A form or version of something that differs in some respect from other forms of the same thing or from a standard.
Adaption, Transformation, Metamorphosis, Mutant, Deviant, Rogue.
Three Months Ago
Abigail Wright was a daredevil, her brother used to say. She called it ‘living her fullest life’. Refusing to let her epilepsy get in the way of her enjoying her life, she went out of her way to snowboard, skydive and backpack her way across the globe.
It wasn’t her epilepsy that caused her death – in fact it was in part the reason why she came back. It was a freak accident at the bottom of the ocean as she swam with sharks that did it.
All she remembered was the loss of oxygen, and no this was not going to happen to her. Not her. The sharks started picking up on her fear, but god damn it, she was not going to die here. Not to her. Not to her. She remembered her lungs filling up with water and still rejecting her inevitable death at the same time.
The rescue team said it was a miracle she didn’t drown or get eaten by sharks. In truth, she did drown. And the sharks did try, but something else got in the way.
Abigail was a few months shy of her 30th birthday when she died, but after she came back, she wished more than anything she’d been more willing to die.
The image of a young man slowly printed out of Mitch’s computer, black hair buzzed short, and swirling tattoos spreading from under his jaw and lost under the ripped t-shirt. He wore a snarling smile in the police mugshot, probably a camera flash away from flicking them the bird.
Victor groaned to himself. He had no desire to waste his time going after deviant teenagers.
“Meet Noah Lynch,” Mitch chimed in, stabbing a button on his laptop as Victor grabbed the printout.
“Accomplished a lot for his 21 years I assume.” Victor guessed sarcastically, skimming the pages of details.
Among the long list of offences, some that stood out included B&E, coming and going from juvie for the past four years, insulting a police officer, and destruction of property. ‘Mass’ was written above an arrow before destruction and highlighted for good measure.
“What is ‘Natural Disaster’ supposed to mean?” He ran a finger under the term classified under Power. “Besides from being a terrible person.”
Mitch laughed a deep rumble as he spun his laptop around.
“This is what it means.” He pressed play, and classified video footage showed Lynch running down an alleyway in the middle of the night, police hot on his heels. The footage changed to another CCTV camera as the chase continued before the kid figured he was out of options. Instead of running or even attacking the officers, he dropped down to his hands and knees, focusing on the ground. Victor leaned forward and frowned, eyes narrowing in on the trashcans that began to shake next to him, before the camera the footage was taken on began to tremor.
“Just watch.” Mitch grinned.
In the black and white footage, Victor saw the officers stumble and trip over as the ground began to shake and crack open under them. The video ended when the shaking got so bad it was short-circuited.
“Is it just earthquakes?” Victor asked, looking up from the laptop.
“Seems to be,” Mitch shrugged, “It’s why they’ve never been able to hold him in juvie – because he kept breaking his way out. Literally.”
Victor reassessed the image on his print out.
“Well. Lets see if we can get to him before the EOTS do.”
Eli really had been the causality of so much chaos, thought Victor, as he read up on the thick file made for Lynch by the new sector of the police force that was dedicated to bringing EOs in and “rehabilitating” them. Sydney had resentfully named them the EOTS – ExtraOrdinary Torturing Squad.
If he were totally honest, Victor probably wouldn’t have become involved aside from keeping himself off of the list if wasn’t for the cold little girl he’d picked up on the side of the highway and somehow took under his wing two years ago.
Now they’d become an unofficial team of four (or five, if you counted Dol, which Sydney did), tasked with the job of alerting and keeping EO’s safe from the EOTS.
Her relatively new interest in reading X-Men comics hadn’t gone unnoticed by Victor either, and he raised a thin eyebrow every time she returned from the library with the next four installments in the series.
“They’re always doing hand signals though.” She critiqued while watching one of the newest movies with Mitch. Dominic wasn’t interested in movies and would disappear to do his own things, which Victor could appreciate, even though he would glace up every so often over his laptop when Sydney gasped.
“We don’t really need to. You just think it.” She added.
“It’s all Hollywood dramatics.” Victor had sighed, but Sydney caught him watching the final fight scene.
Four Days Ago
Victor didn’t run. Not unless it was strictly necessary. Which was another added bonus of having Dominic around. The other reason was to see the look that crossed Lynch’s face when Victor and Dominic emerged out of thin air in front of him when he thought he had a block’s head start on them.
