Lilly appeared in her room in a blast of darkness. Her new, fancy rifle was slung over her back and she had the rest of her gear bundled in a bag. She tossed the bag into a corner of her room and headed for the shower.
<These guys might wear their stench like some badge of honor, but this is America bitches. We don’t think smelling like pig fart is a good thing.> She gagged as she remembered the last time she’d been around these people.
She’d kicked ass and taken names but that didn’t stop them from smelling like shit. She hoped they’d bathed before traveling, because moving around incognito was a lot easier if you didn’t smell like you were bringing the sewer with you.
She turned the shower to hot and jumped under the pulsing streams of her state-of-the-art shower head. It would have felt great if it didn’t burn like a motherfucker.
<Ugh.> She groaned. Despite her best efforts, she’d still burned on that rooftop.
She turned down the heat and gingerly washed herself. After she dried off she’d have to put on a generous amount of aloe.
“Lilly, are you back yet?” Altair knocked on her door as she was blow drying her hair.
“Yeah, I’m in here.” She yelled back.
Her father let himself in and started to arrange a series of folders on her unmade bed. After she was confident she smelled pristine and was presentable she joined him.
The information laid out had the basic first step of their plan. It had information on the three men she was meeting. They all looked like hairy fur balls in all of their pictures. Every one of them had deeply tanned skin, big, bushy black beards, and thick almost unibrow eyebrows. They looked like a stereotypical jihadist.
<They’re just going to love me.> She couldn’t wait to see their faces. <And if they have a problem with me I’ll just shoot them in the face.> She was confident she’d be able to manufacture some sort of accident before they had to report back to their boss.
The information her father was giving her was only the basics though. There weren’t many operational details. “They are playing their cards close to the vest.” He answered when she pressed for more information. “They are the clients and we have to obey their wishes.”
“Whatever.” Lilly sighed, and started to pick out her outfit.
She couldn’t go traipsing around Orlando in her Wraith gear. That would bring Seraphim down on her world-class ass and ruin everyone’s day. At her father’s insistence, she wasn’t going to wear anything too revealing. Because then their clients would get upset, shit their collective chickens, do god knew what, and then Lilly might have to put them down. And that would be bad for everyone.
It was warm again in Orlando so layers were out of the question. She pulled out a pair of jeans, nothing skin-tight, but not loose either. Baggy ones that would make her look more like a dude. She slipped on her favorite cyber-punk t-shirt and ended with a hooded windbreaker. She pulled up the hood to see how she looked.
<Not great but it’ll have to do.> She pulled her dyed blonde hair into a ponytail and slipped it through the back of a baseball cap. <That should offer a little more anonymity.>
One last look in the mirror showed that she looked like any other college kid who’d stuck around during spring break. The windbreaker was even a UCF one just to add to the impression.
“Ok, I’m ready to go.”
Her father scrutinized her appearance for a moment before giving his nod of approval.
“You will meet them here.” Altair showed her a picture of the location. “And I’ve already scouted this site. It should be safe for you.”
Lilly scrutinized the alleyway and took in all the detail. “Ok, see you soon.” She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and disappearing in a wave of darkness.
She reappeared in the same alley he’d shown her in the picture. The shadow blast of her teleportation told her it was all clear, so she walked to the back door she was told was unlocked and entered through the building’s service entrance.
You’d think she’d be meeting three terrorists in some rundown factory or seedy motel. Nothing could be farther from the truth. She wound through a couple of corridors and emerged into an upscale lobby of a four star hotel in downtown Orlando.
<They take hiding in plain sight to a whole new level.> She thought as she walked across the lobby.
The file told her where all the cameras were so she made sure to angle her face away from them. The last thing she needed was someone tracing all this back to the hotel and discovering her identity. That would suck on so many levels.
She walked over to the elevator like she owned the place, got in with an elderly couple, and hit the button for the top floor. <Because of course the well-funded jihadists are in the penthouse suite.>
The couple didn’t pay any attention to her. They were too busy bitching about an election. Apparently the two candidates running were unpopular.
She was alone when she reached the top floor. The elevator opened and she stepped into a foyer area. To get into the next section of the floor she needed to swipe a card. Thankfully, that had been part of the prep package. She slid the card through the reader, it beeped green, and she pushed it open.
Her three contacts stood at the far end of the suite that took up the entire floor. Equipment was strewn all over the place; equipment that if the hotel maid saw she’d be calling Homeland Security. Just with a quick glance Lilly saw, AK47s, grenades, C4, tangles of wires that looked like the beginnings of IEDs, a handful of artillery shells, cell phones lined up neatly and labelled, and several sets of body armor.
“We did not order a whore.” The leader stepped forward.
This guy did not look like one of the guys in the picture. He didn’t have the big, bushy, black beard. His hair looked like sterling silver, all of his hair: beard, mustache, eyebrows, and short-cropped military-style hairdo.
“You fucking wish.” She shot back, adding a little extra swagger as she walked into the room. “I’m your guide, and the only reason you have any fucking chance of doing anything in this town. So shut your stupid face or you all can go circle-jerk each other somewhere else.”
The two men beside the leader bristled with anger and started toward her. Lilly’s hand went to the small gun in the small of her back. These might be the people she was working for, but there was no way in hell she was going into this thing unarmed.
Before the two muscle-heads got close the silver-haired leader held up his hand. “My apologies. You must be Wraith.” He gave her a small bow.
She couldn’t hide her surprise.
He snapped a few words in Arabic and the two goons backed off. “We have heard of you killing American Heroes.” The way he smiled creeped her out a bit. “You have done a great service to our cause, and we thank you for that.”
<How does anyone respond to that?> She didn’t like these chauvinist pigs, and she certainly didn’t like doing them any favors.
“How about we get down to business?”
“Excellent idea. And before I am rude and offend you, my name is Damascus.”
“Nice to meet you, Damascus.” She said just to be nice. “Now let me know where you want me to show you around.”
“Certainly.” He waved to a large map spread out on the bed.
There were markings all over the city in different colors. She gleaned some of the plan from the obvious nature of some of the markings, but others she had no idea. Damascus just watched her for a while and let her take it all in. If she didn’t know better she would have sworn the guy was trying to impress her.
“It is a three-pronged attack.” He moved up beside her to explain sections of the map.
He moved too close for comfort. Lilly took a half step away just to be safe and grabbed a hidden knife in case he got handsy.
“The first step is to disrupt communication.” He pointed at several sites and a few radio stations. “We will either shut it down or take it over so our message can be heard.” She could tell which ones were to be blown up, they were marked in red, and the ones to be taken over in green.
“Once we have full control of the communications network we need to work on transportation.” More red marks slashed across Interstate 4 before it reached Orlando as well as the 17, 441, 417, 408, 429, the Florida Turnpike and a few other smaller roads into the city.
Lilly counted the number of roads to be destroyed and it roughly matched the number of artillery shells in the room. <That’s gonna be one hell of an explosion.>
“With avenues of approach destroyed it will take time for the American Army to respond in force. It will also cut off commerce to the city. Since your grocery stores run on just-in-time ordering within a few days they will all be out of food with nothing new coming in.” Damascus’ creepy smile was back.
“What about the Heroes? They’ll have teleporters or they’ll just go around your blown-up roads.” She asked.
“It will be more than broken stone blocking the entrance to the city.” As he said it silver tongues of flame sprouted from his finger tips and seemed to dance to some unheard song. “And the Heroes. They will have their hands full dealing with our commander.”
Lilly knew it was coming, but it still sent shivers down her spine. She’d met the man they called Saif al-Din once before and he was scary as fuck. And that was before she’d read up on what he’d done. She didn’t know how he’d stand up to all the Heroes that would be called in, but Damascus’ confidence in his boss told her the super-terrorist could and would.
<Whatever, not my problem. I’ve got my mission. I’ll make sure Seth’s safe, and then it’s off to some tropical island for a little until shit settles back down.> It was as good a plan as any.
“After transportation, we take out the utilities.” Several red marks were drawn through places like the city’s power plant, which was just now getting fully rebuilt. “And thanks to the intelligence you gathered for us we know everyone’s response time to our actions. We will strike hard and fast, and everything will crumble before the Americans can respond.” Damascus’ eyes were ablaze with fiery purpose.
<I need to show them around and get away from these nut-jobs.> Lilly got the feeling they really shouldn’t be doing this. But it was too late to turn back.
“Ok, so I’ll take you to these places but your guys are setting all your shit up.” She summed it all up.
“Yes, of course. And you will execute your part of the plan when the time comes. It is perhaps the most important part of all.” He handed her a manila envelope.
Inside was a picture, directions, and a proposed time table for getting the job done. Below it all was the bonus they were going to pay her. Her eyes bulged at the number of zeroes on the page, but she remained professional, or at least professional by her standards.
“This is doable,” she replied nonchalantly.
“Good.” The silver-haired terrorist’s smile was back. “Let us start with the communications locations. Some are not far from here. Perhaps a walk to enjoy the fresh Florida air.”
“Damascus. Judging by the timeframe you have on this assignment you’ve given me we really don’t have time to go for a romantic stroll. I said it when I walked in here. I’m not you whore. I’m here to do a job, so let’s stop dicking around and get to work.
The man’s smile faltered for a split-second. Anger clouded his expression until he got it under control. “Of course, you are correct. We cannot delay.” He snapped orders to the other two men, who immediately went to work with the explosives. “Very well, Wraith. Please lead the way.”
Lilly reached out and grabbed the man’s hand, ignored her stomach turning over in repulsion, and teleported away.
Seth stumbled into the air-conditioned building. The world was still spinning slightly from his successful streak at the beer pong table, but he was good. All he really cared about was the chill that crept over his body.
It was hot outside, hotter than the last few days of spring break. His tan skin was starting to get burned in a couple areas and he had sand in his shorts. With his slight alcohol-fueled skew on reality, the most pressing issue in his life at the moment was getting an ice cream cone.
The shop had a cow for a mascot, and a life-sized plastic one was standing by the wall. Or at least Seth thought it was plastic. In his current state, it seemed to be swaying where it stood.
<Pull it together.> Seth shook his head and concentrated on the mission. <What flavor do I get?>
Seth jumped a foot in the air at the high-pitched voice behind him. There was also a slight stinging pain in his butt where the person had pinched him.
“What?” Seth answered stupidly.
“I said hey, isn’t it polite to say hey back?” The girl behind him asked.
She stood with her arms crossed over a sizable pair of breasts contained by a purple bikini top. Her skin was a dark ebony and her dark brown hair curled around her shoulders. His smile was both inviting and mischievous with just a hint of intoxication. It was the default expression on just about every college student on the beach.
“Yeah…hey.” Seth finally replied.
“My name is Bianca, what’s yours?” She asked sweetly.
“I’m Seth.” He automatically held out his hand for Bianca to shake.
She took it and shook firmly. “Wow, those are some big hands. You know what they say…?”
Seth probably did know what they said, but he just couldn’t think about it at the moment. The pull of the cool chill of an ice cream cone was starting to creep back up on him.
“So,” Bianca frowned a little at his lack of response to her statement, “where are you staying?” We’re over at the Sands.” She motioned to a few girls in line behind them.
One was another ebony skinned beauty with big, gold hoop earrings and blonde hair that looked very unnatural on her. The other was a Hispanic girl with sharp eyes and an even sharper glare for Seth. Both wore bathing suits similar to Bianca’s and were similarly endowed in the chest area. In fact, the other two seemed to be fending off other guys trying to chat them up.
“I’m down the beach a bit.” Seth replied noncommittally.
He might be a little wasted, but his tongue wasn’t loosened enough to give away the HCP’s hotel’s location.
“You mind if we come along?” Bianca asked, her smile revealing adorable dimples.
“Um…” Seth struggled to answer. His mind said one thing but his penis said another.
Visions of a four way were flashing through his head. Bianca’s friends turned their attention on him, waiting for an answer, and possibly thinking he might be a little brain dead because of the delayed response.
Girls like these didn’t get told no.
“Move bitches, coming through.” A new voice snapped him out of his physiological dilemma, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
Liz strutted into the ice cream shop like she owned it and the buildings next to it. She completely ignored the guys starting at her. Instead, she fixed her own smoldering glare on Seth. She was wearing a black fishnet top over a black bikini top that was struggling to contain her. A matching short skirt flared around her hips and covered just enough to leave the imagination guessing. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she had an expensive-looking pair of aviators on that she pushed up into her hair as she entered.
The three girls, including Bianca, silently hissed as she approached; like a pack of hyenas suddenly confronted by a lioness.
“Hey there stud.” She pulled herself inappropriately close to Seth and shoved her tongue down his throat.
Suddenly, the heat outside had nothing on the heat pressed against him.
<I’m really going to need that ice cream now.> He thought has he tried to control the physical reactions to his super-hot girlfriend sucking his face off in the middle of a crowd.
Before he ran out of breath she pulled back and gave him a small peck on the nose for good measure. And then she turned on Bianca.
“He’s taken, Skankarella.” Liz said it so politely you’d think she was thanking Bianca for a large donation to a worthwhile charity.
“Oh no she didn’t.” The friend with the hoop ears looked ready to throw down as she started to undo the two pieces of jewelry.
Liz just smiled as the girl got all riled up.
Sometimes how someone reacted to the threat of imminent violence told you a lot about who they were and if they should be messed with. Thankfully for hoop-girl Bianca was a little more observant.
She held up a hand to hoop-girl. The other girl looked at Bianca in surprise before reattaching her earrings. “Bitch ain’t worth it.” She muttered.
There was a short stare-down between Bianca and Liz where something was communicated. Whatever it was Liz clearly won. Bianca puffed herself up, making sure to show off all her assets as she marched out the door with her small entourage.
“Beach bunnies.” Liz shook her head and turned back to Seth.
“What?” Things were such a whirlwind he had trouble focusing.
“Beach bunnies,” she repeated, taking a step forward toward the waiting server. “Women who go to beaches like Daytona for spring break and fuck their way through the week. They trade pussy for hotel rooms, booze, and whatever else that can get their dirty traps on. That skank would have used you for a place to crash tonight. She might have not even put out for you.” Liz frowned as she looked over the menu.
“Huh.” Seth let it sink in, and realized Liz knew an awful lot about being a beach bunny.
But Seth also knew a lot about being a boyfriend, and his instincts told him to shut the hell up if he wanted to get laid.
“Well, thank you.” He put his arm protectively around her waist and she melted into him. “Can I interest you in an ice cream cone?”
“I’m interested in a lot of things.” Liz smiled back. “But right now I just want to spend the day with you.”
Seth sensed the shift in her tone and pulled back to get a good look at her. “Liz, is everything ok?”
Whatever he thought he saw quickly vanished as a billion-watt smile lit up her face. “Of course it is.” She draped her arms around his neck and pulled him in for another kiss. “I just needed to get away from Orlando and back to you. I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too.”
They smiled at each other, and then the coughing cashier ruined the moment.
“Can I get you two anything.” It was a middle-aged woman, and she didn’t look too happy at having two kids making out in front of her and holding up the line.
“Give me two cookie doughs.” Seth ordered, knowing what Liz liked.
She smiled at him, accepted the cone and dragged him outside.
“I’ve always wanted to go for a moonlit stroll on the beach.” She said as they walked down a crowded Atlantic Avenue.
“It’s the middle of the day.” Seth looked up and had to protectively cover his eyes with his hand.
The ice cream was already starting to melt.
“I guess we’ll have to think of something to do until then.” She grinned back.
The subtext was not lost on Seth this time. He grabbed her hand and half-pulled, half-dragged her back to the hotel.
The hotel sheets had a high thread count. Daisy was sure of that. She used to have a lot of money. In fact, she still did. Once upon a time she’d used that money to buy nice sheets with a high thread count, and these felt like those.
Of course, she hadn’t been sharing the bed before.
She savored the soft feeling on her bare back for a moment before sitting up. She grabbed the sheet and pulled it against her chest as she sat up.
<Just because I finally slept with him doesn’t mean he gets a free show.> A smile pulled at her lips as she recalled that first night, then the morning, afternoon, and night every day since.
It was embarrassing in an age where sex was given more freely than before, but it had been a long time since Daisy’s last time. Judging by the activity over the last few days, she’d been determined to make up for lost time.
<It doesn’t hurt that Topher is very satisfying.>
She looked over and smiled at the naked bulk of her boyfriend. He was snoring softly and sprawled over a large chunk of the king-sized bed. She watched him for a moment before letting the sheet fall and crawling on top of him.
“For the love of god, woman. You’re going to be the death of me.” He sighed tragically once she’d coaxed him awake.
“Well at least you’ll die happy.”
Thirty minutes later, she stepped out of the bathroom towel drying her blonde hair. Topher was still in bed drinking a lot of water just in case she was up for round two. As much as Daisy wanted to she had other responsibilities to attend to.
“I’ve got to go do a headcount to make sure no one has been stolen.” She said casually as she tossed the towel into a used pile they’d started to collect near the door. “Head down to grab some breakfast and I’ll join you soon.”
“Yeah sure.” He replied, still slightly out of breath. “Just let me get my sea-legs back and I’ll get right to it.”
She laughed, gave him a kiss, and left the room. Like every morning since they got here, Craig was waiting in the hallway with a shit-eating grin.
“You’re glowing this morning, Daisy. Is all the sex good for your complexion?”
She shot him a good-natured glare. “My love life isn’t the one we should be worried about.”
It was no secret that trips like this involved the exchange of bodily fluids from a lot of the HCP students. Daisy’s job was to monitor the situation and make sure someone didn’t do something they’d regret. But her job ended there. The HCP students were training to be Heroes, and that meant they had to be accountable for their own decisions. If they knocked up some chick in Daytona during freshman year of college that was a problem they’d have to deal with.
“You got it?” Daisy asked, as she walked down the hall occupied exclusively by HCP students and pounded on doors.
Sometimes the thought of their physical training coaches was enough to make the kids think twice about unprotected sex, but sometimes it wasn’t. So they had a plan B.
It started as a trickle at the end of the hall. Students started to appear from rooms and walk down the hall toward the elevators. It still surprised Daisy that she rarely saw the same pairs emerging from the rooms.
<That has got to be awkward when they get back to campus.> She thought. <I guess what happens on spring break stays on spring break…except herpes.>
The first pair got to them and Craig held out a plastic jack-o-lantern. His kids used matching ones when they trick-or-treated in the fall, but this time it was full of condoms instead of candy. Under the watchful eyes of the two instructors the HCP students passed by and everyone, male and female, grabbed a few.
“Wrap it, before you tap it.”
“Cover your stump, before you hump.”
“No glove, no love.”
“Chain the beast, before presenting the feast.”
“If you can’t shield your rocket, leave it in your pocket.”
“Sheath that knife, she ain’t your wife.”
“Especially in December, gift wrap your member.” The last one was a little outdated.
Craig had a one-liner for every couple passing them, and it was really hard for her to keep a straight face. Together they did the same routine on each of the floors until they had a count of everyone.
Everyone was present and accounted for.
<Whew.> Her biggest fear was losing a student. <Just one more day.>
It had been her mantra over the last week as the days slowly counted down. Despite how nice it was to sit in the sun all day long, and spend her inside time wrapped up in the sheets with Topher, this whole week was just a pause in reality. There were still problems awaiting her when they got back.
The prep for the semester final was starting in its end phases. Angela was still coping with the loss of her father. Seraphim was still patrolling/terrorizing the Orlando underworld. Wraith was still on the loose, and the news from Rabat was not good. The siege was over, but the bad guys had to have gone somewhere.
Daisy knew in her bones something big was coming. Her past was coming back to haunt her while her present and future hung in the balance. It was a daunting thought, but whatever the legal dweebs at the DVA might say Daisy was a Hero.
And Heroes didn’t let shit like this stop them from doing their job.