chapter 1.1"Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate."
Part One: The Reckless Wonder
It was another overcast day in Blackwater City, rain drizzling gently onto the windshields of cars parked outside and against the windows of a run-down inner-city Stop-n-In.
It had been a boring afternoon so far. Noah had dealt with a few customers, but most of them just paid at the pump and left without setting foot in the store. One lady had come inside to buy a pack of smokes and a newspaper, but that was about as much action as he had seen. So, he counted the minutes at his post as that new, overplayed Bailey Sharp song made its rounds on the radio, wishing cashiers were allowed chairs for the slower hours, or even the quicker ones--seriously, he could ring up a purchase sitting down just fine--and thanking his luck that this was his last week at this job before he returned to school at Blackwater Community.
Suddenly, the bell above the door dinged as a man let himself in. He was tall, thin, brown-haired, perhaps in his mid-twenties, but carried himself with both a sense of purpose and irreverence that made him appear older, more world-weathered. Approaching the counter, he asked, "Hey, man, can you make change for a twenty?"
"Sorry dude," said Noah, "but I need a transaction to open the register. Now, if you want to wait a minute for me to get my manager, or if you want to buy a lighter or some--"
He stopped in his tracks and screamed in horror as in an instant he found himself surrounded by flames. The fire scorched his skin and he collapsed in agony, wailing.
Then, as soon as the hallucination had begun, it was over, and he was left breathing hard on his side on the floor behind the register.
"Let's start over, buddy," said the stranger, leaning over the counter to smirk down at him.
Jared Fleming had always been different.
While other boys burned anthills with magnifying glasses and poked at animals with pocket knives and sharpened sticks, he grew up possessed of the unique ability to bring people to screams of hysterics using only his mind. After one particular incident on the playground in third grade that had left his teacher thoroughly disturbed, his parents had taken him to a physician who identified him as a weak probe and a strong compulse: that is, to an extent, he could read minds, and to a greater extent, he could force others to experience their worst fears, in real time and gruesome sensory detail.
For a while, he had been going places. A star pupil at the Rivington Hero School, he had been on a fast track, at his professors' insistence, toward a military career. He would have made nations cower.
That is, until a sparring accident in the middle of Combat Theory class wrecked his mobility.
Years of physical therapy and multiple surgeries later, he was back on his feet. Things had started to look up. He was able to successfully register the persona of Human Hallucinogen with the US Heroics Division and was assigned a small town on the Northwest coast to patrol. It wasn't much, but it was something. He thought it was only a matter of time before he had it made.
He should have read the contract.
He found out too late that the salary was shit.
If he didn't pick up a side hustle, he'd spend his life sinking deeper and deeper into medical debt.
So he went AWOL and began making his way across the state, hitting licks to pay the bills.
"Hey, what's going on up there?" A heavyset man in his middle ages, likely the store manager, made his way to the front of the store.
"Oh, hey, man. You want to go ahead and open that drawer for me?"
"Now, I don't know who you think you--!"
"Well, alright. Have it your way.”
The man was terribly afraid of spiders.
He didn't take well to being made to believe he was caught in a giant web, a black widow the size of a moving truck bearing down on him.
He fell flat on his back, struggled in place, and screamed.
The cashier tried to make a break for it then, but Jared just hit him with another psychic attack.
The bell dinged. He turned around sharply.
In walked a woman, mid-twenties if he had to guess by her build and carriage alone, in a garish orange racing suit and matching motorcycle helmet, BS emblazoned over her left breast.
She was nobody he recognized from the Heroics Division. He didn't even know if she was a local superhero or just someone who took her aesthetic on the road way too seriously, but even if she was a hero, he wasn't afraid. Just yesterday Scarlet Flame had tried to apprehend him up in Cason du Wandeaux, but despite her ability to bind anyone within earshot to her command, he'd had her down for the count before she could so much as utter a word.
"I don't want to have to smack you," said the stranger, "but I can't let you go around attacking people. You've got one chance, HH. You ain't technically physically harmed anybody. There's time to turn back. Either cease and desist…"
So she was here to stop him.
Perhaps if he'd bothered to familiarize himself with the Blackwater hero scene--or if he even just probed deep enough into the interloper's mind to realize he'd fought her before, out of costume--he'd have stood down. But all he gleaned upon a quick rake through the surface of her thoughts were her vulnerabilities.
She had a man in the picture, after years of loneliness. Oh, she cherished him...he was her everything. What more appropriate torment for her, then, than to bear witness as her sweetheart stood where she stood, being tortured in her stead?
The effect was immediate. "No...nonononono! It ain't real...make it stop!" she blurted, backing away until she hit the wall, hands clutched against the sides of her helmet as if trying to squeeze what she was experiencing out of her head.
"You could claw your eyes out, honey," Jared gloated. "It wouldn't help you unsee this."
The afflicted heroine started to cry. Jared couldn't see her face through her visor, but he knew a sobbing wreck when he saw one. He'd broken enough hearts in college.
Before the accident.
