Chapter 17

I would not send a poor girl into the world, ignorant of the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her, till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the power or the will to watch and guard herself.
 Anne Bronte


The Lyft driver was not happy about this particular fare. Dom could tell, and she couldn’t blame him. Dropping off four college girls in a dark, abandoned, warehouse filled area near the airport.

She doubted he was worried they were going to mug him or anything. It was one of those things that the good guys did when they thought they might be putting some woman in trouble.

Young women, and pretty? Well, hell, he must be having a heart attack and keeping it cool.

She smiled as she held out the money to him. “Honestly, Ken, we’ll be alright. It’s for Frat thing. You know how they like to do spooky things like this.”

His frown didn’t budge. “I don’t see any other cars, though. Are you…”

Dom shrugged. “I have a car. It’s in the garage back where you picked us up. The whole deal is no one drives. Late we’ve got a bus or something coming to take us back. Really, we’ll be okay.”

Ken let out a long, uncomfortable sigh, and his face started to relax. Dom kept her smile up until he finally took the money from her and began the slow process of backing out of the parking area. She kept the smile frozen on her face and waved as he finally began to speed off more quickly, his reticence finally leaving.

She dropped the smile immediately, turned and jogged over to the others, pulling out her PED.

“OK, boss, the dude’s gone. What’s it look like?” She said, looking up at Tally, who was focused on her own PED.

“Not good. Chic was right.” She struck the side of her device. “It, it looks like there’s a bunch of them. Chic you sense anything?”

Dom watched the girl close her eyes, raising one hand a bit and using it like an antenna. The curls around her head fluttered in the tiniest breeze, and her face was calm, except for the hints of two tiny lines trying to form between her eyes.

Dom hoped she never knew just how much she wanted to jump her, right now. She was like a perfect girl, with attitude and sass and smart and sexy.

Dom resisted biting her lip, looked around to distract her. Crushes were a dreadful thing. They got in the way. They kept you back.

Love was worse. Love could kill you. Or worse, it could kill your dreams and steal your talent and your hope and…

She pointed. “I think I saw something over there. In the shadows. Behind that one, over there, on the right.”

She watched Chic open her eyes and turn, then focus again.

“Is anyone else getting cold suddenly?”

She looked at Lark. The black woman was so perfectly nonchalant that she was jealous. She tried for that all the time, but only ever seemed to get annoyed as the desired perception. It worked to some extent, but made it hard to get close to people.

Tally folded her PED. “Okay, girls. Gear up.”

The grin was immediate across Dom’s face at the words, and she stepped away from everyone else. She loved this. She adored this. This was her chance for excitement. At least, until she had the stage.

“By the Sounds of Freedom, I am Oceania!”

In her hand, the sparking PED sent a thrill that traveled up her arm as she raised her face to the sky and held her arms back, feet spread and planted firmly. The breeze was light and pleasant as it hit her, the scent of summer evenings and spring mornings, winter breaks and lazy autumn afternoons.

As the winds became stronger, she knew without looking down that she was no longer among the others, her whole being a cloud, weightless and drifting in the winds around her that began to howl and moan as they caressed her, whipping her hair out, trying to coax her into a nothing with power, just as they were. She felt her hair respond to the tugging of the winds, lengthening, as she began to spin in that intoxicating way. It always reminded her of the way they used to train astronauts, a spinning, whirling thing that whirled her around like a leaf.

The clouds formed around her, as they always did, their softness like cotton, hugging her, sliding over her, until they became her boots, her skirt, her top, her gloves, her sleeves. They were never too tight, always just right, the long spikes and steady platforms of her shoes perfect for seeming as if she was going to fall over. Her skirt was short, teasingly so, just perfect, the crinolines beneath giving it extra lift but not so much that it would show off the micro shorts beneath. Her top was tight, corseted, but looked like a rocker tank, wrapped in spiked belts that hung loose on her waist, decorated her thighs, and settled in and around her forearms.

As she whirled and spun, a cycle within a cyclone, she let her twin tails spread, and reached out and felt her staff come to her. She grinned, and it was a mischievous grin, before dropping her front half down and entering a flip over the staff that ended with her spinning it her left hand and striking down, where it hit with a crack like lightning.

She was back, and her tails were tugging at her head as they fluttered in a breeze that only she could feel until she wanted others to.

She might have been named for an Ocean, but she was the wind, the air, the sound of the world, and she was ready to roar.

“You know, you don’t exactly look like a cute girl.”

She blinked, gave Tally a look.

Lark giggled. Chic was doing everything she could to keep a straight face, and failing.

She sighed. “What? I’m a rocker chick. Lita Ford. Joan Jett. Old Pat Benatar. The Cherries. Heart.”

