“Walk me through it one more time.” Mastermind gripped the two railings and took a tentative step forward.
Daisy groaned as she stood next to him. She was ready to catch him if he fell, even if the old Hero chewed her ass out for it. His statement was two-fold. First, he wanted to walk through the course his physical therapist set up again, and Daisy didn’t like how much the ninety-five-year-old was pushing himself after getting shot. Second, he wanted her to run him through the attack on her home for the twentieth time.
“How about we take a seat and I’ll talk you through it?” She hoped he’d meet her halfway.
“No.” He stomped on the compromise. “I need to be able to run if I ever run into these people again, and to do that I need to be able to walk first. Let’s do this.”
Daisy was ready with a comment about him being a stubborn ass, but she swallowed it and resumed her watchful presence over the recovering legend.
“Topher and I were staking out the house after you got shot. You remember getting shot don’t you? It probably hurt a lot.”
“Smart ass.” Mastermind continued his exercises one step at a time. “And then…”
“The countermeasures go off in my house and when we go to check it out that bitch jumped right through my front wall.”
“Stal.” Mastermind corrected her.
After the first time she’d run through the story and given him the descriptions of the attackers he’d quickly identified the strongwoman as Stal, which was Russian for steel. According to Mastermind, she was a former KGB agent that they’d met and tangoed with in Afghanistan in ’86. Daisy’s task force had been working with the mujahedeen to stall the Russian invasion when Stal had dropped from a helicopter into a meeting of elders with the mission of assassinating them. She was basically the Russian female version of Rambo except more badass.
Mastermind had to go into her memories and bring out this one, and she almost wished he hadn’t. Stal was brutal and ruthless. She’d nearly killed Berserker in the fight and only retreated when Daisy started to fuck with her life-thread. Even then, it was like grabbing a steel wire and trying to pull it apart. It would have taken time, and her Spetsnaz backup didn’t give Daisy the time to get the job done. They saved the elders, which won them some goodwill from the people, but the fight was a draw.
After the fall of the Soviet Union a couple of years later, Stal went into business for herself. She was a highly paid, highly motivated mercenary that had jobs on her record from Hong Kong to Bogotá. Kevin could think of dozens of reasons why Stal would be ambushing Daisy in her home, but the simplest one was unfinished business. Stal and Daisy had fought to a draw before and now Stal wanted to put a W in her column.
It didn’t help that the woman was tougher than steel. She reminded Daisy a lot of Casey Williams in that way, if Casey was a psycho bitch. <Strong, but a lot tougher than she looks.> Daisy mentally sighed before continuing her explanation.
Surprisingly, the black blob girl – who the DVA was having trouble identifying– did not surprise Mastermind at all.
“Nightingale finally surfaced,” he’d said when Daisy told him about the nullifier.
“Nightingale?” Daisy was the only one confused until he unlocked those memories for her.
Daisy had thought Stal was hardcore but Nightingale – the codename for a former Krezic special operations officer – was a whole different brand of crazy.
“Her power has gotten more versatile.” Mastermind frowned when Daisy ran him through the interaction.
Daisy and Mastermind had met Nightingale while doing some regime destabilization in Krezic in the mid-eighties. Back then, the nullifier was an up and coming officer with a particular set of skills that made her the perfect choice for gathering up the island nation’s Supers and Powereds and handing them over to the regime.
She secreted the black goo-like substance from her pores. The goo had the actual nullification properties, and she’d been able to wear the goo like armor. Her control had gotten better in the last thirty years. Daisy’s memories of her were more of a gelatinous blob than someone in compression armor, and then there was the added surprise that she could put the armor on other people.
<That’s just awesome.> Daisy wanted to pound her head against the wall, and Mastermind hadn’t even gotten to the best part.
In addition to a non-power based affinity for tracking people down, Nightingale was also a master of enhanced interrogation. The island nation, even under new management, still remembered what Nightingale could do decades later.
The DVA had been more than a little interested to learn that Nightingale was on US soil. Their intelligence didn’t have much on her after the Republic fell. A lot of people thought she was dead, others thought she went to work for the new government, and some even believed she was working freelance like Stal. All of that made for a clusterfuck of opinions when Mastermind confirmed it was her.
Now the people in Washington were trying to puzzle out if this was a rogue organization or a state-sponsored attack by a foreign government. Daisy didn’t really care as long as they found and locked Nightingale up. A woman like that would make even the notorious Reaper lose sleep at night.
“They all grabbed the guy at the end and the world went all kaleidoscopey before they vanished.” Unlike the first two, Mastermind didn’t know who the third member of the bad-guy dream team was.
He had a few candidates that he was vetting through some of his sources. One was a former transporter for a Colombian drug cartel that decided to kill his employers and take over the business. The other was a central American revolutionary who didn’t like the US’s support of the government. Both were teleporters with distortion aftereffects of their abilities. Mastermind just needed to narrow it down to which one was the culprit.
“Hmmm.” He grunted as he finished walking the course the last time.
Daisy helped ease him down into the wheelchair. It wasn’t the first time she realized how fragile her old friend’s body was. Even all the healing in the world couldn’t fix old age – unless you were Hallow, and Daisy hated that asshole. It was a stark contrast to Daisy’s young and fit body despite being less than a decade younger than the almost-centenarian.
She’d known for a long time that she was going to get to a point in her life that all of her friends were going to die while she remained. This quasi-immortality was as much a curse as it was a blessing. She’d already lost a lot of those friends to other enemies: See-through, Dreadnaught, and most of her graduating class from Lander were gone. Her parents were long gone and she didn’t have any family left, aside was a few second cousins that didn’t even know who she was and couldn’t for security reasons.
<I was a moron.> She remembered when she thought the side-effects of her ability were a miracle. They were a curse, and the worst part about it was that if she didn’t accept that curse then innocent people would get hurt. Bad people would do bad things that she had the power to stop…at a price.
All of that flashed through her head as she helped Mastermind into his wheelchair. <That stubborn old son-of-a-bitch has at least another decade in him as long as he stops getting shot.> She convinced herself.
“Stop looking at me like some geriatric old fart.” The looks she gave him had been fleeting, but he’d been looking for the little things in people for a long time. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. We need to worry about the team.”
The other two members of their covert squad were still MIA. Mastermind had reached out to Berserker but hadn’t heard anything back. Night was a whole different story. He didn’t even know where to start with her, so he reverted to their old form of communication. He left newspaper ads in the help wanted section and whispered into the shadows whenever he got the chance. It made the old man look completely off his rocker unless someone knew the logic behind it. So far, nothing from their old spy sorta-friend.
“And your boyfriend?”
That last part caught Daisy off-guard.
“Yeah, I heard he got banged up in the scuffle. He doing ok?”
Daisy smiled at the look on her old friend’s face. He looked genuinely happy for her.
“He’s fine. Aside from his parents being in town, he’s doing great.”
“Do they have extra protection at his place?”
Since Topher’s parents had been spotted with Daisy and Mastermind there was a good chance someone with Stal or Nightingale’s skill sets would find out who they were.
“They’ve got an unmarked car sitting outside the house and a member of the Protectorate inside. At night Topher and I take over, and the DVA added a few countermeasures to give everyone a heads up if we have unwanted guests. They’re about as secure as we can make them without locking them away in the HCP or some DVA safehouse, and with how they feel about Supers they would just love that.”
She didn’t go into it with him; he had bigger things to worry about than her boyfriend’s biased parents.
“Good. We don’t get a lot of opportunities to love in our line of work, and after all the shit you’ve gone through you deserve it.”
It was a touching moment that she just couldn’t pass up. “Are you getting soft on me old man?” She punched him lightly in the shoulder.
“You’re calling me soft. I saw how you went straight to the donuts when you got here.”
They laughed as she wheeled him back to the infirmary. HCP students parted around them as they ran to and from classes. They knew better than to jostle Professor Meyers and the old man who all the other professors showed a deep amount of respect to.
<Plus, I’m sure he could still take a few of the underclassman. Even with a fresh bullet wound.> Daisy was confident she still had time left on this Earth with her old friend.
Lilly sat back and sighed. Less than twenty-four hours ago she’d been in an underground prison cell unlikely to see the light of day for anything but her court appearances. Now, she was on a beach in the south pacific, soaking up vitamin D, and drinking something fruity and full of rum. There were only a few ways life could get better.
