Month: August 2014

Chapter 20: Front

Hawthorne stared down at the warehouse across the street. “Mach, do you see anything?”

Mach’s fingers twitched and a series of whirs sounded from her helmet. “The warehouse is too distant for accurate heat or X-Ray readings. However, I have not detected any movement on the perimeter, nor through the accessible windows.”

“Not good enough,” Hawthorne said. She scanned the rest of the group. “Allspades, those secret agents of yours didn’t happen to train you to sneak into a place like this, did they?”

Allspades shook his head. “Not without a disguise and enough intel to pass as a guard.”

Hawthorne grimaced under her helmet. (‘And there’s no guarantee Unimportant can keep a hold on his powers long enough to get in and out. That just leaves-‘). “Red, can you get in and out fast enough to make sure no one sees you?”

Red Racer’s face twisted in thought. “Maybe-be…I can at least go fast enough that they aren’t sure if they’re just seeing things-ings.”

“Mach, keep an eye out. Allspades, Burnout, you’re on standby, if it looks like they might see him, make a lot of noise. Red, if you think they’ve figured out you’re there, get out fast, got it?”

Red Racer nodded. Allspades and Burnout leapt off the roof to opposite sides of the warehouse, and Mach backed up a few steps.

“You might feel a little strange-ange.”

A bizarre sense of vertigo drove Hawthorne and Unimportant to tightly grab the edge of the roof. Red Racer shot between them down the side of the building across the street and into the warehouse.

“are you sure I should not be going?” Unimportant asked.

“I nearly saw your face three times on the trip over here, and your still fluctuating. I’m not risking you getting shot again because I sent you in there like that. If anyone else knew even half as much about these guys then I’d have sent you packing.”

“Very well.”

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Red circled the warehouse a few times to find and entrance he could go through without slowing down. There was an open window just below the roof, barely big enough for him to slip through without issue. With a force of will he raced up the side of the building, and forced himself forwards into a summersault through the open window.

There were a few milliseconds where he had slowed down just enough to be more than a blur, but no one was in sight as he planted his foot on the inside wall of the warehouse and rocketed down to the floor.

Red zipped around the base, checking each open container and trying to keep track of how many were empty.

He was almost finished when a man stepped out into the aisle with a gun levelled at him.

But to him, the man was moving in slow motion. With a grin he dropped back and slid into the man’s leg. The man toppled forward over his smaller body and landed face first on the ground. His gun slammed into the ground.

Red Racer grimaced at the noise of a gunshot going off less than a foot from his head. He forced himself to plant a foot and come to a stop before he ran face first into a wall.

He looked back at the downed guard and grinned. “And heeee’s safe-fe!”

He turned to check down the next aisles but three more guards came out from the center of the warehouse, each with fully automatic weapons. At the same time a burst of light shined through the window on the far side of the warehouse and a loud crash echoed through the wall next to him. The guards looked both ways and Red saw his chance.

“Time to go-go.”

He raced toward the front of the warehouse and ran along the wall to the door. (‘If Unimportant was right then…’). He grinned and slammed the bar lock up and out of position.  A small circle sent him out of the warehouse and back onto the street.

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A gunshot echoed through the wall of the warehouse. Burnout grimaced and focused. A torrent of flames roared up and shone high over the roof of the warehouse.

“Kid better not’ve gotten himself shot. Need to get in there quick.”

With a grunt he threw his arms forward and sent the flames into the side of the warehouse, focusing them into a smaller and smaller area until the wall in front of him began to melt.

“Walls’re thin. I need to make sure I stop on time.”

A flash of light erupted behind his eyes and he fell to a knee. Without thinking about it, he cut off the flames, leaving a large hole in the side of the warehouse.

Burnout panted heavily and stared at his work. “What…the hell…was that?”

He quickly shook his head and forced the thought to the back of his mind.

He ran into the warehouse at the same time as he heard the main door open. He let himself relax a little and slowed down his charge.

He heard at least two voices trying to be quiet and he ducked to the side, hiding behind the closest aisle.

Just then the sound of wrenching metal screeched across the warehouse.

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Allspades dug his fingers into the dented wall and began to pull it apart. He slowly peeled away the wall until there was finally a hole big enough for him to fit through.

A grin slowly formed on his face as he stalked into the warehouse.

He heard a few voices across the warehouse. He slowly pulled his fist back and slammed it into the nearest container, sending a loud metallic thud resounding across the building.

“Wakey wakey!” He shouted. He continued to walk straight down the aisle. A single head popped out from the end of the aisle before ducking back out of sight.

