A Stitch In Time: Family Dinner

CHEZ McGOWAN

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

 

Tabitha Armitage was dressed nicely, but not formally. A wide belt bisected her simple black dress, and a brown cardigan covered by a green shawl kept out the lingering March chill. Beside her walked Emi Surikabe, who wore a long-legged black romper with a burgundy silk shirt open and flowing over it.

 

“Apparently ey managed to suss the social situation well enough to know that Scoremaster wouldn’t see a sneak attack? I was equal parts terrified and impressed, if I’m being honest.”

 

“It sounds like Nat is really working out for you, love,” Tabitha smiled.

 

“Ey is. Are? No, it’s is.” Emi smirked. “Still learning. And yes, ey is. I know they’ve been a bit of a handful for you.”

 

“Nothing compared to Alice,” Tabitha laughed, and they stopped in front of the front door to the McGowan household. “Speaking of, are you ready?”

 

“Yes! I’m excited, actually; I haven’t seen the kids in too long.”

 

“Agreed,” Tabitha said, then rang the doorbell.

 

Alice McGowan opened the door, dressed in turquoise and fuschia. The bold jewel tones looked good on her, although she had a slightly strained smile. There was the smell of something burnt in the kitchen. Tim, her son, stood on the staircase behind her, waiting patiently for his two “Aunties” to enter and give hugs and kisses.


“So good to see you both.” Alice said.  “Please, come in, both of you. Scott’s just, ah, getting some catering. He’ll be right in.”

“Oh dear,” Tabitha smiled, offering Alice a hug. “Sorry if things went awry.”

 

Emi followed Tabitha in offering Alice a hug, then immediately slipped under her arm and swept Tim up in a big hug. “Tiiiim! How’s my guy?”

 

“Auuuuntie!” Tim squealed as the short woman spun him around after a long hug. “I’m going to school with civilians now, an’ I made some friends, an’ -”

“Hold on, Tim, don’t talk her ear off.” Alice said, smiling. “Why don’t you go set the table?”

He nodded and bounded off, full of energy.

 

“You have to tell me all about it over dinner!” Emi called after him, then chuckled. “He’s gonna forget to tell me all about it.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll remind him,” Tab pulled the door shut behind her. “Are you doing all right, Alice? Just regular stress, or is something else bothering you?”

 

“…It’s Ruth,” Alice finally admitted, folding her arms across her chest defensively, keeping her voice low. “She’s Emerged.”

 

She paused, biting her lower lip. “She’s a Null.”

 

“Oh, Alice,” Tabitha placed a hand on Alice’s shoulder.


“I’m going to go help with the kitchen,” Emi said, slipping away quietly. “I think you two need a minute.”

 

“How are you doing with it, hon?” Tabitha took both of Alice’s shoulders in her hands and pulled her closer.

 

“I always wanted her to be special, to be… one of us. Tim is, and I always thought she was just a late bloomer. But this? Being Null is no easy path. I want better for her, but…”

“It’s not easy, but who better to make it livable than you?” Tab drew Alice into a close hug. “Ruth will still have a good life. She’s your daughter. I know this is hard on you, too, that you were expecting… something else. But Scott is here for you, and Emi and I are here for you, and we are all here for Ruth. It’s going to be okay.”

 

“Thank you, Tabs. I’m sure it’ll get better, it’s just… gosh, it’s easier to be a General than a mother some days.” She smiles, and then the front door swings open once again.

“work easier than life? don’t get me started,” Tab murmured.

 

“Who’s hungry?” Enter Scott McGowan, holding bags labelled with BURGER CHURCH. “It’s still hot.”

 

“Well this certainly takes me back,” Tabitha laughs, eyeballing the bags. “I haven’t had Burger Church in years.”

 

“It’s good!” He grins. “I mean, the new fry recipe isn’t as good as the old one, but that’s okay. Can’t have too many carbs, I’m gettin’ old.” He shrugged off his jacket, revealing the MERCURY unit underneath. “Hey, you guys go ahead and get started, I’ll join you in a second. This thing ain’t much suited for dinner with the family.”

 

THE MCGOWAN DINING ROOM



The McGowan dining room was significantly more cozy than a stranger would likely have expected of the Earth’s premier Legionnaire family, but Tab and Emi were well used to it by now. Ruth was sitting at the table already, nose buried in a book. Tim fiddled with the silverware. Alice’s face creased into the slightest frown at the burger bags, but sat down without complaint.

 

As everyone settled in, Emi asked, “So, Alice, Scott, how’s work? Anything exciting going on?”

 

“Let Alice say grace first, Emi,” Tab reminded.

 

“Oop! Right, sorry.”

 

Alice smiles gratefully. “Thank you, Tabs. Thank you O Lord, for these gifts…” She kept her head down, reciting the old familiar prayer. Scott made eye contact with Emi over the table and gave a small, slightly exasperated smile. By the time Alice looked up, his face was jovial as before.


“Well, y’know, I’ve been in the garage a lot lately, working on projects. Kind of thinking about the whole semi-retirement thing,” he mused, spearing some fries on his fork and dipping them generously in gravy. “On the other hand, not sure how much work there is for a guy like me these days.”

“I have faith in your ability to never run out of projects, Scott,” Tabitha smiled, “I’ve seen you solve enough problems that may not have existed before you set out to solve them.”

 

“Well, there’s some underwater sort of exoskeletons I’m looking at – you know, the MERCURY isn’t really equipped for underwater, and there’s been revelations that make me think we really oughta be ready for that sort of thing. I mean, I’ll always be happy in the garage, but part of me itches for front line action again.”

“There’s less and less of it these days.” Alice sighs. “You know how it is, with the Freelancers…”

“Didn’t we agree they ain’t appropriate dinner table talk?”

“I know.”

“I promise I don’t mean to maintain a contentious line of conversation, and I’ll drop it if you’d like,” Emi cut in, “but I’m seeing some very encouraging coalition-building between Freelancer and Legion agents. Nat has been making friends with anyone who isn’t a Villain, and it seems to be going very well.”

 

“Maybe, maybe, some of their new recruits are worth working with.” Alice grinds her teeth. “But the organization is corrupt down to the core, if you ask me. Did you know they stole some of Scott’s work, used it for their own means? One of them threw me off a roof.”

“Hon. Yes,” Tabitha said. “We remember. We’ve known you for more than the years it’s been since those things happened. You’re right that there’s still corruption in the Freelancers, but Emi’s right too. The proliferation of social media, networking, and friendship across factional lines is something I’ve been watching myself, and it’s hard not to feel somewhat optimistic about it.”

 

“Well -” Alice began, but Scott cut her off.


“Did you know that we moved the kids into civilian schools, speaking of factions and optimism and all of that good stuff. They’re really flourishing. Great staff, great teachers.”

“Tim was telling me! That’s great to hear.’ Emi grinned, then directed her next question toward the McGowan offspring. “It can be a lot of work to adapt to new environments like that. Are the other kids treating you okay?”

 

“Yeah, we were playing tag, and everyone agreed that since I’m suuuper fast, it wasn’t fair to have me on a team, so everyone just tried to chase me, and it was so much fun, and I got up the jungle gym, and then one of them grabbed me as I went down the slide, and then Mrs. Sanderson told us we had to be careful, so we started playing some other games…”

Ruth just shrugs, pushing the fries around her plate. “They’re okay.”

“Well you can tell me all about it when we play later!” Emi told them, glancing up at Scott and Alice to read their reactions to the kids before returning her eyes to them. “School is real hard work, but you two are gonna do great at the new one.”

 

“Have you talked to Miss Herja about your plans for the MERCURY, Scott?” Tabitha asked. “She’s been doing some exosuit R&D lately, and would probably have useful things to contribute.”

 

“Oh, yeah, she’s been great.” Scott grins. “She’s on another level in a lot of ways, just… us technokinetics or whatever you call it each have our own brand of genius. I’m an execution guy, she’s an ideas person… It works out super well.”

“It’s all utterly alien to me, but it’s just fascinating to see what the lot of you come up with,” Tabitha says, neatly annexing a portion of her burger with fork and knife. “Valkyrie’s just everywhere these days. It’s inspiring. Perhaps when you retire, you could open up a workshop for hire with her.” It wasn’t clear whether that was in jest.

 

“Aw, hell -” Scott began, and Alice cut in.

Scott -”

“Heck, we’ve taken over a good portion of the fortress already, and we’re starting to bring in some real income. Enough that Alice is thinking about re-starting programs like the Kids Corps, we can finally afford to start bringing in real Administrative talent too. I know that’ll be a relief to you, Tabs.”

“I won’t know what to do with myself!” Tabitha faked a laugh for a moment, then deadpans: “For all that is good and holy, yes. To say my hands are full is a gross understatement.”

 

“She’s sleeping in her office,” Emi complained.

