“Derek, this is a bad idea.”
I frowned at Akane quizzically. The others were looking around the empty rooftop I had brought us to, searching for things to help us test the limits of our powers. Akane, on the other hand, had a serious look on her face.
“I assume you’re not talking about the training.”
“No. Allying with the Necessarians is…” she sighed. “Something you should have thought over.”
“I did. Butler is the most powerful man in the city. His resources will be invaluable.”
She glared. “He got to his position by killing anyone who disagreed with him.”
“And by honoring deals and protecting the citizens,” I retorted. “There’s a reason he has such a large following.”
“I…” she sighed and leaned her forehead against her sheathed sword. “I really think you’re giving him too much credit. You always try to see the best in people, but…”
I put her hand on her shoulder. “Akane. I’m not asking you to trust them. I’m just asking you not to start a fight.”
She blushed. She does that a lot. “Of course. And I will. Not start a fight, I mean. But I’ll be ready if they try to start one.”
“Good. Now, c’mon. We need to do some tests.”
Akane immediately blurred forward, almost too fast for the eye to see, only to terminate, grinning, next to Laura.
“No,” she admonished the swordswoman. “We need to perform actual measurements.” She fished out her phone. “I have a timer app. Let’s mark off ten feet increments and see how fast you can go.”
Akane frowned, and opened her mouth to retort, but I stopped her with a wave of my hand. “She has a point. Just do as she says. Find chalk or something.”
She shut her mouth, nodded a little sullenly, and headed back downstairs. Most of the skyscraper was made up of clothing stores, but the top two were undergoing renovations. They might have something we could use.
“I probably should have gone,” Adam noted from where he was leaning on an air conditioning unit. “It’s not like I have anything better to do.”
“Don’t be stupid. Of course you do,” Laura said, probably more harshly than she intended. She strode over and handed him her gun, grip first. “You’ve shot a gun exactly once. You need practice.”
My roommate took the pistol with some hesitation. “I’m…not really sure about this.”
“Once Butler sends you your guns, I’ll show you a good shooting range,” I promised. “Right now, we just need to make sure you can shoot straight.”
He looked at me a little sideways. “I did kill someone earlier, you know.”
The way he said it—as if it was nothing particularly important—worried me, but I kept it to myself. “That could easily have been a fluke.”
I grinned at him. “Then prove me wrong.” I indicated the other side of the roof, where Laura and Ling were setting up a few discarded cans on the three-foot high safety wall at the edge.
Adam gave me a bit of a look, like he wasn’t sure what to make of all this, and raised the gun in one hand. He sighted carefully, pulled the trigger…
And missed. By about ten feet.
Ling laughed, but quickly covered it up with a cough. “Want some advice?”
He rubbed his forehead. “If you even think the phrase ‘in anime…’”
The little blonde delinquent just rolled her eyes and stepped up to him. She grabbed his left hand and brought it up to his right. “First off, always use two hands. You managed to shoot the screamer one-handed, but that was just luck.”
“Always use two hands,” Adam nodded. “Got it.”
“Now, widen your stance. Yeah, like that.” She moved behind him and adjusted him a little bit. “Good, that’s perfect. Breathe normally. Aim…and fire.”
Another shot echoed.
The cans stayed where they were.
Adam sighed and let his arms fall to his sides.
Ling shook her head. “No, no, that was good! You were a lot closer that time.”
Akane came back about then, before Adam could fire again, holding a few cans of spray paint.
“Hold up for a little while,” I recommended to the shooters. “Let’s see what Akane can do.”
She blushed a little as everyone turned to her, but nodded.
Laura took charge the moment it became clear we were willing to be scientific, and the rest of the time passed under her instruction. She marked off three ten-foot increments (the best we could do with the space available) for Akane to practice, and after some trial and error managed to nail down her maximum speed as about a hundred miles per hour, and activating it sped up her mind to match, but she drained through her reserves in a fraction of a second (real time) that way. She could also dial down the speed for a corresponding increase in duration.
“Ling, you’re up next,” Laura said as she noted something down in her phone.
The resident otaku frowned. She was a little busy giving Adam more tips. “Look here, Frosty—”
Laura gave her such a glare that her mouth clicked shut with an audible snap.
“Please tell me how you discovered your powers,” Laura continued. “Add in a few lies, but don’t tell me what they are.”
“Wait,” I said before Ling did anything—she certainly didn’t look like she enjoyed getting ordered around. “Didn’t you already test that truthteller thing?”
Laura shrugged. “Of course. But it doesn’t hurt to be thorough. Ling? Any time you’re ready.”
The girl looked livid, but did as suggested anyway. “Last night, when I was doing some football practice alone, I nearly ran into a concrete wall.” She shrugged. “It exploded. With a bit of effort, I found out I was able to use telekinesis on dirt and stone.”
There was a long pause.
“That’s it?” I asked hesitantly.
