After that, Ayesha and Luis faced no more troubles from the Choppers. Ayesha pulled out another plastic zip-tie, binding the former owner of the gloves. Luis took the gloves, as well as gathering the tube, the shield generators, and as many of the other technological odds and ends the Choppers had been carrying with them.
‘Payment,’ Ayesha told them, ‘For our inconvenience.’
With the devices safely stowed away, Ayesha left an anonymous message to the Parma email that had been left to her by Monica Jansen, saying that they had been attacked by four members of the Choppers, and that they had left them bound in this warehouse. She made sure to do it using one of the Choppers own cellphones. Ayesha had no trust in a supposedly anonymous Parma contact.
As Ayesha typed into the phone of the high-voiced man who’d carried the tube, he started speaking to her in a quiet, gruff voice.
‘Do you think the Choppers give a shit that you’re a couple of kids?’ his voice was ragged with loathing, ‘Ash doesn’t care. We’re gonna find out who you are.’ He was a small man. His head had been shaved once, but was now regrowing, showing his male-pattern baldness. There was a tattoo on his left cheek. It looked like a stylised hook or set of talons.
Ayesha didn’t look up at him, her gaze instead fixed on the phone. Luis was out of earshot, checking on the two who’d carried rifles, making sure that they were uninjured but in no position to escape. The high-voiced man continued staring at Ayesha.
‘We’re gonna make you pay for today. I don’t give a shit if you’re one of those nine. You don’t fucking scare me, and you don’t scare the Choppers, do you hear?’
Ayesha finished the message and slid the phone into her bag.
‘I said, do you hear me? They will fucking get you. They will-‘
With barely a sound, Ayesha moved. Her right hand was over his mouth, and her left had held a small blade to his throat. She was kneeling on him, so though his eyes widened and his body jerked, he couldn’t get free of her.
Ayesha stared at him. Her expression mildly amused, but detached. Her large, golden eyes gazed unblinking into his, like the uncaring eyes of a panther.
She smiled, as broad as her narrow mouth allowed. Ayesha didn’t say a word. She just watched the fear light up his eyes. Felt the man struggle beneath her. Felt him try to call out through her hand. She could even feel his pulse, hard and fast. With his hands bound behind his back, he was her plaything.
A small dribble of blood, sprouted from the point of contact between the blade and the man’s throat.
‘Okay, they’re not going anywhere!’ called Luis, cheerily, ‘Plus, I think I’m working out how to do that stun thing with the gloves!’
‘This one’s good too!’ called Ayesha back, without breaking eye contact with the man. She shot him a slight questioning look, as if to ask if she’d been right.
The man took the hint, and tried to nod without bringing his neck closer to the knife.
Quickly and smoothly, she stood up from him, and slipped the knife back to her bag. The man visibly relaxed, slumping slightly. His breathing was irregular, and he had started trembling. But he said nothing.
They left the scavengers bound for Parma to find. Ayesha and Luis left the warehouse together, walking South down the road. It was late. The night was dark and clear, and the air was clean and sharp enough to almost make Ayesha forget about the pain in her head and throat.
As soon as they were out of the shadow of the warehouse, Luis spoke.
‘How do you think I did in there?’ he said.
‘Five and a half out of ten,’ she said, ‘Some neat tricks, but getting your ass stuck in a hole in the floor for the whole fight lost you some serious points.’
Luis actually looked hurt for a moment, before he noticed Ayesha’s grin. ‘Shut up, Ayesha,’ he said, smiling too.
‘Speaking of,’ said Ayesha, ‘We really need to come up with alter-egos – I don’t know if I can go through another mission calling you “Champ”. Super awkward.’
‘Yeah,’ said Luis, biting his lip, ‘I can’t think of anything.’ His eyes remained fixed on the ground in front of them a moment, considering. ‘What did you mean by the “Big Dog” thing earlier? The thing you were saying to the gloves guy?’
‘Private joke,’ said Ayesha, shrugging slightly. When Luis continued to look questioningly at her, she sighed and continued, ‘So, do you remember those contract things that Monica mentioned on the night of the accident? The job postings for superheroes? So, I did some digging, and I found some online. And I needed to get together some rent money, so I decided that I should maybe take one up for a “Big Dog” that was terrorising the docks.’
