This is a sequel to my previous short story Partners Against Crime.
Kassian leaned his forehead against the glass wall, watching people pass by on the street below him. He folded his sinewy, tattooed arms and leaned into the window, allowing his nose to smoosh against the glass and his mind to wander.
If he hadn’t, he’d have noticed much sooner that Chandra had approached him and was now watching him with an amused expression on her face.
“Bored?” she joked.
Kassian didn’t move. “How long is Atlas going to be gone?”
Chandra leaned against the glass. The sun reflected off her glasses and into Kassian’s eyes. He still didn’t move.
“I don’t know. These meetings can go on for weeks. Just all depends on what the committee decides.”
“Did he fly or take a plane?”
Chandra snickered. “Oh, you know Atlas. Why waste money on a ticket? I just don’t like the idea of him flying over water by himself…”
“It’s about me, isn’t it?”
Chandra’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly, and she paused with her mouth slightly open. “Yeah, it’s about you. But,” she added quickly, “it’s nothing bad. Well, I guess it depends on how you look at it.”
Kassian turned toward her, leaning his shoulder against the wall. “Basically, Atlas has to go convince them that I’m not evil anymore, right?”
“If you want to put it that way, then yes.” Chandra squinted at him, and a grin lifted the corners of her mouth. “Are you nervous?”
“Of course not,” Kassian scoffed. “I’m just… bored. What am I supposed to do for the next – however long?”
Chandra sighed and walked toward the coffee table, where her purse and keys waited. “There’s plenty of things to do. Read a book, clean something… I’d say ‘work out,’ but we know how useful that’d be.” She chuckled and turned back to Kassian as she slung her purse over her shoulder.
He wasn’t laughing.
Chandra blinked. “You good?”
“It’s just… it’s funny you should say that,” Kassian stuttered. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”
“Well, make it quick, because I need to be at the library.” Chandra swiped her keys from the table and brushed her coffee-colored hair out of her eyes.
Kassian hesitated, then left his position at the window to meet Chandra in the middle of the room. “I think I’m getting stronger.”
Chandra’s eyes widened. “Stronger? Stronger than ripping a balcony in half and using the bannister as a baseball bat? Because I thought that was strong enough.”
Kassian swiped a hand over his spiky black hair. “Well, that was a freak thing; I’d never done something like that before. But now…” He reached his hand between the couch cushions and pulled out a tattered book. He held the pieces out to the little librarian.
“I pulled it off the shelf.”
Chandra picked up the torn binding. “Kassian, this is a dictionary.”
“I forgot how to spell ‘machete.’”
“It hurts my librarian heart to look at this.” Chandra set the pieces down on the coffee table.
“That’s not all. I’ve torn two pairs of pants just putting them on and I accidentally pulled off the kitchen doorknob last week.”
“So that’s how that happened.” Chandra checked her watch. “I have to go, Kassian, but we’ll look into this when I come back this evening, okay?” She started across the room to the elevator.
Kassian held his arms out. “What am I supposed to do till then?”
Chandra pressed the button and turned around. “Well, you can always come by the library. It’s Reading with Friends Day, so there’ll be lots of kids there.”
“Kids?” Kassian took a step back. That scared him more than anything.
“Or,” Chandra added, “you could always explore the city. Make some friends. Help an old lady cross the street.”
Kassian blinked. “What? Why?”
“It’s an expression.” The elevator doors opened. “I’ll see you later.”
Kassian turned back to the window and, after a minute, watched Chandra disappear down the sidewalk.
As he gazed through the glass wall at the street below, willing his mind to find something to occupy itself with, an elderly woman caught his eye. She stood at the edge of the sidewalk, waiting to cross.
“Hmm.” It’s not like I have anything better to do.
In a few quick strides, Kassian was across the penthouse and in the elevator. He jogged through the foyer and pushed open the doors.
As he stumbled onto the sidewalk, the light changed, and the elderly woman began her journey across the street.
At that moment, something nearby flashed. The windshield of a semi had caught the sun, which in turn caught Kassian’s eye. The truck was approaching the crossway.
And it wasn’t slowing down.
