“What the fuck, Kevin.” Daisy didn’t care about the irritation in her tone or the fact that her old friend was bleeding from a gunshot wound in the back of her car.
<It’s not like this isn’t the first time.>
They were racing away from the airport with Topher’s parents in tow. If there was any silver-lining to this, it was that Topher’s father seemed to have a bit more respect for her now. His mother was another question.
“What is going on!?” It didn’t help that she was sitting closest to the bleeding stranger.
“Kevin, these are my boyfriend’s parents. Christian and Penelope, this is Kevin, an old friend from a different life.”
“An old life that is coming back to haunt us.” Kevin groaned as he continued to put pressure on the wound.
“Not here.” Daisy shot him a look as she deftly dodged a truck that was only going ten over the speed limit. Thankfully, traffic heading away from the airport was much thinner.
“We need to assume they got your plate number, so they’ll check your residence.” Christian went into cop mode.
“Yep.” Daisy pulled out her phone and texted John quickly that she might be having unwanted company.
Christian’s eyes squinted a bit at her texting while driving antics, but sometimes there were more pressing matters. “If they have the resources, they’ll be checking traffic cameras next.”
“Easy.” Daisy got off on a ramp, nearly catching some air, and made a tight turn that left an smear of rubber on the asphalt. “We don’t have many cameras in the city. That’ll probably change after the attack and all the money funneling into the police department, but as far as I know there is only one traffic cam anywhere near Topher’s place.”
“Any banks, ATMs, or stores you know with external security cameras?” Christian was peering out the window and up into the sky like he was looking for something tracking them from above.
“A couple. I’ll steer clear of those.” She took another turn on a side street and slowed down.
They were in a neighborhood now. A nice looking one with well-kept lawns and the occasional white picket fence. Palm trees lined the road on either side and tree trimmers were hard at work maintaining the façade. Daisy drove all the way down to the end, and pulled up on the curb.
“Here’s the key. Lock the door behind you, call Topher, and press this button if you need help immediately.” Daisy handed over a small device that looked like remote car starter.
She had given Anika a similar one last school year to press if she needed an extraction. This particular device was connected to the local PD, the DVA, the Protectorate, and the HCP.
“Life or death emergency only,” Daisy clarified. Pushing that button would leave her a mountain of paperwork. She didn’t want to have to wade through a sea of papercuts because Penelope got spooked by a tree brushing against the side of the house.
“Got it.” Christian was already getting out and heading for the back. He got their bags and got his wife out of the car with only a little fuss.
“I’ll be back soon,” Daisy reached over the seat and grabbed the door to pull it closed before hitting the acceleration.
Tired squealed as the SUV leapt forward and she immediately grabbed her phone.
“What’s going on Daisy?” John picked up after one ring.
“I need a pickup immediately. I’ll text you the address. Me plus one. He’s got a GSW to the side, but it doesn’t appear to have hit anything vital. Have Sanderson ready when I arrive. It’s a professional courtesy.” That was a polite, discrete way of saying they had a retired Hero that needed help.
“We’ll be ready for you.” John only sounded mildly exasperated as he hung up the phone.
Daisy continued for several miles before finding a park. A quick check told her there were no cameras. She fed the meter with as much change as she had and texted the address. Less than a minute later a man in a dark suit and sunglasses showed up.
“Could you be any more conspicuous?” Daisy dug into him without really meaning it as she helped Kevin over.
The guy didn’t say anything he just grabbed them both. There was a loud POP, Daisy felt like there was a sudden pressure change all around them, and then they reappeared in the sterile, white infirmary of the West Private HCP. Which Kevin immediately befouled by dripping blood everywhere.
“Why am I not surprised.” Dr. Sanderson walked out of his office not bothering to hide his irritation.
Daisy and the good doctor had a conflicting relationship to say the least. She’d killed his brother, but his brother had tried to kill the President. He thought she’d overstepped her authority as a Hero and as a decent human being, and she thought he was being a bit of a melodramatic asshat. But, she’d been trying to turn over a new leaf, so they found a middle ground where they could be professional with each other.
As of today, professionalism was where it ended. He approached Kevin, asked him some questions, and then went to work on the wound. He didn’t release his trademark golden healing mist right away. First, he looked at Kevin from the front and back.
“I don’t see an exit wound.” His brow furrowed, as he waved to a few orderlies nearby. “Get him on the table and get supplies.” He didn’t elaborate and the orderly didn’t ask.
They eased Kevin down onto a table and turned him onto his side. “Don’t move,” was all the instruction Sanderson gave before golden mist started to waft off his hands.
It made a small circle, just larger than the bullet hole, and seeped into Kevin’s flesh.
“Ahhhhh, that feels better.” Kevin gave a sigh of relief and his whole body relaxed.
“I’ve turned off your nerves around the area.” Sanderson pulled on a pair of butt inspection gloves and grabbed the forceps the orderly handed him. “I’ve got to go in and remove the bullet before I can patch you up.”
“Shouldn’t you at least wash your hands?” But it was too late. Sanderson was already digging around inside Kevin, and Kevin wasn’t even budging. He didn’t even wince in pain.
Sanderson wasn’t digging around for long before he muttered something and slowly pulled the forceps out. At the end was a black bullet with some type of weird carving on it
“Save that.” Daisy instructed, much to Sanderson’s irritation.
A swirl of golden mist later and Kevin had a new few inches of fresh, pink flesh.
“Thanks, Doc.” Kevin extended his hand and Sanderson accepted it with a smile Daisy never thought he was capable of.
“Anything for an old-timer.”
“You two finished being butt buddies now?” Daisy cut the moment short. “Because I’d like to know what the hell you were doing walking around all shot up in my city.”
“The work we did in the eighties is back, and it just took a chunk out of my love handles.” Kevin said it like she should know what was happening.
The blank look she gave him had him sighing deeply. “It’s probably just better if I show you.” Kevin gestured for permission, and Daisy gave it with a sigh of her own.
He gently placed a hand on her head and ceased to be Kevin. Now he was Mastermind, and he took her back in time to January 20, 1981.
The bar was rundown, smelled a bit like fresh piss, and was full of unwelcome looks from the locals. That was how Hero bars stayed under the radar. Who the hell wanted to hang out a place that seemed to be used as a public toilet and everyone looked like they were ready to kick your ass if you said the wrong thing.
Daisy Lee Meyers didn’t have that problem. She was this particular establishment’s queen.
“Fat Bobby’s. Damn I miss this place.” Daisy stood back watching herself drink everyone else under the table. “My tolerance was just about as legendary of my Hero status back then.” She laughed.
It was weird having what amounted to an out of body experience, but this wasn’t the first time this had happened, so she knew to just roll with it. Replaying memories was a bit of a specialty for Mastermind, and this wasn’t their first rodeo together.
They changed their angle to get a better view of 1981 Daisy.
“That outfit should be a felony.” Daisy was thankful she couldn’t recall this memory off the top of her head.
She’d never been a fan of the eighties fashion trends. All the obnoxiously bright colors, shoulder pads, spandex, and leggings. <I’m even rocking a side ponytail.> This was a nightmare not a memory.
In front of her was a pyramid of shot glasses five long at the base. 1981 Daisy had her head in her hands while she looked past the trophies of her copious alcohol consumption and to the boxy TV over the bartender’s head.
“Turn it up!” Old her yelled before ordering another shot.
“I, Ronald Wilson Reagan, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
“Carter wasn’t that bad…”
“He’s going to get us into a shooting war with the Ruskies…” Conversation broke out around the room as the fortieth President of the United States was sworn in and went on to make his inaugural speech.
The new president wasn’t more than a few minutes into the speech when the doors to the bar opened and a familiar looking, but considerably younger face walked in.
“I used to look good.” Mastermind smiled, and Daisy elbowed him lightly in the ribs, and shushed him so she could listen.
“Daisy.” 1981 Kevin walked up to a plastered 1981 Daisy.
“Kev!” She grinned up at him, and slapped him on the shoulder hard enough to nearly knock him over. “What brings you to my little watering hole?”
“Could we talk in private, please?” Kevin looked around and nodded to a few of the off-duty Heroes he knew.
“Sure thing. Step into my office.” Daisy got up, walked to the rear of the bar, and opened the door to the lady’s restroom.
The memory shifted and blocked out everything aside from what was happening in that room.
“We’ve got a new President.” Kevin started.
“Yeah, I’ve been watching.”
“He wants to take the fight to the bad guys no matter where they are.”
“Really now?” 1981 Daisy looked intrigued by the idea.
“Of course, there is a lot of oppression out there in the world, both human and Super. We’re still in the middle of a cold war that could turn hot at a moment’s notice. Drug cartels are running South America and importing their product here. The Republic of Krezic is experimenting on Supers and Powereds like we’re lab rats. The new president wants to do something about all of this.”
“That’s ambitious.” Daisy saw herself swaying on the toilet and felt sick at what she used to be.
Even though it had been tough, she was thankful everyday she’d been forced into an inactive status, been allowed to hit absolute bottom, and then been given the opportunity to get herself right again. A lot of people had been there for her, and Kevin specifically had helped her piece together bits of her lost past. This was just the next step in confronting what she’d been and done all those years ago.
