12 - Purple Problems

City police released a statement today giving more information on the recent break-in at the MCPD High Security Storage Bunker. Security footage shows that the intruders were wearing the colors of the Black Aces gang. When asked how a street gang was able to break into a facility designed to keep out supervillains, the spokesman declined to comment. A security expert we consulted suggested that the gang members might have slipped in under the radar, so to speak. The automated security system was meant to recognize extremely powerful intruders and may have been insufficiently equipped to deal with smaller threats.

Police have admitted that several crates of Qularr technology were among the missing items, though they would not say whether that included Qularr weaponry. Are Westside street gangs now armed with powerful alien weapons? Is the MCPD prepared to handle such a threat? Only time will tell, and we will be there to keep the citizens of Millenium City informed on this important issue. Reporting for WCOC News, this is Julie Morgan.


Cataclysm watched the warehouse through binoculars. She was lying on a roof several buildings away, peering from behind the air conditioning equipment so she wouldn't be skylined if anyone looked up. She had been here for a couple of hours now, watching Purples come and go. From what she could see there were quite a few gang members inside the place. Two big guys stood guarding the door outside, eyeing anyone who came in. They stopped some people and talked to them while they let others pass by unmolested.

She had scanned the rest of the building and there were no windows or conveniently-oversized air vents she could see. There was a loading dock and a couple of smaller doors, and each entry was guarded by at least two Purples. There didn't seem to be a huge number of people inside and she reasoned she could probably blast her way in, but she thought back to what Tony had said. There was no reason for the Maniacs to be blamed for her actions.

She lowered the binoculars and drummed her fingers on the concrete. She had been mulling over an idea. A really, really dumb idea. If it worked, she could be in and out without trouble. If it didn't? Well she could always resort to burning Purples down, and they wouldn't realize she was doing it.


The Purple Gang thug slouched against the wall. Guard duty was boring. He'd tried striking up conversations with his partner on duty, but the other guy was pretty dull and the exchanges petered out after a few sentences. So he stood there, counting cracks in the sidewalk and wishing his shift was over. He straightened up and put on his best scowl as a woman came around the corner and headed towards them. She was wearing a standard Purple Gang outfit: purple suit jacket with black gloves, pants and bow tie. She seemed to be having a little trouble keeping her purple fedora on. As she got closer he stepped out to block the door. "Who are you?"

"I've got a message from the boss from Talos," she said, pulling a piece of paper out of her jacket.

He reached out for it. "I'll see he gets it."

She pulled it back. "Boss said I was to give it right to him. Said very bad things would happen to me if Talos doesn't get this."

The thug peered at her. "I don't know you, newbie."

She shrugged. "Yeah and I don't know you either, oldie." His scowl deepened and she continued quickly, "Look, Poe has me running around doing all this trivial shit. He wants me to get him a fucking latte on the way back. I joined the gang because I thought I'd be cracking a few heads. I didn't know I was going to be a goddamn secretary. You know I don't think women are treated very fairly in this gang-"

He rolled his eyes and said, "Oh shut up and just go in already. Talos is in the basement." She nodded and reached for the door handle. He reached out and grabbed her shoulder. "Another thing. That's Mister Poe to you, newbie. Don't forget that."

"Yeah, OK, I'll remember."

The woman went inside the warehouse, adjusting her fedora again. There were about a dozen gang members working around the warehouse but they ignored her. Her eyes darted around and spotted a bathroom near the stairs. She ducked in and closed the door. She looked at herself in the mirror and shook her head. "God I look like a dork," she said.

Cataclysm took off her hat and adjusted the hair net. It had been easy enough to find the clothing. "Gang-chic" was a popular fashion among the uptown kids. Occasionally one of them was stupid enough to wander into Westside wearing this kind of stuff. It wasn't a mistake they made twice, assuming they survived the initial beating. She'd bought this stuff and roughed it up so it looked a little more like the real thing, but she had been unsure it would pass inspection. Apparently she looked fine.

She felt naked without her makeup but it had been easy enough to remove. Her real problem was her hair. She knew she should have cut it, but it had taken her a long time to get the hair style she liked. She settled for wrapping up her spiky hair in a hair net and putting the fedora over it. It looked fine at first, but the hat tended to slip. She secured it better and exited the bathroom.

