalgic, really. When I was a kid, Dad had tried to teach me how to solder, and it had resulted in what was the first of apparently many hospital visits.

It had been awhile, though. Part of me was aware that my current hobby of writing fanfiction probably wouldn’t fly for long; my practical side kept yammering about how eventually I’d fuck up and use a story detail I wasn’t supposed to know, and if I wanted a PRT job… yeah.

I opened one of the drawers, looking blankly at the components. The little rainbow sausages were resistors if I recalled correctly, and the miniature soupcans were capacitors. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight. Maybe it IS time for a new hobby… I started rifling through drawers, grabbing little pouches of things at random. It wasn’t like I had rent or living expenses to spend my paychecks on, so why not.

“Sara?” someone said suddenly, poking my shoulder. I jumped at the surprise, glancing up at…

I have no fucking idea who this guy is.

He was around my age, tall, skinny but muscular. Brown hair and apologetic blue eyes. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you,” he said scratching the back of his neck. If I were writing a fic and he were the protagonist’s romantic interest, I would’ve described him as dorkish but charming.

He wouldn’t be getting that description.

“Hi,” I said awkwardly. Someone from school? But how did he know my name? I didn’t talk to anyone at school.

“I said your name like five times and it was like you didn’t even notice. If I didn’t know better I’d say you were a Tinker or something.” He laughed pointedly.

I blinked. Yes, because the only people who shop at RadioShack are Tinkers. “Nope, sorry. Just a normal person.”

“Ha ha, yeah.”

I wasn’t sure what to do now. Come on dude, give me a fucking hint.

“Uh, well I just noticed you were looking at photocouplers, and the ones you grabbed have a defect.” He opened one of the drawers, taking out a different baggie than the kind I’d grabbed. “These guys are a little more, but they won’t fry at ninety percent load.”

“Oh, um, thanks?” I grabbed his pouch and added it to the pile of stuff I’d gathered up into a basket. “What, do you work here or something?”

“Ha ha, no, just speaking from experience!” He did that nervous laugh thing again, as if I’d told a funny joke.

There is nothing in the world that will top this level of awkwardness.

He cleared his throat. “Hey so uhhhh I was wondering if maybe you wanted to catch a movie sometime?”

I stand corrected.

A plan entered my head. A most devious plan. “Uh, sure, it’ll depend on my work. Just text me sometime and we can work something out? You’ve got my number, right?” If I knew who he was and had just forgetting who the hell he was due to sleep deprivation, then he’d be in my contacts, right?

“Yeah sure, totally!”

“Cool.” There was an awkward silence. Fuck what the hell do I do I’m not equipped for this. “Anyway, I’d better get going. I don’t want to miss the next train home.”

“Oh okay! Talk to ya later!” he replied. I took the opportunity to escape to the cashier and spend a lot more money than I’d expected.

It wasn’t until I was on the train with my bag of stuff that I noticed a text: “Hey”, from a number I didn’t have saved.

Great.

 

---

 

“Fuck.”

It was a single expletive, but right now, I felt like it carried a lot of weight.

I’d decided to try fixing up Dad’s old broken SLR camera, as something to whet my teeth on for my new hobby. I’d redone some of the circuits, reflashed the firmware, and applied a makeshift new lens coating to the wide-angle lens. It was suddenly a lot more obvious that these weren’t the typical beginner tasks.

I deleted the photo off the camera and looked back through the viewfinder. Yowly, one of our two cats, was contentedly scarfing down the can of food I’d just set down. Just like in reality. I took a picture, and stepped back from the tripod-mounted camera to take a look at the display.

Yowly was sitting in his cat bed, and his sister Lily was frozen by the camera as she walked across the room. I looked up at the living room. Yowly finished eating, and jumped up into his bed with a thump. In silent horror I watched as Lily walked into the room, meowing at me before walking across the room. The picture on the camera’s screen went away.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

Somehow fucking how I’d made the camera… see into the future? I grabbed the camera off the tripod and ran to my room, pulling open the blinds and taking a picture of the street. On the display, a red truck was frozen. A moment later… there it was driving down the road.

The camera, the headaches, the restlessness, the weird urges… oh god. Was I… No. That was impossible, right?

I looked down at the camera. The impossible, time travelling camera.

“I’m a parahuman?”

 

---

 

“I’m just saying, it doesn’t set a good precedent,” Officer Juarez said, waving his arms. “We’re going after villains in schools now?”

I set down my pencil, rubbing my temples. Getting inspiration from Powerplay would’ve been a lot easier if she’d shut the fuck up for more than ten seconds.

“Dude, she’s a warlord who took over half the city,” said Ward exclaimed, shaking her head. “Three months ago Brockton Bay was just another Rust-belt shithole run by neonazis, and she somehow made it worse.”

