Providence RI, Wednesday afternoon, Nov 14th 2007
Rhode Island was a small state, and one that was relatively quiet. It reminded me a little of any small town, where everything was peaceful and boring on the surface, while all the really interesting stuff was kept out of sight and hidden, especially from strangers.
According to Pooka, this was where the Triangle had set up shop, or at least, where one of their main cells resided. Pooka had also told me that this was the group that would have Jerome, and that if I wanted to find the kid, this was where I had to look.
“They have a warehouse,” I said, looking over the building that housed the Triangle. They had even labeled the building with a big blue triangle on the side, just to make sure nobody could miss it. “Why do people always use warehouses? Where is the originality? Where is the creativity?”
“Where is the silence?” Brandywine hissed from beside me.
“Why couldn’t they have gotten a lighthouse?” I asked. “I mean, that would make an awesome secret hideout…”
“And what about your secret lair?” Brandywine asked. “I suppose you probably have some carnival funhouse? Maybe one themed up like a clown version of Dante’s Inferno.”
“Why does everyone always think that?” I asked with a grin. “But no, the Imp Lair has a lot more style than that.”
She shook her head. “I’m afraid to ask.”
We both stared at the warehouse again, which we’d been watching since our arrival ten minutes ago. It looked like an ordinary warehouse, other than the blue triangle on it. Several people had gone in and out, and not a single one of them had been wearing a proper uniform or minion costume. Instead, they all looked…ordinary. Then again, ordinary civilians were some of the meanest, nastiest, and most vicious people out there. I’d seen lots of ‘ordinary civilians’ who could put villains to shame with their bad deeds and cruelty.
“Pitchforks and torches,” I muttered under my breath. “Good memories.”
“We don’t know what they have inside,” Brandywine pointed out. “We need more information.”
I nodded my agreement. I’d already reached out to my contacts as soon as I found out where we needed to go, but all I could get was generic warehouse blueprints. From what I could tell, they did have a security system, but it was isolated, so even a great hacker wouldn’t be able to get in. That meant some old-fashioned breaking and entering, which happened to be my specialty.
“I hate pulling a heist on short notice,” I quietly grumbled to myself. Without time to properly research and plan, this could be risky. Then more loudly, I said, “I’ll scout and see what I can find out…unless you’ve got some X Ray glasses or something?”
Brandywine looked down at her belt full of equipment and shook her head. “Afraid not.”
I looked over the warehouse again, considering my options for entry. I’d already started that the moment I saw the building, but without knowing their security setup, it would be a little more challenging.
Just then, I saw something from the corner of my eye and said, “We have company.”
Brandywine immediately straightened up and began to look around. “Where?”
She’d barely gotten the question out when six people in bright costumes stepped into view. They’d been trying to sneak up and surround us, but decided that this was their cue to appear.
“Stay where you are,” commanded a man in a mostly grey costume.
“We received reports of suspicious people in costumes,” another one said, giving us suspicious looks. “And here you are.”
“Who…?” Brandywine demanded, bracing herself for a fight.
“The local heroes,” I answered wryly. “Meet the STAR League.”
I’d actually met a couple of these heroes before…on parents day. I had a couple of their kids in my classes. And as for their leader in grey, the Falcon, I’d actually had a couple drinks with him and his wife that evening.
Brandywine was momentarily surprised by that, though she quickly covered it up. “Then let me do the talking.”
“Be my guest,” I said, gesturing for her to go ahead.
“I’m Brandywine, of the Shielders,” my partner announced. “My team was investigating some kidnappings, and the trail of one of the victims leads here…”
“If that’s true,” the Falcon said, his eyes locking on me, “then why are you here with a notorious art thief instead of your team?”
“I prefer the term fabulous to notorious,” I pointed out cheerfully. Then I asked, “So, BF, where’s Dinomutt?”
One of the other heroes, Red Archer snickered, though quickly tried to cover it up. Before the Falcon could respond, I suddenly leapt to the side, right before a costumed figure passed through where I’d been standing.
“I’ve got you now, Red Dot,” Tabby Cat announced, looking rather pleased with herself. “And this time, you don’t have any laser pointers or catnip.”
“WHAT?” Brandywine asked in confusion.
“Curses, foiled again,” I commented wryly. “But aren’t you taking that a little personally?”
“You threw catnip mice at me,” Tabby Cat reminded me. “My daughter keeps teasing me about that. I’ll never live it down.” A couple of the other heroes snickered and tried keeping straight faces, without much success. “So, what are you doing here, Imp? Shouldn’t you be teaching a class right now?”
Brandywine gave her a look of surprise, and then me. Apparently that was what it took for her to believe my claims of being a teacher.
“We’re on a mission from God,” I answered in my best Elwood Blues accent.
Tabby Cat gave me an amused look. “Which god? Loki?”
“Astarte,” I answered simply.
Her expression became more serious. “Okay, what’s going on?”
“A guy named Fiddleback kidnapped a group of kids off a school bus,” I explained. I gestured to Brandywine. “The Shielders were trying to rescue the rugrats, but Carson and Chickenhawk both asked me to help them out.”
