"I !@#$ing hate flying," Yanabah groans, closing her eyes as her silver and turquoise jewelry shivers against her skin.
The TU Aero-Transport pitches up sharply at take-off, and all the Strategic Talents in the back -- packed in like oysters along the sides -- lean into it. Some of the more powerful ones carry the less strong along with them, leading to some much-needed chuckles.
No one's really in the mood to laugh out loud, though.
By all rights, they should have been spending Christmas day with their friends and families, or at least on holiday patrol. Unfortunately, all !@#$ picked today to break loose. Well-armed secessionists are fighting in the streets, having taken opposing sides in the question on America's political destiny.
And, seeing as how there's a !@#$-ton of them trying to take over Richmond, Virginia, that's what they're heading off to deal with.
Not that they'd have much of a problem doing that. There's a fair number of heavy-hitters on this transport, from what Yanabah can tell, which should be enough to deal with any number of sorry, neo-confederate idiots with more bullets than IQ. They usually are.
But there's a massive problem; just like every other major flashpoint, today, those normal idiots are being backed up by supers -- both villains and heroes, from the looks of things. Which means that, in short order, everyone in the transport is going to have to put the hurt on someone they might have been fighting alongside, just a couple months ago.
And no one is looking forward to that.
The flight evens out really quickly, and there's a few more chuckles as people lean forward again. At some point, someone asks if they're getting peanuts on this flight, which gets another chuckle or two. But no one cares to make any more cracks when the huge, tattooed, and pink-haired woman they call Josie looks back, her eyes dead as petrified trees, and just smiles.
"So what's the deal with the gorilla girl?" Yanabah asks the person next to her -- some brown-haired gal wrapped up in red, padded leather, strapped with every kind of bullet and grenade known to man, and cradling a highly-modified sniper rifle like it was the most precious thing on the planet.
"That's Josie," the Red Queen answers, adjusting the weird bandana over the lower half of her face: "They say she used to be big in the COMPANY, before the whole Imago went down. I guess she was Second's Second or Third, or something like that."
"I never !@#$ing heard of her."
"Yeah, well, that's the funny thing. I never heard of her, either, but she knows me, alright. !@#$ing knew everything about me. Even says she met me, once or twice, when I was..."
"Yeah?" Yanabah asks: "Don't leave me hanging, girl."
"When I was someone else," she says: "And that's all I wanna !@#$ing say about that."
"You could say that," the Red Queen says, shrugging. When she looks away it's clear she's said all she wants to say, and Yanabah decides to respect it.
You don't argue with someone with a bigger gun with you, as she was told so many times.
* * *The supers spend about ten more minutes of travel time in silence, and then their leader finally decides to get up out of her straps and come down to say what's what.
It's 1971, out in Taos, and Wayfinder's rubbing his forehead, wishing people didn't know who he was.
"Look, Charlie," he says, looking at his long-time friend, sitting in the mental hospital's waiting room with the most dejected look on his face as the screaming down the hallway gets even louder: "I appreciate that you think you can come to me with this-"
"You have the gift of Sight, Wayfinder," the man says, looking like he hasn't had a wink of sleep in ages: "You know things no one can know."
"I just know where people are, Charlie. And maybe where they'll be, if I'm lucky. That doesn't mean I can help with your daughter."
"But you would know if that's her, right?"
"Isn't it?" the older man asks, looking down the hall to a room, where a certain young lady is being tied down to a bed by some very unamused nurses. Her mother's there, too, trying to talk sense into her, but the girl just won't stop screaming and fighting them.
"Well, you tell me," the man says, getting to his feet: "Ever since she run away she's been like this. It's like something just got inside her. You'd know, wouldn't you?"
"Well, maybe I would, maybe I wouldn't," he admits, looking his friend in the eyes and putting a hand on his shoulder: "If you want, I'll try. I figure I couldn't be here to help you find her when she ran away, the least I can do is make sure that's her in there."
