Author's Notes will be on my profile page, though not all chapters will have them. If you have any questions, pop me a PM. Thank you for reading.
My hands trembled so bad I couldn't hold the pencil still. My notes were so unreadable that I gave up, hoping to memorize the teacher's lecture instead. Night classes may have been more relaxed than normal high school—especially without Emma and her cohort's presence—but that silver lining was heavily marred.
I struggled to sort through my backpack to find the right pill bottle. Opening and taking the pill was even more of a challenge. I doubted it would help but at least I felt like I was trying.
"We'll finish with that for today," the teacher said. He put down his chalk and milled about while the students collected their things. The clock read nine-fifty, ten minutes earlier than usual. Dad probably hadn't arrived to pick me up yet so I waited outside the building.
What a terrible mistake that was.
"Well look who it is."
A pit opened in my stomach at Emma Barnes' approach. She was alone, at least. I didn't respond and stared at the ground.
"What, nothing to say?" Emma put her hand on her hip and stood in front of me. "So you scurried away into night classes like a little worm, huh? I should have figured as much."
Just wait long enough and she'll get bored, right? This couldn't have been more than a chance meeting, though now she knew where I went to class.
My mouth went dry but I couldn't reach for my water. Emma would hit it out of my hands. Not that water ever helped anyways.
"You're trembling so much. What a scaredy-cat," she exclaimed. Her laugh hurt my ears. I tried to stop my hands from shaking as she lobbed a few unimaginative insults my way and eventually she released a long, exaggerated sigh. "I have places to be, don't get in my way."
Emma knocked me back with her shoulder and strutted past. I watched her walk down the street and turn the corner. Dad would be here in just a few minutes, there was nothing to do now but wait.
...so why am I following her?
I glided through the street, eerily aware of how silent my steps were. As Emma turned a corner I huddled behind it and saw her walking down the next block. The street was empty. What is she thinking? It was dangerous to be alone this late.
I silently followed her down the street. There were obstacles aplenty to hide behind but not once did she ever look behind her.
Why was I following her? Curiosity was playing a role but there was something more. A longing. It was as if she had something of mine, something I needed.
Emma turned into an alleyway. Does she take drugs or something? I guess that's a possible explanation for her behavior. Maybe. I ran to the entrance of the alley and slid up against the side of the building.
The streets were dead. Not even a thug walked by.
"I'm here," said Emma. She must have been on her phone. "Yeah, see you soon."
Meeting someone, then. Alright. I had to do it quickly. Do what quickly? Wait, what was I going to do quickly?
I stepped from behind the corner and stalked towards Emma. She didn't notice until I was a few yards behind her.
She yelped when she saw me. "Taylor, hell. What is wrong with you?"
Instead of looking to the ground I stared into her eyes. My entire body was trembling. The muscles in my arms spasmed, my upper teeth hurt, my mouth was dry and my back ached. A thousand and one things were wrong with me and it was all this person's fault.
"Taylor, your eyes—"
It was this person's fault, she had something I needed. Something I needed.
I grabbed Emma by her shoulders and shoved her onto the ground. We both toppled onto the hard pavement and I covered her mouth as she was about to yell. I don't know why. With my other hand I grabbed the top of her blouse and ripped it off. She had a sports bra on but that hardly registered in my mind.
What do I need from her?
My teeth ached. My mouth was dry. I just, from her. I needed... I needed her.
Emma struggled to throw me off so I pinned one of her arms down. I was a lot stronger than her, apparently. It barely took any effort to keep her pinned. For a moment I stared, not sure what I was doing.
Then I bit into her neck.
My teeth penetrated deeper than they should have. My canines slid into her skin like knives and the rest dug into her neck after them. I felt Emma's warm blood spill into my mouth and onto my cheeks. It was messy. She tried to scream but I still had my hand over her mouth. Nothing but a muffled moan escaped.
After awhile she stopped moving. I lapped up the blood coming from her neck until it stopped flowing and stood up over her body.
It was only then that I realized what happened.
I just killed her. I killed her. She's dead, I just killed—
I screamed as my back erupted in pain. I couldn't keep my footing and fell onto Emma's body, still screaming. Then with a loud rip that intense pained subsided, turning into a dull throb before disappearing entirely. Tears blurred my sight. I turned my head to try to see what happened.