“You’re not exactly known for rescuing people,” Tabby Cat pointed out with a faintly amused look. “So why you, and why is Carson interested?”
“One of the kids is registered to attend Whateley next semester,” I answered with a shrug. “Hence Carson’s interest. As for me, they had a security issue they needed help with. Carson probably would have asked you, if Chickenhawk hadn’t already contacted her about getting me.”
Tabby Cat nodded at that. “That makes sense. So, Fiddleback is here?”
“No,” Brandywine quickly interjected, obviously trying to get more involved in the conversation. “Fiddleback sold one particular student to the Triangle, and we tracked them here.”
“The Triangle?” Lightwave said. “I’ve heard of them. They’ve been talking about how humans and mutants can live together peacefully.”
I settled my eyes on the dark-skinned woman in the black leotard, snorting. “Yeah, they’re all about humans and mutants living together, just as long as mutants know their place.”
“I never thought I’d say this,” Brandywine stated, “but the Imp is right.”
Lightwave scowled at that as did the other heroes. “So, tell me about the Triangle,” Tabby Cat said.
“They’re a Humanity First offshoot,” I explained. “Their PR is all about how humans and mutants can work things out…at least on the surface. Underneath it, they’ve been…drafting mutants to their side…whether they want to join or not. Jerome, the kid we’re here for, is one of them.”
“From what we’ve heard,” Brandywine continued, “they’ve been growing a lot lately and buying a lot of high tech weapons. Whatever they have planned, I doubt it’s good.
I held up my hands and exclaimed, “Mutant sacrifice. Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria…” Tabby Cat smiled.
Falcon looked to Tabby Cat, then announced, “Well then, since they appear to have set up in our back yard, I believe we should deal with them.”
“If you want to fight those guys, that’s perfectly fine with me,” I said cheerfully. “As long as the kid gets rescued, I still get paid.”
Brandywine glared at me, then glanced to Tabby Cat. “How do you two even know each other?”
“She teaches at Whateley too,” I answered with a shrug. Then I turned to the other STAR Leaguers and said, “This isn’t exactly the time or place for any parent teacher conferences, but if you want to talk about how your kids are doing in art once this is over, I’d be happy to fill you in.”
“Thank you,” Magma said. “I might take you up on that.”
Brandywine’s eyes widened again, then she me yet another dirty look. Apparently, she didn’t like that I was on better terms with these heroes than she was. That was definitely pretty ironic.
I just turned to Tabby Cat. “You want to do some scouting with me? This may be the only time we ever get to work together in a real-world scenario.”
Tabby Cat smiled at that. “I think that would be great.”
A minute later, Tabby Cat and I started towards the warehouse, approaching it from opposite sides. Since there were so many heroes around, there was no way I could use my usual trick of turning invisible. We might be working on the same side today, but I wasn’t about to give them all my secrets. After all, there was no telling when I’d need that advantage against them in the future.
“This is not a good situation,” I muttered to myself. I was annoyed by the presence of all the heroes, and the limitations that put on me. However, there were other problems too.
There was no time to really plan. No time to set up a solid exit, much less a backup. This was why I never could have been a hero. Nearly everything they did was reactionary and short notice, which usually meant acting without enough information to be as effective as you could. Sloppy and risky. I much preferred a nice heist where I could plan and set things up for weeks in advance.
“Too late to worry about that now,” I mused. “Now, to get the job done…”
I crept up on the warehouse as carefully as I could without resorting to my powers. There were a few cameras set up, but I saw them in time to avoid them. It didn’t take me long to reach the warehouse, then find a nice blind spot where I could scramble up the wall. A few seconds later, I was on the roof, where there was bound to be less security.
Crouching down, I looked over the roof before making any further moves. There was a large skylight looking down into the warehouse, the perfect spot for someone who wanted to spy on what they were doing. If this had been my hidey hole, I would have gotten rid of that skylight immediately. And if I couldn’t, I would have set it up as a trap to lure in any would be intruders. Maybe a motion detector and some pressure plates nearby. When I looked closer, I saw the motion detector, but no pressure plates. At least they weren’t completely incompetent, though it would have made my job a lot easier if they were.
I hummed the Mission Impossible theme as I moved around the roof, avoiding the cameras and motion detector until I reached a junction box. Then I pulled out one of my handy-dandy disposable devises, about the size of a golf ball, and used it to completely shut off the alarm. These devises were awesome for someone in my line of work, so I made a mental note to give my hook up a bonus the next time I ordered a batch.
With the alarms all down, it didn’t take much longer for me to slip inside the warehouse. I carefully moved along the rafters, now using my chameleon field since the heroes wouldn’t be able to see me vanishing. As I moved, I kept careful watch below me, taking note of everything I saw and heard.
There were about a dozen people wandering around the warehouse. Most of them were men, but there were a couple women. These were obviously Triangle members, because each and every one of them had some kind of pin on their clothes, with the blue triangle logo.
