hi everyone -- today the weather up here in massachusetts was about 101 degrees during the day, so i took my flash drive and laptop down to the cooler part of the house and did some serious editing and writing.
Phase X: Movement
After a night of heavy celebration at the Manor, Pacifica and Phantom both awoke to find a message waiting for them on their com-modules (a fancy name Electra and Pallas gave for the souped-up computers they had placed in everyone’s rooms, which were hooked up with every communications device and technology available or imaginable). “Captain’s meeting 0800h war room” was all it read, but it made them both joyously anxious.
They both dressed in their combat uniforms and met each other in the hall.
“Good morning,” Pacifica chimed.
“Good morning,” Phantom replied without any hesitation or emotion.
“Shall we go?” he continued.
“What do you think this is going to be about?”
“We’ll find out when we get there, won’t we?”
Pacifica slowly nodded in agreement and they ambled over to the spiral staircase and, in the dark, slowly, slowly descended to the very bottom.
Something on the wall just beside the portal to the war room, caught both of their eyes and they stopped mid-step. A dim ceiling light just above the wall, which was painted a steel grey, cast stern shadows on sharp corners, picture frames. An entire series of more than thirty photographs were framed, aligned perfectly, and annotated on this wall, all in metal engravings. The photographs were the standard law enforcement-style headshots, with the subject in formal uniform in front of a plain white background. Not even a crack of a smile. Judging from the grain and color of some of the photographs, some of the shots were several decades old. Pacifica and Phantom looked at each other and then back at the sets of pictures.
“Have you ever seen these before?” Pacifica asked her partner.
“No, I didn’t know they were here,” he replied. “Look,” he pointed above them to a plaque high above the photos.
“Never forget our brothers and sisters of Greyfall who made the ultimate sacrifice in the tour of duty,” they read aloud in unison. Stepping in closer to the wall, they each closely inspected the small engraved labels below each photograph.
“Apollo, KIA ’85.”
“Jade, KIA ’86.”
“Pistol, KIA ’78.”
“Fatima, KIA ’92.”
“A whole spate seemed to have been killed in the span of a decade, almost twenty of them.”
“Wow, we were that big once?”
“It seems like it,” he shrugged. They continued to read the names and look at the solemn faces of their fallen predecessors, painfully aware that they too might be on this wall someday.
“One’s missing,” Pacifica noted.
“Look, there was one here.” She pointed to the edge of the set, where small holes dug in the plaster where a nail for the photograph had been. The plaster had been chipped during removal, and the paint was less faded where the photograph had once been.
“Whoever had been there was on the wall for some time,” Phantom remarked, and leaned in closer to read the name plate. It was scratched and bent, almost impossible for him to read.
“It looks like… Metatron, MIA ’83.”
“MIA? How is that possible?” Pacifica whispered. “Did he defect? Can you defect from the Ace Squad?”
They looked at each other in bemused wonder. “Judging by the fact that his photograph is no longer here, we probably should not inquire on the issue,” Phantom concluded.
The meeting was a few minutes from beginning, and the two new captains made no further delay to heading into the war room. To their surprise, all the other captains were already waiting for them, all in full Squadron uniform (a rare sight), with Alex at the head of the table with a PowerPoint presentation ready on the overhead.
“Welcome to your first of many captains meetings, you two. Please be seated and we’ll begin,” he stated, clicking a button on his computer remote. The first slide came up on the projection screen: “This month’s agenda: Budgeting, PR movement, funding issues, training objectives.”
Pacifica meekly raised her hand. “What about objectives in apprehending criminals, Alex?”
He adjusted his glasses. “That’s not important right now.”
Two bodies wrestled and kicked, grunted and screamed as they jockeyed for power. Sitting sorely on folding chairs were Sophia and Zoë with ice packs on various joints, while Chris and Phantom looked on the match before them amusedly.
Pacifica had been on top of Scott, straddling him and trying to pin him down completely, but for a split-second she left herself open and Scott knocked her off balance with his hand and reversed their positions with a loud slam to the mat as Pacifica’s head slammed down with full force.
“I’ve got you now,” Scott huffed through his struggle. For a moment, Pacifica stopped moving, giving the illusion that she was beginning to tire. Judging by the torrents of sweat both of them were excreting, it seemed they were both close to exhaustion.
“You only think that,” she smirked, “I’m two steps ahead of you!”
She shifted her position under him and kicked her legs up from the mat to high in the air. Before Scott could even figure out what was happening, Pacifica’s legs were wrapped tight around his neck in a vise, locked by her ankles, and she squeezed them together to exert pressure on Scott’s main arteries. He began to turn bright red, and then he began to shake. A weary hand slapped the mat twice.
“He’s tapped out, Pacifica,” Camilla stated, standing over her. The color from Scott’s face was draining and he began to slap and flail at Pacifica and the mat as his assailant refused to let him go.
“Pacifica!” Camilla bellowed, pulling Scott away from Pacifica’s hold.
“What the fuck, Pacifica! I fucking tapped out, are you trying to kill me?” doubled over in pain, Scott was rubbing the sides of his neck and hyperventilating.
The grotesque victorious grin on Pacifica’s face took a few seconds to melt away as she made the horrible realization that yet again she had failed to use proper restraint.
“You are not an assassin!” Camilla berated Pacifica, spittle flying from her mouth. “If you pull a stunt like that on someone you’re trying to bring in, you’re gonna get your ass fired and in jail for excessive force, not to mention jeopardize closing down the entire Squadron.”
Pacifica glanced over at the two other girls on the squadron, who were rubbing themselves with ointment and ice, each giving Pacifica the nastiest looks they could conjure.
With a snicker, Chris stepped forward. “Very impressive, Pacifica,” giving her a hand to pull her up to her feet. “You’re usually beating all of us to it, but something’s different about today.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Chris. I’m always like this.”
“No, I think you got a buzz off of being in front of all those press members the other day. You’re kicking it up a notch,” he smiled, enticed.
“Well, maybe I just realize what’s at stake,” Pacifica smiled back, pulling her sweat-drench bangs away from her face.
“I like that,” Chris replied. “I want to go next.” He watched in wonder as with a flick of her finger, Pacifica summoned a steady stream of water from inside a large water cooler to fly into the air and to her open mouth. She thought nothing of it.
“Fine,” Pacifica wiped her mouth with her sleeve, and tackled her sparring partner without a second’s warning. So utterly surprised by this move was he that Pacifica managed to pin him with the same move she used on Scott just a few seconds before. This time, when Chris tapped out, she immediately let go.
“Oww,” he was rubbing the sides of his neck. “That’s like the ultimate Indian rug burn. Jesus.”
“Here,” Scott handed him a few ice packs. “This will help.” The two of them sat next to their partners on the bench and joined in the misery-fest by tossing a few more disdained sneers at Pacifica’s direction when they worked up the courage.
“What, does no one here know Brazilian jujitsu?” she complained in reply.
“How would we know that?” all four of them shouted back in unison. Camilla tapped Phantom’s shoulder and just as Pacifica had tackled Chris, Phantom knocked down his partner.
“Consider this retribution,” he grunted at her as he began to pin her using his own mastery of Brazilian jujitsu. She caught on to his strategy and began to counter his moves.
“For what?” she huffed back. For just a second, they paused.
“You know what,” he replied, visibly annoyed. He was pinning her the same way he had accidentally when Pacifica intruded into his room when he was drinking.
“Ohh, that,” and they began to wrestle again. She squirmed from underneath him and managed to free herself, stand behind him and immediately take an offensive karate stance. He leapt up and his body replied in turn.
Their conversation in movement continued for nearly ten minutes—when one switched to a new style of fighting, the other immediately replied to counter. After exhausting almost all the practical hand-to-hand martial art styles they knew, Phantom ran to a corner where two hand staffs leaned against the wall, and he threw one to his partner. For another five minutes they fought, swinging, stabbing, whipping the poles at each other. Both were clearly enjoying themselves, while the Camilla and the four benched Hearts observed.
“As much as I’m sure you enjoy having men trapped between your legs, don’t you think that move gets a little old after a while?”
“An off-color joke? Phantom, I’m impressed!”
“New things throw the enemy off their guard—” a snap of the staff to Pacifica’s right and left hand knuckles in rapid succession, leaving pink oval welts where the hit fell, and causing Pacifica to drop her staff. Phantom didn’t miss this opportunity to grab her with a flying tackle, so he straddled her on top of her chest and aimed the end of his staff at her neck.
“—A lesson you would do well to heed.” He was too close to her head to allow Pacifica an effective range with her arms, her center of gravity was pinned beneath his weight, and he had effectively knocked the wind out of her. Realizing her defeat, she tapped out.
The day progressed in the slow way that balmy winter days tend to do. The day also moved too quickly as the days do, for they begin to end before one realizes it. Contradictory winter days seemed eternal until they melted and refroze, suddenly becoming a cool evening, serenaded to sleep by the ululating winds and aching trees.
It had been a busy day for Pacifica. Luckily, she had minimal Ace Squad duties to perform. She and her teammates had been on Squadron rotation for several months with lauded results. The press consistently covered each successful mission they completed (and as yet, there had been no unsuccessful missions, a statistic proponents of the Ace Squadron program were very quick to capitalize on). Alex was extraordinarily pleased with Pacifica’s warm reception by the public and began tinkering with the idea that in less than a year, she’d be ready to start playing up her celebrity. Exclusive photo shoots, print and broadcast interviews, big PR events. His foundation pen scratched madly at his blotter, ideas flowed. It was too early for Phantom’s turn yet, he would come later as a boost if attention were to sag. Got to keep the fresh troops at hand as reinforcements after all, just don’t throw it all out at once. The girl still needed preening, she needed more universal appeal.
The report on Alex’s desk by the marketing consultancy he hired confirmed the trends he already suspected, Pacifica was a big hit with families and young kids. The parents pay taxes, sure, but if the merchandising is ever to make it big… if that were to ever happen, well, wholesome go-getter la-dee-dah won’t cut it, not by a long shot. Pacifica was a bit too young for it still, but eventually, somehow, she needed sex appeal.
That’s when he’d get out the big guns, Alex knew. It was time to plan, but not to implement, not just yet.
Into his attaché went the trend report, under photographs, newspaper clips and press releases. It was time for dinner.