A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 38

“Becca!” Mason pushed his way through the panicked crowd.

He hadn’t gone far. He’d met EMS personnel moving toward the bomb site less than a quarter of a mile away. He’d handed the injured woman over to them, and then brought a few others back to the site. Right now, he was acting as a bouncer. He pushed people aside, told them to get out of the way, and even took a few punches from frantic men trying to get out.

<Why isn’t anyone moving?> It was weird that everyone seemed to be bottlenecked. The crowd was starting to expand outward and get deeper, which was making things that much harder for emergency responders.

Once Mason finally pushed his way back to the front he saw why. There were two reasons. First, a building had collapsed and blocked the alley where the dumpster had exploded. Second, a barrier of light stood just beyond that. It flared as people pounded their fists futilely on it. Several people were even standing on top of the rubble and trying to bash their way to freedom.

<Good luck.> Mason had seen those barriers before. He knew an HCP professor’s power when he saw one.

He didn’t have long to shake his head at the humans before panicked calls started flying through his head. <Mason, hurry! It’s Becca and Anika.> An image of the building collapsing right on his two friends played right in front of his eyes.

He went from trying to find a less physical way through the throng of people to bodily pushing them aside. None of them could stand up to his strength, and he tried to leverage that while not making it too obvious he was a Super.

<Some things are more important than others.> He reached out a massive hand, palmed the side of a guy’s face, and pushed him aside. He crashed into the people next to him, and they only kept standing because the people were so closely packed.

“Make a hole! EMS coming through!” Mason tried to make it sound official, but that didn’t stop people from cussing up a storm at the giant black guy who was flinging people around.

Once they finally got to the rubble, he realized there were two types of people present. The first group was the one he’d seen while approaching. They’d climbed to the top of the pile of brick and mortar and were banging their fists against the barrier. Other people like them tried to climb up after them, and the people at the top pushed them back. In more than one case, a person went falling back down to the bottom of the pile and was scuffed up pretty bad. Mason fought the urge to go up there and throw everyone off. He understood they were in full survival mode, but there was no chance they were getting through Force Field’s barrier.

The second group of people were the one’s following Kyoshi’s lead. They were combing through the debris trying to find anyone who’d been injured in the attack. If what she had relayed to him was correct, then more than one person had been caught in that urban avalanche.

Kyoshi was discretely leading them to the survivors. She’d say she thought she heard something over there, or brick shifted over here to cover up her telepathy. He wouldn’t be surprised if she was pretending to be an angel and saying comforting words to those trapped beneath the rubble.

Despite all Kyoshi had shown him, Mason couldn’t stop from playing favorites. He’d watched Anika jump in front of Becca and both be pulled under. He wanted to help them first.

<Where are they?> He asked when he’d nearly reached the pile. People were starting to get the message and moving out of the way as he approached.

<Left side of the pile nearly halfway up.> Kyoshi couldn’t pinpoint the location more than that until he saw what he was working with.

<Guide me.> He broke through the small perimeter around the debris and went straight to work.

The pile was big. Mason wasn’t the best at math, but there had to be hundred if not thousands of tons of materials blocking the former alley. Lifting that wasn’t going to be a problem. He was a mid-level strongman, and for a sophomore in the HCP that was still getting stronger, that was pretty damn good. The problem was getting it off without crushing the people beneath it. Becca and Anika might be tough, Anika more so, but enough weight would crush the petite speedster, and she couldn’t run away from this one.

<There.> Kyoshi told him when he was right on top of the spot where their two classmates were buried. <Slow and steady, Mason. They’re conscious, and they’ll tell me if anything shifts while you dig, but please be careful.>

<Always.> He started slow, one brick at a time until he’d gone down a foot.

He tossed the bricks behind him toward the group of onlookers. They yelled at him at first, but a glare over his shoulder shut them up. <Nut up or shut up as Coach Meyers would say.> He went back to work, and a few people actually started to help by clearing the bricks away that he’d already cleared. Every extra body helped.

He dug and he dug. Because of where Becca had been helping the injured she was in the deepest part of the rubble. Becca and Anika relayed instructions through Kyoshi, and it was a big help. Becca could dial up her perception and see how his efforts shifted everything around them. The insight was invaluable, but it was still slow going, and that was their biggest problem.

<Mason, I don’t want you to freak out, but you need to move faster.>

He was in the middle of shifting a partially-intact piece of wall that weighted at least five hundred pounds, and he was doing it with the added difficulty of looking like he wasn’t doing anything.

<What do you mean?> Despite the warning, he was starting to freak out a bit.

Then it hit him. It didn’t matter how strong Anika was, or how fast Becca was. They both needed one thing to survive: air.

<They’re running low, and trying to conserve as much as they can.> Kyoshi heard him come to the correct conclusion and did her best to calm him. It didn’t help much.

He finished shifting the giant piece and got back to work. He was a little more reckless now. He took chances. He moved bigger amounts and didn’t always wait for feedback from Becca. If he didn’t move faster the feedback was pointless anyway.

Several hurried and fairly tense minutes later he finally broke through the outer pocket of the space created during the collapse.

“Sweet Jesus,” Becca coughed as fresh air replaced the stale carbon dioxide in the small space.

“Is she ok?” The sense of relief was short lived when Anika didn’t move.

She was lying on top of Becca. Her body had taken the brunt of the wall’s weight when it collapsed on them.

<Anika is unconscious but otherwise unharmed.> Kyoshi relayed as she checked the other woman. <I would get her medical attention though. Any loss of consciousness should be taken seriously.>

“You push and I’ll pull,” Mason directed Becca, and together they wrestled Anika out of the rubble. “Hold tight.” He walked Anika back down to the waiting EMS teams that had set up a makeshift triage unit at the edge of the rubble.

He dropped Anika off with them and went back to grab Becca. She was already climbing out of the hole when he arrived. She was covered in grime from head to foot, she had some cuts and bruises that would need some serious disinfecting, but other than that she looked fine.

“Did she make it?” Becca’s eyes scanned the area and immediately widened at the sight of the energy barrier behind them.

“They didn’t say, but it looks like Anika will be fine.”

“Not her,” Becca shook her head. “Anika’s tough. She’ll be fine. I’m talking about the woman who lost her leg. Is she going to make it?”

After the chaos of the last twenty minutes, Mason had forgotten about the woman they’d helped form the original explosion. “I left her with the EMS personnel back there,” he waved in the direction of the stage. “They didn’t tell me anything, but she looked like she was going to make it.”

Truthfully, he had no idea what the woman’s status was, but he sensed Becca needed a win. The perpetual positivity always present in the speedster was absent at the moment. She just didn’t look like Becca, and it had nothing to do with her whole body being dyed gray by the debris.

Whatever was on the speedster’s mind, she pushed it aside and started helping despite her own injuries. Mason followed in her wake with Kyoshi helping from the rear. It didn’t hit them until they were nearly done that this was what a Hero team up would look like in real life. The strongman and speedster in the field coordinating with local law enforcement to get the job done, while the advanced mind was in reserve helping piece together the puzzle or think of solutions to the problem.

Suddenly, capture the flag seemed kind of stupid in comparison.

 

***

 

“Keep the pressure on them!” Daisy yelled as another forked bolt of lightning shot from her fingertips. It crackled and died all around the two fleeing villains, but she could see it was starting to take its toll.

The smooth blackness of Nightingale’s compression armor on Stal was beginning to crack and dull. I had more of an ashen hue to it now, and that meant they were getting somewhere. Now that things were getting under control with the search for more dumpster bombs, more Heroes were pouring in to join in the action.

Stal and Nightingale dodged between buildings to avoid her lightening, but Jetwash caught them in an alley. The wave of hurricane-force winds broke around them, but all the crap it kicked up still slammed into them. Nightingale stumbled and fell as a crunched up beer can hit her in the ass at over one hundred and fifty miles per hour. Stal grabbed her by the belt without breaking stride and carried her away from the Hero. She didn’t leave without a parting gesture. She grabbed a pizza box from a passing dumpster and tried to make it into the Frisbee of Death. She chucked it at the flying Hero, and he barely got out of the way.

The Heroes hurried to reposition, and met the two villains with ranged attacks when they emerged on the other end. Stal stumbled under the brunt of the force, but Nightingale caught some flak. She got spun around by a beam of energy that exploded next to her. The sudden hole blocking her path forced her to go through a doorway to an upscale apartment building. Stal didn’t see her change course and she took that energy beam in the chest but kept on pushing.

“Separate them, keep them separated. Iron Giant, go…go…go…”

It was the moment the Heroes had been waiting for. Together, the two villains were strong, but apart their weaknesses could be taken advantage of. Stal was physically strong, but her nullifying armor was beginning to fray. Once it was gone she was vulnerable to Reaper’s particular talents. Nightingale was always protected from those same talents, and her nullifying bullets posed a problem to any Super, but anything non-powered she was as vulnerable to as any normal human.

Iron Giant pumped his powerful legs and spirited forward. The sheer strength of his bounds turned him into a silver blur as he tackled Stal just as the energy attack was letting up. Meanwhile, Daisy poured a ton of electric energy into the doorway of the apartment building. The building’s super was going to be pissed, but that’s why they had insurance. Keeping Nightingale’s head down while Iron Giant removed Stal from the battlefield was more than worth a melted entryway.

Iron Giant and Stal grappled. The big shifter got a leg behind Stal feet and tripped her. She went down to the ground, but used the shift to yank the hero off his feet. They both went down on their sides and started slugging for an advantage. Daisy watched out of the corner of her eyes as she poured volts into the building.

“Someone tell me about this building. I need a count of civilians, exits, and preferably someone up to cover the roof.” While the move the Heroes had just pulled isolated the villains away from each other, it also put a psychopath in a confined space with innocent civilians. Right now, Daisy had to assume they were all hostages.

Daisy knew what they needed. “Dispatch, where the hell is Hunter?”

“Hunter is…” the report got interrupted by a stone-crunching BOOM. Stal had somehow gotten her feet underneath Iron Giant and thrown him back and through the wall of a nearby building.

Stal was scrambling to her feet, and looked like she was about to jump away.

<No you don’t.> Daisy heightened her perception gauged the jump and fired herself off toward the fleeing strongwoman just before she jumped.

Her aim was a bit off. She hit Stal in the knees, but the kinetic energy transfer was more one way. Technically, Stal kneed her in the face, but she turned Stal’s vertical leapt into a head-over-ass tumble where she just ended up landing back on the street. That was mission accomplished as far as Daisy was concerned. Stal was still shaking her head and getting back to her feet when Iron Giant landed on her like a man-shaped cannonball. The street cracked under the impact and a big fissure spread for about fifty feet before stopping.

<She’s got to be down.> Daisy thought before the concussive waves of Super punched started to shake the area.

“Dispatch, say again. Where’s Hunter?”

“I’m hunting Wraith.” The teleporters frustrated voice replied. “With all the chaos going on, OPD and the DVA have been spread thin and someone hit HQ. Preliminary reports say it was Blood Hound.”

