Thank You For Your Service

Chapter 5

by scifiscribbler

Tags: #noncon #comic_book #dom:female #dom:male #f/f #serial_recruitment #sub:female #clothing #kraft-bimbeau #maid #masturbation

Extract from Jane’s Guide to Costumed Heroes, 2002 Revision

SAMBA, AKA LA BANDERA, REAL NAME JULIETA ‘JULIE’ FLORES

Gender: Female

Age: 83 (apparent age early 30s)

Height: 6’ 1”

Hair: Black

Race: Latina

Confirmed Abilities: Superhuman strength, superhuman durability, subsonic flight, greatly reduced aging, expertise in biochemistry

Unconfirmed Abilities: Typing speed 200 words/minute, peak human reflexes, peak human speed

Group Affiliation: The Symphony

Year of First Activity: 1942

Locations: West Coast (1940s-1950s), national (1960s-1980s), East Coast (1980s-present)

Known Nemeses: Doktor Radium, The Pure Americans, Commander Pytki, The Soviet Sickle, Police Action, Megavac, Macrovac, General Walters

There are multiple recorded versions of the origin of La Bandera. Each has been commonly accepted for a period of time, then a series of revelations have shaken the accepted story.

Throughout WWII, her identity was kept secret, but in 1946 Dr Myron Reese wrote a ‘wartime memoir’ based around his time in the San Francisco Naval Laboratory where he identified the wartime heroine La Bandera as Julie Flores, his secretary, who ingested an experimental serum he had developed, to prevent it from falling into the hands of fifth columnist burglars. The serum transformed her into the powerhouse who called herself La Bandera. Reese specifically stated that as ‘Julie’ was suddenly much taller than she had been, he was able to identify her from the day after the robbery.

This matched accounts of La Bandera’s first recorded actions, arresting fifth columnists breaking into the Naval Laboratory.

By contrast, it is understood today that Julieta Flores, while on the payroll as a secretary, was a lab technician who had audited a number of college courses in biology, and that the serum that granted her her powers was of her own invention. Ms Flores - who would later earn a doctorate, but had none at the time - did indeed take her serum to prevent it from being stolen, but realised afterwards that it could not be mass-manufactured without some falling into the hands of enemy agents and criminals.

Former colleagues at the Naval Laboratory have testified that Julieta hid her taller, more muscular, and more eyecatching physique well while in her civilian identity, something she only stopped after Reese broke the secret of her identity without her consent. “There’s no reason not to walk tall” became a signature piece of encouragement to young women.

Her wartime record is exemplary, as she prevented Nazi scientist Doktor Radium from irradiating major parts of America’s home front on several different occasions. As one of the first Latina superhumans, she would spend the latter part of the 1940s and 1950s combating hate group the Pure Americans. Many newspapers - and even contemporary editions of this publication - considered the Pure Americans to be the heroes, and La Bandera to be a villain, supported in this by the various star-spangled half-masks the heroine wore.

Vanishing from the public eye for some time, when she first returned there was much speculation that she was a different woman beyond the mask. La Bandera remained a controversial heroine, often fighting on behalf of progressive political causes, until a shift in focus brought on by the founding of the Symphony.

During the initial Macrovac boot in 1996, Emerald and La Bandera were joined by an unknown speedster and the trio were able to shut the AI down, Emerald fighting off his ‘peripherals’ while Bandera and the speedster assembled a device to unleash a targeted EMP affecting only systems occupied by Macrovac.

La Bandera’s baggy sleeves and star-spangled masks were replaced at this time by a red catsuit, tall black boots, long black gloves, and a glittering red domino mask. She soon announced herself as Samba, leader of the team known as the Symphony.

In 1998, the Symphony uncovered a major plot to subvert the United States Army and launch a coup led by General Walters. This was eventually prevented by the Symphony, aided by the Task Force in the final showdown. Following details are unclear but it’s known that the team was betrayed by new member Slide.

It later transpired that Slide had been sent into action by General Walters to infiltrate and bring down the team.

