Mavericks V1 C14 Smiling House of Horrors

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Sorry about the delay. Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen circumstances, London will have to leave the project. Rest assured, the project will continue on and I will take over the characters she wrote.

 

Alex woke up the following morning in a puddle of his own drool. Instinctively he recoiled, and his head reminded him that the effects of that godforsaken light grenade hadn’t gone away.

 

“Ungh, Jesus, why?”

 

Heavy banging came from just outside his door, followed immediately by the creak of it being shoved open.

 

“Get up, sleepyhead!” Dawn yelled at him. “You’re missing breakfast.”

 

He pushed himself up slowly. “Dawn, does the camp still even have food?”

 

“Well, I dunno, but dad made it my job to get you up every day for breakfast, so that’s what I’m gonna do.”

 

Alex half-smiled. “Alright, alright, whatever you say.”

 

Dawn led them out of the janitor’s closet and over to the metro platform, where dozens of civilians huddle together. Only a few were lucky enough to have jackets. Dallas and several other officers were distributing cans.

 

“We only have two more day’s worth of food left, so each person only gets one can. If you want more, you can fight to the death on the tracks.”

 

A few people laughed nervously. Alex molded the shadows on the upper half of his face into a mask and got in line.

 

Fritz, who’d strutted up to join Alex, gave him a look with narrowed eyes. “You going to a masquerade or something?”

 

“Something like that.” He stepped forward. “You certainly don’t seem to care about your identity.”

 

“Should I?” Fritz asked, shrugging. “Worst case scenario, my parents find out what I’m doing and gripe to their temple friends about it. Or maybe that’s best case, who really knows?”

 

“No, worst case is some two-bit thug or mercenary assassin breaks into your apartment and kills you in your sleep.”

 

“How could they break into my apartment and kill me if I’ve already broken into your room for the night?” Fritz asked, flashing Alex a cheeky smile.

 

“Ga-a-ay,” Dawn could be heard saying not far from them.

 

“He does this shit all the time!” Alex complained, throwing up his hands. “He does it just to annoy me. You don’t see him hitting on Shade, do you?”

 

“Hey, I’m a flirt, but I know when to back off,” Fritz said. “She’s preoccupied anyhow.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You’ll figure it out, Alex.”

 

Alex glanced around the crowd. “I don’t see her anywhere. Hopefully she’s meditating somewhere or something.”

 

“Who even knows with her?” Fritz asked, rolling his eyes. “Chick’s an enigma.”

 

“Inside of a mystery. I mean, she doesn’t seem like she’s all bad, she’s just so mad all the time. I’m mad about all this Cerberus nonsense too, but I ain’t ready to kill everyone in Blackburn.” He shot a glance at Fritz. “Except maybe you.”

 

“Aw, I love you too, buddy, gimme a kiss.”

 

Alex pinched his lips shut.

 

“Hrrm,” came Fritz’s dull protest.

 

As they bickered, Jeff came running up to them.

 

“Guys, guys, guys!” he said, just about bouncing on his heels. “I found more of that bug thing’s tracks!”

 

“Glad you were doing something productive, because I ate your breakfast.” Dallas quickly put his hands up. “Kidding, kidding.”

 

“Don’t even joke about that, man!” Jeff urged, putting a hand over his heart. “But really, I found them down near Martin’s base on Calvin Ave. You need to look into it.” He extended out his hand, a pair of handcuffs dangling between his fingers. “And take my inhibitor cuffs if you find him.”

 

“Martin’s base?” Alex questioned. “How do you know that?”

 

“Lots of Hispanic thugs with big guns hanging out around there,” Jeff explained.

 

“Wonderful.” Alex slapped Fritz on the shoulder. “Go find the creepy one, looks like we have a bug to squish again.”

 

***

 

Martin’s base was indeed on Calvin Avenue, in a hulking seaside warehouse by the docks. It was one of the newer ones, the white paint on the corrugated metal siding still fresh. Nonetheless, extensive efforts had been made to fortify it. Sheets of metal had been bolted over the windows, and a helix of barbed wire that wasn’t there before ran along the top of the chain link fence. Guards in heavily padded armor patrolled the perimeter of the fence and waited along every wall of the warehouse, hugging rifles to their chests. A cluster of them, noticeably bigger than the others, stood at attention at the door. Shade swallowed down a twinge of apprehension – if there was an opening, she couldn’t see it.

 

“Hmph…”

 

She turned back and glanced down the adjacent rooftop they were staking out atop of. Onyx and Prism were waiting for her plan patiently.

 

“You two should stay outside and cover me. It doesn’t appear that the mantis creature went back inside, so we also need eyes out in case it returns.”

 

“Uh.” Onyx half-raised his hand. “Are you sure about this? Being alone with Martin?”

 

“Trust me, I know exactly how dangerous he is.”

 

“Okay, your call.”

 

She put out her hand. “I could use a teleport, big guy.”

 

Onyx did as he was told, dropping her near a stack of crates on the building’s back side.

 

“Good luck,” he said before fading away.

 

The rear wasn’t as heavily guarded. Two guards walked a horizontal path to the ends of the fence and back, and two more were having a smoke break near a backdoor.

 

“<You hear about Grigori? Bastard’s gone.>”

 

“<Ha! I got sick of his Mother Russia this, Mother Russia that. It’s obviously not as rough as Blackburn.>”

 

“<Now if we can just feed the Mouse to Mantis, we’ll have the city to ourselves. Say, did that rock just move by itself?>”

 

“<Jorge, rocks don’t just move by themselves.>”

 

“<But it did! I swear on my mother’s grave.>”

 

“<I hope it’s not made of stone or it might have moved itself.>”

 

“<You’re a prick, Miguel.>”

 

Shade had already slid through the door while the two bickered. Inside, she found herself in some sort of armory, the walls lined with racks of guns that were nearly empty. Judging by the height of the ceiling, she guessed that the warehouse was no longer a warehouse, but a three-story stronghold. Save for the one she’d just come through, there was one other door, and it was slightly ajar. Somewhere, she could hear rhythmic footsteps, and what sounded like claws scraping on the cement floor. She crept behind the door and stooped to peer through.

 

Down the dim hallway, someone in that same black body armor rounded the corner, dragging something along by a chain. Suddenly, he stopped. The unseen end of the chain was lagging behind him, resisting him. He scowled. “<Come on, you piece’a shit…>”

 

He gave the chain a jerk, and something that made bile rise in Shade’s throat came into view.

 

She didn’t see it for long – a second and a half, at best – but it was enough to make her skin crawl. The thing was by the loosest definition of the word a dog. At least, it had the vague shape of a dog, a quadruped with pointed ears and a snout. But it was nearly hairless, and its skin was the color of bare human flesh. In that split second, the man didn’t see her. The creature did. It looked her dead in the eye. There was nothing doglike about those eyes.

 

She let out an involuntary gasp and quickly hid behind the door. The guard stopped. “Miguel?” She didn’t respond, but she could hear him creeping closer, loading a gun, cursing under his breath at the thing on his chain.

 

She slid out of the way of the door as it swung open all the way, leaving her trapped in a slice of darkness. The guard stopped, but she could hear his chain jangling. Claws scraped on the floor. They were drawing near. Shade braced herself for the worst.

 

The thing loomed over her, and if nothing else, she was sure right then and there that it was human. It’s face had the bone structure of a dog’s, but its nose was that of human, nostrils set into a shallow impression of a normal nose. Its mouth hung open, rimmed by thin, drawn lips and full of human teeth. Its eyes, too, were unmistakably human. In lieu of paws, its too-short fingers were fused, and its nails were yellow and jagged.

 

Shade pulled her tranq gun, but the beast didn’t move. It gave her one long look, then went back to its master. The man just scoffed. “<You’re kidding.>” He shut the door, exposing her, but he didn’t have time to take note of her before he fell limp with a tranquilizer dart in his neck.

 

Immediately, Shade dragged a gun rack in front of the door and loaded it down with all the guns she could find. The dog person watched her, but didn’t move. For the first time, she noticed its metal collar. The skin around it was chafed and bloody, like it hadn’t been removed in a very long time. A remote control had fallen from the guard’s hand, too, a little plastic square with a single black button. Shade picked it up and inspected it. The only writing on it was in tiny white letters just above the button – administer shock.

 

When she looked up, the dog creature wasn’t where it had been. It was cowering in the corner, watching her with wary eyes and trembling so hard it could barely stand up. Administer shock.

 

“Hey,” she whispered unevenly. “It’s okay, I’m not gonna -” she trailed off. Did the thing know English like the mantis did? It was hard to say – it wasn’t a dog, after all, but it wasn’t human, either.

 

She could feel it watching her as she pulled a multi-tool from her belt and started to unscrew the flatheads from the back of the remote. The backing came away, and she shook the batteries out onto the floor. The dog person looked puzzled, but not quite convinced. The point hadn’t hit home.

 

She dropped the remote on the ground and stomped on it. It crunched under the heel of her boot. The dog person flinched, anticipating a shock, but it never came. She stomped on the remote again and again until it was nothing but plastic shards and bits of circuit board. The dog stopped shaking.

 

“See?” she said, knowing it probably didn’t understand her. It came forward to sniff the remote. Jessica shuddered to think what would happen to the poor creature when she left, but there were bigger things at stake. But as she made to leave, she turned and looked at the thing one last time. Its head was lowered, sagging, as though in grief or maybe relief. The sides of its face were wet with human tears. When it caught her looking at it, it slipped through the door ahead of her. The sound of the chain dragging on a concrete floor was too loud, and she thought of letting it go as a distraction for the guards, but it was going the way she wanted to go, down the west hall. She hurried after it, picking up the dragging chain. It felt wrong in her hands. To keep another human on a leash was wrong. But the creature only picked up its pace, knowingly leading her somewhere.

 

Through the wall of that long, narrow hallway, she could hear machinery – buzzsaws whirring, an industrial air conditioner humming, gruff-voiced men talking. That must have been where the garage door led, she thought, and the garage would take up two floors in height. That meant the second floor would have to be considerably smaller than the first. She wasn’t sure if that was good or bad – there might be less space to cover, but she could easily get trapped if there were too many guards up there.

 

Suddenly, the creature sped up and took a sharp left. She followed it into a dark stairwell – just in the nick of time. Two guards passed the stairwell, smoking cigarettes, each leading their own “dog.” The men didn’t see them. The dogs did. One stalled, if only for half a moment, and the other gave a strange yip, somewhere in between a growl and a human moan, as if to tell its friend off for lingering so long. They disappeared from view, but Jessica could still hear them – the guards, but the dogs, too, talking in a language of whines and not-at-all doglike barks.

 

The second floor was as she expected – the hallway straight ahead led to a wall with a window in it, where she could see gray shapes lit up orange by the glow of flying sparks and welding torches. She wanted to check it out and see how many men Martin had down there, and what kinds of machines they were packing. But the dog seemed anxious to turn the corner, and rightfully so – she slipped behind the wall just in time to see a man with a dog stop to look out that window.

 

She gripped the chain tight in her hands, but it wouldn’t stop rattling. The dog led her to a door and looked at her expectantly. Jessica braced herself as she turned the doorknob, but there weren’t any “experiments” inside. It was just a closet of some sort. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could make out collars like the one the dog was wearing, unlocked and hung on racks along the walls. There was a shelf with some random garbage on it – chunks of dried meat seemingly designed for the dogs, someone’s locked phone, and a box of batteries with a sign that read NEW batteries (do NOT put dead batteries in here) in Spanish. The dog led her to a corner of the room where a single key hung from a hook. Immediately, she understood, stooping to unlock the collar around the dog’s neck.

 

The hinges on the collar snapped open, and it hit the floor before she could stop it. The sound of metal striking stone reverberated through the floor and up into her legs, momentarily stopping her heart. The dog’s pupils dilated in terror – how much did this sorry creature know? The flesh under the collar smelled sour, maybe rotten, and it was making her sick. Choking down her pulse, Shade strained her ears.

 

Someone was coming. Her hand wandered to her smoke bombs, but it wouldn’t do her any good – the guard would just call in reinforcements, and she’d be cornered. Anything that would draw attention to her would kill her in the long run. She wrapped her hand around her tranq gun.

 

The footsteps tapered off right outside the door. Then, there was silence, followed by a bang. The door flew open, light pouring into the supply closet. Without a second thought, Shade fired.

 

No dice. The dart lodged in a thick black visor that shielded the guard’s face. She could only wonder what his face must have looked like. The hound beside him, smaller than hers, was trembling, like it knew what was coming. The man pressed the button on his remote.

 

Immediately, the creature arched its back and emitted a sound not unlike a strangled scream. Its legs convulsed, white tongue lolled, eyes rolled back in its head. After three seconds that felt like three hours, the man let go of the button, and the thing’s demeanor changed completely. Its human lips curled up in a snarl – not at the guard, but at her. Its eyes were full of a dangerous, feral hatred. She had only moments to wonder what Martin had done to this miserable thing, to the tens, possibly hundreds of barely-humanoid abominations in this facility to make them react in such a way to pain. She jumped out of the way as it leapt, stumbling as the creature grazed her hip and knocked her off balance. It recovered in no time flat, this time backing her into a corner.

 

She shot a tranq dart into it, and then another.  When it lunged at her, it wasn’t nearly as fast as the last time, but at this rate, the thing might have another shot before the tranquilizer took effect – would two tranq darts even be enough? She didn’t want to kill the poor thing. After narrowly dodging yet another lunge, she braced herself against the wall and kicked back with all her might. It barely moved an inch. She shot another dart into it, but it was already too close. The rush of adrenaline in her veins was turning to sick fear. She grabbed a collar from the wall and swung it around on its chain, building its momentum until the thing was close enough for her to smell its breath. Then, she swung it around and struck it across the face.

 

It reeled, staggered, then fell in a heap against a pile of chains. Its back rose and fell, but it didn’t move.

 

When the smell of blood filled the air, she quickly checked her body for wounds she hadn’t noticed – it wouldn’t be the first time she’d blocked out the pain of an injury that week. But aside from a few future bruises and scratches in her armor, she was fine. It  then that Shade realized that she hadn’t heard from the guard, or her own hound, in a bit.

 

The dog  was sitting across the room, laying on something black and bulky. Its pink skin was red with fresh blood – there was blood everywhere, creeping across the floor in a growing pool that originated from that black mass. She went to look at what her hound had done.