“Why would Blood Hound…?” Daisy stopped mid-sentence.

<No.> She hoped for once that she was wrong.

“Seth Abney is gone.” Hunter confirmed her worst fear. “He burned down half the Protectorate’s office and aided Blood Hound in the escape, but when he saw him it looked like he’d taken a bullet in the process.”

“We need to get him back.” Daisy’s professor mind overrode her Hero intuition.

“I’ve got a lead, but Wraith is up to her usual tricks. I’ve got about a hundred teleportation points to check here and then I’ll go after her.”

“Negative.” KaBoom’s broke into the conversation. “We need you on scene to help contain Stal and Nightingale.”

“Fuck that!” It slipped out before Daisy could stop herself.

“Think about it, Reaper.” KaBoom didn’t back down. “Wraith is a bad apple, sure, and I want her just as much as the next guy for what she did to Mr. Morningstar.”

Daisy didn’t think about it until this moment, but Wraith had fucked the old Protectorate leader again. First, she’d killed him, and now she’d literally blown up his funeral.

“But this is Stal and Nightingale,” KaBoom continued. “Stal is wanted in the US, EU, and a dozen other countries for everything from B&E to murder. Nightingale is a convicted war criminal.”

Once the Republic of Krezic fell, the new rulers of the Super-ruled Island had trails for all the government Supers who’d been the iron thumb of the regime. The US reviewed the facts of the case separately and agreed with most of the convictions. An extradition treaty had been signed to return those criminal supers if they were ever captured. Nightingale was right at the top of that list, and it would do wonders for the US’s relationship with the fledgling Super nation.

“We have to prioritize,” KaBoom’s voice was confident and unyielding, like a leader’s should be. “Hunter, how long until you have a fix on where Wraith went?”

“If I have to shift through all the portals…twenty minutes. Less if I find it early.” Hunter’s tone already said what the outcome of this conversation would be. There was no fighting it.

Daisy wasn’t willing to let is go that easy. A confident voice over Dispatch wasn’t enough to convince someone of her experience. “Do we have another teleporter that can review the portals while Hunter helps us subdue the threats? This way he can return to the scene and pursue the other murderers and fugitive as soon as possible.”

“I’ll relay the request to the DVA. They’re hanging back and letting Heroes handle the two takedowns. I’m sure Agent Phillips wants to do more than stand around and wait.”

<I’m sure too.> That was good enough for Daisy. Right after they took down Stal and Nightingale they’d turn their attention on Wraith.

Daisy turned her attention back on the fight. Iron Giant had Stal by the ankle and was swinging her over his head and repeatedly bashing her into the ground. Daisy stumbled slightly from each blow.

“Iron Giant, aim for the armor. Once that breaks I can take her down.”

The giant shifter didn’t give any indication that he heard, but the bashing shifted a bit so that the majority of the force was hitting Stal’s armor.

Daisy concentrated on her sixth sense. Life-threads popped into existence all around her. While Iron Giant continued the beat down, she checked Dispatch’s data on the apartment building. It was five stories with half a dozen apartments on each floor. Dispatch was still pulling the rental records, but there could be anywhere from thirty to over a hundred people in the building.

<That’s not going to be pretty.> Daisy didn’t look forward to that, but she focused on Stal for the moment. Cops, DVA agents, and Heroes were already securing the building. Nightingale had nowhere to go.

Daisy felt the moment Stal’s armor cracked and she got a glimpse of the life-thread. Daisy immediately squeezed through the metaphysical space in the armor and grabbed the thread. It was like grabbing searing hit steel, but she’d had practice bringing down Supers stronger than Stal.

Stal cried out, which she hadn’t done even as Iron Giant beat her down. She fought back, lashing out at Iron Giant with her feet, but his arms were too long and he was too tough. Stal didn’t have the leverage to bring all of her strength to bear. She might be a world class mercenary, but Iron Giant was a world-class Hero. It was only a matter of time.

Stal’s blows grew weaker and weaker as Daisy leeched the strength out of her. After several minutes, Stal went limp and Iron Giant let her go.

“Target down,” his deep voice rumbled. “Send…”

A single gunshot rang out and Iron Giant went down in a spray of blood. Iron Giant became John by the time he hit the ground, and Daisy didn’t even wait for cover fire before she sprinted into the open to help her fallen friend.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 37

There was truth to the statement when someone “rung your bell”. Daisy could attest to that fact. She was lying on her back, stars were dancing in front of her eyes, the world was spinning, her chest was on fire, and it sounded like someone had stuck her head inside the Liberty Bell before repeatedly banging it with a very large hammer. She also had some cold sandwich meat sticking to her face.

<There’s a joke there,> she groaned. She should be dead.

Only her training and instinct had kept her alive. When normal people got shot, even in a vest, they tended to go down and stay down for a bit. Their life might flash in front of their eyes, and they’ll have a big “oh shit” moment. Some might even go into shock. If you actually took a bullet, shock was a given at some point.

This was not the first time she’d been shot, with or without a vest. She had her guts strewn all over the place before and still crawled away from that fight. What hadn’t happened before was getting shot while she was kinetically absorbing everything, her absorption not working, and then getting hit by the human equivalent of a freight train.

Instinct and training were the only reason she wasn’t a streak of red on the pavement. For over fifty years she’d trained her body to absorb…absorb…absorb in case of an emergency, so when she got hit by Stal, everything automatically activated. That didn’t stop some force from leaking through as she filled up her internal battery.

The whole scenario had caught her by surprise, but now that she knew what was coming, she could be prepared for it.

<Come on, Daisy. Get off your ass.> She growled at herself as she rolled onto her stomach and pulled her knees toward her chest. Things still hurt, but she had ten fingers, ten toes, and everything seemed to move the way it should.

She staggered to her feet just as she heard running footsteps approaching. <Move!> She funneled power into her feet and blasted down the street away from the destroyed sandwich shop and what she assumed was Stal coming to finish the job. The blast of energy allowed her to land without injury.

She found herself in a unique position, and one she’d had to deal with a few times when fighting strongmen types. She’d last dealt with it when battling Sief al-Din. Taking and exchanging hits became a science. She couldn’t take more than she could hold or she’d get turned to mush. That was the downside. The upside was that she could give as good as she got, and depending on the Super she was fighting, she might end up the harder-hitting of the two fighters.

<Let’s find out.> She was still a little wobbly on her feet, but she turned to face Stal…and immediately was forced to dive out of the way when Nightingale opened up on her.

Blobs of nullifying goo and bullets dipped in it flew her way. Her dive took her through the wall of another shop. People screamed and cowered as she came crashing into their midst.

“Everyone stay down and find cover!” It was hard to look like the good guy when you came crashing into a place, but yelling non-threatening, common sense information tended to help. “If there is a back room, get there now.”

As the civilians moved, Daisy applied force to some metal table legs. They bent, warped, and then snapped off of the faux wood plastic. It wasn’t much, but another layer of defense between her and Nightingale was going to make all the difference.

She crouched to the side of the entrance she’d made and waited. She was going to let the villains come to her. Heroes should be mobilizing and in route. With her injuries it was better to wait for backup.

A fist plunged through the brick wall. Stal knew what was happening and she wasn’t waiting around. The strongwoman was several feet to Daisy’s right, so she sprung, grabbed the woman by the arm, and did a judo throw. Stal demolished the wall on the way through, went up and over Daisy’s shoulder, and cratered the ground with a thundering boom that knocked over half the stuff in the place.

Daisy followed up her throw with a heel stomp to the face. She put a decent chunk of power into it, she didn’t care if she burst Stal’s head like a balloon, but the veteran strongwoman was fast. She got her arms up and crossed in front of her. The force of Daisy’s stomp still did a number on Stal, and blood flowed freely from where her arms had smacked back into her nose.

Daisy wound back up for a second stomp, but Stal grabbed her opposite foot and yanked. Daisy was swept off the ground and tossed away. The stuff that Stal hadn’t knocked over from Daisy’s throw was demolished as Daisy plowed through it and another wall. She ended up flying back out into the street as the front of the building collapsed behind her.

Stal had inadvertently buried herself, which bought Daisy a second to breathe…until she saw Nightingale pop back out with her gun trained on her.

Lightening rocketed out of Daisy toward the nullifier. The woman laughed as the energy died pitifully against her armor, but it didn’t last long. Daisy didn’t intend to hurt her, she intended to blind her momentarily. While light blocked Nightingale’s vision, Daisy pushed off and tumbled into an adjacent alley.

“Dispath, where the fuck is everyone?” She had five maybe ten seconds before Nightingale reacquired her, Stal dug out of the rubble, and Daisy was going to use that to bitch at the people that should be here helping.

She put her back to the wall and pushed herself back to her feet. She could see parts of the crumbled building shifting as Stal pulled herself out, and Nightingale was probably working her way in a wide arc to put as much distance between her and Daisy while still having a clear shot.

She had multiple options, none of them good. She could go through more walls, but the DVA and the citizens of Orlando usually frowned upon Supers busting up the place. She could go up, but you couldn’t maneuver well in the air, and if Nightingale was a decent shot, Daisy could get a whole lot of dead.

“Back up is on the way, Reaper.” Dispatch replied calmly.

“About time.” Daisy growled back, but she wasn’t sure if the other Hero was listening.

Her brain continued to cycle through options when Stal stepped back into view. She looked pissed. Her compression armor was covered in dust, and blood dripped off her top lip from the busted nose.

If Daisy had her pick, she’d rather face the strongwoman.

“Well come on then.” It was hard to be cocky with a busted rip, but she gave Stal the old ‘come here’ gesture with her fingers.

Stal was predictable. She charged toward the alley…and got hit by a flying car right at the mouth of it. It sandwiched her against the wall, she started pushing it away, but then a large metal man hammered into her.

“Cover Iron Giant!” Daisy rushed toward the two struggling Supers. One round from Nightingale was all it would take to kill the legendary strongman.

Nightingale had the same idea. Iron Giant and Stal hadn’t been struggling more than a few seconds before multiple shots rang out. Daisy’s heart skipped a beat mid-run, until she saw Iron Giant shift position to allow the car’s frame to cover him.

“Nightingale is falling back.” Iron Giant’s voice was strained. Stal was strong.

“Damn right she is.” Daisy’s grimace turned into a grin. Things were starting to look up. She moved to help him.

There was a loud crunch as something in the car gave between the two strongmans’ jockeying, Iron Giant jerked to the side, and Stal leveraged that to throw him away. Daisy jumped to restrain her, but Stal used the car as a bat and clubbed her in the side. She smacked hard into the wall, but thankfully didn’t go through.

Stal took the opportunity to retreat. She jumped away and landed close to Nightingale, who was unloading on an advancing SWAT team with riot shields. The team scattered for cover when they saw who they were up against. The team went for cover, but Stal didn’t advance. She used her body to cover Nightingale as they retreated.