“Getting hit by three S-class threats in a month did that, you mean. In any case, breaking the rules like that… shit, you’re the cape, you tell me you’re okay with that.”

“At some point the unwritten rules stop applying, the only argument is where the line is. Skitter crossed it.”

I couldn’t take anymore. “Oh my God who cares!?”

The pair turned to look at me. “You okay, Sara?” Officer Juarez asked.

“You guys have been arguing for all of lunch over this dumbass villain! Who gives a shit, the world’s bigger than Skitter.”

“Hey man, chill,” Powerplay grimaced. Well, it sounded like she grimaced. Masks and all. “We’re just talking about current events.”

“Literally anything else is more interesting. It’s just beating a dead horse at this point. I can’t even check PHO without eighteen filters to block out Brockton this and Skitter that.” I sighed, suddenly realizing I’d made a huge ass of myself. “Sorry. I guess I’m just frustrated.”

“Hey kid, don’t worry about it. Maybe it’s best we moved on anyway, this argument is just gonna go in circles,” Juarez said, giving me a reassuring smile.

“Ugh, I guess.” Powerplay didn’t sound too happy. Not that I gave a fuck what she sounded like, I was just here for her power. “What the hell are you working on anyway? It’s lunch, put the stupid paperwork away.” Fuck.

“Oh uhhhhhh—” I was saved from having to make up an answer by my phone going off. “Lemme get that.” I snapped my notebook shut and pulled out my phone.

New SMS message from WHO THE FUCK IS THIS BOY:
hey sara movie 2nite?

“Hey I gotta get this sorry,” I stammered out, not sure how to approach this. As I walked away, I considered. The boy acted like I knew him, that was clear, but I didn’t have the faintest idea who he was… Fuck it. I mean, I’d spent the last week figuring out my power, working on tech, and I’d even laid out a plan for my power.

As far as I could tell, I built stuff related to capes I spent time near. The first day, Monday, I’d met with Ley Line, and ended up with the now-dismantled precog camera. Tuesday I’d figured out that was the case, after I’d designed a grappling-hook sorta thing after helping Chain Link all day with stuff that required opposable thumbs. Wednesday and Thursday I’d lurked near Ley Line and gotten my monitoring system up, to let me hit my first big mark as a cape.

His name was Everything Evil. Borderline kill-order thanks to his habit of dehanding his victims, he had pretty powerful Mover and Brute abilities, along with an emotion-manipulating Striker power that seemed especially useful. I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d do with the combination, but if my plan went well I’d have even more powers to knockoff.

The train of thought just delayed the inevitable. I looked down at the phone, at Mystery Boy’s message. Slowly, I typed out an assent and sent it. After all, I was a cape, if anything happened, I’d handle it. A message came back, a simple smiley face along with a time and address. Okay, sure.

I put the phone away, stepping through a door and into the hallways of the PRT building, walking back to the service elevator. I’d been helping Image all day, helping make the new autumn set of banners that would decorate the exterior of the building in a couple months. It was pretty fun, and all the people in that department were nice. I definitely couldn’t see myself working there as a career, though. I liked Ops better, the nitty-gritty of being in the field, doing the dirty work.

How many capes do you know who work as PRT officers, Sara? my inner thoughts decided to helpfully bring up. I wasn’t worried about that. Capes had day jobs, what was stopping me from having one with the PRT? Except you should be in the Wards, Sara. Meh.

Speaking of the Wards, as I got in the elevator I was almost run over by two of them. Mirage and Magnum Opus stepped out, and I had to press myself against the wall. Mirage for some reason gave me a wave; not sure what to do I smiled and waved back before getting in. Both of them would’ve made good power options, but if Powerplay was any indication, spending more than a minute around the Wards would drive me to suicide.

My phone vibrated. I pulled it out, and my breath stopped. How? So soon?

New SMS message from EVIL DETECTOR >:)
Alert: Target spotted.

Another message came in a second later with the address. I couldn’t believe it. Somehow, after a day, my monitoring system had tracked down Everything Evil. I glanced down at my notebook. I’d half-built a laser pistol, doing what I could without a power to guide me, and I was confident I could finish it in as little as four or five hours of feverish, nonstop work.

I glanced over at the elevator controls. I can’t let this chance go, not this soon. The button for the ground floor, for the exit, was right there. I’d catch the train home, finish my tech, and head out once it got dark. It was a simple plan, and simple meant hard to fuck up, right?

I hit the button.

 

---

 

Everything had gone terribly wrong. But I didn’t know that yet.

I’d ran home, finished up the Powerplay-based laser pistol, and with only a scarf disguising my face as a costume, headed out into the night on my bike. My target, Everything Evil, was holed up in an abandoned school, only a couple miles from my house in fact. That was handy, unlike the the people who pissed him off.

