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AN OMINOUS SHADOW CASTING
JOSEF KOELBL III
Lady Cleo touched down lightly on the tall building’s roof and walked deliberately to the edge, her stiletto heels click-clacking hollowly into the twilight air now descending over Talos Island. She tugged at her short leather gloves pulling them tighter over each hand in turn and peered over the ledge of the fifteen story building. She sniffed the air and her lips curled upward, a feral little smile now evident on her fine porcelain features.
She smelled the hint of ozone burning from the force field walls that separated the zones of Paragon City. She heard a faint boom as another hero or villain somewhere blasted away at another hero or villain. She heard the sounds of traffic and the murmur of voices floating up from the street below. Cleo placed her hands on her hips and shook a lock of her choppy red hair from her eyes. Her ice blue eyes surveyed the streets, the buildings, the alleys and she sighed heavily.
She had been at her super group’s base when the call had come in. Azuria needed some…assistance. A Tsoo boss by the name of Bright Shadow had come into possession of an extremely dangerous and volatile mystic object. It was unclear if he knew of its power but Azuria, and the people at M.A.G.I, wanted it back. Cleo shook her head. Azuria was a seemingly young woman but that could be an illusion. The mystic was perhaps a sorceress, or a genie, or a goddess or a combination of all three. And although Lady Cleo was familiar with magic, had worked with magic and understood magic a bit more than others, she still disliked magic. It was too…unpredictable, fickle and dangerous.
So here she stood; on a rooftop undertaking a mission she didn’t want for a group she didn’t trust to aid. Plus, and this is the best part, I have no idea where this Bright Shadow is, she thought, a bemused expression working over her face. Her hand strayed to her belt, fingertips absentmindedly rubbing one of its green stones gently. Lady Cleo looked over the city once more and kicked off the roof, silently rising into the early evening sky. She turned to her left and scanned the area past the transit station, her gaze flowing over the low cliffs and to the high-rises beyond near the entrance to Dark Astoria. She hovered for a moment more and began to float slowly toward the cliffs.
She supposed she could call the base and ask for help. Or call her sister Lady Jasmine to see if she had any information about this magical object. Cleo frowned at the thought of her sister. The two hadn’t spoken since that fateful night. The attack, the death of their parents, the destruction of the Temple; all had served to drive a wedge between them. And Cleo’s single minded eradication of any 5th Column criminals she could find didn’t help matters. Cleo tugged at her ear as she flew along the cliff tops. Her ears had been pointed…elfin…since birth. Odd, considering she wasn’t an elf, had no elf blood and had no idea if elves even existed. Another joke nature and fate conspired to play, she grinned to herself.
Cleo scanned the low area at the cliff bottom. Green grass dotted with boulders of every shape and size ran the length of the island and lead to the beach near Spanky’s Boardwalk. She landed on the ledge and looked down taking in the area, the lapping of Red River in her ears and the smell of sea salt at her nose. Here and there groups of Warriors stood, the gang members talking or sparing and suddenly an idea leapt into her head.
She took to the air again, eyes working back and forth over the groups of gang members gathered below. The heroine smiled and landed on a rocky overhang, three or so stories in height over the grassy rock strew area below. A group of perhaps twelve Warriors milled about under her, unaware of her presence. Just what I’m looking for, she grinned and quickly went over what she knew of the combative street gang.
The Warriors controlled most of Talos Island. The Tsoo had the docks, the Circle of Thorns had the outer islands and the Banished Pantheon had the area near Dark Astoria. There were some heroes who wished to eradicate these groups one by one but Lady Cleo took a more pragmatic view of things. If the Tsoo were eliminated it was certain the Warriors would move into the docks. Then either the Family, sensing weakness, would make a play to add the Talos docks to their Independence Port holdings or the Warriors, feeling bold, would try to move into the docks in Independence Port. If the Warriors were removed, the Circle of Thorns would try to move into the larger islands, the Tsoo would move to stop them and there was no way to know what the Pantheon would do. The simple fact was there would be chaos and open warfare.
