She couldn’t breathe. Either that or she couldn’t let out her breath - it was hard to tell.
Victoria Swanfeather - widowed at age twenty-four, mother of a thief, and now finding she was the sister of a traitor - listened to the radioed news in shock. Puckworld was still under attack. Many regions had been completely domineered by Saurians, but she was in one of the ‘safe’ cities.
Not that it meant she could walk out in the streets, no. She had to hide like everyone else, hoping her food didn’t run out and having nothing else to listen to but an old radio of her late husband’s. It was hard finding a station that would last for more than three hours without being interrupted by static or being cut off the air for good.
From what she’d gathered, Puckworldians were being herded into camps to mine for ore. The military had been completely wiped out. If her husband had still been alive to see the attack, he would be dead now. But five years ago, Lt. Corbeau Swanfeather had fought a quieter battle than one of combat - and lost it, as well - with cancer.
Victoria reached out a hand and sipped her coffee, now growing lukewarm from neglect. Her sister, the radio spokesperson declared through bursts of static, had betrayed the locations of secret Resistance HQ two weeks ago. Dragaunus had destroyed it.
"She always was a self-serving little witch." Victoria hissed to no-one; to herself. "What the hell do I care? I haven’t seen her since she ran off with her boyfriend. It just about killed Mom, but she didn’t care."
Victoria had a new worry now. She and Lucretia were twins. She wore Lucretia’s face, and although her hair was white as snow, her face was now the trademark of a traitor and murderer. If she survived this whole invasion - if any of them did - she was going to be the center of very unwelcome media attention for quite a time.
"Maybe I won’t have anything to worry about," she said bitterly. "Maybe nothing will survive."
Victoria closed her eyes. She thought about Rallus, her wayward son. He was out there somewhere, probably in a mining camp. Or dead. He never was one for authorities - why would he bend before Saurian invaders? Or perhaps he’d joined their side, like her sister.
Whatever happened to Rallus wasn’t her fault, Victoria told herself firmly. He’s responsible for his own actions. Why should I hide him? He probably wouldn’t do the same for me, his own mother.
Victoria had to tell herself quite a few times that night, but whatever guilt she harbored deep within her heart, she labelled mentally as shock.
Just as she began to drift into sleep, she’d made a decision. "They’re not mine. Not anymore. Never mine . . . "
* * *
It was over. Finally, the hell on their planet had lost it’s fire back to the peace of ice and snow. With the loss of their Master Tower, things began taking a rapid turn for the better. Saurians were panicky and the civilians, arming themselves well, were quick to take vengeance. Victoria was among them.
She fought without the passion showing in most Puckworldian’s eyes when the struck the enemy down. These men and women alongside her had lost family, friends, and lovers. She fought because she was tired and numb and full of hatred. She took lives, not caring whether the Saurians cowered or fought back.
All that was important was killing the enemy, proving herself. Making sure that everyone knew she was not Lucretia DeCoy.
A year passed, then two. The Saurian ships that had not fled were dismantled and the metal was burned to build up on defences. Puckworld was becoming a war-field - for defence. Politicians were quick to assert themselves and promised that Puckworld would never again be struck down beneath the heel of tyranny.
She was working now, as a dismantler. The year was 3130. On the planet Earth, it was 2000.
It was a complete accident really. Two children had snuck in, poking around the ruined control room. Probably on a bet, Victoria thought, mouth set in a tight line when she saw them. She walked over to them, scolding fiercely.
"Get away from those controls right now!" she barked. The children whipped around, one of them hit a switch with his elbow. A panel on the wall began to glow. Spooked, the children fled, shrieking from the control room. Victoria stared, bewildered, then felt her feet lift off the ground and as she was dragged toward the gateway, opened her mouth to scream.
* * *
"Chameleon, what did you do?" roared Dragaunus as the gateway generator began to glow.
"Why is it alway my fault!? I didn’t touch anything!" yelped Chameleon as he dodged a mystic bolt.
"Something’s coming, my lord!" warned Wraith. The Saurians shielded their eyes as brightness flooded the room.
Standing there were nothing had been before, was a duck with snow-white hair who looked very much like . . . "Lucretia? Hey, I thought we got rid of her!" cried Chameleon.
Dragaunus snarled. "We did, you idiot. She managed to escape Dimensional Limbo."
"I’m not Lucretia, you scum . . ." Victoria snarled as Dragaunus advanced.
She seized a blaster from an inactive drone and began firing away at the Saurians. They all ducked for cover with the exception of Siege who took a blast in his rear-end when he tried to run behind one of the computer consoles. He roared in pain and fury and seized his own blaster, firing at her.
Now it was Victoria’s turn to flee. She slammed her fist on what she hoped was the button for opening the sliding door as Siege's wild blaster shots reverberated all around the room.
It grated open allowing her to run through the corridor, seeking an escape. She spotted her ticket out of the Saurian ship in a nearby disposal chute. Victoria gritted her teeth and slipped the Saurian blaster on her belt. Hoping whatever garbage she was going to land in would be soft at least, she squeezed herself into the opening and slid down the chute.
* * *
Dive was bored. Really was no other way of putting it.
"Thrash? Are you sure you don’t have any more ‘Sandman’ issues?"
"Totally sold out, dude. Shame they don’t continue it."
"What?! You mean they cancelled it?! When was this?"
"Oh, years ago, compadre. You’ve got a lot to catch up on."
"Yeah, all the really good ones have like, disappeared. Neil Gaiman’s sort of into writing novels now. Well, actually, he does other stuff besides novels. You ever read ‘Mr. Punch’? It’s like, awesome and totally creepy---" Mook was interrupted right then as Nosedive's communicator suddenly lit up.
"Hold up, Cappy’s pagin’ me. What’s up, Cap’n Krunch?"
"That’s Klegghorn. No time for fooling around. I’m at gunpoint with one of your kind and you’re the closest duck to my position."
"Whoa! You’re a hostage?!" Dive cried, alarmed.
"No, not exactly. I’m in a bit of a stalemate with a female duck who does not belong on your team. We both have guns . . . she’s holding one of those lizards’ weapons which is pretty odd, seeing as how you ducks and lizards are enemies. We’re not far from the mall . . . on the corner of Lake and Elstan street. I’ve got my eye on her . . . standing about twenty feet away holding her gun. She looks scared . . . otherwise she would’ve shot ---"
“Hey!!!" Klegghorn yelled and the view on Dive’s comm went crazy before it panned back to Klegghorn’s indignant face. "She fired at me!"
"I’m headed over there! I’ll call Wing on the way." Dive nodded good bye to Thrash and Mook and changed into battle gear on the way out.
"I love it when he does that," Thrash told Mook after a moment’s stunned silence.
"Wicked," agreed Mookie.
* * *
"I told you, lady," Klegghorn grumbled. "I ain’t lowerin my gun until you lower yours."
"Who were you calling?" Victoria demanded.
"That’s for me to know and you to find out."
Their eyes matched and each glared at the other, too stubborn to put down their weapons.
They were still facing off when Nosedive showed up on the scene. "Hey, whoa, Caps. Take it easy," Dive said, after carefully studying Victoria’s face. "It’s not Lucretia."
Victoria’s eyes glowered. "Lucretia?! Of course I’m not Lucretia, you idiot! She had purple hair! I have white hair! Can’t you tell the difference?!" Victoria was absolutely miffed.
Dive raised his hands in defence. "It’s called bleaching your hair, girly girl. Not that uncommon. No need to get so touchy."
"Who do you work for?" Victoria demanded coldly.
"Jeez, Ms. Iceberg, I don’t work for anyone. Unless you mean Phil . . ."
"Who’s Phil? A Saurian?"
