Angels of Rain and Lightning
There was a special kind of humiliation that came from sitting at table six in penitentiary lot C of the Anchorage Transdimensional Prison Complex -- aka, the Thunderdome. People in Lot A were kept in a transdimensional bubble surrounded by the most advanced security locks that Project Aegis could devise, borrow, buy or steal from the multiverse. Only three people had ever escaped from Lot A -- two of them had been aided by relatives or allies from outside the Thunderdome.
Lot B was where people were just kept in cells, but they were still part of this Earth. They were taken food, and only let into the yard when under very careful guard. They were people like Loki or Set or Toys R' Die, people who were strong or clever or magical, but not Ozymandias dangerous.
But then there was Lot C.
Lot C was run a lot like a regular prison. It was full of people with gimmicks and smarts but not a whole lot of power. And table six was where the lowest of the low went. Table one was where people like LoC and the Real Q sat, chatting and laughing and scheming. Table six had people like...Beta. Beta sighed as he looked at his meal, pondering if it would taste better if he waited longer before chowing down. Cause it sure wasn't being improved by the company.
"Oh, lookie here," Lady Deathglider said, her drawling Australian accent almost too thick to be real, her eyes transfixed on her newspaper, which was folded daintily next to her breakfast tray. "Look who just happened to hit the top tens of Linkara's 'worst dressed villains' list. Again. For the third year running." She grinned wickedly as she leaned forward on her elbows, her orange and black jumpsuit crinkling around her. Even in a shapeless prison jumpsuit, she still looked really freaking gorgeous: Full, plush lips, firm breasts, a body that teetered between athleticism and curvaceousness.
Things you start to notice when you get testosterone. Beta licked his chops slightly as, next to him, Dr. Insano sat and smoldered. Beta was shocked that smoke wasn't pouring from under the good doctor's mop of black hair. Dr. Insano was a gangly fellow -- easily the tallest person at the table, stork-like in proportion, with a prominent nose and eyes that, when they were visible, tended to be brooding and filled with deep thoughts. Pretentiously deep. But they weren't visible because he was, as of now, still wearing his cheap looking spiral goggles that looked like they had been stolen from Fisher Price.
The guards hadn't even taken them from him when they had given him his orange jumpsuit.
Lady DG grinned as she leaned even deeper on her arms. "Dr. Insano stomps around with cheap goggles, a flimsy white lab coat, green under shirt, leaving us with a question: Is he a supervillain or an overworked nurse..."
"I mean, uh," Hoopster said, leaning into the conversation, her voice husky. "She's got a point, do the goggles even do anything?"
"They're full of science!" Dr. Insano screeched, thrusting his finger into the air, dramatically. "And don't you start with me, Hoopster! The woman with a thousand hoop gimmicks! And you-" He thrust his finger at DG. "You throw boomerangs at people!"
DG sniffed, looking huffy. "They're highly advanced mobile wings armed with-"
Dr. Insano sprang to his feet. "Boomerangs! Boomerangs! Boomerangs!"
Beta put his paws over his face and sighed. "Dear Fenris, what did I ever do to get locked in here with you?"
"Robbed a bank," Hoopster said, cheerfully.
"Stole a med-truck," DG added.
"Worked for The Real Q," Dr. Insano growled. "And that was my post you stole! Mine! And if I had been there, then the heist would have gone off perfectly, via the almighty power of science!" He thrust a finger into the air.
"How, exactly?" Beta asked, rubbing his temples.
Dr. Insano opened his mouth, then closed it, then said: "With...science..."
After forcing their lunches down their collective throats, the many prisoners of Lot C were left to their own devices. A small ball game started. Some prisoners ambled to the indoor gym. Others just walked about. Beta, Dr. Insano, DG and Hoopster leaned on the only wall that they'd be allowed to lean against -- the one that got hit face first by the sun. The good walls -- the walls that provided shade -- were taken by the more impressive gangs.
"Think any of us will get any mail today?" Beta asked, his tail twitching against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest.
"My niece keeps writing me," Hoopster said, cheerfully. "She's getting into the Saturnian Ring Expedition launching later this week."
DG snorted. "So, you're saying she's getting into the family business?"
"Those are rings. Not hoops," Hoopster said, sounding offended. "But the important thing is-"
Beta's ears twitched. He could hear the faint rattle and click of an inner gate. He looked up, his brow furrowing as the gateway leading into the prison courtyard opened. Several Project Aegis guards strode in, wearing the thick metal and plasteel armor that ended up being incredibly useless against pretty much every single threat the galaxy threw at the Earth. They carried blaster rifles and flanked a woman in a business suit. The woman was a Martian, with green skin and curved antennas, and she looked aggressively un-superheroic. She was chubby, with rounded cheeks and a kind of gently smiling face that said 'school marm' rather than 'defender of the innocent', and she wore a suit rather than a cape and cowl. She looked about herself with curious disinterest before she spotted Beta, Dr. Insano, DG and the Hoopster.
She started forward, with her guards.
"What did you do?" Beta hissed.
"Me? Nothing!" Dr. Insano squeaked. "Why do you always think it's me."
"Because it's you," Beta snarled. "I'm not getting an extra few years on my time because-"
"Hello, I wanted to-" The Martian said.
"Now!" The Hoopster shouted, flicking her wrist. Her sleeve ballooned and a small ring of metal came rolling onto her palm. It struck her crooked finger, shooting up like a wheel hitting a ramp, then flew right at the Martian. Some spin put on it by a minute flick of her wrist caused the hoop to become perpendicular to the ground before it expanded outwards with a ratcheting clank. It landed around the shoulders of one of the guards, tightening up, locking his arms together. The Hoopster turned to run and got blasted in the side by the three other guard's. She sprawled on the ground as DG sighed, lifting her hands.
"In my defense," she said. "I thought we would have until tonight to try and escape."
"And you didn't tell me!?" Dr. Insano asked, drawing a glare from Beta.
"Well...no," DG said, grinning as the guards yanked the hoop off their friend, then advanced with truncheons drawn.
Beta felt the Martian arrive before the door even opened into the small containment room he had been jammed into. It was the curse -- and the blessing -- of his powers. He felt his empathy and compassion unfolding, making guilt begin to squirm in his gut. But he was fairly good at ignoring that kind of thing. After all...
He wasn't as empathetic as a Martian.
The door shut behind her and she saw down across the table from him, beaming as she set her tablet down. Tapping it with her fingers, she read off the data there. "Beta -- born Mary Theresa Randolph. You changed your name and began to transition in '99?" She looked up at Beta, who nodded, frowning slightly. "But that was during the tail end of the Bronze Era, and the pharmacutical companies weren't really being kept on the leash they are now. But who could blame them. It had only been ten years since the Darkthornn War, we were all still rebuilding..."
She looked back down at the papers. "But selling nanocyte contaminated hormone treatments to transgendered teenagers? No wonder you wanted revenge."
Beta pursed his muzzle. "Do you have a point Miss Martian?"
"Please, call me Jane!" she said, cheerfully. "And I just have a few questions. Why did you stick with it?"
"With...transitioning?" Beta asked, narrowing his eyes.
"With crime," Jane said, nodding. "You've your unique abilities-"
"Oh, yeah, such an amazing power!" Beta said, angrily, slamming his paw into the tabletop. It hurt. He tried to ignore it. "I'm the second best. Forever. Do you know what it's like? Every time some new guy walked up beside me, I get slightly less better than him. I could be a genius one second, then step next to a moron and be a dribbling idiot." He shook his head. "Trying to hold down a job like that? It's..." He sighed. "It seemed impossible."
"Seemed," Jane said, her voice dry.
Beta glared at her.
"And you didn't ever go too far. Too hard." She looked down at the tablet. "Lots of robberies here. No murders."
"They throw the book at you for murder," Beta said. "I'm an idiot some of the time, but I'm smart some of the other times, so..."
She nodded. "Well. Beta. How would you like a cure? Or, more accurately, an improvement?"
Beta twitched his tail once. He tried to put on his poker face -- but his poker face was slightly less good than Jane's poker face. And her poker face was terrible. His eyes shone with excitement as he licked his muzzle. "What kind of improvement?"
"Well." She smiled, clasping her hands. "We think we can set your nanocytes at a specific power level. Due to your criminal past, it'd be at human norms, but..." She shrugged. "A wolfman within human norms and a will can find any number of jobs. Furry artist, porn star, furry porn star..."
"I get it," Beta growled. "Yiffing will be involved. What do you want?"
"You, Dr. Insano, the Hoopster and Lady Deathglider," Jane said. "We need you to investigate something that the normal Project teams haven't managed."
"Is it super dangerous and likely going to get us killed?" Beta asked, looking irritated.
"Totally!" Jane beamed.
"So...what? We're some kind of Suicide Squad?" Beta cocked his head.
"Oh, no, no, no, no!" Jane shook her head, quickly.
The first meeting of the Terminal Team was not exceptionally auspicious. The four of them were all taken out of prison in their own trucks, taken to their own lairs or apartments or (in one case) their own dumpster containing various stashed pieces of machinery. They dressed in their costumes, and they arrived at the meeting point with all the flair and panache of a collection of LARPers. The first to enter was Beta. His costume was simple: A spiked leather collar, a leather thong around his groin, and a domino mask set over his muzzle and eyes. He walked in and looked around, then took the biggest seat.
The next to enter was Dr. Insano -- goggles on, lab coat fluttering, green under-shirt making him look increasingly like a nurse. His pockets clacked and clattered with tools, and he sat down as far from Beta as possible.
"Sup," Beta said.
"You didn't say you wore a stripper outfit," Dr. Insano said, his cheeks flushing.
"It's not a stripper outfit!" Beta snapped. "Fur's really uncomfortable in any kind of spandex!"
The door opened and in came Hoopster. She was dressed in a skintight leather jumpsuit, clinging to her every curve as if it had been painted. There was a silver zipper along the middle, which was done down enough to show the cleavage of her breasts, while her head was contained within a face concealing mask that had a pair of gold-red irises set into the flat plane of the mask. Her arms had a set of interlocking hoops on them, each one shining and shimmering with metal. She had hoops around her ankles, hoops hanging from her ears, and a hoop in her hand the size of a hula-hoop. She twirled that around as she blinked, looking at Beta.
"Whoa..." she said. "You have muscles?"
"They're mostly for show," Beta said, sighing. "Right now, I think I can barely lift a coffee cup."
"Way to ruin the illusion..." Hoopster muttered.
Lady Deathglider came in next -- and did so in a way that combined the needless drama and flash of her whole gimmick with nearly getting herself killed. She hung bodily onto a massive boomerang that she had launched towards the building, smashing through the skylight with a dopplered scream as she spun around and around and around. She let go at the last second, flying away from the boomerang and smashing her butt first into one of the chairs, which skidded away from the table. Glass continued to clatter down onto the table. Her costume was a harlequin pattered jumpsuit, with orange and black coloring, with a mono-goggle that concealed half her face. Her arms had chevrons of her advanced boomerangs strapped to her, while her back was decorated by a flowing green cape.
"Does everything have to be boomerangs with you?" Dr. Insano asked.
Lady DG lifted her palm. The boomerang she had thrown started to compact in on itself, whirring and clicking and buzzing as it folded down to become the size of her palm, before flying back to her palm.
"They're highly advanced-"
"Boomerangs!" Dr. Insano sprang to his feet. "Admit it! They're boomerangs!"
Beta slammed his palms onto the table as hard as he could manage, standing as he did so. He growled and barked out, his voice commanding: "Everyone shut the fuck up!"
Dr. Insano, Hoopster and Lady DG blinked as they looked at him.
Beta sighed, quietly. "Sorry, but we're all on a time table. We need to infiltrate the-"
A droning gong sound rang out, cutting him off. His brow furrowed as he looked around. Dr. Insano reached up, adjusting his goggles as he scanned around -- then he pointed. "There!" he shouted. Lady DG sprang to her feet, lifting up one of her boomerangs, while the Hoopster snapped a hoop off her vest and started to twirl it around her wrist. The hoop flashed and began to lick and dance with flames. But none of them could do anything about the swirling energy crackling and appearing on the table. Glass shards swirled up and started to orbit the sphere as black lightning stabbed at the walls. Then the orb flared white and faded and standing there...was a robed figure. Next to them was Jane -- standing there in her pantsuit and skirt, holding her tablet.
The robed figure did not stand, actually. He floated. His robes dusted around the table, twitching and writhing in a spectral wind. His face was concealed by an infinite blackness under the hood. His hand were clasped before his chest, concealed by the robes.
"Hello?" Beta asked.
"Silence, worm!" A booming voice exploded from under the robes. Wind roared and debris went whipping through the abandoned office room. Beta stepped backwards -- feeling his power start to rise. And rise. And rise. He felt like he could lift several tons. His heart went cold as he looked at the robed figure. His hood had flipped back, revealing a gaunt, greenish face. The man looked faintly see through, his grizzled cheeks locked into a permanent scowl. A glowing purple flame glowed in each eye socket, and his greasy hair hung in thick mats around his head.
"Hi everyone!" Jane said. "Sorry for the deception. But I think we can still all work together."
"You're not from the Project!" Dr. Insano exclaimed.
"Aww, no, we're not," Jane said. "My name is Dominique. This is-"
"I am the Gatekeeper. The Gate...Keeper..." The robed figure bellowed, glaring around himself. "Prostrate yourself. Do it. Worms!"
"Oh, I'd suggest you do it, he can get a little grumpy!" Dominique said, her antennas twitching.
Beta forced himself to his knees. Lady DG and Hoopster looked at each other. Beta hissed. "Do it!"
They knelt. Dr. Insano looked grumpy and scowled at the Gatekeeper -- but then Beta reached out, grabbed him by his lab coat, and yanked him down too. With the entire Terminal Team bowing, the Gatekeeper cackled softly. Dominique giggled quietly. "Okay," she said. "Your mission is simple. You need to kidnap Madeline Deinhardt."
Beta jerked his head up. "You gotta be fucking kidding!"
Dominique snickered. "Nooo, if I was kidding, I'd put on a silly voice!"
The Gatekeeper snarled.
Dominique tapped at her tablet, reading from it. "The mission specifications are thus: You are to kidnap Madeline Deinhardt in the next three days, and take her to the following coordinates-" she listed them off. "-or else the bombs we have implanted in your head will go off, releasing enough hard radiation to cook a fifteen mile radius around yourselves. If that is not sufficient inducement, then here is the carrot. If you succeed in bringing us Deinhardt, then you get to live!" She paused. "Oh, and, we'll pay you each fifteen billion dollars."
Beta glanced at Dr. Insano. Dr. Insano was looking at him. He reached up and adjusted his goggles. Dr. Insano, as Beta knew remarkably well, had the worlds worst poker face. The look of pure horror on his face was enough to convince Beta that the bomb was there, in his head. He wondered when and how Dominique and her master, the Gatekeeper, had managed to slip it into his brain. But considering wormholes, temporal manipulation, stasis fields, nanotech meditechs, and fucking magic...he wasn't shocked.
"Okay," Beta said, trying to sound calm. "We'll try. But there's a teeny tiny problem. You want us to kidnap Ozymandias. The most intelligent girl in this galactic spiral arm? A girl so intelligent that she was elected as President before her sixteenth birthday. She defeated Kalakill and a Kandarian Demon and Zeus. And that's not even getting to her boyfriend. Arch-"
"Do not speak his name!" The Gatekeeper boomed.
Beta clenched his jaw. "Fine. But her biffer can destroy Africa with his pinkie. He could punt us each into space without getting off the sofa. And he has six billion digitized aliens living in his brain, which are each giving him constant tactical advice."
"Fortunately," Dominique said, cheerfully. "There is a weakness to Madeline Deinhardt and her boyfriend's capabilities. Predictive models require sufficient data -- and moreover, intelligence naturally rejects stupidity."
"...I feel distinctly insulted..." Dr. Insano muttered. Beta elbowed him.
"Madeline Deinhardt would predict any of our attacks. But she would not predict a windowless panel van driving up and throwing...a BOOMERANG AT HER HEAD!" Dominique said, cheerfully, spreading her arms dramatically.
"Ah-hah!" Dr. Insano sprang to his feet, thrusting his finger at Lady DG, who glared at him. "I told you!"
"Silence worm!" The Gatekeeper shouted. "Kneel!"
Beta yanked Dr. Insano back down.
Dominique smiled. "All right, so, get to work, my lovelies! And remember! Three days!" She waved -- and she and the Gatekeeper were sucked into a sphere of black light, which collapsed in on itself, then boomed away. As they vanished, Dr. Insano jerked himself free of Beta. This was easier, as the sudden absence of The Gatekeeper's presence drained Beta's strength, until he was slightly weaker than the good 'doctor.' As Insano stood, Lady DG shook her head.
"This is insane," she said. "How do we even kidnap her? Archive will obliterate us before we even get close. And we don't even know where she lives."
Dr. Insano scoffed. "I know how."
"How?" Hoopster asked.
Dr. Insano smirked. "I didn't hear the magic word!"
Hoopster and Lady DG looked at one another.