32 - Shattered

Cataclysm becomes obsessed with hunting down Psychotic. She chases her all over the world, breaking up one scheme after another but not facing her nemesis again. She makes a few deals with the devil along the way, most notably working with VIPER for several weeks. Psychotic had raided their labs so they were out to get her as well. She tells Witchcraft very little about the hunt. After all she's not going to arrest Zoe this time.

She tracks Psychotic to a small island off the coast of Japan, an atoll dubbed Monster Island by the Japanese press. There the villain is building some kind of massive device. Cataclysm boards a plane and settles in for the journey. It's a long trip and after the first few hours she sinks into a light doze.

It hurts. It hurts. It hurts.

There was nothing but the throbbing pain. There was no sound, no vision, no other sensation but the constant beat-beat-beat of the agony pulsing through her body. She drifted in misery for countless time and there was nothing but the hurt, beating in her brain like the throbbing of the music in a hot, dark nightclub.

Suddenly sound broke through: movement, scraping rock, frantic voices. "She's here!...must be dead...so much blood...should her arm be...can't move her unless...how will we get her down to...never survive the trip..."

A deafening torrent of sound, a screaming white noise that blotted out anything else, a bellow like the roars of the monsters on the island, or possibly the sound of a heavy engine. The pain was more distant now but still her constant companion. It would never leave.

More voices, not so much frantic as focused and intense. "...or it'll sever her spine...lift on three, one, two...another unit of blood...coding again...can't find a clean vein...splint the bones but...just a medic, not a doctor...stabilize her for...never survive the trip..."

A low drone, a deep steady thrumming. Occasionally another sound would come through but mostly it was just the hum that was so steady she stopped hearing it. That left nothing but the pain.

A crash of new voices, strange sounds, clipped words, gibberish that didn't even sound like language. The alien voices chattered over her but eventually they left as well.

She was left in an absence of sound that was calm, soothing and lonely. Sometimes she could hear something else -- a snatch of music, a familiar voice, a blaring but faraway television, a woman crying -- but only briefly and the silence would return. Soon the silence and the darkness was all there was. And the pain. The pain was always there, its pulsing counting out her life like the ticking of a clock.

It hurts. It hurts. It hurts.

She was flying way too fast and her balance was thrown off by the heavy metal arm still clamped around her forearm. Rather than deftly snaking her way through the twisting tunnel she was clumsily ricocheting from wall to wall, smashing into the hard stone at every turn. Her body was bruised and aching but the panic was rising. In her head she imagined she could hear the beeping of the countdown clock and knew every tone could be her last second. She took one too many fast turns and her head slammed brutally into the wall. Her levitation spell crumbled in the wave of dizziness that overtook her and she crashed to the ground. "Get up," she berated herself mentally. She pushed herself to her hands and knees, shaking her head to clear it. Suddenly the earth shivered and she knew it was too late.

Cataclysm opened her eyes but all she could see was was a blur of light so bright it made no sense. Slowly her vision adjusted and the light became alternating bands of bright and dark. She continued to stare, her brain trying to interpret what she saw, and after a long time it came into focus: a window, partially-open vertical blinds, a blue sky above the top of a building.

She moved her eyes. The window was in a wall. A beige wall. She moved her eyes more. Her head was resting in whiteness. A pillow. A sheet. Both white. The white ended in more beige, a textured plastic rail at the side of the bed. Beyond the rail was...she struggled to process the object. A table. With a phone.

None of this told her much. Cataclysm tried to raise her head but her muscles objected, saying it was too much trouble. "Shit," she mumbled thickly.

She heard a sudden intake of breath, the scrape of a chair, the rustle of clothes and then a face blocked out the light from the window. "Cataclysm?" said the face. "You're awake! My god, you're awake! Cataclysm, can you hear me?"

Cataclysm stared at the face, her sluggish mind taking long seconds to make sense of it. For some reason the features wouldn't coalesce at first but slowly she connected it with a memory. She furrowed her brow and croaked, "Pyro?"

"Yeah," said Pyro, bursting into tears. "Yeah it's me." She leaned forward and grabbed Cataclysm in a tight hug, burying her face against her neck.