Two massive black wings jutted out of my back.
I turned around as if that would get me a better view. It didn't work, but the shaking had stopped. The pains, the aches, the dry mouth, all of it. All of it had stopped. I felt wonderful. Fantastic. Better than I had felt in months, better than any medication I had been on. Even the morphine for that one week. I felt...
I spun and saw someone standing in the shadows. There wasn't time to think before she raised a crossbow and shot me. It hit me in the forearm. I screamed from the pain and recoiled towards the wall, grasping my arm. The bolt had dug a chunk out of me and gone through.
I tried to run as my attacker phased towards me—for no other word really described it—and reloaded another bolt into her crossbow. I recognized her now. She was Shadow Stalker. A Ward, just perfect. I was caught red-handed running away from the scene of a crime.
A crime I definitely committed.
While I had to run around the buildings, Shadow Stalker had the advantage of being able to walk right through them. The next bolt she shot missed, but only barely. I ran regularly on doctor's orders but she still outran me. I think my wings caused a lot of drag.
I tried to move them around so I could run faster but accidentally unfolded them instead. They must have picked up the air rushing by because I was lifted into the air. Almost instinctively I flapped them, launching me higher.
Another bolt hit me in the foot. Damn. In a desperate attempt to escape I pushed myself higher and higher into the air with my wings. Eventually I couldn't even see Shadow Stalker down there and she stopped firing at me.
The scene was replaced with a view of the entire city sprawling out before me. It would have been beautiful if not for the question burning a hole in my mind. What the hell do I do now?
The pain coming from my arm and foot was nothing. It was probably the adrenaline soon to wear off. But I was a parahuman, I had to be. That's what happened, right? I was one of those case fifty-whatever it was. I had powers.
What they actually were was still an open question, but I had them. I had wings so I could fly, that's one. But at the cost of Emma's life... and in front of witnesses no less. I've already become a villain.
Fuck me. A parahuman for five minutes and I'm already a villain.
My wings spread out across the night sky, catching the wind and letting me effortlessly glide. I was high above Brockton Bay with the warehouses and streets far below me. I wanted to go home, but there was no way I could do such a thing. Not looking like this. Not after what I did.
Dad would probably be worried sick about me.
I couldn't go home. Not yet. I had to think of what to do.
The only place I could think to go was to find an abandoned warehouse down by the docks. The ship graveyard, being what it is, left abandoned warehouses aplenty. I tried to fly down over the sea, but it felt uncomfortable so I glided down over the buildings.
I couldn't see anyone as I touched down on the street. An unused warehouse wasn't hard to find, and even though it was dark I could see the inside perfectly. I must have better night vision as well. That's interesting.
But that stray thought didn't last long before I collapsed into the fetal position against one of the walls and cried.
It's not fair. All I wanted to do was live a normal life, have friends, go to school, that sort of thing. But the entire universe seems stacked against me.
I don't know how long went by. Hours, maybe. I tried to think about what to do or where to go but I didn't get anywhere. My thoughts ran through scene with Emma over and over again. Wishing I could have done anything else. Wishing the past didn't really happen, that maybe I could somehow change it.
Despite how impossible that is.
When situations are tough, you're supposed to not dwell on what could have or should have happened. You're supposed to think about what you can do now to fix it.
I looked at my hands. It's not that easy though. It's easy to say quotable things like that, but actually trying to think clearly about this is hard. Too hard.
Maybe they'll believe me. Maybe if I turn myself in...
Hours went by. They must have. I just wanted to sleep and hoped when I woke up it was all a bad dream. But I wasn't tired. Sleep never took me.
Some girl shouted from a short distance away. Probably down the block, maybe two blocks away. Their voice carried through the silence of the abandoned district. I snuck close to one of the broken windows to look outside but I couldn't see whoever spoke.
"Are you sure this is the place?" A male voice asked.
There was a pause, though I couldn't see what was happening.
"Right, of course you're sure," the voice continued.
"Let's at least wander around a bit."
Please, just go away, I begged. I held my arms tight and begged that they would leave. But their footsteps only echoed closer and closer. Just go away, don't see me, keep walking.
Then the bark of a dog. It was decided in that moment that I hate dogs and will hate them forever.