 

“I’m sleeping in my office,” Tab acknowledged, looking sheepish. “Things got a lot easier once we hired the Sthenographer, but that only made me realize all of the things that had been put off before she showed up. It hasn’t been great for my stress levels, if we’re being honest.”

 

“It hasn’t been great for your love life either,” Emi muttered under her breath, but audible enough to hear.

 

Emi, not at the table.” Alice chided. “But yes, I’ve been stepping up my recruitment. We’re finally starting to rebuild the Administrative sector. It’s hard, because if I find a promising candidate, I have to get them to sign ASAP. Cheney keeps poaching talent. But the promise of serving the Legion and having moral values seems to be a draw.”

“Yes, some of them slip away rather fast, don’t they,” Tabitha paused with a forkful of burger partway to her mouth. “At least the Freelancers didn’t get ahold of that Pariah girl. She seems to be doing a fairly good job over in Detroit. Markus worked with her briefly and had nothing but good things to say.” She put the forkful of burger in her mouth.


“She’s open to working with us?” Alice’s eyes brightened. “Oh my goodness, does she have an address?”

Tabitha held up a hand until she finished chewing. Then, “easy, hon. The coffin squad happened to be in her territory and she helped them contain a Wheird. I’m not sure how open she is to working with us outside of defending her home. We don’t have her address.”

 

“She did show up at Nat’s club when ey invited people, though,” Emi pointed out. “And there were both Legionnaires and Freelancers there. It seems like she’s at least not holding a grudge toward our agents.”

 

“Well, that’s good at least. I’m sure Scanner can help me find her. Once she hears my recruitment speech, I’m sure she’ll sign up.”

“We’re, ah,” Emi broached the topic in a delicate tone, “we’re actually thinking of something a bit subtler, Alice.”

 

“In my experience,” Alice says, looking proud. “Subtlety is highly overrated.”

Tabitha and Scott exchanged a Look, then Emi and Tabitha exchanged a Look, then Tabitha shifted in her seat, eyes down, before looking directly at Alice. “Actually, Alice… we’re going to send in the Damselfly.”

 

Alice considered this information briefly, before sighing. “I don’t have to like it,” she finally said.

 

“I would never ask such a thing of you, hon,” Tabitha said. “It’s just a matter of… the one thing we know about Miss Pauker’s MO is that she will show up if there’s a threat to her territory. Nat brings threats close to emself by nature. This is our best bet at having Pariah and Damselfly on the same side in the same room with a strong motivation to work with each other. If we’re going to establish a positive dynamic with Pariah, this is our best bet.”

 

“That sounds like a great idea.” Scott said with just a touch too much enthusiasm. Alice glanced at him, and then gave another sigh. “Kids, are you listening? Once you start your after school program with the Kids Corps, you’ll have to tackle problems with these. And it’s very important to be a hero who does the right thing, isn’t that right?”

Emi and Tabitha both bobbed their heads in agreement to reinforce the lesson.

 

Tim eagerly launched into another long speech about his thoughts on heroes and the Kids Corps. Ruth, meanwhile, had evidently finished pushing fries around her plate. “Mom, can I be excused?”

“Put your plate in the sink, please, honey.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know.”

“Nat is doing really well, honestly,” Emi said once Tim’s speech was finished. “Ey nonlethally subdued a Villain while on a completely unrelated mission, and did so more safely than I care to tell em. Ey… needs to tighten up on the combat awareness, but I’m very proud.”

 

“I don’t think I’ve met the kid yet.” Scott says, thoughtfully. “Probably seen ‘em around in the cafeteria, though. Kind of short, floaty, redhead?”

“That’s our Nat,” Tabitha confirmed with a slight hint of weariness in her voice. “Ey’s been a handful for me, honestly. I think that ey might already be–” her eyes darted to Tim, then back to her plate “–close… friends… with Brozerker and Jupiter Strike, and apparently ey’s started dating that cartomancer we’re trying to recruit? Nothing’s exploded yet, but I’m trying to stay braced in case something does. And I can’t deny that ey has already been an extremely effective covert agent.”

 

“Mm.” Alice said, lips thinning in disapproval. “Who wants dessert? I managed not to burn that, at least.”

“Dessert would be lovely, thank you,” Emi smiled brightly. Tabitha nodded as well.

 

Before long, Alice had carved up a decadent triple chocolate layer cake, serving large slices to everyone at the table. “Oh, speaking of Administration, Tabitha… Ah, well, there’s something you should know.”

Tab raised her eyebrows and inclined her head slightly; a ‘go on’ gesture.

 

“…Helen Havelock wants to return to the Legion. In a strictly civilian role, of course, considering her… injuries.”

Tabitha and Emi both froze in place, blinking in surprise, a forkful of cake already halfway to Emi’s face.

 

“Helen Havelock?” Tabitha breathed. “I’ll be damned.”

 

Alice smiled widely. “She’s actually a very nice woman. We talked for a while. She had a lot of advice for me.”

Well, that was no surprise. Helen Havelock had founded the Legion herself, taking on the title of Excalibur. Wielding golden armour and a longsword, she had fought the forces of the Third Reich, the enemies of humanity, and been a vanguard for social change. Without her, there would likely be no Legion. It was a shame her powers had been stripped away by the Battle of New York, so long ago…

 

“And, just for saying that word in my house, you can put the dishes in the dishwasher.” Alice said, half-teasing. Only half.


“I was going to do it anyway,” Tabitha teased back, her tone prim to the point of exaggeration. “So there.” She stood and walked around the table, collecting the empty plates and glasses.

 

“What kind of advice did Mrs. Havelock have for you, Alice?” Emi asked, sounding genuinely curious.

 

“We talked about the pressures of the lifestyle, and the difference between then and now. But most importantly, she told me to always keep faith. She puts the same emphasis on faith as I do. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Oh, absolutely!” Emi agreed. “We all have different things keeping us going, and it can be very important to find mentors who can identify with that. I’m happy for you, Alice.”

 

“Don’t be happy for me,” Alice jokes. “Be happy for Tabitha. Helen knows the Legion like the back of her hand. I’m sure she’ll be a big help in the coming days, and maybe Tabitha can sleep in a gosh danged bed.”

“She’d better, if she doesn’t want me to bring other people into it,” Emi smirked.

 

“Emi! We weren’t gonna–” Tabitha hissed from the doorway, then pressed her lips together and chirped, clasping her hands. “Dishes are done!”

 

“Tim, hon, why don’t you go set up your Nintendo?” Alice waited until her son left the room and then looked at her guests with wide eyes. “Are you thinking about divorcing?”

“I’m sure it was a joke,” Scott says, standing and putting a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “You know how crazy hours can get to a person, right?”

“Of course I was joking!” Emi laughed nervously.

 

“No no no!” Tabitha also laughed, also nervously. “We wouldn’t– that’s not what I meant at all.”

 

“We were just joking about the whole thing,” Emi shot a look at Tabitha so pointed that even Alice could catch it.

 

Tabitha wiped her brow. “Can I make some decaf for anybody?”

 

Alice glanced between the two of them, and then a lightbulb flared to life above her head. “Oh! Oh. I see. You know, I uh- I’ll take my coffee um, caffeinated. Black, please. Nice and strong, ha… ha!”

“Caffeine for everyone!” Tabitha disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Emi sweating silently, eyes darting between Scott and Alice.

 

“….. soooo.” Emi said.

 

“We – don’t need to discuss anything any further, thank you.” Alice says, red in the face and making intense eye contact with a light fixture. “Especially not with both of my children home. Your home, your marriage, your business.”

“Sure, s-sure,” Emi stammered, eyes averted. A moment later, she put her hands on the table and blurted, “it’s just–“

 

“Emi!” Tabitha rebuked from the kitchen.

 

“You guys are our best friends!” Emi continued, ignoring her wife’s objection. “It felt like lying to you. I lie to enemies, politicians. I don’t want to lie to friends. I hate lying to friends.”

 

Tabitha appeared in the doorway. “Emi, if Alice doesn’t want to know, Alice doesn’t want to know.”

 

“But she was–“

 

“It’s her call. Not ours.”

 

“What is there to know?!” Alice suddenly said, incredulous. “You – you have… extra… lovers. Okay, I know that. I’m aware. Are you planning to introduce me to any of them?”

“Well, we don’t, actually.” Tabitha folded her arms and shrugged. “Not yet. Look, I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have said anything, all right? I’m sorry, Scott, this must be terribly awkward for you.”

 

Emi put her face in her hands.

 

Scott leaned back in his chair, muttering: “Christ, this is hideously awkward, yeah.”

Alice was too shaken to even chide Scott on taking the Lord’s name in vain. “I… support… you? If you’re happy, that’s… good? And fine?”

“Thanks,” Tabitha replied, her voice as flat and cold as slate. “You know, I don’t really need coffee after all. Emi, I’m going to go get some fresh air.”

 

She walked out of the dining room with long, measured strides. Emi didn’t move.

 

Scott moved over to his friend and put an arm around her shoulders. “Hey.” he said. “Alice, why don’t you go check on Ruth?”

 

Alice acquiesced, standing and leaving the room, her face still incredulous and confused.

 

“Hey. Emi. Look at me.”

Emi turned her face toward Scott, lowering her hands. She wasn’t crying, but there was clear despair behind those deep brown eyes.

 

“What’s up?” He asked, keeping things simple at first. “Is this about the lying thing, or something else?”

“We weren’t expecting anything, Scott, we weren’t trying to… get you guys to do anything. This wasn’t supposed to change things, it was for us to actively be in each other’s lives. To be honest.”

 

“Yeah, I get that. Look, we’ve been kind of distant lately, but… hey, y’know, we’re all working and things are tense ‘cause of work and politics and all of that. But if you’re happy in your marriage, we think that’s rad and of course we support you. And you know Alice has come a long, long way that she said she supported it as well.”

 

He cracked a warm smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling up. “So, that’s out of the way. All of our cards are on the table. We’re still here. Let’s make this more regular, yeah? Keep the momentum building, work on going back to how things used to be, back when we were… what, in our 20s? We were so young.”

“Cards on the table,” Emi murmured, eyes downcast, then looked back up. “Scott, Tabitha is still in love with Alice.”

 

“Huh.” Scott said, and drummed his fingers on the table, processing that. “I didn’t know she was in love with Alice in the first place. Then again, I’ve been pretty oblivious to this sort of thing. And hey, look, Alice is an incredible woman. It’s hard to blame Tabitha, God knows I’ve fallen for her charms as well.”

“She was. Is. And it’s never hurt me or made me feel like Tab didn’t want to be with me. But she’s had this locked up for decades now, and I wanted– I told her that she should… say something. Not to change anything, just to stop holding onto it. But it’s Tab.”

 

“Tabs likes to sort things nicely and compartimalize them. She has her little filing cabinet over here for work –” Scott taps the side of his head. “And this little filing cabinet over here for the marriage, and I’m sure that Alice goes into another filing cabinet. That’s her system, and I think she likes to keep her files nice and separate. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. You two are just different.”

“I know.” Emi sighs. “I’ve known that for a long time. But I guess I needed to hear you say so. I don’t know. I just feel like it’s something I hoped she’d do, and then this happened and she’s going to clam up about it for another twenty years. I don’t really think it’s good for her.”

 

“Eh, we all indulge in shit that’s a little bad for us. You’re still in the field despite your knee injury, I’m still married to Alice -” he gives a wicked grin. “Seriously, it’s one thing to love her from afar, but bein’ in the thick of it is a whole other ball game. I have a few cigarettes… It’s great of you try to and fix things, but Tabs is an adult, she can make her own choices. Even bad ones.”

Emi frowned. “Yeah, I noticed– is stuff okay, Scott? Are you and Alice okay?”

 

“Yeah, we’re okay. She’s a great mom, a great person. This sounds arrogant, so you’ll have to forgive me – I’m a genius, and she’s… not. She’s a little dim. It was hard to deal with for a while, so we went into counselling, worked on some stuff. She’s a good woman. She has so much love to give. Y’know? Before I ended up with her, I dated around, slept around. I know what a good relationship is and isn’t, and this is. Even if she’s ah, kind of a doof sometimes.”

“I’m not going to try to tell you that you’re not a genius, Scott,” Emi smirked, “nor that Alice’s intelligence isn’t… focused elsewhere. And I’m very glad that things are fine. The two of you are good for each other.”

 

Emi took a deep breath, then let it out and glanced back up at Scott. “Do you think less of us, Scott? For opening up our marriage?”

 

“Absolutely not. I’d be a massive hypocrite if I did. I slept around for a decade straight before I ended up with Alice, and if she offered me the same deal, I’d be – well, I’d be tempted. You’re like a sister to me, Emi, alright? Your marriage ain’t gonna change that.”

“All right. Thank you.” She sighed. “I should go retrieve my wife. Knowing her, her brain has already eaten itself with anxiety.”

 

“And I should take care of my wife as well.” Scott gives Emi another hug. “Bowling. Next Friday. A McGowan-Armitage-Surikabe affair. I expect you guys at the lanes in the goofy shoes and big smiles at seven sharp.”

“I look forward to beating all three of you into the finely-polished floor,” Emi grinned.

 

A Stitch In Time: Rallying Team Pariah

DETROIT, MICHIGAN

VERA & MARIAH’S HOUSE

 

Mariah paced the living room, her jet-black feet clicking against the ground. Vera was coming back today. Her glowing heart throbbed in its chest cavity, which was smaller than it had been and had filled with a clear purple liquid. Her hands were still black, but smoother and softer than the day before. Vera was coming back today. She’d cleaned the whole house, but it was already fairly clean. She’d gone into town and ‘fed’ on the happy excitement of a wedding party, so she was bursting with energy and had nothing to spend it on. Instead, she paced.

 

Vera was coming home today.

 

And sure enough there was the tell tale sound of Vera coming home – the metallic clanking of her checking the mailbox, chucking all of its contents into the recycling bin on the front porch, her keys jangling in the front step. Sometimes she’d come home with another face or a different height, but her routine was always the same.

 

“Hey, lady.” the Freelancer calls as she enters the house. It’s looking downright clean and homey these days. “Miss me?”

Mariah’s eyes literally glowed with joy (and pink light). “What do you think, you jerk?” She darted to Vera and hugged her tight.

 

Vera grins and hugs back as tight as she can. “I’m a bit of a jerk,” she admits. “Barcelona was hell. Never go.”

“Mmm, okay. I won’t. Did you bring me back something?” Mariah pulled away from Vera a little.


“I did!” Vera grins and pulls something out of her pocket. Inside is a necklace made of glass beads and bits of stone, all sorts of colours and materials spinning and sparkling in the light. “It made me think of you ‘cause it’s made up of all sorts of stuff, and it’s – well, y’know, it’s, ah, beautiful.

 

Mariah’s eyes brimmed with joyful tears, which immediately hissed and boiled away from her energy-emitting eyes. She gingerly took the necklace and strung it around her neck. The light from her heart shone into the lowest stone, which glowed softly. “Oh my gosh Vera, this is the sweetest and most personal gift—” she took Vera’s face in her cool, smooth hands and kissed her deeply.

 

Vera leaned in, enjoying the kiss for a long time. Finally, she pulled away. “Can’t do that all day,” she chided with a crooked grin. “What have you been up to, anyways? Any exciting haps?”

“Well, I helped Phalanx contain a blobby alien digesty thing that crashed in the middle of Old Town Market. I went and had pizza with some mixed-affiliation paranormals that were meeting in Chicago. So actually I’ve been… kinda social!” Mariah heard surprise in her own voice.

 

“See?” Vera beamed. “I knew you’d do just fine without me. Not that I’m not glad to be back.” Vera flops down on the couch, which makes a squeak. “Gotta get new furniture. Keep cleaning this place up. Talkin’ about cleanin’ stuff up… Any progress on the HS sitch?”

“No,” she frowned, “they haven’t totally gone to ground but they’re being careful now. They’re afraid of me, but I need to figure out how to make that work in my favor. I think I’m gonna need your help, and the Hound’s, to do that. Oh, he gave me a police scanner by the way.” She pointed at the squat box sitting on the nightstand.

 

“Good idea. I can get us Freelancer tech, but that’s a Pandora’s Box we can never close again. Good to go without it as long as we can. What did you have in mind for me? Y’know I’m not much of a fighter…”

“Infiltration, I think,” Mariah mused, “and from there, either gathering information or sowing disinformation. I think the Hound has some ideas, and he said he’d be reaching out soon.”

 

“Reaching out, eh? Kind of vague, don’t you think? But infiltration is something I can do, so just point me in the right direction and give me a face.”

The usual tone of three cute barking dogs would buzz on Mariah’s phone. Speak of the devil.

 

“Oh hey, that’ll be him,” Mariah walks to her phone, picks it up, and reads it.

 

“I’ve got some possibly useful intel. Are you in a good spot to talk?”

 

Mariah turned to Vera. “You wanna conference call with our informant?”

 

“Sure. It’ll be nice to finally hear from that dude myself.”

“Yeah, give us a call. Gwen’s here too,” Mariah texted back.

 

And so he did. “Hey. Nice to hear from you again Pariah. Nice to meet you as well Gwen. Hope everything’s going alright? I’m not interrupting anything am I?”

 

“Not yet you aren’t. But you should get to the intel quick.”

“We’ve got a couple of things going on right now. First and foremost, those Underground types? I think i found one of their operatives hideouts. It’s possible we could pit the HS forces against them, similar to how we did the PS members before. Other than that…things have been pretty quiet. They’ve been spending a lot of time in the sewers trying to weed you out. Recruitment however, is their current top priority. You’ve got the kids who aren’t true believers questioning orders. Scared members who would rather keep their prejudices silent than live their lives with a mark. My opinion though? What we need is a traitor. Someone who was on the inside, reformed. Someone to show them that it’s ok not to hate.”

 

Mariah nodded. “It’d be child’s play for Gwen to impersonate an existing HS wise guy or something. We could potentially replace one, or… I don’t know. You know more about their operations than I do, I’m sure. If they have a hideout that I give a berth, Gwen can probably get in and plant a few seeds.”

 

Vera grins widely. “Absolutely. Just get me a face and I’ll get in there. You two can do the rest, once I spill all their dirty little secrets.”

“Right now, my strongest skill is intimidation and a little bit of community support that may grow in time. Hound has the most information, and Gwen can extract more and… well, abuse trust in ways that’ll work for us. We can make this work.”

 

“Good, good. The only thing I haven’t quite figured out is what to do with the person who is being impersonated. We want a permanent figure. Someone who was an HS, but redeemed themselves. If gwen replaces them, we need the real one out of the picture. And I get the feeling from our past work that murder is not the public image we want, correct?”

 

“It’s not, no. And I also just don’t want to do it. I haven’t had to kill anyone yet and I’m trying to stall that as long as I can.”

 

“Believe it or not, neither have I. Keeping our hands clean is the better option by far.”

“Agreed. I’m working on some profiling work, keeping tabs on the most likely candidate for someone who would switch over, and be vocal enough to convince their comrades. It’s going to take a bit. In the meantime, the graffiti I have been spraying around town? It’s been a large success. Not only does it spread awareness for our cause, but when the HS scum show up and try to cover it…well. It creates a perfect trap. I’m sending you a map of graffiti sights now so on slow nights you can make rounds.” A bloop popped up on her phone. “Also, it’s glad to hear you want to keep your hands clean. I mean from a moral perspective of course, but at the same time, if we really want to put an end to this for good…killing won’t help. So that’s reassuring. Anything you want me to keep an eye out for?”

 

“You’re doing great,” Pariah smiled, “and I appreciate you keeping an eye on the underground. If it’d help for me to actually talk to anyone directly, I’ll probably still look human for a few more days. This form is odd but I can walk around in public in it if I stay covered up. Other than that, just… keep me apprised. Thanks again, Hound.”

 

“No problem.” The Hound assured. “You are doing great work. Actually, come to think of it, as you are now it might be a good idea to go around and talk with the non HS locals. Get them to know you. Hell, do some volunteer work. If Detroit is your city, you are going to need the people’s help to protect it. Make a good impression on em. At the same time, don’t be overly predictable. I know, easier said than done. Anyway, I will be watching your back. You two stay safe out there.”

 

“You too,” Mariah says, then ends the call. “Wow, we’re gonna do this.”

 

“Of course we are,” Vera said, that lopsided grin re-appearing on her face. “We’re heroes.”

“We are.” She smiles, then, folding her hands behind her back and giving Vera a hooded glance. “You should give me my other present.”

 

“I – didn’t get you another present, am I…” Vera looked down, checking her pockets.

 

Mariah walked up to Vera, tilted her head up with one finger, and purred, “You should give me. My other. Present.”

 

“Oh. OH!” Vera finally got the hint and took Mariah by the hand. “Well, y’gotta open that upstairs…”

 

A Stitch in Time: Meeting the Family

Begin Encrypted Chatlog

Recorded and archived via McGowan SecureSoft v2.3.1

Participant users:

Pariah_am_I

a_Stray_Hound

 

a_Stray_Hound:

So how’ve things been going as far as making yourself known around Detroit goes? Sorry I’ve been quiet the last few days. Got myself stuck in a hard place and had to lay low for a bit.

Pariah_am_I:

Hope you’re doing all right! I’ve been doing an okay job, I think, and I’ve ventured out of Detroit and gotten a little networking attention from points further out. Local HS is getting a little harder to find, tho. I’d love to believe that their numbers are thinning but think they’re just getting better at going to ground.

 

a_Stray_Hound:

Yeah, I’ve been keeping a close eye. They’ve been falling back on drug dealing and extortion, focusing on money more than message. Probably trying to save up for something. Have you heard of the Family?

 

Pariah_am_I:

Yeah. Chicago-based HS mob, right? Didn’t one of their big guys just get nabbed for tax evasion or smth

 

a_Stray_Hound:

Yeah, which means a slot has opened up in their hierarchy. I’ve got reason to think Jorja might be moving in on it. Still working on the details, but her people and their people have begun some sort of negotiations. Could just be more firearms but…it could also be something worse.

 

a_Stray_Hound:
The Family has a pretty tight grip on the local Black Market after all.

 

Pariah_am_I:

Damn. We really need to get Gwen in there ASAP. We probably don’t have time for a long game, but if we can get her into the Family’s middle management…

 

a_Stray_Hound:

Absolutely. Now what I am thinking our next move should be is, I’ve located a member of Jorjas group. Woman by the name of Carolina Smith. I’ve got good reason to believe she is going to be the next rep to meet the family for discussion. Maybe Gwen could use her, meet someone in middle management, and get a feel for their personality all while learning their plans. Will give her more to go off of when she does shift into the position.

 

Pariah_am_I:

Sounds good. Just let us know where and what.

 

a_Stray_Hound:

She’s scheduled to drive to Chicago tomorrow night, they are meeting in Warehouse 14B7 in the Milligan Complex. You can probably find your mark outside of her home, scrubbing off the Pariah symbol I sprayed on her garage door. Here are the coords.

<<attachment: carolina_smith.mmt Format: McGowan Map Tag>>

 

Pariah_am_I:

All right. What should we… do, though? I don’t want to kill anybody, and if we replace her she needs to not show up.

 

a_Stray_Hound:

Right.

a_Stray_Hound:

How do you feel about planting drugs on HS members so they get arrested?

 

Pariah_am_I:

That seems like an acceptable transgression to me.

 

a_Stray_Hound:

Cool, I will bring one of my vans around with a wire for Gwen. Throw Carolina in the van and I will hold her for the night, then release her with some meth in front of the police station after our mission is complete. Sound like a good plan?

 

Pariah_am_I:

I’ll let her know. Here goes nothing, I guess!

A SUBURBAN HOME

DETROIT, MI

 

It was late evening in the outskirts of Detroit. The neighborhood was quiet, since it was one that had few children and fewer businesses.

 

At the edge of a suburban neighborhood, a driverless van idled.

 

Close to the other end of the same street, a woman in her 40s, of average build and appearance, scrubbed at the graffiti on her garage door, her brown hair in a tight bun and covered by a work kerchief. Her lined face was twisted into a scowl as she sprayed solvent on the stubborn paint, which was coming off an inch at a time.

 

Between the two, a stream of midnight-blue sand slithered along the inside of the curb, moving toward the woman’s house slowly, unseen by any of the residents. It was quiet and subtle enough, and nearly invisible on the neat blacktop of Carolina’s driveway, that she didn’t notice its presence until something blocked the streetlamp light she was working by.

 

“Hey, what the–” she turned, then her eyes went wide.

 

A sand sculpture in the shape of a familiar-faced woman smirked. “Borrow you for a second?” the sculpture whispered.

 

Before she could scream, the sculpture flattened and wrapped around Carolina, enveloping her entire body. For a few seconds it clung to her, forming a deep blue silhouette of its victim as she scrabbled futilely at it. Then a pink light flared from within, and the sand collapsed to the ground in a heap.

 

A moment later, it slithered away from the driveway.

 

 

Carolina hit the metal floor of the van’s cargo hold hip-first, sending shooting pains up her side. She gave a panicked glance around her. She’d seen vans made for this purpose: sound insulation on the walls and the back of the seats. A retractable metal mesh barrier. She was being kidnapped.

 

“Who in the fuck–” she stammered.

 

Just then, someone in the passenger seat turned back toward her and grinned through the barrier. Whoever it was looked just like… her.

 

“Hi!” said Vera-as-Carolina. “So, this is awkward – for you, mostly, but uh… You’ll probably spend twenty four months in prison, less with good behaviour, and then you can go back to your regular life. Maybe consider making dramatically less shitty choices your second time out, eh?”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Carolina demanded, wild-eyed, “and who the hell are you? What do you want with me? I’m just an accountant!

 

“An accountant?” Vera mimed surprise. “No, you’re Christina, aren’t you? The woman who helps run the gangs in this area?”

“No,” Carolina muttered through gritted teeth, “I’m not. I’m Carolina Smith, and I’m an accountant at the Cruz & Drumpf accounting firm. My name is on the door, you’ve got the wrong woman, now let me go.

 

“Cruz & Drumpf? Alright, boom, that’ll help make the lie more convincing. Thanks, Carolina, you’re a doll.” Vera winked with Carolina’s lashes.

 

“Who the hell are you?” Carolina exploded. “What is this van? And why are you working with—”

 

“Me?” The sand statue peeked around the edge of the other seat, smiling, as the van kicked into gear and started driving itself.

 

“You’re that monster,” Carolina growled.

“Mm-hmm.”

 

“She’s the monster, yeah, and I -” Vera grinned sharkishly. “I’m Carolina Smith, and I’m an accountant at the Cruz & Drumpf accounting firm. My name is on the door!”

“I’m not telling you shit-else,” Carolina muttered, “so gimme my mark and dump me in an alley.”

 

“Yeah, we’re not going to do that,” the Pariah whispered. It seemed she couldn’t talk very loudly in this form.

 

“Like I said, twenty four months. That’s not bad! And it’ll be a nice prison.”

“What for? I haven’t done anything!”

 

“Well, no, not yet you haven’t.” Vera-as-Carolina cupped a hand around her mouth and stage whispered. “But you’re gonna.”

“You’re having way too much fun with this,” the Pariah whispered.

 

“You’re not having enough.” Vera shot back, and dangled a bag of heavy white powder on her side of the mesh, and grinned. The grin said it all.

 

Pariah laughed. It wasn’t… the nicest sound in the world; it sounded like sand buffeting a tent during a windstorm. “Do you enjoy your other gigs this much?”

 

“Nah, none of them are with you.”

“Aw, you,” Pariah whispered coyly.

 

“You’re flirting,” Carolina’s eyes were wide with incredulous offense. “I’m in the back of a padded van, you’re about to frame me for possession, and you’re fucking flirting with each other. You Paras are sick!”

 

“See, it’s bigoted statements like that that make me feel perfectly fine about what I’m about to do. Pariah, how do you want to knock her out?”

“I figured we’d let her scream herself hoarse overnight, then give her like a third of this thing of coke and set her loose downtown. Unless you have a better idea.”

 

“Oh, yeah, there’s a Legion center way uptown, and civilian Legionnaire police patrol around it. I think we can knock her out, drop her near the doorstep, and I’ll make sure one of the helpful little gray collars come and find her. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.”

“Yeah, I think that’s fine. I think I just worry about knocking her out without brain damage; that’s a lot harder than it looks in the movies. How about I get a little coke in her, knock her around until she’s dazed, and then we do the rest of your plan?”

 

Carolina stared at the two paranormals discussing her fate.

 

“Oh, nice, nice, and then when the cops find her she’ll be like oh no I’m not high on cocaine officers, it was a woman who looked like me and the Pariah monster, they had me in a van and wore my face and then they made out, oh noooooo. No one will believe that.”

“That was my thought. Less likely to do permanent damage, and also: hilarious.” The blue sand-woman turned in her seat and gave Carolina a friendly smile. “Hey Carolina, do you like cocaine?”

 

Carolina frowned. She did like cocaine. She did not want any cocaine right now. She was about to have some cocaine.

 

“This is Stray Hound reporting in. It seems our friend Carolina is being escorted to her new bastille. Lovely work you two.” The van said as they made their way down the highway to Chicago. “Now we only have one shot at this, because chances are word about Carolina will get out before too awful long. Talk in prison spreads fast when gangs are involved.” The van sped up a bit. “There’s not much as far as new info is concerned, but it appears Carolina was was going to negotiate the terms of some sort of truce, maybe a joining of the two organizations? An exchange of money for guns. They were to negotiate the cost, Carolina being a bookkeeper and all, and then Carolina would report back so the funds can be transferred.”

 

“That however, is not what is going to happen. Instead, should we work quickly, it will appear as if Carolina has not returned at all. The parties exit the room. We tail the Family rep back to their home, and Gwen steals their face. Gwen will then tell the reps boss of some egregious offence committed by Carolina at the meeting. Jorja assumes her rep was killed or captured. We have the two at each other’s throats for a bit, hopefully long enough that the two can’t mend fences, and then…well, depending on what extra information we can gather, we will stay ahead of the HS game for quite a while.”

 

“This sounds good,” Pariah agreed. “My current form is well-suited to this stealth mission, so I can hang out on the premises and ‘port Gwen back to the van if things go pear-shaped. Hell, I could probably sneak into the building and listen in.”

 

“You guys are lucky I’m on board with this plan,” Vera griped. “It’s painful to wear one face all day, let alone swapping into another face half way through the day. Y’know when you work out too hard? It’s like that.” Vera shifted back into Vera briefly, rubbing her cheeks with her hand. “But, y’know, it is for a good cause…”

“Sorry to hear that Gwen. Try to hang in there a bit longer…if this all goes as planned, I will be sure to send you two some tickets for a vacation or something. Or at least bowling. Love bowling.” The voice said, trying to lighten up the situation a little bit. “Will fill up on gas just before dropping you off so we can have the van already running if things go bad. Like that plan Pariah.”

 

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

WAREHOUSE 14B7, MILLIGAN COMPLEX

 

It was incredibly easy to pretend to be an accountant.

 

All Vera really had to do was bring up her nose, act like she smelt shit, and scribble numbers (and a few arrows for good measure) in a notebook.

 

No one seemed to notice anything off, at least.

 

“All right, kids,” a small-statured but imposing man folded his arms. “Let’s keep this simple and brief. I’m jittery as fuck even being here in the first place, with everything that’s been going off the rails this month. Miss Smith, can we come to an agreement today? I ain’t in a haggling mood.”

 

“Carolina” tapped her pen against the paper in irritation. “The most recent terms you presented will work fine, but we’ll need to wire you the funds from HQ. I’m not authorized to make a transaction of that scope on my own.”

“Why the fuck are we meeting in person if you ain’t authorized to make the transfer?” The man demanded, eyes a little wild. The two goons standing behind him shifted, as if to remind the others of their presence. “We know Jorja’s playin’ her cards close right now but these guns are hot and I gotta move ’em.”

 

Vera-as-Carolina kept looking bored and detached. “We met to arrange terms. I am going back to my HQ now and authorizing my end of the transaction. Half an hour isn’t going to change anything. You think the police care about some guns when there’s a Paranormal on the loose, ripping the city up? I’m pretty sure you could shoot someone in the street and still have a few seconds to dance on their corpse before anyone showed up.”

“That’s Detroit. This is Chicago. We ain’t got no Pariah, and our cops are only so crooked. They’re real stirred up after the arboretum thing, too. But fine. If you can guaran-fucking-tee me that you’ll have that money wired before midnight, I’ll go ahead and start the caravan. But if we ain’t got the money by then we gotta take ’em elsewhere. Nothing personal, we just gotta.”

 

“Chicago, Detroit, all these cities blend together.” Vera smiled. “You have my personal guarantee that the money will be wired. I completely understand. Good doing business with you.”

“Good. Tell Jorja that we’re willing to give this a test run, but we’re keeping an eye on this. You ask me, things are way too exciting.”

 

“Ah, for you guys, maybe. But I’m just the accountant. I’ll pass the message on.”

And with a click click click click click, she turns to leave, heels clicking against concrete.

 

“Hang on a hot second,” the man said, and one of the goons moved to block the door. “Ain’t you forgetting something?”

 

“Am I?” She blinked at them through Carolina’s heavy lashes.

 

The goon’s face fell, and the little man smirked a little cruelly. “I thought you said you was on good terms. She’s straight up stonewalling you, brothah.”

 

“You know I like to keep things professional,” Vera improv’d. “Especially at such a big meeting. You know how it is.” And she went to move past him with a coy smile, hoping that would be enough.


“That’s cold, Line,” the goon, whose name Vera still had not heard, moped as she slipped by.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

LE CHATEAU APARTMENTS

 

“Fuckin’ squirrely ass bigots,” the man muttered, tapping his shoes habitually before stepping out onto the plush carpet of the hallway. His quiet monologue continued as he walked its length, almost all the way to the end. “I ain’t gonna talk to those para-hating fucks again. I gotta tell Gian. I just ain’t gonna. Fuck. I miss Sin, that guy was. He was all right. Fuckin hell, don’t nobody clean this place? Sand fuckin everywhere. Blue sand. Where the fuck do you even get blue sand.”

 

He finally stopped in front of the door to room 731 and took a deep breath, bracing himself. “He ain’t gonna be happy about the thing, but once we confirm the wire…”

 

Before the diminutive wiseguy was able to raise his hand and knock on the door, something dark and dry and cool covered his eyes and nose and mouth, wrapping around all of his bare skin and pulling his clothes taut.

 

A disorienting moment later, he tumbled to the metal floor of a van.

 

“The… the hell?”

