February 9th, 2007
It felt good to run. Granted it was now with slightly bouncing globes of flesh strapped to my chest, my hips and legs were wrong, and having tails made things interesting, but it felt good to run. To have my leg actually move the way it aught was part of what made me happy about my change. Being alive certainly was a plus, as was being able to still see my children grow old, marry even if I wasn't going to be giving them away and in fact probably forced into a bridesmaid dress, to look forward to having grandchildren... well... nieces and nephews now I suppose. But really, I could run again. Even when I tried a brace the inside of my knee never was right and I simply couldn't run as it wouldn't take the motion and the stress.
The treadmills in the Squire's gym were pretty top notch. They weren't as expensive as a more formal full-time super hideout like the Knights had with full immersion VR hats and holographic terrain, but they were more than enough for my purposes, especially with movie screens to watch while running. My endurance was decidedly better than it used to be, and it reallyhadn't beenthat bad before. I had ran marathons once or twice before my knee went, at a relative good time. Just under 3 hours wasn't bad for a late twenty something year old male that wasn't a full time athlete. Granted that was a good ten years ago, but still.
The shorts and tank top number was well... flattering with my new figure. We'll go with flattering, especially if the reactions from Gigas and El Fuego were anything to judge off of. One day I might grow used to the reactions I seemed to get from men I wasn't related to, but it wasn't today. At least Fuego seemed to be keeping up on his personal hygiene with me around, though I was trying not to think about that as well. He did smell nice, which I was chalking up as a good thing. Granted so did Ratchet though I still couldn't place that since she didn't wear a lot of obvious perfume. Did I just like grease smell now? Perish the thought.
Eventually I moved from the treadmills to a heavy bag. One of the biggest things I had noticed that I would have to get used to were boobs. Fantastic to look at, even if they were on my own chest, fun to play with (hey, I wasn't dead after all), pain in the posterior as soon as I have to move my arms around them. Moving my arms was another thing, my elbows weren't the same. A lot of the motions I had grown used to just didn't work anymore, and well, that meant work at the pell.
It was part way through a punching workout that Max came up behind me. I felt him before I heard him. He wasn't trying to be especially quiet, but I've started to discover I could ... sense or feel things. I wasn't sure if other little spirits beside Siona were talking to me or what, but sometimes you can just sense something, at least I could.
"Here, you know you'd rather be using this."
I turned around in time to catch the wooden waster that Max had tossed to me in my right hand. I allowed myself a small smile as I looked over at my son. He certainly had turned out handsome, with good muscle tone and... ew! Ew ew, where the hell did THAT thought come from? I could almost hear Siona's laughter in my mind as I mentally glared at her.
Max had tossed me my favored hand-and-a-half sword. This one was a little shorter than I had used previously, but being as I had lost about a foot of height and some reach it showed a lot of forethought on his part. For himself he had picked a smaller one handed sword and a medium sized tower style shield. I was willing to guess he didn't pick the name Gladius at random.
He was right, I much preferred swordplay. The biggest problem was my new size. I was just so tiny by comparison that I hadn't thought to really practice that. Adjusting twenty five years of muscle memory wouldn't come overnight, and even then... if he was now super-human...
Fuck it, why not?
I saluted him with the blade before bringing it up in a casual en guarde stance. He raised his shield and put his sword over one shoulder behind his head in a fairly traditional ready position. Boxing obviously had its roots in swordplay, as I had long argued. Granted there's really only so many ways for a human body to move so some crossover was to be expected. Until they invented people with four arms or extra joints...
Hunh... wonder if they covered that at the school my children attended. Something to ponder later...
I attacked with a two handed parry four-ish motion aimed at his head, which he predictably blocked with his shield. Switching and re positioning the sword to a parry eight strike at his forward leg, Max dropped his shield and swung his sword at my four arc. Bringing my waster up into a parry one I rolled around his shield, letting it guard my back as I looped my blade around his torso, which he blocked by bringing his sword back towards his head and rolling to his right. Parry six strike at his right leg, blocked with his sword since the shield was too far back, parry four strike to his head blocked by the shield as he finished the turn to face me, preemptively blocking his sword attack at my torso.
Most people would assume that not having a shield was a large disadvantage. I disagree. They're big, they're bulky, they get in the way, you can't see past them, and you can't move well. At least I didn't like them. The trick to having only one weapon is that your offense was your defense and your defense was your offense. Most people with two weapons or a weapon and a shield used one weapon just for blocking and one just for attacking; when using one weapon you had to attack and parry at the same time. I could have just parried without trying to counter-attack, but if you can accomplish two things with the same motion to not do so would be wasting energy and time. It was about efficiency of motion and grace. Ya pick up a few things with twenty five years of fencing. My favorite part was the realization when I was younger that I did have a shield, Max's. He couldn't strike through himself and his shield prevented his own blows as well as mine.
Grace was one thing my new form had in abundance. I was more graceful, agile and flexible than I had ever been. Even in my teen years and my peak early twenties I couldn't do half of what I could now. My instincts and predicting where my opponent would move were good before, and I was happy to find that if anything they were a little sharper. More than once as we dueled Max would miss by as little as an inch or less as I deflected his waster or twisted my torso to be just out of the way. Throughout it all I was able to maintain control of my center line and cone of defense, though I had to admit that Max was good. Very good. If we had bouted before my change I wouldn't want to place a bet as the odds were too murky. I had experience but he was far quicker than I had been. If he actually had employed his Exemplar strength he could have tossed me around the gym before.
Thankfully age and treachery still defeated youth and inexperience any day of the week.
It was a variation of the booga booga booga. One of the finer points of the mental duel and positioning between opponents was that the entire match was about control and initiative. He that controlled the flow and pace of the bout would eventually win, as he was making the opponent play his game. The trick was the realization that you could control your opponent by being passive and reactionary instead of just dictating. By creating an opening, by setting a bait you can control your opponent's move while simultaneously letting them think they are in control and initiating an action. I didn't think Max had really come to that realization yet, though I haven't fought him in quite some time.
I chose to leave myself open. Letting my waster slip slightly out of position after a long exchange, Max saw what he thought was an opening and lunged forward with a thrust at where my torso had been.
I say had been because during his thrust I did a split and held my sword out towards his chest, letting him impale himself on it as his waster passed right over my head.
"Oof! Touché," Max said as he winced, rubbing his stomach.
"Fuck me!" I heard El Fuego's voice from the side of the gym. Turning my head I saw him reaching into his pocket and passing a pair of bills to Claire. Gigas was shaking his head from her other side, but he too passed her a pair of bills. Apparently dumb and young was still a thing, that or the boys had a firm grasp on Max's skill compared to most people. I gave her a wink and a wave with my offhand.
"What you boys didn't know is that Kitty has been fencing for twenty five years, and taught Gladius everything he knew before he went to Whateley," Claire said with a smile towards her victims. "Only now, she has her own Exemplar nature as well."
"Imagine what she can do after Mrs. Beaumont or Laird Fitzgibbons get a hold of her," Max added.
"Or she takes Exemplar Grace," Claire piped in.
Max offered me a hand to help me up. I took it; no sense in being impolite. "You've gotten really good yourself," I said with a smile at him. "Your defense is very solid. You've gotten a lot better since last time."
"Practice and good teachers," he allowed, though I could tell he still liked the compliment. He had earned it, so it was worth giving to him.
"Coffee?" Fuego offered as we got off the mats.
I couldn't help but shudder. "God no, though I'll take some of those pickles." There was nothing like cold pickles after exertion and exercise. I think the brine helped replace a lot of electrolytes and such not that the body expended. I found myself sucking the juices off of the whole pickle itself graphically and enthusiastically before taking a large bite out of it. The shudder all three boys gave was simply priceless.
I will admit, messing with their heads was a lot of my fun these days.
February 11th, 2007
I was putzing on my mandolin in the Squire's HQ taking a load off. I could have just as easily done this at home (Claire's condo, as the house was in the process of being sold off) but I just felt like being not at home today, and without really knowing anyone or having much of a life this was the only other place to really be. Half the Knights were up in Vancouver, BC with the other half down in Tacoma assisting with some major operation or other, something to do with international shipping from Asia. As such the Squires were helping to field some of the local assistance calls, though most of those were being routed to the Seattle Supers. There was only so much a group of college student interns could pull off, after all.
Since they were more or less in uniform whenever they weren't being themselves, I had put on my green tunic and tights combo, including my over the shoulder purse from when I had the run in with the SPD in Seattle. It wasn't anything remotely resembling a super hero outfit, but it was the right colors at least. I had the red bandanna tied around my left upper arm. Call me superstitious, but I'd taken to trying to wear it somewhere on all my outfits lately. If Inari was an active force in the world and Kitsune of a good nature were his servants and generally went around helping things not suck, well best to cover my bases and stay on his... her... it's good side.
Besides, it was a nice reminder that most people in Seattle didn't hate mutants.
Ratchet was nearby working on what as far as I could tell was some sort of radio or phone something. After a while it was all Star Trek or Star Wars to a point. Science Fiction was in the steady process of becoming Science Fact even for everyday folk, let alone Devisors and Gadgeteers. She was pretty engrossed in her work. Ratchet was pretty, cute in a "I just rolled out from under a car" sort of way. A little absent minded, she tended to focus on whatever little project was consuming her attention in a fairly common lab rat fashion. I could sort of follow enough to have an idea of what she was usually working on, but I couldn't replicate what she did myself. Knowing a bit about electricity and maintaining a basic computer network didn't turn one into a Gadgeteer after all. I did have to say that her green jumpsuit with pockets, goggles and a tactical harness fit her figure QUITE well. Could almost gobble her up... damnit! There I went again. My mind had been floating to the gutter a bit lately, personally I blamed Siona. I wasn't sure exactly why, but something was telling me she was responsible somehow.
Personally I was perfecting Fur Elise on the mandolin. Yes, it's normally a piano number but after all this is Seattle. We're fairly musical here;deal with it. Anyway, the violin (or fiddle depending on style) always would hold a spot in my soul but mandolin was easier to pick up and tinker with. It also let you talk or sing at the same time so there was something to be said for that. Thankfully the strings, fingering, and tuning was the same between the two so it's pretty easy to switch between them.
Max was in class, Claire was working a shift at the UW Hospital. Fuego and Gigas were working a call down by the docks which left Ratchet and me (though I wasn't an official member of the Squires) sitting at HQ. It had mostly quieted down for the afternoon, when suddenly the phone rang with a blaring siren and a blinking red light. That was a new one.
"Ummm... Ratchet? What's that?"
"The Action Alarm. It means there's an ongoing emergency somewhere that needs immediate attention as opposed to a non-emergency call."
"Alright then... shouldn't you be doing something about that?"
"Oh.... OH! Right!" Ratchet quickly buttoned up her phone gizmo before attaching it to her belt and skipped (ugh) to the phone to answer it. Yeah, cute or not that would get irritating after a while.
A minute or two later she hung up the phone and looked over at me. "Alright, we have to go! Killer robots!!"
I'm not sure which was more frightening. The fact she said someone was being attacked by killer robots, or the look of excitement on her face that killer robots was a thing and she got to see them. What was definitely frightening was riding passenger on the neon green crotch rocket piloted by a Devisor/Gadgeteer bimbo in a pink helmet weaving in and out of traffic doing a good twenty or thirty over the speed limit while hanging onto her for dear life wearing a helmet that only mostly fit because they don't come with proper ear holes.
Amazingly enough we survived, and I will say they were definitely killer robots. Six of them, which as far as I was concerned was six too many. And here I was armed with only my good looks and sparkling personality. Thankfully there didn't seem to be too many civilians left on the scene which was now a fairly ruined street; one or two burning cars, overturned box van, sparking street lights, fire hydrant spewing water. All in all what I would imagine was a pretty usual scene for killer robots (a matter which I obviously had massive amounts of prior experience with).
Unfortunately for us the robots noticed as we pulled up and opened fire. I warped from the back of the bike to behind a dumpster and ducked while Ratchet bailed; sending the bike into a skid as she rolled then ran for cover behind a parked car. Red laser beams were being shot at us from the robots, a quick glance from around the corner of the dumpster showed they were coming from what seemed like some sort of Gatling-style cannon in place of the robots right arm. That made for three things that weren't on my daily goals list so far: motorcycle death wish races, killer robots, being shot at with laser beams.
As I looked around the scene my eyes fell on a pile of pipe from a plumbing job and I couldn't help but remember a conversation I once had with Max...
"Dad, why don't you own a gun?"
I stopped washing the dishes for a second, looking over at Max. He was thirteen then, and in the course of being in Junior High he obviously had started thinking for himself. I couldn't complain; it was a trait that I encouraged along with Jennifer, and I was happy that he was one that could think and ask questions. Seeing he was quite serious, I turned off the water and dried my hands on a towel. After I turned and looked at him I asked, "Why would I need to own one?"
"For protection from burglars or criminals. They usually run around with guns, why don't you have one too? That way you have a weapon to use against them."
Ahh... Second Amendment. Should have seen that coming with the US History class. Ignoring for a moment the whole violence feeding on itself conflict escalation argument that Max wasn't ready to grasp, I went for the reason he would understand. "Alright... take a seat at the table there and give me just a minute."
Max looked curiously at me but did sit at the table as I went into the living room and picked up the small hatchet from the woodpile next to the fireplace. I added a broom from the hall closet, a cooking knife from the butcher's block in the kitchen and a large pan from the sink. Placing all of these on the table I looked at him. "When you can tell me the thing that makes a weapon different from these tools you'll understand my answer."
He spent the rest of the evening looking over the four assorted objects before asking me what the answer was. I gave it to him, and he spent the next twenty four hours thinking about it. The next evening he told me he got it, and the matter never came up again.
The difference between a tool and a weapon is simply the will to use it as such.
Three or four foot metal pipe, check. I certainly wasn't going to take the time to measure it exactly. I figured the robots were made of metal so it's not like I could bruise them to death, but there's a reason a heavy mace or hammer was the weapon of choice against armored knights. You beat on joints of plate armor enough they warp, when they warp they don't articulate correctly any more. You mess up a visor and they can no longer see. While the robots didn't have visors as such they did appear to have some sort of 'eye', most likely an optic sensor or something. I probably wasn't going to 'kill' them, but I could disable them and render them non-effective.
From the sounds of things Ratchet was returning fire. A second quick look confirmed it; she had her own laser pistol. Of course she had a laser pistol, she was a Devisor and a Gadgeteer right? I mean, what self respecting mad scientist didn't have a laser pistol? Her own red laser beams were just single shot, but she had managed to take out one robot already before she had to switch to a different car for cover. Time to give her a hand.
I warped directly in front of one of the killer robots and gave it a two handed thrust to the glass 'eye'. It shattered with a very satisfying crunch and I pulled the pipe back and took a low swipe at the same robot's right knee before I warped again. This time I was behind the robot and took a second shot at the same knee then warped about ten feet away to take three shots at the gun arm of the neighboring robot. I then warped behind a third robot and took a large two handed swipe at the back of its 'head' and neck, hearing a large kaboom as the gun arm of the neighboring robot exploded, sending pieces of robot flying around the area. Apparently Gatling lasers don't work well with bent barrels. The original blinded robot staggered around as it limped, trying to keep up with me just in time for Ratchet to nab it in the shoulder which sent it to the ground.
Yeah, my way isn't exactly very sportsmanlike but it works, doesn't it?
Rather I should say it worked until robot number four caught the pipe in its hand and threw me flying to one side of the street. Mental note, killer robots were stronger than humans. I bounced a little before getting up to my feet, shaking my head to clear it. Thankfully I managed to notice and roll out of the way of the laser blasts being send toward me as I ran behind the overturned box truck. Westco, something about that brand name jogged my mind but I couldn't remember what it was at the moment. More importantly was the fact that now I'd lost my pipe.
Ratchet was still exchanging fire with a pair of killer robots from behind her car when I looked about in a panic. There should still be... "RATCHET LOOK OUT!"
Ratchet looked to her left and let out a shriek as the third killer robot had flanked her. Reaching quickly into her pocket she took out a small remote, pointing it towards the robot and pushing a button. The robot fell apart. No, seriously, it fell down into a bunch of component limbs right before she ditched the remote, which began sparking on the ground. Okay, one shot would be the reason not to use that from the get go.
I warped over to her, wrapped my arms around her tightly and warped the pair of us behind yet another vehicle. We had to keep moving before... the whirring noise as I looked up into laser barrels would be the fourth thing on my things to do list.
I do have to admit the sword blade that suddenly erupted from the chest of one of the robots was an unexpected bonus. That robot began sparking and smoking as a blue plasma ball lightning looking blast hit its neighbor and dropped it, revealing our savior.
"Need a hand?" asked Meliferra with a grin on her face as she sheathed her tai chi style sword.
Being further in debt to Miss Bumblebee... that'd be number five.
"Thanks," I said with a slight smile as I glanced around. The street was a mess, but all the robots were now inactive. I looked over at the pistol looking thing in her left hand. She must have caught my glance because she started explaining.
"Invention of mine. A new prototype I just started field testing. It works by firing a charged mass of plasma that disables electric systems and synaptic nerves of organic...”
"Soo... stun gun?" I summed up before she really got on a roll into techno-babble.
She stopped talking, sighed a little then nodded. "Stun gun."
"Works nice," I said with a smile. "Organic nerves... so it paralyzes people like a Taser?"
"That's the idea, but I don't have a lot of volunteers to use it on. Seems to work just fine on these robots though. Any idea where they're from?" Meliferra asked.
"Not a clue, we just received a call about a killer robot attack," Ratchet pipped in from where she was looking at some of the robot wreckage. She was currently removing what looked like some sort of power supply from the stunned robot before it could turn itself back on.
"It's a good thing you were flying by," I said as I bent over to pick up a discarded robot foot. It was fairly heavy, it looked like these things were somewhat armored and designed for combat. "Everyone seems extra busy today, almost a perfect time for something to have gone wrong." I looked over at Meliferra again when I caught her staring at the metal foot. "You alright?"
"Yeah... no, I was just reminded of something," she replied. She brightened quickly and offered me the stun blaster. "Here, you should probably hang onto this. I'll make another one. Just be sure to charge it each day. Here's a charging cable." She pulled a cable out from one of her pouches and handed it to me along with the pistol. I took them, putting a smile on my face as I felt the little chain growing heavier in my head. "Thank you," I said as I let her take the metal foot from me.
"Well, you two be more careful! Stay safe and remember to call me if you need anything, Kitty." With a wave she took off and flew away.
"That went well," Ratchet said with a grin as she finished removing the power supply. "Got it!"
Somehow I was less enthusiastic as I looked around at the destruction. I had a bad feeling about all of this.
February 13th, 2007
"How are you doing?"
Claire handed me a mug of hot chocolate as we gathered ourselves in the main meeting room of the Squires HQ. The hot steamy aroma was simply bliss upon my senses. People could talk about coffee all they wanted, there was nothing quite like hot cocoa with little floating marshmallows in it.
"Could be worse, I could be from Pittsburgh," I replied. She smiled slightly at our little family joke. The game had simply been a travesty of officiating, made me wonder what the payoff of the ref's had been. People had long memories when it came to sports after all.
Truth be told, I wasn't doing that great. Despite all our hopes the robot attack hadn't been an isolated incident. There had been seven robot attacks so far that we'd responded to counting the first one, all at various points around the city. The Seattle Supers had also reported responding to nine different attacks. Combine all of that with as much training as I was putting myself through before the robots and I was starting to feel a bit drained. I could tell that it was starting to show by Claire's face before she nodded at me.
I turned back towards the map I was looking at. Unlike the Seattle Supers, the Squires were well... on a training budget. I literally was looking at a large fold out map of the city with spots marked in blue X's or red X's. Blue for us, red for them, X's for spots we'd fought killer robots. There had to be some sort of pattern or something behind it, I refused to believe that it was all random coincidence.
Max and the boys were watching me look at the map; Ratchet was still analyzing the killer robot we had brought back from the first attack. Max put a lot of faith in my ability to plan and strategize, and apparently he was good enough himself that the others put faith in whoever Max said was better than him. Kind of nice to be looked up to by your children, even if you were now at the level of their armpit on a good day.
"Alright, the attacks seem to be spread all over the city, in little to no discernible pattern. This means what?"
"Random terror mongering?" Max suggested.
"With robots? Granted whoever is controlling them might be going for an emotional response, but the robots themselves sure aren't. If they were going for fear and terror don't you think whoever it was would have introduced themselves by now? No, I think it's more subtle than that." I smiled slightly. I think I had it.
"Like what?" Fuego asked.
"It's a booga booga booga," I stated. Max nodded, while Gigas just watched us all silently.
"A what now?" Fuego asked again, looking even more confused.
I sat my mug down before turning to look at Fuego. I began waving my right arm and hand up in the air. "Booga booga booga! Booga booga booga!" As he turned to look at the motion I kicked him in the shin with my left foot. He winced and bent down to rub his leg while I returned to my hot chocolate. I think he got the point now.
"They're trying to keep us moving, wear us down, distract us and draw us away from what they're really after. We don't want to look at where they've been, we want to look at where they haven't been, which is there." I pointed at a spot on the map that wasn't near the pattern of X's. A sort of void in the chaos, if you will. "What's around here that someone might be interested in? Banks? Any major businesses? Trade secrets?"
All of us were scratching our heads trying to figure out, when the answer came from one of the more unlikely sources.
"Art museum," Gigas said with a rumble. We all turned to look at him. "Art's a good haul if you can unload it, granted it's pretty well known so you can't just auction it off, but it could be a good payday if you're going after something specific."
I had forgotten about the hammering man and the art museum. For the most part going to a gallery to look at a painting wasn't normally something I'd do for fun. Something about Giga's comment though...
"That's it," I said with absolute certainty.
Max just looked at me. "Are you sure? That's not a lot to go on."
"That's it. I can't explain why, I just know that's the next one."
"What, like foresight? You some kind of fortune cookie, Chicka?" Fuego cracked a grin at his own joke. I gave him a death glare and eventually he stopped.
"Alright. Let me contact the Supers and let them know we're going to check it out and to cover any major incidents while we're gone." Max turned and activated the communications panel. This was one of the few fairly modern and super hero high tech pieces of equipment in the HQ, mostly due to needing to communicate with the Knights and Supers. It was a combination speaker phone/skype like/holographic projector unit. Pretty cool and looked like something out of Star Wars only with better graphic displays that used color.
"Oh boy... I hope it's not 'her' that answers," Fuego said nudging Gigas with his elbow. Gigas chuckled lightly and nodded.
"Who?" I asked, looking over at Claire.
"Crucibelle," she replied. "Max kind of has a thing for her. The last time she asked us for a favor, he was bending over backwards and agreeing without even thinking or worrying about what it was. The Supers had captured a corporate thief, but the thief ditched the evidence and stolen goods in a passing garbage truck. They needed our help searching trucks to try and find the goods. Do you have any idea how many garbage trucks there are in the greater Seattle area? And we were looking through them all by hand!"
The three Squires shuddered at the memory. I began to grow concerned myself when I heard a female voice answer Max's call. "Good morning, Gladius. What can we help you with today?"
She was a looker, I'd give him that. A handful of years older than Max by appearances (which didn't necessarily mean a lot with Supers from what I'd gathered) she was fit, trim and athletic. Shoulder length blonde hair that wasn't too far from my old Nordic heritage and a face that was stern but kind. Truth be told the two of them looked like a pair of Olympic athletes that had just walked out of a stadium somewhere to grab a bite to eat and forgotten to get out of uniform along the way. That or a pair of heroes that had flown out of a comic book; they both had the very traditional 'strong yet moralistic lead' vibe going for them.
"Thank you for taking the call, Crucibelle. We've a favor to ask if you wouldn't mind. I mean, if it's not a bother."
Oh boy... back peddling already and he hadn't even asked yet. I looked at Claire with a raised eyebrow and she nodded grimly. The boy had it bad.
"We'll certainly help if we can. What do you need?"
"We've got a lead on what the actual target of the robots is. We'd appreciate it if you could handle any disasters that come up while we check it out."
"You do? What sort of lead? How reliable is it?" She was excited now, apparently the Supers were just as in the dark as we were.
"My younger sister."
"Requiem? I thought she had gone back to Whateley?" Crucibelle pursed her lips thoughtfully.
"No, my other younger sister. You haven't met her yet, she manifested right after the docks incident. She's had... a trying couple of weeks." True enough without lying, well played Max.
Crucibelle nodded sadly. "I can imagine. You all have gone through enough and then to be newly manifested on top of that? Poor girl."
"Well, Kitty is positive she figured it out from the pattern of the previous attacks. She's also got traces of ESP intuition according to Tome."
"None of us have ever beaten her at chess, and that was before she manifested," Claire added helpfully. "Or go, Stratego, checkers, Risk, the list goes on."
Thanks Claire, way to make me feel like a nerd. Granted I was one, but still...
Crucibelle looked over in my direction as I was pushed towards the 'camera.' I held my chin up and curtsied slightly. "Pleasure to meet you, Miss 'Belle."
"Likewise," Crucibelle added. "My deepest condolences on your loss. If there's ever anything we can do to help, you just need to ask."
"Thank you," I replied. Apparently my wife and children were well thought of in the Super community, which while a surprise still made me proud of them.
"You're positive you know where they're aiming for?" She was back to business now, but she did have a heart inside her as well. I began to see Max's reasoning.
"Yes. I'm fairly sure that they're drawing us all away from their actual target. I'm sure it's the art museum."
"Paintings? They're after paintings?" She blinked incredulously at the suggestion.
"Or an exhibit. Perhaps some ancient artifact or something that's actually magical in origin. There's more there than paintings." Accuse me of being foolish will you...
"I've never beaten her," Max added, putting a hand on my shoulder supportingly.
Crucibelle was silent for a moment, then inclined her head. "Alright, let us know what you all turn up. Good luck." The call terminated and a collective breath was released around the room.
"That went surprisingly well," added Gigas as he chuckled.
"Hey everyone, I found something!" Ratchet's voice from across the room came as a shock, as was the piece of metal she tossed towards Max and me. It was from inside the killer robot somewhere, and seemed pretty unremarkable save for the name on the label.
"Positronic?" I asked out loud as I read.
"They're out of Taiwan," Ratchet said although that statement wasn't really unusual. Wasn't everything made in Taiwan?
Claire was frowning as she ran the name through the computers. Something wasn't good. "What's wrong, Minerva?" I asked.
"They're owned by WestCo," she said. Max was frowning now also.
"Which means we're really up against our father," Max added. "Maximillian Alexander Westbrook the Third, owner and CEO of WestCo. What is less well known is that he is also the third bearer of the codename Overlord. Continuing a long family tradition of villainy."
"Well fuck." Unhelpful I know, but what else did I have to say?
The Seattle Art Museum is located on the corner of 1st Avenue and University Street, and has a giant (about 50 feet tall) mechanized sculpture of a man hammering on some machine part outside on the street corner. The arm with the hammer moves every fifteen seconds or so in an up and down motion. The statue itself was built back in '92 and is supposed to commemorate and celebrate the workers all around the world. There's a series of them internationally in many different cities, and while I could appreciate its sentiment I really wasn't that interested in the Hammering Man today.
The roads themselves had a fairly regular mix of automotive traffic and pedestrians, though they were less populated than they were a few days ago. Enough killer robot attacks have happened that many people that could afford to stay home did. Otherwise it seemed like your stereotypical Tuesday in downtown, only I was here in a green knee length dress (edged with Celtic knot work, with long sleeves and split on one side up to my hips), black skin tight leggings, knee high brown boots, bright red sash around my stomach and leather messenger bag across my chest. Honestly, I thought I looked like I was probably skipping class from somewhere because school was boring and played dress up to follow the heroes (which unfortunately wasn't that far off from the truth). At least I didn't have to suck on a lollipop with what I had sort of gotten used to as my super hero outfit. The other nice part as far as I was concerned was the carefully tailored hole in the butt of my dress and leggings to let my tails out. Trying to hide them under a skirt was fine for traveling incognito but it wasn't the most comfortable thing in the world.
It did help that the rest of the Squires were present also which lend some credence to the fact I wasn't being truant. I really didn't want to have to explain to some police officer who may have seen me on TV from a few weeks ago that I had actually already graduated college and no, he didn't have to call my mother who technically speaking from a sheer legal standpoint is that lady in the smashing blue spandex right over there.
The Squire's uniforms were primarily variations of blue with green trim, sashes, cloaks, et cetera. Patches were present on the shoulder (or chest in Gigas's case as his had more of a wrestling singlet look) with symbols for their code names. An owl for Minerva, a sword for Gladius, a flame for El Fuego, a clenched fist for Gigas, and a ratchet for Ratchet (obviously a play on words). All in all they actually looked pretty professional, which was good because that's what they were going for.
I did feel woefully under gunned for killer robots mostly because my only real piece of offensive firepower was the stun gun from Meliferra which was strapped to my right thigh. It had seen plenty of action over the last day or two, and I had even remembered to charge it this morning before we left as well as carrying a few spare clips in my bag. No more dead batteries for this fox!
Minerva and Gladius were inside the museum itself, while Gigas, El Fuego and Ratchet were roving the streets nearby. I was sitting on a bench swinging my feet at the intersection playing look out and location coordinator. We had been at this for several hours and I was beginning to worry that we were going to be made to look the fool in front of Miss Nordic Sassypants and her Reds. Apparently I had a vested interest in the Red vs Blue debate now, go figure.
It is with great irony that I can say I was almost relieved when the killer robots arrived. Normally I'd never say I was happy to see some sort of VTOL hover vehicle drop down in the middle of the intersection and belch out a bunch of Saturday Morning Cartoon tin can soldiers with pew pew guns. I can say I was less than thrilled to see that also hopping off the flying bus with them was none other than my old acquaintance, Ferrous.
I'd like to say I was a brave bad-ass of a woman (heh) who drew and downed him with a single shot to the head then calmly called for backup. I'd love to say I took cover smartly behind a bench and dug in for a shoot out. The reality is I did neither of those things. As soon as my eyes saw Ferrous the entire world seemed to cease to be. The only things that existed were me, Ferrous, and the two facts that I couldn't breathe and that I had to get away. I had to simply not be here anymore.
I bolted. Or rather, I started to bolt in some direction somewhere when I heard Siona's voice in my head. "Oh no, we don't have time for this right now." Then there was a sort of strange wrenching feeling and suddenly it was if I was a passenger inside my own head. I had almost sort of shrunk into a corner of my own mind and was now observing my body move on its own watching through a pair of windows instead of my eyes.
Looking back on it, it was fairly clear that Siona had taken over our shared body while I was mentally incapacitated. It's actually a fairly strange experience probably best compared to a wonky dream or a funked up Trip (No, I haven't done that, I just know some people.). I wouldn't recommend it, but at the time it was for the best and I don't fault her for having done it.
Siona hopped behind a trash can and brought my pistol out and took a pair of shots at the robots. The blasts fired by the gun came out as bits of floating blue plasma lightning balls, which traveled towards the robots. They moved at a decent clip and as the robots turned to face them one of the balls impacted into them. Two of the robots sparked and fell down smoking before others began firing on her position and she had to blink away just before the trash can went up in smoke. We were behind a bench now, where she kept up with her shoot 'n scoot. I still wasn't contributing much at all, being only a few steps above shuddering in a pool made up of myself in the corner.
I was enough of myself to see the car flying through the air towards us though. Apparently Ferrous decided to pick up a car and throw it at our head right after we un-poofed, the walking shithead. It's very eerie seeing something like that flying towards you and literally having no control over your own limbs, not even the ability to scream. If only there was a knight in shining armor to come save me...
No, seriously, at that moment a blur of blue flashed in front of our eyes and batted the car away with a glowing shield of force. The car deflected off of Gladius's shield and slammed into the side of a building as he stood between us and Ferrous. He looked like some sort of Jedi with a shimmering force blade and shield, billowing green cape and all. "You alright, Kitty?" he asked without looking back.
"I am now, thanks!" Siona replied in my voice. I could almost feel her mental purr as she stared at Gladius's ass though. I think that more than anything helped shock me out of the panic I was in. I would NOT check out my own son's ass! "EW!" I thought internally. "Oh shut up, he's got a fantastic ass," Siona replied with a mental lick of her lips. "I wouldn't mind... anyway, you back with me again? Here, you take over. I can't keep this up very long, or rather I shouldn't."
Suddenly without much of an explanation I was back at the helm so to speak. "I'll handle Ferrous, go help the others," Max said as he and Ferrous charged towards each other. The speed and power the two of them had in their ensuing melee was breath taking. My earlier thoughts about Max's Exemplar nature tipping the odds? There was no way I'd be able to keep up with what he was doing right now, at least not yet. He was polished, he was controlled, he was an athlete in his prime who apparently finally got the chance to let loose and not hold himself back.
Unfortunately so was Ferrous. Physical strength had been replaced by cybernetic enhancements. Lack of armor had been replaced by small force field generators in his arms that acted like small shields or bracers. I could have spent all day just watching the two of them exchange blows like that, if it wasn't for the army of killer robots.
The other Squires had all shown up. Gigas tossed robots around like rag dolls, Minerva was using telekinesis to accomplish much the same thing and El Fuego was everywhere, a blend of speedster talents with pyrokinesis. I caught a glimpse of Ratchet running into the museum after a pair of robots got inside, she should be able to handle them with her toys. I joined in much the same way Siona had been, blinking about and using my pistol from point blank range. It was hard to miss from a yard or two away when the bad guy wasn't even aware you were behind them. Yeah, I didn't fight fair; deal with it.
All in all it was a giant stalemate. The robots weren't really able to get inside, but we weren't making a lot of progress against their numbers. Gladius and Ferrous were evenly matched. There weren't any civilians around at this point, so I suppose that's a win. Suddenly what seemed to be an armored shape blasted out of the roof of the museum and took off in a pillar of fire into the sky. The remaining robots began to fall back into their transport. I could see Gladius and Minerva run into the museum as Ferrous hopped into the VTOL at the last moment before it flew away.
I blinked into the museum to see Gladius, Minerva and Ratchet talking. Two disabled robots were on the floor, still sparking. "What happened?" I asked.
"Overlord," Max said. "He must have been here in the museum the whole time, waiting. When we exited to fight the robots he grabbed what he wanted and took off." Ratchet nodded in confirmation.
Even sometimes when you guess right you're still not fast enough.
February 14th, 2007
It was sometime the morning of Valentine's Day. I don't remember my first Valentine's Day after Jennifer's death. I imagine I was something like a drunken zombie in grief; I owe a lot to my children for getting me through that first year. This year was a bit better in that I had something to distract me from thinking about it too much, namely the pair of tits now permanently attached to my chest and all that came with them.
My token effort to care was that I was drinking hot chocolate out of a heart mug with little marshmallows, whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles in it. Turns out that Overlord had stolen some stick with a snake head on it which belonged to some ancient pharaoh with a name I couldn't pronounce. The extra super special stick in question had been on display in an Egypt exhibit at the museum. Why someone who obviously leaned towards technology had an interest in a petrified tree I had no idea, but the results were sure to be not good.
I hadn't slept well at all. I kept waking up from some dream that I couldn't quite remember. Nightmare would probably be more accurate. I thought I had bags under my eyes, and had an overall worn out feel. It was probably just lack of sleep and too much action over the last few weeks.
My brain kept going in circles trying to figure out what it all meant. Overlord obviously had gone through a great deal of effort acquiring this stick, which meant it was important to whatever his plan was. I just couldn't figure it out.
After the umpteenth time looking over the same photos and online articles I began pacing about the room of the Squire's HQ. Sunlight was coming in through the window as dawn hit. I was debating trying to go back to sleep when El Fuego came in from outside. He was carrying what appeared to be the morning coffee and donut run.
"Hola, Chicka! What's happenin'?"
I looked over at him and shrugged. "Still trying to figure out what Overlord is playing at. We're missing some of the pieces and it's irritating me."
He nodded as he set down the coffee and donuts. "You were apple fritter, right?" He tossed me a donut at my nod. Thankfully he didn't bother asking about the coffee, they all knew the drill by now. He began downing his own giant cup of overpriced bitterness with fancy cardboard dressing to make you think you were someone important with a glee that was almost unholy.
Luis (Which I had come to learn was his actual name. Luis Montoya, Freshman at the UW studying Mechanical Engineering on an academic scholarship. He was a lot smarter than people gave him credit for.) shrugged and looked over at the collection of printed pictures and maps. "Sometimes evil just is, Tails. You don't have to understand it to know it's there."
He'd taken to calling me Tails periodically as well. Apparently I reminded him of some video game character, only 'way sexier' which I suppose made sense. When I still turned myself on by my own reflection (which is also an experience with mixed reviews) I couldn't fault a barely legal male from thinking I was all that. Video games were one of the things I had missed out on while working to support my kids; I didn't know much about any of them or what was current. I had promised myself at some point I'd figure out who he was talking about.
Claire and Max came in behind him as I frowned, munching on my fritter in what I have been told is a very unladylike fashion. "It's not about understanding him; it's about being able to figure out what he's doing so we can stop it."
My children predictably attacked their own cups of coffee. Claire couldn't breathe in the morning without her coffee with her work schedule, and Max wasn't much better. "Ratchet's running late but Gigas should be here any minute," Max relayed as he ate. "With any luck we'll figure out what Overlord is up to in time."
My train of thought was completely derailed at that point by all three of them suddenly dropping their cups of coffee. The two boys went rail stiff while Claire cried out, dropping to her knees and clutching her hands to her head. She was gritting her teeth and sweating in effort with something, where the boys...
Had now turned and began walking towards me.
Luis suddenly was next to me, an unexpected punch leaving me gasping for air. I had enough time to blink away before Max was able to grab me. "Alright, not funny!" I let out. A blast of flame seared where I had been as I blinked again, all thoughts of what Overlord was going to do were suddenly gone as they had been replaced by sheer survival.
I will just say things were not going well. The room was in shambles and half the equipment was now broken. I was rapidly running out of places to hide and couldn't keep this dodging up forever. Max and Luis were capable of a large degree of damage, and Claire... well she had gotten to her feet but she was still clutching her head with both hands and had her eyes closed. It had to be some kind of finger waggling mind control or something, but why had it gotten them and not me?
Suddenly I knew. The coffee. It was in the fucking coffee!!
"Sorry I'm late; boy I could go for a cup of... the fuck?"
"Frankie! Don't drink the coffee, it's a trap!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. The last thing I needed was Gigas after me as well. "They're not themselves!"
Gigas (Francesco Capello, also a Freshman at the UW, but an Accounting major of all things.) stormed into the room. Even in street clothes he was still an intimidating sight. With a single backhand he sent Luis flying into a sofa and was able to grab Max and put him into a choke hold. The man was a giant, and if he responded this quickly to a feminine scream I suddenly felt a lot better about Anna's well-being.
"Got it!" Claire said as she finally dropped her hands from her head. A sort of sense of calm was flung around her as the two boys began to blink and come back to themselves.
Now we just had to figure out what was going on, as we were obviously out of time. Thankfully I had an Ace in the hole so to speak, so I went to pay her a visit.
"You're right, there's definitely something in the coffee," Meliferra said as she bent over a microscope in her secret lab. "I think what you've found are nanobots."
"Nanobots? Where on earth would Overlord be getting nanobots?" I replied with raised eyebrows.
Turns out that Claire had been able to block whatever was going on with her telepathy and empathy. She could generate a bubble about forty feet in diameter which seemed to protect whoever was inside it. The downside was it was all she could do with her psychic potential right now. All of her powers were going to maintaining that bubble. Thankfully Frankie could move normally as he hadn't drank any coffee today, but Max and Luis were effectively chained to Claire.
I didn't want to have to, but the only thing I could think of was taking a sample of the coffee to Meliferra, and had called her from my cellphone. She actually had come to the Squires HQ to pick me up and fly me to her hilltop residence/secret laboratory, which was an experience in and of itself.
Her own lab easily competed with the Seattle Knights building in terms of high tech. The best part was that she had built it all herself over the years. Apparently while vigilantism didn't necessarily pay well, being a genius Gadgeteer did.
"Do you remember the incident with the Syn-gate Research Facility back in November? Over on the peninsula?" she asked as she looked over at me. Her eyes had a sort of quiet intensity and focus while she worked.
"Wasn't that the one where some Goodkind Company blew up and everyone died?" I asked as I peered around at her lab and its decorations. She had been examining the sample of coffee I brought in a petri dish held in place with some sort of electromagnet gravity field setup that I didn't understand. It sounded highly technical and probably had gotten her quite a few patents.
"Officially yes. Unofficially the facility was actually a cover for research into nano technology. What if the explosion was due to a break in to try and steal nano technology? It wouldn't be the first time that Overlord did something like that after all."
I frowned and looked over at her. Something had been niggling at my mind since I had called her. There wasn't really any reason for it, but... "Beatrice Jenkins."
She blinked at me as her mouth opened wide. "How did you..."
"I didn't 'til just now. I won't tell a soul without you saying it's okay. I promise," I said. "I remember reading about the incident at Hanford twenty years ago. I thought I saw you in a photo, but my friends said I was crazy. You were there... Overlord was responsible wasn't he?"
"One of the Overlords, yes. I've been trying to keep tabs on them ever since," she said quietly. "My mother was doing research with bees and radiation exposure. I wasn't sure what technology he was there to steal, but paired with these nano bots and what you described I'm guessing it was the mass control one of the hive queens had that my mother talked about."
"That must be what he needed that pharaoh stick for, some sort of woojuuwhatsit to control all the nanobots. How better to spread them than by putting them in everyone's coffee." I frowned and glared at the coffee sample.
"Lucky for you I drink tea," Meliferra said wryly.
I tilted my head and looked over at her. "So... so what happened? At Hanford, I mean, if you don't mind my asking."
She thought for a moment before beginning to speak. "I had just driven over from a gymnastics meet on Christmas Eve to visit my parents.."
December 24, 1987
Hanford Nuclear Facility, Tri Cities area, WA
My father, Doctor Malcom Jenkins had turned and smiled as my pint sized brunette self flew into his arms, hugging him tightly. Dad was of middling size and build, with fading black hair and glasses atop his long lab coat. "Bea! How was the gymnastics meet?"
"Pretty good, I got silver in the all around. Liz Peters edged me out by a tenth. Had a few interviews, I know at least three recruiters were there." I was small, very small. Being just a hair over five feet tall with slight traces of my father's Chinese ancestry, my build was of natural benefit in the world of gymnastics.
"That's good news though. That's why you stayed in High School and are taking courses at the community college instead of just graduating early. Have any problems with your car on the way over?" Dad pushed his glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose as he spoke. I had just turned seventeen that year and hadn't been driving very long, but with my academic course load in both the high school and community college, plus athletic events, me having a car was a necessity that had to happen.
"The passes were pretty clear. We got out early enough that it wasn't too bad. So, you ready to show me what you and mom have been working on?" I had looked about at the lab I had been shown to, and had noted the various beakers, expensive computers and microscopes, as well as tanks of small animals. The lab was fairly empty, what with it being Christmas Eve, but there were still enough scientists that lived with their work to make having it open worthwhile. Technically it was one of the labs that didn't exist, but mom and dad used a few favors getting me in from time to time. Moonlight streamed in from the massive overhead skylight. The night was clear and stars shone down from the cloudless sky, twinkling merrily away like a seasonal postcard.
"I can show you some of it. Let's go over and say hi to your mother and take a look at what she's doing." Dad put an arm around me and led me across the lab to my mother, Clarissa. She was about 5 and a half feet tall and was a red haired Irish-woman to her core. Mom smiled at our approach, giving me a hug. "Seeing the lab, are we? Wondering what's about with all the bees and frogs?"
I had nodded as I peered around. "I remember the two of you were talking about that new PCR technique and how it could help your research, but that's not something that's come up in classes before."
Mom smiled at me. "It's pretty ground breaking actually. It wouldn't surprise me if someone wins the Nobel Prize for it one of these years. The short version of what we're doing is testing the effects of prolonged radiation exposure on animals sensitive to ecosystem changes. We're working with bees since they're natural pollinators and interact directly with flowering plants, and frogs since they're amphibians who are sensitive to pollution in water systems. We thought they would be relatively good indicators of what kinds of effects and mutations we can see in the natural environment from radioactive materials."
She paused to ensure I daughter was following her, then continued. "The longer version is that polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, is a remarkably easy method of replicating DNA in large batches from relatively small sample sizes. This lets us take DNA of successive generations of creatures in order to track the effects of radiation mutation over time within a sample pool. It's not quite exact yet, we haven't cloned the frogs or bees in order to test the differences between exposure and non-exposure upon the same exact creature, but the ease of getting large DNA samples for analysis from small doses of say, blood, means we can run more tests than we would otherwise."
I had looked over at both my parents. "So you're tracking mutations along gene pairs then? Seeing what sort of effects and changes are cropping up that might be caused by mutation from the radioactive materials? I mean you can't say conclusively it isn't just a random mutation from breeding, but it'll let you identify areas of possibility for future research."
Dad smiled at me. "Exactly. Between my nuclear physics and your mother's work with cellular biology we've been able to find several interesting finds already. We also hope that this research might one day pinpoint what's going on with the mutants as well. Why do only some change, is it genetic? Random? Triggered by something else? So many possibilities that science has yet to answer."
"We've already noticed some signs of changes, particularly with the bees. This latest round seems even more hive oriented than normal. It's almost like the queen is utilizing some sort of mass control. I'm not sure if it's pheromones or some sort of instinctive telepathy." Mom looked over some of her sample hives and the attached notes before continuing. "It also hasn't triggered among all the samples either, only one queen seems to be able to do this. I'm working on isolating her DNA and comparing it to DNA samples from the other 'mutated' queens to see if there's a difference genetically between them, as well as comparing them to the DNA from my control groups."
"I wonder what could..." I broke off what I had been saying with a scream as the skylight above suddenly shattered, a glassy cloud falling downwards followed quickly by two very large, metallic humanoid figures which landed with a booming echo. My hands flew to my ears and head, ducking instinctively as the sounds of Gatling weapon fire began to fill the void of silence. Dad shielded me as he hurried me behind some lead sheeting walls used with some of the radiation equipment.
"Wait here, I'm going to get your mother!" he told me before heading back into the firestorm, moving in a crouch behind desks and tables.
I remained on my knees, crouched down while covering my ears and looking down. I could hear the shattered sounds of breaking glass, sparks and equipment being destroyed, the cries and screams of scientists and researchers being hit. Somewhere I smelled smoke, and shortly thereafter the automatic sprinklers were tripped. A symphony of chaos destroying everything around me I hoped my father would return, that there would be a way out of this disaster for my family. In the distance I could hear warning sirens echoing their refrain of alarm. Perhaps help would come, someone would save us somehow.
It was short lived hope.
"Ah, Doctor Jenkins, and Doctor Jenkins. So nice to finally meet the two of you in person." A human voice spoke as the gunshots silenced. "I see you've met my two associates. My father's work was impressive before time caught up with him. He would have loved your research, it has so much potential."
"What do you want with us? Do you have any idea what you've done?" My mother's voice. She was still alive.
"Want with you? Nothing, nothing at all. No, it's your findings that are so intriguing. So much potential to further the family business." The strange voice again. I knelt down and peered under the lead sheet, seeing my parents kneeling next to each other. A pair of boots, well made and black leather. Then two pairs of massive, huge, metallic feet. Robotic feet?
"And what business would that be, villainy?" My father's quick retort probably didn't help what would come.
"Why yes, what other kind is there? I should be sporting I suppose and offer you a chance to join me...”
"Go to Hell!" My father again, I could almost see his glare in my mind's eye as well as my mother's cold, icy fury.
"A pity. Well since you will not cooperate willingly..." A single shot echoed throughout the room followed shortly by a thump.
"MALCOM!" Mom's scream filled the room as my world began to crumble.
"Clarissa... don't let him... I... don't let him... I love... you...”
"Perhaps now, Doctor Jenkins, you'll be more cooperative. If you'd kindly...”
My mother spat, presumably into his face before the sound of breaking glass, accompanied by a large amount of buzzing. A scream of rage, a second shot, a second body hitting the ground.
"Now all my little bees have flown away... flown away to safety...” Clarissa said softly.
The tears ran freely down my face. I barely noticed the cuts on my knees and legs, the shards of glass and debris around me. The water spraying from the ruined ceiling, sparks of electricity here and there from destroyed equipment. I could smell fire and smoke even now, now when everything I cared about in the world was dust.
"Ignorant fools! At least their notes could prove useful. Is there anyone else here?" Sounds of movement, rustling of papers and folders. Sounds of machinery and whirring.
"No other life signs detected." A hollow metallic voice. Presumably one of the robots. Later I would wonder if the lead sheet had somehow shielded me from whatever equipment the robots had. At the time I could only crouch on the ground, silently sobbing in wracking heartache and grief.
"Well, then there's nothing else for us here. It is time to depart." Footsteps echoed onward, leaving a life in shambles.
Minutes seemed like hours while I waited. Eventually I peered from behind the curtain, too destroyed to worry if the villain had left or not. Suddenly I winced in pain and swatted at my arm. The bees... the bees my mother had freed rather than let be taken. The lab was destroyed; fire, water and electricity arced in a deadly mix. I had to leave before the last remaining reactor had a fault. I staggered somehow to my parents, kneeling and crying over them.
Eventually even that came to an end. The fires were spreading, the warning klaxons growing louder as more alarms were tripped. I kissed my parents on their foreheads, closing their eyes and arranging them together. A Celtic cross necklace that had belonged to my mother, a pocket watch from my father, and their dying love was all I could take with me now.
I grabbed as much cash as I could find from various wallets and lockers. I felt empty, but, somehow sick and as if my insides were on fire. I began to pant as I stumbled about, winded. I had to make it outside, outside to my car. The money would last me a while, long enough to figure out something. I was so hot. Not even the blast of the winter chill would cool me as I stepped outside. Outside, away from everything I had ever known...
February 14th, 2007
She wiped her eyes after she finished her story. I didn't have anything to do but give her a hug. After a few moments she looked over at me. "And what about you? How did you know? Hanford isn't something they teach in school now."
"You're right, they don't. No, I mean I read about it twenty years ago."
She looked at me puzzled. Obviously my physical appearence didn't make any sense with what I had just said. I felt like I should offer her something, a secret for a secret.
"I wasn't always... like this," I started.
December 26, 1987
"Dude, Conner, check it out!"
I wiped a lock of hair from my eyes as I looked over at Sam and Frank. The three of us were a trio, even a year and a half after high school. Winter break had all of us out of classes from college and wandering amuck down by the piers and Pike Place Market. Frank was pointing at the headlines of one of the Seattle Times.
"Isn't that where you did your Senior Paper on a few years back? Hanford?"
"Yeah, it is." I had dug a few coins from his pocket and purchased the paper from the vending machine, reading further. Sam and Frank crowded around me as we all looked over the cover story.
"Whoa... dude, this is tense. Fire, over twenty dead. Some missing, dude, they're closing down the reactor over this!"
I had peered closely at the picture of the story. It was a long range shot, taken in the early morning gloom by helicopter. It almost looked as if... "Hey, guys. Do you see a person there?" I asked.
"What, that? Nah, that's just a blur. Next you'll be telling me you've seen Sasquatch in the Cascades. Come on; let’s go get something to eat. I could go for a fish and chips."
"You and your stomach, Sam. Might as well though, it is noon. Come on, Conner. You coming?"
