As Trinity left Ellen behind her, wishful thoughts about finding another cute, eminently-brainwashable girl consoled her as she made her way through a few more streets, until finally, she arrived at her target. It was hard to miss. The old, mostly disused Castron Performing Arts Centre had been given a new lease on life, and now, it was drenched in adverts and banners, and swarmed with both hired security and the rich people they’d been hired to protect. The surrounding streets were crowded too, both with locals hoping for a look at some or other celebrity, and guests who hadn’t managed to buy their way onto the VIP list.
Trinity loathed it all, immediately. Downtown pageantry like this didn’t belong in her neighborhood. And what she hated most of all was the smug, rich-girl face plastered over every single poster and flyer.
Eleanor Quinn was the golden girl of Future City. A corporate heiress and billionaire, she’d come into her money at a young age, and emerged into adulthood as one of the city’s richest and keenest minds. Since then, she’d worked tirelessly to expand her company’s influence, and now, a huge portion of the city’s population entrusted themselves to her safe hands, be it via technology, banking, healthcare, or any number of other sectors.
Which was exactly the problem, in Trinity’s book. People shouldn’t trust corporate types any further than they could throw them. Them and all their money.
The fact that Eleanor Quinn was hosting the event was part of what made it, in Trinity’s book, a perfect target. Generally speaking, supervillains didn’t go after charity events, no matter how much money traded hands at them. Some liked to pretend it was some kind of cool villain code of honor, but really, it was just the fact that stealing money from charity made you look like a huge, pathetic dick. Trinity was usually of the same mindset - usually. But this was different. Through a few subtle, well-placed applications of her shimmer, Trinity had come into some very, very interesting information.
It turned out that Ms. Quinn wasn’t planning charity so much as a real estate scheme. With one hand, she was using her social capital to encourage people to donate to a local government redevelopment scheme - all run through a certified non-profit, of course. Her status as a philanthropist was beyond repute. But with the other hand, she was quickly buying up land via dozens of anonymous shell corporations. Land that would skyrocket in value as a result of the charitable redevelopment scheme she herself was sponsoring. Eleanor Quinn stood to make billions. Like she didn’t already have enough of them.
It wasn’t technically illegal, but it was definitely scummy and scandalous as hell, but since Eleanor Quinn’s Quinncorp owned - directly or indirectly - every single media outlet in the city, blowing the whistle wasn’t going to cut it. Even if Trinity had been able to find a journalist brave and idealistic enough, she was confident a businesswoman like Quinn would have plausible deniability. So what else was a supervillain to do but set the world to right by playing Robin Hood? She could steal from the rich and give to the poor.
Meaning herself. Trinity was pretty broke, after all.
Despite all the security, Trinity didn’t think it would be too hard. No-one was expecting supers, after all. All she had to do was get backstage and find the poor mook whose job it was to collect everyone’s checks and run the electronic transactions. Give him a taste of the shimmer, tell him to reroute the money into an offshore account, and hey presto. Trinity was rolling in it.
Trinity checked her watch. It was almost all about to get started. With her hood pulled down over her head, she made her way down one of the small side streets adjacent to the performing arts center. There was a small side door, and a very bored-looking security guard standing outside.
“Hey!” Trinity said jauntily, as she approached him. “Does this taste like purple to you?”
One shimmering touch had him limp and drooling.
“Thought so,” Trinity said to herself, grinning like a wolf. The adrenaline was starting to kick in. Showtime. “Listen, buddy. You’re going to let me in, and you’re going to let me out again later, and then you’re going to forget you ever saw me. But here’s what you’re going to do if I get caught…”
Once she was inside, things got almost stupidly easy. You had to pass through security to be there, so if you were there, everyone assumed you were supposed to be, and that you had to be someone-or-other’s assistant ass-wiper. Just walk around like you knew where you were going, and no-one would bother you. If you wanted to be super serious, you could go around waving something that even so much as looked like a lanyard, and you’d be double-fine.
Trinity wasn’t bothering, though. She just walked around purposefully until she had the layout of the place memorized, and then she found somewhere out-of-the-way to settle down and wait. Waiting swiftly proved boring as hell, it took all of Trinity’s willpower to stop her from either falling asleep, or making some overworked assistant dance like a chicken for her amusement. Instead, all she had to distract her from the seconds ticking past was the dulcet tones of Eleanor Quinn, muted this far backstage, but nonetheless rendered inescapable by a vast and obscenely expensive sound system that had been installed specially for the occasion. From what Trinity was unable to tune out, it was a whole load of self-serving drivel about giving back to the community, wanting everyone to profit from Future City’s successes, blah blah blah. Trinity tried amusing herself by instead imagining all the awful things she could do to Eleanor Quinn if she ever got her hands on her. She’d have a field day.
After Quinn was done rambling, there was a series of other speeches by various celebrity guests - mostly musicians and actors, for the sake of drumming up media attention. Trinity didn’t care about them one bit. She did care, however, about the very large checks they were depositing into Eleanor Quinn’s tender care. Everyone loved being a highly-visible, highly-marketable giver. And that was the key to Trinity’s plan - they were handing over real, irrevocable, legally enforceable checks. Once they paid out, the money was gone, be it to a fraudulent charity scheme or to Trinity. She simply had to wait until the last minute to mind-control the finance guy, so there was the least possible chance of anyone noticing or anything going wrong.
And, judging by the raucous applause now filling the building, the last minute was arriving. Trinity clambered to her feet, and started making her way over to the office of the finance guy (as she now thought of him). Head down, hands in pockets, not looking at all the people rushing everywhere. It was effortless. Without knocking, she opened the door and slipped inside, quickly closing it behind her. She didn’t need any unexpected interruptions. That was when she got her first look at the finance ‘guy.’
Trinity smiled, despite the deeply weary, irritated look on the face of the woman sitting in front of her. Maybe there was such a thing as fate. The woman was clearly cut from the same mold as Ellen - strait-laced, severe and professional. The only real differences were that her hair was blonde and straight instead of dark and curly, and her suit looked every bit as expensive as Trinity would have expected from one of Quinn’s assistants. The supervillain looked at her with hearts in her eyes. The strait-laced types were often Trinity’s favorite. It was so much fun to watch them unravel. Trinity started entertaining fantasies of making her meet her at a bar later. She wasn’t sure if the woman was gay, and she didn’t like the corporate badge pinned onto her breast, but hey, no-one was perfect. Not until Trinity used her shimmer on them.
“Excuse me?” the woman said sharply, clearly affronted by Trinity’s mere presence. “The door was closed for a reason, you know. This had better be important, or else I’ll-”
“Quiet,” Trinity said, her fingertips blazing with shimmer-light as she set them to the woman’s forehead. Sometimes, she liked toying with people. Teasing them, letting them tie themselves in knots, knowing she had the power to turn the tables on them with a single touch. Not today, though. Today she had a job to do.
“I… I… w-what?” the woman managed, slurring, as her eyes changed color, bit by bit, until they were dominated by Trinity’s purple. Trinity was impressed. That was more than most people managed to get out.
“What’s your name?”
“Hailey,” she replied, in an odd, quiet voice that she clearly wasn’t used to using.
“Hailey,” Trinity repeated brightly. “Listen, sorry, I don’t really have time to make this fun for you. I just need you to perfectly obey every instruction I give. Mkay?”
“O.. OK,” Hailey murmured. Mostly, her face still registered confusion, but there was a docile, dull tint to her eyes, and Trinity thought she could detect in her voice a little of the characteristic eagerness her powers inflicted on her victims.
“Good.” Seeing someone’s mind overpowered by her shimmer was proving as intoxicating as ever, but Trinity was a little too tense to enjoy it in the moment. “And, you’re the person that takes the checks and wires out the money, right?”
“Yes,” Hailey said. Trinity’s shimmer hit her with a burst of warm, smothering pleasure for answering so obediently, and she started to relax a little, settling into her new role as a brainwashed puppet. Trinity shivered. Good. That was good.
