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.
That laugh was the last one they had for a long time as they huddled together in the dark, watching the lightning strikes darken parts of the city over and over again, deathly silences from some places, screams from others as they realized the returning light meant a return of the Invaders and their ever-hungry feeding whips. It was the most harrowing, helpless night most of them had ever spent.
“They’re leaving,” Lee whispered some hours later, and wrapped her fingers around Valentino’s sleeve to point her in the right direction. Moody was close by her side, his gaze following hers. “Look!”
Valentino watched the Invaders arc up to the cloud-covered sky, easily visible in the darkened city. Dawn was not far off, but with few lights still going, there was no mistaking that kind of slow reverse lightning for anything else. The Invaders were departing. She followed them to the clouds, and saw flashes of light through the dark gray mass as they left her sight.
“Think they’re gone for good?”
“Fuck no,” Lee said flatly. “Did you see them?”
“I shot two of them,” Valentino reminded her.
“I think they’re recharging,” Lee said. “I was talking with Taya. He thinks that they don’t just eat electricity, they can store it. So whatever they took today, they took back with them to…” She pointed up. “Whatever’s up there. Ships, maybe.”
“Took it back. Maybe using it. Doing repairs, sharing intelligence,” Kane said. “Figuring out their next step?”
“Exactly. So what do they know?”
“Their army is stubborn, at least two of their own has been killed, and Earth is the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat-buffet.”
“We need more than that,” Moody said, shaking his head as he looked at Lee. “We have to figure out what’s going on downtown, hell, in D.C., in anywhere else. We need to know!”
“How the hell do we do that?” Valentino asked. “Grab one for questioning? You’re the one with the metahuman radio… sorry,” she added belatedly at Laura, sitting nearby. The owl woman waved it off easily.
Lee shook her head. “No, I’ve gotta go check some sources.” She crouched down and lowered her voice. “Kara can get me places, but I need you guys to keep everyone together.”
“Lee, you know we’ll help, but you have to talk to us,” Kane said. “We just went from thinking you’re the only metahuman with a strong no-see to jumping through damn Stargate-style portals in one night.”
“We wanted you to think that,” Lee said, looking at Valentino sideways to check her reaction.
“Shit,” Valentino said, shaking her head. “How many…”
Lee looked over at Kara and looked back. “We would have been happier if no one had ever let it slip that we had no-sees, but some people can’t keep their mouths shut. Everyone has one, though most people it just runs synergistically with their mutations.” She nodded over at George, his wings mantelling over Alana and the children crowded around her. “Like how George can fly, even though physics and anatomy says he shouldn’t be able to. That’s his no-see, personal partial anti-gravity. Or how Alana can see out of all eight eyes. But there are a few of us that have…” Lee paused and tapped a tentacle-finger against her lips, “Chimeric no-sees,” she said finally. “Totally random, completely unrelated, and the more mutated you are, the stronger your no-see. That’s maybe one in a thousand.”
Hence Mitch, with his beetle-plates and faceted eyes, had his excluding shield, and Lee, with her purple coloration and Mad Libs body parts, had empathy strong enough to be used as a weapon. And Kincaid, with his dinosaur body shape and scales, could knit flesh back together with a touch.
“Christ, no wonder,” Valentino said, understanding. And what a weapon they were for the Invaders. Lee apparently had the same thought at the same time, as her face fell a mile and Moody went entirely yellow and red with fear/anger.
“Fuck me twice,” she said softly. “That must have been a nice bonus.”
“Well, then,” Valentino said, keeping her voice forcefully light. “More for you, right? It looks like our weapons don’t work unless they’re focused on countering your no-sees. Win-win.”
Lee laughed in surprise, losing a little bit of her tension. “I guess so.”
“It’s more than that,” Kane said. “Isn’t it, Lee? Remember what Andrea Atwater asked you?”
Lee went quiet for a few moments, staring at Kane with resignation, a nauseated look coming over her. “If we were built for the apocalypse.”
“You are,” he said positively. “Look around you – the city’s got most of its power back now, but communications were knocked out long enough to panic more than a few people, the Invaders got a nice lunch, and were able to talk to you without anyone interfering… mostly. I bet it’s the same the world over. And they’re going to keep coming back until we’re all sucked dry. ”
“Yeah,” she said softly. Valentino sat up straighter, realizing what Kane was getting at. They knew enough metahumans, had seen enough tonight to put the clues together.
