The Gathering Storm, Part 13

Posted: March 14, 2011 in The Gathering Storm series
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The confrontation had begun as a simple attempt to foil a crime. Then it had morphed into something more like a game of Keep Away as Mad Dash continued to prevent the criminal from grabbing the bag of cash and getting away, ever since the hero had come on the scene and knocked it out of the man’s possession to begin with.

The presence of that cash was the only thing keeping the would-be bank robber on the scene. Otherwise, the situation might have become an actual chase, and then the chances of catching him would be lessened.

Because while Mad Dash was almost certainly the faster of the two of them, this thief, the hero realized, was no slouch as a Speedster himself. And all it would take was one bit of distraction to lose him—or for the crook to put just one bystander in jeopardy to get Mad Dash off his ass and dart away.

Given this was a Speedster-vs.-Speedster tussle, the police were worse than useless right now—simple window dressing for the hero-on-villain show playing out. They couldn’t risk taking a shot with two hyperspeed transhumans flitting about, lest they miss and hit a civilian, and there was no way they were going to be able to physically tackle a super-fast villain.

Just gonna ride this out until you run out of gas and are ready for nappy-nap time, chummy-chum, Mad Dash thought. Too bad for you because I’m’a had myself a lunch heavy on carbs right before I heard about your little crime, dude. I’m all fueled up and you’re not going any

His thoughts scattered as the game of Keep Away became something a lot more serious and potentially deadly, with the still-anonymous villain Speedster suddenly producing a baton, changing direction, and then swinging right at Mad Dash’s windpipe as the hero rushed forward to intercept the latest attempt to retrieve the cash and flee.

Mad Dash managed to shift his vector just a bit, and caught the baton on the side of his face instead of in his throat, so he was still in the game. He was momentarily stunned, but mobile, and he just barely managed to head off the villain once more as he made a play for the bag of money on the street.

“Thank smiling fat happy Buddha that I’m a Brute and a Speedster,” Mad Dash said to himself in a rapid-fire mutter as he reoriented himself. It wasn’t exactly a secret to anyone in the public that he possessed some level of Brute power that gave him resistance to harm—too many people had seen him slam into walls and be pummeled and still get back up. Given how slight his frame was and the fact he didn’t wear much in the way of body armor, people could put two and two together. What almost no one realized, except for Query and maybe one or two other heroes, was that his resistance to harm increased the faster he was running.

If I hadn’t been doing a super-dupe-sprint when he hit me, I’d be pushing up Z’s and having marmalade dreams, Mad Dash considered. And an Excedrin 4 hangover with a cherry on top to go with them.

But while he wasn’t hurt much, the hero was starting to wear down, and was wondering if his opponent was, too. It might explain the shift to more violent methods all of a sudden, he considered. On the other hand, the guy wasn’t showing much sign of running out of steam, which made Mad Dash fear the villain might be hyped up on some heavy-duty stimulant or something right now—maybe Red Crush or Skeez—and might just be ornery because of that—not to mention able to push himself farther than he should.

Mad Dash took a quick glance at the clock above the bank entrance. He’d been at it with this guy for more than 10 minutes now.

And that’s way too long to dance the afternoon away with such a homely partner, Mad Dash thought.

He realized he could easily outrun his opponent if he used both his shift-running powers and more traditional Speedster abilities together. But those thousands of little microsecond shifts through interdimensional space would open up his mind and senses to all the wonders of the places most people couldn’t see or sense, and it would be distracting. Using his shift-running was good for getting someplace fast, but horrible in combat situations. So while he knew he could outrun his opponent, he probably wouldn’t outmatch him in the resulting fight

Makes for fun when traveling to use the shift-running—better than listening to tunes on my iShard—but it mellows me out worse than a Harold-and-Kumar pothead fest, Mad Dash considered. This is not a good time for that.

The hero berated himself briefly and silently. He had three tasers at home, a cattle prod, various truncheons and batons, a pair of concussion gloves and dozens of cans of pepper spray and mace. But he rarely remembered to bring them with him when he left his apartment. Sometimes, he considered, it didn’t pay to have madness-induced absent-mindedness and a somewhat pacifist streak.

