I can’t help but feel as if this part is significantly more lighthearted than the one that came before it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s there. But I never fully intended to make this story totally dark all the time, so I guess it’s fine.
Anyway, this part is 5600 words. Compared to the 2100 word first part, that’s an increase of over two and a half times. But that makes sense, given that this part has two scenes, whereas the first one only had one. It’s a little bit higher of a words per scene average, but that’s just because one scene has a fight in it, and my fight scenes typically make a few minutes last thousands of words.
Well, I’ve said enough for now. Go ahead and read 'n review.
Weapons with Hearts
Prologue Part Two: “Practice Match”
“Hey there, Sparks! Over here!” a bright, peppy, almost chirpy voice called out the moment its owner took note me entering the cafeteria.
I had been given a white t-shirt to wear after I got out of her shower, and I’d felt somewhat self-conscious about it ever since I put it on, with that feeling hitting its peak just as I rounded the corner and walked into this massive dining hall. The dark gray baggy shorts I could handle, but I normally avoided all association with the color white in clothing. This was true to such a degree that the only reason I’d been presented with a white garment at all was because someone messed up with the laundry – because I didn’t even have anything white in my entire wardrobe.
But the violet-haired girl who’d called out to me by the nickname I’d long since gotten used to didn’t seem to care, or even notice it. And seeing that put me at ease, made me think that it would be fine to wear the shirt after all. There were five or so other people sitting at the table which I’d been invited to, but I really only cared about the opinion of the person who, judging by her brainwaves, didn’t even realize anything was different about me. None of the others’ opinions mattered.
Which was totally normal, given that the table they were seated at was the table unofficially dubbed the “Top Twenty” table by the subjects, for the fact that the strongest twenty numbers at the facility seemed hell bent on keeping anyone outside themselves from ever sitting there, exactly like a high school social clique. It made sense for them to do that, given that every single subject in the facility was of high school age, but it still disgusted me that I allowed it to happen, especially since it was well within my power to stop it by simply electrically manipulating the minds of the people who kept it that way. But doing that would just be cruel, because then I’d be allowing these prideful assholes to mingle with people they were not afraid to voice how they felt superior to.
I only sat with these pretentious, stuck up, arrogant elitists this time because the closest friend I made early on happened to become one of the strongest twenty with me. Said friend sat here at this table for the sake of socializing with people that she might not otherwise get to see in an average day since the higher ups almost never orchestrated practice matches or training exercises that involved more than one of the best fighters.
After a few more seconds of walking, I reached the table and sat my lunch tray down across from my purple-haired friend, who had apparently been given a magenta V-neck to wear that seemed of a notably less pinkish strain than the color of her irises. Both her hair and eye colors were actually natural, to some extent – they were genetically modified to look like that at her request. It was the government’s way of keeping most of the kids complacent through the initial two rounds of genetic experiments: the first time they offered to change their natural hair color, and the second time they offered to change the eye color.
I had always liked my straight black hair that never tangled, so I declined their offer with the first round under the fear that changing the color might change other properties I liked. But come the second round, I’d become somewhat jealous of all the other kids I’d seen with hair colors that would normally be physically impossible without dye, so I decided to change my eyes to something that no normal human could possess. And since I didn’t have any better ideas that I hadn’t already seen in the hair I’d seen on the kids, I chose the color white.
“Sit down, sit down!” the my friend chirped hyperactively, bouncing around in her seat like a five year old.
I readily complied, a small smile coming to my face as I mused to myself. It always struck me as amusingly ironic that one of the most childish subjects in the whole facility ended up developing space-time manipulation as her unique power. Nobody chose the powers that they got to use after the single gene preventing their development was turned off, but it still seemed like the strongest powers should go to the people who were actually smart enough to know how the science behind them worked. However, that almost never seemed to be the case in reality.
I nodded to her, my smile fading as I thought of something to say. “Looks like we have overlapping lunch periods today, Yulia.”
It would be easier to pretend I didn’t already know we would be eating together. Technically, she knew about the facet of my ability that allowed me to find out – that is, my ability to monitor computer activity for all the computers in the facility simultaneously – so if she were to really think about it, she could probably figure it out on her own. She was actually really smart, no matter how her maturity level made her come across to others.
