AC: Bush43 #61 - "Brave Front"

Jason Kenney jasonkenney at
Sun Nov 26 12:13:05 PST 2006

Artifice Comics -

Finally, the follow-up to B43 Daily begins as Artifice Comics begins
weekly releases through the end of the year with three Bush43 issues
and five Millennium Man to come.  This is just the begining...


I toed the pile of debris and sighed, looking up and around the
rooftop, second guessing whether or not this was a good idea.

It was nearly four in the morning.

No one was up at this hour of the night. But a man can hope.

I reached in my pocket and pulled out the folded note I'd written
before leaving Regina Darling's, crouching down as I unfolded it and
started to weigh it down with bits of metal and plastic.

"Can I help you?" came a voice from behind me to get my attention.

I glanced over my shoulder to see an overweight guy standing in the
doorway to the stairwell. There wasn't a whole lot of light but there
was just enough that I could make out who it was.

I'll be damned.

"Hi, Jimmy," I said as I stood up and turned around, stuffing the note
back in my pocket.


Jimmy Smits walked across the roof toward me, scratching the back of
his head as he tried to figure out why I was here.

"I haven't seen you in the shop in a while," he said, talking about his
work, Al's Magic Shop, where I used to pick up my masks.

"Been a little busy," I said with a shrug.

"What are you doing here?"

I smirked. No one ever accused Jimmy of being horribly bright. But he
was a good guy.

I just never would have thought him for this.

"That yours?" I asked as I pointed to the broken pile that used to
shine the state of Texas on the clouds over Pacific City.

He hesitated before speaking.

"That? No. I mean, I have no idea what all that is."

"Jimmy," I said, "were you Dick?"

His jaw worked its way up and down as he tired to figure out something
to say. Yeah, he was the kid that wore the Dick Cheney mask.

"How quickly could you build another one of those for me, Jimmy?" I
asked and he looked to the pile and then back to me, still searching
for words.

"Wait," he finally said, shaking his head as if to clear it. "What?"

"I need a Bush Signal, Jimmy," I said. "I need the city to know I'm

"You're here?" he asked, looking confused.

And then it dawned on him.

"Holy shit, you're Bush43!"


Issue #61
"Brave Front"
By Jason S. Kenney


I gently closed the door behind me and crept through the room, slowly
opening Cass's bedroom door and poking my head in.

She stirred and sat up, squinting at me as I walked in.

"Sorry it's so late."

"I didn't think you were coming back."

"I took longer than I expected," I said as I pulled my shirt off and
folded it a bit before laying it on the dresser and undoing my pants.

"Is everything okay?"

"I hope to know soon enough," I said as I took my pants off and dropped
them on the floor, sliding into bed next to her and giving her a kiss
on the cheek. "When do you have to be up in the morning?"

"I don't," she said as she settled next to me, pressing our foreheads
together. "I'm still on vacation."

"So we can sleep in?" I said with a yawn that I tried to stifle to no

"You can sleep as long as you'd like," she said with a smirk.

"Good," I said, closing my eyes.

I heard her laugh slightly and felt a peck on my forehead before I fell


I woke to an empty bed. The alarm clock on the bed stand told me it was
nearly ten so I figured Cassandra had gotten up already. Nothing to
worry about.


I turned over to see her standing in the doorway, fully clothed to my
discontent, phone in hand.

"Morning," I said, sitting up as she came across the room and held the
phone out for me.

"It's Alfonse," she said as I took it, then leaning in to give me a
peck on the cheek. "And when you're done come out decent, we have


She gave me a smirk and left without another word.

"Morning, Alfonse," I said into the phone as I stretched.

"Good morning, Jeffery. Did I wake you?"

"No, I was already up."

"Ah, I will have to try harder next time."

"Yes you will. So what's up?"

"Miss Burke will be at the Palm at noon for lunch today."

"Shit, I hate the Palm."

"I will be sure to make her aware of that next time I am handling her

"Who is she with?"