All things were interrelated. As much as she hated to admit it, to retain a sort of balance of power, the criminal status quo needed to be maintained. The Fifth Column had been destroyed, as far as she knew, and within days, it seemed, the Council had taken their place. However, it didn’t mean removing a Tsoo boss and a few underlings would hurt matters. A healthy respect and fear of the heroes in their midst was always a good thing.
And the Warriors hated the Tsoo.
She breathed out heavily through her nose and simply stepped away from the stony ledge. The heroine fell silently to the earth and landed at the outskirts of the gang. They turned as one and, with one fist on a cocked hip, she said calmly, “Gentlemen.” Their surprise faded almost immediately and they surged toward her as a unit, cries of “A cape” echoing from the cliff walls.
Cleo emphasized a sigh with a shake of her head. The Warriors had the same attitude of the other criminal groups in the city…See the cape, kill the cape. The only difference being that the Warriors were better trained. They came at her in formation, the first three forming a wedge and the rest fanned out behind, already taking positions in a semi-circle. The heroine grinned. Nice, she thought. Cutting off my escape and blocking me in.
Lady Cleo waited until the point of the three man wedge was almost upon her. At last she leaped up and over the first man, her hands landing on his back and pushing him down. The heroine’s legs swung up kicking the two thugs on either side under their chins, knocking both senseless. She shoved hard on her makeshift human platform, throwing him off balance and sending him into the grass. Cleo rolled forward, claws extending from the back of her right hand with a shrupp and swung her arm low, slicing the sole from the boot of the Warrior nearest her, the dangling rubber tripping him as he rushed past and fell heavily, sprawling comically on the ground. The heroine spun gracefully, left leg extended in an exaggerated arc, sweeping an oncoming goon from his feet. She sprung up, claws popping from the knuckles of her left hand and sliced up, cutting the bottom of a Warriors leather vest away.
“I don’t have time for this!” she grunted. “I just…,” she struck a nearby thug with a straight right, “…need information…,” a back elbow knocked the Warrior attacking from behind her away, “…about the Tsoo!”
A punk appeared before her but he was different than the others. He stood unmoving, regarding her. He was tall and athletically muscular, shirtless but sporting the usual Warriors vest and tattered jeans. His baseball cap was worn backward and he held a huge double-headed battleaxe, its blade notched and pitted. He held his empty left hand out and to the side and the Warriors behind him nearly fell over themselves in their rush to obey his silent order to stop. “The Tsoo?” he asked in a surprisingly soft voice.
“Yes,” Cleo nodded. She watched as he looked her over, starting at her feet. She was clad entirely in skintight black leather, from her stiletto heels to her neck, the only bits of porcelain flesh showing were her forearms and face and a teardrop cutout over her chest. His eyes paused at the cleavage and Cleo raised an eyebrow. His gaze wasn’t one of lust or need or trying to see through her outfit to guess what kind of underwear she was wearing. He was examining her, gauging her, taking her measure. A professional, Lady Cleo thought and realized, if it came to it, he would be a dangerous adversary.
One of the dangerous people. Of all the heroes and villains in Paragon City, there were many posers. Only a very few could truly be called “dangerous”. There were a few in her super group, some she had met, some she had fought and now this fellow. She would have to add him to Top Ten’s database so they could keep an eye on things. She frowned. Something else to worry about.
His examination lasted several more seconds and he chewed his lower lip as he thought. Finally he nodded, an almost imperceptive movement, and said, “Parlay,” and stepped forward.
Lady Cleo inclined her own head slightly in agreement.
The Warrior boss scratched his chin absently. “So, what’s this about the Tsoo?” His dark eyes nearly bored into her as he questioned her, still intent and wary.
“I need to find a Tsoo boss by the name of Bright Shadow,” she said calmly, her icy blue eyes unblinking as she returned his gaze.
Cleo snorted and smiled crookedly. “Well…that’s not your concern. Let’s just say…he’s …really pissed me off.”
“Heh,” the criminal replied, chewing his lip again as he frowned. He sighed and nodded, “All right…what’s in it for us?”
The heroine tapped a finger on the emblem emblazoned over her left breast, a triangular shield with bars of blue floating in a field of yellow. “You know who I’m with?”