 

The guard had been completely eviscerated. The dog had torn through the thick body armor in places, tearing him apart, right down to the bone. His arm had been torn out of its socket and strewn across the room. His visor had been shattered, but a scrap of body armor mercifully covered his face, and Shade decided she didn’t want to see what was underneath.

 

She looked at the dog, and the dog looked at her, but that time, the dog wasn’t quite human enough for her to read it. She clenched her fist. “Come on,” she said, beckoning for it to follow as she laid a hand on the doorknob. When it was at her heels, she threw the door open and ran.

 

The late guard seemed to have been the only one on the small, evidently unimportant floor – or if there were others, they were few, and she never ran into them. The hound was faster than her. It led her to yet another stairwell, and she almost bounded up it. But as she reeled back to leap, she noticed that the dog was creeping up the stairs with such care that she had to wonder what was at the top – evidently, something that the hound was very afraid of. She crept a few paces behind it, until it stopped nearly at the top.

 

She didn’t hear a thing up there. But if she was putting money on it, she would have bet that the dog knew better than her. So she crawled past it and stole a look into the third floor.

 

The hound had been right again. Four guards stood watch over one door in a small chamber whose only purpose seemed to be to precede that door. They weren’t chatty like the other guards – they faced forward, two flanking the door, two up against the adjacent walls. They didn’t have hounds, though. They were armed with massive guns, held ready across their chests.

 

They only served to emphasize how important that door must have been, though, because they weren’t much of a threat to her. Taking them out was easy enough. One knock-out gas pellet, and they were gone. That wasn’t the issue. When one of their walkie-talkies hissed, and someone on the other side asked for what was apparently a routine check-in – that was an issue. The voice cut in again, asking if they copied. Reinforcements would arrive at any moment. Her time was short. She snatched a keycard from one of the guards’ sleeve pockets and swiped it. For good measure, she took all of the others’ key cards with her, hoping that they were the only ones with cards; that might buy her some time.

 

She took hold of the doorknob. The dog appeared beside her, and its eyes were full of – no, not fear. Sadness. The thought of passing through that door was suddenly making her sick. She opened it anyway.

 

Before she could even register what was in there, the dog bolted down the hall, anxious to pass through as quickly as possible. They were in a long, long hallway, not gray like the rest of the building, but clinical white. Doors lined the hall, at least twenty on either side, each with a reinforced window beside it.

 

This was a distraction, she decided, proceeding down the hall with her eyes downcast. But there were strange sounds all around her, and she could feel her curiosity stirring inside of her. She promised herself that she wouldn’t stop, no matter what she saw, and then looked.

 

And she didn’t stop, but what she saw nearly made her sick. In every room was some sort of abomination of human flesh, like the dog, but of many more unnatural shapes. She saw something nearly human with gigantic hands and a single eye for its entire face, something thin made of more membrane than flesh or bone, something lying on a table without arms or legs or eyes or ears or anything but a single mouth, one horrific thing after another. But the worst of them was at the end of the hall – a door. Just an office door, with gold letters on the frosted glass.

 

Dr. Martin Salazar

 

After all she’d seen, Shade was dying to get her hands on that freak. She could barely contain herself. But at the same time, she could barely bring herself to open that door.

 

The place was open and spacious, lavish quarters for someone important. An expensive-looking rug ran the whole length of the place, and the walls were lined with bookshelves. At the far end of the room, a gilded desk sat in front of a huge tapestry. Dr. Salazar himself stood admiring it with hands clasped behind his back, paying Shade no attention at all, and she wondered if he even knew she was there. She started to creep towards the desk.

 

“About time,” he said in that strange, distorted voice of his.

 

Shade stopped. “You knew I was coming,” she said, a statement of fact.

 

“Indeed.”

 

“How?”

 

“Simple. Things being the way that they are, the new Mavericks wouldn’t be anywhere but Vicio, and my base of operations is by far the most conspicuous on the island. From the outside, it’s low hanging fruit. Like most traps.”

 

“Some trap,” she scoffed. “Your guards are pathetic.”

 

“Indeed, I’ve been waiting to hear news of guards up to their gills in tranquilizer, but not two minutes ago, a guard called to tell me that someone had been absolutely maimed in the hound supply closet. Positively brutal. I didn’t think that such bloodshed was in the spirit of the Mavericks. Letting out some pent up rage?”

 

Shade was taken aback. “That wasn’t me.”

 

Martin looked over his shoulder, and his bespectacled eyes widened at the hound beside her. “Ah, it was you.”

 

He came around his desk to approach the hound. He looked down on the creature with some strange, synthetic affection. She didn’t dare attack him – not yet. “Where’s your training collar, little one?” he asked in a syrupy voice. “What about your handler? Surely he wasn’t the one we found unconscious in the first floor armory. What kind of dog would you be to let such a thing happen to your handler?”

 

Somewhere in the hound’s eyes,  it understood.

 

Martin reeled back with his cane. “It would make you -” He brought it down on the hound’s head. “A waste -” And again. “Of genetic -” Again. “Material.” Again. “A book – not worth – its paper…” He stopped, panting, brandishing his cane like a sword. “… is what…”

 

The poor creature was dead before she could make a move. The corners of her mouth twitched in rage.

 

Martin looked at her, then the hound. It was laying down now, blood pouring down the side of its face, but its eyes were wide open and terrified. “Kindling.” One more time, he beat the dog’s head with the cane. Its eyes closed. “Fuel for a fire. Bigger and better things than it. We’ll still use her genetic material, of course, but I think we ought to make her successors more obedient, tone down the intellect. This sort of insubordination has happened more times than I’d care to admit.”

 

He strolled back up to his desk, as though nothing had happened, and paused again at his tapestry with his hands clasped behind his back.

 

“What is all this about, Martin?”

 

He scoffed. “Don’t ask stupid questions. You know this is about power – power that is rightfully mine. There are no revelations to be had. I don’t regret the pain, suffering, and death I’ve caused in past. Blackburn’s pain is but a drop in the bucket, and it hasn’t changed me. You don’t realize how worthless human life is until you take it away – even just one human life. It’s really quite astounding. I think everyone should try it.” He paused, lost in thought. “There are no secrets here. My reasons are the same as they’ve always been.”

 

“Just confirming what I already knew. You’re sick.”

 

Martin made a small snort, then fell silent. “So. Are we ready to end this?”

 

But he hadn’t even finished speaking by the time Shade had drawn her tranq gun. She fired, aiming for the back of his neck. Inches away from his neck, it stopped – just stopped, hovering in the air, perfectly still. His bony, broken fingers were splayed, as if holding it there. “Poor form, Shade.”

 

At minute twirl of his fingers, the dart turned around. She had less than a moment to dodge it as it came flying back at her. Martin’s back was still turned. She started running at him, brandishing her fists. Then, something slid out from under her feet, and she was flat on her face. The rug had been pulled out from underneath her like a tablecloth, and was now piled at the far end of the room. Martin had turned around now, and was smiling a crooked smile at her.

 

Then, something flashed in the corner of her eye, and she had just enough sense in her to get out of the way. Two bookshelves from opposite walls smashed together, right where she’d been sitting. Before she even realized what had happened, her instincts told her to jump back, and she did, narrowly avoiding being smashed by yet another set of bookshelves. All four shelves rattled and returned to their positions on the walls, now unimpeded by the carpet.

 

Then, all of the bookshelves started to rattle, all at once. She shot her grappling gun into the ceiling and went airborne just in time – all of the bookshelves smashed together, making a sound like a thunderclap. She dropped straight towards Martin. He looked up, and for a moment, he looked surprised. Then, he held up a hand, and Shade was frozen in space, inches away from the ugliest, most contorted face she’d ever seen. His eyes were cataract blue. A smile crept up the corners of his displaced lips, and he flicked his fingers, sending her flying across the room.

 

She landed on the pile of rug, forcing herself to her feet. There were already bookshelves flying at her like gigantic rounds of ammunition. She broke into a run, dodging one, two, three, four of them in rapid succession. They exploded into broken wood and scattered books behind her. She was gaining ground again, but Martin had himself protected – three bookshelves orbited him like planets, ready at his disposal. He didn’t seem too keen on wasting any more bookshelves, for he’d stopped firing them at her, but at least three more were looming in the air, ready to strike. When she was within range, she chucked a smoke pellet at him, hoping to obscure his vision and get a shot in on him. It landed right at his feet, and he was immediately enveloped in a haze of gray smoke.

 

She could see the tops of his orbiting bookshelves where they stuck out of the cloud – if she could come in and attack him from above, he might not have seen it coming. Again she took to the air with her grappling gun and began to descend into the ring of shelves, bearing down hard upon the man inside of it.

 

But she never hit him – he wasn’t there, and she couldn’t say how. Realizing she’d been trapped, she ducked and rolled out of the circle and into the open air. She looked over her shoulder in time to catch the three unseen bookshelves smash together, throwing books and wooden shrapnel everywhere.

 

Martin was riding a bookshelf through the air, upright, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. However, as she dodged bookshelves that swooped down like hawks to the kill, she noticed something – Martin was leaning heavily on his cane. Panting. Pale. Was he getting tired?

 

In a maneuver she knew full well he could evade, she tried again to shoot her grapple into the ceiling and swing into him. He caught her again, but didn’t allow her to get so close this time. It wasn’t enough to hide the fact that he was sweating profusely, though, and his teeth were gritted in concentration. He threw her, but his throw was so feeble that she landed on her feet.

 

So she continued to dodge his attacks. She kept her maneuvers predictable, so Martin had something to do, something to waste his energy on. He tried to interrupt the regular patterns of her movements, but it was too late to do any real damage – the bookshelves moved sluggishly through the air now, still forceful, still capable of doing damage, but they’d lost their element of surprise, and she dodged them easily.

 

The bookshelf Martin rode was getting lower, the way a balloon sags as it runs out of helium. She was just biding her time, waiting until – without warning, she broke her maneuver to bounce off the wall and into the air, a leg outstretched to kick him off of his pedestal. Their eyes met, and he was no longer smug. His eyes were feral. With a final heave of effort, he sent a bookshelf sailing through the air, and she didn’t have time to dodge it. It knocked her right down, and she felt the breath leave her lungs as she hit the ground, splintered wood raining down her cloak.

 

But the effort had been too much for him, and she knew it. She looked up just in time to catch Martin stagger and fall ten, maybe fifteen feet. He crumpled on the floor, his bookshelves hanging perfectly still in the air. Without his telekinesis, he seemed so vulnerable, a heap of broken bones. Shade got to her feet and went to see if he was dead.

 

No. He hardly seemed perturbed by freshly broken bones – he’d probably broken so many of his own bones, it didn’t even matter to him. He was human, but just barely.

 

He tried to squirm away, but he was either too weak or too broken to manage it. He forced a laugh. “Well, then?” he choked out. “What are you going to do? Kill me?”

 

“Maybe I should.” A hundred ways to end him flashed through her mind. None gave him what he deserved.

 

“Really? Is that right?” he said, cackling. “Then by all means, dear, do it.”

 

Shade glared down at him. She was suspicious, but not enough to stop her from knocking that damn smile off. She reeled back and kicked him hard across the face. His head snapped to the floor and stayed there.

 

The bookshelves that hung in the air shook, filling the room with a strange rattle. Shade heard something overhead, looked up – one was hanging directly over Martin. Had that been there before?

 

One by one, they fell out of the air, eight in total. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven – eight. The bookshelf fell on top of him, flat side down, still full of heavy tomes. One rattling breath sounded from underneath the shelf, then ceased.

 

A pulse of energy hit her, first as a feeling, then as a force that knocked her flat on her ass. Below her, she could hear every window in the building shatter, every one of Martin’s men cry out in surprise and terror. The last of his energy was gone. Martin was dead.

 

Before she could let herself fully understand what she’d done, Shade called Quinn. “The asshole’s dead. When this is all over, they need to raze this place to the ground.”

 

“Good riddance,” Quinn said. Shade’s stare lingered on the fallen bookshelf, the tip of Martin’s leather shoe sticking out from underneath it, and his cane lying unused beside him. She turned and made a run for the nearest window.

 

 

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Mavericks V1 C13 Don’t Stop Me Now

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Hey folks, we’ve finally been accepted on Topwebfiction! All I need is a simply one-click vote here weekly to keep the readers flowing in. The link is also on the front page. The more readers we get, the more bonus content we can put out in the future. Thank you for following thus far, we’ve got about half a dozen chapters to go in this arc.

 

Fritz would have been lying if he’d said this had been one of his better days. Sure, it wasn’t his worst either, but boy, vigilante work was tough and the people were even more nuts than usual. Somehow he’d never expected to fight a giant bug.

 

To his surprise, Prism had lived through the encounter and was now headed for the weapons cache on his own. Something about stealth. Onyx and Shade were supposed to meet him there.

 

On the way, however, Cerberus jerks had been making the journey a pain in the ass. It seemed like every corner he turned, there were some assholes blocking his path and slowing him down. Just as he thought he’d found a clear way, there were some more soldiers with assault rifles. It was getting old. They were all walking in the same direction, seemingly only interested in searching above for any threats. Not one of the men had any thought to look over his shoulder and catch Prism following.

 

It gave Prism more than enough time to gather light around himself, weaving and stretching it into an impossibly smooth yet flexible surface. He hesitated, whirling the light around himself like a potter’s wheel. Only once he had a wide enough surface area did Prism send it out, weaving it right under the goons’ boots.

 

The first cry alerted the rest of them, but not before the two furthest back had slipped and fallen right onto the frictionless light pooling around them. As the two of them desperately grappled for purchase and found none, the rest of them stepped on the almost icy trap that materialized just below their feet. In only a few seconds, the group was flopping around like fish out of water with only each other to hold onto. Their guns laid useless at their sides, and their bulky figures only served to pin them in place. No matter how hard they tried to squirm out of the trap, they went nowhere. It didn’t take long for all of them to give up and lay there, breathing hard.

 

With that done, Prism waltzed out from his hiding spot and jogged past them.

 

“Trust me, guys-” he called as he passed them, giving a little wave. “-working for Cerberus ain’t gonna work out for you.”

 

All he heard was a groan in response as he kept on towards the rendezvous point.

 

For a little while, it was smooth sailing. The only goons he saw were in the distance, well out of his way. Prism kept up a brisk pace and it seemed like he’d get where he was going on time. Of course, as luck would have it, there managed to be a bigass truck blocking his way. It was practically on top of his target location, for God’s sake, could Cerberus not have moved it one block over?