Before his mind could catch up, Kassian’s legs propelled him across the sidewalk and into the road. Ignoring the craters his feet left in the asphalt, Kassian flicked each option through his mind.
Lift the truck? No time.
Turn it?... How?
Move the old lady? Probably break something. Remember the doorknob?
Out of time, he flung himself in the truck’s path.
Metal met man, and Kassian dug his hands in, the crunch of steel beneath his fingers and the crack of asphalt beneath his feet. The grille folded around him and smoke curled up into the air.
Kassian pried his eyes open, finding the elderly woman not a step away, blinking up at him in the sunlight. As people swarmed the wreck, he bent back his metal prison and lurched out onto the street.
Before he could react, 911 had been called, the scene had been cleared, and a crowd of curious individuals surrounded him.
“Who are you?”
“How did you do that?”
Kassian blinked, rubbing his arms and back, feeling for wounds through his tattered jacket. There were none.
“Um,” he mumbled to the expectant faces before him, “I’m a – I’m a friend of Atlas’s.”
“Oh!” The crowd erupted joyfully as the paramedics pulled up.
Kassian wandered through the hospital lobby, trying desperately to swallow the unease rising in his throat. After patiently waiting in line, his hand balled in a fist at his side, he approached the front desk.
“Um, hi. I was wondering about someone.”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The girl’s eyes met his, with no little effort on her part; he towered over her by at least a foot. “Do you have their name?”
Kassian gulped. “Well, no; it was a truck driver that was brought in from an accident. I just wanted to know if he was okay.”
She smiled. “Give me a moment; I’ll call.”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
As she phoned in his request, Kassian leaned his arm against the counter and swiveled around.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
What was that noise?
And why did he recognize it?
The girl cleared her throat, and Kassian whirled back around. “He has a concussion and some scrapes and bruises, but he’ll be okay.”
Kassian exhaled in relief. “Oh, good.”
She gave him a puzzled smile. “Were you at the scene of the accident?”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
“Oh, I was… well, he… he hit me with the truck.” Kassian turned away from her and listened intently.
“What? Are you okay?”
“Oh, I’m fine. I don’t really like hospitals. Last time I was here I died…” His voice trailed off as he faced her again. “Do you know what that noise is?”
“Well, sir, this is a hospital. There’s bound to be noises… wait, did you say ‘died’?”
Kassian pushed off the desk and followed the sound across the hall. He pressed his ear against a door.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
As Kassian entered, the girl quickly rounded the desk. “Sir, that’s authorized…”
Kassian waved his hand distractedly. “I’m a friend of Atlas’s.”
“Oh!” Her expression of delight turned quickly into one of realization. “Is that how… the truck…”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
“Yeah.” Kassian bent down next to a desk and rummaged underneath it with his hand. And there it was, taped to the underside.
Kassian sucked in a breath. “What’s your name?”
“Talia. What’s – what’s yours?”
“Kassian. Well, Talia, we have a problem.” Kassian turned around and held the object up for her to see.
“Why? What’s that?”
Kassian examined it carefully. “This, believe it or not, is a bomb.”
Talia’s eyes widened. “That? It looks like a USB...”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Kassian rose to his full height and peered down at her. “I wish it was.”
“How’d you even hear it from out there?”
“I recognized it.”
Kassian sighed. “I know who made it.”
“What do we do?” Talia’s voice rose in panic.
“Shh.” Kassian laid a hand on her shoulder. “How long would it take to evacuate the hospital?”
“Could you do it in a minute?”
“Dang it.” Kassian swiped a hand across his forehead, moistening his sleeve with sweat.
“Is it that powerful?” Talia squeaked through dry lips.
He slid to the floor, clutching the bomb in his hand. “It could level the hospital.”
Her eyes filled with tears. “Is there anything we can do?”
“Not enough time.” Kassian licked his lips and paused as an idea popped into his mind. “Oh, no.”
“What?” Talia knelt next to him, hands fidgeting with her sweater.
“This is gonna suck.”
“What’s gonna – WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
In one fluid motion, Kassian threw his head back and gulped down the bomb.
Talia froze, eyes bulging and hands extended. “What… what?”
Kassian shook his head. “Oh, this better work.”
