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The Phoenix Initiative – Chapter 9

Written by papayoya1 :: [Saturday, 11 May 2019 18:01] Last updated by :: [Sunday, 12 May 2019 01:16]

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Chapter 9

Block Street was busy as always, traffic jamming the road as the sidewalks bustled with activity. Being one of the main arteries in Santa Isabel’s Downtown, Block Street also featured the highest concentrations of banks in the city.

People were still shocked about the events of the previous day and with the knowledge about the fourth Phoenix girl, but as always, life went on. It was almost nine in the morning and horns started to blare as traffic got denser and denser. Drivers were struggling to advance even a block between red lights and the intense heat of the day did not do anything to calm them down.

And then, suddenly, the explosion disrupted everything. Windows shattered as people two blocks around the point of impact were thrown off their feet. Chunks of concrete peeled from building façades as a thick column of smoke rose from the crater. Pedestrians started recovering soon and looked both with fear and resignation to the source of the blast. It had been a tough week for Isabelians, also a tough year.

The first ones to recover realized about the weirdness of the situation soon enough. For the consequences of the explosion were evident enough, but the cause was missing. There was no fire to be seen in blocks. They got the answer to their unasked question soon enough, as the smoke started receding and the towering silhouette of a woman became evident against the backdrop.

Nicole had not asked Petrenko to bring her into the city. Just thinking about the conversation with him made her weary. Instead, she had jogged to Santa Isabel’s outskirts at a leisurely pace and jumped once she had got close enough. Her first leap had brought her to a working-class neighborhood, her sudden and destructive landing sowing chaos among the people there. She had not wasted any time with them before jumping again, this time focusing on bringing herself high enough so that she would be able to control where she landed more precisely. It worked, bringing her right in the middle of Block Street, just as she had intended.

The amazon revelled on the fear she instilled on the people once they realized about her. They recognized her, of course, her actions of the previous day had made her one of the most well-known even if unpopular faces in the world.

Nicole had chosen the same skimpy and tight-fitting Kevlar two-piece outfit she usually wore when on a mission. It struggled to contain her chest as she pushed it out while she observed her surroundings with her hands on her hips and an arrogant sneer in her lips. She could not help but loving the ever-growing screams around her as she finally took the first step forward and out of the crater she had herself created.

Her oversized bare feet felt the warm tarmac and soon enough she was walking between cars that had toppled as a result of the blast her abrupt landing had caused. The muffled screams coming from the SUV to her left made her stoop and see a panicked woman bloodied and buckled behind the steering wheel of the overturned car. Nicole smiled evilly at her and then placed a hand on the car’s underside, which was now facing her. The movement of her arm was swift and apparently effortless, but an instant later the heavy-looking vehicle was launched across the street, its flight interrupted by the concrete façade of one of the tall buildings to her left. The impact was far from inconsequential both for the car and the building. An entire section of the third floor crumbled and rained on the street below, burying the SUV and three pedestrians that had been unlucky enough to be in the wrong place in the wrong time.

Nicole moaned and kept moving. She had landed close enough to her destination that she would not have even needed her superhuman sight to see it a couple of blocks away. She could have headed straight to it, but somehow it felt unnatural to leave the people alone. After all, she had just earned a reputation that she intended to keep.

Like in the Miller Page building, she did not know the people trying to run away from her in panic. For all she knew, they were innocent citizens that had had the bad fortune of being in her path. She did not give a damn. Not anymore. Nicole loved her strength, the sheer physical superiority she had over the rest of the world. And the freedom it gave her to do as she pleased. In her mind, she was just exercising that freedom.

Another car was launched over a block as she casually kicked it on her path to the sidewalk, its landing crushing a large Mercedes sedan and the two people that had taken refuge on it before they could realize what was going on.

She was not walking fast. She did not need to. One thing she had learned in her short experience in public was that people reacted in the stupidest ways when they were panicked. One of the consequences of that was that more often than not, they ended up on her way as she moved towards her destination.

She was not brutal. She did not want to soil herself so soon. So, instead of trampling and punching, she focused on shoving people out of the way. It was equally fatal, since her victims were as unprepared for the collisions with the buildings or the abrupt landings on the road as they would have been to her direct blows.

Before the massive change she had gone through, before the Flare, Nicole had been an aggressive young woman already. She had never resorted to physical violence, though. At least, not outside her sexual encounters. It just felt natural now. And she thoroughly enjoyed it.

The crowd finally became smart enough to clear her path to her destination, making the last block of her murderous stroll uneventful.

The First Commerce Bank building was regal, its architectonic style purposefully making it look older than the barely more than half a century it had. The thick columns at the top of the three flights of stone stairs framed a massive main door that even managed to dwarf Nicole’s striking figure.

Despite its apparent age, the building featured the latest security measures that could be expected from a business of its nature and, having seen her approaching, the security guards had been quick to lock the thick bullet-proof glass doors, even at the expense of trapping the many customers that had been conducting business inside.

Nicole stopped in front of the door and sneered.

“Open the door,” she said, her calm tone contrasting with the impossible volume of her words.

All she managed to achieve was for the two very spooked guards inside to reach for their guns and aim them at her through the thick glass.

She was not in the mood for playing games. Not when she could sort the situation out so easily. In her mind, she had given the guards and those inside a fair chance when she had asked them to open instead of taking care of the problem right away.

The next thing they knew about her was that her fist had torn through the apparently indestructible glass in a swift punch. Nicole enjoyed her umpteenth feat of strength, as the ultra-dense fibers of her muscles managed to bring her fist through the bullet-proof door without apparent resistance and without a scratch in her hardened skin. It was amazing, she reflected, how easy life could become when one had vast amounts of brute force at her disposal.

Needless to say, her latest demonstration had not gone unnoticed for those inside the large lobby of the First Commerce Bank, the increased volume of the screams soon getting to Nicole’s ears through the new opening she had created. Opening her fingers on the other side of the door, Nicole moved her hand back and rested her fingertips on the opposite side of the glass. Soon she was pulling the door towards herself, its thick armored hinges complaining in a loud metallic groan.

She smirked at the incredibly spooked security guards inside, the shriek of the door becoming more audible as the last remaining customers realized about the danger they were facing and rushed deeper into the building. Nicole was enjoying the shock her simple display was causing in the guards, who she now realized had been convinced that they were safe from her behind such meager protection as a door. She understood that despite her brutal rampage the day before, the public still did not understand the extent of her power. After all, the other three girls had been careful enough when using it over the last few days. It was time to enlighten them. She would be happy to.

A final pull took care of the heavy door once Nicole got tired of her initially slow game. The plated metallic frame, advertised as indestructible, was bent in unnatural angles as she lifted it over her head for added show, smiling at the terrified guards. An instant later, the door was soaring across the road as she casually tossed it backward, its weight flattening two abandoned cars as it landed.

“I gave you the chance,” she said in a flat tone as she took the first step into the lobby.

Bullets soon started to ricochet from her impregnable skin as the two guards reacted in panic to the new scenario. Nicole could have not cared less about their pathetic attempt. When both men finished their first magazine and reached for a fresh one to reload she decided that she had had enough. Her foot sank ten inches into the polished marble floor as she stomped, cracks spreading around it like a spiderweb. The entire building shook as a result of her casual action, sending dozens of people off their feet. The two guards were among them.

The first one was trying to recover when an oversized sole rested on his ribcage and pushed him down with vicious force. Nicole rested a fraction of her weight on the lying guard, feeling his groans as she stooped to look at him between her mammoth tits. The guard had moved both his hands to her foot and was trying to push it away from him with all his strength. He would have been more successful in trying to push a glacier. His comrade was already back on his feet, but Nicole ignored him as she focused on the man under her foot.

“You dare attacking me?” she asked in disdain.

The guard could only cough in reply. Nicole simply pushed her foot down, crushing the man’s ribcage as if it had never been there, a pool of blood soon forming under his disfigured body.

She left red footprints on the whitish marble floor as she moved beyond the man she had just trampled and followed her second attacker. He was trying to flee from her through a second set of doors, but someone inside the bank had locked them in yet another futile attempt at stopping her. The man’s fists were hitting the door in frenzy, as he pleaded to those inside to open it for him. Nicole soon caught up, trapping the guard between the closed entrance and her towering body.

She waited for him to turn and look up at her. He was practically sobbing as he did that, making her chuckle even if is reaction was also somewhat disgusting.

“You realize about the mistake you made, don’t you?” she asked in a plain tone.

Her sensitive ears caught the trickling sound of his urine as it wet his pants. She twitched her nose as it also perceived the scent.

“Gross!” Nicole said as she backhanded the man, tossing him to the side. His head was resting in a very unnatural position as he landed.

A casual kick took care of the new set of doors as she broke into the main floor of the bank and faced the terrified crowd inside. A couple dozen customers had clustered close enough to the dozen or so employees, as far away from her point of entry as possible. Curiously, they did not seem able to go further away from her.

“You know who I am,” Nicole said, projecting her voice so that it reverberated across the vast hall while she kept her hands at her hips in a commanding pose. “I’ve come here for business. Do as I say, and you may make it out of this in one piece.”

Nicole’s superhuman ears noticed the repetitive clicks soon enough. It did not take her long to identify the clerk that had been continuously pushing the silent alarm under the counter. The young blonde woman looked very nervous as she kept desperately calling for help. It was expected, of course. It was still annoying.

Through the corner of her eye, Nicole saw the thick red rope that marked the area where the bank management expected customers to line up for a desk to her right. It was held by two heavy looking golden post stands. She reached out for the one closest to her and closed her fingers around the solid golden globe at its top. Nicole’s fingernails cut through the apparently sturdy metal as a hot knife through butter and soon she was holding an orb the size of her hand on her extended palm. She bounced it a couple of times to feel its shape and weight and then looked at the offending clerk.

“You made a mistake,” she said with a smirk.

An instant later the golden sphere left her hand with the speed of a bullet as she tossed it to the woman. There was nothing the clerk could do to react before Nicole’s improvised projectile tore through her face and hit the wall twenty feet behind the now headless body of the clerk, which dropped on its knees while blood splashed like a fountain. The orb went through thirty feet of the thick concrete wall before resuming its flight in the street beyond, finally losing momentum.

The ever-present screams gained renewed vigor after her little act of retribution. It only made Nicole smile.

“Sit down on the floor!” she commanded.

Most people started obeying. Seeing that not everyone was so quick, Nicole reached for the second pole stand, quickly procuring herself a second heavy sphere. The remaining people in the bank understood the implied threat and sat down right away, making her chuckle.

God, she loved it! She loved the sheer strength she now had. She loved what she could do with it, but she also enjoyed the further implications of her power. She was exhilarated at the absolute authority she had over the people in the bank, an authority gained through fear.

“I want to speak to the manager,” Nicole said.

When no one replied, she started tapping her foot on the floor, making sure that the tremors would be felt by everyone in the stance. Soon enough, the nervous workers started looking in the direction of a middle-aged man in an expensive-looking suit.

“You!” she said pointing at him. “Come to me!”

The man hesitated, but Nicole only had to bounce the golden ball she was holding on her palm to make him change his mind. He was soon standing up and reluctantly moving towards her at a snail’s pace. She smiled at him, closing her fingers around the orb and deforming it as if it had been made of soft clay.

She dropped the mangled sphere and reached out for him as soon as he was within grasp. Her fingers grabbed a handful of shirt and pulled the manager towards her. He was soon suspended a couple of feet in the air, his eyes making contact with Nicole’s. To say that he was nervous would have been an understatement.

“I need to access the safe deposit boxes. Can you help me?” she asked coldly, her tone implying what would happen if he could not.

His voice was shaking as he replied.

“Access to the safe boxes and the vault are closed. The security doors automatically closed when you broke through the main door,” the man said nervously. This, of course, explained why the people had been trapped with her in the main floor rather than fleeing deeper into the building.

