“A Mother Box?” Mockingbird asked. “Are you sure?”
“I am the daughter of Vandal Savage,” Scandal replied. “Surety is my birthright.”
“Modesty too, apparently,” Mockingbird replied.
Scandal Savage and her team were stationed outside a mining operation in the hills of West Virginia. Their mission was to prevent the rogue nation of Tiraq from selling a weapon of mass destruction to a dangerous homegrown militia. The weapon was thought to be a bomb of some sort but instead it was a Mother Box.
“How in the hell did Tiraq secure a Mother Box?” Mockingbird asked.
“And what does an American Patriot group want with one?” Scandal volleyed back.
“I’m guessing for the Boom Tube technology,” Mockingbird answered. “They could teleport their militia anywhere in the universe in moments. That was probably the thunder we heard in the distance earlier. It would also account for how they snuck that convoy past Homeland Security.”
“So they’re planning some sort of attack?” Scandal asked.
“Not if we can help it,” Mockingbird answered. “And the hostages?”
Scandal shook her head. “Nothing yet.”
From their vantage point on the hillside, Scandal’s team watched carefully. Hush kept the parabolic listening dish Mockingbird provided attuned to the general area.
“We want to see the hostages,” the Tiraqi negotiator demanded.
The Patriot leader gave a nod to one of his men nd the subordinate disappeared into a trailer that served as the mining operation’s on-site office. A moment later the trailer’s front door opened and a man and woman were shoved out and thrown to the ground. The man’s hands were bound behind him in power-dampening cuffs designed to hold a metahuman, while the woman’s were bound by standard issue security handcuffs.
“Death is in the air,” Jeannette whispered. The ability to sense death was one of her more macabre powers.
“Hush, I want a visual confirmation on the identity of the hostages,” Scandal ordered. “Do you see what I see?”
Hush focused his binoculars on the captives. “No doubt about it, Icicle and Artemis.”
“Did you copy that, Mockingbird?” Scandal asked.
“Affirmative,” Mockingbird replied. “You just lost your bargaining power in regards to the hostages.”
Scandal sighed. She hated losing money. “Well played. What would Tiraq want with Icicle and Artemis?”
“Good question,” Mockingbird replied. “Give me a sec.”
For once Mockingbird’s audio stayed live between transmissions and Scandal heard furious typing on a keyboard in the background.
“Our captive duo recently ransacked the Tiraqi National Museum and made off with priceless artifacts recovered from an ancient city buried beneath the sand dunes of the Kilobi Desert. The items were cultural treasures,” Mockingbird replied. “There was major damage to the museum and three guards died in the ensuing scuffle.”
“A Mother Box seems a high price to pay for revenge.” Scandal replied. Even her father wouldn’t surrender such a powerful weapon to quench his thirst for retribution.
“You don’t know bin Vassar like we do,” Mockingbird replied.
Another piece of the Mockingbird puzzle fell into place. “Your recommendation?”
Mockingbird went silent.
“Do you copy Mockingbird? I need a recommendation,” Scandal repeated.
“I’m thinking,” Mockingbird huffed.
At the mine below, Icicle and Artemis rose to their knees.
The Tiraqi commander backhanded Icicle across the face and sent him flailing to the ground. “So you’re the pathetic dog who stole our nation’s beloved treasures?”
Icicle grimaced as he struggled to lift himself. “Just trying to earn an honest buck, pal.”
The commander lifted Icicle from the ground by his ashen locks and leaned into his face. “What do you know of honesty, criminal?”
“Like terrorizing the free world is going to win bin Vassar a Nobel Peace Prize anytime soon!” said Artemis.
The commander released Icicle and turned his attention to the blonde with the long ponytail. He grabbed her face in his hands and kissed her hard on the mouth. “Perhaps I will make you my whore after I kill your boyfriend!”
Icicle chuckled as he tongued bright blue blood from his upper lip. “Good luck with that, pal! You can’t break a wild horse!”
Artemis spat in the commander’s face. “Go to hell!”
The commander wiped the spittle from his face with a handkerchief and laughed. “Spit in my face again and you’ll be the first to taste its eternal flames!”
“Why don’t we tell you where the artifacts are and we’ll call it even?” Icicle asked.
The commander put away his handkerchief and dismissed his entourage. “We recovered the artifacts from your fence, Mahkent. This isn’t about money. You insulted the national pride of the Tiraqi people. We demand retribution!”
“We nabbed a few old statues and you kissed my girl,” Icicle stammered. “I’d say you came out ahead.”
