Dedicated to Chris Meadows
Clear skies, hot jets, and good hunting, R_M.
Jetgirl stared. “Why are you being so blasé about all this? I mean, these people are in danger and if she’s taking everyone hostage to find some lost sprocket I can’t imagine we should let her find it.”
“It’s bad form to leap into local affairs uninvited,” Hearth replied, lightly. “And they’re looking for the ‘Silver Spoke Cog,’ not a sprocket.”
“I will wire you ten thousand dollars today if you can correctly define the difference between a cog and a sprocket, right here and right now, without looking it up on your phone first.”
“Well, I know Cogsworth sold cogs and Spacely sold sprockets on the Jetsons. How much is that worth?”
The alternate universe the Sentinubal has tagged ⎇001JW first saw parahumanity emerge decades before. These new super heroes and villains, epitomized by the group called Justice Wing, quickly captured the public’s imagination and love, and for years they managed to only grow in popularity. After the wholesale destruction of the Apocalypse Agenda, where one of the founding members betrayed Justice Wing and devastation struck every continent on Earth, that popularity melted away. Now, the unenhanced prosahumans and non-super parahumans have put far more pressure on Justice Wing and other heroes, with no sign of that pressure letting up. This is Justice Wing In Nadir.
Founded and empowered by a transdimensional Skyquake over Empire City not long after Paragon and other heroes first emerged, the Pentad of Guardians became a mainstay of Empire City for decades. Five heroes, closer than family, had been brought together to fight for the right and ultimately to save the world. Now, years after the Apocalypse Agenda, the four remaining members of the Pentad have mostly scattered. Between their lost member weighing on them and their apparent purpose having been fulfilled, Shooting Star, Topaz, Hearth, and Jetgirl must figure out if there’s still a need — or a place — for the Pentad of Guardians in a heroic world in nadir.
Oghapogue, New Mexico
The woman was beautiful – soft and sensual, sleek and flexible. She had long, thick, white hair that was unnaturally course and treaked with red along the ends. That hair contrasted with the light red fur on a pair of animal ears atop her head, a white tuft along the top of each ear. Her ice blue eyes sparkled in the sunlight. Her slightly tanned skin glistened with pink undertones and a silvery accent that made her seem to shimmer. She wore black thigh-boots over white leather pants and a pirate’s blouse with a red sash as a belt, with six red-tipped white tails flowing behind her and fanning out, seeming to shift and pose of their own accord like background dancers with her every move. “You fools should feel honored,” she fairly purred to the crowd trapped in and around the park gazebo. Those bystanders — hostages, really — were surrounded by automata that were as much thaumaturgy as technology – clockwork pirates of copper and pewter, moving fluidly to keep the civilians in sight. “Few of you silly humans can claim to have been captured by the legendary Kit O’Six-Tails herself,” the woman continued, even as she swung a silver and black braided whip around in the air, cracking it high and causing six white sparks to fly off it in the process. “And if you want to live to tell the story you’ll stay right there while we find the Silver Spoke Cog!”
The people on the bandstand were scared – naturally enough, really – but not too scared. This kind of thing happened in Oghapogue, after all. On the other hand, two of the ones off to the side of the gazebo weren’t scared at all. This was far from their first rodeo. One was a handsome Korean American man in a salmon colored sweater over a collared shirt and jeans, a dusting of white at the temples of his short black hair. The other was the very picture of the tanned California blonde, though in a blue polo shirt and white slacks these days she looked more like the very picture of a California soccer mom. She wore a pair of blue framed glasses to complete the look, and was touching the stem as she looked around.
“Got anything?” the man murmured.
“They look like robots but they’re not,” she murmured back. “I’m seeing quasiflux spectrum distortion. That’s more you than me, Dorian. Are they magic?”
“Not by that name, Keira,” he said, softly. “They’re more a hybrid of approaches, but that’s hardly a surprise.”
Keira was Keira Holt. Dorian was Doctor Dorian Hwan. Much longer ago than anyone would believe to look at them they had become two of the earliest wave of super heroes to appear in the wake of Paragon’s emergence. They were two founding Excelsiors, and more importantly they were two points of the Pentad of Guardians — the warm healer known as Hearth, and the high flying Jetgirl!
Not that the Pentad of Guardians was really a thing any more. After all, you needed five for a pentad. Besides, the Pentad had kind of outlived their purpose after the Apocalypse Agenda. That had also been the end of the Excelsiors, and while most of the surviving Pentad were at least still part time heroes, they were under Justice Wing’s banner now. Honestly, none of the remaining former Pentad even lived in Empire City any more.