His eyes went wide and he took a step back, contemplating running again when Mitch and Sydney blocked the way he had just come.
“Noah Lynch,” Victor started, holding up a hand in a placating gesture, but the kid frowned under his cap and clenched his hands into fists.
Immediately, the ground beneath them began to vibrate. Sydney stared down at the gravel shaking like beads on a speaker, both mesmerised and frightened.
“Not good, Vic.” Mitch called, reaching out to hold Syd steady.
“You don’t wanna do vis.” Noah spat, his East End Cockney accent adding even more hatred into his voice as the ground began to shake dangerously under them.
“No,” Victor, stepped forward, his ice blue eyes glaring as he curled his fingers into his palm. “You don’t want to do this.”
It was a risky move – it could have made the ground break open faster, but Victor gambled correctly – Noah Lynch fell to his knees, crying out as he clutched his head.
The shaking stopped.
“Lucky.” Dominic muttered as he watched the younger man with amazement.
Victor let Lynch go and he panted, staring up as the stranger stood over him.
“ ‘U are you?”
Victor crouched in front of him and gestured Sydney forward with a flick of the head.
“We’re just like you.” He said, and heard Mitch mutter that he wasn’t, but he ignored him. Sydney came to stand next to where Victor was crouched and the boy glanced at her with a frown.
“We’re EOs too,” She explained, “We came to warn you of the people who are trying to capture us.”
Noah sat in silence for a second, looking at each of them in turn before returning to Sydney. The whole reason why she insisted on coming was because of this reason – because out of a tattooed ex-prisoner, a shifting man and one that could inflict pain, she was the most convincing. Noah jerked his chin at her.
“W’at can you do ven?”
“Bring the dead back to life.” She said simply.
“Bu’shit.” He laughed. “Vat don’t exist.”
Victor pulled a sleek pistol out of his jacket. “I can kill you to prove it if you like.”
The kid flinched back, holding both palms out. “Fuck, nah I’m good.”
Their small house was simple but roomy, but even then it didn’t have enough space for all of them. Luckily it did have an added flat out the back where Dominic stayed because he liked his privacy more than Victor did. It was hard to have privacy in prison.
So it was immediately decided that for the short time that Noah took to find a new state to hide in, he would stay in the flat with him.
“I’m sorry what?” Dominic’s eyebrow shot so high they almost disappeared into his hairline.
The new comer had chuckled and slung an arm over Dominic’s shoulders.
“Aw c’mon, don’t stress – I’m ‘armless bruv.”
Sydney giggled at his accent and the look of horror that crossed her friends face.
“You can’t make me.” He protested.
Two Days Ago
It had only been four days until a new alert came up on the hacked EOTS file.
This one had been so hastily made that only a passport photo, name, age, and last known location had been added.
Abigail Wright, 30, Hawaii (3 months ago).
She’d managed to travel far in the last three months without hurting anyone and for that, she was grateful.
The force within Abigail was still so raw, so new that it terrified her, and she looked like she had aged ten years instead of one in the last few months. Her epilepsy, while sporadic, was getting worse with her powers, and she couldn’t control the loud, static energy that came with it. The rest of the time, it was a constant humming in her head, like bees had decided that her ear was a good place to set up a hive. She couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t think, and that only added to her condition.
For something that was supposed to protect her, she couldn’t stop it from hurting other people who got in the way at the wrong time. It had already taken her brother, and she couldn’t get over her grief.
The weight of it all had taken its toll – she never took a step outside of her apartment and she barely ate. All she wanted, more than anything was some quiet. But no matter how hard she tried, it seemed even she was not exempt to her powers.
Unbeknown to her, Abigail was about to get exactly what she wanted.
“Why don’t it ‘ave her abi’ity?” Noah asked, frowning over Sydney’s head at the screen.
Mitch swatted him away, “They obviously don’t know much about her – she could be…” he struggled to find the right term, “brand new.”
“She’s dangerous.” Victor added, swiping the print out, and everyone saw the category six stamp that had been added at the bottom. They only ever went up to category five.
Noah whistled low.
“Wait, they’re adding something.” Mitch cut in, changing screens as his fingers became a blur of rapid typing and keystrokes.