Maybe I should become the world’s fastest pizza delivery guy, Mad Dash thought, instead of busting up crimes and the occasional criminal.

Just as quickly, though, the thought passed, and Mad Dash felt that little shift in his mind that so often came at these times—a sort of belated resolve that bubbled up from underneath the fluff that usually buried his harsher instincts.

Without hesitation, and hardly knowing himself he was doing it, Mad Dash had liberated a gun from the holster of a nearby police officer. By the time the officer knew what had happened, the bank robber had a bullet hole through one of his ankles and was tumbling head-first toward the sidewalk.

Mad Dash returned the discharged firearm to its holster and watched as the crook just barely managed to slow himself and prevent a face-plant impact into the ground, instead grazing the edge of the bank wall, spinning, tumbling, and then falling to the ground in a confused heap.

Before he could recover—and before anyone could find out whether he had any resistance to harm or quick-recovery powers—Mad Dash had the man’s arms behind his back and had slipped a nylon tie around the guy’s wrists, yanking it tight. Then another one around his ankles.

A few whoops and cheers erupted from the crowd along with some scattered claps, and the police began to descend upon the criminal as Mad Dash retreated slightly. Normally, New Judah police were pretty tolerant of hero activities as long as things stayed pretty close to the letter of the law, but he had just discharged a police firearm, so he wanted to remain wary lest they try to arrest him too.

He surveyed the scene one last time to make sure everything seemed in order and that the police—and not a bystander—were retrieving the money, and then he got ready to run and find someplace to eat so he could refuel his body.

Before he did though, he saw a woman wave to him from the edge of the crowd, and smile crookedly, as if she wasn’t sure how to smile anymore. It was the mouth—and that awkward smile—he recognized first, even before he noticed that her left hand was gloved while her right was not. He wondered which finger of that glove was empty, since he hadn’t seen Ladykiller’s left hand bared in any of the several long meals he and she had shared. He noticed the long but thin scar that ran almost perfectly along her hairline from scalp to neck, and the smaller, shorter one above her right eye. Her “original war wounds,” as she called them, which she had told him about but the source of which she hadn’t yet revealed.

Mad Dash smiled back in his own crooked—but earnest—manner, waved to her, and ran off.

As he did, though, he considered what it meant.

She must have heard I was taking someone down, and she came to see how I was doing, Mad Dash surmised. She cared enough to check in on me because she was close enough to do it.

He hadn’t expected to make enough of an impression on Ladykiller—or win enough of her friendship—that she would let him see her face without a mask. He didn’t want to get ahead of himself, but they had spent an awful lot of hours together and he had gotten the impression she hadn’t met anyone she could open up to in a long time. And open up she had, many times, sometimes happily and sometimes tearfully, even if she kept the worst stories secret for now. Mad Dash had been happy to be there for all her emotions; had fancied himself a friend even before she seemed to have realized that he was.

But do I have an actual girlfriend now? he wondered silently. And if I do, what then? I don’t have the cloudiest idea what the heckedy-hoo-hoo to do with one of those…

* * *

“It’s time, you know. Time to make the leap. Time to get off the edge and make a decision. Time to cut your ties. Time to move on, lover,” the woman cooed softly, stroking the face of the man whose head currently rested on her bosom as they sat together on his Italian leather sofa in a loft-style condo that was a vision of blond wood and glimmering steel.

She could feel the tensions and confusion in his mind. The turmoil stirred up by his neurochemicals and psychological issues were palpable to her. As well they should be, of course, since she was responsible for so many of them. Through her touch and through her mind, she fed those insecurities and confusions a little more, and spoke more words to him.

Encouraging him as she undermined his confidence.

When she slipped away some 20 minutes later, pocketing the little spy camera and pulling the hood of her coat over her head to hide her facial tattoos from the public, Crazy Jane smiled and knew her task for Janus here was done—and completed two days ahead of schedule.

