Wind whipped long, flowing red tresses into animation like Medusa’s snakes. The helmet insulated her from the world…distance…perspective. Speed melted trees and streetlights into an oil painting that blurred and burned like an Escher. The collage of colors ran wet with the star-slicked melange of bacchanalia. Her thighs gripped the time-machine, steering with a shift in her solar plexus, she was indistinguishable from high-speed steel; a lathe knifing the night highway shot forward with a scintilla spindle on an axis of the stars.
She had the road to herself. The 109 was empty at 3am on a Tuesday. The bike begged for more. She was out of gears but the throttle still had a half wrist-turn of fuel-injecting pandemonium left in it. Her skin-tight suit of super-slick cycle armor provided maximum mobility and decent protection; though, some wild part of her psyche begged to feel the air on her naked skin. Dark Hazel. Lurking beneath the surface. Hunter of the Shadows is…rising.
The Mad Max Moto-Bike! Fuck Mel Gibson. Hello Tina Turner! We’re going BEYOND Thunderdome!
The speedometer read 447mph. She blinked.
In the darkness beneath her lashes, in the span of that heartbeat, Lashe saw a human face, a band of metal over its eyes, a sneer curling dark lips, and circuitry and cybernetic wiring peeking out from beneath torn, skin. The rictus of a wicked grin creased the corners of its mouth.
She opened her eyes to see a giant half-man, half-robot standing in the middle lane of the 109 — not 20 feet in front of her. The bike wavered. His smile widened. And she crumpled. The impact was jarring, rattling her bones beneath her skin, jostling her brain inside the cranium. Pain filled her body with the ecstasy of agony as a massive explosion rocked the highway and brutally tore her from the previous trajectory. Like a rag-doll, she flopped around – a large, dumbfounded flightless bird trying to swim the skies, enveloped in a blazing inferno. Her helmet melted, the cycle armor vaporized, he exposed skin caught fire and peeled away like the layers of an onion. The pain was exquisite. Her brain was literally on fire, as if a million tiny ants had crawled beneath her skin to feast upon her marrow.
She didn’t know when she landed. She couldn’t feel anything but pain. Unable to move…anything. She surrendered life and limb to sensation before that too burned away. The explosion clouded her mind and it dimmed her vision. The heat seared her eyes and she could feel them pop like runny eggs. The skin around her face oozed with liquified putrefaction, dribbling into the ocular cavities while her Hazel eyes boiled and popped…like bubble wrap. The air trapped in her lungs expanded until it broke the cavity like a bad balloon and the fleshy sacs shriveled, dehydrated, and burst into flame. She was dying. Burning to death. Fading away into oblivion. The heat from the flames seared through her husk of body and licked her soul; they burned away the disguises and the horrors and the facade. The flames, so hot, burned away her personality and her psyche and everything she had ever been…and everything she had ever known. The flames cleansed while they killed. Darkness reached for her.
Her scream found a voice. Without lungs, without vocal chords, without air – it should have been impossible. She was dying. And she was afraid.
“Not yet little one.”
(sounds of music easily drowned out by her scream)
“FUCK me! It’s just a dream. It’s just a dream. itsjustadreamitsjustadreamitsjustadream…holy shit. I can’t keep fuckin’ doing this. I need one of those Native American dream catchers. Or a cat. Yeah, maybe I’ll get myself a nice cat. Shit. Shitshitshit.”
Hazel’s heart raced. It was thumping and pounding in her chest which heaved, sucking air for all she was worth.
(the music got louder – or was it easier to hear now that she had stopped flipping out)
“I know this song. Shit, I must have dozed off and left iCroons playing.”
The darkness comes out of her shell
Yet another cold night in Hell with all the pain
The dying light is losing its glow
And my last glimmer of hope now fades away
It is starting to rain again
I’m coming closer to my end with every breath
The creepy shadows are growing pale
And the rising glow brings along the sense of death
I can feel Her presence now
Dead Moon Rising
Bleeding red light over the sea
I hope this time She came for me
I hope this time She sets me free
“Yeah, you and me both. Time for work.”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“What? The elevator is about to hit the ground floor.”
“Pull the emergency stop!”
“Are you crazy Joan? We’re almost out of here!”
“Something is terribly wrong. I don’t know what it is. Stay here while I scout it out.”
“Well I don’t like waiting.”
“Neither do I. Let’s go Diane.”
(from down the hall…distant…)
The young woman started abruptly. “Shit,” she blinked, shaking her head. “Um, what? Sorry I was concentrating on this project.” The woman standing in front of her was older, matronly, and had taken to presiding over the resident programmers like a mother at an orphanage…or a madam at a brothel. Regardless, she looked…displeased.
“Hazel, where were you?”
“Uh, what? Right here Alethia. Just trying to fix this algorithm.”
“Oh algorithm was it? Mmhm. Girl you day-dreamin’ about some cute boy?”
“Er…something like that. Sorry.”
“Mmm child don’t go apologizin’ to me. Just get your work done and you can leave for the day. I’ll make sure you get paid for the full time.”
“Aww thank you Alethia.”
“Don’t mention it girl — just don’t make me look bad.”
Matty, my brain has been fucking fried for the last two days. Even Michelle thinks that something is up. I can’t concentrate on anything. I can’t think about anything. It’s like…I had a near death experience or something. Web EmDee says I might have post-traumatic stress disorder. Fuck me! This is the LAST thing I need right now. I should probably go down and talk to Doc Moore…Wendell. Maybe he can check me for physiological abnormalities and even recommend someone for psychiatric care. Hey, don’t look at me like that. I’m not too proud to admit that I might have some issues. As long as we only deal with the…erm, near-death experience. I don’t think I could handle talking about my parents and my childhood and…well, whatever other bullshit a shrink might find rattling around up there. Whatever. I’ll go down to Wendell just as soon as I tell you what the FUCK happened the other night.
