Spacer Aside
  | Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Villains & Vigilantes | The Revolution | Story So Far | Aside |





    "Let's try to use some kind of stealth and finesse here," Lucky suggested over the bike's steady growl as they neared the south side of the city.
    "When have I ever—" Phoenix started to protest.
    "Sorry," she cut him off. "I'm just... nervous, from Hans."
    They pulled up a few doors down from the target. The place looked pretty well abandoned. Located next door to a seedy auto shop, it was surrounded by junker cars and a chain link fence with a limp strand of barbed wire across the top. In front of the house on the other side, a Doberman slept restlessly. Phoenix would sneak through the front door, they decided, while Lucky took the back. She climbed off the bike and turned around; to her shock, he was gone. She could pick up his scent, but not hear a damn thing. It made her skin crawl. She circled around to the back, pulled her lockpicks out of her sleeve. Her nose twitched at a new scent, a strangely chemical, organic odor. It seemed more concentrated around the front.
    Phoenix looked around, saw nothing. Knocked on the door. At a rustling sound behind him he spun around, bokken ready. From the concealing debris rose seven men dressed in jeans and ripped T-shirts, each rippling with muscle.
    "Didn't mean to wake ya'll up," he apologized politely.
    Lucky heard him and hesitated, but decided to stick with the original plan. Unless he sounded like he was in real trouble, she'd let him deal with whatever it was.
    No sense waiting around. He initiated the festivities with the Phoenix Talon Shinto Mirror Attack (tm). A precisely controlled burst of light reflected off the mirrors as they spun from his hands and sent three of them staggering back, pawing at their dazzled eyes as they cursed.
    "Evenin' boys!" he grinned. "Sun comes up early in these parts, don't she?"
    In the yard next door, the Doberman woke up and started barking.
    In back, Lucky rolled her eyes. "I said quiet. I fuckin' said quiet," she muttered, hearing the lock click open.
    Out front, one of the nonblinded ones dove forward, a large, muscular man who took a solid swing. Phoenix ducked. The door shattered under the force of the blow. These guys were stronger than he was, he noted a bit uneasily before his natural confidence reasserted itself. The man stayed behind him, blocking the door and obviously preparing to grab him from behind. A second attacked; this time the sidewalk took the force of the blow. Phoenix flicked the switch to add an electrical current to his bokken. Numbers three and four beat down the fence, hauled an entire car from the junkyard, took two steps and swung it at him. He danced back from a glancing blow.
    Lucky heard the crash and headed through the house toward the sounds as her teammate leaped to attack the nearest sighted punk with his sword. It was a good hit, but the thug merely grunted and moved sideways a little. This, Phoenix noted, was beginning to suck. What he'd hit was much denser than normal flesh.
    The first thug tried to grab him and missed. The second yelled, "Stand back!" and leveled his joined hands at Phoenix, who recognized an incoming energy blast and threw himself aside. It was nicely focused, a good tight beam which passed through the house and left a smoldering series of holes in the wall, passing Lucky on its way out. The scent she had noted was coming from these men.
    Another thug ripped the hood off the car and swung it at him sideways; he ducked again, then rolled aside as yet another one slammed a foot into the ground. Missing Phoenix, it went about three inches into the dirt.
    Lucky brought her staff to life in her hands, the stick form she was most familiar with. This was no time to mess around with new tricks.
    Phoenix threw the mirrors around again, trying to blind the others. Two had recovered from their first treatment; they got another dose in short order. Four to deal with. The energy blaster saw Lucky, reached into the car they, yanked out the engine block and smashed it down at her head. The block shattered against her staff. He didn't seem worried about that, which worried her just a little. Another of the men was circling around behind her. She grabbed him and attempted to use him for a battering ram against the engine-thrower. The second man dodged aside, leaving his friend to hit the ground with a bruising thump. He rolled over almost immediately and threw an energy blast at her. It fractured off her staff and crawled up her arms, some sort of electrical shock that might have stunned her had it hit squarely.
    One of the blinded ones cleared his eyes and snarled at Phoenix. The hood-swinger tried to slam him again and instead hit a comrade, the one with his foot buried in the ground. This didn't seem to faze either of them much, aside from the wasted time. Now they all looked like they could see again. Phoenix went for the hood-swinger with the bokken. No obvious effect, aside from a broad grin. What the heck are these guys? he wondered.
    Engine Block dropped what was left of it, tried to punch Lucky and hurt his knuckles on the staff. She went for his skull, not pulling her blow. The staff end slammed into his forehead. He looked a little stunned and wobbled over backwards. She could tell he wasn't dead—a normal human's skull would have shattered—but he was out of the fight.
    "Can you hold them off for five minutes?" she asked Phoenix.
    "Oh, yeah," he muttered. "All of them?" For once, he was willing to concede, the odds did not look favorable.
    "You miserable little shit!" a twice-blinded thug growled, throwing a punch at Phoenix, who danced backward so the fist barely brushed his chin. The thug who had hit his partner with the car hood hurled himself into the air, launching a two-legged kick at Lucky, who ducked and left him sailing over head and into the house. The one wrapped in the car hood wrestled himself free and threw another futile blow at Phoenix.
    All right, enough of that shit. Time to stop messing around; these punks needed to learn just who they were dealing with. Mirrors flashed in the darkness yet again, taking four of the enemy out of the fight for the moment.
    "BANZAI!" Phoenix shouted. A brief flurry of movement and flashing electrified bokken later, three of the four were down and the fourth barely managed on some instinctive sense of danger to rock back in time to absorb some of the force of the blow; his knees buckled, but he stayed on his feet. "Next!" Phoenix invited.
    "I wasn't in that much trouble, Phoenix," Lucky observed, grinning as she surveyed the wreckage and the three remaining thugs reassessed their situation. "You can hold them off while I search the house?"
    "Now, yes. Go ahead," he suggested graciously.
    She headed inside. One of the thugs tried to block the door. She slammed the staff toward him and took out part of the wall. He ran at her with a growl; she blocked him without really having to try and proceeded to ignore him as she began her search.
    One of the other two—the one who had used the car hood—tried again with a thrown door. Phoenix Talon batted it away with the bokken; it sailed off over the fence and knocked over a pile of rusting cars. The Doberman was going insane in the next yard.
    "Good shot, old man!" Talon exclaimed. Much better. This was definitely turning into his kind of fight. Then the blinded ones recovered their sight; the three exchanged a somewhat unhappy look, firmed up their resolve and moved to surround him. He picked one and flew at him, bokken ready and sweeping down for a solid blow, but the unnatural thug shrugged it off and remained standing. Another one shot an energy blast at him, stunning him for a few moments.
    Lucky headed for the basement. The guy behind her jumped down the stairs and tackled her, sending them both tumbling down into the darkness.
    "Okay, I'm holding her down here!" he yelled to his friends. "Where none of you... are," he realized more quietly. "Oh."
    Phoenix Talon shook off the effects, but by the time he had cleared his mind, two of the thugs had grabbed axles and the third had the drive shaft of the now-entirely-dismembered car, all three ready to pummel him into paste. He ducked the first, leaped over the second and rolled with the third blow, ninja-trained reflexes moving faster than thought.
    Lucky threw herself back-first toward the wall, trying to pin her attacker. He planted a leg and turned around, used her momentum against her. The house's foundation shook slightly when she hit the wall, and then he tightened his grip and started to squeeze. Lucky brought her staff up one-handed and swung at him. He staggered backward, releasing her, and fired an energy blast at her. It crackled over her body; she clenched her teeth and ignored it, slammed her staff toward his skull.
    "Goddamnit!" he snarled as his head snapped back into the wall.
    "Would you die already?" she growled back.
    He swung at her feebly. She laughed.
    Phoenix went after the one who had managed to hit him, but the man blocked the bokken with both forearms. Another one swung an axle and missed. Time for more mirrors. All three were blinded this time, and the hand was far faster than the dazzled eye. One more down, two still standing—barely. And blind. He whipped out his grapple and tied their legs together, yanked them out from under them. A crash shook the neighborhood. One of them had been holding a tire iron when the flash went off; he dropped it on himself and knocked himself out.
    Phoenix spied the tree in the corner of the yard and grinned again.
    Lucky's next blow finally persuaded the thug to fall unconscious. She searched him quickly and found no wallet or other identifying information, then started looking around the basement and the rest of the house, checking for secret rooms. She found nothing; it was just a house they used for phone calls. She tucked the phone itself into her jacket pocket, intending to hit "redial" once she got back to base. Outside, she found no vehicle carrying the mens' distinctive scent, but she could pick up traces where they had been dropped off, the scent of what had probably been a van.
    Phoenix proceeded to tie up the one who was still vaguely conscious.
    "So, who sent you over here?" he inquired casually. "Come on, come on." Soon the man was hanging upside down from the tree, and quickly enough was ready to talk.
    "Aaaaugh," he moaned, apparently suffering from motion sickness. "I don't—we were just out waiting at a hotel, we got the call to go in and deal with the people who showed up here."
    "Call from who?" Phoenix gave him another push, made him spin a little faster.
    "We don't know, people don't tell us anything in case people like you catch us!"
    "At some point there must have been a name, someone you talked to," he pointed out logically. "Unless you randomly sit around hotel rooms waiting for someone to call you, it could be Good Humor for all you know. Drive the ice cream truck to this location. Not that I would trust you guys with anything else," he added.
