<I’m a bird. I’m a plane. I’m…so fucking stupid.> Daisy dreaded the decision about three seconds after she made it.
Currently, she was soaring through the air like a drunken eagle, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that she’d made a rookie mistake. It was a simple rule, and a practical one: flyers deal with flyers. That unwritten rule was important because no matter how great your power was, gravity was a cold-hearted bitch.
<Too late now.> Despite the rash decision, she was barreling through Orlando’s sky toward her target, and it looked like her aim was good. <Now the tricky part.>
She needed to be going fast enough to do damage, but she needed to engage her kinetic absorption enough that she didn’t splatter against the patchwork beast’s impossibly strong hide like a bug on a windshield.
<I just need to get on him.>
She made a few last second adjustments before it was go time. She careened through the air like the world’s weirdest missile and hit her target.
Seif al-Din’s shifted beast form howled in pain as she crashed through the thin membrane of his wing. A six-foot tear wasn’t something easily recoverable from, and his massive body started to tilt as his right wing struggled to maintain altitude.
But that wasn’t her problem. She absorbed enough of the impact so it didn’t knock her out. But she still came out the other side hurting, like she’d just gone through the tumble dry on her dryer. She succeeded in retaining her momentum, and that momentum took her onto the tilted back of the fleeing terrorist.
<Gotcha you mother…oh…wait…no I don’t.> She scrambled for a handhold as she started to slide off the beast’s smooth hide.
And that was about the time he noticed he had a passenger.
“Aaarrrrrggghhhh!” He roared, shrugging and swatting at his back like a horse trying to get rid of a fly. “Stupid bitch.”
Daisy was too busy to feel offended, she was slipping her way to a few hundred-foot drop, and that wouldn’t end well.
<Fuck!> She drove her fist forward in frustration, hitting the creature hard enough to make him grunt. If she was going down she was going to get a few licks in before she did, and she needed to get rid of any stored energy if she wanted any hope in surviving the fall.
“I’m going to tear you to pieces, Reaper!” Seif al-Din bellowed like an angry bear as he continued to try and reach her.
She was about to slip off of him when she took one last stab at him. A section of his patchwork flesh was more white and pink than gray and scaly near the edge of his back, so she made a knife with her hand and drove it into the section with what remained of her energy.
<I’ll either break a few fingers or I’ll fall and probably die. This is a no-brainer.> She thought as her knife-hand hit flesh.
Despite the white-pinkish texture of the epidermis the section was still as hard as a rock. But it wasn’t harder than steel. She felt her fingers break as they pushed into Seif al-Din’s resisting flesh, but she got her handhold, and she knew she had it when the giant beast cried out in pain again.
So just to be generous, she clamped down on the inside, made a fist, and twisted.
Seif al-Din looked backward and tried to snap at her with teeth the size of a bowie knife, but she was too far back.
<Take that you fucking asshole.> She grinned and had that grin instantly whipped from her face.
She should have seen it coming. If she was a flyer and had any experience in mid-air fights then she would have known this was the obvious next choice, so it was a good thing she’d grabbed on tight to the beast’s innards.
Seif al-Din gave one last mighty flap, curled his wings in, and threw himself into a violent barrel roll. The world spun everywhere. Up was down then down was up, and they were losing altitude quickly.
<He’s going to flatten me like a pancake.> She came to the realization with about a hundred feet left to go.
Of course, impacting the ground at terminal velocity would hurt for the terrorist, but he was a healer. He’d get up, brush off her bursted blood and guts, and then go right on ahead to making his getaway.
<Shit.> She made her decision, and was thankful her kinetic tank was running on empty.
The patchwork creature came out of the barrel roll and oriented itself with her facing down, and that’s when she made her move. She yanked her arm out of the thing’s side, which made it twitch in pain, planted her feet, and launched away.
Daisy hitting the ground was like a pebble dropping into a pond, while Seif al-Din was the fucking boulder. The earth barely felt her impact as she absorbed her fall. She didn’t even skip when she hit the grass at an angle. She just landed and was flooded with kinetic energy.
The terrorist hit like a ton of bricks on meth. The earth shook from the force of the impact. A nearby condemned building collapsed, car alarms went off for a mile, and a few people might have ever shit their pants at the sight of something straight out of a horror movie crash landing in their neighborhood.