"What do you need me to do?" Charlie asks, watching as the man sits down in a chair and closes his eyes.
"Just make sure no one disturbs me," Wayfinder says, screwing his eyes as shut as he can: "I mean no one. Don't touch me, don't talk to me. Close the !@#$ door and don't let anyone in, if you can."
"You got it," Charlie says, gladly closing the door and standing up against it. But Wayfinder doesn't notice. He's already left his body and started down the hall, intent on his quarry.
In spirit, he moves quicker than he could run. He's in her room before he knows it, looking down at her. He sees the colored fire of the souls in the room, each one unique, changing hue and shape with their emotions (mostly sad or angry, now).
And he sees her, and what he sees jerks him right back to his own body faster than he intended.
"What's wrong?" Charlie's asking him, shaking him where he lays, on the floor: "My god, man. You started talking and fell over. I didn't want to touch you, but..."
"I'm fine," Wayfinder lies, getting to his feet and looking down the hallway, where his spirit just was: "Charlie, where did you say you found her?"
"Out west, in the wastes," Charlie says: "We don't even know how she got there. It's twenty miles out of town, and-"
"I need to make a call," he says, wondering if he can get hold of Doctor Power at this time of night, and if the man'll even know what to do.
"Wayfinder? What's wrong with my daughter?"
"Charlie," the man says, putting his hands on both his friend's shoulders: "Her soul... it's been splintered. I don't know how else to put it."
"What? What does that even mean?"
"It's like someone took a hatchet to a tree, cut it down the middle, and left the hatchet in it. There's three people in there, now. And one of them's really !@#$ angry."
"Oh my God," Charlie gasps, his face going as pale as a tourist: "What can we do?"
"I don't know," he admits, hearing a terrible crashing and breaking from down the hall as whatever that angry being is finally succeeds in getting out of its restraints: "But I'm going to try and talk to someone who does. Meantime, you go down there and help your wife."
And as Charlie runs down the hallway, and Wayfinder tries to make his long-neglected Freedom Force communicator actually work, he hears a howl that shouldn't come from a human's mouth. It makes every hair on his body stand on end, and makes his blood stop in his veins.
Because he knows what that is. And he knows he can't stop it -- not by himself.
"Blessed Creator," he prays, finally getting the small thing in his hands to work: "Don't let me be too late."
* * *
"Alright folks, here's the deal," Josie says, wrapped in padded, black leather and strapped for a fight: "I'm sure you all watched the news, before you left. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that we really stepped in it, this time. For some reason we don't know, a number of our newest and brightest decided to go rogue on us. And they're backing up a bunch of people who don't exactly have our national best interests at heart, right now. Secessionists, from the looks of it."
"Yeeee-haw," someone drawls, and there's a few laughs and snorts.
"I'm serious, people," Josie says, and somehow it's enough to quiet everyone back again: "This is not good. These are, or were, our own people. We haven't discounted mind control or mental parasites, especially since it looks like the remnants of the Legion's involved. But we can't talk them out of it, or down from it, so it looks like we're going to have to do it the hard way.
"And I know you all know what that means."
No one there doesn't. If it was possible for them to be even more silent, they would.
"Now, as you may have guessed, Neo York City is already back under control. The idiots thought they could take it, but they didn't count on the Nthernaut getting involved. That's why most of you City kids are with us, on this one."
Yanabah looks around at some of them. Red Wrecker she's met before. The others she's seen, here and there. None of them look all that pleased at what's going on.
(Probably all messed up because of what their friends and teammates went and did, and what's happened to them because of it.)
"But since Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy, I guess they want to try and take it over, so they've sent everyone they can spare to do that. It's one one big mess down there. I hear they talked half the police force into laying down their guns before they even fired off a shot, which may mean we've got a puppeteer, or maybe it means they all want jobs in their new America when the fighting's over.
"Either way? They aren't getting it. Because we're going to go in and stop them, stomp this in the bud, and get home in time for turkey dinner and presents. You got that?"
Everyone cheers. And for some reason, it doesn't sound forced.
"So, rule number one," Josie continues: "No killing civilians if you can at all help it."
Yanabah coughs into her fist, maybe a little louder than she intends to.
"Is there a problem, back there?" Josie asks, looking in her direction.
"What if they're !@#$ing armed?" Yanabah asks: "I'm not !@#$ing bulletproof, here."
"All you shooters will be equipped with stun blasters," Josie says: "The rest of you? We don't need to see people coming apart on the nightly news, now do we? Control yourselves, people."
She addresses that to everyone. Something about how she says it seems to be aimed right at Yanabah, though.
"As for the Supers," she continues: "You put them down any way you can. Any way you have to."
There's some gasps over that, and some attempts to argue. She holds up a hand and glowers, and everyone shuts the !@#$ up.
"Look, people. You know how it is. I know they're our friends, or they were. But they signed up with the enemy. And even if they didn't? They're running around down there, tearing the town up and not caring about casualties. I have no idea what the civilian death toll is, right now, but it's not getting any higher on our watch.
"Gentle if you can, hard if you have to. But put. Them. Down."
She looks at Yanabah again, and this time she thinks she knows why.
Looks like she might not be getting stunners, today.
* * *
It's 1973, now, and the sun's coming up over the desert, making the cold go away.
"Where are we going today, Great-Grandfather?" the little girl asks, poking her head out of the sleeping bag and looking at Wayfinder as he tends the fire, over by some boulders.
"Oh, so you're my great-granddaughter, today, are you?" he asks, smiling a little. He's making coffee in an old, Army percolator, and frying bacon in a pan that's seen better days. He's dressed down a bit, as the temperature's about to come up, but still wearing his usual checked shirt and jeans.
And silver and turquoise jewelry. Tons of it.
"I'd like to be," she says, easing herself out of her sleeping bag and looking at the Sun.
"You shouldn't look right at it," the man says, carefully flipping over a piece of bacon: "It'll make you go blind."
"I don't need eyes to protect you, great-grandfather," she replies, giggling. Something about that makes him just a little afraid.
"I bet you don't. But I think the rest of you would like to see."
"I sure would," she replies. Her voice has become deeper, and her posture different. Lower to the ground, more feral.
"You shouldn't let her be stupid," the girl snarls: "She thinks we just float in the air, here. Like a butterfly."
"Butterflys can sting," he says: "I think that's what they say, anyway."
"They say stupid !@#$," she replies, crawling out of the bag and looking around, her nostrils flaring: "I don't care what they think."
"Well, you should. They tend to outnumber us by about five billion."
"Not enough," she smiles. Her teeth are pointy, now.
"Is my daughter going to talk, today?" Wayfinder asks, putting some of the bacon onto a plate and putting it on the ground, as close to her as he can.
"I don't think so," his granddaughter says, crawling over to where he put the plate and all but shoving the food into her face: "She's busy."
"Doing what?" he asks, sitting down and getting himself some of the coffee.
"Stuff," she says, licking the now-empty plate: "She's never here. Always somewhere else."
"I'd sure like to know where she is," a voice says, and then Doctor Power's walking out from behind a nearby boulder, as tough he'd been there all along.
What happens next is terrifying. The girl rises up and launches herself at him, almost too fast to see. But at the last moment she stops, snarls, and backs off, growling like a wolf.
"That's better," Doctor Power says, patting the silver jewelry he wears around his neck.
"Be polite, granddaughter," Wayfinder scolds her: "You know this man. He's a friend, not an enemy."
"You can't smell him like I do," she snarls: "He smells of the dark under the world. The First Sun is his friend."
"Maybe, but he's still your friend, and mine," he says: "Leave him be."
"How's she doing?" the magician asks as she slinks away, as ordered.
"She's right here, wasichu," the feral girl snarls.