“Perfect,” Trinity continued. “So, here’s what you’re going to do: you’re going to take this card.” Trinity handed over a small piece of paper, with a set of banking information written on it. “And you’re going to wire the money there, not to wherever you’ve been told to before. Understand?”
“I… I… but…” Hailey’s eyebrow twitched dangerously. Trinity sighed. Trust the biggest billionaire in the city to have hired people with some backbone.
“Do it,” Trinity said firmly. She focused, and the light shimmering at her fingertips blazed brighter. She didn’t have time to be subtle. “Obey. You love to obey, don’t you? I’m sure a middle-management-assistant-whatever like you just loves being bossed around. You love being told what to do. It’s your favorite thing in the world. So, you’re going to do exactly what I just told you.”
“Actually, she really won’t,” came a loud, confident, horrifyingly-familiar voice from outside the room, sending terrified chills down Trinity’s spine.
And that was when the wall exploded.
As Trinity had learned in her ignominious career as a villain, there were all different kinds of superheroes, with all different kinds of motivations. Some of them were in it to get famous. Some of them were in it for revenge, because a criminal stole their favorite pet hamster as a kid. Some of them were in it because the sponsorship deals were wildly lucrative. And then there were those superheroes who had decided that dispensing justice was their personal fucking destiny. Those ones often died early, doing something really stupid, but those that didn’t usually went far simply because they were too stupid to ever stop. The best of the best ended up on the Apex League, which was Future City’s very own big-name superhero team, made up of the smuggest, most self-righteous, most insufferable assholes Trinity could imagine.
And the very smuggest, most self-righteous and insufferable of them all was a superheroine named ‘Radiance’.
Who was now staring straight at Trinity from the other side of what had once been, but was definitely no longer, a wall.
It took Trinity a moment to even register what she was seeing. She didn’t blame herself for reacting slowly. Radiance was dazzling. Everyone said so. Perhaps the most hateable thing about her was that she just looked so damn perfect. Her costume was all white and gold, and somehow, no matter what, it never seemed to get dirty or tarnished. Worse, it was almost skin-tight, and perfectly outlined all of Radiance’s incredible muscles. Those muscles… Trinity knew more than a few villains who spent their off-hours fantasizing about them. Not that she would ever do something like that, of course. Nor would she ever fantasize about Radiance’s flowing, platinum blonde hair, trimmed carefully to reveal a side-shave that had all of Future City’s swooning. Nor, of course, her arched, high, classically-beautiful cheekbones, highlighted perfectly by her golden domino mask.
She had huge, feathered wings too. Dykes went wild for girls with huge, feathered, angelic wings. Apparently. Not that Trinity would know.
“The Shimmer,” Radiance growled, voice seething with contempt. “I knew only you would sink low enough to steal from charity. You won’t get away with it.”
Trinity had a million comebacks on the tip of her tongue. Totally. Some of them would have left Radiance quivering, humiliated and outwitted. But she didn’t say any of them.
She just bolted.
Nope. Nope, nope, nope. That was the only thing running through Trinity’s head as she sprinted out the door. She wasn’t doing this. Not today, not ever. She’d been kicked around by Radiance before, and it wasn’t pleasant. ‘One touch and you can mind-control someone’ sounded great, in theory, until you ran into a superhero with more willpower than wet tissue paper. Radiance had it in spades. And that was to say nothing of the angel-winged hero’s own powers.
She had what people liked to call the ‘standard suite’. Super-strength, super-durability, super-reaction time, et cetera. Personally, Trinity hated that term. Super-strength didn’t feel very ‘standard’ when the woman trying to tackle you to the ground had the strength to ram through a building, whilst you were just as fragile as every other pedestrian. Oh, and she could fly, of course. That’s what the wings were for. Trinity thought it was very unfair that some heroes and villains got to have, like, five powers, whilst she only had the one. Like, fuck, at least let her be a better mind-controller than Radiance.
Trinity didn’t go for her planned exit. There was no point. She couldn’t outrun the superheroine, and she didn’t put it past Radiance to smash through a few more walls, if that was what it took to find her. Her only hope was to try and lose herself in the crowd, and the quickest way to the crowd was through the stage. Sprinting as fast as she could, Trinity made it to the nearest stage entrance, and without hesitating, ran out in full view of hundreds of attendees, and dozens of TV cameras.
The supervillain was greeted by a hundred shocked gasps, and equally as many flashing lights. It would have been dazzling, if she hadn’t been running like her life depended on it. Trinity just wanted to make it across the stage, get into the crowd, and then hopefully create enough of a disturbance that she could lose herself amongst the mass of bodies. Foolish though it was, she couldn’t resist taking a few moments to admire the huge, glass donation box on stage with her, currently filled with checks, hundred-dollar bills, and even things like jewelry and celebrity memorabilia. Trinity wanted to swipe it so bad, but she knew there was no chance that would work. She had seconds, and she needed to get into the crowd. The covetous look on her face might have made it obvious she was here to steal, but right now, everyone still seemed to be wondering if she was a celebrity they hadn’t yet recognized.
Not Eleanor Quinn, though. Trinity would have recognized that smug, rich-girl face anywhere. Right now, it was wearing a look of fury that was outraged enough to spoil the white, flowing, million-dollar dress she was wearing.
Trinity couldn’t resist pausing for just a moment, to wink at her.
“Stop, villain!” Radiance’s annoying, commanding voice bellowed as she too burst onto the stage, hot on Trinity’s heels.
Trinity immediately regretted the pause. With one last, lingering look at the huge pile of money she was leaving behind, she threw herself off the edge of the stage, landing in an aisle that was immediately swarmed by frantic attendees. Trinity grinned. Finally, a stroke of luck. With everyone on their feet, she could easily tuck her head down and blend in.
It was Radiance’s fault. She’d said the v-word.
Now, everyone was losing their heads, desperately trying to get the hell out of the room by any means necessary. It was perfect for Trinity. As hard as it was to move through the press of bodies, she managed to duck and weave a little, elbowing people out of the way where necessary. She just had to get away from the last place Radiance had seen her, and then make it to an exit. It was sure to be even worse chaos outside. Trinity wanted to get rich, but she knew it was always better to run away and live to brainwash another day. Already, she was starting to wonder about her next score. Maybe she could just-
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Trinity wheeled around, panicked, and all too late realized that she should be looking above, rather than around.
As she craned her neck back, her vision filled with pure white wings as Radiance descended upon her.
Just barely, Trinity managed to throw herself out of the way. She hit the ground hard, groaning as a jolt of pain shot through her leg. She knew there was no time to recover, though. At least it was better than being pounded into the floor by a superheroine who could lift a truck. Trinity scrambled to her feet and looked around for the nearest pack of scared, fleeing civilians for her to try and blend in to.
But there was nothing.
Radiance’s presence was like a beacon, warding all of them away. As packed as the space inside the theater already was, the crowd seemed to compress in on itself, leaving an empty, lonely circle around Trinity. She was stranded, and safety was retreating further and further away from her with each passing moment.
And Radiance was right there, walking towards her.
“This is, what, the dozenth time you’ve been hauled in?” The amazonian superheroine cracked her knuckles nastily. “Most of them by me. Haven’t you learned your lesson?
“Never,” Trinity spat. “Anyway. You haven’t hauled me in yet. I’m still standing right here.”
The smug, self-righteous look of absolute, unshakable confidence on Radiance’s face as she laughed was all Trinity needed to remind her of every single little reason she hated the superheroine.
Just on principle, Trinity hated anyone who thought they personally had what it took to ride around saving and punishing everyone else. You only got that kind of attitude if you were born lucky. Radiance had definitely been born lucky. She was strong as hell, and from the look of her, Trinity had a hunch she’d been born up in some downtown spire, looking down her nose at all the little people like Trinity. Still, most heroes like that ended up learning a little humility one way or another, either by getting their asses kicked royally or by screwing something up so bad they had to face up to the fact that they weren’t god’s gift to mankind after all. Not Radiance, though. As far as anybody knew, she’d never been beaten, and her eyes still blazed with the fires of purpose and bitter idealism.
Trinity wanted, more than anything, to wipe the satisfaction from her face. But as much as it grated on her to admit that she was scared of Radiance, a small shiver ran down her spine when she realized that the superheroine’s eyes were filled with anger, too.
“I’m sick of you,” Radiance growled contemptuously. “I’m sick of your twisted games. Do you know how many people we had to deprogram last time you pulled a stunt like this? And somehow, Shimmer, you managed to sink even lower still. Charity? Really? I thought even villains had standards.”
Trinity bristled at that. Nothing Eleanor fucking Quinn was doing should count as ‘charity’ - not that a tool like Radiance would ever listen, or care. “I could say the same to you,” she retorted, still breathing hard. Radiance wasn’t, annoyingly. “Your haircut looks like shit.”
Radiance just laughed. “Bullshit all you want. I’m bringing you in, Shimmer. And this time I’m going to make sure you can’t brainwash your way out of this. I’ll make sure the cops know how to handle you properly. You’re going away for good.
“Fuck you I am,” Trinity barked, and threw herself at the superheroine.
It was literally the only thing she could think of that might take the golden-haired hero off-guard. Actually tackling Radiance would probably have been about as effective as trying to tackle a tree, which was why at the last moment, Trinity lunged to one side, and instead slammed the palm of her hand into Radiance’s chest. And even that would have been pitifully futile, had it not been for the fact that Trinity had infused her hand with the full force of her shimmer.
Pleasingly, as her palm connected, she saw bolts of purple light spread across Radiance’s body, and she felt the hero buckle backwards, just a little. Euphoria bubbled up in Trinity’s mind. Maybe this was actually going to work. Maybe she really was going to be able to wipe that smirk from the obnoxious blonde’s face. She knew that against someone of her caliber, she wouldn’t be able to do more than stun, but that might be enough. She just needed to keep her momentum going. Trinity pounded one foot in front of the other, not looking back. The exit was so close. That was all she needed. A few more seconds. Then she could just-
Trinity’s face slammed into the ground as she was yanked back by one of her ankles.
That fucking superhero willpower.
She looked down, hoping it would only be a hand. It wasn’t. Trinity’s stomach sank as she saw that, wrapped around her leg, was a golden manacle, fastened tight, at the end of a long, golden chain held at the other end by the superheroine who was now looking at her with an expression that was almost pitying.
It was over. That chain was Radiance’s ace in the hole.
“That’s enough of that,” Radiance told her firmly. And it simply was.
In a single instant, all of Trinity’s will to fight simply drained away, and it felt like a ten ton weight was being draped all across her body. Trinity groaned as she slumped to the floor. She wanted to fight it, but she couldn’t. No-one could fight Radiance’s golden chain. She could manifest it out of thin air, and once it was wrapped around you, that was it. She was in control. Trinity balled up her fists. It wasn’t fair.
Maybe the worst part was that she actually didn’t want to fight. She couldn’t. The chain wouldn’t let her. It was in her head, and ‘that’s enough’ felt like an iron commandment. Enough fighting. Enough struggle. Enough resistance. She wanted to want to fight, maybe, but what good was that? The first couple of times she’d fallen victim to Radiance’s chain, she’d tried with all her mind to throw off its influence. It had earned her nothing but a vicious, throbbing headache.
Now, she’d all but given up.
“On your knees,” Radiance commanded, striding towards her.
Through gritted teeth, Trinity obeyed. Again, she simply couldn’t help it. Pushing herself upright by her hands and clambering onto her knees felt utterly inevitable. It was like she had chains around all her limbs, pulling her into place like a marionette, and trying to stop it would have been like trying to stop the tides coming in. Her limbs simply obeyed Radiance’s wishes rather than her own. The superpowered villain did her best to keep her face even as Radiance loomed over her, but the sudden sense of powerlessness she now felt was making her nauseous. How had it all gone wrong so fast?
