Somewhere near Lyon, France – Saturday, the 9th of June, 2012. 02:38 PM.
Trashcan’s weaponry shattered any remaining diplomatic restraint. The room erupted into chaos. Two gunshots pierced the air, echoing like thunder through the underground chamber. A sharp cry of pain came from somewhere, though Sarina couldn’t pinpoint the direction. Tess’s floating orb discharging thin blue tendrils of energy that crackled electrically. Some of them connected to miniguns, others cut through the air without visible effect.
In the midst of it all, Sarina felt someone grab her arm to pull her down. She didn’t resist. She dropped onto the cold, dusty floor beside Jasper, her heart hammering in her chest. She couldn’t even begin to understand what she should do or where she should go, but something told her that the floor was safest, so she kept her head low.
Another shot was fired. Ace darted around the table, knocking over a chair in his haste to reach Sunny’s last known position. Sarina could barely breathe as he rounded the corner, gun drawn.
Please don’t let anyone get hurt, she prayed. When Jasper pulled her further back towards the wall, she didn’t resist.
She looked up in time to see Ace stop in his tracks. His knees gave way just as if someone had cut the strings of a puppet. He made the same gurgling sounds Sunny had made, eyes rolling back in his head just before he collapsed to the floor.
Sarina saw what was happening, but she couldn’t process it. Nothing made sense, and nothing was happening in any logical order. She didn’t know what to do. Sure, she’d been on the receiving end of psychological and verbal violence over the years, but never gunshots. Or superpowers. It was all too overwhelming and too horrifying for her to grasp.
“Stay down and hug the shelf,” Jasper said into her ear, angling his body to shield her.
She managed a nod and shrank back towards the tall metal shelf that now towered over her. Her hip bumped against a hard edge, and a small hard object pressed into her skin, reminding her of the music player that was hidden in her pants. She lifted herself up just enough to slip her fingers into the pocket and feel her way to the play button. She pressed it.
As she waited for the music to kick in, she peeked over Jasper’s shoulder to see Tess make her way around the table to where Ace had collapsed. She didn’t reach him. She too was stopped short as if she had hit an invisible wall. Her body went slack. Her jaw fell open without making a sound. The metal orb she’d been controlling dropped from the air and crashed onto the floor, its blue energy extinguished with a final hiss.
Oh god. Mindbender is taking us all, one by one. Sarina wanted to run, but her dazed mind couldn’t remember where the exit was. She squeezed her eyes shut to count the seconds until the music started playing.
Then first track kicked in with an upbeat electronic pulse. It was just some generic trance, the first one of seven tracks that Jasper had transferred onto her player. Sarina tried to skip forward to the last track, but she couldn’t get a good enough grip on the device while it was still in her pocket. She stopped short of removing it, however. The last thing she wanted was for Mindbender and the German rogues to figure out what she was up to. If they took the player away, it was game over.
While she was fumbling with the player, Jasper’s arms went slack and dropped away from her. Another puppet whose strings had been cut.
Oh god, not Jasper too.
Panic restricted Sarina’s throat and her breath stopped. She opened her eyes and twisted around, looking for the door, but her body refused to rise from the floor. She was paralyzed with fear. All she could do was try to keep herself from crying while Crystal Dust filled her ear with upbeat lyrics about the power of friendship. Track one, not seven.
Do something, she urged herself, knowing full well that she was about to be Mindbender’s next victim. She was the only one left. Do it now. But it was too late. She’d missed her chance.
It only hurt for a second. Mindbender’s attack was like a SWAT team kicking in the door to her mind, throwing everything that made up her identity into disarray. Sarina was left floating in a black void, losing track of everything and everyone. Even herself.
She got better, though. The fear was swept from her mind, leaving her with a strong feeling that everything would be alright. No one was going to get hurt.
“I got all of them,” someone said in a feeble female voice she didn’t recognize. The words were German, marked by the same brusque accent Trashcan had been speaking.
Sarina raised her head to find Mindbender crouching beneath the table, speaking to Trashcan. She was glad to see both of them unharmed after the scuffle. Then Plentiful came into view, her face twisted into a grimace of pain as she stepped out of the corner. She was pressing her right hand to her bleeding left arm.
“Oh, no!” Sarina blurted out, her newfound peace of mind disturbed by concern. “Are you okay?”
The stringent blonde woman slanted a glance at her. No one spoke up to answer her question, but that was alright. Sarina wasn’t the one who had gotten hurt; she wasn’t worthy of attention.
