Banzai (Psylocke)
Katherine Hana Li spin_kick_snap
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Amherst to Los Angeles, Friday Evening
When Barry Burke received a call on his cell phone in his Amherst apartment, the last thing he expected to hear was a woman's cold, clipped tones on the other end calling him by name. Not Barry, no, the woman on the other end called him Zzzap. His superhero name; the name only one other person knew that Barry could claim. As a black, wheelchair-bound scientist, he wasn't anyone's top choice for the superhero that flew around the country at Mach 5 as a blinding wraith made of pure energy. Barry might garner a second look or two because of his race and disability; no one could look at Zzzap for more than a second or two. Looking at his alter-ego was like looking at the heart of a star through a man-shaped cutout in space.

There was no way to connect Barry to Zzzap and yet this woman had. She knew he was home, had his cell number, and asked him to meet with her on the roof of the Capitol Records building. In Los Angeles. She said there was some kind of contagion in the city and she needed his speed. She'd added his immunity to all disease almost as an afterthought. She knew so much about him and over the course of the conversation, all he managed to get was her name: Stealth.

He was in LA half an hour later, as much concerned by the idea of a contagion in one of the most populous cities in America as he was by how Stealth had discovered him.

Stealth
Ignoring all questions not directly related to her point, Stealth delivered the explanation of what she needed Zzzap to keep an eye out for in a no-nonsense, dispassionate tone. For all of its irregularities (and what was the life of a crimefighting vigilante if not filled with irregularities?), this was a mission briefing and she treated it as such. "You will focus on people with abnormally pale skin, a lack of coordination and language skills, high resistance to damage, and a degree of aggression. Some of them might smell like rotted meat."

Zzzap
Zzzap debated informing her that he had no sense of smell when he was in this form, nor did he truly 'see' in the sense that most people meant, but decided to go for the joke instead. Sounds like you've got a zombie problem, he said, in a voice made of static. He wondered how her laugh would affect her cool facade. She was masked and cloaked, but she still held herself with a kind of stillness that suggested a great deal of coiled tension and energy.

Stealth didn't laugh. Sometimes people had trouble understanding him when he spoke in the energy state. His one friend in the know, Jerry, had told him once that it sounded like he was gargling a beehive. Zzzap didn’t think that was the problem here, though.

Instead she just kept looking at him through that mask, waiting for him to contribute something useful. She seemed willing to wait as long as she had to for that.

So how many have you seen so far?

Stealth
A small nod told him that she accepted his question. Unfolding a map of Los Angeles, she pointed to three small crosses, scattered across the city. Zzzap made a noise that she correctly interpreted as skeptical. After all, three hardly seemed to count as a 'contagion.' Unless Fox News was counting US Ebola cases or something.

"In a city with the population density of Los Angeles, an aggressive disease can spread to thousands of people within hours. I have seen three people who are infected. There is no telling how many are carriers that have not manifested symptoms yet."

Zzzap
Well. That put a slightly different spin on things, didn't it?

Jesus.

Stealth
"Do you know Los Angeles at all?" Stealth asked him. At the head shake that left the air around him charged and crackling, she held the map out for him to look at, carefully keeping it out of reach of his energy field. "Study this," she ordered. "I need you to spend the next six hours scouring the city as many times as you can. Every street, every alley, every cul de sac." She pointed at one section. "Watch the Hollywood Hills. There are several canyons and hidden streets."

Zzzap
Why isn't the CDC involved with this? Zzzap asked, expending the effort he needed to focus on the map and the city it represented. It was difficult to see the world the way everyone else did while he was in the energy form.

Right now it seemed necessary.

Stealth
"At the moment, they believe this is a hoax. All three victims were inanimate by the time they were examined."

Zzzap
Dead?

Again, no answer. She was one stony bitch. She folded the map and vanished it into her cloak, asking only if Zzzap thought he could handle this.

The first time might take me a few hours. I'll pick up speed as I learn the city. I've learned a bit from visiting with The Mighty Dragon out here, but nothing in-depth.

Stealth
"Proceed. I will meet you back here in six hours." And then she was gone and Zzzap, watching her with normal vision instead of being attuned to energy signatures, couldn't even say how she'd done it.


Moving low to the ground through a strange city, the best speed Zzzap could manage was around 400 miles per hour. Much more than that caused serious weather problems, not to mention sonic booms (which could shatter windows, windshields, neon signs, and lots of other expensive things). He started circling the buildings, checking every person he passed for the signs of infection. Anywhere people could be. Alleys. Roads. Parking structures. Subways. Zzzap peered in windows where he could, through walls where he couldn't. On his first pass, he'd have said he saw three-fifths of the city's population. No sign of the mystery disease, although he did stop two muggings and halted a high speed street race by melting the tires of both cars. He figured he could make at least one more pass before it was time to meet up with Stealth again, and hopefully he could catch a good chunk of the remaining population.

