“Dallas, come in, give me a read. What’s going on down there?”
Gilda was on her feet and out of her office the moment the blasts hit, scattering paperwork in her rush. She made a beeline for the parking lot. There was noise on the other end – nearby shouts of terror and distant commotion, and Dallas and Jeff. They hadn’t heard. What was going on?
“Dallas Cardozo, do you copy?”
“Yeah, I copy!” Dallas replied. “I’m trying to not get us all shot! These Cerberus goons are demanding the drugs we found. There’s no way they have that authority – right?”
“No, they -” she started, but trailed off. Suddenly, the blood rushed to her face. Napier. “Oh, that fucking – look, I need to talk to the mayor. Are the civilians in the immediate area safe?”
“As safe as they can be. Most of them are inside the metro tunnel. But that big explosion you just heard? A Cerberus chopper just got swatted out of the sky, like an insect. We think it came from Grigori’s camp, he must have a goddamn SAM system set up. So these mercs, they’re a bit jumpy. Is there anything you can do or should we just give them the stupid drugs?”
Gilda started her car. She was already dialing the mayor’s number. “See if you can’t stall them. Do you need reinforcements?”
“Reinforcements?” Dallas repeated. “Of course I could use reinforcements. I could use Thor himself right about now. Except the bridge is a no-go and we’ve got anti-air defenses on the ground, so unless you’ve got a teleporter, we’re kinda screwed here.”
“Well, I’ve got some friends I’ll be sending in as soon as I get an update on how Cerberus factors into all of this. Hang tight, Dallas,” she said, then promptly called the mayor.
“Montana,” she started, barely dulling the edge in her voice. “My officers are reporting the presence of active Cerberus mercs in gang warzones. Care to explain?”
“Because I just finished deputizing Rebecca to deal with – whatever this is,” the mayor replied, speaking like he’d rolled off the bed, down the stairs and slammed his head into a wall. “We’ve called a state of martial law. This is America, not the Middle East, war campaigns will not be tolerated on our streets.”
“I see,” she said. She tried to keep her voice level, but she knew he could hear the sound of her blood boiling. “Well, after I’ve sorted all of this out, you and I should have a talk.” She swerved to avoid an errant driver. “I’m sure we’ll have a lot to discuss once all of this is over.” And she hung up on him, a subtextual middle finger she’d been longing to give Montana since he was elected.
She started to dial Quinn’s number, but Quinn called first.
“Gilda, what’s going on up there?” The training session in progress had stopped dead behind her. Fritz and Alex stood frozen in their sparring stances. Jessica’s crossed arms unfolded and fell to her sides.
“Gang war. We’ve got live explosives going off on Vicio. The bridge is compromised, and the civilians in the area are hiding in the metro tunnel. But that’s not gonna hold out for long against these explosives, and even if they do, we’re outnumbered. If any of the gangs gets to them, we could have a hostage situation on our hands.”
Quinn knew what she was trying to ask. “I’ll send the kiddos down. Hang tight out there.”
She pocketed her phone and turned to her students. “You three. Suit up.”
“Explosives?” Fritz said, hesitating to go for his outfit. “What from?”
“Rival gangs. I don’t know all of the details. You three are on civilian rescue. Get moving.”
“Rival gangs? Isn’t it a little rainy for gang warfare?” Fritz kept on, despite her tone.
“What part of civilians in a warzone did you not understand? Move.”
“Alright, alright, jeez.” Finally, Fritz moved to get his suit. “Some people…”
Jessica got into her costume with little fanfare, and she’d be lying if she said she didn’t want to toss it in the dumpster and run away. For the first time in a long time, she was scared. Who wouldn’t be? The violence and the chaos was bad enough on its own, but trying to unscramble it and discern her mother’s place in it was worse. Why would she do something like this? How could one person cause so much suffering by her will alone?
She stepped meeting room, polished boots squeaking as she moved. Alex looked between her and Fritz.
“Alright, did I lose the memo to show off my body or what?”
“I dunno, did you want to?” Fritz asked, stretching out so his costume hugged his form even tighter. “A touch of spandex here and there never hurt anyone, Jessica.”
“I think I’m showing enough as it is, thanks.” She motioned Alex to turn to Quinn with her finger. “Less gawking, more walking, big boy.”
Sighing, Alex did as he was told, outstretching his arms as he approached. “Welp, we’re as ready as we’ll ever be.”
“I only wish we could have had one more meeting before your first mission,” Quinn said, her voice deathly serious. “If you’re ready, then I have one more asset I’d like to introduce you to before you leave.” She started towards the garage door, motioning for them to follow.
“That is one big door,” Fritz remarked. “What’s behind it?”
“I’m getting to that,” Quinn said, clearly the slightest bit fed up with Fritz. She felt her way to a button panel, her fingers brushing the buttons as though unfamiliar with them. Then, she found the one she was looking for. She pressed it, and immediately, the sound of gears groaning and metal grinding on stone filled the antechamber. The garage door began to ascend, slowly revealing a black armored car. It was angular and menacing, designed for combat, the black and white paint job marred by scuffs and dents like battlescars. “Just another toy Phantasm left behind,” Quinn remarked. “The backup, at least.”
The backup, she said. As if she hadn’t gifted Jessica the most beautiful vehicle she had ever seen. She traced her hand along the beast’s hood, bending down to examine the forward facing guns. Whatever automobiles Cerberus was using would be torn to shreds in beautiful display of technological superiority. She could hardly contain the glee in her voice.
“This is amazing,” she beamed. “What’s its name?”
The corner of Quinn’s mouth twitched up. “Her name’s the Poltergeist, and she’s all yours. There’s a transceiver in there so that I can reach you. Now get a move on.”
Alex anchored Fritz to his shadow, rushing up the the passenger’s side door and hopping inside. “I call shotgun!”
Jessica pulled the handle of the driver’s side door, watching it move upwards to allow her entry. She sat down slowly, taking in all the knobs and buttons. This was her true birthright, this fabulous car, and it was hers, all hers.
“You sure you can drive this thing?” Alex asked, tugging his seat belt.
She turned to him and grinned so hard she knew he could feel it. “I’m sure.”
The Poltergeist owned the roads of Blackburn. Twenty years in the shop did nothing to diminish that fact. Bystanders stood aside, trying to catch a glimpse of the monster screeching down the street. The Poltergeist drove so unlike any car Jessica had ridden in, she hesitated to call it car. In spite of its massive engine and ungodly horsepower, the ride wasn’t bumpy at all. Not until they began to approach the bridge.
“Cerberus,” she announced. “Hold tight boys.”
Four patrol vans had sealed off the Kennedy Bridge, with a squad of mercenaries patrolling front and back. They looked up as the dread machine bore down on them, scrambling to get out of its path just in time. The armored vehicle tore through the vans like cobwebs, sending a show of sparks and metal hurdling down the road. Jessica flipped on the transceiver.
“This is Jessica, we’re on the island,” she declared, cutting her speed in half. “Where am I headed?”
“Stick to codenames.” Quinn insisted. “Do you know where Cove Park is?”
“Yep.” She switched into the proper lane. A couple of goons had taken pot shots at them, but the bullets barely registered over the engine and the rain. “And as for a codename… Let’s go with Shade.”
“Works. You keep those mercs away from the civvies.”
“Roger that. Shade out.”
Cove Park was a quaint little retreat from the hustle and bustle of Vicio, situated by the bay about a mile from the Kennedy Bridge. Park benches and oak trees dotted the landscape, where a smattering of civilians gathered to watch the standoff. BPD officers and Cerberus troopers stared at one another on opposite sides of police cruisers. Shade parked the Poltergeist in an alley across the way.
“We have to take these punks out on foot,” she ordered, undoing her seatbelt. “Keep it quiet.”
Onyx nodded and teleported off, and Prism vanished quickly into the air. Shade kept her stance low and her movements quick, using the sound of thunder to dash from streetlight to streetlight, tree to tree. She counted a dozen mercs, variably patrolling the park and trying to intimidate the cops.
“Onyx, center four, Prism, right four, I’ll take the left,” she whispered into the comms. She heard a mercenary crunching foliage underfoot on the opposite side of the tree she was at. When his back was turned, she ran up and placed him in a blood choke, restraining his gun arm and twisting his weapon away. The soldier attempted to squirm away, but she took his dominant leg out with a kick and let him go limp in her arms.
Two more were discussing something near a basketball court, and she used the bushes to get closer.
“So what’s so important about these drugs the boss has us shaking down cops?” Asked the one without a mask. “And where do street thugs get shit that complex anyways?”
“They don’t. Mouse isn’t a common street thug,” the masked one lectured. “She can make any chemical compound inside her body. Her steroids are a hundred times stronger than that crap in Afghanistan. For all we know, that blue drug could make you invulnerable and shoot lasers out of your eyes.”
The unmasked one snorted. “Oh, come on. You can’t really believe any of those rumors, can you?”
The masked man looked sideways. “Rumors?”
“Supervillains belong in children’s books, dude. She probably just has a team of really good chemists or something. It’s all fear mongering.”
“Yeah, okay, you say that to her face then, see how that goes.”
“Gladly, then I’ll put a bullet in her… Say, you smell something?”
The two soldiers looked down at their feet, watching purple smoke waft up from a small metal sphere. The gas pellet worked like a charm, and they fell to the ground. Her last target was still eyeing a cop near the cruisers. She slunk up behind and drove his head into the roof.
“What the-? Hey, who are you?!” The officer demanded, sidearm raised.
“Not one of them. Put the gun down.”
The officer raised an eyebrow. “Then why are you wearing the old Phantasm costume?”
“It’s a long story, now put the gun down,” she repeated. The officer hesitated for a moment, then spoke into his radio.
“Cardozo, we got a Phantasm lookalike running around out here. How should we proceed?”
There wasn’t an immediate response. Instead, Detective Cardozo emerged from the metro tunnel behind them, examining the field. Prism finished trapping the last merc, laughing as he poked and prodding him in a cage of light. Dallas folded his arms as he approached.
“Well well, if it isn’t little Jessica Napier, digging in mommy’s toy chest. Just my luck that you’re the Chief’s friends.”
“Shhhh! What part of the mask don’t you understand?!” She snapped. Dallas laughed.
“Yeah, great secret identity. I figured it out in five seconds. But I’ll humor you sweetheart. Derrick, you didn’t hear that.”
“Okay, sure,” the uniformed officer mumbled.
“Listen, the whole island’s gone to shit. Mouse, Sonrisa and the Russian have divided Vicio in three, with Cerberus trying to crush them all. We can’t evac any civvies because of the anti-air guns and the streets are going to be flooded soon. We can’t leave these people here, so you’re our only asset in the field. Do whatever you can to stop this.”
“I see.” Shade chewed on her lower lip. “I’ll do my best. Have your men disarm these mercs before they wake up. In the meantime, can I see this drug that has Cerberus all worked up?”
“Sure thing.” Dallas leaned into his radio. “Jeff, coast is clear. Bring a sample of the blue shit with you.”
“On it,” Jeff’s voice came in, muffled. “Hope it’s stable.”
Within a few moments, Jeff was hurrying back into the makeshift camp and over to Dallas. In his hand was a vial of blue fluid.
“Never seen something like it before,” Jeff said as he came close. He flinched at the sight of Shade, looking to Dallas. “Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?”
“Eeyup. Hand it over.”
Jeff did exactly that, even as his eyes only got wider. Shade rolled the vial around in her hand. “Hmph… I think I may have someone who can analyze this thing. Prism!”
“What me?” Prism asked from behind her. “No, no, I don’t know anything about analyzing weird gunk. Or smoking it. Not my bag at all.”
“Yeah, okay.” She waggled the vial at him. “Get to it. Dallas, Jeff, you get this man whatever he needs.”
“Uh, Dallas,” Jeff murmured, leaning in towards his partner. “Are we really supposed to be taking orders from her?”
“Yes. Yes you are,” Shade answered for him.
“Can you please tell the Chief I hate her when you can?” Dallas moaned. “What do you need, tights?”
“Some kind of hot plate, a few petri dishes, an eppendorf tube or two, and a vortexer would be great,” Fritz said, rubbing the vial between his palms. “Or any combination of those things. I ain’t picky. Could probably figure out what it’s supposed to be with just a microscope.”
“So you’ll be quite busy then.” She crossed her arms in thought, tapping her elbow. She wasn’t going to get to her mother anytime soon, but she did know how to reach Mouse. That was the best course of action for now.
“I’m taking Onyx and paying Mouse a visit. You stay here.”
“I get to sit around and do the easy stuff while you do all the hard work?” Fritz laughed. “Oy vey, for real.”
Thanks to the confusion of the bombs going off, as well the her unconventional training of her troops, Mouse’s little gang war was progressing nicely. She sat in her command center with four subordinates, all corroborating reports being fed to them by people in the field. So far, they’d only suffered mild casualties, and next to no fatalities, but they couldn’t bank on the element of surprise for too much longer. Grigori’s Russian troops were all trained extensively in warfare, so they were staunchly opposing Mouse’s forces. Martin’s men fought like common thugs and cartel members, firing wildly and shouting obscenities. They had an advantage in numbers, but not in skill.
Of course, Mouse still had a trump card up her sleeve. She’d had her frontline troops leave base with the newest version of Blueshift and, if the reports coming in were to be believed, it was helping tip scales in her favor. “Intruders!” shouted a voice from the hallway, drawing the attention of everyone in the command center. Mouse got to her feet, brow quirked. Intruders? “Intruders in the courtyard! They’re kicking our asses!”
Mouse threw open the door and grabbed the man by his collar. “How many? Who’re they from?”
“N-no idea! There’s just two, but… we can’t waste ‘em!” Fuck. Did Martin send some new twisted toys to put her in the dirt? She’d make him fight for it. Mouse drew her Glock and rushed into a closet, which concealed a fire pole. She slid down to the second floor and hopped out, rushing to the balcony that overlooked her lobby area. There, a woman in an old Phantasm costume and a man in all-black were making mincemeat of her troops. The man had swamped the floor in darkness, every so often forming twisted shapes to squeeze and slam and toss her men like toy soldiers. She could barely register the woman’s movements, jumping and flipping through the air with the grace of a ballerina and the force of a small truck. She kicked a goon into the wall below her.
“Ugh! Boss, help us!” he cried out, trying to crawl away before getting flattened against the wall by his shadow.
Mouse fired at them, only to have the bullets absorbed by a wall of solid darkness. “Who the fuck are you?!” she demanded, posting up against the armored railing and peering through a vision slot. What the hell was that stuff? She’d never seen an anomalous ability like that before.
“Hey, we just wanted to have a chat, your guys started shooting first!” The man in black insisted, tossing a goon in the air for his partner to finish off. “How about I tell you my name if you agree to talk nicely, hmm?”
“You break into my fucking compound and expect everyone to just play nice, dressed like that? Fuck you! Go back to Salazar and tell him I’ve got more firebombs en route! And don’t even think about trying to take me to him. You’ve seen what my men can do on my drug, just take a minute to think about what I’m capable of.”
In a flash, the man disappeared, then materialized beside her, grabbing the barrel of her gun and directing it away. “Yo no trabajo para Salazar. And we’re not after you, we’re after Napier. So how about you create yourself a chill pill?”
Mouse jerked in surprise, aiming a kick at Alex’s groin out of reflex. “Pinche puta cojedor de burros!” she swore.
“Ow! Come on, really?”
Wait… Napier? Mouse flooded her system with adrenaline, wrenching her gun out of his grip and scrambling backwards in a crab walk. “Why the fuck are you here, then, if you’re after that psycho crazy bitch? You think I’m harboring her or something?” demanded Mouse, keeping her gun trained on him but refraining from pulling the trigger like her gut was screaming at her to do. If they were after Napier, she could potentially use them to clear the way for her to take over once the dust settled.
