“Soo… You gonna come down or what?” As she spoke, Tasha took a step or two back, before launching herself into the air and neatly vaulting the wire fence once more. She landed in a crouch in the alleyway and rocked back onto her rear, one arm coming to rest on one of her knees as she gazed up at him.
James glanced down at the ground, still dozens of feet below him, and swallowed.
“I uhh… I haven’t figured out how yet. I’m… kinda stuck.”
“Oh, new power?” Tasha asked with a grin. “I gotcha. Want me to get you down?”
James hesitated, then shook his head with a sigh.
“No thanks. I need to learn this for myself.”
The girl nodded, shrugged, and pulled out her phone, her fingers beginning to tap rapidly at the screen.
“If you say so,” she murmured. “You have fun with that.”
Getting back down to earth was not a particularly challenging endeavor for James now that he seemed to have mastered the power’s “On switch,” and over the next two minutes or so, he was able to slowly float himself back down to the ground, landing with a soft thud on the hard concrete. Tasha looked up briefly at the noise as his shoes made contact.
“Oh, cool, you’re down,” she grinned. “About time, our third guy’s nearly here.”
Tasha nodded, her eyes lighting up excitably.
“Yeah! There’s someone else I know who has powers too, and he’s coming to say hi! So anyway, what’s your name?”
James hesitated for a moment, not entirely sure of whether he should trust this strange girl, before eventually giving his response.
“… Ryan. I’m Ryan.”
“Cool!” Tasha replied, almost before he’d finished speaking. “So you can fly, huh? That’s really cool! How fast can you go? Can you carry things? Do you get cold if you go up too high?”
“I… I really haven’t gotten that far yet,” James admitted. “I… kinda only started flying last night. I don’t even know what’s going on.”
“Ooohh,” Tasha nodded. “Well, I guess that explains why you were practicing in some random school alley. I’d have chosen somewhere indoors, you know?”
“Yeah, I know,” James admitted with a small sigh. “But I was kinda worried about hidden cameras. What if someone saw me, you know?”
The girl snorted, prodding him gently in the side with a finger.
“So you’d rather practice out in the open where anyone could walk past? You know some alleyways have cameras too, right?”
James gulped, eyes shifting around rapidly and scanning the walls of the alleyway for anything electronic.
“Don’t worry,” Tasha cut him off. “This alley’s fine. I already checked. Wow, you have no idea about any of this stuff, do you?”
James opened his mouth to respond, only to be cut off by a new voice at the end of the alleyway.
“Tasha, what’s going on? What’s HE doing here?”
The speaker was a boy; at least, that’s what James would have guessed. The boy was around his own height, and dressed in the same black slacks and scratchy polyester blazer that made up the uniform of James’ school. His face, however, was obscured by a thick scarf, wrapped tightly around almost the whole of his head. He had an arm raised, a finger pointing directly at James.
“Hey Cas!” She called with a wave, one arm pulling a protesting James in against her side in a sort of hug. “This is Ryan! He can fly!”
“Uhh, hi,” James raised a hand awkwardly. “Nice to meet you, Cas… Wait a second… Casper?!”
“Tashaaa!” The newcomer moaned, his voice muffled slightly by the scarf, but becoming more recognizeable by the second. “I told you before! Don’t use my name when I’m wearing the scarf! Keeping my identity secret’s the whole point!”
“What’s the point?” Tasha grumbled. “You know my name and face, and Ryan’s. It’s only fair.”
“Casper?” James repeated. “You have powers too? Seriously?”
“Yeah, you say that, Tasha,” the boy grumbled, uncoiling the scarf from around his face to reveal the sandy haired, freckled face of James’ newest friend. “But it really helps when other people aren’t being honest with you. That kid’s name is James. He’s in the year below me.”
Tasha groaned, prodding James in the side with a free finger.
“Hey, that was not cool, kid.”
“Yeah, okay, sorry,” James muttered, rolling his eyes, before a realization struck him. “Hang on a second. Casper was joking the other day that he and this other kid fight crime together.”
“Shut up,” Casper interrupted, raising a hand once again to point at James.
“So I have to ask,” James continued, unabashed. “Do you fight nazis-”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Casper continued, the volume of his voice rising steadily.
“-that live in space?” James finished, shooting a sideways glance at Tasha who, for her part, was giving Casper a sly sort of look.
“You kidding?” She replied with an evil smile. “We are all about fighting space nazis, it’s pretty much all we ever do. What else has he told you? Has he told you about the spandex? Or the giant robot fights? Or that we color code our costumes?”
“This is why I never introduce you to my friends, Tasha!” Casper snapped, his face growing redder and redder by the second.
“Jeez, Casper,” James grinned. “I haven’t even gotten to the cyborg puppies ye-”
“So you can fly, huh?” Casper practically shouted. “That’s really interesting, James. Tell me more!”
“Wait,” Tasha snorted. “Puppy cyborgs? Casper, you are such a little kid sometimes.”
“Not talking about that now!” Casper replied angrily. “New superpowers, remember?”
“Not really much to tell,” James replied with a shrug. “I woke up last night sort of hovering above my bed, decided I needed to figure out how to use it so I wouldn’t just start flying by accident at school, and here I am.”
“Wow,” Tasha murmured. “You weren’t kidding. You’re super new at this.”
Casper, for his part, looked thoughtful.
“Well, that does kinda explain a few things.” He said quietly. “No wonder you’ve felt so weird lately.”
“Casper,” Tasha interjected, her voice suddenly harsh. “Don’t ask. If he wants to tell us, he will, okay?”
“Hey!” Casper replied angrily. “I wasn’t gonna ask! That’d be super rude!”