Like the rest of the team, Samba was last seen helping other heroes in the defence of Fort Bragg against the Millennium Bug during his return in late 2001. Her status since is unknown.

For more detail on the Symphony’s activities, consult their group entry in this book.

*

2006

It was hard to be away from the Doctor, and Candace was determined to have this over and done with, to something resembling a way he’d like it, as soon as possible. Following her orders, the Pearsons were unscrewing the kitchen door at its hinges. It wasn’t a match for an external door, but it was better than not having a door at all; it might pass a cursory inspection and, even more importantly, it would keep the weather out - a crucial thing anywhere near D.C.

Meanwhile, the former Quickstep stood (well, swayed very slightly in the breeze) listlessly at something like attention, her jumpsuit still half-off, hands snared by the inside-out sleeves. Even a superspeedster wouldn’t be able to cover ground quickly with the crotch of their suit down to just above their knees.

Candace was privately surprised to see a superhuman woman whose chest wasn’t large enough to compete with the alterations the Doctor had made to her and to Lulu, but perhaps as a speedster things were different. Curves the size of, say, Ms Triumph, were not exactly aerodynamic (although they didn’t stop that all-American legend from flying with great speed and manoeuvrability) and maybe this was the concession super-biology made to physics.

Candace shook her head finally. “Put that back on properly, Sammi,” she said. “I may need you-”

In a blur, Sammi’s white jumpsuit was firmly back in place, hugging her figure, and she was saluting.

”-to serve at any moment,” Candace finished. “Do you usually not wait to see what other commands might be coming?”

Sammi’s eyes blinked a slow, innocent blink, one that suggested she wasn’t thinking too fast.

“The General only ever gave me one at a time, ma’am,” she said deferentially.

“That sounds… inefficient,” Candace returned. “Stupid, even. Why would he do that?”

Another blink, this one a fraction of a second quicker than before. “I can’t say for sure, ma’am.”

Candace decided not to have the rest of that conversation right away; it had been too long a day anyway, and she didn’t expect it to end any time soon.

“Alright,” she said instead, waving a hand. “Sammi, your Master wants you to be helpful to me until I can hand you and your team over to him. Understand?”

A blink. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Now when I say he wants you to be helpful, he wouldn’t just mean your body. Your experience, your skills, your instincts - everything in your brain belongs to him too. Right?”

The blink that followed was shorter still. Candace found herself thinking of a machine cycling up after a long period of dormancy, performing its function faster and faster as it warmed back up. “Yes. Everything about me belongs to my Master. That makes sense.”

“So I don’t care if you’re used to blindly following orders, Sammi. I need you to follow orders with your eyes wide open, and use your skills as best you can. I can’t act as fast as you, I can’t keep up, so you need to be serving your Master to the very best of your ability.”

Sammi smiled. “I understand, ma’am. What does my Master want?”

“He wants me home safe, and Lulu - the woman you snatched from my hotel room.” Sammi blinked in surprise; Candace could see her struggling to recall that memory. “He wants your entire squad as new super slaves for his harem,” she continued, not having checked but confident she knew the Doctor’s predilections well enough, “and I’d be stunned if he doesn’t want revenge on this General Walters.”

Sammi’s smile became a grin. “I like most of that, ma’am, but I love that last bit. Am I permitted to savour some of that revenge myself?”

Candace felt the passion of the other woman and smiled herself, equally intense, and delighted to see another woman whose drive, whose passion, whose whole intensity of life was now as directed to the Doctor’s pleasure as her own. Her scalp tingled with pleasure. “Oh,” she purred, “of course.”

Something electric seemed to pass between the two of them in that moment. A spark of passion, or understanding - or perhaps, for minds as willingly devoted to others as the Scotch redhead and the Carolinan blonde, understanding was enough to ensure that same passion.

“Anything you say, then, ma’am,” Sammi said, her voice grown husky with excitement, barely over a whisper.

“We’ve got planning to do,” Candace sad brusquely. Her voice trembled but she kept it under control, looking away and deliberately breaking the atmosphere. “The first of your friends is upstairs. Fetch her down so we can start thinking.”

