La Luste, whose real name was Megan, was almost frantic as she ran to her front door and scrambled for her keys. James had told her that he suspected someone was behind the supervillain outbreaks, leading her to fear for her boyfriend’s safety. Not wasting a second, Strider got her address, plugged it into her GPS to map it, and then bounced us all over there.
The scenery flickered by in quarter-second shifts a few times. The location was close enough that she didn’t bother having James boost her. In about two seconds, we were now standing in front of a small, one-story house in a quiet little neighborhood in the suburbs. A few people were outside in their yards or jogging by, and they jumped at our sudden appearance.
I waved and smiled at the folks, always amused at the shocked expressions normal people had when they realized superhumans were in their midst. Strider followed suit, smiling brightly. I don’t think either of us reassured anyone.
Megan burst through the front door, yelling, “STEVE! Steve answer me!”
A monotone male voice responded with. “Yes, Mistress.” I was the last through the door, and I came in to see Mega tightly hugging a handsome, fit, square-jawed young man. He hugged her back, but not intimately. There was a stiff, robotic quality to his bearing. He held her as he might hug an old acquaintance who he hadn’t expected to be on hugging terms with.
Megan held on for several moments longer, and I thought she might cry again. She pulled back and cupped his cheek. “I was so worried. I thought they might have hurt you.”
“I am unharmed,” he stated. His gaze met hers, but there was no hint of emotion.
She frowned deeply, but then forced herself to smile, and wiped her eyes before they could moisten any further. She turned to us and said, “Well, um, have a seat if you want.”
The house was small, and so was the interior. The main room was a living room/dining room combination, immaculately clean and neat. I wondered if she made her lover clean up and cook dinner while she was gone. Her power could be very handy and practical, if you weren’t hindered by actually giving a shit about the people you entranced.
James and Max remained standing, while Shoggoth pulled up a few chairs from the dining room. He and Strider took them, while Megan guided Steve to sit with her on the couch. I walked past and went into the kitchen, opening the fridge. As expected of a nun, she didn’t have anything good to drink. I made an annoyed grunt and got myself a glass of water, then rejoined the others, sitting at the dining room table off to the side.
Megan was holding her slave’s hand. “Steve, I want you to answer these folks as best you can. They have some questions about what happened last night.”
“Yes, Mistress,” he said. He turned to face James. “How may I serve?”
James looked disturbed for a moment. No doubt he was feeling some kind of vicarious guilt over Megan’s situation. I’m sure he was lamenting about how this was just like all his other mistakes and woe be all the people he let down, etc, etc. I think if someone here needed his brains sucked out, it was him. He might be less depressing as a robot.
“Sir, I would like to know the events that transpired yesterday evening,” he said. He looked to Megan. “Around what time did you sit down to watch your movie?”
“I think just before six o’clock? We’d just, um, finished dinner,” she said. “Steve went to the bathroom. And that’s when everything blanks for me.”
James looked to Steve. “I would like you to describe the events that transpired starting from 5:30 onward.”
Steve nodded once. “At 5:30, I had just completed washing the dishes from our meal. My Mistress then performed—”
Megan went red as a tomato. “Stop!” she interject.
James frowned. “What? We need to know what happened.”
“Megan, this is crucial. If you’ll pardon the cliché, the fate of the world could depend on us discovering the trigger for the Supervillain phenomenon. We—”
“It’s an intimate detail!” she said, her voice full of shame.
Max’s mouth twitched into a smirk. Mine followed. James still looked confused.
Megan swallowed hard. Still staring at the floor, she mumbled. “I, um, I figured, I need to take care of him, and, you know, guys have certain needs—”
James managed to keep his eyes from widened, but I could still see him tense up a bit in surprise as it dawned on him. “Oh. I see.”
“I had him go to the bathroom after that, too, um, clean up,” she said. She looked to Steve. “Please, continue from there.”
“I proceeded to clean myself. I kept the door partly open as my Mistress prefers.”
Megan glanced around. “In case he slips and falls or something.”
