A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 53

Lilly’s eyes darted around the scene. <Fuckety…fuck…fuck…fuck!> She took in the four unconscious sheriff’s deputies and replayed their call for help.

“Destroy the damshcams and bodycams now!” She yelled to Morina and Seth.

Lilly whipped out her gun and proceeded to put several rounds through the windshield and into the dashboard. She looked back to see her two co-conspirators just standing there. “Now!” she repeated trying to instill a sense of urgency in them, because if they didn’t hurry they were fucked.

Eliminating the dashcams and bodycams robbed the responders of a teleportation location. Since they were in the middle of nowhere Louisiana, she doubted a DVA teleporter, or Hero, would have the location memorized. If she could take away their mode of transportation, then they stood a chance.

Other thoughts whirled through her head, like archived footage of the location or nearby security footage, but she pushed those thoughts aside. The live stream footage of those cops’ location was the immediate threat. It would take time for law enforcement to dig into other footage to get a good teleporting location.

Lilly went to holster her weapon and nearly dropped it and toppled to the ground as the earth roiled beneath her. A pillar of rock shot from the earth and smashed into the underside of the other patrol car’s engine block. It looked like the planet was playing a game of flip cup with the car as it was flung into the air and came back down to smash on the roof. The pillar receded, looking like it was never there in the first place, and was replaced by a wave of fire that washed over the overturned vehicle. Seth stood on the other wave of flame and calmly waved it back and forth and completely bathed the car in destruction.

“Move!” Lilly yelled again seconds before the flames reached the gas tank and ignited the fumes. The whole car went up in a fireball that lifted the vehicle a foot off the ground. <A little overkill, but that’ll do.> She smiled at her boyfriend’s destructive abilities. Then she turned to find Morina.

Morina had a tire iron from the remaining cop car’s trunk and was smashing the unconscious cops in the chest with it. Plastic and bits of electronics flew into the air as she destroyed the black, blocky bodycams on their chests, but Lilly was sure a few ribs were broken too. If not for their body armor, Morina would have beaten those cops to death.

“That’s enough!” Seth yelled as Morina moved from man to man and rained down blows. “You’ve got them.”

Morina looked up at them with a crazed look in her eyes. Sometimes, and with all they’d been through together, they forgot Morina liked inflicting pain on people. She liked draining them of their blood and bettering her own life at their expense. Lilly knew Seth might be accepting his life as an outlaw now, but she knew her boyfriend didn’t see himself as an evil, or even bad person. It was more crimes of circumstance and love that landed him in this predicament.

“Enough, Morina,” Lilly echoed Seth’s sentiments. “We need to get out of here now. We bought some time, but we aren’t out of the woods yet.” She ran back to their stolen car and got in the driver’s seat. “Let’s go!”

Her two companions rushed to follow her, but by the time their doors slammed closed, they had company. A man and a woman appeared in the road just ahead of them. They were facing the opposite direction, which allowed Lilly to act before they were all eliminated. She envisioned her teleportation location, which was exactly where she was sitting, and teleported. She disappeared and then reappeared in the exact location, but the blast of shadow that exploded outward from her was what she really needed if this what who she thought it was. She waited the second for it to expand to its full radius, and then willed it to stay. It did, and hid them from their newly-arrived enemies.

Lilly wanted to throw it in reverse and get the hell out of dodge, but Morina had a different plan. “Ram her!” The blood manipulator snarled. She was sitting between Lilly and Seth, and when Lilly didn’t automatically comply, Morina stomped Lilly’s foot into the gas.

Rubber burned for a moment before the car lurched forward. It was less than fifty feet from where they started to where the Hero stood, but the car had gotten up to a solid twenty miles per hour in the time period.

“Fucking idiot!” Lilly screamed back as she tried to move her foot, and when she realized it wasn’t possible, braced for impact. Unlike Morina, she knew who she was facing. Thankfully, they were only going twenty when they made contact.

The car impacted Reaper and got stopped dead in its tracks. The air bags deployed and smashed into Lilly’s face. Her nose broke on impact, but that was better than Morina. The girl wasn’t wearing her seat belt, or in a seat that was protected by the airbag. They flew forward into the windshield with a sickening crunch and stopped moving.

“Ugh!” Seth groaned.

A spike or worry resonated through Lilly’s gut. Seth was fragile enough as is. Getting in an accident was the last thing he needed. As it turned out, worrying about Seth was the last thing that needed to be on her mind. Her grip on the shadow was beginning to slip, and the darkness was starting to leak away. She tried to hold it, but it was like trying to hold water in her hand; bit by bit it dripped away. Soon it cleared enough to see the outline of the Heroes.

Reaper was dressed in black fatigues. The crash hadn’t affected her a bit. It hadn’t even wrinkled her clothes. The engine block had been stopped by her abdomen, and her outstretched arms had kept the car from wrapping around her. It was a smart move. She still had full momentum, and wouldn’t get tangled in the wreckage, but she didn’t move. She stared straight ahead into Lilly’s unmasked face.

<Fuck me.> Lilly saw genuine hate and anger in Reaper’s eyes, a second before Lilly felt like something tried to grab her mind.

On reflex she teleported.

She reappeared right where she’d started, but a fresh wave of darkness blanketed the area around them and obscured the Hero from view. Reaper’s influence on Lilly’s mind vanished.

“We need cover!” Lilly yelled, but got no response. She crawled over Morina’s sprawled legs and grabbed Seth by his shirt. The car shifted as Reaper pulled herself from the front grill’s wreckage. “WE NEED COVER!” Lilly yelled again, right into her boyfriend’s ear.

She felt him nod through the darkness, just before a much stronger shudder ripped through the car.

“No! God damnit!” Lilly cursed as something hit the underside of the car and flipped it.

It was the sheriff deputy’s car all over again, but this time they were on the receiving the end of it. The car tumbled backwards, landed hard on the roof, and the now unbuckled Lilly fell hard on her back. It knocked the wind from her, and the shadow started to dissipate. She couldn’t wait until she could see the Heroes again.

She teleported outside of the vehicle. She could feel her surroundings through the shadow, so she was easily able to reach through the broken window and pull Seth out. She sensed him being cut by the jagged glass still sticking in the window frame, but she didn’t have much of a choice. Seth’s retrieval was easy. Morina’s was going to be more difficult.

Lilly sensed the Heroes entering the outer perimeter of her shadow. One had a large rifle pressed against his shoulder and was sweeping the area in front of him looking for movement. Reaper had her hands outstretched and pointed in the direction of where she thought the car was. She was right on the money.

“Down!” she yelled at Seth. She grabbed him and pulled him down behind the cover of the truck before the blast of electricity fanned outward.

She felt the blast in her teeth. Her muscles cramped up and her hair stood on end in the worst bad hair day ever, but the truck blocked the majority of the blast. The boom of the rifle and the smack of it tearing into the car followed shortly after. Thankfully, Lilly felt the bullet miss Morina, who she still hoped was alive.

“Another distraction please,” she asked Seth. “Maybe this time something that might make them back off and not put us on our asses.” The shadows were staring to slip again, and the Heroes weren’t that far away.

Brightness emerged from the darkness as flames shot from around Seth toward the Heroes. Lilly could tell from his aim that he was going for glancing blows, and trying to drive them back, not kill. The man with the rifle teleported away before the fire reached him, confirming it was Hunter. Reaper dodged by jumping away. The single leap took her outside Lilly’s ring of shadow.

“Do a sweep to keep them off my ass!” Lilly ordered, as she concentrated on the inside of the truck. She felt heat pass over her as Seth bathed the area in flame. “Get down!” she yelled and yanked him hard a second before a bullet tore through the space he’d just occupied. “Shoot and move! Shoot and move!” she shook her head.

<I can’t believe they didn’t teach you that in the HCP.> She reached into the car and grabbed Morina by the leg.

It was harder to drag a limp body than people thought, and it took all of Lilly’s strength to pull the blood manipulator from the vehicle, but even once Morina was out, there was still the question of what the hell they were supposed to do.

There was really only one solution. It just sucked ass. Lilly checked Morina’s pulse. Despite her injuries, it was strong. The blood manipulator was just unconscious, but without an x-ray it was impossible to tell how bad her internal injuries were. Then there was Seth. He continued to blast away at random through her shrinking shadowy protection. He popped up for three-to-five seconds, blasted away, and then ducked back down behind the cover of the truck. It was smart, but it could only last so long. She could practically feel Hunter getting into position for a better shot at them.

