Upshot

From 37 – Sequel

“Wisp, what are you doing with that old thing?” Bison asked. She was half dressed in her bodysuit and mask. Her horns caught the fluorescent lights framing her face with a yellow glow.

I stammered to answer holding my neon tracksuit costume. It was the standard issue Citadel Academy uniform for new graduates. I said, “I haven’t gotten a new one yet. It’s not that bad.”

Bison shook her head. She said, “That simply won’t do anymore. Not for my partner. Look, I got you a little something.” She reached into her locker and pulled out a silver case. She handed it to me. Opening it, I paused. Inside was a dark purple suit with silver accents. It was modest yet functional. I pulled it out and let it unfold to show the whole suit.

I said, “What’s the function of the skirt if the jumpsuit is one piece?”

Bison raised an eyebrow at me and said, “Cause you like frilly crap.”

I squeed. “I do! It’s perfect. Thank you. You didn’t have to.”

She grinned. “I really wanted to. Besides, I, uh, owed you a present. Happy birthday.”

I twirled while holding it up like a model. We both laughed. Laying out the suit across a bench, I admired it for one more moment before getting into it. The fabric was heavier than the school issued suit. It had a metal mesh texture but was soft on the inside. Once I’d stepped into the jumpsuit and pulled it over my shoulders it felt much heavier and tighter than my old one. When I finished clasping the suit closed and had the boots on, I looked in the mirror at myself. I didn’t recognize the reflection as being me. The person in the reflection looked confident, professional. She looked like a hero instead of a rookie or a teacher’s assistant.

Bison appeared at my side. She gave an approving nod. Then she said, “It looks pretty good but it’s missing something.” She snapped her fingers. Reaching into her locker she handed me a silver domino mask. “That should do it.”

I took the mask and held it up over my face in the mirror. I said, “Do I really need a mask? My identity isn’t a secret.”

Bison said, “The mask is a symbol. It doesn’t stop people from knowing who you are but it does tell them you are a hero. The first heroes had to hide who they were. They did the right thing even when it was illegal. Now we have rules and policy, but the legacy of us capes continues by the same principles.”

I tied the mask on. It felt right. At first, it seemed too confining but soon I didn’t even realize I had it on. The woman in the mirror radiated confidence now. I said, “It ties the whole look together. Hey, wait, you called us capes but you had me put on a mask. Why don’t we wear capes instead?”

Bison looked grave before saying, “You get a cape caught in an escalator once and suddenly that tradition seems much less practical. Besides, they get bunched up on the catapult!”

I felt ill at the mention of the device. I stated, “Which sounds like a great reason not to use it. Maybe we should get capes.”

“Come on scaredy cat,” goaded Bison. She took me by the hand and lead me to the launcher. The platform was a rectangle with harnesses facing up toward the open night sky. I paused at the entrance, took a deep breath, and crossed the threshold. We strapped in. Turning to my partner, I said, “Is this really the best way to get into the field? We couldn’t get a car or just walk to crime scenes?”

Bison winked and said, “I mean we could, but this is way more fun.”

The big woman slapped the released button. Magnetic propulsion launched us forward. Lights strobed in the barrel of the railgun till stopping suddenly. Our harnesses split opened shooting us high into the air. Bison laughed wildly while I corrected my tilt with controlled bursts of plasma from my hands and feet. We sailed over Citadel City. Neon lights from the entertainment district lit up clouds of fog rolling in off the lakes. Bass thumped off the walls of the ringed city up to us flying overhead. We began to lose altitude and fall to the ground at the outer wall of the city. A tightly packed section of warehouses bunched up by Gate Seven. Bison held her hands out in front of herself. The big woman hit the ground and performed a roll. She gracefully leaped at the last moment into a fighting stance. I, on the other hand, held my hands out at my sides. I ignited plasma bolts like reverse thrusters. I came to a slow bright stop before collapsing on the ground breathing fast.

Bison asked, “You good?” I held up a thumb. We collected ourselves and made our way to our assignment. Bison tried her best to be stealthy. She made sure to stay on her toes, keep to the shadows, and avoided street debris. I shuffled behind her holding my stomach. I was turning green around the collar. I so distracted, I walked right into Bison’s back.

“What?” I asked.

Bison pointed to a beat-up station wagon parked in an alleyway. It had a novelty license plate that read ‘LDY*LUC’. I growled. My whole body energized with a white-hot heat. Bison took a step back from me. She said, “Think that’s our villain’s getaway car?”

I huffed before saying, “What it is… is paperwork… That’s Havoc’s station wagon.”

Bison added, “And I’d wager those legacies; Aster, Thorn, and Sparkplug are here too, Scooby-Dooing it up.”

