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The Stranger Ranger Liquid Metal Las Vegas Showdown


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(Author's Note: I have been writing Stranger stories here for a while using the handles of people on the board like Bolo, Trebuchet, Hermit, Satin Kitty, Oddhat, and Death Tribble. They have always been side stories to my main page. So I decided to post this up here as I go along since I will be using some of the handles here. I hope you enjoy.) 

1

Tom Kerry and Lucinda Grable stood in the office of the local Federal agent they
reported to in Las Vegas. It was just like any other office in Vegas. A glass window
to see the outside, a desk of uncertain years and make, a desktop with flat screen
monitor, and a bureaucrat who seemed too tightly wound up.

 

Tom wore his tuxedo and mask to keep his identity concealed. Plenty of people wore
tuxedos in Vegas. Some of them were professional magicians like he was.

 

Lucinda wore the yellow costume she had built out of motorcycle leathers. A raised
collar and goggle-like sunglasses helped conceal her face when she wasn’t lit up.

 

Their contact, and supposed overseer, Tom Ryan wore shirt sleeves and a loose tie.
He fiddled with the papers on his desk and looked like he had swallowed a lemon.

That was his normal look, so neither of the Aces took that as indicative of anything
in particular.

 

Vegas had been a mostly quiet place as far as superhumans were concerned until the
Aces had started. Now he was there to make sure they didn’t do things the Gunsmith
way as much as he could.

 

“Where are the other three?,” Ryan asked.

 

The Aces had five members. This was supposed to be a team meeting.

 

“Random hates you,” said Tom. “Wilde is still wanted by the police. Wild Card had
some professional obligations to take care of in his personal life.”

 

“The school thing?,” said Ryan.

 

“Among other things,” said Tom.

 

“That was Sister Anna’s stipulation,” said Ryan. “Has he talked to her about it?”

 

“Viciously,” said Tom. “He’s a grumpy little guy right now.”

 

“As long as he doesn’t bite her face off, that’s okay,” said Ryan.

 

“It’s not Sister Anna we’re worried about,” said Lucinda.

 

“Let’s put aside Random’s anti-authority stance, and face eating ways,” said Ryan.
“I want to get to the real reason why I called you to come down.”

 

Tom made a go ahead wave with his hand.

 

“There’s been a small assortment of superhuman groups popping up over the last five
years,” said Ryan. “Upstairs has asked reps of these groups to come down to Vegas
and have a meet and greet. Your team is invited to participate.”

 

“That sounds good, I guess,” said Tom. He exchanged a look with Lucinda. “Who
will be attending?”

 

“Members from the Rangers, the Strangers, the Deacons, and Hue Man’s kids,” said
Ryan.

 

“Strangers?,” asked Tom.

 

“They got together over a giant turtle in Minnesota,” said Lucinda. “Some kind of
lake monster caused by Alchemo.”

 

“What about the Leaguer, Hero X, or the Blinker?,” asked Tom. They were renowned
enough to be included in his opinion.

 

“The Project doesn’t back them, so they weren’t invited,” said Ryan. “The same goes
for superhumans who are acting as vigilantes like the Fear, Log Man and Pinecone,
or Johnny Shield.”

 

“So what’s the point of this?,” asked Tom.

 

“Upstairs wants you guys to at least know some of the people in other parts of the
country in case of some kind of emergency,” said Ryan.

 

“The Rangers did help with our certification,” said Lucinda. “I spoke with one of
their guys when we were just getting started up.”

 

“Do you have a guest list yet?,” asked Tom.

 

“Not yet,” said Ryan. “I do have confirmation that the Warning and Calvin Cassidy
will be here for their teams, but nothing on who they are bringing with them.”

 

“All right,” said Tom. “Where are we holding this conference?”

 

“The Diamond Lilly,” said Ryan.

 

“The place where Wild Card started?,” said Lucinda. “The lobby was demolished.”

 

“They are reopening with a brand new conference area,” said Ryan. “We rented it as
soon as we found out. This isn’t going to be a week long thing as far as I know. This
is just going to be a couple of days.”

 

“You’re expecting trouble, aren’t you?,” asked Lucinda.

 

“Not particularly,” said Ryan. “All of these teams are operating, and have done some
things, and Cassidy has been on the scene for a while, and the robots are associated
with the Veil and Hue Man which might bring some problems with that baggage.”

 

“Okay,” said Lucinda. “So Cassidy and the robots will look like prime targets to
anyone who finds out about this and wants to take a shot.”

