“Hey!” said James, looking at Strider disapprovingly. “That was it!”
We were now standing in the middle of a field of wild wheat, a wide circle having been cleared away for us to stand in.
“They’re beneath the farm, in a fortified structure,” she said. “I sensed a lot of wires around, so I figured they probably had security cameras set up.”
“Ah.” He rubbed his chin in thought. “So, what else can you tell us?”
“There are five of them. One of them reminds me of one of Knock-Off’s clones. He has chains around him.”
“Chain Master?” said Max. “He was one of the villains they found with the SFF.”
Strider shrugged. “I guess so. As for the others, I think I recognize Mother North. I can only assume the rest Razorbeam and Emberlight, plus one more.”
Max pulled out her phone and looked something up, then showed her the screen. I was standing behind her and saw a group picture of the last roster of the Super Fem Force. Strider took the phone and zoomed in, moving the picture around to spot the ones in question.
“Yeah, I think it’s them. I think the fifth one is her.” She tapped the screen on the lower right corner of the picture. There was a girl with big goggles and a blue suit with white circuitry designs, and a bunch of devices strapped to her.
Max took a look at the picture. “TacTech. Shit. Yeah, you were right to move us. The whole property is probably rigged with booby traps and sensors.”
“I didn’t sense anything like that on the grounds, but I don’t know about the building itself,” Strider admitted.
“So, how should we approach this?” said James.
“I can teleport one of them here, but that will no doubt alert the others,” Strider said.
“It would also mean a fight,” said Max. “Mother North is almost as strong and tough as Glorifica. Even if you can suppress her ice powers, none of us have what it takes to put her down. Razorbeam can cut through pretty much anything. She was a Stiletto, I saw her in action. The only thing she didn’t manage to cut clean through was a Class 5 durable guy, and she was still able to make him bleed.”
“The rest, though?”
Max shook her head. “I mean, they wouldn’t be as tough. You can probably just turn off Emberlight’s power, and she’s only a Class 1 in toughness and speed after that. Chain Master’s a Class 2 in strength and toughness, but he’s pretty good with his chain power. Can generate tons of them at once and control how they move. They’re at least a high Class 4 in durability. I’m not sure if they’re real metal, though, so you might not be able to suppress them.”
James grimaced a bit. “Might not be able to anyway. I can do a lot, but I don’t know if I can pin three other elementals all at once and still keep fighting physically.”
“Then we might be fucked,” said Max. “These aren’t just some random civilians gone crazy, either. These are Fem Force members, after Echo joined the team and taught them all how to actually fight.”
“What about TacTech? She’s pretty new, right?”
Max frowned. “Yeah, honestly, she was only on the team a couple months before the explosion. She doesn’t have any physical enhancements on her own, but she’s got some kind of techno-based powers. Can basically make weird-science gadgets, so who knows how well she’s augmented herself, and what all her devices can do? I saw footage of one battle where she was using force fields and sonic blasters and flying around with a jet-belt or something.”
“Then she’s a total wild card we can’t prepare for,” said Max.
“My teleport isn’t great for non-lethal offense,” said Strider. “I could trap some of them in the ground, but it would either kill them, or not do anything and they’d just break back out.” She put a finger to her chin. “I suppose I could move the whole bunker to another location, but that wouldn’t really stop them.”
I chuckled. “You all sound like my kid brothers, when they used to argue about superheroes on forums.”
“You have any ideas, then?” said Shoggoth.
“Chain Master is a man,” I said. “Send me inside, and I’ll possess him. I can try to tease some information out of them.”
“What about after?” said Shoggoth. “He’s going to know something’s happened once you leave him.”
“So, we just kill him,” I said. The others scowled at me. “Look, Chain Master was a supervillain well before the Epidemic happened. Whatever else is going on here, he’s no innocent. And from what I recall, the American policy with genuine villains is that if they don’t agree to attempt reform, you execute them.”
Max and James shared a glance. She shrugged. “She’s not wrong. I took out Jackie because I knew she’d just get the death penalty anyway.”
James pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “This is why I left. I don’t like it, but if that’s how it must be, that’s how it must be. My main worry is that this will alert the others.”
I crossed my arms. “Do you want to at least try for some answers or just immediately dive into the inevitable fight?”
Max and James shared another glance, then nodded. “First sign of trouble, jump out,” said James.
“Sure thing,” I said, smiling sweetly and giving a salute.
“Alright,” said Strider. “They’re moving around a bit, we should wait until Chain Master is alone, or the others aren’t looking. I’ll put your body right up against his.” We waited a few minutes. I was just about to suggest finding some way to speed this along, when she said, “Now. Go!”
This time, I could brace myself. In a blink, I was in a hallway, and I felt a short male back pressing against my front. He was even shorter than Strider! Without a moment’s hesitation, I pushed myself inside him.
He’d been in mid-step, but I manage to catch myself, and only slightly flinch, rather than stumble, as I kept his walk going a few more steps. I stopped where I was. I realized my host was feeling some bladder pressure, and that’s probably why he had walked away from the others. I went down the hallway, a single drab concrete lane, looking for the bathroom. To my left were three small rooms with bunk beds. To my right was a blank wall up until it reached a somewhat cramped bathroom.
I relieved my host, assessing his powers as I did so. They pretty much lined up with everything Max had said. Once done, I went back down the hallway, into a larger open room. A huge widescreen monitor topped a large computer console array that looked way more complicated than it had to be. A long angular desk, curved to partly surround someone in a high-backed chair. Random lights and inset keyboards and some small screens with graphs decorated the console. It was almost retro-future looking, like something from a 1990’s comic book trying to look stylishly high-tech.
