Relationship(s)/Characters: Gen, friendship, het
Word Count: 22,276
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
This hadn’t exactly been Valentino’s first thought when Kane had said he’d take her to a “metahuman cultural event.” Then again, she was learning very quickly that Kane had a very strange sense of humor. Even from the street outside, she could hear the pounding, driving dance music blaring, and knew the volume inside the nightclub was going to be incredible. Bouncers stood in the typical arms-crossed stance of their kind, flanking the door like statues, but curiously there was no line of party hopefuls straggling down the front of the converted warehouse.
That surprised her until she took a quick mental tally of the neighborhood and realized that the club could easily hold every interested person around here and quite a few visitors besides. Unlike the typical human nightclub, Circus was more interested in being inclusive than exclusive. There was no social cachet to being admitted, only shame if you were thrown out. And unless someone was burning down the club, Valentino had a suspicion that no one got thrown out. This was Lee Vincent’s second home, her “real” job, and Kane wanted Valentino to see Lee and the others when their guards were down.
“Come on,” Kane said, pulling into an unexpectedly prime parking position. Cars were scarce here; metahumans couldn’t drive because of the possibility of flashing lights from emergency vehicles or the ubiquitous electronic screen signage. The few cars in the area were from the humans that lived here; other outcasts who were glad not to be the biggest anomaly in an area.
The bouncers were both earth-forms, one thin with limbs like a faceted quartz crystal, pale and translucent, the other with rough, blue, pebbly skin and the swelling muscles of a body-builder. Neither really looked at them as they approached, but the thin one shot out a long arm and blocked their way before they could pass between them.
“Kane,” he said, his voice high and brittle. “You’re late.”
The larger one snorted, a sound like rocks tumbling together, and the thin one pulled his arm away. “Yeah, get a move on.”
Kane walked past them, down a long darkened corridor to the double doors at the end. “When’s the last time you went clubbing?” he asked, having to raise his voice above the music.
“College,” Valentino said, half-shouting. “Unless you count undercover Vice raids.”
Kane grinned. “You’re gonna love this.” He shoved the door open, and sound engulfed them as they moved into the first room. The club was divided into at least two rooms, a large bar, and a larger dance floor, visible through an archway at the back. Through the opening she could see dozens of bouncing, grinding dancers bopping around to a driving techno beat, their already colorful bodies rendered in a dozen different colors by the party lights from above. Unlike human clubs, the lights here moved slowly, and nothing strobed. At the far end of the dance floor Valentino could just make out a raised stage with sound equipment off to one side. Lee Vincent was fiddling with something on the boards. A new tune struck up hard on the heels of the song that had just finished, and Lee left the confines of her equipment to pump up the crowd from on stage. It was clear, with her thinner clubbing gear on, that Lee was likely a heavy user of the Pits, because she danced like her life depended on it – athletic jumps and leaps that were as much a martial art as entertainment, but no human could have duplicated. Valentino wondered what kind of time Lee would make on the force obstacle course.
She turned her attention to the room in front of her, scanning the tables and the bar for the anomalies Kane would surely want her to catch. Nearly everyone here was a metahuman, and the club compensated for everyone having wildly different body types by having sturdy stools instead of chairs or booths, giving those with extra appendages the room they needed. The barback had shelves full of different glass bottles, same as nearly any other place, but a closer look showed most of them were full. There weren’t any taps visible either, which was unheard of.
She’d thought the bartender was black when she came in, and human. His head was shaved, and he looked dark-skinned as he looked up from someone at the bar and caught their entrance. He’d scowled when he caught their eyes, and quickly looked around, uncomfortable and unhappy.
“We’ve been made,” Valentino said with a sigh, and turned to go. Kane caught her elbow and shook his head.
“We’re good. He just doesn’t know you yet. Watch.”
And Valentino had watched. As his attention slid off of them, she saw his skin change, shifting colors like ink swirling in water, starting from the center of his body and radiating outward. As Valentino didn’t move, didn’t make trouble, the jet black changed to yellow and slowly to green.