“Leave that to me. I only need you to give me the right numbers for certain customer codes. Can you do that?”

The man nodded, making Nicole smile before she set him back gently on the floor.

“Show me the way,” she commanded softly.

The man was shaking as he advanced towards the back of the bank. Nicole had him a couple of steps of a head start and then followed, moving with feline grace as she scanned the room like a predator.

The bank manager reached the counter and slipped sideways to the other side through a small opening. Nicole did not bother to use the same path as the much smaller man and just walked through the heavy wood, her shins splintering the thick oak as if the counter had been made of crackers. She loved the sudden shiver on the man she was following as he realized about what she had done, but she just nodded forward when he turned, letting him know that he was supposed to do what she had asked him.

They were soon out of the main room and advancing through a back corridor, the screams and sobs from the bank’s customers starting to fade even if her superhuman hearing had no problem listening to them.

A few steps later, the man turned to the left and stopped. Nicole reached him two steps later and faced the thick steel bars of the wide door. The manager turned to look at her with a characteristic “told you so” an expression that made her chuckle.

“Is this the door?” she asked.

“One of them,” the man said. “They close automatically when any of the alarms at the bank are activated,” he tried to justify himself.

“Step to the side,” she commanded softly.

The man complied promptly, even if there was some incredulity in his eyes. Nicole would enjoy proving him wrong.

She turned to face the door and grabbed each of the two center bars with one hand. She pushed with her fingertips to test the metal and felt its toughness, letting her know that the door was really meant to keep people out. Would she finally find a challenge worthy of her new condition? Flexing her muscles, Nicole pulled in opposite directions with her arms and was soon rewarded by a loud metal shriek. The bars held… but an instant later started giving under the amazon’s astronomical strength.

Nicole smiled in satisfaction when she saw the manager’s startled expression when the two bars started folding, especially because she knew that she had been far from exerting her muscles to their limit. Tensing them a little harder, she was soon rewarded by a more noticeable bending while the metallic groan got louder.

“You seem surprised,” she said in a mocking tone as she kept pulling the bars apart.

“This is… impossible,” the bank manager said, remembering the day the security door had been installed and how hard it had been to set each of the incredibly heavy bars in place.

Nicole released the bar and flexed her right arm, making her biceps bulge.

“I work out,” she said with laughter. “Get in,” she then commanded, deeming that the opening she had created was enough for the smaller man.

It was, as he proved by slithering through the bars and getting to the other side of the security door. Nicole then reached back but used both hands in the same bar now, pulling towards her rather than to the side. She pushed herself harder this time, which resulted in a much faster and louder bending as the bar started twisting towards her. Her fingertips started digging into the metal as she kept her combined torsion and pull. She still had plenty more to give. The bar did not and finally ripped in half, widening the opening enough for Nicole to step through and get next to the incredibly spooked bank manager.

“I told you to leave the doors to me,” she said with satisfaction as the man looked at her with a weird sort of amazement.

“They told us it was indestructible,” the man babbled.

“They did not know me,” she replied with a chuckle.

Nicole’s sensitive ears caught the sounds of people leaving the bank just then. It was to be expected, of course, but it still bothered her. She considered moving back to the main hall to let them know what she thought about them disobeying her, but finally disregarded the idea. She had other things to do, and today was meant to be a very important day.

“Lead the way,” she pushed the man, who was soon walking down the aisle.

The second door looked even harder than the first one. It was round and solid, with a handle in the middle, looking exactly like one would expect a vault door to look. She just pushed the man gently to the side and faced this second challenge with renewed interest. At least in appearance, it looked tougher than the first one. She soon found out that she had been mistaken when she pushed with her fingertips and was pleasantly rewarded by the feeling of them sinking into the plated metal. She moaned as even the comparatively weak muscles of her fingers proved to be overwhelming enough when faced with the challenge of the second door. Soon, both her hands were dug in the softer steel and she maneuvered her fingers inside the clay-feeling metal to get a better hold on it. She started pulling and was rewarded by the expected sound of metal breaking as the heavy door started ripping off its hinges, making the manager’s jaw drop.

“You should get better security,” Nicole mocked as she finished ripping the vault’s door with considerably less effort than the one it had taken to bend the thick bars of the previous door open. She tossed the heavy cylinder to the side for added effect, enjoying the spooked jump of the manager when it crashed with the floor with a thundering sound.

Feeling both powerful and exhilarated, the amazon reached for the shaking bank manager and grabbed him by the back, pulling him up and carrying him with her as she walked into the vast vault. Tossing him with care into the center of the room, she reached to her Kevlar top and produced a piece of paper from her massive cleavage. Throwing it at the recovering man, she addressed him in a soft voice:

“These are the codes. Give me the box numbers.”

It took the man a bit to recover and head for the computer. Nicole waited patiently but tapped her foot to let him know that she was not in the mood for an extended search. He got the message and returned quickly enough with seven numbers written next to the seven codes she had provided.

“Good,” she said, smiling gently. “We are almost done.”

She did not give him time to react before she shoved him with care, sending him sliding across the polished floor until his back hit the opposite wall with enough force to push the air out of him but not with the necessary violence to produce any damage.

Of course, seven safe deposit boxes were not going to be an issue when a massive vault door had not. Soon, the seven safes, each about twice as large as a shoebox, were resting in one of the metallic tables that was conveniently located to be used by the customers. Her fingers started making short work of the reinforced lids and she started piling the documents in a neat stack.

An untrained eye would not have understood the contents of the records. Unfortunately for those that had thoroughly hidden them into the First Commerce Bank’s vault, besides the raw strength necessary to break into the premises, Nicole possessed the right training and a sharp mind. She soon deciphered the pattern and understood the complexity of the front the Triads had put in place. It matched with what Kavanaugh had told her the day before. The documents he had released during her visit had already put the American operation of the Hong Kong mafia in bad shape. The ones she was now looking at would finish it so thoroughly that there would be no way they would be able to rebuild it in the coming ten years.