Through the window I saw the dog's approach first, followed by a group of people. I only caught a glimpse of them before I crouched under the window to hide, but they were in costume. Capes. I would have recognized them if they were heroes. So villains.
What the hell is happening to me? How come I'm getting wrapped up in all this stuff all of the sudden?
There was no way to compete with a dog's sense of smell and by the sound of their footsteps I could tell that the group had stopped outside the warehouse I was held up in. What should I do? Fight them? Surrender? I thought this was at least a somewhat safe place to be, but somehow they found me.
"To the person in there," said the girl's voice. "A little birdie told me that you could use some help. Well, more of a little snake."
Help? Who knows I'm here and need help? I opted to stay quiet.
"I know you're in there and you can hear me." She loudly sighed, probably entirely for my benefit. "You're a cape, right?"
"What do you want?" I asked. There would be no point in staying quiet. I had the feeling she wasn't bluffing about knowing I was here. After all, I was here.
"Nice to meet you. Like I said, we heard you could use some help. Want to take us up on that?"
Yes absolutely, but I'm not an idiot. "Who are you?"
"If you want introductions, maybe you should come out here so we can talk."
I wondered if, should I not go out, they would eventually leave. But it was too enticing. Help. I didn't know where they came from, or why, and they were probably lying.
But what else could I possibly do?
I slowly opened the door and inched outside the doorway. I didn't leave the "safety" of the warehouse, not that it really provided any, but it felt better to be able to retreat and slam a door should I have to. I emerged just enough so that my wings were visible by the streetlights.
"Ah," said the girl. She was wearing a full face mask like something a welder would wear. Standing next to her was a really large guy that was, to put it bluntly, extremely ugly. "I see now. My name is Faultline," she said. "Though that's not my real name."
"I am Gregor. It is real enough." He held onto the dog's leash and scratched its head.
I nodded. Slowly. "I'm... Taylor. How did you find me here?"
Faultline shrugged. "I run a parahuman mercenary crew. A client paid us to, quote, 'help the person in need' at this address. We have several people with powers like yours, which is why I think I was called. Forgive the term, but monstrous parahumans is what I mean."
She held out her hand.
"Would you like to come to my place for some rest?"
With much hesitation I took it.
Faultline's place, as it turned out, was not a very good place to rest in any way. It was a club named the Palanquin that seemed to be by all accounts very popular. The sign on the door was entirely uneventful but the line stretched around the corner. It was packed and loud music shook the walls.
Luckily there was a back entrance that led to a nice little lounge, and Faultline said there was a room upstairs I could sleep in. Though I wasn't tired.
"Do you want tea?" Gregor asked. There was a large couch I sat in while Faultline sat in a chair opposite me.
"Y-Yes please," I said quietly. My wings got in the way of sitting comfortably. I fidgeted a lot until I folded them in the right way so I could lean on them painlessly. It was far from an elegant solution, but it was at least mildly comfortable.
I was handed a coffee mug with some type of herbal tea in it. I couldn't recognize the flavor but its warmth rushed through my entire body. Faultline looked ready to say something as I took a sip, but I gulped it down and asked something first.
"Who hired you to help me?" I asked.
"I don't know," she said. "They stayed anonymous, paid through intermediaries. Why?"
I looked at my hands, then glanced back at my wings. "I've been a parahuman for all of one evening, how could someone have hired you that fast? How did they even know what happened to me?"
Faultline laughed. It sounded more mocking than she probably intended. "You've entered the world of parahumans. Precogs, mind-readers, and fate manipulators. The question isn't so much how they knew, it's why they cared."
I scrunched my eyebrows.
"Ah, no offense."
"That's not—ugh, I don't know." I put my face in my hands. "This is so fucked, I never wanted this. Maybe I daydreamed about being a hero, but not like this."
Faultline stood up from her chair. "Wait," she said. "You remember things before tonight?"
I looked up at her and nodded. "Uh, yes? I didn't suffer memory loss or anything..."
"Do you have any tattoos?"
Where did that question come from? I wasn't even able to form a response.
"Sorry. I know it's strange, but it's important. Do you have a tattoo of a stylized omega symbol? Or maybe a C?"
I shook my head.
Behind Faultline's mask I couldn't see her expression, but I had a feeling she was surprised. Maybe it was in her body language, but in any case she sat back down.
