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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Charge 1: La Belle de Chaniers

by ElrodW

 

Chapter 2

May 22, 2006
Bordeaux, France

Some type of altercation stopped the vehicle in traffic as the van wended its way through a city. "Open the van!" a booming voice commanded. Inside, the men fingered their weapons nervously. "By order of the regional magistrate, you are to release the girl into our custody."

Delacroix wasn't intimidated. "Call for backup." He thumbed a button. "What's going on?"

"It's the Heroes Glorieux de Bordeaux," one of the men answered through a speaker, from the driver's compartment. "They claim they have a legal writ from a juge pour enfants to take custody of the mutant. And they have a double-squad of gendarmes with them."

"Oh, fuck!" Favager cursed. "Not those assholes again." He looked at Delacroix for direction, still nervously fingering the trigger of his weapon. "What do we do?"

"We should have backup here in minutes."

"Do you guys have any power armor in your backup team?" the American asked. He had a look on his face like he was itching for a fight.

The back door opened, the lock twisting free and the door pried open like it was made of paper, causing the men to flinch and aim their weapons toward the man standing in the door.

The bright sunlight blinded Adalie; momentarily, she couldn't see anything but a shadow standing in the now-open door as she flinched from the intense light. "Hand over the girl, by order of the Aquitaine Tribunal des Mineurs."

"She is a dangerous mutant under the jurisdiction of the MCO," Favager growled.

"As a minor child, she falls under the Juridictions pour Mineurs, as you well know. There is no proof of danger, since no charges have been filed," the large figure said gruffly. "As such, you had no authority to kidnap her from her home, and you have no authority to continue detaining her."

Favager started to raise his weapon - to Adalie, a sneer on his face. It was obvious that he didn't like the idea of giving up custody one bit, and would take the girl down with him if it came to that.

"Don't even think about it," a woman said, appearing beside the spandex-dressed man with a cowl over half his face. She, too, wore spandex, in a form-fitting jumpsuit in the French national colors. Before Favager could react in any way, the woman reached out toward him, and the weapon was yanked from his hand, flying into her hands.

The American sat back and laughed, opening his hand to reveal a small remote control unit in his palm, strapped to his hand. "Delacroix, tell them what that collar on her will do. And tell these mutant scums that this is a dead-man switch, so if she tries that telekinetic shit on me, she'll kill the girl."

Delacroix nodded, turning to the superheroes. " Soeur Justice, why am I not surprised that you're meddling in MCO business? You do know that the government could easily revoke your license to hero." The scorn in his voice was unmistakable. "The American MCO agent has a dead-man switch, which is wired to the containment collar on the girl. If you attempt to take it from him, or if his pulse stops, the device will be activated."

The spandex-clad woman glowered at the American and Delacroix. "What is in that monstrous ... thing?"

"A high-voltage stunning apparatus, power-activated guillotine blades, three injectors with different highly toxic poisons, and, for good measure, five ounces of C-4 explosive." Delacroix looked like the cat that had swallowed the canary. "It seems we have a standoff."

The male hero gave pause. "You realize, of course, that if you harm the girl in the absence of formal charges, you will be guilty of murder of a minor child, and the bad publicity will probably result in the closure of the several regional MCO offices and numerous prosecutions for murder."

The American chuckled. "This is what we call a Mexican standoff. And I know better than to believe that you'd gamble with the life of the girl."

"He said you won't gamble with the life of the girl. And I should warn you that we have a backup squad of power armor has been summoned," Favager grinned.

"As is your normal heavy-handed approach to everything," Soeur Justice said, shaking her head.

"Sir, there is a television news crew here," the man in front reported over the speaker."

Delacroix glared at the Soeur Justice. "Damn you!" It was, he knew, her favorite trick - bring in the media whenever she, or anyone on the HGB, had to deal with the MCO, but the speed at which the news crews arrived baffled him. It was as if they anticipated what his office was doing. His lips trembled with rage at the HGB. He turned to the American. "She will be returned her to our custody as soon as charges are filed. They can't hide her, because they would lose their government permission to be heroes."

For several tense seconds, the American glared at Delacroix. "Running up the white flag, when we have the stronger hand?" he asked bitterly. Finally, glaring at Adalie, he pressed a few buttons on the remote, and the heavy collar unlatched.

"Good choice," the spandex hero said gruffly. He stepped aside so that Delacroix and the American could see the squad of gendarmes behind them, their guns leveled at the van.

Soeur Justice and her male counterpart pulled the three MCO agents from the back of the fan, relieving them of their weapons and pushing them toward the waiting gendarmes. Soeur Justice stepped to the torture device in which Adalie sat. "You are Adalie Vitesse?" she asked with certainty.

"Yes." Adalie was confused. "How ... who ...?" She had more questions, and the agonizing trip in the chair had made her incredibly weary.

"A friend called as soon as she heard that you were taken. An old friend, and mentor of mine, the Guardian Mother."

Adalie's eyes widened. Everyone had heard of the Guardian Mother, one of the first superheroes of France, who could teleport herself to any criminal activity, and with her powers, she'd defeated many supervillains, including Enchanteresse.

"Come. Let's get you out of here before the power armor arrives to make things interesting again." Soeur Justice pulled a mask from a small pouch on her waist. "Put this on."

"Huh?"

"There is a news crew outside. This _will_ be on the news, and I'm sure you don't want anyone to recognize you, do you?"

The gendarmes were busy with the MCO prisoners, while three of the HGB heroes were trying to hold back the crowds and reporters.

Soeur Justice wrapped an arm around Adalie. "Hang on tightly." As soon as Adalie had wrapped her arms around Soeur Justice, the superhero lifted into the air, eliciting a scream from Adalie. "Sorry," Soeur Justice laughed. "I should have warned you."

"Are you going to take me home?" Adalie asked nervously. She wasn't sure she liked the idea of soaring through the skies over Bordeaux while clinging for dear life to a superhero.

"No," Soeur Justice said firmly. "The MCO would just come back, and things in Chaniers are a little ... unsettled at the moment."

"How ... how do you know so much about me?" Adalie was more frightened than she wanted to let on; it was totally disconcerting to have someone know so much about her, while she knew nothing of Soeur Justice or the HGB.

"A friend told me," Soeur Justice said, her smile unseen to the terrified Adalie whose eyes were screwed tightly shut.

It wasn't a moment too soon that the pair landed in an alleyway, and Soeur Justice led Adalie into a small parking garage. She unlocked a Citroen C3 and pulled a wig and an overcoat from a duffel bag in the back seat. "Put these on," she commanded Adalie. Confused, the girl complied. "Disguise," the super-heroine continued. "We need to get you into our headquarters incognito, so the MCO won't know if we have you in a safe-house or at our headquarters."

"Okay," Adalie said hesitantly.

"There is a phone in our headquarters, too, so you can call your mother Nicole, and ...."

"Nicole is _not_ my mother!" Adalie exploded in unexpected rage. "Don't call her my mother!" She turned away, fighting back tears that stemmed from fatigue, fear, anger, and intense sadness at the sudden reminder of her departed mother.

"Oookaaayyy," the heroine said slowly. "I'm sorry. I wasn't aware." She saw the girl's shoulders shaking, and realized that the poor girl was overwhelmed. She hesitantly stepped to Adalie's side and put her arm around her shoulder, pulling the girl against her.

Adalie turned unexpectedly and collapsed into the woman's arms, the misty eyes turning to outright bawling as her emotions caught up with her.

Once Adalie had calmed, she finished putting on the rudimentary disguise, and then climbed into the car. "Sorry about the car," Soeur Justice apologized. "It's a rental to help cover tracks. I much prefer my regular car, but ...." The two drove through the winding streets, taking a non-obvious path that seemed to criss-cross itself several times, before pulling into an alley amidst some large, relatively plain buildings. With a quick glance both ways, the heroine led Adalie to a back door that looked relatively unused, and after entering a code in a modern lock, the two hurried inside the building, with Adalie's rescuer securing the door behind them.

Adalie glanced around at the walls and halls, and then looked up, puzzled. "Did this used to be an old warehouse?" she asked.

Soeur Justice raised an eyebrow. "What makes you say that?"

"No," Adalie explained. "The roof architecture - it's unique for warehouses. It doesn't fit any of the other buildings in the area."

"Oh, you're good in architecture?"

Adalie smiled, her first smile in hours. "Yes. Madame Rousseaux has been helping me learn about interior design and architecture, and I hope to be like her after I finish my school."

"Would that be Yvette Rousseaux?"

"Yes." She saw Soeur Justice's bewildered look. "Why?"

"I know of her. Everyone knows of her," Soeur Justice smiled. She led Adalie to a small kitchen just off the office area. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes," Adalie said, realizing just how hungry she was. "I haven't eaten since breakfast."

"And as an energizer, you must be famished."

"How do you know?" Adalie started.

Soeur Justice smiled and chuckled. "We called your ... family to get as much information about you as possible. So, how about some early dinner?"

Adalie's stomach rumbled silently again, reminding her of her hunger. "That'd be great."

"We have a seafood salad left-over from lunch. I hope it'll be good enough, and will hold off your hunger until we have real dinner."

Adalie laughed. "As hungry as I feel, I'd eat almost anything."

As Adalie dug into her second helping, other heroes began to drift in - the brick who'd ripped open the armored van and went by the name Dix Tonnes; Mage Astre, in a low-cut tight midnight blue spandex suit adorned with glittering star-shaped jewels and a scepter, was the group's magic user; a slight fellow who wouldn't stand out in a crowd and who was an energizer; a flame manifestor called Flamme Bleu who was also a flier, like Soeur Justice; and an attractive Chinese girl warper called Orchidee Quantique. They sat down around the table, and Adalie felt like she was on display.

Once she set aside her plate, the questions began. Adalie ran through all of the events of the previous days, including, embarrassingly, her shattered relationship with Colette, and the attempted sexual extortion by Henri. She also went through the details of the fire and rescue, and the group asked probing questions, but in a friendly, non-confrontational way that left Adalie feeling like she was surrounded by supportive friends instead of feeling like the victim of a hostile interrogation.

When Adalie finished her story, Soeur Justice leaned back in her chair and stared at a spot on the wall. All of the other heroes paused to let her think. When she looked back down at Adalie, it was with a worried expression. "Okay, there is good news, and there's bad news."

Adalie gulped nervously. "What's the bad news?"

"I studied at law school, and in my private life, I'm a practicing attorney, so I know what I'm talking about," the heroine said with a wry smile. "If the officials in Chaniers decide to formally charge you, then we will be required turn you over to the authorities for investigation and trial." She watched Adalie's expression change to dismay. "And all evidence will be collected, even hearsay and gossip," she added.

"Henri will never provide an alibi about either the incident with Colette," Adalie said, her voice heavy, "or about where I was when the fire at the Michoud's house started."

"And it's not likely that he'll confess to trying to extort or assault you after you ... dissuaded him," the brick added with a weak chuckle.

"All they have to do is accuse me, and then I get turned over to the MCO?" Adalie sounded frightened of the prospect, and a little bitter at the power that the bigots in her town had.

"That's part of the good news," Soeur Justice continued quickly. "Jurisdiction can be at the local level, or the local officials can pass jurisdiction up to the regional level, which would be the Aquitaine Tribunal des Mineurs, because you fall under the Juridictions pour Mineurs. In either case, because of your age, any punishment other than educational, including turning you over to the MCO, must be thoroughly justified to at least the regional level. Further, the Procureur de la Repubique would be in attendance to enforce the laws protecting minors, and the Procureur has the authority to alter the sentence." She smiled. "We know the regional Procureur, and he is sympathetic to discrimination and actions against mutants."

Adalie thought a moment. "Even so, I'd have to go through all the legal proceedings, right?"

Soeur Justice nodded. "True, but in a way, it may be better to get you into the legal system, because that would get you protection of the Aquitaine Juridictions pour Mineurs."

Her elbows on the table, and fingers locked together, Adalie let her forehead slump against her hands. "It would be better if none of this had happened."

Orchidee Quantique laid her hand on Adalie's shoulder. "Perhaps, and perhaps not. You have special powers. As you learn to control them, you can use them to do much good for people, or you can conceal them and live a normal life, knowing that, in an emergency, you have your abilities."

"Maybe," Adalie said uncertainly, looking up around the table at the faces gazing sympathetically at her. "But I'll never be able to do what I want."

"Which is ...?"

"I want to be an interior architect and designer."

"Why can't you do that?" Mage Astre asked.

"Because ... I'll never get to finish high school. I won't even finish the grade I'm currently in, because I can't go back home or to school to complete the final few weeks and take the exams. Most of the people in town hate me or fear me, and someone will eventually try to hurt me."

The large, solid brick exchanged a glance with the magic user. "We can go to the education ministry office to get permission for you to study here, while you wait for resolution of the legal issues. Since there are but three weeks left in the term, you should be able to easily complete the exams." Mage Astre offered.

"We can help tutor you, too, if needed," the brick added.

"Now, since you can't go home, you can stay here until we can get something better. We don't have staff here around the clock," Mage Astre continued, "but since you are a minor, Soeur Justice, Orchidee Quantique, or I will stay with you so you're not alone."

"Can I call Papa?" Adalie asked hopefully. "Or would someone from MCO try to listen in or trace the call to find me?"

"You sound a little paranoid," the Flamme Bleu said, chuckling.

"Wouldn't you be?" Adalie retorted sharply.

"Touche," he answered with a grin. "But you needn't worry. Our devisor, Fabricateur, has made a phone system which is very secure and cannot be traced."

Adalie got a little excited. "Can I call Papa now?" she asked eagerly.

Mage Astre and Soeur Justice exchanged knowing grins. "Of course." They would have been surprised if the girl had _not_ wanted to call home to let her family know that she was safe, especially after the very trying day she'd had.

May 23, 2006
Heroes Glorieux de Bordeaux Headquarters

"We have paperwork in order to take custody of the girl," Delacroix argued, standing in the doorway of the HGB headquarters with his arms defiantly crossed.

"What girl?" Soeur Justice asked innocently.

"Don't play coy with me, Soeur Justice," Delacroix snapped back. "We know the mutant is with you." Behind him, Favager and another agent of the MCO stood, hands on their weapons, while two suits of power armor blocked the street behind them.

"Really?" she asked, smiling. "And how do you _know_ this? Perhaps some illegal phone tapping? Perhaps some unauthorized surveillance?"

"Produce the girl," Delacroix demanded.

"Let me see the papers," Soeur Justice countered. She took the papers when Delacroix reluctantly handed them to her, and after reading a bit, began to laugh. "This is tres ridicule!" she chuckled. "These papers are from a magistrate in Chaniers, who is not authorized to deal with issues of minors. Since the last order came from the Aquitaine Tribunal des Mineurs, only that tribunal, or the Ministry of Justice, can authorize you to detain the girl." She held one page up to the sunlight. "I wouldn't be surprised to find that they are forged!"

"If you want to play that game," Delacroix snarled, "I'll see to it that the charter of HGB is revoked. I'll take all of you in as dangerous mutants complicit in crimes against the people of Chaniers."

"I'd love to see you try," Mage Astre, standing beside Soeur Justice, said with a polite smile. "We operate under a national charter, and there are no formal charges against the girl. Besides, after your last little attempted kidnapping, she's under the jurisdiction of the Juge des Enfants, not us."

Delacroix glanced over his shoulder and gave a quick nod. As he turned back to the two women, he smoothly drew his weapon. Behind him, the power armor suits began to stalk forward.

Mage Astre waved her ebony wand, causing the gem atop it to sparkle with a rainbow of colors. She had a smug grin, as did Soeur Justice.

Delacroix decided it was time to force the issue. He stepped purposefully to the door to push his way past the two women - only to bounce off the force field which Mage Astre had created.

"Tsk, tsk, Monsieur Delacroix," Soeur Justice said, smiling. "Unauthorized entry? That's against the law, too, in case you didn't know."

The power armor stepped toward the entrance, and the two agents stepped aside. "We'll see how smug you are when we dig through the rubble and apprehend that mutant."

"And that would be wanton destruction of property, which is also a crime. Oh, by the way, in case you hadn't noticed, you've managed to attract reporters once again." She smiled. "They must know that you're a magnet for trouble and flouting the law, and just follow you around to get an embarrassing story!"

Delacroix's determined expression fell when he looked down the street and saw a newswoman and her camera crew focused on him and the power armor. He glared at the two women momentarily before he sighed. "I'll be back," he vowed. "Count on it. And I will get that dangerous little mutant."

"So you say, _Javert!_" Mage Astre replied with a wicked grin. Her response drew a look of anger from Delacroix before he turned and, leading the power armor, stalked back to an MCO truck parked down the street. The two women watched, amused, as two more pairs of power armor eventually clambered into the truck before it drove away.

The women's expressions soured when they returned to an informal room where Adalie was on a sofa, sulking. "Are you okay, Addy?" Mage Astre asked as she sat beside the girl and grasped her hand in a comforting, concerned manner.

Adalie didn't look up from the spot on the floor she was intently studying. "I don't know," she said, choking on her words. "I'm ... I'm a mutant, and I got run out of my home. I was rejected by my friends, and they want to blame me for crimes I didn't commit. The MCO is after me, and I can't go home ever again! And I'm stuck here, holed up like a criminal."

Mage Astre clutched Adalie's hand. "Everything will be okay," she assured the girl. "Be patient, Adalie."

"But ... I ... I can't go home!" Adalie sobbed. "How am I going to finish school so I can go to a university?" She wiped at her eyes. "I'll never get to go to Ecole d'architecture Athenaeum. I'll never be an interior architect and designer!"

Soeur Justice eased into a chair and gracefully crossed her legs. "Adalie, you're over-reacting, which is understandable, because the last few days have been pretty intense for you. But I promise you, things are going to get better."

"There are other ways you can attend school, too," Mage Astre added. "Do you have any relatives in other cities where you could live? More mutant-friendly cities, like Paris or Nice?"

"My aunt used to live in Paris," Adalie said, "but she's moving to America for her job." Adalie didn't notice the curious glance shared between the two heroines. "Couldn't I stay here, in your custody, and attend school here?"

"Unfortunately, no," Mage Astre answered quickly. "There are laws and regulations about children in the custody of superheroes and supervillains. The government fears that we would train you to be a superhero, and possibly expose you to danger - even from just being with us."

"There are some very good boarding schools," Soeur Justice said, again exchanging a knowing look with her superhero partner.

"But how many are friendly to people like me - mutants?" Adalie asked, a little bitterness in her voice. She feared being rejected again.

"Not many," Soeur Justice admitted sheepishly. "Mostly, you would need to hide your powers."

"Speaking of which," Mage Astre changed the subject quickly, "we need to get powers testing for you so we can apply for your MID card."

"MID?"

"Mutant Identification Card. Technically, if you are caught without an MID card, you can be questioned, or even convicted of a minor crime. And if you wish to travel, you _must_ have an MID," Mage Astre answered.

Adalie turned back to Soeur Justice. "The only school I've heard of for special kids is Deville Academy," she said with a visible shudder. "And I've heard that they train villains."

"Partially true," Soeur Justice answered. "Deville _is_ a training ground for spies, criminals, and villains, but they do not like mutants at all. They train to _kill_ mutants. So there is no possibility of you going to Deville, even if you and your father wanted that."

Mage Astre glanced uneasily at Soeur Justice. "Where is your aunt moving?"

"To Boston," Adalie replied, confused. Suddenly, she realized where the woman's questions might lead. "No! I will _not_ go to America!" she said with an air of finality.

"There is a very good school in America," Soeur Justice replied slowly, "just for mutants. Coincidentally, it is very near Boston. It would be an ideal place for you to complete your education and prepare for a university."

"No!" Adalie stated again, her eyes narrow slits of anger. "Not America!" The vehemence in her voice surprised the HGB members.

May 25, 2006
HGB Headquarters, Bordeaux

The alarm ringing through the building was nearly deafening. Adalie stood in the center of the office area, frantically looking around herself in confusion, while the Heroes Glorieux de Bordeaux scrambled to their command center. Adalie nervously followed them.

"A bank is under assault," Mage Astre reported as she read a computer screen. "One brick, a mage, and a warper. They have hostages."

Soeur Justice cringed. "That'll be tricky."

"I'll have to hold a shield around the building so they can't warp out," Mage Astre said without a moment's thought.

"Do we know who they are or what other powers they have?" the energizer asked.

"Nothing on the report."

"Okay, I don't like going in with our magic user holding the door shut, but we'll have to do it that way. Orchidee, you teleport us in. As soon as we're in, Mage Astre, put up the shield so they can't get away. We'll have to play it by ear as we go from there." Soeur Justice looked at the magic user. "Have they breached the vault?"

"No report."

"The first task is to take care of their mage. If they haven't breached the vault," the spandex-clad brick reported immediately, "identify their mage and teleport him or her there." He turned to their devisor. "Get plans for the bank on the screen."

Almost instantly, the group was looking at the floor-plans. "Okay, Orchid, where do you want to drop in?"

Orchid pointed at a spot on the screen, on one side of the bank lobby. "It should be far enough out of the way that we'll get an extra second or two before they react."

Soeur Justice pointed at another spot. "There! That's a good secondary spot to put the mage if the vault door is open."

"As soon as you drop the mage, look for any hostages in delicate situations and warp them out. Flamme, as soon as the hostages are clear, flame the criminals, starting with the warper. If the mage shows back up, switch targets and take him out of action quickly."

The spandex brick Dix Tonnes nodded. "Soeur and I will handle the brick."

"Watch out for hostages, and we'll have to improvise as the situation changes. Let's go." It was evident that Soeur Justice was the team leader. They stood, and Orchidee Quantique concentrated; the next moment, the team was gone.

Adalie sighed, suddenly lonely again, and trudged back to the mountain of schoolwork on an otherwise unused desk. Even though she wasn't in school, the HGB was ensuring that she diligently kept up with her studies, as they had for the previous two days. It was boring and tedious, but it kept her from getting even more bored if she'd have had nothing to do.

As she started working the first of many math problems, the door chime sounded. Adalie's first instinct was to ignore the bell, but when it sounded a second, and then a third time, she scooted her chair back and walked to the door. "Who is it?" she asked through the closed door. Soeur Justice and Mage Astre had been quite insistent that she not open the door for anyone.

"City sewer services," a man's voice answered.

"I'm sorry, but the owners are not here at the moment."

"That's okay," the voice answered. "We will just need access to the basement, where there is a connection to one of the sewer tunnels."

Adalie started to open the door, but something nagging in her brain told her not to. "Do you have authorization?" she asked.

"Yes, mademoiselle," the worker answered.

Adalie hooked a security chain and eased the door open a crack. That cursory glance set her mind at ease; the man was dressed as a city worker, with a hardhat and what looked to be proper work clothes. He slid a few papers through the crack to Adalie.

The girl started to look through the papers, and a frown formed on her face. The papers looked like ... nonsense! They weren't on anything like official letterhead stationery, and what little she'd read had nothing to do with sewer repairs. She looked up, concerned, just in time to see a suit of power armor come into view, while the door caved in from a second power suit bashing into it.

Adalie was stunned, but only for a moment. She dashed into the building, heading straight for one of the other two exits, while behind her, the power suits and three men swarmed into the HGB headquarters. She heard a shot as she rounded a corner, and her hair stood on end from the proximity of the energy weapon's impact. She sprinted to the exit, and, adrenaline coursing through her, she pushed the door open.

Two more power suits stood outside where they'd been waiting, and as she caught herself in the doorway, one launched a tangle-web at her.

She dodged the web and ducked back inside, narrowly avoiding yet another energy beam. She darted toward the second emergency exit, but knew instinctively that there was probably another set of guards waiting for her there. Behind her, the three MCO agents and the armored muscle were tearing through the headquarters, smashing cubicle walls and overturning furniture to see if the girl was hiding somewhere. One of the power-suits saw her running, and she had to duck behind a desk to avoid yet another energy beam, while a tangle-web shot hit the desk, covering part of it in a sticky mess.

Adalie sprinted up an old set of stairs that hadn't been used in years, onto a small catwalk that ran along one side of the cavernous warehouse space. A tangle-web shot hit around her, but the catwalk frame and railing protected her, or she would have been ensnared. Instinctively, Adalie ran; she _knew_ that the building had to have a roof access door or hatch somewhere. A tingle coursed through her body as an energy beam hit the skeleton of the catwalk near her; if Adalie had been grounded somewhere, the energy might have affected her. As it was, there was no conduction path, so she was only slightly affected, and then mostly by fear of the energy beam.

Behind her, a power suit followed two men onto the catwalk. Adalie sprinted to the end, and around a corner, narrowly avoiding a clear shot from one of the two MCO agents. Ahead was a ladder up, which had to be to the roof. She darted up the ladder, quickly undid a latch, and pushed open a hatch onto the warehouse's roof. With a glance behind her, Adalie sprinted away from the access door.

As she sprinted past one edge of the building, she saw two suits of power armor, right outside the third doorway which she'd avoided; they were set up in such a way that she'd have been ambushed and trapped. As it was, she had to get away from this building at to somewhere safe. The two plain-clothed agents poked their heads around the door, and when they saw her, they separated to better cover the girl, both aiming their weapons at her.

The warehouse was part of a cluster of similar buildings, all separated by roads and alleys. Adalie knew that she had one chance. She darted back toward the access way, watching the two men track her with their guns, and then she reversed course, running full-speed toward the edge of the roof.

Adalie hadn't been a strong athlete in physical education, but she'd done well enough. She put out of her mind that the last time she'd done a running long jump; she had tripped at the start, and if she failed here, she'd fall seven or eight meters to the ground, possibly fatally so. The edge approached much faster than Adalie thought; she hoped that the little she knew of science was correct, and that the faster she ran at takeoff, the further she'd jump. She planted her foot as close to the edge as she dared, knowing that a slip _there_ could also prove catastrophic.

She had a momentary sensation of flying like a bird as her body carried across the gap between buildings, easily beating the two meters she'd managed in PE and covering the four and a half-meter space, landing on the roof of the adjacent building and rolling. As she stood, she felt the now-familiar tingle of an energy bolt passing close to her; if she'd been lying on the roof, she'd have been hit. Adalie didn't have to wait to know what she had to do; she ran, dodging and weaving as she crossed the second roof. As she approached the next gap, her confidence was high, and she launched herself into the air.

The appearance of a power suit, flying up between the buildings, startled her, and she lost her balance terribly on landing. Fortunately for Adalie, the man in the power suit was also startled, and his reactions were delayed. She jumped to her feet, wincing at the pain in her knees and one ankle, and ran toward the building's roof hatch, hearing the swish of a capture net sailing through the air behind her, where she'd been laying on the roof a fraction of a second before.

As the power armor flew toward her, Adalie yanked on the door, but, unsurprisingly, it was latched and wouldn't open. She glanced over her shoulder, and saw the powder-blue suit closing on her deliberately. A quick glance showed that she couldn't go back the way she'd come; one of the power suits was on the second roof. The only option left was a row of buildings across a much wider street than the alleyways she'd jumped. Grimacing at the aches, she ran directly away from the street, confusing the power-suit jockey, who had to change direction again to pursue her. The girl circled the edge of the roof, maintaining as much momentum as she could in the wide corner, and then she ran for all she was worth toward the street.

The world moved in slow-motion to Adalie, making it seem that she was wafting gently on a breeze as she soared across the fourteen-meter gap. She saw the gap closing, and her heart soared as she _knew_ that she'd managed the leap. Slowly, though, her jubilation became anxiety, and then outright horror as she realized that she was not _quite_ going to make it.

Time speeded up again as Adalie, her arms flailing uselessly, hit her thighs on the edge of the roof, and more pain pierced her focus and concentration. Momentum carried her forward, mostly onto the roof, but with one leg dangling toward the street.

Slightly dazed from pain, and having had the wind knocked out of her by the rough landing, Adalie glanced over her shoulder, and her eyes widened in fear of the power suit coming at her, the occupant raising his web gun menacingly. He _knew_ he had her now; she was down, and from the looks of it, injured. He slowed, steadying himself to make a better shot.

Ignoring her scraped knees, legs, and hands, Adalie lurched up onto the roof and darted to one side, narrowly avoiding yet another tangle web, and then she ran toward the alley behind the roof she was on. She knew that if the buildings were anything like those in Chaniers, there would be fire escapes, landings, and other projections, and she was rewarded when she glanced over the edge of the roof. Below her, a little to her left, a fire escape landing awaited her like a princess' carriage to take her to the ball, but in this case, the ball was escape from the MCO, and the princess was a little battered and bruised.

Adalie clutched at the rim of the roof and swung her legs over the edge, dangling down toward the waiting fire escape. The drop was further than she'd anticipated, and her sore ankle and knees protested at the rough landing, but adrenaline allowed her to ignore the pain and scramble down the steel steps, until she was on the ground. Even that was no refuge; she knew there were at least five more _fast_ power suits, plus the flier, and at least three agents armed with energy weapons and capture webs.

If it had been Chaniers, Adalie would have easily outmaneuvered the pursuing MCO agents, using her knowledge of the streets and alleys and buildings, but here, in Bordeaux, she had no such advantage. All she had was her speed. Even that, though, might be ineffective against a flier. She had to find someplace to hide.

Adalie dashed out of the alley, and dodged two cars and a taxi, which stopped to shout and honk their horns at the menace who'd darted in front of them. Into another alley, narrower than the first, she sped, not quite knowing where she was running, but she didn't see any MCO agents or power suits over her shoulder. She slowed at the next street, and ran at what she hoped was a normal trot down the street, away from the warehouse district. Around her, the buildings were a story taller, and the alleys narrower. She looked overhead, at the lines holding clothing to dry, and she got an idea. The MCO agents knew what she was wearing, but if she could disguise herself, she might be able to more successfully evade them.

Watching over her shoulder nervously, Adalie scrambled up the fire escape until she could reach a clothes-line with what appeared to be suitable garb, and she pulled a couple of items from the line before dropping back to the ground. She ducked into a doorway and twisted the door handle, being rewarded with the door opening. With one last glance, especially overhead, she ducked inside.

A dim hallway stretched toward the street, where another door admitted some sunlight. A stairway led up, and there seemed to be a stairway down, or a supply closet behind a locked door in a small alcove. Not willing to risk exposing herself, Adalie slid into the alcove. She pulled the clothing over her own, wincing at how unfashionable and ill-fitting it was, but she knew she had no choice. Two minutes later, a girl wearing frumpy clothes strode out the front door to the street.

Adalie was lost. Her helter-skelter flight and unfamiliarity with Bordeaux had left her hopelessly confused. She walked in what she hoped was the direction of the warehouses, thinking that she could find a hiding spot which overlooked the warehouse, and wait for the HGB to return. However, the MCO was not about to give up. The flier darted into view, overhead, moving slowly as the pilot scanned the crowd below, looking for Adalie.