 

Prism pressed up flat against the truck’s front end. The doors were open, but the mooks were all out back. He peered out from behind it to watch them duck in and out of view, carrying corpses as they went. It was impossible to tell how many there were like that, but it sure looked like a good group.

 

Half of a plan formulated itself in Prism’s head. He glanced around at the ground before grabbing a chunk of concrete from the ground. With all the force he could muster, he brought it down on the truck’s nose. Immediately, he dropped it and hauled himself up onto the truck, scurrying up onto the roof and laying flat on it.

 

“The hell was that?” someone asked.

 

“Well, go find out.”

 

“I’m not going, I’m hauling bodies. You just been standing there, you go.”

 

“Fine, jeez, no respect for the sentry.”

 

Prism heard the unfortunate soldier plodding along, and, once he’d passed by, Prism leaned over the truck’s sides and formed frictionless sheets of light on either of them. With that done, he pulled himself back in, and started bringing light into both of his hands. Slowly, but surely, two solid batons formed from out of his fists and he held them in a solid grip. All the while, he drew himself up into a crouched posture.

 

“Ah, come the fuck on!” the goon whined from the front. “That was new paint! Fuckin’ looters got no-”

 

Prism exploded out of his crouch, pouncing on the soldier and delivering two solid whaps to his head. He went down just like that, and Prism landed on his feet.

 

“Leo?!” another of them called.

 

Prism ducked behind the truck’s front and couldn’t stifle a smirk as the cries of confused goons hitting the ground came flooding in. Funny as it was, he had no time to waste. Prism peeked out on one side to make sure none of them were still standing. They were collecting themselves fast, and, as Prism came close, one of them yelled for someone to grab a gun. No one ever did.

 

Three solid whacks on three very empty heads later and Prism was left with, hopefully, only a few left to deal with. Of course, how he was going to do that was the question, but he was sure he’d think of something. Prism made his way around the back of the truck and-

 

He froze at the open door. Inside was a seemingly endless pile of body bags and not all of them were zipped up all the way. The smell of rot hit Prism hard, and he brought a hand up to his mouth and nose, squeezing his eyes shut. The moisture in the air was not helping.

 

It was then that he felt something butt against his shoulder.

 

“No sudden moves, buddy,” one of the soldiers said from beside him.

 

Prism took a deep breath and opened his eyes again. Surrounding him were four of the Cerberus goons, all with their rifles trained on him. He brought his hands up and gave the best smile he could.

 

“Hey, guys,” he said. “How are you all doing today?”

 

No one even cracked a smile. Buncha jerks. Prism glanced to the side and began concentrating light into a small sphere just out of their peripheral views.

 

“Who are you?” the first of them demanded, prodding Prism with the nose of his gun. “What’s with the get-up?”

 

“We-ell,” Prism drawled. “You can call me Prism. It’s not my name, but you can call me that, if you get what I’m saying.”

 

Again, he was jabbed in the chest. They didn’t get it.

 

“You sure look familiar,” the guy said, squinting at him.

 

“Oh, well, you do too,” Prism said, giving him a saccharine smile. “Did I meet you at the bar? The one who wasn’t packing as much heat as advertised?”

 

Prism heard a snort from one of the other soldiers before he was punched right in the jaw. He faltered back, hunching a bit.

 

“Talk, asshole, or you’re gonna end up with the rest of them!” he snarled, like the overcompensating brute he was.

 

“Alright,” Prism said, raising one hand. “You’re a bunch of douchebags.”

 

On the final syllable, Prism fell to the ground in a ball and a blinding flash went off between the four of them. He heard a few rounds fired and some screaming, but nothing hit him. As quickly as he went down, Prism hopped up again and reformed his batons. Just like before, he whacked them all in the head and they went down like flies. Man, this hero work wasn’t so hard after all.

 

With that taken care of, Prism dared one last look into the truck before he took off running down the street. It would only take a minute to get to the rendezvous from there, assuming no more Cerberus soldiers got in his way. No problem at all.

 

***

 

“So there’s Cerberus soldiers everywhere, and it looks like some of them are gathering up bodies,” Prism explained. “Disgusting, let me tell you.”

 

“Bodies?” Shade questioned, but the answer didn’t take long to deduce. “Hmph. Some of Grigori’s men must have missed the boat. Makes our job easier.”

 

She gestured around the building they were standing before. “Cerberus is just around the corner, plundering the bastard’s stash. I’m going to see if I can’t find any explosives to rig. You two cover me.”

 

The boys nodded and zipped off, leaving her to slink around the building’s edge. The were a few squads worth of men scouring the warehouse, checking in and out of their vehicles. She’d love to have asked Grigori how they hidden so many weapons in Liberty, right under the public’s nose. Perhaps one day. Right then she needed to make sure those weapons didn’t end up the wrong hands.

 

“Hey, uh, Shade? I’m – I’m not sure if I’m not seeing things, but – you might want to check out who their commander is.”

 

She grumbled beneath her breath. Was the crypticism necessary?

 

“Just spit it out man.” She peered around a van, letting her eyes adjust to the warehouse’s lighting, and nearly jumped a mile.

 

“No! Fucking hell, not her!”

 

A few Cerberus troopers heard fear getting the better of her and turned around, taking a few tentative steps. Their parting fully revealed a woman in a tattered white cape.

 

“Screw this – fall back,” she commanded, making a break for the building they had come from – but a squad of Cerberus soldiers doubled around.

 

Fuck.” Holding her breath, she crawled under the nearest van. An agonizing minute passed, and every second she thought her heartbeat would give her away. When the sound of their boots faded away, she put a shaking finger to her ear.

 

“Onyx, Prism, they know I’m here. I’m trapped. I need a distraction.”

 

“Hold tight Shade, we’ll get them off your back,” came Onyx’s reply. After a moment she heard a whistle from the roofs. Evidently the mercs had too, and they hurried towards it. She began to crawl out when she was hauled to her feet by the scruff of her neck. There was no time to react before Phantasm spun her around and decked her in the nose.

 

Shade staggered back, clutching her face. The response was automatic, just as she practiced so many times – she blinked away the pain and threw a jab of her own. Phantasm parried the punch but missed the knee rocketing into her gut. Even through the goggles her surprise was evident. Shade punched downwards and Phantasm doubled over. As she went for a second blow she found herself staring up at the sky, clutching her shoulder, listening to the sounds of gunfire nearby. Even near fifty, was her mother still faster than her?

 

She spun around and kicked herself back to her feet, throwing a van door into Phantasm’s face. Phantasm slammed it shut, hovering a hand over her sidearm. Shade readied into a disarming stance, but the gun never came. Phantasm instead went for – bolas?

 

Shade struggled to free her ankles, but the wire held fast.

 

“Take off that mask,” Phantasm demanded, leveling her handgun. She gritted her teeth. Fine. At least she’d see what she’d done to her only child.

 

“Some hero you are, lady,” Onyx growled. They glanced up to see him crouching atop the van. Phantasm attempted to fire a round at him, but hit a block of shadow instead. He leapt on top of Shade and in an instant she found herself on the roof of the building.

 

“If you really wanted to get on top of me so bad, you just had to ask,” she teased.

 

“Let’s flirt when there’s not so many bullets flying around, okay?” He stuck a finger to his ear. “Prism, we gotta go.”

 

“Wa-ay ahead of you, buddy,” Prism said, a grin in his voice. Somewhere in the distance, a deep boom could be heard.

 

“I guess that’s our cue.” Onyx studied the bola wires for a moment before shrugging. “I’ll just brute force it.”

 

He cracked his neck before surrounding his hand in those befuddling shadows. The wires gave way with little resistance.

 

“Impressive. Wait, watch ou-”

 

Bang!

 

Shade managed to throw up her hands in time to guard her eyes from the flash grenade, but Onyx wasn’t so lucky. He howled in agony, clutching his forehead. His eyes were sensitive to strong light, weren’t they?

 

Balling her fists, she marched to the roof’s edge and threw a haymaker when Phantasm scaled over. Her mother’s eyes shot open. Before she could tumble over Shade grabbed her by the collar and slammed her to the ground. She went for a stomp before she caught the glint of a blade. They locked eyes for a moment.

 

Gritting her teeth, Shade threw down a smoke pellet and fell into the gas.

 

***

 

No no no no no.

 

Her belt and mask nearly toppled the whiskey.

 

No no no no no goddammit all no no.

 

Shaking hands pried the bottle open and she didn’t bother with a glass. After downing three – or was it four? – shots, Rebecca slumped down into her chair, forehead in her palms. She thought she was going to be sick. That couldn’t have been Jessica, her girl was in jail, she couldn’t have betrayed her, she wouldn’t.

 

The door to the diner clicked open. Rebecca stole a glance at her Field Commander and curled her lips.

 

“What?”

 

“It’s the mayor, ma’am,” he said, wagging a cell phone. “He wants to speak to you directly.”

 

“Give it.”

 

The man nodded and complied before slipping away.

 

“Rebecca? Why haven’t you reported in? What the hell is going on over there?”

 

“Chaos. I tried to warn you that these gangs had grown too powerful. We just seized over two tons of weaponry from the Russians.”

 

She could audibly hear the mayor leaning back in his seat.

 

“And that’s without mentioning Mouse has yet to truly deploy her latest drug, and God knows what Martin’s got planned… Mister Montana, I think we need to plan for the worst case scenario.”

 

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

Mavericks V1 C12 Bug Life

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“<Go to your positions, now! When you see it, shoot to kill! Fall back when it advances.>” There wasn’t time to remove any of his heavy ordnance or salvage things. At best, all he could hope to do was delay the monster so his men could withdraw. A select few volunteers, chosen amongst themselves by drawing lots, stood their ground with him outside his main warehouse, manning the heavy machineguns. “<I’ll buy you a beer in hell> he muttered, fingers white-knuckled on the emplacement handles.

 

Far down the road, perhaps a hundred fifty yards, came a alien cry, more like clicking than a roar. The thing blitzed through a pile of cars with shocking speed. Grigori’s gut churned like a Siberian blizzard. It wasn’t entirely insectoid, but it surely was not human either. It towered over its surroundings at perhaps eleven feet tall, with the chest of a man but limbs of a beast. Its sickly green exoskeleton was riddled with bullets and painted crimson in areas, but he figured that wasn’t its blood. The mandibles over its jaws clicked again when it saw Grigori, and it continued its charge.

 

“<Fire!>” ordered the Russian, lighting the oncoming creature up. It wasn’t enough… Whatever that thing was made of, it shrugged off bullets like they were butterflies. The thing stepped through landmines and claymores, buffeted by the force of the blasts but undeterred. “<Fuck! …Fall back. Fall back! Prepare the ship! I will join you soon.>” Levelling his trusty PKM, Grigori fired at the beast as he retreated backwards towards the warehouse, covering his mens’ escapes.

 

Once he slipped through the door, he locked it and headed for the ladder to the catwalk above. He took the rungs two at a time, pulling it up after him, and grabbed a bandolier of impact-sensitive grenades. When that thing came through, he was ready to give it some hellfire straight from the Motherland. One. Two. It took only three hits for the beast to fight through the door. It turned its horrible compound eyes to him and clicked.

 

“Grigori!” It spoke? Its cadence wasn’t human, but those were clearly words. “I’m going rip your fucking head off!”

 

“I have been steppink on things more threatening than you in the Motherland!” he called back, heart racing. Pulling the pin on one of his grenades, he slung it at the creature. The explosive detonated upon contact with the floor. It yelped, bringing its skinny fingers to its face, and took a step back. He just barely managed to throw another one before his feet slipped out from under him. The mantis creature had taken out a support beam, and the whole catwalk slid down a few inches.

 

Grigori caught himself on the railing, pulling a pin with his teeth and tossing the entire rest of the bandolier at the creature. He managed to right himself and took off in the opposite direction, towards another cache of explosives. It had to crack sometime. It had to…

 

“You Russians move quick for being such stocky louts,” the mantis complained, staggering below. When it caught its bearings, it hurled a crate at Grigori. The splintering wood peppered him, but he refused to be shaken.

 

“You had better hope that you are quicker,” replied the man, hefting an RPG onto his shoulder. The weapon was second nature to him, only requiring the most fleeting moment to aim his shot before firing it at the creature.

 

The beast was consumed by smoke and fire, then lay on the ground silent and still. Grigori peered closer, to ensure his foe was dead. Green ooze leaked from its chest. Then its neck cracked. It spun its still quite lively head a hundred and eighty degrees, then contorted its limbs like a conventional praying mantis and crawled up the wall. He stumbled back. From which circle of hell had this demon crawled out of? It lept out at him, bringing its scythe-like right forearm down through the catwalk before him.

 

“<Fucking dog! Die already!>” Grigori fired at it with his rifle in a panic, rushing to his last cache. Where was the thing? Right behind him, where he was hoping it wouldn’t be. He grabbed a flashbang, pulled the pin, and whirled around, jamming it in the creature’s face. The Russian threw himself over the railing, crashing onto a tall metal shelf and collapsing it under his weight. When the flashbang went off, he didn’t even look back to see if it had worked. Instead, he rushed out the door, through the hole it had made. This place was not worth it…

 

“Hey, whoa, what are you in a rush for buddy?” asked a muffled voice. Suddenly his ankles were stuck together, and he fell onto his chest. Goddamn it all. Grigori crawled forward on his belly, shooting a frightened look over his shoulder.

 

“It’s right behind me! Why would you waste time with me when the real monster is there?!”

 

The black-clad man straightened his back. “It is?” He glanced behind them at the charging beast.

 

“Holy fuck!

 

Grigori’s eyes were swamped in black, and he braced for death. Instead, after fifteen seconds, he opened them again, and saw they were on the roof.

 

“Sweet mother Mary, what was that thing?!” The man screeched, visibly shaking.

 

“You think I know? It just showed up and began the killink of my men! We shot it, hit it with cars, blew it up… nothink worked. Whatever you are plannink on doink, don’t. Just leave.”

 

“Sure, after you give us the location of your other caches.” That was a woman’s voice. Where had she come from?

 

Grigori laughed. It didn’t sound very convincing. “You are crazy, American. The last of my supplies are in my compound to the east of here. I think it will not be doink you much good, but you are welcome to them,” he spat.

 

“Is that so? Then I suppose you’re no longer useful to us.” She turned to her comrade. “Drop him.”

 

The man in black looked surprised.

 

“Pah! You are just like the others. You say you ‘help’, but when things become rough, you become an animal. I tell the truth and you don’t accept, so for that I must die? America is worse than the gulags with corruption.”