"Why are you interested in that?" I asked.
Faultline crossed her arms. "Most case fifty-threes," she said, "do not remember how they became the way they are. They simply woke up one day with amnesia and an inhuman body. That you remember everything about your life is abnormal. And you don't have the brand. I'm sorry if you don't want to answer, but can you tell me how you became like this?"
I wasn't sure if I should answer her honestly. How I became like this was a felony. It was something that would land me in prison—no, I'm a parahuman, so it would land me in the Birdcage. Did I trust Faultline enough with something like that?
No, but she wasn't a hero. I didn't know much about her, but I knew enough to know they toed the line between rogue and villain. And I really needed to vent. So I started talking. Slowly at first, but then I couldn't stop. I told her everything, how I felt, who Emma was. All of it.
Neither Faultline nor Gregor interrupted. It was only when I was done and in tears that she spoke up.
"What do you want to do?"
"I j-just want to go home," I answered.
"You killed somebody. In front of a witness."
I stood up. "Not intentionally," I exclaimed. "I just lost control. I never wanted to be a villain, I want to be a hero."
"You think villains choose to be so?"
I didn't have a response to that.
She kept going. "Nobody chooses to be a villain. They're forced to be. They have no other option. Christ, just look at yourself Taylor." Faultline got up and went to a cabinet on the other side of the room. "I know it's luck-of-the-draw but you are the most evil looking parahuman I've ever seen." She pulled a hand mirror out and walked back, holding it up in front of me. "See?"
I recoiled from the image. My eyes were red, almost glowing, and two long fangs hung from my jaw. The image hurt from looking at it.
"Sorry," she continued. "But you can't go home. You don't exactly blend in and Shadow Stalker could have seen your face. You have to lay low. At least for now. You are a villain, and like so many before you it's not by choice. I don't mean to be a harbinger of bad news but the Wards would have a tough time with you even if you hadn't killed somebody on your debut night."
I clutched one of the throw pillows to my chest.
"You can join my crew if you wish," Faultline said. "Or you can surrender to the PRT. Or maybe a third option I haven't thought of. Sleep on it."
"I'm not tired."
Faultline walked towards me, looking at my arm. "Old injury?" She asked.
"I got it in the fight with Shadow Stalker."
She coughed. "Flight and fast healing. Not a bad combo to have. I'll be in my office. If you're not tired, just relax."
Faultline left, leaving me and Gregor. He didn't seem like the talkative type so I retreated to my own thoughts instead. I'm glad I had a place to stay but I'm sure her generosity will run out. Whoever paid her to help me probably only meant for a day or two.
But I'm safe. For a brief moment, I'm safe.
Flight and fast healing, huh. But there's more than that. I drank Emma's blood. And if the past few months are any indication I'm sensitive to sunlight and afraid of running water. Not to mention obsessive. Most capes have a singular power that can be described in a sentence at most. Capes all have "a thing that they do."
But me? I have no idea what I do. I just seem like a collection of miscellaneous parahuman traits somebody couldn't figure out what to do with.
"Ladies, ladies, please." A laugh came from the door as an orange man walked through. I'd heard of him before, that's Newter. And—yep, there's his prehensile tail. He had a woman on each arm as he strolled into the back room. It took him a moment before he noticed me sitting there and raised his brow. "Wait for me over there," he whispered to his lady friends. They went and sat in one of the corner couches.
"Uh, hi." I waved. Newter didn't sit down, but he strolled over.
"I'm Newter, you?"
"That's it?" He looked disappointed. "I half expected you to call yourself 'Dragon Lady' or 'Batwoman' or 'The Devil' based on how you look. Just 'Taylor?'"
I pouted. "That's my name. Asshole."
He laughed and gripped the back of the seat Faultline had sat in. His tail whipped around loosely. "What brought ya here?"
Before I could answer, Faultline came back out of her office. "You're on TV," she said looking at me.
Newter joined me in her office. It was relatively clean save a little clutter on the corner of her desk. The small stack of papers was held down with a black pistol. I looked away from the gun and towards the moderately-sized television mounted on the wall.
Breaking News: 17-year-old Emma Barnes killed by an unknown parahuman.
