Mavericks V1 C7 The Calm Before

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Hey folks, sorry about the rather short chapter and slow pacing up to this point, but I promise, things are going to pick up next chapter, fast. I also have a short story here to help tie y’all over.

The news droned on in the background of Judd’s home, loud enough to be heard over the rain pounding on the roof.

 

Hurricane Michael is ramping up by the minute, and we’re looking at heavy rainfall and winds within 48 hours. The current forecast predicts a Category 2 storm. We recommend all Blackburners stay indoors if at all possible for the time being.”

 

Judd was in the kitchen, glancing through the doorway at the television between shoving his soaked windows shut. He was going to have to go out and board everything up sooner than later, but he wanted Dawn and Alex home before that, if possible. The storm was bad enough without his kids being stuck outside.

 

With water no longer dripping on the floor, Judd grabbed his phone and jabbed Alex’s number. That boy had been all over the place lately, even more than usual. Sure, Fritz had dragged him into lots of crap over the years, but getting arrested was a step too far.

 

Judd paced as the phone rang, and he spoke as soon as it stopped.

 

“Alex? Where are you, son?”

 

“Dad?” Judd could hear Alex fall to the floor, as if he were hit by something large, but Alex just kept on talking. “Oh, uh, I’m still doing that. Thing.”

 

Judd raised his brow. “Yeah, your ‘thing.’ Listen, we got a storm comin’ hard and fast, you better get home now if you don’t got another place to wait it out.”

 

“Trust me, I wouldn’t worry about me if Blackburn were nuked by North Korea.” He paused. “Where’s Dawn? She isn’t answering my texts.”

 

“Right,” Judd said, rolling his eyes. “She was out with friends, and I’m gonna call her in a moment. You sure you’re gonna be okay?”

 

“Yeah. I think. I mean, probably. Look, I’m more worried about you guys. Hey, Fritz, stop it, I tapped out, geez! Sorry. Just keep outta Vicio, okay? Place is ticking time bomb.”

 

Judd was tempted to ask more about where Alex was, but refrained for his own peace of mind.

 

“I ain’t going anywhere. I’ll call Dawn and keep you posted. Stay safe, Alex.”

 

Judd tapped off the line and pressed Dawn’s number next. It rang once, then twice, then another time, all the while Judd paced back and forth. He came to a stop at the fifth ring, bracing one hand against the kitchen table and tapping his fingers. Where was she? He was used to her picking up quickly, and it sure wasn’t like her to ignore his calls.

 

“Dad?” came the muffled voice as the ringing finally stopped.

 

“Well, it’s about time,” Judd said, more relief than annoyance in his tone. “Where are you? We’ve got a storm comin’ in, you better get home.”

 

“Sorry, sorry, I was just at an exhibit with some friends from art class, right around Cove Park. I’ll see if I can’t get a ride or something.”

 

Cove Park? Wasn’t that halfway across town?

 

“Well, do it fast, I don’t want to have to lock you out.”

 

Dawn giggled, despite the depth of the situation. “Don’t worry, dad, I’ll be there soon. See you.”

 

With that, the line dropped and Judd was left standing with water in his kitchen. He sighed and placed down the phone. No use worrying. Right then, he needed to lock down the house as best he could. With that in mind, he headed for the front door.

 

***

 

Locked feet. Measured breath. Arms bent at just the right angle to ensure to both reach and protection. Alex and Fritz slowly circled around the outside of the ring, intently eyeing the other’s moves. Based on how quickly their muscles twitched in reaction when the other made the slightest move, Jessica could infer this was far from their first spar.

 

“Alex, you gotta try and tighten your steps,” Quinn called out, leaning lightly on the edge of the arena with one hand. Alex grunted lowly as he brought his knees closer together.

 

“Sorry. The bone, it’s never healed the right way. Not that I really-”

 

Fritz stole the moment to lunge in and elbow Alex right in his stomach before ducking away.

 

“Not that you were ever good at making excuses,” he teased, smirking at Alex.

 

Alex shot him a sour glance before he dematerialized. Just like that, Fritz hopped around and nailed Alex across the chin where he’d teleported.

 

“I’ve tried explaining subtlety to him, really, I have,” Fritz said, shrugging in Quinn’s general direction.

 

Two tendrils emerged from the floor, and Alex wrapped them around Fritz’s wrists. “I don’t need subtlety, I can squish you like a bug.”

 

Fritz leaned forward on the weight of the tendrils before lifting his hips up to deliver a kick to Alex’s torso. Alex didn’t even blink, barreling into him full speed, sending them both tumbling awkwardly to the ground. Quickly he contorted his limbs, confining Fritz in a wrestling hold.

 

“Ow! Ow! Uncle! Uncle!” Fritz cried from underneath him.

 

“Hmph. Impressive strength, but sloppy technique,” Jessica remarked, fooling with the second gadget Quinn had been teaching her how to use. The grapple gun looked similar to a pistol, but with a bulkier grip connected to a spool. A metallic claw with a sharp center jutted out of the barrel, gleaming in the light. Its snazzy design didn’t do her any good when she tested it out and got stuck in a tree.

 

“Ahem?” Quinn rapped her fingers against the rubber mats. “I’m giving the critiques here.” She turned up to Alex. “Sloppy technique Alex.”

 

“Wow, I know right?” Jessica muttered, rolling her eyes.

 

“You know Fritz’s skillset, so taking him to the ground was advantageous to you, but I told you to use a little more finesse. For all you know, Fritz could have had a puncturing weapon or ability. And Fritz, really, taunts? At least keep your eyes on him.”

 

“Oh, come on, I can’t have a little fun?” Fritz asked, none-too-concerned.

 

“Yeah, sorry hon, your charm isn’t gonna work on gangbangers armed to the teeth. Run it again, then I’ll give you your costumes.”

 

“If only I could believe Alex was a gangbanger,” Frits sighed. “Wait, costumes? What?”

 

Quinn nodded. “They came in last night. Scott’s people deliver. And if you want me to, one of you needs to give me a clean takedown.”

 

“Well, gee, I wonder who that’s gonna-”

 

Jessica hurled the grapple gun at Fritz’s forehead, connecting a hit with a dull thunk. Fritz’s eyes swam for a moment, and Jessica sprinted for the edge of the arena. One quick step sent her up. She kicked herself off, using her legs to grip Fritz’s head and hurl him onto the concrete floor as she backflipped.

 

“You’re welcome boys,” she announced, snapping to her feet and retrieving her grapple gun from beside Fritz’s head.

 

“O-ow,” Fritz whined from the ground.

 

“That’s smart, using your stronger lower body strength, but don’t expect to get away with that move on a man Alex’s size.” Quinn pushed herself off. “Alex, Fritz, your costumes are in the boxes by the men’s restroom.”

 

“Oh man, this is gonna be great!” Alex said with a hint of whimsy. He hopped off the arena, dragging Fritz along by his own shadow. “Thanks Jay!”

 

A soft smile touched Quinn’s lips as they left. She sighed. “Good work today, Jessica,” she said, turning her attention to her.

 

“Right. Those boys are lucky they have strong powers, their combat training is average.” Idly she test fired the grappling hook at the ropes, watching the hook slip through the ropes, extend out,  reel back and lodge itself firmly in place. “Hnh. Not bad…”

 

“We’ll train them up. I don’t tolerate slackers,” she replied. Then, she added, “I know it’s hard to be here, what with everything your mother did, who she is – what I’m trying to say is, thanks for staying.”

 

Jessica stopped toying with the grapple gun and flinched reflexively at the comments. She should’ve known they were coming at some point, but everything still felt unreal, like a sleep paralysis hallucination she couldn’t shake off. But Quinn was very much real and she really was stuck between her mother and an army of gangsters, not knowing why it was her of all people that had to be here.

 

“It hurts, okay?” she blurted out, setting the gun aside. “That’s what you want me to say, right?”

 

“You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to. I just wanted to thank you. You’re going to do good work here, even if it does hurt. It hurts me, too. It comes with the territory.”

 

From far off, they could hear Alex exclaim something like holy crap. Quinn gave a small laugh. “It gets easier. You just have to make it through the hard part.”

 

Jessica pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. “Yeah, I get it, it’s just – she’s still my mom, you know? Even after all the horrible things she’s done, even if she deserves to be in a padded cell for the rest of her life, I can’t bring myself to hate her. It’d make things so much easier, but I can’t. I dunno. Just stupid human emotions, I guess.”

 

“Yeah, they’re funny like that,” said Quinn. “I hate your mother. She betrayed me and killed nearly everyone I cared about – but I hope she’s doing well. What’s that about, right? You’ll only waste your time trying to figure out why you’re feeling the way you feel. Doesn’t hurt to talk about it, though.”

 

“I wouldn’t say that,” Jessica grumbled. But, Quinn had a point. If only to sate her curiosity, she had to ask.

 

“Why do you trust me, Quinn?”

 

Quinn frowned. “I’m not sure. But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because your mother is the last person you want to be. Am I right?”

 

“Yes, but what I want and what I am are two different things. It’s hard not to be her when you’re grown in a test tube and raised from birth to hurt people.”

 

“No one gets to choose what they are. You can’t help where you came from or where you’ve been. Who you are? That’s a choice that your mother can’t make for you. Didn’t stop her from trying, but she lost that fight. You’re already halfway there.”

 

Quinn’s words didn’t make anything easier to deal with, but it did make her feel… better? It was hard to tell. It had been a long time since anyone had to tried to make feel better. But it was nice.

 

“Thanks,” she said brusquely. She let the moment pass, waiting until Alex burst into the room. She only knew it was Alex by his size, because the man inside the costume was completely obscured by an all-black coverall and gas mask. The outfit was more heavily armored than hers, with military body armor and a thick knee brace on his right leg. However, it was still a lot slimmer than British special forces uniform she figured it was based on. But no way was he going out without it being night in that thing – or heavily raining.

 

“Yo, I look like the boogeyman!” he exclaimed, voice muffled and distorted. “Terrifying, right?”

 

She shrugged and gave a thumbs up.

 

“As terrifying as you’ll ever be, Alex!” Fritz called from back in the men’s room.

 

Fritz trotted out after a moment or two, still pulling at the costume in places. Even in a mostly white, form-fitting outfit and a domino mask, Fritz still looked like Fritz. If anything, it only emphasized his small stature, gold highlights seeming to outline his form. On his chest was, predictably enough, a prism emblem refracting golden light into its constitute parts.

