Audrey dangled one hundred feet above the ground.
Her right hand clamped on to the crane’s hook, and her left hand barely held on to a five-ton shipping container, preventing it from falling. Beneath her, pedestrians crowded to watch the spectacle unfold. She struggled to adjust her grip, refusing to release the container and let it crush the people below.
People gathered in a crowd on the docks, nervous murmurs rising from them as they witnessed the scene unfold. There’d be a media hellstorm after this ended; any opportunity to blast Powereds was welcome, and now Audrey had her turn in the spotlight. The thought made her stomach drop.
“Think you’re a big shot, huh,” said a man as he approached from down the crane’s walkway. “You should’ve stayed in the Burgs with the rest of your kind.”
His mask modified his voice, giving it a mechanical reverb that infuriated Audrey. It was like sandpaper on gravel. A long trench coat trailed behind him, under which he wore worn metal armor that was covered in frost. His right hand was fiddling with his belt, and he hooked his left hand on to his belt by the thumb. Cool mist rolled down his arms, falling out from nozzles on his gauntlets. From the way he swaggered down the walkway, moving one foot after the other with long strides and a swing in his hips, Audrey could tell the man was confident he had her cornered.
“Can you shut up for one second?” Audrey asked, digging her fingers deeper into the edge of the container. Her arms began to quiver, and she grit her teeth together so hard they began to ache. “You are infuriatingly annoying.”
“You’re one of those Powereds? The kind that won’t slum it up in the Burgs or let Aegis leash you up?” The man crouched down on the walkway, lowering himself to Audrey’s level. He drummed the walkway with his index finger. “Not smart, kid. You’re the kind of Powered who gets eviscerated by everyone. Almost feel sorry for you.”
“Hey, if it’s any comfort, my teacher’s probably not too happy about this either.” Audrey could hear the metal tearing as gravity pulled the container away from her. She struggled for a better grip, but every movement tore the container even more. “What’re you guys doing here anyway? Crates, henchmen, classic evil villain flair, and all that. Kinda concerning.”
“Really?” Audrey rolled her eyes. “That’s a healthy worldview.”
“Hey, something may or may not be evil.” The man sprung up to his feet, twirling on the ball of his foot. “But it’s usually not my problem either. Now, you being here, that’s my problem.”
The man’s voice stuttered to a stop, and he failed to formulate any response.
Audrey stared him down, trying to see past the circular blue goggles on his face and catch a glimpse of what kind of person this man really was. He began rubbing his right wrist rapidly, turning his back to her and shuffling awkwardly.
“I’d like to think I’m not,” the man responded, rushing out the words. The metallic reverb in his voice became distorted as his speech wavered.
He swung around and aimed his forearm at her, his nozzle beginning to whir as the mist whirled around it.
“Um, sorry about this.” Three icicles whizzed out of the man’s gauntlet and raced toward Audrey. “Would’ve done it differently if I could…”
Her body suddenly turned transparent, wisps of ethereal white mist rolling off her and floating into the sky. The icicles passed straight through her, impaling a stack of crates in the distance.
She exhaled steadily, grabbing on to the hook with both her hands and allowing herself a moment to rest.
“Wisp…” the man said.
The crate rocketed toward the ground, but the crowd didn’t budge; they were locked in wonder at the sight of this strange new spectacle that had somehow found its way into their lives. Life for these people was incredibly boring, but now they were in danger and didn’t realize it.
“Screw it.” Audrey let go of the crane and began to plummet toward the ground, quickly catching up to the crate and barely grasping on to its edge.
The container spun in midair. Audrey nearly flew off, but she managed to dig her hands deep into the metal. She braced herself, twisting around so that the container was above her and on her back. She raced toward the ground at ludicrous speeds with the five-ton container on her back, but she was ready. The pedestrians began to scramble, realizing that the container was out of control, but they were too densely packed to move away in time.
“Get down!” Audrey bellowed.
They all dove to the ground. Audrey extended her legs and then crashed into the pavement.
Asphalt shattered, muscles tore, and Audrey shrieked as the full weight of the container crushed her spine and pushed her deep into the ground. She struggled to keep it above the crowd, closing her eyes and grinding her teeth as she pushed up against gravity.
The crate lowered itself gently on her back, stopping inches above the hat of a nearby synthetic, who was on the ground hyperventilating.