Behind them, all but unnoticed, the Pearsons were screwing their kitchen door to the side doorframe.

*

“We have a problem,” Lulu told Beta. Or, rather, she said the words in front of Beta’s seated, unmoving form in the back seat of the van. The heroine’s control helmet certainly caught the sounds, and even relayed them through internal speakers.

But saying Beta was told any of this suggests she paid more attention than she was capable of paying, something that became clear to Lulu after she paused and waited for the woman’s response.

What Lulu got instead was silence and a lack of movement. No response she could read whatsoever.

That didn’t bode well.

She reached out and rapped her knuckles against the helmet. “You listening in there?”

More silence. Lulu’s eyes smouldered slightly beneath the faint purple glow of the enchantment she was under, but she had enough of her own wits and will about her to realise the problem. Muttering to herself, she left the back of the van, slamming the door behind her - it wasn’t as if Beta would react, she told herself, so even if Beta outranked her, it couldn’t be insubordination.

She clambered back into the driver’s seat and fished the handheld radio out of the door.

“Slave Lulu reporting in,” she announced, and waited.

“I hear you, slut,” a bored male voice replied. “What is it?”

Lulu bridled slightly. She wasn’t a slut. Her rank was Slave.

The thought did occur to her that Slut might be a slightly higher rank, and she was being mistaken for someone more important. But that wouldn’t be right, either. Lulu was a dutiful slave.

She’d been Doctor Bimbeau’s slut, she remembered. But he was the past. The General was her future.

“Our vehicle has been sabotaged,” she said at length, when she came to the end of her considerations. “Someone prevented us from following on Delta’s response. Beta isn’t responding. I await further orders.” The last four words were tinged with a whimpering desire. Lulu couldn’t help it; even the personality Gamma’s spell had control over had found a deep, sexual pleasure in submission.

The boredom had gone from the man’s voice when he replied. “Uh, hold position,” he said, and a moment later, as if he’d just remembered protocol, he added “soldier.”

“Yes sir,” she replied crisply. She sat a little straighter in the van.

The military hierarchy didn’t mean much to her, even with the spells, but when she had a chance to submit within it she felt better about it. That side of things was exciting.

Maybe two minutes later he came back onto the airways. “Soldier, did you see who sabotaged the van? Was it Epsilon or Delta?”

Lulu considered. “I don’t think it was either, sir,” she said. “She wasn’t red haired and she left in a jeep. Delta wouldn’t need to do that and I don’t believe Epsilon has any wigs available.”

At that point, Lulu felt the van rock. She looked over her shoulder and saw that Beta had got up from her seat in the back and was opening the back door.

Clearly, she’d received some orders.

“Right,” the radio operator said. “Was it either of your friends?”

“Negative, sir,” Lulu said. The lack of red hair ruled Candace out, too. And while it was difficult to tell a driver’s height, she was pretty sure the driver hadn’t sat high enough in the seat to be Missy.

Beta started sprinting down the street. Lulu, turned around in her seat to watch her, saw civilians turn to stare at the green jumpsuit and the black, head-encasing helmet.

Her instincts were clear that this could be badly wrong.

“What should I do, sir?” Lulu asked. She was hoping for something she could obey, for orders she could follow. For some way she could serve.

“I’ll get back to you,” he said, but the tone was distracted. Lulu knew he wasn’t listening.

She didn’t know the General’s preferences, but she’d been an obedient slut for over a year now - all of her life that she could clearly remember. She’d do what felt most like service and trust her instincts.

She exited the van’s cabin and started sprinting after Beta, suddenly very glad that after the Doctor had praised her legs she’d spent so much time on the stairmaster in Candace’s home gym, making sure she had the kind of muscle tone that excited him.

*

“Alpha wake.”

Alpha became aware of the world around her again. The door to her storage pod was open, her helmet was feeding the view (and audio) from her surroundings through properly, and she was stood in the pod niche, occupying a storage silhouette that had been moulded around her.

As usual when she was woken, her breasts felt strangely sore, as if someone had been doing something with them just before she woke. Now that she thought about it, the fit of her bodysuit was slightly off, as if the zipper had been done up hurriedly and not the whole way.