    The thug seemed resigned to his fate now. "We were called in from Chicago. We were supposed to wait here in case they needed someone for a hitter squad."
    "Who'd you work for in Chicago?"
    No one Phoenix knew.
    "We were waiting there for a while, we got a call, some guys picked us up, never seen them before. We piled into the cars—"
    "What was the license plate number?"
    "I don't know, we don't look at those things."
    "You're a fuckin' idiot, you know that?"
    "Yeah, well, we got into the—"
    "I'm glad you agree with me."
    "He drove us here, we were supposed to wait until you guys showed up and then beat the crap out of you."
    "That didn't work, now did it?"
    "I don't know—"
    "Where'd you get those energy blasts, those pansy little stun rays?"
    Pause. "Pansy?"
    "Talk! If I wanted any of your lip, I'd get it out of his zipper," he jerked a thumb at the unconscious thug pile.
    "Chemical bath," the thug replied resignedly. "Treatment. Made us stronger, tougher."
    "What, you can just sign up for these things in Chicago?"
    "Yeah, they've got big signs up," was the sardonic reply.
    "Tell me something useful before I feed you my grenade," was Phoenix's frustrated retort.
    "You have a grenade?"
    "Yes. You know, we're already in trouble with the law, this would just be a little icing on the cake."
    That seemed to convince him to continue the story sans sarcasm. "We were at the Days Inn, off the highway, the one where you can see it from the road when you're coming in. I don't know anything else, we were there for a couple days, we got a call, said we were gonna get picked up, they showed up, we got in the cars, we came out here. I didn't check out the license plates, it was just a couple of Tuckers."
    "Okay, okay." That looked like all he was going to get. "Well, remember to tell all your buddies about Phoenix Talon."
    "Phoenix, I've got a trail, come on!" Lucky called from the roadside.
    "Check ya later." He gave the guy one last push.
    Sirens were approaching. And Lucky's enhanced hearing picked up the sound of a military helicopter. She pushed the bike into an alley. It seemed pretty clear that the scent trail would more than likely lead them back to the hotel; no reason to do it the hard way. She dropped Phoenix off and headed to the Days Inn, intending to pick up the scent of the car itself again there and follow it back to its source. Phoenix found this potential feat difficult to believe. She gave him the phone and asked him to have Scott trace the redial number.
    After an hour on the road Lucky reached the hotel, picked up the chemical scent and the place where the car had pulled up. Tracking it on foot along the highway would probably take more hours, and she might well lose the trail. She remained in the shadows and considered plans. She could walk in there and pummel the truth out of the desk clerk, which would have a certain measure of satisfaction attached to it. Or... or, it occurred to her, she could do something more subtle. Something that wouldn't earn her another of those exasperated looks from Needle. She pulled out her phone and dialed the hotel's front desk.
    "Days Inn."
    Lucky took a breath and changed her accent slightly. "Hi, this is Lieutenant Winters' liaison at the police department."
    "Hi, can I help you?" was the polite response.
    "I was wondering if several guys left your hotel room at about midnight, eight guys, they got in a vehicle?"
    "Yeah, I thought it was weird," the clerk confided happily. "A couple cars pull up, engines still running, lights on, they all piled in and drove off."
    "Do you have security cameras on your premises, sir?"
    "Not that would be facing the street. I was watching, 'cause you know it was weird, a couple of red Tuckers with dealer plates."
    Hm. "You didn't happen to notice the actual plate numbers?"
    "I'm sorry, I saw that they were dealers, but didn't write down the numbers, didn't know you be calling."
    "Did you happen to notice which direction they went on the highway?"
    "My window doesn't face the highway, I can't tell."
    He couldn't tell her much more than that, but it was a good lead. She asked him to call Winters' office if he thought of anything else, then called base and got the addresses of the four local Tucker dealerships from Albert.
    She started with the closest one. Nothing.
    On to the next, Starr Auto. Bingo. Scent match on the car itself, and two of the cars on the lot carried that odd chemical odor. She checked for scents on the drivers, anything that didn't match the chemical thugs. Picked up one she knew. Billy Frascatore, part of Don Aliese's middle-management team. They'd run into each other once in a while during the uneasy truce which had once prevailed over Boston, back while she was still doing occasional work for Vincent. Had it been such a brief few months ago?
    It was growing close to dawn; she had no time to collect backup before she headed out to his house. He wasn't home when she reached the apartment. The scent traces had changed; he had moved. Not a problem; she knew that he hung out at Sal's Pool Hall. The place opened around two, she recalled. Time to get some sleep.

| Top | Back to Main Narrative


© 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson