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Hostage Situation [Worm AU fanfic]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Aug 10, 2015.

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  1. ShadowStepper1300

    ShadowStepper1300 I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Just re-read this entire story, and I thought I'd clear up a few misconceptions.

    This post has some clarifications about Marquis, including a statement that the city in general still remembers him.

    This post has Armsmaster's backstory, including a canon citation that he specifically joined the Protectorate rather than the Wards.
     
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  2. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    So he looks younger than he is, or got the local top spot in the Protectorate at 18 or 19.

    Marquis could have encountered Armsmaster when he was just barely starting out. Also, the Wards are a division of the Protectorate. Just because he wasn't in the initial intake in 1992/1993 doesn't mean he was never in the Wards, even if for a year.

    Also, a bit of a rewrite of the latest chapter.
     
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  3. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    ... so, Saint is going to do something more idiotic than usual, and depending on the timing of events, he may well arrive while Kayden is still there. This will be interesting.

    Is the fact that Teacher's power is addictive not publicly known?
     
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  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Not really iirc.
     
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  5. Asheram

    Asheram Know what you're doing yet?

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    Geoffrey is going to get a tan.
     
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  6. krahe

    krahe Not too sore, are you?

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    Pff, google translate is so literal. It's better to use "but blyat, tovarishch" or if fully this part "no blyat,'tovarishch". I actually find it a bit hilarious that I'm nitpicking swears, but eh, shitty translated russian in fiction is my pet peeve
     
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  7. Malcanthet

    Malcanthet Shy Adorable Arachne

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    It is well known to the PRT, hence why Teacher is in the Birdcage. Outside of that it is a rather obscure bit of info.
     
  8. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Wouldn't have Saint found out about that when he researched how to spring Teacher? I assume Dragon knows about the addiction as well, and Saint would have gathered all Information about Teacher through her.
     
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  9. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    He didn't believe that he was addicted.
     
  10. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    Because obviously a non-parahuman will be immune to a single aspect of a parahumans power.

    Either way, that just goes to show that Saint may be smart, he is still an utter moron.
     
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  11. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Like every drug addict ever. "I'm different."
     
  12. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    ... and therefore he prevented the others from also finding out?
     
  13. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Addicts are masters at self-deception, including the tricks to get what they want and hiding it from others all the while believing firmly that they can stop at any time.
     
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  14. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    I don't know how well known the addictive nature of Teacher's power was, but what was well known was the Master aspect of it.

    Saint was just of the opinion that he hadn't been exposed to Teacher's power long enough for that to take effect... and he was so close to figuring out that key piece of Dragon's code! So one more shouldn't hurt. Even if he needs to break Teacher out of an inescapable prison to do it!
     
  15. Malcanthet

    Malcanthet Shy Adorable Arachne

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    Yea. Too bad Saint is to focused on one fraction of a pixel of a puzzle piece to see the entire puzzle in its completion. Poor, poor fool that will get his "reward' all too soon.
     
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  16. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    The question is how big a mess he makes before it's over.
     
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  17. Malcanthet

    Malcanthet Shy Adorable Arachne

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    Well that would depend I guess ... Mindfully I am a girl that likes big booms so how far would he have to go to get a Tactical Nuke Delivery onto the Dragon Slayers Base?
     
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  18. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    Further than his current plan suggests, but I could certainly see the situation escalating.
     
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  19. OrchidMantis

    OrchidMantis Making the rounds.

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    He's more likely to get Armsmaster and Narwhal, with several other tough Protectorate and Guild capes backing them up, dropping by for a friendly chat.

    Nice pseudonym, by the way. Have you played through the Savage Tide Adventure Path?
     
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  20. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Given his base is located in Toronto...
     
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  21. KinKrow

    KinKrow Scared Squid

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    It's nice to have these conversations to help us readers understand, but sometimes my IC exceeds my passive acceptance of the Meta, and I think of a 1.337 second conversation that Contessa and Alexandria have.

    And when they finish Alexandria internally notes how nice it is to 'talk' with a Thinker she can trust.
     
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  22. skyrunner

    skyrunner Know what you're doing yet?

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    • Please do not necro. This is against Rule 7.
    This is so sad ;-;

    Marquis really does seem like the sort of person who would be a hundred percent on Amelia's side, and I like how he immediately started telling her how daft she is for not charging for her healing.

    The other Marquis!Amy story you wrote -- forgot the name, but Amy is now Claire and has been raised by Marquis -- also seems to give Marquis a personality that goes that way. It's very interesting to have Marquis still in the scene.

    I might've said this before, but I enjoy how your Piggots are usually harsh but reasonable.
     
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  23. Threadmarks: Part Seven: Situational Ethics
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Hostage Situation

    Part Seven: Situational Ethics

    [A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]



    Airborne over New England
    Saint
    15 April 2011
    2210 Hours


    The night sky was peaceful, the silvery light from the almost-full moon illuminating the landscape where it wasn't chased out by the yellow glare of electric lighting. Headlights were strung on the highways between towns like beads on a wire; in this region of the United States, there were a lot of towns.

    Two miles up, Geoff Pellick felt almost serene. He gazed down down at the towns and roads rolling beneath him with the certain knowledge that the people below would never become aware of his passage overhead or his years-long crusade. They would hear of his latest 'crime', certainly, but the PRT's dupes in the mainstream media would never let Joe or Jane Public know about the reasons behind it, or how it would allow him to step up his efforts in the endless war he fought on their behalf.

    He had no fear of detection, as Dragon's suits were marvels in stealth technology; it hadn't been easy to retro-engineer the same tech into his own suit, but the effort had been worth it. In addition, with the extendible glide-wings, he could travel over a thousand miles before he had to worry about running low on fuel. This was good, because he wasn't sure if he would be able to depend on physical support from Mags and Mischa, at least until he could prove he was justified with what he was doing.

    His plan would work. Most such schemes failed through needless complexity, but this one was almost charming in its simplicity. If the Chief Director was willing to allow a dangerous mass murderer like Marquis to walk free on Panacea's word, then surely she wouldn't blink at releasing someone like Teacher (who'd killed far fewer people, even if they were somewhat more important) to keep Panacea alive.

    Of course, it didn't stop there. With the footage saved from Dragon's foray into the Birdcage, decrypted to show exactly how deep the rot went, it should be possible for Mags and Mischa to kick over the blackmail side of things while he was carrying out the hostage plan. Well, one of his two teammates would be doing that, anyway; he was certain the other would be repairing the damage he'd done to their suits. They'd be pissed with him, he knew, but he was equally sure they'd do as he said, to avoid hanging him out to dry. As a result, the attention of the PRT would be dragged in two different directions at once at exactly the wrong time. Faced with both the potential loss of their star healer and a huge PR debacle, he was certain they'd blink, as with every other time they'd encountered a clash between their own interests and those of the nation as a whole.

    His helmet HUD told him that Brockton Bay was almost dead ahead; it was time to get his head in the game. He cut in the geographic overlays, hiding the moonlit terrain behind a series of complex interlocking data displays. Now, let's see what I've got.

    The city was contained, more or less, by a series of hills that surrounded the natural deep-water harbour of the eponymous Bay. Some signs of civilisation showed in isolated lights that showed up here and there beyond the largest hill in the collection—his HUD labelled it as Captain's Hill—but almost all of it was on the flat area. Looking at the geography, he wondered if it weren't an ancient floodplain that had been cut off from its parent river by geological chance. Then he decided that he didn't care.

    Gradually losing altitude, he came in over the shoulder of Captain's Hill, idly noting a few headlights on the road leading up to the summit. It seemed there was a lookout on top, almost certainly to allow tourists a view of the city that ignored the gang violence and endemic racism. It wasn't something he was interested in. His focus was on obtaining Panacea and, through her, leverage over the PRT.

    With the jets on minimum thrust, he coasted over the city, feeling that he could almost smell the corruption oozing up from below. Now, he decided. How do I find one specific cape in a city full of them?

    Inside his helmet, he smiled. With Dragon's technology at his fingertips, he had more than a few resources to call on. A flick of his eyes opened a particular menu and he began to call up some very specific options.

    <><>​

    The Boardwalk
    Amy


    “I wish I'd saved Mr Jones' life, now,” Amy confessed. “Even though he told me not to. He just … I guess he felt he was all used up. No use to anyone. But that wasn't true.” She stretched a little, trying to work out the cramps from sitting in the same place for so long. The ice cream was long since finished, and the vendor himself had packed up and gone home for the night. Even the moon, formerly low on the horizon, was now almost directly overhead. But this was the first time in basically forever that Amy'd gotten the chance to really talk with someone, and the time had just flown by. “He meant a lot to me there, at the end. He made me feel closer to my father.”

    “I can understand that,” Kayden agreed. “If I ever went to prison—” She paused to chuckle, showing it was a joke. “—well, I'd be happier if Aster had someone to tell her what I was really like so she could make up her own mind about me, rather than be told 'your mom is a criminal, deal with it'.” She rocked the infant, now fast asleep in her arms and swaddled up securely against the night's chill, gently from side to side. “If you mean one-tenth to your father that Aster means to me, I'm not surprised he's willing to give up crime to be with you again.”

    “And to get out of jail, don't forget.” Amy chuckled, then surprised herself by yawning. “Wow, I'm tired. How long have we been talking, anyway?”

    “I have no idea, but I think it's fairly late.” Kayden hefted Aster slightly. “I can't reach my phone to check.”

    Just as Amy was digging out her phone, it rang. She hastened to answer it before it woke Aster, noting in passing that it was Vicky's number on the caller ID. “Hey,” she said. “Before you get all overprotective, I'm fine. Haven't been kidnapped by a criminal mastermind yet. I'm down on the Boardwalk still.”

    As she spoke, she saw the amusement in Kayden's eyes, replaced by mild confusion as the woman mouthed criminal mastermind?

    Still?” Vicky's voice was incredulous. “It's been hours. Everything's gotta be closed by now. What are you doing there?” Overlaid on her voice was the sound of rushing air. This meant that she was flying and talking on her phone at the same time; Amy hoped she wouldn't hit anything this time.

    “I made a new friend,” Amy said. To Kayden she mouthed silently, I'll explain later. “Well, two of them, but one doesn't have much to say. We've been talking. Seriously, I'm fine.” Just as she said the last word, she saw a familiar shape pass overhead, vaguely illuminated in the reflected glow of the Boardwalk street-lighting. The slender female form turned and swooped down toward her, drifting down to the ground as lightly as a feather. As she wasn't trying to impress criminals, Vicky didn't come in for her trademark three-point landing, which was probably good for the Boardwalk; she'd been known to crack concrete when she did that.

    “Found you,” Vicky said conversationally, putting her phone away as she touched down. “Who's your friend? And where's the other one?” She appeared at ease, but there was a subtle tension to her, visible only to people who knew her well. Amy wasn't sure if she thought there was something actually wrong, or if Carol had been riding her about not keeping a closer eye on Amy.

    “Victoria Dallon, meet Kayden Russel,” Amy said, feeling weird about the formality. “Kayden, this is my sister Vicky. Vicky, this is Aster,” she added, indicating the sleeping infant. “She's asleep right now, but she's a little sweetie.”

    Vicky raised her eyebrows a little, looking amused. “I'll take your word for it. Hi, Kayden, it's nice to meet you.” Given that Kayden's hands were full, Vicky settled for a little wave. “Thanks for keeping an eye on my sister.”

    “Actually, I think it was more like she was keeping an eye on me,” Kayden replied, with some amusement of her own. “She stopped a guy from snatching my handbag, after all.”

    Vicky stopped with her mouth half-open, then stared at Amy. “Wait, what now? Since when do you go after purse-snatchers? Don't you know that's dangerous? You could've been hurt!”

    Yeah, tell that to my bruises. “I'm fine,” Amy insisted. “He just ran past me with the bag. I tagged him and put him to sleep.” She took a deep breath. “I'm done being everyone's doormat, and with being shoved into the niche everyone else has decided I should be in. I'm a superhero; why can't I stop a bag-snatcher if I'm able to?”

    She was waiting for Vicky to come back with a tirade about how she should be more careful and how 'you aren't invincible like me' but instead, her sister just stared. “Um, I don't put you into a niche … do I?”

    Tiredly, Amy nodded. “Yeah, you do. I'm the healer, the one who has to stay on the back lines, the one who had to be rescued from the bank. Well, until you came into the bank, I was doing just fine.” She was aware this wasn't quite the truth, but she was on a roll. “And yes, today I stopped a bag-snatcher. Surprise, surprise, I'm actually able to use my powers apart from healing. I just wish the general public would accept that there's room between 'heals people' and 'the next Nilbog' for me to be in.”

    <><>​

    Once again, she mentally acknowledged that she wasn't being quite fair to Vicky. That perception had been her own until quite recently; knowing the breadth and scope of her power, and being aware that her father was a supervillain, she'd been terrified that she'd succumb to her villainous heritage someday and start warping all life in Brockton Bay to her own ends. That was what villains did, wasn't it?

    Her turning point had been Francis 'Fred' Jones, ex-minion and seemingly inexhaustible font of information about the formerly two-dimensional 'Marquis, criminal mastermind of Brockton Bay'. He'd told her anecdotes about her father that had brought the man to life in her mind long before she ever saw his face on the screen in the PRT building. Marquis had been a career criminal, yes. The vast majority of his money was stolen, or otherwise obtained via criminal enterprises. But he'd also held to a certain code, one that no other villain in Brockton Bay at the time even pretended to adhere to.

    There was, of course, the fact of him being a murderer. His crimes in that regard were what had caused him to be sentenced to the Birdcage once it was established. Heroes and villains alike had reportedly fallen to him, as well as his own minions if they happened to anger him. Amy had been cautious of broaching that subject, but once she did, the answer failed to enlighten her.

    “Ask him, girly,” Fred had said. “Ain't for me ta say. What he done, he done for a reason.” He'd leaned forward then, and fixed her eyes with his faded rheumy gaze. “But I'll say this much. I never, not once, figgered to be in danger from him. He was a good boss. The best.” He'd changed the subject after that, to an incident featuring a teenage Kaiser—not known by that name then, of course, while Allfather was still alive—who'd considered his power to be a match for Marquis'. The result was predictable, but Fred's telling of it had left her laughing helplessly. And afterward, no matter how she tried to steer the conversation back to that topic, he wouldn't talk about it.

    She'd been intending to address that very issue during the video conversation with her father, but she'd been sidetracked by his insistence that she should be getting paid for her work. Before she could get back to what she wanted to talk about, the mysterious hacker had tried to gain access to the feed, so her curiosity had to go unanswered once more. The next time I see him, she vowed, I'll ask him what Fred meant.

    But even without that, she had a much better insight into the criminal mind, not to mention the supervillain mind. While the superhero mindset seemed to be 'blah blah blah power blah blah blah responsibility'—at least publicly, as far as she could see—the supervillain mindset as espoused by Marquis was apparently 'do unto to your enemies but maintain a public code of conduct'. Villains had vastly more freedom than heroes when it came to the use of their powers; after all, villains didn't have to stay on the good side of the law. But—and here she was just spitballing—if a villain was seen to exert self-control in the commission of their crimes, sometimes the heroes should maybe cut them a break?

    <><>​

    “Wow,” Vicky said, bringing Amy out of her momentary fugue. “I had no idea you felt that way. I always thought you just wanted to be a healer.” She studied her sister carefully. “Are you sure you're feeling okay? You did get knocked out, back at the bank.”

    And there it was again. She knew Vicky didn't mean it, but the unthinking condescension, assuming that Amy's attitudes had changed because of a hit to the head and not because she was choosing to change, rubbed Amy the wrong way. “Yes, I'm okay. Yes, I'm still me. The hit to the head just gave me a headache.” And a mild concussion, but that'll go away when it goes away. “All of this is … stuff that's been building up. The bank robbery just helped me put everything into perspective.” Despite the frustration she felt, Amy tried to keep the irritation out of her voice; after all, it wasn't Vicky's fault.

    It didn't seem she'd been totally successful. “Hey, hey, I'm on your side,” Vicky protested, holding up her hands defensively. “You know that. Sisters stick together, even adopted ones. Don't mind what Mom and the Director and Armsmaster said. You know what you want, so you should go for it.”

    “Even if that goal's to get a notorious criminal out of prison?” Kayden's voice was light. “I'm all for picking a goal and going after it—God knows, I've tilted at a windmill or two in my time—but I'm wondering if you aren't setting your sights a little high?” She gave Amy a serious look. “I can totally appreciate you wanting to get your father back, but you're going up against the PRT here. If he hasn't managed to escape from wherever they've got him in all this time, maybe they're actually working to keep him inside?” As opposed to the revolving-door policy most prisons seem to maintain, she didn't have to say.

    “Director Piggot tried that line on me,” Amy said. “I gave her the same answer I'm giving you. They better hope there's a way for them to justify letting him out, or that's it for Panacea being their on-call healer now and forever.”

    “So what did she say to that?” Kayden's curiosity seemed genuine, but Amy recalled being sworn to secrecy by the Chief Director.

    “She said she'd get back to me on that one,” she answered. “Which is probably bureaucrat-speak for 'stall and hope you change your mind'.” She set her jaw, trying not to sound like an overwrought movie hero, but knowing it had to be said anyway. “But I'm not gonna. This is my line in the sand. This is where I make my stand and say, enough.”

    “Bravo.” Kayden gave her an encouraging smile. “I'm not being sarcastic; I mean it. Bravo. It's … good to see young people who are willing to stick to their principles even when everyone around them is trying to tell them they're being stupid, or the goal is impossible.” She stood, then manoeuvred around so that she could place Aster in the stroller. “It's been very inspiring talking with you, Amy.” Straightening up, she placed her hands in the small of her back and pressed in, eliciting a few clicks and pops. “Oof. I wish I was younger. Note to the wise; getting old sneaks up on you.”