“I’m not your girl,” Artemis hissed.
“It was like kissing a cow,” the commander shot back.
Artemis jerked at her cuffs. “Better a cow than a pig!” Two Tiraqi soldiers joined their commander and hastily assembled a video camera and tripod.
“You’re going to film our execution?” Icicle asked.
The commander shook his head and flashed a gold-toothed smile. “We film YOUR execution then violate your cow in ways that would disturb even your depraved mind.”
Icicle struggled to break free of his bonds but fell face-first on the ground.
“No, please don’t do this!” Artemis begged. “I’ll do anything!”
The commander laughed. “Of that I have no doubt, cow! Firing squad!”
A firing squad of five Tiraqi soldiers assembled and took aim at the two villains as the commander placed the Mother Box back in the briefcase attached to his wrist.
On the hillside above, Mockingbird finally broke her silence. “Don’t let them die! I’ll pay!”
“You may want to cover your ears,” Scandal said to Mockingbird. “Our girl’s about to sing the blues.”
“Roger that,” said Mockingbird. “I’m cutting communications now. Contact me when she’s finished.”
Scandal removed the earpiece Mockingbird provided and powered it down. She then inserted special earplugs into her own ears. Her teammates did the same.
A moment later, Jeannette drew a deep breath and raised her chin to the night wind. Like dying twin suns her irises were swallowed by a sea of midnight black and sunk deep into her head. The moonlight bathed her milky skin with an ashen pallor that cast long shadows across her delicate features. Her pink, pouty lips darkened and thinned into an angry snarl that exposed her pearly teeth. The process complete, her face glowed like a radioactive skull. A deep, guttural noise gurgled in her throat and escalated to the mournful shriek of a woman reliving the torture of her own botched execution centuries before.
The men at the mining site below dropped their weapons and covered their ears. One by one they dropped to the ground and writhed in agony as the mournful song assailed their senses. Some slipped into seizures. Others banged their heads with their fists. One man found his gun and placed its barrel into his mouth. Even the loud crack of his gunfire was swallowed by the maddening drone
The piercing cry echoed across the mountaintop and seemed to emanate from everywhere at once. The ones Scandal’s team hoped to rescue – Icicle and Artemis – were still cuffed and suffered the full fury of Jeannette’s aural assault. Artemis convulsed wildly and banged her head against the exposed rock beneath her. Foam erupted from her mouth. The twin troughs Icicle dug into the ground with his boot heels weren’t deep enough to escape Jeannette’s tortured moan.
Scandal was thankful for the ear plugs Jeannette designed for her team. Even with them in place, it was a test of will to not succumb to maddening wall of sound. She thought of more pleasant thoughts – Kay, aka Knockout, her one true love who died on her own Earth. Scandal missed her soft lips and gentle touch.
Jeannette finished her song and regained her human form. She placed her hand on Scandal’s shoulder. “It is done.”
Her teammate’s touch jolted Scandal from her thoughts. She removed her earplugs and took a moment to clear her head and check her team over to make sure everyone was okay. Hush seemed fine but Rag Doll was a mess. Blood poured from his eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. “Damn it, Doll! You didn’t use the earplugs again!”
Rag Doll’s face twitched as he struggled to recover his ability to speak. “And miss that primal symphony?” He took Jeannette’s hand and kissed it.
Jeannette jerked her hand away. “Touch me again, you depraved deviant and I will execute your death wish myself!”
“Honeymoon’s over you two. Let’s move out before our targets recover,” said Hush.
Scandal nodded and gave the signal for her team to move. She reinserted the earplug Mockingbird provided and powered it on. “Mockingbird, do you copy? We are on the move!”
“Copy that!” said Mockingbird. “The number one priority is recovering the Mother Box! Secondly, assist Icicle and Artemis!”
Scandal’s team arrived at the property’s perimeter. It was secured by a chain link fence that kept unwanted visitors at bay. This night those visitors would prove far more dangerous than the occasional bear or coyote.
Jeannette shredded the fence with her super-strength.
Inside the compound both groups were recovering from Jeannette’s onslaught. They found their weapons and opened fire on one another. The back door of the tractor-trailer flew open and a squadron of disheveled Tiraqi soldiers joined the melee.
Once inside the compound Scandal did what she did best - she led her team. “Rag Doll and Jeannette, deal with the soldiers! One of you hit the Tiraqis and the other the Americans!”
“Dibs on the Tiraqis!” Rag Doll squealed. “I’ve never sliced one open before!”
