Hannah sat at her small dining table savouring the rich aroma coming from the mug in front of her and the dull ache in her muscles from last night's training session. Looking out of the window she smiled as she sipped her coffee. The sun was burning off the mist hanging over the river and it looked like it was going to be a fine day. Unbidden an image popped into her head of her training instructor and how her tight leggings emphasised her muscles. She knew that thoughts like that were wrong and she pushed it away with a shake of her head before swallowing the last of her coffee. Rising, she walked over to the sink and washed her mug, leaving it to dry on the counter. With a quick glance around her small apartment she checked that everything was tidy before walking over to the door and grabbing her jacket off a hook. Slipping it on she paused only for a quick look in the mirror to check that her hair was tied back correctly and that she didn't have coffee on her face before opening her door and stepped out into the corridor. Pulling it shut behind her she heard the reassuring click of the lock engaging.
The walk to the CTA station took a leisurely ten minutes through the well maintained park. Looking around she saw the cleaners hard at work, maintaining the parks and pathways. Designed by Praetor Keyes and Praetor Berry the robots were a common sight, carrying out the menial work in order to allow the citizens of Praetoria to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Boarding the train to Nova Praetoria she let her mind wander. She was too young to remember the Hamidon Wars but both of her parents had served, her father as a soldier and her mother a nurse, so she and her sister grew up hearing stories of how close humanity had come to falling and how it was only due to Emperor Cole's valiant actions that they had been saved. It was therefore no surprise that both she and Claire had gravitated to roles that served with Claire following her mother into nursing and Hannah joining the PPD.
Lost in memories she looked up in surprise to find that she was standing outside her precinct. She had got off the train and walked all the way to work without noticing. 'Bad Hannah. Daydreaming again.' she chided herself. Her Captain kept telling her that she lived with her head in the clouds and perhaps he had a point. Sighing she walked into the station. Pushing the door to the locker room open she was greeted with a blast of humidity, the smell of hot showers and wet hair and a wet towel hitting her in the face. "Morning Draper!" she heard Rogers shout as laughter filled the room.
"Geez Becky.“ Hannah replied, dropping the towel into a bin by the door. "Did something die in that thing or have you used it to wipe your ass again?"
Laughter rippled around the room as Rogers flipped her the bird, choosing not to answer. Smiling and joining in the laughter Hannah walked over to her locker, opened it and pulled out her uniform. Looking around as she changed she felt a rush of affection for her teammates. They were good people doing good things and she was proud to work with them. Hannah never registered the way her gaze lingered on Rogers as she pulled her shirt on and she closed her locker door before following the others from the room. As she walked from the room she had no inkling that by the time the day was over she would never see many of them again.
Two hours later Hannah was hunched over her terminal reviewing the day’s reports, trying to prioritise them and so she never heard Captain Harris enter the squad room. “Listen up,” his voice boomed, carrying over the chatter in the room and silencing everyone. Hannah looked up from her screen and registered the frustrated look in Harris’ eyes. “Good. Now that I have your attention a riot has broken out in North Aetna.” Harris paused for a moment to let his announcement sink in before continuing. “Precinct seven have been deployed and we are being mobilised in support. Now get your kit and be in the vehicle bay in ten minutes.” Looking around the room he looked like he wanted to say more but simply shook his head, turned and stalked out of the door. Almost immediately an excited chatter filled the room as people got to their feet and headed to the door. Hannah rushed to her locker, feeling a mix of adrenaline and anxiety. She did not enjoy being deployed to these sorts of incidents, feeling that there was too much chance of something going wrong and people being hurt but at the same time she understood the necessity of the deployment. These riots were dangerous. They put people’s lives and livelihoods at risk and she could not help but think that the resistance were behind it, as misguided as they were.
Pulling her tactical gear from her locker she started strapping it on, starting with the shin and thigh guards, then the body armour and finally her gauntlets. They were a recent addition to the team’s armour and she paused for a moment to admire them. Developed by Praetor Keyes they housed a small field transmitter in the back of the left glove which, when activated would create a coherent energy shield the same size and shape as the shields she was used to using. The powerpack was good for twelve hours of continual use before needing recharging and it weighed almost nothing. It was much less strain than carrying the old, heavy shields and best of all it could be turned off when not needed.
