A Change of Pace- Memorial Day Bonus

Memorial Day wasn’t always known as Memorial Day. At first, the last Monday in May was known as Dedication Day. Originally, Dedication Day was a national day of remembrance for those who died during the Civil War. It took the carnage of the First World War for Dedication Day to be expanded to all fallen American service members. It took years for the day to evolve into Memorial Day, and even longer for it to become a federal holiday.

Daisy knew this better than most thanks to her grandpappy. Grandpappy Meyers was a veteran of World War I, and his grandpappy fought in the Civil War. The Meyers family tradition was to spend time decorating the graves of their fallen ancestors, and then have a family barbeque. Many of the Meyers family had served and perished in America’s wars, and been buried on the family plot in Savannah.

It was tradition for Grandpappy Meyers to sit little Daisy on his knee, and tell her tales of his days in the trenches, of the midnight charges across no-man’s-land, and the effects mustard gas had on a human being. This wasn’t typical holiday conversation for a little girl, but Grandpappy wanted Daisy to be ready. He wanted her to know the truth and ugliness of the world. The Meyers men were hard people, forged that way by circumstance and realism. They were also Supers, before humanity even knew Supers existed. They varied in their abilities, but most had served during war time. They all shared the feeling they might as well do something useful with these mysterious powers, and they expected little Daisy to do the same one day. Although no one in the 1950s expected a woman to go off to war. Daisy’s father on the other hand was off fighting in Korea, and had served with Captain Starlight during World War II.

“Why do people fight?” little eight year old Daisy asked, taking a break from running around the backyard with the family dog.

It was already hot and humid in Savannah by the end of May, but that didn’t stop Grandpappy from being in his Sunday best. It also helped that he didn’t sweat; absorbing heat would do that to a person. The Meyers household was right out of a Norman Rockwell portrait. It had the immaculately kept yard, the white picket fence, and the seemingly perfect family, minus the father who was off serving his country.

The old southern gentleman walked with a cane now. His sight and hearing was pretty dreadful at this point, but he still stood tall and proud. He regarded his granddaughter with a serious expression. Serious enough that it caused her to take a step back in alarm.

“That’s a good question, sweetie pie,” his formerly rich southern drawl was coarse from years of tobacco use. “It is also one I don’t have the answer to.”

“But you know everything, Grandpappy,” Daisy’s innocence statement brought a thundering burst of laughter, and then couching, from the aged Super.

“I know a great many things, and I can give you my answer,” his gaze had softened. “But it probably isn’t your neighbors answer, and the man across the street will have another answer.”

“I’m sure you right, Grandpappy. Momma is always talking about how dumb Mr. Wilson is,” the lack of societal filter brought another fit of coughing laughter to the man.

“Very well, sweetie,” he patted his knee for his granddaughter to take her seat there.

Grandpappy Meyers stared into his granddaughter’s red irises and sighed. Unlike most of the Meyers family members with abilities, sweet Daisy had been inflicted with a noticeable side effect. She looked like a demon, and that could be a death wish in the south. She had to stay home and be home schooled. There was too much of a risk that the more fervent religious folk in the town would try to exorcise the demon within her. Little Daisy was in for a difficult life of loneliness, and there was nothing her grandfather could do for her. All he could do was be truthful.

“I believe people fight because they want to be powerful,” he began, watching to make sure Daisy’s mother wasn’t in earshot. The last thing he needed was a tongue lashing. “I pray to the lord almighty that you won’t ever be put in a position to exercise true power, Daisy. No matter what anyone tells you, the most valuable thing a person has is their life. People will tell you the most important thing is money, their home, their job, or their family. They’re lying, my precious Daisy.” Daisy had to pat her Grandpapy’s hand because he’d begun staring blankly off into the distance. She also wanted to know what he meant by that.

“People lose money, jobs, and houses every day; and I saw people during the war that sold their wives and daughters for a loaf of bread and some soup. People always value their lives, and true power is exercised when you have control of that. That is why people fight, Daisy. For the power to control lives. If you threaten people’s lives they will do what you want. Do you remember when Hilter did that, and everyone banded together to stop him.”

Daisy nodded. She remembered even if all she remembered her father being gone for her birthdays.

“Have you ever killed someone, Grandpappy?” Daisy asked carefully.

“Yes, my sweet Daisy. Yes I have.” There was no remorse or regret in the elder Super’s voice.

“Did you feel powerful?” the little girl whispered the question.

“Killing another man is the scariest and most exhilarating act a person can do,” he took off his glasses to clean them on his dress shirt. “The moment you take a life you are doing more than a simple act of violence. When you take a life, you are killing someone’s son, brother, father, even grandfather. When you kill someone you are extinguishing everything that might be if that person lived.”

“What does that mean, Grandpappy,” little Daisy was growing bored with the conversation as it passed beyond her comprehension.

“If someone killed me when I was serving, then your father never would have been born, and you wouldn’t exist,” Daisy’s eyes went wide with fear at the revelation.

“But don’t worry, my dear,” he hugged the little girl affectionately. “That didn’t happen, and you are here to listen to an old man rant about what he thinks.”

“You’re not ranting,” Daisy repeated the word, obviously not understanding what it meant. “But I bet you’re right and Mr. Wilson would be wrong.” Grandpappy Meyers laughed again, and helped her off his knee.

Daisy immediately sprinted away to her mother and the ice cream she was serving. He doubted the little girl would remember this conversation, but it felt good to talk with her. He knew he didn’t have that much time left, and he sincerely prayed Daisy wouldn’t have to do the things he’d done.

 

***

 

“Everybody report in, commo check,” the authoritative voice of Captain Starlight ordered.

The assigned Heroes began to call off their readiness status. <Jesus Christ,> Daisy thought as she surveyed the National Mall in Washington, D.C. <There has to be half a million people here.>

The reason around half a million people were crammed into the National Mall on this lovely last Monday of May in 1971 was because it was Memorial Day. Unlike the hundred plus years before, this Memorial Day was special. For the first time since its inception, Memorial Day was now a federal holiday. In celebration of May’s only long weekend, the powers-that-be decided it would be a good idea to throw a grand old parade. Since the nation’s workforce had the day off, many decided they would go see the nation’s leaders parade themselves around with political theatrics that would make ancient Rome proud. This left Daisy and a handful of other Heroes to safeguard the masses.

