Written by AuGoose :: [Saturday, 04 April 2015 09:15] Last updated by :: [Tuesday, 07 April 2020 23:30]
By Au Goose
A work of fiction. Any resemblance to anything or anyone in the real world is far too much to hope for. Largely safe for work. Mature themes. We miss you, Sensei. Refrigerate after opening.
For six minutes and eleven seconds on one slightly chill October day, Liam Tyrell Walker had been a god.
Six minutes and eleven seconds measured in ‘objective time’ because some of his victims reported experiences with the young man that subjectively had lasted hours. Possibly days. And there were a lot of reports to compare. In Liam’s 6-minute rampage he had approached and transformed over thirty women before whatever force empowering him devoured him from the inside out. In the end, he had disintegrated in a spectacular spray of blood and charred meat on national television. Thirty-seven women the FBI knew about – his victims came from all around the networked world.
Many of them had distinctive digital footprints: nine mail-order Russian brides, an equal number of fitness-selfie stars, six professional models, a high school senior, three renowned cosplayers, four Hollywood starlets, and most famously the final target: a San Fransisco anchorwoman – her encounter having been captured on a live broadcast when Liam had burst into ash and gore. Most were attractive young women who were seen by tens of thousands if not millions of appreciative, horny young men just like Liam. None of them had prior contact with their mysterious assailant. “Who had done this? Who was responsible?” It was an open question with a global fallout. As months passed a few more started to come forward, forever marked by their powers and their new bodies. These were women without groupies or fans. They were Liam's schoolmates and co-workers … his ex-girlfriends and teenage crushes. A handful of them knew exactly who the young man was who appeared before them. The puppet master who froze time and complimented them and praised their beauty. The admirer for whom they had enthusiastically stripped naked without the slightest inhibition or trace of modesty. They had each blossomed into idealized versions of themselves endowed with a rainbow of impossible abilities. Women who wildly, passionately, and irresistibly forced themselves on him, telling Liam he was the greatest lover they had ever had with desperate sincerity...
They were a band of women made puppets in a juvenile shadow-play starring their own transformed bodies. When he vanished to pursue his next conquest, their reshaped bodies and powers remained... along with their scarred memories.
All because Liam had a very particular fetish. Mr. Walker didn’t want power though he seemed to have more than any known ‘paranatural’ had ever displayed before. Instead, he wanted the women he was fucking to be the powerful ones. So while the world already had its share of super-powerful people, in six minutes and eleven seconds it had suddenly gained nearly 50 more, some of them ranking among its most powerful. Some were completely traumatized by his manipulation of their bodies and minds. Others were just really, really pissed, lashing out with their new powers to become monsters with far more victims than Liam.
The consequences were too great to hide. The Russian women more than doubled the number of known paranaturals in that country and they banded together to inspire political change in their homeland. One beautiful – now hyper-beautiful – Latina fitness model had left the States, returning home to Venezuela to become a national hero. Japan boasted three of the transformed with a surge of national pride. But the lion’s share was in the USA. A dozen of the affected women vanished from the public eye while three of the Hollywood starlets went on to become international sensations who no longer needed stunt doubles (critics complained Sheryl Cress still couldn’t act her way out of a wet paper bag but her fans didn’t seem to mind…).
While the FBI kept quiet about how they had pieced it all together, rumors ran wild as to what they had found when they stormed the mysterious man’s rented room only blocks from UC Berkley. Burnt out alien artifacts, reams of complex mathematical formulae, pentacles painted in blood, or even a genie lamp still rattling with Liam’s trapped rage. The internet had more theories than there were new supergirls. No one knew the source of his powers, except the possibly special action team who had gone in. They had all been reassigned right off the Bureau’s books after that. National security was invoked and Liam’s story ended, except on conspiracy websites and a dreadful cult following that sprang up around 'the Maker of Goddesses'.
The FBI put a watch on as many women as they could track down from Liam’s life history who also matched his particular… tastes… but the college senior’s porn folders were so far-reaching and he had moved so many times in his short life (born a Navy brat) it was functionally impossible to guess who else he might have assaulted in his final minutes.
So it wasn’t a complete surprise when the following August – ten months after the initial crisis – one Angeleah Taylor, 22, living with her parents on the nearby Andrews AFB, floated through the discretely armored doors of Washington DC’s FBI headquarters - tearing them off their hinges in the process - dripping with fresh blood that covered her from head to toe and calmly asked to see “somebody in charge” before breaking down in tears.
“This seems a little sudden,” Angeleah noted as the mismatched pair of women walked towards the Ops center.
“You know I only interrupt your personal crusading for things that are important. This is. We work with the intel we have…” The shorter woman in the black uniform began.
“Not the intel we want.” Taylor completed the saying she had heard from Merete many times. “You sign the checks, General.”
“Actually, you’re paid under the FBI’s budget. We abide strictly by the rules of posse comitatus, even if some of my counterparts in Federal intelligence circles think I’m an old fool.”
“Well, either way, it’s certainly kept me in milk and cookies. Even with my busy patrol schedule.”
“New York does love the Lioness,” the older woman agreed.
“Drunk driving in the city is down 21%.”
“I can see how that would appeal to you. And I’ve noticed you’ve mellowed about ‘accidentally’ trashing their cars.” Merete thought back to the day that had brought the young woman into her sphere. Angeleah had been driving on the DC beltway with both her mother and father in the car when a drunk driver had launched over the divider and hit them head-on. With a combined speed of nearly 150 mph, both cars had fused into an unrecognizable mass of twisted metal. Her parents had been nearly liquefied by the impact.
Oblivious to her powers up until that point, Angeleah had come through the crash untouched. Physically. One more of Liam T. Walker’s creations they’d missed. When the young woman had clawed her way out of the wreckage, all but naked except for the bloody slurry that was her parents … It was a miracle she hadn’t leveled half the capitol in grief and rage. Instead she’d turned herself in to the FBI.
“Smashing their cars seems a little petty now.” Angeleah mused. “The DA tells me my testimony in a case is pretty much a slam dunk in the eyes of any jury in the city. They get the full penalty under the law. Incidental property damage is just salting the wound at that point.”
“Good for you.” Merete had always thought the young woman had found a uniquely suitable form of therapy for the demons that haunted her. Some of those cars she had crushed had been sold as art, the profit going to various charities. “New apartment working out?”
“Money’s a little tight. But that fits my cover.” ORCA had buried Angeleah’s real past. The people in her apartment building knew her as Claire, a receptionist at the FBI. She thought she made a pretty good Claire. She was, however, a terrible receptionist.
“Well let me know if you start feeling strapped. You’re eligible for several more stipends under the federal pay schedule. The CoL rate adjustment for New York City is astronomical.”
“I think it’ll work out.”
The general paused, turning to look her full in the face. “No, really, come to me first if you’re unhappy with your finances. I know you have been offered millions to do a centerfold spread.”
“You object?” She had always wondered if the older woman were a prude or resented her … figure. At a wildly curvaceous 6’1” there was no denying she was a knockout.
“Not at all. I’ve always wanted you to have the freedom to make choices without financial need driving you. And I since you asked, I don’t want you selling yourself short. 'The Dragon’s Pearls' spread was possibly the best selling issue of any periodical, ever.” The old battleax actually leered at her with shared amusement. Liam’s girlfriend at the time of his ascension had been amongst the most changed and the most powerful of them all. And she was blisteringly GORGEOUS as many, many men now knew in luscious double fold-out glory.