Jeannette broke toward the recovering Patriot group. “You keep a running tab on the nationalities of those you kill?”
“And those I maim!” Rag Doll shouted back. “I hope to cross every nation off my bucket list!”
“Hush! You recover the Mother Box!” Scandal ordered. “I’ll help the fallen members of our local!”
“Please tell me that’s a joke,” said Mockingbird. “You guys aren’t card-carrying members of some secret union. Are you?”
Scandal smiled. “Wouldn’t you love to know?” She rushed to Artemis first and cradled the fallen woman’s head within her hands. She was in the early stages of pulmonary aspiration. Jeannette’s song could be lethal but Scandal wouldn’t allow Artemis to die. She rolled the convulsing woman over so the vomit could drain from her mouth.
Icicle rolled over and faced Scandal. He looked like he’d been hit by Superman at Mach Ten but was alive. “H-H-Help her!” he stuttered. “Please don’t let her die.”
Scandal nodded. “She won’t die! Not tonight!”
“What the hell was that noise?” Icicle stammered.
“One of my teammates,” Scandal replied.
Her mouth finally clear of vomit, Artemis gulped a deep breath of air into her lungs.
“Thanks for the save,” said Icicle. “I thought we were goners there for a…Look out!”
Scandal threw herself across Artemis and ducked. The stock end of a Patriot’s rifle cut through the night air above her. She rolled to her right and buried the heel of her boot in the man’s portly gut. He keeled over from the force of the blow. A swift scissor kick to the base of his skull slammed him to the ground.
Scandal rushed back to Artemis and turned to Icicle. “I’m going to need your help if I’m going to save her.”
“Save her lady and I’ll kiss your rosy red…”
Scandal shook her head. “Sorry pal, wrong team.”
Once it dawned on Icicle that Scandal was a lesbian, his white cheeks blushed light blue. “Oh, I didn’t realize… I mean… I didn’t mean I would literally kiss your... Or that I have an interest in … ah, nuts!”
There was no time to enjoy Icicle’s discomfort. “Save it, Frostie,” Scandal replied. “Let’s get you in this game so you can watch my back while I make sure your girlfriend doesn’t die.”
Icicle’s eyes lit up at the thought of making his captors pay.
Scandal removed her Lamentation Blades from her backpack and slid them over her wrists. Even the STAR Labs-issued power dampeners were no match for the mystical blades forged in the unholy fires of ancient Aztec mystics.
Icicle shed the wrecked dampeners and rose to his feet. “Hey scumbags! Ever hear the old adage about revenge being a dish best served cold?” Icy throwing stars erupted from his hands and tore into the Tiraqi soldiers assigned to record his execution. He looked over his shoulder to Scandal. “Do your thing, lady! I’ve got this!”
With her own personal bodyguard watching her back, Scandal turned her full attention to Artemis. She laid the woman’s head on her thighs to keep it elevated and lightly slapped her cheeks with her open hand. “Come on, Artemis! You can pull through this!”
Artemis opened an eye and punched wildly with both fists.
The uppercut caught Scandal squarely beneath the chin and sent her sprawling backward. Scandal sat up but before she could find her feet Artemis was on her back. The frightened woman wrapped her handcuffs around Scandal’s throat and tightened the chain.
Scandal clawed at the taut chain but it was no use. Driven by survival instinct, Artemis was too strong to shake without hurting her. Scandal tried to speak but Artemis was determined to kill her and with Scandal being an immortal the task was Sisyphean.
Reprieve finally came when Icicle grabbed Artemis from behind. “No, love! Don’t kill her! Her team saved us!”
Scandal was happy to feel the chain loosen.
Artemis lifted the chain over Scandal’s head. “Sorry I tried to kill you. Are you okay?”
Scandal gasped for air. After a deep breath or two finally filled her lungs she was able to speak. “Would have done the same thing myself. You able to fight?”
“I nearly killed you didn’t I?” Artemis asked.
Scandal shook her head. “An “A’ for effort but I’m immortal. Help my team. I’ll retrieve the Mother Box.”
“You sure about that?” Mockingbird asked. “The immortal part.”
“As far as I know,” Scandal replied. “I am my father’s daughter.”
“But you have a mortal mother,” Mockingbird argued. “Don’t you?”
“She was Brazilian,” Scandal replied. She cursed herself for blurting the revelation. Mockingbird had enough information on her without volunteering more. “Any tidbits in your secret origin you’d care to share?”
