Where I Commit Treason…

I said my goodbyes to Maria, Boost, and the Keepers. I took Lady Aether back to her dorm, despite her protests. I’d already disrupted her life enough. She needed to get back to it.

She made me promise to call her if I needed her help. Promises cost nothing to give, in most circumstances, so I did. Not that I have any intention of calling her again, unless it is a dire emergency. Like “Oh my, Utu, the world is about to end” dire. So, technically, not a lie.

She’s good–too good to be hanging around me.

I put the Diavel in flight mode and set course for home. I let the auto-pilot do most of the flying. My mind was too busy racing with possibilities.

I had a good idea who the agent represented. I’ve dropped enough hints. I’m about to go full on WikiLeaks here and spill some state secrets.

Aliens are real. The attack that leveled San Francisco, the one blamed on rogue magicians conjuring extra-dimensional “things man wasn’t meant to know,” was actually perpetrated by an Hytian alien invasion force. All those who fought in San Francisco were sworn to secrecy. Everyone else who might know the truth died in the attack.

That never set well with me.

After the attack, a new agency was created. They recruited top exobiologists, astronomers, machinists, and linguists to create the Alien Intervention Service. I don’t have a problem with that. Understanding is the key to peaceful interaction.

They also tapped combat-oriented Innates, spec ops from every branch, and some power-suit machinists to create their own black ops force.

I have a little bit of a problem with that, but at the same time I can understand the desire for a security and reaction force.

I don’t understand keeping the rest of the world in the dark about the existence of alien species, and the threat the Hytians pose.

Jules, being one of the more open-minded and understanding of space-capable powereds, signed on as an ambassador for the AIS. I knew her current mission involved her visiting another species, the Tolans in order to help create an alliance between our two worlds. Kind of a Mutual Defense Treaty-type deal.

Hytians are apparently the wieners (oh, Jules) of the galaxy. We’ve “discovered” several new species in our travels since the Battle of San Francisco, and all have had problems with the Hytians. So, diplomacy is called for now.

A Hytian scout force destroyed a major city. They aren’t a problem we can just punch away.

If the AIS is looking for me, then something must have gone wrong with Jules’ mission. She loves her family, but I know she put me down as the contact for emergencies.

She doesn’t expect me to rescue her, they have strike teams for that. She expects me to decide if her parents should know what’s going on.

However, if she is in trouble, I will go find her. If the AIS doesn’t throw me in jail first.

But why would they? It’s not like anybody is really reading this.

I make it home early in the morning, exhausted. I fall on my bed, out when I hit the pillow.

Despite my worries, I don’t toss and turn.  I need to be at my best.

For Jules.

I’ll give you the gist of the meeting later.

Until next time,

Douzeper

 

 

SUPER-FIGHT!

Where was I?

Oh, yes.

So plaster is cracking and flaking down upon us, turning the air in the dungeon into a dust-filled haze. The bulb flickered and dimmed, but didn’t go out. Pre-beatdown jitters gripped my captors, and they took their eyes off me to look to Mrs. Brannigan.

I took the opportunity. I pulled myself up by the chain until I hung upside down. Umbra tried to shout a warning, but too late. I jerked my body back down with a grunt and pulled. The chains tore from the ceiling with a crack.

I hit the floor in a crouch and flicked one of the chains into the face of Aeromancer. Red blossomed from his face as his nose broke. His eyes crossed and he went to his knees.

I didn’t wait for him to fall before flicking the other chain at Ice Diamond. She froze the chain, turning it brittle. I shattered the chain and sent the shards flying into my enemies.

Chaos.

The door burst in, catching Ice Diamond as she aimed her freeze rifle at me. She flew into the far wall with a thud. A large figure, built of gray stone, stood silhouetted in the doorway.

“Rockslide,” Tek-Knight moaned.

“Y’all are under arrest,” Rockslide said in his soft southern drawl. “Come quiet or come painful, it’s up to you.”

I dove to the corner holding my gear and picked up my sword handle, activating it with a thought. The room brightened as my blade glowed bright. I cut my remaining chain off.

The improved lighting revealed Mrs. Brannigan muttering under her breath. I did something that, in retrospect might seem cruel, but my sympathy for people trying to kill me is limited.

