A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story
Making a Noise in the World: Outro
Monday, November 21st
The Mogollon Monster jumped from one rooftop to another, trying to land where the impact of his massive feet would do the least damage. He was minutes away from Sun Hawk and Forte, too far to get there in time to do any good. Still that didn't stop him, the supervillain was putting up a hard fight and had already taken down Jackalope. He couldn't sit idly by while his partner and girlfriend fought the psycho devisor.
“Need help! This girls fucking nuts!” Sun Hawk shouted over the radio.
Lolome, the leader of the Phoenix Warriors came over the radio, “Backup is on the way. ETA three minutes.”
Growling, Mogollon pushed himself to go faster, straining his titanic muscles. Tiny craters and cracks appeared under his feet as he ran faster than he ever had in his life. Jumping across a street, he almost went to far, his foot catching the very edge of the ledge. He didn't slow down, leaping clumsily to the next roof. If he didn't keep going forward, sheer momentum would send him tumbling to the ground.
“Lolomi,” Sun Hawk said over the radio, panting hard from exertion, “where are you? I've got Forte, but she's hard to hold and she's not really subdued.”
“Get to Chase Field. It's the closest position to backup and it's open,” their leader said.
Thinking of the map of Phoenix he'd memorized, Mogollon realized he was pretty close to the park. Adjusting his course a little, barely slowly down as he did, he kept going, even as his heart raced. In the distance he saw a golden figure flying through the sky.
“Sun Hawk, I'm coming up on your left,” he said.
There was no response.
He could make out the silver armour of Forte now, she was struggling despite being several hundred feet in the air. What was the villain trying to do, commit suicide?
The two women separated. Sun Hawk arced upwards, her body limp, momentum kept her moving forward. Forte fell to the side, flipping around in the air raising her hand to point at the ground. The sonic boom of her cannon finally reached his ears. It sounded like thunder.
Somehow he found more speed. Bricks were pulverized as he jumped, straining every muscle in his body to reach Sun Hawk in time.
“Come on baby, wake up,” he whispered.
Everything was a blur except for Sun Hawk. She was going to hit the street, if she did, she was going to die. He heard another thunderous boom from one block over. He barely noticed it. He was diving headfirst off of a roof, racing death to catch his partner.
She slammed into the pavement, rolling along the street, limp and unmoving.
He hit the ground a split second later.
Brakes screeched. He didn't think, there wasn't time. He ran to Sun Hawk, shoulder down, and planted himself over her body, driving his hands into the asphalt. He didn't even flinch as a truck ran into him. Metal crumpled, his arm went numb, something hit his head, cutting his tough skin.
Looking down, he saw Sun Hawk's helmet had snapped in half. Blood was gushing out of a gash on her scalp.
“Paramedics needed at my location now!” he shouted into the radio. “Sun Hawk's down! Head wound, severe fall trauma.”
Lolome was talking, saying that help was on the way, and telling him not to move her. He knew he couldn't do much, since she was breathing he didn't dare do anything that could damage her spine.
So he did the only thing he could, ignoring the gathering crowd, he knelt over the love of his life and said, “Hang in there Sun. Help is on the way. If you can hear me, don't you dare leave me. You hear me. Just hang on until the ambulance gets here.”
Desert View, Phoenix
The Mogollon Monster knelt over the fallen superhero Sun Hawk, wanting to hold her, yet not daring to, as paramedics came running over. The news had been playing the video for the last hour.
A news anchor was saying, “In one of the most violent superhero fights since February when beloved hero, Laughing Man was slain by The Hungry Ghost, the new supervillain Forte defeated Jackalope and Sun Hawk. While Jackalope is reported to be in stable condition, rumours are swirling around Sun Hawk who fell over two hundred feet and is currently undergoing surgery at an undisclosed hospital.”
The scene cut to another amateur video, showing Forte hobbling to a car with the help of a woman who was clearly only doing it under duress. “The supervillain Forte didn't come out much better, but was able to flee the scene with a hostage. The woman and the car were found unharmed ten minutes ago, but Forte had vanished. Police and heroes are curren-”
Alistair turned off the TV, he'd seen enough. It seemed his little Gilligan was living up to his expectations. The heroes were in an uproar, which would unsettle the supervillains and criminals, some would go to ground others would push ahead in the chaos. And since Forte had escaped, if she kept her freedom, she was now a player to be reckoned with. She hadn't merely defeat two superheroes, she put them in the hospital and may have killed one. Her fighting skills left much to be desired, but her technology was what made her valuable and dangerous.
Laughing, he picked up his phone, there was so much to do and so little time.
Phoenix Warriors Headquarters
Lolomi rushed into his office. He had too many things to do and almost no time to do it. “Call Insight, and tell Shadow I want him here ASAP,” he told his VI assistant.
While the phone rang, he checked his messages. There were hundreds of new ones, his VI had them organized by priority, and none of them were useful.
Insight finally answered. “Hello, Lolomi. I wasn't expecting to hear from you.”
“I can't talk long. I'm in desperate need of a healer, can you get to Phoenix tonight?” he said.
“Tonight? I'm in New Hampshire. Best I can do is get there sometime tomorrow afternoon or evening.”
He cursed. “I thought you were in Texas.”
“Yeah, I was in the summer. I'm at Whateley now, they had an emergency position they needed filled. What's the problem? And what happened to Panacea?”
“Panacea died in a car accident in May. One of my team is dying in surgery. Head trauma, broken neck, and her organs are failing. We don't have any healer that can handle that level of damage. Do you know any healer who can come tonight?”
There was a seemingly endless silence, that was most likely only a few seconds long. “Not off hand. I'll make some calls, and I'll do my best to get there as soon as possible. If I reach anyone I'll let you know.”
“Send me a message, I'm going to be dealing with too many things to take a call unless it's absolutely necessary. If things change, I'll call you.” Hanging up, he let out another series of curses while printing out a file for a person of interest.
There was a knock on the door and Shadow walked in.
The blank, featureless face of the superhero was unnerving to most people, Lolomi was used to it after years of working with the man. “Shadow, here's a file on one Eddie Hernandez, also known as Tweak. He's dealt with Forte before. The DA was supposed to make a deal with him for info on her, but she was considered low priority and it never happened. Talk to him, and get all the info you can.”
A scarred, vicious looking face appeared on the superhero. “I'll have everything you need tomorrow morning.”
Nodding, Lolomi waved him out. He had a few more calls to make and then he had to talk to the police and the MCO, when all he wanted to do was be at the side of his teammate.
The operating room was full.
Zara stood just off to the side of the surgeon, the assist and another nurse, who were trying to stitch Sun Hawk's insides back together, ready to provide another set of hands as needed. A second team was at the head of the table, working on the skull fracture, cutting away the most badly damaged pieces of bone to relieve pressure on the brain. And there was the anesthesiologist, who was monitoring the young woman.
As soon as they had her somewhat stabilized, a third team was waiting just outside the door to work on the heroes broken neck. Hopefully they'd be able to keep her from being paralyzed, but that was a secondary concern to simply keeping her alive. And that was looking less likely by the second.
There was shouting from outside. The surgeons were too focused to notice, but Zara heard someone say, “You can't go in there.” Then there was silence. The door opened and a man in a old fashioned suit and hat strode inside, carrying a good size dog under his arm.
“What the hell are you doing?!” one of the surgeons shouted.
The man looked at them, bringing utter silence to the room.
Zara couldn't describe what she saw in his face. It had shifted for a second into something else. The ancient part of her brain, the one that remembered when humans were prey huddled in tree branches, fearing the many predators that would kill them in an instant, came to the forefront. It said if they ignored the monster and simply did their jobs as if nothing was wrong, they might get out of this alive.
She watched him from the corner of her eye. She knew who he was now, Old Scratch, from the Phoenix Warriors. Rumours said he was a demon, maybe the devil himself, who had spent centuries making deals for peoples souls at deserted crossroads, until something had made him decide to start helping humanity. She'd never put much stock in the stories. Looking at him now, seeing what was hidden under his face, she believed every word.
Old Scratch went to a wall, pulling a black sheet of paper from inside his jacket and slammed it against the tiles. A black flame erupted at its centre, throwing out unnatural lines of fire. It formed a large, black flamed pentacle, each point topped by a brilliant white light, connected to several eye watering symbols.
Her focus was forced back on the patient. The young woman was dying despite their best efforts, there was too much damage for even her exemplar body to handle. Still they worked on her, fighting the reaper as hard as they could.
The dog whimpered.
Again Zara looked at the man. He was whispering something, his hands holding a glass-like black blade. The dog hung on the wall in the centre of the pentagram, whining but unmoving. The blade pierced its chest.
Horrified, she watched a misty, white cloud leave the dogs mouth. Old Scratch breathed it in.
He came to the table, pushing the anesthesiologist out of the way. No one dared to object. Placing his mouth above Sun Hawk's, ignoring the intubation tube keeping her alive, the man exhaled. The misty cloud passed his lips, entering her nostrils and disappeared inside of her.
Staggering away, he leaned against the wall, bent over, clutching his knees.
The monitors showed her heart beat stabilizing, while her blood pressure increased. She was no longer dying on them. They stared at him in shock.
“Get on with it,” the hero snarled in an inhumanly deep voice. “I've closed deaths door momentarily, but he still yearns for her soul.” With a wave of his hand the dog turned to ash, falling into a neat little pile. The flaming pentagram vanished, leaving faint scorch marks on the wall.
Unsure of what had just happened, they got back to work. The gravely injured woman was stabilized, but if they didn't repair the damage as quickly as possible she wasn't going to stay that way.
Mesa Greater Phoenix Area
Wave, leader of The Elementals, premier private super-powered security team in Arizona, was properly heroic in her blue and white costume that was specially designed to look like waves that shifted and changed as she moved. She'd been called into work after a long day to talk to reporters, doing her part in keeping the city calm.
“What happened to Sun Hawk and Jackalope is a blow to Phoenix, and a reminder of the dangers heroes and first responders face every day. Having worked closely with the Phoenix Warriors in the past, the serious injuries Sun Hawk sustained, hits particularly close to home,” she said, making sure to look at each camera.
“As always, the Elementals are ready to step up to the plate and help keep the city safe in its time of need. We have already contacted the Phoenix Warriors, and the necessary city officials, to come up with a plan of action on how we can do the most good.”
A reporter took the opportunity to shout a question. “What do you say to your detractors, that believe you're using events like this as a publicity stunt to promote your private company?”
Resisting a sigh at at the common question, that just wouldn't seem to die, Wave kept her tone serious and even. “As always, we make no secret that we are a for profit company, we have to pay our bills just like everyone else. But I firmly believe we've shown a sense of civic duty and pride the numerous times we've come to the assistance of police and our fellow superheroes when dealing with threats to Mesa, and the Phoenix Metropolitan Area.”
She answered a few more questions before taking her leave, claiming she had important calls to make as part of the upcoming protection plan. Once she was in the secure part of the building, she leaned against the metal door and took off her mask.
“Gotta love reporters,” Blossom said, handing her a coffee.
“You might love 'em. I could happily do without them,” she replied. “How about next time you talk to them?”
The plant woman smiled and shook her head. “Your girlfriend doesn't think I have the right look to do PR. Something to do with being green, having four arms, and willow branches for hair.”
“I'm willing to take that risk.” Walking down the hall to her office, she asked, “Any word on Sun Hawk?”
“Old Scratch did something that has the hospital in an uproar, but it helped her. They're saying the odds of her surviving is now fifty percent. Not great, but better than the five percent they originally said. Other than that, they aren't very hopeful.”
“Dammit! I like the girl. I've got to update some of our old plans for working with the police and the Warriors. Can you let the others know that if we run into Forte, I won't do more than slap their wrist if something bad happens to her.”
Blossom cocked her head, waiting to see if she was joking. Then she nodded. “All right, I just need to call home first and let Clover know what's happening.”
“Thanks. Sorry about the short notice, but at least we'll all get overtime.”
“The budget will cover that?”
Wave nodded. “Yeah. Helping out the city is a great tax write off.”
South Mountain, Phoenix
Tweak sat at the bar, drinking his beer alone. The Mountain Boys gang had fallen apart thanks to The Cannibal terrifying them, then Forte taking out the two people who actually knew what they were doing. Since then Tweak had spent most of his time alone, wondering what the hell he should do.
He had a cousin in Albuquerque, New Mexico who kept saying he had a great deal going with some science teacher who ran a meth lab. Maybe he could move there and start dealing. It would be a nice fresh start for him.
A woman sat down at the bar. She was checking her phone, looking pissed. Not much of a looker, but she had a nice rack and she was definitely not a regular. More out of boredom than hope, he grabbed his beer and headed over.
“Can I buy you a beer?” he asked.
She looked him up and down. She must have liked what she saw, because she nodded. “Sure, I really need one.”
He motioned to the bartender to get them some beer. “Problems?”
“My boyfriend has left me hanging for the third time this week. We were supposed to meet up for drinks and dancing, and he just now let me know something came up.” She tossed her phone back in her purse.
“Doesn't sound like much of a boyfriend.”
“Well now he's an ex-boyfriend. How bout you? Why are you here alone?”
He shrugged. “Been having some bad luck recently. Some of my friends made some stupid choices and the fallout was pretty epic. So I'm here trying to decide what to do next.”
She smiled, which made her look a lot prettier. “Life's a bitch isn't she? They say misery loves company, wanna be miserable together. I'm Cassandra.”
Tweak closed the door to his apartment arm in arm with Cassandra. They were both happily drunk, and had mutually decided that their friendship should progress from beer buddies to something better.
She gave him a sloppy french kiss, unzipping his pants as she did. “Where's the bedroom?”
Grabbing her ass, he picked her up, her legs wrapped around his waist. Kissing her, he walked to the bedroom and fell on the thin mattress. They groped each other, slowly but steadily losing more and more clothes.
Cassandra ended up straddling him, holding his wrists down. He didn't mind, he had a great view of her gorgeous breasts. Her grip tightened.
“Hey, babe. You're holding me a little tight. I can't do much if you don't let me use my hands,” he said.
She didn't lighten up. Somehow her slim hands squeezed even more tightly, making him gasp in pain.
He tried to buck her off and found he could barely move. It felt like he had a fat guy pinning him to the bed. “Jesus! That hurts!”
“It's supposed to Eddie Hernandez,” Cassandra said. “You've been a very bad boy, dealing with some nasty people. If you want to get out of here without ending up in a hospital, I need you to tell me everything you know about Forte. If you hold back or lie to me, my powers will let me know. For every lie, I break a finger. If you hold back and make me play twenty questions, I break two fingers for every question. If you try to fight or cause me trouble, I break a limb. Do you understand?”
“Fuck me,” he moaned. “I didn't want anything to do with that Forte chick. It was all Clumsy and Foot Long!”
“That's a lie.”
There was a loud crack and Tweak started cursing.
Phoenix Warriors Headquarters
Lolomi stood in a secure and windowless room of the Phoenix Warriors HQ, watching the air shimmer. Delaney, former villain, turned owner and bartender of Outlaws Tavern, appeared seemingly out of nowhere wearing his usual button up shirt and vest, looking like an old fashioned bartender.
“Lolomi, it's been too long since we last talked,” the bartender said, smiling cheerfully. “What can I do for you?”
“What can you tell me about Forte?” Lolomi asked.
“Nice kid. Intelligent, willing to listen, bit of a temper, and she takes some pretty big risks, but give her some time and she'll be a credit to the community.”
Striding over to Delaney, Lolomi forced himself to stay calm. “She nearly killed Sun Hawk and could have killed Jackalope.”
The bartender shook his head, his smile dropping a hair. “That's part of the risk we all take. Forte didn't go hunting down your people. I know she came up with a plan to keep as few people from getting hurt as possible. And from what I understand she even told Sun Hawk to drop her, before she started her rather risky escape.”
“We have an agreement, Delaney. I let you run your little bar, and when someone crosses the line you pass on the info to take them down. Sun Hawk was on deaths door and needed magic just to keep her alive. Now she's in a coma and who knows what condition she'll be in if she wakes up. I want Forte.”
Delaney frowned, his voice became low. “No one has crossed the line here, except maybe Jackalope. He was watching my bar last week, looking for Forte. I sympathize about Sun Hawk, she's a beautiful and talented young woman. But Forte didn't kill or maim civilians, she didn't murder anyone, she didn't even use her hand cannon to do more than disable your hero. If she'd wanted to, we both know she could have shattered Sun Hawks skull. If you want to break our agreement over this, you'll regret it. You already have your hands full with the cartels. What do you think will happen if I don't temper the more violent villains?”
Lolomi didn't answer. He knew he was pushing the line.
“You're angry,” Delaney said. “Believe me, I understand how you feel. I fully expect you to do everything you can to try to find Forte and bring her in. That's part of the business, and I won't go out of my way to interfere. But if you break the treaty and force me to get my hands dirty, there will be hell to pay.”
The threat hung heavy in the air. With a nod, Delaney vanished from sight.
Left alone, Lolomi silently and impotently cursed.
East Tempe, Arizona
Tuesday, November 22nd
Dae-Jung, more commonly known as the Mogollon Monster, sat on the specially reinforced couch staring out the window. His arm was in a sling, broken from getting hit by the truck earlier protecting June. He didn't feel the pain, everything was numb.
He'd called June's parents hours ago, apologizing for not being able to save their daughter. They'd be coming as soon as possible, ready to stand vigil in the ICU, praying that June would recover. No one had been able to say what would happen to her. They didn't even know if she'd survive the night.
Silently he got up and walked to the window, looking out over the city. He should be by her side, but no one was allowed in the room with her overnight. Lolomi had finally ordered him to go home and sleep when she got out of surgery around midnight.
Sleep had been impossible. He'd been awake the entire time. Whenever he closed his eyes he saw her falling.
The sun was peeking over the horizon. All too soon he'd have to call the school and let them know June wouldn't be able to attend class for a while. A supervillain had nearly killed her, and he had failed her.
His phone beeped.
Hesitantly Dae-Jung looked at it, unsure if it would be good news, or... the other kind. It was a message from his friend and teammate, Desert Rat. 'Heads up, you need to see this,' it said, with a link attached.
Clicking on the link it went to the Hero-Watch site.
It showed a video of him hovering over Sun Hawk, his face twisted with grief. The title read, 'Confirmed? Sun Hawk is June Peters the girlfriend of The Mogollon Monster?'
With great restraint he put the phone down before he shattered it. June hadn't been that concerned about her secret identity. She said that dating him simply put her in the same situation he was in on a daily basis, and she was willing to risk it. But seeing her civilian persona shattered like that on top of everything else... he started shaking with anger.
Looking at the sun, he prayed to whatever deity was listening that if Forte survived, he would get the chance to fight her away from any witnesses.
Mutant Commission Office
MCO Agent Dobson sipped his coffee waiting for the briefing to start. There was an excited energy to the building this morning, everything was humming and on edge, so he didn't really need the coffee to wake up, but it was habit at this point. Phoenix was seldom boring, and the week was looking like it would be particularly interesting.
Agent Sanchez, second in command of the MCO, came in and turned on the white board. “Good morning everyone. As you all know last night four mutant criminals hit Cutting Edge Cyber Tek. It looks like a clear case of corporate espionage, they stole at least one prototype, and destroyed everything else, effectively ending the company. Then the devisor, Forte fought Jackalope and Sun Hawk, hospitalizing both, before making her escape. She was injured in the process and is most likely under the care of Doc Morris.”
No one looked particularly upset at hearing about the mutants being put in the hospital. Still they all kept their mouths shut. Bad mouthing heroes at an official meeting was taboo, you never knew if a recording of it would get out.
“Since we don't know where Doc Morris makes his base, we're going to focus on the other three mutants. They're a relatively new team calling themselves Triple Threat.”
Pictures of three teenagers appeared on the screen. One of them was a mug shot of a crying and somewhat attractive girl with black hair that was turning to blonde. The second was of an older teen who looked like a bad Sonic the Hedgehog ripoff, and the third was a plain looking boy with black hair and a goofy grin.
“These criminals joined together in Minnesota, when Zip, Zack Washington, and Ta-Da, Marcus Katz, broke the girl, Bubbly, Theresa Rodgers, out of an MCO armoured truck in April of this year. They've been travelling around the country ever since, hiring themselves out as thugs, focusing on smash and grab, intimidation, and leg breaking. This new job is well outside of the M.O., which makes it likely that Forte was the one in charge.”
The picture changed. There were two pictures of Ta-da, one a blurry picture showed his face, there was a nasty scar on his temple, the other was him in costume, where his mask covered the mark. “Ta-Da is a coercive telepath. As you can guess, he used it on several teen girls, until one of the fathers realized what was going on and shot him. Unfortunately it only grazed his temple and he got away.”
The picture changed again, this time to Zip. It showed a handsome Black teen, and then an even better picture of his GSD face. “Zip is a speedster, and he has a chip on his shoulder. He was a straight A student and athlete, then he manifested and turned to petty crime as a way to lash out at society. When he was recognized, he ran away. He survived by robbing gas stations and convenience stores, until he ran into Ta-Da, and they teamed up.”
Finally it went to Bubbly. The first picture showed a very plain girl with a big smile, the second a peroxide blonde beauty. “Bubbly is the last member. She went from having an IQ of sixty-four, and a third grade reading level, to a genius with super strength and the ability to manifest a variety of bubbles. After she crushed her mother to death, Ta-Da and Zip staged a jail break to get her. She is considered the most dangerous, because she has been showing clear signs of getting smarter. When her knowledge reaches the potential level of her intellect, we can be fairly certain their crimes will go from the basic low level type they're committing now, to large scale and far more costly. If they get someone like Forte to join their team, they'll become a serious threat overnight.”
Agent Sanchez let that pleasant thought sink in. The trio were already a formidable threat, coercive telepaths were a nightmare to deal with. With proper training, equipment and someone who knew what they were doing in charge, they could become a serious problem.
“While the heroes focus on Forte, I want to get Triple Threat. Everything that isn't top priority is sidelined until we capture them or we're sure they've left the city. A file with all the information we have on them has been sent to your computers, read it, then get to work.”
Lolomi knocked on the door to the doctors office and stepped inside. Insight was sitting at the desk holding a small camera over a medical report, she held up a finger for him to wait as she finished listening to the information. She was dressed in a plain grey suit, that matched her short, easy to maintain, no nonsense hairstyle. Finally she put it down and turned to look at him with milky white eyes, partially hidden by pink glasses.
“Sorry I wasn't here sooner Lolomi, I only got a hold of The Travelling Minstrel this morning. Everyone else was busy dealing with Thanksgiving or unavailable. One of the few teleporters at Whateley capable of covering the distance, who also happens to be one of the best healers in the world, just happened to be out of the office. She's too busy meditating to a tree,” she said. Her expression let him know what she thought of that.
“You're here now, that means a lot. Can you help Sun Hawk?” he asked.
“Most of it should be relatively easy. It's the brain trauma that has me concerned. I asked around and no one qualified and available is any better at healing the brain than I am. There's a student devisor who is supposedly capable of handling that kind of trauma, but they're a teenager with no formal medical training. There is no chance he would get permission to work on her, even with my backing. And I don't want to risk an untested devise on Sun Hawk unless there's no other option.”
They both frowned at that thought. Untested medical devises could work wonders. However, when they went wrong, which happened a little more often than they liked to think about, they went spectacularly wrong.
“I'll trust your judgment, you haven't let me down yet. What's the plan?”
“I set everything up last night. I'll examine Sun Hawk and then start the psychic healing in,” she paused, pressing a button on her watch, a faint noise came from her ear as it recited the time to her. “forty-three minutes. The hospital will have a specialist on hand to assist, but as long as the report is accurate, I'm fairly confident they won't be needed.”
For the first time in nearly fifteen hours, Lolomi felt some of the weight drop from his shoulders. Holding out his arm, he said, “Thank you. Sun means a lot to me. If you're ready I'll take you to her room. Her boyfriend Dae-Jong is with her, if you could talk with him for a minute or two it would really help.”
“Of course,” she said, taking hold of his arm.
Dae-Jung was sitting beside June's bed, reading a Spanish novel to her. She had to do a book report on it for her Spanish class, and it was one of the assignments she actually liked. He didn't know if she could hear him. Her face was a mass of bruises, thick bandages covered her skull, a brace protected her neck, both arms were in casts, and he couldn't bear to think of the mass of stitches on her torso. She hadn't so much as blinked since he'd arrived.
He'd been told that she might not wake up. There could be too much damage to her brain and she'd be a vegetable on life support, or she could forget everything and be little better than a baby. She might only remember bits and pieces of her life and forget all about him. Or there could be complications from the surgery and she could die.
There were so many things that could go wrong and only a few that could go right. Still he read to her, hoping for a miracle.
The door opened and Lolomi entered the room, followed by a woman with sandy brown hair, a surgical mask, rose tinted glasses and a white cane. She took off the mask as soon as the door was closed, revealing a rather ordinary face.
“Any change?” Lolomi asked.
“No,” he replied.
His leader motioned to the woman who was making her way to June's side. “This is Insight, a doctor and psychic healer. If anyone can help June, she can.”
“Hello, Dae-Jung. Because you're listed as her partner, you can stay in the room while I examine Ms. Peters. I can also answer questions in regards to her condition, but first I need some quiet so I can look her over,” Insight said.
“I'd like to stay,” he replied.
She nodded, then turned to June. Her hand moved over the unconscious woman, not quite touching her. Her fingers seemed to be tracing out odd patterns, clicking her teeth as she did.
“What is she doing,” he asked Lolomi, keeping his voice low.
“Looking over her aura, finding where it's damaged and planning out how to fix it. She can't just give someone regeneration or take away the injury. She needs to direct the body a little, so it heals properly,” Lolomi explained. “Don't worry, she does this regularly and has a PhD in Medicine. She knows what she's doing.”
Satisfied he shut up and watched the doctor work. Thirty minutes later she stepped away from the bed, turning her milky white eyes to him and Lolomi.
“She's in very bad shape. I can heal most of it, but her brain suffered severe trauma,” Insight said.
“But you can fix it right?” Dae-Jung asked.
She shook her head. “I do not deal with brain injuries unless it's the only way to keep the patient alive. The brain is fragile and very complex. If I heal it, the neurons will most likely heal improperly. Memories may be confused or lost, her personality could change, mobility, speech, her senses, could all suffer. And the short and long term damage people get from traumatic brain injuries, would be locked in. Even people with a regen of five have suffered memory loss and other problems from the rapid healing.”
His heart sank at the words. She'd be in a healthy body but her mind, her personality wouldn't be the same. Would she even be close to who she was or would she be an entirely different person?
Insight patted his hand and gave him confident smile. “It's not hopeless. It's simply best to let her brain heal naturally. There will be problems as the neurons develop workarounds to bypass the damage, but given time they can change and she'll return to normal or something very close to it at least. It helps that she has a BIT. Her brain will be nudged towards what the BIT considers its baseline function over time. It will be slow and frustrating as she goes through rehabilitation, but give her time and she will recover.”