While they waited, Sydney wondered what sort of ability could cause a category six. She figured Dominic would probably be around a three, and Noah a definite five (it was on his file). Sydney classified herself as a two before looking over to Victor whose fingers were drumming out a beat against the table as he memorized Abigail’s thin file. Despite his ability, she still couldn’t see him being more than a five. Abigail must truly be a danger, potentially even to herself.
They all turned when Mitch’s typing froze.
“They found her. If we’re gonna move, we have go right now.”
They were still too late.
The small two-story apartment block stood like a grim cellblock with windows instead of bars in the dim afternoon light, and the scene inside wasn’t an improvement by any means.
“We have to find her.” Sydney said miserably when they reached the kicked in door to the mess of the room beyond. Furniture had been tossed, glass was imbedded in the walls that were dotted with mould as if some sort of explosion had occurred, and blood splattered every surface.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea…” Dominic shook his head, eyes staring at all the blood. For good reason, Victor thought – it was everywhere.
The door was sprayed with it, the old carpet was sticky from the large pools of red muck, and the paintings were all tinted red.
Victor slowly moved through the small apartment, quick to not step in it as he followed the trajectory of red until he found more of it covering two bodies in the kitchen. His arm went back automatically to shield Sydney from the sight, but it was Noah who started to hyperventilate and swear as his eyes picked up on the mangled corpses, the red window, and the dripping ceiling.
“We have to find out where the EOTS headquarters is.” Sydney said again, but Noah shook his head stubbornly, his eyes wide with terror.
“Nuh, no fuckin’ way. I aint goin’ to the place you lot warned me ‘bout.”
They were all silent for a while, knowing he had a valid point.
Victor looked over at Sydney, his mouth a thin line. It was too dangerous – not that that had stopped him in the past – but turning himself into a compound where they experimented on EOs sort of went against his plan of self-preservation. The girl looked up at him desperately and he was struck by her innocence and purity of heart. It was no lie that he did not share these same qualities, but at the same time he couldn’t shake the ‘what if’ thoughts – what if it had been her who’d been taken? Or even this terrible new boy who wouldn’t leave?
He sighed – her comics must have been rubbing off on him.
“We’ll find her.” He finally said, and watched hope light up her eyes.
It was settled. Mitch immediately pulled out his phone and Dominic crossed himself, his lips uttering a silent prayer.
“Yous are all fuckin’ men’ll.” Noah complained, his face stricken.
Victor had been adamant about Sydney not coming with him. He made her go with Mitch and the others to help the other EO’s escape instead so that she didn’t feel left out.
He figured he’d be the best person to try and settle Abigail down – she was clearly in a lot of pain, and he was counting on her to trust him enough to not kill him.
Dominic hadn’t stopped crossing himself since they left the destroyed apartment, so he’d planned for him to drop Victor off inside the first tunnel before going to help the others with their part of the plan.
“How good are you at this talent of yours?” Victor quizzed Noah on the way over, turning around in his seat to face the young man.
Lynch looked up from the blueprints Mitch had printed off for everyone and gave him a grin seeping with danger and oil and confidence.
“The best, mate. I could crush vis ole joint if I wanted.” He said, pointing to the map of the complex consisting of two tunnels and a room that joined them in the middle that was about the size of an Olympic swimming pool. “Makes it easier that it’s unnerground already–”
“What about differentiation?” Victor cut in. The boy frowned. He sighed and rephrased, “Can you sense people on the ground? Make sure they don’t get injured?”
“O, right. Course I can – ‘ow’d you fink I’m always uninjured during one of my ground breakin’ shows?” He grinned at his own joke. Dominic rolled his eyes.
Victor nodded, tapping his fingers twice on the plastic leather of the bench seat.
“Good. I’m counting on you then.”
“Because I want you to crush the whole joint. Without crushing me.”
One beep for good, two beeps for bad. That’s what they’d agreed on. Sydney watched her portable radio while they waited in the van, waiting for Victor’s signal to come in to let them know he was there.
They’d all agreed to signal in every ten minutes, just to make sure everyone was safe, especially if someone got separated from the second rescue team. If one person beeped, they were all expected to respond.
Dominic wasn’t back from transporting Victor into the first tunnel yet, and the fact that he was going to be alone made Sydney’s stomach churn. She couldn’t stop seeing the blood splattered room, the category six on Abigail’s file–
Her radio beeped.