Then, as her panic reached a peak, he began to feel a pressure at his belt…
The last thing he thought before her attack took hold was, 'Oh shit. Not this again.'
In a split second, he was on his back, the seams of his clothing splitting violently as his limbs and torso swelled rapidly and impossibly with fat. He flailed and tried to right himself, but it was no use.
He recognized her by the power set alone. It was Oriana Taylor-Moore, the offensive biomanipulator from his Combat Theory class who had put him in the bariatric ward all those years ago.
"Dammit, Jared!" she swore. "You just had to make me panic. And when I was tryna bring in your ass peacefully!"
Bombshell had gotten a few upgrades since last year, when she and Big Tech formed a crimefighting alliance. Well, a crimefighting alliance that had begun as a steamy makeout session in the back of a Go Fork Yourself moving truck after she hit him with the weight gain stick to stop him from executing a hostage, right before she was attacked by a cyborg at a press conference and he came to her rescue...yeah, it was a long and complicated story.
The point was, despite the ever-vicious media calling her a maladapted menace over her methods, Bombshell was still on the patrol scene, tricked out and better than ever.
The first of the upgrades had been to her car. As it turned out, Team Big Tech had a mechanic of prodigious skill. In less than a day, Mickey had been able to modify the Fatmobile's previously gas-guzzling transmission to be fully electric. Bombshell was now the proud owner of the only stick-shift in the city you could plug into a wall socket.
Next had been the suit. Bombshell had been initially reluctant to have its design messed with. She'd been using the same costume since college, she'd grown attached. But Eddie was right, she had to concede after she'd unexpectedly been hit with a shock stick during a battle: flame-retardant cotton-poly blend would no longer cut it.
She wouldn't let Eddie fully armor her up--half of her skill in a fight required her to feel out her disadvantages and biomanipulate accordingly--but in the end she did cave and had him set her up with a proper insulator.
Finally, there was the helmet interface. Her new interactive screen on the inside end of her visor allowed her to scan her opponents' vitals to determine just how much damage they could take, and that was just one of its features. She could make and receive calls on this thing, access her body cam, and connect to the worldwide web with a simple vocal or optical command.
"Access: Scarlet Flame's Twitter," she muttered to herself as she walked out of the convenience store where she'd stopped the progress of her latest crime. Onscreen, her old mentor's page opened up. She scrolled down until she found the Tweet she was looking for:
'#HumanHallucinogen gave me the slip at Amity Bank on 5th and 43rd. #Bombshell it looks like he's headed in your direction'
"Retweet," said Bombshell, opening the text editor. "Compose: got him. Attach latest camera footage. Send Tweet." She smiled and gave a nod of satisfaction.
What to do next? She supposed she could catch up with Eddie...but he would be tied up with product testing all day.
After the two of them had left Cyber Security, Incorporated, he had taken it upon himself to reverse-engineer Chimera's technology, because defeating the supervillain who hooked you up with your weaponry made you the rightful copyright holder, right? Not that it mattered. The point was that Mybrid's Flexible Alloy Bodysuit, originally intended for military use, had a myriad of applications in the field of mobility assistance, and after months of tinkering, Eddie had a product that was ready to go and a biomedical startup that was only missing engineers. And a means of mass-production. And investors.
But the important part--the making the product work part--was on the verge of done, and he'd procured office space with what money was left over from Chimera's checks after they bought a house to solve all the little inconveniences Oriana’s old apartment presented: the tight floor plan, the three flights of stairs, the shower you needed a wrench to operate…
Looking back, that apartment had been terrible. Only $550 a month, which was impossible to come by in Blackwater City, but Jesus. The things she’d put herself through before they met.
Oriana wanted to see him, but she would probably slow down testing with her lack of technical knowledge.
Sure, she had a bachelor's in computer science. She could program. She could hack. But as far as the building of physical stuff went, she was lost. She could barely keep a gingerbread house together at Christmas. It'd be delicious, make no mistake, but it'd never stay upright. The building of AI-enabled prostheses was best left in Eddie's capable hands.
She could go check up on things at work. After her friend and confidante, the Police Commissioner, pulled some strings, she had become head of administration at the Blackwater City Special Circumstances Detention Center--or, Fat Jail, as it was colloquially called, the prison that had been built specifically to house criminals she had fattened well beyond hope of being kept in any other jail. When it was first erected, it had been the most brutal institution in the city. Sympathy for the obese was hard to come by in the era of a multi-billion dollar diet industry with top-dollar lobbyists working around the clock to keep 'fat' a four letter word.
Oriana was working on changing that: hiring (and firing) the right people, making the living quarters more accessible, establishing rehabilitation programs with an emphasis on both physical and psychological therapy. She loved her work more than she'd ever cared for digital security.
But she'd already clocked out for the day. It would be weird if she came back. Besides, Russel, one of the janitors the staffing agency she had contracted kept sending, would probably want to talk her ear off about his elderly father's bowel movements: size, color, frequency...it was uncomfortable, to say the least.
