Blue Bug from Outer Space (Part 2)
Comics Retcon Universe 004
Blue Bug From Outer Space
Jaime Reyes is kid out of his element, who dreams of a life better than his own. He finds such a life when he stumbles about a strange blue stone in the garbage and his whole world changes.
Author's Note: Here's the second part of Blue Beetle. I've taken some liberties, moving the Reyes' family and other characters from El Paso to San Francisco. This story takes place a couple of months after Jameson Queen's death. Blue Beetle and other characters are property of DC Comics.
After my encounter with Posse, things in my life kind of slowed down.
I’m sorry if my narrative takes a little jump again, but the days that followed the event were kind of boring and nothing really exciting happened. Ok, stuff happened, but it wasn’t anything like foiling bank robberies or getting attacked by notorious neighborhood gangs. I suppose you want me to tell you about it. Ok, so after getting the book and coming back home, my mother was a little peeved. I told you she would be. She grounded me for a few days, confining me to the house. Like she wasn’t doing that already.
Milagro was gracious about the book until later that night... she overheard the three way conversation I was having with Paco and Brenda about Posse. She wasn’t too happy and threatened to tell Mom, so I had to let her sit in on the conversation, too. I think it made her happy that she was finally a part of the group.
The day after the Posse incident, my test results came back. I know you probably think this is pretty exciting but it’s not. They already told me what I already knew: I wasn’t a Meta. There were some discrepancies, though and it was enough to convince the government there was something different about me. So they approved my gender change and went ahead with all the paperwork needed to do so. They put it on the fast track. But they said there was no problem with me applying to school, so later that day that’s exactly what Mom and I did.
We had to meet with the principal, Mrs. Harris, and the School Board president, Mr. Duncan, in private. Both of them agreed that there was no reason that I couldn’t start the placement tests but I wasn’t allowed to officially start school until the paperwork was in. So I set up an appointment for the tests. No one likes to take tests so I was kind of wary of that. After the meeting, Mom took me to the Shops. The bad news, we spent three hours school shopping, the good news I was finally able to get my bike back. We brought the truck so I was able to put it in the back. Mario was a little surprised to see my mother, so she gave him the fake story we cooked up. He said he thought I looked familiar. Mario talked my mother’s ear off a bit about his family.
The day after that…very boring. Enough said.
The next day, my paperwork arrived. I did say they put it on the fast track right. Well now I was officially Josephina Isabella Reyes, please call me Josie. Milagro was so happy that she cried in my arms for ten minutes. When that was over, my mother took us out to celebrate. Half way through our meal, my father arrived. Yeah, remember him, Mr. Avoidance.
He looked at me and I knew there was something he wanted to say but I beat him to the punch. I was so angry with him by that point, I could have ripped his head off. I almost did with my verbal lashing: “You here to sit and stare at me some more” I said angrily but not loud enough for the other patrons to hear. My mother opened her mouth to scold me but I cut her off. “Don’t you have anything to say to your daughter, your own flesh and blood. It’s still me in her, even if you can’t see it. I’m still the same person, I’m just not what you want me to be.”
My father said nothing, I didn’t expect him too. But then his face got red, it did that when he got angry. I winced. Even though I was mad at him he was still my father and I still respected him. But when he spoke his voice was calm: “I am sorry. My behavior has been foolish and I know I can’t make it up to you so at least let me explain.”
He sighed. Then in a softer voice said, “You have to understand. I lost my son, I know he’s still sitting in front of me in this beautiful daughter I have now, but he was still my son. I love you and I always will but it’s very hard for me to look at you and see this beautiful flower where my handsome boy should be. I’m not ashamed of you, I’m ashamed of me.”
I opened my mouth for another go but he cut me off. “You have every right to be angry, I’ve been an ass. But I was scared. I’ve always known how to relate to you before, you and I had so much in common. At first when I saw you and you answered my question, I thought things were going to be fine. But then you went shopping with your mother and started to act so much like a girl, I thought I lost my Jaime.”
My father started crying. It was a big deal. My father never cried. He was this big stoic pillar in my family, he didn’t even cry when his father died. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him cry. My mother reached over and gave his hand a squeeze. She was crying too. Which of course made me start to cry. I think he was being an idiot, but I couldn’t blame him. But he was wrong if he thought I was Ok with this whole girl thing. There was nothing Ok about being a boy one day and turning into a girl the next.
My mother broke the crying fest. “I think the two of you need to spend some quality father daughter time together.”
We both nodded. We finished our celebratory meal and went our separate ways. It was decided that my father and I would go some place fancy and have dinner. I know we just ate out for lunch but dinner was different. It was my mother’s idea. My father took Milagro home---much to her annoyance---and my mother took me to a fancy shop to get a pretty dress. I know... gag me. When we got there, the woman fawned all over me. We spent two freaking hours in there. We bought this cute blue shift dress---cute is my mother’s description, not mine. Then some underwear and shoes. Who knew you needed all new things for a dress, especially one I was going to wear only once. Yeah, I don’t plan on making a habit of it. My mother wanted to take me to a salon too but I drew the line there. It was bad enough that she dragged me to get my hair re-cut; I wasn’t going to let someone do more to me. We did get my ears pierced in the jewelry shop next door, though.
When I got home, my mother decided the rest of the day belonged to me and my father. We spent another hour getting ready and I have to admit the dress did look kind of nice on me. The shoes were a pain though; heels and me did not make good friends. My father looked kind of dapper in his button down shirt and black dress pants. You have to understand that I rarely see him out of his work clothes and rarely clean, especially clean-shaven. When we went to the car–my mother’s, not his---he took my arm in his and walked me to it. He was trying to suck up and it worked like a charm. Ok, so I might be a little girl inside.
We went to a movie first. Just to prove to him that I was still the same person on the inside, it was an alien invasion one. Khaji groaned and commented through the whole thing, complaining about this and that. I tried to ignore her but it’s really hard when you’ve got your very own alien invader in your head. After the movie, we went to the restaurant. It was one of the fancier places in town, something that my father could never afford.
“How are we paying for this?”
“You let me worry about that.”
I sighed as the waiter led us to our table. It was set for two, in a secluded dining area. On the wall before we passed through the velvet curtain, there was a plaque: Queen Private. I sighed, now I knew. I wonder how he was able to convince Olivia to give up her area for the night. I pretended I didn’t notice though and let him be the big man. Being the big man, he pulled my chair out for me and I sat rather clumsily. He smiled and laughed.
“Now I know my son’s in there,” He laughed a lot. “Has your mother not shown you the finer points of being a lady?”
I flushed in embarrassment. “She’s been too busy taking me shopping and making me her Barbie doll.”
He laughed some more. “That sounds like her.”
We both had a good laugh. We spent the meal talking about the past few days, the ones where he was being a jerk and avoiding me. He admitted that he thought we were too different and that he thought we’d have nothing to talk about. I wanted to tell him everything and I mean everything. But I held back. I tried to sugar coat some topics too. I don’t think he wanted to hear about the girly things. We laughed and had a good time but there was still one thing bothering me and I asked about it.
“Why were you and Mom arguing so much then?”
He sighed. “It was about your school. I felt that there was no reason for you to continue going to Ravenwood Academy but your mother had different ideas.”
I groaned. I hated RA; it was nothing like it should have been. Even the teachers snubbed their noses at me there. “It was horrible, Papa.”
Yeah, I called him Papa, so sue me. He smiled at it though. “They treated me like trash, even the teachers. Why do you think we put those fish into that bastard’s car?”
“I thought you were acting out.”
“It was retribution.”
I quickly filled him on all the stuff those rich bastards used to do to me and he got a little red faced again. I saw him clench his fists and if smoke could come out of his ears, it would have. He started mumbling and cursing, all in Spanish. He does that when he gets mad. I started laughing because he was little a Latino caricature when he did it. I waited until he calmed down a bit before we talked again.
“That’s why Mama and I decided on Star City High because I don’t want to be in that environment anymore. It sucks that I’m throwing my scholarship away like that, but I don’t give a damn. I may not be able to get the same education but I won’t be so miserable all the time.”
Yeah, I said Mama too. I sound just like Milagro now.
He reached across the table and gave my hand a gentle squeeze.
We talked some more while we ate. When we were done and he pretended to pay the check, I rolled my eyes at that; we left. It was getting time for him to go to work and for me to go home. But he got a better idea. As soon as he asked me, I knew my mother would never approve, especially with the new dress. but I didn’t care.
“Mama is going to be so mad,” I said as we went in the opposite direction from home, heading into the city, toward Queen Tower.
“You let me worry about your mother, this was supposed to be my night to spend with my daughter and I want to take her to work with me.”
So we went to the garage. I used one of my jump-suits but it was kind of baggy on me. He said he’d have to see about getting me the female equivalent for next time. That made me happy. Instead of making me mop the floors like usual, he took me into the workroom with him and let me work on some of the things he was working on. He stayed by my side the whole time, practically holding my hand as he showed me how to use the welder and other things. It was kind of cool; especially seeing as he never let me do any of this stuff when I was Jaime. Does this mean I’m Daddy’s little girl now. God, that was horrible to think but a part of me kind of liked it.
After working a bit, he took me around and showed me all the cars. I was able to scan them with my blue vision and tell him some of the things that were wrong. He was impressed as all hell that I was able to tell all that by looking at them. Hey, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. He jotted down all my suggestions on a clipboard as we wove through the small auto show arranged in front of us. After that, we went home and before going inside, he kissed me on the cheek. It was kind of awkward for both of us but it was kind of sweet, too.
“Thanks for proving this old idiot wrong, Princessa.”
I gave him a hug and cried a little. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I felt so much like a girl there, that it was scary. It was kind of funny, here we both were wary of my new found girlhood and already both of us had a better relationship as father and daughter than we ever did as father and son. What are the odds? We stayed on the porch hugging for a while until my mother opened the door. She looked kind of pissed and definitely wanted to bust our chops but when she saw us hugging, she cried. Then she glowered at us. She told me to go to bed and gave my father the evil eye. He was definitely going to get a lashing. We shared a knowing smile and then I went upstairs.
The next day ...yeah, I know this is annoying---I went for my school tests. I’m not going to bore you again but I was able to pass them all. I was now officially a freshman at Star City High West; it’s one of three or four branches of the one in the city proper. Confusing, huh, you bet your ass it is.
So that’s it, you’re now up to speed.
I took the tests this morning and now that they were over, I had time to hang with my friends.
Now I was in a bit of a crisis. The three of us---Paco, Brenda and I ---were walking down the street, peering into all the shop windows. When Brenda showed up this morning to retrieve me for shopping, she was kind of excited. I wasn’t going to officially start school until tomorrow---which is Monday--- and seeing as today was now Sunday, she was giddy with excitement. Brenda---even though she wouldn’t admit it---only had two friends, me and Paco. There were a lot of superficial people at her school who wanted to be friends with her because of all her money but she brushed them off. I think she liked hanging out with us; she was one of the guys after all. But I think she liked it even more now that I was one of the girls. She wouldn’t admit it of course but I could see it in the way she talked to me now. We were good friends before but never as close as we were now.
“You want to go to the salon today?” she asked, her arm looped in mine.
Paco groaned. “Please say no.”
Brenda ignored him. “Josie needs to look her best for her first day tomorrow.”
Not the salon. Why does everyone want to drag me to the salon.
I groaned too. “What’s wrong with my hair?”
She laughed and squeezed my hand. “Sweetie, there’s more to a girl than just hair.” She held up my hand to show up. “Look at your nails, they’re a mess and I bet you’ve never had your legs waxed before.”
Paco and I both cringed at that. I pulled my hand gently from her’s. “I don’t think I need to get those things done.”
Brenda frowned. “Can you at least come with me then?”
It was the look in her eye. It was different from any other look she’s ever given me. She finally had the girl friend she’s always wanted and I saw that in her look. She didn’t want me to just hang out with her; she wanted me to do girl things with her, too. I’m not sure how I thought about that but I knew how I thought about her. She was one of the best friends I ever had and there was no way I could make her upset. I turned to Paco and he knew it too. Even though he looked a little pale, he gave me a curt nod. I smiled; I’d have to make it up to him somehow.
“Where’s the salon?” I asked.
Brenda squealed and wrapped me in a hug. The things I do for my friends. My mother isn’t going to be too happy that I decided to go with Brenda but there are some things that girl friends need to do together. My mother will understand, she had friends like Brenda when she was my age, too.
Paco toed the ground. He looked sad for a second but then looked across the street, his line of sight straying to the comic book shop. I couldn’t tell what caught his eye at first until she stopped in front of the store to tie her bootlace. It was a girl, about our age, with short spiky hair and a wild fashion sense. Paco blushed. Brenda looked over and rolled her eyes.
She leaned close and whispered into my ear. “That’s Lucinda Rodriguez; Paco’s had a little thing for her since she moved here a few weeks ago.”
I looked at the girl and smiled. I came up with a plan. “Hey Paco, you think they’ll have any back issues of Warrior Angel?”
He was our favorite comic book hero.
“I’m way ahead of you bro, I mean, Jo.”
Brenda and I laughed as Paco puffed himself up and he walked across the street. He stopped in front of Lucinda and tapped her on the shoulder. When she turned around her face lit up and the two of them walked into the shop together.
“Very smooth” said Brenda.
“Hey, I have a lot of talents.”
Brenda took my hand. “C’mon, we can have them paint your nails blue,”
I groaned as she dragged me down the street toward the salon.
Rachel’s---the little salon that we walked into---was nothing like Vivian’s. For one thing, it was much smaller and for another, there were a lot less people waiting. Brenda insisted on paying for everything and told the overly made up woman behind the counter to give me the works. I grimaced when I saw her because she looked like a clown. Hopefully she wasn’t the one doing the “works”. But she led me over to a chair where a girl a few years older than me was waiting. She was a strawberry blonde, really pretty. If I was still a guy I probably would have looked right at her chest, her boobs were massive. I looked down at mine, suddenly feeling less ashamed. She smiled as I sat down and put a smock on me.
“My name is Amber; I’m going to take good care of you, sweetie. So why don’ t you just close your eyes and relax.”
I did as she asked, feeling her grab my left hand and begin to work. I’m not a big fan of nail polish smell but this particular brand was kind of soothing. I yawned, realizing that I got little sleep last night. I like to sleep on my stomach and now that’s almost impossible to do without a little discomfort. So sitting in the chair, Amber painting my nails, I kind of drifted off.
When I opened my eyes again, I blinked. I looked around a bit, confused as to where I was. Amber smiled at me. She pointed to my nails and when I looked, I saw they were nicely filed, rounded like a girl’s and painted a bright blue. I wiggled my fingers, wondering how long I’d actually been asleep.
“About twenty minutes” said Khaji “she manicured your nails while you dozed.”
“It’s been a long time since anyone actually feel asleep on me,” said Amber with a laugh as she took the smock off me.
‘I’ve never had my nails done before” I explained as I climbed out of the chair.
She looked a little shocked by that. She opened her mouth to ask a question but Brenda came over to clarify. “She was kind of tomboy before. She’s just coming out of her shell.”
Amber nodded. “That explains why her hair’s so short.”
I groaned. Why is it that everyone was against my hair? I liked it short; in fact, I think I’m going to keep it like this for the foreseeable future. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go screw themselves. I wanted to tell the blonde bimbo that but instead I smiled and thanked her. Ok, I’m a coward but I didn’t want to cause problems either.
Brenda took my hand and led me back over to the counter where the clown lady was still standing. “We’re ready for our waxing now.”
The woman nodded and led us into the back of the shop, through one of those beaded curtain thingies. There were two weird bed-like chairs and two brunettes waiting. I read their name-tags, Bethany and Britney. They looked similar, so I wondered if they were twins. They smiled at us and then ordered us to strip down to our underwear. I flushed in embarrassment but I did as I was told. I lay down afterwards on one bed thing; Brenda took the other. I bet you want me to describe a waxing to you but I’m not going to because it’s absolutely barbaric. I wonder if it’s something they invented for medieval tortures. Suffice to say I’m never getting it done again.
After we paid, I grumbled as we walked out of the shop. Brenda looped her arm in mine again, laughing as she did so. “Wasn’t that fun?”
“You’re perverse you know that.”
She laughed. "Hey, at least I didn’t fall asleep at the nail station.”
“I haven’t been sleeping well. It’s hard to do with these built in pillows” I hefted my breasts as I did so, giving the pair of guys walking by a nice show.
This time Brenda turned scarlet. She smacked my hands; the two guys smiled and snickered. They watched us until they turned around the corner and disappeared. God, it’s like they’ve never seen a girl touch her boobs before. I rolled my eyes and looked at Brenda; she looked like she wanted to smack me. Instead, she squeezed my arm and pulled me across the street, toward the comic shop. We didn’t go inside; we peered through the glass front window trying to see if Paco was still inside. But there were only three people inside: two pimply faced nerds and the bored skater guy behind the counter.
“He and Lucinda must have hit it off better than I thought,” said Brenda smiling like it was her idea to force Paco on her.
I smiled too. Maybe he’d stop looking at me now. “So, what do we do now? Do you want to wait for them or do you want to go somewhere else.”
Brenda’s stomach answered for her as it grumbled. “I’m starving.”
We both knew where to go. There was this little diner around the corner, called Frankie’s. It was this little fifties hole-in-the-wall that had this cool retro vibe to it. Frankie was a good guy; he was a third cousin of Paco’s or something. So whenever we went there we got to eat free which was kind of cool. We walked arm and arm down the street and turned the corner. My skin started to tingle as soon as Frankie’s came into sight. There was a sinister looking black car parked outside and nothing else. Usually something like that wouldn’t look out of place; except it was an Audi and you didn’t see cars like that in our neighborhood.
Brenda squeezed my arm. I grabbed her hand tightly and pulled her along, trying to get closer to get a better look. We both went as far as a clump of bushes and ducked down behind them. The diner was clearly closed but there were two guys inside. They were dressed in charcoal colored suits; one of them was leaning over the counter, his hand wrapped tightly in Frankie’s apron. Frankie was an old guy, probably in his sixties. He had a bad heart; he’d already been to the hospital a couple of times for it. Seeing the two of them roughing him up made my skin crawl.
Brenda gasped, pulling her hand out of mine. “What the heck are you doing?”
I looked down and saw the armor slowly creeping up my body. “It’s a reflex action.”
“Someone’s going to see.”
She grabbed my arm and slowly pulled me away from the bushes, dragging me over to the alley between the diner and the building next door. The armor was half way covering my body by the time we got there. My heart was pounding in my chest and my entire body had that ants-crawling-under-my-skin sensation again. Brenda let go of me and stared awestruck as the armor finished covering my body. I took a deep breath and flexed my fingers. She continued to stare, her mouth open. I gently closed it with a finger.
Then I turned to the diner. I took a few steps and looked through the nearest window. The goons were leaving; Frankie was on the floor gasping. I clenched my fists. “Go inside and take care of him, call 911 if you have to.”
Brenda nodded. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to teach those bastards some manners.”
I turned and walked around the side of the building. The two jackasses were already at their car and getting inside. I couldn’t let them get away. I ran forward and grabbed the bumper just as they started up the car. I heard the engine roar to life and the tires squeal but the car was going nowhere. The two of them cursed and looked around, trying to figure out what was happening. The guy in the passenger seat saw me in the rear view mirror and when he did, there was this look of awe on his face. It didn’t take him long to react. He rolled down the window, pulled out a pistol and fired. The bullet hit me right in the forehead but it ricocheted off, bouncing somewhere toward the alley. I snapped my head there just to make sure Brenda was gone. She was in the diner now, helping Frankie to his feet.
Another shot fired, harmlessly bouncing off me. “Let go of the car, bitch!”
“Not going to happen. No one messes with those who can’t defend themselves when I’m around.”
The guy laughed. “You’re defending Frankie. You’ve got the wrong guy, little girl. He’s the crook here, not us. He owes us a lot of money and we’re only here to collect.”
I believed that about as much as I believed the two of them were honest citizens. “There are other ways to retrieve your money, more legal ones.”
The car shut off, the tires stopped squealing and spinning. The driver side door opened. The driver got out but he didn’t have a pistol. He had a sawed off baseball bat. He caught came around the side of the car and caught me off guard. He slammed it into my left arm, causing me to let go of the bumper. I stumbled back. The bat didn’t hurt but the blow caught me off guard. He swung again, hitting me in the side of the head. I went down, falling to one knee. Damn, I didn’t think it was possible to get hurt while wearing the suit. Though I still felt nothing, the blow was strong enough to make me kind of dizzy.
He came down with the bat again, landing a third blow, this time on my shoulder. I stumbled, completely overpowered by him now. He was laughing, apparently enjoying myself. I need to get on my feet and back into this game. He came at me for another swing but this time I was ready. I snapped up and grabbed the bat, gripping it tight enough that my fingers imbedded in the wood. He was stunned to see me standing. I pulled the bat from his hand, snapping it in two with my iron grip. This was all the advantage I needed. My attacker stumbled backwards, scared out of his mind. He turned to run but I grabbed his shoulder, spinning him around so he’d face me. He was a good foot and a half taller and probably much stronger if I wasn’t wearing the suit.
“So let me get this straight, you and your buddy like to pick on innocent old men and whale on girls with baseball bats. Your mothers must be very proud.”
He didn’t say anything, instead he spit in my face. I groaned, why did everyone have to spit in my face. I let my disgust get the best of me and I head butted him. It wasn’t very hard but it was enough. His head snapped back and he slumped unconscious in my hands. I groaned, apparently it was harder than I thought. I let him drop to the ground. His partner got out of the car quickly. He pointed his gun at me then changed his mind and dropped it. He tried to run but I was faster. I moved like lightning again, pinning him to the side of the car before he even got a chance to take a few steps. He gasped from the power of my assault.
I grabbed him too. “Why Frankie, what the hell did he do to you?”
“He skimped on his payments.”
“To the boss. We take a small incentive from the local shops, to keep them safe from the gangs around here.”
“So you’re not only criminals but you’re also extortionists.” I squeezed his shoulder, causing him to scream out in pain as bone cracked. “Who’s your boss?”
He shook his head. “You maybe a bad ass but I’m scared of her a lot more than you.”
I decided to change tactics. “Tell me who she is and I’ll protect you.”
Hey, they do that with criminals all the time on cop shows. But it didn’t seem to work because he kept shaking his head.
“You don’t understand; I’m already a dead man. She’s got eyes and ears everywhere. We’re both targets now. Me for running into you and you for trying to stop me.”
I squeezed his arm even harder, he screamed out. “Who has that much power?”
He opened his mouth to speak but he never got a chance to say anything. There was a slight whooshing sound and then his body slumped. I didn’t even know what happened until the blood started seeping out of the wound in his head. I panicked and dropped his lifeless body. My scanner snapped in and I quickly searched the surrounding buildings, looking for the shooter. But whoever it was, they were long gone now. I gasped, looking down at the dead guy at my feet. Holy crap, who the hell would kill just to keep one of their own men from speaking their name. It was absolutely crazy.
“I can’t find the sniper. I was stupid; I should have scanned the area before hand.”
“Don’t blame yourself; we both stumbled into this fight without knowing the score.”
I was about to argue, but the sound of sirens cut that off. I took one final look at the unconscious man at my feet and then took off for the alley. When I was safely there, I deactivated the armor. I summoned up some identical clothes and then after taking a reassuring breath, I ran into the diner. Brenda had Frankie sitting at one of the tables, drinking a glass of water. Luckily for me, the old man had his back to the windows so he never saw what went on outside. But Brenda did and I could tell from the look on her face that she saw the man die in my arms. She opened her mouth but I shook my head, now wasn’t the time to discuss it.
Instead, I walked over to the table and sat down with them, Frankie never noticed I wasn’t there before. He smiled at me blankly and continued to sip his water.
