Part 7

55. Sandra Falcone

Eventually the effects of the drug pass from fevered hallucinations to troubled sleep. I wake up about three in the morning strapped to a bed. Leandra’s strapped to another bed, Paragon is passed out in a chair and there’s a baby monitor in the room. I can’t quite tell if the setup is medical or detention.

I slip the bonds and look around for my backpack. It’s here. I pull the ‘laptop padding’ out and unfold it into my costume. I change quickly and silently; no need to let our watchers know I’m moving yet. I don’t bother with the mask; I have no plans to keep on being Hawk’s sidekick. I could even change my name: maybe Kung Fu Girl or something like that. I half-smile; no, I’ll stick with Peregrine. It’s not like Hawk’s going to be in the picture for long after what he tried to do yesterday. He broke his first rule of combat: don’t fail.

After a thorough and silent examination of the room I figure it’s time to meet the jailers.

“Ahem. Is anybody there?”

There’s just enough pause to let me know I’ve woken someone from a light sleep. “Hello? Is this one of the girls? Don’t worry, I’ll be right down to let you out.”

Okay, so they’re not monitoring video. Sloppy, definitely not a professional job. But I’ve already decided this is mainly an infirmary. You don’t lock up prisoners in a room with sharp implements, needles, and drugs. I could disable about four city blocks with the stuff in here and a little mixing time.

A woman of about forty comes in. She doesn’t look surprised to see me up and around.

“So Doug was right; you are Peregrine.”

Doug? If he’s comfortable around supers, that means he’s Doug Scotia, the Cosmic Ego’s human helper. Hawk doesn’t like him, which improves his reputation in my book. “In the flesh. And you are?” Doug keeps his other business so secret even Hawk hasn’t found out anything.

“Rhonda. Doug’s a friend of the Cosmic Ego.”

“I know. Where are we?”

“You’re in The Lair. Doug always wanted to call it something like the Fortress of Identity, but Ego wouldn’t have any of that. In architectural terms I call it the Outhouse.”

“The Outhouse?”

“It’s outside of normal three-dimensional space-time. Makes it easier to hide. Doug designed and built it using a few new laws of physics that the Ego taught him. Don’t bother with your cell phone: there’s only one access point in here and it’s locked.”

Paragon is stirring. “Aw geez, Mom, can’t somebody else save the world today?”

I tap him on the nose at the pressure point guaranteed to catch anyone’s attention. “Get up, super hero, your mommy’s not here right now.”

“Wha? Leandra?”

Thanks. “She’s still out, loverboy. I’ve built up some resistance to the drug cocktail they were using; in fact, I was one of the guinea pigs when Hawk developed it. Guaranteed bad trip with a side order of nightmare. Most of the people who get hit wake up suicidal.”

“Were you suicidal?”

“Nah, the nightmares weren’t much worse than my real life. But Emo’s going to be a problem when she wakes up. When she freaks out she does it in a radius.”

“What do you mean, Sandy? What’s her power?”

I guess he needs to know. “She’s sort of an empath. She can cause brain cascades of emotion-based chemicals by touch. The effect totally overwhelms the target’s natural emotions. She can also do it in a radius, but according to Hawk’s files she only discovered that shortly before she vanished. I think she’s using it unconsciously and that’s the basis behind her sex appeal field.”

“Sex appeal field?”

“Yeah, haven’t you noticed how sexy she is? It affects everyone around her and drops off with distance. That makes being her friend a bit tricky, at least if you’re straight.”

“Are you? Straight, that is?”

What the hell kind of a question is that to ask, Jake? “Yes! As an arrow. The only person other than me that I want inside my tights is you. But when Leandra’s this close my mind starts taking options on a third.”

“Well, do you think …”

“Don’t even say it, Jake! I have no intention of doing any three-way plumbing with you and Leandra!” Except the truth is, if Leandra offered I’d be first in line. Her power is that strong.

He looks surprised. “Actually, I was going to suggest we take this conversation out into the hall where we won’t be so distracted. What were you planning?”

I glower at him and head out of the room. “Look, Jake. Hawk’s gone over the edge totally now. We have to go after him and take him down. I wish I knew what he was up to right now.”

Rhonda smiles. “We can find out.” She leans into the medical room and calls to the baby monitor. “Doug, get your butt out here; we need to spy on someone.”