“Pathetic,” Radiance judged, face scrunched up in a look of ugly contempt.
In that moment, Trinity truly felt pathetic. She felt small, and Radiance felt every bit as invincible and indomitable as her reputation. She’d encountered the hero before, but every time, she forgot how it felt, just a little. Radiance walked through the world like she needed no armor but her own righteousness. In her presence, it was impossible not to feel like she was something legendary, like a divine hero out of some kind of fairytale. Before her, you were either innocent or guilty, and even the guilty quivered in fear at her judgment.
Not that Trinity was going to betray any of that. She did her best to arrange her face into a look that she hoped would come across as cool and subversive, in an underdog defeated villain kind of way.
“Yeah?” she shot back. “That’s pretty rich, coming from the girl who-”
“Shut up,” Radiance told her, and Trinity’s jaw slammed shut. “Someone like you has nothing worthwhile to say.”
Trinity recoiled like she’d been slapped. She swiftly discovered that she could open her mouth again, but she couldn’t speak. At most, all that would come out of her mouth was a weak, strangled gasp. Trinity wasn’t surprised that indignity left her seething, but she was surprised that it also made her cheeks burn with an unfamiliar feeling: humiliation. Trinity was used to being defeated, but not to feeling like that. She didn’t consider defeat humiliating. It was the way of the world. Heroes beating villains. Everyone knew that. But this… this was different, somehow.
Radiance was different.
She’d always had a massive stick up her ass, sure, but in the past, she’d been far more by-the-book. All about cuffing Trinity as quickly as possible and getting the cops to take her away. Not standing over her to call her ‘pathetic’ and glare at her with a strange look in her eyes. Trinity found herself squirming in a way she couldn’t remember doing since childhood, trying to press her legs together, making her body small and closed. It didn’t help. She felt like Radiance could see right through her.
“Why?” Radiance growled, stamping back and forth in front of Trinity, clearly agitated. “Why do you villains do this? You’re like animals. Again, and again, and again, no matter how many times I stop you. Each time, sinking lower. Can’t you just leave the good people of this city alone? I should just… just…”
For a moment, Trinity was afraid to see what the superhero might say. She’d never felt so utterly impotent. But then, Radiance seemed to recover a little of her composure.
“Ugh.” She clenched her fists tight, and then made herself slowly relax them. “It doesn’t matter. You don’t matter. The cops can deal with you, just like always.”
Trinity was almost relieved to hear that. An unhinged super-bitch was more than she ever wanted to deal with, thank you very much. But her relief turned to ashes when she saw movement on stage, behind Radiance.
It was the security guard. The one she’d bewitched. Trinity’s eyes went wide with panic as she remembered what she’d told him to do.
“You’ll- what?” Radiance was quick to notice where she was looking, and turned to find herself looking at a man in uniform, a big, mindless smile on his face and purple shimmering in his eyes.
Right as he dropped a lit match into the donation box.
‘If I can’t have it, neither can Eleanor Quinn’. That had been Trinity’s thinking. Some of it would be replaced, of course. Some of the checks that were now burning to cinders would be rewritten. But not all, and that was to say nothing of the cash donations, or the celebrity memorabilia to be sold at auction. Trinity couldn’t guess quite how much money was going up in flames, right there before their eyes, but it had to be tens of thousands of dollars. Maybe hundreds of thousands. The sight should have brought her satisfaction. It didn’t. All she could think about was the unnatural stillness that had come over Radiance.
She made no move to try and salvage the donations. Clearly, she knew it was already too late. When she turned back to Trinity, her lips were pressed into a thin, cold, line.
“You…” she began ominously. Trinity wanted so badly to be able to say something, anything, but her throat was still as frozen as her body.
Radiance could do anything she wanted with her.
“Clearly, I was wrong,” Radiance continued slowly. Her voice was ice. “The cops can’t handle you. There are no depths to which you will not sink, and you keep slipping away from justice, again and again. The system can’t handle you. Only I can.”
And with that, she lifted the helpless Trinity into her arms, and carried her up into the sky, borne on angelic wings.