“Only over coffee,” Mockingbird teased.
On the field of battle, surrounded by the chaos of men screaming and dying, Scandal Savage managed to smile. Whoever the mysterious Mockingbird was she had panache. “Touche.”
The Tiraqis and Patriots finally realized Scandal’s team instigated the attack and turned their attention to their mutual enemy. Bullets soon flew in every direction.
Jeannette was the first member of Scandal’s team to take a hit. A slug tore into her elbow. She shook it off easily but a second sunk into her left breast. She wiped the blood from her bosom and tasted it. “Bloody hell! Not the girls too!” she shouted over the fray as she shrugged off the attack and menaced slowly toward the shooter.
The shooter, a large, balding member of the Patriot group, seemed dumbfounded Jeannette wouldn’t fall. He fired again and again but failed to slow her advance even when his aim was true. Her slow, methodical lumber towards him ended with her knocking his gun away. A quick twist of his neck and he collapsed to the ground.
The Tiraqi commander and the Patriot leader were locked in battle over the Mother Box. The Tiraqi slammed the briefcase containing the Mother Box over the American’s head. The violent blow drove the Patriot to his knees where he struggled to maintain consciousness. Again the Tiraqi raised the briefcase but the American pulled his pistol and fired. The bullet tore out the Tiraqi’s throat and he fell. Though dying, he clung desperately to the Mother Box until a second bullet to the base of his skull ended the fight.
The Patriot leader tugged at the briefcase still chained to the Tiraqi’s wrist. It wouldn’t budge. He searched the site and found an ax in the back of a pickup truck. With one blow he lobbed off the man’s arm just below the elbow and freed the briefcase. He grabbed it, bloody stump and all, and admired the spoils of his hard-fought victory before cradling it beneath his own arm. He made it to one of the SUV’s and opened its door.
Hush slammed the door shut on his leg and pointed to the severed appendage in the man’s arms. “Give you a hand with my payday, pal? Get it, a hand?”
The Patriot leader cursed and tried to jerk his leg free but Hush pushed against the door with all his might. Undeterred, the Patriot went for his gun but Hush was faster. His bullet tore into the Patriot leader’s chest and painted the SUV with crimson splatters. Hush opened the door and the dead man fell to the ground. He retrieved the Mother Box along with the Tiraqi’s arm and tucked both beneath his long trench coat. “No sense of humor.”
Rag Doll delighted himself in the wanton death and destruction. He leaped onto the back of a Tiraqi solider and clawed at the man’s face. The soldier shrieked in pain and tried to shake Rag Doll loose but the imp was firmly entrenched with his tactile arms and legs ensnaring the man like an octopus would its prey. Rag Doll found an exposed section of the man’s trapezius and sunk his teeth into it. The man screamed again as Rag Doll ripped a chunk from his exposed flesh and spat it out.
“Tastes like chicken!” Rag Doll squealed. He lifted himself onto the flailing man’s shoulders. Once perched on the soldier’s shoulders he leaned over and looked into his face. “Why does everyone always say that? I mean if you want chicken why not just eat chicken? Am I right or I am I right?”
The man grabbed Rag Doll’s wild mane of bright red hair and pulled.
“Yes! Yes!” Rag Doll exclaimed. “Rip it from its roots and feed me my bloody scalp!”
The rapid blood loss was too much for the soldier. Unable to support his own weight and that of Rag Doll any longer he collapsed. There was no fight left in him.
“You know what I hate?” Rag Doll asked as he rolled off the dying man’s back. “That disappointing moment when the roller coaster pulls back into the station and the ride is over.”
<“Allah, help me,”> the soldier begged as his eyes closed.
Rag Doll sighed as he watched the man bleed out. “And I can’t even blow up the coaster afterward to make myself feel better!”
His disappointment faded quickly as he realized there were more soldiers to kill.
“How’s it going?” Mockingbird asked Scandal.
Scandal surveyed the chaos and violence unfolding around her. “You don’t want to know.”
“Try to avoid casualties if possible,” said Mockingbird.
Scandal wasn’t sure if the suggestion was an order or a plea. “If you wanted clean with no casualties you should have hired the Justice League.”
“They were busy,” Mockingbird replied.
Did Mockingbird really have Justice League connections or was the comment a joke? Scandal wasn’t sure. “You get what you pay for. We… Son of a ….”
“Scandal?” Mockingbird shouted.
