A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 54

They landed…hard. Lilly hadn’t meant to drop them off a few inches off the ground, but with the weight differential to take into consideration, and the small fact they were under fire when she teleported definitely threw things off. An inch or two didn’t seem like a lot, but it made all the difference when you expected to land on the ground. Instinctually, she took a step forward to brace herself. She was supporting Seth because she wanted to help her boyfriend. Ironically, Morina, who was already prone when they teleported got off easier. She just plopped the inch or two to the ground. She was already unconscious, so she didn’t even notice.

Lilly’s attempt to brace ended miserably. The floor she expected to be there was not, she instinctually thrust out for something to grab a hold on. Seth slipped from her grip as her center of balance was compromised and gravity took over. Instead of helping her boyfriend, he went crashing into the side of a metal cage. The scream of pain that had already been building in his lungs intensified.

<Shit…shit…shit!> Lilly grabbed the same cage and caught herself, but wasn’t able to get to Seth before he toppled over. The room was filled with the sounds of his agony, and she just hoped the neighbors weren’t home. If she heard the noises Seth was making, and was a normal law-abiding citizen, then she’d call the cops.

Unfortunately, she had bigger things to worry about than her boyfriend’s level of pain. She knew what the people who attacked them were capable of, and she needed to move.

“I’m sorry, babe. Hold on,” she pleaded as she saw the tears streaming down Seth face. He was trying not to scream, and wasn’t particularly successful.

She grabbed him under the shoulder and started to pull him towards the door. The cage wasn’t big, just big enough to hold a few people that followed her after she teleported, so she didn’t have to go far.

Even then, Seth’s muscle mass didn’t help. She grunted and groaned as she dragged him inch by inch out of the cage. She tried to lift him up as much as possible over the metal lip at the door, but that was easier said than done. She wasn’t able to get his lower spine and tailbone area lifted over the lip, so she ended up dragging him. He let out another groan as his hamstrings passed over the hard metal, and then his head lolled to the side.

“Seth?” She finished dragging him, and gently lowered him to the ground. “Seth?” She asked again as she bent down and looked him over.

She put her ear down over his mouth and looked down at his chest. She felt the rush of air against her cheek and saw his chest rise and fall. He was still alive and breathing. He’d just passed out. She felt he was good for the moment, so she went back to grab Morina. The blood manipulator was much lighter than her big boyfriend, and she was able to sling the woman over her shoulder and march out of the cage. Morina’s head might have impacted metal bars once on accident, but Lilly didn’t think much of it. She was still pissed at the Super.

<Trying to ram a kinetic absorber!> She fumed. <If that isn’t the stupidest fucking shit I’ve ever heard then I don’t know what…> She let the thought rail off as she closed the cage door behind her and activated the power.

The bars electrified, and if anyone teleported into the cage, the electricity would branch out and attack the intruders. Lilly didn’t know the science behind it, but the villain she’d bought this from was respected and had no reason to fuck her over.

With the cage activated, she only felt a tiny bit less safe. <Reaper is an electric absorber as well.> She remembered. Anyone that came with her would be cooked well done by the current, but the legendary Hero wouldn’t be slowed down. <We need to move.>

She dropped Morina over to a nearby couch and turned back to Seth. Her boyfriend was still lying on the ground, but he didn’t look so peaceful anymore. He was twitching like the cage had sapped him, and foam was coming out of his mouth.

“Oh fuck!” She leapt forward and tried to restrain him from lashing out and hurting himself more. If he made contact with the cage that was game-set-match for Seth Abney.

She tried to remember was to do if someone was having a seizure, but without any supplies there wasn’t much she could do, and a quick look showed things only seemed to be getting worse. She had a decision to make and she needed to make it fast.

Option one was to get him to the nearest hospital. She wasn’t in the US anymore, so she wouldn’t be hunted immediately by any Heroes, but that wouldn’t last long. The hospital would want all of his data, and if she feigned ignorance they would get it through DNA and other methods. As a former HCP candidate, Seth would be in the system. She didn’t know if he’d been updated into Interpol’s systems as wanted, but if he was, the international police Hero equivalent would come to arrest him. From there he would be deported back to the US to stand trial for several felonies, including assault on Heroes. Judges tended to throw the book at the people who attacked public servants, especially ones who’d been trained as much as Seth had. He was too much of a risk to be put back onto the street. He’s be facing a long time in prison no matter how fancy a lawyer his family got him.

Option one sucked, but option two wasn’t going to be much better. The second option was for Lilly to get Seth to someone who could help…off the radar. Since she didn’t know anyone locally, that meant another teleport, which if the action was partially responsible for his current state, would only worsen his condition. But the bright side was that he could get medical attention and be safe.

The decision came down to whether or not Seth wanted to spend time in jail. Granted, a European jail wasn’t too bad in the short term, but going back to a supermax like Florence ADMAX was like going to hell. She was never going back, and she doubted Seth wanted to go there for the first time. Of course, this all depended on Seth surviving another teleport, and judging by his seizure, that chance diminished by the second.

Lilly took one last look over at Morina, who looked to be sleeping serenely on the couch. The blood manipulator was still alive, and came second in Lilly’s hierarchy of people she needed to take care of.

“I’ll be back.” Lilly whispered to the inert body as she grasped Seth’s hand and visualized her destination.

She was breaking the cardinal rule her father had taught her about the teleporting and avoiding Hero detection, but she didn’t have a choice. This was an emergency. She grabbed Seth under the shoulders again and got him to a sitting position, then, while executing a squat, she got him to his feet. He was still twitching, but wasn’t thrashing anymore, so he was able to support his weight and get his arm around her shoulder.

<Ok.> She took a deep breath and locked in the destination. She double checked her landing coordinates to ensure she had the proper weight ratio in her mind so they’d not have the bumpy landing they had before.

On her exhale, Lilly and Seth vanished in a flash of darkness. They appeared a few seconds later on a beautiful tropical island where the sun was already set. Stars illuminated the sky, and the moon glowed above her. It would have been incredibly romantic, if her boyfriend wasn’t nearly comatose in her arms.

Lilly started dragging him forward, but the sand was deep, and it made taking even a few steps exhausting. After half a dozen she gave up. “Help!” she yelled at the wood line of palm trees. “For fuck’s sake get out here and give me a hand!”

There was no answer for a full minute until a figure burst out from between the palm trees.

“What the damn hell, girl!” Armsman appeared with Nano hot on his heels. “You know they’ve got a satellite passing over her in less than five minutes?!”

“Then all the more reason to move your ass and help me get him inside!” Lilly shot back.

“Is that Abney?” Nano asked, walking up next to Seth to grab his other arm. The much younger and smaller Nano wasn’t a great help but he allowed them to shuffle forward a little faster than what Lilly had accomplished on her own. Armsman looked like he wanted nothing to do with the unconscious young man.

“He looks like a rapid dog.” He glared. “And why they hell did you bring him here?”

“He’s one of us now.” Lilly was getting tired of shouting. “He broke out of jail, took a bullet in the process, and fought off two Heroes. He went toe-to-toe with Reaper and Hunter and held them off long enough for us to get away.” Lilly embellished a little, but her uncle was all about reputation. If someone was going to be staying in his house, he needed to be a proper villain.

“Reaper and Hunter…” Armsman smelled the bullshit, and it showed on his face.

“He kept them at bay while I used my shadow to trump Reaper’s reaping. After that, I got us out.” Lilly was dripping sweat now that they were in the hotter climate. “I vouch for him, so for fuck’s sake help me!”

“Your judgment has always been clouded when it comes to this one,” Armsman gave a sideways glance at Seth, “but if he really helped you fight against the Heroes I’ll give him temporary asylum.”

With that decided, Armsman took over for Nano and they made much better time. They entered the subterranean complex and hustled Seth to the medical area. Hellgate was still there, right where Lilly had left him, and it hit her hard for a moment that the two men she cared about the most in her life were unconscious and injured. It made her heart tighten, but she didn’t have time to dawdle. They hooked Seth up to the various instruments and allowed the auto medic to do its job. The automated life-caring machine wasn’t as good as a healer, but it was the best technology had come up with. It had to split its attention between Hellgate and Seth, but when her father remained stable she was sure the machine could handle it.

“Ok, I’ll be back.” She stated before quickly vanishing.

“Wha…” was all she heard from Armsman before the dark comfort of the void surrounded her.

It lasted only a second, and then she was on another beach and running. She put three more destinations between her and Armsman’s island, each time putting space between her ingress and egress points, before she arrived back at the flat. Morina was still there and unconscious, as was the rift in space-time from her emergency teleport.

<I’ve got to fix that.> She employed a tried and true practice.

She did a few dozen rapid teleportation’s around the room. She created a maze of rifts that Hunter would have to go through to find the real one, and even then, she had multiple teleportations going to multiple beaches around the globe. It would be a miracle if Hunter was able to track her to Armsman’s island.

With her earlier mistake rectified, she ignored the wave of exhaustion threatening to overwhelm her, scooped up Morina, and did several more teleportations to get her back to the island. She made sure to arrive in the trees without her signature explosion of darkness so any satellite overhead wouldn’t pick her up. She took her unconscious friend underground, and for the first time since fleeing Orlando with Seth felt a modicum of peace and security. As a villain she had to cherish these few and far between moments.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 28

“Are you shitting me? You’re joking right? Next you’re going to ask me to pull your finger…right?” Lorelei had her hands on her hips and fire in her eyes. Since she could shoot lasers out of those things, it wasn’t an exaggeration.

Surprisingly, news about Seth’s probation hadn’t spread throughout the sophomore class by the time they reached team training the next day. Seth was still nursing the tail-end of a hangover and was taken off guard by his teammate. He was surprised because he had to explain it. He only expected to have to defend himself.

“Nope.” It was better to get straight to the point. “I can’t use my abilities.”

“Great.” Ashley Bates was brooding a little ways away from the rest of the team.

“Guys…” Mason tried to come to his defense, but the girls cut him off.

“No, shut it, Jackson.” Lorelei stepped in front of the strongman with her hand outstretched.

There was literally nothing she could do to stop him, but Mason stopped just short of making contact. He had an unhappy look on his face, but after a moment he took a step back while Lorelei took a step forward and got right into Seth’s personal space.

“What is your deal, Abney? What are you even doing here?” Her hands weren’t on her hips this time. They were pointing accusingly at him. “You don’t give two shits about anything but yourself. You’re successfully dragging the team down every practice. You fucked up our first match after breaking your ankle five seconds into it. Now, you can’t even use your power. What good are you to us? What good are you to anyone? Stop screwing everyone else over and just go home.” She finished with a huff.

“Everyone just take a breath.” Mason stepped up when she stepped back. “Let’s be rational. We’ve got a workout to do before we even start working with our abilities. Come on, Seth, I’m going to need a spot.”

“No.” The word wasn’t heard by anyone but Seth at first. “No.” He repeated more forcefully.

“Bro, we’ve got to…”

“No,” Seth repeated a third time. “Lorelei’s right. You guys do your thing and I’ll see you later.”

“Hey, Seth, don’t…’

“Let him go.” Lorelei was still fuming and so was the rest of the team. Even Erin, who was normally off in her own world, had her face scrunched up in disappointment. “We’ll get more done without him.”

The only person who looked uncomfortably out of place was Rowan. The transfer student knew the rumors, but he didn’t know Seth that well. He just kind of stood there in the middle of the group and looked at the floor.

Seth didn’t stick around and wait for more shit from his teammates. He turned on his heel and headed for the door. He didn’t even bother to go to the pullup bar and do his required exercise before walking out of the gym.

“What the hell, guys! Do you think we’re going to be any better off down a person?!” Seth heard the start of Mason’s argument as the door shut behind him.

He headed straight for the locker room to get out of the suddenly oppressive and constrictive gray uniform. He tore the thing off and threw it in his locker before pulling on his clothes. They still reeked a bit like beer, which only made him want a drink, but he had something to do first. Instead of heading back up to the student center he took the long way.

Seth walked the corridors of the HCP in the opposite direction toward the lake. He was pretty sure the various large arenas they’d competed in were underneath the body of water. He reached out with his power and felt the softly lapping waves several stories above him. He found the lift nearest them and took that up to the surface. He emerged in one of the dorms that lined the lake. He looked at the footage to make sure the other side of the polymorphic mesh was clear. It was, so he pushed through it, walked past the vending machines, and took a left away from the door. He didn’t know if the DVA had people on every HCP exit waiting for him, or if they just sat on the ones he used frequently. He’d never used this one before, so if they didn’t it bought him some time before the alert went out.