“Reaper, all clear,” Daisy signaled over the nifty new piece of communication equipment.

For most of her Hero communication, Daisy and her team just used walkie talkies. She’d nearly been laughed out of the room when she’d shown up with her team’s equipment. This was the first time in her five year Hero career Daisy was playing with the big boys, and that meant she got to use the big boy’s toys. Instead of the store bought walkie talkies, she was outfitted with an electronic gizmo she clipped to her belt. A cord ran beneath her costume from the gizmo to a headset, which thankfully didn’t interfere with her mask. To top it all off, the communication was completely encrypted.

<This is a hell of a lot better than that crap the Army boys are hauling around,> she felt sympathy for the men carrying around the thirty pound backpack-looking radios.

Daisy saw plenty of soldiers from her perch on the construction of the soon to be Hirshhorn Museum. Their olive fatigues, similar to her own black ones, could be seen in pockets in the mass of people attending the event. Not all of the attendees were there to see the show.

A quick looked showed about half to two thirds of the crowd of people were there for enjoyment. They had their families present, were eating hot dogs, ice cream cones, and other vendor prepared food. They were here to celebrate, and they were keeping their distance from the second group. This secondary group was primarily a sea of tie-dye. They were all chanting a phrase repeatedly, and usually had a sign bouncing to the rhythm of their protest. This was the group the Heroes were keeping an eye on.

Daisy understood the sentiment coming from the crowd, even if she didn’t agree with it. Vietnam was in full swing now, and the list of casualties was growing every day. The rhetoric from these anti-war groups grew as well, along with that of the war’s supporters. Their messages varied considerably. “Make Peace not War” was a big one from the opposition side, but the government was too concerned with stemming the spread of communism. The message was quite different from the supporter’s side.

“Enlist the Heroes! Why don’t the Supers have to fight and die like the rest of us!”

Daisy shook her head as the two groups, separated by a thick line of policemen, screamed their slogans in the hope the world would listen. <Idiots,> Daisy wasn’t particularly fond of either group, especially when they made uninformed assumptions.

First of all, Supers were fully engaged in Vietnam. The military had an entire command structure dedicated to Supers, and there were dozens if not hundreds fighting in those miserable Southeast Asian jungles. Second, Heroes couldn’t be deployed there. The DVA’s mandate was domestic only, so the Heroes the new HCPs were churning out weren’t going to be gathered into a worldwide police force. When Captain Starlight first approached the government with the existence of Supers he made this point very clear. Other nations were following the US’s lead in this regard by developing their own standards for civil service Heroes. If a Super wanted to go fight wars they needed to join the ForceOps. Lastly, and this one was for the anti-war people, they needed to stop blaming the Heroes every time they broke the law in pursuit of their agenda. If they didn’t get the proper permits, or caused property damage when they rallied, then they were in the wrong. It didn’t matter how righteous they thought their cause was. Heroes were just there to enforce the law, they didn’t make it.

<There aren’t even enough of us,> Daisy’s thought was punctuated by the exhaustion she felt.

On top of lobbying to get Heroes to do these extra assignments, people conveniently forgot there just weren’t enough for them for the basic coverage citizens wanted. There were only three HCPs, and although plans for two more were in the works, they were bogged down in congressional subcommittee. The programs were hideously expensive, and the government wanted reassurances that the tax dollars were being spent properly. With the constraints on graduation the DVA put into place, and the mandatory internship program, this left thirty new Heroes a year. While no Heroes had retired yet, some of the World War 2 veterans like Captain Starlight were getting close, and there were the inevitable casualties. It was simple math. There weren’t enough Heroes to cover 207.7 million people.

“Reaper, do you copy?” Captain Starlight’s voice was irritated. Daisy had obviously missed whatever he was asking.

“Yes, Sir, I’m here. Say again your last,” she was glad no one was in a position to see her blush. It was a rookie mistake to get lost in your thoughts while on watch.

“I said,” this time the statement came out more as a growl. “Can you check out that group on the corner of Jefferson Dr. and 4th Street. The Secret Service telepath is getting something off them.”

“On it,” Daisy quickly snatched up her binoculars. Captain Starlight wasn’t the type of person you wanted to keep waiting.

She located the small group of protestors where her field commander said they would be. There were only a dozen or so of them all huddled around one another. They looked suspicious, so Daisy activated her power. Luckily the group was just within range, but it still took her ten minutes to sort through all of the life threads within her scope.

Grandpappy Meyers’ words about power always sprang to mind when Daisy was seeing through this extra sense of hers. If power was the ability to control people lives, then she had the ultimate power over the thirty thousand people she could feel packed between 7th street and 4th street. She just hoped the old adage of absolute power corrupting absolutely wasn’t true in her case.

“Sir, this is Reaper,” Daisy waited for the Captain to respond. “I can’t sense any Supers among the group, but I concur with the Secret Service telepath. They’re displaying odd mannerisms, and I would suggest the police look into it. As long as they don’t move towards Independence Ave. I think they don’t pose a serious risk to public safety.”

“Thank you, Reaper. Starlight, out,” the line went dead, and Daisy went back to alternating her attention between the group of protestors and the larger crowd.

The plan was for the parade to get going at ten o’clock. The route was a pretty straight shot starting at the Capitol Building, going down Independence Avenue all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, and then crossing over the Arlington National Cemetery Bridge. Once there, the President, important members of Congress, and anyone who could fork over the cash to be on the guest list would attend a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Of course, in true government fashion, it was nearly eleven and they were still organizing at the Capitol Building. Daisy tried not to think too much on the fact that the leader of the free world couldn’t get a parade started at the appropriate time, but on the bright side, it gave the Heroes more time to identify potential threats.