By the time she was a block away from the building the man lived in, he had already slashed his wrists, making the slices vertically instead of horizontally across his wrists—and before he lost consciousness, he threw himself out the twelfth-story window for good measure, just to make sure he succeeded in pleasing her and ending his torment.

* * *

Underworld frowned grimly as she watched a condensed version of the videos—spanning a few weeks of Crazy Jane’s work for Janus—and then consulted the stolen copies of police forensic reports on the apparent suicide of Ignacio Vasquez.

“So, all that time with her, and he had no idea, even though she dropped a million hints she was driving him crazy; even though it was clear he was sleeping with Crazy Jane—or even if not, someone who emulated her,” Underworld muttered. “I don’t get it. Was he that dense, or is there something else at work?”

“Oh, he knew what was happening,” Janus said, brushing a bit of lint off the tuxedo he was wearing and then adjusting the Mardi Gras-style mask he was wearing today, made of dark, gleaming wood on one side and tarnished, pitted gray metal on the other—but both sides sporting gaily colored little feathers. “You can see it in his eyes starting after their third ‘date.’ The hopelessness. The realization of what she was doing but the knowledge he could do nothing to stop it. You should review the video again; you’ll see.”

“I’d rather not. It was disturbing enough to watch the first time. It had a certain ‘snuff porn’ feel to it.”

“As you like,” Janus said. “I plan to watch it a few more times tonight before bed. Hopefully Jane can join me and we can both find intense pleasure in enjoying her work.”

“Well, you were always more a sociopath than me,” Underworld responded. “I’m more selfish and narcissistic. You, on the other hand, are as narcissistic as you are sadistic.”

“Guilty as charged,” Janus admitted. “So, would you really like to know how she was able to keep getting access to him even after he knew what was happening? Why he didn’t go seek help or tell someone he was with Crazy Jane and he needed to be saved?”

“I’ll probably regret it later, but yeah, I do want to know. Since you’re being so talkative.”

“It’s all quite purposeful, my dear,” Janus said. “I’m not blabbering for the hell of it. I can’t let you in on every part of my plans yet, but now that you’ve gotten enough of a taste of criminal life again to…”

“I still plan on killing you for threatening my family,” Underworld noted mildly.

“Of course, but it’s not as pressing now, is it? Once we get into a rhythm with this operation, you’ll only want to break a few of my bones to send me a message. I might even allow you to do so. But getting back to my point, now that you’re in sync with me enough and at least in the same chapter—if not on the same page—I can let you know a few things.”

“Such as?”

“How much do you know about Crazy Jane’s powers?”

“Enough to make educated guesses. She’s an Interfacer or a Psionic to be driving people insane, I should think.”

“Both, actually. She is a Psi and does have very-short-range empathic and mildly telepathic abilities but is stronger as an Interfacer. She uses the latter ability to rewire synapses and such, and that affects various neurotransmitter levels and such. Well, you get the picture.”

“Quite a nasty picture. Having both capabilities is brutal for a victim,” Underworld said. There was mostly recrimination in her voice, but significant appreciation as well.

“Oh, but that isn’t all,” Janus said. “She’s also a Necro—though there, too, her abilities are mostly keyed to the central nervous system, and are via touch or near-touch, like the Interfacer powers.”

“Jesus!” Underworld sputtered. “So she can degrade synapses and shit long-term, too? Maybe permanently with frequent enough contact? Madness, dementia, memory loss. Things like that. Is that what you’re saying?”

Janus nodded and smiled. “She’s a Transmitter, too. Electrical impulses.”

Underworld shrugged and made a face that indicated she wasn’t following his train of thought.

“Mostly, it’s just very cool,” Janus said. “She can essentially taser a person by touch. Only a few times a day, mind you, but still…in any case, that’s the only power the public knows she has—the authorities might know more subsequent to my liberation of her—so you know about it of course. But my point is that low-level electrical impulses from her actually can enhance the effects of her other mental and neurological fiddlings. Helps her disrupt mental processes. Plus, imagine what a sensation of bugs crawling all over you can do on top of everything else she does when she’s messing with perceptions and sensations. I’ve done so many field tests with her. It’s really quite amazing. I’ve trained her to fine-tuned perfection over the years.”