"Cindy Marignolls," Alfonse said. "But if you insist on interrupting
their meal I do ask that you please not make a fool out of yourself in
front of Miss Marignolls. I am quite fond of her."

"Alfonse, is that a hint of emotion in your voice?"

"That is a hint of the dire consequences you shall face should you
embarrass Miss Marignolls, Jeffery."

"Understood," I said. "Thanks, Alfonse. Any word on the shipment?"


"Morning, sleepyhead," said Cassandra from where she sat with coffee in
her hands across from Tina Wilson.

"Morning," I said.

"How was the nudist colony?" Tina asked with a smile and then a drink
of her coffee.

"Very revealing," I said as I made my way to the kitchenette of the
place and found the coffee. "Shouldn't you be at City Hall?"

"The Mayor has suspended all press briefings indefinitely."

"Meaning permanently," I said as I dug up a mug and poured myself some
coffee. "Anyone need refills?"

They both shook me off.

"So I take it you didn't resign?" Tina asked as I went back into the
living room and sat next to Cassandra on the couch.

"No, I didn't," I said, "but don't bother reporting that. It's a minor
issue at this point."

"Why were you fired?"

"Differences in philosophy. So what brings you here?"

"I called her this morning and told her you were here," Cassandra said.

"You came to see little ol' me?"

"I thought you all would like to know," Tina said as she set her mug
down, "they've set up roadblocks. All roads out of town, about a
kilometer out."

"Are they letting people through?"

"Yes, but they're not letting anyone in and they're making sure certain
people don't get out."

"Certain people like the Mayor and accomplices?" Tina nodded. "Only
surprise is that it took this long. How bad are the roads?"

"Bad and they're only going to get worse. People are really trying to
get out of here."

I nodded and looked into my coffee.

"Is it pretty orderly so far?"

"It's not a riot if that's what you're asking, but the police aren't
doing much in the way of traffic control and the Mayor seems to have
turned a blind eye to it."

"He doesn't care," I said, shaking my head. "He's already written them
all off. Shit."

I leaned back and ran a hand through my hair, stopping and scratching
the back of my head in thought.

"This is all happening so damn fast," I said. "Five days and the city's
gone to hell."

"The Mayor's having his way with things," said Cassandra. "There's no
one to keep him in check now."

"No one kept him in check before. What about the police?"

"Commissioner Jordan's in Romanov's pocket," said Tina.

"Not Jordan, the actual cops, the good guys. Where's Self?"

"Michael Self?" asked Tina and I looked to her and nodded. "He was
suspended Sunday."

"Damn it," I said. "So they followed through with it."

"He knew the consequences."

"Are they charging him with anything or just suspending him?"

"Why would they charge him with anything?"

I looked from Tina to Cassandra and back.

"What was he suspended for?"

"Transferring Cooper and the others to the federal government," said

"What? Why the hell did he do that?"

"He hasn't said," Tina said. "PCPD suspended him and put a gag order on
him while they investigate."

"Shit," I said, leaning back and staring through the coffee table in

This changed things.

I needed to talk to Self.

"I gotta go," I said, getting to my feet.

"Where are you going?" Cassandra asked, turning to watch me head for
the door.


"I want an interview," Tina said as I reached for the door. I looked to
her. "I want your side of the story. The city wants your side of the

"How quick could you get it out?"

"It'd run tomorrow if I get it in by five."

I looked to a clock on the other side of the room. Ten thirty.

"I'll be back here by two," I said, opening the door. "Is that enough


"Good, see you then."

And I left.


Everything was happening too quick.

I found myself practically running down the street toward Self's
apartment. I froze about half a block from Self's building as I saw the
few press types gathered outside.

I should have expected that.

Plan B, then.

I walked back a block, turned down an alley and leapt onto a fire
escape, climbing to the rooftop. I took a deep breath and shook my head

I ran across the roof and leapt to the next building, hitting my stride
and clearing the street to another rooftop adjacent to Self's apartment

I went through the door into his building's stairwell and down to the
fifth floor, practically banging on his door when I reached it.

It took him a while but soon he answered, glaring at me as he opened
the door.

"Thought you were dead," he said, turning away and leaving the door
open which I took as an invitation to enter.

"I'm still working on it," I said, stepping in and closing the door
behind me. "You transferred Cooper and the others?"

"It was either that or let the Mayor kill them." Self walked through
his apartment and turned, plopping himself into a chair and continuing
to glare at me. "Shouldn't you be down in the Paper District helping
your boy out?"

"I'm out of the loop on that one," I said. "The shipment should be here

"You did hear I was suspended, right?"

"The force is loyal to you and you know it."

"Doesn't matter," he said with a dismissive waive as he looked away
from me. "I'm suspended and in about a week they'll let me go."

"It does matter, Self," I said. "The police need what's coming in on
that shipment and you're the one that's got to get it to them. No one
else is going to be able to do it."

"I don't have that authority..."

"You didn't before," I interrupted, getting him to look me in the eye
again, "and you still went through with the order. You've already
started the process, Self. Now we finish it."

He stared at me for a moment and narrowed his eyes.

"I need you to call in some favors, Self. I need officers willing to
pull some extra time, perhaps some of it voluntary..."

"Wait. Why the hell should I do you any favors?"

"It's not for me," I said. "It's for the city. The people are leaving.
We're looking at a mass exodus and no one is coordinating it, no one is
helping the people. They need officers, they need bodies, they need
people to make sure it remains calm and orderly or we're going to have
a panic on our hands very shortly."

"You know something," Self said. "You're not telling me something

He was right.

"The Imperial Magistrate is coming back," I said.

"Those people that carved up the city last year?"

"Exactly. They're coming back. Soon. And, quite frankly, there is
absolutely nothing to stop them from destroying the city and everyone
inside of it."

"How long have you known this?"

"I thought I could prepare the city," I said. "I thought I could make
sure you all had what you needed and the people were ready and the
heroes could do something."

"How long have you known about this, Carter?"

I took a deep breath.

"Six weeks."

"When the hell were you going to tell the people?!" shouted Self as he
leapt to his feet.

"The people didn't need to know. No one needed to know. Everyone just
had to be ready and that's what I was trying to do. But that's gone to
shit and now it's time for a new plan."

"You arrogant son of a bitch," Self said as he shook his head with a
wry smirk.


"All of you masks are the goddamn same."

"Put yourself in my shoes, Self. What would you have done?"

"I would have told people!"

"People who wouldn't believe a word I said even if it was to tell them
the sky was blue? If I came to you a month and a half ago, Self, and I
told you the Imperial Magistrate's coming back and I needed your help
and you would have laughed in my face."

"We would have known."

"You wouldn't have believed a word I said. You'd have accused me of
showboating and seeking glory for myself. So I tried to get you what
you needed, I tried to get the people what they needed so you all could
take care of yourselves."

We glared at each other for a moment before I decided to get back on

"The people are fleeing the city and there's no one coordinating the
effort," I said. "Is there some sort of an emergency evacuation plan
for the city?"

"It hasn't been tested, but the city put it together after the Pacific
Tower was destroyed."

"Right. Get a copy of it and implement it."

"That would require the Commissioner and Mayor's approval as well as
coordination between police, fire and rescue on both a local and
federal level."

"Then we either do it without that or we force their hand."

"All you're going to do is create a panic, Carter."

"Not if the police are helping."

"Even if the police are helping. The moment you shut down this city to
clear it out the people are going to panic." I opened my mouth to say
something but he beat me to it. "Carter, I've been doing this for
nearly fifteen years. You want my help you have to listen to me when I
tell you shit I know about.

We stood in silence for a bit on that, one he finally broke.

"What do we need to do tonight?" he asked.


I stepped into the Palm in my second day t-shirt and jeans and couldn't
help but smile.

"Can I help you, sir?" asked the matron'd, his nose so high in the air
it was above my eyes despite his being half a foot shorter than me.

"I was wondering where I might be able to find Miss Victoria Burke."

"I am afraid we do not just give out information on our patrons, sir,"
said the man who less than a week before would have been fawning over

"Nevermind, I see her," I said. "Are any of your private rooms
available for a few moments?"

"Sir, I am afraid..." he started to say but I wasn't really listening,
noticing one of the side rooms emptying of whatever lunch meeting had
been in there.

I walked past the host and his protests and into the dining room. Eyes
turned, attention was caught, I owned the place and knew it.

I'd never have imagined I'd have felt so comfortable in the place.

Victoria had her back to me so it was Cindy Marignolls who saw me
approach. She studied me briefly before seeming to recognize me.
Victoria must have noticed Cindy's looking my way because she glanced
over her shoulder just as I reached them.

"Jeffery," she said, nearly choking.

"Good afternoon, Victoria," I said with a nod. "You must be Cindy
Marignolls," I said as I turned to the Mockingbird of the Pacific City
stage. "Jeffery Carter. I'm a big fan of your work."

"It's a pleasure, Mister Carter," she said as she held out her hand
that I took and bent low to kiss.

Charm the pants off of her for Alfonse's sake.

"Please, call me Jeffery. I'm terribly sorry to interrupt your meal but
I was wondering if I might be able to have a few words with you,
Victoria. It'll just be a moment."

I looked to Victoria with the biggest shit-eating grin I could muster.

"I am sure it can wait until later, Jeffery," Victoria said, trying her
best not to glare at me in front of her friend, in front of this
restaurant full of people she'd spent her life trying to impress.

"I'm afraid it's quite urgent," I said. "I wouldn't dare interrupt your
meal otherwise."

"It's okay, 'Toria," said Cindy, patting Victoria's hand. "I don't

The look on Victoria's face said she certainly minded but she wasn't
about to say it.

Victoria took her napkin off her lap and dabbed at her lips, neatly
folding it and setting it on the table before rising to her feet with
an apology that Cindy just waived off.

"Fine," she said to me, "let's talk."

She sounded so happy.

"The room over there," I said, gesturing toward the open door across
the room.

Victoria led the way and I followed, not bothering to look at anyone as
we passed, my head held high. Our walking into the room got the
attention of two men who were clearing tables. I fished out my wallet.

"We need the room for five minutes, gentlemen," I said, handing each of
them twenty bucks.

They left, closing the door behind them.

"What the hell do you want?" Victoria hissed.

"When is the Imperial Magistrate coming back?" I asked.

"What are you talking about? And where have you been?"

"The angel in there," I said, poking my finger at the scarab that hung
around her neck, making her grab it quick and back away, "she told me
the Magistrate was coming back. So you should know. When?"

"I don't know."


"Goddamn it, Jeffery, I don't know. It doesn't work like that."

"Then give it to me."


There was enough finality in that statement that I knew not to ask

"What's going on right now?" I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"In the city. What's Romanova up to? What the hell is she planning?"

"I'm not in the loop on that."

"Bullshit, Vicky. You're fooling around with her, you know damn

"How dare you!"

"Look around you, Victoria! The city's in a tailspin! Romanova hasn't
done shit to help these people and they're nearly in a panic! And what
are you doing? You're wining and dining. I thought you were a goddamn

"And what have you been doing for the last month, Jeffery? For the last
fucking year? Gallivanting around, kicking no-tier wannabe's in their
genitals and calling yourself a hero! When is the last time you
actually saved lives as opposed to let villains blow people up?"

I took a step toward her and she clenched up, her fists ready as if she
expected me to take a swing at her.

"I will not have my efforts questioned by a woman who's last 'heroic'
deed was to kill Shirley Winters."

"You sonofa... She killed my father!"

"Your father was scum, Victoria!"