“Josie, is that you?”
Milagro came running out of the living room as soon as I closed the front door.
“What’s the rush?”
I made the news. It was kind of cool. Milagro grabbed my wrist and dragged me into the living room. My mother wasn’t there---she had a weird shift---but Mrs. Cruz was. Do you remember how I told you that everyone thought I was my own cousin, well there were a few people in the loop about who I really was? Mrs. Cruz was one of them. She was a nice old lady and she talked to no one but us. Even if she talked to more people, there was no way she’d blab who I was. It was embarrassing and very private. When she saw me dragged into the room by Milagro, she got up from the couch. Her work was done. She gave me a hug and walked to the door, telling me she left something for me to eat in the fridge.
“What is it?” I asked as Milagro forced me onto the couch.
I looked at the TV and saw. There was another video of the Blue Beetle, this time it was of her in action. I groaned. According to the anchor, the video was taken from the camera across the street. The news story was cut together with video from inside the diner and out in the street. First, it showed the goons roughing Frankie up then it showed them trying to make their hasty retreat. It didn’t show me arrive---thank God for that---but it did show me in action. It was kind of surreal seeing me kick ass all over the evening news.
The scene cut back to the anchor and his pretty co-anchor. “Glad she’s on our side.”
They both laughed at the corny joke.
The story was big news. Not only did it make local but it hit some of the national circuits, there was even a small blurb on CNN, which was really cool. Most of them ran with the Blue Beetle name---which was a given---and CNN was calling me “San Francisco’s New Darling.” Every time Milagro flipped the channel to different news stations, me beating the crap out of those guys showed up again and again. Luckily, the video was edited so they didn’t show that guy dying in my arms.
“Who were they?” she finally asked, once she couldn’t find the story anymore.
I shrugged. I didn’t want to tell her anything. I decided after the mall there was no way I wanted to get any of my family involved in this. “Just some guys trying to hustle some money out of Frankie.”
I’m not sure if she bought it or not. “You kicked their asses.”
I nodded. I did indeed. I smiled at her, left her in the living room, and headed upstairs. I started for my room but changed my mind and went into the bathroom. I locked the door behind me and wandered over to the sink. I stared for a long time at the girl in the mirror. She used to be a stranger but now it felt like the old me was the stranger. I turned my head left and right, trying to see if there was anything left of Jaime in her. But no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t see myself. There were parts of the old me but most of them were gone. I think I’m being too hard on myself. I sighed, turned on the water and splashed some in my face.
“Those two were too highly organized to be common thugs.”
I sighed. “What did you find out?”
Did I tell you that Khaji can do this cool Wi-Fi thing? I guess it slipped my mind. After changing back to myself and going into the diner, Brenda and I stayed with Frankie until the cops came. Brenda answered all the questions, telling them what she saw. When they asked me, I told them I’d just gotten there. We stayed with Frankie for a few minutes more but left as soon as we saw another car pull up and a familiar female officer get out. There was no way Montoya would believe it was coincidence that we were at two Blue Beetle sightings and were not connected. We kept our heads down and disappeared into the gathering crowds.
Where does the Wi-Fi come in? I was getting to that. After making sure Brenda got into her car, I walked home. I remembered that I left my mother’s bike near the disused lot a few days ago. Hey, there’s been a lot on my mind. As I walked toward the alley, Khaji brought up how she scanned the goons faces and their license plate. She said she had access to an internal network and could hack into any computer system in the world as long as they were networked. So it wasn’t really Wi-Fi but it was pretty close. As for my mother’s bike, some jackass had stripped it of its wheels and tossed it into the lot. I groaned when I saw it. I had to carry it home and hid it in my work place. I’ll have to figure out a way to tell my Mom about it later.
“Your two friends weren’t in the system” I sighed. “The car was borrowed from a dealership. There was a police report filed. Apparently, two gentlemen fitting the descriptions of the two at the diner asked to take it for a test drive and never returned it. It’s now in the police impound lot but the police weren’t able to lift anything from it, save for the fingerprints of the two men, one of whom is in intensive care at the hospital.”
I groaned. In other words, we had nothing. That kind of pissed me off. Someone was out there, shaking down my neighbors and threatening their livelihoods all in the name of protection. It kind of made me sick. It also made me worried. I wonder how long it would be before they came knocking on our door, demanding gang protection money. Not that Posse would ever dare go near my house or family again. Whoever was behind it all was extremely scary and really well connected. I had a thought but it was too crazy to even imagine. There was no way it was her…
“You have a theory?”
I shook my head. “More like a shiver up my spine.” I ran my fingers through my hair. “There’s this urban legend in these parts, about a mysterious female crime leader who calls herself La Dama. It’s kind of ridiculous, something to keep other criminals in line. But the story goes that she controls most of the crime that happens in the whole city, especially in this area of it.”
“And you believe this is the person that those two worked for?”
I shrugged. “Its crazy but it’s the only thing I could come up with.”
I left the bathroom and went to my room. My mother and I talked a lot about redecorating. She thought that seeing as I was now of the female persuasion, that a more feminine room might be in order. We discussed it a lot and came to the decision that it could be remodeled as long as it wasn’t anything too girly. We didn’t have a lot of money to do any serious remodeling but there was enough to put a gender neutral shade of paint on my walls and maybe get some new bed coverings. We spent some time yesterday looking through a couple of J C Penney’s catalogs and looking at color swatches. So I’m going to paint my walls in a very pale purple and my bed stuff was going to match. I know purple is kind of a girly color but my mother also told me it was kind of regal too.
Thankfully, my room was still my own when I walked inside. However there were a few subtle changes, things I groaned about. My desk was gone now, replaced by a vanity. It was white and looked kind of old but I suppose I couldn’t fault my mother for it. She must have done it when I was out with Brenda and Paco. There were a few other things too: my blue lampshade was replaced with a light purple one and some of my star charts were off the walls. That kind of annoyed me. I made it very clear that I wasn’t going to start hanging posters of Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber---that guy was too creepy even for me.
I walked over to my bed and noticed something else. Sitting between my pillows, looking very out of place, was a stuffed bear. It was white and had these blue plastic eyes that looked kind of real. I reached over and grabbed me. He looked brand new. I lifted him up and found a card underneath it, addressed to me. When I opened the envelope, the card was girly: For my Sister. I read the little message that Milagro left inside and sighed. I have to admit the bear was a nice touch. I squeezed it to my chest and rolled over, lying on my back.
“Are you beginning to embrace the changes?”
I sighed. I didn’t know how to answer that. I sat up and still holding the bear, I gave it some serious thought. Was I embracing the changes? I’d already done some crazy and very girly things. About a week ago, I was a normal everyday teenage guy and now I was a girl. It was kind of scary to think about, even more so at how quickly I seemed to adjust to it. I mean, I was a little apprehensive at first, but now it was nothing. I never gave it much thought until now. I spent the first few days fighting the changes and then when they happened, I still tried to deny it. Now that there was no going back, maybe I did embrace things.
I slid off the bed and wandered over to take a look at myself in the vanity mirror. There was definitely a girl standing there, a very pretty teenage girl with boobs that were bigger than she wanted and hair that everyone hated. But she was me. She was dressed in a cute blouse, a fat belt and skinny leg jeans. But she was me. Her face was newly made up, her nails were sparkling blue but she was still me. I’m this girl, this girl I didn’t want to be but here I am. I wanted to frown but instead I kind of smiled.
“You know what; I think I have embraced her.”
“You’re wearing that to school?” asked my father as I came down for breakfast.
I looked down at what I was wearing. It was one of the outfits Brenda picked out for me on our first shopping expedition together, the one that was overshadowed by those bastards in the bank. There was nothing wrong with what I wearing. Ok, so maybe the jeans were tighter than they should be but they were all I had. We only bought a couple of pairs and this was the last pair that was clean. The top might have been a little much, too but it was the only blue one I had, the rest were pink and purple. Besides, I kind of liked how it made me feel. It was made of a lightweight material that felt good on my skin. Just because the neckline plunged a bit, my father was going to make a case out of it.
He folded his newspaper and set it aside. “I don’t like it. Go upstairs and put something else on.”
I groaned. “I don’t have anything else, Papa.”
From Total Avoidance to Super Protective, that’s my Dad.
He huffed and picked up his newspaper, grumbling in Spanish. Milagro said nothing, she ate her Cheerios in silence but her eyes were smiling at me. I think she wanted to laugh but she was keeping her mouth shut for fear of my father’s retribution. Me, I sat down and poured myself a bowl. I don’t like milk in my cereal. It annoyed the hell out of my father but milk makes things really soggy. So while I crunched and Milagro slurped, the three of us sat in non-conversational silence. I don’t think that’s really a word but there’s no other way to describe it.
Milagro broke the silence finally. “Did you two have fun last night?”
Last night we went back to the garage. My father once again became the doting Dad and showed me how everything worked. You remember how I was happy that he treated me like a person... well now it was driving me nuts. Instead of treating like before, where we barely said a few words to one another, now he was all over me. Not in the perverted way either, clear out your filthy minds. He wouldn’t let me do a thing by myself last night. Whenever I had to move something, he did it for me, or if I had to lift something, he said it was too heavy. There was some oil changes I should have been able to do by myself but he didn’t want me to get dirty. By the end of the night, I was so annoyed with him I wanted to scream.
My response to Milagro’s question was a lie but it was only to make my father feel better. “We had a great time, I’m learning so much.”
Milagro smiled weakly. She could at least tell when I wasn’t telling the truth. She went back to eating her cereal, but I lost my appetite. Luckily, I was saved by the knock on the side door. I got up to answer it but my father was already out of his seat. I groaned and Milagro rolled her eyes. When he opened the door, Brenda was standing there. I think she was a bit surprised about my father answering the door because he was never that nice. Especially to her. He was under the impression that a boy and a girl couldn’t just be friends. He kept telling me over and over again that Brenda was a perfectly beautiful girl and I should be dating her, not “hanging out” with her. Now I think he’d blow a gasket if I started dating her.
“Good morning Brenda” he said in a sincere voice. Brenda looked about as shocked as my sister and I. “Do you girls need a ride to school?”
Brenda was too shocked to answer straight away. But it didn’t last very long. “Umm, no, Mr. Reyes we’re going to ride our bikes, it’s not that far.”
He looked sad. “Well if you ever need a ride you just let me know.”
“Ok Dad” I said, I didn’t want to call him Papa in front of Brenda.
I got up from the table and grabbed my backpack. I had started for the door when he cleared his throat. I turned and he stood up. He walked over and wrapped me in a big hug then leaned down, his cheek pointing toward me. At first, I didn’t know what he wanted and then Milagro mimicking kissing. So I rolled my eyes and kissed my father on the cheek. He smiled and Milagro stifled a giggle. I shook her a look and she quickly went back to eating her breakfast.
Brenda and I rushed out of the house quickly. We got on our bikes---I’m still riding my boy one---and we rode as fast as we could from the house. We got to the end of the street before we both burst into laughter.
“Invasion of the Pod People?” asked Brenda.
“I’m not familiar with that race?”
I ignored Khaji. “I don’t know. Ever since we spent our Daddy/Daughter Day, he’s been acting like that. It’s kind of freaking me out.”
Brenda frowned and I could of kicked myself. Of course talking about fathers and daughters was going to upset her. I opened my mouth to apologize but she smiled brightly and shook it off as if the frown never happened. “I’m sorry” I said quietly.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Hey!” shouted a voice behind us, followed by furious pedaling.
We both turned to see Paco riding as fast as he could to catch up to us. We stopped and it didn’t take him long. He was out of breath, panting like a mad man. He was sweating pretty badly too, which was kind of gross. He took a few puffing breaths before he spoke:
“I thought we were going to ride together. I went to your house to get you and your Dad looked like he was going to pop a blood vessel. He started yammering off in Spanish, yelling at me about being no good for you and all that such nonsense.”
Brenda and I both started laughing.
“Josie’s Dad has become Mr. Overprotective Father now.”
Yeah, you might want to avoid my house for a while. At least when he’s around anyway. I can’t imagine what would happen if he caught the two of us alone together.”
The color drained from Paco’s face. “Your Dad has always liked me though.”
“Yeah as Jaime’s friend” said Brenda, with whimsy in her voice. “But now that he’s a she, you’re a potential suitor and her Dad will never go for that.”
Paco got paler and paler. Brenda and I laughed even harder.
We picked on him a bit and then pedaled our way to my new school.
Can I bore you with my first day of school? I’d rather not, but then I’m sure there’s someone who will cry foul. So what do you want to know? I can tell you that as soon as the three of us arrived, everyone was looking at the new girl. It felt kind of weird walking down busy halls where people weren’t trying to trip me or stick things down my pants---don’t ask. Brenda and Paco stayed with me the whole time, sticking to either side of me like glue. Khaji was there too but the only thing she was good for was moral support, not that I didn’t need it. As I walked down the hall, all the eyes were on me and strangely enough most of them were leering male ones.
“You’ll get used to it,” Brenda whispered in my ear.
She and Paco led me to the main office. But before we got there, someone whistled at me and another guy “accidentally” brushed against my boobs when he was walking by. Paco wanted to pound the hell out of him but I let it slide. I was new that was all, fresh meat, blood in the water and whatever other analogy you can think of. It was the same way at RA except here, the people weren’t giving me disgusted looks and hoping I didn’t infect them with fleas---once again don’t ask. Right before entering the main office there was a guy leaning against a locker, he was one of those tall, blonde and mysterious types. He stared at me with intense blue eyes and something inside of me kind of jumped.
“I’m going to home room” said Paco, bailing. He didn’t like to be late for anything.
“Your serotonin levels just elevated a bit, are you in some kind of danger?”
I flushed and didn’t answer. I continued to stare at the guy, brushing my bangs out of my face. Brenda grabbed my arm and pulled me into the office. She gave me a knowing smile, which only caused me to blush even more. My heart skipped a beat. Was it possible? No, no way in hell, not me, not going to happen.
“You were crushing on him weren’t you?” she whispered as the two of us walked up to the receptionist’s desk.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The receptionist was a pleasant enough older woman with graying hair and a nice smile. I handed her my folder and waited while she looked up my information on the computer. It didn’t take her long and she handed me a large manila envelope. I took it and tore it open, dumping its contents into my palm. I had my picture taken the day of the tests and now I had my very own SCHW ID, it was kind of cool but the picture wasn’t very flattering... but those things never are. The only other thing in the envelope was a class schedule. Brenda took it from me before I had a chance to look and sighed a few times before handing it back.
“You’ve got P.E., Math and Art with me. The rest of the stuff is kind of a let down but what can you expect for someone transferring in.”
I looked at the schedule myself. It looked pretty much like my old school schedule expect instead of Technology, I was in Home Ec. I should have seen that one coming. They also had me in a class called Women’s Studies. That kind of surprised but once again, I should have seen it coming. I flipped the schedule over and saw a handwritten note scrawled on the back: it was from my Guidance Counselor, she wanted to meet with me at the end of the week to see how I was adjusting. I groaned; I was pretty sure what that was about. But I wasn’t going to let it ruin my day.
Brenda looped her arm through mine. “C’mon, I’ll show you to your first class seeing as we’ve pretty much missed home room.”
When we got outside, I looked over at the locker where the guy had been leaning, but of course he was gone. I felt a dull ache in my stomach because of it. But then again, everyone was gone because the hallway was deserted. They’re probably all in home room. Brenda led me down the hall anyway, pointing out a door where we should currently be---i.e. our home room---but then she leads me away, taking me to the door of my first period class, which happens to be English.
“I’ll see you in a couple of periods. I’ll meet you outside your History classroom so the two of us can walk to PE together.”
Then she was gone. I groaned and looked at my watch; class wasn’t set to start for another two minutes. I slid to the floor, using my backpack as a seat while I waited. Two minutes goes by really slow, especially if there’s no one around to talk too. Except of course in my case, I’d never really be alone again. But Khaji seemed on edge this morning. I’m not sure what it was but I could sense it in her voice. In fact, she’d been that way ever since our fight outside the diner. I tried asking her about it last night but she brushed it off as being tired. I asked again this morning and she said the fatigue of using the armor so much was getting to her. But I didn’t believe either for a second. Even know she was quiet which was usually one of the two things that Khaji Da was not.
“You do realize that I can hear every one of your thoughts.”
“I’m worried about you.”
“I’m fine” she sighed. “This environment is strange and unusual to me. The whole concept of educating youth this way seems so foreign to me. Whatever happened to parents educating their children from their homes or young ones learning by watching others? This is a very strange society you live in.”
Her words were shattered by the ringing of the bell. This set her on high alert. It scared me a bit too. I jumped to my feet and the halls quickly flooded with students. During the rush, I grabbed my bag and slipped into my English classroom. I took a seat in the middle, which is neither the head of the class where the nerds sat or the back where the loners sat. Kind of in-between, just like me.
Do I need to bore you with all the details of every class? Well even if you want me to I’m not going to. I’ll give a rough rundown of them though. Like I said before, my first class was English. My teacher was droll and kind of boring. I stayed in the middle while the rest of the class filed in around me. The old battleaxe didn’t even bother to acknowledge my new girl status. But some of the students did, mainly the guys who were calling me the “hot new chick”. Go figure. I’m not good in English so I won’t bore you with the specifics. I can tell you that the class dragged on longer than it should have and when the bell finally rang to let us go, I was one of the first ones out the door.
My next class was history. The teacher was short and fat. I sat in the middle again. You’ll never guess who sat next to me---yep, Mr. Blue Eyes from the hall. He smiled at me and I flushed some more. God, I need to get that under control. I’m not very good in history, either, but all of that changed with Khaji on my side. It worked out really well when you had a seemingly immortal alien sentience sharing the same body as you. She practically lived through most of it. Today’s subject was Ancient Egypt; I think someone up there really loved me. Every question he asked I knew the answer but I didn’t answer them all because I didn’t want to sound like a brain. Hey, I’m not an idiot. The new girl, showing how smart she was on her first day, it was social suicide.
Brenda was waiting for my outside my history class. When she saw You-Know-Who walk out behind me, she gave me a little shove, causing me to bump into him.
“I’m sorry” he said, catching me, his strong hands on my shoulders.
I turned and looked up at him, my heart pounding in my chest. “Itssss okkk” I stammered, sounding like a total idiot.
“I’m Josh, you’re Josephina right?”
I said nothing but motor mouth Brenda did. “That’s right, but everyone calls her Josie.”
“It was nice catching you, Josie,” he said, letting me go and slipping off down the hall.
I gave Brenda a look of daggers and she playfully stuck her tongue out at me. We both laughed and continued on down the hall toward the Gym.
I got to venture where no man has gone before: the girls locker room. I should have been overly excited, after all, what guy my age wouldn’t want to be in the girl’s locker room watching them all change. The only problem is that as soon as I sat down on the bench, sweating, my gym clothes clinging to my body, I was just like the rest. No matter how I tried to get attracted to any of them, all I saw were fellow girls in various stages of undress. How disappointing is that. Here I was hoping I was a lesbian and now this pretty much confirmed I wasn’t. How much does that suck. I can’t say that I’m not surprised. After all, there was no doubt that I was attracted to Josh and all throughout P.E. I kept staring at the girls in their tight tops and tiny shorts, hoping to feel something. But no matter how much I tried there was nothing.
“What the hell are you doing?" asked Brenda through her teeth, glaring at me.
“Trying to see if I’m a lesbian” I whispered back, luckily no girls were close enough to hear.
Her eyes looked as if they were going to bulge from her head. She was shocked for a few seconds but recovered quickly. “What’s the verdict?”
I sighed. “One hundred percent heterosexual.”
We continued to change. I did it without looking at anyone’s boobs but my own. After that, the two of us went to Art together. How cool is it that we have two classes in a row. Art was fun, the highlight of my day so far, especially after the depressing gym class. The teacher was a fruit, who was obsessed with color, both on the canvas and in the clothes she wore. After Art, Brenda and I separated. I went to my Women’s Study class, the one I was dreading all day. Get this; it’s some kind of freaky feminist thing. Ok, not really, but it was all about women and it kind of bored me. I may look like a girl and sometimes act like one but I was still a guy where it counted. Even though that was disappearing a little each day.
After WS, it was Home Ec. They must have thought it a joke, giving me two feminine classes in a row. The teacher was kind of nice though and she helped me start my sewing project. Apparently, we’re supposed to sew our own stuffed animals. I guess that’s kind of cool. I picked out this pink bear, I think it will go nicely with the one Milagro gave me. Ok, so I’m a girl inside too, so sue me. Brenda and I met up for Math---more snoring---then we departed so I could go to science. Science is my class; it’s the one I excel at. I didn’t care if I came across as a nerd as I took one of the front lab stations, sitting with my back straight and my mind at full attention. I answered every question, once again not caring if I looked like a dweeb.
After science came lunch. Brenda was waiting outside my door again.
“How’s the day so far?” she asked as we walked side by side down the hall.
"Like a normal school day.”
Brenda snorted. “How’s Khaji liking school?” She asked this in a whisper so no one else could hear.
“She’s been surprisingly quiet. Besides helping me in history class, I haven’t heard a peep from her.”
“I’m resting,” said a groggy voice. “I store up a lot of energy and put them in my reserves but using the armor drains that energy. Usually I can recharge after a few days or so but you’ve been using it so much that I haven’t had a chance to do so.”
Boy did I feel like a dick. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Try avoiding danger for a few days.”
We walked into the Cafeteria. It was like any other high school cafeteria; it had several round tables and was filled to the brim with chattering teenagers. The drumming noise was so loud that I couldn’t hear anything Brenda said to me as we went through the lunch line. Paco was already at a table and was waving us over. His friend from yesterday was there too, the girl with the spiky hair, Lucinda I think. When Brenda and I sat, Paco made the quick introductions. I eyed the strange girl, looking her up and down. She was a weird one, who had that many piercings on only one side of their face like that.
I wanted to tell my friends about Khaji and her limits but I couldn’t mention any of that with Lucinda nearby. So instead, I was stuck listening to their day at the comic shop. Lucinda---call me Luce---was just as passionate about Warrior Angel as Paco and me. In fact, I think she knew more about him than the two of us combined. It was kind of cool but it was so not what I wanted to talk about. I kind of droned her out and looked around the cafeteria. It didn’t take me long to see that someone else was looking too. When Josh and I locked stares, I blushed again. He smiled. He was sitting by one of the tall windows, a huge group of popular looking kids sitting around him. He gestured to an empty seat next to him but I shook my head, pointing out my two friends.
“That one wears too much cologne, he smells like a men’s catalog."
I laughed inside my head. At least I hoped it was. I didn’t want anyone to think the new girl was nuts and laughed at nothing. "You sound kind of jealous?"
This time Khaji laughed. “I’m an artificial construct; I do not have human emotions.”
I left it at that.
Brenda waved her hand in front of my face, snapping her fingers as she did so. “Earth to Josie, you there?”
I snapped around. “Sorry, what did I miss?”
Brenda laughed. “The four of us, this weekend, we’re going into the city to some concert. Luce thinks she can score us some tickets.”
I nodded. “Sounds cool to me.”
Lunch dissolved into more pointless rambling about what music we all liked and things like that. It was over all too quickly. After lunch, I had two study halls in a row. Apparently, it was too late in the year for me to take electives so they stuck me in study hall. At least I’ll be able to get all my work done, but it still kind of sucked. Well, the first one did anyway. The second one kind of rose away from sucking as soon as Josh walked into the room. Ok, its official, I’m so totally crushing on him. I can’t help it. My male brain keeps telling me it’s so damn wrong but my female brain is telling my male one to shut up and get with the program. Khaji is remarkably quiet.