Still, it was no shock that the two had been traveling together. They’d remained close. Today, Keira was attending a trade show on behalf of Holt Aerospace. When she sent her former teammates a group text saying she was going to Oghapogue, Dorian had begged to come along. Keira asked him why, but he only answered “because I can hardly miss this!” Keira had no idea what he was talking about, but then that was par for the course. Dorian did love his little jokes.
And because they were both long time super heroes, Keira had been ready for something to happen. Really. Two ex-Guardians traveling together in a strange city? Once supervillains would have been inevitable. Even though those days were long since past, it still wasn’t a surprise when a criminal showed up. Naturally she’d prepared for just such a thing – she had an online connection to a nigh-radar invisible floating platform she called Sky-eye, using an onboard learning system to configure and control her jetsuit in the process. Those platforms had everything from sensors and gear loadouts to automated air support and energized ordinance if she needed them. Again – not her first rodeo.
Admittedly, this time she hadn’t so much prepped and loaded the platform as ‘rolled her eyes and put in a transfer order.’ After all, prepared or not she wasn’t twenty-four any more. Villains usually had something better to do than show up on her business trips. So Dorian’s aside had startled her. “What do you mean it’s not a surprise?” she murmured back. “You know about these?”
“Of course. They were in the notes I emailed you. You did read the notes, right?” Dorian sounded innocent.
Keira took a deep breath. “No, Dorian. I didn’t read your notes. I never read your notes, because your notes never make sense.”
“Well, who can argue with that? So naturally you researched the area. Kept up with their situation. Knew what we’d find here. Or at least checked in with Justice Wing and got a sitrep, right?”
Keira snorted. “I’m here to present a keynote to the aerospace industry and get a few Air Force contracts signed so Boeing will buy my new engine mods. No, I didn’t do the homework. This isn’t a mission. I’m not here to get my hands dirty. Besides, you know I don’t keep up these days. I’m mostly retired.”
“Meaning Jetgirl only logs… what, thirty hours a week in the air? Forty?”
“Five hours a week if I’m lucky. Shut up, they’ll notice us.”
“No they won’t,” he murmured back. “I warded us against sound and crafted a seeming so we just look like scared bystanders. Like I always do.”
Keira paused. “Then why are we whispering?” she said, no louder.
Dorian shrugged. “We always do.”
Keira paused. “I guess we do. I wonder why–” she shook her head “–stop distracting me. We’re surrounded by death-tinkertoys and a catgirl pirate.”
“Kitsune aren’t cats. They’re vulpine. Japanese yokai, generally, though in the last decade they’ve shown up more and more in North America. I thought you were an anime fan.”
“I am. And the next time a foxgirl shows up on Mobile Suit Gundam I’m sure I’ll learn all about them. So what’s her deal?”
“Kitsune are varied and I hate to overly generalize,” Dorian said, lightly–
“…Dor, I swear to God…”
“–but if I had to pigeonhole them, I’d call them trickster spirits. Technically divine type parahuman – humaniform paramystical spirits in this case – but many are well versed in the arcane.” He paused, then nodded at Kit O’Six-Tails. “That one would appear to be a pirate who uses wind-up footsoldiers, if that’s helpful.”
“Of course she does,” Keira muttered. It was going to be one of those supervillains.
Dorian frowned. “Only five hours a week? You really did stop getting your hands dirty.”
Keira took a deep breath. She didn’t like to dwell. “Why are you being so blasé about all this, anyway?” she snapped. “I mean, these people are in danger and if she’s taking everyone hostage to find some lost sprocket I can’t imagine we should let her find it.”
“It’s bad form to leap into local affairs uninvited,” Dorian said. “And they’re looking for the ‘Silver Spoke Cog,’ not a sprocket.”
“I will wire you ten thousand dollars today if you can correctly define the difference between a cog and a sprocket, right here and right now, without looking it up on your phone first.”
“Well, I know Cogsworth sold cogs and Spacely sold sprockets on the Jetsons. How much is that worth? And hm. Can you discretely launch those perimeter posts of yours, send them down from Sky-Eye and set them around the park. We should–”
“I don’t have any loaded,” Keira muttered.
“…you always have those loaded.”
“Well, clearly not.” Keira was flushed. She should have had them loaded, but she hadn’t really done any preflight work on the Sky-Eye platform before they left. It had been a few months, honestly.
“Oh, well. I’m sure that’s fine. Jet–”
Keira frowned as new information scrolled across her glasses. “Hang on. I’m picking up energy buildups.” She frowned. “Wait – some kind of… multispectral surge in the local environment? Still in the overall Quasiflux Spectrum, but different, somehow…”
Dorian paused, then smiled and took out his smartphone. “I’m going to film you for a bit. It won’t end up on the net or anything, but Teeny would never forgive me if I didn’t capture this for posterity.”
