I was in a study group when it happened. Glimmer Girl was on hold – or that was the idea – so I made a point to ignore the phone. With four assignments due and tens of thousands of dollars of student loans invested, it was the only reasonable choice.
Fate, however, had other plans.
Sat across the table was a handsome boy named Sanjay; easy on the eyes, took pride in his appearance, especially his hair. He was also married to his cell. You couldn’t part them if you tried – not when there was ‘fresh tea’ on social media and memes that needed sharing; you know, the life-blood of liberated ex-high schoolers.
He scrolled through his feed and went bug eyed, probably at a video of baby otters or something. Not that I hate baby otters. “You need to check this out,” he said.
I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t resist. Except that it wasn’t animals, or memes, or a cringe-y comment thread. The study group gathered around the screen and stared down at the image of a person in bright armor filmed from below.
“Cosplay?” someone asked.
Sanjay pushed the screen away so more could see. “Keep watching.”
The camera panned from the figure and to the building standing at arm height beside it. And not just any building, but the Donovan Commerce Building in the heart of Milestone City. It was no costume.
“No way,” I said. “That’s got to be a trick. Angles or something.”
“It’s real,” Sanjay said. “Check for yourself. It’s on all the channels.”
The others checked their phones, and I checked mine. There were a string of missed calls screaming with urgency, alternating between Tanya and my Mom. My inbox was flooded with messages, and filled with pictures of the same strange robot taken by my friend from several blocks away.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. A real mech, and in my backyard! If ever there was a reason to pull Glimmer Girl from vacation, this was it.
It felt good to fly again. Photon particles tickled from head to toe and lifted my holographic body. Propelled on a burst of energy, I tore across the sky and toward the heart of the city.
Losing myself in Glimmer Girl was the easy part. The freedom she bestowed made fighting worthwhile, almost. I tried not to think about it. For all I knew there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for a giant robot choosing to park in the Central Business District.
In no time I was in the far end of town. The machine was a lot bigger in real life than it was on camera. I circled the chrome red bat-like helmet. On the front was the likeness of a woman, her expression etched with determination. Her golden eyes slept, and the rest of her was still as I passed a second time.
Was it resting? Gods, I was thinking about the thing like it was alive. Where was the pilot or the controller, or whatever it had?
“I don’t know what you are,” I muttered, “but I’m glad you’re not here for a fight.”
“No, but we are!”
Five figures emerged, each a different color and wearing a billowing red cape slung over one shoulder. They stood in a line along the robot’s shoulder, like soldiers in formation. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear they’d stepped out of a cartoon.
“You can’t be serious,” I said, and stopped in mid-flight. Apart from their tone, there appeared nothing serious about them. Maybe it was a TV stunt, or a not-very-practical joke.
The figure in red stepped forward and crouched. “We are night’s defenders of justice,” she said, despite it being the middle of the day. “The immortal guardians of the innocent; but you can call us Fang Force!”
If they weren’t a joke, their name was. Whatever.
“Listen, I’ve got homework,” I told them. “So I’d appreciate it if you could move your giant robot so it’s not blocking traffic. Otherwise, we’ll have to have it towed.”
These guardians, whoever they were, hadn’t come for the banter. They sprung into the air, and with such speed that I didn’t have time to react. Claws slashed as they passed, sending sparks flying. I winced, and before I knew it was rolling over the concrete roof of the commerce building.
By the time I lifted my head Fang Force had taken position. I was surrounded; should have known better than to judge clowns by their colors.
“Okay. Let’s start for real this time.”
The yellow one stood at my right, making him the perfect target for a blast. It landed square in his chest, knocking him from his feet. I rolled, and swept a continuous beam along to the one in pink. He sprung into a dive attack, but wasn’t quick enough to catch me rocketing along the ground.
At full speed I collided with their leader, and drove her into a wall. She took the brunt of it, and collapsed the surface on impact. That would be the end for a normal person. I only hoped I hadn’t struck too hard.
“That was a mistake,” the blue one barked, and wrenched me with inhuman strength.
He tossed me to his pink ally, who wrapped his arms under my shoulders. I resisted his hold, but couldn’t break free before the one in green tore through my chest. His claws were sharper than anything I’d ever seen; I’d be a goner if not for a holographic body.
There was no use trying to break free. Strength for strength they had the advantage. The question was, how long would pinky hold? I shot into the air, still with the attacker on my back. We stopped, and in the moment before gravity snatched hold I used my momentum to flip back. The fight clasps my wrists, not at all expecting concussive blasts to explode from them.
Mr. Pink struck the rooftop, hard. I landed beside him, ready for the next onslaught. His friends appeared none too forgiving.
“I think we’ve seen enough,” said the one in red.
Her soldiers eased and parted as she approached. Was it a fake out so I’d drop my guard?
The red costume evaporated into the wind, revealing a young woman probably no older than I was. She was dressed in a white blouse with a black bow and cherry red vest to match her pencil skirt and sensible flat shoes. Most striking of all was her smile; friendly, welcoming, with a glimmer of humor stashed in her dimples.
She offered me her hand in earnest. “My name is Lindsay,” she said. “Sorry for the dust-up. I hope we can be friends.”
The others appeared not at all bothered by the turn in attitude. In fact, they seemed to regard it as typical. Who were these people?
I gave in, and took her hand. An offer like that was hard to refuse.
Sometimes, when things don’t make sense, you just have to phone a friend. For me that was Tanya Truman, my bodyguard from grade school and one woman tank. Whenever I dove into the deep end, she was there to hold me back; or at least try to.
“So let me get this straight,” Tanya said. “There’s a guy from a cosmic nightmare world attacking our reality, and a group of vampires in a giant robot want your help to stop him.”
“That’s the gist of it, yeah.”
I stared over the building’s ledge with phone in hand. On the ground was this ‘Fang Force’ in full regalia, taking selfies with passersby at the feet of their robot; ‘Fang Empress’, Lindsay told me. They had charisma, and the bright colors were a draw. Gods, could I relate.
“And you’re just going to go?”
“This Lord Nihilex guy comes from what they called ‘the Abyssal Realm’,” I said. “He’s made of shadows. Glimmer Girl is made of light. You do the math.”
“You have a point,” she said. “It’s very sudden, is all.”
Their bright colors were friendly to a fault, but it didn’t make them trustworthy. I peered down at the Red Fang; the cheery, bouncy heroine with the supposed power of a vampire king. All of it was too weird for doubt.
“Just wish me luck,” I told her.
Tanya’s smile projected through the line. “Good luck, KC. You’re going to rock this!”
I smirked. At least one of us was sure. Whenever my own confidence wavered, at least I had Tanya’s to lean on.
As soon as I finished Red Fang was there. Even under the helmet she had more bounce than one girl could contain.
“You ready for the ride of a lifetime?” she asked.
I furrowed my brow at her. What was that supposed to mean?
Of all the ways I expected the day to go, this was the least expected; riding shotgun in the head of a giant robot as it soared across the countryside. I could have made the trip on my own steam, out in the open with the wind flapping through my hair, but the sheer grunt of the gravity-defying machine was so much cooler.
Red Fang squealed behind the controls, just like I did the first time I cut loose. Despite being their leader, she seemed so much younger than her teammates. Though distant and cool, the others regarded her with approval. How amazing it was to share the sky with someone.
The vessel rounded the landscape, bringing a new city into its scope. That city was Crescent Valley, named for its place under an arcing range of mountains. Once upon a time it was home to the Great Vampire King, or so Lindsay had told me. Now it was the base of Fang Force, along with a whole lot of nasties.
“This is our stop,” Red Fang said.
Without warning the cockpit opened and the six of us ejected into the air. Fang Force flew into freefall because they were expecting it; I took a moment to correct my flight path. These guys were something else!
They landed with graceful rolls, as though jumping out of an aircraft without a chute was no big deal. I rounded into a smooth descent and came down beside them, stunned.
“How about a heads up next time?”
“How about you try harder to keep up?” Green Fang snapped.
I was about to give him a piece of my mind when Red Fang placed a hand on his shoulder. “Glimmer Girl’s not used to working with a team,” she said, “and she’s here as a favor. So be nice to each other, okay?”
He deflated right away. “Sorry,” he uttered, both to her and to me. Whether it was her charisma or his loyalty, it was hard to tell; but Fang Force worked well together, at least from what I saw.
Maybe, I thought, a team of my own wouldn’t be so bad. But that was just a pipe dream.
Red Fang turned to me. “We do have to move fast. There are going to be surprises, but don’t worry. We’ve got your back.”
Heck, if any words could put me at ease…
I looked up to the sky where Fang Empress soared on the wings of a bat. The great robot turned toward the clouds and vanished, to where I couldn’t say. One second it was there, and the next it wasn’t. The power of Fang Force seemed endless. What did they need me for?
To be continued…