Nicole carefully selected the most committing records and placed them into one of the multiple envelopes she had found in the boxes. Just then, the sounds of police sirens approaching in the distance caught her superhuman ears.

“Ah, just in time!” she said with satisfaction, causing a puzzled look in the manager’s face. “Time to go!” she commanded as she headed to the door. She chuckled when the manager stood up and followed her.

The main hall was completely empty by the time they were back into it, the three dozen or so people that had been in it having taken the easy chance she had given to them to escape. It made Nicole frown, but even she understood that she could not have it all. Handing the envelope to the man, she said:

“Hand this to the cops when they come asking, will you?”

The man promptly nodded, making her chuckle once more before she turned and headed for the main door.

The police display was impressive enough, or at least it would have been for someone without the raw power Nicole possessed. She could sense the cop’s attitude was definitely affected by her actions of the previous day, though. Their had arranged themselves to block her exit from the bank but their fear and uncertainty were obvious.

“Didn’t you have enough yesterday?” she asked in an arrogant tone, her voice carrying her words to every single cop in the blockade.

Nicole scanned the scene, searching for the journalists. She soon found them and widened her smile, licking her lips in anticipation for what was about to come. She had been expecting more than just the cops, but they would serve as a good enough appetizer for what was to come. She was about to launch herself at them when the distant sound of a heavy chopper made her stop in her tracks.

Her enhanced eyes met the modified Chinook soon enough. She only had to focus a bit to find the emblem of the FRU painted on its side. So, they had finally come. Her smile widened in anticipation. This would be the defining moment of what was about to come. It would be all or nothing.

Having been trained as a lawyer, Nicole was not especially fond of unnecessary risk-taking. As the Phoenix chopper kept approaching, she knew she had no other option, though. She would never have a better hand than the one she had right now, and after a thorough effort to carefully prepare her play, she was ready to risk it all.

Jennifer loudly landed some fifty feet in front of her an instant later. Her feet plowed into the road as she set with one knee on the ground, pushing herself to her feet an instant later. She looked as magnificent as ever. The blonde cheerleader had always been the largest and most voluptuous of the four, easily the most impressive of them when it came to pure physical appearance. Nicole had not thought very highly about her before escaping Fort Exeter, the blonde’s combination of shallowness and cockiness far from the qualities she typically appreciated in a person. She still respected her, though. For starters, she was the strongest of them all. And she had a way of profiting from her situation that she had to recognize.

The cheerleader looked way less friendly than Nicole remembered her. Her usual stupid giggling was nowhere to be seen, replaced by an angry expression and a look of strong determination through her narrowed eyes. It was to be expected, of course, but it still surprised Nicole a bit.

She did not have much longer to observe her, since a new strong shake, accompanied by a loud thud, heralded the arrival of another superwoman.

Nathalie was the shortest of them all, despite the fact that she still easily towered over everyone else in the city. Her ebony skin and ultra-fit body gave her the wild look of a panther ready to attack, a look that Nicole knew did not fit with the nurse’s character. Kind and compassionate, Nicole had never disliked her, even when she had reached the conclusion, long ago, that the African American woman was more than willing to waste the massive gift she had been granted.

The nurse looked angrier than she had ever seen her, reinforcing her belief that there was nothing she would be able to do to convince her.

Nicole was starting to get mildly worried when a third crash indicated the arrival of the fourth and final superwoman. The sight of the pale redhead made Nicole smirk, her presence being the factor she was counting on to tip the scales in her favor. The youngest of the Phoenix, Susan was a wild car. The one Nicole was going to play in her final bet. The towering teenager was expressionless as she stood up and moved closer to her two comrades.

“Isn’t this a merry gathering?” Nicole said with some sarcasm, her apparently soft tone not preventing her words from easily reaching her former colleagues.

“This is over, Nicole!” Jennifer replied.

So, the cheerleader had decided to take the lead against her. It was a pity, she reflected. She had not had any hopes with Nathalie, but Jennifer had still been a possibility.

“Don’t make this harder than it needs to be. Come with us to Fort Exeter and we will sort this out,” Nathalie reinforced, clenching her fists as she warned her.

“And what am I supposed to do at Fort Exeter?” Nicole asked, without the slightest trace of concern in her voice.

“Respond for what you did,” Nathalie replied coldly.

“Won’t you at least hear me out first?” Nicole asked.

“We all saw what you did, you monster!” Jennifer snapped.

Well, so long for her expectations with the blonde bimbo. Thank God she had nod made any plans depend on her. The fact that Susan remained silent was encouraging, though. It was time to pull that lever a bit.

“And still, you cannot see what Lindbergh, Sully and the rest are doing, can you?” Nicole asked with condescendence.

“You think you are so smart, don’t you?” Jennifer barked back. “Do you think we are stupid? No one trusts Lindbergh and Sully. But this doesn’t give you the right to kill dozens of innocent people!”

“Are you sure you know everything about them?” Nicole asked, the open question meant to intrigue her former mates. “Susan, did you find it?”

“Find what?” Jennifer asked.

“I did,” Susan said. “It is twenty-five miles east of Fort Exeter.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Jennifer inquired.

“There is another base, east of Fort Exeter. Smaller. Secret. I saw Lindbergh and Sully driving there. They are experimenting on other women. They are trying to make them like us. Many are dying in the process,” Susan said coldly.

Nicole took over.

“Rhodes did not have the details, but he knew our dear General and Doctor were running a side project, trying to speed up their investigation on the cause behind the Flare making us like this. He told me he had learned that they were collecting real subjects for testing.”

“Rhodes?” Nathalie asked, knowing that the Colonel had been missing for a few days.

“I met him in the motel where he was banging his assistant. He told me everything he knew just before I killed him,” Nicole admitted with a shrug.

“You monster!” Nathalie said between clenched teeth.

“Really? Because of Rhodes? We all knew he was an asshole!” Nicole protested. “Do you really think I’m a monster?” she then said, raising an eyebrow. “Then, what about those that test and kill dozens of women to try to make progress in their investigations? What about those that have plans to kill you all once they succeed!”