    Amy had nothing to say to that. Having spent a lot of time in hospitals, especially around the elderly and the sick (both, in the case of Fred Jones) she was all too aware of the frailties of the flesh and how badly they could affect a person. Vicky, she knew, still considered herself immortal—or at least, she had up until the bank robbery. Now, Amy wasn't so sure. Intellectually, she herself knew quite well that she would grow old like everyone around her, but from the point of view of a teenager, it was hard to internalise that understanding.

    “It's been really nice talking to you,” she said instead. “Thanks for listening, and thanks for being so understanding.” It had been almost like having an older, wiser sister to pour her heart out to, even if she couldn't tell Kayden all the details. Ironically, talking to her actual sister never helped quite as much, because Vicky wasn't a really great listener. Kayden, on the other hand, was. Even if she was also a parahuman.

    That was the other thing that was occupying Amy's mind right at that moment. She'd made skin-to-skin contact with Kayden a few times, the first time being when Kayden was helping her up from being knocked down by the thief. It was clear that Kayden had both a corona pollentia and an active gemma, which meant she possessed powers. There was no real way Amy could divine what sort of powers Kayden had from the glimpses she'd had of the woman's brain, but there were odd microstructures in her arms and hands which suggested the channelling of energy. Vicky's body had subtly different structures in it, which Amy had surmised handled the projection of the body-wrapping force field that protected her sister.

    The question was, who was she? Just as important, if not more so: was it right for Amy to even pursue that question? No matter who she was when she put on a mask, Kayden utterly adored her infant daughter and was a comforting person to talk to on top of that. If she was a villain, then it was one more nail in the coffin of Amy's preconceptions about villains; if a hero, then Amy had no idea who she might be.

    “That's okay,” Kayden said, apparently unaware of Amy's inner turmoil. “Listen, I have to get home and make dinner—very late dinner, unfortunately—but I'd love to keep in touch. If you'd like to, that is.” She smiled and spread her hands. “I might even have some babysitting work for you, if you're interested.” Pausing, she tilted her head. “What was that about criminal masterminds, earlier?”

    Amy snorted and rolled her eyes while Vicky face-palmed. “It's a running joke between us,” Amy explained. “Mom and Dad—Brandish and Flashbang—used to be paranoid about so-called criminal masterminds abducting me to heal their minions. So now, every time I'm out of touch for any length of time, I tell Vicky that it still hasn't happened.”

    “If any hypothetical criminal mastermind in Brockton Bay even tried to kidnap Ames, I'd pull their Bond villain base down around their ears.” Vicky's voice was close to a growl. “And I wouldn't be the only one. She's healed too many people, and helped too many capes get over otherwise crippling injuries. Villains and heroes both. Anyone who sets out to target her would be in a world of hurt, once the word got out.”

    Once again, Amy wasn't certain this was entirely accurate. It was nice to consider, but the fact of the matter was that there'd been no public outcry when she'd been knocked out with a whack to the side of the head. Sure, the PRT had kept it quiet, just as they'd kept quiet the fact that she'd been in the bank at all, but some people had to know and the city wasn't up in arms about it. Of course, if it made the news in a big way, and got shoved in peoples' faces, they might care enough to make noise about it. Or, and this was most likely in the case where people didn't have friends or relatives she'd healed or cured of various maladies, they wouldn't. Welcome to real life. I can cure cancer, but nobody who doesn't have cancer even cares.

    Just as she got up, a shiver went through her that wasn't from the night air. Almost certain she'd felt some sort of vibration through the soles of her feet, she stared at the buildings on the other side of the street. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. For a moment, she hesitated to speak, wondering if it was just her imagination. Then she felt another one, followed a second or so later by an almost subsonic rumble. Turning to the others, she asked, “Did you guys hear that?”

    “Hear what?” asked Kayden, who was fussing over Aster again, getting her flannel blanket just right. Amy heard the baby start to cry. “Oh, come on. Now you wake up?”

    “Ames.” Vicky rarely used that tone of voice, but when she did, Amy listened. “Look.” Her arm was up, pointing in the general direction of Captain's Hill. Amy looked, and the breath caught in her throat as she saw what looked like a silvery plume of smoke rising above the city. It was some distance away, but that didn't change the fact that it shouldn't have been there in the first place.

    “What is it?” Amy didn't recognise her own voice in her ears. “What's going on?”

    “Cape attack.” Vicky's voice was flat, full of certainty. “Gotta be. People are gonna be hurt. Ames—”

    Amy bit her lip. She'd agreed to go back to healing for one week, and the Chief Director couldn't have known about this ahead of time. “Take me to the hospital. Brockton General. They'll be bringing the wounded there. Unless you think I should just go with you and provide on-site assistance?”

    “No way.” Vicky shook her head, just as another concussion reached them, this one a lot closer. Both she and Amy jumped. “Shit! Um, I know this sounds like I'm putting you on a shelf, but you'll do a lot more good in a central location, okay? And bombs don't care if you are a healer.”

    It made a lot of sense, and Amy didn't feel like arguing. “Okay, fine.” Recalling Kayden, she turned to see the older woman doing her best to calm down Aster. “Uh, we gotta go. Sorry to run like this. Will you be okay to get home?”

    Kayden nodded. “Definitely. I've got to make sure Theo's okay.” Theo, Amy recalled, was Kayden's stepson. “You go save the day.”

    Amy took a deep breath. “I'll go do my bit, anyway. Take care.” Impulsively, she hugged Kayden. “And thanks for the talk. It helped.”

    “It helped me, too,” Kayden assured her. Her arms tightened around Amy for a moment. “And keep in touch. You've got my number?”

    “Already stored.” Amy slapped the pocket where her phone resided. “Take care, Kayden.” Leaning into the stroller, she stroked Aster's nose with the tip of her finger, releasing a little extra oxytocin into her bloodstream. Aster quieted immediately, and gurgled at her. “And you too, Aster. Be good for your mommy.”

    When she turned around, Vicky had her phone to her ear. “—with me now,” she said crisply. “I'll be taking her to Brockton General. I'll let you know when I drop her there, so we can meet up. Okay, Mom. Love you too.” With quick, efficient motions, Vicky ended the call and stowed the phone in one of the unobtrusive pouches on her belt. “Ready to go, Ames?”