First my bike had gotten a flat tire, so I’d chained it to a telephone pole in an alley, and walked the rest of the way until I’d gotten to the school. Then I had to climb over the chain-link fence surrounding the lot, because I hadn’t thought to bring something to cut through it.

Still, small hurdles to climb over, and soon I was inside the squat two-story building. Hard to see much in the darkness, other than graffiti covering the lockers and broken beer bottles that I had to dance around with every step. It had been raining, and the drips cascading down from the ceiling made for a strange sound. A melody of raindrops to accompany the beating of my heart.

My monitoring setup hadn’t gotten a shot of anything except the school, with him in it, so I was cautious, walking the halls carefully, on the lookout for any signs of life. I would’ve thought there’d be more homeless hanging out here, it was (relatively) dry and quiet, at least compared to living under an overpass. Maybe. I’d never lived under an overpass, but it seemed like it’d be noisy. The roar of cars just above your head, the horns of the ever-present Portland traffic acting as impromptu alarm clocks every rush hour. On the bright side though, you didn’t have to share your overpass with a supervillain.

After only five minutes of searching, I found him. He’d converted a classroom into a sorta-home. Bed, kitchen area, laptop and television even. Some pleasant-looking wall art covered the area where chalkboards had been years ago, and I could see he’d lined the ceiling with tarps to keep the rain out. All things considered, it was pretty nice.

The villain himself was asleep, or at least, there was an Everything Evil-shaped mass under the covers. A grotesque mask, hatchet, and cell phone sat next to his bed on one of those blue plastic chairs. Sleeping was good. It meant I could get hours of his power absorbed. Oh, the things I could make! Already I could feel ideas stirring inside my head, the vague interstellar idea dust condensing into a giant ball of idea hydrogen. Eventually, it would fuse into tinkertech helium and I’d be set.

I’d only need an hour. Maybe two. I sat down on the floor outside the classroom, got my notebook out of my messenger bag, and started writing as best I could in the dim light.

 

---

 

“WHAT THE HELL DO WE HAVE HERE?” The scream, right next to my face, jolted me out of my nap. Shit. Nap? Fuck. Fuuuuuuck! Why the fuck had I fallen asleep?

It was him. Everything Evil, looming above me. Hateful blue eyes poked out between the frozen fingers of his mask, hands covering the entirety of his face. Around his neck, a rosary of hands hung down to his waist, the little beads replaced by fingernails, with the big beads being the dessicated hands themselves. He’d even made a little cross out of a couple fingers, wrapped together in what I’d whimsically call leather.

Part of me wondered what he’d do with my hands. I wasn’t raised religious, but I was fairly certain his rosary thing was full. That wasn’t a healthy thought to have.

“Please don’t hurt me!” I managed to squeak out, my eyes glued to the swinging skeletal hands in front of me. Calm down, Sara. Act. “I… I just needed a place to stay for the night!”

“YOU CAN’T STAY HERE!” he once again screamed. I felt spittle hit my face, thankfully my glasses kept it out of my eyes. The scarf that covered my mouth and nose didn’t do much to stop the… hand smell. God, how did he live with those things attached to his head?

“I can... I’ll just go?” I asked, a bit of hope in my voice, although it was mostly covered up by holy shit terror. “I can find somewhere else. An overpass, or something.”

Evil growled, and before I could so much as squeak in terror, a giant hand clamped around my wrist. I tried to yank away, but it might as well have been encased in concrete. He brought the hatchet down, pressing it against my wrist hard enough to draw blood. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry.

“Wait! Please don’t! Please I need my hands, more than everyone else!” My voice was frantic. I couldn’t just make Tinker hands. “I promise I can make it up to you! I’ll give you something better than hands!”

Everything Evil froze, as if it wasn’t something he heard from all his victims. Maybe it wasn’t, I dunno. “Speak.” It was a barely-audible growl.

I nodded. Fuck this is bad. I had to buy time, get his guard down, to where I could get away somehow. “I-I-I uhhh I’m just… I wanted to talk.” A deep breath. “You see, I’m… I’m a big fan of yours—” the hand gripping my wrist squeezed, and I was pretty sure I heard something pop! “No please! You’re… you’re my favorite supervillain! Please, I can prove it!”

Men only want one thing, my mom told me once, when she was pissed off at Dad for eating her leftovers she’d been planning on taking to work. Men wanted recognition. I wasn’t sure if that was accurate, but I knew Everything Evil wasn’t most men. He wanted two things. Very luckily for me, he had plenty of hands already. The grip loosened, and I pulled my hand back, wiping the smear of blood off on my leg.

“Prove it,” Everything Evil said, running his thumb along his hatchet blade and sticking it in his mouth. Tasting my blood. Okayyyy...

Okay. Plan. I’m not the only fanfic writer around. I’ll just lookup a fic with him tagged, say I wrote it, and when he’s reading I’ll run for it.