There was a picture of Emma on the screen while the newscaster talked, then they flashed a couple of photographs that had a silhouette of me in the sky. I could tell it was me, but it was hardly an identifying photograph. Well, at least that-
"Taylor Hebert is currently wanted in connection with this incident. If anyone sees this person please notify police immediately. It is unknown whether she is another victim or if she is the perpetrator."
"That's you," Newter said flatly. "Well, without the fangs and crazy eyes and wings."
I touched my fangs with my tongue. Still there.
"God dammit." I dropped down onto the floor and leaned up against the wall best I could, though my wings got in the way. I leaned anyways and put my head in my hands. "I really can't go home now, can I?"
The news kept going on about the incident until I asked them to turn it off. There wasn't much I could do but think. I had no idea what to do. In just one night... no, just one hour I had lost everything to me. I walked back to the couch and sat, staring at the ceiling. It was simple and wooden. The grain ran long-ways towards the front of the club of which the music still blasted, muted through what must have been sound-dampening walls.
But despite how messed up I felt in my head, my body felt fantastic. All of the ailments that marred me for the past few months cleared up perfectly. I felt like I could run for a hundred miles.
There was no way I could go outside at the moment though. Instead I paced, sat in silence, drank tea and stared at the walls.
After spending an entire night in Faultline's place I came up with nothing. I had no idea what I was going to do and there wasn't anything left but to sleep. Right around the time the sun rose I drifted off.
It was four in the afternoon when I woke up. The club wasn't open yet. It was one of those places that only opened when the sun went down. No one was there except for me so the whole establishment was dark and quiet. It felt nice.
There wasn't anything to do except sit around and resume the activities of last night. No new ideas came to me. I flipped on Faultline's television to see if anything had developed regarding my situation.
Nothing happened until the six o'clock news. Apparently it wasn't important enough to interrupt the regular broadcast, but it felt plenty important to me:
Body of Emma Barnes goes missing from county morgue early this morning.
What does that even mean? That had nothing to do with me. Someone stole her body? It might have been Faultline's crew trying to help but I didn't see how it helped at all. Before I could confront her about it she came back with her whole team.
"I'll introduce you," Faultline said. "You've met Gregor the Snail and Newter already, but these are the other two." Flanking Faultline on both sides were two girls about my age, though it was hard to tell for sure behind their masks. "This is Labyrinth and Spitfire."
They both shook my hand. Labyrinth showed no hesitation but her grip was weak, while Spitfire was the opposite. Her grip was strong but was clearly nervous at my appearance. While both of their names were familiar, I didn't know the first thing about them. Not even what their powers were.
The sad truth was I paid a lot more attention to the heroes than the villains, and now it's going to bite me in the ass. But before any of that,
"Did you steal Emma's body?" I asked.
Faultline raised an eyebrow. "No, why? Was it stolen?"
"It doesn't really help you in any way. Probably someone else at work," Faultline said, sitting down on one of the couches. The lounge was a large area and probably meant to entertain a sizable crowd. If the Palanquin had an original owner, it was probably originally a VIP area. Now though it was Faultline's crew's personal quarters.
The furniture was nice.
"Have you come to any decisions?" She asked.
"No," I said quietly. "I just don't know what to do. I'm sorry."
At my response Labyrinth started sobbing. I looked over and Spitfire held her hand and led her away into one of the back rooms. I didn't think what I said was that disappointing, especially to someone I just met.
"Sorry," Faultline said. "She's having one of her bad days."
"Oh." I didn't want to press for more information.
"Anyways, I said it before, but there's a spot here for you if you want it." Faultine gestured towards nothing in particular. The club, I guess. "We're mercenaries so we follow the money. Anything short of murder. We do have a little bit of a conscience after all." She smiled. "We have a job going down this weekend if you want in on it. I could use your help."
A job? Faultline wants me for one of her jobs? "What exactly would I have to do?" I asked.
"It's a kidnapping."
My heart sank. "Umm. When you say kidnapping, you don't happen to mean mediate a kidnapping that's already happened... or prevent one from happening soon... or anything like that, do you?"
As expected Faultline shook her head. "We're going to snatch somebody. All in all it won't be too hard, but the client wants the parahuman muscle for some reason or other. Honestly, you don't have to do much except hang around and be intimidating."
