When Rebecca felt that Fuse had calmed down enough, she landed on the roof of one of those new blocky buildings and shoved him against the wall. She held back a lot, but it was still plenty hard. Fuse hit and almost bounced off, but managed to hold himself upright against the concrete, breathing heavily. Rebecca stood in front of him, just out of arm's reach, her stance carefully casual. Projecting strength and confidence was good, but it wouldn't do to look like you were wide open to a surprise attack.

"Okay, we're on the ground. Or, uh, roof," she said. "You can stop screaming now."

Mid-air interrogations looked really cool, but they tended not to get very useful information out of crooks. They were a great point to start off, though, since the bad guy was generally so grateful for being back on terra firma that the hard part was getting them to shut up.

Of course, there were always the difficult ones.

Fuse's hat had come off mid-air, revealing close-cropped light brown hair. A military cut, fitting with the way he'd acted among the mafia enforcers earlier, although the stubble on his chin said he wasn't serving any longer. He straightened himself up and glared at Rebecca, although she could see he wasn't moving without pain.

"Who in the fuck are you supposed to be?" he asked.

"I'm… new. And invincible. That's all you need to know, I think. Now, tell me what's happening here tonight and maybe I can deliver you to the police relatively intact."

Fuse shook his head. "No-one's invincible, kid. Everyone's got a weak spot, even if you haven't found yours yet. For example, I've found that most things burn." Without warning, he thrust his hands forward, and a cone of fire enveloped Rebecca's head.

… honestly, it wasn't anything to write home about. More a candle flame than a bonfire. Even if she wasn't invincible, Rebecca thought she might have avoided anything worse than a bad sunburn. Admittedly, it probably would have been a bit distracting, and most people would have instinctively flinched from the light and heat. So she wasn't surprised that Fuse took to opportunity to take a swing at her face while she was dazzled.

Rebecca felt something crunch against her cheekbone. Metacarpals, probably. When she could see again, Fuse was cradling his hand and glaring at her.

"Yeah," she said. "Wasn't kidding about being invincible. Probably worth a check though, so good job!" She gave the man an encouraging thumbs-up.

Fuse cursed under his breath, and shoved his uninjured hand into his pocket. "Fuck. Fuckin' shitty power. You know how lucky you are? If I'd had the ability to take hits like that, maybe I could have avoided this whole fuckin' mess in the first place."

Rebecca raised an eyebrow, but Fuse didn't elaborate. Instead, she said, "Yeah, I was gonna say, you're like the weakest parahuman I ever heard of. How hot can you go, like a thousand degrees? Less? Almost nothing, taking the conductivity of air into account."

"Shit, I don't bother with all that stuff. Who cares, am I right?"

"Who indeed. I'm going to ask again. What's the mafia planning for the docks?"

Fuse flexed his fingers, and winced. He wasn't looking at Rebecca, and hadn't shown any sign he'd heard the question. After a moment, he muttered, "Ah, man, hate having to do this left-handed… awkward." He wiggled his fingers a little more, and said, more to himself than to Rebecca, "Definitely broken. Shit, how long do those take to heal?"

Rebecca stepped forward. "I said-"

Fuse moved. Almost as soon as she got within a couple of metres, his left hand came out of his pocket clutching a handful of- ash? Ash. He swept in in a loose arc in front of him, throwing most of it at Rebecca. It covered her hoodie and jeans in grey streaks, stuck to her face, and some even found its way inside her blouse. Unpleasant, and weird.

Fuse snapped his fingers, and the ash burst into flame.

Hotter. Much hotter. If his flames before had been like standing next to an open oven door, this was like pressing your bare skin into the metal. Even the little specks that had fallen to the floor were creating heat hazes in the air, and there was more than a speck on Rebecca's clothes. But Rebecca wouldn't be hurt by this much, not even close. She knew the heat was there, had the sense of it, but she wasn't burning.

Her clothes, on the other hand, definitely were. Rebecca wouldn't die of exposure any more than she'd burn, but there were secret identities to consider. Also, um, being naked was kinda embarrassing. So she brushed herself off as quick as possible without taking off her head-concealing hoodie, shaking her blouse out awkwardly to try and dislodge what ash she could and pat out what she couldn't.

Fuse was laughing, taking Rebecca's reaction as a sign that he'd managed to hurt her. Well. He'd certainly annoyed her, at any rate. Enough was enough. Still slightly smoking from a dozen little points inside her clothes, Rebecca lunged forward and pinned Fuse against the wall with one hand. His eyes were wide with shock at seeing her without a scratch, and his feet dangled a foot off the floor.

"Nice try, but, again, invincible. Turn it off before you regret it."

Fuse coughed, and struggled weakly against Rebecca's hold. "Doesn't work that way, bitch. I don't control any flames except the originals, except to maybe choose when they start. Speaking of, fuck you."

Rebecca had removed most of the ash Fuse had thrown at her, but at this point her clothes themselves had burnt enough to leave ash of their own. At Fuse's words, they didn't reignite.

They freaking exploded.

The sudden rush of heat was as far beyond the first iteration of ash as that was above Fuse's direct fire. The displaced air ruffled her hair, and the air grew thin. If this kept up, she wouldn't be able to breathe.

As soon as she processed that thought, Rebecca grabbed Fuse by the collar and rocketed upwards just slow enough to avoid giving him whiplash. The wind stripped most of the blazing ash off her, but the odd spark still clung in folds and tucks. But Rebecca wasn't paying attention to the heat, or even really to her clothes any more.

When Rebecca focused more on the mental aspect to her power, the world sometimes seemed to freeze. The past, recalled in perfect detail, met the calculated structure of the future in a single timeless instant. The struggling form of Fuse, hand rummaging in his pocket for (presumably) more ash, seemed unimportant, as Rebecca's attention roamed.

A series of snapshot images presented themselves for her inspection. Fuse, walking round the docks with his lit cigar. Fuse, pausing to ash that cigar at seemingly random places, but never near where the mafia were guarding. Not random – the offices and warehouses of those shipping companies where the influence of the Dockworkers' Association was strongest. Fuse, reigniting his own ash with a finger-snap.

The consequences played out as clearly as if she was watching them happen. With a thought, Fuse would ignite the docks, and the flames would quickly spread to destroy almost everywhere the union had a foothold. Hundreds of people, mostly those prone to standing up for themselves, would lose their jobs, either permanently or at the very least while the shipping companies recovered from the loss of infrastructure and business.

The companies would be fine, though. They were insured, and what was more, they would find a certain family-owned conglomerate more than willing to buy them out to keep them from going under. Regeneration work would go quickly and smoothly, almost as though someone in city hall was pushing for the docks to be back online as soon as possible. The workers would mostly get hired back, albeit under punishing contracts, lower pay, and no guarantee of job security.

A snap of Fuse's fingers, and the Mafia would own the Brockton Bay docks outright.

"Ah, shit," Rebecca said. She noticed Fuse was still going for his pockets. Reaching out with her free hand, she seized his wrist and twisted it. Ash blew away in the wind. "Right, that's enough of that. Now. The docks. I imagine if I kill you they still burn down?"

"Get the fuck off of me!"

Body language was pretty easy to read when people's emotions were this strong. "That's a yes. Dammit. The 'fuse' is a lasting effect, then, not an active one on your part. Interesting. Out of curiosity, what's the time limit on that?"

"Let me go, bitch!"

"You know, everyone says that whenever I do this. I'd make the obvious joke, but at this point I don't think either of us would find it funny. Instead I'll just say that if I see flames where you've got your fuses set up, I will drop you. Believe me, I know exactly how high I'd need to take you to make sure you die. Setting them off isn't in your best interest."

Fuse paled. Maybe he'd seen in her face she was serious. "Hey, no fair. Look, I won't set them off, I promise, but you gotta believe me, once my flames turn to ash it's gonna go off within twenty-four hours no matter what. Chance gets higher as time goes on, and I can set it off any time before that, but within a day the ash starts a flame hotter than the one it came from, guaranteed. Ain't nothing I can do about it! You can't drop me for something I ain't got no control over!"

