Guest Post Interlude - Week #4: Jim Zoetewey
This week we have Jim Zoetewey, writer of Legion of Nothing
Friday Night, 2 am
We floated up to the top of the building the same way we always did—Daniel used telekinesis while I hoped he didn’t get distracted. I could have used the rockets hidden in my backpack, but that wouldn’t have been quiet.
Besides, part of the point of coming up here at all was nostalgia, hanging out a little bit like we had in high school before we’d turned cape and everything went crazy. That meant dressed in normal clothes instead of costumes and with only as much of our gear as we could hide.
It also meant that we were standing on top of a store that was part of a regional grocery chain (we’ll call it Meijer). Why? Because at 2 am, no one was watching the carts.
Daniel and I looked out on the parking lot from above the secondary entrance, the one they closed at eleven. The parking lot was almost empty except for near the main entrance. That had a few cars.
I looked to see if anybody was walking to their cars. When I didn’t see anyone, I thought at him, “Is it safe?”
Daniel didn’t reply immediately, but eventually thought back, “No one’s in any of the cars or looking out the window."
"Great," I replied. "Do you remember who won last time?"
He shook his head. "I think we last played in September of our senior year—almost two years ago. We've been busy.”
We had been. During this summer’s training program, we’d been indirectly involved with bringing down another country’s government, and then ended up fighting a dragon. I’d nearly lost part of my arm in the process.
Out in the parking lot, carts began rolling out of the spaces they'd been left and joining up into one line. Then they rolled around the side of the building, clanking and clattering.
We walked toward the side where they'd gone, still talking telepathically.
I caught a flash of Izzy’s face in Daniel’s thoughts, and asked, “Are you meeting with Izzy soon?” Isabel was Daniel’s girlfriend.
“We’re meeting in Chicago next weekend. I’m staying at the Defenders headquarters, and she’ll suit up and fly here after her last class.”
I shook my head. “I can’t believe Berkeley starts this early. I also can’t believe the University of Chicago starts halfway through September.”
Daniel shrugged. “I didn’t make the schedule. So, what do you think? Bowling?”
I looked up at him. “It sounds better than Jenga.”
Memories went through both our minds, specifically a silvery cascade of falling grocery carts. Grocery Cart Jenga had seemed like a good idea, but we’d overestimated Daniel’s strength. The idea was to build a tower of carts and then remove carts from the middle. The person who made the tower fall down lost. Unfortunately when the tower finally fell, it all fell, and Daniel couldn’t catch all the carts.
Several had shattered when they hit the ground, the noise summoning half the people in the store. It had been winter and we’d had to crawl across the roof through the snow until we were sure we couldn’t be seen.
Emanating a sinking feeling, Daniel thought, “Don’t remind me of Jenga, That was a terrible idea.”
“So,” I thought back, “definitely bowling.”
We bowled, and it went fairly well. We didn't damage any carts. Daniel had a wide variety of psychic powers, and the combination of a few seconds of prescience and telekinesis meant thathe could sense which carts were about to get smashed, and prevent any real damage.
The combination of telepathy and telekinesis made Grocery Cart Bowling possible in the first place. I didn't have powers to speak of, but thanks to our telepathic connection I could use his telekinesis to direct the carts myself.
Our grandparents had been nervous about how much we used his telepathy as far back as when we were five. Once his father and grandfather had determined that the only side effect was an unusually strong connection between the two of us, and rudimentary mental shields for me, people stopped worrying.
I got a strike and watched as all ten carts tipped over in a crash of metal.
That meant that Daniel hadn't caught them, and now that I'd stopped thinking about directing the carts, I could feel his unease.
At the same time, I heard him think, "Get off the roof."
Knowing what he meant, I jumped into the alley next to the building, trusting him not to let me hit.
We both landed softly.
"What's going on?" I considered looking around the corner, but depending on what was going on, that might be a bad idea.
"I don't know. Go around the corner immediately, but look casual. Whatever happens if we wait or look scared is bad."
I stepped around the corner, Daniel just behind me, and nothing looked different than it had from the roof. We still had a nearly empty parking lot and a warm night in early fall.
"Keep on walking," Daniel's mental voice sounded calm, but I could still sense that he wasn't really.
"It feels like something big," he replied to my unasked question.
Meijer's stores were huge. We passed the pharmacy entrance (which was closed at 2 am) and walked past at least seven rows that would normally have been full of cars. As we came closer to the main entrance, a big, blue pickup truck pulled into the lot, parking in the last row, but the closest spot to the far end of the store.
“That’s it.” A hint of nervousness came over with Daniel’s words. “The truck has everything to do with what’s coming next.”
The far end of the store was three rows of cars away from the main entrance. I wondered if we should go around the corner where the store took deliveries.
Another wave of nervousness from Daniel. “We most likely die if we do that now.”
