Rivalry: Part 10

I spent the rest of the night doing homework, and I was at it till eleven o’clock.

After I stuffed my books back in my backpack, I sat at my desk, staring at the screen of my laptop. It sucked. I didn’t have time to do much more than go to bed. Cassie could probably stay up for days with no effect, but if I didn’t start sleeping soon, I’d sleep in class.

I might be able to get away with reading a few chapters of a book — provided I didn’t get involved enough to finish it. Then I might find myself going to bed at four in the morning.

I considered opening up the laptop again. Haley or Daniel might be online.

I wondered if Rachel was still up. I supposed I could go and check. I’d heard her practicing guitar a little bit, but that had been a couple hours ago.

So maybe, I told myself, I should just to go to bed.

I got into pajamas, got into bed, and congratulated myself for going to bed at an hour at which I’d sometimes found myself wearing the Rocket suit. I might, I thought, actually not feel dead tired the next morning.

Lying in bed, I listened to the breeze through the open window, open at night for the first time this year.

The screen ripped, and a dark figure flew through the window.

I tried to get off the bed, and onto my feet, but didn’t even get the chance to pull myself up.

Justice Fiend held one gloved hand over my mouth, and pushed the other into my abdomen before I got anywhere.

I grabbed his arm with both hands and tried to move it away. I might as well have tried to pick up my high school.

Double V’s database rated Justice Fiend a 7 out of 10 for strength. They rated the Grey Giant an 9, and the Rocket suit a 5. They had only news reports to go on so the data had a fairly significant fudge factor, but that didn’t change the fact that they rated a normal, unmodified human a 1.

Their rating scale didn’t go up one unit at a time either. Each number represented a big jump up from the last — kind of like the Richter scale.

I didn’t try to bite his hand. Double V rated his “durability” an 8 out of 10. Grenades exploded harmlessly against his skin. My teeth weren’t going to get anywhere.

“You lied.”

If I felt afraid before, it was much worse now.

Only the hand covering my mouth stopped me from screaming.

I tried to get it under control. I tried to think about the Rocket suit’s design and speculated about ways to improve the efficiency of the engine or change the fuel mixture.

I couldn’t concentrate.

I tried something less complex — finding all the prime numbers less than 500.

Still too hard.

Ditching anything that required complex thought, I concentrated on breathing in a way that Lee had taught me.

That was a little better, but not much.

Still, the fear ebbed a bit, but it might have been Justice Fiend more than anything I’d done.

“When I pull my hand away, tell me where the Ball is.”

He pulled his hand away.

“How did you find me?” Maybe I could distract him?

“I’m asking the questions.”

My line might not have been original, but his came out of every Hollywood interrogation ever made.

Cliché or no, it didn’t stop him from moving the hand off my chest, and up to my throat far too quickly for me to do anything about it.

Then he pulled me upright, and leaned into my face. “Where’s the Ball?”

I tried to think of things I could do. Making a lot of noise might bring my parents, and even though the block might make them forget it, they couldn’t do much to help. Calling Rachel would help, but how could I call her without getting my parents too?

“I don’t know where the Ball is,” I said, making my voice a little louder than usual.

“Tell the truth!”

“I don’t know!”

Something in me wanted to tell him, but the need wasn’t as overwhelming as it felt when we’d first met him. Maybe Lee’s exercises had worked. Maybe I’d just gotten used to it.

His grip on my neck tightened, and it became harder to breath.

“You want to do this the hard way? Because if you do, it’s going to hurt.”

I tried to think of anything I could do that didn’t involved calling for help. I couldn’t generate enough force to make martial arts useful against him. Could I count on him being unwilling to kill or maim a high school student?

From the grimace on his face, I didn’t feel certain of that. The shadowy, agonized figures in the lining of his cloak argued that hurting people didn’t bother him much.

“All right,” he said, “if that’s the way it’s going to be–”

Something clicked.

Rachel had faded in next to Justice Fiend. She held the pistol from Grandma’s Ghostwoman costume in her hand, but wasn’t wearing a costume. She wore black jeans and a black t-shirt.

“Let go of my brother,” she said.

“A gun? I see my reputation hasn’t made it here. Bullets bounce off my skin, sister. So unless you know where the Ball is, it’ll be better if you stay out of this.”

She phased the barrel of the gun an inch deep into his chest. “The bullet will become solid when it leaves the barrel. Are your lungs invulnerable too? Will they stop it? Or do you think it will just bounce around, turning your insides into swiss cheese?”

He tried to move away, but since he stood next to my bed, holding my neck in place with one hand, he really didn’t have any place to go.

He lashed out with his left hand, moving it through her head. He didn’t connect with anything.

Rachel barely moved.

Justice Fiend’s expression went blank. Then he watched her for a moment. “You won’t shoot me. You’ve never shot anyone in your life.”

“There’s always a first time. Besides, let’s say you’re right. Let’s say I’ve never pointed a gun at a live person before, and I’m horribly, horribly nervous. I wonder how long I can go before firing it accidentally?”

He stared at her.

Then he let go of my throat, and flew out the window. Bits of the storm window’s metal frame went with him.

Rachel took a deep breath and sat down in the chair next to my desk. She put the gun down next to my laptop.

Her hands were shaking.

She looked at them for a moment and folded them together.

I touched my neck. It still hurt a little.

“Thanks,” I said.

26 thoughts on “Rivalry: Part 10”

  1. The thing I find funny is that I’ve read stories where the main character is the one sneaking into the suspect’s room at night, and threatening to hurt the suspect if they don’t give them the information.

    Generally speaking, the person sneaking in comes off as a real badass.

    Shows what happens when people’s sympathy is with the guy sleeping on the bed…

  2. @Jim: It’s also that the guy sleeping on the bed is a good guy, so the “badass” coming in is no hero.