It all depended on how long the supervising professor waited to tell them that Seth wasn’t in class.

He ducked out a side exit and shuffled around in his bag with his face turned away from the security camera he’d spotted. They’d make the connection sooner or later, but it would buy him time, and that was all he needed.

With college classes organized the way they were, no place was ever really empty, so to get real privacy he needed to get off of campus. Calling an Uber was simple enough, and he had it take him into Orlando. There, he could get lost in the crowd long enough to do what he needed to do.

He ended up in a mid-range restaurant in the middle of the city. It was between the lunch and dinner crowds so there was plenty of open space.

“Give me a private booth away from everyone else.” Seth said to the cute waitress who was probably attending UCF or one of the other schools in town.

She gave him a head-to-toe appraisal and a sniff. He could see from the scrunch of her nose that she was going to turn him down, so he went for the universal motivator. “Here’s a hundred bucks.” He pulled out a crisp Benjamin and it changed the whole equation.

She stuck the bill in her bra and seated him in a small alcove at the back of the restaurant. He had good lines of sight to everywhere, no one could sneak up behind him, and it didn’t look like anyone had followed him into the place.

<Now or never.> He thought as he rifled through his bag, took out the burner phone he’d been saving, and dialed the number he’d committed to memory.

Five rings later it went to voicemail. “Pick up your fucking phone and call me back,” he growled.

He placed the phone on the table in front of him and smoothed his facial features as the waiter came over. He ordered a beer, showed the guy his fake ID, and sat back to wait. He didn’t have to wait long. Less than three minutes later the phone began to vibrate.

The vibrations against the wooden table drew the eyes of the few patrons in the bar, but they drifted away the moment he picked it up.

“Hello.”

“Hey!” The excitement in Lilly’s voice was the exact opposite of what Seth was feeling. “I’m so glad you called me back.”

Seth would have made a few moments of idle chitchat, but everything that had been bubbling inside of him burst out like the universe finally popped his internal bubble.

“What the fuck, Liz! What the fucking fuck!” He didn’t care that he’d slipped into using her old name. All he cared about was not drawing too much attention to himself while he chewed her ass out.

“I made you promise me one thing, just a single, little, teeny-weeny thing; and you took that promise and took a massive diarrhea shit all over it. You didn’t even make it a day. Fuck, it wasn’t even six hours before you blew that guy’s brains out.

“Seth, I did it for…”

“Shut the fuck up!” He couldn’t help but raise his voice a little, and that got a few glances. A couple with a baby in a stroller looked over from where they were talking with a waitress. It looked like they were going to find another dining establishment.

“Seth…”

“No, Lilly, don’t make excuses. You didn’t do this for me, or for us. You did that for you. Admit it!” He was fuming. He could see the red tinge at the corner of his vision.

“I…I…”

He’d succeeded in making her speechless, which was a hell of an achievement.

“Seth…” she took a deep breath. “You’re right.”

That wasn’t quite what he was expecting.

“That son of a bitch hurt me when he did that to us last spring. He hurt me bad. I was already broken. I’d been beaten, stabbed, defeated, and that fucktard took the last good thing I had. So, yes, I admit it. I killed him for me, but I did it because of what he did to us. For fuck’s sake, Seth, just look at us now. We’re at each other’s throats, and that is just what they want. I love you, Seth, and I’d never do something intentionally to hurt you.”

Seth was silent for a moment. He hadn’t looked at it from her angle before. “You still shouldn’t have broken your promise.” His temper was still up, but it was simmering instead of boiling over. “I want to trust you, Lilly. I want to be able to figure everything out with you, but you aren’t giving me anything to work with. Your whole life is a lie. Most of what you’ve told me is a lie, and the one promise I made you make you broke inside of a day. What am I supposed to do with that?”

There were several moments of silence on the other end before she replied. “What can I do to make things right?”

“I…I don’t know.” He took a deep breath and put his forehead against at the cool tabletop. “But I do know that any more lies and deception between us is going to use up the last bit of faith I have.”

Of all the yelling and cursing they’d done over the last few minutes, it was the hardest thing to say, and it hit the deepest.

“I understand.”

Maybe it was him being hopeful, but it sounded like she was telling the truth. He still didn’t know how this was all going to work, and he didn’t have any idea what the hell he was doing, but his hope that everything would turn out ok was still hanging on by a thread. Deep down he knew it was stupid, selfish, and majorly self-destructive, but he couldn’t help himself. Despite all of the shit he still loved the memory of what they’d had. If she was truthful with him going forward, he might get to love the real her.

<Fuck,> he mentally exhaled while running his hand through his hair and taking a big gulp of the imported beer the waiter had brought him.

“Ok,” he exhaled. “Where do we go from here?”

“That clearly took her by surprise. “Well…um…we could…”

Seth never got to hear the answer. Two electric darts attached to coils of metal impaled his shoulder and sent fifty-thousand-volts of electricity coursing through his system. His whole body seized up, he pissed himself a little, and the phone went clattering onto the table.

“Target neutralized!” The woman from the couple pushing the baby carriage – that had been seated several tables to Seth’s right – had the taser leveled at Seth and was ready to send more voltage through his system.

“Seth…?”

He could hear Lilly on the other end, but his fingers were locked up and he was taking painful breaths.

“Seth!”

“Get the phone. She’s still on the line.” The man from the couple rushed over, grabbed the phone, and stuck something into the USB port.

“Seth! What’s going on?”

“L…” fifty-thousand more volts went shooting into his system, but it didn’t stop the gurgling scream from escaping his throat.

“Tracing…tracing…got her.” The woman was on her phone a second later relaying an address in Orlando. “Cuff and book him for aiding and abetting. We’ll see what else we can get to stick when we get him back to the station.”

“Should we call West Private?” the man asked.

“No.” The woman gave Seth a shake of the head. “All the connections in the world aren’t going to be able to save his ass now. We’ve got him red handed.”

A fresh wave of agony jolted through his system and that was more than he could handle. He couldn’t think about him and Lilly anymore as his world went black.

 

***

 

“Seth…Seth!” Lilly called through the line.

At first she thought the call was dropped, but a quick look at her screen showed it was still happening. Then she heard the shouting on the other end of the line, followed by a grunt of pain. Something was happening, and whatever it is it wasn’t good. She quickly hung up.

“Everyone we need to clear out!” She yelled to the rest of the Supers in the abandoned warehouse.

Stal was watching her soaps and didn’t even acknowledge her.  Morina and Nightingale were huddled together over a corpse the older woman was dissecting. The blood-manipulator and nullifier were drawn together the first moment they met in the way creepy people recognized other creepy people. Lilly didn’t care as long as they didn’t start getting into really weird shit, and dissecting an already dead corpse didn’t cross that line.

“Why?” Nightingale didn’t look up as she used a pair of forceps to pull something back and get a look under it while Morina watched with fascination.

“I just got a call,” Lilly hesitated to say who it was from or what it was about. “Let’s just say I’ve got a bad feeling Heroes are going to be kicking down these doors soon.

With a small puff of black her phone disappeared and reappeared in an active volcano across the world. The itch at the back of her skull that something wasn’t right persisted.

“You can do whatever the fuck you want,” she stated when no one moved. “I’m getting out of here for a little, and since I’m your only transportation you might want to take me up on that offer.

“Damascus…”

“Fuck that douchebag,” Lilly cut off Stal when she brought up the terrorist asshole. “You can call him for a ride if you want, but I doubt he’ll stick his neck out for you.”

Stal and Nightingale exchanged a quick look before nodding to each other.

“Good. We’re out of here in five.”

She figured that was enough time to get everyone out. If someone was onto them then they would have to mobilize. Having her confirmed at a location as enough to bring a team in on the mission, but knowing that she ran with at least two other Supers from the prison break was enough to give the Heroes pause…hopefully.

After five minutes everyone was gathered with anything important. Most of the warehouse’s items were being left behind with a little extra surprise for anyone that came in looking for them. As it turned out, Nightingale’s surgical skills were used for more than just torture and her little experiments. She was quite adept at making explosives. All that time working for the Republic of Krezic had taught her a particular set of skills.

“We need to make multiple jumps, and we’re going to need more surprises.” It was always better safe than sorry, and she was sure if her location had been identified then Hunter would be on the case. She’d almost caught him with the trick last time, so he’d be ready, but every second they slowed him down was a second they could put some distance between them.

Nightingale was more than happy to oblige. She had two more blocks of Semtex with detonators in her bag. Morina clapped at the sight.

“Here we go.” Lilly visualized her destination and willed the group to be there. Darkness exploded around them and a few seconds later they appeared in a cave by the ocean a world away.

“He’ll come through in the same place.” She explained to Nightingale so she could place the bomb and the triggering mechanism – an IR strobe that would sense the presence of a person and detonate.

Once the bomb was set and armed they teleported again. This time they appeared in the wilderness of northern Canada. Nightingale set up another bomb, and then they hoofed it. The best countermeasure other than setting explosives to kill whoever followed you through the rips in space-time was to put distance between teleportation points. It would be harder for Hunter to track them if he didn’t know where she teleported from.

They hiked for about a half-mile before Morina started complaining. She would bleed a man dry without a care in the world, but walking almost three thousand feet was a protest-worthy offense. Lilly found a good spot and teleported again. This time they arrived at their fallback position. Ironically, it wasn’t all that far from the original warehouse. When their surprise bit the Heroes in the ass they’d be able to see and hear it.

The place was already set up, so Stal plopped down on the couch to watch her soaps while Nightingale and Morina discussed what they would do next. That was fine with Lilly, she had other things to do.

“I’ll be back.” She didn’t wait for a response before teleporting away. She dropped into her loft across the pond before arriving on her Uncle’s secluded beach.

“Mika!” She yelled as she stormed into the underground fortress. “Get me a trace on the last call to my burner now! I need a location on Seth.”

The technopath was asleep on the job with his face plastered against the keyboard.

“MIKA!” She roared in his ear.

The boy jumped a foot in the air with a wild look in his eye. He had key-shaped impressions on his face from his slumber, and he was having some trouble realizing where he was.

“Get a location on Seth , NOW!”

“Yeah…ok…location…Seth…on it.” The boy’s scatterbrained mind was starting to settle.

“What the hell are you yelling about?” Armsman stepped into the computer nexus of their little operation.

“Finding Seth.” Mika answered before Lilly could come up with a good story.

The sour look on the legendary villain’s face showed her just what he thought of her ex but still kind of boyfriend. Facebook didn’t have a relationship status update for what they were.

“That stupid boy is going to get you killed,” was the only thing her Uncle said on the subject. “Go see you father. It’s been a long time since you visited.” He walked away without another word.

There was a reason Lilly hadn’t visited him in a while. For all intents and purposes, Hellgate was dead. He’d been in a vegetative state since last spring. The bitch Reaper had done everything but stop his heart. It was just one of the reasons she wanted to see the Hero rot in whatever Seif al-Din had in store for her. After that, Lilly would get her revenge, and then she’d finally be able to lay her father to rest.

“Hey, Dad.” She walked into the state-of-the-art medical clinic Armsman had in his home. “I’ve been up to a lot lately.” She explained it all to him.

It had a duel effect. It was therapeutic to the soul while ramping up her desire to find Seth. There were very few things in this world that she cared about, and the boy she loved was one of them. When she left the clinic she was focused and ready for action, like a professional athlete before a big game.

“I’ve got him…I think.” Mika’s fingers were flying across multiple keyboards when she stepped into computer mainframe. “Top screen.”

She followed where he pointed and saw a grainy surveillance video from what looked like a restaurant. There was a man hunched over a table talking on the phone. There was a few seconds of footage before something silver shot across the screen and the man went rigid. Two people rushed over, one grabbed the phone and stuck something into it while the other secured Seth.

“I followed him.” He played bits of surveillance footage that followed the two people half-dragging Seth out of the restaurant and to a waiting black SUV. “I ran facial recognition on the people that grabbed him.” He hesitated. “I’m pretty sure they’re DVA. I didn’t press for more info once I learned they were in government databases because it would trigger alerts.”

“Push it.” Lilly’s tone was cold as she assessed the situation. “I’ll take you somewhere so you can use another network to access the info and not lead anyone back here, but I want to know everything about those two people: family, friends, even their pet’s doggy daycare. Give me a complete profile on them Mika.”

“S…sure.”

Lilly wasn’t sure if it was breaking into government databases or the expression on her face that had the technopath stuttering.

“Ok. Hit me with the bad news. Where is he?”

“I followed the black SUV through the city’s traffic cameras until it went underground here.”

“Police HQ.” Lilly only had to see the outside of the building to know where it was.

The good news was that she had a teleportation point in the building already that she’d used to steal info. The bad news was things had changed. It was a police, DVA, and Hero hot spot now. If she went in there it would be surefire suicide. The cells themselves had anti-teleportation gadgets built into them, so she couldn’t just jump in and out.

<Fucking tech geniuses,> she grumbled.

It didn’t matter. She had her in. She replayed the video of the two people grabbing Seth, and felt sorry for them and the false sense of safety they felt right now.

<Time to bring in Morina.>

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 17

Lilly ran along the flawless beach. Her heart pounded, her legs pumped against the added resistance of the sand, but her breathing was deep and even. After her time cooped up in that small cell she wanted to feel the wind in her hair again. Today, she was getting a little more than she bargained for. A monsoon was forecasted to wash over Armsman’s little island paradise in the next few hours and the rain was already starting to pick up. It was starting to move from a drizzle to a pour, but the rain was refreshing on her sun-tanned skin.

<Another half-mile and I’m done.> She told herself as she picked up the pace.

Despite the comfortable equilibrium her body had reached, her mind had more in common with the approaching monsoon. She was deeply conflicted about one thing in particular, and for her it was the only thing that mattered right now: Seth.

She knew she’d fucked up with the phone call. She felt like she was twelve all over again and couldn’t talk to the boy she liked so she hung up on him. That had never happened to her in real life until now, but she saw it in the movies all the time.

<Why am I so nervous?> She’d already done everything and then some with him.

<You know what it is.> Her mind told her what she didn’t want to hear, so she picked up the pace and started to sprint the last quarter-mile. <You don’t want him to reject you.>

It was an emotion as old as time, and one she hadn’t had to worry about before, but her subconscious was right. She was fucking terrified that Seth would toss her to the curb.

<Could I really blame him?> A spark of depression welled up, and she quickly strangled it with her mental bootheel.

<No.> She shook her head to rid herself of the thought and get her damp hair out of her eyes. <We’re going to be fine. We’re meant to be together. All that soulmate shit is real. I’ve felt it. He just needs to be reminded of me and taken away from that little bitch.>

Determination to get her man back flared into jealous rage as she remembered the picture she’d memorized. <What kind of name is Isla Perko anyway.>

Mika had caved and finally compiled a report on the young freshman Seth had been seen hanging out with. She was probably in the HCP too, which was how Lilly got Armsman to ok the expenditure of resources in the first place. It was always good to know who the enemy was going to be in five years.

<She’s cute,> she’d grudgingly admitted. <But she’s too short for Seth, and she has no ass. He needs something to grip on a woman.> The thought of Seth gripping anyone’s ass but hers brought forth a simmering rage that could only be exorcised through vigorous physical activity; thus the running.

Just as Lilly reached the entrance to the underground bunker, the wind started to pick up to wailing level. She had to struggle to pull the door closed behind her, but once she did the majority of the noise was cut down. She walked through the stark steel-lined corridor to another door. She had her biometric data taken by a few separate security measures before being allowed to enter.

In her uncle’s underground home there was no evidence the monsoon was starting to bear down on them from above. There was a whole other natural disaster forming.

“Could you please listen to something recorded after 1970!” She screamed at the oldies music blaring throughout the place. “Would it kill you to put on the Chainsmokers for one song?!”

She didn’t expect to get a reply so she headed to the shower to clean up. Regular training and good food on the island had gotten her back into shape and she did a quick three-sixty in the mirror to evaluate the run’s effectiveness.

<He needs someone with an ass.> She confirmed as she admired her own before stepping into the shower.

She heard the sound of a phone ringing through the music, and was surprised that she was so surprised at the telltale ring. Any other time she wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but this was the first time she’d heard a phone ring at her uncle’s place. She’d thought he didn’t have one.

It was picked up after the third ring, and the music was shut off. She conditioned her hair wondering what was going on, and was rewarded with a knock on the door.

“Stop playing with yourself and get out here.” Armsman’s voice was tense, and since she hardly ever heard him tense she quickly rinsed and wrapped a towel around herself.

“What?” She cracked the door open enough the steam wafted out into her room.

“You’ve got a meeting scheduled in fifteen minutes, so suit up.” He was already wearing his fatigues – minus the mask and arsenal of weapons.

“Meeting? You agreed to a meeting?” She asked warily, her hand grasping for something on the countertop to bash her uncle’s head in if he tried to turn her back into the Heroes.

It was unlikely, but she was never going back to prison, and she’d kill anyone that tried to take her.

“I didn’t have a choice, and neither do you, so get moving.” His voice was hard now, but he turned and walked away.

She didn’t relax though, the brief relief the run had given her had evaporated. She couldn’t fully suit up for this meeting, which made her even more nervous. Her tech genius designed vest had been confiscated by the DVA along with her electromagnetic rifle, so she had to make do with a specialized – but not as special – vest, and an assortment of conventional firearms. Armsman had no shortage of weapons in his home. She wore a long-sleeved compression shirt under the vest, black cargo pants with plenty of pockets for various goodies, and black boots. Her uncle had a small collection of shemaghs, so she took a black one of those. He also had some cheaper copies of her grinning black volto mask.

She made do with five pistols: two in shoulder straps, one on her thigh, one in the small of her back, and a final dainty one in her boot. A few knives went up her sleeves, onto her vest along with ammo, and she teleported a few grenades from her ready table in her underground armory across the world. The darkness that blasted with their arrival was like a gust of fresh air that lingered before dissolving back into the universe.

She looked like Wraith, talked like Wraith, and walked like Wraith, but there was something missing. She couldn’t quite figure out what it was as she joined her uncle. Armsman looked as deadly as ever.

“You break any of my stuff and I break you,” were his parting words to Mika before an explosion of darkness teleported the two villains away.

The location Armsman had been given was cryptic for anyone aside from Lilly. It was a reference to a luxury hotel in downtown Orlando, which gave her a small hint as to who they were meeting. Her suspicions were confirmed as she deposited them in a corner of the room she’d been in before. Only last time guys had been wiring IEDs in here.

The darkness spread out and identified the room to her before dissipating. There were four other men there. Two had weapons on their hips and were definitely human. The other two had no weapons and were definitely not.

“Ah, Wraith. I’m so pleased to see prison was so kind to you. You look as radiant as ever.” Seif al-Din smiled and Lilly felt her skin crawl.

“Yeah sitting in a box and eating soggy oatmeal three times a day was a blast.” She tried to appear nonchalant, but she was waiting for the ambush to start. “I see you brought a friend. How’s it going Damas-douche.”

The silver-haired pyrokinetic looked at her like she was complete garbage, and she returned the sentiment one hundred percent.

“We can skip the pleasantries.” al-Din looked at Damascus and the other terrorist went to the bed to grab a stack of folders.

“Things are a little hot right now.” Lilly stated when Damascus walked over and deposited the stack of files on the desk in front of her. “I’m not really taking new contracts.”

“This is not a new contract.” Seif al-Din stated matter-of-factly. “This is a continuation of your existing one.”

“I smell bullshit.” Armsman finally spoke up. The statement earned him a hard glare from the terrorist leader, but that was it. Armsman was one of the few people in the world that could reliably kill Seif al-Din. The terrorist knew that, and wasn’t about to get on the nullifier’s bad side.

“There is no such bullshit.” The terrorist took a more diplomatic approach and smiled. “Wraith and Hellgate were hired to help me retrieve my dear Fadeelah and they failed.”

“We didn’t fail. I successfully grabbed her and Hellgate…” she didn’t know how to describe her father at first, but the situation quickly made it clear how she needed to define Hellgate. “Well, Hellgate died in the attack, so we don’t owe you shit.”

“On the contrary.” Self al-Din didn’t bat an eye at the news of Hellgate’s death. “You might have grabbed my daughter, but you also led the Heroes right to her. That’s like saying you won a million dollars gambling, but then lost it all in a single roll of the dice. You still ended up with nothing. The same is true here. You still owe me what is due.”

The tension in the room ratcheted up with each word. Lilly’s fingers were itching to get around the trigger and put a couple of holes in Damascus. Her uncle would deal with al-Din. The terrorists felt it too because there was a tense twenty seconds where they all looked at each other like they were in a Mexican standoff.

“However,” al-Din finally broke the tension. “I understand the circumstances you are faced with at such a young age. I myself have lived in your position for decades, and at times it can be unpleasant.”

Lilly didn’t relax but she kept on listening.

“You do still owe me a job.” He made that point abundantly clear. “But I think we can come to an arrangement that is beneficial to both of us.”

Curiosity got the best of her. “What do you have in mind?” She also didn’t want to be on the run from al-Din’s network and the DVA at once.

“I’ve got a new target in mind. You will assist me in finding her, capturing her, and killing everyone she is close to.” al-Din said it all like this was a real-estate transaction.

“Who do you want me to grab?” Lilly wondered what the two of them could have in common.

“I want you to get me Reaper.”

<Hot damn. Spank me and call me auntie luck.> Lilly couldn’t help the smile that dominated her masked face.

“You mean Ms. Meyers.”

She didn’t think she could surprise the legendary terrorist, but his eyebrows nearly shot up into his hair.

“You know who she is?” The calm, almost uninterested tone was back, but it was too late. Lilly knew she had him hooked.

“I know her name, who she is, where she works, and even what type of coffee she likes.” It was a bit of an exaggeration, but she needed to have the upper hand here.

“Then we are in agreement.” al-Din smiled brightly. “You grab me Reaper… Ms. Meyers…and we’ll call it even.”

“Not quite.” Lilly crossed her arms so her hands were only inches away from her pistols. “You want her captured. I want the bitch dead.”

“Ah.” Seif al-Din scratched her trimmed, well-maintained beard. “How about this then. I only need her for a year, maybe two. After that she is all yours to do with as you will.”

Lilly considered it and almost turned it down, but then thought about it. She still had a lot of shit to sort out in her life, knowing Reaper was getting tortured by al-Din for a few years wasn’t that much of a price to pay. She could get things straight and then pop the old Hero in the head when the terrorist was done with her.

<Easy enough.>

“Deal.” She conceded. “But the price is going to go up.”

Damascus looked like he wanted to set her on fire, but she ignored him. If he tried anything Armsman would cut off his hands.

“Picking up Anika was one thing. Picking up a Hero of her status, with her power, from where she is, is not going to be cheap. I’m going to need resources, intel, a whole fucking team working for me.”

“Done.”

How quick al-Din agreed made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

“The team is already assembled and has made a probing move against Reaper and the local authorities. They will try again soon if you want to be a part of it.” He held out his hand toward her. “I can make the necessary introductions.”

She looked at the hand for a moment before taking it. Not taking it would be a sign of weakness. Armsman gripped her shoulder, but before Damascus could come closer she teleported away in a wave of black.

They went to a nondescript cave in a barren island in the Mediterranean before hopping back to the location al-Din gave her. It was a dilapidated warehouse in section of the city formerly held by the Fist. The Super gang had long since been demolished by the Heroes, but a few of their properties had been passed on to other less-than-legitimate enterprises.

Seif al-Din didn’t looked surprised or concerned that Damascus hadn’t come along for the ride. Instead, he walked forward like he owned the place. Which he probably did.

“Ladies and gentlemen.” He approached a man and two women.

The man had on a stained, formerly white wife beater. One well-muscled woman had a jumpsuit stripped down to her waist and wasn’t wearing anything other than a sports bra while she worked over a punching bag. The second woman was sitting at a table cleaning a collection of knives. All she did was raise her eyes at the approaching newcomers.

“May I introduce the newest addition to your team. Wraith, this is the team” Stal, Nightingale, and Vortex.”

“The muscles, the brains, and transportation?” Lilly guessed correctly.

The moment al-Din nodded Lilly moved. In a fluid motioned honed by over a decade of training, she drew one of her shoulder-holstered pistols, pointed it at the man, and shot him between the eyes. The only person who seemed surprised by the action was the man, and he was dead before he hit the ground.

“Hello,” she put the smoking barrel back in the holster. “I’m Wraith, your new transportation.”

 

***

 

Seth sat alone at a lunch table shunning any other forms of social contact. He even gave people the stink eye when they tried to sit down at the tables on either side of him. After a few attempts by people to make contact word spread to not sit by the weird guy in the corner.

Seth didn’t give two shits if people thought he was weird or not. His thoughts were too chaotic. A whirlwind of emotions raged inside of him, and what he wanted to do most was go home, get drunk, take a nap, and then figure out his next move.

Seth picked his head up and scanned the room. Sitting about fifty feet away were a man and a woman. They looked young, but they couldn’t quite pull off the late teenage look. It was the way their eyes kept scanning the room that gave them away. Normal teenagers were too self-absorbed to know what was going on around them most of the time. These two were constantly focused outward.

<More like constantly focused on me.> When they looked his way Seth gave the two undercover DVA agents a wave. They might be twenty-one jump streeting this thing, but he wasn’t going to make it easy for them.

He turned back to his barely-touched meal and opened the chocolate milk. He took a long sip before pulling a small flask from his pocket. Both the milk and the flask disappeared beneath the table, and in an expert show of skill he mixed the two beverages by touch alone. When he was finished the milk had a nice tingle of Kahlua to it.

“Hey Seth.”

Seth didn’t even turn as Izzy approached, ignored the invisible boundaries he’d set up, and took a seat. “Freshman.” Was his only response.

“That’s how this is gonna be.” She raised an eyebrow as she raised a burger to her mouth.

Seth had a joke about girls and meat in their mouth ready to go, but he stomped on it. He wasn’t in the mood to encourage her today.

“I guess so.” He turned away from her and moved his food around a little with his fork.

“Brooding isn’t nearly as cute as you guys think it is. I blame all of those vampire books. A whole generation of girls are into dark, older, brooding guys with a fetish for biting.”

Seth couldn’t stop the smile that pulled at his lips, but he could stop her from seeing it. “What do you want freshman?”

“I have a name you know.” A hint of irritation leaked into Izzy’s voice.

He thought it better not to answer, and it succeeded in making her even more pissed.

“Cut out this mopey shit, Seth.” She scorned him. “We’re way past the freshman hazing. When you put down plastic to pay for bras that kind of took away you playing your upperclassman card.”

“Don’t feel so special. I’ve bought clothing for lots of women, and I’ve taken plenty of it off too.” He succeeded in silencing her judgment for a few minutes.

He speared a slice of the school’s meatloaf with his fork and tasted it. He had to force himself to swallow the hard, dry piece of quasi-meat, and resigned to pick something more edible up after HCP training.

“Why are those two watching you?” Izzy spoke up again.

“Good eye.” The compliment slipped out. “Those are the two DVA agents they have on me twenty-four-seven in case I turn to the dark side on a whim.”

“Aren’t they supposed to be protecting you?”

That got a harsh laugh from Seth. “They couldn’t protect me from an angry chihuahua. If Wraith comes for me there’s nothing that Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus looking suits could do about it.”

“If you need some protection I could…”

“No.” Seth cut her off, finally looking up into her black eyes. “I’ve got enough dead people on my conscious. I don’t need to add you to the list.”

Izzy’s face went from happy Seth was finally looking at her to irritated in a flash. “Are you saying I can’t look after myself?”

“That’s what I’m saying, Freshman.” Seth returned his attention to his food.

“I am third in my class with a top notch defensive power. Coach Meyers says I might even be capable of more.”

“Coach Meyers is a cold-hearted bitch, but even I know she’d laugh in your face if you thought you could stand up to Wraith.” Set pushed on as Izzy blushed with embarrassment. “Don’t start thinking of yourself as hot shit because you’re top five in an HCP class. Wraith has taken on Heroes with decades of experience. She was accused of killing one. She didn’t, but she blew him up pretty good. She also injured Seraphim enough to take her out of a fight. SERAPHIM!” he exclaimed. “The same Hero that took out an entire Mexican drug cartel solo.” His hard, green eyes looked back up at her. “Do you think she doesn’t already know who you are?”

He saw the first glimpses of fear on Izzy’s face. He didn’t want to see her afraid, but she needed to know the shitstorm she was blindly walking into.

“I got a call from her on my new phone. That means that she had people look up my new number. If she’s having people looking into me then she knows about the DVA security, she knows about my friends, and now she knows about you.”

Now the freshman hero-in-training’s eye were wide.

“From there it isn’t a big leap to figure out you’re in the HCP. All it would take was one anonymous phone call and you’d be kicked to the curb for an SI infraction that you aren’t even guilty of. She probably wouldn’t even stop there. I’d stay away from dark places and walk with a buddy for a while.”

Fear, anger, and determination spread across Izzy’s face. It was enough that Seth had to pinch the bridge of his nose in frustration.

“My aura will protect me. She can come at me in a dark parking garage if she wants. She’s just a teleporter.”

“Then you’re already on the way to being dead if you think she’d just going to come after you in a parking garage. She’ll drop the whole structure on your fucking head, Izzy, and she won’t bat an eye.”

Izzy’s expression told him she thought he was pulling her leg, until he told her she’d already done that before. “I can take care of myself.” She remined defiant.

“Whatever you say. I’m just saying you need to stay away from me and your life will be easier. Keep talking with me and butting into my shit and you might get something dropped on your head when you least expect it.”

“How is my life going to be easier if I abandon the people I’m trying to protect. I’m training to be a Hero. That means more than punching things.”

“True.” Seth acknowledged the point. “But you’re still a freshman. The next nine months are all about punching things. If you can’t punch things then they aren’t going to let you get to the point to see what you’re really made of. That brings me back to my original point. Stay away from me Iz, and you might get what you want out of life.”

It was only then that he realized how close Iz was to Liz. He looked down at the food as the empty feeling in his chest spread to his face.

“I learned long ago that life can take a dump on you whenever. You’ve got to make the best of it, roll with the punches, and do what you want. If you let other people dictate how you live you aren’t really living.” She got up and grabbed her tray. “I’ll see you around, Seth.”

“Motivational words, freshman.” He returned to the generic name. “A lot harder to live by than you think.”

She didn’t reply to that. She just walked away and left Seth all alone with his shitty meatloaf. Her words did strike a chord with him though. They were basically a less harsh version of what a lot of people had been saying to him for months.

<And if everyone was saying the same thing then they probably have a point.> He took a deep breath, let it out, and made a call.

Five minutes later he had an appointment with Dr. Johnson, the HCP’s psychologist. Maybe just maybe, if Seth got to lay down on a couch and vent a little he would feel better.

He went to put his phone back in his pocket and felt it clink against something. <What the hell?> He reached in past his phone and pulled out the unknown object.

It was an old flip phone, like the kind they used ten years ago. It was small and boxy, and for a second Seth thought the DVA was pulling some weird shit on him. <Did they just record my whole conversation.> His irritation made the air in the cafeteria stir, but he quickly regained control with a few deep breaths. <Might need to talk about my anger issues too.>

A small screen on the front of the phone glowed light blue with a message, so he flipped it opened and hit the message box. There, in blocky letters were here words that shattered Seth’s composure.

I MISS YOU

It was like Seth had gripped the tale of a King Cobra. He jumped up from the table and was ready to bash to phone against the table until there was nothing left but broken plastic and circuitry. He even brought his fist up to smash it down – but his arm didn’t move.

Memories raced through his mind. Watching her punch out the drug dealer in yoga pants, their blissful Christmas break, basically every night over the last semester, and finally the last time they spoke. The pain and fear in her eyes when Mr. Morningstar revealed to him who she really was. She’d professed her love over and over again. She told him not to listen to them, that they were trying to manipulate him, but he didn’t say anything. He was too shocked to even open his mouth. Before he knew it, he was being escorted from the building, and he didn’t hear her voice again until recently.

So, he didn’t smash the phone. A few people were looking at him awkwardly because he’d jumped out of his seat, but he knew they’d write it off to the weird guy being weird. He grabbed his tray – making sure to keep the burner phone hidden beneath it – and returned his uneaten food to the window. Once he had enough people between him and the DVA goons he slipped the phone in his pocket and tried to forget about it.

It was the equivalent of walking around with a nuke in your pocket. It was hard to ignore, but he did his best. The first team trial was today and he needed to get his head out of his ass. They were about to go up against teams that had been training and strategizing for weeks. All Erin had them doing was working out while she stared off into nothingness.

When he reached the HCP and the DVA lackeys abandoned their constant shadowing, Seth had two things weighing fifty-fifty on his mind: what was he going to say to Liz, and how bad was he going to get his ass kicked?

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 15

When Daisy thought “clandestine meeting with a secret agent” this wasn’t what came to mind. Orlando at its core was a tourist and college town. With Disney World a stone’s throw away, along with three big schools, it was a city that never really slept. The bars were open late to grab the college kids and that meant that restaurants had to be open late too.

The address Night had told Daisy to meet her at was a pretty nice restaurant. Nice enough that the hostess gave Daisy a judgmental look when she walked in wearing athletic clothes. She wanted to be loose, comfortable, and ready to throw down if need be. She didn’t give a shit if she met the dress code.

“I’m meeting someone.” Was all she could tell the hostess, which didn’t help with the judgmental looks.

“Ms. Meyers?” The hostess asked hesitantly after a second. Daisy nodded, and the young woman’s demeanor completely changed. “Welcome!” Her face brightened to what must earn her nice fat tips from the men at this fancy establishment. “I’ve got you in a private room in the back. Please follow me.”

Daisy didn’t let her confusion show as the hostess grabbed two menus and led the way to the back. The private room had two booths and a big square table in the center. It could easily fit thirty people for an anniversary or birthday party, but with just one person it felt like a waste. The hostess placed the menu at one of the booths and Daisy took a seat.

“Your server will be right with you, Ms. Meyers.”

Daisy didn’t reply. Her mind was busy studying the room. There were only two entrances – which meant two exits. One was the way she’d entered and the other was a door back to the kitchen. It made sense to have a route straight to the food if you were serving a party. If shit went sideways, that was the way she was getting out of here, and she bet that was how Night was going to enter. Covert agents didn’t tend to enter through the front door.

She also took note of the shadows in the room. Night’s power had to do with darkness, so it only made sense to keep an eye on that. Daisy would bet her entire yearly salary that Night was listening in right now.

Five minutes turned into ten and then fifteen as Daisy waited patiently. A cute-as-a-button waitress came to take Daisy’s order but all she got was a water. She’d just eaten and had no plans to have a second dinner.

“Are you sure you don’t at least want an appetizer, Ma’am.” The waitress pushed, turning up the charm in the hopes of actually making some money tonight.

“I’m fine thank you.” Daisy replied, her eyes still glued on the entrances.

The waitress left again and the clock ticked on as Daisy waited. After nearly half an hour, Daisy started to wonder if this was some type of setup. Her kinetic abilities were activated, so she gathered two orbs of electricity beneath the table in case she was ambushed. They would have the combined effect of a flash strong enough to temporarily blind the enemy while still knocking them on their ass. That would give her the time she needed to finish them or run. She was on good terms with the DVA since the attack on the city and she didn’t want to ruin all the goodwill just yet.

“Can I…”

“I’m fine. Please just…” Daisy stopped mid retort as she noted the difference between the new voice and the voice of the waitress.

She didn’t jump up and get into a fighting stance because that would make her look bad. She did dial up the power on the orbs if the new arrival tried anything. The new woman taking a seat across from Daisy looked to be in her fifties or sixties, which matched how old Night would be. Her raven black hair had a couple of silver strands in it, which highlighted the cold glint in her eye and a face that didn’t give anything away. Her features were distinctly Asian, and her outfit was a mixture of her traditional culture and modern American. It looked expensive too, way more expensive then something Daisy could buy on her teaching salary.

She also wasn’t alone. Two big, bulky men covered in tattoos had entered with her. Each took up a position near the two entrances. Anyone who wanted to enter the room would have to go through them first, and they had bulges in their blazers that said anyone trying to force their way in would lead to something ugly.

Night studied Daisy in the few seconds the seasoned Hero took in her new surroundings. “You really don’t remember me.”

Daisy was sure she imagined it, but she thought she heard a hint of sadness in the tone.

“Mastermind really did a number on you.” That sadness was gone and replaced by a shake of the head. “I still don’t understand why you wanted to forget all that we did. The secrets that we know are one of a kind.”

“A secret is best if its only kept by one person. The more people that know, the dicier it gets, and in my experience, that usually ends up with people missing body parts.” That got Daisy a small smile from her old acquaintance.

“That’s a conversation for another day. It is not why I’m here.” The neutral expression snapped back into place. “I’m here because your actions are hurting my organization. It is costing me considerable capital to stay one step ahead of a consortium of our old nemeses. They are motivated, well-funded, and for some reason have detailed accounts of our actions since leaving Uncle Sam’s service. My question to you is: who the fuck did you piss off and how do we make them happy again?”

“That’s a long list of people. Take your pick.” Daisy smirked.

Night didn’t think that was funny. “It would have been someone recent. A person doesn’t just drop considerable resources to track down a retired elite team just for kicks. There has to be a catalyst event. Something you did to piss someone off.”

