“Stay here. I’ll change into my costume. We’ll have to coordinate with the local authorities if they’re also affected. Either of you have costumes?” Scarlet stopped at the door and turned to regard Savita and Ransom.
“Yes. I bought one before I got accepted.” Savita shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She kept glancing back at her phone, despite its lack of reception.
“I don’t. But I think it’ll be hard to hide my identity being this huge and my skin tone is kind of a dead giveaway. My costume was going to be a bare chest with a pair of sturdy pants that those with enhanced durability wear.” Ransom looked a little shaken still as his eyes darted back to the window. He looked as if he wanted the mountain in the distance to disappear the next time he turned in that direction.
“Okay. Suit up and meet me in the living room.” She regarded Ransom again. “I’ll give you a domino mask, just so we’re not making it super easy for everyone to know who you are.” Scarlet disappeared down the hallway. Both Savita and Ransom looked at me in confusion.
“You heard the boss. Let’s get to it.” They took the cue and left me alone in my room. I immediately fished out for my uniform that the team provided. It was simple black fatigues, body armor that was thinner but stronger than Kevlar, a helmet with a reinforced one-way face plate, and a domino mask to hide my identity. At my side was my issue FORCE gun, with my axe strapped to my back, and my wrist shield secure and tucked out of the way for now.
Savita showed up shortly, dressed in a full body ninja suit with a cat styled helmet that covered the upper half of her face and the rest of her head, with cat ears at thetop. She had two batons on her back as she turned around the corner.
“Hey. Dang that looks cooler than my costume.” Savita regarded her costume in comparison to the uniform that I wore. “Can they make a tactical version of this, do you think?”
“Sure, I’ve seen them do amazing things with some of the tech that the thinktanks that ORT has.” I said, recalling the FORCE gun and the nanite training simulations that I had gone through. “Did you pick a codename yet?”
“Codenames? Already?” She was surprised with the question. The surprise was rapidly turned around into worry as she seemed to think the question through.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal, but it’s easier to stick to one that you chose than one assigned, I guess. I was Zombie Girl for a while until I picked out my own codename.” I looked out into the distance to the east, where the plains seem to go on forever then fall off the edge of the world. Savita sat down on the couch and had her brows furrowed in thought.
“Does it have to be original?”
“Hm? Oh the codename? Kind of, yeah. They have a registry of codenames for heroes and ORT since it’s your trademark, and you can make money off it. At least that’s what Scarlet told me. It’s mostly the corporate sponsored heroes that take that seriously.” It was quite a revelation for young me. I knew that heroes could earn money off their brand, but the fact that some were in it just for the money bothered me to this day.
“Oh. Okay. I guess, I’m hoping no one has taken up Cheshire yet.”
“Nice to meet you Cheshire. I’m Sidapa.” I reach out my hand and shook hers. She smiled warmly at that, relaxing visibly.
“You guys look cool.” A deep make voice from the kitchen spoke. Ransom was standing in the kitchen, stretching his arms out side to side. He had on very worn jeans that tucked into boots that you’d find on a soldier, and nothing but a bare chest. His hair draped onto either side of his head and of to the back.
“You look really badass honestly speaking.” I wasn’t completely lying, but objectively most normal civilians, and even some non-cape criminals would think twice about tussling with a bare-chested, eight-foot, red-skinned bundle of muscle.
“As I was telling Cheshire here, if you don’t have a codename, think up one otherwise you’ll get saddled with one that you might not like-“
“Red.” He interrupted. A wide grin broke across his face. “Cause I’m red.”
“Okay.” I paused, a little confused, but dismissed my misgivings on the codename. “Nice to meet you Red. I’m Sidapa, and that’s Cheshire.”
As if on cue, the fire exit doors opened. Scarlet stepped out, her signature blood red crystallized armor like a second skin that covered her from head to toe. She held a two black boxes the size of sunglasses in her hand and looked about the living room.
“Red, Scarlet’s here.” He stepped forward into the living room waving at Scarlet. She tossed him the mask, and he snatched it from the air and inspected it. Scarlet tossed the other to Cheshire. They both opened the boxes to reveal a domino mask and a small bracelet.
“It’s got bone conducting speakers, a microphone, a heads-up display, and a small camera.” Scarlet looked from Cheshire to Red as they inspected the mask. “The bracelet is a redundant comm and holo device. That’s the charging case. It shouldn’t need charging for at least after three to four uses.”
Cheshire took off her mask, fastened the domino mask, then replaced her mask on top of it. Red had on his. The eyeholes for his dominos matched the black sclera of his, while Cheshire’s was a basic white. “Get used to them. They run on voice command or facial gestures. If you squint at something it will zoom in. More instructions are in the manual that’s in the box.”