“Seriously? What should we do? Standing around in the front of the store seems like a bad idea too.”
“You know how this works,” he thought back at me.
I did. Daniel’s codename in costume was “The Mystic.” His powers gave him a good sense of whether something was likely to work, but wouldn’t tell you how to solve the problem. You had to come up with that yourself.
It fell in line with a long tradition of oracular powers not being nearly as useful in real life as you might hope. On the other hand, I hadn’t killed my father, married my mother or become King of Thebes yet, so you could argue I was still doing better than Oedipus.
I felt Daniel’s attention turn toward my thoughts. “You’re not helping. I’m trying to get into--”
A woman stepped out of the truck, and as she looked in our direction I felt a wave of desire. It wasn’t my desire either. It was hers. For Daniel.
It would have been nice if this were a product of his telepathy, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t do mind control. This happened because he was tall, fit, naturally tanned, and good looking in a baby faced way. In short, he was literally tall, dark and handsome.
This wasn’t good news for him at all because I’d recognized her. In a comic book, she would have looked like a supermodel. In reality, she would have passed as a twenty-something professional on the way back from working out--her hair was in a ponytail and she wore a t-shirt and yoga pants. Unfortunately, she wasn’t. She was Tabitha Ward AKA “The Cleveland Crusher” a name that had always struck me as more appropriate for a pro wrestler than a superhero.
It was a moot point since she’d gone on the run after allegations of domestic abuse two years ago. I’d seen the police’s pictures of her boyfriend. The damage wasn’t pretty.
As a supervillain though, her name worked great. Well, except for the fact that there was no way she could stay in Cleveland. I resolved to think of her as Tabitha. It was simpler.
A balding, fifty-something year old man in a hoodie and jeans stepped out of the other side of the truck’s other door.
I felt a sudden sense of recognition from Daniel, followed by a wave of tension, and suddenly, a kind of static. Daniel’s frustration broke through the static for a moment, but then he made the noise stop, probably by cutting the connection.
“Crap.” Daniel stared out into the parking lot. “That’s Null.”
Null, unsurprisingly given his name, blocked psychic powers--telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation anyway.
I pulled out my phone. It was time to send a distress call to the rest of the Heroes’ League. We weren’t going to be able to take them out with barely any equipment on my part and no powers on Daniel’s.
The phone showed “no signal.” That might be a coincidence, or it might mean that they were the sort of criminals who planned ahead for local supers.
I looked up. “My phone’s down. How’s yours?”
Daniel shook his head. “They’ve got a device in the car that jams cell phones.”
In response to my unasked question, he continued, “My dad told me that Null can’t block prescience or any of the powers that allow you to remotely watch or listen. They work differently.”
“Sounds like it,” I said. “We should get out of the jammer’s range and call for help. I’ve got a rocket pack. Did you fly or take your car?”
“Flew, but it doesn’t matter. If we leave we have a pretty good chance of dying, and not just us. Other people too.”
Daniel shrugged. “Too far in the future. We need to do something now.”
In the parking lot, Tabitha and Null started walking toward the loading docks on the side of the building.
I grinned at him. “Maybe you should chat her up?”
He stared at me. “No. Fu--” He began, and then lapsed into silence. “That actually improves our chances. I’ll talk to her. You’ve got the stealth suit on, so you can change once we’re around the corner. Then you can stop whatever’s going on as the Rocket, or maybe turn off the jammer and call in the rest of the team. You’ll figure it out.”
Tabitha and Null disappeared around the corner.
Daniel turned and began to run after them. I hoped he wouldn’t get punched, my mind flashing back to the pictures of Tabitha’s boyfriend’s bruised and dislocated shoulder, his crushed ribs. Daniel stopped and stared back at me, thinking, “I heard that.”
Static roared in the background. I thought, “You can get around him?”
“Not intentionally and only with you. Weird.” He started to run again, disappearing around the corner.
Checking around me and backing up to the wall of the store, I touched a spot on the inside of the right pocket of my “leather” jacket. When I pulled out my hand, I felt my jacket, shirt, and pants combining with material from my backpack to cover my body with light ceramic armor. It wasn’t really the Rocket suit, but it was more durable than my body. It could take more than two tons of force without shattering. Unfortunately, Tabitha could generate more than four, meaning that going one on one with her was not a good choice.
Setting the suit to “camouflage,” I began to walk across the parking lot. It wasn’t invisibility. A program changed the color of my suit to match whatever was on the other side of me. As long as no one was looking for me, I wouldn’t stand out.
My helmet gave me a 360 degree view of the parking lot. To my right, I could see Daniel talking with Tabitha. He was smiling, and so was she. Null appeared to be gritting his teeth.
That wasn’t all. In that moment, I saw what was behind them. An armored truck was parked by the door next to the loading dock. This was probably the weekly bank deposit. Crap. Well, it had to be something.