She could go home...but with all that space and no one to share it with until Eddie was out of his meeting, she'd feel lonely.
She could always invite Scarlet Flame over for drinks and conversation.
She was about to give S a ring when a tap on her shoulder caught her attention. She turned around to face a man in a white button down and khakis, blond, broad, thin, and smiling widely. His shoes were impeccably shined and there was a small Bible tucked into his breast pocket.
"Excuse me, Miss, but do you have five minutes--"
"You need directions?"
"--to talk about our Lord and Savior?"
Oriana winced. "I appreciate the time you're taking," she said, backing away, "but I already have a religion."
Just to get him off her tail.
She was raised Baptist, but nowadays she was more or less agnostic. She used to occasionally go to church in high school, but only for the singing. Then she’d gotten to hero college and learned in one of her first history lessons that a substantial handful of early witch burnings had targeted Deviants. Religious zealots were one thing she'd rather not deal with.
"I don't think you understand, Bombshell." She had turned and started to walk off towards her car, but the man pursued her. "Did you know the Lord punishes all sinners?"
"I dunno about that, my guy. Biff Jenkins is still at large, and there must be something on the books 'bout how y'all shalt not exploit thine employees, or something."
"Again, you don't understand." He grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her around to face him with surprising strength. "You see, gluttony is a sin, Bombshell. And with the way you so openly encourage it, it was inevitable that our Father send me to take you to Lucifer."
She remembered, then, where she had seen his face.
Ted Greene, who had no secret identity on account of lying was a sin, operated out of the Sugar Hill, Utah area. He would stop murderers and rapists, but had no misgivings about putting a swift end to anyone he caught drinking on a Sunday on his block, and all the cops in Utah were too petrified of him to even consider trying to bring him in. He had made national news and tabloids time and time again, but Oriana never expected him to come here.
His preferred method of execution: make your head explode.
"Make your peace, Bombshell."
Suddenly, she felt a terrible migraine coming on.
Thinking quickly, she fortified herself against his attack and hit him with everything left in her after her scuffle with Human Hallucinogen. If she could get him on his back, break his concentration, she could walk away from this fight.
His body started to swell. She could hear his seams straining.
But he soon counteracted the effects of her attack, back to his original size in a fraction of a second.
She'd never fought another biomanipulator before.
This wasn't a fight she could finish quickly, but Ted couldn't hit her with his powers as long as she held up her defenses. Who knew how long she could resist, though? In any case, Ted was getting impatient. He swung a punch at her and she dodged, sweeping his leg.
"Ha! They didn't teach you to fight so good back on the farm, huh?"
As he hit the ground, he grabbed hold of her ankle and dragged her down with him, holding her down as he righted himself with both hands clenched around her throat. "Didn't anyone ever tell you pride comes before the fall?"
She flailed in his chokehold, vision swimming as she lost air. It was time for her to take a risk. She had to bank on Ted expecting her to try her whole fattening shtick again. Any opponent would; she had a reputation as a one-trick pony on the battlefield, even if hacking Chimera's mainframe had come out of left field. She brought her hands up to his wrists…
She only needed the slightest bit of skin-to-skin contact to snap them with a sickening crunch. His grip slackened and she threw him off of herself.
She could take the opportunity to dip while he was down. She could get back in her car and flee the scene. Superpowered or not, there was no way he could reach speeds of 120 miles an hour on foot. But he would just keep hunting her, and what if he hurt someone else in the meantime? She had to neutralize him here.
As the fight progressed, her Twitter feed lit up with activity. People were speculating--placing bets, even--on the outcome of the biomanipulator showdown of the century. As many people were rooting for her as were rooting for her downfall. Others were urging her to call for backup.
No. If there was one fight she didn't want Eddie involved in, it was this one. Sure, he was more bulletproof than your average tech professional, but all the armor in the world wouldn't stop a super-lunatic who could grind your bones to sand with a little concentration.
"Compose: 'I got him on the ropes.' Send Tweet."
Dusting herself off, she pulled the oxygen from his blood, hoping to buy herself time to think of a way to stop him from being able to focus…
He staggered back to his feet and closed her windpipe, hands-free. "Fool! I don't need to touch you to choke you."
She fought for nearly a minute to reopen her airway. Then, suddenly, he let up. Getting her bearings, she realized he'd retreated by a few feet, perhaps to take himself out of the potential blast radius so he could attempt his big finisher once more? But he had taken himself out of his own range: she couldn’t feel him anymore. What was happening? Was he not aware that offensive biomanipulators needed proximity to attack? Or had he decided he'd beaten her up enough?
Or had he simply moved to pick up the nearest parked car?
"Name of the goddamn devil," Oriana cursed.
Science Fiction Apocalypse/Quarantine Feeding/Stuffing Paradise/Holiday/Luxury Sexual acts/Love making Enthusiastic Indulgent Romantic Male Straight Weight gain Wife/Husband/Girlfriend X-rated
45 chapters, created 1 year , updated 7 months
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