“Sidapa, come with me. I need to talk to you.” Scarlet turned to the kitchen then out of sight into the hallway. I followed after nodding at the two new members of the team. I caught a glance of red as Scarlet disappeared into my bedroom. I stepped inside after her. She motioned for the door, which I promptly closed.
“Okay. So, we’ve vetted those two same as you, but they haven’t gotten any sort of training aside from what training they’ve done on their own.” She paused, regarding me for a moment. I nodded my understanding of the situation. “I need your help keeping an eye on them.”
I considered this carefully. They could have zero experience in any sort of cape activity, or they could have already had some vigilante activity in their belt like I had. Either way, they were likely not used to working as part of a team, and that wasn’t going to change very quickly. “Why don’t we ask them directly what their experience is? I know that generally doesn’t go over well when we admit to vigilantism, but in this case this might at least give us an idea of what we’re working with.”
“I’m glad that you’re on the same page as that was where I was going.” She nodded the continued. “Whatever this is, it’s likely going to be bad. A whole entire city doesn’t just move like this. And I’d rather not think of the implications if we are still on earth instead.”
“So what’s the plan? We coordinate with the local authorities, then what?”
“We’ll try and establish a definitive corridor of where we are. We might be in hostile territory, or it might be just an illusion. The point is, we don’t know and the more people we put together trying to figure this out, the better. You ready? I’ll take the lead.”
I nodded and opened the door. Scarlet squared her shoulders and stepped out onto the hallway and lead the way to the living room. Both Red and Cheshire were looking outside and looking at different things. Scarlet stopped short of the sofa and cleared her throat.
“So, Red. Cheshire. Nice to officially meet you. I’m sure you know that I’m Scarlet. Both codename and real name.” Red nodded. Scarlet nodded in response and turned her head slightly to look at Cheshire. “Before I outline the full plan, either of you have any experience with cape activity? You can be honest with me here, as this is an extreme situation and I’ll ignore the lawbreaking you’ll be telling me if you do.”
Both Red and Cheshire seemed to tense up, then regarded each other. Red was the first to speak.
“Yeah. I patrolled a bit around the swamp. Wrestled two gators from eating this one guy that got stuck. Guy never reported me, and I never reported the incident.” He rubbed at his nape absent-mindedly.
“I staked out a couple of spots that I knew were hotspots for drug dealers. I saw a lot of exchanges, but I couldn’t bring myself to act cause of all the possible civilians in the way.” Cheshire looked down, embarrassment crossing her face.
“Hey. Don’t be embarrassed about that. That’s the kind of thinking that I want on my team. It’s not enough to want to wade into the thick of things, but most of the time, we have civilians to think of as well. Which brings us to this situation.” Scarlet waved me over, and I stepped forward, standing next to Red. “As I told Sidapa here a few minute ago. I think that the situation is bad. Either there is a huge dome that is showing us an illusion, or the entire city was transported to some alternate dimension.”
bothered me just how casually she talked about that, and Cheshire beat me to
the question that came up in my mind as I pondered Scarlet’s calm statement.
“You’ve gone through this before?”
“No, but I know someone who experienced something similar, and the ORT built protocols around it.” She said, then turned her wrist to reveal her wrist unit and tapped it. The device came to life with a hologram projecting the globe. “Outline Oz protocol.”
“The Oz protocol is as follows. First, secure and establish a count of all affected persons by the transposition. Second , secure and establish a perimeter around the entry point. If this is not possible, make note of entry point for future return. Third, determine local hostiles near or adjacent to entry point. If any nearby hostiles are present, ensure security of entry point-“
“Pause.” Scarlet commanded. The robotic voice stopped. “Now, that’s the first three. The rest are really highly dependent. So, the first thing we’ll do is see if we’re the only ones affected. If not, we’ll see if we can get to local authorities. We can work with them in tandem to determine the scope of this.”
if we’re alone?” Cheshire’s voice squeaked a
“We’ll secure the area, and see if any potential hostiles are nearby.” Scarlet said flatly. Cheshire blushed furiously at the jibe, and pursed her lips in a tight line before nodding.
“Okay. I know your files, and I know that out of all of us, Sidapa is the least mobile. Her parkour skills are great, but she’s still limited to very minor strength bump from her powers, so we’ll have to go via vehicle.” She walked to the fire escape, giving us a hand wave to follow. “Red and Cheshire, if any hostiles appear, I want both of you to get to high ground as fast as you can. Sidapa and I have run some training drills and I can count on her to have my back and we can get out fast if we need to.”
