The Market was one of the most popular places at Sizemore Tech for food.
Located at the juncture between the Stangel and Randolph Hall dorms, the Market consisted of a collection of shops selling a variety of foods. While most aren’t much better than mall food, the few legitimate chains as well as the innumerable faux chain storefronts offered an attractive alternative from traditional dining halls. The Market was a popular place for students who’d settled in at Sizemore Tech, especially since all the stalls accepted the college’s meal plans.
Alley Amherst felt the pistol pressing against the small of her back as she stalked her quarry.
They were right where she expected. Chris McMannan, Kyle Wallace and Hiro Kimura sat together at a table. Ranked 3rd, 7th and 9th respectively, the three had been an inseparable trio since they ended up as roommates after their fourth roommate failed out in the first month. The three laughed together as she made her way towards their bench.
Her eyes flicked up to a set of television monitors in water-proof casing spread out among the buildings in the food court area. The Market was a central spot for checking out events, getting reminders or seeing clips of something appealing to the average college student.
Unbidden, the memory of Iris from two days ago rose in Alley’s mind. Her vision blurred. Then she took a deep breath, got a clear line of sight and fired.
Chris McMannan had a powerful ability, one that allowed him to put everyone in his line of sight to sleep. A few weeks ago, he’d even managed to knock out someone behind him just by concentrating. It was potent and the only immediate way the trio could stop her.
Her first bullet went right through his temple, killing him instantly.
Alley lined up Hiro next as students screamed around her. The two remaining roommates started to rise, Hiro lunging for the very dead Chris. The healer had a remarkable knack for instilling regeneration in himself and others. While it wouldn’t outright remove wounds, virtually anything could be repaired in a matter of minutes. So she shot him in the stomach, dropping him short of his roommate and too badly hurt to save Chris’ life.
That left Kyle. Alley charged him head on, lifting her pistol and pulling the trigger repeatedly. As she expected, the 7th ranked student’s ability to manipulate moving parts in anything shut her gun down. It also tied up his attention and kept him from doing something nasty, like shutting down her circulatory system. By the time Kyle refocused from the gun to the girl, Alley was inside his reach. One punch to his throat dropped him to the ground. Paralyzed, choking for air, he wouldn’t ‘be a threat for exactly fifty five seconds.
So she turned back to Hiro. Crouching beside him, Alley pulled out a knife and stabbed him. Hard. As he cried out, she pulled the blade out and knifed him again. Then again. Furious, she almost spent too much time on him. Kyle almost got his breath back when she dropkicked his diaphragm to buy another minute of time.
Rolling back to her feet, Alley waved her pistol at the few remaining students stupid enough to think about getting involved. They split. Then she crouched over Hiro’s body as the healer vainly tried to repair the damage she’d done. The Japanese boy opened his mouth, tried to say something, but only trickled blood from his lips.
“Why? Motherfucker, you’re seriously asking me why?” Alley shook her head once, then pointed her knife carefully over his right eye. “Fine. This is for Iris Rosenthal.”
And she slammed the knife down right through the eye socket into his brain. Twisting the weapon, she sliced through grey matter until she’d carved it in half. She left the weapon buried to the hilt in his head. She had other plans for Kyle.
Alley grabbed the last member of the trio, hauled him to his feet and whipped him over one knee. The pivot went perfectly, dropping Kyle backwards towards the table. The edge of the wooden surface hit squarely between the L4 and L5 vertebrae. Bone broke. And she draped his body over that table since he’d never feel his legs again.
The raw fear, the sheer terror on Kyle’s face only fed her fury. Alley panted like an engine screaming against a hill too steep to climb. Her heart hammered in her chest, not from the exertion but from the grip of the passion she felt. She took his right thumb and snapped it, reveling in his screams. She didn’t even bother with conversation until she’d gone through both hands.
“We only have a few minutes left to talk before your rescuers arrive,” Alley said, trying to catch her breath.
“You’re so fucked,” Kyle whispered, in a voice choked with agony.
“You mean my HCP career? Oh hell yes. Kyle, I wouldn’t be surprised if I got the chair for this. I mean, Illinois abolished the death penalty two years ago but hey, nothing like some fresh outrage to turn that shit around. Instead of talking about the law, though, I’m going to talk about Iris.”