No. Not black. Met.
She looked sideways at Kane and he nodded back at the bartender. Sucking in a steadying breath, she went up to the bar itself. He shaded back to jet when he came up to her, losing the blue-green hue he’d been sporting, and suddenly she got it. And blurted it out without thinking.
“You’re a mood ring!”
The jet black suddenly fled, chased away by yellow and a little blue-green.
“Moody Malone,” he said, his voice somehow managing to just carry above the music and loud conversations around them.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Moody?”
“Eh, it’s technically Marvin but…” he shrugged. “Call it like you see it. You Kane’s newbie?”
Valentino’s eyebrow stayed up. She was well into her thirties; her academy days were decade and a half behind her.
“Relatively speaking,” she allowed. New to this beat, to metahuman crime, yeah, she’d cop to that. At least he didn’t seem to be one of those who’d known about the Skinner incident; that had been huge news around here, but Valentino didn’t want to have to re-live that shooting again.
Moody went fully yellow again and winced a little. Valentino was fascinated in spite of herself. She was used to judging emotion based on not just expressions and body language and tone, but also the flushing or paling that came with stress. And Moody just didn’t do that. She resolved to go dig out the legend for her mother’s mood ring once she got home.
“What’s up?” he asked. “And what’re you drinking?”
“Water-,” she began, and was startled to have a cold, wet bottle slapped into her palm before she could finish. Ask for water in a bar and most bartenders had to pause to switch gears, checking their dispending guns or digging into the depths of their fridges. Not that they didn’t use water all the time for mixed drinks, but who came to a drinking establishment for what you could get out of the tap?
Moody used her brief shock to touch his fingers to her as he gave her the bottle, and she saw color swirl, starting from where he was touching her. Dark yellow shading into orange ran up his arm, and he nodded slightly as he watched it, a little blue-green spreading across his chest. Valentino pulled her hand away when she realized what he was doing.
“You were reading me?” she asked tightly.
“And now you’d be red,” he said, orange and yellow dominating his skin again.
“That’s rude,” Valentino said.
“That’s life. You think we let cops in here unless someone checks them out and makes sure they aren’t going to hassle anyone for no reason? If you’re with Kane, you’ve met Lee. And if you’ve met Lee, she’s already read you deeper than me.” Someone called down the bar and Moody turned away to yell something back that was swallowed up in the background noise.
“Look,” he said, turning back to her. “I think you’re okay, if that helps. Just don’t go and do something that’ll get people riled up, all right?”
With that he turned and left, grabbing a bottle as he went and squirting it into a glass. Valentino wormed her way back through the crowd to Kane, dodging dozens of unfamiliar bodies.
“Touch empathy?” she asked as she drew up next to him.
Kane nodded. “Got it in one. Kinda like Lee, except she can see it from a block or more away. Moody’s got to touch you. They’re together, just so you know.”
“Moody and Lee?” Valentino gave that a quick think, and nodded in understanding. If you could see emotion, get past every concealing expression and emotional lie, it would be a relief to be with the one person who literally wore their heart on their outside of their skin. If she ever had to run either one of them in, running the Prisoner’s Dilemma wouldn’t ever work.
“What do you think of him?” Kane asked.
“He’s wary, he’s suspicious, he trusts your judgment.” Valentino shrugged, “Other than that, he seems to like his work. He seems happy, and he’s not checking up on us constantly, so he figures we’re not about to make trouble.” She nodded over to the bar, where Moody was indulging in some of the bar acrobatics that ended up on YouTube: twirling bottles and shooting shot glasses down the polished length of the bar without spilling a drop. Lee snuck up behind him, sliding one long arm around him and turning him around to pull him into a quick kiss. She whispered in his ear before grabbing a water bottle and slipping back to her DJ station. He turned entirely blue, with purple spreading across his chest. Moody glanced over at their corner briefly and smiled at them before turning back to his customers.
Valentino took a long drink out of the water bottle, only stopping when she saw Kane staring at her pointedly.
“You have no idea, do you?”
