Ever wonder if there's a little, omnipotent kid with a magnifying glass in the sky? Someone who makes it their mission to ruin your day in whatever little way possible?
I certainly did, as I walked out of Winslow High in a juice stained sweater. Yes, I had an afternoon class, but I didn't care that I was skipping it. The art project we were supposed to turn in today was ruined anyway.
It was always the same three girls: Emma, Sophia, and Madison. Always them: the queen bees of the school. Sometimes others would join in too in some twisted attempt to curry favor, but they rarely did anything worse than name-calling. I could deal with that. Compared to what the big three did almost every day, it was nothing. After all, only Emma knew my ins and outs and she wouldn't tell anyone but Sophia and Madison. They knew exactly what to say and where to poke to maximize the damage while minimizing accountability. Not that surprising when you remember that Emma used to be my best friend.
I did not take that betrayal well.
Worst of all: I couldn't do anything to make them stop. I couldn't take refuge in a group of friends: Emma was the only one I had until she turned on me and nobody wanted to be anywhere near the bullied girl for fear of becoming a victim themselves. I couldn't go to the school: the worst the teachers could do to the girls would be to suspend them for a week or two, and ONLY if I could prove that the trio was responsible. In other words, I could only give them plenty of time to figure out the perfect way to punish me for the audacity of having a spine. I couldn't even sue them: Emma's dad was a lawyer, and a rich one at that. My dad, on the other hand, worked for the failing dockworkers union. No prizes for guessing who'd win that fight in court…
I was on my own, something that no fifteen-year-old should be. That much certainly became clear three months ago when the trio from hell stuffed me in a locker and dumped the contents of the waste bin on my head before trapping me inside. I spent three hours rotting in filth before the janitor found me and let me out. You'd think that that would be enough to get the school to do something, right? They must have broken some sort of law doing that, right?
Very, very wrong.
Naturally, there were no cameras in the locker room. Naturally, no one but me and the bullies actually saw it happening, and no one came forward to testify on my behalf. Naturally, the school took the word of the popular, lawyered-up girls over mine, the socially awkward misfit.
There were no words that could possibly convey my anger and frustration when my dad told me that the bullies were getting away with a slap on the wrist. I had been tortured for over a year, dammit! I deserve better than this.
For once, the universe seemed to listen. I found out that I had triggered somewhere along the line. I was a parahuman. I had superpowers. Nothing that flashy, though. I wasn't like my personal heroine Alexandria, the invincible woman who could also fly, or even Armsmaster, the leader of the Brockton Bay Protectorate and a man who could build almost anything he set his mind to. Still, I had powers! I was stronger, faster, more resilient, and more athletic than I had any right to be. I could hear through walls, manipulate sound with my mind, and if I really focused, I could grow a suit of armor around myself. The armor even had a sort of elegance to it: smooth curves, black and light-blue armor plates with white accents…I looked like something that could best be described as a space-ninja. My power came gift-wrapped with a costume!
Above all, though: the bullies were wrong! I, Taylor Hebert, was a parahuman! I could be a superhero. I had something that no one could take from me, not even the bullies.
And then I went back to school where it was business as usual. Parahuman or not, nothing really changed. I was still the butt of every joke and my powers did nothing to stop that. If nothing else, they made dealing with them harder. Now, I wasn't just a bullied teen, I was a bullied teen with a loaded gun duck-taped to her hand. Apparently with sound control comes super-hearing. Sounds fun on paper, right? Turns out, being able to snoop in on every conversation sucks when everyone thinks you're a loser. Enhanced strength is nice, but if I punched Emma in the nose, I'd be the bad guy. Oh, and if I used any of my powers in public. I had to worry about being dragged off by the PRT, the organization dedicated to hunting down capes who cross the line.
Even with my newfound powers, I still couldn't change anything. The universe had finally given me a card to play, only for me to find out that I could never use it without making everything exponentially worse.
It's like the universe wasn't even trying to show its intentions. Like it's trying to goad me into killing someone. One evening, when I called my armor into being, I found out that I could summon a three-pronged glaive out of thin air. On top of everything, I now had an actual lethal weapon that I could use at any time.
I hate you, universe, for doing this to me.
I hate you, Emma, Sophia, and Madison, for making my life miserable when I did nothing to deserve it.
But above all, I hate you, Taylor Hebert, for letting the bullies get to you.
I looked into my ruined bag, seeing if there's anything left to salvage. My art project was a lost cause, but I already knew that. The school books weren't doing much better. I'd probably have to buy new ones, which would eat up a big chunk of my pocket money. I could ask my dad, but then I'd have to tell him how half a gallon of fruit juice found its way into my bag. I didn't want to tell him about the bullying. He couldn't help anyway and he'd just tear himself apart looking for a solution that doesn't exist.
The worst loss, however, was the notebook I used to document my powers and my budding career as a superhero. Two-hundred pages of notes, rejected cape names, and other things, lost. It could have been worse, though. Emma could have gotten her hands on it. Sure, I was smart enough to put it in a simple cipher, but still…
I shook my head. I can't keep thinking like that. I was supposed to be a superhero. I won't let my life be dictated by three spoiled, empathically-challenged brats. I made a promise to myself: this weekend would be my debut. I was going to sneak out of the house and I wouldn't come back until I found a gang and clobbered the ever-loving crap out of them. Even if I couldn't stop my bullies, there were thousands more in the city and I had the power to deal with them.
I waited till Sunday evening before going out. Most people, including my dad, would be asleep by then, resting for the coming week.
No more excuses. No more procrastination.