“Somebody must have really fucked up with the laundry,” the blond boy sitting next to Yulia commented on my shirt, giving me an acknowledging nod.
Normally I wouldn’t have minded his commentary, but he’d said it right next to the person I’d been hoping would have gone the whole period not noticing. Now she would inevitably begin to wonder why he made that comment, and being as smart as she was, she’d figure it out right away.
“Oh, wow! I’ve never seen you wear a white shirt before!” the violet-haired teen exclaimed, her voice full of wonder. “You look great in it! It matches your eyes!”
My face flushed, but I otherwise gave no visible reaction. I most certainly had not been expecting to hear that… suddenly, wearing white didn’t seem so bad after all. It was such a strange experience – did one single person’s opinion really matter that much to me? Even if she was my friend, it still seemed a little… odd. Maybe it was just because she’d made a good point about my eyes matching the shirt…
“So who do they have you fighting today, 7-35?” the blond boy asked, saying my number as if reading aloud the time of day. “If they’re treating you the same as the rest of us, then they’ll be sicking two of the lowbies at once on you. Which two did you get?”
The top twenty tended to refer to everyone else as ‘lowbies.’ It was just another way that they tried to separate themselves from everyone else to make them feel like they were the best of the best. Their entire self valuation seemed to come from putting everyone else down so that they looked better by comparison. It was utterly disgusting and completely without logic.
The only way in which these self-centered jerks were actually superior to the other subjects was in combat potential. In just about everything else, they were no better than the people they so deprecated. They weren’t much smarter if any at all, they weren’t better looking, and they certainly didn’t have better personalities. They were just better at fighting. That was it, yet they acted like they were wholly superior.
But starting a conflict with this guy right in front of my friend would be a bad idea, so I couldn’t tell him that I had no interest in making conversation with him. I didn’t want Yulia to be forced into the position of having to choose a side, no matter which one she would actually pick. As far as she was concerned, we were both her friends, and to make anyone have to choose one friend over another would just be mean.
“Looks like they’re singling me out, then,” I answered his question with a neutral tone as I grabbed my knife and fork and began to cut into the steak prepared by one of the chefs the facility hired with some of the excess money they got from the government by lying about the costs. “Because they have me facing three at once, not two.”
I just had to go along with it and pretend I actually cared enough to make conversation with him. It wouldn’t be too hard, either, at least compared to how he acted up until a week ago. He used to be exceedingly irritating and prideful of his ability to move precisely at the speed of light, thinking he could only lose to Yulia’s space-time manipulation. But after I defeated him so utterly that the fight seemed one-sided whilst criticizing his pride at every exchange of blows, he became a lot more mellow. If his short-lived mental breakdown immediately following regaining consciousness in the healing ward was anything to go by, I might have broken his pride altogether.
“Even I’m only fighting two today, and I can stop time!” Yulia interjected, eyes wide with shock. After her initial reaction gave way, she smiled brightly, giving me a thumbs-up. “Way to be number one, Sparks!”
That last line, spoken from anyone else who sat at this table, would surely have been sarcastic – they were all bitter over the fact that I was the only member of the top twenty who had never lost a match to anyone else in the top twenty. Especially because they all knew that I only allowed my violet-haired friend to call me by that nickname. But from her, it was a genuine praise, and one that made me feel somewhat proud of myself.
“You didn’t answer the second part of my question,” my friend’s friend said, drawing my attention back to him. “Who are they making you fight?”
Don’t you think that there might have been a reason I didn’t answer that part the first time? Whatever…
I brought one of the bites of steak I’d carved up into my mouth with my fork and began to chew. The fact that I did that before answering him instead of waiting was meant to tell him that I didn’t really value him enough to give him a speedy answer, but given how subtle a message that actually was without anything else added in to give it away, I didn’t expect him to get it. Suffice to say, even without reading his mind, I could tell I had predicted right by the fact that he gave no indication that he even noticed that I’d given him a negative priority.
After swallowing, I nodded in his direction and pretended I’d just forgotten. “Right, that part. I’m fighting with numbers 528, 360 and 146. Powers wise, in order, those are the ones with duplication, vector redirection and speed manipulation.”