“Top Ten. Big group. Big dangerous group,” the Warrior answered.
Cleo grinned at the man. “We leave your people alone…for the most part. I don’t think we need to change that.”
The boss nodded. “We got a deal with the fire-man.”
She smiled another crooked smile. The “fire-man”, Tropic, one of her teammates, had saved a group of children with the help of another Warrior boss named Hyde*. Later, when Hyde was almost killed by his own people, Tropic had saved his life**. Out of respect, or perhaps fear, the Warriors curtailed their more…overt operations. While in no way friends, the gang realized the fire blaster could be a powerful ally and adjusted their actions accordingly. The heroine didn’t know the specifics of this “deal” but the Warriors set stock in it and she didn’t have the time to argue the point.
The leather clad woman brushed a lock of red hair from her face. “I see no need to…renegotiate.”
The Warrior boss stared at her for several more moments then, “Done.” The deal was set. He reached into his pocket and turned away. “I gotta make a call,” he said, crossing a few yards over the green grassy field.
Lady Cleo leaned against the waist-high boulder behind her and crossed her arms over her chest. Outwardly, she regarded the Warriors near her with a bemused expression. Inwardly, she was calculating the distance to each, sizing up their strengths and weaknesses, going over what they could do if this impromptu little meeting went south.
And it could still go bad in more ways than she could count.
The Warrior thugs she had fought trudged by, rejoining their fellows. One was still brushing dirt from his shoulders and pulling clumps of grass from his vest. Another was supporting a still groggy teammate, his arm around the man’s waist, directing him with a limp to a larger group. The heroine realized the limping man was wearing one shoe. He held his boot in his other hand, the sole dangling by a few threads.
“Sorry about the shoe,” Cleo grinned sweetly at the hoodlum. The criminal gritted his teeth so tightly she thought they may crack and he growled deep in his throat. Her smile broadened, becoming sickeningly sweet. The rest of the thugs stood silently, some staring angrily, others leering in undisguised want, their lurid eyes crawling over her like ravenous ants at a picnic.
“Back off,” the soft voice of the Warrior boss echoed over them and the underling moved to stand with the rest of the crew. He shook his head at Cleo and thrust a piece of notepaper at her. “Here, he’s at this address.”
Lady Cleo raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Who?... Bright Shadow?” she looked at the paper in her hand. She recognized the general area written there. Near the Royal Refinery in Kings Row. “He’s there now?”
“Yeah,” the boss nodded. “Now, I got a favor.”
The heroine looked down her nose at the man. “Go on,” she said coolly.
“Me an’ my…associates…are gonna be havin’ a very…animated discussion with the Tsoo at one o’ their warehouses in the next week or so,” he grinned conspiratorially. “We’d appreciate no interference from you heroic types.”
Cleo chewed her lip as her icy blue eyes considered the thug before her. Here was the “Balance of Power” equation she was thinking of earlier. If they were at each other’s throats they had less time to be at ours. She sighed, “I can’t speak for any of the other hero groups in the city, but as long as your…discussion…doesn’t threaten any civilians, Top Ten won’t get involved.”
The Warrior boss smiled, nodding. “Good,” he grinned. “Pleasure,” he said with an incline of his head, then he snapped his fingers and as one the Warriors moved off without a backwards glance.
Lady Cleo looked at the paper in her hand and then at the retreating gang. She rose into the air and angled herself toward the transit station. That went well, she thought, so why do I feel like I just made a deal with the devil?
The heroine touched down lightly on the roof and glanced at the paper in her hand. She walked to the ledge and frowned. From her vantage point on the sixth floor, the building across the street looked like the dozen other abandoned warehouses in this part of the city. The Royal Refinery was once one of the largest employers in Paragon City, but time and mismanagement had sent its fortunes tumbling until only a few of their holdings were still in operation.
This building was not. This building was dark and deserted. It was also the address she was looking for. She frowned again, her ice blue eyes seeming to rove over every inch of the brick building. It was mostly one story, a long, lean building until the rear where a second story jutted up. Beyond that, two tall cylinders connected by an almost infinite number of pipes and tubing stood in shadow, pushing hard against the now dark sky. Boxes, barrels and crates haphazardly dotted the fenced in work yard and stray fast food wrappers and other trash tumbled across the barren windswept pavement.
