I was just fucking with Spider. This was a little too close to home, and it was my mess, and my fault that everyone knew where I lived in the first place. There weren’t a lot of supers yet back then, and most people weren’t quite as audacious as I had been. I considered it a miracle I hadn’t been caught yet, but after our conversation I had a strong feeling that was because Spider was keeping me off the radar.
Spider beamed a visual from someone’s cellphone to mine, and there he was, that arrogant little shit, Blood Sausage. An underdressed ginger wraith in a jean jacket with blood dripping down his arms, and about five people, four women and one man, screaming at his feet. He sliced his finger through the air and a woman cried out as a streak of red appeared on her face. Then, the flap of skin sagged down, and she started to scream and cry, pressing her hand to her face.
Our boys in blue showed up about that time, and this time they were properly attired and none of them were naked. I winced, figuring that this jerk's time was up, but he started laughing, and the people nearby screamed, and the camera jerked and changed angle, showing the police car with the windshield stained red, and the doors opened and both cops fell to the ground, vomiting blood.
Far, far, too much blood.
It gushed from their mouths and they choked on it, gasping, collapsing to the ground almost immediately, steam rising from their warm remains in the frigid arctic air.
I then watched the grin on his face, beyond madness, mouth stretched and eyes wide and chest rising and falling. I knew what he was experiencing. It was the sense of invulnerability, the knowledge that with a thought, you could win in any situation.
He held his arms out flat to his sides, then began to raise them as if conducting an orchestra. I started screaming at the driver to hurry the fuck up and run the red light. When he started to argue with me, I shut him up, climbed into his mind like I was throwing him out of the driver’s seat, and pressed his foot firmly down upon the pedal.
Then Bloodstorm raised his arms, reaching the crescendo of his bloody symphony and the cries and gurgles of the dying in the alley reached their apex, and fountains of blood jetted up into the air, splattering him, giving him an even more sinister aspect.
Then he brought his arms down, and in the shocked winter silence that remained, started to clap. His hands had no gloves and were reddened and chapped. They had to be killing him, because clapping cold hands together was a pretty awful feeling, in my experience.
Once the killing was done, I was not in so much of a hurry. I felt a coldness inside me, a silent rage. It wasn’t about the people he killed, that’s what I told myself. It was about him coming into my back yard and trying to be the bigger villain, and acting like a dick about it.
And thinking he even stood a chance.
“In the real world,” I said to the phone, assuming Spider could hear me, “Villains will kill. That’s what villains do…”
There was no answer, but we were still another minute away, so I kept talking, leaning my head against the glass.
“But you never let us kill. Killing or threats of death got people banned. I thought that was because you were trying to operate within the laws…but that’s not it at all, is it?”
Still no answer. I was talking to myself for all I knew.
“You’re pretty smart, Spider.”
You should focus on the task at hand.
“I’m multi-tasking. I’m getting better at it, at least when I don't have to drive at the same time. I think I’ve figured you out.”
“I am!” I shouted back, but the cab driver was only very tenuously conscious at that point, and he reacted to my outburst with the same disinterest as if there was a new bug smear on the windshield. “I’m getting this asshole right now. After that, you and me are going to have a long talk, Spider. In person.”
I didn’t even look to the phone for her response. Bitch had been playing us all.
Imagine you’re a new superhero, you have powers, and no idea what to do about it. You don’t have anyone you can talk to, who understands what you’re going through. One day you hear about a site supposedly full of real superheroes, and so of course you want to check it out.
And once you go there, Spider knows you, knows where you live, and because you’re an idiot and filled in the blanks, also knows your powers, and whether or not you associate yourself more with a hero or a villain.
Because just as much as Spider says she does, you want friends, too.
And now, the only person in the world with a semi-accurate roster of the supers is Spider. Self-selected, sure, and not including anyone who does not have access to the internet. But still, a more accurate picture than anyone else had.
That information was beyond valuable. It was worth killing for.
And much of it was out there on the internet for the world to see. Not that Spider had to worry about that.
It was a goddamned honeypot, and as a programmer, I should have recognized it. Should have realized what was going on before I ever signed on in the first place. Damn social networks! They breed nothing but cocks, and now I was one of them.
I got out of the car, pissed off enough to set my hair on fire, if I had any, and stepped off onto the street, through the slush, and onto the sidewalk. Directly ahead of me was Blood Sausage, looking like a demonic, blood-covered slush puppie.
I had donned a face mask, both in consideration for the cold outside, but also as a means of preserving my identity. I’d done too much already to erase it to just let anyone watching get a look at my face.