“So tens of millions then?”
“And not a penny less!”
“But won’t that reflect on your … oh.”
“Exactly. Nothing the Lioness does will ever reflect on your work here because what you do here is not for the public eye.”
“So what are we doing here tonight?”
“We’ve been tracking a man known in the shadow community as ‘Blacksite’.”
“That’s a weird choice of monikers.”
“I agree. Rumor has it he’s spent years being moved around from secret prison to secret prison – supposedly all our black sites, but I can’t get any other agency to fess up to it. Anyway, he’s really got a grudge against the Federal government. He’s becoming a major player.”
“Building an army.” Angeleah guessed. After Liam’s outburst, there’d been a paradigm shift in how paranatural power was measured. ‘Uber’s like herself -those with massively enhanced strength and toughness - might be at the top of the heap for personal power, but the ability to grant powers had become the new Holy Grail on the power scale.
“Worse. He builds armies for other people. And not just any armies - paranatural troop augmentation.”
“That can’t be good,” Angeleah whistled
“It’s about as un-good as it gets. His equipment takes up a couple of vans, so we’ve caught glimpses of his movements before, if not the actual man. Blacksite himself is just a cipher. Three hours ago his caravan left a major cartel stronghold in Mexico and vanished.”
“So we missed him.”
“Maybe not. We have chatter he may have left one of his enhancing rigs behind. Sold it to the cartel for all the monies. We think he’s planning something big and needs an equally big infusion of cash.”
“So we’re after the enhancing rig.” That equipment could be a game-changer. ORCA was built on randomly occurring paranaturals. If they could pick and choose who got powers... it’d be a whole new world. Blacksite's tech might be the next arms race.
Angeleah wasn’t sure that would be a world anyone would actually benefit from except for a very few. Probably the wrong few.
“Exactly. He may also have left a lieutenant behind to run it, to ensure his tech stays exclusive. This is the biggest break we’ve ever had tracking him.”
“You know I’m better at breaking things than stealing them.”
“That’s your partner’s job. Though you might end up helping with the heavy lifting too, depending on how big the rig is.”
“Good. This sounds like more than a one-girl job. More like four or five, actually.
“Mexico is both neighbor and ally. It has to be a minimum footprint. No residue. We’re sending in just two. But we’re sending the best. You and ‘Spider’ Martins have got this.”
“Oh, hell no.”
“Why the objections, Taylor? You were the one who suggested we draft him into the program.” The older woman sounded genuinely puzzled.
“I didn’t suggest him, I just didn’t say ‘fuck off and die’ when you suggested it. And why? Because I don’t trust him, obviously.” Angeleah huffed.
It was funny in a strange way. She remembered how she and ‘Spider’ first met. She’d only been wearing a costume for two months - New York's freshman superhero and talk of the town. The Lioness, joining the other paranatural heroes protecting the city and still making a name for herself…
- - -
“…Party’s over, boys. Please surrender. This is me being polite and saying ‘please’.”
Instantly six guns were trained on her. She was fine with that. Usually, there was a wardrobe-budget depleting hail of bullets at this point, but these thieves had surprising fire discipline. What was worrisome was there were ten guns in the room and four of them had never wavered from the four hostages.
“Oh shit, boss. It’s her.”
“Let me handle this ‘D’,” the 'boss' answered.
“Handle what?” She asked. “I’m here. You’re not getting out with or without whatever you’re after. The police will be here shortly to take you away. Or do you not know who I am?”
“I know who you look like. The media calls you Lioness. Should I call you that?
“It’ll do,” she grunted.
“Well then, Lioness – very dramatic by the way – would you mind sticking out your right arm please, about shoulder height. Palm towards me.”
“Why should I?”
“Well for one, because if you don’t, someone in this room not on my team will be dead in the next sixty seconds and that will hardly endear you to the good people of this city.”
Her eyes narrowed, gauging whether she could stop all four of the gunmen not pointing their weapons at her. Probably not without a lot of innocent blood she decided. “Is there a ‘two’?” she asked, almost growling.
“Yes, two, because I’m going to shoot you in that hand when you do.”
“And when it bounces off?”
“Then I’ll know you are in fact the Lioness, and my men will be putting down their useless weapons. On the other hand, if you’ve just a very brave but very foolhardy cosplayer you’ll only be slightly injured and joining the others in zip-ties. I could shoot you in the chest right now but if you are faking … well, the attention of homicide detectives is a lot more tedious than the major crimes unit. None of us want that, I think.”
“You seem very calm for a man about to go to prison.”
He gestured at the multi-million dollar facility around them. “I am a thief, not a thug waving a gun in the face of a liquor store clerk. I choose to work in a city that has at least four paranatural vigilantes including the Lioness. You are, simply put, an occupational hazard. Less than 30 seconds left. Now, this is me saying ‘please’. Please. Raise. Your. Hand.”
She noted as the drama between her and ‘the boss’ played out, three of the men who had drawn on her had returned to loading components they’d stripped from the many racks of computer hardware filing the room into rather nondescript duffle bags. Who were these guys? She really needed to work on her entrance, she decided. More pants-shitting-at-first-sight was her new goal.
She raised her hand, as instructed.
The man sighed. “Lower your weapons. No, keep loading the drives, ‘C’. We’re just talking with the nice lady now.”
“And if I tell you and your men to stop while we wait for the police?”
He crossed his hands and then clicked a button on his very tactical looking wristwatch.
“I said we’d lower our useless weapons, Lioness. Did you know amateur hero-trackers have been measuring your flight speed with radar? It is all over the internet if you look. It should take you what, about 2 minutes to get to the center of the Bronx?
“Maybe a little less,” she sneered.
“Good, because I’ve just started the timer on a very fragile, very toxic bomb in the service dock of one of the seven public high schools there. Try to move it, it explodes. But if you press the green button the timer extends 1 minute. Wait 1 minute and then press the red button you get another minute. Finally, wait another minute and press the green button again. That will disarm the bomb. Don’t ever press the blue button: it’s a trap. Three minutes of your time, Lioness, and nobody has to die today.”
“You are not going to get away with this.”
“Actually, we are.” He tossed her a burner phone. “There’s an app on there that will help you find the right school. Keep it. I might call you later. You should probably get underway now, don’t you think? It was nice meeting you, Lioness. We won’t be here when you get back.”
“Son of a–!”
“Tick-tock, my dear. Think of the children.”
There was a blast of wind and the sound of a small explosion as she vanished. The exit-hole she punched through the wall was a lot scarier than her entrance, he had to admit.
“Now the ‘party’s over, boys’,” he mimicked her first words. “Time to run like hell.”
- - -
She hadn’t heard his last line until he shared it with her a few months later, laughing and in handcuffs. Their second encounter hadn’t gone much better for her. But ‘Third time’s the charm’ and she’d caught him without one of his little diversions ready. They’d talked for a bit while waiting for SWAT to arrive at one of his safe houses for pick up. She’d explained events to her handler at ORCA and eventually General Marete Mueller had asked her point-blank if she thought Martins was a killer.