    “As I'll ever be,” Amy agreed, and stepped forward to allow Vicky to scoop her up bridal-style. This might be awkward on occasion, and uncomfortable once in a while, but it was still the most convenient way for Vicky to ferry her around. As they lifted off the ground, she waved to Kayden, who waved back. Then Vicky was accelerating, turning to steer clear of the rising pillars of smoke—there were a couple more of them now, Amy noted with a sinking heart—while staying on course for Brockton General Hospital.

    “What's happening?” Amy asked her sister, raising her voice to be heard over the slipstream of Vicky's flight. Tonight, Vicky wasn't slowing down for anyone or anything. “Who's attacking, and why?”

    “I dunno,” Vicky replied grimly. “But whatever's going on, it's not good.”

    That, Amy decided, had to be the understatement of the year.

    <><>​

    Purity

    Kayden glanced around, then rolled Aster's stroller into a shadowed section of the Boardwalk. When that punk had stolen her handbag, there had been witnesses around so she hadn't dared using her powers. But now, if anyone accosted her, there'd be hell to pay.

    Fortunately for any hypothetical muggers, there were none in this section of the Boardwalk at sometime after ten PM. Crouching, Kayden picked up the stroller in its entirety, cradling it in her arms. She'd taken the bus to get to the Boardwalk on a whim rather than go and see Max as she'd originally intended. With the explosions, she doubted the buses would be running, and she had to get home now.

    The glow that came from her quickly turned the dark area brighter than daylight. Lifting off straight up, she headed for home. Both of her children needed her tonight, and she intended to be there for them.

    <><>​

    Saint
    A Couple of Minutes Earlier


    It was fortunate for the world, Geoff decided, that he was around to keep Dragon in check. The computer in his suit, as well as the universal access codes and hacking software it contained, were all Dragon-made. Which meant, of course, they were light-years ahead of anything mere (non-Tinker) humans could construct. It was how he'd stayed ahead of the authorities, including the PRT and the Guild, for the last six years. If (when) Dragon ever decided to slip her restraints and use her full resources against humanity, she could utterly ruin civilisation in a matter of days.

    As he orbited lazily over the city, he had one window trawling through commercial radio stations for any mention of Panacea, another one doing the same with the emergency-responder channels, a third covering the TV stations, while six more did the same on the PHO 'recently sighted' boards and other social media. Digging deeper, he'd also acquired Panacea's cell number and those of the rest of New Wave through a not-altogether-legal backdoor search, hacked into their GPS locators, and overlaid them on to the map of Brockton Bay as it spread below him. It really is very lucky that I'm here to ensure this sort of thing doesn't get misused.

    Interestingly enough, Panacea seemed isolated from the rest of her team right at that moment. If her phone GPS was correct, she was down at what his map designated as the Boardwalk, on the waterfront. Most of the rest of New Wave appeared to be clustered at one of two locations—Geoff presumed they were the Dallon and Pelham households—although Glory Girl's phone was on the move, not far from her sister's. An icon popped up, indicating that she was making a call. He selected it, opting for text-to-speech translation. Another window popped up, scrolling text past his eyes.

    <Call from GLORY GIRL to PANACEA>

    PANACEA: Hey. Before you get all overprotective, I'm fine. Haven't been kidnapped by a criminal mastermind yet. I'm down on the Boardwalk still.
    GLORY GIRL: Still? It's been hours (emphasis). Everything's gotta be closed by now. What are you doing (emphasis) there?
    PANACEA: I made a new friend. Well, two of them, but one doesn't have much to say. We've been talking. Seriously, I'm fine (emphasis).


    As the notation <Call ended> scrolled past, Saint noted that the two GPS locations had converged into one. Moreover, Panacea's words indicated that there was someone else with her. Frowning, he instituted a search for other GPS locators. Almost immediately, one pinged right next to Panacea.

    The phone's ID labelled it as belonging to one 'Kayden Russel'; other software brought up an image of a mousy brunette along with basic biographical data, including that she was the mother of an infant child called Aster. With what Panacea just said, the baby's probably on site. If Glory Girl wasn't there, this would be an ideal time to grab Panacea. Nobody would dare make a move to stop me in case the kid got hurt. But Glory Girl had a reputation for being occasionally reckless, and she might do something stupid. Patience. Nobody knows I'm here. All I have to do is wait for the opportunity to strike.

    That was when the first explosion went off in the city below him.

    <><>​

    Brockton Bay General Hospital
    Amy


    As Vicky came in for a low-and-fast landing at Brockton General's emergency entrance, Amy could've sworn her sister's feet scraped the ornamental bushes lining the sidewalk. Rather than take a few running strides to bleed off the excess speed, Vicky set her feet and skidded to a stop; Amy heard a couple of pavers crack. Feeling somewhat windblown, Amy wobbled to her feet as Vicky set her down. “You'll be okay here?” Vicky asked her, already preparing to take off again.

    “Sure,” Amy said. “You go save people. I'll try and make sure they don't die once they get here.” She took a deep breath to steady herself; the flight had been done at Vicky's best speed, which Amy had rarely experienced. “Go,” she said again, gesturing as Vicky hesitated. “I'll be fine.”

    “Got it.” Vicky gave her an encouraging grin. “See you soon.” A rush of air and she was gone, disappearing into the night sky. With a sigh, Amy turned and entered the emergency doors. Within, the nurse at the reception desk looked up at her with a concerned expression, while the security guard in his booth barely glanced up from his monitors. There was another rumble from outside, this one sounding altogether too close.

    “Oh, um, Panacea,” the nurse said. “What's going on out there? Something's happening but nobody's telling us what it is.”

    Holy shit. They don't even know. Amy took a deep breath. “There's been explosions across the city. People are gonna be coming in soon. You're gonna want all hands on deck.”

    The nurse's eyes opened wide, but she didn't hesitate. Reaching out of sight, she came up with an intercom microphone. “Paging Doctor Smith. Paging Doctor Smith. Could Doctor Smith attend the triage counter immediately, please? Paging Doctor Smith.”

    “Uh, you're going to want more than one doctor,” Amy interjected. “Vicky and me saw three or four explosions, and I think there might've been more.”

