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Slow Lightning Crashing Down - Part 1

Title: Slow Lightning Crashing Down
Author: jaune_chat
Artist: brynnh87
Fandom: Original
Relationship(s)/Characters: Gen, friendship, het
Word Count: 22,276
Rating: R-rating
Warnings + Content Notes: apocalyptic scenario, racism, violence, aftermath of violence, minor character death, language
Author’s Notes: Thanks to hawkhandsaw for betaing!
Summary: When a cosmic radiation storm hit the earth in the fifties, initially no one knew what happened. When a mutated race of humans was born in the seventies as a result of the storm, it was hard on everyone but hardly the end of the world. That came in 2013, when the authors of the radiation storm returned to reclaim what they'd left and everything else besides. What stands between alien invaders and life as everyone knows it are the uncertain convictions and tentative alliance between the two races sharing the Earth.



Three years ago

Valentino pressed her back to the cold, grimy brick wall of the alley to try to stop her heart from hammering out of her ribcage. The smell of gunpowder still stung her nose, the curls of heat still rising up from the barrel, her ears still ringing with the retort. Twenty feet in front of her the man in the green leather jacket twitched a few times in post-death spasms, blood spreading and mingling with the puddles of dirty water in which he’d fallen.

She tasted bile in her mouth, but her hands were perfectly steady as she holstered her gun. She didn’t have a warrant, but she hadn’t needed one. Not once she’d seen what he’d been wearing. It was hard to ignore the tanned, scaled skin-coat on his back.

The shots had brought other cops within minutes, and more than one had stumbled up from the man’s basement apartment when they’d gone to clear it, nearly retching when they’d seen what was on the walls of his living room. Trophies. Hides. Exotic specimens from around the country, heads and whole bodies stuffed and mounted, skins turned into clothing.

“Detective Valentino?”

She turned at the sound of her name, looking into the face of a concerned EMT. Over his shoulder, she could see her captain hovering, eyes darting between her and the corpse of the man the media had named the Skinner. Beyond him, Valentino could see the growing crowd behind the crime scene tape was dotted with more and more metahumans as time went on. Word was spreading fast.

“Yeah, Captain?” Her voice was tight, and her heart had only slowed down a little.

“Good work.” He held out his hand to shake hers, still slightly gritty with gunpowder, and could feel the eyes of the metahumans on her as the reporters started to push forward, flashbulbs flashing relentlessly. The metahumans vanished as soon as the light show started, but they’d seen enough. They knew her name, now.

What the hell had she done?

The flashes kept going off, sparks white fire crashing against her eyes, flickering, flickering…

--

Present

Flickering lightning beat against the upper reaches of the club’s ceiling, above the banks of colored spotlights that illuminated the floor. It was so high up most should have ignored it, but every single metahuman abruptly stopped dead, the music clicking off into dead silence as they all looked straight up, staring at the flickering lights playing along the ceiling with almost mindless intensity. It was a peculiarity – show a metahuman a strobe light and they’d curl up into a nauseous ball, but a lightning show never bothered them. At some unspoken signal, all the metahumans turned and headed for the doors, filing out of the club with the smoothness of someone doing a drill.

Valentino ran outside, one of many pouring out the door, and saw what they’d been watching, a lightning storm of epic proportions. It covered the sky as far as she could see, the light flashing relentlessly in the one form of flickering that metahumans could stand. And then something came streaming out of the sky. Slow lightning, streaking down to touch the tallest buildings. And wherever they landed, darkness spread. Pieces of New York went dark, the skyscrapers turning from teeth of light to silent, obsidian sentinels. Valentino looked up, trying to see where the slow lightning was coming from, and could only see shard-like shapes briefly illuminated through the thick cloud cover.