“He’s capable of it, but he doesn’t seek it out.”
“Do you think he could have a place here?” She’d asked. ORCA had put a number of society’s undesirables to new use. Though usually, they had paranatural abilities rather than enormous egos.
Angeleah had stopped and thought on that one.
Eventually, she nodded. “On a Very. Short. Leash.”
No good deed goes unpunished it seemed and now she would be partnered with the man.
Her punishment began with over an hour of listening to ORCA analysts try to turn “We don’t know much” into the PowerPoint presentation that just would not die. Aside from a location and some nebulous estimates on the size of the objective based on the interior volume of the vans used to move it, they were running on pure guesswork. She didn’t know what it looked like or where on the compound it might be. They were fairly certain Blacksite had left behind some of his own staff to keep an eye on things. Fortunately, most of those issues were Spider’s problem. He’d grilled the analysts mercilessly, even less thrilled by the lack of good intel than she was. She was used to improvising, and when in doubt, punch something. He liked his plans to shine with clockwork precision. If he complained one more time about ‘the inhumane working conditions at ORCA’ the next thing she was gonna punch would be his head. Still, towards the end, a friendly face came into the briefing room and Angeleah had to smile despite her irritation. Doctor Cartwright was a rock in a sea of questionable motives and probable illegalities.
She was just about to work through the final pre-op checklist when she sidled over to the doctor. He saw her coming of course but feigned obliviousness until she was right next to him. “I seem to have forgotten my pen. Do you have one, perchance?”
“I always have a pen, dear” he answered with a slight smile, passing her his. It was a long-standing ritual between them with as much force behind it as a thousand military superstitions shared by pilots and foot-sloggers alike. If he hadn’t, she might have scrubbed the mission right then and there. But he’d never let her down. Never. Especially when she’d asked him for a pen one awful night four months ago...
- - -
“Miss Taylor – Angeleah, you’ve already been the victim of a capricious god, I don’t want to take adv–”
“I’m nobody’s victim, Doc. Liam was an oversexed jerk, but he died screaming. It's hard to beat that for instant karma. I hate the rat-fucker that killed my parents a hundred times more than Liam.” She was panting with remembered outrage.
Doctor Cartwright looked at her pain and turned away in shame. ‘What are we doing?’ he thought to himself.
“Enough about me. What’s got you so spooked? You’re a good person, doc. I trust you. So trust me. Tell me what’s scaring you?” Angeleah knew something was up. He’d called her to his office without explanation, and he never took this long to come to the point.
The doctor took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, composed himself. Calmer, he faced her and looked her in the eye. “Miss Taylor, some of my colleges have devised a series of tests. Tests for your … for your durability. Tests I object to because they amount to little more than sophisticated, premeditated torture. Even with your consent, this runs deep in to morally grey waters.”
“Then I share your concerns,” she answered with a cool evenness that would have made the blood of anyone who didn’t know her like he did run cold. He had been her doctor since the day she had blasted into the FBI building. This was the man who had washed off her parents’ blood and kept her from going mad that awful day. Since then he had proven both considerate and unflinchingly principled. His was a sense of honor that she aspired towards. They weren’t friends precisely, but they were close in their own fashion. Kindred spirits.
“As you might imagine, we would have to expose the subject to increasingly hostile circumstances, first until they caused her pain, and then escalating until they began to cause injury to gain valid results.”
She could tell how much this upset him – his voice had gone flat, robotic, clearly reciting from memory something he had read. Because the words were too awful for him to form himself.
“But it would be gradual, yes? Controlled?” She asked. “You’d help me find out my limits before someone shows them to me the hard way, in the field? I could call it off, right? There would be a safe word or something?”
“Yes, absolutely. And determining ‘your limits’ for your own knowledge would be one reason for the experiments, Miss Taylor. But there’s more. More that you have to know.”
She just cocked her head, listening and waiting.
“The experiments would form the basis of counter–”, he choked on the word for a moment before continuing. “Countermeasures tailored to your physiology should you go rogue.” There, he’d said it, and he was shaking with anger now. “There are people here who want to be sure they can kill you, Angela.”
She remained silent, thinking. He looked at her, pleading for her forgiveness with his eyes.
Finally, she took a deep, shuddering breath.
His head drooped, not with relief, but shame.
“I can tell them to continue then. But I need more than your spoken, or even written consent. I need you to write out for me, in your own words, your understanding of what will be done and why. I’ve brought the forms.”
“Did you bring a pen too, doc?” she said, softly, with quiet kindness that made him look up at her again.
“I always have a pen, dear. You know that,” he answered automatically. Then he realized that was why she had asked.
She took the papers and confiscated his desk in companionable silence and thought for several minutes before beginning to write. When she was done she handed it to him, still silent.
He read it, and his eyes gleamed, on the verge of tears.
“I’ll … I’ll monitor every procedure.”
“I know you will, Doc. That’s probably the only reason I can do this. But make sure they get it right the first time. I don’t want to play guinea pig forever.”
“I will.” He folded the paper in precise thirds so the creases would obscure nothing that she had written. He tucked the paper into his lab coat pocket and withdrew.
She sat in his office alone the rest of the night, knees hugged tight to her chest, rocking slowly in his chair.
Like all monsters, I am terrifying. But I am a monster only in the imagination of those who must fear the worst and act to prevent it. This is my truth– Today. Who can know Tomorrow?
I, Angeleah Clarice Taylor, consent to these experiments knowing their essential purpose is to do me harm. I do this to safeguard lives should I become a monster in fact, and not just in the imagination. I trust in my friends, my lawful superiors, and my people.
So that they may place their trust in me.
- - -
Angeleah shook her head, trying to scatter the unwelcome memories of her ‘testing period’. She hadn’t slept quite right ever since discovering she could still drown like anyone else. She could crush a tank … and be water-boarded if she were restrained. Sensei Jason had brought her some books and tapes on pearl divers. Practice and breathing exercises would let her hold her breath about 4 minutes now. That helped some, chipping away at her new phobia.
Supplies drawn and packed, she walked toward the hanger with her mind back on the task at hand: Blacksite's rig. There was a man in a lab coat leaning against the wall nonchalantly in the closed corridor. She wasn’t fooled.
“Can I help you?” she asked sternly.
He stood up straight, maybe a bit startled as if he’d been deep in thought rather than waiting for her. “Yes …?”
“I don’t recognize you. And this is a very secure area …”
He quickly brandished his credentials and gave the correct day code. “I’m not supposed to be in this section, but I hope you can spare me a moment. It’s … important.”
Curious, and not particularly threatened, she tipped her head and listened.
“You haven’t met me because I am the man who designed and evaluated your recent … study.
Her eyes narrowed with reflexive anger. The memories of fear and darkness and gasping for air … But still, she said nothing.
“I wanted to reassure you that my summary, my … options … I developed from that study have never appeared on any computer screen. The file is physical, there are only two handwritten copies, and they are both in places I imagine make Fort Knox look like a church donations box. No system is foolproof but your vulnerabilities are being kept very safe.”
“I appreciate your candor,” she said through nearly clenched teeth, “but I’m pressed for time. But now that I’ve met you …” her hands were clenched into fists, the fingers grinding against her palms with a force that would shred steel, “Can we pick this up, say, the day after tomorrow?”
Here was the very mind behind her torment. There would be a reckoning.
“I’m afraid – truly afraid – that won’t be possible. As compensation for my good works, the organization has provided me with an all-expenses-paid tour to the Australian outback. It’s been a lifetime dream of mine to see Ayer’s Rock and I’ll finally … Well. To be honest Miss Taylor, I expect some nice young person with impeccable deniability will kill me in my sleep before I get back. An office fire or two later and all the ends will be neatly wrapped up.”
“WHAT!?” This was NOT the direction this conversation should be taking. She didn’t want revenge precisely, but she did want to confront this sadist on her own terms, not this ambush in a bare access corridor.
“It would be treason for me to tell you what I’ve devised and would make all your suffering for naught. But since others may intuit what I’ve developed methodically, I … I just wanted to offer you some advice: Work on your flying. Not the speed but how much you can lift. Your instructor, the captain, can probably offer some ideas. He’s very clever.”
She was half listening, still processing his first bombshell. “They’re going to kill you to protect my …?”
“It’s been my honor working with you. Cartwright made me read your consent … In my imagination, you’ll do great things. I’m truly sorry for the anguish I caused you.” Then, unable to face her any longer, he turned and strode briskly back the way she’d come. He stopped at the next intersection and looked back at her. “Oh, one last thing, not that it would be an option for this organization. The power that made you what you are? It could also unweave you. But you probably thought of that yourself. You’re quite clever, too.” He gave her a soft, sad smile.
She stood, staring as he turned the corner and was gone.
She was over a minute late to the plane. No one seeing the desolation of her expression asked why. She kept thinking, ‘… I saw his badge … why can’t I remember his name?… I saw his badge … why can’t I remember his name?… I saw his badge …”
Captain Birch was waiting at the plane with Spider. He saw her expression, immediately knew something was terribly wrong, but put on a cheerful smile. She’d tell him if she was ready.
“Jason! Are you coming too?” she called out, her expression lifting instantly when she noticed him. She thought Martins was supposed to be her only teammate on this run.
“No, it’s after my bedtime. I’m just here to escort your favorite miscreant to the plane.” He gave Spider Martins a gentle, almost brotherly shove – that is to say, placed perfectly to send him nearly sprawling. “Not my kind of op.”
“Oh really? And what is your kind of operation, Sensei? What do you get out of bed for?
“Mis- Lioness.” He caught himself before saying her name with the great big walking security risk standing next to them both. Spider definitely wasn’t cleared for her personal information. “General Mueller sends you in when the situation calls for the world’s most compact, adaptable, and untraceable battering ram. If she sends me in it means we’re on the brink of World War Three. Us ‘trainers’ like to stay in our warm, cushy beds. The privilege of age and experience.”
She snorted. “You’re not that old.”
“It's not the years. It’s unquestionably the miles,” he smiled. “Speaking of which you’ve got a four hour flight ahead of you, so I also brought you some soup.” He offered her a nondescript paper bag. She could smell the lemongrass. “Now, Spider? There’s enough she could share. So be good. Or else.”
“Yeah, yeah, or you’ll hunt me down and kill me. I know the spiel, tough guy.” Martins looked bright, alert, even happy. He liked sparing with people whose skills he considered on his level, even if it was just banter. And he very much liked needling Captain Birch.
“No, I won’t kill you. And that should scare you more ... if you think about it.” Jason’s tone made it a joke. His eyes weren’t kidding in the slightest.
Martins understood him perfectly, communicating on the resonant frequency shared by alpha-males. Then he looked at the captain again. “Wait … ‘Sensei’ … ‘Jason’? You’re her personal trainer, aren’t you? You dawg! That’s got-to-be hawt. Do you ever have to put your hands on her and correct her form– Oww!”
With the synchronization born of long, close, and yes, intimate practice the captain twisted Spider’s arm so he was suddenly leaning forward, baring his cheek and swinging his head into line just as Angeleah literally slapped him silly with one blow.
“Yes, Spider, me and the captain go way back. Now be a gentleman or I’ll have to defend his honor again …” She smiled at Birch. They were good friends now, but it certainly hadn’t started that way when she’d first decided she needed training if she wanted to be a superhero...
- - -
The last flight of steps down into the converted basement were little more than 2x4s neatly cut and nailed into a simple stairway. It wasn’t pine though. It smelled quite good, actually. Like her grandmother’s cabin.
Only a single figure waited for them. He was tall, chiseled, clean-cut, reasonably handsome in a sort of generic military way. His symmetry was emphasized instead of ruined by a large white scar over his right eye. Rather than a uniform, he wore a loose white tunic and what looked like a long black pleated dress.
“You’re the ‘special instructor’?” The disdainful air quotes would have been obvious even if she hadn't hooked her fingers.
He nodded. “I am also a captain in NorAmTht SpecForCom. If you agree after our session, I will likely become your primary instructor.”
She stifled a snort - he could actual pronounce the string of gobbledegook letters they used to name seemingly everything here. Enunciating so crisply even she recognized most of what he was saying.
She waved to indicate the large and empty room. “Not what I was expecting. Where are the other soldiers? The guys sparring. The big men who are gonna show the little woman her place?”
“You won’t be sparing with anyone but me today. You might accidentally hurt them. Beginners are often the most dangerous thing on the mat.”
“Dangerous?” she asked, not quite grasping what he meant. “So they told you that I’m … I’m very strong.”
“Yes, they did, Miss Taylor. That’s why the sent you to me, rather than one of the more … linear … combat instructors. And because you plainly don’t think you need hand-to-hand instruction due to your … let’s call it ‘legacy’. I will help you change your mind about that.”
Slightly irritated with his calm assumption of superiority, she bore down on the wooden railing, busting the section between the two uprights out in a roughly palm-sized square, splinters bristling from both ends. she tossed it aside.
He smiled. “I – and likely most of the opponents you meet if you graduate – will not be swinging boards at you, Miss Taylor.”
“Does it bother you that my abilities came to … that I’m a woman?
“I see a person, Miss Taylor. In some ways, a very fortunate person and I am grateful that person chose to serve. There are not many women operators here as you might guess. Those women that do serve here have universally displayed the highest character. I hope you embrace that tradition even if you will not share in their enlistment oaths. You will be meeting a number of testosterone-poisoned and deeply resentful assholes during your stay. Men who without exaggeration would kill to have your strength. But not on this mat.”
She laughed at his brutal honesty and began to walk down the final steps.
He pointed to a pair of folding screens in the corner of the room. “There is practice garb waiting if you’d like to change. No one will violate your privacy. Or we can continue in your current clothes, but I can’t guarantee they’ll be whole when we finish.”
To Taylor’s surprise, Merete hadn’t spoken since they came in, the general had only shared a polite nod with the man before them without a salute passing in either direction.
“I won’t be here long.” This was NOT the training she had come for. She could pound her way through a concrete wall for pity’s sake.
“As you say.” He turned away and walked to the edge of the padding covering the majority of the floor. “Please remove your shoes and bow before stepping onto the mat. We’ll discuss the full etiquette later.” He gave a slight bow to the empty room and stepped onto the mat, as she just now realized he was barefoot under his skirt and thus maybe an inch taller than she had estimated.
She slipped off her flats and made a passable imitation of his bow before walking out about a quarter of the length of the hall on to the mat to where he was waiting.
“Normally I would spend several days teaching you how to fall, but they’ve also informed you are quite … solid.”
She nodded, clinging to her patience. She had asked to be here after all. On this base if not in this specific room. Special forces seemed like a good place to polish her superhero’ing. She was particularly interested in tactics, hostage rescue … Useful things like that. But if she had to wade through this shit first, so be it.
He was smug, but he wasn’t actually a dick. In fact, he’d barely looked at her. An almost refreshing change from the leers she’d become accustomed to. Boys will be boys – until you meet an actual man.
“I am going to topple you now … Please feel free to brace yourself.”
She tensed everything, preparing to show this lunk how wrong he was. He dropped to his knees so suddenly she almost lost track of him, slid forward smoothly leaning down to rest his shoulder against her leg just below her knee while his hand snaked around the back of her ankle. She held her foot firm, ready to push back if he tried to sweep her leg out from under her, all her strength poised …
And with little more pressure than a baby’s breath, he drove her backward until she fell on her butt.
More shocked than embarrassed (or angry) she took his offered hand and stood back up … and with a mincing little pirouette he vanished, the ceiling and floor switched places for no apparent reason, and she was on her backside AGAIN, unhurt but completely disoriented. She was even still clinging to his hand as if would help her. Bounding to her feet, he proceeded to turn her world upside down three more times, never once grabbing her or letting her push back against whatever it was he was doing. His skirt rippled and snapped like a flag in a strong wind. He wasn’t just fast; there was an economy to his movements. Finally, she took an aggravated swipe at him, she even felt her arm connect lightly with his shoulder, only he floated WITH her strike, drawing it into himself and pulling her along behind her own fist before launching her solidly ten feet through the air across the mat to go tumble-sliding into a wall with a tremendous crash. Laying in a truly ridiculous head-over-heels heap she wondered, ‘Does he have powers too?’ After one more fall, even faster then the previous blurs of warped and stolen momentum she waved to stop, “I’ll …” She wasn’t winded, nor bruised, but she was dizzy as all hell. “I think I’ll go change now.” Despite his warnings, he’d done it all without splitting a single stitch of her clothing in the process. He had simply put her where he wanted her with no more effort than moving a chair around a table looking for the perfect spot to seat a guest.
“Thank you, Miss Taylor. We can have a lot more fun that way.” His cool demeanor cracking into a grin. “And thank you for being such a good sport.”
She looked at him with a one-sided smirk. “Whatever it is you’re doing … I want that.”
“I’m glad you’re impressed. Because I suspect in a month or two no one will ever be able to do it to you again.”
Forgotten but not gone, General Mueller clapped appreciatively several times from the top of the stairs, then turned and left Angeleah to practice with her new lead trainer.
- - -
She pulled the specially molded clamshell Kevlar over her head, then began clicking together the four catches down each side, fitting it snuggly before reaching for her harness.
Her unwelcome ‘partner’ was pulling on his own gear with similar practiced efficiency. He caught her eye and glanced at her chest with a slightly different reason than most men. “Why do you even wear a vest? Bullets bounce off of the Lioness.” He sneered, “I know. I’ve shot you.”
“Well for one, Spider, people see the vest and think twice about pulling the trigger in the first place. Unlike you, most hostiles don’t actually end up hitting me. So it’s a lot safer for the people behind me if I wear one. And two, the Kevlar traps bullets. Cuts down on the ricochets. Like you said, they bounce off of me and that’s hurt people before.
“And since I will be behind you tonight …”
“Eh. The general tells me you’ve done some good since I caught you. If you take a bullet tonight it won’t be because I was lax.”
“I appreciate that. I think.”
“I’ll be doing the carrying on the way in, Martins. If I wanted to settle old scores I’d just drop you four miles offshore and let the tides hide the evidence.”
“You always say the sexiest things …”
The radar operator snickered and called out “You do like to live dangerously.”
“Alright boys, I may kill some people tonight but I’d rather not have to start for at least another half hour. We clear?”
Even in jest, that shut them both right up.
In a much more professional tone, the radar operator announced: “2 minutes to drop, ma’am.”
She stood up, gesturing for Spider to do the same. They both were carrying sizable duffle bags full of gear. He passed her his bag. No reason to pretend who would have an easier time humping it in. She could probably juggle them … one-handed.
“Wait, drop? I don’t have a ‘chute …! The briefing said overland infiltration from the cliffs.”
“That’s leg three. There’s no way we’re setting this bird down on the mainland.” She walked up behind him and began clipping tethers on her suit to the backs of his knees, hips, and finally shoulders. “I’m your ‘chute’, big guy.”
He looked over his shoulder at her in alarm. “Wait, when you said carry … you meant ‘carry me’ like really carry? Not just the gear? Flying …?”
“Come on. It’ll be fun. Just like being in a swing. Only in the dark. Over shark-infested waters. And of course I’ll be carrying the gear. You pack like a girl.” She did some simultaneous curls using the two duffle bags as weights. “Two whole suitcases for an overnighter?”
He pulled it together quickly, seeing how she was having fun at his expense. “Contingencies. You know how I like to plan for contingencies.”
“As long as one of those contingencies isn’t ‘fuck over the Lioness and bolt.’ That would be a bad plan.”
“I have four ideas for that, but Orca is treating me well, so I doubt it’ll come up tonight.
She rolled her eyes. “God, I wish I could trust you.”
“I’m the one that’s going to be hanging by a strap 4,000 feet up. I’m already trusting you.”
She gave him a half nod, considering that as the cabin went dark and the drop light came on.
They shuffled backward down the lowering ramp, her leading. Then she hugged him tight from behind, snaked a leg around both of his and fell backward off the end of the ramp, absorbing the shock of their transition to the outside airflow.
She quickly reoriented herself, releasing him in free-fall before gently slowing their descent.
“Ugg … What is that? I feel sick.”
“Sorry, that’s me. It's from the fields that left me fly. There’s some bleed over. It’ll pass quickly.”
“Uhhh. Ok. Good to know.” That certainly wasn’t in the news articles describing the Lioness’ exploits.
She allowed them to fall straight down - the was no need to glide in at an angle like parachutists when she could fly them in nape-of-the-Earth. She halted about sixty feet above the water, giving them both a chance to get their bearings.
“Water looks pretty calm tonight.” She observed.
“I agree. Moon has set, but I can still see adequately. Want to take it lower?”
“I do, but you’re the guy on the string. If I scrape you off on a wave it’ll hurt. Your call.”
“Do the limbo. I’ve tracked you on radar before. I don’t want to give these clowns the slightest hint we’re coming.”
She dropped down to about fifteen feet, the shot across the water toward the compound. The smell of the sea was overpowering but he didn’t end up dunked in it.
So far, so good.
- - -
Fifteen minutes later Spider was trying to convince her he was crazy. Because he’d just said, “So, I want you to hit the front gate as hard as you can.”
They’d made landfall and crept up on the fortress without incident. They were nestled into a mass of bushes where the ground crumbled away into a sheer cliff over the sea below and less than 20 yards from the well-illuminated walls. She’d brought them in on the opposite side from the one road leading to the structure. There were sentries everywhere.
