You’ve seen the fact-filled version that James did. So have a fictionalized version. Comments are possible, so feel free to leave corrections.
Episode 5: Auditions
Izzy pushed aside the offered costume. “I’m not wearing that.”
The hawk-nosed woman from the city was offended. “They worked all night on that. There isn’t time to get anything else,” she said snarkily.
“It’s ugly. And look at it: it looks like regular cloth. What if I get into a fight? I’ve already been naked in one battle, I don’t want it to happen again. Where’s the Uberwear?”
“Underwear. The bra and panties are Uberwear. If you’re in a fight, this costume will tear.” The woman said conspiratorially, “Battle damage tests well.”
“I passed along the sketches of what I wanted. This looks like the outfit of a janitor who moonlights as a stripper!”
“It’s the mayor’s design.” She waited while Izzy fastened the bra in front. “Besides, we can’t afford Uberwear. The lingerie was a gift.” The woman glanced at the clock. “The press conference starts in five minutes.”
Izzy grumbled. “At least I already gave them a name.”
∗ ∗ ∗
The mayor spoke, and the length of the speech indicated he was going to run for re-election. He proudly introduced them: “Hooey—how do you say that?”
“Huitzil,” said Huitzil. “It’s Nahuatl for ‘Hummingbird.’”
“Are you Na-whatsit?”
“No, but my title search showed there was already a ‘Hummingbird.’”
The mayor nodded, still smiling, but sweat was starting to appear on his face.
“The whole package…or at least Ninety-nine Percent!” Ninety-nine Percent might have smiled (with the mask, you couldn’t tell) but she waved.
“The live wire of justice himself, Volt!” Volt looked too disgusted by the mayor’s words to wave.
“And our very own immovable mountain of right, Isabel Traynor.”
“That’s Canadian Lass,” she said.
The mayor covered the microphone. “Later.” He smiled to the reporters. “These brave men and women are hooked into the police radio system, and can respond wherever evil—”
“Excuse me?” said Ninety-nine, tapping her watch. “We’ve got a hijacking downtown right now and costumed supers seem to be involved. We have to go.”
“Thank god,” said Volt, sotto voce.
“A hijacking in the middle of our press conference? What a coincidence,” said Huitzil.
“The roof,” said Ninety-nine. “That’s where we parked the hoverbikes.”
“Meet you there,” said Izzy, and she took off, with Huitzil following at half her speed.
∗ ∗ ∗
From high above, Izzy could see the basic situation: An overturned semi, a black SUV that ran into the truck, and at one end, two men in skintight uniforms moving boxes intothe back of a minivan. How odd, thought Izzy. That minivan won’t hold everything the semi has. Also around the truck were two steampunkish figures, a three-headed woman, and what looked like a termite mound made of oil. She wondered if maybe she could hear anything down there.
“I hate these uniforms,” said one of the men carrying boxes.
“I hate how it looks on me,” said the other. “I’ll bet Hendrick wants us to wear them just because he looks good in his.”
A dinosaur—sorry, a humanoid alligator…or something—was carrying three boxes out of the trailer. “So, this mook thing?” he asked in a bayou accent. “Does it pay? I don’ fit in to tractor cab no more.”
The steampunk woman with the parasol looked up, and Izzy got the impression of being looked at. “Company,” she said. “Remember the plan.”
“If followin’ the plan get me a job—”
Plan? thought Izzy.
“Good luck,” said the man as he lifted his big metal glove. Lights played up and down the sides and behind a wire grating sat clockwork gears that began to spin.
%Hi,% thought Ninety-Nine Percent in her head. %Now that I can see everyone, I’ve set up a mental link. I’ll be on that roof over there, Volt’s landing across the street.%
%Because we can’t use our phones,% thought Huitzil.
%No deeper!% thought Volt. %This is an invasion of privacy.%
Izzy circled around again. She could see the others approaching, so time to interfere with the criminals—
“I’m on it,” said the three-headed woman, and she shot into the air.