A second later Dominic re-appeared next to the open door of the van, quickly waving them out into the cool night air.
There were eight EO’s already in a separate part of the complex according to the documents Mitch had hacked, and they weren’t leaving until they had helped them all escape.
Sydney keyed back a single beep to Victor and got out of the van.
The tunnel was dark, having been carved straight into the rocky cliff. Low hanging florescent lights were spaced a dozen feet apart and the floor was dusty with woodchips and dirt. Victor passed a handful of crates the size of their van with chemical symbols and industrial words printed on the sides before hiding behind one as someone went past wearing a uniform and writing something on a tablet.
Victor pulled out his gun, the silencer already screwed on the end, and the man fell with a dull thud. He ducked out from behind the crate and strode silently down the tunnel, passing empty cage after empty cage. They were installed into the wall like prison cells, and there were some freshly cut holes in the stone, ready for new cages, new prisoners. Victor’s gaze was torn from the ominous spaces when three more voices came yelling from behind him.
He had never been particularly fond of guns, but he was a good shot. At first they all staggered and dropped their guns from the pain that had overcome them before Victor picked them off one by one.
Down the other end of the tunnel, Abigail heard shouts and stood to peer through the bars of her cage.
The buzzing started growing louder.
Sydney received the second signal from Victor, and she sent one back after helping a middle-aged woman who made the air around Sydney whisk her hair around her face. Dominic was tasked to get them outside, but some wanted to stay and help, and after the dozen guards they’d come across, they appreciated, if not needed it.
So far they’d come across four EO’s, and there only seemed to be three left.
Had the files been wrong? Maybe they were counting Abigail as well…
“Uhh, Sydney…” Dominic stood frozen at a different door, his face pale. This cage was connected to the large room beyond and had walls instead of bars and a small window in the door. “Your help might be needed.”
She ran to where he was and peered through to see a man around Noah’s age, maybe a bit older, strapped into a chair and bleeding from multiple wounds that stained his shirt. A drip that didn’t look like it was there to help him was still in his arm, and his dark skin shone with sweat and blood.
As soon as they broke through the lock, she rushed to him, hands hovering over his skin.
“Is he…?” She asked as Dom leaned over in search of a pulse.
His mouth was a grim line when he nodded.
“God, what are they doing to them?” She whispered, before placing her hands on his chest. The ice that ran up her arms made her gasp, and it was a noise mirrored by the man as he opened his eyes, catching his breath like he’d drowned.
Sydney and Dominic were overcome with a nausea and terror and anger – his own emotions suddenly seeping into theirs. “It’s okay.” Sydney quickly consoled, unable to stop tears flooding her eyes. Dominic started hyperventilating, and while they were immune to pain, they were bombarded with panic that made her chest tighten and her blood run cold. “We’re here to get you out.”
The man slowly began to calm down, glancing from one stranger to the other, and saw other EO prisoners running past his door.
“You’re like us?” He asked, pulling back his emotions and the Sydney immediately began to breathe easier.
Dominic was already working on the restraints when Sydney nodded yes and felt an overwhelming joy wash over her when he couldn’t control his relief
Sirens began echoing through the thick concrete and steel, and Victor hoped that Sydney and the others were giving them hell.
He was about a third of the way down the long tunnel when he finally found her.
Abigail looked like a caged animal in every sense of the word. She looked like she could use a good meal and a shower, but her eyes made him freeze.
Not only did she look so utterly tired and traumatized, but there was something in the depths of her dark eyes that… glowed?
“Abigail, my name is Victor.” He said slowly, seeing her stance shift into a defensive one. He desperately wanted her to be anything other than defensive.
“I know that you have powers. I’m exactly like you.”
Abigail’s face crumpled with pain and she pressed the heels of her hands against her temples.
“I promise you, I am here to help you. I can help take the pain away.” Victor told her, moving to the bars cautiously, lifting a pair of industrial metal cutters to pry the padlock open.
He tossed the cutter and the padlock away, slowly backing away as he opened the cage door.
“We can help you.” He offered again, and he could feel her presence in his mind but it was different. It was like she was here, but not at the same time. She grimaced as the buzzing in her head grew steadily louder and louder, and she groaned through clenched teeth. When she opened her eyes, Victor stared as they glowed a deep red, like embers lit them from within.
