As expected, ten minutes wasn’t nearly enough time to get from West Private University to the new airport. It was the middle of the day, but there was still traffic due to all the construction. Daisy couldn’t open up the throttle on her new SUV with all the other cars there.
<I swear, half the reason we’re doing the accordion here is because people are stopping to gawk.> Daisy grumbled for the third time as she had to slow down to a near-stop only to speed back up less than five seconds later.
It took her ten minutes just to hit the construction where the turnpike met the I-4. The terrorists had blown a bridge there and it had made a real mess. Now, crews were busy putting up a new bridge. Dozens of American flags waved in the breeze as a show of defiance against the people who tried to bring down their city.
<Really only one person.> Daisy suppressed a shiver. Seif al-Din was at the top of her shit list now. Not that she could really do anything about it.
Traffic picked up speed as she continued south east past the construction. The Orlando International Airport was at the southern edge of the city, and right now it was the busiest place to be. The whole airport had been gutted by RPGs, exploding planes, and the resulting demolition when one of the concourses was declared structurally unsound. But like a phoenix, the airport was rising from its ashes.
The result was a big fuck you to the terrorists that was fueled by deep government pockets. After all the shit that had gone down, the people needed a symbol of hope, and that symbol for the average man wasn’t the new Heroes in the city, or the DVA that was still around in force. It was a shiny, new, state of the art airport to connect the city to the world.
Or at least that was what it would be when it was finished. Right now it was just a giant traffic jam as construction vehicles, government agents, and regular civilians tried to share the same space and utterly failed.
She caught a flash of red out of the corner of her eye and grimaced. <No…no…no. Please, for the love of god, why the fuck is he here?>
The blur of red materialized into a man who came to a sudden halt above the airport. The result of which was a giant gust of wind that blasted sand, dust, and even small rocks right onto the traffic waiting to reach the arriving flights terminal.
There was a loud ping and crack as one of those little rocks ricocheted off Daisy’s windshield like a bullet. <Are you kidding me!> She smashed her hand on the steering wheel as she examined the impact site and saw a decent-sized chip in the glass.
“Fuck you, Jetwash!” She yelled her frustration to no one in particular and gave the man floating a few hundred feet away the finger.
The traffic that was already sluggish slowed to a complete stop as people actually got out of the car to watch the Hero survey the scene.
As an HCP instructor and Hero of legendary status, not that Daisy was comfortable with the “legendary” prefix after the ass beating she’d gotten a few months ago, she had access to the new Hero’s information. Jetwash was a kid fresh out of his two-year internship. Instead of going onto a team, the rookie Hero decided to fly solo…literally. He was an aerokinetic whose best move was the use of what he called wind blades. He was able to create powerful gusts strong enough to cut a tree in half. It was a pretty cool trick, but it wouldn’t do shit to a kinetic absorber like Daisy. Even if her power didn’t completely counter his, she was still confident she could kick his ass.
<Watch yourself Jonas Wilkerson.> She knew the kid’s name, DOB, SSN, and even where he liked to hang out.
After what had happened, she like to thoroughly vet the new faces in town. After Aretino, Daisy wasn’t going to let someone close again without digging up their deepest secrets, which for Jetstream was a fetish for Asian porn.
Right now, she didn’t really care what he liked to wank it to. She did care that he was holding up everyone’s shit, had personally chipped her brand-new windshield, and was going to get her judged by her boyfriend’s already judgmental parents.
“Move it!” She laid on the horn when the lady in front of her started to get out of her car to take a better look at the man dressed in a tight, red bodysuit and hovering in the air ahead of them.
The lady glared, and Daisy glared right back. Daisy won.
It took another ten minutes to just get to the arrivals concourse. She checked her phone while she waited in the bumper-to-bumper traffic and confirmed that Topher’s parents had landed twenty-five minutes ago. If she was lucky, their baggage would take a couple extra minutes to pick up. If not, then they would be waiting by the curb with that “I’m pissed but I’m trying not to show it” look on their faces.