Street. Boulevard. Avenue. Drive. He was an hour into his second run when Zzzap saw him.

He was an old guy. His clothes were dark and a bit ragged. Probably homeless, staggering down an alley. His skin was the color of ash and his face was blank. Not emotionless, it just looked like he'd forgotten how to make any sort of expression. A quick check at either end of the street told Zzzap they were just north of Beverly between La Brea and Detroit.

Zipping back to hover over him, a full minute passed before he twisted his head up to look at the glowing wraith above his head. It usually didn't take people long to notice the white-hot man-shape sizzling like a sparkler. His eyes were cloudy--Zzzap wondered if perhaps the old man might be blind. He was staring right at the hero and not blinking. Something looked very wrong about him, and Zzzap couldn't figure out what.

Good evening, citizen, he said, careful to enunciate each word. Are you okay?

Still wide-eyed. Still no blink. Had he blinked once yet?

Sir? Are you feeling okay? Do you need any help?

The man's mouth opened, showing off an impressive collection of half-rotted teeth, and then he clacked them together again and again and again. To Zzzap, it sounded like those little wooden things Mexican dancers wear on their hands.

A fun little trick the magazines and television shows never figured out: Zzzap could see all the electromagnetic energy in the air, including radio waves, television broadcasts, and satellite transmissions. He knew there were seventeen GPS devices within three blocks of where he was floating, and he could list off the codes for each one. And if he had to, with a little concentration, he could have duplicated them or overridden them with a thought. Which was why it had been second nature to see the cell phone built into Stealth’s cowl and memorize the number. He focused on that and could feel the signal a phone would translate into an audible ring.


Stealth
"Who is this?" Hellos were for other people

Zzzap
"It’s me, Zzzap." Through the phone, the electronic distortion of his voice no longer existed. "I’m transmitting to your phone. You’re hearing my voice as I hear it, not how you do."

Stealth
Stealth was still suspicious. "Where did we first meet?"

Zzzap
"On top of the Capitol Records building a few hours ago. Listen, I think I’ve got one of your infected people here."

Stealth
Whether his answer was enough to convince her that it wasn't a trick or Stealth cared more about a potential source of infection more than the possibility of being ambushed didn't matter. "Where are you?" She paused while Zzzap described the alley and then replied, "I will be there in no more than six minutes," before hanging up.

Zzzap
During the conversation with Stealth, the old man had begun reaching up for Zzzap, his hands clawing at the air. It reminded the hero of a mission he'd visited in Brazil, and all the people who thought he was some kind of angel or something. It had been disconcerting then. It was downright creepy now.

Zzzap backed off, settling down a few yards from him, mere inches above the ground. Sir, there’s a chance you may have a contagious disease, he said. Someone's coming to help you, but I need you to stay here.

Homeless Man
As soon as Zzzap landed, the old man began to shuffle forward, his arms still out. His teeth were still chattering.

Zzzap
Zzzap flitted back and let off a gentle burst of light and heat, just enough to be felt. It's dangerous to touch me, sir. You should keep your distance. Then he remembered what Stealth had said about language and damage. The old man probably hadn't felt the heat or understood the warning.

Homeless Woman
More clicking came from behind him. It was an older woman in tattered layers, showing all the infection signs. She was five yards away, also reaching to grab at the glowing hero. The only noise either of them made was the dragging of their feet and the clicking of their teeth.

Zzzap
As Zzzap glanced at her, he realized why she and the old man looked so wrong to his eyes.

As part of his powerset, Zzzap could see the whole electromagnetic spectrum, though he tried to limit himself so he didn't get overwhelmed. Still, there was a bunch of stuff he just always noticed, like infrared. Heat waves. That kind of thing.

Neither of them was warm. They looked weird because they were at room temperature—or alley temperature—-blending into the surrounding brick and pavement. Also, normal people had an electromagnetic halo, yet on both of them it was just a dim glow. That was why he hadn't noticed the woman until she made a noise. He hadn't seen her because, to his eyes, she didn't look like a person.

Hell, how many others had he missed while he was flying around the city? And how were these people still walking when they were corpse-cold?

Homeless Man
It only took a few moments for all this to go through Zzzap's mind, but it was still a distraction. A long enough that the man tried to grab the hero's arm and sink his teeth into his biceps. Or what passed as a biceps.

A lot of his friends were physicists, which was how Barry had gotten a handle on the Zzzap thing when it happened. When he was in the energy state, he had no physical form. He was just a big ball of raging electromagnetic energy given shape and motion by force of will and consciousness. In simpler though less accurate terms, Zzzap was a very tiny G-class star that could think.