“You must be so proud,” Underworld noted sarcastically. “So, she messes with their heads so much that they can’t…No, it still doesn’t make sense. Early on, if he suspected what she was doing to him, he would have run for help or called someone. There were usually daylong and sometimes several-day-long gaps between each rendezvous.”

“One last power my dear,” Janus said, drawing out his words as Underworld leaned toward him slightly with curiosity. “Or, rather, an additional twist with one of her powers—the Interfacer ability.”

Underworld made an irritated motion with one hand, urging him to get on with it.

“She’s addictive,” Janus said smugly. “She can make a connection with a person’s pleasure centers and addiction centers and make them want her. Need her. After their first time together, Ignacio knew he wanted her back. After a few times, he couldn’t imagine doing anything that would make it impossible for him to get access to her. Like, for example, getting her arrested and hauled back to the loony bin. The effect is quite long-lasting. Given enough exposure, it’s essentially permanent.”

“So he let her come back knowing what she was doing for the same reason an addict goes back to the needle or the pipe even when he knows it will destroy him.”

“Precisely. They can’t help themselves,” Janus said.

“Holy hell,” Underworld said, and then was silent for a bit. She frowned suddenly, then blurted: “You idiot! That’s why you keep her around. That’s why you took that big risk breaking her out of that high-security facility when you started up your ops here. She’s gotten to you. She’s got control of you. Bad enough that you’re as crazy as you are already; I can’t let you be manipulated by someone just as crazy. I’m not working under those kinds of conditions. The bitch dies right now.”

“Relax,” Janus said. “Seriously. Sit down and listen, or I will have to do something we’ll both regret.”

“You aren’t in control of your faculties, and I’m not afraid of you.”

“Shut up, Underworld,” he said mildly, without any rancor, pushing a file folder toward her. “You can look at my notes in here and those of some of my best researchers. Her powers are shit against other transhumans—something about most tranhuman gene sequences messes with her connection. She can cause vague mental unease and she can induce some low level of addiction, but that’s about it. Oh, and she can shock the hell out of you with electricity without any problem. But most of the people with transhuman genes are insulated from her mental and biochemical powers.”

Most,” Underworld emphasized. “Apparently not you, though.”

“I said ‘insulated,’ my dear,” Janus noted. “I never said I was immune—nor anyone else. Yes, I’ve had her around me several years, minus that unfortunate period of incarceration for her. She has, certainly, ‘gotten her hooks in me.’ But isn’t that what women always strive to do with their men? Of course she wants to be my favorite. I feel drawn to her and I feel a need to protect her and keep her near. But I was away from her long enough to know I don’t go through any kind of withdrawal.”

He paused, and his face took on a wistful and vaguely pleased look as he continued: “Oh, you should see what that looks like, when one of her addicted pets is denied her presence for a week or more. Such anguish. Worse than a heroin withdrawal, I think. I’m more loyal to her than to anyone else in my service—even you, who are almost a partner in my endeavors—but I am loyal to my own goals above all else. I took a risk to free her because I wanted her back, yes—but I also needed her talents.”

“And what if I don’t believe that? What if I think you’re making justifications to downplay her influence on you? What if I…”

“Kill her?” Janus finished. “I would punish you. Severely. Would I kill you in turn? Not likely. As I said, my own aims above all else. I feel more loyalty to her than I do to you, but I need your talents and powers more than hers, so killing you would be counterproductive. I would, however, torture you, I’m certain. Nothing personal, of course. Just business.”

Underworld sighed heavily. “Working with you is a tremendous pain in the ass, Janus. So, she addicted Fortunato’s cousin to her so that she could drive him insane for you, because she couldn’t just drive Ignacio insane right away.”

“Oh, she could have, if I wanted her to,” Janus noted. “It’s stressful, and painful for her, but she could have just pushed hard and had him jumping out a window on my behalf the first night. Better than average chance, anyway. She can really mess up a person’s head right away if she tries, but the effects don’t last long. More lasting results require her to take her time. If Ignacio had gone for the high-dive right away, though, it would have looked suspicious. The way she and I planned it, people got see him behaving more and more erratically over time. So the finding of a suicide was a shoo-in.”

“What’s your angle, though? Does Ignacio have some key connection to one of Fortunato’s businesses? Does his absence give you access to his cousin somehow?”

“Maybe a little, but not really,” Janus admitted. “No, the world will think Ignacio took his own life, so that it doesn’t come back to haunt me, since I have so many other outstanding charges already. No need to pile on them when I don’t need to. I do intend, however, to make sure Fortunato is informed subtly that I was responsible for his cousin’s death.”

Underworld whistled. “First, you try to have Query killed, and now you go after one of Fortunato’s family members and plan to wave that in the man’s face. Are you trying to piss off all the major transhuman players in New Judah, Janus?”

He smiled broadly, his mouth fully visible below the Mardi Gras mask, and his teeth looking very white in contrast to that mask and his dark tuxedo. “Why yes; yes I do, Underworld my dear. I plan on pissing them off quite a lot. And those two are just for starters.”

* * *

The late spring night embraced him with air that had the perfect balance of warm and cool, as he crossed the threshold of his home and entered into the wider suburban world around it. Forty minutes earlier, he had sent Clara home, and 15 minutes ago he had gotten his daughter down to sleep. Now, just a lonely and short journey to the garbage can with a full bag of refuse, and then he could enjoy a glass of something involving scotch or wine, and work his way slowly to his own bedtime.

His heart jumped in his chest at the sound of a flat voice from the darkness.

“So, who is she?”

Once William Bastion’s terror came down a notch a few seconds later and he recognized the voice, he ventured: “Teri?”

“Who was the woman, Will?”

“Theresa?” asked the physician, dumbfounded. “Is that you? Where have you been for the past…”

“Once more, Will,” she asked, a keen and deadly edge in her voice now. “Who is she?”

“Who? What are you…” he began, then stopped. “The woman I sent home, you mean? She was watching our daughter like she does three or four days every week. A daughter who would like to know where her mother has…”

“Ahhhh,” came the voice from the shadows. “A nanny. Well, you are a busy man, and your mother isn’t always well—and you wouldn’t trust her with my mom, thank God—so it makes sense. I had thought maybe your taste in women had gone down since I’ve been gone.”

The woman stepped out of the darkness and into the light of a nearby streetlamp, and Will suddenly drew back, dropping the bag of garbage. “Who are you?” he asked, his confusion renewed and amplified now.

“You don’t recognize me? Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder?”

Will sputtered the beginnings of a response, and then fell silent, trying to reconcile the notion of his wife’s voice coming from the body of Tooth Fairy. He took in the costume that mixed elements of the whimsical with absolutely grotesque ones like bones and teeth—and was fascinated with the wings that almost seemed to be real ones, fluttering and flapping negligently behind her. He was ready to protest that she wasn’t his wife—he was ready to ask why this notorious villain was mimicking his wife’s voice—and then he saw in the shape of the cheeks and the turn of the chin, as well as the eyes behind the mask that covered the upper part of her head, that this was Theresa Bastion before him.

His wife.

The mother of his child.

Not missing after all—not exactly. Not a simple abandonment. His wife had left them when their girl was a toddler not for any traditional reasons but to take up a life of crime and cruelty.  It took him a moment to absorb that, and then for the next implication to settle in.

Tooth Fairy had powers. She was transhuman. But Theresa…

“You can’t be,” Will gasped. “You…oh God, you took the compound yourself when you were pregnant, didn’t you? Directly. Instead of just letting me introduce it into the womb. You…Oh my God.”