People in yellow vests were trying to keep people moving to stop the backup and traffic jam outside of baggage claim. It wasn’t working much. People either weren’t listening, or couldn’t get out when the traffic patrollers were waving them off.
<What a clusterfuck.> Daisy drove down into the area. She didn’t see Topher’s parents or a place to park.
She continued on to the end where she got lucky. A guy was looking to pull out, so she stopped and let him. A woman to Daisy’s left tried to cut in front of her to get the spot. <No you don’t.> Daisy floored it, her V8 engine roared, and she pulled expertly into the space. The woman glared as she drove past, and Daisy just smiled smugly. The spot was perfect. She had a straight shot out into the slow going traffic and from there to the road leaving the airport.
Now all she had to do was wait, and she waited all of two minutes before one of the traffic cops walked over to her.
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to move your vehicle.” The guy was big, in a fat kind of way, with the bottom of his yellow vest straining to make it past his belly-button.
“I’m picking somebody up, officer. I’ll be gone in a minute.” She checked her phone again to seem like she was waiting for a call.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but you can’t park here.” He gestured back at the traffic.
Daisy had to bite the inside of her cheek to stop from snapping at the guy. He was just doing his job, an impossible job by the looks of it, and nothing was personal. The problem was that the last half hour of Daisy’s day had been really shitty, she was stressed about Topher’s parents coming into town, and that asshat Jetwash and his showing off were already going to cost her to fix her windshield. Today just wasn’t the day to screw with her.
She turned to look at the guy and he involuntarily took a step back. Daisy was a lot of things. She was tall, fit, stacked in the boob department, and using her feminine wiles to convince the traffic cop to let her stay would have probably been the better idea, but the guy hadn’t focused on any of that. He’d focused on the one thing about her that clearly marked her as a Super.
When Daisy turned to stare him down her blood-red iris’ zeroed in on the guy. They didn’t look normal, they looked demonic, and on her pissed off face that might have been what the guy was seeing. Coupled with all the recent damage terrorist Supers had done to the city and you had a misunderstanding careening toward disaster.
The cop reached for his radio reflexively, and probably would have called in some type of alert if not for a certain red-clad jackass landing less than twenty feet away.
“Stay calm, everyone. It is just a little bit of traffic. Let’s not lose our heads.”
<If being a Hero doesn’t work out for him then he definitely has a voice for radio.> Daisy gave the young Hero that much credit.
And she would have given him more if he stayed around for more than thirty seconds and actually helped with the traffic. Instead, he made it worse by sticking his well-shaped jaw where it didn’t belong. The only thing it did do was make the annoying traffic cop go away.
A couple minutes later Mister and Missus Phillips walked out of the sliding door and looked around for her. She caught the exit in her side mirror, and jumped out of the car to wave them down. Their faces immediately soured when they saw her, and then tried unsuccessfully to hide it.
<This is going to be fun.> Daisy put her own false smile in place, but wasn’t sure it worked any better.
To their credit, the elder Phillips didn’t hate Supers just to hate Supers. Most people discriminated against Supers because they didn’t understand them. Most people were just jealous or scared of what a Super could do, and people tended to fear what they didn’t understand. That was the type of Super bigotry that Daisy hated, but that wasn’t the Phillips’ take on it.
Topher’s father was a retired police captain. He’d spent more than thirty years fighting criminals of all varieties, including Supers. His prejudices came from that. All he’d ever seen was the bad side of the Super coin. He’d mostly dealt with the scumbags of Daisy’s race. Sure, he probably interacted with a few Heroes too, but that little bit of good wasn’t enough to tip the scales in his opinion.
Daisy didn’t blame the old cop though, she didn’t like a lot of Supers either. Jetwash was just the latest to be added to her list. <I wonder if we can schedule some sparring?>The thought of making the rookie Hero shit himself like she’d done to Galavant brought a sense of calm to her before Topher’s parents arrived.
“Christian, Penelope, it’s great to see you again.” Daisy moved forward to greet the two who’d given life to her boyfriend.
