Heavy boots stamped the rain soaked sidewalk and Figaro dodged into an alley. Wet rats scattered from his path as he made his way, hands lodged deep in his jean pockets. His thumb moved back and forth across the cuts of his apartment key. That’s where he should have stayed tonight, he thought. In his cramped, dark apartment. He checked over his shoulder as the Stulurk soldiers passed by, then looked forward in time to avoid colliding with a wooden privacy fence separating the alley from the back patio of a brunch joint.
It was just, he’d spent so many evenings in that apartment. The only two friends he’d had since coming here had gone, and took with them his already modest social life. He didn’t feel like himself since they left, and no one else seemed to recognize him any more.
It didn’t help he’d changed his name, but he couldn’t go by Albert Nelson another day. If he was going to make new friends, it wasn’t going to be as Al. It was going to be as someone interesting, someone worth knowing. It was going to be as Figaro, a guy who didn’t take shit from anybody. Not landlords, not bosses, not portly drunks with no regard for personal space.
And why should he take shit from anyone or anything? Figaro could manipulate gravity, the stuff of black holes and planetary orbit. He had a superpower. He could be whoever he wanted, he thought, lifting off the ground. His knees bent and his hands hands left his pockets to grab the top of the fence. He pulled himself up by the ledge then kicked off it, gliding over the closed restaurant patio like a swimmer before sinking toward the ground again.
Figaro landed on his feet and glanced again over his shoulder at the fence before pulling his hood over his hair. His head throbbed, and he touched his cheekbone where the drunk had slugged him. He’d bruise soon, and people at work would ask him what happened.
“Get into it with your old lady?” That’s what Alvarez would say. He always had some dumbass comment. He was always joking. Figaro almost envied him.
Would the bar fight make it to the news?
He came around the side of the restaurant to the sidewalk in front of it, looked both ways, and crossed the street. No, he decided, pausing in the middle to wait for a car to pass. The news had enough to cover elsewhere. And there was no proof of anything happening –just what a bunch of old drunks said. And the barkeep.
The sound of an authoritative voice farther down the street made him walk quicker. Someone must have said something. Was it the barkeep? They’d believe her. He clamped a hand over his shirt pocket, finding it empty of cigarettes. He’d left them on the bar. One was half smoked. His mouth had been on it. He wasn’t sure, but Figaro thought that might somehow lead them to him quicker.
The fear was dismissed as quickly as it occurred. It wouldn’t help them track him down, now; he just had to hurry home. Everything would be forgotten tomorrow. He worked, after all, and Stulurk needed all the able-bodied workers it could get.
The soldiers –a different posse of six than had walked by before –rounded the corner and Figaro sucked in a breath. He whirled around and walked in the opposite direction, immediately regretting his choice. Now they were behind him, stomping and shining flashlights into alleys. He walked fast but they were faster.
The stoplight in the middle of the street turned red and Figaro turned to step off the sidewalk, but collided with a soldier who’d caught up to him.
“Pardon,” he said, keeping his eyes on the ground. It was what Al Nelson would have done. It was something anyone in his right mind would have done.
“Maybe you can help me,” the other man said, crossing his arms across his chest. He wore black. A jacket, even in the miserable wet heat. His shaved head had the shadow of a hairline growing back.
“I don’t think so,” Figaro said, not stopping.
“That’s an order.”
He stopped now, just after stepping off the curb, and turned back. “How can I help?”
The others in their black clothes gathered around the speaker, all staring. Their eyes burned into him –literally. He could feel their stares like tiny lasers roving over him. He squinted at their feet.
“A man reportedly just left O’Rin’s Pub after exhibiting a …sui generis ability,” the soldier said. “You match his physical description.”
“What, like my clothes?”
No one answered.
“There’s gotta be at least three other guys on this street wearing a hoodie and jeans,” Figaro said, voice wavering.
“Valid point,” the soldier said, surprising him. “Now look up.”
It had never happened to him before, but Figaro had seen others meet the Stulurk soldier’s eyes before. He’d never seen it end well for the civilian.
“Look up. Now.”
