30 - Going Nuclear

In the months since the battle in the back of the Great Beast Bookstore, Cataclysm has focused mostly on trying to track down Psychotic but with no real success. Psychotic's robots continue to raid technological targets such as Dynamic Technologies and the wreckage of a Qularr ship that had gone unnoticed in the Canadian wilderness, but the supervillain has remained out of sight.

Cataclysm and Witchcraft struggle to rebuild their relationship. Cataclysm is trying to figure out where her path in life lies. She pulls back from the Maniacs again, though makes it clear they can depend on her in an emergency. Pyro is out of prison but has stayed out of the gang. She is currently working as an auto mechanic and trying to go straight.

A streak of fire shot through the skies of Millennium City, headed west at a high rate of speed. Cataclysm poured fire out behind her trying to push every ounce of velocity out of herself as she sped towards Westside. The panicked call from Rid Len about "something" attacking the Maniacs, the sound of gunfire in the background, and the way the call suddenly ended contributed to her sense of urgency. She didn't know if this was a gang hit or something else but she wasn't going to do nothing while the Maniacs were in danger.

She saw a few curious onlookers gathered around the Maniac HQ watching the building. That might mean the cops were on their way, though this wasn't exactly a call-the-police kind of neighborhood. Nothing was happening on the street so she shot through the front door, currently torn off its hinges, and found herself on a battlefield.

Cataclysm could hear shouting and gunfire from further in the building. Here at the entrance were a half-dozen wounded Maniacs being attended to by Stiletto Conners, a woman with an exceptional talent with knives whether she was cutting a bullet out of a friend or a lung out of an enemy. Stiletto gave her a grateful look, jerked her head down the hall and got back to her surgery.

She headed down the corridor and saw a group of Maniacs barricaded at the door to a room, shooting at something inside. Rid Len spotted her and hurried over. "Thank god," he said.

"What the fuck is going on?" she demanded.

"I don't know. This...thing just burst in and started cutting us up. We drove it back into the kitchen but we can't kill it."

"Thing?" she asked in confusion. "What do you mean thing?"

He swallowed. "I don't know. It's this big metal...thing with claws and wings. I think it might be whatever you fought at the museum."

"Psychotic?" she said grimly.

"Yeah, that was the name. But why would it come here?"

Cataclysm didn't answer. She had never told them Psychotic's real identity. She moved up to the barricades and called for the Maniacs to stop shooting. It took a minute to get the gang to listen but finally the sound of gunfire stopped. Into the silence she called out, "Psychotic, I'm coming in."

"Cataclysm, is that you?" said a woman's voice from the other room cheerfully. "I'm so glad you got my invitation."

"Stay here," she said to Rid.

"Hey, I still run this gang," he said defiantly. "I'm coming with you."

She looked at him but knew he wouldn't listen. "Fine but stay out of it. This isn't about the Maniacs."

Cataclysm stepped over the furniture that had been pushed up to create crude cover for the gang. She cautiously entered the kitchen, looking carefully for booby traps or ambushes. The room was trashed and there were the bodies of several of Psychotic's robots here. The villain herself was waiting patiently, standing next to a large crate. Psychotic gave her a big grin, "Welcome to my little party, child."

Psychotic looked much the same as before but there was something new. Lines of energy snaked through her metal parts, like veins of shining blood. The color of the light reminded Cataclysm of the Lemurian artifact. Somehow, she surmised, Psychotic had found a way to infuse her cybernetics with Lemurian energy.

"What do you want?" Cataclysm demanded sharply.

"Want? Why I just wanted to drop off a little present to my old friends. Here let me unwrap it for you." She turned and with a slash of her claws she tore off the side of the crate revealing its contents. It was a cylindrical object, tapered at one end, but what really caught Cataclysm's attention was the black and yellow symbol on its side, the three wedges in a circle that warned of radioactivity.

Cataclysm turned back to Psychotic while her mind raced. Could it be fake, some kind of sick practical joke? Surely even this woman wasn't crazy enough to set off a nuclear bomb in the middle of the city. As she focused on Psychotic she realized the woman held a switch, a simple cylinder with a button on one end and a wire coming out the other that led to the bomb. Her thumb hovered over the trigger. Cataclysm heard Rid slowly whisper, "Fuck me."

"What do you want?" Cataclysm repeated, trying to keep her voice steady.

"I wanted to repay the people who betrayed me. And now all those people are right here. With a push of this button I clean the slate."

"Think about this," Cataclysm said slowly. "You may be tough in your metal pajamas, but even you can't survive a nuclear blast. This will kill you too."

Psychotic just cackled. "Fine. Let's all die together." Her thumb stabbed the button.

Cataclysm didn't even have time to shout a warning or lunge across the room. She watched helplessly as the world slipped into slow motion and she saw the button depress, even heard a little click as it made contact. She had heard your life flashed before your eyes when you faced death, but her mind simply froze.

And nothing happened.

The three of them stood unmoving. The world returned to its normal speed as three brains tried to make sense out of what just happened. Psychotic's grin faded and she turned her gaze to the button. "No," she said as she stabbed the button again. "No, no, no!" she shrieked, jamming her thumb against the trigger over and over.

The first thing Cataclysm thought was that she wasn't about to release a holocaust in a room with a nuclear bomb. "Failed again," she taunted Psychotic. "You can't manage to do anything right, can you?"

Psychotic dropped the button and extended her claws. "I can still kill you all the old fashioned way," she snarled.

"Come and get me, bitch," Cataclysm snarled and fled the room. "Move," she shouted to the Maniacs. "Get back, get back!" Frankly she wished they'd just run away but she knew they would stand and defend their headquarters. She just wanted room to work and was depending on Psychotic hating her more than the rest of the Maniacs.

She heard Psychotic shriek and come smashing through the doorway behind her. Cataclysm ran to the TV room, the most obvious large space in the headquarters. Some of the Maniacs followed her while others stood in confusion. Psychotic slashed a few as she passed but she was focused on only one prey.

When Cataclysm reached the TV room, she turned and summoned her fire shield as she waited for her pursuer to catch up. With a scream, Psychotic leapt upon her and tore at her with her claws. Cataclysm didn't need to search for anger this time. She let the fury bubble up and burst out of her, releasing a hellstorm into the room. She blasted Psychotic with a fireball, coating the villain in the Qliphothic energy that magnified her fire magic. Then she let loose with the most powerful spells she could muster.

Cataclysm's shield wore down and she felt Psychotic's claw start to tear into her. She embraced the pain, driving her anger to new levels, and the Fire Rift tore open. However to Cataclysm's surprise, Psychotic didn't fall when the white-hot flames shrieked around her. Unlike Menton and the Black Shepherd, Psychotic was built for physical confrontations. Cataclysm's response was just to amp up the power even further and finally Psychotic started to back off. Cataclysm slammed her with blasts of fire, trying to find the flesh beneath the metal, and it seemed to work. Psychotic seemed confused, not used to an opponent who could actually hurt her. She wrapped her wings around her to create a protective cocoon and started to head towards the door, but Rid had organized the Maniacs and Psychotic was met with a hail of gunfire. With nowhere to run she had to endure the fire until the damage was too much and she collapsed to the ground with a tremendous crash that caused the entire building to creak ominously.

Silence descended over the room. Slowly the combatants stood and gathered around the body of Psychotic. Rid turned to Cataclysm and said, "OK, what the fuck was that all about?"

Cataclysm wasn't sure what to say but her answer was interrupted when one of the Maniacs said, "She's still alive." Cataclysm looked down and could see Psychotic's chest rise and fall slowly.

"We can fix that," said Rid firmly, drawing his pistol and pointing it at Psychotic.

"No," said Cataclysm, putting her hand on his arm.

Rid lowered the gun but whirled on her angrily. "In case you've forgotten, that's how we do things in the Maniacs. Now get out of my way." He pushed her aside and raised the gun again.

Cataclysm knew she had to stop this. "It's Zoe," she blurted.

Rid turned to her, looking confused. "What?"

"It's Zoe," Cataclysm said distinctly, pointing at the body.

Rid slowly looked down at the villain lying on the ground. It took him a moment but finally his eyes widened. "Fuck me, it is," he breathed. "What the fuck happened to her?"

"I don't know," said Cataclysm. "I've been trying to find out."

He continued to stare at her but then shook his head. "Doesn't matter. She'd understand. This is how we deal with enemies of the Maniacs." Yet again he raised the gun.

"No," Cataclysm said forcefully, moving to stand between him and Psychotic. "Look, even if I was willing to stand by and let you murder her--and I'm not--what about the bomb?" She pointed towards the kitchen. "You expect me to let you keep that?"

He turned to look in the direction she was pointing. "You think that's real?" he asked after a moment.

"You want to take that chance? It's not the kind of thing we can just toss into a dumpster. Rid, I have to call people. People who can deal with shit like that. And people like her."

He turned back and their eyes met. She could see him struggling with it. Gently she said, "I figure you've got about five minutes, maybe ten, before this place is swarming with cops. Whatever you need, grab it and go."

Rid pursed his lips. "Shit," she sighed. "OK, you heard her," he bellowed to the Maniacs as he holstered his gun. "We are evacuating. Pack it all up." He turned back to her. "Thanks," he said before he joined the evacuation.