Mavericks V1 C4 The Golden Age

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

 

Quinn heard Gilda coming before she reached the door of her apartment. She’d recognized her footsteps three floors down, and now she could hear her just outside. But she waited for her to do their special knock, just in case – twice slow, three times fast. She opened the door and ushered her in, quickly closing the door behind her. She smelled like the grit and sweat of a hard day’s work – harder than usual, by her estimation – and whatever was left of her deodorant. “Hey, curly top,” said Quinn. “What’s the scoop? How was work?”

 

“Work was… something. I got a scoop for you, that’s for sure.”

 

Gilda helped herself to one of the two stools by the island in Quinn’s kitchen. Gilda was her only visitor, so her apartment had accommodations just enough for the two of them.

 

Quinn poured two mugs of coffee and sat down beside her. “No kidding? I heard a couple of Cerberus agents got caught stealing intel. Talk of the town. Got anything to do with that?”

 

“Oh, yeah. That isn’t the half of it, though.”

 

“Spill.”

 

“There was a girl there, too, right? She’s been a little thorn in our ass for a while. We get calls about her all the time, don’t really know who she’s affiliated with. But we think she was trying to help those two escape. She took out three merc vehicles before we caught her. And she must have been on something, right, because she was crazy strong. We stick her in jail, and the next thing we know, she’s beating up inmates left and right. It took the whole damn cell block to subdue her. They have her in protective custody, but they really don’t know what to do with her.”

 

Quinn nodded along to her sister’s story, but her head was somewhere else – at least partially. “No kidding. That’s, uh… that’s something else,” she said, running her finger along the rim of her coffee mug. “Uh, Gil, weird question, but this perp… she didn’t happen to have red hair, did she?”

 

The question caught Gilda off guard, just like Quinn knew it would – in part because Quinn was blind, so she didn’t know what “red” was, in a practical sense, but also because the question wasn’t at all out of left field, and she had to wonder how she hadn’t seen it herself. “Oh. Yeah, she did. Should’ve thought of that.”

 

Quinn just nodded in agreement. There was a pregnant pause. “So, uh, Gilda, you don’t think we could – y’know…”

 

“Go and see her?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I mean, sure, but… why? Even if she is who you think she is, what are you gonna do about it?”

 

“I don’t know. I’d just like to see her.”

 

“Yeah, uh-huh, sure.”

 

“Really.”

 

“Really really. Well, I can pull some strings, Quinn, but don’t you do anything stupid, alright?”

 

Quinn laughed. “Yeah, sure. Thanks, Gil.”

 

Gilda finished her coffee. Quinn left half a mug go cold in their absence.

 

***

 

“She’s the third cell down, right here -” said Gilda, starting to lead her down a dank stone hallway lined with cells. All around her, Quinn could hear inmates going about their day – spitting, cussing, snoring, hollering, and one was crying, she thought.

 

Quinn touched Gilda’s shoulder before she could go any farther. “Hey, thanks for getting me this far, Chief, but, uh…”

 

“You wanna talk to her alone, huh?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Well, alright, then, I guess I’ll go be chopped liver somewhere else.” They shared a laugh, and Gilda turned and left for the lobby.

 

Quinn felt along the bars of the cells, fingers brushing calloused, dirty fingers, but the inmates didn’t try anything. She was the police chief’s sister, after all. She stopped at the third cell and clicked her tongue through the bars of the cell. She could make out the figure of a young woman sitting stark still on the bottom bunk, watching her with – apprehension? Hostility? She couldn’t tell. Faces were hard to make out. But she could hear her breathing, shifting, and already, she seemed too familiar in a way that pained her. “Hey, there,” she said. “You sound awfully familiar, Jane Doe. Do you know who I am?”

 

“No.” The woman seemed to be doing something with her head – tilting it? She had to admit, she was a strange specimen. Her eyes were entirely white and sightless, not clouded like cataracts, but pure, milky white. She was tall and dark-skinned, and she looked well-muscled for fifty, with curly hair buzzed close to her head. “Should I?”

 

“No. No, you don’t know me. I just thought your mother might have told you about me. But then, that’s a touchy subject…” she said, running a finger up and down a prison bar. “You are hers, aren’t you? I’d know that voice anywhere. That’s her voice.”

 

The woman stirred from her bunk, approaching the cell door slowly. “Yeah? Whose?”

 

She listened hard. A few of the inmates were whispering about them. She lowered her voice. “Rebecca’s. Right?” She clicked her tongue, and the details of the daughter’s face came into focus. “You’re a spitting image, as far as I can tell, and your voice – she sounded just like you when she was your age.”

 

The girl jerked back. “Shhhhhh! For the love of God, be quiet! How do you know if you’re blind? Just – just who the hell are you?”

 

A swell of whispers flooded Quinn’s senses. “I’m Quinn Fletcher. She was my pupil before she created Cerberus.”

 

The silence was taut. Rebecca’s daughter let go of the bars, and Quinn could make out her features contorting.

 

“Hmph. So I see,” she said, her voice nowhere near as strong as she probably thought it did. “So you’re that pathetic excuse for a ‘hero’ that let this city down. That let me down. Look where your childish nonsense has gotten all of us. Get out of here.”

 

The smile fell from Quinn’s face. Her hands twitched and turned into fists, her nails digging into her palms. But she let go. “You know less than you think you know, Jessica. I’ll see myself out. But I’d like to take you with me.”

 

The woman returned to her bunk. When she heard Quinn’s offer, she snorted, then turned to the wall.

 

“Why? Can’t I just be left alone for once?”

 

“Well, call me presumptuous, but it sounds you think you could do better. And hey, I don’t think you’re wrong. But if you wanna put your money where your mouth is, you’re going to have to leave this cell.”

 

Rebecca’s daughter rolled onto her back. “So let me get this straight. You were fed a bunch of idealist claptrap from Scott and when you tried to emulate him with my mother, you failed because things aren’t so black and white and the root of evil goes deeper than neurotic freaks running around in silly costumes. Now you see how the existential crisis has broken my mother and think you can make up for it by doing better with me. Is that right?”

 

Quinn felt a pang in her heart at the mention of Scott’s name. “I don’t need to prove anything, girl, to myself or you. I may have failed to accomplish what Scott trained me to do, but he never told me why I would serve as a Maverick. I decided that for myself. I did it because I believed in this city, and I’m proud of that. You got something to be proud of? What’ve you been doing for the last twenty years or so? Would you do it differently if I gave you a chance?”

 

She could’ve sworn that it was the girl’s heart that now skipped a beat. “Staring at jail walls,” She muttered. “That’s what my life’s been. I never asked for any of this, and you’re damn right I’d do it all over again if I could, but…”

 

She groaned, and with a grunt, sat facing the door. “I’m sorry. I was just made this way, I guess. Mother turns people into pessimists.”

 

“No joke,” replied Quinn. “I’m worried for Blackburn. Many of the cops are in her pocket – not Gilda, of course, but she can’t take her on her own. Now, I don’t have the Mavericks anymore. They’re long gone. But I have what they left behind. I can show you,” she said, her words heavy with implication. “And you can make up your own mind.”

 

“I see what they left behind in the mirror everyday,” The woman retorted. “And you should be worried. You don’t know the real reason I’m in here, do you?” Quinn shook her head. “Two Cerberus operatives got their fingers into mom’s private server. She’s been delivering arms to the major crime bosses. Military grade firepower. Lady, whoever you are, if you want any chance at stopping whatever he’s got planned, get me out of here yesterday… And the soldiers too. They’re in the men’s wing, I believe their names were Alex and Fritz.” The woman paused, tapping the wood with what looked like a bemused expression. “I’m sure you’ll know Alex when you see him. Guy’s a dweeb…”

 

“I’ll see if I can’t post bail. Any enemy of Cerberus is a friend of mine,” said Quinn, picking herself up to leave. “And thanks for the poetry hon, but just so you know, by ‘what they left behind,’ I mean a giant bunker with lots of weapons.”

 

***

 

“So who is Gilda anyway? And what’s this bunker about? What’s in it exactly? Who left it? Why’d you invite us? What does any of this have to do with Cerberus?”

 

“You ask a lot of questions. Gilda’s my sister. But you probably know her as Chief Fletcher. This bunker used to belong to the Mavericks before – y’know. They all passed away. Except for me, of course. It’s got a lot of stuff in it – useful to those who know how to use it, but I was the only one left who did, and I was powerless on my own, so I sealed it all away. Cerberus is a long story. Oh, and I brought you and Alex because Jessica told me to.”

 

“Oh.” Fritz turned to Jessica, his brow furrowing. “Why would you want us around?”

 

“To make sure you’re not a triple agent,” she said, watching the forsaken industrial center of Olympic City come into view over the horizon of the Crane Bridge. They had passed through the sleek streets of Midtown to get here, away from the prying eyes of citizens and nosy tourists. If one wanted to get away with less-than-legal activities in Blackburn, this was the best district to do it in. “And please, keep your eyes on the road. I’d rather not end up at the bottom of the river with those who’ve pissed off Mouse.”

 

“You know, I think that’s sassy young lady speak for ‘I need some new friends’,” Alex remarked. “Am I right, Jay?”

 

“Sure, let’s go with that.”

 

“Alex, that’s not how you flirt,” Fritz groaned. “I mean, jeez, what kinda generic pet name is that?”

 

“Tch, shut up.” Alex kicked the back of Fritz’s seat. “Ignore this guy, his mind never leaves the gutter. He thinks it’s acceptable to try for home base on the first date.”

 

“Hey, it works three times out of five!” Fritz bit back. “You have all the advantages in the looks department. Chicks hate short dudes and love a good tan, and I still get more of them than you.”

 

“Yeah? Did you get the number of any cute cops while they were hauling us around jail?”

 

“Hey, that Jeff guy didn’t look half bad,” Fritz said, batting his eyelashes at nothing in particular. “Maybe he’d bat for you, might be more your speed.”

 

“Everyone’s horny and bisexual in your world,” Alex muttered.

 

“So, Jessica,” Fritz said, veering off the topic at hand. “You never answered my question last time: who the hell are you anyway? What were you doing picking us up in that fancy ride?”

 

“Oh, geez.” She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I wasn’t lying when I said it’s complicated, okay? You know Rebecca Napier, right?”

 

“Ah, so you are her daughter,” Fritz said. “Wasn’t she, like, an old superhero or something back in the day? I mean, I know she’s the CEO of Cerberus now.”

 

“Yeah. Yeah. And you know how she switched jobs? She went nuts and killed the other Mavericks when they found out about her nasty doings and tried bringing her in.” Quinn twitched in her seat, and she paused for a moment, apprehensive. “She betrayed everything she stood for in the name of ‘the greater good’. She grew tired of seeing the same people cycle in and out of  jail, thought she could clean up the world by handling things a little more… permanently. Judging by how she operates on foreign soil, if it were up to her, she’d turn Blackburn into her own personal police state.”

 

“Jeez, sounds like she’s uptight. So is that why you left?” Fritz asked.

 

“No, I left because she taught me how to use a gun when I was six.”

 

“Huh,” was all Fritz could say to that. “Yeah, I can see why you might take issue with her.”

 

“Oh my God, six?” Alex shook his head. “And something tells me it wasn’t about responsible gun ownership.”

 

“Yeah, what clued you in, the supervillain lair, the evil scheme or all the extra legal murders? No, she raised me from birth to be a soldier, to continue her legacy once she got too old.”

 

Shocked flickered across Alex’s face before he continued. “That’s terrible! Didn’t your father ever step in?”

 

Jessica snorted, leaning on the car door and resting her head on one finger. “What father?”

 

Alex blinked. “I – beg your pardon?”

 

“Well, you guys have made several comments that I look exactly like her. I imagine that I would, given that I’m her clone. I was created by the same insane doctor who created Mouse. As soon as I could hold a gun my mother was drilling everything into my head: weaponry, CQC, stealth, tracking, survivor skills, the whole nine yards. When we didn’t have body armor on she tried to be a good mother, she really did, but, she’s so myopic, so zeroed in. And sometimes, so wasted…”

 

“She didn’t even give you a father?” Alex seemed to shoot a dirty look across the city. “I’m sorry, I know that sucks.”

 

Logically, she shouldn’t have been surprised at basic sympathy, but she was. Unsure how to handle it, she muttered a quick “Thanks”.

 

Quinn took a pained breath, like there was something sharp in her lungs. “Yeah,” she remarked. “That sounds like Rebecca. I think we’re here, Fritz, stop the car.”

 

“What? There’re hardly even any buildings around.”

 

“McCamey Road, right?”

 

Fritz glanced at the nearest road sign. “Yeah.”

 

“This is it. Pull over.”

 

Fritz did as she asked and veered to the shoulder. Quinn climbed out without assistance, and Jessica followed suit. The group hopped over the ditch and started into the edge of a forest. Quinn was clicking her tongue rapidly, feeling her way along  boulders, big trees, and pieces of ruin. Echolocation. That explains it. A few times Quinn stumbled, but she picked herself up and carried on, and it happened less and less often the further they went. After about ten minutes of walking, they reached the base of a big hill, and Quinn stopped. She ran her hand up and down a particular tree. Her tongue stopped clicking. She felt her way over to a short cliff face and reached into a cleft between two rocks. It looked shallow, but to Jessica’s surprise, she kept reaching further until she was up to her shoulder in it. She grabbed onto something and pulled hard.

 

A much larger boulder began to move, grinding across the forest floor just enough to reveal a metal door with a keypad. Quinn felt it with her fingers, then began to punch in a long code. There was the metallic sound of a lock disengaging. “It’s down here,” she said, pushing open the door and starting down a long flight of stairs that smelled of dust and abandon.

 

The room at the bottom was so pitch black, Jessica could only see a few feet in front of her, but Quinn ventured into the darkness without hesitation. She couldn’t see her, but she could hear her laughing. “Isn’t this place great?” Quinn said, her voice echoing three times over in what must have been a massive room. Everyone was silent. “Oh.”

 

She clapped twice. Unseen lights flickered, then lit up the bunker.  

 

It was massive, a great, high-ceilinged box of stone with banners the size of banquet tablecloths hanging from the ceiling. A long meeting table sat in the middle of the room. A few of the chairs were staggered and out of place, exactly where the late Mavericks had left them when they’d left in a hurry and never came back. Several passageways branched off the main chamber. There was a big TV screen on the wall behind the head of the table, and to the right was a wall of brass plaques engraved with the names of every Maverick that had ever been, starting with the first American Spirit, all the way down to the seven shiniest and newest plaques, whose years of death were all 1997 – all except the newest one. The space where Quinn’s year of death should have been was still blank.

 

“There we are,” said Quinn, running her hand along the table. “So. Isn’t it great?

 

Great? Very, but perhaps not in the way that Quinn had meant. Jessica walked slowly towards the plaques, tracing her fingers over the names of the fallen. Jose Santiago, aka Golden Thunder. Gary Jackson, aka Crash. Anastasia Tokarev, aka Plague. Scott Pierce, aka American Spirit II. She slouched under the weight of it all.

 

“Mother… she gave up all these people for Cerberus? All these friends?”

 

She followed the names through the decades, all the way back to Kyle Pierce, who died young in 1945. Eighty years of history led to a door nearby. It took a hard shove to open, and she was greeted with a particularly musty odor. A series of locked crates ran along the walls, each under an acrylic glass display case. Inside, looking like they hadn’t aged a day, were the old costumes of the deceased Mavericks, immortalized in a gallery of Blackburn’s colorful past. The shadow of the Phantasm loomed at room’s end: a deep purple polyester bodysuit with pieces of sleek black body armor sewn on. Combat boots, knee pads, shoulder pads, goggles, a double-layered balaclava with a ‘mouth’ made of purple holes, and a tattered, hooded cape.

 

“Well, at least she used to have style…”

 

“She did,” came a voice from behind. Quinn had appeared in the room while Jessica wasn’t looking. She made her way over to a door at the far end of that long, long room. “It was practical, too. I was proud of her design choices.” She opened the door to what appeared to be a custodial closet full of used-up Windex bottles. Two big, long crates stood up against the wall, looming over a smaller one. Quinn took a hammer from the wall and began to pry away the nails from the small crate.

 

“I was the last person in this bunker. Stopped back one last time after the ambush to put my friends in the hall of fame where they belonged. I couldn’t bring myself to put my suit under glass. Hadn’t earned my spot. So I stuck it in here.” The last nail came loose, and she pried the lid off. Inside was a folded mass of brown material. She grabbed it by the shoulders and held it up. It was the suit of Chiroptera, Jessica recalled, a little dusty and creased in a few places, but no worse for wear than the last time Quinn had been seen in public under that name. It was a simple suit, compared to the others, of some brown, skintight material, with hard pads upholstered in leather and bits of metal and machinery near the joints that enhanced her strength and guided her in flight.

 

“I guess I’m glad I did. The wings are in the boxes, but those are a bitch to assemble. I always had to do it in the main hall, there’s so much stuff… Her suit’s yours, if you want it.”

 

But Jessica had already found the buttons beneath the display, and the glass retreated into the ceiling. She rolled the Phantasm mask between her fingers, felt its breathing fabric melt into her skin. Thoughtlessly she slipped it onto her face and let the old thing speak to her. No, it wasn’t a mask. It peeled back the layers of her ego, laying bare the wriggling black shadows of her id. The little angels and demons whispered ancient things, speaking to her soul. Looking through its lenses was like looking at the world for the first time, wiped clean of any pretenses.

 

The weight was too much. Jessica clawed it off her head, letting it fall to the ground in a heap.

 

“Look, th-there’s no way I can be a Maverick,” she said breathlessly. “I’m no hero. I’m- I’m fucked in the head, Quinn. You have no idea.”

 

Quinn just glanced at the pile of fabric on the ground, then to her, face in turmoil. “I’m sure you are.” She came over and crouched to pick up Phantasm’s mask. She felt the fabric in her hands, ran her fingers through the holes. “But believe me, Jessica, I know what a Maverick looks like, and I wouldn’t have brought you here if I didn’t think you could handle it.” She offered her the mask. “The cape can come later. We can start here, if you’re ready.”

 

Jessica held the mask in her fist. She didn’t have much of a choice, did she? Whatever her mother was planning, she wouldn’t stop. Not until she lined the streets with the piked heads of everyone she deemed a criminal. The cops wouldn’t stop her, the government wouldn’t stop her, the people of Blackburn didn’t even know  to stop her. It was up to her. Her against an army.

 

Great, Jessica Napier, year of death, 2017.

 

“Alright,” she said softly. “You win.”

 

Quinn smiled. “I always do.”

 

***

 

The recruits gathered in the main hall, sat down at the long meeting table. The chair at the head of the table was bigger, with a high back and leather pads. It was made for the leader of the Mavericks. Quinn wondered if she should sit there. She wouldn’t have dared way back in the day, when she was a new recruit, still getting left behind on more dangerous missions, all alone in the bunker where no one would ever know if she decided to try out Scott’s chair. No one had ever even told her that she wasn’t allowed to sit there, but she decided not to anyway.

 

Was she the leader of the Mavericks now? She didn’t know. But she was still half convinced that if she sat in Scott’s chair, she’d be struck by lightning, so she stood beside it as she addressed the new recruits.

 

“I hope you’re all honored to be here. The Mavericks have been serving the city of Blackburn for over eighty years now. As a superhero organization, we are presumed defunct following the loss of our entire team, save for myself. But I am not the Mavericks’ future. You are. So if you would, tell me why you’re here.”

 

“I’m here because I thought there’d be free food,” Fritz called out. “We were lied to!”

 

“Ha ha,” Alex snapped back, rolling his eyes. “The last thing you need is more free food. The reason we’re here is that there’s a crazy lady out there who hates criminals but is giving them guns for some reason and the cops can’t do anything about it so you brought us here instead.” Alex looked around the table, frowning. “Three stupid kids. I don’t mean to be rude, but uh, what do you honestly expect us to do?”

 

“I started out as a stupid kid. Most of us did.” Quinn said. “But you’re more than capable of making your own decisions. I can give you all of the equipment and training you need to become fully fledged superheroes. But first, you need to decide for yourself whether you’re willing to put your lives on the line. That’s all I expect of you for now.”

 

“Well, I’ve already embarrassed myself and spilled my guts on the floor, so I really have no choice here,” Jessica chimed in, leaning back in her seat. Alex glanced briefly at her, fingers tapping the table rhymically.

 

“Uh, I mean, I guess? I, um, it’s just – I’m just a guy. She’s a super soldier raised by mercenaries and you were trained by Uncle Sam himself. Anomaly or no, I couldn’t even finish college because of a football injury. I dunno if I’m the guy you’re looking for Quinn.”

 

“Are you nuts?” Fritz piped up again. “Don’t listen to this idiot, he’s got all the gall he needs to fight this crap. Absolutely no sense of self-preservation, determined as hell, too pure for his own good. I know I’d trust him to save a city.”

 

“Gall is exactly what you’re looking for. If it took book smarts to be a Maverick, we’d be much fewer and further between. Do you have any idea how expensive books in braille are? So long as you’re brave enough to say yes, I can make a superhero out of you – no second rate vigilante, either, so put the thought out of your mind.”

 

“Alright.” Alex took a deep breath, then nodded his head. “Alright, but I better get a knee brace. So, what’s the first drill coach? Or do we have to get a snazzy code name and spiffy costume first?”

 

“That can come later. First, there’s something I want you guys to know about your training before we begin. I’m not going to force you three into ill-fitting molds. That is to say, rather than starting from the ground up, we’ll be building on the fighting styles you’ve already begun to nurture,” she said. “So tell me, how do you guys go about fighting?”

 

“Uh.” Alex sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. “I just use my powers, really. I’m so big I can just plow people over with a shield. Or I’ll just wrap ‘em up.”

 

“Don’t get hit, that’s my philosophy,” Fritz said. “Unlike my brute of a friend here, I’m not running towards a wall of muscle. I’ll blind him first thing and go for the legs. Or maybe I’ll just skate around for a while and get him to run until he’s tired. I’m sure not gonna win a head-on fight.”

 

Jessica, who now had her shoes crossed on the table, raised an eyebrow when the others turned to her. “What? I already told you. Trust me, hand me some quiet boots and a silenced gun and I’ll take out a dozen men for you.”

 

Quinn stiffened abruptly. If she weren’t blind, she would have almost certainly made eye contact with Jessica. “Interesting. Before we go any further, I’d like you all to know that the Mavericks have a strict policy against the taking of lives. Are we understood?”

 

“No complaints here,” Alex said with a hint of relief.

 

Jessica paused for a few moments before asking “Hmph. Well big boy here has his powers, but how am I supposed to take on more than a few foes without a gun? Ask them nicely to stop?”

 

“You won’t. Not until you’ve learned to neutralize them without using lethal force. Which brings me to my next point. As superheroes, our first duty is to protect. It’s not our place to decide where justice needs serving. You all seem to understand the concept of being a superhero – we put on our masks and go by aliases to protect our identities, we protect the innocent in our city, we beat the bad guys, and we look good doing it. That’s the fun part. It comes at a price.”

 

“Price?” Fritz echoed. “I don’t usually like prices, but what kinda price?”

 

“We train hard, we know our place, and if need be, we die in the line of duty. I’d say it’s as simple as that, but it’s not. It’s a whole mess of tough decisions. How far would you go to protect an innocent civilian? Who’s worthy of being saved? What’s worth dying for? It’s okay if you’re not ready to make those kinds of choices yet. We’ll get there, but we had better get there fast. Time is short, and you’ll be out in active combat much sooner than I’d like. As for Blackburn,” Quinn said, turning to face the wall of names engraved in shining bronze. “This city’s in for a surprise.”

 

 

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

Advertisements

Mavericks V1 C3 Evil Angel

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

 

Shouting his list of contacts at the cops was getting them all nowhere fast, Fritz realized as they cruised along in the squad car. People just didn’t have any respect anymore. Fritz, though, would be caught dead giving up that easily.

 

“Okay, guys, maybe I won’t call the ADL, but you gotta hear me out,” he kept on, speaking a little too fast. “We found some serious shit on a private Cerberus server, stuff that could implicate them in gang affairs. You don’t really want to be arresting us when we’ve got vital proof, do you? Help a poor boy out.”

 

“You know the mercs picked your pocket, don’t you?” questioned the detective who had the megaphone, whittling away at a game of Tetris on his cell. Cardozo, he thought the nametag said.

 

“And why do you think they did that, huh? They wanted my pack of gum?”

 

“Listen kid, I believe you. I don’t like Cerberus any more than you do, bunch of slimy, sleazy, lying, corporate rent-a-cop bastards.”

 

Cardozo caught himself messing up his tower. With a laugh, he adjusted his collar. “Sorry. I take my job security pretty seriously. I’m a second-generation cubano – my mom moved to Blackburn when she was just a girl. My grandpa owned a deli in Camagüey, real salt-of-the-earth kinda guy by all accounts. Loved his family, went to church, I bet you see ‘em all around this city. Wouldn’t harm a fly. Had a rival though, Luis, big green-eyed monster. Well Luis had a lot of connections to the communists. When Castro and his thugs came into power, they ran the capitalists into the Gulf, or his prisons. Luis framed my grandfather as an American collaborator and an imperialist pig. Mind you, he had only a meat shop to his name! So the DGI hauled him off to one of Castro’s gulags.”

 

Fritz noticed Alex and Jessica looking like they had exited their skulls. Cardozo hurried himself along. “Look the point is, there’s a lot of people out there who want what’s not theirs, and they don’t care who they have to step on to get it. They have no respect for democracy, or the law. I mean, what’s the difference between that freak Rebecca lobbying government officials for special treatment and the communists? She should be in the ground with Castro.”

 

The longer Cardozo talked, the more Fritz’s own eyes glazed over. He understood the gist at least – the cop didn’t like Cerberus either and had some problems with them – but did he have to go on so long about it?

 

“Uh. That’s great and all, but does that mean you’ll help us or not?”

 

“What, just let you out?” Cardozo laughed. “No, son. But I can tell you to really use that lawyer of yours. With what’s going on at city hall, any controversy that can be lobbed Cerberus’ way will help.”

 

“What’s going on at city hall?” Fritz asked, leaning forward. “Rebecca been doing anything else lately?”

 

“You mean you don’t know?” Cardozo allowed air to escape between his teeth, grimacing slightly. “Rebecca’s lobbying the city to enter into a contract to run its policing operations. Turn BPD into a subsidiary of Cerberus.”

 

“What?!” Now stirred from her stupor, Jessica nearly had her face pressed against the glass. “There’s no way she could do that! How do you know this?”

 

Cardozo turned around slowly, looking Jessica up and down. “Hey, Jeff?”

 

“Yeah, Dallas?” Jeff said, not turning his eyes from the road.

 

“Are we both stupid and haven’t noticed that this kid looks just like the crazy lady we were just talking about?”

 

“Well, you do call me-” Jeff took a glance in the rearview mirror and did a double take. “Whoa, you’re right!”

 

Dallas jerked a thumb at her, turning back to Fritz. “Wanna tell us who your friend is?”

 

“Hey, she ain’t our friend, we just met her,” Fritz told them, shaking his head. “But you are right, she looks familiar.”

 

“You keep an eye on her, she’s weird.”

 

Jessica leaned back in her seat, pouting all the way.

 

“Anyways, I know that because I’m close to the Chief. Believe me, half the department would love for nothing more than the Chief Executive Asshole to take a pair of scissors and cut the red tape of due process. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but if I was, I’d think Ms. Illuminati was going to turn Blackburn into her own personal playground.”

 

“Jeez, sure as hell sounds like a conspiracy,” Fritz said. “The gal kinda strikes me as the world domination type.” He glanced over at the cop driving the car. Jeff had been the one to arrest him, but he hadn’t spoken much all the while.

 

“Say, who’s the strong, silent type over there? We haven’t been introduced.”

 

“My name’s Jeff!” he said, not taking his eyes off the road. “But officially it’s Detective Higgins.”

 

“I keep an eye on him because he’s weird,” Dallas remarked. “Poor bastard. Thinks he’s in a noir movie or something.”

 

“Hey, I love those old noirs!” Jeff cried. “I always wanted to be like Philip Marlowe, finding clues, interrogating suspects, winning the hearts of women along the way.”

 

“Oh God, not this one again…”

 

“Everyone in my neighborhood’s falling in with Zo Bwa Tet, and there I was, trying to solve who stole all the water filters right out of the back of the local convenience store. Nothing else taken, no sign of forced entry, but he left me some little clues, fingerprints on the counter, a spilled bottle of ketchup. I felt just like Jeff Bailey!”

 

“Right right right, another time buddy. Look, the station is just up ahead. I’ll go ahead and call for backup.”

 

Dallas took the cruiser’s radio, directing Jeff around the back with his finger. “All units this is Cardozo, we’re going to need a few extra hands with these suspects. The males are both anomalies, prep a holding cell.”

 

“Psh, ‘anomalies’,” Fritz scoffed under his breath. “What am I, a birth defect?”

 

Dallas shrugged. “Probably.”

 

Jeff parked the cruiser in the back garage slowly. Four extra officers, in the BPD’s distinctive green and khaki uniforms, stood at both doors. The ones on the left had their hands on their hips, shaking their heads as Jeff revealed a sulking Jessica.

 

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t our little Jane Doe,” said Officer Brewer. “What’d she do this time, Higgins?”

 

“Got involved with these two,” Jeff said, gesturing to Alex and Fritz. “Stole something from Cerberus and started a car chase.”

 

The two officers exchanged a brief look of shock. “Kid, you need help,” said Brewer, taking her out by one arm as Jeff held the other.

 

“Go fuck yourself…”

 

“What was that?”

 

“Nothing, officer.”

 

The trio were processed quietly, searched, fingerprinted and photographed with what seemed like the eyes of the entire station on them. Some expressed shock or even dismay at the urban camouflage uniforms of Fritz and Alex – others jeered. As for Jessica, Fritz could overhear that there was ‘still nothing’ on her – no alias, no DNA match, no record of her existence prior to her first arrest. Not that anyone really seemed to care. Alex and Fritz were uncuffed, but not before being outfitted with anomaly inhibiting collars. He was a techie, so had to wonder; how exactly did those things work anyways?

 

A dozen officers placed Alex and Fritz into their cell, probably ready to crack their skulls at faintest sign of disobedience. But Alex just hobbled inside like a kicked puppy, muttering only his ‘yes sirs’ and ‘okay officers’. Fritz slumped down on the the bench with a heavy sigh. Well, at least he didn’t have to move for a while. He just had to sit in this nice, cool cell. Great.

 

“So. You think I should’ve cracked that server now?” He asked.

 

“Hey, it was your idea!” Alex protested. He pressed his hands against the transparent material of the cell, watching the desk sergeant gossip about them from across the room. “All this because you couldn’t wait to go home and rub one out. I hate you.”

 

“Aw, I love you too, old buddy,” Fritz teased. “Why you didn’t let us have that one-nighter I’ll never understand. Guess we might never have it now, with Cerberus after us.”

 

“You don’t think they’ll uh, disappear us, do you?” Alex slid his hands down the wall. “Nevermind, don’t answer that.”

 

“Maybe. I mean, they were about ready to gun us down in the street. Before that girl came around.” Fritz pursed his lips as he pondered. “Hey, didn’t the boss have a daughter who ran off a few years back?”

 

“She did.” Alex pulled himself off the glass, plopping down next to Fritz with a sigh. “You think that was her? I mean, she did have Rebecca’s uh, charming attitude.”

 

“Sure had the hair,” Fritz said. “But who knows? We probably won’t be seeing her again anyway.”

 

An officer tapped on the glass, gesturing to an old-fashioned phone in the corner. “Call for you on line one, Malone.” Uh oh, someone’s grounded.

 

Alex pulled the phone to his ear and spoke in a low voice: “Hello? … Dad? Oh geez…” Alex raked a hand through his hair, leaning back against the wall to stare at the ceiling. “Look, um, it’s a really long story. But you’ve gotta believe me, it’s bad. But if I tell you, that’ll put you in danger too. It’s really bad… Look, listen dad, it’s going to be okay, really. Fritz has a really good lawyer, I’m sure when they hide the evidence they won’t like, throw the book at us or anything.” He huffed out a breath, then made himself smile. “So can I at least come back to working at the Cachaca when I get out? … Thanks dad. I’ll uh, I’ll do my best. Bye.”

 

***

 

The trio weren’t held at the police station for long. Cerberus’ lawyers filed charges within the hour, and by the next day they were transferred to the Blackburn County Jail.

 

The psychoanalyst who met her at intake probed Jessica with all the inane questions: was she a substance abuser, had she any suicidal thoughts, was she mad that she had tried to do one decent thing and the world shoved her to the ground and kicked her teeth in.

 

Yes doctor, I’ve been a very bad girl, throw away the key and forget about me.

 

The jumpsuit fit the same, blended her in with the common criminals as the deputies marched her into genpop. But with the way she carried herself, crestfallen but unbowed, she knew that they knew that she wasn’t one of them.

 

The inmates tracked her with wary eyes, a few whispering to their companions. They grouped together around tables and against walls, some by neighborhood of origin, some by ethnicity, some ad hoc. She ignored them all and took a seat at the furthest table in the rear, arms folded and eyes straight at the television. Somehow Cerberus had kept her little incident off the airwaves, and instead the news channel was running a story on a new wave of immigrants leading the latest real estate boom. Cute.

 

It wasn’t long before she caught several women approaching her from another table.

 

“What are you looking at?”

 

“You tell me, frosty,” the leader spat back, sizing her up. She wasn’t much herself, possessing a moderate layer of muscle but hardly over five feet. “Thinking you’re so special, got a table all to yourself. You’re the bitch who works for Mouse, aren’t you?”

 

“At this point, you can probably make that past tense,” she grumbled.

 

“Yeah? Well we know what you did to Carlos.” Three other women began circling the table. “He was my cousin.”

 

“Hmph. That must’ve sucked. And that was actually Mouse, but listen lady, I’m having a really bad week,” she announced, suddenly popping to her feet. The women flinched. “Unless you want to end up with him, I advise you leave me the fuck alone.”

 

The cousin laughed, cracking her neck as she approached. “The guards don’t circle around for another five minutes. You girls think we can work her over in two?”

 

Jessica grabbed the collar of the nearest inmate and slammed her skull against the steel table. The other two pulled her back by her arms, flinging her into the nearest seat. She pushed them back with her feet, then waited for the cousin to charge. With a shoulder she knocked her assailant into the second table, then threw her into her friend. The third inmate placed her into a headlock, crushing her windpipe. Jessica threw elbow after elbow, trying to regain her footing, but the larger woman wouldn’t budge. Finally she worked a thumb to her eye socket, and that got her released with haste.

 

She waited until the cousin charged again, and with the reflexes of a cat, kicked herself off the wall, over her, and onto the inmate behind her, pounding her head into the floor with a flurry of punches.

 

Whump, whump, whump.

 

Jessica was snarling, adrenaline pumping through her veins, blood drumming in her ears, but all she cared about was making this bitch hurt. Every blow only made her more angry that she couldn’t pound some respect out of that empty skull. But she didn’t lose focus enough to not hear the large inmate approaching, and when she heard her come up just behind her, she tossed her hapless victim into her arms like a ragdoll. The woman scarcely had time to catch her comrade before receiving a haymaker to the nose.

 

The cousin took a few steps towards the wall. “Don’t just stand there you morons, get her!”

 

A dozen inmates peeled off from the crowd, rushing Jessica and knocking her to the ground. Over and over they kicked, sneering as she rolled into a fetal position. Her anger – God, it hurt – continued to control her, but now only manifested as involuntary twitches and inaudible hisses.

 

“Step away, get on the ground!”

 

Poom!

 

Rubber bullets pounded the ceiling, and the inmates flung themselves to the floor. Deputies scuttled around prone bodies and threw Jessica’s attackers to the ground, frogmarching them back to their cells, leaving her to crawl her way to safety.

 

***

 

By some miracle, Jessica managed to sleep the next few hours away in her new protective custody cell. Instead of sheep, she counted the deputies circling her cell block, and she was lucky enough not to dream about them kicking her face in.

 

She found herself wondering if a deputy informing her of a visitor too was a dream.

 

“Who is it?” She inquired as she hauled out of the cell block, ignoring the threats and Spanish curses in the air.

 

“Rebecca Napier.” That woke Jessica up. “Apparently she used to be some kinda superhero or something? You’ve got an uncanny family resemblance going on kid.”

 

The battered woman took her seat in the conference room without another word, idling the time away with her thumbs. It wasn’t long until the CEO of Cerberus took a seat across from her, and her throat began to close. She was indistinguishable from Jessica in all but age, height and Cerberus fatigues. The younger woman put a hand up to the glass.

 

“Mom…”

 

“Jessica, my poor baby.” The hard lines of Rebecca’s face softened considerably. “You shouldn’t be here.”

 

“Momma, I want to go home.” Jessica allowed herself to savor her mother’s brief joy. Why was it always so brief? “But you came here from work. Came here from that goddamn fortress. What will it take for you to stop? My corpse?”

 

Rebecca pursed her lips, blinking away the moisture in her eyes. “My love, in a few weeks, it’ll be all over. You won’t have to do – whatever it is you’ve been doing. I’ll hand you this city on a silver platter.”

 

“I don’t want that!” Jessica cried, voice cracking. “Why can’t you understand? I don’t want to be a tyrant.”

 

Rebecca sighed heavily. “Then what do you want?”

 

“I don’t…” Jessica pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes. “I don’t know. Can’t we just leave this godforsaken hellhole?”

 

“I can’t walk away from this,” Rebecca said sadly. “Not even if I wanted to. Soon, fire and brimstone will burn this city white and clean, and I will sweep the ashes of these degenerates into the ocean. I will do what Scott never could, and America will thank me for it. I will finally bring law and order to Blackburn, Jessica. Come back to me and we can protect this city, together.”

 

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing!” Jessica stared at her mother in revulsion, unable to formulate another complaint. Why? How could she have fallen so far? How could she have allowed herself to become this person? Rebecca merely shook her head.

 

“I’m sorry my love. You’ll understand when the time comes.”

 

“No, wait!” Jessica pressed herself against the barrier, shouting as her mother left the room. “What are you going to do?! What the hell are you going to do?!”

 

 

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

Mavericks V1 C2 See No Evil, Speak No Evil

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

 

Forty thousand feet above the swamplands of Southwest Florida, a private jet flanked by two fighter aircraft cruised towards Blackburn. A weathered woman sat alone in the back of the commercial plane, dirty and torn gray combat fatigues covering her worn flak jacket. Ice clinked against glass as she absentmindedly spun her half-drunk whiskey in one hand while nestling a cell phone against her ear with the other.

 

“Yes ma’am, the albino, Sonrisa and the Russian have acquired the guns. The second shipment has been processed on your personal database and is ready for transportation as soon as you give the order.”

 

“Good.” Rebecca took a long sip from her glass, savoring the sweet fire in her throat. “I’m going to give the mayor a few more days to become more accommodating. If he continues to dance to the tune of that foolish woman, then I expect you to be prepared, Commander.”

 

“I’ll have the troops ready when you are ma’am.” The Field Commander hung up the phone and returned to his work, leaving Rebecca with her thoughts. She turned to the window, taking in the bird’s eye view of the approaching metropolis. Towering, crystalline skyscrapers overlooked the blue-green waters of Blackburn Bay. Parallel beaches ran along Vicio Island and mainland Blackburn, packed full of tourists from all over the world. Thousands bustled in and out of businesses, clubs, casinos and ports. Prolific greenery blessed the city as far as the eye could see until it reached the suburbs and into Watkins County. What a beautiful place it should be, she mused with a frown.

 

As the plane approached a private airport not far from the bay’s waterside, the fighter jets screeched to a halt on the tarmac, pulling into a hangar on the far side. Rebecca’s aircraft rolled to a smooth stop in the center.

 

“Ms. Napier, you have a visitor,” announced the pilot, flicking switches and pressing buttons on the control panel. One of them dropped the airstairs. “Congressman Suarez.”

 

Rebecca ducked out of the plane, spotting her guest standing by her personal SUV, briefcase in hand. The founder of Cerberus Security Corporation offered her hand, but did not smile.

 

“Enrique, it’s been a while. I’m sure you must be as busy as I am. What brings you to my foxhole?”

 

The congressman seemed to hesitate before returning the gesture. “You know me, Rebecca, it’s only polite to actually talk to your donors.”

 

Rebecca opened the door of her vehicle and gestured Suarez inside.

 

“Perhaps you should consider donating back to Cerberus?” she began, following the man inside. She signaled for her driver to head to town. “The value of our stocks has hit an all-time high, and believe me, they’re only going to rise.”

 

Suarez snickered, but his smile only lasted for a brief second before thinning out. With a deep breath he folded his glasses and stuck them in his breast pocket.

 

“Unfortunately, Rebecca, I didn’t come to discuss the stock market.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, it’s my responsibility to audit federal agencies in the interest of the taxpayer.” He paused. “Including those that make use of the DoD’s black budget. Ms. Napier, I’d like you to take a look at this spreadsheet.”

 

Suarez retrieved a document headlined Project Jupiter and handed it to her. Rebecca’s regarded it coolly, the corners of her mouth turning down slightly. She flipped through the pages, breathing growing slightly louder every time she did.

 

“DARPA is up to some very nasty things. Moisture seeding, ocean heating, alteration of wind and sea currents. Ms. Napier, if what I’ve uncovered is correct, it seems we have deep state operatives and their benefactors developing a weather weapon. Benefactors including…”

 

He handed Rebecca another spreadsheet. This time, the Cerberus CEO’s name was the top donor.

 

“You. Rebecca, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to testify before Congress.”

 

The corners of her mouth twitched, her lips now forming a deep scowl. She felt her pupils vibrate with anger, not looking at anything until they settled on the papers. In one swift motion she tore them all in two.

 

“What are you-?!”

 

Rebecca threw the scraps to the wind. The congressman watched as they tumbled across the pavement, heading to the deep cool waters of the gulf.

 

“Councillor, I have been planning this project very meticulously. You might say it’s my life’s work.” The congressman began to fidget with his seatbelt clip. Rebecca slammed his neck against the window, snarling. “Look at me! My life’s! Work! I crawled from the gutter to get here, councillor, and I am not going to let some thankless bureaucrat spit all over it!

 

The vehicle filled with noise. Suarez attempted feebly to kick out the bulletproof windows as Rebecca held his neck in a vice grip, hissing as she pushed flesh and sinew into bone. Even squeaks and groans were denied life, and, in a minute, eyes reddened and fingers curled, so was the congressman. The mercenary let go with shaking fingers, slumping against her seat.

 

“Selfish, thankless bastards, all of them…” She wiped the sweat from her forehead before fumbling for a bottle of whiskey in the car seat pouch. “Oh dear, it seems the poor man has suffered a heart attack. Jones, I’m sure you can get us to the hospital on time, can’t you?”

 

***

 

“ – was pronounced dead at the scene. Cerberus Security CEO Rebecca Napier did everything to resuscitate the congressman, but the sudden onset of cardiac arrest claimed his life in just a few minutes, BPD officers told reporters. Suarez was one of Florida’s longest serving representatives, known for his support of the military and -”

 

A short, blond man in combat fatigues sat behind the restaurant’s bar, taking a sip of his caipirinha and shaking his head at the sound of the news. He reached up to wipe at his mouth with a wiry arm. Sharp, green eyes were glued on the television hanging on the wall, but his leg twitched like he wanted to be moving around. Harsh Floridian sun filtered in, shedding light on the colorful, Brazilian-flavored décor riddling the walls. It wasn’t an amazing spot, as far as Fritz was concerned, but the Cachaça Cafe was leaps and bounds better than many other Blackburn restaurants and bars. The food was edible and the drinks didn’t taste like paint thinner.

 

“More dead people, who’d’a thought?” Fritz said, rolling his eyes. “You think things have ever not been shit?”

 

“Yeah, back when the American Spirits were still around,” replied a tall, lightly tanned man from behind the bar. He packed far more muscle than his counterpart, perhaps weighing twice as much, but his soft chocolate eyes and hair belied his strength. Even in body armor, Alex finds himself cleaning glasses for his old man, Fritz reflected with a smirk. What a cub.

 

“Hey, at least the boss tried to save the guy, right?” Alex continued.

 

“Didn’t work, did it?” Fritz asked, resting his chin in his palm. “Maybe she shoulda just let the guy die, reserved her energy and done something better with it than save politicians.”

 

Alex frowned. “And also before people started having that attitude. Besides, you shouldn’t be drinking before we get back to work, Fritz.”

 

“You’re such a killjoy. It’s not like anyone’s gonna notice, stuff reeks like lime.”

 

“Uh huh.” Alex set a dried mug down on the counter before turning to the back. “Ola, pai, we’re heading out now. Give Fritz the tab.”

 

“He better pay in full this time!” Judd called from the kitchen.

 

“Of course, making the Jew pay for everything,” Fritz said, standing up and giving Alex a half-grin.

 

The walk back to HQ was a short one. Just ten minutes hiding under the palm trees, though it might have been shorter had Alex, the spoilsport, not dragged Fritz away from ogling the local women. Marble steps led up to series of glass entrances, armed mercenaries posted by each door. The duo flashed their ID cards and, with a nod, the guards waved them inside.

 

“So, how’s your formal cyber warfare training going?” Alex asked as they made their way up to Fritz’s office on the third floor. Though both of them possessed anomalous abilities – the politically correct term for superpowers – Rebecca only seemed to value Fritz as more than a glorified grunt. Not that Alex ever complained to him about the occasional stare-at-the-wall hallway posting; every day he wasn’t patrolling the African savannah or small towns in Mexico, it was one less worried phone call from his father.

 

“Not as good as my informal training. Think I learned more cracking an image board than I have from these corporate tools. But it sure pays a lot better here.” Fritz laughed to himself as he opened his door. “And to think they were gonna press charges.”

 

“Oh, I’m sure you’re very scared of the neckbeard army.” Alex’s voice faded as took his post next to the armory door, which was, conveniently, adjacent to Fritz’s. “You still dating that French guy?”

 

God, no,” Fritz gagged, booting up his work PC. “He talked the talk, but he couldn’t walk the walk, if you know what I’m saying.”

 

Once he passed his log-in screen, Fritz reopened the web browser and restored his previous session. In other words, the cyber security online seminar he was in the middle of. Yawn. He moved the window to the side.

 

“How ‘bout you?” he continued, glancing away from the monitor. “Anything new for your love life? Or is it still a lack thereof?”

 

“Nothing,” Alex replied with a shrug. “Turns out it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a cool job that has you getting a shot at – chicks can sense when you’re a dweeb at heart.”

 

“I like that word. Sums up everything about you all at once.” Fritz opened up the file explorer as he spoke, idly poking around in public folders that the less technologically literate employees had created. “How ‘bout your sister, how’s she doing? Or, your dad, for that matter.”

 

“She’s in seventh grade and hasn’t fallen into a gang, so she can’t be doing that bad,” Alex replied. “As for my dad, well, tourist season is coming up. He’ll be making good money – except when the Brazilians don’t tip.”

 

“Brazilians, am I right? Just the worst,” Fritz quipped.

 

Nothing interesting in the public folders today. He moved on to the network tab, checking over the available wi-fi networks. An unfamiliar connection popped up, just a jumble of text and letters. Kinda odd, but it wasn’t the first time it had happened. He clicked to connect.

 

As soon as he connected, a command prompt popped up for a split second. He narrowed his eyes and opened his own command prompt and, with a few keystrokes, retrieved the network’s credentials. Instead of anything coherent, however, a string of what was definitely encrypted data came through. Then another. Then another.

 

It didn’t look all that complicated. Standard software encryption, probably from Tortoise Defense Tech, if modified a little. With another few taps at his keyboard, Fritz started up a decryption algorithm.

