I had a moment of déja-vu as the door of the flower shop opened once more. I was very glad for the screen of flowers between the counter and the door. I had an idea of what I could do, though. I crouched and activated my power by holding my breath (I guess that’s how it works). The tinkling bell dropped several octaves, becoming a deep, solemn toll. I pushed slowly off the ground, acutely aware that moving too quickly could end the effect.
My theory was proven correct as I drifted gently into the air as gravity loosened it’s hold- 9.8 meters per second per second is a lot slower if each second is longer.
The world jerked disorientingly and I found myself already up near the ceiling. I pushed myself off the wall behind me, headed out over the desk and the display rack.
I’d miscalculated the pull of gravity and had to grab onto the top of the flower screen to vault over it. On the opposite side, I could see the two figures who had entered. They were very familiar- they were the two Benton and Bluefang had been disguised as.
Are those the real ones? I wondered as I floated over their heads.
Distracted, I wasn’t able to anticipate the heartbeat and I slammed into the wall over the door, knocking the breath out of me and pulling me out of my time-slowing effect. I dropped clumsily to the floor behind the two heroes and they wheeled around, surprised.
“You again,” came a familiar voice from outside the shop. “I suspected I’d find you here.”
“Slugger,” I wheezed, trying to catch my breath. “You owe me. I told you we could handle ourselves.”
“Yeah, real impressed. We got a call from the police, said they’d gotten an anonymous MCC.”
“Yeah, that was me.”
“I gathered. Do you mind if I make an exit? I don’t want to be on the news again so soon.”
She sighed and glanced at the two heroes behind me. I didn’t feel particularly comfortable around them after what Commandant had said, but I tried not to show it.
“Yeah, sure. I’ll tell the Redlake Reporter folks these guys were taken down by an anonymous local vigilante.”
I had a sneaking suspicion that if the other two heroes hadn’t been there, she would have taken the credit herself, not that I would have minded.
“Slugger, do you know this man?” Asked the hero in the earth green costume. Slugger didn’t look at him, not breaking eye contact with me.
“Yeah, I ran into him last night. Mistook an interrogation for a mugging.”
I had another weird moment of déja-vu. That was almost exactly what I’d said to Bluefang and Benton when they were disguised as heroes. Was she listening in? Is this another trick? I’d thought Commandant was bluffing.
My mind raced. If I left now and Commandant wasn’t bluffing, I’d be letting Shift, Opiate, and Benton go free again. If I stayed, I was sure to get backstabbed. But if I fought and Commandant was bluffing, I would be fighting heroes, which I didn’t want to do. I needed time to think. I reached for my time-slowing power…
And nothing happened.
Slugger’s smirk flickered behind her mask, revealing her true nervousness.
Does it take time to recharge or something? I wondered. Another headache crept up on me suddenly. A result of trying to use my power while it’s charging?
And my mind blossomed with answers. A sudden explosion of knowledge burst before my eyes like fireworks made of tiny suns.
I laughed as I realized what had happened. Some deep part of me was terrified at the realization, but I couldn’t’t help but find it hilarious.
I focused on Slugger and plucked for details with my new-found hypercognition. She was honest, I realized to my disappointment. A part of me had hoped to be able to fight her. She was extremely bitter about her chosen theme, but was afraid to change it now that she had a reputation. She knew the Redlake Heroes’ Association had been subverted, but didn’t’t know who was the mole. She must not know about Shift, I thought. She genuinely wanted to take down Control and end their drug trafficking in Redlake and the surrounding area, but was forcing herself to reprioritize as a new threat appeared, this weird tinker with the white mask. He is definitely up to something- for that matter, how the hell did he take three members of Control down himself?
“I didn’t do it by myself,” I explained. “Though I’m sure I could have. And I’m not a tinker.”
Her reaction told me everything I needed to know. She’d figured it out too now.
“Fuck! Joker power! Joker power!”
There was a thud from inside the store, and the other two heroes dropped immediately into fighting stances. The full implications finally sank in. I had a Joker power; powers that adapt to almost any circumstances, but drive their wielder insane. I didn’t feel insane, but I supposed that was rather the point.
“Hey hey hey, no need for that, now,” I said. I didn’t particularly want to get pulverized by these heroes, but at the same time I really didn’t want to have to kill them. It was funny, I mused to myself, that I was thinking on those terms already.
“You know you won’t be able to take me on right now, and I don’t want to fight you. Hell, me and the others are trying to clean up around here.”
“You and the others,” remarked Slugger cautiously. “You keep saying that, but I have yet to see any more.”
I read what she meant from her inflection and posture.
“Oh, you think I mean other personalities? No no no, they are very real.” I called into the shop. “Pitfall, Basilisk, get out here!”
Nothing happened, and doubt hit me like a hammer.
What if they aren’t real? What if they really just parts of me? Could I really just have made them both up?
And then Pitfall sauntered around one side of the flower display, and Basilisk the other.
“Sup,” said Pitfall.
“Don’t worry, we’ve got him under control,” Basilisk reassured the heroes.
“Hey! I’m fine,” I protested.
“Bro, you are cracked as an egg,” teased Pitfall.