She didn’t get to revel in it though. She was up and charging toward the terrorist. She got to him before he got to his knees, and rained down a few punches into his gut before he was able to recover. Nearby glass cracked at the concussive force of the blows traveled through the nearby buildings.
“Reaper, you’re a persistent woman.” The man laughed as he shrugged off her blows, and landed his own.
The backhand caught the left side of her body and she felt micro-cracks fracture just about everything as she was overloaded with kinetic energy.
<I can only take one hit at a time from this asshat.> She tried to stay focused through the pain radiating off half her body.
“I just don’t like douche-nozzles in my city.” She gritted her teeth in reply.
“Fair enough. I’ll let you live another day. I’m impressed by your performance today. I have things in store for you; delightful things.”
She threw up a little in her mouth.
“Just think about it. Together we could sire a race of warrior gods. All would fall before us. We could rule this world the way we want. We can eliminate the sinful and make room for the righteous. No more politicians deciding what is best for everyone else. No more lobbying by the rich and famous to achieve their goals. It would just be you and I. I would even leave you this country after it is gutted to its core. Then you can do as you please.”
For a second she had no idea what to say, so she just laughed. Despite anything she could have said, laughing in Seif al-Din’s face probably did the most to piss him off.
“Think about it, Reaper. Your life depends on it.”
That only made her laugh even harder. “This has got to be the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot.” She barely got control of herself. “Hey, baby, want to sire a race of warrior gods tonight.” She dropped her voice deeply to imitate the terrorist, and barely made it through it before bursting into more laughter.
“Ahhh, thanks for that, Seif. I needed a good laugh.”
“Time will tell, Reaper. Time will tell.”
They both attacked at the same time. She went in again, this time aiming for his knee, just as he swiped his massive, clawed hand across the space between them.
<Nothing that big should move that fast.>
She was able rotate her uninjured side into his blow, but all that did was break her. Micro-cracks became full breaks as she was swatted fifty feet into the side of an in-progress commercial development. The building already had its golden arches built when she crashed through them and into what would have been the kitchen area.
She didn’t black out, but her fight was done. Just about every bone in her body was broken, her skull was probably cracked. If there wasn’t internal hemorrhaging in at least a half-dozen places she’d give her yearly salary to the hobo on the street corner. Basically, she’d just gotten her ass kicked and the bad guy was going to get away.
“Goodbye, my precious, Reaper. We will meet again.”
All she saw was clawed feet as Seif al-Din unfurled freshly healed wings and launched himself back into the air. She really really wanted to reap the life-force right out of the bastard, but she couldn’t see straight, much less activate her unique ability.
<And it might not even do anything if I did.>
Seif al-Din was going to get away, and as much as that sucked, she had more pressing matters. If she didn’t get to a hospital quick, there was no doubt that she’d die.
Even with a cracked skull, and internal bleeding that was starting to show across her bruised and battered body, she was still a fighter. Slowly and painfully she crawled out of the soon to not be fast food joint and into the street.
<This way someone will be able to rescue my useless ass.> She was being hard on herself but she didn’t care.
The bad guy was getting away, and all she could do about it was lose consciousness in the middle of the street.
<Some Hero I am.>
“Target in sight.”
Debora and the rest of the DVA employees working out of the Protectorate HQ watched the drone’s forward cameras as it streaked through the Florida skies toward the retreating terrorist.
“ETA two minutes. Requesting final authorization.”
Despite what people might see in the movies it was not easy to call in a drone strike, and it was nearly impossible on American soil.
<Exigent circumstance of a serious nature.> Was the wording on the paperwork the DVA gent had filled out.
It was all cover your ass legalese. The military didn’t want to shoot missiles into Joe the Plumber’s living room on accident. Despite how smart ordinance was, there was still a margin of risk involved, and the military wanted that risk squarely on the shoulders of the DVA.
<So much for interagency cooperation.> Debora thought as she cracked open a sealed, plastic device and grabbed the piece of paper stored within.
“Authenticate: Echo November Delta Six Two Niner Zero.” She read the code to the drone pilot operating across the country.
“Authenticating Echo November Delta Six Two Niner Zero. Good copy, proceeding with fire mission.”
“Is that really going to do any good?” Seraphim walked up to stand next to her. “Will it even hurt?”
“Hurt…I’m sure he’ll feel it. But as far as taking that sack of shit off the board, no, it won’t get that job done.”
Seraphim looked a little worse from wear. The details were still a little sketchy about what had happened on the ground during the knock down brawl with Seif al-Din, but that would all get cleared up soon. If the federal government was good for one thing it was getting to the bottom of something. Everyone in the city needed to have their schedule cleared for the next week, because they were going to get debriefed by the army of agents and lawyers who’d descend on them once the fire was out.
That was literally true.
A silver wildfire had torn across hundreds of acres before half of Florida’s Hero population was able to get in contained. The fire took away their ability to respond to the terrorist’s main battle except for the highly skilled strike team that had been put together. So far, there was still no word from some of them.
Iron Giant was still trying to get a hold of the situation there, but there were already a few confirmed casualties. The ForceOps squad that went along with them had reported a couple of casualties, there was a YouTube video making its way around the web of a guy who’d gotten too close to the action, and a few of the Heroes were unaccounted for. Reaper was missing, but presumed alive for now. She was a tough old bitch who wouldn’t go down easy. Galavant had a cerebral hemorrhage from taking a heavy duty round to the head. It was a miracle he hadn’t been killed. But the HCP healer was on scene now, and she was still waiting to hear back on updated statuses.
They had one Hero KIA, Matchbox. The sword-wielding fire manipulator hadn’t been fast enough and had been flattened by the jihadist. Seraphim had been WIA, but she looked good to go now, but that was just the start of the casualty list.
Terrorists all over the city, buildings blown up, masked gunman causing chaos, no power, no communication, and with the roads in and out of the city destroyed by IEDs. It was going to be days, maybe weeks, before the full damage assessment was done.
<And Lander was just the icing on the cake.> She shook her head as she watched the drone acquire the large, flying form of Seif al-Din over the Atlantic just off shore from Daytona.
“Make sure the Coast Guard is alerted and have any naval assets in the area start sweeping for a rendezvous ship. I doubt he’s going to fly his fat ass all the way back to Morocco.”
“Weapons hot. Missile away.” The camera footage was devoid of any sound, but a contrail of superheated air spat across the screen as the drone launched its payload.
Not one or two, but four missiles shrieked away from the drone on a collision course with the thing that had successfully brought Orlando to its knees in an afternoon.
“If only you’d just fucking die.” She whispered to herself as all four missiles hit the beast at roughly the same time.
Without sound, it was tough to get complete satisfaction out of the moment, but the way the creature’s head was thrown back was obviously driven by pain. One missile hit the thing’s wing, which crumbled under the blow, and sent him careering into the water below.
“See if we have any subs in the area. Maybe the asshole will drown.” That got a few morose laughs from the stern-faced analysts sitting round her.
She didn’t blame them. Today was probably going to be the worse day of their career, and there hadn’t been a lot of good news today.
“Dispatch, Iron Giant. I’ve found Reaper. She’s in bad shape. I need a healer to my location immediately.” The hulking metal man’s voice sounded strained.
“Agent Reynolds in on the way, Iron Giant.” Debora cut in, making a hurry-up motion with her hand to one of the coordinating analysts.
<If I let my brother’s girlfriend die, Christmas is going to be super awkward this year.>
“Agent Reynolds on scene.” A boyishly sarcastic voice replied through the comms channel. “Um…this is going to take a minute. Request permission to take her somewhere more secure so I can get back to work.”
She wasn’t at the scene, but it must be pretty messed up, or Reaper was pretty messed up, to want to teleport them out instead of just doing it then and there.
“Authorized.” She didn’t have time to think about it anymore. “Get her on her feet again, and soon. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. She isn’t sitting it out because she got her ass kicked.”
“Roger that.” The DVA teleporter cut the link and went to work.
Debora returned her eyes to the board and prioritized what needed to be done next. More Heroes were flooding into the city. The attack on Lander was over. She still didn’t know how some JV nutjobs were able to pull that off, but they were getting some heavy hitters on scene now.