 

“People need to stop leaving their stuff open,” Fritz said, just loud enough so Alex could hear. “I swear, everyday, I find porn on someone’s cloud. Some people just can’t control themselves.”

 

“Yeah, you’re one to talk,” Alex mumbled. Then, after a pause, snapped “Hey wait a minute, why are you burgling people’s porn stashes? Get back to work.”

 

“This is my work,” Fritz wheedled, putting on a lilting tone. “If I’m gonna do cyber security, I need to know all the cracks in the system, and, believe me, there’s a lot.”

 

It took a good few minutes for the algorithm to finish, but it dumped a few files on Fritz’s desktop when it did. The largest was titled Phoenix.pdf, which he double clicked. He leaned back in his chair as it loaded. The more it loaded, though, the more he sat up, his expression turning from a squint to a wide-eyed stare. He paused the seminar and minimized it, whipping his head around.

 

“Alex,” he said, controlling his voice. “Can you come in here? I need some – help. Close the door.”

 

“Me?” Alex glanced down the hall to make sure none of his superiors were present, then shut Fritz’s door behind him, scratching his head. “You know I can’t run my anti-virus without calling you up, right?”

 

“This- well, this ain’t no anti-virus.” Fritz waved him over to the computer, sweating more and more with every passing second. “Read this. I- I need to be sure I’m not seeing things.”

 

A spreadsheet stretched across the screen, detailing what looked to be a weapons deal of some kind. The chart gave information on a ‘special purposes’ shipment of 2,000 guns, 400 combat knives, and 100 grenades. At the very bottom, a note had been left about the anonymous donation being accepted by ‘the syndicates’. A Cerberus logo was stamped at the top left of the page. Fritz turned to Alex, teeth gritted.

 

“Oh dear…” Alex chewed on his lower lip. They had never seen anything like that quantity, let alone to bonafide supervillains. After a few moments, Alex asked “Fritz, where did you find this?”

 

“I opened up a network, decrypted the data it gave me, and this came up!” Fritz was desperately trying to keep his voice down, despite his panic. “Maybe it’s a set-up, a ruse from some company competition.”

 

“Fritz, what competition?”

 

By now, Alex had begun to pace. He balled his fists impotently, a tic that told Fritz he was fighting with himself. Eventually, the boy scout won out. “Fritz, download this. We have to show this to someone.”

 

“Download it?!” Fritz cried. “They probably already know we have it! What if they decide to use one of those grenades on us?!”

 

“Then you can sue!”

 

Fritz opened his mouth to rant, but his words were snuffed in his throat as the intercom crackled to life.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, it appears we’ve had a security breach regarding confidential company materials.” The Commander’s words appeared to weigh Alex’s face down, twisting his eyes and mouth into an expression of abject terror. “And it appears to have come from one of our own. All operatives on the third floor are to detain Friedrich Kravitz immediately.”

 

“Fritz, download that file now!” Alex shouted, tossing a USB drive from his desk onto the keyboard. “I’ll hold the door!”

 

Fritz’s heart was beating out his chest, but he did as he was told. He shoved the thumb stick into the keyboard port and dragged the file right into it. It copied fast; thank God no one had thought to bloat the file. He ejected the drive and shoved it into his pocket. “Okay, okay,” he muttered to himself as he glanced around, doing everything he could to think clearly.

 

Alex concentrated on the door, keeping it upright with a wall of solidified shadow as several soldiers pounded their fists against it. “We know you’re in there Fritz, come out with your hands up or we’ll kick this door down and drag you out!”

 

“Shit, shit, I can’t hold ‘em forever man!”

 

Fritz ran through every object in the room, every fixture, the filing cabinets, the desk, the rug, the dirty old window – the window!

 

“Alex, smash through that window and jump!” he ordered.

 

“You want me to kill myself?!”

 

“There’s no time, just trust me!”

 

“It’s my job, he says. I need your help, he says. Trust me, he says. I hate you, Fritz!”

 

Alex took a deep breath and, with an accompanying gesture, tore the door from its hinges, sending wood, splinter and shade into the soldiers. As they scrambled for their guns he charged the window shoulder first, yelping as he met the air.

 

Fritz ran after him, grabbing some waves of light as he went and rapidly weaving them together. As he reached the window, he projected them beneath Alex. It was an abrupt stop, but he had survived harder falls when he landed on the light. Just as he heard security barking from behind him, he hopped out as well. He projected steps in front of himself as he made a break for the ground.

 

“Come on!” he shouted as he passed Alex. “We’ve got places to be!”

 

Fritz was about a story from the ground when he saw the shadows near the HQ’s steps begin to churn, dark matter swirling upwards. An impossibly black figure of a man emerged before the shadows retreated to their natural place. Alex’s dark matter shell dissipated into nothing.

 

“Got anywhere in mind?!” he shouted, sirens beginning to wail from a parking garage behind them.

 

“Run,” Fritz said. “Run very fast.”

 

***

 

The sound of cars revving their engines, people bantering loudly, bottles of alcohol clinking; all the little ambient noises that went along with a race were like meditative chimes to Mouse. She had two great passions, after all: drugs and racing. Getting to indulge the latter while high on the former just made things that much sweeter.

 

“Hey, man, it’s cool of you to organize a meet so soon. We’re makin’ a killing in business alluva sudden. What’s the occasion?” Mouse didn’t respond at first, busy wiping at the hood of her unholy monster of a muscle car with a rag. It was her pride and joy, a completely custom matte black, twelve cylinder behemoth she’d affectionately nicknamed ‘Abaddon’. The vehicle was almost completely engine, all wheel drive, seven speed manual with a massive clutch, and produced nearly a thousand horsepower at the tires. Mouse couldn’t even use normal gasoline to fuel it, instead manufacturing her own fuel, which was closer to nitroglycerin than ethanol. Suffice it to say, she rarely raced other people anymore. They were too scared to try.

 

“You writing a book?” she finally quipped, giggling to herself. “It’s never too soon to do more business, Mr. Vincenzo. I didn’t think the others would show up, but these idiots never seem to learn. Do me a favor, see if you can ‘do some work’ on the competition’s cars for us? Not that I doubt my driver, but the less chances for something to go wrong, the better.” Mouse wiped her hands off on an oily rag, tucking it into a pocket. “That, and I may have had a spat with my driver. It’s a show of good faith and an apology of sorts.”

 

Adjusting the collar of his leather jacket, Vincenzo smirked. The Oil Barons, Blackburn’s finest hot-rodder gang, were one of the few groups that got a pass from her. Their mechanics were experts, and having a wealth of parts for her to look at brought them into her good graces years ago. Plus, she found the whole ‘greaser’ motif very quaint and charming. “I dig, Ms. Verion. I’ll see what we can do. No promises, you know how Bernouli is, but after that Russian nosebleed dipped out of paying his bill, I think he’ll look the other way.”

The man walked away, leaving Mouse to her thoughts until a massive hand dropped onto her shoulder. “That was not very nice, malyshka.”

 

“What wasn’t very nice, pridurok?” Mouse asked, sighing heavily as she shook Grigori’s hand off her shoulder.

 

“You killed the good doctor’s best man.” She was quiet, staring at him for a moment before bursting into raucous laughter. Grigori quirked a brow at her, put off by the unusual behavior.

 

The albino wiped tears of mirth from her eyes, shaking her head. “Ya znal, chto ty glup, no ya ne znal, chto ty takoy glupyy. Do you have any proof of this or…? You’re always going on and on about the might of Russian intelligence, but I’ve yet to see any.”

 

“He was alive before he raced your little toy, and now he is mysteriously gone. Who else would risk Sonrisa’s wrath but nemnogo razdrazhayushchaya sobaka like you?” Mouse scoffed at him, though when he shoved her backwards with one meaty finger, she instantly had a hand at her hip in warning.

 

“Rules be damned, you touch me again, I put you in the dirt!” Grigori understood then what he was dealing with. He’d never really met Mouse when she was high, and he clearly didn’t like it. He backed up a couple steps, arms crossed. “Until you have damning proof, take your wild accusations elsewhere. I’ve got a drag race to win.”

Four cars lined up along the end of Emerald Street, intersection cordoned off by three lines of spectators. Jessica’s Lancer was flanked by the Supra and Challenger from before, and on the end was another of Grigori’s grunts in a BMW M3.

 

Jessica shifted into drive, engine screaming as she tapped the pedal. Grigori’s men were staring holes in her helmet, but she wasn’t paying attention to them. Her eyes were on LaDarius.  The race director walked between the Lancer and the Challenger, holding up five fingers. Four. Three. Two.

 

Crrrrrrrrrk! FWOOOM!

 

LaDarius jumped back, heat from the Challenger’s engine singeing his suit. Jessica caught the driver exiting his vehicle, screaming every profanity at his failed machine, then wincing as intense heat was blown onto him by the other racers. That your way of apologizing, Nisa?

 

Jessica let the chassis guide her, feeling it vacillating ever so slightly around her. The engine’s pitch climbed to a steady whine, and at its apex she shifted into second gear. She was trailing just behind the M3. She tracked it briefly, watching the sedan hug the side of the road. A wonderful piece of German design. Too bad its driver wasn’t designed so well.

 

A chorus of sirens sounded from the west. No, there shouldn’t have been cops. Jessica slammed the breaks, letting the M3 pull ahead, ready to turn around and flee.

 

SCRRRASH!!!

 

Several patrol vehicles plowed into the inattentive BMW, sending it flying into a lamppost. Glass and sparks rained everywhere, drivers strained to undo their seatbelts. Drivers wearing the patch of a triple-headed hound.

 

“No, no, no, no, no! Not them!”

 

Against her better judgement, Jessica sent her Lancer after the rest of the mercenaries, leaving a very confused Supra driver to cruise to victory.

Incoming Call: Mouse, said the HUD. She blindly fumbled for the accept button. “Jessica, you have two seconds to explain what the fuck you’re doing before I come after your ass!”

 

“You know, I’m not sure yet, Nisa. I’m about to find out.”

 

“… If you fuck up that car, I am going to be very upset with you. Do I have to follow you?”

 

“No.” Jessica slammed a fist on her dashboard, cutting out the feed. Four Cerberus patrol cars were tearing up the roads, chasing… something. Her eyes trained on the lead vehicle, taking wide corner turns at nearly every intersection. About ten meters ahead of it was some sort of light show zig zagging down the the street. Glowing beams seemed to bend and weave under the form of a man, allowing him to swap from skating to jogging across it. If Blackburn were anywhere but Florida, she might have thought he was gliding across ice. Another man looked to be phasing in and out of the light.

As the pursuers made another turn, Jessica barreled her Lancer into the nearest car’s left taillight, propelling it into the driver’s side door of another. She rode the curb for a moment to get around the wreck. Yet another turn saw a pursuer attempt a sort of reverse PIT maneuver with the rear of his car. Jessica let him overcompensate, then shoved the car by the bumper into an empty building lobby.

 

A blistering rod of light materialized in the path of the final car. It swerved off the road with a screech, the smell of burned rubber fuming into the air. It was only a brick wall that finally stopped the car’s forward motion.

 

The man who had been sliding around on his light hopped back to the ground then, breathing hard, followed by his buddy. Jessica stopped the Lancer a few feet in front of them, and then stuck her head out the window. She flinched when she saw that they were wearing Cerberus uniforms themselves, and fought the urge to smear them across the road.

 

“Hey dumbasses, don’t just stare at me, get in!”

 

With a shrug, Alex did as he was told. Fritz scrambled not to get left behind.

 

“Would you like to tell me why Cerberus is tearing the city apart to catch its own agents?” Jessica demanded, following the roads to the highway.

 

“Well, see, that’s kind of a long story,” Fritz started. “We, uh, we might have found some incriminating information. By accident. It wasn’t me.”

 

“Screw you, man!” Alex shouted. He jerked a thumb at his partner. “This guy is a professional liar. He was digging on the boss’ network. For fun!”

 

“For fun? What the hell is wrong with you? Ugh, never mind. What’d you find?”

