Authors: Paul Kater
by Paul Kater
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Copyright 2011 Paul Kater
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The voice made her look up from her
improvised make-up table. In the smudgy mirror, which was flanked
by oil lamps with cracked leather caps, she saw the outline of the
owner of the bar.
Lily had just sung in his establishment and
now she was removing the make-up from her face. "What do you want?
And why don't you knock when you come into a lady's dressing room?
I could be naked for all you know." She assumed that was what he
had been hoping for.
"Just wanted to bring your pay, Lily, that's
all." Part of the man in the shadows became visible for a moment as
a hand put an envelope on the table. "I'll get in touch when we
have another evening. You're the best, Lily." For a hesitant second
it looked as if the hand wanted to come to a rest on her shoulder,
but its owner decided differently. He did not know how smart a
decision that was. Footsteps moved away from the singer.
Lily waited until the door closed. "Sure. The
best. That's why I sing here and not in something like Albert
Hall." She knew she wasn't the best singer in the world, but that
was fine with her. She could live her life anonymously and do what
she liked. And what she had to. "Speaking of which, I should get
moving," she told her hairbrush.
The singer quickly put her few belongings in
her bag, slipped her coat on and with her umbrella in hand she left
the bar through the back door. A fine rain greeted her as she
"Wonder when there is an evening I won't need
it," Lily muttered as she fought the umbrella. She won, so she
could walk along under the small portable shelter. Since the start
of the alchemists' convention it seemed to rain more than
She reached her modest home. It was not far
away. Lily got out of her dress and washed her face. It was time
for action again. The newspaper had told her so, earlier that day.
She tied her long dark hair in a tight knot at the back of her head
to keep it out of the way.
As she slipped into the tight black leather
pants, she thought of the audience in the bar. Good people, she
knew, hard-working folks out for a nice time. And they didn't
object to her singing, she thought with a grin. Lily put on the red
shirt and buttoned that up. A leather vest went over it and then
she buckled up the tool belt, as she called it. Once the belt was
around her waist, she checked the tools.
The dagger was shiny and sharp, the razors in
place. The rad-gun, big and heavy, was full as she picked it from
the charging unit. The weight of the radiation thrower felt
comforting on her hip as it slid in the slightly worn holster.
Without looking Lily switched it to standby, so the internal
circuitry could warm up.
She went to get the long coat and put it on.
It never ceased to amaze her how light it was, considering how many
strands of reinforced microfibres were woven into the fabric. It
withstood bullets and had once saved her life from the blow of an
axe. After putting on the black sturdy boots, Lily opened the small
cupboard that was hidden under her coat rack and disconnected the
backpack. It was her pride.
She strapped the pine wood case to her back;
the leather padding settled itself quickly to the contours of her
back like the hand of a lover. She tucked the flexible copper tube
with the ruby on the end in her pocket, hooked the whip to her tool
belt, grabbed the big umbrella and then she was ready. The mask was
in her other pocket, she always kept it there, but she would not
need that yet.
As she walked down the streets, none of the
few people who were out in the rain paid her any mind. They all
just wanted to get home and stay out of trouble and the rain. Lily
had opened the big umbrella to keep the downpour away from her. No
need to get soaking wet just yet.
Once she was several streets away from her
small apartment she stepped onto the road, where she kicked the
heel of one boot against the other. The compact mechanisms in the
thick soles reacted flawlessly and raised her up four feet. She
started walking again, now with the long strides her artificially
extended legs made possible. Walking faster than a regular person
was forbidden on the sidewalks, but walking in the street like this
usually was a pain, with carriages and cars getting in the way.
Good thing there was hardly any traffic now.
Soon Lily reached the area she had read about
in the newspaper. She stopped at the side of the road and put the
mask on. It hid most of her face, and contained the special lenses
that helped her see clearly in the dark. As she moved the lenses
into place, everything bathed in a familiar green light.
In the area of Hurst Street and Ambly Road,
the newspaper had said, a band of vagabonds made life of the people
living there very difficult, with muggings, beatings, fires,
explosive devices and the like. Several police officers had already
laid down their lives trying to capture the thugs. That had been
enough for Lily.
She didn't care much about property, but when
officers were dying in the line of their work, like her father and
her uncle, that was where she drew the line. She wiggled her toes
to make the elevation mechanism slide back into the soles of the
boots. She wanted to attract the vagabonds and standing out like
that would probably have the opposite effect.
Lily stepped onto the battered sidewalk. That
too bore the marks of the vagabonds. She closed the umbrella and
pulled up the collar of her coat. Lily tried to decide which way to
go first. A loud bang and a tremor beneath her feet helped her. She
walked back to the crossing of Ambly and Lowell and turned into
Three people came running towards her. It was
unclear if they were the vagabonds or their victims, so she hid in
the doorway of the house she was in front of. Some shouting and a
few shots later, she heard the bullets fly, it was clear that she
had seen victims run.
Lily counted the seconds. Too long,
experience told her. The running folk should have passed her by
now. They had probably been in the way of the bullets. The street
was silent again, so Lily moved out of the shadows. Immediately she
saw the bodies lying in the street. Perhaps, she hoped, they were
only wounded, not dead.
The left glass in her mask, which had heat
seeking abilities, did not show any significant cooling down of
either body, but that meant nothing: they had been down for only a
few seconds. Slowly she folded up her umbrella and hung that from
the tool belt. The people on the ground, she found, were all
The vagabonds had moved on. The street lights
assisted the lenses in showing Lily the desolate place that was
Lowell Road. Cars and carriages had been blown to smithereens or
burnt to crisps, windows were shattered, some had been hastily
nailed shut with pieces of wood, and there were many cracks in the
pavement. She could almost smell the fear that lived behind the
closed windows. A few loud bangs, shots from firearms again, told
her where the vagabonds had progressed to, so she started walking.
They could not be far; as the vagabonds considered themselves
masters in the area, they would not be in a hurry.
Lily turned into the first street she came
across. There a group was standing, as if they had not a care in
the world. Most of the street lights here were off. Damaged
probably. The light-enhancers in her mask showed her six men, all
dressed in torn, ill-fitting suits. In a reflex her hand slid over
the rad-gun that was under the coat, making sure it was there.
Four of the men carried handguns, she saw,
and at least one of those was a rad-gun. Her coat would take a good
beating if they had a shot at her with that.
In the darkness, the six men did not notice
Lily until she was very close. The thick soft soles of her boots
dampened her footsteps, which usually was an advantage.
"Now look what we have here," one of the men
said as he saw Lily walking up to the group. Four barrels of guns
were pointed at her. "Halt, raise your hands."
"Wrong. You will raise your hands," Lily
said, "and after I tied you up you will come with me. About time
that this neighbourhood is freed from the likes of you."
The men looked confused, despite their
weaponry. Lily never changed her voice; the sound of a woman
speaking from inside the fearsome attire usually was in her
advantage. Now also. As the six hesitated, she brought out her whip
from under her coat and made it dance a few times. The four guns
flew through the air and landed on the street somewhere, out of the
range of triggerfingers.
As the whip landed in her other hand, she
drew the rad-gun and pointed it at the group.
"Make no mistakes, gentlemen," she said, "I
know how to use this and my finger is faster than all your legs
"Madam, if you allow me-" one of the men said
as he stepped forward.
Lily did not allow him. With her other hand
she was very well able to crack her whip as the man learnt. He
landed on the pavement. Hard.
With a flick of the wrist, Lily undid the end
of the whip from his ankle. "No tricks. I am here to bring order
back to the area."
Her voice had gotten hard and strong, the way
it always did once she became her true self again. The singing bit
was just a cover for the daytime, no one should know who Lily Marin
really was. The more out of sight she was in her public life, the
"Oh my God," one of the other men said. "It's
her. It's the Masked Woman!"
Lily hated the unoriginal name the press had
given her, but it was hers apparently. "Yes. I'm the Masked
"Behind you!" the man yelled as he and the
other four dropped to the floor.
Nicely synchronised trick, Lily thought, just
before she sensed something wrong. Behind her. She ducked and
swivelled round, raising the rad-gun and blasting a round. The rock
that had come for the back of her head fell harmlessly on the
ground behind her, as the man who had thrown it fell on the ground
in front of her. He was with a few more men. Or rather, he had
been, as he was no more.
Crap, there are many more of them, was the
first thing she thought. Then it dawned on her that the six she had
taken for the gang were possibly a few of the not yet scared people
that wanted to go against the vagabonds.
"Stay put, I'm going after them," she called
to the six as the rock-throwers made a run for it, away from her.
She saw how they turned left, back into Lowell and heard their
footsteps echo away.
Lily slammed the gun back in the holster as
she got up. She estimated where the vagabonds would be going and
positioned herself as she reached into her pocket. She pressed hard
on the ruby. It slipped into the copper tube. At the hiss from the
backpack she braced herself; this was going to be nauseating
The fierce jolt from the pack pushed her
upwards. She hoped that she had positioned herself properly, once
airborne there was no way to make any changes. The thunder behind
her deafened her, the skin on her face that was not protected by
the mask wanted to retreat to her neck as she sped upwards. Up and
higher she went, over the buildings.