"What's in this report that you worked so hard to accidentally stumble across?" asked Cirovox, his glow pulsing lazily on her hand.
"Nothing. Nothing new. They're planning something for her. but they aren't spelling out what." Her gaze went over the photographs of Morning Glory she had pinned to her wall. The report had also talked about how much the media loved Morning Glory. 'Loved' wasn't really the right word for it, though. Hounded, maybe, hunted, even. Half of the property damage laid at her feet was recording equipment, but they just didn't give up. Magazines with covers featuring Morning Glory sold like hotcakes.
As the daughter of the two leading operatives for Pandora Force, Kaveri was no stranger to celebrity. But she was small, dark-skinned, and disappointingly ordinary, with no spectacular powers or blonde beauty to keep the cameras watching her. She was well-behaved, too, as far as anybody outside of Pandora HQ knew. And she wondered, looking at Morning Glory's pictures, if the other woman would be happier if she was as unremarkable as Kaveri was. She'd never quite been able to ask Danica that.
"You're thinking mouse thoughts again," observed Cirovox. "Stop it."
"There's nothing wrong with being a mouse," Kaveri pointed out. "Mice chew through wires."
The gem on her hand pulsed in annoyance. She'd been the keeper of the celestial entity since she was twelve years old. While he was deeply attached to her and often obedient, he'd never really accepted her refusal to let him transform her into some sort of glowing winged champion, the sort of operative who would get the attention he thought she deserved. "Maybe someday," she always told him vaguely. "Maybe after college." Meanwhile, she helped out in little ways when the opportunity presented itself.
Her gaze lingering on the collage on her wall, Kaveri picked up her phone and glanced at the messages. Nothing from Danica since yesterday, when she'd been preparing to go to her 'job'. Then she flipped over to her maps, which centered on a courier service in Chicago that used low-powered operatives to secure high value packages, the location she'd tracked Danica to that morning.
Danica was not low powered.
She made it through the workday without setting anything on fire, and considered it an accomplishment. No one seemed interested in talking about anything other than the fact that Ignition had been outed as a lesbian. Three people Bri had previously heard loudly theorizing that Ignition was sleeping with one or more male heroes were now claiming that they had known it all along.
"You know, the picture was probably Photoshopped," she snapped when someone asked her opinion.
By noon, she'd heard nearly a dozen people say that Ignition should retire. Should be ashamed of herself. Should get killed by a supervillain, even.
By the time she got home that evening, she never wanted to hear the word 'lesbian' again.
Unfortunately, she arrived home to a crowd. Jake, Elaine, and Claire were squashed in her living room, beer bottles in hands, watching some old western. Elaine and Claire were still in costume as Faultline and Hurricane, and wasn't it so comforting to know that her team had been out fighting supervillains without her?
Claire jumped when she saw Bri. After a few seconds, she crossed the room and threw her arms around Bri. Bri endured the hug for exactly four seconds before pulling away.
"Bridget, honey! Why didn't you ever tell us?!"
"I didn't know how you'd react," Bri snapped. "Considering that one of the guys I work with said it would be better if Ignition was killed by a supervillain, I don't think that's an irrational fear."
"We're your friends," Claire insisted.
"No, you're Ignition's friends. Now, please, get out of my apartment so I can sulk in peace."
"Out! Before I torch this place with all of you in it!"
He suppressed a frown and took a glass. "What is it?"
"Cucumber, avocado, ginger, kale... the usual stuff, really."
"It's good for you, boy, drink it." The artist waggled her glass at him. "Besides, you're in Boulder. It's pretty much mandatory."
"I guess I didn't get the pamphlet when I came into town. Uh..." he trailed off, and stared into his breakfast.
"Nissa. And you're Patrick McClintock." She touched the glass to her lower lip and paused. "Or should I call you Firebreak?"
Patrick's head snapped up at the name he hadn't heard in more than a year. "What did you call me? Who the hell are you?"
"Firebreak. Nissa. We literally just went over this. But it's okay—I understand your brain is a little fuzzy right now. You'll clear up soon, just as soon as you drink that." She held up a hand to stop his protest. "Breakfast now, questions after. You didn't have this much trouble following directions last night."
Heat flashed up Patrick's cheeks, and he knew his pale skin would do nothing to hide it. He retreated into the vile and frosty kale potion, mostly to buy time to think. Who was this woman? How did she know about that part of him? He hadn't gone by that name since Yarnell Hill. Not since that hellish hot summer, that evil wind, those damned lightning storms.
"No, don't be sorry." Nissa flashed an impish grin. "You were something else last night."
Patrick rolled his eyes, not at all interested in that kind of praise. Maybe this hippie-dippie artist girl was one of those wildfire groupies, but how could she know that he'd been on that ill-fated crew? That he'd survived, even when he'd fucked up so badly? There was only one other guy who'd gotten out of that mess alive, and he hadn't seen Patrick walk out of there. Unless he had and was now talking about it. Mistakes on mistakes—Yarnell Hill would always follow him. There was no running away from that fire.