“Thanks, Insight. I'll do whatever I can to help,” he said.
“Good. Now I'm going to call in the specialist and we'll need some privacy to perform the psychic surgery. How about you go to the cafeteria, get something to eat and come back in three hours. She'll still be asleep, but rest is the best thing for her now. It will help the healing process and give her mind a chance to recover. Don't worry, she's going to be all right, she just needs time.”
Nodding he and Lolomi left the room.
“I've got to get back to work,” Lolomi said. “I want you to eat and try to get some sleep. You're off duty unless there's an emergency for the next few days, but I'm still your boss. You will keep yourself healthy, for June and the team. Understand?”
“Yeah. I will.”
Lolomi patted him on the back. “Good. Now that we have a healer for June, try to relax. She's going to live and recover, we just need to be patient. That's good news.”
Heading for the cafeteria, Dae-Jong tried to believe him.
Kasa Walker zipped through traffic on her bicycle, dodging cars and pedestrians with seemingly inhuman ease. She was grinning with joy, loving the feel of the wind against her skin. If only she could show off how fast she really could go, the day would be perfect.
Reaching her destination, she locked up her bike and went into the office building taking a large brown envelope out of her courier bag. Getting into the elevator with two people in business suits got her some odd looks. Her tight, yellow bicycling outfit that covered almost every inch of her skin except her face, wouldn't normally attract much attention, bike couriers were pretty common. It was her short white hair, powdery white skin, and pale blue eyes that drew the eye. She'd been getting similar looks all her life, thanks to her albinism.
She could cover it up with her holographic devise, a present from her uncle when she turned eighteen, but she was proud of her looks. The white feathers that had replaced her hair, and grew out of her arms and back, however were a little harder to explain to people. So she made sure to use the holographic devise in her daily life to avoid that particular problem.
Dropping off the package, she double checked that the right person got it. No way was she going to risk her job by having someone sign in place of the person she was supposed to deliver it to. With the signature confirming she'd delivered it, she headed back outside.
Her bike wasn't where she'd left it.
Looking around, Kasa saw someone peddling it away down the street. Swearing, she took off running. She didn't go all out, running at 120mph wasn't necessary. She was still running much faster than any baseline could and caught up with the bike thief almost immediately.
“Hey, how ya doing?” she asked.
The would be thief turned to look at her, and jerked the bike to the side, straight into traffic. Before he became street pizza, and damaged her expensive bike, Kasa grabbed him and teleported. They ended up on a nearby roof. She had to do some quick footwork to keep him from taking a nasty fall, and they ended up uncomfortably close together in the middle of the roof.
“Care to explain why you were stealing my bike?” she asked.
His eyes went wide as he realized what had happened. “Shit! I'm sorry, don't kill me! I didn't know it was yours!”
Well that was easy, she thought and couldn't resist smirking. “Get off the bike.”
The thief got off so quickly, he stumbled and fell on his backside, causing her to laugh. She'd been having a good day, this just made it great. “OK dude, here's the deal. You get one freebie. I'm going to leave you up here, how you get down is your problem. But that's all I'm going to do. If I see you stealing something again, then I'm going to be pissed and you don't want to see me pissed off. Is that clear?”
“Yeah! Totally fair. You won't see me stealing bikes again,” the guy said.
Taking her bike, she gave it a quick once over and got ready to teleport back down to the street. She started adjusting her hologram to give herself some pigmentation so her secret identity wouldn't be completely blown, when a woman in a tacky black and yellow costume landed on the roof in a shower of sparks.
“What's going on here?” the hero known as Corriente, demanded.
“Just having a minor argument over a bike, nothing that needs a hero,” Kasa said.
The thief had gone white, and was slowly backing away, trying not to draw the hero's attention. He clearly hadn't planned on meeting the third or fourth most famous hero of the city. Corriente also had a reputation for being quick to zap and ask questions later. She wouldn't kill a person, but being tazed was never pleasant.
“You're arguing over a bike, on a roof, after you teleported up here. Does that sound like a normal, everyday thing to you?” the woman demanded.
Kasa sighed. The city had too many heroes for the type of crime it usually dealt with. Lots of property damage, baseline fights and things going on behind closed doors, very little that would make the evening news. Superheroes didn't get fame and fortune stopping graffiti artists, purse snatchings or punks beating each other up, so any chance most of them had to show off, they took it. “Yeah. Nothing illegal about that.”
“I wonder what the MCO will say when I drag you in?”
Taking off her bike helmet, Kasa turned off her holographic projector, revealing her feathered head. “Sure waste the MCO's time by telling them that Roadrunner was getting her bike back from a small time thief.”
“Oh fuck,” the thief muttered, realizing he'd just tried to steal a superheroes bike.
“I've never trusted you, Roadrunner. How do I know you're telling the truth?”
She got on her bike. It felt OK, the thief hadn't had time to mess with anything. “Not my problem. Not all of us are trustfund babies, and I happen to be on the clock right now. So bye.”
“You're not go-”
Teleporting away to the top of a building just across the road, which was about the limits of her teleportation range, she put on her helmet and and activated her holographic projector. Corriente took to the sky surrounded in an aura of electricity, yelling at her to stop.
Ignoring the hero, she teleported down to the street and took off, pushing her bike to its limit, teleporting across roads, and around cars and people as needed. Hitting around 200mph and abusing her teleportation ability to the max, in less than a minute she had left Corriente in the dust. She was also close to her next pickup. Looking at her watch, even with the delay, she'd more than made up the time getting there. In fact if she went in now, it would blow her cover. There was no non-powered way for her to reach the place for another ten minutes or so.
Slowing down to a far more sane speed, she merged into the crowd, and rode around for two minutes, before turning her hologram to her usual unique, but still baseline, look. Then, seeing a bakery she liked, she parked her bike and went to get some sugary goodness to replenish the energy she'd wasted getting away from her fellow hero.
Her phone rang as she was finishing off her third chocolate donut. The ring told her it was special business. “Hey L, what can I do for you?” she asked, not wanting to use her uncles codename or his real name out in public.
“How would you like a job with the Warriors?” her uncle, the superhero Lolomi asked.
For a moment she couldn't believe what she had just heard. She'd wanted to join the Warriors since she graduated college with a BA in criminal justice three years ago, but her uncle didn't want to be accused of nepotism. So she'd been slowly building up her resume as a part time hero, making sure to do everything by the books. She'd also been getting some publicity by doing plenty of events with the Hopi Indians, which didn't just help give her a name, but let her spend time with her family at the same time. To have him ask her to join out of the blue was a shock. “Say what?”
“We have an opening that needs to be filled immediately. It will be probationary only, I can guarantee you three months as long as you don't screw up. If you do well, it'll be permanent.”
Did she want to leave Tuscon, which was relatively safe for a superhero, to work in Phoenix, a city known to chew up superheroes and spit them out? She'd be working with the Warriors, which would look great on her resume, pay well, and she'd dreamed about, but they weren't exactly the safest group of heroes. If they needed her on such short notice it could only mean someone had died or been sidelined long term due to injury. She was going to be stepping into a shitstorm, and losing two members in less than a year wasn't great odds.
She saw some people pointing up at the sky where Corriente was flying around, probably looking for her. That decided things. For all the problems Phoenix had, the heroes were mostly sane and cooperative. “Yeah. I can start Friday.”
Doc Morris Clinic
Natalie struggled to wake up.
She knew she was full of painkillers. She could feel the pain that seemed to come from every part of her body, but it was distant, kept safely behind a glass wall, not actually hurting her. She'd felt the same way after she'd lost her limbs.
She hated the feeling.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, she was able to open her eyes.
It was a hospital room. She'd never been in it before, but it had the same anti-septic, banal appearance of all hospitals. Groaning, she felt an intense urge to get up and leave. Nothing good ever came from a hospital.
She moved her leg stumps.
Somehow the pain from her right leg got through the glass, making her gasp.
“They're still there,” she muttered to herself.
Moving her right arm stump was easier. She felt it move and shift on the bed. Her prosthetic would work normally with it, that was good.
She went to scratch an itch with her left hand.
It didn't move.
Concentrating she tried to move her fingers.
She couldn't feel them.
Trying to turn her head to look at her arm she felt a collar around her neck keeping her from moving.
She'd lost her arm.
She was completely helpless.
The black, suicidal despair she'd lived with for months came roaring back. She was useless. A freak. Helpless.
A scream tore its way out of her throat.
Twisting and turning, she tried to fall out of bed. She'd bash her skull in on the floor before she'd live like a helpless invalid, needing someone to care for her.
Someone came running into the room, grabbing her by the shoulders, struggling to keep her from moving.
“KILL ME!” she shrieked. “JUST KILL ME YOU FUCKING BASTARDS! GET IT OVER WITH!”
“Hold her down,” Doc Morris ordered.
“I'm trying!” the nurse replied.
A cold needle pierced her skin. The strength faded from her body. Still screaming, still cursing them for making her live like this, she lost consciousness.
Wednesday, November 23rd
Bubbly hopped out of the car, glad to be free of the smelly thing. She knew why Ta-Da bought an old car whenever they were going to spend a few days in a city. He and Zip had told her it was safer then renting or stealing one to get around, but she hated how most of them were dirty and gross. She was much happier in their sweet, sweet camper.
Skipping along, she beat Ta-Da to the door and rushed inside to get out of the heat. Arizona was so hot compared to Minnesota, and she missed the snow. Back home it would have snowed a bunch of times already. She grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and greedily began guzzling it.
“So how did we do?” Zip asked, looking up from his history book.
“Got rid of the chip, and we got the full amount. Cutting Edge Cyber-Tech is effectively dead, and will probably shut down next month. The best they can do is sell whatever info they have in their offsite servers to recoup some of their losses,” Ta-Da said.
“So with Forte dead, we're getting about a hundred-sixteen K each, right?”
“Well,” Ta-Da said, “we don't know if she's dead or not. We did promise she was going to get fifty grand.
Bubbly put the bottle of water down. Ta-Da had said they were getting two-hundred K for the job, so it was going to be split four ways. But Zip was talking about one-hundred-sixteen thousand, that didn't add up.
“Come on dude. We saw the video, she fell two hundred feet. If she survived, she's in a body cast right now,” Zip said.
“They have video of her limping away. And she wasn't in the car when her hostage woke up. Do you really want to risk pissing her off if she does recover?”
“HEY!” Bubbly shouted. “You told Forte that we were going to split it up so we each get fifty thousand. And now you're talking about the three of us getting three-hundred forty-eight thousand and Forte getting nothing. What are you guys talking about?”
Ta-Da and Zip looked nervously at each other, then at her.
“Bubbly, it's nothing serious,” Ta-Da said. “The actual payout for the job was three-hundred-fifty K. We had to make the deal and talk to the client, so we should get the majority. Forte was happy to get the fifty thousand, so it's all right.”
“No!” she said, stomping her foot, careful not to do it so hard her foot broke the floor. “I remember exactly what you said. You said we were getting paid two-hundred thousand dollars, so we would each get fifty thousand. Why isn't she getting her fair share?”
Zip sighed. “Bubbly, we're supervillains, we don't have to tell the truth all the time. We need to look out for ourselves first. We told her what we were willing to give her, and she took it.”
She glared at them. If she was still Theresa, she would just smile and agree with them, because she wouldn't have understood what was going on. But now she was Bubbly, and not only was she cooler than Theresa, she was a lot smarter too, and she knew this wasn't right. “Forte came up with the plan, her devises made sure it succeeded, and she took the biggest risk by going into the building and lying to everyone. And then she got hurt, while we all got away. She deserves just as much as we do.”
“OK, Bubbly, if we give her the,” Zip paused to do the math in his head, “eighty-seven-thousand, what exactly are we supposed to tell her. And how are we supposed to get it to her. She hasn't been seen since the fight, hasn't answered her phone or tried to call us, and we can't stick around the city, too many people are after us.”
“Tell her we're sorry she got hurt, and the hundred-thousand is a bonus because we did so well and we thought she deserved it. And we can leave it at the bar, Delaney seems trustworthy,” she said. Silently she cheered herself on, Theresa would never have been able to think of a lie that fast.
“Wait! A hundred-thousand, that's way too much,” Ta-Da said. The nasty scar on his brow grew a bright red, like it always did when he was surprised or angry.
“I'm going to give her extra from my take,” she said. “I like Forte, she's really smart, and she was willing to work with us when everyone else told us to go away. I don't need all that money, I already have all the clothes, and makeup, and books I need.”
Ta-Da and Zip looked at each other and nodded, not looking very happy.
“OK, Bubbly,” Ta-Da said, “we'll go to the bar tonight and see about leaving the money there, and then we're leaving. Things have gotten way too hot here.”
She jumped up and down, clapping her hands. “OK! Just let me write a letter for her first, I want to give her my email.”
Grabbing some pretty pink paper and her glittery pen set, she sat down at the table and began writing. It was a lot easier for her to write now that she was an exemplar. A few months ago she had hated writing and it would take her forever to do it. Now it was fun putting all the new words she was learning together, and Zip had bought her a cursive book, so writing was almost like drawing.
She hoped that Forte was going to be all right, and would read her letter. Having a girl friend to talk to, even if it was just by email, would be really nice.
Janet knocked on the door of a nice adobe home. It was on the edge of town and surrounded by scrub land, with a well cared for rock garden in front. An older woman opened the door, she looked like she'd lost a lot of weight recently, her cheeks were sunken in and her skin sagged in an unhealthy way.
“Hi, Mrs. Foster. I'm Janet Childs, I phoned you this morning about your daughter Natalie,” Janet said.
“Please come in,” the woman said.
Janet followed her to the living room, where she was given a glass of lemonade. She'd have preferred a beer, she wasn't used to these types of situations. She was a member of the Phoenix Warriors, but she was the mechanic and researcher. Dealing with supervillains and interviews were not her thing. Give her tools and a mechanical or electrical job, and she was happy. Talking to new people, especially about uncomfortable things, and she would usually chew off her own arm to avoid it. But everyone else in the Warriors was too busy, so this was her cross to bear. “Thank you for agreeing to see me,” she said, hopping up on a couch that was so big, her short legs hung in the air.
“You said you might know what happened to Natalie. Did you find out who kidnapped her?” the worried mother asked.
“I have an idea of what happened to Natalie,” she said very carefully, “but I need to ask you a few questions and check some things to confirm my ideas. When your daughter was injured, how did she handle it?”
“Natalie didn't take it well. She was a musical prodigy, she has awards from all over the Southwest, and schools like Yale had promised her a place if she applied, with plenty of scholarships. Then when she lost her arm and legs, it was all gone. I think she could have handled it if she'd only lost her legs, but without her right hand, she couldn't play most of her music, and none of the prosthetics we tried worked very well.”
Mrs. Foster took a tissue to dry her eyes. “She was on a suicide watch for months. Then when the psychiatrist said she was over the worst of it, Natalie locked herself in her music room for hours, only coming out to eat and go to bed.”
“Can I see her music room?”
“Sure, it's in the backyard. We made it for her when she was eight and was learning how to play the drums. We wanted to support her, and while her little brother liked her drumming, her father and I weren't as thrilled.”
The backyard was just as well kept as the rest of the house. A small building was in the back corner of the yard, surrounded by ornamental desert shrubs. Mrs. Foster unlocked the door and turned on the light. Dozens of dusty instruments lined the walls, an expensive keyboard and drum set facing each other in the corners. The vinyl floor was discoloured in spots, like acid or chemicals had fallen on it.
“You left her alone in here? Neither you or your husband came with her?” she asked, her voice sounding odd in the soundproofed room.
“She wouldn't let us. When we came in, she would scream and curse at us, saying we were intruding in the only place she felt normal. So we made an agreement, as long as she had her phone with her, checked in regularly, and came in for meals and bed, we wouldn't intrude. We didn't know what else to do.”
“These stains on the floor, when did they happen?”
Mrs. Foster shook her head. “After she began locking herself in here. I don't know what she was doing, neither did the police when they searched for clues about her kidnapping. They said it looked like chemicals, but most of them didn't register on their tests.”
Janet blew a puff of air out, she was now certain her theory was correct. Pulling a devise out of her pocket, she scanned the largest chemical stain. Stepping outside, she set the tracker to find the largest concentration of the chemical in fifty meters. An arrow appeared on the screen, following it, she went to the side of the music room and came to a sickly looking bush.
“Can I dig up this bush?”
For the first time Mrs. Foster hesitated. “Why?”
“Because there is something under it. If I'm right, I can tell you exactly what happened to your daughter.”
Tears welled up in the woman's eyes. “Oh god, no!” she said horrified.
Realization of what the mother must be thinking came to Janet. “NO! It's not Natalie. I'm very certain your daughter is alive. But I think this is the final evidence I need to confirm my theory.”
Clutching her chest, Mrs. Foster struggled to get her emotions back under control. “OK. Dig it up.”
Going to her truck, Janet climbed up the ladder she'd installed on the back and grabbed her shovel, specially made for her size. Five minutes later the bush was dug up, along with a few feet of soil and she was holding several chunks of silvery metal that were covered in dull golden lines. It looked exactly like the metal Forte used for her power armour.
“Mrs. Foster, you are going to want to contact a lawyer,” she said.
“Why? What is that?”
“I hate to tell you this, but your daughter is the newest Phoenix supervillain, Forte.”
Phoenix Warriors Headquarters
Lolomi and most of the Phoenix warriors sat in the planning room, watching Janet on the monitor. She'd called an emergency meeting an hour earlier. Everyone was curious about what she had to say after she'd left town without any warning, when she'd had a chance to look over the info Shadow had gotten on Forte.
“Forte is Natalie Foster, seventeen years old, devisor, and former musical prodigy. She ran away from home on October 13th, and everyone thought she'd been kidnapped,” Janet said.
“Why did they think that?” Desert Rat asked. “And how did she go from musical prodigy to suicidal supervillain?”
“Because she's a recent triple amputee, who made everyone believe she needed a wheelchair to get around. It's hard to sneak away in a powered wheelchair.”
That caught everyone off guard.
“From the fight on Monday I already suspected her legs were cybernetic. Only a top level devisor would have been able to create skin tight power armour, and they tend to make devises that explode when anyone else uses them. When I heard that her right arm was cybernetic, it was easy to find a triple amputee teen girl who matched her profile.”
“So what happened?” Magma Man asked. “Did she blow herself up by accident while preparing to become a supervillain”
“My best guess, she had a late manifestation after a classmate burned out in class. He exploded, killing two students, and badly injured four others. Natalie Foster was one of them. According to her mother, she suffered from suicidal depression due to the loss of her right arm. It only broke after several months, at which point Natalie locked herself in a music room, which became her laboratory. I found about five pounds of an unknown metal that resembles her armour and prosthetics buried in the garden, and her music room had odd chemical stains on the floor.”
“She couldn't follow her dream of being a musician, so she'll make the world burn instead.”
“Not quite. She wanted to be famous, she was driven and had the talent to succeed. When she lost that, it seems she decided to become famous in another way, turning that drive towards crime. I'll need to talk to her psychologist about this tomorrow after I get a warrant to look at her medical records, but I'm betting it's her way of proving to herself and the world that she isn't useless or helpless. According to her mother, that was the main cause of her depression.”
Lolomi sighed. “That helps solve one thing I was curious about. It seemed like she was actually about to surrender peacefully, when Jackalope told her of the deal I was willing to make. Then she asked about her devises. When she learned she couldn't keep them, she started fighting. If she really does suffer from severe depression, she probably can't imagine living without her prosthetics. Better to die than risk that.”
“So anytime she is close to being brought in, she'll take insane risks, potentially killing herself and others,” Janet added.
“OK, we now know she's going to be a bitch to bring in. What do we do, boss?” Desert Rat asked.
“The deal I made her is off the table,” Lolomi said. “We see her, we take her down hard. I'd prefer to take her alive, so target her legs and right arm. Breaking those won't kill her, and she'll be easier to take down. Remember, we are supposed to try to take most of our targets in alive, that's why they pay us the big bucks. And if we end up killing a teen girl in anything but the most dire of cases, we'll be raked over the coals.”
Everyone nodded in understanding, even Old Scratch.
“We'll notify the police that Natalie Foster is a person of interest and a valuable witness. So once she's back on the street, we'll have people looking for her, without pushing her into a corner before we're ready.”
Desert Rat looked skeptical. “You really think she'll be back on the street? She was in bad shape from her impromptu skydiving session.”
“I know she isn't dead, and she was mobile enough to escape. So she's probably healing up with Doc Morris, he'll have her on her feet in a week or two, and she'll likely be desperate for cash. We'll see her soon,” Lolomi said.
Doc Morris Clinic
Natalie slowly came too. It felt like she was floating. There were straps over her chest and waist. It made sense, they wouldn't want her floating away like a balloon. She giggled, thinking of herself blowing in the wind, bobbing along the ceiling, stealing peoples hats as she went by.
“Forte,” Doc Morris said.
“Eh, what's up doc?” She giggled again, her Bugs Bunny impersonation sucked.
“This won't make much sense to you right now, but you'll remember when you wake up properly. You still have your left arm. It was badly broken, so it's immobilized, I'll take the cast off tomorrow.”
“That's nice. You're a good doctor.”
“I had to perform surgery for a dislocated hip. Your femur is back in place. You'll need to stay off of it for at least three days.”
“There was extensive internal bleeding, a nanite solution was injected into your system to repair the damage.”
“I'm glad to hear that. I wouldn't want to leak when taking a drink.” She giggled at the mental image.
“You had a severe concussion. That was easily dealt with. The damage to your neck was a little harder, but it's healing nicely.”
“You should be able to leave on Sunday.”
“I'm going to put you back to sleep now. When you wake up just press the button if you need anything.”
“Nighty-night doc,” she said. Giggling, she fell asleep.
Doc Morris Clinic
Thursday, November 24th
Natalie flexed her left hand, it was weak and her arm twinged every time she moved it, but everything was in working order. She vaguely remembered how terrified she'd been when she'd first woken up and thought it was gone. The fear was still there. A tiny voice in the back of her mind kept saying that this was all a drug induced dream and she really had lost it, she wondered if she'd always think that.
“So Doc, I know this can't be cheap, how much will I owe you?” she asked, dreading the insane price she knew she'd have to pay.
“I can give you an itemized list later, but between collecting you, surgery, nanites, drugs, and care, it will be around 700K, payable all at once or in instalments, favours can also help pay for it,” Doc Morris said.
She groaned, that was an impossible amount of money. It was so large it didn't seem real. She realized she should be freaking out over it. If she didn't pay he probably had a long list of supervillains who would happily take it out of her hide. But the numbers were just too big to take in all at once. Using that feeling of unreality, Natalie called up her years on stage, she turned her face into a mask of confidence. “I'll take the instalment plan. Since it's already so high, do you think you can get me a portable speaker and some tools? I hate taking drugs, had too much of them in the past. I can make a speaker devise that helps with healing and pain relief.”
He raised an eyebrow, clearly curious about the devise. “I'll have it for you this evening.”
“Thanks. Can I see my arm and legs? I need to check if they still work.”
“You can have the arm today. You're on bed rest, and too weak to do much with the legs. I also don't want to risk you putting them on. Your legs and hip need time to heal. Tomorrow you can have a wheelchair to go to the bathroom and the canteen. You'll have a chance to look at your legs then.”
Nodding in agreement, knowing that arguing would be useless, she lowered her bed a little, so she was lying almost flat. Even the slight angle she'd been sitting at hurt her hips.
Doc Morris went to a locker in the corner of the room and came back with her right arm. It was beat up, with hairline cracks and dents all along it. The arm had worked well enough after her fight, so the internal workings probably hadn't been too badly damaged. With power it should do what she wanted.
Taking the charger, she handed it to Doc Morris, “Can you plug it in?”
He did as she asked, and the gold lines lit up. Well most of them did. She started tracing them with her finger, seeing where they were broken, trying to get an idea of how much work would be needed to repair it. This was something she could focus on, this was real. More importantly it took her mind off the hospital and the machines that surrounded her. She was so engrossed in her study, she didn't notice the doctor leave.
Phoenix Warriors Headquarters
Lolomi gave his niece a hug. “I thought you were coming tomorrow, Kasa,” he said.
Smiling, Kasa patted her duffel bag that was sitting on her bike seat. “Turns out I didn't have much to pack. My parents came and took some of the big stuff home with them, and I was renting a garage apartment from a family friend, so I could leave without any problems. Decided there was no reason to wait around. How are you doing Uncle Pimne?”
“Been better. Everyone is taking Sun Hawk's injury hard, especially Mogollon, they were close.”
She nodded, biting her lip nervously. “Yeah, I saw the article about that. How do you think he'll handle me taking his girlfriends place?”
“Sun is out for months, unless a miracle happens and her brain wasn't damaged. We need someone who can act as a scout and mover, you were already on my short list and were immediately available. I'm going to juggle some numbers to keep the two of you on the team once she's healed. A speedster could have gotten to Sun fast enough that this wouldn't have happened.” He gave her a weak smile. “That will hopefully keep any resentment to a minimum.”
“All right. It's your team, I'll trust your judgment. And don't worry, I'll do what I can to avoid stepping on any toes. I've gotten pretty good at dealing with touchy heroes.”
“Tuscon was that bad?”
“Oh yeah. Lots of rivalry and backstabbing to get good press. I spent the last few days dodging a superhero who wanted a proper superhero fight because she saw me getting my bike back from a thief. Last year, I stopped a car thief. I can't prove it, but Gillygaloo zapped me from behind with some kind of paralysis weapon. He dumped me in a dumpster, and claimed he had caught the car thief himself.” She wanted to spit at the memory. “It was easiest to just do my own thing, not make waves, and grow eyes in the back of my head.”
“Ouch,” her uncle said. “Well we don't have to worry about that problem. Most of the heroes realize we have to at least tolerate each other, or we'll be eaten alive. Mogollon might be a problem. I'll talk with him personally, and make sure he realizes we're all on the same team and need to watch each others back.”
“Glad to hear it. When do I meet the team?”
“Tomorrow at three, provided nothing major happens. I'll set up some training sessions for this weekend and next week, but I want you exploring the city in your civilian persona to get a feel for it. Starting Monday when you're not training, I'll have you drive around with Pack Rat. He'll help you get used to the city, the crime, and everything else that's important.”
“Cool. Now I stink, where can I call home until I find someplace a bit more permanent?” she asked, scratching the pure white feathers on her head.
“There's a guest room with your name on it upstairs. I'll show you the gym, canteen and TV room on the way,” he said, putting his arm around her shoulder.
Dae-Jong woke up from his nap with a jolt. Instinctively he looked down at June and broke into a grin. Her hand was stroking his arm, and her eyes were open. They were dull and unfocused, but she was moving, that was a good sign.
“June,” he said, his voice low. “Can you hear me.”
She looked at him. Her lips shook as she struggled to talk. “A-pple,” she slurred.
“You want an apple?”
“T-ree... Hi... Know.” Her eyes closed, but her fingers kept playing with his furry arm.
Reaching over, he hit the call button.
Sitting beside June's parents, Dae-Jong watched the doctor finish a series of tests on his girlfriend. He didn't know if the news was good or bad, the mans face was unreadable.
June answered some questions, at least it seemed like she was trying to. The answers were gibberish, just random words that he had to strain to understand. The physical tests had looked better, her fingers and toes all worked, Insight's help had worked a miracle and kept June from being paralyzed at least.
The doctor stepped away from June, and came over to them. His expression was a little lighter. “I have some good news. Physically, June is recovering far better than anyone could have hoped for. The psychic surgery is ensuring her body is healing not only at an increased rate, but doing it properly. We'll need to wait for her to recover more before we celebrate, but nerve damage and paralysis seems very unlikely. “
June's parents hugged each other, crying a little at the news. Dae-Jong waited to hear more.
“Her brain injury is serious, however there is some good news,” the doctor said. “She was able to follow my finger with her eyes, that's very encouraging. She was also listening when I spoke to her.”
“Then why wasn't she answering properly,” June's mother asked.
“We'll need to wait and see, before making any sure judgment, but she is likely suffering from aphasia, language impairment. It's common in traumatic brain injuries, and with time and rehabilitation it can be lessened or completely recovered from.”
“Does she understand what we're saying?” Dae-Jong asked.
“I can't say. It's unusual to only have speaking problems, without having some issues with understanding. In a few days we can run more comprehensive tests to better understand the extent of the damage. But this is good news,” the doctor reiterated. “She was conscious and interacting, considering her injuries that's a miracle.”
While June's parents thanked the doctor and asked some more questions, Dae-Jong looked at June. He wondered how much better she would be if he'd managed to catch her.
Phoenix Warriors Headquarters
Friday November 25th
Mogollon sat in the comfortable chair made for people his size. He tapped his foot and kept shifting as the other Warriors filed into the briefing room. Old Scratch was last, taking his usual seat a little apart from everyone else. Usually looking at the weird man made Mogollon feel uncomfortable, there was something about the guy that just didn't feel natural. But since the magic user had helped save Sun's life, he'd been trying to reassess his feelings.
Lolomi walked into the room, his dark black hair looked a little more grey than before. His tanned complexion wasn't as healthy as it usually was, especially with the black bags under his eyes. An albino woman who looked to be in her mid-twenties with deep blue eyes, feathers in place of hair, and feathers on her arms followed him.
The pair went to the front of the room. The woman gave them all a small, nervous smile, Lolomi looked as confident as ever. “Thank you all for showing up,” he said. “I want to let you know that Sun Hawk is out of danger. She has woken up, but due to the brain injuries she's sustained she will be sidelined for several months of rehab and healing. Visitors are allowed, so feel free to visit her this weekend, she needs all the support we can give her.”
“So why are you replacing her with your niece?” Old Scratch asked.
Leaning forward in his seat, Mogollon did his best not to glare at the woman. It was hard, she was replacing Sun, it wasn't fair. They couldn't just throw Sun aside like a broken toy. She was going to get better, and there had better be a spot on the team waiting for her.
“We need a scout, Roadrunner has been on my short list for a while,” Lolomi said, keeping his voice calm and reasonable. “We've seen her work in Tuscon, she's done well enough. She was also available to start immediately, unlike Rocket Racer, or High Flyer, who I called first. And the moment Sun Hawk is fit for duty, she is back on the team. Sun has earned her position time after time, I'm not going to take it away from her. Roadrunner is on the team as a temporary member. If she does well, we have the budget to make her permanent alongside Sun.”
“You're always complaining about money. Where did this money magically come from?” Old Scratch demanded.
“There are some non-essentials we can do without on the administrative side. And some of you will be doing more interviews and public events.”
There was a groan from most of the room.
“It's in your contracts,” Lolomi said. “You need to do a minimum number of events each year to help raise funds. Most of you don't actually meet it, even though it means more money in your pocket, and for the most part that's fine. But things are getting more dangerous out there and we need to expand. An extra ten or twenty hours a year from each of you isn't much of a burden.”
While the rest of the team griped and asked questions, Mogollon stared at Roadrunner. Lolomi said she wasn't replacing Sun, but he couldn't convince himself that it was true.
Roadrunner took a seat and let out a puff of air now that it was just her and her uncle. “Tough crowd,” she said.
“They're just upset about Sun Hawk. Do your best, don't let it get to you and give it a bit of time, they'll come around,” he said, tossing her a beer from the fridge.
“I can do that. They can't be worse than the heroes in Tuscon. But I've gotta know, is Old Scratch really a demon?”
“I don't know. When he appeared in my office to tell me he was joining the team, he had two rules. One, I can't dig into his background, demand he tell me about his past or personal life, or trick him into telling me about it. And two, I can't attack him or order someone to attack him.”
“And you just accepted that?”
“When he swore a binding oath that he would support my superhero efforts until I die or retire, and as long as I kept up my end of the bargain, I couldn't really refuse. So I don't dig, and if anyone else starts digging, I put a stop to it.”
“OK, that makes sense. He's still really, really scary.”
“Yes he is. Which is why I want him on our side. I should warn you, if you're a true believer, don't hold a holy symbol around him. It pisses him off, and he's grumpy for the next week.”
Taking a long drink from her beer, Roadrunner wondered what she'd gotten herself into.
Ex-FrankenCorp Phoenix Headquarters
The building was a total loss. Flames still leaped high into the sky from the gutted ruins, while firefighters tried in vain to put it out. Lolomi watched from behind the lines, wondering what had made the building erupt into flames so quickly. In the ten minutes from 911 being called, to the arrival of the fire department, the building had become an inferno.
Magma Man came striding out of the fire, his body moved unnaturally and burned brighter than the flames behind him. His feet left molten footprints in the pavement as he walked towards the crowd. Once he was far enough from the fire, his body shifted to an unnatural coal black human, wearing an even darker bodysuit.
“What did you find?” Lolomi asked.
“Everything above ground is a total loss. I couldn't make out anything useful in the flames. But the hidden basement goes down at least three levels, and it's a rats nest of confusing hallways, rooms and stairs. Whoever made it, didn't want visitors to have an easy time finding their way around. There's a bunch of bodies and a lot of blood, in the lower levels where the fire hasn't gotten to yet. A few were beaten and killed by gunfire, one man had his throat bitten and drained of blood. The rest died from lack of oxygen and heat from the fire. Several of them had bites and claw marks, looked a little like a big dog had gotten to them, but none of those wounds were immediately fatal.”
“Do you think we'll be able to salvage anything from it after the fire’s out?”
Magma Man shook his head. “The fire was already spreading down there as I was leaving. The place is about to collapse, it'll take everything with it when it does.”
Scratching his head, Lolomi thought about the situation for a moment. “Claws and teeth from a dog you say?”
“Yeah, the teeth marks on one guys shoulders looked like something with a long, narrow muzzle. The one who had his throat ripped out looked like a human had done it, but I couldn't say for certain without an autopsy.”
Keying his radio, he said, “Janet, can you get me all the info we have on the 'Chandler Werewolf'.”
“No problem, boss,” came the response.
“You think the teen wolf had something to do with this?” his teammate asked.
“We have a report that they were attacked recently. Now we have an apparent secret base and people chewed up by a big dog. This goes way beyond dealing with a rapist and minor street crime, I think it's about time we have a talk with this person, see who and what they really are.”
His attention turned to Old Scratch who was crouched a few feet away from the edge of the fire. The wizard had been watching the flames for a while, completely uncaring about the killing heat that surrounded him. “Go write up a report, for us and the police, Magma. I need to see what Old Scratch is doing.”
“Have fun with that,” Magma said.
Flicking the mental switch in his head, Lolomi felt something surge through him. Even after two decades he didn't know how to describe it beyond saying it felt like his body connected to something bigger than anything he had ever known. It only lasted a moment, and then it was over, leaving him in a body of flint like stone. He was bigger than before, glittering with reflected light. His face was smooth and blank, yet he could see, smell and talk perfectly.
In his nearly impervious body, he went to talk to his strangest teammate.
“See anything interesting?” he asked.
Old Scratch shifted his head a little, the flames made his face look demonic. “Someone was very angry here.”
“I figured that out myself.”
“If we're lucky this was a one time event. The person who did it was seeking vengeance and is now satisfied. If we're not, they'll do this again. If we're extremely unlucky, that person is working for a group that is very unhappy, and this was just the beginning,”
“Who do you think they work for? The Syndicate? A cult?”
The wizard smiled, making Lolomi shiver. “If it's what I think, you've never heard of them. They don't usually bother with Earth. You deal with the police, I'll find out what's going on.”
“What do you mean they don't bother with Earth?”
“Do you bother the raccoons in the forest?”
“Exactly. You leave them alone until they become an annoyance, then you remove them. Give me a few days, I'll make sure they don't want to deal with you or your city.” Having said his piece, Old Scratch took his leave, by walking into the flames and vanishing.
Lolomi stood there for a while wondering just what he'd done to deserve a week like this.
Saturday, November 26th
The girl looked around the crowded attic, looking for the box of books her uncle had left them after he died. Brushing her dark brown hair out of her eyes, she saw the box in the far corner, it was covered in dust from being in storage for over two years.
Opening it up, there was an old leather book right at the top. She'd never seen a book like it, and was almost too scared to pick it up, but curiosity quickly got the better of her. Sitting cross legged on the ground, she opened it up, marvelling at the feel of the parchment. It was soft and velvety, despite how old it had to be.
The ornate calligraphy was hard to read at first, hurting her eyes, but it quickly became readable as her eyes adjusted.
She began reading it.
The girl sat across from the demon, staring without concern at its dark complexion and ever changing face. “What can you offer me?” she asked.
The demon smiled. “I can offer you a chance,” it said.
“A chance? What does that mean?”
“A chance to become a goddess. A chance to see things that no mortal may ever see. A chance to walk among wonders that would drive most humans mad. A chance to accomplish deeds that surpass the legends of old. A chance to stride across the dimensions as easily as you walk to a neighbours house. A chance to live long enough to see this universe die, fade away, and be reborn.” The demon smiled. “That is what I offer you, a chance.”
The girl thought about it for a time, wondering if it was the right decision. “What will it cost me?”
“Your humanity,” the demon said, waving it's clawed hand as if it was of little concern. “No mere human could survive this deal. You will have your free will, I cannot take it from you. But that which makes you human, will be no more. Instead you will be bonded to me, we will work together as partners. I shall provide the knowledge, you will provide the power. If you choose to ignore me, there will be little I can do. But if you are wise and heed my council, we will achieve great things.”
“You swear that I will have the final say in what we do?”
“The decisions and promises you make will be your own. How they turn out will be on your head alone. I so swear.”
The girl once more thought about what the demon had said. There was little holding her to her life, a distant family, few companions, a future of dull, mindless work. The promise of power beckoned to her. “I accept your offer,” she said.
For the first time the demon smiled. “Hold out your hand.”
She raised her hand, only the tiniest of tremors betrayed her fear. The demon pricked her thumb with a claw.
“The deal is done,” the demon said.
The girl turned the page, eager to see what would happen next. She yelped in pain as her thumb was sliced by the parchment. Dark red blood dripped onto the book. She was about to wipe it off, hoping she hadn't damaged the book, but shock paralyzed her. The blood faded away.
She felt something reach deep into her body. There was the sound of tearing, like paper being ripped from a book. Pain engulfed her.
Book woke up, her tome rested on her chest.
Tossing the priceless book to the floor, she glared at it. “I remember our fucking agreement, if you can really call it that. You don't have to keep reminding me. Stupid demon book, I had a hell of a day yesterday and I wanted to get some real sleep.”
Wrapping herself in her blanket, mostly so she wouldn't see the weird black marks that flowed over her parchment like skin, she looked out the window and saw that the sun was just coming up. She might as well get up, there wasn't much to do in her place. The tiny apartment she squatted in wasn't much. It wasn't like she could get any furniture into it, if she could even afford it. There was just her yoga mat, blanket, pillow, and a bag with some clothes and toiletries.
Strange symbols covered the walls. Book had drawn them when she'd claimed the apartment, painstakingly copying them from her tome. It made people forget the room existed. So she had a place to sleep and relax, running water, electricity for her phone, light to read by, and protection from the elements. It was a lot better than most homeless kids had, so she really couldn't complain.
She'd need to get a new phone. The bastards who had kidnapped her the day before had stolen hers, and there was no way she was getting it back. Sighing in frustration, she grabbed her soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, she had a busy day, she might as well get started.
An hour later she was outside in old, but relatively clean clothes. She'd cast an ignore me spell before leaving her place, and was making her way to the bakery. Sure, she'd gotten drugged and kidnapped going there the day before, but the attackers had had their place burned down and their people fucked up. She was pretty sure she was safe.
Getting a bag of pastries that would be her breakfast and lunch, she put some money on the counter. The owner wouldn't know where it came from or why, but it would cover the food.
Wandering around the city for a while, she watched the people and streets, waiting to see if anything struck a chord, made her feel something unusual, brought back a memory, anything. Like always for the last three weeks, nothing happened. For all she knew, she could have walked past her mother and not even realized it. Book knew it should make her feel sad, but it was just annoying, merely an itch she couldn't scratch.
“Jesus died for your sins!” a man shouted.
Looking ahead, Book saw a street preacher with a robe that said, 'Christ died for the ungodly.' He had a large cross hanging from his neck, and was holding an old, well used bible. Looking down at the black inky stains on her hands, she wondered what he would do if he noticed her.
Shaking her head to get rid of the mental image of the guy freaking out at her appearance, she kept walking, there were things to do and people to see. At least she hoped there would be people, she really needed to start making some connections and getting money.
Lost in thought Book didn't see the preacher thrust the bible towards her. He didn't really notice her, he was just going on about Sodom and Gomorrah, and the bible happened to get close. But to her it felt like getting slammed by a hurricane force wind. She was pushed off her feet, and nearly thrown into traffic. Her hand hit the road to stop herself from rolling off the sidewalk.
Getting to her feet, cursing the entire time, Book limped away from the oblivious preacher and pedestrians. When she felt it was safe, she checked herself for injuries, her pants were ripped and her hand was a little torn up, but that seemed to be the worst of it. “First I get kidnapped. Then I get bolts put into my hand. Then I rip them out and drain a man to heal myself. And now I discover bibles are not my friend. What else can go wrong this week? Stupid demon book, I'm pretty sure my life was nice and boring before it came around.”
Reaching a bus stop, she sat down on the bench hoping that her day would improve.
“Outlaw's Tavern,” Book said, reading the graffiti beside the beat up door.
She'd heard of the place from some thugs she'd been eaves dropping on two weeks ago. Some careful searching and snooping had gotten her the address. Actually working up the courage to visit had been harder.
Being a supervillain was not something she'd planned, at least she didn't think she'd planned it. Losing her memories really sucked. Unfortunately getting a regular job was a little difficult with no ID, no past, only being fifteen or sixteen years old, and the whole looking like a weird demon girl. The fact that she apparently was a weird demon girl, didn't really help matters. Going to the government or the heroes probably wouldn't end well. Would an exorcism work on her? She really didn't want to find out.
So if she wanted to make allies, get real money, not just what she could pick out of some well off ladies purse, and avoid getting kidnapped by freaky groups that put iron bolts in her hands, it looked like becoming a supervillain was her new career plan.
Stepping into the tavern, it was almost deserted. There was a group wearing garish costumes that looked like they were made from multicoloured disco balls drinking what seemed to be chocolate milkshakes in the corner. The only other customer was a lizard... person eating some eggs and bacon while reading something on a tablet. An enormous four armed woman was sitting at the bar talking to a blue woman with a single, enormous eyeball, and eyelashes to match, the pair looked over at Book and the large woman strode over to her.
“You sure you want to be here, kid?” the woman asked.
“This is the place to look for work without having to worry about little things like documents and laws right?” Book asked.
“Yeah, it can be.”
“Than I want to be here.”
Walking past the bouncer, she took a seat at the bar. Book knew she should be nervous. She was a young woman in a supervillain bar, surrounded by dangerous people, at least one of whom was likely a murderer. But mostly she was just a bit embarrassed at having all eyes on her. Was that lack of concern part of her 'deal', or after yesterday was she just numbed to everything?
She didn't know what was worse.
“Welcome to Outlaw's Tavern. I'm Thoosa, manager and bartender, what can I get for you?” the one-eyed woman said, her voice had an airy, almost hypnotic pitch to it.
“Root beer,” she replied. She wanted to get something else, the smell of food coming from kitchen was making her mouth water. Too bad she'd already bought her lunch, and while pastries were getting boring, they were cheap, and she was on a budget.
Thoosa grabbed a glass from behind the bar, ice cubes floated through the air to land in the glass while she went to the fridge and pulled out an odd looking bottle that read Sprecher Fire Brewed Root Beer. Popping the top, the root beer rose out of the bottle as if it was being sucked out by a straw, landing in the glass, where it created a perfect head of foam.
“So you're new here kid, got a name?” the bartender asked.
“Book,” she replied. Taking a sip of her drink, she was impressed by the flavour, it had a rich, creamy taste to it. “I'm pretty new to this, and looking for work.”
“What can you do?”
“I'm a wizard.”
The bartender frowned. “Not much call for a newbie wizard. People need someone who has a fair number of spells and control.”
A tiny part of Book wanted to protest and insist she knew what she was doing. Something held her back. She knew what she could do, whining about it wouldn't help. If this didn't work, she'd find something else.
“I understand. I don't look like much, but to get my foot in the door I work cheap, and when I say I can do something I mean it. If I make an agreement, I can't break it,” she said.
“One of the real magic types?”
She commanded her tome to appear. The thick, ancient book appeared in the air beside her, it hung there looking suitably impressive. “Yeah, you could say that.”
An indulgent smile appeared on Thoosa's face. She wasn't awed by the performance but it didn't look like she was condescending either. “I'll pass the word around. You'll want to be careful, wizards are usually expensive, so you'll get a lot of deals that are probably way above your abilities. But if you're smart and not desperate, you can do OK.”
“Thank you. I'll try to avoid anything suicidal.”
“It's slow, would you like some advice on how to survive in the business?”
Book thought about it. Some advice that didn't come from a demonic book that had a very open interpretation of what constituted an agreement would be nice. Smiling for the first time, she nodded. “I'd appreciate that, Thoosa.”
Doc Morris Clinic
Forte glared at her legs. They'd taken the brunt of her fall, which had probably saved her life, but they were almost worthless. They'd been plugged in for hours but they were barely charging. She'd be able to walk with them for thirty minutes at most. There were cracks and fractures all through them, walking should be doable, maybe even running at a normal speed. But jumping, or getting hit by anything much stronger than a hard tap, would probably break them.
The only good thing in her life at the moment was the devise she'd made for dealing with pain. The purring noise was helping her sleep, and kept her pain to a tolerable level without having to be drugged up.
Looking around the room, she wanted to get out and never come back. She felt on edge being trapped in the bed. They'd taken her catheter out the other day, when she'd been declared healthy enough to go to the bathroom properly. They may have rushed that a little. When she'd had to use the bed pan, after coming out of her drugged up stupor, they'd needed to give her a tranquilizer to deal with the panic attack she'd suffered as the nurse had cleaned her up.
Just the thought of that made her shudder in disgust.
Using her arms, she went to the edge of the bed and clambered into the wheelchair, only wincing a little as her nearly healed hip touched the chair. Grabbing a small blanket they'd given her, she covered her stumps and left the room.
A tall, lean man who had a predatory look to him was walking down the hallway. His hand was wrapped in a thick bandage and he had some nasty scratches on his face and arms. He wasn't in as bad of shape as she was, but he'd clearly be in a fight.
“Hello. You're Forte, right?” the man asked.
She scowled, not wanting to talk to people, or be seen by them. She hated not having her legs and looking so helpless. But this guy could be a potential customer one day, so she quickly forced herself to smile. “Yeah. You?”
“Iron Rain,” he said, smiling cheerfully. “I saw your fight on Monday. Taking on two heroes and putting them both in the hospital, pretty impressive.”
“Yeah, well I didn't come out much better. Next armour I make gets a jet pack.”
Raising his bandaged hand, he smirked. “Wear your scars with pride. You'll get a lot of them in this business. I was looking for the canteen, want to join me?”
“I'm not really hungry, I just needed to get out of that room,” she told him, really wishing they hadn't met.
He didn't get the hint. “I'll buy you a coffee, and I was hoping to talk business with you. Some of your devises would be helpful for a few jobs I'm planning.”
Maybe this wasn't as bad as she'd feared. “OK. It will be nice talking to someone new.”
They made the short walk to the canteen in silence. Iron got both of them a coffee from the machine, and heated up a single serving microwave pizza for himself, while she got herself comfortable at one of the tables.
“I haven't heard of you before? What type of jobs do you do?” Forte asked.
“I usually work behind the scenes, giving people warnings when killing them would be a problem, hunt down people who pissed someone off and have a price on their head, things like that. The big flashy superhero fights aren't for me.” He lifted his bandaged hand again, “Got into an unexpected fight with a superhero the other day, they know they've been in a fight, but I'll admit I got the worst of it.”
She snorted. “I understand. I didn't really plan on fighting superheroes either. Things just kind of happened and needing money put me in the ring.”
“That's usually how it happens. So tell me about your devises, I could use something that will take down a super without killing them.”
“Well, the best one for that is probably my Boomer,” she said, starting in on her spiel.
Doc Morris Clinic
Sunday, November 27th
Having her legs back on was a relief. Even as damaged as they were, Natalie felt whole for the first time since getting hurt. Wearing proper clothes was nice as well, even if they weren't her own. She needed a cane to help take some of the weight and to deal with the poor feedback, but she'd take a cane for a few hours over needing a chair.
Doc Morris watched her walk from one side of the room to the other and nodded in satisfaction when she didn't fall flat on her face. “Good, you're free to leave as soon as we discuss your payment.”
Frowning, Natalie looked at her hands. “I'm going to need to do the instalment plan. I don't have much money left.”
“How much did you make from the heist?”
“I'm supposed to get fifty thousand from it. But since my phone is all fucked up, I don't know if they got the money, if they're waiting to give me my share, or anything.”
“You have three weeks to give me the first thirty thousand dollars, the sooner you provide it, the better. Now that devise you made that helps with pain and healing. How soon can you have ten of them ready for me?”
She thought about it, she'd need to fix her limbs, and there were some jobs she had to get done first. But the work was pretty easy, and if it helped get her out of debt, she could make the time. “About a week.”
“OK, then I'm going to make you a deal. You provide me with ten of them, along with repairs and replacements as needed, and you just have to pay me fifty thousand dollars a month until you're paid off.”
Her eyes went wide. How much would she be paying a month if she didn't do that for him? She didn't want to know. “OK.”
He held out his hand and they shook on the deal.
“All right, if you can't make the payment, let me know immediately. As long as you're up to date on payments I'll keep treating you, but if you fall behind you're on your own. If you fall two months behind, we will have a talk. If you leave town, make sure to keep paying your debt until it's completed. If you're willing, I may need an occasional favour, that will help lower your debt, sometimes significantly. Do you understand?” Doc Morris asked.
“Yes, sir,” she replied.
Taking the small bag that held her ruined clothes, broken phone, a new pay as you go cheap phone with some money on it, and backpack armour, Doc Morris led her out of the room towards the elevator. “There's a car waiting for you to drive you wherever you need to go. She's discrete, so you can give her a proper address.”
“Thanks, I'll get you the first payment as soon as I can,” Natalie said. Stepping into the elevator, clutching her bag to her chest, she wondered what was waiting for her.
Limping down the alley to her hideout, Natalie wondered if police or a hero would be waiting for her. If they were she wouldn't be able to do anything but fall over. A child could beat her up at the moment. She was pretty sure her sleeper touch was out of order, and without the cane she wouldn't even be able to walk.
At the secret entrance she saw that someone had tried to enter and gotten zapped by her trap. Resting her head against the wall, she wondered if they had put a camera or something nearby to record her going in. Holding up her right arm, she used her anti-electronic devise to destroy anything not specially insulated. It took several seconds to build up to the correct frequency, and afterwards it whined painfully for several more, making her grit her teeth until it passed.
Going down the stairs was slow, exhausting, and a little terrifying. Never sure where her right foot was, she had to grip the banister and her cane as hard as she could until her footing was certain. When she finally made it to her lair, she fell onto the couch with a sigh of relief.
All too soon Natalie got to her unsteady feet and went to her lab. There was work to be done, and the first priority was fixing her limbs.
Actually, she amended to herself, the first priority was checking on her sonic metal. Going to the rows of metal pots, she lifted the lid off the first one.
“NO!” she shouted in despair.
The pot should have held silvery metal that was almost ready to be collected. Instead there was a greyish, foul smelling, metallic slime. The next one was exactly the same, and the next, and the next. Out of all of her starters, only one looked like it might be salvageable.
She'd been away too long. They hadn't been fed, and they hadn't had her devisor power keeping them stable. All of her chemicals and time were wasted.
Falling to her knees, she put her head in her hands and began sobbing. All that she'd done, the people she'd hurt, what had it been for? What had she accomplished? She was so deeply in debt it was almost too much to imagine. Her work was a failure. She didn't have enough money to cover her first payment. Her limbs were virtually useless. The superheroes had to be after her head by now. She had no friends. She was probably a joke to every supervillain, almost getting killed by Jackalope and Sun Hawk.
All she had was a rented lair, and some equipment.
She was a failure.
She might as well have stayed in the hospital bed.
She wished she'd died in the explosion.
Several hours later, Natalie sat curled up on the couch under a blanket. Her legs were being repaired, she could just make out the complex harmonics that was liquefying and reshaping the sonic metal. No matter what she did next, she'd need her legs in working order.
Her right arm could wait until tomorrow to be repaired. Her dark mood wouldn't let her take her arm off at the moment, the helplessness and disgust was too much.
Flipping through the channels, she tried not to think.
If she thought too much, the dark, nasty thoughts would become too loud. Best to focus on the inane and stupid things. There was no one to stop her this time if she went to get a knife.
She stopped on a news channel, it was showing her fight with Sun Hawk and Jackalope.
“-ported earlier today, the new supervillain has been tentatively identified as seventeen year old, Natalie Foster. She had been reported as a potential kidnap victim back in October, when she vanished from her home,” the news anchor said.
They flipped to her parents home. Her mother was peeking out from behind the door. “I don't have anything to say to you, please get off my property. If I decide to make a statement, it will be through my lawyer.”
“As you can see, Mrs. Foster was unwilling to speak to reporters. While it's unclear why this young girl chose to become a supervillain, it's believed that it's due to an explosion caused by a mutant classmate that left her severely disabled and destroyed her chance at becoming a musician.”
A photo of her lying in a hospital bed, covered in bandages, unconscious, looking small and broken appeared on the side of the screen, alongside a video of her last public concert.
Natalie couldn't hear anything. The world shrank until only the picture of her shattered body remained. That was how the world saw her. Broken. Useless. Disgusting. A wretched thing to be pitied.
The remote hit the screen, shattering it.
Falling off the couch, she started crawling towards the kitchen. There were knives there. She just needed a few minutes and it would all be over.
Then she saw the phone. It was an old fashion one that used a landline. She'd been told it was untraceable. Something urged her to go to the phone.
Grabbing it, she stretched to dial a number, barely able to see through the tears.
She didn't know how many times it rang before her mother picked up. “I am not giving any-”
“I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!” she sobbed, barely able to understand herself.
“Natalie!” her mother said, practically shouting into the phone. “Don't hang up. Everything is going to be fine. I need you to listen to me-”
“I'm sorry. I can't- I-I-”
What could she say? She owed Doc Morris so much money, she had to pay it back. If she surrendered to the police, he'd probably have her killed. And she'd be sent away for so long without her arm and legs. She might as well be dead.
She shouldn't have called.
“I'm sorry. I love you. I'm sorry. Just forget about me,” she said.
As her mother sobbed, begging her to stay on the line, she hung up the phone. Hugging herself, Natalie began to wail.
Phoenix Warriors Headquarters
“Who the hell leaked it?!” Lolomi shouted.
Mogollon had never seen the leader of the Phoenix Warriors so furious. Tired, upset, angry, terrifyingly calm and focused, sure, those were all just part of being a superhero, but this was different. The man's hands were shaking, the phone he was yelling into was cracking in his hand.
Since the news had released the identity of Forte that morning, Lolomi had been trying to find the source. He'd wanted to use the info to get close to the criminal and catch her. Now that chance was gone.
Forte's mother had phoned Janet minutes ago, cursing and screaming almost incoherently after getting a call from her daughter. So the villain was likely on her feet and had definitely heard the news. She'd be even more careful now, likely never going out in public without one of her disguises.
Slamming the phone onto his desk, Lolomi took a moment to breathe deeply before looking at Mogollon. “I need you on patrol. The cartels and supervillains have been getting uppity, we need to show them that we're still in the game.”
Smiling, Mogollon nodded. He wanted to be beside June, she was regaining consciousness more often, but he was useless there. She couldn't understand him, or make herself understood, she'd babble staring at nothing unless someone was talking to her, then slip back into unconsciousness after an hour or two. A good patrol, stopping some crime, maybe getting into a fight, would feel good.
“Where do you want me to go?”
“You and Roadrunner will do a run around South Mountain. You know the area, so show her what she needs to know. You see something, slap them down hard.”
The thought of working with Roadrunner made his stomach churn. She was replacing June, it wasn't right. “I thought she was going to patrol with Desert Rat tomorrow?”
“She was, things had been mostly quiet, and I'd have liked to do some more basic training than the sparring yesterday and this morning, but the fire Friday night seems to have set things off. We've had three robberies committed by supervillains, two large gang fights, at least six executions that have the cartel fingerprints all over them, and the usual mess of robberies, assaults, and murder. I want to send a message that we're not not going to put up with it.”
Gritting his teeth, Mogollon nodded.
Lolomi noticed his less than enthusiastic response. “I wouldn't ask you to work with Roadrunner so soon, but everyone else is either resting after working double shifts all week, or busy putting out fires. Remember, she is not replacing June. I believe the Warriors need Sun Hawk, and will always have a spot for her on the team. I was looking to expand the team already, this gave me the excuse I needed.”
“I know. I'll show her around. Maybe I'll get lucky and run into The Cannibal, I really want a round two with him.”
“All I ask is that you call for backup before you charge into that fight.” Patting him on the back, Lolomi motioned to the door. “Now get out there, do some good and work off some energy.”
Feeling a little better he went to get suited up. Roadrunner was waiting in the hall for him, she was already in her suit, a white padded suit with a feathery pattern outlined in black. White metal pads covered her knees and elbows. Her gloves were clearly weighted to protect her hands and make her punches harder. She had a sleek white helmet that looked a little like a stylized birds head complete with a tiny beak, and a feathery black frill on top. She smiled up at him, the feathers that she had for hair puffing up as she did.
“Hey Mogollon, nice to meet you again,” she said.
He nodded, not sure what to say.
Her smile didn't waver. “How about I go wait in the garage, while you get ready. No rush, I'll check out the van.”
Nodding again, he went to get ready.
Thirty minutes later they were driving through South Mountain in the official Phoenix Warrior patrol van, the only vehicle that would actually hold him other than one of the motorcycles. He didn't like the motorcycles, he always felt ridiculous riding on the tiny things.
“So... what's the gang situation like in the neighbourhood?” Roadrunner asked.
“Persistent. They sell a lot of drugs, rob, run protection rackets, and get into fights with each other that all too often end in murder. They're smart enough to usually leave civilians out of the worst of it, but sometimes innocents get caught in the crossfire, or some fool decides to push things too far,” he explained.
“Sounds a lot like Tucson, just larger.”
He nodded, trying to be polite. “Yeah. The cartels sell their shit to the gangs, but otherwise ignores them. Once the drugs are in the idiots hands, the cartel doesn't care what happens, they have their money. If the gangbangers kill each other, get arrested, steal from each other, it's no skin off their back. They'll find another buyer in a few hours.”
“So we just come through sometimes, make sure the gangs don't get too uppity, and get rid of the worst of them?”
“What about supervillains?”
“They don't usually come around here unless they're looking for a quick buck or cheap muscle. The cartels don't like competitors in the drug trade, so only desperate or very stupid villains have much to do with the gangs. Stolen drugs are hard to offload and not worth most powered criminals time. And if they try to sell their own, they'll have The Cannibal, La Llorona, or The Hungry Ghost knocking on their door. That's a painful death sentence.”
She nodded in understanding. “If I see any of the big three, I call for backup and focus on keeping people from dying, right.”
The radio came to life, “Robbery in progress, U.S. Bank, 16th Street. Superpowers involved.”
Hitting the lights, Mogollon did a u-turn and headed towards the bank. “Call it in, we'll be there in less than a minute,” he said, hitting the gas.
Screeching to a halt in front of the bank, Mogollon jumped out of the car. It was Sunday afternoon, so the bank was closed. Where had the criminal entered the building, more importantly where were they coming out?
“I'll check for the villain,” Roadrunner said. She was gone in a cloud of dust, using her super speed to scout out the area.
She was back a few seconds later. “Found a hole in the back wall. Looks like it was disintegrated.”
“Let's go,” he said. Into his radio he said, “This is Mogollon Monster and Roadrunner. Entering the bank through a hole in the back. superpowers are confirmed, perp and powers still unknown.”
Running to the back of the bank, he went through the hole first. While his partner was fast, if there was a trap waiting for them, he could survive the hit a lot better than she could. When nothing exploded, he waved her in.
“I'll scout the building, come running if you hear fighting,” she said.
As soon as he nodded, she disappeared.
Tapping the heavy metal bracelet on his wrist, he said, “Blueprint for U.S. Bank, 16th street.”
The VI assistant produced a hologram of the bank, conveniently showing his location. He headed for the vault, assuming it would be the most likely place to find the villain.
Roadrunners voice came over his earpiece. “Lobby! Power armour villain, heading for the door.”
Thunder rang out echoing in the hallways. It was followed by an explosion.
Looking at the blueprint, he realized it would be faster to get outside. Running through the hole, he jumped to the roof of the bank and sprinted to the street side. He slowed just enough to get a view of the scene. The supervillain, wearing sleek black power armour, was firing some kind of lightning weapon, trying and failing to hit the teleporting speedster. Thunder echoed with every shot.
Road Runner was popping in and out of sight, using a short, whip-like weapon to entangle the villain's arm or leg, yanking them off balance, then teleporting again. She wasn't trying for a win, just keeping the criminal too busy to run away.
Grinning, Mogollon jumped into the fight.
The villain somehow detected him, spinning around and firing what looked like a grenade into his chest. Mogollon didn't even flinch as it exploded and managed to land on his feet. Reaching out to grab the armour, he was a little disappointed, he'd been hoping for a fight.
Then he found his hand being grabbed, felt a sense of weightlessness as the world spun and his back slammed into the sidewalk. A barrel was pointed at his face and lightning erupted in his face, followed by the crack of thunder. Stunned, he couldn't move. His head was ringing and his limbs didn't want to work.
Through the stars he saw Roadrunner slapping some explosives onto the villains back. Tiny explosions went off, tossing the criminal to the ground. Lightening flashed again, forcing his partner back. Thunder boomed.
Mogollon could feel his fingers twitch.
There was more thunder.
Forcing himself to sit up, he struggled to his knees.
Lightning hit him from behind. Thunder rang in his ears.
Everything turned red.
He got to his feet. More lightning hit him and thunder rolled.
Walking away from the fight, he heard Roadrunner saying something over the radio. The villain stopped shooting lightning at him.
More thunder pounded in his ears.
Picking up a parked car, Mogollon turned and threw it as hard as he could straight at the villain.
The criminal tried to dodge, but the car was flying at over a hundred miles an hour. It hit the power armour right in the chest and kept going. The car and the supervillain came to a stop against the bank wall. Distantly he realized he was shaking. He ignored it, glaring at the crater he'd created, the red slowly faded from Mogollon's vision. The villain was down for the count, their armour cracked and bent.
Roadrunner was shouting into her radio, calling for paramedics.
He didn't care, he could still hear the thunder in his head.
Chandler, Phoenix Metropolitan Area
Fanak ran across the road, mouth open, tongue out, loving the feel of the cooling wind. She couldn't wait to get another chance to stop some real crime, and maybe even fight a supervillain again. Sure it was terrifying at the moment, but the rush of knowing she'd helped save peoples lives, nothing could possibly top it.
An image of the dead guards popped into her head.
She shoved it down hard. Replacing it with the memory of returning Azar to her family. No one smart ever claimed being a hero was all glory, parades and interviews, if doing good was easy, everyone would do it. She'd proven to herself and Thulia that she could handle herself in a fight, now she just had to prove it to everyone else.
And she knew just how to do it. She had to take down Forte.
She should have helped Sun Hawk take the girl down when she watched the fight. She hadn't and Sun Hawk, had been badly hurt and her identity revealed. She had to make it right.
It was still hard to believe that her Baba had a superhero as a student. She'd never really thought of what the heroes did in their regular lives. She knew they had their secret identities, but it just hadn't clicked. A superhero taking a Spanish literature class, why bother with that? Shouldn't they be taking courses on forensics, nuclear physics or learning new martial arts?
Her thoughts turned to Forte, or Natalie Foster. She could kind of understand how devastating it had to be to be that badly hurt, to lose her dreams in an instant. If she couldn't dance ever again, she'd be shattered. But to turn to crime, to almost kill people, how could someone do that.
Dead eyes stared at her.
Fanak shook her head. She hadn't killed them. She'd hurt them, but she hadn't killed them. And they had been trying to kill her. They would have done horrible things to Azar. She was nothing like Forte.
And she was going to prove it.
A shimmer appeared in the air ahead of her. A man in a blue costume with white trim stepped out, it was the hero Port, and he was looking right at her.
Sliding to a stop she tried to think of what to do. She could jump away, but that would make her look like a bad guy. If she stayed there, he'd figure out she was only a teenager, and he'd probably tell her parents what she was doing. And she was supposed to be home in bed, because she was grounded. And what if he knew about the criminals she'd taken down with Thulia? Would she get in trouble for that?
“Hello,” Port said. He was about ten feet away from her and wasn't getting any closer.
Concentrating on her words, she said, “Hi, Port.”
He cocked his head, his lips curled up into a smile. “You have me at a disadvantage. You know who I am, but I don't know who you are.”
“How are you doing, Fanak?”
“Pretty good. You?” If she could have blushed through her fur, she would have. She had to sound like an idiot. What was she supposed to say? Why was she so nervous? Sure he was a superhero, but so was she. And she'd met a superhero before. She shouldn't be so scared. Thulia had respected her, Port would too.
“Quite well, thank you. Do you mind if I ask you some questions? You've been making a bit of a name for yourself, we'd like to know a bit more about you.”
“Are you hungry? I was about to take a lunch break.”
The air shimmered between them, and Port motioned for her to step through. Not quite sure what was going to happen, she stepped through. It was like walking through a curtain, there was a sense of resistance and then she was standing on the sidewalk in front of a fast food place. She stood there in shock at having teleported, and there was a cough behind her. Hurriedly she got out of the way, letting Port come through.
“It's not the best food, but there's not a lot of choices on a Sunday night. What would you like?” Port asked.
“I, uh, don't have any money,” she said, looking everywhere but his face. Why had she agreed to go for food when she didn't have her wallet? She was an idiot.
“Don't worry it's my treat. And this is an important lesson for you, utility belts or pockets are important when choosing a costume, you never know when you'll need some money, a phone, or a notepad and pen.”
Walking into the restaurant, the cashier didn't seem surprised at Port, she on the other got a startled, wide-eyed look. The smell of surprise and fear filled her nose, as the superhero ordered for them both. Taking a seat in a corner of the restaurant, Port started eating like this was an everyday thing. Fanak took her burger and awkwardly chewed on it, not being used to eating in her fox form.
“Lolomi wanted to talk you personally, but he's a bit busy tonight,” Port said.
