I soared across the skyline. Captain Ortega had me at a disadvantage, but what kind of a hero would I be if I let that stop me? What I did was in the name of justice, and guys like Waylon Dervish deserved to be in prison.
Tanya echoed in the back of my thoughts, fired up on social justice rhetoric. She ranted about cops as the tools of capitalism doing more harm than good. Guys like Ortega weren’t worthy of the authority they wielded. She could be right. Why would a department struggling to maintain order turn away help?
The air shook with what sounded like rolling thunder. Horns cried and plumes of dust billowed from across town. It was dark and dense enough to choke out the sun. There were people down there, hurt. Screw Ortega’s threats. Someone had to do something! In a shining burst I dived into the cloud and followed it to where it started.
Dirt and soot flew into my face. It was aggressive and driven by some unseen source. Human shapes radiated with heat. Thrown from their feet they rolled en masse to whatever refuge they could find.
Panic froze in my veins. I pushed through the fear. People first, disaster later.
Dashing from point to point I scooped up bystanders and rushed to the nearest clearing. They flailed against me, unable to see the figure grabbing them. I yelled for them to hear, to tell them it was alright, but even so close the wind muted my voice. Back and forth a dozen times in a minute, pulling as many people to freedom. The wind blew harder. Survivors were caked in dust, shaking, some with blood coagulating in the soot. There were still others.
I shot for the center of the storm. Something shifted. Tornadoes didn’t start on the streets of Midtown. For a fleeting moment I wondered if Dr. Vortex was back from the dead. Instead there was the shape of a man made of concrete and debris. He stood taller than most, and carried a lot of bulk, like slimmer man wearing a padded suit. His coarse, stony face turned to crack a dull smile. The wind calmed.
“Why are you doing this?” I said. “Who are you? What do you want?”
Captain Ortega and his people were no doubt on their way, for all the good they could do. What did they have? Guns and armored trucks? This guy, whoever he was, had a supernatural force behind him. He had the power of an adept. He lumbered in my direction with ‘flesh’ shifting like sand.
I unleashed one blast after another. Something living hid beneath that hide, I was sure of it. Yet no matter the intensity of my beams the golem shrugged them off, and continued on his path. I shot to a new vantage and stood atop a hill of upturned pavement. I lashed at the ground with wild bursts, letting loose an avalanche of debris. Chunks and dirt fell over him, but didn’t throw his balance. It didn’t stop him, but it slowed him down enough to release his control of the wind.
Calm rested over the area. Motes of dust fell. The sun cut through the grey haze. In the distance sirens permeated the air. Police and emergency crews made their move. To think they didn’t want my help!
Just when I thought it was safe a polished red glove flew from the corner of my vision. I crashed into the nearest wall. Shifting back into hard light mode cushioned the impact, but the the blow left me rattled. Gods, I saw stars like in the cartoons.
The newcomer giggled with a scratchy voice. “So much for Glitter Girl… or Glamour Girl, or whatever it is they call you! Jeez, this city lucked out when they got you, huh? Could’a had a behemoth or a lightning guy, but instead they get a teenage matchstick! Wowee!”
I lifted my head to catch the number of the truck that hit me. Instead I found a muscle-bound woman in a harlequin mask and boxing gloves. She remained nonchalant while the ground shifted beside her. The growing pile lifted the first foe to her level. The day just got better and better.
* * * *
There were no alarms needed to prompt crisis teams into action. The call rumbled beneath their feet and resonated for miles. It was a doom they prepared for, but thought would never come. Captain Ortega burst from his office. Desk phones rang off their hooks.
“Give me a sitrep, people!”
A dozen reports from as many directions flew at him with sparse details. Supports of a parking garage toppled in Midtown. A tornado that swept through a main drag with catastrophic precision. Eyewitnesses placed costumed freaks in most districts. Unlike nature, adepts sewed carnage with discrimination.
Their execution ran the same as their drills; three minutes to suit up and assemble. The Captain assigned teams via tablet, along with routes to various locations. They were responding to a coordinated attack. Forces would have to spread thin. Response would be determined by proximity, then they could move to the next disaster. Ortega ground his teeth. First Glimmer Girl, and then this.
A squad of seven followed him to the elevator. Daniels, McIntyre, Brown, Narahara, Gibbons, DeAngelo, and Harrington. All were decorated officers he served beside, some for a year, and others more. Theirs was a bond not understood by everyday people. They alone shared the experiences that forged it.
They loaded the heavy blue vans with department decals. Each was a mobile armory in its own right, loaded with equipment that could bring down a herd of elephants. Many of their weapons were ex-military, crafted for war. Were only that enough.
No sooner had the basement doors opened than Hell itself lashed at them. Ortega and his people rattled in the back. The van stopped short of an inferno that stretched without end. Furious licks cracked paint on the hood.
The Captain lunged at the console and snatched the receiver. “This is MCD-Alpha! We’ve fire got a widespread fire at the main exit! Secure an escape route out the rear!”
“The building’s surrounded,” said a voice. “Fire department incoming, and units from the oh-ten. It’s… it’s another adept, sir.”