“Crossed with Bangles, early Britney Spears, and every candy pop star Disney ever produced.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Laugh it up, Olivia in Grease…”

Chic winced, flinched. “Okay, you got me there.”

“You have a cape.”

Domino looked to Lark. “I do. So?”

“You’ve not seen The Incredibles, then.”

She turned her head slowly to look up at Tally. “It’s not that long.”

“Okay, okay.” Tally laughed, holding up her hands. “Sorry, we’ve all done this to each other.”

“I still feel incredibly silly in this.”

“Well, Columbia, you could be dressed like Diaspora.” Dom paused, startled that her words had been changed as she spoke them.

Lark smiled sweetly. “And what’s wrong with how I’m dressed?”

“For you, Diaspora, nothing. For me, that would be a nightmare!”

Lark nodded. “Too true, Columbia. You would look silly in this much finery.”

Chicory rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, that’s it.”

Tally gave her staff a spin. “Diaspora, think you can shed some light?”

She snapped her fingers, and a ball appeared above her, began to float towards where Dom had seen the movement.

“That work?”

“Perfect! Columbia, any suggestions?”

“One moment.” She stepped around and lightly touched each girl on the shoulder. “Okay, you guys see what I see?”

They all shook their heads. “Nothing. Just dark and creepy airport.” Dom said.

“That’s just it. Every other time we’ve gone up against someone, there have been genius around. There are none here. And genius are everywhere that people are. Be real careful. I don’t like this.”

Tally nodded. “So, Oceania, got any tricks up your sleeve?”

Dom smiled, and brought her winds. “How about this?”

She began to fade out, as if the wind that was only able to blow on her and keep those amazingly long pigtails of hers floating, was taking her apart a little at a time. It was unnerving, like watching an Agent fade out.

As she did, she rose into the air, arms out at her sides, staff twirling idly in her left hand, until after a moment, she was gone and in the air.

Everyone gasped. “Okay, now that was cool.”

Lark gave a small snort. “It was okay.”

Chic gave her a hip bump. “Uh huh.”

“Okay, then,” Tally tapped her staff. “Let’s do this. Columbia, rearguard. Diaspora, stay close.”

As they headed forward, the ground began to rumble. They paused, and it stopped. Tally’s PED began to buzz.

They moved forward a bit more, into the wide-open space, and the ground rumbled again, ceasing once more as they stopped. Tally tapped her visor, muttered something, and everyone’s screens lit up with tracking.

They were surrounded.

“Oh, Shootfire. It’s a trap.”

“Let’s get out of…” Chic’s words fell away as she, Tally, and Lark fell straight down, the ground beneath them caving away into a vast underground space that seemed impossibly large.

The asphalt and concrete chunks bounced them about as they tumbled, then vanished just before the three gals fell into a gilded cage without a door in it. As she landed and the wind was knocked out of her, Chic watched the parking lot chunks reform themselves above them, and watched the cage top come down over the tiny prison, held by a vast and enormous hand with fingers longer than she was tall, skinny and spider like.

She followed the arm down to a tall, unimaginably skinny man who was laughing, his face a stretched-out parody of a face, leering at them.

“Well, well, well, what have we have here! Little pretties all together. Darkies all, no less!”

There was laughter and a strange skittering noise all about them. Tally shook the bars of the cage. Lark began to sparkle and hum with power.

“Oh, my, look at how cute they are!” The voice was deafening, painful, and he brought the cage around, swinging it back and forth as he did so. It was filthy with sarcasm. In a moment the cage settled, and he peered with an eyeball twice the size of Tally’s head through the bars.

“I swear, if any of these people have scissors for hands, I quit.”

The voice was a whisper, but Chic caught it from behind and outside the cage.

“These must be the ones that sent old Blame back!” The bizarre titan said, licking his lips. “How perfect that they should come to me, now.”

“Come to us, my Master.”

“Yes, us. Toys for the tots, you understand.”

“I do believe we are a team, after all, unless you think less of us.”

The girls spun as the new voices joined the chorus, a dull, lifeless light filling the cavernous space.

It was as if someone had created a theatre with a thousand box seats, all of them filled with minions who had once been some form of genius, but were well beyond the point of formless and shapeless blobs now. They had a semblance of limbs, varied features that might have been noses or eyes or ears, not quite right, as if they were still bubbling into place or shape or form, molten and fluid.

But among them were four others. Agents, without a doubt. None of them having the same old feel as the monstrosity holding them, but all of them exuding a greater sense of power.

“Oh shoot. We are so fluttered. But, no scissors.” Chic said softly.

