Two pale faces were presented toward each other, though only one could see the other.
On one side of the door, a woman’s face whose worry had drained it of no small amount of blood, one eye pressed to the peephole.
On the other side, a man whose face was even paler—a corpse-like blue-white—though he could have chosen otherwise.
Both bodies shivered, one with growing fear and the other with rising anger.
“Let me the fuck in,” the man said firmly, coldly, and pounded on the door again with one fist. “This isn’t over yet. Not until I say it’s over.”
Her body quaked all the more at that, and she wondered if that was the precursor of terror, or if he realized she was on the other side of the door and was using his powers to disrupt her body’s functions. Would he do that? Would he stoop to physical violence or harm her with his powers when so far he’d only chosen verbal abuse?
Come, come, come, the woman thought fiercely. Where are you?
The voice wasn’t as clear to her as it was to the man trying to enter her apartment, but almost as if in answer to her silent plea, she heard it from near the street.
“Giddyup away from the door, dude. Really, this is just not cool.”
The corpse-hued man turned at the sound of that voice, leaving only his back for the woman to see, and preventing her from seeing the newcomer who had spoken. She backed slowly away from the door, praying silently as she did, wondering if either Jesus or Buddha would care enough to grant her wishes right now.
“Who the hell are you?” sneered the man on the porch, looking down at the Asian man with the slight build wearing a pair of motorcycle goggles and standing on the sidewalk just at the base of the steps. “I’ve got business here, and none of it is yours.”
“It’s all mine,” said the young man on the sidewalk. He shuffled from foot to foot, giving off the vibe that he was more embarrassed than he was nervous. “The business, that is. Your business is my business…there’s no business like show business—no business I know. I guess you could say I’m inheriting the business. Glower of attorney and all that. Hi. My name’s Peter. Don’t call me Pete, though. I’d rather have a name that rhymes with heater than one that rhymes with sleet.”
For a moment, the man on the porch said nothing. Simply gazed at the newcomer with pure confusion. “What the hell are you on and where can I get some? Well, Peter…I have stuff to talk about with my girlfriend. You need to leave. My name’s Cadaverous.”
Peter shuffled from foot to foot a bit more, seeming more like a man who needed to pee very badly now, and said, “Do you know your name is an adjective?”
“I dropped my fucking human name a few days after I realized I was a transhuman,” Cadaverous responded. “And I never looked back. If you don’t leave, you’ll find out why I have that name.”
Peter frowned, and wished that Christine hadn’t been in such urgent need for help—meaning that he had to rush right over. He wasn’t wearing any of his many-colored coats, nor his mask or normal goggles. He also didn’t have on a pair of his good boots—just a pair of sneakers that would be well and truly shredded if things turned nasty here and he had to go all out. “Okey dookie. Well, uh, I thought the whole cadaverous thing probably had something to do with your complexion. Still, you’re using an adjective for a name, dude. That’s probably against some kind of high school English rule. Wouldn’t Cadaver be enough?”
Cadaverous didn’t speak for several seconds, while his skin went from corpse-hued to a light tan shade. “Better? I can demonstrate some more damaging powers if you like. This isn’t makeup,” he noted, as his face returned to its paler color. “I can change my skin color and even the shape of my face a little, and that’s just one of my powers. I’m a transhuman, and I will fuck you up.”
“Are you gonna fornicate her up, too?” Peter asked. “Cuz that’s what’s got me concerned. I’m kinda irresponsible for Christine and I need to make sure you leave her alone. Ya know? Like ride off into the sunspot and never come back to this town that isn’t big enough for the two of us and where you don’t feel lucky punk.”
“Seriously, I don’t have beef with you yet but I will mess you up, and if you keep talking crazy, I may just kill you. Except that no one will ever be able to pin it on me. I’ll just go down there, touch you, and your heart will stop. How’s that sound?”
“Heartbreaking?” Peter ventured. “Sorry, I’m not good with the witty red toupee stuff. Was that funny? Query said I should practice conversational skills like that as a kind of therapy. He does verse and rap and stuff like that to keep his head together. Me? I kinda like having loose lobes in my brain.”
“Query? Don’t try to play tough with me. No fucking way a skinny, scared dork like you knows Query. And I seriously doubt you have any powers—at least any worth mentioning.”
“I’m not skurred,” Peter said. “I just don’t like construct.”
“Conflict, you idiot. Conflict!” Cadaverous snapped.
“Conflict. Redshift. Twitpic. Drastic. Oh, bang it!,” Peter exclaimed. “All near-rhyme. What rhymes with conflict? If I have a pneumatic, maybe I won’t forget that again.”
“Pneumatic? What? You mean menomic?”
“Oooooh. Almost. You got it wrong this time instead of me. Cool! It’s mnemonic, right? Whew! Glad to have that sorted. One less confusatory in my Brian.”
“Yeah, brine. Right. Thanks.”
“Go the fuck away! Last chance!” Cadaverous bellowed. “I’m not stepping aside for some idiot who wants my girl.”
“I don’t have any redesigns on her,” Peter said, scrunching up his face. “Ewwww. She broke up with you. She wants you to leave her alone. I’m here to make sure that happens.”
“If she wants to break up with me, she can come out here and tell me herself.”
“She tells me she told you herself nine times already. Four times in person, twice by telephone and three times by texting,” Peter countered. “Seems like enough. Any normal guy would get the message by now.”
“Why are so suddenly talking normal?” Cadaverous asked. “You were just fucking with me earlier, weren’t you? Well-played, but fun’s over. Go home and leave me to deal with my girl.”
“She isn’t yours,” Peter said, “and people tell me I start making more sense when the adrenaline starts pumping. You know. Just before a fight and stuff like that. Doesn’t always work like that. Guess it is now, though. Now. How. How now brown cow.”
“Or not,” Cadaverous said with an irritated tone. “Fight? OK, that’s funny. And you’re a dead man. Or at least one who’s gonna have a wicked long stay in an ICU.”
Peter chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip. Dangalangadingdong. I gotta be careful here. I’ve said too much. Not exactly wide public knowledge that Mad Dash and Query are friends, so that slip isn’t too bad. But still, this Cadaverous guy’s not a total moron,and I’ve dropped enough hints that I’m related to Christine that I may not have a secret identity if I show too much.
He shrugged to himself more than to his adversary and, as Cadaverous started down the top step, Peter took the initiative to close the distance. He held back on his speed considerably, so that he’d seem to just have quick reflexes rather than Speedster powers, and grabbed the other man before he could react, then spun him off the porch steps so that he tumbled onto the sidewalk and rolled into a tree planted near the curb. The thud was audible, and Peter wondered if the man’s head or back against the trunk had made the sound—or both.
Peter considered his options, realizing he hadn’t really planned out how to dissuade the guy from bugging Christine anymore when he was running over here. Or maybe I did work it all out and forgot, because I think I have an idea.
He keyed up the phase-shifting aspect of his Speedster powers but didn’t move from his spot on the middle of the porch steps. Then he started shaking, making spastic motions while kicking in the simple quickness aspect of his Speedster powers.
Normally, the effect of those two Speedster powers together would be to pump him up to relative speeds that could put a speeding car to shame, but he wasn’t going anywhere, just spasming and jerking to and fro. He wasn’t sure exactly how it looked to Cadaverous from his vantage point, but Peter figured it looked pretty eerie, and it probably looked a lot like one of those freaky ghosts in a Japanese horror flick—maybe a bit more unnerving. To Cadaverous, it probably seemed as if Peter was disappearing and reappearing like some series of scenes on a stuttering reel of film and as if his body were attaining unnatural angles and stretching or contracting in freakish ways.