It was as close to damnation as Captain Ortega had ever imagined. He caught himself staring at a man singing in the heart of the blaze. He was tall, mustachioed, bare chested and wearing suspenders. The figure raised his arms, and so too did the fire he commanded, searing with the intensity of the sun.
The van flew into reverse. Steam wafted from its chassis. Soon it cooled enough for the squad to come barreling out. They were trapped, and the rest of the city lay in the hands of adept madmen.
* * * *
“Hey, Glow-head or whatever! Give us a second!”
The clown had a mouth on her. I don’t know why I hesitated. Was it because I’d spent high school rolling under people like her? I flew across the rubble and sent fistfuls of laser power at each foe. I still had no idea of who they were or what they wanted. They had little regard for their surroundings. They were showing off with no care for innocent bystanders.
The blast bounced off the first villain’s shell. The clown rolled backward down the slope and back to her feet. Her painted mock frown was as exaggerated as it was the other way. A quick turn poured the heat back on the golem. I hit him with everything – long, sustained bursts, cutting like a scalpel. I was an inch deep before he closed the gap and swatted me with a boulder-like fist. My head was spinning.
“Didn’t you hear the lady?” he said. “We’re still setting up!”
The clown laughed. “Not that you can hear with all those pebbles in your ears…”
“Don’t worry about me, dingus! Keep your eyes on her!”
It was like a prank show turned to eleven. How could two people – assuming there was a person under all that dirt – be so careless? At least Dr. Vortex wanted something, twisted as it was.
Whirring descended around us. Four drones with wide fixed lenses circled and swerved. That’s when the clown vaulted over the debris and brought a massive glove on my head.
“Alright, kids! Lights, camera, action!”
I shot into the air. Was this creep even trying to hit me? She looked up with a wide eyed grin. It the kind that dared you to take another crack. Her gaze followed me in line with the cameras.
The golem guy pelted me with stones. A thousand tiny cuts rattled my concentration. I held for all I could onto my hard light form and the protection it gave me. I charged into the storm. Even if I couldn’t crack his hide the rocket force collision knocked him off his feet. He flew across the battlefield further than I would have thought possible. His body crashed into the windows of a department store. His dirt covered shell rolled over displays and racks full of dresses, and into a room of screams.
The drones lowered to street level. There were people inside, and cameras were eager to see the action.
“Uh oh! What’re you gonna do about the hostages?” chirped the clown.
In a shot I followed him into the store. The house lights were gone. At least a dozen shoppers and staff huddled by the far well. They sat sealed off between the rear and fire exits.
Soon the golem found his feet. I had seconds to move. The floor twisted, and the shop tiles cracked. Smoke colored pillars jutted like teeth around the group of mostly women. They pressed them against the wall with no room for escape.
“One false move and they all get it,” said the golem. “What are you gonna do, punk?”
Both the clown and the drones were closing. She grinned shining every wicked tooth. The golem was hard to read under the countless shifting layers. This was was what they wanted; to push me into a corner and get it on camera.
Terror filled the air. A dozen or so lives stood on the precipice. They never asked for this. All they wanted was a new set of shoes, or to collect a paycheck. Next they were collateral in a sadistic game. Surviving this would change them, and not for the better.
I placed my hands behind my head and dropped to my knees. I looked down so as not to antagonize the enemy. If those people were hostages, then so was I. Their lives were my responsibility.
The clown huffed. “Well there’s a disappointment. Jeez, Goober Girl, you’re really gonna give up that easy?”
I said nothing.
“You know, a couple of sociopaths like me and Carbon Man are just as likely to kill these people anyway. More power than sense, we are! No reason you should sit by an let it happen.”
The golem – this ‘Carbon Man’ – loomed over me. He was more than a regular adept, but a debris coated idol scowling from his throne. He said one word before bringing down a haymaker.
* * * *
Roland Dervish, known to his Society cohorts as “The Red Wraith”, was not well versed in classical music. His knowledge on the subject derived from the animated shorts he absorbed as a child. Yet what he lacked in knowledge he made up for in enthusiasm. He waltzed across the hotel room like a conductor on some giddy high. He waved his hands at the crude monitor setup.
He paid no attention at all to the freckled boy with the remote control sitting on the bed. New images flooded in frightening, disheveled concert. Screens lit up with pigs roasting in their house of glass. On another a luminescent cheerleader was being thrown like a ragdoll. Panic dripped from the speakers like a thick marinade.
“There is a point to this,” the villain said, but not to his underling. “Every kid dreams of being a hero. Some get lucky and become adepts, but even then lack the follow through. I’ll bet dollars to donuts this one’s no different.”
Punching Judy delivered a gut-wrenching blow. She was holding back, but fists that could punch their way out of a steel cell were going to make an impact. Even in sepia the force turned Glimmer Girl green. The nausea didn’t stop her for long. Driven by fury the hero launched back at the clown. She sent her bouncing through the ceiling, another set of windows, and onto a car. Glimmer Girl blinked, amazed by her own strength.
The Red Wraith smiled. “Way to sell it, Judy.”
