A Change of Pace – Chapter 36

Angela moved briskly and efficiently from her seat to the stage. <Three minutes, plenty of time.> She’d coordinated with the technical department over the weekend and made sure her USB drive was formatted correctly, and then, just to triple check, she’d tested her presentation as well.

Angela moved quickly enough that she had to wait for Mason to pack up. With his presentation complete, and the weight lifted from his broad shoulders, he’d lost his sense of urgency. To help motivate him Angela cleared her throat and tapped her foot repeatedly. It took a few seconds, but he got the hint.

“That was a good presentation,” Angela made sure to congratulate him as he left the stage.

Mason smiled back. “Thanks, good luck.”

<I don’t need luck,> Angela kept the thought to herself. There was no need for luck when foresight and preparation were involved.

This midterm presentation was another chance for the young shifter to shine. Angela had already proven herself in physical training; to a point that the coaches had her running some of the untrained students through basic drills. She’d also excelled in combat. Despite several months at the top of the class, no one had dared challenge her yet. She’d also been a top participant in the Ethics class. Now she had the opportunity to show the instructors she could stand in front of people and brief them professionally. It was a skill every team leader needed.

Angela swiftly logged on with her HCP credentials, making sure to disengage the projector so that no one could identify her password. She inserted her USB into the port and quickly brought up her presentation. It was a lot more colorful than Mason’s, and it had some graphics that the strongman probably didn’t know that PowerPoint contained.

Unlike her roommate, Angela didn’t have any handouts for the class. She’d considered the options, but ultimately discarded it. A presenter always ran a risk when giving people a hard copy of what they were going to talk about. It was always possible that the people in the audience would pay more attention to the handout than the presenter. She didn’t want her audience to come to the conclusion that they didn’t need to pay attention because they had all the pertinent information in front of them. Angela preferred to avoid the potential pitfalls of handouts. She wanted the entire class to pay attention.

When everything was ready Angela engaged the projector, and looked to the Dean for the signal to begin. The older Super gave it with a nod of his head.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My name is Angela Martin, and today I will be discussing the Hero, Animus Rex,” a lot of confused stares looked back at her when no one could place the Hero she was talking about.

<Excellent,> Angela kept the smile off her face.

When she first sat down to figure out who she was going to present on, she knew it needed to be someone no one else was going to pick. Heroes like Iron Giant, Titan, Captain Starlight, Zero, and Globe were all going to get snapped up quickly. Those Heroes were the easy path to an average grade. Anyone could talk about the strongest Hero in the world, or someone from Lander’s Class of Legends; there were probably humans in one of the university’s Super-based classes presenting on those Heroes.

Angela didn’t want an average grade. She wanted to pick an ambiguous Hero, but more important than that, an ambiguous Hero who’d done a lot of good no one knew about. Finding and presenting on a Hero like that would earn her the respect of her peers and professors outside the combat cells. It would solidify her position as the best.

Angela had rehearsed her presentation with Kyoshi after her parents left to see if it was good enough. Angela’s short visit with her mother and father left her feeling confused. She’d done everything her parents asked of her. She’d gone to their alma mater, she was at the top of the class, and she was training harder than ever to improve. But that still wasn’t enough.

Angela needed to do more to stand above her peers, even the few she thought of as friends. Her mother had stern words when it came to developing friends. Angela knew most of the content in the speech before her mother even opened her mouth. It all boiled down to everything in the HCP being a test, and Angela needed to find herself at the top when the test was over.

So, to go above and beyond her classmates, Angela sat in the HCP library for a full twelve hours researching every Hero she could find. Just when she was about to settle, she found a small vague entry about an advanced mind from the 90s. That entry led to more entries, which she deciphered into an entire web of events depicting the life of a great Hero Angela had never heard of. That Hero was Animus Rex.

Angela quickly presented her agenda slide, and forwarded the presentation to a picture of a man in a black and red costume. He looked regal in his billowing black cape, which seemed to be catching the wind in the picture. The mask was a little corny, with the identity hiding material forming a giant A over the man’s face. Angela knew this style of mask was a theme back in the 90s, but that didn’t make it look any less stupid.