Jasper got up from where he’d fallen behind her. From the smile on his face, Sarina could tell that he was okay. Sunny, too, was smiling brightly. He was on the other side of the table, rising to stand next to a grinning Tess. Ace casually righted the chair he’d knocked over before falling.
Sarina’s eyes went to the top of the table, where Ace had put down his guns. From the look on his face, he wanted nothing to do with them anymore.
We’re finally done with all that awful shooting, Sarina thought happily. Upbeat dance music continued to fill her ear, painting her mood in the brightest colors.
Trashcan’s gaze landed on Plentiful’s bleeding arm. “We’ll get you fixed up in a minute,” he assured her.
Then Trashcan met Ace’s eyes, his gaze narrowing. “How did you hit her?” he asked, transitioning from German back to English. “She moved, and you could not see her.”
“I cheated,” Ace said, smiling with a childish innocence that was unlike his usual gruff self. Sarina welcomed the change. This new Ace was a great improvement over the surly one she’d known before.
“You cheated, eh?” Trashcan muttered. Then he turned his attention back to Plentiful, who was still clutching her wounded arm. “Fire up the autodoc,” he told her in German.
Plentiful nodded, pressing her lips into a hard line. She made her way to the metal door the Nameless had entered from, then waited a second until it slid open to let her pass.
Mindbender collected Ace’s guns from the table, turning each one over before handing them to Trashcan. When that was done, she stepped around the table to kick Tess’s dead energy orb out of the way. It rolled across the uneven stone floor and disappeared beneath one of the shelves.
“Now, who will we get to talk first?” Trashcan asked in English, rubbing his stubbly chin as he looked the Nameless over.
Sarina raised a hand to volunteer, knowing she’d make a better impression than snarky Tess would. Jasper smiled at her encouragingly, but once again, nobody was paying any attention to her. At least she had the music player to keep her occupied.
“It should probably be me,” Ace volunteered. “I’m the one who’s in touch with most of the strings we’ve been pulling.”
“Okay, first question,” Trashcan said. His gaze swiveled over to settle on Sarina. “What’s with her? The heroes want her very badly. Why?”
“Fuck if I know,” Ace replied. “They think she’s dangerous, but her power doesn’t work. She’s just a friend who’s tagging along.”
“The girl’s useless,” Tess added.
Sarina wanted to clarify, but avoiding any more drama and fighting seemed so much more important than clearing up some stupid misunderstanding. And she had to admit that Tess was at least partially right. A broken power just couldn’t be considered useful. Or dangerous, for that matter.
I’m just a useless ex-addict, but that’s okay, Sarina thought. Everything was okay. She was listening to music, leaving important talk to the important people.
Trashcan looked dubious, however. “Is that true? The girl’s power doesn’t work?” he asked, looking to Mindbender.
The mousy young woman settled down on the chair that Ace had uprighted a few minutes before. Then, propping her elbows on the table and resting her chin in her hands, she fixed her gaze on Sarina.
A painful pulse shot through Sarina’s head, blacking out her vision for a moment. The mental probing awakened something withdrawn and angry that stirred at the edge of her consciousness, quickly slipping out of Mindbender’s reach.
After an undefinable stretch of time that was filled by the sound of trance beats, the psychic presence withdrew from Sarina’s mind. The throbbing pain ceased, leaving her with a vague sense of regret that she hadn’t been able to help.
“I can’t grasp her power,” Mindbender said in German. “There’s nothing there as far as I can tell.”
“That’s good to know,” Trashcan said in the same language, then turned his attention back to Ace. “Now that you’re being so helpful, I almost like you. Why weren’t you this helpful before?”
“I’m not running a charity, mate,” Ace said simply.
That’s why I’m so glad you decided to help me, Sarina thought gratefully. She hoped she’d be able to find a way to pay him back some day.
“Come along, then,” Trashcan said in English, gesturing to the door. “All of you.”
Glad that she could finally do something useful, Sarina fell in with the other Nameless who were shuffling after their German friend. They passed through the doorway in single file, then continued across the aluminum-lined corridor to the door on the opposite wall. There wasn’t anything that needed to be said. The harmonious unity between them filled them with understanding for this difficult situation.
They passed through the unfamiliar doorway and entered a room that was smaller than the one they’d just left behind, but less cluttered and more comfortably furnished. Even though the mismatched rugs, couches, tables, and cabinets were clearly secondhand, the space was homey and welcoming.
Instead of stopping, their host led them straight through the cozy living room to one of two wooden doors that were set into the opposing wall.