“About what, Kane? I’m not going to play Twenty Questions with you.”
“Lee just told Moody your name. And he went blue.”
“After he just saw his girlfriend.”
“He smiled at you.”
“So she told him I’m a good egg and didn’t accuse her of murder like some police officers I could name…”
“I’m never going to live that down,” Kane muttered. “No, he recognized your name.”
Valentino drank again, but ran out of water before Kane had obliged her unspoken wish to drop the subject.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“The Captain moved you to my department because of the Skinner. That makes you a hero to these people. You did what they couldn’t.”
“How did you know it was him?”
“It’s in my report.” Valentino wondered if she could slip away for another water and then leave until Kane had gotten the hint. She doubted it.
“Tell me anyway. That’s an order,” he added, when she tried to look away.
“I recognized his jacket.”
Valentino grabbed Kane’s water and took a long sip, her stomach churning, feeling the cold alley wall digging into her back. “The last time I saw that leather, it was the living skin of the metahuman handyman who fixed the boiler in my apartment building.” Valentino balled one hand up, then consciously relaxed it. “He was wearing Rafe’s skin.” The noise of the bar seemed very loud around her, the overlay of the driving dance music drilling into her skull like the reverberation of the shots in the cement stairwell. “I barely knew Rafe’s name. I barely knew any of them. Those years on vice, on the rape squad, I saw them, I knew things were bad, but…”
“Like getting into a slap fight with a windmill,” Kane said softly.
“Felt like it. No one would testify, no one would witness on either side. They just refused to rock the boat, and I didn’t know how to help someone who wouldn’t help themselves.”
“Or so you thought.”
“Fuck,” Valentino said, putting her bottle down and dropping her head in her hands. “I didn’t realize it was that bad for them. Rafe had a tattoo on his arm; it was on the Skinner’s sleeve. He’d been missing for weeks and no one had even put up fliers. I… shit, I never even asked about him.”
“Believe me, one of them would have gone after the Skinner themselves if they knew where he was. He was careful to keep out of their range.”
“They would have died.”
“It would have been worth it, for them. You gave someone a second chance at life.”
“Isn’t it supposed to be, ‘You saved someone’s life?’”
“You saved more than one. That’s why I wanted you. They need someone up here who’s ready to go to bat for them, to try to treat them like actual citizens, to pull that trigger for them if necessary. When they know that… they’ll testify. They’ll witness. But until then, they take care of their own.” Kane reached over and took the water bottle back from her. “That includes you, now.”
The music changed beats, and drove up another notch, a relentlessly happy beat. A purple light flared above the doorway to the dance room, and people began to move. Most abandoned their seats at the bar to join the dancers on the floor, but a few from the floor moved against the flood to claim abandoned stools. Kane abruptly stood up and jerked his head at the doorway.
“Come on. You’ll want to see this.”
Valentino swallowed and followed him, standing on the edge of the crowd as the music swelled and Lee began to sing along to the lyrics, her voice high and clear. For a minute, Valentino thought the lights had focused on Lee, because she seemed to be… No, she was glowing. Valentino had seen glowing metahumans before, their no-sees making them like living Light-Brites, but Lee’s glow, purple and gold, was surrounding her like fire, a plane of energy stretching out over the crowd, close enough to reach out and touch. Most took that invitation, the glow spreading down their arm and illuminating them in a burst of light. All around her, metahumans reached for that glow, smiles plastering across their faces as they touched it.
Valentino looked sharply over at Kane who gave her a shrug before reaching up to touch it himself. His eyes closed and his expression relaxed, a soft smile appearing on his face as he swayed in time with the music. Valentino looked back up at Lee, remembering what Kane had said about her. Empath. Could make you feel what she feels. Lee was smiling, head thrown back as she sang – happy, as was all too often not the case in this world.
Valentino reached up and touched, her fingers illuminating purple and gold as the energy swirled down into her. Twice in her life she’d taken ecstasy, and that was almost what it felt like: euphoria, joy, happiness, feeling everything was right with the world and it would all be okay…
She jerked her hand down and the feeling stopped, but not abruptly, and with no drop, no rebound, no hangover. Just a gentle run-down of the feeling that left her on an even keel, not craving another hit or feeling the need to go sit in a dark room and play emo music.
Damn. That was the strongest no-see Valentino had ever seen, ever even heard of. No wonder Lee was considered the leader around here – if you knew someone could tell you, “Yes, I know exactly how you feel,” and mean it literally, if she used that information to help, to be the shield and shelter, to protect and guide people, then they would be willing to follow.
“Jesus!” Valentino ducked down the alley at the last possible second, the lashes of electricity missing her by far too close of a margin for comfort. They’d gotten out onto the roof of Circus only to see more of the Invaders landing too close for comfort. It had been a mad scramble to back downstairs, through the basement, and out onto the street, ducking and weaving through progressively more crowded streets as they tried to outrun the aliens’ slow lightning. But at least one of them had found their group, and they were running out of room. “Go, go, go!” she yelled, waving at the rest of the metahumans to get moving. They were crowded in the debris-choked alley, backed up against a crashed delivery truck, and no one was trying to get past it, what the hell. There wasn’t time; the Invader was right on their heels…
Mitch stepped forward even as Valentino ran past him, and spread his hands. For a minute, Valentino thought he was changing color, from his usual iridescent green to something warmer, when she saw orange light intensify around him like a forcefield. He flung his arms out, and the hard-edged glow spread out, expanding to cover the entire crowd. Valentino’s jaw dropped as the electrical lashes splashed against the colors, failing to penetrate. Mitch couldn’t wince, couldn’t grimace, but he let out a small grunt like he’d just taken a punch, and kept his hands up.
“It’s his no-see,” Lee said quickly, as she nearly clambered over the others to get to her. “Exclusionary shield, he can leave out one thing. It’s okay, he can hold this for a little while, enough to give us breathing room.”
“Very little while,” Mitch corrected, his voice tight.
“Leave out one thing?” Valentino said, blinking in bemusement.
“Lead, wood, steel, human muscle tissue, different kinds of energy, depends on what he’s trying to do. Laura says there’s only this one close, so we have a little time to figure out a plan.” Lee breathed out slowly, trying to calm herself after running for so many blocks, seemingly oblivious to the effect her words on Valentino.
“Hell…” Valentino trailed off as Mitch’s shield glowed all around them. The shield was almost a hundred feet long, thirty feet tall, and easily holding back the Invader’s feeding whips. She’d never seen anything that could compare with that, not even regular technology. Even after seeing the Invaders suck power right out of the city, and right out of someone’s body, this still was damned impressive. And… Valentino’s eyes widened. Earlier Mitch had come up with the theory that the Invader had dropped his own energy shield, which had made him weak enough for Valentino to kill, and Lee had said he was qualified to know. No wonder. Valentino felt a faint thread of unease, that Lee would be so casual as to show them something they’d kept concealed for long as most of them had been alive.
“We’ve got to get to the roofs, it’s the only way Kara is going to be able to get us an escape route,” Lee said, looking up at the fire escape longingly. The top of it protruded out of Mitch’s shield, and once up there, they’d be an easy target for the Invader. Who the hell Kara was and how she was going to get them out of this mess was mostly academic at this point; there weren’t enough cars or drivers amongst the metahumans to get them out by vehicle, so going by foot was their only option. Lee seemed to have a plan, and Valentino had to trust she knew a safe place to go, at least for now.
Valentino looked past Mitch’s shield and squinted down the alley. “We gotta get out of here before it calls another one and blocks us in. Laura, how close is the next one?”
The owl woman abruptly sat down on the grimy ground and went still. A moment later she shook her head. “The next one is fifteen minutes distant.”
“But I bet its buddy is going to call in the cavalry a lot sooner. Mitch, can you move with that thing up?” Valentino asked.
“No,” Mitch said, his voice sounding tight.
“Then we’ve got to do something else. We have to lure it to dropping its guard,” Kane said.
“You think that’s gonna work twice?” Lee asked.
“Nothing ventured…” Valentino pointed out, locking eyes with Kane. He’d had the same idea she’d had.
“Right,” Kane said, drawing his gun. “Mitch, I’m headed out.”
“Please tell me you’re not going to play bait,” Lee said.
“Okay, I won’t tell you,” Kane said.
“Don’t worry,” Valentino said, firming her grip on her own weapon and silently blessing Kane for having brought along more ammuntion. “He’s not going out there alone.”
“How about neither of you go out alone?” Lee said, a reddish glow starting around her. “We can’t lose you-.” Moody abruptly pushed out of the crowd and put his hand on her upper elbow, the majority of him black and red, a hint of blue spreading from the center of his chest, the hand touching Lee going crimson and orange with her anger.
“Hey,” he said softly. “We can’t afford this.”
Lee shook herself all over, the red glow not fading, but a thread of cooler color joining it. “Okay. Okay.” Moody let her go, his hand fading to almost a dark navy as he looked over at both cops.
“Guys, what are we doing?”
“We need something to draw their power and drop their guard, because we’re not getting out here until this one goes down,” Kane said.
Lee looked out over the crowd and slowly shook her head before turning back to them. “I’m the fastest. I’ll draw it.”
“Like hell,” Kincaid piped up. “You know what’s going to happen if you-.”
“Taya, we need this done, and we need it done now!”
“Can’t hold it!” Mitch screamed, his voice taking on raw panic. “It’s coming in!”
“Collapse against us, keep the whips out!” Lee said, jumping up and clinging to a second-story windowsill, her goat legs giving her inhuman leaping power. “Everyone else scatter, get under cover! I’ll need you to help me!”
The metahumans pressed themselves against the faint shelter of dumpsters and crashed cars, too many of them still exposed, as the orange shield contracted closer to them. Valentino looked up in time to see the Invader touch down on the ground at the entrance to the alley, its lightning whips still crashing against Mitch’s no-see. He held his ground, the shield contracting slightly, but the Invader was stalking forward with silence menace, its hands raised, fists clenching as it ceased its electrical assault at the edge of the shield. It tilted its head in a curious, almost birdlike fashion, and slid forward slowly, its foot penetrating the shield like it wasn’t even there.
Valentino bit her lip. Only one thing. Mitch’s shield could only hold out one thing at a time. He could keep the feeding whips out, or the Invader itself, but not both. The Invader chittered something that sounded triumphant, and its voice echoed oddly from amongst the metahuman crowd. Valentino turned to see Voice, her body shimmering as its stilted words reflected from her glassy skin.
“You will become great. You will survive with us. Or die with them!”
Lee suddenly screamed from her vantage point as it brought its hands up again facing the humans, preparing to step forward and breach Mitch’s shield entirely. Why wasn’t Mitch moving?
A flood of red light burst from her, washing over the Invader like it had the dancers in her club, her empathy turned up full force. But this wasn’t euphoria, wasn’t joy. This was rage and fear and pain, and Valentino didn’t need to look at Moody to see him reflecting the same colors, staring at Lee with unblinking concentration. The colored light was coming from them, being drawn to her, feeding her no-see with their emotions as she turned it against their enemy. Valentino had seen that in Circus, Lee letting the joy of the dancers feed back into them, but this was on a whole new level.
It made a noise like a shriek and turned towards her, its hands sparking and glowing white-hot when her power touched him. Valentino heard Kane’s indrawn breath as the Invader’s glowing body dimmed, and both brought up their guns and fired. The sound was shocking loud in the enclosed alley, but their shock was no less when this time their bullets just flattened against the Invaders skin. Not enough, they hadn’t distracted it enough-!