His grin only grew wider as the tip of a gun poked around the corner and began to fire blindly in his direction.

He forcefully suppressed a few grunts as the bullets bounced off his chest. The pain was nothing new.

He began to pick up speed and soon he was charging down the aisle.

Allspades gripped the barrel of the gun and forced it up and over the shooter’s head. The shooter’s grip didn’t loosen and he was forced back onto the floor.

Allspades quickly jabbed at the man’s shoulder, feeling the clavicle break under his fist. The shooter screamed beneath him as he stood back up.

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Red Racer stopped when he reached the roof where the others waited. He bent over and gripped his knees, gulping air.

Hawthorne quickly ran up to him and began checking him over. “Were you hit?”

Red shook his head. “The gun when off when I tripped him-im. Sharp turns just wear me out-ut.”

Hawthorne release a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “That’s good. How many were there?”

“At least three-ee, plus the guy I tripped­­-pped.”

“Mach, make sure they’re okay.”

Mach nodded and leapt from the roof. Her rockets switched on just soon enough to slow her fall before she landed in a crouch on the street.

Hawthorne turned back to see Unimportant moving closer to Red. It might have been hopeful thinking, but his power seemed more stable for now.

“How many were empty?”

“A lot-ot. I didn’t see the last two rows-ows, but at least a quarter of the first three were empty-ty.”

Hawthorne looked to Unimportant. “How bad is that?”

The warehouse across the street glowed.

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Mach charged through the open warehouse door and scanned the room.

One soldier was firing down an aisle, and Burnout was taking care of another.

The third guard was staring her down, and bringing his weapon to bear. She quickly reached behind her and a small baton slid out of her pack and into her hand.

Her charge didn’t slow as she whipped the baton up at the gun, sending the guard’s shots over her head. Just past the guard she dug her heel into the ground, gouging out the concrete floor beneath her.

Mach spun in place and swung the baton at the guard’s side. With a flick of a switch near her thumb, she sent the current into his skin and he fell to the ground convulsing.

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Burnout stayed as quiet as he could. He heard at least one of the guards running toward the sound of Allspades’s entrance and quickly darted toward the center of the warehouse.

He slowed down as he reached the end of the aisle. He took a deep breath and carefully peeked around the corner.

One of the guards was working his way down, checking each aisle as he went.

Burnout realized he only had a few minutes before he was seen. He focused on the palm of his left hand, creating a small flame as dim as he could. A navy glow radiated off the layer of fire.

(‘Four, three, two, one…’)

He whipped around the corner and ran straight at the guard. The guard turned at the sound, but he was already on top of him.

Burnout gripped the gun barrel tightly and turned the flame on his hand up as hot as he could.

With the gun barrel sealed, Burnout sent a wave of flame out from his whole body. The guard screamed and fell back quickly patting at his clothes.

Burnout turned back towards the center of the warehouse and ran towards the sound of gunfire.

Pain stabbed behind his eyes once more and he fell forward, clutching his head. An orb of fire began to leak off of him, spinning rapidly.

The other’s approached the flame slowly.

Allspades tried to get closer but Mach held up a hand to stop him.

“We do not know the temperature of the flame. It could very easily be enough to injure either of us.”

“Then what are we supposed to do?”

Mach walked over to one of the open containers and grabbed the empty cardboard boxes that had been left behind.

She returned to Allspades and began to toss them in bulk onto the flaming sphere.

Allspades glared at her. “And what is that-“

An alarm rang out and the sprinklers overhead began to pour water down over the warehouse.

Jack’s glare turned sour as his clothes began to soak through. “Really?”

Mach stared at him in shock, but refrained from saying anything.

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The rest of the group ran into the warehouse as Burnout managed to haul himself off the floor.

“What happened?” Hawthorne stared at the circle of darkened concrete around Burnout in concern.

Burnout held up a hand and tried to catch his breath. “Power….surged. Not sure why.”

Hawthorne studied the other manip closely. “Are you sure you’re up for this? If you need to leave-.”

“I’m fine. I just need to catch my breath.”

Mach stepped between the two. “Now is not the time for this. What did Red Racer discover before he was found.”

Hawthorne frowned. “A lot of the drug is missing. I was asking Unimportant about it when we saw the place light up.” She turned to Unimportant. “So?”

Unimportant began counting off on his fingers. “Bad…each held enough for a hundred doses…that much could cover a city block for half an hour…or fill a sealed building for half a night. We need to find out where they’re going…now.”