He did. He tried to focus on the soldier’s eyebrows, then his nose, his mouth. It didn’t matter. The tiny laser burn seared his eyes, which wept instantly. But it wasn’t like staring into the sun, as he’d imagined. He didn’t experience the urge to close his eyes or look away.
“We’re gonna need to take you in for questioning,” the soldier said, blinking. The burn relieved in the same instant.
Figaro swallowed. Did people even come back from “questioning?” There was a common belief in these streets that “questioning” was synonymous with “firing squad.”
Just as impatience shadowed the face of the speaker, Figaro turned and broke into a sprint across the street. He heard the six soldiers scramble to draw their firearms. The stoplight turned green and the cars lined along the street’s four lanes converged toward him. Figaro turned around, slowing down but still moving, in time to see six muzzle flashes. Six bullets crashed into the asphalt around him, creating tiny craters in the street.
Most cars had slammed on their brakes before coming too close, but the first to enter Figaro’s bubble of personal space sank nose first as if crushed under an invisible fist.
Exhaling, he tightened his effect radius. The car sat smoking, crushed from its hood to the beginning of the windshield, while gunshots shattered the night. Bullets plinked around him, some sinking into the ground, others ricocheting and striking cars. The asphalt cracked and sank under each step Figaro took while he backed across the street.
Four of the six stopped shooting, opting to try and get closer. Figaro’s eyes shifted from the half-crunched car to the approaching men and women. Were they suicidal? He didn’t need that on his conscience, nor on his record.
Altering his path, Figaro kept his distance but angled himself around one of the stopped cars, then let up on the gravity. At the same time he turned and sprinted, almost colliding with a staring pedestrian before slipping into an alley. Never slowing, he launched himself from the ground and slowly collided against the brick wall of an apartment building. He ran up its exterior on all fours, using window ledges to propel himself upward faster.
From the alley he could hear the soldiers shouting to one another below. They crossed the street and swarmed into the alley, but he’d already made his way around to the other side of the building. He pushed off from it, gliding downward and into the next street. There were no moving cars here, just a lone man walking. The stranger stopped and gawked as Figaro touched to the ground and sprinted off down the street.
The four soldiers barrelled through the alley in the next moment, and the pedestrian lunged out of their way. They chased Figaro, whose footsteps became thunderous as he charged forward. Three stopped to shoot, leaving one man to pursue. He was the fastest by far, and drew closer to Figaro faster than he could run away from him.
The bullets arched toward the ground as soon as they got close to Figaro, burying themselves in the asphalt. He created a pothole or shallow indention with every step, but he was slowing down. His lungs hurt ached, and beer sloshed itself into a foam in his gut.
He stumbled, and the soldier drew closer. Figaro could hear his steps somehow over his own and his pounding heart, between the others’ gunshots. He debated surrender, but he didn’t know what it would mean. He’d never see the cramped, dark apartment again, or hear from his friends, or drink a beer again. That was certain. If he was even allowed to live, he’d be in prison. Especially now he’d demonstrated he could do a little more than make beers float.
The shrieking of tires silenced the buzz of his thoughts, and drew attention from the soldier. Figaro froze in the center of the street, watching with rounded eyes as an armored military truck skidded around the corner. It came for him, at first sliding left and right before the driver regained control. He glanced over his shoulder, finding the road clear as bullets continued to dive into the asphalt around him.
He didn’t give himself time to get out of the way.
Figaro fell back onto his ass, shielding his eyes with his forearm from the headlights of the truck. He expanded his invisible area of effect, and the truck lifted from the road. As it launched over him, back tire barely clearing his head, one of the bullets struck home. He felt like he’d been kicked in the back.
He increased the gravity around him again, bringing the armored truck slamming back down onto the road. Its doors swung open and more black clad militia stepped out, but the firing had stopped.
“Hold your fire!” A woman yelled. She sounded close behind him.
Figaro was already back on his feet, running. He’d only gained a few strides when his vision blurred and his legs weakened. The asphalt stopped sinking under his feet, but his body dragged down toward it. He landed on his knees and sat for a moment before toppling sideways onto the wet street.
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