1.01 – Initiation

(Just putting up a final trigger warning right here. If you are concerned about that kind of thing, look at the About page – all the details are up there. In short, be prepared for violence, profanity, disturbing moments and controversial topics.)
—///—

I hadn’t expected my first period to be as bloody as it was.

  I had been warned some blood would be involved. This was something I could handle. What I could not handle was a fucking knife sprouting out of my hand and slicing my left arm open.

  I had woken up that morning, knowing with growing displeasure that I had to get ready for school and that I had to suffer through that shit, like it or not. I had eaten my solitary breakfast, as I usually did when my mom worked late nights and was therefore down and out up until noon. I brushed my teeth, feeling the first cramps that I had known were coming. I was almost 13. They were natural, Mom had said.

  What wasn’t natural was what happened when I went to grab the backpack I always forgot to bring downstairs. What wasn’t natural was the small, metallic, shiny orb that fell out of my hand.

  I leaned down, telling myself it was probably a dime or something that had been entangled in my shirt. After all, nothing about periods involved shitting out spare change, right?

  Well, it wasn’t a dime. It was definitely a small orb. What it was, I had no idea. Where it came from? Less than no idea. Negative idea? Whatever. That really wasn’t important right now. I decided I’d just ignore it, go downstairs, grab a knife, cut up some fruit for my lunch real quick before-

  The orb became a knife.

  It had started by elongating, stretching out to form a smooth but definite hilt, before a blade sprung from one end, sharpening itself as it reached its tip, glistening and most definitely sharp enough to hurt someone. What had once been a small, insignificant orb on my bedroom floor was now a very real, very dangerous knife.

  My heart was pounding out of my chest now. How the hell had that happened? “M-” I began to mutter, still at an age where my mother would presumably know exactly what was going on, but it did no good. The words wouldn’t form. I shook my head, my breathing speeding up, and decided to just pick up the knife, take it up to my mother, explain what happened, and stop worrying about it. Even the dread of school had been stricken from my mind.

  I reached out to grab the knife, and that’s when it all went wrong.

  The knife lurched towards my hand, as if returning itself on some sort of command, except I hadn’t expected it. Thankfully, it didn’t stab me directly in the palm, but its tip scratched halfway down my left arm before the blunt end bounced off my stomach and fell to an abrupt stop on the carpet.

  I felt the sharp stab of pain before looking down at my arm, looking at this strange cut, the cut that was now bleeding profusely. Red drops began to spill onto the floor. That’s when I let out a scream.

  The scream would, of course, wake my mother, who I could hear moving around across the house urgently. This is the event that would occupy my attention, the one that distracted my from the river of blood my arm had formed. What I didn’t notice was the knife’s sudden disappearance, shrinking back into a perfect, chrome orb. I didn’t notice as the orb silently met the pale skin of my bare foot before pushing itself in, disappearing into my body again.

  I had known from a young age what a Deviant was. I didn’t expect to be one myself.

—///—

  My name is Cassandra Jansen. I’m a fucking superhero.

  Well, I was supposed to be. That didn’t mean I could find myself on the Internet anywhere, blowing off basic coding for the fifth time this week. Alright, full confession: at the current moment in time, I was supposed to be working on coding. It was an easy class, especially for me, considering I knew how to work a computer better than I could hold a conversation with an actual human being. So I took the damn elective.

  But I, the 15-year old enthusiastic superhero that had just broken up several gang meetings over the past week, evidently did not exist. Let’s think of my career so far: Monday, beat up a few gang members. Ended up in a dumpster, but I still won. Tuesday, followed some gang members, beat up a lot more. Wednesday, met this psycho who called herself “Equilibrium”. Told me she was immune to superpowers. Beat her up anyways. Thursday, took a rain check.

  Today was Friday, and I had yet to be noticed. Not even some shoddy YouTube “security camera” footage. This was ridiculous. On the one hand, maybe my state of permanent obscurity would help make my crime-fighting escapades easier. On the other, there was the small part of me that needed to be reaffirmed.

  A “You’re doing a good job, Cassandra,” or “We’d be lost without you, Cassandra,” would be nice. Well, maybe the second one is a bit overboard. But if I don’t know if they care, how do I keep caring?