I caught her wrist before the slap hit my face.

"I have been busting my ass for the people of this city, Victoria. And
what have you done? Nothing! So I'm telling you now, get ready, because
the Imperial Magistrate is coming back and if your angel friend isn't
keeping you in the know then you've got a lot of catching up to do."

I stepped back as I let her arm go and she rubbed her wrist.

"I've beaten her once, Jeffery. I can sure as hell do it again."

"Didn't you nearly get killed a month back by a woman merely wielding
the Magistrate's sword?"

"And you fared any better?"

"Get your shit together, Victoria, and get your head straight."

"Go to hell, Jeffery."

I opened my mouth to say something else but the words escaped me.

This wasn't going the way I wanted it to.

Hell, at this point I had no clue what I was thinking to begin with.

"Fuck it," I said with a dismissive waive. "Enjoy your lunch."

I stepped to the door and opened it stepping out and past the matron'd
and two large men standing with him.

"Sir, I am afraid I am going to have to ask you..."

I kept walking and ignoring him, ignoring the room, storming out of the
Palm and hopefully never going back again.


Jimmy Smits perked up as I walked into Al's Magic Shop, quickly ducking
behind the counter and emerging with a paper bag when I reached the

"How much I owe ya, Jimmy?"

"This one's on me," he said with a huge smile.

"No need for that."

"No, take it," he said, pushing the bag across the counter, pushing it
into my hands. "And things should be set tonight."

"Good man," I said, grabbing the bag. "Just be sure to be clear."

"I gotcha," Jimmy said as he stood tall and sucked in his gut, quite
proud of himself for his work.

I was proud of him too.

"Thanks, Jimmy," I said and I turned and left the store.


"You're back early," said Cassandra as I let myself into her place.

She stood up from her spot on the couch and came around to me as I
walked in, giving me a peck on the cheek.

"Everything okay?"

"Everything's fine," I said, giving her a smirk as I saw her eyes
glance at the paper bag in my hands.

I looked to Tina Wilson where she sat right where I'd left her.

"You ready to do this?" I asked as I made my way around the couch.

"Sure," she said, turning and leaning over, digging into her purse for

By the time she'd emerged with her tape recorder and turned around I'd
dropped the contents of the bag on the coffee table, her eyes going
wide at the sight.

"I have a confession to make," I said as I sat down on the couch,
letting her take in the George W. Bush mask that lay before her.

"No," said Cassandra, suddenly passing me and snatching the mask off
the table, shaking it in my face. "You can't do this."


"The people look up to you, Jeffery," she said.

"Then it shouldn't matter."

"But it will and you know it."

"Do the people hate Bush43?"

"It's different for Bush43. You reveal this, you tell them this and
you're gone."

"They need to know..."

"Jeffery," she said, tossing the mask to the side and crouching down,
putting her hands on both sides of my face, "baby, if you do this, if
you reveal this to the world, you're sunk. Everything you've worked so
hard for is out the window and you're back to square one."


She was crying.

"You'd have to rebuild that trust all over again, Jeffery. The people
will question you too much and then what?"

I looked from her to Tina who just looked away and tried to pretend she
wasn't in the room.

"I'm trying to help," I said as I looked back to Cass.

"Not like this, Jeffery. Please."

I reached up and took her hands off my face, keeping them in mine as I
lowered them into my lap.

"What would you have me do, Cassandra?"

She looked down into our hands and gnawed on her lower lip, tried to
choke back tears and think.

I looked up to Tina.

"Can we start over?" I asked.

She smirked and nodded.



"What are you doing, Jeffery?"

Cassandra wasn't looking at me, instead staring at the mask in her
hands, studying it.

"I'm trying to inspire the people," I said from where I stood in front
of a mirror on the other side of the room while trying to knot my tie.

"Inspire them to do what?"

I finished and turned to her.

"Take care of themselves. And hopefully leave. And you should look into
going too."

She looked up from the mask.


