Jessica didn’t wake up until ten the following morning, when sunlight peeked through the blinds and pierced her eyelids. Snapping quickly to her senses she flailed her arms, feeling the back of the couch. She was safe, at home. Sighing, she dared to open her eyes. Her fears were confirmed. Nisa was sitting on the kitchen island, brows knit furiously together as she worked on her laptop.
“Hi,” Jessica said, probing with a clumsy smile.
“Hi,” Nisa answered, not looking her way. Either she was engrossed in whatever in her work, or she was still mad at her.
Taking a breath and drumming her thighs, Jessica asked “This is the part where I say I’m sorry for being a jackass, right?”
Nisa poked away at her keyboard for a few more seconds before swiveling around. “No, it’s the part where you get up off your ass and get a job.” She pushed up her glasses as if pushing the point, her expression imperceptible.
Jessica scratched at her palms, the uncertainty eating away at her. “Hmph. Well, I’ll do that too, but I’m still sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you like that. It’s just… That was really stupid of Scholz. Going on about Blackout like that? I couldn’t help myself.”
Nisa shut her laptop closed, and Jessica flinched. She drummed the top of it for a moment before speaking. “Let’s make something clear here. Wilbur is the reason I’ve been able to keep the lights on without resorting to crime. I know he can’t…” She throttled the air for a second, as if Wilbur’s neck was in her grip. “People very well, but he’s a good person. Especially for someone with that kind of money and power. He has his flaws, like anyone else, but I don’t want to hear you use that as an excuse for your own failings. And remember, he may well be the reason you’re still here.”
Jessica stretched the skin of her forehead with her palms. “Christ, don’t you think I’ve beaten myself up enough without you scolding me like a child? You’re not my mother.”
“You’re right,” Nisa snapped back, “I’m not. Because I actually give a shit about you.”
“And I give a shit about you. That’s why I’m apologizing.” Nisa didn’t say anything to that, just opened her laptop back up. Jessica rubbed her knees before getting up and throwing her arms around Nisa. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Nisa patted her arm and for the first time Jessica could pick up an inflection in her voice. “Now go get a job.”
“Hmph!” She snatched her keys from atop the breadbox before pausing. “I guess I should take a shower and change, print some résumés first. See you tonight.”
Jessica spent the afternoon trekking all across West Blackburn, dropping her résumé off wherever anyone needed a pair of hands and a functioning brain. Well, she wasn’t entirely sure about the latter, but she could pretend. It was quite the trip, since she didn’t have a car. What was the point when you lived in the inner city and could take the metro? It also gave her place to duck into whenever she ran into a former drug associate or an ex-boyfriend, which happened more than she was comfortable with.
The last stop she made before returning home was to the store to pick up a box of Rice-a-Roni. Maybe it was stupid, but when she and Nisa first settled in Blackburn, they had nothing to their names but the clothes on their backs. Things like Rice-a-Roni were a luxury before Nisa could afford Mustangs and designer jackets. It brought her to a simpler time.
Hopping off the metro at her stop, Jessica clutched a plastic grocery bag in one hand and no résumés in the other. She’d call that a successful day. She climbed the stairs to their apartment, unlocked the door and peered inside. Nisa had obviously moved from the kitchen island.
“Hey Nisa, I’m home,” she called out, setting the grocery bag on the counter. Nisa didn’t respond back. Maybe she was in her bathroom?
“Nisa?” She went into Nisa’s room and rapped her knuckles on the bathroom door. Okay, maybe she was out and hadn’t texted her…
From the angle the window allowed her, she could still see Nisa’s car parked where it usually was in the apartment lot. Jessica squeezed her hands into fists. She glanced over her shoulder, half expecting to see an intruder, then scanned the lot again to check for the black van from yesterday. There you go again. Your sixth sense needs to go pound sand, she probably just walked somewhere and forgot her phone…
Because her brain was stupid and irrational and never accepted a reasonable explanation, her stomach knotted up anyways. Groaning, she plucked her lighter and a cigarette from the breadbox and headed out the alley for a smoke.
Jessica lit up and took a puff, but it wasn’t long before her eyes lingered down the alley, watching the spot where the van had been. A phantom sensation of being watched tugged at her mind. Come on, what the fu-
She cried out before registering what had happened. Somebody had hit her upside the skull with a small rod, not quite metal but hard enough to rock her vision. Clutching the back of her head, she spun around, ready to feed her attacker their teeth.
“You better say a quick prayer because-”
Choking on a gasp, she dropped her cigarette.
Had she been smoking something else, she would have chalked the sight before her up to a hallucination. The woman standing before her was almost what she would have seen in a mirror, but not quite. Her clothes were different, for starters, a black and white get-up of boots, cargo pants, a sweater and a beanie that went over shorter hair. Jessica was skinny, but her doppelgänger had lean muscle. Didn’t have acne from smoking.
Jessica barely got the words out before Martha went in for another swing. Clumsily she managed to block it before attempting to kick her away. Martha wrapped her leg up with her arm and twisted her to the ground.
Martha reared back with the object in her hand – a rod of solidified photons, gleaming a heavenly white in the orange evening sun – before bringing it down on Jessica’s face. She was still in enough shock to not even try to block it. Martha continued to hit her, strikes becoming more rapid.
Jessica only had brief moments of clarity to think through her options. If Martha had wanted her dead, she could have just walked up behind her and blew her brains out. When Blackout had her pinned at that mafia bar, she couldn’t have brought out the big guns lest he considered her too much of a threat and killed her then and there. Martha didn’t appear to have a gun on her, and if she did, she didn’t have a decisive advantage, not yet.
So Jessica shook the cobwebs off those damned powers of hers. She put her arms up to distract Martha momentarily while a jet black shape snaked from the shadows. It wasn’t ‘shadow’ per se, because shadow wasn’t really anything but a lack of light, but that’s what it had been called by people in more superstitious times. What it really was was a construct little different than Martha’s, but absorbing light rather than reflecting it, and less rigid. Jessica directed it to wrap around Martha’s ankle, bringing her to a knee, allowing Jessica to scramble away.
“What the hell is going on here?!” she stammered, clutching her nose. Blood was begin to dribble through her fingers and onto her shirt.
Martha quickly jumped back to her feet, but didn’t advance. “Just wanted to get a few good licks in, to be honest with you.” She chuckled as if she’d shared a joke.
Jessica stared, mouth agape. “That’s what you have to say after all this time? What is wrong with you?!”
Rolling her eyes, Martha dissolved her rods into thin air. “Oh please, you didn’t think that was it, did you? No, you’re too smart for that. You know.” She grinned, tilting her head towards the apartment. Jessica dropped her hand, heart jumping into her throat before she could say anything. Martha kept that maddeningly smug face. “I will give your little friend credit though. She was a bitch to put down.”
“I’m going to kill you!” Jessica blindly launched a flimsy tendril. Telegraphing the move was stupid, because Martha had readied a symmetrical shield, thick as laminated glass, in time to smack it away. Martha took the shield in one hand and formed a baton in the other. Jessica regained conscious control of her actions in time to leap out of the way of Martha charging with the shield, but she was still caught in the gut by the baton.
She racked her brain for ways to get by the shield, but none of them were feasible – she was rusty, hadn’t trained with her powers in seven years. If cops had to train with their firearms on a monthly basis to stay sharp, how much had her form degraded?
Her hesitation cost her again. Martha launched forward, knocking her onto her ass. She held her in place with a boot to the chest and planted the shield onto her throat. Martha put enough force into it for the pressure to hurt, but Jessica could breathe – barely.
“I could crush your neck right now if I wanted. It’d be relatively quick. But it wasn’t quick for mom, was it?!” She pushed down to emphasis that. “So it’s only fair that you suffer like she did. You and that filthy test tube you call a friend.”
Martha dissolved her grip and stepped away. Jessica lurched forward, intending to grab Martha’s leg, but found that she lacked the energy.
“Mom… was a sociopath…” Jessica croaked out, rubbing her neck.
“Ha! Says the one who would lock herself in her room for hours on end. You had no friends, no real hobbies except shoplifting beer. But I still looked up to you, because you were my big sister, and that’s what little sisters do!” Martha was getting heated – she clenched and unclenched her fists, and slowed her breathing. Jessica wished she shared that energy – she wanted to crawl under a rock and nap for a week. “You were a sad waste of good genes, and when mom tried to make something of you, you killed her.”
“She was torturing Nisa!” Jessica continued stumbling to her feet, balancing on her jelly knees. Good God, hadn’t someone overheard and called the cops? “Do you think I’d have the guts to turn on her alone? She beat the hell out of me!”
Martha rolled her eyes as if Jessica was lying about sneaking out of the house past bedtime. “Sure, I’ll take the word of the woman who can’t even hold a retail job.”
“Oh fuck you.”
A baseball sized orb formed in Martha’s hand, and Jessica had to throw herself to the ground to avoid being pelted in the gut. Gah, you overgrown child…
“She’ll know what real torture is now. Skinnyman is going to have a ball with her. Maybe if weren’t so impulsive this wouldn’t have happened, but,” she shrugged, “c’est la vie…”
Jessica launched herself into a sprint, smack into a transparent barrier. Martha had barely raised a hand. Slumping to the ground, she clutched her ribs, trying to trip Martha up with a last ditch sweeping tendril. Nonchalantly Martha created a step and bounced right over it, then continued on her way out. Shellshocked, all Jessica could do was snatch and light her cigarette, lean against the wall and try not to cry.