I had shaken my head as I peered at the paper while the other two walked away. I could swear that there was a person moving away from the plant in the shot. Small and blurred, in the corner. Just a few specks of a grainy photo. I folded the paper under his arm and ran after my friends. "Yeah, I'm coming." I told myself I would look into it later. I'd taken a large interest in Washington's nuclear history and had done a great deal of research on the Hanford facility. It was almost as if a part of my life was dying with it being closed down...
February 14th, 2007
"So when the news said Conner Fox had died..."
"I was only mostly dead. Mostly dead, is slightly alive."
Before she could reply my phone began ringing. Taking it out of my bag I answered. "Hello?"
"Kitty, you've got to get back here," Max said. "The Supers are calling for our help. They got our message about the coffee in time, but there's trouble. Big trouble. All hands on deck time."
"Alright, I'm on my way. I'll be back shortly," I said before hanging up the call. "Gotta run, trouble in Seattle," I said to Meliferra.
"I'll keep working on this. If there's a signal being sent logically we have to be able to block it out or trace it or something. Maybe some sort of kill code..." she trailed off and shrugged.
"Good luck, keep me posted!" I waved as I ran outside and began working my way back to Squire's HQ.
Sometime later I was just about to go inside the building when I saw a curious sight. One of Seattle's homeless was pushing his shopping cart filled with belongings down the street. He was dressed in several overcoats and worn out clothes, including fingertip-less gloves to help protect from the cold. The only real unusual piece of clothing was the aluminium foil hat wrapped around his head. "You better be careful miss, the zombies are out!" he warned as I was running by. "Saw 'em all up and down today, it's the government mind rays! I warned people over and over, but no... Said I was crazy, they did. That's why I'm wearing my helmet you see, keeps the rays out!"
I stopped and looked over at him closer. I would have said he was crazy too before earlier today, but mind rays was a good enough explanation as any. I was about to make a sarcastic reply when I noticed something very alarming.
He was drinking coffee. Starbucks coffee right out of the paper cup with the little cardboard ring holder. Yet he had kept his mind, perhaps due to his shiny hat.
"Well son of a bitch..." was all that came out of my mouth.
Later I stood on the upper deck of the Ship Canal Bridge looking south towards downtown, and the army of lights marching north along I-5. Sadly those weren't car lights coming towards us. A wave of robot soldiers stomped along the pavement in ordered lines, an ominous tide of villainy.
"So... we're standing here forming a wall of six people between everything north of us and all of that, because some blonde batted her eyelashes at Max?" I asked no one in particular.
"Yup," Claire replied. "We're used to it. Thankfully she usually only does this once or twice a year."
Overlord was making what felt like a final push. We didn't have much of a chance of defeating his numbers, not with the citizenry of Seattle as unwilling weapons. Crucibelle opted for a containment approach or as I called it, stalling and hoping for some miracle of figuring out how to turn off the nanobots.
The Squires were to hold the northern Ship Canal Bridge and try to keep the robots from crossing over into the University District and north towards Shoreline and Lynnwood. Tome was going to hold the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (Route 520) and keep them from going east into Bellevue. The Supers took the hardest job and were going to hold the I-5 and I-90 interchange area and keep them from heading south.
Personally I was putting my money on Meliferra finding out what the solution to deactivating the nanobots was before we suddenly got reinforced by someone, but no one was asking me.
"Man, this hat is lame. How am I supposed to look epic for the publicity photos in this?" Luis whined.
"You are more than welcome to take it off if you want to turn back into a human zombie," Claire retorted.
The aluminium foil hats on Claire, Luis and Max had actually worked, which meant Claire could now use her powers for something other than just shielding their minds. Gold star for the crazy, homeless guy. This was also information we passed along to the Supers. Unfortunately finding enough aluminium foil for the entire city would most likely prove a bit problematic, especially since most of them currently wanted to kill us.
Frankie had flipped cars and trucks to build barricades of the lower express lanes of the bridge, and combined with some technowhatsits from Ratchet we only had to worry about guarding the upper portion. It would make clean up hell later, but it was better than risking the surrounding cities. All in all there was nothing else for us to do but wait and prepare for the worst.
After what felt like hours I was dodging yet another laser blast and returned fire from behind an overturned van. Meliferra's pistol had ran dry, so I loaded my third power pack of the night while Luis flung a burst of fire at the offender. Claire lifted and flung a car towards the line of robots with her telekinesis. I was panting and out of breath, and the others were about as bad off. An oncoming rumble was enough to break us out of our daze, as what seemed to be some sort of armored vehicle was coming towards us. The giant cannon on top was enough to be alarming even without the metal plating or escort of robots marching alongside. It opened fire without warning and Claire switching to a shielding dome of force, causing the incoming projectile to explode harmlessly instead of on us.
Frankie and Max were busy some fifty feet away with a horde of foot sloggers backed up by Ratchet, leaving me to swear while Claire kept up her shield. I honestly had no idea how we were supposed to deal with a tank. Luis popped his head over the van and looked for a moment before turning towards me. "You up for some fun, Chicka?" he asked with a grin.
I looked at him blankly and blinked, having no idea where he was going with this.
"There's a little plate on the driver's side there. Think you can blink over and flip it open then blink back?" He asked, pointing at the vehicle.
I popped my own head up and peered towards it. There was a good five or ten feet between the vehicle and the nearest robot. "I think so, if I'm quick," I said.
"You just have to flip the plate open, I'll do the rest," he promised. I nodded at him and blunk away.
The plate looked like a gas tank lid to be honest, and I swear my hair was as little singled from a stray laser beam from the second or two I was next to the tank, but soon enough I was back behind the van.
Luis smiled, popped up and let loose a blast of fire at the tank from his right hand.
I honestly had no idea what he was doing. Even at his best he only could handle about 800 degrees, and plating that thick would be just fine at that point. But he kept going, bringing up his left hand and letting loose with a second jet. Sweat beaded from his brow, and just as I was about to tell him to give it up, the armored weapon exploded.
Pieces of shrapnel took out all the robots nearby, and the shock wave was even enough to send as of us to the ground for a moment as most of the army attacking us was knocked clean off the bridge. Claire and I looked at Luis in amazement while he just smiled a shit eating grin.
"That was really just a normal civilian grade frame and parts with armor plating," he explained. "Most every kind of plastic melts at 'bout 500 degrees, 700 tops. Even gas caps is just zinc plated plastic. That melts at 787 degrees. They don't make cars like they used to, Chicka. Es no bueno."
So it passed throughout the evening until a sudden streak of red whizzed by my head heading towards Max during a lull in the fighting.
"Gladius! A message from the Supers!" Witchling, one of the members of the Seattle Supers had flown in personally. Granted it made sense, it wasn't like it was really a time for cell phones. She rode her broom side-saddle (because that's what all the girls are doing these days, going retro like it's the Dark Ages) and was dressed in the same scarlet and gold as the rest, though she did have a much nicer hat. I was a bit jealous of her hat, ever since my ears had shown up hats and I had more or less had to part ways.
"What is it, Witchling?" Max asked, coming over to speak with her flanked by Frankie. Ratchet, Luis and Claire stayed in position further down the freeway to ensure no robots got past them. I eased my way towards Max to better hear what Witchling had to say.
She hovered her broom closer (she did have remarkable control over that thing) and tilted her head to look over in my direction. "Curious, a Fox-spirit. Are you sure she's really on your side?" She looked back over at Max.
"That's my youngest sister, Kitty."
I smiled a bit of what I acknowledge was a fake smile (call me a spy you little...) and curtsied. If she wanted to be all Dark Ages I was game. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Witchling," I said formally before standing on the opposite side of Max from Frankie.
She looked me over and nodded curtly. "Likewise," she said before turning back to Max. "Crucibelle sends word. She regrets to inform you that the southern holding action is proceeding less well than she would like. She estimates you will need to hold for at least another hour before we can reinforce you."
"She needs us to hold another hour? For her, we'll hold two," Max said in a serious deadpan.
Witchling's eyebrows raised in surprise but she nodded again. "Very well, I will let her know. We will come north as soon as we are able." Turning her broomstick around, she took off towards the south side of Seattle. Max watched her depart with a stoic look, but I knew him well enough to see the buried sadness in his eyes from unrequited love.
"Crucibelle has no idea, does she?" I asked sadly.
"Probably not," Max said.
"Doesn't make a bit of difference, does it?" I said with a wry grin.
"Not even a little," he replied with a sad smile.
I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed reassuringly before giving him a sad smile. Frankie did the same from the other side and for one brief, shining moment in all the chaos nothing else mattered: my change, the city at risk of being destroyed, or western Washington potentially overrun and under the thrall of Overlord. For one brief, glorious moment we were simply three dudes who all knew what it was to be a man in love with a woman.
