I’m not a physicist; I know just enough to recognize my own ignorance on the subject. For example, I know that powers are called ‘omicron aberrations’ by some scientists, and that they are believed to be caused by vibrations within a ‘gauge field’ with ‘half-integer spin’ (generally thought impossible until the discovery and later exploitation of upsilon waves). I don’t know all of the implications for this, but it does mean that one term (discouraged among many scientists) for the effects is ‘pseudo-gravity.’ Many powers essentially replicate things that gravitational energy could do if applied selectively.
It’s this reason why enhanced strength and speed, in myriad slight variations, are the most common powers: they are each basic alterations to aspects of the user’s interaction with the world based on the user’s mass and energy. It’s also why more than 90% of pregnancies with activated genes for super powers aren’t carried to term: random fluctuations in mass are going to be very dangerous to a delicate developing human.
This is also given as a reason why so many powers are observed to have built-in safeguards or defenses to protect the wielder. Not because this is strictly inherent in the power itself, but the existence of those defensive features make it far more likely for the super to develop into adulthood. These defensive powers act to protect the user against attacks using powers of the kind that the user has themselves; for example, a super with the ability to manipulate electrical energy will automatically ground or divert electrical energy away from their own body, and would have a ready defense against electrical attacks (either by other supers or by a stun gun, for example).
It also means that, in a battle between supers with different kinds of powers (for example, enhanced strength and enhanced speed versus powerful telekinesis), it may be impossible to know ahead of time how the powers of one super will interact with the defenses of another. That’s why super battles often involve earlier probing attacks before significant resources are committed.
I didn’t consciously process all of this information again when I realized that Refraxx had headed to Newark, but the conclusion was in the forefront of my mind as I decided what to do. My first action was immediate; I displayed the warehouse address on Delphic’s drone screen. Lakki was still waiting nervously to hear back from me.
“Refraxx headed to the Kowalczyk warehouse more than an hour ago,” I sent in Delphic’s voice. “I will try to locate him.”
She froze in a scowl of terrified anger for several seconds, staring at my screen, before calling out. “No! He… Harm!” She looked around calling out for her host. “Harmony! Help!”
I didn’t see Liberty nearby, but Kelda was standing with GigaGiant and Fleetfoot just a few feet away. They turned and moved towards us, Kelda in the lead with a worried expression on her face. “Is something the matter, Ms. Lakshmi?” she asked.
The young woman shook her head vigorously, hunching in on herself as though she could retreat into a protective carapace. She nodded toward me. “Zee went to Newark to confront the kidnappers. I…” she looked at me, pleadingly. “I didn’t know he would do that. He usually isn’t…” her expression darkened, “… but when it’s about me…”
“I need to attempt to locate him,” I sent. “Please stand by.”
Just then a loud cracking sound came over the line, and I noticed the other three flinch as Fleetfoot left the room, whipping the air up sufficiently to make a visible wind. I dismissed the sight as I sank into my View, mentally recalling the warehouse and hoping that I wasn’t too late.
A guardhouse with a boom gate blocking the drive up to the warehouse appeared to be its only external security. The building looked grimier at night, its blacked-out windows and loading bays dully reflecting the street lamps that formed cones of light on the dark of the asphalt. A quick sweep around the building showed three cars and a pickup truck, but no motorcycle in sight.
“Are you calling him?” I heard Liberty’s voice through the channel.
“I’ve been trying all night,” Whisper replied. “He’s not answering me.”
“Maybe Delphic can hack his phone, or the motorcycle,” rumbled GigaGiant.
I didn’t have time to respond to them. I moved my View into the second floor of the building where Buzz stayed, hoping to find something that might either discourage Refraxx or aid what he was doing. What I found was Buzz Kowalczyk, Junior, sitting side by side with both Joes watching football. One younger man was the only other person in sight – not the same one who delivered the email the previous week, but similar enough in look and dress that he might have been a brother. It was clear the Kowalczyks kept their hideout for family.
“It’s well over a hundred miles from here,” I heard Liberty saying over the drone audio. “There’s no way we can get there in time to do anything.”
“Call the police?” Lakki pleaded.
“Adding them or NJST just puts Zee in worse shape,” Liberty replied. “Any outcome I can think of, we don’t want witnesses.”
Liberty’s focus was squarely on what Refraxx had decided to do. A super picking a brawl with someone like this was assault with a deadly weapon – and when the weapon was super powers, it could be tried in federal court as a capital crime. Not something you wanted third party witnesses to, even sympathetic ones.
Based on the time that Refraxx’s motorcycle had left HQ, his estimated arrival was any minute. I moved my View back out to the street in time to see the blue motorcycle dodge around the boom gate, past the unmanned guardhouse, and brake in front of the warehouse doors.
