Living Dead Girl
by J. Darksong* * *
The sounds of sirens finally faded into the background as the firetruck and most of the police cruisers pulled away. One of the two ambulances remained behind, EMTs continuing to work on the injured, those who had suffered minor injuries trying to escape the carnage. A River City Electric truck remained on site as well, allowed on site to repair the broken lines once the police had declared the danger to have passed.
“...and that’s when we called the police,” Sunbeam finished, as she and her partner, fully clothed in their costumes again, spoke to the lieutenant in charge. “Then Splash and I began administering first aid to those injured until the rescue workers arrived and took over. And I think that brings us current,” she replied with a sigh.
“Hmmm... I see,” the lieutenant replied with a simple nod. “And the one behind all of this chaos... Professor McBride? I’m still not exactly clear on what happened to him...”
Splash and Sunbeam glanced at one another. “Well, you see that black powder on the ground, there, and there?” she asked, pointing out the small piles of sediment lying about haphazardly. “Those are the victims we couldn’t save in time... those that were struck fully by the Akert Stone. Back up on the roof, you’ll find another small pile...”
The lieutenant blinked, then frowned. “Umm... you mean he—”
“Ended up a victim of his own foul machinations, yes,” Sunbeam replied bitterly. “I guess you could call it karma, though all things considered, too quick a way to go considering all the innocents that perished because of his schemes...”
“A good point,” the lieutenant agreed solemnly. “And speaking of casualties... that friend that you mentioned before... Gwen, was it? How does SHE fit into all of this?”
“She was,” Janika began, only to sigh and shake her head. “She was just an innocent bystander. In the right place at the wrong time, really.”
“Yeah,” Tina replied softly, glancing away. “She was the real hero here, truth be told. ’Beam and I... we owe her our lives, as do all of the people here.” She smiled softly, shaking her head. “All this time, she kept saying she wasn’t a hero, yet when the situation was impossible, she’s the one who stepped in and saved the day.”
“Well, don’t sell yourselves short either, ladies,” the lieutenant stated, closing up his notebook. “From everything you’ve told me, you two have been in this since the beginning. I’ve been working with you costume types for a number of years now... and it takes a lot to do this kind of thing. Having powers don’t make you invincible. Personally, I think the two of you should be commended for what you did here today just as much as your friend.” Nodding again, he walked back to his car, heading back to the station to file his report.
“I have to agree with the man,” I said softly, causing both heroines to turn in my direction. I gave the two heroines a wan smile as they came over to hug me tightly. “Hey! Watch it, guys... still kinda tender,” I half-joked, wincing as they squeezed my ribs. I’d broken them in the fall, as well as my neck, and arms. It was a hard fall, and I’d been pretty damn fragile at the time. Honestly, I had no idea how I was even still alive.
Er... you know what I mean.
“Thanks again, by the way,” I added, giving them both a quick but deep kiss. “You know, for running interference with the police for me.”
“No problem, Gwen,” Tina replied with a shrug. “I still don’t see why, though. The lieutenant wanted to thank you for saving everyone.”
“Yeah, maybe so... but I’m not actually one of you hero girls, remember?” I pointed out. “Trying to explain to the law exactly who and what I am would be overly complicated. Better to just keep the details to a minimum.”
“And on the subject of ‘keeping things to a minimum’,” Janika quipped, “how are you feeling now? Did that EMT worker giving you a blood transfusion get you all fixed up?”
I smirked, glancing back at the ambulance. The cute sexy redheaded attendant was watching me carefully, and actually blushed when I glanced over at her. I chuckled softly at that. It was kind of cute. I actually felt a little bad for hypnotizing her and putting her under my thrall; she’d actually been a very concerned and attentive EMT even before I enthralled her. Still, I hadn’t much choice in the matter—she would have DEFINITELY noticed something strange when the little more than skin and bones victim took nearly five pints of blood, and all my really horrific wounds healed over a matter of minutes instead of weeks or months.
“Well, I’m not back to a hundred percent yet,” I admitted, “but I’m a lot better than I was earlier up on the roof.”
“Great! Um, er, I mean... that’s good to know,” Tina replied, blushing slightly. “So, um... we need to head home soon and grab some sleep. This whole incident took all night and most of the morning, and we do still have class later on. Any chance we’ll see you around later?”