“As an egg!” Crowed Basilisk, laughing.
Slugger had been watching the exchange with growing confusion.
“Who are you guys?”
We ignored her question.
“I hope the police get here soon, I don’t want to have to dose them again,” said Basilisk.
“Anyway, let’s get going. We’ve got to get after Commandant and Opiate,” I said, turning and walking past a thoroughly exasperated Slugger.
“Oh, I thought they’d made a break for it,” replied Basilisk.
“Oh, no doubt, but I bet I know where they’re going.”
“Where else? Now they know their product works, they’re heading for the nearest big city: Collswell.”
By now we’d reached the corner onto the street where we’d left the car, so we all pulled off the masks and lowered our hoods. It was far too hot to leave them up any longer. Pitfall spoke up after a moment.
“But what about-“
I knew his question before he finished speaking.
“I’m sure nobody will mind if we take a road trip. Since my dad is up in Collswell at my mom’s house, he will expect me. Pitfall, your grandmother is eminently reasonable, and Basilisk, your uncle won’t mind if you spend some time out of the house after what happened there. It’s only maybe a two-hour drive- we can be back by the end if the week.”
A police vehicle screamed down Dyson Street on its way to pick up the three disabled villains.
“You’re a Joker,” said Rey as if suddenly realizing it for the first time.
“That sucks, man,” commented Devin.
“I dunno. It’s been pretty useful so far. Let me know if I start losing it, though.”
I could feel the hypercognition power fade, leaving behind only a blinding headache as my brain desperately tried to purge the overload of information left behind.
“Dude, you losing it?”
I looked up. Devin was looking back at me, concerned. I’d stopped, and was clutching my head.
“Nah, I’m good. Power change.”
“That was fast,” said Rey, surprised, and he was right. Most Jokers change powers weekly or monthly, except the least stable, who change daily at best. Three a day was unheard of, at least by me. I’d have to do some research.
We all got in the car and I started trying to figure out how to reinstall the SIM card I’d removed from Rey’s phone. With Bluefang disabled, we didn’t have to worry about it. Without the tinker power, it was much more difficult. Once that was done, I tossed it back to Rey.
The car ride was uneventful, an unbroken stretch of highway punctuated occasionally with billboards once we were out of Redlake. We got into the city two hours later, hot on the trail I could see glowing faintly with my current power- it looked like some kind of tracking power. We were in a sketchy-looking neighborhood when we stopped, though we didn’t see anyone suspicious out and about.
“Stop here. They went in there,” I said, pointing down an alleyway too narrow for the car. Devin nodded and pulled over to the curb, and we hopped out of the car, stretching to loosen up after sitting in the car for so long. After a few moments, I put on my mask and set off into the alley. I could see more trails leading in and out, jagged, aggressive looking ones.
“Some thugs are waiting to ambush us,” I said softly to Basilisk and Pitfall when I spotted a pair of very fresh trails curving into doorways on either side of the alley.
Sure enough, as soon as we reached the doorways, a large, intimidating man holding a threatening weapon stepped out from each of the doors, blocking the alley.
“Gentlemen?” I said before they could make any threats. They glanced at each other, confused, then froze as Basilisk used his power. I put a hand on each of them and pushed them aside like a pair of large, meaty double doors. As they flopped to the ground, I plucked the weapons out of their hands.
We strolled on past them without stopping. As we continued down the alley, I inspected the guns. They looked very similar to the Herokiller I’d gotten off Bluefang back in Redlake, but larger, designed to be wielded two-handed.
“Hm,” I mused, “It looks like we’re about to find out who was supplying Control.”
“Huh. I figured Opiate made that stuff,” said Basilisk.
“Nah, she makes drugs, remember?” Replied Pitfall. “Stuff like Pils. The Herokiller was probably someone like-” he paused for a moment. “Shit.”
“Someone like who?”
Whom, I thought.
“Someone like Lumen.”
We reached the end of the alley, a pair of heavy metal doors. Commandant was somewhere inside.
“Wait, Charlie, are you sure-“
I kicked the door, which failed to come flying open. It did succeed in alerting the person waiting inside, who pushed open the door, peering out at us. She let out a yelp of surprise as the floor dropped out from under her. Behind me, Pitfall grabbed her ankles as she fell up through the ground and let Basilisk stun her before lowering her to the ground.
“Okay, I guess you are,” muttered Basilisk.
I pulled the door open and walked inside. There was another gang member, less intimidating than the others, radioing in just inside.
“Boss, we’ve got capes inbound. Looks like a-“
Basilisk stepped in behind me and froze her before she could finish her sentence. I plucked the compact radio from her hand and spoke into it.
“Hello,” I said cheerfully as I continued walking through the building. “To whom am I speaking?”
“I might ask the same.”
I took a left, then a right as I followed the trail. Whenever we encountered someone in our way, Basilisk froze them and we kept going.
“You might, but you haven’t yet. I believe you have someone I’m looking for.”
“I might, but if I did I wouldn’t tell you.”
“You don’t need to tell me. I can see him now.”
She looked up from where she was sitting to see me standing in the doorway of what appeared to be an executive office, which seemed out of place in the run-down exterior. Across the table from her was Commandant. There were other people in the room, too, but I ignored them. They weren’t important.
“I assume these are the kids you were babbling about?” Asked the woman. I finally recognized her from her eyes. The iris was solid black, speckled with thousands of tiny white dots, and her pupils were white and glowed faintly. Looking her in the eye was like looking up at the night sky.
“Myriad,” I realized. “Of course Control has ties to Blackwell.”
I looked down from the moon, gazing out at the cityscape sprawled out around us.
“Had. I’m repossessing my assets, though, since his team failed to deliver the goods.”
I looked around to discover that Myriad was standing next to me now.
“You mind telling me where we are?” I asked. I was certain we hadn’t been here a moment ago.
“A rooftop? I dunno. Does it matter?”
“I suppose not…”
I walked over to the edge of the rooftop and looked down. Far below, vague hints of cars and people with blurry edges and undefined features.
“You know, we’re related,” said Myriad.
“Everyone with the same type of powers is related, distantly.” She leaned on the railing next to me. “So this is a family matter.”
That didn’t make any sense to me- there were way too many powers spread all across the globe for that to even be possible. I assumed she was either crazy (which was a distinct possibility) or she was speaking in some metaphorical sense.
I realized suddenly that this wasn’t a real place. On the peripherals of my vision, I could still see the office faintly, but everything seemed to be moving so slowly.
“How about we make a deal? One Wellspring to another. I give you Commandant, but I keep Opiate. You leave me alone, and I won’t run business in Redlake. How about it?”
I thought about her offer. It was surprisingly reasonable. I knew I probably couldn’t fight her, and even though the thugs had gone down easily, we were surrounded by powered gangsters now.
I nodded. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than I had expected.
“Okay, but only if you have Opiate make Pils actually safe.”
“Deal. Now, I showed you mine, let’s see yours.”
The buildings melted away into rolling hills, and the people dispersed into tall, dark grass. I was once again on the black field, and this time Myriad was there too.
“Woah,” she raised her eyebrows, her bizarre inverted eyes widening. “This was unexpected.” She glanced at me. “Your subconscious is weird.”
“Hey!” The voice came from over one of the hills, and a moment later it’s owner crested the hill. It was the girl I’d run into in my dream earlier. “What are you doing here?” She asked Myriad angrily. “Out!”
Myriad looked taken aback. “Do you know this person?” She asked me. I shook my head.
“Get out! You shouldn’t be here now,” the girl persisted. In the distance, I could hear that deep roaring sound again, but this time escalated much faster, reaching us in an instant with a cloud of-
I came back to myself abruptly. I was back in the office. Everything was exactly how it had been when I had left. Myriad winked at me and continued the conversation where we’d left off.
“That’s them,” confirmed Commandant. “You should be able to handle them, no problem.”
“But you see, you’ve failed me. So I have to punish you, I guess.”
There was a flash and a pop I had come to associate with the Herokiller’s nonlethal setting, and Commandant slumped over.
“He’s all yours,” Myriad said to me.
We left the gang headquarters without incident, pausing only to deposit Commandant on the steps of the Wardens’ building.
“What was that about back there?” Asked Rey on the drive back to Redlake.
“I guess Myriad decided to compromise because I’m another Joker power,” I said. I didn’t mention the weird hallucinations, which I assumed were part of her current powers.
“Huh. Too bad we didn’t get Opiate.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t want to push her. I don’t think we can handle Blackwell yet.”
“Fuck no,” said Devin, then paused and exclaimed, “Wait… yet?”
I grinned. “Well, yeah. I figure we can get ourselves registered, get some funding, maybe clean up Redlake.”
“Dude, Redlake has a team.”
“A little girl, her grandfather and her angsty older sister?” I scoffed, “Right.”
“Oh my god, that makes so much sense now.”
“So what do you think? Want to be heroes?”
Rey grinned at me from the back seat. “You’re crazy, man,” he said, “But I like your crazy.”
“I’m game,” said Devin.
“Good,” I breathed, relieved. ” As long as I’m registered, I won’t have feds on my ass all the time.”
“Oh shit, I hadn’t thought of that!” Exclaimed Rey, but Devin only nodded- he’d figured it out earlier.
“Ten bucks says they’re swarming Redlake already, looking for us.”
“So that’s why you wanted to go after Commandant so bad,” Rey realized.
“A good part of it, yeah. Plus, he was an asshole.”
We all dissolved into laughter and then lapsed into silence again.
“You know, you don’t have a name yet,” Devin said to me after a moment.
“Nah. I really don’t know what to go with.”
“You went and gave me mine, so I’m going to give you yours.”
“That’s fair, I suppose.” I was getting a headache again, as I had stopped using the tracking power. If it changed every time I stopped using it, hiding my identity was going to be a challenge.
“Here’s what I was thinking: How about ‘Tipping Point?’”
“I was thinking ‘Wildcard,’” commented Rey.
“That’s taken,” rebuffed Devin. “Some villain in the UK.”
“Tipping Point…” I mused, “That could work.”