From the author: When her entire team of superheroes is betrayed and captured, Leela must turn to her hostile, drunk and unreliable twin, Chelsea, in a bid to make things right.
Gemini found her twin sister Leela crashed on the couch in her ratty apartment, snoring raspily with a melted bottle of champagne clutched to her breast and teary lines of mascara on her cheeks. The dregs of the alcohol had spilled when the bottle liquefied, and the room smelled of booze and farts.
Eau de fraternity, Gemini thought. This isn’t going to work. Despite the urge to flee she remained in place, helmet in hand, looming over the couch wearing the ill-fitting battlesuit she'd put on an hour before.
As she woke, Leela said Gemini’s given name with a snort and a quiet belch: “Chelsea?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“What are you doing in that get-up?”
“There’s an emergency,” said Gemini. “Are you drunk?”
“Could be,” Leela said.
“Meaning yes, I suppose, or you’d take my head off for even asking.”
“Have it your way.” Leela flashed an uncharacteristic grin. “I saw you on the news today. Amazing footage. Is it always like that?”
“It’s a blur,” Gemini said. The words were out before she realized they were true.
Leela stretched, curling her toes. “Mom already has a nice glossy photo of you saving that baby—for her scrapbook.”
“Baby..." she said, just barely remembering.
“You drippified the guy’s sword before he could decapitate the kid, and then took out his reins. Bastard fell right off his horse.”
“I vapourized a lot of tack today,” Gemini said, thinking of the dozens of horses still running loose downtown.
“No surprise you forgot. It looked pretty intense.”
“Intense,” she echoed sarcastically. “Five thousand barbarian warriors--”
“Relax, Chelsea, I’m not trying to minimize. It must have been terrible.”
Gemini nodded, not trusting herself to speak. The horde had thundered into Stanley Park at dawn, killing everyone they found. The barbarians’ weapons had been primitive, but pitted against a scattering of unarmed joggers, tourists and kids, they had done plenty of damage. Dozens of civilians had been murdered before Crucible had arrived to contain the threat.
“So...” Leela said. “Bad guys gone now?”
“No. The army’s taken over. Did you say you were at Mom’s? Was there—” She bit back the tactless question—was there some kind of crisis? “I mean...”
A muscle in Leela’s cheek jumped. “Dodd’s moving.”
“Back to London.”
Of course. The tears, the boozing—it made sense now. The ex-husband was hauling Leela’s son—Gemini’s nephew—across the Atlantic. “What are you doing about this, Leela? Sitting back and letting him take your kid without a fight?”
“You had to drive him away, didn’t you?”
Leela squinted up at her. “If you came here to abuse me, you’ll have to get out.”
Gemini reined her feelings in with difficulty. “Sorry.”
“Thanks. You want coffee?”
"Uh..." The offer caught her off-guard --Leela was rarely so quick to let bygones be bygones.
Getting up, Leela finally noticed the now-hardened glass lump of bottle fused to her tank top. Her mouth bunched. “Jeez, Chelsea, did you have to?”
“No, it was you who—” Gemini protested, but Leela had peeled off the shirt. She let it fall to the floor as she vanished into the kitchen.
“Leela, stop a sec. You’d better—”
“I better what?” The warning came too late—a kitchen cupboard melted away, dribbling like hot mozzarella. The jars inside the cabinet came cascading down, shattering on the counter. By the time Gemini got there, her sister was covered in bits of broken glass, coffee grounds and flour.
My reaction time is down, she realized. Am I still in shock?
“Shit.” Leela eyed the mess with mild surprise. “Why didn’t you tell me I had your superpowers again?”
“They’re our powers.”
“Bull.” Leela clamped flour-covered fingers over her mouth before her breath could melt anything else. Then, brow furrowed in concentration, she sighed loudly. The flour on her hand became little beads, dribbling and then evaporating so that the flesh beneath was left clean.
Gemini’s spirits lifted. If Leela had that much control over the most destructive of their handful of powers, her plan might work after all. “I need a favour. Can you help? With you in possession of our abilities—”
“It all depends on what the favour is, Chelsea.”
“I need you to go on a mission,” Gemini said. "As me."
“Don’t piss me off, Chelsea. I can’t afford to melt this apartment to slag.”
“Remain calm, breathe slowly—”
“Don’t you give me orders.” Leela’s voice finally had an edge. The kitchen wall thinned and dribbled, like wax near an open flame.
“Look,” Gemini said. “All I need—”
“No.” Leela put up a hand, silencing her. “We’ll switch the powers back to you.”
“That won’t work. I’m in a terrible mood, Leela.”
“As if I hadn’t noticed. You’ll have to sort yourself out, Cheslea.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Funny, it’s what you always say to me.”