Do you remember when I had her and Mr. Brannigan sign a blood-oath contract giving me one favor of my choosing twenty some-odd posts ago? Her magic might be enough to fool my abilities, but even the Magus has to abide by blood-oaths.

I had to speak quickly, before she finished the spell. “Mrs. Brannigan, I have found your daughter and claim my reward. My favor from you is that you never use your magic again.”

Her spell completed the moment after I spoke my terms. She screamed as a pillar of liquid sunlight rose from the ground to consume her. Everyone in the room, except me, covered their eyes.

When they could see again, the short matronly woman had changed into a withered parody of herself. Skin shriveled against her bones, and her thick grey hair turned white, stringy, and thinned.

Oops.

Helpful hint: Don’t break a blood-oath witnessed by an ancient god. They no likey.

Lisa screamed and rushed faster than I could react. Her shoulder drove into my stomach and propelled us through the wall into a darkened storage area. I heard more voices, including Lady Aether and Boost enter the dungeon, yelling.

Ice Diamond screamed, “DIE!” Her ice rifle fired and pandemonium broke out.

I couldn’t help out, I had a vampiric fourteen-year-old to destroy.

My job sucks sometimes.

I regained my bearings quickly, but Lisa had already taken off through the storage room exit. I took off after her.

I turned off my blade to draw her out. No way was a vamp coming near a sword made of pure sunlight. The darkness didn’t bother me, I could see just fine. Well enough to see that the hallway branched off in several directions.

I came to the first intersection and extended my senses. Not that I expected it to do anything more than offer me as a tempting target.

It paid off. She leaped on my back and I felt slender, impossibly strong hands grab my clavicle and head. I felt her head descend to my exposed neck. My hand flailed and I managed to find her forehead to push her back.

But I was losing the battle inch by inch.

So I tried something different. I let her head go and threw mine back, spinning as I did so. The unexpected move broke her grip. I grabbed her by the hair and flipped her up and over me, slamming her on her back into the ground. My foot slammed down into her chest.

“I’m sorry this is the only way I can save you,” I said as my blade activated and descended into her heart.

She screamed as it pierced her. Rays of sunlight shot from her torso as her body began to disintegrate. She turned to ash and I heard another scream rising over the sounds of battle in the dungeon.

Her mother’s.

The link between them broke with Lisa’s destruction. This wasn’t the cry of a defeated supervillain vowing vengeance. This was the cry of woman who had just lost her only daughter.

The sounds of fighting died along with her scream.

I strode back to the dungeon. Tek-Knight was on his knees, blubbering about how he was only following orders. Professor Quark, leader of the Keepers, covered him with his hard-light arm cannon.

Aeromancer looked like he had woken up, only to find that air is limited against rock. His face bore the evidence of his stubbornness.

Boost and Lady Aether, along with the twins Flora and Fauna, covered Ice Diamond. To be more accurate, vines, spiders, and roaches literally covered her while the others stood guard.

Rockslide held a weeping Mrs. Brannigan in his arms. The frail old woman would pose no more threat to anyone.

Mr. Brannigan stood in the middle of the room, looking alternately frightened, angry, and sad. I felt sorry for him.

Until he strode up to me and slugged me in the jaw.

He pointed a finger in my face that shook with fury, along with the rest of his body. “You murdered my daughter!” He punched me again.

I held up my hand to keep Lady Aether from coming over. His punches didn’t hurt.

I let him tire himself out. When he bent over to hold his knees, I leaned down and whispered, “My favor from you is that you pay my full fee. You better hope the check clears.”

I gathered my stuff and walked out of the dungeon.

Until next time,

Douzeper

Reveal

To my surprise, I woke up. And believe me, when you get suffocated into unconsciousness, waking up is a BIG surprise.

I knew I should have killed that bulldog-looking jackhole when I had the chance.

Chains dangling from a ceiling wrapped my wrists, holding me off the ground. I only had my pants on as I hung there. A single bulb cast shadows along the windowless walls of some type of dungeon. My gear lay in a corner. How cliche. Whatever happened to originality in villains. I half-expected a car battery and some jumper cables to be sitting on a stool.