I sighed softly, shrugging. “Well, I won’t be avoiding you guys or anything, if that’s what you’re asking. But... well... I think I’ve had enough of crazy super heroics for a while, thank you very much...”
I mean, I certainly wasn’t opposed to hanging out with the two of them. Going to a movie, or having dinner... or well, just a few bedroom gymnastics? Hell yeah. I could definitely get behind that. I just... I wouldn’t call how we spent last night very much fun. And I wasn’t eager for a repeat performance.
Both girls hugged me again. “Yeah, I get that,” Janika replied with a sad smile. “It’s just too bad, you know? ’Cause despite everything you’ve said about NOT being a hero, you certainly show all the qualities of one. You certainly didn’t have to help us out. You didn’t even have to come with us after we left your apartment. And you definitely didn’t need to jump over the edge after the scepter.” She grinned as she and Tina turned to walk away. “All in all, it sounds pretty damn heroic to me.”
And... what could I say to that? Really, what could I say? I’d pretty much tossed out all of my self imposed rules, got involved in this crazy mess, even jumping off the roof to try and destroy that freaking death stick—for what? All on a whim? Or just because I thought the two of them were sexy? ’Cause, don’t get me wrong, they were both hot. As in hawt! But, well, not ‘risk-my-life-just-to-be-with-them’ hawt! Plus, well... not to be THAT girl or anything, but I’d already spent the night with both of them anyway.
So... why had I done it? And, honestly, I’d had no FUCKING idea that I’d survive when I’d jumped off the roof. I’d hoped I would live, yes... but I’d been pretty sure at the end that I was about to meet my maker. As I watched the two spandex covered heroines walk away, I found myself pondering that question over and over, trying to come up with an answer...
“Everything secure here, Officer?”
The uniformed policeman turned around, blinking before snapping into a salute. “Ah, um, yessir!” the officer replied, nodded slightly to his superior, a large heavyset man with sergeant stripes on his sleeve. “The injured civilians have finally been shipped out, and the bystanders have all cleared out as well. Everything’s quiet.”
Sergeant Ken Thompson merely nodded, glancing around. “And what about the artifact?” he asked, idly.
“You know, the stone. The rock that caused all of this trouble. I assume it’s not just lying forgotten in a ditch on the ground somewhere,” he added with a frown.
“Ah, sorry, Sergeant. Some of those guys from the museum came by to retrieve it earlier. They actually just finished packing up everything into their van,” he stated, gesturing to a large brown minivan with the River City Museum plastered on the side. “I think they’re just about to leave—”
“And you’re just going to let them?!?” The sergeant snapped, scowling. “That stone killed eleven people! It should be going to the city lockup, where it can be guarded and protected, not put in a goddamn display!”
“B-but... but the Lieutenant,” the officer protested, “he signed off on it! He said that the museum folks would know how best to handle the stone than we would—”
“Hmph, yeah, he WOULD say that,” the sergeant grumbled aloud, shaking his head. “Listen, kid, you just stand here and guard this vacant piece of land. I’m gonna go have some words with these guys from the museum,” he said, stomping off towards the van, muttering softly under his breath.
Ken’s frown deepened as he approached the van. The museum workers all wore white Hazmat uniforms as if they investigating a toxic spill rather than an ancient Egyptian artifact. Well, considering that this simple stone killed a bunch of people, I guess I can understand their caution,, he mused silently. But its all the more reason that it should be stored in lockup, he countered. And it will be if I have anything to say about it...
“Hey! Who’s in charge around here?” he barked, causing several of the workers to pause and turn. Ken’s frown deepened as he couldn’t help but notice that all of the workers were large, broad-shouldered and barrel-chested men. He was no slouch himself, he’d been the fullback of his college football team back in the day, but these men made him feel like a placekicker. Before he could contemplate it further, a tall, thin, dark-haired man in a tweed jacket and cane stepped forward.
“That would be me, Officer,” the man replied, tapping his cane against the pavement. “Professor Alvin Forrester. I’m the head of antiquities at the museum, and currently the curator, since Professor McBride’s, ahem, unfortunate passing. So, what can I do for you?”
“Well, for a start, you can answer some of my questions,” he replied, peering into the van, unable to see much through the tinted windows. “I can’t help but notice the suits your men are wearing. I was told by the duty officer that this death stone of yours—”
“You mean the Akert Stone, Officer,” the Professor clarified.
“Akert Stone, yes,” Ken replied, scowling deeper. “And it’s Sergeant, by the way. Anywho, the duty officer said that, separated from the staff, the stone no longer posed a danger to anyone. Yet, I can’t help but notice all the precautions that your guys are taking here.”
“Well, Sergeant, your duty officer was correct. The stone is inert once again and perfectly safe for transport. There is no longer any danger to the public. My men suited up on the way here, just to be prepared for any eventuality.”
Ken nodded. It made sense. “Okay, but concerning the stone itself. Why hasn’t it been transferred into police custody, and stored away in our vault with all the other dangerous items?”
“Well, Sergeant,” the Professor replied stiffly, “for one thing, that stone is museum property, part of an exhibit on loan from Egypt. It is, in fact, the property of their country, so, potentially lethal or not, it stays with the rest of the artifacts. For another, the stone by itself is NOT dangerous. It is like a gun with the firing pin and bullets removed. So one should be wary of it, yes... but not overly fearful.”
Eyebrow raised, the sergeant shook his head. “Somehow I think that statement would carry more weight if your men weren’t all decked out in Hazmat suits. At any rate, Professor, I need to know what kind of security this exhibit is going to have, and make sure this potential weapon isn’t going to fall into the wrong hands again before I let you leave.”
“Excuse me, Officer,” the old man snapped, scowling at Ken, “but I believe you are overstepping your authority here. All of this was explained to your superior officer earlier, and he signed off on it. I have no intention of revealing my security measures to you—”
“Then we have a problem,” Ken cut in, scowling back with equal fervor, “because the Lieutenant ain’t here right now. I am. I’m the highest ranking officer on the scene. And seeing as how this happened here in MY neighborhood, on my old beat, I’m making DAMN sure something like this doesn’t happen again!” He crossed his arms. “So this can go one of two ways. You can satisfy my curiosity and convince me that this Akert Stone of yours is gonna be locked up safe and secure where no one can get it. Or you can keep being a smart ass, piss me off, and have me be a royal pain in YOUR ass for the next several weeks until that damned exhibit of yours is packed up and shipped back home to Egypt.”
The Professor sighed heavily, glancing at his worker briefly, before nodding. “Very well, then. If you insist, I’ll show you exactly how the stone is being secured.” He gestured to the van, and one of the workers opened the sliding door. Ken stepped forward, peering inside... only to gasp, then groan, crumpling to the ground as a heavy blow struck him from behind. “Shove him in, quick,” the Professor barked, glancing around carefully, “and hurry before someone sees!” The workers obeyed silently, lifting the heavyset policeman as if he were weightless, tossing him easily into the back of the van.
Moving over into the driver’s seat, Professor Forrester started the engine, pausing only long enough for the others to jump in. Fully loaded, he made his way back towards the street entrance, stopping to greet the young officer guarding the area. “All loaded up and ready to leave, Sir?” the young officer asked.
“Why yes, Officer. We’re ready to go now.”
“Good. Soon as you guys leave, I’m off duty,” the man admitted, stretching. “So... did Sergeant Thompson catch up with you? He seemed upset about something earlier...”
“Ah yes, him,” the Professor replied with obvious distaste. “He did stop by, expressed his concerns about our security measures, then said he was going to have a word or two with his lieutenant.” The Professor shrugged. “Personally, I could care less about the internal politics of policemen. In the meantime, I can’t afford to waste time standing around here. We’re returning back to the museum to prepare for today’s grand re-opening.”
The officer nodded. “Sounds good, Professor. Drive safely,” he said before stepping aside and allowing the van to depart...
Answering the knock on her front door, Veronica Albinn opened it to find two young girls standing nervously on her doorstep. “Ah, please, come in,” she said gently, bringing them inside. “Please, have a seat,” she added, gesturing to the couch in the living room. “I was just about to pour myself a cup of green tea. Would either of you like some?”
