Party smiled and patted Kobra's back. "I know, I'm sorry."
"I'll tell you what Gee, you always have us worried. Especially with that storm." Frank added and handed Gerard a glass of water.
"So?" Dr Deathdefying asked.
Poison took a gulp of water and sank onto the couch. "It's a bit of a long story, but I did find out what you're after D."
Gerard nodded. "A girl. She's the one that shot..." Party paused and ran his hand through his hair. "Well yeah, she's the one I'm after."
Jet Star grumbled and Kobra leant against Ghoul for comfort.
"I hate it. We aren't the Killjoys without him." Mikey whispered.
There was a reverent pause as each man thought of the friend they had lost.
"That's not all." Gerard spoke. He looked up at his crew, frowning. "Her name's Hypertonic, and she's the next Scarecrow. Korse is training her up."
The three men exclaimed. Dr D sat silently and contemplated the turn of events.
"Toxin is her short name. She's only wielding a Transfix-and-Trash, but the fact that Korse has got her on a Spitfire means that he's serious. I've overheard a lot and I'm willing to bet that he'd go to a great deal of trouble to keep this one alive."
"How could you hear them? I thought I told you to keep your distance." Dr D pointed out.
The Killjoy leader sighed. "Like I said, it's a long story."
"You'll need this." Acid said, flipping a knife through the air. His head was currently buried in a heap of zonerunner weaponry, stuffed into a closet. "And this." he added, throwing a lighter over his shoulder.
Toxin caught the metal object and placed it in her slowly growing pile of necessities.
"Oooh I'm so unbelievably tempted to give you this!" he grinned, yanking a machete out of the junk.
Hypertonic raised an eyebrow and shook her head at him. "I think not." she mumbled. "Thanks for the rest of the shit though."
Numbing Acid frowned and placed a hand on her shoulder sympathetically. "Honey it aint all bad. Things will turn out for the best."
The girl stared at his hand like it was something dead and removed it from her shoulder disdainfully. "Don't touch me." she hissed and swept out of the room.
Acid watched her go, pity tugging at his heart. "They get to them all in the end." he whispered sadly. "Every fucking one."
"Hey Dr D?" Party popped his head around the door to the broadcast room.
The man placed his finger against his lips and placed a track on the air. He hit the speaker button, announced the song and then turned back to his visitor.
"Gee, what's going on?" the man smiled.
The Killjoy leader tapped his foot and frowned. "Can you get a message to the sentinels Harley has posted between zones 1 and 2? I want them to contact us if they see either Korse or Hypertonic headed into the zones."
The doctor nodded and then raised an eyebrow at his friend. "You know you can't let this new Scarecrow get to you. We knew that Korse was going to replenish the BL/ind stock sooner or later."
"Yeah," Party shrugged, "but this time it's personal. That bitch got Bob, and I cant just let it go."
D sighed heavily and rubbed his forehead. "I know that you don't want to see it this way Gee, but zonerunners get killed every day out here. The Fabulous Killjoys have been lucky so far, until Spider Bait you haven't lost a single man. Even though it seems unfair, death is around the corner for us all. We just don't know which one."
"But she's a fucking amateur D!" Party cried, slamming his fist against the doorframe. "He was one of the best in the zones and he got taken out by a fucking drac freshman, on my watch. She isn't even a Scarecrow yet and she ghosted him!" he sighed and closed his eyes. "She nearly got me the other day, it was so close..."
"Go get some sleep Gee." Dr D ordered. "You can't keep plaguing yourself with "what ifs" and "maybes." What's done is done, and the fact that it was Toxin is the way that fate works."
Party Poison nodded and slipped back to his own room.
"Fuck fate." he whispered to the oncoming night.
"Fuck fate." Toxin hissed, slumping onto her bed. She stared at the ceiling, blaming it for the sudden turn of events.
Her foot stung where the Head had inscribed their mark and she curled her toes between the sheets in discomfort. The word "mine" etched into her skin made her blood boil. She wanted to take a knife and peel the inked flesh from the soul of her foot.
"Don't think about it." she whispered, rolling over and pressing her face into the pillow. "Just concentrate on what you have to do."
Tomorrow she would begin Mission Assimilation, her one chance at taking out the Killjoys and saving Anton. Toxin couldn't bear to think about what would happen should she fail, and so she just focused on succeeding.
"I am Hypertonic." she whispered to the dark room. "I am the apprentice of Korse; the greatest Scarecrow in California." her small voice echoed around the empty room. "I am going to ghost the Fabulous Killjoys, and nothing can stand in my way."
Renegade was slumped on the couch when the door opened. He looked up wearily, mentally exhausted from the monotony of his life imprisoned. The frown of annoyance gracing Hugh's forehead smoothed out and he broke into a grin when he saw who the visitor was.
"Abbey!" he cried, leaping up and wrapping his arms around her.
Toxin let herself be crushed to the man's chest, but didn't lift her arms to return the embrace. "Hello Renegade." she said cooly.
The rebel immediately sensed something wasn't right. He held the girl by her shoulders and searched her blank eyes for an explanation. "Babe? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Everything is fine." her flat voice replied.
"Fine? You've got to be fucking joking Abbey, just look at yourself!" he cried, gesturing at her BL/ind suit and black hair. "Who are these bastards turning you into?"
Hypertonic shrugged. "A Scarecrow, I guess."
Renegade had to pause and let this information sink in. Adrenaline shot through his system, mingling with the rage twisting inside him at the thought of such a thing.
"No." he growled, shaking his slightly. "Understand me when I say that you will never be a Scarecrow. You're too good for these mongrels!"
Toxin blinked at his outburst, only slightly noticing the fear in his eyes. "What you think doesn't really matter." she pointed out. "I'm going out on my first mission tomorrow. You cant stop me any more than you can stop them."
"Abbey, tell me what's wrong!" he shouted at her.
"I came to say goodbye, I wont be back for a few days." she continued in a deadpan voice.
"I love you, so if you don't tell me what's wrong with you right now I'll-"
"Anton..." she sighed and placed a gentle hand over his on her shoulder. "I've given up."
The dark haired man softened, pulling her towards him. "What do you mean?"
Her starless eyes met his and she cupped his face. "I can't fight them anymore Anton. It's not worth it. I thought I could beat the system, but I've seen what they can do. There's no point struggling anymore."
A tear dripped down the rebel's cheek and he hugged her tightly, pressing tender kisses on her cold lips. "You can't stop now, you need to get out of here. I want you to leave, you've gotta escape this place. There is a reason to fight, you just wont see it." He stroked her head and pressed his lips against her head. "I'm not getting out of here alive. Save yourself, there's nothing holding you back."
Toxin shook her head and disentangled herself from his arms. "No." her words were devoid of emotion, completely BL/ind. "There is no reason to argue. I can't beat the system, I can't run away. The Head will win, the zonerunners will fall. You will be the last one left, I can assure you of that."
Hypertonic walked to the door and paused before she left. "I love you too Anton, for better or for worse."
"You know what you're doing?" Korse placed a heavy hand on his apprentice's shoulder.
She nodded. "Yep, I'll buzz you when I've reached the junction."
"Don't stick around with him for two long. You need to get moving before he radios the rest of the Killjoy's."
Toxin rolled her eyes. "I know. We've been through the plan like ten times. Short of a change in the weather or a surprise ambush, the mission will go smoothly."
The Scarecrow paused, hand still on her shoulder. He tried to think of something to say that would sum up his mess of thoughts. The unfamiliar protectiveness that threw off his composure was trying to surface. Rather than show his weaknesses the man blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Remember, when you're in this disguise you are Hypertonic and you need to act like her. BL/ind agents are meant to be mean."
The teenager gave him a level look. "I can do mean, especially now that I've been taught the definition of cruel."
Without another word Toxin accelerated out of the tunnel and into zone 1.
As she drove, she reviewed the plan. Korse had sat her down in front of a map of the zones and explained to her what was going to happen. In her head she could see the spider-web lines that represented roads splayed out across the table. After an hour of directing, redirecting and repeating once more, the Scarecrow has gotten her to memorize the path she needed to take. But even with the GPS on the Spitfire, Toxin was worried about getting lost.
And that wasn't even the hard part. The whole plan weighed mostly on chance, and seeing as luck wasn't running with Abbey Palini she was right to worry. Not to mention the hardest part of the whole operation was the first bit, which Hypertonic had to do on her own.
She sighed heavily, feeling anger slowly build up in her system. Mission Assimilation couldn't start unless today went well, and the outcome was resting heavily on her inexperienced shoulders.
'Thanks Korse,' she thought, 'for fucking nothing.'
In the back of her mind Abbey was surprised at the venomous thoughts circling her head. She had never felt so much hatred, which was being directed at BL/ind, the Scarecrow, her parents, the Killjoys and even Anton to some extent. A lot of the hatred was also for herself, making itself known by the snide voice gnawing at her conscience.
Rather than let doubt get to her nerves, she began to concentrate on what was happening.
Toxin was fast approaching the mountains signaling the end of zone 1. Acid had tuned the engine and she was blown away by the amount of power it contained. The speedometer had been rendered useless because it didn't have digits that went this high.
'Better slow down.' she thought as the Spitfire was swallowed by the mountains cold shadow.
As she passed through the dark canyon, Toxin kept an eye open for scouts. She noted the flash of colourful fabric with relief, sure that they had seen her.
"Now go tell the Fabulous Killjoys, I'm sure they'll want to know I'm around." she muttered and broke into the sunlight of zone 2.
Hypertonic had to admit that Korse's plan was a good one, assuming that it worked. He was relying on the fact that the sentinels in the canyon would tell the Killjoys about her presence. The Scarecrow was confident that they'd send one of them in to trail her. He was also banking on the idea that Part Poison didn't like his crew rushing into things. Korse knew after years of chasing them, that they were cautious.
"Okay Spitfire, I need to get to the boarder of zone three using the main highway."
The touch screen blinked open to a coloured map of the desert. "Route Guano selected." the automated voice announced. "Continue along current road."
Hypertonic did as the machine asked, starting to feel a little exposed under the blank sky.
The road was in decent shape, although there were sections where she had to decelerate hard to avoid crashing into a broken patch of tar. Although she had to concentrate on her surroundings and keep an eye out for random zonerunners, Toxin was distracted by the abandoned buildings crouched here and there along the route.
'I wonder if anyone uses these.' she pondered, passing a petrol station half blown up. 'It's sad seeing so many houses that were once homes falling apart.'
"At junction halfway into the zone proceed straight ahead." the Spitfire interrupted her thoughts.
"Uh, yeah ok. Thanks." she replied, kicking herself mentally for bothering to thank a computer.
"Party, we've got a message from the scouts in the boarder mountains." Dr D announced, rolling into the lounge room.
Gerard looked up for the magazine he was reading and sighed.
"More dracs?" Frank asked
"Nope, the Spitfire." he replied.
There was a tense pause amongst the men, broken by Party zipping up his boots. "Where is she headed?"
Mikey frowned. "Are you sure you want to go after her this soon bro?"
Gerard slipped his mask over his eyes and patted his pocket for the keys. "I'm not going to fight Toxin just yet. I want to know what she's doing first." his tone was neutral, but they could all tell he was had conflicting emotions.
The Doctor looked at Ray who shrugged and nodded. Kobra and Fun Ghoul didn't say anything.
"She's moving along Guano, although we're not sure her exact location."
"Well then," Gee replied, heading for the door, "I better not let her get too far ahead."
Hypertonic looked in her rear vision mirror and saw a speck traveling about a kilometer behind her.
"Hello Killjoy." she grinned, and checked her speedo. The Spitfire was going along at a steady pace, not fast, however the car didn't seem to be gaining on her.
'Looks like Korse was right.' she thought. 'They are cautious.'
"Zone 3 boarder in two kilometers." the automated voice piped up.
"Excellent." she replied and began to slow down. Toxin selected the radio transmitter on her screen and opened up her broadcast to all channels. "Korse, I've lost my target and I've gone too far." she cried, faking the fright in her voice. "I'm down on batteries and I need help!"
She slowed to a complete stop and pulled off to the side of the road, hopping off the bike.
"Here Killjoy, come get me."
Gerard was trailing the Spitfire as it came up to the boarder into zone 3.
"Where you going Hypertonic?" he growled, watching the white figure. She wasn't traveling fast, only a conservative speed. He was keeping pace easily, trying to stay back far enough to not be noticed.
'Well she can't have spotted me yet.' he thought. 'If she had I doubt Toxin would be going this slow."
Suddenly a voice crackled over the radio.
"Korse, I've lost my target and I've gone too far." Party stared at the speaker, a grin pulling across his face. "I'm down on batteries and I need help!"
"Stupid Scarecrow." he crowed happily. "Didn't you teach your fledgling to use the radio properly? You could have at least told her to use BL/ind wavelengths."
Up ahead he saw the Spitfire slow down and pull off the road.
"Looks like luck is running with me today." Gerard smirked. "I know I said I was only tailing, but why pass up an opportunity like this?"
He could see that Hypertonic was off the bike and looking for something in the back compartment. His foot slammed down on the accelerator and he sped towards the small figure mercilessly.
Toxin could hear the engine of a muscle car approaching fast. She glanced up from the boot of the Spitfire, where she had been "looking" for something, to see the Killjoy's car heading straight for her. It wasn't slowing.
"Shit!" she cried, leaping out of the way.
Gerard saw the BL/ind agent look up and swear. He was going to run her over, but she flung herself away from the bike and ran towards the desert. He swerved sharply, trying to get a good hit but missed her by barley a foot.
The Trans Am screeched to a stop in a cloud of dust and Party Poison got out of the car, guns raised.
"That was not part of the script." Toxin hissed, watching the cloud of dust warily. She was annoyed at herself for being naive enough to think that this would go smoothly.
Hypertonic was taking cover behind a saltbush, although she knew that twigs and leaves wouldn't do much to deflect a laser beam.
"May as well come out now Sugar!" the Killjoy shouted.
Toxin gasped as she saw the dust settle. It was Party Poison himself. The flaming red hair was a dead giveaway.
'Best shot in the zones, fan-fucking-tastic.' she thought.
"If you give yourself up now I'll be lenient and shoot you in the head." he growled, swinging around slowly. "Because if I have to find you myself I wont be so kind."
Although Toxin couldn't see his eyes, the set of his mouth sent shivers across her skin. All of a sudden Korse's plan didn't seem so foolproof.
"Hide and seek it is then, Toxin." he shouted.
She bit her lip. 'He knows my name. Just how close was he that night? What did he overhear? Ugh, this is such a mess!' her thoughts swirled around in panic. 'It's going to be fine. All I need to do is reach the Spitfire, and head towards the junction. It's going to be fine-'
"I see you." The gravelly voice spoke triumphantly.
Toxin looked up to see Party Poison leaning over the saltbush. She looked up the barrel of his ray guns and made a mental note to kick Korse next time she saw him.
Gerard jabbed at Hypertonic with one of his guns and she cringed back against the ground. Her pupils grew large, focused on the barrels. Regardless of the fear twinkling in the lime of her eyes, he could tell by the small twist in her lips that she was calculating something.
"Don't even think about it Sugar." he snarled.
She looked up from the guns for a moment, staring at his face intently. Behind his mask he could feel her gaze bore into him. Gerard couldn't help the tingle of agitation that went down his spine, and he just prayed that her intense stare wasn't brainwashing him somehow.
"Tell me where Korse picked you up and what he's using you for." he snapped. "If you answer my questions I'll let you live." Party lied.
Slowly the girl's face turned into a snarl and she spat at him vehemently. "I'm not telling you a thing, vermin."
Gerard rolled his eyes and fired a laser beam into the ground, an inch from her head. "I will kill you if you don't give me what I want." He leant closer. "And trust me, I'll enjoy it."
Suddenly Poison felt something hard connect with his jaw and he fell backwards into the dirt.
The Killjoy leader leant down, jeering at Toxin.
"And I'll enjoy it."
The anger pent up inside her released and she drove her foot up under his jaw. He gagged slightly and flopped backwards onto the sand.
Hypertonic leapt up from the ground and ran to the Spitfire. She grabbed her ray gun, which had been sitting innocently on the seat. A bright beam of heated light whizzed past her head and she spun around, firing two shots towards Party Poison. He ducked to the side and avoided both.
"I should have wrung your neck the other night when I had the chance!" he cried, keeping his guns trained on her head.
"Oh please, you don't have the guts to kill someone with your bare hands." Toxin retorted, aiming back at him.
The Killjoy narrowed his eyes at her. "You walked twice, once in the tunnel, and again in that house. I'm not letting you go again."
Hypertonic let a laugh burst from her lips. "You, kill me? Wake up and smell the gasoline Party! You're friend Spider Bait was a pushover, just like you." Toxin was amazed at how easily the insults rolled off her tongue, laced with poisonous contempt and distain.
"You're arrogant, just like your master." he pulled a crooked smile. "BL/ind doesn't care about you. Trust me, no one will mourn you when you're dead."
Abbey felt his words wheedle their way behind her defenses, planting seeds of doubt inside her. "Pft, I'd sooner commit suicide than be taken out by the likes of you!" she replied lamely.
Party laughed. "In that case I might just take you home. I'm sure my crew would love to repay you for what you did to Spider Bait."
"Oh yes, your dear Killjoys." Hypertonic forced a smile onto her face. "Don't worry Party Poison, I'll make sure you're friends join you in hell. Say "hi" to my conscience for me while you're there!"
She fired at him. One beam went astray, but the other smacked the fiery haired man in the head. However the shot only knocked his mask from his face.
Toxin stared, confused at the revealed face, before falling backwards to avoid being hit by his return fire. As her head hit the ground the only thought that she could hold onto was 'I know him, how do I know him?'
Gerard saw something flash in his opponents eyes as she fell back. Toxin hit the ground hard and didn't move.
"Like I said - arrogant." he sneered, thinking she was dead. "I told you I'd kill you-"
"Hey Party," her voice interrupted his victory speech, "guess what?"
Gerard immediately trained his guns back on her still form. A deranged laughed began to fill the air.
'What the fuck?' he thought.
Suddenly Toxin flipped into a crouching position, aiming directly at him with her ray gun.
"You missed!" she giggled, and backflipped herself onto the Spitfire.
Party Poison gaped at her athletic display, taken by surprise.
"Catch me if you can!" Toxin cried, revving the engine of her bike. "But then again, I know you cant!'
Gerard fired at her, but the girl ducked and laughed at his attempts. "Eat my dust Killjoy!" she giggled and sped away.
Party coughed at the cloud of dirt she spun into the air.
He watched as she sped away into zone 3. However when the Spitfire veered right onto the Spinifex Track an idea occurred to Gerard. He dashed to the Trans Am and grabbed the radio mic.
"One oh Nine in the sky come in."
The static was broken by a reply. "Hey Party, this is Kobra. What's happening?"
"Get the boys together. We have a fledgling Crow to kill." he relayed his plan to his brother and smiled to himself. 'This isn't over, not by a long shot.'
Toxin glanced in the rear vision mirror and saw that she wasn't being closely followed.
"Thank God." she let out a shaky breath, trying not to sob. The vicious monster that had taken over her while she was confronted by the Killjoy was gone. In it's place was the little girl who wanted to hide under the bed covers.
Her hands were shaking and she had to concentrate on not letting the tears in her eyes blind her. Toxin constantly looked behind her, and finally spotted the Trans Am crawling along a fair distance back. She let herself dare to hope that the plan would work, and accelerated hard. She had to put as much distance in between her and the Killjoy as possible, which wasn't hard considering her bike was far more suited to this track than his car.
The dirt road Korse had instructed her to follow was full of dips, sharp corners and holes. The GPS system bleeped quietly, and she could see on the radar that it had picked up the Scarecrow's car. It was waiting for her at the junction between the Spinifex Track and Highway Beta.
Korse was sure that Party Poison would radio the Killjoys and send them along Route Guano. He would follow Toxin along the Spinifex Track, making sure that she didn't backtrack. Meanwhile his crew would turn off Route Guano onto Highway Beta, which met the opposite end of Spinifex. This meant that Hypertonic would be trapped between the rebels, and the only way that she could go would be to get ahead and follow Highway Beta, which ended at the Drop zone. Effectively, Party Poison would cut Toxin off from any escape route as well as stopping reinforcements from Battery City.
When he first told her this plan Hypertonic thought that Korse was joking. Putting her in such a position was suicidal. However, as he revealed his plan to his apprentice, she began to realize that the Scarecrow was far smarter than she already thought.
Korse let out a small sigh of relief as he saw his apprentice approach. She pulled up next to him and flung herself off the bike, breathing raggedly.
"That was the most stupid thing I have ever done!" she panted, body trembling from nerves.
The Scarecrow rolled his eyes and pulled her to her feet. "Get a grip kid and put on these clothes." he ordered, shoving a pile of coloured material at her.
Hypertonic looked around and blushed, seeing nothing to hide behind while she changed.
Korse rolled his eyes and pushed her towards his car. "Hurry up!"
Toxin sniffed and nodded, stumbling towards the black vehicle on wobbly legs. She crawled into the back seat and struggled out of her boots and body suit. As she donned her new outfit Hypertonic couldn't help but grimace.
Outside the Scarecrow was instructing the two dracs he had chosen for this part of the mission. They didn't know it yet, but he didn't expect them to survive.
"So we beat up the girl?"
"Yes." Korse affirmed.
"You sure boss? I thought Toxin is going to be the new Scarecrow."
The bald man gave him a withering look. "She is."
The dracs looked at each other and shrugged.
Stuart was standing off to one side and rolled his eyes. 'They sure are gullable.' he thought.
"Bloody teeny shorts... What the hell has he gotten me into!?" Toxin cried, tumbling out of the car.
Her new disguise consisted of a worn jean waistcoat with a high collar fitted over an orange tank top. The shorts she had been given were cutoff jeans, once red but now considerably faded. Her bright green belt secured a gun holster, currently pocketing a purple Scar-Blaster, which she didn't even know how to use. She was also adorned by multiple bracelets and electric blue, lace-up wedges.
"Why do people feel the need to give me heels!?" she pouted. "I doubt my own mother would recognize me in this ridiculous getup."
Korse rolled his eyes. "Not my idea, this was the outfit of a rebel, before they were shosted. If she could wear them, so can you."
Toxin shivered at the thought of wearing a dead girls' clothes.
"Here," he said, tossing her a purple bandana, "for your hair."
"Oh yeah." she said, tugging the black wig off her head. As it came off, her tangled curls fell about her shoulders. She secured the bandana over the top of her fringe and gave her attention to the Scarecrow.
"Are you sure the Trans Am was following you?" he asked.
She nodded. "I saw it trailing me at the beginning of Spinifex." Toxin handed him her black wig, which he slipped onto his hairless head.
"You'd better pray for your boyfriends sake that you're right." Korse snapped.
Hypertonic gulped, the weight of Anton's life pressing down on her.
"I'll expect you back at HQ in three days." Korse motioned to Stuart, who gave Toxin a sympathetic look and slipped into the Scarecrow's car. The drac turned the vehicle around and drove away down Highway Beta towards the Drop zone. Korse would follow him soon on the Spitfire and they'd both hide in the foothills while Hypertonic completed stage one of the mission.
"Trans Am is coming." Toxin announced, seeing a line of dust in the distance.
Korse followed her gaze and grinned when he spotted the Killjoy. "Looks like my plan worked." he clapped her on the shoulder and went over to the Spitfire. "I'll leave you to get better acquainted with these dracs. Don't rough her up too much boys."
Toxin glared at the Scarecrow. 'Watch your back Korse,' she thought, 'because when all this is over I'll be aiming at it.'
He sped away on her bike, following the same path as Stuart.
"So we beat up the girl?" one of the dracs behind her asked.
The second drac nodded.
Toxin turned to face the dracs. She knew that to make the plan work she had to look convincingly beaten up. However she resented Korse for it and decided that one day she'd get him back. As far as she was concerned now, the plan was a load of bullshit.
The dracs closed in around her and feigned a few attacks. Toxin didn't even bother dodging, she could tell they weren't actually serious. She was mildly surprised at how well her fighting lessons with the Scarecrow had gone. Over the time training she had learnt fast about hand to hand combat. Korse even mentioned that he was impressed with her, although he tended to balance out the praise by ridiculing her driving and shooting skills.
Finally one of the dracs got up the courage to lay a fist on her. Toxin felt the solid thud of knuckles on her flesh and whipped around to attack back. She landed a swift kick on his torso and he let out a yelp. The other drac retaliated by tripping her up from behind.
What the drac didn't think of as he pushed the girl over was the flat rock her head fell towards. Hypertonic noticed though.
"Ummm..." the first drac got up from where he lay and walked over to his comrade. "You don't think you killed her, do you?" he asked, nudging Toxin's still figure with his toe.
The other one pondered this. "Nahhh.... She's probably just faking."
The sound of screeching tires alerted the dracs to the arrival of the Fabulous Killjoys. Kobra Kid, Jet Star and Fun Ghoul flung open their doors and began firing at the BL/ind employees.
"Fuck, it's the Killjoys!" one shrieked.
"Run!" the other replied, just as the Trans Am pulled up as well.
They pelted towards the desert, but were shot down quickly.
Party Poison got out of the Trans Am and looked towards his crew. "I saw the Spitfire headed towards the Drop zone on Highway Beta, we have to go after Toxin!"
Ray ignored their leader and ran to the crumpled figure of a zonerunner on the ground.
"Jet Star, get back here!" Gerard shouted.
Mikey placed a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Hypertonic's gone Party, let's just call it a day."
His face went nearly as red as his hair and he slammed his fist down on the hood of the Trans Am. "I fucking hate her!"
Frank decided to let Kobra Kid calm their leader down and headed towards Ray. "Anything valuable on the body Jet Star?"
The afro head shook. "I - I think I've got a pulse Ghoul!"
Frank gasped and helped his friend roll the girl gently over.
"Be careful of her head," Jet cautioned, "she's hit it pretty hard."
Blood was soaking the zonerunner's hair and coated the left half of her ashen face.
"Fucking dracs!" Ghoul exclaimed unhappily. "What right have they to go about killing kids like this? It's not fair!"
"They're just sick. It's part of their screwed up beliefs." Ray said sadly, cradling the girl's head in his lap. He looked over towards Gerard and Mikey and shouted "Poison, we got a breather!"
The brothers paused in their argument and headed towards Ray and Frank.
"Seriously?" Party raised an eyebrow at the bloody body. "She doesn't look alive to me."
Fun Ghoul sighed heavily. "Look, I know that you're pissed about loosing Toxin, but this kid's gonna die if we don't do something. And by doing something I mean taking her back to the Diner and patching her up."
Jet Star nodded silently, carefully inspecting the split skin on the girl's head.
Gerard shook is head and growled. "So? Why should I care about some loose cannon zonerunner?"
"Poison!" Kobra exclaimed angrily. "Why are you acting like this? Have you forgotten what we are fighting for?"
"How can I forget with half the Californian population breathing down my neck to pull a miracle out of my sleeve!" He shouted and stormed back to the Trans Am. "Has it ever crossed your minds that maybe I don't want to be the hero anymore? I've been playing the good guy since before the takeover, and where has it landed me? Fighting for my life in a noxious desert short of one friend, one wife and..." his voice chocked on the last word.
The Killjoys watched as their leader slammed the door of the Trans Am and sped away.
"Wow." Frank whispered. "I haven't seen him that angry since... Well I don't know to be honest."
"He just needs some time to cool off." Mikey chewed his lip. "This fledgling Scarecrow shit is getting to him."
"Can we talk about this in the car?" Ray asked, looking up at his friends pleadingly. "I know that Party probably doesn't want the girl at home, but she's gonna die if we don't help her."
Ghoul and Kobra nodded.
"Of course Jet, I wouldn't dream of leaving her here. And neither would Gerard, he's just not thinking clearly right now." Mikey replied.
Frank and Ray carefully lifted the girl and carried her to Mikey's car.
"I'll drive." Kobra said, helping his friends maneuver the blonde kid into the back seat.
Ghoul and Jet sat in the back. Ray was holding the girl's shoulder, gently applying pressure to her bleeding head. Frank was sitting with her legs lying on his lap, her wrist in his hand keeping a tab on her pulse.
Mikey asked them how she was every now and then, and every time Ray would just reply with "The sooner we get home the better she will be."
Abbey leapt across the stage, dancing in front of a sea of blank faces. It was dark, but a single, red light shone on her. The music playing was melancholy, laced with sorrow and fear. Abbey could feel it coursing through her like liquid poison.
Suddenly the black stage curtain swirled around her, trapping her in a cocoon of darkness.
"Help!" she shrieked, pulling back.
"Abbey! It's okay it's only me." the familiar voice stopped her struggles and she opened her eyes to see Anton. It was his cloaked arms that were wrapped around her, not the curtain.
"Oh Anton!" she cried, pressing against his chest and breathing in his scent. "I've missed you, every single day. You mean everything to me." She clung to him, finally feeling safe. "Anton, I just don't know what I'd do without you."
"And we don't know what we'd have done without you, Toxin."
Abbey looked up and saw the rubbery, white face of one of the Head staring down at her in place of Anton's. She screamed and tried to push away from it, but it was crushing her closer, pulling her towards it's gaping, black mouth stretched wide.
"You're mine Abbey Palini, mine." voices chanted. "Toxin you belong to us."
"No!" she shrieked, struggling. "You don't own me!"
"Mine... Mine... Mine..."
"Noo!" she screamed, sitting upright.
Suddenly the nightmare broke and her blurry, tear filled eyes were confronted by bright lights and strange faces. Voices hummed in her buzzing ears and she could feel hands clutching at her wrists.
"Let me go! Monsters, freaks! I don't belong to anyone!" she cried, pulling away desperately.
"Kid, stop!" a clear voice commanded. "You're safe now."
Abbey could feel her heart hammering in her chest and her head was slowly stopped spinning. She blinked and focused on her surroundings with clear eyes.
Four faces were looking at her with concerned eyes.
"Who... Where... Safe?" she panted, trying to calm her ragged breathing.
The man who was holding her wrists tightly now let them go. She observed his impressive afro, trying to place why it seemed so familiar.
"Yes," he said, brown eyes full of kindness, "you're safe. There are no dracs here, no Scarecrows. No one is going to hurt you."
Abbey's eyes widened as her memories came crashing back. 'Korse!' her thoughts shouted. 'Korse's plan! It's worked, I'm with the Fabulous Killjoys.'
The men watched as the girl heaved and sigh of relief and slumped back onto the couch.
Mikey was perched on the couch and Ray and Frank were sitting next to her head on the ground. Dr Deathdefying was sitting nearby as well, watching the zonerunner with interest.
"What happened?" Abbey asked, looking at Mikey. "I don't know you... Do I know you?" she warbled, faking ignorance.
The afro haired man patted her head gently. "My name is Jet Star. This is Kobra Kid," he gestured at the man with dirty, blonde hair, "and this is Fun Ghoul." he went on, motioning to the short guy. "Dr Deathdefying you might know," Jet Star pointed to the man in the wheelchair. "He operates One oh Nine in the Sky."
Abbey screwed up her nose. "One oh what?"
The Killjoys looked at each other, eyebrows raised slightly.
'Opps,' Abbey thought. 'That must be a zonerunner thing I should know about...'
"So... What happened? Where am I?" she laced her voice with fear and pulled the big-eyed expression that worked on her father when she was a kid.
"We found you in zone 2, just near the boarder." Kobra said. "You were beaten up by some draculoids, but we finished 'em off." He watched her face carefully. "Is there a reason why they were after you?"
Abbey bit her lip and looked up at the curious faces. "I was being chased by the BL/ind agent, Hypertonic. I thought I lost her for a bit when I went down this side track, but her dracs were right on my tail. There were five of them, and they caught me. Suddenly Hypertonic appeared again and she ordered three of them to follow her. They took my car, and abandoned the other two dracs." she avoided their gaze, trying to sound convincing. "I don't remember much else."
"So you're the target Toxin was talking about on the radio." a dark voice spoke.