I made it to the Tabitha’s truck without anybody noticing, stopping on the far side, next to the driver’s seat. The device wasn’t in the truck bed. I checked the cab, and there it was, a black box in the middle of the driver’s seat. I thought about my next step. Picking the door’s lock had to be next. I had my tools on my utility belt.
As I reached down to take them out, I heard Null’s static and felt Daniel’s alarm as the loading dock door opened, and two people stepped out, both of them middle aged wormen in red Meijer polo shirts and tan slacks. Null pulled out an automatic pistol. He pointed it at Daniel, shouting at Tabitha.
The light above the loading docks made it easy to see Tabitha leap up to the door, standing on the stairway and grabbing locked money bags that were roughly the size of briefcases away from the woman, throwing the bags to the ground, and pushing the women back inside the store.
Giving up on the idea of picking the lock, I pointed the sonic weapons on my forearms at the car. The window shattered first, and I punched a hole in it with my now gloved hand. Pointing it at the device, I set it to the collection of frequencies that were particularly likely to resonate with electronic parts, setting the power on high. It vibrated, and I could feel its warmth next to my forearm as a series of cracking noises came from the black box and points inside the cab.
That meant I'd probably broken every computer in the truck, but My helmet's HUD showed a renewed connection to local wireless towers--good news all around.
I sent a red alert to our team for all the good it would do.
Zooming in on Daniel showed how bad the situation really was. The armored truck was gone, pulling out of the loading dock when Tabitha attacked the women. It was now on the road and pulling away, tires screeching, the engine roaring.
Tabitha jumped after it, nearly catching it, or more accurately, catching the bumper and ripping it off the back of the car. The armored truck didn’t stop. Only slowing when Tabitha grabbed the bumper, it jerked forward when the bumper came off, barrelling through the nearest intersection, and miraculously missing any cars.
Meanwhile Null pointed a gun at Daniel, missing only because Daniel must have predicted when Null would fire and moved at exactly the right moment to avoid it. Normally he used telekinesis and prescience in combination, prescience to sense bullets before they were coming, and telekinesis to knock bullets away.
He wouldn’t be able to keep up dodging with purely human reflexes. Worse, he was already firing, and I probably wouldn’t be able to stop him quickly enough even if I aimed myself at Null like I was some kind of human missile.
As Daniel jumped sideways while simultaneously ducking, the static increased in my head for a moment along with the word “telekinesis!”
I got the meaning. If our unusual telepathic connection meant that we got past Null’s block, why couldn’t I use Daniel’s telekinesis like I did when we were bowling?
Letting the static fill my head, I concentrated on one of the locked cash bags, one that was particularly thick. It may have contained coins. Feeling Daniel’s presence like I always did when we were in range, I reached out.
The bag moved. I had control. Unfortunately, Daniel fell, and Null stood over him, aiming his pistol in what he clearly intended to be a final shot.
He didn’t make that shot.
I put all my fear, hope, and everything into that final push, and the bag left the ground like a bullet. It hit Null in the back of the head--hard--and knocked him unconscious.
I hoped he was unconscious, anyway. I didn’t want to kill him.
In the same moment, the static stopped completely, and my head was completely clear except for Daniel’s continuing presence. Even as the static went away though, Daniel thought at me, “Nick, jump away from the truck!”
It felt urgent, so I didn’t ask why. I jumped to the side. With the stealth suit’s artificial muscles, this meant I jumped twenty feet sideways, landing in the next (empty) row of the parking lot. In almost same moment, Tabitha landed where I’d been standing, her momentum leading her to hit the driver’s side door.
She dented the door, but pushed herself away from the truck unharmed. Obviously, she’d given up on catching the armored truck, and noticed only one person wearing a costume--me. From the curl of her lip, it was obvious that she believed it was all my fault.
She launched herself toward me at a speed that left her little more than a blur.
I blasted away at her with the sonic system on each arm, and she faltered, covering her ears. As she slowed, a grocery cart came out of the sky, throwing her across the empty parking lot. She flipped end over end.
I hadn’t done it.
Before she stood up, she’d been pulled into the air. Immediately she began digging into her pockets, probably looking for something to throw, and probably at me. Bearing in mind her strength, I looked for the nearest cover, realizing that it was still her truck.
I didn’t make it there before she fell asleep, something Daniel couldn’t pull off in a fight, but could manage afterward.
As my heart rate slowed, I realized that people from our team were on their way, that the police were coming, and that I had multiple messages listed in my HUD telling me so.
Daniel’s voice broke into my thoughts. “We’d better get out of sight. The last thing I want is to have to answer questions about what happened as myself.”
“No kidding. I’m at least in a costume, so I can handle the police if you leave. You want to try again with bowling?”
I felt his amusement. “Maybe in November. It’ll have to be too cold to rob the store by then.”
“We can hope.”
Read more by Jim at InMyDaydreams.com