Incels; violence and death.
As the light subsided, I found myself in what looked like a small hangar; I was still holding Mae’s hand, and looking around I could see that Meg and Amelia had already demorphed while they were waiting for us. I took a few deep breaths to steady myself – thanks to my training, teleporting didn’t affect me as much as it used to, but it was still a bit dizzying. Mae, on the other hand, seemed to be having no problem with it: she was probably much more used to teleporting than I was.
“Shall we?” she asked.
I flicked the lever on my morpher, making my red suit disappear, and placed the morpher in my purse. “Yes, let’s go,” I replied.
We walked over to a small door, opened it, and stepped outside; there was a car waiting for us outside, with a soldier dressed in fatigues standing beside it. When he saw us, he snapped at attention and saluted Amelia. “Ma’am!” he exclaimed. “Here is your transport, as requested.”
“Thank you, airman,” Amelia replied, saluting back. “We’ll return it as soon as we’re done with it.”
I looked around; we were apparently near the entrance to a large military airport, I could see several buildings and runways off in the distance.
“Where are we?” I asked as we got into the car.
“Wright-Patterson AFB,” Mae replied. “There are teleporter platforms at each military base across North America, and this was the closest to Dayton, of course.”
“And yes,” Meg added. “This is one more instance of us using military resources for personal use.” She smirked. “We won’t tell anyone if you don’t.”
I laughed. “So where are we going?” I asked.
“Downtown Dayton,” was Mae’s reply. “There’s a nightclub we really like over there; the barman is really good at making virgin drinks, which is useful because we can’t drink.”
“Wait, hold on,” Amelia said, frowning. “Are you even of age to drink, anyway?”
“Hey, I know I look young, but I’m already twenty-one, thank you very much,” I protested.
“Oh, right,” she said. “I remember Mark mentioning his age a few times, and you’re as old as he was of course.”
“But you’re still a kid,” Meg grinned. “Don’t worry, girl, we’ll take good care of you tonight.”
With Amelia driving and Meg riding shotgun, we made our way to downtown Dayton; it took only about fifteen minutes to get there and find somewhere to park. Teleporting was nothing if convenient: it would have certainly taken us a couple hours, if not more, to get there if we had to go directly from Defender Base, near Indianapolis.
“Now, kids, remember where we parked,” Amelia said as we exited the car and crossed the street to the nightclub they’d mentioned. It wasn’t very busy – it was a week night – but I could already see why they liked it so much: it looked like it was small, cosy, and intimate.
As we were about to enter the venue, I saw Mae frown down at her cellphone – she’d been given it by General Ryder to stay in touch with Defender Base if she needed to, since she didn’t have a morpher to communicate like Meg, Amelia, and I did.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
“Remember that backdoor I mentioned this morning?” she replied. When I nodded she continued, “Well apparently it’s suddenly gone active: it’s streaming a whole lot of data right now.”
“Do we need to go back to base?”
“Nah, don’t worry,” she replied, smiling at me. “There’s nothing really I could do about it right now short of plugging the hole, and we’d already decided not to do that. I’m having the other tech people log everything, I’ll take a look at it tomorrow morning, see if I can’t figure out where the data is going.”
“Alright,” I nodded again. Then I opened the club’s door and held it open for her. “After you, my lady,” I said.
She laughed. “Why thank you, madam, you’re so kind.”
She went in, and I followed her to a table where Amelia and Megan had already taken over; we sat down and started chatting, only stopping to give the waiter our orders once he came over. I got started with a blend of kiwifruit and strawberries, with a touch of mint, but everything on the menu looked really tasty.
As the night went on, we found ourselves chatting about lots of stuff; it wasn’t long before the conversation drifted to more… Raunchy matters.
“Would you look at the ass on that guy,” Meg said, pointing at a young man shuffling his way through the dance floor. “Just look. Look at it. It’s perfect. Perfect, I tell you.”