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Chapter 19: Calm

Allspades tapped his foot against the floor rhythmically. It echoed off the nearly empty gymnasium’s walls.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

“Would you please cut that out‽” Hawthorne shouted.

“He’s late. We should just start already.”

“We don’t start until the whole group’s here,” Will said from his spot lying on the stage. “If he’s not here soon, we’ll call it a night. His contact’ll get back to me on what happened soon.”

“Is it possible that he has reached a decision without informing us?” Mach asked.

Will shrugged. “It’s happened before, but he doesn’t strike me as the type. It’d be a shame though. When people make a decision, we get cake.”

“Cake-ake?”

“Yes, cake. Or ice cream. Both if I have the cash for it.”

“That brings up a good point, since we’re waiting anyway. What do you do?” Allspades asked.

Will coughed and sat up. “Most of my income comes from high risk stock market exchanges.” (‘Or something like that.’) “My worth fluctuates regularly, but I make sure to keep enough to live comfortably.”

“But-“

A loud bang echoed through the room and the group turned to the door. Allspades moved towards the entrance, but Will held out a hand to stop him.

“We don’t know who it is.”

With another loud crash, Unimportant stumbled into the room, clinging onto his left arm tightly.

The group started to move over to him, but Will was kneeling at his side before they realized what was happening.

“Gunshot. Mach, Hawthorne, do either of you have anything that can stop the bleeding?”

Mach shook her head. “I did not expect to need medical supplies tonight. I have only basic combat gear at the moment.”

Hawthorne dug through her pockets, quickly finding a seed. “This should work. Lamb’s Ear. It’s not gauze but it should help stop the bleeding.”

With a flourish the seed began to sprout in her hand and she plucked off a few leaves.

Will grabbed the leaves and pulled a worn down, but clean, handkerchief out of one of his pockets. He quickly tied off the wound and checked over the rest of Unimportant.

“I’m not seeing any other injuries. Am I missing anything, kid?”

Unimportant groaned, but shook his head. He spoke in between pained gasps. “Needed help…too much.”

Burnout looked at Unimportant worriedly. “Too much what?”

Unimportant reached back into a side pocket of his bag, grabbing a vial of orange liquid. “Something new…Asclepios…works fast…too fast….Tried to stop it….Messed up, they spotted me….Had to get out…before I could stop them.”

Will frowned at Unimportant. “We need to call someone heavier for this. I can get the word out, we can have half the city on alert in hours.”

Unimportant shook his head. “No time…papers.”

It took them a moment to realize what he meant. Allspades gently lifted him off the floor so they could remove his backpack and get the papers out of them.

Will took one look at them and handed them off to Mach. “Please tell me you can understand this.”

Mach studied the papers closely. “I can work some of it out. It appears to be a drug designed to induce rage. It also contains moderately large amounts of endorphin and dopamine substitutes.”

“What-at?” Red Racer asked.

“It makes you angry, and it makes you feel really good about it,” Hawthorne said.

Mach nodded. “If Asclepios’s previous creations are to be accounted for, it is likely highly addictive as well.”

Will coughed to draw their attention once more. “That doesn’t explain why he’s in such a rush. We need to warn people about this.”

Mach hurriedly flipped through the pages. “It switches over to instructions. Apparently the drug is most effective when inhaled. It also details how to cause incredibly large quantities of the drug to be aerosolized quickly.”

Unimportant grunted from on the floor. “Heard them talking…They want customers fast….They want to release enough somewhere to get as many people hooked as they can.”

Will narrowed his eyes. “Where? When?”

“I don’t know, but we don’t have long.”

Burnout stepped up. “Then we better get moving.”

“No.” The group turned to Will. “We’re not a team, and we’re not equipped to handle something this big. I can get in touch with some of the heaviest hitters this city has. Six speedwalkers aren’t enough to handle a class 3 threat, even if you work together.”

Allspades glared at Will. “And what about you? I don’t know who you used to be, but would you really just sit around while the whole city’s in danger?”

“DON’T BE A FOOL!” The group would have sworn that Will’s voice shook the building. “You all came here because you’re thinking about quitting! Do you think you can survive if you have doubt‽”

Will stared down each member of the group in turn. “This world needs heroes who are willing to fight when they are needed, not when it is convenient. Are you all really going to risk dying over something like this?”

Hawthorne stared back at Will. “Doing nothing would be useless. Of course I’m going to help.”

“Hell yeah.”

“We’ll fight.”

“Try and stop me.”

“Ready-dy.”

“It was my fight…before this started….That has not changed.”