James gazed between the two, utterly confused.
“Uhh, what are you guys talking about?” He asked.
The others were silent for a few moments, glancing between one another awkwardly, before Tasha spoke with a small sigh, lifting her arm off of his shoulder and taking a step away.
“Look, James, as far as we can tell, it looks like powers get activated when something really bad happens to you. I know something really bad was happening when I got my super strength, and from what Casper’s said, what was going on with him was super shitty. So I’m guessing something bad happened to you recently, too.”
James felt something heavy drop into his stomach. He swallowed, his throat feeling as if there was something caught in it, and nodded, staring intently at the floor.
Casper, looking more than a little uncomfortable, raised a hand in some gesture of placation.
“James, it’s okay. We get it, trust me. No one’s gonna ask, and you don’t have to tell unless you want to, okay?”
James nodded, just a little relieved.
“Thanks,” he murmured. “I… I’d rather keep it to myself, you know?”
“Yeah,” Casper replied emphatically. “We do, trust me.” There was silence between the three for a time, before Casper seemed to decide to push forwards. “So, you can fly? That’s neat. How far have you gotten?”
“Well I can get off the ground,” James answered glumly. “And I’m pretty sure I can land, but really, that’s about it right now. I kinda don’t want to test it too much in case I get stuck too high up in the air and can’t get down, or it suddenly stops working for some reason and I fall, you know?.”
“Yeah, no, you’re right,” Tasha agreed, moving to lean casually against a wall. “That used to happen to me when I first got my powers. I’d get really tired, and then my arms’d just give out after a while.”
“I got headaches,” Casper supplied. “It’d build up really slowly, just a little at first, then a lot, and then my power would just stop and my head would hurt for a while and I’d be tired, but it was good. I liked that it used to go quiet.”
“That stops, though,” Tasha continued. “After a while, your powers start to last longer and longer. I can only make mine stop working if I really go all out now.”
“Well, that’s all fine for you guys,” James said quietly, mulling it all over. “But for me, if my powers stop, I’ll be in mid air when it happens.”
“My advice?” Tasha suggested, shoving her hands in her pockets. “Stay close to the ground at first. Try and spend as long as you can maybe an inch or two in the air and see how long you last.”
“I’d guess around twenty minutes at first,” Casper supplied. “Your stamina kind of builds up pretty quickly, though.”
James didn’t respond. He was busy taking everything in. Experimentally, he tried to fly again, the process somewhat smoother now that he knew what he was doing. He allowed himself to drift upwards a few inches, then slowly began to lower himself back down. It took a few tries, but eventually, he found an equilibrium, hovering perhaps half an inch off the ground. If he let his feet hang, it was barely even noticeable. The others watched with interest for the first minute or so, then seemed to get bored.
“So,” Tasha spoke up, her tone businesslike. “You said you found something, right, Cas? What is it?”
Immediately, Casper’s face fell.
“Right,” he muttered worriedly. “I almost forgot. Stupid, sorry. I… I think… ugh, the thing is, I don’t know exactly what I found. It… I’m pretty sure it was sex, but it felt kinda… one sided.”
Tasha raised an eyebrow.
“What, you mean like someone touching themselves? You know that’s not a bad thing, right, Casper?”
“No,” Casper groaned. “Like, there were definitely two of them, but one of them… one of them didn’t seem into it at all.”
“Again, Cas, being lame at sex isn’t a crime.”
“Uhh,” James interjected, a little confused. “What are you guys talking about?”
“Casper has emotion sensing powers,” Tasha explained with a shrug. “He finds bad people for me to rob. I kinda live alone, so I need the money.”
“That’s…” James trailed off, before eventually just shaking his head. “…I don’t even know how to feel about that.”
“Look, it’s better than letting her go after just anyone, okay?” Casper replied, his tone defensive. “Anyway, no, it’s not just that this guy was lame. The person he was with felt… young. Like, younger than me, I think. And… and they were just bored, you know? Not scared or anything, just really, really bored.”
James stared at the other boy, a sick feeling welling up in his gut.
“Well that can’t be right,” Tasha murmured, sounding confused. “Are you sure it was a kid?”
“As sure as I can be,” Casper muttered, shifting his eyes to the floor. “But the fact that they were just bored makes me think this was an ongoing thing and James, if you’re going to be that upset by all this, can you stand a little further away? I’m trying really hard not to feel it, but you’re kind of loud.”
James felt his eyes go wide. Of course Casper could feel his emotions. Instinctively, he pulled back, trying to step away, and finding his body scooting backwards through the air, stopping only when his back made contact with the wire fence at the end.
“C-can you still feel me?” He asked, his heart thumping uncomfortably hard against his rib-cage.
“No, you’re fine,” Casper said quietly. “…Sorry. I wouldn’t have said anything, but… it kinda felt like I was prying on something private.”
“Y-yeah,” James answered, feeling himself begin to calm a little. “T-thanks for telling me.”
“… Anyway,” Tasha broke the momentary uncomfortable silence. “You found a kid who you think is being used for sex often enough to just be bored by it… Anything else to go on?”
“Not really,” Casper shrugged. “I only found it this morning, and I… didn’t want to get too close. Can you… I dunno, take a look?”
“Yeah,” Tasha nodded. “Probably better if you stay away from it until we know more. Can you text me the address?”
“Sure,” he answered. “I’ll take James home, kay?”
“Yup,” Tasha replied, pushing off of the wall and making her way out of the alleyway with a wave. “You guys probably have some stuff to talk about. I’ll leave you to it.”
With that, the two boys were left alone, staring at one another across the length of the empty alleyway. For the longest time, neither spoke.
“So…” Casper started. “Umm… are we still friends?”