Listen to my vocabulary, it’s like my mind has been taken over by the brain dead teenage girls from Venus or something. I need to stop watching all those stupid teen dramas with Milagro; they’re definitely starting to seep into my brain.
Josh sat next to me but we weren’t allowed to talk. It was study hall after all. That didn’t stop him from passing a note here and there. Most of them were questions and mainly they were about me. It was kind of funny actually, because if he knew who I’d been he’d probably kick my ass. It was kind of flattering though. I did my best to answer back, scribbling a little bit and sliding it back over. The Moderator gave us dirty looks but she never caught on to what we were doing. We had a good time writing back and forth. Yes I know it’s kind of clichéd but that’s how it happened.
When the second study hall was over, it was the first class of the day that I was reluctant to leave. When I did, Brenda was waiting for me, alone.
She rolled her eyes. “He and Little Miss Warrior Angel are going to the comic shop; you and I are on our own.”
We both shared a laugh and walked down the hall toward the exit. Ok, my first day of school was now officially over. What’s the final tally: boring as hell. But I have to say thanks to Josh, I might be looking forward to class tomorrow. Thinking about him brought a smile to my lips, one that Brenda didn’t catch, thank God. I never would have heard the end of it if she caught me crushing on him anymore than I already was. It was bad enough that I was crushing on him at all; I didn’t need her adding to that embarrassment with her constant teasing.
We started toward the bike rack when we both noticed the limo. It was hard not to, after all it took up at least three parking spots in front of the school. We both knew who it belonged too as well. So when the driver got out and opened one of the doors, Brenda was already walking toward it. Her aunt got out, dressed in a white pantsuit today, her hair flowing in the gentle breeze. Several kids and a couple of teachers stopped to gawk. I stood about ten feet away, looking the car up and down. Limos were never my thing, too flashy if you ask me. At RA, a lot of the students arrived in them; it was some kind of status thing. Whoever had the biggest limo had the most money. It was like a game to the rich, trying to one up the other with size.
It was kind of stupid to me. Brenda and her aunt talked for a couple of minutes. Her aunt handed her something and then Brenda came walking back over, putting what appeared to be a bracelet around her wrist. She had another one in her hand, her face aglow with the biggest smile.
“Look what Amparo got us,” she said, holding up a bracelet that was identical to her own. “She had them specially made for us.”
“She hardly knows me,” I said as Brenda grabbed my wrist and clasped my gold bracelet onto it.
“Don’t question it. When my aunt gives you gifts, just smile and say thank you. Because she doesn’t take no for an answer.”
So I smiled and waved my wrist in the air happily. Amparo returned the smile, though hers looked more fake than mine. What the hell was her problem? I stared at her for a few seconds, my eyes narrowing into deadly slits. She returned the glare. Clearly, something about me pissed her off and I know there was something about her I never really liked.
“Did she say what she was doing here?” I asked, my dislike for her in the tone of my voice. I didn’t mean for it too sound so snarky but it happened.
Brenda ignored it. She knew how much I disliked her aunt. “She’s going out of town on business for a couple of days. She wants me to ride to the airport with her and see her off. I told her we had plans but she insisted. Is it ok if we do our homework together tomorrow?”
I sighed inwardly. Brenda and I have been spending a lot of time together. We were closer than ever now and seeing as it looked like Paco had himself a girlfriend, I was kind of screwed as far as companionship went. But there was no way I was going to tell her that. So I nodded my head. “Like you said, she doesn’t take no for an answer.”
Brenda half smiled. She leaned over and hugged me. “I knew you’d understand. I’ll see you tomorrow morning; I’ll be by bright and early.”
We separated then Brenda walked over to the limo. The driver put her bike in the trunk as Brenda slipped inside. Amparo turned me and gave me this look, one that was so sweet that it was fake. She gave me a strong assertive wave then slipped into the back behind Brenda as the driver closed the door.
What a bitch.
I was riding home by myself again. The worst part, not even Khaji seemed up to conversation. Apparently using the armor too much was too much even for her. I tried talking to her a few times but got only grumbles in response. So my seemingly invincible friend wasn’t so invincible after all. I guess that’s a good thing to know. It meant that Blue Beetle could only go into battle every couple of days and then recharge. I suppose that was all good if there was no one to fight but I’m not sure what’s going to happen if I walk into it. What happens when the fight comes looking for me. I know it hasn’t really happened yet---the encounter with Posse doesn’t count---but the more known I get, the more likely someone is going to come looking for the Blue Beetle. It was inevitable, it happened in the comics all the time too.
“You’re thinking too much, be quieter” mumbled Khaji, apparently she wasn’t as asleep as I thought she was.
“How long does it usually take for the armor to recharge?”
“Twelve hours at most. Maybe longer, depending on how long it was used for. It should be fully recharged by tomorrow morning.”
“Good to know.”
“Now stop thinking and let me rest.”
Sure, easy for her to say. As soon as someone tells you to stop thinking, that’s exactly what you do. Like in Ghostbusters, where they were supposed to clear their minds and of course Ray doesn’t. It’s really hard to stop doing something, especially when you’re told to specifically stop doing that one thing. How can anyone really stop thinking anyway? It’s kind of annoying to think about isn’t it?
The wind was picking up. I hunched over the front of my bike and tried to peddle faster. I was coming up on the alley, which was a sight for sore eyes. It was pretty warm this morning so I didn’t wear a jacket to school. But somewhere between then and now, about seven hours or so, the wind had picked up and the air was much colder. It wasn’t so bad walking but riding it was a killer. The wind howled around me, stinging my face and my bare arms. It was horrible. What made things worse was the fact that it was getting late. Ok, it wasn’t that late but my father was expecting me home. Remember how overprotective he got; well now his daughter has a curfew. I’m supposed to come straight home from school, do my homework and tell him if I have plans so I can go out with his permission. How messed up is that?
My mother has no say this week because she’s working strange hours and won’t be around much during my waking hours. So I was stuck with my father and his tyrannical rule. There was definitely a cure coming I just needed to figure out how to organize one. I wonder if Milagro would be up to the task of helping me tie my father to a chair and locking him in the downstairs closet. He was just as hard on her too, so I’m sure she’d be all for it. I guess it’s kind of ironic though. I used to tease her all the time about how overprotective Dad was with her and now Fate seemed to be very cruel indeed.
I put on the speed, as I got closer to the alley. I zipped into it, the wind whipping my shirt as I rode. When I came to the end of it, it looked like I was scot-free. Boy was I wrong. If Khaji had been awake, she probably could have warned me. But seeing as she wasn’t, I never saw him until it was too late. A large hand came lashing from around the corner, grabbing the back wheel of my bike. Going at the speed I was riding, I went right over the handlebars. I slid when I hit the ground, scraping up the flesh on my arms and tearing big holes in my new jeans. When I finally stopped sliding, I ended up in a pile of garbage.
My head was spinning and my whole body hurt. I pushed myself up with my hands, spitting dirt and muck from my mouth. Then I turned and saw what hit me.
My eyes seemed to bulge out of my head at the size of him. He was humongous, the biggest guy I’d ever seen. He was dressed in a hooded trench coat and was holding my bicycle high over his head by the back wheel. In one fluid motion, he slammed it down on the ground, crumpling it like tin foil. I groaned it was a good bike; I was going to miss it. He picked up the mangled hunk of metal and tossed it into the disused lot. Then he came for me. I slid back, finding myself quickly out of room as my back pressed against a wall.
“You have been bested, heathen of Satan” said the thing that I thought was a man. His voice was rough and gravelly. “Repent and welcome the Lord’s worship.”
Was this guy for real? “Khaji wake up, I need the armor.”
The man walked toward me. His huge mass loomed over me, blocking out the light. “Do you repent or do I have to smite you?”
I bit my lip. I closed my eyes, trying to summon the armor on my own. But as hard as I tried, there was nothing. Damn, looks like I’ll have to improvise. So instead of saying anything, I used the wall to push myself into a standing position. I was kind of wobbly, my back and legs sore from the impact with the ground. The thing walked toward me again, now only a few feet away. It smelled absolutely horrible, like rotting flesh.
The Thing started talking again. “I am the Bottom Feeder, I am the Instrument of God, I work for those who are Worthy to seek out the justice of the Lord.”
I smiled and nodded. Is this guy for real? And why was he telling me everything, it was like he was monologuing or something. Did he think he was a Bond villain?
“Can you tell me who was so worthy to seek your employ?”
I needed to get to the bottom of this crap and fast. It was clear that this thing was lying in wait for me. Which meant someone was trying to take me out. It also meant that someone figured out who was behind the Blue Beetle mask. That was never a good thing.
“My Patron is a Worthy and Just Lady. She has sought my aid to abolish the Blue Devil and send it back to Hell from whence it came.”
I groaned. You’ve got to be kidding me. I took a stab at it. “Your Patron, she wouldn’t happen to be La Dama would she?”
“She did not give her name but called herself a Champion of Justice.”
Justice my ass. I took a deep breath and slowly starting sliding down the wall, trying to get away from this thing. If I could slip back up the alley then I could run back to the school and maybe call the police. So that’s what I tried to do, keeping It distracted by nodding my head and smiling as big as I could. Everyone said I was pretty and now I’m hoping that it will be enough to fool this moron long enough to escape.
“I’m not the Blue Devil,” I said, trying to keep him preoccupied. “But she’s a friend of mine; she lives on the other side of town. If you hurry you might be able to catch her.”
Hey, it was worth a shot.
He turned and looked in the direction I pointed. I think he debated it for a few seconds then turned back to me. Even though the hood hid his face, I could tell he was pissed. He grumbled and reached out for me. “I tire of your games, Devil.”
His hands wrapped around my throat. I tried to resist but he was so strong. He lifted me off the ground. He squeezed down on my windpipe, cutting off the oxygen. The world started to go black and blotchy, fuzzing in and out. I vaguely saw a shape appear behind him, it was a guy with black skin. I heard a shout and someone running toward us but it was all a blur. The thing let me go. I fell on my knees gasping for breath. I rubbed my throat and then took a foot to the head.
I blacked out after that.
“Josie, are you still with me?”
The voice woke me up. When I opened my eyes and looked around, at first I saw only darkness. I panicked, not sure where I was or what happened. I snapped up, throwing off an itchy blanket and nearly banging my head on something hanging too low over it. It took me a few seconds to calm down but my heart was still hammering in my chest like a drum. My eyes adjusted to the darkness quick enough. I was lying on a cot; the thing over my head was actually a low hanging wooden shelf. It was kind of bad place for a shelf or maybe a bad one for a bed. I groaned and rubbed the back of my neck. Everything ached, from the bottom of my feet to the tip of my nose. I couldn’t remember the last time I hurt so much.
There was a sigh. “I was worried for a second,” said Khaji, definite relief in her voice. “That thing nearly choked the life out of you.”
I gasped, reaching for my neck. It was still really sore and probably red. I could still feel his hand wrapped around it though, trying desperately to kill me. “What happened?” I croaked, my throat dry and scratchy.
“I’m not sure of all the details but it seems you were attacked. I blame myself. If I hadn’t been resting and had been on full alert, I could have warned you.”
I shook my head; a numb pain throbbed through the back of it. I groaned. It felt like someone hit me in the head with a bat. I rubbed it but it didn’t help much. “It's not your fault, Khaji, it’s mine. I shouldn’t have used the armor so much.”
“It is almost fully charged now. I won’t let anyone get the drop on you like that again.”
I nodded. I slid to the end of the cot, avoiding the shelf. I squinted in the dark, trying to make sense of my surroundings. I saw vague shapes, they looked like stacked boxes. The air was stale and kind of moldy and it was cold. I shivered, grabbed the blanket and pulled it around my half-naked form. Someone took the time to undress me, leaving me in nothing but bra and panties. I could only guess where my clothes were now. Waking up in a strange place, with no clothes and lots of aches is something I don’t recommend. Especially after you’ve just survived a vicious attack on your life.
“How did I get here?”
“I’m not really sure. I came to shortly after that bastard was done choking you. I tried calling out to you but you were already fading. When you blacked out, it was lights out for me too. I could vaguely hear what was going on but I couldn’t see anything. There was a fight though and a few minutes later, someone picked you up and carried you here. You’ve been unconscious for hours, I was afraid you weren’t going to wake.”
I remembered the thing, the one who called himself Bottom Feeder. He was choking me to death and then something happened. I think someone interfered. I can vaguely recall shapes of people but then I blacked out. Maybe they brought me here. I closed my eyes and when I reopened them, the whole room was aglow in blue. Now I could see everything clearly. I was right about the boxes. They were large and wooden, stacked from floor to ceiling. There were a lot of them but on most of them the labels were too faded to read. They looked old, though. I looked around the rest of the room. Everything was covered in dust and things smelled like a basement.
I slipped off the cot, wrapping the blanket around me. There was a narrow looking door directly in front of me. I shuffled toward it, the floor cold on my bare feet. When I got to the door and tried the handle, I found it locked. I tried twisting the handle off but I didn’t have the strength for it. So instead, I banged on it a few times and waited. It didn’t take long for someone to respond. I heard a shuffle and them some running. I stepped back as whoever it was unlocked the door from the outside. When it opened, dim light flooded into the room. I had to step back further and shield my eyes.
“You’re awake finally,” said a voice, vaguely familiar. “We thought we were going to have to dump you in front of the hospital.”
I lowered the hand shielding my eyes and saw a familiar face. It was the girl in black, the one who’d been dogging me for days. “You, what the hell am I doing here?”
“The name’s Probe and you shouldn’t be so nasty to the one who saved your life.”
“You saved my life, why?”
She ignored my question. “You’re lucky I was walking by when I did. I sensed that freak hiding, lying in wait for you. So I ran and got the others. We were a little slow in coming but we got there just in time, I think. You should be grateful; we could have left you to die. Especially after you tore up Scour and Thumper like that.”
I groaned. So Posse saved me. “Why would you save me?”
She ignored me again. “I’ll get you some clothes.”
I groaned. I hated it when people dodged my questions. Probe left and I wandered back into the room, sitting on the cot once again. Probe returned a minute or two later with a pile of clothes in her hands. She walked silently inside and navigated the dark like it was second nature to her. She handed me the clothes them dragged over a nearby box, sitting on it. I looked at the assortment in my hands and groaned. There was no way I was wearing these things.
“I’m sorry about them but we don’t have a huge selection. Most of them are mine but I had to give you a pair of Bonita’s shoes. I’ll turn around so you can get dressed then I need to take you to Damper. He’s got some questions.”
She turned around and I slipped off the blanket. I got to my feet and rifled through the clothes. I wouldn’t be needing the bra and panties so I set those aside. I first thing I held up was a tattered black skirt; it was way too short for my liking. But I slipped it on. Next came a pair of stockings, they were clear with little spiders and webs all over them. Both were clearly from Probe and her gothy wardrobe. I had some problems putting on the stockings, but I managed. When I finally got to the shirt, I groaned. It was bright pink with Princess stenciled across it in sparkling gold letters. I really didn’t want to wear that, but I slowly pulled it over my head. When I got to the shoes, I noticed they were white sandals. I put them without a problem and gave the hem of the skirt a little tug.
“What happened to my clothes?” I asked as Probe turned around.
“They’re trashed. They were covered in mud and crap, trust me, you don’t want them back.”
I nodded and Khaji spoke, annoyed “I could have created clothes for you.”
“I don’t want them to know the extent of your abilities. So you’re going to lie low for now.”
“This one knows I’m here, she’s got a prying eye.”
I looked at Probe and she was doing that creepy staring thing again. It was made even creepier by her sunglasses. Did she ever take them off?
“You ready to go?” I nodded. “Follow me.”
She got off the box and walked through the dark room without a problem again. Could she see in the dark? I followed close behind. After leaving the room, I found myself in a much larger one. I looked up; the ceiling had to be close to fifty feet above my head. It was made up of segmented glass panes, all of them filthy, so little light got through. Looking around the rest of the place, I saw it was stacked with piles of boxes just like “my” room. Probe weaved through the boxes, which were arranged so it was like walking through a maze. I followed close at her heels, not wanting to take a wrong turn and get lost. There were a lot of twists and turns but she seemed to know them all. Clearly, someone took a long time arranging the boxes like this. It was kind of cool but it didn’t seem to serve any other purpose than to annoy.
Finally, we got through them. This new area was open, devoid of the boxes. There was weight equipment in one corner, a long table and several mismatched chairs in the center. There was an old TV with rabbit ears and a mini-fridge. Both of them were connected to a purring generator. At first, I was a bit confused until I realized what this place was: Posse headquarters. This place was notorious because every law enforcement officer in the city was looking for it. I rubbed my eyes and coughed, it was in serious need of a cleaning. I looked along the far wall where several cots were set up; only a few looked like they had been used recently.
“So the Slumbering Hero finally awakens,” said a voice from above, the sound of it echoing through the large room.
I looked up and saw a metal staircase leading to an upper office. This place was clearly an abandoned factory, completely gutted. The room up top, the one where Damper was coming out, must have been the foreman’s office. He was standing on a metal catwalk, leaning against the rail. He was dressed like before but looked a little more haggard. He was definitely a man with a lot on his mind.
“I thought I told you people to leave me alone” I snapped, annoyed that they’d kidnap me.
He smirked. “Is that anyway to thank your rescuers?”
I wasn’t going to let this jerk get the better of me. “I would have figured some way out of it.”
He laughed. “Still spunky I see” He walked away from the rail and made his way down the stairs. There was a slight limp to his walk that wasn’t there before.
“You’re lucky that we came along when we did, that monstrosity would have killed you, no doubt.”
I shrugged. “I would have survived.”
You needed to act tough around these gangbanger types. If you didn’t then they’d eat you up and spityou back out. Damper was definitely the type of guy who could do that and more. I looked around the room and noticed we weren’t alone anymore. The other two were there as well. They looked a little worse than the last I saw them. The fat one, Scour, had his arm in a sling and the other one, Thumper, looked like someone had punched him in the face one too many times. Both of them were slipping out of the shadows, Thumper had a metal bat in his hand. Clearly, he remembered the thrashing I gave the two of them before.
“Thinking about round two?” I asked, pointing to the bat.
“You name the time and the place, chica.”
Damper didn’t look impressed. “Thumper, drop the bat. We’ve got a mutual understanding now, isn’t that right, Blue Beetle?”
“I know the score,” I said, casting a glance around the room. “You do something for me and I’m supposed to do something for you. Isn’t that how this works?”
Damper smiled. “Straight to the point, I like this chica.” The other two guys laughed, Probe stared at me blankly. Damper sighed. “We have a slight problem that we think you might be able to help us with.”
I nodded. “I’m listening.”
“As you might have noticed, we’re not exactly a thriving gang at the moment.” He sighed, running his fingers through his hair. “There used to be seven of us. Two were taken a couple of weeks ago and the other abandoned us for greener pastures. We’ve been on the defensive ever since. That’s why we confronted you in the alley; we thought you might know where our comrades were.”
“I have no interest in Meta gangbangers unless they start shit with me.”
He nodded. “We know that now. We also know that you pissed off someone worse than us, someone who we believe might actually be the culprit behind our missing friends.”
I took a deep breath. “You mean La Dama?”
The others murmured. But Damper only smiled. “Those guys you busted up outside the diner belonged to her. She used to be a hardened criminal mastermind but lately she’s been branching out. Now she’s got a beef with us, she thinks that if she shakes down our friends and families that one of them will turn and tell her where to find us. She thinks she’s a great metahuman exterminator or something.”
“You think she took your friends?”
“We don’t think, we know.” He sighed and walked over to the table, sitting in one of the chairs. I followed and took a seat across from him. “That thing who tried to bash you, it’s called the Bottom Feeder. He’s some kind of twisted Meta that she recruited from down south or something. She’s got him convinced he’s doing God’s work by rounding up all the unworthy filth and bringing them to her. He’s been after us for weeks. So far, we’ve been able to fight him off but he’s a lot stronger than you think. We barely escaped him this time and we were dragging your sorry ass with us too.”
“What does she want Metas for?”
Damper shrugged. “Who the fuck knows. The word on the street is that she’s got some place in the desert; they call it Warehouse 13. She’s got a lot of our kind locked up there, doing some messed up experiments on them or some shit.”
I could see where this was going. I’m not sure if I liked it or not. I suppose it was wrong for her to be doing these things but these were bangers after all. “You want me to help you get them back, don’t you?”
Damper smiled real big. “The way I figure it, we saved your life and now you owe us a favor. Isn’t that how it works?”
I sighed. So they did want me to help them. “Why would I want to help put a bunch of gang bangers back on the streets?”
Thumper scoffed. “See, I told you this bitch wouldn’t help us.”
I clenched my fists. He was the second one to call me the B word, he was lucky that my armor was still recharging.
Probe spoke for the first time during this conversation. “Damper, just tell her.”
Damper rubbed his temples and in a soft voice, he told me what Probe wanted him to tell me. “It's like this, Bonita, she's my girl that they took. And well…the thing is…”
Probe groaned. “She’s carrying his child.”
Khaji spoke up. “There is no way I’m going to sit by and let you endanger the welfare of an innocent babe, even if it’s not born yet.”
“I wasn’t going too, I’m not a monster.”
I took a deep breath and opened my mouth to tell them I was going to help but I never got the chance. There was a loud crash from above. We all snapped up and looked as several black clad guys on repelling ropes slid down from the ceiling. Probe screamed and Damper backpedaled as the first one landed right in the middle of the table. He took us by surprise. He raised his gun, bringing it toward Damper’s face and Thumper was there, swinging the bat as hard as he could. The metal connected with the man’s face mask, sending him flying. He was still attached to the rope so he spun around the rope like a fish on a hook. He crashed into a pair of his friends and the three of them got tangled up together.
The other rapellers dropped into the room.
There was instant panic. Scour charged forward, flinging acid spit at two of them as they unhooked their harnesses. Damper grabbed Probe’s wrist and made a mad dash for the stairs leading up to the little office. But one of the guys moved to intercept. Damper vanished into thin air, leaving Probe standing there with a dumbfounded look on her face. I was frozen in place, unable to move as more men poured into the place. Some came from the ceiling while others came in through doors. They were quickly filling the place up, cutting off all the exits.
A hand grabbed my shoulder, spinning me around. It was Thumper, the end of his bat covered in blood. “Now would be a good time for your superhero thing.”
No kidding. “Khaji, how close are we?”
She sighed. “The armor is only charged up to fifty percent. If you summoned it, you’d have some capabilities but you’d never be able to block their bullets.”
As soon as she said this, one of the men fired. But it wasn’t bullets that came out of his gun; it was some kind of dart. He fired more, each faster than the other. I turned and saw his target: Scour. The big man ripped a couple of the darts from his chest, only to have more hit him in the back. He screamed and fell to his knees. Several more darts hit him; coming from all sides as five back clad commandos converged on him. He went down on his stomach and they kept firing. Scour convulsed on the ground then stopped moving altogether. I scanned him, with blue vision; thankfully, he was still alive, just heavily sedated.
“You need to get Probe,” said a voice to my left.
I snapped around and saw no one. I realized who it was. “You’re the one who abandoned her a moment ago, you get her.”
Damper growled. “I can only make myself invisible,” he said as if explaining. “Look you need to get her and get her out of here. She’s the only one who can find the others.”
I sighed. I looked around the room, through the chaos as darts flew this way and that. Probe ran into the maze of boxes, three guys ran after her. I turned to where I thought Damper was. “When I help you guys, we’re over. Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal” he said and then groaned.
There was a dart hanging in mid-air. Slowly Damper materialized in front of me, a dart sticking in his shoulder. He smiled weakly at me and then fell forward. Two guys came toward us, guns raised. One fired at me. I raised my hand in defense and the armor appeared around my forearm. The dart bounced harmlessly away. Then I snapped my wrist, firing a blue ball of energy at him. It him full on in the chest, sending him crashing into a stack of boxes. I used that confusion to take off after Probe. I ran into the maze of boxes, dodging a few darts as they whizzed over my head. I closed my eyes for a second, trying to remember the path that the two of us took.