Adalie resisted the natural urge to look up at the power suit, until she belatedly realized that just about everyone else was looking, and that by _not_ staring skyward, she was acting suspicious enough to draw the man's attention. Fighting back tendrils of fear, Adalie turned and deliberately looked at the MCO flier, who was intently sweeping his gaze across the crowd. Adalie's heart felt like it stopped when he looked at her, but his scan continued, passing over her to more people on the street.

She changed her plan; rather than heading for where she thought the warehouse was, she strode in the opposite direction. Even then her sense of direction and the winding streets put her near the warehouse, where she saw a few MCO fliers, plus some power suits, staking out the building. Overhead, a powder-blue helicopter circled, and a second orbited in a broader circle, scanning the crowds below to try to locate her.

Her pace quickened, and she departed the scene, walking to unknown parts of the city, wondering how she was ever going to get in touch with the HGB again, since the MCO was watching for her. She had nothing except an ill-fitting pair of clothes over her own tattered clothes - no money, no cell phone, nothing. She was on her own in a strange city, with a major anti-mutant force after her. She wanted to cry as she walked.

HGB Headquarters, Bordeaux

Soeur Justice glowered as she looked around the mess that only half an hour earlier had been the neat, orderly headquarters for the Heroes Glorieux de Bordeaux. She turned to one of her teammates. "Photograph everything. Every single square meter of the building."

"It looks like someone went out through the roof," Mage Astre reported.

"Did they get her?" Soeur Justice asked with a snarl. She was bordering on rage once they discovered that they'd been tricked into going to the scene of a non-existent robbery, and then were delayed dealing with the police, half of whom had received the same misleading report, and the other half of whom had responded to the appearance of the HGB as if _they_ were a mutant villain force. That had cost the team ten or twelve more minutes, but as they had discovered on returning to their headquarters, those few minutes might have been critical.

Mage Astre shook her head sadly. "We can't tell. She must have gotten to the roof, because we found tangle-web on two other rooftops."

Soeur Justice thought of their neighborhood for a moment. At least five meters separated the buildings from each other, and crossing the main street to one of the low apartment buildings would have required Adalie to have leaped nearly fifteen meters. Her eyes narrowed as the frown on her face deepened. "How about the area? Are there still MCO in the area?"

Orchidee Quantique nodded. "There are two agents and a power suit directly across the street, with two agents fifty meters either side of them."

"That would strongly suggest that they _didn't_ capture her," Mage Astre said hopefully, "but are staking out the area waiting for her to return."

Soeur Justice nodded at the slight hope. "Or they are waiting for us, hoping to implicate us somehow in her 'crimes'." She shook her head slowly. "Mage Astre, contact Monsieur Follet. I want him to prepare requests for legal injunctions against them. Have him contact the Tribunal des Mineurs. I want to see if we can get a magistrate to charge them with breaking and entering, vandalism, and attempted kidnapping of a minor, and see if he'll throw the kidnapping from Chaniers at them, too. I want their asses turning on a spit!" With that, she stomped furiously out of the damaged headquarters and took to the sky.

Several minutes and one intermediate stop later, she landed with a flourish, and with pedestrians and citizens watching her in amazement, she walked purposefully into a large building with a small sign proclaiming it as the office of Bureau de la Commission Francaise des Mutants, the French MCO. Soeur Justice paused to take a deep breath at the door, to calm herself so she didn't angrily rip the door from its hinges and cause the type of mayhem that she wanted the MCO to be charged with.

After she was certain that her blood pressure and temper were back under control, she calmly walked into the MCO building. In the lobby, her presence caused an immediate stir; Soeur Justice could tell from looking around which of the MCO personnel hated mutants, which feared mutants, and which felt superior to mutants. Those three categories fit every MCO agent that she'd ever met. With every eye fixed on her, she walked determinedly to the reception desk.

"May I help you?" The receptionist was in the 'hates mutants' category, judging from the extremely unpleasant cast to her eyes and the barely-disguised snarling tone of her voice.

"I need to speak with Monsieur Delacroix," Soeur Justice said, her voice firm and cold.

"I don't believe Monsieur Delacroix is available at the moment," the receptionist replied without even having checked. Her disdain for Soeur Justice was plain to see.

"It involves a legal matter which will be of significant concern to Monsieur Delacroix very, very soon. I would say that it is in his interest to speak with me."

The receptionist glowered at her for a few seconds, before calling Delacroix, and while she waited, Soeur Justice stood menacingly by the receptionist's desk, her arms crossed and a serious frown on her features, making the receptionist feel nervous. It was a petty thing to do, but Soeur Justice was in no mood to play politeness games with the MCO.

Delacroix walked calmly into the lobby, determined to look professional and collected, but he started when he saw Soeur Justice's expression. "How may I help you?" he asked after he managed to regain his composure.

"Cut the shit, Delacroix!" Soeur Justice snarled angrily, drawing the immediate attention of everyone in the reception area. "Where is she?"

"Who?" Delacroix asked.

"Don't play innocent," she countered immediately. "You know who I'm talking about. Where is she?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he replied smoothly.

Soeur Justice leaned closer, her expression icy and intimidating. "If I find out you've done anything to her," she hissed, "I'll make your upcoming legal troubles seem like a birthday party." She saw his cool demeanor facade crack a little. "It's against the law to hack into police communications systems," she began, "and the gendarmes take a dim view of breaking and entering and vandalism, to say nothing of kidnapping."

"Upcoming legal troubles? Kidnapping?" Delacroix was visibly struggling to remain composed. "What are you talking about?"

"Or attempted kidnapping," Soeur Justice added. She leaned a little closer. "I personally take a dim view of the way your organization acts as if they're above the law, but I have practiced so long and hard to uphold it and not doing anything that could be remotely considered unlawful, just like all superheroes, and most of the mutants whom you harass for simply trying to live their lives." Her sneer became a little more intimidating. "But if I find that you've done _anything_ to that girl, I _will_ personally hang you with your own intestines.'

Delacroix flinched at the threat from a law-abiding superhero. Perhaps he'd allowed the 'cowboy' American to goad him into actions that he _shouldn't_ have taken. That man had gotten under his skin, coaxing and shaming him into thing that were beyond what he would have done, and now the mutant community and heroes had noticed, and would be scrutinizing his every move and action.

A noise at the door surprised Delacroix, and as he looked, he saw that Soeur Justice was grinning wickedly, while others in the office seemed as startled as he was. A large number of gendarmes were running into the lobby, filling it as they assembled their squads in neat formations.

The captain of the gendarmes squad marched to Delacroix, holding a paper in his hand. "Monsieur Delacroix," he barked, "you will assemble all the building's personnel outside, where we will take roll. You will need to account for all of your agents who are currently in the field, specifying their location and activities." He handed another paper to the MCO agent. "We have authorization to search the facility." He turned to the squad. "Sergeant, supervise the evacuation. Ensure that no-one is left behind, and that no-one leaves by an unauthorized route."

The sergeant saluted sharply, and then turned. "Standard evacuate and search drill. All personnel are to be moved to the assembly area for roll call. Move it!" On his command, the squads burst ran from the lobby deeper into the office complex, shouting and ordering the staff away from their desks. Because the gendarmes were visibly armed with military-grade automatic rifles, the startled staff was highly incentivized to cooperate.

Delacroix allowed himself to be led from the building toward the assembling staff. Seeing the wicked sneer on Soeur Justice's face, he belatedly realized that she'd engaged him in conversation purely to mark him for the gendarmes, who she must have known were enroute even as she talked with him. He swore to himself; that filthy mutant pretending to be a superhero had outwitted him, making him look like a fool!

As Delacroix checked off a roll of his staff against an extraordinarily accurate personnel list that, somehow, the gendarmes had, he cringed when they asked for some of his undercover agents and contract scientists by name; someone had done a very thorough job of gathering data, piercing the office's secrets. Either the office had a mole, in which case he'd have to rerun background and security checks on _everyone_, or his computer and communications systems had been penetrated. Or both. If the latter was the case, he'd have to apply for supplemental funding to get, at minimum, new cryptography gear to protect his electronics.

And as he watched the gendarmes search the office under the watchful eye of a smug Soeur Justice; it became clear that if they found the girl anywhere in the city, her testimony about their attempt to detain her could be very problematic for the office in general, and for him in particular. Even the MCO wasn't immune to prosecution from the Ministry of Justice, and such a black mark would be the death-knell for his career. They had to find the girl first to keep her from testifying against them. If the gendarmes and Tribunal des Mineurs couldn't find the girl, though, they'd have no evidence of an attempted kidnapping. With a little backing from the national MCO headquarters, his office would be able to wiggle out of serious charges under the excuse of an overly-enthusiastic response to a report of a dangerous mutant, and his career would be safe. He swore to himself again; after working with that cowboy American MCO officer for a few short weeks, he had been influenced quite adversely. Never in his tenure as director of the Bordeaux office had he been so reckless as in the past few days, which was now leading to embarrassment.

Bordeaux, Location Unknown

With thick trees overhead, shielding her from view from the light blue flying power suits and helicopters, Adalie's adrenaline ran out, and she was suddenly physically and emotionally exhausted. Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes as the desperation of her situation began to really sink in. Bordeaux, despite its city hustle and bustle, was a lonely place for a fourteen-year-old mutant without even a change of clothing, let alone money, food, or a place to sleep.

A mother walked by with a young girl, and at the reminder of her baby sister, who she doubted she'd ever see again, Adalie began to sob. She'd lost everything, including her family, friends, and home. She'd been battered emotionally by the events of the preceding few days, and now the toll was starting to show itself. Adalie didn't know why, but she was starting to believe that her situation was hopeless. Perhaps it would have been better if she'd have just let the MCO do what they wanted with her and put an end to her misery. Adalie had suffered depression once before, when she'd lost her mother, but she'd had her father and sisters to help her. Now, she had no-one to support her emotional needs. She buried her face in her hands as she cried and cried.

"Bon jour, mademoiselle."

Adalie started at the unexpected man's voice. "Bon jour," she replied after she calmed her already-jangled nerves enough to respond.

"Do you need some help?" the man asked. He was about her father's height, but where the elder Vitesse had a kind and noble appearance, the man standing before Adalie looked a bit like a weasel, his strong, sharp nose appearing almost like a snout. His receding hairline and lack of a proper chin added to his somewhat unpleasant looks. His clothing was out of style, and a little rumpled, like that of a common laborer. Despite that, his voice sounded quite compassionate and caring, even though he spoke with an accent that hinted of an English origin.

"No," Adalie said uncertainly. Some inner sense was telling her that there was danger somewhere, but she was tired from running, and hungry, and she was pre-occupied dealing with her growing sense of desperation and depression. In truth, she did need help, but her recent spate of betrayals and pursuit by the MCO had left her sense of trust in tatters. "I don't need ..."

"Perhaps you don't trust me?" the man said with a knowing smile. "Perhaps the MCO has caused you to be mistrustful of people who could help you?"

Adalie flinched; how had the man known about the MCO chasing her? Or was he merely guessing? "What ... what makes you think I have dealings with the MCO?" she stammered.

The man laughed, and despite his ragged, harsh appearance, his laugh was melodious and friendly. "Some ... friends ... told me that there was a girl, about your age, I would suspect, that had caught the attention of the MCO, and that they were pursuing her." He glanced at the park bench. "May I sit down?"

Adalie shrugged. "I don't own this bench," she replied. She knew that she could dart away using her speed if necessary.

The man sat down, keeping himself a reasonable distance from Adalie so as not to cause her discomfort. "So, is it true that you're the dangerous mutant from Chaniers that has the MCO all stirred up like a hornet's nest?" Adalie's mouth hanging agape gave the man the answer, causing him to laugh. "I know much of what happens in Bordeaux and the area. I make it my business to know."

"I ... I don't know who you're talking about," Adalie stammered. She was rattled by how much this rather unpleasant man knew, and how he was acting so friendly.

The man laughed again. "You should tell your father that the barrels in which he ages the Vitesse wine should be charred a little less, because the wine and cognac are too darkly colored, and there isn't enough tannin in the wine."

Adalie's instinctive defense of her family flared. "The cognac is perfectly flavored," she snapped at the man. "The awards ...." Her mouth dropped open as the man's grin broadened; he'd just tricked her into revealing her identity by using her pride in her father's craftsmanship against her. As soon as she realized what she'd done, she started to bolt from the bench, to get away from this strange man who seemed to know too much.

She got two steps from the bench before she felt a compulsion to stop running, and as she fought it, wave after wave of nausea rocked her, causing her to fall to her hands and knees in a futile attempt to steady herself.

The man smiled wickedly. "Your talents will do nicely, little one," he said as he looked at the helpless girl. "Very nicely indeed."

Adalie suppressed her gagging feeling and looked up at the weasely man, glaring daggers at him. "What do you want from me?" she managed to say.

"Your talent," the man repeated. "Your speed. It will be very helpful in my work, and in return, I will see to it that you are fed and clothed, and protected from the gendarmes and the MCO."

"How ... how did you find me?" she asked, starting to feel fear assert itself.

"Easy," the man said with an evil grin. "I have ... friends ... who know everything that happens in Bordeaux, and besides that, I am an empath. I could sense your fear and anxiety from a great distance."

"How are you doing this to me - making me not able to flee you?"

"Ah, you like my little trick?" the man leered. "I'm a telepath, too. I can project compulsions on people, so strongly that if they fight the compulsions, they will become ... disoriented, as you have discovered."

"I won't help you," Adalie snarled, still fighting the rising bile in her stomach.

"It's your choice, little one," the man leered. "You can come with me, or I'll leave you handcuffed to this bench, and tell the MCO that I've caught their little fish."

"Who ... who are you?" Adalie stammered. She was frightened of this man and his threats.

"I'm called Fagin," the man answered with a wicked smile.

Adalie blanched as she realized that the man was a villain, and if he was true to his literary namesake, he expected her to help him with criminal activities. Overloaded emotionally, fatigued, and now frightened, Adalie did what would be considered normal for such a situation - she fainted.

May 25, 2006
Fagin's Hideout, near Bordeaux

Slowly, consciousness filtered back through the girl's tired, emotionally-overloaded brain, and she blinked her eyes open. The room Adalie was in was dimly-lit, and she was lying on a thin, uncomfortable mattress. She shifted her body, swinging her legs over the edge of the tiny bed and sitting, and as she did so, it was accompanied by creaking of the metal frame of the cot on which she now sat. Adalie looked around the room, seeing a pair of bunk beds and another cot like hers - all of which were unoccupied but covered with old blankets, probably woolen based on what was beneath her. She turned, and saw the bare concrete of the wall behind herself, ruled with horizontal lines from the forms which had been used in its creation who-knew how long ago. Running along the walls were stretches of conduit - lines of dull metal connecting a switch by a door, the overhead light, and a pair of outlets. The door, opposite the cot on which Adalie sat, looked sturdy, set deep into the wall, which hinted of very heavy construction like a bunker or fortress. The floor, too, was bare concrete, stained in spots.

Adalie paused to remember what had happened; the last thing she recalled was thinking that the man she'd met wanted her mutant talents for crime, and as she'd tried to run away, he'd done something that made it impossible, though she wasn't sure if the nausea she remembered was what had caused her to stop, or if there had been some other compulsion. She lurched cautiously to her feet, testing to see if the nausea was gone, and finding that it was, she tiptoed to the door.

A quick test of the handle revealed that it was unlocked. She eased the door open a crack to see what lay beyond it, knowing that she had to escape somehow, but not yet having even the slightest notion of a plan.

The door opened onto a large room, similar to hers in all but size, with several bare bulbs casting their illumination against the gray concrete walls. A very large table stood in the center of the room, around which were a dozen chairs.

"Ah, you're awake at last," the man's voice sounded from the large room, startling her.

Adalie started, and then opened the door a bit wider, spying the man and a woman seated at one end of the table, both looking directly at her.

"Come on out," Fagin said. "We don't bite."

Beyond the table was a hall, and for a moment, she debated trying to run, hoping to find a doorway out of this bunker.

"Don't try to run, dearie," the woman said with a wicked grin. "The door is locked, and I think you remember what happened when you tried to flee in the park, yes?"

Adalie's heart sank; she did remember, and they'd already guessed her intentions. She opened the door a little wider, wondering what to expect from the unkempt occupants sharing the bunker with her.

"Are you hungry, dearie?" the woman asked. "I've got some soup and some bread if you are."

Hunger overrode any other concerns, at least momentarily. She had no idea how long she'd been asleep; with no visible clocks and no windows, it could be any time of the day. Perhaps it was ill-advised, but she crept to the table and sat away from the couple, looking around as she did so.

In one corner of the bunker, a stack of shelves held what looked to be foodstuffs, and an ancient refrigerator hulked beside it. A stove stood nearby, separated from the refrigerator by a doorway into what appeared to be a wash closet, at least from the large, janitorial-sized sink that was visible. A small table completed what had to be the kitchen area. A few doors led off the bunker, and at the opposite end from the kitchen, a makeshift desk was surmounted by a computer and its keyboard.

"What ... what are you going to do with me?" Adalie asked, fearfully, as the woman, now at the stove, ladled something into a dingy bowl. She sliced some bread and put it on a plate, and then brought the meager comestibles to Adalie.

"Oh, don't worry - it's nothing like that," the woman said with a grin, knowing the fear that was coursing through the young mutant's mind.

Fagin chuckled. "Mrs. Mann and I help ... care for mutants when they are rejected by society," he said. "In exchange for certain ... assistance."

Adalie frowned. "I know the reference of your name. Are you a criminal?" She looked askance at the meager, unappetizing rations Mrs. Mann placed before her.

"I prefer to think of myself as a self-supporting, independent child welfare agency," Fagin laughed.

"And in exchange for the room and food?"

"We just need a little help from time to time," Mrs. Mann said. "It's a fair exchange."

"I've read that atrocious, boring novel by Monsieur Dickens," Adalie retorted. "You're just like the villains, aren't you? You expect to train me to be a criminal, just as Fagin did to Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger and Nancy, don't you?"

"You have such a low opinion of us, considering that you just met us," Mrs. Mann chuckled, resuming her seat.

Adalie's frown deepened. "You didn't deny it," she argued.

Fagin frowned, but then his expression slowly turned to a broad grin. "Is it better to scratch out a living, uncomfortable as it may be due to the exigencies of living a life hiding from the MCO, or to surrender ones-self to that gang of thugs and murderers and lose one's life?"

A few days ago, Adalie would have argued about the nature of the MCO, but the kidnapping from her home and the attempted kidnapping from the HGB had given her insight into what the MCO really might be - something hideous and immoral, as different from the television portrayals as night was from day.

"I could go home," the girl argued.

"To Chaniers, where everyone knows what you are, and where the mayor and chief of police summoned the MCO to ... remove the dangerous mutant from their presence?" Mrs. Mann sneered. "Or had you forgotten that little fact?"

"I'm sure Soeur Justice would ...."

"Oh, please," Fagin countered before Adalie had even completed her thought, "that arrogant, self-righteous so-called hero won't even admit that the MCO would as likely kill her as allow her to continue doing the heroic stuff. And the Heroes Glorieux de Bordeaux aren't exactly squeaky-clean when it comes to their actions and finances, either." It was only too clear that he had a dim view of the HGB and heroes like them.

"What ... what do you want with me? I have no great superpowers," Adalie tried to reason with the two villains.

"Oh, but you do," Mrs. Mann cooed. "The famed speedster of Chaniers is _just_ the type of person to help us."

Adalie cringed inwardly, trying hard not to show her growing fear. They knew a lot more about her than simple street criminals would have. "I'm not ...."

"No? Running down a galloping horse isn't a useful power?" Fagin interrupted. "Now, then," he continued smoothly, walking to Adalie and sitting beside the nervous girl, "there is one more thing." He reached into his pocket and pulled out an odd-looking bracelet. "Put this on."

"No," Adalie said defiantly.

"No?" Fagin laughed. "I didn't ask. Put it on."

Adalie started to refuse again, but suddenly, she reached out and took the bracelet, and began to put it on. When she realized what she was doing, she fought the mental compulsion, and as she did so, her stomach began to do somersaults and spins, until she couldn't fight any longer for fear of being sick. "What ... are you doing to me?" she stammered as her fingers hooked the clasp of the bracelet as if under their own power.

Fagin grinned. "It's a little gift I have - as I told you, I project compulsions to people. You can fight the compulsion, but it is quite ... unsettling, as you've found out. And now, thanks to the devisor bracelet you so generously put on, I can project them at very long ranges. In case you're thinking of running, the bracelet has a locating beacon built into it, so I'll know where you are."

Adalie's heart nearly stopped; if he could project mental compulsions, she had no power to stop him, and with the locator beacon, he could always find her. She looked down, and after an instant, her fingers tore at the clasp, trying to free it.

Mrs. Mann grinned. "You might as well give up," she chuckled. "The bracelet is an unbreakable material called adamantium, and the clasp can only be unlocked by a special key that only Fagin and I have."

May 27, 2006
HGB Headquarters, Bordeaux

Soeur Justice paced back and forth nervously, pausing and looking over Mage Astre's shoulder to see if the magic user was having any luck. She knew better than to interrupt again; Mage Astre had made it abundantly clear that interruptions only slowed her progress. Not knowing what her partner was doing made it all that much worse for Soeur Justice. She'd promised the girl, and had let her down.

The hero stopped pacing when another of the group appeared in the doorway. She moved away from the table with its complicated spell sheets and ingredients, and stepped to the group's energizer. "Any luck?" Soeur Justice asked softly.

Flamme Bleu, the wiry little energizer, shook his head. "No," he reported, glancing nervously at the table, to where Mage Astre was, quite literally, working her magic. "I got word out on the streets, and to our various contacts, but no-one has seen the girl."

"Dammit!" Soeur Justice cursed. "She can't have just disappeared."

Flamme Bleu winced. "She could have - if the MCO found her first."

Soeur Justice smacked a wall in frustration, easily punching a hole in the plasterboard and tearing up the metal framing stud. Mage Astre looked up at the noise, her concentration shattered. She frowned at Soeur Justice and pointed through the door; her meaning was clear. Get out so the magic user could work.

The female brick lowered her head for a moment, ashamed at her angry reaction, but then she turned and stormed from Mage Astre's wizardry room, with Flamme Bleu right on her heels. "The MCO has too damned many agents," she cursed. "We can't watch them all." She stopped, shaking her head angrily. "If they got her first ...." She didn't have to complete the sentence; despite her allegiance to the law, she'd made a promise to Adalie, and she was _not_ going to let anyone hurt the girl if she could help it.

"What do you want me to do?" Flamme Bleu asked simply. He, too, was frustrated by the lack of progress in tracking the missing girl.

"I don't know," Soeur Justice said softly, hanging her head. "I don't know."

June 2, 2006
Fagin's Hideout, near Bordeaux

The next week went by rapidly, even though it seemed that every minute was an hour long. Adalie helped cook for the group, which included two mutant boys, Clement and Bastien, and another mutant girl, Margot. Bastien's power was primarily in manifesting things, while Clement had psychokinetic power - what Soeur Justice called a 'brick', and he had an eidetic memory. Margot was learning magic to complement her innate ability, although learning was slow because of a lack of proper tutelage, and she had to rely on the one trick she could easily do - casting illusions upon herself. She was also a semi-skilled siren, and she'd demonstrated on Adalie, making her feel like her eardrums were ruptured.

Twice, Fagin took Adalie outside to a sports area, where he timed her speed. The first time, she'd deliberately run slowly, and Fagin must have noticed, because she became quite sick to her stomach as she completed a second lap of the track. The second time, she'd run as fast as she could, and the grin on Fagin's face told her that the villain was immensely pleased with her ability.

Back in the lair, which Adalie was taken to while blindfolded so she still had no idea where it was, Fagin and Mrs. Mann huddled over the computer for hours, inputting measurements and data that the kids were collecting for them, and doing some kind of calculations, plotting and planning something, and from the way Fagin had talked, it was going to involve her.

That night, as the other kids slowly filtered in from whatever crimes they'd been committing, Adalie stood at the stove, dishing up meals until everyone was served, and then she sat at the table. The other three kids had bonded as a team, and as such, Adalie felt a little excluded, not that she wanted to be part of a criminal gang, but social isolation was difficult, especially for a teenager.

"I located the fifth of the Julianne sculptures," Mrs. Mann said softly to Fagin, both seated at the opposite end of the table from the kids. Since Adalie was between the two groups, she overheard Mrs. Mann.

Fagin was pleasantly surprised. "Good, good. Where is this one?"

"It's in Nice," Mrs. Mann replied. "It's not heavily guarded, so it should be an easy caper."

"Any leads on the last two? You know the power necklace will only be partially effective without all the jewels."

Mrs. Mann nodded. "I know. But soon, we'll have the center stone, and that will give us some power by itself. It won't be as much as the whole necklace, but it will be a start."

"Great," Fagin said, smiling gleefully. "At last, I'll be able to greatly increase my weak magic power!"

"The heist won't be easy," Mrs. Mann cautioned. "Born of the Fire is the most famous of the Julianne sculptures, and it's pretty heavily guarded."

"That's why we've got these four. With their powers, they'll make this an easy job."

Adalie cringed inwardly at the news; they _were_ expecting her to be part of a criminal gang. She'd be a wanted villain, and before she even turned fifteen! The MCO would have justification to take her into custody, and worse, she'd never be able to safely see her family again.

Fagin stood, and immediately, the teenagers' small talk ended. "Tomorrow, we will go to the museum to look at some statues and artwork."

The expressions on the kids' faces revealed that they knew precisely what that meant. They'd be casing one of the museums to plan a robbery. Adalie looked over the group, and saw that they were eager for the theft. She, on the other hand, felt nothing but dread.

All through cleaning up the lair and getting ready for bed, Adalie fretted. As Fagin had promised, they clothed the kids, although not lavishly, and that included simple nightwear. Despite the extensive nature of the World War 2 bunker, the hideout only had two rooms which were remotely usable for bedrooms, and one was taken by Fagin and Mrs. Mann. The rest were occupied by abandoned equipment left over from the war, or in such wretched condition that even Fagin wouldn't condemn the kids to use them for sleeping quarters. As a result, all the teens shared a bunkroom, which made modesty absolutely necessary. Sleep had come fitfully to Adalie since her capture; the cot was uncomfortable, and on top of worrying about how she might escape, she fretted about what she'd do if one of the boys decided to get frisky. Fagin and Mrs. Mann had given no indication of whether such conduct would be tolerated, and she feared that it would be.

As she lay in bed, Adalie tried to think of a way to contact the HGB; she'd tried getting away once, only to discover that the tracking feature and the telepathic link both worked extremely effectively. She had no super-strength, either, so her meager efforts to break the bracelet were ineffective, even _if_ they had been bluffing about some special metal called adamantium. She was in an unfamiliar semi-rural area near Bordeaux, and she knew nothing of the landmarks and areas. She doubted that she'd be able to find a gendarme before Fagin incapacitated her. The computer was highly secure, and she didn't know any of the passwords. She couldn't even mail a damned old-fashioned letter because ....

A light went off in Adalie's head. She couldn't mail a letter, but maybe, just maybe .... She climbed slowly out of her cot, padding across the bare concrete floor into the main room. Hopefully, even the barest of supplies existed. Alas, she could find none. Starting to feel desperate, Adalie crept down the hallway, peering into each of the dimly-illuminated, cluttered side rooms, her legs and hands trembling for fear of getting caught. How she wished she had a flashlight, but since she didn't, she'd just have to make do with the dim light filtering through open doors from the hallway.

Surprisingly, in the fifth room, just as she was about to give up, she hit pay dirt. It had once been an office, perhaps the office of the fortress' German commanding officer, and still contained much of the office equipment and furniture beneath piles of junk. Adalie found what she needed, even though she had to raid a file cabinet for something to write on. Unfortunately, the ink in the pens was long-since dried, but there were a few pencils. Glancing nervously at the doorway, Adalie began to write a note, not realizing that she was defacing a historical document from the war, not that she would have particularly cared if she had known.

June 3, 2006
Musie des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux

"Remember," Fagin said to Adalie in a barely-audible whisper, "I'm watching you, and you can't get away. Even if you did, I know where your family lives, and you really don't want something to happen to them, do you?" He'd never made such a blunt threat before, and if he intended to intimidate Adalie by it, he succeeded. The girl blanched, and nodded slowly.

Mrs. Mann took one of the boys and Margot, and began to wander through the museum, acting like normal patrons, but Adalie knew that they were keenly observing the facility's security measures and pacing off distances and angles.

"There!" Fagin hissed to her. "See it?" In the center of a display area, behind a protective column of glass or Lexan, stood a very intricate, very beautiful ceramic sculpture, with eyes that seemed alive with fire due to the interplay of the room light on the cut red crystals in the eye sockets. It seemed a little demonic to Adalie, and looked nothing like a phoenix rising that would be called "Born of the Fire."

"Yes," Adalie answered, nervously.

"That is the sculpture we need. The one you're going to get for us."

"But ...." Adalie questioned Fagin's sanity; the statue was too well protected to be swiped. Not counting the case it was in, there were probably sensors around the case which was behind a velvet-rope line to keep patrons an arm's length away. Like any modern museum, the doors probably automatically closed and locked if an alarm was tripped. And there were armed guards at the entrances, even if they were portly, out-of-shape private security officers. They still had weapons.

Fagin glared at her. "Later," he hissed, before noticing that an older couple was looking curiously at him and Adalie. "Don't argue with your father, girl" he said sternly, improvising. "We aren't going anywhere fancy for dinner. This museum costs too much for you and your brother!" The older couple got a knowing look on their faces; teenagers, they said with a derisive snort. Never would listen to adults.

Adalie fumed at how Fagin was treating her. Unconsciously, she rubbed the stupid bracelet that was her electronic devisor leash, wanting so badly to tell someone about Fagin, but she knew that if he got away, her family was in jeopardy. She had her alternate plan. She turned away from Fagin, and knowing that he was watching her closely, she marched to a lady wearing a museum nametag. "Pardonnez-moi. Ou sont les toilettes?"

The lady smiled at her. "Around the corner, down a hallway before you get to the entrance lobby."

"Merci." She turned to Fagin, her eyes asking the question that she dared not voice because it would be very out-of-character for a teenage girl to ask an adult if she could use the restroom. The villain frowned slightly, but he nodded.

Adalie walked as calmly as she could, suspecting that either Mrs. Mann or Margot would follow her. Inside, she closed the door on the toilet stall and did her business, and then, after pausing to listen closely, she pulled a folded piece of paper from inside her panty waistband, and after glancing at it one last time as she said a quick prayer, she carefully put the note behind the toilet paper roll, wedged so that it wasn't visible, but the first patron who used toilet paper would cause it to fall from its hiding place. It wasn't a perfect plan, but it was the best she could think of.

