Power Corrupts (a Uni7erse Short)


[AUTHOR’S NOTE] This is a short set in the Unlucky Seven universe (or Uni7erse as was recently suggested to me). If you like what you read here and you’re not familiar with the source material, check the links on the sidebar to buy/borrow Unlucky Seven and the Obligatory Sequel. You won’t regret it!

 

The power coursed through his arm and settled at the back of his neck.  A tingling sensation.  Bottle blonde hairs stood on end. A burst of energy shot through his entire body.  Every muscle tensed ever so slightly – woke up, gained strength.

 

It was fleeting, though, and Josh knew it.  The spent double-A he held between his thumb and first finger wouldn’t carry him more than an hour or so before he would need another.  And that was only to keep him awake.  If he wanted to do anything else he would need more.  A lot more.  Need being the operative word there.

 

Despite warnings to the contrary, he had not slept in nine days.  The clock on the dashboard was mocking him.  His circadian rhythms were completely shot to hell and he wasn’t really sure it should be daytime.  This was his first time out of the cave and the sunlight wasn’t as much bothersome as it was confusing.

 

The real mystery to him was his motive.  He had spent nine (was it really nine?) days awake, aware, and able to do whatever he wanted.  He had done precisely nothing of merit with any of that time.

 

Finally, some action cropped up and he was on his way to the scene to meet his friends and, even with a fresh battery in his hand, he didn’t trust himself to drive.  He was far too twitchy.

 

Everyone else was already on the scene.  They had left him behind because it wasn’t going to be a big deal – just some more android ninja problems.  Apparently they now needed his expertise and he didn’t trust himself to drive.

 

Luckily, Lisa happened to be in the cave and, after a lengthy argument, she agreed to drive him to the fight.

 

These batteries weren’t going to cut it.  No matter how many of them he absorbed, simple double-As wouldn’t let him throw lightning or anything cool.  He would need to power up.

 

He didn’t have his cell phone with him.  That worked last time.  Maybe Lisa had one.  He turned to the space between the front seats and started to search for it in her bag.

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Lisa asked, a look of astonishment on her face.

 

“Huh?” asked Josh, not looking up from digging around in her personal space, “Oh, I was just looking for something.”

 

“Whatever it is,” Lisa said sternly, “It’s definitely not in my purse.  Get out of there now.”

 

“Ok,” Josh said, not wanting to fight.  He sat up in the passenger seat.

 

The car battery.  He could totally draw power from the car battery before they got there.  He had done that bit before and it felt amazing.

 

He popped open the glove compartment and started digging out a solid year’s worth of drive-thru napkins in order to get to the light in the back.  He could either pull it out or break the glass and grab on to the filament.  That would work.

 

“Seriously,” Lisa said, “Whatever it is, it’s also not in my glove compartment.  Can you please just sit still until we get to the location.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Josh said, quickly, “Sorry.”

 

The radio, he thought.  He could probably rip off one of the knobs and use that to start pulling power from the car battery.

 

He made a reach for it and she slapped his hand.

 

He tried again, and she slapped his hand.

 

She looked really frustrated.

 

The power outlet!  Of course!

 

He popped the plastic cover from the lighter adapter and jammed his finger into it before she could make any moves to stop him.

 

The power in the car started to flicker and the engine was beginning to stall.  The feeling of electricity flowing through him at this degree had him almost paralyzed with joy.

 

Lisa took her eyes off the road and turned to look at him.

 

“Stop what you’re doing,” she said, clearly, something strange in her eyes, powerful, “Sit down and don’t touch anything or do anything until we get to the location.”

 

He felt a strange sort of light impact on his face, like a puff of air.  Without another thought, Josh removed his finger from the outlet, cutting short his blissful recharging and felt a desire to sit perfectly still which he realized wasn’t his own.

 

Lisa sighed – with relief, Josh assumed – and put her eyes back on the road just in time to see a black android land on the hood of her car with a loud thud.