 

“You shut the fuck up!” The woman kicked him in the face.

 

“Ha! Have I touched a nerve?”

 

“Alright, that’s enough,” the man barked. He moved the caped freak away from him. “Just get out of here Grigori.”

 

He got to his feet, brushing off his pants in an attempt to hide the tremor in his legs. “Da. Good luck with your task, Americans. You will most certainly be needink it.”

 

They watched for a moment as Grigori ambled away. Onyx turned to Shade. “Were you being serious?”

 

She put her hands out. “It was just an interrogation Onyx. You have to show you’re not joking around.”

 

“That didn’t look like ‘just an interrogation’.”

 

“Just keep your focus on the mantis, okay?” She put up her index finger to stop further questioning and clicked her transceiver on. “Chiro, you there?”

 

“Chiro, here.”

 

“Do you have any experience fighting giant… bug… things?” What were the words coming from her mouth?

 

“Excuse me?” said Chiro, equally incredulous. “Can you describe it to me or something?”

 

“It looked like a mantis. Big, green, buggy eyes, crooked right arm. Twice as tall as I am and probably weighs five times as much.”

 

“Hmm. Well, if I were to guess, it sounds like one of Martin’s abominations. He may be a genius, but he’s also neurotic. All his creations retain the same flaws that wouldn’t let them beat out humans evolutionarily. A bug thing… bugs are afraid of fire, right? Have you tried fire?”

 

“No, but Grigori might have something around here like a flamethrower. We just need to get to it, that thing is still down there.”

 

The ground beneath her trembled, and she heard the contents of a crate spill onto the catwalks.

 

“Well, it can’t be that smart. One of you should distract it while the others steal a flamethrower. Sound doable?”

 

Shade jolted as the mantis rapidly climbed up the wall, beginning to shear through the roof at the building’s end.

 

“Heeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!”

 

“Yeah, great, but just so you know, it can speak.”

 

A hiss, like a lightbulb filament surging with electricity, seemed to come out of nowhere, immediately followed by a wave of harsh light. The wave split in two as it approached the mantis and seemed to slice just under the monster’s clinging feet, sending it tumbling off the wall.

 

“Hey, bug boy!” Prism shouted, having run out from his hiding place. “Quit beating on innocent bricks!”

 

Shade grabbed ahold of Onyx’s shoulder, and he took that signal to teleport them down and across the warehouse from the mantis.

 

“Prism! You think you and Onyx can hold that thing off while I search the area?” she shouted.

 

“Yeah!” Prism yelled back, slinging another burst of light at the creature. “Between us two, we might just not die!”

 

“That’s a big ‘might’,” Onyx whined. Glossy obsidian outlined the creature’s form, holding it in place while Prism pounded its eyes with spheres of light. Shade left the howling creature behind, tearing through every crate and shelf she could get ahold of. Grigori had stockpiled a vast array of Russian weaponry, ranging from the Soviet era to fresh off the assembly line. Certainly worth a fortune, but not worth anything in a fight with a monstrosity.

 

She glanced over her shoulder to witness the creature slowly tear through its inky bindings. The duo backtracked, and Prism blindly hurled half-formed spheres of light as he ran.

 

It tore at Onyx’s form, but its scythe only touched a dissipating shadow – he was already gone.

 

“Ohoho, think you’re clever huh? Too bad I can smell your ass from a mile away.” It presented its massive translucent wings and turned to an upper catwalk. “Say, are you Hispanic? You smell spicy.”

 

Onyx was thrown against the railing by a sudden gust of wind – she could see the air rippling around the fabric of his costume. He held on for dear life.

 

Shit, shit, shit, shit. She set off a knockout gas pellet and hurled it at the beast as she advanced to another crate, closer to its reach.

 

“Grah!” The monster brought its foot down on the pellet, crushing it, but its muscles already began to seize up. It gave Prism a moment to send a flat wall of light into its side, knocking it down.

 

Shade tore through the contents of a table, growing ever more frustrated, hurling things into the ground or into the wall.

 

“God fucking damn it!” She kicked the table over. The mantis spun its head at the sound of the clatter, muscles creaking as it got on all fours and shuffled after her.

 

Again, Prism conjured a wall of light and stretched it out in the mantis’ path.

 

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to pick on girls?!” Prism barked at it.

 

“Hey, maybe I’m a girl!” it snarled back, snapping back to a bipedal stance. It paused, as if waiting for a response. “I’m not, but hey, you wouldn’t know.”

 

Shade was just about ready to call the fight off when, as if gifted by the gods, she found a vintage flamethrower before her. She hoisted the fuel tanks over her cloak and turned to see the mantis shatter the light screen in Prism’s face.

 

“You talk too much.”

 

Her heart jumped as the device clicked. Had her luck ran as empty as the fuel tanks? Then, a plume of fire and smoke erupted from the barrel, flaking the outer layer on the mantis’ chest. It recoiled harshly, letting loose a bloodcurdling shriek. She pressed on, watching with satisfaction as its torso ruptured and caked with green ooze. Knowing when it was beat, it retreated and dashed out of sight.

 

“Did you mean it or me?” Prism asked, squinting at her. “Wait, don’t answer, I think I like not knowing.”

 

Onyx waited until Shade had shed the flamethrower and began leading them down the road.

 

“Speaking of talking to much,” he whispered to his friend, limping as he tried to keep up with him by foot, “the more she does, the more uncomfortable she makes me. Is she going to make it through this without snapping, or…?”

 

“I have no idea,” Prism muttered back to him. “But I know I’m sticking around to find out.”

 

Fritz and his damned cryptic answers. “Should I say something? Or would that make it worse?”

 

“If you got something to say, then just say it,” Prism said, shaking his head. “You can’t putz around forever.”

 

“I dunno,” he said with a snort. “You seem to get by just fine.”

 

 

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Mavericks V1 C11 Pain

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Stop touching it… Stop touching it.

 

Yet she did it anyways, only stopping to keep blood from trickling into her eye. It kept her focus off the pain, the shame of letting herself be kicked around by a couple of mouth-breathing bullies. Who had she wronged by walking down the street for a smoothie? What was wrong with this city?

 

She pushed open the door to her mother’s office with a bloodied hand, regarding the scene with a scowl. On the chair across from Rebecca sat a well-dressed man who looked more than a little shook.

 

“I’m going to make myself perfectly clear, Lev. We’re done. Working with Moscow is bad optics these days. And if I see you flying your fucking recon planes over Warsaw again, you’re going to have something worse than the Kremlin up your ass.” She glanced over his shoulder, shot Jessica a look of worry, then turned back and scowled. “Get the hell out of my office.”

 

The Russian scurried out of the room, not looking at Jessica once. When he was gone, Rebecca’s facial features melted.

 

“Jessica, honey, what the hell happened to you?” she asked, getting up and kneeling down in front of her for a better look.

 

“Got mugged outside the smoothie place. Some creep put his hand in pocket and took my wallet. I tried to fight back, but…”

 

Rebecca wet her thumb with her tongue and wiped away some of the congealed blood on her forehead. Her lips pursed as Jessica recounted her story.

 

“Hmph. You’re my girl, alright. I bet you wish you could’ve busted their heads open.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“But you couldn’t’ve.”

 

Jessica huffed and stared at the floor. “Because I wasn’t strong enough.”

 

Rebecca shook her head. “They had the jump on you, and the numbers. Don’t be too hard on yourself, there’s nothing you could’ve done to stop them. All you can control is your reaction to it. You’re not going to skip training today, are you?”

 

She snorted. “What kind of question is that?”

 

“Exactly. You’re not going to let this get you down. It’s not in our blood. This is going to make you stronger. I wish I could have taught those brats a lesson, but this is why I do what I do. So one day, my daughter can go get a smoothie without getting her ass beat.”

 

Rebecca got up and led her by the arm to the bathroom. “You’re not too old to let momma patch you up, are you?”

 

Jessica said nothing, stifling a laugh by pretending to sniff, and let her wound be dressed.

 

***

 

“Hey?” a faint yet familiar voice said. “Hey, Shade, are you dead?”

 

Shade twitched violently, throwing a hand up at her forehead until she remembered it was her shoulder that ached.

 

“No, it’s just – bad dream. What is it?”

 

“Chiro’s calling, that’s what’s it,” Prism chirped. “Better get up before she chews you out.”

 

She pushed herself off the wall with a groan. Now she was really feeling it.

 

“Shit… Alright.” Fetching her radio from her belt, she took a breath before dialing it to Chiro’s channel. “Shade here.”

 

“Shade, where are you?” Chiro demanded, and the urgency in her voice made her wonder if the shit had hit the fan somewhere else. “Are you getting your shoulder patched up? Did she hurt you anywhere else?”

 

“The EMT’s took a look at it last night. It’s just a muscle wound. I’m fine.”

 

“You better be, or I’m gonna kill your mother myself,” Quinn said. “Are Onyx and Prism fine, too? Are you resting? You better be resting.”

 

“Everything’s fine,” Shade insisted, testing the dexterity of her shoulder. As unlucky as she was to have gotten hit by the knife, at least it wouldn’t leave her with any long term damage. Besides pain. “I just – can’t believe she made a throw like that. I only have a few inches uncovered there. If I bump into her again, you best believe I’m running.”

 

“Good, good. That’s all I needed to hear. Stay safe out there. Call me if you need anything. And don’t make me fly my ass over to Vicio. You know I’ll do it.” And she hung up.

 

On that, Shade believed her.

 

“Hey, guys,” Prism called from his corner. “I think I found what we’re looking for.”

 

He tapped a few more keys on his laptop as the others approached him, a solemn frown on his face.

 

“Well, from the looks of it, the encryption got an upgrade. Custom, so none of my software is much help, and I’d need either a lot of time or a big computer to get it untangled,” he explained. “All I found was a description note on the Phoenix file: ‘the worst case scenario plan of action.’ Whatever the hell that means.”

 

“Phoenix?” Onyx questioned. “That’s weird. You mean like the bird, right?”

 

“Spelled the same way. Name hasn’t been changed since I opened it last. But don’t ask me about the symbolism, ‘cause I dunno.”

 

Shade brought a finger to her chin, recalling the cryptic words of Rebecca from jail. “Mother mentioned fire and brimstone when she visited, but this isn’t exactly either of those things,” she said, gesturing out into the street. A hundred miles an hour winds were tearing through the park, bringing torrents of rain that obscured the line of police cars. Every once in awhile a gunshot could be heard ringing out.

 

“Your mother sounds like a real articulate woman,” Prism said, despite his continued frown.

 

“Hmph. Underestimate her at your own peril.”

 

“I’m not underestimating her, I’m making fun of her,” Prism corrected her with a harumph. “Honestly, some people, so serious.”

 

Shade rolled her eyes before turning to Onyx. “Well, I almost lost my arm for nothing it seems. Any ideas?”

 

“Uh.” Onyx rubbed the back of his neck. “Hmm. I mean, whatever she does is bad news, so why not make sure there isn’t a worst case scenario for her to do anything about? We took care of Blueshift, at least for now, and Mouse is kinda jumpy, so why not take the Russian or the creepy smile guy out of the game?”

 

Shade blinked. “That’s – actually a well reasoned plan.”

 

Onyx laughed. “Hey, you asked.”

 

“I was just being polite.”

 

At that point, a small girl in a ragged raincoat marched up to them. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen, and at best five foot three, but still she came right up to Onyx.

 

“Alex, what are you doing here?” she asked. “And why’re you wearing that dumb outfit?”

 

Onyx, helpless, looked between his companions, then threw his hands up. “I thought people weren’t supposed to know who we are!”

 

“I’ve known you since I was in diapers, you big doofus,” she said. “You think I can’t tell it’s you just because you put on a silly mask?”

 

“Come on, it’s not silly. And I’m here to make sure you don’t get hit with a missile or something. Look, just keep it in the family, okay? I don’t want mercs showing up on our doorstep.”

 

“I’m not stupid,” she said, rolling her eyes. “And it didn’t look like the missiles were aimed at me.”

 

“Let’s keep it that way.” He turned her towards Shade. “This is Shade. And – I’m sure you know who that is. Say hi.”

 

“Hi, Shade,” Dawn said, giving a little wave. “You Alex’s new girlfriend?”

 

“New?” She snorted. “I’m surprised he ever had one.”

 

“Hey, I had a girlfriend in high school! She left me after I washed out of college, but still.”

 

“I told you she wasn’t any good,” Dawn said, shaking her head like she’d repeated the same many times.

 

“Yeah, you probably should have had a back-up plan outside of football,” Prism piped up. “Like. Finances. Or programming. Or acting. Maybe not that last one.”

 

“It’s not my fault I’m an idiot!” Onyx protested. “Besides, I’m the only one here who hasn’t gone to jail. Over something actually bad, I mean.”

 

“Hey, I’ve met some of my best friends in jail.” He glanced to Shade. “Well. Maybe not best, but you know. Circumstantially close acquaintances.”

 

Shade crinkled her nose. “Whatever. When this storm blows over, you know where to find me.” And with that she retreated further into the metro, in the hopes of finding some momentary peace.

 

***

 

When Jeff finally stepped outside again after three days, it was like traversing an alien world. The rain had stopped, for the most part anyway, and it was quiet. The kind of quiet that came with bleak misery and death.

 

Jeff was surveying the wreckage not too far from the tunnel they’d all been hunkered down in. Power lines were down, rainwater flooded through the streets, and a lot of storefront windows were shattered with no trace of their products. Jeff was used to the looting, but he marveled at the idea of anyone looting out in hurricane weather. It was Blackburn, sure, but people couldn’t be that crazy. Could they?

 

He continued on the path of destruction through the commercial district, finding it all much the same. Jeff recognized the layout of it all, but everything seemed so different now. The only life he encountered were the occasional Cerberus patrols, and he did his best to stay out of their sightlines.

 

As he reached a junction leading to a residential area, Jeff took pause at an odd sight in the mud. Printed there, clear as day, was what looked like a huge hoofprint. It was waterlogged and probably wouldn’t last long, but it was big enough, more than a foot across both ways, that the details were clear as day. It was almost like a horse’s print, but wider set and with tiny, circular impressions on the sole, like a cleat. Jeff felt a chill run down his spine.

 

The print seemed to be pointing farther ahead, and he followed its apparent path. It didn’t take long to find a few more stamped in the ground. Whatever this thing was, it was big and it was heavy and it was like nothing Jeff had ever seen before.

