Banzai (Psylocke)
Katherine Hana Li spin_kick_snap
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Abandoned Office Building, Los Angeles, Saturday Morning
Banzai looked around, eyebrows practically up to her hairline. Gorgon hadn't been kidding when he'd said that Stealth had called in every hero in LA for this meeting. Most, she recognized, by reputation if not by sight. Midknight was the man in the replica armor who could bring a crushing darkness no light could penetrate and a cold that could give frostbite. Blockbuster, who could knock down entire buildings with enough momentum. The Mighty Dragon, of course. Gorgon. Regenerator, looking drawn and exhausted. About nine or ten others she was able to put names to. There were others she didn't know, like the black guy in the wheelchair and the scrawny guy wearing a giant necklace. At first, Banzai had thought that he was wearing a clock on his chest, like some oily, white Flava-Flav, but closer inspection proved it to be--some kind of medallion? Either way, it was hard to look at properly, like staring into the sun.

And then their host, the woman who could only be Stealth. She was sitting at the head of the water-stained conference table, conferring with the guy in the chair. The guy looked very grave; Stealth's mask gave no clue what she was feeling. Kathy's hope that this was going to be some kind of committee meeting where they decided to create the Super Justice Pals of LA withered and died at the guy's expression. No one looked like that without a damn good reason.

At precisely 11, Stealth broke off her conversation and stood up. "Thank you for attending," she said in a crisp, no-nonsense voice. "I can imagine it was difficult for some of you to take leave for superhero business during regular civilian hours. I assure you, I would never make such a request lightly. The situation is urgent. If not responded to quickly, it will be dire. It is possible that I miscalculated by waiting the additional week to contact you. Please be seated and we can begin the briefing."

Stealth remained standing, the guy she'd been talking to wheeling close to the table on her left and the Mighty Dragon taking a seat to her right. Everyone else made their way to the table, some (including Banzai), carrying plates of refreshments that Stealth had provided. The chairs were mismatched and most were not of a height to have been intended to be used with this table, but Stealth had procured exactly enough for all of them. Banzai sat, sandwiched between Gorgon and the guy with the bling, across the table from Regenerator. When the last hero had taken his seat (Blockbuster, moving with a great deal of care), Stealth spoke up again. Unlike the Mighty Dragon, she had no problems speaking through a full facemask without her voice being muffles.

"Heroes of Los Angeles, I'm here to discuss with you our zombie problem."

The Mighty Dragon
There was a long moment of silence in the room. Then the Mighty Dragon spoke up. "I'm sorry," he said, sounding puzzled. "Did you say zombie problem?"

There was a general murmur of puzzled agreement throughout the room. Gorgon remained quiet, brow furrowed, looking like he was trying to piece something together but didn't have the right parts. On her other side, the white guy with terrible taste in accessories looked surprised, but not as disbelieving as the others. Regenerator just looked pensive.

For her part, Banzai was trying to to control her look of dawning horror. She--vaguely--remembered zombies. From that weird weekend, when she was twenty years older and the mayor of LA. Most of the details were fuzzy, but she remembered zombies.

"Zombies," Banzai said above the din. "You're sure--zombies."

Some Guy?
It was the guy next to her who spoke first. "You believe her," he said thoughtfully. "Interesting. Aren't you supposed to be a boy?"

"Banzai's choice of gender identity and expression are not up for discussion here," Stealth said coolly. Her mask turned to face Banzai directly. "Though Mr. Hale does make a good point. You do believe, though nothing in my files suggest you are superstitious." She inclined her head. "Granted, my files on you are very slim. When you return back to Baltimore, it's like you vanish entirely. At least any time you are not patrolling."

Banzai heard Gorgon snort; he knew why she vanished off everyone's radar. "I'm a big fan of privacy," she allowed. "And--yeah, I believe. So does Gorgon."

"I do?" Gorgon asked, sounding surprised. "I don't know if I'd fully agree with that statement, baby." He sat back in his chair, chewing on his lower lip. "Though I'm less skeptical than I'd normally be. But then, I've seen some shit."

"You don't remember?" Banzai asked, craning around in her seat. "That weird weekend when you came back to visit?" Gorgon continued to look at her, blankly. "We were, like, twenty years older? I was the mayor and you were a sheriff and we were--" She stumbled to a halt, not wanting to have to explain the rest of it in front of a roomful of superheroes.

That was fine. Gorgon was going to take care of that for her.

"Wait, you mean that weekend we thought we were married?" Gorgon asked, before realizing how that would sound. "Fuck."

Yeah, that just about summarized it.

"What?!" That was a generalized question from the room, though Banzai could hear Genny and the Mighty Dragon specifically. The guy on her other side just wore a smile that was somehow reminiscent of an oil slick--without the rainbow to make it pretty.

"Gorgon!" Regenerator said, half rising out of his chair. "You know that Banzai's only--"

"Right here and can speak for herself?" Banzai suggested, covering her face with her hands. Over her mask, yes. "Look, it's a weird thing and I can't explain it, okay? It happened. Call it magic if you want to. The important thing to focus on is that zombies were involved. Sorta."

Why had she brought this up at all?

The Mighty Dragon
"Magic? Zombies?" Smoke curled from under the Mighty Dragon's mask. "Look, I showed up here to talk about the disappearing homeless population, not some weird fanta--"

That Guy Again
"There are more things heaven and earth, Dragon, than are dreamt of in your philosophy," the guy to Banzai's right said, leaning back in his chair. "Magic is real. I don't think I've ever heard act in quite the way the love birds here are describing--" he nodded to Banzai and Gorgon. Banzai had yet to remove her hands from her face and Gorgon's jaw was twitching hard enough that it looked like he was chewing gum. The guy didn't seem fussed about either reaction. "--but I can tell you it does exist. So do voudoun zombies, though I guessing that's not the kind Stealth here is talking about."

He paused to give their host a slow, lingering once over. Stealth's body language remained rigidly disciplined, displaying no discomfort with his ogle-by-any-other-name.

"You can fly and breathe fire. Goggles here can suck the life-force out of someone by looking at them. The guy across from me can heal anything within seconds. Don't you think you're a little late with the disbelief in magic and fairies and long-legged beasties?"

"Right," Gorgon drawled. "Who the fuck are you again?"

Max Hale
"Max Hale," the guy said, still utterly nonchalant. "You know me, Gorgon. Though I'm usually a lot bigger, taller, and generally hideous? More 'jaws that bite and claws that catch' than anything else. But it's not really an inconspicuous form to take in the middle of downtown before noon."

"Cairax Murrain!" Banzai said, finally peeling her hands away. "You're Cairax Murrain!"

"Well, yes and no," Max said, his smirk bordering on infuriating. At least if you were going by Gorgon's expression below the goggles. "Cairax Murrain is his own person. Well, entity. Specifically, he's a demon. The Reaver Lord of the Abyss if we're feeling fancy. And this--" he tapped the medallion on his chest "--is a working Sativus gate. Which, if any of you knew anything about magic, would have you creaming in your various superhero attire pants."

One of the other heroes, Midknight possibly, made a small noise of disgust.

"See, the problem with demons is that they're constantly trying to come into our world and possess people. Why? So they can ruin your life, that’s why. Didn’t you ever go to Sunday School? Shit. If they can corrupt you, ruin someone else, fuck over somebody—that emotional chaos is like food to them. It’s the whole point of their existence. They leave their physical body in the Hell dimension they came from and try to possess the mind. So I decided to fight fire with fire."

"You believe your medallion does the reverse," Stealth said, voice thoughtful. "You take on the form of this Cairax Murrain, Reaver Lord, but your mind remains your own."

"Like, at it's most basic level, yeah," Max said, looking disgruntled to have his grand reveal taken by another and delivered with so little drama or fanfare. "That's also ignoring all the effort that went into this thing. Combining summoning spells and possession spells. And they had to be damned specific. I'm talking ten times past space shuttle re-entry math specific. And then I had to forge a set of control glyphs around the enchantments. But after all of that, which included focusing a total solar eclipse into the medallion, thus powering it by the light of a black sun, I had a Sativus."

He looked around the table, pleased at the attention. "Rather than the demon’s mind coming into our world and stealing control of my body, I'm transposing its body to our world through mine and possessing that."

"Great story," Gorgon said. "Who gives a fuck?"

"Hey," Max said, his lazy smirk only growing a Gorgon's irritation, "I'm just backing you up. Explaining to all these nice, law-abiding do-gooders that whatever you and our young Banzai here got up to some wacky weekend could possibly have been the result of magic, because magic is a thing that exists and I can vouch for. Even if not any kind of magic like that. You're welcome, friend."

"Not your friend," Gorgon snarled and the same time Stealth said, "Enough."

Neither man seemed inclined to listen. So, raising her voice slightly, she added, "You will settle down or I will three bones in your left hands. And will not let Regenerator heal them until after the meeting is adjourned."

Banzai blinked. Okay, Stealth was hardcore. Max and Gorgon apparently took her at her word, settling down in their respective chairs with little more than heated glares.

"Good," she said and there was still no real change in her voice. She could have been brusquely running a real business meeting by her tone, complete with actuarial tables and tables labeled 'Market Share By Quarter.'

"The Mighty Dragon is correct. You're here to discuss the deaths of the various undefended subpopulations of the city. You will understand why we're calling it a zombie problem soon enough, but, for now, if you find it easier to ascribe it to other factors, that is acceptable."

"She's really not kidding," the black guy in the wheelchair said. "I'm Barry, by the way. Stealth asked me to come out here because I could cover the most ground and look for the...people...she thought were infected. Back when we thought we were dealing with something normal, like some kind of horrible disease that was going to wipe out the population or something like out of that Stephen King novel."

"By the time I contacted you, I was already certain we were dealing with the undead," Stealth corrected. "It was the only hypothesis that fit all available data. I was not committed to that theory, in case there were data points I had missed, but that we were dealing with zombies was my working theory."

"Well, I came in thinking it was going to be a super-flu or something," Barry said, sounding tired. From the circles under his eyes, it was doubtful he'd slept much recently. Finding out that zombies were real and currently hunting in the city would do that to you. "Because, you know, nobody hears 'zombie' and thinks it's anything other than a joke."

His face shuttered. "They will soon, though. Originally, Stealth showed me a map that had three infected on it. Just three. By the time I was done scouring the city, I'd found twenty-six. That's assuming I'd found all of them and not counting any who were just infected and not yet turned. The number's probably a lot higher now."

The Mighty Dragon
"Who are you?" the Mighty Dragon asked, his mask hiding his face, but his body language uneasy. "Stealth asked you here because you could, err, cover the most ground?"

Banzai facepalmed. Someone needed to get the Mighty Dragon onto Tumblr, stat. "We already know that Stealth called in Zzzap for assistance," she pointed out. "Context suggests that this would Zzzap's civilian identity."

Really, Dragon? Overlooked that possibility just because the guy was in a wheelchair? Banzai was disappoint.

Barry just looked resigned. "She's right," he said. "When I'm in the energy form, I can't touch anything and it can be hard to communicate, especially with multiple people at once, potentially speaking at the same time. But, yes, I'm Zzzap, Stealth recruited me from Amherst to check on her information, and if we really need a demonstration to prove I am who I say I am, we can have story time later, okay?"

"No, no, that's fine--" the Mighty Dragon started, but quickly quieted when Regenerator held up one large hand.

"If we could get back to the important matters?" he asked, sounding both exhausted and strained. "let's get back to those numbers you were talking about. Stealth said there were three. You found twenty-six. How long was it between the time Stealth got those numbers and when you did?"

Stealth's voice was approving. Finally, someone asking the right questions. "Three days," she said softly. "Actually, sixty-one hours."

Regenerator paled. Visibly. Banzai swore. Most of the other people around the table simply looked confused, with Blockbuster offering a tentative, "Is that...bad?" in a voice deep enough to practically rumble the floor.

"It's bad," Regenerator said, the lines around his mouth etching themselves deeper almost as they watched. "I'm--in my day job, I work in a medical clinic, so trust me on this. This is bad."

"But three to twenty-six," MidKnight protested. "That number seemeth not terribly large."

"Three to twenty-six in less than three days," Regenerator shot back. "That means the disease moves fast.

"And these aren't twenty-six sick people," Banzai stated flatly. "These are twenty-six dead people. How would you respond if the news reported that twenty-six people had all died in the span of three days after being exposed to some unknown pathogen?"

The sudden chatter that had sprung up turned into a pregnant hush. Twenty-six deaths weighed very differently than twenty-six sick people.

"Stealth, you said you tried to cross-reference people who were missing among the populations that you saw these victims in," Banzai continued, flipping through the papers she'd printed out. "What was the final number you got?"

"It was difficult to get people to speak to me--" Stealth began.

"Go figure," Max muttered, deliberately loud enough to be overheard. A ripple of nervous laughter went around the table. Banzai and Regenerator didn't join in. Neither did Gorgon.

"--so this number is a conservative estimate at best," Stealth continued as if there had never been an interruption in the first place. "But ruling out likely other factors in the disappearances that were reported to me, the number I got was seventy-four, give or take three people for a margin of error.

"So, let me make sure I got these numbers straight," Gorgon said, practically bristling. "You discover three of these fuckers. Three days later, there are twenty-six. And now, a week later, we're looking at as many as seventy-seven?"

"I wish," Regenerator snorted. "There was the possibility of it being as many as seventy-seven when Stealth first asked around."

"Last Wednesday," Stealth supplied. "And seventy-four is a more accurate number to use." Yes, she'd included three for a margin of error, but she doubted she had done so.

"So, if we'd managed to take down all of the missing back on Wednesday, we would have gone up against seventy-four. It's Saturday. Those seventy-four went on to many people in a day? Five? Six? Why don't we start crunching those numbers. See how fucked we are."

"You're talking about the R-nought value," Banzai realized. "How many people can be reasonably expected to be infected by a single carrier. For zombies, it's only limited by the number of bites they deliver. So even the math you just suggested doesn't work!"

She was starting to see why Barry looked so damned stressed. "Even if Zombie A bites and infects five people on Monday, there's nothing preventing it from going on and biting five more on Tuesday. The disease won't burn itself out or stop being communicable. The zombie can keep spreading the infection or whatever until it's killed. And nobody's out hunting zombies right now."

"Not really clearing anything up, baby," Gorgon said, ignoring Max's sudden sharp glance at the endearment. "Can I get a translation for the translation?"

"In Regenerator's example, the seventy-four missing subjects would go on to infect five people each," Stealth explained crisply. She did not appear to have a calculator at hand at all. "Thus, the first day, there would be seventy-four. The next day there are three hundred and seventy infected, according to Regenerator's math."

Someone at the table whimpered.

"Except that's not correct, because it ceases to take into account the original seventy-four. So, on the second day, there are three hundred seventy new zombies, plus the original seventy-four, for a total of four hundred forty-four zombies capable of biting and spreading the infection further. So by the third day alone, there are two thousand six hundred sixty-four zombies wandering around Los Angeles. That is still barely a fraction of the population, hardly enough to be noticed. But every day the numbers will swell."

"And if we're talking about zombies that act at all like they do in a Romero movie, all bites are 100% infectious," Regenerator added. He sounded distant, almost as if he were speaking about something he wasn't directly involved in, like a TV show or a book they'd all read.

Benefit of working in the medical industry, most likely. Banzai envied it right now; the whole conversation felt very real and immediate to her.

"So five could be a conservative estimate," Max pointed out with an unpleasant smile. "Because we're talking a bite. One person gets attacked, thinks they're just getting mugged or whatever, ends up bit, goes home, gets sick, dies, turns. We're not at the point yet where people are going to be overwhelmed, mobbed, and eaten without the chance to turn. At this point, it's probably one bite, one zombie." His smile grew. "Just to make sure we're all on the same page of fucked."

The Mighty Dragon
Someone--probably MidKnight--started praying in Latin. There was more uncomfortable murmuring around the table.

The Mighty Dragon stood up. "Okay, so this is pretty bad," he allowed. "But we still don't have any proof that it is, well, zombies. I mean, all you've really done is provide us with numbers. Before we start worrying about rate of infections and R-values or whatever, it makes sense to verify what it is we're up against, right?"

Stealth inclined her head. "Correct," she said. "This argument is not unexpected. In fact, I had not anticipated anyone simply accepting a story as far-fetched as this one."

She didn't move a muscle to indicate she was looking at the section of table where Banzai, Gorgon, and Max were gathered, but all three of them looked uneasy anyway.

"Barry has all the proof that you will require, I believe."

"This was taken from the garage camera hooked up in the alley where I fought my first two zombies," Barry explained, setting a laptop down on the table. "A copy of the video will all go to your phones, but this will hopefully be enough to convince you we aren't crazy."

The camera wasn't at the best angle to show everything that was happening on the ground and the wall wasn't about to win any cinematography awards, but after about a minute of watching Zzzap interact with the old homeless man none of the heroes were questioning what he was up against.

There was more silence once the video had ended as every hero struggled to adjust to this new paradigm. Stealth let the silence build for a bit, then stood once again. "So, now you know what we know. The dead are walking in Los Angeles and it is up to us to stop them. We have a narrow window--a very narrow window--in which is might be possible for us to get in front of this and stop the devastation that we have already discussed in purely numeric terms. I invite you to reframe those arguments in terms of loss of life, property damage, or whatever else motivates you to act. If we do not act, the odds that anyone will realize what is happening in time becomes vanishingly small. Los Angeles will not survive. It is probable that California will not survive."

"Not just probable," Banzai heard herself say. "It won't. The country doesn't survive. LA becomes a city of the dead with only a few thousand survivors hemmed in by an endless sea of hungry corpses. You don't have to believe me, especially since I can't explain very well how I know this, but this isn't just our best chance, it's our only chance. If we want to survive, it has to be now."

She abruptly sat down again, hadn't even noticed that she'd stood at some point during her speech, and watched as the other heroes nodded at her words. As Stealth seamlessly moved into discussing patrols, the necessity of divvying up the city to discover just what they were facing, Banzai realized that she was going to owe some people a phone call back on the island.

This was definitely going to take more than a weekend.

[NFB, NFI, OOC is loved.]


2016-04-03 01:29 am (UTC) (Link)

And they'll be so happy as they do it. Saving things is so enjoyable!