Time to call on my new Fist, get them over here for the talk. I warped in place 3 times, big explosion, then small, then biggest. I ended up standing in a bit of a crater, despite sending most of the force upwards.
I’d made up this signal a long time ago. 3 blasts, loud-soft-louder. It meant that the fight was over, and everyone on my team should come to me. My Fists didn’t like it much, the Union had counterfeited it with bombs from time to time, but it was convenient for me.
Indulger was already here, pulling himself back together after Thor’s last attacks had splattered him. I ignored him for the moment.
Haunter and Preventer were out of their hole, hiding behind a building. When they heard the summons they started towards me, then stopped. Haunter made some of her ghosts and sent them off at a run back towards the tunnel that they’d just crawled out of.
They were arguing about it even as the ghosts ran off. Preventer wanted to come to me immediately, Haunter thought that they should get Fisher and Condemner first. The two really didn’t get along very well, with Preventer all but threatening her teammate. Eventually Preventer accepted Haunter’s decision and they stayed in hiding.
Condemner was going to be late, anyway. He’d remade his human form a good ways away, and he didn’t show any sign of recognizing the signal. Haunter’s guys would have to fetch him. Whatever.
I took a moment for myself.
Redo was still on fire in a few places and it had grown uncomfortably warm. Even still, there was a certain peace about the scene. I was in a place with very little smoke, there wasn’t any real noise to upset me. My sense only had to keep track of my Fist and some random daggers that had avoided all of the fighting.
I took the occasional jaunt out into the middle of nowhere for this. Just got far enough away from everyone that my sense didn’t have to track them all the time. Alone, isolated, I was something close to safe. The space after a battle was kind of similar.
I cracked my knuckles, focusing my sense on my own form, feeling how each finger shifted. I burped, thumping my chest a bit, feeling how the tubes in my throat made that sound. It never ceased to be fascinating.
This whole complicated thing that I was, this whole meat outfit. I made a new one every time I warped anywhere. I couldn’t have drawn the smallest bit of it without referring to my sense. Couldn’t tell you offhand how toes bend or smell works. My gift just did it for me, forming me back together just like I had been when I got the power. It was weird.
Indulger was back together enough to stumble to his feet. He was gasping and panting as he looked at me. He didn’t need to, his lungs were fine, but this was probably his first time getting so messed up. I gave him a fond smile, watched him flinch.
Whatever had happened to him before I showed up had shredded his clothes, and I wasn’t complaining. Thor wasn’t the only present that Redo had for me.
He dropped down into the Posture all of a sudden, looking kind of guilty and panicked. I gestured for him to get back up, but he wasn’t looking in a direction where he could see my hands.
“Get up,” I told him.
He got back to his feet, a little shaky.
Before I could say anything else to him the three ladies in the team came limping out of the wreckage.
Haunter, strangely, looked the worst of the lot. She hadn’t been hurt, that I could tell. In fact, she couldn’t be hurt until all her ghosts were gone, if I was remembering her ability right. Still, she looked a lot like a guy who I’d given the choice of killing his wife or killing himself. Same sunken stare.
Haunter’s age might have been part of it. She was so old. I mean, obviously I was older, but I had a new body every few minutes. Haunter’s body was like a hundred or so. I was suddenly struck by curiosity.
I focused in on her internals like I sometimes did my own, looking for tears, weaknesses, cancers and other problems. None. None in an old hag. That was weird. Her gift must shield her somehow.
Maybe when she gets sick enough a shade dies and she’s fixed? That would make sense.
Anyway, she didn’t have anything actually wrong with her. The long face, the glazed stare, they were all the result of something upstairs. She was of those people who spend a lot of time beating themselves up in their mind.
Preventer, unsurprisingly, looked fine. Well, she looked angry and dusty, but fine.
Her clothes weren’t even stained. Somehow they’d decided to go into a tough fight and kept the invincible woman in the back.