 

“I think I’d rather be light on my feet,” he said, turning in place to look at himself.

 

Jessica snorted loudly. “Wo-ow. Very subtle, Fritz. I hope you’re not seriously trying to protect your identity.”

 

Fritz just shrugged. “Hey, no skin off my nose if someone at the club happens to think I look like that one superhero.”

 

“So, bo- Quinn,” Alex began as he flexed and bent his arm, “About that hurricane. It’s got my dad in a tizzy. What are we gonna do when it hits?”

 

“We’re gonna do all that we can,” Quinn announced. “Keep an eye out for looters and anyone else hoping to take advantage of the situation.”

 

 

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Short Stories C1 Rough Economy

Hey folks, remember those short stories I promised? Well, I was quite bored tonight, and got one done in a little more than an hour. I decided to flesh out Jay’s character a little more, and provide a bit more backstory to the events of Chapters 1.1 and 1.3.

 

A hundred. A hundred fucking dollars. Benjamin Franklin was staring up at Jessica, as disappointed in her as she was herself. That cocksucker Carlos, how did she let herself be bested by him? Now, for her inadequacy, she would have to survive on a hundred dollars for the month, and whatever scraps Mouse let her beg for at the table.

 

“Goddammit!”

 

LaDarius glanced up briefly at this outburst, then went right back to counting off Carlos’ winnings. The gangster bore a wide grin, flashing his wad of bills in her direction.

 

“Yeah, you like that, bitch? We go hard in the barrio, go crawl back to the runaway lab rat, kid!”

 

She wished her glare was as corrosive as it looked. Her fist trembled futilely. After a minute, reason took hold, and with a groan she pocketed the Benjamin and shuffled into her Lancer. God, what am I going to do? She thought, removing her helmet and running her fingers through her orange locks. She was more used to busting drug runners than being one, and she was not going to start taking lives for cash.

 

Forget all that. Why was she even here? Her bloodright should have given her a seat in the Mavericks hall, not in a damn ricer. No, that was silly. She started the car. I hope you’re happy, mom.

 

She cruised out of Prometido, watching the stars twinkle on the slick pavement. Midtown was relatively quiet, especially at night. The underworld generally avoided Midtown and Downtown. There were too many prying eyes – yuppies, tourists and government officials – for crime to be worth it. But tonight, she was making an exception.

 

She rolled onto the curb in a street with low traffic, careful to avoid any potential cameras picking up her car, and hopped out. There was a small burger joint with no one in the parking lot about twenty yards away, a good city block from the main road. She popped her helmet back on, retrieved a handgun from the glove compartment, and headed inside.

 

The man running the cash register – or teen, rather – was dozing off against the wall. There were only faint murmurs coming from the back. Good, she didn’t need the commotion. She cocked her handgun for dramatic effect, aiming it upwards at the ceiling, and shouted.

 

“Let’s make this quick sweetheart. Empty the cash register and you get to walk away with your brain still intact, capiche?”

 

The cashier lazily blinked his eyes open. “Aw, come on, again? I told the boss we needed to install the glass…”

 

Three hundred dollars were retrieved without a fuss. Still unenviable, but she’d make do. She turned to the soda machine installed off to the side. Oh what the heck, why not? “And give me the largest container you’ve got, too.”

 

She stuck a massive plastic jug under the soda machine, filling it with grape soda. Even cloned super soldiers were allowed to have their vices, right? It was about halfway full when she heard a customer enter behind her.

 

“Hey, Javier, how’s your mom doing? She outta the hospital yet?” called a male voice. She turned around slowly and saw that it was a cop. Not good.

 

“Oh, hey Rand. The doctors say it isn’t cancer, thank you Jesus. But uh, can you help me out a bit?”

 

“Sure, after you give me a number two, extra pickles.”

 

“Number two, extra pickles! You see that lady in the helmet over there?” The cashier pointed at her, and the cop spun around. “She kinda robbed the place.”

 

“Um.” Jessica felt along the the drainage rack, grasping the handle of her gun. She could have shot the cop. Should have, if she wanted a clean getaway. But, something inside of her screamed at her to stop, and she did.

 

Sometimes, she really hated herself.

 

“Hey, stop right there!”

 

She a made a beeline for the door, but only got halfway there before her muscles seized up. Was she on fire? She let out a primal scream, slumping the ground. Any attempts to move were interrupted by further spasms. The cop yanked her upright, cuffing her as she realized that being tased really was a bitch.

 

“Thanks, Officer Brewer! I’m sure the boss won’t mind giving you this meal for free.”

 

“Sure thing.” The officer removed her helmet, putting a hand to his hip. “Got anything to say for yourself, young lady?

 

“Ugh… Go fuck yourself.”

Mavericks V1 C6 Bile

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Rebecca shivered as she lurched into the toilet once more. Sour vomit dribbled from her nose before she could open her mouth and expel what little she had eaten last night from her stomach. Her fingers curled under the cold porcelain. She put a hand out for Jessica to hold, but instead of her daughter’s warm palm she was touched by weightless air. That gave her all the motivation she needed to heave bile until there was only a trickle left on her lips.

 

She felt blindly for toilet paper, inadvertently knocking the roll to the floor, and yanked up some to dab her mouth with. Her puke was yellow-green. The doctors had been telling her to hydrate better. She, the Phantasm, the bane of criminals everywhere, needed to be told to drink water instead of whiskey. To stop drinking the pain away. No, to stop thinking she could drink the pain away. God, she was pathetic.

 

She tossed the paper into the water and flushed her night terror away. As she washed her hands she turned and squinted into her bedroom. It took a minute, but her eyes focused on the digital numbers of her bedside clock: four o’ six. She wasn’t going to get back to sleep much before seven so she wasn’t even going to try. Uttering a long sigh, she dried her hands and fumbled for the light switch.

 

Her room was idiosyncratically compact, but furnished like a queen’s quarters. A full bed with purple sheets lay against the wall, one pillow showing far more wear than the other. On her nightstand, beside the clock, was an expensive bottle of scotch being drunk sloppily from a table-glass. The scotch was the only item with visible use. Her 72 inch TV hadn’t been dusted in a month. The sliding glass doors leading to her waterside balcony had a bird dropping stain she really needed to clean. Lord knew the last time actually read any of her books.

 

She shuffled over to bed and plopped down, pouring half a glass as her mind began to wander. There was much to think about in the maelstrom of her mind, but in true maternal fashion, her daughter bubbled to the surface. Jessica had always been a spirited one, having not fallen far from the tree in that regard, and sure enough it had gotten her into some trouble in her youth. But the challenging, the fighting, the outright rebellion, that hadn’t happened until the teen years. Really, she should’ve seen it coming, but she never wanted to let go of that little girl who gave her the brightest smiles and saw her as a hero.

 

A hero. God, when’s the last time anyone called me that, she thought bitterly, guzzling the woody spirit to mask the vile taste in her throat. But she knew that she had lost the privilege of being called a hero a long time ago. She told herself that Scott deserved what was coming to him, but logically, she knew the action was morally gray at best. And if the public knew the dirty games she played to gun after crime bosses the world over, they’d burn her, cape and all, in effigy.

 

Not that any of that would have mattered if she could have just gotten through to Jessica. The one person in the world that understood her, her doppelgänger made from her own flesh, thought she had become a monster. She shivered, scratching at her itching skin. Why couldn’t her baby girl just understand? She did what she did so that Jessica and her children wouldn’t have to mug people just to survive. She wasn’t a monster.

 

“Hnh, fuck…” She supposed it was time to bite the bullet. Yanking the nightstand’s drawer out, she retrieved her phone and dialed her Field Commander.

 

“Huh, wh-what? What time is it,” the man murmured.

 

“Time for you to call the DARPA director, or, or whoever you need to call to get the ball rolling.”

 

“Oh.” She could make out his stirring. “I’ll get right on it ma’am.”

 

And that was that. Come hell and high water, she’d have to steel herself and finish what she started a long time ago. America would thank her for it, but would Jessica? Suppressing a whimper, she finished her scotch and fell onto the well-worn pillow.

 

***

 

“Forty four… forty five… forty six… forty seven…” Alex huffed out a deep breath as he bent his arms at the elbow, dribbles of sweat darkening the stone floor. Quinn had ordered him and Fritz to record exercise repetitions to make sure they were in top shape which, though tiring, sure as hell beat the lecturing.

 

Quinn had gone on in great length about the meaning of being a superhero and the rules and expectations that accompanied such a responsibility. Surprisingly, it turned out that vigilantism wasn’t technically illegal – thank God for citizen’s arrest – but there were a great many legal and ethical pitfalls a studious Maverick had to know. For instance, you’d get in a lot less for shooting a criminal with a tranquilizer dart than a bullet, which was what she was instructing Jessica about in the next room.

 

Alex didn’t need to be told twice to be a good boy. He didn’t bring it up at the time, because God knew Fritz never took anything seriously enough, but he couldn’t speak for his friend. Though, then again, it wasn’t Fritz who Quinn had trust issues with. Yes, Fritz stole a peek at her phone. Alex could yank Fritz’s leash if he acted up, but a mercenary clone with anger issues? A bit outside his sphere of experience.

 

After the lecture came the fun stuff: codenames and costumes. The little kid inside Alex rejoiced at that part. Who didn’t want to grow up and become a secret agent, fighting crime in a dashing outfit? Then came the mind blank. What exactly was he going to call himself? He didn’t have any captivating skills outside of a football playbook or kitchen, but even he wasn’t lame enough to call himself something like Midnight or Shadow Man. So, Fritz took to Google and came back with Onyx. Apparently Roman soldiers would carry black amulets engraved with Mars in the hopes of receiving the god of war’s bravery. Alex definitely needed a little bravery.

 

As for himself, Fritz ran with Prism. Something about reflecting light? The science bored him, so he stopped listening halfway through Fritz’s ramble. Quinn sent their names and abilities to some guy Scott used to know, promising that they’d get their costumes in a few days. Fritz gave a painstakingly detailed request. Alex told the man to surprise him.

 

“Ninty five, ninty six, ninty seveeeeen – ugh!” Alex collapsed to the floor, his right knee screaming at him for touching the cold floor. “Fritz. Please get off me.”

 

“Come on, don’t you want to be able to fight even while I’m on top of you?” Fritz asked.

 

“Yeah, aren’t you a little old for piggyback rides?”

 

“Aren’t you a little old to be a virgin? Letting me piggyback might be the closest you ever get!”

 

“I’m twenty-one, I’m not over the hill yet. I think. Besides, that’s about as many reps you’ve done.”

“But you still can’t fold yourself in half as well as I can.” Fritz shook his head and clicked his tongue. “For shame, Alex, what would your father think?”

 

“I think,” Alex wheezed, teleporting to his feet a couple yards away and letting Fritz’s butt hit the floor, “He’d be proud that I’m doing something in my off time besides watching the Longhorns, green in the face.”

 

Fritz grunted as he hit the ground, but hopped up just as quickly.

 

“I mean, if that’s what you have to tell yourself, don’t let me stop you.”

 

Alex frowned. He hated when Fritz did that. “Dude, I’m serious,” he said, jotting down ninety-seven push-ups in his notes. “He doesn’t say it, but you know how he’s been since I dropped out of school. I just want him to, you know. Be proud of me.”

 

“You do what you want, Alex,” Fritz said, putting his hands up in front of himself. “But I know that, for me, I had to stop worrying about making my parents happy before I started being happy myself.”

 

“My dad didn’t drag me to synagogue.”

 

“You’re Catholic, Alex. Consider yourself lucky.”

 

“Lucky,” Alex mimicked under his breath. “Yeah, right.”

 

“Guess it says a lot about our luck that we ended up here,” Fritz mused with a shrug. “We’ve been in some weird spots before, but this is really something else, isn’t it?”

 

“You’re telling me,” Alex said, getting on the floor and beginning his crunches. “Superheroes.” He paused. “You believe it? It feels like prank, and Quinn’s gonna say ‘gotcha’ at any moment.”

 

“Well, I know I’d do that, but I dunno about her. But hey, now that we’re here, we might as well make the best of it.”

 

Alex paused again. “You think we can do it?” he asked between breaths. “What do you think Rebecca’s up to, anyways?”

 

“How would I know? She could be looking to build a monument to herself for all the information we have. We need to be looking for more of that, come to think of it.”

 

“Well, maybe we can start with her.” Alex gestured towards the door with his head. “Jessica I mean. She knows her better than any of us.”

 

“You really think she’s gonna want to talk about her mom like that?” Fritz asked, squinting at Alex. “I mean, by all means, you can try.”

 

“Hey, she’s on our side, right? Right?” When Fritz raised an eyebrow, Alex sighed. “She kinda scares me too to be honest.”

 

“Aw, that always happens when you have your first crush.” Fritz slunk up behind Alex and bodily pushed him towards the door with his foot. “Come on, say hello, tell her she’s pretty, ask about her crazyass mom.” Alex got to his feet, whining the whole way, and walked into the next room.

 

The training room was wide and rectangular, stretching about forty yards, Alex estimated – quite impressive for an underground structure in Florida. Air conditioning machines whirred above, blasting air on several areas partitioned off by white painted lines. To his left, on the far end of the room, was an assortment of exercise equipment, as expensive looking as the ones he worked with in college. Along the side of the opposite wall was what appeared to be an arena, complete with a scoreboard, a bell and a rope barrier like boxing leagues would use. To his immediate left was a refreshments table, though nothing was placed on it at the moment. Finally, to his right was a firing range. Jessica was plugging away at her targets, with Quinn listening intently behind her. Oddly enough, neither were wearing headphones. Jessica’s tranq pistol only made a light twiping sound.

 

“Hey, uh, boss,” Alex said to Quinn. “Should we call you that, or…?”

 

Quinn turned from the targets. “Just Quinn is fine, Alex.”

 

“Right. I was almost done with my measurements until Fritz here-” he patted his friend on the shoulder, “-decided he had a few questions he wanted to ask Jay. Isn’t that right, Fritz?”

 

“Sure, Alex, sure,” Fritz said. “So, seeing as you’re related to who we’re going after, we were wondering if you could, I don’t know, tell us a little more about her. What makes her tick, what she might be planning, what we could do to stop it, that kind of stuff.”

 

Jessica unloaded her magazine, letting it hit the floor, and reloaded. She fiddled with her gun for a while before taking aim at a human gel dummy and firing a dart into its neck.

 

“You don’t trust me,” she said as-matter-of-factly.

 

Alex hesitated, looking at Fritz. He saw Quinn turn downrange, which told him she was going to let them handle this themselves. “That’s not what-”

 

“You don’t. Right Fritz?”

 

“Does it even matter?” Fritz asked, shrugging. “We’ve got so little to go off of, I don’t care where a lead comes from.”

 

She plugged a few more darts, grouped closely together, into the dummy’s chest. “I suppose it doesn’t in this situation. Mother might be, hmm, complicated, but if you’ve known her as long as I have then you’d know her actions aren’t adding up. She hates criminals. Despises them. She loathes them beyond any healthy limit.” Alex heard Quinn mumble something in agreement. “So giving them guns? It doesn’t make any sense. I’m not saying it isn’t her, because she tried to get me to help her while we were in jail, so I guess I’m saying she has to have more cards close to her chest. What they are, she didn’t tell me, but if I were her, I’d want them to wipe each other out and leave my hands clean, especially since her lobbying failed.”

 

“Give both sides rocks and push them into beating each other to death. Sounds plausible to me.” Fritz tilted his head at Jessica, blinking twice at her. “Sure seems like her complicatedness might have rubbed off on you.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

Alex shuffled on his feet. This was getting nowhere fast. Did Fritz always have to make things awkward with people?

 

“So,” Alex blurted out without thinking, “you said Rebecca was a good mother, for the most part. What was she like, away from the cape and the guns?”

 

Jessica paused, looking down at the empty magazine in her hands. Briefly she smiled, then sighed, letting it fall into the growing pile. “Either of you boys grow up near downtown?”

 

“Nope,” they said in unison.

 

“There’s a city park there, only a few blocks away from Cerberus headquarters. It’s named after the second American Spirit, Scott C. Pierce, and the city has always done a fairly good job of keeping it safe for residents and tourists. Mom would always take me there every Friday she was in America, letting me romp around and do what little kids do. It was one of the few times in a home-stationed week where she seemed genuinely happy, just being a mother and getting away from the all firefights and formations. But every time we went, she always stopped at the gates and frowned. As I got older, she started coming with me less and less. When I was eleven, I got too old to be playing with the little kids, but I still went in the hopes of spending some time with my mom. But, by then, she’d stopped going completely. I got fed up. I went home on a perfect July afternoon to find her passed out at her desk. I nudged her awake, and she began to cry and mumble incoherently. When she oriented herself enough, she told me she couldn’t walk through those gates anymore. I didn’t understand. What was wrong with Scott? Why wouldn’t she discuss her days as a Maverick? She was a superhero for fuck’s sake, I worshipped her. I kept pushing and eventually she snapped, hurled her glass at the floor, and stormed off when she realized what she’d done. We never talked about that incident again, but you can bet I stopped going to Scott C. Pierce Park.”

 

“Geez,” was all Alex could say to that. What else could he say? He didn’t expect her to sound so – human. Away from all the bluster, was she really just a scared and confused woman, doing what she thought was best? What was driving her to these insane plans? Quinn, for her part, didn’t look like she bought whatever the excuse was. “Sorry about that. And uh, don’t take this the wrong way, but you didn’t have a lot of friends either, did you?”

 

“Yeah, what told you that?”

 

“Lucky guess. Well, we can all become friends over our mommy and daddy issues, right Fritz?”

 

“There’s always room at the pity party!” Fritz chirped. ‘Don’t worry, Jay, it might seem bad now, but give it a few years.”

 

“Hmph. Didn’t like your parents very much?”

 

“Nope,” Fritz said, beaming all the while. “They were a couple of fuddy-duddy Jews and I’m glad we don’t talk anymore.”

 

“And you Alex, your mother left you at a young age, didn’t she?”

 

Alex jumped a little. “How did you-?”

 

“Inductive reasoning.”

 

“I dunno what that means, but yeah. My dad got very mad once and called her a bad word that I won’t repeat here, but I’m sure you can guess what it was.”

 

“I brought it up once and it’s the first and only time I heard Judd say ‘whore’,” Fritz chimed in.

 

Alex sighed. “Yes, thanks, Fritz.”

 

“You’re welcome! Someone has to say the naughty words for you, boy scout.”

 

“You kiss your mother with that mouth? Oh, right, oops,” Jessica said with feigned innocence.

 

“Hey, at least my mom isn’t the supervillain of this story.” Fritz elbowed Alex with a smile. “She likes you already, good job.”

 

Alex raised an eyebrow. Why was he always out of the loop? Were people speaking telepathically behind his back or something? “How do you know?”

 

“Inductive reasoning!” Fritz said, patting Alex on the shoulder.

 

“What does that even mean?!”

 

Once more, Fritz winked at Jessica. “I bet you can explain to him.”

 

Jessica cocked her pistol loudly. “You’re a tech geek, right Friedrich? Wanna see how this thing works?”

 

“Now now children, I’ve let you have your fun,” Quinn said, grinning ear to ear. “God, it’s nice to hear this place full of life again. Speaking of which – Fritz, read me off your physical numbers.”

 

Fritz gave an uncomfortable laugh and made to back off.

 

“Well, you know, I kind of stopped writing things down after the first couple sets, but I think I did pretty alright.”

 

“He’s full of shit,” Jessica said promptly. Quinn echoed Fritz’s laugh.

 

“His heartbeat gave it away. Get your ass in the next room son, I’ll be supervising you this time.”

 

 

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Mavericks V1 C5 Thankless Bureaucrats

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All was quiet as an armored convoy of sleek black SUVs rolled through the streets of Downtown Blackburn. Everyone kept their eyes to themselves, exchanging no more than a few curious or fearful words over the chorus of crunching gravel. What was Cerberus doing here? Were they on patrol? Were they looking for someone? Who was in the crosshairs of the Phantasm now?

 

In the passenger’s seat of the central vehicle was Rebecca, disquietly spinning her Cerberus ID card in her fingers. Jones had set up the meeting with the mayor, the city council and the police chief, her final attempt to save Blackburn without chaotic bloodshed. She replayed her pitch to the council over and over again in her mind, but ever present were the snorts and the giggles of people who saw her as a joke.

 

She frowned as she ran her thumb over her plastic photograph. For the most part she looked excellent for a woman of forty-six, but her eyes had remained unchanged since her youth – icy, cold and betraying the inferno beneath ready to melt through at any moment. Had she gotten nowhere after all these years, privatizing peace?

 

No, best not to think those thoughts. If Quinn was right about one thing, it was that the battle was never ending. They would all understand sooner or later. All she needed was a little patience.

 

She watched the streets go by: Pinecrest, Gadsden, Tokacha. People came and went over the years, but the city’s character was the same as always: apathetic, cowardly and stupid. Always needing a strong hand to set them straight. It still needed her. She clipped her ID card back onto her lanyard.

 

“Jones, pull over to the curb there.”

 

The SUV parked in front of two small stores. Between them was an alleyway, the arteries of the underworld, where three hoodlums huddled in the shade. The one in the rear wiggled a blue inhaler in the air.

 

“Don’t shake it, you heard the boss. You’re only supposed to take it out if you need it,” grumbled one of his buddies. “You want her to drop the hammer like she did on Ralph?”

 

Waving a hand, the thug conjured a miniscule ball of blue fire in his free hand. “I just wanna test it, y’know? It’s almost like she made it for me. ‘Sides, we’re deep in the middle of her turf, you think we’ll actually need to use it? Just one hit, you can’t tell the difference…”

 

“Nick, I swear to God, if you take that hit, I’m gonna report the shit out of you,” snapped the last member, a pudgy woman with thick glasses and a newsboy hat. “Even if Francis doesn’t work up the balls, I will, and you know it.”

 

“You know, a goddamn narc is what you are, Heather,” Nick lamented, putting the inhaler away.

 

“You.” Nick turned to see Rebecca standing at the end of the alley, pointing at him. Her stance was relaxed, but she knew they could see the frigid intensity in her eyes. “Toss me the inhaler, now.”

 

The man put his hand in the pouch on his ammo vest as if he were going to comply, then gave Rebecca the finger. “Sorry, toots, fresh out of samples. I got something else I can put in your mouth though.”

 

Rebecca rolled her eyes. Men. “I don’t have time for this,” she hissed, whisking out her handgun and plugging a round in Ralph and Heather’s legs. “I said give me the fucking inhaler before I put one between your eyes, kid.”

 

Flinching in shock, Nick leapt to his feet. “Jesus, what the hell is wrong with you?!”

 

“Dammit, Nick, just give it to her!” Heather screamed at him, clutching her leg as tears of pain streamed down her face. The man fumbled with his vest, tossing the device at Rebecca without even bothering to check if it was an accurate throw. He was too busy tending to his bleeding comrades. Rebecca caught it deftly, examining it without taking her aim off Nick. The clear plexiglass container held a thick blue fog inside which tumbled around within as if it were a liquid. Whatever the drug was, it was clearly made by a professional, nothing like the mass-produced garbage she’d seen in Mexico or Afghanistan.

 

“This drug, it’s from Mouse, isn’t it? What’s it do?”

 

“F-fuck, man, you shot ‘em! What the fuck is wrong with you?”

 

“It makes anomalies stronger!” Heather supplied, punching Nick in the sternum.

 

“How much is on the streets already? Where’s it going? Why’d she wait until now to make a drug of this caliber?”

 

“You think Mouse tells us that crap? Right now it’s just a beta drug, she’s not sellin’ it to no one yet, but every anomaly in her employ has it.  We don’t know why she made it, man. No one knows why she does half the shit she does. I guess she’s gearing up for something, fuck, I dunno!”

 

“Hmph.” Rebecca pocketed the inhaler then holstered her gun. “If I was you, I’d gear up for a move out of the city. Jones, call the cops. I had to do their job again…”

 

***

 

The lights in the main chamber of City Hall had been dimmed, so that you could scarcely see the high ceiling, save for the bright white lights that hung over the table in the middle of the room. At that long, ornate table sat the city council, quietly drilling one another on their list of demands and dabbing the sweat from their foreheads. On one end of the table sat Gilda, staring down at her folded hands. She was an older, short woman, with dark skin and a strong, stocky build. Her mass of dark hair was streaked with too much gray, tied back into a bushy ponytail. Her eyes were grim. She was dead silent, but her thoughts were racing. The chair on the other end of the table sat empty, waiting to receive Mayor Montana.  Gilda’s eyes drifted up when the mayor came storming into the room, fidgeting with his tie, flanked by his assistant.

 

“Sir, the Russian and Chinese immigrants might be willing to brave this city for the real estate values, but investors are running scared. Our corporate tax base is falling apart. When the crime rate has hardly changed in sixty years, people start to think Blackburn is a lost cause.”

 

“Bah!” The mayor waved his hand as he ambled towards the table. “I’ve been hearing doomsday predictions about this town for as long as I’ve been alive, son. Economies change with the times. New Orleans has gotten by on tourism, so as long as we keep up the city’s image, folks will spend their money here. Besides, that’s what we’re here for, right? Olympic City is old news.” He snapped his fingers. “Fletcher! Tell my assistant here you’ve got things under control.”

 

“To the best of our limited ability, yes,” said Gilda, leaving out the ugly details.

 

Bang!

 

The doors to the hall were thrown open with great force, and Gilda turned to see Rebecca looming in front of the entrance, the outside sun stretching her shadow across the floor. In silence she made her way to her designated seat and pulled it out, but remained standing, arms folded as she looked at the mayor.