I cleared my throat. “I’m awake,” I yelled. “You can reveal your nefarious plans anytime now.” I’m not a very good kidnappee.

The door behind me creaked open. I didn’t hear anyone come in. Not only that, I didn’t see or smell anything either. Not even a shadow.

Nothing until a face popped right in front of mine. It was young and looked more seductive than her picture. The braces were gone and the hair straight and lustrous.

But there was no doubt it was Lisa Brannigan. And she hung from the ceiling upside down.

She smiled and her incisors, elongated into fangs, flashed. “Ooooh,” she cooed. “You’re my hero.” She cackled in my face.

“I’m sorry this happened to you,” I told her. “I can try to help you, if you…”

She laughed again and dropped from the ceiling to the floor. She ran her hand along my face, then down my torso. I didn’t bother to hide the shudder. She leaned in and whispered, “Like you helped Torrie?”

I could feel my face burning. She kept going. “And why would I want help? Look at me.” She stepped away, stood on her tiptoes, and did a little pirouette.

“I’m so sorry,” I said again.

“You keep saying that!” she screamed. “Stop it!”

The door creaked open again and this time I heard footsteps and smelled perfume. I realized I had been played from the word go.

Mrs. Brannigan stepped in front of me, whatever spell she had used to hide her necromantic energies from me expired. I could see death hanging around her. The same death that fueled the spell on Torrie.

“How nice to see you again, Mr. Douzeper,” she said. She practically oozed false cheer. “You’re probably wondering why you right about now, hmmm?”

My jaw clenched so hard it hurt. I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction.

She grinned at my intransigence. Only once have I ever wanted to punch someone so badly. “You see, my baby had a serious genetic condition, inherited from her father’s side, of course. I had to change her to save her life.”

“So you changed her into a monster?” I spat out.

She slapped me. “She is NOT a monster. She is better. She is everything humanity should aspire to.” She stroked her daughter’s hair in a mockery of motherly affection.

I wanted to puke. Instead, I ground out, “And what did Torrie ever do to you?”

The false cheer fell from her face and twisted into a mask of hate. “Don’t mention that little whore’s name to me,” she hissed. “Her and her mother got exactly what they deserved.”

She waved her hand and several different footsteps came through the door. Ice Diamond and Aeromancer shoved a hooded Mr. Brannigan into the room, while Aeromancer’s goons, RapidFire, Umber, and Tek-Knight followed. Mrs. Brannigan went over to where her husband knelt and ripped off the hood.

Mr. Brannigan blinked at the sudden light. “T-T-Tara, what’s going on?” he asked.

She cupped his chin and squeezed. “What’s happening, Bill, is that your sins are coming back to haunt you.”

She shoved him away and went back to her daughter. “Tell Lisa who Torrie was. Go ahead. I want her to hear it from your lips.”

“I don’t know what you’re talk…” Ice Diamond’s fist crashed into Mr. Brannigan’s mouth. I didn’t react when blood flew from his mouth. I had figured where she was going with this, and found my pity in short supply.

“Don’t lie!” Mrs. Brannigan screamed. “You slept with that whore and Torrie was your daughter! Then you had the nerve to rub it in my face by allowing that harlot’s child to be Lisa’s friend!” Flecks of spittle flew from her mouth and whitened the corners of her lips.

Figures. I decided to interrupt. “Excuse me.” Every eye turned toward me. “Why am I here?”

Mrs. Brannigan inhaled and blew out a deep breath to collect herself. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Well, yes, but I want to hear it anyway,” I said.

That Cheshire smile came back. “Very well. I need a fall guy. It will be horrible. You will have found out that Bill molested his darling daughter, and, in a rage, you murdered him. Aeromancer,” she gestured to her bulldog, who grinned, “and his team will defeat you. Unfortunately, you won’t survive your apprehension.”

She actually seemed to do a little dance. “After a suitable period, I will take control of my husband’s business. With the help of my new associates, I will soon rule the city from behind the scenes.”

I shook my head. “There’s just one problem.”

She cocked an eyebrow at me. “If you are talking about your little friend or Boost, rest assured they will be taken care of.”