“I had to make sure our daughter would be transhuman. Or as sure as one can be,” Tooth Fairy said flatly. “Your way was too cautious. Too tentative. I had to be strong, Will, for her sake. It was hard at first to hide how I was still changing after she was born—how I had changed even before then. By the time it would have been impossible to hide, I frankly didn’t want to. But then again, by that time, I also wasn’t feeling very domestic. I’m still a mother, though, and we’re still married, so I’m glad that was a nanny and not a woman I’d be obliged to kill before hurting you very badly. Also disappointed, because she looked tender and succulent.”

“Listen to yourself, Teri. You’re not stupid. You must realize that taking on powers as an adult…”

“No, I’m not stupid, and I embrace who I am. The butterfly that came out of her cocoon,” she replied, then smiled wistfully. “Well, fairy that came out of her cocoon, I guess.”

“But you’re…”

“Terrorizing people. Stealing. Harming. Oh, let’s not go on about that. I’m fulfilling my place in the human animal kingdom. Predators need exist, so that prey won’t go unappreciated. Besides, I’ve been building up the college fund for the little girl. And I’ve even thrown in a retirement fund for daddy.”

“I don’t want…that’s blood money. Theresa, you’ve done notorious…”

“See, you do still feel fondly toward me. Notorious. Such a flattering term. So much better than vile or wicked. I know, I’m good at what I do,” she said, her chest swelling as she took in a deep breath, and Will feeling a stirring of desire as he watched her breasts and remembered that she was once his wife and lover. “What can I say? But believe me, the way the economy has been going, you’ll want to take the retirement funds eventually. Besides, it’s the least I can do for you watching over Haley for a while longer.”

“Watching over? A while longer? She can’t go with…not into your life.”

“Oh, not now of course,” Tooth Fairy said sweetly. “Of course not. Stable family life and all. For now. But once she comes into her powers, I’ll have to take over. You couldn’t possibly understand. You couldn’t possibly give her what she needs. At that point, I’ll reunite with her. Although I suppose I should start laying the groundwork soon and perhaps get to know her a little without the costume on.”

“Teri, no.”

Tooth Fairy stepped forward and hunched down her shoulders, crouching slightly, exhibiting a kind of grace that seemed inherently sinister. The move was tremendously predatory and the implications froze the man with fear.

“That’s a dangerous word to use with me these days, William,” she said. “You’re a physician; I’m sure you can imagine the damage I can do. She’s our daughter, but she’ll eventually be my responsibility. You won’t get in the way of that. Or she will cease to have a father figure of the vanilla human variety.”

“But Teri, please, listen.”

“No. I’ve got to go,” she said, sweetness in her voice again. “Important people to get ready to meet soon. Places to go. Really carving out my place in the world—quite literally in some cases,” Tooth Fairy said. “Put an extra couple marshmallows in her cocoa tomorrow and let he know they’re courtesy of mommy. Toodles.”

With that, she darted off into the night, wings flapping so realistically behind her, and William Bastion stumbled back into the house, the trash on the ground forgotten, and the renewed wreckage of his life all too evident and all too enhanced.

Before he decided to go for that scotch—and make it a double—he checked in on his slumbering daughter, four years of innocence and probably simmering with transhuman potential.

He wondered how long before Theresa might come for her…No, not Theresa anymore, but maybe she can become that person again; maybe there’s a way…and then considered options like calling the police. Or running. Considered them, and thought of what the probably response would be from Tooth Fairy. Very few outcomes in his mind involved him coming out unscathed at the end, or even alive.

Besides, it’s her mother in that costume, Will thought. Somewhere.

There was comfort enough in that thought to allow him sleep that night.

Though the scotch probably helped that process more than did the sentiment.

[ – To view the next chapter, click here – ]

Comments
  1. Deacon Blue says:

    So, aside from a focus mostly on villains this time around, this chapter is notable for a couple reasons, in both cases related to some one-shot stories.

    Clearly, some of the things that happen in the story “Insanity Peal” now make more sense, and that story along with this chapter probably make some of the vague, earlier mentions of Crazy Jane make more sense.

    Plus, this chapter will probably stir up memories for any loyal reader who recall the story “Hippocrates Deferred”.

    Just trivial matters, but thought I’d point them out.

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