Two Worlds – Chapter 5

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Coop was spent. Fucking for three straight hours had that effect on a man. He took it as a personal point of pride that he could rally multiple times before he was done, but it hadn’t filled him with his usual level of satisfaction. Despite being exhausted, sleep eluded him.

Hailey was curled up on her side, facing the wall. Squeezing into his twin bed was always uncomfortable, but they didn’t know anything different; it was all the PHA had. The rhythmic melody of her breathing told Coop she was asleep. He wanted to wake her up and apologize. He’d been rougher than usual, and it would leave its marks. His own lip was bleeding, and he had some angry red scratches running down his back and arms, but most of that was easily covered up.

He was angry at how rough he’d been, but that was surface level. What he was really angry about was leaving her. Despite how much fun he had with Hailey, what they had was an arrangement. Hailey was with him, and that offered her protection. Sure, they screwed like two rabbits in heat; but they weren’t in love. He was a boy with raging hormones, and she was a girl who didn’t want to be sold around the PHA; him leaving put her in danger.

Coop wanted to think of it as business, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t love either, but it was something that was familiar. He knew the shape of her body pressed against his. He knew what she liked, and she knew what he liked. It was a great arrangement, and maybe one day it could have been more; but now they’d never find out. He desperately wanted to hang onto anything familiar.

<Fucking Fleet fuckwad,> the surge of anger made Coop shake hard enough that he got out of bed. Tomorrow was going to be just as hard for him as it was for her, and he didn’t want her to face it exhausted.

He tried not to jostle her too much as he slipped out of bed. She groaned and rolled over to occupy the whole small space, but she didn’t wake. Just as silently, Coop slipped out of the room and into the apartment.

Just because it was night didn’t mean it was quiet; both inside and outside the tower. Even from their fifth floor interior apartment Coop heard laughs and screams. There was the occasional gun shot, and the much more frequent sound of sirens racing by. Being so close to the Civil Administration building; which also served as the police headquarters, meant they got to hear every hog going out on a call.

Inside the tower, in nearby apartments, Coop heard more screams of pain and pleasure. The tower’s defenders would check out the painful ones, and daydream about the pleasure filled yells. These were the sounds of home; sounds he’d memorized over eighteen long years.

“You feel any better?” Coop’s father called from the other room.

The lights were off but the soft glow of the holotable was enough to illuminate the room. A three dimensional rendering of some game show was playing on low volume in the center of the space. Coop’s father’s eyes didn’t drift from the show when Coop entered.

“My balls feel like two used up old raisins.” Coop dropped down into a seat opposite his father.

Walter paused the show with a hand gesture, and swiped the program out of the way so he could talk to his son. “Sounded like you two were having fun in there.”

The statement left them in an uncomfortable silence. Neither man was what people would call a “sharer”. Emotion was a weakness in the PHA. People could take what you told them in confidence and use it to destroy you, your reputation, and anything you were working towards. For Coop, being emotional meant people wouldn’t trust him to get the job done. If people thought he couldn’t get the job done then no one would hire him. If no one hired him, then he ate nothing but BSA shit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Coop would rather jump into the core than be some feeble, weak piece of Rat shit. Weak pieces of shit didn’t get ass like Hailey’s, and weak pieces of shit ended up dead or worse.

“You made a decision yet?” The question brought Coop’s mind back to the present.

“Ha,” Coop laughed a single, humorless laugh. “Fuck if I know.”

“You want my opinion?” Walter knew his son’s answer before he even asked the question.

“No.”

“Well I’m going to give it to you anyway.” Walter leaned forward, placed his elbows on his knees, and looked over clasped hands at his son. “I think you should take the armed forces gig.”

“Ha,” the laugh this time was surprised with a twinge of humor. “Yeah, ok. I’ll join up, march in a straight line with all the good boys and girls. Say yes sir, and yes ma’am, and then die in some backwater shit colony all so our great Commonwealth gets a better deal on some fucking cloth that some alien spider shits out its ass. No thanks, Dad; but thanks for the stellar advice.”

Walter didn’t miss the heavy sarcasm, but he kept on going. “It’s better than taking a dick up the ass and a shank in the kidney in Attica,” he deadpanned. “You aren’t built for a place like Attica, Mark. Big Bubba is gonna make you his bitch and then shove his balls down your throat when you mouth off. At least in the military you’ll get food, shelter, and cash.”

Coop knew well enough what could happen to him in a prison, and it didn’t help that his father was laying it out for him. It also didn’t help that he was dangling the money line in front of Coop’s face.

“What good is some digital bank account if you’re dead?” Despite Coop’s ambivalence, this was becoming a real discussion.

“Then don’t fucking die, Mark.” Coop didn’t like it when anyone used his first name, but his father was the only one he let get away with it. “Whatever branch you end up in will feed, clothe, and give you a bed to sleep in for free. If you’re smart and don’t blow your paycheck on booze and whores then you could end up with a big chunk of change by the time you finish up. You won’t have to live in the PHA, and you’ll have skills that people will pay good money for. You’ll be able to make a better life for yourself than what your mother and I had.”

That was a low blow, and Coop let his dad know it. He picked up the dish that was lying on the table beside his chair and chucked it at his father’s head. Over forty years in the PHA had honed the old man’s reflexes, and he easily dodged the flying plastic. The dish clattered loudly to the floor, but nothing broke. Despite the decrepit people in the PHA, the government had built this place and everything in it to last.

“Think with your head instead of your balls, Mark.” Walter continued like nothing had happened.

Coop didn’t answer; he didn’t want to even look at his father. Ever since his mother threw herself off the top floor of the tower things had been hard for him. Coop’s father, despite this evening, wasn’t around a lot. He was a leader in the tower and that occupied a lot of his time. Coop was left to raise himself, and had developed into his own man without a lot of help. Coop was proud of what he’d been able to accomplish, and pissed that he had to do it alone. They were conflicting thoughts, Coop knew that, but he didn’t really care.

<And now the old man wants to give some fatherly advice.> Coop nearly spat at the thought.

Coop was filled with anger toward his father, and the PHA, the system, and at the Commonwealth as a whole. He was even angry at himself for getting caught in the first place. But even with all that anger boiling in his gut, Coop still listened to what his dad was saying. Coop might be a welfare Rat, but he was far from stupid.

“Whatever.” Coop wasn’t going to explain himself to his father tonight, he had better things he could waste his time doing than arguing.

“Whatever.” Walter echoed the response, knowing the conversation was done. With a few flicks of his fingers the game show popped back to life.

Coop walked right through the holographic representations of the contestants and back to his room. The ambient light of the holotable didn’t reach all the way to his door, so it was dark when he entered. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but when they did he liked the sight.

Hailey was awake, and spread provocatively across his bed. Her head was propped on her shoulder, and she had a look on her face that Coop knew very well. Both of her perky breasts were calling to him, and he felt his body begin to respond to his yearnings. She stretched out her other hand and beckoned him to come closer.

Even if Coop wouldn’t say it to his father, or anyone else, he’d made his decision; but making the decision and wanting to think about it were very different things. Instead, Coop occupied his mind with memorizing Hailey’s gorgeous ass as he fucked her silly. That was a much better use of his time tonight.

Previous                                                                                                                                           Next

 

Advertisements

A Change of Pace – Chapter 61

“Have a holly, jolly Christmas. It’s the best time of the year…” Anika plastered a smile on her face and kept it there.

<She’s cute, but she’s not that cute,> Anika watched as the entire Whitfield family belted out the lyrics and butchered the song.

The entire family was packed into the large minivan for Christmas shopping, which meant there was no way for Anika to escape what was happening all around her. Mr. Whitfield, who kept insisting she call him Eugene, was leading the chorus and driving at the same time. With the thick blanket of snow covering everything Anika didn’t think that was a good idea, but the patriarch of the Whitfield clan handled it with ease.

“Here it comes again,” he bellowed, in a raspy voice that said he was in the initial stages of coming down with a cold. “Haaaaaaaaaaave a holly, jolly Christmas…”

Next to Mr. Whitfield was Mrs. Whitfield, who also wished to be called Maurine, and Anika also thought that was weird. She acted as copilot, spotter, and kid wrangler. Behind them sat Becca and Anika. Anika looked over to where her girlfriend was belting out the lyrics out of tune and without a care in the world. Becca’s singing voice made her flinch, but the smile on her face and the happiness in her eyes melted Anika’s heart.

“… it’s the best time of the year!” feet slammed in rhythm into the back of Anika’s seat.

Anika was a guest of the Whitfield’s. They’d welcomed her into their home for their favorite holiday, and despite the particulars of her and Becca’s relationship, things had been going fine. That tenuous peace meant that the multi-gifted Super couldn’t turn around and pummel Becca’s younger brother.

“I don’t know if they’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer,” the rhythmic kicking didn’t cease.

Anika couldn’t physically beat down the little man, and she also couldn’t keep the exasperation off her face. Thankfully, Becca was in tuned with her girlfriend and noticed the situation.

“Clark!” she spun in a blur, and slapped his legs. “Don’t kick the seats.”

Clark Whitfield was seven years old, and had all the pent up energy that came with that age. The little guy looked a lot like his father; plain brown hair and brown eyes, but Anika could already tell he’d be a good looking guy when he grew up. He already had the same jaw that men in magazines had who modeled outdoor clothing. But that was a decade away; right now he was just a literal pain in the ass.

In response to Becca’s order, Clark did the rational thing and stuck out his tongue and kicked the seat even harder. Anika could have braced the seat easily with her enhanced strength, but that would only hurt the kid’s legs. No one needed a trip to the hospital so soon before Christmas.

“Clark, listen to your sister,” Mrs. Whitfield called from the front, and Clark reluctantly stopped.

He might have stopped, but he had that mischievous glint in his eye that little boys sometimes had. Anika knew she need to be on guard later because he was up to something. <And I thought I’d have trouble staying sharp.>

                Clark and Becca were a lot alike, and Anika could see that her girlfriend was probably a lot like her younger brother when she was a kid. They were exuberant, full of life, and probably a handful for poor Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield. Becca’s sister wasn’t like that. Matilda Whitfield was the middle child of the family. She sat quietly in the back seat reading a book. Anika knew the type. Matilda was the smartest of the younger siblings. She’d got teased because she wasn’t as outgoing as her siblings in school, but she was going to be the girl that got out of the small town and made something of herself. She didn’t let the minor bullying get to her. Of course, that was a lot to put on a nine year old girl, and Anika could be totally wrong, but she didn’t think she was.

“How’s it going back there Matty?” Anika asked over the disjointed singing. Matilda wasn’t taking part in the revelry.

“I’m fine,” the little girl’s voice was soft as she looked up at Anika through her thick glasses.

Matilda’s hair was brown and fuzzy, just like her mom’s; but she’d inherited blue eyes from some recessive gene buried deep in her DNA. She was the only person in her family with something other than brown eyes, and it made her stand out in a good way.

Anika would have talked to the quiet girl a little more, but she was interrupted by Mr. Whitfield announcement. “We’re here!”

“Yay!” Becca and Clark echoed each other while Anika and Matilda rolled their eyes, and then shared a grin.

Their destination was a small, family run supermarket in the center of town. Both town and supermarket were generous terms when ascribed to these places. Even Anika’s family, which witness protection dictated live in a remote area, had more civilization than Becca’s town. A town it had taken them ten minutes to reach by car.

Mr. Whitfield pulled the car into the only remaining parking spot, there were only a half dozen to begin with, and threw it into park. “Ok, does everybody know what they’re getting?”

“Cheetos!” Clark yelled, but his mother shot him a look and he shut up.

“Your mother and I are going to grab the Christmas ham,” he started things off.

“I will be getting the mashed potatoes and beans,” Matilda announced from the back. “I’ll also keep an eye on Clark.”

“I can keep an eye on myself,” the little guy huffed, but didn’t protest anymore.

“Ani and I will grab all the fixin’s,” Becca was vibrating with excitement. “And the cornbread, can’t forget the cornbread.”

Anika thought cornbread was a southern thing, but apparently the Whitfield’s had been having cornbread at Christmas dinner for generations; Anika wasn’t complaining, she loved the stuff.

“We’ll all meet at the cash register in twenty minutes,” Mr. Whitfield put his hand in like they were in the middle of a team huddle.

Becca rolled her eyes in an “I’m too old for this” way, but didn’t hesitate to put her hand on top of her dad’s. Not sure what to do, Anika followed her lead. Next was Mrs. Whitfield, and then Clark; who half climbed over Becca to get in there. Matilda just nodded.

“Let’s do it!” Becca and Anika pulled back the sliding doors and had to jump out of the way as Clark sprinted through the ankle deep snow and into the store. Matilda exited the car much more civilly, and thanked Anika for holding the door for her.

Anika had already thought of the supermarket as an overstatement from the outside, and she revised that expectation when she got inside. I was hard for her to imagine good parents like Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield allowing their kids to run wild in a store. There were simple things to worry about like them knocking over displays or grabbing a bunch of stuff they didn’t need, but then there were much more serious issues. What if somebody snatched them from the candy aisle while the parents were looking at hams?

All it took was one look into the market to know there was no way that was going to happen.

It was safe to say that the last time anything had been done to the building was in the 1980s. It wasn’t worn down, but it had a well-traveled feel to it. There were two cash registers, and neither of them had the moving conveyer belt that brought the groceries closer as the cashier scanned them. Both cashiers, who were an old couple, were dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Judging by the realistic bulge, Mr. Claus didn’t need any padding to play Santa.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Claus greeted the Whitfield’s by name, and they even made a big deal about seeing Becca again. Anika looked beyond the small homecoming gathering at the rest of the store, which consisted of a fruit and vegetable section, four aisles, and a meat and Dairy section. There was no way someone would be able to snatch Matilda or Clark in a store like this. You could see seventy-five percent of the place from the front door.

“And who’s your friend here?” Mr. Claus had a rumbly voice, just like all the movies portrayed Santa.

“Oh…um…this is my…friend from school, Anika.” Anika kept the smile on her face as she shook hands with the Claus’.

She didn’t hold it against her girlfriend that she’d called Anika her “friend” from school. They’d gone over exactly how they were going to handle things on the drive up. Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield obviously knew, and they were adapting better than Becca thought they would. It took more than a day to discard generations of biased thinking, and it was something they’d have to consistently work at.

Becca’s siblings didn’t know, but Anika believed Matilda had a suspicion. The little girl was too smart to miss the signs. Clark was oblivious though, and Becca’s parents had politely asked Becca and Anika to not tell her siblings. There wasn’t any “we don’t want you infecting our other kids” mentality behind it; which Anika originally feared. The Whitefield’s were just still trying to figure out how to explain it all to them, because it wasn’t just the family that this concerned. In a close knit community like the one they lived in, once word got out everyone was going to know within twenty-four hours. The older Whitfield’s not only needed to explain it to their children, but they needed to be ready to support those children when Matilda and Clark eventually went back to school and had to deal with the backlash.

<Matilda will be fine,> Anika knew that for sure. <It’s the outgoing Clark that they need to be worried about.>

“Well it’s good to see you all again. Welcome back Becca,” Anika had missed the rest of the conversation between the Claus’ and Whitfield’s, but she smiled and waved politely as they walked away to get their groceries.

“You weren’t even paying attention,” Becca chided Anika, as they headed down the first aisle.

“Sorry,” Anika apologized. “Just thinking.”

Becca did a quick look around before giving Anika a tight hug. “Just give it time.”

It warmed Anika’s heart to know that her girlfriend got her like that. “Ok,” Anika broke the hug with a smile. “Let’s get these fixins’ you been talkin’ about,” she laid the country accent on thick and got a playful smack on the shoulder for her effort.

“Uh oh, cat fight,” a cocky male voice said from the end of the aisle.

“Crapola,” Becca’s face went from a grin to a grimace instantly, and the sudden change had Anika on high alert.

“What is it?” they both turned toward the voice.

Instead of seeing one guy they saw three. The leader, the one who’d spoken, had a quarterback build. If Anika had to guess he’d been the captain of the team and the teenage king of the town. <Big fish in the smallest pond imaginable,> Anika saw how this could play out and it wasn’t good.

What Becca said next only made things worse. “That’s Ben Wilson. I dated him senior year.”

<So it’s a boy comes back from college and wants a quick winter fling with the girl he used to hook up with scenario. That’s just great.> A bad outcome was almost guaranteed at this point, because Anika sure as hell wasn’t going to let some jerk put his hands all over her woman.

“Becca Whitfield,” the man sauntered over, and when Anika thought sauntered she meant sauntered.

He had his chest puffed out like a peacock, and he moved his arms back and forth meaningfully. He looked like he thought he was marching in some important parade, not walking down the aisle of a small-town market.

“Hey, Ben,” Becca replied, significantly less upbeat than a few moments before.

Like all guys, Ben clearly missed the body language. Becca was slightly withdrawn, shrunk down, and had drawn in on herself. All of which were telltale signs of not wanting to get involved in something. Ben missed all of that, walked right up to them, and casually leaned against the shelves full of soups.

“How ya been?” his voice dripped with ego, and Anika wanted nothing more than to have his grip slip and him fall into the metal cans like an idiot.

“I’m good. How’s Iowa State?”

“They red-shirted me this year, but they say I’ll start next year,” Anika had the quarterback pegged even before she knew he played football. “And who do we have here?” The way he turned his attention to Anika made her want to puke.

“I’m her…friend,” Anika reined in her inner bitch-mode that she so badly wanted to unleash on this little tool.

Ben wasn’t little by any means. He was 6’1” probably two hundred and ten pounds, and was used to high stress situations that also involved him getting hit. Still, he wasn’t a Super and he wasn’t in an HCP; so he was no match for either Becca or Anika if it got ugly. Still, he could hurt her in other ways.

“These are my friends, Bill and Ted,” he motioned to the two guys behind them. They didn’t look like current athletes, but they might have been. Not all high school football players made it to college. “How about ya go talk to them and let me have a moment with Becca.”

He made it clear he was telling not asking. Anika wasn’t going to have any of that. She stepped in front of Becca, crossed her arms, and leaned casually against the same soup rack Ben was. “No thanks, I’m good.”

You could always tell when a guy wasn’t used to hearing no. As a big football star in a local town he probably never heard it from a girl. On a college football team he probably didn’t hear it either. Anika saw his eyes go wide, and his face go from a cocky smile to a scowl. Anika almost wanted him to do something. She’d have him on his face before he knew what hit him.

“Hey now,” Becca the eternal optimist and good person stepped between them. “It’s ok.”

<Are you sure?> she projected the thought into Becca’s mind.

<Yeah, it’ll only take a second. I can take care of myself you know.>

                <I know,> Anika cut their link and pushed off the shelf. “Come with me Bill and Ted,” all she could think about was the late 80s dorky comedy.

Anika didn’t go far. She might trust Becca to handle herself, but she wasn’t going to let her girlfriend out of her sight. Bill and Ted followed obediently, and Anika revised her opinion of them. These guys weren’t additional muscle; they were just two dudes who’d followed Ben all through high school. She looked a little closer and saw that Bill and Ted looked as uncomfortable with the situation as she did.

“I…um…I like your tattoos,” Ted was the one who finally broke the silence once they stopped at the end of the aisle.

It was cold out, so Anika had layers on that covered her arms, but it had hiked up when she struck her casual pose against the soup. She could tell Ted was nervous. Despite Ben’s charm, and apparent good luck with the ladies, Ted didn’t seem to share in that confidence.

“Thanks,” Anika gave him a small smile to put him at ease. He didn’t seem like such a bad guy.

“So…um…are ya like Becca?” the question caught Anika off-guard, and it took her a few seconds to figure out what he meant.

Her first thought was that he was asking if she was gay like Becca, but then she remembered that no one knew Becca was gay. That left possibility number two. They were wondering if Anika was a Super, and by association, in the HCP.

There were a couple ways she could answer the question. Say yes; which would intimidate these guys. She didn’t care much about that, she’d probably never see them again in her life; but they’d make life difficult for Becca. If they both made it to Hero it could also be a problem. She could say no, but she didn’t think she could sell that. If she lied, and they called her on it, Anika would be that new girl who was a liar. Again, that would negatively affect Becca. There was always option number three. Not answer them at all and let them guess. Going over her options that one was probably the best one.

