Ella got up feeling sexy, powerful. Iconic. A dark superhero never dreamed of. Her words washed brains, changed minds and hearts. Her podcasts and videos were eroding sanity everywhere in the world. Everyone was enraptured by a silhouette, that of a shark and of a superhero. She was a colourful, inspiring superhero from a distance but a vicious shark up close. Either visage fascinated and fixated.
Today Ella lead the Infernals on the first day of Hell’s campaign. She painted her toenails red, like the toe caps of the beautiful red and blue boots she wore as part of her costume. She hoisted her colourful shield, half-naked, posed with it in the mirror, hoisted it up and imagined sending primal anger into a crowd through her voice, driving them mad with her causes.
The wind came through the old small window on one side of her living room in the mansion in Greenwich Village. Her breasts broke out in goosebumps. Wet October wind.
“Oh, my, so sorry,” Reed Daniels, the ex-Catholic priest declared.
Oh, no. She … respected the older man. Was he fifty? Had he seen her … posing in the mirror? Christ, had he seen her bare chest?
“No, Reed. I’m a savage with no manners or modesty. Forgive me!” Caught playing with her shield like a child dreaming of superpowers. “Getting decent, Reed. Sorry, Sorry. Don’t you feel embarrassed because I can’t close my darned door.” She pulled on a hoodie and kickboxing trunks.
“Don’t you mean ‘fucking door’ or ‘motherfucking door,’” Reed called.
“Motherfucking, cocksucking whore of a DOOR!” she yelled to him.
“That’s the fucking spirit!” He beamed.
“I’m decent. Coffee? Come in, Reed.”
“Gladly,” he said. “Ready for the big day? Who’s going with you?”
He was so passionate about everything, especially reading anything, art, and the sources of faith. She listened to him over coffee nearly every morning, not caring about barely talking herself. But they weren’t friends. She was leader of his group.
She smiled and pointed to his chest.
“Just me? I’m honoured, but what about Sarah? She’s our heavy hitter.”
“Sarah will have to understand. And you and I can handle this.”
“Okay. Excited? Nervous?”
“Yes, like before I lectured on a favourite subject. But about ten times more intense.”
“Ha, ha! It’s getting real. I can’t wait for the fear as soon as we arrive. Lots of people have seen us online and will recognize our colours alone. I feel like it’s Christmas morning and I’ve got the coolest toy in the world waiting for me to play with!”
“You’re such a child. You make me feel okay about posing in front of the mirror with my shield earlier.” She thought she was over it. But she began to blush again.
“I never saw any such thing,” he lied, nicely. Almost pulling it off.
“You’re a priest walking a road paved with good intentions right through Hell with road signs all the way through. Full of wonder, not fear.”
“Authority never reveals itself,” said the priest.
“As soon as you finish your java, we suit up and drive over to Green Energy Headquarters. Wait for each kill order. You aren’t invulnerable: stay behind me and just provide the offense from the rear.”
Bloodbath had gotten them clean through Green Energy to the executive suites. He hadn’t hurt a soul, just stunned them with a sonic weapon projecting from the finger of his red costume. Gladiator opened the door to their meeting, strode in, feeling half like a tiger and half like a hangman. Exhilarated. Like walking through soft rain in the sunshine. The attention of each of these men and a few women was so delicious: the wonderment, outrage, and confusion at the sight of the costumed pair. Both were smiling Cheshire grins.
“Good afternoon, Gentlemen and Ladies, all three of you. Forgive the interruption. We’ll be brief. I need a volunteer. But first, let me show you who we are. Bloodbath, a single example please.”
Bloodbath chuckled and his hand transformed into a short, thick barrel. He fired it at one of the oldest men near the front, mashing the contents of his skull without exiting it. A weapon Daniels created for this mission. The old man crumpled his glasses into shards as he fell face forward, blood leaking from his eyes onto the table and draining slowly from the entrance wound.
“That’s who we are. For each of you but one. That lucky volunteer will record the killings on their phone and hand it over to the New York Times. Volunteers?” All the suits raised one or both hands and begged like dogs for their meals. A transmission came in from headquarters.
“This is Darkfire. Zealot, seven police cruisers have parked out front. Twelve more cruisers have been diverted and a SWAT team has been deployed. All that backup will arrive in minutes. You’re drawing a crowd, that’s for sure. Do you want a hand? I can fly there in twenty seconds.”
Fuck. She was planning to torture these multimillion-dollar-a-year swine before killing them. Show them themselves with her shield. No time now. All those cops, and SWAT. Could any of their weapons hurt her?
“We have the situation. It’s a perfect bloodbath! Zealot out.” With that last statement, the lambs in the room began to bleat.
Bloodbath turned to look at Ella. The question clear in his eyes. She nodded.
He had guessed her answer. His left hand already extruded a strange barrel. It fired a spray of shrapnel in a cone almost ninety degrees. The room was covered in blood, veins, flesh, but everywhere bodies were intact with no limbs stripped. Each person dead, none wriggling.
The weapon painted men and women into red, bloody sculptures in a perverse art installation. Fear and horror was Bloodbath’s true medium, not weapons. He was a genius with his power.
What had she done with her power? She had imagined a crowd to speak to, possess with her voice. No need for it on the way in. Bloodbath had it all covered.
“Ha, HA!” Blood Bath yelled. “Cleaned and ready to eat.”
“We need to get ready. The cops are coming. Get me outside and visible for the next wave. I’ll cover you.”
The way Reed had laughed, exulted! She felt as though she should feel disgusted at this wantonness. But that exultation, wasn’t it what she was fantasizing about in the mirror this morning? Power to inspire terror and death? She needed blood on her hands. She couldn’t stand behind born killers like Bloodbath.
She felt her confidence draining as she led Daniels out of the building. She was getting scared. Twelve cop cars, two constables each, and a SWAT team. The costumed pair were only mortal despite their powers, not angels like Darkfire. They could buy it any mission, any time. A stray bullet that missed the Kevlar. In her case it would have to be armour piercing, but the forces they fought would be using these rounds on her soon enough.
Two police opened fire on them in the next hallway through the locked door she had forced. She put her shield up and felt a bullet deflect into the ceiling. Another hit her shoulder, knocking her backwards half a step. Her heart froze. Fire of some kind lit each constable, one of them older, one a young woman. She saw their faces turn from horror to agony to nothingness. The last thing they would ever feel. Fear, again. Bloodbath was teaching any would-be hero how black their last moments could be.
“Ella, Ella,” Reed kept saying to her. He was shaking her.
“Yes. What?” Zealot replied.
“You’re in shock, darling. Can you lead me out of the building? We can’t let ourselves be circled by constables. Can you lead me out?”
What if they used armour-piercing shells? The moment she showed her face outside could be her last. A bullet right through the Kevlar mask she wore with the red devil horns of a caricature of a Devil. Her new world, her burnt world full of new plant growth, never to happen. Taken by a cop’s bullet!
Never. She was never letting anyone get in the way of what she sold her soul for.
She felt back in her body again, in contact. In command, and angry. Burning anger she couldn’t control. She began to march as though an army marched behind her. Bloodbath strode quickly after her, shooting away as they moved to the elevator bays. She winced when five more shots hit her, but they only stoked her anger after she failed to keep from wincing.
She crushed her way through the rotating entranceway sending steel and glass flying into a car parked meters away. “Bloodbath, crouch.” The priest was no fool. He crouched behind Zealot.
She felt buffeted by the bullets that missed her shield and hit her. To her left thirty meters away hundreds of employees assembled in their meeting spot in case of emergencies. “Give me ten seconds?”
A red-gloved hand squeezed her shoulder hard enough for her to feel. “No problem, Boss. Take your time.”
She trusted Daniels. Heard a ZARK from some horrific weapon he had made. She put the cops and their guns and the SWAT weapons out of her mind. She hoisted her shield, spoke to the gathered employees pointing at the costumed pair and backing away from them, most in shock. The costumed pair certainly looked like superheroes. Saviors.
“Employees of Green Energy, your company pays you a fraction of what’s fair, gives no benefits, works you to the bone, and they will be around to replace your daughters and sons dreams with hand-to-mouth paychecks. Credit cards make it easier, but bleed you, don’t they?”
