Chapter 14 – Fledgling Heroism

5 Days Later

Damn… this is harder than I expected.

From his perch atop one of the many apartment buildings in the city, Pierce stared down at the streets below, bathed as they were in the darkness of night. Sunset had only passed a couple hours ago, though activity was still low — it was a weeknight, after all.

Pierce slowly swept his eyes across the quiet side streets, his brow furrowed as he attempted to find any signs of nefarious activity. After several minutes of intense staring, his search returned unsuccessful; with an irritated grunt, he leaped to another building down the block and began watching over a different set of streets. This wasn’t his first night out, clad in black and wearing a balaclava — in fact, he had spent every night since Saturday out and about, searching for any signs of crime that he could stop. And just as with all of those previous nights, tonight he simply could not find anything worth mentioning.

I want to fucking DO something already, he thought irately, but you can’t stop crime if you can’t find it in the first place. A sigh escaped his lips as he continued scanning the streets below. …I guess the fact that I can’t find any crime is a good sign, all things considered. Or maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places. Or the wrong times…

He glanced down at his watch, noting that it read just past 9 o’clock PM. Evenings weren’t exactly his favorite time of day; in fact, he preferred to be asleep by 10 or 11, so as to rise with or just before the sun — mornings were his favorite time to go for runs. But when it came to his attempts to find and stop crime, he figured that it would be far easier to move around the city unseen under the cover of night.  Though it’ll be hard to keep that up soon, huh, since I move back to Caltech in a few days… and classes start in a week and a half. Damn, my summer really just flew past, didn’t it? A lot of shit happened, so that would explain it, I guess. A smirk gradually found its way onto his face. I have a lot of fodder for stories, now, though. Pretty sure I’m the only techer who got to go off-world this summer, so I’m going to be the talk of the campus, aren’t I? Ha!

As he continued looking out for crime in the city below, Pierce’s thoughts began to turn back to the outreach program that had brought him to Ainminthalus. The program had been a joint effort between Earth’s SERRCom and the Nimalian Union to give regular citizens of both cultures the opportunity to meet and learn from each other. To that end, SERRCom had opened up applications to college students all across Earth, with an advertised one thousand slots to fill. Pierce and Phoenix had been quick to jump at the opportunity, and both successfully made it through several rounds of applications — academic and physical, combined. The two had also encouraged their other friends, particularly Conrad and Kestrel, to apply, but ultimately Pierce and Phoenix were the only members of their friend groups to be selected.

Both of them SHOULD have been able to make it, if Phoenix and I did, Pierce mused. I bet Conrad just didn’t try hard enough, the lazy bastard. Kestrel, though… maybe she just didn’t have a compatible degree, or something. What degree IS she going for, again? I know she goes to Harvard… which is mostly known for law. I guess intergalactic space-law isn’t a thing? That doesn’t sound right… hey, wait a minute. If Kestrel’s going for a law degree, then she ought to know something about criminal activity, right? Ha! Finally, a lead!

Pierce quickly whipped out his phone and dialed Kestrel, at which point he held the device up to his ear and impatiently waited for her to pick up.

Several seconds later, he heard the familiar sound of his call connecting — followed by silence. “Yo, Kestrel, you there?” he questioned.

«…Yes,» came the the soft-spoken reply.

“You got time for a quick chat? I just have a few questions.”

«Okay…»

Curt as ever, huh, he thought idly. “Alright, then. You go to Harvard, right? What do you know about criminal activity?”

«What…?»

“You know, like, when are criminals most active? What time of day, or even time of year. And how fast do police typically respond?”

«…Why would I know?»

“What? C’mon, you’re studying law, right?”

«No. Business.»

“Wait, what? You’re going for a bog-standard business degree?”

«Yes.»

“At Harvard?!”

«Yes…»

“You have to be kidding, right? There are easier schools to go to if you just want a business degree.”

«I know.»

“Why a business degree in the first place, anyways? You can do way better than that. You could certainly go for something more interesting, at least.”

«Mm…»

“But, still. You’re at Harvard, so you had to’ve picked up something about law and criminals just from osmosis. Can you tell me anything?”

«Why not look it up?»

“And have that shit forever tied to my profile? No thanks.”

«…You want secrecy?»

Yes, that’s the idea. That’s why I called you. Seeing as calls are encrypted nowadays, this ought to be more secure than just jumping on the fucking Internet.” Pierce sighed warily. “But if you don’t know anything, then I guess I don’t have much of a choice.”