It was too late for them to do much more that recovery operations. The Protectorate and Orlando’s finest had dealt with the terrorists themselves.
<I need to go down to the morgue and identify as many as I can.> She added it to her mile-long to-do list.
Even with the added assistance, there was still a lot of red on the board and not enough Heroes to cover it all. They were doing their best, as was the Orlando Police Department, but they were straining to keep a city of a quarter million people calm after all the shit that had happened.
<Some good news would be nice about now.>
Maybe the universe just felt like throwing her a bone. Because the moment she thought it alarms starting ringing as a man appeared not far from her with something slung over his shoulder. He was a big guy, in a khaki outfit, with what looked like an African tribal mask over his face.
She already had her gun halfway out of her holster when Seraphim screamed like a teenage girl and threw herself at the man. The female Hero’s hysterical laughter only made the situation more confusing, and then just plain akward when she reared her arm back and cold-cocked the new arrival in the jaw.
“Mind bringing us up to date.” Debora coughed after a few moments. She had her weapon fully drawn and pointed at the ground. Just about every armed agent in the room was following her lead.
Seraphim took a step back from the man, and then slapped him hard in the face before nodding satisfactorily.
“Jesus Christ, So…Seraphim,” the man grunted, as he rubbed his jaw and readjusted the mask and the thing on his shoulder.
“Any day now.” Debora was aiming at the man now. People who Seraphim tended to put the beat down on weren’t friendly to the DVA.
“Stand down, Agent Phillips. I don’t believe the two of you have met.” Seraphim’s expression was hidden by her mask and her voice was emotionless. “This is the up-until-now deceased Hero, Hunter. Hunter, this is the DVA agent in charge, Agent Phillips.”
“Sorry about the sudden resurrection, Agent Phillips. But I’ve got something I know you’ll want to see.”
He gave a small heave and the thing slid off his shoulder an onto the floor. The thing turned out to be a young woman in black and armed with just about every illegal ordinance known to man. She was pretty, blond, and would have gone relatively unnoticed on any college campus in the city. But something about the girl’s face tugged at the back of the DVA agent’s memory. Whatever it was, Seraphim got there first.
“You’ve got to be shitting me.” Her voice might have been emotionless when she introducing Hunter, but there was barely contained rage in it now.
“Agent Phillips, as my resurrection present I present you with Wraith. I know you’ve been looking for her for months.”
The sudden jolt to her brain slid the last piece of information into place.
“Holy shit! I know this girl.”
Daisy slowly regained consciousness, and it felt like someone was slowly backing an eighteen-wheeler off her body one millimeter at a time. The burning aches and pains were magnified, nearly to the point of being unbearable, and then they started to ease and cool. She opened her eyes, which was an accomplishment in itself, and took in her surroundings.
All she wanted to do was sleep for the next fifteen hours, but she still had work to do.
People were bustling all around her. There was a dark green canvas tent overhead and there were sounds of children crying and the anxious whispers of parents. Daisy tried to lift her head, but the world started to spin and she set it back down with a groan.
“Take it easy, Ma’am.” Dr. Sanderson approached in his usual medical garb with the edition of a full golden facemask. “I’ve just healed you, but it’s going to take time before your body finds its equilibrium. You were nearly crushed by a building. So please take it easy.
“What?” She knew exactly how she’d been injured. Seif al-Din tried to body slam her from a few hundred feet up, and then bitch slapped her like a no-nonsense pimp. “Bl…”
“Ma’am.” The healer’s voice was stern and his grip tightened around her shoulder. “I’ll come check back on you in a minute, but please relax.”
Daisy might still be foggy from her latest bout with unconsciousness, but there were only a few reasons why a Hero would be so secretive. Slowly, she reached up toward her face and winced when her hand hit skin. At some point, she’d had her mask knocked off.
<Well a minefield exploded around you, and you fought the genocidal offspring of the swamp thing and the creature from the black lagoon. It was bound to happen.> At least she felt the comforting pressure of her Dispatch earpiece. <Wait…>
She knew for a fact that she’d lost the old one. Being blind and deaf to what was happening in the fight for Orlando was going to haunt her for a long time.
“Reaper, this is Dispatch. Status?”
“I’m ok.” She subvocalized to avoid drawing any attention.
“Are you ambulatory?”
She tried to get up, but the head rush and pins-and-needles pain she felt in her muscles was too much. “Give me ten minutes.”
Dispatch obeyed her request, and probably got back to her right at the ten-minute mark down to the second.
“Are you ambulatory?”
Daisy slowly sat up and took a deep breath. It still felt like someone had dropped a bowling ball on her head, but as long as she moved slowly she’d be fine. “Where am I going?”
“Exit through the rear of the tent and a teleporter will be waiting for you.” The line went dead, and she started to shuffle toward the exit.
Either no one cared about a patient trying to leave or people were too busy to notice. Either way, she made it out the back and came face to face with the last person she expected to see.
“Hunter,” she replied with a shrug to hide her surprise. “Figured you weren’t dead.”
“Yeah.” She thought back to that day a few months ago. “They only found a few small body parts and not the body. I knew Wraith wouldn’t be able to take you down.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence. Now hold on tight.”
She could sense the smile in his voice as he grabbed her lightly by the shoulder and the both disappeared from the army field aid station. They reappeared in a dark, familiar room. She’d been here a few times before. One time she was on the other side of the barriers, and the other she was interrogating a prisoner. Either way, she knew the Protectorate’s holding cells intimately.
<Security in and out of here is still a joke.> She hoped someone eventually read her memo.
But that was beside the point. Hunter took her by the elbow and led her toward the only occupied cell.
“Here.” He handed her a full facemask. “I thought you’d want to see this.” His tone held hints of pride, and he clearly wanted to know what she thought.
The cells single occupant was a woman in all black. She had her knees pulled up to her chest and she was resting her forehead on them. A curtain of blonde hair hid everything else about the woman as Daisy and Hunter drew nearer.
“Reaper, Wraith. Wraith, Reaper.”
<Fuck me sideways and call my Uncle Billy.> She couldn’t stop the grin from splitting her face.
An enormous sense of satisfaction descended over her. It was how she always felt after every big bust. Getting sociopathic Supers like Wraith off the street was one of the highlights of being a Hero.
“The infamous, Wraith.” She walked right up to the barrier and tried to get a better look at the woman. “You had to have known we’d catch you eventually.”
“Really?” Wraith cackled back, lifting her head enough so that Daisy could see her face. “Did you really think you’d catch me eventually? I’ve stood closer to you on multiple occasions. How is Becca and your cop friend? Topher I believe his name was. ” She turned to regard Hunter. “You certainly didn’t know who I was when we met on Parent’s Weekend, Mr. Martin. I assume Angela made it through all of this without a scratch. So I’d say you should hop off your high horse and get down here in the mud like the rest of us.”
There was a half-crazed look on the face of the girl who Daisy had spoken to not too long ago on the very steps of the home where Kemps had been kidnapped.
“Liz?” For once, Daisy was at a loss for words.
“In the flesh.” The teenage villain lowered her head so her blonde locks obscured her face. “And to quote a personal Hero of mine. I would have gotten away with if not for that pesky asshole right there.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Hunter’s monotone cut through the mental freak out Daisy was having.
Wraith had been right under her nose all year long and she’d missed it. She’d missed it bigtime.
“There it is.” Wraith peaked up when Daisy didn’t say anything. “Let the guilt set in. If you had been more vigilant maybe things wouldn’t have gone down the way they did.” She shrugged at the what-if. “But I’ll guess you’ll have to live with soldier boy’s blood on your hands, and a few others.”
Daisy didn’t even realize she was shaking until Hunter placed his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t let her get to you. She’s pouting because she got caught.”
Wraith just shrugged in the cell. “Whatever. I’m sure we’ll talk more later. If you could have room service bring in my meal, I’d appreciate it. After all, humane treatment of prisoners is what you Heroes are all about, right?”
Daisy almost reached out and snapped the girl’s lifeline right then and there. Hunter must have sensed it too because he grabbed her tightly and started to half walk, half drag her out of the room.
“Talk to you soon, Teach. Keep your dog on a leash, Henry. We wouldn’t want her going over to the dark side.”
Now Hunter had to really drag Daisy from the room. Despite his size, that wasn’t an easy task against a kinetic energy absorber.