 

She screamed in surprise.  Josh wanted to join her chorus but couldn’t.  He couldn’t open his mouth at all.  He thought about reaching his hand up and blasting the thing off its feet with a bolt of lightning but couldn’t raise his arms.  Was it that he couldn’t or that he didn’t want to?  He wasn’t sure.  He was just doing as he was told and didn’t really feel like doing anything else.

 

Lisa swerved the car drastically.  The ninja did not budge from the hood as Josh hoped it might.  Its feet were planted firmly – probably with some sort of magnet – enough that it struck downward with both hands, grabbing into the windshield and looking as though it was going to tear the roof off.

 

She continued to shout unintelligible noises of frustration.  Josh really didn’t want to do anything else aside from sitting in his seat and waiting until they arrived at the location.

 

She jerked the wheel again, unable to shake their attacker as the metal of the roof groaned and began to separate from the rest of the car.

 

She turned to him and shouted in the same commanding voice:

 

“Do something!  Help me!”

 

That soft impact his his face again and, without hesitation, he pulled all the power he had just extracted from the car’s battery and channeled it into a blast of electricity that destroyed and threw most of the ninja from the front of the car.  Its hands were stuck digging into the roof and its magnetized feet and half of its left leg still remained stuck to the hood.

 

Lisa pulled the car over and stopped.  Her deep red hair was frazzled and she was breathing heavily.  Josh was tense as well but for other reasons entirely.  It took him a moment to gather himself and break what felt like a very lengthy silence.

 

“What the hell was that?” he shouted.

 

“What was what?” Lisa asked in return.

 

“That,” Josh continued shouting, “Back there.  You asked me to not do anything until we got to our destination and I literally couldn’t do anything else until you asked me to and, even then, it didn’t feel like it was me doing it.  Were you… were you controlling me?  Do you have powers?”

 

There was another silence.  She stared forward as Josh believed she was contemplating some kind of next move.

 

“Ok, I’ll come clean,” Lisa said, “Remember when you told me about how jealous Emma was of the group’s powers?  How she was so jealous that she betrayed your trust and downed that vial of the chemical stuff?”

 

“I never told you about that,” Josh said.

 

“You did,” Lisa said, “You just don’t remember.”

 

“What the hell do you mean?” Josh asked, “What’s going on here?”

 

“Emma wasn’t the only one who was jealous,” Lisa said, “The Project recruited me.  They gave me powers.  Specifically, the power to control people.  I tell someone to do something, they have to do it.”

 

“Wait,” Josh said, “You’ve been working with the Project the whole time?  You betrayed us?”

 

“No one betrayed anyone,” Lisa said, sighing, “It’s not like that at all.”

 

“You are working for the bad guys,” Josh said, “How is that not a bad thing?”

 

“You really need to stop looking at things in terms of good guys and bad guys,” Lisa said, “This isn’t an 80s cartoon.  Nothing in the real world is that black and white, superpowers or no.”

 

In the course of looking her over and trying to get an ounce of guilt out of her, Josh spotted something glinting under the lapel of her coat.  Lifting it up, he saw the circular red pin with a black XIV logo.

 

“Wow,” Josh said, slumping into his seat, “Hail Hydra.”

 

“Oh, shut up,” Lisa said, “It’s nothing like that.”

 

“It’s exactly like that!” Josh protested, “You’re a freaking double agent!”

 

“I am not,” Lisa argued, “Being a double agent means that you have two affiliations.  I’m only working for the Project.”

 

“Are you saying you’re not affiliated with your friends?” Josh asked, “With us?”

 

“I am not about to sit around and play Jarvis to a bunch of superpowered people who left me in the dust the minute things started to get more interesting than normal life.  You guys used to be my best friends and it took an attempt on my life for you to even contemplate letting me into your little clubhouse.  You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t consider myself truly ‘affiliated’.”

 

“That’s just insulting,” Josh said.

 

“I don’t care if it is, it’s true,” Lisa said, “The Project apparently saw something in me that you guys didn’t.”