I walked up and stopped at the alley, and into his vibe. It was celebratory, maniacal and gave me the same sense of vertigo as stepping into a funhouse. This was a mind that had slipped over the edge, and liked it there. My heart started trembling and pounding, and despite the cold, I felt sweat on my skin. But it was just a vibe. It was nothing more than emotional weather, and I was getting rained on. I’d learned to ignore it.
He raised his hand before his face, and grinned at me. I could feel his thoughts, his glee knowing that this person who had walked into his alley was about to die, without him even having to touch me.
Then his fingers curled back, into a powerful fist. He stared at the fist, as if transfixed, and his head cocked to the side, uncomprehending.
Then his clenched fist slammed into his head, right between the eyes, collapsing his nose, and his knuckles cracked and popped from the impact. He cried out, and then fell to the ground, the back of his head hitting the pavement with a “thwock”. He groaned and choked on his own blood draining from his ruined nose.
I found that very karmic.
I walked closer, and his hand raised up, ready to slice me apart like a ham, I could see it clearly in his mind’s eye. Then the fingers curled into a fist again, and Blood Sausage began to whimper, “No…no..what’s going on…?”
Then his fist, for some completely inexplicable reason, drove itself into his balls with all the force of a derrick trying to strike oil. He screamed, and as the wall of pain hit him in the stomach, he began to retch. I had to withdraw from his brain at that point, because that’s the kind of pain I just can’t handle. It’s bad enough when it’s happening to me, worse when it goes through an amplifier like someone else.
Then I made him get up, and he quivered, staring at me, the dark faceless figure in the alley, and I felt his fear, and his sudden realization amidst the stabbing, disabling pain that filled his groin and drained every ounce of strength from his muscles.
That’s right, asshole, I said to him, directly to his conscious mind. I knew the volume was excruciating, and he cried out, hands trying to cup his ears. I also knew from experience that wasn’t going to do any good.
I own you now, BS.
“Get in the car,” I snapped at him. Around me, the bodies on the ground looked like victims of a slasher serial murderer. They were beginning to grow cold, the blood pools beginning to ice with frost around the edges, and it was the first time I had seen so many people dead in one place. Hell, it was the first time I’d ever seen a dead anyone. I swayed in place, felt the urge to swallow a lot, and as my stomach roiled I realized I was about to be sick.
But I kept it together. I just didn’t have time for it. I’d have to schedule in some time to vomit later. I heard a helicopter approaching, and even though his legs felt like jello and every step made him howl with pain and sickness (just getting a taste of his pain was bad enough), I made Bloodsnot throw himself into the back of the cab, where he started crying and bleeding from his nose into the floorboard.
I followed behind him taking shotgun, and the car was already moving before I’d closed the door. The driver raced away from the scene of the crime, and headed out of the city.
I checked my phone. The message from Spider, a response to my last, was:
It’s not what you think.
“Whatever,” I said, looking into the back seat where Blood Sausage was writhing and groaning. I kept myself firmly planted in his mind for executive control.
You should leave this vehicle. Someone just reported the plates.
“Right, because nothing can ever be easy,” I said.
I shouldn’t have been complaining. Subduing Bloodshit had been pretty easy, despite the fact he’d succeeded in leaving behind such a scene of carnage that my rapidly media-savvy mind could already wince at the headlines. Considering all that I was capable of, I had been getting rather pissed at myself when I considered all my actions of late. In particular, my complete lack of imagination. It was time to make up for that lack.
Driving down the street, it’s easy to think of cars and trucks as separate, independent entities, and the pedestrians as something else. But then sometimes you glance inside, and you realize there’s a real person in there. You often wonder: Where are they going? What are they thinking? Did she just look at me? But you never know. It’s the world’s greatest mystery, and we content ourself with knowing that the answers to these questions are unknowable.
It’s not like we can read minds or anything.
Those real people were driving past my window every two to three seconds, so I picked one at random.
It was a man driving home from work in his family’s SUV. Name: Mike Hunter, he was listening to MPR, and wasn’t sure he’d make it home in time to pee. Boy Scout Scoutmaster, father of two, scheduled for that damned kidney stone next Friday. I knew this instantly, just background information. The identifiers we hold closest to ourselves, the details we consider most important. I tuned into his brain just as he was about to pass out of range, and radioed him a single, inarguable command: Stop the damned car.
Hearing the squealing of tires behind us, I then told our driver to do a U-turn, which he did in the middle of the street, quickly driving up and getting us right next to the stopped car with the suburbanite dad in it.
BS and I transferred ourselves to the new vehicle in seconds, and then we were off to a new destination, with a clean car. Suburban dad got into the cab we had just vacated, and both he and the cab driver had instructions to drop him off downtown to get another cab. I made sure Mike Hunter would only think to wonder about the car after he got home, and would likely consider it the biggest brain fart of his life.
