Pushing the Pull
I dropped out of the sky behind Maz and his cop cruiser.
He noticed people staring and turned to me. “Oh, hey, fly girl.”
I smiled and raised my goggles up onto my forehead. We drove, because my partner can’t fly.
One night, this must have been six years ago or so, while meditating in bed in my crappy apartment, I’d felt something surge through me. I’d leapt up, startled, and had found myself floating, weightless, a good inch or two above my mattress. With a slight push I’d floated up almost to the ceiling until I’d willed the weight back into my body and had fallen back onto the hard mattress. It knocked the wind out of me. I’ve been a plexer ever since.
That was my first power. I can be weightless, very heavy, and everywhere in between. It’s hard not to cheat when you stand on the scale every morning. Soon after I could fly, albeit awkwardly.
I’ve gotten better at it since then.
Three months ago I’d walked into the police station to apply for a job and had an offer within the hour. I got the news on my way to the ladies’ room, so I had to hold my pee while I shook everyone’s hands. People who can use plex are rare nowadays, and plexers who are willing to be cops rarer still. Of the twenty or so known plexers in the city, there were only four of us on the force.
“So who are we looking for again?” Maz sipped from his mug as he drove.
“You didn’t read the file?” This guy…
Maz gestured with his mug like ‘give me a break.’ Maz had been going on plexcrime missions for years, and was sometimes too busy to read up on cases like this. That’s what he said, anyway.
“Skapta Tagg,” I looked up to the sky as though she might be flying above us right now. “She’s an isolationist that went on a rampage. Used plex to destroy four gas tanks.” I shook my head. “Guess she doesn’t want anybody coming or going. It shut down Travzone Corporation’s flights for a week. Cost them millions.”
“Hyrapatan, is she?” Maz looked straight ahead.
“Yes.” Hyrapatans were the aliens from over the mountains. They were basically humanoid, but with rich red fur covering their bodies, and claws. Hyrapatans have always been more isolationist than humans, but I try not to be prejudiced.
Maz knew I’d lived in with them for a few years, meditating, trying to find myself. I know, totally cliché.
“Great. You can read her rights in Hyrapatan.”
We smiled at each other.
We were going for the night watch of her likely target, the storage site of the Travzone Corporation just outside the city.
“Just enough to keep me on my toes.” My voice was calm, but my stomach quivered.
“You’ll be fine. I’ve seen that punch of yours.” Another plex power.
But I wasn’t worried about my punch. Unlike Maz, I’d read the file. I stood little chance of taking her down without controlling her mind, which I would never do. I wiped my sweating palms on my skysuit.
A large armed human security force let us into the Travzone site. I didn’t blame them, but guards on the ground without plex would not be much good against Tagg, who could fly and fire bolts of energy out of her hands. Maz was grounded too but his power with plex was otherwise undeniable. A serious badass.
We were a bit early, so we drove around the site, getting a feel for where the squat, cylindrical tanks were. They were enormous, each the size of several houses. Because the gas had negative weight, the concrete bases had to be as big as the tanks themselves just to keep them from floating away into the air.
After we got an idea of the site, Maz suggested I fly a few circles around.
“Okay, hold this,” I said, shoving Tagg’s file into his hands. We connected on our phone earpieces, I put on my goggles and zipped up my skysuit. I never fly without one—the wind chill can be brutal, and I never warm up because plexing doesn’t use your muscles.
“Read the file, Maz.” I rose into the sky as he tried to give it back.
From the air I saw a few possible hiding places that weren’t visible from the ground. Maz and I talked about what our rounds would be, he relieved the plex division day crew, and set in for a night of watching.
“Too bad neither of us can control minds,” Maz’s voice cracked in my ear. He must have looked at the file.
“I’ll work on it,” I lied.
There’s still a big religious thing against plex. Because of the stigma mom didn’t want anybody knowing she was a plexer, so she saved it just for home. Specifically, she only used it to mind control me and my dad.
Plex pulling is what mom would use to get her way with us: where to go to dinner, which movie to see—not even important things, which was so maddening. We’d caught her doing it only a few times because she was that good at it. You can’t pull someone to do something they’re not kind of already considering doing. You can’t pull someone to commit suicide or transfer all their money to you, so it’s easy for the victim to rationalize whatever she ends up getting pulled to do. We didn’t like it, and she said she’d stop.
Once I brought home this guy I was into, and she didn’t care for him. All right, Gend was a total creep, but still. Every time we were in the house together Gend and I would get into these ridiculous fights over nothing. He finally broke a window and we never saw him again. I heard her telling dad that she’d used pulling on me and Gend to break us up because he was “trash.” I marched downstairs and trashed her collection of ceramic trees with our fire stoker. Not my finest moment. I didn’t break all of them, anyway. Maybe mom pulled me to get me to stop. Who knows?
Then I got this pet, just a cute little baby thing. I named her Joojoo. But mom hated her. Anyway, once Joojoo chewed up my new sneakers. Mom used pulling to make me so furious that I threw Joojoo against the wall. That was the end of Joojoo. The next year was basically ruined with all the guilt and grief. I didn’t know it had been mom until she told me, years later in a drunken fight, that she’d done it. Made me kill my own pet. Nice work, mom.
When I became a plexer myself (runs in families), my parents weren’t happy about it, so wasn’t discussed. It’s not like I chose to be one, though it is pretty cool. But one time I came home for a holiday and my mother tried pulling me to come back and live at home. I noticed, got angry, and we fought. Thankfully this fight didn’t involve destroying the house, which both of us were capable of doing. I threw on my goggles and filled them with tears several times as I flew back to Kasai. That bit of screaming was our last communication. My controlling mother is my father’s problem, now.
Is it any wonder I hate pulling? That’s why nobody, including the police force, knows I can do it at all. I joined the police to use my plex to try to do some good in this stupid world. Only one person in the police uses pulling, a woman named Tora. It’s without a doubt one of the most effective means of bringing suspects in, but it when she talks about using it I clench my teeth and feel the bile rise in my throat. I hate her for using it. Even the bad guys have a right to their own mind. Every time she opens her mouth about it I’m reminded of my mother. How many confessions has Tora “pulled” out of people? It really should be illegal for a plexer who can pull to be in the room during an interrogation (there are people trying to make that legislation happen). When Tora shoots her off piehole about how she used pulling to do this or that I have to use all my willpower to keep from punching a hole right through her head. That would be easy for me.
The problem is, pulling is really easy for me too.
I used it once, and of course I regret it, but there it is. I’d been surrounded by a group of muggers on a dark street. This had been before I could fly, and I probably could have fought them off and escaped, but I’d panicked. Before I knew what I was doing I’d reached out with my plex and changed all of their minds. “Run away,” I’d said, and they all did. It was really easy. They ran out into the street, and one of them was hit by a car and killed. I felt like my mother. I went home and threw up. I pride myself on not having used it since. Then again, I also haven’t been in any serious danger since then.
Tonight might be different.
About four hours later the sky was dark as my skysuit. I flew in slow circles above the site, high enough to make it hard to see me but low enough to not freeze to death. Maz and I stayed on the phone with each other and a few of the Travzone security folks. We kept the line open, but we ran out of things to talk about after an hour or so. The sounds were down to occasional coughs and footsteps.
I shivered as the wind blew down my neck, and felt my anxiety grow. I kept my hands in my pockets and hovered, straight up and down, what we call “air standing.” The ground was maybe thirty stories below me, but thankfully I’ve been flying for a long time. The first few months are pretty scary. Now it feels peaceful – until a plane goes by, anyway.
I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye and rotated. Someone was flying toward the site, roughly toward me. I adjusted so I was flying belly down (it’s more aerodynamic and makes me a smaller target), and moved to intercept. I recognized the red fur of a Hyrapatan. “I think I see her.”
She saw me and slowed, belly down.
“Identify yourself,” I shouted in Hyrapatan out into the night. In response, she raised her hands and a ball of glowing energy erupted from her hands and shot toward me with a crackling sound.
I raised a nimbus on my arm and strengthened it for the blow. I pushed too hard, though, and the energy shield reflected her blast but failed to absorb it. If you get it just right, you can absorb the blast and send it back later. But that takes a lot of practice, and practicing getting blasts thrown at you is pretty dangerous.
“I saw the blast. I’m on my way.” In my earpiece I heard Maz and the guards talking and positioning, but I had to ignore that for now. I reviewed my plex powers: flight, blasts, protecting my limbs with glowing nimbuses, and stun.
And pulling, but no.
I raised my hands in front of me and prepared to stun if I could get my hands on her. “Skapta Tagg, you are under arrest. Stand down!” She might not have heard me, but it’s the law. I have to say that.
She rotated in the air, holding her arms and legs in front of her body. She wore a skin-tight matte black fly suit. Her hands and feet were bare and little claws came from each finger and toe. She flew straight up, fast, when I reached to touch her. Her legs fired to life with nimbus, a soft purple glow that protected her limbs. Her feet were now level with my head, and she kicked her furry red foot at my face.
I raised my arms and my own red nimbuses burst to life. The surfaces of our nimbuses struck each other with a snap.
Keeping my arms glowing, I pointed them at her torso and flew at her body, like a human ram. She dodged, flying down toward one of the tanks. Wow, she was nimble in the air.
“Can you get a shot?” I turned and flew after her.
One of the Travzome security people answered. “Not yet.”
Tagg landed on a tank and pulled her nimbus-protected arm back. She was going to punch a hole in it. She was likely to waste about 12,000 cubic meters the negative-weight gas Travzone used to make airships.
I tackled her.
We landed hard on the flat metal surface of the tank. I was inches from her face, and she glared. “Isolation!” she yelled in Hyrapatan. That was her political group’s rallying cry.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Maz get to the top of the ladder and get on the tank. He ran to help me subdue Tagg.
Tagg saw him and leapt into the sky to fly away. I followed and managed to catch her around her legs. I had to keep her out of the sky if Maz was going to help me. I plexed my weight higher and we fell back down.
Tagg grunted at the impact and struck at my head with her nimbus-covered fist. The blow hurt, and Tagg got out of my grasp. Her face distorted to an angry smile and she charged and kicked at me. The night lit up with the crackling flashes of light where our nimbuses made contact. While my hands were up she landed a strong punch to my midsection. I flew back from the force of the blow, instinctively making myself weightless so I wouldn’t land hard.
She might be too much for us. Pulling would be much easier, this voice in my head reminded me. I steeled myself not to use it. Maybe if she was distracted with Maz I could stun her unconscious. I ran at her.
It was a stupid move.
She grabbed and threw me, hard, on the surface of the tank. She didn’t even need to use plex to do it. It hurt like hell. The voice came back, not letting me forget that my pulling was much more powerful than my fighting ability. Shut up. Never.
Tagg went to her knees beside me on the tank before I could get up. She raised her fist and went to deliver a blow to my head. Dodging would have been easy, but missing me meant her hitting the tank, her primary objective. So instead I discharged a blast at her. I pointed my palms at her, built up the power, and released. She aborted the strike she’d planned and blocked the pulse, neatly absorbing it into her nimbus.
She stood and smiled. Had she planned that?
Maz also released a blast. Tagg raised her arms, still covered with nimbus, and absorbed that too.
Oh no oh no oh no…
Brimming over with energy, she turned to my partner and was about to blast him back with the power of the two we’d fired at her. Maz’s nimbus would never be able to withstand it. Tagg swelled as she prepared to discharge.
Whether she meant to or not, Tagg was about to kill my partner.
That inner voice said Pull her! It tried to wrestle control of my body. I felt myself swell with plex. Pulling would be so easy! I pushed it out of my mind, hard. That was my second mistake. Hindsight.
I was too far to stun so I blasted her, real hard. The recoil made me slide backward on the tank a few feet. With her focused on what she was about to do to Maz, she wasn’t able to block it this time.
The blast of red energy hit her in the neck, burning her skin and cracking her backbone. Tagg’s body folded and flew away from me with the force of the blow.
Oh no, don’t die!
Maz ran over to her and put his hand on her wrist. My stomach felt as though it were full of worms.
“She’s dead.” He smiled at me. “Thanks.”
I smiled back, but inside I was crumbling, my hands shaking. I’m a killer.
“That’s what partners are for.” I tried to sound convincing. I tell myself that if I’d used pulling, the police would have made me use it every day for the rest of my career, so I had no choice. I’d had to kill her.
The other day, Tora came in spouting off with some triumphant story of her pulling. The other cops loved it. I still want to punch a hole in her head.
Now I want to punch a hole in mine, too.