When I opened my eyes again, the boxes were glowing in a strange reddish hue.
“What is this?”
“Infrared” said Khaji “we should be able to find your friend now.”
“Is there anything you can’t do?”
“I’m a lousy singer.”
I smirked as I moved through the maze, using my new red vision to search for Probe. I didn’t find her but I found another red signature. He was tall and moving fast. It was one of the commandos, probably the last one to go in after her. I moved quick, transforming the armor boots on my feet to make me go faster. Apparently, I couldn’t form the whole armor at the moment but pieces were better than anything. I found the guy and took him from behind. My blue energy ball took him totally off guard, sending him flying forward into one of the box stacks. It wavered and toppled. There was a loud crash and a domino effect that I wasn’t counting on. Soon, stack by stack, they were toppling over, each one falling into the next one.
A few seconds after the initial one went over: I heard another groan. Apparently, I got one of the other bastards. Which left only one?
A scream told me where he was.
I took off running, the red vision leading the way. I spotted him not too long afterwards, standing amongst the shattered ruins of a pile of wood. At his feet was another red blob, slowly crawling away from him, it was Probe. He raised his gun to shoot her with a dart but I was faster. I formed one of my blades and ran at him. I put it through his shoulder, he screamed in pain. Hey, I’m no killer. I spun him around and slammed my armored forearm into his face, sending him pedaling backwards. He toppled into one of the still standing stacks, the heavy boxes falling on him.
Probe looked up at me, panting. I bent and pulled her to her feet.
“We have to get the others,” she said, taking ragged breaths.
I shook my head. “They have the others. Damper told me to get you out of here.”
She nodded. “C’mon, there’s a back way out of this.”
She grabbed my wrist and the two of us navigated the rest of the maze. We ended up back at the door leading to the room I woke up in. Instead of going inside, Probe took me over to a box resting against the wall nearby. She pushed all her weight into the box, slowly moving it aside. On the other side of it was a small wooden door that she tugged open. Through it, I saw light and what looked like an alley.
“You first” I said, pushing her through.
Then I turned and fired a couple energy balls at the rest of the maze, collapsing it behind us. Satisfied that our backside was blocked, I slipped through the hole.
“What’s the matter?” she asked as the two of us stood outside my house.
It’s come to my attention that I’ve described the inside of my house and never the outside. That’s not the reason I’m standing in front of it like an idiot just now, I’ll get to that in a moment. My house is a yellow, two stories; I’m not sure what they call it. There’s a little faded fence out front and a garden completely overgrown with weeds. My mother used to be a good gardener but that was back in El Paso. My parents bought this house in hopes she could pick up the hobby again but she’s been so busy with work that she barely finds the time. Can you see my father out there toiling in the dirt; I don’t think so.
But that wasn’t I was standing outside it like a moron. The reason I was standing out here was because of the lights. Usually at this hour---ten at night---all the lights in the house were on. Even the ones that shouldn’t be on. Now as I stood there and stared, every single one of them was off. It wasn’t the only strange thing either. My father’s truck was in the driveway. He should have been at the Queen’s by now. I should have been home too. Both my parents were working late and tonight was my night to watch Milagro. Mrs. Cruz was busy and I was supposed to be home before six so my father didn’t leave Milagro by herself.
“Are we going inside?” asked Probe, dancing on the balls of her feet, looking left and right up the street.
After escaping the old factory, the two of us ran like hell. We thought we were in the clear but the bastards gave chase. They chased us for two straight blocks, keeping good pace too. We finally managed to lose them when we ran into a police officer. He stopped us dead in our tracks and scolded us, telling us the finer points of pedestrian law. The goons slowed down and disappeared as soon as they saw him. We talked to the police officer for a few minutes and then took off at a brisk pace until we were around the corner then started running again.
“C’mon, let’s go through the side door.”
I led her up the driveway. I touched the hood of my father’s trunk, trying to see if it had driven recently. But it was cold to the touch. There was something wrong. My Dad mentioned something about running errands before work today. The hood should have still been slightly warm. I bit my lip and continued along the side of the house. I didn’t have my key for the door because it was in my backpack---something that got left at the factory. But it didn’t matter because I grabbed the door and turned the handle. It opened without a problem. Now I knew something was wrong. My father locked the doors even if there was someone in the house.
We entered the kitchen. My father’s paper was sitting on the table and my sister’s backpack was on the floor, its contents spilled all over. It wasn’t the only thing off. There was a cup of coffee sitting next to my father’s paper and my sister’s chair---the one she sat in for all meals---was lying on its side. I panicked and rushed into the living room. Probe followed at my heels. The living room was a mess. The couch pillows were on the floor, the TV was lying on its side, all the books were thrown off the bookshelves.
“Looks like there was a struggle” said Probe, looking around the room carefully.
My body seized up. I stumbled over to the couch, dropping to my knees in front of it. There was a crunch under my left knee. I lifted my leg up and found a familiar item. It was a glass dart, like the ones, those bastards were firing at us in the factory. I picked it up and groaned. It all made sense now; I knew where my family was. Panic took over. I couldn’t breathe; I started gasping for air. I struggled to my feet and back into the kitchen. Probe ran after me. She caught up with me at the sink and slapped me in the face. I sucked in a big breath of air and fell to my knees again; she lifted me back to my feet.
She slapped me again. “You need to pull yourself together. We can’t help them if you fall apart like this.”
“She’s right,” said Khaji “I’ve done some preliminary scans. It looks like this struggle took place shortly after your sister got home from school. They already got your father and it looks like they were lying in wait for her.”
“What about Mom?”
I didn’t wait for her to respond. I ran over to the phone and picked up the handset. As soon as I did so I saw we had a couple of messages on the machine. I pushed the button:
MESSAGE ONE: “I hate to bother you but this is Maria Tejas, Paco’s mother, I was wondering if he’s there with Josie. He didn’t come home from school today and I was worried.”
MESSAGE TWO: “This is Maria again. If Paco’s there, do you think you can have him call me? It’s getting late and it not like him to not call at least.”
I groaned. The bastards got Paco too, it was the only explanation. There was no way he’d stay out and worry his mother like that. At least I knew Brenda was safe, or I hoped she was.
MESSAGE THREE: “Hey, Reyes.” It was my mother’s supervisor. “Your lunch break was over hours ago, where the hell did you go. If you’re not here in ten minutes, I’m docking you a full week’s pay.”
They got Mom too. I felt the vomit rise up my throat but I forced it back down. Probe put a hand on my shoulder and I cried. I cried for a while, unable to handle any of it. Why the hell did she go after my family? It was one thing to try and get me but my family, what was she trying to accomplish. It didn’t make any sense. I squeezed the handset and let it gently fall to the floor.
When I finished crying, Probe turned me to face her. “I need you to be strong for me. I can’t do this on my own.” I nodded, the hot tears rolling down my cheeks still. She smiled. “We can’t stay here. This place is compromised. We have to move on. Is there any other place we can go?”
There were a few places but I didn’t want to put anyone else in danger. I shook my head. Then I thought of something. “I’ve got some money upstairs; maybe we can hide out in a motel or something.”
“It’s a start.”
I led her up the stairs and into my room. It seemed to be the only place that wasn’t ransacked, not that I looked in Milagro’s or my parents’ room. “You can sit on the bed.”
She sat on the corner while I opened the closet and tore through it. I found an old gym bag of mine and dumped out the crap inside onto the floor. Then I went to my drawers, pulling them open and throwing clothes into the bag. Probe sat and watched, probably thinking I was some kind of frantic lunatic but I didn’t care. In the top drawer, while getting my underwear, I found my stash. When I first got here, I was strapped for cash, so my father suggested I go door to door and see if the neighbors needed any yard work done. He said not only would it give me some spending it might help me to get to know them better. The first month here, I made about a hundred bucks.
I pulled the empty peanut container from the back of the drawer and popped the top. There was close to five hundred bucks in there. It was what I called “Get Jaime a Car Fund”. I pulled everything out and stuffed it in my bag.
“This doesn’t look like a girl’s room,” said Probe, looking around.
I scoffed. “I’m in the process of redecorating.”
She stared at the wall for a few seconds then at me. “Were you a boy before, too?”
That caught me off guard. I dropped the bag and turned to her. I really looked at her. I knew she was a Meta but there was just no way…she looked so much like a girl it was impossible to think she was anything else. “I…ummm….”
“It’s ok,” she said with a laugh. “I thought it was kind of cool when I started to get my powers but then bam, one minute I was a guy and the next I’m shaking my legs and pits every morning.”
I nodded. “Are you the only one of the Posse who…?”
She shook her head. “Most of them, I think. We don’t really talk about it. All of us are runaways or cast outs. Damper is the oldest, about twenty-five. He found us and brought us altogether. He found the factory, too, and he made the plans. He told us we were going to be a gang and that we were a family.”
She sniffled. This time it was my turn to comfort her. I put my hand on her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “We’ll get them back and then we’ll make everyone connected to La Dama pay for it.”
She nodded. “First we have to find them.”
I picked up my bag and zipped it shut. “We will.”
I walked over and gave her a hug. She sniffled some more on my shoulder but she didn’t cry. She was definitely more put together than I was. We were both in the same boat, both our families were taken now, and yet she was acting so tough.
We pulled away. “C’mon, let’s get out of here.”
I pointed to the door and the two of us started for it. We were almost out it when Probe paused, her whole body tensing in the doorway. I felt it too; I’m not sure what it was. My body tensed too, and the red vision came back. I saw them, there was only about six or so, but they had all the exits covered. I cursed and bit my lip. Then I looked at my hands, willing the armor to appear. It did but not fully. Like the factory, the armor only went as far as my elbows. So clearly, it wasn’t fully charged yet. I clenched my fists and handed her the duffel.
“This is going to get rough,” I said as I slipped past her and started down the hall.
I was at the top of the stairs when they kicked the front door down. Two guys poured into the living room. I fired off two blue energy balls. The first one missed its target and whizzed out the door past his head. The second hit the other guy in the chest, knocking him to the floor. I fired at the first guy again but the ball went astray a second time. He rolled to the left then snapped up on the other side of the couch. He aimed with a laser pointer and fired at my head. I snapped up my arm quickly blocking the shot.
There was a sound behind me. I snapped around and saw a guy coming out of Milagro’s bedroom. He raised his gun to fire but I got him first. My energy ball hit him in the face, throwing him to the ground.
There was a loud screech of tires outside. Then I heard doors slammed.
“We have more company” said Khaji “and a helicopter on the way.”
Two more guys came through the door. Probe screamed. I fired off a couple more energy balls but I missed. I cursed as they fired. I blocked one dart but the other nearly hit my cheek. I fell back, dragging Probe with me. A couple more guys surged into the house, clambering over their fallen comrades. I dragged Probe back into my room and threw her inside. Then I slammed the door shut. I snapped back around to the stairs and saw three guys coming up it. I raised by my hands to fire when I heard it. There was a slight whistling sound in the air. It was so quick. Then one of the guys screamed and fell forward. His face hit the top step and he slid down the stairs. Before he did, I saw a glint of green.
There was another whistling sound and another glint of green. One more guy screamed and fell to the ground. A third whistling sounded and something whizzed past my ear. I snapped around and saw a guy standing behind me, something long and green sticking in his shoulder. He screamed too and stumbled backwards, falling into the bathroom. I snapped back forward, raising my hands to ready myself for this new assault. But there were no more green glints or whistling sounds. Instead there was a figure standing framed in the front door. The figure was shrouded in shadow but it was wearing a hood and there was something long and curved in their hand.
“What in the hell?”
The figure stepped into the room, my mouth dropped open. There was no doubt about it now; it was the Green Arrow. She stepped over the fallen goons and walked to the foot of the stairs, nocking an arrow as she did so. All I could do was stare. She was everything the papers said and more. She had this presence about her. She stood there at the bottom of the stairs and looked up at me with this air of superiority. I wanted to jump down the steps and ask her for her autograph. Instead, I stood transfixed. She looked down at one of the guys, moaning and twitching on the ground.
She grabbed the fletch of her arrow and twisted it. The man screamed out in pain. She bent down so her face was inches from his. “Your boss” she said, her voice cold and without emotion. “Where the hell is she?”
The guy said nothing. The Green Arrow twisted the arrow some more and the guy screamed louder in pain.
“We can’t linger here,” said Khaji, worry in her voice. “The helicopter is getting closer.”
I took a deep breath. Did I want to interrupt this interrogation? The Green Arrow was a pretty serious chick. Very bad ass, I’m not sure if I wanted to get in the way of that. But at the same time, she was as much at risk as I was. So I took another deep breath and cleared my throat. She turned and seemed to notice me for the first time. Most of her face was hidden under her large green hood but I could see she was wearing a black mask over her eyes and that she was blonde. There was a strand of her hair dangling down.
“We can’t stay here,” I said softly. “There’s a helicopter on the way.”
Her eyes narrowed but she nodded. She let go of the arrow and slammed the guy’s head into the step, knocking him unconscious. “We weren’t going to get anything out of him anyway.”
I smiled weakly at her. I was about to ask her the question that had been plaguing me for the last for seconds but didn’t get a chance because Probe peeked her head out of my bedroom. She looked first at me and then got a good look at the Green Arrow. She stared at her for some time and didn’t say anything. Instead, she slipped out of my room and handed me my gym bag. I hefted it onto my shoulder and felt Probe’s fingers entangle with my own. She gave my hand a gentle squeeze and then I remembered. Posse was afraid of the Green Arrow. She was cracking down on them, trying to roust them out of hiding. Then she disappeared and they partied. Now that she was back…
There was a commotion downstairs, drawing my attention back to the moment. Apparently, there were more goons. One of them came running around the corner, trying to make his way up the stairs. Green Arrow dropped him with a well-placed arrow. He never saw it coming. He gurgled a bit on the floor and then fell silent. The shot didn’t kill him but it was enough to knock him out cold. I scanned his body with my blue vision. The arrow was sticking in his collarbone. It was enough to take him down but not enough to kill him. I think I read that in the paper. The Green Arrow never shot to kill. She could do a lot of damage but a killer she didn’t.
“He’s just a straggler,” she said, nocking another arrow. “But we can’t be too careful.” She walked down the stairs, stopped at the bottom and looked up at us. “You guys coming or not. These guys always have back up, more will come.”
Still holding Probe’s hand, the two of us stepped around the bastards on the stairs. Once at the bottom, Green Arrow went out the front door first. She covered it for a few seconds then waved us on. There were two black SUV’s on my front lawn; both had their doors wide open. Lying in front of one were four downed goons, all of them with arrows sticking out of awkward places. None of them were dead but they definitely would be in a lot of pain when they woke up. We wove through the two vehicles to the street. What I saw there was both gorgeous and beautiful. It was also very, very familiar. I paused when I stared at the green Viper, staring fish mouthed at it. There was no way it could be the same car; it wasn’t possible. But then again, how many green Vipers were there. The Green Arrow noticed me looking as she opened the driver’s side door. As she beckoned us forward, we heard two alarming noises. The first was the distant thump of helicopters blades and the other was the annoying wail of police sirens. The question was which one was going to get to us first.
I dragged Probe toward the car, not wishing to find out.
“I don’t have a backseat so you’re going to have to share,” she said as she slipped into her seat and closed the door.
I climbed into the passenger seat and Probe got on my lap. The seatbelt barely went around the two of us but we managed. I closed the door, she revived the engine and the super sleek sports car took off. It was like a dream come true. I would have enjoyed it ten times more if not for the situation. I was racing away from my house, which was overrun by guys trying to kill me and they had my parents. There was nothing exciting about that at all. Not even meeting one of my idols was as cool as I thought it was going to be. All be it we are in kind of situation where hero worship can wait for later. But what couldn’t wait were my questions and I had a lot of them.
“How in the hell did you know those guys were going to be there tonight?” I asked as we whipped around the corner going about sixty five.
“I didn’t,” she said as we sped through a red light. Luckily, there was no traffic. “Call it a hunch.”
I shook my head. “You’re going to have to give me more than that.”
She sighed and nodded. She took a hand off the wheel and used it to pull off her hood. It dropped around her shoulders and I was right, she was blonde. But there was more to it than that. She was a familiar blonde, a very familiar blonde. It was the long braided ponytail that gave her away, it was the Queen Twist after all. My eyes bulged out of my head. My idol and my former crush were one in the same. How nuts was that? But it didn’t make any sense. Why in the world would Olivia Queen be running around moonlighting as the Green Arrow?
“Save your questions for later,” she said, cutting me off. “I figure you and I have something in common, or am I wrong, Jaime?”
“How did you know…?”
She smiled. “Jaime Reyes disappears and his cousin Josie, who looks a little like him, just happens to show up at the same time. Not only that, your father asked me to use my private room at the Spritz. He kind of fouled up and said it was for him and his daughter. I thought it was kind of cute that he’d take your sister to a fancy place until I saw you on the security cameras.”
“You spy on the restaurant?”
She laughed. “I own the restaurant. I monitor the feeds in all my places now. I can’t take any more chances.”
I nodded. She was talking about her grandfather of course. It all made perfect sense now. There was an internet rumor that old man Queen didn’t die from a heart attack. Some conspiracy theorists thought he was killed by a gifted archer named Merlyn. The night of Mr. Queen’s death, there was an apparent suicide nearby. An unidentified man jumped from the roof of Queen Towers. A lot of the geeks out there were convinced it was Merlyn and that Green Arrow did him in. Someone had pictures of a couple of black arrows that were supposed found around the guy’s body. The pics didn’t stay up for very long but they fueled a lot of rumors. I thought it was a load of crap because I knew Mr. Queen; I went to his funeral in fact. Now that I knew Olivia was the Green Arrow, it was very possible indeed.
“The first chance we get we have to leave her.” Khaji sounded agitated by something. “She bears their ring on her finger.”
“What are you talking about?”
I looked at Olivia’s hand. Sure enough, there was a ring on her finger; it was green with a little hourglass or something on it. It was kind of cool looking actually.
“That is the mark of the Lantern,” said Khaji with venom in her voice. “They are not to be trusted.”
I rolled my eyes and ignored her. We drove on in relative silence. Thankfully, the goons didn’t give chase so we were in the clear for now. Olivia stopped speeding when we got into the city proper. It was strange but I was certain her green car would stand out but as soon as we pulled into traffic, it kind of blended in. Of course, there were no other green cars on the road but it didn’t look out of place. What bothered me though was the fact that people could see us. Olivia had her hood down so people would definitely recognize her. Then I noticed the windows, they were slightly tinted. Were they always that way? I’ve waxed this car about a hundred times and never noticed the windows before.
“What” snapped Olivia, out of the blue? “You can’t be serious?”
I looked around. Who the hell was she talking too? Then I noticed it, there was something in her ear. Did she have a partner?
“Ok, I’ll ask her” She cleared her throat. “Josie, has any one given you anything new lately?”
I was about to shake my head no but then I remembered. I looked down at the gold bracelet on my wrist. It was a gift from Amparo; she gave one to Brenda too.
I held up my wrist. “My friend’s aunt gave us these bracelets today. Why?”
Olivia pushed the power window button, the window next to me rolled down. “Take it off and toss it out the window.”
I snapped my hand over my wrist. Brenda would be so pissed if I did something like that. “Not on your life.”
Olivia groaned. Whatever she was about to say was lost as someone whipped in front of us. Olivia swerved to avoid them, nearly spinning out. Probe shifted on my lap, digging her elbows into my side. She mouthed sorry as the power window rolled back up. I looked ahead. There was a black SUV driving erratically in front of us. At first, I thought it was some nut until I looked into the rear view mirror. There were two more black SUV’s speeding toward us from behind. Son of a bitch. How were these people still finding us? I looked at my wrist and shook my head. There’s no way.
“Your friend is right,” said Khaji with a sigh. “I should have detected it sooner but my scanners were offline at the time. But the signal is very clear now. There’s a tracking device in that new bauble of yours.”
I groaned. That meant…no that wasn’t possible. “Should I toss it?”
“Not here” said Khaji “throwing it out now will tip them off that we know it’s there. They might do something to harm your family. We can dump it as soon as we shake them.”
There was a jarring thump from behind. Our car veered forward but Olivia kept it under control. They were trying to pin us in and force us off the road. I took a deep breath; I had to do something. I looked at the buttons for the various car functions, trying to see if there was anything new. This was the Green Arrow’s car after all; maybe she tricked it out. But there was nothing that looked out of the ordinary, which meant it was all up to me.
“How’s the armor?”
“Seventy five percent” said Khaji and then she groaned. “You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking.”
“You’re the one in my head, you tell me?”
“Even if you use it, its not going to be for long. You should really wait until we’re at maximum.”
“I don’t need long. Just enough time to shake these bastards.”
She groaned. I closed my eyes and felt the telltale tingle of the armor activating. Probe noticed it to and kind of jumped up a little which was quite a feat seeing how much room the two of us had. “What are you doing?” she gasped as the blue and black slowly crept up my arms and legs.
“Pull into that side street and let me out” I said, pointing to the left.
Olivia veered the car that way, cutting off a Sedan that tried to pass recklessly past our high-speed chase. She completely threw off our pursuers and they went flying by. But I knew that wouldn’t be the case for long. They’d do something reckless too and come back for us. I took a deep breath; I had to stop this now.
Olivia stopped the car and looked at me. “Are you sure about this?”
I nodded as the armor finished forming around my body. “I’ll draw them away and dump my bracelet. Where do you want to meet up?”
She smiled. “At Queen Tower.”
I nodded as I opened the door. Probe crawled off my lap, glad to be off it I think. I gave her a gentle hug then walked a few feet into the street. There were a couple of onlookers, staring in amazement. I saluted my friends as Probe got back into the car and shut the door. I waited until Olivia revved the engine and peeled away. Then I activated my wings and took to the air.
I flew high enough to see the whole street and beyond. The city was pretty cool from this high up, I could see as far as the bay even. The bridge was never looked better. I smiled, one of these days I’d definitely have to take a drive over it. I turned away because I had more important things to attend too. I scanned the road, looking for the green “Arrow Car”, nice huh; I just made that up myself. I found the car easily enough. Olivia was speeding again, all three SUVS in hot pursuit. They weren’t alone anymore though. There were a couple of police cruisers following the action now, their sirens so loud I could hear them from my height.
I sighed; this was getting more dangerous by the minute. I have to stop it. I zipped back down toward the city. I had a goal in mind. It was somewhat reckless but then again everything this day was a little reckless. I just needed to buy Olivia enough time to get away. They were after me and Probe after all. Now I suppose she was a target too. I was still geeking out over that. The Green Arrow was Olivia Queen and she was so freaking badass. When I saw her standing there, I could have jumped for joy. I’m glad I kind of kept my cool, freaking out would not have been good for that situation. Even now, I was doing everything I could to keep my excitement down.
“What are you planning to do?”
I smirked. “I’m going to stop a high speed chase of course.”
I zeroed in on the lead SUV. It was practically on the Viper’s bumper now. I zipped toward, moving faster than I thought possible. I felt like a fighter jet. I pulled up alongside it and tapped on the window. The shocked driver turned and looked at me. I tapped again but he gunned the engine. I rolled my eyes and matched his speed. If he doesn’t want to play by the rules. I took a deep breath and slammed my fist into the glass, shattering it. The driver screamed and swerved. He nicked the bumper of the Viper and swerved but he regained control quickly.
“PULL OVER NOW!”
“Screw you, bitch!”