The people felt heard, understood. She could feel it from them as if from a single complex person. She held the shield aloft and sent a huge blazing image of each of their sons or daughters happily leading a bright truly green company that paid good wages, their children loved by their employees, imitated by other employers.
She watched people’s faces turn from hollow anger to fiery hot hope and pride.
“What if you could hit them back. Pull them down so that some better company could be started by your children to take its place? We’re here to make way for your children. If we don’t, if you don’t, right now, nothing changes. These police want to keep things the same, no future for your children.”
A change came over all faces at once. Pride turned to violent anger. The kind one felt at a lifetime abuser who had fallen under one’s power. She raised her shield again and sent images to the darkening, quieting crowd. Their children in jobs more boring and automatic than their own, with pinched lives smothered by long commutes from the barely affordable suburbs to downtown employers. And their children desperately trying to make ends meet for the sake of granddaughters and grandsons, following the same thinning path of poverty.
“I want you to use bricks, sticks, glass shards, your bare hands, and tear these motherfuckers apart for me! Will you fight for change? Right now!” The people moved like an animal. Hundreds. Women and men of all ages, some using assistive devices, making their way in a wave of focused hate towards the confused police.
Zealot feared being ensnared in the monster of hands and legs and sharp implements, though she was bulletproof. So frightful a monster she had conjured.
She looked back at the priest. He was staring wide eyed at the moving mass as it neared them. Gladiator stepped far back and kept moving, pulling Bloodbath by the hand with her until they were flush against the wall of the building to let the angry, sprinting monster pass them unimpeded.
“Holy fuck. That was you?” Daniels asked her.
Half of the police opened fire on the running assailants converging on their twelve positions, killing handfuls. The mob had one after another until the last five constables simply ran for their cars and drove away. The SWAT team vehicle arrived. The SWAT operatives did not deploy. The crowd surrounded the vehicle and began to rock it back and forth.
“I know how I want this to end, Reed. Got something that can incinerate the mob and the SWAT team in one pop?”
“I’ve got the shell. But why fry the staff?”
“Do it, Bloodbath. Cook the rest of the sheep.”
Reed locked his arm and shot a shell out of a short fat barrel that landed over the mob and SWAT vehicle and exploded in incendiary matter above. Everyone inside the vehicle was burned alive; everyone outside was ash.
“That wasn’t what the shell was supposed to do! It was going to leave the bodies all melted together into a nice installation for the media.”
“Nothing’s worked out like I planned.”
“It’s going to work out fine. We’ve announced ourselves. Did you notice the people recording the action in the parking lot? They got everything. I watched them. Get ready to be more infamous.”
“Let’s get to a safehouse and lose the transport.”
“The employees. They were the witnesses, the survivors to talk to the media. The ones we’re fighting to change the world for. I killed them all and I don’t even know why. How pathetic is that?” Ella asked Reed.
They were sipping single malt Scotch at the mansion in Reed Daniels’s apartment. Maybe she needed to stop pretending to herself she was not friends with Reed, her solider. Her responsibility.
“You got killer angry. It’s ugly when you kill out of anger.”
“You’re not angry when you kill?”
“I get high on it. That’s my blessing. You need to find a way to make peace with killing. Fear changes everything. God of the Old Testament carved the world with fear and violence, and that God was right for the people we were then. We are the gods the people of today need.”
“You know how that sounds, right?”
“I think you can believe whatever you want that lets you experience peace while you fight the world.”
“I don’t know how to do that. Reed, I killed our people because I feel contempt for any poor fuck who’s part of the machine and just trying to make a poor living instead of fighting. What kind of sick hero hates the people she wants to save? Murders them?”
“What’s the superhero about? What makes them popular to all ages?”
“No, that’s incidental, though important. The power is an analogue for the ability to change the world singlehandedly. A vain fantasy. Yet here we are. Superheroes fight evil and injustice, not crime. And in war for justice and reform, you kill the collaborators.”
“If only I’d killed them for collaborating. I just hated them for being so corruptible. Anyone I can turn so easily deserves to die fighting the police. Battle thralls.”
“And what’s wrong with that belief? We’re here to make a world, not peace.”
“To make a world,” Zealot said, as though in a trance.