I paused and watched a couple of them interacting, in what seemed to be some kind of initiation ceremony. A middle-aged man was putting one of their pins onto the collar of a much younger man, who looked to be about college aged. Half a dozen other people stood around them, watching in an almost formal manner.
“Remember,” the older man told the younger, “this symbol represents the three pillars of our organization, the three principles that guide us. Always keep this close as a reminder of our purpose.”
I was curious what these three principles were, but they didn’t explain. Seconds later, the small group disbanded, though most of them went over to an area that seemed to be dedicated to training. I watched the training for a few seconds before moving on.
The armory was easy to find because it took up about a third of the warehouse and contained a lot more weaponry than this group could use. This was definitely good evidence for their plans to grow.
In the back corner of the warehouse, I found what I was really looking for. Jerome Hubbard was locked up in a large cage that looked like a jail cell. The very sight of it, and the boy sitting on the bed, stirred a rage deep inside of me.
However, Jerome wasn’t the only mutant that they were holding against their will. Or at least, I assumed that the other two were mutants as well since they were in nearly identical cells.
One was a short and stocky woman, who had to be an inch or two shy of four feet. She was working at a table in her cell, playing with some high tech looking doodad, which made me think she was probably a gadgeteer or devisor.
In the last cage, there was an old man surrounded by nuggets of gold. I’d seen a lot of gold in my career, and from where I was crouched in the rafters, it looked like the real thing.
“Interesting,” I mused, watching him carefully.
The old man held out his hand and a nugget of gold formed in his palm. He dropped it to the ground with an exhausted sigh.
“A manifestor,” I guessed. From that little display, I could tell why the Triangle wanted him.
It was around this point that I noticed Tabby Cat, who was crawling around the rafters as well, though she was halfway across the warehouse from me. I thought about waving to her, though I restrained the impulse. I was currently using my chameleon field and wasn’t stupid enough to drop that or do anything that could draw attention to me at the moment. That would come later.
I turned my attention back to the cages, noticing that four Triangle members were walking towards them. There were three men and a woman, with the person who appeared to be in charge, being the older guy that I’d seen during the pin-on ceremony a short time ago.
“Midas,” the older Triangle member said in greeting to the old man in the cell.
The old man…Midas, turned to look at him. “Yes, Colonel Harper.”
“I see that you’ve created quite a few new ingots,” Harper said in an almost friendly voice. “By now, I think you’ve created enough that we’ll be able to purchase a new power frame. I know that this puts an enormous stress on your body, so thank you. As promised, ten percent of these funds will be given to your grandchildren.”
“Good,” Midas said. “I don’t want to leave them with nothing.”
“They will be well taken care of,” Midas promised him. “Your cooperation ensures that, just as it ensures we have the funds necessary for our work.”
As they stepped away from Midas, Harper turned to his companions. “There is an old saying that with great power comes great responsibility. For too long, mutants have had the power, but denied the responsibility. Many of them have had the power to help humanity in one form or another, but have used this power for selfish purposes instead. Because of this, we sometimes have to remind them of their responsibilities…and even encourage them to fulfill them.”
“Are you sure they’re safe?” the woman asked Harper.
Harper just smiled. “I assure you, Mrs. Purnelle, that these particular mutants are quite safe…and quite beneficial for our goals.” He gestured towards Midas. “Midas has been making a living off his abilities for decades, hiding them behind the façade of being a miner. He’s been clever enough to only create small amounts of gold, not enough to make anyone suspicious of where it comes from. However, he’s always been capable of much more, so we’ve put him to work financing some of our weapons.”
“You’re so generous,” Purnelle said. “I mean, giving his poor grandchildren a percentage…”
“It only seems fair,” Harper told her before turning to the next cell. “Munchkin.”
“I’m almost finished with my devise,” Munchkin announced with an eager smile. “It’s going to be even better than my prototype mutant detector. This should triple the range…”
“Very nice,” Harper said, looking pleased.
Then to my surprise, Munchkin opened her own cell door, revealing that it wasn’t even locked. She held up a metal contraption, about the size and shape of a shoe box, so that Harper could see it. He made no move to touch the devise, but he nodded in approval.
Harper told Purnelle and his other companions, “Munchkin understands her responsibilities, and is working hard to help improve the world. She’s a credit to her people.”
“Thank you,” Munchkin responded, beaming with pride.
“You won’t be here for much longer,” Harper told Munchkin. “We’re building you a lab of your own, where you’ll be able to continue your work with better equipment and conditions.”
“I can’t wait,” Munchkin said with an eager look. “It’s nice that someone finally respects my work.”
I remained frozen where I was, staring down at Munchkin with a feeling of pity. When you were different, people tended to treat you like crap. And when you were in that kind of situation, it was easy to jump at any kindness or acceptance…even when it came from people who only wanted to use you. Even when it came from people who should have been your enemies. I’d seen that kind of thing before.
Harper went to the last cell, to the one containing Jerome. “Jerome,” he said to the teenage boy, who only responded with a glare. Then Harper turned back to his companions. “As I said, some mutants need to be encouraged to do the right thing. This young man has the power to heal most injuries and diseases, but instead of visiting his local hospital, or helping those in need, he spends his free time hidden away in his home, playing video games.”