“It is, and that’s why the President instructed me to put together a team to go after these people who look to harm not only the United States, but humanity in general.” 1981 Kevin laid his cards on the table. “I want…no…I need you on that team, Reaper. You can do a lot of good.”
“I’m hearing a lot of ‘we’re going to do good and help out the little guy’, but not actual specifics or measurable goals. If we’re just going to be pointed at something and told to make it better then I’m out. I’m a hammer. I need a nail.” Despite her level of intoxication back then, Daisy was still critical of Kevin’s pitch.
“I can’t give you more unless you join up, but a little birdy told me we’ve found some actionable intelligence in Krezic. That would be our first op.”
“Taking down a government that likes to experiment on our kind…sounds like fun.” 1981 Daisy smiled a slightly crazy smile that put modern Daisy on edge.
The memory started to dissolve around them and Daisy found herself standing back in West Private HCP’s infirmary.
“So…the people we pissed off while on this team are looking to dish out a little payback?” Daisy felt like she had the gist of the situation, and that she was in store for several more of the memory restoration sessions. She needed to know who she was fighting before they walked up and kicked in Topher’s front door looking for her.
“More or less.” Kevin took a deep breath and laid back down on the bed.
Daisy hadn’t seen it before, but the old Hero’s age was showing. Hell…he was in his mid-nineties, and only constant healing had kept him as young and spry as a seventy-year-old. Whatever was coming, Daisy doubted the old advanced mind had enough left in him to take the fight to the enemy. He’d barely escaped with his life this time.
“Let’s bring John in on this. If these people are in Orlando he’s going to want to know about it.”
Kevin didn’t look happy, but he agreed. He didn’t really have a choice.
“I do have one request.”
“Shoot.” Daisy helped him up and toward the door leading to the rest of the facility.
“We need to check on the rest of the team and make sure they’re ok. They might have started with me because I’m the oldest and physically weakest, but the rest of our friends might be next.”
Daisy didn’t even know who these “friends” were, but the look on Kevin’s face convinced her she had to help him. When you made friends in this business it was for life, even if you couldn’t remember them because your memory had been wiped.
<And things were just starting to settle down.> Daisy gave a mental sigh and she gave the old Hero a shoulder to lean on as they went to look for her boss.
Becca looked up at their new apartment with a frown on her face. They’d just completed the drive back down to Orlando, which had been two hours longer than planned due to traffic, and she’d been looking forward to checking out their new home. The only problem was…
“This place looks just like our last place.” The blue-haired speedster hmphed and crossed her arms across her chest.
Their new place was supposed to be an apartment building a few blocks further from campus. They were renting out one room. With two people the single-room rent was manageable. Kyoshi and Mason were going to be renting another unit, but their flight would be getting in later. Angela had the third room all to herself and was going to be getting back on Monday. Becca wanted to get there on Sunday to check the place out and put a homey touch on it before everyone else got there. Their fourth roommate was a mystery, but it would probably be a Super in the HCP. The apartment was owned by the HCP instead of the school, and it was designed to give sophomores a little more freedom while still making sure they were secure.
“Most of the buildings around here look the same.” Anika effortlessly dislodged two of their bags from the mess that was the trunk. “It makes sense that landlords would buy them up, call them apartments, and then rent them out to students. We’re only a three-block walk from the student center.”
“Ok, well let’s see what we’re working with.” Becca marched forward, up the stairs, and stuck here key in the door.”
It swung inward before she could push, almost pulling Becca in with it, and revealed an equally surprised man.
“Jesus, Mary, and…” Becca scrambled back a little faster than was humanly possible, and Anika immediately dropped their bags and moved into a defensive position.
“Geez,” the unidentified man did his own backward scrambling. “You scared the shit out of me.” His eyes darted over Becca and Anika, taking in their blue hair and silver tattoos.
Then he relaxed a little, and put up his hands in the universally known “take it easy” expression. “You must be my new roommates.” He extended his right hand. “My name is Rowan, Rowan Michaelson.”
Anika slowly rose from her defensive crouch and took the man’s hand. She was the more durable of the women, so she was more likely to survive an attack if this was a trap.
“I’m Anika.” She squeezed. “And that’s Becca.” She squeezed harder.
“Nice to meet you.” The last word came out a little trained as Anika continued to increase her grip strength.
She saw a bit of perspiration forming on his forehead, and his face was getting a little red. It was pretty noticeable since he was pale as a sheet and the only color to his face was the vibrant freckles dotting his face.
“It’s going to be nice to have a feminine touch around here. My last roommates were complete slobs.” He breathed a sigh of relief when Anika released his hand.