 

“God, this never stops being awkward, does it?” Vera craned back in the front seat to peer at him. “Hey, c’mere. Lemme get a good look at you.”

“What– Carolina? Is this a fuckin double-cross?”

 

“Oh, man, this is even more embarrassing. No, no, I’m not Carolina. See, come closer.”

“Wh– then who–“

 

“Surprise, motherfucker!” A grinning face of blue sand grinned from the other seat. “You just got Pariah’d!”

 

“And I’m not Carolina -” Vera-as-Carolina said, shifting into the man in the back seat. “I’m you! Boom, double surprise!”

“Uh,” the man stammers as the implications dawn on him. “Holy shit.”

 

“It’s room 731, sweetie,” Pariah smiled, “go ruin shit.”

 

“Aw, see, this is why I love you. I am really good at ruining shit.”

And with that, Vera’s smile widens.


“Unfortunately, I can’t walk in there in heels, so… I’m going to need you to give me your clothes, buddy.”

“If I give ’em to you willingly, will you let me stay fuckin conscious?”

 

“Sure, that’s a fair deal, but keep your donger hidden. I don’t need to see that shit.”

“Trust me, lady. Sir. Me. That ain’t something I wanna show off.” He kept talking as he disrobed. “Good job giving the HS a hard time, by the way. I miss the days when we didn’t hafta fall in line with shitheel bigots to be decent criminals. You start lumping all that shit in together and all of a sudden it’s in for a penny, in for a pound. A gangster’s gotta have some standards, you know?” He wadded up all of his clothes except for a pair of Hello Kitty boxers and handed them to Vera in a wad.

 

“I like this guy. Hey, guy, you got a name?”

“Eh, just call me Tallboy like everybody else does,” he sat on the floor of the van and shrugged. “Do me a solid and don’t get me in cement-shoes trouble, aight? Some trouble I can handle, but I’m bout to hit 10 years of service so it’s a shitty time to die.”

 

“No, no, quite the opposite. You want a job?”

Tallboy seemed nonplussed for a moment, then scratched his head and shrugged. “I’m listenin’.”

 

“Um,” the blue sculpture whispered, “Gwen, sweetie, can we finish the mission first? I’ll chat up our friend until you’re back.”

 

Vera-as-Tallboy made a face. “Alright, look, I’ll fill you in on the deets later. I get a recruitment bonus, you don’t get drowned, everyone wins. Alright, wish me luck, I’m out.”

“Good luck darlin’!” Pariah waved.

 

“Good luck!” Tallboy shouted. “By the way! Open palm clasp, move in for the shoulder pat, once and done. Don’t make it weird!”

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

A VAN PARKED OUTSIDE LE CHATEAU APARTMENTS

 

“And I was basically like, don’t come to me about it, you’re the one who placed the order!”

 

“Stop,” Pariah was laughing so hard she could scarcely get a word out. It sounded like an etch-a-sketch being shaken. “Stop I’m gonna puke my portal out.”

 

“That ain’t even the worst of it!” Tallboy continued, grinning. “That’s when it turned out that she thought each gross she was orderin’ was one item!”

 

“Oh nooooooo,” Pariah whispered, then something caught her eye outside the van. “Oh hey, you’re back.”

 

“Izzat right. Hope I had a good time.’

 

“I am back, and we had a fabulous time.” Vera launched herself into the front seat, and then looked at Tallboy, and then looked at Pariah. “I want to drop the act. Can I put my real face on? For Hound, and for Tallboy?”

“Your call, sweetie. If you want people to meet the real Gwen.”

 

“Don’t put yerself out on my account.”

 

Vera-as-Tallboy shifted again, into just – Vera. The short, impish girl with green hair. “I’m Vera Newman, a Freelancer gone… eh, not rogue. But I… I want you guys to know that. I want you to work with me as Vera, not Gwen.”

Pariah raised her sandy eyebrows, but smiled.

 

“Nice ta meetcha, Vera. Dig the hair!” Tallboy grinned. “Oh, and the heels didn’t fit me. You can have ’em back.”

 

The van spoke. “Vera. Thank you for your trust. Seems our merry band continues to grow.”

 

“Yeah, I’m turnin’ into a real fuckin’ Adam Nova.” Vera grimaced. “Can we get burgers? I want burgers.”

“Given that I was expecting a beating when I ended up back here, a burger sounds like heaven right about now,” Tallboy quipped, still smiling. “Can I have my clothes back, though?”

 

A Stitch In Time: The Invitation

MONTREAL, CANADA

THE PRESTWICH ESTATE

 

Adam had always loved the smell of White Diamonds. Estelle wore the fragrance, even today, when she should have been focused on work. A woman was allowed a few indulgences, after all. She carefully, carefully, wrote a list of names in looping cursive. It was important to match the card that she had seen in her Vision, after all.

Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: The Invitation”

A Stitch In Time: Person of Interest

“Okay, so this guy is calling himself ‘Otto da Fé,” the dispatcher said, audibly incredulous. “His powers aren’t anything to write home about: Fairly powerful pyrokinesis and hyperdurability, but that’s it. The reason he’s been elevated to immediate threat status is his MO, and it’s gruesome. He finds a place that he considers a ‘symbol of modern opulence’, goes in, surrounds the joint with fire, and holds the whole place hostage. Always makes sure that somebody’s filming or streaming the scene. He demands to see the people in charge or whoever’s most visible and burns them to death in front of an audience, then lets everybody else go. If he can’t find anyone, he just burns the whole place down and everybody in it.”

 

“Normally he’s real good about covering his tracks, but he slipped up, and we’ve got good intel that he’s currently in Boulder, Colorado. I’m compiling a list of POIs and we’ve got scouts looking into it. When we drop you, we need you to hit fast and hard. Don’t let him get a foothold if at all possible. We don’t care if he lives, but try not to let any civvies die.”

 

And so, just an hour or so later, a team had been sent from the Freelancer HQ in Archaven to Boulder, Colarado.


The first two Freelancers to arrive were a study in contrasts – Rooster, a woman who stood at 6’4” with broad shoulders, a wider grin, and a short blonde and pink mohawk was chewing gum. On the other side of the room was the 5’3”, long limbed and green haired Vera Newman, who was doodling in a notebook and hunching over the pages protectively.

 

 

Wasteland arrived a few minutes later, the new suit was a big, bulky monstrosity. Heavier armor, intimidating helmet. A shade of green so dark it was nearly black. On his back was a strange looking apparatus, some kind of new fangled jetpack, but more advanced than most people had seen. He was standing at an even seven feet tall now, and looked around. The helmeted man nodded to Rooster. “Rooster… “ And he looked to Vera. “Ah, I’m sorry. Haven’t been introduced. Wasteland.” He nodded at Vera as well, looking around for somewhere that he could stand without being too much in the way.

 

Bart walked in behind them, but at a distance. He knew they didn’t like being babysat anymore than he liked babysitting, but he still had to make sure the Freelancers looked good and no horrible incidents gave the legions news goons ammo against them. He watched vigilantly behind his darkened spectacles and leaned on his cane, still managing to keep an even few feet behind.

 

Vera stared at the armoured man with dull eyes, and then gave a half wave. “Throwaway,” she said. “Great name, isn’t it? Anyways, I’m a shapeshifter. This asshole’s looking for the person in charge, I can be the person in charge. Cool? Cool.” And then she goes back to doodling.

 

“Assuming, of course, we don’t kick the shit out of this asshole as soon as he shows his face.” Rooster said, offering the shy girl a big grin. “Alright, let’s roll out, team. Time to save a kickass strip club and some lives. Seriously, have you been there? It’s fucking aces.”

“Shit!” the dispatcher’s voice comes in through the comm. “He’s already inside, repeat, already inside the club! How the hell–“

 

Behind his helmet, he eyes Vera with one eye, kind of curious about that. He looks to Rooster, and shrugs, “Not really a plac- Oh goddammit.” He looks at Rooster, “Uhm, directions?”

 

“That doesn’t sound good.” Bart grumbles under his breath, taking out his phone and checking it. Yep, fire department on speed dial. At least he learned something in his time working with Wasteland. “After you. I can keep up.”

 

“Nah,” Rooster said, scooping Old Bart up under one arm and Vera up under the other without so much as a warning. “Let’s motor.”

And then she began to sprint.

 

The outside of the club is already on fire, an isolated wall of flames licking at the brick, metal and glass of the newly-renovated building. It is, without a doubt, the nicest-looking strip club any of the heroes have ever seen, and the flames would add a nice touch if they weren’t trapping the terrified patrons inside. Screams from within are audible even over the sound of the roaring fire.

 

“Oh I am going to kill this guy….” Wasteland mutters as he doesn’t even slow down because of the flames. People are trapped. Fire isn’t a problem. He would, however, slow down once he gets to the door, and rip the thing right off the hinges, if people are trapped in there. The armor’s servos whine a little as they give the living Furnace extra muscle to tear the door down. “Keep an eye out for this guy, he might try to escape with the civilians if he hasn’t already booked it!”