After a deliberate hand-washing, Adalie went back to Fagin, noticing with a wince that Margot was going into the toilet behind her. She shuddered with fear; if Margot found the note, all was lost. But the girl was probably following directions from Mrs. Mann and checking to see if Adalie had done something obvious. She pushed back the urge to smile at her clever ruse, or to tremble with fear; instead, she forced herself to feel resigned and morose, as she should have felt by her circumstances.

Fagin nodded when she rejoined him. Shortly thereafter, Margot reunited with the group, and in the two separate trios, the gang left the Musie des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux returning to the lair by two different circuitous routes. As usual, Adalie was treated with suspicion and blindfolded for most of the journey.

June 5, 2006
Near Fagin's Hideout, Bordeaux

Adalie stood by a tree, a few yards from a stump on which was mounted a cheap sculpture, the kind tourists always bought, inside a cylinder of glass. Shards of broken glass littered the ground to one side of the stump. An improvised rope-line surrounded the stump, just like at the museum. Beyond the stump were lines drawn on the ground, indicating doors and security barriers, copied from the museum by Clement's photographic memory. At a signal, Margot stepped toward the rope, and staring at the glass, she opened her mouth ...

Adalie winced in pain at Margot's unnatural shriek; even with devisor earplugs, the sound assaulted everyone's eardrums. Adalie felt her heart racing with anticipation; after what she judged to be a half a second, she turned and dashed toward the stump, hurdling the rope line just as the glass shattered from Margot's sonic attack. With her left hand, Adalie scooped the sculpture from the cloud of falling glass, getting a few more scrapes and minor cuts in the process, and sped at full tilt toward the line marking the first doors, hurdling the other rope in her mad dash.

Fagin stood by the first door with a stopwatch, clicking it the moment Adalie passed the portal. At the second door, Mrs. Mann similarly clocked Adalie. By the time she slowed down and turned around, Fagin and Mrs. Mann were consulting with each other and a computer spreadsheet they'd printed. Knowing that she'd be punished for not promptly returning, Adalie trotted to the pair.

"Fantastique!" Fagin chortled gleefully. "It is as I calculated. You will clear the first door with a quarter second to spare, and you'll be through the outer armored doors with a tenth of a second!" He rubbed his hands together with anticipation. "Perfect!"

Adalie simply gulped nervously. She knew the setup in the museum; the inner door was a portcullis hidden in the armored wall, which would be triggered to drop the moment the alarm sounded. If she stumbled even the slightest, the massive door would crush her. The outer doors had barred grates which swung shut to seal the building, and they would crush her between them. She had to count on Bastian having the door open, coming in like a normal patron, at just the right moment, or she would only realize it for a few seconds before the swinging steel smashed her into the outer door, squashing her like a bug.

If, and it seemed like a big 'if' to Adalie, she managed to get out without slipping, tripping, being crushed, or being shot, she would run down the street along a pre-determined route that she and Margot had rehearsed the previous afternoon. At the end was a rendezvous point where the thieves would meet. Adalie wished desperately that she could get the plan to someone from HGB, but she was not allowed out unsupervised, and it took nothing at all for Fagin to incapacitate her. All she could do was to try not to die in the robbery. Beyond that would take a miracle.

June 6, 2006
HGB Headquarters, Bordeaux

Insistent knocking on the door interrupted Soeur Justice's phone call. She put her hand over the mouthpiece. "Someone get that, please!" she yelled before returning her attention to the call. "No, Monsieur Follet," she said, frowning, which was becoming her usual expression lately, "we have seen nothing out of the ordinary with the MCO. But you know that we don't have the resources to watch all their agents and operatives, and after the search, they surely wouldn't be so stupid as to take the girl back there if they found her."

She listened a bit. "Yes, we can keep up enough surveillance to let them know we're still watching them, but we don't have the resources ..."

"Yes. I understand. We'll do our best." Soeur Justice hung up the phone. Damn, she thought to herself, she was going to have to report to Monsieur Vitesse that they still hadn't found his daughter. The poor man had lost his wife, and now his daughter was missing.

A commotion outside the office area caught her attention. Angrily, she stomped out to see what the racket was all about.

As soon as he spotted Soeur Justice, Flamme Bleu, who'd apparently answered the door, thrust a paper into her hand. She glanced at him, puzzled, and then at the woman who stood beside him. "What is this?"

"Just read it," Flamme Bleu insisted.

From his excitement, Soeur Justice figured that he thought he had a clue. She sighed; they'd had a dozen leads the past week, and all of them had turned out to be nothing. Being careful to keep her hopes down, she turned the paper. Her brow wrinkled immediately. "This ... this appears to be something written by the filthy Boches from the war!"

"The other side!"

Soeur Justice turned it over, and her eyes widened as she read,

HELP!

My name is Adalie Vitesse, and I have been kidnapped by two villains who go by Fagin and Mrs. Mann. I am being held in what appears to be a bunker, possibly from the war. Please get this note to the Heroes Glorieux de Bordeaux as quickly as you can.

Soeur Justice, or whoever reads this, Fagin and Mrs. Mann are planning on stealing a statue from the Musie des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux very soon, and I believe they are going to force me to assist them. They were speaking of some sculpture about a Phoenix and statues with powerful gems by someone named Julianne. I know that Fagin has kind of telepathic power that can control a person. I don't know what Mrs. Mann can do.

Please, please help me!

"Our clue!" Soeur Justice cried in triumph as she embraced the woman who'd delivered the note. She let go of the woman. "Where did you find this?"

"In the museum toilette," the woman said. "I am part of the cleaning crew, and after the museum closed, I was attending to the toilets. This was stuck behind a roll of toilet paper."

Flamme Bleu winced. "It could have been there for days," he said.

"No, monsieur," the woman said. "I check the toilet paper every night, so it had to have been put there some time this afternoon."

Soeur Justice clasped the woman's hand. "You have possibly saved a girl's life," she said. "Now, if you pardon us, we have much planning to do."

June 8, 2006
Musie des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux

Adalie wandered through the museum, growing more nervous by the second as she pretended to be a normal tourist. Mrs. Mann had supplied the boys and her with good clothes which helped them blend in, and now, they were waiting for the signal. She had no idea where Fagin and Mrs. Mann were, but when she took a couple of steps toward the door, Clement glared at her and made a slicing motion across his throat; the threat was clear - if she tried to leave, she or her family were as good as dead.

Seconds seemed like minutes, minutes like hours as she waited, pretending to be interested in the artwork of some gauche American who thought that abstractly sculpting clay made her a great artist, but whose work, Adalie was convinced, could easily be replicated by any half-witted first-grade student. The clock approached the five-o'clock hour, and time slowed even more. Adalie felt like her heart was going to explode from the building stress.

The clock ticked to exactly five-o'clock. Time seemed to be nearly standing still for Adalie, Beyond them, there was a huge crash as Clement tripped over a waste can, making it clatter noisily to the floor, and then Margot shrieked. Adalie reacted just as planned, and dashed toward the rope, easily clearing it as her left hand reached out to scoop up the sculpture.

The shards of glass were much heavier than they'd practice with, and it felt like dozens and dozens of angry bees suddenly stung her arm, even with the long-sleeved shirt and sweater, but Adalie pulled the sculpture closer to herself and vaulted over the rope in a desperate dash for her very survival. Behind her, she was barely aware of a whooshing sound as she passed the first door, ducking slightly to get even the slightest margin of clearing the multi-ton falling door. In the foyer, the guards were still reacting to having their casual afternoon so rudely interrupted; she was at the door before the first guard had slapped the alarm button to summon the gendarmes. Things moved in slow motion; Bastien was opening the door, but it was still not enough, and she could see the inner doors swinging shut, powered by some massive force to move the heavy steel.

She turned sideways and scooted through the opening, still clutching the statue as she turned and ran down the street, startling onlookers and pedestrians all around. A block and a half from the museum, Adalie ducked into an alley, aware that people were gawking at her. The noise of the museum alarm carried easily, and the sight of a girl running away with a statue was clear evidence of a theft in progress.

From atop the building opposite the museum, a spandex-clad hero perked up as soon as the alarm sounded. Quickly, Soeur Justice scanned the scene, and she saw a girl dashing at a speedster pace away from the museum. She touched a button on her wrist bracer. "It's happening," she reported curtly. "I'll follow the girl. Approach the museum but don't enter until we know more. Orchidee Quantique - can you warp inside and determine the situation?" She vaulted into the air and followed the running girl, losing her after a moment when she ducked into an alleyway.

Adalie took a corner onto another street and dashed along her planned escape route. People were startled, and she had to slow to weave among the horde of pedestrians. She knew better than to slow - a girl didn't just openly carry a statue down the streets of any city or town without arousing suspicion.

Walking cautiously into the rendezvous in a shop's basement, Adalie gasped for breath as she hadn't done in a very long time. While it was true that she had super-speed, she had only limited endurance, and she'd taxed that and more. She was convinced that a gendarme would come around the corner to arrest her, or an MCO agent would just shoot her where she stood. And if her desperate gamble had failed, if the note had been lost, or ignored, or tossed in the garbage - any one of dozens of reasons - then the HGB wouldn't know anything, and she'd be quickly branded by the heroes and just another villain.

Tears started to seep from the corners of her eyes; everything in her life had come apart in the last few weeks, starting with her damned mutation. Why? Why had she been a mutant? She didn't ask for any special powers, or the trouble that came with it. True, she'd had a few problems in school, like her competition with Lorraine for Jean Michele, and sometimes little Tessa was a pain in the rear, but comparatively, things hadn't been so bad.

Now, though? She'd just helped rob a museum of a valuable sculpture. No doubt the museum had security cameras, so she would be well-known as a criminal. She couldn't go home; she couldn't even escape Fagin because of the stupid bracelet.

And the others? Where were they? She had a demonic statue that was supposed to be so valuable; one would think that they'd have been waiting for her.

Adalie's eyes widened in surprise as some previous conversations began to replay. They'd said something about a jewel in the statue. A jewel. Singular. But ... this statue had two, in the eyes. And the statue looked, at least to her untrained, unsophisticated eye, like a demon, not at all like a mythical bird. Slowly, the unpleasant thought coalesced in her sleep-deprived, fatigued mind that they'd just used her as a distraction and now had left her to her fate.

The moist droplets in her eyes grew in size, and responding to gravity, trickled onto Adalie's cheeks. More followed in their paths.

The rattle of a door latch interrupted Adalie's self-pity. She debated momentarily her course of action; she could rush the door to try to slip past the person, who was unlikely to be a speedster, or she could try to hide in the basement, or she could search for another entrance. In the end, her indecision mean that she did nothing but sit and stare at the doorway as afternoon light streamed into the dusty room, flinching and shielding her eyes from the sudden brightness.

The figure in the doorway was impressive in stature, though undeniably female. Slowly, the woman descended the stairs. "Adalie?" she asked, her eyes not used to the darkness and not certain who was in the basement.

Adalie's heart surged as she recognized the voice. She sprang to her feet and practically leaped into Soeur Justice's arms, bawling so that she was unable to speak coherently.

Soeur Justice just held the crying girl tightly, to reassure her that things were okay. Still hugging Adalie, she lifted her wrist, and depressing a button, spoke. "Converge on my location, but stand watch. I think trouble might be coming."

"I ... I can't take off a bracelet that extends his mind powers," Adalie said as she clung to Soeur Justice. "And it's got a tracking thing on it, so he can find me."

Soeur Justice released her embrace and backed half a step from Adalie. "What can you tell me about Fagin and Mrs. Mann?"

"Why don't you ask us directly?" a chortling voice sounded from the open doorway.

Soeur Justice turned, already drawing up her arms to fight him, but she suddenly put her arms down. The look on her face was total surprise, and then turned to determination as she fought the compulsion. That lasted only a moment before she began to look very nauseated and wobbled on her feet.

"Don't you want to fight me?" Fagin laughed. "The mighty Soeur Justice, champion of law and order, brought down so easily!"

Fagin and Mrs. Mann descended into the basement, followed by the three other kids. Mrs. Mann carried something in a bag, and she carefully set it on the ground, unwrapping it.

The statue was gorgeous. From a base of ceramic flames emanating from a large round red gemstone, tongues of fire touching in an intricate and delicate-looking lacework over the ruby-colored, precisely cut stone. The flames morphed as they came together, slowly losing their flame-like quality and coalescing into a bird, a phoenix rising upward from the fire, its wings outstretched to clutch the air and take flight. Even the dim light in the basement caught the stone and made it glint, casting reflected red rays onto the flames, giving them a light red color. No doubt in brighter light, the effect would be positively dazzling.

Adalie stared at the phoenix statue for a moment, and then looked at the statue she'd stolen. "You ... you used me ... as a decoy?" she stammered.

Fagin smiled, nodding. "Once the alarms sounded and the security doors closed, it was easy to warp in from the sewers - the one place they omitted barriers against warpers and magic."

"But ... the guards inside ...?"

"Simple. A sleep-gas bomb took care of them. It'll be another hour or two before they even know the statue is gone, and in that time, we'll all be on a train for Nice," Mrs. Mann said.

"The next part ...."

"Now, what are we going to do with this little nuisance?" Fagin asked, returning his attention to the woozy superhero who had collapsed to her hands and knees.

"I know," Mrs. Mann grinned. "Let our newest apprentice take care of her." She drew an ugly-looking pistol from her purse. She racked the slide, and then handed it to Adalie, butt end first.

To Adalie's utter horror, she reached out and took the pistol in her small hands. It was almost too big for her. Slowly, the barrel swung toward Soeur Justice, with tears of anguish streaming down Adalie's cheeks at the thought of killing the hero. She fought the compulsion, and felt nauseated again. Still, getting violently ill was better than killing Soeur Justice. Her mind wavered for agonizing seconds, as Fagin's compulsion increased in strength as he tried to force her to aim at Soeur Justice and pull the trigger, while her own moral values struggled to overcome the strong mental urgings. For what seemed an eternity, she fought the a great mental battle, knowing that fighting the compulsion would make her sick, and as the room spun wickedly about her, she crumpled to the floor, barely catching herself on her hands and knees, dropping the gun along the way, and vomiting from both the vertigo from resisting Fagin and the horrific thought of killing Soeur Justice if she hadn't been able to fight the mental suggestion.

"Just leave her," Mrs. Mann said viciously. "She'll be the one the police search for, since it's _her_ face on the cameras, and we got what we came for!"

"Her powers ..." Fagin began, but he sneered. "Bah! We can find another speedster if we need one." He turned to the door. "Let's get to the train station." With the three children following him as if he were the pied piper, he ascended the steps, knowing that his partner, Mrs. Mann, was behind him.

The door was open, but there was some kind of barrier which Fagin bounced off of. Only the fact that he fell into Clement, the young brick, kept him from falling back down the stairs. "What the hell?" he asked, baffled.

Bastian moved around Fagin and up the steps, a little more cautiously, and he, too, rebounded from some kind of barrier. "It's some kind of shell."

Fagin focused a bit, and he frowned. "It's magic!" he cursed.

Behind him, Mrs. Mann, exhibiting the maxim that there was no honor among thieves, dashed up the stairs, grabbed ahold of Fagin, and engaged her warping powers to teleport the two out of the basement, ignoring the teenagers. "What?" she asked herself aloud, her eyes wide with shock, as her warping powers failed.

"Magic block," Fagin snarled. He stepped as close to the barrier as he could and peered down the alleyway, first one way, and then the other. He started when he saw the woman in a black costume, holding a staff in her hand. "Mage Astre!" he snarled. Thinking quickly, he turned, grasped Clement, and thrust him toward the barrier. "Go get her!"

Clement felt the barrier tingling as he stepped through it, and he spotted Mage Astre.

"Dix Tonnes, the boy is resistant to magic!" Mage Astre cried frantically as she backed away from the oncoming boy.

From a gap between two buildings, a short, slight man, attired in a suit of shades of blue, dashed between the boy and Mage Astre. "Back off, boy," he commanded.

Clement grinned and stepped toward the hero. "Not likely," he retorted.

Flamme Bleu shot a jet of intense bluish flames like a blowtorch toward the ground between him and the boy. "Stand down."

The boy continued forward, so Flamme Bleu shot his flames at the boy's legs, to disable him without killing if possible. The boy paused, and then, when he realized that he was uninjured, continued toward Flamme Bleu and Mage Astre.

As soon as Flamme Bleu stopped his flaming attack, a flash of black and red to one side caught the boy's attention, just in time for a hulking man to hit him solidly, rolling with the young brick into the side of a building. The hero was up on his feet quickly; the boy, inexperienced and young, took longer to recover. When the boy scrambled to his feet, he saw the hero standing between him and the magic user. "You'll have to go through me, boy. So make it easy on yourself and give up."

Clement snarled, and charged at the spandex-clad hero, his fist outstretched toward the man like a horizontal pile driver. The impact knocked the HGB's brick back a few inches. "Not bad, kid," he said with a grin. "Now it's my turn." He counterpunched, and knocked the boy a few yards down the alley. The boy rose, shaking off the blow, and charged back. A fake punch should have drawn the super's attention, which would have left him open to a vicious kick to the groin. But the boy had no experience, and the HGB brick deflected the punch, grabbing the boy's arm and pulling him forward, off balance, so that he couldn't kick. Instead, the superhero flipped the boy over his hip and slammed him into the ground. Clement's head spun from the blow, but he shook it off and scrambled to his feet, rage having taken hold of his young, inexperienced mind.

Fagin noticed that Soeur Justice was recovering so he refocused his attack to keep her nauseated and out of action. As she wobbled again, the other boy, Bastien, manifested a sword and charged toward her, swinging the sword in a massive, overhead slash toward the HGB hero.

The sword did nothing against Soeur Justice, because she was a PK brick as well. He tried again, and then again, all with the same effect. For a moment, he glared at the woman, frustrated that he wasn't able to hurt her. Then he turned his eyes toward Adalie, and took a step forward, raising the manifested blade.

Adalie looked at the boy, and realized that she was dead. She could do nothing, incapacitated as she was, to block or avoid the coming blow. She closed her eyes, waiting the blackness of death to touch her.

Soeur Justice fought the repeating waves of nausea, and focusing as she'd once been taught, years ago, she pushed it back with strong mental focus. She reached out, somehow ignored by Fagin as he gleefully watched his apprentice moving in for the killing blow.

The shot reverberated through the confined basement, drawing everyone's attention. Bastien staggered, a growing red stain on the shoulder of his shirt, and his blade vanished. After the shortest of moments, he fell to his knees and crumpled to the ground, crying as pain overcame his momentary shock. Soeur Justice wavered, and the gun slipped from her hand again; her focus slipping under the tremendous, renewed mental onslaught, which caused nausea to overwhelm her, until she, too, was retching helplessly.

Fagin roared with rage at Soeur Justice's action, and he leaped toward the helpless superhero, kicking at her mercilessly. If she hadn't been a brick, he probably would have injured her critically, but he was unable to injure her, despite his best efforts.

The nausea Adalie felt was rapidly abating; Fagin's concentration had been interrupted by his anger and focus on Soeur Justice. She struggled to her feet, just in time to be tackled by Margot, who was shrieking in her ears while clinging to Adalie's back. If not for the devisor earplugs Adalie had had to wear for the heist, her eardrums would have been ruptured - at the very least. Even with the noise-stopping devises in her ears, the shrill screech penetrated her skull, upsetting her balance once more. She staggered, falling backwards to keep herself from face-planting on the concrete floor, and the girl on her back went limp when her head struck a stout shelf. Still entangled, the two teen girls slipped to the floor, Margot unconscious and Adalie trying to disentangle herself from the pile.

"You're ruining everything!" Fagin screamed over and over, still kicking at Soeur Justice, but his focus had been broken, and she grabbed his foot as he kicked at her face. A quick yank and twist, and Fagin thumped hard against the floor. Snarling, he struggled back to his feet.

Adalie started to rush to jump him, but stopped suddenly, nearly losing her balance as her arms fluttered to keep from falling, because Mrs. Mann was holding the gun, which she'd retrieved, pointed directly at Adalie's face. She had an evil sneer on her face, and Adalie knew that the woman would have no compunctions against ending her life.

"Back off, or the girl dies," the older woman snarled. She stepped behind Adalie, whose eyes were saucer-like with fear. An arm around the girl's waist held her in front of Mrs. Mann, shielding the girl, and with the gun at her head, the woman had a perfect hostage position.

Three other heroes came down the stairs - Dix Tonnes, a wiry man in a coal-black suit, and Mage Astre. The three froze upon seeing Adalie held and threatened.

Fagin rose to his feet, snarling, and he picked up the statue, with its power gem. "So nice of you to see us off," he said with a wicked grin. "Now, the girl comes with us, for insurance." He and Mrs. Mann shuffled around the heroes, keeping a cautious eye on the group, toward the stairs.

Mage Astre waited until Mrs. Mann was distracted a second to step onto the stairs, and she waved her staff. The gun which had been in Mrs. Mann's hand vanished. The woman's sneer turned into disbelief, and before she could do anything else, Dix Tonnes launched himself, fist-first, into Mrs. Mann, knocking her out quite thoroughly as fist and chin met. The chin lost, and the villainess tumbled unconsciously down the step onto the ground.

At the same moment, Orchidee Quantique launched herself at Fagin, scrambling up his body like a monkey. As the villain fought against the sudden onslaught, Adalie darted in to snatch the sculpture, and then Orchidee Quantique used her space warping power - about thirty centimeters straight down. Everything she was touching was warped with her, including Fagin. When the heroine popped back into normal space, Fagin's feet and lower legs displaced the ground and concrete of the floor, leaving him intact but completely, helplessly embedded in the floor.

Soeur Justice's anger had been building at the numerous threats to Adalie, and she took the opportunity to ensure that Fagin wouldn't try his mind-warping trick, even though he was stuck with his feet in the concrete. Her fist connected with his jaw with a loud crack, and with a broken jaw, Fagin collapsed. Soeur Justice looked around at the other supers and Adalie. "It seems we have a mess to clean up here, now."

June 8, 2006
Gendarmes Office, Bordeaux

The gendarmes office seemed like any other police office, and now Adalie sat with one investigator, while Soeur Justice sat with another. The rest of the HGB had already been questioned at length about the 'incident'. Adalie repeated her story over and over to numerous inspectors, who seemed to be trying to catch her in a lie or inconsistency. After two and a half hours of interrogation, Monsieur Follet and the Aquitaine Juge por Enfants joined, with Monsieur Follet ensuring that Adalie understood her rights, and the judge protecting a minor against unlawful and unfair interrogation tactics.

The interrogation went on long enough that they had a break for dinner; Adalie hadn't had lunch, and so was famished by the time they were seated in a little cafi near the police station. Soeur Justice and Monsieur Follet bought her a meal, and after wolfing down her meal, Adalie had settled down enough to talk.

"But ... the security camera - it will show that _I_ was the one who stole the statue!" she complained bitterly.

"True," Soeur Justice said with a wry smile, "but the video only shows the surface. There is much more at play here."

"But ... I'll be convicted ...!" Adalie wailed.

"No," Monsieur Follet assured her. "We must go back to the gendarmes to complete the interrogation."

"I must warn you, Adalie," Soeur Justice said solemnly, "you probably will face a trial. But I assure you that you will _not_ be convicted."

"How ... how do you know that?" Adalie asked fearfully. "And why must I face a trial?"

"During your absence, charges were filed in Chaniers against you. So you have to face trial for that. Fortunately, the Procureur is a very understanding woman, and she's somewhat sympathetic to the persecution mutants often face. By having you stand trial in Bordeaux, under the Aquitaine Tribunal des Mineurs, the charges are all consolidated, and into a less hostile court."

Adalie stared at her for several seconds as she mentally digested what Soeur Justice had said. "I ... I think I understand."

"Have faith in what we're doing, Adalie," Monsieur Follet told her gently. "You don't have all the facts right now, and that's on purpose. It is a vital part of the story that you didn't know everything."

Adalie's head swam. How was it that she didn't have all the facts? She was the one who had been at the scene. She looked at Soeur Justice, and saw her encouraging nod. "Okay."

Gendarme's Office, Bordeaux

"Because of the threat from the MCO," Soeur Justice told the inspector, the Procureur, and a member of the Aquitaine Tribunal des Mineurs, "we hid a tracking device on Adalie, so that if they attempted another kidnapping, we could trace her."

Adalie's jaw dropped at what Soeur Justice's words. This was the first she'd heard of a tracking device. Had they really been watching over her the whole time?

"We couldn't tell her, because it is rumored that, occasionally, the MCO becomes a little ... enthusiastic ... in their interrogations, and sometimes psychics and telepaths are used. If she had known, the information could have been obtained by her captors, and we would have lost her."

"But she wasn't captured by the MCO," the inspector stated, frowning.

"No, she was not," Soeur Justice agreed. "But she had to flee the MCO, and then was taken by Fagin and Mrs. Mann, and coerced to join their gang of juvenile criminals. Through a microphone in the device we'd hidden, we learned of their plot to steal the precious sculptures, so it was decided to allow Adalie to remain where she was to facilitate the capture of the two notorious criminals."

The inspector frowned. "You realize that in doing so, you broke the law yourself about willfully endangering minors, don't you? We shall have to ...."

Soeur Justice smiled and reached into her purse. She produced a document and handed it to the inspector, who read it, frowning when he finished. "As you see, the Tribunal des Mineurs was aware that Adalie was in danger of being kidnapped, and named us as her temporary guardians, but also authorized us to use whatever means were required to ensure her safety." She smiled smugly. "Once her abduction by Fagin and his plot was known to us, the Tribunal des Mineurs agreed that it would be safe for Adalie to assist in the capture. Adalie would be alone in the rendezvous point until the others of the gang completed their tasks."

"You take a minor into a superhero fight, and you call that _not_ endangering the child?" the Procureur demanded angrily.

Soeur Justice shrugged, an apologetic look on her face. "It was not our fault that Fagin and his gang arrived sooner than we had anticipated."

"This is quite irregular," the Procureur said unhappily. "We shall leave it to the Juge por Enfants to determine if you crossed the line into wilful endangerment of Madmoiselle Vitesse."

"Such is to be expected, given the gravity of the situation in which she found herself," Monsieur Follet said. "It is a matter for the court to gather the facts."

"As it is late," Soeur Justice interjected, glancing obviously at a clock on the wall, "may we presume that the inquisition is completed, at least for the day? Adalie has had a most trying day, and she should have a good night's sleep."

The inspector exchanged glances with the Procureur and the tribunal member before he agreed. "Yes. We will wish to continue the discussion tomorrow."

Soeur Justice smiled at him. "Of course," she agreed. "We will all be happy to cooperate with this investigation in any way we can."

The investigating trio and Monsieur Follet rose and left the room. Adalie watched them leave, and then turned to Soeur Justice. "Am I free to go now? Or do I have to remain in jail?" Her expression and tone reflected her worry about the custody issue.

"You are free for the evening, once Monsieur Follet completes some paperwork."

"How did ...?" Adalie began, but Soeur Justice put her finger over Adalie's lips.

"Shh," she hushed the girl quickly. "We can talk more this evening."

"So you will take me back to the HGB headquarters, yes?"

Soeur Justice shook her head. "No. You will stay with me during the nights, so I can protect you better."

Twenty minutes later, Soeur Justice and Adalie drove away from the police station in a non-descript rental car. Both wore disguises that they had donned in a restroom, and the route to an apartment building was circuitous and long - just in case someone was trying to follow them. Other members of the HGB were observing, watching for tell-tale signs of a tail or other unusual interest. Fortunately, there was none, and Soeur Justice pulled the little Citroen into a parking garage.

"Bah!" Soeur Justice scoffed at her car. "My regular car is much roomier than these stupid, tiny rentals!" They entered the building, with the heroine in civilian clothing gesturing to Adalie to be silent, as if she could read the tremendous curiosity percolating in Adalie's head. "Also, when I am not in costume, please call me by my real name, Monique."

Adalie grinned. She could barely contain the excitement of staying with a real-life superhero, the same woman who'd rescued her twice, in her normal-life apartment. When Monique locked her door behind them, Adalie could no longer contain herself. "When did you put a tracker on me? And why did you make me worry so? You said that the statue ...."

Monique held up her hands to silence the girl. "Calm down. Let me make some tea, and I'll answer your questions, but one at a time, okay?"

Adalie nodded. "Okay." She sat at the tiny table in Monique's kitchen, while the hero began to fix tea. "When did you put a tracker on me?"

"We didn't," the woman confessed.

Adalie's eyes opened wide. "You ... didn't? Then ... you lied to the inspector?"

Monique nodded slowly. "Including the part about knowing of Fagin's plot. Adalie, you must understand something. If I hadn't said what I said, you would most likely be in a juvenile detention facility right now pending the conclusion of the investigation." She winced, biting her lower lip. "And if you were in a detention facility, it would be easier for the MCO to get an order to release you into their custody. I couldn't take that chance. I _had_ to tell a ... fabrication ... to keep you safe from them."

Adalie nodded grimly. "I understand."

While she waited for the kettle to boil, Monique sat down and put her hands atop Adalie's. "I couldn't let you be handed to them. After they broke into our headquarters and you disappeared, we were desperate to find you. I spent much of my time working with Monsieur Follet on various possibilities, and the legal ways to save you."

"But ... why? I'm just a trouble-making ...."

"You are _not_ just a trouble-making girl, or just a mutant that nobody wants," Monique interrupted sharply. "Perhaps some people don't like mutants like us, and perhaps the MCO is a hateful organization of bigots, but you are very special." She thought for a second. "I did what I did because, in a way, you remind me of my younger sister Giselle, who lives in Nancy. She, too, had problems with the MCO, and she got into trouble with the law because she had to hide." Monique shook her head sadly. "She now has to live under an assumed identity, fearing for her safety any time she goes out. I couldn't let such a thing happen to you."

Adalie wiped at her eyes, which for some reason had misted. "Merci," she finally managed to whisper. "Merci beaucoup."

"Now, I assume you have more questions?"

Adalie nodded. "The captain of the gendarmes said the statue was a fake, but if you lied about the bug, you couldn't have known about the robbery, so you couldn't have substituted it."

Monique smiled. "Just before the gendarmes appeared, Orchidee Quantique hid the real statue in a pocket in space, one of the things she can do as a warper, and then Fabricateur manifested a duplicate. Orchidee Quantique warped to the museum, under guise of investigating the theft, and used her powers to place the statue in a storage area. To the inspectors, it seems as if the real statue was always hidden, and that you stole a fake." She smiled at Adalie's dumbfounded expression. "In that way, it was a more convincing story that you were always part of a plot to capture Fagin, and so, when the trial happens, you will be found innocent."

"But ... the other statue, the one with the gem?"

"Was the real thing. And now we have recovered several of the power gems that Julienne hid in her artwork, hoping to recover them after the war. We also know where the fifth one is. With those leads, we can keep them safely out of the hands of criminals like Fagin and Mrs. Mann."