Gemini felt her hands balling into fists. She sucked her lips over her teeth and clamped her jaw shut over the skin until it hurt.
Leela was unmoved. “Take that stupid suit off.”
Surrendering, Chelsea unhinged the battlesuit so that its torso fell open. Her breasts, relieved of the armour’s compression, immediately started to ache. She levered herself up out of the suit’s legs, setting one bare foot on the floor.
“Watch the wreckage,” said Leela, but the warning came too late—Gemini’s heel crunched down onto glass with an intense, shocking sting.
“Over here.” Leela headed back to the dingy dining room, already stripping off her clothes. Gemini hopped in pursuit, leaning one-legged against the plastic table as she tugged the shard of glass from her foot. She wriggled out of her shirt and bra, one handed, then paused—if she let go of her punctured foot, it would drip blood on the faded carpet.
Leela retrieved her ruined, bottle-smeared tank top and nudged it towards Gemini. “Stand on this.”
“Thanks.” She put her foot down and then peeled the rest of her clothes, folding them nervously.
“Ready,” Gemini said, suddenly breathless.
Nude, they hugged each other tightly. There was an instant where the embrace seemed normal, even comforting. Then they began to fuse, flesh melting together until they were once again as they had been at birth: twins, identical and conjoined, they now had one wide body between them. Leela controlled the left leg and arm, Gemini the right. To all outward appearances, they were a two-headed woman.
Gemini stared at their reflection in the glass of the dining room window. They had learned to walk like this, to ride a bicycle together, sleep, to swim. For seven years they had been together constantly. Everything had been a negotiation: where to go, when to sit or stand, who would hold which lace as they tied their shoes.
Then Dad had found an old sorcerer, one willing to reshape them, to melt them apart as if their flesh was wax. He’d “drippified” their body—to use Leela’s term—remaking them into two. They’d had to learn to walk again, to swim, write and eat separately.
They had to learn to be alone.
The solitude had been terrifying. But Leela and Gemini had their own separate hearts now, their own lungs and wombs and control of two hands each. The superpowers they’d gotten during that mystic separation, though, were throwbacks—abilities shared by them both.
“Okay,” Leela’s breath warmed her ear. Their faces were canted away from each other; they had never quite been able to look each other in the eye when joined. “I had the powers, we’ve merged, you should have them when we separate.”
“One, two, three, go,” Gemini said.
They pulled apart, flesh stretching between them. As her inner hand and foot took shape, seeming to grow out of the wet tissue of Leela’s innards, Gemini sensed that the switch had worked. Her skin no longer felt raw and over-sensitive. Her cuts and bruises did not ache. They separated, and Gemini’s vision sharpened. Her fatigue vanished and her mind started to clear . . .
She reached for the duffel gratefully, hand closing around the fabric of her Gemini uniform. But as her gaze took in the familiar black bodysuit, with its pattern of white stars, everything snapped back. The tiredness and pain returned, hitting like bricks or fists.
“Shit,” Leela said. “Okay, new plan. I’ll think of the most depressing thing I can until the powers go back to you.”
“Leela, it won’t work.”
“Come on. You’re the perky one.”
“It’s not about perk.”
“Right. It’s psychic strength, well-being, self-esteem. You have your shit together and I don’t. You’re the one everyone’s proud of, I’ve made all the mistakes...”
“I never said that...”
“I know, but I’m trying bring myself down, okay?”
“Oh. Right. You’re a mess.”
Leela laughed. “Get your happy back and get the hell out of here, okay?”
Closing her eyes, Gemini dug into her cache of pleasant memories. She evoked her first encounters with the others—Balm, Serpentine, Crimson and Mortar. They’d all been working solo back then, Little League vigilantes busting crime lords and small-time supervillains. Over time they’d clustered into a group, one that eventually received an official law-enforcement mandate from the Province. Shortly afterward they became Crucible, then Looking Glass—Powell—had joined the group. The team had saved the world that day, and Gemini had fallen in love.
It was no good. Her past seemed tainted, and her mind was drawn instead to this morning’s battle. She heard the screams again, saw the pile of severed heads, remembered a horse tangled and panicked, caught in the chains of a swing-set. There’d been a body beside the animal, a bike courier punctured by arrows...
“Dammit,” Leela hissed. “We used to do this on the phone. Are you trying?”
“So what’s wrong? Would it help if you talked about it or something?”
“No. It’s—” She fought back the tears, the panic-inducing sense of shock. “It’s been an unspeakable day.”
“I’m sorry, Chelsea. Really. But I’m no superhero.”
“I just need you to—”
“No! Fuck, isn’t this why you have a team?”
“They’re—” Gemini slumped against a chilly wall; without the battlesuit holding her upright, she could barely stand. “Purgatoire has them.”