 

Rooster plunges forward through the flames, prepared to pummel any other enemies on the other side.

 

Bart was already on the phone with the fire station, just incase someone had neglected to call. He made his way around the building, towards the back entrance while he talked to them.

 

“Be careful heading into the dance floor, through the double doors,” the dispatcher says through the comms, “I’ve got video, and Otto is already up there on the stage. He’s got the para dancer and he’s demanding the club’s owner, Tommy Varo. He looks ready to burn the Damselfly if he’s approached. Sending you a photo of Mr. Varo, Vera.”

 

“Alright, got it.” Vera ducks behind the first barrier she can see and then emerges a whole different person. She is Tommy Varo, as far as anyone can tell – she even got the small scar on his thumb right. “If you guys let me get roasted alive, I am going to be so fucking mad.” And then she picks her way into the club, bringing her – his? – arms up to shield the body of Tommy Varo, moving into the club.

 

“Right. The rest of you, move, move!” Wasteland helps any civilians out as he can, guiding them to the exit as Vera moves in. Luckily the open doors and being up to fire code, the stip club isn’t as smokey and burning as it could be, plus, it was during the day. The fire wall wasn’t doing that much damage as it could have been. Not as busy as it could have been, thank whatever deity you want. To the man in the armor, the fire wall is like a slightly warm blanket, and the smoke certainly isn’t going to bother him. Rooster charged on through, though… that could be bad. “I’ve got your back, Uh…. “ He double takes at what he assumes is Throwaway. Quietly, he asks over the comms. “Ah, anyone know how long it takes for him to go from burning the place down to burning the owner? Lets not get anyone roasted if we can.”

 

When Bart got to the back and opened the door, he saw the same firewall as the front. He smirked. “Just like old times.” He thought to himself, taking a few steps back. He brought his shirt up over his nose, and tightened his heavy coat around him, forcing his bad leg to move faster as he did a short sprint, a leap, and then rolled onto the floor, patting the flames off. “Ah god my back…..maybe not as good as old times.” He grunted, finally sure the flames were out. In the corner of his eye he spots a fire extinguisher. “There we are.” He struggled to his feet, leaning on his cane a bit before taking it off the wall. He gave a quick spritz on the back fire wall to see how it fared against this paranormals blaze.

 

The scene on the dance floor is far less chaotic than that outside of it. The smoke from the fire barriers hasn’t wafted this far into the building, and other than the house music having been cut the setting is still decked out as it usually was every day. The clientele, however, is mostly gone, with a few pockets remaining. Terrified patrons unable to make it to the door for fear of being spotted huddle in the corners, under tables, on chairs. Sweating, crying, trying not to draw the attention of the man on stage.

 

Otto da Fe is imposing, at least on stage. Almost as tall as Rooster and broader in the shoulders, he wears a long coat clearly inspired by an Inquisition robe (though oddly devoid of any religious symbols). Tucked under his arm is a slight figure: a beautiful, young, androgynous dancer, wearing an outfit made entirely of ribbons and covered in glitter and makeup. Otto’s free hand is wreathed in flame and only inches from the dancer’s face, possibly explaining why ey does not struggle.

 

“I want the owner! Bring me Tommy Varo!” Otto’s voice booms.

 

“I’m Tommy Varo,” comes the reply from the dance floor. Throwaway strides into the middle of the dance floor, out of reach from the stage but close enough that Tommy Varo’s face is clearly visible. “Let go of the dancer, I’m here, okay? Let’s talk this out.”

With the owner appearing and Wasteland clearing out civilians, Rooster begins to circle around, ducking behind tables and bars in an attempt to close the distance.

 

Upon seeing the flames disperse, Bart smiled. Felt good to be in the action again. He set the extinguisher down and popped the top of his cane, drawing out a short sword. He went through the costume rooms backstage cutting hostages free, until one in particular, a dashing greek god of a man covered in what Bart could only hope was non flammable body oil grabbed him. “I’m not going! Nat is still out there!” Bart nodded to him, “Your partner going to be fine my friend. We have the best of the best out there right now. If you want to help, go grab me the fire extinguisher by the exit. And be quiet about it.” With that he left the young man, making his way to the closed curtain, pressing his ear to it to hear what was happening outside.

 

“Good,” Otto growled, a grin creeping onto his face. “Come onto the stage, Tommy Varo. You and your prize peacock here are going to be examples for my little crusade. This disgusting world has worn its ostentatious colors too long, and someone needs to pay. It’s either going to be your customers… or you.”

 

As if to demonstrate, a line of flames flickers harmlessly but demonstrably across the back wall of the room.

 

Vera-as-Tommy approaches slowly, hands up in a pacifying gesture but still slowly walking towards the stage. “Hey now, woah now, don’t you think that’s a little much? I mean, hey, we could do some charity work together. Go to a soup kitchen, yeah? Give out coats to the homeless.”

Rooster eases her massive form under and over tables, staying out of Otto’s line of sight, before slowly, carefully, quietly pulling herself up on stage. Almost, almost…

 

((tag – do we wanna pause and wait for Wasteland? It’s been a while since his last turn 🙂 )) ((I’m right here! Sure, can post, you guys were just on a roll!))

 

As many of the civilians on the outside were evacuated as he could get, which was a decent number of people. Huh. Wasteland heads towards the main dance floor, backing Vera up as much as he can. He can be the distraction, keeping his distance, as Rooster gets close. He hasn’t seen her since she charged in, so she’s either doing something sneaky, or taken out already. He really, really doubted the latter.

 

The orange-yellow eyes glare at the pyrokinetic on the stage, and he stands at the ready for anything to happen. Maybe a few more civilians manage to sneak out behind him, hopefully. The damage to the club wasn’t as bad in here, that was good. Okay, lets keep it that way, Wasteland… seriously? What the hell kind of thing was he wearing?… don’t make jokes about the homicidal firecracker yet. He did all he could to look imposing and scary and hopefully he didn’t attempt to flash fry Vera.

 

Adam would come up as quietly as he could muster behind Bart and hand him the extinguisher, but before he could speak OB brought his pointer to his mouth to “Shhh” him silently, then motioned for him to get out of there. Carefully, and quietly, he brushed the curtain aside just enough to see the stage and his target. Still holding the hostage, and facing away from him. He tested his leg, unsure if he could make it in time to spray him. “Damn it!” His lips silently mouthed.

 

“You think I care about your charity projects?” Otto sneers. “The example you set, your screams and flames, will do more to advance my cause than your efforts ever could. Get over here before I burn your little fairy and the rest of this place down.”

 

The dancer’s eyes flicker. Ey turns in place, seeing the agents that Otto ignored: the tall, colorful woman. The man with the sword cane. The suit of fucking armor.

 

“Tommy was at home today,” Nat murmurs, too quietly for Otto to hear. Ey looks up at Vera and raises eir voice. “Hey. ‘Boss’. Say when.” Eir incorporeal wings flicker behind eir back, ready to lift both Nat and eir captor into the air.

 

“Fuck it, when!” Vera calls up onto the stage, and Rooster makes herself known, charging at Otto so that he’s too startled to react to what comes next.

 

Nat darts upward quickly and forcibly, lifting the huge man’s entire bulk off the ground, leaving him dangling and vulnerable for a precious moment before he has time to realize what’s going on.

 

((okay, have at it y’all. Assume Nat is still being held by the man, but is now above him.tag!))((Will wait for wastey!))((yay!)) ((Well, rooster is jumping down, I thought?))((Rooster is on the stage, she just charged at the dude so he didn’t roast Nat when she lifted him. Nat and Otto are airborne, Rooster is below them on the stage, Vera’s in front of them on the floor)) ((gotcha!))

 

This was probably bad for the jetpack, cold starting like this, but a screaming roar suddenly filled the air as the armored man leapt as soon as Nat rose into the air, a jet powered intercept course with the big guy, and one hell of an armored fist coming right at the bastard’s face. Blue green flames burned out of the jetpack as he rose into the air, and plowed the dark green metal fist into Otto’s face (hopefully).

 

Seeing them all spring into action, Bart lurched into the brawl. Or he tried to. For a second, just before his body tensed up, and a memory was brought to mind. “Grandpa, where’s grandma?” “Why don’t we have a momma and pappa like the other kids?” A bead of sweat dripped down his wrinkled forehead, as his eyes watched the fight in front of him. He couldn’t risk that. It wasn’t him. This wasn’t what he was getting paid for. His grip on the extinguisher tightened. How could he just stand there? He had to do something! At least that’s what he told himself. He just couldn’t get himself to move, make that initial step. And so he watched from the curtains.