It was my turn to Cheshire grin. “Nah. Not worried about them. The problem is you left my gear in here. It’s activated by the sound of my voice. The comm links directly to my blog, so every word you just said has been posted online.”

Mrs. Brannigan paled. I kept going. “Further, while the lone hero that relies on no one but himself makes good copy, reality is a little different.” I nodded toward my pile of gear. “My Diavel has been homing in on my bracer’s signal since I woke up. Lady Aether, Boost, and the Keepers of the Gateway should be following right behind.”

I love great timing. A boom resounded above us. The building shook and dust fell from the dungeon ceiling.

In the interest of keeping the length down, I’ll let you know what happened next time.

Douzeper

It’s a Trap!

The Sears Tower. It’s a trap. I knew it was a trap. YOU knew it was a trap. Admiral Ackbar knew it was a trap.

trap

I went anyway.

Boost’s family was fine and she offered to come with me. I declined her offer. She needed to be with her family because who knew if this was just a play to leave them vulnerable? Villains aren’t exactly known for their clarity of thinking. They are known for convoluted plots to mentally and emotionally torture their enemies.

So no Boost.

No Stephanie, either. Oh, she cussed up a storm when I told her to stay away from the meet, but I wasn’t about to bring a rookie into her first trap. She could stumble into her own on her own. Boost offered to keep an eye on her. I accepted.

Stephanie told me, “Be careful.”

I’m in the wrong line of work for that.

At the appointed hour I swooped down on my Diavel. I didn’t bother to recon the place. If they can teleport through magic or whatever, I wasn’t going to see anything until they wanted me to anyway. I hopped off my bike and sent it off. The Tower loomed over me, a symbol of humanity’s pride and a city’s inferiority complex. It lit up the sky and looked from the ground like a giant finger pointed at the Gods, as if to say, “Look at Us. We are mighty!”

The presence of powered humans only dented the arrogance of humanity. I shudder to think what would happen when that arrogance is completely stripped away. Would we survive it? Could we survive it?

On the other hand, maybe that stripping of the blinders is what we need to advance again as a species.

Several cars passed by. I stared up at the Tower, waiting.

“What are you doing here?” a familiar voice that dripped with disdain asked.

Lisa’s father. Everything clicked. I rushed him, grabbed him by his shirt and jammed him against a wall. “Why did you set me up?” I yelled. “How did you lie to me?”

I admit, I almost killed him I was so angry.

He yelled at me at the same time. “Where’s my daughter? What have you done with her?” It took several repetitions before what he said penetrated my thick skull.

I let him down and took a step back, but ready in case he tried something. He took a moment to straighten his shirt and collect himself. His eyes were icy as he regarded me.

I figured I’d break the ice, so to speak. “A woman was murdered. Two women actually. Torrie Mallor was killed by a spell and her mother was killed by Ice Diamond.”

Brannigan’s face grew paler and paler as I talked. He stumbled and went to the ground on one knee. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn he was praying.

“There was a message left for me by the killer to meet here at this time. Then you show up.” I moved in closer, invading his bubble. My arms crossed. I knew he wasn’t behind the killings, but he hadn’t told me everything, and I was getting tired of being jerked around.

A soft sob and moan escaped his lips. He sniffled and said, “I received a note from Lisa’s kidnappers to meet here about their demands.”

He looked up at me, his eyes burdened with unshed tears. “Torrie’s dead?”

I could feel myself soften a bit. “Yes. I’m sorry.” It confused me why this man would care so much about his daughter’s friend. Maybe he felt more than I gave him credit for.

I opened my mouth to say something else, but started to choke. I couldn’t breathe.

I was suffocating from a lack of air.

The last sight I saw was Aeromancer with his goons standing next to Ice Diamond, Lisa’s father laid out at their feet.

We were both set up.

Where’s Billy Dee Williams when you need him?

Until next time,

Douzeper

 

Something I Really Didn’t Want To Do

Ice Diamond had disappeared into thin air. Boost looked terrified. “Go home,” I told her. “Make sure your family’s all right. We’ll meet you at the FBSA office. I swear to Utu.”