“Come on Draper.” She heard Rogers shout from behind her “Stop woolgathering!” Reaching into her locker she grabbed her tactical helmet before slamming the door shut and running from the room, followed by Rogers. “Sorry, sorry. I’m coming!” Running into the vehicle dock she saw that the rest of the team were already climbing onto the vans with Harris standing in front of them. “Rogers. Van one” he shouted, pointing to the van on the left. “Draper. Van two.” Hannah and Rogers glanced at one another as they ran to their respective vans. “Good Luck.“ Rogers shouted “Last van back buys the team beers!” Hannah laughed and waved before ducking into the van. Squeezing into her seat she looked at the officer sat next to her. Peterson was a big man, well over six feet tall and heavily muscled. He was that big in fact that he almost took up half of her seat along with his. “Shove over.” She muttered and elbowed him in the ribs before yelping in pain.
“Body armour kid” Peterson laughed “Don’t forget the body armour!”
“Yeah, whatever, just give me some space.”
Peterson just laughed as the van rolled out of the dock.
Twenty minutes later they pulled up just north of Cole Medical Centre. As she got off the van she could see the crowds about a hundred meters away. There appeared to be a couple of hundred people there with a thin line of PPD officers in tactical gear standing in front of them. She could hear some shouting and chanting but from what Hannah could see it seemed quite peaceful. As the rest of the team climbed out of the vans she saw Captain Harris standing nearby. The two groups gathered around him as he started to issue orders.
“Right. We will be holding them here. Precinct Seven are going to hold the centre and Van one will take the right and Van two the left. There is support coming from Imperial City and a squad of seers are being deployed. Your task is to hold the crowds here. Do you understand?”
A chorus of “Yes Sir” rose from the team and they started jogging toward the crowd in the distance. Pulling her helmet on but leaving the visor open Hannah drifted toward the left side of the road as they ran and found herself running alongside Peterson.
“This is not how I planned my day going!” she muttered just loud enough for Peterson to hear. Peterson laughed in reply “Any day where we get to put the resistance down is a good one!”
Reaching the crowds Hannah and Peterson activated their shields and joined the very end of the line. Being on the end of the line with Peterson to her right Hannah felt quite sheltered and took a moment to gather her breath before looking around. As riots went this was an oddly peaceful one. Whilst the crowd were chanting and there was some shouting no one was pushing or throwing anything. Strangely the crowd seemed quite passive.
Gradually Hannah realised that the mob appeared to be exclusively made up of women and children, many of them listless and dull eyed and many of them huddling together.
“What’s going on?” She asked Peterson.
“Great.” he grunted, sounding disappointed “This isn’t a riot. It’s just a bunch of beggars scrounging off the state again.”
“But everyone is looked after. Why are they begging?” Hannah asked, confused.
Peterson looked at her for a moment before replying, contempt tingeing his voice. “You don’t get it do you kid? These aren’t proper citizens like you and me. These are the scum that live in the sewers, the ones stealing our scraps. They don’t deserve our pity or help, they just need to be put back where they…” Peterson paused, looking off into the distance with his eyes widening slightly. Hannah, having recoiled from his rant looked over her shoulder, expecting to see something terrible. At first she could not tell what he had seen; there was no army or crowds charging toward her but then she realised what had piqued his interest. Two figures were ducking into the alleyway at the back of the Cole Medical centre, disappearing from sight before she could register any details.
Looking back at Peterson she saw a predatory smile start to spread across his face. “We should check that out. They could be… um… stealing medicines.” Not giving Hannah a chance to reply he turned to the officer next to him. “We’re going to check something out. You cover us.” The officer nodded in assent and Peterson looked back at Hannah before turning and jogging toward the alleyway. “Well come on then” he called as he passed her.
