A Change of Pace – Chapter 19

The size of the structure was intimidating. A multitude of stone buildings networked together by some architectural Tetris master. Daisy stared at the shopping mall from behind the tinted, reinforced windows of Maria’s SUV, and suppressed a shiver. She couldn’t think about the sheer volume of people inside there. All the unruly kids trying to escape their parents, young parents frantically searching for the nearest bathroom to change their feces laden toddlers, hormonal teens roving the mall in packs, and worst of all the mall walkers. Elderly and middle-aged individuals dressed in track suits, and walking in circles around the mall for exercise. The concept was moronic, especially when the teenage hooligans harassed them every step of the way. Even though she’d had a minor breakthrough in therapy, Daisy wasn’t ready for this.

Shopping malls as a concept hadn’t been a big thing when Daisy was growing up. Real commercial malls didn’t start popping up in numbers until the late 1950s and early 60s. By that time Daisy was already in college, training to be a Hero, and then actually being a Hero. Her experience in the mega shopping centers revolved around going into a couple burning and collapsing ones to pull out civilians; and pulling crowd control duty on Black Friday when she was on someone’s shit list. As a result, Daisy wasn’t too fond of them, which didn’t help her situation any.

Maria wound her ridiculously large vehicle through the serpentine parking structures looking for an open spot. Daisy should have been more surprised that the 5’2” weapons instructor drove a small tank, but she wasn’t. She’d only known the fierce Latina for about a week, but if Daisy had learned anything, it was that Maria didn’t do anything half-assed, and she always believed in being prepared. Being prepared meant that she carried enough weaponry around with her to take on an armored division. Thus the reason for driving around a tank that was more literal than metaphoric.

Maria, or the Hero Puppeteer as she used to be known, was a full body control super with a twist. She wasn’t quite in the same league as Intra, but she could still do enough physical modification to increase her strength, durability, speed, perception, and all the other little nifty things people often overlooked. Being able to rearrange your thumb to break out of handcuffs was a surprisingly useful trick when captured by criminals.

The unique aspect of her ability was extending that level of precision and control to anything nonorganic that she touched. The instantaneous mastery made her a hell of a weapons instructor, with virtually anything she touched being classified as a deadly weapon. So, it didn’t come as a surprise to Daisy when Maria belted on a few knives, some honest to god throwing stars, and strapped a pistol to her ankle before leaving the vehicle. The other women simply took the actions in stride, so Daisy went along with it.

They entered the mall a force to be reckoned with. The only one not able to humiliate anyone who crossed their path being Chrissy, but Daisy doubted the jolly chef was a pushover. Thankfully, people seemed to instinctually recognize their group wasn’t to be messed with. Even the hormonal bands of roving hooligans gave them ample space. Despite the amount of concentrated power in the group, the leader of the excursion was undoubtedly Chrissy.

“God, I’ve been looking to get out all week,” Craig’s wife seemed totally in her element as she passed by stores. “Ever since Craig’s man night, I’ve been looking to have a little fun of my own.”

“That night wasn’t as fun as he makes it out to be,” Daisy replied, remembering all the paperwork they’d gone through, only to create even more.

“Whatever you do, he lives for it every year. That and the end of the year man night,” Chrissy detoured into a Victoria Secret.

Daisy felt incredibly uncomfortable shopping for bras and panties with the other women. Especially when Chrissy made it clear she needed to buy something special for a romantic evening with Craig. Daisy made mock puking motions behind Chrissy when the woman overshared. It got a few laughs and a good natured scowl from her target. They were in and out of the intimate apparel store, in and out being a good half an hour.

“Didn’t you say you needed to get some athletic clothes?” Maria asked as they entered the growing crowd of mall-goers.

“Yeah, just a quick stop to pick up a few things,” Daisy watched a group of three teens pass them.

Two of the three were ogling the female Heroes in a not so discrete way; while the third and only female sneered. Daisy sighed, hoping that they continued on their way, and she didn’t have to do something if one of them tried to pinch her ass, or something else cliché like that.

“The sporting goods store is at the far end of the mall,” Chrissy pointed in the direction like a general commanding her troops. “Mind if we hit a few more stops along the way.”

Daisy nodded, settling into the tediousness that was shopping with a group of women. A few more stops meant just about every other store. Chrissy and Craig were well-off, thanks to Chrissy’s thriving restaurant business, so she liked to spend her hard earned cash. Grace, Maria, and Robin had done well enough as Heroes that they didn’t need to worry about money. Their salaries were paltry compared to their merchandizing rights. Although they were mostly retired, their Hero personas were still marketed to a degree.