"I can't," I said immediately. "I can't kidnap somebody."
"How about for twenty grand?"
I liked to pretend. Sitting in class, being tormented by Emma and the others, I liked to pretend. Pretend I could resist the urge for vengeance, resist the temptation and become a hero. It was a powerful fantasy, so I knew the right decision.
I deny the cash. It was so simple. The villains tempt you with power and gold and all you have to do is grab somebody and stuff them in a bag for a few hours. All that wealth, so easily. But the heroes resist that temptation. That's what it means to be a hero.
And here I was, thinking about it.
Some hero I am. Reality always put a cruel twist on things. Dad had accrued large medical bills because of me. We had payments to make on the house and not a large enough income to do it. Dad wouldn't let me work part-time jobs, but we really needed me working.
"Why are you doing this to me?" I asked.
"I'm not doing anything. I'm not being the big bad trying to tempt you, Taylor. I'm offering you twenty thousand dollars for services rendered, and a career should you wish to take it."
The heroic thing to do would be to go against all odds and probably almost definitely be sent to jail anyways, with a slight sliver of a chance of something better happening. And maybe if I didn't think about it too hard I would have made that decision. Maybe if my brain didn't say, "hold on a minute, think about this for a second" I could have been the hero.
But I could make those medical bills vanish this weekend.
I can have a bed to sleep in tonight.
The choice was obvious even if it was one I didn't want to make.
"O-Okay, I'll join you."
Faultline held out her hand and I shook it. "Welcome to the crew," she said as Newter cheered in the background.
"I'll pop some champagne," he said. A small smile came to my lips. This felt like I was about to go down a road I could never come back from. But what else was I going to do? And these people were being nice to me.
Spitfire eventually came back down and took a glass of the champagne Newter prepared, but I just had a soda. I was underage after all.
Eventually Faultline took out a large rolled up map and put it on the coffee table. "So, this is how it's going to go down." She dropped a photograph on the table of a young girl. She couldn't have been over twelve years old. "This is Dinah Alcott, our target. She's the daughter of a mayoral candidate. We have a lot on her: school schedule, bus routes, all that. Plus our client said if we gave him a definitive date and time he can have a distraction at the ready that will tie up the Wards."
Faultline pushed the picture to the side and revealed the map.
"This is the area around the elementary school," she explained. "The bus comes along this arterial road off the freeway, turns off here, comes back at this intersection." She kept explaining the plan, but something was nagging at my mind.
"Sorry." It was hard to comment on planning a kidnapping. It felt like I should have let them make their errors and fail. But for some reason I was doing this.
"You said we had a distraction for the Wards, but, um, what about the actual Protectorate? Or that other group, or the actual police?"
"New Wave is the other group," Gregor said. "Taylor is right. The Wards are not the largest issue we must worry about."
"Aha, but!" Faultline circled an area on the map. It was jarring just how enthusiastic she was about this. "This is where I want to make the grab. It's in the Wards' jurisdiction which means they would be scrambled first, except they'll already be sent away from the distraction. So there will be a slight delay as the call gets routed to the Protectorate as well as a delay for them to arrive. This delay may only be minutes, but I don't plan on taking that long. If all goes according to plan, we won't even see another parahuman."
That wasn't my only concern, I threw tons more at her. If I was going to do this, and it really seemed like I was, then I was going to do it successfully. We kept discussing it until late in the evening. Faultline said we would go over it tomorrow and the next day and the next insisted on being thorough.
The next morning Faultline and the others left to go gather what they'd need to pull this off. I couldn't join them, being on the lam, and was trapped in the Palanquin. And the only thing to do in here was to watch TV. I had been demoted from breaking news to a quick blurb every now and then. The news cycles are harsh.
Someone sat on the couch next to me. They weren't in costume at all but by how spaced out they looked I had to guess Labyrinth. She should be the only person around.
After sitting down she looked at the TV, then at me.
"Do you want to watch something?" I asked.
She nodded and held out her hand. I put the remote in it and she held it carefully. After staring at the remote for a few seconds she firmly pressed the "2" key and then the "9" key. Commercials came up so I took a look at the clock. It was almost the top of the hour.
Labyrinth then turned around and tugged on one of my wings. "Can you feel?"