“I don’t like being used, Spider,” I said.
Not at all. You helped, there’s a difference.
“I’m not talking about this. I’m talking about your stupid website.”
It’s not stupid.
“Touched a nerve, did I? Gather all the supers together, let them know each other’s powers, and you get to know who is a hero, and who is a villain, and who has what powers.”
That’s not why I did it.
I laughed. “Yeah? Well maybe that incredibly valuable information is just what you ended up with, out of sheer coincidence.”
It is about more than that. I don’t expect you to understand.
“You don’t want us to kill each other. But you must know that people like BS are gonna go out there and kill. So you ban them. You think they’ll want to be part of the site so much, that the ban will keep them in line, and they won’t kill.”
Social media can be funny like that.
“Except social media isn’t the real world, and everybody knows it, no matter how much they might want to pretend otherwise. And BS here wasn’t popular enough to care all that much about losing access to his zero fans, so your threats meant shit to him. Go ahead and ask me how I know that.”
There was silence in response again, and I chose to interpret this as her shutting up because I was dropping some cold, hard facts.
What do you want to do?
It was a breakthrough, and I tried not to let any of it show on my face. Coercing people to do what you want without mind powers is hard. I mean, they actually get to say no. Up until now, Spider had been giving orders, and despite my frequent attempts to get her to pull me into whatever scheme she was involved with, she had deftly dodged it.
Now, she was asking for my input. It might have just been a formality, but it was a tonal shift upon which all collaborations must be based.
“First thing I’m going to do is take a long, private moment and a few handkerchiefs to work this motherfucker’s brain good.”
What are you going to do to him?
“Well, see…the problem with me being a villain, I sadly discovered, is that I have a conscience. You might not believe it, but I’ve been a pretty good boy, all things considered. Up until the last couple days, I didn’t mess with anyone’s memories that much, and I only changed what I needed to change.”
I then turned around in the seat, and stared at Blood Sausage, and he stared back at me, and I felt dizzy with excitement.
“But when you put a murderer in my hands, someone who has no good qualities like this asshole here…someone who is fundamentally broken, and there’s no way you can break him any worse than he’s already broken…in which any break, would be an improvement, well…”
I left it hanging, but she know what I was getting at.
It’s still morally questionable, what you’re talking about.
“Since when do you care? You stand above morality. You haven’t chosen a side like the rest of us, and since I’m out here saving people’s lives, clearly the sides don’t mean shit. You think?”
It’s not that simple.
“You aren’t even consistent! If I’m a villain, and you’re okay with me being a villain, why can’t I just cut loose with this guy? Why the lecture on morality?”
Because you are a hero, Lance. That's what you should be.
“No,” I said, gritting my teeth. “We are not playing that game. If you don’t have to pick a side, I don’t either. Until you can explain what makes you so goddamned special that you don’t have to choose. Sorry, but ‘My Site, My Rules’ won’t work this time.”
Fine. You know what? Fine. Here’s what we’re going to do. You get out of the Twin Cities right now. Just go anywhere.
“I still have to meet my soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend, so I can wipe her brain.”
Then meet her at her layover. It’s not a direct flight, is it?
“It should have been, for the amount I paid for it.”
Whatever, just get out. The bodies of the victims have already been found, there’s a full-on manhunt. Oh, and Lance?
Be careful. A witness saw two men get into the car. You can guess what they are saying.
Yeah. Mindbender strikes again, and he's mind-controlling the Bloodstorm. It sucks when it's actually true, all except for one tiny part like, "I didn't mind control him until after the murders, and I never ordered him to kill anyone". That's the part no one would ever investigate.
“Okay, getting out. I’ll head off Lana in Los Angeles, meet her at the layover, wipe her brain, then me and dipshit here are going to hole up somewhere safe. What about you?”
Meet me in Portland.
“Portland Oregon? Aww shit, you’re a hippie chick, aren’t you?”
Once you get there, I’ll know, and send you a message about where we can meet to plan our next move.
I blinked rapidly, as if I suddenly had something in my eye, and I caught a sudden case of nervous jitters. “Wait, what? We’re g-g-going to meet? For reals? And p-p-plan our next m-m-m—”
I left the Twin Cities, and Minnesota a few hours later. It occurred to me often on our journey across Americana that I was suddenly adrift from everything. I had nothing behind me to hold me back, and nothing to lose.
This is how it should have been all along, I realized. This is how it always should have been. I had a lot of time to myself on that road trip, because BloodSnatch didn’t say much.
Speaking of BS, my new traveling partner, I’ll tell you more about what I did to him later. Let’s just say I had fun with it, and approached it with all the maturity you’ve come to expect from me thus far.