“Animus Rex,” she began, her gaze sweeping the audience. “Animus means hatred or ill feelings towards another. Rex, as well all know from Jurassic Park, is Latin for king. So Animus Rex, by name alone, could be identified as the King of Hatred, or the King of Ill Feelings.” Angela paused for dramatic effect. “It kind of makes him sound more villainous than heroic,” there were a few chuckles at the explanation.

Angela forwarded to the next slide, a redacted printout of Animus Rex’s classification. “Animus Rex was an advanced mind active from 1991 to 2011. This purposefully elusive Hero was a hybrid telepath and empath with the unique ability to see the connections between people, and manipulate them.” Angela flipped back to the picture of the Hero. “As you can see from this picture, Animus Rex carried weapons,” Angela circled two holstered pistols that blended into the costume. “That is because Animus Rex had no telekinetic ability whatsoever.”

That fact had gotten a big reaction out of Kyoshi when Angela did a dry run of her presentation, and it got a similar one from the class. There were going to be a lot of questions for her to answer at the end of her presentation.

“Animus Rex was the number ten graduate from Korman in 1991, and specialized in subtlety,” a picture of that year’s graduating class was plastered onto the screen, with the man in question circled in red. “After his graduation he interned under Wisp, a decision that caused much of his later career to be called into question.” Angela didn’t need to go into detail about Wisp’s arrest and imprisonment. Most Supers in the HCP already knew the story, and if they didn’t, they were going to go and look it up after class.

“Information is limited after the end of Animus Rex’s internship, but through some research on my part, I believe I’ve uncovered some of his activities throughout his career,” Angela forwarded her presentation to a timeline she’d created.

“Although he graduated from Korman, sporadic reports filed with the DVA suggest that Animus Rex worked primarily in the Midwest; Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, and as far south as Oklahoma City,” Angela’s next slide was a map, and as she stated the cities, a red dot appeared on them. “While there isn’t much to go on outside these occasional reports, I’ve looked at the crime statistics in the cities within a six month period of those reports, and have seen notable deviations.”

Angela pulled up a set of graphs that showed average crime rates, most revolving around organized crime, and those same rates around the time of the DVA reports. In each city, there was a significant decrease in organized crime activity. During that same timeframe, quadruple the number of usual cases went to court backed with informant or eye witness testimony. A third chart showed a similar increase in witness protection program assets being diverted to those cities over that timeframe.

“Animus Rex didn’t work with any Hero team that I could find, which is why his name is virtually unknown. However, I believe that he was an undercover operative for the DVA. His missions most likely were to infiltrate organized crime rings, evaluate the relationships between their members, exploit weak points, or create weak points with his power.” Angela couldn’t help but grin at the big revelation.

“Where the information on Animus Rex’s career is slim to begin with, the information on the end of his career is even less. The only item I was able to find about Animus Rex after 2009 was a DVA memorandum listing him as inactive in 2011.” Angela forwarded the slide show to the next section.

“Since Animus Rex’s career is largely unknown there are no major battles on record that he participated in,” Angela couldn’t help but look disappointed at this. She’d hoped to gain a little more insight about fighting someone with his power set. “However, if my information is correct, then Animus Rex has had a profound impact on the human Super dynamic, and heavily contributed to change in our modern society. Although, no one knows about it.”

The next few slides detailed the history of organized crime in the Midwest during the 90s and early 2000s. “As you can see, Animus Rex’s effort profoundly changed the criminal landscape. In 1994 the Gambino crime family in Chicago was completely dismantled by a joint FBI, DVA task force. The same is true for the Zolnerowich family in 1996 Detroit, and Minneapolis’ Cazian crime ring in 2002. It is my hypothesis that Animus Rex was intimately involved in each of these investigations. With the intelligence, informants, and witnesses he was able to provide, Animus Rex, unknown to the general public, put an end to local government corruption, murder, extortion, prostitution, illegal gambling, and many other crimes perpetrated by these criminal syndicates.”