“Ah, cut it out, Meg,” Amelia said. “We already know you’re a butt girl.” She paused. “Well, Steph probably didn’t know, but she does now.”
Meg lightly punched her shoulder. “Don’t act as if you’ve never looked at a guy’s butt yourself,” she said with a smile.
“’Course I do,” Amelia replied. “It helps me pin-point people who don’t neglect leg days, I can tell by the fact that their ass is proportionate to the rest of their body.”
Mae sighed. “You and exercise,” she said.
Amelia shrugged. “It’s my policy not to date a man who can’t lift as much as I can.” She turned to me. “How about you, Steph? What kind of guys do you like?”
I was floored by the sudden question. “Uh…”
I hesitated, but there was no reason why I shouldn’t tell them anyway: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had been repealed, anyway.
I lowered my voice and glanced around, to see if someone at the neighbouring tables was paying attention to us, but that didn’t seem to be the case. “I… I like girls, actually.”
Amelia blinked. “Oh. Okay. Cool,” she said. “Sorry for assuming.”
“Don’t worry,” Meg said, putting a hand on my arm in a reassuring gesture. “We don’t have a problem with you being trans, why would we have a problem with you being gay?”
“’sides,” Amelia added, “It’s not like you’re the only gay person on the squad.”
“I’m not?” I replied; I looked around the table, and saw Mae raise her hand and give me a small smile and a wave. “Oh,” I said.
“In any case,” Meg said, suddenly rising from the table. “I feel like stretching my legs, like dancing a bit. Come on, Amelia.”
“Wh-- But,” Amelia protested, as Meg dragged her off by the arm. “But I don’t wanna dance just yet.”
“Yes, you do,” Meg replied, giving her a significant look and then nodding her head towards Mae and I.
“Oh,” Amelia said. “Yes, on second thought, I think I’ll come dance for a bit.”
I watched the two of them leave. “They’re trying to set us up, aren’t they,” I said.
Maelyn nodded. “Yes, they are.”
“Couldn’t they have been more obvious?”
She smiled, and shook her head.
There was a moment of awkward silence.
“I don’t mind them trying to set us up, actually,” I said.
“…Neither do I.”
I took a deep breath. “So, what say we do this again sometime soon? Just the two of us?”
Mae hesitated. “Steph, I like you. I really like you,” she said.
I looked at her. “But?”
“But, even though DADT has been history for a while, there are still rules against fraternisation,” she continued.
I put a hand on hers. “Aren’t we already breaking the rules somewhat?”
“We are, but… Let’s just say those rules are there for a reason,” she replied. “In fact--”
“Hello, ladies,” said a male voice. A man placed two tall glasses full of ice and liquor on the table and sat down. “May I offer you a drink?”
“Excuse me,” I said. “We were in the middle of a conversation.”
“Ah, don’t be so cold to me, sweetie,” he replied.
I looked at him. He was wearing a white button-up shirt with long sleeves rolled up to his elbow, and a light brown vest – leather, it looked like – on top of that. He had a pair of round, dark-tinted glasses on his face, and a black fedora on his head.
He wriggled his eyebrows our way. “Aren’t you going to drink?” he said, motioning to the glasses he’d offered us.
“We don’t drink alcohol,” I replied, my voice hardening. “Neither of us. And besides, we’re not in the business of accepting drinks from strangers.”
“Well if that’s the problem, I just need to introduce myself so I won’t be a stranger any more, will I?” he said, with an almost feline smile. “My name is Ipsum, darling. And you are?”
“Neither am I,” Mae added. “I would leave right now, if I were you.”
“Oh, you wound me, dear,” Ipsum said. “I come here, try to be friendly, and you give me the cold shoulder? That’s no way for a lady to behave.”
“Listen here, buddy…” I began, starting to get up, but I was interrupted by a beeping sound.
“Looks like your phone’s ringing,” he said. “Aren’t you going to get that?”