Leela’s eyes widened. “All of them?”
Gemini nodded, gaze lowered. The room seemed to get quieter and quieter, and it sank in that she was still undressed. She scooped her panties off the table and stepped into them. Fingering her bra, she sighed, dreading the idea of strapping up her aching breasts again. Then she made herself do it.
When she risked a peek up, Leela was dusting flour off her skin and eyeing Gemini warily. “You want me to dress up as you and take on a big-name supervillain,” she said. “With no experience, backup, and imperfect control over your powers—”
“Our powers, Leela—”
“Plus he has hostages?”
“It’s Purgatoire. There are always hostages.”
“These are your friends, Chelsea. What if I screw up? Six months ago we were barely speaking. If I get your team killed . . .”
“They’ll die if you don’t help. Please, I need one small assist—and it’s entirely non-violent.”
Leela’s eyes narrowed. “No combat?”
“No fighting, I swear. Help with one thing and I’ll take over.”
“How? In that?” Leela gestured at the empty battlesuit, standing like an eggshell abandoned by a newly hatched chick, at the edge of the kitchen.
“Yes,” Gemini said.
Leela grunted, examining the suit. Nine feet tall, it was emphatically male, albeit with skewed proportions. Its limbs were elongated, its hands and feet massive, its groin robust. The whole of its musculature was exaggerated and lumpy. They could have been pleasing dimensions, maybe, but the helmet was just a shade too small. Overall, it made the wearer seem bulky and pinheaded.
That helmet stared at Gemini from the tabletop now. She had melted its front to waxy lumps in a battle long ago. Faceless, it was topped with sculpted curls of hair.
Gemini had put the suit on for the first time only an hour before, after she’d finally made it back to Base Pacific. With her teammates abducted and her powers gone, getting home had been an ordeal, one that took hours her friends might not have.
She had crawled down to the base Vault and found the suit. It had seemed hideous, a totem lying under layers of dust
Moving in it felt like being joined to Leela again: everything was slow, each movement a bit delayed.
Leela touched the suit’s metal skin lightly, with just her fingertips. “Is this the outfit from the guy who almost killed Powell?”
“Yes, a villain named Sliver. His suit was in our evidence vault.”
“Won’t he want it back?”
“I killed him,” Gemini said shortly. “Leela, we’re wasting time.”
“Strategize this, Chelsea. If you can just go and borrow some suit full of superpowers anytime you want to, what do you need me for?”
“To free one of my teammates, that’s all. You won’t be involved in the fighting, Leela. I promise.”
“Shit.” It was a long exhalation. “I am officially unhappy about this, okay?”
“Apparently you’re happier than me,” Gemini said morosely.
Dimples ghosted on and off of Leela’s cheeks, and Gemini’s suspicion that her sister was drunk resurfaced. But she couldn’t be, could she? She had the super-metabolism now.
“It had to happen sometime,” Leela said.
Within the hour, they were flying low over the Burrard Inlet in the Crucible Orb, the team’s primary vehicle. Leela was slouched on a passenger couch, wearing Gemini’s black suit. Picking at the fabric, she twisted in her seat.
“Are you okay?” Gemini finally asked.
“I guess. Being you is a little weird.”
“Imagine doing it full-time.”
“Well, there’s the fame, the public service medals, the fans, the perfect boyfriend...”
“The secret identities and the terrible hours,” Gemini rejoined, stung. “Not to mention the fighting and the injuries.”
“Yeah. I’m glad you guys have that healer...”
“Balm,” Gemini said.
“Though I guess he can’t fix everything.”
“No,” she said. The Orb controls shimmered briefly, obscured by tears.
“I’m glad you have Balm,” Leela repeated. “You know we worry sometimes. Mom and I.”
Gemini didn’t answer that. Am I supposed to apologize?
“Speaking of fighting, can you actually operate that old battlesuit?”
“It’s fine,” Gemini said. In fact, Sliver’s suit was tight around her hips, its outward appearance of roominess compromised by the power packs and equipment housed inside. Its manly form-fitted chest was mashing her breasts again; they were practically bumping her chin. “The controls are well-designed; a kid could fly it.”
“Controls for what?”
“Oh—flight maneuvers, guns.”
Gemini triggered a sequence and tiny silver needles erupted from the battlesuit's enlarged fingertips, homing in on one of the Orb's couches and puncturing the upholstery. “Guns.”
“Gross.” Leela arched her back, still tugging at Gemini’s unitard. “I’m never gonna pass for you.”
Privately, Gemini agreed. “Remember you aren’t wearing clothes: the costume is more of a skin. There are no pockets, you can’t fuss with your hair because of the mask, and don't scratch yourself. If you stand still you'll look aloof, otherworldly.”
