Friday, June 24, 2011

Claws of the Dragon

I told Jack to stay out of sight in the hospital room while I went to check out the gunshots and screams down the hall, but he ignored me and followed me out. He did at least have the good sense to stay behind my semi-scaly, partially bullet-proof body.

Good thing because I walked out into the hallway and took a shotgun blast full in the belly. It was a lot like getting kicked by a mule. I know. I’m a farm kid.

I whoofed my breath out and fell backward onto Jack, who managed to catch me and only stumble back a step or two. I looked down at my belly surprised. No blood. A hole had been torn through the silly hospital gown and the bandages. A shimmering expanse of silver scales with not a scratch in them showed though the ragged black-edged hole. “Whoah!  My abs are armored!”

“Not the time, Dee,” Jack reminded me. He pointed with his chin, “Bad guy with shotgun in a hospital.” 

“Right.” Jack set me on my feet, and I leapt forward to tackle the big bruiser in leather with the shotgun who was about to blow my cheery nurse’s head off. She crouched on the floor, holding up her clipboard like it might ward off a shotgun blast.

Scythe was the nut with the shotgun, and he looked pissed off. He screamed, “Where is she? Where’s the bitch with the claws?”

I’d intended to leap forward and body tackle him, but my legs were still a bit rubbery and the hospital had a nasty tendency to spin periodically. The IV I’d forgotten about got yanked out of my arm when I jumped. I sort of stumbled into the guy, and grabbed for the gun.

He was faster, and probably far less fuzzy-headed, than me.  He yanked the gun to the side and kicked me in the chest, which made less of an impession than the shotgun blast. He pumped the shotgun, and pointed it at my face, “What did you do to her?”

I was pretty confused about what he was asking, but completely clear-headed about not wanting to be looking up the barrel of a shotgun. I grabbed the thing with my left hand and shoved it hard to one side, holding tight to it so he couldn’t shove it back in my face, or anyone else’s.  I felt something give, and looked at my scaly hand holding the shotgun barrel. The barrel was crushed and bent nearly ninety degrees.

“Did I do that?”

“What the hell are you?” Scythe asked.

“I'm an EMT,” I said without thinking, then punched him with my right hand, from an awkward angle.

He threw up both arms to block, so I hit muscular forearms instead of jaw. It didn’t slow the punch at all, even though I hadn’t been able to put much force behind it. Scythe knocked a laptop off one of those little roll around metal desks, hit the opposite wall, and left a muscle-man sized dent in the seafoam green-painted drywall.

I thought the fight might be over, which was good because the fluorescent lights were way too bright, kept strobing, and were making this really annoying buzzing noise. I struggled to my feet, using the wall to help get me vertical.

Scythe shoved the rolling desk into me just as I got standing.

That just was not cool.

I fell in a tangle of limbs and metal desk that made horrific clanging sounds as it went down. I thought my head might explode, and I seriously considered puking on the clean white tile. That probably wouldn’t make my nurse, who was on the floor next to me, happy.

I picked the desk up with one hand and flung it at Scythe.

He did a cool dive roll thing up the corridor toward Jack. The desk went past him and embedded itself in the wall like abstract art.

“Hold still, dammit,” I murmured, struggled back to my feet and went after him. I grabbed an IV stand as I went, mine, possibly.

Scythe grabbed Jack by the hair with one hand and pressed a handgun against his temple with the other. “Tell me what you did to Death or I’ll blow his head off.”

My first instinct was all protective and horrified, but I looked at Jack’s face and suppressed an urge to giggle. Scythe was very focused on me as the threat. He hadn’t restrained Jack’s arms in any way, and wasn’t paying him much attention. He’d assumed ordinary little Jack was harmless. Heh.

I did my best to keep Scythe’s attention on me. “I didn’t do anything to Miss I-can-kick-your-ass-in-stiletto-heels. She put that brass spider thing on me, and I’ve been out for days. That’s why I’m in the hospital, dumbass.”

“Don’t mess with me, bitch, or I’ll blow a hole in him. Death has been out cold for three days since you scratched her. How do I bring her out of it?”

“Uh …” I said brilliantly. I popped the silver claws out of my new hand and looked at them. The tips, if you looked real close, were hollow, like injection needles. “No way!”

Scythe growled, and pointed his gun at my head. “Tell me how to fix her, now!”

Jack shoved his shoulder into Scythe, knocking his aim off my nose, then shoved a taser in the big bruiser’s ribs.

Scythe yelled, “YEE AAGH!” or something like that and dropped his gun. He stumbled back from Jack, body jerking, but still managing to roll away.

Jack and I both went after him.

Scythe drew another gun from his boot, and started to point it at Jack.

I whacked his arm with the IV stand. Another gun went flying. 

Scythe did a backward roll, and came up with two more guns in his hands. Where the heck did the guy keep all those guns? He couldn’t retreat any further, he’d reached the end of the corridor. The big picture window behind him had a nice view of the park across the street through the sheets of blinding white light.

I stepped in front of Jack and threw the IV stand at Scythe.  He dropped, it flew over him, and he rolled back to his feet, right on the edge of the now shattered window.

Scythe fired both guns simultaneously, one at the window, shattering a larger section of glass, the other at me.
I turned sideways and threw up my left arm, like I always did when something nasty was headed my way.

Three bullets pinged off my shoulder, leg, and chest. They stung a bit, but not nearly as much as I expected.  They all hit scales. Even where there weren’t any scales last time I looked.

Scythe dropped the guns and jumped out the window.

That seemed like a really bad idea. I could tell by the angle of the view of the park. We were at least on the fourth floor.

I leaned out the window, holding the frame so I wouldn’t topple over, and squinting and shielding my eyes with my other hand so I could see. I saw Scythe flip neatly from one ledge to another, then drop to the next with ease.  I suddenly had a lot more sympathy for the cops who continuously failed to catch the Death Dealers despite the fact that neither one seemed to have any superpowers.

But I did.