LJ Banner - Slow Lightning Crashing Down night

Valentino stared, gaping, for a long minute before talking. “EMP bombs? Attack on the power grid?” she said out loud, vaguely hoping someone, anyone would answer her. This was far above her pay grade, and the way the metahumans were acting, standing in the street, staring at the sky, was making chills run down her spine. She pulled out her phone, and the metahumans near her looked away automatically from the screen’s light as she stroked the touchscreen to life and made a call. Kane picked up on the first ring.

“Are you seeing this?” he demanded. “It’s chaos downtown. We’ve lost power--”

“Nothing happening at Circus yet, but all the metahumans sensed something in the storm--”

“No idea what’s going on--” Kane abruptly went silent, and Valentino pulled her phone away to see the call had been lost. She looked out into the darkening city and wondered if the cell towers had been hit too. More than likely. 9/11 all over again. Shit. Who the hell was responsible this time? And why had the metahumans come out to see it happen? What had they seen that she hadn’t?

More lightning flashed, this time right overhead, and something came to earth at the end of the block from the club. It sparked, little tendrils of electricity spraying out like water before dissipating. A glowing body rose up from the ground, vaguely humanoid, radiating gold-white light. It was spiky and jagged, its limbs angular and sharp, its face the pointed, smooth planes of an axe blade. It wasn’t human, wasn’t even metahuman. Metahumans didn’t come crashing out of the sky, didn’t spark and spray electricity like a downed power line. Valentino’s eyes flicked up to the shard-shapes above the clouds. It had come from up there, come from… even further up than there?

Alien, she whispered mentally, finally seeing a creature that truly warranted the title.

--

Three years ago

The sign for the metahuman crime division of the department was handmade, and had been taped up again repeatedly, almost stubbornly from repeated tear-downs. The latest layer had been done with hot pink duct tape, in ludicrously cheerful defiance of the entire department’s passive disdain for its very existence.

“We need you there, Val.” That’s what the captain had said, but Valentino could see him covering his own ass even as he ordered her out of her old desk and into the nigh-inaccessible office at the end of the hall in the most distant part of the building. It had only been two days since she’d shot the Skinner. At least the axe hadn’t taken that long to fall. Yeah, the captain needed her there, because otherwise metahumans were going to be coming into the precinct looking for her at the front desk, and that just caused more problems than it solved.

One had come in the other day, which had been the last straw as far as the captain was concerned. This one had flesh like soft, fresh clay, was dark gray, hairless, with silvery eyes and a hesitant voice. The marks of a beating were outlined in shocking clarity, the impact of fists and elbows easily visible, as if the metahuman’s tormentors had been determined to see how far the claylike flesh could be molded.

The desk sergeant, Holloway, had not been unkind, and had begun to dig out the necessary paperwork for reporting an assault by the time the people around Valentino had nudged her into looking up.

“I’m- I’m looking for Detective Valentino,” she said, her voice breathy and thin. At the desk, Holloway nodded slowly, a sympathetic look on her face. You’d have to be entirely stone cold to not feel bad for anyone who’d been so hurt, but Valentino knew what Holloway was thinking. That there would be no other witnesses to the fight other than the participants, that the metahuman woman wouldn’t likely have a lawyer of her own, and she’d refuse police protection in favor of people from her own neighborhood. Any judge who’d review the case, if the woman was willing to name names and point fingers, would probably rule in her favor with weary fatalism. Because it wouldn’t stop the problem.

The same story could have been written about any other woman in a bad situation, someone with a creepy boyfriend, possessive ex-husband, or persistent pimp. Except that metahumans couldn’t hide what they were, couldn’t pass as human, couldn’t give a false name or take a new identity and leave the city. You could punish the perpetrators again and again, but when they knew their victims couldn’t do much to threaten them back, and the victims knew the same because any attempt at payback could be immediately identified, well… Reprisals were often swift and deadly on the human side, and fatal on the metahuman side. Bodies dropped or people ended up in hospitals, there would be no witnesses, and a little more confidence in the legal system would be eroded.

Most officers eventually got numb to it.

