It was a bright Sunday morning when Trisha Fate rose from a restful sleep. Last night had been a fruitful one. Under the guise of Kismet, she and her friends had stopped three robberies, an attempted rape, and one high-speed car chase. For once, they were able to turn in early.
Trisha glanced down at the sleeping form on the floor next to her bed and contemplated her strange friend. Certainly, Azura was out of place in the large metropolises of America, but for some reason, she liked it that way. She absolutely refused to wear conventional clothing but continued to sport the homespun top and slacks that she had made for herself while in exile on Africa's western coast. She wouldn't sleep in a bed but insisted on sleeping on the floor. Considering that she used to sleeping beneath the trees in the forests of western Africa, a shag carpeted floor was an improvement.
Trisha decided that she wouldn't awaken her friend and headed for the kitchen. In truth, there were only two things about modern technology that really interested the warrioress from Kenya: hot showers and cooking. Trisha smiled to herself.
Such an unusual combination of modern conveniences, she thought. But then, Azura is an unusual woman.
A knock came to the door. Trisha opened it to find her neighbor Joy from one of the downstairs apartments. Joy was one of two people who weren't superheroes who knew Trisha's alter ego; the other being homicide detective Lieutenant Kevin Brown who was also a love interest of Trisha's.
"Hi, Trish," Joy said, her face beaming as she rolled her motorized wheelchair into the living room. "I came up to find out if you'd be interested in going with me to the Monument City Cultural Museum. There's an exhibit on African artifacts there." She thought for a moment. "Hey, maybe your friend Azura would like to go."
Trisha shrugged her shoulders. At that moment, Azura came into the living room. She looked as if she had never been asleep at all but wide awake for quite some time.
"Good morning," she said with a strong, tenor voice in a manner that sounded as if she were not quite used to saying the greeting. "Did I hear someone mention my Motherland?"
She did not smile, but it was clear she was being friendly.
"There is an exhibit of Central African tools and artwork at the museum," said Joy. "Perhaps you would like to come with us. I'm sure you could explain most of the articles a lot better than the curator could."
Azura nodded her affirmation. Though she came from the pastoral culture of eastern Africa, Azura had time to study other cultures as she crossed the continent in self inflicted exile. She had left her tribal lands because the elders would not honor her request to become a warrior. She had also flatly refused to accept female circumcision. No one was strong enough to force her.
When she had first met Joy, she was outwardly disdainful of her because she could not use her legs. However, once she learned of Joy's increased upper-body strength, Azura held her in the highest regard. Azura took it upon herself to teach Joy the art of using a bow and arrow and properly throwing a hunter's knife. Though in truth, Joy had no idea what she would do with such skills, she accepted the lessons gratefully. Trisha was rather surprised at Azura's sudden change in opinion about Joy, but she did not question it.
"That would be most pleasant indeed," said Azura, and this time she did smile.
For the first time in recollection, thought Trisha.
After partaking in a breakfast skillfully prepared by the tall, dark warrioress, the three journeyed the short walk to the Monument City Cultural Museum. Traffic was almost nonexistent that morning since most people sleep in on Sundays, recovering from the previous evenings festivities. They reached the museum only to find several police cars parked in disarray in front it and a large crowd being held behind police lines.
Trisha caught a glimpse of Lt. Brown's face at the front door of the museum. She wanted to walk up and find out what had happened, but she had to be content with watching the commotion along with the other spectators. It didn't take long for the police to disperse the crowd, pack up and leave.
Before dashing off, Lt. Brown casually brush past Trisha and whispered, "I need to talk to you. I'll come by your place at noon."
He hopped into his car and sped off. Trisha stood there dumbfounded for a moment.
"I guess that ends the museum trip in a hurry," said Joy in a disappointed tone.
"Why?" asked Azura.
"The police closed it off. Since Lt. Brown was there, we can only assume that someone was murdered inside."
Azura said nothing, but a dark, foreboding look crossed her face.
Finally, she said, "Then, we return home."
The three turned and began to walk back toward Velvet Greens Apartments.
* * *
Early that afternoon Trisha Fate, Azura, Star Child, the extra-terrestrial member of the Black Pack, Iris, the clairvoyant archaeologist in the Pack, and Aura, Trisha's childhood comrade, were all assembled in the parlor of the Fate apartment. Lt. Kevin Brown of the M.C.P.D. homicide department was pacing back and forth in the center of the room while reading from a small black note pad.
"We don't quite know what the thief was after," said Lt. Brown rubbing his forehead. "After he killed the curator, he was frightened off by the museum guards."
"Perhaps one of the artifacts possesses some great value," said Azura who seemed to be brooding in the corner like a vulture waiting for its prey to perish.
"We checked the museum's catalog," replied Lt. Brown. "None of the pieces on display were of any substantial monetary value. Most of them are merely part of a cultural exchange with other international museums."
Azura scowled. "I was not talking about money. There are values other than monetary ones."
Trisha flashed an angry look at Azura, but she did not acknowledge it. Lt. Brown brushed off the rebuff like so much dust.
"Perhaps, but for what other reason would someone steal a museum piece?"
"Spiritual value," said Azura matter-of-factly. "Some of the artifacts on display are religious articles. Yes?"
Lt. Brown started to say something, but thought for a moment instead. "I'll look into it. Thanks for the tip."
Trisha was nothing short of astonished at Kevin's reaction. The first time he and Azura had faced off verbally like this, it nearly came to blows between the two. It actually would have if Trisha hadn't intervened. Azura herself seemed taken aback by this new tactic of control and began to develop a respect for the officer.
"Well, that's all I have for you ladies right now," said Lt. Brown. "I'll let you know if something new turns up. In the meantime, any suggestions?"
Aura suddenly spoke up. "Do you think you could get us inside to look for clues?"
"I can't make any promises," said Lt. Brown, "but I'll see what I can do."
With that, he left the Black Pack to themselves to form a plan of action. Azura looked at Trisha.
"I am sorry if I angered you, but the lew-TEN-ant was not looking down all the paths open to him. If he is as good at deduction as you say, then the criminals here are not very bright."
It took all of Trisha's strength not to leap at the African and belt her with a right cross. Instead, she stood and walk out of the room. When hearing the bedroom door slam, Iris noticed that Azura seemed confused.
"I did not mean to offend," said Azura.
"Azura, honey, remind me to give you a few lessons in tact and diplomacy," said Iris shaking her head.
* * *
That night Lt. Brown was successful in arranging a minimum security team around the museum so that the Black Pack could slip into the museum unnoticed and search for clues undisturbed.
"Now what?" whispered Aura.
"We should look around the site where the curator was killed," said Iris.
After Star Child levitated to the security system and deactivated it, the five femmes headed toward the Central Africa exhibit. The room was dimly lit by moonlight. A tracing of the dead curator had been made on the floor next to one of the display cabinets. Azura and Iris knelt beside it to look for clues. It was then that Kismet's enhanced night vision picked up an object twinkling beneath the cabinet. She reached under and picked up a small, tarnished brass key.
"Whatcha got, sis?" inquired Aura.
Despite racial differences, Kismet and Aura considered themselves to be sisters because of their shared experiences in the eugenics laboratory where they both received their powers.
Kismet held the key up the old key to her Japanese American friend.
"I'll just bet that key goes to one of the cabinets in this room," said Iris. "A good curator will check all of the exhibits personally before the museum opens to ensure that everything is in order. Let's try on the one closest to the murder site. I'd guess that he dropped it when he was attacked."
Kismet nodded in agreement when suddenly she, Azura and Aura froze in their tracks and seemingly cocked their ears like frightened deer. Apparently, they had heard a sound with their enhanced hearing that was imperceptible to the others.
"Jesus! I hate it when you guys do that," whispered Star Child.
No sooner had Kismet silenced Star Child with a wave of her hand than a strange shadowed figure leapt from the ceiling beams and attacked the Pack! Like tense springs, The Black Pack instinctively leapt into different directions. Iris and Star Child not being as athletic as the others, avoided the menacing threat of the intruder in their own ways. Star Child used her powers to dissipate her body while Iris simply side-stepped the attacker. The figure missed Iris and passed right through Star Child, but quickly rebounded itself toward Kismet. Kismet instinctively defended herself with a flying dragon-tail back kick. Upon feeling her foot and the attacker's ribs connect, Kismet immediately drew her katana sword ready to fend off further attacks. But to her surprise, the intruder was nowhere to be seen. Not letting her defenses down, she carefully scrutinized her surroundings.
"Looks like you discouraged her," said Iris.
"Did you see where she went?" asked Star Child.
Suddenly, the women noticed that the Pack was short one member.
"Where's Azura?" asked Aura.
The tall warrioress was nowhere to be seen.
"You don't suppose that phantom got her do you?" asked Iris.
"I doubt that!" said Star Child.
"At least we know that the thief isn't Nightshade," said Aura.
"What makes you say that?"
"Well," continued the almond-eyed girl, "the attacker didn't use a long sword. That's Nightshade's specialty."
Nightshade is the alter ego of Charisse Jackson, another guinea pig in the eugenics lab of Kismet's and Aura's past. Only Charisse stayed in the lab and was trained to be a cold, heartless soldier of the evil Dr. Soho, the madman behind the megafemale project.
"Another thing is that there's nothing that would interest her here. Even if she was using it as a ploy to catch me and Kismet, she would come up with a better excuse than this."
"We'd better find Azura," said Iris.
The four women began a room to room search for their African friend. They found her in the exhibit room of ancient weapons removing a bolo and a large iron chain net from their respective cases.
"What do you think you're doing?" asked Iris incredulously.
Azura gave them a wicked grin which made their blood run cold.
"I have a plan."
* * *
The shadow figure appeared once again among the ceiling beams. She carefully looked about. There seemed to be no one around. The lithe figure sprang to the floor and froze. Again she inspected her surroundings. Suddenly, a glint on the floor caught her eye. She moved closer. There before her was the key she had been looking for to open the exhibit cabinet. She reached down and picked up the key only to find it taught on something. As soon as she yanked the key, she knew it was a mistake. Before she could react, a heavy iron net fell upon her. Struggling to get free, she became more tangled. Then from out of nowhere a bolo encircled itself around her arms and waist. She was trapped!
The Black Pack came running into the room the appraise their catch. Azura studied the strange woman carefully. She was wiry but well built. Her hands showed that they were capable of performing the strangulation murder of the museum curator. She had long, titanium-white hair but despite this she was quite young. Perhaps even younger than Star Child, who claimed to be twenty-five Earth years old. Her most unusual feature was her deep, purple eyes which were flashing in a mixture of fear and anger.
"Who are you?" asked Azura.
The woman refused to answer.
"Well," said Aura, "if she won't talk, I guess we might as well avenge that poor curator she murdered."
She winked at Kismet, who nodded and drew her katana.
Frightened, the woman spoke out. "What kind of warriors are you? You dare kill me trussed up and defenseless?"
"Hey, why not?" said Aura smiling. "You did it." Aura looked at Azura. "So, what do you think, Azura? Should we slit her throat and let her die slowly or should we just stab her through the heart and get it over with?"
Azura smiled wickedly. "Surprise me."
Kismet raised her sword blade down and aimed its point toward the woman's heart. As she swung the sword downward, the woman shrieked.
Kismet shifted the blade at the last moment and planted it between the woman's arm and body. Breaking out in a cold sweat and shivering the intruder spoke again.
"M-my name is A'trk. I was on an expedition to study the animal life in the continent you call Africa when I realized that I lost my navigational computer pad. By the time I had backtracked to where I had lost the pad, it was taken by someone. I traced it here."
"But why did you kill the curator?" asked Star Child.
"He had something that belonged to me," hissed A'trk. "He deserved to die!"
"Humph," breathed Iris. "Sounds like some kind of military government trying to revise itself with scientific exploration."
"Basically," said Star Child. "From the looks of her, I'd say she was from Aragos VI. They were the scourge of the neighboring systems until someone bigger came along and blasted them."
A'trk hissed at Star Child's last remark. Kismet took all this information in but was left with two unanswered questions: What do we do now, and how do I explain this to Kevin?
After hearing the commotion coming from inside the museum, Lt. Kevin Brown rushed into the Central Africa exhibit to find The Black Pack surrounding a strange looking woman tied up in a chain link net and rope.
"What the hell is going on here?" asked Kevin.
"We caught your killer," said Azura with a predatory smile that gave Lt. Brown the willies.
He moved closer to the captured woman. Strange snow-white hair flowed from her head and vivid purple eyes glared with the fury of a cornered animal. Tense sinews in her arms and legs strained to react. Kevin could only imagine the kind of damage she could cause were she free. He looked at Kismet.
"Tell me this isn't another eugenics experiment you just happened not to tell me about."
Kismet shook her head no.
"Not exactly, Lieutenant," said Star Child. "Actually, she's an extra-terrestrial."
Kevin wiped his face from top to bottom. He smiled at Kismet. "You seem to be attracting quite a crowd from the stars. First Star Child, then some assassin android, then mermaids from another planet, and now this."
Kismet returned the smile.
"So what do we do with her?" asked Iris echoing everyone's ulterior thoughts.
"I'll take her back to her home world," said Star Child.
Kismet was a little unsure about letting Star Child leave with a blood-thirsty alien.
"Trust me," said Star Child. "I can handle it. Hasn't been a starship made yet that I couldn't pilot."
Kismet assented, and Iris volunteered to join her on her trek. Aura was still marveling at the ingenuity of Azura's trap.
"How'd you think of a trap like that on such short notice, Azura?"
"I use that trap to catch predators who threatened the herds back home," said Azura proudly. She picked up the key. "All that is really required is the right bait!"
"I just hope that the family of the curator will understand that his killer 'got away'," said Kevin. "I certainly can't tell them the truth."
"They'll recover in time," said Iris. "I just can't believe how many times I've seen Azura smile tonight. It was a bit…unsettling."
Azura cocked an eyebrow. "I thought you said I should smile more."
"Sure, smile like a person," laughed Iris, "not like a Cheshire cat."
Soon the others joined in the laughter while Kismet merely smiled, A'trk fumed, and Azura stood amidst all in utter confusion.
Return to The Document Library.