A Change of Pace – Chapter 45

“Welcome back,” Dean Ditmar’s greeting and warm smile passed over the assembled freshman class of Supers. “I’m glad to see that everyone made it safely back from break. Thankfully, our only casualties were a few days of lost workouts, but that’s nothing your physical training coaches can’t fix.” His remark was met with a spattering of laughter, but mostly cringes.

“Today we begin the beginning of the end of your first semester of your HCP career,” this got cheers from everyone in the class, and another smile from the dean. “You have two major obstacles to complete before you can move on to your second semester.” The dean paused dramatically. “But before that, let’s see how you did on your midterms.”

Becca groaned along with all the others. Her adrenaline was pumping to see what the last two challenges of the year were. Now she had to wait. <Dag nabit,> she had a lot of pent up energy to get out in physical training.

Unfortunately, Becca was one of those people who hadn’t done a lot over Thanksgiving break. It wasn’t from a lack of conviction; just a lack of facilities and opportunity. Becca had gone home to her family for the first time since coming out, and it was quickly obvious that her parents hadn’t told anyone else.

<You can’t blame them,> she’d constantly told herself while her entire family and several of the townspeople sat around the stereotypical large wooden table. <You had a hard enough time explainin’ it to them, so you gotta give them the benefit of the doubt here.>

                What made the situation more difficult was that Anika hadn’t come. They’d talked about it leading up to the holiday break, but decided it was best if Becca tested the waters before they both jumped in head first. Anika had gone home to her foster family in Montana. The fact that Anika lived in Montana was a big surprise, but not bigger than the bombshell that they were all in witness protection.

Ever since the Sprout incident Becca knew that people were looking for Anika, but she didn’t know just how serious until Anika hesitated to tell her exactly where her family lived. As far as their relationship went it wasn’t a big deal. They’d already decided that they would both spend Christmas at the Whitfield farm. Becca had already informed her parents to prepare for it. The only logistical problem they had to work out was where they were going to train during their time off.

“Ms. Whitfield…Ms. Whitfield,” Becca was snapped out of her thoughts by the dean holding out a piece of paper to her.

“Oh…sorry. Thank you,” she accepted the grading sheet with a blush.

<Thank you, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; a B!> Becca vibrated with excitement.

Becca had done her presentation on Corkscrew, a speedster of mild renown, but who had saved Becca’s town once. Corkscrew wasn’t a big flashy Hero. He’d graduated at the bottom of his class from Overton, completed a two year internship with another speedster, and then set up shop independently in Topeka. While the rest of the country wouldn’t be able to pick out Corkscrew in a line-up, everyone in Tornado Alley prayed he’d show up when they needed him. Corkscrews primary Hero duty was to counteract tornadoes and protect people and property all over the Midwest.

As such, Becca had embellished on the super-human relations aspect of her paper. The Hero had only been in a few minor altercations with criminals and villains, but he’d on average saved more people in one season than most did in a year. Corkscrew saving her town had been one of her inspirations to becoming a Hero.

<And you got me a B, you big, beautiful man you,> Becca had been nervous after watching the other students do their presentations, but it appeared that the instructors liked her different take on a Hero’s life.

“How’d ya do?” Becca leaned over to look at the grading sheet the dean had handed Rich.

“C+,” Rich looked relieved. Having spent a semester sitting next to the boy, Becca knew he wasn’t the scholastic type. “I should be able to pass with this.”

“Good,” Becca smiled, giving the boy a light punch in the shoulder.

“As you can all see,” Dean Ditmar was back at the podium. “Most of you have met or exceeded my expectations. One of you even went far beyond the call of duty,” no one needed him to clarify the outstanding job Angela had done on her Animus Rex presentation.

<No one ever answered Coach Meyers’ question to get out of gym,> the idle thought went in and out of Becca’s brain as the dean continued.

“That being said, there are a small handful of students whose academic standing is compromising their attendance at the HCP. Everyone knows that we demand a minimum of a 3.0 GPA at West Private. If you can’t maintain your academic discipline then you lack the discipline to be a Hero.” The dean’s gaze was stern as his eyes swept the room. “You all know who you are, so pay close attention to your final two assignments. Excellence is the only thing that will allow you to move onto to the second semester.”

<That’s a bit of a buzzkill,> Kyoshi’s mental voice echoed in Becca’s head. <What did you get?>

<B+.>

                <Me too!> the two Supers shared mental giggles before returning their attention to the dean. Becca noted the good mood Kyoshi was in, and jotted down a mental note to ask her about her break with Mason.

“Back to the good stuff,” the Dean clicked a remote, and the holographic projector behind him beeped to life. “You have two final assignments this semester; your Ethics final, and your Physical training final. Both examinations are widely different, so I will let Coach Meyers and McMillian explain their final to you at a later time.”

“I like to think of the Ethics final as a reward as much as a graded exercise,” the dean flipped to a slide where a figure was standing in what looked like a deliberate pose. “I think of it as a reward because it shows that the DVA and HCP staff have placed enough faith in you to show you a little more of the world you seek to enter.” The image quality was blurry, like the person who’d taken the shot had been moving while filming. “Your final will be a case study of an active case involving a wanted Supervillain.”

Conversations started up immediately. People had their notebooks out and were quickly scribbling down identifying features of the blurry image on the screen. They’d all been in the HCP long enough to know that you needed to seize an opportunity like this. Becca did what everyone else did, but wasn’t able to get too far. The picture quality was poor, and Becca was only able to discern two facts.

<Well that’s definitely a woman, and she had a ridiculously nice butt.> The speedster blushed as she quickly erased the second statement from her notebook.

“I have video of an encounter with this supervillain that is less than a few weeks old. She is currently wanted from grand theft, assault, and attempted theft of classified government data. If she’d succeeded you’d probably see a treason charge thrown in there.” The dean’s voice was grim as he looked over the class. “As I stated this is an active case. How you are graded is going to be entirely subjective. I will look over the results with your other professors to determine your level of effort and insight. But I want you to develop a profile of the villain, their motivations, and hypothesize about where they might strike next. If you have something truly unique it will get shared with the Heroes investigating the crime. Who knows, one of you might actually identify the shred of evidence that brings down this supervillain.” Becca didn’t know about everyone else, but this project had her energized like she’d downed a dozen Red Bulls.

“As always the resources of the HCP are at your disposal, as well as some DVA resources,” the dean listed off the library and the other resources everyone had already used in researching their midterm.

“Does anyone have any questions?” Becca looked around to see if anyone was going to ask the obvious one. When she didn’t see anyone, even Angela, raise their hand; she decided to go for it.

“Sir, who is the villain?” a couple of people snickered, but the dean just smiled.

“A very logical and potentially time saving question, Ms. Whitfield,” the dean’s gaze swept the room again. “And it just happens to be the only freebie I give out every year.”

Becca felt vindicated at the dean’s response. The people who’d snickered; Emilia Scarborough, Lorelei Gilford, and Natalia Romanoff to name a few, tried to pretend they hadn’t just been shut down by the dean. They failed.

“This, ladies and gentleman,” the dean added a little flair to his announcement. “This is the up and coming supervillain, Wraith. Get to know her well, because if we don’t catch her soon I fear she’ll be around for a very long time.”

“Any more questions?” the dean paused again, but got nothing but silence. Everyone was too concentrated on the blurry, grainy footage of Wraith. “Very well.” The dean closed his large binder and stepped away from the podium.

BANG

                The door to the auditorium flew open, but this time they were ready. Becca and every other freshman in the class had noticed something was up when the dean had closed his notes and stepped back. They were only ten minutes into class, so there was no logical reason the dean would be ending the period. That only left one possibility, an attack.

The attack a few months back had decimated class morale. After word of the surprise assaults on other classes spread, the freshmen knew it was only a matter of time before the instructors circled back around to their original targets. It hadn’t taken long for Angela to call a class meeting, and for once no one minded her perfectionist, bossy attitude. They needed a plan so the fear and humiliation they felt before wouldn’t be felt again.

The minute the sound of crashing doors hit Becca’s eardrums she was in motion. The plan was simple, but effective. They needed to get everyone into position as fast as possible in multiple defensive layers depending on the Supers power. Mason, Casey Williams, Angela, Alex Web, and Teresa Shaw were their front line. Two strongmen and three extra-durable shifters, one of which was the best fighter in the class, were their first line of defense against whatever came through that door. If they couldn’t’ deal with it, then they could hold it off long enough for everyone else to get organized.

Becca had to run half the way to her first target out of memory before the brilliant white flash of Angela’s transformation subsided. Then she was running under the angel who was flying toward the entrance with energy sword in hand.

<She’s faster,> Becca catalogued the information, not that she was looking to fight Angela anytime soon.

Becca ducked, passing just under one of the bronze-colored wings, and grabbed Nathan Flynn’s hand. She let time slow for three seconds before she sped off again. The goal was for Flynn to copy her power and start evacuating the less durable Supers with ranged powers to the back of the room.

That was easier said than done. <Poop!> Becca cursed as she had to pirouette around Rich’s growing form. The self-enhancer was in the middle defensive row. He needed time to get more powerful, but he should theoretically be able to hold off anything that slipped past the first defenders. But a growing boy in the middle of her path was a hindrance to Becca at the moment.

Becca recovered, just as Fiona Richardson teleported Kimberly Goodman to the back of the room, and she grabbed Lorelei Gilford. Becca didn’t like this assignment, but they needed the girl who could fire powerful laser beams out of her eyes in the back of the room. If the attackers got passed the first line of defenders then Lorelei and Kimberly were supposed to pin them down, with Rich acting in a close combat role, until everyone else could get into position.

Becca deposited Lorelei next to Kimberly and stopped to survey the room. Fiona appeared next to Becca with Anna Fletcher in hand. The electrokinetic already had lightning dancing between her fingers, and Becca could feel the static charge building in the air around her.

“Everyone freeze!” Dean Ditmar’s normally calm voice was full or authority and power as he ordered the class to stop. “Calm down!”

It was the first time Becca got to look at the doors. Unlike last time, they hadn’t been destroyed in an explosion. They’d just been thrown open with a lot of force. The walls behind them might need a little drywall work and a fresh coat of paint, but there wasn’t any other damage that she could see. In the door stood two costumed people; they were probably heroes but the class was so on guard she couldn’t be sure. Both of them were smiling though, and looking at the defenses arrayed against them with a critical eye.

“Everyone,” the dean had jumped down from the stage and put himself between the freshmen and the newcomers. “These are the Heroes Absence and Ox. They are the two Heroes who confronted Wraith and took the video you will be studying. I’ve asked them to come here to lecture you about the encounter, as well as answer any general questions you might have concerning Hero work.”

<Wow. I feel pretty stupid now.> Becca wasn’t sure how many other students heard Kyoshi’s telepathic statement, but a few were laughing nervously as they returned to their seats.

“That was quite a reaction,” Absence didn’t show much emotion, but Becca sped up her perception and noticed a slight comical twitch of the Hero’s lips. “My intern was a little indelicate with the doors, but that was unexpected.”

“You guys are wound tight!” the massive Hero who had to be Ox was much less skilled at hiding his emotions. He looked like he was about to burst out laughing.

“I’m afraid that is our doing,” Dean Ditmar apologized, as he gestured for the two Heroes to take the podium. “We ran an infiltration drill earlier in the year that has taught all of our classes a little more about constant vigilance.”

“The tactical response was well planned,” Absence congratulated from the podium. “I’d say you had your strongmen and durable shifters on the front lines, you’re physically weak but strong ranged powers in the rear, a quick reaction force in the middle to handle anyone that broke out of the initial melee, and most importantly everyone was moving with a purpose. No one froze or didn’t know what to do. That’s a lot more than I can say of any other freshman class who hasn’t finished their first semester yet.” Angela beamed with pride at the praise.

“But we aren’t here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about Wraith,” Becca and everyone else spotted the grim expression on the Hero’s face. “What I can tell you about Wraith is that she would have picked your defensive plan apart.” The smile on Angela’s face died away. “Wraith is a teleporter who unleashes a blast of darkness when she teleports, not too different from the shifter who has the brilliant white light when they shift.” Absence informed. “She’s a villain who’s also fond of weapons and explosives; which you’ll all see when you watch the recordings in full.”

Becca was used to fighting and being tested in the HCP. She’d been scared during the first few physical training classes and the ranking matches, but she’d thought those emotions had been beaten out of her over the last few months. She was wrong.

“Wraith would have teleported between your lines and caused chaos. She would have bypassed your strongest defenders and gone for the weak. Other teleporters and speedsters probably would be the first to go once she trapped everyone in successive blasts of darkness. She’d work on the Supers with ranged powers next before starting to pick off whoever she wanted. If she could identify the leadership they’d be near the top of the list too. The strongest defenders would be the last to be attacked, if they were even attacked at all. Wraith would probably just leave them to pick up the pieces in her wake.” The entire class was silent as Absence finished explaining just how the supervillain they were studying would cut through their carefully laid plans and kill most of them.

“Absence, ma’am,” Angela was the first to recover. “Did you engage in a lengthy battle with Wraith? How can you know that’s what she was going to do?”

“To answer your first question, no. I only engaged Wraith for a little over a minute. As for your second question, well that’s simple. That’s what I would have done.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Becca was glad Angela said it, because the speedster wasn’t following.

“You learn a lot about a person when you’re in a life or death fight with them; and despite what your coaches teach you here, not all fights are like that. Sometimes the Hero has clear superiority, and it’s a matter of avoiding too much violence to accomplish the mission,” Absence continued after Angela nodded her understanding. “I could tell early on that a fight with Wraith was a life or death fight. You will see in the footage that neither of us wanted that at the time, but if we’d committed, only one of us would have walked away. It is because of that experience that I can say fairly certainly how Wraith would approach this situation. She would approach it that way because that’s how I would approach it if I was a teleporter, and Wraith showed me in just over a minute that she was just as good as me.”

That was a shock to hear, and Becca wasn’t the only one to think so. Everyone present, despite all of the knowledge they had at their disposal, liked to view the world as a place where Heroes were always the best. They knew Heroes died, and died too often; but they still believed that a Hero could take anyone in a one-on-one fight. To have a Hero come in and say to their faces that there was a supervillain out there who could stand toe-to-toe with them was a perception altering thought on the dynamics of their personal universes.

<Son of a female dog,> the revelation made Becca’s stomach churn. <And now we need to research this person.> Becca would still do the work to the best of her ability, but now she knew she needed more work to beat back down the growing fear in her gut.

“Thank you, Absence,” the dean could tell she was losing the class. “How about we go through the video and then have a Q and A session about anything the students might want to ask.”

Absence was not the type of Hero who was built to teach in a classroom, Becca saw that much after the first few minutes. But that didn’t mean the woman didn’t know how to take a hint.

“Yes, Dean Ditmar,” she accepted the remote, and pressed the play button. “Let’s begin.”

 

***

 

“You did what!” Lilly stood with her hands on her hips, and her fiery eyes boring into the back of her father’s head.

“It was nothing,” Altair shrugged, fending off a glare that brought men to their knees with nothing more than a cocked eyebrow. “I merely put a face to a name, nothing more.”

“You told her I considered her a friend,” Lilly stated it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “We’re not friends. Angela doesn’t do more than nod her head in my direction. We aren’t even acquaintances.”

“Relax, Daughter,” Altair took another bite of his lasagna. “It was an innocent, momentary conversation. Stop worrying about it.”

“You could have blown everything with this lie,” Lilly tried to drill her glare through her father’s skull.

It surprised her when he chuckled instead. “Please,” he waved his hand dismissively. “I probably solidified our cover story.”

“Have you blown a fucking gasket?” Lilly screeched.

“Language,” Altair growled, his calm demeanor cracking.

Lilly knew that look, and knew she needed to dial it back. “Please explain to me how you helped our situation.”

“Do you honestly think this would be the first time a daughter lied to her father?” both of Altair’s eyebrows rose as he presented the question. “I haven’t told a lie as much as I have shown your friend that you simply don’t tell your father everything. A teenager away from home for the first time is practically obligated to omit certain truths to their family. It’s practically an American tradition.”

Despite the anger in her chest, Lilly couldn’t argue against the picture her father was painting. Her persona as Liz Aretino wasn’t too different than the actual Lilly Thermopolis, and the real Lilly definitely kept secrets. Keeping secrets in her family was as normal as apple pie. Still, that didn’t mean she liked her father going behind her back when she was the lead on this operation.

“She’s not my friend,” Lilly knew the comeback was lame, but she didn’t have anything else. “And don’t jump her like that again. I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty sure her family are big name Heroes. The way Kyoshi and Becca go to her for advice also suggests that she must be near the top of their HCP class. We need to avoid arousing any suspicion from her.”

“Don’t fret,” her father took another bite. “As I said it was a momentary conversation. There was a man at the bar watching, but I didn’t interact with her any longer than a parent of a friend should.” Lilly bristled at the “friend” remark.

“But that’s enough about that incident,” her father changed the conversation. “How was your break?”

Lilly couldn’t hide the smile that split her face in two. “It was pretty awesome,” she fawned over the memory. “Seth took me to his family’s estate in North Carolina for their Thanksgiving party. I made several contacts, thoroughly embarrassed his siblings, and have been deemed unfit for their son by his father.”

Emotions warred against each other on Altair’s face. On one side there was pride in Lilly’s ability to infiltrate a family of high society, gather vital intelligence, and successfully manipulate everyone involved. On the opposite side was the urge to rip off anyone’s head who didn’t think his princess was good enough. The struggle lasted a few seconds, which gave Lilly useful insight into her father’s thoughts on the topic.

“Is everything well with you and Seth?” he asked, judging her reactions in return.

“Things are great,” she smiled, but dialed it down from the previous one that leaked out. “I’ve got him exactly where I want him. If I pushed, I bet I could cause a schism in the family that could seriously disrupt some powerful political and economic players.”

“That is good,” Altair’s reply was measured. “And how about you, what do you feel for him?”

The question took Lilly off guard. “Wha…what do you mean?” her biology betrayed her, and filled her cheeks with blood. “He’s my boyfriend…my pretend boyfriend. He’s a mark, father. He’s getting us closer to our ultimate goal.”

Lilly’s eyes searched her father’s and found them cold. “Do not allow yourself to become too close to Seth. He is a powerful Super, and a rich man,” Altair tempered his reprimand. “But as you said, he is a mark. You must be willing to do what is necessary to get our client the good they have paid for. You need to be ready for anything.”

There was weight to the final word. Lilly felt it as her father’s silver eyes bored into her chocolate brown ones. The meaning was clear. If she needed to remove Seth from the board to get Anika, she better be ready to do it.

“Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Dad,” she deflected with sarcasm. “I know what my job is and how to do it. Don’t forget that you’d be pissing into the wind if it wasn’t for the groundwork I’ve done.”

The tension was palpable; master and student facing off in an incident where the student had out maneuvered the master. When those two people were supervillains things tended to get bloody. Luckily, for Lilly and Altair, they were family.

“I realize that,” Altair replied through grated teeth. “But do not grow overconfident in your success. Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” The biblical words held true for millennia, and Lilly wasn’t an exception.

The verbal clash would have continued if the soft chimes from Lilly’s cell phone hadn’t interrupted them. She pulled the slim device out of the waistline of her booty shorts to see who it was calling.

“Sorry I can’t stay and chat, but I’ve got to take this,” Lilly held up the phone, and Altair dismissive gesture told her they’d finish the conversation some other time.

In a blast of darkness Lilly left the house and reappeared on an Australian beach. “Talk to me.” The sound of the surf crashing onto the beach forced her to speak louder than usual, but it was nothing compared to the voice on the other end of the line.

“We’re fucked, we’re so fucked!” the squeaky voice of the young technopath was high pitched and irritating over the secure line.

“What…calm the fuck down, Mika,” Lilly retorted. “What’s wrong?”

“They grabbed one of my guys, Shadow. They took him and are going to torture him for information.”

Lilly was surprised that Mika had “guys”. Apparently, he was putting his loan to good use; or it would have been good use if he hired proper henchmen. Unfortunately, proper henchmen didn’t get caught and tortured; they at least had the common courtesy to die before they talked. As for who had captured the pawn, Lilly’s first guess was the pimp of the hooker Lilly had sent to get her mind wiped. That or the jewelry people were trying to hit back in retaliation.

“Take deep breaths, big guy,” she put a little sultry into her voice. “Tell me everything you know.”

“I don’t know much. Most of my guys got away, but they said it was the cops that got him.”

“The COPS!” Lilly was more irritated than fearful. Thankfully, the beach was deserted with no one to hear the odd conversation.

“Yeah,” Mika’s tone was a little more controlled now, but the kid sounded like he was going to cry. “People have been asking around the last few days, just background chatter that I’ve picked up on my cursory scans of the police channels. But then they mentioned one of my guy’s names. I tried to get him out of town, but they caught him quick.”

“Ok,” Lilly controlled herself. “What’s the damage? Do they know who I am? Do they know about us?” she added as a quick after thought. She didn’t want to come off sounding too selfish.

“They don’t know about you,” Mika confirmed to Lilly’s relief. “He knows that he was hired by Super who was good with computers, but he’s only been on payroll for a few weeks.”

“Why the hell would the cops pick him up then? You haven’t done anything in the last few weeks have you?” Lilly’s tone left no room for lies.

“No way! I’ve just advertised my services, but I haven’t taken any jobs. The services I’ve advertised are legit too,” Mika replied. Lilly could hear his feet pounding as he ran down whatever alley in Chicago he was currently in.

“If there’s no connection then you don’t need to go crawl into a hole,” Lilly tried to make him relax, but the pounding didn’t stop. “If he hasn’t done anything then why did he get picked up?”

“Something about another job,” Mika replied distractedly. “Apparently he set something up for a fence in Harlem that got busted. Nothing to do with me.”

<No…no…no…no…fuck!> Mika might not have made the connection but she had. <They must have ID’d me from that time the yellow starburst tried to arrest me. The guy who had set up the meet with the fence was from Chicago>, she retrieved the small piece of information from the back of her brain. <They’re trying to find me.>

                Having the cops close on your trail was irritating, but it was also exhilarating. The police, and probably some Heroes, were expending valuable resources to hunt her. That was a sign she’d finally made it. She’d made it to the show. <Dad will be so proud.> She’d have to get back home soon and tell him. The news would end their little fight for sure, and he’d probably take her out for ice cream. But first she had to do something.

“Mika, where are you?” she listened to his reply. “I’ll be there in five.”

 

***

 

<Research, it’s all about research,> Lilly had spent the last two days getting to know everything there was to know about Ricky Galvani.

On paper the guy was a moron; dumb as a brick, didn’t pass the eighth grade before he ran away from home, and struggled with basics like reading and writing. If Lilly hadn’t done more digging she might have felt sorry for the nitwit. After she had, she didn’t have any regrets.

While Ricky was as dense as a bag of rocks, he had a panache for violence. Low level street crime led to a starting position in the Mob, and from there his particular brand of sadistic viciousness allowed him to climb the ranks. The guy was an enforcer at his core, and despite the inconvenience of him getting arrested it was probably for the best. Mika didn’t see it yet, but Ricky was probably going to wait it out until he gained the young technopath’s trust. Once Mika let him into the inner circle the Neanderthal was going to slit Lilly’s friend’s throat and take all his programming. She knew the stuff in Mika’s office could fetch someone a small fortune. The only question was whether or not Ricky was going to share a cut with his Mob bosses or keep it all for himself.

“Is this our best move?” neither Mika nor Lilly was shivering in their perch. “Are they going to connect the dots?”

“Trust me, Nano,” they were both in full costume as they camped out in the chilly weather. “They won’t suspect a thing.”

The good thing about having a sociopath as your target was that they always had a lot of enemies. It didn’t take Lilly more than a few hours, a grand in bribes, and a few loose lipped men to get her the 411. The family Ricky worked for was fond of him, but the enforcer had pissed off a rival family and three street gangs. There was no shortage of people with motive. The only problem was opportunity.

People were rightfully scared shitless of Ricky. If someone failed to end him then Ricky would come after them, their family, their pets, and the friends they’d made on vacation in Barbados if he felt like it. No one had dared to make a move yet, even though Ricky wasn’t subtle. All that did was make Lilly’s job that much easier.

The first step was to maneuver the pieces into place. The list of people with a grudge was long, but the list of people who might have the balls to do something was short. Lilly asked around, bought some drinks for guys, and flashed a little boob to get the info she needed. After she had a name and address, a short recon, and a B and E got her what she needed.

With the tools in hand she needed to get rid of any possible alibi. Her Dad knew a guy who could help, and the price was to tell him her plan. It was a simple, elegant plan, and Hellgate wholeheartedly approved.

“It’s about time you added to your resume,” were his only words as he handed over a number.

Twenty-four hours later, Lilly was in possession of a clear, odorless gas that peacefully put people to sleep. It was also untraceable. It wasn’t untraceable because no one could find the cause, but because no one would go looking for one. A drug that just put you peacefully to sleep didn’t elicit a lot of attention from pathology specialists; that was the beauty behind it.

All it took was another B and E, and the fall guy was sleeping peacefully at home with no witnesses to vouch for his whereabouts. That was the first step, the second step was finding out how to get to Ricky. That was the most difficult part since he was in police custody.

It wasn’t in Ricky’s nature to talk about anything, even something small like a gig with a Super. Ricky might be about as competent as a ten year old in most aspects of life, but when it came to crime the guy had a master’s degree; and that included how to wait for the cops to cut him the best deal. He needed to hold out long enough to maintain his street cred; while throwing the right people under the bus so he could move up even more. It was as much an art as a science, and Ricky had the gift.

Lilly and Mika wouldn’t be able to get in without drawing a hell of a lot of attention. Since that was the opposite of what they wanted to do, that was out. The only other option they had was to wait for the right moment. Thankfully, city police forces just didn’t have the funding to keep up with technological savants like Mika; so waiting for the right opportunity wasn’t long or difficult.

“They’ve got all the prisoners tagged with bracelets that track their movements throughout the facility,” the nearly unbreakable devices had eliminated human prison breaks when they’d first been introduced years ago. It just happened that the device that kept Ricky locked up was going to be the same thing that gave Lilly the opportunity that she needed.

“He’s coming out the front door with three others and heading to the courthouse,” Mika looked over at a tablet sitting next to him on the cement rooftop.

They’d put together this whole operation in a few days, and it almost wasn’t fast enough. Mika had been able to get into the Attorney General’s office computers just in time to see Ricky was making a deal. Ricky was going to roll on someone to get released. While most people would be classified as a snitch and ostracized, Ricky would just kill anyone who gave him that label and move up in the criminal underworld. As a member of that underworld, Lilly found that unacceptable; especially if he was going to blab about her or Mika.

<Steady,> Lilly saw the white Department of Correction van pull up to the curb in front of the police station. The cops would ride with the DOC officers to the courthouse, before they signed all the paperwork and were free of Ricky for good. <Sorry to ruin your day.>

The rifle was a standard issue M40A3 sniper rifle that had undergone illegal modification when the owner had stolen it when he was dishonorably discharged. The old jarhead, who was blissfully sleeping at home, was a hired gun and a suspect in half a dozen murders in the Chicago area. Nobody would think twice of pointing the finger in his direction, and he’d be too good a collar for any cop to pass up.

“There he is,” Mika foot was tapping annoyingly against the rooftop.

“Shut up and sit still,” Lilly snapped. She needed to concentrate.

Lilly’s custom made sniper’s nest was five hundred yard, five whole football fields, away from the buildings entrance. The windy city was surprisingly calm, which was a blessing because Lilly wasn’t the greatest shot in the world. Five hundred yards was her max range, and even that wasn’t completely reliable.

Ricky was in the back of the three man group heading for the transport. He had a police officer on either side of him offering the illusion of protection. Lilly took deep breaths to steady her heartrate and focus. The red crosshairs of the site rose and fell over Ricky’s body in time with her breathing.

When her father first taught her how to shoot she’d experimented with different techniques. Her first option was to fire the weapon during the pause when your lungs were full, before you exhaled. Lilly didn’t like this method. She got the feeling that her heart was going to pound right out her chest, and if she didn’t fire fast enough, her vision would start to waver. Instead, she opted to fire after her exhale. It might not be the most common technique, but it worked for her.

Her breathing was deep and controlled as she settled the crosshairs on her target. <Breath in…breath out…breath in…breath out,” she calmly pulled the trigger.

The kick of the weapon surprised her, just like it was supposed to. She lost sight of her target during the moment, but quickly required it. Ricky was down. A bloody whole in his chest punched clean through where his rotting heart used to be. Lilly smiled as she lined up another shot. She needed two to get this plan to work.

The crack of the rifle had sent people scrambling for cover. The two cops were tucked into a crevice in the building with their weapons drawn, frantically calling for backup on their radio. The other prisoners had run for it while everyone else was distracted.

<Excellent,> Lilly smiled to herself. <The more chaos the better.> She fired another shot into Ricky’s unmoving chest.

She heard Mika gulp next to her. The technopath had never been on this side of the job before today. As a matter of fact, neither had Lilly. She tried not to kill people because it was such messy work; but sometimes someone needed to die. Today that was Ricky.

The cops were looking in her direction now. Two shots from the same place were enough for someone with training to pinpoint where they were coming from. Sirens could also be heard in the distance, and more cops were swarming out of the building behind a line of people with bulletproof shields.

“Jesus, Wraith,” Mika could see everything unfolding with binoculars he’d built into his costume.

“We’re done here,” Lilly stepped backwards out of the sniper’s nest.

In a flash of shadow the rifle disappeared. It reappeared in a sleeping man’s closet across town, but that wasn’t Lilly’s problem anymore. Instead she bent over and picked up one of the shell casings. It was hot to the touch, even through her gloves. She pocketed the shell, but gave the second one a kick. The brass casing rolled along the rooftop before falling into a small fissure near the edge.

A thorough canvasing of the scene by the cops would reveal the hidden shell complete with a partial fingerprint. The fingerprint would give them enough to get a warrant for his home, and then they would find the rifle. Since the hitman wouldn’t have an alibi he would take the fall for the assassintation, and no one would be the wiser. Any information Ricky had connecting anything to Mika or Wraith died with him.

“It was necessary,” Lilly stated nonchalantly as she grabbed Mika’s hand and ran toward the air vent.

Together they dove through the opening and began to fall. Lilly counted to three, and another explosion of shadow deposited them back in Mika’s warehouse. The technopath hit the ground hard, grunted, and fell onto his back.

“Sorry, should have told you to bend your knees,” Lilly offered a hand as she stepped over to him.

“Why did we have to dive through an airshaft again?” Mika grumbled, massaging the small of his back.

Mika wasn’t connected enough into the supervillain community to know there were certain ways to track teleporters. Hellgate had drilled the Heroes countermeasures into her head before she entered kindergarten. The best way to keep someone from tracking your teleportations was for you to teleport from the last place anyone would suspect. If the price for that was Mika looking like a fool then it was well worth it.

Lilly took Mika’s question as rhetorical. “Next time call me with better news, big guy,” she smiled under her mask. “I’ll see you later.”

Lilly gave the young man a small wave and disappeared. She had things to do. She’d missed a few days of classes, was behind on all of her work, and hadn’t seen Seth at all. The fact that she’d just killed a man didn’t even cross her mind as she reappeared back in her bedroom.

<Time to find a good outfit,> she shot Seth a moderately inappropriate text as she stripped out of her Wraith ensemble. <Something classy, but easy to slip out of.> She giggled, thinking about what her man would be thinking about for the next few hours. <Nothing appropriate that’s for sure.>

It was one of the many things she loved about her boyfriend.

The emotion she was feeling stopped everything dead in its tracks. She rewound her mental conversation, played it back, and then repeated the process several times. Every time it came back the same. Lilly had used the L-word.

<Oh, shit,> apparently her father knew what he was talking about after all.

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