“I’ve been pretty low key recently. Other than the attack on the city I’ve only run into a few petty criminals. If you’re saying someone is paying big money for these assholes to hunt us down then there is no way it’s them.”

“You were here during the attack?” Night changed her line of questioning. “Did you kill someone you weren’t supposed to? Or did you not kill someone you should have? Blood feuds tend to be the best fuel for this type of revenge.

“Well I tried to kill…” Daisy’s thoughts came to a grinding halt. “Oh shit.”

“Who did you try to kill?” Night leaned forward, excitement finally creeping into her stoic features.

“Seif al-Din and I fought. I busted him up a bit, but he kicked my ass pretty good. Then he basically stated he wanted to put a baby in me to make a race of superior Supers. I told him to fuck off, and that’s about where I lost consciousness.”

“His organization would have the resources to connect with, hire, and finance the people hunting us. He is our most likely candidate.” Night sat back with a pensive look on her face.

“So, al-Din is trying to kill me…again.” Daisy rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. “Just great.”

“Maybe not.” Night’s gaze shifted and she looked like she was seeing through Daisy. It only lasted a few seconds before her eyes snapped back to the present.

“You said his plan is on a master Super race with your reaping and his regenerative properties. That’s something that wouldn’t just happen with a one-time romp in the sack. To get a child with both the parents’ abilities would take serious scientific interference.” Night scratched her chin. “How a Super gets which power is still unknown. Some children inherit their parents’ ability, an aspect of it, or they get something totally new. Neither of your parents had anything close to your reaping ability, so there is no guarantee that a coupling of you and al-Din would result in what he wants without large scale intervention.”

“I’d need an intervention if I ever got together with that psycho.” Daisy mumbled.

“What that means is that al-Din isn’t trying to kill you. He’s trying to capture you.”

“He wants to make me his baby making, experimental sex slave! Fuck that!” The disgust on Daisy’s face actually made Night chuckle. It was a weird sound.

“It makes sense. He’s gathering intelligence on you by finding your old colleagues, interrogating them, and then eliminating them. It also takes out your potential allies, and is probably a bonus for the people chasing you. Our team injured them or their cause in one way or another over the years. Sometimes the best payment for a mercenary team is sweet revenge.”

“You sound like you know a bit about that.” Daisy was picking up a few things from the way Night spoke.

Night didn’t reply. She just smiled. A look that made her previously neutral expression look downright dangerous.

<What the hell does she do now?> She made a mental note to ask Mastermind when she went back down to the HCP.

“This has been very enlightening.” Unexpectedly, Night got to her feet. “We should talk again in the future.” She handed Daisy a midnight-black business card. On the back was a number in red and nothing else. “Call if you wish.”

She moved toward the door to the kitchen and her guards closed ranks around her.

“What the fuck? Wait!” Daisy got up to follow, but when she pushed through the door they were gone.

“Fucking teleporters.” She mumbled when a quick search showed they had vanished into thin air.

When she went back to the room the waitress was standing there looking a little pissed. She thought Daisy had dined and dashed without actually dining. Daisy threw a twenty on the table for her and left. She waited until she was out of the building until she pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number. It went to voicemail which was expected. Mastermind was closing in on a hundred and it was way past his bedtime.

“You won’t believe what just happened. Call me.” She left a short message and walked to her car, staying alert as she did.

Apparently, people were looking to kill her friends and kidnap her. If she was being honest with herself, it wasn’t the most nefarious thing people had planned for her throughout her career. As far as timing went it sucked ass. Things were finally getting good with her life, and now someone wanted to take that all away again.

<Typical.> She was used to it by now so it didn’t take long for her to go from upset to ready to kick ass to keep that from happening. <The best defense is a good offense.> She’d also been around long enough to know she couldn’t sit on her ass and wait for the enemy to show up.

She needed to take the fight to them, screw up their plans, and take care of the problem. Currently, that was a bit of a problem, but she might be able to fix that. She made another call.

“Hello.” Despite the early hour John sounded like he’d been awake for hours. Being a Hero on call for decades developed certain habits.

“It’s Daisy.”

John was silent as he waited for the other shoe to drop.

“We need to talk about my Hero certification.”

 

***

 

Lilly was frustrated; physically, emotionally, and sexually. She’d just busted out of prison only to end up in another one. This one was on a tropical island with just about every amenity you could ever desire, but it was still a prison. She was constantly being told what to do and what not to do by Armsman. Deep down she knew he was doing it for her own good, but that didn’t hold much weight in her mind. Not being able to do something because “I told you so” had gotten old when she was five.

<No one tells a teleporter to stay put.>

Then there was Mika. The little technopath was censoring the data she was getting.  He still had a lot of the same assets in place from when he’d been running surveillance last spring, so he was still able to get tons of data on Seth and the old crew. He just wasn’t sharing all the juicy bits.

Lilly grumbled to herself as she got into the prone firing position. She got comfortable and squeezed the rifle into her shoulder. It was a foreign feeling after going so long without shooting. The rifle was already grouped and zeroed so all she had to do was get it on target. She picked one close as a confidence boost.

<One hundred yards.> The recoil of the rifle slammed into her shoulder and she saw a hole appear in the shoulder area.

She moved to two hundred, then three hundred, and only missed when she got to four hundred. It was ok if she was rusty. She wasn’t great with the long shots, and she’d only killed that mafioso bonehead from five hundred yards. She wasn’t that off her game.

<But I am.> She felt the frustration still there and simmering.

Armsman was off to the mainland running some sort of errand. Mika was in his fortress of geekitude doing god only knew what. All of that left Lilly to her own devices, and since she was never really one to pass up an opportunity she seized the moment.

A flash of comforting darkness appeared in the tropical paradise and when it dissipated she was gone. She reappeared in a dank and dusty bunker that really needed to be aired out.

“Ahhhh,” Lilly breathed it in and nearly choked.

Despite all the searches and seizures the DVA had done with her assets, they still hadn’t found her weapons arsenal. This place was locked up tighter than a tick’s ass.

<Just a few things to hold me over.> She mused as she searched the place for what she wanted.

The weapons she’d set aside for the Orlando operation were still on the table all these months later. The only thing missing was the electromagnetic rifle. The DVA had confiscated that bad boy. There were still plenty of other weapons for her to choose from, but she kept it light. She wasn’t going to lay siege to a city again. She grabbed a dainty .22 pistol. It wouldn’t do a whole lot of damage, but it would create a small distraction if she needed to make a quick exit. She also picked up a couple of knives and hid them in a few easy to reach places on her body. That was all she needed for today. She stopped by the entrance and grabbed a baseball cap and some big aviator glasses. They were enough to disguise her identity from a stranger. If people took a closer look, then that’s what the guns and knives were for.

As a spur of the moment decision she grabbed a wig and tucked her blond hair into it. Eventually, she’d need to get back to her natural brunette color, but for today she was going to be a red head. A look in the mirror told her she only vaguely resembled the notorious Supervillain Wraith.

Another explosion of blackness took her to one of her lesser known teleportation points in the city of Orlando. It was by the coffee place Sprout, and she’d only used it to send a raging bitch to Africa that one time.

<I wonder what happened to her?> she mused. <Probably eaten by lions.> She smiled and started walking.

The problem was that she didn’t know where any of her old friends were. That was the stuff Mika censored. Not that they would call her a friend anymore.  She couldn’t go back to Townhouse 117. Not only because they didn’t live there anymore, but also because the DVA definitely had eyes on the place. That was the reason she didn’t jump into her usual alley down the street. She was pretty sure Hunter had tracked her through that one.

So she started walking. The weather was better than the island. It wasn’t sweltering heat, and with the college in full swing she was easily able to blend in with the rest of the student population. When a girl wasn’t looking, Lilly swiped her backpack to complete the collegiate image. She made sure to double check and ensure the girl’s cell phone wasn’t in her bag. She wasn’t going to lead Heroes to her again through a technological lapse in judgment.

As she walked memories started to creep to the surface. <We kissed over there. Held hands as we walked this path, and I’m pretty sure we fucked under that tree right there.> After so long in confinement, seeing these old things was hitting her harder than she thought. <This was a bad idea.>

She headed away from the school with no real destination in mind. She just couldn’t be around that place right now. She knew how she was when she got too emotional. She’d probably act out and start an active shooter incident if someone looked at her sideways, and that wouldn’t be good for her cover.

She walked for another hour before giving up on trying to figure out where everyone lived now. Instead, she aimlessly wandered with the masses away from the school. It would take her too long to get to the city, but she could still get away from West. She followed the shores of the lake West sat next to and finally sat down on one of the beaches the school had built.

She felt exhausted from the trip down memory lane, and plopped down into the sandy goodness.

<What do I really want?> She finally asked herself. <Yeah, I want to see him again, but what does that really mean. Do I want one final trip to pound town? Do I want to pick things up where they left off? Do I want to end it on my terms? What the hell is wrong with me?> She finally cut the thought process off before she became the whiner she detested.

She still remembered their last conversation. She remembered when that asshat Mr. Morningstar had manipulated him into that room. She remembered how the old bastard had hurt him and her with the big reveal. She remembered how he’d done it with a straight face and a smile. She knew he thought he was doing Seth a favor by showing off their capture of her, but all he’d done was sign his own death warrant. The old man was right up there on the list next to Hunter for people she needed to kill.

<Stop pussyfooting around this and just do something.> She forced herself to look past their last talk. She pulled out a disposable cell from her pocket and dialed a number from memory.

“Hello.”

Seth’s voice was exactly how she remembered it, and it made her freeze. The tortured look on his face blazed in her mind.

“Hello?” He asked again.

When she didn’t answer he hung up.

<Great.> She released the death grip she had on the phone and thought about burying her head in the sand. <Come on Lilly. You’re better than this.>

She dialed the number again.

“Hello.”

“H…” was as far as she got this time.

“What? You’re breaking up.”

“Hi.” She sounded like she was being strangled.

“Who is this? I don’t recognize the number.”

“It’s…”

<Wow. Great job me. I’ve become a complete moron around him.>

“Stop calling this number or I’m calling the cops.”

“But…”

“Is this you Izzy?”

The question felt like he took a hot branding iron to her heart.

“No.” That word came out loud, clear, and strong before she hit the end button.

Lilly knew what she needed to do now. The conversation had been a wakeup call for her. She needed to find out more about who this Izzy was. She needed to gather intelligence. She needed to know the girl’s life better than her own, so when the perfect moment came she could end that life and remove the threat.

Because Izzy was a threat.

The pain Lilly felt when Seth said Izzy’s name was all the proof she needed. She still loved him, and she needed to end every other bitch that even thought about getting close to him.

A standard ringtone interrupted her murderous thoughts. She looked down at the phone, saw Seth’s number, and immediately answered it.

“Hello?”

<Great. Now I’m able to talk.>

“Liz?”

She hung up immediately, threw the phone into the water, and teleported away in a blast of darkness. She put half a dozen jumps, and multiple continents between her and that phone call so that no Heroes could follow her.

<Stupid…stupid…stupid…> She’d panicked. <I need to get my shit together.>

She was still brainstorming ways to do that when she walked back into Armsman’s underground home far far away from Orlando. Her uncle as back and by the look on his face she could tell he knew exactly where she’d been.

He didn’t have to say anything. All he had to do was stare at her. The look on his face screamed STUPID GIRL, but she just shrugged it off and headed for Mika.

“How bad?”

“The DVA is shitting a chicken and crawling all over every place you’ve ever been.” He replied. He kept his eyes on the screens. His way of saying he was pissed too. “You probably also screwed over Seth Abney. The DVA picked him up right after your call. You had to have known they were monitoring his cell?”

“Goodnight, Mika.” She wasn’t in the mood to discuss this.

She’d try to see the guy that she loved, and instead she’d failed to say more than a few complete words to him. To make matters worse, she’d alerted the DVA to her continued interest in the area. If her father was conscious he would have kicked her ass for being so stupid.

Suddenly, her prison sentence in a tropical paradise wasn’t looking so bad.

<Whatever.> She thought rebelliously as she locked the door to her room and collapsed on her bed. <I’ll do whatever the fuck I want to.>

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 13

 

“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.

“Topher?”

“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.”

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 11

Lilly ran. She ran like her life depended on it – which it did. She’d found a grocery store only a few blocks from where she’d hung up with Armsman and Nano. She’d barely come to a stop when she threw open the door and charged through the front door. She nearly took out the cart boy and people at the checkout aisle screamed when she tore past them.

She was still wearing the white prisoners outfit. It might not be the florescent orange that people always thought prisoners wore, but it was close enough. The writing all over the fabric denoting she was a criminal didn’t help.

She knew the staff and customers were pulling out their cell phones and calling the cops, so she had to hurry, and that wasn’t even the most pressing reason. Any second now the feds could regain control of her collar and decide they wanted her dead rather than alive. All there would be was a little poof and pink mist would be all that remained of her head.

Since her head was absolutely gorgeous and held a first-class brain, she was doing everything she could to avoid that. Including cornering some dude with his face in his phone and oblivious to what was going on around him.

“ALUMINIUM?!” She yelled as she approached.

“Aisle twelve.” He didn’t even pick his head up.

<Kids these days.> She smiled as she rushed past him and down aisle twelve.

Since she wasn’t buying she grabbed the name brand stuff. She tore the box open and tugged an arm-length piece of the metal sheet. A quick rip and she started to wrap it around the device on her neck. Most of the collar was just a fabric that had gotten itchier and itchier the longer she wore it. The piece that mattered was a box-like thing just to the side of her throat.

She sucked it in so she could get the metal between her throat and the box to completely wrap it up. Once she had it entirely covered she squeezed and scrunched it down. It conformed to the box, and she was sure it wouldn’t move. Just to be safe she wasted valuable seconds tearing off two more sheets and tripling the effective layer that was the only thing separating her from literally losing her head.

<That was too close.> She took ten seconds and just breathed. This was the closest she’d been to true freedom in months. <Keep moving.>

If the cops weren’t there yet they would be soon.

She ran back down the aisle the way she’d come. The kid was still there on his phone, not a care in the world.

“Excuse me.” She purred.

The sound of her voice perked the male’s brain and he finally picked his head up to look at her. She punched him right between the eyes, broke his nose, and knocked his ass to the ground. His head bounced off the semi-polished linoleum and knocked him out cold.

She had a witty line about actually initiating human contact instead of cyber sexting someone, but it would fall on deaf ears. Either way, she still stole his phone and sprinted toward the back of the store. She got yelled at by the dude in charge of the loading dock, but she didn’t give a shit. She bought herself at least another few minutes of freedom.

She heard the sirens in the distance. She activated the map function on the iPhone she’d stolen and planned a route to the address she’d been given. She stuck to the back alleys as long as she could, until she got to her first waypoint. It was a small clothing shop with a cool logo that looked like it catered to the city’s younger crowd.

She repeated what she’d done earlier. She made ingress from the back, surprised the store owner who was doing inventory in the rear. She knocked her the fuck out and hid the body. She quickly brushed through the clothes on the racks which were thankfully arranged by size.

<There’s some super cute stuff here.> She needed to make a note of this place for the future.

She ended up keeping it simple. A pair of jeans, a blouse, and a light coat since it was a little colder at the higher elevations than in Florida. It also zipped all the way up and hid the aluminum without looking to conspicuous. She also grabbed a pair of sunglasses and a big floppy hat. She pulled her hair up and hid it. Since the cops always used hair color and what the subject was wearing in their description she’d eliminated two of the five criteria. She couldn’t change being a five-eight white woman, at least not with the time she had.

She exited back through the rear and went a few more blocks before emerging on the street. She rounded the corner like she belonged there and joined the crowd. People were a little jittery and looking around with all the police activity. Half had their faces buried in their phones watching what was unfolding in real-time. Sirens blared as a trio of cop cars streaked past them and stopped at the intersection they’d just passed. They used their vehicles as a blocking mechanism and stopped people trying to cross.

“What’s happening?” She slid closer to another woman walking away from the hastily established checkpoint.

The woman gave her a look that screamed “you’re a clueless bimbo”, but sighed and answered. “Some prisoner escaped. They’re locking down the city which means traffic is going to be a bitch.”

The woman was looking right at Lilly and didn’t see the resemblance to picture the police had released to the public.

<If that’s not a round of applause for a good disguise then I don’t know what is.> She thought.

“Oh my god.” Lilly brought her hand to her mouth. “That’s horrible.”

“Yeah.”

That was where the conversation ended. The woman went one way and Lilly went another. She watched her go for a second to make sure she didn’t look back and call the cops, but the other woman was too engrossed with the pain in the ass that traveling out of the city would be to notice the person they were looking for had walked beside her for two blocks.

<God bless America and its technological addiction.> She smiled to herself as she kept walking.

She’d left the checkpoint far behind and from there it has a short walk to the address. The address in question was an upscale apartment building. Apartment number seven was the one listed on the first text she’d gotten, so she hit the button.

“Yeah?” Mika’s young voice was nervous.

“Guess who?” She smiled when the young villain squealed with delight.

There was a soft buzz and the door unlocked. She pushed it open and secured it behind herself before heading for the stairs. Apartment seven was on the second floor. She only had to knock once before it was thrown open and her uncle stood in the doorway.

“Took you long enough.” The words were harsh, but they were undercut by the grin on his face.

“I had to accessorize on my way over.” She stuck her nose in the air and returned the grin. “Thanks for coming back for me.”

“What else is family for? At a minimum, they’ve got to be ready to risk life in prison to save their own.”

They weren’t blood related, but they might as well be after all the shit they’d been through together. She showed that by stepping in and giving him a big hug. The move surprised him, but eventually he wrapped her up and gave her a few pats on the back.

“I know it sucks.” He awkwardly tried to soothe her.

He knew what she was thinking. Armsman had spent a few days in a holding cell once before. It had been Hellgate that rescued him, but he knew what was going through her head. Life in a small box wasn’t a life at all, and there was no way in heaven or hell she was ever going back. The next time the Heroes tried to take her in they better be ready to kill.

“Yeah, it blows donkey dick.” Lilly sniffed and wiped a tear from her cheek. She looked at it like it was an annoying bug before turning to Mika. “And where’s my other knight in shining armor.”

The armor looked more like a computer motherboard, but the teenager’s smile sure did shine when she addressed him.

“It’s nothing.” He blushed. “Plus, my job ain’t done yet. I’ve got to get that off of you.” He gestured for her to take a seat.

Mika went to work like a surgeon while Armsman stood guard by the door. They all knew this was the most vulnerable part of the operation. They were stationary, a target, and all it took was one Hero to come through the wall to ruin the whole plan. Of course, that Hero would have to face one of the most legendary villains of all time, but it was still something they’d rather avoid. In this city, Heroes tended to travel in teams.

The buzz of someone hitting the button made everyone jump. Mika nearly triggered the bomb and killed Lilly right then and there. He took a step back from her, hands shaking and sweat dripping from his brow, while Armsman answered the buzz.

“It’s me, open up…hurry!”

Surprisingly, her uncle hit the admittance button and a few minutes later there was a knock at the door. Mika nodded that it was all clear. She thought he probably had cameras watching the apartment from every angle.

The door opened and the guard who’d jumped Reggie stood in the hallway. He was bruised and bleeding, but he was alive.

“Thanks.” He looked around the room and saw Mika getting back to work on the collar. “Good, she made it.” He turned to Armsman, puffing up slightly with importance. “I delivered on my end. She’s here and she’s safe. I fucked my entire life over to do it, so where’s my money.”

“You didn’t have much of a life to fuck up, Mr. Kowalski.” Armsman looked the guard directly in the eye. “But a deal is a deal.” He walked into the apartment’s second bedroom and retrieved a large duffle bag full of cash.

That was something the movies frequently got wrong. Giving someone a shit ton of money, especially note in small denominations, took up a lot of space. A million dollars in fives, tens, twenties, and some hundreds didn’t fit into a briefcase. So, ten million sure as hell didn’t.

“Feel free to count it, but I don’t think we’ll have the time.” Armsman sounded pleasant enough, but Lilly knew her uncle. There was a dangerous undercurrent in his voice that the guard was oblivious to.

She saw what happened next play out in slow motion about a second and a half before it actually did.

The guard took his eyes of Armsman to check the money. That was mistake number one of a criminal transaction of this magnitude. You never took your eyes off the other guy, especially when you were alone. Once the guard’s eyes were averted, Armsman sword slid out of its sheath with practiced, soundless precision. By the time the guard looked up again the blade was already halfway through his neck. The cut was clean and her uncle made it look effortless. The head even stayed in place for a few seconds before sliding off and landed with a wet thud.

That’s when things got messy and blood started to squirt everywhere, but by then Armsman had already yanked the bag of cash away and zipped it up.

“Moron.” Lilly didn’t even give the squirting body a second look.

“That should do it.” Mika announced triumphantly.

There was a popping sound and the collar disengaged from Lilly’s neck. Mika removed it carefully, ensured it was still wrapped in the aluminum, and took it into the bathroom. They’d leave it for whoever came to find them.

When Mika was out of the room Armsman looked at Lilly and then toward the bathroom. The question was clear. <Do we kill him now?>

Lilly shook her head. <Nope he gets to live. He’s useful. He’s pretty close to family now.>

She knew it wasn’t in the way Mika wanted. He’d become the little brother she never had, and only vaguely wanted to kill at times. He wanted romance and she wanted a technopath to get shit done. She was getting her way – again.

“It looks like we’re done here.”

“And not a moment too soon.” Mika reappeared from the bathroom with a panicked look on his face. “They traced us here.” He pointed at Lilly.

“Doesn’t matter.” She was a little pissed about being found so quickly, but that didn’t matter now. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”

“That sounds retarded.” Armsman gathered the bag of cash at his own pace and walked over to her. “Who wants to blow up a popsicle stand? Do they even have those anymore?”

“It’s a figure of speech.” Lilly rolled her eyes.

<You’re so old.> She thought as he placed a hand on her shoulder.

“You get it, don’t you Mika?” She batted her eyelashes at the technopath, and he immediately agreed.

<I’ve still got it.> She smiled to herself and reached for her power for the first time in months.

It was sitting there and waiting like an old friend. Shadow embraced the three of them, wrapped them in a cocoon of comfort, and started to take them away. But there was something different this time. The shadows had always submitted to her. She’d never had a problem with teleporting any distance…ever, but she sensed a subtly change. Now, the shadows seemed docile. Like a dog sitting patiently waiting for a command and the treat that would inevitably follow.

It was a little unsettling how the blackness reacted to her using her power again for the first time, but muscle memory took hold and she whisked the three of them away to a foreign location where the Heroes wouldn’t be able to follow.

It was a good thing too, because the last view of the apartment was of the wall exploding and no less than four Heroes busting through.

Despite what the DVA might want the public to think, it was nearly impossible to trap teleporters like her. You could do it with a collar like the one she’d been wearing, or you could build tech genius dampeners into buildings, but those cost an arm, a leg, and a head, and your firstborn child. But the idea that you could trap a teleporter in a location with some type of generator was pure science fiction.

All of that meant that all the Heroes got to see was blackness exploding out from the three villains while Lilly was giving them the finger before she was gone.

Armsman had it right. There was no way in heaven or hell she was ever going back.

 

***

 

Aiden watched the board closely to see who he was facing next. He’d gotten through the first round easy enough. His opponent had been overly cautious and a quick, brutal attack had knocked them out before they could even use their power on him.

Being cautious was fine. In general, Aiden thought of himself as a pretty cautious guy, but when he stepped into those cells he knew what to do. He stopped overthinking things, got out of his own way, and took action. To him, that was what a Hero was: a person that took action when others needed it the most.

Aiden knew better than most about action and inaction. If you lacked the drive to do something in his family you didn’t eat. It wasn’t from lack of food or parental cruelty. It was sibling cruelty, you needed to move quick to get the food on your plate or it would be gone.

Aiden was the youngest of four, and at six-five he was the runt of the litter. His mother had played division one basketball in college before graduating, marrying his father, and becoming a florist. She was a Super, had vividly green hair, and her power revolved around nurturing nature. It wasn’t especially strong, but it was enough to make her business thrive in a place like suburban Utah.

Aiden’s father was the Hero in the family. He’d gone to Lander and done twelve years on the job before going into early retirement. They hadn’t had their first child until after he retired, and even now he didn’t talk about his time in costume too much. If Aiden was being honest with himself, part of the reason he was here was to see what his father had seen. The older Super wasn’t great at communication and Aiden wanted to know what had made him that way.

<Dad was a Hero?> He remembered the day he found out that the mild-mannered guy who worked in the back of the family flower shop had kicked ass back in the day. It just didn’t fit.

Now, Aiden was here to see what it was all about.

Of his four siblings, he was the only one to follow in his father’s footsteps. His oldest brother was a light absorber and environmental lawyer. The extent of his abilities was funneling the stored energy he had into a state of the art generator. On the bright side his family never had to pay for electricity. The second oldest was the closest to their mother in ability, but he’d gone the route of scientist. He studied plants, which Aiden thought had to be the most boring job in the world. It was even weirder because his second oldest brother looked like a lumberjack who could enter the world’s strongest man competition.

