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Diane Castle / Ayla / Ayla and the Birthday Brawl / Part 13

Ayla and the Birthday Brawl

by Diane Castle (and the usual troublemakers)

CHAPTER 13 – The Legend of Gloriana, or of Glory

 

Captain Tilley called the emergency number the Goodkind girl had given him.  When the other party answered, he was so surprised he dropped the damn phone.

Doyle just gasped, “How the fuck…”

 

ROXBURY C

The Necromancer checked the time and commanded Lieutenant Gregory, “Now call your intermediaries at the radio station so you can alert the Lamplighter about a museum heist.  It is the Richardson Clarke Gallery on Newbury.  You will say that witnesses identified Lady Darke and The Necromancer in person.”

“Yes sir.”

Then he turned to one of the voiced jailers.  “Use your speaker system.  Announce there is a Code Red crisis.  Call everyone for an emergency meeting in the guards’ hallway.”

“Yes sir.”

 

THE RESTAURANT

Fey stopped the group just before they stepped outside.  She looked at Ayla.  “Are we ready?”

Phase grimaced, “Yeah.  I figured we’d better come prepared for this.”  He stepped over to Generator and said, “Pull them out, please.”

Generator pulled out her purse and reached inside.  Nine packages, each the size of a bookbag, came flying out.  Each one was marked with an image.  Phase tossed them to his teammates, keeping for himself the one with the gray capital ‘P’.

Generator pouted, “Can’t mine still have the butterfly wings and the pixie dust?”

Phase snapped, “No.  It’s bad enough the thing is pink.”

“You are no fun at all,” Generator muttered.  “No Fun Guy.”

Phase explained, “Same as last time, except I got Cecilia to improve the costumes.  More armor.  More protection from fire and acid and such.  More holdouts, especially for Chaka and ‘Dancer.  A variety of headmasks.  Fey’s special charms on each one so we can’t be photographed clearly this time.  And no stupid chest icons.”

“Hey!  I liked mine!”

Rip looked at the package in her hands and checked, “So I get a costume too?  The whole deal?”

Phase nodded tersely.  “The whole deal, including one of The Spots for commo.  Just don’t get hurt.”

Fey whispered words of power, and the air shimmered with an eldritch energy.  A flash of arcane light erupted from her body, and around each of the others iridescent flashes echoed it.

Phase looked down at his uniform.  At least he’d gotten rid of that stupid ‘P’ for Phase that was on the old version of the uniform.  And he was wearing his new headmask, complete with Bunny-gizmos.

Generator looked down at her uniform, which was a sparkly white with pink trim.  “I liked the old one better!” she complained.

The others didn’t say anything about their uniforms.  They were in varying shades of off-white, with colored trim that meant something to them, if not to any opponents.  Of course, that was why Phase had been so fired up to get the identifying images off their chests.  Actually, they could look at the uniforms and tell who was wearing them by the shape of the body inside, even if they couldn’t see the colored trim.  But the trim was enough marking for any Kimba.  They all knew the cyan color went with Tennyo’s hair, the red color went with Fey’s hair, and the saffron color went with Bladedancer’s background.  They all knew Shroud was in black and Phase’s uniform had gray trim with that Spiderman-like headmask.

Riptide looked down at herself.  She was in a really well-made off-white uniform with ocean-blue trim.  She could see that her uniform had protective reinforcing at the shins and forearms, plus special gel padding at the crotch and breasts.  She could  feel that the uniform had additional hidden armor throughout.  And the facemask was pretty cool, too.  She said, “All right!  This is better than most of the senior teams!”

Chaka snarked, “Welcome to another episode of ‘Life with Ayla’, brought to you by the fine folks at Goodkind International.  Remember our slogan.  We don’t make things better, we make them mutant-proof.”

Phase said, “If you’re done trying out for the Comedy Club, we’ve got missions.  Chaka and Rip?  Limo one.  I’m calling and telling him where to drop you off.”

Phase turned his head.  “Now ‘Dancer and the J’s.  You’ve got limo two.  I’ll make that call too.  He’ll drop you off at the top level of the Threeport Hotel’s parking, where the SWAT teams are setting up a command center.”

“Okay!  Let’s go.”

“Your chariot awaits, madame,” teased Chaka.

Fey muttered, “Only on Phase’s team do people zoom off to do superheroing in limos.”

 

“I can help ‘em!”

“I’m ready to go too!”

“And me!”

“Me too!”

“We can all help!”

Samantha Everheart bellowed, “SIT DOWN!”  She didn’t like playing ‘bad cop’ here, but she had to keep a dozen un-deputized high school children from rushing off and getting themselves killed.  She really hated that she had needed to let nine high school children rush off already, especially when some of them might get killed.  The only good part of this was that she was seeing Trews and Green were really good at their jobs.  She still thought of them as Payola Platoon creeps, but they were both walking among the kids, quietly talking people into sitting down and not going off half-cocked.

But not everyone was sitting down, and the people most ready to make a break for it were exactly the ones Sam was anticipating.  Wallflower, Mega-Girl, Delta Spike, and Loophole were all still on their feet, and Mega-Girl was about to fly right out through the plate glass of the front window.

Sam suddenly shifted into the appearance of a middle-aged male admiral.  “MEGA-GIRL!  SIT!  THAT IS AN ORDER!”

“…Umm, yes… sir.”  Mega-Girl reluctantly sagged into a chair.  Delta Spike sighed, but had sat down even more hurriedly.

Sam shifted back to her normal form and insisted, “That goes for you too, Wallflower.”

Wallflower looked at her with worried eyes.  “But Lancer…”

“Is deputized in this city, and you are not.  Neither am I.  So we do what we’re supposed to do.”

Wallflower stubbornly said, “But I can make a couple phone calls, and I think my folks could get me a temporary deputization for the Boston Met Area…”

Sam looked at the worry in Lily’s eyes, and said, “Make the calls.  Just don’t expect the deputization to come through soon enough to do any good.”

Wallflower swallowed hard and said, “Maybe S.T.A.R. League can get down here fast enough to help?  Providence isn’t that far away.  Boston Metro doesn’t usually let ‘em come in for normal stuff, but this is bigger than usual…”

Sam sighed, “You can give it a try.  Any help right now would be good.”

Lily reached into her belt and pulled out a cell phone that was bigger than the pocket.  She started making phone calls.

Sam already knew Wallflower and her team had utility belts like that.  She had checked them in for the holographic sims.  She also knew S.T.A.R. League had some utility belts like that, according to their public files.  It wasn’t surprising they had given their children some similar equipment… although it was possible Dredz had built these.  Sam still didn’t know which case was correct, or even if it could matter in the future.  Still, she mentally marked it as ‘to be checked on later’.

Loophole walked right up to the Security officer.  “Ma’am, Wallflower may not be deputized in the Boston Metropolitan Area, but Ah’m a Federal Air Marshal, and as such-”

Everheart cut her off.  “As such, you are not authorized to engage here unless martial law has been declared specifically under section 421.3 or 422.1 of the municipal code; or if under section 425.1 or 425.2, emergency paranormal assistance is requested by the mayor, the deputy mayor, the chief of police, or – if none of them are capable of making such a request – one of the people in charge according to sections 21.2, 21.3, and 21.4 of the code.  I already checked.  You’re not the only Air Marshal in the room.”

"Yes ma’am.  But Ah believe you misunderstand mah intention.  Pursuant to Title 16 Annotated Code of the United States, specifically 16-421-389a, which requires me to offer mah assistance to the senior law enforcement officer present, or if none are present to act according to mah best judgment.  As of this moment, mah best judgment is stay out of the way of law enforcement on scene unless specifically asked otherwise.  So, if ya'll would kindly pass along mah volunteer'n to Captain Tilley or whomever, Ah'd be right obliged, Admiral.  Thank you."  Loophole quietly went back to her seat.

Adrienne whispered to Joe and Anna, “Wow, did she just out-Loophole Loophole?”

Joe muttered, “Nope, but I’d call it pretty close to a tie.”

Everheart heard the kids, and acted as if she hadn’t.  She was concentrating.  The message from Mrs. Potter was for her.  Fey had left with the other deputized students except Bugs.  So was the warning about the cast iron for Fey at all?  If so, why had it come through her?  If not, what did it mean?  Her analysis was hopeless.  She didn’t have enough information to use the message in a way that would yield a workable plan.

‘Relax and enjoy the food.’  Christ.  Like anyone could relax or enjoy the food now.  It was no wonder people hated precognitives.

 

ROXBURY C

Obsession pointed at the locked door and said, “This is the one I want.  Open it.”

“Yes ma’am,” the guard obeyed.

She stepped in.  A middle-aged man sat there, surrounded by magical wards.  He looked up at her in surprise.

She pulled off her helmet and smiled.  “Daddy?  I’ve come to take you home.  Mom’s waiting for us at the timeshare.”

Compulsion looked at his only daughter and smiled.  He really smiled, for the first time in a very long time.

Obsession turned to one of her minions and said, “Bring the SWAT van over to the tunnel.  We’re going to be leaving at once.”

The SWAT officer rushed to obey.

Obsession made a mental note.  The Necromancer no longer owed Compulsion that debt.  Now she and her family owed Darrow.  Bigtime.  And she was fully aware that he would collect on it.  Darrow was that kind of person.  But she had her dad back, and she’d make a hell of a lot of sacrifices for that.

 

THE RESTAURANT

“SWAT 2.  SWAT 2, come in.  Please contact Captain Tilley on Tac 3 at once.”

Lieutenant Graber rubbed his forehead and flipped the dial on the radio.  “Graber here, sir.”

“Graber, Darrow is playing funny games with us.  He’s got a hostage crisis going.  Just not where you are.  Grab SWAT 4 and meet me at the Threeport Hotel, in the parking garage, top level.  We can’t set up a command center any closer than that, because Henry Boothroyd-Merriman ID’ed one of the perps as Pointer.”

“Pointer?  Sorry sir, I don’t know who that is.”

“He’s a PDP.  He’s got some empath or telepath powers.  If we work too close to him, he’ll read us.  And Pointer usually works with three other guys, including Hacker.  So we need maximum computer security on our gear.  We’ll have to assume they could have the hotel computer and phone systems under their control.”

“Great.  Just great.”  Graber checked with his driver, who signaled they were ready to move out.  “We’ll be there in under ten minutes.”

Graber waited until Captain Tilley signed off.  Then he called the other SWAT van.  “SWAT 4?  Head ‘em up and move ‘em out.  We’ve got to get over to the Threeport ASAP.  That’s where the real hostage crisis is.”

“Roger that, Lieutenant.  But what’s the point?  We’ve got two full SWAT units already in the field ready to go.  This has to be making things harder for the bad guys.”

Graber shrugged.  “Maybe they’ve been watching too many episodes of bad cop shows.”

Graber’s driver pulled out from behind the big refrigerator truck that was parked for the weekend behind Harrison’s Restaurant.  Graber got a quick traffic update and said, “Run silent.  There’s no traffic problems, so we ought to be there in minutes.”

They pulled out onto the streets, the second SWAT van right on their tail.

 

Fey looked up and down the street.  The two limos were just pulling out, and Chaka was in the back of one of them, giving her a thumbs-up.  She said, “We’ll do better without a limo.  I know how to get to Roxbury a lot faster.  I’ll use Tennyo.  It worked great in Monday’s sim.”

Lancer asked, “Will it work for real?”

“I don’t see why not,” Fey shrugged.

Ayla said, “You do know Roxbury Prison isn’t in Roxbury anymore?”

Tennyo said, “Umm, I was just gonna go where you told me.”

Fey closed her eyes and focused.  A sphere of green light surrounded the four teenagers.  It seemed to solidify until it looked like a green glass ball.  Then, as Tennyo lifted off the ground, it rose swiftly into the air.

 

ROXBURY C

Speed Queen zipped off the expressway and cut through the city streets toward The Pit, or Roxbury C as it was known in police circles.  She still didn’t believe The Necromancer could crack The Pit, but if he was going to try, then she needed to stop him.

She grimaced as she remembered how poorly her last run-in with him had gone.  She had ended up sitting helplessly in a magical box while those teenagers had torn the Children of the Night apart.  She didn’t like being shown up, but at least they were Whateley Academy teenagers.  And she had to admit it.  There was no way she could fight someone like Matterhorn, and that crew had three different kids who could knock him around like he was nobody.  She momentarily savored the sight of The Necromancer getting smashed into a billboard as that one girl swung Matterhorn about like a big party balloon.  Why couldn’t Boston have a superteam, maybe with her and that girl and the redheaded mage who had gone head-to-head with Darrow and chased him away with his tail between her legs?

She cut down the concrete road alongside the high chain-link fence topped with deviser wire that marked one edge of Roxbury B, the maximum security center for non-paranormal felons.  Then she saw him, and she sped up.

The Necromancer himself was standing there, right outside the entrance building for Rox C.  He was looking at the main doors, and he had his back to her.  This was perfect.

She sped up to her top speed and pulled out her nastiest weapon.  A police issue tactical baton.  When she hit him with that while running at over two hundred miles an hour, he was going down, and he was going to stay down.

He still hadn’t turned.  She swung her right arm back, and…

Suddenly her vision grayed out as she hit an immovable wall.  She felt like she had been hit with a baseball bat – on every part of her front side simultaneously.  And she didn’t bounce back.  She stayed there, frozen against something she couldn’t see.  Oh shit, she really was frozen.  She couldn’t move!  She was paralyzed!

Even worse, ‘The Necromancer’ faded into nothingness.  It was an illusion, set up as a trap.  For her.  How had he known she was coming?  And how had he known where she would run?  Oh right.  She had to cut down past Rox B, so he had set her up with that illusion to make her run right where he wanted.  And now she was trapped.

At least she could still focus her eyes some, even if she couldn’t blink.  She tried to look around.  Even moving her eyes was like wading through concrete…

That was when she realized that not forty feet from where she was trapped, there was a massive bomb set at one of the corners of the building.

Oh shit.

 

THE RESTAURANT

Major Spaulding looked around at the inside of the ‘refrigerator truck’ as he did one final systems check on his power armor before sealing it up tight.  He checked the comms again.  “Leader to Spiker.  Did you tag both SWAT vans?”

“Yes sir.  The gas’ll go off in…”  He checked the chronometer in his power armor.  “... thirty-seven seconds, putting them to sleep for hours.  That’ll cripple their forces for the hostage crisis.”

“Are we ready?”

“Yes sir.”

Spaulding checked, “Leader to Leader Two.  Got the deadman switch ready?”

“Ready.  C-4 is armed.  I’ll make the switch live as soon as we enter the restaurant.”

“Good.   Everybody locked and loaded?”

“Yes sir.”

Spaulding nodded.  You didn’t try to kill over a dozen mutants without using a lot of armor and firepower.  And anyway, restaurants like this one were too fancy for his tastes.  He wouldn’t mind if it did get blown to pieces.  That was why they’d positioned this fake refrigerator truck so close behind the restaurant anyway.  Fast access and simple demolitions.

 

Bunny pouted, “It’s always like this!  Three trips to Boston, and three giant fights!  And Nikki nearly got killed just going home for Christmas.  What is it with them?”

Jody patted her on the shoulder.  “Some people are just… important.  They get pulled into things because people need them to be there.  Like Lady Astarte or Champion.”

Bunny flared at her, “Champion’s dead, you know.  They go through Champions like Billie goes through hamburgers!”

Pilar tried to help.  “It’s not that bad.  They’re still on Champion IV, right?”

“Six.  They’re on Champion VI.  They last about ten, fifteen years before they get murdered.  There’s an Avatar back at school who knows he might end up having to be Champion VII.  I bet he’s real thrilled about it.”

Elaine said, “He’s really excited about it, if you have to know.  He wants it more than anything.  And he thinks he’ll be the one who doesn’t get killed.”

Bunny grumbled, “They all think that!  Stupid… heroes.”

Vanessa stood up for her boyfriend.  “Ayla’s not stupid.”  She didn’t say that Ayla was scared.  Really scared.  She knew that the second Ayla had kissed her goodbye.

 

THE HOSTAGE CRISIS

Jade looked over at Chou.  She had Jann doing what Ayla liked to call ‘emoto-vision’, which she thought was a dumb name.  And she could see Chou was concentrating hard, and was really upset.  She asked, “Are you okay?”

Chou opened her eyes and shook her head no.  “I am trying to feel the Tao, but I am not feeling anything.  Maybe I am… just doing a lousy job of focusing.”

“Or maybe there’s nothing to get yet.  Maybe things’ll be okay when we get there.”

Chou pretended to smile.  “Maybe.”

 

THE MUSEUM

Chaka watched as the limo pulled around Boston Common and stopped.  The limo driver pointed down a street and said, “The museum is halfway down that block there.”

“So why are we stopping here?” she asked.

“Miss Goodkind’s orders.  She thought Riptide would prefer it.”  The driver pointed into the park area.

Chaka craned her neck.  She sighed, “Ayla…”

Riptide turned to look.  And there it was, in the middle of a huge expanse of snow.  “It’s a lake!  For me!  Phase, I love you!”  Rip jumped out of the limo and headed toward the water.

<(Riptide) Am I coming in okay?  This is a little tricky.>

<(Chaka) Loud and clear, waterbaby.  I’m going in, since I’m the stealthy one.  The girl with the tidal wave ought to wait outside the nice dry museum that’s got the irreplaceable dry relics inside.>

<(Riptide) Good idea.>

<(Chaka) Of course it’s a good idea!>

<(Riptide) Huh?>

<(Chaka) You see?  This is why I keep Phase around.>

A weak, fractured signal came through.  <(Phase) Why can’t we be completely out of range before Chaka starts with the lame jokes?>

<(Chaka) Let me retract that last statement.>

 

THE RESTAURANT

Marshall Fielder rolled his mop bucket over to the swinging door into the party room.  He checked through the one-way mirror to see if there was anything he needed to do.  That uproar sounded like something big was going on.

Suzanne the sous-chef stalked over and snapped, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

He shrugged harmlessly and said, “I heard a bunch of noise, and I thought maybe there’d be stuff I needed to clean up.”  He wasn’t about to tell her that he was getting ready to alert the outside team and then charge in wielding two Colt .45’s loaded with explosive bullets.  Not that anyone could tell he was heavily armed, since both Colts were in waterproof baggies at the bottom of the opaque water in his mop bucket.

Suzanne fumed, “They’re a bunch of mutants!  Who the hell knows why they start yelling or what?  Just do your job, jerkoff.”

“Yes ma’am,” Marshall said.  He decided he was going to dump that bucket of dirty water on Suzanne’s head when he quit.  Assuming Janice hadn’t taken a couple of those carving knives and pinned the bitch to the wall first.  He wondered how much less the outside team was getting paid for this job, and if they were freezing their asses off out there, and whether the lowered pay and crappy weather would be enough to make up for having to put up with Suzanne the Snotty Chef for three solid days.

Janice looked up from her work to see if Marshall was finally going to lose it and punch that bleached-blond bitch right in the kisser.  She knew Marshall had some firepower hidden somewhere on him, even if he looked like he couldn’t be carrying more than a pack of cigarettes.  She only had a .38, in a concealed holster up under her skirt.  Not that she needed it when she was working with kitchen knives sharp enough that you could shank a rhino if you had to.  Not that she’d ever had to stab anything bigger than a drunk ex-pro defensive tackle who thought she was part of the buffet…

Meredith hurried through the door and into the kitchen.  She gasped, “You won’t believe this, but some of those kids just got called by the cops to go fight supervillains!”  She tried to sound naïve and clueless, instead of suspicious.  But she thought the kids who left the party looked too young to be legally deputized.  And one of them was that hottie ‘Hank’, and another was that Faerie babe.

Suzanne just snapped at her to stop gossiping and get back to work.  Meredith decided she was going to take the time to quit officially, just so she could tell people what a crappy manager that Suzanne was.  Maybe she could keep Suzanne from getting a promotion, or at least keep her from getting that next raise.

Marshall opened the swinging door and checked in the party room, just in case.  He could always justify it as looking for any spills to clean up.  At least the redhead was gone.  The last time, he had looked at her and frozen, even though he knew they were mutants.  But that redhead was the most gorgeous thing he’d ever seen.  The most gorgeous thing he’d ever imagined.  He hadn’t been able to stop staring, even when Janice came over and jabbed him in the back and hissed for him to get back to work.  Well, she froze too when she saw the redhead.  They just hadn’t been able to get Suzanne to step in there and look at the redhead and get frozen in place for an hour or two.

 

ROXBURY C

Eddie Delahanty was nervous enough that he was walking around with the safety cover off his emergency button.  One push, and everything would go.  The anesthetic gas, the security alarms, the stun guns, the attack robots, everything.  Normally, walking around without the molly cover closed and secured in place was a major offense.  You could get suspended for a week without pay for it.  But he didn’t care.  He was nervous enough that he really wished he had a couple shots of booze in his coffee thermos, because he needed a drink bad.

As soon as he heard the Code Red announcement, he sprinted for Hall G, the back hall where the guards had their lunchroom and break room and supply room and armory and all that other shit.  In his opinion, the best part of it was the back row of the supply room, where they kept a cot their supervisor didn’t know about, so they could get in a nap now and then.

He heard his brother-in-law and Bob Petersen and a couple other guys arguing with some SWAT guys.  He walked up behind them.  The SWAT guys were all pointing their guns his way, so he made sure he was way in the back of the crowd, just in case someone got trigger-happy.

Then he blinked.  The big, mean-looking SWAT guy at the back of their forces suddenly shimmered, and the air wavered around him.  The SWAT guy transformed into…  Oh crap!

It was The Necromancer himself!  Eddie opened his mouth to scream, but no sound came out.  A stream ran down his pants leg into his boot.

The Necromancer sneered at Eddie and pointed at the guards.  “Kill them!”

Eddie slapped the button as hard as he could.

 

THE MUSEUM

Chaka sprinted at her top speed down the sidewalk, outracing the cars driving down the road.  She was just in time to see a guard running out the front door and around the building.  What?  Was he after the crooks?

No, he couldn’t be.  His Ki was totally not guard-like.  He wasn’t pursuing a felon, he was running away.  She could sense worry and malicious intent.  That kind of stuff.  She followed him around the corner.

The ‘guard’ met up behind the museum with a guy carrying a pack of tools.  These guys were so not the good guys.  <(Chaka) Rip, hurry up, they’re already on the run.>

<(Riptide) I’m trying!  But the lake’s frozen over!>

Chaka sprinted at the guys, who spotted her.  They spun to face her, both of them moving away from the other guy like they’d practiced it.  And they pulled out guns.  The guard pulled a massive automatic off his belt.  The other guy yanked a submachine gun out of the pack.  She vividly remembered her last experience with machine guns.

“Son of a bitch!” she cursed under her breath.

 

THE RESTAURANT

“Settle down, settle down, we need to stop and think,” Everheart told the teenagers.  God, had she ever been like this?  Oh, hell yes.

Marty said, “I think we oughta call the Empire City Guard.  Maybe they’d let me help out!  They could say I’m an auxiliary team member, and then I could go help Phase, or I could go help Chaka, or…”

Sam held up a hand to stop her.  Amazingly, it worked.

Elaine asked, “Can’t we do anything?  I mean, we could split into three teams, and take off as a second wave to provide support, just in case…”

Sam asked, “And do you know where to go?”

Elaine’s face fell.  “Umm, Roxbury?”

“No.”

Elaine frowned, “But they said Roxbury Prison!”

Sam explained, “Roxbury Prison hasn’t been in Roxbury since 1987, when they built the new prisons.”

Doc said, “But it’ll be on Google Maps, and…”

Joe jumped in before Sam had to say anything else.  “You’re missing the whole point!  They need us to be here, and be safe, and be ready when they get back!”

“I don’t get you,” Marty pouted.

Joe snapped, “Do you really think Chaka can’t take out a couple museum burglars?  Sure she can!  That’s not the problem.  The problem is this is a Necromancer operation!  There’s gonna be people killed or hurt, and buildings blown up, and Christ only knows what else.  We need to be ready as backup, all right.  We need to be ready to help out the rescue teams, and the emergency medical teams!  We’ve got to sit down and map out who’s medical support, and who’s rescue support, and who goes where.”  He turned his head.  “Vera.  Can you do any healing spells?”

Vera looked down at the floor.  “I’m working on it, but… no.  It’s not that easy to learn how to… invoke the spells properly.”

Joe muttered, “Damn.”  He looked at Prism.  “Rich, that means you and me are the centers for the two medic support teams.  You’re our only Healer, so you’re going to get the serious cases.”  He looked around.  “Pilar!  I heard Bunny and you talking  about that thing you gave Ayla.  Can you, umm, secrete anesthetic, or something like that?”

Pilar admitted, “Yes, but I only know one kind of anesthetic.  And I would have to… umm… inject it.”

“Can you do that?”

Pilar blushed.  Her green skin turned a brighter green.  “Yes.”  She opened her mouth and her incisors lengthened into wicked-looking fangs.  She said, “But nobody likes you to bite them to give them a medicine.”

Joe grimaced, “If we need your talents that bad, nobody’s gonna be complaining about it.”  He looked around the room.  “Marty and Elaine.  Is there anyone in the room stronger than you two?”

Marty smiled a little bit.  “Probably not.”

“Okay, then you two are going to head up the rescue support.  If we need the muscle, you’re our go-to girls.  Adrienne, you can work with one of them.  Okay, Doc, can you summon your armor from here?  ‘Cause I sure can’t.  Not at this distance.”

Doc grimaced and admitted, “No, it’s too far away, and the transport system is too far away too.  Ah could get it here under its own power by flight in about twenty minutes, even faster than that if the Admiral’d let it go supersonic…”  A quick glance at Sam’s face had her dropping that idea.  “…But I was thinking about your teams, and I think we need to re-arrange people based on some sort of optimization criterion.  Now if we put together one joint medical-and-rescue team, and then we use the rest of us for…”

Sam sat down and smiled to herself.  If they were working this out among themselves, they wouldn’t be flying off and getting in trouble.  Plus, it sounded to her like Jericho had been learning a lot from Eldritch.  She knew someone who was going to get some extra credit in Team Tactics.

 

THE MUSEUM

Riptide raced to the lake.  Damn, she wished she could run as fast as Chaka, or at least run over the snow like Toni said Anna could do.  She should’ve brought her flight board, even if Ayla said no superhero stuff.  Maybe Jade could’ve hidden it in that purse of hers.

She got out to the lake… and it was frozen over.  Shit!  She ran out onto the lake.

Some old lady yelled at her, “Hey kid!  Yeah, you in the weird snowsuit!  It ain’t safe!  You could fall through the ice!”

Yeah?  Well she needed some thin ice right then.  Or Lancer, to punch some holes in this stuff.  She concentrated on the water underneath the ice, and she pulled as hard as she could.  A thin fountain of water erupted out of the ice right in front of her.  She pulled harder, until it was an eruption of water.  She pulled more, until it was a geyser.  Okay, it was ice-cold and not all that clean, but it was water.

She concentrated, and headed back toward the museum.

 

ROXBURY C

Tennyo flew as fast as she could, in the direction Phase was pointing.  Fey’s magical bubble trick was working pretty well, even if it was really hard pushing the whole bubble from the inside.  She was glad they’d figured it out Monday, even though she probably could’ve just grabbed Fey and Lancer and Phase and carried them.  But at 150 miles an hour, which was what she was guessing they were doing right then, she was worried maybe nobody but her would be able to breathe.

Phase looked around at the bright green sphere and snarked, “Been spending too much time reading Green Lantern comics lately?”

Lancer said, “Phase, I know you’re nervous, but this is for real.  No sims, no do-overs.  I want you to drop the chatter.  These are real felons who won’t think twice about killing any one of us.”

Phase winced, but just said, “I’ll give it my best shot.”

Tennyo said, “And another thing.  You gotta be prepared to do your disruption-light mode.  No more Mister Nice Guy here.  These guys are killers.  Real badass supervillains.”

Fey said, “I know you hate it, after what happened to Fireball, but you’ve got to be ready to do it.  It’s one of your best weapons.”

Lancer said, “Speaking of which, you’ve got your utility belt?”

Phase nodded, “Yeah.  Even if I wasted a couple eggs on Tennyo yesterday.”

Tennyo complained, “Man, I hate that stuff!”  She paused for a second and said, “Oh.  Right.  Good idea.”

Phase’s bPhone rang, and he quickly answered it.  As soon as he saw who was calling, he flipped it to speakerphone so the rest of the team could hear.  “Go ahead, Captain.”

Tilley said, “I wanted to give you a heads-up before you get to Rox C.  There’s some really bad dudes in there.  Just in case, I got the files on all the felons in Rox C sent up from there just yesterday.”

Lancer whispered, “How’d he know he’d need ‘em?”

Phase was wondering the same thing, but wasn’t going to interrupt Tilley.  He listened as Tilley ripped up some paper.

“Damn, they got these things secured like Fort Knox…  Okay, here’s what they sent us, and…”

After a second or two, Phase checked, “Captain?  Captain?  Are you there?”

“Yeah, I’m still here.  Son of a bitch…  They sent us their fucking grocery lists!  There’s not one single useful thing in here!  Doyle!  Who sent us this sack of shit?”

“A deputy supervisor named… umm… Eddie Delahanty.”

Tilley fumed, “Well, that little mick is gonna get deep-fried when I get my hands on his fucking neck.  He’ll be spendin’ the rest of his fucking life in Rox B!”

Phase muttered to his team, “Great, so we also have a traitor in Roxbury C helping Darrow out.”

Fey was concentrating hard on her magical sphere, but she still manage to grate out, “This just keeps getting worse.”

Tilley cursed over the bPhone, “Goddamn fucking sack of shit!  No wonder Darrow’s getting into Rox C if he’s got this fucktard workin’ for him!”

Lancer said, “This Delahanty guy may not be doing it of his own volition.  He may not even know he’s helping Darrow out.”

Tilley cursed some more, and then said, “Look, you already know Rox C has half the Children of the Night, plus Jabberwock and Matterhorn and Ironhawk.  You put ‘em there.  Ironhawk’s an Energizer under that power armor, so we couldn’t stick him in Rox B.  But there’s maybe another thirty or forty supervillains in there right now.  We try to move the ones who aren’t a super-powered threat into Rox B, like the mad scientists, and we move plenty of ‘em off to the bigger superjails, if it’s safe to let ‘em out of The Pit.  Some of ‘em, it ain’t.”

Phase asked, “So who do you have in there?”

Tilley admitted, “I don’t know all of ‘em.  I can tell you who my people put in there, and anyone else I can think of, but I really needed that list.”

Lieutenant Doyle said, “Lemme run down the hall and check with some people.  Maybe I can get something.”