“I’m a trucking Warpsmith like you’ve never seen before,” Peter said, wondering if what he was doing was giving his voice a disturbing timbre. “You can’t kill someone quick. I know you need time; Christine told me. You won’t get me in a dreadloc or any other wrestling holds to do that. But I just need to touch you for a a few seconds—all over your body—really quicktime, and I’ll shred half your skin and muscles into another dimension and all over the sidewalk. You’ll really be cadaverous then, dude.”
Then Peter shut down his powers suddenly and ceased acting out his ruse, then said, calmly, “Your indecision, dude. I’m a Casanova, not a Rocky Balboa. Or something like that. Not much of a romantical, either, I guess—not really—but I can fight you if you want even though I won’t like it much. If you’re tired of life, the universe and everywhere, that is.”
Peter stuck his hands in his pockets and looked into Cadaverous’ eyes almost shyly. He slouched a little, leaning against the railing of the porch steps, and waited for the other man to make a move—or not.
“If I ever catch you in a dark alley, you’re dead,” Cadaverous finally said shakily a minute or two later.
“OK, so as long as I’m still alive, you leave Christine alone, right?” Peter asked, and wondered if he’d still be talking this much or this long if he was in his full Mad Dash attire and could treat this guy like any other transhuman punk—or normal vanilla human punk for that matter.
“I…I don’t…shit…fine. She was a lousy lay anyway.”
Peter studied the man’s eyes and posture—now that he was standing again. He’d learned a lot about body language and intonation from Query tutoring him, and also just from dealing with enemies on his own as Mad Dash, and his people instincts were better honed than his ability to convey a coherent stream of thought in words. The fire was out of Christine’s ex-boyfriend. He was an abusive fuck, but not committed enough to abusing this particular woman when his life was potentially on the line.
Life didn’t give guarantees. But likely his cousin would be free of this jerk now, as long at she didn’t decide to hook up with him again.
Peter stood there a long time, until Cadaverous got up finally and walked away, looking back with hate at Peter several times. When he was long gone, Peter sighed, went back up the stairs, and knocked at the door. Christine opened the door, gave him a fierce hug, and said, “Thank you thank you thank you thank you.”
“Uh, you’re welcome. A swifferier way to thank me would be to stop dating jerks. Especially transhuman ones.”
“Bad boys are more fun,” she said, stepping away and sliding her hair away from one eye, smiling. “And you know, having such a great cousin who’s got power and stuff makes me feel like just any old boring guy won’t do.”
“You have bad taste in men, and adding transhuman powers to the spaghetti mix makes it that much bread crumbier,” Peter said.
“I don’t have bad taste. Like I said, it’s more fun.”
“Until one of them hits you. Or hits you harder than any of the others did. Or kills you.”
Christine was silent for several moments, then muttered, “No one’s hit me yet. At least not all that hard. Can you stop playing the dad role now? Or big brother. Whatever.”
“You’re like a sister to me oh, my oh,” he responded, “and I don’t want you hurt.”
“I don’t want you hurt, either, but you keep going out and fighting bad guys and shit, so maybe…you know…glass houses and all that?” she said.
“Yeah, yeah. People in greenhouses shouldn’t juggle knives or something like that,” he said with a smile, and his cousin wondered if he was joking or just speaking his jumbled thoughts and not noticing as usual. “But my situation is different.”
“Keep telling yourself that, Peter Nguyen,” she said grimly. “Choice is choice is choice. You think he’ll be back?”
Peter shook his head. “Nah. Neverland, I think.” He stared off into the empty distance into which Cadaverous had walked, and wondered if the man would enter a life of crime and they’d cross paths again—or maybe he already was a criminal; it wouldn’t be Christine’s first time dating one of those. “I don’t think he’ll be back, Christine. But the next guy might be, and no matter how fast I run, I can’t always get here before something bad happens. I can’t outrun a bullet. Remember that.”
“Yeah,” Christine said, a tone both morose and sarcastically amused tinging her words. “You remember that, too.”