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Authors: Michael Carroll

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BOOK: Super Human
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I’ve got to do
something.
They won’t be expecting me—they’ll have seen the copter leave, so they’ll probably think that they’re facing only Max and the others.
She couldn’t help wishing that she had Max’s powers instead of her own.
A woman’s voice: “Cuff them and drag them inside. The more hostages the better. Have you . . .” A pause. “Tell me that’s not the famous Maxwell Dalton!” The woman laughed. “Oh, this is better than Christmas and the Fourth of July all rolled into one!”
“There’ll be others,” a man said. “Quantum or Energy or one of that lot.”
“Them I don’t care about. It’s Paragon that worries me—his armor could be environmentally sealed. Now move. The Helotry don’t like to be kept waiting.”
There were scuffling and grunting sounds, which quickly died away. Roz dropped flat onto her stomach and squirmed forward. Making as little noise as possible, she crawled through the bushes, but stopped before she reached the clearing.
Halfway to the power plant’s wrecked gateway, eight men were dragging Max and the Rangers along the ground, one leg each.
The eight men were dressed in full-face ski masks and light body armor over gray combat fatigues, but she couldn’t see any sort of insignia that might give her a clue as to who they were or where they had come from. The men were carrying machine guns and were accompanied by two others—one leading, the other taking up the rear.
It was clear to Roz that these men knew what they were doing: The man at the rear of the pack was walking backward, his head swiveling back and forth as he kept watch.
If I wait until they get inside the building I won’t have a chance,
Roz thought. Whatever she was going to do, it had to happen within the next couple of minutes.
But even if she could somehow disable all ten of the gray-clad men, Max and the Rangers were still handcuffed, and almost certainly still weak from whatever it was they’d been hit with.
Then she saw her chance: Stephen Oxford suddenly doubled over, his body racked in a violent coughing fit. Roz hoped Ox was faking it—if he wasn’t, he was definitely in a bad way—but didn’t waste time wondering: The gray men had dropped him, instinctively stepped back.
She leaped to her feet and ran straight toward the distracted men. The rear guard saw her first, raised his weapon to his shoulder.
Roz concentrated on the machine gun, telekinetically ripped it out of his grip, then spun it in the air. The butt of the gun viciously clipped him across the forehead, sent him staggering backward into one of his colleagues.
Before the others realized what was happening, she focused on one of the two men dragging Max and twisted his ski mask around his head so that it covered his eyes. He didn’t react as she’d hoped, by dropping Max’s leg or lowering his weapon: Instead he shouted, “Incoming!”
The other gray men immediately crouched, automatically forming a defensive circle with their backs to each other.
Roz changed course, darted away from them toward a shallow depression in the ground. Before she reached it a bullet whizzed past her head, and another clipped the right shoulder of her uniform.
Roz dove headfirst to the ground, rolled onto her back, and began to squirm backward. From this angle she couldn’t see the gray men—which meant that they couldn’t see her.
Then her hand brushed against something: a discarded fist-sized half brick. She grabbed it, threw it into the air, and before it could fall back to the ground she took hold of it telekinetically, launched it toward the gray men. She climbed into a crouch, just high enough to watch as the gray men saw the brick coming and dodged aside—but they clearly weren’t aware that they were facing a telekinetic: Roz steered the brick straight into the chest of one of the men. The impact knocked him over.
The one with the twisted ski mask ripped it off his head and ran for the compound. Roz didn’t care whether he was running away or going for help—either way it was one less for her to worry about right now.
She picked up the brick again, set it on a course for another man’s head. This one was clearly not as panicked as the others: He waited until the last second before ducking aside.
Need something bigger than just a brick. . . .
A large sheet of cement-spackled plywood was resting against the compound’s wall. She lifted the plywood sheet into the air, whirled it about, placed it between herself and the men. She pushed it forward—the closer it was to them, the more it restricted their view.
Then one of the men opened fire.
Roz threw herself back to the ground as a ragged line of bullet-holes appeared in the plywood sheet.
There was a shout of,
“You idiot! No!”
followed by a long, sharp scream.
The gunfire abruptly stopped.
Someone had been hit.
Roz stared. The perforated sheet of plywood wavered in the air.
For a moment, there was nothing but silence.
Then the guns erupted once more, a torrent of bullets that tore the plywood sheet into sawdust.
CHAPTER 5
Twelve miles away from the Midway nuclear power plant, Ab-Twelve miles away from the Midway nuclear power plant, Abigail de Luyando glared at the six kids in the corner booth and wished they would either order something else or get out. She’d been working since eight-thirty that morning and it was now coming up on seven in the evening. Almost eleven hours on her feet and so far today she’d made only eight dollars and twenty-five cents in tips.
Every seat and booth in the 1950s-style diner was occupied, and outside the door the long line of potential customers was growing, even though those at the end of the line probably wouldn’t get a table for over an hour. The kids in the corner booth were taking up space that could otherwise have been occupied by people a little more generous with their money. She had given them the check twenty minutes ago and so far all they’d done with it was make a paper plane.
But Abby knew that she couldn’t push them too hard. Some of them knew who she was and if she got on their bad side they might tell her manager that she was only fourteen. Worse, they might tell her mother that she hadn’t been to school in weeks and was now working full-time at Leftover’s Finer Diner.
She walked over to the booth, pulling her notepad and pencil out of her apron pocket. “Can I get you guys anything else before you go?”
The nearest boy leered at her, a big cheesy grin on his face. He grabbed hold of her bare arm, holding on tight enough to leave a white mark on her dark skin. “How about your phone number?” Abby thought that he would have been good-looking if not for his impressive collection of acne scars and his tarnished silver nose ring.
Abby pulled her arm free. “No can do. I don’t have a phone. But I’m saving up my tips for one.”
Four of the boy’s friends went “Oooh!” and laughed, but the one closest to the wall—a white girl Abby vaguely remembered from middle school—made a face and said, “
Here’s
a tip: Be nicer to the customers and they might keep coming back.”
Abby faked a laugh while she mentally pictured herself beating up the girl with a chair. “You got me there. Look, guys, if you’re not going to order anything else I’ll have to ask you to leave.” She tilted her head toward the door. “There’s a whole line of people waiting.”
“Sure, yeah,” the nose-ring boy said as he turned back to his friends. “Coupla minutes, OK?”
Abby nodded and returned to the counter. The manager—a pale twenty-year-old with limp hair and a shirt that was three sizes too big—tapped a cheerful, rapid beat on the counter with his hands and said, “Come on, kiddo, pull it together. Only three more hours to go!”
“Easy for you to say, Dave. You’ve only been here since five.”
Dave’s grin slipped a little. “Table four are waiting for their check and the guy on seven dropped his cheeseburger. New one’s coming up now.” The cook passed three plates through the little window from the kitchen, and Dave slid them toward Abby. “Table two. Bacon fries, club with no lettuce, tortilla platter. And they want a strawberry malt and a Diet-Pepsi float.”
Abby spent the next fifteen minutes bustling back and forth between the tables, the register, the counter, and the kitchen window. The only other waitress on duty that evening was Mandy, a forty-three-year-old mother of four who had spent almost the whole shift sitting in the kitchen and complaining to the cook about how busy the diner was.
There should have been four people covering the floor, but Keith and Jasmine had called in sick at the last minute, so Abby was practically working the whole place on her own.
Mentally she was exhausted, but physically she still felt as fresh as she had that morning. It took something a great deal more strenuous than a double-shift in the diner to wear Abby out.
There’s got to be a better way to earn some money,
she said to herself.
I hardly need superhuman strength to carry plates around.
Almost exactly eight months earlier, Abigail de Luyando discovered that she was not an ordinary person. It had been a Friday night—early Saturday morning, really—and she’d been locking up the diner when two men pushed open the door and demanded that she hand over the contents of the register.
Without thinking, she’d picked up a steel tray and thrown it at the nearest man. It slammed into his forehead and knocked him backward over a table. The second man lunged at her: Abby grabbed his arm, picked up a fork, and stabbed it down through the sleeve of his leather biker’s jacket and into the counter. As he struggled to get free she punched him in the face, knocking him out cold.
When the cops arrived to arrest the would-be robbers they had to leave the jacket behind: No matter how hard they pulled, they weren’t able to remove the fork from the countertop.
The following morning, Abby arrived at the diner to find Dave the manager’s normally pale face red with effort as he struggled to wrench the fork free. “How did you
do
that?” he’d asked her.
“Just lucky, I guess.” When she was sure he wasn’t watching, Abby grabbed hold of the fork. It came free of the counter as easily as if it had been stuck into a stack of pancakes, and the jacket slid to the floor.
After the morning rush was over, Abby had gone out to the large, cluttered yard at the back of Leftover’s Finer Diner. Piled up in one corner was a collection of weather-tarnished aluminum tubes and panels, discarded after the diner’s refit the previous year.
Abby picked up one of the longer tubes and twisted it into a knot like it was Play-Doh. Shaking her head with disbelief, she threw the tube to one side and—just to see what would happen—she aimed a punch at one of the aluminum panels.
It was like pushing her fist through rice paper.
Over the following weeks, Abby had experimented and practiced every free moment. She was stronger and faster than a normal fourteen-year-old girl should be, but she quickly discovered a strange quirk of her abilities: She could just barely pick up four cinder blocks in one go, but had little trouble tipping over a much heavier Dumpster. She was able to flick pennies across the counter with such force that they buried themselves so deep in the wall that she couldn’t dig them out, but couldn’t throw a ceramic cup much farther than an ordinary person.
Her powers really worked only on metal objects.
By seven-thirty the line outside the diner had thinned a little: Mandy hadn’t taken a break in half an hour. The pressure eased enough for Abby to tackle the corner booth once more.
“Sorry to interrupt your fun, guys, but we’re running a business here. Time you moved on.”
The boy with the nose ring smirked. “And what if we don’t?”
“See the sign by the door? The management reserves the right to refuse admission. You do want to be allowed in next time, don’t you?”
“All right, all right. We get the message.”
Five of them slid out of the booth, but the last—the girl Abby remembered from school—lingered. She began poking through the pile of dollar bills and loose change on the table. “Let’s see. . . . Check comes to thirteen seventy-five. . . .” The girl counted out fourteen dollars and scooped up the rest. In an overly cheerful voice she said, “Keep the change!”
“Wow, a whole
quarter
? Thanks!”
Nose-ring boy laughed. “Cheer up, babe! Better than nothing!” He slapped Abby on the backside.
She rounded on him. “Get out!”
His grin spread. “Y’know, my friends are still a little hungry. Maybe they’ll stay a while and you and me can—”
A soft but clear voice from behind him said, “Maybe you’d better do as she says.”
Nose-ring turned to see a tall African-American teenage boy staring at him from the counter. “What’s it got to do with you, beanpole? You can just—” Nose-ring boy’s mouth kept moving, but no sound came out. He paused, frowned. Tried to say something else. His eyes grew wide and he looked like he was on the edge of a panic attack.
BOOK: Super Human
7.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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