He pulled a gun and squeezed off a shot, luckily he missed. With my armor still not fully charged, I’m not sure if the bullet would have bounced off. What’s with the B word? Angrily I reached through the window and took a hold of the wheel. I gave it a quick yank. I meant to turn the car, causing it to swerve into the divider. But I yanked too hard and pulled the whole steering wheel off. The driver screamed, dropping his gun. I zipped away from the vehicle; I didn’t want to get caught in the mess he was about to create. Though the car could still stop and accelerate, it had no steering control. I watched in awe as it skidded out and flipped over three of four times. It was the most amazing and horrifying thing I’ve ever seen. One of the pursuing SUV’s couldn’t stop in time and slammed into the wreckage. The other squealed its brakes and did a last minute maneuver, narrowly avoiding the crack up. The other cars on the street were far enough away to do the same but it was pretty close. The police cruisers had to stop too, the two smashed SUV’s took up both lanes, cutting off the flow of traffic. It wasn’t what I’d planned but it worked better than I thought.
“That could have been a disaster.”
I ignored her. Instead, I looked for the Viper and the one pursuing SUV. They weren’t too far ahead of me now. I took a deep breath and continued my own pursuit. I went up in the air again though, hoping for a better view. I went to the top of some of the taller buildings and looked down. Up ahead there was going to be a problem. There was a traffic jam, cars beeping and honking all arranged in a line. I looked down at the Viper; they were approaching it pretty fast. If they didn’t stop there was going to be a mess. I took a deep breath and zipped down toward the street again. I zoomed past the SUV, causing the driver to swerve a bit and pulled up alongside the Viper. I tapped the window. It rolled down a second or two later.
“Kinda busy here” snapped Olivia, clearly frustrated.
“I thought you might want to know about the traffic jam up ahead.”
She sighed and cursed. “It’s just the one now, right?”
I nodded. “You just worry about what’s ahead; I’ll take care of what’s behind.”
She smiled and rolled the window back up. Here goes nothing. I moved back a little from the Viper and spun in midair, hovering about two feet off the road now. The SUV was barreling toward me and it definitely wasn’t going to stop. I took another deep breath---hey, they’re kind of relaxing---then zipped up into the air. I went up about twenty feet and waited. It didn’t take long. I dropped back down as fast as I could as soon as the SUV got within range. I slammed down fist first into the trunk, mashing things to bits. The impact was so strong, that the front seat passenger went through the windshield. I caught him before he smashed face first into the pavement though. The driver was in pretty bad shape though. His head hit the windshield and there was a lot of blood.
I rolled the passenger onto the road and pulled myself up and out of the mangled wreck. It wasn’t too difficult but there was a lot of car around me. Slamming into a car from twenty feet in the air, not the greatest idea in the world. But I stopped it and that all that mattered.
I walked around to the back of the vehicle and opened the door; there were three guys back here. They were all unconscious. One of them had a laptop, with a cracked display screen. It was still on though. There was a green schematic of the street and a blinking green light. It took me a few seconds to realize that the light was me. This was the guy who’d been tracking me. I raised my hand and caused the armor to peel away, revealing my bare arm. I slowly pulled the bracelet away and scanned it. I could see the little tracking device inside. I groaned.
So it was true, Amparo was somehow involved in all of this. She might even be La Dama herself. I crushed the bracelet in my hand and dropped the shattered fragments onto the guy’s lap. On the screen, the blinking dot disappeared.
“Khaji, can you tap into that radio Olivia’s using?”
“Shouldn’t be too much of a problem.” A few seconds later, she came back. “There, all tapped in.”
I nodded. “Olivia, can you hear me?”
“Who the hell is this?” asked a startled female voice. “How did you find this frequency?”
I groaned. It must have been her partner. “I’m the Blue Beetle; I need to talk to the Green Arrow.”
“Ummm” said the girl.
Olivia snapped on a few seconds later: “Josie, tell me some good news?”
“You’re in the clear now. The last SUV is scrap metal.”
I heard her sigh. “Good to hear. We’re making our way to the Tower, I’ll tell the doorman to expect you.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I clicked off and heard the sirens. I turned and looked. There was a whole string of flashing red heading this way. I guess that’s my cue. I took another deep breath and flew up into the air. I got about ten feet up when I heard it. At first, it was faint, the sirens drowning it out. But it got clearer the higher I flew. Then it was crystal clear: it was the thumping of helicopter blades. I snapped around and saw it coming. I swerved just in time as a hail of tracer rounds zipped past me. I cursed. Even with the armor, those things probably would have torn the hell out of me.
The helicopter came in strong and fast. It was black and sleek, a mini-gun under its nose. Luckily, there were no missiles, I’m not sure if I could dodge those. It surprised me that it was so sleek and modern looking. It must have cost a damn fortune. La Dama must have had a lot of money and a lot of connections. This thing looked brand new and deadly.
“We’re almost to the half way point of our reserves,” said Khaji, sighing.
“I thought you were an all powerful alien invader, shouldn’t you have unlimited power or something?”
She sighed. “I did but that was centuries ago. Being under the ground for all those years kind of tapped all that out. I don’t suppose you know where we can get some vibranium do you?”
“Never heard of it.”
The helicopter fired again. I narrowly missed being hit. It was sweeping the air with its bullets, trying to take me down the easy way. I was doing my best to dodge but I was starting to feel the wear. The armor was starting to feel heavy and the wings kind of sluggish. Khaji was right; we were running out of juice. I needed to end this now but I couldn’t do it here. I looked down and saw the city below. If I took out the helicopter up here then it would definitely go crashing down there. A lot of innocent people would get hurt if it fell on them. I looked past it and saw the Bay. It was a long shot but maybe I could coax it out into the ocean.
"I’m going to try something nuts, ok?”
I didn’t wait for Khaji to respond. Instead, I turned and went right at the helicopter. I fired off a couple of energy balls to distract it. The gunner concentrated on them and I zipped on by. It took the helicopter a couple of seconds to maneuver but it was plenty of time for me. I dropped well below it, heading for the buildings. If I could stay low enough then it wouldn’t be able to pursue me directly. I got way ahead of it, putting as much power as I could into my speed. I zipped across the night skyline, trying my best to avoid the buildings as they came up at me. I wove and dodged and heard the helicopter in fast pursuit. It took the bait though, and that’s all that really mattered.
I came up on Queen Tower. From this height, it was like a giant gleaming silver spire. There was a giant Q on the side of the building, who said old man Queen was modest. I zipped on by, getting so close that the windows rattled. I looked down for a split second and thought I saw the green Viper zip into the garage. Good for them. I needed to concentrate on the path ahead. The Tower was the last of the skyscrapers, the rest of the buildings were small in comparison. I wove around them easily enough and made it straight out over the Bay. I used the bridge as my focal point and went for it, giving it all I had. The thumping of the helicopter returned. A burst of fire zipped in front of me; it narrowly missed again. I zigged and zagged, trying to confuse the bastard firing at me. Then I rolled over in the air, pointing both my hands up toward the guns. I fired off two balls at once; hoping one of them would find their target.
They both did. The first slammed into the mini-gun, tearing it too shreds. The second slammed into the underbelly of the nose. The helicopter jerked upwards and away. I smirked and went right at it. I needed to get it away from everything, including the bridge. I didn’t want to be the hero notorious for ruining a national landmark. So I zipped in front of the cockpit, waving at the two ass-holes inside as I went by. They were momentarily stunned by the maneuver but they recovered quickly. I went out and away, taking them toward the ocean just like I wanted. The helicopter was in hot pursuit, really putting on the power.
When I got far enough out, I dropped low. I went down so far that I was practically skimming across the top of the water. The helicopter followed, just like I wanted it too. I snapped up at the last second and banked toward it. I pulled up alongside it, smashing the side window with one of my elbows. The pilot turned to me, shocked.
“GET OUT!” I shouted, yanking the door open.
He didn’t second guess it; neither did the man next to him. Both of them nodded and jumped out of the vehicle. The helicopter was low enough that they hit the water only a few feet from it, they’d survive. The helicopter, not so much. I grabbed a hold of it, stalling its fall so it didn’t slam into its passengers. Then I let go and watched as it careened toward the dark blue water, slamming nose first into it. There was no explosion. But there was a giant splash. Water and mangled metal flew into the air; I dodged it all as I zipped up and over.
“Are you insane?”
I laughed and coughed. “It worked, didn’t it?”
“You could have gotten yourself killed.”
I nodded. She was right. It was insane but it got the job done. I turned and flew back down toward the water. The pilot and co-pilot were treading water, neither too badly hurt. I dropped down and grabbed both of them by their collars, lifting them out of the water. They were a little heavy but I didn’t have that far to fly. I went right to the bridge, dropping low enough to let them go. They landed in the middle of the road and rolled to a stop. Several cars screeched to avoid them but there were no accidents. A few people got out of their vehicles to watch as I flew off. I think there might have been a camera flash or two. I didn’t stop for a photo op though.
I aimed right for Queen Tower. I thought about going for the roof but the armor was losing pep fast and there was no way I could fly that high now. I went for the back entrance instead, near where my father’s garage was. I landed with a thump and a roll, exhausted as I tumbled across the ground. When I finally came to a stop, the armor was gone. I sat up, moaning, feeling the bruises. I laughed and rubbed my neck, shivering as the cold night air touched my naked body.
“You’re too reckless, you know that.”
“Do we have enough juice to manifest clothes?”
“Afraid not” said Khaji, the exhaustion evident in her voice.
It was then that I noticed I wasn’t alone. Mr. Creepy Guy was standing there, staring at me. I quickly covered my naked parts with my hands. He smiled sheepishly, blushed and looked away. I rolled my eyes.
“Spare your coat for a damsel in distress?”
He fumbled and took off his coat, handing it to me.
I slipped it on, sighing. “I don’t suppose you can call upstairs and tell Miss Queen that Josie’s arrived, can you?”
I stood in the elevator; the blonde security guard kept staring at my naked legs. I tried my best not to blush but it’s pretty hard when the only thing you’re wearing in a blue blazer. Luckily, for me the Creepy Guy is so tall or else I’d be even more embarrassed. It was bad enough that as soon as I walked in the lobby, the guard at the desk was staring at me. I suppose it’s not every day that a half naked chick walks through the front door. But what can I say; I like to make an entrance. If that means I look like a fool doing it then I look like a fool.
“Khaji, you still with me?”
I got no response. After crashing, Khaji sort of faded out on me. She was just as exhausted as I was, probably more, in fact. I should have never pushed myself into using the armor but it was the only thing I could think of. I got the jump done, though. It was a half assed jump but I still stopped the bad guys and threw them off our trail. Now La Dama would grasp at straws trying to find me. There was no way I was going to allow her to lead me into another ambush. I groaned when I thought about who she might be. If I was right and I know I was, I wonder how she’d pulled it off for so many years.
Amparo---there I finally admitted it---was a legitimate business woman. At least we think she is. Brenda was never really able to figure out where her aunt got all her money from. When she asked once, Amparo told her something about investing in good stocks. Now I know that was a load of crap.
Crime paid well and apparently very well for Amparo Juarez.
The elevator finally stopped. I sighed; it felt like I was in the fricking thing forever. When the door slid open, I saw a plush red-carpeted hallway. The guard stepped out first, looked up and down the halls then nodded to me. I smiled at him and stepped out. I’d always wondered what the upper floors of Queen Tower looked like and now I knew. I’d only ever been in the lobby and that was only once. I used to watch with envy as others walked over to the elevators and road them up to parts unknown. I had a pretty good idea what was on most of the floors but I always wondered if there was something more. But now as I stood on the twentieth floor, looking at the red carpet under my feet and the beige colored wall in front of me, I was kind of disappointed.
“Miss Reyes?” said a voice.
I turned and saw a tall, younger guy standing a few feet away. He was dressed in a crisp black suit, his hair slicked back. He had a warm welcoming smile. He walked toward me; there was definite confidence in that walk of his. His looks reminded me a little of Josh but maybe that’s because I seemed to have a thing for blondes. When he finally reached me, I had to look up because he was kind of tall. He was exceptionally gorgeous though. Looking at him made me blush. God, I’m never going to get a hang of this girl thing and all the crazy hormones.
“Good morning, Miss” he said, checking his watch to make sure he had the proper greeting. It was after one in the morning, so it was technically the right one. “If you’d follow me please, I’ll show you to your room.”
He nodded as the two of us walked down the hall. “Miss Queen has set you up in one of the luxury suites for the night. She’s arranged for some clothing for you and I can have room service brought up for you if you like.”
Room service? What the hell was this guy talking about? I thought we were taking a crack at La Dama tonight. I didn’t have time for fancy suites and things like that. This bitch had my family and I wanted them back. I wanted them back NOW. I was fuming as he led me around the corner and stopped at the first door on the left. He took out a card key and zipped it through the electronic lock. When he opened the door, my eyes practically bugged out of my head. The room that I entered was by far the biggest one I’d ever seen.
I gasped in shock. There was no way all of this could be for me. The man walked into the room behind me and over to a pair of double doors, opening them up. I looked briefly at them and saw a plush looking bedroom beyond. But I was still concentrating on the room before me. It had a Spartan feel to it. The decor went with a black and chrome motif. The floors were hardwood, there were fake paintings on the walls---at least I hoped they were. There was some good sculpture though, much better than anything I could ever pull off. I walked over to the big metal frame sofa, running my fingers along the black leather upholstery. It was clearly designed by a man who didn’t have time for luxury. I only met Mr. Queen once and it was very brief. He shook my hand, said it was nice to meet me and moved on. I think the whole encounter lasted all of five seconds. But in those seconds, I think I got a good gauge of the man. He didn’t like anything fancy and this room really showed it.
“Your clothes are on the bed, there’s a menu by the phone. Just dial six and you’ll get room service. Our kitchen is open twenty four hours a day and you can order anything on the menu.”
I nodded. “Is this a business office or a hotel?”
He smiled. “Mr. Queen liked his guests to stay where he could always get access to them. So it’s kind of both. Miss Queen has seen fit to continue some of his traditions with a few of her own added touches.”
He smiled again. His teeth were so damn white. “There’s now a video arcade a few floors down and one of the formal dining areas has been turned into a movie theater.”
It pays to be rich I guess.
The guy smiled again and left, closing the door behind him.
“Khaji, tell me you’re seeing this?”
I finally got a response from her: “We’re in the lap of luxury.”
“Thanks for before” I said, rubbing the back of my neck, it was still kind of sore from earlier. “Getting the armor up and running must have taken a lot out of you and I’m glad you believed in me enough to do so.”
“We’re partners now, that’s what partners do.”
I nodded. “You get some rest and recharge. Hopefully we won’t be needing the armor so soon.”
It was a lie of course. I was pretty certain that I’d need the armor in twenty four hours or less. But I didn’t want to tell her that. She’d already done enough for me in the last twelve hours or so. She needed her rest, hell we both did.
Thinking of sleep, I walked into the bedroom. It was a lot less Spartan than the rest of the place. It had a different décor too. It was clear that a woman designed this room. There was a pattern on the furniture and a maroon color scheme that was kept throughout the room. The large king size bed was covered in a maroon spread and pillows and the curtains hanging from the windows were maroon too. I walked over to the bed, finding a pair of gray pajamas and a note. I picked up the note: Thought you might need these. It’s too late for a strategy session; we’ll have one in the morning when we’re all refreshed and thinking straight. Have a good night’s sleep and don’t worry, we will get your family back. It was signed Olivia on the bottom. I smiled and set the note aside, then picked up the pajamas. I sighed; they were in my size. How the hell could she have known that?
I dropped my borrowed coat on the floor and quickly slipped on the PJs. They were made of cotton and were nice and warm. They were different from the ones I wore to bed but I was so tired that it didn’t really matter. I walked over and closed the double doors then jumped into bed. I barely got under the covers before I dropped off to sleep.
The sun was glaring in my face when I opened my eyes. Don’t you hate that? You’d think with such dark thick curtains something like that wouldn’t be possible. I groaned and sat up, the covers sliding off me. I stared bleary eyed around the room for a second, trying to figure out where I was. I rubbed the grogginess away and groaned. Then I remembered. The events of yesterday came flooding back to me. First, the ugly thing attacking me in the alley, and then the guys chasing me from the factory district to my house. Finally La Dama’s goons taking my family and being rescued by the Green Arrow.
Thinking about her, I threw the rest of my covers off. I looked around the room. The curtains were open enough for the morning sun to come streaming through them. I slid off the bed and bumbled over, opening them the rest of the way. I was greeted by the most gorgeous view of the city I’d ever seen. It was breathtaking. I could see everything, all the way to the Bay and the bridge and even a little beyond that. If this is what Olivia woke up to every morning I could definitely get used to it.
"I think one would get bored with it after awhile.”
I shook my head. “Not a chance.”
I smiled as I walked away from the window. I was glad to hear Khaji sounding so chipper now. I was really worried about her yesterday, especially after I pushed her even though she wasn’t ready. I felt real guilty about that.
“How’s the armor?”
“It should be fully charged and ready to go by midday.”
I nodded. I was glad to hear it. I was probably going to need it a lot in the next few days, depending on how long it took us to find La Dama. I had a pretty good idea where to look and how to start the search. If she truly was Amparo like I suspected than maybe we could trace her finances and figure out where she’s been shelling a lot of money. There’s bound to be some kind of paper trail, right? I mean if this place is really in the desert like Damper thought than there’s bound to be some kind of record of it.
I thought about it as I opened the double doors and walked into the main room. The bathroom was off to the left. The guy last night vaguely pointed it out but the door was open so I could see it clearly. I walked in, amazed at how big it was. You could fit two of my bathrooms in here. The tiles were sea green; there was a double sink and Jacuzzi style bathtub. So far, I’d been a shower girl but looking at that tub, I couldn’t resist. I stripped out of the pajamas, leaving them on the floor. Then naked, I walked over to the tub. It took me a while to figure it out bit I got it working in quick order. Brenda had a Jacuzzi in her solarium. I’d only been in once and seeing as it was also with Brenda and Paco, we were wearing bathing suits at the time.
But that Jacuzzi didn’t compare to this one. As I slipped into the frothing water, it was like pure ecstasy. I closed my eyes and let the jets massage my bruised and battered body. It felt so good and relaxing. My hand drifted to between my legs and before I knew it, I found my fingers pleasuring myself. It was ten times better than in the shower. I even moaned a few times. After what seemed like forever, my fingers started to prune. That’s usually a good sign that you’ve been spending too much time in the water.
There was a light knock on the door than a soft female voice. “Miss, I have a towel and bathrobe for you, I’ll hang them outside the door.”
The voice surprised me. I wasn’t used to being waited on. So I thanked the girl. I reluctantly climbed out of the huge tub and wandered over to the door. I opened it just a crack and peered outside, but the girl belonging to the voice was gone. The hook was just on the other side of the door. I snatched the towel and bathrobe off it. I dried my hair with the towel than wrapped it turban style again. Then I slipped into the bathrobe. When I left the bathroom, there was a tray and a card sitting on the little glass top table near the large window. The blinds were drawn, thank God. I didn’t want the whole of the city to see me prancing around in my robe. I went to the table, looked at the enticing breakfast of French toast and scrambled eggs but read the card first. It was from Olivia, telling me to meet her up on the thirty fifth floor when I was done.
I ate breakfast in a rush. I was kind of anxious to get going. There was a lot I wanted to do today, the top of which was to find La Dama’s desert base and get my family back. There was another knock on the door when I was finished. I didn’t even get a chance to say come in when the same guy from early this morning walked into the room, holding a garment bag. He smiled and set it on the back of the sofa.
“Good morning again, Miss Reyes” he said with that toothy grin of his. “Last night I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Lucas, if there’s anything you need, just ask.”
I nodded. “How the hell do you people know when I’m done with things?”
He laughed. “The whole of the building is monitored by closed circuit cameras.”
I grimaced. I didn’t like the sound of that. “There’s not one in the bathroom, is there?”
He laughed. “No, the bathroom has floor sensors. They activated when you turned on the water. We also monitor the water intake levels of the whole building and water temperature. When your bath water started to get cold, a maid was sent to deliver you a towel and bathrobe.”
I nodded. Ok that was creepy. Efficient but still very creepy. “Big Brother is watching, huh.”
He laughed. He had to stop laughing; it was infectious. “More like Big Sister.”
He didn’t elaborate. He winked and walked out of the room, leaving me alone again. I got up and walked over to the garment bag he left. When I opened it up, I groaned. Why is it that every girl I met was trying to get me into a dress. I looked in the bag, hoping to find something else but the only other thing in it was a pair of white sandals. There was some underwear too. I begrudgingly took everything out of the bag. There was a tall mirror on the wall. I took off the bathrobe---making sure I was completely dry---then got dressed. The dress was light blue and very airy. I think it was a summer dress but I wouldn’t know how to tell. It flowed when I moved, not that I tested or anything. Ok, so you caught me but what girl doesn’t put on a dress and twirl.
I slipped on the sandals---thankfully they had no heel---and walked out the door.
Do I need to bore you with the ins and outs of another elevator ride?
Suffice to say I rode it alone this time to the thirty fifth floor. When it stopped and I got off, I expected to end up into another red-carpeted hallway. But I was surprised when it opened up to a spacious room. One wall was lined with computer servers, in the center was a circular table and the wall directly in front of the elevators was covered in large flat screens. There had to be at least twenty of them. Half showed various scenes throughout the building, the others streamed live news broadcasts from around the world. In front of the screens were several computers arranged along a narrow table, a pink haired girl sat in front of them.
Olivia was lounging in a chair in the corner. She was dressed normally today or at least as normal as a billionairess gets. She was wearing thigh leather boots, a green tank top and skinny jeans. Why is that I was the only one wearing a dress. Even the pink haired girl was dressed more casually than me. I looked around the room, glancing from the sofa set in the other corner to the little bar in the last corner. But there was no sign of Probe. Maybe Olivia didn’t trust her enough to allow her into this room, after all it was kind of high tech and secretive and Probe was technically the enemy. Even though I’d like to think of her as a friend now.
When I walked into the room, Olivia was deep in conversation. But there was no one there. I thought maybe she was talking to herself but then I heard a voice:
“Are you sure she can be trusted?” It was a girl’s voice. “My ring has extensive databases on this Scarab and the Reach it claims to work for.”
Olivia smiled. “Jade, you guys can relax. Josie is one of the good guys. I vouch for her.”
The voice huffed. “Do you need any backup?”
Olivia paused and looked over at me, waving me into a chair next to her. Then she turned back to whoever she was having a conversation with. “I think me and the Blue Beetle can handle it. This La Dama runs a tight ship, but you’ve seen the news, you saw what Josie did.”
Jade sighed. “Keep me apprised of the situation and if you need help, you know where to find me.”
I gasped as I sat in the chair next to Olivia. The ring on her finger had been glowing green for a second and now it was done. I realized then who she’d been talking too, it was the Green Lantern. My heart started thumping in my chest. I was starting to geek out again. I was able to keep my breathing under control, thank God.
Olivia turned to me, moving her whole body. Her legs were crossed, making her that much more sexy. “Did you have a good rest?”
I nodded. “Was that really Jade?”
She rolled her eyes and held up her hand to show me the ring. “This little puppy helps me keep in constant communication with her and the others. She gave it to me a while ago but I kind of avoid using it. I’m not exactly what they’d call a team player. I can get you one if you want; Jade and the others are dying to meet you after all.”
“ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THE QUESTION” Khaji practically screamed in my brain.
I winced from the outburst. “That won’t be necessary. I have something much better than a ring.”
Olivia smiled. “I’m sorry we couldn’t get working last night but I was so exhausted when I got home I nearly collapsed.”
The pink haired girl huffed. “Well if you weren’t spending the whole day training all the time then you wouldn’t be so tired.”
Olivia ignored her. “Josie, I’d like you to meet my partner in crime and the best friend a girl could ever have, Mia Dearden.”
