New in Town
“I cannot believe I am wearing this thing. Seriously, I feel like a goddamned magician’s assistant for a crappy 80’s sitcom.” The muttered complaints from the purple and gold garbed woman were spoken too softly to echo down the alleyway as she glared at the sleeve of her costume. “I mean, what the hell was she thinking when she picked this outfit?”
“Records indicate that Trance’s costume was both quite conservative and well within the general style for Hero uniforms at the time of her graduation.” The woman’s arm dropped and she instead glared upward in response to the voice in her ear.
“You know that was a rhetorical complaint. Of course you do, you’re the all-knowing Dispatch!”
“I am not omniscient as you suggest, Brain’d.” The disguised Hero swore she could hear the faintest trace of a mocking note in the mysterious voice from the other end of the communicator. “But yes, I am fully able to recognize a rhetorical statement, question, or complaint. As I’ve been recognizing from your mic for the last seventeen minutes.”
“It’s not like you HAVE to listen to me… do you?”
“GPS shows you are approaching your rendezvous point, Mayhem reminds all members of Street Level to keep their chatter to a minimum in order to maintain their cover as best as possible.”
“Sure, right, ignore me when I actually ask you a question. I don’t suppose the boss gave any indications on how I’m supposed to realistically pass for a woman four inches shorter and thirty pounds lighter than I am?”
“You are more than capable of imitating Trance’s voice to a closeness that few human ears will be able to discern any difference. Additionally you will be wearing an extremely recognizable costume, so change blindness should cover for all minor discrepancies in your appearance.”
“Yea, well, at least I’ll agree on the ‘extremely recognizable’ part. Wish me luck!”
“Stay focused and you won’t need to rely on luck, Brain’d. Good luck.” The disguised Hero had been about to launch an angry retort when the last two words were tacked on, and instead she smiled.
Alright, six brains waiting for me, or Trance anyways, right through this door. Game face time girl!
The purple and gold clad woman approached the boarded up warehouse at a casual pace. All her research into, and interviews with, the woman she was pretending to be indicated that Trance rarely let herself look anything other than relaxed, and tended to be a bit flashy with her entrances. The young Hero stretched her focus as far as she could for a moment as she paused in front of the sealed off loading door that currently separated her from half a dozen criminals, and made as certain as she could that there were no additional minds nearby to surprise her. After a long moment, now satisfied that the meeting wouldn’t have any surprise visitors, she turned her attention to the door in front of her.
Startled shouts came from inside as a dozen boards, nailed to the loading bay door just a second ago to keep the oversized door permanently shut, noisily freed themselves from their positions and floated into the room. Twelve eyes stared intently as the massive garage door slid open far enough to admit the Hero. As soon as she was completely through the door it slid back down with a *THUD* and the boards flew back to their previous positions, once again nailing the old door closed.
“Gentlemen, I’m sorry to be running late this evening. I believe you have some information for me?” Had Kathryn Jilles been present she would likely have been shocked speechless to hear her own voice emanating from the younger Hero’s lips.
“We definitely have SOMETHING for you, crazy bitch.” The angry murmur from one of the men in the back quickly changed to a frightened cry as the man found himself dragged to the front of the group.
“I’m sorry, you’ll have to speak up. You had something to say to me?”
“God dammit, this isn’t how this shit is DONE. Yea, lines were crossed, but you can’t expect all of us to roll over on every contact we’ve ever made because some baby Hero got herself blowed up. The fact that we’re talkin to Heroes at ALL, months later, is the sort of thing that can ruin a good business.”
“Please tell me that you didn’t call me out to a meeting in such… an environment, simply because you wanted to WHINE at me.” The Hero still spoke with a calm tone, but there was a note of something dangerous just under the surface. “You could have complained via phone, email, or courier.” The woman’s stance shifted slightly. “Tell me I’m not here because you all came down with a terminal case of stupidity.”
“Nothing like that!” One of the other criminals, a much older man, quickly stepped in front of his angry companion with his hands held up placatingly. “None of us ar-…”
The older man’s speech was interrupted as his companion shoved him out of the way and leveled an oversized pistol at the Hero. Or tried to level, at least, as the weapon flew rapidly up out of his hand before he could align it or attempt to pull the trigger. The oddly shaped pistol impacted the ceiling roughly forty feet up, followed shortly by the now panicked and screaming man who’d held it a moment ago. The other five winced as their companion impacted the steel roof with enough force to rattle the panels and stop his screaming.
“I believe you meant to say MOST of you, Mr Kelvar?”