She grinned. “Yeah, basically. I can do some weird things with it, and I didn’t test it that much, but…yeah.” She turned back to Laura. “Well? Which parts were lies?”
“It wasn’t at night,” Laura noted. “And it wasn’t a concrete wall. Everything else was true.”
Ling frowned. “Well…no.” She scratched at her ear. “I mean, yeah, it was yesterday afternoon, and it was a brick wall, not a concrete one. But it wasn’t football. It was soccer.”
Laura cursed, and her hand went briefly to the diamond ring on her necklace. “Right. Well…since soccer is another word for football…were you specifically trying to use it to beat me?”
Ling nodded, a little worried.
“Well,” my sharp-faced friend muttered. “Clearly its not quite as infallible as I was hoping. At least I don’t seem to have this ‘reservoir’ you three mentioned. I’ve left it on ever since I found out about it.” She sighed, then shook her head to clear it. “Let’s do some more tests. See what else we can do.”
We played—ah, practiced—for a couple of hours. We learned quite a few important things. First off, Ling’s power had limited finesse, but she could shape about two hundred pounds of dirt or rock and hit people with it. Laura had her practice making walls; as she pointed out, I wouldn’t always be available, and a wall of concrete could stop bullets just as easily as my shields. Ling tired quickly; she could only make a few major shapes before having to rest.
My own were pretty easy. I could adjust the size of the shields, from a large dome to a small shell the size of a watch. Smaller shields were stronger and easier to maintain; I held up one the size of a big frisbee indefinitely. I couldn’t really change the shape, though, but maybe that would come in time.
Interestingly, there seemed to be a secondary power we all shared. At one point, Akane accidentally stepped backwards off one of the air conditioning units, and managed to do a backflip before she reached the ground. Although part of that was her speed, further testing made it clear that we all had advanced agility and coordination. I think we were a little stronger, too, but it was hard to tell. Laura claimed she was just happy she wouldn’t trip over her own feet anymore, but I had never seen her do that.
We finally slowed down at around seven, as the sun was setting. We were tired and sweaty and the building’s staff looked at us funny as we left, but we felt good. Adam and Ling were already chatting like old friends, and even Laura was putting in a comment every once in a while. Akane kept her head down, as usual, but she’s always been shy. It took her weeks to psych herself up for a roommate; this was just too much for her.
Emily was asleep on the couch when we came into the lobby. The temporary sign next to the office said the doors would lock at eight, but we had our keycards anyway, so it didn’t matter. We all piled into the elevator and tried to ignore the smell of each others’ sweat.
“I’m on floor six,” Laura reminded me. I tapped the button in question, as well as the one for floor nine.
“Don’t tell Lizzy about this,” I urged her. “I don’t—”
She glared at me with what seemed like genuine hatred. This was only the second time I had brought it up!
“I know, Derek. And it’ll be fine. I want to keep her out just as much as you do.” The elevator doors opened, and she walked out. “See you tomorrow. Unless there’s a screamer before then.”
“Ugh, don’t remind us,” I said as the doors closed. We began to rise again.
“Who’s this Lizzy I keep hearing about?” Adam asked. “Laura’s roommate, apparently?”
The doors opened again, and we all piled out. Ling glanced at us oddly; she didn’t seem to expect us to be on the same floor.
“Yeah, and a childhood friend of both of us.” I smiled fondly. “You’ll like her. She’s such a sweetheart.” I unlocked our room and turned on the light. I also noticed a box sitting outside our door, just out of the walkway. Probably the guns from Necessarius.
“Wait, that’s your room?” Ling demanded.
I blinked. “Oh, you didn’t know? Yes, Akane requested the room across from me. MC was kind enough to arrange it.”
Adam frowned in confusion. “But…didn’t you move rooms?”
“Yeah, and MC moved her as well. I guess Ling’s roommate didn’t have a problem switching.” I shrugged. “It’s no big deal.” I turned to Ling and Akane. “We’ll see you girls later.” I went into the room; Adam followed quickly and shut the door behind him. I set about getting ready for a shower.
“So about Akane…”
“She’s another old childhood friend,” I explained as I wrapped a towel around my waist and used it cover myself as I deftly stripped off my dirty clothes and threw them in the hamper in my closet. “Moved into the district right when Laura left. She’s very shy, though, which is probably why MC was so accommodating. She needs a support system.”
“And you’re willing to be that…support system?”
I blinked and paused in looking for my shower supplies. “Well…yeah. I’m her friend.” Had he missed that part? “Anyway, don’t forget that box.” I left for the bathroom, still wrapped in my towel.
The bathrooms were communal, and the men’s was just further down the hall. I was lucky; women’s was all the way on the other side.
It was also surprisingly clean. I guess no one had really used it yet. It would get worse quickly; public bathrooms always did. Better enjoy it while it lasted. I chose my stall and got ready for a nice long shower.
Behind the Scenes (scene 9)
This one was a little tricky, because I didn’t want to dump too much exposition. Most of the details on the powers will become apparent later, during the fight scenes.