Part 13

by CM Towns

   Under Manhattan a trio of two person teams scoured the vast network of tunnels looking for any clue or lead that could direct them to Fliopt. Their only information is rough maps, local reports of suspicious activity, recent construction, and local history. None of which means squat when you’re wandering through a dark tunnel or sewer unsure of what exactly you are looking for.
   Reed and Go, in his Ichi Senshi gear, walked down a long decommissioned subway line. Ichi had the flashlight while Reed, wearing a backpack with back up clothes in case he had to transform, carried his G-tablet which both mapped their location while providing any important news and updates.
   “Yo, little man,” Ichi said flashing the light on some graffiti.
   Reed saw it clearly, BEWARE OF THE KING. He snapped a picture and marked where they found it.
   “You think it’s related to your King?” asked Ichi.
   Reed answered, “I don’t know. I just shoot things. I leave the thinking for other people.”

   “Don’t be like that, Telle. You smart the way you maneuver those games,” said Ichi.
   “Codename’s on missions,” he reminded his partner.
   “I feel kinda silly calling you Huntsman when you’re not armored up.”
   “How’d you get your powers, Ichi? Magic right? Half the time its magic.”
   “I willed my powers into existence with fighting spirit,” answered Ichi Senshi.
   “Fighting spirit? What’s that?”
   “It’s like in video games when you’re playing Vega-I mean M. Bison. Keep forgetting the names are different here. But yeah-like Ryu and Ken,” he further explained.
   “Basically you’re a cool martial artist who has powers? Why doesn’t Kid Victory have that ability?”
   “I don’t know. Bad meditation skills. I think that’s it. Plus the training I went through was a bit different. Or maybe it’s in my blood. But I’m not the only one who can do things like that,” Ichi responded.
   “That’s cool. I never met a fighting game character before,” said Reed.
   “Thanks, Huntsman.”
   “Whats with your hair? It sort of… I don’t know…”
   “Pompadour, little man. Classy,” replied Ichi.
   “So you can get some action?”
   Ichi chuckled. “Well that would be cool.”
   “You like Araminta?”
   “She’s cool. We only talked a little.”
   “How about her?”
   “You trying to hook me up?” Ichi asked and looked at Reed who did not answer, “Not my type. Plus she got a crush on that Frank guy and even Hunter.”
   “Frank doesn’t see her as his type. Erica seems to have called dibs on Hunter,” said Reed.
   “It’s nice you want to help your big sister out,” Ichi stopped as he saw the area ahead was caved in and asked, “Where are we going?”
   “There’s a maintenance door just ahead,” Reed said.
   “So we go in there by climbing in or do you power up and blast through?” Ichi asked.
   “I say I blast through. Turn around, I need to change,” Reed directed him.
   It took a moment for the change and once finished Huntsman blew open a path. Now Ichi was holding on to Reed’s gear, tablet and flashlight as they continued down the path.
   In another set of tunnels, west of Ichi Senshi and Huntsman, Mr. Monster and Gravity Woman were coming out of a small sewer access point into another forgotten area under the city. A vast space that, once light peaked through, saw dozens of empty tents and shacks. Giving this location a very ominous feel.
   “Amazing,” Mr. Monster commented.
   “What’s amazing is your girlfriend made us go through the crappy sewer. This? This is creepy,” Gravity said as she got out of the yellow overalls she was wearing.
   “Actually it was my choice. I was curious about this place. Reading files I came across a story about a number of homeless who made this a tiny underground village. All the construction combined with the messes made by invaders and villains have since made places like this harder to access,” Mr. Monster said as he waited for her.
   Gravity wrapped the jumpsuit in a bag and put it inside her backpack. The pair started walking through the empty shanty town.
   “I repeat, I find this all creepy. Horror film creepy and we know horror films hate black folks,” Gravity Woman stated.
   “The only beast here is me,” he replied.
   “That’s what you think, any moment some lost ten foot alien is going to pop out and try to eat us,” Gravity Woman stated.
   “Doubtful. No weird alien smells. You mind taking some pictures? It is unnerving but fascinating and I want to document it,” Mr. Monster asked.
   “I hope the flash on this tablet thing is good,” she commented before snapping a few pics. “Aren’t we suppose to be investigating possible locations Fliopt has been?”
   “That is what we’re doing. A place like this would be an excellent hiding spot and if they had the right equipment they could break a few walls move into another tunnel,” Monster answered.
   “I am a very relieved to see they are not here,” she commented.
   Mr. Monster looked into one of the tents. He exited with a doll in his hand. It was dirty and had cobwebs but seemed relatively undamaged. He wiped it off and took his pack to one side and slipped it in.
   “Souvenir?”
   “Yes,” he replied before taking the flashlight around the area. He noted some cigarette butts and Gravity took pictures.
   “They may have been here. These are not fresh but a faint odor makes me think a few days old,” Monster said sniffing it.
   “I guess that’s a clue.”
   “You looking at the files?” Mr. Monster asked.
   “Yeah. A report about them planning a new line through here two years ago. Got canceled with all the craziness,” Gravity Woman replied.
   “No bodies. No bones,” Monster observed.
   “I don’t like dead bodies. I also have a problem with gore,” she told him.
   “How you enjoying the team? Better than acting solo?” inquired Mr. Monster.
   “A roof over my head and having a room again is great. Plus people to talk to.”
   “Araminta said the same thing.”
   “I’m sure for her this was even sweeter. I still have a family, and I don’t have a killer cult chasing me. How about you? Going from a mansion and being able to walk around outside and being the envy of almost every young black male in the US to this,” Gravity Woman wondered.
   “I hate what I’ve become. The base is a constant reminder that I’m caged,” Monster freely admitted as they looked around the site.
   “You seem to be dealing with it well.”
   “Depression will not change my situation. Negativity will not help me in what I need to do. It’s weird-I had responsibilities but mostly it was to be an example. The good black student. The excellent athlete. I can’t go out and be crazy like other rich kids because it would reflect badly on my race. On my parents. Now-my responsibilities are about saving the world and helping people in danger. The team relies on me more and more. I am a leader, a teacher, a surrogate brother and father. God has dealt me a terrible hand that could have crushed my spirits, but I think its given me more purpose in life,” explained Mr. Monster.
   Mr. Monster moved a little ahead of Gravity Woman when he saw a hole in the corner of the far wall.
   “Well, well, well… looks like someone did come through here,” he said.
   “Let me guess, we are going in,” Gravity Woman spoke.
   Mr. Monster smiled at her.
   “Don’t smile. You’re so black that down here it’s like floating eyes and a mouth,” she told him.
   “Apologies for unnerving you.”
   “Based on these rough maps it may lead toward a subway line that’s still active,” Gravity Woman said looking up further details on their location.
   “Okay, Miss Zero-G, I think it’s time for some more adventure. Stay behind me,” Mr. Monster said leading her in.
   Elsewhere underground Kestrel and Flash-Man stood in amazement of the collapsed portion of an old newspaper building. Or rather Kestrel stood in amazement while Flash-Man seemed rather disappointed with the sight. The conveyer belt and printing press broken, smashed, and dusty. The stairs jagged and dangerous.
   “Wow…” Kestrel said.
   Flash-Man said nothing. He walked carefully around the place. The lights of his suit on to make it easier to view the damage. He had his tablet in hand and he looked up the information on the place, quickly absorbing it. Flash-Man’s eyes fell onto some markings. He snapped a picture as he continued to move through out.
   “Flash-Man! See anything interesting?” Kestrel called from above on a catwalk.
   “Weird markings. Might be symbols for magic or random graffiti,” he answered.
   “I see some prints by this door over here. I think some people might have been here recently,” she told him.
   “Door? Hmmm… Well, whatever they were looking for they either have retrieved or was not here,” he said before taking a run around the damaged printing plant.
   Kestrels eyes flickered around, following the lights of Flash-Man as he moved quick around before he was on the catwalk next to her.
   “I kinda thought you were faster than that,” she said.
   “Hmph. I took a quick scan-nothing seems out of place but I do note some digging. More like moving of debris. I think they came, looked, left to another part,” he told Kestrel.
   “Okay. Let’s think about our next move.”
   “We could follow through this door. I also note one more man made exit up on that catwalk. We could double back and go further down the tunnel or to the access point and try the other tunnel we skipped. Many options to follow,” Flash-Man suggested.
   “Why are you here?” Kestrel asked.
   “Excuse me?”
   “You don’t strike me as a people person.”
   “Is this origin story time? Sorry to break it to you but I have no special origin. I had no powers, then I had powers,” he said.
   “Powers don’t necessarily equal motivation,” Kestrel countered.
