Amy opened her eyes. She stood at a door. Examining the steel security door she watched a bright blue palm scanner blink at one side. She sighed and pressed her hand to it. The door slid open with a whoosh. Inside a sleek briefing room was alive with activity. Amy took a seat. Moonglow, Captain Infinity, Ichival, and Hildi studied a holographic map of a facility. A small cube-shaped building sat atop a sprawling maze of passageways beneath the surface.
Captain Infinity leaned over and asked, “Late night?”
“No,” replied Amy. “I overdid it yesterday. Who’s the bad guy today?”
Hildi the Hunter cleared her throat and said, “As I was saying, the Cult of Hecatate is focusing their forces at this temple in Liberia. We aren’t allowed to enter the country, so we need a covert team to infiltrate the compound, gather intel, and leave without a trace.”
“I can dive bomb it from orbit. I’ll leave a crater. Make it look like a random meteorite struck the place,” Amy said.
Hildi crossed her arms, “Help me out here Moonglow.”
The elderly hero blinked. She yawned and sat up. “What did you say?” she asked.
Hildi stamped her foot. Her eyebrow twitched. She took a deep breath and said, “We need to learn a little more about this cult before we turn their headquarters into a crater. We don’t know who they are, what they want, or if they have other locations. Blowing them up would force them deeper underground.”
Amy blew a bubble with her gum. It popped with a smack making Ichival flinched. Amy rubbed her eyes. She couldn’t even remember flying to the Aegis Tower that morning. She stood up and crossed the room to a tea cart nestled between a pair of always beeping supercomputers. The hero took a cup and poured coffee into it. Hildi hashed out details with everyone behind her, but Amy couldn’t make out the words.
It all seemed so trivial; wake up, punch bad guys, go to sleep. She wondered when was the last time she had taken a day off. A real day for herself. No genocides, giant robots, or madmen trying to force the world to change to their will. How was it that Amy was the strongest hero on the planet, but couldn’t get out of boring office meetings. How many tragedies could she have prevented in the time it took to pour her coffee?
From over her should, Captain Infinity’s voice broke her thought process. “I agree with Hildi. As much as I hate to give her the satisfaction of being right, you know?”
“Hmm, what?” Amy asked.
“The plan, we should use her plan,” he replied. Amy inspected his hairline. Had it receded? She thought there hadn’t been as much gray the other day. Oh, no his hair wasn’t grey at all. It was fuller than she remembered. He waved a hand in front of her face. He said, “Earth to Amy. Hello? Is this thing on?” He chuckled but didn’t mean it.
She blinked and focused back on his eyes. Amy nodded.
“Alright, so you and she will infiltrate the compound,” he said. “You’ll be the muscle and she’ll disable the security as you go. If we do this right, no one will ever know we were there. The rest of us will be in orbit ready to jump in if things get out of hand.”
Amy checked her coffee, half-full. She stopped pouring and added a fist full of sugar packets. She took a sip. It didn’t taste like anything.
Captain Infinity took the coffee from her and put it down. He said, “I need you to focus here. Okay? We need whatever is inside that vault.”
At the conference table, Hildi detailed the facility’s security network. It all looked like glowing ink smudges for Amy. Moonglow nodded off in her seat again. Ichival focused on the presentation. Amy thought out a quick message to the Martian but they didn’t respond. She turned her attention to a monitor behind Hildi. Storm clouds gathered over an ocean. A small town perched on the cliffs at the water’s edge braced for landfall. Its lights blinked in rhythm to the lightning.
“Amy!” Hildi said in a strained whisper. She was crouched next to her by a concrete wall. “Where is your head? I need your help with this door. It’s jammed.”
The pair stood outside a plain looking concrete structure. Satellite dishes and antennas protruded from the simple grey cube. High fencing surrounded them with concertina wire strung between the posts. Amy could hear men yelling nearby. Placing a finger on the door hinge, she swiped downwards. The door collapsed inside the building. Hildi sprung over the door and caught it in time to keep it from slamming on the ground.
“We have to keep quiet,” said the Hunter. “Remember? Stealth?”
Hildi pushed the door back into place. Using a small blowtorch, she affixed the door back to the jam. They crept through the facility. The first two floors were boring grey rooms filled with boring grey cabinets. The cabinets had flashing lights and musical beeps. Amy figured this was a server warehouse.
Hildi led Amy to a rusty door at the farthest end of the lowest hallway. The Hunter struggled to pull the door open. Inside, the room empty except for a single light bulb hanging from a wire. One wall had a faint rectangular outline that was discolored from the rest. Hildi retrieved a handful of bombs from her belt. Amy waved her off. She swiped her finger around the outline and pulled the rectangle of cement free from a hidden passage leading further into the facility. Hildi placed the bombs back into her utility belt with care.
The two heroes descended further into the facility. As they walked, the walls turned from concrete to reinforced steel. It was built to withstand orbital bombardments. The doors, likewise, went from steel fire doors to sliding blast doors.
“It was the right choice not to punch my way down here,” Amy said.
Hildi didn’t reply. She was peeking through viewports on the blast doors.
“I said, you were right about the plan,” Amy added.
Hildi said, “Oh, right. Well, we need to find out what these cultists are up to.”
Amy’s lips pursed. She took a deep breath. Placing her hands on a blast door, she pressed her fingers into the metal. It gave way under her touch. She peeled it back with her fingers like an orange peel. Amy made the opening wide enough to enter. “After you,” she said.
Hildi stared at the rough opening, then looked to Amy before she ducked inside. She pointed her flashlight into the room. Sweeping the beam from side to side someone screeched and receded into the shadows. Only the person’s yellow eyes stood out from the darkness. They were dark blue with long dark hair. The blue person slapped at the ground.
“What is that?” Hildi asked. She trembled, making the light shake.
Amy placed a hand on the light. She pushed Hildi’s light down as if it were a loaded gun. Amy said, “Whatever they are, they came a long way to be stuck in a cage.”
Amy took hold of the door and bent the metal back over the entry. Hildi hugged herself. Amy motioned for the Hunter to follow her. They passed more identical rooms. Behind each one, a blue creature with yellow eyes hissed from the shadows. The pair approached a vault door twice as big as any of the others
Hildi said, “Okay, whatever the deepest darkest secret this place has is right behind this door. All you have to do is open it up so that we can see whatever these people want hidden more than anything.”
Amy rolled her eyes. She said, “Yeah, champ. That’s how vaults work.” Her fingers dug into the steel. Lifting it, the gears ground against one another as it opened.
Hildi ran inside as soon as she could fit into the gap. She swung her flashlight from side to side. The light reflected off a polished white marble surface that ran for a hundred feet from the door. She followed the corners of the room to the ceiling which drew into a single point a hundred feet above them. It was completely empty. Hildi looked around wildly. She said, “But, but, but–“
“You sound like a motorboat,” Amy said.
Hildi stomped her foot, “Where is it?”
“Where is what?” Amy asked.
Hildi stomped her foot again. “What were you hiding in here?”
“Er, I meant the, uh, Cult of Hecatate.”
“Nice save, Belphe.”
Hildi stopped where she stood. From the back of her head, a nose sprouted through her hair. A pair of yellow eyes and a smile followed. Their joints flipped back to realign her arms and legs. Her skin turned a deep blue. She asked, “How long have you known?”
“Oh, I guessed it at the entrance to the briefing room,” replied Amy. “We had a huge fight about the color of the security pad at the door. We couldn’t decide between red, green, blue, or amber. We picked amber but left blue on the blueprints. Also, Captain Infinity and Moonglow weren’t there. I just thought about how nice it would have been for them to be there.”
Amy performed a backstroke through the room. Reality dissipated as the walls and floor faded away. A void formed around them stretching endlessly.
Belphegor asked, “Why bring me down here then? Why not wake up?”
“I wanted to see what you were after.”
Belphe scoffed, “So you were toying with me?”
“Never,” Amy said. “Just curious. You know, you could have asked. What, was this chamber supposed to be? My mind vault? Did you want to see my deepest darkest secret?”
Belphegor and Amy orbited one another.
The demon sighed then said, “Mammon offered me some cash to find out where you went for three years.”
The blue woman narrowed her eyes at the hero. “About what?”
Amy rolled her eyes. She said, “You can steal any billionaires bank account number. You don’t need the money. What are you really looking for?”
Belphe rubbed her face. She said, “You disappeared pretty soon after this investigation. Thought if I recreated the mission you might give me a clue.”
Amy asked, “About me or you?”
Belph didn’t respond. She looked away from the hero. Amy moved closer to the blue woman. So close she felt the coldness of the demon. The hero said, “Well, you almost got it, but not quite. The real Hildi cracked this nut like a squirrel. I barely had to do anything. The real Hildi was calm, collected, and she wasn’t stingy with her bombs. She didn’t actually care if they knew we were coming once we got this far.”