In a blessed, sad sense we didn’t have long to ponder it or dwell on it. The action picked up again shortly thereafter.
"How long has it been now?" Luis asked as he dodged a punch from a robot and knocked its head off with a metal bat.
We had gotten lucky in that we apparently got the army of robots, leaving Tome and the Supers to deal with the zombie horde that you didn't want to actually destroy. I was down to my last power pack, we were all showing physical signs of fatigue, and I could really go for a drink (Something I had to wait six years for now, thank you very much Agent Bob.).
"Um... an hour, twenty six minutes and... forty seconds," Ratchet replied after looking at what I could only assume was an enhanced wrist watch.
"They won't be coming any time soon, look." Frankie pointed at the horizon where several new drop ships were depositing their cargo at the southern end of downtown Seattle.
Max frowned. "That doesn't make any sense... why not fly over us or encircle around?" he wondered out loud as he sliced an attacker in half casually. Yeah, so wouldn't win in an actual fight.
"They're not trying to advance, they're reinforcing their position. He's defending something," I said as I blinked behind another robot to shoot it from point blank range. Just then my cell phone rang. I was confused a moment before I took it out and blinked behind an overturned car before answering. "Hello?"
"Kitty? It's Bea. There's definitely some sort of radio wave controlling the nanobots, but I can't pinpoint its source. I don't..."
The memory of a bag of crystals strewn across the pier suddenly flashed into my mind unexpectedly. "So like a backwards crystal radio? It has to be."
"Crystal what?" Luis asked.
"Crystal radio. They used them in World War II. Relatively short range AM radio receiver that couldn't be located. Which means he's transmitting from an anten... I know where he is!"
"I'll meet you there," Meliferra said as she hung up.
I turned to look at Max, and he nodded at me. "Don't let her down," I said.
"We won't. We're the Seattle Squires. Sometimes things just have to be done and you pony up and do them. It's what Dad would have done." Max gave me a quick salute with his sword before turning back and rejoining the fray.
I fought back a tear as I felt myself smiling before I turned south and ran towards the city.
Running isn't really an adequate word to describe what I was actually doing. Picture a sprinter good enough for Olympic qualifiers, and now let him go full speed with the endurance of a marathon runner also good enough for Olympic qualifiers (Thank goodness I bought one of the better sports bras on the market, geez!). I was still having to weave my way round and through a horde of robots, so occasionally I would have to blink around or past groups of robots that I didn't want to take the time to deal with. Vision really seemed to be key on that, if I couldn't see it I couldn't go there. I was blinking on top of cars, rooftops, anything that would get me across the city the fastest while avoiding as many problem spots as possiible.
As I moved through the city, I could notice that blinking was feeling more and more sluggish. Instead of the transitions being seemless, it was beginning to feel like wading through a river of sludge. A tangible barrier that had to be actively pushed through. Still, it had to be done. We were out of time. Every so often I would have to shoot a robot or stun a zombie (I did like this omni-stun gun Meliferra made, even if I did have to carry spare battery packs) but I was making remarkably good time all things considered. Before too awful long I was at my destination.
Seattle Center and the Space Needle.
The Space Needle was built in 1962 as part of the World's Fair and is probably the only landmark of Seattle that most people know. It's also 605 feet tall at the top of its antenna. If I was going to try to mind control the entire city of Seattle with radio signals, that's what I would be working from.
I assumed the elevators to the rotating restaurant and observation deck wouldn't be running, which left blinking my way up the structure itself. By this point, each blink felt like a struggle, almost like it was taking me longer to get there by blink than it would be to just walk there if there had been a direct route. Thankfully it had enough things to grab onto and perch that given a lot of care and it was doable. Alright, I'll be a little more honest, in any other circumstances I'd never try it, but I was a little desperate.
Eventually, I managed to climb up onto the roof. Predictably, there in front of me was the one responsible for all of this recent reign of terror.
Overlord. Cape, helmet, boots. Posing dramatically overlooking his diabolical scheme as some sort of Devise was attached to the roof of the Space Needle, connected by a cable to the antenna of the building. I shot him in the back.
Okay, I attempted to shoot him in the back. I certainly pointed my pistol at him and pulled the trigger a good four times or more, I kind of lost count after a while. He had some sort of force field or ray shield or who knows what sphere of "Ha ha, fuck you, Kitty!" or something. Suffice it to say it didn't damage him at all, so he was able to turn around gradually at his leisure, point some sort of remote control at me and press a button.
While it didn't seem to do anything the pistol quit shooting at that point as whatever gizmo he had drained the battery remotely. It wouldn't surprise me if my cell phone was flat now, too. Kind of a dick move; useful and well played, but dickish.
He was wearing blackened power armor with a crimson red cape. The helmet was open faced with sort of a Judge Dredd feel, only with a stylized crown built into it. He was wielding some sort of mace which crackled with blue energy in his right hand. I imagined it would hurt. His belt kind of resembled Bat Man's, which was certainly filled with all sorts of tricks and things to ruin my day.
"In the back, Conner? I would expect better from a would be hero." Great, so Overlord knew who I really was. Granted he was apparently some CEO uber-villain, so I shouldn't be too surprised.
"Yeah well, I'm not feeling exactly merciful at the moment," I retorted snarkily.
"A bit bitchy and snippy as well. Is it that time of the month already?" He chuckled with an oh so superior expression. I was beginning to personally see why Jennifer divorced this tool.
"Not like you'd ever have a chance at finding out."
"That's quite alright; I don't date little girls. How does it feel, Conner? Becoming a pitiful wisp of a school girl instead of a cripple? Give up. You have no weapons. You're alone with all your allies busy fighting my army. You are small and weak. Kneel; serve me and I'll let you and my children live."
"They quit being your children a long time ago."
"They never quit being mine!" he thundered at me. "My children are great and powerful! They should be ruling over mere humans by my side! I will empty their heads of whatever filth you and my former wife put into them and they shall be the dark prince and princess of my new realm. Your children are pitifully weak; barely better than human themselves. But Maximillian the fourth and Claire? They are mine."
I spat in his general direction. It didn't really do much but I was kind of low on options right now.
He chuckled darkly. "So be it," he said while raising his left hand. Suddenly a blast of energy flew towards me. I dodged to the side as it exploded on the roof. I tried to blink away... and couldn't. I was simply too tired. He fired several more shots as I scrambled away from him. My mind was threatening to panic as I tried to think of some way out of this.
"You have nothing, Conner," Overlord taunted. “There is nothing you can do to me to save you now."
Suddenly an eerie calm came about me as I thought of one final thing. "Please spirits," I murmured. "Any of you that are listening, please help me. I need just a little more, please..."
I reached deep inside myself as I physically jumped towards Overlord. He smiled as he raised his left arm at me and shot an energy blast in my direction. Grasping at what felt like straws I suddenly felt a surge of power as I blinked out of existence...
Animism is essentially a belief that spirits are everywhere. Trees, rocks, buildings, cities. They fill the world around us and among us. The realm of life and that of death are separated by but a hair's breadth. I am not saying I or my actions deserved the attention of some powerful divine spirit. But here I was asking for help from whatever spirit could hear me, on an object that has been considered the heart of an entire city of millions that was recognized by the entire world. I don't know from where exactly the energy came, or what exactly heard me, but something did.
I reappeared about a foot away from his strange Devise as I body checked into it full force. At that moment, whether it was my weight and momentum, the winds at the top of the Needle, or the bolts connecting it to the roof breaking, the Devise and I both went over the edge of the roof and tumbled towards the ground.
It was during the falling that I lost consciousness.
Gradually I awoke to the feeling of moving wind on my face and a faint humming sound. I groggily opened my eyes to see Meliferra over me, or rather carrying me through the air. "How..." I said softly.
"I told you I'd meet you there. Didn't you believe me?" Meliferra asked. "I caught you on the way down. Overlord flew off but the Devise was destroyed in the fall. Looks like the city is waking up and they're not happy with the robots."
"We've got to stop meeting like this..." I said. If she replied I didn't catch before falling off again into unconsciousness.
When next my eyes opened I was laying on a bed at the Squire's HQ. Bea must have dropped me off here before heading home. Max and Claire were sitting nearby. At least this time I wasn't connected to any medical machinery. "'ow long?" I murmured quietly to them.
"What?" Claire asked as she moved towards me intently. "You've been out for..."
That was not what I meant. She stopped as I waved my right hand to stop her and tapped my left wrist a few times with a finger. "'ow long?"
"Two hours, seventeen minutes and twenty three seconds." Max supplied the answer I was looking for with a grim pride. Then again, he deserved to be proud for what they had done. When push came to shove they had stepped up beyond their years.
"'s m' boy," I said with a smug smile. I had a million questions I wanted answers to, but I had simply done too much. There wasn't time to ask any of them before I trailed back off to sleep.