“You lie!” Nathalie said, even if she did not sound too convinced.

“Do I? Does Susan?” Nicole asked, satisfied at how the scales were tipping.

“We’ll sort it out with them once we are back at Fort Exeter. But first, we will take care of you!” Jennifer said, clenching her fists.

“Oh God! You are so thick! They will get rid of you as soon as you deliver me back! The only reason you are still around is because they need you to stop me. Your only option is to join me!” Nicole said.

“Join you? To do what? Kill more people?” Jennifer asked.

“To be free!” Nicole exclaimed. “Come with me and we’ll be unstoppable. We’ll get rid of Lindbergh and Sully’s research and once we do, we’ll be in a position to do as we please!”

Nicole could see that Jennifer and Nathalie were not buying it, but she did not care. Her speech was not for their benefit. It was time to push it a bit farther.

“Aren’t you tired of being pushed around? Aren’t you tired to be treated like a freak? We are better than they are. Smarter, stronger, tougher. Join me and we’ll have full control of our lives!” she said excitedly. Then, she added the final touch: “Or, you can go back with your masters and live a life of slavery until they decide that you are too dangerous to keep around.”

“Enough!” Jennifer yelled with such power that all windows in the block cracked. “Let’s finish this!” she added as she prepared to dash towards Nicole.

Nathalie clenched her fists and tensed her calves, ready to join her comrade, when she felt a hand stopping her and grabbing her by the shoulder. She was surprised when she looked to see five pale fingers closing around her shoulder blade with enough pressure to hurt a little. She looked back in surprise, only to see Susan’s determined face.

“I’m sorry. This is for your own good,” the youngest of the Phoenix girls said.

Nathalie felt the redhead’s fingertips sinking deeper into her skin.

“Nicole is right,” the nineteen-year-old redhead said. “I know for a fact that they have been experimenting on me behind my back. They must have been messing with you too.”

Nathalie reached for Susan’s fingers, trying to pry them open. Her feet had left the road before she could do that, her heavy frame pulled up by Susan’s unnatural force.

“No hard feelings?” Susan asked.

She sent her flying with a swift movement of her freckled arm. Nathalie felt weightless for an extended period of time as her body climbed high into Santa Isabel’s sky, clearing the highest rooftops as it flew in a pronounced arch. The weight came back with a vengeance when her body reached the apex of her trajectory and started its descent. She soon realized where she was going to land. Nathalie was trying to make some sense of what had just happened while understanding that Susan had been purposeful when she had chosen the trajectory of her throw. She was already moving down when her soaring figure cleared the partially crumbled Lowell’s Bridge, finally splashing in the deeper water of the outer bay, a few miles off the coast of the city.

Nathalie sank into the water like a dead weight. She knew better than trying to swim, a lesson she had learned the hard way while training at Fort Exeter. Her body was way to dense for that. A quick look up as she stood in the bay’s bottom revealed the shadows of multiple boats and ships over her, letting her know that trying to jump out of the water was not a good option either. Not when she was aware of the catastrophic consequences the sudden change in pressure could cause to her surroundings. This left he with the only option of walking back to the coast, not even jogging. It would take her hours. She did not have to worry about running out of air, since one of her first discoveries back at training had been that she could hold her breath for a very long time, her superhuman lungs compressing massive quantities of air and dosing them back to her bloodstream as needed. But it meant that she was out of the fight, which she quickly understood was what Susan had been looking for.

Nathalie’s mind quickly understood just how swiftly the tables had turned. A minute ago, it had been three of them against Nicole. Now it was a one on one and, for all she knew, Susan was more likely to step in to help their psychopathic former colleague than to keep uncommitted. She felt a shiver running down her spine at the dire situation and the potential consequences, as she started to understand just how catastrophic they could be. She could just hope that Jennifer was holding her own.

She actually was. Nicole had grown too complacent after five weeks of sparring only against infinitely weaker men, and despite her superior agility she could not evade Jennifer’s initial blow on time. For the first time in over nine months, the former lawyer felt pain, as Jennifer’s powerful punch hit her square in the stomach and left her without air as her body was thrown backwards at impossible speed.

Her incredibly dense frame hit the thick walls of the First Commerce Bank with brutal force. For an instant, there was a fight between the sturdiness of the concrete and the toughness of the amazon’s body. The battle was overwhelmingly won by Nicole’s hard packed muscles, and her body quickly tore through the ten feet deep façade and kept going once it reached the bank. Quite ironically, her flight was stopped by the vault door she had ripped a few minutes ago, leaving deep imprints of her buttocks and back when she removed herself from it and stood back up.

Nicole groaned, enraged at having been taken off guard, despite the fact that she had been perfectly aware that she was going to be attacked. Every fiber of her body demanded her to strike back. Before anyone could react, she was speeding towards the hole she had left on the wall, passing the startled manager like a blur and reaching the street, her feet digging into the sidewalk’s asphalt as she pushed herself into an abrupt stop.

Nicole was breathing hard as she looked for Jennifer, who was standing less than a hundred feet away. Her fists clenched with rage as she felt the swelling in her stomach, just in the spot where she had been hit. It hurt, although she noticed with some relief that the pain was quickly receding.

Her fury was demanding Nicole to throw herself at her attacker. Her colder mind prevailed in the last second, reminding her that Jennifer had an advantage when it came to raw strength. She had consistently outclassed every other girl at Fort Exeter in the tests, and not by a little. According to Sully and Campos, the Flare had had some sort of magnifying effect that had increased the differences between them in a disproportionate way to what they had been before being exposed to the transforming radiation.

Nicole took two additional deep breaths to calm down and noticed the change in scenery for the first time. Momentarily forgetting about the ready to attack Jennifer, she found Susan, standing on her own somewhat further away. Nathalie was not around anymore, and when her eyes locked with the redhead’s, the young girl slightly nodded to her.