By the time I leisurely strolled out onto my designated battleground, my three opponents were already all huddled together in a small triangle near the center, presumably discussing strategy. I was in no hurry to let them know I was here – in fact, I’d deliberately sent out electric signals that interfered with their senses and cognition so that they wouldn’t take notice of me until I spoke. However, I wasted not even a single second getting right to work with monitoring their brainwaves so I could see what they were planning to take me on with.
Hmm… not a bad plan… but nothing I can’t handle. I’ll keep monitoring for variances, though.
“Hey, you three!” I called out to them, my voice making them all disengage from each other and snap their heads around to face me. “I should hope that you all remember how I defeated you individually. If you haven’t taken your past losses into account, you won’t last very long this time either.”
The one on the far right, a sea green-haired boy in a blue tank top and indigo running shorts that I knew as number 146, was the first to snap out of his initial startled state enough to formulate a response. “How could any of us forget our fights with you? They literally showed all of us the video feeds of each of our massacres before lunch to prepare us for this rematch!”
This came as news to me. Had I bothered reading their memories, I would have known, but I didn’t think I needed to. However, it was not a total surprise, either – I’d heard of similar things through reading the minds of many of the other kids who had lost a battle against someone in the top twenty and were scheduled to fight them again.
“Don’t worry, Sparky, we’ve taken a good, long look at our past failures, and we’re ready to try again,” the one on the far left said in a voice thick with disdain. In his mind, he equated the name sparky with being the name of a dog, so he was basically calling me a bitch, and he knew it.
That’s it. If I can help it, I’m taking him out first.
This boy, with hair and eyes of a blazing orange that matched his fiery temperament, a red muscle shirt that showed off his somewhat impressively toned arms and a dark gray pair of jeans was number 360, the one who could redirect vectors. In laymen’s terms, he could freely manipulate the direction in which objects and people moved. There was a certain humoristic irony in the fact that his number was associated with what his power could do, if you thought of the number as a number of degrees.
He addressed me with such bile because of my status as a member of the top twenty. As far as battle records go, at the time the rankings were first established, he was ranked number twenty-two out of the full thousand subjects, and he had a huge amount of resentment for the people he’d lost to that had made his ranking slip. Specifically me, Yulia and number 847, the light speed guy with whom I’d been conversing at lunch. The two of them both beat him before he could react properly to their first actions, but in my battle with him, I’d deliberately allowed him to use every move he could think of on me before I ended the match in a single attack. So as far as his hatred went, I knew I bore the brunt of it just because he knew that nothing he did could stop me.
The person in the middle, number 528, said nothing in response. She was a very pensive girl about my height with somewhat short, bright turquoise hair kept out of her face with two gray square hairpins, blue eyes that reflected the light to have a greenish rainbow effect, and a blank, completely emotionless resting expression which betrayed years upon years of being abused and mistreated. The last time we fought, she didn’t say anything throughout the whole match from meeting until defeat, so I only knew what her voice sounded like from reading her memories.
She wore a sky blue hoodie shirt with a large frontal pocket that I already knew from listening in on their strategy contained a black combat knife with gleaming silver edges. The shirt was so big on her that I almost couldn’t see the green short shorts underneath it, if not for the very bottom of them just barely peaking out. Just like in our last battle, she seemed to have no fashion sense whatsoever, not like I could be much of a critic at the moment with my white t-shirt and black jeans combo.
There was no need to comment on their footwear because they were all wearing the same thing – gray Nike running shoes issued by the facility. As a member of the top twenty, more money was spent on me, so I’d gotten the chance to get a different pair to wear instead. Thus, unlike the three of them, the shoes on my feet were a pair of black and silver Adidas running shoes. I’d always favored functionality over fashion, so I made sure to get a pair I could really move around in, and the two primary colors at play were just my favorite ones to wear. The fact that I got the option at all was a clear sign of the favor I’d gained through consistently producing good results.
Just one more reason for the other subjects to dislike me, I guess.
I turned back to the orange-haired boy and responded to his anger with an even keel. “I hope so. Give it your best shot, you three. It’d just be sad if you lost a three on one as easily as you did your singles with me.”
I could see the fire in his eyes as I read an intense anger building in his mind. However, he wouldn’t get the chance to make a retort. The people in charge, whom I’d been monitoring since before I entered the little arena, had finally decided to move on and start the actual battle.