The street was lined with parked cars, as Izzy zoomed by them. No pedestrians; good—they’d all hidden. The oily mound started to grow taller and wider but thinner until it was a sheet two storeys tall, but Izzy concentrated on the people. She wanted to get the edge of the mound, bring it down&mdash
—when the man tagged her with his glove, and her clothing disintegrated.
“Hey!” she said. “That was a new uniform,” Ugly, but new. At least her underwear was Uberwear. She angled up, up, up—and a blast of golden radiation hit her with the force of a flamethrower. It might as well have been a warm summer’s day, as far as Izzy was concerned.
“Someone to rassle,” said the alligator. He dropped the crates he was carrying, cracked his knuckles, and moved so that he wasn’t in a direct line with the other three. “Come to Jean-Louis, mon petite—”
Huitzil also flew the length of the street. Huitzil hit a glancing blow to the man with the power glove, but didn’t seem to hurt him. The woman with the parasol and top hat said, “That car exploded,” and pointed at one of the cars—
—that erupted into a ball of flame. Huitzil twisted, managed to avoid the ball of flame, and thought at the others, %Someone check for innocents!%
%I checked,% Izzy assured Huitzil. %We’re good.%
%She couldn’t have known that. She endangered people. Concentrate on her.%
Ninety-Nine got the hoverbike settled and took up a position kneeling behind the wall, so she could see everything. Volt settled for street level, but set his hoverbike down just around the corner, and ran through the building.
Huitzil was lower and slower, so made another pass, trying to hit the woman but missed. Meanwhile, the man had assessed them and apparently realized that being able to destroy non-living material was pointless against this group. Instead, he trotted over to a manhole cover in the road, knelt, and touched it with his right hand. It disintegrated, like Izzy’s clothes.
The woman looked up, noticed Ninety-Nine Percent, and said, “That wall crumbles away, so she has no place to hide.” Sure enough, the wall fell in a sheet of gravel, leaving Ninety-Nine to stretch herself prone on the roof. The gravel plunged three storeys and pinged off the sidewalk, like a tiny hailstorm.
Blaster shots blossomed in the sky from the thugs two buildings over from Ninety-Nine. One shot caught Huitzil in the leg, and pain blossomed there, followed a second later by the smell of burnt cloth and flesh. %Ow. Ow ow ow.% Huitzil thought. %Not as bad as falling a mile, but that smarts.%
Izzy dived at her, screamingly fast—only to stop suddenly as the humanoid alligator got her arms, as if he’d been waiting. He was heavier or stronger than she thought, because she spun around and dragged him only a few meters. The tarry thing touched her toes, and that made her nervous.
Golden plasma rained down on her again from the flying woman, but it had no effect. Am I immune to it or just lucky? Izzy wondered.
“Hey!” said Volt. “You have to pick on someone who’s been grabbed, Tarball? You can’t hold your own against one man? Like me?” The tarry thing wavered. He shot a bolt of energy at the tarball but missed. %Damned nerves,% he thought.
Ninety-Nine looked at the woman in a way meant to crush her ego, but the mental blast just slid off. %Of course,% she said to the others. %If she can impose her will on reality…%
Huitzil was coming around again and from this angle recognized both the steampunky man and the two mooks who were carrying crates. Huitzil suddenly thought, Can I hit a client? Or an ex-client? Because two of them had been clients of hers: The mooks had been part of a class action suit against a supervillain for promised employment benefits; the firm had lost that one.
Distracted, Huitzil missed the woman handily. The upper-storey mooks had no such distraction, and opened fire again. Blaster bolts bloomed again, and avoiding them shocked Huitzil back into the fight. Pay attention to everyone, not just the target of the moment.
“We need better cover,” said the man, and traced a circle on the truck, making a portal they could enter. “Then the mindraper up there can’t see us.” He stepped inside.
Before stepping through, the woman said, “Shame she got tangled in some power wires,” and Huitzil felt the wings stop, all tangled up, though the power lines had been nowhere near. Huitzil had enough time to say, “I reject your binary gender norm—” when the roof arrived. Huitzil bounced three times before coming to a halt against the opposite corner of the building.
%Huitzil?% asked Izzy. There was no response.