“Riiiight,” Leela said dubiously. “That reminds me, I wanted to ask. We were born in Regina. But you’re always telling the press you come from some planet orbiting Castor...”
“Whatever. Why the lie?”
“You want people to know my powers are linked to a twin sister with a vulnerable little boy? What if my enemies found out I had a sweet old mom?”
“Oh. Have I mentioned lately I hate your life?”
“Every time you see me,” Gemini said. She’d meant to sound light-hearted; instead her voice came out brittle, and Leela’s head whipped around.
Gemini tensed, in the silence that followed, for the inevitable fight.
“Ah,” Leela said at last. “Well, I’m sorry about that.”
“Are you joking?” With Leela’s face hidden behind the Gemini mask, she honestly couldn’t tell.
“No. Actually, I’m pretty proud of you. Not scrapbook proud or anything. But . . . what you do. It’s important. And you’re good at it.” She laughed, sounding embarrassed. “I'll shut up--I can’t tell what you’re thinking in that get-up.”
"I was just thinking that about you," Gemini said. Praise from Leela--a watery sense of pleasure suffused her, warring with a suspicion that this was a trick, some tactic that would blow up on her the next time the two of them argued.
It’s the kid going away, she concluded—it’s shaken Leela up. She’s apologizing, cleaning house emotionally. Please, she prayed suddenly, don’t let her be suicidal.
Leela folded her hands in her lap--a visible effort to keep still. “So, what’s the deal? Tunnels? Booby-trap-a-minute electronics, idiot henchmen posted at every door?”
Gemini shook her head. “Purgatoire doesn’t go for underground warrens. He likes to have lots of civilians handy.”
“Hostages, right,” Leela murmured.
Gemini pushed away a memory from this afternoon—herself, bobbing powerlessly in the Pacific while mind-controlled civilians dragged her teammates into Purgatoire’s lair. “He charms people—that’s what he calls it: ‘charm’—into becoming his captives.”
“And you know where he is now?”
“Canada Place. We were on our way to apprehend him when they brought in the horsemen to distract us. Here, I’ve got the target on-screen.”
“Target,” Leela grumbled. The Crucible Orb brought up a high-resolution image of the terminal. The cruise ships had been pulled away from the dock, and the walkways were eerily devoid of tourists. Yellow police tape formed a perimeter around the building. “Aren’t the cops going to do anything?”
“No point,” Gemini said. “He’d charm them once they got within range . . . and then he’d have puppets with guns.”
“Great. So what’s our plan?”
“We take the Orb underwater, like so.” Making the vehicle’s bulkheads transparent, she brought the ship out of flight, entering the water silently. “With luck, we can get in from below.”
“And what exactly is this teeny tiny thing I have to do?”
The colour of the water deepened to green as they moved into the Inlet. Gemini turned on the Orb’s running lights. “Help me free Evangeline.”
“Which one is Evangeline?”
“Jesus, Leela, she’s Crimson.”
“Don’t snap.” Leela’s voice was maddeningly calm. “You told me everyone’s real name once . . . what? Five years ago?”
“Sorry.” Fighting a tremble in her hands—probably fatigue or low blood sugar, things that didn’t worry her when she had powers—Gemini brought up a team photo on Orb’s main screen. “Reading left to right: Crimson is Evangeline. Serpentine is Maria. Mortar and Balm are Rufus and Cray, respectively...”
“And Looking Glass is your dear sweet Powell. Okay, got it. Thanks for the review.” Leela fiddled with her mask. “Hey, shouldn’t you have back-up plans for everyone getting captured?”
“This is a contingency plan, sort of. It’s one they won’t think of.” Gemini shifted inside the battlesuit, trying to get comfortable. It had been so long since she’d lost her powers that she had forgotten how sensitive her skin could be, how every touch could set off a parade of sensations. The unyielding press of the battlesuit’s interior mouldings was creating bruises, unfamiliar, hard-to-ignore aches. The only thing the increased sensitivity that came with being powerless made better was sex. Her loins burned dully at the thought, a quick surge of rote horniness that rose and then dropped away.
She focused on Leela, who was staring out at the sea. In the pale glow cast by the Orb, even the polluted and litter-strewn underworld of Burrard Inlet seemed romantic. Lank plaits of seaweed caressed the hull, and schools of fish—probably toxic and inedible—swam past, their every move a whipsaw mystery. A seal nosed over to investigate them.
“The things you get to do,” Leela murmured, voice full of wonder. “Miracles for breakfast.”
Gemini surprised herself by speaking: “What was it like when Dodd said he was going to England? I mean—how did it feel?”
“I dunno,” Leela said. She was still watching the seal. “He’s been homesick.”
“He’s not leaving to punish me, Chelsea.”
“Do you still love him?”
“Maybe. When he first left, I was . . . a million mood changes a day. Stormy.”
“It came out of nowhere,” Gemini remembered.
“Yeah.” The black and white costume with its star-field pattern radiated cool competence. Leela’s voice was soft, thoughtful. “One second I feel sucker-punched, the next I’m celebrating the things I don’t have to put up with anymore. The petty irritations, you know? Two seconds later I’m forgiving, then I’m mad, then I’m crying . . .”
Gemini felt her mouth working, but no sound came.
“Are we here?” Leela asked. They had come under a scroll of shadow, moving into blackness.
“We’re under the pier. I’ll scan for warm bodies.” Leela leaned close to watch as Gemini scanned the structure above them. “There—that’ll be Purgatoire, and there’s my team . . .”
“They’re the green lights? So what are those pale pink dots?”
“Puds—I mean, civilians. People without powers.”
Blushing inside the clunky helmet, Gemini nodded. “He’s got them scattered around the building to make it harder to assault the place.”
“You think there's a route in from below?”
“Yes.” She tapped the screen, highlighting it. “You melt a corridor straight upward from this point.”
“And then?” Leela asked.
Gemini circled the brightest of the green lights on the display. “Crimson is immune to our powers. You’ll poke your head into the conference room and vapourize whatever restraints they’re using to hold her. She’ll get loose, I’ll fly in. She and I will mop up Purgatoire. Meanwhile you’ll get back into Orb and wait for us.”
“What if I free Crimson and he just zaps her again, or she’s knocked out . . .”
“It doesn’t work that way. Evangeline can’t lose consciousness; it’s one of her abilities. And she’ll have been thinking about counter-tactics ever since they captured her. Believe me, nobody takes out Crimson twice in a row.”
“I need to know this plan of yours will work, Chelsea.”
“It will,” Gemini said. She suddenly realized the voice coming through her mask was Sliver’s, high, crystalline and sexless. It was almost a child’s voice, and to her ear it sounded vulnerable, full of doubt.
“Okay,” Leela said. “Let’s go.”
They surfaced and Leela clambered out of the Orb, arms flailing until she got her footing and exhaled upward, melting them a tunnel. Everything thinned, dribbled, and then vanished, leaving a lumpy-edged corridor that led upward through the deck, and various building materials. Gemini couldn’t have done a better job herself. She felt hollow suddenly—redundant, unnecessary.
The team needs me, she reminded herself.
“The drips can be used as handholds as they harden,” she said. But Leela was already climbing up through the tunnel she had made, her spandexed ass swaying as she switched from grip to grip, moving upward.
Thumbing the battlesuit controls, Gemini flew up in pursuit of her sister. They ascended in silence, reaching the concrete floor just below the conference room.
“I’m not ready for this,” Leela said, voicing Gemini’s own thought.
“Melt the cement and soften the carpet just a bit, then push up and take a peek. We’re in the corner of the room... it should be nice and unobtrusive.”
“Should.” Leela sighed and the cement vanished. The carpet got stringy and thin. She poked upward, peered out . . . and did nothing.
“Free Crimson,” Gemini reminded her in a whisper. But Leela was gesturing for them both to descend, making choppy gestures and then climbing down so rapidly she almost fell into the water.
“Problem?” Gemini hissed at the bottom as Leela fell to her hands and knees, heaving. “You’re not going to barf in my costume, are you?” She tried to chuckle, to break the tension. Instead the sound came out forced, hiding nothing.
“No. Probably no. Um... Chelsea. Crimson can’t be killed?”
“She’s completely immortal. Why?”
“Just that... he’s cut her into pieces.”
Inside the battlesuit, all Gemini’s limbs went slack. The suit itself did not react; she remained in place, hovering before her sister.
“Oh.” The Sliver voice was definitely childish this time, almost a quaver.
“No civilian names,” Gemini said automatically.
“Looking Glass is up there, walking around loose. He can open dimensional gates, can’t he? Could he have brought in the horsemen? I’m not saying it’s his fault. Purgatoire must be... what did you call it? Charming him.”
The words sounded dim, like they were being drowned out by the babble of a crowd. All the louder voices were inside Gemini’s head: her own doubts and fears shouting recriminations and denials.
“Chelsea?” asked Leela, impatiently.
“We’ve been fighting,” Gemini said finally.
The mask—her mask, Gemini’s face—came up sharply. Then Leela pulled it off, revealing her pale face and wide, stunned eyes. “What?”
“Fighting. Over little stuff. For a couple years. Nothing important. He got remote, I stopped trusting him as much. We’d been trying to work it out.”
“But?” Leela asked.
“We . . . I had to leave him in the middle of a battle. It was about a week ago. I thought he’d just take a portal to safety, like always. But the perps we were fighting had neutralized his powers.”