“All right, that’s enough conversation!” a male voice blared enthusiastically out of the loudspeakers affixed to the wall behind me at using a bad microphone which distorted any identifying qualities it could have had beyond simply belonging to a guy. “You can settle the rest through battle! On the count of three, you may begin. One…”
As their strategy dictated, the vector redirector didn’t even take his hands out of his pockets. They had agreed that he should give as little indication of his actions as possible so as to be able to take me by surprise. Not that they had any idea that I could just read his mind to figure out all of his moves before he made them.
Meanwhile, the green-haired speed manipulator put up his dukes in a very literal sense while hopping from one foot to the other as if trying to energize himself. They’d agreed to keep him constantly moving so as to make his actions harder to follow, not that it made much of a difference when one considered that I could discern and react to his movements through his thoughts.
And finally, the girl in the middle reached her hands inside her shirt pocket, and from her mind I knew that she’d grabbed hold of her knife’s handle and sheath. Aside from that, she gave no cues that she’d even been listening to the guy currently sounding out numbers over the loudspeakers. Her face still remained as blank as ever, and she still seemed to be just as relaxed as before the countdown.
It made sense, given that her sole purpose in their strategy was to toss the knife into the air, wait for it to be redirected, and then create a thousand duplicates of it as it flew towards me at breakneck speeds. Like the vector redirector, she wouldn’t be actively involved in this battle – the only one to directly engage me in hand to hand would be the speed manipulator.
Like clockwork, their plan unfolded before my eyes. The girl moved as quickly as she could, unsheathing her knife and throwing it skyward. It spun around and around as it climbed higher and higher into the air. However, before it became a danger to the lighting fixtures on the ceiling, its course dramatically altered, and it sailed straight at me from above, the vector guy making sure that the tip of the blade stayed pointed towards me.
As it neared me, its speed increased at a rapid pace thanks to the speed manipulator’s handiwork. By the time it reached the halfway point, it was travelling so quickly that the blade itself began to glow red, signifying intense heat. Despite it moving at such a frightening speed, I could actually follow its movements, as they were almost in slow motion compared to the speed of my thoughts, eyes and reflexes, all exponentially enhanced by electricity.
However, despite being more than fast enough to dodge it, I knew I didn’t have to bother. Because that knife… it was made out of metal. And before the match began, I’d gone to the trouble of setting up an electromagnetic field with my body as the center so strong that it would prevent the weapon from even getting within two feet of me. If there were any metal in the flooring beneath me, I suspected that it all would have been forced out of place by my action, but I knew they’d removed all the metal from the flooring of my personal fighting arena a long time ago for that exact reason.
Even after the knife multiplied a thousand fold and completely skewered my view of the lights above, I didn’t so much as flinch – the quantity didn’t make a difference in the result. Two seconds after the girl first threw the original knife, it and every single copy of it stopped dead in their tracks, quickly surrounding me on all sides, from all angles, but not a single one of them able to penetrate my barrier.
Now none of them could see me through the cover of thwarted blades that were still pressing desperately against the electromagnetic current which repelled them. I couldn’t see my opponents either, of course, but I didn’t need to see them in order to react to them, so that hardly mattered. I knew from their brainwaves that none of them were currently readying a move, so I decided to use this time to make a comment.
“I should hope that your studies of your past failures would have provoked you to account for this scenario,” I quipped, using number 360’s own words just to ensure that I pissed him off. Admittedly, I was still a little mad that he called me Sparky and called me a bitch in his head. “Because guess what? I did this at the end of my singles battle with 528, so you can’t pretend you didn’t see it coming.”
At best, this was all just a tactic to get the guy I didn’t like mad at me. I already knew the answer before I asked from reading their memories – they hadn’t taken this part of my one on one battle with the duplicator into account. When they’d been analyzing the video, they’d noticed that the knife flew out of her hand as I made a quick gesture with my hand, and they’d assumed I’d been moving fast enough to create a strong gust of wind because her clothes had ruffled a lot at the same time. None of them had stopped to consider that there might have been a different force at play there.
Which meant, of course, that in stopping this one attack the way I did, I’d effectively destroyed their entire strategy for taking me on. They couldn’t try to hit me with a barrier of knives whose heated blades were quickly melding together in the way of their attacks. They would have to improvise if they wanted a shot at winning, and they’d have to think of something before the blades completely joined together and cut them off from me.