"Can't I?"

She couldn't. Summary execution wasn't something she did lightly, and Fuse wasn't directly threatening anyone's life at the moment.

On the other hand, she couldn't exactly leave him. Rebecca could deal with the ash, now that she knew what she was looking for – starving it of air should work, and if not then placing it in one of Danny's nullification fields definitely should. If she really booked it, she shouldn't take all that long about it, either. The problem was that once Fuse's life wasn't in danger any more, she had no doubts about how long his promise not to set the ash off would last, and she needed all the time she could get to deal with what he'd already set up. Especially if there was a time limit on it.

Two years ago, she'd have considered knocking him out… but unless you hit hard enough to cause brain damage, that gave you five minutes at the very most. Not enough.

The obvious solution, if the problem was Fuse potentially using his powers to trigger the fires, was to stop him using his powers. The problem with that was that Rebecca had, of course, left her own power-jammer behind, or else she wouldn't be flying around all invincible like this in the first place. Worse, even if she had a spare, she couldn't exactly leave one on him for the police to find. If she let one of Danny's prize inventions fall into the hands of the rightful authorities (shock, horror), he'd never forgive her.

Neither could she take him back to the union office, where there were more than enough power-jammers lying around. Even if the mafia was apparently interested in putting pressure on the Dockworkers Association, there was such a thing as giving the game away.

No, the solution to this problem…

The sounds of a brawl made their way up to her ears. Scrapyard's laughter mingled with the mafia's cries of pain, set to a background of blunt impacts. Gunshots rang out every so often, but Rebecca knew that wouldn't stop the supervillain. Rebecca sometimes wondered how Danny couldn't see Scrapyard for what he was, but her boss insisted on trusting the psychopath.

Trusting him with a power-jammer, even.

Now, of course, Rebecca couldn't enter Scrapyard's nullification field herself. Not while carrying Fuse, at any rate – even if Fuse lost his powers as well that still left physically-sixteen Rebecca to fight a hardened criminal on her own. Nope, bad plan.

Fortunately, gravity.

"Okay," Rebecca said, coming to her decision. "First, I'm going to have to take your powers from you for a bit, 'kay?" She laid her free hand directly over Fuse's forehead and squeezed lightly before letting go.

"Wha- you can't do that. That's not-"

"Next – hey Fuse, remember how I said I knew exactly how high I needed to drop you from to kill you?"

Fuse looked terrified, but said nothing and nodded.

"This is not that height." She let go.

There was a second where the mafia cape seemed to hang in the air, as though he'd developed flight of his own. Then he began to accelerate downwards, nine point eight one metres per second per second, which would have him landing right around-

"AAARGH!"

On his feet, actually, although his legs buckled quickly. They might have broken, Rebecca couldn't tell from this distance. Still, from the noises Fuse was making he was certainly alive. Yay!

He was also squarely within Scrapyard's field of influence – well, Scrapyard's power-jammer's field, anyway. Not actually in sight of that madman, because if Rebecca wanted Fuse dead there were kinder ways to do it. Instead she'd dropped him between two buildings, close to where the brawl was going on but far enough that Fuse wouldn't be getting involved. The range on Danny's devices was large enough for that, just about.

With luck, Fuse would try his powers once or twice, see that they didn't work, and then give up before Scrapyard beat up the Mafia and moved on. Given what Rebecca had said to him, he'd just assume it was another of her powers and not even try to figure out what was going on. Which left Rebecca free to call Danny and get him to take power-jammers round to every location Fuse had marked. Between her, Danny and Kenny, plus anyone else they could round up, the ash could be neutralised in about ten minutes.

Humming, Rebecca flew off to find the nearest phone booth.


The police weren't keeping George in a cell, thank God, but he was still locked in one of their interrogation rooms when I got there. It was too small, and lit only by a single bare lightbulb. In the corner, a security camera blinked at us. I resisted the urge to flip it off, because the cop escorting me in probably wouldn't be too impressed.

George's eyes lit up when I came through the door. "Danny!"

I laid a hand on his and gave it a squeeze. "Hey, George. Listen, I'm real sorry about your bar."

Guys like George didn't cry, especially not where anyone could see. Still, I guess he really needed someone to just tell him they knew he was hurting, because I could see his tough-guy mask start to crack. So I got real interested in the door for a moment while he took some time for himself, and tried not to punch the cop behind me when I heard a snort. When George had calmed down, I opened up my briefcase (God, I was the kind of guy who had a briefcase now) and laid some forms and files down on the table.

"Okay, George. Look, I'm just here on behalf of Kenny to say that the Dockworkers Association has your back on this. We're not about to let you down after you've been here for us all these years. So we're going to put you in touch with a lawyer, OK? It's a firm we've used before, good guys, we know them-"

"Hold, up, Danny. I already got a lawyer."

I paused, mid-spiel, and looked at George. He gave me a watery smile.

"You do? Rebecca didn't mention anything about that."

"Yeah. It was right after she called, this guy comes in and says he represents an investor that's taken a personal interest in my case or something. Beats the fuck outta me, but I'm not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth, right? I'm just happy to have my bar back again."

This wasn't making sense at all. "You're getting your bar back? Not just the charges dropped, you're getting a replacement?"

"Well, not so much, but a pretty fuckin' hefty loan to get me back on my feet. And I know what you're thinking, but the lawyer guy walked me through the contract, line by line – there's nothing shady about it. No huge interest hikes, no hidden clauses saying I gotta give over rights to the place, nothing. It's not a free lunch, but it's a hell of a lot better than nothing." George grinned. "They're just hammering out the details about dropping the charges now, which is why I'm still here, but this guy's slick, Danny."

I grasped for words for a moment. "I, uh. Well, I'm happy for you, George. Really, I am. Hell, I guess you don't need me here after all, huh?"

"Not as it turned out. But listen, kid. It means something that you came. I haven't seen a friendly face all day, no-one who gets it. The lawyer's a goddamn life saver, but it's just another case to him. He doesn't know what that bar means to me like you do. So I'm glad you came, really. Hey, pass on the good news to all the guys, willya? Tell 'em Neptune's Beer's gonna be back, better than ever!"

I smiled, despite my misgivings. "Will do, George. Hey, you wouldn't know where this lawyer is now, would you? I need to, uh, thank him myself."

The cop that had escorted me in decided to accompany me on my way through the police precinct to meet this mysterious lawyer. It was probably just standard practice not to have anyone unaccompanied on the premises, but I couldn't help feeling a bit paranoid as he led me through twisting corridors and into an open-plan office. Part of it was just natural distrust of cops, understandable enough. Partly, though, it was that I'd been associating with a notorious supervillain lately. It felt like every cop we passed could see it written on my forehead.

"Jeez, Mr Hebert, lighten up," my escort said. "We're not gonna bite. We're just regular folks doing a job like you." He noticed something up ahead. "Well, not all of us, I guess."

I looked. My stomach dropped. Oh, this was not what I needed.

Canvas, one of the city's two heroic capes, was not twenty paces from where we were, chatting merrily with a pair of cops. She had her face obscured by what looked like a mask, of course, but unless there was another petite woman in her early twenties going round in the classic skintight superhero getup, then this was Canvas. For now, her costume was the exact shades of blue and white as the cops' uniforms, and her chin-length hair was a deep navy.

At the moment, she was discussing what looked like a photograph of a mean-looking guy, but which had apparently been printed directly onto the cop's desk. On closer inspection, it was moving, pulling mean faces and sneering when no-one was looking at it. Her power, pulling up an image from her head and projecting it straight onto the surface.

On paper, Canvas' powers weren't that impressive. She could control the reflective, absorptive, and refractive optical indices of any matter within sensory range, whether that be sight or hearing or touch. Put simply, she changed the colours of things.

All types of things. There was a trend with capes that they affected either living or non-living matter, but not both at once. To take specific examples, Sever could deactivate the nervous systems of people in a given range around him, but couldn't do anything to the electrical system of a computer. Solvent could change water into acid and control it, but not the water inside the human body. (Not that that helped his victims at all.)

Canvas was different. Her powers worked on anything, including people and including herself. What could have been a fairly useless power became a very tricky one to beat, as her opening move in a confrontation was generally to target the general area around her opponents' heads and turn it pitch black, resulting in a small amount of black 'smoke' and a drug dealer or ganster who looked like they'd been squirted with ink… and whose corneas had turned opaque.

I'd never seen her at work before, but the whole city was generally aware of what she did day-to-day. She was a bit like a local celebrity, I guess, her and Freezethaw: the two heroic capes of Brockton Bay.

Well, plus me now, on the quiet. And Rebecca, whatever her power was.

"Just in here, Mr Hebert." The cop opened a door to a side office. Boy, was I glad the cops had taken any suspicious-looking items off me before allowing me into the precinct. My power-jammer was currently locked in a safe downstairs. The last thing I needed was to get on the radar of the local heroes, and someone who used their power as reflexively as Canvas would notice when it stopped working immediately.

At the time I'd been livid, of course. I came in on official business, a briefcase and everything, and they frisk me like I'm a common criminal? I mean, I guess I couldn't blame them for keeping their security. But I bet this lawyer guy hadn't been frisked. Maybe I should have worn a suit, if I could stand to see myself in the mirror.

The cop was talking. "-from the Dockworker's Association. Mr Hebert, this is Jeffrey Mansbridge, the lawyer who's taken on Mr Ferris' case."

I shook Mansbridge's hand. He was younger than I'd expected – early forties, probably. Short, but then lots of people were short compared to me. He looked like he kept himself in shape, though. Probably wasn't that hard, when you could afford high-quality food all the time and had a membership to a private gym. If he said something about valuing his health more than his material possessions I wouldn't be responsible for my actions.

Maybe I was just bitter, though. His briefcase was nicer than mine.

"Good to meet you, Mr Hebert," Mansbridge said. "It's actually lucky you came. You work for the Dockworker's Association, I understand?"

"That's right," I said cautiously.

"Excellent. I'm not sure what Mr Ferris has told you, but my employer is helping him out with his little legal problem, and we've also offered him a small loan to help him though the tough times ahead."

I nodded. "Very nice of him, I'm sure," I said, neutrally. It might have come out suspicious anyway.

Mansbridge laughed. "Yes, well, as I'm sure you've guessed my employer is not doing this out of the goodness of his heart. For a start, we've offered fair terms to Mr Ferris for the repayment of his loan, fair for him and for us. We do stand to make a little money out of this deal."

"But it's not just that." It wasn't a question.

"Indeed not, Mr Hebert. Indeed not. No, my employer is a man who believes in the value of community. The bar in question was a vital gathering place for the dockworkers, was it not? The damage to morale caused by its loss could be considerable, and that damage is measured in real money. My employer, quite apart from the sentimental reasons for helping Mr Ferris out, has high hopes for the docks and for Brockton Bay in general, and this is part of his way of helping to make that happen. As it happens, I think we'll be seeing a lot of each other in future – as I said, it was lucky that you came down today."

So this Mansbridge's employer had an interest in the business of the docks? Given my recent problems with the mafia, this was worrying. Burning down a building only to buy it back and capitalise on the land wasn't exactly unheard of for organised crime groups. And when the local community was beginning to organise to push out unwanted business influence, like the Dockworkers Association had started (and Scrapyard was pushing), well… Mansbridge wasn't wrong about the damage losing a community centre could do to morale.

The Mafia. Again.

I had a feeling I'd just be stonewalled if I tried to investigate further, but I asked anyway. "So, does this mysterious employer of yours have a name? If he's being so generous, I suppose I'll have to send him an official thank-you letter or something on behalf of the Association." I could almost hear the lawyer's reply before it came. Oh no, Mr Hebert, my employer wishes to remain anonymous, and conveniently unconnected to any major crimes that might be run from the docks over the next few years, ha ha.

"Of course." He seemed to notice my expression of surprise, and chuckled again. "Really, Mr Hebert, not all of us 'corporate types' have something to hide. I suppose it's my fault for not introducing myself properly at the start.

"I work for the pharmaceutical company Medhall, and for its owner and CEO in particular. When I talk about my employer, I'm talking about Richard Anders."


What a pain, mused Tony Mancini. Even wounded, Scrapyard's taking far too long to beat. The pain-in-the-ass vigilante was down on one knee, and breathing hard, but he wasn't out of the fight by a long shot.

Technically, of course, Tony wasn't in the fight either, instead standing on the deck of the Santa Fererro instead of down on the jetty where the action was. Still, he'd caused most of the damage to Scrapyard so far. Where the fuck was Fuse? The last Tony had seen, his enforcer had been heading out to fight, but there was no sign of him now. Had he gotten lost or something?

Tony's guys circled Scrapyard. There was a distinct lack of willingness to go near the man, which probably had something to do with the groaning messes left in his wake. Shooting him didn't work, Tony had learned that by now. The only other option was to go toe-to-toe with a guy who not only shrugged off the hardest of punches like he'd been hit with a pillow, but could lift a grown man in one hand into the bargain. As options went, it wasn't the best.

It would also help if Tony's own powers weren't on the fritz for some reason. It was like he couldn't do anything in an area around Scrapyard, every time he tried he just got shut down. Was power-cancelling yet another of Scrapyard's powers? How many did this asshole have? Still, that was no reason to give up. Instead, Tony had just had to work a bit more indirectly.

One of Tony's men plucked up the courage to rush in and swung a piece of two-by-four at Scrapyard's skull. Wood worked well against him – sure, he could turn it to metal and then degrade it, but you could get at least a couple of good hits in.

The blow connected, and Scapyard staggered, almost falling. At the last second he caught himself, and swept his arm across to block the second hit. The two-by-four went flying. Scrapyard's other fist lashed out and caught Tony's man on the knee. He didn't get up in time. Tony crossed himself and muttered a quick prayer, and tried to remember if the guy had had any family.

But he had at least left Scrapyard open. Tony concentrated, and felt a connection form. One of the rings on his hand, and the two-by-four, now lying on the jetty.

When he swiped his hand to the side, as fast as he could manage, the plank moved in exactly the same direction, at exactly the same speed. These days, Tony was good at judging things like relative directions. Side effect of his powers, or just trial and error, he didn't know, but he tended to hit what he aimed at when he did stuff like this. He released his control at exactly the moment his hand was moving fastest, and the two-by-four struck Scrapyard in the throat.

This time, the vigilante did fall, clutching at his neck and gasping for breath. Tony's men rushed him at that, kicking and punching and hitting for all they were worth. Give Scrapyard his due though, he still managed to wrestle his way to his feet and rush to escape, shaking grown men off his back like they were children.

Tony allowed himself a smile. Connection: the bullet in his gun, and a concrete breeze block from a stack in one of the repair workshops. He aimed his gun somewhere off to the side, and when he felt the vectors align, he fired.

Scrapyard went down, and lay still. Blood trickled from a cut in his forehead, leaking onto the shattered concrete.

The men attacking him moved quickly. By the time Tony had made his way over, Scrapyard was bound with heavy rope, blindfolded, and frisked for any weapons or drugs, not that Tony really expected him to have either.

To his surprise, one of his enforcers held up some kind of small electronic device. "He was carrying this, sir. Had something similar attached to the back of his neck, same kind of design but different purpose."

Connection, ring on his hand and the limpet-shaped device… nothing. As though he didn't have powers at all.

"Huh," said the new most dangerous cape in the country. "How interesting."