Tilley went on, “Okay, you gotta be ready for this.  They got Compulsion and Mimeo and Crater in there.”

“Who?” Tennyo wondered.

Phase groaned out loud.  “This is bad.  Compulsion is a major Psi who specializes in mind control.  Which half of us are weak against.  Mimeo is a power mimic who makes Counterpoint look like Hannah Montana.”

Tilley muttered, “A power mimic?  Hell, Mimeo is the power mimic.  He eats entire superteams for breakfast all by himself.”

“Great,” frowned Lancer.

Tilley said, “And Crater is a big-time gravity warper.  Lemme think…  Okay, they got Cobrafire.  Skyhawk put him in there.  They got… ummm…  Shit, I can’t think of their names.  I call ‘em Click and Clack.  They’re twin brothers who got this Energizer and fake Exemplar thing going.  Shadowshell.  He’s one a’ these Manifesters with a PK shell, but it absorbs energy too.  The Black Tiger, he’s one of these Avatar guys.  The White Streak, he’s a speedster.  Hang on…”

They listened in as someone gave Tilley some news.  “WHAT?!  You’re shitting me!  BOTH of ‘em?”

“Yes sir.”

Tilley jumped back to the phone.  “I gotta go.  My SWAT teams for the hostage crisis are out of action.  Your pals better be damn good.”  The line went dead.

Phase groaned, “This just keeps getting more and more fun.”

Lancer said, “Okay, we know Cobrafire from the sims, and he doesn’t know us.  So we have some advantage.  Plus, there’s no telling who Phase is going to recognize.”

“Right, just put the extra pressure on me, I’m fine.”

Lancer looked at Phase and said, “Look, Captain Tilley’s got two full SWAT teams there already, plus Roxbury has its own forces.  And they’ve got to get out of Roxbury C first, right?”

“Right.”

Lancer nodded.  “Okay.  So we’re not going in there without a lot of support.  Not into a no-intel sitch with a mind controller and a major power mimic threat.  We’d just make things a dozen times worse.”

Phase snarked, “Gee, I guess you really did learn something in Team Tactics.”

Tennyo pointed out, “But Psi powers don’t work on Fey and me.  And my powers probably aren’t really mutant powers, so that Mimeo guy wouldn’t get anything off me, and copying Fey’s powers wouldn’t do him any good unless he was already a Wizard too and knew a bunch of spells.”

Phase pointed out, “Even if he just unleashed a couple hundred hobgoblins, it could be a major problem.”

Fey grinned evilly, “Hey, you’re not the only one with powers that are hard to handle at first.”

Lancer said, “Right.  So, here’s our Plan A.  Necro is going to be the key to pretty much everything they run.”

Fey muttered, “Oh yeah, like a glory hog quarterback.”

At the same time, Phase said, “Like a bad manager who won’t let anyone work on their own.”

Lancer kept going.  “So Fey engages directly.  We have to assume he’ll throw threats at each of us.  The first one of us who breaks free goes and tackles Necky from behind and takes him out.  Hard.  No playing Mister Nice Guy.  Phase, if that means disintegrating a hole through his chest with your arm, do it.”

Phase didn’t say anything, but he suddenly felt nauseous.

 

THE MUSEUM

Mister Black stared in disgust.  Another frigging superheroine to deal with.  Fine.  Superheroes love to have those big punch-outs with supervillains.  He didn’t care.  He just didn’t want to have to deal with them.  Bu this was one of the reasons he had a nice little Heckler & Kock MP5 in with the other gear for the job, along with a few 30-round magazines, just in case.  Superheroes were likely to be a hell of a lot tougher and faster than he was, but he hadn’t met any that were tougher and faster than a .40 S&W.

Mister Brown yanked his .50 out of his holster first, and let the superchick have it before Mister Black got the safety off of his MP5.  The chick just did this freaky thing that looked more like a hip-hop dance move than martial arts, except it was so damn fast he could hardly see her move.

Mister Black didn’t waste any time.  If Mister Brown couldn’t hit the chick at sixty feet with three shots, then it was time to introduce Miss Fancy Footwork to a couple dozen bullets.  He lined up to fire from the hip, and…

She made a lightning-fast twitch with her hand.  What?

He felt a hard whack against the gun, and he glanced down.  There was a frigging ninja star stuck point-first in the barrel!  That was impossible!

He tried to pull the ninja star out of the gun barrel, while the superchick closed with Mister Brown.  He could see Mister Brown was waiting until the last second to give the chick a .50 caliber tooth polishing.  The chick twitched again, and then…  WHAT?

He almost stopped working on the gun barrel, because the superchick did a gymnastics routine on Mister Brown.  She did a front flip over him, and then when he spun around to face her, she just jabbed him in the shoulder.

Mister Brown slowly toppled over backward like she’d turned him into a mannequin.

Mister Black was starting to get pretty frigging worried.  He didn’t know what the chick had done to his partner, but he’d never heard of any turn-you-into-a-mannequin powers before.  Had she paralyzed him?

At last!  The frigging ninja star came out of the barrel.  He threw it at her as a distraction while he lined up the MP5 on her.

She didn’t dive out of the way of the ninja star.  She didn’t ignore it so it bounced off her uniform, either.  She spun like a top, moving too fast for him to follow.  There was a smack like she’d slapped the ninja star out of the air, which he knew was impossible, and then the frigging star was coming back his way at about two hundred miles an hour, and…

He screamed as the throwing star caught him in the back of his right hand, and he dropped the MP5.  The chick was already in his face.  She smirked behind her mask, “Didn’t your mommy tell you not to play with sharp things?”  Then her arm moved.

Her arm moved so fast he never saw the punch.  He didn’t remember it afterward, except for a fast explosion of pain in his jaw, and then darkness.

 

Chaka looked around.  She spotted the guy inside the museum focusing on her.  She also spotted the guy in the florist’s truck, who was watching her in his rearview mirror as he peeled out.

She could chase the truck, but should she?

<(Chaka) Rip, come in.>

<(Riptide) I’m on my way!>

<(Chaka) Great.  You take out the florist’s truck.  I’m goin’ after the guy who ducked back into the museum.>

<(Riptide) Huh?  What’s wrong with florists?>

<(Chaka) Rip!  It’s the getaway car!>

<(Riptide) Oh.  On it.>

Chaka sprinted for the museum door, hoping this guy didn’t have a gun too.  She didn’t like guns.  And she didn’t want to get blamed if he shot up a million bucks worth of exhibits trying to hit her.

 

THE HOSTAGE CRISIS

Captain Tilley looked at his ‘command post’ and tried not to grumble.  Without his SWAT vans and SWAT personnel, he was down to the tactical radio in his squad car.  He had his regulation Second Chance IIIA soft armor on under his uniform, but he was putting on the heavy SWAT body armor he kept in the trunk, while his driver Officer Helmann did the same.  Counting what was in the trunk, they had six handguns, two M-16s with extra clips, one SWAT anti-riot shotgun with a box of reloads, one sixty pound Goodkind Industries mil-spec anti-brick gun with four reloads (which weighed twenty pounds each, the little bastards), one Goodkind high-power stun rifle, and two capture-net launchers.  Against a well-known team of supervillains who would eat this kind of gear for snacks.

He kept thinking about the kid Generator the last time.  That flying bit with the butterfly wings and the pixie dust.  That was just plain wrong.  He hoped to God he wasn’t going to have to deal with that again.

He had one squad car with two officers already here, and maybe two more on the way.  But none of them would have SWAT-level body armor or SWAT weapons.  The most he could hope for was a couple shotguns and whatever they were packing in their trunks.  Maybe a couple more M-16s or M-1s.

A limo screeched up the parking ramp, and three girls in superhero costumes jumped out.  Okay, one flew out.  He knew he was getting Bladedancer, Generator, and Shroud.  So he knew from the last time that the one in black was Shroud, and the one in white and pink was Generator.  That meant the one in white and yellow was Bladedancer.

The three girls looked like they couldn’t tackle a domestic dispute.  He had to keep reminding himself that appearances were deceiving.  Shroud was supposed to be the one who had dropped Lady Darke.  Bladedancer had kicked Nightgaunt’s creepy butt all over the place, and had stopped Darrow’s last big magical threat.  Then she’d stopped that Death Ghost twerp over her Christmas break, while she was sightseeing.   And Generator?  She’d made Ironhawk look like the biggest tool in the state.

Bladedancer zipped up to him and said, “We got here as fast as we could.”

“In a limo?”

Bladedancer sounded embarrassed as she explained, “Phase.  It’s a Phase thing.”

Tilley knew Phase was supposed to be a Goodkind, but this was still weird.  And he didn’t like weird.  Or unexpected.  And he was getting a crapton of both today.

He led the girls over to his squad car.  “We got no SWAT vans, and no SWAT personnel, and no SWAT gear.  We’re in big trouble.  This is what we’re facin’.”  He spread across the hood of his car a series of mug shots and action photos.  “They like ta call themselves the Felonious Four.  They’re sort of a theme team.  So far, we’ve only had word on three of ‘em, which makes me wonder where the other one is.”

He pointed to a picture of a really ordinary-looking guy with short brown hair.  If the guy had glasses and a gray suit, he might have passed as an accountant.  “This is Pointer.  He’s a PDP.  You know what that is, right?”  He got three nods.  “He likes the PK side of things.  He named himself because he has this ‘point and shoot’ style with his PK.”  Tilley pointed at a picture of Pointer in a costume, pointing his finger like a gun at a security guard, and the security guard reeling backward like someone had punched him in the face.  “Accordin’ to the hostage they let go, he’s already ‘pointed’ the woman who got hired for inside security, and she’s dyin’ of a fractured larynx.  Nasty way to go, and she’s doin’ it in front of a bunch of kids.

“We don’t know if we can use the hotel cameras or their phone system, because this guy is Hacker.”  That picture was of a blond twenty-something who looked like a slacker.  “He’s a baseline.  He’s real good with computers, he does martial arts, and just to go with the theme naming, he uses swords and axes in their fights.  We have no idea where he is, or when he’s gonna pop up.  And he’s the least dangerous of the four of ‘em.”

Tilley put down the picture of a guy who looked like his nickname ought to be ‘Knuckles’ or ‘Three Time Loser’.  “This is Cleaver.  He’s a reality Warper.  As you might guess from his codename, he likes slicing attacks.  He chopped up one of the security guards before the guy even got his gun out of his holster.  Hotel security had the guts to go rescue the guy and his partners, and medics are rushin’ him over ta the hospital now.  They don’t know if they can save him or not.”

Tilley set down another set of pictures.  This guy looked like he was a pirate without an eyepatch.  And not a sexy Orlando Bloom pirate either.  No, this guy looked like a scummy pirate of old who took a bath maybe once a year, whether he thought he needed it or not.  “This is Chopper.  Yeah, they love the theme name thing.  Don’t blame me.  We’re pretty sure he’s a Dynamorph, although no one’s had him locked up for long enough to find out.  He’s got super-strength and extreme toughness.  And he likes swords.  Shortswords, sabers, claymores, and a couple times he’s been seen with a sword that’s maybe twelve feet long and two feet wide.  We can’t figure out how he gets it around from place to place without anyone noticing.  We’re pretty sure he’s the one who stabbed the security guard at the back entrance.  Right through the heart and lung.  Guy was dead way before the hotel security guys got to him.”

Tilley dropped the pictures and turned to face the three girls.  “And they got hostages.  Ellen Boothroyd-Merriman, three or four party caterers, and a couple dozen nine-year-olds who just happen to belong to the richest, most important families in the area.”  He looked over at Generator, who didn’t look any older.  “Helpless little kids, and we don’t even have our hostage negotiator here yet.  We oughta have two SWAT vans loaded for bear, along with our hostage negotiator and our press flack for this kind of stuff, but we don’t.  Both vans crashed on the way over here.”

Bladedancer took a calming breath and concentrated.  She tried to find that zone, that level of balance that the Tao required in her, and…

“We have to leave them alone,” she gasped.

“Huh?”  Tilley looked at her like she’d gone bonkers.

She said, “If we leave the crooks alone for another… twenty minutes or so, the hostages will be safe.”

Tilley looked over at the other two girls.  “Is she a precog?”

Shroud said, “Something like that.”

At the same time, Generator said, “When she gets these… umm… visions, she always knows what to do.”

Tilley frowned, “I really don’t like the mumbo-jumbo stuff, you know.  That whole ‘when the buck smiles at the doe’ bullshit you never know what to do with it.”

Bladedancer nodded slowly.  “I understand.  We too have had to deal with unclear prophecies.”  She looked at the other two girls.  Tilley wondered just what these girls were into that they were getting prophecies and shit when they were still in high school.  She sighed, “But this is specific.  If we leave them alone for just a matter of minutes, the hostages will be safe.  If we interfere…”  She winced.

Bladedancer also realized that she had that little tidbit of knowledge, and nothing else.  She didn’t have the strength or speed or guidance that she had felt at a few times in the past.  The Tao didn’t need to energize her, because all she had to do was keep the cops from barging in and getting everyone killed.  She just didn’t know why.  And she didn’t know how she was supposed to keep the cops form barging in if they decided they had to.

Captain Tilley turned as his radio squawked.  “Captain Tilley, Captain Tilley, please come in.”

“This is Tilley.”

“We have an update on your 10-13.”

He snapped, “Go ahead.”

“Both vans crashed within a block of each other.  First officer on the scene opened the lead van and passed out before he could get back to his squad car.  Both vans were gassed, and whatever it is, it’s still cranking out more gas.  We’ve got ten or twenty civilians down or in need of EMTs, and three officers with gasmasks pulling people out of the area, and two MCO vans en route with MOPP-4 gear just in case.”

Tilley just said, “Roger that.”  He waited to curse until after the dispatcher was off the radio.  Someone had tagged his SWAT teams, probably just so they couldn’t make it to this crisis.  And it was probably when they were back over at the restaurant.  So he had himself, these three pajama-jockey girls, three regular policemen, and not even a frigging hostage negotiator.  He began to get a really, really bad feeling about this operation.  He called for four more cars.  He knew he wouldn’t get them with everything going on all over the Metro area, but he had to give it a shot.  He was just praying that this wasn’t going to turn out to be one of those Necromancer attacks where nobody got out alive.

Generator whispered to Bladedancer, “Hey, and Skyhawk oughta be here soon.”

Skyhawk?  There was no way he would listen to a teenaged girl.  Even a teenaged girl in a superhero costume.  He would probably just…  He would probably just barge right in.

She focused, and she suddenly had a vision.  Skyhawk flying right at a window, and then heroically crashing through it to face three prepared criminals who sliced and punched him senseless, then turned toward the children and…

Behind her mask, Bladedancer blanched.  “Captain Tilley?  There’s something else I need to tell you.”

 

ROXBURY C

Eddie slapped the button again.  And again.  Nothing happened!  The SWAT guys shot everyone but him, as he pounded desperately on the button.  “Please work!  Oh Jesus and Mary, please work, you little bastard!”  Nothing.  He looked up in terror as The Necromancer and Vamp strolled right at him.

The Necromancer laughed in a voice so cold Eddie would have pissed his pants again if there was anything left in his bladder.  “Really, Eddie.  Did you think I wouldn’t address such an obvious issue?  Do you remember telling me about your little security systems?  ALL about your security systems?”

“N-no…”

Vamp laughed.  “Shit!  It really worked!”

“Naturally it worked,” growled the Necromancer.  He turned back to Eddie and made two passes in the air with his right hand.  “Remember.

And, to Eddie’s horror, he did remember.  He remembered being trapped in a windowless room with the Necromancer and Vamp and Nightgaunt.  He remembered babbling everything he knew about Roxbury C while thinking he was holding out.  He remembered the Necromancer painting a weird thing on his palm.

He looked at his palm.  A pentagram inside a double circle glowed a freakish blue.  In between the nested circles were symbols that he couldn’t read.  They looked like Greek or Arab or something.

The Necromancer snickered wickedly.  “Thank you, Eddie.  I knew that if you were frightened enough, you’d trigger the alarms.  So I gave you that little present.  It works on the Law of Similarity, not that you would understand that.  But as soon as you slapped that sigil against your button, every alarm button in Roxbury C stopped working.  I really don’t know how we’ll ever be able to thank you for all your help.”

That was when Eddie remembered something else.  He was supposed to send a high-security file to Boston SWAT on all the pricks on lockup here, and he had done what The Necromancer had bespelled him to do.  He had shoved in something like grocery lists or a QA report or something.

Eddie gulped.  Hard.  When people found out he was the one who told the Necromancer about the security set-up, and he was the one who disarmed the security alarms magically, and he was the one who sent Boston PD the wrong files, he was gonna end up in Roxbury B for about thirty counts of Murder One, plus a million other counts of Aiding and Abetting a Felony.  He was so fucked.

He ran.  The Necromancer’s cruel laughter followed him.  But that old dickhead didn’t know what Eddie knew.  Eddie had one place left to run.

 

THE MUSEUM

Mister Green hauled down the street toward Boston Common.  He checked the rearview mirror to see if that superchick was coming after him.  That was just what they needed.  A fucking superhero had to turn up.  And not even one of the ones that were supposed to be in Boston, but someone they didn’t know anything about.  What?  Did they catch some superchick on vacation and ruin her museum trip?  Shit.

Well, he was following the plan and hauling ass.  If he could get away, he could at least post bail and get a good lawyer going.  And if Mister Green got back in the museum and hid the loot, the cops might not even be able to prove their case, especially if he could hire one of the crack lawyers the Syndicate let you ‘borrow’, and then…

“What the…?”  He slammed on the brakes as a fifteen-foot-high tidal wave poured down the middle of the street right at him.  And what the fuck?  Was that a chick in a white costume surfing on top of it?  Oh fuck, not another superhero! “What did I ever do to deserve this?”

He shifted into reverse and stomped on the gas, heedless of any cars behind him.  But the tidal wave was too fast for him.  It swamped the van before he even got to try a bootlegger’s turn on the cold road.  Water punched in the windshield and poured in through every crevice.  The engine died with a waterlogged gurgle, and he struggled to get a breath as the whole van flooded.

Riptide watched excitedly as her fun-sized wave engulfed the crook’s van.  As soon as the engine died and the windshield gave way, she put as much water as she could into the van, and busted the driver’s side door open.

The bad guy practically swam out as maybe six hundred gallons of water poured out that one door.  The water flushed him across the street and into the curb.  She grinned to herself, ‘Way to go, Rip!’

But the guy wasn’t done.  Even though he looked like a wet rat in a suit, he still struggled to his feet and pulled out a gun.  Rip didn’t know what kind it was.  That was Toni’s deal, with that Intro to Criminology class and stuff.  Still, she didn’t want to get shot.  Who knew how bulletproof these things were?  Ayla could only pour so much money into superhero uniforms, right?

She put up a hand, and a four-foot-thick barrier of water leapt up between them.  He fired, and kept firing.  The bullets zinged into the water and just sort of got lost.  Which was good.  She pushed, and the wall of water slammed the guy into the building behind him.  She washed the gun away from him.  He didn’t get back up, but she kept an eye on him anyway.

 

ROXBURY C

Obsession leaned back in her seat.  The back of the SWAT van wasn’t too crowded, but she still had four SWAT guys with heavy weapons back here, while two SWAT guys up front drove her and her dad off to that private airfield.

She looked over at Compulsion to see how he was doing.  He looked good.  He looked relaxed.  He looked like her dad.

She had voiced the guys up front, but she made sure to get everyone in the back of the van too.  “You will not remember either of us.  You will not remember why you went to the airfield.  You will remember nothing of this day since you woke up.”

Compulsion gave her a smile.  “Like father, like daughter.”  She hugged him, and he wrapped his arms around her.  He murmured, “How’s my girl?”

“A lot better, now that we’ve got you back.  And mom’s going to be a lot better once we get home.”

He grinned and looked up at the ceiling.  “Home.  That sounds great.”  Then he frowned, “And what do we owe Darrow and his gang for this?”

She said, “He said he’d call in a favor someday.  We’ll deal with it when he asks.”

He frowned, “As long as he’s not asking you to… you know.”

She smiled a little.  “No, I doubt it.  Besides, that’s probably why he’s got that freaky vampire chick along.  She looks like she’s probably balled the entire Fifth Fleet already.”

Compulsion laughed out loud for the first time in months.

 

THE MUSEUM

Chaka slipped inside the back door of the museum and dove.  She was expecting someone hiding inside the first room who would be trying to blow her brains out when she stepped in from the bright sunshine into a nearly-dark room.

But there was no gunshot.  No sense of focus on her.  No signs of anyone’s Ki.

She muttered to herself, “Damn girl, this’d be easier if Ki came with bloodhound tracking too.”

She moved silently to the far wall and concentrated.  Was there a sense of focus she could pick up?  Was there someone’s Ki?  Was there some mouth-breather panting like Darth Vader?  Nope, nope, and nope.  Damn.  This could take forever.  Good thing she actually studied stuff in Team Tactics, despite what Ayla thought.

She smoothly stepped across the open doorway, using her Ki to slide sideways at the same so she ended up inside the room and back against the wall.  Still no one was focusing on her.  Which meant it was safe for her to sprint across the room to the next doorway.

The floor here was nice, polished wood.  So she dove to the floor and slid through the doorway on her stomach, using her Ki to push her off to her left so she could skate around behind a big exhibit of polearms.  Probably a bunch of Lucerne hammers and becs de corbin – hah, Ayla, I did so learn that stuff – and similar weapons.  She’d already had to learn how to fight with a polearm in class, but she wasn’t seeing herself busting open a museum case to get medieval on this guy’s ass.  Literally.  Even if there were some great jokes she could use.

She could sense the guy’s focus on her, so she knew he was hiding behind that fake castle wall on the other side of the room.  The only problem was he picked a damn good place to hole up.  He could probably shoot out of those little slits in the fake castle wall, while it would be pretty hard to fire back at him and actually get anything small enough into those slits…

She quickly checked her ‘utility belt’ that Ayla had put on the thing.  Damn, girl!  There were more throwing stars, and throwing spikes, and sewing needles, and even more crap.  Ayla must’ve figured she was gonna be fighting a whole army of ninjas.  She felt the playing cards and broke into a smile.

Naturally, Ayla couldn’t just put a couple old playing cards in.  No, she had to load the belt with brand new, never-touched cards.  Of course, as Ayla would say.

Chaka popped up behind the exhibit and threw a playing card from each hand.  The cards sailed in curving arcs toward the ‘castle wall’ and sliced vertically in through the little aiming slits.

“Aaagh!  Jesus!”  The guy stumbled back from the fake castle and fell against the wall behind him.  She was around the polearm exhibit and over the castle wall in a flash, kicking the gun out of his hand and knocking him out before he could try anything else.

She slung his limp body over her shoulder and scooped up the bag of loot.  Then she hauled him out to where the cops were busy.  Dyna-Man had flown in, and was standing there while one cop cuffed the two guys she had already knocked out.  She could see way over down the street where the other cop was cuffing a really wet guy while Rip stood there looking smug.

She handed the perp and his loot over to the cop and said, “You’ll need to patch him up a little.”  She hadn’t yanked the cards out of his arm and leg, because the First Aid rule was to leave things like that in, just in case they were plugging an artery or something.

The cop looked at the guy and complained, “What’d you nail him with?”

Chaka shrugged and said, “Looks like an ace of clubs and a four of hearts.”

She left the cop gaping, and strolled over to Dyna-Man.  She looked up into his armored mask and said, “You’re late.  I hope you didn’t expect me to keep dinner for ya.”

 

ROXBURY C

The Necromancer strolled out of Roxbury C, his minions right behind him.  Events were moving surprisingly smoothly.  He was fairly sure that some of the felons down in The Pit would release everyone else, which would result in a horrific cataclysm.  Particularly when they realized they could bust all their friends out of Rox B and Rox A, and the entire area became a warzone.  He smiled behind his mask.

He said, “Nightgaunt.  Get the portal ready.  Vamp.  Get out the costumes for Lady Darke and Lycanthros.  We ought to be dressed properly for guests.”

He glanced over at Speed Queen.  She had managed to move perhaps a fraction of an inch, and her face was on its way into a rictus of horror.  He was really looking forward to seeing her expression when all the explosives went off.  But he didn’t want anyone rescuing her.  He cast a seeming over the trap, so that she appeared to be nothing but another section of blank concrete pavement.

Nightgaunt stepped out of the shadow of the building and nodded.  Excellent.  Next, Darrow knew he needed to activate the portal and then make it invisible.  That would give him and his minions an instant retreat, if necessary.  Not that he foresaw such a thing being necessary for a while.  Probably not until well after he had defeated the faerie princess, and the City of Boston was forced to call National Guard and U.S. Army forces in to quell the prison riots.

 

THE HOSTAGE CRISIS

Generator pulled Bladedancer aside and whispered, “Can I send Jamie in to spy on the bad guys?  Or is that gonna cause badness?”

Chou tried to reach that state of tranquil awareness again…  “I cannot tell.  I do not think so.  I think we just have to keep from starting a battle in there.  I wish I knew why things are supposed to work out if we leave them alone.”

Generator fished what looked like two large grains of sand out of a pocket.  “You know, Phase is way too crazy on holdouts in these things.  I’ve got like enough of these in my pocket to search the whole building.”

The grains of sand zoomed off to the floor of the parking garage, under the door into the hotel hallway, and down the hall.

Bladedancer stood silently, trying to reach the Tao again, to find out if the two little sand-spies could be a problem.  She couldn’t seem to reach anything.  Were the sand-spies that small of a risk?  Or was she failing her purpose, yet again?

 

THE MUSEUM

Dyna-Man silently looked over the girl.  She was one fine lady.  If she was ten or fifteen years older, he’d definitely ask her out.  In his opinion, there weren’t enough blacks in the superhero biz, and there definitely weren’t enough hot black women in the biz.  He merely said, “I got here as fast as I could, once SWAT called me.  I was staked out near a completely different museum.”

“What?  They give you the Dyna-signal?” she smirked.

“Just a cell phone.”  He figured he was going to be playing straight man in this comedy team, no matter how long it took to wrap up the paperwork.

 

Sneaky Pete stayed around the corner of the museum.  There was no point in finding out if Dyna-Man had infra-red detection or enhanced audio, or anything else that might be able to spot him.  He just had to wait around like the world’s dumbest burglar, until…

Oh wait.  Finally!  It was the Lamplighter.  He’d waited long enough for the dumb schmuck.  The Lamp-biter flew in from the south, heading over the building toward the rear of the museum.  Pete took careful aim with Darrow’s magic wand – or whatever the hell it really was – and fired it off just before the dork flew far enough over the museum roof that he saw the heroes there with the cops.

That was it.  His second task was all wrapped up.  He just had to take the scroll to the drop point, and then he could get out of his gear and drive back home.  Since he’d done his job, Darrow wouldn’t be after his ass anymore.  And it wasn’t like the Islanders were playing the Bruins, so he wasn’t interested in coughing up the dough to go see the hockey game in Boston Garden tonight.  Assuming there was still gonna be a Boston Garden left standing after Darrow finished whatever the hell he was up to.

 

ROXBURY C

Tennyo was keeping the bubble about thirty or forty feet above the roofs and trees.  She didn’t want to crash into anything, and she didn’t want to have to veer off so suddenly that Phase puked.  Or complained about maybe needing to puke the next time she veered off like that.  But she didn’t want to be so high in the air that everyone could see her coming.

They were over a crummy industrial-looking district when she saw two large prisons laid out almost next to each other.  The closer one looked like a normal prison on teevee, but the farther one looked like it was designed to hold some really bad dudes.

<(Phase) The small building on the far side of the second prison.>

<(Tennyo) That little teeny thing?>

<(Lancer) What, they shrank everybody down and stuck ‘em in the bottle city of Kandor?>

<(Phase) Remember?  Rox C is underground.  This is just a doorway.>

<(Fey) And it’s an open doorway.  They’re already escaping!>

<(Phase) Crap.>

<(Lancer) There’s Necro, and it looks like he’s got himself a Legion of Doom this time.>

<(Fey) Okay.  Darrow’s mine.>

The bubble vanished, and the four teenagers dove downward.

 

Darrow grinned behind his mask.  “At last, the pretty little queen and her entourage arrive to save the day.  How noble of them.  Nightgaunt, Vamp, you know what to do.  Lady Darke, I have some tasks for you too.  Lycanthros, I would like you to go on through the portal and take up the weapons I have prepared there.  If anyone… inappropriate comes through, you know what to do to them.”

“My pleasure,” he growled.

Darrow pointed at the incoming heroes.  “Crater, Shadowshell, Arch-Fiend, see to them.  The queenling is mine.”

 

THE RESTAURANT

The back door of the ‘refrigerator truck’ swung open, and a pneumatic loading platform tilted down.  Four men in power armor marched onto the platform and were quietly lowered to the ground, while half a dozen men in heavy body armor clambered to the ground on either side of the platform.  Four more men in power armor tossed weaponry down to the guys in body armor, while the loading platform rose back up.  Then the men in body armor took their weapons and moved out, while the second group of four stood on the loading platform and quietly reached the asphalt of the back alleyway.

“Leader Two to Leader.  Deadman switch is armed, I repeat switch is armed.”

“Point 1 to Leader.  Kitchen access is unlocked, as expected.  We are ready for go.”

“Point 2 to Leader.  North side door locked, as expected.  Master building key is working.  We have a go.”

“Point 3 to Leader.  South side door is locked and alarmed.  We are entering through secondary access, into the men’s room.  We have a go, but access will be slowed until we have the alarm off that door.”

Spaulding spoke into his commo.  “Good.  Now remember our orders.  Fast in, fast out.  And no jacking around.  These teens are all mutants.  So fast movement into position, no early arrivals that’ll tip off the rest of ‘em, double-taps because we’re getting paid per hands-on kill, and once they’re all dead we can set up the containment.  If any of those deputized kids survives the Necromancer’s traps and gets back here, they’ll walk into a deathtrap.  We get serious bonus money for that.”

No one replied, so he said, “Pointmen, on my count.  Three…  Two…  One.  Go.”

 

THE HOSTAGE CRISIS

Generator blinked as Jamie and Jayna popped back into her head.  She scurried over to Captain Tilley, who was busy pointing at a blueprint of the party room and giving orders to his three officers.

She burst out, “I got some new information!”

Captain Tilley glared at her.  “More mystic visions, kid?”

She insisted, “No sir.  I just infiltrated the room with a couple short-term devises so I could see what was going on.”

“And did it work?”