“You see that we can’t afford to run a charity here, either,” Trashcan said.
They reached the wooden door on the far side of the room and Trashcan slid it open. Then he and Mindbender led the Nameless through to another corridor beyond. Sarina and the others bumped into one another in their effort to keep up. No one wanted to be left behind.
“Right now, we need to go into town to buy some essentials,” Trashcan explained. “And we need your boy to come with us to provide some cover. Unfortunately, we can’t keep all of you around,” the Technician continued matter-of-factly. “Mina has to sleep, which means she’d have to put all of you on standby. We’re not outfitted to keep half a dozen prisoners overnight.”
Sarina found herself nodding. It all made perfect sense.
“We could keep the boy and perhaps one other,” Trashcan went on, absently tracing the barrel of the gun he’d seized from Ace. He led the Nameless down the dark, narrow corridor. “But not more than two. Two would be the maximum.”
I’m going to miss them, Sarina thought sadly. Especially Jasper.
Despite her mixed feelings, she understood that her new friends couldn’t provide more than they had. It wouldn’t have been nice to ask for more than they could give. Her companions followed along in silent agreement, smiling bravely at the announcement.
The cheery tune in Sarina’s ear was winding down, nearing its end. Other than that, the only sound she heard was the rhythmic patter of footsteps echoing down the corridor.
As they approached a massive steel door set within the left-hand wall of the corridor, the music picked back up with a different track. Track four, if memory served her correctly.
The night is not aware, listen to the song that passes through…
She heard the click of Trashcan’s key turning in the lock.
Reach towards the moon, watch the world turn anew…
It was a good song, Sarina knew. The kind that gave her good vibes. She caught herself about to hum along, then stopped. She didn’t want to be a bother by distracting the others.
“You’re looking mighty happy, girl,” Trashcan said to her. He studied her for a second, then took Ace’s second pistol out of his waistband and passed it to Mindbender.
She’s pretty, Sarina thought. And what a lovely name. Mina.
“We’d better keep a close eye on this one,” Trashcan murmured to Mindbender as he pulled the steel door open.
“I’m happy that we’re friends now,” Sarina told the junkyard rogues. She flashed a genuine smile in tune with her soundtrack.
Those precious dreams we share, they’re alive with the sound of you…
Trashcan snorted a laugh. “Friends, sure. We’re all good friends now. Now get inside and wait while I have a little chat with the rest of your pals.”
“Why?” she asked. Not to complain, she just really did want to know.
“The heroes are looking for you all over Europe,“ Trashcan said. “I haven’t yet decided what to do with you, but the less you know, the better.“
Oh. That’s true. I’m a game breaker, so they must still be after me.
“Okay,” Sarina agreed, obediently stepping through the door he held open for her. Once inside the tiny space, she turned back to Trashcan. “Can Jasper wait with me?” she asked with a hopeful smile. “He always watches out for me.”
“No. I’m rather interested in his power,” the rogue said. He flipped a switch to turn on the single light bulb that hung from the ceiling. Then the door swung closed and locked with a faint click.
That’s okay, Sarina wanted to tell her host. I understand.
She turned her attention to her surroundings. It was smaller than she’d thought — no more than a supply closet, really, and crammed full of unfamiliar tools and electronics to boot. There was just about enough space to sit on an empty milk crate if she pulled her knees up.
Jasper can tell me later what they talked about, she mused, wrapping her arms around her knees. She closed her eyes to dive into the flow of music that was resonating throughout her mind. Good vibes.
Life is full of stormy fire, but keep on dancing and we’ll make it through.
It was easy to lose track of time without anything to fear or worry about. The track on her player switched to the next song, and Sarina spent minute after minute happily humming and swaying along.
Until the final track dug its way into her blissful oblivion and spoiled it all.
When its electronic beat joined the flutey birdsong of Jasper’s special track, something stirred deep inside her. The presence surfaced from somewhere beyond her consciousness to announce herself with a pulse of power. Each beat sent a tremor through her body, gradually overtaking her and pushing happy crybaby Sarina down into blissful oblivion, where she wouldn’t be in the way.
I. Am. Here.
Dancer straightened with a graceful ripple of movement, rolling her head from side to side to ease the kinks in her neck. It was a cramp from having cowered for too damn long, and that irritated her. This whole situation irritated her. She briefly glanced around that sad excuse for a holding cell.
So you morons believe you can hold me in? She almost laughed. Did you really think you could just brainwash one of ours, sell me to the heroes and leave the rest for dead?