“Alright, uh, Mr. Evil. I’m going to show you, it’s on my phone. No funny business, promise.” I slowly reached a hand to my pocket. When he didn’t murder me, I grabbed my phone and pulled it out.

There was a faint clattering sound. I looked down.

Can I not catch a fucking break tonight?

When I’d pulled my phone out, my lanyard had fallen out of my pocket with it. My dorky, smiling face was attached to the end, right underneath a very obvious logo. My PRT ID. Great.

There was an awkward pause, and then I leapt away, some of my hair staying behind as the hatchet thunked into where my face had been a second ago. As I ran down the debris-filled hallway, I grabbed at my bag, forever grateful I hadn’t taken it off of my shoulder. I felt around as the thunder of Everything Evil’s footsteps got closer and closer, until I had the still-unfamiliar grip of the laser pistol in my hand.

I whipped it out and spun around, flipping the safety and squaring my stance like Sergeant Cooper had taught me. The LEDs I’d embedded into the surface of the former nerf gun flickered on, happy whitish blue. I’m going to have to shoot somebody. For some reason, that thought made it more real, made the villain charging me more real. Which made it easier to decide.

Center mass. Shot lined up. Squeeze, don’t pull. The laser pistol bucked in my hands, a spear of golden blue light lancing forward… and plopping into a puddle of laser ten feet away. Everything Evil screeched to a stop, wary eyes on the shimmering puddle of energy spreading across the floor.

What.

“What the hell that’s not how lasers work!” I shouted, mostly at the stupid fucking pistol before turning around and returning to a sprint, further into the school. There was an earthshattering rumble behind me, and I glanced behind to see Evil tearing a bank of lockers out of the wall and throwing them atop the puddle, creating a painful screech as the steel melted away.

I didn’t stay long enough to see if he made it across, ducking into a stairwell with my heart pounding. Upstairs, I could find another way down or take my chances with a window. I took the stairs four at a time, my bag bouncing off my hip painfully. Slammed the upstairs door open.

“NICE TRY YOU BITCH!” Everything Evil was in the hallway, twenty feet away… how?

Right. Mover rating.

I dove in the other direction, firing the pistol at him to distract. This time, it was like a fat kid jumping on a tube of toothpaste, a splort of laser exploding everywhere. Everything Evil screamed in rage as globs of laser stuck (what the fuck?) to his skin, creating a horrifying sizzling sound and smell.

He dove to the ground and rolled, and I dove down another water-damaged, graffiti-filled hallway. My lungs were heaving, and I could feel the panic setting in.

I picked a door at random, slammed it shut behind me. Old broom closet, the floor covered in condom wrappers and beer bottles. Classy. My back went against the wall just the same. Outside, I heard stomping as Evil ran past. “I’M GONNA FUCKING MURDER YOU TO DEATH YOU BITCH!”

Quietly as I could manage, my shaking hands and heaving chest making me wish I’d worked out more, I pulled out my phone, dismissing the missed call notifications and hitting the emergency button on the lock screen.

Outside, there was an angry roar, and a thud as Evil hit something. The quiet tinny sound of the dial tone was interrupted by an equally-quiet voice. “Washington County 911, what is your emergency?”

Outside the room, there was a rattling sound of the supervillain’s hatchet scraping along the sheetrock. The sound sent shivers up my spine, and made my already shaky hands tremble even more.

“This is 911, can you hear me?”

My breath was shallow and ragged, I was scared to draw more than a gasp, lest he find my hiding spot. I certainly couldn’t talk. Quietly, I pressed the keypad three times. A pause. Three more times.

The dispatcher said something, but I didn’t hear them. I was too busy staring in horror at the doorknob as it slowly turned.

Fuck, this wasn’t good. I looked down. Phone in one hand, useless laser pistol in another. I hit the laser pistol against my knee a couple times, the status LEDs flickering dimly, and leveled it at the door. My hand was shaking so hard, I was worried I’d miss, even with the short distance.

The light from the hallway cascaded across my face as the door opened. Finally, with no hope of remaining hidden, I spoke into the phone. “My name is Sara Pratt. I’m a parahuman. Please tell my parents I love them.”

I fired.

Golden-blue smeared across the wall, across the door, across Everything Evil, even as he lurched forward with an axe. I barely dodged, and he slammed into the wall. In these close quarters, I couldn’t let him hit me, not with that emotion power. I’d barely managed to luck out before, that he hadn’t had it on—

“Sara, cover!” a familiar voice shouted. Evil and I both looked over in time to see a cylindrical object land in the closet. A second later, it exploded, and I was slammed against the wall as the room filled with putrid foam, pressing me against it hard enough to make me cry out in pain. For a moment, I could see Everything Evil struggle against the ocean of containment foam, and then it rose above the level of my glasses.