<And he spends all day bent over a microscope or out in a field studying weeds.> There was only one type of weed that Aiden thought was worth studying.

Aiden’s only sister was the one closest to him in age and she was a powered. In the grand scheme of things her illness was relatively mild, and she lived a pretty good life. The power she could control was the ability to spontaneously age organic material. If she was touching a cutting board and her power activated, it warped, became discolored, and crumbled if she touched it long enough. Thankfully, the problem was localized to her hands, and was easily fixed by a pair of gloves one of their father’s old friends developed just for her.

That was good, because Aiden’s big sister – she was six-six – was the one who’d always grabbed that extra piece of chicken for him when everyone mobbed the table at dinnertime. She was also the one who supported him the most. His mother was worried sick, his brothers thought he was crazy, and he didn’t know what his father thought. The former Hero had just nodded when Aiden got his acceptance letter and moved across the country to Florida for school.

<Forget about him. Focus.> Aiden shook his head and concentrated on the task in front of him. The board had updated for round two and he had a location. He got there was quickly as possible, and was joined there less than a minute later.

<Izzy Perko.> He’d assigned himself the task of knowing the name and power of everyone in his class before the first week was up. He knew her name but not her power.

Izzy was cute, but she was too small and doll-like for his tastes. He was also about to fight her. Aiden might be old-fashioned in thinking this but he didn’t like to hit a girl, and he liked even less the idea of being beaten up by one.

“This second round match is between Isla Perko and Aiden Murphy,” announced the anticipation-filled voice of Coach McMillian. “The match starts in thirty seconds, and is over when one of you chickens out or gets knocked out. The use of lethal force is not authorized. If you kill your opponent you’re screwed on just about every level. Not only will you be expelled from the HCP, but you’ll be facing a murder charge. Capiche? Good luck.” The voice cut out and the clock started counting down.

Aiden went over his options.

She didn’t look like a strongman or anyone with enhanced strength, so getting in close and fighting hand to hand was probably the best choice. He wasn’t trained in anything really, but he’d taken a few lessons over the summer once he realized he got in. He had a foot and a half and at least a hundred and fifteen pounds on Izzy, so that was the best way to end this quick.

<But just in case…> He thought when he considered she might have some surprise up her sleeves. <A distraction.>

With ten seconds left Aiden closed his eyes and activated his power. He felt energy coarse through him. His skin tingled as his power took hold, and he felt his forearms become slippery. Around both of them were coiled snake tattoos. They had cobra shaped heads that both ended just above his wrist and showed fangs much larger than real-life snakes.

Aiden watched Izzy’s reaction as his tattoos came to life. The snakes shuddered like they were waking from a long sleep and slowly began to uncoil. They slid headfirst down his hands and onto the ground growing thicker as he poured more energy into them. By the time he was done he was a little lightheaded, but he was flanked by two six-foot-long cobras with ridiculously long fangs dripping venom and scales that looked closer to armor than natural snake skin.

He took a few deep breaths and studied Izzy. What worried him was that she didn’t look nervous at all.

“Cool.” Was her response as she looked at the two creatures that looked more myth than real.

“Thanks.” Aiden played it cool. “This is Al and Cleo.” He introduced the snakes. Al bowed his head while Cleo hissed.

Venom flew a third of the way across the room, but Izzy didn’t budge. She just smiled.

With five seconds left on the countdown clock a translucent pinkish blue light spread over Izzy’s body and it all made sense.

<She’s got a fucking shield.> He changed plans.

“Al.” He snapped his finger and the giant snake slithered back toward him. It placed its head on his hand and started to shrink while winding itself back onto his arm.

The clock hit zero.

“Cleo, get her!” The second snake, who was by far the more vicious of the two sprang at Izzy, venom shooting from her mouth.

His opponent wasn’t nearly as fast as one of nature’s greatest predators, and she put an arm up defensively. The venom splashed harmlessly against her as fangs sank into her arm…or at least that’s what should have happened. Instead the fangs stopped abruptly just above her skin. Izzy used the snake’s momentum against it and shrugged it off. Cleo didn’t have a grip so she went rolling away, hissing in anger while she tried to recover.

Izzy took the moment to charge him, but he was ready. Al had already reintegrated back into his skin, and despite his size Aiden could move when he wanted to. He dodged a flying tackle and brought his right hand around his back to his left shoulder blade. He felt the handle already protruding from his back.

<This is going to suck.> He hated when he had to do something before it was ready.

He took a deep breath and pulled.

There was a sucking sound that he felt in his bones. It felt like he was pulling out his spine, minus any pain. Worst of all it was distracting, but thankfully him pulling a flaming sword from his back thoroughly distracted Izzy as well. she skidded to a halt and Cleo caught her from behind. The snake failed again to sink her fangs into the smaller Super, but this time she made sure to wrap her armored body around Izzy’s torso.

Cobras really weren’t known for their squeeze, but they could still pull one off, and as she did Cleo continued to try and bite through Izzy’s shield. That gave Aiden time to recover and charge.

As a fourteen-year-old, new to his power, and supremely confident in his ability to choose what was best for himself, Aiden had gotten the tattoo. It ran diagonally across the entirety of his back, and looked more like something out of a video game than anything religious. Still, a flaming sword was a freaking flaming sword, and he saw Izzy’s eyes bulge as he charged her.

<One good hit should do it.> He brought the sword down toward her shoulder.

At the last second, she twisted and put her back to him. It would have been a much more efficient blow if not for Cleo being in the way. The blade cut halfway into Cleo before he felt it. It was like someone had taken a sledgehammer and smashed it into his gut and then again into his head.

He’d never had one of his tattoos destroyed before, and certainly not by another one. His concentration faltered and the sword dissolved in his hand to reappear back on his back. Cleo did the same, but he didn’t have time to notice. A tiny fist came flying toward his stomach.

That fist hit like a freight train. Aiden felt just about all of his ribs crack as he was picked up off the ground and tossed across the room. He didn’t get knocked out, but he wasn’t able to feel the match being called in Izzy’s favor over the pain.

Soon golden mist swarmed over his vision. That was about the time he passed out.

 

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 10

Today was the day. <Or at least it better fuckin’ be.>

Lilly had trouble sleeping that night. She tossed and turned trying to ignore the restlessness, but that only made it worse. She got up in the middle of the night and started to workout. It was something to try and burn through that energy. It succeeded in making her body sweaty and tired but not her mind. She stripped out of her BO-filled prison jumpsuit and climbed back into bed.

If everything went as planned then she wouldn’t have to see this cell again.

Prison was like having an irritating itch that you could never scratch. You had to do everything everyone else told you all the time, which was not how Lilly was programmed. Then, even in your private time, you were confined to a small cell. So if you wanted to do anything to relieve that itch it got broadcasted in the security booth upstairs.

She was sure they’d watched her impromptu workout closely and wondered why she was up in the middle of the night. She wouldn’t tell them even if they asked nicely. That was another way that she was programmed.

With no sun or moon to pass the time all the prisoners were constantly at the mercy of the guards. The guards had watches which told the time. When Reggie came by she had to assume it was morning.

They went through the routine. She stood against the wall, he patted her down, and she politely instigated sexual banter which he dutifully refused. Usually he didn’t talk much at all aside from the standard commands, but today was a little different.

“You nervous?” His question caught her off-guard.

“What? Me? I’m touched Reggie, I really am, but I’m actually innocent. This is all just a big misunderstanding.” She felt the restrains go around her wrist and ankles and could practically see the strongman rolling his eyes.

He led her around the ring of level 3 and stopped at the bathroom. A female guard stood inside the door and did not look happy to be there.

“Clean yourself up, Wraith. You need to be presentable for the judge.”

There were some basic toiletries available, but nothing she could use to kill the guards and escape. The female guard watched her like a hawk as she undressed and entered the open-room showers. A dozen nozzles lined the walls and she took one in the middle. She scrubbed off her workout’s BO and did all the personal hygiene expected of a lady. Wrapped a towel over her chest and gathered her hair in another one. She brushed her teeth and gave herself one last look over.

She looked a little thinner than she’d like, but there was no getting rid of her award-winning face and priceless personality. She gave the mirror one of her thousand-watt smiles before shrugging into a clean prison jumpsuit. She’d requested a pretty dress and some heels, but they’d said no. The heels were a stabbing hazard, and they were right.

“Let’s go.” The guard grabbed her roughly by the arm and dragged her into the hall where Reggie was waiting. “She’s clear.”

Reggie made sure with another pat down before re-shackling her and heading to the surface level of the prison. Outside there was a caravan of vehicles waiting along with two Heroes.

“So much attention for little old me?” She smiled at the color-coded pair. “You shouldn’t have.”

One of the Heroes approached her, and for a second she thought the woman was actually going to take a swing at her. <I probably killed someone she cared about.> She managed to think before she placed a hand on her shoulder.

The world spun a little bit and Lilly staggered, but she shook her head and her vision came back into focus. When it did, she gave her head another shake, because she was seeing three of her.

“What the fuck?”

Outside the prison there were three naked Lilly’s. They all just stood there like statues trembling slightly in the cool breeze. The other Hero produced three different colored jumpsuits. The real Lilly was currently wearing white while the rest were dressed in orange, red, and black.

“Did you think we wouldn’t find out?” One of the Heroes got all up in her face. “Did you seriously think you were going to break out of this place under my watch?”

Lilly had no idea who this chick was, but she wasn’t about to let her see her hope shattered like a broken mirror. Instead she leaned closer and took an audible whiff.

“Hero-chick,” she took another whiff. “You stink girlfriend. You should use some mouthwash after you suck dick. Just a friendly piece of advice.”

The Hero blushed, raised her hand, balled it into a fist, and then brought it within an inch of Lilly’s face. Lilly didn’t even flinch. She just gave the woman her thousand-watt smile. “Chop chop Jeeves. I have someplace to be.”

Needless to say, the female Hero didn’t ride in the SUV with the real Lilly. That was good, because the fact that they knew something was up did not bode well for her. It was a decent trek from the prison to the federal courthouse where she was going to have to face a jury of her peers, but that gave her plenty of time to think and plan.

She knew the woman was some type of duplicator. Those were always a pain in the ass to fight, especially when you didn’t know what type of duplications she made or what her secondary powers might be. The other Hero was a complete unknown, and she hadn’t gotten any type of read off what he was. Then there was Reggie and the other three guards who came with her last time. They rode in her car. They were all low-class Supers mostly with physical enhancements. She had plans to deal with them.

All of those plans came to a sudden halt when her SUV took a right while the other three kept going straight.

“Hey, where are we going?” She turned to look at the street behind her. “Don’t get all rapey on me now Reggie. I’ve got a court time to meet.”

“You’ll make it.” Reggie hadn’t dropped his usual strong and silent mentality, so whatever was happening was part of their plan.

<Another countermeasure.> She felt that broken hope begin to seep away.

She didn’t know what her rescuers’ plan was, but they were going to have to improvise on the fly, and that was if they could even find her.

The SUV came to a halt at what looked like a water treatment facility. Her guards got out and led her inside, and down into the bowels of the city.

<Ahhhh.> She got it now. She was being brought in under the radar…literally.

They walked the subterranean passageways of the city for fifteen minutes until she felt the earth tremor around her. The radio on Reggie’s hip went insane with chatter, which he quickly turned off.

“The convoy got hit by an IED.” He announced to the team, who all drew their sidearms. “We’re to proceed to our secondary location for pickup and transport back to the prison.” He turned and gave Lilly a hard stare.

“Hey, don’t look at me. You’ve had me under lock and key for months. I’m not doing anything.” Her lips only turned up slightly at the corners.

“Let’s move. Time is of the essence.” Reggie turned to drag Lilly back the way she came.

“I agree.” One of the other guards, Lilly didn’t know who he was, turned and shot another guard point blank in the head. The guard was dead instantly and fell like a downed tree.

To his credit, Reggie didn’t hesitate. He was a professional and good at his job. He grabbed the gun as it turned toward him and crushed it in his hand. Metal screeched as it warped under his powerful grip, but it gave the traitor time to counter. His fist found Reggie’s head and the strongman stumbled back as electricity exploded around him.

Lilly made a note that this guy was some type of absorber.

With Reggie off balance and the other guard advancing on him she saw her chance. There was just one guard in the way. The guy looked to be on the younger side, and whatever his ability was it wasn’t keeping his eye on the ball. He was too busy watching the other guard and Reggie that he didn’t see Lilly coming. She lashed out with her foot and aimed for the guy’s groin.

