It hurt. For the first time, it hurt. Not the expectation of pain. Not a shock. Not a splash. Just searing pain through her shoulder, and though she lay in her own warm blood, Kyeongwan felt cold.
The ray gun had passed through her and hit the plane’s electrical system. She was dying in the dark.
Sami didn’t need lights. The glow of the gun’s barrel drew her to Jerry and she grabbed it, grabbed him, and threw them into separate walls.
“Get her out--now!” she yelled to Carla.
She tore seats out of their hinges. She was ready to sink the plane if she had to, but not before Jerry was dead. Her rampage through the dark cabin was a cacophony of rage that masked the return of The Classic.
Carla groped around on the floor for Kyeongwan, feeling her blood, following it to its source, but her hand patted a size 12 boot. The Classic lifted her up by her shirt collar and now she was yelling over Sami’s wrath. “He’s back!”
During all this, Kyeongwan had gone quiet.
Sami launched off Jerry’s gut to tackle The Classic from behind.
He dropped something.
It tink-tink-tink tumbled across the aisle.
Kyeongwan wasn’t sure why, but she fumbled around to find it. A little whisper told her to. She grabbed hold of Slip’s sapphire.
The cargo boxes exploded with a shrapnel of luminescent pills that speckled the dark. Little splinters stuck out of The Classic’s face when Sami pulled him out to ram him through another. She was done with him. She was done with Jerry. She was done with losing people and having to shove her feelings down about it and so in the cabin, in the cargo hold below, she flung her old hero into wreckage. And for once, he didn’t get up.
As she returned to Jerry, however, The Classic grabbed those orange fireflies scattered around and he ate every one he could find.
“No more reprieves!” Sami yelled. “I should’ve dealt with you a long time ago.”
Jerry was a whimper in the dark.
She held him by his neck.
“Later!” Carla yelled.
“No! No more laters! No more waiting!”
“Then your friend is dead! I can’t get her out of here and keep her from bleeding out.” Even with her hand on the wound, Carla felt like she was swimming in Kyeongwan’s blood. And it was losing the heat of life. It was losing that gross sticky feeling, too.
Because it wasn’t blood. Not anymore.
The water in the cabin sudden dried up and Carla, putting all her weight on the wound, fell in. Splash. She came up with a big breath like someone who’d just been pushed into a swimming pool.
And, with her powers restored, Kyeongwan rose in the dark.
She lit the dark.
In an instant, she zipped to Jerry, snatching him from Sami’s clutches. As a being of pure energy, she struck him down, carrying him by the throat to the tallest building and when she reformed, the static of her hair settling, Jerry had been speared through the chest by a lightning rod.
Sami watched through a hole in the plane.
The silence of victory was interrupted by a monstrous roar. The battle had not been kind to the plane, but it was still in the air, but a wild boar bucked and thrashed and destroyed what little was left of the interior and lit the dark with baby blue eyes burning hot red that shredded the cabin.
An exhausting spurt of energy left The Classic ruined. He fell forward. Into a hole he’d made for himself.
“You can’t leave me like this,” Jerry said.
Of course he snuck those pills. He knew what they were and he did nothing to stop The Director because it benefited him. He wasn’t dead. He wasn’t even dying. He was just stuck.
“Why not?” Kyeongwan asked.
The hulking mass of the roided out Classic crashed into the streets, but Kyeongwan knew, like always, he’d get up.
Jerry yelled after her, “Don’t leave!”
She zipped away.
A firehose hits with all the force of 400 pounds per square inch. Kyeongwan launched from her spot with an icy fist that shattered against the roided-out hulk and once drenched, the follow-up shock weakened even his knees. He crumpled.
She scanned the horizon for where the plane had gone down. A plume of smoke rose above the city’s skyline. She sprayed herself toward the roof of a nearby building to take a direct approach that way, but on her ascent, The Classic uppercut her in two. She dripped off the trees lining the streets.
He landed, his white cape fluttering heroically with the breeze. The burns on his scalp had healed but there was no hair still. No beard. Just emptiness across his face.
She slipped him off his feet so his nose should’ve been crushed, then she dragged him across the pavement face first. There was a trail in the pavement from his nose. But he rose with that same blank face looking at her. No pain. No rage. Nothing.
“Stay down!” She geysered him into the sky and appeared over him then thunderstruck him into the crater again, digging it deeper, leaving him surrounded by long, hollow fulgurite tubes.