“You are an army,” she said. “You’ve got scouts that can fly, people that can communicate long-distance, ways to travel, and you don’t need a damn bit of power off the grid to do it. The way you live, you won’t miss much of what the Invaders take from us if they manage to suck up most of our resources.”
“How does that work?” Lee all but spat. “Most mets know how to defend themselves, but even if the Invaders turned off the kill switch, the military would chop us to shreds. Even if the Invaders killed the power, you don’t need electricity to fire guns.”
Valentino closed her eyes, opened them, and looked at Kane. “You don’t need guns,” she said. “I’ve watched you make five hundred people feel what you feel, and it just gets easier for you with each person, doesn’t it?”
Lee stared at her like she was speaking a foreign language.
“It’s like a chain reaction, a mob mentality,” Valentino elaborated. “You could use anger. Sadness.” She paused, remembering what she’d seen in the alley. “Fear. Rage.”
Lee blinked, color draining from her face as Kane took up the thread of conversation. Moody’s hand twined tight with hers and he whispered something in her ear as she listened to them, eyes wide.
“Say the Invaders take the power out of the army – there go communications. But you have Laura, you can hear anything, and Josh, who’s a living megaphone. You have fast transports and scouts who don’t need power, people who can shield you from explosions or survive them outright. And they have you. You’re the general, Lee. Everyone knows you, respects you, follows you. You can get what you need out of anyone.”
“A lot of us would die, but we’d get you in the end,” Lee said, her voice tight and harsh. “And I… was made to fill a need, just like Kara. Like George. General-pawn.” She looked around and pulled Kincaid over to their little group, talking quietly in his ear, catching him up on the conversation. He grimaced, showing sharp teeth, as Lee finished laying out their theories.
“So, the choice is join them, and be able to kill as their army, or don’t and die with everyone else? Two can play at that game,” Kincaid said. “I think that Invader was a little too chatty. He all but told us the kill switch is an inborn block, which we more or less knew, but they showed us it can be turned off with modified Brisbane Event energy. Mitch caught the resonance when it was trying to kill you.” He jerked his chin over at the bug-like met huddled with Kara, Alana, and George. “That’s his talent. He caught it, so he knows the frequency. There are three B.E. experts in New York, and they all have B.E. generators. Give them the frequency and we could fight back on our own terms.”
“How the hell did you know that?” Valentino asked.
Kincaid smiled toothily. “I think nearly all of us here have supplemented our income by participating in scientific studies. You pick up things if you keep your ears open. I know about a dozen mets who are professional guinea pigs.”
“So… maybe that works,” Lee said, looking grim. “But maybe it doesn’t. Those B.E. generators can’t be as good as what the Invaders can do… and if we fuck it up, if Mitch didn’t have the exact right thing, who knows what that could do to us?”
Kincaid looked contrite. “I’m angry, Lee. I’m tired of running. I’m…”
“And if we fight? If any paranoid human caught any hint of what the Invaders were offering us, we’d be in a world of hurt if we couldn’t prove we were safe.”
“We were never safe.” Kincaid clacked his teeth together and suddenly balled his hands into fists. “Those bastards. Those unbelievable bastards.” He let out a humorless laugh. “You know, most of us can’t have children. We’re too different, too mixed up inside. We still have human parents.”
Kane finished his thought. “You were supposed to kill off the humans, then die out, weren’t you?”
“Self-cleansing army. So convenient.”
“Encourage us to commit genocide and then we died off in a few generations. Assholes,” Lee said. She looked over at Kane and Valentino, her small fingers balled into tiny fists.
“You think we should turn off the kill switch if we could?”
“It’s not my call,” Kane said gently.
“Yeah.” Lee was quiet for a long time, and Moody rubbed her back gently, black and red with stress. “We’ve got killer instincts, you know. We’re fast, strong, even the quiet ones like Moody.” She twined her fingers with his, wrapping around his hand like a lace glove. “I know how to work people. I see them, see what they’re feeling, and I know what to do, what to say. I know how to make them hurt if I have to. I said the army would chew us up, but only the first ranks, because once we got inside, we’d rip them up. You’re right; we’ve got people who are bulletproof. And I know I could make our enemies scared. Put the commanders in an underground bunker I could still make them panic.”
