Scene 15 – October 15th
Exterior City, Night
Canaveral led me across the city, helping me practice using my telekinetic power to move until I began to grow confident. As I learned, I found that maintaining a loose hold on the most solid parts of the world around me – buildings and the ground itself – I was able to guide my trajectory with relative ease and an almost instinctive grace. True flight seemed to be beyond me, sadly, but I was bounding around much as Canaveral did.
It was some time later that the hero paused me as we landing softly on a rooftop near the docks, at the end of Brockton Street. “Alright, time for details,” he said, his voice low. “The drug deal I mentioned earlier should be going down in about…” he glanced at his wrist as though looking at a watch, but it was bare. “…ten minutes or so. That means I have just enough time to brief you. Basically, it’s supposed to be a pretty large purchase of brawn from the Buff Boys,” he said.
I raised an eyebrow, then remembered that he couldn’t see it and tipped my head to the side instead. “Buying brawn from the Buff Boys?” I asked. “But boss, bodybuilders bamboozle and befuddle me. Those brutish bastards are barbaric, and there are billions of them in the barnyard below! Can’t we build a barrier to barricade the brawl before we’re beaten brainless?”
I couldn’t see his eyes, but Canaveral rocked back on his heels for a moment. “You done?” he asked.
I thought for a moment longer, but couldn’t think of any other B words that fit the situation. “Yeah, I’m done.”
“So like I said, the Buff Boys are selling a few cases of brawn to an out-of-town buyer. The tip-off said that none of their metahumans would be here, but with a sale like this one I expect that one of them will be here – probably Ridealong.” He paused. “Any questions?”
“Yeah, what’s brawn actually?” I asked. “I mean sure, I’ve seen movies where it makes people huge and super-strong, but I assume that in real life it’s not quite like that. And can you tell me a little bit about the Buff Boys? I don’t know much about them.”
He shrugged. “Well, you’re right that it’s not as dramatic as the movies like to make it, but it’s not far off. You do become stronger, but also faster and tougher. It’s…” he glanced at his wrist, then at the street. “Ah, we got time.
“So brawn, basically, is a mixture of three older power-granting drugs. I don’t know their actual names, just the street names,” he warned me, “but they do actually have legitimate uses. But they’re also used by gangs, because, well…” he spread his arms in a sort of ‘what can you do?’ gesture. “They give you superpowers.
“The first is gorilla juice, or just gor. Gor makes you stronger – it’s what the movie version of brawn is based on, mostly. Inject it into your muscles and they become way more powerful. It’s used in microdoses to help people with atrophied or otherwise weakened muscles. In larger doses, though…” he winced. “To put it simply, gor makes you very strong. But it doesn’t make you tough. You’ll bruise yourself just moving, and if you take too much of it you can shatter your bones by breathing. Not a pretty sight.”
“I can imagine,” I commented. It was a little gross, but I’d read about worse in various premed classes.
“Next up is diamond dust,” Canaveral continued. “Also known as mond. Mond is a powder that you snort, usually, and it makes you tougher, but also slows down your biological processes. You end up very slow. Again, it’s used in microdoses in a medical context.” He scratched at his chin, clearly trying to remember the details, and continued, “as I recall, it helps alleviate seizure symptoms and reduces the risk of heart attacks – or maybe just their severity? I forget. Anyway, it’s also found as skin patches in really high-end first aid kits, because in high enough doses it basically locks people into total immobility and invulnerability. It’ll basically put the person on hold, give them more time before they need medical help. Expensive, though.”
“Last is acceleration, or axel.” He paused. “This is the nasty one, in my opinion,” he warned. “Drink it, or take it as a patch on your skin, and it speeds you up in time – your perception of it too, not just your movement. It tends to cause pretty nasty mental issues in people who use it for too long – you move so fast that you can’t interact with anyone else, and a lot of people get isolation-related trauma from it. And it’s addictive as all hell. But again, it’s got legitimate medial uses,” he allowed. “Microdoses of axel can help speed up healing and fade scars.”
“So…” I said, putting it together. “Brawn is a mixture of all three, covering for the downsides of the others. Gor doesn’t make you tough, so you add in the mond. But then you’re too slow to do anything, so you add in axel.”
The acrobatic hero nodded. “Exactly. For best effect it needs to be mixed specifically for each individual person, because the effects of each piece vary based on different factors. Gor is more powerful on people with more muscle mass to start with, but mond varies depending on bone density. Axel varies depending on the purity of the formula more than the person taking it.”
“Got it,” I said. “What about the Buff Boys? Based on their name, I guess they trade in brawn a lot?”
