The black-clad girl slid under the legs of the first trooper as he tried to shoot. A flick of the hand smacked him hard between the legs. She heard the strangled squall of pain, and the heavy thud of the man falling to the ground. She popped back to her feet and accelerated as bullets pockmarked the ground just behind her.
A quick turn, and a leap caught the bottom rung of a fire ladder. She pulled herself up to the first landing, then moved to the outside of the rail and jumped up, pulling herself to the next. By the time the pursuers had turned the corner, she was halfway up the twelve-story building, well out of reach of accurate fire. “Damn git. You two! Work north and call for backup, block the roads out of the district. You two, the same to the south. The rest with me, we’ll push her east. Start on the first floor. Carror\t and stick. Shoot one, offer a bribe to the others. Someone will crack. She’s a s good as ours.”
The grey armored men followed the golden armored leader to the base of the maze of towers that was called “The Rookeries”, due to most of those that lived here were desperately poor. The buildings stood up like rotted teeth. The brick facade curmbling and fallen from the concrete understructure. Ragged curtains fluttering from broken windows. Some boarded up with plywood to keep out the humid cold. The search went for hours, but the woman had disappeared like smoke. It was an angry group of officers that reported empty-handed to their equally angry captain.
Yellowjakket had pulled a set of jeans and a shirt over her costume, then joined the ranks in the halls as she worked down from the roof. She scooped some grit from the ground, and rubbed it in her hair and on her face and hands. Now properly grubby, she descended the stairs rapidly then moved onto the eighth floor, joining the throng in the market. The number of people made it impossible for the police to search every person as nine out of ten had no radio tag to identify them. Once out in the street again, she ducked back to the crumbling remains of a glassblower’s shop. Down in the basement was an entry into the sewers, and she sped through them back south into the maze of tunnels.
Yellowjakket slowed to a stop when two voices challenged her at a T-intersection of the sewers. “Holdit! Give us the word, mate”, laughed the young man in front of her. He had a pair of old green pants held up by a piece of rope around his waist, and a worn-faded green T-shirt that Proclaimed ‘Sex Pistols – London Calling’ on the front. His thumb on the trigger of a deadman switch was openly shown, as was the girl behind him with an AK-74. She held it loosely aimed at Yellowjakket. Her maroon goose down jacket a contrast to the silver-and-black of the assault rifle. Her Black capris pants covered her legs halfway down her calves, with long mismatched athletic socks peeking out of unlaced hiking boots.
“What’s the word you want?”, she asked the two with a smile. “Oho! She’s a right tricksy one”, the man said. “G’wan, yer good.” The two raised their weapons, the girl giving Yellowjakket a qucik wave and smile, then went to their posts once more. Yellowjakket sped through the maze of tunnels that were home to her and others who defied the authority. At a corner in the sewers whimsically called ‘diagon-tubely’, she angled left and slowed to a walk. Here the press of people was gone, only curtains along the sewer walls, showing where small caves called ‘homes’ had been dug out. She walked down four, and pushed the curtain open to reveal a small three room cave.
Stepping into the cramped first room/kitchen/den, She pulled the curtain shut behind her. Tapping a small light on the stove on, she dropped her backpack and continued to the left, into a small bedroom. The room had been hewed out of the loose earth, having pilings and a thick wood roof to keep the earth from sprinkling down. The bed was a mattress set on crates. The crates were open facing into the room, with each holding some clothing. The mattress, worn and collapsed, had a thick green-striped comforter for warmth.
Yellowjakket stripped out of her costume, and went back into the main room, and poured a pan of water. She grabbed a cloth and did her best to wash the sweat and smell off her body, before dressing in worn jeans and a baggy brown sweatshirt. She crawled onto the bed, and pulled the comforter over her head, losing herself to sleep.
Morning brought her awake with an uneasy start. She heard vague noises of people wandering around out in the sewer tunnel, but none inside the room. She uncovered, pulled on some work boots, then stepped out into the tunnel. The bright lights made her squint a moment, then she started back towards the entrance. The bustle of people moving to a new day filled the tunnel with sounds and smells. The scent of fried eggs had her mouth watering as she passed an open doorway. She just turned off of Diagon-tubely to the main tunnel when a voice called out, “G’day Sapphy, how have you been?” She slowed, and turned to the young man. “Hey Simon.”
Simon was older than her by a few years, with brown hair and eyes. He limped slowly to Sapphire, his left knee fused and half his foot having been blown off by the invaders four long years ago. His eyes lit up with mischief as he approached and gave her a warm hug. She returned it then stepped back. “I’m going to the front gate, my sister must have gotten up early for her shift today. She forgot to leave me breakfast.” “Musta been early, I din’t see her go by me place.” Sapphire smiled at Simon, then hugged him again. “She probably did. I’ll see you later, Simon.” He smiled and gave a wave, then turned to slowly limp back to the small grill he had set up.
She walked past other small homes with people cleaning their steps or readying for the day. Here in the tunnels, keeping things clean was a constant battle against the environment. Many of the sewers had been diverted so the rain water wouldn’t flood the living areas, but even the best walls leaked. So there was always a humid, faintly moldy smell in the air. Sapphire reached the T intersection and waved to the two girls on duty. “Binny, Susan, Have you seen Selene? I thought she’d come here early for shift.”