Scarlet’s voice echoed as we made our way down the fire escape stairs at a quick pace. Both Red and Cheshire nodded. “I know the area well enough to know how to get to the police office.”
We reached the bottom floor and opened into the lobby. The lobby was empty, but outside I could see that there were people. People were looking up, checking their phones and mostly looking confused and panicked. As we exited through the lobby doors, people that saw us seemed to ease a bit somewhat.
People immediately flocked towards us, almost everyone talking at the same time as they recognized Scarlet. Our team leader put her fingers to her mouth and whistled a sharp note. Everyone took the cue and quieted down.
“Thank you. My name is Scarlet, and we are the Sentinels. We’re an ORT team based on Minneapolis and we’re here to help. Now, can anyone tell me what they remember seeing?” At that, almost everyone present beg
A stern look from Scarlet directedat the gathering crowd silenced them again. She pointed at a young man in his twenties dressed in a hip but smart style.
“I was driving along Broadway here when the sky just went from bright and sunny afternoon to the dawn colors. My phone and GPS went out too.” Murmurs of agreement made its round through the crowd. “The traffic lights are out and the stores seem to be out of power to.”
“Thank you, sir. Okay, here’s what’s going to happen. If you live in the city, head back to your homes and lock your doors. Check in on your family if you can but absolutely make sure that you stay home.” Scarlet paused as the murmurs began again. A level stare brought that all to a quick stop. “Those that don’t live in the city, head for the police station. It’s a few blocks to the west of you take that street. Now go. Try and spread the word if you can.”
Scarlet turned and motioned for us to huddle. “Change of plans. We’re just going to walk to the station. It’s just a couple of blocks from here.”
“Okay. What about these people?” I asked callously. Scarlet turned to the crowd once more.
“Anyone that doesn’t live in the city, park your cars properly and follow us.”
People began to head their own directions. Three remained as we waited for the crowd to disperse. An old Caucasian lady in a pantsuit and a black blouse, an Asian woman in her thirties in a pair of jeans and slightly revealing tank top, and a Hispanic man in his twenties wearing khaki shorts and a shirt with a logo from some obscure metal band.
“Hi folks. If you’ll follow us, we’ll get you to the police station in a jiffy.” Scarlet began heading down the street.
“Do you know what’s going on?” The old lady said as she kept pace with the group. The accusation in her voice was barely masked. Scarlet didn’t stop walking as she replied.
“Yes ma’am, I do. We’re heading to the police station to get you and the fine man and woman behind you in safe hands.”
The old lady put on airs and had a look of indignation that Scarlet did not even bother to look at her when she spoke. Before she could respond to Scarlet, the Hispanic man spoke up.
“They ain’t gonna arrest us are they?”
“No, sir, they would not. Why would they?” I answered and asked.
“Well, I ain’t exactly the type of people Americans tend to keep this side of the border.”
“Of for crying out loud. Nothing is going to happen to anyone. In all likelihood, the cops will take your statement and that’s it.” Scarlet was starting to sound exasperated. Thankfully the police station was now in view. Plenty of cop cars were parked about the parking lot, and the station seemed alive with activity.
Before we could get to the front doors however, a large shadow passed through overhead and heading south. The sound of air being pushed echoed through the street. A loud explosion sounded off to the south. Another shadow passed, heading north, followed by an explosion that sounded from the street we were just in a few minutes ago.
Scarlet was already in the air as everyone else just recovered. “Get the civvies into the police office! Tell them to stay inside and avoid windows! there are dragons in the sky!”
A roar cut through the air as if to punctuate the statement. Screams of terror followed as civilians ran for cover. My legs took a second to kick in before I pushed on both Cheshire and Red’s backs.
“You heard the lady! Move!” I didn’t waste time and ushered people into the station. Red was the last one through as he pulled the doors closed behind him. “Cheshire, you try and keep the civvies calm. Red, watch the door. Get your sword ready, we might need it.”
I immediately turn to look at the confused person behind the front desk. “What’s going on in here?”
“There’s a dragon outside. You might want to let your chief know.”
“Thanks.” I said. My attention was drawn towards a loud crunching sound outside. The ground shook with the sound and everyone seemed to freeze in that instant.
Cheshire looked like she was about to pass out. Red was holding back the doors, his hands white knuckled on the handle. A roar shook the station and screams of panic and despair ripped across the crowd. A mad rush to go deeper into the station exploded and the crowd of Peele surged through the entrance that led further into the building. Cheshire was part of the crowd for a second before she realized both Red and I were standing our ground.
“Sidapa, come in.” Scarlet’s voice sounded off from my helmet comm unit.
“Go for Sidapa.”