Sydney stared down at her radio. No beep had come yet. Victor was three minutes late and he was never late.
She sent through her signal, hoping that would cause him to respond, but it didn’t.
“Sydney, come on we gotta go!” Mitch called, grabbing her hand before grabbing Dominic, and the three of them disappeared.
One beep for good, two beeps for bad. But what happened when there were no beeps?
“Stop…!” Abigail cried, and Victor took a few more steps back, raising his hands.
“I’m not trying to hurt you, I know you’re scared–”
“I can’t stop it.” She gasped, and she looked petrified. “I just want it to stop. I just want silence.” The girl had tears streaming down her face and Victor attempted to reach out to turn the dial down for her but she kept rejecting it. Like a barrier: a shield.
A shield made of dynamite and pure, raw energy.
“I’m just trying to help you.” He tried, but he couldn’t feel her the same way he could others. He still felt her presence, but it was murky, hard to hold on to like it was made of sand.
“Please, don’t.” She whispered, tears choking her voice. “It’ll just make it worse. For both of us.”
“I can take the pain away, you have to–” Victor jerked when the sensation of trying to turn her pain down zapped back like electricity. His breath shook like he had actually been electrocuted, and he felt true, proper fear as she too flinched back and cried out in pain.
“I’m sorry.” She sobbed as Victor’s eyes widened when it all clicked.
He wanted to run with an urgency so strong that he’d rather run than breathe, but an energy force slammed into him and stole his breath along with his control.
He felt the tingling along his skin become a throbbing pulse before a deep, visceral ache swept through his bones and every nerve, rapidly turning into sharp, bright pain. Victor gasped as he struggled to turn the dial down, turn it on her, turn it anywhere else but on himself.
But the dial was gone – it wasn’t his anymore; it was being used against him like it was trapped in a glass box, and Victor quickly remembered how intertwined panic and pain were. Victor’s knees buckled as fear crept up his spine like a current and the dial clicked higher and higher and higher still.
“Stop,” he choked, a grimace making way for a grating moan as he landed on his hands and knees.
The dial went up.
Victor doubled over on the floor, yelling into the ground as dirt dusted his hair. “Please!”
The dial went up.
And over the pain rushing like static and the building of energy as the clicks steadily rose, he heard her screaming, struggling against her own pain before crying,
The dial went up.
His skin was slick with a cold sweat under his coat and his muscles burned from the strain and tension. Victor felt the dial click and felt the tears streaming down his face and the hard ground and the rubber bands around his feet, and his scream was so loud he could barely hear it. He felt the dial click and his back arch against the table and the strap that was locked in his jaw and the paralysing pain that was spreading and doubling and burning and ripping through him.
The dial went up.
Somewhere in between trying to pull against straps and screaming into the ground, Victor felt the energy shield pull back, the grinding dial hesitating slightly. He felt the ground shaking beneath him, and something in Abigail slipped.
Through the black spots in his vision, Victor breathed in dust and felt the glass case open, relinquishing control as the dial became his again. The air buzzed loudly before everything snapped off as Victor collapsed onto his back – chest rising and falling as he struggled to keep from trembling.
A tiny voice a thousand miles away called his name before hands clutched his shirtfront.
He flinched at the touch and his eyes that he didn’t realise were closed, snapped open. He was numb after turning everything down so far it had taken most of his awareness away too.
Sydney was looking down at him, her eyes shining and filled with fear. He pushed his lips into a smile that didn’t touch his eyes and he knew she could see straight through it. Something cold dripped down his forehead and across his lips.
“Hey Syd,” He surprised even himself when his voice came out hoarse.
“You didn’t beep.” Was all she said, and Victor reached down to his own radio, watching her as he sent through a single beep, and she smiled. Distantly he wondered why his arm was scraped.
“You okay?” Dominic asked, and he looked above her to see the young man frowning down at him.
“Of course.” His voice was gone from screaming, and his tone would have been convincing if it weren’t for the tear tracks down his face.
What Victor didn’t realise is that they were frowning at all the scratches that covered him head to toe – he looked like he had particularly bad gravel rash.
