Sister Act (Excerpt) by Tarale Wolffe
Bethany hitched the bag higher on her shoulder as she stepped out onto the street. Headphones over black hair kept the worst of the noise from her ears, and it gave her life a unique sound track. More than once in her life, she'd been amused at how the world's rhythm matched the one playing for her ears.
Lips moved to familiar lyrics. She bounced onto the sidewalk, coming down on the beat, and grinning at it.
Two blocks from her apartment, Bethany paused outside the windowed storefront lined with televisions. It was only the news. She turned, intent on beating the coming rain, when the screen switched to a familiar picture. With a sigh, her headphones were pulled down, hanging from her neck. The city noises pounded into her ears. Even if the televisions could be heard, the deafening sounds would have made it impossible. Still, it didn't feel right, listening to the bright cheer while Anne Arkist ravaged the city. Or, judging from the lack of live footage, her most recent destructive intent was being reviewed.
The scrolling text announced the confirmed death count at 28. Low for her. Either they hadn't found everybody, or The Electric Sage had been close and stopped her before any more could be hurt. She expected the former, but prayed for the latter.
Recorded footage appeared on the screen. Anne laughed as flames whipped around her. She shouted something unheard behind the glass; unheard over the cars and chatter around her. The camera zoomed in on Anne, focusing on the crazed gleam in those dark eyes. She wore no mask, letting everybody see her for who she was, that they might fear her all the more, for no one frightened her. Bethany watched that black hair float from the heat she emitted.
Seeing enough, Bethany turned from the display. Her hands settled the headphones over her ears, once again blocking out the unforgiving world.
People stared at her with wide eyes, none of them standing within five feet of her. Someone had a phone out, lips moving quickly. His eyes never left her. Bethany ducked her head, intent on pushing her way through the crowd gathering at the screens. They split before her. One woman nearly fell in her haste to get away. Bethany didn't try to steady her. Her jaw clenched, wondering at their inability to think for themselves, but kept herself from screaming at them.
It never did any good.
Away from the crowd, she blended with the other pedestrians. The tension within her eased, safe from their scrutiny.
Two blocks later, at the door to her apartment building, a shadow covered her. A quickly growing shadow.
Bethany, like many citizens of Dendron, had quick reflexes. She ducked, throwing up her arms to ward off the approaching figure. Unlike the average citizen, she wasn't average. In the blink of an eye, a chill swept through her, tingling her fingertips as it found an escape.
A moment passed. Then another. When no impact occurred, she glanced up. Between her and her attacker–invisible for the moment– was a dome of clouded ice. Her eyes traveled up, seeing where it connected to the door behind her, the glass frosting from the close contact with so cold an object. Inches from her feet, the ice met pavement.
Inhaling, she let her breath out in one controlled effort. It puffed from her in a cloud of white, the only hint that it was cold.
Knowing she couldn't hide behind the ice forever, she reached out a hand. Her fingers barely brushing the protective barrier. As quick as it rose, it melted into nothing, returning to the air around them.
In a flash, Bethany blinked up at The Electric Sage, the hero most often pitted against Anne Arkist. He blinked back, lips parted. Bethany reached up, pulling the headphones off again, so the world could be heard.
"You're ... not Anne."
Slowly, Bethany shook her head.
"Anyone ever tell you, you look just like her?" he asked. "The resemblance is uncanny."
Bethany cleared her throat, but found she still couldn't speak. Bracing her hands against the building, she pushed her way to her feet. She'd been dreading this meeting for years.
"She's my sister," she said, admitting it for the first time in forever.
"That could explain it."
She managed a small smile.
"Ice, huh?" He managed some semblance of a pleasant smile in return.
"Anyone I know?"
"Who you inherited from."
"We never met our father," Bethany told him, slowly relaxing as it seemed the Sage didn't intend her any harm. "And mom doesn't have any."
His eyebrows rose. "You have the same father?"
"I suppose it's possible we don't," she answered, "but most twins do. Especially when they're identical."
"Ah." Sage glanced around, taking in the growing crowd of gawkers. "This is probably a conversation best had elsewhere."
Bethany nodded once, needing no encouragement to be away from the crowd's staring. She dug into her pocket, pulling out her keys as Sage held out a hand. She stared.
"Oh," she murmured. "You meant Hope’s Harbor."
She didn't really have anything against it. She just didn't want to. Likely, Sage wouldn't accept that as an actual reason. If she simply refused, they might think she was in league with Anne. It was tempting, anyway, but the growing interest around them made her reconsider. Reluctantly, she placed her hand in his, allowing him to pull her closer and into the sky.
* * *
Hero headquarters looked the same in real life as it did in the news. It was large, taking up two city blocks and rising several stories. The pristine white of the building was blinding in the sun, but the overcast sky made looking bearable. The rain didn't decrease its impressive stature.
The Electric Sage ushered her in out of the rain and into a room with a single table and multiple chairs. Left with a towel to dry off, she waited– alone– for half an hour before he returned with others. She recognized them all.
The Iron Archer entered just behind Sage. As the oldest of a known superhero family, Iron Archer was popular, not just in the city, but worldwide. He was known for his careful nature when civilians were involved, and his ruthlessness when taking down criminals. He let out a low whistle when he saw her.