“Ah, no thank you, ma’am,” Tina replied primly, glancing over at her partner.
“None for me as well,” Janika replied as well.
“Ah, pity. You don’t know what you’re missing,” Roni shrugged, heading into the kitchen, returning a moment later with a small steaming mug. “So,” she began, sitting down in a chair across from them, “you’re Splash and Sunbeam, right? My husband and I have been following your careers for a while now. You both made a few notable collars while in Midas City, separately, not as partners, but since moving back here to River City and teaming up, you’ve been pretty prolific. Taking down Cadenza, for example,” she replied, sipping deeply. “Very impressive. As well as your run-in with the Piper. Neither of them are pushovers.”
“Um, wow... thanks,” Splash replied with a grin. “I didn’t know big time heroes like you and your husband kept track of what small time heroines like I did...”
“Now, now, don’t sell yourself short,” Roni chided them. “There is no such thing as ‘small time’ in this business. Every contribution, big or small, makes a difference in someone else’s life.” She took another sip. “All that aside, tell me what it is that you want. Why have you sought me out? And more importantly, what do you hope to achieve?”
The two younger heroines glanced at one another briefly. “Well... that’s not exactly an easy question to answer,” Sunbeam replied slowly. “I guess the best way to say it would be that we both just want to be better heroes. I mean, we do okay. We get the job done. But, well... not always in the most effective way. We’ve been in some pretty bad spots, and only came through by luck, or by someone else stepping in to help.” She sighed softly, thinking of Gwen. “Back in Midas, we both wanted to find a mentor, yanno? Older more experienced Supers to show us the ropes... but there were... um... complications.”
Roni nodded briefly. She was well aware of what the youngster was referring to. “Well, I’m perfectly happy to take you both on as students. I just don’t want to mislead you. This isn’t a correspondence course. There’s no six-week course that you pass and get a gold star or a certificate. We’re talking a fully immersive training regiment. That’s physical, mental, and emotional. We’ll teach you how to use your powers and abilities in ways you may have never even imagined, and push you to use them to their limits. We’ll teach you to think outside the box, to problem solve and use critical thinking skills.” Her grin turned sinister. “And most of all, we’ll get you physically fit. We’ll train your body how to fight, and increase your strength, speed, and endurance to be able to handle any situation you might find yourself in.”
“Geez,” Splash murmured softly. “You make it sound like boot camp...”
“Well, I have been compared to a drill sergeant,” Roni replied with a chuckle, drinking the rest of her tea. “And that’s probably one of the nicer comments. The rules are simple: you follow your instructor’s rules without complaint or question. And some of the things you’ll be asked to do will seem strange, crazy, or insane. But there’s always a reason behind it, even if we don’t explain it up front.” She crossed her arms. “However, I can promise you—if you stick with the program and follow it to the end, you will emerge a better hero fully capable of handling any situation you might find yourself in.”
Both girls nodded. “That’s why we’re here,” Sunbeam replied. “And we’re both prepared to work hard.”
“Glad to hear it,” Roni stated, extending a hand to shake both of theirs. “So, let’s get started immediately, then. If you can follow me downstairs to the gym, we can start your physical fitness assessment test.” She smirked. “It’s the weekend, so I know you don’t have classes, but if you have any other special plans, I suggest you cancel them.”
“Oh just trust me,” Roni replied ominously, “after the test you probably won’t feel like doing anything else but resting at home for the next few days...”
Otto von Mach Heine glanced up from his leatherbound book, staring straight ahead as his internal implant pinged, alerting him to an incoming call. With a mere thought, he bridged his cybernetic transceiver to the satellite uplink, connecting to his agent across the ocean in the United States. “Report,” he said simply, having expected the call for some time now.
“Yes, Sir,” the agent replied. “We were able to obtain the Akert Stone, the final piece required for your plan. There were a few... complications,” he said with obvious distaste, “but we managed to obtain the stone nonetheless.”
“Indeed. And what about Professor McBride?” Otto inquired. “He was supposed to have obtained the stone by my order but chose to keep it for his own selfish designs. I trust the traitor was dealt with appropriately?”