Topher had gotten his build from his father. The retired captain was six-two and probably weighed about two-fifty. He had a bit of a gut on him that looked like it had been steadily gaining over the past ten years, but he was still a powerfully built man. His most important feature though was the bushy, salt and pepper, seventies-style mustache he was rocking. It was a cop stereotype, but the man wore it proudly, and Daisy had to respect that.
Topher might have gotten his strength from his father, but he got a lot of his subtler features from his mother. He had her nose, her brown eyes, and her light brown hair all on top of his father’s strong jaw. Despite how they might feel about her, Daisy couldn’t hold one thing against them. They’d made a good-looking kid, and she was screwing him on a regular basis.
“Let me help you with your bags.” She reached for Penelope’s bags. She knew Christian would deal with his own.
She popped the trunk and tucked them into the large space the salesman at the dealership had rattled on about while she listened to Topher’s dad grumble.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous. The roads are still closed across half the state from that fire. I can’t believe we have to take a plane from Daytona to Orlando to visit our son.”
The “our son” part was said with a palpable parental protective instinct.
<You usually hear that type of tone when it’s fathers referring to their daughters when they see some boy roll up on a motorcycle to take their little princess to prom.> She thought, laughing on the inside that they thought she was going to corrupt their precious Christopher.
<If you only knew half the kinky shit he’s into.> She grinned, as she shut the trunk and opened the door for Penelope.
As Topher’s mother was climbing into the car, Daisy caught sight of the commotion behind her. There was a lot of activity going on at the airport, but there was a difference between the normal chaos and this. Mostly it was people walking in and out of the building with a purpose. This was different. This looked like some guy was piss drunk and stumbling through the crowd, or he was trying to get away from something.
Daisy instinctually took a step forward before she stopped herself. <This is a job for the traffic cops.> She told herself as she unclenched her fists.
She scanned behind the stumbling man and saw two people moving against the sea of travelers pushing toward the curb. It was easy to pick them out. There was one big man, and one slight, almost teenage-looking woman. The crowd parted around the man due to his size, and surprisingly they did the same around the petite woman.
<That’s weird.> She watched them gaining on the man, and turned to find the nearest yellow-vested cop. <Of course there isn’t one around when you need them.> They were all on the far side of arrivals from her.
She warred within herself for a second. Did she jump in and help? That was her natural instinct. Or did she let something happen to the guy? As they got closer she could see it was an older man.
<Are they trying to mug the old dude?> She took another step forward.
“Daisy, where are you going?” Topher’s father peeked his head out of the open passenger side door.
At the mention of her name, the old man’s head snapped in her direction. He was only twenty feet away now, and she caught a clear profile of his face.
“Kevin!” The shock in her voice was genuine.
“Daisy!” There was shock, relief, and pain in the Hero formerly known as Mastermind’s voice. “Help.”
He broke through the crowd and Daisy could clearly see Kevin had a hand pressed to his side, and there was red leaking out around it.
“Holy shit!” She ran the dozen feet remaining between them and grabbed him. “What happened?”
“We need to get out of here.” He kept moving despite Daisy’s attempts to stop him.
“My car’s right there.” She started to move toward where Christian and Penelope were looking at her with bewilderment, while she checked over her shoulder.
The two people following Kevin were getting closer, but they were still a good fifty feet away with dozens of people between them and her.
“No.” Kevin winced, as she read her mind and put his foot down. “We need to get out of here.”
“Ok.” They arrived at her SUV and she helped him into the backseat.
“Daisy, who is this?” Penelope scooched over to the far side. Her eyes bulged at the sight of blood.
Daisy didn’t have time to respond. She slammed the door shut and raced around to the driver’s side, but not before she felt two things slam into her back. Thankfully, her kinetic absorption was up 24/7, so the two bullets that would have killed a normal person fell uselessly to the ground.
<Did they just shoot me?!> Daisy was stunned. Not only because someone had been brazen enough to do it, but because no one was reacting to it.
Either way, Daisy didn’t stop. She couldn’t. She might be bulletproof, but Christian, Penelope, and Kevin weren’t.
“What the hell is going on?” Christian’s yell was nearly drowned out by the roar of her SUV’s engine as she floored it out of the space.
She nearly hit a passing car but swerved and avoided the collision by a few inches. A quick look in the rearview mirror showed the two would-be assassins standing on the curb. The man had a hand in his blazer, and the woman had a sneer on her face.
“I could ask the same question, Kevin.” She didn’t turn around, but she still glared through the rear-view mirror at her friend. “What the hell just happened?”
“Not here.” Kevin winced again as he pulled his hand away from his side to check his wound.
“This man needs to go to a hospital.” Penelope had gone as white as a sheet.
Daisy was pretty sure if Topher’s parents’ opinion of her could have fallen any further it had taken a nose dive in the last five minutes.
“No, no hospital.” Kevin tried to sit back up, but now that he was down his body didn’t want to get back up.
“That’s crazy. We need to call the police and get you medical attention.” Topher’s dad was using his cop voice now.
“No, Kevin’s right.” Every head turned toward Daisy at the admission. “Those people just tried to off him right in the middle of a crowded airport. Taking him to a hospital and getting him in the system is only going to put him and more innocent bystanders in danger.” Daisy explained, but didn’t sense she was getting anywhere with the by-the-book former captain.
“Look,” Daisy pulled out her phone and hit the speed dial for Topher.
“You don’t have a hands-free set?”
Daisy wasn’t able to stop from rolling her eyes as she held the phone on speaker with one hand and swerved in and out of traffic with the other.
“Hey, babe.” Topher’s pickup was cheerful even though she heard sirens in the background.
“Hey, honey, sorry to disturb you at work.”
“No problem, what’s up?”
“Remember when I went on my business trip to get answers?”
“Yeah.” A lot of the cheer dropped from Topher’s voice.
“Well, it looks like it has followed me home.”
She didn’t blame him for not knowing what to say. “I need you to get over to the airport. You should find two bullets on the curb at the far end of the arrivals section. Then you need to check the surveillance footage. Look for a big guy and small girl walking perpendicular to the crowd at…” she looked at her watch and gave him the approximate time.
“Shit. Are you ok?”
Topher’s mother winced when he didn’t ask about his parent’s safety first.
“We’re all good, but our newest guest needs a patch-up. I’m taking him into work with me after I drop off your parents.”
“If they’re professionals they’ll follow your license and registration back to your residence.” Topher’s father picked up what was happening pretty quickly.
“Then it’s a good thing it’s registered to my house far away from where we are going. And if they show up there they’ll have a few surprises waiting for them.”
The old cop just nodded. He probably had his suspicions about the Super dating his son, and what had just happened definitely confirmed some of them. She saw a glimmer of respect in his eyes, but once he saw her staring it was gone.
<And all it took for my boyfriend’s father to accept me was for my old friend of nearly fifty years to show up shot and bleeding all over my car.> She could deal with that. She already had to get the windshield fixed, what was a little interior work on top of that.
Mika arrived at the warehouse in the middle of the night. He stepped out of his car and peered around at the darkness. Just the act of getting from his apartment to this rendezvous point was breaking the law. He was fifteen, he didn’t even have a license, not that a cop would ask for license and registration when a guy dressed like a human motherboard emerged from a heavily tinted muscle car. That was probably a shoot first and ask questions later situation.
The teenage technopath’s life had gone to shit a bit over the last few months. <And just when I’d made it.> He was still kicking himself.
He’d never known his dad, and his mom was turning tricks more than she was at home. He got his powers before he went to high school, so there was really no point in going. He had a complete mental mastery over technology. Who needed to know what the capitol of North Dakota was when you could empty an ATM just by walking by it.
And that was how he’d met Shadow, now the infamous supervillain, Wraith.
If he was being honest with himself, she was the girl he fantasized about. If she had a poster it would be hanging above his bed, and he’d be doodling Mr. and Mrs. Wraith in his notebooks. She was the one that got away.
<No…she was taken away.>
He still couldn’t believe the news that she’d been caught down in Orlando. It was like hearing someone had made God bleed. He’d never even thought it possible until he saw her doing a perp-walk. Even if they did give her the courtesy of being masked, he could still tell it was her. He’d never forget how those hips moved.