As the three other women moved from store to store with a purpose, Daisy settled into the back of the group with Robin. The tired looking woman always stuck close to the entrance, like she was ready to bolt at a moment’s notice. She still looked exhausted and depressed, although a faint smile showed she was enjoying the comradery. Daisy saw it as a perfect opportunity.

“Hey, Robin,” the smaller woman nearly jumped in fright as Daisy addressed her. Daisy put up her hands in a calming gesture before continuing. “I just wanted to apologize.”

“Apologize?” Robin cocked her head to one side in confusion.

“Yeah,” Daisy thought of exactly how to phrase it. She wasn’t sure if Grace was supposed to tell her about Robin’s family situation. “I kind of made an ass of myself when we first met. I antagonized your husband, and was a genuine jackass. So, I’m sorry.”

“Grace told you,” Robin saw right through to the core of the issue.

“Yeah,” Daisy replied truthfully. “I’m no good at this whole talking thing, but you and Marshall seem like good people, so I’m here if you need anything.”

“Didn’t you kick Marshall in the head,” there was a sly grin on Robin’s face.

“I said you were good people. I didn’t say anything about him being smart,” that got her a laugh, which startled the other women in the group. It seemed Robin wasn’t the laughing type.

Robin’s spirits picked up a little bit after that, and Daisy couldn’t help but feel the same way. She’d made a little headway on the building relationships front, but she didn’t want to push it too much. Daisy settled into a comfortable rhythm as the women moved from store to store. She even bought one of two things she didn’t need.

“Oh yeah,” Maria sounded like a high pitched Hispanic version of the Kool-Aid guy. “You need take a look at this.” She was speaking to Grace, who hurried over.

Daisy, Robin, and Chrissy were at the opposite side of the vintage t-shirt store. The small store had a surprising collection of sports, movie, and Hero memorabilia. Apparently Craig liked to test the rules and wore Hero t-shirts when he was off the clock, and sometimes when he was on it. He never wore his own merchandise, that’s just tacky, but you couldn’t put it passed him to wear someone else’s. Apparently when Grace first came on board he wore an Amped shirt into her first class, and none of the students connected the dots.

“Oh that’s good. Chrissy!” Grace called over.

Daisy couldn’t really make out the shirt aside from its colors, but that was enough. The tall Super, easily outpaced Chrissy as she made her way to her two snickering peers. She grabbed the shirt out of their hands and groaned.

“I thought all of these were off the shelves years ago,” Daisy withdrew the shirt when Maria tried to grab it back.

The shirt was a XXXL, which was probably why it hadn’t been sold off long ago. It was completely black with red lettering on the front and back. The front and back mirrored each other, which was a poor design feature, but this shirt was from the 90s. “Who Hunts the Darkness in Every Man’s Soul” was written in bold red letters across the chest. The text took up three lines, which left the final word on the shirt at bellybutton level. “Reaper”, her Hero name was in more delicate font, with the bottom of the first R, the P, and the final R taking on the appearance of dripping blood.

“I need that,” Chrissy had arrived, and was staring at the shirt greedily.

Craig wearing the shirt over and over again flashed through Daisy’s mind, and she instinctually hugged the piece of clothing closer to her chest. “Not a chance.”

Daisy had never been a fan of the marketing aspect of the Hero world. She knew it was necessary, since as government employees they got paid mediocre at best. A Hero could easily go into the SSA or even PEERs and make a ton of money if they wanted, and some did after their best days were behind them.

Marketing was a tool for keeping talented Heroes in the game when their duty to their fellow man wasn’t enough anymore. Like everyone else, Daisy got roped into getting an agent and selling merchandise. She’d gone with a guy just starting out, Lenny something, and done pretty well for a while. The problem was that she had to go to events, do interviews with the press, kiss babies, all that shit that she wasn’t good at, and didn’t want to do. She didn’t come off as the Hero type in these circumstances. After some disastrous performances they cancelled these types of meetings, and fell back on selling merchandise. Even that tapered off when newer, attractive, and camera friendly Heroes arrived on the scene.

She’d see a spike in her merchandise revenue every time she took down a big villain. This particular t-shirt was when she finally caught up with and killed Tinker. The sociopathic madman was a technical brilliance Super before they were classified as Supers. For most of Daisy’s carrier he’d been a homicidal psychopath who’d come up with ingenious inventions to kill or maim Heroes and civilians alike. She’d final caught up to him when his boss, the even more notorious villain Armsman, wasn’t around. She snuffed out Tinker’s putrid life thread without a second thought.

The designer of the shirt tried to capitalize on the moment, going for a goth/grunge look. That was big in the Seattle market at the time, where she’d finished off the villain. They’d also tried to tap into the growing vampire subculture, thus the dripping blood, and the still powerful feminist movement. After all, what bigger symbol of female power was there?

Daisy had hated the shirt, but it sold well. She’d used her own money to buy up the final batch once production was finished on them. She’d thrown her own alcohol infused t-shirt burning party to rid the world of the last of them. Apparently she’d missed one.

“I will give you a thousand dollars for that,” Chrissy pulled out a wad of cash she just happened to keep in her purse, and waved it in Daisy’s face.

“We’ll give you two thousand bucks,” Grace and Maria echoed. “If you buy it and wear it out of the store.” They had and evil glint in their eyes.

Thankfully, Robin stayed neutral in the discussion. “I’m going to buy this shirt,” Daisy emphasized every syllable. “I’m going to take it home, douse it in lighter fluid, and watch it burn like the abomination it is.” Grace and Maria laughed, while Chrissy pouted.

“Three thousand,” the Super chef countered futilely.

Daisy ignored her, and walked to the teenage emo-girl at the register that looked like she wanted to be anywhere else but at work. The younger woman rang her up with an apathetic look, lingering for just a second too long on Daisy’s red eyes. “Thanks for shopping, come again,” the girl was already reaching for her cell phone before she finished her goodbye.

Daisy clutched the bag like it was a grenade with the pin already pulled. Chrissy still had a hungry expression on her face. <Great! Now I’m going to have to watch out for a speedster intent on stealing my stuff,> she wouldn’t put it past Craig to do anything to get that shirt.

The rest of the shopping trip consisted of Daisy buying clothes. She walked into the nearest store after the vintage t-shirt debacle and began to grab everything from jeans to dresses. She took Craig’s advice and invested in some sun dresses, but also filled out her wardrobe with jeans, skirts, some non-athletic shots, and a variety of tops. She needed clothes, she knew that, but she bought up all the stuff primarily to camouflage the single embarrassing t-shirt. She took all of her purchases into the bathroom, and rearranged all of the contents, hiding the Hero merchandise in a random bag. She felt like a street magician doing the trick where you moved the ball between three cups, but it was worth it. If Craig got ahold of the shirt, and wore it to one of the classes, she’d have to kill him. That would put a damper on her returning to Hero work.

They finished the shopping excursion at the sporting goods store. Daisy picked up some more shirts, shorts, sports bras, and the sweat wicking boy shorts. The shopping trip cost her six hours of her life, and several hundred dollars, but she still deemed it a success. Simply because she’d been able to set the record straight with Robin.

“Boy, I am hurtin’,” Chrissy massaged her feet as they hopped back into Maria’s SUV. Even through her Hero stamina, Daisy was beginning to feel twinges of discomfort. “You know what always puts a skip back into my step…pasta,” Chrissy didn’t give anyone a chance to answer. “Let head over to my restaurant and I’ll fix everyone up something, on me. This way Daisy and I can resume negotiations.” Everyone laughed but Daisy.

<Pasta does sound good,> Daisy compromised, intent on dying before she gave up possession of that shirt.

They all loaded back into the tank, and Chrissy directed Maria to the fancy Italian Restaurant she owned by a quaint little park. “Don’t let it fool you,” Chrissy pointed at the lighted path leading into the greenery. “Don’t go in there after dark.” Daisy could go anywhere she damn well chose no matter what the time of day, but she caught Chrissy’s drift.

The group of women were treated like royalty when they entered the establishment. What else would you expect when you were there with the owner? The restaurant’s Maître D’, a stately looking man, led the women up to the second floor of the building. The floor consisted of several private rooms for parties, large gatherings, and the occasional dining of Super-level individuals who valued their privacy. Since they were the latter they got a closed door environment where they could let their hair down.

Daisy’s whole outlook on life changed when the first meatball hit her lips. “Holy shit!” She seriously considered giving her the shirt in exchange for the recipe. It probably wouldn’t do much good since Chrissy’s food manipulation abilities made the dish truly extraordinary.

The meatballs were the best thing Daisy had ever tasted, but the expression on Maria’s face suggested she’d shot up with cocaine, not eaten a ball of meat. Her eyes were rolled back as her mouth instinctually went through the motions of eating. It was a little creepy, and the look Robin gave her suggested a similar sentiment.

“I know it’s creepy,” Grace didn’t read their minds, their expressions were pretty straightforward. “She can dial up her taste buds to maximum efficiency,” she explained.

“So she could be eating a bowl of dog shit, and it would taste like a meal from a five star restaurant?” Maria snapped out of her ecstasy at Daisy’s question.

“No,” she gave the taller Super a pointed glare. “Well technically yes, but the knowledge that you’re still eating dog shit ruins the process,” the women laughed, temporarily shedding their instructor, Super personas.

<Shit, this actually feels nice,> Daisy was surprised as anyone at how much she’d laughed today. The day might have started out like shit, but it was ending on a good note. Daisy could think of very little that could go wrong at this point.

“So…men?” Chrissy derailed their earlier conversation and brought on another fit of laughter effortlessly.

“No time,” Grace sat back, sipping her glass of water. There was a noticeable lack of alcohol on the table, something Daisy was grateful for a moment ago, but was quickly reconsidering thanks to the topic of discussion. “I still patrol in the area semi-regularly on top of all my instructor duties, so maybe in the future.”

“Not even a date,” it was obvious Chrissy was trying to live vicariously through the other women in the group.

“I’ve got a couple of interested parties, but they respect my decision,” Grace looked smug.

“Lucky,” Maria sighed, shaking her head. “It’s hard to find a decent man at my age who’s accepting of our profession. Every time I get serious with someone, and tell him what I can do, I have to call in Grace to wipe his memory. Guy’s macho sensibilities just can’t handle the fact that little old me could kick their ass any day of the week.”

Daisy tried not to look too frustrated with the turn the conversation had taken. She’d rather be negotiating with Chrissy over the t-shirt, or walking barefoot over hot coals, than be drawn into the conversation.

“So, Daisy, anyone special in your life,” it was like the universe was pointing and laughing at her.

“I haven’t had much luck with men in my life,” Daisy tried to end the topic with that, but Maria wouldn’t allow it.

“Come on. You’re like any guy’s wet dream. Are you honestly telling me that you haven’t had any good men in your long life,” Daisy sighed, remembering what Dr. Johnson had said about making meaningful connections with people, and controlling her anger.

“I didn’t say that I haven’t met some good men in my life. I just haven’t had good luck with them,” Daisy kept her frustration in check with a few calming breaths.

“Spill it, or I’m going to steal that shirt and order Craig to wear it for a week,” Daisy knew Chrissy would do it without a second thought.

“You really want to know about my relationships?” a touch of anger broke into Daisy’s tone, she had trouble suppressing it. “I’ll give you the cliff notes. They’re all dead now. I had to kill the first one for turning traitor, and the other two were killed in the line of duty. So I’ve kinda learned to live without recently.” All four women looked extremely uncomfortable with Daisy’s reveal.

<You asked for it,> she couldn’t hide the scowl on her face and the anger in her eyes. <One step forward, two steps back. Fuck me.>

“I need to use the bathroom,” Daisy excused herself quickly.

Her heart was pounding as she followed the signs to the ladies room. The bathroom was downstairs, so she had a bit of a walk, which allowed her mind to wander. Dave, dead by her own hands after the Memorial Day attack, Connor, killed by Armsman, and Danny, finished off by a Powered. Her eyes were wet by the time she got to the rest room and locked herself into a stall.

“Ah shit,” Daisy dapped at the corners of her eyes. Willing the tear ducts to close up.

<I open up for one second and I start crying like a baby,> the tears had already stopped, and the memories were fading, but they were never far from her mind. Of course, once the sadness dissipated the anger set in.

The wave of rage washed over her like a tsunami. All the death and destruction wrought on the world by people like Armsman and Tinker. Supers who thought themselves superior to everyone else, believed they should be running the show, and took it all out on innocent civilians. They were the people Reaper needed to be out hunting, needed to be out killing. The world would be a better place without them in it. But Daisy was stuck at West, teaching a bunch of kids to not shit their pants when another Super wanted to cave their skull’s in. It was a waste of her time.

<We might not be saving lives but we are making sure the next generation does it better than we did. What we do is important,> Craig’s impromptu speech from the day they met replayed in her head, and brought her some much needed clarity.

Daisy, Reaper, could only do so much. She could only be in one place at any given time, and could only stop so many criminals. Ten Reaper trained Heroes might not be able to equal her on a 1:1 ratio, but if they were half as good as her they’d make a difference. Daisy knew she was thinking highly of herself, considering all of her problems, but she needed her ego at the moment.

It was frustrating for her. Daisy’s past was warring against her present in an internal struggle that had the potential to explode outward. Dr. Johnson had been pretty straightforward on that part. She was here to connect to people, both Hero and civilian, so she could be a better Hero, a better person. Better than the old Reaper.

Daisy was taking deep breaths as all of this swam through her mind. She’d accidentally crushed the railing in the stall, a thick metal bar she’d reduced to its smallest possible proportions during her fit of anger. She was calmer now, recovering from her episode. She’d done exactly was Dr. Johnson had instructed, and it had worked.

<He’ll never let me hear the end of it,> Daisy managed a genuine chuckle as she left the stall.

A quick look in the mirror showed her looking presentable, so she made her way back towards the stairs, and the undoubtedly awkward conversation that would follow. Like the universe was giving her a sign, she spotted Jackson and Schultz sitting at a small table near the back of the restaurant. It was pretty tough to miss them; two massive people, holding hands, on their first date. Jackson looked like a love struck puppy, and although Schultz was trying to hide it, she was all googly eyes for him when he wasn’t looking.

<Young love,> the thought carried a hint of sadness, but also a ray of hope.

Daisy climbed the stairs and opened the door to the private rooms to face her friends. “Daisy we…” she held up a hand to stop them.

“No, I need to be the one apologizing. My past relationships are an issue I am working through, and I know you didn’t mean anything when you prodded me,” the apology felt good, a weight being lifted off her chest.

“We just thought you would have some interesting stories for girl’s night,” Maria still looked apologetic from her earlier actions. “We thought it would be a nice change of pace for you to complain about men like the rest of us. We’re sorry for pushing.”

Daisy nodded her acceptance of the apology. “A guy did recently ask me out.”

“Please tell me it wasn’t Miles,” Grace grimaced like she was speaking from person experience. “He might be the Subtlety instructor, but he’s less subtle than he thinks he is when it comes to women.”

Daisy laughed as she pulled out Officer Phillips’ card. “It’s a cop.”

Phones were out checking social media faster than Craig could eat a cookie.

“Mmmmm he’s cute,” Maria looked a little jealous, but still encouraging. “You gonna ask him out.”

“Ask him out,” Daisy said it like it was a foreign concept.

“It’s not 1950 anymore,” Chrissy stated. “Women can ask men out now, and it doesn’t mean you’re giving up your power as a woman.”

“Like anyone could overpower, Daisy,” Robin chimed in, getting a smile from everyone.

“Speaking of dating,” Daisy addressed Chrissy, partially to skirt the topic. “I saw two of my students downstairs on their first date. I want to pick up their meal.”

“Mr. Jackson and Ms. Schultz,” Grace said unsurprised. “I’ve been listening in on them for the last few minutes. “They’re the first official couple of the freshmen class.”

“Who had them in the pool?” Maria asked.

“I put in for them after I found them in the closet during combat rankings,” Grace looked smug.

“That’s cheating.”

“Do you guys bet on everything?” Daisy faked an exaggerated tone.

“My Craig is a bad influence,” the way Chrissy said it showed she didn’t mind one bit. They all laughed.

“So…Officer Christopher Phillips…” Maria let the question hang. “Because if you don’t I will.”

Daisy was surprised at the surge of jealousy in her gut. “Let’s just say I’m playing hard to get.” She was surprised how quickly she’d staked her claim when another woman threatened to move in. She hadn’t felt like this since Danny.

<He’s not Danny,> Daisy had really loved the man, and the Hero. <But I’m willing to get to know Christopher better.> She left it at that, not wanting to deal with any more confusing emotions.

The rest of the meal’s conversation was pleasant, and the food fantastic. The chocolate covered strawberries, which apparently the freshmen lovebirds were also enjoying, were orgasmic. Daisy wanted more just to take home, but she restrained herself. A little self-control was a good thing.

“Jackson and Schultz are leaving,” Grace informed, signaling everyone to get up. They didn’t want to disturb the freshmen’s lovely evening, and nothing could do that better than having their alternative instructor show up.

They made their way downstairs just in time to see Jackson and Schultz head into the park that Chrissy said wasn’t safe after dark. That was the first red flag in Daisy’s mind. Sure, the two Supers could hold their own against anything that they came up against, but it put their HCP career in jeopardy. She was content to let them go until the street lights started winking out, leaving the park covered in darkness. That was red flag number two, and that was one to many for Daisy.

“I’m gonna check on Jackson and Schultz,” Daisy pointed down the dark path. “Bring the car around; it’ll just take me a minute.”

Maria shrugged, going off to grab the car from the parking lot. They would have used the valet, but if anyone other than Maria tried to get into the car its self-defense systems would kick in. That wouldn’t end well for anyone. Robin didn’t say anything, her face momentarily distracted by something no one else could see. Grace just nodded, and took her place next to Chrissy. Daisy knew she’d be listening in, just in case.

Daisy nodded back, and took off at a brisk walk down the dark path. She had to walk halfway across the park before she heard voices. She approached cautiously. She’d scar the two students’ psyche for life if she walked in on them doing stuff that college kids did when they were alone.

“…you get to live,” Daisy caught the tail end of the conversation, and didn’t like what she was hearing.

She took a deep breath and opened herself up to her power. The life threads snapped into place, there were only five of them in her immediate range. The thick steel cable was Jackson, and the slippery yarn Schultz, that much was familiar to her. They were surrounded by three other threads. One was another sturdy material, nothing like Jackson’s, but obviously another strongman. The second cord vibrated in the typical manner of a speedster, and the third one was all too familiar. It was plain string, but it was ionized. It wasn’t really ionized, because a conceptual image in her mind didn’t have substance. Still, Daisy always conjured the mental image of her hair standing on end when she felt this type of thread. It was an electrical absorber.

<Interesting,> Daisy analyzed the situation, determined threat levels and tactical options as she crept closer to the standoff.

“Let’s just leave it at that and everyone walks away from here,” Jackson was talking now, trying to defuse the situation.

The answering laughter was enough motivation for Daisy to step in. These were good kids, her kids, and she wouldn’t let some snot nosed little punks ruin her students’ chances at becoming Heroes.

“Three on two, that’s hardly fair,” Daisy adopted a casual stance against a pole as she spoke.

Her words had the desired effect. The absorber standing between her and her students jumped away in alarm, giving her a clear path to exfiltrate. Even Jackson and Schultz jumped in surprise.

<I’m gonna tear Schultz a new asshole on Monday,> Daisy promised herself as she casually advanced. <There is no way they should be in this situation.> She couldn’t keep the frown off her face.

Daisy ignored the sexually charged word from the criminal strongman to her left. She had eyes on all three criminals now, and she recognized them. They’d been at the mall earlier in the day, ogling and sneering at the HCP instructors. <Small world.>

“There’s no need for any of this,” Daisy identified the speedster as the leader, and addressed him. “Let these two lovebirds go, and you can try to take my money if you want. I don’t suggest it,” she didn’t really care what his answer was. She was already shoving Jackson and Schultz in the direction of the restaurant.

“How about we just take everyone’s money,” the speedster was twirling a butterfly knife with practiced precision.

He probably knew how to use the knife, but she also knew that the action was an intimidation technique. His body language and posture portrayed his overconfidence. He probably did this to tourists who found themselves on the wrong side of town. Everything about the group screamed petty criminals, even if they were Supers. At least the strongman and absorber were tensed and ready for a fight.

“Get out of here,” Daisy told her students, turning her back to the speedster in a calculated insult.

She dialed up her perception as Jackson and Schultz took off at a run away from the impending violence. She gave the absorber a stern look. The teenage girl didn’t try anything. The electricity crackling in her hands was meant for Daisy.

<Ok then.>

She grabbed a hold of the speedster’s life thread and held it tight. The man had been in motion already, and her attack resulted in him falling and skidding his face along the pavement for several feet. Bits of skin and blood marked the path to his crumped, vomiting body.

“Fuck you, bitch,” the girl snarled, seeing her boss go down.

The strongman attacked first, charging her like a bull. <Amateurs,> Daisy mentally sighed, turning to run straight at him. The boy stutter stepped at the unexpected action, but continued his charge. The misstep gave Daisy enough time and space to execute a baseball slide underneath him. She passed under his knee by less than an inch. With her enhanced perception, she had plenty of time to stab a kinetically powered hand into the side of his knee.

The attack did two things. First it disabled the crucial appendage. Bones probably broke from the force of the stabbing blow; the ease with which her hand struck his body suggested he was stronger than he was durable. The second reaction to her attack was the boy got flipped in the air and thrown a half dozen feet towards his compatriot. The girl squealed as her stronger partner in crime came crashing toward her. Daisy had to give her credit for having the presence of mind to move out of the way. Plenty of people would have frozen in place.

<Two down,> Daisy sprang back to her feet as the girl dove away from the airborne boy.

The boy ended up in a heap not too far from the now unconscious speedster. Daisy brushed off her outfit, more worried that she needed to do more laundry than potential physical harm being inflicted on her. She allowed the younger electrical absorber to get to her feet, and noted she was a little shaky in the knees.

“Sucks fighting someone stronger than you, right?” Daisy directed the question at the girl who was still looking over her fallen comrades.

Electricity danced between the teenager’s fingers, collecting into small orbs in her palms. She tried to be sneaky about it, but Daisy knew the trick. She’d done it herself fifty years ago. It wasn’t particularly effective for reducing collateral damage, but the teenage absorber didn’t seem too concerned with that at the moment.

“I’m gonna barbeque you’re brain, bitch,” the girl sneered, a crazy light in her eyes that had nothing to do with her control over electricity.

“Surrender now and I won’t hurt you,” the disabled strongman was moaning in pain, which only heightened when he tried to put weight on his damaged leg. “You don’t want to end up like him do you?”

She answered Daisy’s ultimatum by throwing a baseball size orb of electricity at her. <Stupid.>

Daisy didn’t even bother to dodge the orb of light. She could feel the amount of electricity in the blast, and it wasn’t anywhere near enough to harm her. She needed to end this fight. The look in the teenager’s eyes said that if she didn’t, bad things would happen to the surrounding area. The other absorber might not be able to harm Daisy, but a powerful surge through the cities power grid could affect a lot of innocent people.

She caught the orb like a baseball, and easily absorbed the energy. It sizzled and died quickly, but she was already moving. The teenagers face was still a mix of shock and fear as Daisy crossed the space between them quicker than anything but a speedster. She turned to run, but Daisy was already in front of her.

The backhanded slap was hard enough to knock her unconscious, but soft enough to avoid killing her. <And that’s three. Pretty anticlimactic if you ask me,> even her students could put up a better fight than that.

The speedster and absorber weren’t a threat anymore, both were unconscious. The strongman was out of action, but still a threat. One punch would ensure he took a short nap.

“Halt, miscreant!” a voice boomed through the humid night air.

“Miscreant?” Daisy cocked an eyebrow at the Hero floating above her.

The kid was young, mid-twenties, probably just out of his internship. Orlando wasn’t a big hub of Super criminal activity, thanks to its proximity to the HCP. So the guy probably wasn’t top tier. His costume was made of chainmail, or at least a technical brilliance Super’s version of the material. He had a mace hanging from his hip, which slightly interfered with the classic hands on hip posture he was going for.

“Yes miscreant, troublemaker, criminal,” the kid Hero explained condescendingly.

“I know what the word means, Sir Has-a-stick-up-his-ass-alot,” the Hero didn’t take Daisy’s comment well.

“You are charged with aggravated assault with a Super ability,” the Hero was retrieving his mace.

“Self-defense,” Daisy countered. “They were trying to mug me, and they are Supers too.”

“You are still under arrest,” The Hero was advancing on her now.

“Slow your roll, bud,” Daisy was starting to get a little pissed at this kid’s arrogance.

“If you resist arrest then I will add more charges. Interfering with Hero work is a grave crime,” every word this kid said made Daisy want to punch him in the face.

<Breath, Daisy, deep breaths,> it took every ounce of self-control for Daisy to raise her hands and place them behind her head.

“Your lack of compliance will still be noted, miscreant,” the Hero withdrew some heavy duty handcuffs from his belt, and roughly shackled Daisy.

<Just a little jolt, just to knock him on his ass for a second,> Daisy was dreaming of the act, but decided against it.

She was already in enough trouble as it was. She hadn’t done anything wrong, but she’d get processed through the system and all sorts of warning bells would start going off. The DVA would get informed, agents would be down at the precinct she got hauled off to, and John would get called in. It would take weeks to cut through all the bullshit to the heart of the issue. Despite the coming shit storm, she would do it all over again for Jackson and Schultz.

<Grace,> Daisy sent out a mental shout. <Call John. I hope he didn’t have anything else planned for this weekend.>

 

***

 

“Good evening, Colonel Ford,” John didn’t look up from the paperwork he was reviewing as the soldier entered his office.

Miles was assigning his senior subtlety students their inaugural assignment, a tradition for the people who’d made it so far in his specialty. Discover who the instructors really were. You’d think the assignment wouldn’t contain much paperwork, but the DVA always found way to complicate matters. Then of course there was Miles, always trying to sneak things in under the radar, or disguised it in the language of his proposals. It took all of John’s concentration to ensure nothing slipped past him.

“As much as I enjoy our visits,” John’s eyes didn’t leave the eight point font Miles used in all his documentation. “I can’t help but feel something ominous is afoot if the head of ForceOps Counter Terrorism Unit is stopping by late on a Saturday night.”

“Can’t I stop in for a drink with an old friend,” the gruff looking soldier’s voice was surprisingly pleasant for a man of his intimidating stature.

“Your time is much too valuable, and it’s been years since you just stopped by for a drink,” John reached the end of the proposal, rubbed his strained eyes with his hand, and looked at his old friend.

Ford and John had been in the HCP together. Ford hadn’t been able to cut it past junior year, but found his calling with the still relatively new ForceOps. They’d kept in touch over the years, if for no other reason than to maintain a backdoor channel between two of the largest Super organizations in the country. Presently, Ford has his hands full hunting Super terrorists all over the world; while John had his hands full with the HCP, and making sure half-drunk Super teens didn’t terrorize Orlando.

“True,” Ford took the open seat in front of John’s paper laden desk. “It’s about Fadeelah…”

“She goes by Anika now,” John interrupted. “Please refer to Ms. Kemps by that name if you ever encounter her. She is doing her best to put her past behind her.”

“Very well,” Ford looked slightly annoyed at the point John made, but he was a soldier, not a diplomat like John had been forced to become. “We’ve received unconfirmed reports that Anika’s father has been sighted stateside.”

That was the worst possible news, and John’s body language showed it. His normally calm, plain face pinched with anger, and stress visibly shook his shoulders. He nearly shifted on the spot, an instinctual reaction to the danger this information presented.

“That’s bad,” the words were a complete understatement.

“Yes,” Ford’s own hard expression echoed John’s. “As far as our intel suggests he is already back in the Middle East. We’re guessing that he stopped in for a meeting or some type of quick deal.”

“Any leads on that?” John was on his feet and pacing now, retrieving the information in his mind on Anika’s monster of a father.

“Nothing,” Ford’s frustration broke into his tone at the admitted defeat. “We’ve got everyone on high alert to make sure that any whisper of his plans gets picked up on. We don’t want a repeat of last time.”

“No we do not,” a spike of fear shot through John as he remembered the moment in question. He pushed the sensation down, and locked it away. There were more important matters to contend with at the moment.

“Do you think he is looking for his daughter?” both seemed to have the thought on their mind, even if John was the first to voice it.

“We can’t think of many other reasons why he’d be here, knowing we would catch wind of it,” Ford shrugged, still frustrated with the lack of information.

“Possible.” John conceded. “But I wouldn’t put it past him to just be screwing with us, or simply plotting more mass civilian casualties and destruction.”

Ford nodded his agreement. Anika’s father was a terrorist after all, and that was their bread and butter. “I just thought you should be kept in the loop so you can keep an eye on things here.” Ford was already rising out of the chair. His time was valuable, no matter how much he might want to pal around with John for a little longer.

“Thank you for informing me,” John was distracted, lost in thought. “Always nice to see you.”

“And you too, John. Stay safe,” and with that Ford was gone, teleported to his next appointment.

John sat in silence for a minute, Miles’ proposal forgotten, his mind replaying the last time Anika’s father had attacked; death, destruction, mayhem, chaos, massive loss of innocent life. John vowed he would never let it happen again, even if that promise wasn’t within his power.

“Computer,” John spoke the command, and one side of his office wall lit up.

“Good evening, Dean Ditmar. How may I be of assistance?” The very limited A.I. that ran a lot of the HCP’s operations asked.

“I need you to start running a subroutine daily to assess possible security breaches of the HCP,” John stated.

“Security breach standard operating procedures established by the Department of Variant Affairs dictate a weekly security assessment,” the A.I. recalled the information from some obscure memo issued decades ago , and since lost in the bureaucratic landfill.

“I want the assessment to be run daily,” John repeated, feeling the irritation building at the A.I.’s containment protocols. The thing could be as much a hassle as a help. “I want variation in the reviews as well,” John continued. “Assess different vulnerabilities, or extrapolate on known or perceived threats,” he ordered.

“I will need to contact a representative at the Department of Variant Affairs to request additional server bandwidth to complete the assignment,” a normal person would be annoyed at the level of complexity John was assigning to a function that was already being done properly, but the A.I.’s toneless, robotic voice held no emotion. It was a little disconcerting.

“Very well. Please attach my conversation with Colonel Ford to the request. I’m sure they know about the situation already, but redundancy never hurts,” John waited the few seconds while the A.I. delivered the encrypted communication to the DVA.

“Also start to run cursory scans of the University’s systems,” John added as an afterthought. HCP students’ private information was housed in the HCP databases, but some basic information was needed by the school. “We need to know their systems are appropriately secure.” John felt more comfortable about the situation now that resources were in motion.

“Have there been any compromises within the last 24 hours?” John wanted a momentary snapshot of where they stood.

“Three intrusions into the University systems have occurred within the requested time frame,” the A.I explained. “Intrusion one occurred when students in the computer science department attempted to hack into their instructor’s computer to retrieve test answers for the semester.” John couldn’t help but chuckle at this one. No threat there. “The second intrusion consisted of an attempt by an individual to install a trojan horse in the hopes of gathering social security numbers and credit card information from anyone using the computers in the library.” A little more worrisome, but it still didn’t fit Anika’s father’s M.O. “The third and final intrusion was a cursory sweep of the student I.D. creation logs, specifically targeting the issuance of bus passes.” John doubted the monster from his memory was trying to create an I.D. for free bus fare around Orlando.

“Thank you,” John thanked the machine. “Please update me daily on the assessment results.

“Good night, Dean Ditmar,” the wall dimmed and John was left to his own thoughts.

There was a time John would have loved to have a moment to sit and think, but an HCP dean didn’t have that luxury. No sooner had the A.I. disengaged then his phone began to ring. The caller I.D. showed it was Grace calling. The focus instructor often gave him a heads up when something concerning one of their students occurred.

<Just one of these weekends I’d like to not have an incident,> John sighed, picking up the receiver to see which of his students had screwed up this time.

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