“Like my son, Ian,” Purnelle said with a clear note of disapproval.
“With our help,” Harper continued, “this young man’s power will be put to much better use.”
Jerome didn’t say anything, though he gave Harper a defiant look and flipped him off. I was starting to like the kid.
“Jerome,” Harper said, “please demonstrate your power on Mister Chapman.” He gestured to one of the men with him.
“Fuck you,” Jerome responded.
“You may want to be more cooperative,” Harper said with a sharp edge of his voice. “And more helpful to those who take care of you.”
Jerome had a look of fear on his face, though he quickly covered it up. I wasn’t sure what Harper had just threatened him with, but it obviously did the trick. Jerome reached out through the bars and took Chapman’s hand. A moment later, the boy’s eyes began to glow for several seconds, and then he released Chapman’s hand and backed up.
“Your heart issue should be gone now,” Harper assured Chapman. “Jerome’s powers are quite strong. But of course, you’ll want to talk to your doctor to make sure.”
“I do feel better,” Chapman said, carefully touching his chest. “No more shortness of breath, and the dull ache is gone…” He sounded in awe.
Harper smiled at that, then fixed Jerome with a cold gaze. “I have more patients for you this afternoon, and you WILL help them without any further problems. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yeah,” Jerome grudgingly responded.
With that, Harper and his people began walking away, though they continued talking amongst themselves. “As you can see,” Harper explained, “we turn mutants from a problem into a useful resource. We ensure that their powers serve humanity instead of threaten it.”
“You’ve made your point quite well,” Purnelle told Harper. “I’ve spent so long being ashamed of Ian…and afraid of what the neighbors would think if they found out about his…condition. I think this might be a better place for him.”
Harper smiled at that. “With our help, he can become a productive member of society.”
Purnelle smiled at that, looking relieved, much to my disgust. Just from the few comments she’d made, she reminded me a little of my own mother…and not in a good way. It was clear that she was looking for a place to dump her son and wash her hands of him, and she thought that she’d found just the spot.
“From what you’ve told me,” Harper continued, “Ian generates a large amount of electricity. We won’t know for certain until we test him, but we should be able to harness this power to enhance the power grid… Think of all that clean energy, without any cost or pollution…”
I glared down at them with a cold fury, and for a moment, I seriously thought of dropping down on their heads and cutting loose. However, I restrained myself and held back. I was here to scout, not to lead the charge. It was with a great deal of effort that I turned and made my way back out of the warehouse.
About ten minutes later, I returned to where Brandywine and the STAR League were waiting, arriving about the same time as Tabby Cat. From the look on my friend’s face, she’d seen the same things I had, and wasn’t any happier about it.
“I just confirmed everything they said about the Triangle,” Tabby Cat told her team with a look of barely restrained fury in her eyes. “There are approximately two dozen people in the building, with three of them being imprisoned mutants.”
“They also have four power frames and enough guns to give any redneck a hard-on,” I added.
Tabby Cat nodded agreement. “Their stockpile suggests they have larger plans than this.”
Falcon scowled deeply and demanded, “How the hell did they set this up in our backyard, without us even knowing about it?”
“They’ve been careful not to make any real trouble,” Lightwave pointed out.
“Yeah,” Linebacker agreed. “Unlike Humanity First, they haven’t been pulling any protests or threatening violence against mutants.”
“No,” Brandywine said with an angry expression of her own. “They’ve just been doing it all behind closed doors.”
“Then whatsay you all go knock on the door,” I suggested with a mock cheerfulness that I didn’t feel, “while I sit back and watch with a bowl of popcorn?”
Brandywine gave me a look of disgust while Tabby Cat gave me a more skeptical look. “Are you sure you don’t want to come play?” Tabby Cat asked me. “It might be fun.”
“Well, since you pulled my tail,” I said.
“DON’T pull her tail,” Brandywine quickly warned them, much to my amusement. It seemed that she really had learned from Fuzzy Wuzzy’s mistake.
“You all do whatever it is that heroes do,” I said, giving a dismissive gesture. “I’ll slip in the back door and open the cages.”
After this, I let the heroes continue with their plans while I returned to the warehouse and slipped back inside. I found Jerome, Munchkin, and Midas almost exactly where I’d left them. Munchkin’s cell door was still open, though she made absolutely no move to leave. Instead, she seemed focused on her work station and the devise she was building.
Back in Fiddleback’s headquarters, I’d been able to free his prisoners and get them to another room before the heroes ever made their move. However, this time was different. The warehouse was too open, which meant that the cells were in easy view and there wasn’t really any place to move them. Because of that, I had to wait and use the heroes as a distraction.
I waited where I was until I heard the signal, a loud ‘BOOM’ from the front of the warehouse. Heroes never seemed to know how to make a quiet entrance. I dropped my chameleon field and dropped off the rafters. I used my PK aura to absorb most of the impact as I landed, and then I rolled in order to mitigate the rest.