Spider had been sweeping the compound with binoculars for several minutes before he made his ridiculous request.
“Wait. We sneak all the way up to the door and now you want me to go big boom?”
“Pretty much. Look at those patrols. These guys are already on maximum alert - and they should be with Blacksite’s gizmo here. So we give them what they want. You go loud. I’m assuming you wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have permission to break stuff.”
“And while I’m raising a ruckus, you’ll be?”
He grinned, “Stealin’ stuff. I’ll make my entry right … there.”
She followed the line of his finger and saw a tiny nook, almost a ripple in the wall. How the hell had even spotted that? ‘Thief-thing, I guess’ she thought to herself, not wanting to let on that she was impressed.
“If we split up you’ll have to carry both bags.”
“Yes, I can lug my own gear. Over the big scary wall, even. God, Lioness, you think all men are weaklings.” She lifted one eyebrow. “I mean actually weaklings, not just by comparison!”
She chuckled. “Ok, one frontal assault in two minutes … Mark” She began rising upwards. Just to be nice she snagged the bags and gently lofted both of them onto the top of the wall as she went by. She’d have thrown them all the way over for him but there were bombs in there …
He was already scaling the wall at just short of a full run. God damn, he was quick. She resolved not to worry about him carrying out his part of the plan. Just keep the guards looking at her and let him do his thief-y-thing. As she rose higher she heard the first guard’s body make a muffled thump as Spider dropped his unconscious ass over the outside of the wall. The man had probably broken something but Spider was still playing the soft game, so far. With what was at stake, a paranatural engine churning out enhanced thugs for drug lords, she was prepared to play pretty rough tonight.
She climbed to about 2,000 feet like a lost balloon, deliberately giving them a chance to spot there was something moving up over their heads if they had radar. The compound seemed sophisticated enough that it ought to. The seconds ticked down. Sure enough, floodlights begin to lance into the sky searching for her and a cautionary tone rang over the PA system below drawing all eyes skyward. Perfect. Spider would not miss his cue. With three seconds left she oriented on the front wall of the compound and shot downwards at her full-out maximum acceleration. There was no sonic boom - her speed would top out at only around 400 mph before she hit. “Only” being relative. At the last moment, she threw her arms and legs wide making a giant X and squinched her eyes shut. No amount of practice was gonna make doing this not as scary as hell. She thought of a line from one of her favorite movies - a wisecracking pilot speaking in deadpan ‘oh God, oh God, we’re all gonna die …’
Rather than piercing the building like a bullet and digging a deep crater in the ground beneath, her shape was like a riot-x round from a shotgun … transferring maximum momentum into the reinforced walls of the building and she actually skipped off the hardened flooring. The building shook with a tremendous booming as if it had been shelled by a cluster of mortars. The whole front section blew outwards with the reverberation of her impact.
She rose up, dusting herself off. So much for the vest. Her suit had taken a beating. Orca had never come up with anything that could take her level of ‘rough handling’. She peered through the dust, trying to decide which direction to bring the thunder next.
Then something hit her.
- - -
Since discovering her super-powers and joining ORCA, Angeleah had been getting a crash course in Hollywood mythology. One of those myths that people can be bodily flung around by the momentum transfer than occurs in the space of an inch or two and across a contact point only a couple of inches wide when a punch connects. Turned out the stronger you were the LESS likely that was to happen.
Human bodies are squishy. It takes special harnesses and a fantastically slow release of force to produce that iconic effect. Usually, there was a whole team of stuntmen pulling on ropes with their full body weight to gently loft the person into the air. In the real world, people will burst like water balloons rather than gracefully sailing away when a true hammer blow falls.
Angeleah was not squishy. At all. Something she was going to demonstrate again today. Last week it had been playing firing range dummy, still flinching as a 30mm Vulcan cannon opened up on her (courtesy of Captain Birch and a parked A-10 – he had total faith in her when he pulled the trigger). The stream of depleted uranium bullets had pushed her steadily back even as she tried to hold her position on the range by flying into the maelstrom. But it hadn’t hurt. Just a steady, high-frequency drumming sensation as the rounds splattered against her. It reminded her of a really brisk shower with one of those fancy pulsating showerheads.
Now she’d graduated up to being a target for an M1-Abrams as part of her ongoing durability testing. They’d had to rig the tank for time-delayed remote firing; no tank crew they could find would accept the order to shoot at an unarmed woman standing on the test field 500 yards downrange. The first try had missed. She was a tiny morsel compared to the armored predator’s usual diet of tracked vehicles and hardened buildings. The howl of the antitank round's passage almost made her call a stop to the proceedings.
Two shots later (both misses) and she made an exaggerated display of checking her watch and folding her arms across her ample chest, tapping her foot with impatience.
The range master couldn’t take seeing his beloved machine being embarrassed by these lab-coated nit-wits any longer. He and his crew remounted their vehicle and sighted in. Properly this time.
“Target set, 200 yards, center of mass. Squash-head loaded!”
There was a heavy metallic ‘thunk’ as the breach closed.
She bounced ass over tea kettle almost a quarter mile before having to dig herself out of the churned earth of the hillside that served as the range’s backstop. She’d come out laughing and naked except for the mud. “It kinda tickled!” She gave the google-eyed crew one kiss each and handed the mashed cannon round to the range boss just to show there were no hard feelings. To the best of her knowledge, the flattened slug was sitting in a glass case at the base’s enlisted club and that crew had never had to buy their first round ever again.
ORCA had given up on ballistic testing after that. There was really no point. When it came to kinetic kill weapons she was no-bullshit invulnerable. No, all capitals, please. And get some boldface up in here. INVULNERABLE, bitches. Yeah. Like that.
- - -
So when a massive meathook came out of the haze and slugged Angeleah with enough power to pull her whole body into the air behind the homerun hit on her skull and embed her in the wall behind her like a spear thrown by a god … she wasn’t hurt, but she sure as hell took notice.
“Ow! Mierda, mi mano!” roared a meaty bass voice.
She flexed and twisted the fields that let her fly, spinning on her long axis like a drill and pushed the rest of the way through the wall. The grinding action tore off most of what was left of her sneaksuit but she wanted her hands free right now. Plus the wall would give her cover. Whoever that was on the other side could obviously force his way through it with little more trouble than she could, but he probably couldn’t see through it. At least she hoped not. Best not to make too many assumptions on your first date with a new paranatural. The briefing had speculated the lieutenant might already be enhanced.
There was a shock of displaced air and a sudden looming presence behind her radiating murderous intent. ‘How’d he–?’ The next hit was a vicious kidney punch from behind and she gave a live demonstration of ragdoll physics as she was thrown through an open doorway and out into a large open courtyard between the major buildings.
Guards surrounded the courtyard on every side standing in doorways, walkways, and dotting the rooftops. When she was a white blur a hundred or more guns tracked her with cool professionalism, turning in unison like fans at a tennis match. But when she came to a controlled sliding stop, kneeling with one hand on the ground steadying herself, the crowd realized the blur was a woman, pale-skinned, and fiercely beautiful. And after that last tumble, the sexy red-head was also nearly naked save for her boots and gloves. She heard raunchy calls and whistling echoing off the walls.
“Well Spider, I’ve got their attention now,” she whispered to herself, too pissed that she’d let her attacker get a second hit in to be embarrassed.