  Or maybe you’re just an attention whore.

  That was the part of my brain that I’d spent years trying to turn off. Hadn’t quite figured that out yet.

  Giving up on searching for myself on the internet, I closed out the multitude of tabs with Google searches like “armored avenger” or “iron woman”. Maybe I should figure out my codename already. Probably a good idea. I sighed and resorted to my usual web browsing habits: Deviant news, followed by Deviant sightings, followed by Deviant rights protests.

  Context: Deviants. The targets of my obsession since I was 9, 10 years after the world at large discovered people were getting super powers. Not the psychic bullshit or adrenaline crap people claim to have all the time. Legitimate powers, like hydrokinesis – the power of Lillian Masters, the Deviant who flooded Seattle in 2009 and woke the world up. Now, Deviants were as commonplace as any other minority, for better or worse.

  Then, when I was 12, I had summoned a knife and cut my arm open, leaving a scar that hasn’t bothered to leave. Granted, there were worse scars some Deviants got – there was that one dragon hybrid that used to run around in the early 2010s, for example – so maybe I was lucky.

  It was 2025 now, and ever since I accidentally cut myself open, I started to slowly gain some semblance of control over my abilities. I began to figure out the knife I had summoned, realizing it was more than just a knife. Over the years, I gained a large degree of control over it, learning it would come back to me like a boomerang, learning to catch it without chopping my arm open. Most importantly, I discovered my real power.

  The orb that unearths itself from my skin doesn’t just turn into a knife. It turns into any weapon I want. Well, primitive weapons – I hadn’t quite figured out how to make a gun or something like that yet, but I knew Deviant powers got stronger as they aged, and I was only 15. I had time.

  I had time.

  In the meantime, even if I would still grow stronger, I was strong enough. I haven’t gotten all that injured yet, besides a few scrapes and bruises, hidden under the hoodie I thankfully always wore – granted, that was down to the costume, not talent. But I was doing okay.

  I began to scroll through my Reddit feed, bored and hunched over, but better than actually working. It took all of five minutes to find today’s breaking news. “Deviant superhero ‘Alpha’ gone rogue.” Skipping the comments (not in the mood for the arguments over Deviant rights that perpetuated the Internet), I skimmed the article.

  To make a long story short, pyrokinetic superhero “Alpha”, was a member of Terminus – a group of government-overseen superheroes, formed primarily to deal with Deviant terrorists and major threats like that. If I wanted to get registered, I would’ve tried to join them. But getting registered was the last thing I wanted to do, considering it required living under government supervision and working for them. That, or jail. No one wants to go to jail. Especially not Deviants.

  But this was something. Alpha had gone rogue, apparently went off with some other Deviant. He’d left the group, maybe become a full-blown supervillain. And that gave me one hell of an opportunity, one hell of a way to get noticed-

  This train of thought was quickly bludgeoned with a sledgehammer when Lisa Rees spoke to me. Lisa Rees, the exceedingly attractive girl I’d been crushing on for months, the one that sat next to me all semester and never noticed me till now. That Lisa Rees.

  I didn’t quite catch what Lisa said, but thankfully she repeated herself, peering over my shoulder to my screen. “What are you even doing?”

  Experience has taught me to be suspicious of people suddenly giving a fuck, considering nobody liked me. Emotion told me, Oh shit, a hot girl is giving me attention!

  Guess which side of me won.

  I immediately closed the web browser. The less people associated me with Deviants, the better. “Um, nothing. Got bored. Finished my project already.”

  Why was I speaking like a goddamn 3 year old? Was it because I had never gotten the chance to speak to her before? My complete lack of social ingenuity? Crush equals the complete breakdown of language?

  Alright, that last bit was a quote from a Deviant called Dyslexicon. Maybe I can’t break that association. Lisa looked at me with a raised eyebrow that was somehow both alluring and worrying. “Literally everyone knows you’re a Deviant nerd. Not that they all know your name.”

  Well, fuck my no-association plan. “I would hope that nobody knows my name,” I grumbled, a statement that sounded a lot edgier than I meant it, but it was painfully true.