Valentino had gotten up, taken the woman’s statement, and taken pictures of her injuries, the eyes of everyone in the precinct on her every minute they were in public. The woman’s name was Erin, and she’d had the bad luck to work at a warehouse that employed the two men who’d taken exception to her face. She’d received a bonus for good attendance, of all the petty things, and that had been enough of an excuse for those two to lay in wait to extract justice for the “freak” who’d “taken more than her share.”

“Tell me their names?” Valentino asked at the last, pen poised above the paper.

Erin hesitated. This was where they nearly all hesitated. “They have brothers. Cousins.”

“Don’t handcuff me, Erin. Don’t let them get away with it,” Valentino urged. She gentled people through this before, in special victims, in vice, and this wasn’t so different. She could do this.

Erin whispered their names as she ran her hands up and down her arms, smoothing away the marks of the beating almost absently and leaving a clean surface once again. A pristine canvas for new damage.

And she’d refused police protection. “It’d just make it worse,” Erin said with resignation. “But thank you anyway.” At least Erin had tried, at least a little. That was more than most had done, even if it wasn’t much to go on. Still, Valentino had her statement, had the names, had gotten the warrants…

For all the good that would do her. The rest of the squad room had been looking over her shoulder the entire time, waiting in a half-cringe for some other petty-minded lunkhead in here for another reason to take exception to a metahuman being there. That was the reason the Captain had been so keen to hustle Valentino down here today – anyone could take an exception to anyone else, but it seemed to happen more often and more spectacularly around metahumans. Just by being there they could turn a police station into a cage fight. Or at least that was how conventional wisdom ran.

God damn it.

Valentino hefted her box of papers and office junk under one arm and reached out to knock at the door. It opened under her knuckles, and she quickly stepped in and shut it behind her. There was supposedly no one around to see, but she didn’t want to have to deal with potential eavesdroppers lurking at the end of the hallways to see how she dealt with Detective Michael Kane.

He’d been the sole officer in charge of metahuman crime for the past four years, ever since the last of the metahuman rights bills had gone through and those few not afraid of the police could bring their complaints to a single place. Supposedly he’d volunteered. Supposedly he knew more about metahumans than anyone but the scientists who studied them. And supposedly he hadn’t been able to make more than a tiny fraction of any charges stick to any case he’d taken on. He’d been good, so rumor had it, and had thrown it all away to “act like a glorified social worker for the freaks.”

At least he was doing something. But no good deed went unpunished. Valentino was in a position to know.

“What do you know about metahumans?”

Valentino looked up at the unexpected welcome. Michael Kane steepled his fingers as he waited for Valentino’s reply, looking like a Bond villain enthroned in his office chair behind his formidably large desk, a relic no one had bothered to commandeer because it couldn’t possibly fit through the door. It was piled high with case files, paperwork, and a small forest’s worth of notebooks, so there was barely room to squeeze in a tiny laptop. Clearly not department-issued; they wouldn’t spring for anything so modern.

Kane could have been a football running back in college – trim and fit without going overboard. He was attractive enough to be disarming if he wanted, tough enough to seem scary if he needed to be. He’d had a reputation for being a good interrogator back when he’d been on the homicide squad, which had to have given him a leg up in his self-assigned purgatory. If he was acting as a social worker, he hadn’t let it affect his dedication, considering the amount of paperwork he had piled up. No dust or coffee mug rings on these files; they were all active cases. Kane’s work ethic must have kept him going even when the rest of the department would have liked to have written him off.

Metahuman crime was a never-ending cycle that had led most to give up on it. Not that human crime wasn’t as depressingly regular as the sun rising, but combine metahuman distrust for police with their tendency to get victimized by the cruel and pitiless any time they stepped outside their districts meant investigating any case was a long, hard slog to gain their trust. And even if you solved it, would rarely see the light of day in court. It was more than most could bear.

Valentino hadn’t asked to be here. But she wasn’t sure where else she could go. The Skinner had left her with fewer choices than she’d imagined.