She rolled over on her beach chair – on the deserted beach – and undid her bikini top to avoid tan lines on her back. Good thing Mika was more of an indoor person or he might have had a stroke. She closed her eyes and let the sun’s rays beat down on her. She felt the sweat starting to cover her body, she felt the kiss of the light breeze, she felt everything.
<Never going back to prison,> she thought sleepily to herself as she dozed off.
After the breakout, it had been hard to get Lilly to come to her Uncle’s private island. She only wanted to do two things: get revenge and find Seth. Since she could do both of those things in Orlando it seemed like a done deal from her perspective.
Armsman had eventually talked her out of it. “You need to lay low for a bit, Kid. Everyone and their mother is looking for you in the states, so the best place to be is not there.”
There was sound logic in the old villain’s statement, but she was young, free, and pissed. The last thing she was looking to do was something logical. Love wasn’t logical.
Because she was sure more than ever that she loved Seth Abney.
Eventually they compromised.
Seth would have to wait. Armsman made the point of him already being in a lot of trouble over not seeing her as Wraith the first time. The DVA would be watching and questioning him after her escape. If she wanted to protect Seth, the best way was to stay away…for now. He did let her pick up a few things though.
After teleporting away from the Heroes she’d stopped off in a few places around the globe. The flat across the Atlantic was automatically paid monthly so no one knew she’d been in an American supermax prison. She was able to get in just fine and set up the countermeasures if anyone followed. From there she jumped three more times to barren and inhospitable locations before ending up on her uncle’s little slice of paradise.
Everything seemed perfect on the outside, but the inside wasn’t so great. After her tanning session, Lilly put her top back on and headed back in. The above ground house was small and in keeping with the isolated island theme, but the underground bunker lived up the Armsman’s reputation. It was lavish and full of expensive things, including trophies of his time as a villain, a computer system that had Mika drooling over himself, an assortment of drinks that had left Lilly sleeping next to the porcelain throne after her first night of celebrating, and a completely equipped medical room for emergencies.
Currently, the room held her father.
“Hey, Dad.” Lilly walked in and dropped her towel and suntan lotion on a nearby chair. “Caught a few waves this morning.” Lilly wasn’t a surfer, but she was able to stand up on a board. “Then I worked on my tan. You wouldn’t believe how pale you can get from being underground for months. Of course you wouldn’t, you and Uncle Curtis never got locked up. I never really thought about that before, but now I know you both deserve a standing ovation. From all the stories you’ve told me, you are two lucky sons-a-bitches.”
“It has nothing to do with luck.” Armsman appeared and gave Lilly and her father a surprisingly soft look.
“I know it’s all planning, rehearsing, and execution, but you guys had to have had luck on your side to get away with all the shit you pulled.”
“We were just that good.” Armsman smiled. “And it’s good you’re talking with him. They say he can still hear us.”
“I know.” Lilly didn’t let the sadness leak onto her face.
Her father, the infamous supervillain Hellgate, lay motionless on the bed. Monitors were attached to several parts of his body. A dialysis machine was running nearby to keep his blood clean, several IVs were keeping him hydrated and taking care of any infections. He looked peaceful, like he was taking a nap, but Lilly knew different. Her father was as good as dead, and it was all the blonde bimbo bitch’s fault.
<You’re going to die Reaper. I’m going to fucking rip out your heart and shit down your throat.> She didn’t know how she’d do it, or when, but she knew it was going to happen one way or another. Lilly could be very persistent in punishing people who’d royally pissed her off.
“Mind if I have a few words?” Armsman asked.
“He’s all yours.” Lilly collected her beach things and headed back to her room.
A nice shower to wash off the sand and sweat was what she needed. After that a few light layers that left only a few things to the imagination were what she needed for the next part of her day. She walked to the opposite side of the house and pushed open a heavy door. A blast of cold air hit her in the face as she entered Mika’s computer sanctuary.
Dozens of monitors showed everything from world news to computer code. A few showed avenues of approach around the island, but all of those were clear. It was dozens of miles to the nearest island, and aside from a routine supply run by a family of smugglers nothing ever came out to this island.
“Hey, Wraith.” Mika perked up at seeing her, and how the cold air in the room made other things noticeably perk up beneath her thin clothing.
“What’s going on today, Mika.” She tried to stay business-like. “What’s he up to?”
Mika’s smile faltered, but he recovered quickly. “He went in and out of his apartment complex on time for classes. I’ve caught a few sightings of him throughout the day, but I don’t want to go into the school’s systems too much. The DVA and Heroes are monitoring them, and I don’t want them to trace the signal back here.”
“I’m sure you’ve got it all under control, Nano,” she switched to his hacker villain name. “From what you’ve showed me so far you’re one of the best.” That comment made Mika blush, but she ignored it. Her eyes were on the screens.
A few frames of Seth walking around the West Private campus were on loop for her benefit. <Damn he’s a good-looking man.> She kept her libido in check and studied him closer.
Seth looked a little ragged around the edges, and there was a scowl on his face. Mika reported that the DVA was following him whenever he wasn’t on campus, and Lilly felt the need to find that tail and snap their necks. Her Seth wasn’t a science experiment to be watched and studied. They needed to be together doing whatever the hell they wanted.
<Like the Caymans.> Lilly had many interesting experiences in her life, but the Christmas trip to the Caymans with Seth was probably the most at peace she’d ever been. Drinking and screwing into pure bliss could have that effect on a person.
“Where are his financials?” She looked around for the folder that Mika usually had waiting. That was the first sign she registered that something was off.
“So, Wraith, I think we shouldn’t be digging so much into him you know? It’s kind of an invasion of his privacy.” Mika stuttered in a poor attempt to stall her.
“Mika.” Lilly didn’t even realize she’d crossed the room and was in the technopath’s face. “Give me his fucking financials now.” There was a dangerous undertone in her voice that had him scrambling to obey.
The manila folder appeared faster than she could say “Abra Kadabra”. It was pretty short. After paying for tuition and rent there hadn’t been much activity. There were some food purchases here, gas there, and it was all pretty normal until the last few lines.
Clothing store purchases were the last three items on the report. Usually, that wouldn’t be a big deal. Seth was a stylish guy and he upgrade his wardrobe a few times a year, but not at places like Forever 21. Lilly didn’t even feel the page rip as she turned it so fast to see the copies of the receipts.
<Dresses, halter tops, a pair of flipflops, and a few BRAS!> She couldn’t control her shaking as pure unadulterated rage poured into her. She didn’t even notice how the lights seemed dim as darkness radiated off of her.
“Wraith?” Mika’s eyes were wide as he witnessed the display of power.
“Who is she, Mika?” There was murder in her voice. “What is her social security number? Where does she live? What is her schedule? And where is the best place to kill her?”
“I…um…” Mika stumbled over his words.
“LILLY!” Her uncle’s voice cut through her and she felt the rage dissipate, along with the darkness. “What the hell is going on?”
“She saw the financials,” Mika said when she didn’t offer a reply.
“Oh that,” Armsman scoffed and waved it away like a bad smell.
“What!?” The rage and darkness returned.
“Calm down.” He stated firmly as he walked over and put his hand on her shoulder. The brightness in the room returned and Mika sighed in relief. “Don’t read too much into these things.”
“Don’t…” Lilly sputtered, unable to bring forward the rage when she was overcome by shock. “Some bitch is stealing my man.”
“More like he’s using her as a rebound.” Armsman kept his hand firmly on her shoulder. “It is reasonable when he felt betrayed by you and thought he wasn’t ever going to see you again. The real questions are going to get answered now that you’re free. Now we’ll watch him closely to see what happens next. That’ll tell you whether or not he’s worth it.”
“And if he’s not?” The pang of sadness that lanced through her heart was too similar to what she felt when she talked to her father’s barely surviving body.
“If he’s not worthy then we’ll kill him and his new play thing. That’s the least that you deserve.”
The love that was in her uncle’s statement brought a smile to her face. “I’m sure it won’t come to that. I’ve got faith in Seth.”
“Time will tell.” Armsman leaned back in one of the chairs. “Let’s get to work, Nano. Time to decide the fate of a promising young man.”