Lady Cleo frowned again and rubbed her hand over her chin, the smooth leather of her small glove caressing her lips as she stared intently at the dark structure. Her first inclination was that the Warrior had lied to her but she dismissed the idea quickly. He would have given her the correct information. A deal was a deal, after all and she was sure that his superiors would be rather vexed if they found out he had shined a hero on. Especially when they had a deal with the “fire-man”, she grinned to herself. No…he would have told the truth. She just wasn’t looking hard enough.
So she calmed herself, taking a deep breath and with Slow down echoing in her head, the heroine looked again, blue eyes narrowed and searching for anything…anything…anything; anything that moved, or looked out of place or just served to irritate her. Looking until…
There! What was that? A flash? It happened so quickly… Cleo squinted hard, staring deep into a small alleyway formed by the warehouse’s wall and high row of rusted metal crates. Nothing moved but her eyes never wavered, peering deep into the shadows until she smiled. Yes! A Tsoo soldier, one of the Enforcers, clad in black with a red sash belted across his midsection. The heroine couldn’t tell which type of adept it was; Dragon, Serpent, Tiger, Crane or Eagle. She was aware all were deadly and if one were here there would be others.
Cleo watched him intently as he fiddled with the sword sheathed on his back. He had probably drawn the blade a fraction of an inch and the moonlight had glanced brightly from its polished steel surface. If she hadn’t been looking, she never would have seen it. She watched as he receded into the dark once more and now, after picking him out, could discern others, all concealed, hidden.
And they were everywhere. She backed away from the ledge, brow furrowed in thought. The claws popped rhythmically, first one hand then the other as the heroine considered. Too many to fight…well, she grinned to herself, I could fight them but I just don’t have the time. Cleo looked over at the warehouse again, her eyes zeroing in on its second story; a large window in particular. She flew straight up for a hundred yards or so then zipped through the darkness to the window. She pulled at the glass frame and the unlocked aperture opened with a small squeak, although to her it sounded like the roar of a lion. She squirmed through and crouched in the shadows of an “L” shaped walkway, brushing ancient rust from her gloves.
Lady Cleo chewed at her lower lip as she took in her surroundings. A few yards ahead of her, a railing lined the walkway preventing any unwary soul from falling the fifteen or so feet to the warehouse floor. To her right, a two flight ramp led down. To her left, the walkway followed the wall and then that sharp “L” turn at the corner. The warehouse office stood at the inside of the turn and extended the two stories to the floor, windows facing the walkway on both sides. Her first order of business was to secure the walkway and make sure no unwelcome guests spoiled the nights remaining events.
The heroine moved slowly to the office, staying low and in what shadow she could find. She peered around the corner and was relieved to see only three Tsoo hoodlums, all three shirtless, two covered with tattoos, the other’s face hidden by a broad rimed straw coolie. She burst from her cover and was in their midst, surprise silencing them as the black clad vigilante spun them violently about, their heads cracking hollowly on the walkway’s hard flooring. She dragged the unconscious bodies into the dark and stood in the shrouded shelter near the corner of the office.
Cleo sighed silently, her cold eyes now surveying the entire warehouse chamber below her. It was huge, boxes and crates stacked in careless clumps throughout, some recklessly high, and here and there boxes stood alone, appearing to be placed accidentally. Near the offices, racks had been constructed and dust covered containers sat quietly waiting to be dispatched or rot. The Tsoo were spread out over the floor, some standing in groups of two or three, others in large contingents of ten or more. In the center of the expanse stood a group of five Tsoo criminals. Her eyes narrowed as she at last found her prey.
Four Tsoo stood near one man, his face dark and set. His black hair was cropped close and a greasy Fu Manchu mustache and beard dangled far below his chin. He was clothed in red and black and even from her vantage she could tell his raiment was much more expensive than that of his underlings. But the most important thing about him was the object he cradled in his arms.
