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To the Victor…
Chapter 19: Aftermath
by Tog

Lista watched in shock as Mourning slowly raised herself from the ground and drifted off toward the Atlas Park gate, her little flaming minions trailing behind.  She crouched to leap into the air in pursuit but was stopped short.  There was the sensation of impact, and the feel of unnatural heat surrounding her.  The force of the blast sent her sprawling across the street until she slid to a stop under the train platform.  Beside her was what appeared to be most of a Hellion in a smoldering vest.

Her next memory was waking up in her room at the base to see Epim standing with her back to her.

“Mourning!  Stop her!”

Epim recovered from the sudden shout and turned to calm Lista.  “Calm down.  You’ve been through a lot.  We’ve got the rest of the team looking for her, but you need to rest.”

“Screw rest.  If the blood isn’t spurting, I’m good to go.  Tell them to find Beau, and get him back here.  Keep Mourning away from him.  Where are my clothes?”

“You’re not going anywhere.  You don’t need them.”

“You’re right about that second bit,” she said as she started to sit up, only to be overcome with a wave of nausea once she made it to vertical.

“You have a severe concussion.  You won’t have any balance for a while.  You probably won’t even be able to stand for a few days.  Now what’s with Beau?”

Lista laid back down.  “Okay.  You remember Loop?  He’s working for the bad guys now.  As he was trying to kill me, he let it slip that Beau was working for them too.  This made sense a little because a few months before, someone started to say a name that started with “B”, but got hit before I could hear the whole thing.  Here’s the thing though.  I had a lot of time to think about that first slip up.  I mean a lot.  The way they had me trussed up, and the precautions they took.  I started to think that first thing was staged.  Loop sort of confirmed it after I had him down, he said they told him that Beau was in on it.  That makes no sense.  You don’t tell some loser like Loop who your deep cover people are.  It was too sloppy.  Nothing about the way they’ve done anything seemed that sloppy.  The thing is, I think Mourning might not be thinking so clearly after the dogs.  I think she might be going after Beau.  And she’s got some sort of fire minions now.”

“You stay here.  Athena, Lista is not to leave this room until I get back.”  Epim turned to face her from the door and said, “Don’t worry.  We’ll get her.”

~~~~~

Tog looked over the street.  Scorch marks in the shape of tiny, clawed hands marked the sidewalks and walls.  Bits of torn clothing could be seen in a few places, as could blood drops that appeared to have been cooked into the concrete.

“She went this way all right.  Looks like she headed toward Perez,” he said.

“What’s going to happen to her when we find her?” asked Kym.

“Ideally, we bring her back home.  I don’t want to fight her.  If it comes down to that though, I want everyone but Ent to leave.  I don’t think she’s powerful enough to hurt either of us yet, and I don’t want you guys around if I’m wrong about that.”

The rest of the trek to the gate was quiet.  Once inside the park, it was clear she had left her mark.  Hellions peeked out from behind closed doors at them.  Bits of burned awning clung to wire framework.  One member of the Lost staggered out of the park and asked them for amnesty.  Her trail was easy enough to follow, and it led back to Steel Canyon.

Back in Steel, there was no sign of her.  The scorch marks could not be found, and no one reported seeing her.

“We lost her,” said Tog into his radio.  “We’re on the Steel side of the Perez gate and there is no trace.”

Epim acknowledged this and thought for a minute.  “I’d bet she headed for Boomtown.  There was some spot there where she used to go to hang out.  I’m not sure where though.”

“Good as anything I guess.  I’ll check in again in ten minutes.”  He waited for her to confirm, then addressed the rest of the group.

“Looks like we’re headed for Boomtown.  Ent is coming with me, the rest of you pair up and look around Steel.  If you see her, call.  Don’t approach her yourself.  If you spot her, just call me and hang back.  Ent, when we find her, if she attacks me, or tries to run, catch her.”

“She is prisoner?”

“Not yet.  But if she runs, I want you to treat her like one.”

~~~~~

After searching Atlas Park for a short time, Mourning had headed off to Steel Canyon and the one name she knew.  Mr. Hastings.  They had searched for him for months and found no trace, but today was different.  There would be no risk of repercussions.  There would be no fear that Lista might die because of her actions.  There were people that knew where Hastings could be found.  Reginald Danforth was one such man, and he wasn’t hiding.

Landing at the main entrance of his office, she approached the information desk in the lobby and addressed the receptionist in an uncharacteristically blunt way.

“Danforth in?”

The receptionist looked her over with an expression of disdain.  Mourning stood before her in a bloodstained dress with her hair splayed out wildly in all directions.  Her makeup was smeared and there seemed to be burn marks on both her clothing and her skin.  “May I ask your name?”

The photocopier burst into flames behind her.  “Your options don’t include questions.  Yes or no.  Is.  Danforth.  Here?  And just so you know.  I’ll find out if you lie, and it’ll be bad for you.”

She swallowed hard as another member of the office put out the fire.  “He’s in his office on the 23rd floor.  2319.  We’re all here until eight.”

“Thanks,” said Mourning and she turned and walked out of the building.

Moments later, outside room 2319, she began to heat the glass until it was soft enough to melt away from the frame.  Danforth turned at the sudden sound of the city noise, but was too slow to react to the cloud of ash that surrounded him.