Jerry watched the fight from his stake. He saw the two go at it. He saw the plume of smoke on the horizon shift directions with the wind.
She zipped toward a flag pole draped Australian.
She didn’t reach it.
The lightning struck The Classic’s barrel chest and she flowed through him. They fell to the pavement. He wasn’t down yet.
“We have to go!” Carla yelled.
The plane fell out of the clouds. The aerodynamic engineering made for a stable descent but there was no slowing down and eventually they’d hit more than clouds.
“What else have you done?” Sami demanded of The Director.
But he wouldn’t talk. He sat in his seat, buckled up, and checked the tray table.
“Leave him!” Carla opened a portal between Sami and him. When she refused to go, Carla gave a push, effective only as motivation. And as they came out the other side at some random location safely on the ground, Carla lectured her. “What is wrong with both of you? Are you that dead set on dying for a cause? Because I’m not!”
Sami figured out where it would crash. “Open a portal over there.”
The sound of frustration echoed through Carla’s abyss.
A massive fist charged her way, but she didn’t flinch. She understood. It splattered her to rain. She collected in the cracked street then stood up. “I don’t have time,” Kyeongwan said.
With all his advantages, with all his powers, with all his fame and rage, he was nothing against her. His tantrums hurt no more than a child crying in the sea.
But she couldn’t get away.
“Why are you even doing this? Why help him? You don’t need him!”
“I need the show.”
He let her hit him. He hit her back. Neither stopped. Neither would be stopped like this.
In trying to end this quickly to check on Sami, Kyeongwan let the fight drag on longer than it should’ve. Hit and run tactics were no good. She carried in her a force that eclipsed the sun. She burned at 30,000 Kelvin. Her lightning punch cracked the atmosphere and the concussive force of her thunder could shatter windows across the block.
Why was she holding back?
She charged up.
Soared his way.
Her heat marred the street.
When a bright red light clashed with her, and she was human again, halfway to him.
To beat pure energy, he used his own. His baby blues lit red.
“Where is he?”
“Not counting on that!”
The plane burned. The desert past the city limits turned to glass. And Carla’s only way of stopping Sami was getting in her way because she was strong but not fireproof. Another fuel tank exploded. The arc of flame headed their way and Carla portaled it safely somewhere else.
“He has to be here somewhere.”
He stepped out to sit on a rock. “I actually landed a bit over there, but I knew you’d head this way. I planned for this. I planned all of this.”
“Your bodyguard’s getting his ass fried. Your backup’s got a hole in his chest 50 feet up. And there’s no one here to protect you from me.” Sami grabbed him by the shirt collar. “Some great mastermind.”
“Sure there is.”
The convention goers had marched past the city population sign on the highway. They were nearly here and many were supercharged.
“It’ll only take a minute what I have in mind.”
“But I don’t need them either.”
A drone flew into view.
“This is all I need. Cutting between a show of force at the city center and a show of genius out here. Who’s going to come out on top? Whatever happens, it’ll be the show of the century.”
A being of pure energy like Kyeongwan is not a being of unlimited energy. She was at an impasse, and she was waning. She was hungry.
Switching tactics, ice and water, she knew what would happen. She could feel it like deja vu.
She glanced down at the sapphire in her wrist.
She tried it anyway.
She surfed toward him and at the last second--Michelangelo couldn’t have carved a sculpture more lifelike than her ice. But in a contest of force, he’d clearly win. He stopped her in place then lobbed her through the air.
Toward the city’s reservoir.
The water inside swirled and built and she felt all of it fall under her control. She never knew such power. It wasn’t the intensity but the sheer mass. The weight of her.
As the super powered masses approached Sami, Carla and The Director, camera drones appeared from behind the wreckage. They projected a screen for everyone to see Kyeongwan versus The Classic. The masses stopped to watch.
Kyeongwan conquered and tried to flee, but the hero wouldn’t let her.
She tried putting him down, but he wouldn’t stay.
A big spectacle of water and flash, and when it washed away, nothing.
Kyeongwan reformed and saw the big man still standing, a wall standing tall against the forces of change. He could not stop her, but she could not affect him.
They stared each other down across the bomb shattered streets.
Her face gave it away, but by the time he turned to see what surprised her, an icy fist knocked his teeth loose.
“Miss me?” Slip said.
“It doesn’t matter who you recruit to your side,” The Director said. He’d taken position on the opposite side of the screen. The heroes on the left, him on the right.
Sami just watched the audience in the center.
A shift was coming.