Nosedive tried not to laugh as the image of a fat Saurian complete with scales, a business suit, and a cell phone popped up in his head. "Yeah right. I work for the Resistance."
"The one that sabotaged the Master Tower?"
"Yeah . . . hey, who are you? Are you from our world?"
"Yes. And don’t ask me how I got here because I don’t know," Victoria snapped. "Tell your hew-man friend to put away his gun. Only then will I lower mine."
"And you can tell Ms. Warrior-Princess to put away her weapon, and then I’ll lower my gun," growled Klegghorn. Dive groaned. When was Wildwing going to get here? He said he’d be there soon . . .
"How about we break up this little stalemate and have some real fun?" snarled Siege, transporting onto the street with a new blaster. Chameleon and Wraith appeared beside him, also armed.
Almost immediately, they began to fire. Victoria, Nosedive and Klegghorn ducked behind a few parked cars while Dive drew his weapon. Frightened screams of humans filled the air and Dive hoped nobody was getting hurt. He drew his gun and when an opening presented itself, fired at Siege, knocking the blaster from his hand. Siege roared in fury.
Dive heard a click and Victoria began firing beside him. She was aiming to kill.
Nosedive gasped as Chameleon fell to the ground, holding his bleeding shoulder. Sirens blared and the street was sealed off by patrol cars that Klegghorn had called in.
Wraith and Siege, under fire, transported out of there. Chameleon was left behind, too much in pain to move.
Victoria moved towards Chameleon as did Dive, warning the police to keep back until the Saurian had been unarmed.
Dive suddenly stopped short in horror. Victoria had her gun out and was aiming at the Saurian’s head. At this close range, the weapon fired would instantly - and very messily- kill Chameleon.
Nosedive could not - would not -allow it. Killing was never the answer, no matter how much trouble the Saurian’s caused them. He grabbed her wrist. "Don’t even think about it," he warned her.
Victoria glared at him. "Why not? What’s to keep me from killing this Saurian scum?"
"Like hell you are." Victoria, with a flexibility Dive didn’t know she possessed, twisted her wrist around and out of Dive’s grip. The next thing he knew, she had his arm bent behind him and gave it a painful twist to keep him from trying to break away. With her other arm, which now held the gun, she aimed at Chameleon.
Dive used his free arm to elbow her in the stomach. He heard her grunt in pain and as a punishment, felt sharp fire lance up to his shoulder. That didn’t stop him from smashing the heel of his boot onto her feet. She cried out and he elbowed her again, this time, harder.
She was up again in a flash and backhanded him viciously. Dive bit his tongue to keep from yelping and grabbed both her wrists, managing to knock the gun from her hand. Victoria cursed and slammed her knee up into his ribcage. Dive cried out then and fell to his knees, holding his stomach.
With a smirk, she picked up the weapon and turned again to Chameleon . . only to find that he’d transported back to the Raptor. Anger boiled within her and she turned on Dive, seizing his arm an shaking him roughly. "What the hell is the matter with you?" she screamed at him, her nails digging into his skin.
"Ow, dammit! You don’t have to kill him to win! Let go of me!"
"You traitor! Saurian-lover!" Victoria spat in his face. "You don’t deserve to call yourself a true Puckworldian!"
"Our ways are peaceful, madam," spoke a voice in one of the iciest tones Dive had ever heard him use. He looked up at his brother who was gazing at Victoria coolly. Nosedive wiped at the blood on his beak from where she’d slapped him and limped over to his side.
His heart and throat were constricted in bewilderment and pain. Traitor . . . Saurian-lover . . . all he could think about was Cobran and Jaxara. Would Wing be so willing to defend him if he knew about his friends? Dive wiped her spit from his face. He knew it was wrong of Victoria to try and kill Chameleon but he still felt shame for some reason. Duke put a comforting hand on Dive’s shoulder.
"We saw it kid," he whispered while Wildwing interrogated Victoria on who she was and where, or how she had gotten here. Dive was happy to note that Victoria seemed a little cowed by Wildwing’s anger. Perhaps she recognized the Mask."You did good, Dive, savin’ his life like that. Saurian or no Saurian, we’re still a peaceful race. We don’t kill the wounded."
"Man, you took a beating. Let’s go inside the Migrator and patch you up while Wildwing sorts everything out."
"Thank you," Dive said again, gratefully, allowing himself to be led out of range of Victoria’s fleeting glares.
* * *
"Well, we can’t send her to jail. I mean, she may be an extremist, but she’s on the right side at least," stated Mallory, flopping down on the sofa.
The ducks stared at each other in silence. If Victoria wasn’t going to jail, then that meant . . .
"She’ll take some getting used to. But I’m sure I can get her to fight more . . . mercifully. We’ll work something out."
"You can’t be serious," Tanya cried. "Look how she turned on Dive! The woman’s dang- uh, da- uh, you know, dangerous!"
"Where else can she go? We can’t send her back home. Maybe she could be of use here."
"Great. We’re stuck with another civilian," muttered Mallory. "An even more insane one."
Dive glared at her, hurt. Mallory looked at him, and softened up. "Sorry, Dive," she murmured. "You did a good job keeping her from killing Chameleon," she added, hoping to make up for what she said. "Very noble."
"Indeed," added Grin. "Hopefully, your example has showed Victoria that the ends do not justify the means. If we are to win this war, we must not seek to conquer by slaughtering."
"Well, she’s not getting my room," Dive said after a moment’s silence.
"Then whose room is she getting? Uh, not mine," Tanya added quickly.
"Oh no, don’t look at me," protested Wing. "I gave my room to her sister."
Everyone gaped at him. "Victoria’s Lucretia’s sister?!" Duke yelped.
"I know! Dude, she’s looks old enough to be Lucretia’s mom or something," cracked Dive.
Tanya burst out laughing and Mallory joined in, not without first throwing one of the sofa pillows at Dive. Nosedive ducked it just in time. "What was that for? It’s true!"
"That was for being evil!" Mallory explained, then exchanged glances with Tanya and started cracking up all over again.
Wildwing raised an eyebrow at Dive who shrugged gleefully. "Well, it’s payback, all right? Now we’re even." Grin rolled his eyes and Duke sniggered.
"Uh huh. Well, Victoria can spend the night over at the jailhouse for tonight. We’ll worry about where to room her in the morning. I think we all deserve some rest."
"Yeah, okay. Night bro."
"Not you, Dive. We need to talk."
"Oooh, busted!" Duke teased. Dive just gave him a look.
When the other ducks had left the room, Wing sat next to his little bro. "Are you okay, Dive?"
"Yeah. Just some bruises and a little cut from where her nails--"
"No. That’s not what I meant. I heard what she said. Dive, I want you to know that it’s all a load of crap. You are not a traitor. You are a compassionate, sweet, and extremely annoying kid."
"You forgot incredibly handsome."
Wing mock-punched him. "Get serious. I mean it. Saving Chameleon’s life took a lot of guts."
Wing put an arm around Dive’s shoulders and held him close. "I was just afraid you’d let her words get to you, that’s all."
"Nah. No worries there. I could take it anyway. Water off a duck’s back."
"Yeah. Yeah, I know." Wing hugged his brother and ruffled his hair. "Get some sleep, Dive. Dragaunus doesn’t sleep in."
"Why not? He needs all the beauty rest he can get," snorted Dive.
"Look who’s talking."
"Just kiddin, little bro."
"Wing? Do you think this Vic-chick’s gonna cooperate with the no-killing rule?"
"She’d better, Dive."
"Or else?" prompted Dive.
"I really don’t know," Wing muttered, brushing a hand through his hair nervously. "I really don’t . . ."