56. Tyler Morrison

I wake up in Andrea’s parents’ room. Sister Callisto – no, now just Callisto – is pressing up close to me in a way no girl has ever done before. A part of me wants to make some smart-ass comment like “today I am a man” but I’m not. I’m just a sixteen year old boy who’s finally had sex. It was the first time either of us did it willingly; well, the first several times.

We’re both dressed and just about to step out of the room when there’s a scream from the living area. When we rush out Andrea’s mother is there looking shocked and scandalized. She looks imploringly at Callisto.

“Why is my girl showing off her grapefruit? And why is she a statue?”

“It’s a magical protection; she’s in a trance right now. As to why her pyjama top is open,” she shoots a glance my way, “it was probably just warm last night.”

“Sister! You must help her! As a mother I beg you!”

“I can help, Mrs. Chu, but you shouldn’t call me Sister any more. I surrendered that title to my successor last night. Your daughter is now Sister Andrea. I’m just plain Callisto now.”

Callisto traces a complex symbol with her finger on the stone slash flesh just below Statue Andrea’s neck. Then she leans down and blows lightly on it, causing the symbol to erupt in tiny sparks. Suddenly Andrea’s colour returns to normal and she yawns and stretches. I enjoy the view, even though Callisto is partly blocking it.

“Girl! Is this true? Are you now Sister Andrea?”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Then close your shirt! A boy who sees your fruit will want to eat the whole basket!” She’s looking pointedly at me. “You are a mystic now, and you should not tempt him with your godly beauty.”

While I’m working out what her mother was talking about Andrea pulls her top closed and ties off the little laces that do the job of buttons on western clothing.

Andrea’s father comes out of the bathroom in a housecoat and switches on the radio. The news has a story about another body being found in the industrial district. That’s not really news until he starts using words like “child” and “little girl”. And the address where the body was dumped is only a couple of blocks from the Aerie.

Callisto and I lock eyes. “They have to be stopped.” She says it, but I’m thinking it too.

57. Leandra Moon

I wake up feeling refreshed. And hungry. I can smell bacon and eggs and coffee and oatmeal; looking over at the table I can see them. My hands and feet are still restrained and there’s nobody around.

“Hey! Can I get some help here? Breakfast is getting cold!”

Jake rushes in wearing a super suit. The navy blue looks good on him. No mask; so much for that story.

“Leandra! You’re awake!”

“Duh. Can you untie me so I can eat? I’m starving.”

He sets to work on the bonds and very soon I’m free. I peek under the sheet; clothes are all present. I swing off the bed and sit myself down in front of the food. Questions come to me between bites.

“Why am I in a hospital room, Jake?”

“You and Sandy were hit with a drug cocktail designed to knock you out or turn you into drooling idiots. It only did the first one, thank God.”

“Is Sandy okay?”

“Yeah, she woke up about four hours ago. Right now she’s with Doug and they’re spying on Hawk.”

I think he deliberately did that to break up my line of reasoning. “Okay, who’s Doug?”

“He used to be the Cosmic Ego. His wife Rhonda made breakfast.”

“She’s a great cook. Now, what’s Hawk doing that’s worth spying on him for, aside from trying to capture us?”

“He’s investigating a murder which we’re pretty sure he committed. A kid.”

“A kid?”

“Yeah, an eight to ten year old girl. She was sexually abused first. The police are holding back so he can do his own investigation.”

“Erase the evidence, you mean.”

“More likely fabricate new evidence. If he were dumb enough to botch the forensics he wouldn’t be considered such a great detective. Peregrine figures we have to take him down.”

“Peregrine?”

“Yes, Peregrine. We both know Sandy’s big secret. And I’m Paragon, and you’re Emo. And I know you’re related to Mistress O’Payne.”

“I am Mistress O’Payne.”

“But I was told you thought …”

“Yeah, I thought I was her daughter. The truth came to me in a dream. But I shouldn’t say I am her, I was her. I have no memories of her, and I don’t want any. Only one thing about Mistress O’Payne doesn’t make me want to throw up.”

“What could that possibly be?”

“She had a son, whom she loved very much. Enough to give up her life for his sake.”

“Really? Then you have a kid out there?”

“Sort of. He was seven years old when she got zapped, so he’s about twenty-three now. Not only do I have a son, but he’s older than me. I might even have grandchildren, though it’s an outside chance.”

