Mavericks V1 C11 Pain

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

 

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

 

Advertisements

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.”

 

 

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

Mavericks V1 C9 Pawns

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

 

“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.”

 

 

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

Mavericks V1 C8 The Storm

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

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…”

 

 

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

Mavericks V1 C7 The Calm Before

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Alex? Where are you, son?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cove Park? Wasn’t that halfway across town?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

***

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“O-ow,” Fritz whined from the ground.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Why do you trust me, Quinn?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

She shrugged and gave a thumbs up.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

Short Stories C1 Rough Economy

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

 

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

 

“Goddammit!”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sometimes, she really hated herself.

 

“Hey, stop right there!”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Ugh… Go fuck yourself.”

Mavericks V1 C6 Bile

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

***

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“My dad didn’t drag me to synagogue.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“You don’t. Right Fritz?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Thanks.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Nope,” they said in unison.

 

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

 

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

 

“Yeah, what told you that?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Alex jumped a little. “How did you-?”

 

“Inductive reasoning.”

 

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

 

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

 

Alex sighed. “Yes, thanks, Fritz.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“What does that even mean?!”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fritz gave an uncomfortable laugh and made to back off.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter