The metal door to the combat cell opened soundlessly. On the other side there was heavy breathing and a grunt as Becca pushed the door completely open and stepped out. She was limping slightly, had her arms curled protectively around her chest, and was sporting a swelling bruise that seemed to cover half her face. It had been one hell of a fight. But despite the damage, nothing was able to wipe that big grin off her face.
A grin that was echoed on the woman waiting for Becca at the end of the hallway.
“And they say Wheaties is the breakfast of champions.” Anika stepped forward to give her girlfriend a big hug. “You ate that bitch alive.”
Becca continued to smile, but her disapproving eyes swept over Anika. “Lorelei put up a good fight. I ain’t exactly fresh as a daisy right now.” The speedster winced as Anika let her go.
“Either way you showed that stuck up bitch.”
Becca didn’t revel in fighting another woman, but she did find some pleasure in moving into the number eleven rank in the freshman class. And if it had to be Lorelei Gilford, the queen SUB, then that was the cherry on top.
The former number eleven ranked freshman had put up one heck of a fight though. A blaster, with laser beams coming out of her eyes, and a more durable than human physique, Lorelei was a tough nut to crack. Even so, Becca had chosen her specifically for her first match of the new semester. Even if it was almost March by the time they had it.
Becca knew that Lorelei’s beams could hurt her, but they’d have to touch her to do that. In the whole match Becca had only taken a glancing blow, which explained the limp and burn on her leg. Despite that Becca had just been too fast for the SUB. By the time Lorelei’s brain sent the mental command to move her eyes to a spot Becca was already gone.
And with the ability to slow down her perception, Becca was always one step ahead. There was the slight hiccup of Lorelei’s defensive strategy, which consisted of randomly blowing up parts of the combat cell to make an obstacle course, including a wall of rubble to protect herself. That was the explanation for Becca’s probably dislocated shoulder.
The face bruising was the easiest to explain. Becca had to get in close to take down Lorelei. Once there, she learned that the SUB was about as durable as she was. And the ensuing slug fest ended with Lorelei eating pavement and Becca with more than a few black and blues. It spoke to Lorelei’s supreme hand-to-hand fighting skills that she had been able to hit Becca at all.
Not that Anika was going to bring up that part. This morning it was all about the “W”.
“Not a bad way to start a Monday morning.” Anika smiled, as she gave Becca a kiss on her non-bruised cheek.
“I can’t think of a better way to start the week than to lend my services to two injured students.” Dr. Sanderson announced his arrival with the statement and a rush of golden mist that completely enveloped the two women.
Even Anika felt the exhaustion of waking up early on a Monday morning vanish.
“You are cleared to go, Ms. Whitfield.” The HCP healer announced after he’d looked her over and taken her vitals. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks a bunch, Doc.” Becca gave him a brilliant smile, devoid of any bruising, and then rushed hand-in-hand with Anika toward the locker room.
Monday morning meant an early class for both of them, so they have to get back to the townhouse quickly if they wanted to eat together. Anika also needed to shower and change. She’d come to watch the fight in her pajamas.
“If you want to head back and get ready I’ll shower and meet you there.” Becca suggested, not wanting to waste her girlfriend’s time.
“And miss the show. . .no way.” Anika grinned mischievously. Forcing Becca to blush.
Despite the innuendos that Anika kept throwing her way Becca showered quickly, even for a speedster. Time with Anika was precious and she wanted to make the most of it.
Pancakes, eggs, OJ, and enough bacon to make people wonder about the leftover pig population in Orlando comprised the real breakfast of champions. Becca made it while Anika got the table ready and stayed well away from the food. Becca was the homemaker type. With a family of farmers and younger siblings, that left Becca cooking a lot of meals growing up. That translated well into her and Anika’s relationship, because Anika would burn toast even if you gave her step-by-step instructions on how to do it.
Becca had learned this over a few ruined dinners and the new dynamic was set into place. Becca cooked and Anika did everything else.
“So Spring Break.” Anika crunched on a double-strip of bacon.
“What about it?” Becca was devouring her fourth pancake. Her speedster metabolism and a freshly healed body was the culprit of her ravenous hunger.
“What are we doing?” Anika sat expectantly with her hands steepled in front of her. “We are doing something aren’t we?”
“Um. . .” Honestly Becca hadn’t thought about it one bit.
Everything had been crazy since the day they got back to school. Training kicked back in full-force on the first day. Becca was really learning how to fight for the first time in close combat training. She had all of her regular school work to consider. Dean Ditmar had nasty habit of assigning more assignments in their Ethics class, and what time she had left was spent with Anika or friends. Becca literally hadn’t even had time to think.
<I don’t even know when it is.> Becca thought, not knowing how to tell Anika.
Anika had always been a little more into the partying crowd than Becca. Well. . .as much as an HCP student could be into the partying scene; which was just dipping a toe in.
<We’ve got a couple of weeks to go, don’t worry.> The always comforting mental voice of Kyoshi filled her in, just as the pale white-haired telepath descended the stairs.
“What’s this about spring break?” asked the rumbling voice of her even larger boyfriend.
“Anika is wondering what we’re doing.” Becca re-stated, causing Mason to scratch his head in thought.
It was clear the strongman didn’t have a clue either.
Kyoshi gave her boyfriend a pat on the arm before heading for the bacon. Her foot caught on something, she tripped, and would have upended the entire kitchen table if not for her boyfriend’s strong, steadying hand.
“Sorry,” she blushed, rosy red filling her cheeks, as she gingerly grabbed a slice of bacon. “But spring break is already planned.”
“Since when?” All three of the teenage Supers had different questions.
“Apparently, the freshman class does a joint spring break trip. It’s an HCP tradition. I overheard some of the administrative people thinking about it. So don’t let anyone else know I told you.” Kyoshi grinned. “They should be announcing it soon so that no one makes any plans.”
“Plans?” A considerably less enthusiastic voice asked from the stairs.
<Oh geez.> Becca looked over Seth and tried to keep the frown off her face.
Seth looked like he was heading off to class in sweatpants, a white undershirt, and a light jacket. Becca swore she could see a stain on a visible part of the shirt, which was bad enough. What was worse was that she’d only ever seen Seth in sweatpants before when he was really sick. This was the look of a Seth that had given up.
<She’s only been gone three days.> Becca thought as she got to her feet and slowly approached Seth, like a person would a wounded animal.
“How ya doin’, Seth?” She asked.
“I’m ok.” He replied, even though he didn’t look it.
“You feeling ok?” Becca put her hand to his forehead, but wasn’t able to tell if he was sick because he batted it away.
“I’m fine,” Seth whined. “I’m just worried.”
“Ok. Well call me if ya need anything.” Becca made a phone with her thumb and pinky finger.
Seth just nodded and left without eating anything.
Becca returned to the table of people who’d all watched Seth go.
“I don’t like him like this.” Anika sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. “I’ve never liked her. She’s got him totally whipped and depressed when she just runs off like this. Ever heard of a phone call or quick text message. We live in the twenty-first century. How hard is it to let him know you’re bailing?”
“She didn’t bail.” Becca came to Liz’s defense; although she didn’t like the situation Seth was in. “Her dad did call and tell him that there was a family emergency and she’d be gone for a few days.”
“I still think it’s rude to just disappear and have your daddy call your boyfriend. Not to mention weird. Didn’t her dad show up here?”
“Yes he did.” Kyoshi answered. “He actually stopped by looking for Liz and they had dinner. Their thoughts were guarded and I tried not to listen, but I got the feeling they were having a serious talk.”
“It’s still weird to have her dad just stopping in like that.” Anika mumbled.
Kyoshi nodded and then suddenly shifted her attention to Mason. She looked at him expectantly with raised eyebrows. “Explain.” Was all she said.
“Well. . .um,” the big guy was clearly uncomfortable. “Seth and I might have had a talk after hitting the gym end of last week. He was talking a lot about getting more serious relationship-wise with Liz. He asked my opinion, so I gave it, and then I’m pretty sure he rushed out to set up a romantic dinner. Then she didn’t show. I guess her dad did instead. Which is weird.” Mason added. “Especially if they had a family emergency and he didn’t mention it. That would be the first thing Mr. Schultz would say if he came looking for Kyoshi.”
“I agree that it ain’t perfect, but Liz is. . .well she’s Liz.” Becca couldn’t quite find words to describe their friend’s eccentric attitudes. “She comes and she goes when she wants. She’s like a tornado, but a nice one.”
“A tornado of T&A maybe,” Anika scoffed, and then withered under Becca’s disapproving glare. “Ok, sorry. But you got to admit they spend about as much time in the sack as they do anywhere else.”
“Everyone’s relationships are different. We shouldn’t judge.” The sage advice of Mason seemed to break the little bit of tension that had built up. That and the fact that they were almost late for class.
Dishes were piled in the sink to be done later, or tomorrow, and a quick run around the house by Becca made sure everything was off. There was no need to get billed extra. They were already paying more than anyone else they knew with Liz and Anika effectively living there too.
Not that anyone was complaining, or at least not about Anika and only a little about Liz.
Becca gave her girlfriend a goodbye kiss and headed in the opposite direction. Just like last semester, Becca had ended up in a morning class with Kyoshi. Although this time it was a freshman English lecture with hundreds of other students.
However, just like last semester they couldn’t walk in together or sit together. Becca’s blue and Kyoshi’s white hair were distinctly Super traits. Becca cold play it off, but Kyoshi couldn’t. If the other woman wasn’t so clumsy her height, eyes, and hair would have gotten her busted on an SI infraction long ago.
True to form, Kyoshi nearly face planted tripping over her own feet. Since it was the second time today, Becca had to wonder how much of it was acting. She vaguely remembered from her high school history class that an old president had played up his clumsiness for political advantage.
<This morning was real, but just now was acting. And I think I’m getting pretty good at it.>
Becca could feel her friend’s telepathic smile.
Just because they couldn’t sit together didn’t mean that they couldn’t talk.
<But seriously,> Kyoshi’s mental smile vanished. <Don’t you think it’s suspicious that Liz just disappeared like that?>
<Well. . .> Becca really had to think about it.
And she got momentarily distracted by the pop quiz the professor was handing out. A quiz she was definitely not prepared for, and Kyoshi’s question wasn’t helping.
<Yes and no.> The blue-haired speedster finally answered twenty minutes later. <Yeah it’s weird that she just disappears and doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going; or much of anything when she gets back. I assume she tells Seth because he’s still with her. It ain’t really my business so I don’t stick my nose in it. Doing that usually gets ya stung, and I like Seth and Liz. I don’t want them shuttin’ me out.>
<I get it, but that doesn’t stop it from being weird.> Kyoshi replied.
<Yeah, but our life ain’t exactly normal. And this city ain’t exactly been normal this year either.>
The outage during their final last semester flashed though their mind. It had complicated things for both of them.
<Maybe she’s just scared?> Becca suggested.
Becca heard Kyoshi’ snort from across the room, and half the class turned to look at her. Her face went bright red and she buried it in her book.
<Are we talking about the same Liz?> Kyoshi replied once the lecture got back on track.
<Yeah you’re right. She is one tough lady. I can’t imagine much that would scare her.>
<Would commitment?> Kyoshi’s thoughts brought on a few minutes of silence as both Supers thought about that.
<Mason did say that he had that serious talk, and then her father shows up unannounced. Did Seth call him?>
<I don’t know, and I’m not going to dig around in his mind to find out.> Despite the statement Kyoshi sounded like she really wanted to dig for answers.
<Then we do what any good friends should do.> Becca concluded.
<What?> Kyoshi actually rotated in her seat so they could meet each other’s eyes.
Daisy arched her back as she brought the fresh, steaming cup of coffee to her lips. <Mmmm, it was a great idea to take the morning off.>
As she savored the sweet caffeinated nectar she grabbed the paper and opened it to an article she found interesting. Maybe she was old-fashioned, but Daisy liked printed media better than all the websites. She liked the feel and rustle of paper beneath her fingertips, and she liked the ability to peek over the top of the paper at her environment without drawing any attention to herself. There was a reason that technique was used a lot in older spy movies. It actually worked.
The scenery around her this morning was different than usual. Instead of the cheap table that sat in a little open space before the kitchen became the living room, she was sitting at a granite island in the middle of an expertly cleaned kitchen. She knew just how clean it was because she’d spent last night cleaning it.
<I love the man but he’d be just as at home living out of a pig’s trough.>
Daisy smiled to herself and turned her attention back to the article. It detailed a terrorist attack in Morocco that had thankfully only injured and not killed anyone. The international spotlight seemed to be focused on that small country and its efforts to catch who’d done this. Daisy flipped the page back to the cover where the local paper’s main story was printed in bold.
STILL NOTHING. DVA KEEPS ITS MOUTH SHUT ON PARKING GARAGE DESTRUCTION
<A few days later and the press are still clinging to this story.> Daisy sighed.
The sound of footsteps down the hallway drew her attention.
“Good morning.” Topher stepped into the kitchen and headed straight toward her for a morning kiss.
“Right back at you.” Daisy smiled, giving him what he wanted.
Daisy had finally kicked their relationship to the next level. . . She’d started sleeping over at his house. It hadn’t advanced to an adult themed sleepover yet, but it was definitely headed in that direction. It was just a matter of time.
“Do you want some eggs?” Topher asked, as he grabbed a spatula and twirled it with surprising precision.
“No thanks, coffee is just fine.” She held up her glass and smiled.
Topher smiled back and got to work on his breakfast. Daisy continued to read the paper, and everything felt right.
<It’s like a fucking Norman Rockwell painting.> Daisy thought after a moment, and it brought another smile to her face. She hadn’t had something like this for a long time.
Then it got ruined.
“I’m entering the room now. I want a hand check, and their better not be an ass stain on that stainless steel fridge.” Debora walked into the kitchen already suited up with her gun and badge attached to her hip.
“God, Deb,” Topher growled. “Shut up.”
Daisy imagined a younger version on her boyfriend saying the same thing to his older sister fifteen or twenty years ago. The way it rolled off his tongue had a certain familiarity to it.
“Hey, I’m just lookin’ out for you, baby bro. I’ve seen the way she looks at you.”
Daisy didn’t even raise her head above the paper, she just flashed her middle finger in the direction of the irritating DVA agent. But she couldn’t stop from grinning. She did look at Topher that way sometimes.
“See, she knows what I’m talking about.” Debora claimed victory, and then swiped a bagel that had just popped out of the toaster. A bagel that was supposed to be the foundation of Topher’s breakfast sandwich.
“Jesus Christ, Deb. Go get a hotel or something.” He growled again, snatching at the pilfered bagel, but Debora danced away with a laugh and a munch.
“And tell mom and dad that you threw me out on the street to have special alone time with your Super girlfriend. Yeah, that’ll go over well.”
Daisy just shrugged. She knew Topher’s parents weren’t that fond of her. Their prejudices ran deep where Supers were considered. As a matter of fact, the biggest ally on that front was none other than the annoying but protective older sister.
“She’s got a point.” Daisy sipped her coffee while throwing in her two cents.
“Thank you.” Debora plopped down on the other stool and started to devour the bagel.
“But if you’re staying around you might as well be of some use. What can you tell me about the investigation’s progress?” Daisy put down the paper and fixed Debora with a level stare.
“Sorry, I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation. . .” Debora stopped and shook her head. “I’ve used that line so much that it’s an automatic reflex.”
Daisy just nodded, she knew the drill.
Debora looked at her for a moment and then shrugged. “Fuck it, you were there for most of it.” She slipped the last bit of bagel into her mouth with a satisfied look. “We finished excavating the garage and aside from some very flat and identifiable members of the Fist, we’ve got nothing. Seraphim insists that she got Wraith, but we haven’t seen any evidence of that. It would be nice if we could test some blood, but everything aside from the massive spills is unrecognizable as it’s mixed with debris at this time.
“Have you . . “
“Yeah I’ve put in a call to D.C. Maybe they have some blood-tracker or manipulator stashed away somewhere that I can borrow. But until then we’re cataloguing everything we did find.”
“Anything else?” Daisy knew that couldn’t be everything.
“The subtlety guys came in under cover of night and took a look. If they found anything they aren’t sharing it with me yet. But no one has heard from them since and we don’t know how to find them.”
“Paranoia is a staple of subtlety Heroes. I’ll put out a feeler and see if they’re willing to share anything, even if it’s just theories.” Daisy offered.
“Seriously, that would be awesome.” Debora grinned. “Right now we’re sitting around with jack shit. Any longer and they’re going to recall the team to Washington for reassignment.”
“Would that be so terrible?” Topher grumbled from across the kitchen.
“You’d miss me.” Debora countered.
Topher replied with something unintelligible.
“Anyway, speaking of people who are missing me.” Debora got to her feet and went to grab her coat. “My team is waiting. Thanks for breakfast.” She gave them a goodbye wave and then was gone.
“I’m so sorry.” Topher took the vacated seat. “I meant for you to have a relaxing morning and then she comes and ruins it.”
“Don’t worry,” Daisy picked the paper back up. “She’s refreshing.”
“About as refreshing as taking a whiff of a septic tank,” Topher grumbled again. He clearly didn’t like his big sister invading his time with Daisy.
“I’ll tell you what.” Daisy put the paper back down and draped her arms over Topher’s shoulders. “We’ll do something tonight, just the two of us. A good meal, a delectable desert, and then we’ll see where things go.”
Daisy smiled as she succeeded in getting Topher’s mind completely off his sister.
“Good. It’s a date then.”
Lilly felt like hammered shit as she groaned, rolled over in bed, and puked up what little she’d been able to keep down.
As it turned out Seraphim’s poison was more resilient than anyone realized. The healer her family kept on retainer came by and healed all of her injuries, but it had no effect on the poison.
“It won’t kill her.” The Healer kept his calm as her father lost his temper on the man. “But she’ll feel terrible for a while.”
No truer words had ever been spoken. And it had left her bedridden for the past few days. She’d only just started to keep food down, and it wasn’t staying down long enough to give her all the nutrients she needed. When she got up to go to the bathroom she saw just how thin her face had gotten. She was totally underfed and dehydrated and it showed.
“I’ve got more soup for you.” Her father walked into her room without knocking.
Apparently, finding your daughter half-dead in her own room vaporized any semblance of personal privacy that had once existed.
The foul smelling concoction also made her stomach turn, and brought on a fresh round of vomiting.
“How much longer?” She was really getting tired of spewing from both ends.
“Another couple of days.” Her father replied.
She didn’t believe him. If he had his way she’d never leave this room again.
“I need to make a call.” She insisted.
“To who?” Altair raised an eyebrow. “Surely not to him.”
“I’ve been missing for days without telling him anything. Its suspicious.” She countered.
“I spoke with Seth and told him you had a family emergency.”
“Did my uncle die again, because I might have already used that one.” Lilly spat out a mouthful of lingering bile.
“I didn’t elaborate.”
“Great. Fan-fucking-tastic.” Lilly felt her whole cover identity slipping away. “Can you please just leave. I need to get some sleep.”
Altair gave her a concerned look before nodding and leaving. He wasn’t too concerned about her running. Her powers worked, and she wasn’t paralyzed anymore, but a teleport would make her puke out what was left of her guts.
Lilly waited until she heard her father’s padded footsteps echoing down the hallway before concentrating. The action brought on a fresh wave of nausea, but in a small flash of darkness a cell phone appeared in her lap.
<I need to call. . .he needs to know. . .or all this has just been a yearlong clusterfuck.> She opened up an app and dialed his number from memory, ignoring the security procedures her father had put in place before her birth.
The screen went black except for a bobbing phone icon and the soft chime of the ringtone. A few seconds later and Seth’s face blinked to life on her screen.
“Hey, babe.” His face was bright until he got a good look at her. “What happened?”
“Hey there good lookin’.” She put some sass into her reply, but knew it fell short. “You know how it is: go to a funeral, shake hands with everyone, some sick old people are around who didn’t wash their hands, and they give you the flu.” She shrugged her shoulders which triggered a round of ragged coughs.
“Yeah, you don’t look so hot.”
“Thanks.” She gave him a pissed off look, but it softened after a few seconds. “Sorry I bailed on you like that. I just heard the news and freaked out a bit. I didn’t even tell my dad I was heading home until I’d been on the road for an hour.”
“Yeah, he stopped by here looking for you. . .we talked.” An emotion she couldn’t quite put her finger on flashed across Seth’s face.
“Sorry about that.” She failed to blush because of her illness, but she looked properly ashamed. “He shouldn’t have just stopped by like that.”
“No it’s fine.” Seth waved away her apology. “It was. . .enlightening would be a good description.”
She felt fear grip her momentarily, but thought better of it. Her father was a lot of things, but he wasn’t someone who would blow her cover and the operation. More people than his daughter would be after his head in that case.
The silence her thinking brought was quickly followed by more coughing.
“I promise I’ll be back once I kick this thing. A few more days tops.” She bit her lower lip and looked at him longingly. “I miss you.”
It wasn’t an act or a manipulation. She really did miss him.
“You get better.” Seth smiled brightly. “I’ll be here eagerly awaiting your return.”
She blew him a kiss and hung up the call. Then she removed the battery, sim card, and teleported all three of the items to various location across the planet Earth; either underground of underwater. The sim card even went over an active volcano for good measure.
Less than thirty seconds after she finished her call she heard her father’s loafers slapping against the tiled floor. She leaned back against her numerous pillows and closed her eyes.
“Lilly.” He said as he entered her room.
She opened her eyes and saw how serious his face was. He was holding his own phone.
“That was our client. He’s in route to Orlando. He’s been delayed in Morocco, but his advanced team will be here in a week, and he’ll follow within a few after that. Your assignment is to continue surveillance, and coordinate with the advanced team to develop action plans.” His smile was savage. “Within the next month, two at the most, we’ll be ready to go.”
Lilly’s smile matched her fathers. “We’ll be ready.”
Those three words filled her with anticipation and fear. <One, two months tops.> It wasn’t a lot of time to get all her affairs in order, and it wasn’t enough time to figure out what to do with Seth.
One thing was for sure though. She needed to get better fast and get back to work.