“As it turns out, Sir, it was completely unnecessary. Once we discovered the deception, we moved in to retrieve the stone and deal with McBride, but it turned out that his actions attracted the attention of several local costumed heroes. In the end, they dealt with him, thwarting his plans, and as a result, McBride ended up a casualty of his own devices.”
“Hmph. A fitting end, I suppose, though I would have preferred his end to have been slower and much more painful,” Otto muttered. It was extremely annoying. True, his men had accomplished the overall goal of getting the stone back, but being unable to punish the traitor that had DARED stand against him seriously irked him. He would simply have to settle for slowly torturing and killing off McBride’s remaining family members instead. “If nothing else, his treachery served its purpose. We now know for certain that the stone is indeed as potent as the legends state. Tell me, Forrester, how long until you are able to fully integrate and utilize the stone?”
A slight paused. “Well, Sir, only McBride himself knew the exact specifications on how to fully control the stone’s power. However, the men and I obtained all of his notes, as well as his computer files, and it’s only a matter of time before I am able to unlock its secrets. The most difficult part will actually be in the construction of the device needed to harness and direct its power.” He sighed. “We were able to retrieve the pieces of the staff he mounted the stone in, and it was far from a simple piece of wood...”
“Make it happen,” Otto barked, his meaning clear. “I don’t care what it takes. I want this weapon tested and perfected when I face my great enemy. I will leave nothing to chance! So do not fail me, Professor... or else you may very well meet the same fate as your predecessor.” Saying nothing more, he severed the connection.
Sighing softly, he picked up the book, resuming his reading. It was irritating, being forced to work through proxies this way, utilizing incompetent puppets to accomplish what he himself could easily manage on his own. Still, it was a necessary step, one that provided him with a clear and definite degree of anonymity, maintaining a buffer between him and the actions of his agents. Even if worse came to worst, and his machinations were discovered, there was no viable link back to him directly.
And what better tool to use against the other Emperors than the tool of complete deniability? he mused, a small smirk curling his lip. Succeed or fail, I remain untouched by the blowback. The others may profess themselves to be masters of their own domains. But a TRUE Master is one who can set something in motion and walk away, confident that the events will continue on as he wishes even without his constant intervention.
He sighed softly, closing his eyes briefly in memory to the one person in all existence that he respected, his mentor, the one being to whom he acknowledged as his Master. Indeed, in matters of planning things out ahead, Jeremiah King had been on a completely different level. Otto had never known anyone like him, a man not only capable of planning for any and all contingencies but also planning far ahead into the future, even beyond his own death. Even now, Otto found it hard to believe he was truly gone... that his ‘removal from all existence’ wasn’t merely another trick, another test of his cunning and intellect.
Regardless, he left each of us with a specific duty and a role to play. I have no idea why the Frasier family is so important to his schemes, but if he wanted Eugene Frasier removed from the equation, then far be it for me to gainsay him. The smirk returned, and he took a quick drink of the glass of port sitting on his desk. What was it you said all those years ago? ‘As long as you serve my will, no enemy will ever touch you. No one on this earth, not mortal man, nor goddess above, will ever take your life.’ Heh. Prophetic words if ever there were.
And indeed, he had lived what could arguably be called a ‘charmed life’. He had survived some truly impossible situations, and come through unscathed. And even after his benefactor had vanished, defeated, destroyed, or whisked away to some unknown fate, Otto himself had continued to flourish, to grow in power and influence. The Three Emperors of the world existed in an uneasy alliance, a kind of ‘cold war’ mentality, preventing anyone from attacking the others, to prevent all-out mutual annihilation. But Otto was smart enough to read the writing on the wall. The balance of power was doomed to fail eventually, perhaps sooner rather than later. And he had taken steps to make sure that when the dust finally settled, HE would be the last man standing.
And it all starts with the weapon my agent is building for me in America right now, he mused to himself. As soon as I have it, I will be ready to strike the first blow in the upcoming war. Let Madam C and Reed scheme their petty schemes. I will show them all who the SUPERIOR ruler is!
Splash and Sunbeam stood atop the roof of the First National Bank building, staring out at the city’s skyline, which was for the moment quiet, taking a moment to simply enjoy the view. When a figure approached them, coming out of the shadows, both heroines turned immediately, snapping instantly into alertness, powered up and ready for action.