“Listen.” Kassian grabbed her wrist. “I’m a friend of Atlas’s. That means I’m like him – sort of – so this might work.”
“You’re a superhero, too?”
“Well,” Kassian mumbled, “I’m new to this. I also can’t die, so I’ve got that going for me.”
“What if it doesn’t work?”
Kassian looked at her for the first time. A few strands of blonde hair had escaped from her hairdo and flew loosely about her pale face. Tears streaked from her eyes as all pretense of composure disappeared.
He took in a deep breath. “Well, then everyone dies and I have a very long recovery ahead of me.”
She nodded shakily. “Comforting.”
After a moment of silence, Kassian shifted his position. “I must have miscalculated the time…”
The muffled blast echoed across the ground floor. As tumult ensued, Kassian slowly released his death grip on Talia’s arm and let out a groan, smoke spiraling into the air from his lungs. She met his wide-eyed gaze.
“How can I help?”
Kassian cleared his throat. “I could do with some water.”
Talia helped him stand and handed him a bottle from the minifridge. As he gulped it down, Talia fell back against the desk. “I’m not gonna pretend to understand what just happened.”
“Probably for the best.” Kassian winced as he stretched. Definitely cracked a couple of ribs. “Which way is the library?”
“What? Why?” Talia’s brow furrowed.
“I need to look someone up.”
Kassian’s light jog broke into a run as the library came into view. Police cars lined the street as officers stooped beneath ribbons of caution tape, drawing attention to the hollow cavity that used to be the entrance.
He barreled through, police officers trailing behind him.
“You can’t come in here!”
“Sir, this is a crime scene.”
“Didn’t you get hit by a truck earlier?”
“Yep, and I’m feeling it.” Kassian swept his gaze across the room distractedly. “Where’s Chandra?”
“Sir, we’ve had a robot attack. Please clear the area.”
Kassian pushed through them and started back toward the entrance. “I know who did this, but I need Chandra.”
A group of children, parents, and librarians sat huddled together in the seating area as officers took their statements. At Kassian’s words, a small boy ducked through the crowd and darted forward.
“The robot stole her! He stole Miss Chandra!”
Kassian advanced toward him. “Where did he take her? Did you see?”
“Over here!” The boy grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the entrance, followed by a train of officers and one apprehensive parent.
The boy towed Kassian past the caution tape and pointed upward. Directly across the street was a row of abandoned apartment buildings and a dilapidated parking lot.
A gaping hole stared down at them from the top floor of the nearest building.
“This is the worst evil plan I’ve ever encountered,” Kassian muttered to himself. He looked down at his small companion. “Thanks.”
“Are you going to save her?” The boy’s eyes lit up.
A small smile lifted the corners of Kassian’s mouth. “That’s the plan.”
The door to Apartment 12B disappeared down the corridor. Kassian stepped into the room and quickly surveyed it.
Chandra was curled up in the corner, arms bound and chained to the wall. A flamboyantly-dressed individual stood at the opposite side of the room, adjacent to a large contraption covered in a white sheet.
“Lucian,” Kassian growled.
The man slowly turned around. “Kassian. I was wondering when you’d show up. I’ve been waiting for at least twenty minutes.”
Kassian cast his gaze to Chandra. “Are you okay?”
Lucian cleared his throat.
“Shut up, Lucian. Are you hurt, Chandra?”
She glared at her captor. “I’m fine.”
He turned back to his adversary. “Surprised to see you alive.”
Lucian clicked his tongue and began to pace. “Did you really think you were the only one who survived?”
“Wait, what?” Chandra strained against her bonds in astonishment.
“Remember that firefight you found me in last year?” Kassian gestured to Lucian with a nod of his head. “Turns out I’m not the only one who can’t die.”
Lucian cocked his head. “That experiment did us both a favor, hmm?”
Kassian advanced a few more steps into the room. “Well, despite the super intelligence, you’re still incredibly dumb, Lucian. Who puts a bomb in a hospital?”
“I was making a statement.”
“Rent a billboard next time.” Kassian began inching towards Chandra, keeping in mind that Lucian certainly had something up his sleeve. “What are you doing, Lucian? What’s the point of all this?”
Lucian gestured dramatically. “Well, what with Evander being out of the picture, I figured it was time to establish myself as the resident supervillain.”
“You know who took him out of the picture, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard about your balcony batting practice. But, with the local superhero out of town, you’re on your own. Against this.”
With a theatrical flourish, Lucian reached up and snatched away the white sheet, revealing a giant robot. The monstrosity stood at least two feet taller than Kassian, constructed out of solid steel and crowned with a medium-sized screen bearing Lucian’s face. Through technology Kassian didn’t understand, it matched Lucian’s current expressions perfectly, somehow capturing his likeness in real time.
“Oh, yeah,” Kassian threw out nonchalantly, “I remember your big, ugly robot. I seem to recall that you programmed it to fight Atlas.”
“I did. But,” Lucian added as he flicked a switch on a control panel in his watch, “I’ve made a new program. It’s now designed to match your strength exactly.”
Kassian waved his hand impatiently. “Okay, listen. I’ll fight your stupid robot on one condition. Let Chandra go. You don’t need her anymore.”
Lucian held up his hands in concession. “Fine, I guess. However,” he began as Kassian moved toward her, “I am tracking her, and I will know if she goes to the police.”
Kassian shared a glance with Chandra as he took hold of her bonds. “What an idiot,” he muttered under his breath. With barely an effort, he snapped the chains in half.
Chandra met his gaze with a curious, albeit concerned, glance. “You are getting stronger.”
“Yeah, and he doesn’t know that.” Kassian ushered her to the door. “Now get out of here. Please.”
Lucian clicked his tongue again. “So polite.”
Kassian straightened his back and rolled his shoulders. “Like you’d know anything about that.”
“Tell me,” Lucian and the robot drawled as it lurched from its position, “how did you like my little gift to the hospital?”
The robot vaulted forward and tackled him.
Metal met man, and the pair hurtled through the brick wall and down to the parking lot below.
That cracked rib finally broke as the robot crushed him into the asphalt. With a groan of pain and annoyance, Kassian heaved himself to his feet and seized the robot’s arm, tearing it from its body and flinging it across the lot.
Lucian’s face twisted in consternation as the robot staggered backwards. “What – how…”
“Your data’s outdated, Lucian.” Kassian gripped the monitor with both hands. “You may not be getting smarter, but I’m getting stronger.”
With one swift motion, Kassian folded the screen in half. The robot collapsed lifelessly at his feet.
“Well, that was fun,” Kassian remarked as Chandra and about a dozen officers sprinted towards him. He nodded toward the two gaping holes in the side of the building. “He’s up there. Be careful with him; he bruises easily.”
Kassian stumbled away as the officers stared after him. Chandra caught up with him and, ducking under his arm, drew it around her shoulders. “Don’t look so okay; people are going to wonder if you’re even human.”
“Oh, I’m assuredly not okay.”
“Where are you hurt?”
“Just my ribs and my feelings. Didn’t I tell you to leave?”
Chandra dodged the question. “So, a bomb in the hospital, huh? What’d you do about it?”
Kassian took in a deep breath and winced. “Let’s just say I’m thankful I didn’t have to handle the robot the same way.”
Chandra shook her head bemusedly. “So what exactly did you do today?”
“Oh, I just helped an old lady cross the street.”
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Rachel, this is the second story of yours that I've read, and I'm in love with your writing style. Your dialogue is incredible--it's so witty, but it all serves a purpose and there's no fluff that needs cutting. Your characters are very well-developed, which is difficult to accomplish with short stories. I don't know if this was intentional, but when Kassian calls himself "a friend of Atlas" it takes me back to the end of Partners Against Crime (where Atlas tells Kassian that they're friends). If I had to make a suggestion, I was missing t...
Hi again, Tommie! Thanks so much for your kind words! I wish I had a straight answer for you concerning Kassian's strength; I have some ideas, but nothing that I could easily have worked in here. The feel I was going for was that nobody knows why: Kassian asks Chandra about it at the beginning, because he has no idea, and she decides to start some research. So we don't really have an answer yet; we just know it's happening. Hopefully that answers your question for now; it's part of a larger storyline that I haven't completely fleshed out yet...