Swearing to the gods is a “big deal” for Empowereds, so Boost had no problem taking me at my word. Her eyes thanked me and she disappeared in a blur. If I had a psycho after me and such a public profile, I wouldn’t have stuck around either.

“What the flit was that about?” Stephanie asked me.

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Are you guessing that this has something to do with what happened to Lisa and Torrie?” she asked.

I crunched my out of the shop; thank goodness the government insured registered Powereds. Shards of glass dripped from various crevices and folds of my clothes. “Yes.” I was too tired and sore for a pithy reply. I’d used up my healing for the day against the Preservers, so healing au natural  was the order of the day.

My Diavel hovered where I’d flown from it. I limped over and heaved myself on. Stephanie (I’ve decided I’m not using that name she chose) climbed on behind me and snaked her arms around my waist. She raised herself up a bit and whispered in my ear, “You okay?”

I upped us to 500 feet. “Not in the least,” I answered. I kicked in the burner and headed toward the FBSA office. Chicago streamed by beside and below us. It can be a beautiful city.

Of course, I’ve found that most cities can be beautiful when there aren’t a bunch of people around to screw it up.

I spotted a familiar building and a light on in specific apartment. I sighed and changed course.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Stephanie shouted.

I hit autopilot and fished out a small earpiece and mike comm stashed in a goody compartment Jules built in. I handed it back to her. I really dislike shouting directed at my ear.

“What are you doing?” she asked again after putting activating the comm. I should have given it to her sooner.

“We’re…I’m going to see Torrie’s mother. You can stay on the roof and wait.”

I landed on the roof again and went down the stairwell. It felt…cold.

Too cold for a climate-controlled building.

I pulled by blaster with one hand and my sword with the other, placing my shield on verbal standby. The hallway leading to the apartment was dark, but a sliver of light spilled from the cracked door. I extinguished my blade and crept down the hallway. I leaned against the wall beside the door and sharpened my hearing.

I heard nothing.

I took a deep breath and kicked in the door. My blade flared into life and I swept the blaster from side-to-side, searching for a target.

I didn’t see anything…except for Torrie’s mother laying in a pool of water, her skin blackened by severe frostbite. My feet squished as I crossed the formerly lush carpet. I knelt and felt for a pulse, knowing full well I wouldn’t find one.

I hate it when I’m right about those sorts of things.

I called the FBSA office to report the murder. I turned back toward the door and saw the message on the wall.

Sears Tower. Tomorrow night. Midnight. 

I’m being jerked around. The suck part about it is don’t really have a choice.

I hate this job sometimes.

Until next time,

Douzeper

On The Way To The Office…

Ugh. Whoever scripts my life is a sadistic smurf.

So, Lady Aether (she really should have consulted someone on name choice) and I are cruising beside Boost on our way to the FBSA office.

Everything was going great. I managed to avoid a fight with one of the few powereds I admire, she actually believed our story (it helps when you’re the Empowered of a truth God), and I got to know one of my idols as a person.

Guess what happened.

Go on, guess. I’ll wait.

Give the man/woman/other a prize. Of course we were attacked by a powered-villain because originality sucks. I swear there must be a handbook called So You’re a Megalomaniac-12 Steps to Bringing Out the Supervillain in You.

Step 1: Have some kind of tragic origin. This particular 12-stepper is a villain called Ice Diamond (and who comes up with these names?). Her whole family died in an explosion at her cryo-research lab. Check.

Step 2: Murder various innocents in some misguided revenge plot. She destroyed an almost empty lab. Notice I said almost. Check.

Step 3: Up your game and attack a major target. She went after some corporate headquarters bigwigs during the middle of the day. Check.

Step 4: Get beat by a powered hero; swear eternal revenge while being sent to prison. Boost beat her and sent her off to Ravenswood Institute. Check.

She was at Step 5, apparently. Break out of prison and surprise attack your nemesis.

The first warning sign came when my wheels started spinning on the road. If I have to explain what was causing it, you haven’t been paying attention to any of the clues. Velma would be so disappointed in you.

Boost slid on the ice, the change in traction throwing her off-balance. Ice shards shaped like, you guessed it, hailed down on her. She managed to avoid many of them, but here and there rents in her uniform and thin red lines showed.

So I did what any right-thinking person would do. I switched my Diavel to hover-mode, blasted some Hail the Villain “Runaway“, activated my shield and placed us between the storm of shards and Boost.

Okay, I was showing off for my crush. Sue me.

A woman dressed like a bondagist’s wet dream stepped out of an alleyway. She raised some future-rifle and the intensity of the shards increased. The tinkling sound as they shattered reminded me of  wind-chimes during a tornado.

Over the noise I heard Steph-I mean Lady Aether-chanting. A fireball flew past me toward Ice. Who promptly flipped a switch and fired a sphere of pure cryogenic energy. The two opposing forces met and a cloud of steam obscured the field.

A shadow that looked suspiciously like a fire hydrant zoomed through the cloud toward us. And what do you know, it was a fire hydrant. It crashed into my shield at a velocity that sent me flying off my bike and through some store’s plate-glass window. You know, after I broke through the iron gate supposedly protecting it.

Boost took the distraction we provided and managed to get back on non-ice covered ground. She picked her angle and went barreling toward Ice.

Almost instantly an ice wall appeared along her trajectory and she had to shift to avoid slamming into it. Right into another patch of ice. Down she went again.

Then it was over.

As the kids would say: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Ice Diamond cackled and disappeared.

She’s not supposed to be able to do that.

And I’m sure I don’t like the implications.

Until next time,

Douzeper

Stephanie

Stephanie’s grabbing some regeants and assorted paraphenalia for out trip back to Chi-town.

I’m swaddling Torrie’s body in some blankets. I’ve already called for her body to be collected and taken to the Medical Examiner.

I’m not looking forward to going back and telling Torrie’s mother I failed. I could call her and tell her, but that is the coward’s way…

Stephanie: “What are you doing?”

“I’m running a blog. My headset converts speech into text.”

Stephanie: “Huh, an online diary. Neat. Did you make all of that?”

“No. My friend, Stargazer, gave it to me.”

Stephanie: “So that’s how you knew about me.”

“Nope. Well, sort of. You were in my bracer’s database.”

Stephanie: “She never mentioned me?”

“Don’t look so hurt. To be honest, she’s been busy. And when I did get to see her, we had other things to discuss.”

“Besides, if she told me about everyone  she’s met, we would never talk about anything else.”

Stephanie: “Oh. Well, feel free to talk to yourself all you want. You should see what weird habits some wizards have.”

“Some?”

Stephanie: “Fine. All.”

“By the way, when you speak the mike catches it and puts it down as well.”

Stephanie: “Wonderful. I always wanted to be semi-famous.”

She bows and gestures me ahead. I find if I murmur my words it just looks like I’m a homeless person off his meds.

We hop on my Diavel and she is actually squealing…

Stephanie: “I AM NOT SQUEALING!”

“You know when you yell like that it shows up in all caps, right?”

Stephanie: “How would I know that? And anyway, don’t lie and I won’t yell.”

“Hate to tell you this, but I can’t lie.”

Stephanie: “Crap.”

I switch over to flight-mode, and the higher we ascend the tighter her grip becomes. Not an unpleasant feeling.

And with her having normal human strength, I can barely feel the punches when I say something she doesn’t like.

We’re heading back to Chicago, and I hope…

Stephanie: “What is this design on the back of your jacket?”

“It’s a unit patch of a World War II fighter squadron called the Hellcats.”

Stephanie: “Cool. You a history buff?”

“Not exactly. And definitely not a first-date story.”

Stephanie: “You do realize I can do horrible things to you, right?”

“Sarcasm doesn’t become you. Plus, we’re currently about “oh, smurf” feet above the ground.”

Stephanie: “You have to land sometime.”

“Ignoring that. What’s your specialty anyway. The database is kind of light on info for you.”

Stephanie: “I’m an elementalist.”

“Sweet. How good are you with the air element?”

Stephanie: “Not great. Why?”

“Because we’re about to have company. A particularly idiotic piece of work called Aeromancer. And it looks like he brought friends.”

I take the Diavel down and try to reach ground level. I’m going to be busy, so I’ll let you know what happens.

If I’m alive.

Until next time,

Douzeper