Today’s Friday Flash Fics, continues to play catch-up, but at this point I’m going to stop apologizing because it’s silly. I seem to be capable of every-other-week right now, and that’s okay. So that’s likely what it’ll be for a while.
(Also, fun-fact for this entry: yep, it could have been Mel Gibson).
“Greater Good” tells the ongoing story of the other side of “Lesser Evil,” which was was a super-villain story about a telepath named Tristan Edwards, who could not only read minds but could force people to do (and even believe) whatever he wanted them to. That story is found in Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy, and I’ve written other flash pieces about those characters before. “Greater Good” partners with “Lesser Evil” in that it takes Jeff McKenna’s point of view—the Canuck superhero known as Cinder. “Greater Good” takes place after the events in “Lesser Evil,” but only a little while after. You can catch up with part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, and part seven. This is part eight.
Greater Good (Part Eight)
Well, shit. Tina Small had fucking armor.
When metahumans had armor, it was never good in and of itself, but the armor Tina Small wore had just appeared out of thin air, which was much, much worse.
Tina Small had seriously fine control of her abilities.
It could have been a suit of armor from some medieval period of time, had it been made of metal, but instead it seemed to be made of some sort of smoky-quartz like crystal, right down to the chain-mail like links that covered the joins around her elbows, wrist, knees, and ankles. The helmet was completely transparent in a small stripe across her eyes—the only part of her now visible beneath the armor—and the sheer confidence gazing at him from her dark brown eyes made it perfectly clear that Tina Small wasn’t at all bothered to be taken by surprise.
She made me, Jeff thought. It was certainly clear to everyone in the gallery entrance. Certainly, the long hallway full of art-lovers who’d been strolling their way up to the gallery proper were now running in the other direction.
I lost her thoughts. Tristan’s mental voice shook with surprise through the telepathic network. I think the armor blocks—
The woman flicked her wrist, and a lattice of crystal spread from the fingertip of her odd crystal gauntlets, seemed to hit something, and within the next second, a bulky crystalline vaguely-humanoid shape appeared beside Jeff.
Ah. Tristan. Shit.
Jeff tapped his comm, already in motion. Tina Small was agile, even in the armor. He dodged two of the thin growths of crystal that lashed out from her fingertips, and they hit the walls of the gallery behind him with a sharp crack. “She just encased Tristan in crystal,” he said. “I need—”
The third needle of swiftly-growing crystal clipped his shoulder. Between breaths, darkness wrapped around him. It wasn’t quite skin-tight, but it was definitely snug inside the crystal body-suit Tina Small wrapped around him. There wouldn’t be much air, so there wasn’t much time to consider options.
Besides, he was Cinder. NAMDA leader and a metahuman with incredible control of fire and heat. He really only had one option.
He let his heat out, loosening the reins in a way he rarely so much as considered. It always felt good to use his power, but this? This felt amazing.
Whatever kind of crystal Tina Small seemed to control and create had to have a weakening point. Even quartz melted, if you didn’t mind cracking past a thousand degrees and onward all the further.
Weakening generally came faster than melting, though.
The real trick was pulling back the heat before it got too far away from him, so as not to set the place on fire, but he’d been practicing drawing the heat in since his powers had first woken up, and fortunately the atrium of the museum was solid stone.
Inside the crystal, Jeff shifted once, then twice. His comm overheated and died in his ear. He twisted once more, putting all his strength behind it, and the crystal shattered in multiple places. His left arm was almost completely free, as was his head.
Tina Small turned toward him, and this time her eyes narrowed with amusement.
“You know how many times I tangled with Infernal and he won?” She held up her hand, pointing a finger at him. “Zero. Zero times.”
“Who the hell is Infernal?” Jeff said, and released a blast of the tightly coiled heat in her direction just as the thin shard of crystal began to grow from the tip of her finger. It shattered, and then she flew back, the edges of her armor glowing with the sudden intense heat.
Her shriek of pain was nearly lost among the sound of the glass windows behind her exploding with the sudden temperature change striking them.
Jeff pulled as much of the heat back into himself as he could, and managed to break free from the crystal around his legs. His right arm was still pretty much immobile, but it would be good enough.
He made it three steps toward Small before she was back up on her feet. She didn’t try to spray him with her crystals this time, instead forming two, very long, very sharp blades and swiping them at him. He dodged the first. The second bounced off the coating of smoky crystal that still covered his right shoulder.
“You have no fucking idea what I’m going to do to you,” the woman said.
“Let me guess,” Jeff said. “Hop into the past and erase me?”
Without seeing her face, it wasn’t possible to read her expression, but she hesitated for just a second before swinging her crystal blades again. It was enough to put more distance between them, and more than that, it was the last few seconds he’d needed to buy.
The blades struck against a barrier of soft light, inches ahead of him, trailing sparks in their wake.
Tina’s helmeted head turned left. Lustre, in full uniform, had made it to the bottom of the ramp. She smiled, every inch of her glowing softly as she projected the forcefield around Tina Small.