I had never before seen the signature blue glow of omicron radiation around Refraxx, but I saw it now. I didn’t know if it was evidence of his intense emotion or a lack of control, but he thrust his open hand forward at the warehouse doors and I watched a spear of blue energy fly from his hand to strike them. The metal doors were set to open outward, but they and the frame in which they were set flew inward, leaving a gaping hole in the warehouse wall that Refraxx stalked through.
When the inner security door on the second floor was opened the same way, it revealed three men standing and facing the entrance, only just responding to the undoubtedly loud noises from the floor below. There was a sudden pause on both sides as Refraxx oriented on his suddenly revealed targets, who in turn tried to process what they were seeing.
Except for the younger Kowalczyk, all of the men recovered in the same instant. A visible act of will caused a wave of blue, opaque enough to seem tangible, to cascade from the superhero’s outstretched hands. Buzz and the boy immediately slammed backwards against the wall, hard.
The two enforcers did not. Big Joe leaned to the side as Refraxx reached toward them; he appeared twenty feet to the left and prepared to move again. Old Joe leaned forward, instead, and fought to move against the force pushing him back. The blue light, moving through the other men as though they weren’t there, thickened and diverted around Old Joe as though he were a rock splitting the current in a stream.
“… the first we could expect to get on the scene, and not for almost an hour. It’s the best we can do; will you give the order?” Liberty’s voice was knotted with emotion as she spoke, but I realized I was missing context. I tuned her out again to focus on the battle.
The wave of force let up as Refraxx focused his full attention to the enhanced strength of Old Joe. As soon as he was no longer pressed against the wall, the young man scurried out of the room, staying low to the ground. Buzz made no sudden movements as he regained his footing, neither fleeing nor fighting but rubbing the back of his head, dazed.
The blue-clad Refraxx didn’t pause between attacks, pouring a solid bolt of energy out of his hands that enveloped Old Joe and pulled upwards. The man’s bald head penetrated the ceiling tiles above, his visible legs kicking as the telekinetic force held him there. This lasted only seconds, though, before a blur of motion resulted in Refraxx being held by Big Joe from behind. The speedster yanked the hero’s arms backward to immobilize him, and when Refraxx opened his mouth in a yelp of pain, Old Joe was released to fall to the floor.
While the older man made it to his knees, his younger partner yanked up harder with enough force to break one or both of his captive’s arms. However, Refraxx was not idle. Even as the glow vanished from Old Joe and he fell, the super closed his eyes. Big Joe began to glow blue; he was wrenched violently off his feet and away from Refraxx even as Old Joe found his footing again.
Refraxx had no intention of giving Old Joe the time to mount an attack. Turning to the side, he held one hand out to each enforcer. Big Joe continued to float harmlessly in the open air, and with another blue surge of translucent energy, Old Joe was taken off his feet again to join him.
Refraxx shifted the position of both enforcers so they were neither between him and the door, nor him and Buzz, and took another look at the leader of the Kowalzyk family. The man’s expression hadn’t changed; he still looked disoriented. Refraxx gave an order, and Buzz took a step forward, placing his hands behind his head and kneeling on the ground.
I didn’t see the bursts of red appear on the shoulder and stomach of Refraxx’s costume until after the blue light had already ceased to glow, the enforcers each landing on their feet. Everyone paused for a second time as heads swiveled to the doorway where the young man stood, the pistol still pointed at Refraxx. The hero collapsed to his knees, lurching forward to vomit blood as he hugged his right arm over his limply hanging left.
I bellowed in fear and rage as I watched the scene unfold, but no one heard me. It was clear that Refraxx was no longer a threat, but that he would need immediate medical attention, and I resolved to call 911 in Newark and see that he got it.
But before I could drop my View, I saw Old Joe step in front of the kneeling hero. He showed no hesitation in picking the bleeding super up by his throat in one hand, lifting him off the ground until his feet dangled uselessly.
I have never been able to feel or hear through my View; I am strictly limited to what I can see. As they stood there, Refraxx’s life in their hands, I couldn’t hear the words spoken by Buzz or Big Joe, although I saw their mouths move. I couldn’t hear the agonizing screams of Refraxx held in Old Joe’s iron grip, although I saw the fear in his eyes and the labored, shuddering compression of his chest.
I have never been able to hear anything, so I must have imagined the crunching sound as the enforcer squeezed with his super strength, his hand coated bright red as he pulverized every part of Refraxx’s neck from windpipe to spine, killing him in moments. Old Joe then threw the lifeless body aside, but I dropped my View before I could see where it landed. There as no reason to call an ambulance after all.
I ran to the toilet and threw up, the sickening crunch still reverberating in my head.