“I hope so, because we gotta go. Noah’s about to bring the rest of this place down as soon as I get you out.” Dominic stabbed a thumb over to the collapsed tunnel and room beyond. Victor didn’t even bother to feel for Abigail. He could feel the absence of her energy in the air and was simultaneously grateful but disappointed that he couldn’t help her.
Victor pushed himself into a sitting position, pale hair falling across his forehead and into his eyes before Sydney crashed into his chest and wrapped her thin arms around him. Victor’s eyebrows shot up in bewilderment; his hands hovering before he slowly curled them around her. Tentatively, he let a bit more feeling come back into himself to feel her nose against his chest and her small fingers digging into his back. He also felt the sting of his skin and he turned it back off. Victor swallowed, and patted her back as she let go but held onto the lapels of his jacket.
“It’s okay.” He smiled again at her, and this time it was a little more genuine. Syd must have thought it was enough to pass, because she let him stand. He brushed himself off like the dirt was an unwelcome bug on a new suit before grabbing onto Dominic and disappeared just as a sizeable boulder broke away from the ceiling of the tunnel.
As they moved through the shadows, Sydney watched Victor avoid their gazes even after they had reappeared with Mitch and Noah outside, and she thought that despite the dial being turned off, he still looked like he was in pain. Syd knew what waking nightmares felt like enough to know when she saw it in others, and Victor looked like had enough for all five of them.
Not for the first time, she wondered how he had died to get his powers.
Victor shook Noah’s hand in thanks and nodded a “Nice work,” and the kid beamed before Mitch clapped his friend’s shoulder before wincing an apology even though Victor couldn’t feel a thing.
A few rescued EOs who had stuck around to see the destruction of the complex took a collective gasp of relief as Victor took their pain away, before a Japanese woman came up to thank them and told them she owed them her life. Sydney hugged the woman and she bowed before blinking out of view. The three remaining EOs (including the man Sydney had revived because he needed help walking) piled into the van as they headed home, dropping him and another girl the same age off just outside of town, and the other at the train station to disappear into the early morning.
The trip home was bittersweet and silent. Satisfying because an EOTS site was destroyed and eight rescued, but sombre because there should have been one more to celebrate with.
Two Hours Later
Once home, Victor passed Dol without even a ruffle of his ears. Sydney and the huge dog watched as he slammed the bathroom door closed before the sound of the shower echoed through.
“Don’t mind him.” Mitch said, catching Sydney’s sad look.
“What happened to him?” She asked and Mitch shrugged.
“Dunno. I noticed him get like this before too, after bad nights.”
‘Before’ was Mitch’s way of saying in prison, Syd had figured out.
“Sometimes he sulks away, wanting to avoid everyone – including himself. He’ll come round.” He ruffled her hair before opening the fridge for some chocolate milk and chucking Noah a coke.
Victor had become pretty good at hiding his past, both from others and himself, but he hadn’t lapsed like this since the midnight show down with Eli two years ago. He could control pain, but he still couldn’t take away the memory of pain.
He washed off the dirt and dried blood across his skin and under his nails where they had dug into his palms. Four little crescent shaped pink moons smattered both hands, looking fleshy in the steam of the shower. Thinking about how his life had changed so much in the last twelve years, Victor wondered where he would be if Eli had just done a proper thesis like the rest of them. He couldn’t really know for sure, but he was pretty sure that he wouldn’t have the odd family that sat just outside, who drank unhealthy amounts of chocolate milk, got inspired by comics to save others, survived war zones, and had enough ink and attitude to rival a 250 pound inmate.
Victor turned the shower off, shrugged his trench coat on and threw his torn shirt in the trash. The energy from Abigail’s shield tore through the thin fabric, and Victor studied the thin trails of blood that grazed his face and chest and arms in the mirror.
When he finally came out, it was nearing 3am, and Victor was met with a scene in the living room that made him stop. He leant against door jam, crossing his arms as he watched their motley group collapsed against each other asleep.
Mitch was crammed into a corner of the couch with his head back and mouth hanging open, while Sydney had fallen against him with her feet propped up on Noah’s lap as he snored, the brim of his cap stuck between his head and the arm of the couch. His legs were hanging off the couch at an odd angle and Dominic, still not accustomed to the plushness of a mattress, was crashed on the rug in front of them all, using Dol as a cushion.
Victor had to smile at the sight of them, and knew that he wouldn’t want to replace this weird little family with anything else.