She never got to answer.

“WHAT!” Ben shouted from the other end of the hallway.

Anika had taken two steps at a faster than normal speed before she got a better view of them. She expected to see his hand on her; hands that she would immediately break, but instead he was backing away with a look of horror on his face.

Becca just shrugged, spun on her heel and walked back toward Anika. She looked relieved.

“We got shoppin’ to do,” Becca waked right past her. Anika gave Ben another look before following obediently.

She waited patiently until Becca was ready to talk about it, and that wasn’t until she’d finished grabbing most of the ingredients for Christmas dinner.

“I told him I was gay,” she said simply as she grabbed some thyme from a rack of spices.

Anika didn’t even hesitate; she pulled Becca into a tight hug. They held it until Becca wiggled, signaling that she was good. “I saw he didn’t take it well.”

“Yeah,” instead of looking a little sad at having to out herself to the entire town before she was ready; Becca was grinning.

“What?” Anika didn’t understand the discrepancy.

“Well,” Becca giggled a little. “I might have told him it was because of him.”

That set them both into a fit of laughter that echoed through the small market.

“He needed to get knocked down a peg or two,” Anika replied when she had enough breath. She had to wipe the tears out of her eyes.

“Yes, yes he did.” Becca smiled while taking a deep breath. “I hope you’re ready for Christmas, because it’s going to be the most interesting one of your life.”

Anika was ready, but she doubted she had any idea what she was about to get into.

 

***

 

San Francisco was an amazing town, and an amazing town can only be shown to you by an amazing woman. Mason was lucky enough to have one. The first couple of days of their holiday break were a whirlwind of activities. There was so much to do and so little time that Kyoshi dragged him out of bed early and they didn’t return until dinner. Mason saw all the sights; the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Warf, the Presidio of San Francisco, China Town, and Golden Gate Park just to name a few.

Mason had particularly enjoyed China Town. It was a splash of familiar in the otherwise unfamiliar settings. Mason had been to China Town in New York many times; and despite being on opposite coasts, the people and neighborhoods were  fairly similar. Other than that, he’d learned than San Francisco and New York were two very different places.

It wasn’t just the cities that were different, but the people and the atmosphere too. New Yorkers had a volatility to them that Mason was yet to see anywhere else in the world. 9/11 and an Armageddon level Super attack would do that to a city. San Francisco was lucky enough to have a few major Hero teams and not a ton of crime. It was a nice place to live, and that was reflected in the people; along with their world renowned acceptance of those who were different. Where Mason might get sideways looks on the NYC subway, people here didn’t do that. It was a refreshing change of pace from home.

Mason let down his guard enough that Kyoshi tried to shove some culture down his throat. She coincidentally timed their visit to Golden Gate Park at the same time as a Shakespeare festival. Thankfully, the weather was warm enough for them both to spend half a day watching everything from Romeo and Juliet to King Lear. Mason expected a park festival to have crappy acting, but he was proven wrong.

By the end of the fourth day of tourism Mason was worn out. He was looking forward to the upcoming Christmas festivities, but he was also relieved that they would mostly be taking place in the home. It was time to kick back and enjoy the rest of the break, or so he thought.

One night mason was lying in bed, drifting off to sleep, when he heard something being pushed under his door. Most people on the edge of sleep wouldn’t have notice the soft rustle of paper against a wooden floor, but Coach Meyers had a way of teaching her students to be paranoid.

Mason’s first thought was that it was from his girlfriend. Despite all the time they’d spent together, they hadn’t spent anytime “together”. It surprised Mason just how much that affected him. He’d only gotten laid once in high school, and it hadn’t bothered him; but now that he and Kyoshi were regularly intimate, a few days off was an unwelcome change.

<Not that I’m going to do anything about that,> Mason’s commitment was unyielding. It was unyielding because if they got caught there was no doubt in his mind that Wilhelm Schultz would tear off his limbs one at a time.

With growing trepidation, Mason got out of bed and walked over to the piece of paper lying by the close door. “Meet me tomorrow morning at 7:00am in the basement,” Mason read the note to himself three times.

He was looking for hidden meaning, but didn’t find any. At first he thought the note was from Kyoshi, but the handwriting was all wrong. Kyoshi’s handwriting was elegant and flowing. She preferred cursive whenever she could, and she never pressed hard on the paper. This note was written in heavy block letters. It was the type of handwriting you might expect from a large man.

“Oh shit,” Mason barely got any sleep that night.

He set the digital alarm next to his bed for 6:45. He’d probably gotten two hours of total sleep as his mind flashed from one possibility to another. <Why does Mr. Schultz want to meet with me so early?> The answer to that was simple; Kyoshi liked to sleep in whenever she could. If she was asleep she couldn’t listen in to whatever was going to occur between them.

What could happen between a father and his daughter’s boyfriend was the stuff of nightmares. But you had to sleep to have nightmares. Mason got lucky, he just got to lay in a pool of cold anxiety sweat until the alarm started beeping.

Not knowing what was going to happen, Mason selected a comfortable outfit. Part of it was to be comfortable, but the other part was to show that he wasn’t intimidated. Of course he was scared shitless, so this was an exercise in his acting ability.

The bedrooms were on the second floor of the house. Mr. and Mrs. Schultz’s master was at the end of the hall. In the middle of the hall, directly across from the stairs was Kyoshi’s room. At the opposite end of the hall were two guest rooms, one of which was Mason’s. Mason briefly considered knocking on Kyoshi’s door and alerting her to his imminent danger, but quickly decided against it. If things went as planned, Mason was going to have to deal with Mr. Schultz a lot; so he needed to get comfortable around the grizzly-sized man.

The wooden stairs didn’t creak as Mason’s considerable weight descended into the open floor plan of the first floor. Everything was comfortable and inviting; but the mix of cultures was a bit jarring. There were some clearly Japanese touches throughout the space, and some unmistakable German ones as well. The most important of which was the large man standing next to the door leading to the basement.

Mason was immediately grateful he’d chosen comfortable, casual clothing. Mr. Schultz was wearing athletic shorts and a sleeveless workout shirt. The older man’s arms were the size of tree trunks, and the veins popping out of them meant that he used them regularly.

Mr. Schultz didn’t say a word when Mason stepped onto the first floor, he just waved for the younger strongman to follow. Mason did just that, and descended behind the larger man into the basement darkness. Mason expected a light to get switched on, but it didn’t happen. Once double the proper amount of time had passed Mason started to get nervous.

<This is it. He’s gonna kill me, and bury me under the basement,> Mason started to move away from the stairs in the opposite direction he thought Mr. Schultz had gone.

Logically, Mason knew Mr. Schultz wasn’t going to kill him in a dark basement. Mason knew he was just a papa bear protecting his cub, even though that cub could full out conquer other people’s minds and possess them.

Thankfully, the paranoia was short lived as lights flashed on everywhere; but it was only replaced with more anxiety. Mason was standing in the middle of a gym. This wasn’t an attempted murder, this was a workout; but Mason had been in the HCP long enough to know that there really wasn’t much difference.

“Relax, Mason,” Wilhelm Schultz’s accent was still heavy despite living nearly twenty years in the U.S. “Vacation is making you soft, this is a chance to fix that.”

Mason gulped, but nodded his acceptance, as he scanned the room. Mason knew from the home, and Kyoshi’s spending habits that the Schultz’s were well off. Mr. Schultz had a thriving business, and was able to provide everything his family ever needed. Judging by the modern strongman gym that was in his basement, everything included all of this.

“Let’s see what you can do,” there was a clear challenge in the statement, and Mason felt a fire stir in his chest in response.

Mason wanted to show Mr. Schultz what he was capable of. He wanted to show the seasoned German Hero that he could protect his daughter, and he would be able to provide for his own family as a Hero.

“Ok, let’s do this.”

Mason had learned long ago that all strongmen were not created equal. It became obvious quickly that the strongman boxing coach that Mason worked with was much weaker than Mason. Since joining the HCP he’d done a little more research into the topic and found out quite a bit about his Super classification.

First off, the average strongman could lift things roughly in the three to four ton area. That had surprised Mason as first, but then he read on. This was just the baseline for regular Super strongmen, not Heroes; and they usually stayed in the three to four ton range because they never tried to improve themselves. If Mason wasn’t working to become a Hero, and not in an occupation that required him to lift heavy things, he probably wouldn’t need any reason to lift more than eight thousand pounds. The average car only weighed two tons; so as long as he was able to jack it up by hand to fix a flat tire, there really wasn’t any need to get stronger.

The low end Hero strongmen usually started at lifting around twenty-five tons, but they usually had some other skill that they brought to the table. Lifting fifty thousand pounds with pure physical strength was fine, but there were easier and less dangerous ways to pick stuff up. Mason knew of several density manipulators who could make that fifty thousand pounds feel like fifty pounds.

Strongmen strength climbed up from there, and moved into mid-level around forty tons. Supers in the mid-level could possibly make it to Hero on their pure strength alone, but they’d need a good team fit. A mid-level strongman couldn’t always take the hits the rest of his team couldn’t; so he needed to fit into a different dynamic.

Mid-level gave way to the high-level strongmen in the sixty-five to seventy ton range. The amount of strongman who could lift and throw a main battle tank were rare, but they fit into a typical strongman team role very well. For all intents and purposes that was the end of the line for strongmen. There were some extreme-level strongmen out there. Supers who lifted above two-hundred tons, but you could count those Heroes in the US on two hands. The one that sprang to mind instantly was Iron Giant, and the other was Titan. But Titan wasn’t really a strongman, so Mason didn’t know if that counted.

Currently, Mason was hovering between the low and mid-level strongmen categories. Strength for strongmen, just like humans, was measured through a series of exercises. Despite what some people might think, and some women might appreciate, it didn’t matter how much weight a Hero could curl with their bicep. The muscle wasn’t going to do too much when it came to the stuff that mattered. Exercises like the bench press, squat, and deadlift were more relevant to the type of work a Hero strongman would be doing. So those were the exercises Mason and Mr. Schultz started with.

Mason’s performance showed that he’d been taking some time off.

“Push!” Mr. Schultz yelled as he stood behind Mason.

Mason was halfway through the upper motion of a squat. The magnetically driven weights had forty-two tons on the scale. That might have been impressive to anyone else, but Mason could tell it wasn’t doing it for the old Hero. Personally, the squat was Mason’s best exercise, and his personal best was forty five tons for six reps. This was only rep number three on forty-two and he was already crapping out.

With a final burst of exertion, which almost made the young strongman crap his pants, Mason pushed the weight up the last bit and into the locking mechanisms.

“Good set.”

“No it wasn’t,” Mason couldn’t stop the words from coming out of his mouth.

Mr. Schultz stopped toward the readout where he would program his own weight and stared at Mason.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Schultz,” Mason put up his hands defensively. “I’m…”

“You will call me Wilhelm in the gym, Mason,” the Hero’s voice was strangely kind. “But only in the gym,” and the kindness was gone. “There is no need to apologize,” he continued before Mason could speak. “A strong man admits his flaws and weaknesses. This is a space to admit such things. A space where no one will hold it against you.”

<I’m not so sure about that,> Mason kept the comment to himself as Wilhelm dialed in the weight for his sets.

“Now move. My turn.”

Mason couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping as Wilhelm warmed up with twenty reps at seventy-one tons. The man was warming up just shy of double Mason’s max rep. If he had to guess, Wilhelm was at least twice as strong as him, and the older German might even be able to break that coveted hundred ton mark.

<I’ll just have to wait and see.> and that’s exactly what Mason did.

They worked up to max weight sets on the primary muscle exercises where Wilhelm did break a hundred tons on the deadlift and squat. He only fell short on the bench press, and that lead to a stream of loud German cursing. Mason didn’t see what the man was complaining about. Wilhelm was up in the rarified atmosphere of strongmen. He wasn’t a Titan or Iron Giant, but he was probably the strongest person in the city, including the Hero teams in the area.

Mason on the other hand barely broke thirty-five tons with his deadlift and bench press. Wilhelm didn’t say a word or convey any emotions accept encouragement, but Mason still felt like he was being judged. After the big muscle exercises they dropped significant weight and worked some of the finer muscles. That was where the conversation took a unique turn.

“You should not be so hard on yourself,” Wilhelm announced as he brought two hyper-dense weights in front of his chest in a butterfly motion. “You do well for someone so young.”

“Well doesn’t make you a Hero,” Mason replied, mirroring the movement with the same weight.

“You are young, four months into real training,” Wilhelm laughed aside Mason’s complaint. “How much was your first lift?”

“I squatted eighteen and a half tons…” Mason listed all his starting lifts. He’d memorized them after his first power evaluation.

“You double your strength and you are angry,” Wilhelm actually laughed, something he’d never done to something Mason said. “You will be very strong, Mason. Do not worry. You started stronger than me if that helps.”

Surprisingly that did help. The huge man had started off weaker than Mason; that put a lot of things into perspective for the young Hero in training.

“And the programs in this country are good. Not as good as Deutschland, but still good.”

“How are they different?” Mason asked, and Wilhelm was more than happy to answer.

Mason had never thought about how other countries trained their Heroes, and was very surprised to find out that it was all done through the military in Germany. According to Wilhelm, every Super went through the American equivalent of basic training in Germany. They were evaluated, categorized on a separate system that America didn’t use, and then trained.

“Most just do training and go live regular lives. They will only be called in an emergency. Others, like me, are good enough to get full training and become Ritter von Deutschland.”

“Ritter?”

“Ya. Ritter means knight in Deutsch. Americans call them Heroes, Germans call them Ritters. Europe is fond of its old traditions,” Wilhelm laughed at a joke that Mason didn’t understand. “The point, Mason, is that you will be a strong man one day; maybe strong enough for my Kyoshi.”

Mason nearly dropped the weights he was holding in surprise. “Really!” he can’t stop from sounding like a little boy who just got told he could buy the toy he’d wanted all year.

“Maybe,” Wilhelm’s expression and tone became serious again. “We will see.”

That was good enough for Mason. Wilhelm was starting to think we was good enough for Kyoshi. That was a big win, and the first step in Mason’s long term plan for him and the girl of his dreams.

Previous                                                                                                                                           Next

 

 

 

Two Worlds – Chapter 4

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Coop and Hailey moved quickly through the last few rays of sunlight. The sun itself wouldn’t be down for another thirty minutes to an hour, but the smog in the PHA was bad enough today that the weak beams weren’t going to penetrate down to street level. Whether real or pollution induced, darkness was a Rat’s worst nightmare; you weren’t safe unless a whole bunch of people had your back. Coop and Hailey only had each other, so their quick steps turned into a run as the shadows continued to grow.

Thankfully, they only had to go one block to reach the four tower complex that he called home. There were two men standing just inside the sole entry to Coop’s tower, and both gave the two Rats a pointed look when they arrived out of breath. Unlike a lot of towers in the PHA, Coop’s wasn’t run by the various gangs that infested the PHA. In Coop’s tower, the men and boys banded together to form a thin line against gang aggression.

Coop wasn’t part of that small force. Playing with others wasn’t his forte, unless those others had boobs. That had always been a point of contention between him and the men of his tower. All fighting age males got recruited into something. Usually it was one of the gangs, but here Coop had an option. It surprised everyone when he decided to do his own thing. If Coop had a job title it would be a freelance consultant. He would work for anyone who paid him.

“Your old man is lookin’ for ya,” one of the guys at the door said. He was a scarecrow of a man, with arms as thin as the barrel of the old gas-powered pistol he was carrying.

“Sure,” Coop replied gruffly. He was still in his dad’s old suit.

Coop had two things he wanted to do right away. He wanted to get himself out of these clothes, and then get Hailey out of hers. Then he wanted to repeat some depraved activities over and over until he was so dehydrated he couldn’t move. It was going to be his last chance to do it for a long time; whatever his choice. The downside was that to do either of those he first had to go through his dad.

Coop led Hailey past the two guards and into the PHA tower. As far as he knew all the towers were the same. Fifty stories of reinforced cement and polyplast were built around a twenty-five by twenty-five meter empty core. A blast door served as the ceiling, and could be opened and closed depending on the air quality. More people than Coop could count had jumped from the higher floors into the core, and splattered like pieces of rotten fruit in the lobby.

Originally, the lobby was designed to be a shopping area that could offer the welfare Rats anything they needed. The idea was good a few generations ago when there was still some disposable income, but when no one made any money it was difficult to buy anything. The businesses that had been there had withered and died. Now, all that was left was the medical clinic. The other empty spaces were used for people to hide in, get high in, or fuck in. Coop was pretty sure he’d been conceived in one of those dusty, dark, and decrepit shops.

Everyone was starting to clear out of the lobby now that the sun had effectively set. Even with the tower’s men standing guard at the entrance the chance of violence was more than most people were willing to deal with. Gang raids weren’t unheard of.

The last few vendors were packing up their jerry-rigged carts. It was mostly random bits of cloth to patch clothing, and food that looked like it was about to expire. That was the scope of the tower’s economy; that and the drug dealers and hookers.

The people at the medical center were slower to depart. With only one medic on staff they’d been standing there all day. People had to get up at four or five in the morning to get in line if they wanted to be seen. No one wanted to go to bed sick just to have to wake up early and stand in line all over again.

Coop and Hailey passed by all of them and headed for the elevators at the far side of the wide open space. He reflexively looked up as they passed under the open core of the building. Everyone in the tower kept their eyes on the core when they passed under it. Not doing so was a good way to get flattened by a jumper.

Another guard with a pistol in a leg holster stood inside the elevator. In most towers the elevator was a good place to get mugged. The tower’s men made sure that people had the luxury of an effortless ride, and that meant a lot to a lot of people. Coop and Hailey shoved themselves into a back corner as the elevator filled to capacity. The armed elevator operator hit the buttons for the floors people called out. Coop’s apartment was on the fifth floor, so he’d be one of the first to get off.

He spent the short, squeaky ride exploring Hailey’s body with his hands. “Mmm,” she groaned appreciatively. “Keep it in your pants, big guy. Two minutes and I’m all yours.”

Two minutes was too long, but before Coop could reply the elevator screeched to a stop. “Fifth floor,” the operator announced, shooting the two teenagers a pointed look. He didn’t want anyone screwing on his elevator.

Coop and Hailey forced their way through the crowded box, and exited onto the floor. There were a decent amount of people still milling about. The hallways were only wide enough for three people to walk through shoulder to shoulder; another step by the urban planners to fit as many people as possible into the towers. They didn’t have to go far to reach Coop’s apartment.

He pressed his finger to the thumb pad on the door, and the slab of polyplast popped open with a hiss. “Don’t let all the good air out!” a voice yelled from inside.

Coop and Hailey shuffled inside and quickly resealed the hatch. They’d kept their breathing masks on up until now, even though the air-recyclers made the air breathable inside the tower. Now that they were able to take their masks off and breathe easy, Coop took the opportunity to stick his tongue down Hailey’s throat.

Hailey threw her arms around him, raking her fingernails against his coat hard enough for him to feel it through the fabric. Coop liked that she had a tendency to be a little rough. They grinded their bodies against each other for a few seconds before a gruff cough cut short their make-out session.

“What?” Coop growled, turning his glare on the older man standing in the doorway.

“That’s my good suit, I don’t want you two messing it up when you go do the nasty,” Coop’s father gave the two teenagers a level stare.

“No one says ‘do the nasty’ anymore, Mr. Cooper,” Hailey pushed Coop away and gave the older man a smile. “That’s so twenty-third century.”

“Well excuse me,” Walter Cooper threw up his hands in mock surrender. “I guess I’m not hip with the lingo.”

“Please shut up,” Coop groaned.

At first, Coop thought it was a good thing that his dad and his girl got along. Since she was over a couple times a week it helped he didn’t have to lie about what they were doing when they locked themselves in his bedroom. Not that he’d be able to hide it; polyplast walls were far from soundproof. Now he knew better. Hailey and his father’s friendly relationship had left him with more than one case of blue balls. With one day of freedom left, the last thing Coop wanted was an aching pain in his crotch.