As soon as I was done, I popped right back to my feet, gave a sweeping bow to the cages, and announced, “TA DAAA”.
“What the hell?” Jerome demanded, jumping to his feet and staring at me with a look of shock and confusion.
“The fabulous Imp, at your service,” I said with a grin. “Now, let’s get you out of there so you can get your tail out of here…”
“Who are you?” Jerome demanded, giving me a worried look. “What do you want?”
I just stared back at the boy. He had dark skin with his black hair tied back in thin corn rows. His irises were a glowing golden color, and I saw glowing veins beneath his skin, enough to give him an odd look and really make him stand out. I wondered if he was an energizer as well as a healer, but this wasn’t the time to ask.
“Duh,” I responded with a roll of my eyes. “I just told you. I’m the beautiful, talented, and fabulous Imp. And if you make me tell you again, I’ll add even more descriptions.” I flashed him a grin, then reached out and sliced the cell lock open with my PK claws. “Come on kid, you’re being rescued. You all are…”
Munchkin stared up at me, then began screaming, “HELP! INTRUDER!”
“Shut up!” Jerome snapped at her.
I shook my head in disgust. “You’re welcome to stay if you want, short stuff, but we’re going.” I looked at Midas. “You want to run away and join the circus too?”
“What?” Midas asked, looking confused.
I let out an exasperated sigh. “Do you want to come or not?” Before he could answer, I sliced through the lock on his cage, giving him the choice of whether to come or not. “Heroes are on their way in, so we’d better be on our way out so as not to get caught in the crossfire.”
“Are you a hero?” Jerome asked, giving me a suspicious look.
I gasped in offense. “Absolutely not. Hero is a four letter word… However, I am a thief, and I’ve been hired to steal you away from the Triangle…by the good guys.”
Unfortunately, Munchkin was still screaming, and someone actually heard her over the heroes breaking down the door. Several men ran towards us and began shooting, spraying bullets everywhere. I threw myself on Jerome and knocked him to the ground. There was a shriek of pain from Munchkin’s cell, and one glance was enough to let me see that she’d taken a couple shots in the torso. Unless she was a regen or something, odds were that she was already dead. Though how they could hit the midget while completely missing three larger targets, I had no idea.
“Don’t worry,” I assured Jerome and Midas, who’d ducked for cover on his own. “They’re Stormtroopers because they obviously can’t hit what they aim for…”
This was definitely NOT my thing. I wasn’t built for fights like this, or for getting other people to safety. However, I couldn’t ditch Jerome and Midas now.
“They’re gonna shoot our asses,” Jerome exclaimed in a panic.
“Naw,” I responded in a cheerful tone. “We’re not wearing red shirts…” I paused to glance down at myself. My uniform did include a nice bit of red in it. Oh well. “We’ll be fine… Hell, I could go over there and give them wedgies, and they wouldn’t be able to hit me…”
“You’re crazy…” Jerome exclaimed.
I just grinned, and in my best ‘redneck’ accent, said, “Hold my chardonnay and watch this.”
I leapt to my feet and threw a couple of throwing spikes at the gunmen, hitting one on the shoulder and grazing the other in the thigh. Both screamed in pain and were distracted enough for what came next. I focused my PK aura in front of me as much as I could and charged forward.
One of the gunmen got his act together enough to shoot, but he hit the small PK shield I’d put up in front of me and adjusted to make sure that was what he’d hit. One shot hit it and bounced off, and then I was on them.
“SUPER WEDGIE!” I yelled out, knocking their guns aside and then slipping around behind one of them. He yelped out as I gave the atomic wedgie, and a moment later, I leapt at the other one and gave him the same treatment. “Next time, you losers get the swirlie treatment.”
“That was fucking awesome,” Jerome exclaimed, staring at me with something that might even be respect. “Seriously screwed up, but awesome…”
“Insane,” Midas grumbled, giving me a worried look. “I think she’s a lunatic.”
“Only on days that end in a Y,” I said cheerfully. That didn’t make him look any happier.
The sound of gunfire and explosions came from the main entrance of the warehouse, so my two rescue pets looked in that direction with fear in their eyes. Jerome asked, “Is there a back door?”
“Sure,” I responded with a grin. “It’s in the back.”
I’d found the back door during my scouting, but they’d put a plate of steel over the thing and bolted it into place. A pretty decent way of sealing it off, but it left the Triangle with only one way in or out of this place, which meant that they’d trapped themselves and actually had to beat the heroes in order to escape.
“Good luck with that,” I muttered. Then I turned my attention to the back door. “Okay, this is going to take a bit of work.”
Instead of trying to cut through both the door and steel plate, I went to the wall a short distance away and formed one of my PK claws. This was much easier to slice through, and in just a minute, I’d created an opening big enough for Jerome and Midas to get through.
I got the two of them away from the warehouse and behind some cover, then told them, “You two wait here.” Then I ran back into the warehouse, mostly because I wanted to watch the show.