“Where was that?” Becca, always trying to be friendly, butted back into the conversation.
“I did my freshman year at Korman, but didn’t make it back for sophomore year because of grades. I took a year off to study up, took some classes at the local community college, and reapplied. I didn’t get back into Korman, but they did have a spot for me here.”
Everything seemed to fall into place with his story, but Anika wanted to get it out of the way so she just asked him.
“Are you a Super?”
Rowan’s eyes went wide and he scanned the area. “Yeah,” he whispered keeping his voice low. “Aren’t you?”
Anika just gave him a teasing smile, picked the bags back up, and entered the apartment.
“Yeah, we’re Supers.” Becca answered for her, rolling her eyes slightly as her girlfriend ascended the stairs to find their room, number four.
“Ok, good.” He looked relieved. “I thought I’d just blown my SI before school even started.”
“No, you’re good.” Becca kept the new student in her peripherals as she surveyed the first floor.
It was exactly the same setup as the old townhouse they lived in. The kitchen was behind the living room with a half-wall between them. The furniture and TV was different, but the space was the same. The stairs were in the same place. There was one ground floor room that was open and presumably Rowan’s. There were probably two second story rooms, and judging by the outside view, a single room on the third story.
She would have loved a little change from freshman year, but the cost of the place was half as much as she’d been paying, and that was desperately needed now that her town wasn’t pitching in as much money. She still had enough for tuition and books, but everything else was on her dime.
<Work should be easy enough to find. I just need to get findin’ it.> That was one of the reasons they’d come back two days early. Getting a jump on the job rush was the best way to land the best gig.
“Do you need any help with the bags?” Rowan asked helpfully.
From Becca’s initial impression he seemed like a pretty nice guy. <But I thought Liz was too.>
A noticeable cloud fell over the room. Rowan felt it and was understandably confused.
“Sorry. Living in the past a little.” Becca looked over as Anika descended the stairs. “I’m going to head over to the quad areas and start looking at the bulletin boards. Maybe I’ll have a job before Mason and Kyoshi get in.”
“You want me to come?” Anika felt the mood shift.
“No, I’ll be fine. You can milk all of Rowan’s secrets while I’m gone.”
<I don’t know why that always makes people uncomfortable.> Becca saw the boy go red in the cheeks. <We say it on the farm all the time.>
Anika watched her girlfriend go with a slight frown before turning to Rowan. “So, Rowan, what’s your power?” She cut right to the point again.
“Um…don’t take this the wrong way, but that’s my only advantage against a class that has known eachother for a year. If I want to make any headway I need to keep that a secret.”
Anika didn’t take it the wrong way, in fact, if Rowan had told her she probably would have labelled the guy a moron.
“Fine, I’ll find out in two days. Mind giving me a hand with the bags?”
Light flashed all around the vehicle she was sitting in. Even though the windows were bulletproof and tinted, every reporter and their mother was looking for a good shot.
<Fucking morons.> Lilly thought as the Federal Bureau of Prison’s van driving her to the courthouse took a right turn into the gap in the line of reporters.
They were screaming questions at the van. They were stupid ones like, “Why did you do it?” “Are you a Terrorist.” “Do you regret it?”
<Money, no, and no. Why would I regret becoming a fucking legend?> Lilly jerked in her seat as the van came to sudden stop.
“Prisoner, stay seated and await further instruction.” Reggie, one of the four guards transporting her, was the one giving the orders.
She did what she was told, but still looked over her shoulder and saw a metal gate rolling closed to interpose itself between the van and the clamoring reporters. The rest of the building wasn’t as utilitarian. The courthouse in whatever city she was in was modern, and more glass than steel and concrete. It was a welcome change of scenery from her cell and chatting with the Bloody Bitch in the cell next to her.
Those conversations made her laugh, which probably made her seem a bit crazy to the four guards.
<Fuck ‘em. They’re about to throw the book at me anyway.> This was only a bail hearing, but it was still a dog and pony show for the assholes who’d caught her. <They want to show off their pretty little prize and try to make everyone forget they fucked up and didn’t catch the real bad guy.>
The door next to her, a lot thicker and heavier than it looked, slid to the side. “Prisoner, exit the vehicle.
Reggie was tense, and she couldn’t blame him. They were about the charge her with a shit ton of crimes in there, and she had proven resourceful enough to evade DVA capture until they got lucky. She wasn’t going to cause problems yet. This wasn’t the proper stage.
She followed instructions, stepped out of the discretely armored vehicle, and stood patiently as they chained her up. She was already wearing her exploding accessories that prevented her from teleporting away without losing her head. They added ankle shackles. She was already handcuffed, and then they attached the two with a loose length of chain. This way she couldn’t lift her hands too high over her head.