    Fiend, is more than misunderstood, even years later, he’s too powerful, like a “drunk superman” if you know what I’m getting at.

  3. Well, who’s more badass? the maniac with superpowers, or the well trained but otherwise normal human who doesn’t immediately piss himself and tell the maniac what he wants?

  4. Well, from JF’s point of view, Nick’s presumably guilty of using the ball, or hiding it, or… something. Not sure what since I don’t know where he’s getting his information from. Very Batman of him, really.

    But from the point of view of the guy lying in bed… yeah. Dick move. What can happen when superheroes only answer to public opinion.

  5. Hey Guile, that should probably a question! “What can happen when superheroes only answer to public opinion?”

    I think the closest parallel I can find is politicians (especially mayors and presidents). Same kind of thing, really. If all politicians lived by the Spider-man rule, the world might just be a better place…

    Hg

  6. One only answers to the public opinion to the extent that they care about it. What can the public do? Brand you a villain? Boo rather than cheer when you beat up some other supervillain?
    Also public opinion is a stupid and whimsical beast. It may turn on the fire brigade who ran over a dog while saving a dozen people or they may laude a vigilante who beat up 20 people for info to get to one criminal.

  7. “Their rating scale didn’t go up one unit at a time either. Each number represented a big jump up from the last — kind of like the Richter scale.”

    You mean it goes up an order of magnitude for every rating?

    “What can the public do? Brand you a villain?”

    I think at some point it was mentioned that vigilantism is still illegal in the Nothingverse, but people turn a blind eye to heroes doing it. If I’m recalling that correctly, public opinion means everything to a superhero. Get too many people mad, and you get arrested for being a vigilante.

  8. @theother: So true! The mere fact Nick didn’t go right to pieces is badass in and of itself.

    And Rachel…..is just a bad mutha-shut your mouth. I guess it just runs in the family.

  9. Nick did well, and I guess Justice Fiend got around Daniel and the block if he figured out who Nick was. That’s bad for the whole Legion.

    Who will he attack next to get what he wants?

  10. Wanderhome: It sort of goes up an order of magnitude. Double V is a magazine/website, and its rating system is based on news reports and guesses. As such it should be taken as seriously as news articles that posthumously estimate people’s intelligence.

    It gives a good general sense, but isn’t likely to be specifically accurate.

  11. “She put gun down next to my laptop.”
    While technically correct, I think, shouldn’t it be
    “She put the gun down next to my laptop.” instead?

    Also, I’m wondering why Nick or one of the team didn’t fire off an email to Justice Fiend, explaining to him “sorry for not talking before, we were reacting to your aura,” something he probably knows he has so this isn’t the first time it’s come up, alternately they could have said they wanted their comments to be off camera so as not to reveal sensitive sources(AKA Secret Identities), “We currently have the ball impounded and are following a lead towards tracking down the creator of it” which I suppose technically the FBI would be doing if they took up Man-Machines offer.

    I mean, Justice Fiend doesn’t seem like the kind of guy you piss off for fun, and the League really has nothing to profit from for antagonizing him, yet that’s what they’re doing. Or did I miss out on why they wanted Justice Fiend to pull a stunt like this? I mean, human nature I suppose it’s understandable that they just didn’t think he’d react so quickly, but doesn’t that make it even worse? “We just didn’t think you were worth updating.”?

    Also don’t think Justice Fiend had to get around any mental blocks… it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out who the League members are, if one were to put a decent amount of effort into it and had, what appears to be standard, government aid.

  12. Every once in a while, the team doesn’t do something obvious because I, the writer, didn’t think of it.

    In this case, I don’t remember whether that route of action occurred to me or not.

    Looking back on this, I think it’s most likely that they didn’t think he’d take this kind of action this soon. When push comes to shove, you don’t expect someone to go from “Hey, talk to me,” to “I’m here in your room and I’m going to crush you if you don’t talk” without a middle period of, “Hey, you’re still not talking to me, what’s up with that?”

    And as much as they didn’t want to piss him off, feeling irrational fear in someone’s presence didn’t motivate them to go contact him immediately.

    Also, they’re inexperienced. All of them just got out of a fight, or a visit with a near legendary convict, and they’ve got stuff to get back to and finish in their normal lives — which means that sometimes really important details will get dropped or not thought of.

  13. @ G.S.Williams (a year and a half ago…): “I guess Justice Fiend got around Daniel and the block if he figured out who Nick was.”

    Why would Justice Fiend have a block? Daniel’s grandpa didn’t install one in everybody on the planet, and neither Daniel nor his father run around messing with people’s heads without asking.

    The Mentalist’s blocks were installed in family, not random demonic vigilantes.

    1. I’m pretty sure Gavin was suggesting that Justice Fiend got around the block to figure out where Nick lived, not that Justice Fiend had one himself.

  14. “I might be able to get away with reading a few chapters of a book — provided I didn’t get involved enough to finish it. Then I might find myself going to bed at four in the morning.”

    I can definitely relate here.

      1. Amen to that! I discovered LON a week or two ago via a link on Worm and I’ve definitely had less sleep since! Loving the story so far, nice work ^_^

  15. Typos first (sorry): “harder to breath” (breathe). “anything I could do that didn’t involved calling” (involve).

    I don’t think I’ve mentioned Rachel is awesome yet. Rachel is awesome. She can be sarcastic, yet when push came to shove here, she not only defended her brother out of costume, she took Fiend’s taunt (about firing) and twisted it right back against him in an eye opening way that felt completely in character. The shaking of her hands later was a nice touch.

    Additionally Jim, your remark about the perspective (where the audience sympathy lies) is valid, yet probably wouldn’t have occurred even with it staring me in the face. Kudos. That’s part of the reason I read the comments on entries too.

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