Belphe nodded, “I didn’t have a lot to go off of. She didn’t show up on camera often.”
Amy asked, “What is it you want to find?”
Belphe didn’t hesitate, “Who were those people… the ones in the rooms?”
“That, I don’t know for sure,” Amy said. “I regret not getting to find out. I do, however, have an idea.”
Belphegor’s form shrank. She fell infinitely through nothing into herself. A hand bridged the empty space and stopped her. Amy grabbed Belphe’s shoulder. “Do you wanna see how it ends?” she asked.
“Why would you help me?”
Amy didn’t answer. Instead, the room resolidified. This time, cultists lined the walls of the room. Candles littered the floor alongside chalk lines. In the middle of the ceremony, a massive shapeless creature slept. Robed figures chanted in unison around the beast. From the vault door, an explosion rocked the ground. The cultists rushed to put themselves between the door and their ritual. Amy, a different younger Amy, entered the room. She wore the same yellow and orange flight suit but everything about her felt lighter and warmer. Her lips drew back into a grin. Hildi followed behind her with an arrow nocked on her bow. The memories move through the dreamers without touching them.
Their leader rushed to her with her hands in the air. She cried out, “Stop, the Sleeper must not awaken!”
The different Amy held up a hand that drew the arms and legs of the woman backward. The current Amy cringed and rubbed her head. She told Belphe, “It’s my fault. That’s why I didn’t stop you sooner.”
“What do you mean?” asked the blue woman.
In the memory, the creature stirred. Tentacles, claws, and wings struck out from the beast. The memory of Amy threw a punch at the creature but her arm moved like it was stuck in jell. Waves of power erupted from her pushing over the cultists. The beast roared and charged her. She caught its jaws and held it back. Its teeth clapped above her cheek.
The creature reared back for a killing blow. Amy held her hands together. A column of force struck the beast between its eyes. It went still before slumping onto the ground. The remaining cultists ran from the room. Hildi threw bolas with both hands to capture as many as she could. The creature’s form stopped shifting. Its edges became solid. The tentacles, claws, and extra appendages melted into one another until only the form of a young girl remained. Amy uncoupled her cape and wrapped it around the girl. She picked her up and started walking for the door.
Hildi asked, “Are you sure you should hold that… thing?”
“It’s fine. She looks a little shaken up though.” Amy used her hand to brush hair out of the girl’s face. “She had a tough trip.”
The memory melted away. Belphe continued watching where the forms had been. She brushed back tears.
The blue girl asked, “What happened to the others?”
Amy shook her head. “No clue. They disappeared. Every room was empty after you woke up.”
“Why didn’t you… Why didn’t Aegis…”
Amy flew to her. She reached out for Belphe but the demon shrunk away from her hand. The hero said, “We didn’t really get a chance. You kept disappearing from our holding cells… every time you went to sleep. Then you fell in with Mammon. I… I left for a bit. We let you fall between the cracks. It was our mistake. No, it was my mistake. I should have been there for you.”
Belphegor evaporated into a mist. The cloud made a sigh-like trill. The sound reverberated through the inky blackness. Amy felt herself rising toward the surface as if she was underwater. Her body and mind melted together at the edge of being awake.
Her apartment was quiet except for the ticking of an antique mantle clock. It was lit in gray purple rays streaming in between the blinds and the wall. The room was sparse except for a short bookcase filled with leather-bound journals, a dresser, the bed, and a polish chrome egg the size of an armchair. She stretched her toes. Floating to the bathroom, she brushed her teeth, combed her hair, and washed her face.
Pulling back the shower curtain from the tub, she saw Belphegor with her arms crossed with a wide stare. The blue girl was dressed in pajamas. A pillow was stuffed behind her head. She held a stuffed octopus to her chest. Amy sat on the toilet next to her. Neither said anything for several minutes.
Amy broke the silence by asking, “So, do you mind moving to the bed or couch? I kind of want to shower before my license exams today.”
Belphe didn’t move. She pulled her octopus closer. The girl asked, “Am I a monster?”
“It’s too early for this.” Amy stood and poured a glass of water. She waited a moment to make sure it filled and spilled over the side. She walked it back to the girl in the tub and said, “I don’t have the answers. If I can’t punch a problem I’m kind of out of ideas.”
Belphe accepted the glass, wiped at her eyes, and took a sip.
Amy said, “We have to find what fills that empty space in our hearts on our own. I can’t tell you what will make those feelings go away but you’re no more a monster than I am.”
“So,” Belphe said, “how much of monster are you?”