“Basic history and modern attitudes,” Valentino said, putting down her box in a mostly-empty chair. Kane smiled very slightly at her, his teeth very white against his dark skin.

“You know more than you think,” Kane admonished. “You had five years on the streets, three on vice, two on homicide, and two on special victims. I know you’ve seen plenty of met crime, so don’t hold back.”

“I’ve seen enough.” Valentino knew her voice was clipped, that she was giving too much away, but had only been two days since she’d seen the leather jacket on the Skinner’s back.

“I asked around about you,” Kane said.

“Did you request me?” she asked, a bite to her tone.

“Do I look like a guy that can make requests of the captain?”

Valentino didn’t answer. They both knew the answer to that question.

“Metahumans. Lay it on me,” Kane said, running both hands over his shaved scalp before lacing them together behind his neck and leaning back, looking interested. Valentino started to talk, faint hope kindling within her. He hadn’t started out with sob stories, hadn’t tried to reel her in with appealing to her sense of social justice, and hadn’t sat her down with a load of paperwork and ignored her. He wasn’t acting like a fanatic or a tyrant. Maybe there was a way through this.

“The best theories are they’re a result of the Brisbane Event,” she said, and raised an eyebrow, unsure of how much history he wanted her to recite. Kane waved his hand for her to go on. “My grandmother told me about it. Mom was only two, and she didn’t remember anything. It was November seventeenth, 1953 – she always remembered the date, about 4 p.m. Eastern. She told me it was a golden glow, almost like a mist. It lasted about five minutes and then vanished. She didn’t realize until she turned on the radio that it had happened everywhere.”

“Everywhere” had been a bit of an understatement. The entire globe had seen the same thing at the same time. The glow had been seen by miners at the bottom of their shafts, by submarine crews deep in the ocean, even by pilots flying thousands of feet above the ground. For five minutes the entire globe had lit up gold.

Kane nodded encouragingly.

“No one ever figured out what it was or where it came from, once people backed off the buttons and started talking to each other again. Grandma said it was a pretty tense couple of months, politically. Eventually they found out it was some kind of cosmic radiation, and no one’s fault on Earth.”

“Because?”

Valentino smiled; this was like being back in school, answering teacher’s questions in an oral exam, except Kane was checking to see if she really knew what she was talking about or if she was just reciting by rote. Maybe it was a little Dick-and-Jane, but when you were dealing with metahumans, it never did to make assumptions.

“Every X-ray manufactured before that date was clouded after the Brisbane Event, and since the patterns were unknown and it was so widespread, people finally accepted there was no way any one country managed to produce worldwide radiation that... didn’t do anything.”

Kane smirked at Valentino’s dry humor. “And the name?”

“The first scientists to publish a study of the Event were based in Brisbane, Australia. No other reason, really. They had to call it something, and that stuck.”

“And what’s all that have to do with metahumans?”

Valentino sighed. This was when things had started to get ugly for everyone. She’d grown up in a world where they’d always existed, but for everyone born before them… “Around the early seventies, metahumans started being born. Initially doctors thought they were deformed from something the mothers had taken, but then a tech realized every X-ray taken of the metahuman babies was clouded with Brisbane Event radiation. I think the latest theory I read about was that the Event changed the children born after it, because no admitted metahuman mothers were born earlier than 1953.”

“So far, you’re golden. What about the metahumans themselves?”

Valentino spread her hands. “The geneticists are saying each of them express parts of our DNA regular humans don’t use, so that’s why you see all the animal features on them, the frog skin or feathers, beaks, claws, or strange colors.”

And that, both knew, was putting it mildly. Many metahumans resembled some melding of human and animal traits, as if they were werewolves, or werefrogs, or werecats, or werepenguins in one person’s case. Most people called them “were-forms” as a convenience. Others were tagged as “earth forms,” metahumans that had seeming elements of non-organic parts. Valentino had seen metahumans of that variant that looked like they were carved from crystal or glass, had grown from the ground like a tree, or sprouted like a mushroom. The most disturbing to the general population were those that fit no classical archetype, who were as seemingly slapped together as the Greek chimera or the Scottish peryton. Officially they were even known as “chimeras.” Unofficially they were freaks, or superfreaks if the person in question wanted to specify a chimera from other metahumans.