“I’ll shut up when you tell me how it went today,” Walter countered.

This was the last thing Coop wanted to do. He just wanted to change and get fucked. He wanted to forget that this was going to be his last night in this polyplast box; his last night with Hailey, and his last night with everything he’d ever known. So instead of just explaining, Coop lashed out in anger.

“It was fucking great, dad. Got my first welfare check and had to give it all back to some PHA bitch who looked like she was about to fall right out of her smartcloth. Stupid fat fuck,” Coop seethed, stripping out of his suit jacket and throwing it at his father. “But the rent is paid, so you’re good to live in this god damn shoe box,” next off was his shirt; which also got thrown at his father. “Then I got to go sit in court all day where some slut tried to talk to me like she knew me,” a harsh laugh escaped his throat as he remembered how the whore had been shocked and tossed from the room. “And of course, the highlight of my day. The judge throws the book at me because some Fleet fuckwad left his stuff in the back of that air-car. Now I’ve got until tomorrow to choose between a dime in Attica or four years in our Commonwealth’s glorious armed forces.” He heard Hailey’s sharp intake of breath at the admission, but kept on going. “So, dad, it went pretty fucking shitty. All I want to do is go into my room, fuck my girlfriend, and then forget today ever happened.”

Coop was breathing hard by the time he finished. His chest heaved with anger and exertion, and he hadn’t realized he’d clamped his hand down on Hailey’s forearm. Her slight whimper told him she was hurting, and he released her, but kept his glare digging into his father.

Walter Cooper looked like an older version of Coop. They were both a hair under 185 centimeters, and thin with wiry muscles. They both had short cropped dirty blonde hair, and stormy blue eyes that were attractive if Hailey had anything to say about it. The only difference was the graying of Walter’s hair around the temples, and the experience in the older man’s eyes. Right now those eyes were sad.

Coop was all piss and vinegar; ready to tell the world to take its crap and shove it up its ass, and willing to throw down if things didn’t go his way. Walter had been that way once, but reality had shoved crap down his throat despite his best efforts.

Walter just stared back as his son fumed in front of him. Coop had lost his mother when he was young. She’d been a jumper, and Coop had always blamed his dad because of that. Even though Walter was high up in the pecking order of men who protected the tower; he was still just another welfare Rat that hadn’t been able to save his wife or provide for his son.

“Ok,” it was not the answer Coop was expecting, but he didn’t let his father see his surprise. “You two have fun; I’ll see you in the morning.”

“I don’t need your permission,” Coop grabbed Hailey by the other arm, and dragged her into his room.

He slammed the door shut behind them, and leaned up against it for support. “Fuuuuuck…” he dragged the word out, as Hailey hurried to undo his pants.

“Shhh…it’s ok babe, I’m going to make you feel better,” she kneeled in front of him and yanked down the nice pair of slacks. “Just relax.” Despite her soothing words, he could tell she was crying.

Coop tried to relax, but even as the first wave of pleasure made his body shudder, he couldn’t push the decision from his mind.

Previous                                                                                                                                      Next

 

Two Worlds – Chapter 3

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Wait…what?” Coop was confused, and although mental whiplash wasn’t a real thing, he was undeniably suffering from it.

One second he was a normal welfare Rat looking at getting a slap on the wrist for steeling some retard’s air-car. The next minute he was facing charges against the Commonwealth for stealing classified intelligence. All he was thinking about was walking into a sterilized white room, getting a needle stuck in his shoulder, and going sleepy-bye forever. Now, the judge had decided not to throw the book at him. He’d been offered ten years in a prison where he was sure to be someone’s bitch, or four years getting shot at by one of the other starfaring nations’ militaries, corporate security forces, pirates, or religious zealots. If Coop was being honest, option number two wasn’t a whole lot better than option number one.

His defense attorney grabbed his arm hard before he could say another word. “You’re being given a chance, and I can tell you from experience that this judge doesn’t hand out these choices often. He saw something on that screen, and it is my legal opinion that you take him up on the offer.”

Coop would have responded colorfully if he wasn’t forcefully grabbed by the other arm, and easily yanked away from the defense attorney.

“What the…” Coop was about to take a swing at whomever was dragging him around, but he never got the chance.

His knees nearly gave out when a white-hot stabbing pain shot through his arm. The pain worked its way slowly through his arm, up his neck, and into his head. Coop didn’t even recognize that he was being manhandled out of the courtroom by one of the armored bailiffs. All he was able to register was pain, and all he was able to pray for was for it to stop.

“Hey, kid,” Coop didn’t even feel the first slap across his face. The second one registered, but it was still a full minute before he could make out the hulking shape of the armored man in front of him.

Coop was sitting on a bench just outside of the courtroom. The guard who’d scanned his slip was gone; probably inside to temporarily take the bailiff’s place. There was a reason there were two bailiffs in a courtroom. Rats like Coop didn’t have a reputation for conducting themselves in a manner acceptable to the court.

“Snap out of it,” one of the bailiff’s hands grabbed Coop’s face by the chin, while the other forced open his eyes.

“Wh’ fuck was tha’?” Coop couldn’t talk well with the man holding his face, but even without the armored gauntlet limiting his jaw’s motions, Coop wasn’t going to be eloquent anytime soon.

“You’ve been injected with your bail capsule,” the man saw the look of confusion in Coop’s eyes and explained with a sigh. “A capsule was injected into your arm since you’re being released on your own recognizance until noon tomorrow. If you do not return to this courtroom by noon the capsule will release the nanites inside of it and shut down your nervous system. You will shit yourself, piss yourself, and be a fucking vegetable until you’re picked up at the PHA’s convenience. We have a very low skip rate,” the bailiff’s eyes bored into Coops with the seriousness of the statement.

Anyone who was lying motionless in a PHA alley was going to have a bad day. If Coop didn’t return by noon tomorrow then he’d be signing his own death sentence. The Commonwealth wouldn’t have to spend a dime on a lethal injection; the other Rats would do the job for them.

“Ok,” Coop’s head was throbbing, and he didn’t have anything better to say.

“Good,” the armored bailiff left, and a moment later the PHA guard returned to his post.

“Get goin’, Rat,” the guard shooed Coop away like he would the four-legged rodent.

It took a few stumbling steps for Coop to get his bearings, but eventually his pain receded to a dull throb, and his vision cleared enough so he could find the exit. He took his first step into the waning afternoon light, and gagged after his first breath. Coop’s hands still felt heavy as he searched for the mask at his waist, and he was forced to take another breath. More pain stabbed his lungs as he inhaled the toxic air. Finally he found the familiar plastic apparatus, and slammed it over his mouth. He took another deep breath, and the mask filtered the smoggy air enough so he could breathe. The digital readout on the mask stated that the air was well below breathable levels.

“Thanks captain obvious,” Coop mumbled as he walked down the Civil Administration building steps.

Stretching out before Coop was the PHA in all its glory. The entire, self-contained, residence center was laid out in a typical grid fashion. Each block contained four fifty-story towers, and a small open recreation center in the middle. Each floor of a PHA tower had fifty rooms that housed a minimum of two people, but families of five or six routinely stuffed themselves into the confined quarters. That meant at a minimum there were a hundred Rats on each floor, and five-thousand per tower. With four towers that meant there were a minimum of twenty-thousand Rats crammed into a one block radius.

There were ten blocks in a square kilometer, and Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit PHA-2 was twenty-five square kilometers. In a testament to the ingenuity of urban planning, the Commonwealth had sandwiched over one and a quarter million people into a twenty-five by twenty-five kilometer area south of the City of Buffalo on Lake Erie. The sad part was that Coop knew he had it a lot better than some.

Coop only lived two blocks from the Civil Administration building, in what was considered the “good” part of town. He still had to keep an eye out. After he passed through the gates at the foot of the building’s steps he had to assume everyone was armed. No one walked around a PHA, this close to dark, without something to defend themselves.

Coop stuck to the middle of the street, avoided the increasingly shadowed sidewalks, and the nefarious alleys beyond them. There were no air or regular cars on the road, because no one aside from the cops could afford them. Coop felt naked, he would give a billion dollars for anything to ward off the predators waiting for him to step outside the Civil Administration building’s line of site. At that point the bail capsule didn’t mean shit.

“Give me all your money,” Coop was still a little off his game, but he got his shit together quick.

You couldn’t freeze when someone tried to rob you in his neighborhood. You fought back, and you fought back hard. Losing what little a Rat had could be a death sentence, especially if you were carrying home your basic subsistence allowance.

Coop threw out his arm in a swinging back fist, hoping that the thief was close enough. Of course they weren’t. Coop’s day had been nothing but shit; and as his clenched fist passed through nothing but air, he had no reason to suspect it was going to improve.

“You’re slow,” Coop finally registered the familiar voice, and thanked the universe for finally giving him a break.

“Hogs shot me up with a bail capsule,” Coop turned toward the person and showed her the injection site. “It’s got me a little messed up.” It was a weak excuse, but it was his only way to save face.

“Bail capsule?” the girl standing just out of reach had the same confused look as Coop when the bailiff explain it to him.

Hailey was the closest thing Coop had to a girlfriend. Titles like boyfriend and girlfriend didn’t mean a whole lot in the PHA. Relationships revolved around protection or pleasure, rarely both. Hailey and Coop were more about protection, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a hell of a lot of pleasure involved.

Hailey was attractive, as far as women in the PHA went. She was skinny, not the athletic skinny that was on workout brochures, but the skinny that came from lack of food. People said that her skin was a rich caramel color, and Coop had to take their word on that. He’d never seen or tasted caramel in his life. She wasn’t really that tall, only about 165 centimeters, but her body had an hourglass shape that was hard to achieve without enhancement.

Hailey’s two most striking characteristics were her hair and her eyes. Her hair was platinum blonde, almost white; and braided into shoulder length cornrows. Coop knew it wasn’t her natural hair color, but it made her look exotic. He did know that she traded a day’s worth of rations for whatever bleached her hair like that. Sometimes it was better for a girl in the PHA to look good rather than eat. What was natural, but looked unnatural, were her eyes. Hailey’s eyes were a deep, beautiful amber. If Coop didn’t know any better he’d have thought that her parents had paid for genetic mutation before she was born. Eyes that color just didn’t occur naturally. But Coop did know better. He knew that Hailey, just like him, barely had enough to eat at the end of the day. There was no way her parents had tens of thousands of dollars to make their daughter’s eyes pretty.

Instead of explaining that he’d be a human vegetable in less than twenty-four hours; Coop walked up to her, used one hand to grab her ass, and the other to pull off both their masks so he could press his lips firmly against hers. Hailey tensed up for a second in surprise, but quickly melted into his embrace. It wasn’t smart to make out in the middle of a PHA street at twilight, but they did it anyway.

Hailey’s tongue poked past his lips and danced around his mouth. As she did that, she slipped her hands into his waistband. Coop liked where this was going, but jumped in surprise when he felt cold metal against his skin.

Hailey laughed, and pulled away with a mischievous smile on her face as she replaced her mask. Instead of fondling him in public, she’d done something much better. Coop looked down and saw the handle of his six shot revolver sticking out of his waistband. He sighed in relief; he didn’t feel naked anymore.

“Let’s get the hell out of here before someone jumps our asses,” Hailey’s attention returned to their dimming surroundings. “I’ll stick my hand down your pants when we get back to your place.”

Coop didn’t need any more motivation, and didn’t feel like breaking the news to her. He grabbed her hand and pulled her toward his apartment block; while keeping his free hand on the handle of his gun, and his eyes looking for trouble.

Previous                                                                                                                               Next

A Change of Pace – Chapter 60

The flow of people through the hospital ER was average; which to anyone other than the seasoned medical personnel on staff meant it was hectic. There were a variety of medium to serious lacerations, one sex related injury that everyone was staying far away from, and a few return visitors from the madness that had occurred a few days prior. The loss of power had severely impacted the hospital’s capabilities. What made this night different was the block of men and women in blue uniforms.

You could tell who was on and off duty. There were only a handful of officers in ragged clothing, who looked like they’d jumped out of bed and come straight to the hospital; and they were unarmed. The rest looked somewhere in between anxious and ready for war.

There were two officers guarding the entrance to the ER since all the police casualties had been brought in. It was standard procedure, and considering the circumstances it was the least they could do; but that didn’t make it entertaining. The two men flanking the door couldn’t go talk to their friends, or check on what was going on. The other officers were good about it. They brought the two guards coffee, donuts, and information as often as they could; but the men had to remain at their post and watch for anything suspicious. So imagine their surprise when a six foot three inch blonde, Spartan goddess nearly pushed the door office its hinges.

The officer closest to the fire-eyed woman instinctually stepped in front of her to block her way. “Ma’am, you can’t be in here.” But by the time he was finished the woman was already past him.

She’d sidestepped and pivoted around him like a ballerina, leaving him with his hand in the air like some rookie traffic cop. “Hey, you can’t…” he reached for her shoulder, but she dipped it and slipped past him; continuing her fast walk toward the administration desk.

“Guys I need some…” the statement caught in the man’s throat when the woman looked over her shoulder and shot him a glare. Those fiery eyes were pulsing red; which could only mean one thing.

“Super!” the officer yelled out, reaching for his weapon.

Since the officer on the raid had been ambushed by the Super gang, the Fist, it was a logical jump in the officer’s mind to think that they were here to finish the job. That was one of the reasons why there was such a heavy police presence in the first place.

Guns were yanked from holsters and people everywhere started screaming. The police yelled for the woman to “get on the ground” or “surrender”, while the medical staff just screamed because all of a sudden there were guns everywhere. The only one who didn’t seem to panic was the woman walking toward the frightened nurse at the desk.

Thankfully, no one was trigger happy enough to take a shot at a Super who was casually strolling through dozens of cops with guns drawn like she was taking a Sunday stroll. There was more than one person in the room who knew things probably wouldn’t end well if people started shooting.

Daisy didn’t care what was going on around here. She barely even registered it as she marched toward the desk. Emotions whirled through her mind like laundry on a spin cycle. She was scared, pissed off, concerned, and ready to kick some fucking ass if she needed to. Images danced through her mind. She saw the friends she’d lost over the years, the interns who’d died on her watch, and the boyfriends she’d either killed or watched die. Each memory was more painful than the last, but one thing was for sure. There was no way in hell she was going to let Topher die on her. Not when it was her lead that had put him in the hospital.

<I haven’t even fucked him yet,> the thought rampaged through her mental melancholy like a bull in a china shop. For once it was good to have stuff shaken up a bit in there.

“Officer Christopher Phillips,” Daisy asked the scared shitless nurse as politely as she could.

The woman was frozen, her hands shaking, and her eyes darting between Daisy’s demonic red eyes and the barrels of all the guns pointed at her. It didn’t take long for Daisy to realize she wasn’t going to get anywhere with the nurse, so she turned around to address the screaming police officers.

She made sure to keep her hands out to her sides with her palms up. She didn’t need a ricochet hitting some innocent civilian. She gave all the officers a level stare until they stopped shouting and scaring everyone. “Take it easy guys, I’m one of the good ones,” she stated when they’d mostly quieted down.

The look on the men and women’s faces told Daisy that didn’t really do much. “For fuck’s sake,” she sighed massaging her temples to ease her frustration. “Just go and talk to Topher. Tell him Daisy is here.”

Mentioning her boyfriend’s name seemed to help a little, but no one lowered their guns. One cop went running down the hall to confirm while everyone else remained in a state of unrest. Two minutes later the man came running back and nodded quickly to his fellow officers. More than a few sighs of relief filled the waiting area as officers holstered their weapons.

When Daisy was confident she wasn’t going to get shot in the back she turned back to address the still shaking nurse. “Deep breaths,” Daisy gave the frightened woman a smile. “Everything is fine. Just take a minute and get me Officer Phillips’ room number.

The woman only paused momentarily before her fingers started scurrying over the keyboard. The more screens she went through the more at ease the nurse became. That was the best way to get over a high octane situation like the one that had just ended. Doing something normal and comfortable brought the brain out of its momentary shock. By the time the nurse had a room number for Daisy she was pretty much back to normal.

As Daisy turned to head toward the door that led into the hospital the same door she entered burst open. Into the waiting room, with his weapon drawn, stepped Galavant. There was a half second where everyone just stared at each other, which Daisy filled with a smile and wink for the rookie Hero.

“Who the hell called the Protectorate!” the senior officer in the gathered group yelled.

Everything descended into madness. Daisy gave the Protectorate Hero a small wave before excusing herself from the entire scenario. <Well that’s a hell of a way to make an entrance.> Everyone present would have a great story to tell at future parties.

The steady click of her boot heals followed Daisy down the hallway. Like some of the officers in the waiting room she’d thrown on the first thing she could find before speeding straight to the hospital. That meant that she was wearing a baggy hoody, yoga pants, and workman’s boots that clashed horribly with the outfit and the mild Florida weather; but her clothing was the least of her worries.

Daisy felt her pulse quicken and her hands become sweaty as the room number steadily climbed upward. She passed a few rooms that had other officers from the raid in them. One was on life support, a bloody bandage covering his leg. Some of the others didn’t need help breathing, but they looked like they got the shit kicked out of him.

For about the third time since she got the news about Topher, Daisy felt like kicking her own ass. She’d let her fears about her recertification get in the way of doing what needed to be done. And because of her cowardice, Topher was lying in a hospital bed with…Daisy didn’t actually know what was wrong with Topher. Her steps quickened until she reached the room the nurse gave him.

“Hey, babe,” Topher sat upright, grinning like an idiot with a hospital Jell-O cup in his hand.

Daisy’s heart did a summersault at the sight of her man. His chest was wrapped tightly in white material, and she could see the twitch of pain in his cheek every time he took a breath. She exhaled a breath she didn’t notice she was holding, and put a hand on the door for support.

“You scared the shit out of me,” Daisy replied undiplomatically.

Topher’s face went from a slightly strained smile to a worried look. “They didn’t tell you I was ok.”

“No,” a flare of anger surged in Daisy, but she pushed it down. Scaring the officer who’d neglected to tell her everything was fine wasn’t going to help the situation.

“It’s ok,” Topher must have guessed what she was feeling because he beckoned her over into a hug.

<This man is too good for me,> Daisy realized in that moment. Here she was complaining about not getting any information when Topher was bandaged up in a hospital room. His injuries didn’t look life threatening, but they were still injuries.

Daisy hugged as gently as she could, but he still winced. Still, that didn’t stop him from grabbing a handful of her ass. Daisy slapped his hand away playfully and grinned back at him.

“This whole stunt isn’t some elaborate trick to get me to sleep with you, is it?” Daisy teased, taking a seat next to Topher on the edge of the bed.

“I don’t know, is it working?”

“Maybe.” They both laughed, but Topher’s was cut short by a grunt of pain. That brought an end to the light flirting.

“Two broken ribs and a bruised sternum,” Topher explained when he saw her worried look. “Nothing some rest and relaxation won’t cure.”

Daisy nodded. She’d had bruised ribs before. Hell, one time she’d nearly had her whole chest blown off. A compound fractured rib was something she would never forget. Thankfully, there had been a healer nearby or she would have died long ago.

“Well you need to get some rest then,” Daisy tucked him in like he was a child.

“Where are you going?” Topher reached out and grabbed her by the wrist before she could pull away.

“I’m going to talk to your friends out there and see what happened. Then I’m going to find who did this and put them in the ground,” it might have been a little dramatic, but that was how she honestly felt about it.

“Wait,” Topher didn’t let go when she pulled away, causing another wince of pain. “You can’t do that.”

“They can’t get away with it,” Daisy retorted a little more sharply than she intended. “One of your friends is out there fighting for his life.”

“And we all knew what we signed up for,” Topher cut her off, still not relinquishing her wrist. “I’m a police officer, Daisy. Sure this isn’t New York, but it’s part of my job to stand between this community and danger. That’s why they call us the thin blue line remember.”

Logically Daisy knew all of this, but when someone your cared about was hurt you tended to be a little illogical. “I know.”

“Good, so promise me you won’t do anything reckless. I don’t want you screwing anything up. I’d like to put you in handcuffs, but not when I’m arresting you.”