The older man who’d been pushed to the ground during his interjection managed to nod as he stood shakily to his feet. “So, it looks like Greg has more or less shown you what we called you here to inform you about. Whoever is looking to hire muscle locally to take on the Heroes has decided to take the scattergun approach.”
Very slowly, the old man reached into a pocket and produced a slip of paper. He flinched as the paper leapt out of his fingers and floated over to the Hero. “It’s the routing number for an escrow account. Two million dollars available for anyone with a confirmed Hero kill in Eastern Texas. Apparently that’s enough money that even some of the more level headed in our business have been tempted to act unintelligently.”
“Really? Someone’s just posted a bounty on Heroes, so soon after the last time, and the first we hear of it’s from the mid-level gangsters? Who gave you that number.”
“We can’t tell you that.” One of the other men stepped forward, towering over the others as he looked down at the Hero. “We agreed to help find whoever was dumb enough to try and bomb the HCP because that’s bad for business. We start turning over our good faith contacts, that’s worse for business. The number’s enough for you.”
“If this was REALLY passed to you by a pre-existing contact in good faith, which we both know it wasn’t, then the same agreement that we’ve come to would hold true for them; information on this topic freely given means we give the source of information a free walk. Now why would you be stupid enough to lie to a telepath, hmm?”
Instead of answering, the large man flung himself at the Hero, inhuman musculature tearing through his finely tailored suit as he did so. There was no look of surprise on the Hero’s face, and she made no attempt to evade. The leaping Super’s trajectory simply adjusted itself a few degrees downward and he slammed into the concrete floor in front of his target with the force of a speeding bus. Concrete cracked, and a cloud of dust blew up into the air from the impact.
“Anyone else want to test out my reflexes? Maybe you’ll convince yourself that the first two times were just flukes.”
“It was a god damned courier service. The message was sent to our mutual attorney, Jeffery Blainer, and he passed it on to us. It doesn’t do you any good to know, because anything else will be covered under privilege!”
“And apparently you’ve been watching too many daytime police dramas.” The Hero turned to the massive door behind her, the nailed on boards floating off it again. “Attorneys don’t get to hide behind privilege when they’re PART of a criminal conspiracy, i.e. distributing a bounty to a group of known criminals. Thanks all for your help, it’s been a lovely evening.”
The Hero strode out of the warehouse without a backwards glance. The unconscious forms of her two attackers floated out behind her as the sounds of the other four men rapidly fleeing the scene faded from her hearing.
“Dispatch, I need a pickup team sent to my location. Local police should be able to handle exhibit A here, but we’re going to need a strongman containment truck for exhibit B.”
“Your request is confirmed and teams are now en route, Brain’d. ETA for local law enforcement is six minutes, containment truck ETA is eleven minutes. Congratulations, I believe you made a very convincing Trance this evening.”
The Hero found herself fighting back a giggle at the deadpan delivery from the mystery voice.
“Sir, we have six more complaints since Friday! I really think we need to consider some sort of formal investigation.”
Senior DVA Agent Andrew Liste leaned back in his chair and suppressed the urge to sigh as his newest field agent fidgeted nervously across the desk from him. “Agent Olivar, I appreciate your enthusiasm. Have you checked the video logs from the reported incidents yet?”
“Ah, no, sir, not yet. But with this many excessive force complaints we’re obliga-…”
“Agent Olivar.” Andrew sat forward in his chair as he spoke, fixing the younger agent with a steely glare that silenced him quite effectively. “We’ve had this conversation on three separate occasions now. I want to be perfectly clear here; we do not open an active investigation into ANY force complaints against an active Hero until AFTER we review the recordings of the incident in question. We are not going to have this conversation a fourth time, or you are going to be seeking new employment. Clear?”
“Yes, sir, sorry, sir. It’s just, there’s been thirty-four excessive force complaints in the area around Overton in the past three months, sir. There were less than a dozen total complaints in the entire YEAR prior to that sir.” The younger agent swallowed nervously. “I just don’t want people to think we’re letting Heroes get away with unlawful conduct just so they can retaliate for the attack at the HCP.”
“In all those complaints, have we found even a shred of evidence that the Hero acted first or otherwise without proper justification?”
“It’s appearances, sir…”
“No, Agent Olivar, it’s NOT. ‘Appearances’ is not our job. Heroes have PR people for that these days. Our job is to make sure that the law is being followed. Heroes have always been damned good at finishing things that other people are stupid enough to start, and we’re not going to drag any of them away from their work with pointless inquiries over ‘appearances.’ Now I believe you have some recordings to review.”
“Yes, sir. Sorry again, sir.”
Agent Liste sighed and ran his hands through steel grey hair after the young agent made his way out of the office. A few moments of consideration later the senior agent leaned forward to punch in an extension on his phone.