Seth was clutching his side as he fought, which only made what Lilly knew she had to do that much harder. The only one who wouldn’t feel a massive amount of pain from what they were about to do was her. <I just hope this works.>

“Brace yourself!” she yelled to Seth. She knew it wasn’t going to do any good, but hoped it made her boyfriend feel better.

She grabbed him by the shoulder, gripped Morina’s ankle with her other hand and concentrated on a destination far away. In a blast of shadow the three fugitives vanished, leaving behind a destroyed truck, two Heroes, and the lingering sound of Seth’s scream.

***

“Did you get them?” Daisy asked when the fire finally stopped. The shadow had started to fade enough that she was working her way through the frustrating mist that obscured Wraith, Seth, and Blood Hound’s life lines, but a fresh blast of darkness blotted out anything she could feel inside the shadows.

“I don’t know.” Hunter’s scopes weren’t any more effective than Daisy’s sixth sense in penetrating the darkness. He was firing blindly based upon where the blasts of fire emerged from the shadows.

At first, he thought he’d tagged Abney with a shot, approached, and almost got roasted when the broad spectrum elemental manipulator started firing again. Daisy was pretty sure Seth was just trying to keep them back, and not really trying to hurt them, but she couldn’t let that influence her thinking. Her former student was resisting arrest and assaulting Heroes. She couldn’t let him get away. Unfortunately, that was proving harder than they thought, and the growing inferno around them wasn’t helping.

The blasts of flame hadn’t hit the Heroes, but nearly a full three-hundred-and-sixty-degree fire was blazing behind them. The lush Louisiana vegetation behind Daisy and Hunter had taken a little bit to start burning, thanks to the dew and humidity, but now it was crackling away and spreading. Hunter had already radioed for the fire department, but it was going to take hours to stop the flames from spreading without the help of a fire absorber. The DVA was working on it, but there were other crises around the country that had to manage.

Daisy got her answer when the blast quickly began to recede instead of remaining to obscure their view of the fugitives. Within twenty seconds, the shadows had completely dissipated to reveal nothing. If Daisy was being honest with herself, she was wondering why Wraith hadn’t teleported away with her two friends when Daisy and Hunter showed up. She was sure the teleporter had her reasons, and they probably had something to do with injuries, which made tracking the villain down and taking her into custody that much easier. Wherever they were, they were hurting.

“Do your thing and track them.” Daisy said as she did a complete walk around the car to make sure they were actually gone. “What are you waiting for?”

Hunter had stopped at a point behind the car and had his hand outstretched into the air. “Last time I tried to follow Wraith she nearly blew me up. I can’t just follow her like that. Her MO states there’s going to be explosives on the other end, and if it’s in a populated area, me following will only get innocent civilians killed.

Daisy opened her mouth to argue, but then snapped it shut. Wraith would do something like that. “Fuck!” she cursed instead. “What can we do?”

“Wait for backup, maybe get another Hero who can contain an explosion and any secondary effects,” Hunter replied.

“How long will that take?” Daisy thought she knew the answer, and it wasn’t going to help her worsening mood.

“Hell if I know. Dispatch is working the issue now.” Hunter shrugged.

Daisy took several deep breaths to contain her growing anger, but still ended up punching the overturned truck. Her fist went through the engine block and started leaking oil all over the place.

<Great! Now I’ll have the EPA on my ass.> She steamed, crossed her arms across her chest, and tried not to break anything while they waited for others to arrive.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 50

Daisy wobbled as she suddenly appeared in the middle of a parking lot. What was usually sparsely populated was now bursting with activity. There were enough patrol cars, with blue lights flashing, to patrol a small city. A few ambulances sat idle not far from the entrance, but unlike the majority of the police officers, the paramedics were hard at work on two individuals. Daisy ignored them for the moment. The first thing she needed to do in a clusterfuck like this was find the person in charge.

“Thanks for the lift.” She told the black-suited DVA teleporter, who nodded and vanished with a subtle pop.

She stood where she was for another minute until the vertigo subsided, and then headed toward the most likely source of authority. In a sea of law enforcement, it was a tried and true practice to find the group with the biggest vehicle, the biggest gun, or the most Heroes huddled around it. In this instance, that meant a converted mobile home with DHA painted in big letters on the side, and a few familiar faces idling around the front door.

“Seraphim.” Daisy nodded to the shifter as she approached.

“Reaper.” The other Hero replied stiffly. “Why are you here?”

“The same as you,” Daisy replied. The conversation ended there because another familiar face descended from the mobile command center.

“Everyone listen up and gather around!” Agent Phillips called out over a loud speaker to get everyone’s attention. Her words caused a mass shift as dozens of bodies began to push toward the large vehicle.

Daisy made sure to shoot a glare over her shoulder so no one crowded her. It also gave the local and state PDs the correct impression that she wasn’t the smiling, chipper, morning show visiting Hero. She was here to get shit done.

“Earlier today, at approximately six pm, Sheriff Douglas pulled up on a seemingly abandoned vehicle that turned out to have a single occupant. The sheriff quickly determined that the individual was lying and detained them for failure to identify. The subject made a stink about it, but came back to the station willingly. Attempts to ascertain the identity of the subject were unsuccessful due to equipment failure, and they were placed in lock up until such time as more resources became available. This was the subject.”

A screen unfurled down the side of the command center, and an unseen projector hummed to life to show a picture of the subject.

<Shit.> Daisy recognized the face of Seth Abney immediately. <What the hell are you doing Seth?>

Debora let the assembled lawmen and women take a good look at the picture before continuing. “The subject is Seth Abney, a HCP-trained broad spectrum elemental manipulator. If you locate Mr. Abney, do not approach. Call for backup and let the Heroes handle it. His intentions are unknown, but he recently escaped from a joint DHA police department detention center in Florida.”

Daisy had a hard time believing that Seth would really hurt any cops that found him, but he’d probably rough them up a bit so he could escape.

“At approximately 6:45pm a call came into the local dispatch.” Debora played the recording. The stupidity of it got a couple of cops to laugh, but Daisy knew better. She was ninety-nine percent sure who was on the other end of that line with the sheriff’s deputy. Debora seemed to be thinking the same thing, because next up was video footage from the police station standing on the other side of the parking lot. “At roughly seven, the individual from the call showed up here.” She played the footage and the laughter faded into silence as the car pulled in, a woman got out, hid her face from the camera, talked with the deputy, and teleported.

“Son of a…” Daisy heard a few of the cops inhale as the deputy went down and the chase between the second subject and the sheriff ensued.

It all ended with a spectacular explosion, and the destruction of two police cars. The cameras went out as shrapnel smashed into them. The sheriff survived, but he was definitely one of the two people getting treated by the paramedics right now.

“The woman who entered the station, disabled the deputy, teleported around the place, and released Mr. Abney before destroying public property with military-grade ordinance is this woman.” A mug shot of Wraith appeared on the screen. “The supervillain Wraith, aka Liz Aretino, and from recent intelligence we also believes goes by Lilly, is armed and extremely dangerous. She is a wanted terrorist implicated in the Orlando bombings earlier this year. She was tried and sentenced to life for multiple murders, and attempted murder on law enforcement officials. If you see her, do not approach, and radio in the Heroes.” Debora nodded at Seraphim and Daisy, but Daisy felt she really meant her.

“Lastly, we believe the third individual, the one that remained in the vehicle during the entire exchange, to be this woman.” A third person appeared on the projector. She looked like a half-starved junkie with crazy eyes, disheveled hair, and an unhealthy pallor to her skin. “This is Morina, no last name known, code name Blood Hound. She is a blood manipulator and convicted serial killer. She has a psychological compulsion, believed to be from a combination of her powers and traumatic experiences, to drain victims of their blood and bathe in it. Due to her abilities, this process seems to provide her with either some form of nourishment or refreshment. Make no mistake, despite how fucked up she is, she is an addict, and addicts make mistakes when they start jonesing for their drug of choice. Blood Hound was arrested after the ritual murder of more than two dozen people, sentenced, and locked up in Supermax until the recent breakout. It is believed that she met Wraith while in prison, and they befriended each other as much as there can be friendship between people like this.”

Daisy did a quick scan and saw a lot of disturbed looks on people’s faces. These were rural cops who’d never seen anything like this, and probably never would again. They’d be telling stories of ‘when the supervillain murderers came through town’ at the bar in thirty years, if they weren’t stupid and got themselves killed. Daisy refocused on Debora and saw someone was whispering in her ear. The look on the DHA agents face said it wasn’t good.

“Ok, we’ve got bodies people.” The statement sent a shock through the group. “A family of five was just found exsanguinated in a town not far from here. “Seraphim, I want you to lead a response team and secure the scene. You’re a fast mover and can get places quicker than we can in our vehicles.”

“On it.” Seraphim didn’t argue, which took Daisy by surprise. The Hero just jumped into the air and disappeared off in the direction Dispatch was directing her.

“Captain,” she turned to an older cop with an impressive mustache. You need to make sure you’ve got good communications with the roadblocks you’ve set up. Hunter is going to act as the quick reaction force to get on scene fast if someone encounters the subjects. Reaper, you’ll go with Hunter.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Daisy and the cop answered at the same time. She nodded to Hunter who stood at the top of the stairs to the command center before walking away. While everyone else was planning the ‘what if’ scenarios, she wanted to grab some intel.

She walked across the parking lot to the only people who’d interacted with Wraith in the last few days. “Sheriff Douglas?” She poked her head in the back of an ambulance, where a rugged man in a tattered uniform sat.

“Yes,” he had an oxygen mask on and there was noticeable bruising on his skin.

“Reaper,” she expended her hand. The pressure he exerted in return showed he was a super. “You’re lucky, Sheriff.”

“I know that now,” the man replied humbly. “I just thought it was some stupid kid as first, until the cars blew up. Now that I know who she was, I feel like she was toying with me.”

“What can you tell me about what happened?” Daisy sat down on the bumper.

“Well…” Coughs suddenly wracked the man, and he took a couple of deep pulls from the oxygen tank before he could speak again. “Sorry,” he apologized. “I can walk away from getting shot and a small explosion, but get enough smoke in my lungs and I’m just like everyone else.” His grin was charming, and Daisy smiled back politely. “Well…I came out to check on Emily, my deputy, something seemed off, and I found her down in the office. Then Wraith shot me in the ass with some sort of fancy stun gun. It hurt like hell, but I didn’t go down. I’m not HCP trained or anything, but I had great teachers at the police academy, and I know who to use my strength. I pursued, but it was like trying to catch the wind. Every time I got close she’d tag me once or twice with a real gun, and then vanish. I think I did get her once, but it didn’t slow her down. Now looking back on it, she was looking for the guy I brought in earlier. She got him out and led me away. I followed the bigger threat, and that’s when the cars blew up.” The sheriff shrugged, but Daisy could tell he was still upset about everything.

“You did everything you could.” She did her best to comfort him, but that wasn’t really her strong suit. What was, was identifying that Wraith was going for non-killing blows at first and only escalating when she knew the guy could take it.

<Apparently, Seth might be a good influence after all.> That went both ways though. Wraith had dragged him out of a promising HCP career and into a life of crime, so it wasn’t worth the tradeoff.

Next, Daisy talked to Emily, the deputy. She didn’t have much to add other than a description that matched Wraith. Then, Daisy walked the station to get a feel for what happened. Forensics had already been through, but she saw the yellow placards set where they found evidence like blood and bullet casings. It did seem like the sheriff grazed her, which was closer than Daisy ever got.

<Hell of a way to spend Christmas.> Daisy walked around the outside of the building to the check the burnt husks of police cars before returning to the command vehicle.

The fact with these types of manhunts was that they involved a lot of sitting around and waiting. The DHA had a teleporter and team standing by for when contact was made, but until then, a lot of the leg work needed to be done by local and state law enforcement. They knew what they were looking for, and what direction the three suspects had been heading from the security footage, but in this part of the country there were a lot of backroads to get around things like roadblocks.

Daisy really wanted to help, but there wasn’t much she could do. The DHA might have other resources they could put into play, but Daisy wasn’t read in on those, or aware if they were already in action. All she knew what her job was to stay by Hunter and go when they got word.

That didn’t stop the waiting from sucking, especially since the call might never come. With the person they were chasing being Wraith, Daisy had to place the odds in the fugitive’s favor.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 48

Daisy fought back a yawn. She was standing next to Topher at the Orlando Police Department’s annual Christmas party, although it wasn’t much of a party. Seif al-Din’s attack during the spring had killed or injured a large portion of the police force, and the recent attack by Wraith, Nightingale, and Stal had taken a few more men and women off the thin blue line. Some had lost their lives, others had limbs crushed or mangled by explosions, and some just couldn’t take it anymore. Veteran officers were taking jobs in other cities and states because Orlando was just too hot right now. They had families they need to consider. Their job was to serve and protect, but that didn’t mean they were up for getting blown up by terrorists in bi-annual attacks.

Daisy didn’t begrudge them or their courage. They were humans in a game they were ill-equipped to play, and the fact that Topher was still on the job created a ball of lead that sat in her gut whenever he was on duty.

“Hey, Sergeant.” A group of fresh-faced kids, a few with pimples still receding from their faces, walked up to Topher.

Daisy stopped the grin from spreading across her face. Topher wasn’t old by any standard, but looking around the room she saw he was one of the older faces present.

“We just wanted to…whoa,” the leader of the little gang stopped mid-sentence when he caught sight of Daisy.

She’d dressed to impress tonight; partly to be Topher’s arm candy, and partially to blend in a little more. Reaper wore black fatigues, body armor, and a mask, so Daisy wore a nearly-scandalous dress that drew eyes to anywhere but her face. The more people were looking at her rack, the less time they were considering how much she looked like the legendary Hero.

“H…Hi, I’m Jeff.” The young officer extended his hand.

“Daisy, I’m banging your Sergeant here.” She struggled not to laugh as Jeff’s face went a vivid shade of red.

Daisy knew how the male mind worked. This group of young officers had respected Topher already, but now, they really respected him. She didn’t even feel the kid’s handshake. She was still absorbing kinetic energy because after everything that happened she wouldn’t put it past someone to attack the party and she wanted to be ready.

“I’ll catch you guys later. Go easy tonight.” Topher gently shooed them away, before turning his attention on Daisy. “Did you have to do that?”

“What…make you look like a god among men…I guess I didn’t, but you’re welcome anyway.”

“Wow, you have a high opinion of yourself.” Topher grinned.

“You weren’t complaining last night,” Daisy shot back as she took a sip of her drink.

“Touché.” Topher raised his beer to her.

He might be sampling the imported brews the police brass had gotten for the party, but Daisy was sticking strictly to water. The pull of the alcohol was always there beneath the surface, but she was better at controlling things now, and in general she had very good self-control when she put her mind to something. That and her bluntness made her pretty good at handling anything this party could throw her way. Even Jeff.

“Can I get you a drink?” The young officer made his move when Topher was chatting with his Lieutenant.

Jeff was half a head shorter than Daisy, but with a stocky build. She guessed football in high school, and maybe some junior college, before getting the job in the OPD when they went on a recruitment spree. She didn’t know him well, but he was hitting on a girl he knew was with someone else, and not just anyone else, but his boss.

She was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. She hadn’t stated her full relationship with Topher, and her banging comment hadn’t helped. “No thanks. I’m a recovering alcoholic.” Her answer clearly wasn’t something Jeff was expecting, so he stood there awkwardly for a moment with a second beer in his hand.

<Play nice.> Daisy took a breath and remembered that she’d promised to be on her best behavior tonight. Ever since Wraith had escaped, she’d been a little on the bitchy side.

“So, Jeff, how long have you been on the job?” She attempted to make polite conversation.

“Six months.” His chest puffed out proudly. “It’s a great job, and I’ve gotten to see some really crazy stuff. This one time, it was only my third day on the job…” Jeff continued, but Daisy tuned him out.

Most cops she’d met had taken this tactic with her when trying to pick her up. It didn’t matter if it was the Sixties or Twenty-Tens, cops always tried to work in their crazy on-the-job stories to impress a lady. It might be a panty dropper with some, but Daisy’s stories put everyone else’s to shame.

“So this guy’s brains are everywhere. The car…” Jeff was still engrossed in his story when Daisy tuned back in.

<I literally have twisted a guy’s head around one hundred and eighty degrees, and another time there was a shifter villain who I literally shoved my hand up his ass and pulled out a portion of his lower intestine to get him to shift back.> She shivered at that memory. <When a guy’s skin is nearly impenetrable you’ve got to work with the openings you’ve got.> Unfortunately, Jeff thought his story was making her shiver, and that only egged him on.

Eventually, Topher spotted her, and they shared one of their moments. Her eyes met his, and an eyebrow went up, before darting to Jeff and back to him. Topher shook his head sadly back and forth before nodding and heading over.

“To make a long story short,” Jeff saw Topher heading their way, “we got the drunk driver.”

“Good work.” Daisy had to work to put a polite smile on her face.

“How’s everything going over here?” Topher stepped back into the conversation.

“Great, Sarge, I’ll catch you later, Daisy.” Jeff smiled as he left.