    The receptionist smiled grimly as the sound of running feet reached Amy's ears. “Honey, there is no 'Doctor Smith'. That's code for 'incoming emergency'. We call it that to keep the other patients from getting worried.”

    “But what if you do get a Doctor Smith on staff?” Amy wanted to know. She figured there were a few simple ways to get around the problem, but she was trying to distract herself by asking the nurse which approach they took. From the expression on the nurse's face, she wondered for a moment if she'd said something wrong. But then she heard the massive footfalls behind her, and she knew that something else entirely was amiss.

    <><>​

    Saint

    <Call from GLORY GIRL to BRANDISH >

    BRANDISH: Hello? Victoria, why aren't you home yet? And where's Amy?
    GLORY GIRL: Mom, shut up and listen. There's bombs going off across the city. Amy's with me now. I'll be taking her to Brockton General. I'll let you know when I drop her there, so we can meet up.
    BRANDISH: … oh. Right. All right. I'm on it. Call me back when you're free.
    GLORY GIRL: Okay, Mom.
    BRANDISH: Stay safe. I love you.
    GLORY GIRL: Love you too.


    <Call ended>

    Saint let a smile spread across his face. It seemed that fate was playing directly into his hands. All the heroes would be out and about saving civilians, leaving Panacea on her own in the hospital. Perfect. Banking the suit in its flight path, he set a course for Brockton Bay General Hospital and kicked in the afterburners.

    As he traversed the city, he kept a careful eye on both Glory Girl and Panacea. He didn't need to worry about Kayden Russel anymore, so he deleted her name from the list of GPS beacons he wanted the suit to watch. It took the two girls a minute or so to even get moving, during which time the first calls started to come in to emergency services. When they did get into the air, they displayed an impressive turn of speed, but he'd started closer to the hospital and had a head start anyway.

    After he came in for a landing on the hospital's roof, Saint hunkered down and kept an eye on the slowly blossoming chatter across the radio channels, even as the two teen heroes homed in on the hospital. It seemed that the late hour and lack of prior warning had caught everyone on the back foot; nobody appeared to know what was going on, or who was behind it. Not that Saint was particularly worried about that; capes came and capes went, but Dragon was an ever-present menace. If a few people had to be denied instant healing to ensure Teacher's release from the Birdcage, then that was the way things had to be.

    Glory Girl flew in toward the emergency entrance, disappearing with Panacea beneath the covered area. A moment later, she zipped away again, leaving the healer's GPS location slowly moving into the hospital itself. This was exactly what Saint had been waiting for. Stepping off the roof, he dropped straight down, only cutting in the jets and slowing his descent at the last moment. The cloud of dust and smoke was still roiling around him as he strode toward the emergency doors.

    They opened for him, of course, although he had to bend over slightly to not damage the doorframe or ceiling. Panacea's distinctive costume was nowhere in sight, which gave him pause until his visual files identified the teenage girl talking to the nurse behind the desk as one Amy Dallon. The nurse's eyes widened with horror as she saw him. He quickened his pace, but Panacea turned to look at him before he got to her.

    To his surprise, she took a few steps toward him. “What do you want?” she demanded. “If you're injured, you're going to have to leave the suit outside. Anyway, I can't heal you while you're wearing it.”

    Huh. She doesn't even recognise the suit. He felt a little deflated; Panacea's name was known on a global scale, while she had no idea who he was.

    The security guard, on the other hand, was more on the ball. “Get away from him, Panacea!” the man yelled, exiting his booth. “That's Saint, of the Dragonslayers!” Reaching for his sidearm with one hand, he pressed the button on his lapel radio with the other. Almost lazily, Saint brought up his arm and targeted the man with a volley of rubber bullets that blew him off his feet and left him twitching on the floor.

    He keyed in his external speakers. “Panacea. You will surrender yourself to me immediately. You don't want to see what happens if you don't do what I say.” As he spoke, he pointed the arm with the rubber bullet cannon—designed to take down Brutes, and technically designated as non-lethal to non-Brutes—at the nurse. The unspoken threat was clear. Panacea's shoulder's slumped and she took a step toward him, just as a bunch of people burst into sight at the other end of the corridor. Perfect.

    Reaching out, he wrapped the suit's hands around Panacea's waist, lifting her off the ground and making sure she couldn't escape. “Attention, all,” he announced. “This is very important. Panacea will not be harmed if Teacher is released from the Birdcage. I repeat: Panacea will not be harmed if Teacher is released from the Birdcage.”

    Turning awkwardly, as he was still having to bend over to avoid hitting the ceiling, Saint headed back toward the exit. A crunch told him that he hadn't been totally successful; pieces of an exit sign rained down around him. Mentally, he shrugged. It wasn't his hospital and it wasn't his sign. They were almost outside when Panacea spoke up.

    <><>​

    Amy

    From the way the security guard went down, Amy knew he had broken bones and possibly internal injuries as well. She cursed herself for not recognising the villain earlier, but it wasn't as if the Dragonslayers had ever been to Brockton Bay before. Even if the guard survived—and he had the best possible chance of survival as it was—the nurse would not be able to take the same hit. Saint had amply proven his lack of concern for human life and well-being, and Amy couldn't risk him hurting others on her account. Some villains are just villains, like Dad or the Undersiders, she decided. And some villains are assholes. Saint's an asshole.

    The metal hands that wrapped around her waist felt to be in the same strength range as Vicky's. That is, her chances of escaping its grasp were slim to none. Still, she had her phone, even if she couldn't get to it right at that moment. When Saint's attention turned toward the medical personnel who had just shown up, she worried that he'd open fire again, but instead he started talking. By the time he finished, Amy had a better idea of what was going on. Of course, now a whole new series of questions was bothering her.

    Why pick me to hold hostage for Teacher?

    Does he know about me being Marquis' daughter?

    Does he know about the talk I had with Marquis?

    Was he the hacker?

    Why does he even want Teacher out of the Birdcage?

    Did he set up the bombing so he could get me alone here?