“The dragon seems to be sniffing around the station. How are the civvies?” She asked. I couldn’t imagine where she was right now, but I was sure she was not letting the dragon out of her sight.
“Civvies panicked but are inside the station. The chief is being informed of the situation.” I look back towards the room that the civilians went through. There was some shouting and some panicked responses. Cheshire was standing with her arms crossed and she was looking down at her boots.
“Ten-four, Sidapa. Red do you copy?” She asked. I turned to Red who was looking my way. He looked confused and was feeling along the mask.
“Tap the right edge by your temple.” My voice carried through the empty room. He followed the edge of the mask then softly his voice came up in my comms.
“Red here. Uhh over.”
“How strong are you? And how durable?” The question visibly confused the red-skinned man. He took a moment before he replied.
“I’m able to fling dumpsters like they’re made out of cardboard.” He paused, confusion in etched across his face. “Durability wise, I’ve survived full clips of AP bullets at point blank range.” His expression went to concerned then fearful. He turned to look at me.
“Good. I’m gonna need your help. I want you to throw something at this dragon at hard as you can. There will likely be dumpsters on the side street to the left when you exit the front doors.”
“What?!” Even from this distance, I could see his golden irises dilate in fear. “I can’t do that! That’s a dragon we’re talking about! A real dragon!”
“Yep. I know. But I really need you to knock it’s head a bit. I can’t get through its scales from a distance and we need this hit to count. Cheshire can you phase people?” Cheshire didn’t respond to Scarlet, and Scarlet had to ask the question again. “Cheshire, do you copy!?”
“Oh, yeah sure.” The shock seemed to have dulled her for now, and I was hoping that they would be up to the task.
“Okay good. I want you to work with Red and phase through the building so you don’t draw the dragon.” She paused and then the silence was buried under a roar. One that seemed to be of pain. “Got the damn fucking lizard in the back. Weapons can slide between the scales, but it’s really hard to get in striking distance.”
She cut off as the sound of wingbeats bled through the building’s structure. “It’s chasing after me now. Sidapa, I want you to coordinate. Do you have any little birdies?”
I opened my senses for corpses and bodies. It was like a bubble that spread out from me up to about a hundred feet in all directions. I could feel a couple of rat skeletons, two cats in various states of discomposure at opposite ends of my senses, and one bird that was in fairly rough shape. I felt my energy pour through me and into the bird and gave it a semblance of life.
“Okay. I think I got a robin. I’m not sure if it can fly.” My senses surged from my own body and in the next instant was in the raised robin. I commanded it to spread its wings and fly to the ledge of the police stations roof. It tried to do so, but one wing was broken and beyond flight. I looked around saw that there was a couple of steps that lead up to the raised edge. I commanded it to get up there while I switched back to my own body.
“Got one sentry incoming.”
“Good. Fuck this thing is fast. I’m going to try and out maneuver it. Red, Cheshire get going!” The wind whipped at the mic that she wore as she flew. I look at the two recruits, who were now wearing expressions of fear and doubt. I jogged over to them and grabbed each by an arm.
“You guys got this. Cheshire, make sure to keep your phase through activated until you find a dumpster. Red, get the dumpster, and place it at the edge at the ready, then Cheshire you both phase until you have to throw it, got it?” Adrenaline would have been pumping through my veins, but unluckily I didn’t produce that anymore.
“Phase us through, grab a dumpster, wait in phase then throw. It’s simple, right Cheshire?” Red recounted the steps, his Cajun accent lightening up the situation somewhat. Cheshire went from afraid to determined and nodded. She grabbed Red by the wrist and led him straight through the wall. I saw Red brace himself for a split second before they passed through unharmed. I reached out to the robin and found that it was viewing the skies. In the distance, the dragon with black scales cut through the air like a bullet chasing after a red streak ahead of it.
The red streak turned sharply, narrowly avoiding a row of teeth and claws clamping down on it. The streak was heading straight for the police station and likely the alley. I switched back to my body, and tapped my helmet again. “Cheshire, Red, you ready?”
“Yeah, we got one and we’re at the lip of the side street!” Red sounded like he was breathing hard.
“Scarlet here. I’m coming in from the North. I’m going to slow down to let it catch up close enough. When you see red, throw the dumpster as hard as you can.”
“Copy, Scarlet. We’re ready.” Cheshire was the one that replied this time. I approached the door and held it shut, just in case. With my body stiffly pressed against the door, I switched to the robin. Scarlet was flying low on the ground, her breasts almost touching the asphalt with how low she was the dragon behind her was now loping through the street, crushing cars underfoot and swiping at them when they got in the way. Scarlet weaved and dodged between abandoned cars as the dragon breathed a nasty looking black flame. I could see Scarlet put her finger to her ear, likely providing a heads up to Cheshire and Red.