“Really?” The woman said, contempt dripping from the word. “Not even going to face me one-on-one? Infernal has a much better sense of honour.”
“Still don’t know who Infernal is,” Jeff said. “Still don’t care.”
She swore at him, then threw up both hands, hammering at the forcefield with crystal growths, but the field barely flickered.
Jeff raised an eyebrow. “That’s just going to fill up your rapidly shrinking space, you know.”
Quantum arrived, walking through the far wall. He reached into the crystal casing around Tristan and tugged the young man out, phasing him right through. Tristan gasped in a breath and looked at him, nodding once.
I’m alright, his voice echoed in all their heads. Whatever her crystal is, it blocks my telepathy better than dense metals do.
Inside the forcefield, Small was standing still now, her arms crossed.
She doesn’t look like she’ll come easy, Jasmine thought.
We’ll need to knock her out as soon as you drop the field, Jeff thought. Any suggestions?
Allow me. Colin stepped forward, and phased his hand through the forcefield.
Tina whirled, and a razor-thin shard of crystal would have cut Colin’s hand off at the wrist had he not been phased. Instead, the crystal hit the edge of Jasmine’s forcefield and sparked brightly.
Colin opened his fist, and the gas grenade dropped inside the forcefield, spraying from the top end. It bounced at Tina’s feet, and she stared downward, covering the grenade with crystal before too much of the gas escaped.
Just as he was thinking this would be long and tedious, Jeff saw movement. Before Tina Small could react, Colin leapt at her, and phased through the forcefield and her armor, but pushed her out. They landed on the floor, her beneath him. Jeff heard the click of a tranq, and realized Colin had hidden the thin injector in his other hand.
She lasted a few more seconds, and even managed to start forming a second lance of sharp crystal before she lost consciousness.
Jeff looked around. Broken windows. Sprays of crystals that had birthed human-sized growths where they’d hit the stone walls of the gallery. Tristan’s former tomb in the middle of the atrium, and the broken remains of his own.
“I’d kind of hoped her rocks were going to vanish when she passed out,” Jeff said.
“At least no art got damaged,” Jasmine said. “Though that’s a lot of windows to replace.”
“I’m sure I’ll hear about it,” Jeff said. “Okay. Let’s get her out of here. Hopefully taking down Felix Roy goes closer to plan.”
Well. That was officially the fastest a plan had become a write-off.
Jeff looked around the fields of waving wheat and wondered just where he was. Saskatchewan? Manitoba? Somewhere in the states… what were the breadbasket states?
Felix Roy could apparently teleport people. Without even touching them. That… was going to be a big problem. They’d managed to get so close to him, too. The man had a nice house, big back yard, and he’d been outside and barbequing, of all things. He, Tristan, and Colin had walked the sidewalk that ran behind the houses together—Recon veiled, he and Quantum in plain clothes—while Lustre and Noire hid in the woods on the other side of the path, courtesy of Noire’s shadows.
Felix Roy was a slim, taller white man with greying temples and the look of a high school physics teacher, even on his day off. In this timeline, he’d been just that. According to Delphi’s transcribed notes, in the other, original timeline, he’d been the head of the department at their version of the University of Ottawa.
They’d almost made it right to him.
Jeff sighed. He needed to get back to Ottawa. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, hoping he had coverage wherever the hell he was, and loaded up a map.
Can’t … on my own!
Jeff frowned. “Tristan?”
It wasn’t possible. Tristan’s telepathy was strong, yes, and stronger than pretty much every other telepath they’d run into since metahumans had started to appear, but Jeff was many kilometers away from Ottawa, so there was no way he could be hearing Tristan’s voice in his head.
Snap … it!
There it was again.
Tristan? Jeff thought, trying to keep his mind as uncluttered and clear as possible. Tristan had said that could sometimes help, though the best thing was eye contact. Which wasn’t going to happen, not this far away.
Wake the fuck up, Jeff! Tristan’s thoughts were angry, with an edge of something else. Fear.
Wake up? Jeff shivered. Something wasn’t right, here, and it wasn’t just a field of wheat. On instinct, he closed his eyes and tried to feel around him with his sense of heat.
People. There were people around him. Most of them were standing still, but two of them were moving. Fighting? If so, one of them was definitely doing better than the other, given how the second was constantly falling back.
That would be me. Tristan again.
Jeff raised one arm, and aimed a tiny blast of flame at the one on the offensive. Then he opened his eyes. He was back in the back-yard, and Felix Roy was on the ground, rolling. The man’s vest was already out, though it was smoking, and he snarled at Jeff.
And Jeff was falling. He flailed, arms and legs twisting in the air—Why wasn’t he flying? He could fly for crying out loud!—but nothing he did arrested his fall. The ground was below him, and it was rising, fast. I’m going to die, I’m going to—
It vanished and he fell into the grass with a lurch as the backyard returned a second time.
Jeff dragged himself up onto his hands and knees, and turned his head.