Abbey felt her heart leap in fear and she looked down as the Killjoy leader strode towards her. The clunk of his boots on the floorboards set her teeth on edge.
'Please,' she begged mentally, 'don't let him recognize me. I'm a zonerunner... A zonerunner...'
"Party, why don't you go back and get some more sleep?" Kobra Kid murmured.
Although she was looking down at her hands, Abbey could feel his gaze burning into her.
"No. I want to know why Toxin's so interested in this kid." Poison snapped.
"Hey man, she's only just woken up." Fun Ghoul put in. "Give her some space."
Party ignored his crew member. "What's your name?"
"Bleach." she whispered.
"Just Bleach?" he scoffed. "Not much of a rebel name if you ask me."
"Don't say that name!" Party shouted at Kobra Kid. "And don't tell me what I can and cant do. This kid rocks up out of no where, chased by a baby Scarecrow. And we just happen to find her at a convenient time?" he looked at the girl again. "Who's your crew?"
Abbey felt her hands tremble. "I don't have one."
"See!" he threw his hands up in the air. "There's something wrong with this puzzle piece. No zonerunner flies solo."
'Shit, this guy is good. Not much gets past him.' she thought to herself. 'Well, two can play at that game.'
"I don't have a crew," Abbey interjected, lies spilling from her lips, "because I've been in the zones for a week." She looked up at him and saw his eyes widen. "My name is Bleach, because my mother's name was Blanche." Abbey swung her legs off the couch and she stood up to face Party Poison. "And Hypertonic wants me, because I blew up her apartment."
There was a tense pause, broken by Fun Ghoul's laughter.
"She don't take no bullshit from you Party."
"Yeah man," Kobra agreed, "I don't think you have any reason to disapprove of this kid. She's got the rebel in her."
Gerard didn't say anything, eyes locked with Bleach. She didn't flinch.
"Jet, why don't you go grab some blankets for Bleach. It's nearly sunset and we can't go turning the girl out now." Dr Deathdefying patted her shoulder and she broke her gaze from Poisons. "That is if you wouldn't mind staying here."
Abbey gave a slight smile and nodded. "I don't have anywhere to be, so thankyou."
"S'alright girly." Fun Ghoul laughed and slung an arm over her shoulder. "Besides, we can't let you loose with a hole in your head like that."
"Ghoul!" Jet Star cried, walking back in with an armful of blankets and pillows. "You're not the most tactful of people, to say the least."
Abbey gave a cool laugh and thanked the tall man for the sheets.
"Keep an eye on Fun Ghoul, he's a bit of a handful. And I'm glad you're staying, because those stitches will need to be taken care of." Jet smiled at her kindly.
Abbey felt the jagged, bumpy wound that ran from her hairline to her eyebrow. "Oh," she cried, "I guess I did bump my head."
As they laughed Party Poison stalked out of the room, cursing under his breath.
Kobra Kid sighed heavily and turned to Abbey. "I'm real sorry Bleach, he's a great guy truly. I think he's feeling a lot of stress right now, the whole Toxin thing is getting under his skin." he ran a hand through his limp fringe and pouted. "He's usually so nice to guests too."
"He doesn't like me." Abbey stated simply.
"Oh no! No that's not it, he likes all zonerunners." Jet Star cried.
"Especially pretty ones like you!" giggled Fun Ghoul, nudging her with his elbow.
Kobra rolled his eyes and scolded his crew mate, but Abbey barely noticed.
'He likes all zonerunners huh, well then I guess he doesn't have any reason to like me.' she smiled at the Killjoys around her and accepted a glass of water from Jet Star. 'Hmm,' she thought, 'looks like I'll just have to find a way to buy his trust, or else this plan wont work.'
"Lime green eyes!" Gerard hissed, slamming his fist against the wall. "She has those fucking lime green eyes!"
It was nearly midnight, but the Killjoy couldn't sleep. He kept thinking about the way that Bleach looked up at him - no fear and no emotion. Just like that bitch, Hypertonic.
He groaned and ran his hands through his hair, trying to cool his temper.
'It's too much of a coincidence, they have to be related somehow!' he thought angrily. 'Then again Bleach looks nothing like Toxin. It's just the eyes...'
Party slumped onto his bed, face in his hands.
'I think this desert heat is getting to me. There can't be a connection between the two. After all, when we found the girl she was nearly dead.' he groaned and flopped back onto his pillow. 'I'm probably just hallucinating, trying to see what isn't there.'
Gerard rolled over and buried his face in his blanket, willing sleep to come.
'I'll apologize to the kid in the morning... She probably thinks I'm a psychopath for being so rude...' he yawned, feeling the tug of unconsciousness. 'Yeah.... It's all just a coincidence.'