"Uh, yeah. A little bit." My wings were not that sensitive but I could still feel Labyrinth tugging on them. Then she ran her fingers over the leathery parts.
Her show started so that was the end of the conversation. There wasn't anything else for me to do but watch it with her. Some animated program I assumed was for children by how simple the plot was, but it was better than thinking about all the terrible shit out in the real world coming to get me.
After her program Labyrinth dutifully pressed the mute button on the remote and then leaned over and put her head on my lap. I gave her a look but she'd already closed her eyes. Well then. I guess this is happening.
I flipped the station back to something else and lowered the volume so not to wake her. This didn't make me feel like a villain at all, but I knew in my mind the rest of Faultline's crew was out there making preparations for something extremely villainous.
And sure enough the weekend arrived before I knew it. I hadn't left the Palanquin since I arrived and this was my first time out in the city since that night.
"Any second thoughts?" Newter asked from behind the steering wheel. We were in what I could only call a 'rape van.'
"Yes. Lots." I tried to grin when he turned around to stare at me. "But I'll do it anyways."
"That's the spirit." He drummed on the wheel. The windows were tinted, even the front windshield which I'm fairly certain is illegal. It doesn't sound legal. "Ah, thar she blows."
A yellow school bus drove past us. Newter pulled the van out from its parking space and followed behind the bus from a safe not-so-suspicious distance. It was early in the morning and the morning fog still hung over the city.
Unfortunately, the fog itself irritated me. Something to do with water I imagine, another thing I have trouble with. At least it wasn't sunny.
We passed by Arcadia. I looked out at the school as we drove past. It was way better kept than Winslow ever was. There were watered lawns and buildings without the mark of graffiti or grime. I never thought of Brockton Bay of having much of a division between the upper and lower class, but Arcadia did have a way of throwing it in my face. Fuckers.
"Brace yourself," Newter said. I held onto the handle in the door and onto my seat. I had gotten better at sitting with my wings but it was still uncomfortable. Newter stared at the bus and counted down as it passed by an unassuming sign.
I was surprised by the detail Faultline's crew put into their plans. Their Range Rover can do zero to sixty in 8.6 seconds, which covers a distance of about 115 meters. A school bus traveling the speed limit of 30 miles per hour will cover roughly the same distance. The difference is small enough to correct with minor steering.
Everything worked out perfectly as a Range Rover with a large bull bar shot out from the intersection, smashing into the front of the school bus. The bus spun forty-five degrees from the impact, its hood and engine completely trashed. The Range Rover didn't get off scot-free either, but it still looked drivable. The front bumper wasn't exactly as attached as it once was, however.
Faultline got out and ran over to the bus, smashing the front door in with her power. Newter and I hopped out of the van while Labyrinth stayed in the back, watching us intently. Newter and I ran towards the back of the bus. I grabbed onto the back door and ripped it off its hinges as Newter hopped in. I'd only meant to open it. Faultline entered from the front, holding a gun to the driver's head.
I looked inside. The kids were screaming in terror. All of them except one, who sat quietly in the middle. Our target, Dinah, sat there as if she was waiting for us. Newter grabbed her by the arm and dragged her out. She didn't resist.
Labyrinth opened the van door and Newter tossed Dinah inside before running back around to the driver's seat. I hopped in and closed the door, helping Laybrinth tie Dinah up. She held out her hands and resigned herself to her fate.
"Grab complete, ninty-five seconds." Faultline said over our radios.
It didn't seem real. Ninty-five seconds. It took a minute and a half to turn a perfectly typical bus drive into a major crash and kidnapping. There were witnesses, sure, but the time it takes someone to see what's happening, decide to call emergency services, describe the situation, and for the dispatcher to notify the Protectorate, who then has to scramble available heroes...
I would hazard to say we were already driving away before anyone in the Protectorate knew what happened.
"Faultine's good at this sort of thing," Newter said. He drove the van wildly away from the scene and in a minute we were a mile away. "We've only failed two jobs so far because of her plans."
We pulled into an underground parking garage after five minutes without a single cape converging on us. Newter had stopped driving like a maniac after the first minute and casually pulled into the lot. I couldn't help but notice a few white service vans parked in the same lot.
"I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing some of the heroes are at the crash by now." Said Faultline over the radio. "Without any villains to fight, someone's probably told them about the rover and the van. Go ahead with the primary plan, we're on schedule."
Labyrinth and I grabbed Dinah, making sure she was gagged, and pulled her out of the van. The garage was devoid of people and we swiftly moved her into a nearby sedan. Newter took the fake license plate off the van and tossed them under the driver's seat in the new car. I sat with Dinah in the back seat while Newter and Labyrinth sat up front.
We pulled out of the garage with no one the wiser, leaving a van with legitimate license plates. I guess they might want to come back for it at some point.
Dinah stared at me the entire drive. She looked like she wanted to say something but I didn't remove the gag to give her a chance.
The drive was silent as we drove to a nondescript empty lot. It wasn't even paved. Inside was a black limousine and standing next to it were Faultline, Spitfire and someone I didn't recognize. Newter pulled up along side them. All that was left to do was transfer Dinah to our client and the plan would have gone off perfectly.
Too perfectly. I stared up at the sky, expecting someone like Glory Girl to heroically stop our evil deeds just in the nick of time.
Nope, guess that isn't happening. We all watched the limousine speed off with Dinah to parts unknown.
"You should probably learn to drive at some point," Newter said.
"Which would be relevant if you needed a license." Newter whacked the side of the sedan. "What I said was you should learn how to drive."
I would have responded to that had we not just kidnapped somebody. Driving without a license seemed a lot less significant compared to that.
"That was pretty brazen," I said. "Can we just go back to the Palanquin? Won't the Protectorate be waiting for us?"
"They won't dare," Faultline said with a laugh. "We're located so close to Lord Street for a reason, you know. It's the busiest street in the entire city. The Protectorate can't afford to have a cape battle anywhere near there. The casualties and property damage would be way too high. They couldn't survive the PR hit."
Newter snorted. "They'll just pressure the local PD to piss us off for a few weeks. Shut down the club for a night for a made-up reason."
Sure enough, no heroes were waiting for us at the Palanquin. We all met in the back for drinks. Despite what we had done there was a certain flawless elegance to what we did. No fights between villains and heroes. Nothing large or flashy. When it came down to it we just smashed into the bus, grabbed the girl and sped off.
"Cheers!" Newter clicked my glass.
"Good show," Spitfire followed up with, also toasting my soda. But I wasn't as ecstatic as the others. Who knows what's going to happen to Dinah now? Whoever we captured her for might ransom her back, but there could be something more sinister in store for her. What if he kills her? Or something even worse?
Not to mention the trauma we probably caused the kids on the bus. And their families will get afraid and people in the community will start worrying for their children. It was so short but it could have consequences lasting months or years.
"Lighten up," Spitfire said. I realized she was staring at me.
"It's hard." I stared into my cup. "I feel bad about what we did."
Spitfire nodded, but it was Faultline who spoke up. "That's fine, it means you're a human being," she said. "But you're not responsible for it. Even if you hadn't participated, we would have done it anyways. Even if you had convinced us not to do the job, our client would have just found somebody else. Dinah was going to be kidnapped."
Faultline dropped a sack onto the table and unzipped it, revealing the cash stuffed inside. She began sorting it into piles, and then slid one towards me.
"That's the thing about being a mercenary," she said. "And why the Protectorate gives us a little leeway. The real villains worth catching are the ones filling our pockets. If no one hires us to do anything then we won't cause trouble. Here's your cut, you've earned it."
It was eerie how casually Faultline slid twenty thousand dollars cash across the table to me. It didn't even feel like mine. It didn't even feel like money, it was some foreign substance I've never seen before. Could this pile of green paper really be twenty thousand dollars?
I wasn't sure what to do with it.
But before I could open my mouth to respond somebody knocked at the door. All of us looked towards the door. The club was closed. Not even a bouncer was out on the main floor, so for a knock to be coming from that door...
"Spits and Labs left," Faultline whispered. "Taylor and I right."
The four of us flanked the door on either side while Newter and Gregor readied themselves farther behind us. The knocking continued and sounded almost like scratching.
"Name yourself," Faultline shouted loudly.
A feminine voice from the other side started to say something, but broke into a coughing fit. "P-Please," she said. "I need to, to..."
"Name yourself," Faultline repeated.
"I-I'm," she rasped. "I'm Emma."