I jumped out the window.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I knew a four story fall wouldn’t give me too much trouble, I can jump two stories straight up from a standstill.  I dropped onto the grassy lawn, and tumbled to take some momentum. Well, that’s what I told Jack later, anyway.

Truth is, I landed like a ton of uncoordinated bricks and rolled ass over teakettle. My body felt all weird, heavy in places where I thought I was light, light in places I thought I was heavy, and my muscles didn’t respond like normal. It didn’t help that my head was still swimming and the light was so bright I felt like someone was holding a spotlight in my face.

I looked for Scythe once I straightened myself out, but he was long gone.

Good thing for him that he left, or I would have puked on his shoes. Not that I had much to throw up, but my stomach made a valiant effort.

Jack brought me a wheelchair a little while later. We went back into the nice hospital, and I laid down on a bed until it stopped rotating.

The cheery nurse brought me a tray with three steaks, four chicken quarters, two pork chops, and a tuna salad. She also brought me an extra pillow, a fluffy pre-warmed blanket, a new, clean hospital gown, and a tall glass of ice water. She told me at least four times that if there was anything else I needed, I just had to ask.

When she finally left, I ate everything but the tuna salad. It had pickles and celery in it. I felt slightly more like myself after that.

“All right, I think it’s time for me to see the full extent of it,” I said.

Jack didn’t even pretend not to understand. He closed the door.

There was a full length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. I stood in front of it, tossed the useless hospital gown aside, and let Jack do his thing with the scissors and the bandages.

He cut the left side free of bandages and it made my breath catch. Scales. My entire left side, from collar bone all the way to my clawed toes was covered in scales. Purple was the main color, with heavier silver on my shoulder, elbow, breast, knee and belly.  Emerald stripes like a tiger's accented the deep purple.

Jack kept going, cutting bandages until I was completely naked in front of the mirror. It was odd. No other man had ever seen me naked, but my father when I was a kid.

The thing is, I’d never seen me naked before either, not like this, so we were both pretty much seeing me for the first time. My right side was still skin, like a human’s, in some places: my right leg below the knee and part of my right thigh, right arm and shoulder, and my head. I turned and twisted around to look at my back.
Silver heavy scales almost like plates ran down my spine, and my back and butt were completely covered in purple scales with green stripes.

My wings felt strange, I unfolded them part way, not enough room to stretch them out completely. They were thicker, heavier, and the joints at the wrist and elbow felt different. I’d have to go somewhere with more space to see what had changed about them.

“There’s hardly any me left,” I said softly.

Jack set the scissors aside and put his hand on my left arm. He stroked down the scales the way he used to, and it felt just as wonderful as ever. “It’s you, Dee. Just a few years older.”

I choked a laugh. “A few.” I looked at the shimmering new scales on a body that should have been familiar, and I felt a little dizzy again.

Jack’s hand held onto my arm and steadied me. “It’s all right. I’m here.”

I touched his face with my one human hand. “I thought it was awful, happening so slow, maybe one new scale a month. Fafnir said that was so I had time to adapt and learn as I matured.” My hand shook as I touched his face, human skin to human skin, a sensation I might one day lose forever. “What’s going to happen to me now?”

Jack didn’t have any answers, but he held me, and that helped.

Dee Dragon

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lost and Found

I woke up in a hospital bed. It was the first time, in all the years I’ve worked in hospitals, that I’ve ever actually been a patient in one. The rooms look really different from this angle.
My right arm had an IV in it, a tube dripping saline solution, and Jack holding my hand.
“Hey,” I said. Had to swallow and say it again. My mouth tasted like road dust. Jack gave me some water. I took one sip, then gulped down the whole thing and sucked at the edge of the cup to get the last drop.
“Slow down, Dee. You’ll make yourself sick.”
“Never been sick in my life,” I said, and put my left hand to my forehead while the room rotated a few times. I got drunk once. Just once. I’d felt a lot like this the next day. Hence the just once.
My left hand was swathed in bandages until it was more like a boxing glove. “What happened? What’s wrong with my hand?”
Jack cleared his throat and looked everywhere but at me. “I can’t really say.”
“The doctors don’t want you hit with too many shocks until you’re a little further out of the woods. We nearly lost you, Dee.” He squeezed my right hand. “I nearly lost you.”
I remembered the fat spider thing and beautiful Death gloating over me, about how I’d die old and wrinkled. “Am I old?”
Jack did that eyes everywhere but me thing again and I panicked a little. “Get me a mirror!” I yanked my hand out of his and touched my face, but it felt normal, skin soft, smooth, like it always had been. My arm felt heavy, though, and my elbow ached when I bent it, and not just because of the IV needle.
The rolling bedside table that’s ubiquitous to every hospital room had a little drawer in the bottom. Jack pulled a hand mirror out of it and handed it to me. “You don’t look old. You look fine. It’s okay.”
The mirror confirmed that I hadn’t turned into a wrinkled old hag overnight. I did look a little different, thinner definitely, and hollow-eyed like I hadn’t slept in a week, but something else. It was subtle, but I suspected that there were some bars where I might not get carded anymore. I didn’t look nineteen or twenty, I looked maybe twenty-three or twenty-four. “Stealing years. The Death Dealers were stealing years and selling them.”
“The machine choked on you,” Jack said. “It’s a pile of broken glass and melted metal and wires now. It was probably designed to hold 50 or 60 years, a hundred at most.”
Dragons live a lot longer than a hundred years. Fafnir was more than 4000 years old. He considered Vlad very young at a mere 700. I was a baby at 63.  But how old was I now? I’d been going through puberty for 40 years. Was I done? I looked back in the mirror. My face was human still, no scales, and Fafnir told me the scales would cover me completely eventually. No such luck. Domina Death’s little toy sucked 40 or 50 years from my life, but I still had more awkward embarrassing body weirdness to go.
I sighed. “Least she could have done was get me all the way there.”
Jack looked puzzled.
“Nevermind. Who do I have to kill to get a glass of water around here?”
Jack grinned, and I grinned back at him. I almost felt like sending the Death Dealers a thank you note just then. Me nearly dying had apparently made Jack completely forget that he’d broken up with me. He poured me a glass of water from a little pink plastic pitcher and I gulped it down gratefully.
I was starting to feel a bit less like road kill.
A tiny, dark-haired, dark-skinned nurse came in through the door with a hearty, “Ah, good morning! And how are we feeling?” She had a heavy accent, Indian, I think.
“I don’t know about you, but I feel like forty miles of bad road.”
She swept the heavy curtains open, and someone drove white hot ice picks into my eyes. “AAH!” I put my left hand with the big wad of bandages up to shield my eyes and heard ripping cloth.
Jack jumped up and yanked the curtains from the startled nurse’s hands, shutting out the searing white light.
“What the hell was that?” I asked.
Jack sat down next to me again. “You tell me, Dee. What happened? Why did you scream?”
“The light hurt my eyes. Is there some kind of searchlight out there or something?”
“It’s just a normal sunny day.”
“Peachy. I’ve developed an extreme sensitivity to light.”
The nurse recovered her composure, said, “I’ll make a note of that on your chart, dear. We’ll keep the lights dimmed and the curtains closed.”
She checked my blood pressure and pulse on my right arm, made a note of it, and asked me if I was hungry.
“I’m hungry enough to eat you.”
She took a step backward, eyes getting a little wide.
“Joke, lady. Get a grip.” Geeze, she was jumpy. “I’m starving, but I’m on a high protein diet. No vegetables, no starches.”
She went all stern mom-faced on me. “You’re going to have to stop starving yourself like that, young lady. You nearly died of malnutrition. People can’t live on meat alone.”
Jack jumped in, “Dee has special food requirements because of her differences. She didn’t diet herself into the condition she was in. It was done to her.”
“I eat like a starving marine. Bring me every kind of protein you have and I’ll prove it.”
The nurse looked skeptical, but said, “I’ll let the kitchen know your requests.”
As soon as the nurse closed the door behind her, I swung my feet over the side of the bed. As I lifted the sheet, I saw that my hand wasn’t the only thing covered in bandages. I looked like the main character in a mummy movie, dressed in one of those useless gowns with the big gaping nothing in the back. “I’m not planning on staying till breakfast. Ma’s bacon and cheese omelette is far better than anything they’re going to have anyway.” Two things hit at once, dizziness and the realization that Ma would be freaking out since I didn’t come home. “I’ve gotta get home before Ma has kittens.”
“Your mother just left a couple hours ago. She’s been here night and day, and she wasn’t looking well. I told her to go get some rest and I’d watch over you for a while.”
I blinked a minute, while the room stopped dancing. “Day and night? How long was I out?”
“Three days.”
I groaned. “I am so fired. I used up all my sick days when the Protectors were in Japan.”
“Don’t sweat it. Boss was there when you were brought in. I told him you’d been sick for days, and I’d been taking care of you, but it suddenly got worse. Seeing you in that condition, he couldn’t really dispute me.”
“At least something went right. Death Dealers got away, didn’t they?”
“Yeah, but at least we stopped them from killing anyone else with that thing.” That’s my Jack. Always looking on the bright side.
Jack put his shoulder under my arm, steadied me, and moved the IV stand around behind me. “You probably shouldn’t be getting up this soon, you know.” He said it like he knew I would ignore him, but he felt obligated to say something anyway.
Jack knows me pretty well. “Is Flynn okay?”
“He’s good. His flak vest caught the shotgun blast. He’s in deep kimchee at work, though.”
“I’ll bet.”
I looked into the mirror above the sink. Yup, mummy in a blue striped hospital gown. Tattered tailings of ripped gauze hung from the white pillow passing for my left hand. I would have sworn those weren’t there earlier. I wiggled my fingers and saw a glint of silver through holes in the gauze. What the heck?
I started trying to unwrap my hand, but that gauze was layered and taped and it wasn’t giving up its secrets easily.
Jack tried to stop me. “The doc said to wait until you were stronger.”
“I’m fine, Jack, but if you won’t tell me what that steampunk spider thing did to me, then I’m going to see for myself.”
“It’s just that …”
I stopped tearing at the gauze with my teeth and one free hand, and gave him a chance.
“You’re a little more dragon now than before.”
“Ah.” I had this odd feeling looking at the wad of gauze, as if something alien was going to tear its way through. “It’s my hand, Jack. I need to know.”
Jack sighed. “All right. Hang on. I’ve got scissors.” Jack dug in his paramedic kit, which was never far from his side, and pulled out scissors with long handles, short blades, and one tip blunted, made specifically for cutting clothes off patients, or cutting bandages.
He slipped that blunt tip under the edge of the bandages around my wrist. I felt the metal slide against scales, but I didn’t have scales that far down on my wrist. Or, rather, I hadn’t last time I looked.
He slit the gauze along my palm. The poofy football of cotton clamshelled open and I saw what the fuss was about. I staggered back a few steps. Jack guided me until I was sitting on the edge of the bed.
My hand was all dragon. The palm was completely covered in very fine purple metallic scales. My knuckles and the backs of my fingers were covered in heavier silver scales, layered like plates in a gauntlet. Some of the fine mobility in my hand was lost, but I could still close it into a fist, open it, move my fingers. It felt … right somehow, even though it was completely different. I tensed my hand and silver claws an inch long shot out of the tips of my fingers.
Jack and I both flinched a little in surprise.
“Wow,” I whispered.
That was when we heard the gunshots and the screams.

Dee Dragon

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dreams of Camelot

I had the most amazing dream, so vivid it was as if I had truly travelled back in time.
I was flying, not just gliding. I was really flying, effortlessly soaring from the high peak of an island over a broad glassy lake, flapping occasionally to gain altitude over vivid green forests and farmland. I wasn’t alone. My sisters flew beside me, two of the eldest warriors of the Silver clan. They banked when I did, following my lead, wingtips just out of reach.
There was a tiny city on a hill in the distance surrounded by a stone wall with a castle in the center. It was nothing like any castle I’d ever seen, not weathered white stone and crumbling mortar lying abandoned like the skeleton of a dead giant. It was vibrantly alive with brilliant banners and people everywhere as busy as ants in a disturbed mound.
My sisters and I flew to the open courtyard in the center of the square castle. Normally, we would be more polite and land by the front gate, but we were expected, and Merlin’s message had held a sense of urgency. As we landed, we folded our wings and traded our impenetrable scales for fragile human skins. We donned the simple white gowns of lamb’s wool that a servant brought us, and girded our hips with silver as befitted our clan. I touched my girdle fondly. It was studded with emeralds as bright as my beloved Merlin’s scales and befitted my station as the Pendragon of the Silver clan. He had forged it for me centuries before when our love was new, and the intricate silver plates had darkened with age.
Merlin strode forward, beard and hair long and white, but back still straight and blue eyes bright with intelligence. The Wizard of the Green clan was perhaps the oldest dragon living, older than me by millennia, yet our love had given him his only children, both sons unfortunately. Robert, our youngest boy, walked solemnly beside his father, a gangly, long-legged child of less than two decades. He grinned wide and ran to meet me. “Mother!”
I embraced the boy tight and my heart swelled. I wished, not for the first time, that Robert had been born a girl so that he could inherit leadership of my clan, rather than follow in his father’s footsteps as a healer and seer.
I embraced Merlin as well, tenderly, and for a moment our minds mingled. There was love between us still, and always would be, but our love would forevermore be tainted with grief and guilt. I could no longer be a proper mate to him. “I’m sorry,” I told him in the privacy of our minds.
Merlin did not have the Silver clan gift, so could not speak back in the same way. “As am I,” he whispered for my ears alone. Our eldest son Uther had been a fine, strong young drake, but he had been mad enough to fall in love with a mostly human woman, wife to a nobleman of Caledonia with Black clan ties. He had started a war that shed human and dragon blood in rivers. Eventually my son had paid the ultimate price for his folly at the hands of a Green/Black hybrid that I suspected was one of his own bastards. The foolish fledgling never did seem to learn that he could not have every woman his eye fell upon with lust.
A serious young man dressed in full armor, sweat matting his golden hair from his efforts at weapons practice joined us in the courtyard. The only good thing that had come of Uther’s dalliance was my grandson, Arthur. He was barely more than a boy, tall, strong and handsome with his scales just beginning to come in, but already he showed a strength of character that Uther had never attained. He was the youngest Pendragon in history. My sister, Fiona, and her son, Gawain accompanied him. Fiona was the finest swordswoman in our clan, and she spoke with admiration of Arthur’s inborn talent for swordplay.
“A boy so young should not have to take on the mantle of war,” I said sadly, then smiled at my grandson. “But Fiona tells me you fight well, … for a male.”
Arthur chuckled, and bowed. “Lady Nyneve, welcome. I bear bruises from Fiona’s lessons for weeks. It is good to know that they have some benefit.”
Fiona and Gawain excused themselves to continue their weapons practice. Merlin suggested that Robert join them, which lit up the boy’s eyes with pleasure. Merlin kept our son too close at times, always with books and studying. I understood his determination not to repeat the mistakes we made with Uther, but Robert was my son, too. He needed to be allowed to stretch his wings at times.
In a private chamber, we were served refreshments, clear spring water untainted with wine and a fine stew of lamb flavored with salt pork, with eggs to thicken it and no trace of that horrible-smelling garlic the common people seemed so fond of.  “What has happened, Merlin,” I asked when all were refreshed. “Your messenger spoke of a dark vision?”
“The Blacks have not forgotten the blood they shed on our land decades ago, my lady of the lake.” Merlin stroked his beard and his eyes unfocused, seeing that which no one else could, glimpses of future possibilities. “A vision came to me last night, clear and sharp, so it is near in time and probability. I have seen a man, with but a trace of noble dragon blood, somehow fully scaled head to toe, bearing a black sword that can cut even through the impenetrable scales of the Silvers. He seeks to sever young Arthur’s head.”
I could feel my eyes burn with rage at such insolence. Arthur sat straight in his tall-backed chair, showing no sign of fear, but a murder plot was never an easy thing to live with. “No foreign upstart will lay a claw on my grandson.”
Arthur smiled at my flash of protectiveness.
Merlin was not finished with his dire vision. “A dark army follows in the Black knight’s wake. Fire and destruction. He seeks to rule all the lands and people of Black, Green, Red and Silver, and my vision shows two paths. If this man succeeds in killing Arthur, he will attain his goal but at a terrible, bloody cost, hunger, disease, and the death of thousands. If Arthur survives and this man dies, the lands will prosper for decades to come.”
“That man is insane. We have little more than an uneasy truce with Eric the Red and his people. Arthur may lead Green and the humans of this land, but the sisters of Avalon bow to no one, and we are the ones who anoint kings. Killing Arthur would make this man nothing more than a murderer, one that we would hunt down and execute.”
“Perhaps.” Merlin stroked his beard thoughtfully. “But if the Blacks gain a foothold here, it will give them a perfect place to build their strength and launch attacks against the northlands. Avalon will be isolated and even the greatest warriors eventually fall to sufficient numbers.”
The hair at the nape of my neck lifted as a shiver ran up my spine. Merlin’s visions had proven far too accurate in the past. The fall of Camelot and Avalon to the ruthless Blacks could not be allowed to come to pass. “This Black knight must die.”
Merlin reached across the table and took my hand with the same gentle strength that he had always shown. “I fear for your life, my lady, if you fight him.”
“Have you seen a vision of my death as well?”
Merlin shook his head as if to clear it and confusion made his craggy face seem older than ever.  “The visions are not clear. I see only flashes, blood on Silver scales, fire hotter than a volcano’s breath, and an overwhelming feeling of horror.” His hand trembled on mine. Never had he looked so fragile and ancient. Merlin had lived so long that it was easy to believe that he would live forever. But no one lives forever. “I beg of you, Nyneve. When the time comes, send another to face him.”
I stared angrily into Merlin’s too perceptive blue eyes. He had to know that I would never order one of my sisters into a battle I feared myself. It tightened my jaw that he would even suggest such cowardice.
“We should send word to Eric,” Arthur said, always the peacemaker.
Merlin knew me well. He closed his eyes for a moment, face weary and sad, then nodded slightly and released my hand. “I will send a swift messenger across the sea to the northlands, my liege.”
Arthur stood and his voice rang with authority, “When the Black knight and his army arrive, they will find us ready.”
I hoped that he was right.

The world of King Arthur faded away. I tried to cling to it, wondering what would happen to Arthur, to Lady Nyneve, and to the adolescent boy, Robert who had to be my father, but pain pulled me toward my own reality. Pain and thirst.

Dee Dragon

Friday, June 10, 2011

Death and Her Scythe

Jack and I reported the murder to the police. They dispatched officer Flynn, the same cop Beau had already talked to, the one who hadn’t believed him. Great.
We had to wait a half hour before he got around to even showing up. I guess a murdered homeless man wasn’t high on his priority list. Beau had managed to get himself under control by then, but it still broke my heart, seeing him sitting there alone, his best friend dead beside him.
Guilt ate at me. I hadn’t healed Pete properly. That’s why he ended up blind. If he’d been able to see, he wouldn’t have been such an easy target. Maybe he’d still be alive.
Jack put a hand on my shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault.”
I shrugged. Jack was sweet, but he was also wrong.
When Officer Flynn finally showed up, I recognized him. The last time I’d seen him, he was burned over a fair amount of his body from trying to take on Mr. Flame. He pulled a notebook out of his pocket and said, “All right, what cock and bull story did that old kook feed you?”
All the guilt and sadness I was feeling disappeared in a wash of pure anger. Jack looked at me funny and Flynn rolled his eyes. “Oh great. You’re one of them.”
I was all set to rip him a new one verbally, and confusion took the wind out of my sails. “One of who?” I looked at Jack. “What’s he talking about?”
“Your eyes glowed red for a second there,” Jack told me. “It was pretty weird.”
I’d seen Vlad’s eyes do that when he was mad, but I didn’t think mine had ever done it before. Just what I needed, another flashing sign on my forehead that said, I’m a freak. Gotta love dragon puberty.
Flynn tapped his pencil on his notebook impatiently. “Look, I’ve got other things to do.”
That got my hackles back up. “Sorry for pestering you with a measly little serial murder by the Death Dealers. I’m sure you have some traffic tickets you need to write.”
Flynn rolled his eyes again. “The Death Dealers, two of the highest paid mercenaries in the world, have been hired to kill some random old homeless guys. What brilliant bit of detective work led you to that conclusion?”
“How about an eye witness that saw them at the scene of the crime?”
“What, old Beau? He sees unicorns and angels, too. He’s not what we real police call a ‘reliable witness.’” He did air quotes with his fingers. “I know you ‘heroes’ can’t be bothered with such mundane matters.” He did the air quotes again. Wow, that’s annoying.
“Well, since you’re a brilliant police detective, and I’m just a dumb EMT, then please, explain to me medically how a 35 year old man in perfect health died of old age overnight?” Without realizing it, I’d gotten closer to him until I was violating his personal space a bit.
Flynn blinked and said, “I never claimed to be a detective.” He took a half step back.
“I never claimed to be a hero.” I backed up a little, too.
Jack stepped between us, and crowded me back more. “Glad we got that cleared up. Now, let’s get to reporting the actual crime.” His tone lost all emotion as he faced Flynn. “We treated the victim less than a month ago. He was in good health aside from blindness, and in his mid-thirties. Two people matching the description of the Death Dealers gave Mr. Grimsby money. He left the victim alone to go buy food. When he returned, the victim was dead, apparently of natural causes due to extreme old age. Since other homeless men have died recently under similar circumstances, we suspect the Death Dealers are targeting younger homeless people with some sort of weapon or super power that causes sudden aging. We don’t have any theories yet as to their motives.”
Flynn blinked again. “You sound like a cop.”
Jack grinned. “Thank you.”
Flynn’s stiffness broke a little, and he almost smiled back. Jack’s smile is kind of infectious. Flynn sighed and put away his pencil and pad. “All right, I’ll report it, but if what you say is true, they’ll just bump it up to the Protectors. This is their kind of weird. And who knows when they’ll get around to checking it out. A bunch of them are in Joplin helping with reconstruction after that big tornado.”
“That’s just peachy,” I sighed. Why is it the Protectors were always somewhere else? I looked over at Beau, sitting in the gloom under the bridge, alone in the island of light Jack’s lantern gave, holding Pete’s cold stiff hand. Jack and Flynn saw what I saw. “It’s not like they’re going to make any headlines saving homeless guys.”
Flynn snorted.
“How many more people will die before they get around to it?” I wondered.
Flynn’s blue eyes narrowed and he nodded, a short, sharp jerk of the head. “None, if I can help it. I hate having to call in kids in spandex to do my job, anyway. If you got an idea how to catch these guys, I’m in. Unofficially, of course.”
“Should be easy enough to catch them,” Jack said. “We just need to give them a young target, someone they don’t think anyone will miss. And wait for them to show.”
Simultaneously, all three of us said, “I’ll be the bait.”
Jack and Flynn both looked at me and shook their heads. “No way,” Flynn said.
My turn to roll my eyes and be pissy. “What is this? The poor fragile female can’t risk her pretty little neck?”
Jack chuckled. “That’s not the problem, Dee. I hit you with a car this morning, remember?”
“Right. Forgot about that. So, why can’t I be the bait?”
Jack cleared his throat and looked uncomfortable. “Um, well, the thing is, you’re pretty, I mean, um …no one’s going to believe that you can’t make a living, um…” He looked pleadingly at Flynn. “You want to bail me out here?”
Flynn grinned. “You’re hot,” he said. “If you were on the streets, I’d be arresting you on Sixth street periodically, not hassling you for panhandling the tourists.”
“Oh.” My cheeks got warm, and I was very glad that it was too dark for human eyes to distinguish color well.
“I’ll be the bait,” Flynn said as if the matter were settled.
“No, I will,” Jack said. “You look like a college football star. If you were any more clean cut, you’d squeak.”
“He’s got a point.” I hated to agree with Jack on this, since it meant he’d be the bait, but he was right. Flynn was over six feet of muscular, buzz-cut and square-jawed manliness. Of the three of us, Jack, with his average build and height and slightly shaggy hair, was the most likely to pass as a street person.
“I want to help,” Beau said. I’d heard him walk up, but hadn’t really paid any attention.
“You’re too old to tempt the killers, Beau,” I told him gently.
“Yeah, but I know where they’re likely to go next.”
We looked at each other, and could tell we were all thinking the same thing. Beau knew the homeless community and their hidey holes better than any of us. And it would make him feel better to be a part of finding Pete’s murderers.
“All right, Beau. You’re in,” I told him.
Jack and I both called in sick the next night. The boss was going to have a field day with that one, but it couldn’t be helped.
Flynn put a wire on Jack. Flynn and I both had hearing aid looking things that let us hear what was going on around Jack, as well as talk to each other and him.
Jack barely shaves, so he couldn’t pull off facial scruff, but he used a ton of hair gell for greasiness, ran over his rattiest clothes a few times with his car and put on two different shoes, one with a hole in the toe. We made him a cardboard, “Will work for food, God Bless” sign, and went to the area Beau thought was the most likely to be hit next. Jack sweet-talked the guy who was already working that corner into letting him take the other side by promising to split his take 50/50.
When the traffic died down for the evening, Jack settled in with the other guys, two regulars for that area, and Beau, who apparently knew and was liked by everyone in town. Jack was accepted because Beau vouched for him.
I jumped up into the superstructure of the bridge they camped under, so I could keep a careful eye on Jack, and bumped into Vlad hiding in the same place, trying to watch over me.
“Are you still following me?” I asked him in a whisper.
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “You seem to have a habit of courting danger.”
“Vlad, you can’t stalk me forever. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”
“And others, it seems. You watch over the dragon lord. Are you now stalking him?”
“Jack knows I’m here. He expects me to keep him safe. We planned this together, as a team.”
“Can I not be a part of your team?”
I sighed. “Vlad, I love Jack. Nearly losing him made me feel like part of me was missing. I’m still fighting to win him back.”
“And where does that leave me?” he asked softly.
“I like you, Vlad. At first I thought it was just that dragon chemistry thing, but even though you’re a bit of a chauvinist, a bigot, and kind of arrogant, I really do like you. I just don’t love you. I love Jack. And, if you can live with that, then yeah, okay, you can be part of the team. But if you’re just hoping I’ll pick you over Jack eventually, give it up, it’s not happening. You might as well go home.”
“I see.” Vlad sat there for a few seconds, a silent black scaly lump. His eyes flickered red a few times, but his face was unreadable. “Thank you for your honesty,” he said finally. “I think, for tonight at least, I will go home. I will think about what you have said. Is it still acceptable for me to phone you?”
“Sure, Vlad. Anytime.”
He managed a slight bow while crouched in the triangular crook of a girder, then flew away.
Nothing happened that first night, except that Jack and I both spent a very uncomfortable and tense night, him sleeping fitfully on sloped concrete, and me fighting to stay awake on six inch wide steel girders. Flynn was only slightly more comfortable in his patrol car hidden behind a nearby strip mall.
I expected Flynn to decide that our plan wasn’t working after one fruitless night, but he said it was normal. Stakeouts were a long game.
So, Jack and I both called in sick the next night. The boss threatened to fire us both, but we ignored him. Hopefully, he was just bluffing, but even if he wasn’t, catching murderers before they killed again took priority.
Beau said we were doing it wrong when we got back the next night. When I asked him what he meant, he pointed out that Pete wasn’t killed until he was alone, and neither were the other men who died.
He was right. If Jack was going to look like good bait, he had to be alone.
Jack gave his whole take from that evening’s time spent walking up and down at the corner holding a sign, about $85, to Beau, and told him to buy dinner for the other guys at the IHOP a few blocks down. He’d stay there under the bridge, making himself an irresistible target, hopefully.
I looked for Vlad, but either he was getting better at hiding from me, or he had decided not to stalk me that night. I felt a little disappointed, and oddly vulnerable. I’d gotten used to having a guardian angel, I guess. Now, I WAS the guardian angel. Beau would love that.
Jack had been alone for nearly an hour when a black Jeep Cherokee pulled up with mud splashed on the license plates. It stopped in the corner of the strip mall parking lot closest to Jack and two people got out, one big and muscular, the other curvy with hair as shiny black as her patent leather outfit.
“Death Dealers have arrived,” I whispered into my ear thing.
“Hold position,” Flynn said. “I can’t take them in until they make a move.”
“I am not going to let them hurt Jack just to catch them doing it.”
“Shoulda thought of that before letting him be the bait,” Flynn commented.
“Like I could have stopped him,” I said.
“Shut up, you two. I’m trying to look helpless here,” Jack whispered.
Domina Death was carrying a sort of ball, softball size, half brass, half glass, with curved spikes sticking out of the sides. It almost looked like a fat brass spider with a glass belly. Scythe was carrying an assault shotgun. He dropped back and faded into a shadow where he could watch Domina Death and the deserted streets.
I whispered Scythe’s location to Flynn, and could hear him radioing for backup. “You take care of Scythe, and I’ll handle Domina Death.”
“10-4,” Flynn said.
“Hello, sexy lady,” Jack said, as Death stalked him on six inch spike heels. “Am I dreaming?”
Death chuckled and knelt down beside him. “You’ll remember this night for the rest of your life,” she whispered in his ear as she pulled the brass spider from behind her back. She pushed him down on his back with the other hand.
“Now,” I whispered. “I’ll bet you’ll remember it to,” I said as I dropped from the bridge support and landed behind her.
She whipped one of those heels out, fast as a striking snake, and took my foot out from under me. I landed on my butt on the concrete and barely threw up my left arm to defend myself as she followed up with a slashing blade. It cut a big slice in my sleeve and tinged off my scales.
Geez, that woman was fast!
She hit me in the chest with the brass ball with the spikes and it clamped onto my clothes and vibrated weirdly against my skin. All of a sudden, I was so tired I couldn’t lift my arms. I fell back on the concrete and just lay there, weaker than a newborn kitten. Everything ached. My wrist and elbow joints ached the worst and my wings throbbed. The skin on the left side of my body felt like bugs were eating it or crawling in it, or both. I think I made a sound like a lonely puppy.
I heard Jack scream from far away, “Dee!!”
My eyes hurt, but I saw him shove his tazer at Domina Death, the spark jumping and sizzling between the contacts. She danced sideways and kicked it out of his hand, laughing.
“Don’t move, you’re under arrest!” I heard and sirens in the distance coming closer.
There was a loud boom, exactly like a shotgun going off in an echoey place like underneath a bridge. I saw Flynn go down.
It was all pretty distant, hard to focus on, especially when my left hand started turning itself inside out. I screamed then, or tried to, but it’s like one of those dreams where if you can just scream, someone will come and save you. I couldn’t get enough breath to make the scream come out.
Jack grabbed the thing on my chest and tried to pull it off, but Death kicked him in the face.
“No, no, no. My little pet isn’t finished doing its job yet.” She looked down at me. She really was beautiful, like women on TV, even though I guessed her age at late thirties to early forties. It seemed wrong somehow that anyone so beautiful on the outside could be so horrible on the inside, but at least the last thing I saw before I died would be pretty. “That’s odd,” she said, looking at me. “She doesn’t look any older than twenty. Dr White’s machine should have sucked a couple of decades out of her by now.”
“We’d better bail,” a deep voice said. Must have been Scythe, but I didn’t have the strength to turn my head and look. “Cops are nearly here.”
“She should be dead in a few more seconds. She's got enough years in her to make us rich.” She looked down at me again and smiled. “I think I’ll take some of your years myself. Such a pretty young thing. Just think of all the wonderful life you might have lived. Instead, you’ll die tonight, old and wrinkled.”
Go to hell. Wish I’d said that. But I couldn’t really manage to take a full breath, much less tell her where I hoped she’d spend the rest of her years.
The subtle humming vibration from the thing on my chest turned into an angry bee whine.
Just then someone poured acid on my left hand and set it on fire, at least, it felt that way. My hand twitched. Domina Death yanked her arm back from where she’d been leaning by my left hand. I saw the leather on Death’s arm parted in three lines and blood trickling down.
“You, bitch!” She looked down at her arm, hanging limply, and fell backward. “She scratched me!”
Scythe put an arm as big as my thigh around Death’s waist and lifted her strangely limp form. “We’ve got to go, now!” he said. The sirens were louder.
“Wait!” Death said, speech slurring. “Get the device!”
The thing on my chest hit a screeching whiny pitch high enough to make my teeth vibrate, and the glass shattered. Glowing white liquid that foamed into vapor almost instantly oozed out of the broken glass bulb, and I smelled burnt wires.
The pain stopped instantly. One second, my skin was in a cheeze grater and by joints had hot needles in them, and the next, nothing.  I blacked out, probably from sheer relief.

Dee Dragon

Friday, June 3, 2011

Stolen Time

When I went into work, Angela ambushed me in the hallway that led to the underground ambulance parking bay. “You don’t scare me,” she said.
“Um. Okay. Good for you?”
“Everyone saw you on the news when that thing with the dam happened. If you think just because you’re a supe, you can intimidate people into doing what you want, you’re wrong.” She crossed her arms under her ample bosoms and stamped her dainty foot on the white tile.
“Hey, I was wearing a mask. How did you…? I mean, what makes you think that was me?”
“Don’t change the subject. We’re talking about Jack.”
“We are?”
“You said something to him, threatened him to make him be your partner again. Jack may be scared of you, but I’m not. You let him come back.”
I laughed. “You don’t know Jack very well if you think he’s scared.”
“I don’t blame him for it. He’s a normal guy, and you can beat up giant robots.”
“Actually, they pretty much kicked my butt.” (Giant Robots on Mansfield Dam)
Angela rolled her eyes. “Stop trying to make this all about you. You leave Jack alone!”
I looked past Angela’s shoulder and saw Jack. As usual, I was late. He’d no doubt prepared the unit, done our pre-shift checklist, then came looking for me.
“So, you think I’m a big scary supe and I’ve intimidated Jack into transferring back, right?”
Jack raised one eyebrow. Why does that look so sexy when he does it?
“Admitting it won’t help,” Angela said.
“Okay, Angela. I’ll tell Jack right now that I absolutely will not beat him up if he asks to be transferred back to your unit.”
She nodded, satisfied. “I knew you’d back down if someone called your bluff. Bullies always do.”
“Not so much, actually, in my experience.”
“I’ll expect to see Jack’s transfer papers filed again today.”
“I seriously doubt that," I said.
“You just told me you were going to let him come back,” Angela said, confusion on her pretty face.
Jack stepped up from behind Angela, rescuing me from what looked to be a pointless and circular conversation. “Transferring was my decision, not Dee’s. And I’m not transferring back. Sorry.”
“But, she just said she won’t hurt you.” Angela put a hand on Jack’s arm, and her voice got soft. “You don’t have to be scared.”
Jack looked at her hand like a snail was slime trailing its way up his arm. “Dee doesn’t decide what I do, and neither do you.”
Angela pulled her hand back. “If she didn’t make you, then why did you transfer?”
Jack sighed. He eyes slid to me for half a second, then back, like he was embarrassed. “Dee and I make a good team.”
That gave me big warm fuzzy and put a smile on my face.
“Don’t let it go to your head,” Jack said to me.
I wiped the smile off my face like it had been erased, and kept it off, at least when he was looking. “We should roll out, then. We’re five minutes behind schedule.” I kept my voice completely flat, all business.
Jack nodded, and headed back into the bay where the ambulances were parked.
As we walked by, I couldn’t help it. I know it’s childish and immature. Whatever. I stuck my tongue out at Angela.
She looked all indignant and stalked away. Heh.
We weren’t half a mile from the hospital when we heard a call on the radio assigned to Angela’s unit. “Vagrant unresponsive.” That usually meant some poor homeless guy had died. We’d have to go into a less than wondrous part of town and try to resuscitate somebody who hadn't seen a bath in months, assuming he hadn’t already been dead for a while. That’s always a fun call, especially in the heat of summer.
Angela’s voice turned the call down, “Too far.”
Jack looked like he bit something sour, snatched the radio up and took the call, even though we were on the other side of town.
After a few seconds, he said without looking at me, “Has she always been like that?”
“Manipulative and a little bit ‘too good for the rest of us’ you mean?”
Jack thought about it a second and nodded. “Yeah.”
“She’s pretty and sweet. That makes people overlook a lot.”
 “I almost saddled myself with her.” He didn’t specify if he meant as a partner or a girlfriend, but I kind of suspected he meant both.
“Sorry. My fault.”
“Yeah, it is.”
The call was to a bridge near Peace Park. Jack used a spotlight to pierce the impenetrable gloom under the bridge, unreachable by any streetlights. I didn’t need it. Dragons see pretty well in the dark. As I scanned the area, I saw a familiar stocking cap with long tassels hanging from each side.

