Straight ahead of her: A highly skilled mercenary with a kill count in the triple digits.
Above her: A nuclear missile about to annihilate many innocent lives.
All around her: A team of vigilantes fighting off against hordes of goons atop an oil platform.
Way, way above her: Victor Cauchmeer, a mad scientist bent on wreaking the most havoc he could wreak. His mission was to be on the cover of Villain’s Monthly in a flattering way at least twice.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Lydia Irving, famed mercenary, smirked, her body finally loosening after a drawn out brawl. “The bomb is going to nail your little city whether you beat me or not.”
Make that a kill count in the septuple digits.
Nightmare rubbed her hand up against her jaw instinctively, smearing the blood against her mouth and mask.
She closed her eyes, gears turning, a migraine bursting nerve endings.
“Oh what, are you praying?” Lydia asked angrily, stomping towards Nightmare. “At least yell at me or something.”
Nightmare’s eyes shot open.
Estreya, Victor, Lydia, in that order. No other way.
“See ya!” Nightmare yelped as her boots flickered on, rockets thrusting her into the air and across the oil platform.
Fire was beginning to shoot out of the missile now, a dust cloud sweeping across the platform, shrouding everything in panic.
Below, footsteps clattered against the metal girders. No more gun shots and punches.
This one was for all the marbles.
Landing on the missile, Nightmare’s hands groped the surface, looking for some kind of opening, sweat already drenching her forehead, barely able to see…
She pulled as hard as she could and voila! A hatch!
She flipped into the missile, shutting the hatch behind her.
Lydia’s jaw nearly hit the floor as she watched the missile ascend into the heavens. Just as it left the platform, a voice crackled on the other side of her walkie.
“Did take off go as planned?”
The sharp voice of Victor Cauchmeer. While a natural Brit, he did over-emphasize the accent from time to time.
“Uh…” Lydia groaned, tapping her open palm with her index finger, turning over her options like a burnt pancake.
There’s no way she could stop the missile from the inside…right?
“All good, Doc,” Lydia shot back, flipping over a barrel to dropkick a rookie vigilante in the head.
Way, way above her, at the very peak of the oil platform, Victor, who had previously been stooped over a control panel, was now firing a volley of laser strikes willy-nilly at another vigilante, X, who happened to be Nightmare’s partner.
“Hahah! Wonderful!” Victor cried out. Ah, the perfect opportunity for a Broadway-styled reprise of his “I Want” song.
“Look out Sally Wilkerson! Look who became the big time plottin’ guy who’s rotten!” Turn, flip, flip, kick, turn, turn, kick, turn, kick to the face—wait, kick to the face? Oh—oh no, he was falling!
And so he fell off onto a platform twenty feet below.
X grumbled and walked over to the console and blindly started smashing buttons, but that didn’t really seem to do anything; the missile was going to destroy Estreya and everyone he ever loved. It was over.
A crackle on his walkie. A hollow voice on the other side.
“How do you disarm a nuclear missile?”
It was Nightmare. Classic Katrina, always asking herself these kinds of questions after a failed mission.
“Kat, don’t beat yourself up over this,” X said, trying not to sound as exasperated as he was. “There’s nothing we can do.”
“Um—no, we still have time, I—I just need to…”
What was that roar behind her?
“Kat, please, listen to me. You’ve been taking all of this so personally lately, I need you to understand it’s not your—“
“X, no, I’m—“ Was she rolling her eyes at him? “You don’t understand what’s going on right now.” Oh she totally was!
“Kat! Come on!” X shouted, slamming the console.
Looking up, he saw Victor, lab coat hanging off his shoulders, pointing a ray gun at him, a manic grin on his face.
“Not now,” X whispered, ushering for Victor to go away.
“Aw…” Victor slouched over like Charlie Brown on a bad day and went out to find someone else to blast. Turn, flip, kick, kick, turn…
“We didn’t have time!” X emphasized. “There was no way we could—“
“I’m inside the nuke.”
X froze. Blink. Blink. Twitch.
“Wait,” he said in a much softer voice. “What, like Dr. Strangelove?”
