“Wonderful timing, folks. Nothing like picking a blizzard for moving to a new home.”
“We didn’t exactly plan it this way, Rex,” replied Tatsu Yamashiro as they ran from the Stagg Industries jet to the terminal. Behind them, five others dashed along. Only one seemed unhurried. Gabrielle Doe walked through the swirling wind and snow as if she didn’t have a care in the world. One with keen vision might discern the faint glow of one of Halo’s force-fields around her.
“Your control is getting much better, Gaby,” said her best friend and roommate, Wendy Doe. Their shared last name was a sign of their common state rather than of kinship. One cast off from both her own race and the parents of the human host body she inhabited, the other ashamed of the name shared with her blood-sister, they were now closer than most sisters. “I can hardly see that screen you’ve got up.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Wendy!” said Gaby as she extended the field to include her friend.
Once in the terminal, they were met by airport officials. “Unbelievable. I can’t believe anybody could bring a plane in safely under these conditions!” said the airport’s operations manager.
Rex Mason, their pilot for the harrowing flight from Gotham City, grinned. “Nothing to it. Just ignore what you see out the window, keep it steady and locked on with the instruments, and be ready to back off if there’s a bump!”
“It helps if you have someone who can generate a gravity-field around the plane, too,” whispered Jefferson Pierce to his teammate, Brion Markov.
As Rex spoke with the airport officials, another man came into view. “Prince Brion! There you are, Your Majesty. I’m glad you’ve made it safely.”
“And you are…?” asked Brion as he shook the hand that the newcomer offered.
“Martin Carpenter. We spoke on the phone yesterday.”
“Ah, yes, the property manager. Excellent. I trust that all is in order for our move into Markov House, then?”
“Err, not exactly.” Carpenter took off the snap-brim cap that he wore and wrung it in his hands. “Because of the storm, we weren’t able to get the house opened up, and…”
“I understand. You have made other arrangements, I trust?” As Brion dealt with the agent, the other Outsiders all watched with amusement. They all knew Brion Markov as a good-natured friend, with an easy sense of humor. This was one of the few times they had seen him in his Imperial mode, as he called it. Mildly imperious, demanding, and accepting no disrespect, while still appearing kind, it was a trademark of the Markov regime.
“Of course. There is a Hilton here at the airport; we can get there via the concourse without going back out into the storm. I have taken the liberty of reserving two suites and several other of their best rooms.”
“As you did not know how many people were coming with me!” finished Brion. “Good work, Carpenter. If Rex is finished with the airport manager…” Turning in Rex’s direction, Brion saw that they were indeed finished. “Then let us be off.”
Some hours later, in a large room within a large, rambling house in downtown Cincinnati:
“As you requested, my liege, they are installed on the top floor of the airport Hilton.”
Heavy-lidded eyes looked morosely out from under bushy eyebrows. “Excellent. Most excellent. I suppose you believe that you have earned your reward?”
Martin Carpenter looked up from where he kneeled before the raised chair. His eyes briefly glanced over to the figure who stood to the right of that seat. “Yes, my liege. I did as you requested.”
“Very well. Rise.” Looking to his left, he gestured for the young woman there to join Martin. “I think one hour should be sufficient, don’t you, Penelope?”
Standing in the light with Martin, Penelope was revealed to be a slight young woman of incredible beauty. Her figure was heightened, rather than concealed, by the filmy red robe that she wore. Black hair cascaded down her back, past her waist. Her gray eyes sparkled with an inner light, shining with the promise of things to come for the property manager. “An hour, yes, m’lord.” She turned to face Martin directly. “If you can last that long.”
Martin’s face went a bright red. “Why, I’m sure I can, er, that is…”
“Begone! Enjoy your time with the Princess of Pleasure. And, Penelope, go easy on him, I will need his services again.”
As they turned to leave the room, Penelope’s face briefly twisted into a mild pout, but only for a second. Then, as she considered what she might do with the man quivering with anticipation beside her, the vivacious smile returned to her face.
In a darkened hotel room, two men slept in their respective beds. Even in the dim light from the lights outside the windows, they were a study in contrasts. One was a handsome African-American with dark skin, close-cropped black hair, a broad nose, and broad chin, separated by a wide mouth with narrow lips. He slept restlessly, while his companion slept soundly. This companion had skin like lightly veined white marble creased across his bald forehead. His face was like a blank slate, split by a mouth and pierced by eyes, any other features merely hinted at in the hard-looking surface.
It was just after four in the morning when their sleep came to an end in an explosion of chaos.
“Sweet Jesus! What the hell was that?” screamed Rex Mason as he leaped from his bed. Turning back, he saw that the foot of the bed was burning. Living up to his name, Metamorpho dived back at the flames as he shifted his body composition to halon gas. As the halon reacted with and broke down the oxygen in the air, the flames quickly died. However, that did little for the rest of the room.
“It’s trouble, that’s all I know!” cried Jefferson Pierce as he rolled out of the bed and came up with electricity crackling around his fist. His costume might be in the suitcase, but there was no mistaking Black Lightning.
In the other room of the suite, a window shattered as a lone figure hurtled through. Rolling to his feet, he looked around and spotted Brion Markov rising from his pillow. He tensed and jumped, catching the young man before he could gain his feet. Nevertheless, Geo-Force was prepared and blocked the attack with a sweeping forearm followed by an open-palm strike to his attacker’s chin.
In the second suite topping the hotel, a shadowing figure slipped in through the balcony door of the suite’s living room. Briefly passing through the light cast by a small light in the kitchenette, the figure was revealed as a woman dressed in black except for a golden circlet around her head, and a decorative, red pattern around her neck. Black leather cross belts ran from shoulder to hip, laden with small tools and weapons.
She crossed to one door and slipped something from one of the cross belts. She grasped the doorknob, turned it, pushed the door open, tossed the object into the next room, then closed the door again. A faint hissing sound was heard from within. Apparently satisfied, she moved to the other bedroom door. Again taking something from her belts, she prepared to repeat the process. This time, however, when she opened the door, it was pulled from her hand and thrown open wide.
“Looking for something?” asked Katana, as her namesake sword swung down at the dark-clad female.
“Normally, I would be!” came the reply, as she dived to one side, then flipped back into the open space of the living room. “But for tonight, His Highness wants us to bring you in, along with your teammates.”
“Well, if he’s looking for a summit, tell him to contact the Prince’s secretary. For now, this group is under my protection.” As she dissembled, hoping to throw off any ideas about linking Katana with any of the ladies who were supposed to be sleeping in the room, she considered her opponents words, voice, and mannerisms. Obviously working for someone else, not normally a killer or kidnapper. And the accent. Katana recognized the heavy accent of European Russia. If that were the case, this woman could be far better trained than the average kidnapper. Even as this thought came to her, the other woman came up out of a roll and pulled a pair of three-tined sai from her boots.
“This should be fun,” murmured Katana.
“Prince, they’re softened up! Hit them now!” The voice carried over the roar of flames and the whistling of the wind through the shattered walls of the hotel room. Metamorpho and Black Lightning both watched the openings, looking for something. What, they weren’t sure. They didn’t wait long.
A slender young man walked in from the balcony. Black Lightning balled his fist, ready to toss an electrical bolt at him. As he drew his arm back, the young man tossed back the cloak he wore and thrust out a hand. As his fingers spread, a blast of high-pitched sound struck the urban crime-fighter. He flew back, hitting the wall.
“Parlor tricks won’t help you against me, punk!” said Metamorpho as he leaped. His body dissolved into a powerful narcotic compound and surrounded the attacker.
“A pity, shape-shifter. Do you truly know just how volatile most sleeping gasses are?” The voice came from another who stepped from the balcony. He was cloaked also, in bright red. Firelight glinted off the golden band around his head. He reached for a stud on his left glove, and a jet of plasma shot from a vent in the palm. It struck the cloud, which burst briefly into flame. Metamorpho screamed in agony as his molecule rapidly burned and oxidized into other forms. When it was done, he was nothing but a chemical ash on the carpet.
“You bloody idiot!” said the younger man, stepping up to the other as he shut off the jet of flame. “You could have killed me with that stunt.”
“Oh, shut up, Prince. I’ve read up on this Metamorpho, and I knew which compound he was likely to use. Add a bit of high-temp flame, and it vaporizes in microseconds. Not enough time for you to feel anything.”
“You aren’t so smart, Duke! You may have blown the wall of this place away, but none of your demolition tools can save you from the death I can give you if you cross me again.”
“Oh, yes, your fabled tortures. Boy, if you think you can take down the Duke of Destruction, then by all means do so. But until you have the cojones to do it, I think I’ll go back to the manor and see if your sister is occupied.” The Duke grinned wolfishly.
In Prince Brion’s room, his lone attacker was finding that the Markovian prince was not an easy target, even freshly roused from his sleep. Brion had already sent the man crashing into the walls twice, and slammed his head into a mirror. It appeared that the attacker was going down without much of a fight when another arrived.
“My apologies, Ravager. His Highness forgot that setting up this attack so high up would result in a delay for me.” The speaker was a heavyset man with white hair. Geo-Force almost laughed when he saw him, as he was dressed in the tights and pantaloons of an Elizabethan courtier.
“Just shut up and get him, Earl!” hissed the burly man Geo-Force had been fighting.
Brion summoned up the power within himself, ready to pin down the newcomer with a field of increased gravity, when a column of condensed snow crashed through a window behind him and slammed him to the floor.
In a darkened hotel suite, the sound of steel ringing on steel filled the air. Two slender figures moved about the room, eyeing each other warily.
The smaller of the two, the Japanese heroine known as Katana, feinted to the right with her sword, snapped the blade up, jumped, and pirouetted in midair, bringing the blade straight down as she landed. It slid ineffectively off one of her opponent’s three-pronged sai.
The tall, slender Russian twisted the blocking weapon, attempting to catch the sword blade. As she did, she thrust forward and down with her other hand, attempting to plunge the long, center prong into Katana’s thigh. She was thwarted on both counts as the smaller woman twisted and brought the sword back up. With the grace of a dancer, Katana backed away and moved behind a couch. Her longer weapon gave her a brief advantage there.
“So, what does this ‘Highness’ of yours want with a couple of teenagers and their guardian?” she said, never taking her eyes from her opponent.
“What the Monarch plans for you is none of my business, guardian. His word is the law in this city, and I’m but his humble serv — hai!” The black-clad fighter sprang, jabbing down into the back of the couch with both sai and using them to vault herself up and into a somersault that brought her down behind Katana. She twisted in midair so that she landed facing her foe. One leg shot out, catching the smaller woman on the shoulder.
Katana fell back across the couch, rolling with the fall so that she came back up on her feet on one smooth motion. She made a wide sweep with her right arm, releasing the sword so that it soared at the stranger. She ducked, allowing it to pass over her head.
“Fool! Throwing away your sole weapon?” she hissed as she stood up and prepared to strike again.
“Who said I threw it away?” replied Katana as she pulled her arm back with a quick jerk. The fine black cord wrapped around the hilt of her blade, and her wrist went taut and yanked the sword back. It struck the attacker in the back of the head, driving her to the floor. Katana grabbed the line and pulled again, retrieving her weapon. She quickly wound the cord around the hilt once more.