“You are not Rebels. You are not even Partiers. What sort of pathetic vermin has Genesis sent to me for fun?”

Tally made a face, but was silent. Lark scowled and was stressing, her power causing the bars of the cage to spark.

Chic looked around and realized it was going to have to be her.

“I’m pretty sure that vermin would apply more to your audience here.”

“Vermin, thing, applies to whatever I say it does.”

Chic arched an eyebrow and tapped her staff on the cage’s base. Her scythe shot out. “And just who the heck are you supposed to be? Veidt’s dead and Ledger did it better.”

She could have sworn he grew, right then, even as he laughed, his head back, full throated, his whole body into it, causing the cage to bounce and jiggle and toss around its occupants.

“Smooth, Columbia.”

Chic shrugged. “It was worth a shot, Diaspora.”

His face came back to the cage. “Ah, how wonderful to meet someone who gives power when they mean to take it. So perfect! So precious!  I, pretty pet, am Insolence.” He bowed low, still holding them up. “At your disservice. Allow me to introduce my lieutenants. Harassment, whose work you are all most assuredly family with. Dogpile, who recently joined but has risen through the ranks quite admirably. Tricky Dick, with whom I am certain that you, little goldilocks, are quite familiar. And Geldwin, whom I think shall have first dibs on you this evening.”

“Flutter.” Tally said, quite distinctly and with great feeling.

“Indeed. You should get some Visine for that red eye problem of yours. And maybe look at losing a few pounds. Say twenty, right off the top.”

Tally raised the first two fingers of her right hand at him. Made a face and looked at her hand.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me.” Chic spat.

“Seriously? Really?”

The laughter around them was not helping matters much.

“I need a diversion.” Lark whispered.

Tally nodded. “There are way too many eyes here, leaning over balconies and what not.”

The titan laughed. “Oh, I think there are just enough. Perhaps after we are done with you, they would like to sample the fine delicacies.”

The crowd went wild. The gals shuddered.

“Be a shame if something blew them off the edges.” Chic said loudly.

“Yes, wouldn’t it?” Dom responded.

The voice outside the cage caused Insolence to jerk his head up and scan around, his buddies suddenly on high alert as well.

“We seem to have a gnat buzzing around. Dogpile!”

“On it!”

The one called Dogpile was extremely heavy set, with a scruffy almost beard and a balding pate covered with lanky reddish brown hair that was too long. He stepped forward, and he seemed to expand in one part of his body, the whole thing elongating, stretching, slowly becoming as if something was erupting from him, then became obviously a part of him separating, and with a popping sound there was another of him, but both were slimmer, more trim. Then they both did it, almost in unison, and they laughed, an eerie echoing sound to hear from both of them.

In a moment, there were four, trimmer by more, and two of them rushed into the space in the center, the damnable smoke curling around them and forming into something, some shape, something familiar.

A breeze had sprung up in the area, tweaking the hair of the titan and his crew and the scattered few minions who had managed to evolve or morph or something that far.

In a moment, as the first of Dogpile began his subdivision, it was a strong, gusty wind, and a chuckle started to echo eerily through the space.

Insolence’s eyes roamed the cavern, squinting, and he snarled. “No!” he hurled the cage aside and reached into the empty space.

The cage soared, and Lark spoke words that crackled in the air like lightning, harsh and sharp, and she was surrounded by the ribbons of her power, the queerly lighted lettering flaring bright on them as the others held on tight to the bars while she somehow stayed perfectly balanced on the floor of the cage, even as it tilted sideways.

It began its descent, tenths of seconds passing, and halfway to the floor it exploded, and Tally was moving before she even hit the floor, striking off it with her staff and summoning her battle axe, long ponytail snapping with whip cracks.

Lark was on another spell already, her light ball flying high, the ribbons swirling about her.

Chic’s visor showed Dom clearly, something she was certain the others could not see. She was in outline, and it was rather stunning to see her idly float away from the massive hand of Insolence that kept trying to find her, blindly groping the air.

Then the shots rang out. It was a deafening roar of automatic firepower, and when she looked they were Uzis or some sort of submachine gun, with enormous clips that had round chambers at the bottom which trailed thick smoke.

They were reloading them as fast as they fired.

Chic began her own spell immediately, the bars of light swirling about her, the peculiar text seeming to get more easy to read each time.

She summoned a shield between the ground and the shooters, and set her own in front of with a movement of her arm.

Dom laughed even as the first bullets grazed her, her clothing puffing away and then tiny clouds restoring it, but was not pleased, as now she had to move more quickly, for the blood trails revealed where she was.

She dropped the invisibility and Insolence’s eyes locked on her and he grinned madly, both hands coming in for the kill now.

His left hand twitched hard, then fell to the ground.

He turned and faced his attacker, a small black woman in a gown with a wicked looking glaive in her hands and a bonnet in black with gold trim resting on her purple curls.

She shrugged at him.

He missed the gold and pink haired girl between them, did not see the whirlwind that was beginning to form in front of her, or the smile that curled the edges of her lips.

He charged, his first step shaking the entire place, his second falling squarely within the whirlwind, and he howled in agony.

Then began to shrink.

Tally screamed a guttural war cry as she came down from an enormous leap and cleaved one Dogpile in two, spinning and letting her battle axe glide in one hand into another as she punched down on one half and kicked the second half.

As she’d expected, the two partials began to quiver, to become two separate wholes, and she cackled as she brought the bloody axe around into another great arc that clove another pair as if they were butter.

Something grabbed her around the waist, and she slammed the butt of her axe into the ground, sparking electricity all along her body, her attacker screaming as the shock shredded him into wrack and murk.

Domino’s wind finally began to lift the minions out of the boxes, and she hurled them into the walls, their soft forms making crunching noises as they struck balustrades and balcony fronts.

Lark’s chanting brought forth hundreds of small, red, bright eyes snakes and she began to rise on a column of water that was pouring up from beneath her when the first body pounded into her.

“So, have you always been this glamourous, or is it one of those temporary things you girls do to trick us?” Her attacker asked as they crumpled into a pile together.

“How dare y…” his fist struck her face like a lead weight, driving her head into the hard floor, which was definitely not wood, no matter what it looked like.

Lark’s violet eyes turned up at him. “Well, since you ask,” He punched her again. “Rather easily, I’m afraid. You black girls just,” Again he struck. “Can’t take a hit.” Another blow.

Lark tasted blood, and she was pretty sure her cheek was shattered. He had her pinned with his legs, one of her arms underneath her, the other held by his free hand.

“Aww, are you gonna cry now?  Like the stupid little …”

He flew into the air and smashed into the wall with enough force to become embedded, a good dozen feet off the floor. He let out a groan.

Lark tried to open her eyes, only got one. She was surrounded by a glowing light, and sweat poured off Chic, staining her sleeves and the front of her dress and matting the curls. In front of her was the still slowly shrinking Insolence, trapped in the whirlwind that was shredding his leg, trying desperately to free it. Her shield arm was cast back towards Lark, staff straight as an arrow, brilliantly lit.

She looked up, and saw Domino whirling like a dervish, her movements sending the tiny squirmy nasty things into the walls, creating a work that would make Jackson Pollock proud.

Across the way, Tally was surrounded by two dozen Dogpiles.

There were two missing. She looked around. Her snakes were surrounding one of them, his arms moving so fast it seemed he had a dozen of them, pulling them off as fast as they could climb up and on him, their teeth flinging bits of gore and smoke everywhere.

The throbbing in her face was receding fast, and she cast about for the missing one, struggling to remember his name.

He had been the last. He was the ugliest, the nastiest looking, pale white with the blonde hair and the blue eyes and the…

… wings.

“Oceania!” She croaked, her throat raw.

The flying woman in green and copper with coral trim paused at the wrong moment as the Aryan launched from a balcony and slammed into her, knocking her from the sky and following her down, catching her and somersaulting about to hurl her by her cape and one pigtail straight down, his vast metal wings spreading out behind him, red and emblazoned with a symbol that was instantly recognizable.

Lark’s pain was nearly gone, and she gently touched her face and found it tolerable. “Columbia, I’m good!”

The blonde didn’t even acknowledge her, just snapped her staff back in front of her and held her shield rigid. She was glowing brightly, too brightly, and Lark saw the rivulets of blood that were running down the back of her legs, crimson stains joining the sweaty ones from bullets that were flying fast.

One of the dogpiles pointed his gun down at the still struggling form of Oceania, who was trying to get up.

A thud beside her made her jump, and she looked to see her attacker starting to rise, shaking his head.

“This one!” Insolence bellowed. “Get this one!” His roars were drowning out even the gunfire, and Lark’s ears were ringing too much from the sounds in the confined space to even hear what her attacker was muttering, but he seemed to find it amusing.

She pointed her staff and gave him a blast. He was shredded almost instantly, beginning to reform as she looked away and saw the winged Nazi son of a boobie zero in on Columbia.

“By the Wand of Freedom, bring the rockets’ red glare!” She tapped her staff four times, and then hoisted an enormous gun multiple times her size.

She sighted, got tone. Five missiles launched.

She blinked, looked at the giant weapon. “Holy shoot! Cool!”

Everything went black and silent.