“That wasn’t my f-ARGH!”
Alley took his right wrist as he started to talk, braced it against the edge of the table and cracked the heel of her foot precisely where bone and tendon would break. “I said I’m going to talk about her. You don’t get to. You want to participate in the conversation, though? Okay. I want you to tell me how you did it.”
“How do you think?” he sobbed, almost incoherent from the pain. Alley glanced around. A couple of minutes left indeed. Time ran out on her. She’d have to stay closer to topic.
“I want you to tell me.”
“You think a confession taken from torture’s ever going to stand up before a judge?”
“Kyle, Kyle, there you go, talking about the law.” Alley grinned without humor and gestured to her now blood-soaked top. “Do I look like I’m carrying a microphone? Do I look like I have any fucks to give about a judge? This is just between you and me, buddy. Talk to me, sweetheart, tell me all about it.”
“F-Fine, I…” Kyle coughed on a sob and Alley had to lose precious seconds waiting for him to get to it. “We used Hiro’s footage of the two of you from New Years. I just uploaded it to the school’s servers and linked it into the news feed for the courtyard monitors. Jesus Christ, Alley, no one saw! Just some college students!”
“I tried to find evidence that you put it on Youtube,” Alley said, keeping her tone light and conversational. “I’m no computer expert but, trust me, I learned everything I could on the topic. And you know how fast I can learn, Kyle. Nothing. I couldn’t find a shred of proof. But we both know you put it up there.”
“I covered it up,” Kyle said, breathing a little easier since she’d stopped hurting him. Poor boy. He was beginning to think he might live through this. “I can do that, you know. There’s no log, no audit trails. I just tell the system what I want to happen and the code changes. Moving parts, right? Guess code counts.”
Alley nodded. Behind her, HCP students near the Market converged on her position. Campus security and at least two Professors would be here in a minute but a group of HCP Sophomores were the closest and, damn them, they’d try to be Heroes even if it broke their cover and got them kicked out of the program.
She couldn’t let that happen. The world needed Heroes. It sure as hell needed them more than it needed her.
“Time’s up, Kyle,” Alley said, bending over him. “Thanks for being honest with me. Now it’s my turn for some honesty. You have ten seconds to live. Make it good.”
The poor boy had balls. He actually tried to muster up enough concentration to scramble her head or something instead of praying. Unfortunately for Kyle, Alley rolled him off the table, breaking his line of sight. She’d have preferred to deliver a little more pain but the clock was up.
Instead, Alley took a step back on the table. Then she got a short running start and leaped off the wooden surface with the intention of landing on his head. In midflight, Alley put her pistol in exactly the place it would need to be.
The satisfaction of watching his face as she flew into the air to drop on him was immense. Then Bryony Santos hit her in midair, moving faster than a speeding car and tackling her. The Sophomore strong girl only saw Alley, though, not the gun in her hand. Alley just pulled the trigger, knowing the bullet would go exactly where it needed to.
Iris was avenged.
Both girls hit the ground hard. Alley rolled with it, flexed arms and legs and launched the Latina girl off of her with the strong girl’s own momentum. Rolling to her feet, she saw Liam McIntyre, Carl Espada and Carolynne Sundholm almost on her. Alley regained her feet and immediately dropped her gun, raising both hands into the air. Just in time. An unnatural calmness flooded over her from Carolynne, even as Liam made the pavement under her shoes grip her feet in a barely noticeable vice.
As the other HCP students encircled her, Alley surveyed the scene and saw half a dozen students with camera phones out, recording the whole thing. Thankfully, Bryony Santos got back to her feet and streaked away before anyone got a good look at her. Since Alley was being recorded, there was only one thing left to do now.
“Hey Youtube!” Alley shouted to her audience, raising her hands into bloody fists. “Some of you sick fucks think it’s funny to out gays who aren’t ready for it. Three boys here recorded a girl being proposed to by another girl and made sure their parents saw. One of those girls, Iris Rosenthal, killed herself a day later. They thought it was funny! Well, they’re not laughing now! Next time you assholes think outing anyone is cool, you remember what happens to people like you!”
She lowered her arms and bent her head. Carl grabbed her by the arm. The merest concentration told her the boy could turn into a walking suit of blades if she tried anything. She just shook her head and gave him a weary smile.