“Uh—no, sorry—I don’t know how to—Kat, that’s really dangerous! You could get yourself killed—“
“Matthew, do you know how to disarm a nuke or not?”
“Oh that is SO rude!” X shouted, looking out into the ocean around them. She was inside the missile? But even if she were to stop it that meant…
There was a fighter jet waiting at the edge of the platform…did you need a license for that? Oh well, he would figure it out.
Nightmare ripped her mask off, tossing it to the side, untying her cape and letting it fall down the body of the beast. The abundance of sweat made it very hard to focus on anything but her lingering death. All around her, rods and gears and consoles. All gray, all blending together, everything melting.
She slapped herself in the face, pulling out one of her N-Blades and jabbing it into her mouth, biting onto it like an X-Ray at the dentist’s office. Somehow, this helped.
Looking up, she saw everything she had to work with—but—but—this—this was may more complex than she hoped.
A deathly roar blared around her, threatening to crumble her into dust as she passed over the ocean.
She checked her walkie. What was she thinking expecting someone to know how to disarm a nuclear missile?
Dropping the walkie, letting it clatter alongside the bottom of the missile, she looked up, fading in and out of focus. Hand shaking, she pounded against a console next to her. A tiny door popped up, revealing a handful of wires.
The missile lurched, tossing her body against a gear. Desperately grabbing onto the rods around her, she stayed in position, stretching her body to lean back towards the console.
The heat was too much; everything was melting into red. Little tinges of purple and yellow and green existed in the wires but it was too vague to work with and there had to be at least twenty of them.
And one wrong move was all it took to end her.
She pulled the blade out of her mouth, pressing a button on its belly, a red light flashing right under her thumb.
A gob of sweat dropped off of her nose and into her knuckle, as if she was crumbling away.
If she were to erupt the blade, the explosion would take out the missile, ensuring that it would never reach Estreya. That was the best solution.
She imagined pulling each individual wire through guesswork, enjoying a precious half-second to see if she would still be alive for the next moment. Maybe it would work out for the first wire, but the other nineteen?
A darkness expanded in her heart, squeezing. A little voice whispered to her. Lying in a comfy bed at night, unable to sleep, wide eyes fixed on a popcorn ceiling. Questions of why it hurt so bad that, with this solution, no longer needed to be answered.
Her hand shined with sweat, her eyes mystified by the blade rigged to self-destruct. Who would be surprised anyways? Crazy girl hitches a ride on a nuclear missile and blows it up from the inside. That’s the story you would expect, no one needed to know she didn’t even try…
Or she could just try to figure out the wires. No, how was she supposed to randomly guess the correct sequence to pluck twenty or so indistinct wires? The odds of that were…something like .00000000000000000000005%.
Okay, now she was just killing time.
Die on her own accord or die with a little shred of hope left.
If there was any way for her girlfriend to find out that she did not even try to save her life — that she gave up, well—she’d like to think she would never forgive herself, but she would be dead.
She needed to try. For her. Even if she would never know.
Biting her lip, she broke her lock on the blade and looked up at the wires again. A huge clump, lights flashing, the gaps between each strand fading away.
Reaching up, grabbing onto all the wires she could fit in one hand, snapping at them like an angry snake. She looked down at the underbelly of the missile, her walkie sliding back and forth, heart thundering against her chest.
Her eyes clamped shut, lips folding over her teeth, thumb running against the wires. Every second she waited was a few more miles that she became closer to Estreya. It had to be now.
The walkie slid directly under her. If only it was in her hand she could phone a message to someone, anybody, to say goodbye. To say how much she really loved everyone and how much she wished she could miss them. Tell them not to be like her.
Instead she was carrying the two things that would kill her within a second.
Screaming at the top of her lungs, Katrina’s arm swung down, a pendulum swinging for the last time, tearing the cables from the console.
Pop-pop-pop went the wires, one by one, until there was silence. Eyes opening slowly, the cables were clutched in her hand like a handful of dry spaghetti.
Glancing upward, Katrina saw two lone wires remaining.
“Well son of a bitch.”
A crackle from her walkie down below.
“X!” Katrina cheered, pumping her firsts in the air and accidentally slapping her wrist against a pipe. Screaming, the flashing blade fumbled out of her hand, tumbling down to the bottom of the missile
Eyes bugging out of her head, Katrina swung around the pole her limbs were wrapped around and fell between the pipes, pushing her way down like Tarzan himself. Reaching out, the tip of the blade at her fingertips, her thumb jammed against a pole. Groaning, her legs shoved off another pole, throttling her down the nuke, just in time for her mouth to line up with the blade, and catching it with the finesse of your pet doggo, Katrina rolled against the bottom of the missile, blade secured.
Meekly deactivating the blade, she looked over to the walkie and dragged it over.
“Hey,” she gasped, “I got two wires left—I might be able to pull this off, it’s a 50-50 shot.”
“I’m below you!”
Now it was Katrina’s turn to blink, blink, twitch. “What—like—wait—am I still over the ocean?”
“Yeah, I stole a jet fighter—if you can deactivate the nuke and jump out, I could catch you!”
A faint pink would have crawled onto Katrina’s cheeks had they not already been boiling over from the missile. “Um—and if I pick the wrong wire, you’ll blow up.”
“You should’ve said something earlier sorry!”
Shaking her head, Katrina climbed her way back up to the last two wires as X groaned on the other line. Slipping her tongue between gritted teeth, she said, “Upper or lower?”
A scratchy voice came through the walkie, “Lower?”
A smug voice echoed in X’s cockpit: “It was upper.”
“A—as—as in this is it?”
“Oh,” Katrina sighed on the other line despite X’s growing chest, a deep breath threatening to burst him. “I meant—agh—sorry—I pulled it already while we were—it was a joke but I forgot you could interpret—“
“It’s cool,” X sighed. “That’s the kind of joke you make up for the story we tell later though.”
Katrina smiled and grabbed onto the last cable, stretching her body across the missile, foot pushing up against the hatch, her finger loosely hooking onto the cable, tugging on it ever-so-lightly.
“You ready to catch me?” Katrina shouted, her voice like a frog leaping out of her throat, something catching her in the middle.
Cringing for the fifteenth time that day, Katrina kicked the hatch, knocking it loose once again. Immediately, the air from the outside suctioned her up, painfully ripping her body out of the nuke, like a messy teenager might pluck a strand of cheese wiz out of their hair.
Flying with the sky, Katrina managed to hold her grip on the cable, pulling it from the console and finally deactivating the missile. Throttling through the sky, wind pushed up against her, slamming into her eyes, threatening to crush her mid-flight.
Before she knew it, SLAM, her chest collided with the passenger seat to the jet, her body folding over her hips, boots against her nose, as the hatch to the jet closed.
X glanced over at her, playfully punching her in the jaw with his fist, before returning to the standard 10-2 position on the wheel. Katrina allowed a tiny smile as X bumped her, quietly shifting around to get into a comfortable position in the jet, and as the seat belt clicked beside her, her pupils shrank to the size of pins.
“Hey, um…” Katrina reached forward, slinging a foot into the driver’s section. “We just dropped a missile.”
“Yeah!” X chirped.
Katrina elbowed X against the side of the jet and floored it, the jet tearing across the ocean, ripping up waves as it soared along.
X blinked. “Nah, you shut it off!”
The jet slammed into the ocean, skipping off of it like a stone.
“I guess you didn’t.”
Victor’s laughter racked his body with uncontrollable glee as a mushroom cloud shot up in the sky. Pumping his fists high in the air, he launched into a sort of solo square dance, all the while holding his classic villain maniacal laughter.
“You lose Freedom Fighters!” he cheered, making sure to point at each dumbfounded vigilante he could see.
“Ey uh…boss,” Mugsy, the Goon in Charge of Lunch, tapped his boss on the shoulder.
“Not right now, Mugsy,” Victor cheered. “This is a time to celebrate!”
“Uh—b-but—“ Mugsy’s hand retreated, closing into a fist around his mouth, eyes darting back and forth between the explosion and Victor.
“We did it!” Victor screamed into the silence, “I killed every last one of them!”
Mugsy groaned and clapped Victor’s thin face with his thick hands, and shoved his face to where Mugsy stood.