“Uh-huh,” I said. James shot me a look.
Steve continued. “I heard the back door open, and several people come into the house.”
James was fully tuned in again. “And what did these people do?”
“My Mistress yelled, ‘Who are you? Stay back!’ I turned to go to her, but she then yelled ‘Stay there!’ I could tell that order was for me, so I stayed.”
Megan frowned. “I don’t remember that part,” she said. “But it’s true, he knows instinctively if I’m talking to him, even with other people around.”
“What did you see?” said James.
“From the bathroom, I could see partly into this room. There were three people. I recognize them from pictures and footage on news reports. They were: Mother North, Razorbeam, Emberlight.”
James and Max’s eyes widened. Shoggoth, Strider, and I sat up in our seats.
“The Super Fem Force?” James said. “What were they doing?”
“Mother North grabbed my Mistress and restrained her. I felt compelled to step in and stop her, but my Mistress had commanded that I stay, so I did. Razorbeam proceeded to hold a piece of metal to my Mistress’s forehead. Emberlight stood and looked around the room. She noticed me and notified the others. They decided to leave me alone. Then they left.
“A few minutes later, my Mistress got off the bed. She appeared dazed. She then proceeded to undress, and went to the bedroom. She put on a large green cape that she used to wear when we engaged in sexual play. Then she left. I stood here until I felt the urge to sleep. In my Mistress’s absence, barring further orders, I am to return to my routine, and did so until you arrived.”
James and Max looked to each other. “This is huge,” said Max.
“Excuse me, Steve?” said Strider. The man turned to her, his head swiveling like it was a camera on a tripod. “These women, did they appear injured? Cracked skin, bandages?”
“No. They appeared healthy. They were dressed in all-black uniforms, but I recognized their faces from television interviews my Mistress has watched.”
Strider glanced to James. “So they aren’t Knock-Off clones.”
James shook his head. “No. Steve?” The young man swiveled his head back. “Did they speak?”
After a pause, James pressed further. “Do you remember what they said? Can you repeat it?”
“Yes. I will give you a transcript of their words:
“Mother North: Hold still.
“Razorbeam: Stop fighting. This won’t hurt.
“Emberlight: Hey, there is someone else here.
“Mother North: It’s her slave boy. He won’t do anything.
“Emberlight: Should we kill him?
“Mother North: He is a zombie. What could he do? Besides, his death might tip them off. Likely she will use him when she wakes up.
“Razorbeam: There, it’s done. I wish we didn’t have to do this kind of bitch work.
“Mother North: Someone must stay behind to keep the Epidemic going. She explained this to you.
“Razorbeam: Yeah, but why us? Hell, why you? You’re the second strongest after Lisa. I can slice through literally anything. Maybe Ember is a lightweight, but the boss could use our help a lot more than some of the others.
“Mother North: Stop complaining. This one’s going to wake up in a minute, and we can’t be here.”
“Razorbeam: Hey, is it me, or did her breath smell like spunk?
“Emberlight: Guess we know what she keeps him around for.
“That was all they said before they left. My Mistress woke up a few minutes later.”
Megan looked mortified at that last line, but said nothing about it. James looked grim as he mulled over what he’d heard. He turned and stepped over to the table, sitting down across from me. We all watched him, until Max broke the silence.
“The Super Fem Force are behind the Supervillain Epidemic,” he said flatly.
Even Shoggoth seemed disturbed by the idea. “I don’t believe it. It has to be some kind of mind control. Maybe something much more effective than what they used on La Lu—on Megan.”
James nodded. “I agree. At least, I want to.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “But you just can’t be sure if your princesses in shining armor might have been rigging the game this whole time. And maybe they eventually realized they weren’t going to get away with it anymore, so they faked their deaths.”
“Shut the fuck up,” said Max, glaring at me. “You’re the least of us on this team, power-wise and person-wise. You don’t—”
“Max,” James said softly, but his tone shut her up instant. “It’s not an accusation I can simply dismiss.”