Number 360’s reaction was swift, severe and exactly what I was hoping for. “Eat shit, cocky bitch! 146, attack her through the knives! They’ll move for you!”
The speed manipulator didn’t even bother responding with words. Instead, he chose to circle around behind me at a speed that none of my other opponents could process and throw a punch at my head that would have been able to rip a normal person’s head clean off and send it flying into a brick wall ten yards away before the poor, unsuspecting fellow had the chance to blink. The knives, to their credit, did part way to make room for his arm in spite of being partly joined together.
But by the time it was within range to strike me, I’d already turned around, stepped back, grabbed his wrist and completely neutralized his momentum with a speed of over twice what he’d thrown at me.
That was the secret to defeating this guy which I’d discovered in our singles battle. If he was moving, he could freely adjust his movement speed by using a multiplier that he determined in his head, which made him difficult to deal with past a certain point. But if you could stop his movement dead in its tracks, well… having a speed multiplier is useless when it’s multiplied by zero.
And as I knew he remembered, the fact that we were touching put him in a fatally dangerous situation. With my power, I could generate an infinite amount of electricity. If I were to generate a few million volts of electricity within my body with his arm in my grip, he would suffer cardiac arrest, third degree burns, and if the first was left untreated, death would inevitably follow.
And considering that was how I beat him the first time, and the healers and medical equipment restored him to perfect health before he died, he should still vividly remember how the experience felt. If I’d actually killed him, they’d have had to use the corporeal time rewinder to restore him, and he wouldn’t have remembered the event, but he survived, so that wasn’t necessary.
He seemed to understand what he’d gotten himself into, though, because he ripped his arm from my grasp at a speed so high that it nearly dislocated my shoulder before I let go. He’d withdrawn his arm at over twice the speed I’d grabbed it at, which itself was over twice the speed he initially attacked at. He clearly did not want to relive the experience of getting struck by lightning.
He threw me a second punch from the other hand, this one even faster than his first one’s withdrawal. He seemed to be increasing the speed with every action he took. But I wouldn’t be playing games with him this time, though. I’d figured out that this was going to be the height of the challenge a long time ago, and I’d already fought these exact tactics once. I knew I had to shut him down before he started moving faster than I could neutralize.
And so, the moment before I blocked his second punch with my other hand, I charged it with just enough electricity to immediately cause him a heart attack. The result: a few nanoseconds later, he defeated himself by making contact with me.
I made sure to disperse the charge of electricity right after I noticed his body jolt, so as to not unintentionally cause collateral damage in the room outside this cage of knives. His body went limp soon afterwards, and I knew that I’d managed to get the job done when his arm limply fell outside of the knife barrier.
I turned back around to face the other two opponents that I couldn’t see. “I seem to have taken out your only viable attacker. What’s up next, 360 degree jackoff?”
His response told me exactly how well he knew what position he was in. “You have got to be fucking kidding me! Even with three of us at once, it doesn’t make a difference! We’re so fucked!”
Even though I knew he couldn’t see it, I nodded my head in agreement with his sentiment. “That’s all I needed to hear.”
If it weren’t for the solid shield of conductors all around me, I could have finished things with my lightning storm technique, but I knew that the knives would have just rerouted the whole thing right to them. So in order to actually hit him, I’d have to employ a different tactic… the same one I used to defeat number 847, in fact.
Or more specifically, the tactic of converting my body to a wireless signal, moving outwards a specific distance, then converting myself back at a specific location on the edge of the wave to attack. It allowed me to move at the speed of light in a vacuum. Against number 847, who could move at the speed of light but was slowed slightly by the atmospheric conditions as well as the normal human speed of the thoughts governing his actions, this resulted in my speed handily outclassing his.
But this time, my use of this tactic had nothing to do with needing to be faster – I just needed to escape the barrier of knives. And it only took an instant, too – I converted and unconverted myself to be positioned directly behind number 360 before he’d even had time to process what I’d just said to him.
I made sure to convert myself back to matter at rest this time, however – if I’d done it in motion, my body still would have been moving at the speed of light immediately following my materialization. While those speeds were handy for attacking 847, whose light speed power included environmental neutralization, they were absolutely horrifying in terms of collateral damage if and when I hit anyone or anything else. The entire facility would have been blown away by an explosion stronger than even nuclear bombs.