“Because you might know something!” he insisted, cupping his groin in his hands. “Ow, sh-shoot!”
Before Mouse could decide a course of action, the woman grappled onto the balcony.
“Oh great. I forgot about you…” The albino got to her feet, keeping her gun trained on the two of them warily. “The freaks are in town, are they? A gimp and a bullshit ‘hero’ fan wannabe. Have you two realized there’s a war on? Go play your stupid games elsewhere!”
“A what now?” the man questioned, tilting his head. “Nevermind. You want us to end that war? Stop swearing at me like a sailor and talk to us.”
Mouse scoffed in disbelief. Was he being serious? “No, I don’t want you to end that war! I started it, which means I’m going to end it myself.”
The man snorted, straightening himself out. “Right, that’s what she wants you to think. You may have fired the opening shot, but who do you think gave you the gun? We want to know why, and maybe you can’t tell us that, but you set us on the right track. What does she want with your drugs?”
“What do you mean? Are you asking if I’m selling to her? You’d have to be a moron of colossal idiocy to make a statement like that.”
The man sighed, then crossed himself. “Lord in heaven, give me strength. No, Nisa, I’m not asking if you’re selling drugs to the crazy anti-hero. I’m asking what’s so important about your drugs that she’d kill your men and try to nab them.”
“The fuck are you talking about?” She glanced over the railing at her men, frown deepening into a scowl. Still down. These two really did a number on them. “We must all be on drugs together, ‘cuz you’re making no sense, asshole. Get to the point or I’ll start shooting again.”
“Okay, you made me do this,” the man grumbled. Without warning, she found herself airborne and inverted, hung by her legs. The shock caused her to drop her weapon, which sat just out of reach for her to retrieve again. “Your truck got hit, Cerberus tried taking the drugs. Why?”
“What the hell are you talking about?!” repeated Mouse, this time with a tremor in her voice. “I didn’t get any reports on that! Cerberus wouldn-” No, wait. The two that had come in injured had said that a woman matching Rebecca’s description had shot them and taken a sample of her beta. The wheels in Mouse’s mind turned quickly. “Shit shit shit shit… That bitch! She’s trying to con me out of my own game! If you’re not lying and she really hit my truck, I need to warn my men to pull out!”
“Why do they want the drugs?” he demanded again, raising his voice for the first time. “You’re starting to make me mad, and trust me, my patience is a lot longer than hers,” he said, referencing his partner.
“Don’t worry about hurting her, she can take the damage,” she muttered. That was a voice she recognized…
“Jessica?!” Mouse went slack, staring at the purple garbed woman disbelievingly. “Y-you… What is this? What’re you doing?” She couldn’t keep her voice from cracking, a sudden torrent of emotions whirling within her.
“Jessica, you… I can’t believe you stabbed me in the back like this…” Vision clouding, Mouse angrily swiped at her eyes. “Is this what you wanted? Are you happy now? You betrayed me for her, didn’t you, and now she’s going to kill everyone we’ve ever known or cared about! Do you understand the magnitude of the consequences you’ve brought down on us? With that much Blueshift, she can turn an army of ten into more than a match for an army of a thousand!”
“I’m! Not! Working with her!” Jessica howled, marching forward until the man stuck his arm out. “I don’t have to listen to you, or my mother, or anyone else! Stop treating me like a child!”
“I will when you stop acting like one!”
“Oh my God, enough,” the man bellowed, dropping Mouse to the floor. “This is dragging on way too long. You ladies can catfight after you help me with Rebecca, okay?”
Mouse grabbed her gun and scrambled to her feet. Help with Rebecca? “Fine… I know where her forward operating base is. We’ve been avoiding it since we don’t want to poke the bear, but if you want to commit suicide, I’m okay with that. Since I know you won’t trust me to go off on my own to get you the chart we’ve made, you’ll have to follow me.” Mouse led them to her command room, ripping a chart of the island off the wall and handing it to Jessica. “Don’t ever show your face around here again, mask or not. I’ll have you killed next time. Get out.”