End result? Zzzap was dangerous to touch.

The old man's hand charred to the bone in less than a second. There was a horrible crack as his teeth overheated, boiled inside, and shattered. A whole mouthful of teeth bursting apart at once—-there was a sound Zzzap would not forget quickly. The old man was burned. His mouth was ruined, just a burnt bacon hole in his face filled with bone shards and dark blood. And he didn't seem to notice. What was left of his jaw was still moving up and down. He and the woman had their arms up, still reaching, as if neither of them had just seen the damage touching could do.

Zzzap
What the FUCK did Stealth pull me into? Zzzap yelped.

The homeless people kept shuffling forward. The woman’s teeth chattered like she was freezing to death. The old man's ruin of a mouth kept moving like he wanted to do the same, but lacked the means.

Zzzap flew up and behind them. They followed, twisting their heads and arms so far they almost fell over. He'd seen that behavior before. Creature Double Feature out of Boston. Late night movies on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Okay, enough’s enough, he shouted. I want you both down on the ground now! Raising his hand, he let the energy build. Sparks shot off his fingertips, and looking at his palm was like looking at the sun. The shadows in the alley vanished.

The homeless couple didn’t blink. Zzzap didn’t think he'd seen them blink yet.

Get down! This is your last warning.

Homeless couple
The man banged his ruined teeth together with a noise like crunching glass.

In front of Zzzap's hand, the air superheated and did a trick everyone else on Earth needed a supercollider and a magnetic bottle to pull off. An arc of raw plasma scorched its way through the alley, a millimeter wide but igniting everything within four or five times that range. It could burn through concrete like the proverbial hot knife through butter; searing the old man’s thigh to the bone was no challenge at all.

Had been a normal man, the burning would have killed him, or crippled him for life at best.

As it was, he didn’t notice. His stagger swung a little to the left, but he kept moving toward the hero. A leg burn slowed him down no more than having his teeth and tongue burnt out of his mouth had.

They still hadn’t blinked. Their eyes were dull and gray; flat and lifeless. And still they lumbered forward

Zzzap
Right then, Zzzap knew what they were. He'd said it to Stealth as a joke, but here they were right in front of him. No joke, no gag, no doubt what these people had turned into. He had know how, but it was useless to deny it.

His fingers flexed again.

Zombies
The air boiled, night turned to day, and the man’s head vanished in a cloud of fine ash. It was so fast his body stood there for a moment with nothing above the shoulders but a cauterized stump. And then it collapsed with steam drifting from the neck and leg.

The woman opened her jaws wide and brought her teeth together with a solid clack.
Zzzap heard the repeating bang, saw the heat spike, traced both bullets as they streaked down the alley and smashed their way into the old woman's head. Her face collapsed in on itself like a balloon. She dropped like a sack.

Stealth
Stealth swung herself off her motorcycle and holstered the pistol. "Are these the only ones you have seen?"

Zzzap
What the hell is this? Zzzap felt his question was very fair under the circumstances.

Stealth
She ignored him and checked both bodies. "We do not have time to waste. Are these the only ones you have seen?" Even now, facing two dead bodies, one with extreme trauma, she sounded unfazed.

Zzzap
The same could not be said for Zzzap. They were zombies! he shouted. Real live zombies!

Stealth
"By definition," she pointed out, "they are not alive."

Zzzap
But where did they-—

Stealth
"Are there any more?!" There was some emotion.

Zzzap
Zzzap took a mental breath and tried to calm down. I don’t know.

Stealth
"“You were looking, correct?”" Irritation was an emotion.

Zzzap
I was looking for sick people, Zzzap snapped back. I don't see things the way you do. To my eyes, they don't look alive, they look like furniture. So, yeah, there's a good chance I overlooked them if they weren’t moving or making noise like these were.

Stealth
She mulled on this for a moment. "Can you spot them now?"

Zzzap
It's going to be a lot harder. It'll take more time.

Stealth
"Proceed. Now that you know, kill any you find as quickly as possible. Destroying the brain appears to be the only sure way." She walked back to the bike, the conversation over as far as she was concerned.

Zzzap
There's nothing we can do for them?

Stealth
She shook her head. "They are dead. It is a virus making muscles twitch in a corpse. Nothing more."

Zzzap
You’re sure? What about your heal-y guy? Regenerator?

Stealth
"He tried. And seemed quite dismayed when he realized his powers were no help." Stealth straddled the motorcycle and the engine growled. "You can reach me the same way if there are further problems." She roared out of the alley before he could say another word.

Zzzap
With a shake of his head, Zzzap shot into the sky and burned a path through the air back to square one.


[Adapted and tweaked from "Power to the People," Chapter 7 in Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines. NFI, NFB, OOC is enjoyed]