Directly behind the explosion was Estreya, smiling at him with its shiny buildings.
“I knew I should’ve tipped the nuke guy,” Victor grumbled, slouching over to turn back to the gathering on the oil platform. “U—um…I don’t have much to say—TO THE HELICOPTER YOU FIENDS!”
Raising his fist in the air, Victor foolhardily charged over to the helicopter, his goons and Lydia close behind him.
Katrina and X bounced up and down in their seats as a tidal wave hugged the rear of the ship.
“You ready?” X asked through chattering teeth.
Katrina pulled a fresh mask onto her face. “Oh yeah.”
A jet plane flew straight over the platform, many of the goons freezing to duck for cover as it passed over. Victor responded merely by raising his knees higher with each step, each movement becoming more angular as he made a poor man’s attempt at holding back tears.
A tidal wave slammed into the platform, the water hurtling into the helicopter, sweeping it off of the ground and rolling it backwards.
Lydia had to tackle Victor to the ground to prevent him from trying to leap into the rolling heap of metal. Pinning him down, she massaged his shoulders while keeping a stern eye on the helicopter.
“Eh, that’s okay, it should still work after a little heave-ho I think,” Victor cracked.
Somehow, the water retracted back to the ocean, dragging the helicopter with it, rolling it into the watery depths down below.
“I’m very sad, Lydia,” Victor said in a candid way that was intended to provoke feeling from a listener.
Patting Victor on the head, knocking his loose strands of greasy hair over his eyes, she got to her feet with crossed arms, a bemused grin at the whole situation.
Victor looked up into the air and saw two shadows: one falling very quickly and the other incredibly slowly. Narrowing his eyes, he flashed a dirty look at Lydia and stuck his nose up in the air, hands held out in front of him.
Nightmare landed very purposely, cape folded around her. Menacingly, she advanced towards Victor.
Poking one finger towards out of his fist towards the sky, Victor asked, “What’s with him?”
“Doesn’t like free falls,” Nightmare grunted, stopping directly in front of Victor, thumbs hooking into her utility belt. “Not cool.”
“Whatever,” Victor scoffed. “Just cuff me already.”
“Nah,” Nightmare sighed.
Victor blinked as the rest of his goons were rounded up by the vigilante team. “B=but I’m the mastermind. I should go first!”
“Uh huh,” Nightmare shook her head and walked away.
“Where’s she going?” Victor gasped, leaning into Mugsy’s ear as he trudged past him. Mugsy’s cold eyes remained fixed ahead of him.
His lips drawn into an incorrigible pout, Victor slouched, imaging his reprise of his Act One “I Want” song only appearing on the Demo CD for the musical.
Victor’s eyes popped open and he looked up just in time for X to glide into him from above, kicking him straight in the chest.
Lying flat on the ground, Victor let the sun beat down on his face. Slowly, he was hoisted off the ground, his wrists slapped onto cuffs. Then it hit him.
“Wait—you were inside the nuke weren’t you?!” Victor spat, pausing to think that one over. His mouth twisting into a demented smile, his voice peaking in several places, he said, “I’m so proud of you.”
“Yeah—so—um—you should—not use nukes anymore—b-because you know I’ll just climb into them,” Nightmare said defiantly, boosting herself up on her toes, fists at her side.
“Say Lydia,” Victor mused as he queued up alongside the miserable Lydia, goons being loaded into an air carrier two by two.
“What?” Lydia muttered.
“I’ll pay you double next time if you station yourself within the nuke as a sort of trap.”
“Uh, hard pass,” Lydia groaned.
“Huh,” Victor said through his nose, “Mugsy, how about you?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Mugsy moaned begrudgingly, eyes rolling. “I’m your guy.”
Victor’s resulting whine was the last thing our heroes thankfully heard from him that day. X patted Nightmare on the back as he passed by to do a dummy check on any hiding goons. “Just don’t do that again, okay?”
“Yeah, sure,” Nightmare whispered, her skin hot thinking about the explosion that could have been. A lingering tightness in her heart, a pain that was allowed to persist and live on another day. Her voice was unnaturally high but no one seemed to notice. “Um—I’ll try not to.”