<Glad I didn’t vote for Nixon,> Daisy thought as she stared off towards the starting point. <Not that the other option was any better.> In general, Daisy made a point of trying to avoid politicians whenever possible.

She spent the next ten minutes scanning the crowd. She looked for people behaving oddly, and there were a lot of them considering this was the 70s, and the protesters were fond of illegal substances. She also kept an eye out for people in long coats or jackets that could be concealing weapons. It was pretty hot for late May, so no one had an excuse to wear a heavy jacket. She also kept an eye out for anyone who seemed to be keeping an eye on the Heroes. Her position along the route, and on top of the circular structure, gave her a 360 degree view of the area. She could observe people streets away, so other Heroes were relying on her intelligence. On top of all that, she was filtering through the life threads in her zone, identifying any Supers or Powereds, and relaying them to the Army and other Heroes.

Daisy watched as a half dozen police in riot gear break off from their main body, and head in the direction of the huddled protesters. She watched their path and couldn’t find anything suspicious or out of the ordinary. She patched herself through to the Sergeant leading the group and kept in communication with him. It took the group a while to wade through the teeming mass of people, but eventually they got to the group. The dozen people finally saw them coming and scattered. One dropped what looked like a Mason jar. The shattering of breaking glass was muted by the oozing of red liquid that began to snake down the street. To the crowd’s credit no one screamed or panicked. People moved out of the way to make sure they didn’t get the substance on them, but a stampede was avoided.

“Reaper, looks like the little group was planning on throwing a little red paint on the parade,” the police Sergeant informed. “Good call.”

Throwing red paint on people was a thing now-a-days. The more hardcore actually used blood, but it was more theatrics than actual physical assault. They usually screamed something along the lines of “baby killer” or “raping the environment” when they did it. If they hadn’t identified the group the whole situation would have been highly embarrassing, but no one would have been hurt.

The spike of adrenaline Daisy felt when the altercation occurred was already fading, leaving her even more tired than before. She was already regretting taking the double overtime the government was paying them for this work. All she wanted was a cold shower and a good night’s rest.

“How you hanging in there Da…Dreadnaught,” Daisy exhaustion was already getting the best of her. She nearly outed a fellow Hero.

The Hero, Dreadnaught, or Dave to her and anyone else who graduated in Lander’s class of ’66, was right in the heart of the action. Technically it was inaction at the moment, which couldn’t be helping the powerful Super’s emotional state. Dave had taken his Hero name from the predominant type of battleship in the early 20th century. People immediately thought he had some awesome offensive power, and they were dead wrong. Dave chose his name because of the tough nature of the old warships. They were specifically designed to take hit after hit and keep on moving. They were the backbone of any fleet.

Dreadnaught’s power was he created a giant energy bubble. The energy bubble could be expanded or retracted, and made see through, opaque, or any color Dave wanted. He tended to be a bit theatrical sometimes. Unfortunately, the larger the bubble the weaker it was. When Dreadnaught used it only to cover himself he could take on just about any manmade weapon and walk away without a scratch. Due to the tactical nature of his power, Dave would be standing right behind the President and Vice President for the entire parade. He wasn’t happy about this.

“Just peachy, Reaper,” she could feel the sarcasm dripping off his statement. “How about I take you out for a beer as payment for this wonderfully lucrative assignment.”

Daisy rolled her eyes, and heard Dave’s chuckle over the line. He knew her well enough to know her response. Daisy and Dave had been an item back at Lander. An item in the sense they’d get together, have crazy monkey sex, and then romantically implode within the week. Both were too immature, too selfish, and too focused on their Hero careers to really make it work. They both operated in relatively the same regions, so they’d get together every couple of months for purely social or physiological reasons. It seemed Dave wanted tonight to be one of those nights.

“We’ll see how this goes,” Daisy’s reply was noncommittal. “And you know you’d be buying me a hell of a lot more than a single beer.”

Dave’s laugh was abruptly cut off by static, and replaced by their angry commander. “Keep this channel open for emergency purposes, and remain professional,” you could tell Captain Starlight was growing less thrilled to be working with the younger generation of Heroes.

“Sir, yes, Sir,” Daisy could just imagine Dave’s mock salute, and had to disconnect the line before her laughter got her in even more trouble.

The short conversation, and promise of alcohol and other activities, was a welcome respite from the repetition of scanning the crowd. She felt slightly refreshed, and added carnal activities with Dave to her checklist. It gave her something to look forward too, but she wouldn’t let him know she’d made up her mind until after he’d forked over the booze.

The second wind got Daisy to the start of the parade. <11:30,> she shook at the ineptitude as the cheers and music began to play. The whole scene radiated patriotism, and despite her jaded view of politics, Daisy was glad the service members were getting the recognition they deserved.

The parade wasn’t huge, this wasn’t Thanksgiving in New York City, but there were a decent amount of floats and people involved. There were a couple of marching bands, both professional and high school, scattered throughout the line to keep the music going. The largest contingent was the soldiers, both active and retired, that marched proudly in formation. Even the ones who bore obvious wounds from combat kept in step with their brother’s in arms. There were a few floats mixed in with the bands and units. There was one for each major conflict America fought in.

Even from her spot overlooking Independence Ave. Daisy felt sorry for some of the float participants. Those on the World War II float were reenacting the scene from Iwo Jima, but the genius architect hadn’t secured the flag to anything, so the volunteers were literally keeping the flag in place with raw manpower. They were all dripping with sweat by the time they reached Daisy’s station, as was the Revolutionary War group in their wigs and long overcoats. Lastly, there were the politicians. Nixon was riding in a covered automobile with the windows open so he could wave to the crowds. It hadn’t even been 10 years since Kennedy’s assassination, so there was no way the Secret Service was going to allow him to be exposed. It was a good idea.