She headed down the stairs which opened onto a short corridor that ended in a heavy door. In front of the door were two more thugs. She approached and gave them the same "message for Talos" line, which they accepted without question. One turned and tapped a code into a keypad next to the door. The other eyed her but more out of curiosity than suspicion. The door rose slowly with a loud grinding noise and she could see it was much thicker than she had thought. She gave one of the guards a questioning look. "Things tend to blow up in there," he said, nodding to the opening door. "Be careful. Hit the button next to the door when you're ready to come out."

She nodded and entered the room beyond. It was a large laboratory with pieces of guns and other munitions scattered around. At one end was a shooting range. At one of the workbenches, a man in some kind of light body armor tinkered with what looked like a rocket launcher. Cataclysm looked over the room very carefully as the massive door behind her slowly slid shut. The man looked up at her and then went back to work, saying, "What do you want?"

"I have a message from Mr. Poe," she said, mostly for the benefits of the guards outside the still closing door.

Talos sighed. "Another one. What is it this time?"

The door shut with a boom and Cataclysm stepped closer to the man. "Pretty thick walls," she observed.

He looked around. "I guess so," he said absently, still focused on his work.

"Seems like nobody will hear you when you start screaming," she said.

"I suppose not," he said. It took him a second and then he looked up and said, "Wait, what?" Cataclysm just smiled at him as she walked closer. He looked panicked. "Wait, wait. I've done everything Poe asked." He started to back away. "He has no reason to be unhappy with me. I sold the sabotaged weapons to the gangs like he said. Do you know what that will do to my reputation? I have a business to run. It will take me years to regain the trust of my customers. I built the psi-bomb, even after I told him what could go wrong. I know I argued with him sometimes, but I always did what he said."

Cataclysm was surprised by his first comment. "Tell me more about the sabotaged weapons," she said.

"Tell you what? I did like he asked. All the weapons I've sold to the other gangs have been trapped. Some of them are fine but some will blow up the first time they're used." He looked puzzled. "But wait, if you're from Poe you'd know that. Who are you?"

She saw his hands go beneath the workbench and she blasted him in the chest with a bolt of fire. He wasn't expecting that and it knocked him off his feet. She quickly circled around to get a clear shot at him as he scrambled to his feet and grabbed a gun off another worktable. She blasted him again but he was braced and brought the gun to bear. She threw up a quick defensive spell and deflected the bullets to one side. Again she hit him with a bolt of fire but he just laughed. "This armor protects me against lab explosions. You won't be able to penetrate it."

"Oh? I wonder how it does against prolonged heat." She spread her arms and bathed him in flame, keeping it up as long as she could. She saw him throw up arms up, trying to ward off the searing heat, and when she let up on her attack she could see his armor was smoking. "You should really make the next version of that armor more fireproof," she said. She advanced on him, pelting him with fire attacks.

"OK! OK!" he squealed, dropping his gun. "I'll tell you what you need, just don't hurt me!"

"Good," she said, walking up to him and throwing an arm around his shoulders. She held up a hand in front of his face and let flames dance among her fingers. "Talk quickly and don't do anything that might make me cranky."

"OK," he said, coughing in the smoke rising from the smoldering patches on the surface of his armor. "What do you want to know?"

"Tell me about this bomb," she said.

"This was a special project Mr. Poe had me work on. It's a psionic bomb. It locks onto...um, do you know much about psychomystic signals?"

"Pretend I don't."

"Well, everyone with superpowers has this sort of signature. It doesn't matter if it's mutation, technology, magic, psychic power, or anything else. All superpowered people have a psychomystic signature. This bomb sends out a massive psionic pulse that should affect only people with that signature. Basically, anyone with superpowers in a five mile radius will have their brains turned to jelly. But he wouldn't listen to me when I told him about the problem."

"What problem?"

