by BD Mitchell
Shady dealings can be even more risky during superhero midterms....
| The sky was solely inhabited by the moon which, despite being only a quarter of a moon, stubbornly poured light onto the city beneath it. This torrent of moonlight was what made Jack “the Hyena” Hane so nervous. It was precisely the kind of atmosphere that continuously made his work so difficult. If he had been a spiritual man, he would certainly wonder what he had done to annoy this lunar watchdog so. He flicked the remnants of his cigarette away and shuffled back inside.
Every single detail of the old warehouse was illuminated brightly, from the vast stretches of empty cement floor, to the rusting columns barely supporting a corrugated ceiling. A few dozen enormous wooden crates were piled haphazardly on one side of the warehouse, their labels clearly visible in the moonlight, but their contents were less than impressive. Even the rats in the shadows were easily visible. Jack was increasingly sure the condemned sign he had passed wasn’t simply meant as a deterrence, but he had to wait. He had a job, after all, and his boss didn’t like disappointments.
Jack’s heart nearly sprang straight into his head. He whirled about and slammed backwards into a wooden container, his hand flying behind his back.
“Whoa, whoa!” said the newcomer. “It’s me! No shooting, please.”
With a deep sigh of relief, Jack jammed his gun back under his belt and straightened his tattered jacket. “Dammit Riley,” he hissed. “Ya wanna get shot?”
His companion smiled broadly and stepped out into the deluge of moonlight. Rico Riley was everything Jack was not at this particular moment. While Jack’s shabby green parka and fading jeans betrayed years of neglect or apathy, Rico was arranged in a sleek black business suit. This motif of untidy versus orderly carried to every aspect of the two men; Jack’s hair was long an unkempt, Rico’s was neatly combed and parted. Jack clutched a decrepit old duffel bag in one sweaty hand, while Rico’s briefcase hung casually from his relaxed grip. Even Jack’s unshaven face, which was twitchy and lopsided, seemed at odds with Rico’s keen and expressionless visage.
“Ah, good times,” Rico said smoothly. “I always enjoy when our paths cross.”
“Yeah, really fun,” Jack snapped back. “Like I tell ya, the boss wants a job done, so cut the chat and let’s go.”
“Now now, my rash friend. True, I’m here on behalf of my employer as well, but that’s no reason to be so formal? Not with our… ah… business history?”
Rico grinned wryly, and Jack was almost sure he had just been insulted.
“Wait a minute…”
“Now now, laugh it off, Hyena,” Rico said, the last word coursing with irony. “To work, yes?”
“I… yeah, okay.”
Jack abruptly tossed the duffel bag at Rico’s leather-clad feet. Rico frowned.
“You know, it’s better manners to hand things to people,” he said.
“Yeah yeah, whatever. Keep it movin’.”
Rico grimaced again, but held out the briefcase all the same. Jack reached out his hand to take it.
Suddenly, there was a sharp whistle. Jack’s hand snapped back as a long thin object shot straight through the leather briefcase.
“Bullseye!” shouted a voice.
Both Jack and Rico whipped their heads about. Standing high over their heads in a glass-less skylight was the silhouette of a young girl, no older than seventeen. She shook her head—tossing some shoulder-length black hair from her face—and dropped to the cement floor, her booted feet glowing blue for a split second as she landed.
With the light no longer directly behind her, her features were easier to discern. She wasn’t large, but her toned physique showed an obvious level of athleticism. Her clothing was simple: a skin-tight outfit of white and blue, complemented by a tan-colored pouched belt and shiny metallic bracers on each wrist. Fluttering lightly behind her was a short, square cape, and her face was partially obscured by a domino mask. Hanging from one side of her belt was a narrow tube with several stick-like protrusions visible on one end.
Jack managed to register all of this, but was more preoccupied by what the girl held in her hands. Trained directly at his head was a very powerful-looking archer’s bow, with an arrow cocked and ready.
“Didn’t you get the memo?” the girl said with a grin. “Your meeting’s been canceled!”
She let the arrow fly, severing cleanly through the handle of Rico’s briefcase. Quick as a flash, the girl whisked a fresh projectile from the cylinder on her belt and made ready to fire again.
Jack wasted no more time. He dove behind one of the giant wooden crates and seized his handgun from his belt. Across the room, Rico had scooped up the old duffel bag and was making a mad dash for the door.
Jack swore at this cowardly retreat and whipped around the corner to fire at the intruder. Instantly, his arm flew straight into the crate and he dropped the gun with a clatter. An arrow had pierced his jacket sleeve and pinned it securely to the old wooden box. The archer girl skidded into view and loosed another missile after Rico’s escape path.
Jack saw his opening. He tore his sleeve free and dove at the girl, pulling a switchblade knife from his pocket.
The girl spun on her heel and, brandishing her bow, knocked the knife aside. With a quick jerk, Jack wrenched the bow from her grip and threw her to the ground. He flung himself at her, enraged. The girl rolled onto her back and swung a kick, but missed. Blindly, Jack lashed out with a fist… and froze.
He shook his head sharply and launched another blow. Again and again he tried, but his hands always stopped short of striking his target.
Jack stared at his fists, shocked that they would disobey him like this, that he couldn’t finish off the cowering teenager sprawled on the concrete.
Suddenly, Jack was yanked back by his collar. He landed hard against a steel column, his head ringing with the resulting clang. There was a bright flash of white light and then no light at all….
“Are you okay?”
Alisa glanced up nervously before nodding.
“Sorry,” she said dejectedly as she was lifted to her feet. “Does that mean I fail?”
Alisa’s gaze moved from the shabby unconscious thug to her own bow, perched precariously on a stack of boxes. She then glanced tentatively towards the woman next to her.
The woman was dressed in a form-fitting white costume trimmed with gold, with an elegant red cape trailing gracefully down to her ankles. Her shiny brown hair was tied up in a bun, and was decorated by a tiara in the shape of a simple gold ring.
She smiled, her friendly hazel eyes seeming to run right through Alisa. “Well, you did catch him for a moment,” the woman said with a serene English accent. “So it’s hardly a complete failure. Still…”
The woman turned away from Alisa and loudly called, “Who was able to spot the turning point? Anyone?”
On cue, several more people dropped through the open skylight—some more gracefully than others. There were a dozen of them at most, and they were all dressed in outfits identical to Alisa, save for a lack of belts on most, and a lack of capes by all. One of the newcomers—a boy no older than Alisa—stepped forward.
“Windscorpion disarmed one opponent,” he said, “but turned her attention away before disabling him.”
“Thank you, Jeremy,” the woman said with a reassuring smile to Alisa. “All in all, a good effort, I’d say. Impeccable marksmanship—as always, Alisa—with commendable use of terrain obstructions, and bonus points for your opening taunt. I’m afraid I will need to mark you down for being caught off-guard, and the loss of your weapon, of course.”
Alisa irritably kicked the steel pillar in front of her. “I woulda had him if I hadn’t panicked…” As if to proved her point, she yanked a small battery-shaped object from a pouch on her belt and jabbed the thug in the shoulder, causing him to shake as though shocked. She then shuffled off to retrieve her bow.
“Right, then,” the woman said. “Now, as usual, I’ll be expecting a strategy report from each of you by Friday, in addition to Anna’s cape mission from last night…”
The woman closed her eyes and sighed. “That’s Lightheart, if you don’t mind!” she shouted back.
A second woman was approaching slowly across the warehouse, dragging a large limp object. Her long, mouse-colored hair hung in waves over a black tailcoat, which in turn covered a knee-length black dress.
“Yeah yeah, Lightheart, right. Didn’t you forget something?”
She paused for a moment to adjust a small black bowtie fastened around her neck before gesturing to her burden, an unconscious man in a rumpled black suit.
“As usual, Light-bright, it’s up to me to watch out backstage. And I didn’t do whatever he says I did when he wakes up.”
She winked at Alisa, who had returned with her bow strapped across her back.
“Yes, well…” Lightheart cleared her throat. “That’s about it for this evening. Don’t forget your crime-scene cleanup, class! Firearms over here, miscreants over there, and—”
From outside, the screeching of tires and the wail of sirens pierced the air.
“Right on cue,” said the tuxedo-ed woman. “Time for the vanishing act!”
Everyone present huddled closely around her, promptly disappearing in a flash of light a puff of purple smoke, just as a swarm of uniformed officers crowded into the moonlit warehouse.