"They said you led them to the hideout. How did you do _that_, if you had no idea where I was?"

Soeur Justice shrugged, smiling. "Simple detective work," she answered. "The paper you wrote your note upon was paperwork from the Boches from the war. It was only a matter of searching the historical records to locate all of the Nazi bunkers and installations in the area, and then to find the correct one. Even that wasn't too difficult, as the Germans kept meticulous records, and all their paperwork was _always_ properly marked."

"Oh."

"Flamme Bleu looked in the records to find out where the German officer was stationed at the date on the memo, and then he looked to see where his unit was located at the time in question. From there, he found that there were three bunkers, so Orchidee Quantique and he searched the bunkers until they found the correct one."

"I see." Adalie sounded disappointed.

"Adalie," Monique said to her, "much of crime-fighting isn't glorious, heroic battling against supervillains. It's careful investigation of clues, like Flamme Bleu did here." She smiled at the girl. "And I'm very proud of you."

"But ... why?" Adalie asked, genuinely confused. "I got captured by Fagin. I couldn't fight him."

"But you stayed calm and used your head. When you realized what was happening, you wrote a note with as much information as you had, so that we could find you. And in the fight, you were very brave, resisting as much as possible, and not being overcome by panic."

Adalie blushed. "I didn't do anything heroic," she said meekly. "I was too ... frightened to do anything heroic."

Monique chuckled. "Adalie, let me tell you a little secret. We are _all_ a little frightened when we fight villains. When a person quits being frightened, mistakes are made - sometimes fatal mistakes." She rose from the table as the teakettle whistled, and poured the boiling water into a pot to steep the tea.

"What's going to happen to me now?"

Monique sighed. "You'll stay with me during the day. After all of that, I'm not letting you out of my sight again," she added with a smile. Seeing the concerned look on Adalie, she continued, "We'll probably have more questions from the police tomorrow. Just tell them the facts that you know, what you _directly_ know and experienced, and everything will be okay. We have to reapply for guardianship of you, because of the charges, but since we're registered heroes, and since we've already discussed things with the Tribunal des Mineurs, it's more of a formality."

"Oh."

Monique could see how the hectic and emotionally-trying events of the day had tired the girl, but she knew one thing that Adalie needed for her own morale. She retrieved her phone from a counter and handed it to Adalie. "Call your father. I'm sure he'll be ecstatic to know that you're safe once more."

June 12, 2006
HGB Headquarters, Bordeaux

The door chime sounded insistently, interrupting things in the HGB headquarters. Mage Astre stomped unhappily toward the door. "It's open, you idiot!" she said under her breath. When she came to the glass front door, she started, and in an instant waved her black, gem-capped wand. "Soeur Justice! Javert is back!"

Soeur Justice sprinted from her office into the common area, glowering at Delacroix. "What do you want?" she demanded angrily.

Delacroix had a smug smile on his face. "I have a warrant to take custody of a dangerous mutant criminal," he said, producing a paper. Behind him, two other agents stood at the ready, and one power-suit was visible in the street behind them.

"On what grounds?" Soeur Justice asked calmly. Adalie had followed her from the office, peeking around the corner, and when she recognized Delacroix, she gasped in fear.

"I have video surveillance evidence that she stole a priceless art treasure from the museum," Delacroix announced boldly. "Based on that evidence, the judicial authorities have issued a warrant for her arrest by the Bureau de la Commission Francaise des Mutants. I will take her into custody now, and if you resist, you will be charged with aiding and abetting a known criminal." He sneered at Soeur Justice. "You can't get away this time."

"I suggest that you check with the museum to see precisely what treasure they are missing, and who took it," Soeur Justice asked calmly.

"I have all the evidence the judiciary needs," Delacroix grinned.

"I see. Then you won't object when your usual shadow shows up and captures this momentous event for the public, will you?" Soeur Justice looked through the door to one side of the assembled agents.

Delacroix turned to look over his shoulder, in the direction Soeur Justice had indicated, and he frowned. A news crew was rushing to the scene. He turned back to Soeur Justice. "I refuse to be intimidated by carrying out my legal duty."

The newswoman and a cameraman stood, her narrating while the cameraman took video of the standoff. When she curtly cut, the pair dashed to the door, the woman pushing Delacroix aside. "We understand that a young girl is a hero for saving a priceless art treasure? May we speak with her."

Mage Astre smiled, and with a flash of her wand, the doorway sparkled. The woman and the cameraman stepped into the common area, but when Delacroix tried to follow, he bounced off the barrier. The magician just smiled smugly at him.

The woman dashed to Adalie while the cameraman set up. Holding the girl by the elbow, the newswoman pulled Adalie out from behind the wall. "Are we shooting? We are? Okay." She paused a couple of seconds. "This is Delphine Bonnet reporting from the headquarters of the Heroes Glorieux de Bordeaux. I have with me a young hero, who is reported to have broken up the notorious criminal gang of the mutant supervillain Fagin." She turned to Adalie, moving a microphone toward the girl's face. "You are Adalie Vitesse, correct?"

"Yes, madame," Adalie replied, intimidated by the camera and microphone.

"How does it feel to be a hero?"

Adalie blushed. "I'm not the hero," she said meekly. "Soeur Justice and the HGB are the heroes."

"Ah, you are being too modest. The museum staff and the police indicate that you played a key role in apprehending Fagin by infiltrating his gang, faking a theft, and then subduing him so the gendarmes could capture him. It is reported that you charged into action to save a member of the HGB as well."

Adalie blushed even more furiously. Prompted by the reporter, she recounted her tale, starting with the MCO kidnapping in Chaniers, her rescue by the HGB, the attempted second kidnapping, and her capture by Fagin. The reporter really dug into the story of the sting operation with the theft, leading Adalie with the 'fake' story about the substituted statue. During the whole thing, Delacroix stood outside the magical barrier stewing, knowing better than to interrupt in a way that would reflect poorly on the MCO office, especially in a news report that would air to most of the Aquitaine area.

When the reporter was finished, Delacroix glared at Soeur Justice. "Now that the little distraction is out of the way," he said curtly, "you will turn over the girl in accordance with the warrant." He ignored that the camera was still recording the events.

"No," Soeur Justice said with a smile. "Not without a proper warrant from the governing authorities, which in this case is the Aquitaine Tribunal des Mineurs, not the magistrate you fooled into issuing that ... improper warrant." She stepped through the barrier to the outside of the building, which caused Adalie to flinch. "Let us go to the Tribunal to get this little matter straightened out, so this is all done the proper, legal way."

June 13, 2006
Palais de Justice de Bordeaux

The magistrate scanned the paper one more time, and then looked over his glasses at Delacroix and Soeur Justice, who were seated before his desk in a well-appointed office. Legal books lined one wall in silent testament to the man's learned background.

"Monsieur Delacroix," the magistrate began, "are you aware of the age of this so-called 'dangerous mutant'?"

"Yes, your honor," Delacroix said solemnly.

"Then you know that _all_ legal issues associated with teenagers under the age of sixteen are not handled through this office, but through the Aquitaine Tribunal, correct?"

"Those aren't the orders I have from my bureau," Delacroix answered, suddenly sounding on the defensive. "We have a commission to deal with matters related to mutants in order to protect the public safety."

"Regardless of whether the subject is a baseline or a mutant," the magistrate continued, "the law is the law. As citizens of France, they are entitled to the correct legal proceedings under the law. In this case, the law very clearly specifies that you have no jurisdiction until the subject reaches the age of sixteen, without a special warrant by the Tribunal des Mineurs."

"But the international treaties ...." Delacroix started to protest.

"Do not take precedence over French law, nor over the rights of French citizens," the magistrate answered sharply. "Is that clear?"

Delacroix looked like he was sucking on a lemon. "Yes, your honor," he finally said.

"You obtained this warrant under false pretenses," the magistrate continued to admonish the MCO chief. "Further, your warrant to arrest her at the HGB headquarters was similarly obtained under false pretenses, and your kidnapping of the girl from her home was without legal grounds."

"She was accused of assault and arson!" Delacroix protested.

"Hearsay accusations, without formal charges having been filed," the magistrate rebutted. "If formal charges had been filed at that time, you would have still had to defer to the Tribunal des Mineurs unless they gave you specific authorization to prevent public danger."

Delacroix glanced at Soeur Justice, scowling.

"Further, the actions of your office with the personal property of the Heroes Glorieux de Bordeaux are blatantly against the law, as you had no proper warrant."

"Your honor," Soeur Justice interrupted, "we are willing to drop charges if the MCO office will give us recompense for the damage they caused."

The magistrate looked over the top of his glasses. "I'm afraid it's not that simple, Soeur Justice," he said. "Charges have already been filed for trespassing and vandalism, as well as the attempted kidnapping charges." He looked at Delacroix. "Your office must, according to the law, face a judicial investigation into these events."

Delacroix fumed as he sank into his chair. His career was all but over, he knew. With this investigation and the fines for damages, he would most likely be demoted, if he managed to keep his job. All because of that stupid girl, the ones the news media had nicknamed Charge because she was a speedster, and their stories made it sound like she 'charged' into action to foil the criminal.

When the dressing-down finished, Delacroix slunk out of the office, humiliated. Worse, Soeur Justice walked beside him down the stairs, and she seemed so maddeningly cheerful. Finally, he could take no more of her good natured banter. He stopped on the stairway and turned to her. "Okay, you won - this time."

Soeur Justice sighed sadly. "You don't get it, do you, Monsieur Delacroix? We are not so different, you and I. We both fight for what is right. But that's where we _do_ differ. You and your office seem to have forgotten that mutants have the same rights as baselines, until they commit a crime. You treat _all_ mutants as being guilty just by existing, and that is wrong."

"Mutant criminals are very dangerous."

"And I don't dispute that," Soeur Justice answered immediately. "But until a crime is committed, they have every right to live their lives peacefully." She looked at him, at his sour expression and slitted, angry eyes. "Have you ever read, 'Les Miserables'?" she asked.

"What does that have to do with anything?" he demanded angrily.

Soeur Justice shook her head, a pitying look on her face. "You have become Javert, obsessed with something to the point that it clouds your judgment and drives you to doing things that are not only morally wrong, but in this case, and I suspect many like it, are legally wrong as well."

Delacroix glared at the self-righteous bitch for a few seconds, stewing silently. "You win this round, bitch," he snarled. "But we'll show the world that you mutants are dangerous. Mark my words." He stormed off down the stairs, leaving Soeur Justice watching him go, shaking her head silently at how pigheaded and wrong he was.

HGB Headquarters

Adalie slid a plate of appetizer onto the table, around which sat the HGB team. Since she'd been rescued, out of boredom, she'd started cooking now and again for the heroes, that day was no exception.

"We need to keep you around here, Charge," the devisor named Fabricateur said through a bite of the hors d'oeuvre. He teased Adalie by addressing her with the informal nickname the press had given her in all of their news reports. He grinned at Mage Astre. "Much superior to your meager cooking skills."

Mage Astre frowned at him. "Watch it, or I'll turn you into a frog."

"That'd be an improvement," Soeur Justice said with a smirk.

Adalie chuckled at the light-hearted banter. It was only too obvious, after a few days with the group, that they had a familial affection for one another, like a large band of brothers and sisters who stuck up for each other, and then bickered and quarreled a bit, often in jest. The downside of observing the heroes was that she missed her father and her two sisters. Talking to them on the phone was good, and she'd made great use of the phone since her rescue, but it wasn't quite as satisfying as face-to-face discussions or hugs.

"Adalie," Soeur Justice interrupted the girl's wistful thinking, "would you like to go visit home again this weekend?"

Adalie goggled at the suggestion. "Yes," she answered enthusiastically. "But ...."

Mage Astre smiled. "Don't worry. We'll do the same thing we did last time."

"That is, _if_ your studies are on track!" Soeur Justice added. "If you aren't current with your homework, you'll have to stay here to catch up."

Adalie's face fell. "But the math - it is so hard," she complained. "And why should I learn English? It's not like I'm going to live somewhere besides France."

"That doesn't matter. All of your studies need to be caught up."

"Merde!" Adalie swore under her breath. She looked at Mage Astre. "How is it that the news crew shows up whenever you have a confrontation with the MCO?"

The heroes all laughed heartily, confusing Adalie. Flamme Bleu looked at the resident magic-user. "Would you like to share our little secret?" he chuckled.

Mage Astre grinned like a Cheshire cat. "We have an arrangement with the news reporter," she said. "Actually, a rather ... enchanted arrangement. When the MCO is doing something troublesome, they can be brought to the scene with a teleport spell."

"Delphine's brother is a mutant, so she has a great interest in making sure the MCO stays honest," Soeur Justice added. "And the station manager is very sympathetic to mutants."

Flamme Bleu swallowed the morsel in his mouth. "How is the trial going?" he asked Soeur Justice, who had just taken a bite of her meal.

She swallowed quickly and took a big sip of water to wash the food down so she wouldn't choke. "You did that on purpose," she said with a mock scowl. "It's going better than expected. The prosecutor is no longer pressing for guilt, because it's obvious to everyone that the facts exonerate Adalie. Everyone, that is, except Delacroix."

"Do you have any idea how much longer?" Orchidee Quantique asked.

Soeur Justice shrugged her shoulders. "No idea. I thought we'd be done last week."

"Assuming that the verdict is not guilty," Mage Astre began.

"Which I think everyone knows will be the outcome," Soeur Justice butted in.

"What then?" Mage Astre asked.

Adalie looked at Soeur Justice expectantly, secretly hoping that she'd get to stay with the hero. "If I am to be an interior architect and designer, I _must_ go to school!" she insisted.

"And everyone says that kids today have no interest in school," Flamme Bleu chuckled.

Soeur Justice winced at Adalie's question. "I don't know."

"I can stay and attend school in Bordeaux," Adalie volunteered quickly.

The three female members of HGB shook their heads 'no' at the same time. "It won't be safe for you here," Mage Astre said without hesitation.

"Yes. Delacroix and the MCO are dangerous foes," Orchidee Quantique added.

"But ... the judge ..." Adalie protested, not quite comprehending.

"Adalie," Soeur Justice began in a soothing voice, "The MCO is a brutal, vicious organization, and they do _not_ like losing. Even if Delacroix leaves, which is not looking likely, the remaining people in the organization will be watching you for any kind of a mistake."

"They are very ruthless," Flamme Bleu contributed to the discussion. "And they have long memories. They won't forget that they were publicly embarrassed in your case."

"So ... what am I to do?" Adalie fought the tears welling up in her eyes. "You know what happened the last time I was in Chaniers! I can't go back there!" Brutal would have been a kind way to describe the reception Adalie had gotten, even after the glowing television reports and the presence of half of the HGB. Her former friends all but spat on her, even as they huddled around the HGB heroes in fawning adoration. At least she'd been able to spend time with her family.

Soeur Justice sighed. "Unfortunately, finishing your schooling in Chaniers isn't an option. And because of the laws about superheroes, you can't stay with us, at least not long-term."

"So what do I do?"

"You said earlier that your aunt was moving to Boston," Mage Astre commented warily, feeling certain that there was some reason that Adalie hadn't mentioned her aunt.

Soeur Justice's eyes widened, and she exchanged a curious look with Flamme Bleu. "Whateley," they both said at the same time.

"What?" Adalie asked, confused.

"Whateley is a boarding school that is specifically for mutants," Flamme Bleu explained. "I went there. It's a very good school."

"Perhaps that would work," Adalie said warily.

"But," Soeur Justice said cautiously, "it's in New Hampshire, north of Boston."