Sweeping a hand through the air to extend her range, she wove her presence throughout the fabric of reality. The physical aspects of her surroundings blurred in unison. The walls, the crates, the random tools were all reduced to semitransparent layers of gray. Dancer’s alternate perception brought forward the bright, colorful life lights of the people beyond the walls that contained her. She recognized the distinctive glow of her teammates in a large room further down the corridor. They flickered unsteadily, but they were alive. The three rogues were in the same room, likely interrogating their prisoners.
The feel of her brimming power potential was overwhelming. Intoxicating. Especially now, after having let it lie idle for so long. Dancer knew she could have twisted and reshaped every inch of this godforsaken underground dead zone if she wanted to. She could easily have cranked her range up to a mile, maybe more. All she had to do was just find the rhythm and keep moving.
Life is full of stormy fire, but keep on dancing and we’ll make it through…
But having more range would do nothing in this current situation, she decided. Not when her enemies were so close. She just needed a little help making something disappear.
Dancer reached outwards, grasping for Snow’s pale life light from where it glowed above ground. She yanked the quiet girl’s glowing presence down into the room with her, witnessing how it flared with alarm. Then, she forced herself to let go of her life sense. Switching back to her own human senses was harder than it should have been. The rush of her power, that bursting potential for change was as addictive as the coke the crybaby had been snorting in the past.
Snow squeaked in surprise at the abrupt location change, finding herself on a milk crate in some tiny dank closet. The white-haired girl was struggling to steady herself, grasping at the metal shelf beside her for balance. Dancer gave her a few seconds to collect her senses.
“Trouble?” Snow finally asked, still wide-eyed.
Dancer nodded. “You have some work to do. Won’t be as messy as if I did it. But some people are going to die either way.”
She wouldn’t give two shits if Tess took a bullet to the face, but she couldn’t risk the Crybaby suffering from a total psychological meltdown in the aftermath. They shared a body, after all. It wouldn’t do either of them any good if her alter-ego was stuck in bed for months on end.
Snow’s eyes flicked across Dancer’s face and body, taking in her poise of square shoulders and a chin held high. The little autist was fully present for once, paying attention.
“Is a different you,” Snow said in her jolting English.
So you’re not as stupid as you pretend to be, Dancer thought with satisfaction.
“You’re a Revoker, right?” she asked. “Can you get rid of the mindbending parasite in my head?” Mindbender wasn’t effecting Dancer right this moment, but her pacifying power still had the Crybaby in its clutches. Fortunately for the two of them, Sarina wasn’t in control.
Snow studied her for a moment, then stepped down from the crate. “Make bad magic disappear? I try,” she said. Her gaze narrowed as it bore into Dancer’s face.
Dancer felt the other girl’s power as a scouring coldness that crept through her mind and blanketed out her thoughts. It was like a thick layer of snow falling over her mind to freeze it from within. When the sensation passed, everything seemed back to normal again. Dancer could think and move; she felt like herself.
“Did it work?” she asked skeptically.
“I think,” Snow said.
There was no way to be sure until Jasper’s final track ended and Dancer’s other Self didn’t reclaim control as Mindfucker’s happy little hippie friend. Dancer might be able to stay in control if she wanted, but she couldn’t be sure of that. She had never listened to one of Jasper’s special tracks until it ended.
Let’s just hope Mindbender is too occupied with the others to check on me.
Dancer considered grabbing the other Nameless, but quickly discarded the idea. Trashcan had admitted that Mindbender had experienced a power surge. There was no guarantee of her needing visual contact to reclaim Dancer and add Snow to her puppet collection, and no telling what exactly she could do.
Dancer turned her attention to the massive metal door. She had to get out, but she couldn’t risk doing anything to alert Mindbender. And messing with her surroundings would be complicated, not least because they were underground. She didn’t particularly feel like getting buried alive because she misjudged how her power would affect the environment. Besides, she had to assume that her mindfucked teammates would jump to the defense of the scrapyard gang.
The last of the electronic beats in Dancer’s ear began to fade as the song neared its end. Dancer didn’t know if she could overdose on Jasper’s power by playing the track twice, so she kept her fingers off the music player. She was reasonably sure she could stay in control for as long as she needed to.
She turned to the Revoker. “Can you stop someone else from using their powers?”
Snow shook her head, causing a white fringe of bangs to fall into her eyes. “No. It not work like that,” she replied in her awkward English.
Dancer sighed. “Fine. Just get rid of that door, then.”