A dull ache shot through her. "Ow," said Cataclysm.

"Sorry, sorry," said Pyro, quickly releasing her and pulling back. "Oh my god I can't believe it. You're awake!"

Tears continued to stream down Pyro's face. Reflexively Cataclysm snorted weakly and teased, "Girl."

Pyro laughed self-consciously. "I know, right?" she said as she hastily wiped her face. "How are you feeling?"

That was an easy question but it still took Cataclysm long seconds to frame her answer. "Tired."

"Yeah, I'll bet. They've got you pumped full of some pretty primo shit. I've been tempted to take a sip off your IV," she grinned.

Cataclysm's mind continued to chug along but nothing made sense. "Where...?" she began but it was too exhausting to finish the sentence. It was enough for Pyro to figure out her meaning though.

"You're back home," Pyro said. "In Millennium City. Mercy Hospital. They sent you here about a week ago. Before that you were in a hospital in Japan for..." She broke off and swallowed before continuing, "...a really long time. Me and the other Maniacs been taking turns here, hoping you'd wake up."

That made even less sense. "What?" said Cataclysm.

Pyro shrugged. "I'm not sure what happened. Not the whole story. Witchcraft said you were in an accident. She wouldn't say much about it, just some kind of accident or something."

The more Pyro talked the more confused Cataclysm got. The words made sense but they were strung together in strange patterns. "Witchcraft?"

Pyro looked a little embarrassed. "Yeah. She found me after you...got hurt. Said she knew we were friends. Heh, she even offered to fly me to Japan. But, you know, with my record no country wants to let me in. But she kept me posted. Texted and emailed me every couple days. Let me know how you were doing." Pyro suddenly looked stricken. "Oh shit, she'll want to know you're awake." She pulled out her phone, started tapping the screen and then she stopped. "Wait, maybe I should get a doctor." She started to step away and froze again. "Or maybe I should..."

While Pyro dithered, Cataclysm slipped back into sleep.

She tried to see through the oily, black smoke that stung her eyes. She drive her burning hand into Psychotic's shoulder, looking for the point where metal joined bone. She stabbed stiffened fingers against Psychotic's clavicle trying to splinter the weakened bone, ignoring the pain as she smashed against the hard surface. Her other hand had gone totally numb. She coughed and gagged at the smell and pointedly ignored the insistent beeping. She pulled at the metal arm with all her strength but it wouldn't come free.

The next time Cataclysm woke up she was disappointed to see the window was gone. That confused her. It took her a few seconds to realize she was lying on her other side, the light streaming in from behind her. Now she could see a different beige wall, this one with a whiteboard that contained her name, her real name that nobody called her, her room number and, according to the whiteboard, the name of her nurse. By her bed was a metal pole with some kind of boxy machine that was clicking industriously.

A woman sat in a chair below the whiteboard, sketching idly on a pad. Cataclysm's mind was clearer this time so she recognized the woman immediately, even though she wasn't in her usual costume. "Hey," she said roughly.

Witchcraft startled and her head jerked up. Her face blossomed into a smile and she dropped the sketchpad and pencil to the floor. She quickly moved over to kneel next to the bed and put out a hand to touch Cataclysm's arm. "Hey yourself," Witchcraft said, her eyes filling with tears.

"Everybody cries," Cataclysm said. "Must look awful."

Witchcraft grinned. "Yes, you are a little scarier than usual."

"Maybe I'll keep the look."

"No, sorry, no," she said firmly. "I think we all agree that nobody wants to see you like this anymore. How are you feeling?"

"Better," Cataclysm said. "Tired but not so loopy."

Witchcraft nodded. "They dialed down your painkillers after Pyro said you woke up. Are you in pain?"

Cataclysm shrugged. "A little but I'm tough."

"We can have them tweak up your...oh, that reminds me." She reached up to fiddle with something over Cataclysm's head. After a second a voice came over a speaker saying, "Yes?"

"Lori is awake," Witchcraft said to the voice. "Is there a doctor around?"

"I'll see who's available."

"Thank you."

Psychotic's arm tore away, trailing chunks of bloody flesh with it. She didn't bother looking at the clock. She triggered her levitation spell and rocketed towards the exit.

Cataclysm was suddenly aware the inside of her mouth felt like sandpaper. "Water?" she asked.

Witchcraft quickly reached for a plastic cup on the table next to the bed. She offered the cup's straw to Cataclysm, saying, "Here you go. Just drink a little."

Cataclysm drank a couple of sips of the water and then pulled away. She swished the last bit around a bit before swallowing. She watched Witchcraft as she put the cup back on the desk. When the woman turned back Cataclysm said, "So, uh, what's going on?"

Witchcraft took a breath. "Kind of a long story," she said. She got up to drag the chair over. "How much do you remember?" she asked.

Cataclysm thought about it. Although her thoughts weren't as muddled as before, her memories were still a little sketchy. "I remember talking to Pyro but I assume you mean before that." She mulled that over and said. "Lots of disjointed images. The last thing I really remember is I was on a plane. Going to Monster Island." She furrowed her brow. "Did the plane crash?"

"No you got to Monster Island safely," Witchcraft said. "You hunted down Psychotic and faced her. And defeated her." She paused. "And that's where things get a bit confused. There were two heroes being held prisoner by Psychotic: Rocket Hawk and Lady Rocket Hawk. Do you remember them?" Cataclysm shook her head. Witchcraft said, "Rocket Hawk has been very forthcoming with information on the incident but his descriptions are...colorful."

"All clear! You gonna start helpin' me, or do I gotta take down Psychotic myself?"

She shook her head. This idiot was worse then Defender.

Cataclysm wrinkled her nose. "I think I might remember him. Powered armor?" Witchcraft nodded and Cataclysm made a disgusted noise.

Witchcraft continued. "He told us that after he defeated...um, after Psychotic fell you were kneeling next to her and the two of you were talking. He couldn't hear what was being said but suddenly you turned, shouted it was a trap and told them to get out. They did. You didn't. He says after they exited the underground complex there was a tremor, which he assumed was a seismic event since they are common to the island. The entire complex collapsed with you inside.

"They called for help from Bureau 17. Luckily there was a hero in the area who could see through rock. They were able to find you, dig you out and transport you to the Bureau 17 base. They stabilized you and sent you to the nearest hospital which was in Japan. You were there for several weeks until you were brought home nine days ago."

Cataclysm took some time to process all that information. "How long have I been out?"

Witchcraft paused and said, "A little over two months."

"Wow. Lazy."

Witchcraft gave her a lopsided smile and continued. "It wasn't until later that investigators realized the tremor wasn't from an seismic event. It was from a bomb. Apparently Psychotic set off a low-yield nuclear device."

She pulled as hard she she could but she couldn't break Psychotic's metal grip. Her hand was turning purple and starting to throb with pain. Psychotic tore back her shirt to reveal a clock with a bright red LED display set in her abdomen. "It starts counting down when I die," she chuckled. "They weren't able to pack much fissionable material into me but they said it should still pulverize anyone within a few hundred feet."

Cataclysm raised her eyebrows. "I was in nuclear explosion?" Witchcraft nodded. Cataclysm added, "Cool. I wonder if I'll get superpowers."

Witchcraft smiled warmly and reached out to squeeze her shoulder. "God I've missed you," she said. She wiped away a tear and got back to her story. "It appears that Psychotic's entire plan was to kill you. Examination of the stone showed it had been precut in a number of places. The complex was built to collapse. The whole setup was a deathtrap. For you."

"I'm flattered."

Witchcraft didn't appreciate that joke as much as the last. She pursed her lips and said, "I wish you'd told me what you were up to. Things might have turned out better."

"Or worse. Gotten a bunch of people killed."

Witchcraft opened her mouth and then closed it. "Well, I guess it's not really the time for that conversation."

She walked over and knelt down next to Psychotic. The villain smiled weakly at her and said, "Volcano lair, doomsday device, giant monster, epic final battle. It was a good game, firefly, wasn't it?"

"Sure, Zoe," she said reluctantly. "A good game."

"Just one cliché left," Psychotic said. Her hand shot out and clamped painfully around the other woman's forearm. "The deathtrap."

"What about Psychotic?" Cataclysm asked.

Witchcraft looked at her somberly. "It appears she was at or near ground zero. She couldn't possibly have survived. No body but investigators found pieces of her cybernetics and DNA traces. I've done my own investigations and the soul of Zoe Loft is not on this plane." She added sternly, "It seems you got what you wanted."

"Good," said Cataclysm. Witchcraft shot her a look but Cataclysm changed the subject by saying, "Thanks. For telling Pyro."

It took Witchcraft a moment to change mental gears. "Oh, well, I knew you were friends so it seemed only right. I figured she could let your other friends know."

Cataclysm said, "So, you two pals now?"

Witchcraft squirmed and said, "Well...um...she's very...um..." She broke off when she saw Cataclysm's smirk. Witchcraft shook her head. "You do like making people uncomfortable, don't you?"

"I really do."

"Well then you'll be happy to know that even unconscious you were an extremely uncooperative patient."

Cataclysm grinned. "Good for me. What did I do?"

"You kept making the doctors look foolish. Refused to live up to their dire predictions."

"What kind of predictions?"

With brittle cheerfulness Witchcraft said, "Oh, you know. You wouldn't survive the day. The week. The month. You'd lose various limbs. You'd never wake up. You'd wake up but not be able to speak. You know the usual thing doctors do."

Cataclysm laboriously lifted her hands to look at them. They were pale and skinny and one had an IV sticking out of the back of it, but they were still there. She wiggled her toes and wasn't sure she could feel them or not. "Everything still attached?" she asked.

"Well, mostly."

"Mostly?" she asked with a little concern.

"I hope you weren't too fond of your spleen," Witchcraft said with mock gravity.

"Aw, that was my best feature. No tits to speak of, but I jiggle my spleen in a guy's face and he's all over me."

"Well, I'm afraid you'll have to find other ways to attract men."

Cataclysm's smile faded a little as she said, "Anything else?"

"Not much. You were very lucky. Three toes on your right foot. A couple feet of intestine. A few other little internal bits and pieces. Lots of terribly interesting scars. And you won't make it through a metal detector any time soon."

Cataclysm's smile fled completely. "Cybernetics?" she asked gravely.

"No, just lots of screws and plates and such."

Relieved she said, "Good. I hate cyborgs."

"They aren't all like Psychotic," Witchcraft reminded her. Cataclysm just snorted.

They were interrupted by the nurse's voice over the intercom saying, "Dr. Norman will be in to see you in a few minutes."

"Okay, thank you," said Witchcraft. Cataclysm yawned and felt her eyes closing. Witchcraft said, "You should sleep. Around here a 'few minutes' generally means an hour or two."

"No," Cataclysm said keeping her eyes closed. "Slept too much already. Just resting my eyes."

She frantically tried to burn through Psychotic's arm but even her flame wasn't hot enough to penetrate the hardened metal. Psychotic suddenly reached up with the other arm, grabbed her shoulder and pulled up off the floor until their faces were very close. Looking into her eyes, Psychotic said, "Nobody gets in Menton's way and lives. Nobody!" Then she relaxed and fell back to the floor. Her eyes closed and the clock in her abdomen started to count down, each second marked by a loud beep.

Cataclysm's eyes flew open. "Menton," she said.

Witchcraft looked at her in confusion. "What?"

"Zoe said Menton. Before she died. She said Menton."

"Are you sure?" Witchcraft asked in alarm.

Cataclysm shook her head. "I'm getting fragments of memory. Might have been a dream."

Witchcraft pursed her lips. "If Menton is still manipulating events from his Hot Sleep cell..." She paused, looked at the door, and then looked back.

"Go," said Cataclysm.

"Well, I don't want to leave you if-"

"Go," said Cataclysm more forcefully. "It's a hospital. I'm pretty sure there are people here to keep an eye on me."

"Well, I guess," she said reluctantly, "I'll call Pyro and have someone come sit with you." She stood, bent to give Cataclysm a clumsy hug. "I'll be back soon," she said.