That was as far as Alpha took the thought. Her programming had been set to allow her only one or two logical steps beyond an initial observation, just in case decades of tactical experience would otherwise kick in.

General Walters was in the room, looking at a clipboard, not directly at her. That was how he always did things, unless her helmet had been removed so he could use her mouth. He wouldn’t look her in the eye - even the electronic eye of her helmet - when he gave her orders. Hadn’t looked her in the eye since…

Since before.

Alpha knew there had been a before. There was a strong emotional charge to the first moment he couldn’t meet her eye, so she knew it had happened. But she had no idea what it might have been.

Even so, and even with her ability to draw conclusions limited, Alpha could see how angry Walters was. He usually carried himself with an upright bearing slackened slightly with age; a military man who no longer answered to anyone and felt like he could be casual about it. Now, that upright bearing was instead rigid, a man holding his temper in with great effort.

Alpha didn’t think that was for her benefit but for his own; he wouldn’t want to admit to himself he could be affected by his temper.

That was as far as Alpha took the thought. Her programming limited her from any further logical steps.

“Your team has been compromised, Alpha.”

“Sir. I’m sorry, sir.”

“You’ll have to do better than that. Two of you sluts belong to the enemy now.”

Alpha registered her own surge of emotion. She just wasn’t allowed to know what it was. As Alpha, the only things she really felt were sensations. Mostly being used.

“I can bring them back, sir,” she said. “Who is the enemy?”

“Some civilian bitch,” he told her. “The slave of a brainwasher from another country. An ally, but we still can’t allow them to win the arms race, can we?”

“No, sir,” Alpha agreed.

“Good. Get in the air, and head for Annandale. I’ll give you your target in the air. The rest of your team will join you there.”

“Yes, sir,” Alpha agreed. She stepped off the physical moulding that kept her mounted in her storage cocoon - with the usual soft audible hiss of her uniform parting from the warm plastic it adhered to. She was headed for the door when the General spoke again and she halted obediently.

“Keep the turncoat sluts alive,” he instructed. “They’re still useful.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Even if it turns out I can’t put them back in the field, I can go ahead with Operation Broodmare.”

There was a weight to the way he said those words; it sounded to Alpha like some kind of warning or threat. She just had no idea why it would be a warning or what it was supposed to threaten.

It was, after all, just her superior officer telling her his plans. She had no say either way, except for doing her best. And of course she would do her best. She had been given direct orders by a ranking officer.

She made her way out of Walters’ underground compound and took to the air, headed for Annandale.

*

Gigi appeared at the top of the stairs. “She’s coming, Mistress.”

“Don’t call me that! Which one?”

“Samba. I see her airborne.”

“Alright. Thank you, Gigi. Get ready now.”

“Yes, Doctor.” Gigi repeated back upstairs; Candace just caught sight of her picking up a baseball bat and spinning it in one hand as she moved. Must have been found upstairs.

Being called Doctor was actually worse than being called Mistress. It felt like she was usurping her Master’s rightful place.

There had to be a better way to deal with all this. Candace was mostly just trying to make sure she couldn’t be taken down easily; that felt a lot like game over.

She hoped the flying woman would land first. Gigi was supposed to be one of the world’s best unpowered fighters - and hopefully more so now she was in her own right mind; certainly from what Candace had seen her reactions were faster.

But from all reports, Samba, formerly La Bandera, had been in the conversation powers-wise with people like Patriette (if not her uncle), and that didn’t seem like something Gigi could do more than stall for a second or two.

Sammi… would still be outclassed, but her speed advantage might keep her in the game. And, to be fair to them, both of them had a much better chance than Candace would.

What worried Candace was that with three of them still out there, the odds they’d keep going one at a time were very low. And in this house, there were only so many tricks they could rig up…

*

Lulu had almost caught Beta up within two or three minutes’ headlong run.

When she’d still been a slave to Doctor Bimbeau, he’d enjoyed having someone with a greater physical capability under his control. His device, the Tiara, had modified her body to take on muscle more efficiently, and he’d made her train; a little of the lilac energy crackling through her eyes burned away as she remembered him idly stroking her bare leg, affectionately calling her ‘thunder thighs’.

