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Things are worse than you think. - Tía Ramirez



November 3, 1987

So there I was, in the hospital, with Thunderbolt in the next bed over, both of us getting stitched, wrapped, and otherwise patched up, and wondering how much worse the day could possibly get.
    Oh, boy.

[Aside: Phoenix Talon, Scott]

    I was watching the intern's careful stitchwork with considerable interest when my phone rang, as did Thunderbolt's.
    "Excuse me a moment. Aren't you getting tired? I know I am. Hello?" I answered.
    "Hello," Scott said. "If you don't feel like heading back to the island, I've got a coffee-maker down here in the cave."
    "Ooh. Coffee. I'll be there as soon as they're done, which looks like it's going to be a little while. They only have a few more inches to go."
    "Good. I haven't really got the zombie tubes rebuilt yet."
    "That's okay," I assured him dryly. "I'd really rather be here."
    "I'll meet you here. And try to get through to Phoenix, his phone's busy."

[Aside: Phoenix Talon]

    Another ring.
    "Hello? Sorry about this," I added to the intern, who didn't seem to mind taking a break.
    "Hi, this is Reilly."
    "Hi, Reilly."
    "Sean Mort's dead," he informed me bluntly.
    "Oh." What a pity. "The way you say that makes me think that this has not solved one of our problems."
    "His eyes were jet black."
    "Oh, great."
    "They called the cops, I'm fairly sure they did something else to the body first, cleaned up the house a little bit, made sure there wasn't anything there for us to find, but he passed away in his bed last night."
    "His butler found him this morning, and he was gone. Jet black eyes."
    "I take it you've talked with the butler extensively?"
    "Oh yeah, talked with the butler extensively. But I figured I'd let you know what was going on."
    "Okay. We'll start looking in on any possible links between Mort and this other guy."
    "Oh, one other thing I wanted to tell you."
    "What's that?"
    "There were some long black bird's feathers found at the site of the body." Pause. "Now, it's not as bad as it could be; we did a check on them, they're not raven feathers. They're crow feathers. I don't know what the hell this means, but if they're not raven feathers, it can't be the really big problem, can it?" His voice was just shy of pleading.
    "I don't know if we can actually rule that out, but let's hope so." There's a lot we don't know about this stuff, after all. I didn't think it would be a good idea to claim certainty.
    "So, you're now as up to date as I am. But she can't be back. She can't be," he repeated hopefully.
    "I would frankly be very surprised," I admitted.
    "Good. Then it can't happen."
    "I'm just gonna keep telling myself that."
    "We'll let you know as soon as we have a plan worked out here." That should only take a week or two.
    "Okay. Hang on just a second... give me the... one of our spotters just noted the fact that a couple of flying figures were seen taking off out of the Chinatown area," he said tensely. "They were heading east."
    "Oh. Okay."
    "Just letting you know."
    "Thanks, I'll call the guys." I rang the base, since Scott had said Talon's personal number was busy. No answer. Odd.
    There was a bright flash of light.
    The photographer in the doorway should be saying a prayer of thanks every night for the rest of his life for the fact that both Thunderbolt and I were so exhausted, because in the moment it took for our reflexes to come on line, our eyes cleared, and we both realized that we weren't under attack. There was a brief answering glow around his camera, and a distinct crunching sound from within it.
    "Hey!" He glared at me. "You broke my camera!"
    "I suggest that you leave now," an orderly stepped up with a stern expression.
    "Hey, I have freedom of the press!" he protested as he was escorted down the hall.
    "Sorry about that," the orderly apologized upon returning.
    "Thank you." The public's right to know does not extend to me wearing nothing but a line of stitches over my chest.

[Aside: Elsewhere]

    They finished their stitching, finally.
    "Okay, you guys are all set, just wait here for a little bit while we run through the discharge paperwork. If you want we'll leave the TV on for you."
    Click. "—Massive explosion on Revolution island—"
    "We'll be leaving," I said, getting up with a wince.
    Talon met us at the outside door. "We've got to get out to Mariner island," he told us grimly. "They blew up our base and I think they took out them, too."
    "All right, let's go," I sighed.
    "We don't have any more hovercycles, can you carry us?"
    "And keep an eye out, they could be gunning for us."
    I stared at him and burst out laughing. "No shit." I got my half-hysterical giggling under control. "I'm sorry."
    "They could be preparing an ambush," he amplified.
    "Yes, they could." I kept an eye out. God, but I was tired.

[Aside: Scott]

    I called Scott to update him. "We're en route to Mariner Island, Talon said they used their boat to blow up our base."
    "Oh, heck."
    "We're getting there as fast as I can."
    "I won't be able to catch you up in anything like reasonable time, then."
    "Anything new happen?"
    "Other than they blew up our base, not really."
    "I'd heard about that."
    "At the moment I'm trying to figure out where in the blazes they might be."
    "Excellent. We'll join you when we can."
    There was a pillar of smoke on the horizon. I checked my watch for no particular reason; quarter of noon. I hoped that Chang Yen wasn't hanging around to shish kebob me and let the others fall to their deaths, and made my best possible speed toward Mariner Island. The fire boats were heading toward what was left of our base. I tried not to think about that.
    The remains of the boat were still burning, human figures strewn along the shore; a quick check proved them all still alive. No sign of J.T., disturbingly enough, but there was a big hole in their dock.
    "This sucks so bad," Talon muttered. "I just called them for help this morning!"
    I dropped him and Thunderbolt off on land and talked to Gilly, who was conscious, while they provided what additional first aid they could.
    "We were getting ready to head over, all the sudden J.T. said we should jump out of the boat, I was midway through the leap when the boat blew up.Judging from the looks of it, it got hit by a massive amount of psychokinetic force that caused an immediate combustion of all of the flammable aspects. The metal was immediately heated up to a melting point, and the wood just...."
    "Vaporized," I nodded.
    "He's good at that."
    "I can't believe that something like that would knock J.T. unconscious, however." She shook her had. "It's just not big enough."
    "No, there was probably more than one of them here. I'll go look underwater."
    "Hold on, let me get a wet-suit, I'll go down," she offered.
    "No need for that, I can stay dry."
    "How will you be for air?"
    "I can last for a few breaths at a time." Maybe a minute or so.
    "So it'll be like telekinetic snorkeling?"
    "Yeah. It works." It occurred to me a bit belatedly that she might be looking for something to occupy herself right now. "You can come in if you want, just I'm gonna start looking."
    The main problem I had was that it gets dark pretty quickly down there, even with the sun as high as it was going to get at this time of year, and if he was dead.... I scanned around, picking up fish auras. Went up for some air, and Gilly handed me one of the bulky underwater flashlights. On my third trip down I found an anchor chain heaped on the sea floor almost directly under the dock. It hadn't been there long, and—yes, that was blood on it. What there wasn't was a body.
    So he'd gotten loose. Where the hell was he? I looked around some more; nothing.
    "Any sign of him yet?" Gilly asked anxiously as I surfaced again.
    I shook my head, puzzled. "I found an anchor chain with what looks like some blood on it, but there's no sign of J.T. Since Manta Master's not around, we know there aren't any sharks in the harbor...."
    "Not normally, no."
    "They can't survive in this crap for more than ten minutes at a time."
    The rest of the Windjammers were starting to come around, burned and bruised and in no condition to do much but hold down a bed for the next few days. I knew exactly how they felt.
    Whoever it had been besides Wu Tzu-Shi here, they were gone. What we needed was a way to get to the bastards. Phoenix Talon suggested using the tunnels to strike at them from below, the problem being that we weren't sure which buildings they might be using.
    "The only way that occurred to me to bring the fight to them was the one we used with the Mafia last time, which was to break their stuff until they get pissed off," I sighed. "That didn't work too well last time." Of course, TECH had been involved in that one. The Wuxia don't need TECH.
    "It worked tolerably well," Scott remarked, having called in to see how things were going. "But last time we knew where their stuff was, that's the problem."
    "I'm sure the police have some idea where the stuff is...."
    "The next thing I'm gonna do is see what they own," he agreed, "and then I'm gonna start from the tunnels and I'll start knocking buildings down."
    I don't think I've ever seen him in this grim a mood. "That should help."
    "We have no contact with the mystic community which was helpful last time?" Talon wanted to know.
    "I've got an appointment with one in an about an hour," Scott told us, surprising us all I think.
    "Maybe you could go early," I suggested.
    Talon looked at the two of us who were physically present. "My theory is we just dress up like Wuxia people and break all the League of Nations' outposts."
    I started laughing despite the situation's gravity. "I like that." We ran with the idea for a while, working off some of the accumulated tension, before trying to come up with something more workable. "Okay. They have the advantage of numbers, and they're in much better shape than any of us is right now, so we need something they won't expect."
    "They also have the advantage of having an actual hidden base," Scott noted.
    "So do we."
    "They have a hidden base and hidden assets," he expanded. "We have all this breakable stuff called Boston. They can screw with us by taking down an Au Bon Pain, or another police precinct or something. What are we gonna do, wreck Chinatown?"
    If we have to, I thought.
    Gilly was looking at the other Windjammers. "I don't know that we can stay here. On the other hand, I was halfway conscious when they were talking, and while my Chinese is a bit rusty, they don't consider us to be a threat anymore."

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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson