A Common Weakness – Chapter 3
Written by Dumano1r :: [Saturday, 15 February 2020 21:43] Last updated by :: [Sunday, 16 February 2020 01:15]
A Common Weakness – Chapter 3
Claire woke up earlier than she was used to. A late summer sunrise cast a red light through the blinds.
Alice was still asleep, snoring gently in her comfortable duvet cocoon. Claire smiled to herself, planted a gentle kiss on Alice’s hair, then slipped out of bed.
She went downstairs, made herself a coffee, then checked the news, which was still dominated by the death of Ultraman. Once again, images of Cassandra were plastered with wanton abandon across the news by news executives who understood simple, primal desires.
Claire was wide awake, though the time on the news read only 05:30. She frowned. That was unusual. After a job she usually slept in until lunchtime. She had come to realise that the adrenaline from the job would gradually drain from her system, leaving her suddenly exhausted. Weeks and months of planning would be complete, and she would finally be able to relax.
Feeling unable to relax she took her coffee and went down into the basement. The basement was Alice’s playroom, beset with tools and metal sculpting materials. Alice enjoyed blacksmithing and sculpture as a hobby, working with heat and metal to craft crudely beautiful art. Claire had loved it from the moment she had first seen it.
Amongst all the metal working equipment was a simple bullet press. Calibrated to 9mm, similar to any that could be found in many houses across the state. In all of the years that they had lived together, not one visitor had ever commented on it.
Claire looked around the room carefully. She had been dismissive to Alice, but in truth she was worried about Cassandra’s threat. Superheroines were less prone to her skills and the common weakness than superheroes.
Nothing in the room appeared out of the ordinary, as far as she could see. No green glow remained from the kryptonite tipped bullets Alice had manufactured so carefully. Everything looked as it should, like just another routine and rural homestead’s hobby basement.
A small fridge lined with beer cans stood against one wall. Claire walked over and opened it. There were seven cans in the fridge and six of them were full of real beer. She carefully lifted the seventh and unscrewed the concealed lid. Inside were the several small glowing packets. Claire suddenly felt slightly queasy, so she carefully placed the can back on the top of the fridge and screwed the lid back on. The queasiness lifted immediately. Claire frowned to herself.
A small notebook sat on a dusty shelf. She took it down and flicked through the first few pages which just listed random dates and aide memoires. The 7th page was a simple newspaper clipping, nothing much, a headline and an opening paragraph. “The Blink found dead in nightclub toilet!” Claire knew how important it was not to gather mementos of her work, but a slight pride made her conceal a single newspaper clipping for each of her jobs. She would be adding another later that morning.
The Blink was her first job. A superhumanly fast hero who a local mob boss had put out a hit on. He could move faster than the eye could see and had been wreaking havoc upon the boss’ operations and profits. At the time Claire was working as a secretary in a waste firm owned by the mobster. When she suggested that she could kill the Blink for him the mobster had laughed, but as a joke had offered her double payment if she could get it done.
She had gone to a nightclub The Blink was known to frequent, dressed in a revealing silver dress that showed off her figure to maximum effect. There was a group of women crowded around the Blink and she had joined them, giggling appreciatively at his jokes, acting impressed with his arrogant bravado. He had been in his element, pouring drinks with dizzying speed, moving around the bar in a blur of speed. One platinum blonde had dared him to remove her bra before she could stop him. In the blink of an eye he was lounging in his seat with a substantial leopard print bra swinging from his fingers whilst the platinum blonde stood gasping with her hands clasped to her tits.
Then Claire stepped forward, with a pint of beer in her hand. “I’ll bet you can’t down this in the blink of an eye!” He had laughed, especially as she had referenced his catchphrase. Claire felt a breeze, then looked down to see the glass in her hand was empty.
“Quick enough for you?” he asked arrogantly.
She smiled. “Amazing,” she said. He had continued his flirting, and she had slipped quietly out of the bar. She was just heading out the door when she heard the first screams as he began coughing up great belches of blood. She caught a glimpse of him dashing into the toilet as she stepped out into the cool evening air, a smirk written across her pretty face.
The mob boss paid her. At first he hadn’t believed what had happened, but something in his primordial brain told him that Claire was not to be trifled with. “You should go into business,” he had said, now only half joking. She had just smiled.
Cassandra was sitting at the computer in her luxurious penthouse apartment. Free from the responsibilities of daily life she had stripped off her clothing, and now sat totally naked before a computer that couldn’t keep up with the speed of her thoughts and fingers.
There was a lot to consider.
At first she had assumed that Ultraman’s killer had to be some kind of superhuman. Ultraman could have dodged bullets like a human dodged stationary objects. But he hadn’t. Which meant one of two things. Either the bullet had been launched at supersensory speeds, or he hadn’t tried to dodge it. At first she had assumed the former. Now she was wondering about the latter.
She had skimmed the news, absorbing websites in nano-seconds whilst the computer tried to keep up. Over the past 18 months 16 superhumans, be they hero or villain, had died. Of those, two had been killed in suitably glorious fights against other superhumans. Of the fourteen remaining, two had died as a result of sacrificing themselves in the face of natural disasters. Which left twelve heroes…
There was no pattern to their deaths. Several had been poisoned, whilst other had died from gunshot wounds at close to point blank range. Three had died when their powers mysteriously gave out in apparently normal circumstances, leading to them being crushed by objects that they should have manipulated with ease. In every case the police had investigated and found no evidence of superhuman involvement, whilst human witnesses failed to identify a clear suspect. She scanned the files in seconds, the webpages flying past her face in what would have been a dizzying blur to anyone else.
She rubbed a hand across her gorgeous face, frustrated at her lack of progress. She squeezed the bridge of her nose in a tight and thoughtful pinch, applying enough pressure to crush diamonds. There had to be something.
Claire went for a jog through the woods, following a standard circuit that looped around from her house. She knew the circuit well. She’d run it hundreds of times before. Her best time was fifteen minutes and fourteen seconds. She arrived back at the house and checked her watch.
Two minutes and nine seconds.
She took a slow breath and headed for the house.
Cassandra was about to give up. Although the unexplained deaths of so many superhumans seemed impossible, there didn’t seem to be any common factor. Every report listed different witnesses, different scenarios, different possible factors. But then she remembered something a detective had once told her.
Start at the beginning.
The first suspicious death on her list was The Blink. She had known him, generally considering him a swaggering show-off. His death was recorded in some detail. He had died in a nightclub of massive internal haemorrhaging as a result of drinking a large amount of high strength poison. Witnesses reported that he had been handed the poisoned drink by an attractive blonde Caucasian female of approximately 5’9” height. She was never traced.
Cassandra quickly scanned the other files. Some lacked witnesses altogether, but wherever witness were present one listed was always a female aged between 20 and 35, with a height listed between 5’6” and 5’11”. At times she was blonde, but sometimes brunette or red-headed. Whenever she was interviewed her name and occupation varied. But there was one constant.
Alice was woken by a gentle hand upon her shoulder. She stirred in the comfortable warmth of the covers, faintly aware of the daylight creeping through the blinds and the comforting smell of fresh coffee. “Hey,” said a voice.
Claire was perched on the edge of the bed, dressed in her jogging outfit. Alice smiled at her.
Claire didn’t smile. “So, I’ve been for my run. Apparently I’m seven times faster today than I was yesterday. Is there anything you’d like to tell me?”