The pink haired girl turned around in the chair. She was really cute. Not gorgeous like Olivia but definitely cute enough to date. “Flattery won’t get you anywhere, Ollie.” She then turned to me. “It’s finally nice to meet the face behind the voice.”
I realized then that this must have been the girl that Olivia was talking to in the car. Mia seemed kind of fun and spunky; I could see her and Brenda getting along fine. Thinking about Brenda gave me a heart pang but I pushed it aside.
“Are you the brains behind this operation?” I asked, sweeping my arm around the room.
“You bet your ass I am.”
“She contributes a great deal, don’t you, Speedy.”
Mia huffed and spun around in her chair. I could really tell the two of them were good friends. It made me smile. Olivia cleared her throat and got to her feet. “Now on to business. This place here we call the Hub.” Mia huffed again, Olivia ignored her. “We monitor everything that goes on in this building and the rest of the world here.”
"The rest of the world?”
She smiled. “It pays to be multi-billionaire. I have satellites positioned all over the globe. I do all my hero stuff in our city but there are others like us all over the world now. Whenever there’s a problem that Jade hasn’t picked up, my satellites grab it and I feed it to the closest hero in the vicinity. It’s kind of cool actually, kind of like Big Brother.”
“Or Big Sister” added Mia quickly.
I smiled. Now I knew what Lucas meant earlier.
Olivia continued as if she was never interrupted. “We’ve been searching the Net, looking for any mention of La Dama. So far, she has been kind of low key, just a few rumblings here and there. Urban Legends are like that. But she’ll slip up, it’s only a matter of time and as soon as she does, we’ll nail her.”
I took a deep breath. Could I really do this to Brenda? She loved her aunt. Could I really betray my friendship with her and tell them. I guess I’m about to find out. “You don’t need to search; I think I know who she is.”
Olivia raised her eyebrow. Mia turned in her chair, giving me a look. Then I think it dawned on her and I swore if a light bulb could appear above her head it work. “You mean the bracelet?”
I nodded. "Yesterday after school my friend Brenda gave it to me. She said they were a gift from her aunt. Which is kind of strange because the woman kind of hated me when I was a boy and had only just met me when I was a girl. I didn’t think anything of it at the time but now that I look back on it there’s no way she would have given me that bracelet out of the kindness of her heart.”
Mia nodded. “What’s her name?”
Olivia and Mia shared a glance. It was only quick but I noticed it. I didn’t pursue it though; it was probably nothing. Mia typed away at the keyboard; it didn’t take her long. “Here we are, Amparo Juarez, age thirty six.”
All the screens blinked off for a second and when they came on there was a profile picture of Amparo on them. Mia typed away again, several other smaller screens popped up, showing bank records and business transactions. They scrolled across the screen, popping up and being replaced by more. I only got some quick glances but what I saw was crazy. Apparently, Amparo didn’t get the money from sound investments. A lot of it was through illegal means. Most of said means involved what the documents called export, but I kind of knew that to be smuggling. There was something else, too.
According to the pages on the screen, Amparo was funneling a lot of cash around, most of it going to somewhere in Baja.
Mia finally stopped typing. The last thing that appeared on the screen was a 3D map. She moved her cursor over an area that appeared in red. I looked at the screen, it was somewhere in the Sonoran Desert. It suddenly clicked. The desert is where Damper claimed Warehouse 13 was. This had to be the place.
“That’s it, I’m sure of it,” I said as I leaned over Mia’s chair. “The leader of Posse said that there were rumors of a place in the desert called Warehouse 13. He said it was run by La Dama and that she took Metas there to experiment on them.”
“Do we have a satellite in that area?” asked Olivia, leaning forward too.
Mia typed for a few seconds and shook her head. “That area is controlled by Luthercorp. He owns the whole region in fact. Your grandfather let him have it because it’s just dry land and dirt out there. Luther bought it all pretty cheap, said he wanted to turn it into a resort."
Olivia scoffed. “Resort my ass.”
I was confused. “Lex Luther, you mean the philanthropist?”
Both of them laughed. “I never heard of him. We’re talking about his real face, not the fake one he puts on for the press.” Olivia sighed. “This doesn’t look good at all.”
She walked away for a second, touching her green ring. She stepped further into the room, I didn’t’ hear her conversation. Instead, I stared at the screen and the place in the desert where our satellite couldn’t penetrate. What did Lex Luther have to do with Brenda’s aunt? Olivia came walking over a minute or two later, smiling.
“I just talked to Lena. She coordinated with Jade. Apparently, there is something out there after all. But it’s not a resort. The official story is a research facility, one of those bio dome things they wanted to build on the surface of Mars.”
Mia nodded. “What is it really?”
Olivia shook her head. “Lena didn’t know but she claims that her father likes to keep that area under really high security for some reason.”
“So are we firing up the jet?” Asked Mia, with a grimace.
Olivia smiled and nodded. “Oh, most definitely.”
It took us about an hour to drive to the airport. Mia wanted us to take the helicopter but Olivia didn’t want to draw attention to us. She was kind of the media darling as of late and there were a lot of paparazzi hanging around the Tower. I’m still not sure how she manages to sneak off and be the Green Arrow if they’re always watching. So we take an SUV instead. The four of us hid in the back. Lucas drove; making sure the paparazzi got a good look at him so they knew that Olivia wasn’t in the vehicle. A couple of them snapped pictures until they realized they were wasting their film.
I sat in the back with Mia and Probe. The ride to the airport was in subdued silence. Probe was apparently pretty pissed that she wasn’t allowed in the Hub. It was for the reasons I thought. Olivia and Mia just didn’t trust her enough to let her see their operation. I was kind of pissed too but it made sense. I knew she’d never go and intentionally blab to the gang but things happened. It was better that she stayed out of the loop. We had her meet us in the garage. Lucas was there with her and the two of them were talking about some of the cars there.
When we arrived at the airport there were more paparazzi, apparently they liked to stake out the Queen jet just in case. Olivia made a big spectacle out of it. She got out of the car, lugging a big tote and smiled at the cameras. There were so many flashes I think I’m going to be blind for weeks. Probe didn’t seem to mid. One of the photogs even stuck the camera in her face and took a picture. She didn’t even blink. Me, I shielded my eyes and dodged questions. Everyone wanted to know where the three of us were going and what our names were. Olivia handled the questions. Apparently, we were on our way to one of the little private islands she owned---there were three of them.
“Nothing like a little vacay with the girls” she said with a smile.
It was an eye opening experience.
Olivia put on the media darling act until we were on the plane. She even sat at the windows and waved. She kept it up until we were taking off. Then she sighed, dropping into her seat. “That was so exhausting.”
“You don’t like being rich and popular?” I asked.
Mia snorted. Olivia ignored her. “I don’t mind it sometimes but most of the time it’s a royal pain in the ass.”
"I’ll trade lives with you,” added Probe from the back of the plane.
When we got on, she decided to sit by herself. I think she was still a little pissed about earlier. But she had to understand why we couldn’t let her into the room. It was one thing that she already knew who Olivia and I were but it was another thing entirely for her to see the whole operation. Hell, I didn’t even think I was worthy to see it all. But apparently, Olivia did. In fact, she accepted me without any problems, which I thought, was the coolest thing in the world. I wonder if the others would be so accepting.
“We don’t need their acceptance, especially the Lantern.”
Khaji had been quiet for so long I kind of forgot she was there.
I groaned. “What’s your deal with them anyway?”
She huffed. “The Lanterns of Oa and the Reach are mortal enemies. Our two civilizations have fought for centuries, neither coming out as the victor. A peace was erected between the two of us but it is bound to fail some day.”
I sighed. “You’re not of the Reach anymore. You need to get past their grudges and realize you’re your own person now.”
She said nothing. I groaned. I didn’t have time to argue anyway. I turned to the window and watched as California flew by underneath us. It wouldn’t take us long to get to Baja. We weren’t going to the airport though. The Queens owned a private airslip. We’d touch down there and apparently take cars into the desert. How close we’d actually be able to get to the facility was another story entirely.
“Mia” I asked, interrupting her computer game. “How close can we get to this place?”
She didn’t bat an eye when she answered. “A couple of miles maybe. We’re going to have to get some four wheelers for the rest of the journey. Well you guys are anyways.”
“You’re not coming with?”
She looked up from her laptop screen. The color drained from her face. “I’m the technical support kind of sidekick. I let the boss do all the wet work.”
Olivia and I laughed. I wonder what Brenda would think about becoming my sidekick. I closed my eyes and envisioned her running around alongside me in a blue leotard with plastic bug wings and cheap antenna. I couldn’t help but laugh. There was no way she’d go for that. Maybe I could get her on the end of a radio too. She wasn’t good with computers but maybe she could offer moral support, telling me jokes or something like that. I sighed. Thinking about Brenda made me hurt again. It was horrible to think about but we were going to this place to put a stop to her aunt. I wonder if Brenda was there and how she’s react when she found out. I know there’s no way she’d be in on all this but there was no way she’d stand idly by while we tried to arrest her beloved aunt either.
“Your friend has a good head. She’ll do the right thing when the time comes.”
“I hope so.”
The rest of the plane ride I spent looking out the window. We touched down in Baja about an hour and a half from taking off. There was another SUV waiting for us at the Queen strip. We clambered inside. This time Mia got in the front while Olivia got into the back with us. She was dressed like the Green Arrow now, having changed on the plane. She made sure that most of the staff at the airport weren’t outside when we disembarked from the plane. Now she was sitting next to me, putting arrows into her quiver. Most of them looked like normal arrows but there were a few that were kind of wicked.
“Trick arrows” she said, fingering the tip of one with a gloved finger. “Seeing as I might be going up against some Metas I thought it would be a good idea to come prepared.”
The one she was fingering had a jagged tip; it looked like it could shred flesh. “Have you fought many Metas?” I asked as she slid the arrow into her quiver.
“A few but mainly I fight normals.”
I took a deep breath and asked the question I’ve wanted to ask since I met her yesterday. “Where have you been the last few months? The city has fallen apart without you.”
She sighed and spoke in a soft voice.”After my grandfather was killed I realized that I wasn’t prepared to deal with all the pressure of being a hero. So I took a breather. Then I came to the conclusion that in order to be a proper hero I needed to learn how to be one. So let’s just say I got a little help and leave it that.”
I nodded. Fair enough. “Maybe when we’re done here, your friend can help me?”
The question came out of the blue. But I’d been thinking about it for a long time. I did need help. It was one thing to rely on the armor all the time but yesterday; I was without it and got my ass kicked. I needed to know how to defend myself and stop relying on the armor to save me all the time.
She smiled, putting a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“How many guards are there?” Probe asked as I scanned the perimeter.
The complex was far enough away that it looked like a dollhouse. The three of us were lying flat in the scruff, keeping our distance at the moment. The three four wheelers were behind us, cooling off after our long drive. I know one thing; I’m never driving one of those damn things again. They were loud and uncomfortable. I know what you’re thinking, hey, you were a guy, you should like those things. But I’ve never been the outdoors man type. Even when we lived in Texas, I was never one to venture far outdoors. I stared mainly in my room, tapping away at various video games. I didn’t have many friends there because most of the guys around me were into football and other sports. I was the weird geek who rifled around in the garbage for junk.
I thought it was going to be the same when I moved to California. Then I met Brenda and Paco. Brenda was that girl; you know the one that every guy wishes he could grow up next to. She was amazing from the first time I saw her and I must admit I had a little crush. But as I became friends with her, I realized it would never work out and I just let it fade away. Now she was like a best friend and sister rolled up into one. Paco was the big shy guy that everyone thought was scary. The two of us hit it off immediately though. We had the same interests and both of us felt we were misunderstood. Now the two of them were in that horrible place and I’d do anything to get them back.
Probe asked the guard question again. I concentrated on the task at hand. The complex was surrounded by what appeared to be a barbed wire fence, beyond it, I saw two guards patrolling the grounds. There were another two in a guard tower in the right corner of the complex and three more in the left corner in a small guardhouse. They were all carrying M-16’s and were dressed in the same black uniforms as the guys that attacked us yesterday. I told them the numbers and Probe groaned. Olivia didn’t seem too fazed by it though. In fact, she nocked an arrow and sat up, staring through the scope of her fancy bow.
“Can you hit them from here?”
She laughed. “Not even I’m that good.”
“What are we waiting for?” snapped Probe, she was a lot more impatient than I was.
We set up in the airstrip until it got a little later in the day. Olivia and Mia set up in the main office, sending the staff home. None of them got a glimpse of the Green Arrow, thank God. They both agreed that it might be better if we waited until nightfall to make our attack, it would be easier to slip past their defenses undetected that way. Of course, Probe argued. She wanted to go there and get her friends right away. Even I was a little antsy but I understood what would happen if we tried to make a day assault. The guards would see and cut us down before we even got close. We spent the few hours in the cramped lobby, eating crap from the vending machines and watching Mexican television. We were so close to the border that the only stations they got were in Spanish. It wasn’t even a proper TV either. It had those funky rabbit ears and was really funny. The worst part, I seemed to be the only one who understood what they were saying. It was some comedy show and I laughed through the whole thing. The others rolled their eyes.
We set out as soon as the sun started to wane in the sky. It took us about two hours to get out to the complex. Even then, we had to approach slowly for fear that the guards might hear the engines of our four wheelers.
“This is ridiculous,” snapped Probe “we know they’re in there, I can sense all of them. It’s stupid that we’re waiting.”
“Her impatience is going to get her killed.”
I sighed. “Probe you gotta calm down. We’ll go as soon as we get the right opportunity.”
Olivia smiled, lowering her pair of night vision binoculars. “And there it is.”
I turned back to the complex and tried to find what she was talking about. It didn’t take me long to see. The guards were changing shifts. The two patrolling the perimeter were walking back toward the complex. It was the perfect opportunity, now all we had to do was time it right. Olivia moved first, creeping over the scrub grass in front of us. I took a moment to activate the armor. I felt the tingling sensation as it crawled up my skin. I crawled as it slowly crept up my body. Probe followed behind, sticking close to me like we told her to. Both Olivia and I were afraid if she strayed too far from us she might be hit by a stray bullet or something and we couldn’t let that happen.
We made good time as we crept along the desert, keeping low to the ground. We weren’t running but we weren’t walking either. We had to get there before the guards came back on shift, if we didn’t then the whole thing was crap. I looked ahead as the armor finished covering my body. Olivia was moving like a wild woman. She was already way ahead of me. I cursed and picked up the pace. Thanks to my armor enhanced speed, I caught up with her faster than I wanted too. I turned and waited for Probe.
“You and I should go ahead,” said Khaji “the humans are slowing us down.”
“Hey I’m still human too, you know.”
“Technically none of you are human, even our fearless leader in green isn’t, even though she doesn’t want to admit it.”
I ignored the comment. I didn’t like the idea of not being human. Of course, I was human. Just because I had an alien, symbiote attached to my spine didn’t make me any less human than my family and friends.
“You and I can discuss this later. Right now we have to save your family.”
I groaned and decided I was done discussing anything with her right now. Olivia took the lead again. I waited for Probe to catch up and then followed at a brisk pace, making sure that Probe didn’t fall too far behind. We reached the fence just in time. The new perimeter guards were coming out of the building just as we reached the fence. Olivia was fast, faster than I’d ever seen. She fired off one arrow and it almost seemed like the other before the first even left the bow. The first arrow hit one of the new guards, dropping him quickly. The second arrow hit the other guard just as fast. Neither man knew what hit them. I snapped toward the tower and saw the search light move over to the spot where the two guards fell. It was right about there when Olivia struck again. Her first arrow hit the light; the second dropped the guard manning it.
I got into the action after that. I fired two energy balls. Both of them hit their targets at the same time. Effectively the two of us cleared out five guards in less than a minute. It was pretty impressive. She turned to me, smiled and pointed at the fence. I stepped up, extending one of my blades from my wrist. I cut through the chain link like a hot knife through butter. I slit a hole big enough for a person to crawl through. Olivia went first then Probe. I followed up in the rear.
“Should we take out the guard house?” whispered Probe, pointing to the squat building in the distance.
Olivia looked and shook her head. “They’re too far away to notice a difference. By the time they do, hopefully we’ll be long gone.”
We left it at that. Olivia led the way again and we continued to keep Probe between us. We crept silently across the courtyard, making our way stealthily toward doors. We came upon the two guards from earlier. I half expected to see them dead. Instead, they were both breathing, arrows stuck in their shoulders. I bent and touched one of the shafts, getting a slight spark.
“Stun arrows,” Olivia explained. “They have a little charge, enough to take down a three hundred pound man for a couple of hours. They’re completely harmless.”
I nodded. Tell that to the guys with the arrows in their shoulders.
When we got to the doors, Olivia nocked another arrow and peered through the glass. She motioned me over. I went and stood next to her. I switched from blue to red. I looked through the glass. I scanned the long corridor before us. The place looked deserted but one could never be too careful. After all, she sent a whole fricking army after us yesterday. Besides I had this strange feeling that she knew the three of us were coming. It was almost like she was expecting it and it felt like she was leaving the place wide open for us. The idea of a trap had crossed my mind on the ride over here as the wind and grit hit my face. Did I tell you how much I hate four wheelers? But would she really risk her entire operation on a trap that might actually fail. It was a big gamble and I was certain that someone like La Dama wasn’t stupid enough to take such a risk.
“It's too easy,” I whispered to her, turning away. “The corridor is completely deserted; I’m not even picking up the heat signature of a mouse.”
She nodded and tapped her throat mike. “What do you think, Mia?”
I was tapped into the same radio frequency so I heard her response. “Josie’s right. It’s too easy, it’s like she’s waiting for you.”
“Can you tap into the base’s security?”
Mia sighed. “I’m trying but they’ve got a killer firewall. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Every time I try to override it, the system seems to adapt.”
“Let me try.”
I looked at Olivia. “Khaji’s going to try. Give her a few minutes.”
I told them all about Khaji in the little lobby of the airstrip office. I didn’t have anything better to do so I gave the three of them the abridged version. Olivia and Probe listened silently but Mia was immediately impressed. She kept asking me questions for her. Khaji responded quickly and the two of them hit it off pretty good. It was a shame that I was a pathetic go between. After an hour of saying, “Khaji says this or that”, I got kind of annoyed. It was like being the third wheel in a two-way conversation.
“Interesting” said Khaji after about five minutes. “I cracked the firewall like you wanted but there was something very strange about the computer mainframe.”
“It was too advanced for modern Earth technology.”
“Are you saying it wasn’t from this world?”
“No, it’s terrestrial in origin; it’s just far too advanced for the technology that you possess.”
“Should we be in trouble?”
“Not any more. As soon as it sensed me, it shut itself down. I’ve never seen anything like it. As soon as it deactivated, it was like it purged itself completely from the system.”
“You make it sound like it was alive?”
“I think it might have been.”
“What should we do?”
“Nothing for now. Let’s keep this between the two of us. There’s no reason to worry the others with something as trivial as this. Tell them I shut down the firewalls so now they can access whatever they want.”
I turned to Olivia and smiled. “Khaji cracked the firewall; Mia is free to tinker around in their mainframe all she wants.”
“Tell her she’s a miracle worker,” said Mia with a sigh.
We waited for Mia to get finished with her hack. But Khaji was way ahead of her. She hacked into the mainframe for me ahead of time. A 3D rendering of the whole complex appeared on a screen in front of my eyes. I could see everything now. I couldn’t see people but I knew where all the rooms were and where I could find the prisoners. On the first floor was nothing important but most of the prisoners were being held in the sub-basement level, where it looked like there were cells. But there was no way La Dama would put my family there. It wasn’t her style. So I looked up on the second floor. There was a room there that had a sophisticated door lock.
“I think I found them, Khaji.”
She didn’t respond but she didn’t need to. She was seeing the exact same thing I was. I smiled and looked over at Olivia. She and Mia were currently having a conversation, trying best to figure out how to infiltrate the base. They finally decided that the direct route was probably the best. So that meant the three of us were going through the front door. I groaned and looked through the glass one more time. I swept about with the red vision but still I saw nothing.
“I have a bad feeling about this” I said softly to myself.
I was right about the whole place being deserted. It was kind of creepy going down hall after hall and encountering no one. It was clearly a trap and the others seemed to know it as well. Olivia was in front of me, her bow raised, an arrow already. She kept peering around the corners with the bow first than beckoned us forward after she checked. I didn’t really need her caution. I could see several hallways at once through the red vision, searching out heat signatures in hopes of seeing the ambush before it came. But there weren’t even any of those. It was like the whole place was cleaned out for one purpose in mind.
“The lack of people in this place is disturbing.”
“Does it have anything to do with that AI you detected?”
Khaji sighed. “No, it was hiding in the mainframe. I suspect that those in charge of this place didn’t even know it was here. I can only guess its purpose but I believe it was gathering intel. There was something fundamentally primitive about it but it was definitely far more advanced than anything humans could create, at least at this time.”
“You keep saying that. Does that mean this thing is from the future?”
The future, was that even possible?
“It’s very possible but improbable. Time travel is dangerous because it always has unforeseeable consequences. Even the Reach knew better than to meddle with time.”
Olivia stopped up ahead. I nearly ran into her because I wasn’t paying attention. I scanned around the corner and nearly missed it. But there it was anyway. It was a single heat signature, very faint. Olivia was crouching now, raising her bow, ready to fire. I turned to Probe and motioned her to get down on the floor.
Instead, she stepped forward, getting close so she could whisper in my ear: “It’s him,” she whispered, gripping my arm. “The one from the alley, the Bottom Feeder.”
My stomach flipped and I inwardly groaned. That’s all we needed. I had a feeling I was going to run into that thing again but I was hoping to avoid it. Getting into a fight wasn’t something I was planning on. I just wanted to get into this place, get everyone and go. Now I saw the whole plan: the facility was cleared out and only the Bottom Feeder remained. I think this was the trap that La Dama seemed to be setting up for us.
I tapped into Olivia’s radio. “We have company up ahead. It’s that guy I told you about, the one from the alley.”
“The one who calls itself the Bottom Feeder?”
“We have the element of surprise,” she said as she stood up. “And it’s two to one.”
I liked her style but I fought this thing, well kinda. There was no way any of her arrows were going to dent it. Hell, it thrashed the hell out of Posse more times than I could count, according to Probe. There was no way just the two of us could handle it. But Olivia was a professional and there was no way she was going to back down from this fight. The best thing I could do is get in and make sure it never gets anywhere near her.
“I’ll go first, you flank me.”
Hey, it sounded cool. I didn’t wait for her to respond. I stepped around her and moved slowly down the hall. I followed the faint heat signature. As I got closer, the reddish blob got bigger. I finally got to the end of another corridor and saw it. This corridor opened up into a large room, probably some kind of mess hall. The Bottom Feeder was standing in the middle of it, staring at the entrance. He was waiting for us, waiting for me. I took a deep breath and stepped around the corner. His hooded head rose up and he stared at me with those beady, lifeless eyes of his. As soon as our eyes locked, he laughed, at least that’s what I think it was supposed to be.
“Ah, the Blue Demon at last. My mistress said you would be coming but I did not expect you to make this venture alone.”
“Who says she’s alone?” said Olivia as she stepped into the corridor beside me, her bow raised.
The Thing laughed again, it sounded like two rocks scraping against one another. “This is what you bring me, the Green Hood. I was hoping for the Behemoth from Chicago, not this pitiful excuse of a criminal.”
We ignored the taunt. He was trying to goad us but it wasn’t going to work.
“You can avoid this fight,” I said, making the blades grow from my wrists. “Walk away and this doesn’t have to get ugly.”
He laughed again. “I am the Bottom Feeder, chosen by the Lord; you are an Abomination that needs to be Cleansed. The Lord God has deemed me Worthy to expunge the world of vermin like you.”