Beta, by contrast, had the naturally athletic body of many superhumans, but it didn’t necessarily come with the cardio, and she’d also been told to run as fast as she could. Crossing a city at a dead sprint is not possible; crossing at a high speed still requires cardio or, failing that, a vehicle.

Lulu suspected that the helmet probably didn’t make breathing any easier, either. But it was the General’s choice, and if she had been programmed to consider herself less intelligent and less wise than Doctor Bimbeau, she couldn’t possibly be as smart as the man who had replaced him as her Master.

She slowed her pace as she approached Beta. “Hey,” she said softly. “Can you hear me? Do you need help?”

Beta’s helmet swivelled to observe her. All across the street, the softly-shiny skintight outfit on the flawless body of the superheroine, coupled with the helmet, meant that attention was turning their way in droves.

(It didn’t occur to Lulu that her own augmented body, still clad in the maid outfit Candace liked her to wear, would be part of what was focusing the attention. She didn’t tend to think about how attractive she might be to people who weren’t authorised to give her orders, and couldn’t remember a time when that had ever been a factor.)

She reached out and rested a hand on the brainwashed heroine’s shoulder. Watched closely for any kind of reaction. These faceless helmets, they made everything so impossibly impersonal…

“Do you need help?” she asked again, quietly. Beta shook her head.

Lulu looked around. “Well, in that case, let’s get you not needing help somewhere less obvious, yeah?”

She started to guide the heroine toward the nearest alleyway between buildings. That might be enough to give her a chance to recover.

*

Alpha saw the target building. And Alpha had her orders.

Left to her own devices and told to take it, knowing her teammates were on the way, Alpha would have hung back and waited for them to arrive. She’d have tested the house’s defences with a couple of feints to spring any traps that Epsilon might have crafted, and to prompt Delta to betray her hiding place.

And then she’d have gone in efficiently and effectively. She’d have had Gamma take down Delta, used Beta against Epsilon, and played spoiler, ready to help either of them who needed it.

This sort of tactical thinking had made La Bandera a heroine to be watched in her initial burst of activity, and helped her make a name for herself again in the seventies when she’d gone from part-time to full-time active again.

This sort of tactical thinking also required her to not have a precise, clear directive from General Walters. Even if he’d given her the same rough guideline, the extra limits programmed into her thinking when she had detailed orders would have hamstrung her timing and her smarts.

In this case, her instructions were even more detailed and precise. Go in. Subdue everyone. Report back.

Incredibly straightforward. And, to the restricted mind in Alpha, extremely inflexible as a plan.

She wasn’t flying at full speed, but she was still moving fast enough the locals were unlikely to get a clear view of her. This was a standing order; the General was very clear that they shouldn’t be tracked.

Her eyes were on the target home, and she saw movement in a window upstairs. She chose her target and accelerated.

The window erupted around her as she smashed through it, stopping just a foot or so into the room as the woman in front of her - the combatant she recognised as Epsilon, minus her helmet, a blade in one hand and a baseball bat in the other - shied away from the flying glass, her combat stance disrupted.

Alpha moved quickly, closing one powerful hand around the blade of the kitchen knife, her impervious skin firmly refusing to be cut. She plucked the blade from Epsilon’s hand, but her former teammate - now opponent - was already dropping back into a low roll, coming up to one knee a few paces away.

The next move should have been a quick strike, a carefully aimed backhand with enough strength to put her down without too much risk of killing her. That was the obvious thing to do, and yet Alpha didn’t find herself doing it.

“Surrender, Epsilon,” she said, the helmet radio and its external speakers both relaying her words. “You don’t want to provoke me.”

*

Beta wasn’t really paying attention to what Lulu was saying. She picked up that she was speaking, but her attention was elsewhere, almost entirely.

The communication systems in the helmets were designed so that a central switchboard could hear every communication. They hadn’t been part of the initial control system; the General had instructed they be added. He’d had a lot of instructions for extra constraints on the squad. The switchboard also determined which squad members heard what.