 

He kept following the tracks through the city until he spotted a few gun-toting gang members. Jeff slipped into an alleyway to peer out at them. Either they weren’t talking or Jeff was too far away to hear, as they shuffled along quietly. They turned a corner and disappeared, and Jeff made to keep going. He jumped back as a second group treaded into view. Jeff waited a while longer, and sure enough, more packs of thugs circled around the same building. Something was going on in there, or his name wasn’t Jefferson Elijah Higgins.

 

With that in mind, Jeff took off back the way he came. He wasn’t going to get any further, but he knew a couple others who might be able to.

 

***

 

“So I followed these massive tracks – I mean huge! – right to this warehouse-y building,” Jeff explained, arms flailing around for emphasis. “I couldn’t investigate further, the place was swarming with gangsters, but someone’s gotta check this out.”

 

“Gangsters?” Shade asked. “Were they white or hispanic?” But she was already forming a suspect in her mind, and it wasn’t either. Or human.

 

“Just about all white,” Jeff said.

 

“Shit.” She clicked on her belt and made for the exit, gesturing for Onyx and Prism to follow. “Martin’s made a bug monster. Yes, that sounds crazy, but just trust me on this one. We’ve gotta stop it before it tears the whole island up.”

 

“A- a bug monster?” Jeff’s arms dropped to his sides. “How’s that even possible?”

 

“I’m a soldier, not a biologist,” she replied. “Where did you find the trail?”

 

“Down by Helix Avenue, right down the road.”

 

Shade ran out without another word. She found the Poltergeist practically unscathed where she had left it, other than a little mud and greenery. When the car’s computer booted up, she fiddled on the screen.

 

“So, are we going to be tracking this thing by car, or…?” Prism asked as he followed up behind here.

 

“Yes. There’s a chemical scanner on board, I just need to figure out which chemical to scan for…” She pulled up an internet browser. Digging through articles on insect physiology, she found a compound that couldn’t have been more perfect.

 

“Acetosyringone. It’s an insect pheromone in leaf-footed bugs most likely used for mating. A little niche, but it should do the trick.” She inputted the name of the compound and, to her mild surprise, after a short jingle, a trail to follow appeared on the dash.

 

The Poltergeist slogged through deluged streets, kicking up water as it went. The prints appeared sporadically, and she often had to get back on the path through trial and error. The closer they got to its destination, the more evident its destruction became. Chunks of walls were torn out, bodily impressions made in the street, vehicles had been torn apart like a child’s LEGO set. Then the bodies began to pile up.

 

“Ulgh, what on earth?” Onyx sucked air through his teeth. “That guy, his guts are all… Oh God.”

 

“Oh, oh that’s just horrible,” Prism said, vocally wincing at the sight.

 

Shade slammed on the brakes, then threw up a hand to signal silence. A few yards ahead was a puddle where the water flowed around some unseen object. After a thermal quick scan for hostiles, she climbed out and kneeled in front of the puddle, squinting.

 

“Hmph. Land mine. Grigori’s men booby-trapped their turf. We’re going to have to proceed on foot. Be very attentive to your surroundings.”

 

“Oh, great,” Onyx grumbled. “They got machine guns too?”

 

“Well.” She picked up a rock and took a few steps back. “We’re about to find out.”

 

She hurled it into the puddle, which erupted into fire and earth.

 

“Get into defensive positions, now.”

 

“What?!” Prism squawked. “Why would you do that?!”

 

“Because,” she said with an unseen smirk, “Now we can fight them on our terms.”

 

Onyx shrugged and teleported to the roof of a gas station. Shade grappled into the third floor of an apartment building. Or at least, what was once an apartment building. The room she  ascended into had been trashed beyond use, rainwater and tree leaves mixed with shattered glass and torn fabrics. A television screen lay shattered in the corner, sparking infrequently. She only took a few steps before crushing a picture frame underfoot. That’s when she frowned. This had been somebody’s home. She didn’t dare look at the picture, and instead moved out into the hall.

 

The air drafted between rooms softly, whispering to her. No, that wasn’t just the air. She slowed her breath.

 

“<Artyom, why the hell are we going after that monster? Have you seen what it did to our patrols?>”

 

“<It’s not the monster, we’d know if it was by now. It’s probably Cerberus. Either way, keep your mouth shut and eyes peeled.>”

 

She felt for the belt pocket with the explosive charges. There was one left.

 

“<Hold up. Do you hear footsteps above?>”

 

BOOM!

 

An eruption of shouts burst through the new hole in the floor. She tossed a flash grenade into the opening and the voices became disoriented. Hopping down, she grabbed the nearest Russian and drove the stock of his rifle into his gut, brought it onto his chin then tossed him over her shoulder. She tomahawked the rifle at nearest grunt’s head before charging the one further. As she dug her boots into the ground and strained her knees, she realized he was stronger than he looked. His deceptively quick arms hoisted her into the air, squeezing the wind from her chest before slamming her to the ground.

 

She could feel every fiber in her right shoulder tense up, so she pushed herself onto her back with her left. His boot came crashing down on her stomach. Her coughs grew dry. When his boot came down a second time, she pushed him back and kicked herself to her feet. She ducked under his swing and kicked him into the room. She yanked the drawer from a dresser and bashed him over the head until he stopped moving.

 

Down the stairwell was another grunt, searching desperately for his comrades. With a running leap she wrapped her legs around his neck and tossed him down the stairs. At the end of the hall a man with a rifle was charging her way. She got her tranq pistol out, but her shot only hit the chest as she was slammed into the wall by a thug bursting through the door.

 

Thud. Thud. She couldn’t help but scream when he pounded her shoulder. Her hand slid into a back belt pocket and set off a knockout gas pellet. Her assailant staggered back, appearing almost frightened for a moment. When he realized what was happening, he punished her with a barrage of punches and a kick to the gut. She started violently, but little did he know he had given her a blessing. The stomach churning pain saw her through the ordeal, giving her the will to stumble away and let the man crumple behind her.

 

The man with a dart in his stomach kept coming, crawling along the ground. She fell on top of him, trying to disable him with nerve strikes. It didn’t stop him from landing a gut punch, then grabbing ahold of her cape and tugging with all his might. A look of bewilderment spread across his face as he curled the empty cloth in his hands. She punched the look right off.

 

The next few minutes passed with her vomiting her guts out in the street.

 

The glow from some disembodied light nearby approached before promptly disappearing. With its disappearance came footsteps right up beside her.

 

“What the hell happened to you?” Prism asked.

 

“Life,” she groaned.

 

“Better than death,” Prism offered. “I think.”

 

 

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

 

Mavericks V1 C10 Diversion

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

 

“So… that thing with Mouse. Do you want to talk about it?”

 

“Rather not.”

 

“Oh. Alright.”

 

Shade shifted her attention back to the road. The sky had darkened further, shifting from a hazy white gray to a smothering charcoal. At the rate the rain was increasing, it would be an outright downpour in a few hours.

 

Cra-koom!

 

Onyx started, nearly banging his head into the roof.

 

“Jeez! You think people are actually going to go loot in this weather?”

 

“Oh hell yes. BPD will be too busy to even try getting onto the island. It’s all very convenient.”

 

“I’ll say.” He leaned his head against the window. “This sucks. My dad is probably worried sick right now. Maybe Fritz can check on my sister…”

 

Shade crinkled her nose. She hadn’t told herself to, but she did. She bore no ill will against Onyx’s family, but damned if she wasn’t jealous of them. Here she was, trying to clean up her mother’s mess, with everyone treating her as a copy of Rebecca, while Onyx had a great dad, a nice sister and a best friend. It wasn’t fair. Her father was a fucking scalpel.

 

At that moment, Shade’s communicator buzzed.

 

“Hey, hey, hey, how’s it going out there?” said Prism.

 

“We’re not dead. But, we soon might be. Mouse gave us the location of Cerberus’ FOB. We’re going to see what we can find there.”

 

“What do you think they want to do with this weird drug?” Prism paused. “Oh, yeah, the drug. I’ve been looking at it and, well, it just keeps unwinding and unwinding and unwinding. It’s structured like a steroid, but it’s stupid complicated.”

 

“Sounds about right, but what’s it do exactly? You got any idea?”

 

“Well, seeing as I’m sitting here running the whole camp’s lighting, while talking to you, while watching this thing unwind and feeling pretty great while doing it, I think it’s kinda like speed.” Prism chuckled through the speaker. “You gotta try this stuff, Onyx.”

 

“Really, you took it?” Onyx questioned, in a tone none too surprised. “In front of the cops? Good grief…”

 

“It enhances your anomalous abilities, then?” Shade asked. “You think it’s a heavy steroid?”

 

“Enhances everything, man. Feels like the world’s in slow motion. It’s not just a heavy steroid, it’s a hell of a steroid. Probably bad if Cerberus has it, huh?”

 

“Maybe just a little.”

 

“Hey, uh, have you happened to see my sister?” Onyx fidgeted with his hands. “She alright?”

 

“Little black girl? Oh, yeah, she’s here, she’s fine,” Fritz assured him. “Kinda freaked out, but I mean, I’d be freaked out too if I heard gunshots in the middle of a hurricane.”

 

“Alright, thanks for the help. We’ll get back to it.” Shade waited until she flipped off the transceiver before speaking. “Black? But, you’re…”

 

“She’s adopted. After the oopsie that was me, my dad wanted to adopt his second kid, give them a better home than the streets.”

 

Shade scratched at her nose. “I see.”

 

“So, Blueshift. You think Rebecca did all this just to steal it?”

 

“Only in part. She has impunity from martial law, so all those exotic weapons the gangs have? She can confiscate them for her crusade, maybe sell them on the black market. But I still think there’s more to this than drugs. Cerberus isn’t trapped on the island with the gangs, they’re trapped in here with Cerberus.”

 

The Poltergeist took a sharp turn, racing towards the intersection where Davis, Liberty and Alonzo City met. Shade slowed down to ten miles an hour as they approached, taking in the sounds of soldiers, engines and drones. With the mercenaries pulling in their forces to ride out the storm, she estimated they had amassed a small battalion. Her mother had to have known the hurricane was coming.

 

“We’re just scouting, do not engage and do not get caught,” she said, parking in a nearby alley.

 

“Don’t plan on it. I’ll keep you informed.”

 

Shade bailed out and made her way to the wall’s edge, peering over and squinting into the dark. Thick sheets of rain cascaded onto car headlights, soldiers wandering in and out of the beams. She saw many figures inside of the buildings, barricading windows, spiriting away the few civilians that remained. The drones that still hung in the sky were landing somewhere out of sight. The main street was too hot. She worked her way to the back road, being careful to duck behind dumpsters and abandoned cars as she went.

 

“Hey! Hey, who goes there!”

 

Shade’s leg muscles went cold. She lowered herself to the ground, feeling for her tranquilizer gun.

 

“I said freeze!”

 

The voices were moving away. She ventured a glance in their direction. A man in a leather jacket and ski mask was trying to pry the back entrance of a store open. When he saw the soldiers approaching he hurled his crowbar at them and vaulted the railing. In an instant, her eyes were filled with pain. The man’s body collapsed without a sound, and his blood began to wash away.

 

“Fuckin’ looters.”

 

Shade hugged the side of the dumpster and let them pass. They didn’t even check the body. When they were gone, she exhaled and continued on.

 

“Hey Shade?” came in Onyx. “I was just inside some sort of makeshift headquarters, inside of the Ài diner. They have their computers set up there. I can have Prism walk me through downloading their files, but I could use a distraction. Got any ideas?”

 

She looked around. There weren’t any more looters she could throw at them, so she’d have to investigate some more.

 

“I’ll get back to you on that.”

 

At the end of the road she spotted two more mercenaries guarding a garage door. Two quick darts put them on the ground, allowing her to sidle up to it. There was no one else in sight. Using the thunderclaps to mask the sound of grinding metal, she pulled up the door. Inside, Cerberus had stockpiled about a dozen crates. She removed the top of one, revealing rows and rows of Blueshift inhalers stacked neatly inside.

 

“Ho-ly crap.” She stuck a finger to her ear. “Onyx, I’ve got your distraction. There’s thermite explosives in my belt. I’m going to rig their Blueshift stash to blow.”

 

“Blueshift stash? Sounds good to me. Just tell me when you’re ready.”

 

Shade retrieved both explosives from her belt, compact charges held together with black duct tape. She peeled back a layer of tape and planted the bombs by their adhesive sides. She primed them and backpedaled, reaching for the detonator, into the barrel of a gun.

 

“Who. The hell. Are you?”

 

The detonator nearly slipped from her hand. Instinct was smothered by fear and her muscles locked in place.

 

“That’s my uniform. I built myself wearing it. Built my legacy. Why did you steal it? To mock me?” Phantasm cocked the gun. “Take off the mask.”

 

A thousand plans coursed through Shade’s brain. The rational ones were forced to stifle urges to do as Phantasm said, to hug her mother and beg her to stop. It wasn’t that kind of world. It was a world where she had to duck beneath the gun and twist her mother’s wrist so hard her elbow creaked, letting the pistol fall to the ground. She kicked it into the corner before being thrown into the crates.

 

Her focus came back to her in time to register a knife being whipped through the air, embedding itself in her right shoulder. The blade punched through her deltoid, slicing through meat and leaking crimson onto her undersuit. Screaming, she hurled a crate into Phantasm’s chest, knocking her back. Struggling to her feet, she attempted to get into a fighting stance, but the gap had already been closed and Phantasm landed an uppercut, then swept her to the floor once more with a hooked kick through the legs.

 

Her wind was rapidly leaving her. Just pushing herself off the cold floor took all she had, but she managed to throw a smoke pellet at Phantasm. Her mother tore through the cloud blindly, howling in rage. Shade practically crawled into the street.

 

“Onyx, you need to start it now,” she coughed into her transceiver. The rain had grown even stronger, pounding rhythmically with the blood in her head. “And if I don’t respond in ten minutes, just get out of here.”

 

“Shade? Are you okay? What’s going on?”

 

“Just do it!”

 

Shade? I- Alright.”

 

She clicked the channel off. Working her grapple gun out of its holster, she latched the hook onto the nearest roof. Pulling herself up felt like pulling her shoulder apart. She hopped the next few roofs before lowering herself beside the Poltergeist. She couldn’t scramble inside any faster. Fumbling out the detonator, Shade punched in the code. Even from that distance, the blast rattled her teeth. She caught her breath before starting the car.

 

“Chiro, for chrissakes, pick up!” she screamed into her radio.

 

The radio crackled. “Chiro here. What’s going on?”

 

“It’s mom. I don’t have time to tell you the whole story but I need to keep her away from Onyx. What do I do?”

 

There was a pause. “Alright, listen. Phantasm is probably going to have her vehicle somewhere nearby. I want you to see where Alex is and engage her in the Poltergeist until he’s somewhere safe. Make sense?”

 

“You want me to fight her?!” She protested. “I’ve been stabbed, she’ll kill me!”

 

Another pause. “Shade, you’re sitting in a fortified mini-tank built for hands-off combat. You don’t have to hurt her. Just keep her off of Alex’s ass and you’re golden. I’m guessing you can still move your arm, so your suit’ll keep pressure on the wound long enough to get you back to the police safely.”

 

“Okay.” She inhaled deeply, measuring her breath. “Okay.” Shifting into drive, she launched the Poltergeist into the street. The foot soldiers had all retreated inside, leaving an empty parade of vehicles. None of them looked like Phantasm’s. “I can see the diner he’s in at the end of the street. How should I take this?”

 

“Block the street from the direction you just came as best you can – push some cars around if you have to. Be ready to engage when she shows up. She’ll probably come from the direction you’ll barricade, but be ready to take her from elsewhere, too. Remember, her vehicle is significantly stronger than yours, so be ready to take some cheap shots. Yours, however, is faster than hers. Use that to your advantage.”

 

She exhaled, closing her eyes and nodding. “Okay. I can do this.”

 

The car windows began to rattle. The roar of a heavy engine sounded from her left, from the direction she’d come. Something slammed into the Poltergeist with such force that the whole car skidded a dozen yards, and Shade was thrown forward onto the steering wheel. She cursed under her breath.

 

Out of the corner of her eye Shade could make out Phantasm’s car. It was the size of the Poltergeist half over again, with a double layer of thick black armor from bumper to roof. Bumper-mounted machine guns poured fire into the passenger’s side door.

 

Shade gunned it down the street. The second Poltergeist prowled around the abandoned vehicles like a panther. She had to get out of sight.

 

A second alleyway to her right came into view, and she disappeared into the shadows. Phantasm wasn’t far behind. With a burst of speed, Shade shot out of the alley and down a parallel one, giving her predator the slip.

 

For a moment, Phantasm paused, and Shade held her breath. Then she went back the way they came. Shade angled her vehicle around the alley edge, then fired a missile at the beast. Flames licked its armor, singeing the black paint away to reveal the dark silver armor beneath. Phantasm wasted no time reversing with surprising speed before ramming the Poltergeist through a wall.

 

They tumbled into the shell of a car repair shop, gadgets and tools strewn along the walls. Hydraulic lifts protruded from the ground, but with no vehicles attached. Locking her front wheels in place, Shade spun her rear tires and maneuvered around Phantasm, pushing her into a lift. The lift gave way, but not before taking a chunk of rear bumper with it. The Poltergeist’s grapple latched onto a tool table. Shade reversed out of the shop, slamming the table into Phantasm’s back. Phantasm tore through the wall after her, retaliating with a missile of her own. The blast robbed Shade of control of the Poltergeist, and she careened through a chain link fence.

 

“Shade, it’s me, Onyx. Are you okay? I’ve got some files from their network.”

 

“Not really,” she grunted. Everytime she put her hand back on the gear shift she could feel the blade in her shoulder embed itself deeper. “I’ve got to lose her somehow…”

 

She launched a hail of gunfire at Phantasm before turning around and speeding down the main road. A grocery store, a parking garage, the diner… A parking garage! If she was just dealt the winning hand…

 

The Poltergeist rumbled into the garage, drifting up the winding road as quickly as she could while maintaining traction. Phantasm, clearly less worried about collateral damage or her vehicle’s integrity, was tearing off concrete barriers behind her. The top floor had barely any lights functioning, which cast a thick gloom over everything. Her eyes darted back and forth, searching any means of escape.

 

A bulky work truck sat in a center parking space. It wouldn’t stop her mother, but it would slow her down. Spinning around, she attached a grapple into its side door, then gunned the reverse. She made it through the wall with ease, tugging the truck along the floor as she fell through the air upright. When the truck was almost drug down with her, she detached the grapple and landed with a jolt. The Poltergeist hung awkwardly for a moment, then fell back onto its front tires.

 

That should keep her busy long enough, Shade thought, pushing herself off the dashboard with a groan. “I’m… I’m coming Onyx.”

 

She cruised to the diner, listening to Phantasm struggle through the truck and get lost behind her. Onyx sprinted out, carrying a USB port, and hopped inside.

 

“It seems I’m always getting into trouble with these things.” He glanced at her shoulder. “Good lord, you’re bleeding bad!”

 

The gear shift and side of her seat had been painted crimson with a pint or two of blood. In the rush of it all, she hadn’t even noticed.

 

“It’s whatever. Let’s get out of here.”

 

***

 

Jeff stood in the corner of the covered makeshift lab he’d set up for Prism, staring through the wall of rain to the huddled masses outside. Dallas might have ordered him to stay there, but it didn’t seem right to be stuck there when he could have been more useful somewhere else. What good was a detective playing babysitter?

 

Prism himself was busy with a lot of nothing from the looks of it. He was stumbling back and forth, giggling like a hyena, and only checking his scattered petri dishes every now and then. Whenever Jeff questioned him, it went the same way.

 

“Aren’t you not supposed to consume any experimental materials?” Jeff inquired, thinking back to his forensics training.

 

“There’s only one way to fully gauge the effects, Higgins,” Fritz deflected, offering him a sample of the blue stuff. “C’mon, I wanna know how it works on you normal folks.”

 

Jeff politely declined the offer.

 

So he sat hunched in a corner and kept a lookout for any changes in the storm, or the camp, or anything. Even having Dallas around would have made the whole situation more bearable. Still, he had a job to do and God would have to strike him down before he gave up on it.

 

On that thought, a distant hum caught Jeff’s attention. It grew into a snarl as it got closer, until Jeff spotted Shade’s car zooming up towards the camp. He stood up to get a better view as it stopped not far from the tent. As the car’s door opened and Shade stepped out, Jeff’s breath caught in his throat.

 

“Oh my God!” he cried, rushing out of the tent towards her. “We need to get you patched up.”

 

Onyx ran out of the passenger’s side to help her stand. “She said the suit is putting pressure on the wound but she’s still lost a bit of blood. I hope she didn’t cut a vein or anything. What do you need me to do for her, sir?”

 

“Get her out of the rain, for starters,” Jeff said, pointing to the tent. “And we’ll need the suit out of the way, if possible.”

 

“Heh, I’m sure he’s broken up about having to remove my clothes,” Shade remarked.

 

Jeff ran off to grab a first aid kit, some cloths, and tarp from a police van, and returned with it a minute later.

 

“Now lay her down here,” he said as he arranged the tarp on the ground.

 

“You’re gonna be fine, Jessica,” Onyx assured her, gently setting her on the tarp. He tossed his mask to the side.

 

“I’d better, you boys won’t know which way is up without me.”

 

“Too late, already can’t tell,” Prism said, sagging against his flimsy table.

 

Jeff paid him no mind and leaned down to survey Shade. After removing the nearby armor and cutting away the undersuit, it was easy to pick out the stab wound. A stab wound with the blade still inside.

 

“Sheesh,” he murmured. “That’s gonna have to come out, and it’s gonna hurt. Alex, the second it comes out, you need to put pressure on the wound, hard as you can.”

 

Jeff handed him the cloth and put one hand on the blade, the other holding Shade’s arm.

 

“Okay, deep breaths, one, two…”

 

Jeff never got to three. He yanked the blade out before the word left his lips. A high-pitched shriek escaped Shade’s mouth. Her hand sought refuge and found it on Onyx’s shoulder. He jammed the cloth onto the wound.

 

“Just listen to my voice, okay?” It was quavering. “You’re gonna be alright. Jeff, what now?”

 

“Hold it,” Jeff ordered. “She’s at risk of bleeding out now more than ever, keep the pressure on until the blood stops.”

 

“Fucking hell! I’m her daughter, how could she do this to me?!”

 

“I don’t know, and I’m sorry, but she’ll answer for this,” Onyx assured her. “You just have to keep your focus, okay? You’re too strong for this to hurt you. Just keep calm.”

 

Their words barely registered in Jeff’s mind as he kept his eyes on the wound. It felt like an eternity of waiting before there was any slowing in the bleeding. When he finally saw progress, he grabbed a bottle of water sitting next to Prism and ushered Onyx’s hands away. He washed away some of the caked up blood to get to the incision, wincing at the sight of it. It was wide and about an inch deep, but the arm wasn’t twitching or limp, so nerve damage was unlikely. The ordeal was just painful.

 

With the filth out of the way, Jeff grabbed antibacterial ointment from the kit and sprayed over Shade’s wound with it.

 

“You need to get off the island and get a doctor to look at this ASAP,” Jeff warned Shade, taking out bandages. “I can’t guarantee that it’ll heal right with the resources we have here.”

 

“Did – Did it cut any arteries?” she asked between pants.

 

“No, I don’t think it cut anything too important,” Jeff said. He started to wrap up her shoulder, pulling the bandages tight. “Can you make a fist with that hand? Wiggle all your fingers?”

 

“I was able to survive a tank battle. Does that make me lucky or unlucky?”

 

“Lucky. Really, though, get to a doctor.” He stole a glance at Prism, who seemed to have spaced out in the meantime. “And maybe get your friend to a doctor too.”

 

“No. I just got here, and I’m not going to let her do this to anyone else.”

 

“Jessica, you just got stabbed. Listen to the man,” Onyx insisted.

 

“I’ll see a doctor when this is all done. I can still fight.”

 

Onyx frowned. “I’m telling you-”

 

“You don’t get to tell me to do anything!”

 

Onyx blinked, jerking his head back a little. The corners of her mouth twitched.

 

“I’m sorry. But I have to do this.”

 

The man sighed. “I can’t stop you, can I?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Then I’m gonna be on your ass. You’re getting that stitched up and waiting until this storm passes.”

 

“Whatever you say, dad. ‘Sides, I don’t think we had another option anyways.”

 

Onyx felt around his pockets. “Oh, that reminds me. You’ll be busy though, Fritz. Here’s that USB.”

 

“Huh?” Prism grunted, shaking his head at the acknowledgement. “Oh, hey, that’s the one I got at Office Depot a couple weeks back. Thanks for finding it, Alex.”

 

Onyx balled his fist. “Actually, I think I’ll keep it for the moment.” He looked back to Jeff. “Should we carry her to the tunnel, or…?”

 

“We’d better, that storm isn’t far off,” Jeff said. “She’s not in a state to be walking or doing much of anything. I’ll see if I can’t find a real EMT to properly dress the wound at some point. They’re a bit busy at the moment.”

 

 

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Mavericks V1 C9 Pawns

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“Dallas, come in, give me a read. What’s going on down there?”

 

Gilda was on her feet and out of her office the moment she heard the blasts, scattering paperwork in her rush. She made a beeline for the parking lot. There was noise on the other end of her radio – nearby shouts of terror and distant commotion swamped Dallas and Jeff’s voices. They hadn’t heard her. What was going on?

 

“Dallas Cardozo, do you copy?”

 

“Yeah, I copy!” Dallas replied. “I’m trying to not get us all shot! These Cerberus goons are demanding the drugs we found. There’s no way they have that authority – right?”

“No, they -” she started, but trailed off. Suddenly, the blood rushed to her face. Napier. “Oh, that fucking – look, I need to talk to the mayor. Are the civilians in the immediate area safe?”  

 

“As safe as they can be. Most of them are inside the metro tunnel. But that second explosion you heard a minute ago? A Cerberus chopper just got swatted out of the sky, like an insect. We think it came from Grigori’s camp, he must have a goddamn SAM system set up. So these mercs, they’re a bit jumpy. Is there anything you can do or should we just give them the stupid drugs?”

 

Gilda started her car. She was already dialing the mayor’s number. “See if you can’t stall them. Do you need reinforcements?”

 

“Reinforcements?” Dallas repeated. “Of course I could use reinforcements. I could use Thor himself right about now. Except the bridge is a no-go and we’ve got anti-air defenses on the ground, so unless you’ve got a teleporter, we’re kinda screwed here.”

 

“Well, I’ve got some friends I’ll be sending in as soon as I get an update on how Cerberus factors into all of this. Hang tight, Dallas,” she said, then promptly called the mayor.

 

“Montana,” she started, barely dulling the edge in her voice. “My officers are reporting the presence of active Cerberus mercs in gang warzones. Care to explain?”  

 

“I just finished deputizing Rebecca to deal with – whatever this is,” the mayor replied, sounding like he’d rolled off the bed, down the stairs and slammed his head into a wall. “We’ve declared a state of martial law. This is America, not the Middle East, war campaigns will not be tolerated on our streets.”

 

“I see,” she said. She tried to keep her voice level, but she knew he could hear the sound of her blood boiling. “Well, after I’ve sorted all of this out, you and I should have a talk.” She swerved to avoid an errant driver. “I’m sure we’ll have a lot to discuss once all of this is over.” And she hung up on him, a subtextual middle finger she’d been longing to give Montana since he was elected.

 

She started to dial Quinn’s number, but Quinn called first.

 

“Gilda, what’s going on up there?” The training session in progress had stopped dead behind her. Fritz and Alex stood frozen in their sparring stances. Jessica’s crossed arms unfolded and fell to her sides.

 

“Gang war – emphasis on war. The bridge is compromised, and the civilians in the area are hiding in the metro tunnel. And because of course she does, Rebecca has her goons all over the island. They’re trying to pry Mouse’s drug from Dallas and Jeff at Cove Park, near the metro.”

 

Quinn knew what she was trying to ask. “I’ll send the kiddos down. Hang tight out there.”

 

She pocketed her phone and turned to her students. “You three. Suit up.”

 

“War?” Fritz said, hesitating to go for his outfit. “What’d she say?”

 

“Rival gangs. I don’t know all of the details. You three are on civilian rescue. Get moving.”

 

“Rival gangs? Isn’t it a little rainy for gang warfare?” Fritz kept on, despite her tone.

 

“What part of civilians in a warzone did you not understand? Move.”

 

“Alright, alright, jeez.” Finally, Fritz moved to get his suit. “Some people…”

 

***

 

Jessica got into her costume with little fanfare, and she’d be lying if she said she didn’t want to toss it in the dumpster and run away. For the first time in a long time, she was scared. Who wouldn’t be? The violence and the chaos was bad enough on its own, but trying to unscramble it and discern her mother’s place in it was worse. Why would she do something like this?