The bullet that grazed Scandal’s hip took a small chunk of flesh and bone with it. Scandal was fortunate. The hollow point would have done significant damage had it struck squarely. She spotted the shooter – a balding, beanpole of a middle-aged man with a long goatee that looked more appropriately dressed to hunt turkey or deer than to take part in the melee. He ran when they locked eyes.
Even with her hip burning, Scandal ran the man down and tackled him to the ground. He landed on his stomach and curled up in a fetal position to protect himself. After a surprisingly difficult struggle she rolled him over and straddled his chest. She raised her Lamentation Blades and lifted them high into the night air.
The man’s face blanched white when he realized he was about to meet his maker. “No please! I have a family! Two little girls!”
“Scandal, what’s happening?” Mockingbird asked. “Scandal?”
The mention of the man’s children froze Scandal’s blades. She shrugged off the nagging rush of compassion and grabbed the man’s hair with one hand and dug the tip of the right blade beneath his chin with the other. Yet, something stayed her hand. What was wrong with her? He was a redneck piece of homegrown terrorist filth. Why couldn’t she kill him? “I’m going to release you but you will leave your weapon and your wallet with me and leave this place. If you make it through the gunfire then go home to your wife and children! If not then your children won’t have reason to come looking for me one day. Got it?”
The man nodded.
Scandal rolled off him and took his guns and his wallet.
He stood and surveyed the battlefield. Although clearing it was still riddled with stray gunfire. His eyes begged for a third option.
Scandal sighed. “God help me, I’m getting soft. There’s a hole in the fence on the south side of the mine behind the office! You are indebted to Scandal Savage, mortal. Now go!”
The man nodded and ran off.
“You robbed him?” Mockingbird asked. “With the money I’m paying you and you lifted his wallet?”
Scandal counted the man’s cash. “He has forty-nine dollars and a few credit cards. I have no interest in either.” She found the man’s driver’s license and stuffed it into her boot. “I wanted identification.”
“You’re serious about that debt aren’t you?” Mockingbird asked.
“As a heart attack,” Scandal replied. “You never know when you’ll need to call in a favor.”
Artemis struck the final blow as she sent a quarrel into the heart of the last Tiraqi. “And that’s for forcing me to leave the straight and narrow!”
“Way to go, love!” Icicle exclaimed.
With lightning reflexes Artemis retrieved another quarrel from her quiver and aimed it at Icicle. “Or should I blame you? One last job you said… an easy one at that! When I refused you played a favor I owed you from way back!”
“Easy now, babe,” Icicle begged as he backed off slowly. “You don’t want to kill your man!”
Rag Doll hopped onto the roof of an SUV and sat with his legs crossed Indian-style. He was chewing on an ear from a dead Tiraqi. “I love a good rom-com! Wish I had some popcorn though! An ear is a good souvenir snack but romantic comedy just screams for popcorn!”
His teammates gathered around to watch the show.
Artemis lowered her crossbow and approached Icicle slowly. She kicked him between the legs. “Let’s get this straight, Cameron! You are not my man!”
Icicle lurched forward and grabbed himself as he hunched to the ground. With bugged eyes and great difficulty he finally managed to say, “You’ll come around.”
Rag Doll leaped off the truck and ran after Artemis. “My turn! Do me next!”
Artemis slumped to the ground and laid her crossbow next to her. “I’m sorry Ted.”
Finally the night was quiet. Scandal’s team and their new allies took a moment to catch their breaths. Hush gave the briefcase to Scandal and she tucked it away, ignoring the bloody stump still attached.
“We have the Mother Box! What now?” Jeannette asked, as she blotted at her bloody chest with a strip of camouflage cloth torn from one of the dead men’s shirts.
A low rumble shook the ground.
“You had to ask didn’t you?” Hush asked.
A thunderous explosion like the one they heard in the distance earlier followed. A Boom
Tube swirled before Scandal’s battle-weary team and gathered mass. The strong wind that blew from within made it nearly impossible to stand.
“What’s happening?” Mockingbird shouted. “Scandal?”
The wind gushed so intensely Scandal was forced to shield her eyes from the dust kicked up by its gale. “Another Boom Tube is opening!”
Two silhouetted figures emerged from the anomaly and floated into the West Virginia night on hovering metal disks.
“What to do with the Mother Box?” Mister Miracle asked. The hem of his gaudy green cape blew forward and lashed at the heels of his matching boots. He turned to his wife floating at his side. “What do you recommend they do with it dear?”
Barda sneered and extended her oversized right hand. “Hand it over and no one gets hurt!”