 

“Sorry I’m late sir, there was just a little mess I had to clean up,” she announced, shooting a caustic look at Gilda from the corner of her eye. “I’ll make my point brief: Blackburn is out of control. We have gangsters roaming the alleys like wild dogs, drugs are seeping through every orifice, and you have street racers flying down our streets at a hundred miles an hour. It’s rotting, and I’ve learned over the years that picking off maggots isn’t going to save it. It needs radical treatment that so-called ‘superheroes’ can’t provide.” She gestured towards Gilda, who bit her tongue. “And neither can the police – at the moment. Mister Montana, I run the largest private security firm on the planet, and it’s headquartered just a few city blocks from here. My men are highly trained and equipped with the best gear this country manufacturers. It eats away at me that I can’t give back to this city like I used to. Contract Cerberus to operate the BPD and I guarantee you people like Mouse-” she retrieved the drug inhaler for all to see. “Won’t be a problem anymore.”

 

“You’re proposing we hinge the security of Blackburn on a business venture?” Gilda said, shooting Rebecca a very skeptical look. “I know we’re in dire straits, people, but can we really in good conscience put the security of our citizens in the hands of a private interest?”

 

The mayor huffed, drumming his fingers against the table. “Ms. Napier, I’m sure you realize how unorthodox-”

 

“Most of my men are former military, sir, or former cops. I’m a Desert Storm vet myself. We’re not talking about foreign troops here.”

 

The mayor furrowed his brows. “How unorthodox this would appear to the public. I’m sure your men are well trained, but so are the Navy SEALs and you don’t see them patrolling American suburbs.”

 

This city is unorthodox,” Rebecca countered, grinding her teeth between sentences. “Dire straits doesn’t even begin to describe it. This city is toxic to anyone except those too poor to leave or too rich to care. The middle class is shrinking, sir, and they won’t come back until they feel safe again.”

 

“To put our citizens at the mercy of a mercenary group would not just be unorthodox, it would also be unethical,” Gilda said, hardly believing her ears. “I can’t deny that Blackburn has a very serious crime problem, but frankly, I’m not convinced you’re interested in getting Cerberus involved for any reason other than personal gain.”

 

“This city’s well being is my personal gain. What would be unethical is you rejecting the silver bullet I’m offering. How would the people of Blackburn feel if, God forbid, there was another gang war, they lost their sons and daughters and found out you could’ve stopped it?”

 

“Napier, you know exactly what I meant by ‘personal gain,’ so don’t even try it.”

 

Rebecca slammed a fist on the table. A few of the newer council members jumped. “Don’t you dare lecture me, Fletcher!

 

“Ms. Napier, that is enough,” boomed the mayor. “I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I say I’m thankful for your long service to this city, but your proposal will be voted on without any further outbursts.” He pointed at both Rebecca and Gilda. “Ladies, please leave.”

 

The council members turned to one another and began to whisper. As Gilda got up from her seat, she noticed Rebecca’s fingers twitch before the mercenary left the way she came.

 

Gilda passed the time in an adjacent hallway, shooting texts Quinn’s way rapid fire. Even blind and forced to listen to them audibly, Quinn was responding with what Gilda swore was becoming a certifiable novel. Her sister was terrified of the council accepting Rebecca’s offer, and, now that she was alone with herself, Gilda had to admit the idea frightened her too. She technically wouldn’t lose her job if they did, but with that maniac arming, training and preaching to her officers, it would be tantamount to termination. And if her mind had slipped as much as she was suspecting it had, perhaps not just of her job.

 

No, no, she wasn’t supposed to be doing this to herself. Remember what the doctor said about your blood pressure, Gilda… Sighing, she glanced at her phone again.

 

<Sis: they voted yet? she wig out on them?>

 

Gilda snorted as she tapped away.

 

<Unfortunately, not enough to cancel the vote. There’s no way they’d actually listen to her. Right?>

 

<Sis: oh god cut it out youre going to send me into cardiac arrest. im changing the subject. the kids are suprisingly receptive, even the little napier. relatively speaking. i dont trust her, but i dont dont trust her, ya know? cant quite put my fingr on it but going with my gut on this one.>

 

<Please, just don’t get shot, okay?>

 

<Sis: yeah, no promises>

 

Gilda hesitated before deciding to poke the elephant in the room.

 

<So… How are you holding up? I know it must be rough going back after you know what.>

 

<Sis: it hurts, but i keep telling myself its what scott would want. i hope hed be proud.>

 

<He would. They’re calling me back in, I’ll text you shortly.>

 

<Sis: fuck>

 

Gilda shuffled back into the meeting room, holding her breath. Rebecca stood like a stone at the end of the table, refusing to look anywhere in Gilda’s direction. The council members turned to the mayor, who stroked his chin for a few seconds.

 

“Ms. Napier, after careful consideration, the city council has rejected your offer by a vote of six to three.”

 

Thank God.

 

“We appreciate your concern for the safety of Blackburn, but having a PMC operate our police force is bad optics that we can’t afford with the current state of the economy. This meeting is dismissed.”

 

Rebecca deflated like a balloon. Her back drooped and her arms sunk several inches closer to the ground. All that fire, all that anger vanished like the expression on her face. Gilda braced herself for an outburst, but nothing ever came. Instead, Rebecca uttered a quick apology for the inconvenience and left quietly.  

 

 

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