It was a plate, a little larger than what one might use for dinner. Its gold color seemed to shimmer in the warehouse’s fluorescent lighting and, around its edge, lines had been carved to separate the glyphs etched into the lanx. As the heroine stared, the scribblings looked as if they were…moving. She backed away into the shadows again, cursing to herself. Cleo had hoped the mystic thingamajig would be in a case tucked into a room with only a few guards, not in the hands of this Bright Shadow person himself.
One thing was certain: she could feel the power of the item from where she stood; the Tsoo could not be allowed to keep it. She moved to the railing once more, formulating a plan as she observed her enemy. They were spread out enough so that it might be possible to get closer to her target and not be noticed until the last moment. The heroine looked down and grinned. Two thugs were almost directly below her, hidden from the rest of the room by a stack of boxes. Lady Cleo leapt over the rail and landed on the shoulders of one of the men, driving him face first into the smooth concrete floor. She sprung up, an uppercut striking the second man so hard he nearly back flipped into the concealing crates behind him. Both were senseless in a silent instant and Cleo peeped through a crack in the mound of boxes at her quarry.
The criminals were still standing, quietly murmuring to each other and a quick grin danced over Cleo’s soft features. They were none the wiser, unaware of her presence and oblivious to her intent. She checked the field of battle once more, weighing the pros and cons of her actions and the probable outcome of each. There was one enormous unknown however. The Tsoo boss, Bright Shadow; she was totally uninformed of his capabilities. He looked to be unarmed, no sword, no knife which meant he had some ability of the meta-human variety. Wonderful, she frowned. I hate being ignorantly blind.
But there was nothing she could do about it and, as she completed her scan of the warehouse, realized, if luck were with her, she might be able to take out Bright Shadow and his guards, get the object and get out before any of the other thugs in the chamber even knew she was there. Certainly she could be gone before they reacted. Lady Cleo took two deep breaths, sighed once and sprung from hiding.
Bright Shadow’s four guards turned as one and, once they realized their peril, surged toward the heroine. Teeth clenched, Cleo dropped low, her leg spinning, sweeping the first goon from his feet. As he whirled past her, arms and legs flailing as he tried to keep his balance, Cleo sprung up. Her arm followed the arc of her body, claws popping at the last instant and slicing shallowly into the torso of the next man. He fell away, clutching at the blood now covering his chest.
Two more followed and Cleo swung with her right missing the goon but imbedding her sharp talons deep into a nearby crate. Grunting, she swung her arm back, the crate sailing at the Tsoo soldier. He ducked but the last bodyguard took the full brunt of the wooden box. It shattered and drove the unlucky fellow into the hard concrete floor. The untouched guard tried to regain his balance but it was too late. Cleo stood over him and simply punched him in the nose. His head snapped back, unconscious before he hit the ground.
The beautiful heroine looked up, already heading to the Tsoo boss and his stolen magic artifact. She took a step and Bright Shadow up his right arm, palm facing her. Another step and a deep black mist flowed from his outstretched hand. And then the mist exploded, her eyes filling with an intensely unnatural blast of white light that could only be called incandescent. She stumbled, stunned, and in the nanosecond it took her to regain her senses, Bright Shadow was upon her, squeezing her in a bear hug, her arms pinned.
The heroine struggled in the Tsoo boss’s hard grasp. She pulled back desperately trying to squirm free but only succeeded in pulling the supple leather of her costume tight over her breasts. She gritted her teeth behind sneering lips as she endured the thug’s lascivious leer, his eyes riveted to her deep cleavage.
Bright Shadow grinned wantonly. “I no know why you be here. I think maybe you bad girl, yes?” His tongue licked slowly at the corner of his mouth and his eyes became hooded with desire.
Oh, this is not happening, Cleo thought. Her eyes cast about, searching for any means to aid her escape and they fell on the magic object. The criminal had left it on the floor near his feet as he grappled with her. She tried to pull away again but was held fast. Her nose crinkled at his odor. My God! He smells like curry wrapped in dirty diaper that’s been left out in the sun!
“Maybe you like play with Tsoo after Bright Shadow done with you, huh?” He smiled crookedly and pulled her closer. “Yes, I think you like the dangerous. Now maybe with me you make the naughty fun time, hmmm?” Suddenly he cocked his head to the side and said, “No, no. No time now. But now you be seeing Tsoo have new friends with much power.”