I glared at him, but reached into my purse and pulled out my morpher – if it was ringing, it meant it was important. “Press the top button twice,” Mae supplied. “This way it won’t go to loudspeaker.”
I nodded and complied. “Kennedy here,” I said, putting the morpher to my ear.
“There’s a Repulsoid attack ongoing. We need you to intervene,” came General Ryder’s voice.
I looked up at Mae, and then at Meg and Amelia, who were standing just off the dance floor, their morphers to their ears too – they were likely listening in.
“Where?” I asked.
“Downtown Dayton,” the general said.
I blinked in surprise. “Right here?” I asked, bewildered.
As if to answer my question, the music cut off, and an alarm started going off in the nightclub. “Attention!” a voice said over the loudspeakers. “Repulsoids are attacking this location! Head to the shelters immediately!”
I looked at Mae. “I… I have to…” I said.
She nodded. “Go, Steph.”
I felt bad about leaving her there. “Go to the shelter,” I said. “I’ll come get you once the situation is resolved.
I leaped over the table and made my way to the nightclub’s toilets – I needed to find a place to morph where I wouldn’t be seen by anyone. Amelia and Megan had had the same idea as me, since they joined me in the bathrooms almost immediately.
“Anyone in here?” Meg said, checking each and every stall in turn, while Amelia locked the door.
“No one’s here,” she said. “Let’s do this.”
I nodded, put the morpher to my belly, pressed the buttons, and flicked the switch.
“Welcome. Standby. Power up!”
The three of us burst out of the bathroom and back onto the dance floor: the nightclub was deserted by now, but I saw a Repulsoid soldier entering from the front door. I leaped forward, my sword materialising in my hand, and cut them down, before rushing out into the street.
There were soldiers all around: not as many as I would’ve expected, maybe a dozen or so – the last time there had been about fifty, including Emerald Scarab; I glanced around, almost as if expecting her to appear and try to attack me.
“Come on, Red,” Green said, leaving the nightclub and giving me a pat on the back. “Get a move on, we’ve no time to lose.”
She was right: there were still civilians in the street. Most were cowering from the Repulsoids behind whatever cover they could find – mail boxes and trash cans – but a few cops, and some bystanders, were shooting at the aliens with handguns. Not that it was having any effect: nothing short of big game bullets could be more than an annoyance to the soldiers.
“Get away!” I shouted, pushing one of the shooters to the ground, and narrowly dodging a bolt of plasma from a Repulsoid’s rifle. “Let us handle it!”
The man looked at me, then he dropped his gun and ran off.
I turned towards the soldier who’d tried to shoot me. “I’ll teach you to ruin girls’ night out, you asshole!” I shouted, jumping towards him.
In short order, we’d cleared the street: there was simply no way a dozen Repulsoid soldiers could stand up to a Defender, let alone three of us at the same time.
“Are they attacking anywhere else?” I asked the general.
“No,” came the reply. “Looks like it’s all clear.”
Just a dozen soldiers? And no Leaders? Weird. Still, I nodded. “You stay out here,” I told White and Green. “I’ll go get Mae.”
They nodded in acknowledgement, and I rushed back into the nightclub, moving to the back room where the shelter had been set up; I knocked on the heavy steel door, said everything was fine, and it opened. Slowly, the people who’d been in the safe room filtered out of it.
Maelyn wasn’t there.
What? Why wasn’t she there? I’d told her to head for the shelter, and she was smart enough to realise it was the best choice. Where the hell was she?
“Defender squadron, come in,” General Ryder’s voice came over the radio.
I tapped the side of my helmet. “Red here.”
“Return to base immediately.”
I paused; his voice had an urgency I’d never heard him use before. “Why? What’s happened?”
“We received a message from the Repulsoids.” He sighed heavily. “Corporal Kim has been captured by the enemy.”
The six of us – the five Defenders, plus General Ryder – were standing in the situation room, looking at the screen, where a message was prominently displayed.