Kane glanced at Valentino, concern in his eyes.
“You guys know us. We’ve got forty years of pain and humiliation and revenge inside us, and we’ve never been able to fight back. Take the lid off of that and I think we’d go supernova.” Lee focused on them again. “Then there are people like you. You tried to help.”
“It doesn’t make up for a lifetime of shit,” Kane said.
“A lot of different colored humans got a lot more shit for a few thousand years, so I’m not gonna play ‘who’s the most miserable.’”
“But at least we could fight back.”
“Yeah.” Lee held their gazes steady. “You helped us do that. If we take the lid off… we’d get cheap revenge and end up with nothing to show for it. Winning isn’t anything without someone to share it with.” She breathed out, slow. “We’ve only been around for forty years. We don’t have that many heroes. We have to look up to the ones we have.”
Valentino shook her head and Lee shot out her arm and physically stopped her, Lee’s odd fingers rubbery against her skin. “You killed our enemy, even though you knew you’d catch hell for it and probably thought you’d never be that effective again. Hero.” She let her go. “But you were. So was Kane. And we have to be the same.” Lee stood and shivered from head to hoof. “Give me a day. I’ll be back. We need some answers.”
Moody went with her, and the both of them talked with Kara. Minutes later Kara split the air with her glowing claw, inscribing a circle that opened up into what looked like a darkened warehouse, and all three of them vanished through it.
“Where the hell did they go?” Valentino said, standing as it winked out.
“You said Lee could influence five hundred people or more,” Kincaid said, and raised a brow ridge. “In truth, it’s a lot more than that. My girl hasn’t been idle all these years. Circus isn’t her only club.” He looked up at the sky. “Maybe they wanted her to be that way. Maybe they hardwired her to want to be connected to people when they planted the seeds back during the Brisbane Event.”
“Maybe they didn’t think she’d ever turn against them,” Kane said.
“Maybe they underestimated you. We don’t all hate you as much as we’re supposed to.”
“Welcome to Earth,” Valentino muttered. Kincaid laughed out loud.
“You were right.”
Valentino nearly jumped out of her skin when Lee appeared behind her, less than a day later, fire in her eyes and a powerful glow surrounding her.
“I am the general.” Her lips quirked in a sad smile. “I made my move.”
“Circus isn’t your only club,” Valentino said. It wasn’t a question. If metahumans like Kara had been around for years, Lee could have gone international long ago. No need for passports or planes. Or explanations.
Lee nodded and kept talking almost absently. “I think I figured out why so many of us end up in cities even though we tend to die there. It’s hardwired in so we’d be close to the power sources to help claim them.” She shuddered. “Little hard to swallow, knowing most of what you are is some else’s game.” She looked up into the lightening sky. “We were always talking about the Man Upstairs having some plan. Men Upstairs. Guess they did.” She started to glow a sullen red, and Moody suddenly shot upright, his color mirroring her glow as she uncurled from her crouch. “Fuck them. Fuck them.”
“So?” Kane asked delicately.
“Spit it out.”
“Anyone else take them up on their offer?”
“No. They won’t.” Lee looked away, towards the rest of the metahumans, who weren’t making any pretense of not eavesdropping. “It would be revenge on a platter for every bigoted jerkoff who wanted to smash our faces in for being born. Take away the suicide reflex and we’d be damn near unstoppable.” She breathed out slowly. “We’ve worked so hard to be seen as something other than animals. And when I think about having the kill switch turned off? I think we’d turn into a bunch of rabid dogs.”
She hadn’t kept her voice down, and there were soft cried of protest and understanding and pain amongst the crowd.
“Tell me it’s not true,” she said. “I think we are a tolerant, understanding bunch. I think we try to do our best to be good, despite the fact that people try to kill us every day, that we can barely fight back to defend ourselves. I think if they took that kill switch off we could still be decent.” She paused. “After some of us got a chance to get some of our own back and don’t tell me you weren’t thinking about it.” There were a few more shamed grumbles, but Lee was hitting her stride. How many times had she made this speech to others during the last few hours? “We have to be better than that. Better than good. You all know that.” Lee stood, her glow brighter and starting to spread. “Better than human, better than alien, and with damn little to show for it. Sucks, doesn’t it?” Ragged assent. “Do you want to dance to their tune? Want to be an alien’s catspaw? Do you, Maury?”
