“Hey uh, you okay?”
Eyelids finally fluttered open, a sharp pain shooting up her clamped jaw, dried blood chipping away with every breath, like bits of glass scattering against skin.
She failed yet again. How many more times would she wake up to that exciting revelation?
Another brawl with that punk vigilante kid, Nightmare. God, she wished Welles would give her the okay to off her. Who cared that she was just a teenager; she was really annoying, and the last thing Lydia Irving wanted to be doing was a half babysitting half hit-man job.
Shake her up but not too much, knock her down if she’s in our way but catch her when she falls, and yada yada yada. Why not you try it some time, Welles?
Fuzzy brown shapes towering over her, like a looking through a kaleidoscope camera lens. With the white blips that trickled down the brown she figured she must have fallen at least twenty stories.
Had it not been for the nanites built into her, structuring her skeleton, she would be dead. The one time she could be grateful for the unwanted surplus of power, but she wasn’t. She still hated those things, those things that made her inhuman and almighty.
Something about having absolute power took the thrill away.
Why spend your life eliminating targets when you already knew you that resistance really was futile and that at the end of the night you would be alone in that same warm bed, nursing the same gentle wounds.
Lydia Irving swatted the man’s plump hand away drunkenly, pushed herself to her feet, and stumbled into the dumpster she had crashed into. Gripping her jacket, expecting to feel a pleasant silk lining, she found herself clutching something with the texture of a rotten banana peel.
How long had she been laying there?
Sneering, she pounded a fist into the dumpster, denting the rusted metal, the flakes of steel akin to the flakes of blood she shed.
The man jumped and backed away slowly. Rolling her eyes, Lydia massaged her knuckle as she briskly passed through the alleyway, pain rippling up her spine as she forced her limp to let her have her pride for a few seconds.
Pulling the jacket off, sunlight struck her new scars and bruises, more pieces for the collection. Dropping it to the ground, she walked down the street and pulled her cell phone from her jeans. Good thing she put the thing in power saver mode. Always gotta do that when you’re on a gig. Never know when you’ll come to.
“Where the Hell are you?”
Likely a text sent from a disposable phone, but it was obviously her current boss, Hector Welles. Most of her employers were scared shitless of her and wouldn’t dare to ever lash out at her.
Somehow in all of her years of mercenary work that brought her to every corner of the globe, she found herself in the most comfortable corporate gig she could at the hands of a multi-billionaire.
“Gig. Can’t talk. Be back tonight.”
Pocketing the phone with a satisfied expression, she stopped and turn to look into the mirror. Something was wrong with her eye. The skin around it was as purple as a plum with yellow pus building up under the eyelid.
A vibration against her hip. Whipping the phone out, the text floated at the center, the words very simple and very clear. She could already hear the sound of his flip-phone snapping in two before being tossed in the garbage No point in texting back now.
“No. You’re not.”
What was he going to do? Fire her? Tsch.
“Hey, jackass, you want one too?” Lydia drawled, a teenage boy’s head clicking back ahead of him, his eyes falling off hers. Shaking her head, she looked back into the reflection. Her shoulder was pretty beat up too, a light dent that belonged on a car much less an arm lying waiting there for her.
Kid probably didn’t mean to do it. Knowing her, she was in a rush to get back to class and needed to lay it on thick and forgot how powerful that super-suit of hers made her.
Yep. That’s right. She got knocked clean out of the sky and tumbled twenty stories just because that stupid kid was in a rush.
Opening her mouth, she slid a finger across her teeth. One felt a little loose, rising up and down with the finger, wind skimming the sensitive gums. Gritting her teeth, she shook her head and stormed off from the window.
That stupid kid. This child who was too dense to realize that she was gay and crazy for her best friend, who came home from school and wrote in her diary about the most standard, banal insecurities.fifteen year old girl who was still having hangups on her sexuality. This insect that was under her constant surveillance.
How did something so tiny make her body writhe so much?
Frankie was one of the good ones. Never asked too many questions, gave her what she needed, and always made sure she was in the ring against a fair challenge. Lots of promoters like him used her as some kind of monster to tear people apart, get people screaming and cheering. But Frankie? Frankie treated her good, and tonight she was up against Rhino.
Clarence “Rhino” Buckweiler was the Hulk of the Estreya crime scene, a go-to for guys who needed a special brand of muscle. Rhino floated around between many gangs, but lately had found a home under the thumb of Salvatore Cagan, a crime boss moonlighting as the Head of Security at Welles Corps.
God, Cagan, that insufferable jackass. Yet him and Welles went way back, and if it was anyone who could get the old coot to laugh, it was him unfortunately. Being friends with Cagan was essential. Another sacrifice.
Blaring lights bore sweat, a vicious crowd a blur as the room spun around, her feet firmly planted on the ring.
Lydia’s fist slammed into Rhino’s chin, bones sliding between her knuckles as his face spun, his body rocking backward, his breathing heavy.
“Hey, you’re at Welles Corps., aren’t you?” Rhino asked between heaving breaths, eyes calm and ripe with boredom.
Lydia scanned the crowd quickly, then shrugged, dodging one of his kicks, her body uncontrollably collapsing onto the rope beside her. Grabbing onto the rope, she turned and kicked her legs out, slamming Rhino in the face and knocking him flat to the floor.
Going for style points, she neatly ended her spin with her legs crossed, hands folded in her lap paired with a coy grin making for the image of all knowing student. She looked down from the rope, a wicked smile on her face.
Applause everywhere. She wouldn’t deny it; it was nice every now and then.
Rhino groaned and got to his feet. The Big Lug wasn’t feeling it tonight? Aw. That’s too bad.
To the whistles of the crowd, she threw her body into an elegant handstand, then came crashing down like a pendulum, her legs wrapping around Rhino’s neck and once again his face struck the mat.
“Well, I’m looking forward to working with ya,” Rhino wheezed.
Lydia rolled off of him and right into her next fighting pose, giving Rhino ample time to get to his feet and form some kind of strategy. Definitely not Frankie’s best pick, she would need to have a talk with him later.
Those seconds spent standing still were just as much of a blur as her previous flip. If she closed her eyes, she could swear she was still in combat.
“You okay?” Rhino whispered before launching into a flurry of punches.
Bones sliding and riding, teeth gnashing into each other, sparks of white light uncontrollably blasting from her body
She hit the floor hard, the bones that snapped after twenty stories just now deciding to scream their story to her. Limbs shaking, she grabbed onto the rope to steady herself, and whirled a kick at Rhino, managing to push him back enough to give her some breathing room.
Arms rattling, body failing her, she tried vaulting over Rhino as he dove at her, but instead slammed into his rock hard arm, and collapsed to the floor, only three limbs supporting her now, her arm like the leg of a spider.
Rhino’s brilliant hazel eyes were too easy to give into. She had to be better.
“C’mon,” Lydia spit against the floor.
Rhino nodded and charged at her, swinging downward at her spine.
A scream escaped her lips that wasn’t intended to be let out. Her body flipped over itself, right leg hitting the incoming fist so hard that she felt something shift within her. As he held his arm there, she boosted off the floor and pivoted off the fist, kicking him straight in the jaw.
Cheers rang out and stopped, voices hanging in people’s throats, as she crashed to the floor once again, the thud against the mat like a loud slap to some beloved’s face.
Rhino charged at her again and this time there wasn’t any fight left in her and that was why her arm started glowing.
The nanites in her skeleton didn’t feel like getting smashed inward again and decided to go on the offensive, a desperate blast of white energy materializing on her skin and firing away. Lydia threw herself to the floor just in time for the blast to miss Rhino and several audience members, instead just burning through cheap, mossy wood.
Silence now from the audience.
Hazel eyes stared heavily at her, blinking rapidly as she twitched and groaned like a person with a really bad full body sunburn.
“Give it a few months, okay?”
Frankie’s bushy eyebrows hid those beady, greedy eyes she knew lied underneath. He knew about her…condition. He just chose not to ask.
‘Course it wouldn’t be good business.
Lydia nodded, neatly placing a pair of sunglasses onto her nose.
That Rhino guy sure was something. The nerve of him to stop the fight though and try to bring a doctor in. She was going to have to talk to Cagan to see what they could do about him.
Guy like him didn’t fit in around here.
She couldn’t remember when she walked into the alleyway. She wasn’t sure how her hands knew where to go as the knives slashed at her. God, that stupid Rhino guy was really in for it this time. No place in this line of work.
Crack! She remembered that sound at least. It was too loud to ignore; when the guy’s head slammed against solid brick and while she may not have seen him afterwards, the fresh fissures in the wall told her enough.
A trembling hand against her limp one.
“You’re going to want to back off for a second, sweetheart,” Lydia had said with a sour taste on her lips, the voice hollow and phantasmal. Yet the girl still held on. Absolutely clueless.
A gnarled mouth opened and closed yards away from her, yapping like a mutt waiting at the fence all day. So foolish, thinking he could scare her.
When the bullet collided with her shoulder, every cell in her body wailed, the sudden burning unforgiving and yet like ice cold water cascading over your head, trickling down the skin.
A different agony had been brought forward by the bullet; this new pain of the flesh was much easier to deal with.
White light shone through her fist, blinding. She never quite saw what happened to him; she did see the dumpster sliding back with the force of her blast before it became oblivion.
All of this passed by so quickly.
It wasn’t until she was in the arms of the shaking woman, both of them coated in blood, Lydia’s back to the brick, her head lolled over to the side like a rag-doll, that she remembered having a thought that processed into a desirable action.
“You called an ambulance?” Lydia asked in the form of a statement.
“Yeah,” the girl squeaked.
“That’s good,” Lydia chided. “One last favor, can you call Hector Welles from Welles Corps? I have a message for him.”
When Lydia was able to hold onto a clear image for more than a moment, she glimpsed at focused eyes staring at thumbs tapping at a phone screen. Good girl.
“What’s the message?” the girl asked as she backspaced something and tried searching again.
“Tell him to go fuck himself.”