 

Nat spins in the air as Otto’s grip is torn free from eir arm, leaving em clear of the villain and the altercation. Ey recovers within seconds, and swoops down to the clone of his boss. “Want a lift out?”

 

Otto tumbles to the ground, rolls, and wobbles to his feet. He must be tough as hell to still be standing after a punch like that, but judging by the focus of his eyes and the set of his jaw, he’s not likely to withstand another.

 

“How dare you–” he slurs, and lets loose a burst of intense flame, which bathes Wasteland in temperatures that would turn a normal human to ash in seconds.

 

Wasteland is bathed in fire as he rises to his feet at the same time… and kind of gave a bit of a chuckle. “What, is that…. three hundred degrees C? Four hundred?” He charges after the man,  throwing a left hook at Otto, angling the man’s back towards Rooster for the woman to possibly surprise attack him. “That’s a cold, cold night for me, ya ass.” Indeed, the armor isn’t scorched, it’s barely even warmer than it was before.

 

“Oooo, looks like someone needs to go to the burn ward after that line,” Rooster crows, slamming her fist into the back of Otto’s head and following up with a kick to the back of his legs to bring hime down.

 

Meanwhile, Vera gladly takes the hands of the dancer. “Yeah, get me the hell out of here, thanks.”


Bart sucks some air in a cringe at the state of Otto’s face, snapping him back into reality. “I was right. They had it handled all along. No need to risk my neck.” Part of him wanted to though. To feel the rush he felt as a young man. He let the extinguisher slip from his sweaty hand just enough to gently thump on the boards of the stage as he caught his breath, cane sword pointed down.

 

The Damselfly’s dainty limbs are an odd contrast to the strength with which ey sweeps Vera up and carries her away from the stage and over to the door to the lobby, where ey sets her down and hovers nearby, eyes on the stage.

 

Otto, meanwhile, sustains several solid blows from superhuman powerhouses, and his enhanced durability is no match for the abuse. He slams into the ground hard, blood trickling from his mouth, eyes closed, alive but unconscious.

 

“Bastard. Sick, fucking, asshole..” Between Rooster and Wasteland’s hits, the man went down pretty quickly, just as Wasteland’s blood was getting up. And now he was out, cold, quickly. The man hadn’t suffered nearly enough. On the way here, he’d read over the evil bastard’s file. Innocent people, murdered for this guy’s own pleasure. Wasteland doesn’t stop hitting him, even after the man’s out could. The fire inside him rages, and temperature warning flare from inside. Old programming, the new armor could withstand these temperatures and a whole boatload more, but even so… This guy was one thing that was everything wrong with the world.

 

Thugs like this, people like this, needed to burn. Waste’s fists start heating up, hissing as each strike hits Otto. The metal on the gloves is upwards of a thousand degrees, and rising. “Bastard, scaring people. Killing some people just… *thoom* they don’t *Thoom* agree with your world *thoom* view.” Otto’s face is taking a serious beating. Ow.

 

Bart would slot his sword back into his cane, and slowly push the curtain aside. He saw the massive burns appearing all along Otto’s body where he was being punched. Second, maybe third degree? Nasty stuff. Then he glanced at the cameras. This wouldn’t turn out well if footage of it got out. “Wasteland. Enough. I said that is enough!” He would repeat, trying to get the enraged man to cool his anger. “We need his face intact. Or at least some of his teeth for the dental records. No point in killing an unconscious man.” Barts face was one of disgust, but not for Wasteland. For himself. And for Otto. The man deserved to die but….politics. Public opinions always complicating things.

 

“He’s right, Wasteland. We follow protocol, keep things professional. That’s why we’re Freelancers.” She scoops the man’s broken body up. “C’mon. Let’s call for a lift out of here. Where’s the kid?”

Nat is hovering just outside the doorway to the lobby bar, eyes wide with fascinated horror.

 

“Geez, you guys go hard,” Ey says. “Freelancers, huh? Um, thanks for the save. My name’s Nat. I’m the Damselfly. This stuff… happens to me kind of a lot, but this is the biggest asshole who’s sighted me yet.”

 

The fire inside mutters a few insults and curses at rational thought, at being brought back down to a smaller, tinier burn, but eventually does calm down. Wasteland backs off from Otto as Rooster scoops the beaten and burned man up. Wasteland takes a few calming breaths, before looking at Nat. His voice is a little rough, but luckily the helmet speakers hide it kind of well. “Yeah. We don’t tolerate scum like that.” He gestures to Otto, and then looks to Rooster, then looks to the rest of the patrons, then back to Bart. He nods at the man. If he could put expressions on a helmet, it would be one of somewhat grateful thanks. And then realizes this is one of the most public exposures he’s had. CUE THE ATTENTION FRIGHT! “Uhm… uh… right. Let’s get going?”

 

Bart watched as Rooster picked Otto up. The blood from his face dripping on the floor. He could have probably sped him up. Cause time for him to move faster, let his body acted like it were longer before he got treatment. It might even kill him, and nobody would even know. He thought about it deeply, but then caught Wastelands nod. He gave a small smile back, and a respectful nod in return. What if this one came back and did to wasteland what his own nemesis did to him? He couldn’t think about that now. “Glad you are safe.” He told Nat after a sigh, releasing the inner stress he had. He could think on it later.

 

“You want a job, kid?” Rooster said to Nat, pulling Otto over her shoulder and offering one large, bloodied hand for a shake. “Good wages, great working environment, you get to hang out with me…”

“Heh, um,” Nat’s expression was a study in restraint as ey shook Rooster’s hand with eir own delicate one, “it’s not that I don’t appreciate the job offer, but I’m way better at turning people on than caving people in. But hey, you’re all welcome back here whenever you want. We’re going for a para-friendly atmosphere, and we’ve got even more renovations coming on soon. You should see my act.”

 

Wasteland shrugs. A strip club. Suit of armor…. be nice, be nice… “Uh, maybe? Rooster, you’ve been here, right?… and did we lose Throwaway?” He looks around for the shapeshifter. Yes, because visually looking for someone who can look like anyone is going to be super useful. Right, the patrons. He waves for everyone to move to where the cops are probably outside. “Everyone, please, uhm, head outside, we got the bad guy.”

 

“Sounds exciting.” He responded to Nat. “Will let some of my clients know there is a new para-friendly club on the rise. Good luck with the renovations.” He had fully regained his mask now, flipping out his phone to speak with HQ about transport for Otto to the nearest Freelancer prison.

 

Nat blinks. “Throwaway? Geez, that seems like a harsh callsign.” Ey looks over at the space where his boss’s clone had been standing.

 

The clone, now a short girl with green hair and an impish face, just shrugs back. “‘s what it is,” she finally says. “No worries.”

“Yeah, I was going to ask…. I thought mine was horrific.” He looks at the short girl with green hair, and shrugs. “Oh, should probably read him his rights…. Protocol, and all…” Before walking over to Otto’s unconscious form, speaking quietly to the man about right to remain silent and everything. The ashen blood and skin on the man’s gauntlets flaked off finally as he moved, the heat around them dying pretty quickly.

 

“Prison escort is on their way. Also I think the firetrucks are outside, just waiting on us.” Bart said calmly.

 

“Well, hey,” Nat smiles and zips upward into the air, “thanks again. Y’all should follow me on social media and come see me dance sometime. I’m gonna start touring soon, but if you catch me while I’m here you’ll get a table or room dance on the house.” Wink.

A Stitch In Time: Estelle

THE PRESTWICH MANOR

THE GUEST ROOM

 

“Come in, come in. Can I get you a drink?” Estelle swept the group into her guest room, a place of upholstered furniture and carefully organized china and a bar up against the wall, stocked with quality liqueur and expensive glasses of all sizes.

“That would be lovely, ma’am, thank you!” Nat said in a slightly pitched-up voice, beaming eir most winning smile. Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: Estelle”

A Stitch In Time: It’s All in the Execution

FOUR HOURS AGO

 

Lights Show had been thinking hard, and he jumped up with his hand in the air like a schoolboy proud of his answer. He flushed, cleared his throat, and started talking before someone could tease him about his opening.

 

“Let’s go to the field where he’ll be. Let’s bring a stripper pole. Nat will do eir thing, I’ll drop the beats… No one could resist a show like that.”

He punctuated his idea with finger guns and an “Ayyyyyy!”

Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: It’s All in the Execution”

A Stitch In Time: A Just Reward

Estelle sat in the largest, most comfortable chair in the guest room, hands pressed together and fingers steepled.

 

“You may have saved the world.” she finally pronounced, a queen on her throne. “Everyone, everyone, on Earth must thank you.”

“Oh goob. Dat’s fantastig.” Fi mumbled from behind a handkerchief. Apparently, kicking an angel into the back of its own mind had consequences, and in this case, those consequences were periodic nosebleeds. “but I meang. I lib on da wurlb?” Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: A Just Reward”