 

“Emphasis on professional,” Fritz added, wagging a finger. “Long story short, Cerberus is dealing in wa-ay more weapons than anyone has any right to. Guns, knives, ‘nades, and, you know, where there’s smoke there’s fire so we got out of that burning building.”

 

“Guns, knives…” Jessica muttered to herself. “Oh no…” Why did it have to be her? “Leftovers from the War on Terror, right? M4’s and M67’s? I’ve seen them in the Lodge. Why?”

 

“Well, how should I know?” Fritz asked. “I just got the transaction document, it doesn’t say any hows or whys.”

 

Jessica drove in silence for some time, slowing her speed to civilian levels. Alex rapped his fingers against the window, and she saw his face twitch once or twice. Either he was far too nervous, or the other man wasn’t nervous enough.

 

“So uh, how about you lady?” Alex asked. “You really don’t like Cerberus, do ya?”

 

“It’s…” Jessica huffed. “It’s complicated.”

 

“So let’s start simple then.” Alex straightened and turned to the rearview mirror, offering a friendly expression that was far less urbane than he likely intended. “What’s your name?”

 

“Jessica.”

 

“Jessica, nice name. Are you a white girl? It’s the voice. Not that, you know, there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that there’s not a lot of white chicks living the thug life. Nothing wrong with white chicks.”

 

Jessica tilted her head slightly. Alex recoiled at Fritz’s snicker.

 

“My name’s Alex,” he continued quickly. “This is Fritz. Say hi Fritz.”

 

“Hi, Fritz,” Fritz repeated, shaking his head. “So where are we heading anyway?”

 

“You tell me,” Jessica said as the Kennedy Bridge came into sight. “You’ve got a plan, don’t you?”

 

“Uh, no, not really. I wasn’t exactly planning on stumbling across sensitive information and nearly getting assassinated.”

 

“Shit…”

 

If only that were the worst news. As the Lancer approached the midway point of the bridge, she noticed a line of Cerberus vehicles had blocked off the road, spike strips in front of them and armed mercenaries behind. The sports car screeched to a halt, turning halfway around before being met with a half dozen BPD cruisers.

 

“Freeze!” Shouted a plain-clothed detective with a megaphone. “Let me see those hands!”

 

“Shit, shit!” Jessica pounded the steering wheel in frustration, accidently blaring the car horn. Defeated, she saw a second detective begin approaching the passenger’s side door, ten uniformed officers backing him up.

 

“I know my rights!” Fritz shouted, refusing to move even as the door opened. The detective reached in and wrestled him out, cuffing him in the process. Fritz whined at that manhandling.

 

“What are you, some kind of Nazi?!” he asked. “I have my lawyer on speed-dial, I’m warning you!”

 

“I didn’t know you were a Nazi, Jeff,” The detective with the megaphone said with a laugh. “Jamaican Nazis. Almost as believable as your threats.”

 

The raven-haired officer leaned into the car.

 

“Do you mind making less of a fuss, buddy?”

 

“Officer, you don’t understand!” Alex pleaded, exiting with his hands on his head.

 

“Well let’s come to a mutual understanding then.” The detective twirled cuffs in his hands before making the arrest. “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can be used against you in a court of law,” he said with a hum.

 

 

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

 

Mavericks V1 C1 First Among Equals

Next Chapter

Blackburn, Florida

June 22nd, 2017

 

At thirty minutes past midnight, a thunderous noise filled the Ingham Tunnel leading to the island district of Vicio. A vagrant stirred in his sleep against the tunnel wall, fumbling for his wad of newspaper to shield him from the summer rain. But a storm did not come. Instead, four heavily modified vehicles shot out of the tunnel at eighty miles per hour: a 1989 Nissan Skyline GT-R, a 1998 Toyota Supra, a 2015 Dodge Challenger, and, ahead of the competition, a 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.

 

The driver of the Lancer huffed her irritation. The pilots of the Challenger and the Supra were members of rival gangs, and they were certainly driving like it, exchanging scrapes and bumps as the cars escaped the dim lighting of the tunnel and danced under the neon lights of casinos and nightclubs. An overly zealous tap from the Supra sent the Challenger careening into a parking lot, crashing into a dumpster and spilling its contents onto the slick pavement. The club’s patrons acknowledged the accident with little more than raised eyebrows and amused snickers.

 

Hmph. Better him than me, Jessica thought. She glanced at her rear view mirror, watching the Supra fall behind the Skyline before returning her attention to the road. The street began to wind through the red light district, and that’s where her rival in the Skyline began to fall back: the eighties relic simply lacked the traction of four-wheel drive.

 

That’s right, stay back there, douchebag. Carlos Falcao was the man behind the wheel of the coupe, a Colombian trafficker and henchman for the crime lord known as Sonrisa. A feeling of disgust came over Jessica as she caught a glimpse of his seething face. She was not a good woman. She had done many things she was not proud of. But the skin trade? She wasn’t an animal.

 

As the two came to a sharp left turn, Jessica shifted her Lancer to the inside lane and brake checked. Carlos bit the bait, and with the finish line a minute away, was unable to pass her. His vehicle downshifted into fourth gear, the pitch of the droning engine rising to a whine.

 

There was one mile left to go, and the raw horsepower of Carlos’ Skyline began to close the gap. Jessica was not going to let him win. Her gloved thumb found its way to her control panel and pressed a small button. A compartment by her vehicle’s exhaust pipe opened up, spraying a fine, sticky black mist through the air and onto Carlos’ windshield. His windshield wipers activated, but the gunk held fast to the glass like glue. Jessica slid in front of the Skyline and, with a bump, her Lancer crossed the makeshift chalk band that served as a finish line.

 

“And we have our winner, folks!” she heard the race’s director, LaDarius, bellow to the crowd.  “Jessica takes her third race in a row. No refunds!”

 

As she clambered out of her Lancer, she caught a wave of confused murmurs making its way through the mass of onlookers, who watched her in unison. She’d heard previously that people had written off her previous two victories as flukes, the typical wannabe who clambered over the pile before being grinded under the jackboot of reality. But three times? Maybe this will teach you pricks some respect, she thought grimly, crossing her arms and leaning against the driver side door.

 

“Yo homeboy, what the fuck was that?!” She watched with amusement as Carlos approached LaDarius with frenzied eyes, gesturing at her wildly. “Her car puked all over my windshield, how am I supposed to win like that?!”

 

“You’re not.” LaDarius only looked up briefly from the wad of bills he was counting. “It was a no-rules race. You can read, can’t you?”

 

Carlos scoffed indignantly. “Oh, no rules, huh?” Jessica’s eyes shot open as Carlos reached for something metallic in his waistband.

 

“Hey, puta!”

 

A shot rang out, shattering her right headlight. She cleared the hood of her car as a bullet whizzed by her head and nearly into the crowd.

 

“You piece of shit, I’ll have my boys ship to you to the Chinese!” Another shot pierced both doors. “Then we’re coming for your boss!”

 

Pressing herself against her car door, Jessica honed in on his footsteps, waiting until he drew closer with a balled fist. Filthy degenerate. Carlos was just another typical thug, the kind who had wormed their way into the heart of a once-great city and rotted it from the inside. Blackburn had once been a shining beacon of success, a bustling port town that attracted immigrants from all over the world. If there was ever proof of the American Dream, of hard work breeding success, old Blackburn was it. But that was before her mother’s time. The American Dream had turned into a nightmare, and what was once a proud city had morphed into seedy nest of crime, greed, and apathy, hidden behind a thin veneer of glitz.

 

“Come on little girl, where are you hiding?” Carlos peered over the hood, looking puzzled. When he turned to his right, Jessica made her move, taking him to the ground in one swift movement. Jessica pinned his gun hand with her left, and with her right she removed her helmet. Carlos seemed further puzzled. Jessica was a pale woman with many freckles, her locks of red hair matted with sweat falling around her angled chin.

 

Jessica brought the helmet down on her assailant’s nose, breaking it with an audible crunch. Another blow splattered her chest with blood. There was a third blow, and a fourth, the crowd cheering louder with each, calling for his head. Before Jessica could go any further, LaDarius pulled her away.

 

“Alright, alright, easy there, Jessica.” The enraged woman bared her teeth at the race’s director. LaDarius simply clucked his tongue and pushed up his glasses.

 

“I can’t have you murdering my drivers, even if they deserve it.”

 

“You’re damn right he deserves it.” Jessica brushed herself off as she got to her feet, then popped her blood-spattered helmet back on. “Just give me my money.”

 

“Right.” LaDarius quickly counted fifteen hundred dollars and handed it over in three bunches. “I’m going to have to lower the odds on Carlos. Shame, he was good cash cow while he lasted.”

 

Jessica said nothing, storming back to her Lancer and peeling off, leaving behind a mass of excited onlookers.

 

***

 

Jessica found herself wincing as wind whistled through the bullet hole on the driverside door. LaDarius had greased the palms of the cops, so she didn’t need to fear the long arm of the law – for now. But when the Earth rotated once more and a different shift clocked in, she wasn’t going to run the risk of some goodie-two-shoes pulling her over. She was going to have to get that repaired.

 

She frowned as she calculated the figures in her head. Mouse took thirty percent of her earnings, leaving her with just a shade over a thousand dollars. If the repairs to her vehicle cost three hundred, she was left with only seven for the month. The last time she had so little, she was arrested for breaking into a fast food joint’s soda machine.

 

Still, working for Mouse beat wandering the streets alone. She ran a tight ship and took care of her own – so long as they made her money. But money was all she cared about. Mouse had clawed her way to the top of the underworld from the gutter as a lowly prostitute. Now she was a multi-millionaire and would stack bodies a mile high to keep it that way. It made dealing with her… less than predictable.

 

The Lancer’s speakers began to ring. Incoming Call: Mouse, said the HUD. Grumbling, Jessica accepted the call with her thumb.

 

“What is it?”

 

“Where are you? These neanderthals have been breathing down my neck for almost twenty minutes now and it’s lost its charm.” Mouse said, sounding even more aggravated than usual.

 

“Paying for your rehab,” Jessica replied impassively. “Should be four fifty this month.”

 

“Ah, you won again? Good. I hope they learn a little respect for once. Try and hurry here, I’m stalling as best I can, but I don’t want to chance it much longer.”

 

“Stalling?” That raised an eyebrow. “Stalling what?”

 

Mouse sighed through her nose. “I ran into Ivanovich and… him. They wanted to talk about hashing out some sort of territory line agreement, but their bodyguards have been giving me the eye and I really don’t feel comfortable with them.”

 

“Hmph. Pleasant. Salazar’s goon wasn’t treating me any kinder.”

 

Grigori Ivanovich might have had the tacit backing of the Russian government, but no one in Blackburn could match Martin Salazar’s cruelty. The slave trade was the least of his crimes – he regularly performed human experiments on his victims that would have made the Nazis blush. And, for personal reasons, Jessica and Mouse had a particularly contemptible view of the man.

 

“If only he just had the one. God, how I wish I could just gas him right here, but his kind are just like weeds…” Mouse groaned. “I have to go. Get here quickly, Jessica.”

 

***

 

The Lodge was the criminal lovechild of Wal-Mart and the stock exchange, a place where the underworld could gather to exchange goods and services, free of prejudice or grudges. Of course, the crime lords of Blackburn didn’t set aside their vendettas willingly. The Lodge kept the squabblers in check with extreme security measures equipped to kill in the name of peace and professionality. Having operated freely for eighty years, currently taking residence in the unfinished Green Line of Vicio’s metro system, the Lodge kept things bearable in the underworld.

 

Half of the establishment had been devoted to a sort of bazaar area, with many stands set up by various gangs and independent criminals, hawking their wares to any and all. The other half was an open, relaxed bar-type area, with tables and couches for the occupants to use. Most of the time, the conversations were business in nature, though there were a fair few friendly discussions, as well as a fair few unfriendly ones.

 

Three occupants sat at a table near the left side of the room, centered on the wall: Nisa ‘Mouse’ Verion, the queen of the drug trade; Grigori Ivanovich, the Russian arms trafficker; and Martin ‘Sonrisa’ Salazar, fearfully referred to as ‘the good doctor’. In comparison to the two men, Mouse was practically a child, barely over five feet tall and a hundred pounds soaking wet. Her snow white skin and hair, along with her pink, endlessly spasming eyes, denoted her status as an albino and gave her her namesake. She had a lean, wolfish face, all lines and subtle curves, though there was a definite air of haughtiness about her.

 

Grigori exemplified the Russian stereotype of ‘the bear’. He was six foot three inches tall, incredibly muscular and bulky in the way that truly strong men were. The man kept his head shaved to the skin, though his bushy eyebrows and beehive beard more than made up for it. Surprisingly, he bore no tattoos, at least not visibly; a rarity for vory.

 

Martin’s tidy, too-big suit made him look a few shades bigger than he really was. Underneath folds of cloth, he was bruised skin and broken bones, many healed the wrong way. His lower jaw was wrong. It didn’t line up with his top jaw, so when he smiled, he bared two jagged rows of teeth that ended in scar tissue, the remnants of a glasgow grin. His whole face was thin and gaunt, so you could see where the joints didn’t line up. His bony fingers, several of them crooked and several more laden in gold, grasped the handle of an elaborate cane. It made up for the loss of a leg so crooked, it barely resembled a leg.

 

The three crime lords had unofficially taken over Vicio over the past couple years. Unfortunately, since it had been so unofficial, they often clashed with one another over what they thought were clearly defined territory lines. And so came about the meeting, all parties wishing to assert their dominance without wasting life or limb.

 

After what felt like ages, Mouse blew a quiet sigh of relief when Jessica arrived, taking her spot at her side. Mouse caught a brief flash of malice in her eyes when she glanced at Martin. Ugh, the feeling is very much mutual.

 

“This is what we were waitink for, malyshka? Your attack dog? Pah.” Grigori waved a dismissive hand as looked Jessica over.

 

“No, I simply dislike you two threatening me with your attack dogs.” The men’s bodyguards hardly batted an eye at her jab, each one focused on keeping watch on the other. “Now then. Did either of you come prepared with maps of proposed territory lines, or must I provide for you?”

 

“Not at all, my dear,” said Martin, reaching into his suit, not noticing Mouse’s angry twitch. His words were garbled by the improbable anatomy of his jaw. He pulled out a neatly folded piece of paper and laid it flat on the table, and they leaned in to see as he unfolded it. Ink lines crisscrossed a standard map of the Vicio district, dividing it into three parts. The largest and most heavily populated, predictably, would go to Martin. Grigori’s cut was nearly equal in size, just a little smaller and a little further from the main foot traffic. Mouse’s territory would occupy a smaller sliver of land, perhaps a fifth of the island.

 

“The best ports are here, Grigori,” Martin said, pointing out a spot on the edge of the island he had circled. “A gift,” he said, insincerely, “from me to you.”

 

Grigori looked the proposed map over, ignoring Mouse’s indignant squawk. “Da. I will accept, on two conditions. One, I will trade you this section here for more port space. Two, you will not be moving your little fleshy products through our territory anymore. Is bad optics for business. I have been given a team of snipers from the Kremlin for in case you do not do this,” Grigori warned.

 

“Have you two forgotten something? Your map goes right through my turf! I refuse to settle for a drop in the bucket while you two imbeciles hoard the lion’s share for yourselves.”

 

“Watch your tongue, malyshka, the grown ups are talkink.”

 

Mouse blew out a heavy breath, gritting her teeth. “If you continue on this path, I’ll consider it an act of war.” The albino sat back in her chair, picking at her nails. “Let’s not forget who owns the arteries around here. I have more drug runners in my pocket than either of you realize. One little piece of paper from me and you may as well kiss your ass goodbye. How about we start from the beginning, where we all have an equal share?”

 

Grigori gave a baritone laugh. “Hah! Always with the threats. Ty vsegda lay, kak malen’kaya sobachka. Run along, leave us to the real work and be happy you get anythink.”

 

Martin chuckled to himself. “Act of war, she says. As if I of all people would fear these two,” he said, shooting a pointed look at Jessica. “Now, Grigori, I’ll give you the port space, but I will need to move my wares through your territory from time to time. Give me Bray Street, right here, see, to transport the goods, and we’ll not set foot off of it. If ever you see me elsewhere on your turf, then by all means, shoot me down.”

 

“This will work, da. I accept.”

 

I do not!” Absolutely livid by now, Mouse leapt to her feet, hands on the table, glaring at Grigori and Martin. Their bodyguards had their hands in their jackets, but Mouse knew it was just reflex. “I control the southern third of Vicio and that will continue to be the case, or I will retaliate.”

 

Martin laughed again, steepling his fingers on his cane. “Oh little Mouse, all this bravado is getting you nowhere, is it not? Come, why not drop this petty teenage rebellion and help your old man with his work?”

 

“If you continue this line of reasoning, I will certainly help you. Into an early grave. You’ve got no reason to speak to me that way. Frankly, it’s disgusting.” Mouse sneered at him, crossing her arms. Honestly, you think he’d learn by now…

 

“Mmm. What’s disgusting is the way you’re wasting your intellect.” He wagged a finger in ways a finger should not move. “Drugs? Oh, with your gift child, you could be doing so much more…”

 

Mouse gritted her teeth. More, indeed. “Like being hooked up to your endless parade of pumps and vacuums as you siphon away my blood? You know, you make a great point, actually. I think I’ll have my engineers make me a few. I certainly remember them well enough to reverse engineer them. Once I’m done, I’ll invite you down to the lab and you can be the honorary first test member,” finished the woman in a saccharine sweet tone, batting her eyelashes at Martin.

 

Mouse felt Jessica’s breath on her ear. “Nisa, cut it out. He’s not worth it.”

 

“My word, Jessica, how odd it is to hear you say that. You’re more full of rage than she is. She’s quite toxic for you, you know. Why would you leave your mother and go to her, I wonder…”

 

Jessica clenched her jaw. “Shut up, freak.”

 

Uttering a long, rolling sigh, Grigori gestured to the table between them. “Are we done here with the barkink? I would like to get this done and be goink home.”

 

“I suppose we are.” Martin traced his thumb along the lines of the map, smudging the border between his territory and Mouse’s. “Final offer, girls,” he said in a paternal whisper.

 

Mouse glanced sidelong at Jessica, then down at the map in question. She uttered a noise of disgust. “Denied. It isn’t an offer, it’s a scrap, and I’m not in the habit of taking scraps. You can try to wrest my territory away from me. Emphasis on try. We’re done here, Jessica.”

 

Martin gave a long, earnest sigh. “I was hoping not to have to replace you, Nisa, but sometimes it’s wisest to ignore my sentimentality. I’ll be sure to keep your body well preserved.”

 

Mouse snorted. Without a parting shot, the albino turned and marched away, Jessica at her side. Keep playing your games, boys, you’ll see where it gets you.

 

As she and Jessica were nearing the checkpoint to exit the Lodge, one of the representatives stopped her. “Mouse, a benefactor has declared that everyone assembled today was to receive a parting gift.”

 

Parting gift? You wanna be more specific? I’m not in the mood to play twenty questions right now, Hopper.”

 

“Outside, you will find several crates of arms. You may choose one that is to your liking.”

 

Immediately, Mouse’s hackles were up. No one gave free anything to anyone without strings attached around here. Still, it was worth it to investigate. “Who donated them?” Hopper shrugged, gesturing her out the door. Mouse rolled her eyes and stepped outside, spotted the merchandise, then froze. Those weren’t cheap parting gifts. She hesitantly gestured for Jessica to take whatever she wanted, stepping up to a table of pistols to find one that suited her best. It was tempting to take the SAW machine gun, but that was a little too much gun for her. She settled on the tested and reliable Glock 18. “Get something good, Jessica,” she said, examining the other tables. “I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll be needing to use these fairly soon.”

 

Jessica felt the ridged rail system of an M4 carbine, then shook it for rattle. “There’s only minor wear. Probably surplus from America’s misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Light enough for infantry to remain mobile, but 5.56 rounds can turn the the thickest of bone to dust.” She frowned. “Nisa, you know this is someone’s bait. Why are you biting?”

 

“Feh. Meagre bait, if you ask me. Sure, the knuckle draggers around here may fall for it, but you and I are more clever than that. Once we get home, we’ll disassemble these and go over every inch. I don’t overlook free things, you know that by now. Whatever bugs we find, we can trace. Easy.” Mouse hopped down onto the rail line, which had been replaced by a paved sidewalk by Lodge personnel, and gestured for Jessica to follow.

 

“I’ve been looking for an excuse to knock those two down a couple pegs. Their plan to oust us from our turf is just what I’ve been waiting for.”

 

“Maybe so, but they’ll be armed as well as us. Someone wants us to use these guns. Perhaps the federal government? The ATF gunwalked arms across the border in an attempt to track and arrest cartel leaders. Though, that was generally considered a failure…”

 

Mouse shook her head. “That is possible as a theory, but hardly probable. Any sting operations targeting the Lodge are doomed from the start. They’re untouchable. If they are after the guests, that is more likely to succeed, but for what purpose? Catching a slew of minnows hardly thins the pond. And you can bet that the upper bosses won’t allow themselves to be tricked by such a basic con. No, whoever gifted these guns is playing the long game, like any skilled chessmaster. At this point, we have more immediate matters to concern ourselves with.”

 

***

 

Despite her most stringent tests and analysis, Mouse couldn’t find a single thing wrong with the guns. No tracking chips, no bugs in the material, they fired just fine… It was beyond suspicious, but she had no choice but to accept them as legitimate. She stepped out of her workshop, informing the man operating the machines to be careful with her new equipment. They weren’t cheap to acquire, and they were a pain in the ass to install. The tenement had to tap a second line into the grid just for them.

 

Mouse’s headquarters were deep in the crowded, maze-like slums of Davis, the poorest area in Blackburn, but she was fine with that. No one pestered her about building codes or late night noise. She unofficially owned her building, as well as the five that ringed it, makeshift walkways running back and forth through all of them. The central building had been designed to handle administrative functions, and its top floor served as her own personal housing. The easternmost building held her manufacturing center, where all her hardware was fabricated and repaired. The southern one was her drug lab. To the west, north, and northeast was housing for her workers, along with some recreational equipment.

 

The albino left her manufacturing building, taking an external stairwell to the third floor and headed to her drug wing. Several of the workers were hanging out on the balcony, smoking, but seeing her sent them scrambling inside. “Grant!” Mouse shouted, snatching a pair of safety goggles from the rack near the door and donning them. “Grant, have you finished prototyping my latest batch?”

 

For the most part, the walls of the floor had been knocked out, leaving just the studs and areas cordoned off by plastic curtains. A frazzled looking man with thick spectacles and a beakish nose pulled the curtain around his workstation aside in a panic. “Ms. Verion! I-I… it’s… well, you see-”

 

“I’m just asking you a question, Grant. If I was accusing you of something, I’d have my gun in hand.”

 

Grant nodded hastily, dragging the curtain back completely so she could enter. A complicated array of bunsen burners and hotplates were blazing away, boiling several pots of various colored liquids. “Batch 2-129 is showing promise, but 130 and 131 are unstable… The high is potent, but short lived, and the crash is… hard. Very hard.”

 

Mouse’s mouth quirked down in a lopsided frown. She grabbed a measuring spoon from the tool tray on her left and scooped out a teaspoon of pale purple liquid from batch 130, examining it in the light. The woman popped the lid of the cooler that was underneath the folding table the tool tray sat on, grabbed an ice cube and ran it over the underside of the spoon. Once it was cool enough, Mouse downed it, letting the liquid roll around in her mouth.

 

Almost immediately, she spotted the problem, spitting the liquid out in a plastic cup and shaking her head. “You boiled out the magnesium nitrate. It’s all decomposed. Turn the temperature down, add a gas catch, and make sure you add the condensate into the next batch with an electrolysis shock. Not too much, just enough. I can tell by looking at 131 that it’s the same problem.” Grant immediately turned down the hotplates and added some notes to his stained notebook. Mouse turned to peer farther into the room. “Any word on my steroid?”

 

“O-oh! Yes. It’s going very, very well, Ms. Verion! Truly, you’ve outdone yourself with this formula. Our test subjects have reported no major side effects, and minimal damage has been found after three months of extended usage.”