At least, they did when nobody with energy manipulation powers wanted to change that.

Beta had a decision to make. She loved to be controlled; she was in a constant state of pleasure now, no matter what. The General’s control had given her that, and for almost five years, ever since the Symphony had stayed to help Fort Bragg with the aftermath of the Millennium Bug attack, she had had her delight. And because of that, her allies had also been slaves.

It was a hard decision, and Beta was no longer used to thinking. Weighing information and making a choice weighed on her heavily.

There wasn’t enough focus left over to listen to Lulu. And who was she, anyway? An upstart. An enemy, even if she’d been twisted into place since.

Why was everyone determined to make all this so complicated?

*

The redheaded combat mistress stared at Alpha and shook her head slowly. “No. Sorry, Julieta, but I’ve got something to fight for these days.”

“You already had your duty.”

Alpha floated forward about a pace, staying a few inches above the ground. That height massively reduced the risk of triggering a trap, and against Epsilon, that was important.

“Duty?” There was so much loathing for that idea in her voice. Perhaps Alpha had misjudged her. Perhaps Epsilon really didn’t understand. “If you knew what you really think of the man you think you have some duty to!”

Alpha hesitated, and didn’t understand why. “Explain yourself, Epsilon.”

The redhead fainted with a baseball bat strike, but didn’t follow through. Alpha could relax; Epsilon already knew she was defeated. “You fought General Walters for so long,” she answered. “You fought him when he was a young lieutenant, hooking up with the Pure Americans. You fought him when he had his own tame superteam. Remember Police Action? Remember what they turned out to be? That was him. He got so mad chasing after you that he faked his own heroine to get inside the team, remember? And when we finally rumbled her and we blew his next plan wide open, you remember confronting him?

“We lined up in his office and we laid out how screwed he was. We told him he was getting drummed out of the Army - and he was, remember? But the best thing was, he couldn’t even look you in the eye.”

The passion in her voice was startling. Of course, it should have been passion for her duty. She was a traitor. No. Worse than a traitor. She was-

“I wouldn’t expect a civilian to understand,” Alpha retorted, and the weight she put on the word civilian should have been enough to break Epsilon on its own, but she glared in defiance instead.

She clearly didn’t understand the importance of the military. Well, the General wanted her, so Epsilon would have the opportunity to learn this all over again. Alpha should float another pace forward, snap the bat to prove a point, and knock her out.

Yet she hesitated, held off from doing her duty, and wasn’t sure why.

She shook her head to clear away the doubts and did just that, lunging forward, going for the bat. Epsilon gave it up easily, but as she did, she rolled forward, moving under Alpha’s arm, and her free hand came up, striking her just by the shoulder with a two-fingered thrust.

Ridiculous. Alpha didn’t even feel anything from it. She pivoted, floating on the spot, to face her adversary, who had dropped back into a combat stance.

“You always said that you’d seen military life and you’d seen civilian life and you understood why our soldiers aren’t in our cities,” Epsilon retorted. “That the pride of a soldier should be in protecting and upholding the civilian way of life. That was one of the biggest disagreements you ever had with Walters. It’s why you had him forced out of the service.”

Alpha had forgotten how expressive Epsilon’s face could be when it wasn’t hidden behind a control helmet. What Epsilon was saying… it all sounded like things she’d have said. It sounded like what she believed. So why was it an accusation in her former subordinate’s voice?

“That’s the biggest laugh of this whole sick joke,” Epsilon continued, practically vibrating with anger. “You want to call me a civilian? So are you, because the General isn’t part of the military. None of his people are. They all caught dishonourable discharges.”

There was suddenly a sharp pain in Alpha’s head, right between her eyebrows. What this woman was saying had to be lies. If it wasn’t lies, then… then…

Rather than risk completing that thought, Alpha tried to throw the baseball bat in her hand at her quarry, but nothing happened beyond her shoulder. She turned to look at her arm, which was somehow locked in place, and tried again to move it, but couldn’t.