«Are you… fighting crime?»

“…I’m not not doing that.”

«Are you using your… abilities?»

Pierce’s brow furrowed in apprehension. “…And if I am?” he eventually replied.

«Phoenix said—»

“Yes, I know what Phoenix said, but she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, so I’ve chosen to ignore her. I’ll be perfectly fine.”

«…Okay. Still…»

“Look, I’ve got this figured out. No one can tell that I’m me, and I only run at night. It’s a flawless plan!”

«…»

“Just, keep this conversation between us. If Phoenix finds out, then she’ll never stop riding my ass about it, and I think we both know how much that sucks.”

«Not really.»

“…Alright, look here—” Pierce started, his face scrounged up in a scowl, but then he jumped as the sound of a distant gunshot reached his ears. He whipped his head around and searched the block for any signs of a gunman… at which point he noticed two hooded figures, both somewhat hunched over, rush out of a convenience store down the block.

«…Pierce?»

“Sorry, gotta go!” Pierce shouted as he leaped down to the street below. “Remember, keep this between us!”

Without waiting for a response, he ended the call and shoved his phone back into his pocket. Finally! A crime to stop, he thought with a grin, and then dashed down the block at supersonic speeds. In less than a second, he arrived at the entrance to the convenience store, where he took a moment to peer through the windows. All of the shelves that he could see appeared to be undisturbed, and from what he could tell of the cashier area, nothing there seemed out of place, either. Just as he began to doubt that this was the correct store — or that he had misinterpreted what had just happened — he saw someone peak up from behind the cash register, make momentary eye contact with him, and then duck back behind the counter.

Doesn’t seem like normal cashier behavior to me, Pierce observed, better ask if everything’s okay. He quickly approached the door and rushed through it, keeping an eye on his surroundings at the same time. “Hey,” he called out to the person cowering behind the counter, “are you—?”

“We’re all out!” came a panicked response, “I, I already emptied the register! There’s nothing more to take!”

Pierce stared incredulously at the counter space where the voice was coming from. “What? I’m not—! Oh…” He reflexively reached up and touched his face — which was currently covered by a black balaclava. “…Hey, I’m not here to steal anything. I’m not a criminal,” he insisted, “you’ve misunderstood. I’m just checking if you’re okay!”

“If you want me to be okay, then get out of my store!”

“Hmph!” Pierce scowled. “I’ll just assume that you’re fine, then. But when I go catch those other guys who stole from you and return your shit, I expect a thanks!”

Without waiting for a response, Pierce spun on his heel and launched himself out of the store, smashing through the windowed door with his speed. Once outside, he took but a brief moment to scan the surrounding area before deciding to simply rush through the streets on foot — he did have superspeed, after all, and not much time had passed since he saw the two figures leave the store. They couldn’t have gotten far.

Immediately, he took off down the sidewalk and zig-zagged his way through the local intersections — and, sure enough, he soon found two hunched-over hooded figures running down an alleyway. Neither seemed to notice him as he rushed through the streets at over three times the speed of sound; with a smirk on his face, Pierce took advantage of that to appear in front of them, stopping nigh-instantly to make it seem as though he had appeared out of thin air. Not even all that far from the truth, really. Ha!

“What the—!” One of the hooded figures jumped in surprise as they noticed Pierce appear in front of them. “Where, where the hell did you come from?!”

Where I came from doesn’t matter,” Pierce countered, his arms crossed and his feet planted at shoulder-width as he puffed his chest out. “What does matter is that the two of you are going to drop everything that you stole. Right here, right now.”

“We didn’t steal jack shit,” the other hooded figure shot back. Between the dark of night and their hoods, Pierce couldn’t quite tell what the two looked like, but from the pitch and timber of their voices, he guessed that the first one who spoke was a woman, while the other was a man.

Pierce turned his attention away from analyzing their voices to focus on their words. “Didn’t steal jack shit, huh? I guess you just happen to be running down a quiet alley with hoods up, away from a store that was just stolen from, huh? What a coincidence!”

“We don’t have to answer to you,” the man snapped back. “Who the hell are you, anyways?”

“Looks like some kinda hero wannabe to me,” the woman remarked. Pierce couldn’t see her face, but from the tone of her voice, it seemed obvious to assume she was sneering.

“I may not be a hero just yet, but don’t call me a ‘wannabe’, either,” Pierce countered. “Regardless, you should know that you aren’t going any farther than this. Not without surrendering. After all, you can’t outrun a Speed Demon!”

“…This place is just gettin’ weirder and weirder,” the man muttered.

“And we don’t know what you’re talking about, anyways,” the woman replied as she pulled her hand out of her jacket, revealing that she was wielding a gun. “Now get out of our way,” she demanded as she pointed the gun at Pierce, “or you’ll be the one who drops.”

Pierce reflexively flinched away at the sight of the gun, but still managed to maintain his confident composure. “You know, because I’m a nice guy, I’m going to give you two one last chance,” he declared. “But if you fire that gun, then it’s over.”

The two hooded figures glanced at each other; they didn’t exchange any words, but a moment later, the woman shrugged — and then the muzzle of her gun flashed.

These idiots never listen, do they? Pierce pursed his lips in mild irritation as he easily sidestepped the bullet, allowing it to whiz by his head. He glanced behind himself to make sure the bullet didn’t hit anyone else, and then turned back to face the hooded figures, who both seemed frozen in surprise. Taking advantage of the opening, Pierce sped to the woman’s side and yanked the gun out of her hands, at which point he grabbed the weapon by its muzzle and clubbed her over the head with it. She immediately slumped to the ground.

“What?! You—!” the hooded man started, but Pierce interrupted his exclamation by whipping around and chucking the gun at him. An instant later, the gun slammed into the man’s arm — and to Pierce’s surprise, it did so with a sickening snap.

“AAAGH!!” The man roared in pain and clutched at his arm, collapsing to one knee as he did so. “Argh… fuck!”

“What…?” Pierce drew back in surprise, and then in disgust when he caught sight of the man’s arm, which was now hanging at an angle that seemed far from natural — and also seemed to have some kind of odd, sharp protrusion sticking out of it. What the? Did I— did I throw it too fast?!

“Fuck! Damn it,” the man growled out through clenched teeth, his chest heaving with ragged breaths. “What… what the fuck was that?!”

“That, uh…” Pierce stuttered out, fighting to maintain his composure as he reconciled his actions with the scene before him. This wasn’t the first time he had attempted to disable someone with his speed, but it was the first time his actions had resulted in visible injury. And if he had managed to accidentally throw a gun with enough force to break a man’s arm, then…

He stepped back and looked down at the woman he had knocked out. In the dark alley, it was difficult to tell what kind of shape she was in, but as she lay crumpled on the ground, her body still, Pierce couldn’t shake the feeling that he had witnessed a scene like this before. An accident caused by a Chaotic, the misuse of powers, and… What the…? Pierce looked down at his right arm. It feels sticky… like it’s covered in…!

A sharp pain shot through his chest, followed by a reflexive dry heave. Pierce momentarily dropped to his knees and clutched at his chest, his breathing ragged, his eyes clenched shut. What the hell? Damn it, get a hold of it, man! What’s even happening? This isn’t how it was supposed to go—!

A sudden blow to the side of his head ripped him out of his thoughts. He collapsed to the side, startled, but quickly jumped back to his feet and whipped around to face the man — who had managed to grab the gun with his good arm and was now holding it directly toward Pierce. The sound of a small metal object clambering to the cement at his feet was enough to tell Pierce what had just happened, and another flash emanating from the gun’s muzzle was all he needed to spring back into action. With ease, he evaded the next bullet and then grabbed the gun out of the man’s hands before chucking it at the ground, his arm moving through the throwing motion so fast that the gun completely shattered on impact. Then, without waiting for any kind of response, Pierce leaped up to the top of the adjacent building and then launched himself through the air down the block. He continued leaping several more times, covering several blocks of the city before finally stopping at the edge of a six-story apartment building. It was only then that he realized that he was hyperventilating, and placed a hand over his chest as he attempted to calm himself.

Several seconds later, after he had managed to slow his breathing to just faster than normal, he looked down at his right arm. Earlier, he could have sworn that he felt some sort of warm, wet, sticky sensation across it, but as he inspected his arm and his sleeve now — nothing about them seemed off. They looked completely clean. What the hell was all of that? His face scrounged up into a deep scowl. Was that a… panic attack? No. Me? Panic, like that? No way. That— the only reason everything went south was because of that damn gun. If they hadn’t had a gun, everything would’ve been fine, like those other two guys I took down last Saturday. Everything would’ve been fine…

He glanced over his shoulder, back toward where he had come from. A second later he shook his head and turned around, launching himself off of the building in the direction of home.

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