She had to fight hard to prevent a loud laugh. Suddenly, her stomach did not hurt anymore. Instead, she felt a deep elation as she understood that her plan had worked. She had gone all in and she had won. Jennifer was still looking at her in attacking attitude, but it did not matter anymore. It did not mean that she did not want to hurt the blonde bimbo badly, but her survival did not depend on it anymore.

She wondered what Susan had done with Nathalie, but this was not too relevant now. No longer pressured, Nicole decided to taunt her former comrade turned enemy.

“You hit like a little girl!” she teased, much to the surprise of Jennifer and everyone else who had seen her punching her through a building.

“I’ll rip your fucking head!” Jennifer replied, launching herself towards her once more.

Nicole smiled. This time she was ready. Her increased perceptiveness and agility helped her to choose the right moment to pivot on her left foot, evading Jennifer’s frenzied attack and elbowing her on the back as she dashed past her. The cheerleader might have brute force on her side, but Nicole had always proven to be faster and more skilled, her taekwondo lessons back in another life paying off.

Jennifer groaned as she was hit, the momentum making her trip and fall, face first, into the sidewalk. Nicole did not waste time to crouch and grab the blonde bitch by one ankle, making use of her godly strength to lift her over her head just before she slammed her back on the road.

Jennifer’s face easily broke through the pavement. An instant later, it was back out, as Nicole pulled her ankle and used the momentum to slam her on the other side of the sidewalk. The Hawaiian kept at it for a while, not giving Jennifer the chance to react as she knocked her over and over again on the road, two four-feet deep craters on either side of the superwoman standing witness to the strength of the blows. When she finally got tired of her game, Nicole just tossed Jennifer in the direction of the bank, making the façade crumble at another spot as her foe’s body broke through it with the same ease hers had moments ago.

She moaned and waited for the cheerleader to come back. She did not have to wait long, the blonde amazon breaking through another section of wall and stopping barely a few paces away from her in an obviously irate mood. Nicole had expected a bruised face. She realized with some disappointment that the tarmac was not up to the task of hurting someone like Jennifer.

She was too close when she launched her third attack. Quickly understanding that she would not be able to dash her attempt, Nicole focused on intercepting Jennifer’s punch with both hands instead. She did, her feet digging the asphalt deep as the blonde superwoman kept charging and pushing her back. Finally pivoting, Nicole used Jennifer’s impulse to launch her in a different direction. She did not choose it at random.

Jennifer realized about what was going on too late. One instant she was pushing Nicole back and the next she was soaring through the sky. It was not until she felt something spongy squish against her backside that she realized about the danger of the situation. There were a few more crimson splashes before her body embedded into an armored van, making it topple before she could get back to her feet.

Jennifer was too afraid to stand up. She found herself standing in the middle of the police blockade and covered in blood as she did, her body having broken through an indeterminate number of agents before crushing a personnel transport beyond recognition.

“Oh my God! Oh my God!” she started saying, sobbing as she understood what had happened.

As she stood, cops tried to put as much distance with her as possible. The terror in their faces depressed her. They were looking at her as if she were the worst kind of monster. She was about to explain herself when Nicole’s loud laughter made her look in her direction.

“Getting close to your friends?” the Hawaiian mocked.

Jennifer could not take it anymore and let out an animal howl, not noticing how every remaining cop in the blockade was forced to their knees with hands on their ears as she charged at Nicole. The former lawyer tried to evade her, as in her previous attempts. She was surprised when she could not, Jennifer’s heavier body making her topple and trapping her between the road and close to five thousand pounds of mad superstrong woman.

Nicole realized that she had been too overconfident an instant before Jennifer’s fist hit with devastating force in her face, sending her head three deep into the road. She noticed her cheek quickly swelling and panicked when she realized that she could not move, trapped between the cheerleader’s strong thighs. A quick look up showed her the blonde’s mad face as she got a second punch ready. She tried moving her arms to intercept, but there was no way to break them out of Jennifer’s lock.

For the first time since her transformation, Nicole was afraid. She had felt practically invulnerable when fighting with mere men, her superiority so vast that she had known that there was no way in the world they could hurt her. The situation was very different now, though, for she was fighting a woman of her same condition and that had proven to be stronger every time she had had the chance.

Jennifer’s first punch had hurt but had not broken anything vital. Nicole was not so sure that she would be so lucky with the second one. She tried to move her arms from their thigh prison once more, failing again, and resigned to receive the hit with closed eyes, praying for it not to be fatal.

The blow never came, though. When Nicole opened her eyes again she was faced with Jennifer’s utterly surprised expression. A quick look to the side showed her the cheerleader’s arm, caught into Susan’s hand. Jennifer was clearly trying to break from the hold with all her considerable strength, but Susan did not seem to have to stretch herself too much to keep her at bay.

An instant later, the pale redhead started pulling up, surprisingly removing her blonde colleague from Nicole. Jennifer then tried to break free using her other arm, an action that Susan quickly aborted by grabbing her wrist with her free hand.

Jennifer was soon on her feet, with Susan at her back and holding her by her arms. She was desperately trying to break free from the hold, but somehow, she seemed unable to. Nicole did not understand. Besides Nathalie, Susan had been the weakest of the group, so it was hard to believe that she was able to restrain a much stronger woman like Jennifer. What made it especially puzzling was the fact that she did not seem to be struggling to achieve it. Up to some point, it felt like an adult holding a child.

Jennifer tried to push away, this time more violently, but was equally unsuccessful. Susan reacted by pulling her closer to her and bending her right arm on her back, making her groan as she restrained her. Nicole did not waste time to push herself to her feet, standing in front of her two fellow superwomen.

“How is this possible?” Jennifer groaned as she struggled.

“I told you that Lindbergh and Sully are still messing with us. I don’t know what they did to me, but they made me much quicker and stronger,” Susan said calmly.

Jennifer’s face reflected the mix of fear and concern she felt at the statement. Everything inside her wanted to reject it as false, but the fact that she was being so easily overpowered was too present.

“Why?” Jennifer then asked.

Nicole remained silent as the redhead replied.

“Nicole is right. They will never treat us like people, like humans. Who knows, maybe we are not humans anymore. We always knew that Lindbergh and Sully were not clean, but believe me, I’ve seen what they have been doing and it is beyond anything we ever thought they would be capable of. I have no doubt that as soon as we are not useful to them they will get rid of us. And seeing how people look at us now, they may even cheer,” Susan said. “I did not choose to become this, but I don’t want to live my life apologizing for it.”

“So, you’d rather join a psycho than try to sort things out with us,” Jennifer said.

“I’ve chosen to be free to do what I want. You gave up on that long ago.”

Nicole decided this was as good a moment as any to get square, so she punched Jennifer in the stomach by surprise. She had not held back and grinned as the cheerleader groaned in pain and bent, the only reason she had not dropped to her knees being that Susan was still firmly holding her.

“What’s this?” Susan asked.

Nicole punched Jennifer in the face, violently rocking her head as the blonde’s eye started becoming black.

“Retribution,” Nicole replied with a grin.

“Stop,” Susan said calmly but assertively.

Nicole ignored her and punched Jennifer once more, this time getting her to spit some blood.

“I said stop!” Susan repeated, this time quite louder.

Nicole was starting to become excited with the violence but decided not to upset her new comrade right away. Panting as she observed the beaten cheerleader on the young redhead’s arms, she narrowed her eyes and said:

“We cannot leave her around.”

“What do you mean?” Susan asked.

“You know what I mean,” Nicole replied.

“Absolutely not!” Susan barked as she kept holding Jennifer’s almost limp body. “You might have been right, but she is still my fellow!”

Nicole understood. It was childish, of course. But she guessed it was a natural enough reaction. Not one she would have learned at law school or working for Gibson-Kavanaugh, but a human one in any case. She had to make her see the situation in all its crudeness.

“We cannot let her be. She will recover. And when she does, Nathalie and she will come after us. We had the element of surprise today. We will not have it the next time.”

“We are not killing Jennifer. Understood?”

Strangely enough, now that her blood was not hot anymore, Nicole was not eager to finish her old colleague either. But she knew it had to be done. The problem, of course, was finding a way to convince Susan.

It turned out she did not need to. The redhead moved her foot forward and pushed Jennifer’s leg as far as it would go before stepping on her Achilles hill. Nicole understood. Jennifer’s shriek was heartbreaking as her shin shattered in three different pieces as Nicole’s brutally kicked it with her heel. She then started to sob as Susan dropped her to the ground.

“Doing this made me sick,” Susan stated, making sure that Nicole understood that she could not expect some things from her.

“You are far too nice for the power you have,” Nicole replied with a grin.

“You know? I can see why you are right. But you still scare me,” Susan said.

“If anyone should not be scared, that is you.”

“You obviously had this planned. So tell me, what’s next on your list?” Susan asked.

“Taking care of some loose ends. Then indulge,” Nicole replied, smirking.

“I’m not sure we share the same preferences when it comes to having fun,” Susan said.

Nicole was about to reply, but she did not have time to do so before they were interrupted by a sudden change in the landscape. Quite surprisingly, their next challenge did not come from the police blockade, which was still trying to recover from Jennifer’s impact. Their new foes showed up through a different street and soon caught both women’s attention.

Nicole was the first one to head towards them, leaving the wailing cheerleader behind as she did. Susan promptly followed, both curious and concerned at what her new colleague might do. The fact that she had chosen Nicole did not mean that she did not make her wary.

The two transports looked heavier than the usual SWAT truck. They stopped at a respectable distance, producing half a dozen men each as they were flanked by four black SUVs.

“Who are they?” Susan asked, intrigued.

“The hell if I know!” Nicole replied, as surprised by the bulky sci-fi uniforms the men were wearing as for the weird looking guns they were carrying. She was not concerned, though. After all, they were men! If anything, she felt some excitement at the possibility to channel the aggressiveness that the fight with Jennifer had left unmanaged. She was certainly not planning on being kind to the newcomers.

Nicole had been expecting some sort of warning, even a threat. She was getting used to them already. She got none of that. The first act of communication from the strange looking men was that of one of them taking aim and shooting one of the strange rifles at her. Nicole had been waiting for the usual tap before the bullet bounced off her impregnable body. Up to some point, she felt insulted at having been shot only once.

Then, the projectile hit and Nicole’s world was shattered. She had grown used to being above, to being invulnerable. The brief fight with Jennifer had been disappointing but being hurt by an equal still fit within her new concept of reality. She was not ready at all for the pain coming from the attack of a mere man.

Whatever hit her in the stomach was not a bullet. And it definitely did not ricochet from her skin. It attached to it instead, and an instant after it did, the superwoman felt the most intense pain she had ever experienced. It was hard to describe with words the agony that filled her body; the closest mental image she could get was that of a thousand blazing wires cutting through her skin.

Nicole let out a brutal shriek, shattering every window in two blocks. Barely able to keep standing, the amazon managed to gather enough strength to look down and see a small pad attached to her stomach by some strange-looking tips. Its center was attached to an almost invisible wire that led all the way back to the weird rifle that had shot it. She tried to reach for it, to pull the torturing device away from her body. She could not. The moment her fingers touched the pad and the wire she felt as if they were going to be cut from her hand, forcing her to move them away and look at the burn marks in her fingertips.

It took a titanic effort to look back up and see the man that had shot at her running back to the truck he had come from and inserting the rifle, with its connecting wire, into a socket on the side of the large vehicle. The pain increased an instant later and Nicole realized that the vehicle was meant to deliver the necessary juice to keep the torturing device running.

She did not have time for any other thoughts before a second wire hit her right under her right breast, promptly delivering another tormenting discharge. Nicole’s brain threatened with shutting down as she dropped to her knees, no longer able to control her body.

Next to her, Susan was stunned. What the hell was going on? She did not have Nicole’s expertise when it came to using her power, but like everyone else, she had naturally assumed that her strength and resilience transcended standard human weapons. Nicole’s obvious suffering brutally denied that.