“Oh sure,” she said.  “There’s your three bad guys.”  She pointed at the blueprint of the room.  “Cleaver’s right here by the hallway door, so anyone who runs in is gonna be in trouble.  Chopper’s over here by the back door.  Pointer’s standing right here…”  She pointed at a spot roughly in the middle of the room.  “And he’s being really mean to the lady.  Mrs. Boothroyd-Merriman.  He’s not hitting her or anything, but she’s crying.  A lot.  The party catering ladies have the kids back in this corner of the room here, and the injured woman is on the floor over here under one of the big windows.  I used one of my devises to go down her throat and force open her airway, so she’s breathing a lot better.”

Tilley gaped at her.  “From way out here, you used a devise to repair a fractured larynx?  How the hell is that even possible?”

Generator smiled up at him.  “I am Red Cross certified.  CPR too.  I had to, for babysitting.”

Tilley suddenly felt like he’d fallen down a rabbit hole with some blonde girl named Alice.  “Who the hell does a superhero babysit for?”  The second he said it out loud, he knew he should’ve kept his mouth closed.

She just smiled at him.  “Well, a couple weeks ago, I babysat for the Amazing Three.  It was a lot of fun.  Except for the invasion of the spider-rats, and when those demons cut of my hand.”

He just stared at the kid.  That was either the craziest thing he’d heard all month, or the most… something.  And if she was telling the truth too…  No, he didn’t want to think about demons and spider-rats.

“Car Delta Niner, come in.  Delta Niner, come in please.”

Tilley snatched at the mike for his tac radio the way a drowning man would grab for a branch.  “Delta Niner.  Go.”

“Captain, this is car Baker Seven.  We’ve got Skyhawk on visual, and he’s aiming right for the building.  I’d say he’s aiming right for the window.”

“Did you try to flag him down?”

“Yes sir.  We did everything except empty the shotgun into him.”

Tilley looked up at the ceiling and muttered, “And what’s wrong with that?”  He pressed the button on the mike and asked the question, even though he already knew the answer.  “Did it do any good?”

“No sir.”

Tilley wheeled around and asked Generator, “Are the curtains open?”

“Yeah.”

“So they’d be able to see some big, dumb dickhead flying right at ‘em?”

“Yeah.”

“Tilley to all squad cars.  Every perp in the room is gonna see Skyhawk coming.  They’ll chop him inta little pieces and then start on the kids.  I need maximum support right this second.”

Chou and Jade just gave each other identical ‘oh crap’ looks.  Chou said, “They will injure him severely, and then… things will get much worse.”

 

ROXBURY C

Fey concentrated on Darrow, as she flew toward him like the wrath of the Sidhe.  He merely put up one arm and blasted some sort of fireball at her.

“Oh, come on, you can do better than that,” she muttered.  She  whispered words of power, and the air around her shimmered into a green barrier.

The fireball hit her barrier, and came alive.  It wasn’t a fireball at all.  The fire acted like it was alive.  Alive and hungry.  It scratched and clawed at her barrier, trying to find a way in.

Aunghadhail whispered, “It is Demarnu’s Living Fire, child.  You must dispel it.  It will feed off our magical defenses and attacks, but that means that ordinary magical defenses against it will fail.”

“So how do you kill it?” she asked.  She concentrated on keeping her barrier intact, but the Living Fire worried at every weak spot like it was sentient.  She put more Essence into the barrier, but that meant she would have less Essence later on.

Aunghadhail admitted, “Usually, it takes extensive preparations to deal with it.  With the right ingredients we could probably dispel it in ten or twenty minutes.”

“Great…  How does it like non-magical smackdowns?”  She flew downward, aiming straight at Darrow.  In his armor, he could take a collision far better than she could, but she needed to deal with this first attack before he really let her have it with something even worse.

 

Tennyo watched the big ugly guy fly right at her.  She made a fist and let blue light envelop it.  She was going to blast him out of the air, then tackle The Necromancer from behind.  That was Plan A, anyway.  Like anybody’s plans ever held up in a real fight like this.  She figured even The Necromancer’s best magical defenses wouldn’t hold up to her strongest attacks, and if she made part of this place radioactive, no one would care.

The guy came right at her, arms out in front like he learned to fly from old superman teevee shows.  She cocked her arm and got ready for him to pull something.

Suddenly she was dropping down like a rock.  No, she was being hammered straight down.  Before she had time to react, she hit the ground so hard it felt like an explosion.

 

Phase watched as a big guy in prison orange ripped off his shirt and leapt skyward.  He muttered to himself, “Sorry, not my type.”  As the guy flew upward, a black film formed over his skin and thickened into a shell.  Phase realized what he was seeing.  “Shadowshell.  Crap.”  The guy had some sort of PK manifestation, and Captain Tilley had said it absorbed energy too.  So the guy had ripped off his shirt to get more sunlight.  Which meant that the guy would keep getting stronger as long as they were out here fighting in the sunlight.  And that energy attacks would be a really bad idea.  No touch taser, no fireball egg, none of that stuff.

Shadowshell flew right at Phase and cocked a fist.  He liked taking it up close and personal, especially against smaller foes.

Phase waited until the last second and went heavy.  He dropped so fast that Shadowshell’s punch sailed over his head.  Phase went disruption-light and took a swipe at Shadowshell’s leg.  His intangible form bounced off the PK shell.  He went heavy and dropped another ten feet before Shadowshell tried punting him into downtown Boston.

Shadowshell managed to turn around and charge after the girl.  He didn’t know how she was doing that jerking ‘drop then float then drop’ thing.  But he knew she’d taken a shot at his leg and he’d hardly felt it.  So as soon as he could close in on her, he was going to pound the shit out of her.

Phase dropped almost to the ground and then did his light-heavy-light flicker to eat up his momentum.  He made sure he was fully heavy before Shadowshell dropped on him.  If his intangible attacks weren’t going to work, he’d have to make do with something else.

Sure enough, the guy tried to drop right on top of him.  He Phase-leapt back about five feet, and the guy crashed to the ground.

Shadowshell saw the girl dart out of his way, which told him she knew she couldn’t take him up close.  Good.  As soon as he hit the ground, he crouched down and leapt right at her.

Phase watched the guy prepare to jump.  As the guy leapt with his arms forward, Phase moved.  He dodged to the left, blocking outward with his right arm to knock Shadowshell’s arm out of the way.  Then he punched as hard as he could into the guy’s lower ribs.  From the grunt of pain, he could tell he’d scored a hit.

Shadowshell hit the ground hard, but he rolled back onto his feet and came right back at the girl.  And he was pissed.  The girl had gotten in a hard shot, and it looked like she was one of these frigging Whateley-style aikido fighters.  It seemed like half the supers out of Whateley these days had some kung fu or something along with their powers.

He growled, “Fine.  Two can play that game.”  He formed the PK shell over each of his hands into a sharp, curved hook.  Then he slashed her throat open.

At least, he thought he was going to slash her throat open.  She snapped an armblock across her body and took his hook on her forearm.  Whatever her uniform was made of, it didn’t even cut.  And that block was a hell of a lot stronger than he was expecting.  His second slash, to her guts, was knocked aside with an open-palm push block.  He twisted his arm to get in a reverse slash, and her leg snapped upward.

He managed to get his body turned enough that he took it off his hip, but the little shit kicked him hard enough she would’ve crushed his balls if he hadn’t turned.  He backhanded her and caught her across the face with the back side of his right hook.  It felt like he hit a boulder.

Phase staggered back a step.  He was going to have a whale of a bruise on his cheek from that shot.  Shadowshell was already as strong as he was, and was just getting stronger.  This was so not good.

 

Lancer found himself facing a ten-foot-tall demon.  It roared, “Puny mortal!  Fear the wrath of the Arch-Fiend!”

Lancer knew Tennyo had kicked this guy’s ass, and Chaka had chopped him up pretty thoroughly with that mithril kukri.  That pretty much took the intimidation factor right out of the fight.  He taunted, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve heard it all before.”

The big demon made a slashing roundhouse swipe at his head.  He snapped his arm up in a block and then slid forward in a flight-assisted aikido step.  He punched the demon full strength in the face.  The demon’s head snapped back and he went flying backward, landing hard enough to break off one of his horns.

The Arch-Fiend staggered to his feet, spitting broken razor-sharp fangs from its bleeding mouth.  It took a deep breath.

Lancer knew this one.  The damn thing had done the ‘smoke breath’ thing twice to Kimbas.  The guy was getting predictable.  And Lancer knew he needed to stop this one short.

He smoothly glide-stepped in mid-air and kicked it in the gut.  The demon crumpled and went flying backward a good fifteen feet.

He’d never before seen such a surprised expression on the face of a demon.

Lancer didn’t have time to gloat.  He had to take this dork down fast, so he could go bushwhack Darrow.

 

Tennyo angrily scrambled up from the dent she’d made in the ground.  The force of the guy’s attack had made a dent in the ground that looked like a six-foot diameter crater.  With a girl-shaped dent in the middle.

Oh.  Crater.  Now she knew why he was called that.  Ouch.

The guy flew down and smirked, “Sweet.  They don’t usually get back up after that.  I guess you want some more smackdown.”

Tennyo glared, “Someone’s due for some smackdown.”  She leapt into the air at the guy, knowing she’d had trouble with Warpers before and this guy had to be a huge gravity Warper.  Well, he wasn’t the only one with a few tricks up his sleeve.

She hurled a glowing ball of blue energy at his head.  He stared at it, and it was slammed into the ground below them, exploding when it hit.

That was fine by her.  She only threw it to distract him.  She was concentrating on her warp field.

Crater stared at the girl.  Her mask was torn and her uniform was ripped from the impact of his ‘gravity slam’, but she didn’t seem to be hurt anywhere.  He gave her another slam, this time even harder.  She didn’t go down.  She just kept coming at him.  He concentrated harder.  She was still flying at him.  He stopped in mid-air and pushed with both hands, giving it everything he had.  Nothing!  It was like she just decided she didn’t use gravity anymore!  He strained as hard as he could, and managed to get an effect.

Her mask tore off, and one sleeve ripped near the shoulder.  That was it.  His most powerful gravity attack, and it had pretty much no effect on her.  He was going to have to…

Tennyo suddenly darted in at her top speed and punched him.  He had a gravity field up for protection.  She was pretty much expecting that.  Her fist punched through his field just like it went through Hank’s PK field.

He didn’t take a punch as well as Lancer, though.  She caught his unconscious body as he dropped toward the ground.

“Next stop, Dirty Darrow,” she thought.

That was when the blast of lightning caught her from behind.

 

Fey watched through her forcefield and the Living Fire as she flew feet-first at Darrow’s face.  He hurled some sort of jagged yellow lightning at her, but the Living Fire ate it up like it was candy.

Aunghadhail insisted, “We are not going to be able to take an impact like this without magical preparation first!”

Darrow cast a reddish wall of protection.  With the Living Fire still surrounding her, she slashed through it like it was paper.

She was still pumping Essence into her forcefield in an attempt to make it hold up to the Living Fire.  But the fire was slowly winning, even with the outside attacks.  Maybe even due to the outside attacks.  She didn’t know.  But she was sure of one thing.  An experienced mage like Darrow was not going to summon something as dangerous as Demarnu’s Living Fire without knowing how to dispel it quickly if something went wrong.  Like getting a faceful of it, courtesy of an angry Sidhe.

Darrow seemed to finally realize that she was going to ram him full-speed – even if he was in power armor – and he was then going to have to deal with the Living Fire attacking him as well.  He looked upset, even through that lame Skeletor-wannabe armor.  She watched as he reached into his ‘cloak of holding’ and pulled out a bowl of smoking, bubbling, yellow ooze.

Aunghadhail warned her, “That looks like it!  He has the preparation to dispel the Fire.”  Fey kept flying down at Darrow.

At the last second, Darrow flicked the bowl of ooze into the air, coating the Living Fire before it could reach him.

And Fey twisted in a jujitsu move that Hardass Hagarty had used more than once to throw her around the mat.  She slipped past his outstretched arm, hooked his leg, and used her momentum to flip him onto his face.

Darrow didn’t go down.  Blasts of some sort of energy exploded from his shoulder and back and boots, righting him once more.  He pointed one arm and blasted her forcefield apart before she could pull in Essence.  She tumbled to the ground, gasping in pain.

 

Phase reached behind his back with one hand, while holding the other hand out like Chaka.  Not that he was going to do the ‘come get some’ hand gesture.  No way.  That was just asking for someone to kick his ass.

Shadowshell slashed with one arm at the girl’s neck, then with the other at the girl’s face.  He’d seen enough superhero uniforms to know where the weakpoints usually were.

Phase was still faster than Dark-Dork, so he managed to block the first slash with his forearm and then lean back out of the way of the second slash.  But it was close.  Still, he had enough time to whip his other hand out from behind his back and throw.

Shadowshell brought his arm back once more, and…  “Jesus Christ!”  He yelled in pain at the stabbing sensation in his neck.  He staggered back and de-manifested his PK hooks, while he scrabbled at his throat.  He pulled a big metal dart out of his neck.  The little bitch threw a fucking dart into him, right through his PK shell!  How fucking strong was she?

Phase slid into a ready stance and prepared to stall for a few more seconds.  He had learned a few lessons over the course of the year, including insane amounts of preparation.  When he had fought Hank, he hadn’t had anything painted on the dart.  Not a weakness any longer.  No, the only weakness was that it would be a while before the drug on the dart took Shadowshell out, even with a throw right into the throat.

Still, he didn’t have to wait until the drug completely incapacitated the guy.  No, guys like Shadowshell who had to concentrate to manifest their PK shell didn’t do so well when they became groggy and confused.  The first thing to go with this drug was higher brain functions, like battle planning.  And the ability to hold a PK shell.

Phase took a step back and moved to the side in his best slide-step.  If he could keep Dark-Dork busy for just a few more seconds, he could win this fight.  He didn’t bother to duck when the guy threw the dart back at him.  He let it bounce off.  If Hank couldn’t throw that dart into his skin, this loser wouldn’t manage it.

“Wha…”  The guy seemed to be feeling the effects already.  Maybe that throw into the neck got closer to a carotid artery than Phase had figured.  Phase moved in a slow circle around Shadowshell, letting the guy turn and try to maintain balance.  It looked like the guy was getting a little vertigo too.  Anything like that was a bonus, as far as Phase was concerned.

Shadowshell staggered, and his PK shell began to fade away.

Phase waited a few seconds longer.  As soon as a decent-sized opening appeared in the shell, he took it.  He Phase-leapt forward at the bare skin showing on the guy’s shoulder, and he plunged his hand into Shadowshell’s body.  The guy convulsed momentarily, and then collapsed, sinking to the ground as if his legs had turned to rubber.

Phase muttered to himself, “Next stop, Darrow’s ass.”

And that was when the utility pole came crashing down on him.

 

Mimeo wasn’t going to sulk or whine just because that dickhead Darrow was still holding a grudge after all these years.  Hell, it was business!  Just because Mimeo beat him, and both of his sidekicks, and that butt-ugly golem he had, that didn’t mean you just left somebody in a place like The Pit!

There was a scrabbling at the door, and it swung open.  Mimeo wasn’t too surprised to see Eddie Delahanty.  He was pretty surprised to see – and smell – that Eddie had pissed himself.  Real tough-guy there.

“Mimeo!  Hey!  How’s about I let you go.  Right now.”  Eddie was trying to look cocky, but he just looked scared to death.  “I can get you out of here, for a piece of that loot you were talking about.  Whaddaya say?”

Mimeo considered punching Eddie in the face.  Not that that was safe to do with baselines, when you’re a high-level Exemplar.  He considered slapping Eddie in the titanium security chair and leaving him.  He considered stripping Eddie naked, taking his uniform, Shifting into a copy of Eddie, and walking out of the place.  But he’d been thinking about it.

Okay, if anything went wrong and he didn’t get out, then he’d want Eddie thinking he was still dumb and malleable.  So no beating the creepy little asshole up, no matter how much Eddie deserved it.  And if there was a full-blown escape or riot going on, looking like a jailer would probably be a problem.  Especially if Eddie was that scared of something.

Mimeo grabbed Eddie by the shoulders and moved him out of his way.  Then he said, “Lemme go take a quick look around.  You wait here, where you’re safe.”  And he slammed the cell door in Eddie’s face.

Mimeo smiled to himself and went looking for a fight.  Four or five fights.  He knew that he needed to do a little fighting before he left The Pit, or else he was going to be running on his base powers when Darrow spotted him.  Darrow was pretty damn tough for an old man.

But Mimeo was a really high-level Exemplar, and a really high-level Shifter, and a really high-level power mimic.  He hadn’t met anyone he couldn’t copy, and he meant anybody.  Sure, he did great against other mutants.  But he’d fought plenty of jokers who were Imbued or Empowered or Batson Factors, and he’d been able to copy those powers too.  On top of that, he had yet to meet a super whose powers were too high-level for him, so the tougher his opponent, the more dangerous he became.  That was why nobody at Roxbury was dumb enough to bring in a superhero to try and deal with him.

He could hold up to six people’s powers at once, not counting his own.  His only real limits were that he had to fight his target to really get a really good copy of their power, and he could only hold onto the power for a little over four hours.

But if he did a little sparring in the halls with some of the dorks down here, he’d be ready when he ran into Darrow up top.  And if Darrow wanted to run away, then he’d find some other suckers to fight.  And the more dangerous their powers were, the better for him.

 

Fey rolled diagonally on her back so her shoulder touched the concrete, and she used that to roll up into a fighting stance.  Getting thrown to the mat a hundred times in a row by Hagarty finally had some payoff.  She pulled up her hands and got a decent barrier up a split second before Darrow unleashed another nasty spell.  An inhuman mouth opened up before him, and a barrage of energy daggers came streaming out of it.  The daggers hit her barrier and erupted in bursts of shimmering pain.

Then she felt the emotions.  They couldn’t be from Darrow.  He shielded too well.  And the emotions were coming from behind her.  Lust and ruthlessness and…

She snapped a second barrier up behind her just as Nightgaunt stepped out of a shadow behind her and opened a box.  A magical fireball blasted out of it, smashing into her barrier and making it splash into green fern-like patterns.  She groaned at the effort she needed to hold both barriers.

She pulled more Essence from the ground, even if bare concrete yielded little Essence compared to real soil and a natural landscape.  But Nightgaunt vanished into the shadows again, and reappeared off to her side, to unleash another magical attack.

Fey looked to her front again, just as Darrow hurled a streaming yellow vortex at her.

“Child, it is the Hunger of the Erinyes.  Repel it!” Aunghadhail insisted.

“I know!” Fey complained.

But Darrow wasn’t done.  He reached into his cloak and tossed out five metal shapes, each about the size of a toaster.  Each one unfolded like a Transformer into a malevolent-looking metal monster about the size of a Doberman.  All five lunged for her.  Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Nightgaunt stepping out of yet another shadow to unleash yet another threat.  No doubt, another carefully-prepared spell done by Darrow so that a non-mage like Nightgaunt could fire them off like cannons.

<(Fey) A little help here!>

 

Lancer looked up when he heard the call from Fey.  The Arch-Fiend was down and nearly unconscious.  He grabbed the demon’s hands in his own and did his high-speed spin until the Arch-Fiend was whirling through the air like one of Chaka’s meteor hammers.  Then Lancer let go, flinging the Arch-Fiend butt-first right at Darrow’s head.

Darrow appeared to be concentrating solely on Fey, and yet he flashed an arm through the air in an eerie gesture.  A shield-shaped barrier of reddish energy appeared before him and to his left.  The Arch-Fiend’s limp body crashed heavily into the barrier, never getting within ten feet of The Necromancer.

But that momentary distraction was enough for Fey to recover.  She didn’t know how to re-create something as horrific as the Hunger of the Erinyes, but she knew what it was, and that it was remarkably difficult to control once you empowered it, and that it was extremely difficult to keep it going for more than a couple seconds.  She swept her arms in an arcane gesture and spoke words that made gravity subject to her whims.

The robotic dogs suddenly found themselves floating into the air, right in the path of the yellowish vortex.  They opened their maws in silent howls as they were suddenly sucked into the thing.

Fey chanted the words that Aunghadhail whispered to her.  The vortex twisted.  Then it wobbled sickeningly.  Then it oozed forward at an angle so that it would miss Fey’s barrier spells.

As soon as Nightgaunt realized it was headed right for him, he dove back into the nearest shadow.

Lancer moved forward.  He was going to fly in a tight circle so he could come up behind Darrow and take him out.

Suddenly twin brothers tackled him.  They looked like James Bond types, except they were in prison orange.  He blocked the kick from the left one and brush-blocked the punch from the right one.

Then they punched him simultaneously in his stomach, their fists nearly touching, and – impossibly – they knocked the wind out of him.

He flew backward twenty feet to give himself a moment, as he desperately tried to get his wind back.  If these guys could punch out a PK brick like him, they were all in trouble.

And then the twins were on top of him again.

 

THE RESTAURANT

The kitchen door swung open, and three men in body armor charged in.  Each one had a machine gun or a deviser gun, but for this part of the operation they were working silently with other weapons.

The first one took down the nearest chef and the janitor with dual-wielded Tasers.

The second one moved forward and dropped another cook.  He was going to Taser the bleached-blonde cook, but she fainted on him.

The third one took the last male cook and the little cook working at the center counter.

Janice saw the door fly open and Marshall take it right in the chest.  She saw these guys had body armor and serious weaponry.  There was no way she could take all three with a kitchen knife.  Not even the cleaver she was wielding.  Instead, she grabbed the skillet on her right, and moved it off the table.

When the third guy hit her with a Taser, she managed to drop the skillet where it would make the most noise.

 

Anna heard the clatter in the kitchen.  She’d overheard someone being really mean to some other cooks, and she just hoped the mean lady was the one who dropped the pan, not one of the people she kept yelling at.

Sam heard the crash in the kitchen.  It sounded just like…  She ran a fast check against 15,472 sound files.  It sounded just like a fucking cast iron skillet hitting a tile floor!  She hissed, “Battle stations!  Everyone up and in the middle of the room!  Trews!  Green!”

The two Security officers jumped to obey her, thank God.  Sam leapt to her feet and got everyone moving.  She needed the bricks as an outside wall defending the other kids.  She pulled out the cut-down firearm she had in an under-breast holster.  It looked like nothing but a metal tube.  It was a .60 caliber Nitro Express Magnum, cut down and cut off until it was little more than a concealable barrel.  No baseline could hold and fire it like that without breaking a wrist and probably getting a nasty burn too.  But she wasn’t a baseline anymore.

As she did a lightning-fast count of the scurrying kids, she realized Phobos wasn’t anywhere in sight.  There was nothing she could do about it now.  She had to defend the vast majority of these kids.

This kind of stuff was exactly why everybody hated precognitives.

 

Phobos finished washing her hands.  She’d been pretty worried about going to Boston with Phase’s friends.  Phase’s other friends.  But this was going great.  And it seemed like pretty much nobody was having a lot of trouble with her fear aura, which was such a great change she just couldn’t stop smiling.  She was really looking forward to the rest of the party.  She walked out of the ladies’ room and back into the party room.

 

The pointman stepped out of the men’s room.  The alarmed door meant they’d had to cut out a pane of glass, wedge open the window so someone could get through, and re-route the power armor guys until Point 3 had the alarm disconnected.

But it looked like it meant some incredible luck for him.  He stepped up behind the long-haired babe in the long coat and shoved his .45 against the side of her head.

He bellowed into the party room, “Nobody move or she gets it!”

All he needed was for the room to freeze for just a split-second, and then his squad would take them all.  He started squeezing the trigger, already planning on how he’d spend the bonus money for this bitch.  Mutant or not, a .45 mutant-killer through the brain would take care of her but good.

 

ROXBURY C

Phase reacted as soon as the utility pole passed through him.  If he hadn’t been light, it probably would have driven him feet-first into the concrete.

He Phase-leapt to his right and went heavy so he landed hard.  He turned in time to see the rest of the pole shattering and splintering against the ground, as a flying brick kept on coming without letting go of his end.

Phase could see a glimmering PK field around the guy, which meant he was impervious to Phase’s best tactics.  “Shit.”

And coming up behind the guy was…  Oh crap, it was Cobrafire!  Phase recognized the guy from Team Tactics class.  Getting thrown through a guy on fire will do that.  And Cobrafire was armed too!  It was one of those massive one-shot anti-mutant shotguns that fired a rocket-propelled weapon designed to take down someone like Sirrush.  “Shit!”

Oh wait, there might be something he could do with that.  He really hoped this worked.  Actually, he really hoped he didn’t have to find out if it would work.

Brick-brain finally dropped the remains of the pole and flew at him.  Phase carefully turned so that Cobrafire was behind him and off to his left.  That way, Phase could pretend he didn’t know Cobrafire was coming up behind him.  As he turned, he reached into his utility belt.

Brick-brain moved into a nearly upright position, stuck out one arm in a fist, and flew right at his face.  That didn’t seem like a good tactic for a PK brick.  Phase made sure he was as heavy as he could go, and he pulled out one of his ‘cannonballs’.  He threw it as hard as he could.

The ball hit Brick-brain in the gut, and the guy abruptly stopped in mid-air.  He gasped, “Oof!  You little bitch, that hurt!”

Phase groaned inwardly.  Okay, not as powerful as Lancer, but maybe too powerful for him to take.  And the heavy dart was already gone.

Wait, where the hell was his second cannonball?

 

Vamp figured she had to play this really carefully.  She had to make it look good, while taking out a couple of the bad guys ‘by accident’.  She spotted the boygirl density changer.  Wow.  This was perfect.  If she didn’t do anything, the boygirl was going to be dead in a few seconds, because Cobrafire was coming up behind her with one of those huge SWAT anti-mutant guns.  So she’d launch an ‘attack’, interfere a little, accidentally clock Cobrafire in the confusion, and she’d be out of there.  She’d tell Necky that she tried to take out the boygirl, but Cobrafire screwed everything up in his usual backstabby way.

She vividly remembered this kid.  If anybody could take a punch, it had to be a kid who could pound Matterhorn.  She moved in fast and picked up a chunk of concrete where the curb was cracked.  It only weighed twenty or thirty pounds.  She figured the boygirl would shake that off and then realize she had Cobrafire behind her too, and take care of that prick.

“Okay, here goes nothing…”

She moved in fast and threw the chunk of concrete at his back.  Phase suddenly moved, and the concrete went whizzing through her like she wasn’t even there.

Suddenly the boygirl leapt into the air and kicked right at Vamp’s face.  Vamp quickly put up an arm to block it, but the leg went through her arm with a searing burst of agony, and kept coming, and flew into her head and…

Vamp was out cold before she collapsed to the concrete.

 

Phase dropped that little bitch Vamp and turned to face Cobrafire like he hadn’t know the backstabbing creep was there.  He carefully slide-stepped three feet to his left, to get into position.

Cobrafire hefted the gun to his shoulder and aimed.  He leered at the girl in the superhero outfit, “Oh.  Did I forget to mention I stole one of those SWAT anti-mutant shotguns?”  He pulled the trigger.

The blast nearly knocked him over, and the kick just about pushed the damn gun upward into his face.

He pulled the gun down and looked at the damage.  “Oh crap.”  The girl was still standing there.  The brick she had been fighting had taken the blast right in the chest, and was flat on his back for the ten count.

The girl smirked, “Oh.  Did I forget to mention I’m intangible?”  Which was when she leapt forward and hit him so hard he saw stars.  As he looked up from the pavement, she added, “Oh, I meant some of the time.”

Cobrafire leapt to his feet, bursting into flame as he did so.  Sneaking up behind somebody was just business.  Pulling a fast one like she just did?  NOT okay!  “You’re toast, little girl!”

Not only did the girl not look scared, but she stood there and complained to the sky.  “Why do I always get all the crazy firebitches?”

Cobrafire lost it.  “FIREBITCH?  Did you just call me a BITCH, you bitch?”  His hands erupted in flaming balls two feet across.  He was gonna roast this cunt.

The little girl reached behind her back and threw an egg at him.  A fucking Easter egg?  Was this little bitch insane?

It hit him hard in the stomach and exploded in a white mist.  Suddenly he was encased in what felt like a hundred pounds of ice, and he couldn’t breathe.  What the fuck was that thing?

Ice.  He wasn’t gonna be stopped by a bunch of ice!  He unleashed every bit of fire he had in him, and melted almost all of it off.  He sank to his knees, momentarily exhausted by the effort.  He never saw the strike to the side of his neck that knocked him unconscious.

Phase looked up and blanched at what he saw.  “SHIT!”

<(Phase) Can’t target Darrow now.  We’ve got half a dozen guys aiming to bust open Rox B.>

He took a couple quick steps and Phase-leapt forward.  He had to stop those guys first, because a mass breakout from a place like Roxbury B would make everything worse.

 

THE MUSEUM

The Lamplighter appeared from over the museum roof, and he floated down until he was about thirty feet above the loading dock area.  He pointed right at Chaka and yelled, “Hold it right there, Lady Darke!”

Toni flared, “Watch it, cracker!  That better not be a racial slur, or I’ll shove that lantern right up yo- OOF!”

She could sense his focus on her, but she couldn’t sense when he launched his attack.  It was like a massive PK assault: mental on his part, but physical in its result.  A giant hand of what looked like solid light smashed her into a brick wall hard enough to kill a baseline.

Dyna-Man stared in shock for a split-second before leaping to the rescue.  He flew in between the Lamplighter and the girl.  “Whoa!  Hold it!  What do you think you’re doing?  She’s on our side!”

Suddenly, another giant fist of light came down on top of him, driving him straight down into the street so hard he thought for a moment his legs had broken.

The Lamplighter announced, “Take that, Necromancer!  No more will you and your vile plaything there be allowed to torment the innocent people of Boston!”

Dyna-Man had figured the girl was out, maybe even fatally.  She was only supposed to be a martial arts nut.  But she was clambering weakly to her feet.

The girl snapped, “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”  She spun, and three ninja throwing spikes flew right at the Lamplighter’s lamp.  “I mean, ‘vile plaything’?  Are you cribbing your dialogue from Regency Romances?”

If Dyna-Man hadn’t been in so much pain, he would have laughed out loud.  He needed to get himself out of the asphalt, but he needed to help the girl’s attack too.  He held up one palm and fired off a combat maser at the Lamplighter’s head.

The Lamplighter saw the threats coming from Lady Darke and Darrow, and he cast a defensive wall in front of himself.  He saw the impacts from both their evil attacks, and he knew he could be outflanked if he let them separate.  As Darrow struggled to pull himself up out of the street, the Lamplighter struck.  A huge piledriver of light struck the back of Darrow’s mask, dropping him.

Chaka moved as another light weapon came her way.  This one was like a giant carpetbag trying to sweep her up.  No way was she playing this jerk’s game.  She leaned one way, waited until he over-committed, and then dodged the other way.  Then she threw two ninja stars at Lampy’s face.

But they were just a distraction.  She had a plan.

 

“Whattafuck?”

Riptide spun around at the cop’s swearing, just in time to see the Lamplighter slam Dyna-Man into the street.  Chaka looked like she was already down.

Rip cursed as she realized she’d let all that lovely water flow down the city drains.  Well, she’d had to.  She had a tidal wave right in the middle of the road, and the cops weren’t happy about it.  But now she was out of water!

She hurried to pull as much water as she could back out of those drains and gutters.  It wasn’t much…  Hell, it wasn’t worth the effort to pull it up!  But right past the cop was a fire hydrant.  Only she couldn’t get a fire hydrant open without a bunch of fancy fireman tools she didn’t have and wouldn’t lug around anyway.

But she had maybe a hundred gallons of water around her now, and all that water pressure inside the fire hydrant, so maybe…

 

ROXBURY C

Tennyo nearly dropped Crater’s body when she took the massive lightning blast in her back.  She whirled around in mid-air, silently thanking Phase for being so obsessive-compulsive about uniforms and armor and holdouts and everything else.

She didn’t know this guy, but she didn’t need to.  He was flying at her, and he had lightning blasts, and he had a jagged energy barrier forming in front of him.  A flying blaster type, probably an Energizer.  Good.  She did better against guys who weren’t Warpers.

She dodged to the side, and a lightning blast went flying past her.  Oops, it might have hit Crater, who she was towing along in her left hand.  She veered and aimed right for the guy’s barrier.  She dodged again, and he missed once more.  She grinned, and dodged straight up.

The lightning blast caught her right in the face.  And her facemask was gone.  She growled, “That really hurt!”

She threw a plasma ball into the jerk’s barrier, and rocked him enough that he stopped throwing bolts at her and started worrying about his own hide.  She threw two more, until his barrier was wavering and she was right on top of him.  A quick powered punch, and she burst right through what was left of the barrier.  The guy gave up and tried to make a run for it.  She threw Crater’s body into him, knocking both out of the air.  Then she darted down and caught both before they hit the ground.

Okay, now for Darrow.

<(Lancer) Halloween!  Tennyo, Phase, I repeat Halloween!>

Great!  Just great!  Was anybody helping Fey?  Tennyo flew down to a few feet about the concrete, dropped off the unconscious bodies, and zipped over to where Lancer was getting pounded on by twin guys who looked pretty much like that creepy Caleb guy from Buffy, just without the preacher suits.

 

THE HOSTAGE CRISIS

Tilley signed off and handed the radio mike to one of his men.  He didn’t like what he was about to say, but he had to do it.  He turned, “Girls, you’re gonna have ta…  Girls?”

He looked around, but they were already gone.  Two of his cops were staring open-mouthed at the door into the hotel halls, which was slowly swinging shut.

 

Bladedancer raced down the hall, Shroud and Generator hanging onto her shoulders so they were flying as fast as she could run.  She was running silently, and she was doing her best to block any Psi or Esper readings, since that Pointer was supposed to be a powerful PDP.

She stopped as soon as they reached the doorway into the hostage room.  Generator pointed at where the badguy was standing, behind where the door would open and maybe five feet back along the wall.  Bladedancer started to give them some directions…

KE-RASH!  The sound of safety glass shattering came to them, along with a quick series of deep-voiced oofs and grunts.  They knew they had no more time.

Bladedancer sliced down through the hinges of the door, and kicked it down.  She charged in, Shroud and Generator and Spinner and Kitty Compact right behind her.  Skyhawk was already down, battered and bleeding on the floor not five feet from the broken window he had obviously flown through.

Cleaver looked at her, and she read the change in his Ki, as Dyffud had showed her.  She slashed his way with Destiny’s Wave.  A brutal impact nearly knocked the jian from her hand.  Bladedancer stepped back into a ready position, with Destiny’s Wave in front of her.  She had missed that attack, taking it nearly off her hand instead of off her blade.  Another mistake like that, and there would be Chou sushi all over the floor.  How was she going to fight someone who wielded an invisible weapon?

Cleaver took a step back and tried to figure out what the hell to do.  He’d never seen anything like that before.  He’d seen idiots try to block one of his ‘reality warp slashes’ before.  The warp in reality just went right through their sword or shield or whatever, and chopped into them.  You couldn’t block a slash in reality with a frigging sword!  But somehow, this chick did it.  He threw a slash that would cut through her ankles.  Let her try to block that!

Bladedancer spotted the change in his Ki, as well as his glance downward.  She leapt backward just in time to avoid a wicked cut that sliced through the carpet and hacked a big slice out of the concrete underneath.  She knew that a warper attack like that could have cut her legs off.  But maybe, just maybe, he was so used to dominating a fight that he didn’t know how to mask his attacks.  Maybe she had a chance.

Cleaver slashed at her feet again, and she leapt backward, landing on top of the door.  The door she had sliced open.  Jesus, what kind of sword cut through walls and doors, and then blocked warper attacks?  He slashed at her head, and she ducked down out of the way of the attack.

Bladedancer seized the moment.  When she ducked down, she sliced through the door as it lay on the fancy carpet.  She ignored how much damage she was doing to the carpet underneath, even if Ayla would have had a fit about it.  Then she flipped up the right-hand half of the door with her foot and did a backspin kick.  The door went flying at Cleaver.

Pointer looked over at the shrimpy superhero with the ‘ooh I’m so spooky’ teammate and the gizmos flying around her.  He aimed at her with a quick PK point, and that spinning thing tried to get to him first.  His point knocked the spinner out of the air and punched through to knock the girl down too.

Shroud went for Chopper.  The guy slashed into her with two swords, which didn’t hurt her at all.  He froze in surprise at that, and she took advantage.  She struck him as hard as she could right in the solar plexus and neck.  Nothing happened.  He looked like he had hardly noticed.  Darn it!

Cleaver found himself being backed up by the girl in the white and yellow costume.  How the hell was she seeing invisible Warper attacks, and how the hell was she blocking them with a stinking sword?

Shroud wrapped Chopper up in her chains, and he just grinned at her.  Then he flexed and ripped the chains apart.  Uh-oh.

Bladedancer moved in again.  Every time she got close enough to attack him directly, he unleashed dozens of slashing attacks, and she knew she couldn’t always block or dodge all of them.  The floor between them had gotten chopped up like a cheesesteak.  The ceiling was in bad shape, too.  She had been lucky so far.  She had a rip down the outside of her upper arm that was bleeding a little, and she had lost part of one sole.  But she was in one piece, and he was wearing out.

Generator looked up in panic.  Pointer’s PK attacks were knocking her out of her weapons!  She already knew she was vulnerable to PK attacks, but this guy was destroying her!  He’d already clobbered Spinner and knocked Jann out when she was trying to use Jann for armor.  She watched as he blasted Kitty Compact out of the air, and she felt Jasmine return to her.  And then Pointer turned to hurt some of the kids.  No!  She couldn’t let that happen!  She pushed Jann back into her body and leapt through the air to block him.  She got between him and the kids just in the nick of time.  The impact caught her in the chest.  It knocked Jann out, and it slapped her all the way across one of the party tables.

Pointer looked over.  Chopper and Cleaver both had their hands full.  He pointed at ‘Not Spooky Chick’ and gave her a vicious blast in the back of the head.  She dropped like she was made of bones and little else.  Then he turned to the chick with the sword.  Shit, she was good!  How the hell she was blocking Warper attacks with kung fu shit was way beyond him.  Not that he cared.  He pointed, and struck her so hard in the back that she was smashed past Cleaver into the wall behind him.  Then Pointer turned back and blasted the short one hard enough that she went flying off the table to crash at the feet of the kids.

Bladedancer hit the floor hard.  The pain in the small of her back was nearly overwhelming.  She couldn’t get back up.  She hastily used her Ki to check her meridiens and acupressure points.  Oh no.  She had a broken lower rib, which had punched right into a kidney.  She was bleeding inside.  Without medical help, she was going to pass out in minutes and be dead inside half an hour.  And they were still in the middle of a hostage situation.

Pointer stepped over to the little superhero girl, who was laying motionless in front of the kiddies.  He snarled, “Okay, if you wanna protect these little shits so bad, you can be the one who gets killed.”  He pointed a finger at her head.

 

ROXBURY C

Lancer was in trouble, and he knew it.  The twins were making lunchmeat out of him.  When they were touching, the energy between them was so strong he could see it rippling back and forth.  The best he could do was force his way in between them and knock them apart, but then he had to take hard shots from both of them.  But when he got them more than a few feet apart, their strength dropped, and their energy attacks dropped.  Okay, when they were apart, he could handle their energy attacks and bounce them right back.  But when they were together and busting through his PK field, they were really kicking his ass.

<(Tennyo) Incoming at fifteen feet… now.>

Lancer lunged forward and grabbed Twin 1 by the neck, throwing him straight up.

Twin 2 moved in on Lancer, expecting his twin to drop down on their victim for maximal pounding.  It didn’t happen.  He glanced up in time to see Tennyo zoom past with his twin in tow.

Lancer didn’t feel like playing fair.  The guy was looking straight up, so Lancer kicked him in the balls.

Tennyo tried to ignore the attacks coming from the twin she had tucked under her arm.  The guy punched her in the side, and then blasted her.  She just hung on and let her Regen do its job.  What she did notice was the way the guy was getting weaker and weaker.  When his punches were starting to feel like he’d lost all his strength, she tossed him in the air and punched his lights out.

Lancer followed the cheap shot up with a knifehand strike to the solar plexus and a sidekick to the knee.  The twin screamed in pain and collapsed.

Before Lancer could finish the twin off, he spotted a movement out of the corner of his eye.  He looked over in time to see Lady Darke striding his way.  Oh crap.

 

THE HOSTAGE CRISIS

“Don’t hurt her!”

Generator hurt just a ton, and she was busy casting into her body to try and fix the busted ribs she could tell she had.  Jann could feel them, and needed a minute or two to move everything back where it needed to be, so her Regen could do its stuff.  But there was a little boy standing over her, trying to protect her from a supervillain.  She whispered to the boy, “Don’t.”

Pointer stared down at the kid.  “So, you’re standing up to me.  What did I say about that shit?”

The kid swallowed hard and admitted, “You said you’d cut off my finger.”

Pointer grinned, “And you’re still guarding her?  You got balls, kid.  What’s your name?”

“Jeremy.  Jeremy Walcutt.”

WALCUTT?  Jade suddenly thought her brain might break.  A Walcutt was rescuing her?  A Walcutt was rescuing anybody?

 

THE MUSEUM

Riptide stared in fury as that prick Lamplighter smashed Toni again.  She looked at the fire hydrant at the curb, and concentrated as hard as she could.  She couldn’t open it the normal way, but maybe…

She strained desperately, and pushed.  She used all the water around her legs to shove hard on one side of the hydrant, and she used the water inside the fire hydrant to push up and out.  The combined pressure was suddenly too much for the hydrant, which screeched as it snapped off at its base.

And suddenly the entire fire hydrant shot twenty feet into the air, tumbling madly, as the pressure of the water created a geyser.  Rip waved an arm, and a jet of water swept under her feet, lifting her five feet in the air and sending her streaming down the street on what looked like a surfboard made out of water, atop a five-foot wave.  And there was another fire hydrant between her and that flying douchebag, so she could get more water.  She was so gonna kick his ass.

She ripped the second fire hydrant off its base as she swept down the street.  Just as the jerk was going to pound Toni again, she struck.  She blasted the Lamplighter in the side with a fire hydrant-sized jet of water.

He staggered under the assault and nearly dropped his lamp, but he recovered.  A wall of light appeared, blocking the water blast.

Rip wasn’t going to stop.  She punched a jet of water straight up underneath him, knocking him skyward.

He threw a giant light energy fist at her.  She saw it coming, and put up a three-foot thick wall of water.  The fist hit with an impact like a thunderclap.  She was totally unprepared when the energy fist punched right through her wall and knocked her flying backward.

Rip was about to crash hard against the street.  She just managed to catch herself with a giant balloon of water underneath her, right before she hit the pavement.  She made the water balloon lift her back up toward her tidal wave.

But the Lamplighter was already following up with another giant energy fist, and she didn’t have a water wall ready.  She dove into the tidal wave.

 

THE RESTAURANT

With a gun at her temple and power armor pouring into the party room from every available doorway, Phobos panicked.  She lashed out with her fear aura, and simultaneously mule-kicked the guy with her right leg.  She caught him right in the crotch so hard he went head-first into the ceiling and stuck there.

Every guy in the room – if he wasn’t frozen by her fear aura – cringed and had to keep from grabbing his crotch.

Sam shouted, “NOW!

 

ROXBURY C

Darrow kept up the onslaught on the queenling.  He hated to admit it, but she was better than the last time they fought.  That maneuver with the Living Fire was ingenious.  And he hadn’t seen anyone cast a vortex-manipulation spell like that since World War II, although that chit hadn’t survived the battle with him.  Oh well, no one was saying that the queenling would survive, either.  He spoke into his mike, “Nightgaunt.  Number five.  Now.”

Nightgaunt stepped out of another shadow, so he was fifty feet directly behind the redhead.  He pulled out yet another of The Necromancer’s surprise packages, and pointed it at her.  He had to admit it.  If just anyone could buy a magical weapon this powerful and then fire it off with no magical skills at all, then a million crooks would be selling their own grandmothers to have one.  This one produced a nasty-feeling red haze.  It flew right for the girl, but it moved in a way that made his eyes hurt and his brain tremble.  On second thought, maybe people wouldn’t want to buy these things.

Fey felt the emotions, and so she managed to get another screen up for protection.  But it was close, since Darrow was relentlessly assaulting her from the other side.  She muttered, “Goddess, this isn’t going well.”

Aunghadhail unhelpfully agreed.  “You must try something unexpected.  They are prepared for everything else.”

“Gotcha.”  Fey stopped and deliberately cast her magics without focusing.  Suddenly a hundred hobgoblins popped into being and fled in Nightgaunt’s direction.

Nightgaunt stared in shock.  Unless the redhead had just hit him with some kind of illusion spell, about two hundred violently green chickens with purple feet were running his way.  Then they opened their beaks, and he saw the razor-sharp fangs in their mouths.  “Oh fuck.”

The first hobgoblins that ran into Nightgaunt’s area triggered most of the magical weapons he had already laid out back there.  About half of them were blown apart spectacularly.  The rest suddenly tripled in size, going from unnerving to downright threatening.  They also changed colors, becoming a riot of clashing hues that made his eyes water.  Nightgaunt hurriedly jumped into a shadow to get away from the things.

Darrow watched his lackey, and he realized that this was an unfortunate setback.  Fortunately, he had more backups.  And he hadn’t even gotten to the special surprise for Tennyo, or the one for Lancer.  He hurled another spell at Fey, just to keep up the pressure.

 

Mimeo ran to the tunnel that led out of The Pit.  He was feeling good.  He had gotten into quick scraps with a speedster, a Magneto-style Energizer, a flying brick, and a PDP.  He really wanted to fight a Wizard too, if he was going to tackle The Necromancer, but he’d make do.  He’d pick up those Wizard powers as soon as he started duking it out with Darrow.

He laughed to himself.  Once you had the powers of a speedster, every fight was a ‘quick scrap’.

He flew past a couple guys who were cowering at the base of the tunnel.  A guy he didn’t know dove for safety like Mimeo was going to explode.  He zoomed up the tunnel.  Somehow, Darrow had gotten the guards to override the safeties and open all three doors at once.  He didn’t know how, and he didn’t really care unless it meant Darrow had a new weapon to use on him.  There were six or eight more guys lurking in the tunnel, unsure whether to make a break for it.  He had to wonder what the hell was going on up top to make these guys worry like that.

Then the PDP power he’d gotten just kicked in a little.  He got a mental image of a battlefield, with superheroes spread out around Rox C, kicking ass and taking names.  PDP was such a fun power, and there was so damn much you could do with it, depending on which Psi and which Esper powers you could use.

He smiled to himself.  Unlike most power mimics, he had actually paid attention in class.  Good old Whateley Academy.  He had gone out of his way to learn about every kind of power set, and how to use them, and what you needed to use them right.  Darrow hadn’t been able to beat him all those years ago, because Mimeo knew about twenty-five really powerful magical spells, and he was ready to wield any of them if he could get enough Quintessence, or enough Quintessence-drawing powers.

He flew out of the tunnel and ducked out of the building.  He grinned as he sized up the fighters.  Darrow had his hands full off to the right with a sexy mage who looked pretty damn tough.  That guy off to the side looked like maybe a flying brick.  Over there?  Couldn’t tell yet, even though the Esper from his PDP power was telling him density-changer.  But right in front of him was a girl who looked – and moved – like Ryoko, and she was kicking ass.  He headed right for her, as she polished off one of the Twin Terrors.

Mimeo flew up and hit her with a PK-powered fist in the face, just to get her attention.  That pissed her off.  Good.  It looked like her nose was broken, but it instantly healed up.  Ooh, Regen!  He loved Regen!

She punched him back.  She hit hard enough to knock him several feet back through the air.  Still, even without mimicked powers, he could take a punch from somebody like Champion.  He flew back in and gave her a quick right cross to the stomach.

She grabbed him and tried to do a mid-air judo throw.  He’d seen that move before, and with his speedster reflexes he could move a hell of a lot faster than she could.  He reversed the throw with a lightning-fast counter-move.  She went flying.

She abruptly stopped, like she didn’t have to use inertia if she didn’t want to.  Then she wheeled about and came back at him.  Her jaw suddenly dropped open.  “Y-you’re getting younger!” she choked.

He just grinned.  “Yeah.  Thanks for the Regen, honey.”  He could feel it, too.  His tired old muscles and ligaments were feeling pretty bouncy and young again.  He didn’t know how much Regen she had, but he was guessing a hell of a lot, given how fast he was getting younger.

She was starting to look worried.  She came back at him with what looked like a ball of plasma.  He tried to deflect it with his ‘Magneto’ power, but that little blue ball didn’t act like real plasma.  So he went with a PK shield.  She didn’t like that.  She moved in fast and punched right through his PK barrier like it was kleenex.  He took the blow, using his Shifter power to absorb most of the energy.

“Hey, a ‘bust forcefields’ power?  Cool, baby,” he grinned.  And he punched her right back, knocking her maybe fifteen feet backward through the air.

She snapped, “Don’t call me ‘baby’!”  Her eyes were starting to glow red, which he figured meant she was losing her temper.  Good.  When they lost their temper, they stopped thinking clearly.

She made a fist, and her hand started glowing blue, like her plasma ball before.  She zipped in at him and punched him.  This time, he was expecting her to punch through his forcefield, so he blocked her punch with his arm.  The plasma, or whatever the hell it was, burned a nasty chunk out of his forearm.

He was about to cuss at her, but then he saw his arm was healing.  It was healing fast.  Way faster than any Regen he’d ever seen before.  “Holy shit.”  By the time he finished saying the words, his arm was as good as new.  The prison jersey was trashed, but who cared?

He looked at her, and she looked shocked.  She looked at his already-healed arm and gasped, “Oh no.”

He laughed and tried one of her moves.  He’d watched her throw those little plasma spheres, and he had some Esper in his copied PDP power to help him see how she did it.  So he cupped his hand and focused.

It worked.  A ball of blue plasma-or-whatever formed in his hand, and he threw it sidearm at her.

She dodged it, darting to the side like a hummingbird.  The ball flew through the air and landed in a parking lot.  It exploded nicely, taking out a big chunk of pavement.  He grinned at her, “Cool.  You know, your powers are so neat!”

That really pissed her off.  Her eyes flashed angrily, and she growled, “Oh yeah?  See how you like THIS!”  She put her palms nearly together and then quickly drew them apart.  She could make lightsabers!  This girl was amazing!

“I gotta try that,” he smirked.  He tried the same gesture, pushing the feeling he had inside him, and it worked!  It really worked!  He had a frigging lightsaber in his hand!  He grinned, “Baby, you can tackle me any day.”

She growled, “I said, don’t call me baby!”  And she came at him, slashing her lightsaber like she knew how to fight with swords.

On the other hand, he really knew how to fight with swords.  He’d been learning martial arts and fighting styles for decades.  This girl looked like she was… what?  Maybe seventeen?  She probably only had a year or so of experience with swords.  And, on top of that copy of her powers, he had speedster and Esper.  This was going to be fun.

She came in with a classic kendo kata.  He knew that one.  He countered and drove her backward, only slashing her enough to find out the lightsaber cut through her uniform like a hot knife through butter.  She seemed to be pretty much invulnerable to her own lightsaber.  Well, he didn’t want to slice her into pieces or kill her.  Just fight her.

They slashed back and forth across the sky, darting around and ducking each other’s attacks.  Her flight ability was great.  Way better than any flight powers he’d had before.  She could go from zero to a hundred nearly instantly, and she could stop on a dime.  She could zoom around like she was weightless, or she could veer in any direction without having to worry about inertia.  It took him a few seconds to master it.  And then they really sparred.

It took a few of her attacks for him to figure out which martial arts she’d been learning.  It took a few more of her attacks for her to figure out that he knew martial arts too.  And that he was a lot better at them than she was.  And that he had quicker reflexes too.

He had to wonder if she had any more tricks up her sleeve.  Oh well, there was only one way to find out…  He blocked her next attack and let her have it with an energy blast right in her face.  While she was momentarily blinded, he used the PK from his PDP powers to hurl her backward hard.  She ended up maybe fifty feet back and thirty feet down.

She stopped in mid-air, looking up at him with a furious glare.  She shifted so she was horizontal in the air.  He watched eagerly to see what she was going to do next.

She vanished.  Well, Mimeo hadn’t expected that.  And he really didn’t expect what happened next.

 

Phase was flying too fast, and some of the escapees were veering off to his right.  Not good.  He could see a throng of criminals outside in the exercise yard of Rox B, and if even one of these creeps busted a path in, every one of those felons would have a path back out.  Plus, all those crooks were watching the battle, so they knew they were about ten seconds from a mass breakout.  The guards were doing their best, but with this many crooks fighting back, they had no hope.  Phase could hear sirens blaring and a loudspeaker threatening them, but they were still pressing forward.  They only had to fight off those guards until superpowered help arrived.

If only he could steer while he was flying!  Christ, why couldn’t he have a simple superpower like Hank’s PK superboy deal, instead of something that required years of training and a user manual the size of the New York City phone books?

He carefully put both arms out, trying his hardest to move them out simultaneously to avoid any of those extremely-not-fun angular momentum problems.  Then he let one finger on his right hand go a little heavier.

It was like putting a steel washer on the wing of a paper airplane.  It abruptly pulled him to the right and down, almost putting him into an uncontrolled downward spiral.  He frantically went fully light again, but he had gotten roughly the change he wanted.  And he wasn’t rotating out of control, either.  He was going a little slower, and he had changed direction.  Of course, he had nearly plummeted to his death there, but overall it was more of a win than he had expected.

He was flying silently, and he wasn’t where his shadow would be visible to those guys.  So they didn’t know he was coming.  That meant he had one, maybe two, shots at them before they realized they were under attack.

He felt in his utility belt.  Damn, he was right.  He was missing some gear.  He suddenly realized that he had meant to check his utility belt after Kew rifled through it Wednesday night, but then there was the disaster in the lab, and after that…

With everything going on, he hadn’t remembered his intention, and he hadn’t had time to get around to doing it.  Not even after using up too many toys on Billie yesterday, and losing his brand new tac baton.  But now that it was too late to do anything about it, he was sure.  Kew had helped herself to samples from his belt for scientific study.  Goddamn her!  And it was his fault that he hadn’t rectified the situation.  SHIT!

Did this kind of crap ever happen to Batman?

He fished in the belt and came up with Pilar’s present and his last two tangleweb eggs, along with a few other toys.  He was going to have to make do with these, and then do his disruption-light move on everyone else.  He didn’t have time for anything else.  Particularly when he had seven felons, in groups of three, two, and two.

He went heavy.  As he dropped, he hurled three eggs.  He hurled Pilar’s poison egg right in front of the two felons on his left.  Then he threw a tangleweb egg right in the middle of the threesome and his last tangleweb egg in between the other pair.

He hit the ground with a crash that cratered the concrete.  The first duo were already choking on a reddish gas that they were trying to evade.  The trio were struggling helplessly in the first tangleweb mess.  One of the other duo was snagged and had fallen over, making it impossible for him even to get up.  The other of that duo had run through the tangleweb like it wasn’t there.

Or like he wasn’t there.  The guy was probably another density warper.  Crap.  And the guy was heading straight for the Rox B fences.  Phase hurled a fireball egg – which was possibly his last one – in front of the guy, and forced him to veer off.  Well, the good news was that the guy had to worry about fire and most likely other energy attacks while light.

Phase then Phase-leapt to cut the guy off.  The guy made a run at Phase, obviously planning on running right through him, perhaps even using a disruption-light attack.  Phase went light.  The guy tried to barrel into Phase, and since the guy was probably twice his weight, that could hurt.  Phase pivoted on the balls of his feet and grabbed the guy’s arm as he made a swipe at Phase’s head.  Then it was time for a simple judo move, even though they were both light.

The guy went flying, and Phase spotted the moment when the guy tried to go heavy but didn’t make it in time.  Instead, the guy went face-first into the concrete.  He scrambled back up, even though his nose was broken and most of his face was one large strawberry.  The guy growled, “Bitch!”

Phase pulled out a throwing knife and hurled it, but not too hard.  He wanted to give the guy time to react.  Actually he was hoping the guy would over-react.

The guy went fully heavy and took it off his arm, grinning evilly to show how tough he was.

Phase was already disruption-light, though.  He leapt through the guy and dropped him.

He did a quick check.  Two felons were struggling against the tangleweb and making some headway against it.  Phase didn’t want them to work their way free, so he flew through them disruption-light and dropped them.  Then he leapt high into the air to check on the near-riot going on in the exercise yard at Rox B.  He decided he’d better deal with that, too.  He went heavy, and as he fell, he threw his smokebomb eggs hard into the crowd of unruly prisoners.

He did his light-heavy-light flicker just before he would have crashed into the ground.  “And now, Darrow,” he told himself.

Of course, that was when he saw what was going on with Tennyo.  He flew back, watching in horror.

 

Lancer didn’t know where Lady Darke had gotten her hands on a new copy of her costume, although it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes – or Phase – to make a good guess.  But he didn’t want to fight her.  She had completely kicked his ass the first time they visited Boston, and had taken him out along with half the team on the second visit.  He started to call for a switch on opponents.

Suddenly he was in utter blackness.  No light.  No sight.  No sound, either.  He knew it was Lady Darke doing it.  Shit!  ‘Come on Lancer, it’s just a Psi attack, block it!’  He concentrated as hard as he could.  He knew Phase had used stock market numbers as something to focus on.  But that was Phase.  He concentrated as hard as he could on military hardware designations.  He hadn’t been an Army brat his whole life for nothing!  He started with handguns…

Nothing.  He couldn’t block her goddamn psychic attack.  He tried to call for help over the Spots, but he couldn’t hear himself.  Was he making any noise at all?  Were his Spots even working?  Had the bitch cloaked the entire battlefield anyway?

Wait a second.  It hit him.  Lady Darke was a PDP, just a funky kind of PDP.  What had Phase said?  You beat a PDP by overloading them on the PK front, so they can’t use their Psi or Esper attacks.  He dropped to his knees.  He just hoped she was holding still and gloating over her easy victory.

Lancer punched the concrete road underneath him.  Five tons of force, concentrated over just a few square inches, devastated the concrete.  It shattered into fragments.

He fumbled through the suffocating darkness and ripped a chunk of concrete that felt like it was about the size of a baseball.  Perfect.

He didn’t know where Lady Darke was, but he had a rough idea where she stood a few seconds ago, and if she was using her Psi attack, then he knew she had no PK to use.  She wasn’t flying around, and she wasn’t super-strong.  He threw the concrete at where he thought she might be.

He tore more chunks out of the road.  It was like tugging pieces of styrofoam out of a box, as far as the effort mattered.  That wasn’t the problem.  He threw chunk after chunk, as fast as he could rip them loose.  He figured he didn’t have to hit her, just get one piece close enough to make her nervous.

Suddenly the darkness vanished.  He blinked and saw Lady Darke having to block a flying chunk of concrete with a PK shield.  He growled, “My rules now.”  He smashed his fist into the road and pulled up a handful of concrete and broken rebar.

He threw it at her head as hard as he could.  He used both hands to pull up two pieces at a time.  He flung piece after piece at her, while she backed up and tried to block everything that came at her.

He closed in on her, still throwing everything he could rip loose.  He didn’t dare make a flying attack, because then she would have a couple seconds free of flying debris, and she might have time to use that damn Psi attack again.  So he moved forward a couple steps at a time, stopping to rip up more concrete and rebar as he went.

He just needed to get closer.  A lot closer.  If she gave up and took to the air, she couldn’t switch over and Psi-attack him.  If she kept using her PK as a screen, he’d get next to her and pound away on it until she collapsed.  If she used her PK to do the supergirl bit and she tried to fight him hand-to-hand, he’d risk that he was stronger… or at least better in martial arts.  Either way, he wasn’t going to let her take another Psi shot at him.

She backed up and backed up, getting closer and closer to the Fey-Darrow battle.  He ripped up a chunk of sidewalk that was bigger than he was, and he hurled it at her.

She panicked and dove into an invisible portal, vanishing from the battlefield.

<(Lancer) Heads up!  Darrow has at least one active portal around here!  Maybe more!>

He wasn’t going to chase after her.  Darrow was the linchpin here, not her.  He threw an even bigger piece of concrete at the spot where she had vanished, and it disappeared into the portal too.  He hoped it busted up something valuable in Darrow’s hideaway.

“Okay, now Darr…  Oh CRAP!”  He stared in horror as he realized who was fighting Tennyo, and what that could mean.

 

THE MUSEUM

As Riptide dove into her tidal wave to dodge that giant fist, she opened up a big pocket of air inside the wave.  She came up inside the air pocket and took a deep breath.

Then she launched a giant water fist at him.  “See how you like it, you big dork.”

He lifted his stupid lamp, and a massive circular shield of solid light appeared out of nowhere.  The fist of water hit the barrier and exploded in a spray of droplets.

But she wasn’t done yet.  She concentrated hard, and a tight blast of high-pressure water jetted out of her wave to punch a narrow hole through his barrier, just like a pressure washer punching through concrete.

The Lamplighter must have known the water blast could punch through his shield, because he moved as the water ripped its way through.  He twisted his body.  The narrow stream just missed punching him in his side.  He retaliated.  He solidified his barrier, cutting off the water stream.  Then he turned his giant energy fist into an even larger open hand.  He smacked hard on the water above Rip.  The force burst her air bubble, and the water smashed down around her.

She jetted out of the water on a water kickboard and quickly brought up one arm, forming a water shield that took most of the impact of his next energy fist.  But she needed a breather.  Even with all the water she had, he was wearing her down.  She’d pulled most of her best tricks out, and he was still warming up!  Shit!

And Chaka and Dyna-Man were down.  If she failed, the Lamplighter would go back after them, and then…  No, she couldn’t let that happen.

 

THE RESTAURANT

Sam focused on the first power armor jockey to line up on one of her kids.  He had a power conduit running over his shoulder and down his arm to the massive, arm-mounted energy cannon he was pointing.  She assessed the armor, and decided the .60 caliber slug might not penetrate.  So she shot him in the power conduit with her holdout, and the system exploded in sparks.  The armor jockey staggered backward, slowing the forces behind him.

Trews and Green had moved so they were on the two flanks of the group.  They gave each other quick nods and opened fire at the forces.  Trews had a Cobra linear induction pistol, and Green had a .45 Smith and Wesson re-engineered to fire deviser ammo.

Gateway threw up a huge portal in front of everyone.  Anything fired into it would vanish into a pocket dimension.  She just hoped it would be enough.

Charmer cast a barrier charm on her side of the group.  She watched nervously as bullets and energy blasts bounced off it harmlessly.  She knew it had stood up to Phase and Prism for a few seconds back in aikido class, but a life-or-death situation like this was completely different.

Loophole pulled out her .45 and concentrated.  She carefully fired three times at the lead power armor guy in her area.  The first shot froze a knee joint, causing him to fall forward.  The second shot caught him in mid-fall, damaging the ball joint at his right shoulder so he couldn’t get his arm up in time to catch himself.  The third shot caught him as he landed face-first on the floor, targeting right where the connection to his power supply on his back could be damaged.  The power armor jockey suddenly found himself frozen and face-down on the floor.  The next power armor jock had to stop and dodge around him.

Delta Spike wasn’t a true Energizer.  But it didn’t really matter.  As a pseudo-Energizer, she still had Energizer powers.  She stuck out both arms and blasted the two closest guys in body armor, knocking them backward into a power armor jock she couldn’t wait to get her mitts on.

Trews couldn’t miss the sounds of Green firing that cannon of his.  He knew the deviser ammo would probably punch right through half of the power armor they were facing.  Trews used the ammo in his Cobra, carefully keeping track of the count.  He had this clip set up so it fired AP, then Taser, then regular, and cycled in that order.  He would have loved to use his clips with tangleweb ammo, but they were mixed clips, and HE in this confined space would be really, really bad.  Plus, they cost a fucking mint.

Prism blasted the man closest to him, knocking the guy over.  As the guy fell awkwardly, Rich took another shot and knocked him up into the air.  Then one more shot, to blast the guy face-first into the closest power armor, and…

Mega-Girl stepped in front of Loophole and took the energy blast meant for her.  The ferocious bolt hit her with a hair-raising flash.  Loophole realized that Mega-Girl was completely unharmed.  The only damage was that her miniskirt was burned and on fire.  Mega-Girl grumbled out loud, “I told you I shoulda come in just my uniform!”

Jericho found two power armor jocks coming in from the front room.  He turned and yanked open his snap-button shirt.  Both invaders took one look at his undershirt and froze.  The unmistakable sound of men projectile vomiting into their helmets was loud enough to hear over the gunfire and energy blasts.

Unfortunately for Jericho, one of the vomiting men still was able to raise his arm and point a large-caliber machine gun right at him.

Green saw one of the assholes was lining up on Plastic Girl with a huge energy blaster.  Green dove in front of the girl and used the rest of his clip on the bastard.  He put two rounds through the faceplate before the energy blast caught him in the chest, and he still managed another shot through the faceplate and one into the energy weapon before his still-smoking body crashed to the floor.

 

THE HOSTAGE CRISIS

Bladedancer turned her head just enough to watch Pointer threaten the boy.  Had she heard right?  The kid was a Walcutt, and was standing up to a supervillain?  She wondered where Solange went wrong.  Maybe this was a message for her that Tansy could be saved.  Maybe…

She concentrated on getting to that state of tranquility and awareness.  She tried to control her breathing without breathing, because the pain in her back was agonizing.  She was drifting into that feeling.  She suddenly knew.

She looked up at Pointer and said, “You don’t have time to hurt anyone.  Hacker will succeed in a matter of seconds, and then you’ll have almost no time to escape.”

Pointer wheeled her way and choked out, “WHAT?!?!”

 

“Yes sir, Mister Boothroyd-Merriman,” the bank vice-president kowtowed.

Henry didn’t say anything.  He had what he needed out of his mother’s secondary safety deposit box, and he still had plenty of time to get to the car and get back to the hotel.

The bank vice-president and the overly-muscled guard escorted him to the car, where the police officers were hovering protectively in their own police car right in front of his.  Everything was going according to plan.  He had the box in his briefcase so it wasn’t obvious he was carrying something valuable.  He had even checked quickly that all the Boothroyd emeralds were inside.  Everything was there.  The necklace, the earrings, the tiara, even the three rings.  That part was a minor miracle, given how often his aunt wanted to wear one or the other of the rings, no matter how gaudy he thought they were.

He stepped across the sidewalk to the car, and suddenly the vice-president and the guard dropped to the ground.  That was when he realized that the two policemen were slumped over inside their car, and he couldn’t see his chauffeur through the tinted glass.

He caught sight of a man in a black costume and black half-mask, pointing a bizarre, rifle-like thing at him, and he…

Hacker rushed over, grabbed the briefcase from the guy’s unconscious hand, and did a quick scan.  The cops and the chauffeur were all unconscious, thanks to the sleeping gas loads he used on them a couple minutes ago.  So he was good.  He took off around the corner for his own car, signaling his team as he ran.

 

Pointer’s watch beeped.  That was Hacker’s signal he had the emeralds.

Cleaver yelled, “Hey!  It’s glowing!”

Pointer spun around.  Darrow’s doohickey they had hidden under the carpet was activated, and it had turned into a glowing black column maybe six feet high and three feet thick.  And they now had less than twenty seconds.  He yelled, “Drop everything!  Move it, move it, move it!”  Then he used his PK to fly right into the column.

Chopper was next, power-jumping across the room and into the column.  Cleaver was last.  And the column faded into nothingness.

<(Generator) What the heck?>

<(Bladedancer) It’s a portal.  One of The Necromancer’s magics.  They’ve escaped.>

<(Generator) Darn it!>

Captain Tilley came bursting into the room, struggling under the weight of the massive anti-brick gun.  Two patrolmen were right behind him with riot shotguns.  Two more burst in through the back door.

Tilley looked around carefully, and finally said, “Looks like I missed the party.  Where’d they go?”

From the floor, Bladedancer groaned, “Portal under the carpet.  The Necromancer’s doing.  And they got the emeralds.”

Mrs. Henry Boothroyd-Merriman (née Hershkowitz) wrapped up her son in her arms and wept, “And they can keep the damn things.  If I never have to wear that trayfe again as long as I live…”  She squeezed her son tighter.

“Mom!  You’re embarrassing me!”

 

THE RESTAURANT

Jericho watched the power armor jock line up the shot on him, knowing he had no chance of dodging it.  But then he saw Tabby react.  She was behind him, but he could still see her.

Tabby was in her more powerful cat-girl form.  She leapt over Jericho and caught the two power armor guys off-guard, landing across their helmets and knocking them both backward.  She bounced up and prepared to grapple with them, when she saw Mega-Girl flying her way.  She got out of the way.

Mega-Girl started with the one who was trying to get back up.  She punched him so hard he hit the wall and was embedded in it.  She turned to get the second creep and found Jericho standing over the guy shocking the pee out of the guy with that white cane.

Aquerna ducked the guy’s grab and brush-blocked his arm, just the way sensei Ito kept telling her.  She was so proud she got it right!  She did her favorite ‘run up their front like they’re a tree’ move and slid down his back.  When he turned to grab her, she gave him her best hip throw.  Delta Spike blasted the guy before he even hit the ground.

Vox stepped up to face the guy in body armor who had that huge gun.  Before he could shoot her, she spoke.  “Shoot your leader.”  The jamoke spun to the side and blasted a power armor jockey repeatedly, until the guy fell over.

Point 2 stared at his downed leader for a couple seconds before he realized what he had done.  He whirled back toward the black chick with his weapon.  “You little b-”

“Sleep.”  Point 2 collapsed in a heap.

Point 1 had already fired twice, but there was some kind of magic barrier in front of his side.  He tried to step around it, only to run face-first into what looked like a seven-foot-tall clay statue, which brought down a massive fist on his helmet, knocking him out.  He never saw Charmer patting her wrist bracelet and smirking wickedly.

Scrambler was running at her top speed behind all the bad guys.  None of ‘em seemed to be paying any attention to her, much less trying to stop her.  Which was great for her.

Mega-Girl heard Delta yell ‘Batter up!”  She knew what that meant.  She grabbed the closest power armor jock by his ankles and swung him around like a stick.  As she turned, she saw another suit of power armor being hurled her way.  She swung her guy in the best swing Marty Penn never quite mastered back when his dad made him play Little League.  She made contact with a crack that hurt eardrums throughout the room.  The impact knocked the thrown guy across the room.  Delta yelled, “Home run!”

Armor 4 ignored the noise behind him as he aimed at the back of the blind black kid and pulled the trigger.  CLICK!  Nothing happened.  He tried twice more, with the same shitty results.  Then he looked and realized that someone had cut through the power cables on the outside of his upper arm.  What the hell?  Suddenly a tanned California girl zipped up at incredible speed.  She stopped in front of him holding a steak knife and a pie plate.  She grinned, “Surprise!”  Armor 4 suddenly found that it was impossible to see out of a power armor visor that had just taken a direct hit from a chocolate cream pie.  The only thing he heard, other than the sound of gunfire and energy blasts, was a despairing voice yelling, “Not the chocolate cream pie!  I didn’t get any!”

Scrambler yelled, “Sorry.”  Then she zipped over to work on another of the power armor guys.  She was going to need a new steak knife too.

Leader 2 was in nothing but body armor.  Everyone else was down, and someone had shot the Double Eagle out of his hand.  He turned and ran back into the kitchen.  He was holding the team dead-man switch, and it looked like he was going to have to use it.  He ran past the kitchen tables, where all the Tasered staff were laid out on the floor.

Janice forced herself to her knees as the guy ran past her.  She plunged a carving knife right into the guy’s knee, right between the joins on the guy’s body armor.  He screamed in pain and went down.  She pulled the knife out of his leg and scrambled across his writhing body to hold it to his throat.  “Surprise, asshole.”

He grinned back at her and leered, “Surprise, yourself.  Bitch.”  She saw the button in his hand just as he released it.

 

THE MUSEUM

Riptide used her water kickboard to dart to her right and dodge the Lamplighter’s giant flyswatter.  “Oh, so I’m just a fly, huh?”  She launched a big fly-shaped water balloon right at his face, and while he was blocking that with yet another one of those big shields, she ambushed him with a water cannon from behind him.  She caught him right in the back, too.

The Lamplighter was slammed about forty feet forward before he got up another of those light barriers and regained his balance.  He stopped moving forward just in time to get a giant water fist right in the butt.

Rip clenched her fists and shouted, “Yes!”  She launched a giant water balloon right at his head.

The Lamplighter swatted the water balloon out of the air with another giant energy hand.

Rip started to make another water power washer attack at him, maybe aimed at his crotch, when she was suddenly blinded.  There was a light in her eyes that was so bright and so hot she felt like she was roasting.  She hastily tossed up a water wall.

She gasped as another unbearably hot light attacked her from behind.  She put up another wall of water, but she felt the first one starting to dissolve.  No, it wasn’t dissolving, it was evaporating.

Two more lights burned down on her, and she felt her tidal wave start to shrink under the intense heat.  It wasn’t just that the heat was evaporating all her water, it was that it was making her lose her control, and water was slipping out of her grasp.

She used her water kickboard to spin ninety degrees and dart off to the side.  But even more blazing hot lights were on her.  She put up another wall of water, and she looked through the two feet of water at what she was facing.  Heat lamps.  The bastard was making giant heat lamps maybe fifteen feet across, and they were frying her water constructs.  They were frying her.

Rip forced a foot-wide blast of water right at one of the lamps, figuring she could bust it like breaking a lightbulb.  Her blast hit the lamp, and nothing.  Worse than nothing.  All the water she used just evaporated like mist.

And then there were three more of those damn giant heat lamps blazing down on her.  She tried to smash the one directly over her head with a giant water fist, but her water fist melted in mid-air before it got within ten feet of the thing.  She stumbled, and found that her tidal wave was down to a hot puddle.  She had tripped on the pavement as her water kickboard disintegrated out from under her.

Rip summoned up every bit of water she could and made one last, desperate attack directly at the Lamplighter.  She gave it everything she had.

She crumpled onto the sidewalk as the big jerk disintegrated her last bits of water.  The heat lamps stayed on her, draining her of any strength she had.

The Lamplighter swooped through the air back to Lady Darke and The Necromancer.  He couldn’t let some deranged aquakinetic stop him from protecting his city from this kind of foul threat.

Rip lay helplessly on the concrete as the Lamplighter flew at Chaka.  Toni was struggling to get up again.  And it looked like the Lamplighter was going to kill her this time.

 

ROXBURY C

Darrow growled into his ear, “Nightgaunt, whenever you’re ready.”

Nightgaunt tried to ignore the anger coming out of his earpiece.  He only had two shots at this, and he wasn’t going to waste the first one if he didn’t have to.  He held the tube and aimed carefully.  He just need that Tennyo chick to hold still for a second, or else charge right at him so he could be sure to hit her with the spell Darrow had in the thing.

He watched as Mimeo fought Tennyo, until finally Mimeo knocked the girl flying, and she hovered for a second to figure out what to do next.  He activated the spell by touching the sigil.  It felt like nothing happened.

But the girl vanished in the teleport spell.  He grinned as he thought about where she was going to reappear.

Nightgaunt immediately popped off the protective cover on the remote detonator and pressed the twin red buttons.  All the explosives he had planted went off in one huge boom.

 

Tennyo blinked.  What the heck was that?  A second ago, she was facing off against some snotty power mimic who was about to get his ass handed to him as soon as she figured out how, and then…

She realized she was in a concrete room.  No, her head was in a concrete hallway.  Her body was embedded in a wall.  Off to her left, a couple guys were standing at the bottom of a long sloping tunnel.  It was too long for her to see more than a little bit of the way up the tunnel.  But if she was at the bottom of a giant sloping tunnel and in a concrete hallway with no windows, then…

Uh-oh.

Before she realized anything else, there was a gigantic explosion.  Her first thought was she was going to be buried alive.  Trapped for who knew how long in the rubble of Roxbury C.

 

Speed Queen watched the light blink on the bomb.  She would have gasped if she could take a deep breath.

The entire building exploded.  Chunks of concrete and steel blasted her way along with a blast wave even she couldn’t outrun.  If she could have run.  She knew this was it.

The flying chunks hit the speed trap she was stuck in, and they too froze.  Hundreds of pounds of concrete and steel stopped just inches away from her, and hung there.  This was either incredibly lucky, or incredibly bad.  As she stood there, she realized.  They were still relentlessly moving at her, just really slowly.

Oh damn!

 

<(Lancer) Tennyo!  Come in please!  Tennyo!>

<(Phase) For God’s sake Billie, answer!>

<(Tennyo) I’m here.  I’m in trouble.  I got teleported down into Roxbury C, and I got teleported into a wall.  I think if I hadn’t been horizontal, I’d be completely inside the wall.  My head’s on one side, and I can kick my legs on the other, but then I think the entire tunnel got collapsed.  I can’t see through the dust.>

<(Lancer) We won’t leave you.  But we’ve got Mimeo and The Necromancer both, plus some other badguys.>

<(Fey) And I could still use some help over here!>

<(Lancer) Oh shit.  It’s Mimeo.>

<(Tennyo) Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.>

<(Phase) Totally not funny.>

 

Mimeo dropped the lightsaber when Rox C exploded.  He knew immediately what happened.  That asshole Darrow.  What was it with that guy and killing everything that moved?  Mimeo didn’t exactly have a lot of friends down in The Pit, but nobody deserved to be killed like that.  Or even worse, buried alive, so far down below the ground you couldn’t even hope to dig your way out.

The lightsaber fell and hit the pavement, blowing a huge hole in the ground.  Whoa.  Those things were more powerful than he realized.

There was no reason to just kill everyone in sight and blow up a place like that.  He decided he was going to wait until the redhead lost to Darrow, and then turn that guy into magical chop suey.  He looked around to see whose powers he could get next.

Right.  The guy who was probably a PK brick.  Mimeo used his new fast flight to zoom in on the guy.

Lancer leapt into the air as Mimeo came his way.  He was really hoping the guy still didn’t understand about Tennyo’s powers, because otherwise they were all in a world of trouble.  But since the guy could mimic her powers enough to make one of her energy swords, that didn’t seem likely.  Hank was figuring that as soon as Mimeo made another energy sword, he and everyone in the area would be in little tiny pieces.

Lancer hit the guy with everything he had.  Mimeo just brush-blocked him so fast it was like sparring with Aries.  Then Mimeo put out a hand and zapped Lancer with a huge electrical shock.

Lancer absorbed the energy attack and hurled it right back at Mimeo’s head, hoping he could get in a lucky shot or at least blind him long enough to get in a couple punches.  He quickly followed that with a punch to the solar plexus and a spinkick.

Mimeo took the blows.  He was using the PK superboy routine, while he still had that PDP power.  But the kid was strong enough to bust right through it.  Not a problem.  Mimeo was a high-level Exemplar, so he could take the rest of the force of the blows without too much trouble.  And anything his Exemplar power couldn’t handle, his Shifter powers just absorbed, like he was made out of clay.

The kid wasn’t stopping.  But by the second kick, Mimeo had the kid’s PK power too.  He punched right through the kid’s PK field using the Ryoko-chick’s punch-through-forcefields power.  One strike to the kid’s solar plexus doubled him over, and a second strike to the kid’s jaw laid him out.  Mimeo flew to the ground and dropped the kid there.

Mimeo looked around, assessing the battlezone.  He spotted the density warper flying his way, and the girl was flying pretty frigging fast.  So someone else wanted to play.  Good.

 

Ironhawk staggered through the hallways of The Pit.  God damn it, did his jaw hurt!  He hadn’t wanted to fight Mimeo barehanded, but the guy just wouldn’t leave it alone.  Ironhawk did a Magneto-style Energizer bit that wasn’t all that useful for direct fighting.  What it was good for was routing power into things he grabbed.  So what he specialized in was being a power armor jock who didn’t need batteries or remote power transfer.  It wasn’t his fault he’d gotten his ass kicked by a little deviser girl and got thrown in here.

If there was a jailbreak going on, he wanted out.  There were dead jailers, and that meant if he stayed he was going to be facing a shitload of Murder One charges as an accomplice, even if he hadn’t shot anybody.

He turned a corner and found the tunnel was open.  The massive door wasn’t closed at all.  He spotted a couple guys lurking just in the tunnel, so he had to wonder what the hell was going on that they weren’t running for it.  If it was Darrow turning the entire area into a deathtrap, maybe he’d stay down here too.  He was just being cautious, you know.

There was a sudden flash up ahead, and some weird reddish circle on the wall kind of exploded.  When he blinked, he saw the circle was gone, and a girl’s head was mounted there like a trophy.

Oh God.  His stomach lurched.  The girl was still alive.  She moved her head and tried to look around.  Maybe she was embedded in the wall.

Before he could do anything else, there was an explosion.  A whole series of explosions, one on top of the next.  The tunnel collapsed, crushing those guys who were standing there.  Dust and rubble came pouring down.  Ironhawk used his Energizer powers to put up a weak forcefield.  He couldn’t make a forcefield strong enough to fight a brick, but he could make one strong enough to catch some bouncing chunks of concrete.  Plus, it would ionize the dust and give him a ball of breathable air.  That girl, if she was still alive after the explosions, was probably going to choke to death.

 

Tennyo looked around.  She was still trapped in the wall.  The dust was so thick she couldn’t see.  If she’d needed to breathe, she’d be in big trouble.

Who was she kidding?  She was in huge trouble.  Even if the team knew where she was, she was trapped down in Roxbury C.  In a solid wall.  That had to be really thick, since only her head was sticking out on this side, and it felt like the wall was holding her all the way to her hips.  And she didn’t know if she could even try to bust loose without taking the rest of the ceiling with her.  She shuddered at the thought of being trapped, all alone, under tons and tons of rock.

Someone was walking toward her.  Whoever it was, they were making the dust fly off to the sides.  That was probably a PK or static electric power.  Maybe magic.

The guy walked past her about fifteen feet and stopped at a tilted wall of rubble.  Big chunks of concrete.  Huge pieces of broken rebar.  She gulped as she realized there was a hand sticking out at the bottom.  A really dead hand.

The guy walked back to her and groaned.  “Oh shit, not you again.  Is your little deviser friend loose up top?”

She looked at him pretty hard, but she didn’t recognize him.  But if he knew Jade, and he was worried about her and not Phase or Fey or Lancer or Bladedancer, then that made him…  “Ironhawk?  Is that you?”

“Uhh, yeah.  How’d you know?”

She admitted, “Nobody else from that fight was gonna be worried about Generator.”

He frowned, “You know, because of that, The Necromancer left me to rot down here.  If Mimeo hadn’t been looking for someone to fight, I’d still be in one of those cells.”  He rubbed his jaw.  There was a pretty good-sized lump forming on the left side.

She said, “Yeah, he pretty well kicked me around before I got teleported down here.”

Ironhawk shrugged.  “He kicks everybody around.  You know he was only in here because the Justice Brigade finally beat him.  He smacked them around about ten, twenty times in a row before they finally tricked him and won.  Once.  And the West Coast League and Inter league have never beaten him.”

A guy who had ‘mild-mannered reporter’ written all over him, except he was in prison orange and partly covered in dust, walked up.  He looked over Tennyo and the wall.  Then he added, “The Empire City Guard like to talk up how they beat him too.  No one wants to admit they beat him when he was like twelve.  And it took every single one of ‘em, all working together.”  He looked down and said, “Hi.  I’m MoleAr.  And you are…?”

“Tennyo.”

Another guy walked up.  This one didn’t look so nice.  He was mostly Asian, and big, and powerfully built.  He smirked, “Tennyo?  You don’t sound Japanese.  Even if you look it.  You can call me… the Black Tiger.”

She didn’t think that sounded too promising.  The only guys she had ever heard of who used ‘black’ in their codenames either had darkness powers, or were actually black, or else were supervillains.  She was betting pretty heavily on Option C there.

MoleAr said, “I don’t know if you can bust out of that wall or not, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  It’s a load-bearing wall, and we don’t have a lot left thats holding up the ceiling in this area.”

She gulped at the thought of burying herself and everyone left down here under hundreds of tons of rock.  She felt a sudden panic at the thought of being trapped in a tiny place, far from everyone she knew, with no food and no rescue.

One of the thugs lurking behind Black Tiger grinned, “Hey, if her ass is hangin’ out on the other side of that wall, I say we have ourselves a little party while we figure out how we’re gonna get outta here!”

She suddenly felt a very different sort of panic.

 

Phase flew headlong at Mimeo.  “Oh God.  I’m deliberately tackling Mimeo.  Right after he got Tennyo and Lancer’s powers, plus whatever he had before he showed up.  This has to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my entire, about-to-be-extremely-short life.  Well, fighting that demon at Christmas was even dumber.  So now I feel much better.  This is only the second most stupid thing I’ve ever done.”

He knew there was no way he could take someone who could wield Billie and Hank’s powers combined.  He might as well try to tackle Superman and Wonder Woman simultaneously.  His only chance was if Mimeo used those powers to get a copy of his powers.  If so, he figured he had three options.  Assuming Mimeo let him live that long.

Phase checked, just in case.  He took a ninja dart off the back of his hand and threw it.  If it went through Mimeo or stabbed into him, then those PK forcefields weren’t up, and Phase would risk a fast disruption-light attack.

The dart pinged off Mimeo’s field.  Crap.  Okay, time to go do something phenomenally stupid.  If only he had a poison gas egg – which wouldn’t work anyway, because Hank’s PK superboy field might block out the gas and Billie’s powers would keep the gas from being effective anyway – or a tangleweb egg – which wouldn’t work because Hank’s PK field would keep the webbing from touching his skin or clothing so it wouldn’t stick to anything – or even a cannonball – which wouldn’t get through Hank’s PK field.  Shit.  Phase threw his last ice egg.

Mimeo saw the egg flying his way, and immediately knew it was a deviser weapon.  He used his PK from his PDP power to slap it out of the air and throw it back at the warper.  It passed through her harmlessly.

Phase tried to ignore the ice egg as it soared through his body and then fell to the ground.  So Mimeo had Billie and Hank’s powers, plus a bunch of other stuff too.  Maybe a remote PK power, or Wizard, or Avatar.  Phase had no idea what, and he vividly remembered the last sim where they hadn’t known what to expect.  Crap!

Phase winced inwardly.  That meant it was down to one ‘up close and personal’ option, and if that didn’t work, then the three options he had for wrecking someone with density warper powers.  Great.

Mimeo zipped in closer.  He could tell this one was tricky.  Warpers didn’t usually go with holdouts.  He could feel the girl was going to try something funky.  He just couldn’t tell what.  Yet.

Phase closed with Mimeo and went heavy just before they collided.  He got in one sidekick before he dropped hard to the ground.  The kick did nothing against Mimeo’s PK field.  It was just like kicking Hank.

Mimeo closed in.  The girl was in an odd position.  Part aikido, but one hand behind her back.  She had another weapon to try out.  He flew in and hit her, giving her a quick shot so he could get more of her powers.

Phase took the shot.  It was like getting hit by a train, but he was heavy so it only knocked him back a few feet.  He faked a kick and then struck at Mimeo’s chest.  With Harvey’s forcefield buster in his palm.  It exploded.

Phase gaped in astonishment, as Harvey’s devise actually, really worked.  On a PK field.  The explosion was uni-directional, blasting Mimeo back half a dozen feet and burning right through that prison shirt to leave a wicked burn.

Mimeo let his new Regen heal his burn, and he put up a PK shield halfway between him and the girl.  He could feel he was getting the girl’s density changing powers.  This was going really well.

Phase leapt forward, making sure he was maximally heavy.  He figured he would only have one shot while Mimeo was healing, and…  He hit an invisible PK barrier that would have clobbered him if he had hit it while light.  Damn!  And Mimeo was healing at Tennyo’s rate, so he was virtually back to normal before Phase managed to punch his way through the barrier.  Once he fractured the barrier, he threw another ninja dart off the back of his hand.  It sailed cleanly through Mimeo.  Which meant Mimeo had a copy of his powers and was trying them out.  Perfect.  He switched on his PFG, made sure he was heavy, and leapt at Mimeo.

Mimeo picked up when the kid turned on a personal forcefield projector.  Man, did he love PDP powers.  He used his new power to go really dense, and then he waited for the attack.  When the girl lunged, he simply punched through the PFG with the Ryoko chick’s power.

Phase took a punch in the jaw that knocked him over.  And his PFG shorted out.  He groaned, “Not again!”  This was not going well.  Time for Option B, the Counterpoint Option.  And if this didn’t work, it would be down to Option C, the Really Sucky Option.  He threw his last ninja dart, and Mimeo dodged it by going light.  Phase leapt over him and tried for a full nelson.  He failed.  Mimeo was just too damn fast and too damn strong.  He still heaved backward and dragged Mimeo underground…

Mimeo flew back up to the surface, the unconscious girl tucked under one arm.  He didn’t think the girl had really thought things through.  As soon as she got that close, he let her have it with a massive shock, courtesy of his Magneto-ish power.  That took her out.  He assumed she was planning on leaving him underground and disoriented enough not to be able to fly back up.  But he had a really terrific directional sense.  So it wasn’t a problem.  He dropped the girl on the pavement and went after the redheaded mage.

Fey felt another set of emotions coming at her, this time from the side.  It didn’t feel like Nightgaunt.  That guy was creepy.  No, this felt completely different.  She cast a defensive shield, just a split second before something struck that felt like a freight train.  Or Lancer.  She looked over in horror and realized the prisoner pounding on her force field had to be Mimeo.  And…

Mimeo put his hands together and pulled them apart, creating one of Tennyo’s energy sword.  He smiled mischievously as he slashed right through the redhead’s magical barrier.

Fey hurled a fireball at Darrow, while simultaneously launching a magical capture net at Mimeo.  She had just barely been holding off Darrow when the old creep had Nightgaunt attacking her from behind every few seconds.  Now she had a major threat on her side too, and no help at all.  <(Fey) I need some help now!  Phase?  Lancer?  Tennyo?>

<(Tennyo) I’m stuck down in Rox C.  I haven’t heard anything from Lancer or Phase since Mimeo hit ‘em.>

<(Fey) Oh Goddess!>

Fey watched as Mimeo took her spell net and ripped it apart.  He had the gall to laugh while he did it.  As soon as he saw her looking his way, he leered, “Oh yeah, baby!  Sock it to me!”

Mimeo felt it the moment he got the girl’s powers.  It was suddenly as if the whole world shifted.  Everything changed.  His body filled with Quintessence.  Lines appeared all over the place, especially going right to Darrow and the girl.  He could tell they were ley lines, and he could see the girl pulling in Essence like a magical vacuum cleaner.  He knew he could figure out what the colors meant too, if he just had the time.  Then he suddenly felt the emotions.  Darrow’s cold emptiness.  The girl’s fear and concern and concentration and anger and… something else that hardly seemed human.  Before Mimeo could process all of that, the noise hit him.  It felt like everything around him was singing a song of connection.  The rocks.  The trees.  The gravel in the asphalt.  The sand and pebbles in the concrete.  The cotton in his clothes.  Everything was yelling at him.  And then his skin began to burn where his socks and the band of his undershorts were touching him.  He was paralyzed with the overwhelming sensations.

 

THE HOSTAGE CRISIS

Bladedancer lay still, as Captain Tilley had his men search the room and check the nearby areas.  She just said, “They jumped into a portal.  Something Darrow had for them.”

Tilley nodded.  “Yeah, probably.  But I’m gonna go with protocol anyway.  Better safe than sorry.”  Then he moved over to check on Mrs. Boothroyd-Merriman and the kids.

<(Bladedancer) Gen, I really need some help right away.  I have a punctured kidney and I think I am about to pass out.>

<(Generator) Oh crud.>  Generator slowly got up off the floor and limped over to Bladedancer.

<(Bladedancer) Are you okay?>

<(Generator)  I will be.  Some broken ribs and some bruises, but everything’s healing.>

A medic jumped over to check on Bladedancer, and Generator griped, “Do you mind?”

The medic frowned, “Look kid, you may be a superhero, but this is my job.”

Generator put a hand on his shirt and cast into his clothing.  Then she pushed him backward like he was weightless.  Well, she pretended to, while she let Jann do all the hard work.  She snapped, “No.  She’s my teammate, and this is my job.  She has a broken rib, and it’s punctured a kidney.  If you don’t let me fix things, she’ll die in no time.”

The medic growled, “And how the hell do you know that without even touching her?”

“I’m a deviser.  This is what I do.”  She knelt beside Chou and put two of her disks on Chou’s back.  Then she cast Jasmine into the disks and Chou’s whole body.  Both began blinking away, like they were doing something important.  “Umm, ‘Dancer, this may hurt a bit.”

Bladedancer lay as still as she could.  She could feel something in her skin and in her muscles.  Something that affected her Ki in odd ways.  She knew it was one of the J-Team.  She knew what the J-Team had been able to do for Jade in the past, so she crossed her fingers and didn’t move.

Jasmine checked carefully.  She couldn’t find anything wrong except the rib and the kidney, but that was a doozy.  She made sure she had a grip on the kidney, and she lifted out the rib.  Then, while she held the blood in the kidney, she carefully swung the rib back into place.  It was still broken, but at least it wasn’t killing anyone anymore.  She focused on the kidney.  She didn’t really know how kidneys worked, but she could see how the other kidney looked, so she re-folded the various pieces and put everything back together as much as she could.  Then she squeezed as much blood as she could back into the kidney.  It was pretty hard to move something like water, but blood was chock full of little tiny bits.  The bits were too small for her to grab, but together they made the blood thick enough that she could move it around a bit.  And she could squeeze the other parts of Chou’s abdomen to press the blood back in, like squeezing a really icky toothpaste tube.  Once she got as much blood back in as she could, she held the outer covering of the kidney closed, so no more blood would leak out.

<(Bladedancer) Thank you.  That feels a lot better.>

<(Generator) And your blood pressure’s nearly normal now.>

<(Bladedancer) How can you tell?>

<(Generator) I’ve got a finger in Jasmine, so I can tell.  Your pulse is back to normal, and the blood is flowing with normal pressure.  We just have to get you back to Fey.  Or Prism.>

<(Bladedancer) Prism would be good.  Phase said Prism saved his arm back in the fall.>

Generator looked at the medic and said, “Okay, you can check her vitals now, if you want to.  I’ve got the kidney temporarily closed until we get her to a Healer, and the rib’s held in place so it won’t do any more damage.”

Bladedancer added, “And I could really use a gigantic Tylenol.”

 

ROXBURY C

MoleAr looked at the damage that was all that was left of the tunnel.  He knew from the number of explosions that the entire tunnel had to be collapsed.  Hundreds of feet of sloping tunnel, all filled with rubble.   He asked, “Has anybody checked to see if the warden’s emergency escape is still clear?”

One of the Black Tiger’s sidekicks sneered, “Oh you mean the secret emergency escape no one knows about?  I already looked.  Someone blasted it apart too.  The warden’s office is hip deep in concrete chunks at the door, and worse as you go back to the escape tunnel.  The whole thing’s blocked as far as I can tell.”

The other sidekick leered at Tennyo.  “Well, why don’t we pass away the time with a pretty girl, while we wait for a couple weeks for ‘em to dig us outta here?”

MoleAr just said, “I think that’s a really bad idea.”

Ironhawk said, “She’s tougher than she looks.  I mean, Arch-Fiend tough.  And she’s got friends who are worse.  Up there.”  He pointed at the ceiling.  “I wouldn’t want to have to explain to them what I did to their friend.  One of ‘em’s beaten The Necromancer in magical fights.  Twice.  In the last six months.  So we’re talking Magus-class power.  You up to fighting someone like that?”

The Black Tiger glared at Ironhawk.  “Chickenshit.”

Ironhawk just shrugged, “Nope, just playing it careful.”

Tennyo said, “One other thing you ought to know about.”  She summoned up her energy and spit on the floor.  The explosion nearly knocked a couple guys over.  “My secretions have anti-matter in ‘em.  All my secretions.”

The two sidekicks looked at each other.  One said, “All her secretions?”  The other one grabbed his crotch and muttered, “Ye-ouch.”

MoleAr said, “I can’t get you out of the wall, but I can clear the concrete from around you.”

Tennyo nodded.  “Do it.  I can probably get the rest of it.”

MoleAr put his hand on the wall beside her head.  And concrete began oozing away from her like it was a thick mud.  Within seconds, it had moved back far enough for her to see that she was in the middle of a jungle gym of welded rebar.  Within a few more seconds, the concrete had slid away, leaving a tunnel more than two feet across.

Tennyo said, “Thanks.”  Then she pressed a hand against a thick piece of rebar and focused on her plasma.  The rebar exploded.

“Holy shit!” someone gulped.

Tennyo blasted another piece of rebar, and the felons began nervously backing away from her.  She found she had just enough room to get her hands together to create her energy sword.  Once she had that, she rotated once, slicing rebar apart like it was cooked spaghetti.  She held the sword so it pointed down one edge of the tunnel, and she rotated again, shearing off all the rebar that was around her torso.  She floated out, holding the sword in a ready position.

The Black Tiger checked in a fake-careless voice, “Umm, that’s not a real lightsaber, is it?”

Tennyo shrugged, “Oh no, it’s anti-matter in a forcefield.  But I can handle it just fine.”

“Anti-matter?” someone squeaked.

MoleAr nervously said, “Umm, you might want to find a way to put that back.  That much anti-matter?  The explosion would make this place collapse on us.”

Tennyo carefully absorbed the sword into herself, and formed a plasma ball in one hand.  She asked, “How about I just do a little explosion?  You know, blast us out of here?”

MoleAr pointed out, “I don’t think you can.  There’s pretty hefty magical protections on the floors and ceilings and outside walls, even up in the walls of the tunnel.  I haven’t been able to make a dent in it.”

She figured it wouldn’t hurt to try, so she threw her plasma ball up at the ceiling.  To her surprise, it ricocheted off some sort of magical barrier and flew off to the side, into some sort of office room.  She managed not to wince as the ball exploded, destroying the entire room.  Several guys in orange dove for cover.  “Oops.”

MoleAr sighed, “I believe you’ve made my point for me.”

“Okay,” she said.  “So what do we do?”

He looked around.  “The only way out is the rubble in the tunnel.  We tunnel into the debris, dealing with the way the rubble will slide down toward us as we work.  The magical spells in the tunnel ought to be as wrecked as the walls.  So once we get far enough into the tunnel to get around the magical effects of the ceiling in here, we can go straight up.  We just solidify the debris as we go.  Then we tunnel upward a bit at a time, making sidesteps to deal with the problem we’ll have when we finally get through the bedrock.”

The Black Tiger sneered, “Oh, and what makes you such a big expert on this shit?”

MoleAr mildly said, “This is what I do.  I have a Masters and a Ph.D. in mining engineering from Texas A & M.”

The Black Tiger didn’t say anything, but his face was sure red.

 

Lancer forced himself awake.  His gut hurt, and his jaw hurt, and his head felt like a giant church bell was ringing inside it.  He made himself stand up using his PK field, because he didn’t trust his balance yet.  He surveyed the battlefield and winced.  Shit.  Tennyo was trapped down in Rox C.  Phase was out cold over there.  Fey was fighting Necro and that weasel Nightgaunt.  Mimeo was just standing there watching the show, probably waiting to beat up whoever won.  And it looked like Matterhorn was heading for Phase.  Double shit.

He decided.  He’d clock Matterhorn, and then use the giant to beat the shit out of Necro and Nightgaunt.  Even a guy who can dive into shadows can’t dodge something the size of a building.

The Necromancer noticed Lancer out of the corner of his eye.  PK supermen.  They always thought they were unstoppable.  Idiots.  This one was just standing there.  He spoke into his mike.  “Nightgaunt, Lancer is up.  Take care of him.”

Nightgaunt stepped out of a shadow behind Lancer.  He pulled from his cloak the box that Darrow had marked for the PK superboy.  He pointed the correct face at Lancer and squeezed the box.

Lancer gasped as a blast of violet light hit him in the back.  Suddenly he was frozen in place.  He strained desperately, but he couldn’t move.  He couldn’t inhale.  Oh God, he couldn’t breathe!  No wait, he could get a little air by breathing out and then inhaling back to where his chest was before.  Which meant his muscles weren’t paralyzed, so…  It dawned on him.  That violet light thing.  It was one of Darrow’s spells.  It didn’t paralyze him.  It paralyzed his PK field, or completely took it over.

He was helpless.  He couldn’t help anyone, and everyone else needed help instantly.

Nightgaunt strolled over to the jerk who had ruined a perfectly good Double Eagle back in the fall.  He pushed the guy, and the whole PK field easily moved under his hand, like a balloon.  Trapped inside his PK field, and The Necromancer’s spell had made it so you could only move the PK field from the outside.  He slapped a C-4 bomb against the base of the nearby concrete block wall and stepped into a shadow before it detonated.

The entire wall fell over, smashing Lancer underneath it.

 

Darrow had the little queenling almost exactly where he wanted her, thanks to the temporary intervention of that moron Mimeo.  He switched over to a couple of force spells, driving her backward.

Fey blocked the force spells and pushed forward.  If Darrow was trying to drive her backward, she was going in the opposite direction.  She took another step, and then felt it.  It was as if someone had sucked the blood out of her legs.  She was in a spellfield.  A magical trap.  The ley lines were all diverting out from under her, pulling Essence away from her.  She struggled to perform a protective incantation while making an effort to pull in a little more Essence from the trees off on the other side of the pavement.

Darrow spoke into his mike, “Nightgaunt.  Step number eight.  Now.”

Fey struggled to take a single step, but couldn’t move.  She winced as Nightgaunt appeared right in front of her and tossed a small ball at her chest before ducking into another shadow.  The ball exploded, knocking her painfully backward.  Rather than expend her limited Essence on protection or trying to maintain her position, she let the blast knock her out backward… out of the spellfield.  She landed hard on her back, but she landed outside the spellfield.

Darrow smiled in triumph behind his mask.  “Nightgaunt.  Number nine now.”

Fey looked up in shock as Nightgaunt appeared over her.  He plunged a cold iron spear right through her abdomen, pinning her to the ground and shorting out her magic.  She screamed at the unbearable pain.

 

Matterhorn loomed over the unconscious girl.  He pulled off her headmask.  Yeah, he’d watched her take out those pricks just seconds ago.  She was the same bitch who made him look like a loser a couple months ago.  He owed her a huge payback.  He kicked her in the ribs hard enough that he heard the crack of bone.  “Hey Endora, ‘cmere.”

A thirty-ish nerd stomped over and complained in an Australian accent.  “Shut your hole, you know I don’t like that name.  It’s Endor.”

Matterhorn ignored the complaint.  “Can you do a spell that keeps a density warper from changing density?  Lycanthros told me yesterday that’s what she’s got.”

Endor shrugged.  “Oh sure.  But it’ll cost you.”

Matterhorn muttered, “Yeah, yeah, you know I’m good for it.  The next time you need hired help, you got my services for free.”

Endor said, “Whoa, you must really hate this little slag.”  He knew Matterhorn was damn expensive.  He’d never been able to afford top-notch minion material like that.  He whipped up a spell on a sheet of paper, using a broken pen so he could manipulate the ink with his forefinger.  He slapped the paper against the girl’s chest with a push of Quintessence, and the sheet flared brightly.  The girl gasped in pain and opened her eyes.

Matterhorn grew to fifteen feet tall and stomped on the girl’s right arm.  She screamed in agony.

Endor winced a little.  He could hear the bones snap in the kid’s forearm.  The kid tried to move.  Probably trying to use her powers.  Nothing happened.  He smirked at her, “It’s a nonstandard encasement spell for Warpers.  You can’t change density or teleport or change size to escape it.

Matterhorn grinned down at the girl, “Think you can make a monkey outta me?  Well, payback’s a bitch!”

The girl tried to grab the sheet stuck to her chest, but she couldn’t get her left hand within three inches of the paper.

Endor gleefully explained, “You wouldn’t want a spell to be that easy to thwart, would you?  It’s set up so you can’t touch it and you can’t change density to go through it, and you can’t teleport away from it.”  The girl kept scrabbling at the paper.  They always did.

Endor turned his head, “I’m getting out of here.  The cops’ll send reinforcements any second, and I need a hell of a lot more Quintessence before I’ll be ready to take on a couple teams of power armor guys armed with field weapons.  But keep in touch.  I’ll be back in business soon.”  He ran as fast as he could away from where The Necromancer was having that big battle with that hot redheaded mage.  He didn’t have enough Quintessence to try leaching energy from the side of that fight, and he definitely didn’t want The Necromancer coming after him.

Matterhorn watched the little squirt go.  Then he got back to business.  At fifteen feet high, he could do a lot of damage, and he was gonna enjoy damaging this little bitch until he needed to take off.  When he was forty feet tall, he was easy to see, but people tended to overlook the fact that he could run pretty goddamn fast at that size.  He stomped on the girl’s knee, and was rewarded with a screech of agony.

He leaned down until his face was right over hers.  He grinned nastily, “And guess what the best part of it is, honey?  No one’s gonna stop me.  Everyone around here right now’s gonna think this is the funniest thing they’ve seen all year long.  Got anything to say before I break your funny bone?”

The girl looked up at him like she was the fucking boss of everything, and he was like some crappy servant or something.  He felt her scrabble feebly at his hip.  She sounded like she was having trouble breathing from the broken ribs, but she still spoke.  “We… are… not… amused.”

And then everything went to hell for him.

Literally.

 

THE MUSEUM

Chaka groaned at the pain coursing through her.  The Lamplighter was coming right at her again, and she couldn’t even get up off her face.

That was when she heard the heavy tromping of power armor running her way.  Oh God, not more threats!  She managed to raise her head as a big guy in power armor loomed right over her.  Oh crap, there were five guys in power armor.

Then she recognized the armor.  She groaned, “What the hell?  I’m bein’ rescued by the freakin’ Knights of Purity?”  Then the truth dawned on her.  She angrily yelped, “AYLA!”

Three power armor suits stood between her and the Lamplighter.  Two more took up stations as support.  One of them stepped forward and called out through a hidden speaker in his armor.  “Lamplighter!  We are a duly authorized Knights of Purity team.  Please withdraw immediately!”

The Lamplighter used his lamp to produce a giant megaphone in front of his face.  “Knights of Purity!  You have no idea who you are dealing with!  That’s The Necromancer!  And with him is Lady Darke!  You have no chance of dealing with his eldritch evil!”

Chaka muttered, “Man!  Who talks like that these days?”

The lead Knight insisted, “You are mistaken.  These are definitely not The Necromancer and Lady Darke.  In fact, Lady Darke is in prison right now.”

The Lamplighter yelled, “No, you are the ones who have been deluded!”

The lead Knight seemed to be losing his temper.  “Look pal, you’re the only one around here who can’t tell that you just beat up Dyna-Man and a couple girls!”

The Lamplighter let his megaphone fade away.  He stopped in mid-air and concentrated.  Suddenly, a helmet of light formed around his head.  It grew until it was nearly a yard across.  And then The Lamplighter froze in horror.  He turned to face the leader of the power armor forces.  “Thank you, my good man.  You are unfortunately right.  Someone has ensorcelled me and… apparently used me to attack the forces of Right.  I need to find out who did it, and teach them a lesson.”

The leader of the power armor forces stepped forward.  “Our intelligence suggests that it’s The Necromancer.”

“Darrow.”  The Lamplighter uttered the syllables with an icy hatred.  He spun about and flew off toward the center of the city.

 

ROXBURY C

Lancer couldn’t breathe.  He was flat on his stomach against the ground, with the whole wall on top of him.  The collapsing wall had smashed him to the ground, somehow.  It must have been something to do with how the paralyzing spell worked, because it should have just fallen around him and left him standing there after taking a couple tons of impact.  He didn’t know what it was.  He just knew he was buried under tons of concrete wall, and the dust was choking him through his PK field, and he couldn’t breathe.  His field was holding him prisoner…

Wait a minute.  He could turn off his PK field.  Which might break the paralyzing spell.  Or it might not.  He didn’t know.  Either way, the tons of concrete on top of him would crush him like a bug as soon as his PK field went off.  But if he didn’t do something, and fast, he was going to suffocate.

 

Ayla turned his head away just as Matterhorn realized that Phase had smashed something into the pants pocket of his prison clothes.  Matterhorn started to reach for whatever it was, when a fireball exploded from his crotch.

Phase gasped at the searing pain.  His uniform was protecting him everywhere it covered him, but without that headmask he was getting a nasty burn on the side of his face.  He hadn’t been sure it was a fireball egg, but he’d used it anyway.  He’d been just that desperate.

The spellsheet on his chest had no protections against outside attacks, so it burned off instantly.

Matterhorn screamed like a girl and sprinted for a nearby pond.  Phase lay there, trying not to breathe hard because of the pain in his side.  He couldn’t believe he’d done something so horrible.  All that talk about not wanting to hurt other people, and it was just bullshit.  When he’d been threatened, he’d used a fireball egg on another person.  And he’d said Cobrafire was a bastard.  He had to face facts.  He was nothing but a hypocrite.

And he didn’t have time for this angst.  He had to try to save someone, even though he hurt too much to move.

 

Darrow finally got the message he had been waiting for.  The earpiece crackled with the voice of his informant.  “Sir, the police were staked out at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, south of the turnpike.”

“Thank you,” he graveled.  The Gardner Museum.  He knew precisely what that meant.  He spoke into his mike.  “Nightgaunt.  Vamp is our mole.  Kill her.”

 

Nightgaunt emerged from a shadow that nearly engulfed the girl.  She was laid out on the ground and looking really groggy.  Good.  He didn’t have any need to be Mister Chivalry.  He just wanted to make sure of his target.  He knelt down and put one of his Double Eagles against her temple.

Vamp opened her eyes blearily and groaned, “That bitch, I’ll…”  She took one look at the handgun and knew her cover was blown.  “Just one thing before you pull the trigger, Nighty-night.”

He expected her to plead for her life, or say she was sorry for something he couldn’t care less about.  He wasn’t going to wait.  He didn’t care what she was going to tell him, and he wasn’t stupid enough to let an Exemplar have a split second to attack him.

She said, “You’re a moron.”

He quickly pulled the trigger.  And she vanished into the shadow.  The bullet spanged off the concrete where she had been flat on her back.

What?  He grabbed his belt.  His gems!  That bitch, she’d snagged the power gems off his belt while she was lying there!

He blanched underneath his mask.  Oh fuck.  When Darrow found out he’d failed, and Vamp now had his shadow-walking gems, he’d be lucky if Darrow only tortured him a while and then killed him.  He started running.

He ran away from Rox C and toward the street.  He needed to get the hell away from here.  Once he was out of sight of everyone, he’d pull off the cape and facemask.  Then he’d just be some guy in a black turtleneck and tight black pants and heavy boots.  He’d keep his Double Eagles and his bootknife and his escrima sticks and his nunchucks and any C-4 bombs that were left.  He’d need to steal a bag to put everything into, because there was no way he was hanging onto Darrow’s magical Bag of Holding hidden in that tiny pocket inside the cloak.  Darrow could track that.  No, he’d toss the cloak onto a passing train or something.  Then he needed to steal some clothes so he could look like any other guy, and he’d get the hell out of town.  He could pull it off, too.  No one knew what he really looked like.  Not even Darrow, as far as he knew.  Darrow had a magical tracker on him, like Darrow had on all of them, but he knew a guy in Nashua who knew a guy who could get rid of magical things like that.  And then he’d vanish.  He’d move to San Diego or Phoenix, and go back to small-time crime, like he used to do before he got Nightgaunt’s suit.  And if he was lucky, he’d never see the Necromancer or Vamp again as long as he lived.

He kept running.

 

THE MUSEUM

Chaka looked up at the guy looming over her.  Shit.

The armored figure reached out a hand and said, “Do you need medical attention?  We can have an ambulance and EMTs here in minutes, and I’ve got some EMT training, so I could check you right now if you’d rather.”

Chaka groaned as she forced herself to her hands and knees.  She was not going to take help from these pricks.  For one thing, she’d never hear the end of it from Ayla.  She focused, and used her Ki to look over her own Ki.  Okay, at least nothing major looked wrong, even if she felt like she had a bruise.  Just one bruise.  Maybe it started at the top of her head and ran down her body to the soles of her feet.  Mostly on her back side, but some on her front side too.  And on her sides.  She groaned, “I’m good.”

The power armor guy had the nerve to laugh.  “You sound like me and my buddies after our first day at hand-to-hand in basic training.  Come on, I’ll help you up, and find you someplace better to lie down than a concrete sidewalk.”

She got one knee under her and pushed.  “No, I’m… oww… good.  Really.  Oww!”

That was when she realized the guy had a limp, even with the power armor.  His leg.  The same leg she had hammered on that guy back in Baltimore.  Could this be the same guy?  And now he was saving her hide?  Okay, she was gonna find the Tao and give it one heck of a kick in the shins.

She cautiously asked, “Did you hurt your leg?”

He said, “Nah, it got busted a couple weeks ago, I thought I was gonna get drummed out of the frontline teams for keeps, but my girlfriend took me to see this Healer, and she fixed me right up.  In another couple weeks, I’ll be good as new.”

It probably was the same guy.  She wasn’t gonna kick the Tao in the shins, she was gonna kick it right in the crotch.

 

THE RESTAURANT

Leader 2 winced, waiting for the deadly blast, and…

Nothing happened.  The restaurant didn’t explode in an immense blast of C-4.  There wasn’t even any ‘bang’ outside.  Leader 2 clicked the button over and over.  “Goddamnit, this is supposed to work!”

Janice picked up the frying pan she had dropped earlier, and brought it down.  Hard.  Twice.  She made sure the guy wasn’t going to wake up for another three or four hours.

Sam looked away from the kitchen.  She knew from her nanites that the last attacker was down in the kitchen, so she didn’t need to direct any pursuit.  She started ordering everyone about.  “Prism!  Check Officer Green pronto.  Devisers!  Work over every power armor suit ASAP.  Disconnect the battery power, or disrupt the battery.”

Loophole suggested, “Excuse me ma’am, but Ah have a thought on that.”  She proceeded to point out where the battery sat on the back of the power armor, and how to disconnect the battery power with little more than a tableknife in the right place.

Sam nodded, “Thank you, Loophole.  Okay devisers, you heard her, hop to it!”  She glanced again at Loophole, who was suiting words to actions and was already yanking a massive battery loose.  That girl was frightening.  Sam wondered uncomfortably what Loophole would be able to do if she ever touched her nanite body.

Sam continued, “Bricks!  Pick a man in body armor and stand guard.  We need to secure them and make sure none of them can pull a .38 out of a hide-out holster and fill some of us with lead.  I’ll do the bodysearches, starting with this guy here and moving clockwise.  Move it!”

She wasn’t going to say so out loud, but with her nanites, she could check an entire attacker in milliseconds.  This one was unconscious, and going to stay that way for a while.  Good.  She pulled two throwing knives, a 1970’s Soviet Army combat knife hidden in a sheath at the nape of his neck, a ninja throwing star, two Colt .45s, and a four-shot derringer off him.  Plus, the belt on his pants had a razor-sharp blade sewn in it and the buckle snapped out into a push-knife.  Christ.  At this rate, she was going to end up with a pile of ordnance the size of Jericho.

Loophole handed her a two-foot-long energy weapon off one of the power armor men, jerry-rigged with some cabling to a ninety-pound power suit battery.  She trusted that if Loophole had hacked it together, it would work.  She picked it all up in one hand and moved to the next perp.

 

Three men in power armor sprinted in through the kitchen.  Their power armor was blue and gold, with an elegant T and M interwined on the right side of the breastplate.  They rushed into the party room and found over a dozen mercs down, and half a dozen teenaged mutants about to blast the holy crap out of them.

“Whoa!  Whoa whoa whoa!” shouted the lead man.  He stopped and popped open his visor.  “We’re from Trin and MacIntyre.  Ms. Goodkind hired us to provide support.”

“You’re a little late,” snapped an angry blonde who looked like she was in charge, even if she couldn’t be more than about eighteen.  Given the size of the cannon she was pointing their way, he was okay with letting her stay in charge, as long as she didn’t pull the trigger on that thing.

He said, “We had to take out two guys in full armor back in their transport, and disarm about ten pounds of C-4 they had on a dead-man switch.”

The blonde turned and looked at the other girls.  “Someone really doesn’t like your friends.”  She turned back to him.  “Are you securing the perimeter?”

He nodded, “And we already flagged Boston P.D.  Plus, we have a permit to be in Class B power armor inside Metro limits, so everything’s on the up and up.  Maybe we could start securing your prisoners?”

The blonde said, “Yeah.  That would be good.  Got any zipties or thumbcuffs?”

One of the sexy brunettes said, “And we kind of broke some of their power armor, so you may have a hard time getting them out of the stuff.”

A guy in a black suit who looked like he ought to be dead, what with that burned disk a foot wide on his chest right through his suit, said, “Yeah, they need better body armor for this kind of work.”

 

ROXBURY C

MoleAr studied the rubble.  “Okay, I can push concrete and bedrock out of out way and form it into solid shapes.  But I can’t manipulate the rebar, and the weight of the rock uphill in the tunnel is going to try to slide down into us.  So we need some support while I work the rock.”  He turned and looked at the other felons.  “Ironhawk, can you weld rebar together?”

Ironhawk shrugged.  “Sure.  It’s just electricity.  I can do it like arc-welding.  But I can’t do tons of force to move the stuff to where I want it welded.”

“I can do that part,” Black Tiger volunteered.  When a couple people looked at him, he said, “What?  I don’t want to get left down here for a few months and hope they can find a way to get food and air to us!”

MoleAr said, “Okay.  The next part is getting rid of the first ten feet of this rubble, so we can start moving up into the tunnel.”

Tennyo growled, “Okay.  But nobody messes with MoleAr and nobody gives me any grief.  Got it?”

“Who died and made you boss?”

Tennyo stepped forward.  “Everyone get back.  All the way to the end of the tunnel.”

MoleAr asked nervously, “What are you going to do?”

She snapped, “Clear the first ten feet of rubble.  My way.”  She formed a ball of sparkling energy in her hands.  Then she flicked it forward into  the rubble.  A wicked white light sparked and flared as the energy ball sank into the rubble… and the rubble began sinking into the ball of energy.

“What the fuck is she doing?”

“I dunno and I don’t wanna know.”

She focused as the energy ball pulled in everything within fifteen feet of it.  Dust began floating down the hallway and vanishing into the effect.

“Holy crap, she made a black hole!  We’re all gonna die!”

Tennyo finally stopped the energy and let it vanish.  There was a clean sphere going well into the rubble.  Nothing was left inside.  She turned to the prisoners.  “Anyone want to argue with me now?”

“No?” someone squeaked.

MoleAr looked like he had sweated a lot in the last few seconds, but he said, “Can you do that and move it upward as it, umm, eats everything?”

Tennyo pursed her lips in thought.  “I think so.  I guess we’ll find out.”

Someone yelped, “I’m gonna wait way back here!  Okay?”

MoleAr gulped and said, “Okay.  Let me and Ironhawk work this next part.  I’ll push back the concrete and bedrock.  Black Tiger will bend the rebar.  Ironhawk will weld it in place.  That ought to give us enough stability to keep the tunnel from sliding down on us.  Then you go into the gap we make.  If we’re past the magic barriers, you go straight up with that disintegrator ball.  Go about twenty feet and stop.  You fly me up, and I’ll reinforce the walls.  Then you make a sidestep.  A horizontal tunnel, about twenty feet long.  I’ll reinforce those walls.  We’ll repeat this until we get through the bedrock into the soil above us.  There’s no way to tell the depth of the soil here.  It could be anywhere from a couple feet to fifty or sixty feet.  I’m assuming it’s closer to five or six.  But there’s no way to tell ahead of time.  We’ll simply have to move upward in steps, so we’re ready in case we have a rockfall or a soil collapse.  We could get that as soon as we get through the solid bedrock and into broken bedrock, drumlins, silts or sands, and then finally the topsoils.”

Ironhawk muttered, “Dude, you’re not making me feel safe about this.”

 

Mimeo concentrated.  He needed to block everything that was driving into his head.  He had intense amounts of incoming Quintessence, and he knew a spell to do it.  He just needed to be able to focus for a few seconds.

He finally managed to perform a pretty powerful psychic blocking spell he had learned decades ago.  It blocked out the empathic sensations and the incredibly irritating noise from nearly everything around him.  He wondered how the girl had avoided going insane when her powers first manifested.  He was still getting a nasty burning sensation from parts of his clothing, but his Regen was covering that pretty well.

He looked around, and he winced.  He wasn’t too surprised that Darrow had beaten the girl.  After all, Darrow had been kicking the ass of mages and wizards all over the world for longer than Mimeo had been alive.  But jamming a metal spear through her guts like that?  Darrow was one sick creep.  The girl was pinned to the ground and barely managing to keep from screaming in agony.

Mimeo growled, “Okay Darrow, just what’s the point here?”

The Necromancer leered at him through that stupid skull mask.  “Other than the one pinning my little queenling to the ground?  It’s cold iron.  It keeps her from using her magic.”

“I got that part already, Charlie,” Mimeo said snidely.  “You know I’m not gonna let you kill her.”

Darrow said, “I don’t intend to.  Once I perform this bloodspell and strip her of her power, she’ll be harmless.  I intend to heal her after that, and keep her around.”

Mimeo looked down at the girl.  Then he looked back at Darrow.  “Okay.  But if I find out you lied to me about this, you know I can kick your wrinkled old ass from here to Wisconsin.  I’ve done it before, and I can do it again.”

Darrow waved his threat away like it wasn’t real.  “Oh yes, I know, Mimeo, the supervillain who never kills anyone.  Blah blah blah.  You really need to find a new routine.  This one is getting stale.”

Mimeo didn’t waste time threatening the old loon.  He just said, “Be seein’ you.”  And he used the vast amounts of Quintessence he was drawing in to power his best, most Quintessence-eating spell.  He teleported away.

 

Fey gritted her teeth in a hopeless effort not to scream.  The agony was unbearable.  The sick pain was radiating out from her guts to burn every inch of her.  And the cold iron was searing her flesh, along with cutting her off from her magic.

“Child!  Child, you must remove the spear!  We cannot work like this!” Aunghadhail insisted.

“Well duh!” Fey thought angrily.  “I know!  I’m trying!”  She grabbed the cold iron pole with both hands.  The palms of her hands began burning fiercely.  She tried to ignore the pain as she pulled.  But the spear was embedded too firmly in the ground underneath her.  She couldn’t budge it.  She couldn’t even make it shake a little.

She reached behind her for her mithril scimitar.  If she could slice the pole apart and throw the scimitar through Darrow’s body, she might have enough time to remove the remaining cold iron and heal herself.

She scrabbled over her shoulder for long seconds before she realized her magical pocket was closed to her when she had no magic.  She couldn’t get at Malachim’s Feather.  She watched in horror as Darrow pulled out a glowing reliquary with three long strand of red hair.  Her hair.

He smirked behind his mask.  “Your blood proved to be quite difficult to contain for any length of time, but this little spellwork has proved to be sufficient to hold enough of you for the purposes of my spell.”

Aunghadhail gasped, “You must do something!”

Fey stared at the three hairs and realized what had happened.  She thought, “Ayla.”

Aunghadhail wondered, “What does the boygirl Ayla have to do with this, child?”

Fey explained silently, “Ayla was talking about her hair, and how it grows.  Or rather, isn’t growing back.”

“I don’t understand,” Aunghadhail pouted.

But Fey did.  She knew why her hair remained in the reliquary, while her blood hadn’t.  She knew this was a spell based on the Law of Similarity.  She knew what would happen.  She growled through her pain, “Take your best shot, Chuckie.”

Darrow ignored her.  No doubt, he just assumed she was trying a desperate bluff.  Well, it was pretty desperate.  Lying there and depending on one past event screwing up his spell?  Desperate.

Darrow reached into his cloak and pulled out what looked like a silver scrying bowl about a foot across.  He poured a bubbling, smoking liquid into the bowl.  He tilted the bowl toward him and let go of it.  Not only did it remain floating in the air, the liquid made no attempt to flow out.  He passed his hands over the bowl and whispered words in Akkadian Greek.

Fey watched fearfully as a beam of green light formed, linking her torso to the base of the bowl.  Darrow carefully submerged his reliquary into the bubbling liquid.

Fey would have crossed her fingers if she hadn’t been in so much pain.  But she was counting on that blood rite she had done with Sara.  The rite had taken place before the second Boston fight.  Before Nightgaunt hit her in the head and ran off with a trace of her blood and hair.  So the blood had been hers.  The blood had been destroyed by the Faerie magic that protected her and caused her tissue samples to disintegrate once they were separated from her.  But the hair…

Darrow leaned over the bowl expectantly.  And the liquid exploded from the bowl like one of Tennyo’s plasma blasts.  It caught Darrow from the ribcage upward, and flung him back thirty feet.  He hit the concrete hard, his cloak burning furiously and his armor smoking.

Fey managed to smile, despite the searing pain.  Her hair hadn’t changed.  The hair that had already grown out merely remained attached to her hair follicles.  Any new hair would be completely her, but that hair, except for the very bottom part, was the ‘old’ Fey before Sara’s blood rite.  That hair represented her old self, and it was different enough from her that the Sidhe protective spell didn’t recognize it as something to be removed.  Which meant that any Law of Similarity spell using those lengths of her hair wasn’t going to work.

She watched as The Necromancer staggered to his feet.  She was surprised he wasn’t more badly injured, despite the armor he wore.  He tore off the blazing cloak.  She could see his facemask was burned and melted, and much of his armor looked shredded.

Darrow stumbled and fell to his knees.  He managed to get back on his feet, but he was obviously about to collapse.  He growled, “Next time, my queenling, you won’t be so lucky.”  He staggered over to his invisible portal and fell through it.

Fey looked around for help.  She was still hopelessly pinned to the ground, and Nightgaunt was probably lurking somewhere nearby.  Plus any other escapees who hadn’t been caught in the explosions.  She had to get free!

 

Phase couldn’t crawl, much less walk.  But with the spell burned off his chest, he could go light and fly.  Unfortunately, that was about all he could do.  He floated over to Fey.

Phase nearly vomited when he saw what Darrow and Nightgaunt had done to Nikki.  She was nailed to the ground with a metal spear.  Cold iron, if Ayla had to guess.

Nikki was sobbing in helpless pain.  “Phase…  You gotta…  Get it out…”

There was no way Ayla could use his strength when he was this badly battered.  He floated over to Fey and said, “I’m going to slice it above and below you first, okay?”

“Okay…”  Nikki panted in agony.

Phase put one intangible hand a couple inches above Nikki’s skin, and the other a couple inches below the surface.  Then he went heavy.  The spear was neatly severed.  The butt end fell over, nearly hitting Phase in the shoulder.  He went intangible again to get his lower hand out of the ground.

Fey gasped, “Push…  It…  Out…”

“But that’s not a good idea, you might start bleeding uncontrollably, and…”

Fey glared at him.  “So… I can…  Heal…”  The unspoken word ‘dummy’ hung in the air.

Phase felt like he might puke, but he did it.  He went heavy again and pushed from underneath, while pulling from above.  The blood-covered cylinder of cold iron slid out of her abdomen as she screamed in pain.

Fey started healing herself as soon as she wasn’t grounded by the cold iron.  Unfortunately, the more she healed, the more pain she felt radiating off of Phase.  And she still wasn’t ready to even think about trying to sit up, much less walk.

And, just to make things more fun, four of the escapees clustered around her and Phase.  One of them leered, “Ooh.  Sexy.  I bet we can haul these two out of here and have some REAL fun later.”

Fey just glared at them.  She concentrated and performed her Essence-draining spell.  They all dropped to the ground unconscious.  Fey muttered under her breath, “It works on more than just bees, you know.”

She finished healing her wound, and then she got to her knees to help Phase.  Her side still hurt horribly, but now it was a manageable stabbing pain.  It took her long moments to heal all of Ayla’s broken bones and her burned face.  But she opted not to let Phase regain consciousness until Ayla wasn’t in such awful pain.

Phase opened his eyes and said, “Thanks.  Am I healed up enough to walk?”  When Fey nodded, he said, “We need to find Lancer, and then start figuring out how to dig our blue-haired WMD out.”

Fey stood up and concentrated on her empath trait to find Lancer.  She moved toward him, with Phase limping along behind.

 

Speed Queen gasped as the chunks of concrete and steel finally pushed her all the way out of that frigging magical trap.  As soon as she was out, she sprinted off to the side.  She made it just before the rubble forced its way through the trapzone and then exploded onward at high speed.

She looked around and spotted two of the teenagers over by a collapsed wall.  She zipped over and gave them a hand digging out their teammate.

 

MoleAr said, “Okay, that’s good, just take it easy now.”

Tennyo didn’t look down.  She just said, “I got it.”  Even if she wasn’t completely sure she did have it.  They were in another vertical shaft she was making, and they were at the point where there wasn’t any more bedrock.  Just loose rock, and some wet silt, and some heavy sandy mess.  And mud.

MoleAr said, “You’re doing great.  Just lift me up and let me do my thing.”

Tennyo obliged, flying him up until he could touch the mess oozing downward into her vertical tunnel.  He put his hands on it and concentrated hard.  She watched as the muck flowed back upward and turned into a hard wall.

Black Tiger muttered from the horizontal shaft below them, “How are you doing?”

Tennyo didn’t say anything, but she had a feeling he was doing about as well in these tight, dark tunnels as she was.  Maybe worse.  She really wanted out.  At least Ironhawk was generating light for everyone.  He was holding some thin strips of metal and putting electricity or something through them until they glowed kind of like bad lightbulbs.  There were another dozen or so guys still down in Rox C, waiting for them to cut a way out before they stuck their necks out any further.

MoleAr said, “By my estimate, we ought to be about five feet below the surface.”

Tennyo thought about it and said, “You know, I think I can blast through that.”

MoleAr muttered, “I don’t think that’s a safe idea, Tennyo.”

The Black Tiger growled, “Let her give it a shot, you wuss.”

 

Ayla looked up as a Knights of Purity team swooped in and took up position.  Christ, it was about time!  He hadn’t arranged with Paul for two entire teams for no reason!

He flew over to them and introduced himself.  “Glad you’re here.  Did Paul Goodkind give you the details on the job?”

Ayla could see the reaction even through the heavy armor.  “Umm, Paul Goodkind, you say?  No, we were briefed by our commander’s boss.  We didn’t know things were this high-level.”

Ayla just said, “Well, as you can see, we’ve had a major break-out from Roxbury C.  We have a host of threats down, but there are more running around loose.  Anyone you see in prison orange?  Bag them.  Anyone you see looking like me, in white with color-coded trim?  The good guys.  Assist with all possible speed.  Oh, and Speed Queen is here too.  Help her as well.  We don’t know how many people are trapped below ground, but at least one of ours is down there.”

Suddenly, over by the destroyed building, there was a ferocious explosion straight up in the air, sending concrete and dirt flying straight up for a hundred feet.

“Umm, on second thought, I’d say our teammate’s figured out how to get out all by herself.”

The power armor leader immediately said, “Are any escapees gonna be coming up through that hole?”

“Oh crap.”  Ayla looked back at the Knights.  “Probably.  Let’s converge on the blast site and keep prisoners from making a break for it.”

About the time Ayla started flying toward the blast site, an extremely dusty and dirty Tennyo rose out of the crater like a triumphant goddess.  Well, maybe like a goddess who had just triumphed at mud wrestling.  She bobbed down and lifted out two equally dirty men in prison outfits that were probably orange once upon a time.  A third prisoner flew up and out.  Crap.

Phase went disruption-light and flew right over to the third guy.  “Sorry to burst your balloon, but you’re not going to be allowed to just fly off.”  Through the dirt and dust, he could see that the big guy looked mostly Asian.  Ayla wondered what that guy was doing in a hole in the ground in Massachusetts.

The felon sneered with a distinct Southeast Asian accent, “If Tennyo is not going to stop me, do you think you can?”

Phase flicked an intangible pebble at him.  It went right through him without his noticing it.  So Phase glared, “Yes.  As a matter of fact, I can.  You don’t think someone like Tennyo is on a team with a bunch of losers, do you?  Just look around.  My team just took out The Necromancer, Mimeo, and everyone else who boiled out of your little nest.”  The felon didn’t look like he was going to bluff that easily, so Phase quickly thrust an arm into his chest.  After all, if he didn’t have a field up that could block a disruption-light pebble, he didn’t have anything that would block a disruption-light teenager.

The felon dropped like a rock.  Fortunately, he was only about twenty feet up.

“Heads up!” Phase yelled.

Tennyo even caught the guy before he smacked into what was left of the concrete around her crater.  She looked up at Phase and glared, “Hey!  What’s the deal?”

Phase floated down to where Tennyo was standing with her two prison pals.  Three Knights were surrounding them, while the other two Knights moved out to work on intelligence gathering and the round-ups of the already-downed prisoners.  Phase complained, “Tennyo, no matter how much help they were, you can’t just let them walk.”

One of the Knights said, “You can, however, testify as to their helpfulness and their heroic actions.  That usually goes a long way toward reducing sentences and facilitating parole.”

Tennyo looked at her teammate and said, “Boy, Phase.  Do you train these guys to talk like you?”

Ironhawk said, “Look, I’m not fighting anybody.  Today’s been sucky enough already.  Plus, I burned my hand playing lightbulb down there, and I want some medical.”

MoleAr said, “I’m MoleAr.  Check my records.  I have a history of non-violence.  I’m not going to cause a problem either.”

Tennyo looked at the limp body in her arms and muttered, “Well, he’s not gonna cause any trouble for a while, anyway.”  Then she turned to her helpers and said, “Okay, you guys really helped me out.  Especially you, MoleAr.  So I’m gonna testify how helpful you were, and then I’ll come to your parole hearings to testify for you.  Promise.  How’s that?”

Ironhawk shrugged.  “Fine.  Right now, I’d settle for a medic and a bath, if you really wanna know.”

Now that all the dangerous stuff was over, a squad of Roxbury B officers were driving over to help out.  They had three prisoner transports to load escapees into.  Two of them were pretty damn crowded, even after Matterhorn shrank down to normal size so he could get some medical treatment for his burns.

Phase felt really crappy about that.  Not that he could exactly apologize right then.  But he made a mental note to get a high-end Healer to take care of Matterhorn.

Since most of the escapees who weren’t still unconscious were stuck in tangleweb, and Phase wasn’t packing a couple gallons of solvent this time, they had to get a little magical help from Nikki to get the webbed prisoners off the ground and into the second transport.  Nikki did stick them to the inside walls, so perhaps she wasn’t feeling to kindly to them.

Just about then, a big SWAT van came roaring in and screeched to a halt by the transports.  SWAT officers piled out in body armor, lugging big anti-mutant weapons.  One stepped over to the nearest Knight and said, “Thanks for coming.”

Phase glared at the guy.  <(Phase) What are we?  Chopped liver?>

The Knight said, “It was the least we could do.  Some higher-ups arranged for us to have a little vacation time in Boston, with the understanding we might have to go on duty.  We’re happy to help.”

Phase kept his mouth shut, since he didn’t want to admit that he was the one who arranged for the Knights to be in Boston that weekend.  Still, it would have been nice to get some credit, considering that half of Team Kimba had thwarted a gigantic supervillain breakout essentially on their own.  The mythical SWAT teams hadn’t been anywhere to be seen until just now.  The Knights of Purity hadn’t made an appearance until the end of the battles.  Speed Queen had apparently been standing around in a magical trap – again.  Phase snidely told himself that perhaps they ought to change SQ’s name to Distressed Damsel.

The SWAT guy turned to Phase and said, “Captain Tilley sends his regards.  You kids don’t need to stick around.  He’ll get your statements ‘back at the restaurant’, whatever that means.  I think he just wants you out of here before the reporters show up.”

“Great,” Phase groaned.  “We’ll pass on that.”  He could just imagine Carson’s face if she found out they stuck around and gave fulsome interviews to local reporters.  ‘Why yes, I did personally kick the asses of half a dozen of the most dangerous felons in Roxbury C, because I’m just that awesome.’  Oh, that would go over so well.

Ayla Phase-leapt over to where Fey was doing another Healing spell on Lancer.  <(Phase) Guys, let’s clear out ASAP.  The police want us back at the restaurant, and if we don’t go before the reporters get here, Carson will eat us alive.>

<(Fey) With a tasty mango puree from Phase’s personal chefs.>

<(Tennyo) Mm-mmm, there’s good eatin’!>

As Fey formed her bubble of fun, Phase looked around.  “Wow, this seems pretty anticlimactic,” he complained.

Billie played dumb.  “Before the climate?”

“No, after the big finale,” Ayla explained anyway.

Hank rubbed his head and said, “I don’t know about you, but I could use some ‘after the big finale’ time.  My head’s killing me.”

 

SOMEWHERE ELSE IN BOSTON

Nightgaunt expertly broke into the house.  He checked quickly to make sure it really was empty.  Then he threw his cape and mask on the floor.  He took off the gunbelt too, and then he started checking to see if there was a suitcase or clothes he could use.

He walked into the bedroom… and walked right into a punch to the jaw.  A cheerful female voice said, “Well fancy meeting you here!”  Not that he answered.  Vamp had punched him so hard he left a dent in the wallboard.

Vamp glared down at Nightgaunt’s unconscious body.  It was a good thing she could jump through shadows now, or she never would have been able to follow the big weasel.  Now she just needed to wrap him and his gear up for the cops, find a cheap jeweler, and then walk into a shadow inside the police station.

 

SWAT Lieutenant Buddy Doyle was walking down the hall with Sergeants Brindisi and Webber.  Just as he was about to delegate one more task, the women’s bathroom door swung open, and a supervillainess walked out.  A real, live supervillainess was walking out of the women’s toilet?  What the hell?

It was Vamp.  In one of her signature ‘look how slutty I am’ outfits.  Except this time, she had an unconscious man dressed all in black slung over one shoulder.

“Heads up!” Doyle yelled.  He dropped to one knee and pulled out his service revolver.

Vamp turned his way and threw her hands in the air.  “Hey!  I surrender!  I surrender!”  As Brindisi slowly edged toward her, she looked at him and added, “Not to you, to the cute one over there.”

Doyle suddenly had a feeling it would have been better to go with Tilley to the Threeport Hotel.

 

AYLA

We flew back to the restaurant in Fey’s bubble, using the Tennyo Transit System again.  Team Kimba was going to have to use this a lot more.

I hurt too much to do my usual sniping.  Even after Fey’s healing spells, my face hurt, and my ribs ached, and my arm throbbed, and my knee burned every time I flexed it.  Also I had a big bruise on my jaw, courtesy of Mimeo.  Some people would probably consider that a badge of honor.  I didn’t.

But Nikki was obviously in a lot of pain, and Billie looked ragged, and Hank was almost as bad off as I was.  Nikki said he had a concussion on top of everything else.

We arrived a little after the two limousines brought back our other sub-teams.  I knew, because both limos were in the street, and both drivers were cleaning off their cars in that compulsive way that all chauffeur seemed to like.

We walked and/or limped into the restaurant, to find a completely trashed party room.  Tables and chairs were smashed.  Body-sized dents marked the walls, along with energy burns and way too many bulletholes.  “What the hell?”

Nikki snarked, “I guess the Rolling Stones came by and showed everyone the way you’re supposed to have a party.”

Hank kidded in a bad British accent, “And now we’ll show you how to trash a hotel room the right way, kiddies.”

Billie muttered, “I hope no one’s hurt.”

“Oh God,” I winced.

Vox threw herself into my arms, and I kissed her.  “What’s the count?” I asked.

“You mean, who got hurt?” she checked.  I nodded.  “Just you guys.  Toni’s all beat up and Rip’s dehydrated.  Jade says she’s okay, but she’s bein’ real careful wit’ her right side.  Chou’s not too good.  Prism’s fixing her up, and Jade said it was a punctured kidney.”

“Oh crap.”

She went on, “Here, the big damage is Marty got her miniskirt ruined, and Officer Green took an energy blast that woulda burned a hole through him if he wasn’t wearin’ fancy body armor.  That, and we put about fifteen killers in power armor and body armor in the hospital.”

I said, “We had it a little rougher.  Billie got buried in Roxbury C.  Hank got a concussion and some bruises.  I got three broken ribs, a smashed knee, and a broken arm.  Plus some bruises and a bad burn.  Nikki got a cold iron spear rammed right through her stomach.”

“Eww.  Remind me not to go on any more Team Kimba adventures,” she grimaced.

Toni looked up and snarked, “Yeah Ayla, I thought you said this trip was going to be fun.”

“Hah-hah,” I intoned.

I walked past a couple Trin and MacIntyre power armor boys and several policemen patiently trying to take statements from adrenaline-hyped teenagers.  Prism was working on Chou, who was lying on a blanket.  A floating blanket that was cradling her and occasionally talking to Prism about the fascinating details of healing damage to internal organs.  Molly was holding one of Chou’s hands, and Dorjee was holding the other.

I knelt down and asked, “You okay, roomie?”

She gave me a grin.  “I am feeling much better.  We need to bring Rich along on all our adventures.”

Rich grinned, “No thanks.  This was more excitement than I’m interested in.”

I thought about telling Rich that we owed him and the New Olympians a favor, but I really didn’t want to be in the position of owing a favor to Zeus or Hera.  That way led straight into Greek tragedies.  Instead, I said, “Tell Judicator that we’re even now.”

“I can do that,” he said.

“Good.”  I added, “If you have time before we get back to school, once you have Chou bright-eyed and bushy-tailed-”

“That would be Gadget.”

“-maybe you could do a little more work on the rest of us.  Fey can only do so much, and I think all of us except Jade and Billie could use a little Healing.  We’ll even tell you how we got banged up.”

<(Bladedancer) It would not have been so bad if the Tao had not given me the message and forgot to give me the power to back it up.>

<(Phase) Well, it’s just as well you weren’t at Rox C.  Mimeo busted out, and kicked ALL our butts.  Maybe power mimics like Duplex and Counterpoint can’t get anything off you or Tennyo, but Mimeo got everything Tennyo showed him.>

<(Chaka) Crap!  You’re kidding me!>

<(Tennyo) Even the energy sword.  And he’s really good with ‘em.>

<(Phase) So the Tao probably sent you where Mimeo wouldn’t get hold of your powers.  Because it was pretty awful as things were.>

<(Lancer) And Mimeo?  He’s not only powerful, he plays it smart too.  I do not want to have to tangle with him again.>

<(Riptide) Well, I almost beat the Lamplighter!>

<(Chaka) Rip!>

<(Riptide) Well, almost.>

<(Chaka) She fought him to a draw for long enough that Phase’s secret plan got there and told him off.>

<(Fey) You guys got K.O.P. too?>

<(Chaka) Ayles, how many KoP teams did you hire?>

<(Phase) Just two.  And some power armor and infiltrators here at the restaurant.>

<(Bugs) Well, your secret spies here gave us a warning and pretty much saved our butts.>

<(Fey) And it’s such a cute butt, too.>

<(Phase) I’ve noticed that.>

<(Bugs) We know!>

<(Fey) We all know that.>

<(Tennyo) Yeah!  And hey, these chickens are great!>

I had the chefs bring out some new food, and I fixed myself a plate.  Oh man, the briny goodness of that seafood pie was not to be missed.  And the scallops were perfectly done, with an accompanying sauce that just brought out their subtleness.  Then, while I ate, I made the rounds and checked that everyone was okay.  Or, in the case of Team Kimba, not grievously injured anymore.

Marty complained to me and Elaine, “I told you I shoulda come in just my uniform!”

“Marty, I’ll buy you a new miniskirt, since it was killed in the line of action.”

“Bravely defending truth, justice, and the American way!” Elaine added with a grin.

Marty said, “Ooh, I had my eye on this lurex-spandex blend miniskirt in the Victoria’s Secret catalog.  It comes in eggplant, teal, ecru, black, and candy-apple red.  Plus, it comes in four different lengths, so-”

I held up my hand and stopped her.  “Just tell me what it costs.”  What was it with girls and clothing?  It was like devisers and inventions.  Next, she would be telling me how to modify it to create twelve new outfits of mass bank account destruction.  Come to think of it, that comparison was a little too accurate for comfort.

I didn’t make it all the way around the room before Captain Tilley came by.  At least I had the chance to clean my plate.  The seafood pie there really is amazing.

He walked over to me and said, “Thanks for clearin’ outta there before the teevee snoops showed up.  I brought some boys along to get your statements, so’s you can get out of here at a reasonable time.”

I smiled a little.  “Thanks.  And help yourself to the buffet.”

“Hey, thanks yerself.  It does look damn good.”

He even brought four policemen, so Hank and Nikki and Billie and I could all give our statements at the same time.  He spread us out around the room, but that really wasn’t effective when Nikki and Billie had enhanced hearing, and the four of us still had on our Spots.

About the time I wrapped up my statement and joined the rest of the gang, Tilley strolled over to me.  He waved a chicken leg at the damage in the room and said, “I gotta admit it.  You kids did a great job.”

“Huh?”

“You’re kidding.”

“We got our asses kicked.”

Tilley started ticking items off on the fingers that didn’t have chicken in them.  “One busted-up room at the real hostage crisis and no casualties among the innocent bystanders.  Given the bystanders were all kids, and kids of important Bostonians, that’s huge.  Okay, two.  The museum.  Some damage to a couple shops near the museum, all due to the Lamplighter, and some water damage including a couple burst pipes and fire hydrants.  We’re tellin’ the city council that was the Lamplighter too.  The city works people will have that fixed in no time.  Three.  This place?  Nothing damaged but in here.  And four.  Roxbury C is a total loss, but that’s not your fault, and it’s outside a’ town.  And you rounded up a hell of a lot of the cons before they could make an escape, AND you prevented a mass outbreak from Rox B.  Lemme tell you.  If I could keep you here full-time as a super-group, I’d do it like a shot.  ‘Course, the city council would nail my hide to the wall, but it’d be worth it.  I’m still telling the papers you’re a new local super-group we’re training privately because of your age.  It’ll get the reporters off your trail, for a while anyway.”

I looked at the damage and groaned, “Good thing I took out insurance on this trip.”

“What?  How the hell do you take out insurance on something like this?” Hank choked.

“Lloyds of London, of course,” I replied.

Toni rolled her eyes.  “Of course.”

Billie muttered, “I kinda think they won’t pay up since we’re mutants and all.”

I told her, “Sure they will.  I explained all that when I got the coverage.  That’s why the premium was so large.”

I overheard Chou telling Molly and Dorjee, “See?  I told you Ayla would have contingency plans on top of contingency plans.”

After that, I met in private with the manager and Mr. Harrison himself.  Once I got the insurance matters all straightened out, they thanked me for coming… and not so subtly hoped I wouldn’t ever come again, because they were going to be partly closed for most of a week repairing all the damage.

So I was feeling fairly discouraged when I walked out of the office and found Officer Green talking to Sam Everheart.  Green was still wearing that black suit, even though a foot-wide hole was burned through the front of the jacket and the shirt.  I told him that I would buy him a much nicer suit to replace the burned one.

He grinned and said, “Hey, I’m just glad this thin-plate ceramet armor works like they said.  Otherwise, you’d be buyin’ me a nice suit to be buried in.”

I sighed, “Yeah, that’s partly what I’m worried about.”

Once the kitchen staff wrapped up the leftovers, I made sure they all went into my limo for safekeeping.  Meredith the pseudo-waitress wheeled it all out on a cart and whispered to me, “You can ask for me by name the next time you want T & M to provide protection for one of your parties.”

I nodded, “I’ll bear that in mind.”  Although I would have thought being Tasered and then ending up in the middle of a superhero/mercenary firefight would have put her off the job.

Once we all piled out of the limos at the airport, we found that we had the same MCO officer.  He took one look at Officer Green and goggled, “What the hell happened?”

Green gave the guy a big grin and said, “The Necromancer sent us a little present.  Mercenary assassins in power armor.”

The MCO guy said, “Yeah, I heard about The Necromancer.  The Roxbury Prison thing and the hostage crisis are all over the news.”

Green gave the guy a big smirk, but didn’t say anything else.  Since the MCO agent was properly impressed with our Security officers, he ushered us through fairly quickly and sent us on our way.

Once we were airborne and the leftovers were opened up again, Toni flopped down in a leather armchair beside me and groaned, “Some birthday party, Ayles.  How about next year, we just hold it on Range 4 and let people shoot at us?”

I groaned, “Give me a break, already.”

Hank said, “I think we need to be a bit more supportive among ourselves, because we’re probably going to take serious flak over this one.”

Billie said, “For what?  We stopped a mass outbreak of bad guys, and we rounded up most of ‘em for the cops!”

Nikki helpfully pointed out, “Yeah, and we got the shit kicked out of us by Mimeo and Old Zombie-Breath.”

“Any super-battle your team can walk away from is a win,” Hank insisted.  “This isn’t Marvel Comics.”  For some reason, everyone in earshot turned and looked at me.  He went on, “People DIE protecting civilians and property, you know.  We lucked out, and we’re okay.”

I complained, “My ribs still hurt like hell.  And my knee.”

Nikki gently said, “I mended them already, and Rich gave you more Healing on top of that, but they’ll still be tender for a few days.  And it’s not like my gut isn’t still hurting, so I do know what you mean.”

“Yeah, I appreciate that.  A lot.  Walking around school with broken ribs is just asking to get targeted,” I muttered.

“For us, anyway.”

There was something else about our battle – or rather, about Fey’s battle with Darrow – that I needed to talk about with the team, but I was going to wait until we had real eavesdropping protection.  And I was probably going to have to invite Sam as well, given what we would be talking about.

VAMP

“Yes ma’am, I know, but that wasn’t my fault!” Vamp insisted.

Assistant DA Collier glared at the little troublemaker.  “You were supposed to get us Darrow.”

Vamp rolled her eyes and argued, “Yeah, and you guys were supposed to be competent.  How long am I supposed to be the mole when we’re dealin’ with a guy who can magically read minds and magically scry to see what’s goin’ on?  I’ve had my ass out there a mile for months, I’ve ratted him out at least three times, and you still can’t catch him!  And then you didn’t warn me he’s doin’ this last run with a fake museum and a fake hostage crisis, so he can see who his mole is!  I nearly ended up tortured to death and then havin’ my soul ripped out to be tortured for all eternity!  I might as well be in Hell!”

Collier just gave her a big frown.  “And just how did you get into the police station?”

Alex said, “How do you think I did it?  I shadow-walked, with Nightgaunt’s crystals.  I figured you’d never believe me unless I could prove it was the real Nightgaunt.”  She didn’t say it out loud, but she also knew they’d never let her walk off with Nightgaunt’s power gems either.  Which is why she carefully ‘borrowed’ some fakes to hand over, while she hid the real ones in a convenient shadow under a toilet in the ladies’ room down the hall, where she could get them back without a whole lot of trouble.

Collier asked like she didn’t already know, “And what about Lady Darke, Arch-Fiend, and Lycanthros?  They all apparently got away with Darrow.”

Alex frowned, “Oh yeah, they got away.  Old Coffin Breath had a fancy-schmancy mystic portal all set up outside The Pit, and they all took a powder that way.  Darrow had Lycanthros manning – or wolfing – the far side of the portal with some fancy deviser weapons, so he could roast anyone who wasn’t supposed to come through.  So anyway, I tried to talk Sandra into rattin’ Darrow out, but there was no way.  I mean, I really tried.  And now there’s no way I can talk with her about this anymore without her tryin’ to blast my ass off.”

She looked around the room.  “Besides, it isn’t Sandra you need.  It’s Eddie Delahanty.  He’s the key to everything.”

Collier gave her the Spock look.  “You mean, like getting you out of a whole host of lesser charges, starting with possession of drugs for the purpose of sale, and breaking out of jail?”

Alex grinned at her.  “Yeah, those too.”  Plus, that would help put Bullethead’s nuts in the grinder.  “Look, if every one of the charges against me is trumped up, or else me tryin’ to clear my name, what does your case look like?  You drag me to court.  I put on some makeup and a nice pair of contacts and a wig, and I look like Miss Society Deb.  Then my lawyer makes your office and the whole Boston Pee Dee look like they’re either incredibly crooked or incredibly incompetent.  Throwing a teenager in jail to be gang-raped just to frame the kid?  That’s not gonna go over well with any jury on earth.  The Delahanty family is gonna make the whole department, plus corrections, look like something out of a Mob movie.  Trying to railroad me for stuff I didn’t do will make the DA’s office look complicit in the whole mess.  Your only chance here, Collier, is to play the ‘crusader’ card.  Make a big deal about me bein’ the innocent victim, and how you’re protecting me and using my information to crack this drugs-and-contraband ring.  Hang Eddie and his family up to dry.  You already got him as the guy who gave up Rox C. …”

Collier frowned, “I know a judge who’ll see things a little differently.”