A short young woman with coke-bottle glasses was there, typing away at some of the keys. She didn’t look up as I stepped up beside her. The big screen was actually off, and she was looking at one of the smaller monitors set into the console.
I surmised that this was TacTech. I didn’t see the other three, but there was another doorway where a flickering light was coming through. I could hear the faint sounds of a television show.
Whatever had happened to the Fem Force, it didn’t seem to have turned them into raving lunatics like other victims of the Epidemic. It made me wonder if they were truly being controlled, or if the person in charge had simply been particularly persuasive.
TacTech finally noticed me looming next to her. And by looming, I was basically at her eye level even though she was sitting. “Can I help you?” she said, in a nasally voice that sounded rather annoyed. She looked like a little kid at first, but something about her mannerisms made me think she was just small and looked young for her age. Up close, she looked more like a dwarf-sized middle-aged librarian. It was probably the drab bowl cut and the glasses.
“I need to talk to the Boss,” I said. Chain Master’s voice was gruff and deep.
“Who?” she said.
“The Boss. The one in charge. I have something to report.”
“What could you possibly need to report? You haven’t left the bunker in three days.”
I grunted. “Something just occurred to me is all, but I feel it must be reported.”
TacTech stared at me with an unreadable expression. I gave her a semi-glower back, before she sighed, reached over, and flipped a switch. “You always were an idiot.”
Yeah. A lot of the men I possessed were, apparently. But idiots had their uses.
The monitor blinked on, a blank blue screen at first. I turned to it, while TacTech went back to whatever she was doing. Her smaller monitor showed blue prints of some new device I could make neither heads nor tails of, so I ignored it. It probably wouldn’t be in character for Chain Master to take an interest in such things anyway.
After about a minute, the screen switched to a view of a young woman. She was thin, dressed in a white lab coat, had deep green eyes, and straight black hair in a pixie cut. I hadn’t been sure what to expect, but this person wasn’t it. Her features were a bit striking, but she otherwise looked like an ordinary woman.
Of course, so did most superhumans. Glorifica had just looked like a middle aged housewife outside of her costume, albeit one who kept herself in shape.
“What is it?” the woman said, her voice firm and steady, almost robotic. I tried to take in as many details as I could, but unfortunately, her camera showed only a blank wall behind her.
“How are things proceeding on your end?” I asked.
“Why are you asking?”
Even if she dodged my questions, I didn’t figure she would be too keen on her minion doing the same. “I have a concern that we may have been discovered,” I said.
TacTech snapped her gaze towards me. From the side room, I heard several footsteps. Three more women came into the room, a freakishly tall and buff white woman with snow-white hair, a curly-haired black woman with a lithe figure, and a slightly chubby black woman whose hair appeared to be made of thick, rippling smoke, her eyes glowing orange like embers.
“Explain yourself,” said the woman.
“Yeah, and explain why you didn’t mention this earlier,” said the one I surmised was Razorbeam.
“When I was last outside, I had a sense that I was being followed,” I said. “I dismissed it at the time, when I checked to ensure that wasn’t the case. But I have not been able to let go of the nagging feeling of it.”
“What the hell?” said Razorbeam, looking furious. I saw a ripple in the air form around her hands, like a heat mirage. “You know the procedures! If you think you’re being followed, you hit the alert, and you go on the run! You don’t come back here!”
“We’re wasting our time on this mission anyway,” I scoffed. “You’ve said it yourself, our talents would be best served assisting the boss directly.” I turned back to the screen, crossed my arms, and puffed my chest. “So, boss, I’m sure there is another mission where we may be of much better use.”
“There isn’t. If you have been discovered, then your usefulness is at an end.”
The tall woman, Mother North, I assumed, spoke up. “Please, reconsider. At the very least, Razorbeam and I can still lend you great assistance. Surely, our power will help in India?”
“It is unnecessary.”
Mother North bowed her head. “I understand.”
“I am sorry.”
I noticed the other four lower their heads, even Razorbeam, though she looked furiously at me as she did so. I felt a pang of dread.
“Wait!” I said, raising a hand to stall whatever was about to happen. “Surely there is something else?”
“There isn’t. Kai-Song-Ekle-Triol-Filor.”
The women around me suddenly collapsed. I immediately felt my host die, every organ shutting down at once, and I was kicked from his body. As Chain Master fell dead behind me, I was left standing with a group of corpses. I glanced at them, then back at the screen.
“Ah,” the woman said. “So they were discovered.”
I forced down my fear and made a theatrical shrug. “Whoops, you found me out!” I put my hands on my hips and smirked. “So, do I pass?”
“Your standards, of course! It took me a long while to suss out your little operation, but now that I’ve discovered it, I’d like to offer my services.” I made a little bow.
“Yes! My name is Emilia. I’m the last member of the Fantasmas de Medianoches. I’m sure you are aware of our defeat at the hands of America’s brutish forces.”
This woman was definitely not a talker, unfortunately. I pressed on, hoping she would reveal something else I could take as a clue. I needed something more specific than just India. “It would seem that we have a mutual enemy. You, the Villain Maker, seek to topple this country. I would like a hand in that.”
The woman thought about it for all of one second. “No. Rin Tio Lagma.”
The screen went black.
I heard a click.