Still overwhelmed by the decision she had been forced to make and that had implied changing the course of her life, Susan had not been ready to be tested again so soon. Now she realized that she had no other option but to choose once more. Nicole was quite evidently being defeated and it was up to her to decide how to help her, even if she realized that this meant that she might have to make a decision on what to do with men that stood in her way that she would have been happy to postpone as much as possible.

The sight of one of the strange-looking rifles aimed at her made her react. With her new comrade visible out of combat, the newcomers seemed to have decided that it was time to take care of her. She dashed to her left an instant before her would-be attacker pulled the trigger. It was the right move, since she could still feel the burning wire dashing against the pale skin of her thigh as she flew to the side.

Not having controlled the strength or direction of her evading move, Susan ended up crashing against a parked SUV, toppling it as its fragile frame folded under her unnatural strength and weight. Adrenaline pumped through her bloodstream, making her extra alert as she rolled on herself just in time to see another man getting his weapon ready.

She evaded this new attack by rolling once more, sparks sparkling from the SUV’s ruined body as the wire conducted massive amounts of electricity towards it.

Susan pushed herself back on her feet in an amazing display of agility while Nicole kept howling in pain, just a feet away. She saw two more men getting their sci-fi weapons ready and realized that she would not be able to keep evading forever. Her first instinct was to flee, but yet another of Nicole’s screams reminded her that she could not abandon her new mate.

Susan’s hand naturally reached back, her fingers digging into the flimsy sheet metal of the large sedan that was parked right behind her. She was soon holding the massive vehicle over her head with an ease that would have suggested that she was actually handling a balloon. Taking a last look at her two new would-be attackers while she took aim, Susan frowned, blaming them for what they had forced her to do. A second later, she had tossed the car and the two assailants were no more, crushed with two of their colleagues between one of the trucks and her improvised projectile.

It was over soon after that. A simple hop sent Susan in the middle of the group of aggressors, her landing sending two of them off their feet. She kicked them, sending their broken bodies over a nearby rooftop, just before turning in an impossibly swift move and sweeping two of their comrades with her left arm.

Susan knew that these men were still holding potentially harmful weapons, so she did not give anything to chance as she dispatched the four remaining armed agents. Unfortunately for them, the redhead amazon was way too fast for them to react and before anyone could noticed she had taken care of them with two shoves, a punch and a kick.

Susan panted as she stood over the spot where the attacking force had been, the fact that she had killed a dozen men starting to sink in. She realized she did not know how to feel, the guilt at having become a murdered combining with the anger she felt at having been forced to act and the satisfaction at the realization of her power over them.

Yet another of Nicole’s screams took her out of her trance and helped her focus, her mind welcoming the call for attention so that it could wander off the uncomfortable train of thought. Quickly identifying the truck that was connected to the wires tormenting her colleague, Susan leaped to it and kicked it, her foot easily caving into its armored side and sending the large vehicle rolling until it crashed with the building across the street and putting an end to Nicole’s suffering.

The four black SUVs had decided that they had better things to do than to stay around her in the meantime. Susan wondered what to do, since they no longer represented a threat. Her lizard brain decided for her and she was soon holding the second truck over her head, its weight larger than any other she had found in the real world so far, almost to the point where she had to put some effort in the action.

Turning towards the street the SUVs had chosen to flee, Susan sneered and tossed the truck at them, snickering when she saw the heavy vehicle crushing the first two cars and keep going to do the same with the remaining two.

Susan realized that she was panting again. And while she would never admit it, she could not deny to herself that she was feeling some warmth at what she had just achieved. Nicole’s sobs were a perfectly good excuse to disregard that thought and focus back in reality.

The former lawyer turned superwoman was no longer in pain, but the aftermath of the punishment she had taken was evident. Lying face down on the street, Nicole was breathing deeply, letting out an occasional sob as she did.

With no one for blocks to disturb her, Susan looked down at Nicole’s battered body and understood that there was no way back. She had chosen her future and she had not had to wait to have a first taste of its implications.

For all her shyness and lack of social skills, Susan was mentally stronger than most people thought. Her life had not done too much for her self-esteem, but instinctively she had always known what was right and she had not let others to bully her into depression. This defense mechanism that had taken her through life was kicking in again and reminding her that she had had no other option. Not if she aspired to be in control of her life.

She was sure that staying at Fort Exeter was not an option. She was sure that partnering with Nicole was the only way to get away from the cage she had been locked in. And she was sure that she had had no alternative but to hurt Jennifer and kill the men that had attacked Nicole and her. Following that logic, she could not take the blame for their deaths. For all she knew, Lindbergh was way guiltier than her.

And now, for the first time in a year and, up to some point, for the first time in her life, Susan was free to make her next decision. There was no one to tell her what to do, no rules, no constraints. And she finally fully understood what Nicole had meant.

Walking towards her, Susan crouched and lifted her new partner’s bulky body with the ease of someone holding a baby. Walking calmly, she soon passed the spot where Jennifer lay down on the road, still in deep pain. Her expression left no doubts about the fact that she had seen her fight with the men.

“I never wanted things to happen like this,” she said. “I never wanted you to get hurt. I had no other option. I can’t go back there. You should not go back either. I hope Nathalie and you realize soon. I did not ask this to happen to me. But I cannot deny my new reality. I cannot live pretending that I did not turn into something else, behaving like a circus animal while I wait for someone else to decide what I should do or whether I deserve to keep breathing. I hope it was easier, but I’m not the one that is making it hard.”

She had never seen anyone look so disappointed as Jennifer. Lowering her gaze, Susan resumed her walk, passing by her and heading down the now deserted street.

“You turned into a killer!” Jennifer finally said.

Susan looked at her over her shoulder and replied coldly:

“Tell me, would you have let them kill you instead?”

She did not give her any time to react before she jumped, eager to get away from the scene of her betrayal and her embracement of a new life.

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