I’m not really a great planner. My gift basically means that I don’t need to. Even I knew that that was a screw up though. Preventer hadn’t been in the fight, which meant that whatever their plan was, it had been a bust.
She was also really angry. Her gift didn’t seem to classify the mild parts of anger as harm, so she could grind her teeth, sweat a bit and narrow her eyes. She wasn’t exactly muttering, but my gift let me know that she was mouthing the word ‘bitch’ an awful lot. Normally I’d figure that someone doing that was talking about me, but she was mostly glaring at Haunter.
Apparently their fight just now wasn’t a one time thing. That was perfect.
Fisher looked almost as bad as Haunter did. Not on the surface. Fisher was a shapeshifter of some kind, so her surface form was never going to look anything other than how she wanted to present it. But I could sense the trembling, the wildly beating heart.
To any random observer who was watching us, say someone sitting over Snitcher’s shoulder, Fisher would look like a calm and beautiful woman dutifully following her troop over to me. To me she seemed like a woman on the edge of an explosion. It was very similar to how Thor’s vitals had been when I was killing his cronies. She was on edge.
They dropped, one after another, into the Posture. It reminded me of old police lineups, everyone with their hands up to be cuffed. I’d taught those fuckers, at last.
I let them stay there for a bit, just kneeling and worrying while Haunter’s ghosts brought Condemner closer. He was asking them what was going on, and they gave him the gist. Told him to get his ass over here before I killed them.
It was interesting that Haunter thought I might be going to kill them for being slow to get their unit together. That would be really wasteful, and I’d been in these things a bunch. I knew how hard it was to get everyone on the same page when you didn’t have any communication powers.
“Indulger,” I said.
He looked over at me. The ladies didn’t look up, stayed in perfect Posture.
“Can you find Condemner? Like with your rock powers?”
I knew he could, of course. But asking was a way to remind him that he could without looking like I already knew it. He gave a nod. It looked kind of frightened, which was understandable, but a bit disappointing.
Shortly after, Condemner’s pace picked up as the ground under him began doing a moving sidewalk impression. He was practically slung into the crater, and flopped down alongside the others.
I gave them all a once over. Five Ultras, generally high power levels. I’d sent them out to a city full of the enemy, and when I caught up, the city was on fire and most of the enemy were dead or fled. On the surface, a useful team.
But there were a lot of little warning signs. Preventer hated Haunter, which wasn’t bad in and of itself. Lots of people in my Fists hated other members of the Fists. But Preventer didn’t hate Pursuer, the giant dog man who had threatened to rape her. She didn’t hate Subtracter, who’d asked me, in her hearing, for permission to kill her. Preventer wasn’t the kind of person who hated people who acted against her.
No, she was the kind of person like my mom had been. She hated people who weren’t useful to her. So if she hated Haunter, it kind of meant that there was more serious friction there than the usual dick measuring.
Also, like, why was Indulger the leader? He was eye candy, sure, and his power was probably the strongest of the group’s, but he was a dumbass. It seemed like there had to be a story on why they put him in charge.
“So, how’d the fight go?” I asked.
None of the four in the Posture moved an inch. Indulger looked back at them for support, then spoke up.
“Well, you killed them all. Thanks, Boss!”
He had a kind of puppy dog earnestness to him, which made it hard to suspect him of trying to dodge my questions on purpose.
“I mean, before I showed up. What went down?”
The words spilled from him then. He tripped over himself in his eagerness to tell me what they’d done.
I could feel Haunter and Preventer tensing up as he spoke. No doubt they’d intended to present their plans in some kind of better light. Indulger obviously hadn’t been briefed on that. He told me what they’d done in plain and simple terms.
He told me how they’d snuck in, instead of just attacking. He told me how they’d skulked around, investigated to find where Thor and Krishna’s weaknesses were. He told me some irrelevant stuff about how the local laborer population had lived, and I kind of hurried him through that part. Finally he got to the main point, how Fisher had somehow turned Krishna and Thor’s troops against each other, resulting in the big fight that I caught the tail end of.