Big, bad, and fucking fast strolled out of the shadows to the doorway she’d come out of. He was so broad he had to turn sideways to slip through the archway. It was like looking at a cartoon character, muscles piled on muscles. He was bare-chested with loose grey sweats covering what were probably equally muscular legs. No shoes, she noted. Probably smart considering he was definitely in her class strength-wise.
She shook her head to settle her ringing ears and whipped some spit from her mouth with the back of her clenched fist. The other guy took it for injury. Dumbass.
“Give us a fight, girly,” he growled in accented but passable English, coming at her again in a boxer’s guarded half-crouch, almost blurring as he shot at her in a jerking side to side pattern.
“Phhbt. Boxing’s for sissies.”
One thing her time on the mat with Jason had taught her was that when playing on her level, leverage was EVERYTHING. In a world were most objects offered her no more resistance than heavy fog, the only anchor point that mattered was herself. Her throwing punches against a live target was stupid. But her super-strong fingers could pinch like the devil-dogs of hell come to drag a soul down.
Already she knew he favored his left for the big hits. “Just breathe …” she heard Jason whisper in her mind.
Right on time, he appeared next to her swinging with all his might in a deep straight left-handed chest-punch that would have blasted her through the building behind her. But he connected with nothing but air as she slid between his wide, rooted legs. It was one of those Hollywood myths that only worked for her because she could slide over crushed rock, her invulnerable skin not snagging on the rasping stones. One hand trailed behind her as she passed under him, grabbing his kneecap like it was a doorknob. It was a move Jason had adapted for her from dog-style kung-fu. Then she squeezed.
“Ouch,” she snickered as he screamed and shot away from her with a limp, the leg of his sweats torn off from the knee down. The remembered feeling of his patella being crushed into aquarium gravel between her fingers would probably bug her later, but that was later, and this guy meant to kill her in the here and now. The time with Jason had been good preparation for that aspect of combat too. Do or die.
Strangely, the men surrounding the impromptu arena roared … with approval. Couldn’t they see she’d just maimed their champion?
Just to show how tough he was, he started laughing. She could see his ruined knee knitting back together instead of swelling up into a blood-red balloon as it should have. Paranatural speed, strength, AND regeneration? If this was Blacksite’s lieutenant he’d gotten an excellent medical package as part of his pay.
Their next few clashes were less decisive. He might be able to regenerate but she’d put the fear in him now. He wouldn’t commit. She’d been trained to ignore little half-hearted jabs like he was throwing and wait for him to put some intention behind it. Finally, he plucked up his courage and struck like a rattlesnake. A 400-pound rattlesnake fueled by rage. But, he led with the left again. She slid inside his swing, body to body as she used his arm as a pivot point, swinging her feet straight up towards the sky. She was past him now and upside-down, almost doing a handstand on his shoulders. She locked her arms around his throat and went a direction nobody but her expected: she started flying feet first straight up.
“Nnnnnnnuh” she grunted, putting every bit of her will into the fields lifting them both. He was right at the limit of her lifting capacity and weighed a lot more than he should have. ‘That’s probably why he hits so hard …’
He kicked and thrashed as she lifted them higher. He had clearly never learned how to fight without leverage. But he was a fast learner. He started twisting his whole body trying to shake her off. She hoisted them higher, her arms a merciless noose around his neck. She was higher now than when she’d started her attack run.
He got one hand around her upper arm and started to squeeze … and for the first time since that awful car crash in August, she felt a blossom of pain. Any reservations she had about what came next vanished.
She let them both fall, putting everything into twisting her fields like she had when he’d stuck her in the wall, mustering all the torque she could apply. Firmly locked in her crossed arms, his head kept up with her ferocious spinning … the yoke of his wide shoulders did not. Connected only by a few vertebrae designed by nature to slide past each other and a couple of tendons that swiftly cut through his larynx as they spun together like spinning yarn from wool, she neatly decapitated him.
“Regenerate from that,” she said, tossing the head out to sea and cradling her bruised arm.
‘Shit.’ she thought, ‘maybe I should have drawn that out a little …’ She shot back down to the courtyard, hoping to keep all eyes on her. If this army turned on Spider she would not be able to save him from them all …
She touched down, light as an angel, one toe reaching out to make contact with the ground before her weight settled onto the ground. The body landed behind her a half-beat later with a titanic thud. Then the blood came raining down. It was a calculated piece of showmanship. The Lioness had worked hard on her ‘pants-shitting entrances’.
Again, the guards went wild. What were they thinking? Was she just really popular in Mexico?
“Worst. Guards. Ever.” she muttered just as the segmented doors of a pair of garages began to rise, spilling flickering streaks of light onto the cobblestones, hinting at movement inside.
Instead of expensive cars bought with drug money, the garage was filled with far more expensive giants like the one she’d just killed. There were eight, nine, ten … twenty … Ok, there were a lot of them in there.
“Oh. Oh, dear.”
Now she had a fight on her hands.
- - -
Angeleah ducked into a stairway leading down from the main residence. The compound above looked like it had been hit by a hurricane. The ‘winds’ of that storm were still coming after her.
She had been playing hide and seek with the swarm of enhanced enforcers all across the compound for a solid ten minutes. She’d killed three of them when she’d been able to catch them alone, but any time they were able to concentrate their numbers it had become a struggle just to survive. She needed to do more than survive though because she wasn’t alone out here. Every clash was another few seconds the Cartel soldiers might continue to overlook the second intruder in their home.
She was following a trail of choked-out guards, trying to find her partner and blow this dive. “Nuke the place from orbit, its the only way to be sure.” The famous movie line came to her unbidden.
Instead of a wine cellar, she found a long well lit corridor done in white marble. The machine gun deathtraps built into the walls were quite tastefully concealed. There were even live plants down here. “Very posh. Drug business must be good this year,” she said to herself.
Then she felt the gentle tug on her leg as she crossed a tripwire and a claymore mine cunningly concealed in the potted tree spat death at her face.
She spent a moment pulling steel bearings out from between her cheek and teeth with her tongue. Her mouth had been just the slightest bit slack and the blast had forced three or four of the pellets past her lips. ‘first world problems’ she snickered, knowing that anyone else would have been a stain on the wall.
Another roar from the courtyard made her revise her statement. “Ok, almost anyone else.” The first guy had been the worst. Smart. Controlled. A real fighter. The mob of powered-up brutes that had followed was more like crazed animals. Maybe the first guy really had been a lieutenant of the mysterious Blacksite? The analysts back home would be so pleased they’d gotten something right.
She looked at the expended mine, realizing it was an ad hoc addition to the corridor’s defenses. She’d caught up with Spider at last. He’d left it knowing it wouldn’t be a problem if she were the first person to find him.
“Fancy meeting you here.” She called out.
“Sound’s like quite a party up there.” she heard him answer from much deeper inside whatever secure chamber he had broken into. "I thought Birch was supposed to be here if we found World War III?"
Another gunman dared the corner at the bottom of the stairs, shooting at her with surprising accuracy. She heaved the much-abused potted tree down the hall at him, ignoring the bullets. Their guns were just so cute given the brawl they’d seen her putting on with the big guys. She was conserving her strength for round three – or was it four? she’d been at it a while. Now, this door Spider had popped … that had weapon potential. The cartel had a world-class bank vault down here it seemed.