“Get a perimeter up! Don’t let them get away!” Daisy grimaced. Yelling wasn’t doing her ribs any favors. “Where the hell is Hunter!” She did it anyway.

“He’s in pursuit.”

It was the best news she’d heard all day. If Hunter was already on Wraith’s trail then it was going to be difficult for the teleporter to get the other two villains to safety. All the Heroes needed to do was tighten the noose.

 

***

 

Lilly came out of the teleport at a run. She felt pressure build in her head like a sinus headache as she held in the blast of black. Having a sudden eruption of darkness on a rooftop, in the middle of the day, would be like sending up a flair signaling “come get the villain”. Since she wasn’t a tactical moron, and was trying to keep a low profile while she could, she dealt with the discomfort.

She pushed down all other concerns as she rushed across the rooftop. She practically slid into a kneeling firing position. She stuck the barrel on the concrete block for stability and scanned the street in front of her. After multiple explosions and Super fights, the residents of Orlando were sheltering in place. Anyone out on the street was law enforcement, criminals taking advantage of the chaos, or someone dumb enough that their death might be for the benefit of society. Lilly didn’t see anyone, and she panicked for a moment that she was in the wrong spot.

<Shit…shit…shit…> she took her eye off the scope and rechecked the message. <No this is where…> The screeching sound was all the proof she needed.

She reacquired the end of the street with the rifle’s scope and watched as a SUV made a lumbering turn around the corner. At first, she thought it was a junker that Morina had stolen, but a closer inspection showed it was a top of the line model…it had just been beaten to shit.

The sides were riddled with dents, scratches, and a few discernable bullet holes, all of the windows were shattered, and the tiers had been shot out. A trail of sparks followed the SUV down the street as it drove at its top speed: no more than thirty.

That was a bad sign when two police patrol cars and another black SUV whipped around the corner behind them. Their tires squealed, their exteriors were perfect, and it was pretty obvious that the SUV was armored.

<Fuck!> She didn’t like the odds, and she only had so much time before Hunter caught her scent again. <Cops first.>

The rifle’s scope had an automatic range finder, and it said they were eight hundred meters away. At her best, she couldn’t hit much over six hundred, so she had to bite the inside of her lip and wait the precious seconds as Morina’s busted ride crawled forward. By the time the cars came into range the two cop cars were pulling alongside Morina to get in front of her and cut her off.

BOOM

A decent-sized hole appeared in the hood of the cop car on the right and smoke began to pour out of the engine. The driver immediately hit the brakes and threw it in reverse to get out of the line of fire. The momentary confusion helped Lilly sight and take a second shot at the other patrol car. Her second shot still hit the engine, but it was much closer to the driver than on the other car. No smoke came out this time, but the cop still slammed on the breaks and threw it in reverse to get the hell out of there.

<Time to change position.> A trained spotter would be able to find her after those two shots, and the DVA SUV still had a clear line of sight to what was in front of them. <It doesn’t matter if I go left or right, just make a decision Lilly,> she urged herself on, scanned the area, and vanished.

She reappeared only about a hundred meters from Morina’s car and in a decent overwatch position. The busted SUV was still limping down the street, and the DVA’s SUV was hanging back cautiously after what happened to the cops.

This time Lilly stood up to get a better shooting foundation. She laid the rifle across a wooden beam, sighted, breathed deep, and squeezed the trigger. The first shot sparked off the asphalt, and she swore up a mental storm before calming down and taking her second shot.

<Bingo.> The bullet smashed through the rubber of the DVA SUV’s front right tire.

The vehicle lurched from the sudden loss of pressure, and then hit the brakes. There were undoubtedly calling for backup, and with Hunter on scene it could be seconds away. <It’s now or never.> Morina’s SUV had finally stopped moving, so Lilly made her move.

<Oh…that’s the good stuff.> She teleported in front of Morina’s SUV and unleashed the pent-up blast of darkness, and then she held it.

It felt easier than it had earlier, and she filed that little tidbit of information away for later use. She sensed all of the car’s damage, Morina in the passenger seat leaned over to Seth. A spike of jealously went through her before she really looked at Seth. Morina’s call said he’d been injured, but her awareness in the darkness finally showed Lilly how much.

<No…no…no…> She practically threw open the door. Seth’s eye lids were droopy and his eyes looked like they were on the verge of rolling into the back of his head. There was blood, a lot of it, and she’d killed enough people to know this much blood loss was bad.

Fear swept over her as she grabbed Seth around the neck and tried to ease him out of the car. Rage replaced the fear when she felt his slick blood on her hands, and she instinctually pushed. The darkness obeyed. The interior of her darkness cleared rapidly so it resembled the eye of a hurricane, while the darkness continued to hide them from view on the perimeter.

“Wraith!” Morina finally saw her. “So much blood.” The other woman was licking her lips impulsively.

“Get your shit together, Morina.” Lilly snapped, which seemed to shock the blood manipulator back into the moment. “We need to get out of here.”

Seth wasn’t able to stand, so she braced him against the car. “It’s going to be ok, baby. I’ve got you. Everything is going to be fine.” She whipped out her cell phone.

Mika picked up on the first ring. “Wraith, what the fuck is going on out there?”

“No time. I need you to get me the location for the nearest healer NOW!” If it wasn’t for the darkness around her, Lilly’s voice would have echoed throughout the town.

“Yeah…um…on it. The nearest freelance one isn’t even in Florida…”

“I DON’T CARE! Just give me the address and a picture.” She screamed back.

Despite the emotional fuel the situation was giving her, the darkness was starting to fail. Gunshots began to cut through the space around them, so she pulled her pistols and fired back. She wasn’t hampered by the blinding darkness, but the cops and agents were still taking cover behind their vehicles. One cop went down when he gripped the metal door at the same time one of her next-gen taser rounds smacked into it. The guy went rigid and toppled like a tree. The other guys were quick on the draw and made sure to not be touching metal as Lilly returned fire. The doors were more than enough cover to stop her shots.

“Morina!” she tossed the other women her rifle, and holstered her weapons. The darkness was more of a weak fog now, and any second they were going to have clear shots. “Cover us!” Lilly wrapped one of Seth’s arms around her shoulder and half carried, half dragged his ass to the front.

They were still totally fucked if someone came at them from the other direction, but this was the best they could do.

Morina had no idea how to shoot the rifle. All of her shots went wide, and barely kept the cops’ heads down.  Lilly snatched it back when she had Seth behind the bulk of the SUV, aimed, waited for a target to present itself, and fired.

She caught the cop in the shoulder. He’d live, but his arm was going to be pretty fucked up for a while. Seeing another one of their number go down made the law enforcement guys pause, and it gave Lilly a second to think.

Thinking was hard though. They were closer to the rest of the fighting than she realized. Lightening seemed to crackle every few seconds and it sounded like two tanks were smacking into each other like rams fighting over a mate. That was on top of all the gun fire.

“Ok, we need to…”

BOOM

The SUV lurched as something powerful hit it.

<What the fuck?!>

A second BOOM and the front windshield shattered. Lilly dared to look up. What she saw was a hole clear through the armored SUV, and at the end of that round’s path was Hunter holding his big-ass rifle.

“We need to get you of here now!” She hadn’t checked for Mika’s message yet. She didn’t have time.

She pulled two grenades from her vest. The first was plain old smoke, and she lobbed it in Hunter’s direction. The throw sent him scrambling for cover, but the hiss and rapidly spreading gray cloud wasn’t exactly intimidating. That was what the second grenade was for. Lilly grabbed Seth under the arm and pulled the pin. She slid it under the SUV, grabbed Morina, and was gone in a blast of darkness.

She didn’t even get to see the frag grenade rip into the underbelly of the SUV, or the resulting cascade of explosions that sent the vehicle flying a few feet into the air and rolling on its side right over their teleportation point. All she knew was that they had a few minutes.

They reappeared on another rooftop, but she held in the darkness. She didn’t want them to know where she was just yet. Even so, she held her hand up above her head and gave any watching satellite the finger.

Despite everything that had happened, the objective was still the same. She needed to beat Hunter at their mutual game, and she needed to get Seth to the healer. She spent valuable seconds checking the phone and getting the picture of their next destination, but that still left throwing Hunter off their scent.

Another few seconds and she knew what to do. It was going to suck monkey dick, but it was the only short-term solution to getting out of there with the chance Hunter wouldn’t find them. Hunter’s tracking gift was pretty incredible. His ability to follow the tears in space created by teleporters like bread crumbs was unmatched, but there was a weakness. Lilly could overload his ability. She could confuse him so he couldn’t decipher anything without a lot of time and effort.

The plan had its drawbacks. It was going to whoop her ass good, so the only thing standing between them and prison was Morina.

<I can do it.> Lack of confidence had never been an issue with Lilly, and today wasn’t any exception.

“Morina, take Seth over to the edge.” The blood manipulator did as instructed while Lilly advanced to the center of the rooftop.

She cracked her knuckles and neck, rolled her shoulders, and took several deep breaths. It was going to get hard to breath in a second. Then she started teleporting, over and over again with minute differences. She disappeared and reappeared…disappeared and reappeared… over and over again in nearly the same place. It was like machine guns blasts of darkness. She did it until she felt light-headed, then she walked over to another section of the rooftop and did it again, and then went to another spot and did it again, and again, and again.

She covered the rooftop in teleportation rifts. When Hunter got here it would be like looking into the most jacked up kaleidoscope ever and trying to find the needle in the haystack of needles.

The trick was taking its toll. Lily felt her consciousness slipping from her grasp as everything seemed to whirl. Darkness crept in at the corners of her vision. Exhaustion seeped deep into her bones. Teleporting took energy, and her body was literally eating itself now to get power.

She’d lost count, but she’d done at least a hundred teleportations in a few minutes when she finally called it quits. She stumbled toward Seth and Morina like a drunken sorority girl.

“Ok,” she grabbed for Seth’s shoulder, completely missed, and ended up toppling into them. Since Morina was already supporting Seth’s two-hundred-plus pounds it didn’t end well.

The small blood manipulator was quickly overpowered and pushed back. With nothing behind her but a half wall and a ledge, she was easily pushed over by Seth and Lilly’s superior weight. She screamed like the she-devil she was, but her fingers dug into Seth.

Lilly was still practically lying on Seth as they plummeted toward the ground, and it was the minor surge of her body’s last drop of adrenaline that saved their lives. She remembered Mika’s picture with the sudden burst of clarity, locked on, and teleported away.

Her last conscious thought was how hot and muggy rural Alabama was before she passed out.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 35

“Shit! We need…” The call ended in static.

There were a lot of radio reports getting thrown around. The bomb squad, bomb-sniffing dogs, and durable Heroes were extending outward from Force Field’s shields and searching the surrounding city block by block. They were calling in their grid squares clear as fast as they could. EMS was frantic. There were so many injured people and no one was being allowed to leave. Ambulances were being held because the last thing the situation needed was an ambulance to get hit by an IED. They were being stacked up to come in when everything was clear, but in the meantime, EMS was doing everything they could. They’d set up a casualty collection point for the most seriously injured. Healers were being brought in as fast as the DVA could arrange it, but there was a lot of injured, and it was turning into a race against time.

