Welcome to the Jungle

The dream is always the same. The dark wet road, squealing brakes, and then the suffocating closeness of being inside a box in total darkness. In your sleep your heart rate spikes as you fumble about inside the box, panic rising as there’s no way out and how did you get in here and –

“Hey boss. Shit, Zombie, are you alive?” The speaker snickers like he’s just told the best joke ever, and something soft hits your side as you jerk awake. The grin fades from Squib’s face as you glare at him, and he backs up a step until he’s just outside your door. As you sit up a Nerf football falls to the ground, and you scrub a hand through your short hair and try to refrain from murdering anyone before you’ve had your coffee.

Squib stands there uncomfortably, shifting his weight from side to side, until you say, “Well? Why did you wake me up?”

“Oh, uh, right. Uh. We got something brewing in Los Santos, boss. Intercept picked it up on the computer doing… you know. His thing.” Squib mimes typing. Squib is an enthusiastic idiot. He can also charge energy into small objects and make them explode, so you keep him around and try to find useful things for him to do in the meantime.

Intercept can make computers do anything he wants, which extends to anything with computer chips in them, which means if he says he’s picked up information about something about to go down in Los Santos then you need to sit up and listen. You grab a pair of sweatpants (what time is it? Is it even morning?) and pull them on while Squib pretends not to stare. “Get lost. Tell Intercept I’ll be there in a minute.”

As he runs down the hallway you follow at a more leisurely pace. You find Intercept at his computer. There is an array of screens lighting up his pale, sun-deprived face, and he turns toward you. “It’s the Locos. They’re talking about Banyon Street, and sending a message, tonight.”

Shit. There’s a little non-profit shelter for mutant teens on Banyon Street, and it’s right on the edge of the notoriously anti-mutant 15th Street Locos territory. There isn’t even a 15th Street in Locos territory, but maybe there was, once. You look at the clock. 7 am.

You nod your head as Intercept says something else, but your nightmare is still lingering in the back of your mind, thanks to being rudely awoken by Squib in the middle of it. You look at him sideways - he’s sitting on the kitchen table with a bowl of cereal, chewing with his mouth open. You absently pick up a ping pong ball (Squib has been practicing with them and leaving them all over the place) and throw it at him, hard enough that it bounces right off his forehead and disappears into the kitchen.

“Ow!” Wounded, he rubs his head, nearly dropping his bowl in the process.

“Don’t throw shit at me, I won’t throw shit at you,” you say. “I’m going for a walk. Keep monitoring the situation, ‘Cept. Text Eel and Billy… get the word out on the Locos. Send a tip to the cops, too. Can’t hurt to make sure they’re aware of what’s in the works.”

“Sure, Jane.” Intercept strokes his beard and turns back to his monitors, quickly losing himself in screens. You pull on your shoes and walk outside, the morning sun already warm on your skin as you go down the concrete stairs and to the sidewalk.

It’s a crappy apartment in a crappy part of town, but since arriving in the LA area a few months ago you’d spent most of your time trying to organize what there was of the League. Finding a good base of operations was next on the list, and crashing with Intercept and Squib generally wasn’t that bad. Just annoying.

You think about your dream.



The dark, wet road is a far cry from the sun-drenched and palm tree lined streets of southern California. Not just an ordinary nightmare, this piece of your subconscious is a memory from when you turned sixteen. You realize that you’re walking faster, and take a moment to slow down, stopping on a corner and looking around before crossing the street.

Sixteen and dumb, you’d taken your new drivers license, your best friend, and your little sister, and started showing off. Lisa had been laughing, the music was loud – but the rain got worse and you didn’t slow down when you should have. Hindsight, and all that. You remember losing control of the car, and the impact… and then the Nothing. When you woke up, over a week later, your parents had already mourned your death and buried you. The claustrophobic feeling of being inside a coffin, the panic and surge of energy as you struggled to get out, clawing your way out of the dirt… When you’d made your way back home, terrified and confused, covered in dirt and still coughing out embalming fluid, your parents had been horrified.

You rub your forehead, turning back toward the apartment. It was all a long time ago. Things like that belong in the past. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, you make your way back. Kids are starting to emerge in the neighborhood, the friendly noises of happy families sorting out breakfast and getting excited about the start of summer vacation. You envy them their naiveté.

“So,” you say, once you have a bowl of cereal in one hand and a Rockstar in the other, “Tell me more about what you’re hearing. What’s so special about today that the Locos have decided it’s clobberin’ time? Someone’s birthday? Anniversary? Cinco de Loco?”

Intercept chuckles, shaking his head. “Dammed if I know. From what I hear it sounds like one of the kids from the shelter got into it with some Locos yesterday. I’m only hearing it from their side, but they’re pretty worked up over it.”

Oh great. If the Locos are pissed off enough you’ll be lucky if some hotheaded gang member doesn’t start something early. “Any details?” You shovel food into your mouth efficiently, and wash it down with your energy drink.

He turns his ridiculous beard back to his screens. “Nothing for sure, just a lot more anti-mutant stuff. I can’t tell if they’re out for blood, or just going to send a message.”

“Which could also end up in blood,” you say. “What are the Locos bringing to the party these days?”

“Nothing too impressive,” ‘Cept says, not looking away from his computer. “Too many guns, knives, bad attitudes. That sort of thing. Last incident they had with a rival gang, someone drove by and shot up a house, and killed a six year old who was sleeping in a front room of the house next door. They’re not too particular about who gets hurt when they’re on the warpath.”

“Okay, so, run of the mill dumbass gang stuff,” you say. “Do we know how many mutants are at the shelter right now? Any others on the street I should know about?”

“Well, that’s trickier. There isn’t like a roster or anything like that, especially not online. But there’s at least Ms. Fernandez, one of her brothers, and four to six teenagers.”

You refill your cereal and continue eating. You don’t know exactly why, but you tend to eat a bit more than a normal woman of your size. You’re 5’9", about 130lbs, and your body seems to like to stay that way. Still, you try not to eat a lot of junk even if it doesn’t seem to matter. "Are there any League sympathizers at the House?"

Intercept nods, then shrugs, pulls off his beanie and scratches his scalp. "Someone in the house is posting on the Mutant Rights message boards, but it’s hard to say which one other than its a girl. She’s someone who’s had a lot of discrimination against her and a chip on her shoulder to match. Could be a recruit if we play our cards right. Anna Fernandez is against the League. She thinks we’re just another gang who doesn’t care who we hurt as long as we protect our own."

Well, she isn’t exactly wrong about that. "I know her ability is something to do with ice, but what about her brothers? Or the kids at the House?"

"The Fernandez clan is pretty big," he says, tugging the beanie back down over his head. "Big bro Alonso can manipulate air - flying, directed wind, that sort of thing. He lives in Riverside with his wife and kids. Paolo manipulates sound in some manner - he’s in the SFPD, and isn’t in town that I know of. Joaquin...not quite sure what he does, besides some modeling. Marcelo is becoming a priest and he has enhanced speed and reflexes. I don’t know how fast he can go. He’s in San Diego. And lastly we have Antonio, college student and currently spending the summer with his big sister. His ability is inorganic transformation - he can turn his body into just about anything, as long as he’s touching some of the same material. He’s been to some recent protests, and is probably a likely target for recruitment. More so than any of the others, anyway.

"There’s a purple girl at the shelter, and a black kid that jumps. Like, really jumps. There’s a chameleon kid there too, if he’s still around. Dunno how completely he camouflages, he’s pretty new, not much info."

"Do we have any information on the leaders of the Locos?"

Intercept scratches his chin and you wonder if he’s ever heard of beard oil. "The head of the gang is a guy named Carlos Gutierrez. He’s about twenty-five, been in and out of jail a few times. He’s got two strikes, so if he gets arrested now he’s going away for a long time. Because of that a lot of the heavy lifting seems to fall to his lieutenants, Eightball Morales and Johnny ’Stick’ Arroyo."

He turns from his screens, which are constantly changing and give you a headache if you look too closely at them, and points his finger at the TV mounted on the wall. It flicks on. The news is covering the disaster that the morning commute has turned into: a helicopter shot of a mess of people wandering around on the 10 freeway, waving arms and banners, dominates the screen. You sigh. It feels like it’s going to be a long day.

Your phone rings while you’re processing this information, and you check the caller ID. Billy. Intercept raises his eyebrows, and leans back in his expensive computer chair while you answer it. Having a tech guy has been very helpful. He set up a mesh network for your phones, so you can talk without fear of anyone tapping in, legally or otherwise. Or something. You don’t really care how it does it, just that it works.

"What’s up?" you ask.

"Hey, Jane, I’m on my way to Los Santos, but some jokers decided to stop traffic. The 10 is stopped dead. Not a problem for me, I got my bike, but Eel’s somewhere ahead of me in his car. Oh, I see them now. Looks like a mess of Mutant Lives Matter protestors. They got banners an’ everything, and it sounds like the commuters are getting fuckin’ pissed. No cops yet, probably can’t get through. What do you want me to do?"

You watch the video of the protest on the TV screen while you tell Billy what you want him to do. “Find Eel and have him join up with the protestors. I don’t want him doing anything but keeping an eye on things for now – if it starts getting rough he should protect the mutants. Keep the peace if he can.”

”Okay boss. You want me to keep going to Locos turf?” Billy sounds bored.

“Yeah, we tipped off the cops but I don’t know what their response is going to be. I want you there to watch the shelter from a distance and keep Intercept informed.” You hang up and go get dressed to start your day in your usual Dickies work pants, steel toed shoes, and a plain t-shirt. You don’t have any curves to try to accentuate, your hair is cut short and needs little attention, and you don’t waste time with make-up.

You think about the Barrio Boneyard for a minute while deciding whether or not you should contact them. You aren’t overly familiar with them, but you do know that they are friendly, or at least ambivalent, toward mutants. Their turf butts right up against the Locos in Los Santos, but they control a smaller area. There have been some nasty altercations between the two gangs in the past, but since Carlos (leader of the Locos) got his second strike it’s been pretty quiet. The Bones seem to react to others encroaching on their territory or insulting them, but you don’t think they go out looking for trouble.

Back in the living room/computer nest you look for your car keys. “Intercept, I want you to call up everyone else. Make sure they’re ready for anything today. Also, text me a number for the Barrio Boneyard.”

“Ah, good idea!” Squib has reappeared, a deck of cards in his hands. “Tell them something’s going down tonight, maybe they take care of the Locos for us.” He flicks a card toward a bowl and it flies off in a different direction.

“Yeah,” you say, “something like that. I’m going to go check out that warehouse in Huntington Park by the rail yards.” Do you want to come? is almost out of your mouth before you can stop it, but you don’t really want to hang out with Squib right now, and Intercept isn’t exactly mobile friendly. He works best from his base of operations. “I’ll make sure I record the electrical panel and all that for you,” you say instead, holding up your smartphone at Intercept. He doesn’t really look up, but nods.

After you locate your keys you briefly consider just going to Disneyland instead. It would be nice to be able to just ignore all this shit, but duty calls. You climb into your old Honda Civic and get going, dialing the number Intercept has texted to you and holding the phone to your ear as you drive. Apparently you are about to talk to someone called Scratch who is in the leadership of the Barrio Boneyard.

”Who’s this?”

“Zombie.”

”Yeah, right. League, callin’ me?”

“We heard rumors that the Locos are going to start something tonight on Banyon Street. Thought you and the Bones would want to know. That’s close to your turf, isn’t it?”

”An’ you just some concerned citizen lookin’ out for our best interest?” He sounds skeptical, and irritated.

You roll your eyes. “Something like that, yeah. They’re targeting Redención House, because they hate all those mutie kids. The League doesn’t like that. From what I hear, the Barrio Boneyard won’t like it either.”

There’s a bit of silence, and then Scratch says, ”Those pricks better watch themselves, startin’ something so close to the Boneyard. But as long as they stay on their side, we gotta stay on ours. We ain’t strong enough to take on the Locos.”

Well, shit. “C’mon, Scratch, you’re not going to get a better opportunity to expand your territory than tonight.” You floor it while you merge onto the freeway. Six months in Southern California and you’re only just getting used to how differently traffic flows here. “The League’s got your back.”

”Oh yeah?” He sounds suspicious. ”Seems sort of small potatoes for the big, bad League.”

“Yeah,” you say, “You’re right. I got other things on my plate right now. But I have to protect the shelter. They’re doing good things for mutants, and I’m going to make sure they’re not living in fear from some worthless pieces of shit like the Locos. You and the Bones can help, and take advantage of this situation, or you can sit on the sidelines. The League will remember what you chose to do.”

”Don’t fucking threaten me, bitch,” he says, almost absently, thinking it over. ”Fine. Say we do this – if we do this – we grab Banyon Street tonight. And your peeps leave. The Locos aren’t going to stand for that shit. They’ll be back, and in bigger fucking numbers.”

“I’ve got a kid who can turn a handful of rocks into a grenade barrage,” you say, cutting across a few lanes of traffic and exiting the freeway. “We’ll lend him to you for the next couple days if you help us out.”

There’s a long silence, long enough you wonder if you were disconnected. ”Lemme talk to the others. I’ll be in touch.” Scratch hangs up.

Well, that’s just about as good as you could have hoped. You can’t really explain why you want to protect the shelter so badly. They’re relentless do-gooders, which is sort of irritating, but people like that…doing actual good in the world for mutant kids who desperately need it… Yeah. Protecting them from the evil of the world is something you can get behind.

You find Soto Street and start scanning cross streets until you find the one you’re looking for. Pulling up in front of the building you take the time to double check Google maps. Across the street from the warehouse is a power substation. You are about to snap a picture and send it to Intercept, but then you realize he almost certainly already knows it’s there.

Inside, the building could use some work. But it’s big enough, and there’s a couple offices/conference rooms built into the right side that you could partially convert into a living space. One wall is almost completely windows, but they’re tagged and some are broken. Everything is dirty. You stand in the middle of it and look around.

You take a video of the inside and text it to Intercept, who replies with two smiley faces and a poo emoji. Whatever the fuck that means. You’re about to pocket your phone when you get a series of texts.

Billy: @ Banyon saw patrol car drive thru. no other cops. everything quiet now

Eel: The protest is being broken up by the CHP. I got the number of the organizer. They’re arresting should I run or?

Wildfire: Heading to the apartment. See u soon >;fire emoji

You send a couple replies on your phone.

To Eel: Don’t resist you won’t be charged with anything. Look for like-minded people in the protestors.

To Vigilante: where are you? meet at the apartment ASAP

You look around one more time as you press Send. You don’t hate the warehouse, but… meh. You don’t like the look of all those windows, but it’s certainly better than trying to have meetings in the apartment. Maybe some excavation would make it better for your needs? You’ll keep your eyes and ears open for other possibilities in the meantime.

You get back to your car and once again briefly consider driving to Disneyland for the day. Too bad you have more important things to do right now! Heading back to the apartment in mid morning traffic, you start thinking about the Brotherhood, and your role in it. You’ve only been in the area about six months, having been sent down here to take charge by Deimos, the leader of your former cell in the mid-west. He’s sort of a mentor figure to you, someone who you ran into while you were a runaway in your late teens. He has the ability to make you hallucinate your worst fears, which doesn’t really make for best friend material, but he was always there for you and the other mutants in his group.

Now you’re on your own, relatively speaking, and you’re the one making the plans and calling the shots. Your phone vibrates and you pull it out to read the text while driving.

Vigilante: was asleep. late night. be there soon

Whatever. That was sort of anti-climactic. Tonight things will be getting interesting, and you need to work on a plan. You still need to hear back from the Barrio Boneyard, but you think they’re going to be on board with putting the Locos in their place.

*****

It is around noon. Vigilante has just arrived, and you’ve heard from Eel that he’s been released from police custody and is trying to find where his car ended up at. Billy is still lurking on and around Banyon Street, hopefully staying out of sight and not scaring the locals.

Squib puts a frozen pizza into the oven. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starving.” He wads up the plastic wrapper and tosses it at the garbage can, where it falls to the ground. You grimace internally. For someone with his special ability, not being able to hit what he’s aiming at is a real problem. He’s getting better, but more training is needed.

Wildfire leans forward from where she’s perched on the edge of the couch. “So, we gonna burn out these Locos?” She bites her lower lip a little as she raises her eyebrows, shoving Squib to the side when he sits down too close to her.

“Not exactly,” you say, finishing off the last of your fries from the fast food you picked up on the way home. Home. Ugh. “The way I see it, we have a couple objectives tonight.” You look at Intercept. “It is still tonight, right?”

“Alls quiet at the moment,” he agrees. “Stick and Eightball were hanging out at the nearby 7-11 about an hour ago, but they separated. They didn’t go toward the shelter. I followed them on camera for a while but coverage isn’t great in Los Santos. I have facial recognition running for them and the other known Locos members. Once they start congregating I’ll know.” He pauses, and then shrugs. “Maybe not exactly where they’re meeting.”

“Anything is good,” you say. “So we have to protect the shelter, Redención House. We can’t count on backup from the shelter, but I know they’ve got some heavy hitters there. From what I know about Anna is that she’s extremely non-violent and encourages the kids to be the same. I want to do what we can to respect her wishes - see if we can get her to see that we aren’t the terrorists the news has told her we are.

“Keeping her and those kids safe is the number one priority, as is winning them as allies. Next, I want to see what we can do about dividing up the Locos. They have Carlos as their leader, but he’s not likely to be there. The two lieutenants, Eightball and Stick, they’re the targets here. If we take out them both, or just one of them, then the gang would just continue following under Carlos, or whoever survives. We can’t kill them. Intercept?” You point at him and crack open another Rockstar as he takes over for a minute.

“Kyle “Eightball” Morales, he’s the brains of the operation. He keeps the drug dealing side of things running smooth for the Locos. Procurement, distribution, money, he’s the dude.” Intercept scratches his beard. “Johnny “Stick” Arroyo is the muscle. He likes beating people with wooden baseball bats, hence the nickname. He’s been with Carlos longer and has always been his enforcer.”

Squib jumps up to check on his pizza as the timer rings, jostling Wildfire and Vigilante. Wildfire follows Squib into the kitchen area to steal a slice of pepperoni. You look at Vigilante. Her real name is Ginny, and she has dark circles under her eyes like she was up all night. She catches you looking, and raises an eyebrow. “Do we have a plan for dealing with these pricks?”

“Not yet,” you admit. “My idea so far is to make it look like one of them tipped us off to the event tonight. If you have a better one, I’d like to hear it.” She shrugs under her leather jacket, and you move on. “Lastly, we know the Locos run a lot of drugs into the area and they’re probably sitting on a good pile of money wherever it is they hole up at. If we can find out where their HQ is tonight, I won’t complain. If things go our way we might even be able to strike them there while they’re out occupied on Banyon Street. I don’t want to bite off more than we can chew, but if the Boneyard comes through we’ll be able to split up.

“Lastly, I know some of you wouldn’t mind killing the Locos to send a message - I don’t think this is the kind of message we want to be sending. And making a pile of bodies outside her house isn’t a great way to win over Anna Fernandez. So try to go non-lethal unless it’s you or them. Incapacitate, and leave them for the cops. This is a neighborhood, so someone’s granny is going to be calling 911 as soon as it starts getting loud.”

“Usually takes about twenty minutes for the cops to respond, but we did tip them off earlier and they’ve added an extra patrol in the area,” added Intercept. “Cops could be there within five minutes.”

Ginny straightens up on the couch, looking over at Wildfire and Squib in the kitchen stuffing pizza into their faces. “Have you heard of Headlight?”

You shrug, and look at Intercept, who turns back to his screens immediately as he talks. “New drug on the market. Don’t know much about it.”

“I heard the Locos are trying to corner the market on it,” Ginny says. “It gives you a euphoric high, but you sorta, like, pause for the duration. Like a deer in the headlights,” she adds. “But there’s more. That’s the effect on vanilla humans, but for us… it strengthens your power. No pause...until afterward. Then your ability sort of fades out for an hour or so. Not gone but… its less.”

“That doesn’t sound like something that’s true,” you say, incredulously.
“Oh, I didn’t think so either. So I tried it last night.” Vigilante forces a smile. “That’s exactly what it does.”



Next Chapter: Drive By