Will checked each member. After a moment of hesitation. “Good.”

“Don’t even-wait what?” Allspades backed up a step.

“Do you really think you can make a decision like this if you stop trying? It takes a bit more than talk to convince yourself. But I’m still letting the big guns know that this could happen. They can patrol the streets. You all need to figure out where they’re gonna release the drug.”

Will turned to walk out the door. “This isn’t a man hunt. It’s an investigation. Find a starting point and go from there. It’ll take them at least a few hours to move the drug, more if they plan on hitting anywhere with enough people to cause a real problem.”

The group watched as Will walked out of the gym.

They stared at each other uncertainly. Allspades and Hawthorne’s eyes met, and Allspades gave a slight nod to the older member.

Hawthorne rose up and addressed the group. “Okay, Unimportant’s going to need a few minutes before he can move properly. Let’s figure out what we know for sure.”

“Unimportant has informed us that he knows the location of the warehouse. However, it is unlikely that the drug is still there, especially considering his discovery,” Mach started.

“It’s still a place to start. Does anyone have an idea of where they’d go after the warehouse district? It might help us figure out what to look for.”

“I live near there-ere. If I knew what way they were going-ing, I might be able to figure it out-out.”

“It depends on who they want to get addicted,” Allspades said. “They could release it in the slums and get a lot of poor customers, or they could release it somewhere less crowded but with richer customers. If it’s as addictive as you guys think, then it wouldn’t matter which.”

“But that’s the weird part, isn’t it?” Burnout asked. “It’s not exactly a great marketing strategy. If they want to get people addicted they could have steam rooms in clubs or something, and those people would come back for more. This way, these guys don’t even know what they were hit with, and it’s not like they’ll get customers who don’t want to buy drugs in the first place to start.”

“Not quite,” Hawthorne spoke again. “It’s an advertising trick. If you can’t create a buzz around a product, create a controversy. If this stuff gets on the news, then every addict looking for a new high is going to crawl out of the woodwork to test it out.”

“But what is the purpose of causing anger? Would it not deter some of their customers?”

Unimportant coughed form the floor. “Trick…papers were from really high up….People releasing drug don’t know about anger.”

“But isn’t he trying to make money-ey?”

“Maybe we’re thinking too short term,” Hawthorne said. “What would be the long term effects of a drug induced riot?”

“Economy would drop for a little while,” Burnout said. “And people would try to get the cops to crack down on drugs for at least a few months.”

“Distraction?” Allspades asked. “Maybe he wants people to be thinking about drugs instead of something else.”

“To my knowledge, Asclepios has no active criminal interests outside of his drug trade. I find it unlikely that a focus on drugs would benefit him, even temporarily,” Mach said.

“Why are we talking about this­-is? Don’t we want to know where it is-is?”

“He’s right. We’re not going to figure this out by guessing,” Hawthorne said. “We have to leave soon, and we need a plan for if we find the drug.”

“I could burn it, but that might make things worse not better.”

Hawthorne nodded. “We’ll make that Plan C then. What about containing it?”

“If he’s calling in the big guns, then they’ll take care of that. We just need to stop it,” Allspades said.

“That would be correct if they are capable of arriving on time,” Mach said. “Is it possible for you to create an air tight seal with your plants?”

Hawthorne bit her lip under her helmet. “It might be if I have enough time, but it would depend on the amount of gas. If I made it too big then I wouldn’t be able to stop the gas from coming through.”

“I believe that would be ‘Plan B’ then.”

“Right.” Hawthorne nodded. She turned to Unimportant.

“Are you good to go?”

“I’ll manage.”

“Then let’s go.”

 

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Chapter 18: Developments

“I still do not understand the purpose of this.”

“How will we know if we still want to be heroes if we stop trying?”

“Yes, but…a mugger? I really do not think it will take both of us for this.”

“He’s been hitting at least one person a night, on the same street, for over a month. If he doesn’t have powers then the cops really are useless.”

“I suppose you are correct.”

Burnout and Mach stood on top of an apartment building, looking down 413th. They had been there for almost an hour already, with no sight of the man they were looking for.

“Are you positive that this is the correct street?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Don’t worry, the street’s clearing up. He should be making his move soon.”

“Very well.”

The two focused on the street again, the only noise being a periodic bleep from Mach’s helmet.

Burnout fought to keep his eyes on the street while he spoke. “Mach, are you playing Pong in your helmet?”

“I do not believe I enjoy stakeouts.”

Burnout was about to reply when he saw a shadowed figure burst out of an alley and make a beeline for a woman walking down the street.

Burnout prepared to move but Mach held out a hand. “Wait. We cannot guarantee it is the mugger yet.”

The woman gave a startled shout and fought to keep a hand on her bag.

“Now we can go.”

The mugger ripped the bag from the woman’s grasp and turned back to the alley, only to be met with a wall of blue flames blocking the entrance.

A loud voice echoed through the street. “Stop! Place the bag on the ground and surrender!”

Mach descended from the roof, floating on a set of rockets from each leg.

The thief stretched his hand out and a black tendril shot out from beneath his feet. It wrapped around Mach’s leg and attempted to drag her to the ground.

With a shout, Mach increased the output from the captured leg’s rocket and thrust her left arm towards the tendril. A small gatling gun with a black belt popped out of her wrist and fired into the appendage, only for the small rounds to pass through the tentacle and into street.

“Mach!” Burnout sent out a jet of flames into the tentacle, severing it from its connection to the ground.

The mugger gave a pained shout and dropped the purse before taking off down the street.

Burnout sent a worried glance to Mach, who nodded. With a relieved sigh he picked up the woman’s purse and handed it to her.

The woman seemed unable to speak, but she gave a light smile and hurried down the street.

Burnout returned to his partner. “What was that thing?”

“Judging from the coloration and its reaction to your flames, I believe the culprit to be a shadow manipulator. If we hurry, we should still be able to capture him.”

“Gotcha.”

“Wait. It would be best if you acted as support for this fight.”

“Why? I saved your ass a few minutes ago.”

“The mugger only used his own shadow to fight, if we were able to extinguish all lights then his shadow would disappear and he would be powerless.”

“Or he was holding back and you’ll be screwed.”

“My suit protects me from his attacks. If you are correct then you will have ample opportunity to create more light.”

“How?”

Mach stared at him.

“Oh, right.”

Two bursts of fire emerged from each of their feet, carrying them down the street.  Mach saw a sheen travel across her visor, switching to thermal imaging. A trail of warmer air emerged before her, quickly turning down the next alley.

Mach landed outside the alley and signaled for Burnout to do the same. The trail in front of her was quickly going cold, but the alley was a straight shot with only a few places the thief could hide.

Mach flexed her left arm and the gatling gun popped out again, this time with a blue belt leading back into her arm.

Her voice boomed out once more. “Come out and surrender! I do not wish to harm you but I will if you resist!”

When no response came, she slowly advanced into the alley, with her arm raised. A few feet into the alley, a cry rang out and a dark shape leapt from the wall above the speedwalkers.

The thief swung an iron rod at Mach’s head. It rang out with a sharp ping and Mach backpedalled away.

With a pained grunt she lifted her arm and fired a string of shots at the thief.

The thief’s grin disappeared and he looked down. Sluggishly, he reached up and pulled a small blue dart out of his chest.

“Wha-?” The thief collapsed onto the ground.

“Nice.” Burnout stared at the unconscious mugger. “What was in those things?”

“A heavy tranquilizer with minimal risk factors. Beck Industries provides them as non-lethal weapons for heroes.”

“Useful.”

“Indeed.”

The two stared down at the unconscious thief.

“So, call the cops or drag him to the station?”

“I believe we may have to explain his powers to them in detail.”

“Dragging it is.”

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“All right, everyone on the ground!”

Rose took a deep breath and followed the man’s instructions. A small part of her screamed to take action immediately, but even if she took him out right away his gun could go off.

A glance around the room summed up the situation. There were three men on the floor, and another had already made his way behind the counter.

Unfortunately she wasn’t exactly armed. She had a few seeds, but the floor was tile and the counter was too far away for her to manipulate. Her options were pretty much limited to her staff and maybe a net if she could rework one of the seed quickly enough.

But without her mask, she couldn’t afford to be nearly that overt.

It was time to get creative.

She closed her eyes and focused on one of the seeds woven into her shirt, Japanese Honeysuckle. She’d kept a sample after removing it from her neighbor’s garden. It wasn’t particularly dangerous, but it grew fast.

She forced the vine to grow around and under the other hostages, doing her best to keep it out of sight. It took less than a minute for it to touch the wood of the counter.

Rose took a deep breath and held it, focusing all of her attention on the tip of the vine. Sweat poured down her forehead as the vine began to meld with the dead wood and she could feel the whole counter fall under her control.

She released the breath and scrubbed her forehead against her shirt to dry it off. It took her a moment for her to run through her limits with the counter. She couldn’t do much to alter its composition from this far away, which meant she was stuck with growth.

She slowly turned her head until she saw the fourth robber. He had been shouting at a teller angrily for the last few minutes, forcing him to drain each of the desks of all their money. The rest of them were stalking through the crowd, keeping an eye on all of the hostages.

She needed to draw them closer.

With a mental flex, she forced a small spark of life into the counter, causing a single branch to stretch out and brush the knee of the fourth robber.

The man gave a start and whirled around, but she quickly retracted the branch out of his sight.

One of the other robbers shouted at the fourth man to keep up the work. He grumbled a reply and turned back to the teller.

It took two more tries for the first robber to stalk over to the counter.

“But I swear, something’s touching me!”

“Keep this up, and I’m gonna be touching you. And trust when I say it won’t be gentle.”

At this point, Rose had melded enough of the vine into the counter that the two began to fuse into something new.

Rose gave a small smile and sent the now ropier branches at the two robbers, tripping them and quickly dragging them beneath the desks.

The two managed to cry out before she could get a branch between their teeth.

The last two robbers began shouting at each other, but she couldn’t afford to listen. She carefully wound a branch around each of their necks, carefully compressing their necks to restrict the blood vessels. She waited until they stopped struggling against their bindings and quickly removed the branches from their necks.

At this point, the two other robbers slowly approached the counter from opposite ends.

“I don’t see ‘em! What the hell happened!?”

“Musta been dragged underground by some tunneler! He’s probably gunning for us now!”

She was tempted to grab them right away, but the second had his gun pointed towards the hostages still, and she couldn’t risk it going off.

In a few more steps they would see the two tied under the counter, and realize where the attack had come from.

She had to be careful. She couldn’t tell exactly where her vines would grow; she had to work with what their movements could tell her and her very limited view. She needed to make this one big.

There was only one teller behind the counter, and they had ordered him to the floor before they started their search.

She closed her eyes again, and with a pained groan she forced the entire front half of the desk to sprout up branches.

The robber’s guns were forced to point into the air, and she immediately ordered the vines to grow around the two and trap them with their weapons useless.

Rose let herself smile and she carefully pulled the vine back out of the counter and into her pocket.

She did her best to blend in with the crowd as they slowly stood up and examined the trapped crooks.

Most of them sighed in relief when they heard the sirens approaching the bank.

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Allspades twisted his body around, breaking out of the larger man’s hold. He completed his spin, and grabbed him by the shirt. With a loud grunt, Allspades threw the man into a wall.

He stared at the rest of the punks, raising his eyebrow.

“One down. Ready to tell me where your boss is? Or are we gonna stick with the hard way?”

One of them stepped out of line and glared at Allspades. “You took out Charlie. You really think we’re gonna let you get away with that? GET ‘IM!”

As one the group charged forward, Allspades stared at them and sighed deeply.

“Always the hard way. I told King scare tactics didn’t work against the stupid ones.”

Allspades braced himself and caught the first punk’s tackle. And the second’s. And the third’s.

He took a single step and shoved all three of them onto the ground, at the feet of the last two.

He jumped forward with a whoop and pulled the fourth punk down to the ground with him.

He looked at the downed man with a smile. “You, I don’t need.”

He slammed his fist into the man’s gullet and forced the air from his lungs and knocking him unconscious.

He felt a heavy thud on his back and turned his head. The last punk held a crowbar over his head, winding up for a second swing.

Allspades twisted off the unconscious man and heard a loud crack as his ribs broke under the crowbar.

“Sorry bud, better you than me.”

Allspades kicked at the last punk’s knee, breaking it and bringing him to the ground.

The first three punks had just made it back to their feet. Allspades grabbed the crowbar out of the last punk’s hand and sent it flying at chest level.

The missile bounced off the first punk’s chest, sending him back to the ground with at least one broken rib.

The last two stared at Allspades in shock.

He smiled happily and stepped forward.

The two immediately turned away and ran out of the alley.

Allspades looked down at the fifth punk, the one with the broken knee. He reached down and lifted him up by the front of his shirt.

“Now, how about you tell me where your boss is. You see, we’ve had a talk scheduled for a long time now, and I’d hate to miss my appointment.”

Allspades lightly set the man on his injured leg. The man let out a sharp scream and Allspades lifted him back up.

“Talk.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Mitchell Chase looked at his sister with the widest eyes he could manage.

Pleeease let me go out-out.”

“No. Now go work on your homework. You need to get it done now, cause I’m not helping you finish it on the last day of Summer again.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Will stared across the bar and gestured to his glass for the second time.

The bartender gave a hefty sigh and filled it up one more time. “You need to slow down, Will. I’m not watching you black out again.”

“Tough luck, Roy. I didn’t get my chance earlier this week, and my cousin’s not stopping me tonight.”

Roy shook his head. “Look, Will, I know you’re hurting, and I know I’m not stopping you, even if I kick you out of this bar. But tomorrow, when you wake up, I really hope you forgive me for this.”

“What?”

“William.” A new voice spoke from the door.

“Crap.”

Will turned in his chair and stared at the woman in the doorway. “Addie. You called Addie.”

Roy quickly walked down the bar and began pouring another customer’s drink.

Addie walked over and glared at Will. “We hoped your cousin would be enough to keep you away from the bars.”

“He thought I’d give up after one day.” Will took another sip. “Optimist.”

“I’m taking you home.”

“And what makes you think I’m going?”

“Because Roy isn’t serving you another drink, and I can catch you if you try to run away.”

“Understatement.”

“Obviously.”

“Fine.” Will set his now empty glass on the bar. “You putting on the mask or should I call Jim?”

“You want to be seen escorted home by Zero?”

“Point. Tigermobile it is.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Unimportant walked through the airport warehouse, whistling a tune no one else could hear.

He walked down the aisles of containers, marking tallies for each row in his notebook.

too many”

There was no reason the city would need this big a shipment. Even if he hadn’t helped put away a couple hundred dealers this last year, it was till twice as large a shipment as Asclepios had ever bothered to make.

need to open one up

Unimportant pulled off his bag and searched through it. He hummed happily to himself as he found his bolt cutters.

He walked down one of the aisles. If he opened one near the front someone might see. He didn’t feel like being accidentally locked in a shipping container. Again.

near the back…but not too far”

He lined up his cutters with the chain and slammed down on the far end. He quietly slid the chain off and opened the crate.

He started whistling again as the pulled out his penlight and clicked it on. A quick scan showed stacks of white boxes, each precisely labeled with the shell company he’d identified weeks ago.

definitely him

A box cutter later revealed the boxes were filled with vials of a deep orange liquid.

that’s……not right

It had always been blue. Asclepios had been working on the same drug for five years, and no matter how much he improved it, it had always been blue.

new…new is not good.

 

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Chapter 17: Who is Willing

“Field trip.”

The group stared at Will.

“What?” Hawthorne spoke first, but Allspades was just behind her.

Will smiled at the group. “Field. Trip. It’s where a group breaks from their regular schedule in order to travel to an unusual location, commonly for the purpose of education or relaxation. E.G. We, the group, are going to Kalliope to hear the symphony. The purpose of this trip will be explained after we get there.”

“Question. How are we to enter the hall?” Mach asked. “Only two of our group, and possibly yourself, are likely capable of entering unseen.”

Will smiled. “We won’t.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

“How do you know a blimp operator?” Hawthorne stared a hole in the back of Will’s head. He could actually hear her eyebrow twitching beneath her helmet.

“Jason’s an old poker buddy. I’m a much better gambler.”

“I still say he cheats!” The pilot called from the front of the cabin.

“He just has a terrible poker face,” Will assured them. “Now, we should be landing on the roof of the hall just in time to hear the start of the show.”

Unimportant tilted his head and a wave of curiosity filled the cabin. “I thought the hall was soundproof.”

“They didn’t try too hard with the roof. Anyone who puts in the effort can listen in for free.”

The group stumbled as the blimp stopped descending and the door open.

Will unhurriedly stepped out first, the rest of the group followed, trying to keep their balance on the ladder while the blimp swayed above them.

When the last member touched down on the roof, the ladder was pulled back into the blimp and it drifted away. The group looked to Will and he gestured for them to sit where they liked.

Will held up a finger to keep them quiet and he closed his eyes. After a moment the music began to drift up from the roof beneath them.

“Beethoven,” Mach remarked. Allspades looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “I was not exactly interested in vocals as a child.”

Everyone was silent for the rest of the song. Red Racer fidgeted throughout, but something in Will’s face had caught his attention.

Unimportant noticed it too, for as much as Will seemed relaxed, he was concentrating exceptionally hard. He checked the rest of the group, but except for Red, the only one paying any attention to Will was Mach. The rest were sitting idly, and Burnout in particular was muttering under his breath and seemed to be drawing something on the roof.

After the first song, Will opened his eyes and looked each group member in the eye. “Now, why do you think I brought you here?”