Brandywine and the STAR League were still fighting the Triangle, though the good guys were clearly winning. In spite of their arsenal, most of the Triangle members weren’t trying to fight. They were trying to escape past the heroes. However, not all of the Triangle was simply trying to escape. Four members were piloting their power frames.
Two of the power frames were Knight of Purity models, which looked a bit off, and not just in the paint colors. It looked like at some point, they’d probably been severely damaged and had then been put back together again in someone’s garage. They were salvaged units. One of the power frames looked like an older and bulker version of Mauler, and had probably been created by the same guy, Major Upgrade. The last power frame was smaller and sleeker than the others, as well as being of a design I didn’t recognize.
“Now, all I need is some popcorn,” I mused. “Go heroes…”
Then I let out a sigh of disgust, wondering when I’d started cheering for the heroes. That was NOT a habit I wanted to get into, even if I was dating one. If word got out that I’d ever said that, even a whisper, I’d never hear the end of it.
My eyes went to Brandywine, who was floating in the air, fighting the faux Mauler with her telekinesis. The armor was too heavy for her to just pick it up and throw it across the warehouse, but she was pushing it back, knocking it down, and throwing random crap at it. From where I stood, it looked like she was slowly wearing it down.
The STAR League were dealing with the three remaining power frames as well as the individual gunmen. Tabby Cat ran from one gunman to another, disarming them…though not literally. However, she did leave them all a bit bruised, scratched, and no longer a threat. As I watched, she pounced on one as if he was big mouse.
“I need some catnip,” I said with a giggle. “Or maybe a stick with some feathers on it.”
Tabby Cat must have heard me, because she looked in my direction with a wry expression. I just shrugged and blew her a raspberry.
For a brief moment, I thought about jumping into the action, but that quickly passed. This wasn’t my kind of fight, and there was no reason for me to get involved any more than I already was. Sure, I REALLY didn’t like the Triangle, but I had my own ways of dealing with guys like them, and this wasn’t it.
Then I noticed one of the Triangle gunmen taking aim at Brandywine, with what looked like some kind of energy rifle. And since he was behind her, she wasn’t even going to see it coming.
“HEY, JERKY,” I yelled out, getting the man’s attention, right as I threw one of my spikes at him. I’d thrown it with a little extra oomph, courtesy of my abilities, and hit the side of his weapon. The whole thing exploded in a burst of sparks while he yelled in pain.
Brandywine snapped around to see what was causing the noise, and her eyes went wide as she saw her would be attacker. A moment later, she gestured at him, and he was sent flying back a good twenty yard. Then she glanced to me with a strange expression, gave a nod of acknowledgement, and turned her attention back to the faux Mauler.
After this, the fight ended pretty quickly. The STAR League were just finishing off the last of their three power frames and were turning their attention to the rest of the loose guards. Brandywine had the faux Mauler on the rope when Linebacker charged and started tearing the power frame to pieces. Seconds later, he began tearing the pilot out of the wreckage.
“I bet it’s Red Herring,” I exclaimed, pointing at the faux Mauler suit.
“What are you talking about?” Brandywine demanded.
Linebacker tore open the rest of the armor and pulled out the pilot, a very angry and terrified looking Harper. “Jinkies,” I gasped in mock surprise. “It was old man Harper the entire time…” I waited for someone to make a line about meddling kids, but nobody did, much to my disappointment. With a sigh of exasperation and a sad shake of my head, I muttered, “No respect for the classics.”
Tabby Cat came over and put a comforting hand on my shoulder, and then for my benefit, she called out, “Okay gang, let’s head back to the Mystery Machine.” Brandywine looked at her as if she was crazy while I just grinned in contentment.
Providence RI, Wednesday late afternoon, Nov 14th 2007
It was done. I’d finished my mission. Jerome Hubbard had been rescued, and the Triangle…or at least this cell of the Triangle, was kaput. Now, all that was left was to collect my pay and get back to school. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be quite that quick or easy.
Before the fight had even ended, the cops had begun to arrive, followed a short time later by some feds. The heroes all stuck around to deal with that, including Brandywine, and I didn’t want to just leave her behind. So, while the heroes took care of the arrests and cleanup, I slipped out of sight and waited until things had cooled down a bit.
I watched from hiding as the Triangle members were hauled out in handcuffs. There were a couple guys from the ATF, who seemed especially interested in their stockpile of weapons. However, I noticed that one of the cops had a Triangle pin on his lapel, which he quickly removed once he arrived on scene, so it looked like they had a friend on the inside. That wasn’t my business though.
Jerome and Midas talked with the cops, and the feds, and finally the STAR League, before they were taken away. It was after this, and after the heroes moved away from the warehouse, that I finally came out of hiding.
“Jerome and Midas have to make their official statements,” Tabby Cat told me. “But we have some people I trust watching over them both. I can guarantee that they’ll be on the plane home by tomorrow morning.”
“Good,” I said, relieved that they were going to be all right
I felt a little bad about Munchkin, but it was her own friends in the Triangle who’d killed her, so I didn’t let myself feel too bad. After all, if she’d gone along with the escape instead of ratting us out, she’d still be alive and even free.