That wasn’t the only thing he’d remembered about Wraith. He also remembered what she told him to do if she ever got busted. First, he cleared out of the office in the Wilson Tower. He switched phones, moved apartments, and did everything humanly possible to distance himself from the life Nano had lived. He didn’t even take calls from the mob anymore, which was undercutting his cash flow significantly, but it was all in the interest of staying out of prison.
The DVA was poking around, and he wasn’t going to give them a scent to catch. Which was what made him being out here such a bad move. <I knew I shouldn’t have come.> Mika stopped just short of smacking himself in the head.
A man, who knew a man, who knew another man, that vouched for a man had contacted him on his new cell phone number. A number that only a few people had. That man told Mika that another man would be meeting him with a business opportunity that he couldn’t pass up.
<And now it looks like this could all be a setup.>
Mika had only walked about ten feet from his car before he turned to go back and get the hell out of there.
And that was when someone flipped his switch.
Mika was connected to everything within his several hundred-meter range. A dozen Wi-Fi connections, one business’ cameras, and the warehouse’s security systems which was why he was able to just drive right in. Suddenly, all that was turned off. It was like someone had shut down his access everywhere. He couldn’t even feel anything but his own skin rubbing against the suit. A suit that was more bullet resistant than bulletproof.
“Hello, Nano.” The voice was directly behind him.
Mika wasn’t proud of his high-pitched yelp, and his twisting so hard he nearly tripped over his own feet. He stumbled but a powerful set of hands had a firm grip on him.
“Relax, kid. I’m not going to kill you.”
Mika got a good look at the guy who had a solid hold on him. He wasn’t huge like a Mafioso who looked like they’d never considered eating a low-calorie meal, but he was tall. A few inches over six feet, and wearing a body armor breastplate over a set of old fatigues like the ones Mika had seen in Vietnam War movies. The guy also had weapons strapped to every inch of his body. He looked like a walking armory, and the way he moved made Mika think he knew how to use them.
His face was obscured with a black mask that was more of a ballistic face shield than a corny piece of plastic.
Basically, Mika was sure this guy would gut him with the sword on his back if things went south.
“Sir…wow, now I feel like a fucking grandpa.” The guy grunted and took his hand off Mika’s shoulder.
It was like someone switched the power back on and everything came flooding back to Mika. He had control again. Instead of being a fifteen-year-old nothing in a reinforced plastic suit with supped up electronics.
“Let’s get down to brass tax.” The armed man was still within striking distance, but he’d backed off enough so Mika felt a little more comfortable. “I’ve got a job for you.”
“Sir, respectfully, but I’m not really taking jobs right now. It’s too hot for me.” Mika tried to sound sincerely sorry.
“I know your situation, Nano.” The man waved aside the excuse. “But I hear you’re good with computers. I’m not. I’m good at breaking people and things, so I need you to get this job done. I got your name from a very trusted individual.”
“Wow, sir, I appreciate the vote of confidence, and thanks to whoever thinks so highly of me, but that doesn’t stop the fact that the DVA is going to be all over my ass if I step out of hiding.” Mika politely declined again.
“Ok, let me be a little clearer for you.” There was a subtle shift in the man’s demeanor. “You are going to help me break into a maximum security prison designed to hold the worst criminal Supers in the country. You’re going to make sure their systems can’t tell their heads from their assholes while I take a team in and get Wraith out. You are going to do this. I do not except no for an answer.”
“Wraith?” Mika missed everything after she was mentioned. “You know where she is?”
“Yeah, she’s at Florence ADMAX, the Alcatraz of the Rockies. I know she’s down on the third ring, and I know I need a top tier techie to get in there. Are you in?”
Mika could tell that it wasn’t really a question. The guy had told him his plan, where he was going, and his goal. At this point, Mika was a liability that would be eliminated if he didn’t participate.
<And it’s for Wraith.> That was all the guy needed to lead with.
“I’m in.” Mika nodded his head enthusiastically. “Anything for Wraith.”
“Excellent. Welcome aboard, Nano. I’m Armsman. My niece might have mentioned me before.”