Running after him Hannah shook her head briefly. Something didn’t feel right but she couldn’t let him go alone. As they reached the alleyway they slowed to a walk. Cautiously edging forward and raising her shield Hannah looked into the alley but could see nothing obvious. Graffiti covered the walls and a line of industrial trash containers stood against one wall with loose trash littering the floor. In the corner the remains of a broken cleaner lay huddled against the wall. There was no sign of the two figures but the alley bent to the left in the distance, continuing out of sight. Glancing at Peterson she slowly started to walk down the alley, carefully checking behind the bins, anticipating an attack at any moment. She could hear Peterson walking casually next to her and glanced over at him. He appeared relaxed and strangely, had a look of hungry anticipation on his face. She didn’t have time to figure out what was going on with him so carried on down the alley. Reaching the corner they still hadn’t found the two figures so Hannah cautiously peered round the wall. The alley continued on for another ten meters and ended at a closed door. A narrow shaft of sunlight crept between the tall buildings and highlighted the two figures who were crouched at the door facing away from them. They appeared to be engrossed in opening the door and were clearly unaware of Hannah and Peterson as they stepped around the corner.
“What do we have here?” Asked Peterson loudly, causing the two figures to jump to their feet and spin to face them. Hannah’s eyes widened slightly as the two women turned to face her. They were not, as she had expected, filthy, dressed in rags or armed but they appeared to be average citizens that she would expect to see in her local coffee shop. The taller one had blond hair cut into a short bob and the shorter had longer brown hair. Both wore almost identical looks of fear and confusion.
“A couple of lowdown sewer rats?” Peterson asked, a predatory, hungry smile spreading across his face as he stepped forward. The women tried to back away, pressing their shoulders into the wall as the taller one shook her head frantically, her mouth opening and closing soundlessly.
“Draper” Peterson snapped without turning to look at her. “Go cover the entrance. I’ll deal with these.”
“What? No. They’re not… not..” Hannah stammered in confusion, gesturing to the women. How could he not see that they were simply two people in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Turning to face her Peterson growled at her, an animalistic look of hunger crossing his face as he lifted his left hand to point back down the alley, his shield narrowly missing her face “Get back there now!”
Suddenly a memory leapt unbidden into her mind; a memory of her prom night and Scott Jones’ drunken fumblings. She had seen the same look on his face back then and with an icy clarity knew what was about to happen. “No!” She exclaimed, stepping toward Peterson. “This is wrong. We’re getting them out of here.”
Peterson’s expression turned to rage and contempt; perhaps it had always been there and she had simply not noticed. “Don’t you tell me what the fuck to do kid. Get back down that fucking alley before I sort you out too!” he roared, pushing her hard in the chest with his free hand, slamming her back against the wall.
Hannah felt something click in her mind and time seemed to fracture. Afterwards all she could recall was images, like still photographs fluttering in her mind.
The two women standing together, holding one another’s hands tightly. Not in fear but in an intense desire to protect a loved one.
The animal rage on Peterson’s face turning to shock as the edge of her shield hit him in the throat.
Her visor spinning into the distance, sunlight glinting off the shattered plastic.
The wet splash across her face as Peterson’s fist shattered her nose.
The loud roaring filling her world.
Peterson’s knee collapsing inward under her heel.
The wall rushing to meet her as his elbow drove into her left bicep.
Slowly the world came back. The roaring filling her ears resolving into a throat tearing scream. In her confusion it took her a few moments to realise it was coming from her. Next came the pain. Fire bloomed across her face. She could not see out of her left eye and she could feel a warm, sticky wetness covering her face. Her left arm hung limply, loosely by her side, agony radiating from her shattered humerus and her right foot was twisted strangely inward. Falling backward against the wall her surroundings slowly came into focus. The two women were still there, huddled in the corner staring at her in horror and Peterson… Peterson lay in a heap on the floor, his mediporter smashed on the ground next to him; the unnatural angle of his neck and blank, empty eyes staring accusingly into the distance telling her everything.
“Ohgod. No, no, nonono!” Hannah began to shake and sob uncontrollably as the enormity of what she had done struck her. Collapsing to the floor she could not say how long she sat there but slowly one thought grew in her mind until it encompassed everything. She had killed him. She had killed him and she had to get away. Numbly reaching up with her right hand she pulled her shattered helmet off and dropped it to the floor, blankly watching it roll away until it came to rest against Peterson’s leg.