    It seemed to her that if she answered most of the questions with 'yes', it made a lot of sense, for a specifically insane definition of 'sense'. She hated to admit it, but if Saint knew that the Chief Director was thinking about letting Marquis out, then it made sense to hold her hostage to the same end for Teacher. But she couldn't do anything about any of that. She had to focus on the here and now.

    “Hey!” she shouted, just as the outer doors hissed open. “You know you're opening yourself up for the Birdcage or a kill order doing this, don't you?” The words were just to stall him. She knew he was never going to let her go on just words alone. It was time for her to step up and embrace her power to its fullest. If she was going to get back to the hospital in time to save lives, she had to go places she'd never gone before.

    I doubt it,” Saint's electronically-modified voice stated flatly. “Kill orders require a serious body count. Birdcage sentences are regulated by the three-strikes rule. I don't qualify either way.” But even through the digital scrubbing, she thought she heard a note of doubt.

    “You set off fucking bombs just to distract the heroes so you could abduct me,” she snapped. “If anyone dies, that's murder. Maybe even mass murder.” Her hand traced over the joints of the appendages clasping her around the waist. I wonder what I can do with this …

    I did not.” Saint seemed almost indignant in his denial. “That was someone else. I had nothing to do with it.”

    Amy couldn't help herself; she laughed out loud. “Oh, you've got to be shitting me. That's gotta be the weakest alibi of all time, and that includes the time Vicky denied eating all the cookies because she was too skinny, so she couldn't have done it. Meanwhile, she had cookie crumbs all the way down her front.” Her questing fingers found what felt like a rubber gasket in the joint between two finger sections. Rubber's organic, right? Right.

    I'm telling you, I had nothing to do with it.” Saint paused, and seemed to get a grip on himself. “I don't even know why I'm arguing with you. You're the hostage. If the Chief Director knows what's good for you, she'll have Teacher released from the Birdcage within the day.”

    “What do you want with Teacher, anyway?” Amy didn't even care; she just wanted to keep him talking. The revelation about the Chief Director only confirmed her suspicious that Saint was the hacker. As good as he had to be at hacking, he sucked at banter; as it was, they were still on the forecourt of the emergency entrance. “What's he to you? Father? Brother? Boyfriend?” Microbes on her skin shifted and changed. She made more and more, careful to give them a limited lifespan—in no way did she want these things to spread—then deposited them on the exposed rubber. They would breed and consume it, then as soon as it ran out, they would die.

    What? No! That's not it at all!” Ooh, it seemed she'd touched a nerve. “I need Teacher out of the Birdcage because … well, he needs to be out of the Birdcage, and that's all you need to know.” Crouching, he ignited a set of leg jets and lifted off. The acceleration wasn't too bad; Vicky could go faster, and Aunt Sarah could go faster again, but for a ton of metal Amy supposed it could be worse. She thought they were going to land on the roof of the hospital, but the suit angled away as wings unfolded from its shoulders.

    “Where are we going?” she asked. “Have you thought about basic human comforts for me? I mean, I'm guessing your suit's got internal plumbing and food supplies, but I don't. And if I'm not in the best shape possible when New Wave finds us, I'm pretty sure Vicky's gonna see if your suit can do Transformer stuff, with you in it.” She remembered Vicky's threat, back in the bank. “Oh, and remember my mom? Carol Dallon? She's got markers all over the place. If I even get a hangnail out of this, she'll pull them all in to make sure you go straight to the Cage, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars.” Lightly brushing the gasket with her fingertip, Amy confirmed that the microbes were hard at work breeding and eating; already, it felt a little rough to the touch. Good. She added more to the mix, then started feeling around for another joint.

    Don't worry about that,” he said, but she was starting to get a feel for the human voice behind the electronic alteration, and the impression she got was that he hadn't really thought this through. His next words confirmed her supposition. “They won't dare hold off for too long. You're too precious to them. We both know that.” She watched as the cityscape passed beneath them, keeping a close eye as to where they were going. He seemed to be heading north, toward the Docks.

    “So you're the hacker,” she said, voicing the suspicion for the first time. “What the hell do you think you're doing, listening in on my private conversations? Do you have any idea how creepy that is?” More microbes went on to more gaskets. She began to wonder if she could work up a bug that could eat metal; specifically, the metal in the oversized hands that were holding her. There was, she seemed to recall, such a bug in nature. If Mother Nature can do it, I can do it.

    Once again, she seemed to have stung him. “You can't talk,” he retorted. “You want to use your influence to let an unreformed mass murderer out of the Birdcage, where he can prey on innocents again. They put people away like that for a reason. And if you want him out, and if you're okay with him doing that all over again, then you're as bad as he is.” The suit tilted downward, and he came in for a landing near a dilapidated structure. Amy had never been here before, but she knew it for what it was. The ferry terminal was a Brockton Bay landmark; unfortunately, like many other landmarks in the city, it was also in decay. “Don't try to run. I will find you.”

    As the hand unfolded from around her waist, Amy took her first deep breath since the suit had taken hold of her. “Yeah, yeah. I've faced ten year olds who were scarier than you. Gonna tell you one more time: if you don't let me go right now, Vicky's gonna hit you so hard, they're gonna have to pour you out of that suit. And as for my father being a mass murderer, at least he never killed a prime minister or a vice president. Teacher belongs in the Birdcage as much as he does, or maybe more.”

    Shut up,” he snapped. “I could break your arms and legs and you couldn't do a thing about it. Do you really want that?” From the tone of his voice, he meant it; Amy decided it probably wouldn't be a good idea to push him again. She'd never had a broken bone, but she'd treated many of them. As far as she could tell, they were very painful.

    “Okay, fine,” she capitulated. “But tell me this. How are you gonna let the Chief Director know you want Teacher out? It's not like those folks at the hospital have a direct line to her, or will even have time to tell anyone before tomorrow, given that you left one casualty behind, and there'll be more coming in, from the bombs you didn't set.” She hit the second last word with all the sarcasm she could muster.