“Agent Gracie? It’s Liste. I need you to keep an eye on Olivar for awhile. I think we’ve got another junior agent who’s convinced himself he can climb the ladder the fastest if he does it on the backs of dishonored Heroes, regardless of the facts.”
“Yes, I know it’s a pretty big accusation to make. Feel free to report me up the chain if it turns out to be nothing but an old man’s paranoia, now do it.”
Tommy Hines stood quietly in the middle of the empty club, and quietly thanked God that his rocky physiology left him unable to either sweat or tremble. This is stupid, this is so stupid. I’m gonna die, or I’m gonna end up back in Sanderson, and I almost died there the first time, oh God what am I gonn-…
“Evening, Tommy!” The cheerful voice from the fire door derailed the stony skinned young man as he whirled to face the new arrival. “A little bird told me that you’ve got something important to fill me in on!”
“Hey Kitty…” She looks different. Oh God, does she already know? “I wanted to… I mean I found… Oh God it wasn’t my idea, please don’t kill me!” The panicked young man dropped to his knees and put his hands on his head as he spoke, drawing a surprised look from the recently arrived Hero.
“Ah, hmm. Not quite what I expected.” The costumed cat-woman turned to face the kitchen. “You guys want to explain what’s got poor Tommy so worked up?”
“Well, you’re more observant than you look.” The female voice that wafted through the kitchen doors was full of confidence, and menace. “Unfortunately I don’t think poor Tommy remembered to count when he made this decision.”
The Hero watched calmly as three large men and an athletically built woman pushed their way through the double doors from the club’s kitchen and arrayed themselves in a rough semi-circle.
“Hmmm, nope, looks like Tommy still knows how to count. Unless you’ve got some more friends you want to call? It’s cool, I’ve got no plans tonight. I can wait.”
The amused look on the mystery woman’s face was replaced with an angry snarl at the mocking tone from the red-furred Hero. “You’re not the first Hero to stupidly overestimate themselves, and fortunately for MY line of work you won’t be the last either.” A brief nod was all the signal needed, and the three man charged towards the Hero.
Tommy watched from his kneeling position as the first man closed the gap in a split second, a wickedly curved blade suddenly in his hand and a wide smile visible on his lips even in the darkened room. The stone-skinned thug closed his eyes, as he knew what came next. The piercing scream that shook the room snapped his eyes involuntarily back open, revealing the aftermath of the speedster versus speedster matchup.
Kitty Style was still standing almost exactly where she’d been a moment ago, same bored posture she had during her brief conversation with the mystery woman. The man who’d charged her lay on the floor, sobbing now. The blade he’d held a second ago was now impaled through the back of his calf, out through the shin, through his foot, and into the hardwood floor. As long as the blade had been, with the hilt now resting against the back of his leg, the man was unlikely to be going anywhere without assistance.
“I’m still waiting for the part where I underestimated or overestimated someone. Is that coming up soon? I was serious about waiting while you call some more friends.”
The two remaining men exchanged a nervous glance before resuming a much more cautious approach towards the Hero. The woman, face now contorted into a mask of rage, stalked forward to join them.
This time the Hero made the first move, zipping to the man on her right in an eyeblink and landing a resounding blow on the side of his leg with a collapsible baton. The thug grinned in response, and threw a viciously heavy punch at the Hero’s head. His grin wavered as his target seemed to flicker just to the side of his fist, now wearing an appraising look.
“Strongman, huh? I guess that means I don’t have to hold back quite so much.” The cheerful tone was more intimidating than any rage filled battlecry could ever be, but the lanky thug lunged forward confident in his own invulnerability.
The lunge came nowhere near his target as the Hero stepped past him with the practiced ease of someone that’s done something a thousand times. Instead of focusing on the strongman as he flailed past her, the speedster turned her gaze on the two unknowns in the fight, grinning as the last male brought his own power to bear.
“Ohh, shiny!” The Hero sidestepped again, this time a beam of crackling silver energy that shredded the strongman’s jacket as it missed its target and drew a startled cry of pain from the off balance man.
Still seeming unimpressed, the Hero turned to her last opponent. “So what’s your trick, I wonder?”
The unknown Super lunged, her hands waving in a complex pattern as she closed the distance with her fingers spread wide. The Hero smiled again as she recognized the attack style, and readied her counter. The still kneeling man winced as another scream echoed through the empty club, this time from the woman leading the attack on the Hero as her flailing hand found itself impaled on a long stiletto the catwoman had produced from somewhere.