“So no reasoning with this thing” whispered Olivia.
She stepped away from me; taking up a position to the thing’s left. I stepped to the right, hoping that by dividing he’d have two targets to concentrate on instead of one. It didn’t seem to faze him one bit though. He seemed to forget all about her and turned to me. But of course, he did because I was his primary target. Olivia could fire a volley of arrows at him and he’d ignore her to his heart’s content. It was me he wanted and no amount of pestering from her was going to get him to think otherwise. Which gave me an idea that I’m not sure she was going to like.
“Arrow” I had to remember not to call her by her real name. This hero stuff is kind of annoying. “You and Probe go on ahead; I’ll take care of the religious nut.”
“Are you sure?”
I looked at him, staring at me from underneath his shroud. I nodded. “This guy is a push over.”
Bottom Feeder growled and charged. It’s exactly what I wanted. He came right at me, barreling full speed with his head down like a rhinoceros. Olivia fired, her arrow hitting him behind the left knee. He howled in pain and dropped like a ton of bricks, skidding to a thunderous halt in front of me. I quickly unfurled my wings and took to the air. It was enough of a distraction for Probe to slip into the room too. She and Olivia took off, heading for the doorway at the other end. I waited until they disappeared through it before I looked down at Bottom Feeder but he was gone. It took me all of ten seconds to realize before his hand wrapped around my ankle and pulled me out of the air. He slammed me down on the ground like a dead fish. I hit the concrete face first, the armor absorbed most of it but it still stunned me. I groaned and he lifted me again, spinning me by my foot toward the far wall. When I made contact, the plaster gave way beneath me but I didn’t go through. Instead, I kind of oozed toward the floor, coughing and gasping. Damn, this Son of a Bitch was a lot tougher than I thought.
I got to my feet and he was on me again. He was fast too, really fast. He slammed both of his fists into my back, driving me to the ground again. Inches from the ground, he kicked me in the stomach, rolling me off his foot into the wall again. The impact was jarring and the armor did everything to keep the pain to a minimum. But I felt it this time and boy did it hurt. I fell off the wall. I was on my stomach again; my whole body felt like it was on fire. He came at me again, raising his foot to bring it down on my head. But something happened. My hand moved on its own, the blade on my wrist slicing upwards. I heard him howl in pain as I sliced off the front of his foot, cleaving away four of his five toes. He screamed and fell backwards. I struggled to my feet, gasping for air.
“Khaji, did you do that?”
“I can take over temporarily when you’re incapacitated.”
Bottom Feeder stumbled over to the far wall, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. He fell in the corner, grasping at his foot. He glared at me. “What kind of demon are you?”
I slowly got to my feet, groaning. I could taste blood in my mouth. “I’m not a demon you jackass.”
He growled and climbed to his feet. How in the hell could he even stand. I looked at his foot and what I saw shocked the hell out of me. His toes, they were starting to grow back. Slowly, brand new toes formed out of the front of his boot, covered in blood but just like the old ones. He saw me staring and laughed. Then he charged again but this time I was ready for him. I took off at full speed, slamming into his chest, meeting him half way through his charge. We flew through the air and into the far wall. There was a loud crashing sound and the two of us were two tangled bodies in the corridor beyond. I got to my feet first, dazed but unharmed. He took the brunt of it. He was underneath me, groaning. I thought I finished him off until he snapped opened his eyes.
He went for my throat. His fingers wrapped around it and he started to squeeze. I snapped my arm around, slamming my elbow as hard as I could into his forearm. He howled in pain and let go. I grabbed his wrist and activated my wings, flying up toward the ceiling of the corridor. It wasn’t very high but it wasn’t where I was going. I dragged his heavy ass back through the hole we just made in the wall. He tried to struggle out of my grip so I gave him a few punches in the face to quell him. Once I got back in the much taller room than I went up. I carried his heavy lump up to the ceiling, snapped around and drove him toward the floor. He struggled and fought but in the end, it was pretty useless. We slammed into the concrete together, him under me.
The sound was like a thunderclap. There was a lot of cracking. I’m not sure what was concrete and what was bone.
When I sat up and looked down at him, his hood finally fell from his face. I wasn’t the least bit surprised by what I saw: it was grotesque, twisted and mangled, barely recognizable as a human being. He moaned and turned to me. It was amazing that he could even move after smashing into the floor like that. He did a lot more than move. He lashed out at me, slamming one of his giant fists into the side of my side. It threw me off his chest, sending me flailing. I hit the floor on my side and slid into the wall. What the hell was this guy made of? I turned my head and saw him unbelievably sit up. He turned and looked at me, grinning with a toothless grin.
“The Lord has granted onto me the powers He gives all his chosen.”
“He has remarkable regenerative capabilities, its staggering.”
“How do we beat him?”
“Cutting off his head might work.”
A blade grew out of my wrist involuntarily but I forced it back down. “I’m not killing him. How do we beat him without killing him?”
“Rendering him unconscious will do it too.”
“Easier said than done.”
I clamored to my feet and staggered away. I needed to put some distance between him and me. I was starting to feel the battle whereas he was taking it and walking away without as much as a scratch. Even now, he pulled himself up from the floor and the only thing he did was groan. I could see several places where the bone had actually broken through skin. But he just pushed them back in and brushed it off. It was the most amazing and the grossest thing I’d ever seen. It was a shame this guy was my enemy because he’d make one hell of an ally. But La Dama had already twisted him too much for me to even consider that. This guy definitely had to be stopped and I had to do it.
I had to do it right now.
The Bottom Feeder put his hood back up, covering his face. It was a face only a mother could love. It reminded me of what Jason Voorhees looked like underneath the hockey mask. I shuddered just thinking about it. After he was done covering himself, he made another go at me. But I wasn’t going to fall for the same old tricks. I decided to change things up and play keep away. Every time he lunged, I used my speed to stay one-step away from him. He was kind of big and lumbering, not nearly as fast as he was when we started this. So maybe I was wearing him down after all. I just needed to keep wearing him to keep myself alive.
I turned on the heat after a few minutes of playing tag. I gave him a double dose of energy balls. I kept firing, aiming for his head and his chest. The only thing it seemed to accomplish was that it distracted him. But it was enough of a distraction to try something new. I took off into the air again, flying all the way up to the ceiling. I got above him and took a deep breath. It was time to drop on him like the car. I gave it my all, going full force. I slammed my heels into both his shoulders, driving him to the ground. I hit him so hard that he actually sunk into the floor. It was pretty damn impressive. I rolled off him on impact, landing on the ground behind him, panting. It took me a few seconds to recover and when I turned around, he was still stuck in the floor. I took a couple of deep breaths, wondering if I’d actually stopped him this time.
“This won’t hold me. I am an Instrument of God, I was Chosen to do his work. God will free me from this trap and when he does I will bring His Wrath down upon you and the vile She Devil who spawned you.”
Something inside me snapped. I’m not sure what it was. Maybe it was his annoying religious babble or his inability to stay down. Or maybe it was his insulting my mother but whatever it was I went to town on him and hard. I ran toward his back and drove my heels into his shoulder blades. When he screamed out, I flipped over his back and spun around in one fluid motion. I punched him in the face then punched him in the exact same spot. I kept punching, again and again. I’m not sure how many times I punched him. I just know that he passed out somewhere in the middle of it and that at the end when I finally calmed down, my armored gloves were covered in his blood.
I fell to the ground panting. I couldn’t breathe. I willed the mask away, allowing my head to breathe in normal air for a change. I looked down at my bloody hands and threw up. Then I looked up at the Bottom Feeder. What little of his face that might have been human looking was now more mangled and blood covered. I think I broke every imaginable bone in his face. I waited for him to spring back, to make some snide religious comment but he didn’t. Even he gurgled something and drooled. I left out a big sigh, slumping my shoulders.
“Are you finished?”
I sighed. “I think so.”
Khaji sighed too. “I don’t think he’ll be able to regenerate from that for quite some time now.”
I continued to sit there for a few seconds more then slowly got to my feet. I was absolutely exhausted and the worst thing was I wasn’t nearly done. I still had to find my family and help spring the other prisoners from this place. I sighed; a hero’s work was never done. I looked back at the monster one more time then turned away. I stumbled across the room, wiping my sweaty brow. Then I let the mask reform around my head and tapped into the radio link:
“Arrow, this is Beetle, you still there?”
A few seconds later, Olivia’s voice came back to me. “It’s about time; we thought something happened to you. Did you defeat that thing?”
I sighed. “Barely. But don’t worry; he’s not going to be terrorizing anyone else for a while.”
“Good to know.”
“How’s your end going?”
Olivia sighed too; I could hear the exhaustion in her voice. “We managed to storm the Cell Block. We’ve taken out most of the guards and freed all the prisoners down here. Probe’s with her people now, having their happy reunion moment. I can head up there and assist if you need me?”
I was about to say no, but I realized how drained I was. “Meet me at the stairs, I think it’s about time we end this bitch.”
Olivia was waiting for me at the stairs when I arrived. She looked about as good as I felt. She was leaning against the stairwell, her hood down, her quiver several arrows light. She was holding her bow in one hand, her face drenched in sweat. It never occurred to me that she was a real person too. She was a superhero after all, they weren’t supposed to sweat or get tired. But here she was, acting very much like a real person. When she saw me she only half smiled. I could tell the day was really getting to her. It didn’t help that the place was hotter than hell. You’d think that a place in the middle of the desert would have air conditioning or something. But the whole of this place was like a damn sauna.
I trudged up to her, dropping to sit on one of the steps for a second. She sat next to me, leaning on her bow.
“That rough, huh?” she asked, all I could do was nod. “I should have never left you.”
“He would have pulverized you. It took everything I had to take him down and in the end that wasn’t even enough. I snapped on his ass, I ended up beating him to a bloody pulp.”
She nodded. “After Merlyn killed my grandfather and I cornered him in the office. It took every bit of will power not to put an arrow in his throat and end it all.”
So she didn't kill him. I guess the geeks on the Internet would love to hear that, if she ever confirmed it. “So what happened?”
She sighed. “I didn’t resort to his level. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t kill the son of a bitch. I shot an explosive arrow at the glass instead. When the window exploded, he was pulled out by the suction. The police ruled it a suicide. Seeing as no one knew the Green Arrow was there, they said he was an assassin. I released a press release later, saying he failed to kill my grandfather but the shock of it caused his heart to give out.”
I remembered that. It was all over the news for days. JAMESON QUEEN SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT, DIES OF HEART ATTACK. The media had a field day with it. There were a lot of rumors flying around. Olivia stepped up though and handled everything. I think it was the first time I ever saw her, at the press conference a few days after her grandfather died. I mean, I vaguely saw her at the funeral but I was so far back in the crowd that it didn’t make a difference. But seeing her at the press conference, that’s when my crush started. She was so cool and confident then, especially seeing what she’d just been through.
“I had a chance to kill Bottom Feeder” I admitted it. “But I couldn’t do it, I’m not a killer.”
Olivia smiled and nudged my shoulder with hers. “That’s what makes us human. No matter what happens keep on reminding yourself that you’re not a killer and everything will be all right.”
I smiled. She got to her feet then pulled me to my own.
“Perhaps I misjudged your friend.”
I nodded. “I think I did, too.”
We climbed the stairs after that, taking things cautiously. When we reached the second floor landing and pushed the door open, Olivia went first. She led with her bow, an arrow at the ready. I followed quickly behind. I surprised at the difference between levels. The floors here were made of polished marble, the walls were painted a tranquil yellow and there was air conditioning. Clearly, La Dama was hiding on this level. The two of us moved down the corridor as one, each watching the other’s back. We had a simple plan: find my family, find La Dama and put an end to all this crap.
Up ahead we spotted two black suited guards standing on either side of a mahogany door. Olivia fired her arrow, hitting the door in-between the two of them. There was a burst of bright white light and two thuds. When the light dissipated, both guys were on the floor. Olivia smirked and we moved down the hall quickly. When we reached the door, I looked down at the two guys.
“Flash Bang” she said, nocking a new arrow. “The brightness blinds them then knocks them out.”
I looked at the door in front of us. “She’s definitely in here.”
Olivia nodded. She reached for the door knob but stopped before opening. “No matter what happens inside, you have to promise to keep your cool. We don’t want to make this situation more dangerous than it already is.”
I nodded. I took a deep breath. “I understand. Open the door.”
Olivia grabbed the knob and turned. She pushed open the door then led us into the room with her bow. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting what I saw. The room looked like something straight out of a Bond film. There was a long table in the center, several funky chairs on either side. The head of the table had the biggest chair of course. Off to the side was a little sitting area with a giant fireplace. There was even mounted antlers above the mantle. Amparo, aka La Dama, was sitting at the head of the table of course. There was a huge feast spread out before her. She was dressed in an elegant black dress, her hair flowing, a glass of red wine in her hand. The only other person in the room was Brenda. I sighed when I saw her. She was sitting in the chair directly to Amparo’s left. She was dressed in the same clothes that I saw her in last. Her eyes were red, her cheeks tear stained and there was a bruise on her forehead. When she looked to the door and saw me, her face lit up. Amparo’s face was a blank slate. She didn’t even smile. She just picked up her wine and took a sip. Looking closer at the table, I noticed two more places set.
Finally Amparo spoke, she was definitely channeling a Bond film.
“Good evening ladies, care to join us for a late supper?”
Olivia fired her arrow. She sent it flying toward Amparo’s head but missed on purpose. It hit the carved back of her chair, pinning the smiling angel right between the eyes. The shaft was a millimeter from Amparo’s left ear. The horrid woman didn’t even blink. But there was a slight twitch to her left eye. It was subtle but I caught it. Even though she was trying to play it cool, I could tell that that shot scared the hell out of her.
“My next one won’t miss” said Olivia, nocking another arrow.
Amparo smiled. “Right to business then” She set the wine glass down. Then she looked right at me. “Really Josie dear, its rude to cover your head at the dinner table.”
I bit my lip and dissolved the mask, allowing my real face to show for the second time tonight. Amparo smiled then picked up her glass and took another sip. Her fake pleasantries were driving me nuts. I could feel my anger rising but I kept my cool just like Olivia told me.
“How about you, Miss Arrow. Care to drop the hood and enlighten us as to your true self.”
Olivia smirked. “I like being the rude guest.”
I was tired of all the crap. I wanted answers and I wanted them now. “Start talking, lady.”
I moved down the length of the table but stopped a few chairs short of her. I so wanted to reach over and snap her neck. I looked over at Brenda. Now that I was closer, I could see that she’d been crying a lot and there were bags under her eyes so clearly she wasn’t sleeping either. She looked at me for a second and our eyes locked. I saw the pain in those eyes and I knew right then and there that she was as innocent in this thing as me. I guess that kind of made me relieved. I’m not sure what I would have done if she’d been in on the whole thing.
“I suppose it’s only fair that I tell you what this whole thing is really all about” Amparo drained her glass. She steepled her fingers then smiled sweetly at me.
“You see, I first learned about the Scarab in college. I, like Ted Kord, was a student of Dr. Garrett. Of course, he didn’t speak of the Scarab as being a real thing but the way he spoke about it, with such passion, I knew there was more to it than a simple legend. I spent the rest of my undergraduate time at the college in the library trying to read and find anything I could on it. I even applied to be Garrett’s TA but that weasel Kord beat me to it. He was always sucking up to him. I think he figured the Scarab was real too. When Garrett died and his effects passed to his family, I pursued them, asking if I could have some trinkets that reminded me of the dear departed man. I searched through everything Garrett owned but the damn Scarab was nowhere in sight. It absolutely destroyed me. I went into a depression for some time. Then I got smart and started to be enterprising. Through my researching, I made some dubious contacts. I started a little export business on the side. I made a pretty good name for myself and established quite the criminal empire. I rose through the ranks and it didn’t take long for people to label me the Dreaded La Dama.”
“I was on top of the world for the first time in my life and it felt pretty good. But there was still one thing I wanted more than anything. I wanted that Scarab. I became obsessed with it. I finally convinced myself that Garrett passed it onto to Kord; it was the only possible explanation. I made numerous attempts to contact him but he refused to meet with me. I was crushed until an opportunity present itself to me. Danielle Garrett came to me with an afford. She had her grandfather’s old journals, confirming what I thought for a long time. The Scarab was real. She too was convinced Kord had it as well. She wanted my help in procuring it for her. I agreed immediately but I had no intention of passing it onto the little drip. I got her and some of my men to try and steal it from Kord.”
“But of course he showed up in the middle of the robbery and things got messy. The prick deserved to die for stealing what was rightfully mine. But when Danielle and my men returned empty handed, it crushed me. You see, I don’t like to lose, and this was a major setback. I made some promises about that Scarab, told certain people certain things. You see, my partner, the same man who built this wonderful place, is obsessed with Metahumans. He gave me the capital and the resources and all I had to do was get him the Metas. Me, I could care less about the disgusting things but he wants to do whatever with them. I was doing pretty good too but I could have done so much better with the Scarab on my side.”
“I never would have bonded with her. There’s too much vileness in her blood. She reminds me far too much of the bastard who killed my first host.”
Amparo pointed at me and glared. “Then you came along. You of all people found my Scarab. You stole my glory right from under me. I didn’t think anything of it at first. There were those punks in the alley but though their eyewitness accounts were sketchy, I had to be sure. I knew the bearer of the Scarab couldn’t resist playing the hero, so I set up the bank robbery in the mall, hoping to draw them out. Lo and behold, you took the bait. You went charging right in, playing the heroine, I knew you would be. It confirmed my theory that you had the Scarab. But knowing you had it and attempting to get it from you were two different things. I needed your identity too. It was the way you reacted with your sweet sister that tipped me off. But I wasn’t certain until my guys roughed up that diner owner.”
“Seeing Brenda at the scene helped seal the deal for me. You see, she was at both incidents. I knew it wasn’t her because she tells me everything because we have a loving, almost mother daughter type relationship. Then she introduced you to me, her new precious friend, Jaime Reyes’ cousin. News flash, Jaime has no cousins. It didn’t take me long to figure out you two were the same person. That’s why I planted that bracelet on you and sent my precious Bottom Feeder after you in the alley. I needed a distraction to keep you busy while I took your family and that stupid idiot Paco. I figured if I had your loved ones, you’d come blundering here in a foolhardy attempt to rescue them and I’d finally have you right where I want you.”
She finished talking, finally. She was really taking the whole villain thing to heart, even throwing in the monologue. It was so cliché. But it explained so much. What I couldn’t figure out was why. Why would she go to so much trouble to possess Khaji? She was already very successful, she had a great niece who looked up at her and she had everything that one could ask for. So why pour all your resources into finding something that wouldn’t even work for her if she bonded with it. Looking at her, sitting there in her high back chair, it was obvious Khaji would have never deemed her worthy enough to bond with. She may have looked like she had everything in control but she was totally cracked.
“Pay attention to her hands.”
I did. There was something on the table. I didn’t notice it before because I was too busy listening to her yammer on. Now it was as clear as day. There was some kind of panel there, with a bunch of little buttons. It looked like a built in remote panel of some kind, also in a lot of Bond movies. I wonder which one of those buttons opened the shark pit. I gave Olivia a side glance but she noticed it, too. She gave me a little nod and let her arrow fly. Amparo never saw it coming. She gasped and jumped back as the green arrow slammed into the panel, destroying all attempts for her to use it. We both knew it was coming. One of those buttons probably called a slew of guards.
Amparo smiled and leaned back, taking her hands away from the table. “Was that really necessary?”
“Move another inch,” said Olivia, nocking another arrow. “And this one will be in your head.”
Amparo pursed her lips. “They were right about you; you really are a very efficient and highly skilled opponent.” She laughed. “But don’t bluff me girl, I’ve brokered deals with foreign nationals ten times more threatening than you.”
I looked over at Brenda. She was gripping a cloth napkin in her hands, looking from me to her aunt and back again. I had to get her out of here before things got out of hand. Olivia was already stirring up the water and it was only a matter of time before Amparo made her move. I took a deep breath and tried to see if there was a way out of this. Finally, it dawned on me, maybe I can bluff, too.
“Let Brenda, Paco and my family go,” I sighed, sounding defeated. “If you do that, I’ll hand over the Scarab.”
Amparo raised an eyebrow. “How stupid do you think I am? I’m not some low level Enforcer; I can spot a bluff easier than you can tie your shoe. I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
“Then you know there’s no way you’re ever going to come out on top” said Olivia, her arrow pointed right for Amparo’s throat. “Now release the girl and everyone else and you can walk out of here with your head held high.”
Amparo slowly rose to her feet. Olivia and I followed her with our eyes. She walked over to Brenda, standing behind her chair. Brenda trembled a bit. What the hell had this bitch done to her. I’ve never seen Brenda look so scared for as long as I knew her. Even in the bank, she was calm and cool. Now it was like she was a completely different person. Amparo was going to pay for crushing my best friend like that.
She leaned forward, wrapping her arms around Brenda from behind. She started rubbing her index finger along Brenda’s cheek. “You don’t want to leave, do you sweetheart. You like it with Aunt Amparo. Tell these nice scary girls how much fun we’ve been having.”
I saw the tears starting to swell in Brenda’s eyes and her lip trembled when she spoke. “Josie” She was looking at me when she spoke. “I’m sorry.”
I smiled. “It's ok Brenda. I’m going to get you out of it.”
Talk about cliché, jeez.
Amparo gently grabbed Brenda’s chin. “What’s the matter, sweetheart, don’t you like living with fun aunt Amparo anyone?”
I saw it in Brenda’s eyes. Even though they were filled with tears, they were filled with something else too. Then it happened, it was so quick. Brenda pushed back the chair as hard as she could, Amparo stumbling with it. Then there was a glint of something metal in Brenda’s hand. I’m not sure, when she grabbed it, probably when the bitch was talking, it was a fork. Using the chair stunt as a distraction, Brenda slammed the fork as hard as she could into Amparo’s thigh. She screamed like someone was murdering her and pushed the chair forward. Brenda fell to the floor and an arrow cut across the room. It snagged Amparo in the shoulder, while her hand was moving toward her belt.
I scanned her. There was a gun there, how could I have missed it.
Amparo screamed for a second time. She tried to make a run for it but there was no way I was going to let that happen. I moved like lightning across the room, cutting her off. I grabbed the front of her dress and lifted her off the ground. She started kicking and screaming, doing everything she could to stop me.
“I’ll do anything,” she gasped, trying a last attempt to bargain her way out of this. “Let me go and your family will be well off for the rest of their lives.”
I couldn’t believe the cool, calm woman from moments before was now this sniveling little coward. It was amazing how quickly the tides could turn. “I don’t want your money. I want my family. I want Brenda and Paco. I want to see you in an orange jumpsuit, paying for all the things you’ve done over the years.”
She nodded, tears streaming down her face. “You can have them, take them all.”
I lowered her to the ground. A part of me wanted to lash out and grab her by the throat. I could have done it; I could have leeched the life out of her. But looking at this woman standing before me, this broken mess of a human being I realized I’d already killed her. She played a deadly game and lost. She let her obsession with the Scarab rule her life, when she could have had a happy, successful one. I looked over at Brenda, who was sitting at the table again, crying, her face buried in her hands. She could have had a good life with her niece; they could have been a family. But she threw that all away just because she wanted power.
I groaned. Great, now I sound like I’m the clichéd one.
“You did good.”
I smiled. Then I pushed Amparo onto the couch, turning to Olivia. “Do you have her?”
She nodded and came walking over, another arrow at the ready. She walked and stood in front of Amparo. “Same threat as before, you move, you die.”