“Yeah. Pretty wild. I’m naked, so don’t lose your shit if I come in.” Her gloves and boots had succumbed to the festivities quickly.
“My shit’s busy, Lioness. Our intel’s hosed. There’s no gizmo. Just a shitload of these ogres.”
“That’s what the papers here call them.”
More shots rang out, ignored except for that it made it harder to hear him.
“Good name. You’re sure about the gizmo being gone?
“Damn it, then we’re pulling out.”
“Give me a minute. Maybe I can salvage something from this debacle.”
“Spider. There’s still at least a dozen of those big muscled fucks up there …” ‘and all the seawater they’d need to kill me quite close at hand’ she thought to herself shuddering. If she got dog-piled …’
“Just a minute. I’ve almost got this.”
By then she was doing the ‘tear a phonebook’ gag on the vault door, creating a pile of head-sized hunks. Her fastball was a rather tame 84 MPH, but weight meant nothing to her so that balls she was pitching could be very large and very, very heavy. Occasionally she launched one back up the security corridor. The secondary shrapnel from the explosions as they hit the stonework of the foyer seemed to be keeping the merely ordinary security goons honest. But by the shouting she heard, she knew the main pursuit would be focused here momentarily. The roars were getting closer.
“Take all the time you need. I’ll just mesmerize them with my milkshake, shall I?”
“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” he said, strangely not rising to her innuendo. “Honest, sixty seconds and …”
She spied one of their duffels laying by the vault door. “Tell me you brought some flashbangs?”
“End pouch. Blue tape on the pocket” she heard him call back, distractedly. What was he doing in there? An ugly thought struck her … what if he had found the gizmo and was using it himself?
Two more of the ogres came charging down the hall behind her, almost tripping over each other as their shoulders jostled in a space scaled for human beings and not bull elephants.
She turned toward them from the gear bag and lofted a handful of the tiny grenades at them underhand. ‘I do pitch like a girl’ she thought as they went off nicely at ogre eye level.
Before they had even fully reared back in pain she was on them. A second later she’d crushed both their windpipes, one in each pinching hand. “No more games, assholes.” She held their throats shut until they drowned in their own blood and stopped twitching. She was scared and she was pissed. Sensei Birch would correct her breathing and her footing. Hearing the echo of his sharp command in her head, she took a deep breath and settled. “Fudotai: immovable body. Fudoshin: immovable mind.” The ritual steadied her nerves.
The next ogre came alone and with cold clarity she kicked one of the dead ones at him, tripping his headlong rush. She’d stunned him but closing to finish him would leave her dangerously exposed to a fourth or fifth or sixth... The numbers were not on her side and they’d all be converging on the vault now. She fell back and two more rifles spoke followed by another roar. She was going to run out of options before they ran out of brutes and bullets.
“Spider? I need something dramatic.”
There was no answer, but the lights went out. Was he morphing into one of these beasts right now?
Darkness seemed to take the spring right out of her attackers’ step, and she heard cursing in Spanish followed by almost timid probing with a lone hand-flashlight.
Another piece of 84 mph vault door put an end to that.
She was almost ready to think they were back on top of things when she heard a most unwelcome sound … from behind her.
“Oh. Oh shit.” Spider announced, poleaxed.
But it was better than him roaring.
“Stop stealing the good silver or whatever it is you’re doing. We have to get out of here. Now.”
Something had actually shut his famously running mouth up. She hurled another hunk of metal down the hall with explosive force. Believing now that she could take the brutes, at least individually, her escape was largely inevitable. But she couldn’t just leave Spider.
“Lioness. You have to look at this. I don’t think the bosses wanted us to find this …
“Is the delay worth your life?”
“Maybe. I know I’m not going to wait for the day when you find out on your own and you come take it out on me for not telling you. Now, Angeleah. Look. At. This.”
“How do you know my- my name’s classified.”
“I’m not an idiot. Will you just look at the goddamn file, please?”
She launched another nearly boulder-sized piece of door. The darkness had given them pause, but they were still coming. “This is you saying ‘please’, Spider?”
“It really is.”
She ducked back into what turned out to be an office. ‘Nice desk’, she thought. He already had the monitor turned around for her to see, thinking ahead like always. He clicked play on what had to be a clip taken from the compound’s digital security system, already cued up.
It was a view of the courtyard she’d just been in, only it was daylight and filled with black Land Rovers. A door opened and someone stepped out …
When she saw the mystery man – Blacksite himself – come out of the armored car and stand up straight in plain view of the cameras, her whole world shrank into darkness, seeing only the tiny face on the screen. Then it all came back, tinged with red. Martins took an involuntary step back, his animal hindbrain screaming ‘run’ from what he had unleashed.
Of Mr. Walker’s many victims, Angeleah Taylor was one of the least scarred. She had known him, liked him, even had sex with him once of her own free will several years ago. His dealings with her had been more … gentle … than most.
“What. The. Fuck … Liam?”
“I thought so too, but it’s not. Look closer, Lioness. Blacksite’s older than Liam.”
Still stunned she tried to process what she was seeing. “His powers … he could slow downtime. Did he age?”
“Maybe. Maybe it is him but I still don’t think so. Liam was a teleporter. Shit, he was a lot of things. He wouldn’t need an armored caravan to move around, would he? Did he have an older brother?”
“Not that he told me about.”
“If Blacksite is like Liam …” He began.
“… There is no device.” She finished his terrible thought.
Spider clicked a button on his watch. The answering string of booms from the server room came almost instantaneously. The screen turned into a field of static, all evidence of his snooping blown to fiery chunks. “Party’s over, we should go. But when we get home, you might want to ask about Liam’s family.”
“Oh, I will,” she said in a flat tone that Martins knew well enough to not poke her further. “So what’s our exit?”
He nodded to a wall. “Straight out. We’re right behind the cliff face here.”
They switched places, him holding the hallway with what had to be the last of his explosive charges while she tore into the wall with her bare hands, practically swimming through the stone. As heavily reinforced as it was she wasn’t worried about it collapsing on her. Once she was hovering outside above the crashing surf she called back to him and he came scrambling through the hole to leap into her arms mid-air.
“Mr. Martins!” she squeaked with only half-faked shock.
“My intentions are completely honorable ma’am, but you might want to move us a little to the left …”
She heard the overlapping rising beeping of dozens of his demolition charges spinning up to detonation … She launched them sideways as the whole face of the cliff blew out, following the lines of stress she’d created with her tunneling.
“A little extreme don’t you think?” she shouted, her ears ringing.
“I wanted to destroy any identifying marks you made digging. Ten fingers are kind of a distinctive tool for cutting stone … And hopefully, they’ll think we’re dead in the rubble. At least for a few hours.”
“Nicely done, Spider.” He always did have an eye for covering his tracks.
“That I finally got to cop a feel on you was strictly an accident. Honest.”
She considered dropping him into the sea then and there. But he’d earned that one, she decided. Along with earning a few ‘strictly accidental’ dunkings on the way back to the exfiltration site.
And Spider’s opinion of the bumpy ride back? A wet sneaksuit and seawater up his nose were totally worth it just for the bragging rights.
End Part 1