 

“That’s what I like to hear. Listen. I want you to get to work aerosolizing it for inhaler use. I want all my gunmen, runners, eyes, everyone I keep out on the streets, I want them all to have at least two doses on them at all times. Starting yesterday, got it?” Grant stared blankly for a second, then scrambled away to relay her orders.

 

All that was left was to finish her intelligence gathering. She’d sent Jessica out almost immediately after they’d returned from the Lodge to kidnap Salazar’s goon, the one she’d trounced in her race. Jessica had worked him over during a preliminary interrogation, but Mouse wanted to be very thorough. She made her way to the northeast building, heading to the top floor where Jessica’s room was located. Rapping her knuckles on the door, Mouse shouted for the woman. After a moment Jessica pried the door a quarter of the way open, and Mouse was greeted with an unfamiliar scent; no scent. Jessica’s quarters were quite spartan, furnished only by the necessary effects. There were no special decorations along the walls, only a ratty mattress in the corner illuminated by a lamp that sat upon a small desk. Quite a far cry from Mouse’s lavish quarters.

 

“What?”

 

“I dislike that mongrel taking up space under my roof. Let’s finish up this little dance and toss him into the ocean, hmm?” Mouse looked down at her nails, vaguely picking at them. “I’ve arranged for a nice variety of chemical solutions to be awaiting us. I know Salazar’s goons can be quite… uncooperative.”

 

They quickly changed buildings, making their way from the floors of the HQ to the basement-turned-holding cells, approaching the wet room in the rear. It was covered floor to ceiling with green tiles, with a drain inset in the center of the slightly sloped floor, and with various tables and shelves scattered about for convenient storage. “Is everything ready?” Mouse asked the twitchy man she had tending the room. “He looks uncomfortable in there. Good.” Carlos had been strapped securely to a mortician’s slab in the center of the room, bound across all limbs and the torso by thick leather straps.

 

“Y-yes, Ms. Verion. All ready, just like you asked, sure is! All the juice you wanted, the butane torch, shears, lots of wire, potato peeler… Some other stuff… All there!”

 

“Good. I’ll be awhile. In an hour and a half, please fetch some water for me and Jessica. I’m sure we’ll need it.” The two disappeared into the tile room, prompting the door guard to put in his headphones and nervously bob back and forth.

 

At the end of nearly three and a quarter hours of torture, Mouse and Jessica emerged. The former had blood all down her front, splattered across her face, and covering her arms to the elbow. “How frustrating…” lamented the albino, muttering to herself as she pressed a finger to her temple. Carlos hadn’t said much, beyond consulting the standard villain playbook and choosing braggadocious ranting. Something about bugs?

 

“Well, we learned that he’s still an evil demented bastard,” Jessica mumbled, slumping against the wall, staring at the floor. “I don’t think I want to know exactly what he’s been up too…”

 

Mouse frowned and put her hands on her hips. Always with the attitude. “That’s not what keeps our heads off spikes or our asses out of brothels, Jessica. One wrong step and we end up two more playthings in his game. We need to know what he’s up to, want has nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, the slimy fuck is playing his cards closer to his chest than I’d hoped. Next person we abduct can’t be a peon. They have to have a position of power. Until then, we’ll just use that route info we got to keep tabs on him.”

 

Jessica waved a hand dismissively. “Sure. He’ll probably mutate a bunch of turtles into ninjas or some such nonsense, he can’t help himself.” Mouse continued to stare. Jessica crinkled her nose. “What?”

 

“That’s the ‘I don’t like what you’re doing’ tone. Jessica, if you’ve got a better plan to claw your way out of this hellhole, I’m all ears. We’re at the bottom of the barrel, in case you’ve forgotten. And as far as the government’s concerned, I don’t exist. Fighting is our only option. Us or them. I value the lives of the people I work with, I treat them humanely. I won’t, however, afford any niceties to the people that are trying to kill us.”

 

“Okay, look, Nisa, I get it. I didn’t say anything,” Jessica spat back, putting her hands out. She got to her feet. “It’s just – I mean, it’s nothing, okay?”

 

Mouse crossed her arms, her raised brow rising higher. “It’s nothing? Clearly, it must be if you’re getting upset about it. No, wait… That’s the opposite of nothing. People don’t get upset about nothing unless that’s the amount of money they have or time left to live. Either out with it or tell someone else, Jessica. I’m not your therapist.”

 

Jessica balled her fists, taking a step forward. Mouse had to admit herself, she was a little surprised. “Actually, you know what, Nisa?” Jessica pulled out her empty pockets. “I haven’t a cent to my name. I spent every dollar I had left replacing my exhaust pipe. And when it comes to my hourglass of my life, I think the stress of risking my neck for your ass is tapping a few grains of sand to the bottom. I don’t think you need to be a therapist to see that maybe I don’t want to live like an animal anymore.”

 

“Live like an animal?” repeated Mouse. “What the hell are you talking about, Jessica? Am I putting a collar on you? Am I keeping you locked in a cage? No. I take a cut of anything you do that I have to organize myself, but I’m not stopping you from taking initiative. If you’ve got a problem, bring it up to me! I’m not a mind reader, all I have to go on is what you tell me or what little I can glean from reading your body language. And since you spend a lot of time being sullen, it’s really goddamned hard to tell when it’s something you’re blaming me for or you just lost your pencil.”

 

Jessica’s whole body quaked. “Urgh, you don’t get it, do you?! It’s – it’s not just you, it’s this whole damned city, and everyone in it. It doesn’t matter if it’s you or the cops or my mother, everyone who’s had my leash is an asshole! And I’m an asshole too. God, do you ever sit down and reflect on how fucked up this all is? Really compare our lives to what it should be? Or do you just like this life?”

 

For a moment, Mouse didn’t reply. That – that was a low blow. “No. I don’t sit around and think about all the atrocities I’m committing. Why? Precisely because I loathe this life. All I want is to live quietly, carry out my chemical fascination, and be unbothered. But I can’t do that while scumbags like Martin are out threatening everything and everyone!”

 

Jessica followed Mouse’s eyes for a minute. Perhaps she had noticed them come nearly to a halt. There seemed to be more she wanted to say, but all she could manage was “Hmph. We’re doing a lot of good, aren’t we Nisa?”

 

Mouse watched her storm away, the usual when she got righteous indignation fever, before looking down at her hands. “Fremont, go fetch the boys from the second floor. I want that body dissolved as soon as possible.” Snapping to, the twitchy man bolted out of the room, leaving Mouse to wash up in the little sink.

 

 

Next Chapter

Table of Contents

Mavericks Volume 1

1: First Among Equals

2: See No Evil, Speak No Evil

3: Evil Angel

4: The Golden Age

5: Thankless Bureaucrats

6: Bile

7: The Calm Before

8: The Storm

9: Pawns

10: Diversion

11: Pain

12: Bug Life

13: Don’t Stop Me Now

14: Smiling House of Horrors

15: Demons

16: The End of Everything

17: A New Beginning

Shade Volume 1

1: The Hunch

2: Bread Crumbs

3: Little Red Riding Hood

4: Tuck Your Shirt In

5: Perfectly Legitimate Businessman

Short Stories

1: Rough Economy

The Cast

Spoilers! This section is kept up to date with the story, so there may be story details you don’t want to see if you haven’t caught up yet.

You have been warned.

The Mavericks:

Jessica Napier (Shade): Acerbic and rude, Jessica is no people’s hero, but she will fiercely fight for what she believes in. The defected clone-daughter of Rebecca Napier, Jessica is using the Mavericks as an outlet to fight her past. Is now working as a private investigator to further redeem herself by helping the people of Blackburn.

Physical Description: Redheaded, pale and freckled, many people overlook Jessica and her athletic build. Her costume is purple and black with a hooded cape.

Abilities: While not an anomaly, Jessica is still incredibly dangerous, taught from a young age in stealth, gadgetry and close quarters combat.

Alexander Marcio Santos-Malone (Onyx): Alex has always been kindhearted, but unfortunately lacks in the brains department. The former college linebacker dropped out of school after snapping his left leg in a freak injury. After losing his job at Cerberus, Alex is now trying to prove his worth to himself via heroism.

Physical Description: Brown haired. Tall, tan and bulky, Alex certainly has the archetypal hero’s build, but hardly carries himself that way. His costume is all-black and paramilitary with a gas mask.

Abilities: Umbrakinesis, Shadow Walking, Teleportation, Night Vision.

 

The Underworld:

Edgerrin Hamilton (Hades): A mysterious and wealthy real estate mogul, Eddy is currently clawing his way to the top of the criminal underworld after the power vacuum caused by the Phoenix Incident.

Physical Description: Tall, thin, well-defined black man. Well-dressed and is usually seen with his signature fedora.

Abilities: ???

Nisa Jai Verion (Mouse): Tortured from the beginning of her existence, Mouse’s childhood consisted of endless painful lab experiments. Having escaped this fate, Mouse has built a criminal army so she can never be caged again. Is now working as Hades’ right-hand woman.

Physical Description: Petite and albino, with a wolfish face.

Abilties: Can create any chemical compound inside her body.

Grigori Ivanovich: A Russian mobster with connections to the Kremlin. Wishes to expand bratva activities throughout Blackburn.

Physical Description: Bald with a thick brown beard, over six foot and nearing three hundred pounds.

Abilities: None, unless you counts a copious amount of guns.

Mantis: A horrific but perfectly sentient half-human, half-insect creature created by Martin. Was used as his muscle during the Phoenix Incident, but has since vanished.

Physical Description: Humongous and green, with black compound eyes and a crooked scythe-arm. 

Abilities: Enhance senses, super strength.

Dr. Martin Salazar (Sonrisa – Deceased): A gifted biologist from Colombia, the mad scientist used to run a human trafficking to fund his many experiments since losing his job after Mouse’s escape. Was killed in battle during the Phoenix Incident.

Physical Description: A hideous mass of broken bones walking with a cane.

Abilities: Psychokinesis, Teleportation, Force Fields, Levitation.

 

Maverick allies:

Friedrich Kravitz (Prism): Fritz spent a childhood chafing under his Orthodox Jewish parents, and became quite the troublemaking teenager. His mischievous impulsiveness cost him and Alex their Cerberus jobs, so he helped save Blackburn during the Phoenix Incident. He has retired after Shade’s return to hero work and now works for the software company Scholz Enterprises.

Physical Description: Blonde, scrawny and short, but nonetheless able to make himself attractive.

Abilities: Light Manipulation, skilled gadgeteer.

Quinn Fletcher (Chiroptera): Student of the third American Spirit and mentor of Phantasm, the blind sister of the police chief spent twenty lonely years in the shadows. She returned to train Shade in the ways of the Mavericks, and has since gone back to retirement.

Physical Description: Tall and dark-skinned with short curly black hair.

Abilities: Blind but possesses enhanced senses.

Gilda Fletcher: Police Chief of the Blackburn Police Department, Gilda is perhaps the only public official with squeaky clean hands.

Physical Description: Shorter and stockier than her sister, riddled with stress.

Abilities: Leadership and quick on the draw.

Dallas Cardozo: A cynical but well-meaning detective, Dallas is one of the few cops Gilda can trust.

Physical Description: Fairly average Cuban-American male with black hair and penchant for Hawaiian shirts.

Abilities: Investigation and Marksmanship.

Jefferson Higgins: Grew up in a middle-class West Indian neighborhood, but became addicted to film noir. Is now living out his dream of being a detective.

Physical Description: Fairly average Jamaican male with a penchant for out of style fashion.

Abilities: He’s like Jeff Bailey!

 

Others:

Rebecca Napier (Phantasm): Former CEO of Cerberus Security and the woman responsible for the Mavericks disbandment, the short-tempered former vigilante launched a genocidal plan to exterminate crime in Blackburn and take over the city’s police force. Had a crisis of conscious when confronted by her daughter and turned herself in. She is now serving a life sentence in Redwater Correctional Institution.

Physical Description: Identical to Jessica except a few inches shorter and with (minimal) signs of aging.

Abilities: “I’m you, but stronger.”