Daisy couldn’t help but laugh. The light sexual banter did a lot to ease her frustration. After their mutual flashing episode things were growing less awkward on that front; maybe even to the point where she’d be ready soon. Of course there was no way in hell she’d tell Topher that, the man still had to work to get the good stuff.

“I promise I won’t do anything stupid,” Daisy sighed, leaning in to give her boyfriend a light kiss.

“I’m gonna hold you to that,” Topher’s face was sincere and serious.

“How about instead of cracking some skulls I get some ice cream?” Daisy suggested. A light went off behind Topher’s eyes telling her that she struck gold. “And not this shitty hospital food. I’m gonna get us some good stuff.”

“No funny business,” Topher hesitated, but finally let go of her wrist. “Chocolate vanilla swirl please.” He sounded like a kid at the ice cream truck.

<Sometimes men never change,> Daisy gave him one last kiss and then headed for the door.

She was going to be good and get ice cream, and she wasn’t going to engage in anything illegal; but that didn’t mean she couldn’t figure out everything about the sons of bitches that did this to Topher.

When the time came she would be ready.

 

***

 

The parking garage was as dark and foreboding as always, but this time an icy chill swept through the structure. Orlando was getting a rare burst of true winter weather. The air temperature had plummeted below freezing and strong winds turned the tourist town into a ghost town. People didn’t pay good money to come to amusement parks and freeze their asses off.

Orlando might be suffering, but it was nothing compared to what was going on just north of them. From Atlanta to Charlotte, an arctic funnel had descended on the American Southeast. The blast of cold air and building condensation was dumping inches of snow on the South. People were already out calling it snowmagedon.

In actuality, it was a lack of preparation by state and local government to combat Mother Nature. Even the largest southern cities didn’t have more than a handful of snowplows and a few tons of salt to coat the roads with. As a result the highways had become clogged and slippery, and accidents were everywhere because people didn’t know how to drive in the snow. Everyone was being urged to stay in their homes and ride it out.

Orlando didn’t have it that bad. It was just a lot colder than usual, and that was a good thing. After the madness of the power outage it was better to have everyone stay at home instead of wandering the streets. Of course, there were always exceptions to the rule; which was why a small group of the Fist were waiting in a dark parking garage.

Lilly had arrived half an hour before their scheduled appointment. She was laying prone on a cement rafter, freezing her ass off, and wanting desperately to be back on vacation. She’d seen the news of the arctic freeze that had descended on Orlando while eating room service in bed with her hunky man. They’d joked about the poor losers who’d be forced to endure the cold. Now she was one of them.

The group was small, only four people. Lilly recognized Squid, Dragon, and the woman who could do something with light; but she didn’t recognize the fourth man. He was a small, rat faced man; but from everything she’d seen he wasn’t much of a threat.

<Let’s get this shit over with so I can get back to the beach,> she’d lied to Seth and said she was going to get a massage. That gave her an hour of free time before he got suspicious.

Lilly shifted on the cement rafter and the rat faced man’s head snapped over in her direction. He tilted his head towards her, and his nose scrunched up repeatedly as he sniffed the air.

<Enhanced senses,> Lilly made a mental note before teleporting to the edge of the flood-light circle that was present during all of their meetings.

“This had better be good,” Lilly didn’t have to act disgruntled as a gust of cold wind slapped her in the back. “I’ve got better things to be doing.”

Everyone but the rat-man jumped slightly at her sudden appearance, but they recovered quickly. “Boo-fuckin’-who,” Squid growled. “Shit’s goin’ down and where you been?”

“Squid, I don’t tell you how to run your business so don’t tell me how to run mine,” Lilly put a little menace into her tone, and placed her hand on grip of her pistol.

A ripple of anger visibly ran over Squid, but he didn’t shift. “Ever since that power plant gig we’ve had heat comin’ down on us from everyone. The Heroes are sniffin’ around. Dragon barely got away when they tried to kill his ass at the bank.” Dragon huffed his agreement in the form of a puff of smoke. “And now the five-o is raiding our safe houses. We had to put down a bunch of them a few days ago.”

“What is your point, Squid,” Lilly didn’t want to listen to the man bitch all day long.

“The point is that we bein’ hunted now. All because you had us do that one job,” Dragon took a threatening step forward, but was met with the audible click of a safety being switched off.

“I pay you good money, Squid,” Lilly said after she teleported to a new location. “I gave you a job that both of us would profit from. It isn’t my fault that you couldn’t look two moves ahead. No shit the Heroes and cops are going to be gunning for you now. You guys took down a fucking city,” she laughed. “You’re a bigger threat now, but if you did your job right during the outage you should have the resources you need.”

Squid’s face was neutral; but the light manipulator, Dragon, and rat-face all looked confused. Lilly sighed and put everything in simpler terms. “You need to seize this opportunity. You’ve got a reputation and resources now; assimilate your competition or put them down for good, bring in more muscle, put out the word and other Supers might join you. Hell, if you cast a big enough net you might get some trained mercenaries who’ll do the job for the right price. You need to present a formidable target. That’ll keep the Heroes on their heels. The Protectorate isn’t the Patriots. They’re a small town, second rate franchise. They don’t have the muscle to take down a gang as big as yours can be.”

“What about the HCP?” rat-face spoke up. His voice was just as rat-like as his face.

“The HCP will stick to their campus unless you pull some serious shit or you put their wannabe Heroes in jeopardy. Stay away from the school, don’t blow up the city and you should be fine,” she was fairly confident in that assessment.

“It ain’t just the Protectorate and the HCP we gotta worry about,” Dragon said, and Lilly was surprised the brute could form whole sentences. “There was another guy at the bank, a teleporter. He killed a few of my guys.”

“A teleporter!” despite Lilly’s desire to remain calm and collected; her emotion betrayed her this time. “What did he look like?”

“Big dude, big ass rifle on his back, with a mask,” Lilly had all she needed to know.

<Fuck, Hunter is in Orlando.> She stopped paying attention to the end of Dragon’s description, and started thinking about how this affected her plan.

<Does he know who I am? Does he know what we’re trying to do? Does he know that I’m bankrolling the Fist? Does he know about me and Seth? Does he know that I killed Ricky?> The last reason was a lot more inconsequential than the second to last, but it was still valid concern in her mind.

“Yo, everything ok, Shadow,” she must have missed something because Squid was waving into the darkness.

Lilly teleported to another location. “Yeah,” she didn’t sound nearly as confident she wanted to. “I know the teleporter. I’ll deal with him.”

“He was pretty bad ass, Shadow,” Dragon began, but she cut him off.

“I know him much better than you, Dragon. So leave him to me,” her voice was hard and the fire-breather shut up.

“I don’t give a shit what your beef is with rifle-guy,” Squid stated. “I just want what I built to not get ripped to pieces by other assholes.”

“Then take my advice,” Lilly’s mind got back on topic. “Grow, either absorb or conqueror, and get some Supers who know their shit. That will at least buy you time to consolidate your hold on the city. Understood?” It was clear Squid didn’t like taking orders in front of his people, but he wasn’t dumb enough to miss good advice when it was presented to him.

“Good, now I’ve got places to be,” Lilly didn’t bother with a goodbye, she just vanished.

A quick stop to stash her Wraith outfit, and another teleport took her back to the beautiful Cayman Islands. She felt the heat hit here and her skin start to glisten with newly formed sweat almost immediately. <Ahhhhhh. Perfection.>

                The resort she and Seth were staying at was an upper class one with a private beach, and full service. They were on the VIP package, so they basically had a gaggle of servants following them everywhere and tending to their every need. It was heavenly.

Lilly took a deep breath, slipped back into the familiar skin of Liz, and exited the dressing room.

“There you are, Ms. Elizabeth,” a man rounded a corner and visibly relaxed at the sight of her.

Liz tensed at seeing the man. It was never a good thing if people were looking for her when she didn’t want to be found. “Yes.” She replied. She didn’t owe the help an explanation.

“Mr. Abney has requested your company after you finish your massage.”

“Thank you,” Liz slipped a five from her bikini top and handed it to the guy.

She didn’t wait for his thanks before walking away. It was a perfect eighty-two degrees today with a light wind and a cloudless sky. She spent a few minutes walking the resort. News that Hunter was looking for her now had her a little on edge. She needed to make sure no one was watching her, and she needed to get the anxiety out of her before heading back to Seth.

The resort was surprisingly sparse this time of year. Liz would have thought it would be a prime time for anyone in a colder climate to get away, but apparently people like to spend November and December with their families.

<Give me a mojito and Seth any day,> the thought sent Liz heading to the poolside bar.

She and Seth had only been there a few days, but they had a reputation among the staff. If they anticipated Liz and Seth’s needs they got good tips; which was why the bartender was just putting the finishing touches on a pair of the minty drinks when Liz arrived at the bar.

“Ms. Elizabeth,” the man had a sultry voice that he used on every woman he served.

Liz returned his smile and handed over a ten. Seth might be paying for the majority of the trip with his unlimited credit card, but she was still an independent woman. She’d brought along a few grand in her bag to handle tips and other little conveniences that popped up. She was even prepared for inconveniences. She had a million bucks ready to be wired to anyone if shit went down. Thankfully, nothing had happened so far. They got through immigration with no problem, and now they were enjoying their vacation.

Liz walked from the pool area to the VIP elevator. The elevator was a glass box that ascended the outside of the building, giving the occupants a million dollar view of the ocean. It was still early in the day, and the sun steadily rising above the waves allowed Liz to put her plan, the Fist, and Hunter out of her mind. She rode the elevator to the top floor suite and disembarked directly into their room with a swipe of her key.

The room was all soft Egyptian cotton, light colors, and comfortable furniture. She could affirm that the bed was extremely comfortable, and stood up to their rigorous extracurriculars. The floor was an off-white tile, and its coolness felt good against her feet as she walked into the room.

Seth sat across the room on his laptop. He was shirtless and in a pair of swimming trunks. Liz stopped and admired the sight for a second. This was the man who said he loved her back, and this was the kind of life they could live together. The thought sent a ripple of ecstatic anticipation through her.

“You just gonna sit there and creep on me all day,” he turned to face her with a smile.

Liz had never found southern accents attractive before, but now it revved her engine.

“You don’t want me to admire the view, because that can go both ways,” she teased, and pretended to cover up.

“No!” Seth pleaded, and they both laughed.

“I thought you might be thirsty. We need to stay hydrated,” she handed him the mojito. They’d taught the bartender how to make them right the first day they were here.

“You’re looking out for my well-being, like a good girlfriend.” She answered his statement with a passionate kiss. It would have led to other things, but Liz had just spent the majority of the last hour sitting on a cement rafter in an uncharacteristically cold Orlando. She needed some sun.

So instead of humping like bunnies on speed they packed a bag and headed to the beach. The ocean was a little too cold for Liz’s liking, but digging her feet into the sand and slowly baking her skin in the Caribbean sunlight was what she really wanted. If she needed to cool off there was a heated pool she could use.

Liz and Seth claimed what looked like a bed on the beach. It had a retractable fabric roof and curtained sides to block out the sunlight when the occupants had enough, but Liz knew that wouldn’t be anytime soon. If this was ancient times she would have worshiped a sun god.

Once they settled in, they fell into a comfortable rhythm. Seth did some reading on a tablet; mostly financial news from back home. Liz watched him reading, watched how his eyes darted across the page, and his brow furrowed as he took in information. Seth might look like a playboy, but she knew there was a brain under there.

She rolled from her front to her back when she felt her skin start to heat and hid a smile as the movement pulled Seth’s attention from his tablet to her ass. <Smart, but still a man.>

Liz closed her eyes and let warmth of the sun and Seth’s affection wash over her. Life was pretty much perfect, and she never wanted it to end.

Previous                                                                                                                                            Next

 

Two Worlds – Chapter 2

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Coop was still breathing hard when the doors closed behind him. His physical health might be rated good, but that didn’t mean he was in shape. A good physical health reading just stated that all your internal organs were functioning within a certain range. Even with the filters in the building, the air in here wasn’t conducive to any type of physical activity.

The courtroom beyond the big door was busy, but that was to be expected in a PHA Civil Administration building. People tended to get themselves into trouble when they didn’t have jobs, had barely enough to eat, and were basically confined like prisoners. The PHA sections of any metropolis had their own cultures, societal norms, and ways of doing business. They could be their own countries; the poorest and shittiest countries in human history, but they met all the basic qualifications.

Coop looked at the waiting section behind the metal bar that separated the seating area from the actual court proceedings. The place was packed, with people standing along the walls with disinterested looks on their faces. There weren’t any families or friends in this courtroom, just people waiting for their Commonwealth dispensed judgement.

The site brought back uncomfortable memories from Coop’s recent past. There were several other courtrooms in the building, and he’d visited a few of them, but this one was different. This was an adult court, not a juvenile one. A shudder worked its way up his spine, but he ignored the ominous feeling in his gut; and instead studied the room.

The first differences between this courtroom and the others he’d been to were the walls. Every other room he’d been in was the same white polyplast that made up the walls of his PHA unit. Polyplast was the builder’s product of choice for building interiors for the last half century. The material was durable, easily manipulated, easily sanitized, and most importantly, cheap.

This courtroom’s walls were all wood, but it wasn’t real wood. It would have cost millions of Commonwealth dollars to panel the entire 200×200 meter room, and no one would waste that kind of cash on a courtroom in the armpit of Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis PHA-2.

“They say it’s supposed to make the room feel warm,” the woman standing next to Coop whispered when she noticed where he was looking.

The woman was dressed like a ten dollar whore and was twitching with the obvious signs of narcotics withdrawal. Coop didn’t judge her. He knew a hundred women like her, and when the times were right, he’d gotten to know of few of them intimately.

“Don’t know what the hell that means,” Coop replied in a gruff whisper. “A box is a box, doesn’t matter what it’s made of.”

The woman looked like she wanted to talk more, but a look from the two bailiffs made them both shut up. Like the PHA guard outside the courtroom both of the bailiffs were armored, but unlike the guard outside, both of these men were armed with sleek looking pistols holstered at their hips. Those weapons could put an electromagnetically powered projectile through Coops head at two hundred meters. He knew that for sure, he’d seen it done before.

Case by case people were called past the metal barrier, sworn in by the bailiffs, and walked through the justice process. Even though Coop had been told to be there at a specific time, he’d be waiting around for hours until his case was heard; but such was the life of a welfare Rat. Soon enough space opened up for him to find a seat. He sat, and the seat instantly conformed itself to his body. The nanofibers adjusted to provide the best possible support to the seater, while automatically sterilizing the seat when anyone left. He could take a dump, smear feces all over the chair, and it would be gone by the time he walked out of the room; eaten and repurposed by the efficiency of the microscopic robotic organisms.

The man sitting next to him was called to appear before the judge, and the seat was immediately filled by the whore Coop had spoken to earlier. “They say the judge’s plaque is made out of legit Martian Sandalwood,” she whispered.

The whore was using idle conversation to mask her nervousness. She also placed her hand on Coop’s knee. He only allowed it because he had similar nerves, and this might be the last time either one of them had contact with the opposite sex for some time. Her hand didn’t migrate north, so he didn’t have a problem; it might be momentarily comforting, but he had higher standards now than in his earlier youth.

He studied the plaque with the judge’s name on it. <The Honorable Judge…Asshat,> Coop didn’t care what the man’s name was. What he cared about was what it the plaque was made of.

If the whore was right then that fifty centimeter long nameplate was worth a hundred thousand bucks. Martian Sandalwood was expensive stuff, and having it shipped 225 million kilometers from Earth’s oldest colony made it that much more valuable. Unlike the rest of the courtroom, which was fitted with the laminate, light brown, faux wood paneling, the plaque looked legit. It was a blueish-white color and looked like someone had taken a paintbrush to it, making the fine grains pop. Like all things Martian, there was a hint of red to it; which a half century of terraforming had failed to totally eradicate from the environment.

<I could pay rent for five years with that thing,> Coop tried to think of ways he could steal the valuable piece of wood. All the scenarios ended with him missing a large chunk of his head, so he abandoned the idea.

Twenty more minutes passed, and then the whore was called up. Her hand tightened on his thigh for a brief minute, betraying her fear. “I’ll see you on the other side, baby.” She scooted past him, giving him a nice view of her chest, and then she was gone.

Coop only half paid attention to the whore’s proceedings. She was guilty, and she wasn’t going to get off this time. She cried out when her sentence was read, and then tried to resist the bailiff who was escorting her toward the door marked “PRISONERS” in bold black letters. All that got her was a hundred thousand volt shock, and getting tossed through the door like a sack of potatoes. Coop didn’t even bat an eye, it wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before and would probably see again.

He waited another hour passed until he finally faced the music. “Mark Cooper,” the Bailiff’s voice was augmented by the audio set worked into his armor.

Coop stood up, tried to smooth out some of the wrinkles, and walked calmly towards the front of the room. He was in his Sunday best; which meant that it was his father’s clothing from a quarter century ago. No one in the PHA could afford this type of clothing anymore.

The metal bar silently slid back as Coop approached, and then quickly snapped back into place once he was passed. A bailiff tossed him a thin copy of the Commonwealth Constitution encased in polyplast; which Coop easily caught. “Repeat after me,” the armored man didn’t wait for Coop to acknowledge. “I swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”

Coop was pretty sure that if there was a God he didn’t give a shit about a little Rat like him. “I swear.”

The bailiff snatched back the protected document, and pointed toward the defendant’s chair. A public attorney stood next to Coop’s chair in a suit only slightly less wrinkled than Coop’s. The older man looked tired. His face was drawn, there were dark circles under his eyes, and more wrinkles than his middle-aged years accounted for. The state attorney on the other side looked just as tired, so Coop saw that as a win.

“The United Commonwealth of Colonies vs. Mark Cooper,” the prosecuting attorney looked just as surprised as Coop felt.

Every other time Coop had been in front of a judge it had been him against the PHA, not the Commonwealth. <What the fuck is going on?> The ominous feeling that had been festering in his gut vanished as his whole stomach fell through the floor and halfway to China.

“You are charged with grand theft auto of government property. How do you plead?” the judge, who hadn’t looked up in the last few cases, actually raised his head to look Coop in the eyes.

Those eyes didn’t convey anything good.

The whole story behind the charge had been funny up until a few minutes ago. In some way unknown to Coop, some idiots from the suburbs had gotten lost and ended up in the PHA. Considering you had to go through checkpoints to get into the complex it was a pretty impressive feat. Coop had been minding his own business, when he’d seen the air-car fly by. Since it was the first time he’d ever seen an air-car, he went to investigate. When he arrived, the driver had entered the Civil Administration building, but left the car running. It was just asking to get jacked.

Coop was better than most with computers, so he knew how to turn off positioning software on just about anything. He hoped in, powered down everything that would track the vehicle’s location, and planned to drive it to the nearest chop shop. He’d make a couple of grand off the deal, get some spare parts to sell himself, and get to eat some decent food for a week.

The problem was that he didn’t know how to drive. He didn’t think it was difficult at the moment; up, down, left, right, forward, back, it didn’t seem hard. He made it about a block and a half before he plowed it into a support pillar for the Maglev train that ran above this section of the PHA. The cops found him unconscious in the driver’s seat, but the car hadn’t taken much damage.

How that equated to a Commonwealth level crime was beyond Coops ability to comprehend. “We plead guilty, Your Honor,” the public attorney stated without missing a beat.

“Yo, what the hell!” Coop couldn’t stop the outburst. “Wait a minute.”

“Silence in the court,” the judge banged the gavel.

Coop shut up before he ended up on death row, because that’s where he felt like he was going. Death was the penalty for an uncomfortable amount of crimes, but with population control being such a problem it was a logical solution in many people’s eyes.

“Let’s review the facts of the case, Mr. Cooper,” the state attorney looked like Christmas had come early. “There is surveillance footage and biological evidence recovered at the scene of the crime; in addition to you being caught inside the stolen vehicle. The vehicle had government tags, and was carrying classified government property.”

“Your Honor, the defendant was unaware of any classified Commonwealth property within the vehicle at the time of the alleged crime,” the defense attorney took the words right out of Coop’s mouth.