Then: %Ow ow ow ow. Why don’t they make rooftops out of rubber?%
Content, Izzy thought, %Ah. He’s pressing here.% Izzy knew the wrestling hold, so she twisted just like so and threw the Alligatorman into the tar blob, freeing her while knocking it off her feet. The golden woman shot as Izzy again, but Izzy had her back to the woman and didn’t notice.
Volt hit the tar blob without worry; the Alligatorman was invisible from his viewpoint, and Ninety-Nine Percent concentrated on crushing his mind. The tar thing collapsed into a puddle around the alligator-man, who was struggling free.
A barrage of blaster bolts hit Volt, who had been trying to be easy to hit for the tar thing, and all of them connected. He went down on the sidewalk, with the smell of phosphorus around him. His familiar crackling shield disappeared.
Huitzil judged the distance: she could make it just by jumping, and then she could go through the hole that the man had made. She didn’t need the wings for that. She leapt down, ricocheted off a street light straight into the semi, right into position to feint at the woman.
The man swiped at her wings, and the harness disintegrated. The wings themselves, as alive alien biotechnology did not, and they tumbled to the ground.
The woman looked at Huitzil and the fallen wings and said, “All this fighting has weakened the ground so there’s a hole into the sewers right under you,” but Huitzil was too fast to fall in.
Huitzil grinned and unleashed a flurry of attacks on her, deliberately focusing on her at the cost of being nearly defenseless to the man. She fell to her knees on the edge of passing out—which is when the man said, “Remember Captain Oblivion and Epiphany Jones,” and jumped in the hole.
Huitzil was going to follow, but remembered that the others were outside. Isn’t there a monster in the sewers here?
∗ ∗ ∗
Ninety-Nine Percent recognized the SAT agent closing in on the SUV. Agent Gonzales. Her mother had quizzed her on the current law enforcement types starting when she was twelve. He was advancing in a standard two-by pattern with some woman, and he’d made it to the SUV with the three thugs hiding in it.
They looked like they were going to leave because Gonzales hadn’t quite got his gun trained right and—
—Oh. She wasn’t needed. Izzy had just ripped the rear off the black SUV.
Neither of the two remaining villains had been particularly effective. She couldn’t see the agents from this angle and they couldn’t see her, so she thought hard about the golden woman, who was in a position to actually blast her.
The golden three-headed woman flew away. Calling it a bad job? wondered Ninety-Nine. Or something else?
When she looked back down, the alligator-man was gone, too. But—oh, this was interesting—the agent in the car had just handed over a briefcase to Agent Gonzales, who passed it to the other agent. Ninety-Nine couldn’t resist. She broke the mental connection (all the other crooks were gone, anyway) and looked in the briefcase. There was enough light from the crack where the halves met that Ninety-Nine could make out a vial of silver dust, in foam.
Izzy was talking to Gonzales now, and she could hear:
“Protocol,” said Izzy. “Do you mind showing me identification, because I don’t know your partner.”
“Good job. This is Agent Groh. Groh, Traynor,” said Gonzales as he showed his badge. “Are you going to do anything about those guys up top?”
“Huitzil will.” Ninety-Nine couldn’t see Huitzil, but the shooting had stopped. Ninety-Nine moved her remote senses over so she could see Huitzil as well—ah, she’d used what looked like parkour to go up the side of the building and disappeared into the open window. Izzy had called SAT headquarters. “I see.” To Gonzales, she said, “Hands up. You look like Gonzales, but—”
The woman with the briefcase started to grow. Ninety-Nine wondered about that. What was she going to do? Run away? It’s not like people wouldn’t notice a thirty-foot woman with a tiny briefcase, and she couldn’t get somewhere to shrink back. Really, some people didn’t think about the implications of their powers— An out-of-towner, for sure.
Gonzales’ face had melted, in the process of changing to someone else. See, that would have been effective, done elsewhere, Ninety-Nine thought, and shut him down.
∗ ∗ ∗
“We were mind-controlled!” said one of the thugs to Huitzil. Racks of gowns stood near them in the dress shop, and Huitzil could smell mothballs and a covering layer of something artificial and floral.
“Totally duress,” said another, and all four of them nodded. Racks of gowns stood near them in the dress shop.
“Can you take our case?” asked a third.
“No,” said Huitzil. “For two reasons. First, I’m not a criminal lawyer. Second, I might be called to testify against you.”
“We could sue the city,” said the fourth, hopefully.
“Oh,” said the first, “if we roll over on the boss—”
Huitzil said, “That’s not a career path you want.”
“We got the idea from the Demons’ Union.”
“Not quite. We’re in the process,” said the third one, almost guiltily.
Huitzil said, “You know that contracts made with supervillains can almost never be enforced.”
∗ ∗ ∗
The radio on the hoverbikes crackled into life. “Um, Izzy? There’s someone to see you.”
Izzy said, “Gilly? What are you doing there?”
“Can we talk? Also, there’s a woman here to fix the computers. A Ms. Fanshawe. F-A-N—No? How do you spell it? F-E-A-T-H-E-R-S-T-O-N-E-dash-H-A-U-G-H.”
A huskier woman’s voice said, “It’s a British thing. My parents were British.”
Ninety-Nine did not share that the woman sounded like her mother.
“Okay, here are the four,” said Huitzil, down on the ground. “Apropos of nothing, Ninety-Nine Percent, reading their minds without their consent would be a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.”
“I promise not to read their minds,” Ninety-Nine said. Because I already did. So the Grandmaster is bringing in out-of-town help. Interesting.
Izzy said, “Gilly, take this woman to lunch while we—”
“I can’t. I kind of hoped you would take me to lunch. See, I have a proposal for you.”
“I have a sandwich,” said the other voice. “I can wait. Have to charge you for the time, though.”
Izzy sighed. “I’ll be right there.” She looked at the others. “Can you guys wrap this up? And someone help Volt.”
∗ ∗ ∗
Huitzil called the city. “You can’t spell ‘fight’ without massive amounts of paperwork,” she told the others.
The recording started. “All our offices are closed for lunch from noon until one. If your need is urgent—”
Huitzil thought about it. She knew someone’s cell at the city offices.
∗ ∗ ∗
“So I was thinking, you could help me get my green card because there’s no way I can get my thesis done by the deadline.” Gillian looked down at her salad and tried to spear a cherry tomato, which rolled away from her fork.
“Gilly,” Izzy said, “I don’t even have a green card yet. I’m doing this on spec right now.”
“I can work the radio.”
“How did you get in, anyway?”
Gilly shrugged. “Wasn’t locked.”
“Security system is computer controlled. Right.”
∗ ∗ ∗
Now in the headquarters, Huitzil said in the phone, “Is this Featherstone-Haugh person yours?”
“No,” said Palmer. “I talked to the guy who does Windows 95 repairs for us, and he said he couldn’t do it. So I called the CoJ and got the name from them. They’ve moved on from the same hardware we have, but I figure that’s about as good a recommendation as any, right?”
“It’s a Windows 95 AI?” asked Huitzil.
“I don’t know,” said Palmer. “I was in advertising in those days. Had nothing to do with the city.”
“But she’s legit?”
“I called her, said she should repair the computers, check for the whatsit that whozit might have put in or taken out, and not to turn on the AI without your permission.”
“All right.” Huitzil looked over at the woman, who had a paper napkin on her lap while she ate a thick sandwich on a crusty bun. Huitzil’s stomach rumbled. “He says you’re good. You can start.”
“When I’m done eating.”
“By the way,” said Palmer, “to make up for your absence, the mayor promised one on one interviews with each of you to the journalists attending. Our office should be contacting you shortly.”
∗ ∗ ∗
Huitzil said, “You know the dog had a prophecy about Thornbird?”
“I think she has the powers, and is projecting them onto the dog,” said Volt.
“Who?” said Ninety-Nine Percent. They were in the kitchen, gathered around the counter island. “And what’s in your coffee, Huitzil?”
Huitzil explained about the dog, Augie. “And this is chicory. I’ve sworn off coffee.”
“Let me investigate,” said Izzy. She moved over to the computer. “So we know she’s called Thornbird. And we know that I have level 5 security clearance since I got powers.” She entered her credentials into the UNTIL database.and pulled up the file. It was heavily redacted. “That’s odd,” she said. “At level 5 I should see most of this stuff. There should be only light redaction.” She skimmed the slight amount of clear text. “Chaos ray, Doctor Prometheus, and Robert Murcheson. That’s not much.”
Gillian said, “Call your folks.”
Izzy said, “Sure,” and left the room for some privacy. When she came back, whe was wearing an odd expression.
“What?” said Gillian.
“My mother—who so far as I know doesn’t even have a security clearance—said she couldn’t tell me until I was level nine.”
∗ ∗ ∗
Two days later, Izzy still hadn’t managed to get Gilly home. She called a meeting of everyone in the group…the Sentries. They met in the main foyer; Izzy hauled the robot receptionist to a closet so there would be enough seating. Ninety-Nine Percent was there (Does she have no home? thought Izzy); Volt was reading an old—in his words, vintage—manual. Huitzil took the seat the robot receptionist had been in. Gillian was there.
Izzy said, “She can’t focus on her thesis because she’s obsessed with Eve Online. And, since she’s spent her half of the rent money on this stuff, it affects me, too. But I’m not authorized to give a job here.” Gillian stood to one side and looked ashamed. “She’s got enough time, barely.”
“In some dimensions, I’ve read that time runs faster,” said Huitzil. “So she could finish the thesis in what seems to us the blink of an eye.”
“I think only the hell dimensions are like that,” said Ninety-Nine Percent. “Makes the damnation last longer.”
“According to the manual,” said Volt, “the security vault has a pocket dimension. No instructions on how to access it, though.”
“Focus, please,” said Izzy. She shrugged. “Which is what Gilly lacks.”
“Is that all?” said Ninety-Nine. “I can fix that. A little tinkering with the gray matter and she’ll have focus.”
“Really?” asked Gillian.
“It’s a bad idea, Gilly.”
“You’re not touching me,” said Volt.
“You can do that?” asked Gillian.
Well, I’ve never done it before. I’ve only had these powers for a few days. “Sure,” said Ninety-Nine.
“Don’t do this, Gilly.”
“But it has to stop once I have my degree,” said Gillian. “A limit like that will make it fine,” she told Izzy.
“Sure,” said Ninety-Nine, who had no idea if it would or not.
“Sounds good to me,” said Featherstone-Haugh, who had slipped in without anyone noticing.
“Aren’t you supposed to be working?” Volt asked Featherstone-Haugh.
“I’ve got another three minutes on my break. Take it easy; this job is going to take days.”
“Go ahead,” said Gillian.
“Gladly,” said Ninety-Nine, her hands glowing with psionic energy.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” said Izzy.
There were a number of “Hmmm” and “Oh” and “Move this” mutterings from Ninety-Nine, but finally she lifted her hands away from Gillian’s head. “Done.”
“How do you feel?” asked Izzy.
“I feel fine. But you know, if I’m going to be done on time, I’d better get started on my thesis.” Gillian left, smiling.
Izzy sighed. “I’m going to call my folks, make sure someone checks on her every four hours.”
There was a blaring sound and a flashing light on the receptionist’s panel.
“What the—” said Huitzil.
“Hell,” said Volt.
“Troubalert,” said Featherstone-Haugh. “At least, that’s what I call it.”
“Part of your testing?”
“No, it’s hooked into the 911 system.” Featherstone-Haugh touched a button. “You play the message like this.” The speakers blared static, and then:
“St. Claire University. Quad. Three police officers down. Suspects identified as Atlantean. 911 recording follows.”
There were the sounds of battle. “We need backup!” came a male voice, and in the background, a woman saying, “Do you not recognize the Staff of Treating? We want only our son!”
Volt said, “I’ll stay here and monitor.” He looked at Izzy. “Now that Gilly can’t.”
“She wasn’t even qualified—Ah, forget it.” Izzy flew up.
“Thank goodness my wings are back from the shop,” said Huitzil.
∗ ∗ ∗
Izzy saw the rubble at St. Clare College first: a building near the quad had been burned down, and she assumed the Atlanteans had done it, but the presence of KEEP OUT! tape indicated that the damage there had been done days ago. The quad at St. Claire College was bounded by buildings, a green sward with four trees, bounded on all sides by buildings. The spaces between the buildings were partially blocked by three SCPD police cars and one overturned campus police car. Several policemen were lying there, and Izzy checked first to make sure they were all right. “They just…_fell down_,” said one cop while he was reloading."
“Leave it to me. Rather, leave it to us,” said Izzy, because she could see the others arriving.
A couple that she assumed was Atlantean huddled under one tree. The man was deflecting bullets that were fired at the woman. Confident that she could stop the bullets, Izzy landed.
%We’re here,% said Ninety-Nine in Izzy’s head.
“Are they mad? We hurt no one. We have the staff of treaty!” said the man.
“You’re the one who turned over the car?” said Izzy.
“It was in my way, and the people had left it!” said the man. “I am” and the name was a series of clicks and whistles that Izzy couldn’t even memorize. “This is my wife,” and more clicks and whistles. Izzy thought she recognized a glottal stop, too. They hadn’t covered Atlanteans in her courses; that was situational training.
%Checking that out,% said Ninety-Nine.
“We want our son,” said the woman. She looked over at one of the cops and he fell over.
%Mentalist; I felt her using that,% said Ninety-Nine.
“Stop that,” said Izzy. “We can’t convince them you mean no harm if you’re knocking them out.”
“He meant to harm me. I read it in his mind.” Izzy held up a hand. “All right. But he didn’t bother to wear a telepathic shield. If you don’t do that, you’re inviting someone in.”
“!Moek’kar has sent a great monster to destroy the city, and we must get him out,” said the man. “He refuses to go until he finished his exam.”
Prompted by Ninety-Nine, Izzy said, “We can have them let him write the exam later.”
“Excellent. It is Diplomacy 423, his last class. He is writing the exam now.”
“Oh.” %Can someone find out where Diplomacy 423 is being written?%
%On it.% Ninety-Nine dipped into a few minds. It was wrong, she knew, but it was also fast. She relayed the building and room. %Right in front of you.%
“Let’s go,” said Izzy.
∗ ∗ ∗
Ninety-Nine knocked, because Izzy wasn’t sure she wouldn’t break the door. A skinny bearded man in his twenties cracked it open. “Yes?” All of them were there, as well as a police officer, Officer Nolan.
“We need one of your students. Family emergency.” The woman clicked and whistled. “Right,” said Ninety-Nine. “The Atlantean.”
“Kevin?” The man turned back to the class. “Kevin Atlantis, please come up here.”
“Oh, god, it’s my parents. I’m just checking the paper over now. Be there in a minute.”
“Why is this !Moek’kar guy going to destroy the city?” asked Izzy.
“You are in violation of the treaty. You dump toxic things in our water.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“So it’s not new?”
“No. But !Moek’kar is ruler now, and he has vowed to take action, so he summoned the monster.”
“Who is already surfacing,” said the woman.
“Surfacing where?” said Izzy.
Kevin handed his paper to the proctor, then turned back. “Hey, Brittany, see you at the kegger on the weekend, okay?”
“We must rush!” said Kevin’s mother.
“Where?” asked Izzy again.
Kevin said, “Let’s go, then. It’s like you want to embarrass me.” To Izzy, he said, “Zug Island.”
Ninety-Nine got that far-away look. “Yeah,” she said. “It’s there. It’s big. I mean, really big.”
“Don’t worry about us,” said Kevin. “I guess the People Mover is out. We can get a cab.”
Izzy said to Nolan, “No one got hurt, and I’m sure the Atlanteans will pay for the car that got damaged. And we’re going to need all of you for the evacuation if we don’t manage to stop it.”
Nolan looked at her, then at the Atlanteans, whose gill slits were now flapping. “All right, go. I gotta call this in.” He shook his head. “I am so screwed.”
But the heroes were already gone.