“You abandoned him?”
“No--we rescued him as soon as we realized.”
“Was he hurt?”
“Hurt and angry,” Gemini said. “But we couldn’t have done anything differently. The Legislature was in session--government types were in danger, you know? Balm healed Powell up, but he was upset, and we... I might not have been all that sympathetic.”
“I bet. You need to work on your empathy skills,” Leela said, but her eyes were kind, her voice gentle.
What I need is to get back on task, Gemini thought. The others were suffering, just above them. But she kept talking: “The next thing I knew barbarians were all over Stanley Park. I thought I saw one of Powell’s portals, but I told myself I had to be wrong.”
“So... you’re saying Looking Glass is working with Purgatoire?” Leela said. “Of his own free will.”
Gemini nodded miserably.
“I should’ve thought about where your happy went.” Leela patted her absently, her palm making an almost-silent bong against the metal of the armour. “Chelsea, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t sympathize. I’ll cry and my tactical display will mist up. Is Crimson really in pieces?”
Only discipline and long habit kept Gemini from trying to rub her throbbing eyes. “What am I going to do?”
“Strategize anew, I guess,” Leela said. “Will the guns in that suit do any good at all against Purgatoire?”
“Sure,” Gemini said. “But what about Looking Glass?”
Leela scratched her nose. “How would you take him out?”
“Come on, tell me you haven’t been thinking about it.”
With a stab, Gemini realized she had. “He’ll be expecting me to try something non-lethal. To entangle him in the floor, or a partially melted chair.”
“You can’t do what he’s expecting though, can you?” Leela asked.
“No. So I’d have to burn him—hit him hard and...” As Gemini spoke, her voice thinned and got higher, but she pushed on through the sob. “ . . . hope Balm can heal him after.”
Leela nodded. “‘Kay. That’s what I’ll do.”
“I can’t ask—you hate violence.”
“I’ll hate it more if he’s loose killing people. Besides, he knows the truth about me and Mom, doesn’t he?”
Gemini nodded. “We never had secrets.”
“Okay. You bust in there and put a hole in Purgatoire. I’ll climb up behind you and get Looking Glass.”
“I’ll be right behind you,” Leela promised.
“All right.” Gemini toggled the suit controls, flew upward at low speed and broke through the softened carpet. Even after the darkness below the pier, the room seemed murky, lit only by computer screens and a single dim chandelier. Crimson was hacked into seeping, scattered pieces. Balm was dangling from the ceiling, chained with his eyes gouged out and his fingers broken, while Mortar slowly dissolved in a tank of antifreeze-pink liquid. As for Serpentine... the lower half of her body was simply gone. Her torso issued from mid-air, her body bisected by a blue-white ring that could only be one of Powell’s dimension portals. Her upper body jittered in a wild and grotesque dance; as she flailed she was trying to scream, but her voice was gone.
The room was filled with machines, and neither of the villains was in sight.
Somewhere in the midst of all this gadgetry had to be a device that was keeping Crimson from shifting to her energy state and reintegrating herself, Gemini reasoned. Turning her back on her friends, she began destroying Purgatoire’s equipment, driving a stream of needles into each unit of hardware, into every cable.
Battlecalm descended and her mind was suddenly clear. She noted that Purgatoire had found himself a new army. No low-tech rampaging hoard this time, either—an inter-dimensional viewer showed row upon row of German infantry, soldiers with bayonets and tanks and blank charmed eyes.
That’s where he and Powell are, then, Gemini thought—recruiting. Hopefully the destruction of their equipment would bring them back.
It was the work of an instant to destroy every machine in the room. And it worked. Crimson’s scattered pieces were already glowing a deep red when Purgatoire darted out of a blue-white portal, brandishing his Pandemonium Globe, a device that would subject every pud within its range to lethally terrifying visions.
Gemini was ready. She shot a score of spikes through the villain’s wizened hand. His fingers dropped open and the globe bounced to the floor.
They dove for it, Purgatoire with his uninjured hand extended, Gemini with her suit’s massive fingers splayed. The battlesuit fought the dive, though, pushing her away from the floor. She skimmed over her target, fumbling what should have been a perfect grab.
As the suit rigorously brought itself upright she watched, helpless, as the villain regained possession of his globe.
“Haha,” he squeaked. Beyond the door, people began to shriek. Purgatoire crawled upright, yanking needles out of his impaled hand with his teeth. “Not so fast, Mr. Giant.”
“Easy,” she said. His nose came only as high as her chest, but he seemed unafraid. “Don’t hurt anyone. You’ve got me.”
“Oh, I don’t got you yet, Giant.”
“This suit is impervious to your charms.”
“Then take it off,” said a new voice, behind her.
She let her gaze flick left, shocked at how hard it was even to look at Powell as he stepped through the blue-white portal. He'd gone from being her lover and confidante; he had become her foe. It was inconceivable.
“It is you, isn’t it, Gem? Come to bring me to justice?”
“I’ve killed for you,” she said softly. “I’ve all but died for you.”
“You abandoned me when it counted.”
“You knew the stakes—”
“There’s always something more important than me, isn’t there?” His mask was more mobile than hers—she could see pain in his face. For an instant she could forgive him anything, even this.
“Switch sides,” she told him breathlessly. “Glass, switch back. I’m begging.”
“Take off the helmet, Gem, or I’ll cut Serpentine in half. Do you remember . . . she was laughing when you guys came to rescue me? ‘Poor hapless Looking Glass, can’t get himself out of a simple jam’—”
“Glass . . .” She was stalling him now... but for what? Leela was nowhere in sight.
“I’m a joke to you all. You weren’t even worried.”
Leela can’t do it, Gemini thought, she just can’t hack the violence. Even now, at risk of becoming Purgatoire’s puppet, she found she almost admired her sister for that.
“Stormy,” she murmured. “One minute scared, one minute mad . . .”
“Helmet. Now,” commanded Powell, resolution settling into the features of his mask. He pulled the dimension portal taut around their friend, cutting a bloody line into her torso. Serpentine’s face wrenched; her forked tongue flicked out, and Gemini saw punctures in its spotted black and white tissue--in her distress, Maria had bitten herself. “Not laughing now, is she?”
“I give up, okay?” Gemini reached for the catch on her battlesuit’s helmet.
“You’ll feel better in a minute, Mr. Giant,” Purgatoire crooned, shoving the Pandemonium Globe up against her face as Gemini unlatched. She lifted the helmet, slowly surrendering...
And then Looking Glass was gone.
The carpet vanished from beneath his feet and Gemini heard him cry out as he fell, then splashed. Instinct took over: she backhanded Purgatoire with all the suit’s considerable strength, sending him across the room. The globe fell and she dropped a heavy desk on it, crushing it casually as she ran to the edge of the wide pit yawning in the centre of the conference room. Forty feet below, her sister was wrestling with Powell in the ocean, their distant thrashing forms illuminated by the greenish-white light of the Crucible Orb’s running lights.
“Hang on,” Gemini bellowed. “I’m coming.”
“No—save the team,” her sister’s voice echoed up amid splashes.
It wasn’t fair to leave Leela down there, but she was right. Gemini turned, driving a fist into the tank holding Mortar prisoner and leaving it to drain as she flew to Serpentine. Grasping her friend under one sinuous, scaly arm, she eased her up through the narrow bottleneck of the dimension portal. She nearly gagged then, as she saw the burgered flesh of her teammate’s legs. Something had been eating her.
She went to Balm, crushing the chains that held him with her armoured hands. The metal crumbled and it was oddly satisfying, more messily destructive than sighing things into sterile nothingness.
“Cray?” She whispered his real name, lowering him to the floor. “Cray, it’s me.”
“Gem?” He blinked bloodied sockets at her.
“Yeah. Can you walk?”
“Legs are busted,” he said. “Glass?”
“Taken care of,” she said, hoping it was true. “I know you’re injured, but Serpentine’s pretty bad. Mortar too.”
His jaw firmed, all business. “Crimson?”
She checked the red glow, finding it brighter and less diffuse. “Reassembling.”
He shivered slightly.
“Can you help the others if you can’t see?”
“Take me to whoever’s worst.”
She carried Balm to Serpentine’s side and moved his broken hands to their teammate’s heart, watching as he summoned a crackling halo of healer’s energy and directed it into her body.
As Gemini stepped back his blind face followed her. “Feels like war today, doesn’t it?”
“Sometimes that’s what it is.” It was a mantra for their bad days. It had never felt so true.
She whirled back to the pit just in time to see her sister climbing back up into the ballroom. She had Looking Glass over her shoulder, slung in a fireman’s carry.
“Are you okay?” Gemini asked.
“No,” Leela said, letting Powell fall to the floor with a thud. “I’m going to throw up after all. Getting hit is exactly as rotten as I remembered.”
“Thanks. It turns out hitting back doesn’t suck though.”
“I think I said as much when you were dating that abusive psychopath. . . ”
“You could work on being less smug, you know.” Shaking water off her costume, Leela nudged Powell with a toe.
"How did you take him out?" Gemini asked.
"Maybe a little."
"I put my hands around his throat, thought about the way he'd screwed you over, and just . . . squeezed. Eventually he went limp." Leela said. Her voice was colder--scarier--than Gemini had ever heard it, despite their years of fighting. Then she sighed. “I guess you have to jail him, huh?”