New friends? What is this ass going on about? Then she heard it…a low vnnnnn that grew in tone and seemed to reverberate through the building. Over his shoulder a straight line of green began to glow, separating and spreading into more and then at its center an oval began to pulse like waves crashing on a shore. She knew what it was and her need to escape increased tenfold.
A Rikti portal.
A familiar clicking and chattering reached her ears as several of the alien soldiers stepped through the glowing gate. But these were unlike any Rikti she had seen before. They were larger…taller than those invaders in the first war. Their armor was sleeker and appeared more mobile now. They were bigger, their guns were bigger and their battle swords were bigger. And Lady Cleo now realized the Tsoo did not take the mystic artifact for themselves. The Rikti wanted it. And that alone meant they could never have it.
Cleo smiled at Bright Shadow. “I beg your pardon,” she said, her voice dripping with sugar and reared back. She head butted the villain, striking him hard at the bridge of his nose. He screamed in surprise and his embrace loosened. The heroine pulled one arm free, extended her claws and raked them from his shoulder to the top of his head. The thug yowled in pain and dropped the combative woman.
She crouched as her feet touched the floor then sprung up, burying her shoulder into the Tsoo leader’s stomach, knocking him off his feet. The heroine rolled once, popping up near the magic doohickey and reached out to scoop it up when she stopped abruptly, frozen in place. Her eyes darted frantically as she unsuccessfully attempted to will herself into motion. She knew exactly what had happened and silently cursed at her slowness. A Rikti Mentalist had reached into her mind and simply held her still.
The heroine felt a long bony hand close about her wrist and hoist her aloft. Cleo dangled at arm’s length as the alien Chief Soldier regarded her, mentally gritting her teeth as she endured his inspection. His head was elongated, a long snout and an even longer skull, sporting a small cap-like helmet. His eyes were a soulless black void and the skin that showed was a sallow zombie gray. His body was encased in a purple and white armor, high shoulder pieces protected his neck and head and spikes extended from the elbows and knees.
It clicked and gibbered as she hung there. “Observation: Humanoid. Sub-set: Meta. Gender: Female,” the thing’s voice was a high-pitched screech. “Appearance: Healthy and disease free. Possibilities: Candidate.” The Chief Soldier turned his head towards another in his company. “Grrl Nx’Dor: Attend.”
Nx’Dor took a step forward. “Command: Ready to Receive. In Service to Chief Soldier: Hew H’Fner.”
Chief Soldier Hew H’Fner looked at Lady Cleo once more as if finalizing his decision. “Order: Human Meta-Female. Transport: Home world. Disposition of Subject: Pending Examination (Sub-set: Fertility). Inclusion: Hybrid Breeding Program.”
Breeding program! Lady Cleo’s eyes popped open and she suddenly felt the Mentalist’s hold wear off as H’Fner moved her toward Nx’Dor. “Oh, that’s just…ewwww!” she exclaimed and kicked, her leg swinging up and catching the Chief Soldier under the chin. He staggered back a step still holding her wrist fast and her claws shot out, raking the blades across his forearm, the sharp points biting deep and grinding over the bones. He screamed, the wail inhuman and unearthly, and dropped the heroine.
Cleo hit the floor and swept her leg low, toppling the alien. He hit the ground with a clang and Rikti plasma rifles fired almost in unison, the blasts hitting all around her as she rolled away. She dove forward and her eyes fell on the mystic plate, just as Bright Shadow was bending to retrieve it. She took two steps and slid to it, the black and purple plasma fire now rocking the warehouse.
Bright Shadow looked up in surprise as the heroine rammed into him foot first, her stiletto heel burying itself in his forehead. He fell back as Lady Cleo grabbed the artifact and, at almost the same instant, rocketed into the air in the opposite direction heading straight for the room’s dirty, frosted skylight. Black explosions pummeled the air, the concussive blasts ringing in her ears. She heard a weapon discharge below and the heroine knew immediately that it was going to hit her.
