Chronicles of a Caped Crusader: Long Shadows: Part Three
The ship touched down on Terror Mountain, and the hatch opened. Aisheena and Chloe wheeled the secure container carrying the Painted Lady out, squinting to prevent snow from blowing into their eyes. A group of Chias waited with a sled, which they deposited the box onto. Loraine appeared in the doorway of the hatch, but didn't step out. She was still dressed in only her usual business suit, something completely unsuited to the extreme temperatures of the mountain. Even though Chloe's suit offered protection against both extremes of hot and cold, she was still chilly, and her face was beginning to go numb below the mask.
“You're sure you know what to do?” Loraine called.
“We take her up and into the ice caves. She'll break out. We put up some initial resistance, call for help, and flee as if we're scared for our lives, which we will be,” one of the Chias shouted back.
Loraine gave him a thumbs up and gestured for Chloe and Aisheena to rejoin her in the ship. They climbed back in, kicking the snow off their boots.
“Man, it is cold up here,” Chloe complained.
“Yes, well, it's the safest place to facilitate a release. In the ice caves, she'll be miles from the nearest settlement when she goes on her initial rampage,” Loraine explained as she pressed the door control. “And now, we have to get back. Captain K is going to have a fit if he doesn't get his ship back soon.”
“He's ridiculously attached to this rust bucket,” Aisheena said, taking the third chair in the corner, leaving the co-pilot seat for Chloe since she actually knew how to pilot the ship.
“Says the woman who can fly under her own power,” Chloe commented as she strapped in. “You'd be attached to whatever it is that gets you safely from place to place if you couldn't do it under your own power like some of us. My cape is nothing half as cool as a spaceship, but I'd be lost without it. Am I right, Loraine?”
“Don't look at me. I deliberately blew up the last spaceship I owned,” Loraine said with the slightest of smirks.
“Well, whatever. Also, this is a cutting edge piece of engineering. Captain K is always upgrading it to keep him at the top of his game. Those enhancements have saved our lives a few times,” Chloe said, unfazed.
Loraine started the engines and took off. She motioned for quiet and clicked on her headset. “Are you there, Lightning?”
“Do you have a consistent visual on the target?” she asked.
“Good. If something should happen to compromise your ability to maintain that visual, immediately call off the mission and tell Blackwing and The Masked Intruder to take her back into custody.”
Loraine closed the com channel and fired up the engines, lifting off and heading for Neopia Central. ***
Chloe was sitting at the breakfast table the next morning with her family. Her hours usually had her leave before most of them were up, but that morning she was going in late and staying later than usual. The topic around the table was everyone's day plans. Princess was in the midst of telling them about what in-depth topic she was currently absorbed in when a shrieking wail went up from Chloe's end of the table.
Chloe winced as she looked down at her wrist communicator. It was flashing red and the wail was the sound of an alarm issuing from it. There was no message, and after a moment of fiddling with it, she was able to get the sound to stop.
“What was that about?” Elise asked once her sister had gotten the communicator under control.
“I have no idea; it's never done that before, and there is no message. Either way, I'd better go in now. If that wasn't some alert, then this thing is broken and I should get it looked at as soon as possible. I need it in working order in case they do need to send out a bulletin for something important,” Chloe said, getting up and shrugging into her suit jacket. “Sorry, everyone. See you tonight.”
She hurried out amidst the chorus of goodbyes, breaking into a run once out of sight of the house. She had partially lied back there. She had never had her communicator give out that kind of alert before, but she had heard of it. It was a warning that something drastic had happened and protocol dictated that you had to return to HQ as soon as possible after receiving it. The only thing Chloe could think of that could trigger that particular alarm was that something had gone wrong in their plan with Lady.
If that was the case, the entire world was in trouble.
Chloe made it to the HQ slightly out of breath and hurried into the control room. Loraine was sitting at the monitors flicking through screens and analyzing data at a pace only she seemed capable of. She turned to Chloe when she entered and rose from the seat, gesturing for her to take it.
“Take over here. Divert the volunteers or Chia police to handle any calls that don't seem to potentially have anything to do with Lady. If you have even the vaguest suspicion that one of the calls might be related to Lady, forward it to the station downstairs. We have a protocol set up downstairs to reroute the call to whomever is closest to the location of the call at the time. It will get the message sent much faster than you trying to do the same thing manually,” Loraine said briskly.
“We lost her?” Chloe asked, feeling her stomach twisting in a way that made her wish she hadn't just finished eating her breakfast.
“Yes, unfortunately. She went to the Darigan Citadel and just vanished. One minute we had eyes on her physically and through the monitoring systems, and the next she was gone. We're tearing the city apart; we'll find her and abort the plan, hopefully before she does any damage,” Loraine told her as she hurried out of the room.
Chloe took her place at the monitors, putting her reading glasses on and looking over the display. There were no pending problems for her to deal with, so she pulled up the feed from Lady's surveillance. True to what Loraine had said, in the last minute of it, she had gone to the Citadel and had seem to wander aimlessly through some back alleys before she simply vanished. One minute she was there, the next she wasn't. If it was teleportation, it hadn't been her doing, as her dark magic would have left a trace, which there wasn't.
It was a slow day for crime, which Chloe was thankful for. She listened over the com system to the on-going search, the feeling of dread growing with every hour that passed without a sign of the Painted Lady. She was out there somewhere, and no one knew what she was planning. The devastation she could unleash was unthinkable.
Around two in the afternoon, the proximity alarm outside the HQ went off. People who came to the HQ were usually there to report stolen property, something you had to do in person. You could report any other crime over the communication stations set up over the world, but the Defenders needed a full report in case the stolen property was recovered so it could be returned to the proper owner. Chloe casually glanced at the feed while pulling open a drawer to retrieve the documents the victim would need to fill out.
It took her a few seconds to process what she was seeing. When she did, she still didn't believe it, but she jumped into action.
“She's here!” Chloe shouted into the com channel. “Lady is outside the HQ this min--”
Her words were drowned out by an explosion as Lady blasted through the front doors of the building.
There were multiple voices clamoring over the radio, asking her status.
“I'm fine, but Lady just blasted down the front doors. Repeat, The Painted Lady is now in the building,” Chloe reported as she pulled off her glasses and retrieved a blaster from under the console. “Should I put the building into lockdown to trap her here?”
“No, you're the only one in the building,” Judge Hog said. “You'll be trapped in there with her and we won't be able to get in there for hours if you can't shut down the lockdown.”
Chloe switched through the cameras, finding Lady's location. She was entering the building, walking into the display room where they showcased items from the Defender's history. Chloe crept out of the control room, which was right off the display room, and into the room, trying to spot Lady before she became aware she wasn't alone in the room.
Lady was walking slowly, her too-wide eyes roving in search of something. She had only previously seen Lady over monitors or in dated pictures. In person, the eerie emptiness of her glassy-eyed stare was worse; it made Chloe want to shrink back into the control room and hide. She shook the sensation off and carefully made her way behind a display that would give her a good vantage to attack from.
Chloe turned the blaster up to the highest stun setting and took aim. Lady's eyes seemed to settle on what she wanted, but Chloe kept her eyes on the Draik, not bothering to look at what it was. She fired. Without ever turning to look or giving any sign that she had noticed Chloe's presence, she raised her hand and fired a blast of dark magic, deflecting the shot.
Chloe gave up on subtly and began firing as many shots as she could get off at Lady, hoping that she would be able to get one shot through if she bombarded her heavily enough. Lady turned to face her and raised a shield that held up against Chloe's barrage. The blaster reached it's overheat point and locked up for a cooldown phase. Chloe started running, trying to find cover. Lady dropped the shield and fired a blast of dark magic at her. She dived, trying to get out of the way, but it tracked her and hit its mark. She was thrown backwards into the wall and then tumbled to the floor.
Lady turned back and started heading towards her target. Chloe pushed herself onto her hands and knees, breathing hard, trying to force air back into her lungs. Her body was trembling and screaming in pain, but she refused to go down like that. She reached for her blaster, which had finished its cooldown, and took aim at Lady again. Lady had her hands on the case that contained Captain Nefarious' robot headcasing. The glass began to glow and waiver; it shattered into a million tiny shards that rained down around her.
She fired, but Lady again turned and and deflected it. She walked slowly across the room, deflecting every shot Chloe fired at her. When Lady reached Chloe, she grabbed the blaster and tore it out of the Defender's hand, tossing it across the room. She knelt down in front of her, cocking her head to the side and smiling that empty smile of hers.
“You're very young. You weren't even alive when my master reigned, were you? I see they still make them like they used to. You Defenders never knew when to give up. I'll give you a hint; it'll be when I'm done with my mission,” Lady said in her treacly voice.
“Ha, yeah, as if. It's one of our flaws that we never call it quits or take advice from well-meaning people like you,” Chloe shot back, wondering if she had the strength to give her one good punch to the jaw to incapacitate her. Her entire body ached from the dark magic blast and the collision with the wall and floor. Even kneeling with one hand on the floor to support her felt like a struggle.
Before she could even attempt it, Lady placed a hand on the back of her head. All she felt was a great force propelling her towards the floor before everything blacked out.
To be continued…