“Enough!” Kit O’Six-Tails screamed, almost out of nowhere. “If you idiots can’t find the Silver Spoke Cog, I’ll just have to get one of these kind volunteers to help us!” She cracked her whip three times, each one causing six silver sparks to pop in the air. “One of you must have seen it!”
“Go time–” Keira said. “Keep us cloaked.” She double tapped her glasses’ stem. “Sky-eye, Lock and deploy for–”
“Hold on,” Dorian said. “Let the miracle happen.”
Keira fairly growled, turning to glare at Dorian. “What are you on about? Huh?”
Dorian nodded off in the distance. “Here we go. And please. Savor the moment.”
Keira stared, then looked in the direction he was nodding.
There were six people who had clearly just run into the area. Five of them were wearing dark grey jumpsuits cut like a fighter pilot’s jumpsuit, each suit being accented in a different color – red, blue, pink, yellow, and black. A sixth woman was in more of a dark grey military cut coat over uniform pants, accented in purple. The first five had stopped in a Vee formation with the brunette woman in the red-accented suit at point. “Oh, Kit O’Six-Tails,” that lead woman said. “You try and try and try and it’s still back to Davy Jones’s Locker for you! Consider career counseling!”
“Troopers!” Kit O’Six-Tails shouted back, looking somewhere between delighted and annoyed. “I can’t say I’m surprised to see you – any more than I’m unprepared for your arrival! Clockclicks – stop them! Heavy Clockclick deploy!”
The automata turned and swarmed towards the six ‘Troopers,’ who began to fight them with some pretty decent acrobatic martial arts. Keira didn’t recognize the style. While they fought, a barrel shaped bronze automaton – much larger, with venting steam and weapon barrels festooning its chest – seemed to spring up from the ground, laughing. “Say hello to Grunk!” the new war-bot shouted with a surprisingly human sounding voice. “Time to thump Troopers!”
“Wait – Troopers?” Keira asked. “The Terrific Transposin’ Troopers? I thought they were down in Haven Bay, Louisiana.”
“Those were the first Transposition Troopers,” Dorian said. “There have been… twelve? I want to say twelve other teams since then. Something like that. It’s been literal decades since the original–”
“Oh like I can keep up. So who are they?”
Dorian just smiled.
“The bot wants to bash,” the wiry man in the black accents said, ducking under a clock-click’s attack and doing a spin kick that knocked it out of the way.
“He said he wanted to thump,” the woman in yellow snapped, diving forward into a roll then knocking two clock-clicks to either side as she sprung up. “That’s not really bashing!”
“Sorry, bot-brain! We’re certified thump-free today!” the Red trooper shouted. “Go for transpose!”
“Ready!” all six shouted, jumping or cartwheeling into position – the first five back into Vee formation, posing with their right arms bent in front of them. The purple-jacketed one was to their side, crossing her arms in front of her.
“Toggle turbine! Up to speed!” the first five Troopers shouted, wrist-disks appearing on their wrists with spinning lights in their different colors while they did a fast kata. With a surge of light and energy the five leapt up into some kind of polychromatic vortex, whirling spirals of energy surrounding them. Their jumpsuits burst into white light which then seemed to get hit by missiles of their different colors, exploding into a warp effect which left them in new color coded uniforms accented in white, with heavy white bracers on their arms and heavy white greaves on their calves. Their heads were then enveloped in white, becoming matching helmets with black visors over their eyes and white plates over the rest of their faces, landing in formation down on one knee, their arms arched back behind them, the last of the white energy becoming stylized pilot’s scarves around their necks.
Keira stared. Dorian’s smile grew.
The sixth woman’s wrists both flared purple, some kind of gadget appearing in the light. “Turbocharged Tactical Transposer!” she shouted, doing a more elaborate kata in front of her, purple light trailing her hands. “Toggle turbine!” With a burst, another vortex appeared, this one like a wind tunnel appearing around the woman with purple bands shooting past her and the wind tearing her uniform off and blowing it away, leaving her in a pure corona of concealing light, only to be contained by purple and black armor plating sweeping down to cover her and a helmet snapping over her face, with stylized goggles instead of a visor. She lept high into the air, doing a backflip, and landed with her own energy forming a purple scarf. “Up to speed!”
“Blazing across the sky like a star!” the red Trooper shouted, doing a new kata, her poses and form suggesting wings and flight. “Turbine Red!”
“Soaring high while bringing evil low!” the blue Trooper shouted, doing his own kata. “Turbine Blue!”
“Keeping watch from afar!” shouted the pink Trooper as she did her kata. “Turbine Pink!”