 

“Which is why we haven’t told anybody outside of our invitees and are trying to keep
a minimal standard of security,” said Ryan. “Agent Aylwin is wrangling the Strangers
for us.”

 

“Have you dealt with any of these people?,” asked Tom.

 

“Just the Enforcer for the Strangers,” said Ryan. “He was crusty when I was coming
up, and I doubt that has changed.”

 

“When is this supposed to happen?,” asked Tom.

 

“Next week,” said Ryan. “Our guests will be coming in the day before the conference,
and taking off the day after. I’m going to have a couple of our guys pick them up at
the airport and take them over to the hotel.”

 

“All right,” said Tom. “We’ll let the others know to be on their best behavior.”

 

“Good,” said Ryan. “That takes a load off my mind.”

 

“I promise that I won’t let Random bite someone’s face off unless they deserve it,”
said Tom. He smiled.

 

“I’ve heard that justification before,” said Ryan. “Go ahead. When I know who’s
coming, I’ll get together a better briefing packet for you.”

 

“Thanks, Tom,” said Kerry. “We’ll work something out where one of us is at the hotel
to help out in case something happens.”

 

Ryan nodded at the assurance.

 

“Come on, Tach,” said Tom. “We need to see what Wilde is doing. He’s the hardest
one of us to track down.”

 

“I’ll do it,” said Lucinda. “You find Wild Card at his tournament.”

 

“All right,” said Tom. “Do you know anything about any of these people?”

 

“Some,” said Lucinda. “Let’s meet up at the Church. We can talk about it over pizza.”

 

“All right,” said Tom. “Sounds like a good idea to me.”

 

Tachyon took to the air on a trail of light. Joker Wilde liked to haunt the high crime
areas of Vegas and surroundings. She had no doubt she would find him chasing down
some gangster, or other menace to society, and inflicting his own brand of justice on
them.

 

It gave Ryan heartburn, but the night owl lived to hunt, and would not give that up
for the government.

 

Tom took off his mask when he was sure no one was around to see it. He put it in his
pocket as he headed for the Strip in his car. He knew that Wild Card was there as his
other face. All he had to do was find the tournament and let him know about the
meeting.

 

Some of the games didn’t allow phones. Cheaters were known to use them to count
cards.

 

Random would be at the Church. Sister Anna didn’t let him patrol on his own until
he was done with his school work. He chafed at the restriction after spending
however many years on the street.

 

On the other hand, if someone raised a hand to the nun, they were in deep trouble.
The feral boy would turn into a relentless monster at even a hint of a threat.

 

Don’t mess with the penguin is all Random ever said about it, and Tom didn’t push.

 

He liked his face the way it was.

 

He rolled up to the Lily. Wild Card had entered the tournament here, and should still
be playing unless he got wiped out early. Once he had brought the other man up to
speed, he would drive down to Sister Anna’s nunnery and talk to her and Random.

He would also have to let Karen know he had the next week going so she wouldn’t
worry. They didn’t have a job for another two weeks, and then they had to put on a
couple of shows at one of the smaller clubs off the Strip.

 

The fact they were getting jobs at all was thanks to the All Caps busting in the first
big show they had, and Jack Dragon hiring them to cover him while he took care of
some personal business.

 

That had led to the founding of the Aces and the current conference the government
wanted them to attend. He doubted Wilde would want to show his face, but Wild
Card might like to meet others that did the heroing thing and get pointers.

 

Tom walked through the underground garage to the stairs leading to the casino. He
headed upstairs, following the signs to a closed room with a security guard outside.

 

“Tournament closed to the public?,” Tom asked. He gestured at the door.

 

“Yep,” said the guard.

 

“How many are left?,” asked Tom. “I’m looking for a friend of mine.”

 

“Just a couple,” said the guard. “A lot of the littler fish was pushed out pretty early.”

 

“Willie Cotton?,” asked Tom.

 

“He’s still in there,” said the guard. “They aren’t due for another break for another
hour. You will be able to talk to him then.”

 

“Thanks for that,” said Tom. “If he comes out early, can you tell him Tom Kerry is
here to talk to him about a job next week.”

 

“Sure,” said the guard. “He’s been on fire tonight. I think he might clear out everyone
else in the room first.”

 

“Thanks,” said Tom. He headed for the bar. A glass of water would do him some
good.

 

Meeting some other masked men from other parts of the country might do them some
good.

 

At least they didn’t have to travel to the meeting. He couldn’t see Wilde or Random
behaving well on a plane.

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2

Calvin Cassidy decided to drive into Las Vegas with Mike Plumb. Los Angeles was
close enough that a drive through the desert to get to the oasis was better than a flight
in his opinion.