Angela looked out at her classmates, and was happy to see that they were immersed in her presentation. “It is also reassuring to see that in the modern age of Heroes; where publicity, style consultants, and agents are part of a popular Hero’s arsenal, that there were still Heroes like Animus Rex sticking their hand in the mud so that society can sleep easy at night.” With a small bow Angela stepped away the podium to receive her applause, and she got plenty of it; along with plenty of raised hands.

“Where did you find all of this information?” Becca was staring wide-eyed at all the graphs and charts Angela had built into the presentation.

“I found all of the information in the library,” Angela answered truthfully. “But it was just pieces of the puzzle. I needed to connect the dots, develop a hypothesis, and run the statistics to get a viable amount of data for the presentation.

“Is there any proof to definitively establish causation between all the points you made, or is it simply correlation at this point,” Sean Perez asked.

“Unfortunately, without a higher clearance I can only provide a correlation between Animus Rex and the downfall of organized crime at this point,” Angela hated to admit it, but that was the truth. “Maybe one day I’ll be able to gain a little more insight into his career.”

She looked around for another classmate to call on, but Dean Ditmar cut her off. “What do you think happened to Animus Rex?” everyone lowered their hands to focus on Angela’s response.

“Without any information I can’t be sure,” Angela shrugged. “But I think one of two things happened. He might simply have retired and not renewed his certification. For all I know he could be sitting on a beach somewhere relaxing. After twenty years imbedded with organized crime families, I’m sure he deserved a break. My other guess would be that he died during an undercover operation, and the DVA has allowed an unknown Hero to fade even further into obscurity.” The Dean simply nodded in response to her answers, and wrote a few things down on a sheet of paper.

“Any other questions?” the Dean asked as Angela’s eye scanned the crowd.

There were a few more questions, and Angela answered them with the poise of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. The only thing that threw her off was Coach Meyers. The woman was unfocused and not paying attention to anything Angela was saying.

 

***

 

The small apartment was crawling with agents; DVA, FBI, state and local law enforcement officers moved around the place like agitated ants.

<There’s too many people,> Daisy, fully decked out in her Reaper outfit, sat alone in a corner of the room. She knew why she was here, and this mission didn’t have anything to do with interacting with these people; and most of these people didn’t want anything to do with her.

October in Oklahoma City was colder than someone for New York might have thought. Oklahoma was pretty far south, just above Texas, and it pretty much fit the mental image Daisy had in her head. Everything was flat, and there was a lack of trees that was disturbing to someone who’d spent a lot of time in the Northeast. Even from a quick glance, Daisy was sure that there were more trees in Central Park then there were in the entire area around Oklahoma City. When you paired that with grass that was starting to turn brown with the changing of the season; the entire place look a little lifeless.

What really made it cold was the wind. With no elevation, and no trees to block the raw force of nature, the wind howled and assaulted anyone the moment they stepped outside. That howling kept Daisy up at night and brought on the nightmares. She hadn’t had a goodnight sleep in the week that she’d been here, but hopefully that wouldn’t be much longer.

<At least there weren’t any tornadoes,> Daisy looked on the bright side without letting any emotion cross her face.

The small apartment that was serving as the joint task force’s staging area wasn’t too far from the famed Bricktown area. The entertainment district just east of downtown Oklahoma City was a popular tourist attraction. All the buildings were constructed with brick, giving the section of town its name, and it mostly held bars and restaurants that catered to anyone and everyone. Daisy had even taken some time and eaten at a famed country music star’s signature restaurant the other night. Out of costume of course.

The strike team’s proximity to Bricktown was making the local law enforcement officials very nervous. If this operation turned into a giant clusterfuck then the local economy could get hit hard. Daisy could see the men and women squirming as bigger men and women in full tactical gear locked and loaded weapons. The locals would have loved to call this up the chair of command to cover their asses, but there was a firm federal gag order on this whole operation. If the locals went up the chain then someone on His payroll was bound to find out. There wasn’t much in the city that He didn’t know about, and this was something everyone involved wanted to keep off His radar.

Daisy’s mind was elsewhere as the tactically outfitted people gathered around a large table to discuss specifics of the raid. They were joined by the leader of the local Hero team, an elemental manipulator of some renown. The hard looking woman spared a glance in Daisy’s direction, but Daisy shook her head.

Daisy was here for one reason and one reason only. If everything went to shit, then it was her job to step in and act. She was the final option, the nuclear option, so she didn’t need to know the strike team’s specifics. All she needed to know was if they succeeded or failed.

“Reaper?” a young man in an interesting costume entered the empty bubble of space around her. He was the first one to do it since she arrived, so he either had something good to say, or he was very stupid.

“Yes,” Daisy peered through her extrasensory sight at the man’s life thread. It vibrated like a speedsters, but it was constantly bunching, curling, and stretching awkwardly. “Can I help you?” she kept her voice courteous, even it didn’t extend to her facial expression.

“I just wanted to introduce myself to you. My name’s Stopwatch,” it only took a second for Daisy to place the name, and identify the oddities of the life thread.

“Since you’re on duty, and not currently in the middle of a lawsuit, I’m guessing you’re a legacy,” Daisy got to her feet to take a better look at the young man. She towered over him by a good half foot.

A closer look showed his costume was styled after an old fashioned pocket watch. It was a burnished gold color with the image of a clock stretched across his chest.

“Yes, Ma’am. I’m his son,” Daisy nodded at what she’d already assumed.

Daisy had worked with the original Stopwatch several times in her early days as a Hero. He’d worked out of Texas mostly, and had even worn a pair of pearl gripped pistols despite them clashing horribly with his costume. Stopwatch was a good man, and as far as Daisy knew, he’d retired from the life awhile back.

<Seems like the son’s trying to live up to the father’s name,> Daisy felt sorry for the kid, those were some big shoes to fill.

“So what are your limits?” Daisy skipped any small talk and went straight to the good stuff. “I’m guessing better than your old man’s.”

The Hero’s boyish grin confirmed her suspicion. “Fifteen feet and five seconds,” he looked like a proud father.

The original Stopwatch’s power, which had been inherited by his son, was limited time manipulation. Within a bubble, which had only been ten feet for the original Stopwatch, the Hero was able to stop or rewind time. The new Hero had two seconds on his father. Daisy could only imagine the now old man grumbling about his son’s ability. It would be part jealousy and part pride. They both knew that it wasn’t the power that made the Hero, but what the Hero did with the power that really counted.

“Are you part of the local team?” Daisy didn’t remember seeing his name on the roster.

“No, Ma’am. I volunteered to come up here from Dallas. I heard through the grapevine that they were finally going after the King guy, and I decided I’d lend a hand,” if the young man were wearing a cowboy hat he would have tipped it politely in Daisy’s direction.

“If you’re hearing about the operation through the grapevine then that’s already a bad sign,” Daisy frowned. “Should we be worried?”

“I don’t think so, Ma’am. Dad was the one who told me. He’d also heard that you’d be here, and I think he wanted us to meet,” that sounded like the Stopwatch Daisy remembered.

Daisy gestured for the younger Hero to come closer. “Tell Hank that I’ll try and take some time off so I can come down there and embarrass him like I did that time in eighty-six,” Daisy enjoyed Stopwatch’s confused expression. “He’ll know what I’m talking about,” Daisy backed up, and sat back down.

“I’ll relay the message, Ma’am.”

“Will you stop calling me ma’am,” Daisy’s frustration got the best of her. “It makes me feel like an old lady.”

“Aren’t you…” Daisy stopped Stopwatch with a raised finger.

“It’s impolite to talk to a woman about her age. Didn’t your daddy teach you better?” Daisy could practically see the Hero blush under his mask, and it helped quench her frustration.

“We’re moving out,” the Hero team leader announced.

A flurry of activity followed as the strike team started to make their way out of the room, followed by the local Hero team, Stopwatch, and a few other support personnel.

“Can you give us anything to work on, Reaper,” the leader asked.

“For the last time,” Daisy glared at the other woman. “If I were to focus on him, he’d know I was here and he’d run. We learned that lesson the hard way in Lincoln. His power is to see relationship, and my targeting him in an abstract attempt to form a connection with him.”

“Ok,” the woman looked a little peeved at Daisy’s aggression. “You know the code word we’ll use to call you in if necessary.”

“This isn’t my first rodeo,” Daisy stared down the woman who eventually looked away. Daisy had that effect on most people.

“Good,” the leader left.

Now all Daisy had to do was wait.

Communication came back frequently over the encrypted communications systems the agencies were using, and Dispatch, as everyone moved into position. The target’s rumored location was within Daisy’s half mile radius, so she could start acting immediately if she needed to. Her power working evenly across an entire space as long as it was within her range was a bonus in this case.

“Dispatch, this is Reaper. Can I get a location on Stopwatch? His dad would shit a chicken if I let him die on my watch,” Daisy knew Hank well enough to feel obligated to look after his boy.

“Stopwatch is located on the outer perimeter, at the intersection of Walnut and Third Street,” Dispatch’s dispassionate voice responded. “Please refrain from cursing over this channel, Reaper.”

“Roger that, Dispatch. I’ll try not to say shit, and keep my fucks to a minimum,” Dispatch didn’t respond, but Daisy was sure she’d have some official looking mail when she got home. Dispatch had relaxed a little since she started serving as the Hero’s official communication system, but she still had a long way to go before she reached Daisy’s decrepit level.

Another ten minutes of standard communication passed before Daisy started to notice a change. It started with bickering. A member of the strike team thought the leader’s idea wasn’t a good one, and he voiced it over the coms. Disagreement wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you didn’t voice it for the record. You respectfully covered your microphone and hashed it out with the team.

Daisy almost wrote it off as a new member of the team not knowing the unwritten rules, but then it happened again. Then again as some officers on the perimeter disagreed about how to handle civilians they were holding up.

That’s when the paranoia started setting in.

“What was that…was that you…stop jumping at shadows…you stop jumping at shadows…fuck you…fuck you too,” arguments and division were coming from everyone around the target’s location.

“Dispatch, priority message to everyone,” Reaper’s voice didn’t hold a drop of sarcasm this time.

“Go ahead, Reaper.”

“Attention, this mission is compromised. Fall back to the rally points and reinforce the perimeter. I’m coming in.” the message was broadcasted to everyone on the team.

“Screw you, Reaper. You’re just a stuck up bitch who wants all the glory,” the team leader snarled.

<Wow, tell me what you really think,> Daisy knew it was their target’s power at work, but that still didn’t stop her from wanting to put her foot up the team leader’s ass.

“I’m coming in whether you like it or not. It’s up to you whether or not you want to be a drooling idiot soon,” Daisy was already on her feet and leaving the room.

“You’re bluffing,” a bunch of people stated similar feelings.

<He’s better than in Lincoln,> Daisy brought up the memories of the previously failed raid. <He’s gotten into their minds quicker, and has them questioning our basic plan.>

                Daisy reached out with her power as she sprinted away from the assembly area. People were gathering around the perimeter local law enforcement had established, and even they were starting to be effected.

<All it takes is a little suspicion,> people were yelling at Daisy as she passed; with a few of the more brazen men even chasing after her. She reached out with her power and dropped them like flies.

                <You’re distracting me you clever little shit,> Daisy projected that thought, so any telepath could hear it. She didn’t get a reply.

The more she had to concentrate on nonlethal means to remove objects from her way, the harder it was to search for him. People could say all they wanted about the man, but Animus Rex wasn’t stupid.

Daisy had to drop an entire crowd by the time she got to the perimeter. He’d been able to influence the nearby civilian’s suspicion of law enforcement almost to the point of them starting a riot. A plan like that would allow him to escape while the Heroes and police were busy dealing with the people.

<Fuck this,> Daisy reached out to every life thread in her half mile radius. She deciphered the humans from the Supers, grabbed hold, and dropped everyone.

The incessant arguing over their com lines went down instantly as the entire human part of the strike team was rendered unconscious. Most of the Supers were still on their feet, but all of them were puking their guts out, and trying to get the world to stop spinning. An eerie quiet swept over the area around Daisy. People didn’t realize how much noise was naturally a part of their lives until it was taken from them. It felt strange to be in the middle of a city and not hear the sounds of another human being.

Now Daisy could focus on hunting the target.

Animus Rex’s life thread was hard to pin down. It was naturally hard to wrangle, and if he’d had more cover, he would have been able to disguise it. That was how he was able to get past them in Lincoln. He’d tricked Daisy into thinking his thread was a simple human’s until he was out of her range, something she didn’t even know was possible; but Daisy wasn’t going to get fooled by the same trick twice. Now Animus Rex had no riot to physically or metaphysically blend in to.

It was only a matter of time, and Daisy felt like he knew that. His life strand was more erratic than usual. Fueled by his fear of being caught; and his fear of having his freedom taken away from him. <That’s your own problem,> Daisy continued to stalk him. <You didn’t need to turn against us. You didn’t need to break the law on you last assignment. You should have turned everyone in like you were supposed to, not taken over as the boss.> It had been a bloody take over.

Daisy continued to throw mental insults and accusations at him until she pinned down his location. He was running, trying to escape, but she was backing him into a corner. He was already reeling from the mass attack she’d unleashed. Soon he’d tire himself out, and then Daisy would be able to get her claws into him.

Daisy could feel the Hero team up and on the move again. She wasn’t an empath, but she was pretty sure they were pissed. Daisy almost radioed them to the small grain silo that Animus Rex had taken refuge in, but didn’t. If there were more people there then there was a greater chance for him to turn them against each other. Animus Rex escaping for a second time was bad, but it was manageable. Reaper killing an entire city’s Hero team was something no one was going to be able to come back from.

Daisy approached the site cautiously, with her kinetic absorption abilities engaged. Her target was a hell of a shot with the pistols he carried, and she had no intention of being shot again. She circled the perimeter once to make sure that he was still inside. She could feel him, he could feel her, and they both knew this was the end of the line for someone.

Daisy wasn’t subtle about her egress. Her kick sent the solid steel door flying across the silo. The inside wasn’t what she expected. Some enterprising entrepreneur from the city had turned the grain silos into a rock climber’s dream. There were ropes leading all the way up to the ceiling, and she could make out the nearby handgrips screwed into the wall through the gloom.

“How about you give up, Karl. I’ll go back to New York and you can live the rest of your life in a supermax prison somewhere. That’s the easy, peaceful way this ends. If you want to do it the hard way then I’ll get to look a few years younger. Choice is yours.” Daisy made herself sound bored as she vigilantly scanned the area.

Animus Rex, a.k.a. Karl Houseman, replied with the twin barrels of his pistols blazing. Three rounds struck Daisy before she slid behind one of the silo’s interior stone walls. The three rounds fell uselessly to the ground, the punch of their kinetic energy completely absorbed.

“Did you honestly expect that to work, Karl,” Daisy exaggerated her sigh so it echoed through the multiple chambers.

“Not really,” the average, slightly monotone voice of Animus Rex answered. “But I needed to meet the blazing qualification for going out in a blaze of glory.”

Daisy chuckled at the criminal’s wordplay. “So we’re doing this the hard way,” she asked.

“Seems so,” there was a moment of silence before Reaper and Animus Rex drew their mental weapons.

Fear so intense Daisy nearly pissed herself washed over her just as Animus Rex screamed in pain. Daisy had her metaphorical hand in a death grip around the villain’s life thread. It was her only life line to reality as Karl assaulted her emotions.

Every worst possible outcome in Daisy’s life played out before her eyes. She was being lynched as a devil worshiper at the age of thirteen. All because her eyes were a different color. She was being savagely raped by Danny when she turned down a goodnight kiss on their first date. She was dying over and over again as missions went south and she wasn’t strong, fast, or smart enough. People she loved were dying. Her father was bleeding out from the float explosion on that Memorial Day back in 1971. The original Stopwatch was being eviscerated by a shifter with chainsaws for hands. More death, more pain, more fear.

Daisy’s fear fueled her anger, and that made her grip the thread even harder. The fear began to fade; slowly at first, but then faster and faster. She could hear Animus Rex in the real world now. He sounded like he was choking, so Daisy walked toward the sound. Karl was face down in a puddle of his own puke. He was trying to draw in breath, but was only succeeding in pulling half-digested chicken back into his lungs. His whole body was spasaming from the lack of oxygen.

Daisy had a moment where she considered just letting the man drown himself. She could always just say she got there too late. She’d be able to block most of it from an advanced mind, and she was pretty sure the telepath would get the hell out of her mind when she saw all the gruesome things Karl forced her to emotionally experience.

<Fuck.> Despite everything that Karl had shown her, no one deserved to die that way.

Daisy forcefully grabbed the scruff of his shirt, and roughly pulled him out of his own bodily fluids. She immediately regretted it as another wave of emotions flooded her mind. This time it wasn’t fear, but love.

Images of Daisy and Karl living happily ever after sent a blast of serenity washing over her. There were pictures of a house with the white picket fence, and a horde of little children running around the yard. One had her red eyes, and another her blonde hair. Then they were old and withered, playing cards on their front porch and watching the sun set on their lives.

<You son of a BITCH!> Daisy grabbed the man by the throat and lifted him off the ground.

Daisy couldn’t stop the tears that were running down her face. She never would have guessed it, but love was far more potent than fear as a weapon against her, and that revelation made her rage boil over. The attack that he’d unleashed against her, the illusion of happiness and content that he’d used as a carrot to seduce her, now filled her with revulsion. Karl had soiled something buried so deep inside Daisy; she didn’t even remember she’d left it there.

Animus Rex tried to say something, probably trying to beg for his life. Daisy didn’t want to hear it. With a little pressure and a twist, Daisy crushed the man’s windpipe and snapped his neck.

 

 

***

 

“Daisy…Daisy, you ok,” the voice was far off but it was getting closer and closer as the scene in front of her faded like a morning fog after sunrise.

Daisy took a deep breath and the auditorium came back into focus. Craig had his hand on hers and John was by her side. Her face was wet with freshly shed tears, and the entire freshman class was staring at her. With another raspy breath she sucked in more oxygen, cleared her head a little more, and cleaned the wetness off her face.

“Sorry about that,” Daisy let out a weak laugh. “This presentation just hits a little close to home.”

If the class was smart they would have left it at that, but this was the first time a lot of them were seeing weakness from their alternative instructor, and they were naturally curious; not particularly smart, but curious.

“What’s up?” it was Oliver Carpenter that asked the question.

Daisy repressed a sigh but restrained herself from verbally lashing out at the student. The wound was still raw, the memory was still fresh, and she didn’t want to do anything stupid. That being said, she still needed to put everyone back in their place.

“The reason there is no information on Animus Rex after 2011 is because he went rogue on his final assignment,” a few gasps of surprise echoed through the student body. “He was assigned to take down a criminal ring based in Lincoln and Oklahoma City. They were the biggest drug distributors in the Midwest at the time. Like always, Animus Rex was efficient at dismantling the hierarchy of the organization; unfortunately, he decided he’d be better off running the show.” Eyes widened throughout the room.

“Heroes walk a fine line,” John stepped in so Daisy could collect herself. “Subtlety heroes most of all.”

“Animus Rex ran the enterprise for two years before we caught up to him. He escaped a raid in Lincoln, Nebraska by using his ability against the Heroes, DVA agents, and even me,” that got a few surprised looks from the young Supers. “He didn’t succeed the second time,” Daisy looked straight at Carpenter when she said it.

“Do you want to know what really happened to Animus Rex?” Daisy shifted her gaze to Angela, trying to control the emotion that was building in her chest. Daisy didn’t wait for her to answer. “He died in an empty grain silo; alone, scared, and with a tarnished legacy for those who knew what he became.”

“Who killed him?” electricity crackled along Daisy’s knuckles. She didn’t even know who asked the question.

“I’ll give whoever gives me that answer, with corresponding evidence, a week off of gym class,” she ignored the reaction that got her. “Now if you’ll excuse me,” she got to her feet and headed toward the door. “I’ve got somewhere else I need to be.”

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