Beau Grimsby sat next to a prone figure on the sloped concrete, with clothes and junk scattered around, and tears flowed down his cheeks.

I pointed Jack and his light in the right direction. When he set the spotlight down, he flipped a switch and it shifted to an ambient area light, a nice bright lantern to work by. Always prepared, my Jack.
Jack and I checked the prone man, but he was very obviously dead. Rigor had already set in. Bright blue eyes stared fixedly out of a face so filled with wrinkles, the dead guy must have been pushing 90. Amazing that anyone had lived that long on the streets.
Jack called it in while I talked to Beau to try to at least get a name for our dead John Doe.

“Hey, Beau,” I said softly and sat down next to the man in his fifties dressed in raggedy layers. It had been a while since Beau had a bath. His smell was eye watering, especially to my sharper senses, but I ignored it.
“Hello, Miss Angel, maam.” Beau wiped his eyes, but tears kept flowing.
“I told you I’m not an angel, Beau. Just call me Dee.”
Beau ducked his head. “There ain’t nothing you can do for him, Miss Dee. It’s too late.”
“I’m sorry. Was he a friend of yours?”
“He was my best friend, and I was supposed to look out for him. I should’ve been here. He’d still be alive.” Beau sobbed, took off his red stocking cap and wiped his eyes with it. He rocked back and forth in his misery.
“I thought Pete was your best friend?” Maybe if he had another friend to comfort him, he wouldn’t be so lost.
“He was. And now he’s dead and it’s my fault.”
“Pete died?” That was a surprise. Pete was in his mid-thirties and in good health aside from his blindness last time I saw him.
“I just left him for a few minutes. A pretty lady gave me some money, and I went to buy food for both of us, and a little something for Pete.” He showed me green cloth grocery bags full of bread, lunchmeat, apples and such, and a brown paper bag with a bottle in it that I didn’t need to see inside to know the contents.
“When I came back, he was dead. I shouldn’t have left him. He was blind, couldn’t go nowhere without me.”
The way he was talking, Pete had just died, and I still had no clue who this old guy was. “Where’s Pete now, Beau?”
The homeless guy with the sparse curly hair sticking in all directions who thinks I'm an angel blinked at me for a second like he was wondering if I needed the guys in the white coats. “He’s right there,” he said, finally, like explaining it to a slow child. He pointed at the dead body lying next to us. “That’s Pete.”
I wondered for a second if Beau had sampled some of what he bought for Pete, but I knew Beau didn’t drink. I looked at the body of the very old man with the bright staring blue eyes, and caught my breath.
I remembered those bright blue eyes blinking up at me sightlessly from a far younger version of that same face. The dead guy looked an awful lot like Beau’s friend, whose life I’d just saved a few weeks before.
“Jack, take a good look at this guy. Does he look familiar?”
Jack held the lantern closer and looked carefully at the dead man. “He looks a little like Pete, maybe his father or grandfather.”
“Pete’s family are all dead,” Beau said. “That’s Pete.”
Jack shook his head. “That’s not possible.”
Beau grabbed Jack's arm and came alive for a minute. “I heard about three other guys downtown, younger guys that just got old and died overnight. Nobody knows how." He sat back and shrank in on himself again. "I told Pete we should move to another place. Might be safer." He shook his head and the tears started flowing again. "Guess I was wrong.”
That sounded like a pattern. “Do the cops know about people dying of old age all of a sudden?”
Beau shook his head sadly. “No one will listen. I tried telling some cop named Flynn the other day, but he wouldn’t believe me.”
If I didn’t know these guys, I’d have probably thought Beau was on something, too. “Beau, tell me about the pretty lady who gave you money for food. What did she look like?”
“She looked like right out of a magazine, one of them leather ladies, with a corset and spiked heel boots and stuff.”
That made a shiver go up my spine. “Was a man with her? A big guy, with a lot of muscle and black leather pants with a skull belt buckle?”
“I didn’t see no belt buckle, but there was a muscle guy driving her car. He had a tattoo on his shoulder of a big sickle.”
Domina Death and Scythe, two of the most notorious mercenary supervillains on earth. Not exactly the kind of people who gave money to a homeless guy to buy food.
The Death Dealers were in Austin killing people, and likely no one, not the cops or the supes, had even noticed.

Dee Dragon