Adalie reacted as if stung. "No!" she said firmly, recoiling visibly. "I _won't_ go to America! I refuse to attend an inferior school in that disgusting country!"

The heroes glanced among themselves, wondering about the story behind her vehement reaction. "Whateley is a very good school," Flamme Bleu countered, "better even than many in France, and it caters to mutants."

"No!" Adalie reiterated angrily. "Absolument pas!"

"Okay," Soeur Justice said softly, to calm the girl, "we'll think of something for you."

June 16, 2006
Vitesse Home, Chaniers

Monique looked out the window to where Adalie lay back on the grass under an old oak tree, watching the clouds scoot across the sky. She turned back to the two adults at the table with her, Jacques Vitesse and Nicole. "We have to get her enrolled in a school, and very soon," she explained. "The Tribunal des Mineurs has already extended temporary custody once, but they made it clear they will not allow us custody once the summer is over and Adalie must return to school."

Jacques nodded. "And she cannot safely come back here," he acknowledged. "Too many of the townspeople are too ... intolerant and fearful."

Monique shook her head sadly. "Sadly, we all understand, and only too well."

"Do you have any ideas?" Nicole asked hopefully.

"You mentioned your sister Therese Lecuyer," Monique said. "Adalie said that she lives in Boston?"

"Yes. She has a job in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and works in the consulate office in Boston." Jacques' brow wrinkled. "Why?"

"There is a school near Boston called Whateley Academy. It is a boarding school specifically for mutant children, where they can learn to use and control their powers and learn to defend themselves if needed - all without fear, because all of the children at the school are mutants."

"That sounds ... interesting," Jacques said cautiously. "But I'm not sure if I want my Adalie so far from home."

"She'll have to be away from home to be safe, Jacques," Nicole interjected. "If she goes to this Whateley Academy, then she'll be near your sister, and she'll be safe."

Jacques thought a moment, and then nodded to Nicole. "You're right, ma belle," he finally said, sadly. "As much as I hate the idea of her being so far, I can think of no alternatives."

"I have one question, though," Monique added to break an awkward moment of silence. "When we mentioned it to Adalie, that it was in America, she was quite vociferous about not wanting to go to America. It was almost hatred in her eyes."

Jacques nodded slowly. "Yes. Adalie's mother died giving birth to our little Therese," he said, forcing the raw emotions in check as he explained. "It was an American doctor who was working at the hospital that night, and ...." He turned away so Soeur Justice wouldn't see him wiping his tears.

Nicole clutched his hand on the table and leaned on his shoulder to comfort him. "Adalie blames Americans in general for her mere's death. As if that wasn't enough, an American soldier killed her great-grandfather in Normandy during the war by mistake."

"She carries a lot of hatred for Americans," Jacques said, turning back toward the conversation. "She even blames Americans for not carrying the Vitesse label of cognacs in America, which would really help our sales. She wants me to be wealthy enough that I don't have to work so much, probably so that I could spend more time with her, since she misses her mere so badly."

Monique nodded gravely at the information. "I don't suppose it helps that it was an American MCO agent in an exchange program who helped kidnap her the first time, and who was very cruel toward her."

Nicole's eyes widened at that revelation. "Jacques, with all that Adalie hates about Americans, do you think it would be wise to send her there for schooling?"

Jacques nodded. "It is not good for her to carry so much hatred. Perhaps she can learn to let go of some of the hurt. If she really wants to be an interior architect, then she will have to deal with American clients, and being so distrustful would not work in her favor."

Monique felt some tension flow from her shoulders. She hadn't expected this conversation to go well at all. "I have an application packet," she said as she pulled a thick folder from her purse. "It has information about the school, and about cost and financial assistance. There are many scholarship programs, including some very generous scholarships from the Heritage Society americaine."

"I can't thank you enough for helping with her defense in that ... stupid ... trial," Jacques said, his voice reflecting his heartfelt gratitude to the entire HGB.

Monique smiled. "It was our pleasure to help. She did nothing wrong, but because she is a mutant, many people want to blame her for things that she didn't do. We have seen such things, sadly, far too often, and we intervene to help when we can."

"And you helped her complete her school term and take her examinations," Nicole added.

Monique laughed. "That task wasn't as easy as helping with the trial. She can be difficult when she doesn't want to study, you know."

Jacques chuckled and patted Nicole's hand. "We know only too well."

"I can call Madame Carson, the headmistress of Whateley, to discuss Adalie's situation and application," Monique said. "Perhaps you should call your sister as well?"

Nicole nodded with Jacques. "And I will go talk with Adalie about attending Whateley." She saw the concerned expression on her lover's face. "She dislikes me already, Jacques," she explained patiently. "I fear, based on what Monique told us, that she will not take this decision well, and I'd rather that she doesn't turn her hatred toward you. I can deal with her rejection of me. I couldn't deal with her rejecting you as well." She rose and walked gracefully but purposefully out the door, toward the tree.

"Madame Carson?" Monique asked as she held the phone. "It is Soeur Justice."

"Monique! It is delightful to hear from you," Mrs. Carson answered in nearly flawless French. "How are things?"

"We keep busy," Monique explained. "And that is part of why I have asked to speak with you."

"Oh? Did you find another stray that you wish to send my way?" Mrs. Carson asked, chuckling.

Monique laughed. "I didn't realize that telepathy worked over a phone line. Yes, there is a girl here who has had nothing but difficulty with her former friends, the people in her town, and the French MCO since she manifested."

"Is this the one that the news media are calling Charge?" Mrs. Carson asked, stunning Monique. "The one who they credit with capturing Fagin?"

"Yes. How do you know all of that?"

Mrs. Carson chuckled. "I keep up with the news, dear. Fax me her application form, and I'll get it processed in the next day or two."

Monique bit her lip. Now came the tricky part. "There is one ... small ... problem," she said.

"Oh? What is that?"

"She ... has a very strong dislike for Americans," Monique reported cautiously.

Mrs. Carson sighed. "I suppose she'll fit right into the Berets, then."

"Is that group still going? It had nearly dissolved my senior year, and I didn't think it would last."

"Madame Prudhomme has taken over as sponsor, and she managed to breathe new life into the group. She'll fit right in."

"I'll get her father and step-mother to complete the application and get it faxed to you right away," Monique replied. "Merci."

"It was nice talking to you. Please call any time. And Monique?"

"Yes, Madame?"

"Should I report to Sensei Ito that you were caught flat-footed in combat with Fagin? I know he'd be rather disappointed."

Shock showed clearly on Monique's features, bordering on panic. "No, Madame," she said very quickly. "There's no need to take any of Sensei's valuable time."

Mrs. Carson laughed aloud. "You know I wouldn't do that anyway," she replied. "But I couldn't resist the chance to tease you about it, knowing as we both do how you scored in your last combat final."

"You would have to bring that up, wouldn't you?" Monique groaned. "Please, I beg of you, don't tell Charge, er, Adalie, about that little incident."

"Only if you promise to come to visit sometime soon. I think the FSHA could use a little inspirational talk with a real-life superhero, as opposed to the somewhat idealistic fantasy that they sometimes create for themselves. I might even be able to arrange a small stipend if you were to be a guest lecturer in Powers Theory or in a martial arts class."

"I would be glad to visit my school and do what little I can to help your current students," Monique answered, half pleased by the invitation, and half dreading presenting herself as a hero to the current Whateley students. She also realized that Madame Carson had, as usual, played her like a fiddle.

Nicole approached the tree cautiously, knowing that this was going to be a very unpleasant conversation. "How are you doing, Adalie?" she asked innocently to start the conversation.

"Please go away," Adalie snapped back at her. "You know that this is _my_ special spot and I don't like you here."

Nicole ignored the hateful words and sat down beside the girl. "We have been talking with Monique about your future schooling."

"And?" That single word carried much anger and suspicion.

"We agree with Monique, that this Whateley Academy will be ...."

Adalie snapped upright, her face a mask of rage. "I _knew_ it! You talked Papa into sending me away, didn't you?"

"Adalie," Nicole tried to interrupt the girl's tirade.

"You want me out of the way so you can push aside Amelie's and Papa's memories, don't you? You want to take over, and I'm just an obstacle, right?" Adalie yelled at Nicole. "I won't go! Do you understand? I _won't_ go! I won't let you make Amelie and Papa forget mother!"

"That's enough of that!" Nicole countered sternly. "I know why you don't trust me, but you are wrong. Very wrong. I'm _not_ trying to displace your mother's place in all of your lives. I _can't_ take her place!"

"So why are you trying so hard, eh?"

"I'm not trying. I knew your mother, Adalie," Nicole continued. "She was a wonderful, caring woman, and she loved you very dearly. I would be wrong to try to take those memories away from you. I don't want to."

"You could have fooled me."

"Adalie, your Papa has to decide what's best for you. Not me. Soeur Justice and he agree that it's not safe for you here, and the authorities won't let you stay with the HGB."

"I don't believe you. You want to get rid of me."

"You are going to Whateley in a few weeks. The decision has been made," Nicole said, struggling to not show her frustration at Adalie's stubbornness and hatred.

September 2, 2006
Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris

Adalie sat in the lounge at Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris, waiting for her flight to Boston. Papa Vitesse had gotten her a pass to the VIP lounge so her time in the airport would be more comfortable. She stretched out in a chair, sighing to herself as she thought about the hectic past two weeks. One of the HGB women had tried to spend as much time with her in Chaniers as possible, so she could get as much family time as possible before she departed for Whateley. But she'd had to be in Bordeaux several times.

First, she had to get her Mutant ID card, which unfortunately was issued by the MCO. The entire HGB had accompanied her to the MCO office, as well as the Procureur and a judge from the Aquitaine Tribunal des Mineurs. Delacroix was very unhappy at the oversight with Adalie, especially since the Procureur stopped him from placing a Deadly Force Pre-Authorized notice on her MID, reminding him that _only_ the Bureau of Justice could authorize such a marking, and in the case of minors, the Tribunal des Mineurs was involved as well. When Soeur Justice explained the DFA notice, Adalie nearly fainted, and only then did she realize just how much Delacroix hated her and how she'd caused them embarrassment, and how dangerous it would be for her to remain _anywhere_ in France, at least for the moment.

The paperwork for her visa to study in America wasn't difficult, but it took time to actually get the visa, or rather, it would have if some mysterious forces hadn't intervened on the American side to facilitate rapid issuance of the visa. Soeur Justice was rather evasive about how the paperwork had been processed so quickly, and asked Adalie if, perhaps, her aunt's job might have helped grease the skids on that. In truth, which Adalie didn't know, Soeur Justice had used contacts from her days at Whateley to speed the visa through the American bureaucratic mill.

A few minor hunger pangs reminded Adalie that she should get something to eat before the plane departed for Boston; she'd been so excited and nervous about her adventure, as little Tessa had called it, that she'd barely eaten any breakfast. Soeur Justice and the Procureur had accompanied her to the airport, just to be extra-certain that the MCO didn't try anything when she checked in. As she waited at a buffet line in the Air France lounge, Adalie understood why her father had insisted on getting her a pass to use the service. It was far too crowded in the regular concourses of the airport, and too noisy.

The buffet line was slow, so Adalie looked around curiously. Two girls were walking together into the lounge, both about her age, and unaccompanied by adults. They found a quiet corner, and after putting down their carry-on bags, strode easily, happily, toward the buffet line. Adalie wasn't sure if she should try to talk to them or not; she was still rather uneasy after the way her class-mates had treated her.

The girls took the choice out of Adalie's hands. The taller of the two, and by far the more dignified in how she carried herself, spoke first. "Bon jour. Are you travelling alone, too?"

Something about the girls hinted to Adalie that she could talk to them. "Yes. I'm on my way to school."

"Really?" the second girl asked excitedly. "So are we. But I bet we're traveling much further to our school," she added with a friendly smile.

"I doubt that," Adalie countered lightly. "I'm going to a school near my aunt, near Boston in America."

Both girls goggled at that news. "Really?" the first asked, while the second squealed, "You're kidding!"

"We're going to a special school, a school called Whateley Academy," the first girl said, as if to highlight that she was a cut above average. She certainly wasn't plain in the almost-regal way she carried herself.

It was Adalie's turn to drop her jaw in disbelief. "No! You, too?"

"You mean, you're going to Whateley, too?" the second girl asked, almost giddy with delight at the news.

"Yes," Adalie answered. She fished in her purse and pulled out her letter of introduction, on Whateley Academy stationary. "See?" she asked, showing the two girls.

The first girl looked at her, and then after glancing around, lowered her tinted glasses for the briefest moment, long enough for Adalie to see that she had violet eyes.

Adalie was stunned momentarily to realize that these two girls were also mutants, like her. "I'm Adalie. Adalie Vitesse," she introduced herself.

"That wouldn't by chance be of the same family that makes Vitesse cognac, would it?" the first girl asked, smiling for some strange reason.

"Yes," Adalie answered, a touch confused.

The first girl's smile turned in to a broad grin. "At least your family doesn't compete with my family's wine business," she chuckled. "I'm Primavera Villabianca, but I go by Vera." She saw Adalie's eyes widen as realization sunk in. "Yes, _that_ Villabianca family."

"I'm Nanette de la Fontaine," the second girl said by way of introduction. "I also go by Chat Bleu."

"I picked up a nickname that I don't particularly like," Adalie said with a shrug. "The reporters said that I charged into a fight with a villain, so they started calling me Charge. That's what got put on my ID."

Nanette's eyes widened in surprise. "You're _that_ Charge?" It took her a moment to get her jaw working again. "What's it like to be a hero?"

Adalie shook her head, smiling. "I wouldn't know. I just got caught up in things that I couldn't avoid."

"Well, you're kind of famous," Nanette replied. "All the media were reporting on how you stopped two supervillains, and how the MCO was trying to break the law to capture you unjustly."

Adalie shuddered at bit at hearing that the news was reporting about the MCO. It would make it trickier and more dangerous to have a plain, simple life if they truly had the long memories that HGB had warned her of. "I got to spend some time with the Heroes Glorieux de Bordeaux," she replied. "Except they made me study hard to finish my school term," she added with a frown.

Two hours later, as they were called to board the Air France flight to Boston, the girls walked happily, laughing, through the airport, telling each other stories of their lives, their adventures, and their likes in both boys and bands.

At the ticket counter, Nanette sighed. "Well, this is where I have to leave you," she said reluctantly. "Unlike you two, I'm traveling in the regular cabin."

Vera took her hand and marched toward the ticket counter. "Not if I have anything to say about it," she declared. When she got the attendant's attention, she smiled sweetly. "My friend is on this flight in coach class. I wonder if there are any seats left in business class, so she doesn't have to feel squeezed like a sardine in a tin."

"Let me check," the attendant answered cheerfully.

"You don't have to do this," Nanette protested.

"Nonsense," Vera announced. "If we are to be inseparable at Whateley, we might as well start being inseparable now. Besides, it's only a little bit of money, and my father has more than he knows what to do with."

"You're in luck. We have three seats available still."

Vera handed the attendant her credit card, and the attendant's eyes nearly bulged from their sockets. "Yes, ma'am," she said respectfully when she recognized the name.

"Oh, and could you see if my other friend Adalie can be moved so we're sitting together?" Vera asked.

As the trio walked arm in arm down the jet-way into the aircraft, they were smiling and talking cheerily, as if they'd been friends forever.

"No matter what," Nanette said solemnly, sitting in the luxurious seat between Vera and Adalie, "we shall be like the three musketeers, right? All for one, and one for all, yes?"

The other two smiled, and they clasped hands. "Yes. All for one."