At that moment, there was a loud banging sound from inside the warehouse. We dove into the alley. flying up to an open window, I peered inside for a moment before gasping. The warehouse was packed with tanks of liquid. In the middle, there was an island of bright lights and scientific equipment. It was something out of a horror movie. I landed. Without a word to Bison, I took out my Citadel Communicator. I said, “Command, we found the lab. District Seven.”

The dispatcher acknowledged me. There was a pause before they said, “Clear the area. We’ll level the site remotely.”

Bison grabbed the communicator and held down the talk button. She said, “Hold up, we have some… uh, civilians in the area.”

There was another pause before the dispatcher said, “Understood. Clear the civilians out. King Sidus is on his way. That is his site now.”

The communicator went silent. I placed it back into my utility belt. Bison’s eyes were wide as she calculated. She whispered, “Sidus?”

I said, “Why is the Centauri king working a case in Citadel?”

Bison mouthed ‘the hell’. A million thoughts ran through my head. I tried to figure out what international superhero laws this would break. Having a non-citizen acting as a vigilante within the city limits would overstep several Earth-Centauri treaties. I said, “You ever heard of something like this?”

Bison shook her head. She said, “This is bad. If the king is coming here himself… this has to be a Centauri crime… Or…”

“Or what?” I asked.

“Or,” Bison continued, “this mission is off the books.”

We found a side door. The jam had roots growing through the hinge. A broken lock with a flower blooming out of the keyhole hung from the latch. We opened it slowly before slipping inside the building. Then pulled the door back in place as quietly as we could. Inside, there was a constant hum of machinery. The warehouse was hot and steamy like a sauna. It smelled like rotten meat and motor oil. Vats of bubbling liquid lined the walls and were arranged in lines through the building.

Bison pinched her nose. She said, “What are these things?”

I shrugged. I made a small stable fire at my fingertips and held it up to a vat. The light illuminated the murky water only a few inches into the tank. We leaned closer to the glass. A hand smacked against the side. It pawed at the light. Both of us jumped back in fear. We stepped away till we were against another vat. A thumping sound made us spin around. That vat had face pressed against it. The face looked exactly like Minotaur. Her eyes darted from Bison to me. This Minotaur looked angry or more angry than normal. It looked like she wanted to scream but a tube was taped over her mouth. She began throwing her head against the glass. The water in the tank sloshed out onto the cement.

I brought the communicator to my mouth without taking my eyes off the creature. I pressed the button and said, “Command?”

“This is dispatch, over.”

I asked, “Do you have eyes on Minotaur?”

There was a pause. Then they replied, “She’s sitting right here at Central. Why? Over…”

We shared a glance. It felt like a trapdoor had opened under my stomach. I was afraid I’d have to sit for a moment. Whether that was my commander or not in the tank, if someone could make a replica so life-like what else could they do? Could they replace people with them? How would you know the difference? I started to say something else when we heard more laughter coming from the center of the warehouse.

“So,” said the source of the laughter, “this is the legacy my greatest enemies could leave behind? Pathetic.”

Bison and I gave each other a knowing glance. We crept around the organized path of tanks toward the voice. More bodies pressed against the glass walls of the tanks. We saw creatures that looked like our friends, enemies, and strangers. Bison came to a complete stop in front of one tank. The water was still, unlike the others. Something held her back. She turned to look. In the dank water, Echo stared at her. She was still. Her eyes swollen with something she couldn’t say. Bison started to break the glass but stopped short. She cursed and gave a reassuring nod instead. She pressed her hand to the cold glass. Echo’s hand pressed against the other side. I put a hand on her shoulder and glanced toward the source of the voice. Bison closed her eyes, swallowed,  and continued on.

“The three of you,” said the robotic voice, “are but poor copies of the greatness that made you. To me, an ultimate life-form, you are like insects. I have a vision for the world, a perfect vision, that I will make flesh. So to speak.”

I peered around a corner. Three steel operating tables were set up in a makeshift laboratory. Strapped to the tables were Aster, Havoc, and Thorn. Massive humming machinery under the tables glowed each time they struggled against their bonds. Pacing around them was a muscular hooded figure with a deep purple-blue skin. Each step they took, reverberated through the warehouse with a gravity beyond their size.

Bison ducked behind some vats as the figure turned the corner around the tables and walked in our direction. Pressed against the glass, she could hear something slosh behind her. She peered over her shoulder. Her eyes stared back at her. She caught a gasp in her throat and pushed it back. I felt queasy again like flying on the catapult. I thought, ‘if they could copy us so perfectly… how do I know if I’m with the real Bison? For all I know… I’m in one of these tanks.”