Forcing herself to look around she focused on the two women. “Run.” She mumbled. When they didn’t react she tried to shout but it still came out as nothing much more than a mumbled groan. Still it must have got through to them as the taller one stood up and pulled the other to her feet. Uncertainly they stepped toward her.
“No.” Hannah moaned, raising her good hand to try and stop them. “Go… Now.” Pausing, the taller one nodded once, sharply and stared at her for a moment before turning and banging on the door. A few seconds later the door opened and they disappeared inside, leaving the door wide open. Glancing around Hannah tried to think of what she should do. She should report this, tell Captain Harris what happened, tell him it was an accident. But a seed of doubt bloomed. Was it an accident? She knew what Peterson had intended to do, had she done it deliberately? Would they believe her? She didn’t know what to do… And still the door was invitingly open. Seeing no other option she slowly, painfully dragged herself to her feet. Dragging her useless foot behind her she limped to the door and into the darkness beyond; never noticing the figure perched on the roof above her.
Staggering into the dark passage she pulled the door closed behind her. The two women had disappeared but she did not care. She was exhausted, hurt and close to collapse. Leaning against the wall her legs gave out and she slid limply to the floor, collapsing to her right to try and avoid hurting her arm any further. Lying there, giving into the darkness and pain, she heard a faint scratching in the distance. She tried to lift her head but it was so heavy, too heavy. The scratching came again.
No, not scratching, voices, in her ear. Voices, a voice, on her comms. Slowly her brain made sense of the noises.
“Miss Draper, can you hear me?”
“Uh, who… who ‘at?”
“Time for that later Miss Draper.”
“Don’ call me 'at.” She slurred. Even in her confused state she knew that her teammates would call her by name. This had to be a stranger.
“Right. So what should I call you?”
“I need something to call you if not your name.”
The thought slowly pierced the fog in her brain that this person was trying to have a conversation. A stupid time for a conversation but still a conversation nonetheless. Trying to look around she couldn’t see anything beyond the faint glow coming from her shield.
“Huh!” she muttered, a sudden thought coming to her. “Ri… Riot… Riotshield. Call me ‘at”.
“Okay, well, Riotshield. My name is Calvin Scott and I think I can help you.”
Sometimes epiphanies came in great dramatic, world shaking moments and sometimes they came in quiet moments of doubt in small coffee shops in Kings Row. This was not one of the first but for Hannah it was no less world shaking. Sitting nursing a double strong black coffee her leg jiggled nervously, making the stool she was sitting on rock slightly. She had been invited to the beach and she didn't know what to do.
Her gaze flickered restlessly back and forth between the passing pedestrians and the small bag resting on the counter next to her coffee. The prominent Icon logo proclaimed the contents to be the highest quality clothing, designed to withstand everything from high fashion to a direct hit from Lord Recluse; although in this instance it contained nothing more than a beach towel and a brand new emerald green bathing suit.
The reason for Hannah's indecision came not from the invitation itself; it would be wonderful to visit a beach and see the sea, but from the circumstances of said invitation.
Things had been rather chaotic on Striga Isle when she, Sifka Fantoma and One Knight Only had been helping Fleabag clear out some council and she hadn't really been paying much attention to her surroundings until she suddenly saw the moon rise over the ocean. Instantly captivated she could only stop and stare, enraptured by the vastness of the ocean and the beauty of the moment. When Knight had offered to take her to the beach she had automatically accepted; anything for the chance to experience that moment again. Reluctantly getting back to work she only half paid attention to the conversations going on around her. She remembered something about her needing a bathing suit unless she wanted to go nude and then the conversation ending up on the subject of Lyre being gay, which made her uncomfortable. In Praetoria being gay was the big no-no. It was unnatural and put the survival of society at risk. There were laws in place to prevent it and perpetrators were sent to the BAF for re-education.