 

“Yeah,” Josh said, “Apparently they saw the unbridled ability to control people against their will.”

 

“I didn’t ask for this power,” Lisa said, “Joey told me it would be random.”

 

“Some of us get cooler powers than others, I guess,” Josh said, “How long have you been spying for them?  What kind of stuff have you been telling them?”

 

“It’s really not that severe,” Lisa said, “I’m just supposed to keep you out of their way.  Make sure you don’t interfere with what they’re doing.  They really don’t care much about you guys ‘fighting crime’ or going after Kurt and his androids as long as you don’t get in their way.  They are not the boogeymen you think they are.”

 

Josh felt his eyes getting heavy.  He reached into his pocket and drained another double A, casually tossing it out the window.

 

“And, what’s the deal with that?” Lisa asked, “Did I have to drive you because you’re on the nod?”

 

“What the hell do you care?” Josh asked, “You’re not affiliated with us, right?  Is this more information you’re going to carry back to your bosses?  Part of your research?”

 

“Please don’t take it like that,” Lisa said, “I might be jealous, I might be angry, but I’m still concerned for my friends.”

 

“Don’t hand me that,” Josh said, casually drawing from another battery in his pocket to keep his strength up for the argument, “I don’t need anyone’s help, especially not some turncoat who dropped her loyalty the minute she was offered powers.”

 

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Lisa lead off, just before Josh felt the puff of air in his face again, “But what is up with you and these batteries?”

 

“I like the way they make me feel,” Josh volunteered against his will, “I feel powerful when I have electricity in me.  I don’t need to eat or sleep.  I keep doing it to maintain that feeling.  I’m addicted.”

 

“I can help you with that, you know,” Lisa said in her normal speaking voice, “I can just tell you to not be addicted.”

 

“I don’t want your help,” Josh said, “Not now.”

 

He turned away.  As an uncomfortable silence settled in, he opened the car door and stepped onto the sidewalk.  He walked, not sure where he was going, just away from the sense of betrayal and the fear of control emanating from the person he thought was his friend.  He drew from two more batteries to help him cope with what he had just discovered.

 

“Stop,” he heard from behind him before feeling the light impact.

 

He stopped without wanting to do so.

 

“Come back to the car,” he heard, complying even though he very much wanted to continue walking away.

 

When he returned, he opened the door and obediently sat down.  He realized as he did that he felt when her control broke.  It was like being released from a coil of rope in his mind.  The task she requested had been completed and this freed him.

 

“How many other commands have you given me?” he asked, “How many of us are sleepers for the Project?  How many things have you told us to do that we won’t know about until the situation gets really dire?  Are we going to, like, switch off in the middle of a fight or something?”

 

“Nothing like that,” Lisa said, not looking at him, “At least not yet.”

 

“Why am I even asking you these questions?” Josh shouted, “Everything you say is probably a lie.”

 

“Look,” Lisa said, “All you need to know is that Phalanx has plans and I am supposed to keep you out of the way of those plans.”

 

“Phalanx?” Josh said, “I knew it.  Phalanx was working the inside angle all along.”

 

“Not your Phalanx,” Lisa said, “Our Phalanx.”

 

“Your Phalanx?” Josh asked.

 

“Yeah,” Lisa said, “She’s a severe badass.”

 

“She?” Josh asked.

 

Lisa laughed.

 

“This conversation gets more entertaining every time we have it,” she said, smiling, “Look, just forget everything we talked about.  Forget about my powers, forget anything I said about the Project or Phalanx, and let’s just get you to the rest of the group.  You can drain my cell phone when we get there if it helps.  Sound good?”

 

Josh was in a stupor.  He shook his head rapidly.

 

“Does what sound good?” Josh asked, “Did I nod off back there?”

 

“I think taking out that ninja on the hood wiped you a bit,” Lisa said, “We need to get back on the road if we’re going to get to everyone in time.  Rest up.  You’re going to need it.”

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