I tapped number 360 on the shoulder from behind. “I’m over here. But you won’t be aware of that in a second.”
The second time I tapped on his shoulder, my hand had an electric charge. He convulsed for a second, then dropped like a sack of bricks. After dispersing the charge in my hand, without even so much as acknowledging my last opponent’s presence, I turned around to face the rubber-coated security camera which adorned one corner of the arena room walls.
“If she surrenders, can we just call the match here?” I asked while pointing towards my female foe. “She can’t do anything to me without the knives anyway, and I feel bad picking on helpless people who didn’t provoke me.”
For a few seconds, the room went dead silent. But I knew this hardly had anything to do with them considering my request. In all likelihood, they just took that long to say anything because nobody was near the microphone when I asked. I allowed them some time to get someone in the position to respond, knowing that worrying about the delay unnecessarily would be pointless.
The same voice that originally counted down to the start of the match blared out again after a small pause. “Sure, that’s fine! You functionally won when you defeated number 146, anyway.”
I turned around to face the turquoise-haired girl who’d had the stroke of luck of having me as an opponent today. I’d justified my request with a noble excuse, but in truth, I really just didn’t like to hurt people I found aesthetically appealing… and though this girl did need to make better fashion choices, I couldn’t deny that I found her a little cute. At least, enough that I didn’t want to have to hurt her again when I’d already proven the difference in our strengths once before.
“What do you say? Do you want to accept my offer?” I asked her, giving her what I hoped looked like a kind smile but inside knew something must have been off with. “Or would you prefer to actually play the rest of this fight out and find out what a lightning strike feels like? They tend to cause third degree burns on contact areas and heart attacks, so choose wisely.”
She stared into my eyes for a good few seconds, almost enough to make me wonder if she actually still wanted to fight. But then, she simply nodded her head, and spoke in a low-pitched mumble.
“I yield… thank you.”
Her face didn’t even change when she said it. I couldn’t see traces of any emotion in her eyes, same as before. But her brainwaves told me that she was, in fact, relieved to have been spared the pain of this encounter, if a little confused about why I offered in the first place.
“Don’t sweat it, it’s fine,” I replied, turning towards the my exit and holding a hand up as if to wave. I stopped monitoring her brainwaves just before what came next. “Your face is too cute to be burnt to a crisp by my electricity, anyway.”
I made sure that I couldn’t read her mind as I said it so that I would be spared the potential blow of her mental reaction. Because in situations like these, being able to know what the other person is thinking could make it so much more painful. It was almost always better to not let myself find the truth.
With that as my parting message, I walked off the stage – I could let the healers take care of the two that I’d incapacitated. With today’s practice match out of the way, the next thing on the day’s agenda would be field training. After that would be stealth training, followed by recreational exercise, then dinner, then recreational relaxation time, and then I’d be returned to my tank to sleep.
I won again today, as always. And as always, I knew that the people in charge would never be satisfied with this result. They would continue to push me harder and harder until they either ran out of strength to push with, ran out of time to test with or found my breaking point. Today it was three opponents at once, but eventually it might be the entire rest of the top twenty.
It was enough to make me wonder… when would I finally be allowed to rest?
I think I’m going to make the post icons on new content releases denote what will take place in the installment. Exclamation marks will mean fight scenes, question marks will mean mystery elements, light bulbs will mean introspection and heavy thinking, and a thumbs up will mean shipping moments of some variety. I’ll think of more icon significations as I go along, I’m sure.
Anyway, I don’t particularly mind this chapter. It’s not my best work, but it’s not terrible either. But my best work has always come at the end of an arc during climactic battles… so it’s not something I can typically recreate on demand. I’m somewhat of a fight scene enthusiast, especially for fights where the outcome is very important… but this fight’s outcome was not just obvious, but also completely pointless in that not much was at stake if she did the impossible thing and lost. Meh, I’m sure I’ll have some more interesting fights later on that I’ll be able to feel proud of. No big deal, no big deal.
So! Questions, comments, concerns, critiques! If you have any of these, I encourage you to share them with me! Especially the questions and critiques! Was this installment as compelling/enjoyable as the first one or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that!
And finally… next part will be told partially from someone else’s perspective. Look forward to seeing part of the story through the eyes of someone who actually works in the facility! Please stick around for the third and final part of the prologue!
See you next time!