The media was trying to get on scene to broadcast the tragedy, but they were being held back as well. The resulting footage from a distance of Force Field’s shimmering barriers keeping people contained was not going to look good on the national evening news.

Through all of that, Daisy singled out that one radio call. It was the one she’d been waiting for. This wasn’t just mayhem for mayhem’s sake, this was chaos for a reason, and she’d been waiting as patiently as possible for the enemy to make their move.

“Dispatch, isolate that call!”

“That’s the Mayor’s security detail. GPS has them two blocks east.”

“I’m on it. Call for reinforcements to that location.” Daisy didn’t wait for a reply. She looked at the skyline, plotted a course, bent her knees, and jumped.

Asphalt cracked under her as she leapt onto the roof of the nearest building. She almost over shot it, but skidded to a halt right at the edge. <I’m out of practice.> She grimaced at the fall that would have cost her valuable seconds.

She aimed for her next point and jumped. Two jumps were all it took. She landed around the corner from what clearly sounded like a fight. Rapid gunshots rang out from the security detail as they fired at something. Daisy rushed forward to round the corner and joined the fight when the brick wall next to her exploded. Instinctually, she covered her face and let her kinetic absorption do the rest.

The thing that came through the wall was wearing blue, but there was a lot of red too. It was a human body, but it was all messed up. Something had hit the poor officer so hard that he’d been completely pulverized. Things were jutting out in weird spots and way too flappy in others. It was clear the guy was dead, and it caused a terrible image to flash through her mind.

<It could have been Topher coming through that wall.> Her boyfriend wasn’t on the Mayor’s detail, but this guy was someone’s husband, father, or son.

Terror gripped her for a second. Terror not for herself, but for the people she cared about. She’d lived a long and full life, some might even say too full. She’d done her best to do the right things, and aside from a few regrets, she was happy with what she’d accomplished. People like Topher and this dead cop still had their whole lives ahead of them. This guy’s was over. Topher could be next, and there was a small voice in the back of her mind insisting this was all her fault.

Dr. Johnson would tell her it was survivor’s guilt. The cop had died, she’d lived, and she felt responsible. She knew it was more than that. She remembered Seif al-Din’s conversation that he wanted to make Super, evil babies with her. Just the memory made her skin crawl, but that didn’t stop the fact that if this was him coming after her, then this guy had died because she was here. If she was alone at home, and not an active Hero anymore, people wouldn’t be getting thrown through brick walls on her account.

The whole situation made her feel sick to her stomach.

<Nut up Meyers! Get back in the game or a lot more people are going to get turned into meat bags.> Her internal conundrum only lasted a few seconds, but in that time another dozen rounds were fired in the Mayor’s defense.

She took a deep breath and stepped around the corner.

The alley was a slaughterhouse. More than half of the detail was down, and not just down. They’d been broken. There was one figure stampeding through them, while another had taken down the Mayor. It was a little comical to see Nightingale, who didn’t look terribly outwardly intimidating, standing over an unconscious former NFL Probowler.

<You’re already out. You won’t remember this.> Electricity crackled between her fingertips before she threw a bolt of lightning directly into Nightingale’s chest.

It did jack shit, but it accomplished its purpose. It turned the villains’ attention on her and away from the overwhelmed cops.

“You.” Stal’s one-word response was paired with a smile. She ignored the cops and advanced on her.

“You guys deal with Nightingale.” Daisy cracked her knuckles and walked to meet Stal head on. “I’ll deal with her.”

They were only about thirty feet apart, but that was plenty of time for both of them to build up some speed. Stal came in high and went for a tackle, so Daisy went low. At the last second, she went into a slide. Stal went straight over her, and Daisy was able to see the surprised look on the villain’s face just before another bolt of lightning hit her in the chest.

The nullifying compression armor held, but the added force of the attack, and Stal’s current weightlessness, threw the strongwoman off course. Now it was she who went flying through a brick wall.

Daisy saw an opportunity and took it. Stal was down for a second, so she came out of her slide and pushed off toward Nightingale. The other villain was taking cover behind a dumpster with the Mayor while the remaining cops tried to figure out a way to surround her.

Nightingale peeked out and fired a few rounds from her pistol. Some drove the cops back behind cover, while the last bounced harmlessly off Daisy.

Daisy’s feet touched down and she launched herself up this time. She wanted to go up and over, come down on the other side, and pin Nightingale in. Hopefully, she’d be able to get the Mayor to safety before Stal extracted herself from the bricks that she was buried in.

Daisy twisted in midair so she came down facing Nightingale.

“Give up and I’ll…”

Something hit Daisy right in the gut and knocked her right on her ass.

<What the fuck!> Stinging pain shot through her with each breath, and she was pretty sure she’d broken a rib.

Moving hurt like a bitch, but she struggled back to her feet…only to get hit again. The bullet hit her right in the tit. It was a good thing she was all natural or she’d definitely be dealing with a burst implant.

<Stupid…stupid…stupid…> she put two and two together and felt like a moron for not thinking of it sooner.

Nightingale’s nullifying ability could be manipulated into armor, so why couldn’t it coat bullets. Daisy was one hundred percent certain that her kinetic absorption was on when she took the hits. The only thing that saved her was the body armor she was wearing.

<Now what.> She was lying on her back and playing possum for a moment to think.

A bullet hit the ground next to her head and kicked up debris. The debris hit her body and she felt the small amount of energy absorb into her. It also gave her an idea.

<I hope this works.> As fast as she could, Daisy raised her arms and smashed them into the ground.

A tremendous amount of kinetic energy rushed out of her and into the ground. The ground shook, making Nightingale’s follow-up shot go wide, but it also broke off a big slab of concrete. It didn’t rise up that far, but it was enough for her to dive behind for cover. The next bullet ricocheted off the concrete. Daisy’s next blow was more measured, and it propped up the slab enough to give her complete coverage and a little breathing room.

<Fuck me.> She ran her hand across the front of her armor and felt the still-warm bullets embedded in the tech-genius fabric.

The first thing she was going to do when she got out of this thing alive was to upgrade her armor. Right now, it only protected her chest and back. She needed to get some protection on her extremities as well.

“Dispatch, let everyone else know that Nightingale’s bullets are dipped in her power. It’s cutting right through my absorption abilities. We need…” she didn’t get to finish.

The slab of concrete exploded as Stal launched herself into it. If Daisy’s absorption wasn’t on it would have snapped her spine and turned her into something resembling the pulverized cop. Instead, the hit sent her rocketing forward. Even with her absorbing the brunt of the hit, it still knocked the wind out of her. On top of her broken rib, and throbbing tit, the pressure of her full kinetic tank didn’t make her feel any better about her chances of winning this fight.

<Fucking nullifiers.> Was her last thought as she plowed through the front window of a Subway.

Thankfully, they were closed for the half day, or Daisy would have had more lost lives to add to her already weighted-down conscious instead of deli meats and condiments.

 

***

 

<What the hell have I done?> It was the first thought to flash through Seth’s mind as the first bullet sliced through the air by his head.

A blast of hurricane force wind whipped through the room, tossed papers around in an improvised smokescreen, and blasted a wooden table in the direction of Seth’s attacker.

“Fuck!” the shooter yelled.

That was all the confirmation Seth needed to know he’d hit his target. With a snowfall of bureaucracy impeding his view he couldn’t see shit.

<What the hell have I done?> The thought resurfaced now that he wasn’t being shot at, and his instinctual response to the attack hadn’t helped his situation.

He was now resisting arrest with his abilities. That was not a misdemeanor in the same category as some inebriated college kid struggle against police while they handcuffed him for drunk and disorderly conduct. He’d just assaulted a person in a police station with his powers. Seth wasn’t a lawyer, and his high-priced lawyer had just been suffocated to death, but he had a pretty good idea he was in even deeper shit than before.

“We need to move!” The woman who’d killed his lawyer yanked on his arm.

He didn’t budge. She was smaller and physically weaker than him, and without her power she didn’t stand a chance against him. For a second, he thought about turning on her and trying his luck with the cops.

<They didn’t have anything on me. I didn’t commit treason, I didn’t help her plan any terrorist attacks, I didn’t even talk to her about the HCP…much.> The last point wasn’t totally true. <I had an out. I could have signed the paper and been done with this.> Even as he thought it he knew it wasn’t true.

Even if he’d signed the agreement, the crazy lady would have still busted in and killed everyone. She might not look like much, but he knew a powerful ability when he saw one. Maybe Seth would have won that fight, maybe not, but either way with the Detective, ADA, and his own lawyer being dead the prospects of cutting a good deal were probably off the table.

He thought back to what the ADA had said, <This is not the first time the supervillain known as Wraith has contacted your client, and that establishes a pattern. You might be able to select a sympathetic jury, but you are forgetting about the person on the other side of that phone call. Wraith assisted terrorists in destroying a large chunk of this city. Anything to do with her being brought into a courtroom is going to be a piece of cake for me.>

The other dead lawyer had a point. Anything Seth went to court for in Orlando that was associated with Wraith was a guaranteed guilty. After she killed Mr. Morningstar on national TV, and broke out of prison, that verdict was pretty certain just about anywhere in the country.

That was where Morina’s statement made sense. <You’re never going to get free of this. You’re on their list. They’re going to use you up, then fuck you over, then watch you get fucked by the system day after day after day, and then they’re going to point to you and tell the world how they caught the bad guy. Then they’re going to go behind their closed doors and laugh at your stupidity. They’re going to screw you, and you know it, all because you loved someone.>

There wasn’t a better example that he could think of for being caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock could kill you with your own blood and had snatched evidence that looked like he was going to throw Wraith under the bus. Whether he really would or not was irrelevant. Morina had the paperwork. Then there was the hard place. The hard place was currently lobbing a metallic cylinder into the large open space.

“Grenade!” Seth summoned another gust of wind and blasted the flash bang back in the direction of the cops, while simultaneously diving back into the room full of dead people.

Even through the wall he felt his eardrums painfully assaulted by the explosion. A high-pitched whine filled his head, and no matter how much he tried to shake it, it persisted. Thankfully, his vision was fine, and he was able to push back into the cubicle farm.

He’d only been in the place a few times, but there were only two exits that he knew of. The first looked like it had a tactical team stacked around it in various states of discomfort for the failed grenade toss. The second was at the opposite end of the room.

“This way!” Seth barely heard himself yell as he grabbed Morina and ran toward the rear elevator.

Or at least to where he knew it was. There were now walls and a door in front of it. Seth lowered his shoulder and tried to run through it only to be violently pushed back. “Motherfucker!” He was lucky he didn’t dislocate his shoulder, but there was going to be a wicked bruise there in the morning.

Morina shook her head in his direction and grabbed a keycard from her belt. She swiped it in the scanner next to the door and the light flashed green. She pushed open the door and stumbled in as the tactical team finally shook off their failed assault and pushed into the cubicle space in force. It didn’t take them too long to spot Seth and start taking shots.

<We need time.> Best case scenario, it would take ten seconds for the elevator to open and close with them inside it, and that was only if it were waiting on the top floor for them. If it wasn’t, it could be a minute of waiting.

Bullets started impacting all around him and throwing bits of drywall everywhere. They made Seth’s decision for him. He knelt down to make a smaller target and unleashed a torrent of flame into the nearest few cubicles. He poured more power into it and became a human flamethrower. Orange flames flew twenty feet from his hands as he sprayed back and forth across the room.

The tactical team did what any normal human would, they fell back. The sprinklers automatically activated, but Seth channeled the water away from the flames. Every second he let them grow was a second longer it would take to put them out, and those seconds could make the difference between him and Morina getting out of here alive.

“Let’s go!”

Seth looked over his shoulder where she was holding open the elevator. He cut off the fire and rushed for the door. It closed safely behind them without any more bullets threatening his health.

“Not bad.” She shrugged, clearly not comfortable with complimenting others.

“We’re alive. That’s all that matters.” He was too busy thinking about what was going to happen when they got to the basement. He knew it was a parking garage from when they’d brought him in to see Lilly after she’d been captured, but his memory of it was foggy at best.

He was trying to remember where they kept the keys when the elevator ground to a halt. “Shit!” They’d only been moving for a few seconds and there was no way they’d reached the bottom. “The place has got to be on lock down.”

“Burn through the floor and we’ll climb down!” Morina ordered.

Seth took one look at the woman’s spindly arms and questioned if she was physically capable of that. “Can’t,” he replied. “If I burn through too much then I could snap the cable and we’ll be pancakes at the bottom of this shaft.

“Then we need to go out the top. Give me a step up.” She pointed at the hatch at the top of the elevator.

Seth didn’t have a better idea, so he hoisted her up so she could throw the metal grate open.

“Back…Back!” She screamed as he lifted her up. She twisted and pushed away while he tried to push up and they both ended up falling on their face. “Move!”  She scrambled away from the open grate.

With it open, Seth could hear the groan of metal against metal. Coupled with Morina’s reaction, that only meant one thing: the tactical team had gotten through the fire and were prying open the door. Now, they’d either rappel down and take them prisoner or just shoot them. He’d gone from being between a rock and a hard place to being a fish in a barrel.

“Fuck it. Move!” Seth shoved Morina away from the center of the elevator before flaming on. “It’s going to get hot in here.” He focused the fire into a circle big enough for them to get through while Morina cowered in the corner. It had already jumped twenty degrees and it was only going to get worse.

Twenty seconds of work and his fire had gone from a red-orange to and orange-white hue. The metal in the floor was a glowing yellow-orange and looked to be sagging. He abruptly cut off the flames.

“Why’d you stop?” Morina was drenched in sweat and looked pissed.

“It told you. If I go too far then it’ll go right through and snap the cable, so shut up I need to concentrate.” He switched things up focused on the glowing circle.

“Sure, just turn this place into the sauna from hell for nothing,” she murmured.

“Shut up!” Seth snapped and glared at her.

That shut her up, but she looked like she wanted to slit his throat. It was hard to ignore her like that, but he had to. He focused on the glowing circle again and dug deep. He didn’t have to go far to find the anger.

He was pissed he was in this situation. He was pissed at himself for making the moves he’d made. He was pissed at Lilly for lying. He was pissed at the DVA for being tools. He was pissed at his class for being douches. He was just pissed at everything and everybody. Even Morina, who he’d just met, was on that never-ending shit list. All of that built up rage made it easy for him to focus his metalokinesis.

Heating up the metal made manipulating it easier. It was half metalokinesis and half pyrokinesis. Leveraging his newest and strongest ability he was able to punch a hole clean in the bottom of the elevator. The edges of the hole still glowed threateningly, but they had an escape route now.

“That’s how you manipulate shit.” Morina gave him a creepy smile before climbing down the hole.

Seth had to lower her to avoid the still glowing edges, but she was able to wrap her arms around a cable and start shimmying the twenty feet to the bottom of the shaft. Seth followed her lead and they left the elevator and approaching tactical team behind…for the moment.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 34

Chaos…pandemonium…a clusterfuck of epic proportions.

All of those were pretty good descriptions of what was going on around Daisy. She stood above a sea of surging people; people that were doing anything and everything to get out of there. She saw a woman struggling with the rest of the crowd, fall, and get swept underneath hundreds of feet. In this panic, it was doubtful she’d live.

<Where the fuck are you?!> She was scanning for the threat in a half-mile bubble around her, but hadn’t found anything.

“We need to evacuate these people…”

“Clear a corridor leading to…”

“Execute emergency contingency Alpha…”

It was chaos over the airwaves too. The mayor was yelling one thing, the SWAT commander another, and KaBoom was trying to rescue the woman Daisy just saw get pulled under by the crowd.

<Not your job.> It was a callous thought, but he was the leader, and he needed to think big picture.

That big picture was…

The madness was interrupted by another tearing sound. It sounded like God was shredding paper nearby, and it was immediately followed by smoke rising into the sky and the screams of injured people.

“That’s another one in the alley off Central!” The reports started flooding in, and any semblance of calm that had been restored was upended.

<That makes four.> Four improvised explosive devices had been planted along likely avenues that the crowds would use to run from the grenades falling from the sky.

Daisy expected the grenades, although she’s thought Wraith would go with fragmentary instead of flash bangs. Pulling her punches wasn’t Wraith’s style, but surprise attacks were. Agent Simmons’ death, and the missing plans of the ceremony were proof enough for the DVA to bring more Heroes in to secure the area. They’d thought it had been enough, but they were wrong.

<It’s not just Wraith.> That was where the miscalculation was. The big wigs were so focused on the one villain that they missed the others.

Wraith moved in the shadows and did sneak attacks, but she didn’t plant bombs to kill people. She only used explosives to cover her tracks, and the locations being relayed didn’t fit that description. This was Stal or Nightingale’s influence on the attack. Neither of those women gave a shit about anyone but themselves.

In the end it didn’t matter either way. It was on Daisy and the Heroes to keep people safe, and they’d shit the bed so far.

“Dispatch, get me Force Field.”

Robin Kirk, aka the Hero Force Field, was one of the Heroes brought in last minute for security. She’d been instrumental in stopping the grenades from falling from the sky, but less than effective with these IEDs.

“Force Field,” Robin answered. Her voice was strained and Daisy could feel the other woman’s exertion of the line.

The crowd was scattering like a dust in the wind, and she was trying to give them cover. Throwing up individual barriers over such a wide area would have kicked Daisy’s ass too.

“It’s Reaper. We’re doing this all wrong.” Daisy had seen the error in their prep after the first bomb went off, and her superior’s logical response was playing right into the villains’ plan.

The logical response when bombs were going off was for people to run for their lives and the authorities to evacuate. Anything other than that was madness. The problem with that plan was that it was clear now that the people were running toward the IEDs. They’d been placed outside the initial secure perimeter and each explosion was successively farther away from the stage where the grenades had gone off. The grenades were like cattle prods that had propelled the people into action, and they’d run right into the slaughterhouse.

“We need to contain the civilians. Dogs and Heroes have gone all over the area immediately surrounding the stage and church. We’re clear here. The bombs are out there. We need to stop the people from literally running to their deaths.”

“Reaper, I don’t know what I can do to help.” Force Field panted. “I’m barely holding it together as is.”

Daisy knew what needed to be done, and she knew Robin wouldn’t like it.

“Drop the overhead barrier and throw up vertical barriers to stop people from fleeing. Give me a half-mile perimeter. If any hostile comes in we’ll be able to handle it from there. This will also give EMS a chance to get to the injured people and the police to sweep the area.”

Robin was silent for several seconds. “You know that sounds insane. People are really going to start panicking when they think their only escape has been cut off. You think they’re panicking now? Just wait and see.”

“I’m willing to take that chance.” Daisy was, and there was a reason she’d wanted it at half a mile. If things got to out of hand, she was the ultimate crowd control.

There was a short pause before Daisy knew Robin had gone ahead with her plan. There were screaming and fleeing people everywhere, but a great roar of terror sprang up from people when they suddenly collided with a solid energy barrier that wouldn’t let them escape.

“What the hell is happening?”

“Is this a secondary attack?”

“Can anyone isolate what the hell is happening?!”

“Everyone, this is Reaper, I’ve ordered Force Field to contain the citizens to reduce further detonations of IEDs. Get EMS in there now, and have SWAT, Heroes, and dogs start to work to clear the area.

“Who gave you this authority?”

“On what authority?”

“You’re on temporary status.”

Everyone whipped out and began measuring their metaphoric dicks almost immediately.

“It’s already done, now get to work.” Daisy shot back.

There was going to be hell to pay, but she was sure she’d done the right thing. When no other IEDs went off she knew for certain she was right.

 

***

 

“Over here!” Becca called frantically as her hands blurred. She dug as fast as she could to get through the rubble-strewn alley.

The small group of sophomores had been running into an alley when something had exploded up ahead of them. Everyone else had just seen a flash and death, but Becca had trained herself to automatically engage her power to see the explosion. It was something she’d been working on during the end of freshman year, over the summer, and into sophomore year.

It was just a logical step in her development. When someone fired a gun, a bomb went off, or any other action that could be deemed criminal or violent, she engaged her super-perception and slowed everything down. What she saw when she effectively slowed down time around her could be invaluable to investigations and catching criminals.

Unfortunately, she’d never experienced the downside of it. When that bomb went off in that alley, and she slowed everything down to assess the situation, she saw horrible things she couldn’t do anything to stop.

It was a large blue dumpster that probably smelled like rotting Chinese food from the small restaurant it was on the side of. She saw as the metal bulged outward and buckled under the pressure. She saw the harmless metal turn into projectiles of death while fire fountained up and out as the whole object broke apart under the strain.

Then there were the people. A dozen were directly next to the dumpster when it went off. She saw their bodies crumble as the shockwave tore into them before the metal and fire. They were probably already dead before metal fragments large and small tore into their flesh. The way the metal flew, it was like their bodies weren’t even there. The shrapnel went in one side and out the other with hardly any resistance.

To add insult to injury, they were then engulfed in fire. Becca was sure they were dead by then, but it just seemed wrong to be pulverized, butchered, and then lit up like a bonfire during Homecoming Weekend.

She instinctually reached out and tried to get to the closest victim, but they were packed too close together and the shockwave was knocking people down left and right. She could lean into it and power through it to get to people who needed help faster, or she could get knocked down like everyone else, get back up, and help. If there was any chance those people were still alive, Becca would have pushed through the pressure wave and fought to get to them, but they weren’t, so she toppled over just like everyone else.

Then she jumped to her feet and tried to help.

“Mason, over here!” she called over the strongest person she knew.

She didn’t know what help he could be to the woman in shock with her leg blown off below the knee, but having the big strongman present offered a little reassurance in all this madness. Mason lumbered over and tried not to step on anyone who was a lot slower getting up than him.

Mason took one look at the situation and went to work. He pulled off his belt and fashioned a tourniquet a few inches above the woman’s knee. He tightened it and she cried out in pain, but the blood spurting out slowed to a trickle.

“It’s going to be ok.” Mason looked the woman right in the eye as he effortlessly picked her up and started to walk back the direction they’d come.

“MOVE! COMING THROUGH!” His bulk shouldered people aside at first, but once they noticed what he was doing they started to comply.

Becca watched them go and just sat there. There was blood on her hands, dust on her face and in her hair, and she was fighting back the urge to cry. She sniffled once, shook her head, and stood back up.

<Time to put your big girls pants on. It’s time to help people.> She was so busy talking to herself she hadn’t heard the ominous groaning of the building next to them.

The explosion had torn right through its intended victims and into the opposite building. It hit something important, because the wall was already teetering dangerously in Becca’s direction. She’d been so focused on helping the woman with the blown off leg that she’d missed what was happening right next to her.

“BECCA!” Anika screamed and leapt into action.

Becca just had time to look up and see an avalanche of brick and stone headed toward her, before Anika jumped in front of her and both were smashed under the cascading building material.

 

***

 

Lilly appeared at the designated rally point. A wave of darkness washed over the immediate area, and she felt everything around her. Stal and Nightingale were there, both ready to fight. There were some other people too, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lilly held the darkness in place for a moment. She felt the tug in her core that happened whenever she did it, but she fought to keep her concealment up as she drew her weapons. Holding on in each hand, she fired the tasers at the unexpected civilians.

Unlike normal law enforcement tasers, Lilly’s specialized weapons didn’t shoot out metal prongs that dug into people while the power of the shock came from the weapon itself. Her pistols were equipped with electrified darts. The darts fired like regular bullets, imbedded in the target’s flesh, and sent out a fifty-thousand-volt shock that overrode a person’s central nervous system and knocked them out.

Six rounds later and the six civilians in their little assembly area were face down on the concrete. Only then did she let the darkness dissipate. Stal sneered when she saw the people on the ground, and looked like she was about to stomp on them, but Nightingale brought her back on task and directed them forward.

<You just want me as transportation then that’s what you’ll get. If anything gets too hairy then I’m getting the fuck out of dodge with or without you.> The thought helped ease the anger she felt toward the other two women.

The location they’d teleported to was in the opposite direction that all the civilians were fleeing. If there was one thing you could count on in a crisis that was for people to take the path of least resistance. And in this case, that path led directly away from where the first grenades had been dropped.

Lilly kneeled down and took a radio from one of the men she’d tased. He didn’t look like a cop, there was no badge or gun, but the radio was tuned to the tactical channel SWAT and the Heroes were using.

“…ordered Force Field to contain the citizens to reduce further detonations of IEDs. Get EMS in their now, and have SWAT, Heroes, and dogs start to work to clear the area.”

Lilly froze when she heard Reaper’s orders. There was no way she would ever forget that bitch’s voice.

“We need to move.” Stal had plastered herself to the wall and was looking around a corner. “Things will not be clear for long.”

Lilly didn’t argue after that last radio message. She followed Nightingale out of the alley, but kept to the shadows as much as she could. In their tight, black, nullifying armor they kind of stood out.

Reaper and the other Heroes coordinating would be near the stage area, and as much as Lilly wanted to knock that woman out, sling her over her shoulder, and drop her in Seif al-Din’s lap, she knew that was a long shot. Now that the Heroes were consolidating, their odds of success were dropping by the second.

That didn’t stop them from moving toward their objective anyway. They were nearly there when they ran into a squad of cops surrounding a large man with a single Hero as backup.

Everyone froze when they saw each other. It was like a scene from West Side Story where the two gangs paused dramatically before a big fight.

“Hunter,” she nodded to the large Hero whose fingers twitched in the direction of his rifle.

“Wraith,” he nodded back.

“How’re the old bones? Thanks to me a few of them are new?” she continued when no one moved.

“You been stabbed in the back recently? I heard you need to watch out when you drop the soap in prison.”

She grimaced behind her mask. She hadn’t been laid in months.

“Enough talk.” Stal took a step forward and hands went to guns. “Now, you die.” A few powerful steps and she smashed into the cops and started flinging them aside like unwanted wrapping paper around a Christmas present.

“We’ll take the Mayor.” Nightingale relayed their new objective before diving sideways behind a dumpster as Hunter brought his rifle to bear.

Wraith didn’t have to dive anywhere, she vanished in a blast of darkness, and reappeared behind Hunter, but the darkness showed he was already gone.

<So, the game begins.> she smiled to herself. She’d played the teleporter’s version of cat and mouse with her father for years. It was excellent training, and she was finally willing to put her skills to the test. <Good luck bitches.>

This type of game only involved two players with the world as their chessboard. Stal and Nightingale would have to figure their way out of this on their own.

That didn’t bother Wraith one bit.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 32

“Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, friends and family of the deceased, and to the citizens all over these great United States…welcome. We stand here today to honor a fallen Hero. Mr. Morningstar was a man who embodied truth, justice, duty, honor, and self-sacrifice for the good of the many. He gave his life defending us, and for that we are forever grateful.” The mayor bowed his head for a moment of silence.

“Mr. Morningstar was not the strongest Hero. He was no Titan or Iron Giant. He couldn’t wield the elements, he couldn’t run faster than a speeding bullet, or fly. He was a man with the gift for making people see the light, to submit rather than fight. Mr. Morningstar’s ability stopped battles before they began, and it spared our great city many times from incidents of untold mayhem and destruction. Even though he wasn’t a flashy Hero, Mr. Morningstar worked hard to become leader of the Protectorate. He guided the team in the defense of this city for nearly two decades. The average citizen will never know all that he did for this community, but a few of them have chosen to step forward and speak to us about how Mr. Morningstar touched their lives for the better.”

“Blah…blah…blah…” Lilly sat on a rooftop over half a mile away listening to the speech on the radio. She could see the Mayor if she peeked over the lip of the roof, but it was safer to stay seated.

Nightingale and Stal were busy lounging behind an industrial-sized air conditioner. Between them were the tools of the trade: guns, knives, IED’s, grenades, even a baseball bat. It was all spread out and meticulously memorized by Lilly, so she could call upon it at a moment’s notice.

“Why we wait?” Stal wasn’t a person comfortable with inaction at times like these, and it was fraying at the strongwoman’s nerves.

“Soon,” Lilly replied casually. “Once I get the call we’ll get started.” She looked down at her phone hoping the text message was there, but the screen was still black.

“This plan is foolhardy.” Nightingale replied, but didn’t make any attempts to get up.

“We get to kill two birds with one stone. That’s not foolhardy, that’s fucking brilliance. If we pull this off we’ll be legends.”

“Dead is still dead.” Stal responded, but didn’t seem to believe her own warning. Being a top-tier strongwoman tended to have that effect on a woman’s sense of vulnerability.

The mayor continued to babble on, and Lilly split her attention between the radio and her tablet. Nano was pumping in data and footage of the event. A split screen showed the approximate position of the Heroes based on what he could make out in the footage. Lilly didn’t see Reaper, but the armored Seraphim was on a rooftop adjacent to the stage, and Hunter was only a few steps away from the mayor. He was the emergency evac guy, she was sure of it.

<Let’s see if you can dodge this.> She smiled behind her grinning volto mask.

As if the universe was giving her the go ahead her phone vibrated in her palm. She looked down and saw the two most beautiful letters GO.

“Let’s do this.” Lilly took a deep breath and became Wraith.

What came next was going to be tough. It would push her teleportation abilities to the limit.

It was easy for her teleport herself, something, or even a group of people from one place to another. It was simple and second nature. Today required her to teleport multiple things to multiple locations simultaneously. They needed a good distraction because a good distraction would cause a good panic, and a good panic would get them what they wanted.

<Reaper.> That was the end game. Ge the bitch who’d made her Dad a human vegetable.

It wasn’t going to be nearly as easy as it looked, or they’d planned for, especially considering her self-imposed constraints. The best distraction was death and destruction, but she wasn’t going to do that. She’d made Seth a promise and that was being put to the test today. She’d already failed once before and she was not going to do it again.

<Speed and focus…speed and focus…concentrate.> she took several deep breaths and looked at her portable armory.

Six grenades were laid out separately from everything else. She focused on those six metal cylinders and etched them into her mind. Once she was confident she had them all, she peeked over the lip of the roof and down the street. They had a pretty straight shot to the where the mayor was ushering people up to speak, and that helped a little. She found the six predetermined locations that she’d scoped out during the recon for this mission and tried to lock those locations into a corresponding grenade.

She felt the migraine start immediately. It was like trying to sit in on half a dozen Ph.D. level classes at once, take notes, and remember everything. Lilly liked to think that it was her skill and power that allowed her to do it, but it was probably her sheer stubbornness that ended up getting the job done. She felt the teleportations lock into place like tumblers on a safe.

“Now,” she grunted, and Stal and Nightingale rushed forward to pull the pins.

They’d rigged the grenades for a delayed reaction so they didn’t go off in their faces, but it was still going to be close. Nightingale pulled the sixth pin, and with a near-debilitating jolt of effort six puffs of darkness spirited the first step of their plan away.

Lilly’s vision wavered and she had to brace herself against the roof’s tiny wall, but it cleared quickly. She turned her attention to the tablet just in time to see the cameras pan up and the first grenade to go off.

Flash bangs were a hell of a tool for SWAT teams making entry into hostile territory, so Nightingale decided not to try and reinvent the wheel, but to use it on a larger scale. The grenades appeared around the stage and down the crowded street filled with easily-panicked people.

<Boom goes the dynamite.>

The first grenade detonated. Light and sound assaulted the people below it. The mayor grabbed his ears, shut his eyes, and then tackled the young woman currently standing at the podium talking about how Mr. Morningstar had gotten her off drugs or some other pointless shit. Lilly didn’t care. She was too busy watching the progression of the grenades. Number two went off about twenty five meters from where number one exploded, but immediately came up against a barrier. The light and sound ended up assaulting it instead of the people below it. The force field flashed violently, but it was short-lived before the grenade’s energy dissipated.

Grenades three through six met the same resistance.

“What the hell, Nano. You didn’t tell me they had a force field manipulator present.” That would have changed their entire game plan.

“I didn’t know,” he shot back clearly stressed. “I still don’t see any recognizable Hero doing the manipulating. They’ve got to have someone undercover or in plain clothes. They’re prepared for you, Wraith. They know your tactics.”

<Fuck.> Lilly cursed.

She’d become predictable. This tactic wasn’t too different from what she’d used when robbing that armored car in Nevada. A grenade dropped from above followed by a frontal attack to get the target.

“What now?” Lilly posed the question to the team.