  I wanted them to know the codename I couldn’t fucking come up with.

  “I mean, not many do,” Lisa murmured, looking back at her computer. “You’re really quiet. That’s, uh, probably why.”

  “I’m a loser,” I replied, doing my best not to look at her. At this point, I was just glad I could complete my sentences. “It’s contagious.”

  I mean, it was a terrible metaphor, but it was true. Everybody at school had sworn off talking to me when the black hoodie I always wore had slid up my arm enough to reveal my nastiest scar, about a year ago. Naturally, my classmates had decided I must be some depressed psycho and left me alone.

  On one hand, I never got bullied. On the other, no one would speak to me besides teachers and my mom. I had grown used to the silence. Of course, I always had earbuds in, blasting 80s music and David Bowie 24/7 (except now, ‘cause Lisa was talking), but that was its own form of silence.

  She shrugged. “So am I. Can’t say I care.”

  Ignoring my self-imposed rule to not look at hot girls, I turned to face her. The dark, reddish hair she had was so much neater than mine, which was tangled and short, barely falling past my chin. And blonde. Who wants blonde hair? It wasn’t even just the hair, but Lisa was about as far from a loser as I could imagine, and I said so. “Are you really, though?”

  Lisa nodded, but gave me a smile. “You’re sweet.” I’d call the maroon hair her most distinctive feature (probably dyed, I thought in hindsight) if it weren’t for the violet eyes. I heard once that she wore contacts, and that explained the eye color better than I could.

  Fuck, don’t you dare blush, Jansen.

  I just nodded, but before I could think of a suitable response, I was somehow saved by the bell. Thank God for lunch.

—///—

  Lunch hadn’t saved me.

  My initial plan had been to go to a bathroom in the corner of the school that harbored no students. This was largely because it was completely trashed, and the school board had put no effort into fixing it when so many other bathrooms dotted the campus, so I had claimed it as my own. After all, it was the only place I could find some tolerable silence.

  That was, until today, when I found another girl in my bathroom.

  “Oh, hey. I thought you’d be here quicker,” the girl said.

  Her light brown skin and prominent muscles were evident, especially because of her outfit, shorts and a T-shirt that barely covered her stomach. I assumed this was intentional, probably so she could intimidate people easier. Her hair was black with several orange stripes scattered throughout it. Was she waiting for me? A possibility. “Who the hell are you?” I asked, easily striking the concern from my voice. Sure, I was anxious, but being a superhero really helps your outward image.

  “Beryl,” the girl said, keeping her arms across her chest. Not much of a hand shaker, then.

  “Do you need something from me?” I asked. What for, I really had no clue.

  “Yeah, kind of,” Beryl said, walking up to me. Maybe it was meant to be a gesture of power, but I was slightly taller than her, which kind of ruined the effect. “I need you to put on your armor-costume thing, help me out with something.”

  Costume-

  She knows who I am? How?

  “I don’t think you’re talking to the right person,” I said shortly, and made to exit the space. I suppose Beryl had expected that. She grabbed my hood as I turned around and tugged me back to her, and the muscles hadn’t deceived me in the slightest – she really was strong. I whirled around, only to see a knife in her hand, coming towards me-

  I let out a small gasp and cringed back as I willed my power to activate.

  Then I felt the familiar pain in my spine as cold steel burst from my back.

  That was the second part of my power – a metal exoskeleton, an armor of sorts. It burst from my spine and left a hell of a scar, but it had shielded me from just about everything thrown at it thus far – and this was no exception. The stainless chrome shell wrapped around me, just like a second skin, starting from my back. It seamlessly extended to cover my raised arm first, followed by my other appendages, my chest, and finally, my head. The metal plates closed over my face, forming the familiar helmet I had grown used to.

  I had whipped my head back, a reaction that left me looking in the mirror, and it only reminded me of just how badass this suit made me look. When fully snapped over my body, the whole thing was a chrome, stainless metallic armor, slightly thicker than skin but not by much. The helmet was featureless, like the body, except for the two eye sockets in place for me to see – those glowed a bright golden, keeping those around me from seeing even my eyes. It was oddly specific for a Deviant power, but I wasn’t complaining.

