A thin, almost surgical blast flew from Solar Flare’s hand toward Ray’s head.
I didn’t see Jaclyn’s hand move, but it met the plasma in mid air, outlining her hand and arm in white and splashing out of her palm. She gave a gasp while Ray screamed.
Bits of plasma fell toward Gena and the other man, waking them both up screaming in pain, and splattering across their armor.
They kicked their legs against the truck bed and tried to move their arms, but we’d tied their arms together at their backs. The most they could do was try to rollover.
I smelled something that reminded me simultaneously of meat and plastic.
The screams seemed to hit Solar Flare in a way nothing we’d said could.
He cringed and started to float down toward the truck.
Jaclyn held her hand against her chest, possibly trying to cool it against her costume.
Hovering at eye level with Jaclyn, he said, “I am sorry.”
She looked him in the eye and said, “Get away from me.”
He ignored her, his gaze drawn to the bed of the pickup truck.
Plasma had burned through their armor, mixing skin, melted fabric, and blood. One drop had hit Ray’s face. Bone, rimmed with charred skin, showed through a divot just under his left eye, reddish skin all around it. Two more had hit his chest. Each breath caused him to clench his teeth.
Gena started asking questions. “What just hit me? Why does my arm hurt? What’s going on?”
“Shut up. Shut up!” Ray started shouting, but he grimaced as he did it. I wondered how much talking pulled on the burnt skin.
The spray had hit the man to Ray’s left the most. I counted at least five different holes in his chest. After he stopped screaming, he kept his mouth tightly shut, breathing slowly, carefully.
Jaclyn’s attempt to save Ray might have been more punishment than simply letting him die.
“Do you see this?” She pointed at them. “It didn’t have to happen. I mean, what were you thinking? They killed FBI agents in front of a roomful of witnesses. Even if you can’t pin all the Executioner’s kills on them, they’re facing in the death penalty anyway. God…”
Solar Flare exhaled and looked tired. “I wish I could believe it.”
He landed and walked away from the truck, stopping some twenty feet away — alone.
“‘I wish I could believe it?'” Jaclyn jumped off the truck, landing next to Rachel, Marcus, and I. “There were a roomful of witnesses. Believe it or not, they’re going to jail.”
“You got it, freak,” Ray said.
Jaclyn eyed him where he lay. “Remind me. Why did I bother to save your life?”
* * *
I opened the window that faced the backyard and Daniel floated in with cold air. While I fumbled with closing the screen, the storm window and finally the regular window, Daniel sat down at my desk and pulled off his mask. He’d come in full costume as the Mystic.
“Better to be seen in costume than be flying without one,” he said in response to my unspoken question. “What did I miss?” Daniel asked.
I sat down on my bed and ran through the whole series of events, starting with the party at the cottage and ending with the FBI and police taking Ray and the others away. They’d brought a box, the special truck they used for supers, as well as an ambulance.
“The end was a pretty bad scene,” I said. “Even the spatters burned through the armor to the skin and, honestly, probably past skin. I tried not to look very hard. All I know is that they needed the ambulance.”
“What about Jaclyn?”
“I think she’s okay. I saw her hand. It was reddish, but wasn’t blistered or anything. I’m sure it hurt though.”
“If it were any of the rest of us, we wouldn’t have a hand.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Hopefully none of the rest of us would try to catch anything like that.”
In the brief seconds of silence that followed, Rachel faded into visibility, stepping into the middle of the room. Daniel blinked.
“I didn’t sense your mind at all,” he said.
“Really?” Rachel sat down on the bed with me. “That’s pretty cool.”
“I can sense you now,” he said.
“You’d have to be blind not to.” She pointedly stared at his costume. “Do you hang out here like that a lot?”
“I didn’t feel like carrying along street clothes.”
“I was just telling Daniel what happened,” I said. “Anyway, Jaclyn was really pissed off at Solar Flare and she tried to talk to the police about it, but they didn’t do anything. I don’t think the FBI listened to her either.”
“Well… yeah,” Daniel said. “I’m not surprised. The whole blue code of silence thing.”
“More like the multi-colored spandex code of silence in this case.”
Daniel snorted. Rachel rolled her eyes.
“But really,” Daniel said, “you think about how many people they’d killed over the years — innocents, cops, FBI agents… I bet Solar Flare could have killed the group of them in a fight and nobody would have blinked. The way it happened — I’m sure everybody could see themselves doing the same thing.”
“Killing them in the middle of a fight is one thing, but they were lying there, tied up,” I said.
“But it’s still a professional courtesy thing. I probably shouldn’t say specifics, but my dad’s seen things… Heroes just lose it sometimes and if you know it, you just keep your mouth shut.”
“Does it happen a lot?” Rachel asked.
“I don’t know how often, but it happens.”
“That’s wrong.” I said.
“It works,” Daniel said. “I don’t think there’s much of a choice. The police and FBI can’t keep up with supers, and they gave up trying back in the 1960’s with Red Lightning and everything.”
“I know,” I said. “I can understand losing your temper and maybe hurting someone more than you should, but killing? There’s some point where you pass being a person in pain and become something else.”
“Well, you definitely can’t let yourself go and do anything, but you’ve got to trust yourself. I don’t know that he’s right, but, one of my dad’s friends does think that anyone who’s got powers has them for a reason.”
“That’s bullshit,” Rachael said. “It’s just a way to justify doing whatever you want just because there’s no one around who can stop you.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that.” Daniel said. “Besides I’m not saying he’s right. Don’t jump on me.”
Rachel stopped and looked thoughtful for a second. “I’ve probably got issues with that.”
Daniel nodded. “Nick told me about your block.”
“I know they meant well,” Rachael said, “but it took so long before I could do anything with my powers alone or even talk about it. What Solar Flare tried to do seems like the same thing in another form. It’s playing God.”
“I don’t know about Grandpa and Grandma,” I said, “But Daniel, your dad’s friend does make it sound like the divine right of kings or something. On a totally different subject, is your dad in the Midwest Defenders officially yet?”
“It’s looking that way. We’ll see. There’s still stuff to work out — like whether he’s going to drop his job. Being a prosecutor and a Defender takes up way too much time.”
Muffled steps came from the hall.
“It’s your mom,” Daniel said.
“Quick, get out the window,” Rachel said. “Unless things have changed a lot, it’s way too late for Nick to have people over.”
“It’ll be okay,” I said.
Mom knocked on the door and stepped inside, looking directly at Daniel, but not seeming to notice anything unusual. “I thought I heard voices. Hi Daniel.”
“Hey Mom,” I said, “it’s superhero stuff.”
Rachel watched her go. “I wish I’d known about that in high school.”
“It’s nice right now,” I said. “but there’s something kind of creepy about it.”
“Hey Rachel,” Daniel said. “What did you think about getting the chance to actually use your powers for something?”
“A little conflicted. It was exciting, but with the deaths and the blood, it’s nothing I want to get used to.”
“I’m not used to it,” I said, “but at least it’s over.”
“If you’re lucky,” Rachel said. “The Executioner was supposed to be one guy, right? It turned out to be three people. Why couldn’t there be more?”
I didn’t have an answer for that. Neither did Daniel.