Red Racer shot his hand into the air. “I know-ow! You wanted to use the music to remind us of what we’re protecting-ing.”

Will chuckled. “You read too many comic books; I’m cliché but not that cliché. Anyone else?” The group looked thoughtful but no one answered. “What are we doing right now?”

“Listening to the symphony,” Burnout said.

“Yes, but what else?”

Another pause.

“We’re breaking the law,” Unimportant answered.

“Exactly.” The rest of the group stared at Will incredulously. “Right now, we are listening to the symphony without paying, and yes that is breaking the law. But it’s not like anyone knows we’re here, and you’re all wearing masks. None of you will be arrested or even sought out for this. I brought you here to help you understand. There is something which all of you probably know, but never thought about. As heroes, as streetwalkers, you are breaking the law.

“When you put on that mask, you are acting as law enforcement without sanction, that is, by definition, vigilantism, a crime. The government does not support heroes, but it understands their necessity. You need powers to fight powers, and if they recruited heroes as law enforcement then suddenly they control more power than anyone would put up with.

“There is an understanding between us and them, so long as we do not cross a line, we are allowed to exist. Unfortunately, that line is vague. Excessive violence is frowned upon, unless it becomes necessary to stop a threat. Stealing is still a crime, unless you need what’s being stolen and don’t have time to explain. Unlawful entry, destruction of property, speeding, there are plenty of laws they overlook because we’re helping. Except one.”

“Murder.” The group looked to Allspades. “When we were on assignment, they made that clear. We had assassination missions, but if we were ever caught, then we would have no protection as heroes or agents. We would be tried as prowlers or jaunters and we would go to jail.”

“Yes,” Will said. “That is one thing that they will not overlook. That is the difference between protectors and enforcers. We can’t kill, because we’re always supposed to have another option, because we’re supposed to be better than normal people, even if we’re not.”

Will took a moment to let his words sink in. No one in the group looked surprised. (‘Like I said, nothing new, just not something you think about.’).

“But…like everything else, there is an exception. There is only one way for a hero to kill another human and still be seen as a hero.” Will took a breath to calm his nerves. “He has to die. A hero who dies while killing a threat will never be accused of being anything else.”

Will led the group to the side of the roof and pointed to the statue in front of the hall. “Does anyone know who this hall is named after?”

“Kalliope was a tel,” Hawthorne said. “She could broadcast her thoughts to anyone who heard her sing.”

Will smiled sadly. “She had a beautiful voice. Three years ago, she died trying to kill Eclipse. For a while, we thought she had done it, Lux swore that he saw Eclipse slice his own throat….She could have done that to anyone, but nobody knew that. She never told anyone that her power would let her do something like that to a person, that her songs had to be calming or joyful, that she could never let anyone know what a sad song could make her feel.”

A tear ran down Will’s face. He quickly wiped it away to stop the group from seeing it. “That’s what it takes. That’s the kind of sacrifice you have to be willing to make to be a hero. You can’t just be a good person. You have to hide everything that could make you look like anything else.”

Will turned away from the statue and walked back to the center of the roof. “Jason will be circling around again to take you back to the meeting place. That’s all for today.”

“Are you not coming?” Mach asked.

Will shook his head. “I’ll make my own way home later. I want to listen to the rest of the symphony. Remember to meet your contact for the next meeting. Until then, tread softly.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Will watched the group disappear into the blimp’s cabin before it slowly drifted away.

“You can come out now.”

The air to his left shimmered, revealing a man in his late twenties.

“You know you don’t have to keep checking up on me, Lux. I’ve been doing this for long enough.”

“Did you ever think that I was just checking on your new group? You never talk about work at dinner.”

Will rolled his eyes. “Mom doesn’t like it when we talk about work at dinner. You should know, you’ve had to put up with her rules almost as much as I have, and I know Aunt Karen doesn’t put up with it either. Why are you really here?”

“You know what day it is. There’s no chance I’m leaving you alone after last year. We couldn’t find you for a week.”

“That isn’t going to happen again.”

“I’ll make sure of it.”

Will sighed and sat down on the roof. “You aren’t letting this go, are you Danny?”

Lux smiled and sat next to his cousin. “You’ve known me all my life, what do you think?”

Will smiled and leaned back, looking at the stars. His cousin did the same and the two listened to the music drifting out of the hall beneath them.

It was a long time before the music faded.

Will stayed where he was, focusing on a single star shining brightly in the sky. “She was beautiful you know.”

“I know, Will. I know.”

 

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