Daisy paid special attention to the Korean War float. Her father, even with his kinetic abortion abilities, had been severely wounded during the three year war. He’d been healed, but the emotional scars of two wars remained. He had difficulty coping, so when he applied to become a Hero he was delicately rejected. That had only added to the issues until he was offered a contract with the DVA. That contract covered instances such as this where a little extra security was needed from experienced Supers. Daisy couldn’t help but smile down at the float where her father was currently working undercover. He stood so tall and proud on the float it reminded her of Grandpappy. He had the same build and facial structure, so she could almost imagine him at future Memorial Day BBQs bouncing some grandchild on his knee and telling war stories. Not that a grandchild would be coming from her anytime soon.

<I’m only 27,> she thought the same thing she’d spoken to him last time he’d broached the topic. <I have almost no social life, and no romance at all. I screw Dave every once and a while, but he isn’t father material…at least not yet.> Daisy was so wrapped up in the future that she nearly missed the explosions in the present.

The heat wave from the impact of the exploding Korean War float washed over her. People were screaming in pain, panicking, and running in every direction. People were getting trampled in the stampede as the police tried and failed to maintain order. The communication’s net was alive with chatter, requests for updates, and screams of frustration. The President’s motorcade was engulfed in an opaque yellow energy bubble, so they were safe for the moment. In the middle of this Daisy stood motionless on top of the museum. She felt numb, small, and useless.

It took a moment, but she finally snapped herself out of it. “Dad!” she didn’t care if someone discovered who she was as she launched herself off the top of her outpost.

Daisy absorbed the impact of the several story drop to the ground, and rolled to her feet diverting some of that kinetic energy to make the whole move more graceful and quick than if someone was running full speed on a flat surface. She moved effortlessly into a sprint towards the float, plowing through the civilians running around like chickens with their heads cut off. She felt a twinge of guilt as people were thrown out of her path by her power, but they’d live. Her focus was on her father, and if he’d survived.

“Reaper! What the hell is going on?” Captain Starlight was yelling, but she didn’t care. She needed to make sure Dad was safe.

The float was an inferno. The initial explosion had ripped a hole through the center of the contraption, and the flame was using the rest of it as fuel. She could make out several blackened bodies through the fire, but they were long dead. Judging by the scattered remains they’d probably died in the explosion. Daisy felt her heart break as she located a body that fit the dimensions of her father, roasting away like the world’s cruelest barbeque.

“Reaper! What the hell are you doing?” this time it wasn’t Captain Starlight yelling, but the stern voice she’d heard frequently throughout her 27 years.

She looked past the firestorm to see her father emerging from a hole in the building across the street. He must have ridden the shockwave of the explosion off the float, and absorbed enough of the force to clear him from the blaze and survive the trip through the buildings concrete exterior. Daisy went from extremely relieved to feeling foolish. <Of course he survived a simple explosion. He’s lived through two large scale wars. A fucking surprise attack wouldn’t take him out. Idoit!>

Her self-reprimand was interrupted by his barking orders. “Get your ass moving, girl! This isn’t over.” Her father was already up and moving down Independence Ave. towards the President’s location. He undoubtedly had his orders; she needed to start following hers.

“Starlight, this is Reaper. The Korean War float exploded, and I didn’t see or hear any incoming fire. Best guess is there was a bomb planted on the vehicle,” she pulled the details from her memory. Luckily she’d been looking right at the float when it exploded, and the blast had started at the center of the vehicle and proceeded outward. “We have several KIA from the float and multiple injured from the chaos.”

“About fucking time, Reaper,” Daisy was surprised at the strain in the Captain’s voice. Get your ass down to 4th Street. Armsman decided to pay us a little visit.” The staccato bursts of machine gun fire were evident in the background.

Daisy cringed at the news, but leapt forward to meet the chaos. Armsman was her kryptonite. He was a nullifier, the best until Zero would make his appearance, and the supervillain of the 60s and 70s. He was Captain Starlight’s antithesis. Starlight brought Supers orderly into the spotlight, and Armsman vowed to return disorder and chaos to the world. His philosophy was “the strongest will survive”. He believed the government had broken its social contract to the people, and anarchy was the natural social order. Most of his manifesto was bullshit he spewed to the media, but the Heroes knew one thing for sure. Armsman was a Super Supremacist and he wanted to see our species at the top of the food chain; with him at the peak of course. In Armsman’s eyes, Heroes were the worst of the worst, puppets of the just slightly less despised politicians. All that made this Memorial Day parade a target rich environment.

All the background information on the mass murderer was streaming through her head when she saw the streak of a bazooka round fire from the building next to her. The explosive warhead impacted Dreadnaught’s energy bubble but didn’t explode. Instead, it crystalized into ice and froze in place. It covered a good quarter of the bubble, and Daisy noticed the field shrink slightly.

<They’re trying to collapse the bubble through sheer weight,> she realized as another bazooka round fired off another rooftop to coat the bubble in more ice.

“I’m heading for the Delta Solar rooftop to check out the rounds’ origination point,” she announced over the network, not waiting for authorization.

Daisy jumped as hard as she could, and almost made it onto the roof. She crashed through a window two stories below, ignored the glass as it cut into her skin at a dozen points, and kept on moving. She quickly found the stairs and plowed through the door to the roof. She threw herself out the door at top speed, and took in the scene. It passed by in a near blur, but she caught enough to get a handle on the situation.

There was a ring of fire on the rooftop, a firestorm that behaved unnaturally like it had a mind of its own. In the center of the ring were two contraptions that resembled something she’d seen in a sci-fi movie. One was a large mechanical stand that vaguely resembled a human arm. The hand of this arm was holding the bazooka, which had been modified considerably. It was larger than any portable anti-tank weapons she’d ever seen. Next to the arm was a little robot that was moving back and forth between the quasi-bazooka and a crate of warheads. The little mechanical creature was retrieving the warheads, lifting them up, and loading them into the bazooka. The bazooka fired, with virtually no back blast, and the process repeated itself. The most impressive part was it was doing this extremely quickly. Fast enough that it fired off two rounds before she landed on the far side of the roof.