“You almost killed us all,” murmured a pedestrian.
Audrey, tears in her eyes and arms failing, turned her head slowly to assess the situation. Synthetics and humans were prone on the ground, shivering and starting to register what had just happened, but she didn’t count any injuries or deaths.
“Move…” she grunted. Her knees gave way and she dropped another inch, the crate dropping with her. Broken glass rattled within it. “Quickly.”
The pedestrians crawled out from under the container, whispering anxiously and shooting her quick, frightened glances.
Once the last soul had crawled escaped from the container, Audrey rolled out into the open and let the crate fall.
It slammed down, glass rattling violently within it. She collapsed onto the ground beside it, leaning against the crate for support and massaging her legs.
Another day, another thankless job done. Audrey had been at it since last summer vacation, which was the only time she could really train with Fletcher, and in the process, she had broken every bone she could and gotten every scar she could earn.
And Fletcher still called her green, said she needed more training. But Audrey didn’t mind, as long as she got to be out in the City Center and saving anyone she could. Life was rough, but she hoped to make it a little easier on everyone else.
“Alright, everyone out,” ordered a gruff voice. Gunshots rang through the air, and the bystanders dispersed. Armed soldiers rushed onto the scene, escorting the stragglers away, and seven armed men formed a perimeter around Audrey. They trained their rifles on her, and red dots decorated her entire body.
“Ah, Wisp, finally out from shadows.” The man, whom Audrey began to suspect was really a bear in a human suit, picked her up by the arm and inspected her. “No Deathless… No Aegis… Interesting.”
The man grunted and tossed Audrey back against the crate. She rose from the ground by propping herself on the crate, trying to get to eye level with her captor, but her knees buckled and she collapsed.
“Who’re you?” Audrey asked between coughs. She felt warm blood soak into her mask.
“I am Alpha.” He pointed toward the crane that Audrey had fallen from. “Up there, my comrade Beta. What brings an abomination like you here?”
Sometimes she thought “Abomination” was her middle name. Other popular words were “unnatural,” “freak,” and “alien.” People loved alienating what they didn’t understand, but Audrey couldn’t care less about what people thought of her anymore. She’d learned a while ago that some people couldn’t change, and it was up to her to get Aegis to protect the Burgs.
“Just sightseeing. I hear Miami is absolutely beautiful this time of year.” Audrey cracked a pained smile beneath her mask.
Alpha grunted, grabbing her by the head again and slamming the back of her head into the container. She winced underneath her mask; there was suddenly a second Alpha in her field of vision.
He was a lumbering mountain of man, with muscles that bulged under his shirt. Burnt and malformed plates of sheet metal covered his chest and arms, forming makeshift armor, and flames roared out of his gauntlets. A bloodthirsty smile adorned his face and he radiated savagery. Alpha puffed out his chest and kicked Audrey once more, doubtless to remind her of her place.
“Humor. I will smash that out of you.” He turned in place, surveying the docks with restless eyes. He ordered two soldiers from the perimeter to inspect every crate. “Where is your friend? He always appears with you.”
“I dunno,” Audrey replied. Her vision was beginning to fade, and she could hardly form a coherent sentence. “He’s…somewhere…”
“Bah, she is delirious.” Alpha clasped tight on to Audrey’s leg and dragged her toward the container’s entrance. He ripped the doors off their hinges, electromechanical whirring emanating from his armor. “Take no chances. Bring her and the vials to the warehouse. We have made too big of a scene already.”
“Like you need to worry about making a scene…” Audrey counted three Alphas, and she tried to claw at every single one. “Not like I’ve been…hiding things…my whole life… It sucks…”
“Bah, peculiar for Powered.” Alpha tossed Audrey into the container. “Take her away.”
Audrey slammed headfirst into a pile of broken glass and sticky fluid. She wheezed as the solution seeped into her open scars. The floor beneath her shifted as what sounded like a truck lifted up the box, with Audrey still inside of it.
An immense heat radiated through the truck as Alpha welded the doors shut again. Audrey struggled in place, her muscles still screaming, and forced herself to adjust her position. A sudden jerk knocked her back onto her face, and she gave up.
The engine roared to life, and Audrey felt her vision fade completely as the truck began to move.