“But those best theories don’t mean a thing,” Kane said, unlacing his hands and leaning forward in his chair. He took a file folder off a stack without looking and opened it up. Valentino could see it was her own. “What you told me lets me know you know more about where mets came from than most of the force. But you also know most people don’t care about where they came from. Everything you just told me doesn’t register with people like the Skinner.”

Valentino caught Kane’s gaze and held it long enough for him to know she wouldn’t let cheap shots like that get to her.

“You know I spent time in vice and special victims. The only reason we didn’t investigate more metahuman-related crimes is because they wouldn’t report it or wouldn’t talk when someone did. They take a hell of a lot of shit and not that many people stand up for them. I’m on their side, Kane.”

“Why didn’t you ask to come here earlier? You know how hard it is to find a good detective that doesn’t have an axe to grind?”

Valentino shook her head. “Trying to get justice for metahumans is like getting into a slap-fight with a windmill, Kane, and you know it. Hell, I had someone come in the other day and she would still barely talk to me.”

“And you just decided to give up on them like everyone else has? You tracked the Skinner down and shot him dead, no hesitation.”

Valentino looked away, her face very still.

“Don’t give me the cynic’s pose, Valentino. That took more than justice, that took heart.”

“I saw one way I could make a difference. I took it.”

“You know why it’s so hard to get anything through the courts for them? Because they won’t talk to us. But they’ll talk to you. They saw you and they know what you did. Specifically, there was one person who saw you and knew what you did was more than just knee-jerk reaction. It took me years to gain her trust. But you got it with one act.”

Valentino swallowed. She’d bought trust with death. “Who?”

“Let me show you something. It’s a clip from the Andrea Atwater show.”

“Seriously?” Valentino asked, grimacing. Kane nodded in sympathy and cleared off a chair for her, waving her to sit.

“I want you to see her guest. Her name’s Lee Vincent. She’s the local metahuman community leader, and you’ll be working with her.”

As Valentino sat down on the unyielding desk chair, surrounded by police files and wanted posters, about to hear about a fellow cop’s informant, she felt a little bit of normalcy trickle back into her life. This was familiar. This was home. She could still be something of a cop. Valentino took deep breath, let it out again, and tried to pretend this was all a regular day.

“How the hell did she end up on Atwater’s show?” Andrea Atwater had never met a guest she hadn’t managed to irritate, insult, or ruin. Her show bordered on yellow journalism, pandering to people who liked to be scared by inflaming their fears. The only good thing Valentino could say about her was at least she was an equal opportunity interviewer. She was happy to blame anyone for the ills of today’s society, and if that changed from week to week, well, it never seemed to affect her ratings.

“Mostly out of ignorance. This was almost ten years ago, before the networks started to actively work with metahumans to share information. Lee really didn’t know what she was getting into until Atwater started in on her.”

“I feel sorry for her already,” Valentino said with a hint of the cynicism Kane had claimed she didn’t have.

“Just watch,” Kane said, and hit play.

The show was just coming back from a commercial break, and the bottom of the screen proclaimed the show to be about, “The End of the World. The Rise of the Metahumans?” Valentino sighed quietly. Things like that came up on slow news days when no one had anything of substance to report, so of course Atwater would base a show around it. The camera closed in on stage to Andrea Atwater’s guest, the name on the screen calling her, “Lee Vincent, Metahuman Representative,” like she was some kind of official government liaison. A lot of her audience probably even believed that.