Daisy chanced a look over to Dave’s energy bubble. The sphere was gradually shrinking under the mass of ice that now coated it. The strategy was genius, a perfect counter to Dreadnaught. They knew it would take forever to get through his bubble, so they decided to bury him under it. He would either get exhausted and release the bubble, killing himself and the President in the ensuing avalanche; or the targets would be stuck there until emergency workers could dig them out. Either way it gave Armsman more time to attack. At the moment, Daisy had more pressing problems.

The unnatural ring of fire lashed out at her like coiled viper, striking her in the leg. The fatigues were fireproof, but they weren’t heatproof. Her costume didn’t stop residual heat from leaking through, and threatening to roast her alive if she didn’t move. She jumped again, this time with significantly less power, and landed on the opposite side of the roof back by the door. The fire followed her, never loosing contact with her leg. Daisy estimatede she had about fifteen seconds before she passed out from heat stroke, and that wasn’t if the fire got smart and started attacking her unprotected head. With so little time she did the only thing she could think of.

Daisy pulled the electricity from within herself and unleashed it on the two mechanical contraptions. The ensuing explosion tossed Daisy from the rooftop. She would learn from this experience to not blindly lash out at something she didn’t understand. Her electricity destroyed both the bazooka and the loading mechanism. It also detonated the round in the bazooka’s chamber and the ones in the case. Luckily most of the rounds were those frozen ones, so the actual explosion wasn’t too huge. The two that were highly explosive, coupled with the weight of the ice created by the other’s detonation was more than enough to collapse the roof of the building and cause massive property damage to the structure.

<At least it put out the fire,> Daisy had the though midair as she saw the final puff of the abnormal inferno’s death.

Instead of falling the many stories to the ground, Daisy was fortunate enough to get blasted across the street to the roof of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum opposite the Delta Solar building. Her luck continued when their wasn’t another ring of fire waiting to roast her alive. However, she was able to get a glimpse of three figures watching the chaos of the multipronged attack.

One was Armsman in his medieval breastplate over standard olive fatigues. The entire rest of his body was covered with weapons of one form or another, and Heroes knew from experience he was a master in each of them. The second individual was a short chubby man in a tweed sportcoat. His face had a rat-like quality to it, and he only had a few wisps of hair left on his head. The final man was the tallest of the three. His features were indistinguishable beneath his skintight black body suit. The only thing identifying him was the devil’s mask secured around his face.

All three turned as she landed forcefully a few hundred feet from them. The building’s edge stopped her from careening off the side. She stayed down feigning unconsciousness in the hopes of catching them off guard. She reached out with her extra sense to incapacitate the other members of Armsman’s team, and nearly had her metaphorical hands around their life lines when they vanished.

Armsman shook his head at her from across the rooftop, while the devil mask wearing villain wagged his finger disapprovingly. Armsman had both his hands on his partners’ shoulders, lending them his ability. This would have been the perfect opportunity for the supervillain to monologue, but Armsman didn’t do that. He’d only been reported talking on a handful of occasions, and those statements came from witness testimony before he killed one of his targets. The attack’s mastermind didn’t even spare Daisy a second glance. He just nodded to his masked companion, and they vanished in a circle of flame, only the flame remained behind.

<Fuck this,> Daisy thought as the flame reared up in preparation to strike.

With not enough time for another round with the inferno, Daisy hoisted herself over the roofs edge and plunged to the safety of the ground. She absorbed the impact, but was slow to get to her feet. While her body might be fine, her internal equilibrium was off from the multiple explosions, falling, and getting thrown all over the place. She took a moment to take in her surroundings, and make sure everything was secure before activating her communications gear.

“All forces, be aware I have a positive I.D. that Tinker and Hellgate are onsite with Armsman. Last known location was the roof of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum,” Daisy hoisted herself to her feet while relaying the message.

“Good copy, Reaper,” Captain Starlight still sounded pissed off, but it probably wasn’t directed at her. “We’re regrouping at 4th and Independence, so hustle.”

“Roger that, Reaper en route,” Daisy did as she was ordered and sprinted towards the intersection, ignoring the nausea and throbbing pain in her head.

As Daisy reached the corner of 4th and Independence she realized this situation was becoming a worst case scenario. It was tough enough dealing with Armsman and his knack for getting out of tough spots. It always hampered the Heroes when their powers didn’t work on him. Daisy couldn’t strike him down with her lightening from a distance because it would fizzle out inches from his skin. She couldn’t use her kinetic energy to enhance her punches because all the power was taken out of her blow. Her experience on the roof was a pretty good indication that reaping was out of the question.

Armsman made Heroes fight him on his own turf, hand-to-hand combat. Someone could try and throw something at him or shoot him, but he proved too elusive for those to be effective countermeasures. More than one Hero had lost their lives thinking they were good enough to go toe to toe with Armsman. With nine years of combat training, and five years of actual combat, Daisy still didn’t feel comfortable engaging in a fair fight with him. This was all assuming the supervillain didn’t shoot you on the spot, or cut you down with one of his blades. His multiple talents were a real pain in the ass.

On top of Armsman’s badassness they now had to deal with Tinker. Tinker wasn’t a Super. He was just a really smart guy who used to build weapons for the Department of Defense. At some point he’d had a psychotic break and dropped off the grid. Now he was Armsman’s lapdog, and he built tons of gadgets for the criminal mastermind. It didn’t help he was a diagnosed sociopath who’d experimented and murdered several people in the name of science. The freezing warheads and supercharged bazookas were milder examples of Tinker’s inventions.

The last member of the trio was Hellgate. Hellgate was a mercenary for hire, and was loyal to the money, not Armsman. The amount of money Armsman had made Hellgate loyal to him, and it was bad news for the Heroes. His rapid teleportation, with the fire circle twist, was going to hamper any efforts to confront the group, or disable Tinker’s weaponry without collateral damage. Reaper knew this pretty well already. The still smoking remains of the Delta Scope building roof were visible not far away.

Captain Starlight had set up a mobile command station at 4th and Independence. It was only half a block from Dreadnaught’s energy bubble, which was now down to the size of a small house, and covered in a layer of ice no one knew how thick. The bazookas’ rates of fire were down as Heroes began to pick off the emplacements, but they were taking casualties in the process. The fire was dangerous, and the bazookas had started to turn on the approaching Heroes. We already had one dead and five more out of commission. That was half the entire force. To make matters worse, machine gun emplacements had popped up all over the place and sprayed their lethal rounds into the civilians. Hundred were down, and dozens probably dead, but we didn’t know because the first responders were being kept back. We didn’t need more casualties.

“We have a healer in bound that will arrive soon,” as if on cue a swirl of lights revealed two women, one with a giant red cross on her uniform.

She immediately headed out into the crowd of fallen, screaming civilians. She only made it a few steps out of the tent before she took a bullet to the shoulder. Her cries joined the chorus of the wounded, and Daisy leapt into action. She tossed a bolt of lightning in the direction the shot had come from. The bolt sheered a chunk out of a rooftop, and provided ample cover fire to bring the healer back behind the protective tent construct Captain Starlight was creating.

“At ease, Reaper,” the older super’s stress seeped into his tone. “We don’t need any more civilian casualties today.”

Daisy knew he was right, but that didn’t stop the fact that she was pissed off. The healer was fine in a few seconds, the bullet pushed out of her body by her ability.

“Can I get some cover?” she asked, now clearly irritated.

Captain Starlight conjured a shield of golden light and handed it to her. “Thanks,” she ran back into the sea of wounded, bullets bouncing loudly off the shield.

<Now that’s a Hero,> Daisy made a mental note to invite her to the bar later. <The least Dave could do is buy two women who helped save his ass a drink.>

As weapons emplacements continued to crop up Captain Starlight dispatched the remaining Heroes to deal with them. It was dangerous work, fighting the intelligent fires, and trying not to destroy this section of Washington D.C. in the process. Daisy sustained third degree burns on her face at least four times fighting the blazes. Thank god the Healer, who went by the name of Patch, was able to mend them when they returned to the command post. The more bazookas they took out the slower the ice formed on Dreadnaught’s bubble. It was give and take for a little while there, but eventually things began to stabilize. Soon Dave’s sphere steadied around the size of a bus, and once all the machines guns were taken out, emergency crews could start cracking the giant yellow snow globe in the middle of Independence Ave.

“Reaper, can you get a read on anything going on inside Dreadnaught’s bubble?” it was an order more than a question.

Daisy felt stupid she hadn’t tried this already. She’d been so busy fighting demonic fires, or helping Path with the wounded, that it had completely skipped her mind. She embraced her extra sense and searched for life threads inside the bubble. The energy construct did nothing to stem Daisy’s second sight.

Terror cut through Daisy’s core at what she found. She was moving before even she realized, sprinting from the tent, across the space, through the emergency workers, and into the side of the bubble. She threw all the kinetic energy she had into her shoulder check. The ice cracked with a sickening crunch, and began to fall away from the sphere in layers. People screamed as they ran for cover, barely avoiding the avalanche of ice that cascaded down the bubble’s surface.

“What the fuck are you doing, Reaper!” it was the second time she’d heard Starlight curse today, and this time there was venom behind it.

<Pull it together, Daisy,> she realized she’d done more harm than good with her emotional action.

“There’s no one inside the bubble,” she yelled back, waiting to make sure everyone was clear before throwing bolts of lightning at the bubble.

“Armsman is inside,” Captain Starlight golden constructs began hammering the bubble a moment later. It was unspoken that they’d deal with her inappropriate action later.

“No,” Daisy called back. “There is no one inside at all; no Dreadnaught, no President, no VP, nothing!” she could feel the bubble weakening as more Heroes began to pound on it.

“Could Armsman just be blocking your view of everyone,” Starlight was right beside her now, redoubling his efforts.

“That isn’t how it works,” Daisy explained. “When Armsman nullified someone it erases them from my vision, but it is an artificial erasure. I know something is supposed to be there, but I just can’t grab it. This is completely organic; there is literally no living thing inside that bubble.”

The military and police were getting in on the action now. Rifles and handguns were going off as everyone tried to get through the sphere. The prospect that the President and Vice President might already be dead meant there was no need for restrain. Daisy’s mind was all on Dave.

You didn’t know how much you cared about something until you lost it. Her time with Dave had been a series of exciting flings, but she just now realized how important those moments were to her. A real relationship might still be out of reach, but she desperately wanted more moments with him. She refused to believe he was gone.

Daisy threw everything she had into the bubble; even asking for the teleporter to transport her into the air, and drop her, so she could collect more kinetic energy. She did this a half dozen times, and stole most of the power from the area as she relentlessly beat against the sphere. The smaller it got, the harder it was to break. It took all six remaining Heroes throwing everything they had for five whole minutes to bring the bubble down. In conventional bubble form it popped, sending a shockwave out that knocked nearly everyone off their feet, and shattered every window in a half block radius.

Daisy was so exhausted by her effort that she almost missed the giant hole in the street. Her vision blurred, and Captain Starlight had to catch her before she face planted on the pavement.

“Patch, get over here,” he called, easing Daisy down onto the ground.

“She pushed herself past the breaking point,” Patch’s reply was garbled.

<That’s odd,> Daisy shook her head, trying to pick up what Patch was saying. She was also having trouble making out what was happening around her, everything was a mix of blurred colors.

“I need to knock her out for a bit, her mind needs to unwind as much as her body does,” Daisy heard that part clear enough.

“No…” but it was too late, Daisy was already sliding effortlessly into blackness.

Daisy woke up two hours later in the middle of the largest manhunt the country had ever seen. When the bubble came down there was no sign of the President or Dreadnaught. The Vice President was bleeding and unconscious, but alive. Heroes immediately went down into the tunnel where they were met with Tinker-made landmines. They’d lost one Hero to the initial explosion, and then Patch got blown to bits when she triggered a second blast designed to eliminate first responders. This hit Daisy hard, fueling the anger her refreshed body was able to stomach.