“Whether the defendant knew about the property or not is irrelevant,” the judge quickly squashed Coop’s attorney’s feeble plea. “The classified information was present.” The judge hit a few buttons on his Personal Access Device (PAD), and the square device brought up all the relevant information.

“The government vehicle was signed out by a Lieutenant from the Commonwealth Fleet, and had technical manuals of assault shuttles in the back seat. Along with the Lieutenant’s government issued PAD.” If Coop didn’t know any better he would have thought the judge was just as displeased at the Lieutenant as he was at Coop.

<The guy must have been a dumbass if he left all that crap in the back of an unlocked, still running air-car,> Coop wondered how in the hell someone so incompetent could get that job.

“So I’ll ask again, Counselor. What do you plead?” the judge’s gaze could have cut right through battle armor.

The defense attorney gave Coop a look he knew all too well. It was a hopeless look. The prosecution had Coop dead to rights, and there was nothing the attorney could do about it. Coop’s gut, which was already buried deep in the ground beneath him, completed its journey through the Earth and into China.

<They could kill me over this?> the defense attorney saw the light go off in Coop’s head, and thought up the best plan he could.

“We still plead guilty your honor, but we also plead mercy,” pleading mercy in a 25th century courtroom was like hoping to hit an incoming ship-to-ship missile with a baseball bat and survive. “Mr. Cooper has committed no other crimes of such a serious nature. My client is a misguided youth who has been raised in a poor environment with no discipline or accountability. We beg the court to levy a lesser punishment.”

Coop might have taken offense to the poor environment crack if he wasn’t busy having an existential moment contemplating his own mortality. Knowing you were one gavel smack away from a one way trip to a lethal injection had a tendency to shut out the world around you.

“The court accepts your plea, and will consider the plea for mercy,” the judge hit the screen on Coop’s profile several times to unlock the “Authorized Personnel Only” portions.

There was a minute of tense silence as the judge considered all the information. Unlike the attempted, and failed, legal precedents of the past; a judge was not required to have a jury of the defendant’s peers to render a verdict. The modern judicial system placed the full authority on a judge who was given the godly power upon his appointment.

“A history of aggressive behavior, violence, disregard for others,” the judge condensed his criminal career and mental health into three brief statements.

The judge’s face went from unyielding disappointment to contemplation, and then he smiled. Coop knew instantly he wasn’t going to like what he was going to hear.

“The court accepts your plea of mercy, Mr. Cooper,” Coop felt his stomach leap back into his body as hope flooded through him. “I sentence you to ten years in medium security at Attica,” Coop’s stomach dropped back out again, and the ray of hope became a bout of nausea. “But if that doesn’t sound like something you want to do, then I offer you an alternative sentence of a four year mandatory service obligation in the Armed Forces of the United Commonwealth of Colonies.”

The judge smiled when he saw the confused expression on Coop’s face. “You have twenty four hours to make your decision, Mr. Cooper,” the bang of the gavel sent an electric shock through Coop’s system. “You are released on your own recognizance until noon tomorrow. Next case.”

Previous                                                                                                                                            Next

 

Two Worlds – Chapter 1

Name: Mark Cooper

Genetic Identification Code: TBCD0425241412631

Physical Health: Good

Mental Health: [Authorized Personnel Only]

Education: [Blank]

Occupation: Welfare Recipient

Criminal History: [Authorized Personnel Only]

Citizen Status: Pending

 

“Huh,” the single syllable escaped his mouth in a puff of carbon dioxide.

It was surreal experience to see your entire life laid out on a slip of polymer. Anyone could take the 10 x10 centimeter card and scan the barcode to bring up his entire life. It was the first time he’d received one of these slips. It was one hell of an eighteenth birthday present.

Mark Cooper absentmindedly scratched his forearm as he read over the card again; alleviating the itch right above the black barcode that had been fused into his body before birth. Like every single one of the twenty billion Earth-bound residents of the United Commonwealth of Colonies, he’d been tagged before his momma had pushed him out, and a nurse’s slap on his ass had forced him to take his first breath of what passed for air.

The Genetic Identification Code (GIC) on his reinforced piece of plastic matched the one on his arm. You could tell a lot about a person by that code; a code that was mandated by law for the last four generations of human beings. Not only did scanning it reveal every aspect of your life, but the code itself held useful information. The first few letters always destinguished the metropolis you were born in. In his case, that meant the Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis. His home’s mix of ancient brick, millennial steel, and modern polycarbonate encircle the once great Lake Erie. Now, it encircled 130,000 billion gallons of brown sludge from over 500 years of sewage dumping. There was nothing great about the lake anymore.

The next eight digits were the day someone was born. He had entered the disappointment that was his life on April 25, 2414, and it had all gone downhill from there. The final five digits of the GIC was your position in the computer registered tally of newborns that day. 12,630 people had been born before him just in the Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis alone on that April day eighteen years ago. His metropolis was one of hundreds, maybe even thousands of metropolises that covered the face of the planet.

He’d only been born at 8:04 A.M.

Anyone could do the math. The problem was pretty obvious unless you were stupid; so everyone knew it, but nobody gave a flying fuck.

One of the few things he took pride in was his physical health. He wasn’t some jacked, ripped dude like on one of those body building infomercials; but he was categorized as good. It was hard to get a good rating where he lived.

The “authorized personnel only” print under the mental health heading just made him laugh. Privacy law was bullshit. The government didn’t care about his privacy, and any government hack could scan his arm, or the new slip, and bring up the data. There would be a lot of key words in that text; things like problems with authority, mild sociopathic tendencies, antisocial behavior, and a bunch of other words that were long and had definitions in some thick medical dictionary somewhere. It was all a lot worse than it sounded, and five minutes of diagnosis by a government shrink didn’t mean shit in his neighborhood. All that medical babble meant was that he looked out for number one, and wasn’t afraid to let people know about it.

The blank reading next to his education was a sore point with him. Anyone you talked to would say Coop, no one called him Mark or Marky, was smart. He just thought that the Commonwealth education system spouted out more crap than a football fan with raging diarrhea. He’d gotten all A’s his freshman year in high school, started to read between the lines sophomore year, and stopped going all together junior year. There were much more lucrative things he could do between the hours of seven and three thirty every day.

He had to engage in his extracurricular because of his listed occupation; welfare recipient. That was the most politically correct way anyone had referred to him in his eighteen years. Most people just called him, and everyone who lived in any Public Housing Authority neighborhood, a Rat. Society meant it as an insult, but he didn’t look at it that way; especially since the number of Rats was rapidly outpacing the number of good, law abiding citizens on this spinning blue and green ball of shit. Coop knew for a fact that there were over ten million Rats packed into clustered fifty-story shoeboxes in his metropolis alone.

Being a welfare recipient, and needing extracurriculars to bring in more Commonwealth dollars, led to the second “Authorized Personnel Only” reading on his card. Those wouldn’t be accessible to any old government stooge who scanned him; although every cop on his block would have instant access. It was a juvenile record, but still a record. It was mostly petty stuff; assault, breaking and entering, burglary, possession of a controlled substance, nothing bad enough for the government to ship him off to juvie. To punch that government paid ticket you usually needed to kill someone, and he hadn’t been caught doing that.

The PHA didn’t care if a Rat stabbed another Rat in an alley over their Basic Subsistence Allowance. A finite amount of food got dispensed every week, and they didn’t really care who ended up eating it. If you made a scene, or were psychotic in your killings, then they stepped in. It was bad publicity to have a serial killer lurking around government owned housing. Shooting a person in self-defense didn’t count; all you had to do was deal with the smell until garbage day.

The only truly scary thing about Coop’s brand spanking new slip was his pending citizen status. That could be a problem.

“Hey, kid, you’re holding up the line,” the man behind Coop yelled.

“Shove it, Grandpa,” Coop replied, not bothering to turn around to see the man give him the finger. On the street he would have kept one eye on the older man, but in the Civil Administration building doing anything out of line earned you a beat down. Plus, no one was carrying weapons in here thanks to the scanners at the entrance.

Coop pocketed the card and looked at his watch. The soft glow of the digits ticking by on his pale skin told him he had an hour. <Shit,> Coop quickly walked toward his next destination. He’d be cutting it close.

The welfare office of the PHA was perpetually busy. Sitting in line at the welfare office was one of the realities of being a Rat, and you learned to cope. Thankfully, Coop only had to cope for forty-five minutes.

“Next,” the heavy-set woman in the blue smartcloth of a PHA employee waved him forward. “Arm.” Coop obediently held out his arm so she could scan him. “Mark Cooper, congratulations on your first welfare check,” The woman said without any enthusiasm.

Now that he was legally an adult he would start withdrawing the twenty thousand dollar a year welfare stipend. Of course that money didn’t do shit, which defeated the entire purpose of monetary income.

“I gotta pay rent,” he replied, taking the twenty thousand dollar data chip from its slot and handing it back to the woman.

Scanning his arm had already brought up his block and unit number, as well as the balance due. The woman took the money chip from him, inserted it into a slot and that number dropped to zero. It was the entire purpose of the welfare check to pay for the housing costs the government incurred, but that didn’t make it any less depressing knowing that your entire income for the year was gone in a ten second transaction. Usually his dad did this, but since Coop was here anyway he decided to get it done.

In the past the government might have done more for its economically destitute than pay for housing and food, but that was all that was given out today. If you didn’t like it you could always go die in a gutter, and they’d pick up your body for recycling once you expired.

With his errand done, and his melancholy thoughts receding, Coop checked his watch. <Five minutes!> He ignored his better judgement and ran.

Running in the Civil Administration building identified you as a threat, and being a threat wasn’t good for your health. Angry calls and the energizing of stun batons followed his progress through the halls. It was a good thing it was a short run, because any longer and he’d get a hundred thousand volts of electricity shoved up his ass.

He came to an abrupt stop at a large faux wood door, and had to catch his breath in front of a stern faced, armored, PHA guard. “Mark Cooper,” he held out the card with one hand as he rubbed the stitch in his side with another.

The guard put the card in a slot by the door and waited for the response. Mark would never get that card back. Anyone who needed anything from him would just scan his arm, but the card was needed for this particular circumstance.

“Mark Cooper, you’re checked in,” the guard opened the door, waving off the other guards who’d just come around the corner. “The judge will see you soon.”

Next

A Change of Pace – Chapter 59

The jostling impact of the plane’s wheels hitting the tarmac woke Kyoshi. In the seconds before she got control the thoughts, judgments, and trickle of emotions bombarded the young advanced mind from all sides. Mostly, people were irritated. It was a five hour flight from Atlanta to San Francisco and the recirculated air, unruly children, and crabby flight attendant didn’t help.

Kyoshi seized control of her power with a deep, calming breath. A little bit of focus and everything went quiet; quiet in her mind at least. The moment the plane hit the runway the kid sitting behind her started to kick her seat.

<I’m never having kids,> Kyoshi had always been open to the idea of one day being a mom, but the incessant irritation of anyone under the age of five had thoroughly turned her off to the concept. <Being a Hero is tough enough, but being a Hero and a mom must be brutal.>

                She pulled her thoughts away from her career and lack of maternal aspirations, and turned her attention to the man sitting next to her. She focused and picked up the thoughts and emotions radiating from Mason like he was the bonfire at Burning Man. She didn’t want to violate his privacy, but it was tough not to notice how nervous her boyfriend was. A big mental picture told her why.

“Hey,” she slipped her arm underneath his and rested her head on his shoulder. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m good, just ready to get off this plane.”

Kyoshi had learned from their first flight to New York that her big, strong boyfriend wasn’t the biggest fan of flying thirty thousand feet in the air in a metal tube.

Kyoshi knew there was more, but she didn’t push it. They’d be meeting the object of his nervousness in the next half an hour; so she tried to cheer him up.

“Hey, do you remember that lady in Atlanta?” Mason knew exactly what she was talking about, and it replaced his anxious expression with a short laugh.

The flight from Orlando to Atlanta had been sort and sweet. Since it was less than an hour hop over the Florida-Georgia border, they were in an old-fashioned dual-prop plane that only sat about thirty people. It was a loud ride, but much more enjoyable than the flight to San Francisco; except for one passenger.

The woman looked like she could have been on one of those Real Housewives shows, and for all Kyoshi knew, she was. Everything the woman said and did during the flight came from a sense of entitlement. She expected them to have champagne so she could have a mimosa for the flight, she expected the overworked flight attendants to heed her every beck and call. She was clearly irritating everyone on the small flight, and she didn’t seem to be picking up on any of those social cues.

Once they arrived at the Atlanta airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, Kyoshi and Mason had been heading in the same direction as the woman. They followed her down the long line of gates and to the subway that ran between the concourses.

The airport was set up differently than a lot of other airports Kyoshi had flown in and out of. The concourses were set up like parallel lines or hatch marks, each separate, but connected by the subway that ran beneath all of them. You could try and walk the distance to your destination, but the subway was much quicker.

Mason and Kyoshi both boarded the subway behind the woman, and caused a bit of a scene because they had to bend down to fit through the opening; but on the bright side people gladly got out of the way and let them have the handholds. No one was as nice to the obnoxious woman who was now yelling into her cell phone. Kyoshi wasn’t sure what the woman was thinking, but she didn’t brace herself when the subway lurched into motion.

Kyoshi knew it was going to happen. This wasn’t a baby lurch common to something starting to move forward; this was a full yank. The metal handholds she and Mason were clinging to snapped tight during the lurch. Kyoshi could have moved fast enough, she’d been training in the HCP for a semester to react instinctually to situations. But the truth was that she was tired, and the woman had been annoying her for the last hour.

So Kyoshi let the woman face plant.

“Yeah, that was pretty funny,” remembering the woman eating subway floor, and then almost falling a second time when the subway stopped, helped ease the nervousness in the strongman.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to San Francisco where the local time in 7:34 pm. Until the captain has turned off the fasten seat belt sign please remain seated with your seat belt securely fastened. Thank you.”

Kyoshi heard grumbling along with a number of seat belts being clicked open, but the two Heroes in training waited for the plane to come to a complete stop at the gate. They were sitting near the back of the plane, so it was another ten minutes until it had cleared, and even then Mason let a bunch of people go ahead of them. It was just easier that way.

“Thank you,” the mother with the young child looked exhausted, but appreciative when Mason helped her grab her bag from the overhead compartment.

Kyoshi’s heart swelled as she watched him, and the woman shot her a “you’ve got a good one” look as she maneuver herself, the kid, and her suitcase down the aisle. By the time Kyoshi turned her attention back to her boyfriend he already had their luggage down and a hand stretched out to her.

“You ready?”

<I should be asking you that,> Mason smiled even though his nervousness spiked momentarily. He was already committed. He’d flown the length of the country to be with her family on Christmas. That was kind of a big deal for him.

“Let’s go,” she took the lead.

Despite the later hour the sun was still up as they moved through the airport. Instinctually, they scanned the people around them for suspicious behavior. Coach Meyers would have been proud, but she also would have torn their technique apart. They weren’t being thorough; they were just making sure that nobody snuck up on them. That was something they wouldn’t ever allow to happen again.

Kyoshi expanded her senses and found them waiting. Both were a bundle of anticipation and love. Both couldn’t wait to see their not so little girl. “Here we go,” Kyoshi grabbed Mason’s hand for support as they followed the crowd through the exit, past baggage claim, and into the arrivals section of the loop that ran around the airport.

“Kyoshi!” her mother called with the stoic composure that her upbringing had drilled into her.

Kyoshi saw through all of that. Her mother’s mind was like a flower blooming with emotion. Love and gratitude poured out of it and filled up her daughter. “Mama!” Kyoshi slipped away from Mason to give her small mother a big hug.

That left Mason all alone to deal with her father.

 

***

 

Kyoshi’s hand slipped from his but he didn’t try to snatch it back. Mason watched as his girlfriend ran through the small gap between them and her parents. The crowd parted for her, not the other way around. Sometimes being tall was an advantage.

Mason crossed the space separating the two groups at a walk and headed for the only person around who was bigger than he was. Wilhelm Schultz’s attention was on the reunion of his wife and daughter. The grizzly of a man was openly smiling, and looked a lot less intimidating; until he turned his attention to Mason.

The man didn’t scowl or show any anger toward Mason, but his face went from warm happiness to neutral. Mason didn’t hesitate though. Hesitation was bad. “Good to see you again, Sir,” he extended his hand to the retired German Hero.

“Hallo, Mason,” the man replied in his thick accent as he accepted Mason’s hand.

For a moment there was a titanic battle of strength. Both men squeezed hard enough to crumble steel, but neither showed that it hurt them. The key word was showed; because Mason was pretty sure he’d bruised the bones in his fingers.

Wilhelm didn’t say anything, but Mason thought he caught a slight eyebrow raise from the larger man. <Probably your imagination.> He concluded.

“Papa!” the moment Kyoshi said his name Wilhelm released Mason’s hand, smiled, and caught his girl as she threw herself into his arms.

Mason smiled too, took a step back, and looked down to Kyoshi’s mother. “Nice to see you again, Ma’am,” Mason bowed awkwardly to the much smaller woman.

“Ma’am makes me feel old, Mason,” she smiled back, giving the strongman a pat on the forearm.

“Sorry…” he began to apologize, but she waved it off.

While his girlfriend talked to her father Mason grabbed the luggage and put it into the car. Then they all jumped in and headed home. Due to the size of the two men; Kyoshi and her mother sat in the back seat while Mason got to be the copilot.

<You’re doing great,> Kyoshi’s mental smile blossomed in Mason’s head at they pulled into her old neighborhood.

The neighborhood looked like the ones he’d seen in the old T.V. shows from the 90s. The road sloped up at a slight incline, and the houses stood shoulder to shoulder along the side of the road. The roads were moderately busy because this wasn’t a suburb. San Francisco was an island, so real estate didn’t allow for big open neighborhoods. It was a lot like New York, which made Mason more at home. The sunshine and warmer temperatures was different, but a good different.

Another good different was that this area was a lot nicer than his section of Brooklyn. Mason knew that Wilhelm provided a good life for his wife and daughter, and the house spoke to that. It was a little bigger than the others on the street, it seemed more recently updated than the others, and it had a large truck with Wilhelm’s business logo parked right in front. What surprised Mason the most was the small one car garage that was cut into the front of the home, and the way Kyoshi’s father easily maneuvered the sedan into the compact space.

“Home sweet home,” Wilhelm looked over his shoulder at the women in his life.

Mason felt like he was intruding on the moment until Kyoshi smiled that inviting smile at him. She wanted him to be a part of this, and in that moment he felt like the luckiest man in the world.

 

***

 

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” Seth and Liz belted out their horrible rendition of the famous Christmas song to the other unamused members of the first class cabin.

“Come on everyone, where’s your holiday spirit!” the mimosa in Liz’s hand came dangerously close to spilling as she got to her feet; but Liz was a professional. If there was a cardinal sin among college students it was spilling your booze.

“Take a look in the five-and-ten, it’s glistening once again. With candy canes and silver lanes that glow!” Liz belted out more lines to frowns and glares.

“Ah give it up, babe,” Seth grabbed her arm and pulled her down into his lap. “There’s no Christmas spirit on this flight.”

“Awwww,” Liz pouted adorably. “They’re no fun.” She pressed her lips to his and aggressively invaded his mouth with her tongue.

“Excuse me,” a flight attendant appeared and coughed diplomatically. “Could you please return to your seat and fasten your seat belt. We will be landing shortly.”

“Right-o,” Seth replied in horribly accented English. “Tally-ho love,” he playfully smacked Liz’s ass as she got off him. She giggled drunkenly.

It had been an interesting couple of flights from Orlando to the Cayman Islands. Liz had picked the destination and found a great package. It was an all-inclusive five star resort right on the beach, and best of all the legal drinking age was eighteen so they could get shit faced and not have to bring their fake I.D.s. It would have been prudent to wait, but Liz and Seth were doers by nature, so they started the party early; much to the disappointment of the businessmen and women riding in first class with them. This wasn’t spring break, but the two Supers were treating it like it.

