The gang hideout burns so hot that not even those that control fire can handle the heat. The members of Dresden could walk along hot coals and be fine, but I would be unbothered if I stood on the surface of the sun. I radiate heat and work my way through the four remaining members in a flurry of hand-to-hand that even Remise would be proud of, relying on my heat-sense to ambush them through the walls. Once they’re down, I drain the heat and kill the fire so the place doesn’t burn to the ground.
I drag the leader — a thick, burly biker type with a handlebar mustache — out of the rooftop entrance while the rest of his gang scatters across the streets. I shout a defiant challenge to chase them down the alleys: “You tell them! You tell them Home Run’s gonna pick apart any gang that works with Pandahead! Anyone who wants to throw down with me, find me on the streets!”
Kistune quickly tucks a flask into her jacket pouch as I drag Mr. Dresden over to her. She lowers her mask, but not before I catch a glimpse of her chin and mouth, and a flash of golden hair underneath.
“Drinking on the job?” I ask.
“None of your business.” Kitsune nods at the leader. “Has he talked yet?”
“Screamed a lot, didn’t ya, big dude?” I tap the muscled biker man with the tip of my combat boot.
Kitsune looks back and forth between the handlebar mustache and then at my goggles. Her mask bobs back and forth and I realize that she’s laughing. She shakes her head and recovers after a few seconds. “Didn’t scream anything specific, did he?”
“Not yet.” I squat down on my haunches and lean over the leader. He whimpers and pulls back from me. “Listen. The fish will be here soon. Do you want to go with them in handcuffs or do you want to go with them in a body bag?”
Turns out even huge bikers can cry. “H-h-handcuffs.”
“Good.” I slap his chest. “Pandahead. Why were you going to his auction?”
“I’m not a pedo!” The Dresden leader looks very intent on making sure I know that. “We weren’t there to buy kids or slaves or anything. That shit’s disgusting.”
“Agreed. So what were you there for?” I ask.
“We were hired to do a hit on him,” the Dresden leader manages between hyperventilating. “We were supposed to melt his metal man and burn him alive inside his helmet. Totally disintegrate him if possible.”
Kitsune plants her white Converse on Dresden leader’s cheek. “Who wanted you to do that?”
“I dunno, some guy, some guy!”
Kitsune presses her foot harder and one of the leader’s fingers snaps out of place by her telekinesis. “Some guy better get more distinct.”
“Definitely an officer of some kind but I don’t know! Could have been fish, could have been police, could have been a cape.” The leader cradles his broken hand in his other arm and whimpers like a dog that just got kicked.
“You took a hit job from a police guy?” Kitsune doesn’t sound surprised or doubtful. She just wants to be certain.
“I don’t discriminate on buyers, man. Just made sure I wasn’t gonna get pooched by the fish or something.”
“No name?” I ask.
The Dresden leader squirms and whines. “No!”
“Where’s the main Dresden hide-out?” I ask.
“They’re already gone, man! The moment you popped that door I put a call in and they scattered, like we’re supposed to do!”
Kitsune growls. “Names.”
Drone’s voice pops in my ear. “I don’t mean to interrupt your date but you’ve got police and fish inbound. And a very grumpy Flashfire waiting to chew you out.”
“We’ve got police inbound,” I say.
Kitsune groans. “Perfect. What are we doing with him?”
“I know a guy with contacts in FIS and the police.” Technically, Iso is Flashfire’s friend, not mine, but still. I slap the shit out of the dude until his ears are surely ringing, and add, “He’ll sing for them and we can get the names from my friend.” If Flashfire’s not pissed at me after this.
I mold some steel from the railing around his wrists, forming a lovely binding they’ll have to pry him out of later. His power wasn’t heat-generation of any kind, as far as I could tell, so he won’t be getting out of this until someone breaks him out.
I follow Kitsune a few blocks over and we sit down on a nearby roof, watching the police move in on the hideout. She offers me some from her flask, but I decline. We sit in silence for a second “So, got a story?”
“Yes. I’m sure you do, too. Doesn’t mean we have to tell them.” Kitsune turns her face away to lift her mask and take a drink.
“Mysterious.” I grin underneath my mask. “Fine. We don’t have to share our life stories. What were you doing here?”
“Stopping a gang of hired killers that nobody was doing anything about. Just like you, really.” Kitsune lowers her mask and pockets her flask.
“Yeah, but why? Did they kill someone close to you?”
“They killed a cape I know. Not someone I’m close to, but enough that I found out where one of their hideouts were and decided to deal with it.” Kitsune faces away from me.
“You’re friendly with the capes?” I ask.
“More than the masks,” she says.
“How much more?”
“Not much more. I’m not keen on seeing one right now.” Kitsune stares at the hideout.
There’s a loud boom over East Downtown as a figure passes over the city and alights on top of the roof as FIS agents swarm through the door. My goggles zoom in so I can get a clearer picture. The cape is Gyrfalcon. Her helmet has a clear visor shaped like a hawk’s beak, and her brown cape billows behind her as she kneels down next to the Dresden leader. She’s one of the Harris Hawks, probably the second most famous team around town.
“Are you happy?” I ask. “With how this turned out?”
“I wanted to kill them all.”
“Why?” I ask.
“They killed a lot of people.”
I’m not like Flashfire. I don’t have a particularly hard stance on not killing my enemies. What I try to avoid is unnecessary death due to my power. I could kill a lot more people than I help with it. I have nothing productive to say about this, so I just keep my mouth shut.
The topic of powers makes me want to know what hers is, though. “You’re a telekinetic.”
“That’s a heavyweight power.”
“Kinda ironic that I only weigh one-twenty something.”
“That makes me feel fat,” I say, slapping my belly.
“Fuck off.” Kitsune laughs under her mask. “I saw you take off your jacket, Mr. Olympia wanna-be. You’re proud of those muscles.”
“Got me all figured out, do you?” I stand up. “Are you part of a group? A mask group, I mean.”
Kitsune sits cross-legged and shakes her head. She pulls her flask, turns away to take another slug. That’s when I notice that this is a second flask with pink leopard print.
“Do you want to be?” A telekinetic could be really useful. “We could use help taking down Pandahead.”
“We? I only see you here.” Damn that mask, I can’t tell what she’s thinking! I’m sure she’s thinking the same thing about me, though. “I mostly work alone.”
I don’t really have an answer to that. I’m not going to try and convince this random girl I just met to team up with me if she doesn’t want to.
Kitsune stands up in the light. She watches Gyrfalcon and the FIS remove the Dresden leader from the roof and then looks up at the downtown skyscrapers. She looks at the OPI tower and watches the rotation of heroes until Megajoule’s face dominates the screen, and she turns away, back to me. “Why are you trying to stop Pandahead?”
I don’t feel like I need to explain myself, though I still do. “He hurts children.”
Kitsune folds her hands and balances on one foot, her gaze under the mask the minute hand turned three minutes off from looking right at me. “You care about that?”
“Yes. Always.” My brothers demand it. Maisa and the children Pandahead abused demand it. Children always get forgotten. Teenagers to toddlers, people make a good effort of looking like they’re helping kids and then let them flounder in reality.
There is a moment of uncertainty bundled up by the hot evening breeze where Kitsune kicks her foot and doesn’t say a single word, her hands still folded at her waist, and a single errant strand of golden hair floats outside her mask. The simple fox face staring at me reminds me of a cork on a bottle that’s close to exploding from the pressure inside. Perhaps it’s the striking uptick in the heat in her face or the soft exhale of warm breath as she sighs.
At last, Kitsune reaches into her pocket and pulls out a phone. “Number.”
I give her my number with a sense of relief.
Kitsune pockets the phone and nods. “I’ll text you.” She steps to the edge of the roof and jumps off, and swings her way through East Downtown, toward the center of Houston.
Drone’s voice crackles into my ear. “Do you think that was a good idea? What if she’s like a cape?”
“Why pretend to be a mask? She was actually killing those gangbangers, you know.” I keep an eye on the hideout in case something goes haywire, but fishy business proceeds as usual. There are dozens of agents swarming the roof. “Not that Flashfire will like that.
“This whole thing reeks, Gabe,” Drone says. “How’d she know that the capes weren’t doing anything about this?”
“I don’t disagree. Someone official tried to have these guys take out Pandahead at his own auction. Then FIS was there to watch that happen? Or maybe the guy just pretended to be official and FIS was a happy coincidence?”
“I’ve been digging into it. Still, be careful, Gabe. I think this Kitsune girl could be bad news.”
“Sounds like somebody’s jealous.” I start my journey back to my apartment.
“Yes, I’m jealous of some rando drunken chick poaching a man I barely tolerate away from me.” I can practically hear her rolling her eyes on the other end of the comms. “Let’s be abundantly clear, she could have you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I’d not lose a wink of sleep.”
“I don’t even know what she looks like, so how could I even say she was my type?” I ask. “All I could tell you was she had a nice voice.”
“I know your type,” Drone says.
“What’s my type?” I ask.
Drone does not reply.
“Drone, what’s my type?” When she doesn’t give me an answer, I sigh and shut off the comms, and make my way back to my apartment.
The next night, Flashfire stalks in the backyard and practices his striking, more akin to a caged tiger than my best friend. His hands smoke and glow with small bursts of light, a minor, restrained form of his power. The shards of light reveal an angry man waiting for me in brief flashes, and with each successive image, his face twists more and more into fury, until I escort Maisa inside. I turn the back porch light on and the demon is banished, leaving only my friend in its place.
“Gabe, what the hell was that last night?” Flashfire says. “You were supposed to wait for us. Maisa could have-”
I feel the need to mount some defense to my character. “Maisa was sleeping in my bed. I didn’t take her with me. If anything had happened it would have happened to me and me alone.”
Flashfire paces back and forth, and with each step, his palms and soles radiate white light. Nothing that would blind me but enough that it’s painful to look at him dead on. “That’s great, but if you get caught, and then you’re taken back to wherever they hold you, and they arrest the rest of us!”
“I didn’t get caught,” I say.
“If you keep going on your own, you might.” Flashfire stops pacing and faces me head on, his broad shoulders the foundation of our Underground. He sighs and rubs his nose, shakes his head, and walks up to me. He pats me on the shoulder. “I get it. They’re talking about Home Run now, you know.”
“They are?” I haven’t paid much attention to the news, today.
“Iso told me the police and the fish are whispering about the mask named Home Run, and that the gangs are disquieted by a guy that could out-heat a gang dedicated to fire powers.” Flashfire flashes a grin at me. “Good job on that.”
I answer his grin with my own and clasp his naked arm. “It’s fine. I won’t go on my own again. Sorry.” I rub the back of my neck. “I met a new mask last night, she might work with us.”
“I saw your girlfriend on Drone’s camera,” Flashfire says. “I don’t like that she killed those guys.”
“I tried to stop her.” I shrug. “I know you don’t like it.”
Flashfire looks out at the shadowed yard and walks back into the dark. He looks lost for a moment, a man stumbling in the grass as he searches for something I can’t quite see. The porch light casts his muscled back in sharp relief, like an ancient marble statue, and when he faces me again I’m reminded of the statue of David. His voice is breathy, raspy, almost agonized. “I’ve seen it too much.”
“I know.” So have I. So have I. “I’ll be careful. I’m always careful, you know.”
“I know.” He smiles but I can’t quite see it in the dark. “I know you’re trying to make Home Run into something good. I’ll help you. You just need to be careful.” He walks past me and pats me on the shoulder, and heads inside to plan our next mission. Epione’s happy voice greets him as he opens the door and is cut off as he closes it behind him.
I close my eyes, trying to imagine Home Run in front of me. Trying to imagine myself as him. He stands tall, baseball bat in hand, dressed in my mask and my varsity jacket. Beyond him, there’s another man in my mind’s eye, standing with his hands on his waist in a heroic pose and a white cape billowing behind his back. He glances over his shoulder and I don’t know if it’s me or Megajoule that’s looking at me through the visor of his helmet, but I hope it’s me. I hope it’s me, because if it isn’t—
Well, how do I get there?