So I got some information regarding that Suriname diplomat turned super-villain, Overlord or Usurper or something . Diane and I were gonna dress like hookers and try to make him spill…whatever beans he could spill. We left Salvo in charge of following up the Avant Guard leads but he suggested that we all go down to the SWAT building together and break the prisoner out to interrogate (read: torture) him and get the information we wanted that way. I patently refused but, knowing Salvo’s intentions, I couldn’t allow him to go unchaperoned so Diane and I capitulated and went with him to the holding cells.
The three of us took our bikes down to the off-site SWAT HQ for detainment. I beat them both down there…by like a solid few minutes. My new bike is AWESOME! So when I got down there I used the time to make myself invisible and to let Dark Hazel out for a walk in the park. I wasn’t sure what we were going to encounter but I wanted to be prepared for it. Diane walked into the station and introduced herself as Esmerelda Yabakowski. I was shocked to see how well she pulled it off. Salvo thought that his blazing blue hair would give him away immediately and, given all the bad press we’ve gotten lately, we agreed and asked him to wait outside…inconspicuously. Esmerelda managed to BS the reception desk lady with some line about radiation but she kept getting hung up on the “team” of hazmat people coming to assist her in transporting the prisoner.
Amazingly! As luck would have it, Joan of Arc from the Centurions arrived in the nick of time to pose as Esmerelda’s teammate and to vouch for her credentials. Then all of a sudden we heard Salvo warn us that his distraction was going to happen. What he meant I don’t know and I couldn’t risk peeking my head outside to check but in the next few seconds we heard a giant crash and some metal tearing and the lights began to flicker. WHAT THE…
SWAT started pouring out of the building and I used that opportunity to slip past the guards and into the stairwell. I’m not so good at this sneaky stuff yet and I accidentally brushed one of the police but he didn’t notice. Phew! I headed downstairs and warned the others that I was going radio-silent. I was again stymied by another locked door and I used Arctic Hellfire’s new trick to “combust” the guard’s hair into a little burst of DISTRACTION. I hope he wasn’t severly injured but his momentary run to the water fountain bought me enough time to get through the door and attempt to hack the holding cell area door. And, it was like, before I knew it Joan and Diane were right there! They were getting access to the prisoner! Shit. Should I go visible and blow my disguise? I am still an unauthorized entrant who just snuck in all the way down there. Damnit, I would have to stay invisible for now. But that didn’t stop me from hacking the door so that it clicked open…accidentally…TOO SOON for the guard’s command to have caused it. Doh! I heard him pass it off as an electrical short. And he was fuming! Hoping to be relieved so he could go to the med-bay.
At the cell the prisoner wouldn’t talk. He was very tight-lipped until we promised to take him out of here. We even promised to get his leg and his personal effects back for him…for the sake and incentive of mutuality and cooperation. I let them talk to him but I used the opportunity to Lightning Ride into his skull and search his memory banks. And lo and behold! He had an internal hard drive for storing important information! I did my best to navigate his memories and the storage device but my presence was too strong an electrical charge and I was actually damaging him while doing my snooping. Oh shit! When I fried the whole hardd rive I took that as my cue to leave.
Then, while in the elevator with Joan and the Cyborg being hauled by Diane I made him weightless and Salvo returned from hock with all his shit…which I stopped to make weightless also. The, out of nowhere, Joan said she had a REALLY bad feeling about this. Oops! I had forgotten to make myself visible and introduce myself to her. My bad! I went visible and told her she could calm down as I had no ill intentions toward her or anyone else in the elevator. Her eyes went wide and she told us to stay put while she went to investigate with Salvo. Ugh! PATIENCE IS NOT OUR STRONG SUIT!!!! Diane and I said, “fuck it!” And we decided to walk right out the front door with our prisoner. Well as soon as the elevator doors opened, Diane walked ahead of me carrying the prisoner on her shoulder. I could see his face, though his eyes were banded by metal so he couldn’t laser anyone, but he started to grin…wickedly…oh shit. Just as Diane stepped through, the instant I tried to grab her and pull her back, and say something, we heard Joan yell, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” And it all happened so fast…but the explosion might as well have been a mini-nuclear bomb. And we were at ground zero. My entire vision went white and the roaring heat probably seared my eyelashes and singed my dress in the SPLIT SECOND before it…magically diminished.
Something happened. Someone had channeled the explosion elsewhere. We were rocked to the core, knocked back into the elevator and the explosion still…happened. It was just like…I dunno, Matty, redirected or something. I only found out later that the heroic actions of SUPER SAIYAN SALVO took the blast into himself and saved our lives. Somehow he was able to channel the energy away from us. Man, I’m so grateful and impressed and…sad…and happy…and (sniff) I don’t know why I’m crying. (Sniff) We almost died! We SHOULD have died! Diane…the GODDESS…and I…we both should be dead. We WOULD be dead if not for Salvo. I mean, what if he hadn’t come in that day? What if he had been busy…I dunno, installing child-porn on some cop’s computer or something?
Hablar. We’re sofa king lucky it’s not even funny. Super-Saiyan-Salvo. You’re a little rough around the edges but you have my heartfelt gratitude. I’m lucky to be alive…and even luckier to call you my friend and teammate.