“Ladies and gentlemen we’ve begun our descent into Owen Robert International Airport. Please bring your seats and tray tables into their upright position and fasten your seatbelt. We’ll be landing shortly.” The captain cut off the announcement.

Seth and Liz looked at each other and giggled. They were already too far gone to care. They still behaved themselves during the descent, because they didn’t want to get arrested when they landed. That would put an early end to all the fun they had planned. Of course, behaved for drunken Liz meant running her hand on the inside of Seth’s thigh once a minute to elicit a biological response.

They both knew the first thing they’d be doing when they got to their hotel room.

The landing was a little bumpy, with the plane bouncing twice before finally settling on the tarmac. The wind howled and the engines screeched as the brakes were applied and the engines went into reverse. Soon they slowed, and the two Supers felt the plane turn off the runway and towards the gates. Gates were a relative term in the Caymans. The plane had an assigned lane it turned into, but with the weather always so nice there was no actual walkway that attached to the door. Instead a set of stairs was dragged out and everyone disembarked down those.

Seth and Liz walked down those stairs and into perfection. Liz had done all the research before booking the package, and part of the reason they came the Caymans was because of its weather consistency. The averages fluctuated between seventy-seven and eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit, and as they disembarked Seth put the current temperature at a comfortable eighty. It was coupled with a light sea-breeze making the moment just perfect.

“We should get some sea-breezes,” Liz read his mind, thinking of the alcoholic beverage not the weather.

<This woman is perfect,> Seth didn’t know what else to think.

Unlike the rest of the passengers who veered toward the tropically decorated welcome center, Seth and Liz took a different path. A short distance from the edge of the stairs stood a group of people. The majority had on the uniform of the resort they were staying in. Seth and Liz handed their baggage tags to the leader of these men, who quickly ran to where the bags who being unloaded from the belly of the plane. Another was a man dressed in a black suit and tie. He was holding a sign with “Abney” written on it, and Seth could see the butt of his weapon peeking out of the shoulder holster when his jacket opened in the breeze. He was the protection that his father insisted on whenever someone traveled outside the U.S.

The last man of the group wore an official looking uniform. “Welcome to the Cayman Islands, Mr. Abney. It is a pleasure having you here for you holiday vacation,” the man’s voice was formally accented. After all, the Cayman Islands were technically a territory of the United Kingdom. “I will be walking you through the declaration process. Please follow me.”

Seth and Liz followed the uniformed man into the welcome center, but to a separate section of the building. A section designed specifically to process Supers entering the country. The U.K. had a strict policy of declaration of any Supers entering their territories. It was all a formality that Seth had to endure whenever he traveled, so he wasn’t nervous. Liz didn’t seem to care either.

The process was quick and painless. It started with a review of their travel documents, followed by a description of their abilities, and a brief demonstration. The U.K. had their own ranking system for Super’s, and Seth never learned what they classified him as. They both did as they were instructed, and were quickly passed along to their waiting limo. It was one thing to follow procedure, but it was another thing to keep wealthy visitors unnecessarily occupied.

The minute the door closed behind Seth, Liz was on top of him. It seemed she wanted him to occupy her full attention on the drive to the hotel. While Liz did her best to suck his face off he triggered the divider that separated them from the driver. They didn’t need the help watching them bone.

 

***

 

“Oh the weather outside is frightful, and the fire is so delightful…” as if on cue the car slid on a patch of black ice. Becca easily corrected, and didn’t even spill her hot chocolate.

The drive from Orlando home to Iowa usually took about twenty hours. With two drivers Becca wanted to do it in one straight shot. Once they got on the road things changed. Other colleges were getting out and more students were filling the interstates. Construction was everywhere along the route they’d planned, and then they hit a snowstorm when they got into Missouri on I-70 West.

“Let’s stop and get a room for the night,” snow was falling so thick Anika could only see a dozen feet in front of her.

Becca pouted as she watched the cars driving all around her with flashing yellow hazard lights. “Okay,” the speedster didn’t want to spend the money, but getting in a car accident would really affect her performance at the beginning of the next semester.

Becca pulled off the highway in some middle of nowhere town in Missouri that was basically a couple of hotels right of the highway and a diner. The parking lots were already packed with drivers who had the same idea Anika did. Becca pulled into the first place she saw, a little rinky-dink motel, and found one of the last parking spots.

Together the two Supers cut a furrow through the parking lot’s already ankle high snow and into the office. Behind the desk, looking a little harried was an old man. Becca put on a big smile as she approached, praying that her cuteness might be able to get them one of the last rooms.

“Hiya, Sir,” Becca was short enough that she perched on her tippy-toes to rest her forearms on the counter. “It’s really comin’ down out there,” she gestured with her thumb back outside. “Can we please get a room to ride it out?”

“I’m sorry, young lady,” the old man looked genuinely upset that he couldn’t help out. “We’ve only got two rooms with queens in them left.”

Becca cocked her head to the side, unsure of why that could be an issue. “That’s no problem, Sir. We can make them work,” she looked over her shoulder and smiled at her girlfriend.

When Becca turned back to face the old man, the concerned smile he’d been wearing had vanished. Instead, he frowned down at them and his eyes squinted in noticeable anger. “You best be gettin’ along now.” He waved them toward the door dismissively. “We don’t serve your kind here.”

“Your kind,” Becca’s mouth dropped open as she instinctually grabbed one of her braids. “You don’t serve Supers?”

It wasn’t uncommon for some people or businesses to be discriminatory towards Supers. Becca hadn’t dealt with it in her small hometown because everyone knew everyone. Everyone knew little Rebecca Whitfield was a Super, but they also knew her as the cute little girl who used to run around the hay maze in the pumpkin patch laughing and squealing with joy. She’d learned about the intolerance during her time in Orlando.

Becca also knew there were laws in place to protect Supers from this type of discrimination. Becca squared her shoulders and stared right back into the man’s eyes. “You know it is illegal to discriminate against Supers.”

“I ain’t discriminatory toward Supers. Hell, those Heroes are one of the best things to happen to this country,” the man still squinted angrily at them. “We just don’t serve you homosexuals.”

Becca felt like she’d been slapped. She took a step back, and found herself suddenly enveloped in Anika’s arms. She looked up to see her girlfriend’s eyes full of fire and brimstone. Becca knew that look, it was the look Anika had on her face before she kicked major butt.

“Ani, no,” Becca whispered so only Anika could hear. “It’s not worth it.”

The tension in Anika’s body didn’t ease until Becca placed her hand on top of the hers. The old man watched it all with a bigoted sneer. So Becca made sure to tilt her head upward and give Anika a tiny kiss.

“Get out or I’m callin’ the cops!” the man looked uncomfortable and disgusted as he reached for the phone.

Anika looked ready to fight it. She was ready to stay there, wait for the cops, and then tell them what a big pile of poop this man was for refusing service to them. Becca was about to join her when she thought a few steps ahead. A police report, and possible arrest, would set them back or even get them expelled from the HCP. If they ended up thrown in jail they’d have to have someone come and pick them up, and that meant someone from Becca’s family would have to drive five plus hours to get them. That was not how she wanted to start of the Christmas season, and it was not the rumor she wanted to get around her town about Anika. Small towns were great, but rumors spread like wildfires after a lightning strike.

“Fine,” Becca’s level-headedness prevailed. With a little bit of pressure on her arm she got Anika to follow her back out into the swirling snow.

“What a sack of shit,” Anika fumed as they brushed off the car. From the level of Anika’s temper, Becca half expected the snow to melt right off as she swept it away with her bare hand.

“He was mean, but that’s what he believes,” Becca tried to be empathetic.

“What!” Anika rounded on her like Becca had slapped her.

“That’s not what I mean,” Becca tried to organize her thoughts. “You know when my parents came for parents’ weekend.” It was an experience neither of them was likely to forget. You only came out of the closet to your parents once. “They didn’t handle it super well because they grew up in a place like this,” Becca motioned to the wall of white obscuring the small mid-western town. “Don’t get me wrong,” she hastily added. “It still hurts when people judge us because we love each other, but I get where their mind is at.”

Anika’s tempered cooled during the explanation, and she read between the lines. “You think this isn’t going to be the last time we run into this during break?” she asked it like it was a question, but they both knew the answer.

“The people in my town are good people,” Becca pleaded, and she didn’t know why. “I’ve known most of them my whole life. They just don’t understand because they don’t know anyone like us, and all people have ever said to them is that God doesn’t want it that way.”

Anika nodded, and reached out to wipe a tear from Becca’s cheek. The speedster didn’t even realize she was crying.

“I guess I wanted you to come home with me for two reasons. The first is because I love you and I want you to see this other part of me. Not city-slicker me, but farmer-girl me; the me I’ve been for basically my entire life.”

“And the second reason is because you want to show your town that we’re not something to be hated or despised,” Anika finished the explanation.

“Yeah,” Becca sighed, glad that Anika knew where she was coming from.

“That’s really brave,” Becca looked, and now Anika was the one beating back tears.

“Oh, Ani,” Becca laughed, smiled, and pulled the other woman into a hug.

“Shit, I’m sorry,” Anika wiped away the tears with one hand while she kept the other securely wrapped around Becca’s shoulders. “You’re just so awesome. I don’t know how I got so lucky.”

Normally Becca would say that Anika was the awesome one and they’d go back and forth for ten minutes, but this time she just accepted the compliment and hugged her girlfriend tighter. They held the hug for a while, until their teeth started to chatter from the cold, and their hair was white with snow.

Anika finally broke the hug and smiled. “Ok, enough of that,” they wiped away the last of their tears, and made sure that their eyes weren’t too puffy. “Let’s go find a place to stay. Hopefully this town isn’t completely full of assholes.”

It wasn’t. They tried a chain hotel next door, and both women were pretty sure that the guy who checked them in was gay.

 

***

 

The masked teleporter didn’t say a thing as they blinked into existence in a small living room. The man wasn’t a Hero. He wore a fine suit, sturdy but expensive shoes, and an air of professionalism that screamed private industry. Angela didn’t even have time to say thank you before he vanished.

The angelic shifter assumed that her parents had arranged for the transportation home, but neither of them was there. She didn’t expect them to be. They were Heroes and they had important work to do. Angela had work to do too.

She headed upstairs to unpack her bag. She’d left the majority of her stuff back in Orlando, and only brought what was absolutely necessary. She didn’t even know if she would be staying long. This was a DVA sponsored house. She’d been in enough of them to notice the bland, standardized furnishings. Her parents owned a few properties around the country, but they rarely spent any time at any of them. There was just too much to do. Lives needed to be saved or training needed to be conducted. There was no time for luxuries like a vacation.

The soft footfalls coming up the stairs caught her by surprise. They were almost unnoticeable, but not atypical of her parents. “Hey Mo…” the dart hit her in the neck and she immediately felt the world begin to spin.

<Idiot,> was her last thought before she fell backwards onto the bed and lost all control of her body.

Angela still had all of her senses, but her body didn’t respond. Whatever the tip of the dart was poisoned with, it completely paralyzed her. A handful of emotions flooded her consciousness, but all of them disappeared except for one when her attacker stepped into view.

Anger.

Sophia Martin looked down at her daughter without empathy. She was in her shifted form. It was similar to Angela’s but with specific differences. They both had the expansive bronze wings, but Seraphim was naturally unarmored. The armor she wore was custom created by a tech genius, and cost more than a middle class family made in five years. The older shifter also lacked the full body glow that seemed to emanate from Angela. Instead, Seraphim’s eyes had a subtle burn to them. Beneath a helm of black, tech genius developed metal, they looked downright savage. But the thing that stood out the most was her tail. Angela had no tail, but her mother’s barbed appendage swung lazily behind her. If Angela had to guess the poison came from that tail.

“I thought my alma mater was going to teach you to be vigilant,” despite her intimidating appearance, Seraphim’s voice had an angelic quality to it. A quality that was perplexing considering the fangs in her mouth. “Instead you walk complacently into a trap.”

Angela wanted to respond but she couldn’t. She had to lie there and take the verbal bashing.

“No daughter of mine will be second best,” the comment seemed to be more for her mother’s sake that Angela’s. Seraphim’s hulking form appeared directly above Angela. “This is not a vacation. You will train, you will get stronger, and you will return to school to retake the number one ranking. Do you understand?”

Angela couldn’t respond, and even if she could it would have been yes.

“Excellent,” suddenly her father was beside her mother, his expression hidden behind his African mask. “Let’s go.”

Hunter reached out and grabbed his wife and daughter’s hands. The world spun and suddenly overwhelming heat slapped Angela in the face. She saw nothing but green and sunlight everywhere. She could feel stuff moving below her; worms or bugs squirming in the earth.

“The paralysis will wear off in another minute,” Seraphim spread her wings wide and blocked out the sun. “There is a camp one hundred miles from here at a thirty-three degree azimuth. You need to be there tomorrow morning at nine a.m. you will be unable to shift for another eight hours after the paralysis wears off, so you’re going to have to hustle if you want to make it on time. If you make it on time you can come home. If you don’t then we do this all over again. Understood?”

Angela could already feel the tingling working its way through her body, and she was able to give a small nod.

“Good, we hope to see you for Christmas dinner.” With her piece said, Seraphim and Hunter both disappeared leaving Angela alone to survive in some jungle somewhere.

<I really hate my family,> Angela didn’t even feel bad for the thought. She had other things to worry about.

One step at a time, using her watch with a magnetic compass, Angela headed toward her destination.

Previous                                                                                                                                          Next

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Change of Pace – Chapter 58

<Gotta pee…gotta pee…gotta pee,> Daisy tried to think dry thoughts as she rocked back and forth in the back of the van she’d rented.

It didn’t help much.

It was hard to imagine the change that had occurred. The freshman final was only three days ago, and the last of school finals had finished up by the time she’d completed her half of the reviews. The once teeming university was now a ghost town. Daisy had never seen the school like this before. When she’d first arrived at West Private it had been right before the start of the semester. Students had already been setting up shop all over campus; especially the new freshman who were trying to learn their way around. In a way, Daisy was kind of a freshman again.

<Sand covered desert, rocky mountain cliffs, any place without liquid,> Daisy sure felt like a freshman.

It had been a long time since Reaper had done a stakeout. There were usually more junior Heroes whose powers were better suited for the task. Not only were the more capable, but they were eager to impress the veterans.

<We used to haze the kids who did this on their first stakeout,> Daisy looked over at the large, empty hot chocolate and grimaced. She was going to break the cardinal rule of stakeouts; don’t take your eyes of whatever the hell you are watching.

At the moment Daisy envied men. A penis was a great tool to have on a stakeout. All you needed was a plastic bottle and you were good to go. The place would stink for a bit, but that was manageable. <If only we could aim like that.>

The pressure on her bladder screamed at her to do something. <Fuck it. This isn’t a real stakeout anyway.>

                That was true. This stakeout wasn’t sanctioned by the DVA or the HCP. It was just Daisy doing some follow up on what happened to Laurie. Her friend had been assaulted in a campus parking garage by suspected gang members. They’d given her a black eye, and to Daisy that was unacceptable. The former Hero owed Laurie a debt. The older looking, slightly plump mother had befriended Daisy the day she walked into that 20th century history class. There was a fire in the other woman that Daisy admired. Since she’d been invited to the other woman’s house over the break, Daisy really wanted to have some good news for her. Call it an early Christmas gift.

Now it looked like she was going to blow it.

It had already been three days of watching and waiting for some punk to try something. Daisy had memorized the patterns of the campus police officers, studied the latest statistics on the gangs bordering the campus, and staked out the parking structure she thought would be the most likely to get hit. That was the easy part, and had only taken her a couple of hours. The waiting was always the hard part; especially when she always had a partner in the past.

Over the last three days her partner had been the radio. If she had to listen to the latest pop song by a former Disney channel actress one more time she was going to get on a nonstop flight straight to LA to strangle that bitch.

The satisfaction of ridding the world of that pain in the ass was short-lived as her bladder brutally reminded her of her need to do something and quick. With a sigh, Daisy opened the back of the van she’d rented for the weekend and hopped out. The short hop almost made her piss herself, but she got it under control quickly. That would have been really embarrassing.

Daisy had two options. The first was to drop trow right next to the van and relieve herself. In a pinch that would have been fine, but she still considered herself a lady; so that was a no. The second, and all around more civilized option, was to leave the van and find the nearest place with a bathroom. There was a gas station across the street that would have what she needed.

Daisy took one last look around the parking structure. She’d memorized the dozen cars parked on her floor and their license plate numbers. If anything changed, she’d know about it; and if she missed anything the cameras she set up would help. Satisfied that everything was good to go Daisy locked the car and jogged for the stairs.

With each stride Daisy felt like someone was twisting her bladder with a wrench. She could already tell that this was the type of pee where nothing would happen for the first thirty seconds once she finally got to the bathroom because she’d been holding it back with all her willpower. These were the pees that literally stung, and not in an STD kind of way.

The gas station attendant was a twenty-something more interested in his phone than customers. That changed a little when he saw a super-hot, six-three blond walk into the store.

“Bathroom key now!” Daisy didn’t have time to endure his poorly worded flirtation.

The guy wanted to say something, but the look in her eye made him reach under the counter and grab the key. Like in some 80s comedy there was a brick attached to it. Daisy didn’t have time to think about it. She ran back out the door and straight for the bathroom.

She was pretty sure the attendant, and anyone else in the immediate vicinity could hear her satisfaction. When she returned the key the guy almost asked for her number, but she just turned around and walked away. It didn’t matter that there was a big sign right next to the guy that said the bathroom was for paying customers only.

Daisy took the trip back to her stakeout van at a walk. There was no sense of urgency now that she’d drained herself dry. She was free to think of all the waterfalls in the world. <That’s ironic since I’ll be visiting one of the more famous ones soon.>

                Her upcoming meeting with Mastermind had been eating away at her ever since she’d learned when she was meeting him. There were so many questions she wanted to ask him, so many things she needed clarification on. She also wanted to punch the old guy right in the jejunum, but she doubted he’d make it an easy task. She only remembered meeting him a while back, but she distinctly recalled him looking spry for someone approaching a century.

Her thoughts on the subject skidded to a halt when she heard the crash of breaking glass and the hurried voices coming from the other side of the door. Daisy was in the stairwell with her hand on the doorknob. She was less than twenty feet from her van, and from the sounds of it, that was the vehicle that was the target.

<Son of a bitch!> thankfully she’d gotten the insurance, but now she wasn’t going to get that deposit back.

Daisy reached inside her grunge style jacket and pulled out a plain gray mask. The HCP had a bunch of these for emergencies. They weren’t much, but they completely hid your face. Daisy didn’t want anyone knowing Reaper was in town; especially not when she had some growing suspicions. There were more questions for Mastermind to answer.

Daisy secured the mask to her face and reached out with her extra sense. The life threads of the people breaking into her van came into focus. There were three of them, all normal humans; and there was no one else nearby. That was all the information Daisy needed. She opened the door and calmly walked into the parking structure.

Daisy quickly took in the scene; three guys, all different races, but working together to steal her car. From what Daisy had researched about the Fist these guys fit the bill. The Fist didn’t care about race, orientation, or creed; all they cared about was power. <Apparently they don’t care for brains either.>

                No one noticed as Daisy approached, and she wasn’t even trying to be in stealth-mode. All three of the guys were so focused on getting into the van that none of them were keeping an eye out for other people. <Rookie mistake…no…that’s beyond a rookie mistake.> Daisy took comfort in the fact that her own students would never be this stupid.

She closed half the distance at a leisurely walk before they noticed her. “Aw shit!” a white guy in a dirty wife beater’s eyebrows skyrocketed nearly into his hairline. That was saying a lot since you could land a plane on his forehead.

“S…stop right there b…bitch!” he stuttered out his warning as he drew a gun from his waist.

Daisy was surprised the guy didn’t shoot his own dick off right there. She saw that the safety was off, and the way the guy held the gun sideways was just asking for a broken wrist. Daisy didn’t bother to heed his warning. She kept on walking.

“I’m s…serious!”

<These have got to be the worst gang members ever,> Daisy sighed and shook her head.