“Hmmm, you’re not doing anything to the knife, so I suppose that means you have to touch your actual target to do whatever it is that you do. I wonder…” The scream redoubled before trailing off in a groan of agony as the speedster darted forward, dragging her still impaled victim’s hand along for the ride, and launching the injured woman into the blaster as his hands started to glow with silvery light again.
The light winked out the instant the woman made contact with her companion, and the Hero clapped delightedly. “Ooooh! You’re a nullifier! But only with physical contact, huh? It’s still cool to see a rare power like that though!”
Without seeming to take her attention off the entangled pair, still trying to make their way off the floor, the Hero blindly sidestepped another rush from the strongman behind her. As he dug his feet into the hardwood floor to reverse his direction, a loud crack echoed through the bar and he staggered away from the Hero, now holding a heavy looking hammer in her left hand.
“Hey Tommy, just something to think about! Warning me that there was something coming looks pretty good for your case, and not trying to jump in with these clowns will definitely work in your favor for getting a shorter sentence, buuuut…” The Hero trailed off as the pair on the floor untangled enough for the blaster to get another shot off as the woman staggered to her feet, still dodging without apparent effort.
“I’d really like to bring all four of these idiots in ALIVE for questioning, and the way things are going right now that’s not the safe way to play it. I’m gonna have to kill the null in a few seconds.” The woman’s eyes went wide at the innocent, almost sing-song tone the Hero spoke with, and she backed away with her hands raised defensively. “And I’m pretty sure she’s the leader, which means she’s the one I’d REALLY rather not kill, but she’s also the most dangerous so… Would you mind giving me a hand?”
The words were barely out of the Hero’s mouth when the stone-skinned youth surged up from the floor to plow into the other strongman. The two combatants smashed through the wall just to the left of the kitchen doors, leaving the other three fighters standing in the front room, Kitty Style smiling widely as the looks on her opponents’ faces shifted to expressions of pure desperation.
The blaster raised his hands and let loose another volley of crackling energy at the speedster, maintaining the burst for far longer than his previous attempts. The heavy hammer thrown by the Hero proved to be the far more effective ranged attack however, as it thudded into his abdomen with a cracking sound that left the man laid out on the floor, struggling for breath. The woman circled slowly towards the exit, keeping her hands forward and straining to spot any sign that the speedster was about to move. The sounds of two strongmen beating the hell out of each other grew louder from the kitchen.
“The kid doesn’t stand a chance against George in there. You should get in there and save him.”
“Good idea!” The cheerful agreement caught the woman off guard, but nowhere near as much as the thudding impact on her forehead. The dazed woman found herself staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out how she had fallen, as her head rolled to the side and she noticed the brightly colored beanbag on the floor next to her.
“Fore!” The familiar female voice from the kitchen was accompanied by another crash, as the nullifier attempted to raise her head and see what was happening.
“Alright, Tommy. Good work! Sorry you still have to go back to jail, but this way I’ll do my best to make sure you’re kept out of Sanderson, as long as you behave! Now go slap these on Ms Dazed and Confused over there before she comes around.”
“What if she still nullifies my powers?” The nervous question drew laughter from the speedster.
“She’s badly concussed, one of her hands is useless, and you outweigh her by about a hundred pounds of muscle. Powers or not, I think you can get a pair of cuffs on her. I’ve got everyone else!”
Tommy sighed as he reached down to roll the semi-conscious woman over, cinching the plasti-cuffs a little tighter than was absolutely necessary. Turning from his task, he saw the Hero holding out a pair of ultra-dense thumb cuffs.
“Aw, c’mon! I helped!”
“Do you want to be mistaken for a target when the pickup teams get here?”
The rocky skinned youth considered the question for a moment before turning and pushing his hands together behind his back. He felt the metal clamp around his thumbs as the cheerful voice behind him began chattering.
“Dispatch, need a full pickup team at my location. Oh good, they’re already on their way? Kay, five minutes, thanks Dispatch!”
“So…” Tommy sat uncomfortably in the wreckage of the club and looked at the various groaning and semi-conscious Supers around him.
“So…?” The cheerful question from the Hero brought his gaze up to the masked woman’s face.
“I never realized you wore a wig before.” Tommy nervously blurted out his observation, and immediately regretted it as the speedster’s expression changed.
“Oh, yeah, wig. It’s so that it matches my fur color, looks pretty silly otherwise!” The rock-skinned man pointedly stared at the floor in response to the oddly threatening tone in the Hero’s voice, trying not to notice as the tall woman produced a hand mirror and began tucking errant blonde hairs out of sight. “Thanks for letting me know! I hate it when I don’t match on camera.”
Tommy decided it was best to sit in silence until the DVA could come and take him away to the safety of jail.