Then she realised she’d taken her eyes off Epsilon. Even with her superhuman reflexes, she wasn’t fast enough to avoid three more strikes in the same style - and then she was floating there, unable to move her limbs.

“What have you done?” Alpha asked, and the fact she could hear fear in her own voice shuddered through her. The pain in her head hadn’t let up, but it was far from her focus - she was bewildered.

Epsilon took the bat from suddenly-unresisting hands and twirled it in one of hers again. She was smiling now, but there was still a wetness around her eyes that confirmed her passion and her despair had been real. “Pressure points,” she said. “Even you have them, Julieta.”

Alpha’s comm buzzed into life. “Alpha!” barked the voice of General Walters. “Get-”

The communication cut off halfway through the message, and a full second before Epsilon’s bat smashed the communicator off the side of Alpha’s helmet.

“Right,” Epsilon told her. “Doctor Kraft has enough on her plate, so you, for right now, can go into storage.” She took Alpha by the shoulders as she floated, using her joint manipulation practice to sweep the heroine’s arms back behind her.

By rights Alpha should be flying at her like a missile, treating her helmet as a weapon. But the pain in her head was holding her back.

Epsilon pushed her into an upstairs bathroom, with a full-wall mirror along one side. Epsilon had clearly spent quite a lot of time arranging the other mirrors from upstairs around the room, perching them on other surfaces.

The result was that no matter where your eyes fell, they fell on a screen which flickered and danced and on which sense was always just out of reach. Alpha’s frustration and determination both began to crumble - and her head began to ease…

She heard the bathroom door click shut behind her and rested, floating helplessly, unable to move, wearing the costume she had worn as General Walters’ slave, feeling the screens riffle through her mind, stacking the mental deck against her…

*

The van carrying Gamma passed a Jeep just before pulling up outside the Pearsons’ house. The ‘soldier’ at the wheel looked over his shoulder. “You set?”

The purple-clad figure in the shadowy passenger compartment didn’t respond, but did rise from her seat and slide the side door open.

She paused on the sidewalk for a long moment, maybe ten seconds all in all, before making her way up the short garden path and the steps to the front door.

The soldier watched her go, looking a little nervous. His radio crackled into life. “Whitley?” demanded General Walters’ voice.

Over the static he didn’t hear the front passenger door eased open. He picked up the radio. “Whitley here. Go ahead, sir?”

“Is the slut still with you?”

“I just sent her in, sir.”

“Did anything look wrong with her comms?”

“Sir? No, nothing was…”

“Dammit. Alright. She might…” There was a pause. The cantankerous growl Walters soldiers mostly heard cracked slightly, and Whitley had a horrible feeling that what was hiding beneath it was fear. “She might need backup, son. And if she does, you’re going to have to provide it. Get in there, and report in when it’s done.”

“Yes, sir.” He swallowed.

“Walters out.”

Whitley looked at the radio handset and sighed.

“Hey.” It was a woman’s voice and it was from right beside him. He jumped, dropping the handset, fumbling for his sidearm as he turned to face her.

He didn’t turn in time; all he saw was a taped fist coming his way, then there was a bright flash of pain and his head jerked back, smashing into the van’s door, and suddenly he knew no more.

*

Candace and Sammi, sitting together in the kitchen, heard the front door fly open. Which was when Candace realised she’d shut off the hypno-screen facing it, because Sammi had come in the other way…

Dammit.

“Get her, whoever it is,” she instructed.

Jumpsuit down to her waist, Sammi blurred into action from a sitting start, twinned streaks of white and pale flesh, but it wasn’t enough. As she approached Jazz she saw the spellcaster’s fingers already in motion. Somehow, no matter how fast she ran, she never seemed to get any nearer to her, the distance between the two of them extending and extending…

She knew that taking Jazz down was essential, so she ran harder and harder, but Jazz appeared to be getting more and more distant…

Candace, peeking around the door, saw Sammi somehow shrinking, her motion a blur that was twisting and constricting under the violet flare of the woman’s magic, until Sammi was somehow cocooned in a purple-tinted crystal ball resting in the spellcaster’s hand.

She swallowed. This wasn’t something she had a counter for.

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