Alex smirked, “Oh yeah?  Well I know a judge who’ll see things MY way and make your life a living hell, lady.  Plus, as soon as I get some of that Carruthers money, I’ll be hiring the most dangerous lawyers in the country, who’ll make the Hammond trial look like a ticker tape parade for DAs.”

Collier really glared at that.  “I don’t like threats.”

Vamp glared back, “Then stop makin’ ‘em!  I just want out of this mess, and you know NONE of it’s my fault!”

Collier segued to another topic.  “You do know that Darrow will never forgive this?”

Alex rolled her eyes again.  “Yeah, yeah, I figured that one out about six months ago, Sherlock.  I want some serious Witness Protection Program shit, and some massive security until you catch him and lock him up for keeps.  Maybe that redheaded mage.  She sure had him worried for months.  Or that chick he claimed was really his niece.  Even that ‘girl’ who beat the holy hell outta Matterhorn would do for a start.  Or else a nice, comfy place in some alternate reality he can’t get to.”

Collier was starting to smirk.  That was making Alex edgy.  Collier grinned, “Actually, Captain Tilley had a really good suggestion about that.”

Vamp snarked, “What?  Spending the rest of my life in Mount Prometheus out in Cali?  No thanks.  Now that I’m not wanted for Phelps’ death anymore, I want the inheritance he left me, and I want to be able to come and go when his relatives get all shitty and lawyerly about it.”

Collier gave her a prissy look.  “That’s asking a lot, when Darrow is bound to realize he can get to you at the next trial date for any judicial proceedings.”

Alex muttered, “Well, I figure if I got the redhead and Vampirella guarding me, they can kick his ass and maybe finally reel him in.”  Then she carefully refrained from smirking as she said, “If you’re done with me, I gotta go pee.”

Collier just shrugged.  “Fine, fine.  Just go with Captain Tilley when you’re done.  He’s got some forms you need to fill out.”

“Forms?  For witness protection?”

Collier couldn’t stop the smug smirk on her puss.  “No.  Forms so you can go back to high school.”

“High school!  Are you crazy?”  Vamp stared around the room.  “What’s so funny?  What are you not telling me?”  But Collier was walking out the door and practically quivering with laughter, the bitch.  How was someone who looked like a damn vampire supposed to go to a normal high school and not have twenty fights a day, plus Humanity First! on her ass pretty much 24-7?  Vamp glared at the SWAT officers.  “High school?  That sounds even worse than Darrow gettin’ his claws on me!”

THE NECROMANCER AND HEKATE

Darrow limped through the wards into his private library.  Which was still not private, as long as Hekate was there.  But he had hope.  He had performed some healing and rejuvenation spells on himself, but he still felt battered, and his face would feel singed for several days.  He was still really angry about that failed bloodspell.

Hekate turned off her television and turned to face him.  “The news is quite interesting.  It appears Roxbury C is utterly ruined.  They’ll have to rebuild from scratch.  Dozens dead.  And the Boothroyds are actually thanking that idiot Skyhawk for saving their kid.  Morons.”  She gave Darrow a glare and said, “But the Faerie bitch didn’t get owned.”

Darrow smiled nastily.  “True.  But I blame you for that.  I had her exactly where I wanted her.  The Law of Similarity should have guaranteed a success.  Unless something YOU did over Christmas changed things enough that my sample of her hair was no longer valid.  Your Master will have some things to say to you about that.”  She paled enough to entertain him.  He waved his hand, “It would have been nice to get the Fae’s power.  But it’s not my life that has the curse on it.  All of MY primary and secondary goals were met.  I recovered my Children of the Night.  I have the Scroll of Elberich that Sneaky Pete lifted for me.  I have the inscribed mithril that those fool Boothroyds thought was mere silver and stuck those tawdry emeralds onto.  And my secondary goals.  I gained several new minions.  I found our little mole.  I acquired the scroll without anyone realizing it was a target, and I got the mithril without anyone realizing what my objective really was there.  I now have all but one of the relics I came to Boston to recover.”

Hekate was pretty sure he was lying about Fey not being one of his top goals.  But she decided she wasn’t going to call him on it while she was desperately dependent on his good will.  Instead, she wondered, “How are you paying all the help you used?”

Darrow glared, “That is none of your business.”  Then he smirked, “But, if you have to know, the kidnap team got the Boothroyd emeralds as their payoff.  That’s substantially over their cost, even if they’ll have a hard time fencing the things.  Obsession owes me now.  The museum minions would have gotten to keep their prizes, if they had gotten away.  Sneaky Pete was repaying a major favor: I didn’t kill him the last time he got in my way.  And our party crashers were working on consignment.  They would get paid based on the number of people they killed by hand.  No deaths?  All they get is their base pay, which I’m willing to write off.”

Hekate pointed out, “But no one got killed at Phase’s party.  So that’s a major failure for you.  And you didn’t get Fey’s powers.”

He sneered, “I wasn’t trying to kill those toddlers.  If I’d wanted that, I would have hired those mercenaries to blow up the building.  It works out much better this way, since my expenses are far smaller.  No, that was an exercise in communication.  I wanted Amelia Hartford to be aware that two can play her game.  If she wants to bear a grudge against me, I’ll make sure that every one of her children who comes within my domain ends up far worse than when they started.  No, my only failure was one of the tertiary objectives.  The Sidhe Queen.  But now that I know what went wrong, I can begin again.  New blood and hair samples, better protections on the samples, more protections on the spell, and next time she’ll be mine.  Oh, and it would have been so nice to be able to rip Vamp’s soul out of her screaming body and thrust it into my Arc of Souls where she could suffer for all eternity.  But really, that was a fourth-level goal.”

Hekate frowned, “Yeah, that’s swell.  So I’m stuck here for the next decade until you get at that Sidhe bitch again?”

He pulled out the Scroll of Elberich.  Sneaky Pete had done a very nice job of protecting it while moving it to the drop site.  “Not exactly.  Your Master will be most interested in one of the enchantments here.  I believe I see a way of using this together with a ward he knows, so we can ease our way around the restrictions of the Fae curse.  We’ll need to do a little research so you don’t explode when you walk out of here – that would be a huge inconvenience for me…”

She muttered, “You have my deepest condolences on the difficulty of cleaning my guts off your wallpaper.”

Darrow went on, “But I think you’ll be out of here by March or April.  May, at the latest.”

Hekate suddenly felt a wave of exultation for the first time in what felt like years instead of mere days.  She had a chance at getting out of this shitty little Black Hole of Calcutta.  And when she did, she was going to make sure that Fey and Generator and all of Team Kimba paid dearly.

But especially that bitch Fey and that little monster Generator.

 

AYLA

The shuttles dropped us off in front of Schuster, and we still had about an hour before dinnertime.  Which was a good thing, because I had barely been able to save one beef pot pie for our driver.  Everything else was inhaled on the flight home.  I suppose superhero fights to the death build up a hearty appetite.  Thinking about how close a lot of us had come to being maimed or killed, I wasn’t all that hungry.  And I still felt bad about Matterhorn, even if the guy had been trying to beat me to death.

We were met by two people.  James, the kid who spent way too much time working in Admin…  And Kodiak.

As soon as Loophole stepped off the shuttle, Kodiak shouldered a couple people out of the way and scooped her up in a huge hug.  “Christ, when I heard about the stuff in Boston, I was so damn worried!”

Loophole checked, “You know about that already?”

Kodiak shrugged with her still in his arms.  “Sure.  It’s all over campus by now.”

I groaned, “Great.  Just great.”

James walked over to Hank and handed him the note.  He opened it and sighed unhappily.  <(Lancer) Guess what?  Carson wants to see us ASAP.>

<(Phase) Extra great.>

<(Chaka) Just Kimbas?>

<(Lancer) And Riptide.>

<(Riptide) Shit.>

<(Fey) Welcome to the club.  Membership includes a free padded seat after you get your ass chewed off.>

Rip looked around at us and asked, “Well, why me?  I’m not in Team Kimba.”  Several of us gave her a look.  “Oh yeah, the whole fighting in downtown Boston thing, right?”

Chaka put a hand on Rip’s shoulder and grinned, “Come on, girlfriend, this’ll be a learning experience.”

We followed James back to Admin and trooped in to see Carson.  Since it was a Saturday, Hartford wasn’t doing her usual Cerberus-like job of guarding the entrance.  The door was open, and James ushered us in.

Mrs. Carson was sitting there in her usual power suit and glasses.  She pointed at the chairs in front of her desk, and we took our seats.  Hank, Toni and I sat in the front row.  Perhaps it was masochistic on my part, but I just felt like this was all my responsibility.

Carson led off, “Is there a reason you can’t leave campus without participating in a major disturbance of the peace with massive associated destruction of property?”

Hank opened his mouth to reply.

<(Phase) Don’t answer.  Sit still.>

She turned her monitor around to face us.  There were a number of pictures of us, including one of Rip riding a ten-foot wave down a Boston street, and one of Tennyo fighting Mimeo in an aerial lightsaber duel.  All the pictures were blurred around our images.  She said, “At least this time, you managed to blur all your photographs.  I presume this is one of Miss Reilly’s charms?”

Several of us nodded, but Nikki volunteered, “I made ‘em up Saturday, but Ayla was the one who thought about using them on our uniforms.”

Carson nodded.  “You’ll be pleased to know that even the superhero blogs and websites don’t have decent pictures this time from the usual bystanders with cellphones or cameras.  And the newspapers have no usable photos of any of you.  It appears the local television stations are having to go with sketches from eyewitnesses.”

She glared, “But that’s not the good part.  THIS is the good part!”  She switched over to a podcast from a Boston news station.  It was coverage of Mimeo’s robbery of a major Boston diamond exchange.  She frowned, “You’ll be really happy to hear this part.  He magically disabled some of the security.  Bullets bounced off a PK field he had.  He used something described as a ‘lightsaber’ to cut his way into the specially-protected safe.  And then he walked out through the walls, past the remaining security systems.  With millions in uncut diamonds, some of which are untraceable.  Do you understand what this means?”

I didn’t say anything, but Hank leapt in head-first.  “He used our powers to commit the robbery?”

Well duh.

Carson fumed, “Obviously!  Did it occur to any of you how dangerous it could be for you to go to Roxbury C, when they were holding people like Mimeo and Compulsion?”

Lancer tried, “Yes ma’am, but when Captain Tilley warned us about them, we set up battle plans to deal with that problem.  And we’re deputized in the Boston Metro Area!  We HAD to help out!”

I pointed out, “No one told us about Mimeo or Compulsion until we were already on top of Roxbury C, and then we immediately formulated plans.  We didn’t have time for anything else, because the breakout was already underway when we got there a few seconds later.”

Carson gave both of us a glare that could have punched holes in steel.  “How many times do I have to remind you about risking the school’s security?”

Chaka pointed out, “We’ve got that one covered now.  Captain Tilley leaked it that we’re a special local team in training within Boston proper.”

Carson sadly shook her head, “I’ve never had as much trouble with a group as you Kimbas.  I’m going to have to restrict you to campus until further notice.”

I groaned, “Does that include winter term break and spring break?”

She flatly said, “I haven’t decided.  Yet.”

I said, “I’m planning on taking my SO to a dance club in Miami-”

“MIAMI?”

“Jeez, Ayles!”

I ignored the peanut gallery and continued, “-one evening during winter term break, and I have business meetings lined up for spring break.”

She pursed her lips and carefully said, “We’ll see if you can keep out of trouble until then.”

Ugh.  All I said was “Yes ma’am.”

Tennyo put up a hand.  “Ma’am?  I promised the prisoners who helped me tunnel out of the wreckage that I’d come testify at each of their parole hearings.  I’d like to keep that promise.”

Carson just said, “I’ll check, but I doubt any of them are going to have parole hearings in the next couple years.  So that’s probably not going to be a problem.  Unless you keep getting into trouble.”

Lancer put up his hand.  “Umm, ma’am, I have no idea if any of us could be requested to go back to Boston to give depositions or attend hearings.  We were the primary witnesses for the jailbreak and the museum robbery and the restaurant attack, even if the district attorney’s office isn’t too crazy about mutants.”

Carson nodded.  “You played that card last time, Mister Declan.  And the time before.  You’re wearing that one out.  Furthermore, I’m going to have a long talk with your Captain Tilley.  I’m not very happy with the way the Boston Metro Area is misusing some of my students.  Did any of you realize you could have died out there today?  That you could have gotten your friends killed?”

I managed not to wince too much.  I replied, “We all thought about that, ma’am.  We all nearly got killed, too.  Except Billie, who was almost buried alive in a cave-in seventy feet below the ground.  For her, that would have been worse than just dying.  None of us wanted to go.  But we’re deputized, and if we hadn’t gone…”

She held up one hand.  “Yes.  I’m fully aware of just how horrific this could have been.  You don’t need to try swaying me with graphic descriptions.  But you know the rules.  You’re each going to get a week of punishment.  And none of you are going to be allowed to work off your punishment in Hawthorne.  Louis was clear that Hawthorne isn’t a punishment for any of you, even though Miss Obregon has yet to be sent there.  So…  Miss Goodkind, you are going to spend your week doing scutwork in the kitchens.”

I refused to cringe.  That woman hates me.  But I knew that already.

”Miss Reilly?  The sewers.  Stan and Morrie will be thrilled to have a Wizard helping out down there this week.”

Nikki blanched.  I sure would have.  Okay, my punishment could have been a lot worse.  Carson could have given me that one.

“Mister Declan?”  Hank faced her firmly, even as she gave him his punishment.  I hadn’t realized there were punishments that were embarrassingly delicate and girly around here.  Yuck.  I would have been pretty revolted to get that one.

“Miss Lee?  Shoveling snow.  Around Dickinson.  Miss Chandler?  Ditto, except you will get to do your shoveling around Melville.”

Toni really winced at that, but she didn’t complain out loud.  Okay, maybe I was still working the best job of the team, even if it’s the type of work that even sous-chefs don’t do.  Carson had equally creative – meaning, nasty – punishments for Billie and Jade and Rip.  Personally, I thought that assigning Rip to a hot, arid underground furnace room was just plain mean.

When we walked out of Admin, Solange was waiting for us.  She was wheeling Don Sebastiano around in a wheelchair, and Icer was casually standing with them.

<(Phase) Anyone backing them up?>

<(Lancer) Fey, check for traps.>

<(Fey) Someone’s behind us.>

<(Generator) Hamper and Damper.  Back just around the corner.  Oh wait, hang on, there’s a guy we don’t know back behind ‘em.  Jamie and Jayna didn’t find anyone else.>

<(Lancer) Okay.  Fey and Chaka, you talk to the mind-rippers.  Tennyo and Shroud, you just sort of accidentally end up at the back of our group, ready for Heckle and Jeckle.  Phase, you be ready to Phase-leap through Icer and tackle whoever they’ve got back behind them.>

<(Phase) I don’t want to…>

<(Lancer) I know.  If they attack, do it anyway.  Generator, have the J-Team back her up.>

<(Rptide) Geez! Is it always like this with you guys?>

<(Phase) Don’t ask.>

Chaka sashayed up to them.  “Hey, Professor Xavier BAY-bee!  Love the wheels.  Is that Emma Frost and Iceman you got backin’ you up these days?”

Solange smirked, “Shame you can’t actually be, you know, funny or anything.”

The Don smiled mildly at her.  Frankly, he looked like crap.  Well, he looked like an Exemplar-handsome Latino who was under the weather.  But he looked markedly less arrogant than normal.  I wondered whether he was still in fairly bad shape.  Exemplar or not, a colostomy is non-trivial.  Don Sebastiano said, “I hear you have been busy.”

Solange added, “Yeah, busy getting your asses kicked.”

Fey smiled nastily at her, “That’s odd, because I hear the same thing about you, due to three junior high children.”

While the two beauties sent each other Death Glares, The Don calmly spoke to Toni.  “So… odd that the Lamplighter chose to beat you to a pulp, instead of the criminals.  Is it not?”

Toni shrugged, “Do I look like I got beaten up?  Not that this isn’t the pot callin’ the kettle black, Mister Lampbase.”

He shrugged carelessly, “At least you weren’t humiliated at Roxbury.  I hear Mimeo even beat Tennyo pretty badly.  How embarrassing.”

Toni shrugged right back at him.  “Do we look like we lost to supervillains?  Don’t think so.”

I figured it was a good thing we had two of our Psi-resistant members up front, because Donny-boy and Tansy would have yanked the real details right out of my head.  Or Hank’s for that matter.

The Don said, “Well, Solange was kind enough to help me get out of the hospital for a little bit, but I must return now.  As you know, dreadful hospital food waits for no man.”  He tilted his head at Tansy, who then wheeled him down another hallway.  Icer followed them.

<(Shroud) Hamper and Damper retreating.>

<(Generator) The guy in the other hallway’s taking off too.>

<(Riptide) What was that all about?>

<(Lancer) The Don showing he’s still a force to be reckoned with.>

<(Chaka) And his Ki says he was lyin’ about still bein’ all beaten up.  Don’t know about the rest.>

<(Phase) Typical Sebastiano.  He’s playing some game, perhaps just a more cautious one than before.>

<(Lancer) Great.  Well, you need to get your contacts watching him even more.  I wanna know how big the knife is he’s got aimed at my back.>

<(Riptide) Jeez, are things always like this for you guys?>

<(Chaka) Oh no, usually, it’s stressful.>

We hardly got out of the building before we just ‘happened’ to encounter Majestic and her pitbull Counterpoint.  These people really needed to learn some subtlety.

Scratch that.  I was happier with these idiots being unaware of the subtler techniques.  Not that Hera had ever needed subtlety before she got stuck in June’s body…

I led off, “Why June, what a pleasant surprise!  Just running into you purely by coincidence!”  And I really had to wonder.  Since her records said that June was her real birth name, just how young was she when Juno snagged her?  Still in the womb?

Yes, I managed to find out her real name, and I paid Trin and MacIntyre to do some serious research on her.  Her boyfriend Jason, too.  So sue me.

Majestic gave me a look usually reserved for your shoe, when you realize you stepped in some horse manure when you were trying to watch the polo game.

<(Lancer) Is this necessary?>

<(Phase) As opposed to Chaka making fun of a guy in a wheelchair?>

<(Chaka) Lighten up, dude!>

Majestic finally deigned to speak to me.  “Phase.  You and your team seem to be rather… intact for people who lost several massive superhero battles today.”

I smirked, “Oh, you should see my other body.  It’s in the shop until we can get a new fender for it.”  I added, “Didn’t Prism give you a complete rundown?”

She pretended to think about it.  “Oh, he did say something about mercenaries and power armor and unimportant things like that.”  She smiled nastily.  “I was really more interested in seeing how you were doing after being thrashed by The Necromancer.”

I smiled back.  “Obviously, if we really had been ‘thrashed’ by The Necromancer, we would be dead.  Or worse.  Perhaps you ought to be asking Fey how it felt to nearly blow his face off.”

“Oh, did you manage to blow his face off?” Majestic asked caustically.

Fey gave her a regal glance.  She fudged, “No, I merely melted his stupid skull mask and set fire to his cloak.  But he managed to crawl away into his portal.”

Once Majestic finally strolled off, not having gotten the reaction she wanted, Hank stood patiently until he was sure we were finally alone.  Then he glared at me, “Did you really have to antagonize her?”

I explained, “Yes, actually I did.  You’re forgetting she knows me from weeks of World Lit class.  If I hadn’t acted like that, she would have known something was up.”

Rip just said, “Wow.  You guys!  I’d pay to watch this if it was a movie.  Being in it?  A little tense.”

We walked over toward Dunn Hall to go eat, but the bookie network came looking for me.  Given how our day had gone, the team opted to hang around and keep an eye out while I chatted.

Hazard walked up to me, and then waved Risk and Memo over.  I personally was a little uncomfortable having two probability warpers standing that close to me.  I just had to trust that Hazard would get one of her little precog messages and split before anything seriously bad happened.  Hazard grinned at me, “Nice going, Phase.”

Memo said, “This was the best deal yet.”

Risk said, “We didn’t have to pay off on the ‘no fights in Boston’ wagers, and since you had three fights, we didn’t have to pay off on the ‘Kimbas have a battle’ wagers either.”

I rolled my eyes.  “Aren’t people figuring out that you’re keeping all the money and getting pissed at you?”

They looked at each other as if they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with keeping all the cash.  Hazard said, “Well, we did have to pay out on the ‘everyone comes home safe’ wagers, and Diamondback won some money off us.  She bet that there would be more than one fight, and you’d win.”

Risk said to Memo, “You think we could get Diamondback to be the Whitman bookie?  She could cover Hawthorne too, come to think of it…”

Hazard ignored him.  She said to me, “And we didn’t have to tap into any of the bank you left us for the poker party.”

Memo said, “Yeah, it went great.  We made a thirteen percent profit.  Net.”

Risk grinned, “Even better, Tidewater and Pearlescent were the big winners, along with a couple of the other whales, and they were really rubbing it in.  So everyone felt like they walked off with all the money, and no one bugged us about making a little on the side.”

I frowned, “Well, I’m glad you all are very happy.  Because several of us were nearly killed today.”

Hazard shrugged nonchalantly.  “But you weren’t.  All the possible outcomes don’t matter.  The only thing that matters is the one outcome we actually get.”

I didn’t know whether that was her betting strategy or her philosophy of life.  Probably both.

At any rate, Hazard smirked at me, “We’ll be going now, since you have a phone call to answer.”

So, sure enough, about three seconds later, my phone rang.  I Phase-leapt well away from them before I answered it.  “Hi Paul.”

My brother crowed, “Ayla!  I had to call you.  Uncle Herb is ecstatic.  Boston is asking for four units of the Knights of Purity full-time in the Metro area, to interact with SWAT.  The Knights are getting great news coverage out of the whole thing, and it’s all thanks to your foresight.”

I grimaced, “Well, they kind of glossed over what my team actually did.”

He went on, “Plus, with a keystone city like Boston suddenly changing its mind, a couple more large metro areas are wavering.  It looks like Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, and Detroit will probably try the Knights on a contingency basis for maybe six months, just to see how it works out.  Plus, a couple other cities may increase their coverage.  And Cincinnati is calling Uncle Herb too.  You know, he’s been worrying about making the K.O.P. pay for itself, and this is likely to be what moves them into the black.”

We both knew that as more cities sprang for full teams and all the necessary back-up, the training and equipping issues would pay off in terms of enough volume to reduce per-unit costs.  And the Knights had been operating just on the other side of the breakpoint for the last two years, even with the income from their line of toys.

I just quietly agreed while he talked.  Considering that Chaka and Rip could have died if it wasn’t for the Knights intervening, and we really needed the help at Rox C, I was glad they had been available.

“Done with the Big Bro?” Toni checked once I hung up.

“Pretty much.  You won’t like this, but the Knights are getting lots of credit for Boston, and it’s going to help them.”

She scowled, “Anybody who uses toys to brainwash little kids is just plain evil.”

I just said, “Then I think you’re going to have to agree that the makers of Barbie, GI Joe, Transformers, and My Little Pony are automatically evil.”

“And Hello Kitty,” Hank tossed in.

“Hey!” Jade protested.

“Oh, definitely Hello Kitty,” Nikki teased.

“Yup, there’s nothing more evil than that,” Toni smirked.

“HEY!” Jade complained.  Jade gave us a huge frown and prepared a blistering retort…

<(Fey) Incoming.>

<(Chaka) Oh yeah.  It’s your favorite guy, Phase.>

<(Fey) I get smug and superior off him, nothing really scheming.>

<(Chaka) His pals, on the other hand…>

I turned to face Fantastico just before he could say something.  “Well, F-Man!  Come by to see the conquering heroes?”

He glowered at me.  His flankers Minefield and Oiler looked like they were hoping to see him punch my lights out.  “That ain’t the way I heard it, girlie-boy.  Ah heard you all got smacked around bigtime.  And Ah heard even your big guns-”  He took the time to glare at Hank and Billie both.  “-got stomped by that Mimeo.”

I gave him a blank look.  “So, if you’re listening to idle gossip, then you came by to see… if we looked ‘stomped’. perhaps?”

“Or maybe ta remind you that you aren’t the top dog out there, and that means you aren’t the top dog around here either.”  He turned and tromped away, stepping hard enough that his cowboy boots were probably going to need to be replaced before long.

I muttered, “Well, that was interesting.”

Hank checked, “Did I miss something?”

<(Phase) I’ll tell you later.  Under better security conditions.>

<(Lancer) Good enough.>

We made our way over to Dunn Hall, and joined the line in the cafeteria.  After the exquisite lunch, I wasn’t expecting dinner to match up.

“A lot of people lookin’ our way tonight,” Toni mentioned.

“And a lot of curiosity,” Nikki added.

“So word really is getting around,” Chou said.

“How could it not?” I asked rhetorically.  “We took two dozen kids to Boston, and they’re from most of the niches on campus.  On top of that, the museum robbery, the hostage crisis, and the prison outbreak all made the news.  Anyone on campus who tracks the superhero blogs probably had us ID’ed before we got back to Harrison’s.”

Toni asked suspiciously, “And would you know anyone like that?”

I shrugged.  “Could be.”  I wasn’t going to discuss my information sources in public like this, and she was perfectly capable of reading my Ki to see the truth, if she wanted to make just a little effort.

I saw Jade and Billie waving, so I looked to see who had their attention.  It was Anna.  She was sitting with her fellow Underdogs, waving excitedly at us and gabbing away to her friends.  I waved back, just to be polite.  She quickly got involved in her story, which clearly had a lot more animation and excitement than I thought it would.  Particularly when her gestures suggested to me that she was still at the ‘taking a jet to Boston’ part of the story.

But she wasn’t the only one.  A host of other people were looking our way and gossiping frantically.  That didn’t particularly bother me.  One thing you learn from being a Goodkind is that people are going to talk about you and point at you and think they know all about you.  There are lots of downsides to being famous.

I wasn’t looking forward to perusing the ort laid out across the food tables, particularly the toxic waste that someone had labeled ‘beef stew’.  So when I saw Chef Peter loitering suspiciously over by the dessert table, I hastened over that way.

He smiled mischievously when I walked over.  “The headmistress told me about my newest helper.  I know you’ll be appalled to hear this, but Marcel really needs help in the staff kitchen, and if you’re there, you’d be eating…”

I nearly jumped through the ceiling.  “YES!” I didn’t need to hear the rest of the sentence.  I would be eating bits of the good food, from the good ovens, as prepared by the good cooks.  “Yes yes yes, I’m in!  Whatever you want.  Show me how to peel potatoes, or wash salad greens, or whatever.  Just be aware that I don’t know how to do anything.  I barely know the difference between a head of garlic and a clove of garlic.”

He snickered, “Well, you won’t be cooking, so that won’t be a problem.”

A whole week eating the good food at every meal…  I smiled back, “This sounds like the best punishment ever.”

I wondered if Carson had this in mind from the start, given the level of disruption I was probably causing by squeezing ‘treats’ out of the kitchen staff all week long.  Probably.  The woman hadn’t lived to be as old as she was without learning to observe her surroundings.

He said, “But that starts tomorrow morning.  Tonight, you’ll have to make do with this.”  He handed me a plate that vaguely resembled the beef stew being served by the gallon back in the food line.  But this was a rich boeuf bourguignon on a bed of mixed rice.  I thanked him and then scurried off to our table to eat.

The beef was beautifully braised, and deliciously tender.  The carrots were carefully cooked too, since they weren’t stewed to a mush by the long cooking time needed for the beef.  They were sweet and tangy and scrumptious.  The garlic and onion just added richness and depth to the stew, along with strong hints of bacon and a really fine Cognac.  Then the liquid was seasoned with just enough thyme and tomato to keep the mushrooms from being too strong an accompaniment.  And the rice was terrific, too,  It was a mixture of brown rice, red rice, wild rice, and some Basmati rice as well.  It’s not that easy to make a mixture like that come out right, since not every type of rice needs the  same amount of cooking time.

Okay, I didn’t know how to cook rice, except for the “Joy of Cooking” directions I read last summer for cooking plain white rice in a pot.  But I did know that I had eaten mixed rice before, and often a mixture this involved was a failure because one type of rice would be overcooked, and one type would be undercooked.

It was a good thing that I had hurried to the table and started eating before anyone else joined me.  Because I had people coming by to talk to me.  Once two people were standing there to speak to me, other people realized they could come talk to me, and a line started forming.

Toni smirked, “Got some photos with your autograph to hand out?”

The first couple people wanted to talk to me – not about the Boston debacle – but about finances.  “Umm, Shrike said you like quadrupled her money in a few months, and then did a lot more than that just in one week?  Can you do that for me?”

“Me too.  That’s what I wanted to ask you too.”

“Yeah, Sahar said you took her from pretty much nothing to a major stock portfolio…”

“No, I didn’t want your stupid stock advice, I just wanted to get in line and say YOU SUCK and I hope you and your dorky friends get your ass kicked next time too!”

Stocks…  Stocks…  Insult…  Stocks…

Fortunately, stocks were leading insults by about 5-2.  And the insulters weren’t smart enough to realize that I was cataloguing who they were and from which group they came.  If there was a bright spot, I was finding out everybody who hated me and/or Team Kimba.  Like I didn’t know 90% of them already.

Okay, things could have gone a lot worse.  The IPO went better than I expected.  Vox showed me that she’s even more woman than I thought; I am so not losing her.  We survived a major attempt by an ‘A-’ level supervillain to take us out permanently, and after some healing we were down to a few sore spots.

I just hoped Bardue and Everheart didn’t grade us on the day’s work as part of the Team Tactics class.  That would really stink.

No.  Wait a minute.  Looking back over the day’s battles, it dawned on me that we could definitely beat Thursday’s sim.  I knew just how to do it.  In fact, I knew two ways to do it, not even considering our ‘radioactive condor girl’ scenario.  I made a mental note to talk it over with Hank so we could brief the team, and then we’d set it up for a run on Monday, just like Hank wanted.

Maybe we’d even hit them with all three runs, in succession, ending with the dreaded Radioactive Condor Girl, just to really mess with their heads.  That would teach Everheart and Bardue a thing or two…

“Ayla?  Why are you smiling like that?  You’re making me really nervous.”

THE END