04 - Defending Gang Turf

The shaky video showed several reddish ships moving through the sky. The reporter said, "The Qularr craft appear to be focusing on City Center and Downtown. They've already destroyed City Hall and Champions Headquarters is under siege by a large force of ships and ground troops. The mother ship is hovering almost directly over the Champions building." On the screen the Qularr ships strafed the barricades below and a police car exploded.

The Maniacs cheered. Zoe Loft shouted "Cop car blown up. Everybody take a shot!"

As everyone gleefully took a drink the reporter continued. "Police and PRIMUS troops have set up barricades, trying to secure key targets, but the sudden attack appears to have left them confused and disorganized. The mayor's location is currently unknown and local commanders are coordinating as best they can." The camera stayed on the barricades as a force of insectoid soldiers charged the police. There was a withering exchange of fire and the Qularr fell back, to the disappointed groans of the gang.

In the back of the room, one person didn't seem to be enjoying the festivities. Cataclysm ran her eyes over the crowd with a scowl. The television continued blaring. "The Champions have all fallen back to the Champions building and Defender has put out a call for all superheroes to join in the defense of the city. One commander, who wished to remain anonymous, said that Millennium City forces are making their last stand. If help doesn't arrive then even the Champions may not be able to stop this invasion. Since the Qularr have apparently attacked multiple cities across the globe, reinforcements seem unlikely. We may be watching the end of the Champions."

Another cheer went up from the Maniacs, and that was too much for Cataclysm. She flung a hand out and sent a blast of fire into the television, showering nearby Maniacs in flaming debris. Gang members leapt to their feet angrily.

Zoe stood slowly and turned to face her. "Do you have a problem, little firefly?"

"What are we doing here?" Cataclysm demanded. "Why aren't we out there fighting the bugs?"

Zoe laughed that nerve grating cackle she loved to use. "Fight? For what? The aliens have left Westside alone. What do we care if they kill a few cops and superheroes?"

"And where do you think they'll go when they are done with the capes? They've stayed out of Westside because we don't pose a threat. Once they've broken the city's defenses, they'll come after us." She shook her head. "We'll beat the shit out of an Ace who walks down the wrong side of the street, but we're going to stand by and do nothing while the whole city gets destroyed?"

"Why do you care? You've always said you were going to burn this city to the ground some day."

Cataclysm stalked forward. "Exactly." She thumped her chest. "I will burn this city down someday. It's my city to burn. But I'm not going to let a bunch of fucking cockroaches do it. Dammit, we have to defend our turf. If the capes can't stop the bugs today, then what chance do we have when they come for Westside tomorrow? We have to stop them now, in City Center, or we lose everything." She turned to the rest of the group. "Who's with me?"

There was an awkward silence. Cataclysm looked over the crowd for one friendly face. Most of them wouldn't even make eye contact. Even Pyro had suddenly found the floor quite fascinating. Cataclysm's heart sank. "Really?" she said. "Nobody?" She whirled on Zoe. "Fine, but I'm going."

Zoe sneered, "And what will you do when you get there?"

"They say the mother ship is over the Champions building. I'm going to head up there and blow the fucker out of the sky."

"All by yourself?" She turned to the gang. "And they call me crazy!" The Maniacs laughed.

Cataclysm hesitated. Her abilities had grown in her five years with the Maniacs. She didn't need an external flame anymore. Should could pull fire right out of the air, but her power had hit a plateau about a year ago. She didn't really have any illusions that she was anywhere near strong enough to knock out the ship, but said, "I'm going to try. I'm not going to cower in the rubble crying for my mommy."

Zoe's face darkened. "Your place is here, with the rest of us. If the aliens invade our turf, we fight. As long as they leave us alone it's not gang business."

The two women locked gazes and Cataclysm hesitated, but then said, "You do what you want. I'm going to fight." She turned and headed for the door. Over her shoulder she said, "I'll wait for five minutes in case any of you have the balls to come with me."

She actually waited fifteen minutes but nobody came. She headed off alone.

The news had said the tunnels to RenCen were collapsed so she stole a car and headed north to take the ramp up to Michigan Avenue. She had planned to drive right to the Champions Building, which might have been a good plan yesterday when Michigan was a wide and well-traveled traffic artery. Now it was pitted with craters, covered in rubble, littered with empty cars and blocked by abandoned police barricades. She abandoned the car at the top of the ramp and headed out on foot.

She stayed off the street, instead moving from cover to cover. She was surprised there were no Qularr here but the fighting had obviously passed through already. She had gone about a block before seeing her first aliens. She was moving through a shattered building and saw them through a crack in the wall. It was a patrol of three of them. Although they walked on two legs they had insectoid features: compound eyes, large mandibles and a thick exoskeleton. She hadn't seen anything like the devices they were carrying, but she knew a gun when she saw one. She debated about letting them pass but she was going to have to fight them eventually. She might as well see how her fire powers worked against them.

Cataclysm moved toward a doorway and waited for them to pass. Then she stepped out and fire shot from her hands. She slammed one with a bolt and it collapsed instantly. The others turned but she was able to blast a second one before he could fire. As the third raised his weapon she ducked back through the doorway. Energy bolts splattered against the wall. She crouched low and rolled out of the doorway. She blasted the Qularr twice and it fell.

She stopped to examine the bodies, specifically the wounds she had made. It looked like her fire had cut through their chitin easily. That armor might help with bullets but it didn't look like much of a defense against her powers. That was good, but she cautioned herself not to get cocky.

Cataclysm continued to move through the ruined city. She could hear the sounds of battle far ahead--the explosions as Qularr ships continued to strafe targets of opportunity--but she realized she could hear small arms fire from nearby. The sound was coming from the north and it would be out of her way, but she decided to see who was still fighting the bugs in the area.

She jogged to the edge of a building. The sound of gunfire was coming from right around the corner. She carefully peered around the wall and could see a squad of MCPD behind some rubble exchanging fire with a half-dozen Qularr soldiers. It looked like at least two of the cops were down. They had a good defensible position but probably couldn't hold out much longer. She started to withdraw and then hesitated. Under normal circumstances she'd be fine with leaving the cops to die, but she had to admit she found the cockroaches slightly more disgusting than the cops. She continued to argue with herself but she was just wasting time. "For fuck's sake," she mumbled as she moved out to take cover behind a car.

The Qularr didn't see her approaching since their attention was focused on the cops. She came up on their side and waited until she was in a position where they were nice and exposed, and then lay down a barrage of fire bolts. The bugs turned in surprise but that simply exposed them to fire from the cops. The Qularr were all down in seconds.

"Who's there?" came a shout.

Cataclysm turned to leave without answering and she saw another group of Qularr jogging down the street. "Shit," she said with feeling. She was too exposed out here. "More bugs on the way!" she shouted. "I'm coming in."

The Qularr started firing, forcing Cataclysm to stay low as she approached the police unit. She sprinted across the last bit of open space and threw herself down behind the barricade. The three cops did a collective double take and suddenly she had three guns pointed in her direction.

She stared at them in silence for a second as the fury bubbled up in her. She growled, "So are you arresting me?"

One of the cops, a sergeant, said, "Stand down, men. She's not the enemy today." They turned their attention back to the approaching Qularr and Cataclysm added her flame bolts to their gunfire. The bugs didn't last long against the combined attack.

They hunkered down behind the low wall. The sergeant turned to her. "Thanks for the help. I'm Sergeant MacAvoy."

Cataclysm sneered at him but offered, "Cataclysm."

He looked stunned. "Cataclysm?"

She frowned. "You know me?"

"Not exactly. I have a friend who works the Westside beat. He says there are only three people in the Maniacs to be afraid of: Zoe Loft, Rid Len and you." Cataclysm felt a little twinge of pride at that. MacAvoy waved his hand dismissively. "Well, whatever differences we've had before, we're on the same side now, right?"

"I'm not sure I'd say that," she said. He looked at her warily so she rolled her eyes and said, "Fine, I won't kill any cops today. Happy?"

He didn't answer directly, instead saying, "You headed for the Champions building?"

"Yeah, how'd you know?"

"Defender's called for all superher--" he caught himself. "Um, superpowered individuals to gather at Champions for a final stand."

She shook her head. "You guys sure are doing a piss-poor job of defending the city."

She expected to get a rise out of him but he just nodded gloomily. "Our command structure is compromised. The Qularr hit City Hall on one of their early runs. Mayor Biselle got out but he left behind his emergency response laptop and defense codes. Without those, he can't access the hardened communication frequencies, can't activate automated city defense weaponry, can't access invasion defense plans." MacAvoy sighed. "We were sent out to get to City Hall to recover them, but Qularr resistance is heavier than expected. And we're all shot up now so..." He shook his head as he trailed off. Suddenly he stared at Cataclysm intently. "Would you help us? With your help I'll bet we could break through."

"I don't work with cops!" she snapped. "Just because I'm not burning you alive doesn't mean we are going to go out for coffee and braid each others' hair."

MacAvoy's face fell. "Oh. Yeah, I guess I'd feel the same way about working with a bunch of Maniacs. Well, thanks for your help. You better get along to Champions HQ before the final battle starts. We better get on our way." He turned to scan the streets.

Cataclysm hesitated. She didn't know if the two cops where were down were dead or just too hurt to move. The three left were wounded. And yet they were still going to try to push through. "That stuff is really that important?"

He nodded. "It could turn the tide. If nothing else it will give us more time. Ironclad is putting together some kind of big weapon outside of Champions but I don't think he's going to have time to finish it. Those codes could give us that time."

Cataclysm tapped a black fingernail rapidly against a chunk of concrete as her mind raced. "Fuck, fuck, fuck," she finally said. "Fine, I'll go."

MacAvoy smiled. "Great. Men, prepare to move out. I figure our best chance-"

"Whoa!" she said. "I said I'll go. You can just run along to the donut shop or something."

"Hey I can't authorize-"

"That's your choice. Either I go or you go. I really don't give a fuck either way."

Now it was his turn to drum his fingers nervously. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. "This is the combination to the mayor's safe. It's in his office under his desk." He didn't hand it to her. "Look, I'm trusting you. This is important. The whole city could depend on this."

She held out her hand and snapped her fingers. "Stop whining and give it to me."

He handed it over reluctantly. She stuffed it in a pocket and then poked her head up to see if the street was clear. He put his hand on her shoulder and said, "Thanks for your help, Cataclysm."

Without turning around she said, "You touch me again, cop, and you'll be pulling back a smoldering stump."

He pulled his hand away. "The mayor has set up a temporary command post in the basement of the building east of Mercy General. I'll tell them you're coming."

Cataclysm didn't even nod. Seeing the street was clear, she stood and started towards City Hall, staying low.