“Thanks for holding onto this for me,” Slip said and Kyeongwan saw the sapphire had been lost with the current and was now safely in the hands of its rightful owner.
The Classic stood on the street, a bit dazed, but shaking it off.
One tidal wave hadn’t done it, but maybe two would. Maybe one with icicles at the froth, maybe one laced with electric current.
As the two rushed to hug each other once more, they clashed with The Classic at the center.
The crowd of freaks and outcasts, finally empowered with years of vitriol building up, watched the scene He’d constructed, and The Director watched them for their reactions. His excitement titillated as the group went quiet.
A con goer floating above the rest for a perfect view of the monitor asked, “Why are you letting them win?”
The Director was too shocked to answer. These were the #1 fans. Content creators and enthusiasts willing to pay quite a bit for con tickets, hotel, travel, and the works. Most probably bought food at the convention! Paid for limited edition merchandise that would be reprinted in a year or two for wide release. They should know nothing was staged. This was just what was happening.
But he couldn’t remind them of that before they all swarmed on the same question.
They didn’t get it.
The Classic wouldn’t stay down. Try and try and try and the two did, but he wouldn’t stop. Fatigue started to show on Kyeongwan. At first, they’d meet in the center, but these last few, Slip would hit him then Kyeongwan followed up. The struggle to continue showed while The Classic was every bit as brutal and invincible as at the start. How long until she couldn’t?
They were about to go in for another attack when Kyeongwan’s legs froze.
She looked to Slip. “Unnie?”
“Sorry, kid,” Slip said. “I thought I was shaking off the rust today, and maybe I was holding back last time, but that’s not it. I don’t think we can win this. It’s my mess. I’ve let it pile up and only I’ve gotta eat it.”
“I don’t understand it.”
“Me neither. I let him rampage for so long. If I’d just bucked up and stopped it, maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Slip tackled The Classic into that reservoir Kyeongwan had emptied. It was deep enough. She drew the water that had seeped into the drainage grates and pulled the soil dry. She buried herself and The Classic under a lake then froze it all.
“You can’t stay forever with him!” Kyeongwan pounded on the surface. It hurt. She couldn’t liquify. She couldn’t freeze. She couldn’t join the fight. She could just yell at a frozen lake in Australia. “You can’t sacrifice yourself for him!”
She waited to hear her voice. Her response. For the next round of the fight to start, but there was silence.
The Director yelled, “Get back here!” But nobody listened. His spell had been broken. His powers no longer worked. The authority he’d gathered with years of credibility and the threat of tantrums had been shattered and without it, he had little influence anywhere.
The con goers marched on the city.
Kyeongwan zipped over but paid no mind.
Sami was on the outskirts of town. It was her and Carla, then The Director sitting on a rock with his head in his hands.
“You did it, squish,” Sami said.
The screen was still broadcasting the city street they’d been fighting on. The camera drone moved in slow circles, checking the arena, but nothing had changed.
Then the lake started to bubble again. A hunk of ice shot up. Cracked apart. It was The Classic.
The Director looked up with a renewed spirit.
Kyeongwan charged up to zip back, but Sami put a calming hand on her should.
Some new actors entered the arena. A whole mob of them. The con goers. And they were mad.
One aged actor with all the powers or a mob of angry youths with the same powers split among them.
They tore him apart.
Jerry watched from the lightning rod. He could do nothing to help, though he wanted to. He yelled and his words were lost among the noise.
Slip slipped away down the rushing sewer drain.
“Is it over?”
An investigation started shortly after. First by Australia, and not many cared, but then the US media picked it up and Orange Peals got torched. They had all the footage, but for some reason, the fans at the convention that had chased Kyeongwan down got the credit. Forum posts were cited on the 24 hours news. Conspiracy videos uploaded on the OP site. Many employees at the company were interviewed and shamed. A lot of actors had trouble finding work.
For about 6 months.
Once those actors started appearing in the next season of shows, doing a circuit of talk shows talking about their latest projects and getting softball questions, a wave of reminders came. “Don’t you remember what these people did? Drugged the water supplies, destroyed cities, covered up work accidents that led to workplace fatalities, broke SAG-AFTRA rules!” And with that wave came threats of jail time. It might happen in a few years. Then the pushback to the pushback came from fans of the show that had forgotten how bad that last season was and just remembered the good ole days. Whatever bad taste stuck was pinned on The Director, though it was impossible to see the threads he pulled to make all that possible without a spectacle of powers himself, and so the blame spread out indiscernibly.