Minutes passed from verse to chorus and back to bloody verse, along with several missed calls on his cell. It was only as his satisfaction waned that The Red Wraith thought to check his messages. The mewling of his brother occupied his inbox. Regardless, it would be rude not to return the call.
The moment they connected Waylon lashed out. “What in the damn hell do you think you’re doing?”
Roland unbuttoned his jacket and threw his legs across the sofa. “Taking care of business,” he said.
“We had her dead to rights, and then you pull this! Most of the cops don’t want anything to do with her! And now you’re throwing it all away, taking it to her level by…” The elder sibling lowered his voice. “I’m still in Police Plaza, for God’s sake!”
Roland smirked. “Think cool thoughts, brother of mine. Do stay away from the windows. Oh, and give Mr. Fahrenheit my regards.”
The call ended with a click. The Red Wraith turned his attention to the central monitor. The Carbon Man’s concrete paws dragged Glimmer Girl by her hair and back into the street. She rocketed into his side and sent her foe hurtling toward the next block. He was followed by a rain of boulders. Fresh screams distorted through the speakers.
“Zoom in,” the villain said. “I don’t want to miss a second of this.”
* * * *
The plan was to go back to sleep. With a new semester only weeks away Tanya needed all she could get, but no matter how long she lay there it wouldn’t come. She discarded sheets, spare pillows, and her favorite night shirt. None were part of the problem.
“If you keep worrying about Kaira you’ll never be sane again,” she said. It had been her mission since grade school to look out for her friend. Worrying about her was habit. Even if Kaira had become a hero, Tanya still hurt for the scared girl they called a boy.
“No more salvation fantasies. Only sleep now,” she muttered into the pillow, but it was no use. Her right brain function had triggered, her autonomic nervous system was activated. She’d yet to do the psych reading to know how to slow them.
Tanya sat up and threw on an outfit. Failing everything else, there was still coffee.
From the moment she entered the hall the world became with coeds. They loitered everywhere along the floors and the stairs. They sat on the well manicured lawns and took all the best shade. Before caffeine they were obstacles for her to plough through.
Wandering across campus was like exploring another planet. Away from home she was surrounded by the unfamiliar. For the majority of her life she lived in the same house. The old brick buildings and the yellow tape around InfiniTech were of a scale she’d yet to know.
To think it wasn’t all that long ago that a madman ripped open a hole in the universe. It changed their lives forever. Most of the structures remained in one piece, but teams continued to investigate ‘just in case.’
The Lovin’ Spoonful served the afternoon rush. Tanya’s usual sofa entertained a gaggle of mature age students. She dragged herself to a stool. A certain green haired server caught onto her presence. Swiveling their hips as they moved between customers Trix plonked in front of Tanya. They beamed with notepad in hand. Their smile was part of the work uniform, but the wink was for the girl.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you around,” said Trix.
Tanya sunk into her shoulders and flushed. “Kaira and I have been busy moving on campus,” she said. “Lots of paperwork, lots of drama. You know how it goes.” Drama was the tame word for it, and more than she could ever admit to a relative stranger.
They nodded. “Speaking of Kaira, where is she?”
“Funny. You two are usually so close. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you apart.”
“We have lives outside of each other,” she said. Tanya reinforced her smile, and sighed. “Even best friends need a time out sometimes. Whatever. Besides, I hoped we could…”
“…Have that first date you promised me?” Trix raised a brow and smirked.
Tanya’s cheeks deepened in color. “I mean if that’s okay with you.”
“Sure. Text me. You’ve got the number.”
They talked for longer than allowed. Tanya decided a hazelnut latte with an extra shot was exactly what she needed. Trix left to process her order. Tanya deflated on the counter.
She heard the ranting of a man engaged in verbal combat with students. Tanya peered through the window. There she saw a figure in red hoodie wearing dark glasses and a bandanna over his mouth. In his hands he clasped a tablet. It broadcast images he narrated between proselytizing.
“You think ‘Glimmer Girl’ is special? This is her, right now, tearing up our city! First InfiniTech, and now this! Are you going to let this happen? Or are you going to stand up and do something!”
The angles were shaky at best, but the image of Glimmer Girl was clear as day. She fended off the two larger enemies, and sent them flying like pinballs. Dust obscured the picture. Soon it cleared enough to reveal the crevices in the street.
“Is this keeping us safe? First it’s Glimmer Girl and Dr. Vortex trashing the evening express, and now Midtown! Wake up and smell the coffee, people!”
Her chest became hollow with cold. Her heart beat as though from the inside of a tomb. It was the same horror that haunted her when Adrian Dempsey walked the school halls. It was back and uglier than ever.
The following seconds were a blur, driven by instinct, fueled by rage. Though human that she wasn’t helpless. Tanya pushed through the crowd. She tore the monitor from the stanger’s hands to launched it into the sidewalk. She didn’t stop to assess the damage. Instead she glared into the black reflection of his sunglasses and shoved him to the ground.
He stumbled onto the grass. He was taller than Tanya by a head, but her presence shrunk him down to size. Hate amplified through her frames. There were whispers and confusion, though none were more confused than Tanya. What came over her?
Ignoring the looks she started back for the dorm. Coffee could wait.
To be continued…