“Do it B-Dog, she think you playin’,” another gang member goaded the guy with the gun.

Honestly, Daisy couldn’t care less. She’d engaged her kinetic absorption the moment she heard voices back in the stairwell. All she wanted was information. If the kid fired he sealed all of their fates.

Since the kid wasn’t too bright, that’s exactly what he did.

The gunshot was amplified about a hundred times in the confined concrete space. The soundwaves bounced off the walls growing stronger, and assaulting their senses. Daisy winced, not from the bullet that anti-climatically struck her chest, but from the sharp pain in her ears.

The three wannabe gangsters just stood there with their mouths open as Daisy wordlessly bent over and picked up the crushed bullet. What she’d done next was an intimidation tactic she’d perfected decades ago for just this type of situation.

She placed the crushed bullet on the side of her thumb, making sure her body was turned perpendicular to the young men so they could see exactly what she was doing. She then drew her pointer finger all the way back as far as it could go. To the three boys it looked like she was going to flick the bullet lying on her thumb.

That was exactly what she did. Daisy took the kinetic energy she’d absorbed from the gunshot and redirected all of it back into flicking the bullet. The small piece of metal shot out her hold and directly into a concrete support beam ten feet away. Dust and small chunks of concrete fell to the floor from the impact. Unlike when the kid shot her, there was no noise aside from the snap of the bullet drilling into the concrete. Daisy’s little show-and-tell didn’t have the same chemical explosion as firing a gun, but it was just as affected.

She did all of this while looking straight at the three young men. All three watched the bullet rocket into the concrete, and all three knew they were in deep shit. The boy farthest from Daisy tried to run. A bolt of electricity no stronger than a taser leapt from Daisy’s finger and shocked him to the floor. One boy started to shake uncontrollably, and it had nothing to do with the slight December chill in the air. The last guy, the one who shot her, turned the palest shade of white, gulped, and dropped the gun. It was clear the weapon made him feel powerful, because he literally curled inwardly when she approached.

“Let’s talk,” Daisy disguised her voice as best she could.

The two gangsters didn’t say anything while the third continued to drool onto the floor.

“Why are you here?”

Daisy got nothing. So she let a little bit of blue electricity flow down her arms and flash across her knuckles.

“Fuck, it’s an initiation,” the guy who’d shot her yelped while taking a step back. His back hit the van, but he tried to force himself farther away from Daisy.

“Initiation for who?”

“Don’t tell this demon bitch anything,” the other guy shot at his partner, his eyes were more defiant. “They’re gonna kill you.”

“Shit, man, she gonna kill us if we don’t talk,” the gunman shot back.

Daisy didn’t say she wouldn’t, and let the guys mind take it from there.

“It’s the Fist. They wanted us to boost a van so they could transport some stuff. We pull it off and we’re in. After all the shit they pulled a few days ago they’re recrutin’ like crazy, the guy kept talking, and Daisy registered the information, but her mind was going in a different direction.

“Do you know why they did it?” Daisy asked.

“To make bank, diablo,” the other guy spoke up.

“I need your contact,” Daisy’s red eyes bore into their frightened ones. “Now.”

“We don’t know who he is,” the gunman through up his hands defensively. “He just told us to grab the van and meet him at an address at two.”

“Give me the address.”

“What’s in it for us,” the other wannabe gangster asked, and immediately received a shock. He yelped and fell over, but was otherwise uninjured.

The gunman quickly gave her the address. “Thank you,” Daisy smiled right before she grabbed the two lifelines and knocked them unconscious.

She thought about what to do next as she walked to the back of the truck and grabbed a roll of duct tape. She could go to this address and crack some skulls, or she could pass it on to the proper authorities. The old Reaper would have gone the skull cracking route, but the new Daisy was still on a one year probation until she could get her Hero certification back. This little altercation could be explained as simple self-defense. After all, all she had been doing was walking to her van when she got shot. If she went after the gang recruiter then she’d be breaking that probation.

She ran the pros and cons through her mind as she dragged the three guys over to the concrete pillar one at a time and duct taped them together. She bound their hands, feet, and then all three of them to the pillar. It would hurt like a bitch to get all the tape off, and they’d lose a lot of hair in the process. But if that was what it took to deter them from a future life of crime that was a sacrifice Daisy was willing for them to make.

Once her prisoners were secured Daisy grabbed her phone and dialed a familiar number. “Officer Christopher Phillips,” her boyfriend answered professionally.

“Hey, hun, it’s me,” Daisy mood improved at the sound of his voice. “I’ve got a pick up for you.”

There was a short silence and then a laugh. “Do I even want to know.”

“Hey, I just went to the bathroom and came back to a bunch of kids trying to steal my car,” Daisy tried to sound offended, but failed when she giggled.

“You don’t have a car,” Topher deadpanned.

“I rented a van for the weekend,” she left it at that and he didn’t prod. He knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth; especially when that gift horse looked like Daisy.

“Where are you?” Daisy gave him the parking structures address, and he said he’d needed to have campus police come along.

“Oh,” Daisy stated when she thought they were done. “I’ve got an early Christmas present for you.”

“You didn’t need to get me anything,” he answered automatically, but Daisy ignored him. She gave him the gang recruiter’s address.

“That’s…” he was momentarily speechless. “That’s just the break we needed. Thanks, babe.”

Daisy smiled, and the garage temperature seemed to go up a few degrees. “We still on for my place at six?”

“I’ll bring the Chinese food,” she could hear the delight in his voice.

“See you then,” Daisy hung up.

She took one last look at the unconscious criminals before going back to sit in her van. The driver’s side window was broken, but the rest of the van looked fine. She wrapped her jacket around her hand and wiped the glass off the seat before hopping back inside. With the window gone there was nothing the keep the chill out, but a Florida chill was like a New York summer.

She wouldn’t have to wait long. She could already hear the sirens approaching. She’d have to give a brief statement and John would get a call, but everything was on the up and up.

<On the bright side, you crossed one thing off your list for this Christmas break,> she smiled at the thought.

Laurie would get that early Christmas present after all.

 

***

 

The line went dead and Topher couldn’t help but grin. <I’ve got the best girlfriend in the world.> That was the truth.

Some of the girls he’d dated had been good at a lot of stuff, but nothing like this. This one girl had made cookies to die for, and another had been a sex machine in the bedroom. There were more that fell somewhere in the overall spectrum of bringing something to the table, but Daisy took the cake. She was the only woman he knew who could call with an intelligence tip and make dinner plans all at once.

Topher savored that moment, and then pushed all of it into the back of his mind. There was no time for thinking about Daisy until tonight. It was game time. <Let’s get these pricks.>

                Topher was only a regular cop, despite nearly a decade doing police work. Being a low rank was his fault. He’d been up for detective in New York before the attack and everything went to hell. After cleaning up that shit show he couldn’t stay there. He loved the Big Apple, but after everything he’d seen he needed something a little quieter. Orlando offered that with good pay and benefits. They offered him a job right away, but he had to work his way back up from the bottom. Topher just took the detective’s exam last year and crushed it. There was a list of guys ahead of him, but he figured another six months and he’d be the man investigating the crimes. The tip he’d just gotten from Daisy might even speed things up.

Per protocol, Topher brought the information to his sergeant. “This info good?” was all the man asked. There were dark circles under his eyes and a permanent grimace fixed to his face. The last three days had been tough on everyone.

“Yes, Sergeant. This CI is good.” Topher just couldn’t tell everyone that he was getting info from his ex-Hero girlfriend who was an HCP instructor. That would just lead to a lot more paperwork.

“Ok,” the sergeant’s posture straightened a little bit, like a small weight had been lifted from his shoulders. “I’ll put a team together. You’re my number two.”

“Yes, Sergeant,” that was exactly what Topher had hoped for.

The team consisted of a handful of other officers Topher knew. It would have been better to get a tactical team, but with the department still putting out fires all over the city, such a team wasn’t available. They were able to requisition a drone; which would allow them to gather some great intel before going in.

As everything came together and they prepared to roll out, Topher felt a familiar sensation settle in his gut. A sensation that had been missing for a long time.

<Not now,> Topher tried to push the fear down, but it stubbornly bubbled in his gut.

Topher wasn’t a robot who didn’t feel fear, but fear before a mission like this stemmed from something. This type of fear meant that there was something he would miss if something happened to him. <A relationship can be a double-edged sword.>

Topher took a few deep breaths to steady his nerves. He was going to have a grease filled Chinese takeout dinner with Daisy tonight, and that was the end of it. “Ok people, let’s mount up.”

The sergeant led the way down to the motor pool where three undercover cars were waiting. All of the officers were in plain clothes, so they would be able to drive right up to the building without rousing any suspicion.

“Radio check,” the sergeant’s voice announced over the comms in everyone’s ears. “Count off.” Everyone said their number, Topher was two. “Let’s review the plan.”

As was to be expected the address Daisy had given them wasn’t in the greatest part of town. It belonged to a shady warehouse in an old industrial section of the city. It was far away from the business district, schools, and amusement parks. That was good, because the last thing the department wanted was for those huge companies to start making a fuss about their customers being able to hear gunshots. That was one thing Topher found very different from him time in NYC.

The plan was for one car the stop at the rear of the building and one in the front. All of the officers but the driver would get out and proceed into the building. The third car would pull up just after that, and those officers would form a perimeter. The warehouse had two floors according to public building records. The team that went in the back would sweep and secure the first floor; while the team that came through the front would proceed to secure the second floor. Information from the drone would offer more information, and they’d be able to adapt the plan as necessary.

“Drone online and coming into range,” the man in the backseat directly opposite Topher had the task of controlling the drone. Topher peaked over and saw their target come into view.

It was a pretty stereotypical abandoned warehouse. There was a lot of rust, flaking paint, and a sign for the former owner that was missing letters. Unfortunately for the vandals they couldn’t spell anything dirty. What Topher really cared about were the two entrances; two big sliding doors at the front and rear of the building. Whatever they used to build here it was big. Zooming in on them showed that there were no locks to be seen; in fact, they were both slightly ajar.

<Someone’s looking out for us,> Topher wasn’t particularly religious, but he still believed in good omens.

“Switching to thermal,” the screen changed with a push of a button.

Most of the new image was cold, lifeless blue. But there were a few warmed signatures. A few large block looking items were blazing red, while two more humanoid figures had a red and yellow look to them. Both Topher and the officer watched the screen for a few moments before making any announcements.

“We’re got two confirmed targets on the second floor looking out of the rear of the building. Rear team, confirm.”

“Confirmed. We’ll plan a different entry plan.” The leader of that team replied. He sounded upset at not getting to be the ones that took down the gangbangers.

Topher didn’t share the man’s disappointment; not just because he was on the team heading to the second floor, but also because he knew there could definitely be more people inside. Those big red blocks were throwing off a lot of heat and could be hiding other people. It was also important to remember that they were dealing with the Fist, a superpowered gang. They could have someone with cold-based powers that could hide people from the thermal scan they were doing, or they had an illusionist that could defeat the scan altogether. You couldn’t take any chances when dealing with Supers.

Topher didn’t mean that in a bigoted sort of way. Hell, he was dating a Super. Topher meant it in a seasoned, law enforcement professional sort of way. He knew the dangers that Supers on the wrong side of the law posed, and he needed to be prepared for that likelihood. <I wish Daisy was here.> She’d probably love it, and it would be nice to have a little extra firepower on their side.

They could have gotten the Protectorate involved, but the Heroes were overextended even more than the tactical teams. Topher’s information might be solid, but this was something a squad of trained police officers could handle. If shit went sideways on them, one of the perimeter guards would call for Protectorate assistance.

“ETA two minutes,” the Sergeant announced, sending everyone into last minute checks.

Topher checked his sidearm. The police issued pistol was a solid weapon, but wasn’t good to use for targets over fifty feet. Even a good marksman would start to have some trouble after that. After he checked that and slid it into his leg holster he checked the assault rifle. It was an old school MP5, nothing fancy, and pretty low tech compared to some of the tech Super weapons that bigger police forces had. Topher was qualified to use the weapon, and he had it on him for its enhanced range and power. He switched it to single shot as finishing his safety check. He wasn’t going to spray and pray with the weapon, even if they weren’t in a residential district.

“Let’s get this done, guys; clean entry, watch your corners, and don’t go blowing away these bastards. Phillips got us some good intel, but if we can work our way up their chain of command that’ll be a win for the entire city.” Everyone in the car nodded. This could be the beginning of taking down the Fist.

Topher felt the momentum of the car begin to slow, and he got his hand on the doorknob. They needed to move fast and get inside before anyone watching could raise the alarm. The car stopped abruptly and Topher pulled the knob and pushed. He was on the far side of the car away from the building. He snapped the MP5 up and swept the opposite side of the street. There was nothing. He turned while moving and did a pass over the second floor of the building. He was looking for the shine of metal poking out the windows, but again there was nothing. His feet never stopped moving doing this whole time, and in less than five seconds all the cars passengers were stacked against the wall next to the door. Topher was last in line so he covered the street behind them.

Topher was ass cheek to ass cheek with the next officer in line, the sergeant, waiting for the go. The officer who’d been operating the drone was at the front of the three man team, and had switched from the small computer to his own assault rifle. He would be the first man inside.

“Rear team, we’re in position,” the sergeant radioed the second team.

“Rear in position,” came the response.

“Go in three…two…one,” Topher felt them surge forward. The moment their ass cheeks weren’t toughing anymore Topher turned and followed the team into the building.

They all had their own sectors of fire to cover as they slipped through the large, rusted, open door of the warehouse. Topher didn’t hear any gunshots as he cleared his sector. There was a humming coming from fifty yards in front of them, and the ambient heat the machinery was letting off explained the fiery red blocks on the thermal scan. Topher didn’t have time to figure out what they were. His team was already moving to the stairs.

They climbed the stairs as quickly and quietly as they could. Still no gunshots, so they took a moment at the top landing the check the drone footage. The footage still showed the targets on the far side of the building. Both were stationary, probably watching T.V. Topher got a pat on his shoulder and they were moving again. They silently went through the door at the top of the stairs and proceeded through the room before the room that held their targets. They tried to be as quiet as possible, but the old warehouse’s floors creaked every so often.

They stopped outside the door to their targets. On the other side of this wall, the top of which was that old fashioned cloudy glass, was a person who would betray a more important member of the Fist if they cut them a deal. That was how these things worked. Get a small fish, flip them, and get a bigger fish. It was a standard tactic to build an investigation and a solid case. That started today.

All three police officers crouched low. The glass half-wall wasn’t see-through, but a dark shape right against it would be obvious. It left them in a weird position to breach the last room, but they’d make it work. The sergeant held up three fingers; dropped one, then another, and then BANG. They burst through the door, swept into the room while spreading out, and then saw nothing but brilliant white light.

“Fuck!” three voiced yelled in unison. It was like someone had thrown a flashbang grenade in their faces, except their ears weren’t ringing. They just couldn’t see.

The police officers were like new born babies in a strange and confusing world as they flailed. Topher wanted nothing more than to pull the trigger, but he didn’t know where anyone was anymore. If he fired he could kill another cop.

All three cops were temporarily blind, but there hearing was fine, and all three heard the cocking of a shotgun shell being loaded. Topher threw himself to the side, but immediately hit something hard and solid. He was at the edge of the room and he briefly remembered a large old-fashioned locker that took up that space. That was his last thought before the BOOM!

                A shotgun blast hit Topher full in the chest like a stampeding elephant. It didn’t pick him up off his feet like in the movies, but it did knock him over. He felt himself falling. There was pain, a shit load of pain, and then the momentary sensation of his head making contact with something hard before everything became nothing. All there was, was darkness.

Previous                                                                                                                                            Next

 

A Change of Pace – Chapter 57

Mason ignored the sounds a rapid humping coming from Seth’s room and focused on the task in front of him. The chorus of passionate love making used to make the big man uncomfortable, but after half a semester of hearing those two go at it like bunnies in heat it was normal. Mason hardly paid attention to it, just like the police sirens or occasional gunshots back in Brooklyn.

The only thing he did do was peek across the room to take a look at his girlfriend. He needed to make sure she wasn’t giving out any signals that she wants to do some of the same. This morning, Kyoshi was too busy to think about sex. Mason turned his attention back to what was sitting directly in front of him. He had some important decisions to make, but he was stuck. He needed help.

“What do you think?” he asked his girlfriend.

Kyoshi turned to examine his dilemma. In one hand Mason had a pair of nice khaki shorts and a short sleeved dress shirt. In the other, he was holding dark slacks and a white button down.

“Where exactly do you think we’re going?” she looked irritated for a moment, but then a smile cracked through the façade.

“California,” Mason shrugged.

“San Francisco,” Kyoshi clarified.

“They’re the same thing,” Mason extended the outfit choices closer to her.

“Not the way you’re thinking,” Kyoshi rolled her eyes. “We’re not going to L.A., Mason. It’s not going to be sunny and eighty degrees at my house. It’ll be high forties, low fifties, with the possibility of rain and gloom.”

“Oh.” Slowly, Mason set down the short t-shirt combo. Kyoshi nodded, smiled, and then gave him a kiss.

“And you don’t have to try and be all fancy,” she added. “We’re not the devout church going crowd that Grandma is.”

“I guess I’ll just have to represent the Brooklyn Baptists all by myself. You haven’t heard me sing yet,” Mason grinned.

“Oh, please God no,” Kyoshi giggled as Mason struck an operatic pose.

“Swing low, sweet chariot,” Mason’s deep voice rumbled pleasantly.

“That’s actually not that bad,” Kyoshi smiled sincerely at the man she loved.

“Thanks. Grandma made me join the choir why I was younger,” Mason shrugged, but he was clearly grinning at surprising her.

“And I bet you did all right with all those good Christian girls,” Kyoshi laughed when Mason’s dark face blushed. “That’s what I thought.” She walked over to him and into arms that immediately encircled her. “You’re a keeper, Mason Jackson,” she titled her head up and kissed him harder than she had before.

For a second, Mason thought that Seth and Liz’s carnal activities had gotten to her, but after a few seconds she pulled away. “You’d better head down if you want to be on time.”

Mason looked over to the clock beside his bed and cursed. He’d lost track of time in assembling his wardrobe for his Christmas with Kyoshi’s parents. They’d already met before, but he was still nervous and wanted to make a good second impression. Sitting down for lunch with Kyoshi’s massive father was one thing, but sleeping in his house and eating his food was something entirely different.

“Make sure you hurry back,” the tone of her voice and the twinkle in her eye let Mason know she’d heard some of his earlier thoughts. “Because there is no way in hell we’re fooling around at my house.”

<Absolutely not,> Mason fervently agreed. He liked his legs attached to his body; especially that important third one.

“When’s your review?”

“Twenty minutes after yours, but I want to finish packing before I head over,” judging by the mountain of clothes on the bed, Mason doubted that was going to happen.

It was already late afternoon and their flight left from the airport in a few hours. They had a two hour layover in Atlanta and then they’d fly straight through to San Francisco. They’d be getting there late, but with California being three hours behind Florida; it would just be dinner time.

“Ok,” I’ll make sure to hurry back and finish packing.” Mason could fit most of the stuff he owned in the suitcase he was bringing, so in typical guy fashion he’d be done in five minutes.

Kyoshi waved him off as she considered two different blouses, so he left without another word. He exited the townhouse and headed for a different one of the HCP’s secret lifts. He didn’t want to go to the student center, and he needed to walk for a little bit to make sure no one was following him. After a few minutes, and several random turns he was confident he wasn’t being tailed. There weren’t many students still on campus, so it was easier than usual to perform his counter-surveillance techniques. He entered the HCP through one of the dorms, and quickly made his way to Coach McMillian’s office.

The close combat coach was waiting with a big grin splashed across his face, and a foot tapping faster than a drum roll. “I’ve been waiting all morning to watch this,” he gestured for Mason to sit as he brought up the strongman’s finals footage.

“You passed the first test well enough,” the coach paused the footage at the spot where Mason was squeezing his considerable size into the small hatch opening; the older speedster’s grin taking on an impish quality. “That was our fault. We’ll make sure to give you room to breathe next time we set up Battleball.”