“I think I hear a country and western song starting.”

“Ha ha. So what’s our plan for this fine Sunday morning?”

“We take down Hawk and turn him over to the authorities. Even if he doesn’t fall based on this case, Peregrine says there’s some slam-dunk evidence in the Aerie.”

“Like what?”

“The torture chamber were he abused the kids. His own records, which she has the password for. And the skeleton of the last hero that tried to turn him in; Hawk has it on display.”

“A skeleton?”

“Hawk says it belonged to Shift, and who are we to argue with a member of the Justice Sentinels?”

I put down the my fork and finish the last of my coffee. Time to get to work.

58. Sexy Beast

“Derek, did you hear the news this morning? There was a poor child molested and killed last night.”

“That’s horrible, Dear. But what can we do about it?”

“We could investigate. It’s only about twelve blocks from here, and we do have these super powers.”

“We’re trying to be villains, Dear. Investigating crimes isn’t really supposed to be our thing.”

“I’ve been thinking about that, Derek. So far we’re doing more villainy with our subtle plans than we are with powered assaults. Maybe we should try being vigilantes.”

“You mean, some sort of misunderstood crime fighters? Heart of gold but always in trouble with the police, like Robin Hood? I suppose it does have a certain … panache, doesn’t it? Sure Kate, we could give it a try. Now where exactly is this crime scene we need to investigate?”

I drop a quick message to Kelly, switch to werewolf form and go out the front door with Derek. Artificial Gravity, that is. He picks me up and we fly over the industrial district toward the crime scene. We touch down at the police cordon and are immediately met by the officer in charge.

“Everything’s under control here, heroes. Hawk’s on the job, you’re not needed.”

Hawk? That’s a bit of a surprise. Why would a big shot hero like him be investigating a case like this? While I’m wondering, Derek is talking to the cop.

“Well, officer, would you mind if we took a look around? Outside the cordon, of course. Maybe an extra couple pairs of eyes might spot something Hawk missed.”

He looks resigned. “Knock yourself out, kids. If you find anything let Hawk know.”

“Thanks. One more thing; do you have anything that belonged to the girl? My partner here might smell something.”

He gives us his best smart-ass grin. “Well, we have some of her clothing that we’re going to sensitize the dogs to when they get here. You can try that.”

We go over and I get a good sniff of the cloth sample. I haven’t had much practice at this whole scent thing, but I can tell something’s wrong. There are two different scents on this clothing. I can’t really describe the difference between them, but they are definitely the scents of two different little girls.

“Is something wrong, Dear?”

I move away rather than answer him. I’m still not good at talking in hybrid form, and each animal type takes additional practice. I’m not that good at wolf yet. Instead I start searching the perimeter line looking for the scent. It doesn’t take too long to find. Or to catch the attention of somebody in charge.

“What the hell are you two doing here? Clear off!”

“Hello, Hawk. I’m Artificial Gravity, and this is…”

“I know who you are. Now get the hell away from here or I’ll tell the police to lock your asses up.”

“We’re just trying to help.”

“Well go help someone else. Don’t you realize this were-bitch is going to fuck up the dogs’ ability to track? You may have already damaged the evidence trail irretrievably. Now get the hell out of here!”

Derek makes a show of picking me up and flying away. We touch down on a nearby rooftop; I sniff around to make sure there’s no unusual scents here, then return to human form.

“Derek, there’s something wrong with Hawk.”

“I noticed. What an ass-hole!”

“That’s not what I mean. It’s the girl. He reeks of her scent!”

“Well he has been working around where the body was found.”

“No, it’s a lot more than that. Unless he decided the best way to investigate the crime scene was to roll around in it. And it’s on his breath, too. That would mean he’s been eating the body.”

“You know, Dearest, sometimes your imagination is a bit too graphic.”

“Shut up, Derek. I just want you to understand, Hawk’s really deeply involved. He may be trying to make the evidence harder to follow, or he may even be the killer!”

“But he’s one of the Justice Sentinels!”

“So is Guardsman. Remember what you watched him do.”

“You’re right Dear. When one apple in the bag has a worm, you have to allow for the possibility in others. But Guardsman’s killings weren’t malicious, just careless and disrespectful. This would be an act of deliberate malice perpetrated on a child!”

“Children. There were at least two different girls’ scents on that sample they gave me. I wish I could get a sniff of the body so I could tell which one is her and where the other one came from.”

“We could go to the morgue.”

“No time. Scent trails don’t last indefinitely, and I get the feeling the answer’s going to be a pretty faint scent. I’m going back to where we started and nose around more. I’ll stay out of Hawk’s sight. You find Kelly and get her up to speed.”

“Certainly, Dearest. Do you need any help getting down?”

“No thank you, Love.” I give him a hug then transform into an eagle-girl and fly down to street level. Once that’s done its back to dog form, this time a bloodhound. I think I’m going to need the extra nosepower.

I get the scent and follow it, taking care not to be seen by Hawk. The nice thing about a dog’s nose is that smells which would make a human vomit are just part of the landscape; that’s a real benefit in this part of town. The trail goes a block or so, then splits. The scent of one girl, very strong, goes to the left, and the other girl’s much fainter scent heads off to the right. Not your usual behaviour in a dead body.

I think like a search dog. There are two scents leading off here, one fairly strong and the other one barely detectable. If I were a dog I’d follow the strong one. That said, I go to the right and track the fainter scent.

The trail leads me a couple more blocks to the back door of a boarded-up store. It’s locked, and I’m just about to try forcing it open when I hear voices. Instead of attacking the door I retreat behind some suspiciously odour-free garbage cans to watch.

Three kids about Kelly’s age come in. There’s a boy and a girl in super suits and another one who just seems to have bad fashion sense. Two facts begin competing for my attention. First, the girl in the tan leather suit and cape smells exactly like the strong scent girl I’ve been tracking. Second, the girl with no fashion sense looks like a younger Mistress O’Payne.

Fashion girl whispers, “Wait! There’s someone else here!”

Leather girl answers, “Shit, it’s Hawk! No, it can’t be; we’re all still standing.”

Hero boy takes charge, “Okay, whoever’s here, we know you’re here. Show yourself and there won’t be any trouble.”

Busted. I stand up. Hero boy and fashion girl relax, leather girl stays on alert.

“Isn’t that Animal Girl?”

“Sexy Beast, Jake. I’m surprised you’d forget a name like that. Especially considering she’s naked.”

“Come on, Leandra, I’m under a bit of stress here.”

The leather girl hisses, “Code names, you two! Okay, Sexy Beast, what are you doing here?”

I have to change back; I haven’t done any talking in this form before. The boy is taking in an eyeful and fashion girl is averting her eyes. Leather girl hasn’t changed. At least two of them aren’t looking at my face.

“I’m following the scent trail of a dead child. It leads back to this door.”

“Figures. Somebody finally saw through Hawk’s two-scent ploy. We’re about to go into the Aerie to confront Hawk.”

“Might be a bit of a trick. He’s not there.” I explain about Hawk working the crime scene.

Leather girl answers, “Even better. That means we go in and gather evidence, then get out before he comes back. It’s too good to be true, so expect unpleasant surprises. Emo, Paragon, come on. Naked Woman, you might want to assume an animal form. You’re distracting Paragon.”

“Uh-huh.” I assume tiger form, the one I can talk best in. Once changed I growl, “It’s Sexy Beast, not Naked Woman.”

“Sure thing, Kate.” She smiles sweetly then uses a key to unlock the door. She leads us through a maze of shelves and boxes and up a flight of stairs to a nondescript steel door. It opens at her touch.

“Codename Peregrine. Security bypass.” I hear some machinery clanking and clicking quietly.

We step out into a large open area, mostly a gym. There’s a bank of computers behind a transparent wall and a barred doorway on the far side. On the left wall is a rack of various nasty-looking weapons and a couple of silver pendulums hanging from the ceiling. Near that there’s a skeleton in the remains of a super suit chained to the wall. And my tiger senses pick up something else …

“Who’s the woman?”

Hero boy looks around. “What woman?”

“Ticlat neng selgant!”

Octopus arms rise out of the floor and grab everyone except Peregrine, who’s airborne by the end of the words. Peregrine grabs a rafter and uses it to propel herself toward the now visible woman, who actually looks more like a soccer mom than anything else.

“Zelath merapy!”

The last thing I see before everything goes black is Peregrine crashing at the woman’s feet.

59. Sister Andrea

Mom gave me a nice red silk shirt and breeches in the Chinese pageboy style so I’d have something mystical-looking to wear. Calisto’s in a black gown with plenty of cleavage and a spider web motif. She magicked up a black tux for Tyler as well, so he doesn’t have to wear jeans and a tee-shirt. We look like Mystic Teen Avenger Club or something from a Japanese TV show.

Callisto explains about mirror magic to me. Apparently all mirrors are somehow connected and stepping into one allows me to step out of another. I only sort of get it, but we go out on the balcony, then step through the glass door and out a shop front window a couple of blocks from the crime scene. Mysticism rocks!

When we get to the police line Kelly’s there, which is kind of weird because this is like miles from her house. She’s wearing a super-shiny skin-tight cat suit that covers her head to toe and talking to a guy in a black motorcycle outfit and cape. I didn’t know Kelly was a super hero.

“Hey Kelly, what brings you out here? Or are you Glitter Girl?”

“No, I’m Reflex. I spell it with an ‘x’ but it actually means like something that reflects. This is Artificial Gravity; I’m sort of his sidekick.”

“You’re Sexy Beast’s sidekick, not mine. And who are your friends?”

“Well, this is Andrea…”

“Sister Andrea now; I’m a super mystic. This is Callisto, formerly Sister Callisto, and Tyler.”

“Sorry, I haven’t thought of a super name yet.”

“Sister Callisto? Didn’t you fight in World War Two? Youth seems to be contagious these days.”

“I’d rather not discuss it, Artificial Gravity. Right now we have to take down Hawk.”

“What’s he done?”

“What hasn’t he done? Kidnapping, rape, child abuse, murder. He’s gone back to his former life as a serial killer. Justice needs to be done.”

“And so you’re just going to attack him. What are you going to do when the police start shooting at us?”

“They wouldn’t. They know how these things work. When heroes fight they stand back.”

“Not to burst your bubble, but Hawk’s the only one here with a reputation as a hero. And the police are known to shoot at super villains.” Artificial Gravity has a point.

“Bah! Enough of this! If we are going to fight a lie, we fight it with truth. The cameras are here and victory is ours!” She strides purposely forward with us in tow and stands where the cameras can see her. There’s a crack of thunder and wind rises around her swirling and howling. “James Quentin Mallory, concealed from the world as Hawk, your victims cry for justice! No more!”

Hawk’s mask is torn away by the wind, but he’s already reacting. A thousand flashbulbs go off at once and Callisto drops. The wind stops and Tyler is choking on something. Artificial Gravity fumbling to get something off his smoking wrist. Reflex and I are the only ones standing.

I stand and face him. “Give it up Hawk! I have no idea what your name means, but I bet there’s thousands of people looking it up on the internet right now. Whatever your dark secret is, it’s out!”

“You think that stops me? That idiot witch just took away the only reason I’d spare your lives!” A half-dozen talons slice through the air. Three of them hit me and three bounce off Reflex and head back at him. He raises an arm and stops them with an armoured pad.

Snake identifies the poison. Curare. Enough to take down a bull elephant. It’s going to take me a few seconds to neutralize it all, which is probably about all the time I’ve got to live anyway.

There’s a boom of thunder and two more people are there. Lightning Lady and the Phantasm. We are so screwed. But they turn on Hawk instead.

Phantasm is shouting. “Surrender, Hawk! If we’d known your identity …”

“Shut up, you hypocrite! You knew who I was all along and did nothing! You want to turn on me? So be it!”

Clouds of inky smoke surround him; when they clear enough for us to see, he’s vanished. I thought he was the Hawk, not the Squid.

60. Tyler Morrison

It takes a minute or so for my throat to clear. I can still taste vomit, but I can’t tell if it’s the smell of the gas or my own. Some super hero I am. I can just see the video of me, blowing chunks and going viral.

A gentle hand rests on my shoulder. “There’ll be time for self-pity later, Tyler. Time doesn’t stop just because you feel bad. I was taken out quickly too, and I have decades more experience than you do.” Callisto slaps me on the shoulder. “Right now we have a bigger problem. Hawk is on the run, but he most certainly won’t leave the Aerie – and the evidence – intact.”

“Don’t we have enough to lock him up? He’s an effing serial killer!”

“Tyler, there are people in the Aerie. Five of them. When Hawk destroys the base it will not be subtle. Is your right to wallow worth five lives?”

That puts things in perspective. We have people to save. “Okay, I got it. Let’s go.”

Artificial Gravity is rubbing his arm. “I’m out of this one. He did something that fried the bracer, and that’s the source of my power. It’ll take a bit of time to fix. Reflex, you go along to help; Sexy Beast is almost certainly one of the people inside.”

She gasps, which gets me staring. Is that a costume or a layer of paint? You can see every muscle, every feature, every hair…

Callisto shocks me out of it with a push. “There will be time to drool later too, boy. Lives.”

Right. Lives. We run toward the electronic shop.

Just as we get there there’s a rumbling sound and puffs of smoke appear behind the shop. We’re too late. If only we had more time…

That’s it! I form the anagram in my head quickly “Eretemizef!”

Everything stops. I feel like I’ve be hit in the soul by a freight train. I am so going to pay for this later. But later is later; right now there are lives to save.

I rush into the exploding window, mostly avoiding the shards of broken glass that hang in the air like knives. There’s a certain awesomeness factor to running through flames without feeling the heat, but I can’t stop now. I can tell the duration of this effect will be extremely short.

When I get to the entrance it’s open. It takes a moment I don’t really have to locate the five people: Sexy Beast, two kids from school, Peregrine, and Mom. I can feel the dammed-up time forcing its way through my spell. Things are starting to move here and there and bits of sound flash in my ears like the pop of exploding twigs in a bonfire. Luckily everyone’s pretty close together.

I pull Mom and Peregrine toward the others, panic granting me extra strength. My grand plan had been to rush in and carry them out superspeed style, but I haven’t got the time for that. Only one thing comes to mind, and given how drained I am it’s going to hurt. The worst part is I can’t speak without movable air, so I’ll have to sign this. I hope I have the time.

“Heldis!”

I can feel the shield go up just as the entire weight of time crashes in and swats me like a bug.

61. Peregrine

I come to lying on the floor helpless. None of my voluntary muscles are responding to any commands. The only saving grace is that Heather seems to have got herself too. Idiot. I can’t tell how long I’ve been out, but it doesn’t seem like more than a few seconds. There’s counting in the background.

“Four … three … two …” Shit! That’s the base’s self-destruct. It’ll blow with enough force to flatten the block and kill every one of us, except possibly Jake. At least I don’t have to wait long.

I hear the preliminary explosions start; they’re the ones designed to totally destroy the evidence. The first buck of the main event shakes the whole floor.

Something tries to pull my leg off and nearly succeeds. I end up back in those damned tentacles and some kind of glowing red energy shield forms above me. The shockwave slams us into the floor then lifts us off it. Finally it throws us down again and the energy shield shatters like candy glass.

Jake pushes himself up with a groan only to take one of the rafters on his back. At least it hit him; if he hadn’t got up it would have beheaded Leandra. He gathers us up, including a guy in formal dress who wasn’t there before. He looks like Tyler Morrison in a tuxedo. Jake protects us from the building collapse with his body. I can tell from the grunts that he’s feeling it, but what we’d be feeling from the same blows is death.

It feels like forever, but the whole thing is over in under a minute. I can move, though my muscles are crying out for revenge every time I do. We’re buried under God knows how much rubble and I can hear the crackle of flames. Running out of oxygen is going to be the next threat; either that or burning to death. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

A piece of the rubble shifts and there’s a silver face looking it. It’s Kelly Nakamura, one of the Super Groupies. Another person on Hawk’s Watch List seems to have got herself super powers.

She shouts away from us, presumably to other searchers. “They’re under here!” Then she turns to us. “We’re just trying to find somebody who can conjure up a fork lift.”

It actually only takes a moment. Somebody outside stabilizes the junk and Jake just lifts and tosses it. Pretty soon we have a small army of supers. The girl in the sleazy black dress – Callisto – puts a whammy on Heather to prevent her from talking and magicking us again, then spends her time glowering at Emo. When she’s introduced as the former Sister Callisto, it makes sense. They were arch-enemies in their previous lives.

Sexy Beast asks the question that’s on everybody’s mind. “What now?”

Callisto answers. “We take down Hawk. All we need to do is find him.”

“He’s at Justice Sentinel Headquarters.” Everyone looks at me. “That’s where his backup stash of weapons is, and where his good friend Protocol hangs out. If he’s not there now, he’ll be there shortly.”

“Why couldn’t he just get Protocol to pick up a few things and meet him somewhere else?” A good question from Reflex. She’s thinking.

“Because Hawk’s paranoid. Protocol can’t get into his personal weapon vault. Even I can’t, and I’m his ‘go fetch’ girl. He has one other storage space, in the basement of the house where I grew up …”

“I’m on it.” Jake takes off like a shot.

“No!” But it’s too late. “Didn’t I say Hawk’s paranoid? He’s got devices that can kill each of us in one shot, even Paragon! Nobody should go near any of his stuff alone. He practices taking down groups of opponents; only the fact that he’s barely heard of most of you is any protection whatsoever.”

Leandra’s already on her phone. “… suicide to go in there alone. Come back, we need you. … Ha, ha. Just get back here, okay?”

“Sister Andrea, Callisto? Any luck with Tyler?”

Callisto looks up from where the two girls are fussing over him. “In a few hours …”

“We don’t have a few hours. Have you got some kind of magic that’ll get him up and fight-worthy in a couple of minutes?”

Callisto answers. “There is a way to do so, but it’s dangerous…”

I cut her off. “Your call, then. We’re going to need all the people we can get.” I turn to Sexy Beast. “Now, where’s your husband?”

“Right here.” Artificial Gravity is flying up. “I had to fix my armband. Hawk blew all the circuit breakers and overheated the battery.”

“Great, that means he has the Feedback Blaster with him. He can take out just about anything electrical with that device. It’s designed to stop Lady Lightning by sending her powers out of control. If he’s carrying that he’s armed for bear. Or super heroes.”

I look around and take inventory: Emo, Paragon, Sexy Beast, Artificial Gravity, Reflex, Sister Andrea, Callisto, an unconscious Tyler, and me. We have eight people, maybe nine, to take down one paranoiod sociopath. I hope it’s enough.

There’s a loud bang from over by the magic types and Tyler sits up with a start.

“Wha? Where? Who?”

“It worked!” Andrea gives him a quick hug. Judging by the way both girls are fawning over him, he’s going to have a complicated life. Oh, well. His issue. “It’s called Preincarnation. Your soul has been sucked back in time to possess your body so we can fight Hawk. Just make sure you don’t die here, or it could unravel the space-time continuum.”

We have nine; it’s as good as we can hope for.

“Okay, everyone, time to go. Now, who can get us to Sentinel HQ?”

62. Protocol

Hawk activated Plan Omega this morning. That means his cover has been blown, or is about to be. James Quentin Mallory, the Monster of the Midwest, is going to be revealed as Hawk. Sentenced to the chair for sexually torturing nine children to death; they don’t talk about the three adults, or the dozen more kids they didn’t have enough evidence to convict on. Or the thirty-seven more since he became Hawk. Stinking pervert gives sociopaths a bad name.

I caught Bombshell snooping around my quarters today, and she managed to stumble onto the hidden closet. I didn’t kill her; instead I indulged one of her bondage fantasies. The difference between a fool like Hawk and a professional like me is that I don’t throw away a perfectly useful tool needlessly. She’s hooked up to Dr. Overkill’s power amplifier and Control Master’s remote trigger, the whole rig placed right in front of the entrance to Hawk’s “secret” storeroom. When Hawk gets too close her she’ll go off. Will Hawk be torn to bits by shrapnel or smothered by silicone? Probably both. I make sure the hidden camera is feeding to my web storage; this is must-see TV.

The drawback of Plan Omega is that activating it voids my contract to keep the Justice Sentinels in line. No more need to dress up like a butler, no more heroes to kill. I can still do so for fun, of course, but I won’t receive any more payments for it. I also have no romantic delusion that Hawk will leave me behind when he goes to hell. So much for the gravy train.

It’s time for another transformation. I lose the chest binding and the moustache, the fake adam’s apple and the codpiece. The mystic salve I purchased eight years ago when I took the job does its work perfectly and grows my hair back to shoulder length. It’s still black and still in my beautiful curls. As for clothes I’ve updated to a blush pink power suit with what looks like a pencil skirt but actually allows more freedom of movement than pants. The shoes and purse are perfectly coordinated originals, of course, and the retractable blade in my sleeve is both sharp and perfectly balanced. The Ladykiller is back among the living, and she’s ready for the boardroom. I leave my now former home to its fate.

Contents - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - [ Part 7 ] - Part 8 - Part 9

(c) 2013, Tim Smith. All rights reserved.