Fiction: Girl Talk (part one of a T.A.S.K. prose short story)

Glitch from T.A.S.K. and M.I.A. from the Hand-Me-Down Society

Free Douglass aka MIA (right) is the daughter of the last man to operate as the United States' own superhuman soldier, "Sam Spirit." After comments regarding the United States' treatment of it citizens of color result in her father's discharge and eventual death, Free dubs herself M.I.A. and sets off on a vendetta against those whose actions eventually led to her father's ignoble end. Unfortunately, this course of action puts her at odds with many she'd come to know and love, including her best friend -- Glitch of T.A.S.K. (left)

Glitch realized her vision was blurring, which meant that she'd been staring intensely at her holo-screens and probably hadn't blinked for several minutes. T.A.S.K.'s resident tech-savant sighed and squeezed her eyes shut, allowing them momentary respite from her screens and their constant stream of information. Being in charge of cyber operations and technological support for the U.N. chartered organization trusted with keeping the world safe from superhuman threats meant that Glitch was no stranger to long nights, but tonight was different.

She was expecting a call.

To be fair Glitch answered more calls in a day than any 10 teens combined, mostly from various nations' security agencies hitting the panic button because some villain was tearing up a city or whatever, but this was special. This call was from an extremely dangerous wanted fugitive ... who also happened to be her best friend.

glitch drawn by quinn mcgowanShe glanced at the lower right corner of one of her screens -- 2:47 am ... and the phone rang. She let it buzz twice in her earpiece before she connected. Immediately upon picking up, several layers of encryption enveloped the call. "Here we go." Glitch thought to herself, then answered.

"Naomi's Nails, Fried Chicken and Cat Food Emporium. Can I take your order?" There was a beat, the briefest of instants, and Glitch almost panicked --- but then a familiar female voice responded, "Yeah, I need to get a full stiletto set done, with a half chicken fried hard and a side of Meow Meow Chunks."

Glitch allowed herself the tiniest smile. If the voice on the other side of the call had said anything outside of their code phrases, she would have disconnected the call and dumped the number into the digital abyss. For now at least, they were safe and she could talk to her friend without fear. The code of course came from a joke they'd shared years ago when Free's father had taken the girls on a road trip and had stopped at a Houston strip mall that housed Naomi's Nails, a fried chicken spot and a pet store. She exhaled happily as she spoke "Hey Freebie."

The voice answered, "Hey 'Nisa." Even the young women's' friendly salutations were another layer of safety confirmation; Freebie was a nickname that 7 year old Glitch had given to her friend Free Douglass, and no one else in the world was allowed to abbreviate Glitch's real name Anisa to "'Nisa."

Glitch quickly scanned her screens for any sign of an attempt to infiltrate her encryption and then bounced the call onto one of her private servers. "How are you doing?" she asked. Free's voice sounded tired when she replied, "I'm OK. I had to ditch my last hiding spot pretty fast. Someone sent a spook squad after me and I spent 5 hours swimming upstream in the Roanoke River to shake them off. Bunch of idiots."

Glitch nodded. She'd seen a lot of police chatter about the incident, Free omitted that she put six members of the "spook squad" in the hospital, stolen a semi and had driven it into that river. Her pursuers made a critical error; Free Douglass was not someone to be underestimated. Her father had served his country as the last known "Sam Spirit"; a superhuman soldier acting on the U.S. military's orders. He was a patriotic, idealistic serviceman who volunteered to undergo a top secret process that turned him into the ultimate warrior. The world had changed; superhuman criminals, cabals and foreign agents had become a clear and present danger, and the kind of soldier needed to fight America's battles also had to change. There had been many Sam Spirits who served America's interests since the 1960's and Ericson Douglass turned out to be just about the best one there ever was. What no one counted on was his surviving long enough to sire a child ("Sam Spirits" were notorious for their shortened life expectancies). Free checked out as normal when she was born and fruitless years of poking, prodding and observation led everyone to believe that the child was no different from any other. What actually happened was that the Sam Spirit abilities did indeed pass from father to daughter but remained dormant in Free's body until puberty's changes kicked them to life. From all accounts she was now all her father had been, and more.

m.i.a. in battle, drawn by quinn mcgowan

Still, Free wasn't invincible ... and the numbers definitely weren't in her favor.

"You should come in." Glitch already knew how this would play out but it didn't stop her from trying.

"You know I can't do that 'Nisa. I have to see this through 'til the end. I can't ... I can't let them get away with what they did." Free's voice started to rise toward the end.

Glitch countered, "But we're T.A.S.K., we can help. We've got resources ..."

Free was hearing none of it, "Sweetie, T.A.S.K.'s job is to fight super powered whack jobs and aliens and magic crap from who knows where! This is not that, OK? This is military-industrial-complex-secret --government-spook-march-to-the-beat-of-our-drum-or-else stuff. You guys aren't built for this. Sis, in your own way you guys are part of the system! Swatting away the boogie-men they can't handle so the people in the shadows can keep the world spinning the way they want it too!" She ended with an exasperated breath that signaled that she didn't want to continue down this road.

"It's just that you're all alone out there Free. Your dad wouldn't have wanted ..."

Free's voice was full of rage as she cut her friend off. "Anisa! Don't you dare! Don't you dare! You saw him at the end. You saw what they did to him. You saw how they let him die. Wasted away to nothing like, like ... like some concentration camp prisoner! And for what?! Huh? Because he dared to speak out about injustice and oppression? After all he did for this country? After all the lives he saved? They stopped giving him what he needed to survive the stuff that made him their soldier. They knew it would kill him. They knew ..." Free's voice trailed off.

Glitch's eyes brimmed with tears as she pictured Free's father in his last days, the desiccated husk he was, senseless and ravaged by tumors. A far cry from the powerful and warm-hearted man she'd known all her life.

"They took him from me 'Nisa. They took my father." Glitch heard the tremor in her friend's voice. "Just like the scum who took your mom from you. But did everything you could to get those guys right? Well I'm doing the same thing here 'Nisa, the same thing! And if that means that they send a hundred spook squads after me. So be it! But don't you come for me! Just let me do this. They took my dad 'Nisa ... you have to let me do this."

For moments the young women sat in silence, each searching for a way out of their impasse.

Free finally broke the silence. "Do you have my coordinates yet?"

"Girl please, I had your location locked in ten seconds after I picked up. I was just jacking into a couple satellites above you so I could see what that dip in the Roanoke River did to your hair." Free laughed and Glitch smiled. "Hmm ... I've got you located somewhere near downtown Miami ... North West 2nd Ave. and West Flagler? But I can't see you. What's up?"

"You ain't right. If I ever get married I'm not telling you where my house is. You'll have satellites staring at my house trying to live vicariously through me ... trying to catch a glimpse of my husband coming out the shower and stuff."

Glitch added, "All wet and glistening, uh-huh." They both burst into laughter at that.

Free added, "Yeah right. Try again! We're gonna get steel plates to cover the windows. Nosy heffa!"

Glitch affected an overly exaggerated gasp. "Hey! Being nosy is part of the job. I just happen to be very good at my job."

Free was still giggling, "OK, Miss Good at Her Job. I'm on the Southwest edge of the corner tower, can you see me now?" Glitch gestured with her right hand and a holographic screen moved from a location off to her right to a more central position. She blinked twice at it the way other folks would double click with their fingers on a desktop's mouse and the screen's view expanded. She was now looking down at the rooftop of the building Free claimed to be on. There was the normal stuff one expected to be atop a skyscraper; satellite dishes, transmitters, elevator and electrical control areas, but no Free.

"Still can't see me?" Free was teasing now. "Try now." As if by magic, a gloved hand appeared waving on the roof. Glitch was impressed. "Whoa! That's some pretty impressive stealth tech! What is that, like a stealth cloak or something?"

"Yup." The young fugitive sounded quite pleased with herself. "This thing's got me feeling like a Ghost in the Machine up here."

Glitch's jaw dropped, "Oh God! Please tell me you're not naked under that thing!"

Free's voice indicated her horror at the thought, "Oh hell no! There's bird poop on this roof girl! But you'll never guess where I got the cloak from. Your old boo, Newfangle."

T.A.S.K.'s resident tech genius blushed and screamed at her friend. "You need to stop! Newfangle was not, is not, nor will ever be, my boo or anything else in the boo family! I should call the cops on you right now for that. Hmph."

Bahrawar Mashwanis aka "Newfangle" was a young Pakistani genius who attended MIT at the same time as Glitch. Free gave the boy the nickname after hearing her friend constantly complain about him and all his "newfangled ideas" about "quantum strings." Having never encountered another child prodigy, Newfangle treated Anisa as a rival during their entire time at MIT. He was as brilliant as he was annoying. Free told her friend that the boy probably had a crush on her the whole time and he admitted as much at a symposium they both attended years later.

It had been years since she'd heard from him. She realized that Free was still giggling on the other end.

She asked "Where'd you dig Newfangle up from?" Abruptly the giggling stopped.

"Oh 'Nisa ..." Free's tone was suddenly different, hesitant. Her pause setting off alarm bells in Glitch's head. "Anisa, the Alliance had him. They took his whole family, blackmailed him into making tech for them, tortured him. I found him two weeks ago in a place they'd stashed him in Tampa, while I was tailing a guy who washed out of the Sam Spirit program. They ... they messed him up bad."

The Alliance was a global superhuman crime syndicate with tentacles in everything from human trafficking to hi-tech weapons manufacture and sale. They'd attacked T.A.S.K. facilities and had even engineered the hostile takeover and an entire South American island nation. They were ruthless.

Glitch found she was unable to speak. She knew the Alliance's modus operandi but asked in spite of herself. "His family, are they ..."

Free's whisper broke her heart. "They're gone 'Nisa. They ... they're dead."

To Be Continued ...

Written by Damion Gonzales with art by Quinn McGowan and Sean Izaakse