“Sleek as a shadow across the sky!” the black Trooper shouted, doing his kata. “Turbine Black!”
“Coming at you from all angles!” the yellow Trooper shouted, doing a kata as well. “Turbine Yellow!”
The armored purple Trooper stood tall, drawing a curved blade as part of a fast sword drill. “Raining justice from above! Violet Turbine Bombardier!”
“Jets hot and clear skies!” the six shouted, doing a final group kata. “Transposition Troopers Turbine Triumph!” Behind them, plumes of red, yellow, grey, blue, pink, and purple smoke burst from the ground, followed by an explosion of fire and light.
“…you… are… shitting… me…” Keira said, still staring.
“Ah ah. Language,” Dorian said, lightly. “I am recording this, after all.”
“That’s my uniform! That’s Jetgirl’s uniform!”
“Well, really it’s more of an homage,” Dorian said. “I mean, the gauntlets and boots – they’re more suggesting turbines rather than actually being turbojets the way you–”
“They have the scarf! The white-on-color pattern’s my uniform pattern! And… did someone set up a pyrotechnics display in advance!? How? Why?!”
“I don’t know what’s more amazing,” Dorian said. “The fact that you didn’t know about this, or the fact that I was absolutely certain you didn’t know about this and I was right.”
The Turbine Troopers, in the meantime, had leapt into action. Literally, as it worked out. “Turbojet-jump!” Turbine Yellow shouted, leaping and doing a midair flip, her greaves flaring with light to give her a boost and then again when she kicked a clockclick warrior back, making it burst into smoke.
“The bad guys clean themselves up?” Keira asked, still stunned. “What is–”
“Keira, please. You sound like a tourist.” Dorian’s smile was wry at this point.
“Josh, look out!” Turbine Red shouted, doing a spin-kick that dusted a clockclick warrior before throwing her arm forward. “Turbine turboshooter!” That caused a blast of red energy to fire from her gauntlet, dusting another two of the machines before they could ambush Turbine Black.
“Thanks, Boss!” Turbine Black shouted, kicking into the air and flying up. “Let me return the favor! Turbine turboshooters!” His own gauntlets fired white-corona’d black pulses which took out more of the clockclick warriors.
“…why is the red one in charge? If they’re ripping me off why is the red one in charge?”
“Red’s always in charge,” Dorian said, apparently surprised it would be a question. “It’s just how the Troopers work.”
“…this is trademark violation,” Keira said, shaking her head in continued amazement.
“It’s a compliment, Jet. And you’re hardly the first. Not long ago there was a magical based team – their uniforms looked a lot like mine. There was even a whole team based on Paragon only their logos were twelve point stars instead of thirteen. They’re not ripping you off. You inspired them.” He shrugged. “Besides, have you forgotten Ant’s Law?”
Keira felt her heart stop for a moment. She looked away, almost angrily.
“Keira?” Dorian pressed.
“…when you’re surrounded by absurdity, embrace the absurd? That was always a stupid law.” Keira didn’t like thinking about those days. Not any more.
“Well, I can’t argue with that. So how do you spend all your time, anyway? Engineering projects? Testing new materials? Pushing the hardware envelope?”
“Is this really the time to talk about this?” Keira snapped. “We’re in a fight, here!”
“No, for right now they’re in a fight. We’re cloaked.” He shook his head. “Keynote speeches and contracts? You really have turned into your mother.”
Keira paused, then slowly turned to stare at Dorian. “Oh my God, Dor. Really?” She didn’t even try to keep the hurt out of her voice.
“I don’t want to say that. It’s a terrible idea. But I’m a doctor, Jet. A healer. When I see a wound, I treat it.” He shrugged. “Sometimes that involves cutting it open.”
“And I’m wounded? How? When?”
“When you let yourself sit in a chair so long you got bedsores.”
“I have responsibilities.”
“Your business is thriving, mostly despite you. The more time you spend in the boardroom the harder time your management staff has actually doing their jobs. That’s not you.”
“My name’s on the building.”
“Your soul’s in the sky. Or at the very least covered in grease and holding a wrench. But don’t worry about it. It looks like there’s at least five replacement Jetgirls right over there. Six if you count the armored one, though she doesn’t really fit your uniform pattern scheme.”
“Our job’s done, Rath. Urizen’s gone. Just like–” Keira’s voice cracked on the last, just a touch, and she lost the words.
“But we aren’t gone,” Dorian said, gently. “At least I’m not. And do you honestly think Ant–”
“Shut up,” Keira said, softly.
“After all that… that’s when your flight time started dropping, right? After we got through that horrible… after all that… where did Jetgirl go?”
Such a simple question. Where did Jetgirl go?
Keira turned back to the fight. It was easier than coming up with an answer.