 

She stepped into the meeting room, polished boots squeaking as she moved. Alex looked between her and Fritz.

 

“Alright, did I lose the memo to show off my body or what?”

 

“I dunno, did you want to?” Fritz asked, stretching out so his costume hugged his form even tighter. “A touch of spandex here and there never hurt anyone, Jessica.”

 

“I think I’m showing enough as it is, thanks.” She motioned Alex to turn to Quinn with her finger. “Less gawking, more walking, big boy.”

 

Sighing, Alex did as he was told, outstretching his arms as he approached. “Welp, we’re as ready as we’ll ever be.”

 

“I only wish we could have had one more meeting before your first mission,” Quinn said, her voice deathly serious. “If you’re ready, then I have one more asset I’d like to introduce you to before you leave.” She started towards the garage door, motioning for them to follow.

 

“That is one big door,” Fritz remarked. “What’s behind it?”

 

“I’m getting to that,” Quinn said, clearly the slightest bit fed up with Fritz. She felt her way to a button panel, her fingers brushing the buttons as though unfamiliar with them. Then, she found the one she was looking for. She pressed it, and immediately, the sound of gears groaning and metal grinding on stone filled the antechamber. The garage door began to ascend, slowly revealing a black armored car. It was angular and menacing, designed for combat, the black and white paint job marred by scuffs and dents like battlescars. “Just another toy Phantasm left behind,” Quinn remarked. “The backup, at least.”

 

The backup, she said. As if she hadn’t gifted Jessica the most beautiful vehicle she had ever seen. She traced her hand along the beast’s hood, bending down to examine the forward facing guns. Whatever vehicles Cerberus were using would be torn to shreds in beautiful display of technological superiority. She could hardly contain the glee in her voice.

 

“This is amazing,” she beamed. “What’s its name?”

 

The corner of Quinn’s mouth twitched up. “Her name’s the Poltergeist, and she’s all yours. There’s a transceiver in there so that I can reach you. Now get a move on.”

 

Alex anchored Fritz to his shadow, rushing up the the passenger’s side door and hopping inside. “I call shotgun!”

 

Jessica pulled the handle of the driver’s side door, watching it move upwards to allow her entry. She sat down slowly, taking in all the knobs and buttons. This was her true birthright, this fabulous car, and it was hers, all hers.

 

“You sure you can drive this thing?” Alex asked, tugging his seat belt.

 

She turned to him and grinned so hard she knew he could feel it. “I’m sure.”

 

***

 

The Poltergeist owned the roads of Blackburn. Twenty years in the shop did nothing to diminish that fact. Bystanders stood aside, trying to catch a glimpse of the monster screeching down the street. The Poltergeist drove so unlike any car Jessica had ridden in, she hesitated to call it car. In spite of its massive engine and ungodly horsepower, the ride wasn’t bumpy at all. Not until they began to approach the bridge.

 

“Cerberus,” she announced. “Hold tight boys.”

 

Four patrol vans had sealed off the Kennedy Bridge, with a squad of mercenaries patrolling front and back. They looked up as the dread machine bore down on them, scrambling to get out of its path just in time. The armored vehicle tore through the vans like cobwebs, sending a show of sparks and metal hurdling down the road. Jessica flipped on the transceiver.

 

“This is Jessica, we’re on the island,” she declared, cutting her speed in half. “Where am I headed?”

 

“Stick to codenames.” Quinn insisted. “Do you know where Cove Park is?”

 

“Yep.” She switched into the proper lane. A couple of goons had taken pot shots at them, but the bullets barely registered over the engine and the rain. “And as for a codename… Let’s go with Shade.”

 

“Works. You keep those mercs away from the civvies.”

 

“Roger that. Shade out.”

 

Cove Park was a quaint little retreat from the hustle and bustle of Vicio, situated by the bay about a mile from the Kennedy Bridge. Park benches and oak trees dotted the landscape, where a smattering of civilians gathered to watch the standoff. BPD officers and Cerberus troopers were staring at one another on opposite sides of police cruisers, and Shade feared they might starting exchanging fire at any moment. She parked the Poltergeist in an alley across the way.

 

“We have to take these guys out on foot,” she ordered, undoing her seatbelt. “Keep it quiet.”

 

Onyx nodded and teleported off, and Prism rode light into the air. Shade kept her stance low and her movements quick, using the sound of thunder to dash from streetlight to streetlight, tree to tree. She counted a dozen mercs, alternately patrolling the park and trying to intimidate the cops into surrender.

 

“Onyx, take the center four, Prism, the right four, I’ll take the left.”

 

On the opposite side of the tree she was hiding behind, she heard a mercenary crunching foliage underfoot. When his back was turned, she ran up and placed him in a blood choke, restraining his gun arm and twisting the weapon away. The soldier attempted to squirm free, but she took his dominant leg out with a kick and let him go limp in her arms.

 

Two more were discussing something near a basketball court, and she used the bushes to get closer.

 

“So what’s so important about these drugs that the boss has us shaking down cops?” asked the one without a mask. “And where do street thugs get shit that complex anyways?”

 

“They don’t. Mouse isn’t a common street thug,” the masked one lectured. “She can create any chemical compound inside of her body. Her steroids are a hundred times stronger than that crap in Afghanistan. For all we know, that blue crap could turn you invincible and let you shoot lasers out of your eyes.”

 

The unmasked one snorted. “Oh, come on. You can’t really believe any of those rumors, can you?”

 

The masked man looked sideways. “Rumors?”

 

“Supervillains belong in children’s books, dude. She probably just has a team of really good chemists or something. It’s all fear mongering.”

 

“Yeah, okay, you say that to her face then, see how that goes.”

 

“Gladly, then I’ll put a bullet in her… Say, you smell something?”

 

The two soldiers looked down at their feet, watching purple smoke waft up from a small metal sphere. The gas pellet worked like a charm, and they fell to the ground before they could react. Her last target was still eyeing a cop near the cruisers. She slunk up behind and drove his head into the roof.

 

“What the-? Hey, who are you?!” The officer demanded, sidearm raised.

 

“Not one of them. Put the gun down.”

 

The officer raised an eyebrow. “Then why are you wearing a Phantasm costume?”

 

“It’s a long story, now put the gun down,” she repeated. The officer hesitated for a moment, then spoke into his radio.

 

“Cardozo, we’ve got a Phantasm lookalike running around out here. How should we proceed?”

 

There wasn’t an immediate response. Instead, Detective Cardozo emerged from the metro tunnel behind them, examining the field. Prism finished trapping the last merc, laughing as he poked and prodded him in a cage of light. Dallas folded his arms as he approached.

 

“Well well, if it isn’t little Jessica Napier. Did you dig that out of mommy’s toy chest? Just my luck that you’re the Chief’s friends.”

 

“Shhhh! What part of the mask don’t you understand?!” She snapped. Dallas laughed.

 

“Yeah, what a secret. I figured it out in five seconds. But I’ll humor you sweetheart. Derrick, you didn’t hear that.”

 

“Uh, sure,” the uniformed officer mumbled.

 

“Listen, the whole island’s gone to shit. Mouse, Sonrisa and the Russian have divided Vicio in three, with Cerberus trying to crush them all. We can’t evac any civvies because of the anti-air guns and the streets are going to be flooded soon. We can’t leave these people here, so you’re our only asset in the field. Do whatever you can to stop this.”

 

“I see.” Shade chewed on her lower lip. “I’ll do my best. Have your men disarm these mercs before they wake up. In the meantime, can I see this drug that has Cerberus all worked up?”

 

“Sure thing.” Dallas leaned into his radio. “Jeff, coast is clear. Bring a sample of the blue shit with you.”

 

“On it,” Jeff’s voice came in, muffled. “Hope it’s stable.”

 

Within a few moments, Jeff was hurrying back into the makeshift camp and over to Dallas. In his hand was a vial of blue fluid.

 

“Never seen something like it before,” Jeff said as he came close. He flinched at the sight of Shade, looking to Dallas. “Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?”

 

“Eeyup. Hand it over.”

 

Jeff did exactly that, even as his eyes got wider. Shade rolled the vial around in her hand. “Hmph… I think I may have someone who can analyze this thing. Prism!”

 

“What me?” Prism asked from behind her. “No, no, I don’t know anything about analyzing weird gunk. Or smoking it. Not my bag at all.”

 

“Yeah, okay.” She waggled the vial at him. “Get to it. Dallas, Jeff, you get this man whatever he needs.”

 

“Uh, Dallas,” Jeff murmured, leaning in towards his partner. “Are we really supposed to be taking orders from her?”

 

“Yes. Yes you are,” Shade answered for him.

 

“Can you please tell the Chief I hate her when you can?” Dallas moaned. “What do you need, tights?”

 

“Some kind of hot plate, a few petri dishes, an eppendorf tube or two, and a vortexer would be great,” Fritz said, rubbing the vial between his palms. “Or any combination of those things. I ain’t picky. Could probably figure out what it’s supposed to be with just a microscope.”

 

“So you’ll be quite busy then.” Shade crossed her arms in thought, tapping her elbow. She wasn’t going to get to her mother anytime soon, but she did know how to reach Mouse. That was the best course of action for now.

 

“I’m taking Onyx and paying Mouse a visit. You stay here.”

 

“I get to sit around and look at drugs while you do all the hard work?” Fritz laughed. “Oy vey, for real.”

 

***

 

Thanks to the confusion of the bombings, as well the unconventional training of her troops, Mouse’s little gang war was progressing nicely. She sat in her command center with four subordinates, all corroborating reports being fed to them by people in the field. So far, they’d only suffered mild casualties, and next to no fatalities, but they couldn’t bank on the element of surprise for too much longer. Grigori’s men were all trained extensively in warfare, so they were staunchly opposing Mouse’s forces. Martin’s men fought like common thugs and cartel members, firing wildly and shouting obscenities. They had an advantage in numbers, but not in skill.

 

Of course, Mouse still had a trump card up her sleeve. She’d had her frontline troops leave base with the newest version of Blueshift and, if the reports coming in were to be believed, it was helping tip scales in her favor.

 

“Intruders!” shouted a voice from the hallway, drawing the attention of everyone in the command center. Mouse got to her feet, brow quirked. Intruders? “Intruders in the courtyard! They’re kicking our asses!”

 

Mouse threw open the door and grabbed the man by his collar. “How many? Who’re they from?”

 

“N-no idea! There’s just two, but… we can’t waste ‘em!” Fuck. Did Martin send some new twisted devils to put her in the dirt? She’d make him fight for it. Mouse drew her Glock and rushed into a closet, which concealed a fire pole. She slid down to the second floor and hopped out, dashing to the balcony that overlooked her lobby area. There, a woman in an old Phantasm costume and a man in all-black were making mincemeat of her troops. The man had swamped the floor in darkness, every so often forming twisted shapes to squeeze and slam and toss her men like toy soldiers. She could barely register the woman’s movements, jumping and flipping through the air with the grace of a ballerina and the force of a small truck. She kicked a man into the wall below her.

 

“Ugh! Boss, help us!” he cried out, trying to crawl away before getting flattened against the wall by his shadow.

 

Mouse fired at them, only to have the bullets absorbed by a wall of solid darkness. “Who the fuck are you?!” she demanded, posting up against the armored railing and peering through a vision slot. What the hell was that stuff? She’d never seen an anomalous ability like that before.

 

“Hey, we just wanted to have a chat, your guys started shooting first!” the man in black insisted, tossing someone in the air for his partner to finish off. “How about I tell you my name if you agree to talk nicely, hmm?”

 

“You break into my fucking compound and expect everyone to just play nice, dressed like that? Fuck you! Go back to Salazar and tell him I’ve got more firebombs en route! And don’t even think about trying to take me to him. You’ve seen what my men can do on my drug, just take a minute to think about what I’m capable of.”

 

In a flash, the man disappeared, then materialized beside her, grabbing the barrel of her gun and directing it away. “Yo no trabajo para Salazar. And we’re not after you, we’re after Napier. So how about you create yourself a chill pill?”

 

Mouse jerked in surprise, aiming a kick at Alex’s groin out of reflex. “Pinche puta cojedor de burros!” she swore.

 

“Unf! Come on, really?!”

 

Wait… Napier? Mouse flooded her system with adrenaline, wrenching her gun out of his grip and scrambling backwards in a crab walk. “Why the fuck are you here, then, if you’re after that psycho crazy bitch? You think I’m harboring her or something?” demanded Mouse, keeping her gun trained on him but refraining from pulling the trigger like her gut was screaming at her to do. If they were after Napier, she could potentially use them to clear the way for her to take over once the dust settled.

 

“Because you might know something!” he insisted, cupping his groin in his hands. “Ow, sh-shoot!”

 

Before Mouse could decide a course of action, the woman grappled onto the balcony.

 

“Oh great. I forgot about you…” The albino got to her feet, keeping her gun trained on the two of them warily. “The freaks are in town, are they? A gimp and a bullshit ‘hero’ fan wannabe. Have you two realized there’s a war on? Go play your stupid games elsewhere!”

 

“A what now?” the man questioned, tilting his head. “Nevermind. You want us to end that war? Stop swearing at me like a sailor and talk to us.”

 

Mouse scoffed in disbelief. Was he being serious? “No, I don’t want you to end that war! I started it, which means I’m going to end it myself.”

 

The man snorted, straightening himself out. “Right, that’s what she wants you to think. You may have fired the opening shot, but who do you think gave you the gun? We want to know why, and maybe you can’t tell us that, but you set us on the right track. What does she want with your drugs?”

 

“What do you mean? Are you asking if I’m selling to her? You’d have to be a moron of colossal idiocy to make a statement like that.”

 

The man sighed, then crossed himself. “Patience, man… No, Nisa, I’m not asking if you’re selling drugs to her. I’m asking what’s so important about your drugs that she’d kill your men and try to nab them.”

 

“The fuck are you talking about?” She glanced over the railing at her men, frown deepening into a scowl. Still down. These two really did a number on them. “We must all be on drugs together, ‘cuz you’re making no sense, asshole. Get to the point or I’ll start shooting again.”

 

“Okay, you made me do this,” the man grumbled. Without warning, she found herself airborne and inverted, hung by her legs. The shock caused her to drop her weapon, which sat just out of reach for her to retrieve again. “Your truck got hit, Cerberus tried taking the drugs. Why?