“We’re prepared for this.” Nightingale replied casually as she pulled something from her pocket.

“What…we are?” Lilly didn’t remember this part of the plan.

“We knew when you started talking about stun grenade that you’d gone soft.” Stal stood up and cracked her neck. “We let you go through with your little plan while making ours.”

“Your purpose is now transportation, Wraith. Can you do that?” Nightingale asked calmly as she watched the crowd below.

The thousands of people had naturally panicked. The force fields were up and protecting them, and the cops were telling people to stay calm, but human beings didn’t stay calm when shit was exploding everywhere. They took the path of least resistance and got the hell out of there. The grin on Nightingale’s face said that was exactly what she wanted to happen.

“I was the distraction to the distraction.” Lilly figured it out slower than she was comfortable with.

“A two pronged attack,” Nightingale stated as she raised a shiny, metal device in her hand. “Get the sheep running and instill a false sense of security in the shepherd. Then…” she pressed the button and a hideous ripping sound rocked the city.

Lilly looked down and saw smoking and screams rising up from the east. The alley had been away from the main procession, so security was light, and never accounted for hundreds of people using it as a quick exit.

The dumpster where Nightingale and Stal had placed the bomb turned into an improvised claymore where the power of the explosion ripped off chunks and propelled them into the tightly packed crowd. The explosion rose up, hit the force field overhead, and ricocheted back down into the crowd.

Wraith was shocked. <How’d they play me like this,> was her primary concern. Her secondary worry was what Seth was going to think about this, and the people actually in the explosion were a distant third.

Lilly felt anger rise in her chest at being manipulated, but that was quickly wiped away by a second explosion. Another dumpster in another alley that people had rushed into became a death-dealing device.

There was complete and utter pandemonium on the streets below them, and that was exactly what they needed to get their mission done. Lilly held her temper in check as she grabbed the two other villains and they vanished off the rooftop in a blast of darkness.

 

***

 

The Detective was walking across the open vestibule with his hands full. He had a cup of coffee in one hand, a donut in the other, and a file held securely between his chin and chest. He knew it was stereotypical for a cop to be having donuts, but it was impossible to get anything else right now. The whole city was shut down for the funeral, traffic was backed up everywhere, and the only good place to get a snack was a bakery around the corner. Because of all the madness, they were struggling to keep up with the demand, and apparently the easiest things for them to make was donuts.

<I’m not waiting an hour for a turkey and ham sandwich.> He would have shaken his head, but then the file would have spilled all over the place.

It was a rape case, and he was on his way to interview a suspect. His eyes were trained on the locked doors across the vestibule that would take him down to the cells, but a peculiar sound pulled his attention to the left.

Standing in the middle of the vestibule looking confused and scared was a teenage girl…and she was crying.  As a father, the Detective immediately detoured over to the woman in distress.

“It’s ok,” he quickly approached her and had to figure out the best thing to do with his full hands. Carefully, he grabbed the file with his donut-hand and moved it under his armpit. “What’s wrong? What can I do to help?”

“I…I…need to report a crime.” The girl sniffled.

“Ok, everything’s going to be just fine. You’re safe here, no one is going to hurt you, and we’re going to help.” The girl responded positively to his words with a small smile. “Officer!” he called to a passing patrolman. “Please escort her to my desk.” He turned back to the girl. “I’ll be right back to take your information and find a solution to your problem. Just wait their patiently and I’ll be back soon.”

“Ok,” she wiped her nose with another sniffle.

Morina watched the Detective give the Patrolman some instructions. <Hehehe,> she mentally giggled. She was in the center of the city’s law enforcement apparatus and they had no idea what was about to happen.

“Come with me.” The Patrolman didn’t look as concerned as the Detective, but as long as he did what he was ordered to do there wouldn’t be any problems.

He led her away from the Detective and toward a security station. She emptied her pockets and walked through a scanning device. She didn’t have anything but some keys, her wallet with fake ID, and a cell phone. She passed without incident, and after a quick look through her purse all of her belongings were returned to her. On the lower levels of the police HQ, they were more worried about someone bringing a gun or knife onto the premises, not a Super. Morina was the weapon.

After the scan she was given a visitor’s lanyard and escorted into a metropolis of cubicles. Judging by the sea of gray cubes, she bet it was usually pretty crowded in here. Today, there weren’t more than a handful of people at work. It was all hands on deck for the funeral.

<Exactly as we suspected.> She took a seat at the Detective’s desk and waited.

A couple of other detectives registered her presence, but the quickly went back to their work. A colleague taking victim statements was a routine part of their job.

She waited ten minutes before she got back to her feet and walked toward the door.

“Excuse me.” A hawk-eyed woman stepped into the path before she was halfway across the room. “Can I help you?”

To Morina’s ears it sounded more like, “What are you doing?”

“Um…bathroom.” Her eyes darted back and forth to convey fear…and the woman bought it.

“You need an escort.” She looked around for someone, but it was so empty there wasn’t anyone else. “Ok, follow me.”

The woman led the way through another door and into a long hallway that seemed to run the width of the building. Morina noticed more offices, the signs for the bathrooms, and a stairwell at the far end.

The other woman veered right at the sign for the ladies restroom and pushed open the door. It seemed like she was being very serious about being an escort. She leaned up against the row of sinks and crossed her arms. Morina quickly averted her eyes submissively and entered one of the stalls.

She needed to think quickly. Unfortunately, she wasn’t Wraith, Stal, or Nightingale. She wasn’t some super-secret agent type. If she ran into problems she just killed them dead and hoped that was the right call.

The itch that was gradually eating its way through her self-control suddenly became overwhelming. Before she knew what she was doing, she pulled a bobby pin from her hair and stabbed it deep into her forearm. A small squeak escaped her throat as red sprouted from the wound and started to dribble onto the floor.

“Are you ok in there?” The female detective asked.

Morina saw her feet move closer underneath the stall door.

<More,> she breathed heavily and pulled the pin up her forearm. The dribbling became a stream.

“Jesus Christ!” The Detective must have peaked in and saw Morina mutilating herself because she threw her shoulder into the door and the fragile lock popped right off.

The detective quickly moved forward while one hand darted to the toilet paper and hurriedly started to unravel a big wad. “Hold on!” Her other hand grabbed Morina’s wrist and stopped her from doing any more harm.

The Detective’s eyes were filled with worry as she put pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding. Her full concentration was on Morina’s arm, so she missed the blood on the floor collecting and rising into the air behind her.

“You’re…” the detective looked Morina right in the eyes, and she could tell by her reaction that the Detective knew something was off.

Instinct took over. She kept one hand on the blood-soaked toilet paper while the other went to her gun. She turned around to scan for threats and that’s when a few ounces of blood smashed into her face and worked its way down into her throat.

She backed up in surprise, and Morina sprang on her. The blood flowing from her arm stopped on command, and she hit the woman in the chest with her shoulder. They both went tumbling to the ground. Both of the Detective’s hands went to her throat as the blood blocked her windpipe and started to suffocate her.

Morina took the opportunity to go for the woman’s gun that was in her now-unstrapped holster. Through her panic, the Detective quickly put two and two together. She went for the gun too, and it became a struggle for the L-shaped hunk of metal. Morina needed to keep the Detective from getting a round off and alerting the station to the infiltration. The Detective wanted to get a round off to bring help, or more ideally, shoot Morina dead and stop the blood from choking her. Time would be the deciding factor.

The Detective was stronger than Morina, but Morina had moved first. Both of her hands were already on the weapon. Instead of trying to pull it out and risk accidentally firing the weapon, she threw her weight into forcing it farther down.  The Detective threw her elbows into Morina’s neck and back trying to knock her off. It knocked her to her knees, but she didn’t let go, and it pulled the other woman down with her.

<Hold on.> she repeated the words spoken to her only seconds ago when the situation was wildly different.

After thirty seconds, the Detective’s strikes started to weaken. Morina was huddled successfully in the fetal position around the weapon. After a minute it was basically over. The Detective could hardly lift her arms. The fight had deprived her of oxygen more quickly, but Morina still held on for another minute to be certain. When she finally dared to look, the Detective’s eyes were glazed over in death.

Morina’s whole back hurt from the pounding she’d taken, and she’d bashed her knee when they fell. It was hard to get up, and her initial movements were jerky, but she eventually shook off the brunt of the pain. She undid the holster from the corpse. She didn’t have the slightest idea how to use a gun, but she clipped it to her hip like she’d seen in the movies. Then she grabbed the body under the armpits and dragged it into the farthest stall from the door. She hoped no one would notice the dead woman until her job here was done. Next, she grabbed the Detective’s blazer, badge, and ID card. The blazer made her look like she belonged a little more, as did the badge, and the ID was going to get her where she needed to go.

Lastly, she found a pocket knife the dead women kept on her, and opened up her victim’s veins. Blood didn’t gush out of her without a beating heart, so it didn’t go everywhere and turn the bathroom into a bloody Jackson Pollack painting. Morina pulled it out of the Detective and guided it up to her. It filtered up under her clothes and clung to her body like liquid, red armor. She used her ability to coagulate it into a semi-solid instead of pure liquid, so she didn’t look like she was bleeding out from every area of her body. She pulled out all five-plus liters from the corpse and coated the concealed parts of her body in a thin layer of blood that looked a lot like dark cherry Jell-O. The sensation of it against her flesh was ten times better than sex, so it took her a moment to get a hold of herself.

Slowly at first, but then more quickly she moved to the door and peeked her head out into the hallway. It was empty, so she retreated back in and took out her phone. She quickly typed GO, and then exited the bathroom and headed toward the stairs. The pad lit up green when she scanned the Detective’s ID, and she rushed upstairs to the top floor.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 31

There were two very different conversations going on during the morning of Mr. Morningstar’s funeral; three if you call the political chit-chat a conversation.

“No…no…no…We need more light!” A man cried dramatically on the stage as he looked up at the dark morning sky. “Today just had to be the day the universe decided to not cooperate with me.” He brandished his hands frantically at the clouds blocking out the sun.

The man stomped around the quickly erected stage just in front of the church where the fallen Hero’s private ceremony would be held. The stage was the brainchild of the Mayor. Preapproved people would be allowed to take the stage and use the microphone to tell the gathered crowd what Mr. Morningstar had meant to them, or how he had personally impacted their life. Having a stage meant having a stage manager, and the only one available had been a rather eccentric one from UCF. By the way he was running around and yelling at people you would have thought this was the Olympic opening ceremony.

That was what was happening on the ground. Very different words were being uttered all around the stage.

“Eagle-Two, comms check, over.” The SWAT captain wasn’t standing too far from the stage manager, but he was completely ignoring the other man. Where the stage manager looked like a whirlwind was about to pick him up and carry him off somewhere, the SWAT captain was a mountain of immovable granite with cold eyes scanning the horizon.

“Coms check, TOC, I read you five-by-five.” The sniper three hundred yards away on an overlooking rooftop replied.