“I should be back at Whateley tomorrow too,” I said. “This was a fun break, but It’ll be nice to get back to my classes.”
Tabby Cat nodded in understanding. “I know what you mean. I’ll be back there in a couple days myself.” Then she gave me an amused look as she added, “I have to design a new sim for a couple of my students.”
“Me too,” I said with a grin. “I think it’s time my apprentice gets a little heist experience. You wanna help me design it?’
“I’d love to,” Tabby Cat responded with a smile of her own.
Brandywine came over to where we were talking and asked, “What are you two so excited about?”
Tabby Cat chuckled. “We were just talking about designing a training sim for Imp’s apprentice.”
“YOU have an apprentice?” Brandywine gasped, giving me a look that seemed equal parts surprise and concern.
“Of course,” I responded cheerfully. “Doesn’t everyone?”
“She’s a real character too,” Tabby Cat said with a chuckle. “Mischief is almost as crazy as Imp is.”
“MISCHIEF?” Brandywine nearly screamed. Her eyes bulged out so far that for a moment, I thought they were going to pop right out of her head, just like in a cartoon. That would have been interesting to see.
Tabby Cat gave her a curious look. “From your reaction, I assume you know her…”
“Mischief is her niece,” I explained, getting a look of surprise from the hero.
“What the hell are you doing with Melissa?” Brandywine demanded angrily.
“Teaching her,” I answered seriously. “Lock picking, pick pocketing, escape, and evasion. Basically, the same things she’s already learning in her survival class, just in a little more detail.”
Brandywine glared at me, and for a moment, I thought she was going to attack. “What gives you the right…?”
“I’m a teacher,” I told her evenly. “So, I’m teaching her what I know. And yes, Ryan knows about it.”
Brandywine froze as I used her brother’s real name. “What…?”
“I told you,” I said, “I know a lot of real names. And in this case, he even gave his blessing, because I’m teaching Melissa how to survive, so that something like what happened with Jack Ass and Pair of Dimes doesn’t happen to her again. She’s got a knack for getting in trouble, so I’m giving her the tools to get herself out of it.”
Tabby Cat had watched this exchange without saying anything until now. “I’ve seen Imp working with her, and can assure you that your niece is in good hands.” She paused at that, then added, “And if you are concerned, you should talk to Melissa’s father. I can confirm that he knows about this.”
Brandywine stared at me before growing, “You can be sure I’m having a talk with my brother.”
“Good,” I said cheerfully. “Family should talk with each other.”
“Things are never boring around you,” Tabby Cat told me in an amused tone. Then she looked over to her husband, who was talking with the rest of her team. “Next time you come visit, we’ll have to invite you over for dinner.”
Brandywine’s eyes went wide at that, since she obviously had a hard time believing that I was on such good terms with a hero that I’d be invited to dinner. I grinned at that, wondering if I should mention how many meals the two of us had already shared.
“I’d like that,” I said. “Though I’m not sure your husband or friends would approve.”
“They can deal with it,” Tabby Cat told me with a smirk.
After this, Tabby Cat went over to join her husband and friends, leaving me with Brandywine, who still wasn’t happy about the latest revelation. I just chuckled, thinking that if she was this shaken about finding out that Melissa was my apprentice, how bad would it be if she found out about me and Ryan?
“You saved my life,” Brandywine abruptly said. “My armor wouldn’t have protected me from that shot.”
I shrugged at that. “We were partners for this mission, and partners watch each other’s backs.” Then I grinned and added, “And Melissa never would have forgiven me if I’d let you get shot.”
“There is that,” Brandywine responded with a faint smile of her own. “But thank you.”
Brandywine turned and walked away, and I was about to follow. However, I paused for a moment first to adjust my backpack, which was riding a little uncomfortably thanks to the gold ingots I’d ‘found.’
“I saved a kid,” I mused to myself, “earned some brownie points with the boss, and even made a nice little profit. Not a bad ending for the mission.”
Shielders Headquarters NJ, Thursday late morning, Nov 15th 2007
It was strange to walk through the front doors of the Shielders’ headquarters, while fully visible and in the open. I’d done this once before, after returning from the raid in Fiddleback’s headquarters, but for some reason, this time I was a little more aware of it.
Brandywine and I had finished up in Rhode Island last night, and had spent one more night as roomies before returning to New Jersey. I was just thankful that the STAR League had provided the transportation this time, so I didn’t have spent countless more hours being trapped in a car with Brandywine.
“It’s good to be home,” my companion announced.
“There’s no place like home,” I agreed, thinking of my nice comfy Imp lair in Manhattan, as well as my newer home at Whateley.
When we stepped into the war room, I saw that Chickenhawk was already there, along with the three remaining Shielders. I gave Chickenhawk a nod of acknowledgement, though I rather would have given him a kiss. However, I didn’t think that would go over too well with this crowd.
“So, were there any problems with your rescue?” Brandywine asked the rest of her team.
“Not too many,” the Emerald Avenger answered. “We tracked down the mad scientist…Doctor Malevolence…and got the other kids away from him before he could pull any of his experiments.”