The problem with the attack was that her ankles were shackled together. She knew that and was prepared for what she had to do. The shackles didn’t have enough give for her to reach the guard’s babymakers, so she let the force of her blow lift her other foot off the ground. It was incredibly awkward and reduced the force of her kick by about half.

But hitting a dude in the junk was still hitting him in the junk. She caught him with his legs open and totally unprepared. His eyes practically rolled into the back of his head as pain coursed through him. He collapsed and started to dry heave on the ground.

She had a moment to revel in his misfortune before gravity became her problem to worry about. She’d sacrificed her footing to land the blow and the price for that was landing hard on her back. She tried to roll with in, but she still got the wind knocked out of her. She pushed through the lung spasms and struggled to her feet.

This was her chance to escape and she wasn’t going to miss it. She’d never get another. If they caught her they’d throw her in the darkest hole they could find and throw away the key. She wouldn’t even have Reggie’s well-sculpted ass to look at every once in a while.

She grabbed the wall for support and started to shuffle down the hall. <I should have grabbed a radio. Shit!> She screamed at herself as she picked up speed as much as possible. She felt like a walrus trying to run in these shackles, but it was the best she could do. She could still hear the sounds of a brawl coming from behind her, so whoever the mysterious guard was he was buying her precious seconds. She rounded the corner and continued her flight to freedom.

The only problem was that she was in an underground labyrinth of pipes and the only exit she had was back to the water treatment plant. The workers there would find it highly suspicious if she came back out in her prison jumpsuit, handcuffed, but without the guards.

<I need something to get this shit off.> She started to look for something small enough to pick the lock with.

In addition to the many wonderful things her father had trained her to do, lock picking was one of them. It was actually pretty easy to get out of standard handcuffs as long as you had the right equipment, and thankfully the underground tunnels were bountiful. Someone left their tools out and she was able to grab some stiff wire to shove into the slot. She started with her feet and thirty seconds later she was sprinting away like her life depended on it. She entered the treatment plant as stealthy as possible and found the locker room. She stole a dude’s jacket that was way too big for her and hoped it hid her white jumpsuit from a casual glance. She pulled the collar of the jacket up high to hide the collar around her neck and walked right out the front door. The pocket of the jacket had keys so she stole the guy’s car too.

And his phone. The phone was key. She dialed a number from memory and it picked up after the first ring.

“Who the hell is this?” the voice was rushed.

“Don’t tell me you forgot about me already, Uncle Curtis.” She put on a pouty face even though no one was there to see it.

“Yes!” She heard him cheer. “Nano, Plan B worked.”

<Mika’s with him.> That caught her by surprise.

There was a ruffled sound of the phone changing hands before Mika’s voice came over the line. “Hey, Shadow!” He still sounded like the kid he was. “Glad you made it out.”

“Me too. So what’s the plan?”

“The plan if for you to get to this address.” A text appeared on the phone with the location. “But you need to get to a hardware or grocery store ASAP.”

“Why?”

“Your collar has a GPS tracker embedded in it. Right now I’m screwing with their systems, but they’re close to kicking me out. Find some aluminum and wrap it around your neck. It’ll help block the signal so you can get to the rendezvous undetected. Once you’re there I can get that thing off you.”

“Aluminum, gotcha.”

“And…hurry.”

There was a pause in the statement that she didn’t like. “Nano?”

“The aluminum will block the GPS and it’ll also stop them from detonating the explosives in the collar. If you want to keep your head I’d find some soon.”

Lilly’s foot pushed the pedal to the floor and the beat-up truck she’d stolen lurched forward.

She didn’t care how stupid she’d look with aluminum around her neck. It was infinitely better than having nothing left but a bloody stump.

“I’ll call you back in five.” Nano handed the phone over to Armsman.

“Stay safe, kid.” He cut the line.

That was exactly what Lilly intended to do. She wasn’t going to die today.

 

***

 

Seth sat in front of the computer like everyone else and waited. The small, slim, brown-haired man marched in front of the rows of computers and looked them over individually. It was kind of creepy, and Seth was not getting the best vibe from subtlety in general.

“Don’t confuse subtlety with James Bond.” Professor Willis started off the class. “Being a secret agent has nothing to do with this specialty. If anything, we’re the exact opposite. We’re the guys in the background making sure that the sexy secret agent man gets all the right information to step in and save the girl.”

Seth rolled his eyes. He really didn’t give two shits about girls right now. He’d originally said no to this class because of a girl, but then he changed his mind. What better way to discover a lying cheating bitch than to beat her at her own game. That’s why he was taking subtlety. To make sure nothing like Liz ever happened again.

“Now that I’ve wiped any illusions of subtlety grandeur from your minds, if anyone wishes to leave please feel free. I won’t hold it against you and the other professors are still accepting transfers until the end of the week.”

Seth thought about giving up, but then just shrugged. He didn’t have anything better to do. If he became a Hero this wasn’t going to be his major anyway. He just wanted to learn enough to know when someone was playing him. <I’ll stick it out. I just need to pass.>

“You need to do more than meet minimal grading requirements to pass this class.” Professor Willis continued to parade in front of them like a general marshalling his army. “You need to impress me, or show me that you have the spark of something greater inside you. Anyone can punch a wall down, but it takes a different breed to think of a way through that wall without the bad guy knowing while getting his social security number.”

<This is going to be a long class.> Seth got the feeling Miles Willis liked to hear himself speak.

“With all of that being said, today we start with the basics. That begins with an aptitude test of my own design and a simple question. What are the different types of intelligence gathering?”

A hubcap-sized hand went up from the back row. “Human intelligence and signal intelligence.”

“Very good, Mr. Jackson. Those are two of the eight types of intelligence gathering. HUMINT is what people most traditionally associate with espionage, and SIGNINT is what all of those new movies are about. Intercepting data and discovering the secrets within. Anyone else? …No…It seems pop culture is limited to those two. The other six types of intelligence gathering are: geospatial intelligence, measurement and signature intelligence, open-source intelligence, technical intelligence, cyber intelligence, and financial intelligence.”

<Shit that’s a lot of intelligences.> Seth didn’t even know the majority of those existed.

“We’ll cover each of these in some depth during the semester, but today is about finding out what you know. Please turn on your computers.”

Seth did as instructed and a blue screen with a logon appeared.

“Your first test is to figure out the password. Open the drawer to you right. There is a mix of crap in there. Somewhere buried in that crap is the password for your computer. Everyone’s is different. Piece together the puzzle and log on. You have ten minutes.”

<You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.> Seth really just wanted to light all of the crap on fire, but that wouldn’t go over well, so he got to work.

Figuring out the password wasn’t simple. He tried the birthday of the ID he found and got nothing. He looked for common trends in the drawer. One of those was cats. Whoever this imaginary person was, Seth thought they were an old cat lady who would live and die alone before being eaten by said cats. He tried the cat names he found, but none of those were good. There was a planner in the drawer as well, and he went through that trying a number of passwords. None of those worked. Eventually, he found a tab marked passwords in the planner.

<No, it can’t be that easy.> He opened to the page and several alpha-numeric combinations were written neatly and orderly.

He found the one marked Comp. ID and plugged it in. The computer booted up and brought up a screen with a giant picture of a cat’s face. There were icons on the left but he left them alone and waited for the ten minutes to elapse.

“Time!” Professor Willis called. “And what lesson did we learn today?”

<People are stupid.>

“People write down their passwords and keep those numbers close.”

“Yes. Thank you, Ms. Scarborough. We learned that the average person doesn’t have the patience or memory capacity to remember all the various passwords for logging onto their various electronic accounts. You will most likely find someone’s passwords written down somewhere near their computer. Now, our next test is going to be using the same items in the drawer to find a bit of intelligence on the hard drive. Click on the top right icon to begin. You have another ten minutes.”

Five minutes in Seth had the information. The cat lady had used the same password for half of her stuff and the security questions had been pretty easy with all the information in the drawer. Seth wasn’t by any means a computer geek, but the last two exercises told him was that he was pretty good at figuring stuff out about people. All it did was make him angrier that Liz had been able to get through his defenses so easily.

<Apparently, all you need to get by me is a rockin’ bod and to know your way around the bedroom.> It was a realization he’d come to before, but it still sucked to think about it.

“Anyone who hasn’t succeeded in their task please raise your hand.” There were a few but not many.

A year of fighting other people gave you some skill at reading them. This was just an extension of that. Seth was in the middle of wondering whether this was HUMINT or SIGNIT gathering when the door to the classroom banged open.

“Excuse our interruption, Professor.” A woman in a black suit stood in the doorway flanked by two men.

“It’s quite alright, Agent Phillips. What can I do for you today.”

“Is Mr. Abney present?”

“Yeah, I’m here.” Seth stood up and waved at the DVA goons. “What do you want?”

“Please come with us.”

Seth had his fair share of meetings with the DVA over the summer. Most of them had a lawyer present at them, and he hadn’t said much.

“I’ll need to contact my attorney if we’re gonna keep playing this game.” Seth sighed.

“No need, Mr. Abney. Please come with us.” The two big guys started moving toward him.

“Yeah, fine. I’m coming.” Seth started to move before the guys could haul him out of the room. That would just do wonders for his reputation.

“Return to class once you’re finished with the lovely Agent Phillips.” Professor Willis was laying the charm on thick. “There is a homework assignment. It would be a shame if you missed it.”

Seth didn’t give a rat’s ass about homework. He wanted to know why the DVA was pulling him out of class. The three agents were tight-lipped until they reached the teachers’ offices and they passed through a door at the end of the hallway with the Dean’s name on it. Inside Dean Ditmar sat talking with Hunter and Abyss. Seth recognized both Heroes from last year. Hunter was the one who brought in Liz; on top of being Angela’s father. Absence was a nullifier who’d come to speak to the class. She’d also had dealings with Liz when she was Wraith.

It wasn’t hard to put two and two together.

“What happened with Liz?”

The Dean’s eyes turned to regard Seth, and the young Super couldn’t puzzle what the older man was thinking.

“Please, Seth, have a seat.” He gestured.

“I don’t want to sit.”

“Fine.” Agent Phillips rounded on Seth, ignoring the three Heroes in the room. “If you want to be questioned standing that’s fine by me.”

The three Heroes might have neutral expressions, but Agent Phillips looked pissed.

“Less than an hour ago Lilly Noel, aka Liz Aretino, aka Wraith escaped from federal custody. I’m here to see if you had anything to do with it.”

“Oh.” Seth involuntarily took that seat after all. He didn’t know it was possible to feel unbelievable joy and unbearable sadness all at once.

“Mr. Abney, where were you forty-six minutes ago? Where is your personal computer and cell phone? What have you been doing since your last interview?”

The initial shock of Liz’s escape was washed away as the DVA agent dug into him. His resolve hardened and he glared back at her. “Remember that who lawyer thing? It’s in the Constitution and just about every state charter. Yeah, I thought so,” he stated when the agent’s eyes flashed with anger. “We’ll wait for my attorney to arrive, and then we’ll talk.”

“That will take time, and clearances to get him down here. It’s time we don’t have if we want to reacquire Wraith.”

“Well then, I suggest you use one of your teleporters and we take this meeting above ground because I’m not talking without counsel present.”

“Mr. Abney has rights, Agent Phillips. Please respect those in my school.” The Dean came to Seth’s defense even though he looked conflicted about it.

The DVA agent seethed for a moment before regaining her composure. “Hunter?”

“On it.” The man disappeared.

“Let’s take this meeting upstairs then.” Agent Phillips motioned for him to get up and move toward the door.

The two other DVA agents walked much closer to him this time. The only thing saying he wasn’t in custody was the lack of handcuffs around his wrists, and if Liz got away he didn’t know how long it would be until they tried to slap those on.

Seth hadn’t done anything to help Liz escape. He’d been in class forty-six minutes ago and he’d spent the summer drinking his liver into oblivion and fucking random chicks.. He wouldn’t even get out of bed to pay the pizza delivery guy much less help the woman who broke his heart. But that was all when Liz was in custody. Now that she was out, the government would be looking for scapegoats.

Seth had been around enough people with power to know they were going to pin the tail on anything related to her crimes, even some kid who was thinking with his dick more than his head.

<They aren’t going to get me.> Seth’s family had one of the best attorneys in the county on retainer since this all started, and his father would use all his influence to ensure Seth didn’t sully the family name.

Seth wasn’t going down for this bullshit. If the DVA wanted a fight they’d get a fight, and it all started now.

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