“Show me you don’t have your head up your ass, Eagle-Two.” The Captain’s words were threatening, but they implied some sort of punishment the sniper would not enjoy if he wasn’t on the ball.

A second later a red dot appeared on the Captain’s chest. “Stay awake up there, Eagle-Two, the sun decided not to cooperate and I can feel a fall chill in my nuts.”

“That sounds like a personal problem, Cap. You might want to get that checked out.”

“Keep talking, Eagle-Two. I’ll get to you in a second, Eagle-Three.”

“Roger that, Sir.”

Daisy smiled as she took in the world around her with her sixth sense. For half a mile she could feel the life-threads of everyone. This early there weren’t a lot of people, but the number was steadily growing.

<The Mayor’s brilliant idea isn’t going to help.> The last thing the city needed was some grieving single mom talking about how Mr. Morningstar saved her baby to get her head blow off by Wraith mid-sentence.

It also meant overtime for Grace. As the primary telepath on scene, it was her job to vet everyone going up to take the mic.

<We need more bodies.> Daisy came to the same conclusion she had several times today. There were just going to be too many people.

The Mayor’s office was projecting over fifty-thousand people to turn out. To monitor them and keep them safe there were three hundred officers, two SWAT teams, the Protectorate, and half a dozen independent Heroes that were coming in for the occasion. There would be more off-duty Heroes in the church for the private service, but they weren’t there to protect the public. They were there to grieve, but they would help if shit started to slide downhill.

Daisy felt the pressure building in the back of her skull as she tried to keep everything in sight. The pressure would only get stronger when fifty-thousand life-threads needed to be monitored, and the very last thing the DVA, OPD, or the Mayor wanted her to do was drop everyone like she had at the prison. That was a one way ticket to losing her newly-granted certification.

“Minority community turnout is going to be hit or miss.” One of the Mayor’s aides stated from not too far away. “Polls show that they like the Protectorate overall, but of their members, Mr. Morningstar was their least favorite.”

“He was from an older generation and he didn’t really care about connecting with the community as much. I have reassurances from KaBoom that the team is willing to work in a new direction under his leadership.” Orlando’s mayor, Thaddeus Miller, was a former defensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins. He’d gone to UCF before sending twelve seasons in the NFL, and then going into politics. He’d started off with city council, was now the mayor, and insiders thought he had his eye on Congress or even the Governor’s Mansion in the next four years. He was a big man, with a shaved bald head that was shined daily. Even in the low light of the morning there was a slight gleam coming off the man’s brown dome. There was just as much of a gleam coming off of his perfectly-white teeth, and those were always on display in a smile. His life as a four-time pro-bowler had prepared him perfectly for politics.

“What about…” the aide didn’t say it, but that was enough confirmation for Daisy.

She was an unknown in this political situation. With something that was so going to be so public, politicians tended to not like unknowns; especially wildcards, and every report the Mayor was reading on her said she was unpredictable.

<I’m right here, dumbasses,> she bit her tongue. Her job right now was to literally step in front of a bullet if someone took a shot at the political leader of the city, and all they were worried about was what she would say when confronted by cameras. <There were some things about this job that I did not miss.>

<Easy there,> Grace’s voice popped in the back of her head. <Thad is actually a pretty good guy when you get to know him.>

<Thad?> Daisy’s eyes never stopped scanning the windows surrounding the stage. <And just how well have you gotten to know him?>

Daisy didn’t get a response, but a mental impression of a giant middle finger was answer enough. She suppressed her smile and continued to do her job.   

“Ms. Reaper,” the Mayor abandoned his little chat and walked over to her.

“Please just Reaper, Mr. Mayor. Ms. Reaper makes me sound like I should be on the Halloween version of a syrup container.” She accepted the Mayor’s handshake and didn’t know if he was doing the macho squeeze thing or not. She was on absorb-mode for all kinetic energy.

He barked a short laugh, gave an up and down shake and then let go. “Reaper it is then. I just wanted to welcome you to our fair city and thank you for everything you are doing today and going to do in the future.”

“Wrangling for my vote already, Mr. Mayor. Reelection isn’t for another eighteen months.” Daisy had a habit of sticking her foot in her mouth, especially when her attention was elsewhere, but in this particular instance she could really care less.

The Mayor followed the comment with a much longer laugh. “You can never start too early, Reaper.” The big guy’s smile was a bit startling. “Good luck today.”

“Thank you, Mr. Mayor.” That was all the time he had to talk to her, but she shadowed him until he was in the armored SUV and headed back toward his office. That was where her assignment ended. “Dispatch, he’s on his way out.”

“Thank you, Reaper.” The computer-synthesized voice of Dispatch hadn’t changed at all since the first time to support Hero came on the scene more than a decade ago. “You are relieved of your duties. Next assignments begin at twelve-hundred hours. You are free until then.”

“Thanks for the break.” Daisy didn’t take the earbud out, but she did pull out her phone and make another call. “Hey, baby, you want to grab a quick breakfast before we get sucked into this black hole of a protection detail for the rest of the day?”

 

***

 

“Damn, it’s freezing.”

Becca looked at the Floridian out of the corner of her eye and couldn’t help but smirk. It was low sixties – maybe high fifties – and the woman was acting like it was an ice age. Coming from the Midwest, where wind chill could drop the temperature fifteen or twenty degrees during the winter, this was nothing. All of her friends seemed to be thinking the same way.

Mason was used to New York, Kyoshi hailed from San Francisco – which wasn’t as warm as people thought – and Anika’s family had spent a lot of time in Montana only to recently move to the Midwest. This weather was nothing.

The residual body heat of everyone present would set in eventually. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of people crammed on the sideways of the major roadway. In front of them was a line of police officers spaced every twenty feet. They were all in their dress uniforms: crisply ironed pants, a jacket with medals and badges pinned to it, and white gloves. They looked every inch the competent police force, and that was only highlighted by the weapons on their hips. Every third officer also had an assault rifle slung over their shoulder. Their eyes were scanning the crowd religiously. Just like the HCP students in the crowd, the officers were aware of the high threat level of this ceremony.

The civilians were blissfully unaware aside from a few questions about the cops’ guns. Not everyone liked the sight of such a heavily armed force. Becca kept her eyes forward and was grateful for them. If things turned bad, then they were going to need all the firepower they could get.

“Stop looking around,” Kyoshi whispered as Mason’s head seemed to be in a nonstop three-hundred-and-sixty-degree scan.

“Can’t help it,” the strongman grunted. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

All of them had the feeling. There were just too many chances for something to go wrong. There were too many windows, too many rooftops, and too many shadowy corners where threats could suddenly appear. It was the eternal pain of dealing with teleporters. They were all thankful Professor Meyers was here.

A drum could be heard in the distance. The beat was a solemn march. Becca knew from the safety briefing that the drummer was at the lead of a small contingent of officers and Heroes accompanying the casket of Mr. Morningstar. The casket was being pulled by a horse through the crowd-lined streets to the church where the private ceremony would be, and the politicians would be saying a few words.

“Shhh.” Becca shushed the both of them. This wasn’t a time to be talking. This was a time to be remembering and thanking the fallen Hero for his service.

 

***

 

“I can’t see.” Isla was cranky, and the six-plus-foot guy standing in front of her wasn’t helping.

A group of the freshmen HCP students were standing together at a safe distance from their HCP classmates. Professor McMillian had told them to spread out, but still travel in at least pairs. They needed to be vigilant about safety without drawing attention to themselves. The SI infraction rules were still in effect. If anything happened, the professors wanted them to run for safety.

“Let the Heroes handle it.” McMillian had said that at least a dozen times in their safety briefing.

“Sorry.” Aiden stepped aside so Isla could get a better view, but there was still a random woman in front of him that was taller than Isla’s unimpressive five feet two inches.

The drumming was growing closer, so they wouldn’t be staying for much longer. It was physically impossible for them to get any closer to the church and speaking area. They were nearly a mile away and packed into the sidewalks like sardines. They expected things to break up quickly once Mr. Morningstar’s funeral procession passed. The town had the afternoon off, and once people paid their respects they were planning to take advantage of the slightly longer weekend.

“Most of these people don’t care.” Scarlett Vaan stood with her arms crossed and a sour look on her face. “Most people are more interested in the time off then what happened. They want to forget about it, push it into the past, and move on.” She just shrugged when the younger freshman shot her shocked expressions.

“Most people like to avoid conflict,” she looked Isla straight in the eyes. “They feel they need to be here, but unless Mr. Morningstar directly touched their lives in some way their feelings for him and his death are only skin deep.”

“That’s a sad way to look at people. Psychology is giving you a jaded look on life.” Aiden shot her a warning look over his shoulder. The silver-haired woman was drawing some attention with her statements.

“Yeah…it’s the psychology.” Scarlett raised an eyebrow, but the drumming was almost on top of them now.

Everyone shut up and turned to face the procession. Whatever people thought about the situation, or the people involved, they all felt a certain way about death. It was only human to pay some sort of respect to the fallen, and whatever their feelings about humanity, they could do at least that.

It took a few minutes for the procession to pass at a slow march. Once it was a respectful distance away people started to get out of there. Scarlett led the charge. Isla stuck around a little longer as people streamed around her. There was something in the air that had the hair on the back of her neck standing up. She didn’t know if it was the circumstances, the HCP, or what was going on in her not-so-personal life, but the sensation was there.

If felt like something was watching and judging her and the city or Orlando. Her shiver had nothing to do with the cool breeze blowing through the city as she turned to leave.

 

***

 

“Do you still have eyes on Reaper?” Lilly was in her Wraith heavy-combat load.

Her costume, armor, pistols, knives, grenades, assault rifle, and sniper rifle were either on her person or strewn on the rooftop around her. They were over a mile away from the stage that had been constructed. It was way beyond her range to take out someone important – like the mayor – but it would serve as a staging area. She wasn’t going to pull armaments from her little bunker out west when Hunter would undoubtedly be on scene, so she’d hauled all of the stuff here, and set up booby traps for anyone who tried to take the roof by force.

“We have eyes on her near the stage.” Nano informed over the encrypted earbud the assault team was wearing.

Stal and Nightingale were on the rooftop next to Wraith getting set.

“Why does that matter? We have armor.” Stal announced patting the black, nullifying armor they were all wearing.

“It matters because the armor isn’t perfect. Belial still got taken down.” Wraith snapped back. Her nerves were on edge. The list of Heroes at this powder keg was a who’s who of people that wanted to kill her. “And some can easily target something next to us and kill me or Nightingale. We don’t have your durability.” Wraith was specifically thinking about Seraphim.

The bitch had it out for her despite the ass whooping she’d delivered during their last meeting.

“Fine.” Stal harrumphed. She didn’t pick up any weapons. Her hands and feet were WMDs, especially in a crowded place like this.

“We go in five minutes.” The procession had just begun. “Is she going to be ready?”

“She’ll be ready.” Wraith referred to the missing member of their little team. Morina had a different mission, and she was almost in position.

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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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