A member of your squadron is in our custody. She said her name is Corporal Maelyn Kim. If you want to see her again, Defender Red must come to the following coordinates tomorrow at ten PM – alone. Divergence from these instructions will not be tolerated, and will result in the immediate termination of the hostage.
“What the hell? What the hell?” I said, probably for the fifth time. “Why would they go and kidnap Mae? And why do they want me?”
“This is… Bizarre,” the general acknowledged. “Nothing like this has ever happened before; it’s significantly different from the Repulsoids’ standard MO.”
“Still, we can’t just ignore this, right?” Megan said. “We have to rescue Maelyn, no matter the cost.”
“This is clearly a trap,” Elijah said. “There’s no way they will be giving us her back, just like that.”
“I agree,” Amelia replied. “Which is why I think we should all go. We’ll beat the shit out of them, and rescue our friend.”
“No,” Clyde interjected. “If we go, and they spot us, they’ll kill her immediately. They said so.”
“Which means I must go. Alone, as they said,” I said resolutely.
“Absolutely not,” the general answered. “I’m not sending you alone, on your own, deep in enemy territory – which is where the coordinates they gave us are. You’d only get captured too. Or killed.”
“I won’t,” I protested. “I know it’s dangerous, general, but it’s the only way. The only chance to get Maelyn back.”
He shook his head. “Captain Wilson is right. This is clearly a trap. They want you to go there on your own.”
“What choice do we have?” I asked. “Do we just ignore it? And leave Mae to die?”
“As much as it saddens me? Yes,” he replied. “Corporal Kim is a soldier, and knew the risks when she signed up for the Defender Squadron.”
“I won’t accept it,” I said. “I’m going over there.”
“And how do you propose to do that?” he asked in return. “There are no teleport platforms nearby.”
“We can ask for the Air Force’s cooperation, and have them drop me from a plane near the coordinates,” I said.
“True, we could do that. The fact still stands that they’re looking to capture you, or worse, for whatever reason. Else they wouldn’t have asked for you, specifically.”
“Well then, if worse comes to worst, I can just teleport out,” I said. “I can be out of the danger zone and back here at Defender Base in the blink of an eye. And about that, all I have to do is get close enough to Mae to touch her, and I can bring her back with me, too.”
The general seemed to consider that. “There’s that. But still, you’ve only been on the Defender Squadron for five weeks now. There’s no way you can even hope to rescue Corporal Kim… Assuming she’s even there.”
“Well, if she’s not, I’ll just come back here on my own.”
“Sir, if I may,” Clyde said.
We turned to look at him. “Speak,” General Ryder said.
“I’ve been sparring with Lieutenant Kennedy every day since she arrived here at Defender Base, and the progress she made is remarkable. I think she’s one of the most talented and skilled people I’ve ever met,” he said. “I think she’s going to be able to handle herself just fine on this rescue mission.”
My eyebrows rose. Clyde was complimenting me? And he was acknowledging my ability? Surprising. I mentally thanked him. “See? Everything will be fine, general.”
There was a prolonged silence in the room.
“Alright,” the general said, finally. He turned to me. “Lieutenant Kennedy, you are to report to Wright-Patterson AFB tomorrow at four PM to begin preparation for the drop into enemy territory.”
“Thank you, general,” I replied.
“One thing I want to make extremely clear is that you are to teleport back immediately the moment you are in danger, or if you realise Corporal Kim is not present at the location. And do not take any unnecessary risks; I’m not going to lose another Red if I can help it.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied.
He sighed. “It’s getting late. Get some sleep, I want you to be well rested for tomorrow. Good luck out there. Dismissed.”
I stood at attention, saluted him, and left the situation room, making my way to my bedroom. I laid down in bed, thinking about all that had happened that day.
The Repulsoids, for whatever reason, had kidnapped Mae to get at me. Me, specifically.
Once again, I’d put someone I cared about in danger.
I tossed and turned for a bit, before I fell into a troubled sleep.