  Of course, all Beryl could see of it was the helmet and my hands, the rest of my skin covered in hoodie and baggy jeans – but what she could see, and the knife clanging off of my arm and falling to the ground, did the damage on their own. The new tear in my hoodie sleeve was enough to annoy me, but it was also far from a major problem right now.

  And of course she picked the one place in this school that didn’t have cameras.

  Fucking clever. I bit my lip under the helmet and growled out, “How do you know who I am?” My voice became robotic and monotone through the helmet, but it had an effect that could only be described as intimidating. Very.

  Beryl wasn’t fazed. “The fact that I just swung a knife at you doesn’t bother you?”

  “You were proving your point.”

  Beryl nodded. “So you really are smart.”

  I wasn’t sure if that was meant to be condescending or not. “So once again, I ask. How do you know who I am?” I only realized now how ridiculous I must’ve looked, armored up under my hoodie and jeans. Hysterical. I also realized I was lacking in the confidence boost I normally get under the mask. Maybe it’s because she knew who I was – just an anxious, shy, geeky teen who could make shit. Nothing special.

  “Friend of mine. Well- friend is a strong word,” Beryl said. “She’s a bit of a bitch. But she knew your dad way back when-”

  The helmet dropped as the armor slowly retreated back under my skin, and I glared at this girl who had already shaken my world in all of three minutes. “You’re lying, right?”

  “I don’t know, what did you think happened to your dad?”

  I think he fucking took off. In fact, I don’t think that – I know that. My mom had told me so, and she made a habit of being honest. At least, I’d like to believe so, considering my mom was the only friend I’ve ever had. Pathetic? Maybe. But it was better than nobody.

  “He left. And he never fucking looked back.”

  Beryl shrugged. “Maybe. All I know is that my, um, acquaintance-” Beryl seemed particularly against using the term friend with this individual, “-my acquaintance says that she’s sorta friends with him.”

  “And what, she’s gonna sponsor the family reunion? He’s 15 years late.”

  Beryl frowned. “Don’t throw me into the family drama, okay? We just need your help.”

  “What exactly do you need my help with?”

  “Godsend.”

  I had no idea who that was. “Who?”

  Beryl ignored my question. “You know the Gallows, right?”

  Of course I knew the Gallows. It wasn’t named that for rashes of suicides, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they happened – it was infamous for being the trading ground for drugs and prostitutes, and on occasion, it served as a battleground for the Grims and the Degenerates. They were the two biggest gangs in Phoenix at the moment, and the ones who were always trading blows.

  I just nodded, wondering if Beryl was really going to ask me to meet her in the Gallows-

  “My friends want to meet you in the Gallows tonight,” she said. “Midnight. Try not to be late.”

  Son of a bitch.

  Beryl made her way to the bathroom door. “Hey,” I said. “Don’t tell anyone who I am? Please?”

  Beryl chuckled. “Trust me, no Deviant would be caught dead revealing another’s identity.”

  She left without delay, and I stumbled over to the sink, pushing the handle and splashing myself. I needed the wake up call, and I needed the distraction – I could feel the blood coalescing around my back, where the armor burst from my skin. It hurt like a fucking bitch every time.

  Just think positive – you’re a kickass superheroine, and a couple of Deviants needs you. A whole goddamned group, and you’re only a week in.

  Or, it’s a trap.

  Maybe it was a trap. Unfortunately, my lonely ass was gonna take the chance.

  And hey, they had the one bait they knew I’d snap at. My father. Sure, I had to make it out to Beryl that I was mad at him. But honestly? I just wanted to know him. Even if he turned out to be a piece of shit.

  More than anything, I loathed my predictability.

  I walked to the door with a groan, picking up my backpack. There was a sticky note, of all things, attached to it. What I expected – a threat, perhaps, or maybe some freshman attacking old scars – was not what I got.

  Here’s my phone number. Call me if you need a friend.

  There was indeed a phone number scrawled upon it.

  Was I really that charming, or was it just that easy to see how alone I really was?

—///—

  After I got home, I was attacked with a sudden onset of period cramps, leading to an impromptu trip to the bathroom. By the time I was done in there, I could hear my mom clanging into the house. My mom was cool and all, and I loved her to bits, so this didn’t exactly concern me until I realized I had left the sticky note (with phone number attached) on the table with my backpack. The cramps were immediately ignored in favor of trying to hide my insufferable, vehement blushing.

  The question I received when I came out of the bathroom was the exact one I had expected. “You got a boyfriend?”

  The answer I gave was the one she was probably anticipating – a fervent “No!”

  My mom looked exhausted. She was tearing apart a bowl of Froot Loops at the table, and something told me that would be my dinner tonight. Oh well. I really should learn to cook.

  “Please tell me it’s at least a friend,” my mom said. “Is this a crush?”

  I went to the cabinet to pull out my own bowl, plopping down at the table. “Kind of. It’s actually a, um, a girl. Not a guy.”

  “Is that so?” Mom said with an amused grin, as I joined her in devouring the Froot Loops. We weren’t the most sophisticated when it came to making dinner, or much of anything else.

  “Yeah, I’m, uh, kind of gay.”

  Mom began to laugh, shaking her head. “Just like your dad, aren’t you? Except the hair. That’s mine.”

  She really didn’t look much like me at all, besides the hair, like she said. The hair was different – I kept it short, my mom kept it long. Well, we both had it tangled, at least. Sometimes I wondered aloud (jokingly) if I was adopted, as she definitely wasn’t white. At least, if nothing else, I knew my dad is white as all hell, like me. Her eyes were also a piercing green, in contrast to mine, which were a strangely creamy amber, which are the only words I had to describe them.

  I stopped thinking about cream and amber and focused on the conversation at hand. “Dad is gay?”

  Mom shrugged. “Depends on the day. A hole was a hole to him.”

  I nodded, feeling the yearning in my chest that always presented itself when my father came up. I probably shouldn’t have said anything, but I had a habit of ignoring common sense. “Why aren’t you mad at him?”

  Mom raised an eyebrow. “Why should I be?”

  “He’s not sitting here, eating our shitty cereal dinner with us.”

  Mom sighed. “I knew you would mention that eventually.”

  I shrugged. “Shame on me for wanting a dad. Everyone else has got one.”

  “Cassie, look. Your dad isn’t to blame for that.”

  “Then who is?”

  Mom pushed her hair out of her face. “Like I’ve told you, I told him not to stay with us. I told him to go away.”

  “I always assumed you were lying to make sure I didn’t hate him.” I prodded at my cereal, realizing with irritation that my appetite had vanished.

  “Nope. Genuine truth.”

  “Why?”

  Mom looked at me with a palpable mixture of concern and pity in her eyes. I didn’t exactly want people being concerned about me, and I definitely didn’t want them to pity. “Because he was… Well, I don’t want to say a bad person. He wasn’t one at all. Very, very, confused, but a good person.”

  “But?”

  “But, he was and is, quite frankly, a terrible father. Like, one of the worst I’ve ever seen.”

  I shrugged, trying to hold off words I might regret. “Better than nothing.”

  “No, trust me. Worse than nothing.”

  “Was he abusive?”

  Mom shook her head in shock. “No! No, nothing like that. He’d never hurt you or me like that, or in any way, really. He’s just, well,” I could see the gears turning in her head as she picks out her description, “interesting.”

  “Interesting?”

  “Interesting.”

  I shook my head numbly. Of all the things to get in my way, I didn’t exactly expect it to be my mom. “Well, that’s enlightening.” I was all too aware of my rising anger.

  “Trust me, you’re better off without.”

  I stood up abruptly, grabbing my backpack and my hoodie, and headed for the front door. “Yeah, okay-”

  “Cassie, can you not-”

  “Fuck you!” I yelled before the door slammed shut. That was a first.

  As I pulled the hoodie over me, feeling the slightest comfort as I hid myself in the fabric, I decided what I was gonna do. I was gonna help this Beryl and her cohorts with whatever this Godsend was, and then I was gonna find that rogue superhero. Alpha.

  I would find him and catch him, and when I delivered him to Terminus on a fucking silver platter, my true life as a hero would begin.

Next Chapter

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