The door they entered through turned out to be the back door of a supermarket, entering directly into the office of the manager. They walked into the actual supermarket and Macian stopped him, looking around despite the near-complete darkness – probably another upside to having an artificial eye. He activated his glowing cube again and, taking aim, threw it with his robotic arm towards the center of the ceiling, to which it stuck to, brightening up to illuminate most of the rather small supermarket. “The shutters are closed,” he explained, but the young artist was quite distracted.
Henry saw racks of countless goods – mostly food. His stomach growled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten anything for an entire day. He hadn’t even had anything to drink apart from a single small bottle of water Macian had given him. And neither had Macian, judging by the rumble he heard from his direction. “Eat?” Henry asked without taking his eyes off the fruit rack. “Eat,” confirmed Macian and dove towards a box full of peaches, while Henry did the same with some apples. He was so hungry, he had to force himself to first rub the first apple he got his hands on on his clothes before sinking his teeth in the juicy, heavenly flesh of the fruit…
Nearly half an hour later, the two boys were lying on top of several pillows they had taken out of the bargain bin, rubbing their bellies after a truly glorious eating binge. “I. Love. Spicy potato crisps and chocolate ice cream,” moaned Macian as he shoved another handful of said crisps into his mouth, followed by another bite out of a chocolate-flavoured popsicle.
“I hear you. Why did I never think of mixing them?” replied Henry as he did the same. They quietly chewed for a while. “After all, I’m supposed to be the genius artist.”
Macian chuckled before biting down on another handful of crisps. Once he’d swallowed them, he answered: “Well, I’m the genius scientist. Maybe this counts as biology or chemistry or something?”
Henry shook his head, even though Macian wasn’t looking at him (they were both staring up at the ceiling). “Anything this tasty has to be art.”
“Well, maybe your artistic skill is rubbing off on me, mate.”
They spent a few more minutes going through their accumulated crisps and ice cream.
“I have a question again,” said Henry suddenly.
“When you used your hand to… you know, to kill those two. Whatever it did, it didn’t rebound the first time. But it did the second time. Why?”
“You actually noticed that? You’re the first to do that!” replied Macian, surprised.
“Well, I do need a good attention for detail, you know?” Henry replied as he took a bite out of a chocolate bar filled with caramel creme.
“True. Well, anyway, to explain that, I need to explain how my KP works. ‘KP’ meaning ‘Kinetic Repulsor’. The hand itself is not actually part of it, but it has a hole in the palm for it.” He turned his hand towards Henry, who could see a barely perceptible circular seam on its palm. “The repulsor uses energy from the generator pack I’ve strapped to my back to charge up, then releases the charge as a kinetic pulse that strikes at whatever is in front of my palm. That’s stage one of the KP.”
“And why doesn’t it bounce back some times? Isn’t there a law about that?”
“You mean the law that says there’s always an equal opposite reaction to any action? Well, that’s where stage two of the KP comes in. You see, it absorbs the kinetic energy of the reaction and uses it to immediately recharge itself, so I can immediately fire it off again, if need be.”
“Wait, isn’t that a, what’s-it-called, a perptum imobile?!”
“The word is perpetuum mobile, literally meaning ‘perpetual motion’. And no, it’s not, which leads me to why it does bounce off some times. You see, there are two flaws to the system, and I haven’t found a way to get rid of them.”
Henry turned to fully face his new friend (anyone who took part in an eating binge with him automatically qualified as a friend), curious to learn more about his fantastic technology.
“First, the absorption is not perfect – a little bit of force, about one-point-zero-three percent is lost upon absorption and has to be compensated for by my generator. Which means it can’t be a perpetuum mobile, since that term describes an object, or rather a phenomenon that goes on infinitely without any more energy being added to it. Second, there is a lot of strain put on the mechanism. It breaks down after ninety-one shots and I can’t keep it charged for more than fifty-three seconds at a time before I need to discharge it, or it breaks down completely within four-point-four seconds. So I usually discharge it completely once I no longer need it. And since it doesn’t recharge, the reaction makes it bounce off.”
“I… see,” Henry commented, awestruck. Even at his age and with his rather limited understanding of science, he could tell that this was the kind of technology that belonged into the most unrealistic science-fiction stories, not the real world, despite its ‘flaws’. “What else do you have on you?”