"Cass," I said, crossing the room and crouching in front of her, "the
Imperial Magistrate is coming back. Soon. And there is nothing to stop
her from wiping out this city and everyone in it."

"Are you leaving?"

"No, not yet, not until it's done."

"Until what's done? Until you're done? You're dead?"


"Jeffery, I can't just up and leave everything, just up and leave you,
not now. I'm here to help, damn it."

"Please," I said, grabbing her hands in mine while she still held the
mask, "think about it? Please?"

"You're scared."

It wasn't a question.

"I can't keep you safe," I said, reaching up to her face with one hand,
"I can't protect you."

"I'm a big girl, Jeffery."

"A lot of big girls and boys died last time, Cass."

I didn't want to have to say it.

I didn't want to have to face it.

Please, don't make me have to spell it out for you, Cass.

She must have seen something in my face because she dropped the mask
and reached up to my cheeks and leaned in quick, kissing me once,
twice, thrice, a barrage peppered with her saying my name between

She stopped and rested her forehead to mine and looked me in the eyes,
her look so sad, so concerned, so sympathetic.

I choked back tears and tried to smile.

"Please don't die on me, Cass."

"I won't."


"I promise, Jeffery," she said, kissing me again. "I promise."

I wish I could have believed her.


I looked from my watch to the night sky and took a deep breath, letting
it out with a sigh. The cool air coming off the harbor did little to
calm my nerves, calm my senses.

I looked to the sky.


No alien ships coming to destroy the city and everything I sought to

No signal glaring off the clouds too early.

I quietly cursed myself and again looked to my watch.

Ten twenty eight.

Two minutes.

Two minutes.

Two minutes to second guess and resist the urge to run as fast as I
could and stop Jimmy from flipping the switch and shining a light off
the clouds that hung over Pacific City.

Stupid signal.

What was the point?

No one was going to see it. And those that did would have no idea what
it meant, what it was for.

They would laugh and shake their heads.

If they even bothered to look up.

The timing was stupid. The same day Jeffery Carter's back, the same day
he's interviewed by the Pacific City Globe, the same day he sits with
some of the richest and most powerful men in Pacific City, Bush43 is
suddenly back.

Carter and Bush.

The two are inseparable.

And Cassandra, on the floor of her apartment, crying, begging, pleading
with me not to reveal that the two are one.

One minute.

Was this a panic attack?

Why was I flipping out?

Pacific City was relying on me.

3.2 million souls.

No pressure.

God, I hope I'm doing the right thing.

Let there be light.

A circle of light reflected off the clouds, big and bright over Pacific
City, a silhouette of Texas in the center.

And I prayed people actually looked up.

Certain people specifically. All people generally.

A rumble below caught my attention and I looked down to see two trucks
pulling up to the warehouse I stood on top of, a minivan following
close behind and stopping as the trucks idled, waiting for directions.

Officer Michael Self stepped from the passenger side of the fan, four
others piling out of the back and the driver getting out and following
Self toward the front of the warehouse.

Self looked up. He saw me and held a hand up in acknowledgement. The
rest of the group looked up and saw me as well, exchanged glances with
one another but didn't hesitate, still following Self into the

I figured they had about fifteen minutes before company arrived.

Fifteen minutes to fill up those trucks.

I resisted the urge to hop down there and help them, telling myself I
was of better use up here, that they could handle the movement of the
supplies. I had to handle any surprises up here.

Which I hoped never came.

I looked back to the shape shining off the clouds.

God I hoped this would work.

I wasn't alone.

"Did Erlend send you?" I asked without turning around, keeping my eyes
on the workings below.

Eldritch stepped up next to me and took in the view.

"What's going on, Jeffery?"

"Are you here on your own or were you sent here?"


"Not Jeffery, Eldritch," I said harshly, looking to her briefly before
looking back to the trucks as they moved to reposition themselves for

"Bush," she stated, "what's going on?"

"Did Erlend send you?"

"What does it matter?"

"Go away, Eldritch."

"What the hell happened to us trusting each other?"

"Are you here because you were sent here, Eldritch?" I asked yet again,
looking to her and waiting for an answer.

She hesitated and took a deep breath before nodding.

"Then I can not trust you right now." I looked back below. "This is
happening in direct violation of everything Erlend has said and I'm
going to make sure it goes off without a hitch. Your being here on
Erlend's behalf is a hitch and if you don't leave voluntarily I will be
forced to make you leave."

"Excuse me?"

I looked to Eldritch, her face a mix of shock and anger.

"If you are not here to help then you are in my way."

And then I noticed it out of the corner of my eye. A blink in the sky.
I looked up to see the signal flicker and then die.

"Shit," I said, looking to Eldritch again. "You want to help? Keep a
look out. You see anyone else up here, any of the New Mages, you

I leapt off the rooftop.

I walked into the warehouse where they were moving quick but not quick
enough, a forklift hoisting one pallet onto one of the trucks as they
started grabbing boxes off another.

"The New Mages are on their way," I said to Self as he saw me approach.

"Shit," Self said, turning to the others. "Let's hurry."

"Grab the most important stuff first," I said, grabbing one of the
larger boxes and getting it up on my shoulder. "Get one truck out of

"I know, Bush," Self said as he grabbed a couple boxes himself.

It took nearly fifteen minutes for us to have one truck even half full.

"Get that truck out of here," shouted Self to one of the other guys,
pointing him toward the front where the guy ran to yell to the driver.

"Bush!" I heard Eldritch shout from the roof and I turned to step
outside to see what was up but didn't need to.

Mysteria stood just in front of the trucks, arms crossed as she glared
at me.

"Keep working," I said to Self as I started to walk toward Mysteria.

I jumped off the loading dock and hit the ground, walking then jogging
toward her. She uncrossed her arms and planted her feet as I started to

"I don't have time for this!" I yelled at Mysteria

"Bush," she said as she clenched her fists but I didn't give her time
to do much else, coming into her gut with a punch that doubled her over
and sent her back and tumbling to the ground.

I turned to face the driver of the half full truck.

"MOVE IT!" I shouted, spinning to face Mysteria as she struggled to her

She held up one hand to stop me and I grabbed her arm, lifted it up and
bent over to grab her ankle, hoisting her into the air and starting to
spin, ignoring her protests as I got up to speed and let her go sailing
through the air and splashing into the harbor.

Huh. I thought she could fly.

I turned back around and looked up to Eldritch.

"Is she the only one?" I called up to her.

"So far."

I nodded and started to trot back to the warehouse.

"Behind you!" Eldritch shouted.

I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see Mysteria tear into me
hard, slamming me against the concrete loading dock. She went to punch
me in the face but I moved my head, her hand hitting the wall hard,
eliciting a shout of pain from her.

I punched her in the gut again and grabbed the hood of her cloak,
pulling her back upright.

"Did Erlend send you?"

She backhanded me to no effect.

"I came to warn you!" she shouted as she shoved off of me, stumbling
back and steadying herself.

"I don't have time to fuck around, Mysteria," I said, taking a step
toward her.

She stiffened as I stepped, straightened up and clenched her fists,

"She says it's going to happen soon, Jeffery," she said as she narrowed
her eyes.


"The Imperial Magistrate will be here soon."

"How soon?"

Mysteria hesitated and took a deep breath.

"She won't say."

"She won't say or she won't tell you?"

She disappeared without another word.


The Imperial Magistrate.

There had to be more than that. Something spooked Victoria enough to
get her to come out here tonight.

"Bush," I heard shouted above me and I looked up to see Self on the
loading dock. "Is everything okay?"

"I think we're in the clear," I said as I shook my head. "But let's get
a move on just the same."

Self nodded and I leapt up onto the dock to finish loading the truck.


I sat on the edge of the loading dock, staring out into the harbor as
Self drove away in the van, following the second truck out.

Was it worth it?

Thunder rolled ominously in the sky and I heard the first spattering of
rain as it struck my mask and the ground around me. I pulled the latex
from over my head and leaned back, closing my eyes and letting the rain
water run over my face.

What the hell was I going to do?

The sound of sniffing in my right ear forced me to open my eyes and
turn my head, face to face with a ghost dog.

"Heya, pup," I said, patting the dog on the head.

The dog flopped down next to me and laid his head in my lap.

"Lovely night," said Eldritch as she sat down to my left.

"Appropriate for the mood," I said, staring back out to the harbor.

She studied me for a bit.

"What are you thinking, Jeffery Carter?"

"You need to leave town, Eldritch. Tonight, tomorrow, soon. Don't be
here by the end of the week."


"The Imperial Magistrate's coming back, Eldritch, and I don't think
there's anything any of us can do to stop her this time."

"Then what the hell was all of that?" she asked, gesturing toward the
gate the trucks had left through.

"Too little too late?" I shrugged. "I don't know. Hopefully enough to
buy the people time to clear out."

"You're giving up, aren't you?"

"No, I'm not."

"Listen to you, you're giving up!"

"I'm not giving up, Eldritch, I'm just trying to make sure everyone's

"Everyone will be safe if this city's heroes stay and fight."

I laughed and shook my head.

"Because that's worked so well for us in the past."

"Don't be so cynical, Jeffery."

"I'm being realistic, Eldritch!" I shouted, turning to face her. "We're
useless, all of us. When's the last time a science hero in this city
saved a single life? When's the last time one of us weren't the cause
of some horrible tragedy on this city? When's the last fucking time two
of us could be in the same room at the same time and not be at each
other's throats?"

"And whose fault do you think that is?" Eldritch said, pushing herself
off the loading dock and onto the pavement below, starting to walk
toward the docks.

"Excuse me?" I shouted after her as I followed.

She spun to face me as I approached, jabbing a finger into my chest.

"When's the last time you bothered to try and work with any of the
other heroes in this city, Jeffery?" I opened my mouth to answer but
she stopped me. "No, let me finish! When's the last time you actually
let someone fucking speak? When's the last time you took the opinion of
someone other than yourself into consideration?

"Goddamn it, Jeffery, you aren't the only hero in this city!"

"Then prove me wrong, Eldritch!" I shouted, pushing her arm away. "Step
up to the fucking plate and prove me wrong! Or let's ask Michael to do
it or maybe Victoria, huh? Maybe one of them can show me a thing or two
about heroing because they're fuckin' experts and are saving lives left
and right but I'm just not noticing it. I guess I'm too wrapped up in
my own problems like helping the people protect themselves and keeping
the Mayor from cutting me in half to see who the real heroes of this
city are."

"You aren't the only one, Jeffery."

"Well I goddamn feel like it!"

We stared at each other for a few moments, me resisting the urge to
just turn and leave, her just glaring, waiting.

"Get out by the end of the week, Eldritch, or you will die here."

"And what about you? You'll stay here and save the day?"

"I'll do my damnedest to hold whatever I can off to give people a
fighting chance."

She cocked her head as something dawned on her and I knew exactly what
it was before she said it.

"You're trying to get yourself killed, aren't you?"

"I won't die," I said with a shake of my head.

"You don't believe that, do you?"

"I'm going to stay and fight. I survived the Imperial Magistrate last
time, I can survive her again."

"But you didn't fight her last time."

"I won't die."

"Keep telling yourself that."

"Goddamn it, Eldritch," I said, waiving her off and turning away,
looking down the street at the buildings and city that rose over the

I closed my eyes and hung my head.

I couldn't save it.

I took a deep breath as Eldritch rested a hand on my shoulder.

"Get out, Eldritch," I said, glancing to her over my shoulder, "or die
like the rest of us." 

I tugged my mask over my head and sprinted away.

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