Then Valentino got a good look at Lee Vincent and stared. From the comfort of a ten-year-old film clip, she could afford to do what she normally wouldn’t in real life. Lee was a chimera, a hodgepodge, not one of the were-forms or earth-forms that could neatly slot into one’s mental archetypes. She was purple, a light lavender, from hair and eyes down to her hooves; goat hooves, to be precise, with her legs having the backward-bending ankles below her knees just like the animal. Her upper arms looked mostly normal, but her forearms and hands… It looked like instead of having both bones in her forearm side-by-side like normal, they’d been stacked end-to end. At the end of her upper arm was a more-or-less regular elbow, and the forearm below just a single bone, looking disproportionally thin. Where her wrist should have been was another elbow, this one hinged to bend in either direction, another thin forearm terminating in… Well, not a normal hand. Instead of a wrist and fingers, three smooth, short, slender, translucent tentacles sprang from the end of her second forearm. Although Lee seemed small and lithe, not overly frightening, her metahuman mutations were disturbing at the first glance.

Kane caught her eye and Valentino nodded reluctantly. Better to get the staring and surprise over with here in the safety of the office than to be caught staring when they met Lee face-to-face. Valentino could keep up a polite façade even in the face of strangeness, but metahumans generally were able to detect when you were holding back fear. It came from a lifetime of being what they were. They either learned to detect possible danger, or often didn’t survive.

Apparently the topic of Andrea Atwater’s show that day, or at least so far as she’d probably told Lee Vincent, was “Living in the Past.” For several minutes she concentrated on the curious fact that due to metahumans’ inability to watch a screen or monitor for more than ten minutes without becoming incredibly nauseated, most of them had lifestyles that were closer to how people lived in, say, the fifties than 2013. They couldn’t watch TV or movies, couldn’t use computers, couldn’t use most electronics that had a digital display. Technology that might have become completely obsolete had found strong legs in metahuman communities. They lived in a retro world, divorced from pop culture and the steady bombardment of information so readily available to the rest of humanity. Valentino had seen that in action more than once. Cops couldn’t use flashing lights on their police cars around metahumans, not unless they wanted to see them prostrate and puking in the gutters. Some assholes did it anyway. And some used strobe lights as metahuman mace.

And Andrea Atwater had been asking Lee why she thought that was, how metahumans dealt with living in a lifestyle that was so divorced from mainstream society. The way she said it was sympathetic and polite, but Lee was watching her closely, eyes a little narrowed, like she was looking for tells. Or lies.

“We were built for the apocalypse. You know, so we wouldn’t freak out if suddenly a bomb dropped and all the power turned off. It’s about the only thing I can figure. Either that or the Man Upstairs has a sense of humor.”

Lee said it offhandedly, with a little laugh meant to encourage other people to join her, but only a few in the audience chuckled. Andrea Atwater only smiled thinly, not appreciating the joke, and leaned forward like a cat pouncing. Valentino knew that look in her eyes from other episodes; her guest had just said something she could use to her advantage, and considering the true topic of today’s show, was utterly delighted that Lee had managed to give her such a nice segue. And Lee… looked resigned. Not surprised. That might have been because she knew Atwater was a liar, or something else.

“And why say that, Ms. Vincent? Why call attention to the very things that make people nervous about you?”

“What do they have to be nervous about? Everyone knows we can’t hurt them.” Valentino saw Lee’s smile had faded, but didn’t she didn’t try to reclaim it. The studio had taken on a distinct emotional chill, and from the lack of panic about the producers on the floor, this was all planned. Of course. Atwater liked control of her guests.

“Can’t kill them, Ms. Vincent. That doesn’t preclude hurting anyone.”

Valentino made a small hiss of distaste at Atwater’s implied question. With many metahumans being, quite frankly, tougher, stronger, or faster than humans, it might have seemed logical that the military would have snapped them up in a second for special combat units. Not that many countries hadn’t tried, but it was impossible. Metahumans couldn’t kill without dying. Those that had killed usually offed themselves immediately afterward. If someone prevented them, their bodies shut down within a day despite medical intervention. It was this “suicide reflex” that had prevented worldwide genocide out of fear when the metahumans had first emerged, and even that had been by a slim margin, if what Grandma and Mom had told her was right. If America hadn’t been going through the civil rights movement just as metahumans started being born, history might have been written very differently.