“I don’t know if you know me or not, but we need to talk.  For years now, you’ve been sayin’ that heroes are out of control.  That we cross the line too many times.  That we are little more than vigilantes that twist the laws to our own ends, and bypass the proper channels to extract revenge and call it justice.  I’ve got good news and bad news for you.  Today, you’ll be right.”

~~~~~

Tog appeared in the lobby of the office building in response to a call from Athena who had been monitoring the police lines for any news.

“She came through here then?”

“N—no,” stammered the receptionist.  “She asked if he was here, then left.”

“Ent!  Grab sky.  Kym, stick with her.  She may have gone in from the outside.  Sliss is with me.  Debi and Twitch, you wait here and hide.  If you see her, key your radio three times.”

Everyone nodded their understanding of the plan, and the three groups set about their tasks.  Outside the 23rd floor, the missing window was obvious.  Inside the building, Tog and Sliss waited outside the door for the one long hiss from the radio that said Ent and Kym were in position.  When it came, the booming thud of the door flying open echoed though the floor.  There was no sign of Mourning or Danforth.  Scorch marks on the carpet and small, claw shaped scorch marks on the walls said they had just missed her.  Kym stepped on a small flame that said they only missed by seconds.

“Roof!” yelled Tog.

At the far end of the roof lay a dark lump that looked like it could have been a person.

“Ent?”

“Blood still flows.  Alive.”

The four approached with caution until they were close enough to see him breathing.

“Danforth?  You okay?”

“Get away from me!  No more!”

Tog set his axe down and dropped to one knee.  “We’re not gonna hurt you.  She was here?  A tall blonde woman?”

“Yes!  Flaming bitch!”

The darkness surrounding Kym thickened at his words.

“We are trying to stop her,” continued Tog.  We need to catch up to her.  Do you know where she went?”

“She can go back to hell for all I care!”

“You had to have told her something to get her to leave.  What was it?  Please.  We need to get to her.  To stop her.”

“She wanted a name.  I gave her one.  Then she flew off.”

“What name did you give her?  What was it about?”

“Judge Evers.  He’s the one I report to.”

“Kym, help him back down to the lobby and wait for the police to arrive.  Get Debi to help you and send Twitch to meet us at the courthouse.  When the cops show up, come join us unless you hear differently.”

~~~~~

Mourning had gotten her name.  But it was a name that made no sense beyond the surface.  She was becoming her self again.  She was beginning to think rather than act.  As her rage subsided, she knew there was only one place she should go.

Boomtown. 

She was out of control, and she knew it.  Boomtown offered her a place to think.  A place of peace.  On the roof of one of the few buildings still standing was a place where she could find herself again.

To her, Boomtown was a special place.  In some ways, it was the only place in the whole city that seemed to be sincere about anything.  Here was a place that had been utterly destroyed, and had been left that way.  Piles of rubble still smoldered.  Some places still had flames burning in the open.  Buildings half collapsed, or worse, littered the skyline.  And under it all, were the dead.  Some had been recovered.  Some have been re-animated by the Vahz.  Some remained unfound.

There had been no time after the initial attack to do any sort of full recovery.  By the time the invasion was pushed back, there were more pressing matters.  Boomtown became a shrine of sorts.  A place to remember those who died for no other reason than being there when the attack came.

It’s not that she was reveling in the deaths of those who were there on that day, years ago, but the fact that the place was never rebuilt, or even cleaned up, said something to her.  Here was a place where the dead “lived”.  In an odd way it was like a preserve to her.  The dead in their natural habitat.  She thought about it the first time she saw the zone and realized that that would have made cemeteries more like zoos for the dead.  The dead were taken from the place where they died, were given medical procedures to prepare them for their new life, then placed in an orderly way in an area designed for the living.  People could wander through the displays, reading the carved summaries, until they found one they were interested in, for whatever reasons.

Boomtown was a place where she could feel the dead all around her.  She thought of Sparks.  She thought of the dogs.  She thought of those people in the chemical factory when she was a girl.  No one memory seemed any older than the others.

Memories of that evening began to spring up in her mind.  The robots coming for her specifically.  Beau promising to take care of the dogs, then letting them go only for them to die trying to protect her.  That wasn’t it though.  They did protect her.  They weren’t killed by the robots, but by a gun.  Could Beau have shot them?  Was he all a part of things?  Lista was there, wasn’t she?  Mourning was almost sure Lista had been there.  But if she was, why hadn’t she followed Mourning to Atlas Park?  Maybe she imagined Lista.  Maybe she imagined the dogs were dead.

No.  She was sure the dogs were dead.  Just as sure as she was that the person that killed them would pay for it.

That brought her to Danforth and the man he said was responsible for it all.  Martin Flaherty.  Could it really be that they actually had the head guy all the while and just never knew it?  He seemed so sincere about wanting out.  That was the sort of thing they seemed to do though.  In an odd way it made sense to her.  They get the big guy, so he claims to give them his boss and gets away clean, knowing that the person he gave up would rather die than talk.  And that was the thing that made this all out of place.  Danforth didn’t want to die.  He didn’t seem to want to talk, but she hadn’t been anywhere near as forceful with him as she thought she’d have to be.  Could it have been a show?  Could Martin really be on the level?  Could Danforth be the main boss?  What if there was someone on the inside?

That brought her back to Beau.  He had been the one to suggest she bring the dogs.  He was the one that was supposed to take care of them.  He was the one that failed.  That wasn’t entirely true though.  She had failed too.  Her promise to Sparks lingered in her mind.

A new image popped into her mind.  A plain wall, lined with framed pictures of police officers.  It wasn’t even the number of pictures that were on the wall.  It was amount of space to add more, and the fact that all of them were smaller than the standard 8 by 10.  Probably to fit more there eventually.  She needed to talk with Captain Pruitt again.  He was a man who seemed to understand her just as much as she pretended to understand him so many months ago.  He was a man that sought approval, maybe even forgiveness, from the dead.  From his dead.

She reached around behind an old air conditioning unit and found her little bag.  She took out a candle and lit it with a spark from her fingertip, then placed it on the edge of the building and focused on the flame.  A familiar face appeared and then flickered away as the tears began to flow.

“I’m sorry I failed you.”






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