Anika felt like someone had hooked her behind the naval and pulled. The sensation wasn’t doing her balance any good. She felt like she was in the middle of a horrible drinking game. The one where you chug out of a plastic yellow bat, put your forehead on it, spin around a dozen times, and then try and walk to something. She’d played it once and promptly fallen straight on her ass. That’s what she felt like she should be doing now, but she wasn’t.
She felt the sensation of motion, but her feet were firmly planted. She wasn’t falling or anything. The movement was horizontal. Not that she could tell what was really going on. Everything around her was pitch black.
Out of her peripherals she swore she could see something moving, but the second she turned her head there was nothing there. <This is fucking creepy.>
She didn’t panic. There was a split second, “what the fuck is happening” moment, but she quickly pulled herself together. She’d figure out what happened and why it happened when the time came. What she really needed to be ready for was what happened when the lights came back on.
Whatever was happening, and whatever the darkness was, it didn’t last long. She didn’t keep count of how many seconds passed, but it wasn’t more than three. In the darkness, it felt like a lot longer.
One second she was thinking about what her opening move would be when she could finally see again, and the next she came to a crashing halt. The world came back into focus, but it was dimly lit, and looked nothing like the sunny townhouse she remembered she’d been in. Worst of all, when the lights came back on she felt her stomach leap into her throat. She stumbled, gagged, but didn’t throw up. A couple deep breaths and she was standing up and studying the new surroundings.
“Sorry about the surprise trip. If you brace for it, you don’t feel a thing. Did you feel like a nun was grabbing you by the nose and dragging you along? People have told me that’s what it feels like the first time.”
<I know that voice.> Anika snarled and whipped around the see Liz standing in a corner of the room. About fifty feet separated them. <I bet I can get to her before she can yell for help.>
<I bet you’re thinking about yelling for help.> Liz’s thoughts wandered across Anika’s mind and she did a double-take.
She’d ever been allowed to read Liz’s mind before. That in and of itself was enough to make Anika hesitate.
“Don’t bother,” Liz spoke out loud. “No one will hear you scream.”
“Liz, this isn’t funny. Where are we and how did you get us here?” Anika took a few steps to get a better angle on Liz, but Liz countered her with a few steps of her own.
“I’m not going to answer the first question.” Liz shook her head, but her eyes never left Anika. “I’m not going to monologue and tell you my whole plan. That’s too cliché. As for the second part, I’m more than happy to spill the beans. We teleported.”
“Corporal Fuentes?” Anika took her eyes off Liz and looked around for the teleporter.
“The good corporal didn’t make it.” The sad look on Liz’s face didn’t match her tone.
“Becca?” Anika’s voice dropped low and came out as a growl.
“Becca is fine.” Liz held up her hands defensively. “I would never do anything to hurt Becca. I like her a lot. A hell of a lot more than you.”
“Well, at least we agree on something.”
Liz laughed, but then the two women returned to their tense stalemate.
“So?” Anika was beginning to freak out a bit. “What am I doing here?”
“You’re here because they want you here.” Liz shrugged.
“And they are?”
“You know who they are.” Liz didn’t smile this time.
Anika felt her heart fall into the pit of her stomach. <No…no…no…> Everything she’d feared that would happen in the last decade was coming true. <I knew I didn’t like this bitch. I knew there was something off about her. I know her showing up was too coincidental.> Targeting her anger at Liz helped stave off the panic growing inside her.
“You don’t have to do this, Liz. Just take me back to the townhouse and we can pretend nothing ever happened.”
Liz laughed at the comment. “Does that seriously ever work? What the fuck makes you think that I can take you seriously after saying some stupid shit like that. ‘We can pretend nothing ever happened’,” Liz repeated in a stupid, high-pitched voice that sounded nothing like Anika’s. “Of course, we can’t pretend that. You’ll go running to the Heroes the moment I bring you back. No, I’m sorry, Anika. But this is where you’ve gotta stay until they come pick you up.”
The finality in Liz’s tone was enough to make Anika’s next decision easy. She leapt forward with all of her increased strength and speed. She moved like a blur, reached out toward Liz, and…BAM!
Next thing Anika knew she was waking up on the floor with a metallic taste in her mouth. She spit onto the dust covered surface and stained it bright red.
“Ouch, that had to hurt.” Liz was squatting about five feet away with a wicked grin on her face.
<I’m going to rip your fucking head off.> Anika reached up and her hand connected with something solid.
“I know right.” Liz knocked on her end of the barrier. “This is some DARPA level, high tech, Super plastic shit. It’s stronger than a guy’s hard-on after Viagra.”
Anika rolled her eyes as she got back to her feet. She was a little wobbly and the room didn’t seem to be standing as still as it should. On top of that, her head now hurt like a motherfucker, and she was sure her shoulder would be turning black and blue soon.