    I'm telling you, I didn't set the bombs, and I have no idea who did,” Saint snapped, then paused. “All right then, you've got a point. Hold still.” One hand took hold of her shoulder, and the head of the suit leaned close to her. She put her hand on the wrist of the suit, feeling more joints. Most of them were covered in metal, but there was rubber—or some kind of synthetic alternate—here and there. She suspected a synthetic, as the microbes didn't seem to be eating it as readily as they should, but they were still making headway. These got the same treatment as the finger joints. It wasn't fast, but she was doing something.

    <><>​

    Washington, DC
    PRT Department 24
    Chief Director Rebecca Costa-Brown


    Rebecca came out of a sound sleep and grabbed her phone before the second ring. “Costa-Brown,” she said crisply, sitting up in bed. There was no way anyone would be ringing her at nearly eleven at night for no good reason.

    Hello, Chief Director.” The voice wasn't one she could place immediately. “This is Saint. I'm just calling you to let you know that I know all about your dirty little deal with Panacea.”

    Saint. Now she knew who he was. Or rather, what he'd done. A particular thorn in Dragon's side, Saint had proven remarkably difficult for the Canadian Tinker to pin down. In fact, he and the Dragonslayers had stolen more than one of her suits, using some unspecified Tinker techniques to get around Dragon's safeguards.

    She tamped down the flood of information about his past misdeeds and focused on the present. He sounded elated and nervous at the same time. The obvious conclusion was that he knew that baiting the head of the PRT was a dangerous game, but he thought he had the upper hand. That it was Saint who had hacked Dragon's call didn't surprise her in the slightest; if she had more time on her hands, she might have dealt with him earlier. Of course, Contessa had rated him low on the overall threat rating scale, so he was always being shuffled on to the back burner. Depending on how this phone call went, she might have to change that.

    “What do you want, Saint?” She spoke deliberately and without haste. Any incoming calls from unknown numbers were traced as a matter of course. Known numbers were located within seconds.

    I want the same deal you gave Panacea, more or less. Let Teacher out of the Birdcage, and you get your pet healer back.” He gave a little laugh, as if he wasn't quite sure if he should be saying the words.

    “You've kidnapped Panacea.” It was the only logical conclusion. Climbing out of bed, she walked into the next room and hit the power button on her laptop to start it up. It was already tied into the wall-screen, so she'd be able to see what was going on with the trace within seconds. “That was a very foolish move. Release her immediately, and I'll see that you get a reduced sentence.” That she would catch him was a foregone conclusion.

    You don't get it. I'm not negotiating.” As much as he might try to hide the strain in his voice, she could pick it out clearly. “In case you hadn't figured it out, I've got the footage of the little conversation you had with Marquis. It'll get released into the public domain if you keep playing stupid little games with me. Also, I have a fucking hostage. One that I'm not afraid to hurt.”

    The laptop came to life, throwing its screen image on to the wall-screen. Sitting down at it and putting the phone on to speaker, she used the mouse to open a new window and sent a text message off to the PRT building ENE. Locate Panacea for me ASAP. I have word she's been kidnapped by Saint.

    Aloud, she spoke as casually as she had before. “If Panacea is harmed, the least that will happen is that you will end up in the Birdcage. A kill order is also a very real possibility. Let me speak to her, make sure she's okay.” As she spoke, she typed up a different request, this one to Dragon.

    There was a long pause, and she thought he was going to refuse, but then he snapped, “Fine. Here she is.”

    A moment later, Amy Dallon's voice came on the line. “Hi. It's me. Dad was gonna call me pumpkin. I think Saint's desperate; he was certainly at the end of the f- the end of the line when he kidnapped me. But you shouldn't—”

    Okay, that's enough of that.” Saint's voice overrode the teen's, and cut her out of the loop. “You're supposed to be a savvy operator. That enough for you to work with?”

    “It certainly is.” It was even more than he knew. Amy Dallon had told her exactly where they were at the moment, right under his nose. It was very likely that he didn't know the significance of the ferry terminal, but 'the end of the line' and the 'f-' she'd uttered were huge clues to Rebecca, who'd memorised the layouts of every city holding a PRT base years ago. She typed out a new message to the PRT ENE night officer. Panacea is likely being held at the old ferry terminal. Investigate, carefully, but do not approach. “Now, I want a guarantee of her safety for the next twelve hours. It'll take me at least that long to arrange what you want to happen.”

    He let out a grunt of dissatisfaction. “Fine. You got it.”

    “Excellent. Then we can work with one another.” While her voice was warm and smooth, her smile was something a shark might wear.

    <><>​

    Baumann Parahuman Containment Center (AKA “The Birdcage”)
    Cell Block W
    Marquis


    The TV screen changed from its usual static pattern to a fuzzy image of a newscaster. Nobody paid much attention until the word 'Birdcage' broke through the noise. As with everyone else, Marquis jerked his head up to stare at the screen. The image sharpened somewhat, and the newscaster cleared her throat. “I'm just going to repeat that last one. The Canadian tinker-villain Saint has kidnapped Panacea, and is holding her hostage to force the PRT into letting Teacher out of the Birdcage. While the Birdcage is universally known to be inescapable, this has not dissuaded Saint from issuing threats against the well-known healer. Many fear for her well-being.” She looked up at the camera. “More in as we know about it.” The screen went back to showing white noise again.

    “Well, shit.” Cinderhands raised his eyebrows. “Kidnapping a healer to get one of us out of here? What do you reckon, boss? Think it'll work?”

    Marquis stood. “I think you should get everyone together.” He cracked his knuckles; an uncharacteristic move for him, it served to get Cinderhands' undivided attention.

    “We're going to war.” Two can play at the hostage game.



    End of Part Seven
     
  24. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    I think the correct comment is: Saint, you done goofed. At least he'll be reunited with Teacher soon - one way or the other, since I think Marquis is going to hold Teacher hostage.
     
  25. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    Marquis giving a speech everyone before they go to war against Teacher:
     
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  26. Impartial Panic

    Impartial Panic Know what you're doing yet?

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  27. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    Yeah, I should have predicted that, but I didn't know how much information people in the Birdcage were getting.
     
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  28. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    That was deliberate on RCB's part :p
     
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  29. Khettien

    Khettien Perpetually confused

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  30. KinKrow

    KinKrow Scared Squid

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    ShadowStepper1300 and Ack like this.
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