I lost my trousers on the barbed wire fence, but they crashed a car into it a moment later, so I'm up one. The woods on the right seem like the sensible choice, ignoring the bark of dogs, shouts, a helicopter scaling up ahead. I'd give my legs for a bit of extra speed, but I don't have those kinds of talents. I'm running until I reach the brushwork, dive between bushes, and crash-land, sliding on the pile of leaves until my eyeball's practically pressed to the barrel of a shotgun.
"Nice try," one of them says. I lift my hands. Shit happens.
Stand-off as I'm breathing hard and he taps the gun against my temple with a smug-faced grin.
"You got me." I laugh. "I mean, I tried." Wearing boxers for fashion 'til the end, really.
Michael steps forward from the second row. He's still wearing trousers.
They get me up and walking through the woods, Michael on the far left of the group, but I can feel him staring at the back of my neck.
"Keep him from doing the thing," Michael says, and then someone else crams Clockwork-Orange style pliers over my eyes. They start tearing up immediately. I try a grin but it falls flat somewhere around the lips, not even getting anywhere close to the metal clamps.
"You always liked when I did the thing," I say. I smile at Michael, lick my lips. "Screamed at me to do it some more whenever I did the thing."
He punches me in the face. Good thing they've got me tied up or I would have laid into him as well. The sex was never the problem. Me not keeping my mouth shut about special talents because hell yeah it's all for love and shit, that was the problem.
I try to close my eyes around the pliers, but only Michael thinks nostalgia's actually a weapon.
"Cosmic Gir– Cosmic Man," he self-corrected. His face was blank, so I couldn't tell if he was embarrassed or mad at himself for forgetting. At this point, I was just glad that he'd bothered. "Do you want us to take him from here?"
I studied Floyd and resisted the urge to put my hands across my chest. It was still unfamiliar in the suit, and I wasn't happy with the way it appeared. I also missed the cape. Maybe I would have to bring back the cape. Sure it sucked in the wind sometimes, but it provided a little bit of cover in times like these. Naieema had assured me that my ass looked 'hella fine' from the back, but I still didn't know if I wanted it to be all over my fanpages. Talk about B-roll.
"No, I'll take him." I waved a hand at the cars and stopped traffic. "You want me to move this first?" Clearing accidents to the side of the road was one of the few things I did that endeared me to the local populace more than anything else. If you see a semi on its side, and you can literally drag it to the shoulder, stop and fucking drag the semi. Don't be a dick, boys and girls.
So I moved the truck off to the side, stacked the cash machines in the sidewalk, wrapped my hand around Floyd's wrists like a vice and pulled him up into my arms before taking off. His eyes fluttered open, and he smiled, and it was the saddest thing I'd seen in a while.
It's not Floyd's fault that he has three missing teeth—I knocked them out four years ago, and sadly, his alien biology won't allow him to receive implants, courtesy of the prison medical program. On the other hand, he literally fell into my fist. He was falling off a building and I was trying to catch him and he was pulling out a firearm and I was trying to not get anyone shot and he was trying to totally shoot me, and the next thing we knew, we had collided in midair like two drunken teens on the prom night dance floor.
His head rolled to face me as I coasted over the back of the police station toward the front. There would be a unit waiting there to put him in the manacles that I designed especially for him years ago. You would think, by now, Floyd would have just given up on the whole criminal thing and gotten a job in the movies, or maybe a roaming carnival. He had many fine qualities. Somewhere.
"You know," he said quietly, "I liked you better when you were a chick."
I seriously thought about just dropping him.
Yeni was used to people forgetting.
She held fast to her own memories, sure that someday she, too, would forget. She left notes for herself everywhere, written down in plastic so they couldn't be changed. She had yet to need them, but someday she knew she would.
She recorded everything with her implant, filing it all away to use later.
"See here," she murmured. "Symbols of the old government." She pointed to a specific place on the wall. "And this name? I think she was on the Select Board. It was true, Shan! The stories were true." She gestured at the scorch marks on the wall and the brown stains on the floor. "There was a battle here. It wasn't an accident."
She felt a little tickle at the back of her mind, an odd sense that she sometimes got. It usually didn't mean anything, but here... it felt dangerous, somehow. She stood and looked around.
He was a few meters away, staring blankly at a wall.
"Shan!" She snapped her fingers in front of his eyes.
He blinked. "Yeni? We should go home."
"Not now," she insisted. "You can't do this now. We're in Bunda Forward. We came here just now. Remember!"
He frowned. "I have to go home."
He rose and started to run toward the end of the hall.
"Wait!" she cried, and sprinted after him.
There was an open door: a lift tube filled with an anti-gravity field that would gently bring you up or down, depending on where you wanted to go.
But this section was sealed off. There was no power, and no field. And if Shan didn't remember that—
Yeni shrieked in horror as he plunged over the edge.
And then she scrambled back as a woman rose smoothly up the tube, carrying a limp Shan in her arms.
She said nothing as she smiled at Yeni. The words Hello again formed distinctly in her mind.