I snapped out of that thought process when the hooded figure said, “Your presence is upsetting my specimens. You hear them clamor in their incubators? I will birth a new world. A better world. A perfect world. I want to see what the world could be if it ran in harmony.”

The voice began to move away from our hiding place. Bison flipped herself off. I peeked around the corner. I made the hand-sign for ‘ready?’ and waited for a reply. Bison sent back ‘hold’ and held up three fingers then pinched her pinky while looking around the lab. I counted tables and made the facial expression for ‘are you kidding me right now?’. Sparkplug was missing from their group. The four of them had been inseparable for the last few weeks.

The hooded figure stopped in front of Aster. He said, “You are, of course, different from your companions.” He walked around her table and placed his massive hands on either side of her head. She pulled from his touch. “You aren’t just the physical perfection of the Centauri. No. You’re the peek of humanity as well. Aren’t you? A specimen like you will truly advance my creations. What if, instead of fighting me, you joined me? You’re a warrior, like your people. Here in the Citadel, you are a dog for their wars. Join me and I could make you stronger still.”

I started to jump in when the sound of engines roared to life. From the shadows, a suit of beaten-up armor walked into the examination lights. Sparkplug’s voice boomed out of the suit, “Hey motormouth, put a sock in it.” The armor slide across the floor in a shower of sparks and fire. A heavy fist connected with the hooded figure’s head. Their hood flew back from the force.

The Amazing Richard smirked. He said, “Not bad, for a human.” He reached out and took Sparkplug’s face in his hand. Squeezing, her helmet began to compact under his fingers.

She flexed her arm and a blade swung out of her gauntlet. With a precise strike, she cut the prisoners free. Aster, Havoc, and Thorn collected themselves. They rubbed at their wrists and arms. All three looked drained.

The Amazing Richard let out a horse metallic laugh. They said, “You think a weakling like you could defeat me?” He closed his fist around Sparkplug’s head. It crushed into a ball of metal. The armored suit fell from his hand in a limp pile of junk.

Bison gasped. I rushed to her side. The suit said, “Too easy.” It exploded throwing the Amazing Richard, Bison, and myself back. The surrounding tanks broke flooding the area. Quivering bodies spilled onto the ground. They were still attached to their incubators. I stumbled to my feet. The room swirled around me like a carnival ride. A distinct ringing bled over every other sound in the room. I was uneasy on my feet. Looking at my suit, there wasn’t a scratch on it. I started to run toward the Amazing Richard with charged plasma fists. A hand caught my shoulder.

Out from the shadows, Sparkplug said, “There’s no time.”

The two of us helped Bison to her feet. We joined Aster, Havoc, and Thorn. From behind us, we heard the grinding of metal on metal. The Amazing Richard was sitting up. He turned to face us. Half of his face was gone. He watched us with a single glowing eye. As he began to stand we could see his exposed circuitry begin to self-repair. Wires looped together forming muscle. Liquid metal and plastic oozed from the wound forming bones and dark bluish-purple skin. He said, “Going so soon?”

Sparkplug said, “Come on, we need to get out of here.”

The six of us ran through the corridors of vats. We could see the specimen hammering against the glass. Waves lapped at the edges of the tanks and sloshed water onto the concrete floor. Behind us, we could hear heavy footfalls pounding against the ground chasing us. We poured out of the exit into the alley. Aster held the door in place while Thorn grew more vines to secure it. There was a moment of silence before two purple-blue arms broke through the door gasping for her.

Everyone piled into Havoc’s station wagon. He adjusted the mirrors and started the engine. “Is everyone buckled in?” he asked.

Behind the car, the door blew off its hinges in a cloud of dust. Everyone cried out, “Just drive!”

Aster and Thorn didn’t make eye contact with me. The Centauri asked, “Does this mean we’re expelled?”

I huffed and said, “It means Saturday school…” Their eyes brightened. I continued, “With your new tutor, Ms. Steel.”

All four of the teens relaxed and let out a breath. Sparkplug said, “That’s fair.”

Behind us, a blast shook the ground. Flames erupted from the warehouse lighting the night sky. Sidus flew into and out of the warehouse as a dark streak. Aster sunk lower into her seat. I wondered if any of the specimens would survive. I couldn’t shake the vision of the Bison clone underwater in that tank. It looked so much like her. How did the Amazing Richard even get her DNA? Was there a tank with me inside? Were they clones or could I be a clone? Would I know if I were? I was so absorbed in these thoughts, I didn’t realize Bison had leaned forward from the back seat over my shoulder.

Bison said, “Well, the upshot here is you wanted a patrol car, Wisp.”’

We laughed.

The End for Now

 

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