She gritted her teeth and the blast hammered her high in the back almost directly between her shoulder blades. Cleo screamed as her back burned and she tumbled, smoking, through the skylight, glass exploding around her and raining down on the Rikti and Tsoo. She tried to right herself but careened headlong into the hard steel cylinders, ricocheting off one and into the other, then fell almost fifteen feet to the hard turf, a cloud of dirt and dust marking her landing.
Lady Cleo moved slowly, dazed. One arm wouldn’t move, pain radiated from her hip and her chest felt so tight she thought she might be having a heart attack. She was lying on the mystic plate and as she pulled herself along the ground with her good arm, it moved with her. Gotta go, she thought frantically, gotta go. She heard the barked orders of the Tsoo leaders and the clicking and chattering of their new Rikti friends behind her and tried desperately to move faster but the pain was clouding her mind and focus.
She touched her communicator and said three words, “Help…help meee…” And then a great black maw opened and she fell uncontrollably into a velvet nightmare.
Lady Cleo awoke with a start, sitting straight up, the pain clouding her vision for a moment. The thrumming in her head subsided and her eyes roved over her new and soothingly familiar surroundings; the silver metal walls, medbots hovering over medical bays, the emblems on the walls. She was in her super group’s base, specifically the medical unit.
She became aware of the rough voice next to her and turned her head, gritting her teeth in pain. The heroine smiled weakly, “Doc.”
Dr. Silver nodded, his white hair as unkempt as usual, the cigarette that perpetually dangled from his lip sending a thin blue sting of smoke toward the ceiling. “Undo all my good work, why don’t cha?” he muttered as he helped her lie back.
“How’d…how did I get…?”
“Nightchills was on monitor duty when your call came through,” Silver picked up a medical clipboard and began to make some notes. “Scared the hell outta him. He keyed into your signal and used the base teleporter to bring ya here.” He shook his head as he closed the clipboard’s cover. “Good thing too.”
Cleo rubbed her forehead, feeling for the first time the bandage around her skull. “I was shot…burning.”
“Yeah,” Silver grinned. “Severe burns on your back; broken arm; if you had a rib…it’s cracked; leg popped outta its hip socket and a probable concussion.” He exaggeratedly ticked off each of her ailments on a finger. “In accepted medical terminology, you were a mess. But thanks to technology and my extremely fine handiwork, you’re gonna be fine. Burns are pretty much healed. The other stuff is gonna knit back together right quick. I’m gonna keep you here tonight just to keep an eye on you but by tomorrow you should just be sore.”
“She’s going to be ok, Doc?” At the door stood Nightchills and Synthetic Ice, two of her teammates. Silver nodded and Ice crossed the room and took Cleo’s hand. “Well, you get no points for scaring us. I’m glad you’re alright.”
“Well, apparently I’m a mess,” Cleo smiled halfheartedly.
“What happened?” Nightchills asked from the doorway.
Briefly, Lady Cleo related the events of the night. Her eyes widened suddenly. “The plate! Where…”?
“Right there,” Ice gestured to the bed stand. The mystic object sat unmoving, its plain appearance belying is mysterious importance. “That’s what the Tsoo and the Rikti wanted?”
Cleo shook her head. “No. That’s what the Rikti wanted. It seems the Tsoo and the aliens are allies now.”
“That’s not good,” Chills whispered. He sighed heavily. “Well, get some rest. Tomorrow we’ll all take this thing to Azuria and find out what’s going on.”
“You guys don’t have to come with me,” Cleo smiled. “I can take it in.”
“Oh, you misunderstand!” Nightchills grinned. “When I said ‘all’ I meant all. There’s probably gonna be about forty of us with you.” He saw her mouth open to protest and cut her off. “No discussion here,” he said with finality.
Dr. Silver ushered Synthetic Ice and Nightchills out of the room as they were saying their goodbyes. Before the door closed Chills poked his head in. “One more thing…breeding program?” he asked and deftly dodged the cup of ice the heroine threw at him.
Lady Cleo lay back with a sigh, smiling in spite of herself. And as she drifted off to sleep her final thoughts were…
* See A City in Flames: Talos Island by Josef Koelbl III
** See From the Ashes by D Heikes