My Solo Mission Gets An Addition

After unceremoniously being told to basically eat smurf and die, I scrambled to find someone with a space-capable vehicle. Maria had given me her home number, just in case, so I rang her up first.

Strike one.

As I swerved through traffic on the way to Jules’ house, Maria told me neither Boost or the Keepers take space-based cases. There are so few of them, usually rescue, that investment in that type of ship proved fiscally unwise.

Especially considering the way teams end up going through vehicles like some people go through tissues.

I thanked her and hung up just as I arrived at Jules’. George eyed me curiously, but didn’t hesitate to let me in when I explained matters. I headed straight for the house. She created in her workshop; she planned in her drawing-room.

Maybe that says something about the type of life powereds lead. The room ostensibly for entertaining friends serves too often as a place where battles are planned. Of course, depending on your type of friends, your drawing-room may be used for the same purpose.

I popped in her house, striding right by Clara, Jules’ head of house-staff, with nary a grunt of acknowledgement. I dialed up Quickstep, the retired powered that, along with me, taught Jules hand-to-hand.

“What?” Quickstep’s voice sounded like it came from the bottom of a well.

I sighed and opened the door to Jules’ drawing room. Various maps and star-charts papered the walls. The couch and chairs sat along the walls, making way for a cube about 3-feet tall and wide. “Put the phone to your ear, Quickstep.”

“What?”

“I’m not in the mood for the doddering old man who doesn’t understand technology shtick today, Roger! Put the phone to your ear!”

“Ok, go.” His voice came through clear and business-like.

“Do you have any contacts that have access to a space-capable vehicle?” Quickstep was a bit of a legend back in his prime, and many heroes still admired him.

“Give me five.” Click.

I inched toward the cube. Rationally I knew Jules wouldn’t put something dangerous (read: explosive) in what was essentially her war-room, but machinists have a reputation for unexpected booms. As I neared, I saw a small black dome on top of the cube. I waved my hand over it.

It started whirring, and I’m not to proud to say I scurried back. The chandelier dimmed and a galaxy burst into life in front of me. It was magnificent, it was beautiful, it was…

My comm beeped and I realized my mouth gaped open. I could feel my face turn red. Luckily, no one saw me gaping like a teen looking at his first naked woman. “Go.”

Quickstep’s voice rang in my ears. “I got a lead on a vehicle. Problem is you’re going to have to make your case in person.”

“Can do. Who am I begging?” I looked at the stars circling my head. One shone a bright pink. I reached up and caressed it with my finger. A string of numbers and the name “Tol Star” sprang into view. I memorized the coordinates.

“You’ll have to go to The Legendary.”

Crud.

Of course, it would have to be the premiere powered-team in the world. One I had no ties to.

“I assume you need this because Jules is in some sort of trouble,” Quickstep said.

“Yup.” I waved my hand over the cube and shut down the hologram.

“I’m coming with you.” I recognized that voice, as would countless mooks, flunkies, and powered-villains. It was the voice that said, “You can try to stop me, but you’re going to fail. So why bother trying?”

I didn’t bother trying. “Welcome aboard. Meet me at Jules’ hous…”

“I’m here.” Show-off. The old man could still motor when he wanted to. It may be short bursts, but he could cover some ground.

I clicked off my comm. “You can take the phone away from your ear now, Roger.”

Maybe I, along with Quickstep, could convince The Legendary to lend us a spacecraft.

If not…well, I could always steal it, I guess.

Until next time,

Douzeper

Agent Chase-Government Hatchetwoman

It’s amazing how time seems to slow to a crawl when you are anticipating something. My fingers drummed the armrests of my chair and my foot tapped in rhythm. AIS personnel tend to be obsessively punctual.

Drives me nuts. I’m more of a get there early type of person. Probably a holdover from the old days where Crowley and I would arrive at a job early to make sure no variables had changed. My fingers curled into a ball at the thought of Crowley.

Five ’til. Ugh. I tried raising Jules again on the comm she gave me. Like the forty other times I tried, I got nothing. I stood up and started to pace. Two steps one way, two steps back. I do not have much room in my office.

A business-like knock sounded and the door opened before I could even muster the k-sound in come in. A muscular bald man in a government issued suit and shades entered my office, head turning as he scanned for threats.

I sneaked a quick glance at the clock. The second-hand had just swept past the twelve. 10:00 exactly.

Baldy turned and nodded to a figure behind him. An older African-American woman who can best be described as “stout” strode into the room. She wore a cream-colored pantsuit that barely showed the bulge of her pistol in its shoulder holster. Her hair lay short and square on her head, matching the rest of her body. A pair of diamond earrings served as her only extra-adornment.

I had a feeling if anybody stole those earrings, she would track him down and that person would die slow.

Douzeper.” She didn’t ask. She merely identified me, a nod to social pretext. She acknowledged me in a clipped tone, as if pointing to a dog and saying “dog.”

“You lost contact with Stargazer. What do you want with me?” Two can play that game.

Her eyes narrowed, almost lost in the fleshiness of her face. Lips hinted at curving down, but didn’t quite move. She lowered herself into one of my client chairs, Baldy standing guard behind her like a faithful hound. “I see you are familiar with who I represent.” A hint of warning colored her tone.

I waved it off. “I was at San Francisco. I keep up.” I perched on the edge of my desk, purposely putting myself in her space. My arms folded across my chest.

She didn’t seem to notice. “How did the Brannigan case go?” Her serve and it was doozy. My muscles tightened imperceptibly as I fought the urge to give her a Diamond-Cutter across my desk.

Maybe not so imperceptible, as Baldy shifted his stance, ready to intervene in case I lost all sense.

I hadn’t…yet. “Poorly, as you well know, or you wouldn’t have brought it up.” I back-flipped over my desk and landed in my chair. It’s specially reinforced to handle my more crazy maneuvers.

I’m just glad I hit my mark this time.

I waved a hand to dispel the tension. “Listen, I would love to sit here and snipe at each other all day, but my friend is in trouble. So, how about we just get down to brass tacks, huh?”

She nodded, as if my retreat secured her alpha-dog status. Have I ever mentioned that I dislike bureaucrats and the petty games they play? If not, I should have. If I have, then repetition should let you know I mean it.

“My name is Veronica Chase, and, as you have surmised, I am with the AIS. Approximately 48 hours ago, Stargazer and Celia left on a diplomatic mission to the planet Tol to seek a treaty with them. We know she arrived safely, but she has missed every check-in since.”

“You’re sure it’s not just equipment failure,” I blurted.

She gave me a look usually reserved for dog poo being scraped off shoes. “We have the finest machinists in the world, including Stargazer, working for us. Celia also has a homing beacon built-in, in case of such problems. The homing beacon has disappeared, as well.” She arched an eyebrow.

I read eyebrow rather fluently. This one said, “Any other stupid questions, idiot, or can I go on?”

I nodded, properly chastened. She cleared her throat and continued. “Normal protocol calls for a strike-team to mount a rescue mission. However, since these are potential allies in the war against the Hytians, that protocol has been set aside for the moment.”

Now I knew what she wanted with me. “You want me to go to Tol and find out what happened.”

She nodded, clearly unhappy with entrusting this type of mission to any outsider, much less me. “We need someone deniable and expendable to investigate what happened. We have…intelligence that there is a faction on Tol that actually seeks subjugation by the Hytians. They believe that being ruled is better than dying by defying them.”

“We need to know if this faction has sabotaged the talks.”

I grinned, but it didn’t reach my eyes. “Well, I’m nothing if not deniable and expendable. I’ll do it.”

She stood and Baldy opened the door for her. She turned back before she left. “You will be on your own. If you get caught, we will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Don’t tell anybody about our meeting.”

Anything I said in response to that would be a lie, so I kept my mouth shut. She walked through the door and something occurred to me. “Hey, how am I supposed to get there?”

She paused and glared at me. “That is entirely your problem.” She strode off before I could say another word.

Baldy hesitated long enough to sneer at me before he made his exit.

Both of them are so going on my “to-punch” list.

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