“Well, I’ve got a fo- that reminds me, I’ve been working on something for you!” Macian pulled out the box he had been working on and shifted his artificial hand into its tool configuration. “Just wait a minute and I’ll be done.”
“What is that going to be?” Henry asked, but got no answer. He tried again, only to be ignored. Which was quite irritating, but he immediately reprimanded himself for that feeling. People usually felt like that when he zoned out while painting. So he just watched in awe as Macian completed the box, which looked like the evil big brother of a remote, only without any buttons. It was obvious that Macian was just as gifted at engineering as he was at painting.
“Done!” Macian suddenly exclaimed, handing him the finished box. It didn’t look finished, to be honest, with much of its wiring being exposed. Still, it looked like one would expect some kind of future-tech to look, all wires and strange chips and all.
“What does it do?” he asked as he felt its weight. It was heavier than it should be, considering its size.
“It’s a force-field generator,” Macian replied nonchalantly as he reached out for another handful of potato crisps, followed by a freshly unpacked popsicle.
Henry almost dropped it, instead pulling it close to hold it safe. Even he knew about force fields and what they meant. “Say, I probably should have asked this sooner… but you’re one of those contrivers, right?”
“Hm? Nope, I’m a real Gadgeteer. Did all the tests and all.”
“You’re… are you sure?”
“Of course I am! I’m a genius, after all! Besides, I thought you didn’t know much about metahumans and all, so why does it freak you out?”
“Just because I’m not interested doesn’t mean I’m stupid! Also, my teacher once explained the thing with force-fields for us, when Elaine asked why the heroes are allowing Sovereign to rule Africa.”
“I see. Well, don’t think too hard about this. It just means I’m better than Sovereign,” Macian replied, apparently not finding anything strange about it.
“Calm down, mate. It doesn’t change anything about our situation here, anyway. Speaking of which, we should get going. Would be stupid to stay in one place for too long.”
Henry nodded and jumped to his feet. He ran to a rack that held lots of knapsacks. Taking one, he filled it with chocolate bars, packed and ready sandwiches, small juice bottles and other stuff. Macian did the same, as they had actually planned this beforehand.
Well, the original plan had been to first pack the knapsacks, then indulge their hungers. But then they’d found the ice cream…
When they were done, they went back out the backdoor, making their way towards the center of the city – Macian had argued that survivors were likely to act stupid and gather there, and Henry’s mother was likely to go there too, hoping to find him among the other survivors.
* * *
“What can you tell me about Fire Burial?” asked Henry, wanting to distract himself somehow as they walked through backalley and apartments in their way. The whole atmosphere was way too gloomy and coupled with their situation and his imagination, it turned the whole affair into a piece out of a horror movie.
“Fire generator and manipulator, can blow up a tank with her shots. Imbues her fire with a kind of explosive effect that lets it blow up even stuff that shouldn’t be able to blow up, like in those Hollywood movies where a simple fire can blow up cars and stuff. Can also turn into fire herself, making her invulnerable. But she can’t manipulate any fire other than the one that comprises her body while she’s transformed, nor generate more, so she has to switch between being solid and being all flame-y. So our best bet, if we run into her, is for me to somehow hit her while she’s distracted firing at at something. Regarding her person, she’s the youngest member of the six – she’s seventeen. Not an original member, she killed her predecessor. Her hair’s red like fire and looks like it’s on fire, as well. Like Pristine, she doesn’t wear any clothes-“
“What is it with these guys and being naked!?” asked Henry, feeling quite exasperated.
“Well, in her case it’s justified. She can’t turn anything other than herself into fire, so she’d burn through any clothes and even if they were fire-resistant, she’d just leave them behind. And well, since flying around in her fire-form is her main form of transportation…”
“I see…,” grumbled Henry, still upset. Girls should wear clothes. Boys too, for that matter. “I hope there’s no one else among them who runs around naked?”
“Well, Hemming technically does. But it’s kind of moot, since he can either shapeshift to make it look like he’s dressed or take a form where it’s meaningless.”
“Well, alright, that makes sense,” Henry conceded as they looked left and right, preparing to cross a larger street. “Anything else I should know about her?”