I laughed out loud.
Maybe if someone else had been telling it I’d have gotten mad. I mean, as a usual rule I liked my Fists to be the strongest, to win by crushing the enemy. If other people try to use strength versus weakness, my rule was strength against strength. But this was precious, and he was very cute.
Just imagining those Pantheon fuckers, who thought that they were so sneaky, being duped by Indulger was hysterical. By Indulger’s unit. By a guy who probably couldn’t count past ten without taking his shoes off.
“Ease up ladies, out of the Posture,” I said then.
The rest of the Fist stood up, Haunter dragging Fisher and Condemner up when they wouldn’t have gotten up on their own.
“That was a pretty good move. Turn them against each other. You used Fisher’s mind powers for that, right?”
Indulger clearly didn’t know, but Preventer gave a nod that confirmed it.
“Don’t make a habit of this kind of thing,” I told them. “I don’t like people getting the idea that if things worked out differently they might have won.”
Nods all down the line, but a tension along Haunter’s neck told me that she didn’t really agree.
“I’m the only one who gets to win.”
The trembling stilled. Had it been her ghosts? More likely she was just old and stubborn, remembered how things had been done way back when.
“Anyway, I’m still kind of impressed. You destroyed these guys without fighting. That’s probably hard. Good job. You pass the obvious part of the test.”
A few of them smiled at the first part of what I’d said, before it sunk in.
“I was talking with Remover about you guys before I showed up. She didn’t think you had what it takes to be a Fist. She thought that you were weak, not like you have weak powers, but like you have weak minds. I told her that I’d check.”
“We aren’t dumb!” said Indulger.
None of the rest backed him up. Even out of the Posture they seemed to be trying to do as little as possible in front of me. Bad side effect of the scare stories that I sometimes put out. I wasn’t actually going to kill them in the middle of this conversation, probably. It was a trade off. Make them afraid and they didn’t volunteer anything. Make them comfy and they forgot who was in charge.
“Way back in the day I used to call teams like you my Hands.”
This wasn’t actually true, but who was going to argue with me? I was making a point.
“But I realized, eventually, that the only thing that I ever sent them to do was wreck stuff, kill folks. So I started to use the term Fists. I think it has worked out pretty well.”
Some of them seemed to be getting where I was going with this. But Indulger and Fisher were still blank. I continued.
“I had that kind of worry about you. I thought that you might have confused yourselves about what I wanted from you. That you might think you were my hands.”
I held up my hands as I said that last, clasping them in front of me to make the point.
“So I told Karen, Remover, that if I came by and found that you’d taken on the enemy Ultras, and left the humans alone, I’d admit that she had a point. If Haunter had talked up cop rules or something like that, if you thought that your job was just to do what I told you, then I didn’t need you.”
Outright confusion from Indulger now. I decided to be a little more blunt.
“I wasn’t sure that you’d figured out that on the end of every job I give you, in the little words that lawyers used to use, it says something like ‘and kill everybody’.”
Preventer was getting less nervous as I went on, realizing the obvious point I was making. Haunter was getting more agitated. She was probably not in love with this concept. Well, whatever. As long as she obeyed.
“And what do I find? The city in flames. Everybody dead. You passed Remover’s test without even knowing about it!”
This was pretty much horseshit, actually. I hadn’t talked to Remover in a few days. I certainly didn’t take her orders as to who I let in the Fists. There wasn’t really a secret test. I just wanted to drive home the point that I had a certain job that I wanted them to do, and also a good way to make a person into something is to tell them that they already are.
“So you passed my test and Remover’s. Congrats!”
No reaction. Indulger was looking kind of sad, maybe he hadn’t realized that Condemner had burned everyone. Haunter was staring straight ahead, Fisher was missing her other half, etc.
I tried again.
“Fourth Fist. You did it. I’m going to take you to Linker, and you are going to become immortal!”
That got a reaction.