“He brought the barbarians here,” Gemini said. “Even if we could overlook what he did to all of us . . .”
“People died. Yeah. Well, you want my opinion, he deserves it.”
Misting up again, Gemini looked at her lover’s sea-soaked form. “So that’s it. Fifteen years of history. Broken.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Leela bent to bind his hands. “There was a time when I thought you and I would never speak again. People do surprise you.”
“This from the woman whose kid is going to be living on Greenwich Mean Time.” Still looking at Powell, she tried to draw breath. It felt as though something was lodged between her lungs.
Was that a chuckle?
Gemini examined her sister, suddenly suspicious. The mask hid every hint of an expression, but . . .
“You don’t drink champagne when you’re unhappy,” Gemini said at last, thinking back to her sister’s earlier intoxicated state.
“I only said you-know-who was moving to London,” Leela said.
“But when I asked—”
“You mean when you totally assumed that if he wanted to take my son to Europe I'd just let him?”
Gemini frowned. “You misled me.”
“You need to quit thinking I’m spineless,” Leela said.
“So . . . the kid’s staying with you?”
Leela gave her a goofy thumbs-up. “Seven days a week, twelve months a year. He moves in Monday after school.”
Gemini grabbed her with Sliver’s powerful hands then, pulling her sister in for a hug they could never have shared in civilian gear, for fear of gluing themselves together.
“You could kill a girl doing that,” Leela said when Gemini finally released her.
“Only a civilian.”
“You mean a pud?”
“You were never a pud.”
Leela laughed. “I’m a textbook case.”
“No,” Gemini said. “You’re extraordinary.”
A squeak interrupted them, and then a tentacle edged under the door. Leela tilted forward, mouth open, ready to attack.
“Don’t kill it—it’s just a police probe,” Gemini murmured. “They must have heard the battle.”
“Right.” She struck an overly heroic pose. “This is Gemini. The situation is under control. Send a containment thingie...”
“Unit,” Gemini whispered.
“Right, a unit to take the, um, the perpetrators into custody.”
As the probe withdrew, she turned back to Gemini. “You better plan on wearing that battlesuit for awhile, huh?”
“Oh, I’ll bounce back . . .” Then it sank in again: Powell a villain, Powell going to trial. The media coverage. And Powell just being gone, when he’d been there day-in-and-day-out for all these years. She thought fleetingly of their bed, his clothes hanging in their shared closet, all the things in Base Pacific that were his. Team equipment the two of them had built together, items they wouldn’t be able to get rid of. All those things, like ghosts, bringing up memories . . .
“Maybe we better melt-proof your apartment,” she said to Leela.
“Fuck. I guess so.”
“You know what?”
“I’m glad you get to be a full-time Mom again.” Another mood switch now, as the containment team bustled in to whisk Purgatoire away and Leela had to explain that Looking Glass was going into custody too.
As the police carried Powell away, Gemini’s heartbreak dimmed to something like numbness. In its absence she saw, to her surprise, that Leela was standing up straight, that she wasn't plucking at her uniform.
“Hey,” she said, “Can I get one more favour?”
“Don’t you want to know what?”
“No, actually. I trust you.”
She led Leela up a staircase, heading for the roof. “I’ve been thinking I may need to make a more expressive mask for my costume.”
“Gemini’s?” Leela asked. “Or this big metal shell?”
“Both, I guess. If my emotions are up and down for awhile, I’ll probably be using both costumes.”
“Will you tell the press it’s you in the statue suit?”
“No. I don’t want word getting out that my powers come and go. I’ll pretend there are two different heroes. Gemini and . . . I’ll need a second name for when I’m wearing this.” So much work, she thought. So many changes. Powell gone.
“Being you is pretty complicated, huh?” Leela said.
“Usually I don’t notice,” she said, feeling heavy, weighted down.
“Well, softening the masks isn’t a bad idea,” Leela offered. “Being inscrutable gets old.”
“Yes,” Gemini agreed, opening a fire door and bowing Leela outside. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Beyond the doorway was the city, its sky, above the office towers, full of police helicopters that chattered and vied for room with the news service birds. It was just dusk, and the streetlights were coming on in irregular patches, street by street. The air, warm and barely humid, smelled of the sea.
A familiar layer of sound—camera shutters clicking like locusts—rolled toward them as Leela stepped out into view. Wearing Gemini’s costume, she looked every inch the hero.
“Hey,” Leela took an uncertain half-step back from the cameras but her sister caught her before she could backpedal fully, nudging her out into sight. “Why am I out here?”
“For Momma's scrapbook.” Chelsea said. "Wave, Leela."
This story originally appeared in Girls who Bite Back: Witches, Mutants, Slayers, and Freaks.