Finding herself disturbed but oddly intrigued by the conversation she made her excuses and left. Intending to go home and forget about the whole thing she was at a loss to explain why she then ended up in Icon looking at bathing suits. Flicking through the rack her mind unpicked the earlier events, a slight frown creasing her forehead at the memory of Knight's invitation and the subsequent conversation. She had the strange feeling that she was missing a joke. If Knight were a boy she would have said that he was flirting with her but that would be ridiculous…
Hannah's eyes widened in realisation as a blush started to creep up her neck.
Glancing around uncomfortably, her hands clenching and unclenching, she wrestled with the sudden realisation. Why would Knight be flirting with her? She wasn't gay, after all she'd had boyfriends. A memory of her last boyfriend, Scott Jones, and his ridiculous attempt at drunken prom sex flickered across her mind.
"Huh, not a good example." she muttered, shaking her head. No, she should go home and forget the whole stupid idea. It wasn't who she was and it would be unfair and cruel to lead anyone on.
Twenty minutes later she wandered slowly into the Roasted Row, the icon bag tucked furtively under her arm, almost as though she were hiding it. Ordering a double of the strongest coffee they sold she sat on a stool by the window, dropping the bag onto the counter.
'What am I doing?' she muttered, staring at the bag. Slowly she forced herself to think about the idea. What if Knight was right? What if she was gay, what should she do? How would her friends react?
Sitting there, staring at the people passing by she considered the concept, exploring the idea of walking along the beach with Knight at her side, watching the sunset. Suddenly she sat up, her eyes widening, her mouth forming a shocked 'O' and a furious blush colouring her cheeks. In her mind it wasn't Knight at her side, it was 'Meda and the image made her heart skip a beat. Staring out of the window she tried to catch her breath as a profound realisation hit her and a feeling of absolute rightness washed over her.
Yeah. She was gay.
'Fuck it!' she muttered. All traces of nerves gone and a determined expression crossing her face, she lifted her chin, daring the blush to go further. Jumping from the stool she grabbed the bag and strode from the shop, steam rising lazily from her forgotten coffee.
Waking with a gasp Hannah sat bolt upright, looking around the dark room frantically, her breathing ragged and her heart racing. It took a few moments for her to realise where she was and her breathing began to slow. 'Great' she thought 'another fucking nightmare.' Looking down in the dim light she studied figure sleeping peacefully beside her. 'Meda was lying on her front, facing away from her with her figure silhouetted in the dim light. She could just about see the slow rise and fall of her shoulders and gentle fluttering of her wings and sighed in relief. At least she hadn't woken her this time. Moving slowly she carefully pulled the thin blanket up to cover 'Meda's back and slipped quietly from the bed. Padding naked into the next room she lowered herself into the chair by the window and stared blankly out past the rain sleeting down the window, the tops of the skyscrapers of Steel Canyon shadowy hills beyond. She had hoped that after they had finally stopped Calvin Scott her nightmares would have ended but they still haunted her.
She had been in Paragon City for only a month when it all started. She had been lucky enough to meet some good people who had helped her get settled and registered with the city. They had even helped her get this apartment high in one of the tallest buildings in Steel Canyon and things were starting to look good until one evening she received an email from an unknown sender. Opening the email she saw it contained a video file and four simple words. 'HE PLANNED IT ALL'
Opening the video file with a rising sense of dread she saw a familiar alleyway appear on the screen. The camera was situated high above the alley, above the door which was burned into her mind, and it was clear that the holder was on the roof over the door. As she watched the two women ran round the corner into sight. Stopping suddenly the blonde haired one looked back round the corner whilst the other waved to the camera holder. Turning suddenly, the blonde tapped the other woman on the arm and they both ran to the door, glancing behind them as they did. The camera panned down to show them kneel before the door before panning back up just as two armoured figures came round the corner. Instantly recognising them as Peterson and herself she watched in horror as the scene unfold in silence, her memory providing the commentary.