“Where do these lunatics even come from?” Brandywine grumbled.
“The tech track at Whateley,” I answered cheerfully, even though they hadn’t asked me. Of course, I had absolutely no idea if Doctor Malevolence was a Whateley alumni or not, but I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised.
With my comment, Brandywine fixed her brother with a flat look that promised they were going to have a little talk. Obviously, my comment about Whateley had reminded her about Melissa, and how I’d been teaching her. Now this was a conversation I wouldn’t mind listening in on…from a safe and well-hidden spot in the corner.
“Doctor Malevolence tried escaping,” Miss Magic said with an amused smile, “but Polarstorm froze him in his tracks.”
Fuzzy Wuzzy puffed up a little at that, until he saw me. “Why the hell did you bring HER back here?”
“For debriefing on the mission,” Brandywine answered him. “And besides, she insisted on coming back to collect her paycheck.” She gave me a disapproving look, still ignoring the fact that she and her team were being paid as well.
“We should stuff her in the same hole as Malevolence,” Fuzzy Wuzzy snarled, glaring at me.
I gave a look of mock hurt. “And to think, I brought you a piece offering…”
“What?” Fuzzy Wuzzy demanded with a confused expression that only grew more suspicious when I held out a shoe box. He came over and snatched the box out of my hand, then cautiously opened it, as if afraid a snake would jump out. A moment later, he pulled out the contents, a shaggy brown toupee. “What the hell is this?”
“A PIECE offering,” I responded with a grin, putting the emphasis on ‘piece’. And then, in case he hadn’t caught it, I added, “A hair piece offering…”
Chickenhawk and Miss Magic both struggled to keep from laughing while Fuzzy Wuzzy threw the toupee and box onto the ground, then glared at me even more intensely. He took a couple threatening steps towards me, though I remained where I was, silently daring him to attack.
“Polarstorm,” Brandywine exclaimed. “While I fully understand your grudge against her, this is not the time or place.”
At the same time, Chickenhawk told me, “Please stop taunting him.”
“He started it,” I responded at the same time Fuzzy Wuzzy exclaimed, “She started it.” Both of us just glared at each other.
After this, everyone sat down around their table, myself included, and we began going over everything that had happened lately. It was pretty boring, not to mention unnecessary since everyone already knew what was going on, courtesy of either being there or having already been updated during our email exchanges.
Finally, Miss Magic began to summarize. “Fiddleback has been taken into custody and ten of the hostages were recovered from him. We followed several leads to Doctor Malevolence and took him into custody as well, recovering six of the remaining hostages.”
At this point, Brandywine took over and gave her own summary of our little mission, which was double redundant because we’d already talked about this a few minutes ago in more detail. “The Imp and I followed the trail to Rhode Island, where we found the final hostage in the hands of the Triangle. With the help of the STAR League, we freed the last of the kids who’d been kidnapped, along with one more prisoner.”
“You’re just lucky she didn’t stab you in the back,” Fuzzy Wuzzy snarled, still glaring at me.
Chickenhawk scowled, not looking happy. He was about to say something when Brandywine responded, “Actually, she kept someone else from shooting me in the back. The Imp saved my life.”
I got a couple looks of surprise from that, including from Fuzzy Wuzzy, so I just shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Unless anyone else has something to add,” Miss Magic said, “it looks like we can declare this mission complete.”
I started to raise my hand, grinning as I did so. However, Brandywine glared at me and snapped, “Don’t.”
“Party pooper,” I teased. Chickenhawk tried to hide a snicker. “That reminds me,” I told him with an anticipatory grin. “I believe that I’ve fulfilled the terms of our deal.”
“Of course,” Chickenhawk said. All the Shielders were watching us closely now. “As you told me previously, the rules of your profession won’t let you help heroes unless you’re personally involved or being paid.”
“Correct,” I agreed. “I might be retired, but I do still have a reputation to maintain.”
Chickenhawk and I got out of our chairs and stepped off to the side a little where we could talk face to face. “You did a great job, but I knew you would which is why I asked for your help. Nobody is as good at sneaking past security as you are.”
“It’s nice to be appreciated,” I responded, buffing my nails on my shirt.
“Nobody is as big a pain in the ass is she is,” Fuzzy Wuzzy growled.
“There is that too,” Chickenhawk agreed with a chuckle. I stuck my tongue out at him. “So, I’ve decided to give you a bonus. I’m giving you double what we agreed on.”
“WHAT?” Brandywine exclaimed from the table. She definitely looked offended now, which only made me grin wider.
“So,” I asked eagerly. “I get two scoops of ice-cream in my sundae?”
“Along with extra nuts and a cherry,” Chickenhawk agreed.
“How about three?” I pushed.
Chickenhawk snorted. “Don’t push your luck.”
“Fine,” I grumbled with a mock pout. “But next time, I’m holding out for a banana split.”
With that, Chickenhawk and I turned and started to leave so we could take care of my payment. The looks on the Shielders’ faces…especially Brandywine’s…almost would have been payment enough. Almost.