Daisy just hoped some macho thing between Topher and Jeff didn’t result from tonight. “I was just being nice.” She defended herself as the night wore on.

“I know,” Topher wasn’t holding anything against her. “We just had to cut some corners in recruitment to fill our numbers after last spring. Jeff came back ok, but there were some unsubstantiated claims that he might be a little possessive when it comes to women, and the last thing you need is someone being too clingy.”

“True,” Daisy looked out over the room, and spotted Jeff with the other young officers. He was looking at her, but quickly looked away when he saw her looking.

“Might be a little late on that. Just keep an eye on him?” she asked.

“That quick?” Topher wasn’t angry, but it was clearly something he didn’t want to have to deal with personally or professionally.

“What can I say? I’ve got a hell of a personality.” Daisy threw back the rest of her water and went to turn that charm on Topher’s bosses. If she could get the underlings to love her, then she might as well try and get her man a promotion that might even get him out of the field. If she was successful, she’d call tonight a win.

 

***

 

Several hundred miles away, in another police station, Seth was not enjoying a party. <Jesus,> he wondered when the SUV pulled up to a big, brightly lit building off the highway. It even looked relatively modern, something the rest of the county didn’t share in common.

“We’ve got state of the art equipment,” the cop seemed to be reading Seth’s mind as they pulled into a spot. “We’ll run your prints and know who you are in a few hours.” The cop threw the car into park and turned around to look Seth in the eyes. “I’ll give you one more chance,” he offered. “Tell me your name and date of birth, I’ll run you, and then call you a cab if everything checks out.”

The cop was going above and beyond to give Seth a break. Seth realized that, but he still couldn’t do what the cop wanted. Instead, he muttered, “this is such bullshit,” under his breath.

“Fine.” The cop shrugged, pulled Seth out of the car, and walked him inside.

For a building as big as it was, it was pretty empty, but being Christmas Eve explained that.

“Hey, Sheriff. I thought you were going home?” A deputy at the front desk put down a paperback and got to her feet.

“I was on my way when I found this guy. Process him for failure to identify. He says he’s from Bama and is heading to Texas for break, but break os halfway over, and he wouldn’t tell me his name or date of birth. Maybe you’ll have better luck.”

“Sure thing,” she took Seth’s shackled wrists from the Sheriff and took him back for processing.

By now, Seth’s mind was running on overdrive. He needed a way to counteract the searches they were going to do on him. He hoped they would be doing his fingerprints the old-fashioned way with ink and paper, but as she plopped him on a bench and shackled his feet to a slab of metal on the floor, he doubted things were headed in that direction.

“You could have saved yourself a lot of trouble by just telling us who you are.” She came back with a portable fingerprint scanner. “If you don’t have warrants he would have let you go, but by failing to cooperate, you’re stuck with us until we find out who you are and can get you in front of the judge. Since its Christmas Eve, that’s not going to be until the twenty-sixth, so by being stubborn you just earned Christmas in jail. Think about that next time and we can avoid all of this.” She repositioned Seth so she could get his thumb on the scanner.

Seth hoped what he was planning to do would work. “Hey, why is this Sheriff’s building huge. I don’t mean to sound mean, but this doesn’t look like a place that’s rolling in dough.”

While Seth pulled the Deputy’s attention away from the scanner with his question, he channeled his pyrokinesis into his thumb. It wasn’t enough for the scanner to melt, or for Seth’s thumb to burst into flames, but he hoped it would short circuit the machine enough to get a bad reading or no reading at all.

“We’re the only police force in the entire county. All of the local towns count on us for their law enforcement needs, so we have a bigger budget than most counties. We’ve also got a small jail attached to the building and the local court. Everything is conveniently located in a one-stop-shop.” The Deputy answered before looking back at the scanner.

“Huh…must be out of batteries.” She gave the small device a shake, but nothing happened. “Sorry about that. Let me get another one.” She left to grab another one.

Seth considered what he’d seen on the way in. As far as he knew, the Sheriff was the only other person here. If Seth melted through the cuffs he’d be able to walk right out the front door.

<I won’t get far.> Seth found the flaw in his plan. He didn’t know how to hotwire a car, and without one he wouldn’t make it a quarter mile before the Sheriff and his Deputy tracked him down, and when they did things would escalate fast. <No. I need to wait for Lilly.> It was slightly emasculating to know he needed his girlfriend to save him, but he pushed that aside. It was the best way to get out of this without anyone getting hurt.

The Deputy showed back up with another scanner. While she was positioning Seth’s thumb the Sheriff walked in and provided Seth with the other opportunity for a distraction.

“You’re awfully young to be a Sheriff. How’d you get the job?” The question pulled the Deputy’s attention toward her boss and Seth worked his magic again.

“The voters thought I was the best qualified to do it. I was born and raised in the area, graduated top of my class from the academy, and have a few years of experience under my belt. It’s a small, close-knit county and we like to put our trust in people we know.”

Seth was pretty sure there was a barb in there meant for him, but he didn’t care. The Deputy was smacking the scanner in her palm behind him.

“Sorry, boss, but the scanners are on the fritz.” She shrugged apologetically.

The Sheriff sighed and rubbed his eyes. It looked like he’d had a long day. “Book him as John Doe for now. When everyone gets off leave day after tomorrow we’ll try again. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon.”

The Deputy nodded and led Seth back to fill out some paperwork and put him in a cell. Seth had successfully bought himself more time, but it wouldn’t mean anything if Lilly and Morina couldn’t find him.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 45

There was black everywhere. Tears streamed down faces and tissues were being passed around. Dean Ditmar stepped back from the podium and sniffed back his own tears. This was the absolute worst part of his job, Daisy could see it on his face, but worst of all, it was a part these young students shouldn’t be exposed to yet. That really pissed her off.

Accountability was crucial after events like the attack by Seif al-Din and this bombing. They needed to know that everyone was ok. At the end of last year everything was ok, this time it wasn’t.

Daisy looked stoic in the back of the room with the rest of the professors. She had to go out and buy a black dress for the event. The saleswoman’s cheerfulness had irritated her to the point she just grabbed the first thing in her size and left. It wasn’t that woman’s fault, she didn’t know what the outfit was for, and Daisy knew she was just being bitchy, but she felt she had a right to be.

She’d lost a lot of friends in her long life, a lot of Heroes, but never before had she lost students that she’d helped mold. When everything was over, and everyone accounted for, the HCP had lost three students: one junior and two freshmen. Daisy didn’t know the junior beyond seeing him in the hall, but she’d had the two freshmen in her class, and was still compiling the latest power evaluation on both of them.

The parents had already come and picked up their children’s bodies. One family wanted nothing to do with the HCP at all. They believed the institution had killed their child. Daisy expected a lawsuit because that’s what people did now-a-days when they were hurting, but she also knew it wouldn’t go anywhere. It was an outside activity that the student chose to go to, but that wouldn’t stop the bad press and congressional investigations that would fall on the Dean’s head.

The other family was much more receptive. They met and prayed with the Dean, and thanked him for everything he’d done for their child. They knew what she was getting herself in to when she joined the HCP, and always knew that this was a possibility. They just never thought in their wildest dreams that it would be this soon.

The junior didn’t have any family. They’d all died in a fire when he was young. He’d bounced between foster homes but was now a legal adult, so the HCP staff was taking care of his remains. That was the least they could do.

<There was nothing any of them could have done.> Daisy thought as she watched the students begin to stand and file out of the small sanctuary on the bottom levels of the HCP.

Even a fully-trained Hero would have trouble surviving a dumpster that suddenly exploded next to you, or a building collapsing on their head. You needed the right power set to survive, and sadly, these students didn’t.

Daisy clenched her fist at the thought of the helplessness all of them must have felt in their last moments. Not only for themselves, but for all the people around them that they could do nothing to save. The DVA, FBI, state and local agencies were still hard at work on the bombing case, and so far the death toll was just over one hundred. The worst part of all of it was that they only had one of the three culprits in custody, and Stal wasn’t the type of person you could force to give you answers. It was dangerous for anyone weaker than Iron Giant to be in the same room with her.

“You ok?” Craig’s hand gently came to rest on her shoulder.

“Yeah.” She started a few breathing exercises Dr. Johnson had given her to control her anger. It helped, but didn’t extinguish the slow burn in her gut.

“It sucks a place so beautiful is only used for the saddest occasions.” Craig glanced around the room.

The room was plain but tasteful, like most Heroes turned out to be. It was part chapel, part mausoleum, and a general sanctuary for those who’d lost someone. Carved into the white, marble walls were names and dates, and on the small ledges in front of some were little mementos. Daisy scanned a few.

<Full name…Hero name…dates of birth and death…and few words of remembrance. Is that all we end up with?> It wasn’t often that someone who was virtually immortal contemplated mortality, but it was just as somber for Daisy as when a normal person did.

The only difference between the recently fallen and these Heroes dating back to the beginning of the school’s HCP was that the students didn’t have Hero names. Posthumously, they would be honored as Heroes with all the rights and privileges, but that didn’t bring them back. Not even Hallow could do that. Most of the small spaces behind those names were empty, with the past Heroes being buried elsewhere, but she knew at least one spot held remains.

As part of the remembrance ceremony, the junior’s ashes had been placed in the marble and sealed away. That had been the toughest part for many of the students. They didn’t see the freshmen bodies after their death, so it was abstract to them. This wasn’t. This was something they could see with their own eyes and reach out and touch.

<Doctor Johnson is going to be busy today.> It was a sad truth.

Daisy watched as the students filed past. Some were openly crying, some were helping their friends, others were trying to be strong and failing, and some were trying to be strong and succeeding. At the moment, it didn’t matter what their reaction was. What mattered was how they went forward from here. Daisy expected to see a few people drop out of the freshman class once break started. They just wouldn’t return for spring semester, and she didn’t blame them. It wasn’t until junior and senior year when the professors really started to hammer home that this was really dangerous work that Heroes were doing.

Slowly the space emptied, until only the professors were left. Robin and Marshall Kirk plopped down in the front row of seats. They’d been able to hold it together, but with the students gone Robin finally broke down. The Hero known as Force Field blamed herself for what had happened. Security was her job at Mr. Morningstar’s funeral, and the villains had turned her power against her. Daisy could still visualize the explosive force of the bombs ricocheting off the energy barriers and back down into the people. It was impossible to tell if it had injured or killed more people, but Robin didn’t care. Even though they’d adapted quickly to the villains’ plan, people still died, and Robin blamed herself.

Marshall just sat there consoling his wife. Life was hard enough for them. Both were twenty-plus-year veteran Heroes. Their son was a dangerous Powered locked away in a special facility, and on top of that they now had this on their consciences. Daisy was pretty sure retirement was right around the corner for the both of them.

Grace wasn’t looking too happy either, but her expression was more anger than anything. She was working with the Protectorate, and not being able to find the other perpetrators was frustrating her as much as Daisy.

John and Maria just looked sad, but Miles had a spark in his eye. Daisy knew he was beating his big bush of contacts for any word on Wraith or Nightingale, and that was what his enthusiasm was all about. He was a Subtlety Hero who was in his element. It had nothing to do with where they were or what they were mourning.

“Thank you for coming,” John started once the students had taken the lifts back up to the higher HCP levels.

Most were done with exams for the semester and would be heading home. A few still had some final tests to take before heading out, and just about everyone wanted one last workout in the HCP’s facilities before weeks at home. Good cooking and the holiday season didn’t lend itself well to staying in shape. The first week back in January would be a rude awakening for the freshmen.

“Here are everyone’s assignments for the break. I’ve set up a watch rotation for the campus, and have coordinated with a liaison back at Protectorate HQ.” John passed out a paper version of the schedule, but Daisy knew she’d have an e-mail waiting for her back in her office.

She also noticed that she and Grace were scheduled to patrol infrequently.

“Daisy, Grace, your primary focus is your work with the DVA and Protectorate. The best defense is a good offense. Find Wraith and Nightingale and the school will be safe.”

<Not so sure about that.> Daisy remembered what Seif al-Din had said to her, and knew peace was an illusion until he was out of the picture.

“We’ll be meeting daily to exchange information and keep each other up-to-date on our separate investigations.” John’s eyes lingered on Miles, who rolled his eyes and nodded back at the Dean. The Subtlety Hero had a tendency to vanish and not reappear for days.

“If there are no questions,” John paused and looked around the room, “then your time is your own. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”

The small meeting broke up and everyone headed out. Daisy took the lift to her office and got suited up. She was heading into town to coordinate with the DVA. Grace was coming with her. The rest of the teachers were staying at the HCP to coach students through their last few workouts and finish up any paperwork that the DVA demanded be turned in by the end of the semester.

All of it had an undertone of loss to it. Daisy saw it in everyone’s faces and movements.

<Never again,> she promised herself as she pulled on her black mask. <Never again.>

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 42

Isla was still shaking when she exited the tent where the pushy soldier had asked her questions. Only part of the shaking was due to the explosion that had ripped through the city, and the chaos that followed. A lot of her anxiety had to do with the recent questioning.

No one told her how to handle that situation. She had her SI requirements, but this wasn’t some collegiate administrator or other student bugging her for details about her Super status. This was the Army and the DVA. They weren’t fucking around, and she didn’t know where to draw the line. So, she ended up telling them everything.

The soldier hadn’t even blinked when she whispered she was a member of West Private HCP’s freshman class. He’d probably become even more intrusive. Isla’s eyes had scanned the room for help in those moments; begging and praying that Coach McMillian or Coach Meyers would step in and handle everything.

She noticed some people in the room from around the HCP, one or two members of her own class, and then a bunch of normal looking people who she guessed were members of the Orlando civilian population who just happened to be Supers.

“Isla?” A familiar voice called out her name.

She turned around and saw a small gathering of her classmates. Since Aiden was the tallest, he was the one she saw waving her over. She hurried over to join the group, which had a couple of sophomores present. A terrorist attack kind of threw the “don’t group together and draw attention” instructions out the window. People were more concerned with their own shit, and the group of young Supers was only drawing limited attention.

“Hey.” She huddled with the rest of the group, her body still shaking a bit.

“Do you want my jacket?” Aiden asked with a look of concern.

“I’m good,” Isla shook her head and lifted her chin up. She didn’t want the rest of the class to think she was going into shock from everything. She was training to be a Hero, and Heroes didn’t shy away from the ugly.

“Can you believe that shit?” Scarlett was standing near the center of the group and fuming. “They’re questioning anyone who isn’t one hundred percent human and grilling them about their ‘involvement’.” She put the last word in air quotes.

“They’re just doing their jobs.” Someone else commented, but Scarlett just gave them a dismissive hand wave.

“I’m telling…” Scarlett started but stopped suddenly and just shook her head. “I’m just saying it feels wrong, and I’ve got a better idea about how that shit world works than the rest of you.”

“Not all of us.” Kyoshi Schultz stepped into the conversation and ignored the glare Scarlett shot her way. “But Scarlett has a point. It’ll be better if we head back to school and discuss this stuff there.”

No sooner were the words out of her mouth than all their phones got a text message simultaneously. It was a campus alert from the school. It told everyone to return to campus, if possible, so the school could get accountability of their students.

“Let’s go.” Kyoshi took charge and started to lead the group of students toward the nearest bus station.

It was a ten-minute ride back to the edge of campus and then another ten minutes for them all to get back down into the HCP without drawing too much attention. They had to be extra careful to ensure that no one followed them from the bombing site and tried to blow their secret identities. A random person off the street claiming that someone might be a Super from what they looked like back at the bombing sites was one thing, making a claim on campus was another. Everyone hoped that no one’s cover was blown in the next few days. That would just be the icing on the shit cake.

One of the professors that Isla didn’t really know – a Professor Willis – gathered them together in the gym and started to check names of a list.

“Everyone needs to stay put until we know the status of all the students. There are refreshments in the corner if you’re hungry. Getting a little sugar in you after what you’ve seen might not be a bad idea. Others might want to be proactive, do something so they don’t feel useless.” The Professor wasn’t pulling any punches. “If that’s the case, then get into your uniforms and I’ll run you through an exciting training exercise.”

Isla wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, but the exodus of students to the locker room made the decision for her. She went in and got into her black uniform and hit the track for their five mile warmup.

It wasn’t until a few miles in that she started to feel better. Getting the blood pumping was keeping her from thinking about everything that could go wrong in the next few days, and what had happened in the last few hours. The rhythmic breathing of her running helped to clear her mind and focus it on the simple tasks right in front of her.

The rest of the class was the same way. Soon, their concerns about the bombing fell away as they got further into their workout. That was exactly what Professor Willis wanted. When he was sure no one was looking he glanced back down at his checklist. There were a few names that didn’t have a checkmark next to them, and the DVA was reporting that all Supers had been interviewed and evacuated from the immediate area. The old Subtlety Hero hoped they were in route or else their week was about to get a lot worse.

 

***

 

“Three…two…one…BREECH…BREECH…BREECH!”

Daisy listened for the go order before taking action. She already had the life lines of everyone in that building dialed in. All she had to do was squeeze. Thirty-one people went limp and dropped to the floor. She suspected at least a few would have collateral injuries from the fall, but that wasn’t a big concern.

Loud cracks of gunfire cut through the air as snipers took out windows. The blinds and curtains were drawn so no one could get a bead on Nightingale, but there was always a chance someone would get lucky, and with the civilians unconscious on the floor, the risk to innocent people was minimal.  That was only a secondary goal. The primary reason was for the SWAT members repelling down from the roof to have easy access into the building.

That was only one phase of the complicated operation. Usually, you wanted to keep an assault like this simple, but nothing was simple with a psychopath like Nightingale. They had to go in from as many angles as possible. Daisy dropping the civilians was just a small part in the plan. Right now, Hunter was teleporting SWAT all over the place in the building to cover as many different approaches as possible.

The plan was to contain her as much as possible before she could even move. Daisy might be out on the perimeter, but Hunter was getting in on the action. He still had his big gun and been in more than his share of fire fights.

Gunshots rang out and the radio filled up with chatter. Daisy gripped the side of her chair and squeezed. The groan of warping metal was drowned in the hurried reports and yells of agents and SWAT officers.

More gunshots rang out. “Man down!”

“Shit…she’s…” Static followed.

“Hunter, report.” Agent Phillips was at the center of the chaos trying to hold down the fort.

“We’re pinned, she’s got…” The staccato roll of a rifle on full auto rang out and crashes and curses could be heard over Hunter’s line.

<Fuck it!> Daisy pivoted, broke through the perimeter, and reached the front door in a few kinetically-powered leaps. People were screaming behind her, but she didn’t give a shit. People were dying and she was able to do something about it.

A SWAT member in black tactical gear was slumped over a railing on the first floor landing. Blood dripped from two holes right where his armor ended and his neck began. It was expert shooting, which made Daisy take a few deep breaths.

<I should have grabbed a radio.> She shook her head. Her leg still itched like a bitch and she was beginning to regret her impulsive action.

A three-round burst rang out above her followed by a scream. Daisy grabbed the dead SWAT member’s side arms before bounding up the stairs two at a time. More bodies and blood filled the hallways. They’d all been expertly targeted with shots where their armor didn’t cover them or was weak. A good few were still alive, but they wouldn’t stay that way for long without medical attention.

“Hold on,” she whispered as she continued to move toward the sporadic gun fire.

It sounded like it was getting higher and higher, so she kept up her pursuit. The first bullet fired her way was meant to keep her head down. It smacked into the wood hard a few inches from her head. Splinters shot toward her face, but her absorption made them fall limply to the ground.

The gunfire was no longer sporadic. Shots rang out every few seconds. Daisy didn’t need a radio to hear the SWAT teams talking with each other and converging on Nightingale’s position. The BOOM of Hunter’s rifle felt like it made the whole building shake.

“Push! Push!” someone yelled. Two SWAT officers appeared in the hall in front of her and started moving forward while methodically firing to keep Nightingale behind cover.

It didn’t work.

Daisy didn’t see how the supervillain had gotten her shots off, but both officers went down. One had blood fountaining from his neck, while the other one grabbed his leg and screamed. Daisy rushed up the last few stairs to the landing and reached for the nearest guy. He was only a few yards from the cover of the landing, but that still put her in the open.

The first round hit her in the shoulder just as she got a grip on the back of the guy’s vest. She expected the unbelievable pain of a gunshot wound to radiate through her body, but instead heard the soft ping of the bullet falling uselessly to the ground.

“Fuck!” Nightingale swore from down the hall.

Daisy didn’t waste any time. She gave the guy a mighty pull and he flew back into the cover of the stairwell. His landing wasn’t pretty, but a few bruises were worth not bleeding out. Another round flew in her direction as she dove back behind cover. It barely missed her, and this time she felt the twinge of a bullet dipped in Nightingale’s nullifying goo.

<She’s not always using her special ammo.> Daisy thought as she quickly ripped off the SWAT guy’s belt and made a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. <It makes sense.>

It would take time and effort to coat the bullets and load them into magazines, and time was something she clearly didn’t have as the combined effort of the SWAT teams drove her back.

“Reaper, what the fuck are you doing here!” Hunter darted out of the hallway to take cover next to her.

“Helping.” She answered simply as she checked the shot officer’s pulse.

She couldn’t see the other Hero’s face behind his mask, but she could tell by the tightness in his neck that he was pissed. “Fine.” He ultimately relented. “You already inadvertently helped us. You kept her away from the stairs, and that stopped her upward progression. We’ve got her contained on this floor for now.”

A BOOM way louder than gun fire made the whole building shake and loose pieces of plaster fell from the ceiling.

“Unless she has an exit strategy.” Daisy and Hunter looked at each other for a moment before sprinting back into action.

“Watch him.” Hunter yelled back to the still-advancing SWAT teams, but the two Heroes took the lead. No shots rang out as they approached. “I’ll go high you go low.” Hunter ordered.

Daisy brought up her gun and waited for Hunter to count them down. When he hit zero they burst into the room to find…nothing.

“What the…” there was a large hole in the floor and nothing else in the room.

The two Heroes approached it carefully. Daisy poked her head in and jerked it back quickly to avoid any fire. Nothing came her way, but she got a good look at what was below.

“Shit.” She lowered her weapon and took a deep breath.

Hunter poked his head down and let out a similar curse. Below them were two more holes that lead all the way into the darkness beneath the building.

“She’s in the sewer!” Hunter passed the information along so the cops could expand the perimeter, but that was asking a lot. There had to be a thousand manhole covers in the city, not to mention other outlets. Nightingale could pop up anywhere.

“How did this fucking happen?!” Hunter finished his radio call and then kicked a chair over in anger.

“My guess is that she had military-grade detcord wrapped around her body,” Daisy guessed, but it had been a rhetorical question.

The DVA and cops would do what they could. They’d deploy everyone. Try and secure everything, but Nightingale was a trained operative, and they couldn’t be everywhere at once. Plus, if Nightingale went one on one with a patrol officer at a man hole she’d win.

<At least we’ve got Stal.> Iron Giant had made sure of that.

Daisy just hoped it was enough to get the ball rolling, reacquire Nightingale, find Wraith, figure out what the hell Abney was thinking, and ultimately put a stop to Seif al-Din’s plans.

With everything hanging over her head like this, the upcoming holidays were starting to lose some of their appeal.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 40

“I hate this.”

“Of course you hate it.” Iron Giant was fully healed and sitting up on a cot in the medical tent the DVA had set up. Dr. Sanderson had outdone himself and stitched the wounded Hero up in record time.

Daisy wished her healer was as good. The hole in her calf was all patched up, but it felt like her bone itself had crabs. It itched like a mother, and this wasn’t an itch she could scratch without ripping open her leg. The healer confidently told her it would feel better in a few hours before walking away. Daisy had to grit her teeth not to drop the man on the spot. Even now she had to bite the inside of her cheek to give her mind something else to think about other than the persistent itch.

“You’ve always been a woman of action, and the woman that could be called upon to take the steps to resolve this type of situation. It frustrated you that you can’t be the one to end this.” Iron Giant stated calmly as he watched the TV screens.

The DVA had set up a tactical operations center in the tent next to theirs, and they had perfect seats to the unfolding operation. As Daisy had so painfully learned today, she was not the best Hero to deal with this situation. Her absorption didn’t work, and she was no better protected than the average cop when it came to a gunfight with the infamous villain. Not even John, as strong as he was, was a good fit.

Surprisingly, this was a less-is-more situation. The Orlando PD and the DVA were taking the lead this time. Nightingale strength was against Supers, not humans. To them, she was just a well-trained and well-armed hostage taker, and they had procedures in place to deal with these situations.

“There goes the power.” Daisy remarked as the lights to building finally flickered off. If it was the summer it would have become unbearably hot in the building within the hour, but this close to winter it wouldn’t do anything. The step would really work to the authority’s advantage in a few hours when the sun started to go down.

“Nightingale, this is the Department of Variant Affairs. We want to talk with you to bring this situation to a peaceful conclusion. We are tossing a cell phone to the front door. Please take it so we can talk.” Agent Phillips announced through a megaphone.

Three officers slowly moved forward toward the door of the building while the DVA agent spoke. Two had shields that they were using to cover them against attack. The third was crouched in the center of the protective shell and was holding the phone. They made it to within five feet of the door, stopped, and tossed the phone lightly so it landed in plain sight of the door. Then, they slowly moved back. Once they’d put enough space between themselves and the door, the door cracked open and a scared looking woman stepped out.

Nightingale wasn’t stupid enough to come into the open and grab the phone herself, so she had one of the hostages doing it. The villain looked like she’d caught the woman relaxing on the local half-day. She was in pajama pants, with bunny slippers, and a tank top with a bath robe thrown over it. She looked terrified, but there was a glint in her eye that Daisy immediately recognized.

“Shit! Don’t…” but it was too late. The woman pushed off and away from the door, making a break for safety.

She got about five feet before a loud POP cut through the air. Her body went instantly limp, and she fell forward hard, hit harder, and didn’t get up. Daisy couldn’t see, but feeds from officers’ helmet cameras showed a big, meaty hole in the back of the woman’s head.

<Fuuuuuck.> Daisy exhaled. <I fucking hate not being able to do anything.>

There was more movement near the door. Another person stepped out, a man this time. He looked at the woman’s lifeless body, Daisy thought he was going to puke for a second, but then he bent down, retrieved the phone, and walked back inside.

“That could have gone better.” Iron giant has a sorrowful look on his big, metal face. Most people would think that a man made of metal couldn’t be emotional, they’d be wrong.

Two DVA agents enter the tent and walk straight to them. “Reaper, Iron Giant, we’re here to escort you back to the HCP.”

Iron Giant just nodded and got up while Daisy gave them a hard stare. “Like hell you are.” She got to her feet and pushed passed the two men and walked the short distance to the command tent. She burst in ready to raise hell but everyone was silent and focused on Agent Phillips.

“Yes…Yes…Yes…We could do that if you let some hostages go as a gesture of good will.” The agent’s tone was calm and collected, but her face quickly wrinkled in fury. She calmly set the phone down and took a deep breath. “That fucking bitch.”

“So, I guess releasing hostages is a no.” Hunter stood off to the side. In another time or place the statement might have been funny, but no one was laughing here.

“She said she’d send them out in pieces if I didn’t do exactly what she wanted.” The DVA agent ran her hand through her hair.

“And those demands are…?” Hunter pressed her.

“She wants us to back up the perimeter two blocks, which gives us no line of sight except the snipers on the rooftops. She wants a teleporter she chooses to come in and take her away. After that, and only after that, will she release the thirty two…now thirty-one hostages,” she corrected herself.

“So, what’s the breech plan?” Daisy stepped fully into the tent.

“Reaper, you’re supposed to be out of here,” Agent Phillips looked passed Daisy at the two suited men who’d followed her in. One reached for Daisy’s elbow, but the look she shot him made him step back reflexively.

“I’m of better use here than anywhere else.” Daisy countered and plopped down next to the big table littered with diagrams of the building. It took every ounce of will power she had to not itch her leg.

“I’m not sure what use you’ll be. Your powers are useless against Nightingale.” Another DVA agent spoke up. He actually sounded like he was happy about that, so Daisy shuffled him onto her shit list.

“Her’s…yes…everyone else’s…no.” She smiled. “When shit finally goes down one thing that’s always a risk is having civilians do stupid shit, step into the line of fire, and just generally be a nuisance when we try to save them. I’m the perfect person to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“She’s got a point.” Hunter stepped forward. “I can get teams into prepositioned places if we can get eyes in there and know where she is. We’ll be able to hit her hard and fast while Daisy drops all the civilians. We might have a few broken noses, but that’s better than SWAT shooting an innocent civilian.”

Daisy looked from Agent Phillips to Hunter, and knew she had them convinced.

“Fine. You can stay, but please stay out of my way.” Agent Phillips shot her a no-nonsense look.

“No problem.” Daisy leaned back casually in the chair and smiled.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 39

<Who knew muscles could be a bad thing.> Morina huffed as she dragged Seth across the ground.

Wraith’s final teleport had dropped them in the middle of nowhere, which was a good thing considering what they’d fled from. The location was a dirt crossroads with some signs pointing toward the nearest civilization. She had to wipe the grime off them to read, and it told her the closest help was ten miles away. That was good and bad.

It was good that people wouldn’t ambush them, and bad because Seth looked like he was going to die. The blood dripping from him was calling to her, but she fought against the temptation. Wraith would teleport her into a volcano if she exsanguinated her man. So, she did the only thing she could think of. She pulled them off the crossroads.

She did Wraith first because that’s what friends were for. After everything that had happened in the last few months, Wraith might be the only person she could call a friend. Morina had liked Nightingale, but she knew a predator when she saw one, and what that type of person was capable of. After all, she was one.

After she dragged Wraith over to the side of the road she went back for Seth. Wraith was fit and athletic, but she didn’t weigh more than a buck thirty. With her armor, maybe one-fifty. Seth was easily over two hundred pounds. He would be good at punching things and dragging other people, but dragging him was a pain in the ass.

<Come on tons of fun.> She heaved, slipped, and landed right on her ass; making the pain he was causing her literal.

She coughed from the cloud of dust thrown into the air by her impromptu sit, and waved her hand rapidly to clear it. It might be nearing the holiday season, and the rest of the country was starting to see chilly temperatures, but wherever they were in Alabama it was still hot and dry.

She gathered herself after the dust cleared, grabbed Seth under the arm pits, and continued her slow trek to the drainage ditch where she’d placed Wraith.

She didn’t hear the person approach over her own grunting and the scrape of Seth’s body against the ground, but she did catch the clink of the weapon being taken off safe and pointed at her.

<Shit.> Her power swelled inside her, but she held it in.

She might be able to stop the blood from leaking out of her from a gunshot, but that wouldn’t fix the hole and whatever internal destruction the bullet wrought. Instead, she dropped Seth and raised her hands.

“We’re looking for a healer.” She figured saying they needed help was better than attacking him.

The fact that she didn’t get shot was a good sign she was headed in the right direction.

“These two.” The voice didn’t have that southern I-screw-my-sister drawl that the movies always portrayed people from this area having. In fact, she thought she heard some New York swagger in the person’s tone.

“Yep. One got shot and the other is purely exhausted.”

“I can fix the girl up for five hundred, but the guy is going to depend on the damage. I only take cash.”

<Shit…shit…shit…> She didn’t have anything on her, but knowing Wraith, she did.

“My friend has the money. It’s in her pockets somewhere,” she explained. “I can get it for you?”

“No sudden movements or I put a hole in you too, and then if you’re telling the truth I’ll charge you double to patch you up.” The person replied. “Keep your back to me.”

They circled each other so that the guy had a clear shot and Morina would have to turn to engage him. She couldn’t attack what she couldn’t see. She had an errant thought that this healer might know who she was, or at least who Wraith was, but the fact that he hadn’t shot them or called the cops was a good sign.

Being a Super and having a medical practice out in bumfuck nowhere told her that this guy might have his own secrets. It was common knowledge that people in this part of the country weren’t as accepting of Supers. There tended to be more Super-related crime, less tolerance from the authorities, and more animosity between Supers, humans, and then both weren’t fond of Powereds.

<Yeah, this guy is definitely sketch.> She knelt slowly and started to rummage through Wraith’s pockets.

Her eyes were rolled into the back of her head and she didn’t budge as Morina practically felt her up to find the cash. There were a lot of pockets with everything from duct tape to spare magazines for her pistols in them. She stayed well clear of the holsters on her thighs, and eventually found what she was looking for.

A wad of cash was rolled up tight and held in place by a rubber band. The outside bill was a hundred, and judging by that there was either a few grand in here or the bills got smaller. She pulled off five bills and slowly extended them behind her. The healer’s boots crunched against the dry ground as he snatched the cash away without touching her hand.

“Take ten steps forward,” he ordered.

She complied and waited for him to do what he said he would do, or shoot her. At the moment, she wasn’t sure which way it would go.

“What the shit!” Wraith’s gasp broke the tense silent. “Awwwwww that hurts like a bitch!”

“Sorry, it’s a side-effect of my healing.” The healer apologized.

“Feeling like I’m about to have diarrhea made of fire is a side-effect. No wonder you don’t get much business.” Wraith snapped back, but the apparent discomfort quickly faded.

“Hello, can I look now?”

“Sure.”

Morina heard the click of the weapon being put back on safe, and she turned to face the man.

<Damn.> He wasn’t wearing blue-jean suspenders with a beer gut and straw hat.

The healer was in a professional looking three-piece suit minus the jacket. The sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled up to his elbows, and he had some nice muscles too. The glasses on his face highlighted his hawkish nose, but Morina didn’t mind, and his hair was an unnatural white color. He had a sleek hunting rifle tucked under his armpit, and he was extending a hand out to help Wraith up.