The smaller girl, Susan, shook her pale blonde hair. She looked up at Sapphire with one green eye and one blue. “Sorry Saph, not seen ‘er today. She’s prolly out with the others trying to nick a few things.” The other girl, Binny, shook her dreadlocks and stretched a coffee-colored arms our front palms out, fingers interlocked. “I’ve not seen her either, Sapphire. I’m about to end shift and didn’t see her go out with the …”, she stopped as a small child scrambled past screaming as a girl near the same age chased after him, a doll clutched in her arms. The two laughing children disappeared into the crowd.
“Hey, girls! You hear the latest? Control’s saying they nicked Yellowjakket last night!” Rodney Greyson came trotting towards the three girls. He stopped, placing his hands on his knees, out of breath. He looked up at Sapphire, and his face flushed a deeper red. “Oh bollocks. Saph, I’m sorry, I wanted…bloody hell I wanted to tell the girls…”, he just stopped, and watched the three. Susan and Binny looked at Sapphire, who had gone pale. “You’re sure? Control said that? You’re sure?”, Sapphire said, her hands clutching together at her waist. She twisted her hands, trying to deny his words. “You know Control. They announce all sorts of lies to keep folks under their thumb”, Rodney said. He looked away as he did, the transparent lie floating away like the fog of his breath in the tunnels.
“Saph, come her girl”, Binny said, and hugged her. Sapphire wailed, and broke away, running away from the group down the tunels and towards the surface. “Rodney, you git. You should have waited.” Rodney looked down the tunnel as Susan slapped him on the shoulder. “I know, I know. Lost her twin she has.” “Triplet you git. She’s a triplet. An’ she’s now a only”, Binny told Rodney. She looked down the tunnel where Sapphire had disappeared. “Damn girl, don’t go up today. Stay down”, she said to the echoing footsteps.
Sapphire ran until her lungs burned. She turned and ran, turned and ran, following the tunnels deeper southward, towards Londinium, or London, to those that remembered the changes. London had been part of a bustling Great Britain, when the changes knocked things askew. The government morphed from Parliment, to one controlled by monsters in human form. Control, the not so ‘secret’ arm of the Government, was tasked with capturing political dissidents. The ‘other’ part of their mandate, was to locate children with an affinity for magic, that ability to influence the world via means external to a person.
Those children were taken to Zaherenholt, where they were tested. Children who passed, were then broken via brainwashing techniques, and turned into dedicated students of the ‘Arts’. The others. The ‘lost’, who were too strong-willed, or too impotent to be full mages, were drained of their abilities, and used as fodder for experiments in necromancy and physiomancy, the molding of flesh and bone. Other ‘powered’ children, called ‘metas’ because their abilities were internal to themselves, were culled from the populace, and used as the ‘lost’ were.
These young children were initiated into the ranks of Control when they passed their final tests. As each person reached this point according to their personal ability, the ages in the ranks varied widely from around fourteen to twenty. In every case, they were cold, dedicated, and convinced of their own superiority over the masses. A true, yet twisted meritocracy.
She collapsed against the tunnel wall, sliding to a sitting position with a wet splash. Sapphire curled her legs up, wrapping her arms around them and buried her cries of pain on her knees. She sat and wept for what seemed hours. It had all been so simple growing up. Her mom, Saffron Christian, had been the first Yellowjakket.
Safron/Yellowjakket had been one of the first to take up the fight against the magocracy that grew up in London. She was an American who’d married an Englishman, and emigrated with her husband. Yellowjakket had been in the London papers for years after that. Fighting crime, uncovering conspiracies. It had read like a comic book. Then she became pregnant, and retired. She had triplets, Selene, Serinda, and Sapphire. Saffron, seeing the potential they had, started training them as soon as they could stand, to become heroes. Their father objected, and a nasty, prolonged divorce happened. Their father died two years afterwards, having drank himself to death after losing his children.
Control appeared for the first time the year they were born. It started as the magocracy worked to solidify its hold on the United Kingdom. Control was tasked to hunt down political dissidents, and ‘educate’ them to the new system. Eventually Control’s power spread to finding children to add to the mages as apprentices. The mages were still trying to solidify their hold on Great Britain, as the people, and the meta-humans, fought the system.
Metahumans, or metas, operated internally, rather than influencing the environment like mages. Their abilities came from themselves, rather from their ability to influence the environment around them. This made their powers faster to trigger, while mages took time. The problem mages had was the source of the power is the same for each. Quantum physics. If the mages cut the meta ability to reach to the quantum level, they were effectively cutting off their own link as well. So each meta had to be handled individually rather than all collectively.
Sapphire slowly pulled herself back together, but the empty ache remained. She was alone now. In the most literal sense of the word. He mom had died stopping a bombing attempt by Jihadists in downtown Londinium four years after her husband died. Selene, being the oldest triplet by a few minutes, took over as Yellowjakket. Sisters being sisters, they decided to ‘suit up’ with her and for a short while the fought side-by-side as Yellowjakket, Dove, and Shock.
Their first forays as meta heroes made them realize that all the training in the world doesn’t mean a thing in real combat. You have to get into it, and survive it. Then the training makes sense. As their efforts began to actually make a difference, the found the news reports online and in paper slowly slanting their stories against the metas. Instead of allies against corruption and crime, they became the sinister force behind it. Control began a systematic campaign to kill costumed heroes. Serinda was the one to come up with the idea of all three of them becoming Yellowjakket.
“It’s perfect! We split up, stop trouble, and confuse the hell out of Control. So long as we’re not caught on camera at the same time, we can make it look like one person. It’ll drive them barmy.”