 

“What the hell are you talking about?!” repeated Mouse, this time with a tremor in her voice. “I didn’t get any reports on that! Cerberus wouldn-” No, wait. The two that had come in injured had said that a woman matching Rebecca’s description had shot them and taken a sample of her beta. The wheels in Mouse’s mind turned quickly. “Shit shit shit shit… That bitch! She’s trying to con me out of my own game! If you’re not lying and she really hit my truck, I need to warn my men to pull out!”

 

“Why do they want the drugs?” he demanded yet again, raising his voice for the first time. “You’re starting to make me mad, and trust me, my patience is a lot longer than hers,” he said, referencing his partner.

 

“Don’t worry about hurting her, she can take the damage,” she muttered. That was a voice she recognized…

 

“Jessica?!” Mouse went slack, staring at the purple garbed woman disbelievingly. “Y-you… What is this? What’re you doing?” She couldn’t keep her voice from cracking, a sudden torrent of emotions whirling within her.

 

“… Shit.”

 

“Jessica, you… I can’t believe you stabbed me in the back like this…” Vision clouding, Mouse angrily swiped at her eyes. “Is this what you wanted? Are you happy now? You betrayed me for her, didn’t you, and now she’s going to kill everyone we’ve ever known or cared about! Do you understand the magnitude of the consequences you’ve brought down on us? With that much Blueshift, she can turn an army of ten into more than a match for an army of a thousand!”

 

“I’m not working with her, dammit!” Jessica howled. “I don’t have to listen to you, or my mother, or anyone else! Stop treating me like a child!”

 

“I will when you stop acting like one!”

 

“Oh my God, enough,” the man bellowed, dropping Mouse to the floor. “This is dragging on way too long. You ladies can catfight after you help me with Rebecca, okay?”

 

Mouse grabbed her gun and scrambled to her feet. Help with Rebecca? “Fine… I know where her forward operating base is. We’ve been avoiding it since we don’t want to poke the bear, but if you want to commit suicide, I’m okay with that. Since I know you won’t trust me to go off on my own to get you the chart we’ve made, you’ll have to follow me.” Mouse led them to her command room, ripping a chart of the island off the wall and handing it to Jessica. “Don’t ever show your face around here again, mask or not. I’ll have you killed next time. Get out.”

 

 

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Mavericks V1 C8 The Storm

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Hey folks, I’m releasing this chapter a few hours early. We’ve finally reached the action! Hold onto your seat-belts.

 

The atmosphere in the Lodge was positively electric. Rumors circulated wildly about all manner of things, though the biggest topic of discussion was theorycrafting what was going to happen. That something was about to go down was no question at all; the climate all over the island was too tense to be otherwise. What nature this disaster would come in, though, couldn’t be guessed. Mouse rubbed her hands as she sat in her usual seat, watching people whisper to one another, casting fearful glances around the room. They had no idea. Too long had she been letting her rivals push her and her comrades around. Too long had she languished in the lowest ranks of the underworld elite. But no longer.

 

Grigori stepped through the partition between the lounge and bazaar, dropping heavily into his seat. His bodyguard was nowhere to be found, which was good. The less variables, the better. She’d sent her rivals both a missive, demanding a meeting to renegotiate the territory lines, and for a few moments, had been worried that they wouldn’t show. She was a little worried that Martin still wouldn’t, the crafty devil he was. But at the last moment, Martin hobbled in and eased himself into his spot beside Grigori. He too did not appear to have brought guards with him, but Mouse could hear men murmuring in Spanish just past the partition.

 

“Mouse, I do hope you haven’t gotten your hopes up about the outcome of this meeting,” he said. “Your posturing and puffing out your chest and such – it won’t change my mind on the matter of how much territory we’re allowing you. I trust I’m not the only one who feels this way,” he said, glancing at Grigori. The Russian corroborated his assertion with a gruff nod of the head.

 

“I understand that perfectly, gentlemen,” assured Mouse. “The outcome of this meeting has only one conclusion, one I’ve carefully orchestrated. I just wanted to offer you one final chance to see the error of your ways and submit to me.”

 

“Submit? Malen’kaya sobaka otkusyvayet bol’she, chem mozhet perezhevyvat’’,” Grigori spat disdainfully. “Take your arrogance away.” Mouse toyed with a remote in her hand idly, giving Martin a curious look, eyes half lidded and one brow raised. Grigori paused, shooting a sidelong glance at Martin before focusing on the object in her hand.

 

“What are you playing at, Mouse?” Martin asked, narrowing his eyes at the remote control she was holding. It was nothing modern, possibly homemade, with an antenna, a few switches, and a big, ominous red button. He looked back up at her. In his eyes, he was toeing the line between amused and annoyed.

 

“Last chance, Martin. I’m in a good mood right now, you would be wise to capitalize on it.” She flicked the leftmost switch on her remote and dropped the cover. “Grigori, you may leave. You should probably attend to the situation developing with your men.”

 

The big man pushed back in his chair, fumbling for his cell phone. Despite his tinkering with it, the device refused to update him. “What have you done?!” he demanded.

 

“The opening move. B2 to B4.” She raised a hand, getting the attention of a Lodge private security worker and pointing to Grigori with her best scared expression. The man approached at an easy gait, nodding his head to Mouse in question. “He threatened me with violence, I don’t feel safe with him around,” she explained, lip and voice trembling. The guard bought it, hook, line, and sinker, facing Grigori in a more aggressive stance.

 

“Bullshit!” refuted Grigori instantly, levelling a finger at Mouse. He let out a long string of swears in Russian, going red in the face, but was interrupted by the guard shoving him backwards.

 

“Beat it. You know the rules, keep things civil. Get out.” In seconds, they were both gone, leaving the albino with her ‘father’.

 

“It didn’t have to be like this, Martin. You could have atoned for your sins. You still can,” she cooed, voice dripping with saccharine sweetness. A sweetness laced with lethal poison.

 

The smugness was gone from Martin’s eyes, but that was all she could tell. All else was rendered unreadable by his distorted face. “So, you think you can intimidate me, then?” he said. “You’re bluffing at best and packing meager firepower at worst. So far as my forces and I are concerned, nothing has changed, least of all the territory lines we drew. Do you have any other card tricks up your sleeve, or may I go?”

 

Shaking her head, Mouse flicked another switch on her remote and set it on the table, sliding the device over to Martin. “You may go. If you want, you can even call my bluff yourself. That tempting button there is wired to twelve different remote explosives divided between your turf and Grigori’s. Or it isn’t. Who really can say?” She laced her fingers under her chin, smiling at him. “I told you you’d declared war, didn’t I? I warned you. But your arrogance blinded you and now the consequences are on your head.”

 

Martin gave a contemptuous snort, rising from his seat. “War, she says,” he muttered. “Men do not go to war with mice. We exterminate them.” At that, he snatched up his cane and departed, a score of guards flanking him as he stepped passed the partition and was lost in the crowd.

 

“You forget that mice live in colonies…” she murmured to herself, reaching across the table to press the big button. “Bartender! I’d like a glass of gin, if you would?”

 

***

 

The rain was coming down like horse hooves on concrete, pounding on the windows so hard Jeff thought they might cave in. White tiled dividers cast long shadows on the table he and his partner were sitting at. Jeff couldn’t help but keep glancing up from his coffee and paperwork. He had a bad feeling swirling in his gut, a twitch in his leg, a tickle in his throat. Dallas would have laughed or groaned if he said it, but Jeff knew better than to ignore it. He couldn’t chase it either, though; all Jeff could do was thrum his fingers and wait.

 

“What do you think of all this, Dallas?” Jeff asked, taking a sip from his hip flask. “Corporate espionage, dark clouds on the horizon. I think we’re heading for something big.”

 

Dallas’ eyes darted up from the mountain of paperwork and doughnut he was working on. Then, they focused on his flask, and he narrowed his eyelids.

 

“Jeff, I know you wouldn’t touch alcohol if you were dying on a remote island, so I gotta ask – what’s in there?”

 

Jeff frowned and deflated a bit. He wasn’t sure what else he’d expected from Dallas, but he didn’t have to burst Jeff’s bubble all the time.

 

“Apple juice,” he admitted. “Come on, I got a feeling here. You don’t think there’s anything strange about what’s been happening?”

 

“Apple juice,” Dallas repeated under his breath, leaning back in his seat, lips quivering from restrained laughter. “Right. Strange things going on in Rebecca’s little mall cop company? Of course, that woman is messed in the head six ways from Sunday. Strange that Florida gets hurricanes? Haven’t you lived here your whole life?”

 

“It’s not just the hurricane, it’s the timing, the feeling!” Jeff insisted. “Haven’t you ever watched any mystery shows? This is how these things start: two seemingly unrelated events that turn out to be intertwined.”

 

Dallas sighed, taking a bite of his doughnut. “Look, I get it man, really. Sometimes being a cop doesn’t feel like it’s all it’s cracked up to be. Jumping through the hoops of due process just to put guys away for petit larceny. We’re just little guys in the end. But you know what? So is Rebecca.” He blinked. “Well, not a guy, but you know what I mean. She’s just one person, not some superhero anymore. The days of one person bending the whole world to their whims, if they were ever here, are long gone. Stop worrying about her and focus on what we can do – filing paperwork against this asshole for touching kids.”

 

Jeff sighed. Dallas was right, but it wasn’t the answer that he’d wanted. It could have been worse, Jeff supposed, but he was itching for a real case to tackle.

 

As he tipped his head down to focus on the monotonous paperwork before him, Jeff’s attention was grabbed by banging from outside. Banging loud enough that it drowned out the rain and made itself be heard. It wasn’t just one either; no, it was a stream of noise, too constant to be thunder or a one-off homicide.

 

“Dallas, listen,” Jeff urged, leaning up against the window to look around. “That’s a lot of fire, even for Blackburn.”

 

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Dallas hurriedly got to his feet, gesturing towards the diner’s owner. “Missus Yang, stay inside for now!”

 

Jeff hopped to his feet at the same time and rushed to the door. He threw it open and headed out into the rain, Dallas on his heels. He first turned his head toward where the noise was coming from, but his attention was quickly drawn to a panicked group of teens across the way. From the looks of it, they’d only just come out of some gallery and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

Jeff grabbed his radio and held up to his mouth, shielding it from rain as best he could.

 

“Reporting heavy gunfire in Liberty, somewhere near Cove Park on-” Jeff glanced up at the street sign. “-Fall Street. Civilians potentially in the crossfire. Requesting all units for backup.”

 

He put the radio away and ran over to the group, shouting over the rain and guns once he got there.

 

“Move to the bridge!” he yelled, gesturing with his arms. “Move away from the gunfire and toward the bridge, now!”

 

With some hesitation, the group complied. They huddled up close to each other and followed Jeff’s lead. The Kennedy Bridge was the fastest way to get them out of harm’s way. Whatever was going on, it must have been a hell of a shoot-out.

 

Before they could cross the street leading to the bridge, though, a black truck van sped by towards the bridge, causing half of Jeff’s group to startle. It was going well past the speed limit and Jeff feared it might just spin out or tip over.

 

As soon as he made to cross the street, that fear came true and then some. Jeff barely registered the whistle of something flying through the air until the ear-shattering boom hit. The truck exploded before their eyes, hit by some kind of missile, and was knocked down into the water. Just like that, the kids panicked. Shrieks and cries of terror mixed with the rain and gunshots, painting a perfect picture of chaos.

 

Jeff’s mind was racing as he worked out an alternate plan. The only real option was finding somewhere to barricade and keeping them all there for the time being. As it happened, Jeff’s eyes fell on Cove Park, sitting just a hop, skip, and jump away. If Jeff could only keep them all organized, it wouldn’t be hard to set them up there.

 

“Bridge is hot!” Jeff shouted over them, commanding their attention. “Head for the park! We’ll set up protection there!”

 

The group made their way to the park in perhaps as orderly a fashion as was possible given the circumstances, with Dallas trailing from the rear, having run back for the diner’s occupants. Something was occupying his attention on the radio.

 

“What do you mean you’ve got gunfire on the other side of the bridge? Goddammit it all! Look, just get every officer on Vicio to meet at us Cove Park and have them bring every civvie they can. Make sure those drones are Cerberus.”

 

Dallas jogged up and began shouting for everyone’s attention. “Listen up everyone, the bridge is compromised and we don’t know if there are hostile forces in the air. That means every officer on the island is going to meet us near Cove Park, as Officer Higgins said, and we’re going to set up an outpost. No one’s going to hurt if you if listen to what we say. This isn’t terrorism, this is gang warfare that’s getting way out of hand. There’s a metro entrance nearby we can ride out the hurricane in. Beyond that, we’re going to have to take things by ear. Does everyone understand?”

 

A murmur of acknowledgement passed through the group, and, with that, Jeff ushered them to the park, him and Dallas on opposite sides. As they made their way into the park, though, Jeff’s attention was drawn to the destroyed truck and its contents washing ashore. He squinted through the rain at what looked like shattered tubes with blue residue covering them. That was more than a little strange, but there was no time to investigate just then. Jeff filed the sight away in his mind for later.

 

***

 

Rebecca regarded the screens in front of her with something less than enthusiasm. Everything was proceeding exactly as she had foreseen. The gang lords had taken her bait hook, line and sinker. Next, the mayor would be calling her in a panic, begging her to extinguish the fire. Part of her felt awful for having been the one to pour the gasoline, but war was going to come regardless. At least now she was in control of it.

 

“Keep your forces in the air for now lieutenant, don’t allow any troop movement onto the mainland. We should be getting authorization from the city shortly. Out.” The Field Commander took his finger off his earpiece and turned to her. “Ma’am, our drones took out a drug supply truck headed towards the mainland. Our troops on Vicio are starting to engage gang forces across the island. Are you sure the mayor is going to be okay with this?”

 

“I’m sure,” she insisted. As if on cue, her cell phone began to vibrate. She shot her underling a smirk before accepting the call.

 

“Rebecca, it’s the wild west across the bay! Those shootouts are putting almost two hundred thousand people at risk, and Gilda doesn’t have the manpower to stop it. Please, we need your help, we can’t wait for governor to send in the National Guard!”

 

“We’re already on it sir. We weren’t going to idly stand by and let civilians be killed in the crossfire.”

 

The mayor sighed deeply. “Alright. You probably shouldn’t have but these are extreme circumstances. Come down to city hall and we’ll have you officially deputized. God help us all…”

 

 

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