"You're right," he said. "The resemblance is spot on. And you're sure she's not ..." he trailed off, looking at Sage.
"I'm not my sister, if that's what you're asking," Bethany answered, tone cold enough to freeze the air if she lost control of her power.
"The power's wrong," Sage said. "Anne throws fire around. This one has ice."
"This one has a name," Bethany snapped. "It's Bethany."
"Bethany what?" Lady Lynx asked, her fiery hair a mess of curls around a pleasant smile. Lady Lynx was a relatively new hero. She'd only been working a couple of months, so not much was known about her. Technically, she was still apprenticing under The Iron Archer, which explained why she was present.
"Doesn't matter," She answered. "I won't let Anne drag our family name through the mud."
"Knowing could help us find her," Iron Archer said.
"Doubtful." Bethany shook her head. "Anne's never liked announcing her hideouts. Once, when we were kids, she set a fire to keep me from following her." She shrugged. "Anything she has isn't going to be easily found, and it won't be in her name."
"Damn," Lynx said. "There goes that."
Iron Archer glanced at her, and the female superhero sighed.
"Knowing could help throw her off next time," he said. "Maybe allow us to catch her."
"Do you really believe that?"
"I believe it's worth a try."
"And if it doesn't work?" Bethany demanded, "If she comes for me, rightfully believing I told her secrets?"
"We'll protect you."
"I don't need your protection," she snapped. "I'm surrounded by people who can't protect themselves against her. What about them?"
Iron Archer paused, considering her for a moment. "Well, then we'll come and protect them, if she comes for you. Please, Bethany."
She sighed, unable to meet the hero's gaze. "It's Wilson. Our last name is Wilson."
"And her first name?"
"Anything else you could tell us?" Lynx asked.
"Lynx," Iron Archer growled.
"What? She knows her!"
"Not really," Bethany said. "I haven't spoken to her in five years. People change."
Left unsaid was the time her sister had been wreaking havoc. Five years was a long time, but Bethany had told her, on their last meeting, that so long as she was killing people, she didn't want anything to do with her. At the time, she'd hoped it would shock Anne into realizing what she was doing. In the end, all it had done was drive her sister over the edge.
"Not that much," Lynx said, pulling her from her thoughts again.
Bethany huffed in muffled amusement. "Yes, they do." She rose. "Is there anything else, or can I go home?"
"Nothing involving Anne Arkist," Iron Archer said as he crossed and sat in a chair next to her. Reluctantly, Bethany eased herself back into her chair.
"Sage tells us your power is strong."
Alarms rang through her. "Not really."
"You created a dome of ice an inch thick in an instant," Sage protested. Bethany saw no reason to tell him it was actually three inches.
"You don't know many Icers, do you?" she deflected.
"The point," Iron Archer said, glancing at his colleague to silence him, "is we're wondering why you haven't done anything with it."
"Because I'm more than my power," Bethany said.
"Aren't you proud of your ability?" Sage asked.
"It's something I was born with. Why would I be proud of it? It's like asking if you're proud of your eyesight."
She didn't tell them she had been proud once. She and Anne had been the pride of their block. The pride of their school. Classmates had looked forward to their hero career, certain they'd pick out the sisters despite the costumes and masks. Bethany had been swept away by them for years.
Anne hadn't. Anne used them for all they were worth, playing a role they expected of her until she didn't have to.
"All I want," Bethany said, shoving memories back into the dark hole they'd crawled from, "is to forget that Anne Arkist exists.
"I understand," Iron Archer said.
"Do you?" she asked. "You come from a family of heroes. What would you know of it?"
"Nothing, personally," he admitted.
Bethany's sudden ire cooled. At least he wasn't trying to bullshit her.
"But," he continued, "Every criminal has a family that loves them. If we can understand her, we might be able to save her."
"You want to save her?" Bethany asked.
All three heroes nodded. They looked serious.
"Then kill her."
The heroes fell back a step.
"Kill her?" Iron Archer asked. "This is your sister!"
"Yes." Bethany sighed. A hand ran through her hair, pulling it away from her face. "She honestly believes man is a plague on the planet. She believes we have no redeeming qualities. Ultimately, we will always hurt someone else to achieve our goals."
"That's crazy," Lynx said. She leaned against the table her hands taking the majority of her weight. "If we got her help– "
"She won't be reasoned with," Bethany interrupted. "I've tried." She rose. "I'd like to go home now."
"Bethany," Iron Archer tried.
"I've done nothing wrong," she said, refusing to look at him. "Legally, you're not allowed to hold me unless I've done something wrong."
"Bethany," he tried again.
She looked at him. "Or is it now illegal to be related to a criminal?"
He sighed. "No. Sage, why don't you take her home?"
She circled the table, intent on making the door before they stopped her again.
She hesitated, hand on the door.
"If she contacts you– "
"You'll be the first to know."
She turned, blinking.
"Your sister's dangerous," Iron Archer said. "She could hurt you."
"You'd be amazed how many people think their family won't hurt them."
She gave a short laugh. "I didn't say she wouldn't. I said she couldn't. Our powers cancel each other out. I learned that five years ago."
Bethany swept from the room without another word. She didn't hate her sister, but her heart had been broken too many years for her to care anymore.
If only she could convince her heart of that.