“She a spitter?” A bailiff entered from the single armored door leading into the loading area.
“Haven’t had any problems yet?” Reggie replied truthfully.
“Yeah, I prefer to swallow.” She made all the boys uncomfortable. Except for the bailiff, who pulled a plastic mask from his thigh pocket.
It wasn’t anything near her Wraith mask. In fact, it made her look a bit like Hannibal Lecter from that creepy movie, but it’s purpose was obvious. It only slightly disguised her identity while completely eliminating her ability to spit on people.
“Ok, let’s go.” The bailiff grabbed her by the elbow and started to lead her into the courthouse while the four prison guards took up positions in a block around her.
She knew everyone except the bailiff was a Super, and this probably wouldn’t be the best time for someone to spring a rescue for her.
She was pretty sure Reggie had a kill switch on him somewhere.
They led her through the door, down a tiled hallway, and into the main courthouse. They took a circuitous route to keep her away from the cameras, but the news crews were out in force and were able to catch up to them before they got to the side entrance of the courtroom. Reporters swarmed them with their same inane questions, and Lilly just did her best to smile and wink at them all.
<It’ll make for a good cover photo.> She thought just before they hauled her through the door and into a packed courtroom.
Pretty much everything went silent when she appeared.
“As you were.” She made a sit-down gesture with her chained hands. “Don’t stop on my account.”
People glared daggers at her and she just chuckled.
“All rise for the honorable Judge Wainwright.”
Lilly was already on her feet so she stayed there. Reggie moved her into position beside her lawyer, and all the guards took a step back. They were just outside of arms reach, but would be on her in a second if she tried something.
“The United States vs. Liz Aretino aka Lilly Noel aka Wraith.” The obese and balding federal judge read off the paper in front of him. “You are charged with treason, five counts of first degree murder, six hundred and eighteen counts of second degree murder…” That got a reaction from the crowd.
Lilly was prepared for it though. Her lawyer knew a lot of those deaths wouldn’t stick to her. The Justice Department was trying to pin every death on her when they had confirmation she was in that area. A lot of it wouldn’t hold up, but just one first degree murder conviction was enough to send her away forever.
“…kidnapping, grand theft, unlawful carry of a firearm…”
Lilly could help but laugh at that. The electromagnetic rifle that she’d used was definitely not approved. Even the NRA wouldn’t endorse something with so much firepower.
The judge went on for a solid minute reading the rest of the charges before finishing with, “how do you plead?”
“Not fucking guilty!” She raised her own voice over her lawyer’s statement.
She might as well have dropped her pants and mooned the crowd for the reaction she got. People were full out screaming at her from behind the thick wooden bar that separated her from the common people and reporters.
“ORDER!” The judge smacked his gavel over and over again. “You will keep control of your client, Counselor.”
“Geez, I was just answering the question.” Lilly shrugged.
“The prosecution requests that the defendant be denied bail and turned back over to the bureau of prisons until such time as the court is ready to proceed with trial.”
“Objection, Your Honor,” her lawyer’s statement stunned a lot of people. “My client is a first-time offender with no history of criminal activity.”
“Your client is charged with killing hundreds of people in one of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil in history. She helped blow up good chunks of a city.” The prosecution shot back.
“Allegedly.” Lilly added her two cents to the argument, which got more yells from the crowd and gavel-banging from the judge.
“Bail is denied. Trial will commence at eight o’clock on Friday the eighth.” The judge gave a final bang, and some people actually cheered.
“We knew we weren’t going to win that either way.” Her lawyer turned to her. “This isn’t a setback. We’ve got…”
“FUCK YOU, WRAITH!” Was the only warning she got or needed.
She moved on instinct a millisecond before she heard the BANG of a gunshot. There was a searing pain in her side, but she could tell is was just a flesh wound, so she kept moving. She rolled over the top of the table and was able to grab hold of the edge and pull it along with her to create some cover.
There were screams as people ran and the guards sprang into action. None of it mattered to her lawyer. She saw him hit the floor with his eyes glazed over with a nice, big, bleeding chest wound.
<Well shit.> She thought as the guards got it under control and Reggie grabbed her from behind the table.
“Missed me!” She yelled and laughed at the man struggling with the bailiff and one of her escort guards. “Welcome to my world!”
Reggie and the other two guards forced her through the side door and into the hallway. They carried her down it, busted through the door into the loading area, and threw her in the back of the car.
“Do you guys think I can get a continuance now. I’ve got to find a new lawyer.”
She never got an answer.