“Flesh!” Lee cried desperately. Mitch made a choking sound and the shield took on a different, darker shade. The Invaders’ foot, still breaching the perimeter, was suddenly severed in a shower of sparks as Mitch’s shield changed and rejected the Invader’s body. The sound it made was like an ice pick to the brain as it brought up its feeding whips again. Mitch’s shield changed back as he dropped to his knees, the lightning splashing against the orange light, brighter and brighter as Lee stoked its rage. Dark blood began to ooze from Mitch’s eyes as he struggled to keep his hands up, and Lee was bouncing back and forth across the alley, ducking under and around the white-hot sparks the Invader was throwing in her direction. She kept trying to touch it, trying to circle her hands around its throat, but couldn’t seem to force herself to close the gap.
Valentino hadn’t seen it in action before, but Kane had described the phenomena – the metahuman death-aversion making it nearly impossible for her to go for a killing strike. Lee was playing right on the edge of her own demise to give them an opening.
Kane saw it at the same time Valentino did, the Invader’s body going dimmer and dimmer as the metahumans kept its attention on them. Both of their guns came up as they ran forward, the sound of the shots swallowed by the shrieks of its anger – and the alley plunged into silence as it fell, its light dimming forever. Valentino tried to stop her forward momentum, her hand reaching out for Kane as she skidded on the debris of the alley ground, and felt a stab of icy fear as her ankle buckled under her with a sickening crack.
Mitch dropped his shield and made a retching sound, only bringing up bile as he collapsed next to her, and Valentino shut her teeth on a cry of pain and panic. Broken. She knew her ankle was broken, and they still had to scale a fire escape and run over the rooftops to escape the swarming Invaders. A stupid accident, a slimy piece of garbage under her foot, and she… Any other time this would have been a trip to the ER and desk work for a month. Today she was going to die.
“Val, what did you-? Shit,” Kane said, and tried to get his shoulder under her arm, tried to lever her up.
“Don’t. I’m done. Go, I’ll cover you!” she said tightly. Damn it, that she’d taken down aliens in an attempt to save their little corner of the world and she was going to get sucked dry because she’s hadn’t watched her footing…
“Get moving, up the fire escape, go, go!” Lee said to the others before dropping down next to Valentino. She looked over her shoulder, but Kincaid was already joining them, his scaled hands tight on the hot, painful break.
“Graceful, Val,” he said, his yellow eyes looking almost casually amused as he looked her over.
“Doc, even if you strap this, I can’t run,” Valentino protested through clenched teeth.
“Who said anything about strapping it? Do you want me to help you?” he said, locking eyes with her. “Do you trust me to help you?”
“Yes-” Valentino watched with horrified fascination as Kincaid’s long, sharp fingernails bloodlessly and painlessly penetrated her flesh. He tugged once on her bones; there was a flash of heat, a slow rush of cold, and a sudden stab of pain so intense she couldn’t keep from screaming. When lights stopped dancing in front of her eyes, she found Kane and Lee had tugged her upright, and her ankle was once again painless, strong, and supple. Her eyes must have looked as large as dinner plates.
What. The. Hell, she thought very precisely.
“Let’s go,” Lee said, tugging her towards the ladder. “Climb!”
Lightning flashed behind them as they scrambled up the fire escape in the near-dark, emerging on the dim rooftops to see the rest of the metahumans scrambling across them in a sea of bodies. Taking a deep breath, Valentino ran, Kane hard at her side.
Lee was keeping pace with both of them with contemptuous ease, and Valentino hated her a little bit because of it. Usually she and Kane had the best times of the obstacle course, but running across the rooftops like they were in some action movie was something they didn’t do a lot. Most of the metahumans were keeping up with Lee, fear giving their feet wings. And some were using actual wings too. George was flying somewhere above them, calling out changes in terrain as they ran through the semi-darkness.
Where there was light available the metahumans’ eyes flashed green, like animals, racial eyeshine giving them an advantage in the dim light. Convenient for an army that would be fighting in the darkness of a powerless world, Valentino realized, with the small part of her brain not currently trying to keep her running. Fear above and beyond fleeing for her life frosted her insides. Lee had said no, had convinced the others around her to say no. But there were metahumans everywhere, and a lot of them had gotten a raw deal. The idea of revenge might be too much to resist for some. Their group might be able to get to safety, wherever that might be, but how long could that last if the final battle had already started?