“You should be resting,” Starlight was still at the command post, coordinating the grid search.

“Fuck that, give me something to do,” there was anger and sadness behind her words, something any man knew better than to argue with.

“We’re mounting up another go at the sewer system, why don’t you…” Daisy was already gone before the Captain was finished.

The sewer team was gathered and suited up by the time Daisy got to the destination. There was only one other Super in the group, Daisy’s team mate Miriam, the Hero See Through. The rest were or explosive ordinance disposal or bomb squad people from the army and police.

“You look like shit, Reaper,” See Through was kind enough to point out with a smile.

“Just living the dream, and getting paid overtime for my trouble,” her jest lacked the usual vigor, and Miriam noticed it.

“Don’t worry, we’ll find Dreadnaught,” Miriam was intimately aware of Daisy and Dave’s on-again and off-again relationship; she was a graduate of Lander’s class of ’66 too.

“Yes we will,” Daisy was resolved as they headed back into the tunnels.

Daisy and Miriam were the perfect team for this operation, which made the sting of Patch’s death that much more bitter. Miriam could go intangible and scout ahead. As long as Armsman didn’t touch her, no bomb would harm her. Daisy, with her absorption, was able to identify any electronic based booby traps that Miriam missed along their path. It was a good thing too, because bombs were everywhere. The bomb squad guys had their hands full with the sheer volume, so much that Daisy had to drain the power sources on some to be picked up later by additional personnel. The Heroes took this as a good sign though. Armsman and Tinker wouldn’t have this many resources in play if they weren’t heading towards something important.

It was slow going, so Daisy wasn’t sure how long passed before she started to hear the voices. One was immediately identifiable. Nixon’s tone was nationally known, and he sounded angry and worried right now. Daisy signaled the police and soldiers to stay back and quiet, while she and Miriam scouted ahead. The second voice had to be Tinkers. It was high-pitched and whinny, exactly how Daisy imagined he’d sound.

“I can implant a device in his brain that would allow us to mind control him,” Tinker was pleading. “Just a little bit of neurosurgery would be required. I’ve been reading up, and it isn’t too hard. I promise to do minimal damage to his frontal lobe.”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Nixon’s voice was shaking. “We can make some sort of arrangement.”

“As much as I would love using you as a puppet, we don’t have the time or the resources to pull it off,” the voice had to belong to Armsman.

The voice was accented, <Boston…New York,> Daisy tried to place the speech patterns, but was interrupted by a third voice.

“The longer I’m down here the more they’ll expect something’s up, so just give me my money and get the hell out of here.”

<No,> Daisy’s world was shattered just as effectively as when she thought her father was killed on the Korean War float, or when she first thought Dave was dead inside his bubble. But this time was different.

Daisy knew that voice anywhere. She’d heard that voice motivate her to work harder, be faster, be stronger. That voice had laughed alongside her at parties, and mocked opponents as they failed to beat them at drinking games. The voice had called out her name in the throes of love making. Now that voice was speaking casually with the enemy. The voice was asking for money from a psychopath who’d just killed three Heroes, injured many more, and slaughtered innocent civilians.

<No, it’s not him,> denial clawed against reason, the same internal battle visible of Miriam’s face. <No, he’s dead.> It was much easier to accept Dave’s demise than his betrayal. <This is some audio trick with the sewers, or Tinker knows we’re here and is fucking with us.> An unspoken agreement only teammates could understand drove the two women into action.

Miriam went into her intangible state and stayed close to the back wall, dual pistols in her hand. She would have to drop out of her state to fire them, but it was better than sitting there unable to help. On the other hand, Daisy came in guns blazing. Armsman already had his hands on Tinker and Hellgate, so her attack winked out of existence inches from them. That didn’t stop Tinker from stepping backwards in fear, the small movement pleasing Daisy more than she could understand. Dave threw up another bubble round himself, which protected him from the electrical storm she was unleashing.

Ozone perforated the damp foul air of the sewers, but she hadn’t done any damage to her targets. Armsman just smiled at her beneath his mask and helmet.

“About time,” he smile revealed perfectly straight white teeth. “I’ll leave you two to it then.” In an explosion of fire the three criminals were gone, leaving Daisy, Miriam, Dave, and a ring of fire.

“Daisy…” Dave wasn’t able to get started before Daisy was yelling at him.

“Fuck you, Dave, you fucking piece of shit!” She drove a kinetic punch into the shit-filled water. The resulting wave extinguished the ring of fire, and made the room smell like burned garbage. “You were a Hero, Dave, and you gave it up for some fucking money!” she charged him, consumed by her rage.

Dave’s bubble easily protected him from an onslaught they would have leveled a sturdy building. Not making any headway, Daisy backed up to reassess her options.

“Daisy,” Dave started again, dropping his bubble. “You don’t understand.”

“No, you don’t understand, Dave,” she spat at him. “You helped, Armsman. Fucking Armsman! There are dozens of people dead up there, including Heroes. Patch is dead because of you!” Daisy was ashamed she didn’t know the names of the other two deceased Heroes. “My Dad was on the Korean War float when it exploded, and I got fucked up multiple times by Hellgate’s fire. You’re the one who doesn’t understand what you did.”

“Fuck you, Daisy,” Dave stopped trying to reason with her. “I’m sick and tired of having to put up with all the shit. Get knocked out, beaten, bloodied, and then getting told to go out and do it all again for people who don’t give a shit. On top of that, they don’t pay us shit. I can barely afford my apartment, much less treat you to a beer. I can’t even take time off or afford to come visit you.” He was exasperated and angry now. “I knew this life would be hard, but they could make it more manageable. Instead they feed the tax dollars into shit that fattens their own pockets while we suffer like peasants, and then they dare to question everything we do. They sit in the Capitol Building in their big comfy chairs, and dare to pass judgement on us! Can’t you see Daisy, I did this for you, for us, for all of us,” he extended his hands to mean every Hero.