“That would be nice,” Mason saw the humor in the moment now that he was able to look back on it.

“What I really want to go over is this,” the footage played forward to Mason confrontation at the top floor of the office building.

“They caught me off-guard,” Mason admitted. “But…”

“No…you did fine here,” Coach McMillian cut him off. “You were outnumbered by Long, Garrison, and Mosely. They tried to smoke you out with Garrison, but you used your power and environment to your advantage. Venting the gas was the right idea. What I’m more concerned with is this,” the speedster fast forwarded to the part where Flynn was coming to copy his power.

Mason saw the decision solidify on his face, and couldn’t help but gulp as he leapt from the window he’d smashed earlier. He didn’t realize that Flynn had nearly caught him. Coach McMillian hit the pause button, perfectly capturing an “oh shit” face on the bigger strongman.

“This is what I’m concerned with.” The former Hero pointed at the frozen image.

“I’m not crazy or suicidal or anything, Sir,” Mason got the feeling he was in trouble. “I just didn’t see another way out of that situation.”

“No, you misunderstand,” the coach chook his head. “You made the right decision. You had to jump.”

“Um…ok,” Mason wasn’t sure where this conversation was going.

“I’m concerned about the fear on your face,” Coach McMillian jabbed his finger at the screen. “You’re a strongman, Jackson; I don’t want to see you afraid of a short jump.”

“Uh…I’m sorry, Sir. I’ve just never jumped out of a building before,” this was not going anything like Mason thought it would.

“That’s pretty obvious, but it’s not the jump that’s the problem,” the footage resumed playing. “You measured it right, so you didn’t overshoot; which is usually the first mistake a rookie strongman makes. Your problem is the landing,” with expert precision the speedster paused the footage just as Mason crashed through the roof of the building he’d jumped onto. “You don’t know how to land for shit.”

“In my defense it was my first try,” Mason replied sheepishly.

“I know and we’ll work on that. I’ve got a homework assignment for you over the break,” Mason didn’t quite groan, but the coach caught the sag in his shoulders. “Don’t worry it’ll be fun. I want you to go on YouTube and watch videos of Titan jumping out of buildings. There has to be a thousand clips out there. I want you to study them and learn his techniques, because when you get back you and I are going back into that arena and jumping off some roofs. Understood?”

“Yes, Sir,” Mason didn’t know how he felt about that teaching style, but he could worry about that after break.

“And Jackson,” the speedster stopped to consider his words. “You’re a strongman, so this is the stuff you do. Don’t let your girlfriend’s opinions stop you from doing your job.”

Mason didn’t know how the coach knew about their telepathic conversation, but he did. “Yes, Sir,” Mason repeated, not sure Kyoshi was going to like that bit of constructive criticism.

“Good, moving on,” just like that the coach switched gears and reviewed the rest of the footage. There wasn’t a lot going on until Mason and Kyoshi came up against Kimberly and Teresa.

Mason grimaced as the initial blast from Kimberly separated him from Kyoshi, and he spent the entire rest of the battle trying to get back to her. Mason remembered the pain when that didn’t work out. He saw the multitude of hits he took trying to cross the distance to Kyoshi, but he also saw how he used some of those hits to his advantage. He used their momentum and his own strength to take down Teresa, but by then it was too late; and then Kimberly chocked him out like he was an amateur.

“Do you see the issue?” Coach McMillian rewound the fight and played it again.

“It’s the classic dilemma of close versus ranged combat,” Mason explained to the best of his ability. I couldn’t get Kimberly while she could get me.

“Yes and no,” the Hero responded. “Look closer.”

Mason did, but he didn’t see whatever the speedster wanted him to. “Kyoshi and I should have tried to stay together.”

“No,” the coach sighed. “It’s actually the exact opposite.” Mason didn’t see that coming. “Open your eyes, Jackson,” the coach pointed passionately at the screen. “You spent this entire fight trying to get to Schultz instead of facing the real threat.”

Mason watched the fight a third time and it finally clicked. “There it is,” the speedster saw the light go off in Mason’s brain. “There are a bunch of ways you could have taken out Goodman if you committed to the fight instead of trying to rescue your damsel in distress. Hell, you could have smashed through the building and collapsed it if you wanted to.” Mason got the distinct feeling the close combat coach would be expecting that in some future Battleball game.

“I just couldn’t leave her to deal with Teresa alone.” Mason admitted.

“Schultz is a big girl, Mason,” the speedster reached across the desk to put a hand on his shoulder, but the older man couldn’t reach; so he gave his forearm a pat. “You’re both in this program for a reason, and it’s not to try and rescue each other. You need to focus on the missions and improving your skills; because something tells me that Schultz isn’t someone who wants to be thought of as a weak woman.”

“No,” Mason shook his head adamantly. “No she doesn’t.”

“Overall it was a decent performance,” the close combat coach felt he’d made his point and moved on. “You performed well enough that you’ve moved up to number five.” Mason smiled at his improvement. “You bumped Shaw down to six, so you’ll be safe in the top five for a while. Having your bones crushed by a wildly jumping strongman isn’t something she wants to experience again anytime soon.”

Mason didn’t want to experience getting choked out by Kimberly anytime again, so he doubted he’d challenge the newly minted number four ranked freshman anytime soon. He didn’t hold Teresa’s trepidation against her.

“You’ve had a good semester, Jackson, and I look forward to another good one with you in my close combat class. Your abilities are progressing, but there are some things up here we need to work on,” the coach pointed to his temple. “I suggest you and Schultz have a good long talk about what’s to come, because it could be really hard for both of you.” The last part didn’t sound like a teacher talking to a student, but a man who’d experienced firsthand a Hero’s lifestyle and all the chaos it wrecked on personal relationships.

The single statement took Mason back to the time alone with Kyoshi’s father in the restaurant, and the words that had haunted him. <There will come a day when you need to make a choice, and no matter how much you do not want it, that choice will be between being a Hero and my daughter. When that time comes I will not hold it against you when you break her heart, but mark my words, you will do just that.>

Despite everything the German Hero had said months ago, and what Craig was telling him now, Mason knew he and Kyoshi would make this work. <I have to.> The determination Mason felt in that commitment was the fiercest thing he’d felt in his entire life.

 

 

***

 

Lilly didn’t have a lot of time. She’d told Seth she was just running out to grab a few last minute things. She left the townhouse with her bag swinging from her forearm, and a smile on her face. This smile wasn’t forced, faked, or part of her deception. This smile was real, and she felt genuine happiness flowing through her veins.

She walked a few blocks before disappearing into an alley and vanishing in a small blast of darkness. She appeared, nearly instantaneously, in her room back at home. A room that was beginning to feel much more foreign than the space she shared with Seth.

<Pull it together,> she took a deep breath and focused.

“Daddy!” she yelled.

There was silence for a few moments and then the echo of padded shoes could be heard approaching. Lilly darted into her closet and grabbed a few lacey garments while she was still alone. That was a conversation she preferred not to have with her father.

“Daughter,” Altair rounded the corner in a pressed red dress shirt and a pair of black slacks.

“Here,” she didn’t dawdle before tossing a small electronic component to her father.

“This took a while to find its way to me,” his face was expressionless, but Lilly knew enough about her father to know that something was always going on underneath the surface.

<He’s testing me.> There last conversation about Seth ran through her mind, and things hadn’t gotten any less complicated since then.

“I had to make sure the Heroes didn’t realize they were compromised. If they did, then that’s no more than a chunk of plastic and circuitry. Plus, Nano needed time to copy and decrypt all the data,” she waved off his pseudo-accusation with well-practiced nonchalance. “Now you’ve got a few weeks to look over it all. Have fun!” She smiled her sweet smile and prepared to teleport back to campus.

“I thought we were going to review the data together,” his voice was hard as he caught the pieces of clothing sticking out of her bag. “That was the plan.”

“Plans change,” Lilly shrugged, but her shoulders remained tense. “I’m going on vacation.”

“Vaca…what?” for a second her father disappeared and the supervillain Hellgate snarled back at her.

“Yes vacation,” she met her father’s snarl with one of her own. It came easily. “I’m the one busting my ass to get all this intel. I’m the one who snuck into a fuckin’ Heroes base and stole that shit. I’m the one who noticed the military grade panic button Anika has on her, and I’m the one gaining everyone’s trust. So yeah I’m going to take a breather for ten days. Plus, it’s part of my cover,” the last part was weak and they both knew it.

“This is about that boy isn’t it,” the snarl that hadn’t reached his emotionless eyes suddenly set them aflame. “You’re letting your feelings get in the way of the job.”

“And you’re letting your need to not feel emotions cloud your judgement about how I should handle this.” Her own eyes were cold and calculating against the heat of her father’s glare. “Stop back seat driving. I’m the one in the field, and you’re the one sitting at home. Get off my back.” They continued to glare at each other until she dropped the bomb. “He loves me. I can use that.”

Instead of putting her father at ease it did the opposite. He only looked more pissed, but that didn’t compare to what she felt. It felt like she’d shoved a dagger into her own gut. The words cut through her leaving sheered flesh and emotions in their wake.

Lilly tried not to let the emotion show on her face, but she knew she failed. She quickly teleported out of there. She staggered and took a deep breath when she reappeared in the alley. All she wanted to do was get drunk and ignore that time bomb she’d planted in her own heart.

 

***

 

“Excuse me?” Kyoshi was caught by surprise.

“Don’t act like you didn’t understand me, Schultz,” Coach Meyers gave the taller, younger woman a hard glare.

“I…just…” this was not what Kyoshi expected.

The advanced mind had been in a good mood before coming down for her final review. She’d finished packing a number of cute outfits for her trip home. She was looking forward to a little quality time with Mason; Seth and Liz had finally stopped their humping right before she left, and she felt confident she’d done well in her non-HCP classes. Everything was shaping up to be a great winter break; and then she sat down across from Coach Meyers.

“You just what?” the alternative instructor was pressing Kyoshi uncomfortably. “You like to be the damsel in distress that gets saved by the big heroic man?”

“What…no! How could you think that?” Kyoshi felt her face heat with anger.

“I can think it because that’s what all this footage shows me,” Coach Meyers hit play and the footage started to stream between them.

Kyoshi had no idea where the coach was coming from. She thought she’d done well in the final. <Sure I could have done better, but I was able to improvise under tough circumstances and get away with a few wins.>

                That was more than could be said for some of her classmates. Talk spread after the final was over, and there were plenty of freshmen who hadn’t survived one fight. Kyoshi was happy to hear that Derrick Masters was one of them.

But as she watched the footage, Kyoshi became less and less sure of herself. She’d made it safely to the diner to meet Mason, but Becca and Anika had gotten the drop on her. If they weren’t friends, and she hadn’t been able to stall until Mason got there, she would have been done.

<Ok I guess that doesn’t look good, but I thought being able to talk people down was a desirable skill.> But things didn’t stop there.

Kyoshi saw her and Mason walk straight into Kimberly and Teresa. The blow that separated them made her wince, and then it really dawned on her. <I’m just trying to stay alive long enough for Mason to come and free me. Coach Meyers is right.> Her good mood vanished like a puff of smoke.

Coach Meyers saw the change too, and her expression softened. “You’re a powerful Super, Kyoshi, and you’ve got a hell of a gift. You just got caught with your panties around your ankles.”

A self-deprecating laugh escaped Kyoshi’s throat. “Did I at least make it to the second semester?” Kyoshi felt a ball of iron form in her gut. Despite how counterproductive it had been in the final, she couldn’t imagine getting ripped away from Mason.

Coach Meyers sighed and nodded her head. “Everyone who wanted to stay, and met the GPA requirements is going to be allowed to stay. Your class only lost six people, which I guess is pretty low for this point in the program.”

<Six people!> Low or not, Kyoshi had a hard time believing people would give up after all the hard work they’d put in over the last few months.

“Three of them were academic dropouts. Mr. Flynn is being pulled under Dr. Sanderson’s recommendation. Mr. Masters quit because he is still a child who was sick of people stomping on his overinflated ego. Last but not least, Ms. Jacobsen decided that a Hero life wasn’t the life for her. I’m sorry to see her and Mr. Flynn leave us so early, but the others weren’t going to cut it as Heroes; or even sophomores in this program,” the coach explained with only tiny signs of emotion when it came to Nathan and Stephanie. “But that’s enough about everyone else. We’re here to talk about you.”

Kyoshi gulped. “I’m guessing I didn’t do so great,” it was pretty obvious from Coach Meyers’ reaction that Kyoshi hadn’t lived up to the Heroes expectations.

“Actually, you did just fine,” Coach Meyers shrugged with a rogue grin when Kyoshi’s jaw dropped. “You moved up from number nineteen to seventeen. You handled the situation between you, Kemps, and Whitfield like an experienced negotiator; and you were able to take out Goodman. Since she did really well, you got more points for taking her down.”

“But…I thought,” Kyoshi was struggling to put her thoughts into words; which was ironic for an advanced mind.

“What?” Coach Meyers smirked. “You thought because I was disappointed that you failed your final.

<Kind of,> Kyoshi’s shrug said what she was thinking.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” the stern expression was back on the coach’s face. “You performed well in the situation you were in. My problem is that you shouldn’t have been in those situations in the first place. You relied on the abilities of others too much when you should be relying on yourself.”

“But…” Kyoshi couldn’t even get another word out.

“What? You think because you don’t have big muscles or can’t lift heavy things that you need Jackson to protect you?”

<That’s not what I was thinking,> but even as the thought crossed Kyoshi’s mind she knew she was lying to herself.

“Kyoshi,” the advanced mind noticed the name change along with the coach’s tone. “You can possess other people with your telepathy. Not many people in the world can do that. Your telekinesis is weak, but you’ve shaped it to your advantage. You’re using it as a shield and a pair of superpowered brass knuckles. You can hit harder, and take more hits than many of your classmates. But what gets me the most is that you don’t devalue your abilities unless you’re in the presence of someone physically stronger. All of your challenge matches have been a real insight into your mindset, and you’re good.” The coach took a deep breath before she said the last bit. “You just need to figure out how to act around one man.”

Kyoshi couldn’t stop the surge of anger, even if she knew there was validity to Coach Meyers’ words. So she decided to say nothing at all. The alternative instructor nodded at the silence, knowing that she’d gotten her point across.

“We just have one more thing to dicuss before you can go enjoy your winter break,” Coach Meyers continued professionally. “I want you to describe to me what you did to Goodman?”

That was easier said than done. Kyoshi had lost a lot of blood and had her ass thoroughly kicked by Teresa. She’d just watched Mason get taken out right in front of her, so her emotions were a mess too. She’d just lashed out.

“I don’t know how to explain it exactly,” Kyoshi thought how to put what she remembered into words. “I knew Kimberly was coming. I saw her heading down the fire escape. I was angry. Angry I was going to get taken out, angry Mason had been defeated, and I just wanted to do something. I guess you could say I collected the energy in my head. It was kind of like trying to hold water in your cupped hands; not impossible, but it kept leaking back into my mind. When I thought I had enough, or maybe it was right before I knew I was going to pass out; either way I targeted her mind and just…stabbed.” Kyoshi didn’t know if it was the right word, but it sounded better than “blindly lashed out”.

“We need to keep an eye on this new development,” Kyoshi saw something flash across Coach Meyers’ red iris’.

All the advanced mind picked up when she tried to glimpse into the other Super’s mind was the constant, <Want to hear the most annoying sound…> she already knew how that song and dance ended. But there was something there, something that told Kyoshi that this new aspect of her power hit a personal nerve with the alternative instructor.

“Please do not use this ability again until you can sit down with Professor Livingston and get a firmer grasp on it. She already looked over Ms. Goodman, but there’s always a chance that if you did this while at full strength you could mentally damage your opponent.” Kyoshi understood the severity of that, and quickly nodded.

“Do you have any other questions?” Coach Meyers opened up the floor.

<I did fine on the final, but you’re disappointed in me because my personal relationship influenced how I acted. I displayed another ability that has the possibility to be dangerous, and you all but ordered me to have a heart to heart with the man I love about how we’re going to make our experiences in the HCP work. No, I’m just peachy.>

                “No. Thank you for the insight, Coach.”

“That’s my job,” the alternative instructor graced the advanced mind with a small smile. “Now go enjoy your break. You’re only young once.” Kyoshi knew when she was being told to go have fun.

Kyoshi left the HCP and headed straight back to the townhouse. There wasn’t a lot of time before she needed to get herself and Mason to the airport. She’d be home by dinner, and she’d asked her mom to make some culturally appropriate food. The poor imitators that catered to the college population were nothing compared to her mother’s home cooking.

Her mind was still on the incredible sushi her mom was able to roll when she opened the door and came face to face with Becca. “Oh…” she stepped back in surprise. “Hey, Becca.”

The blue-haired speedster looked conflicted, and it didn’t take telepathy to know why. They hadn’t had a chance to sit down and talk since the final. Kyoshi knew what Becca was going to say before she said it. So instead of letting the petite woman stew, Kyoshi stepped forward and wrapped her in a hug. When a six foot six woman hugged a woman who was over a foot shorter it looked awkward, but Becca still melted into Kyoshi’s chest regardless.

They stayed that way for a long time, and when Becca finally pulled away there were wet tear stains on Kyoshi’s shirt. “Ah fiddlesticks, I’m sorry,” Becca wiped her eyes with her forearm and then looked around for something to dry the damp fabric.

“Becca…Becca,” Kyoshi repeated the name louder, grabbing the speedster by the shoulders to turn her back to face her. The smaller woman didn’t want to meet Kyoshi’s eyes. “There’s nothing to be afraid or ashamed of.” The words only made more tears leak out of the other woman’s eyes.

“I treated you like poop. You’re my friend and I treated you awfully in there,” Becca folded her arms defensively across her chest. “It was wrong and I shouldn’t have done it.”

“In there it is training,” Kyoshi replied, pointing down. “In there we’re going to have to face each other, and sometimes kick the crap out of one another so we can get better.” Becca’s body language said she didn’t like the sound of that. “But the important thing is,” Kyoshi made sure Becca met her eyes for this part. “When it comes to anything up here, I know you’ve got my back. You’re my best girlfriend and you know I love you.”

Becca was still crying, but her thousand watt smile, that could bring men to their knees if she was into them, was back. “You’re the best girlfriend I have,” Becca smiled at Kyoshi’s remark, wiping more tears from her cheek.

“Don’t take it personally, but I’ve got to give Mason the number one friend spot. He’s a lot more fragile than you’d think,” the made the little speedster laugh. Thinking of Mason as fragile was like thinking a mountain was small.

“Someone said my name,” as if on command the strongman descended the stairs, carrying all of their luggage in a single trip. Kyoshi chose to ignore the part where he only had one bag to her three, and he’d gladly carry all of them all day long.

“We’re just talking about how you’re a big softie,” Becca replied, blurring over to Mason to give him a hug.

The image was comical but it warmed both of the larger Supers’ hearts. “Yeah that’s me,” Mason was smiling, but he cocked an eyebrow in Kyoshi’s direction. She just shrugged and smiled.

“Okey dokey, well Ani and I are out of here. We’ve got a long drive home. I love my girlfriend but she drives like my Grammy on a tractor.” Mason’s laughter seemed to shake the house.

“Have a good break, Becca,” Kyoshi pulled her into another hug before she left. “We’ll see you in a few weeks.”

“Bye guys, Merry Christmas.”

The door closed behind the speedster and they were alone. “Anyone still here?” Kyoshi expanded her senses.

“Seth left to do some shopping, and Liz had an errand to run. Angela already left for break, and Becca and Anika,” the statement was punctuated by the sound of a car peeling out in front of the house.

“So…we’re alone,” Kyoshi grinned when she saw Mason’s mind react to the expression on her face.

“Yeah, yeah we are,” he dropped the bags and pulled her close.

With so many people living in the house, and so much going on with the HCP and school, Kyoshi and Mason never really got a chance to cut loose. They were fine with that, but a few weeks of them having to be on their best behavior made them want to have one more afternoon where they could be bad. Kyoshi just hoped she’d be able to walk straight by the time they got to San Francisco.

Previous                                                                                                                                               Next