"She's fine," Wayfinder says, pulling another mug out for his visitor: "They all are. But I have to tell you, Eben, that was stupid. One of these days she's going to try for it."
"Well, I guess that's a while, yet," the magician says, sitting down and taking the coffee he's being offered: "Anyway, I wanted to know if you'd had much contact with your daughter?"
"Not much," the man says, having a sip and watching as his granddaughter watches them, occasionally turning into his great-granddaughter: "She pops in every so often, says something important, goes away."
"Have you ever tried to look for her?" Doctor Power asks: "Like you look for people?"
"You know, I haven't," he says, thinking: "I guess I thought I'd just see her in there, with the rest of them."
"Worth a try?"
"Might be," Wayfinder says: "But that would mean I'd have to leave her alone. I haven't done that since that one night..."
He shakes his head, remembering what was left of Charlie. And he'd only been gone a few minutes, at most...
"Well, I'm willing to contain her if you'd like to try," Doctor Power says: "I've handled more strenuous things, you know."
"I do, yeah," the man says, sipping his coffee, and watching the girl as she shifts from one persona to the next: "But she's not an experiment, Eben. She's my girl. Has been since her daddy died and her mother went mad. So if we do this, we do it careful, and you be totally honest about what you want, here."
The magician looks at his ally, wondering what that was about. But something in the old man's eyes tells him that it's best if he just shuts up and agrees.
He never could fool Wayfinder the way he fools the others.
"Agreed," Eben says, getting to his feet and taking a few more sips of coffee as the sun rises: "I'll come up with a gentle binding circle, and we'll figure out what we want to ask, and why."
"Sounds good," Wayfinder says, smiling at his girl as she smiles at him, her eyes not of this world.
* * *
And then they're over Richmond, and they can hear the sound of things going horribly wrong well before they land.
"Alright, remember your orders!" Josie says, handing large guns full of orange and green lights to people as they run off the front right gangplank (while those who can fly, hover, or zip along faster than cars head out the back): "No killing civies. Take down the supers any way you have to. Keep property damage to a minimum. And for God's sake, smile for the cameras!"
Yanabah is close to the front of the line, but Josie points her finger at her and gestures to the side. She obeys with some bemusement, watching as Red Queen gets her sniper rifle yanked from her grip, replaced with a very long model of the gun with weird lights.
"Long distance F-gun," she explains: "I know you like getting them from high up, hon."
"Thanks," Red Queen says: "Take good care of my baby. You break her, you're buying me ten more."
There's a rush of people, and then it's just Josie and Yanabah.
"So, is this where you tell me to stay here?" Yanabah asks: "Because you know me better than I know myself, and can't trust me in the field?"
"Oh, I know I can trust you," Josie says, reaching over to get something special -- some heavy case: "I can trust you to be one deadly lady with little or no restraint. And I can trust you to be sneaky and not be seen, too. And that's why I need you to do something special for me."
She hands out the case, and Yanabah opens it. Inside are two very large handguns. 50 calibers. The kind SPYGOD uses.
"Holy !@#$," Yanabah says, picking them up, instantly in love with them.
"That's one way to put it," Josie says: "But they come with a price tag, hon."
"Are these for supers?"
Josie nods: "The rounds are spent uranium. You're not going to find a lot of people on that field who'll handle them all too well. Especially if you go for eye shots."
She looks at Yanabah, who nods: "Any specific targets?"
"All the new kids," she says: "You find one, don't ask questions. Just retire them. Let the others handle the Legion. You handle ours."
"Because I'm an outsider?"
"Because you'll do it," Josie says: "And you don't care why."
Yanabah smiles: "It's like you really know me, after all."
Yanabah just smiles: "Why don't you !@#$ing ask him?"
And -- if only to avoid more questions -- leaps out into the drop zone, ready to kill some fresh-faced super-traitors.
(SPYGOD is listening to The Hunter (Gary Numan) and having an Albion Wendigo)