“Relax, Carl, I’m done.” She breathed out and said, “There’s nothing left to do now. Nothing left at all.”
Alley swallowed hard against the lump in her throat as she watched herself from two and a half years ago taken into custody by campus security. Even this far out, the emotions still felt raw. Her usual cocktail of prescription medications didn’t seem to be doing a damn thing against the grief she swam through.
Beside her, the faces of her roommates were expressive. Nate had finally found something more horrible than his own deeds and the revulsion on his face was unfeigned. Jia just looked hard, not quite removed but she’d borne the three executions without flinching. There was a coldness to her that would probably never thaw again. Of course, neither would remember anything.
Finn was another matter. Alley trembled when the taller black Brit suddenly hugged her. “Stop it,” she said, her tone harsh and grating.
“I don’t push away that easy,” Finn said, looking down into her eyes.
“Why not? Everyone else does.” Alley sniffled against the rising tide of tears. “My parents, my friends, anyone who knew me. No one gets it. They killed Iris! And I don’t want to hear any shit about vengeance not being the answer or Iris not wanting it, I didn’t do it for her. I did it for all the assholes who get their kicks bullying gays already going through hell figuring out who they are. Fuck the ‘It Gets Better’ project. I wanted to put the fear of fucking God into those homophobic pieces of shit!”
“You should have gone to prison,” said the otherwise silent, enigmatic Kelsey, presently seated at a nearby lunch table.
“Fuck prison, I should have gotten the chair,” Alley said. She forced a smile. “Blame Army Force Ops. They saw the whole video and liked what they saw. I mean, hey, a freshman with no experience or combat ability just killed three Supers in training to be Heroes using only a pistol and knife. Imagine what they could do with me after boot camp, eh? And they did. I learned to follow orders and get the job done. Speaking of…” She cleared her throat and caught Nate’s eye. “Time for the head whammy, Ginger.”
Nate hesitated, confused by the direction or maybe by where they were. All confusion vanished when Kelsey suddenly leaped up from the table and faced off with the tall blonde.
“You’ve been typing this whole time!” The dead Hero gave her an incredulous look. “How? I’ve locked out all your senses, bound you into this thoughtscape. How can you still function in the real world?”
“It’s my ability,” Alley said. “My brain’s kind of like one of those computers with a quad core CPU. All you did was tie up one of the processors while the rest kept going. I have to admit I’m a little jealous, though. Jia and Finn got to see our skeletons in the closet but we didn’t get to see theirs. Oh well. Maybe next time.”
“You boxed me in!” Kelsey’s face drew into a black scowl. “None of my alerts to the HCP staff actually made it through, did they. You must have known it wouldn’t hold me for long. There’s no way you can get away-“
“Listen to me, Kelsey,” Nate said. The power in his voice could not be denied. Dead or not, even Heroes listened and Kelsey was no exception as her eyes acquired an unfocused gaze. “You’ll forget we were ever here. Erase all signs of our presence on this level. As far as the HCP records are concerned, we came for the Halloween party and that’s it. Do you understand?”
“Do I understand?” she asked, eyes empty of emotion.
“Tell me if you understand.”
“I understand,” Kelsey said.
At once, reality reasserted itself. The four stood next to the server administrator, who still sat looking at Nate with a vacant expression waiting for orders. Alley pulled her flash drive and slipped it into a pocket for security. Then she looked at her team and shook her head.
“As Halloween’s go, this one’s been more trick than treat. I have no doubt your opinions of me have changed and I won’t insult any of you by claiming Kelsey lied about any of it. Let’s just get out of here so I can get the data to the Major. He’s the only one with a computer big enough to decode all of this. Besides, all of you have someone waiting for you. Let’s get you back to them.”
The guilt trip was a low blow but an effective one. Her team moved out at last. Alley followed up behind them, watching her roommates as the group headed towards the HCP that would lead them back to the party. No, things wouldn’t be the same after this. Jia and Nate were dosed with Vintax Synorde III of course but Finn would remember.
Alley just shrugged and tried not to think of how close she’d come to asking Kelsey to conjure up a memory of Iris. Or how close she’d come to just shooting herself in the head to avoid having to live through it all again.