Snow complied without protest. Over the next few seconds, the dull grey metal of the door eroded away, as if it was being corroded by an unseen substance. There was no noise, no scent, no dust. Just an expansion of nothingness.
Just then, Jasper’s track faded into silence. Dancer felt her weaker Self stirring at the back of her mind, threatening to leak disorientation and confusion into Dancer’s own awareness.
She pushed Crybaby back. You wouldn’t be able to handle this. The power was hers, and she wasn’t going to waste it.
Dancer poked her head through the empty doorframe and stole a quick glance down the corridor. Just as she’d expected, no one was there. Her life sense had pinpointed the others further down the hallway, in one of the three rooms at the end of the corridor.
“Come on,” she hissed to Snow, then stepped out of the supply closet.
The mission was crystal clear. She had to take out that damned Mindfucker before she could mess with her head again.
As they started to silently move down the hallway, Dancer tried to will one of Ace’s guns into her hand. It didn’t appear, though. Instead, her power delivered a headless golf club covered in some disgusting oily substance.
What the fuck am I supposed to do with this? she thought angrily.
Dancer stopped mid-stride and put the golf club handle down on the hallway floor, careful not to make any noise. Then she tried again. This time, she got a bread knife with a dull blade — not much of an improvement. Not if she wanted to take Mindbender out right away, at least. When her third attempt delivered a braided rope noose, she snorted in disgust.
Beside her, Snow looked down at the items wordlessly.
Her fourth try finally spawned a gun. It was a different model than the one Ace used. Lighter, and probably loaded with a smaller caliber — if it was loaded at all. But Dancer didn’t know how to check without risking an accidental shot, and noise was the last thing she needed right now.
If we make it through this, Ace needs to show Crybaby how to use a goddamn gun.
They continued down the hallway, Dancer clutching the suspect gun close to her thigh. She didn’t think she had the time to keep summoning more weapons. There was a power-surged mind controller on the loose and very close by, and one or more of her companions could get killed any moment. She’d just have to take her chances and improvise if need be.
They neared the end of the hallway and three doors came into view – two to the left, and one to the right. Remembering the layout her life sense had shown her, Dancer turned to the one on the right side.
“Stay back a bit,” Dancer whispered to Snow. She quietly positioned herself in front of the door and pressed an ear to it. Ace’s voice came through, too muffled to understand the words. He did a lot of talking, though. It seemed like he was holding a goddamn speech.
Then, Trashcan spoke up. He was closer to the door, the words easier to understand. “ . . . even if Gentleman finds out . . . no way he’ll find us. Remember . . . the boy.”
So he thinks he can use Sunny to escape persecution from Gentleman as well as the heroes, she deduced. Well, fuck that.
Dancer threw a glance at Snow, who was following close behind. “Remove this door,” she whispered, resisting the urge to activate her life sense once more. It was useful, but the rush it gave her felt too damn good. She didn’t trust herself to snap out of it before the first shots were fired.
Snow started using her power to slowly dissolve the door. As the initial hole appeared, Dancer peered into the room, hoping no one would happen to look in that direction. What she saw was a dingy workshop, with a workbench piled high with all sorts of metal junk pushed against the opposite wall.
As the hole enlarged she could see Trashcan sitting on a chair on the right-hand side next to a bunch of winding metal pipes. He was busy fiddling with a wiring harness for a mechanical arm that had a mini-gun attached to it.
Plentiful’s voice sounded from the other side of the room, out of sight. “You better be right.”
By now the door was more than halfway dissolved. Fortunately, no one on the other side seemed to notice — yet. She didn’t waste any effort trying to locate the Nameless, she knew them to be in there somewhere. No, there was only one person she was interested in at the moment.
Now where’s that little mindbending fuck? Dancer thought, amped up with energy. Come out, come out, wherever you are.
Dancer poked her head into the room and immediately caught sight of Mindbender, perched on a small cot beside Plentiful along one of the side walls. She was dwarfed by the hundreds of cables and bulky machinery that surrounded her on all sides.
She could have risked charging through the empty doorway and across the room towards her target, but it seemed too risky even to her.
Time to try something new, she decided. Then she willed herself into existence right behind Mindbender.
When she reappeared on the other side of the room, her position was off by a couple of meters, but she was close enough to make the little psychic fucker jolt upwards in surprise.
Before Mindbender even had a chance to turn around, Dancer lunged forward and pointed the gun right at her stupid, scarf-covered head.
Goodnight, bitch, she thought, then pulled the trigger.
The weapon clicked without firing a shot.