A spike a jealousy ran through Morina’s mind before she stomped it out. She didn’t know this guy from Adam, she shouldn’t be jealous that he was being nice to Wraith and not her. Plus, Wraith had Seth.

Wraith smacked the guy’s hand aside and climbed to her feet. She stumbled a bit, put her hands on her knees to steady herself, and took some deep breaths. “Is the nausea common too?” she asked.

“Yeah, it’ll pass just as fast as your intestinal pain.” The healer took a step back and watched the two women casually. The weapon was pointed harmlessly at the ground, but the way he handled it said he knew how to use it.

“I’m good.” Wraith straightened up and took one final deep breath. “Now help him.”

“He needs more than just an influx of energy.” The healer didn’t move from where he was standing. “I need to evaluate the wound, and probably clean it before patching him up.”

“What type of healer can’t disinfect wounds with his healing power?” Wraith turned to glare at the man.

“The only healer that you’ve got, and one who’s willing to turn a blind eye to your suspicious circumstances.” The guy had a point, and Seth didn’t look like he was going to survive another teleport.

“Fine, where do you need him?” Wraith kneeled next to Seth and with a surprising amount of tenderness started to check his vitals.

“My office is a short walk this way.”

Morina looked where he pointed and saw a dirt road that she’d missed up until now. If she looked at it from the right angle she could make out a small building nestled in the trees.

“Ok, Morina, help me.” Wraith grabbed Seth under the arm pits and she grabbed the legs. Together, they carried Seth down the dust driveway and into a surprisingly modern and clean room.

The outside of the building was clearly disguised to look like a mix between a shack and small house. Inside, it had a small ground floor set up as an office, and a large basement that the healer seemed to live in.

The healer bypassed the small office and took them downstairs and to a big room in the back. He opened the door and they were standing on the edge of an operating room.

“Get him on the table and get those clothes off,” he instructed.

“Whatever you say, Doc.” Wraith led the way on striping down her boyfriend.

“Mazel tov,” was the only thing Morina could think to say when she saw his junk.

“Now out, I need to work.” The healer ushered them both out of the room and shut the door behind him.

“Now what,” Morina crossed her arms across her chest and looked around the living room.

“Now we wait.” Wraith plopped down and turned on the TV.

It didn’t take Morina long to figure out her friend wasn’t even watching the daytime soap opera on the high-definition plasma. Her eyes kept darting to the door, her foot kept tapping against the tile, and she kept having to stop herself from chewing on her cuticles.

Wraith was worried, and Morina really couldn’t do anything to help.

 

***

 

“SNIPER!” Someone yelled as Iron Giant hit the ground as John.

<No shit!> Daisy didn’t waste any time in reacting.

They knew who the sniper was, where she was, what she was armed with, and exactly how many hostages she was holding. Unfortunately, some people were a little trigger happy after everything that had happened today. Law enforcement started taking shots at the building Nightingale was holding up in.

“Cease fire! Cease fire!” The police captain and DVA Agent Phillips were screaming over the Dispatch link.

Daisy took the moment of cover the return fire provided and dashed into action. Her legs pumped kinetic energy into the street as she pushed herself toward John’s prone body. She stopped on a dime next to him, ignoring the whiplash it exerted on her body, and picked him up in a bridal carry. She’d never be able to do this with Iron Giant, but little old John Ditmar was a different story.

“D…D…” blood leaked out of John’s mouth, and Daisy’s uniform was already slick with his blood.

“Hold on!” She turned around, and nearly took a bullet to the head. The turn was the only thing that saved her, but she felt the air parting against the bullet right next to her face.

“Cover me!” She yelled.

A force field appeared between her and the building Nightingale was using as a sniper’s nest. Daisy pushed off at the same time the second round hit the energy barrier. The barrier shattered as the bullet dipped in Nightingale’s nullifying goo and cracked into the pavement just to Daisy’s right.

<Fuck!> this wasn’t the first time Daisy had been under fire, but it might be the first time the bullets could actually kill her.

She was tempted to jump to safety, but that was an amateur mistake. You didn’t have any maneuverability in the air, especially while you were carrying someone as fragile as the currently very vulnerable Dean of West Private’s HCP. The jump up might be quick, but once she reached the apex, and started to come back down, Nightingale would be able to pick her off easy.

She needed to make herself a hard target to hit, and to do that she need some help. “Jetwash, you pompous ass, create a distraction. Blind her with wind, kick up enough shit so she can’t see, or draw her attention!” Daisy screamed the order.

Unlike her, the wind manipulator could easily maneuver in the air.

“Force Field, keep throwing up barriers. I don’t know if they’re deflecting shots a little, but even an inch helps.” Daisy knew Nightingale was a top-notch shot, so the last miss probably had something to do with the barrier’s temporary interference. “Get a healer ready.”

Daisy was running in a serpentine as she said all of this. She tried to keep out of the buildings line of sight as much as possible, but with the way the street was designed there just wasn’t anywhere to hide.

The wind started whipping and dust was kicked up enough that it made it hard to see.

<Not me you idiot!> It looked like something out of those old dust bowl films rolling onto the street, but instead of focusing on Nightingale it affected everyone.

Daisy ran right into it, and her visibility was cut to nothing immediately. Even worse, the dust stung at her eyes and made it difficult to see at all.

“Someone talk me through this. I can’t see shit!” Daisy had slowed to a straightforward walk as the dust swirled all around her.

<God, I hope she doesn’t have some type of heat vision.>

That got answered soon enough. A round tore through Force Fields barrier at a different angle. Nightingale had compensated, but her aim still wasn’t perfect. Instead of punching into Daisy’s center of mass, or John, it went into and through her calf.

Daisy dropped John who went rolling away into the dust storm while she cursed up her own storm. <Don’t stop!> She knew a lack of movement meant death, so she started to crawl.

Opposite leg and arm went up and she pulled herself forward, and then the other two. Every other crawl pain lanced through her as her open wound scraped against the ground. She searched out in front of her with her hands until they finally made contact. It wasn’t John. It was someone’s boot.

“Reaper, Ma’am.” A man in a SWAT tactical uniform stepped in-between her and Nightingale’s position with a large riot shield. “This should give us some cover.”

More police officers rushed forward and made a shield wall to protect the two injured Heroes.

“Iron Giant first.” Daisy grimaced as two more officers helped her to her feet. “He’s hit a lot worse than I am.”

“We’re on it, Ma’am.” The first officer to arrive nodded to another team of barely discernable black blobs moving in the dust cloud only a few feet away. “On my command we move!” He yelled to the rest of his team.

On three, the team started to shift. More fire rained down on them from Nightingale’s position, but their riot shields did what Daisy’s power couldn’t. Rounds pinged off the shield but didn’t penetrate. The team moved slowly and cautiously. They were respectful of Nightingale’s skill as a marksman. The fact the villain was hitting anything in this storm was amazing. Force Field threw up barriers more as a way to light the way to safety than protect them. Finally, after a few tense minutes, the team rounded a corner, the dust died down, and they were out of the villain’s line of sight.

“Healer!” The SWAT commander yelled as a pair of costumed Heroes approached Daisy and John. Dr. Sanderson was one of them.

“I’ve got him.” Golden mist stared to pour off the good Doctor as he crouched protectively over John.

Daisy didn’t recognize the other Hero, but his method of healing made her itch like a motherfucker. While she was waiting for the sensation to claw her own leg off to pass, Agent Phillips found her.

“Reaper.” The woman’s tone and voice made it clear she was pissed. “How about we don’t run out into the middle of an open street during an active shooter incident, where your powers are useless, and then we have to put more lives at risk coming out to save you.” She took a step closer. “Plus, do you know how much shit I would catch from my brother if you didn’t get out of this alive.”

“I’m sure a ton.” Daisy just shrugged. “I couldn’t leave Iron Giant.”

The DVA agent didn’t try to lecture her there because she knew it wouldn’t do any good.

“So what now?”

“Now we wait for the hostage negotiator to arrive, we set up a perimeter, cut the power to the building, and try to get the hostages to safety. Anything you can give us there?” Agent Phillips looked in the direction of the building.

“Thirty-two people not including Nightingale.” Daisy relayed what she was seeing with her sixth sight. “Do you think she’ll come quietly?”

“With her record…not a chance in hell. If she gets caught she’s going back to Avalon, and I don’t want to think what the government there has in store for the old regime’s chief torturer.”

“Good point.” Daisy suppressed a shiver.

<Things are about to get interesting.> She looked over at where John was transforming back into Iron Giant. <Or at least more interesting than a few minutes ago. It’s been a while since I’ve been in on a hostage negotiation.>

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