“Yeah, she’s got a temper to match her powers. We’re talking hulk-level anger management issues. And her powers grow stronger the angrier she gets, to boot. Oh, and she’s Mindfuck and Slowburn’s (that was her predecessor) daughter,” Macian explained as they ran across the street. “Also, don’t ask her for sex and be a guy. She’s strictly into girls and usually burns off the family jewels off any male who even looks at her that way.”
“Umm, what’s sex?”
Macian actually stumbled, almost hitting the door they had been walking towards with his head. “You don’t… but you knew about rape?”
“Umm, I guess it has something to do with hurting people. Rape, I mean. But I don’t know anything else about that. What does it have to do with ‘sex’?”
“Well, I guess I forgot that most people my age wouldn’t know about this kind of stuff… Let’s put this off until we have some free time, ’cause I’m pretty sure we should get into this building and out of the street again.” He opened the door by pushing the lock out of it again and they slipped in.
Henry barely had any time to duck as a golf club was swung at the two boys, but he needn’t have wondered. Macian blocked it lazily and struck out with his artificial arm, which had grabbed on to it, smacking the attacker against the wall.
Someone screamed and charged towards them and Macian raised his hand towards the oncoming attacker, only to hesitate once he – and Henry as well – realized that a little boy younger than them was attacking with a kitchen knife. Still, he blocked the strike and easily overpowered the little child without using his artificial arm, pushing him to the ground.
“Bitte tu ihm nicht weh!” screamed a woman and Henry looked up from where he was crouching on the floor, seeing a woman standing next to the basement door, holding another kitchen knife in both hands and shaking like a leaf in the wind.
Looking to the left, he saw that their initial attacker, who was on the ground holding his belly, was a middle-aged man with a shaved head. He looked so much like the little boy, they had to be father and son.
Macian jumped back from the boy, nearly hitting Henry, who had to scramble back against the door.
“Die haben mich angegriffen!” Macian said defensively.
The man took the chance to grab his son and run towards the woman, putting himself between his family and the two boys.
The five of them stood there, looking at each other, no one daring to talk until Henry finally decided to do something about this.
He walked past Macian, his hands raised palms-out. “Everyone, please calm down!” He hoped desperately that at least one of the three understood English. Probably not the boy, but the parents…
“Are- Aren’t you Henry Appleton?!” asked the woman in sudden awe. Her English was quite heavily accented, but not so much that it was really difficult to understand her.
“I am, Madam. Please, we mean you no harm. My friend is just a bit jumpy,” he replied, hoping to defuse the situation.
She spoke to her husband in German, talking too fast for him to understand any single word, but the man relaxed – a bit. The boy was looking at Macian with fear in his eyes.
“What’s wrong with him?” asked the woman, throwing a wary look at Macian.
“I can speak for myself, you know?” the scarred boy replied with an annoyed look. “And I had a bad run-in with a fire-spewing chicken.”
Everyone in the room goggled at that statement, trying to determine whether or not he was being serious.
Henry capitalized on the confusion, approaching the family. He opened his mouth to say something when, suddenly, an explosion rattled the building, throwing everyone but Macian off their feet.
“Shit, shit, shit! We have to get out, NOW!” he shouted. “Wir müssen hier raus! Sofort! Fire Burial ist in der Nähe!” he added, looking at the family. They immediately went pale as sheets, scrambling down into the basement. “NEIN! Nicht da runter, sie wird-“
Whatever he was trying to say, another explosion cut him off as the back door of the building was blown out of its hinges, bursting into flaming splinters.
A beautiful young girl, looking to be no older than seventeen, lazily walked in on her tip-toes, her hips swinging. Even Henry could see why people would be attracted to her, even though she was completely naked – which was just icky – but he was captivated by her hair. It fell down her back down to her knees, with six thin braids falling down her front, three on each side of her head, barely covering her modestly sized chest. It looked like real fire of all colours, only it flowed and it flowed down instead of up. I gotta try and draw something like that, he thought irrationally.
Before either he or Macian could say anything, the girl walked past the open door to the basement and, looking down, shot a fireball after the screaming family. “NO!” screamed Macian as he fired his hand at her, but she dissolved into fire, dancing around the hall as her fireball exploded and the screams of the small family were abruptly cut off.
As Macian was reeling in his hand, Henry scrambled back to stand behind him, watching as she reformed closer to them in turn, giving them a slow, cruel smile. “Dear little Munchkin, I heard you were a bad boy today…”