“Is it because of what Mogollon Monster did?” she asked. She'd seen the news report of the short and vicious battle earlier that day. Some people were saying the superhero had gone too far, using excessive force. Most seemed to think he'd put down a violent supervillain, and since there'd only been a few broken bones, it was fine.
The hero nodded. “That and other things. He's had a tough week. So I'll ask you a few questions, you try to answer them as truthfully as possible, and I'll pass them on.”
“You were at the fight between Sun Hawk and Forte.” He saw her pull back in surprise. “There were some photo's showing you climbing a building running after the pair. Why were you there?”
“I was in the area, and I heard sirens. I wanted to see what was going on. I didn't jump in at first because I'm not really known, I was worried it would startle the police and Jackalope and mess things up.”
Port nodded in approval. “Very good. Too many young heroes would jump in without thinking, and people would get hurt.”
“People got hurt anyways. And I was too slow to catch Forte when she ran for it.”
“How old are you?”
He smiled at her. “So a young teen. Probably got your powers a few months ago, maybe a year. You saw a really nasty fight between two heroes and a supervillain, and you froze, right?”
She nodded, not able to look him in the eyes.
“That's fine. You have no training, if you hadn't frozen I would be amazed. Even people who have trained will have moments where they stop and think, this is insane. If I go in there I'm going to die or get hurt. And they freeze. Usually training kicks in, and the pause is barely noticeable. Other times it's a bit longer. But everyone has at least one moment like that.”
“Yes, really. Now there are reports that you were being attacked last weekend, can you tell me what happened?”
“A supervillain tried to kidnap me. Hit me with some gas and a dart that made me weak and dizzy. Then he threw a grenade or something at me that was really bright and loud. I managed to get away but I was sick all the next day.”
“Do you know his name? Or can you give me any details?”
She shook her head. “I can tell you what he smells like, I'll never forget that. But in this form I don't really focus on looks unless they're really strange. Describing him would be tough. He likes guns and knives, and is a good fighter, he can shoot around corners somehow. His right hand is in bad shape, animal bite.”
“Yeah. Like a coyote bit him.”
There was a several moments of silence. Fanak wondered if she'd said too much, but she was rather proud of winning that fight, even if it had been very painful and nearly killed her.
“Did you bite him that night or was it on Friday at the office building that burned down?”
How did he know about that? Should she lie? Maybe Thulia had filed a report and the heroes had gotten it. Or did they salvage a video from there showing what she'd done? Maybe they'd caught some of the bad guys and they'd told the police about her. Since they knew what she'd done, she should probably tell the truth.
“It was at the office.”
“What were you doing there?”
“He and El Scorpio kidnapped a girl, Azar Lopez. I went to get her back. They had another girl there too, Book.”
She nodded. “She has brown skin, like old paper and black ink marks that kept moving. And her hair is dark black that's like liquid ink. She has a bitter smell, mixed with ink and spoiled milk. She's hard to forget.”
He took out a notepad from his belt and began writing. “Can you tell me anything else about her?”
“I think she cast a spell. She smelled of blood and pain at first, and then she just smelled like blood and the bitter smell.”
“How did she cast it?”
How much should she tell him? She decided to tell the truth. “I heard her shouting some things I couldn't understand, and then she was biting one of her guards on the neck. I think she drank his blood. And she made the steel door of her and Azar's cell blow open.”
The little skin she could see on Port, turned pale, and his smell turned sour. “She drank his blood?”
“Uh, yeah. But she helped Azar escape, and she didn't hurt anyone else.”
“OK. Did you start the fire?”
She shook her head. “No. That was done by a superhero I met before going in.”
“Who was the superhero?”
“I don't know if I should tell you. She was there because of orders. She works with the government. She knew all about Azar, and she helped me get her back home. If you ask Azar's parent's, they'll be able to tell you a lot more than I can.”
“So you don't want to tell me?”
He sighed and she could tell he was disappointed, but she wasn't about to rat out Thulia.
“All right. Do your parents know you're a superhero?”
She didn't reply, her eyes went to the wrapper that had held her hamburger.
“What do you think they'll say if you come home badly injured? Or if you end up in the hospital?”
“They'll be upset. But if they find out, they won't let me help people.”
“Have you heard of Whateley?”
“Yes, my friend told me about it.” Thulia had told her a little about it the other day at lunch. She couldn't wait until she was eighteen and ready to go to Whateley college, who would have thought she could learn to be a superhero?
“So you're thinking of going?”
She nodded, and forgot that she didn't have her usual face. Her mouth open in a smile, and her tongue came out for a moment. Then she realized what she was doing, and snapped her muzzle shut, covering her face with her hands in embarrassment.
“OK. Going to Whateley is a very good choice. Since you want to go, I won't tell your parents what you're doing. But if you have trouble convincing them to let you go, give the Phoenix Warriors a call and tell them what's going on. I'm going to let Lolomi know everything you've told me, so he'll know who you are, and can explain it all to your parents.”
“Thank you!” she said. Her words turned into a yawn. It was well past midnight and she was tired.
Laughing, he stood up. “Let's get you home, you don't have to tell me exactly where you live if you don't want to, but I can at least drop you off close to it.”
“Thank you,” she said. If she had to run home, she wasn't sure she'd make it.
Phoenix Warriors Headquarters
Monday, November 28th
Lolomi read over the report from Port on the newest superhero. A teenager playing hero was always bad news, people all too often got hurt from their inexperience, usually the kid. And it looked like this Fanak girl had jumped right into the deep end.
He wondered if her name was important. She certainly looked like a desert fox, did she choose the Arabic word for fennec fox because she was Arabic or because it sounded interesting? He wished Port had pushed a little harder to get information. The hero was useful and good when a soft touch was needed, but sometimes it would be nice if the man would start digging.
Sighing, he pushed the thought away. The girl wanted to go to Whateley, the school would help whip her into shape, and it would be one less concern for him.
Turning to his computer, he looked up the name Azar Lopez. There was a police report of a missing girl, the leading theory was a runaway, due to the parents evasive answers. On Saturday the parents reported she'd returned home and had been staying with a friend. He'd need to have someone visit them and figure out exactly what happened.
They might even figure out who the 'government' superhero was.
The door opened and Old Scratch walked in with a leer on his face. Resisting an urge to shudder in disgust, he kept his expression nice and businesslike. “Are you done with your investigation Scratch?”
“Yes. You'll be happy to know that the fire was a one time occurrence. An agent who was supposed to scout out a nasty situation, got a little overly zealous and decided to deal with it personally,” the man said.
“Was she brought in to find Azar Lopez?”
The man's expression changed slightly to a look of approval. “You talked to Fanak?”
“The girl doesn't know much, just a little do-gooder who may have some potential. Thulia was impressed with her, but I've found that teenagers are easy to please,” Old Scratch said.
“Thulia is a teenager? Fanak thought she was a government agent.”
“She is, but not a government you're familiar with.”
“So you talked with Thulia?”
“Yes. Then I went and talked to her grandmother and another contact to make sure she was telling me the truth.” A wistful look filled the mans eyes for a moment.
Lolomi decided that he didn't need or want to know about that particular relationship. “And what did the grandmother have to say.”
“She just confirmed the girls story. My contact was more informative, if not as fun to deal with. He gave me the initial report on the situation.” He handed over a sheaf of papers. “Thulia and the girl found something very nasty. And we're lucky they caught it before anything serious happened to Azar.”
“Because there are some... people, who would consider destroying the city to kill the cancer concealed within it an appropriate response. Have you ever heard of FrankenCorp?”
Forte knelt beside the only salvageable starter of sonic metal, using the last of her supplies to nurse it back to life. The other starters would have to be carefully sanitized and dumped, but that would need to wait until she had two hands. She only had her left hand to work with at the moment, her right arm was being repaired, much like her legs had been fixed overnight.
Watching the tin foil bubble alongside the mercury and acids, she breathed a sigh of relief. It would be slow for a week or two, but after it recovered, it should grow the sonic metal normally.
Leaving the lab, she turned on some music, sat down on her couch and pulled out her new phone. She had to call some of her customers, let them know she was alive and after a short delay she'd have their stuff ready. But that could wait. She didn't want to talk to anyone at the moment. The dark, suicidal thoughts were mostly shut away, now she just wanted to be alone.
She had to come up with a good way to go outside without being noticed. Her hand was all over the news now, and wearing gloves or bandages all the time was too obvious. Going online, she went to the website of a company her parents had talked to after her injury. A professional looking page popped up, at the top was the name, Just Me.
Skipping past the stuff about how the company wanted people with GSD, scars, and injuries to feel like themselves, she went to the artificial skins. There was a wide selection of cover ups that worked on any body part, skin, scales, metal, feathers, and most organic oils. She clicked on prosthetic cover ups.
The order form was very detailed. There was an option to have an agent or doctor fill out the information, but she could do it by herself. She uploaded a picture of her left arm she'd taken the night before, so they'd have an idea of her skin colour. The measurements were easy enough. She'd made her arm and knew it's dimensions down to the micrometer.
When she was finally done, she transferred most of remaining funds to get two skins, and a rush order. It would arrive in a week at an anonymous post office box she'd set up after her big pay day. If the company was as good as they claimed, she'd be able to hide her arm and move around more easily.
Speaking of moving around, she needed to go to Outlaw's Tavern. She hadn't been able to get in touch with Triple Threat. Either the concussion had made her forget their number, or they'd ditched their phone, because when she called all she got was a message saying it was out of service.
If they had skipped town on her, leaving her broke, she was going to kill them. She hadn't gone through all of that just to come out empty handed, especially when they'd escaped Scot free.
Sighing, she started making the necessary calls.
Wearing a blond wig, tan leather gloves, and a lot of makeup to alter her looks, Forte stepped into the bar and made her way to the bar. Taking off her gloves, she tried to ignore all the eyes on her.
Delaney came over, smiling as usual. He already had a ginger beer and glass for her. “Good to see you again Forte. First drinks on the house.”
“I thought nothing was for free.”
“Except the peanuts,” he said, his smile turning into a grin. “It's a tradition. Whenever someone gets into a big fight with a superhero and gets away with the goods, they get a drink. And other customers can pay for someones drink as well. You've got twenty free drinks coming your way.”
She raised her eyebrow, a little confused at the attention she'd apparently earned.
“People don't like Jackalope. He's not much of a fighter, but his bad luck is annoying. I was asked to replay the part where you knocked him out at least three times each night for a week.”
Looking around the bar, she saw two people raise their glasses to her. She smiled and nodded back at them.
“Cool. Has Triple Threat been around?”
“They left town last week.”
If she'd been holding her glass with her right hand, it would have shattered. Rage flared up in her chest and her mind immediately began plotting out a way to find them and get her money back with interest.
“But,” Delaney continued, “they left some things for you.”
A pink envelope, covered in stickers and glitter appeared in his hand. He placed it on the bar in front of her. “And before you go, we can step into my office to transfer the money they left me to your account. You do have an account I can send it to right?”
“Yeah, it's with the Karedonian International Bank.”
The Karedonian International Bank was popular with criminals, supervillains and people who wanted to keep their money away from prying eyes. The bank made it easy to get an account, and more importantly was very protective of it's clients privacy and funds. Once a group of con artists and computer hackers had successfully scammed a few hundred of the banks clients with a complex con involving official looking emails, telemarketers and a trojan horse. The bank had refunded all the clients money within five days. A year later every member of the criminal group and their immediate family was either dead in very messy and painful ways, or vanished. Rumours said that they had shown some mercy on the children. The kids were now the main attractions at the Karedonian Royal Zoo, in the Fairytale Land Petting Zoo as unicorns, pixies, dragons, nymphs and satyrs.
“All right. We can have it done in a few minutes whenever you're ready.” He turned away to get some drinks, leaving her there with the letter and her ginger beer.
Opening the envelope which matched Bubbly's personality perfectly, she pulled out the childish pink princess paper. She was surprised at how elegant the writing was, it was too fine and precise for the airhead.
Reading the letter wasn't easy. It was long, got side-tracked multiple times, went on long, pointless tangents that ended up going nowhere, and wasn't written in any real order, but she was able to figure it out. The last paragraph was the most important one.
'I wanted to ask if you wanted to come with us when we left Phoenix. We have a really nice camper, and you could share my room, it has a queen size bed, so you wouldn't have to sleep in the bunk beds or the fold out bed around the boys. You're really smart, and it would be really nice to have a girl friend to talk to and share secrets with. But since you got hurt, I can't. So I hope you're OK. And since we did such a good job with your help, we got a bonus that I didn't know about. We decided you deserve it too. And I put a little more on top using my share, because you're really cool, and I hope we can work together again. But since you got hurt, I'm not sure if you'll want to, so the extra money from me is a “I'm sorry you got hurt,” present. I hope you get better soon, and PLEASE remember to email me!'
Slipping the letter into her coat, Forte fought back the tears that threatened to fall. She was a supervillain, crying in public wasn't allowed. She could do it at home. Once she was sure she had her emotions under control, she walked over to a table, nodding at the villains who tipped their hats or raised their glasses to her. They weren't friends, she didn't even know the name of most of them, but they were now peers. She'd been through the fire and came out the other side.
While she waited for the server to come so she could order supper, a man in an expensive looking tuxedo with an ornate opera mask walked up to her.
“Forte, I'm Magnate. If you don't mind I'd like to talk to you about purchasing a sonic cannon,” the man said, in a thick Italian accent.
Once again she was caught by surprise. After her fight, she really hadn't thought people would be interested in her weapons. She hadn't been able to land a shot on the heroes, except for the last one which didn't really count.
Forcing herself to smile, while appearing confident and in control, she motioned to the chair. “Certainly, Magnate. Please have a seat.”