Max blinked, looked at him, and scoffed. “Are you fucking serious?”
“I don’t want to believe it, either, but...” He sat hunched forward, fingers laced together, staring into the middle distance.
I decided to elaborate my theory. “Former members of the Stiletto joined the team shortly before the Supervillain Epidemic occurred. The Stiletto were known to perform destabilization tactics in foreign countries to ensure
status as the world’s strongest nation. And once America was deposed from that
position, its people were disillusioned. Even though the Super Fem Force
claimed ignorance of the Stiletto’s actions, they did not get off completely
free. The people needed to be reassured that they were, in fact, still needed,
and still a force for good, and that America was not entirely the bad
guy. More smoke mirrors. More Stiletto tactics, this time aimed within.” America
“Glorifica would never,” Max practically growled. Her hands were clenched into fists, her teeth were grit. It’s a good thing she didn’t have a ranged attack like heat vision, or I would probably be getting blasted right now. I knew she was strong enough to kill me easily, but I kept my cool.
“I agree,” said James. “But what about Echo?”
Max’s eyes widened and she jerked back like she’d been slapped.
“How fucking dare you?” she said. She loomed over James and shouted. “Everything she did was to help this country! How the fuck does turning random super women into crazed lunatics do that? Especially after faking their deaths? Let’s just pretend for a moment that it was all to make the Force look good, why keep doing it after they’ve already vanished?”
“Because the plans have shifted,” he said. “Because there’s more to it than
reputation. They need the villains to keep appearing, to keep people like us
busy, while they execute the next phase of their plan.” He sat back and let out
a long breath again. “Sorry, but I cannot rule out that at least one person on
the team might be willingly involved, and is influencing the others. I am
willing to believe that a level of mind control may be in play, but the truth
is, I have not spoken to Echo or Glorifica in years.” America
“It’s been a while for me, too, but—”
“So we don’t know their mindset. Glorifica positioned herself as the shining symbol of the country, but that is a status of enormous strain. And she’s been the team’s leader, with no breaks in term, for the past ten years. And for all we think that she wouldn’t abide such a thing, we know she looked the other way while the Stiletto was in action. Maybe she really didn’t know everything they were doing, but she had to have known enough. She was willing to allow what she thought was a necessary evil to continue, even though we both know she had to power to stop it.”
He looked up at Max. “As for Echo, I do not want to believe it’s her, either, but we both know what a snake in the grass she could be when the job called for it. She was in charge of the Stiletto in the first place. She knew everything that was going on. Things even you probably never knew about.”
Max pursed her lips, her fists still clenched. “I didn’t really know that much until after the fact, myself. I never did any foreign assignments. I was strictly on domestic cases, mostly backing up the Force and doing undercover work against the gangs. I quit the Stilleto not long after the Fantasmas incident. That was six years ago.”
“And did you keep up with her after that?”
“Not… no. Not really.”
“Then neither of us knows what’s really happened to them since.”
I watched this fascinating interplay with some amusement. I’d been the one to throw out the accusation, but these two were so wrapped up in personal history with the accused team, they couldn’t help but take it out on one another. Still, they were missing a crucial point.
“For the record,” I said. “It’s just my theory. If they have access to some kind of mind control technology, than even I’m willing to believe most of the Force isn’t culpable. Perhaps not even your old mutual girlfriend.”
Both of them glared at me. “You shut the fuck up,” said Max, but slightly less harshly this time. “One more word outta you and I’m breaking your damn jaw.”
I smiled sweetly at her. “Go ahead if it will make you feel better. I’ll just borrow Steve over here to regenerate.”
Megan grabbed Steve around the shoulder and drew him closer. “You stay away from him!”
I chuckled. “Relax, dear, it wouldn’t hurt. I’d be gentle.”
Max took a step towards me, but suddenly, the world changed. I was outside, and the chair had disappeared out from under me. I fell on my ass with a huff, but managed to turn the fall into a backwards somersault to roll to my feet and get into a defensive stance.