   “Yes, you are right. My motivations are my own. I do not feel comfortable sharing nor would I feel comfortable asking,” Flash-Man responded.
   “You don’t care why I do what I do?”
   “As long as you are good at what you do than that is whats important. And you have proven that you are good.”
   Kestrel smirked. “Okay-one last question.”
   “Fine.”
   “Of our team leaders you only refer to Sally with an honorific. Why?” Kestrel asked.
   “You mean the fact I address her as ‘ma’am?’ Be still your dyke heart-I have no interest in the alien. I refer to her as ma’am simply because she speaks more like a general than the other superiors,” explained Flash-Man.
   Kestrel was a bit irked about the words ‘dyke’ and ‘alien’ but put them out of her mind because-despite his tone-Flash-Man was still treating her as equal to him, in a back handed way.
   “What’s the difference between Sally and the others?”
   “More questions? Fine-Jessie has no clue how to lead, just making suggestions. They come from a place of experience and she is incredible at what she can do but as a leader I do not find her the most reliable. Mr. Monster, the voices from the Hub, they assist greatly in her decisions. Antoine is too… He gives directions, Sally gives orders. He may be a better tactician or strategist but there is something about him that makes me feel he would be a better second. I could be wrong but its the eyes. The motivation behind them is hard to make clear,” Flash-Man answered.
   He went on, “Jessie does what she does because she was called upon. Sally does what she does out of a sense of duty. A sense of connection. People like me do what we do because people hurt us.”
   “Nice talk, I feel perfectly happy you are not going to be hitting on Sally. Leaves all the romancing to me,” Kestrel said.
   Flash-Man took out his phone and dialed. Kestrel was confused.
   “Hello,” he spoke, “No-nothing but Kestrel will not shut up about her big lesbian crush so you handle this.”
   He flipped the phone to speaker.
   “Kestrel! You like Sally, huh?” Jessie asked from the other line.
   “She’s cute. Badass. I like shorter girls,” she answered.
   “That’s not good enough.”
   “I don’t know her well enough to say more but I’ve always been impressed by Red Sprite and the little I’ve talked to her and worked with her, she is incredible,” Kestrel added.
   “Two things. First off quit with winking and the compliments. Sally is uncomfortable most the time around humans,” Jessie told her.
   “She seems fine to me.”
   “Trust me. She puts on a brave face in honor of her family and journeymen. She fights because I fight-because bad things happened at the hands of people from her world. All your moves are not going to work,” Jessie said.
   “Those are my A moves. They get the job done.”
   “I’m sure they are but Sally is different,” Jessie responded.
   “People need to stop being so upfront about their sexual desires and conquests,” Flash-Man said to no one in particular.
   “Second thing is only-ONLY!-if you really are interested. This one isn’t about just hanging out or a few casual dates. This one is if you really think you want a relationship of some kind,” Jessie continued.
   Kestrel replied with, “That’s a little jumping the gun.”
   “True but I believe I know the reason why its hard for Sally to connect with potential love interests.”
   “Tell me.”
   “Know this Kestrel-if you follow these instructions and screw up it looks bad on me and Michie because we’re the only two people who could tell you this so screw up and I will choke you like abitch who owes me money,” Jessie threatened.
   “Noted,” she replied.
   “Sally’s from a traditional family. They follow some of the older traditions of their home kingdom of Shuin. A lot of it is proper manners, how to conduct yourself but there is a courtship ritual. Her father did it for her mom and so on and so forth. Its not the norm anymore but it matters to her. Now listen close.
   “First you-the courter-bring the courtée to a place of some significance to yourself. You present them handmade-um… Garment or jewelry. It can be either. You take their hand-Sally’s left in this case-you tell them that you wish to be involved with them. Your intentions. If she kisses the back of your hand it means she’s turned you down. You can not ask again-only if she takes the role of courter. If she kisses your palm then you are good to go. Got it?” finished Jessie.
   “I’ll have to think about that,” Pearl said.
   “Okay. Now get back to work! We got villains to stop!”
   On the other side of the line Jessie was seated with Michie in a pizzeria. She took a sip of her soda and a then bite of her pizza.
   “That’s cute. Pearls nice,” Michie said.
   “Yeah-but the courtship thing may have scared her away,” Jessie said.
   “So we going back to work?” Michie asked.
   “Our middle man-Mr. Jack, is dead and his place is trashed. We tracked the money so I did my work for the day,” Jessie said before another bite of her slice.

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