I walked over to the table. I looked down at Brenda. When she looked up at me, she jumped up from the chair and wrapped her arms around me, crying. I held her for the longest time. It felt good and safe. When we pulled away, she did something that took me by surprise. She kissed me. It wasn’t a shameless peck on the cheek either. It was a full on mouth to mouth deal and it lasted a lot longer than a few seconds. My heart started racing and my body was all a flutter. When she pulled away, she was smiling. Me, I was kind of at a loss. I knew I didn’t like girls anymore but there was something about that kiss that sent a tingle up my spine.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly, her lip trembling.
I grabbed her hand. “We don’t have to do this now.”
She nodded. “I know where your family is. Don’t worry, she didn’t hurt them.” She held my hand tightly and led me toward the door. "C’mon, they’re this way.”
I paused at the door, holding my hand before I knocked. Brenda was standing next to me, still holding my hand. When I turned and looked at her, there was something there that I hadn’t seen before. But at the same time, I saw her for what she’s always been: my best friend. I’m not sure what more I can say about that. Yeah, I loved her but not like a boyfriend would his girlfriend or now in my case a girl loving a girl. I loved her like a sister. I wished I didn’t. I wish I were still Jaime so I could sweep her off her feet and kiss her until we couldn’t breathe. But I suppose if I was still Jaime, I wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.
“Are you going to go in?” she asked.
I took a deep breath. “Before I do, I think we should talk about the kiss?”
“You want to talk about it now” She blushed. “Can’t this wait until you’ve had the grand reunion with your family? I’m sure they’re worried sick about you.’
I sighed. She was trying to dodge the conversation. But she was right. I was dodging this moment too. I’m not sure what to say to them. How can you explain to your parents that you’re a superhero and they were kidnaped because of you? I looked down, still seeing myself wearing the armor. I thought about making it go away and manifest normal clothes. But I couldn’t do that. I was tired of dodging the issue. I needed to come out to them, all the way and let them accept me for who I am now. So the armor was staying on until I could explain things to them fully.
“Ok” I said with a sigh. “I’m going in.”
I turned the knob and pushed the door open. The room was good sized, kind of like a motel room. There was a queen size bed, a flat screen mounted on the wall and an armchair in the corner. My parents were sitting on the bed, holding hands. Milagro was in the chair. When the door opened, all three of them looked at me. Milagro’s face lit up and she jumped out of the chair, running toward me. She threw her arms around me and cried into my chest.
“I knew you’d come” she said as she pulled away, tears glistening in her eyes.
I deliberately left my head exposed. I wanted to gauge my parents’ reactions. My mother sat there, speechless, her mouth open. My father just stared at me, his eyes moving from my feet to my head and back again. Neither said anything for a long time. I stepped slowly into the room. Brenda let go of my hand and lingered in the hall. I even let her close the door behind me. Milagro grabbed a hold of my hand. She didn’t seem to want to let it go and that was ok. I didn’t want to let her hand go either. In fact, if I could, I’d hold her hand until she got married. Already she’d been in far too much danger and I’m not sure how I was going to handle it when it happened again.
My mother spoke first: “Josie, is that really you?”
I nodded. “Yeah Mom, it’s really me.”
My father just shook his head, smiling. My mother continued to talk for the both of them. “I don’t understand why are you dressed like the Blue Beetle?”
Milagro beat me to the punch. For once, I loved that she was so pushy. “She’s not dressed like the Blue Beetle, she is the Blue Beetle.”
My mother’s eyes widened even more. “And you’ve been this person the whole time? This isn’t something that just happened?”
I sighed. I walked into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. It creaked a bit under my added weight but it looked sturdy enough to hold me. I took a deep breath and told them everything. I started with the day I found Khaji in the disused lot and finished with apprehending Amparo. They listened intently, nodding and sighing a few times. When it was over, my mother was teary eyed and did something I wasn’t expecting. She leaned over and wrapped me in a hug. I hugged her too, trying to be as gentle as I could. My father put a hand on my shoulder and gave it a good rub. I didn’t feel it through the armor but I’m sure it was reassuring.
My mother pulled away, wiping her eyes. She looked me up and down. “And this here, it can come off?”
I smiled and nodded. I raised my arm and showed her. I willed the armor away and everyone gasped as the armor oozed up my arm, showing human flesh underneath. Then I willed it back, showing them it went both ways. My mother asked a few more questions about the armor and then Milagro chimed in. She started blabbering about everything I could do. That kept my parents entertained for a few minutes. I got off the bed and wandered toward the bathroom. I did say this place was like a motel room didn’t I. I went inside and shut the door, sighing.
“Your parents took it better than I thought they would.”
“They’ve always been kind of open minded. Even if they weren’t I couldn’t keep it a secret from them anymore.”
“So where does this leave your superhero gig?”
I smiled. I think Khaji was spending way too much time with me. Where the hell did she pick up the word “gig”? But then again she’d been picking up a lot of modern slang. This was just the first time I’d ever really noticed. She and I were One now. Before I would have been freaked out by that, especially when she was insane and power mad. Now I kind of liked the idea that she was here to give me moral support and talk to me when I didn’t want to be alone.
“Do you think we could be a real superhero? I mean not doing this when the situation calls for it but actually going out and looking for the bad guys.”
“If that’s what you really want to do then I’ll support you. If you don’t I’ll still support you. You and I are partners now. Where you go, I will follow.”
I smiled. “You don’t have much of a choice about that.”
We both shared a laugh. There was a knock on the door and I heard my sister’s voice. I looked at myself in the mirror and willed the armor away. As soon as it was gone, I willed up some clothes. I didn’t do anything too fancy just jeans and a t-shirt. Then I turned and opened the door, Milagro was standing there. She frowned when she saw me in my civvies.
“Do you wear those under the suit?”
I shook my head. “They’re not real.”
She reached for my shirt, grabbing my sleeve. “It feels real to me.”
I rubbed her head and she slipped into the bathroom.
I walked over to the bed and sat down, huffing as I did so. My mother hugged me from behind, wrapping her arms around me. I kind of fell back, resting my head on her lap. She held me there, stroking my hair. It felt good, it felt like I was a kid again and there wasn’t a care in the world. I laid there for a long time, closing my eyes as my mother took care of me. I was so tired. I wanted to fall asleep but I knew there was so much more to do.
Khaji interrupted my happy time. “Olivia just radioed you, she had to subdue Amparo. She’s got her tied up and the police are apparently on their way.”
I groaned. “How long?”
“About an hour or so. Should we make ourselves scarce?”
“What does she want to do?”
“She can’t stay around but she doesn’t think it’ll be a problem for you. She wants to talk to you to explain.”
I sighed and sat up. My mother stopped stroking my head. “Is there something wrong honey?”
“A hero’s work is never done,” I said as I slid off the bed. “The Green Arrow needs me. I need you three to stay here until I get back.”
Milagro was the only one who complained, but my father stopped it with a look. I walked out of the room, finding Brenda waiting for me in the hall. She grabbed my hand as I passed and wrapped me in another hug. Everyone wanted to hug me today. The only one who didn’t was my father, which was strange seeing how overprotective he’s been lately.
“I need you to wait with my family,” I told her as we pulled away. “I have to take to my companion in green. I won’t be long.”
I didn’t wait for her to say anything. I left her standing there and went back to Amparo’s room. Olivia was standing near the couch, looking at something. When I came over, I saw Amparo lying on her stomach, her hands tied behind her back. She was unconscious, the arrow in her shoulder now gone.
She tried to make a run for it. I had to hit her in the back of the head with my bow and tie her up. She’s a feisty one.”
“Khaji said you wanted to talk.”
She nodded. “We need to clear out of here soon. I gave the cops a call, told them there was something strange going down in the desert and told them where to find the place. We’ve got about an hour before the boys in blue storm the place.”
“Do we have transport?”
She smiled. “Mia’s already taken care of that. The only question is, do you guys want to stay here to be interrogated or should I make room for you in my getaway vehicles?”
Like she really needed an answer to that.
We were all standing outside in groups: my family and Brenda consisted of one; Posse consisted of the other. Olivia sort of stood between us, keeping an eye on the gangsters. I was currently walking to talk to Damper. He was standing with a tall, leggy blonde, rubbing her stomach gently. This most have been the famed Bonita. I looked past them to another couple I didn’t expect to see: Paco and Luce. I figured she was probably with him when he was grabbed but why they were with Posse was beyond me.
Thumper noticed me first, nodding his head at me in greeting.
Damper turned and smiled as he saw me approach. “You are one crazy chica,” he said, shaking his head. Then he held out his hand. I took it and we shook. “I owe you the world.”
I smiled. “You can start with our deal. I helped you and now you’ve got to leave me the hell alone.”
He nodded. “I am a man of my word.”
“Is it true?” asked Scour as he hobbled over to me. “Did you really take down the Bottom Feeder?”
I looked over at Probe; she smiled and shrugged.
“I pounded him into the floor.”
“Man I wish I could have seen what that bastard looked like afterwards.”
When we all shuffled down the stairs and passed through the famed room of my ultimate showdown, Olivia and I were expecting the worst. What we found was a large hole in the floor and nothing else. Apparently Bottom Feeder had done his part, got his ass kicked and took off for the hills. We searched a couple of nearby places but he was long gone. One of the back exits had the door torn off it so I’m guessing he ran off sometime after I beat him to a pulp. Hopefully my beating was enough to scare him off retaliation but for some reason I knew I’d be seeing him again.
Scour and Thumper starting making jokes at the thing’s expense and I slipped off over to Paco. He was standing with his arm around Luce’s waist, looking like he belonged. It was kind of cute actually. When he saw me, he let go of her and did something I wouldn’t have expected. He walked over and wrapped me in a hug. I hugged him back; he was one of my best friends after all. When I pulled away, I thought I saw tears in his eyes.
I looked past him to Luce. “What’s the deal?”
She shrugged. “I was with Posse for a while. When Bonita and Esteban were taken, I bailed.”
I looked back at the group and saw the last member. He was tall, dark and brooding. He must have been Esteban. I turned back to her. “You going back with them?”
She shrugged again. “I might try the normal life for a bit” She grabbed Paco’s hand, giving it a good squeeze. “And see how that goes.”
I smiled and left them, walking back over to Olivia. She was still eyeing the gang-bangers, waiting for them to do something stupid. They were eying her too but I think it was more out of fear than anything else. When I walked up, she looked at me and smiled.
“I’ve got three SUVs coming. They should be here before the cops get here. Hopefully our presence here will go unnoticed but sometimes these things have ways of getting out.”
“You think Amparo will talk?”
She shook her head. “Not likely. If her boss is who I think he is, then chances are she’ll be dead before she reaches the police station.”
I nodded. I’m not sure how I felt about that.
She looked over at Brenda, who was currently standing with Milagro, the two of them engrossed in conversation. “Does your friend know what she’s going to do now?”
“My mother wants her to stay with us, at least for a while. From there I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“Well if she needs a place I have plenty of room to spare. The same goes for you and your family.” She looked over at them. “Your father is a valued employee.
I have a lot of empty houses; I’d love to help out.”
I smiled. It was a nice offer but my father would never go for it. I think she knew that but she asked anyway. She was that kind of person.
The three SUVs arrived right on time. Olivia handed over one to Posse and told them it was theirs to do with as they wished. The six of them piled inside, leaving the driver standing in the sand. They tried to talk Luce out of her decision to leave but she was adamant. So they took off without even looking back. The only thing I was going to miss about them was Probe. Even though she and I had our differences, I kind of thought of her as a friend. I might have not wanted to see Posse around but I wouldn’t mind seeing her from time to time.
My family filed into the second SUV , my sister convinced Brenda to go with them as well. My mother gave me a kiss and my father finally gave me a hug. While we were hugging, he told me we’d talk about this whole hero business later. Mia was sitting in the front seat of the third one, her laptop open on her lap. Olivia, Paco, Luce and I filed into the back. Paco and Luce kept staring at the Green Arrow, Luce in fear and Paco in awe. Olivia never took off her hood. I could see where she wanted to remain anonymous. I think it kind of annoyed Paco a bit, especially because he figured out I knew who she was.
The drivers took us to the Queen private airstrip. No one asked any questions. I think Olivia was happy for that. There was a different plane waiting for us though. I guess she didn’t want my family to put two and two together. This new plane was a little charter, it was just big enough for all of us, especially seeing as Olivia and Mia stayed behind. But she did take me aside before I boarded.
“I know you’re still undecided about all of this” she said, referring to the superhero life. “But if you decide it’s really the life for you, give me a call. You and I worked well together, I wouldn’t mind doing it again.”
I smiled and we shook hands.
Life returned to normal. I know that’s kind of strange to say considering everything that’s happened, but it’s true.
I settled back into things like any normal person. After returning from the desert, we went home. We set up Brenda in my room. I gave her the bed and took the floor in a sleeping bag. I think it worked out pretty well. She had fun with it. Because she didn’t have many girl friends growing up she never got a real sleep-over. So she tried to do the things you’re supposed to do at one. So that night, we painted each other’s nails---hey, I did a half way decent job---and she taught me how to braid hair. Milagro came in too; the two of us were closer than ever now. We ended the night with the typical pillow fight and fell asleep after nearly dropping dead with exhaustion. I know what you’re thinking and no she and I still haven’t talked about the kiss.
When I woke up, I got a shock of my life. Brenda was lying on the floor next to me, wrapped in my blanket. I sat up and looked down at her. She was sleeping so peacefully. I reached down and brushed a strand of hair across her face. As I stared at her, I wondered if I loved her like anything other than a sister. She was very pretty in a tomboy type way. I liked her laugh and the way her nose wrinkled when she got excited. She knew me, too. I think she knew me better than anyone else in the world, including myself some times. I didn’t have to hide anything from her either because she knew it all.
But could I give her my heart?
“She’s been sleeping by your side for a few hours now.”
I sighed. “I think she’s in love with me.”
“Her serotonin levels were highly elevated when she kissed you yesterday. But I’m not sure if that was the moment or if it was true love.”
I groaned, rubbing the heels of my palms into my eyes. “What do you think? Do you think I can have a relationship with her?”
“That isn’t the question. The question is are attracted to her?”
I stared at her some more. But there was no spark. I tried to make it come for her sake but there was nothing. I groaned. How do you tell your best friend that you love her like a sister and not any other way? I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. Instead, I slowly slipped out of the sleeping bag. The shifting fabric jostled her awake. She sat up, bleary eyed. She looked confused for a second until she looked at me and smiled. I smiled back.
“How did I get on the floor?”
“I was hoping you could tell me.”
She smiled. Then leaned forward, trying to kiss me. I turned my head and she kissed my cheek. I think that did it. When I turned back around, she was giving me this look. I sighed. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. I knew I had to tell her that I didn’t like her as much as she liked me but I was hoping my actions would speak louder than words. Ok, so I’m still a little bit of a guy. I mean, I wish I were in love with her. Hell, I’d do anything to look at her the way she looked at me. But there just wasn’t anything there. I’m not sure why I liked guys now---in fact, it made my skin crawl---but there was no denying how I felt.
“Brenda, look I…ummm….”
She smiled, a tear rolling down her cheek. She gently grabbed my hand. “I know and I’m sorry. I tried to ignore it but there it was. It’s been there since the day I saw you at Paco’s, when you wanted me to cut your hair.” I nodded, even though I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t even remotely girlish back then. “I’m not sure what came over me then but it was like a switch. I’ve always had this leaning toward girls. I’ve tried to like boys, I even thought of asking you out once just to see if it was true. But no matter how much I’ve tried I can’t help feeling something for girls.”
I sighed, resting my head on her shoulder. “Aren’t we the pair? You liking girls and me liking boys, if only we could switch.”
We had a good laugh.
Then she groaned. I lifted my head. She pinched her nose. “When’s the last time you’ve showered.”
I groaned. It was only yesterday but after the workout I got storming that place, I probably smelled pretty rank. I started to get to my feet but she beat me too it. She pushed me back down and made a mad dash for the bathroom. I jumped to my feet and took off after her. The little snot. When I catch her, I’m going to make her pay. She slipped into the bathroom before me and locked the door. I pounded on it for a few seconds then I heard her laughter from the other side.
“You snooze you lose.”
“Welcome to my world” said Milagro as she walked out of her room, rubbing sleep from her eyes.
I sat in the hallway and waited. Twenty minutes later, the water shut off and Brenda opened the door. She was wearing only a towel, her hair dripping wet. Apparently, she wasn’t the turban type of girl. I got to my feet and looked her up and down. My eyes went to her chest and I smiled.
She turned a bit green. “What is it?”
“I’m so much bigger than you.”
I laughed. Her mouth dropped open and then she swung at me. I ducked the punch and slipped into the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. I laughed my ass off as I locked it. I heard her pounding on it for a few seconds. I sighed and walked over to the mirror, wiping Brenda’s condensation from it. The girl staring back at me had the funniest smile. But it was a cute smile; it was my smile. I leaned forward and stared at her, blinking my eyes and sticking my tongue out. When I first saw her, I was so scared. Now as I looked at her I couldn’t help but feel content. She was me and I liked her.
I stripped off my shirt and dropped my pajama bottoms on the floor, standing in the middle of the room naked for a moment.
“Have you made a decision yet?”
“You’ve had some time to think about it, I was wondering if you’ve decided to take up the superhero business full time.”
I turned back to the mirror and smiled. I flexed my muscles, grinning. “Oh yeah” I said aloud. “I can so do this.”
“What the hell is this? Do those guys really have suction cups on their arms?”
There were five or six of them, running along the walls, wearing these freaky orange spandex costumes. When Khaji intercepted the police call about some unusual bank robbers, I thought I was going to encounter guys dressed like Presidents or Clowns. But these guys really were the most unusual dorks I’d ever seen. When I first arrived at the scene, they were in the midst of emptying the cash registers of the bank into large burlap bags. When they saw me, they actually had the gall to attack. It was kind of pathetic really, seeing as they clearly weren’t Metas.
That’s when they sprang to the walls. I already thought they were funky enough but seeing them rolling along the walls like acrobats, I nearly wet myself from laughing so much. These guys were ridiculous.
“I don’t think your enemy appreciates being laughed at.”
“C’mon Khaji, look at them, they’re a bunch of freaks.”
“Says the girl in the blue pajamas.”
I groaned. I’d only decided to be an official superhero a few days ago. You remember right, I was in the bathroom about to take a shower. After that, I had a long talk with my parents. They weren’t too keen on the idea at first but in the end, I convinced them it was the best thing for me to do. My father was the one who caved first. Remember him, Mr. Over Protective Papa. He told me to be careful and make sure I watched my back. My mother stood there speechless, her mouth open like a goldfish. But in the end, she came around too. I only told them about it as a technicality. I was going to do it whether they liked it or not.
That’s when Khaji and I decided on a new look. It’s not that I didn’t like the armor; I thought it was fantastic. But we both agreed that it would only be used in emergencies. It was a way to conserve energy and make sure it didn’t cut out in a fight. So we came up with this cool blue jumpsuit. We manifested it like my clothes. It was skin tight and flexible but it could also stop bullets and was damn near impossible to tear. I got this really cool beetle symbol on my chest too. To top it off I thought up these really cool yellow google things for over my eyes, they looked kind of like bug eyes. I mean anyone who saw me would still think I was the Blue Beetle so there was no harm in a little image remodeling.
Khaji was just grumpy about the whole thing because I refused to change my name. She hated the fact that the press called me the Blue Beetle. She was a Scarab after all, not a beetle. She felt I should have called myself the Blue Scarab. Even though it was kind of cool, with the new outfit, I felt that people would think we were two different people. Yes my ego played into it a little bit but every once in a while you have to ride the coat tails of fame a little bit.
“Who are you?” asked one of the freaks clinging to the wall, there were suction cups on his legs too, so he looked like an orange wall clingy.
“I think that’s my line buddy,” I said, staring up at him.
He huffed. “We’re the Squid Gang.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I mean come on, seriously. “You’re joking, right?”
He wasn’t laughing. Instead, he snapped his fingers and his goons snapped into action. Two of them came at me first. The great thing about the armor was that I could still use parts of it without using the whole and draining the energy. So even though I couldn’t go full force, my hands and feet were fair game. I formed the armored gloves on my hands. The first Squid got to me and I drove him to the pavement with a swift kick to the chest. The second landed a few feet away and charged me, whipping out a long metal staff. He brought it toward my face but I blocked it with my forearm. Then I grabbed it and slammed it as hard as I could into his forehead. He stumbled backwards, falling over his fallen companion.
The guy on the wall hissed. “Four and Five, get her.”
I looked up on the wall. Clearly, he was Number One; Two and Three were the guys he must have sent first. Four and Five were the two guys on either side of him, looking at him and then at me. They finally looked at their two friends on the ground. I’m not sure which one of them bolted first. But they took off pretty fast. Number Six turned a pale of green and threw up. His suction cups gave away and he fell off the wall. I didn’t even have to knock him out; he did it himself.
Their leader, Number One, looked at me. He put on a sheepish smile. “Maybe we can work something out.”
I glared at him. He dropped his bag of money and scurried up the wall, faster than Four and Five.
There was a loud round of applause behind me. I turned around, looking at the crowd gathered. Most of them were the bank patrons but there were lots of other people there, too. I smiled and waved. A couple of flashes went off.
“This might be a good time to make a quick exit.”
I nodded. “Sorry guys, I gotta go.”
I took a deep breath, the wings sprang out of my back and I took off, the sounds of police sirens wailing loudly below me.
God it felt kind of good being the hero.
It coursed through the stars, going at speeds uncalibrated by any known velocity. Its destination was close and its mission very simple: conquer. The planet chosen for it was one of many; there were hundreds just like it out there. Every one of them was small and insignificant but ripe for the picking. This one was no different. The people there were primitive, barely infants as far as It was concerned. They would be easy to conquer, just like so many countless worlds that They had conquered before.
The planet was close now. It could sense the oxygenated atmosphere. Already It had passed several other planets in this small solar system. First, it was small insignificant ones then one with several rings. A few moments ago, it was a gas giant and now It just passed a dead red husk. The husk was once something to behold. There were countless stories about its people and its civilizations but they were long gone. Wiped out by war and destruction. Its people knew about those ones, the Green Skins, the ones of cunning and superiority. Once they would have been a target too but no longer. Anything that was left of that great civilization was long gone.
It sensed its destination. There was a small moon, tiny and miniscule. Then there it was: the planet of Its destination. They sent one here before, eons ago. The One was the first of many. It was the Scout, one of the Infiltrators sent to secure information and report back. They lost contact with it centuries ago and feared it had been deactivated. Until It came back online. It started broadcasting again, sending out mass amounts of information. The planet was ripe for the taking now, its people were advanced enough to put up a fight but weak enough to snuff out. That’s why It was sent. It was supposed to find the Other and see why the Other stopped broadcasting. When It found the Other It was supposed to assess the situation and discern the appropriate punishment. If the Other refused than It was to terminate the Other.
It reached the planet. The oxygen enriched atmosphere swirled around It as It made Its way toward Its destination. It triangulated the Other’s position, locking onto its built in radio transceiver. Even though the Other had deactivated most of those functions, it still sent out a rudimentary homing signal. All of Them had one, including It. It headed for the west coast of one of the primary continents, moving much faster now, trying desperately to zero in on the Other.
It found the Other’s trace signature in a coastal city and headed for the Other’s last known activation area. It aimed for the shadows, slowly down as it landed. It flung itself onto a wall and scanned the surrounding area. There were primitives everywhere, flashing blue and red lights on top of the primitive combustion vehicles. The Other was just here; It could sense it. But the Other was gone now, hidden inside its primitive host. It would need one of Its own to survive on this barbarian world. It continued to scan the crowd and found one of Its liking. The fair-haired boy had a good physique, he was healthy and he would be divine for what It needed to do.
For It was Djo Zha of the Reach, an Enforcer class and it was sent to conquer.