It took a moment for Luis to understand. Ayesha savoured the dawning comprehension that spread across his face. ‘Shit!’ he said, eyes wide, ‘Someone put out a contract on me?!’
‘You were controlling a walking tank that was blowing up a warehouse with laser beams,’ said Ayesha, ‘Yeah, they put a contract out on you.’
‘Who?’ he said, still incredulous.
‘I don’t know,’ said Ayesha, shrugging again, ‘Whichever group of freaks control these docks, I guess?’
Luis had the wide eyed, blank-faced expression of someone who had just realised how close they’d come to walking into oncoming traffic. ‘And that’s how the Choppers found me too!’
‘They also mentioned a signal, remember?’ Ayesha said, ‘Any idea what that could be?’
Luis looked uncomfortable for a moment. ‘I have an idea,’ he said, nervously, ‘The whole… fingers behind the back trick. I think that maybe it sends out a signal…’
‘I don’t know if you want to start naming all your giant robot’s powers,’ said Ayesha, ‘But if you do, please don’t call that one the “Fingers behind the back trick.” Might give people the wrong idea.’
It took a moment for Luis to get the joke. He laughed, but then seemed to catch himself. His expression became serious and scared. ‘They were going to kill me, Ayesha.’
‘All the more reason to take the fight to them!’ said Ayesha. Her voice was pleasant, but she knew that beneath it was a hunger. It had felt good to fight the Choppers. Good to stretch her legs and to strike out at those who deserved it. She already could barely wait to face them again.
Luis didn’t seem to notice her tone. He still looked distant.
‘You’re not getting cold feet are you?’ she said to him, ‘You did good in there Luis. Now that you’ve got the gloves and can avoid the “What’s that girl? Luis is trapped down the old well?” problem, I reckon you could make a pretty damn good superhero.’
Luis looked like he was chewing over something. Finally, he hesitantly spoke. ‘But we’re just kids. Don’t you think we should tell Parma? Or the other seven?’
‘The other seven didn’t want to help,’ said Ayesha, firmly, ‘And from the looks of things, Parma couldn’t catch a cold. Plus, we’re not, strictly speaking, meant to be fighting super villains until the investigation is complete.’ She thought for a moment. ‘Also, I don’t want to sound like an asshole, but I am nineteen. Despite all appearances, I am a grown-up.’
Luis still looked nervous.
‘Luis, they’re called the Choppers. We can take a gang called the Choppers. That’s like calling your gang the Nasty Boys.’
Luis snorted with laughter, and just like that, Ayesha knew that she had him.
‘So, we’ll work out a good time to strike, and then face the Choppers. When’re you free?’
Luis shrugged, looked distant again, then said, ‘I don’t know. I’ve got school, and my parents don’t like me being out late, and I’ve got to…’ he paused for barely a fraction of a second, but Ayesha noticed, ‘I’ve got stuff I need to do.’
‘Cool,’ said Ayesha quickly. She was growing impatient with Luis’s distant tone and reluctance to speak. Plus, walking at this speed was becoming tiresome. ‘I’ll message you with the details. I’m gonna run back home.’
Luis frowned, then hesitantly said, ‘Erm, are you sure you don’t want someone to walk you back?’
Ayesha grinned, already quickening her pace from him. ‘Oh, you’re right! I might get jumped by a gang with rayguns and stun gloves!’ She turned back to him at the mouth of an alley, ‘See you later, Champ.’
For maximum effect, Ayesha jumped straight upwards to a fire escape. Bounced to one wall. Swung. Back to the other. Onto the rooftop and away.
She only ran one block before she stopped though.
Ayesha couldn’t wait to get back to her apartment. A large glass of water, a microwave pizza, and her king-sized bed all awaited her. But there was something she needed to do first.
Ayesha sat down in the shadow of a chimney on the roof of the building. Bending her leg up, she looked at her shoes.
The old trainers that she’d worn for the fight were unrecognisable as footwear. They were scraps of fabric and plastic that barely held together by stray threads. One of the laces was completely gone, and the other had been worn down to the string. The soles of the shoes were practically non-existent. At the heel and the balls of her feet, holes had grown about three inches wide. The rest of the sole was paper thin, without any treads left.
Ayesha sighed, and removed the shoes. She threw them away into an alley to her left.
Reminding herself to buy more, she rose to her bare feet, and ran home, stopping only once a fast food burrito place. She needed to use the restroom.