15 seconds later Quickstrike ran into the alley, bringing a stiff 200-mile an hour breeze in her wake extinguishing the fire before her. What she saw next pierced her very soul. There was nothing there, just a burnt out alleyway. Where were Firebird and Impact? She quickly snapped out of her shock and tapped her comm.
“Mayan! They’re not here! Does anybody have a bead on them?” She found herself breathing hard out of panic, never from exertion. She ran her hands through her hair impatiently waiting on a location.
“I got ’em!” Vixen replied first, relief evident in her voice. “Firebird’s GPS is pinging at Rose Medical Center.” Quickstrike was on the move before the other girl stopped speaking. She knew they all felt the same dread. Someone was hurt badly and given their current fugitive status, help would not be forthcoming. Wordlessly, they all converged on the medical center.
Fifteen blocks away, Jordan crashed through a window of the E.R. at Rose Medical Center, holding her sister like a sack of potatoes. The flight from the alley had taken all the energy she had left, leaving them both close to helpless. All around them people were panicking, racing for the exits. Couldn’t they see she barely had enough power to keep them from toppling to the floor in a heap? A brave intern raced up to her and lifted Nona’s weight bodily onto herself.
“What happened?” She demanded. Jordan lifted her head but couldn’t form anything more than a few words as her tongue felt too big.
“They shot her! Please help her.”
That was apparently all that the other woman needed to know. The intern began gathering other staff to help her and before long they were headed upstairs with Nona on a stretcher, half a dozen different fluids flowing into her from plastic baggies. Jordan had been asked several times if she was hurt, and though she declined every offer for treatment, an older security guard had been kind enough to help her along as it was obvious she could collapse at any moment. The skilled staff had gotten Nona breathing again, giving Jordan hope she hadn’t had ten minutes prior. They quickly entered a trauma room as the staff prepped Nona for surgery. Suddenly, her sister’s vitals crashed violently! Jordan rushed to her side.
“Nona! Nona, you listen to me. You have to hold on a little longer, okay?” She clutched her sister’s hand to her chest inspiring Nona’s heart to beat as strongly as hers. It wasn’t enough. Impact, Nona, gave her a weak smile having told her sister she loved her for the last time already. Her breathing slowed and her head lolled slightly as her pupils lost their sparkle. She was really gone this time and it was more than Firebird or Jordan could handle.
“GET OUT!” Her rage and grief became uncontrollable as she frightened the medical staff into submission. They all quickly huddled out of the room into the hallway, which was unusually cramped. SWAT officers filled the tight quarters like black ants swarming through tiny, dirt tunnels. She knew they were there and didn’t care. She remained hunched over her sister’s body. Fresh blood stained Nona’s face as she passed her hand over it, closing her eyes for the last time.
“No, nonononnononono…” her speech became an incoherent ramble.
There was a crash behind her as an observatory window exploded inward. Only the small shards of glass pelting her back divided her attention from Nona. She spun to face her assailants and was gripped by an icy sting between her breasts. Casting her gaze downward she saw the offending party. A tranquilizer dart lay buried to its hilt in her chest.
Whatever was in it must’ve been designed for large game because she felt her head instantly begin to swim. She had to get out of there. From some distance she heard Rico ask first where she was and then relay his location to her. The southeast parking lot and she was in the hospital’s southern most wing. They were directly below her. She had one chance.
Believing she was only seconds from submission, several officers crept upon her from varied vantage points only to have Kevlar painfully melded to their torsos! She pulled the flame back and bolted for the nearest exit, sparing herself only a fleeting glance at Nona’s still form. Her heart ached mercilessly as she burst through the second story window, landing with an impressive thud less than a foot away from Mayan who barely blinked.
“Firebird!” He exclaimed, then more softly. “Jay, are you okay? Where’s Nona?” She refused to meet his gaze, or maybe she just couldn’t. Their voices sounded like the dialogue of mermaids, words distorted through water. She felt a quick, sharp pain in her chest when Quickstrike removed the dart, preventing anymore tranquilizer from seeping into her system. Jordan tried to respond but again her tongue had grown in her mouth.
“She’s gone. Let’s get out of here,” was all she could manage before she pitched forward into Rico’s arms unconscious.
Hours later, Jordan awoke in more pain than she thought humanly possible. She slowly sat up trying to rid her memory of what she sincerely hoped was a bad nightmare. As she brought her hands to her face to steady her spinning head, the dried blood on them told her it was no dream. Looking down she was greeted by the sight of more blood, surely not all hers. It wasn’t a bad dream at all. Everything, everyone she loved, lay in ruins.
“Nona,” she mumbled through inexplicably dry lips. Her stomach roared in protest and she realized she hadn’t eaten a bite since this whole mess started. That was days ago she guessed, she couldn’t be sure, maybe the fatigue was amplifying the pain. She could only hope. Gradually she rose to her feet and moved to the door. She had no idea what awaited her outside but, she knew she couldn’t hide forever; there was too much work to do.
“Damn it, Vasquez! How could you let that woman escape?” The detective in question sat slumped in an uncomfortable chair in her Captain’s office. She tried desperately to remain nonchalant as he bellowed mercilessly at her. He had no idea she let Firebird go and it was information she decided he didn’t need right now. “Well? What do you have to say for yourself?” Vasquez took a deep breath and pushed herself up in the chair.
“Cap, don’t worry. Did you see the condition she was in? She won’t be going anywhere for a while. Relax, once she resurfaces, we’ll bag her and you can take all the credit.”
“Is that all we have to do? In that case, I’m totally relaxed.” From his posture it was obvious the Captain didn’t have the same amount of faith in her plans as she did. “You know this is TWICE that those people have made a fool of you and this department. And now we have the death of one of their allies on our head. They’re going to be looking for revenge and you’ve only managed to prove you can’t handle them. Why should I have faith in anything you say?” That last comment hurt her pride and Vasquez got up and slowly moved towards the door. As she opened it, the look on his face told her to walk out quickly.
“And don’t come back without some REAL results!”
The door slammed shut behind her with an angry gust. She hoped Firebird was getting lots of rest because when she caught up with her, the fight was definitely on. No one made a fool of her twice and still enjoyed their freedom. All her feelings of respect and empathy for Firebird had gone out the window. This was about self-preservation. If Firebird knew what was good for her, she’d better start looking out for self too.
Back across town, Jordan opened her bedroom door to realize that it wasn’t her bedroom after all, or Kurt’s or any room she’d ever seen before. “Where?” She was becoming dizzy again and the lights were giving her a headache. The room began to spin and she fell back feebly against the wall.
“Whoa, easy there! You shouldn’t be up.”
Kurt came seemingly out of nowhere to right her. She sighed inwardly at the thought of more scolding; she was in no mood to be treated like a child. She pushed him away weakly and slid down the wall until she was seated upon the exquisite hardwood floor. Instead of leaving her alone, as she desperately wished he would, Kurt sat down beside her. She didn’t raise her head from her knees, afraid that if she faced him she wouldn’t be able to maintain her composure.
“Where are we?” She whispered quietly through her knees, unwilling to face him or the light.
She felt his hand on her back and instinctively shrugged it off. The last thing she wanted right now was intimacy. She couldn’t bear any attachment at the moment. Kurt seemed offended by her behavior and moved unnecessarily far down the hall.
“We’re at my parents house in Highlands Ranch. And no, they aren’t home. No, nobody saw us come in. And no, nobody would care much if they did. People this rich don’t have time to concern themselves with their neighbors. You know how it is right? No attachments.”
Jordan ignored his tone; she didn’t want a fight with him. She didn’t really want anything from him at the moment except space and that seemed to be the one thing she wouldn’t be getting.
“What about the others? Are they safe, do they know I’m safe? Everything from yesterday is … fuzzy.” She looked sorrowfully at her bloodied ensemble. “Almost everything.” She kept mentally replaying Nona’s death, her strange last words, and her behavior in the days leading up to it. None of it made sense.
“The others are here and they’re all okay, physically anyway. When you’re ready to talk to them, I’ll get everybody together. I don’t think they’re dealing with the loss. They’re hiding from it. Maybe we all are.” He waited a moment for her response, and when he got none he turned and headed down the hallway.
Jordan could hear him stomping down the stairs, his temper leaking out again. She raised her head to find a platter of food in front of her. She gingerly picked it up and headed back to her room. After devouring the food, Jordan stepped carefully into the steaming shower. She didn’t think she could bear to stand much longer so she eased herself onto the floor beneath the streaming water. Watching absentmindedly as the pink-tinted water swirled down the drain, she wondered if there was anyway to reclaim her shattered universe. Suddenly realizing she was crying, she decided to let the tears sift down the drain with the blood, grime, and dirt. When she felt she could cry no more, she turned off the water and got dressed.
She gave up rather quickly on removing the bloodstains from her jacket and opted to leave it upstairs while she rallied the troops. She dressed in a light cotton tee and a pair of jeans, neither of which was hers. They must have belonged to Mrs. Bonneville who was surprisingly a perfect match for Jordan’s size. During her long shower and the previous nights battle, most of her bandages had taken on a less than sanitary look. She carefully pulled them off and replaced them with crisp white bandages. They didn’t look as neat as the ones Kurt had placed but she wanted to avoid asking any more favors from him if it were possible. The cuts on her back seemed to be healing making her skin feel taut, uncomfortable. There was a silver dollar sized bruise in the middle of her chest from the dart that ached all it’s own. Opening the bedroom door, she once again stepped out.
The first thing she became aware of was the warmth of the home, it’s color scheme surprisingly inviting. All around were lovely pastels and floral patterns. She walked down the corridor, again admiring the wooden floors. Her boots seemed too heavy and harsh for the beautiful flooring and she found herself stepping as lightly as possible. She made sure to hold the railing firmly as she descended down the spiral staircase. She had forgotten how beautiful the Bonneville’s home was. Jordan had only been there once before and was so distracted by impressing Kurt’s parents that she had barely looked around. As she reached the foyer, she could see the sun rising to it’s peak, she assumed it was around noon. She enjoyed the sight a while then ruined the moment for herself by thinking that Nona would never enjoy another beautiful sight. It was time for work, then. Jordan set off through the house to find Kurt and the others. She had a plan, one that could right all their wrongs and give them a chance to deal with their betrayers.
“You wanna know what I think?” Rico was out in the Bonneville’s garage tuning their Mercedes-Benz, more out of boredom than anything else. He had complained several times since last night that rich people had all the money and never seemed to buy anything worthwhile. He was currently offering love advice to a less than amused Kurt.
“You’re going about this all the wrong way. Jordan is a strong, independent woman. She doesn’t wanna hear what she should and shouldn’t do, where she should and shouldn’t go, It’s like ‘making out’ with your dad! “
“What do you possibly know about my relationship with Jordan?” Kurt was behind the wheel of his mother’s car waiting for Rico’s signal to fire it up.
The two had been in the garage for almost two hours without saying a word before Rico decided to give his two cents. The lack of conversation had stemmed from Rico’s lack of willingness to discuss anything connected to Nona, her life, or her death. So now they were discussing the only connection between them. Jordan.
“I know you ain’t with her.” Rico cast him a knowing look through the cars’ front window. “I know sometimes you can’t have the person you’re in love with.”
“Dude, first, our relationship is NONE of your business. And second, I don’t appreciate you telling me that you’re somehow in love with her.”
“Well, if it makes you feel better, she turned me down ’cuz she’s still into you for some reason.” Rico made a disgusted face and leaned back under the hood. “When I give the thumbs up, turn her over.”
Kurt sat in the front seat letting what Rico had just said sink in. Jordan still loved him too. Taylor was right after all. He almost missed the signal and quickly turned the car over. Rico stood in front of it with a satisfied smile, smudges of oil on his face and arms.
“Ahem…” Both men turned to see Quickstrike standing in the doorway with a disapproving look. “And sometimes you don’t know the best thing you ever had is staring you dead in the face. The two of you should NOT be discussing the boss when she’s not around. What do you two know about love? A woman would have to practically throw herself at you to show she’s interested.”
“What’s going on? Is the boss up?” Rico tried desperately to divert the conversation away from their awkward relationship.
“Yes, she’s up and she’s called a meeting. I’ll get the others, clean yourselves up before you go, ’kay?” She tossed Rico a rag and an icy look before leaving only a cloud of dust in the doorway. Kurt whistled low as he shot Rico a sideways glance.
“Man, I thought I had ‘woman problems’.” Rico rolled his eyes and left the garage in a huff. Kurt turned off the car and sauntered towards the house with a newfound confidence in his bid to win Jordan back.
“So… let’s review, quickly.”
Being the perfect person to deliver a speedy overview, Quickstrike was standing in the Bonneville’s living room with the rest of the team spread out around her. Still in full uniform she appeared completely out of place in this suburban setting. Jordan sat to her left in Mr. Bonneville’s smoking chair, listening intently and offering insights here and there.
“Three days ago an unidentified informant gave police the aliases of Jordan and Nona. On that same day, for unknown reasons, Nona went rogue and attacked Jordan and Taylor. While Jordan recovered we all spent the next 24 hours attempting to track Nona down. It was at the same time the police demanded surrender. Jordan goes for all of us, where she encounters Nona. A battle ensues. We all lose a valuable member and friend, forced into hiding. Everybody clear?” She said all of this in one breath, most in the room only catching a few words at a time. Everyone nods robotically, a little shell-shocked at having three days of their lives condensed into a paragraph.
“Emiko and I have evidence to prove our traitor may be one of us…” Rico had spoken up during the teams’ stunned silence. He paused dramatically to let what he had just said sink in. “CLU is our traitor. If you haven’t noticed, he’s not here. No one has seen or heard from him since last night. I had Taylor do some less-than-legal checking on him and we found some pretty scary stuff. Taylor?”
Vixen quickly unfolded her laptop and took several keystrokes before turning the screen to face the others. On it appeared a drastically different Darius Buchanan than they knew. He was dressed in a crisp naval uniform. His military service was news to all of them. Quickstrike moved forward to read the information aloud.
“Private Darius Buchanan released from service on a dishonorable discharge for mental instabilities? I don’t understand. What does this have to do with him hanging us out to dry?” Taylor spoke up quickly.
“In the Navy he was an engineer working on ‘Nano-technology’. I think that’s how he’s been controlling computer and machines. He doesn’t have powers at all! I also think that’s how he was controlling Nona.”
"Taylor, how did you manage to get these files? This looks like it should all be classified?" Kurt asked in a bewildered tone making the teen blush before answering.
"There are a few kids in my class who are deep into computers, 'dark web' and all that. They were more than happy to test out their skills, though I may still have to go with one of them to prom." She winced slightly at that last statement.
“Good luck with that," Quickstriks muttered. "But,that still doesn’t tell us why he did this.”
“Money, and lots of it. He’s been trying for years to market the technology but no one will touch it because it’s unstable. That’s probably why he couldn’t maintain control over Nona. We think this whole thing was a test-run. He wanted to see how powerful his product was…” Taylor trailed off knowing how this all sounded. Quickstrike had heard enough!
“Money? He ruined our lives for money?” She began gathering up her weapons, determined to dispose of the traitor immediately. “We all have our secrets, his ‘mental instability’ doesn’t give him the right to stomp on our lives! I’m going to finish this NOW, it’s time to do things the old way.”
No one but Jordan knew what the ‘old way’ was but it didn’t sound good. As she stormed past Jordan, she was halted by a sturdy grip on her arm. She looked down into Jordan’s eyes and saw her leaders tortured soul.
“You and I agreed that we weren’t going to do things that way anymore.”
“He took her from us! From YOU!” Quickstrike cried.
“You think I don’t know that! I was there! With her, when she…” Jordan took a breath to still her quaking voice. “You can’t go back on your word now. We all need to stick together. If you do this, I can’t protect you. We’ll find another way.”
Jordan spoke in a firm, authoritative voice despite the visible tears welling in her eyes. Quickstrike nodded curtly, then waited for Jordan to release her before she went to a corner to brood. Jordan watched her for a moment then stood to address the team. She knew Quickstrike wouldn’t disobey her, no matter her personal feelings. It was comforting at a time like this to have that kind of loyalty on her side; she knew she would need it.
“Jordan, before we issue a plan of attack, there’s something else you should see.” Taylor entered a few new keystrokes and pages of files appeared. Jordan leaned closer to the computer, reading file names to herself but mouthing the words in confusion.
“What is this…” Jordan looked as if she might pass out when a concerned Kurt carefully helped her backtrack to her previous seat.
“It’s US; everything about us from your eye-color to my G.P.A. He was studying us. There’s even some information about ‘former occupations’.” Taylor eyed Quickstrike suspiciously but no one else caught the implication. It was obvious Taylor hadn’t shared everything she found with Rico. “Once he lost control of Nona, he sent the cops everything he had on us.”
“He was probably hoping the cops would take us down before we caught on to him.” Rico was getting as worked up as Quickstrike. He suddenly stopped, a question popping into his head. “How did he gather all this information on us by himself? Guillermo, when you went on a mission with him two months back, did he say anything strange? Guillermo?”
It took Rico mere seconds to realize he hadn’t seen his brother since he’d left Nona’s garage. “No, no he couldn’t have…” Rico dropped his head, lost in a pain only Jordan could understand. It took him several minutes to compose himself. He raised his head when he felt a reassuring hand on his arm. Jordan looked deep into his eyes and he knew they would gain strength from their shared pain. She turned and spoke to the group confidently, showing strength despite her weakened physical state.
“We’ve all lost something: our careers, our anonymity, our families…The betrayal hurts I know but now that we know what we’re up against, we have the upper hand. I have a plan, a crazy one but I know we can make it work. I won’t order you to follow me any further than you already have. Each of you has to do what you think is right. If anyone wants to leave town, you’re welcome to now, and I wish you the best.”
Looking around the room expectantly, she was relieved to see no one had moved. They were behind her to the end. Quickstrike gave her an affirmative nod from the corner; she was ready for whatever was coming.
“Alright. First, we me make a visit to an old friend. Then,” she tapped a file on the computer screen that opened to a close-up of Nona. “We bring her back.”