As Scarlet passed the street, the dragon likely came into view of the street. Scarlet immediately disappeared straight up into the sky, with the dragon skidding to a stop directly in front of the side street when a dumpster came sailing through the air hitting the dragon right on the neck. A loud crash reverberated from the impact, and the dragon’s neck crumpled under the impact. The corners also dug through the scales it seems as green blood oozed out of the wound. The dragon’s roar was cut, and it slumped down attempting to grasp at its neck.
I observed the scene for a moment longer before switching back to my body.
“-ob guys! Retreat and standby with Sidapa, I got the rest of this.” Scarlet declared as my senses came back to my own body. A few seconds later, both Cheshire and Red phased through the wall. Both had held a wild look in their eyes, coupled with a satisfied expression.
“Fuck yeah!” Red declared, fist bumping with Cheshire who had to jump a little to reach his raised fist. I clapped them both in the back.
“Good job out there.” I felt both of them relax a little. “That was a really damn fine shot.”
“Yeah, you should have seen him! He yeeted that thing like a sack of potatoes, and the dragon was caught off guard!” Cheshire was now pumped full of adrenaline and energy, traces of the fear having been overtaken.
“Red, you really did a good job.” Scarlet’s voice cut through, a more relaxed tone being adapted. “The damn thing is dead. I think it drowned in its own blood. I think it’s safe to come out.”
We all stared at each other for a second, before I motioned them to follow. We stepped through the front doors and look through up the street. The dragon lay motionless, sprawled on the street with green blood oozing through the wound on its neck and some through its teeth. Scarlet was flying above it a few feet away, a scythe drawn up and low at the ready. She turned to us and motioned us over. “It’s clear. I haven’t seen breathe for the last minute.”
It was quite a sight. Despite the cape heroics I’ve seen on TV, nothing prepared me for the sight before me. The dragon was dead, and the smell of iron in the air threatened to overwhelm every other smell. Scarlet gently touched down on the ground, never turning her back on the dragon.
“Red, that was a great fast ball. Good job on keeping a handle on both of you Cheshire.” She commended my two teammates. They seemed to beam with positivity at the praise. “This further reinforces my thinking that this isn’t just an illusion.”
She moved a step closer to the dragon. We held our breath, figuratively for me. She poked at it with the top of her scythe. It did not move at all. Everyone sighed in relief at the lack of life of the dragon.
“Sidapa. Can you try and control this dragon corpse?” Scarlet asked as she crouched low and examined its teeth. Now that the excitement had died down, the size of the dragon was more appreciable. It looked to be twenty meters long as it lay stretched out. It’s wingspan was almost as impressive. As we walked closer, I could see its eyes open but sightless, almost the size of a car window. The cloudiness was starting to creep in, like those of all dead creatures.
“I don’t know what’ll happen, but just in case, please move back.” I warned the rest of my team. Scarlet gently raised up from the ground and up and away about ten meters, while Cheshire placed a hand on Red’s arm and gave me a nod. I turned to Scarlet who nodded as well.
I reached out and my senses were immediately overloaded with information. My senses were a little different when I reached for the dragon’s corpse. Instead of just an empty vessel, it seemed that there was a presence around it. I felt that it was its essence, or maybe even its soul. It was a powerful feeling, one that was so strong a presence, I felt that I could reach out to and touch on a physical level. “Guys, I’m going to try something. I’ve tried it before. Only once.”
“Copy that Sidapa. Cheshire, help Red up the building, and be ready to jump and phase her out in case of danger.” Scarlet ordered through the comms. It turn to look and wait for Cheshire to come. She and Red disappeared for a moment, a trail of transparent movement racing across the station’s side and then reappearing solidly on the roof’s edge. A moment later, Cheshire was gone again, with the trail arcing through the air and then Cheshire landing next to me.
“We’re good to go, Scarlet.” I said as I reached out. I could feel Cheshire’s hand on my shoulder. With a deep breath, I let the energy flow through me. The energy was exhilarating, and then the same word that echoed in my mind when Brick was down came to me.
Then I was snapped back to reality. The dragon before me blinked it’s eye, regarding me, then turning slightly to regard Chesire.
“Uh, guys. It just looked at me.” Cheshire’s hands dug onto my arm. I placed a hand on top of hers gently and looked at her directly.
“It’s okay. I’ve got it.” My voice was exceptionally calm, surprising even me. I turned my attention back to the dragon and I could feel something.
Hello, little necromancer. A deep rumbling female voice in my head echoed as the dragon’s eyes locked with mine.