Sunday evening came and I waited until dad was asleep. Easy, really, when you're able to hear the sound of his breathing from the other side of the house. With dad no longer a factor, I set about changing into my 'costume'. I sat down on the floor and called. Within seconds, my body started to shift and armor plates started to form. I grit my teeth and let the bone-like material flow through my skin. It hurt. God, it always hurts. When the pain subsided after a few minutes, I let out a small breath of relief. Three months of practice and the transformation still felt like I was being flayed alive. At least it was quicker now: about five minutes as opposed to more than thirty at first. Thank God for small mercies.
Pulling myself and my aching body of the floor, I looked in the mirror and found myself staring at the now-familiar mask my armor always 'decided' to use. Looking down, I noticed that the rest of my armor had formed to, as expected: a skintight plating that would have accentuated my curves, if I had any. It was strange that the armor always looked the same, though. I didn't pick it, or anything. Made me wonder if there's a story behind it…
Shaking myself out of my reverie, I focused my power and dampened the sound around myself before opening the window and climbing on the roof. My power made sneaking around hilariously simple: the dampening field I could cast around myself ensured that every step I took was completely silent, and the darker colors of my armor made me hard to spot. Still, I wanted to be careful. It just would not do if I was knocked unconscious by some lucky punk on my debut night. For now, I was sticking to the rooftops. Besides, it let me practice my new parkouring skills.
If there was one good thing about my powers, it was finding out how much I enjoyed free-running, especially in costume. I was already stronger and faster than anyone on the school track team now, but putting on the armor enhanced my abilities even further. I could run and jump for hours without getting tired. I could easily clear the distance from one rooftop to the other. Even when I couldn't, my agility and reflexes ensured that I never hurt myself falling. It was exhilarating. I felt like Catwoman. Better yet, I felt free. Here, with the wind blowing on my skin, no one could touch me. All my problems had disappeared. I could be whoever I wanted, whatever I wanted…
But I already knew what I wanted: I wanted to be a superhero.
Without another thought, I left for the Docks.
Thanks to the Endbringers and the economic recession following their wake, international trade has all but dried up. As a result, the area we locals call the Docks has been practically abandoned. That is, abandoned by people with reputable business ventures. When the corporations left, criminals and supervillains moved in, finding a ready supply of empty warehouses, offices, and desperate, laid-off workers ripe for the taking. If I wanted to find a supervillain, the Docks would be the best place to start.
I kept running through the district until I started hearing voices speaking in some language I couldn't understand. While it was still difficult for me to pick up exactly what someone was saying beyond a certain range, I could generally tell whether or not the language spoken was English at this distance. This clearly wasn't. Tip-toeing my way to the edge of the roof and looking down at the warehouse across the street, I confirmed my suspicions: a large gathering of people in a dimly-lit building, all wearing red and green. Gang colors. The Azn Bad Boys, or ABB, to be precise. One of the largest gangs in town, second only to the white supremacist Empire 88. From what I could tell, many, if not all of them, seemed to be armed too. This had 'shady' written all over it. They were planning something, that much was certain. The question was: What?
Using my powers to silence my approach, I quickly crossed the street and climbed on top of the building. I focused on the voices inside and listened in on what they were planning. Most of it I couldn't understand, ABB being a gang that recruits from the Asian minorities who seemed to prefer their native languages. Annoying. That changed, though, when another man entered the room and moved to the center of the crowd.
Suddenly, the room fell dead silent. I thought for a moment that my power had suddenly shorted out, but I could still hear breathing and the heavy footfalls of the newcomer. When the man spoke, his voice sounded deep and heavily accented. From what I could make out, it sounded like he was giving instructions, probably to hit some other gang. Though I couldn't know for sure, I was almost certain that it had to be the parahuman known as Lung. I had never met the guy, but I knew of his reputation. Apparently, he is a pyrokinetic who grew stronger the longer he fights. I didn't know the specifics, but rumor had it that he once picked a fight with the entire Brockton Bay Protectorate and won. Even if that was an exaggeration, it didn't change the fact that Lung was NOT to be trifled with. As far as hard targets go, this was as hard as they got. As much as I hated to say it, I had to leave and find an easier target. I didn't want to go home empty-handed, but I didn't want to take too big a risk on my first night out.
As I turned to leave, I couldn't help but overhear the last thing Lung had to say: "…the children, just shoot. Doesn't matter your aim, just shoot. You see one lying on the ground? Shoot the little bitch twice more to be sure. We give them no chances to be clever or lucky, understand?"
They were going to shoot kids…
They were going to shoot KIDS?!
Shit, shit, shit.
I couldn't turn my back on this.
I don't know who they were after or why, but I had to do something. Dammit, I wished I had a cell-phone to call the Protectorate with. Failing that, I should have brought some spare change so I could use a pay phone. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Of course, even if I had the presence of mind to bring those things, where would I put them? My armor doesn't have any pockets!
There was only one thing I could do that would ensure that I could still look myself in the mirror tomorrow.
Fortune favors the bold, as some famous Greek once said. Or was it a Roman? Maybe I'll ask Lung after I've kicked his infanticidal ass.
I put my hands on the roof and forced waves of sound into the structure. Lights shattered, gangsters panicked, and the building shook as if it was in the middle of an earthquake. Seconds later, a five meter section of the roof gave way, dropping me in the middle of the whole gang.
Dozens of bewildered eyes stared at me, but I paid them no heed. My eyeless helmet was fixed on one target and one alone: the ornate mask belonging to Lung.
Time to go to work.