“You’re fucking crazy, Dave, and if you don’t get on your knees right now I’m going to kill you.”

“Come on, Daisy Cakes,” using his pet name for her was infuriating. “Just come with me. We can leave this shit storm behind. Go to Europe and enjoy ourselves. We’ll be free.”

“You don’t even know me do you?” Daisy wasn’t shouting anymore, but her voice was cold, detached from the situation. “All I have ever wanted to be was a Hero, Dave. I would gladly sacrifice my life to prevent what happened up there.” She pointed towards the death and destruction above her. “But you, you were willing to let it all happen for a bunch of paper. To think that I ever cared for you, called you my friend, maybe even loved you in my own messed up way.” Her composed statement cut deeper into Dave than any of her screaming or physical attacks. “You’re dead to me, and if you don’t get on the ground and surrender you’re going to be dead for real.”

Dave’s face morphed from confident, to alarmed, and ended in pure rage. “Is this how you want to leave things between us, Reaper,” Daisy barely identified that he wasn’t calling her by her real name anymore. She was more concerned about the aggressive stance he was taking.

“This is your last chance, Dave,” a little emotion crept into her ultimatum.

Daisy could feel the tears welling up, but she held them back. She didn’t know how she knew, but she knew Dave wasn’t going to back down. He was young and proud, in the arrogant way someone with superpowers in their late twenties tended to be. He felt invincible, and for most of his life he had been. His energy bubble protected him from everything, but it couldn’t protect him from her.

“I’m not going to prison, Daisy,” he stated calmly before he charged.

Without an offensive ability, Dave was limited to hand to hand combat. He was good, better than Daisy, but she didn’t need to fight him to win. The man didn’t make it halfway to her before she reached out and grabbed his life thread. The effects were instantaneous. Dave stumbled, fell to the ground, and threw up everything he’d eaten recently. He continued to dry heave since he was now face to face with raw sewage, and he sagged dangerously to one side. It wouldn’t take more than a minute before he was unconscious, but was that enough?

<Can I let him live?> Daisy asked herself as she stared down at her defeated former friend.

Dave’s perception had been warped by Armsman. She didn’t know how they’d been in contact, or how long her friend’s thoughts had been poisoned, but that didn’t matter. Dave was a threat, a nearly unstoppable force. Would a prison be able to hold him? Would Armsman come and break him out, just so they could replay this meeting at a later date? There were too many variables, too many “what ifs” to the situation. How many people would die if she made the wrong choice?

< That is why people fight, Daisy. For the power to control lives,> her Grandpappy’s words echoed in her mind.

In this moment, Daisy was not only controlling Dave’s life, but possibly hundreds of lives. Allowing those hundreds to live when they would otherwise cease to exist. Those hundreds of lives begot thousands more lives. The numbers compounded until over time into exponential margins. Could she justify robbing the world of all of those possibilities because of a single person.

<Can I let him live?> Daisy repeated to herself. <No.> In this moment she was judge, jury, and executioner.

Without a second thought she snapped Dave’s life thread. The golden piece of sturdy rope resisted momentarily, began to fray, and then split in two. Daisy closed her eyes as she heard the primal gurgling sound coming from her former lover. It was the sound you’d expect to hear if someone what having the life drained from their body. She didn’t need to see the process. She’d seen it on her first kill, and she didn’t have a reason to experience it again, especially with someone who used to be a friend.

Daisy heard a sharp inhalation of breath from Miriam, when the other Hero realized what was happening. She didn’t speak though, and Daisy guessed she was averting her eyes as well.

Daisy felt herself open up, her soul laid bare for the reception of the life force. She felt the invigoration as the last few years of her life were wiped away. The physical changes were nearly unnoticeable. It had only been a few years since her last reaping, but the influx of life energy cleansed some worry lines and the bags under her eyes. It was a quick process to those not experiencing it, but for Daisy and her victim, an entire lifetime passed in the interlude. To Miriam, one second Dave was gargling his final breath, and the next Daisy was shuddering back to reality. Daisy’s eyes told a different story, and Miriam didn’t push it.

Daisy didn’t even bother to glance at Dave’s lifeless corpse. She let it float away with all of the city’s other garbage.

“Let’s head back up,” Daisy turned and began to head back towards where they’d left the cops and soldiers.

“Should we tell them it’s over?” Miriam offered the suggestion.

“It’s not over,” Daisy didn’t bother to explain that she wasn’t speaking about today’s incident.

Armsman had won a victory today, no one would dispute that. His crucial mistake was that he didn’t try harder to kill Daisy. Instead, he took something precious from her. The closest thing she had to a romantic relationship. He took that, twisted and warped the man she cared about, and unleashed it as a piece in his diabolical plan. He’d forced Daisy to exorcise a part of herself that Memorial Day, and as repayment she would have her revenge. The maniacal criminal mastermind knew a lot of things, but he didn’t know that Reaper had all the time in the world. He also didn’t know that when she finally caught up to him she’d make him suffer for what he’d done. It was inevitable as the passage of time.

“You know there are traps back that way,” Daisy nearly forgot that President Nixon was there. She was too busy imagining the horrific things she was going to do to Armsman. “Is it safe?”

“You safe with us, Mr. President,” Daisy smiled unconvincingly at the powerful politician. She could tell it was unconvincing by the way he flinched at her expression. “We’re Heroes, we’re the good guys.”

<The least you could do is throw a little extra money our way,> she wasn’t sure if she was referring to their salaries or the HCP programs, but both wouldn’t hurt.

Daisy and Miriam led the President back to the surface, and accepted the grateful thanks of the nation. They were bestowed with medals, invitations to state dinners, and the bump in pay. The two remaining HCPs were expedited through Congress, and more money was thrown into training Heroes. Reaper and See Through were held up as shining examples of what Heroes should be, and people loved them.

What people didn’t see was Daisy Lee Meyers alone at a hotel bar, drowning herself in her own sorrows, and wishing more than anything to be having a beer with an old friend.

A Change of Pace – Prologue

 

 

 

 

 

 

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