“Whoa! Hey, hey, relax!” I said gently, stepping out into the light. “It’s just me.”
“G-Gwen? Is that you?” Janika asked, smiling in surprise. Releasing her powered up light blasts, she walked over and hugged me warmly. “Wow! Nice surprise. And nice get up, too,” she added, gesturing to my all dark red ensemble with the cloak and hood and ankle boots. “You look a bit like Raven from the Teen Titans.”
I couldn’t help but blush slightly. “Y-yeah... I might have... MAYBE taken a bit of inspiration from her, just with a different color scheme. So... what’re you guys doing up here? Just... watching the sunset?”
“Pretty much, yeah, just enjoying the view,” Tina admitted, still grinning widely, making an obvious show of checking me out. “What brings you out tonight? Is something going on? Do you need our help with something?”
“No, no, nothing like that. If anything, I was actually planning to ask if YOU guys needed MY help with anything.” I shrugged, averting my eyes as they both shared a glance. I knew it was coming, anyway.
“I thought you said that you weren’t into this whole ‘hero’ thing,” Splash pointed out.
“Yeah, you were pretty clear about not enjoying the activities on our last ‘date’,” Sunbeam reminded me.
“So what?” I shot back in challenge, hands on my hips. “A vampire girl can’t change her mind?” I sighed softly, turning to glance out over the city. It really was a great view from up high. “Look... I am NOT saying I’m planning to join your little club or whatever... or become a card-carrying, badge holding, costume wearing Super. Let’s just call this... dipping my toes in a bit as opposed to leaping off into the deep end, okay?” I smirked. “After you guys left, I did a bit of thinking. About what you said before.”
I turned back around to face them. “I still think this city has more than enough heroes to go around... that you can’t toss a dead cat without hitting one. But, well, even so... I suppose one more couldn’t really hurt.” I gave them a sheepish grin. “I figure if I hang around with you guys long enough I’ll figure out pretty quickly whether this is something I want to do long term or not. Er... if you don’t mind me hanging around, I mean...”
“Are you kidding?” Tina replied with a laugh. “We’d LOVE you have you around! The more the merrier!”
“Not to mention just simply hanging out in general, when we’re not in costume,” Jan added with a chuckle. “Speaking of which... do you have a name to go with that ensemble you’re working right now?”
“Hmm... good question.” I paused for a moment, as if deep in thought. I had actually been pondering a name to use as a heroine for more than a week or so now, but there was no need to let them know that. “So, how about... Sanguine?” I proposed. “It sounds cool, right?”
“Hmmm... I like it,” Sunbeam stated. “And it fits in an ironic way, too. Sanguine is the color of blood, and you’re a vampire. Plus, it means ‘happy and positive’... and while you’re not exactly a Gloomy Gus, it certainly goes against your normal personality.”
I blinked at that. Even though she was smiling as she said it, it kind of felt like an insult.
“Even better, its a play on your actual name,” Splash added. “Sanguine. Gwen. Very cool.” She sighed, shaking her head. “And the best I could come up with was the sound something makes when it hits the water. Please tell me you didn’t just pick that name off the top of your head.”
“What can I say?” I responded, nimbly skirting the truth, “I’m really creative when I want to be. So, ladies, the night is young, and so are we.” They both glanced sharply at me. “Relatively speaking, of course,” I added with a roll of my eyes. “What do we do now? Where should we go?”
“What else? We go looking for trouble,” Sunbeam replied with a chuckle. “And something tells me, with you on our side, we’ll probably find it.”
“Don’t make me bite you, ’Beam,” I mock-threatened, following the duo to the edge of the fire escape.
“But seriously, though,” Splash said, “if you decide you want to do this with us full time, there’s someone we should definitely take you to meet. She can definitely whip you into shape.” She shuddered slightly. “And, seeing as how you’re immortal, you’ll probably even survive her training. Probably...”
“Huh?” I opened my mouth to ask more about that statement, but the girls were already climbing down. No matter. There was no rush in this after all. I was still figuring out what I wanted to do. Who I wanted to be. Fate may have caused our paths to cross, and thrust me into their world of heroes and villains... but it was up to me to decide what to do next. Regardless, I intended to make the most of it... and enjoy every bloody second!