“So this bad boy is a couple of feet thick, and it’s going to be used in the next generation of cells for strongmen. It won’t keep out Titan, but it’s more than a match for a second-rate HCP student.”
Anika bristled, but she kept her mouth shut. The best she could do was let Liz talk and try to gather any intel she could from the other woman.
“Also,” Liz practically bubbled with enthusiasm. “They designed it so a current could be run through the outer layers. I know, doesn’t make sense because it’s plastic, but whoever designed this was sharper than your average Super. So, to recap. If you charge this, you’ll get shocked, which you now know will put you on your ass. Even without the shock the wall will stand up to you for a long time. But it’s important for you to know that the generator that keeps the charge on this big guy is also the generator that pumps in the oxygen. So, you take down the generator you’re going to run out of air before you can break through the plastic. Obviously, I advise against that.” Liz moved to a table on her side of the wall and started to fiddle with something.
“I’m underground then?” Anika took her eyes off Liz’s back and looked around her jail cell.
“You get a gold star.” Liz looked over her shoulder and winked. “Yeah, you’re really far underground. A lot farther than your amateur telepathy would reach. If there was anyone to reach at all.”
Anika walked over to the stone wall of the cell and felt it. It was damp. <I’m probably near a water source, so that narrows me down to about seventy percent of the planet. Good job, Anika. Way to find a clue.>
Usually, in a situation like this Anika’s first objective would be to empathize with her captor. She needed to make them see her as a human being, not just a target or an obstacle in the way. That plan didn’t apply to this situation. Liz had been living with Anika and everyone else in the townhouse for most of freshman year. If Anika hadn’t humanized herself with Liz in those months, then she wasn’t going to do it in a few minutes.
“Is your name even Liz?” She asked, trying to gather more information.
Liz turned away from what she was doing and studied Anika for a moment. Whatever conclusion she came to made her more talkative, and that was fine by Anika.
“No, it isn’t. But my life as Liz Aretino was a lot better than what I’d lived before. I’m genuinely sorry this is happening to you. Even if I don’t like you. The guys who’ll pick you up are assholes, but a job’s a job and they’re paying me a shitload of money to grab you.”
“Why hand me over if they’re assholes?”
Liz’s face scrunched in annoyance at the question. “Didn’t you hear what I just said, M.O.N.E.Y. money, enough for me to take a bath in. I could literally wipe my ass with Benjamins if I wanted to after this.”
“Money isn’t everything.” Anika replied with shake of her head.
“Money makes the world go round, and if you think otherwise you’re a moron. What money can’t get you reputation can, and I’ll get both from this.”
“So, you kidnap some teenager and you’re a bigshot mercenary?” Anika scoffed.
“No, I’m already a big shot mercenary. This will make me a big fucking deal, and my salary for follow-on job is going to double or triple. You want the best you have to pay for the best.”
“But you give teenagers to assholes? Do you know what assholes do to a girl like me in a place like this?” A slight tremor ran through Anika’s voice.
But Liz just laughed.
“Any dude who tried to stick his dick in you without your consent would get their spine violently ripped from their body. Don’t try and use that shit on me, Anika. You’re better than that.”
Anika conceded the point, although the spine-ripping was a bit extreme. She would however turn their balls into pancakes.
“But you’re still handing me over to the bad guys.”
“Again, with the handing over,” Liz sighed deeply. “Fine, I’ll give you a fighting chance. If I send the guys to get you, and that’s a big IF, I’ll port them on your side of the wall. Then you’ll have a fighting chance.”
<No way she’d risk exposing herself if I had a real chance of winning.> Anika concluded after thinking it over for a second.
“So what, you’re just going to walk back into Becca’s life and pretend like nothing happened?” Just saying it made Anika’s blood boil.
“That’s the plan. I’ll tell them all how the big bad terrorists grabbed you out of the townhouse.” Liz chuckled.
Anika fumed behind the clear wall. “I wonder what Seth would think if he knew the real you.”
<That hit a nerve.> Anika saw Liz’s shoulders tighten for a second.
“Seth knows all he needs to know right now. He doesn’t care what I’ve done in the past, and I don’t care who he’s fucked. We’re more concerned about the future.”
“What about the present?” Anika tore into Liz’s argument. “What would Seth say to you kidnapping someone who wants to be a Hero just like him.”
“Seth doesn’t really want to be a Hero,” Liz laughed at Anika’s attempt. “Seth wants to be the best and he wants to be strong. He’s a protector, but he wants to protect those closest to him: friends, maybe his family, but especially me.” Liz crossed her arms and stared daggers at Anika. “Seth’s real heroic battle is the battle he’s going to fight against something he’s passionate about, like addiction. He’s going to start programs and use his strength to fight for what has personally affected him. He’s a good man, but he’s not the type of guy who’s going to run into a fire to save a crack head who fell asleep with the stove on because they were getting high. I’m pretty sure he thinks the world would be a better place without them.”
“That’s an awful lot of assumptions to make.” Anika took a seat with her back against the wall.
“Who said they’re assumptions?” Liz shot back with that grin Anika wanted to rip off her face. “You guys think all Seth and I do is fuck, but we talk. I know his reservations, and he knows I’m not an angel. We’re a perfect match, even if no one else wants to see it.”
“Well, I’m not going to talk you out of anything.” Anika shrugged. “I mean I think he’s going to figure out who you are and turn you in, because he is a good guy and you’re a raging sociopath and murderer.”
“Whatever.” Liz looked down at her watch to check the time, but Anika knew she was getting under the teleporter’s skin.
“The truth is hard to accept, but it’s going to hit you like a sledgehammer sooner or later.” Anika piled on for good measure.
“Well, if it does I’ll send you a postcard. I hear Syria is nice this time of year.”
Anika gulped as the weight of her own situation returned to the front of her mind.
“Seems like were both up shit’s creek without a paddle.” Anika concluded. “Will you at least grant me one last wish?”
“Jesus Christ.” Liz rolled her eyes. “What?”
“What’s your real name?”
“Huh.” Liz looked surprised by the question. “My name is Lilly.”
“Lilly,” Anika tried out the name. “It’s such a nice name. How’d you turn out to be such a raging bitch?”
“I don’t know, Fadeelah. Why don’t you look in the mirror.” With one last sadistic smile, Liz/Lilly disappeared in a blast of darkness.
<Shit. You’ve got to be kidding me.> Anika knew of only one teleporter who could do that. <And we did a fucking project on her.>
Stupid didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what she was feeling.
“Dispatch, this is Seraphim. I’ve got eyes on target.”
“Roger that, Seraphim. Proceed with mission. Capture if able, but lethal force is authorized.” The dispassionate voice of Dispatch instructed.
Seraphim’s mission so far had been reconnaissance. The DVA, Heroes, and ForceOps soldiers needed intelligence before they counterattacked. Seraphim and others had been gathering that information.
<Now it’s time to hit back.> The smile curled her lips and exposed her fangs.
She looked down at the parking lot near the airport and planned her attack. A burned pile of metal was all the was left of a SWAT van that had eaten an RPG right in the grill. The windshield was splattered with red, showing her that the driver hadn’t made it. A few of the team members must have been injured in the explosion too, because there were only five SWAT officers currently exchanging fire with the terrorists.
As she circled, smoke from the burning planes and terminals blocked her view for a few seconds. Fire and EMS were waiting for the fighting to die down before running into the flames and rescuing anyone who was still alive.
Another RPG streaked from the terrorists’ position and smashed into an already crippled section of the terminal.
<I’ve got to go now.> She knew she couldn’t wait any longer.
Both the SWAT officers and the terrorists had formed two fire lines about a hundred feet from each other. They both exchanged suppressive fire and tried to move closer. Neither was making much headway. She saw one SWAT officer pushing out to the left, extending the line and trying to move around the flank by sneaking between the cars.
A terrorist spotted him and was moving to intercept, while another was reloading the RPG. She had a split-second decision to make, and she didn’t hesitate.
She got into position and dove toward her target. The air whipped by her head, spilling her hair behind her. This opening move usually sent the criminal running or they’d drop to their knees and surrender. The terrorists didn’t know her though.
<About time we got acquainted.>
She hit the RPG wielding terrorist just as he fired. The hit was enough for the rocket to impact the ground thirty feet short of the SWAT officer he was aiming for. The explosion blasted the car next to it onto its side where it collided with the next car in line. Glass rained down everywhere, but the SWAT officer was fine, and after a moment to shake off the tinnitus, he started to move forward.
She followed through with her attack. Her landing broke the terrorist legs like toothpicks and folded him in half, snapping his spine, and then flattening the back of his skull against the asphalt. The RPG clattered to the ground, and she stomped on the barrel rendering it useless.
She didn’t dawdle. The remaining terrorists turned their attention to her and opened up. She jumped back into the air and strained her wings to gain altitude. The air around her filled with bullets, some of which hit her or her armor.
“Dispatch, tell SWAT to push forward. I’ve got these assholes’ attention.”
The word must had gotten relayed quickly because the SWAT officers surged forward, raking the enemy positions with fire. One terrorist dropped dead, shot through the back of the head.
The remaining bad guys turned their fire back on the SWAT officers and sent them diving for cover, so that’s when she attached again. She didn’t bother crushing the second terrorist, she just picked him up as she flew past him. The man screamed, kicked, and shot at her as the arched into a smooth climb, but the bullets didn’t do much damage. One hit her cheek, which stung, and caused her to drop him.
<Not going to get any information out of him.> She was only mildly miffed about that.
The terrorist fell a hundred feet onto his head.
<Only two more.> She circled around and saw the results of her earlier decision.
The SWAT officer that had pushed out to try and get around them was down, with a steadily growing pool of blood spreading around his body. The terrorist had succeeded in getting around and was firing at the remaining SWAT officers from the side. She saw another cop go down as they got pinned between the two remaining terrorists’ interlocking fire.
She dove for a third time, landing hard on a car next to the man. The car cratered in the middle, causing the man to jump and turn, but by then it was too late. Her tail swept low and then up, so her barbed tail caught him in the unarmored spot beneath the armpit.
The man jerked awkwardly and she lifted him off the ground. He dropped his gun and coughed up a glob of bright red blood. His hands went to where she’d impaled his side, but it didn’t do much good. She whipped her tail around and tossed him like a ragdoll. He hit a nearby car hard, and slumped to the ground.
<If he’s still alive they can interrogate him. If not…oh well.> She didn’t feel bad for any of the people she’d just killed.
The last remaining terrorist seemed to realize that his situation had gone from favorable to shit since she’d arrived. He fell back, taking cover behind cars and firing over his shoulder as he ran. SWAT perused him, getting around to his sides and pinning him down.
“Dispatch, try and have SWAT make the guy surrender so we can…”
The whole space for thirty feet went up in flames as the terrorists detonated the suicide vest he was wearing. The SWAT officers were all knocked on their ass, and even Seraphim stumbled as she rushed toward them. A quick check showed all the SWAT officers were still alive, but the terrorist she’d chucked wasn’t.
“Dispatch, hostiles eliminated. EMS, fire, and rescue can head into the airport now.”
“Roget that, Seraphim. First responders moving now. We need you to regroup with incoming assets at Boone High School. We’ve confirmed the main targets location.”
“On my way, Dispatch.”
Seraphim jumped back into the air and headed southwest. It wasn’t far to her destination, and she couldn’t wait to take a crack at the terrorist leader.
Daisy’s foot tapped impatiently against the concrete front porch as she waited for Orlando PD to arrive.
<Come on! I’ve got better things to be doing than babysitting.> She silently fumed. She was going to have a long talk with Topher about his department’s response times.
Abney and his girlfriend were huddled together. He was comforting her, and she was trying to keep it together. He kept running his hand through her hair while she sobbed into his chest. Big tear stains had already soaked through. As she pulled back, he wiped the wetness from her cheeks and said a few words. The girl laughed and lightly punched him in the shoulder. Despite the situation, Daisy couldn’t help but feel happy for Abney. He was an ass, but it was good he’d found someone who could deal with all his shit.
<Liz Aretino.> Daisy committed the name to memory. She’d need to look deeper into the girl once this shit-storm had passed. She didn’t like outsiders knowing details about the HCP. That’s how security breaches happened. And after today there was going to be a major investigation. She was already dreading all the paperwork.
<There we go. Finally!> A squad car whipped around the corner with its lights flashing. Behind it was a camouflaged Humvee, and behind that was a man running and easily keeping pace with the two vehicles.
“Hello again, Ms. Meyers.” Colonel Ford appeared next to her in the blink of an eye.
“About time you showed up.” She rounded on him, the anger evident on the portions of her face not covered by a mask. “What the hell happened? I thought you had this under control?”
“I thought we did too.” The ForceOps Colonel walked past her and into the house. “Corporal Fuentes got ambushed before he could react, which is to say it happened very quickly. He was both a teleporter and a trained ForceOps soldier.”
“Well someone shot him in the head and now Kemps is gone.”
The Colonel turned his hard eyes on her, so she calmed down. He’d just lost a man. She needed to remember that.
“We’ll get the witness statement and try and get a reading on the tracker we placed in her panic button.”
“But you’re not optimistic.” Daisy read the look on his face.
“No.” He shook his head, suddenly looking a lot older than he really was. “If someone was able to get the drop on the Corporal they would have planned for our contingency and countered it.”
“So, we’re back to square one?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Daisy didn’t like the sound of that at all, and it showed.
“But I’m here so you can do something about it.” The Colonel switched topics. “I’m here to transport you to an assembly area. We’ve got a location on Seif al-Din, and we’re putting together a strike team to take him out. If anyone knows where Ms. Kemps is, it would be him.”
“What are we waiting for?” Daisy cracked her knuckles in anticipation.
“Nothing.” The teleporter grabbed her arm.
“Wait a second,” she held up a hand and walked back out onto the porch. “Abney when you get finished get back to the gym. We’re pulling in all the students.” She saw his eyes dart to the girl talking to the cop, and the question forming in his mind. “No, your girlfriend can’t come. Have her head over to the dining hall and shelter in place with everyone else.”
She didn’t wait for any acknowledgement from the freshman before heading back to the Colonel. “Ok, let’s go.”
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