A man with feline wereform features laughed out loud.
“There aren’t that many of them; they’re strong, but they need us to fight for them to take what they want. They need us to keep the power flowing for them. They aren’t taking off the kill switch so we can defend ourselves or protect our families. They’re taking it off so we can kill soldiers and police and anyone else who’s left defending what’s important. They want us to kill and then turn over everything to them. They will, by their infinite grace and mercy leave us a shattered graveyard of a planet to rule over at the level of the fucking Bronze Age as payment for a lifetime of pain and uncertainty, never knowing why we’d even been born, and then die out in a generation because they don’t need us anymore.
“But I’ll tell you what: they aren’t my benevolent gods. This is our home. They made us and left with no damn explanation about why we were so different. We adapted, we gained friends.” Lee looked over at Kane and Valentino, and Valentino felt her breath catch in her throat. “I don’t want this place in ruins. I don’t want our friends dead. I don’t want to be told to kill Kane and Valentino, two people who’ve devoted their careers to making life a little fairer for us just because my alien overlord says to. Is that what you want? Someone telling you what to do with the ‘freedom’ they just gave you? Doesn’t sound right. Doesn’t sound fair.”
The metahumans were all on their feet now, and Kane and Valentino found themselves solidly in the middle, instead of clinging to the edges of the crowd.
“We are an army. We’re scouts and infantry, medics and communications, shields and transport,” she said, pointing to different people in turn – George and Alana, Kincaid and Laura, Mitch and Kara. “They made us to be unstoppable. They made me to lead you. That’s what I’ve always been. I’ve always been the leader, because that’s what I always felt I had to do. I can reach every one of us on this planet, and I have. They’re with us. We can take what they gave us,” she stabbed one arm at the clouded sky where lightning still flickered and crawled, “and use it to get them off our world!”
Lee turned to them, glowing with emotional feedback, looking as strong as they’d ever seen her.
A memory of Kane’s voice came to Valentino at that moment. They need heroes.
“We’re going to lay down some pain. Are you with us?”
They could make a difference.
“Round them up. We’ll take the kill shot,” Valentino said, no qualms in her. She wasn’t going to take the shot for them because they couldn’t help themselves, but because they were. No more fighting against a windmill.
Lee smiled, and Moody went completely blue. “We’ve got to lure them in, so we can shut them down. They designed us to live in the apocalypse. Let’s see how they handle it. Think we can get the rest of the army on our side?”
“You know they’ve wanted you for years,” Kane said, almost smiling.
“Well, they’re going to get us.”
“This is going to be hard as hell.”
“We’re used to that.”
“It won’t be fast,” Valentino said. “This is going to be a long haul; they aren’t going to give you up so easily.”
Lee bared her teeth. “Neither will we, sister.”
Six months later
Valentino ran down the side of the barricade and found the gun port, sliding herself into position as two earth-form mets formed a living wall in between her and the battlefield. She took aim as Lee and George ran by, binding and running the Invader to earth, adroitly dodging its feeding whips as it desperately tried to free itself. The city around them was dark, deliberately shut down when the Invaders had tried desperately to feed, and Valentino had a good view of the glowing invader. She waited, waited, and shot as the glow faded from its body, shouting in triumph as electric blood spattered across the ground.
A wave from George and a grin from Lee, and they threw themselves back into the fray, trusting she’d be there when they needed her.
Beside her, Kane fired his own shot, and more electricity flowed across the ground. They caught each other’s eye as they reloaded, exchanging smiles. The Invaders couldn’t comprehend what had happened, how fast the tables had turned, why their supposed army had rejected revenge and instead turned on them. They couldn’t understand why the metahumans had refused the gift of the planet in exchange for death.
The past six months had been quite the education. It had taken the Invaders that long to start to truly fight back. Things were harder now, but now everyone knew what to do. Who to trust. And how to make a difference.
Valentino heard the shot echo as another Invader went down, and shouldered her own weapon, waiting for the cry that would warn her her skills were needed. She trusted them; they were counting on her.