"Well, everyone has this psychomystic signature to some degree. In most people it's so low it's nearly undetectable, but that 'nearly' is the problem. I kept telling him that I wasn't sure the bomb could discriminate between high and low signals. I mean it will probably work like he wants, but there's also a slim chance that it will simply fry everybody's brains. Personally, I intend to get as far away as possible when he sets it off."

"And when is that going to be?"

"Two days. I was planning to leave town tomorrow morning."

"How do I stop the bomb?"

"It shouldn't be hard. The bomb's not booby-trapped or anything. The psychic pulse is pretty tricky to instigate so you aren't going to set it off accidentally. The safest move would probably be to sever the cable between the bomb and the control panel. However if you can't manage that, just ripping out wires in the bomb itself should work."

She had more questions, but suddenly the fire sprinklers came on and an alarm started blaring. Apparently the smoke from his suit had finally triggered something. She heard a voice over the intercom. "Is everything all right in there?" She motioned for him to be quiet as her mind raced. The intercom said, "Mr. Talos? We're coming in." The big door started its slow and loud rise.

In a low voice she said, "Do you have any idea what Poe would do if he found out you squealed?" Talos nodded. "It's nothing compared to what I'll do. Got it? Keep your mouth shut." Talos nodded again, looking afraid.

The door opened and the two thugs stood in the doorway, not coming in because of the sprinklers. Cataclysm turned to them. "This guy is fucking crazy!" she said. "I'm just talking to him and suddenly he says, 'oops' and something blows up. I'm getting out of here."

She started towards the door. One of the thugs said, "Are you all right, Mr. Talos?"

"Yes," he said, his voice shaking. "Just part of the job, heh. We're all fine here."

Neither of the thugs tried to stop her. She was dripping wet as she exited the lab. "I don't envy you guys your jobs," she said over her shoulder and she heard one of them chuckle. She walked up the stairs quickly and into the main warehouse. A couple of the Purple Gang she passed glanced at her sopping suit and smirked. Nobody seemed all that concerned about the alarm, which shut off as she was about halfway to the exit. It was just another day in Talos's lab.

She was debating with herself as she exited the warehouse but she already knew what the next step was. Talos had said it would be two days before Poe set off the bomb, but she didn't trust him to keep quiet. If word got out he had talked, Poe would either ramp up security or just blow the bomb early. A jelly-brained future didn't interest her, and she certainly didn't want anything to happen to the Maniacs, so she headed straight for the headquarters of the Purple Line. On her way she pulled out her phone and dialed.

"Madness," said the voice at the other end.

"It's Cataclysm," she said. Tony sputtered a bit and she continued, "Look I don't care who's in the room with you. Don't talk just listen. Talos is in Poe's pocket. Those guns he sold you guys are booby trapped. Zoe won't listen to me but she might listen to you. I don't care how you say you got the information. Say a little elf visited you in a dream for all I care. But convince her or our people are going to die. Okay?"

He paused and then said, "Yeah."

"Great. Later." She hung up.

There were no guards outside Purple Line headquarters, but this was technically a business so thugs on the street might have attracted the wrong kind of attention. Then again everyone in the city knew the delivery business was involved with the New Purple Gang, though the cops had never been able to prove the connection. She entered the main door to enter a shabby reception area with a corridor leading deeper into the building. A muscular man in a purple t-shirt was sitting behind a desk. "Whaddya want?" he asked.

She decided to try the same gambit. "Message for the boss from Talos."

"What happened to you?" he asked, eyeing her wet clothing.

She gave a dramatic sigh. "Fire sprinklers in Talos's lab. That guy is a serious hazard. Hope he's doing us some good. Anyhow that accident is what he wants me to talk to Mr. Talos about." She started to walk past him. "I'll just be a second."

She stopped as she heard the gun cock. She threw a look over her shoulder and saw the receptionist pointing a pistol at her. "What the fuck?" she said.

"I don't know who you are, but you ain't seeing the boss."

"What do you mean you don't know who I am? I joined the gang a couple weeks ago."

He shook his head and tugged his t-shirt. "These colors don't run," he said.

She looked down and saw the purple dye from her jacket staining the white shirt underneath. "Goddamn cheap department store shit," she sighed. "Fine, can I at least take the wet jacket off? I'm not packing." She opened her jacket to show him. He motioned for her to go ahead.

She hadn't meant the move to be anything clever. She was just getting uncomfortable in the heavy, sodden fabric. But as she stripped off the jacket his eyes dropped. Cataclysm was pretty flat-chested, but put any women in a damp, white shirt and guys get distracted. "You can see I'm not wearing a gun," she said, taking a breath. "Why don't you put that thing away before you hurt somebody."

He looked at her eyes briefly, then at the gun, then back to her chest. He didn't put the weapon away but he lowered it, and that was all she needed. Contrary to what the movies show, you can't outshoot someone pointing a gun at you, but now that the weapon wasn't aimed directly at her she had the extra second she needed. She blasted him twice and he fell before he could get the gun back up.

She heard someone say, "Did you hear that?" Then the voice yelled out, "Hey, Tommy, you okay out there? Tommy?" Cataclysm realized that stealth wasn't going to work here so she quickly moved to the wall next to the hallway. "Let's check it out," said the unseen speaker. She pressed back against the wall as two pairs of shoes clicked down the corridor. As soon as the two thugs entered she bathed them in a sheet of flame. They turned, raising their weapons, but they were confused and surprised. They got a couple of wild shots off but none of them came near her. They went down, but the noise had already done its damage. She could hear voices down the corridor.

Cataclysm figured her best bet was speed. It was the same plan she'd used against the Qularr. The Purples might know something was going on, but they wouldn't know who or how many or even that it was an attack until she was well past them. She moved quickly into the corridor and saw a half-dozen doorways along the walls, and closed double doors at the end. She charged loudly down the hallway, hearing surprised voices as she passed. She reached the double doors, turned and waited. A couple of guys came into the hall from the doorways but they didn't have their weapons out. She poured a stream of fire down the corridor and they yelled and pulled back. She directed the fire wider and soon the walls were aflame. That gave her an idea.

She pushed through the double doors and into the large space beyond. There was nobody here, but there were lots of crates. Cataclysm poured fire over them until they started to smolder, and then she moved on. As she made her way through the building she continued to send blasts and streams of fire into random rooms and down side corridors, not stopping to engage people directly. Soon she could hear yells of panic and confusion. Nobody knew what was happening, only that it was time to get out.

She was so happy with how the plan was working that she skidded around a corner, still blasting fire from her hands, without looking to see who might be there. She ran right into a trio of big bruisers. "What are you doing?" demanded one.

"It's a fire," she yelled, hoping the confusion would keep them from looking at her too closely. Not only was her shirt stained with purple dye, but she'd lost her hat and hairnet. Her haircut was quite unconventional for the New Purple Gang. "We have to get out!" she insisted.

One of the thugs scratched his head. "Wait," he said slowly. "We don't have anyone in the gang who can..." His eyes widened. "It's a cape!" he yelled. He turned to bellow down the corridor. "Capes! It's a raid!"

She didn't even bother to curse, just started to bring up the flame. Unfortunately the three bruisers were close and were on her before she could get the spell off. They pummeled her with their fists and then one grabbed her in a tight bear hug. She grunted but forced her mind to focus on the task. Without her arms free to perform the gestures the spell was harder, but she managed to call up a sheet of fire. The searing flames made them back off, and that gave her room to blast them and finish them off. However more Purples came around the corner. She darted into a doorway as one sprayed the hallway with a Tommy gun, but she felt a bullet tear through her calf. The pain made her stumble and she fell to the ground.

She had to ignore the wound. Witchcraft had taught her some healing spells, but they required time and concentration so couldn't be used during a fight. The gunner loomed in the doorway and hammered bullets into the office. He was shooting high, expecting her to be on her feet, so her sudden stumble probably saved her life. She shot flames and took him down, but two more musclemen came in after him. These two were armed with heavy pipes. She was exhausted but sprayed fire at them and they collapsed before they could reach her.

Cataclysm regained her knees, panting for breath. Her body was covered in bruises but she didn't think anything was broken. The gunshot wound was bleeding faster than she liked. She cast the healing spell and the wound stopped bleeding, though the pain was still there. She cursed her combat sloppiness. She'd spent too much time in predictable danger room missions. It had been too long since she'd seen the chaos of real action. She swore she'd be more careful.

She moved more slowly now, both out of caution and due to the pain in her leg. She cursed herself again, this time for not bringing any healing patches. When she'd switched to the Purple Gang outfit she hadn't transferred the capsules over. It was a stupid move that just might cost her. She was acting like some newbie in her first gang rumble. Well it was too late now. It's not like she could ask everyone to wait politely while she ran home for a sec.

Cataclysm faced two more groups of Purples, but she was able to take them out without any trouble. Soon she came to the end of a corridor that opened into a huge chamber. About half the room was occupied by stacks of crates and shelves of cardboard boxes, but the rest of the place had been cleared to make room for a very large contraption of some kind. Next to the contraption was a tall man standing in front of a control panel. There were also about a dozen Purple Gang scattered about the room.

The man at the control panel looked up as she entered. He was wearing a purple overcoat and a gas mask. Since no one else was wearing a gas mask, she assumed it was more for dramatic effect than anything else. She doubted it was to hide his identity since this was obviously Kevin Poe. "We have incoming, you incompetent dolts!" Poe said. "Reset those capacitors NOW!"

He turned to her as technicians fussed over the psi-bomb and the Purple Gang thugs lined up to face her. He said, "Well, well, well, look who's already here. Why you're just in time," he chuckled nastily, "to be too late! Think hard while you still can, hero! I'm about to liquidate the brains of every citizen of Westside. When me and my New Purple Gang take over this town, it's going to be so awesome! I promise, it'll leave you idiots drooling. New Purple Gang, attack!"

To her surprise, Poe didn't attack but turned back to his control panel. Cataclysm moved into the cover of the crates as the Purple Gang opened fire. She suspected Poe was trying to set off the bomb and that meant she'd have to move quickly to stop him.

The Purple Gang spread out. About half of them had guns but the rest were big bouncer types. She was less worried about them, but she knew she had to stay on her toes. She darted quickly among the boxes, spraying fire at gang members as they showed themselves. They peppered the area with gunfire but she kept under cover and kept her defensive spells up. She couldn't actually stop a bullet with her magic, but she could deflect its path a bit. That could turn a fatal hit into a serious injury, a serious injury into a flesh wound, and a flesh wound into a miss.

Her fighting skills had the usual side effect--soon many of the crates were in flames and the room was filling with smoke. Her eyes burned and she coughed constantly but she wouldn't back off. She broke through to the large open area near where Poe was still frantically punching controls on the bomb's panel. She started a spell but he suddenly whirled and drew twin pistols, and she was forced to roll to the side to avoid the stream of bullets. She waited until she heard clips hit the floor and popped up as he was reloading. She sent fire streaming towards him but he backflipped over the panel, firing at her as he twisted in the air.

"Okay," she said to herself as she dove for cover again. "Got to admit that was a pretty cool move."

Poe's pistol moves, although flashy, weren't very accurate. She found it easy to avoid or deflect his bullets. She blasted him again and he didn't dodge this one. The blow staggered him but she had to duck as he resumed firing. When she heard the clips ejected, she popped up to attack but realized Poe was chanting a spell. Cataclysm hesitated. She didn't know the specific incantation but she recognized necromantic magic. She gasped and fell to her knees as she felt the dark energy reach out for her, go right through her defensive spell and suck out her life force. She racked her brain to remember how to block dark magic and threw up a quick barrier.

Cataclysm was disoriented from the dark attack and didn't react quickly as he pulled his pistols. Her body was sluggish as she tried to get under cover. She took another bullet to the same leg as before, the thigh this time, and one to her bicep. The pain was overwhelming and between the lifestealing spell and the wounds she was getting light headed. However rather than coming after her to finish her off, she heard Poe go back to the control panel.

She struggled to get to her feet. She knew she was too focused on Poe. She wasn't watching for other gang members. She hoped they had all fled by now. She raised her arm to throw another fire spell, and Poe turned in a flash and fired. She changed the fire spell to a defensive spell and felt the impact of the bullets as they ricocheted off her weak shield. Cataclysm stumbled and fell into the burning crate behind her.

The fire swirled around her but it didn't burn. Instead she felt it wrap around her like a cloak. Cataclysm stood and the fire came with her, outlining her form. She reached out and pulled in the fire from surrounding crates, intensifying the flames around her. She felt a comforting warmth seep into her, soothing her bruises and wounds. She looked down and none of the wounds were bleeding. She didn't have time to wonder what happened. She turned to Poe, filled with renewed vigor.

She was ready for Poe's attacks this time. She avoided his bullets, blocked his dark magic, and blasted him with fire bolts as often as she could between defensive moves. He had a rhythm to his attacks and once she figured it out she knew she had the upper hand. Her attacks were stronger, this cloak of fire somehow facilitating her connection with elemental Fire. Poe grew steadily weaker while Cataclysm felt her power growing. Finally he just collapsed in exhaustion, an anticlimactic ending to the battle.

Cataclysm let out a sigh and relaxed, and the flames around her flickered and died. As they did, the exhaustion came on her again. It was like the crash after taking uppers. The smoke in the room burned her throat and eyes and the pain of her wounds, while less, was still there. She pushed herself forward, past Poe, to find the cable that connected the control panel to the bomb. She looked up to see the bomb technicians watching her warily. They didn't seem armed so she just motioned for them to get out. They fled. She summoned up her power and sent a sharp spear of fire into the cable, severing it cleanly.

She looked down at Poe. He was still breathing. She'd never been much for killing unconscious foes. The bomb was damaged but not gone. Cataclysm grumbled but she knew what she had to do. She looked around the room but couldn't see a phone. She went back into the corridor and found an office. She reached for the phone. She was glad the Purple Gang outfit included gloves; the cops had her fingerprints. She punched in the phone number.

"911, what is your emergency?"

"I'm at the headquarters to the Purple Line delivery company. There is a psychic bomb here, built by Kevin Poe, the head of the New Purple Gang. Poe is here but unconscious. Most of the Purple Gang in the building have been taken out. I need cops, fire and ambulance. Cops better bring the bomb squad. The bomb is disabled but I don't know how safe it is." She thought about ratting out Talos, but he'd been helpful. Besides, except for the recent transaction, he was a good source of weapons for the Maniacs.

"Are you injured?" asked the operator.

"No," Cataclysm lied.

"What is your name?"

Cataclysm ignored the question. "Get help here soon. The building's on fire and I'm not sure what will happen if the fire reaches the bomb. It's not explosive, but it still might be dangerous." She hung up.

She was too tired to fight anyone else. She cast her levitation spell and rocketed down the hall. She didn't encounter anyone else in the building but, as she expected, there were a lot of Purple Gang milling about outside. She shot out the door and immediately rocketed upward to get herself on the roof of the building. She heard a few shots ring out but she was behind cover quickly. She streaked off into the night.


Witchcraft listened to the story with her mouth agape. When Cataclysm finished, Witchcraft didn't seem to know what to say, finally settling for, "Wow. Amazing."

Cataclysm shrugged. "You seem surprised," she said, a little annoyed.

"Yes and no. I'm certainly not surprised you did so well, but I never expected you would handle the situation so thoroughly and with such initiative. I would have been happy if you had simply told me about Talos and the bomb and left it for me to take it from there. I'm very proud of you."

Cataclysm was surprised by the praise, and irritated at how pleased she was by it. She'd stopped caring much what people though a long time ago and it bothered her that she was so elated by Witchcraft's words. Wanting to change the subject, she said, "What happened with the fire? It's like it strengthened and healed me."

Thoughtfully, Witchcraft said, "That's not surprising. Although we've focused on the destructive side of fire, you yourself have talked about it's comforting warmth. I had planned to introduce the constructive aspects of fire magic in later lessons."

Cataclysm nodded. "It gives life and it takes life."

"Yes, exactly. Beautifully put. I think this was another aspect of your instinctive connection with fire magic, the same ability that saved your life when your house burned down. I think we should explore this more now that you have shown a facility with it. With study you should be able to call up this cloak of fire at will."