Unable to look away she watched her world unravel as Peterson slammed her against the wall, his shield still outstretched to the side. On the video she stood in shock for a moment before lunging forward with her shield, the edge of it hitting him in the throat just under his helmet. Peterson staggered back slightly, his right hand going to his throat, before he lunging forward again, a vicious hook with his shield tearing the visor from her helmet and sending it spinning away. Immediately following up with a sharp right jab she saw blood splash from inside her helmet as her head jarred back. Unconsciously touching her nose she watched, rapt, as Peterson rained blow after blow on her, driving her back against the wall. She saw her arms fall limply to her sides as her shield disengaged and even knowing the outcome she still felt the cold grip of fear. Suddenly Peterson was flung backwards as she drew her left arm up to her chest and reactivated her shield. Landing on his knees she ran over to him as he struggled to stand, stamping savagely on his right knee. She gagged as she saw it collapse in on itself, bending completely in the wrong direction and she saw Peterson roar in pain as she swung punches at his helmeted head. Staring in horror, the implications of her actions crashing through her mind, she watched as she suddenly bent down and ripped his mediporter from his belt, throwing it to the floor and stamping on it, sending pieces of the small device flying before lunging at him again and raining more punches down on his head.
Lashing out with his shield he pushed her away from him and pulled himself upright, balancing on his uninjured leg. As she dived toward him again he turned, taking all of his weight on his left leg, and crashed his right elbow into her left arm, the armoured point striking her in the bicep. She saw her arm drop limply as the bone shattered and she spun with the impact, her face striking the wall.
Almost bouncing off the wall she saw herself spin on the spot and her right hand lash out, ripping the visor from his helmet. Continuing her spin her right foot whipped round in a deadly arc, hitting him on the point of the chin. Even on the small video she clearly saw his head snap round unnaturally and she knew exactly what had happened as he fell lifelessly to the ground.
Horrified, with tears pouring down her face, she couldn’t look away as the video continued.
She saw herself standing over Peterson’s lifeless body; watched as she stamped down, over and over again, reducing his face to a bloody mess with his head flopping lifelessly with each savage blow. Suddenly herself in the video lifted her head and howled in pain as she saw her right ankle snap with the final blow, the foot collapsing inward as she staggered back into the wall before falling to the floor. As she fell to the ground the two women stood, the blonde glancing briefly up at the camera, and stepped toward her before stopping. She saw herself gesture weakly to them before they turned away and opened the door, stepping through it. Slowly dragging herself to her feet she watched as she limped toward the door, blood still pouring from her face. Disappearing from sight the video abruptly ended.
Back in the present Hannah sat staring blankly out of the window, lost in the memory. She jumped suddenly as ‘Meda’s arms enfolded her from behind; she hadn’t heard her come into the room. Feeling her cheek lean against hers she leant into the embrace.
“Another one?” ‘Meda asked softly, moving around to sit on her lap.
“Yeah,” Hannah replied, pulling her close as she shivered slightly. “I… I was hoping they would have stopped by now.”
“They will. It takes time but they will.” ‘Meda replied, such absolute certainty in her voice that Hannah had to believe her.
Feeling the warm glow of relief blooming within her she snuggled closer and ran her hand gently down ‘Meda’s back, marvelling at how soft her skin was and savouring in the warmth. “Are you sure?” she asked, just to prolong the moment.
“I am. Now it’s too early for this. Come back to bed.” Rising she pulled Hannah to her feet.
Hannah glanced out of the window as she stood. The rain had stopped and the golden light of the sunrise was casting long warming beams between the buildings. It looked like it was going to be a lovely day. An idea suddenly struck her and she giggled mischievously.
“What?” ‘Meda asked suspiciously as she pulled away and ran over to the chair where her clothes lay. Grabbing the belt that Alec Parsons had made for her she pulled it on, flinching slightly at the touch of the cold metal against her bare skin, before skipping back over to the window.
“Hannah… That’s not… Are you crazy?” ‘Meda asked, her voice rising incredulously as Hannah pulled the window open, having disabled the safety catch when she first got the belt that allowed her to fly.
“I’ll guess we’ll find out!” She laughed before joyously throwing threw herself, naked, out of the window. “Catch me if you can!” She shouted, disappearing from view.
‘Meda shook her head in despairing exasperation before launching herself after her, her laugh echoing around the empty room.