Tristan stood over Felix Roy, staring down at him. Their gazes were locked, and Felix was breathing in tight, short bursts. Tristan was gripping his left hand with his right, and blood seeped between his fingers. It was only then Jeff noticed the two knives Felix Roy was still holding.
Jeff spared a glance for the others. Noire and Lustre stood motionless mid-way across the pedestrian path, and Colin was standing a few steps closer to the barbecue. All of their expressions were blank, their gazes turned inward.
He shook his head. He could still feel the image of falling through the sky tugging at him. He blinked a few times, and it receded a little more.
Jeff turned. It was Felix. Saliva frothed on his lips and he struggled to shake his head, while Tristan just stared down at him. The look Tristan gave Felix was cold, and his lips turned into an almost feral smile.
Jeff bit his lip and forced his hands to find his tranq. It took longer than it should. When he tried to stand, the whole world blinked out for a moment and he was falling through the sky again, so he closed his eyes and sank back down, forcing himself to crawl, counting to five before looking again. That helped. If he could get to Roy, and tranq him, then hopefully everyone else would snap out of it.
Felix Roy’s eyes rolled up into his head, and he fell to the ground with a final sob of pain.
The nausea and vertigo passed a second later, and Jeff could see the others start to work their way out of whatever mindscape Felix Roy had placed them in.
“That was something,” Jeff said, finally getting to his feet and joining Recon. Tristan was still glaring down at Felix Roy. “You okay?”
Tristan nodded at his hand. “Fucker stabbed me. But I sent him into a coma.”
Jeff blinked. “A coma?”
Tristan shrugged one shoulder. “I needed him to stop. And I should be able to go in and wake him up again later. Then I’ll make him tell us everything he knows.” He winced. “Maybe after I get stitches, though?”
“What… What was that?” Colin was with them now, still shaking his head. “I was back home, and…”
“He can make people see things,” Tristan said, giving Felix Roy a none-too-gentle tap with his boot. “But he’s not a real telepath. Once he wasn’t trying to stab me, he was completely outclassed.”
Colin squeezed Tristan’s shoulder in thanks.
Jeff forced a smile, and looked at the tranq in his hand for a few seconds before he put it away.
“And now we wait?”
Jeff jumped. Colin held up both hands. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to surprise you.”
Jeff shook his head. “It’s okay. I was miles away.”
Colin nodded, and that look Jeff had come to wait for returned: a tightening across his forehead, a line between his eyebrows, and a thinning of his smile. Restraint. Holding back.
God, he’s handsome. Jeff inhaled, and tried to banish the thought. It wasn’t helpful. Neither was the way the tight white t-shirt and plain grey sweats fit the man standing in front of him. Jeff forced himself not to stare, turning to look out the window of the meeting room, out across the canal, to Parliament.
“What is it?” Colin said.
“I don’t know if we’re doing the right thing. Trusting the Invisible Man.”
“Well, if he’s right, and they are planning a jump back to rewrite you and the others from history, it’s the smartest move.”
Jeff turned back to him. “If. So many ifs.” He blew out a breath. “Well, at least if I suddenly vanish from history you’ll still be here to remember I existed, right? Keep up the good fight with whoever is left?”
Colin crossed his arms. “We won’t let that happen.”
Jeff couldn’t help it. He smiled. “You know, you’ve got that whole ‘Come with me if you want to live,’ tone down perfectly, Kyle Reese.”
Colin shook his head. “I’m sorry?”
“The Terminator?” Jeff said. “Time-travel movie. Soldier from the future comes to save the mother of the leader of the rebellion?”
“Oh. That awful one where Mel Gibson is a murdering robot?” Colin laughed. “I didn’t know you were into obscure movies.”
Jeff stared. “Mel Gibson? That’s… I… Obscure?” He opened his mouth. Closed it. Tried again. “Okay, so, when this is all over, you and I need to have a movie night.”
“You asking me out on a date, Jeff?”
Shit. That totally was what it sounded like, wasn’t it? Jeff took a breath. “I didn’t mean… I mean, you’re great, and I… Uh…”
Colin took a step closer, and then another. “If it helps, I’d say yes.”
Okay. So. That was a thing he’d just said out loud.
“There’s just one thing,” Colin said.
“Yeah? Just the one?” Jeff tried to sound playful, but it landed with a bit of a wobble. “Because I can think of at least three, starting with time-travel, altered history, and me having no idea about at least half the things you say you can’t tell us.”
Some of the playfulness faded from Colin’s smile, but he nodded. “That’s fair. But the one thing I was thinking of in specific was not knowing how long ‘all this’ will take to be over. So I figure we could just watch that movie now. Now, I’ve learned, is pretty much the only thing a guy like me can count on.”
“Ah,” Jeff said. They were pretty much face-to-face now. A breath between them. “I’ll have to find a copy of the movie.”
“Do you really want to watch a terrible old movie?”
Jeff figured a kiss was a good enough answer.