“Exactly right. They used to just do smuggling and a little bit of drug trade – power drugs included. But after brawn cropped up across the country about seven years ago – the three component drugs had never been mixed successfully before – and they were one of the main sources,” Canaveral elaborated. “We still don’t know exactly where it comes from, but almost all brawn in the Middle Atlantic comes through the one way or another.”
“Should I expect these thugs to be on brawn, then?” I asked.
“The Buff Boys, yes,” he confirmed. “They’ll be the ones in red headbands. The buyers, probably not.” He glanced over the edge. “Looks like the BB are there already, but we’re still waiting on the buyers.” I began to rise, but he caught me by the wrist and pulled me back down into a crouch. “Slow down there, kid! We can’t arrest them just for wearing gang colors. We have to wait and catch them in the act.”
“Aren’t they in possession of illegal drugs?” I pointed out.
He shook his head. “Like I said, all three components of brawn have medical uses,” he reminded me. “It’s not illegal to own any of them, or brawn itself for that matter. Buying any of it from outside a pharmacy, however, is. That’s why we have to wait for the sale.”
“I understand,” I promised. “…so you said that you expect there to be metas? Are you sure that I should still join in?”
He shrugged. “You don’t have to if you’re uncomfortable,” he promised me, “but I think you should give it a shot. I mean, technically being a vigilante is illegal,” the hero admitted, “but no one pays attention to that as long as you don’t go around crippling people. And I’m here, so you’ll be fine.”
I wasn’t as sure, but I wasn’t about to argue with Canaveral. “What metas can we expect?”
“The BB have two confirmed metas,” he told me. “The leader goes by Ridealong, and the MLED[Metahuman Law-Enforcement Division] believes him to be an uncontrolled shapeshifter – Self Buff, technically, but…” he shrugged. “He generally looks different every time he appears, which is why we think he’s a shapeshifter, but he always identifies himself by wearing a blue scarf. That’s why we think it’s uncontrolled, he wouldn’t need to wear something for identification if he could control his appearance.”
“What are his combat capabilities like?” I asked.
“Good question, but unfortunately they’re unclear. It seems to vary depending on his current body. Nothing beyond human, though, unless he’s on brawn at the time. Then, generally enhanced physical abilities.
“Ridealong is likely to be present – or I thought so, but I don’t see his scarf down there – but he’s not the only meta in the BB,” Canaveral continued. “The other is called Rube. A little under six feet tall, blonde, usually wears green. Again, their power isn’t 100% confirmed, but it’s believed to be an Area Control effect that makes them incredibly lucky. If they’re around, you get out,” he told me sternly.
“…lucky?” I asked. “Really?”
He nodded. “Really. It may not sound like much, but they’ve gone toe-to-toe with la Borda and – well, they didn’t win, obviously, but they escaped.”
I almost whistled, impressed, but remembered just in time to stop myself. I may not have known a much about the gangs in New Venice, but you’d have to live under a rock not to know about la Borda.
“Those are the only two confirmed metas that the BB has,” he said as he checked the street below again, “but there are rumors of a third. Remember how I mentioned that brawn is best when mixed individually for the taker?” I nodded. “Well, at first the Buff Boys were just selling generic mixes that weren’t balanced. You tended to end up bruised from not enough mond to balance out the gor, slow from not enough axel, whatever. In the last year, however, they’ve not only started to sell individually mixed brawn, their members have also been getting custom mixes.”
“They have someone who can mix it individually,” I concluded. “Does that person have to be a metahuman?”
“They don’t have to be,” he admitted. “But I have a hunch. They wouldn’t be here though, whoever they are – too valuable to risk sending out.” He glanced over the edge of the building once more, and tensed.
“This is it – the buyers are here. Eleven Buff Boys, assume all juiced or with brawn on them – Seven buyers, all in civilian clothing. No apparent metas,” he summarized in a practiced manner. “Leap to the other side of the road to flank them, on my mark…” He fell silent, presumably waiting for the sale to actually take place. “…three, two, one, mark!”
Scene 16 – October 16th
Exterior Docks, Continuous
Canaveral flipped himself over the edge of the building and plummeted to the ground, landing lightly on his feet. A moment later, I jumped myself, pushing against the building while pulling on one of the ones on the opposite side to launch myself across the street as he had directed me. With a momentary grip on the world around me, I twisted in midair and adjusted my trajectory. One more push slowed me as I approached the ground, and my landing was only a little bit jarring.
On the other hand, even with the greater toughness that had come either along with my other powers or from the PA4, the backlash of my TK was starting to make me incredibly sore. It wasn’t exactly debilitating, but it certainly wasn’t fun.
“Bit late for a walk, isn’t it?” Canaveral asked the assembled gangsters as though they had just bumped into each other in the park. His hands were casually hooked in his belt as he began to stroll towards them.