“Do you trust me?” Lee called suddenly.
No time to think, not after running on what should have been broken bones, not after killing two of the Invaders. “Yeah!” Valentino called on her next exhalation, Kane echoing her.
“When I jump, you jump, no hesitation. We’ve got a way out.”
“Got it!” Kane yelled.
Wherever they were headed was absolutely black as far as Valentino could tell. It looked like the apartment buildings dropped away into a void. Just as she thought that, light illuminated the drop-off three roofs ahead, shining up pure white from below, brighter than a spotlight. As they jumped from one roof to the next, Valentino could see a huge circle outlined in white fire inscribed in the air above that unforgiving plunge to the pavement below. As the metahumans ahead of her reached the edge of the building, they leapt into the circle without hesitation.
“Fuck me,” she said, and added invective in a few more languages for good measure.
“Portal!” Lee called. “Stargate-style.”
“You’ve watched that one?” Kane asked.
“Read the movie-book!”
Amazing how one could banter when terrified. But Valentino didn’t slow down, oh no. Not when George yelled something behind them, lightning flickering at their backs, and Alana suddenly sprinted ahead on her spider legs, her human arms clutching a child as she flung herself over the edge.
“Don’t worry, we’ve done this before!” Lee said.
“When?!” Valentino demanded.
“Running from bad guys. Next roof! One, two, three, tuck and roll!” Lee sped up and dove off the edge, following the others as they threw themselves over like lemmings.
“Company!” Kane yelled. Valentino cursed again and sprinted the last few steps, hearing herself shouting as she bluffed herself through her fear. Kane dove like he was going into the deep end, the circle of white fire hanging in mid-air the only reassurance they wouldn’t hit the pavement, and Valentino followed. The light showed an expanse of grass instead of the blacktop that should have been below. Portal. Right, she thought a little hysterically. There was a shock as Valentino hit the portal, like someone trying to tear her in two, and she suddenly found herself landing in a less-than-perfect somersault that left her sprawling on thick turf. Kane wasn’t much better off and lay panting on the ground next to her.
Valentino looked up at the sky, blinking as she tried to make sense of the skyline. In a moment it came to her; they were in Central Park.
The white fire suddenly vanished, leaving just the comparatively dim lights on the walking paths, still miraculously going.
“Kane, Val, this is Kara Tucker,” Lee said, still sounding out of breath, “Our portal-maker.” Both cops managed to sit up. And stared.
The mysterious Kara was a wereform, but one so extreme Valentino could see why she hadn’t heard of her before; anyone that different usually kept themselves very far out of the public eye. Nearly seven feet tall and not quite that broad, she looked like someone had taken a king crab, grown her to super size, added a couple human features, and then quit. There were six crab legs clamped to her abdomen, a “regular” human arm covered with heavy chitin, and what should have been her left arm terminated in the huge claw that seemed to be the focus for her no-see, as a white glow was fading from its tip. Her legs were massive, would have had to have been to support her huge body, and covered with the same spiky chitin that covered the rest of her. Her shell looked tough as stone, scarred from dozens of unknown injuries. She didn’t have a head, just some kind of mouth parts set atop her shell, but her eyestalks contained brown eyes that were painfully human.
How the hell Kara had even been born was a mystery. Any metahuman with mutations that extreme could have easily killed their mothers just from birth complications. Lee Vincent’s life had been difficult enough. So had Tailor Kincaid’s, from what stories Lee had told. The stranger the metahuman, the harder it usually was for them. Kara… how had she even survived?
But with a no-see like hers, like Mitch’s, like Kincaid’s… No wonder the metahumans had kept them a secret. Bad enough some people hated them for what they looked like, but to think that metahumans had unseen, entirely random powers capable of that level of influence? They would have been rounded up before you could say “internment camp.”
“No-see are weak my ass,” Valentino said.
Lee stared at her and burst out laughing in slightly hysterical release.