“When you’re backed into a corner by people with bats and chains for no reason other than being born different, you fight back to defend yourself or die. What do you expect us to do, lie down and let ourselves be beaten to death?” Lee let her voice go hard, let the decorative shawl around her shoulders slip, showing the ridged, keloid scars that ran along her upper arms. Someone in the audience gasped. Valentino gritted her teeth; it looked like someone had deliberately tortured her in the past. And that was distressingly common amongst the metahuman community.

“That’s not what people are most worried about, Ms. Vincent. It’s tragic, what has happened to your people over the years. And it’s terrible that so many have attacked metahumans unprovoked.” Andrea put on her best sympathetic face as she talked, but it was clear from the rigid expression on Lee’s face that she wasn’t buying it. “It’s metahumans’ reactions to technology that worry some folks.”

Lee snorted. “What does not being able to look at screens or monitors have to do with anything?”

“Everything, Ms. Vincent. I find it strange for you to say you’re built for the apocalypse when virtually every metahuman has been ‘forced’ to live a life so low-tech that if someone were to bomb us tomorrow, metahumans would be the first to recover. Every metahuman born is essentially a survivalist. You’d be left virtually untouched while human society collapsed around you. Everything about you is built for the apocalypse.” Andrea gave Lee a penetrating stare. “What do you say about that?”

“Idiot,” Lee said flatly. She jerked her microphone loose from her shirt, dropped in on the floor, and walked off the set.

Kane turned the TV off and turned to Valentino.

“Atwater’s a tabloid journalist,” she said. “More people should walk off her show; all she does is make people scared.”

“Lee didn’t know when she walked on there,” Kane said. “Atwater’s publicists flooded the metahuman community with propaganda, and they were more insular ten years ago. Since they didn’t know how she tends to turn on people, Lee got blindsided.”

“Not for long.”

“No. Because of Lee’s no-see.” Kane was watching her close for her reaction to that word.

Valentino didn’t oblige him with a big reaction. A lot of metahumans had what was colloquially known as a “no-see,” some power or ability above and beyond their physical mutations that wasn’t immediately obvious or visible to the naked eye. And most of them were not that powerful. She’d met people that could produce light, or a little electricity, and once or twice someone that could even make fire, but in the grand scheme of oddities in the world today, that barely registered. The metahuman no-sees seemed to be side-effects, expressions of excess energy, and she’d never encountered one that couldn’t be replicated by a match or couple D-cell batteries.

“Which is what?” Valentino asked.

Kane raised an eyebrow at her. “She’s an empath. She can see what you’re feeling; she described it was seeing colors around you that correspond to certain emotions. And put her under enough stress, and she can make you feel what she’s feeling. It’s gotten her out of more than one life-or-death situation.”

“But-,” Valentino protested, “no-sees are weak…”

“Hers aren’t. Or, well, they’re a little stronger than what you’re used to seeing. That’s part of why she’s the community leader; she can get troublemakers to back down without having to start a fight. She’s actually a pretty decent diplomat even without using her no-see, but it’s a nice back-up.”

“How old is she?”

“Twenties, at a guess, but you know how fast they grow up. She was abandoned at birth and raised by a rescuer. She knows the community inside and out. If there’s anyone to talk to in New York about metahumans, it’s Lee Vincent.”

The tragic backstory was depressingly common amongst metahumans. Human parents that gave birth to metahuman babies frequently abandoned them, and not at hospitals or orphanages. Metahuman babies were plucked out of dumpsters and gutters and alleys with shocking regularity. The only way the metahumans had survived was to band together to take care of their own. Their insularity was a defense mechanism for a good reason.

And Valentino had to find a way to make friends with them, even when she’d never intended to end up here. She knew what they thought about her, or at least what Kane was implying.

“Then let’s go meet her.”

------------

Part 2
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