“Canaveral,” growled one of the Buff Boys who seemed to be in charge, snapping shut a briefcase that my ESP told me was filled with cash. “You’ll forget what you saw here if you know what’s good for you.”
The hero responded with a cheeky grin. “I’m afraid that reliable sources tell me I don’t know what’s good for me.”
“You really don’t know what you’re stepping in the middle of here,” said one of the buyers, who also carried a briefcase – presumably the brawn they had just bought. “Walk away.”
Canaveral sighed. “You criminal types never come up with anything new,” he bemoaned as I hesitated. “It’s always either ‘leave if you know what’s good for you,’ ‘you don’t understand the full picture’, ‘I’ll give you a cut if you keep your mouth shut,’ or ‘hey, it’s that hero guy! Get him!’ Just once, once, I’d like it if you did something new. I don’t really care what.” He shook his head as though disappointed. “I guess I’ll keep up my end of the script. You’re all under arrest.”
“Get him!” roared the Buff leader.
That seemed to be the cue for the fight to begin, as the gangsters all rushed for Canaveral. He casually flicked a hand, something he had pulled from his belt spreading out and striking the vast majority of them, knocking most of them over. “Oh, and just so you know,” he called, “It’s ‘bring your sidekick to work day’ today, so I’ve brought a friend. Feel free to join in any time, Newton!”
I shook off my hesitation and flicked my fingers at one of the thugs who remained on her feet, pulling her legs out from under her and causing her to fall as well. The sudden feedback from my TK almost knocked me off my feet too, though – I would need to figure out how to compensate. “Your sidekick?” I asked Canaveral. “Doesn’t that imply a preexisting relationship? We met barely three hours ago!”
He somehow shrugged while handcuffing a groaning gangster. “Well, I’m taking it on myself to mentor you, at least for tonight. You’re not experienced enough to qualify as a partner. You’re not a civilian. If the shoe fits, wear it.” He smirked at me.
There was a guttural growl as two of the Buff Boys were rising to their feet and pulling vials of golden fluid from within their jackets. Canaveral turned towards them as they uncorked and drank the vials – brawn, I had to assume. Steam rose from their skin, which turned a vaguely golden color, and they visibly grew at least an inch in height.
“I’ve got this, Newton,” he assured me, producing a thin length of chain from within his belt. “Make sure none of the others get up.”
Without looking, I pushed at any who seemed to be getting to their feet, strongly enough to prevent them from making any headway. I could feel it nearly knocking me into the air, so I pulled at the ground, locking myself there as well. The forces canceled out, but it felt like being squeezed in a giant vise. I really needed to figure out a better way to do this.
I watched as Canaveral manhandled the two boosted thugs, using his control of kinetic force to manipulate the chain in impossible ways. It was impressive to watch. I was so wrapped up that I forgot to pay attention to the downed gangsters, and almost missed it when one of the buyers who had fallen on her back managed to produce another vial from within her jacket.
I whirled, and tried to pull it out of her hand towards mine, while pushing at her fingers to make her lose her grip. But I was already splitting my attention and power so many ways that she managed to hold onto it just long enough. She squeezed, and the vial shattered.
There was a moment of silence as all eyes were drawn to the prismatic cloud that briefly hovered around her hand before expanding to encompass all of us, and she grinned from her position on the ground. Suddenly, my ESP cut out, as did my TK.
“Fuck,” the hero spat. “Where did you get equality, lady?”
“I told you,” she said as she rose, glaring at him, “you don’t know what you’re stepping into. Leave, Canaveral.” She brushed a few shards of glass off of her gloves hands, then reached into her jacket again and produced a pistol, aiming it squarely at me. “Or I’ll have to do something to your sidekick that I’d rather not.”
Canaveral raised his hands, as did I. “Let’s not be hasty,” he said, his voice low, as he stepped over towards me.
“Ah ah ah!” she tutted. “Stay away from the boy.”
“They’re nonbinary, actually -”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Stay away from them. I know that your powers are magical and equality doesn’t do shit to you – you’re not stepping in front of this gun.”
“…how the hell did you know that.”
She smirked. “The same way I got a vial of equality. Now then. You’re going to turn around and leave. These boys and I are going to go our separate ways. And your new friend is going to live. Sound good?”
There was silence for a moment, then I narrowed my eyes towards Canaveral. “What were you saying about how it would be perfectly safe for me to join you?”
“I don’t think I ever put it in quite those words,” he said. “I think I said something along the lines of ‘experience is the best teacher’.”
“And what am I supposed to be learning from having a gun pointed at my head?”
He shrugged. “What’s it’s like to have a gun pointed at your head, I guess.”
“It won’t be the last time, if you continue on this path,” the buyer commented. “So, heroes? What will it be?”