 

His second, Barry Ojai, was flying down from Vancouver and planned to meet them
at the airport in Vegas. They had talked it over and he was bringing Bobbi Hastings
with him, and leaving Calvin Cooper in charge at home.

 

They had decided on Cooper because he was an ex-policeman and had a grasp on
tactics to lead the team in the field with Ojai out of town.

 

That was the same reason Cassidy had left Doc Dinosaur in charge back at the studio.
The Doc didn’t move fast and wouldn’t be rash in doing things that might threaten
his colleagues, and the civilians they protected.

 

“What do you think about this, Cassidy?,” asked Plumb. He watched the road ahead
as they headed out of Los Angeles toward the Nevada line.

 

“It’s just a meeting with people from other teams like ours,” said Cassidy. “They have
been successful for the most part, and the Feds want us to get to know each other in
case we need to work together.”

 

“So if something happens, we can count on them?,” asked Mike.

 

“I wouldn’t go that far,” said Cassidy. “It’s the Aces’ hometown. If something
happens, they’re the ones in the hot seat. They may need us, they may not.”

 

“Why bring me along?,” asked Mike.

 

“Because I might need someone to cool down my lemonade,” said Cassidy.

 

“How much trouble are you expecting?,” asked Mike.

 

“None really,” said Cassidy. “There’s going to be a group of superhumans meeting
at a hotel in a city with low superhuman crime. The last really big flap Vegas had was
what formed the Aces. The rest has been low scale at best.”

 

“Really?,” said Mike. “Why?”

 

“Vegas has always been a mob town,” said Cassidy. “Superhumans don’t last long in
a quiet campaign to wipe them out as soon their identities are known. The last big
flap before the Aces was a vigilante gunslinger blasting any bad guy that crossed his
path. A lot of things settled down when he vanished.”

 

“You would think someone knows what happened to him,” said Mike.

 

“No one has said anything,” said Cassidy. “I looked into it back in the day. It looked
like he had a final showdown with some of his rogues and died killing them off.”

 

“If that happened in the desert, it’s no surprise no one found the body even after all
this time,” said Mike.

 

“And if they haven’t found it by now, they never will,” said Cassidy. “No one but old
timers like me will ever remember the Gunsmith.”

 

“You’re old all right,” said Mike. He grinned to take some of the sting out of his
words.

 

“I don’t really need you for this,” said Cassidy.

 

“Then why am I coming along?,” asked Mike.

 

“Because I didn’t need you messing up some emergency while I was away,” said
Cassidy.

 

“That is pretty low,” said Mike. He put on a pained expression underneath his huge
mustache.

 

“It’s also extremely accurate as far as I can tell,” said Cassidy.

 

Mike lapsed into silence as he watched the landscape. He and his brother could reach
into streams of energy to draw out strange items to use as heroes. The road looked
like a river branching off down sidepaths that branched even more once they left the
highway and joined the natural trails beyond.

 

The effect was random, and he might have been able to grab out a faster car if he had
wanted to spend the time on it.

 

Mike had joined the Deacons out of a sense of adventure. He liked to help people.
Getting paid by the Ever Brothers was just icing on the cake. He liked to think he
would still help people if it wasn’t his job.

 

He had roped his brother into helping out and that’s how they had formed the core of
the first Deacons team. Starlit had come on next with her gravity controlling widget.
Doc Dinosaur joined the team after an accident had made him nonhuman. Lady
Specter joined the team after some upset in the underworld.

 

Mike didn’t know how the underworld kicked ghosts out in the real world. He didn’t
want to find out.

 

“Who do you have coming in from the second team?,” asked Mike.

 

“Ojai and Bomb Girl,” said Cassidy.

 

“Okay,” said Mike. “Did you tell her there wasn’t going to be any excitement on this
trip?”

 

“Why would I do that?,” asked Cassidy.

 

Mike scratched the back of his head and eased his cap back in place. He couldn’t
think of an answer to that question.

 

The Ever Brothers had asked Cassidy to set up another team in Canada. Instead of
recruiting supers like he had the Plumbs and the others on his first team, he had
stumbled over human experimentation and the local authority had asked him to do
something with the unwilling subjects.

 

So Cassidy had started training them to work as heroes. The first team rotated through
so both teams knew each other and could work together.

 

Mike supposed the premise was similar to what this conference was supposed to do
with teams run by other people in other parts of the country. The government wanted
them to get along so they could work together if they had to do that.

 

Bobbi the Bomb Girl liked to blow up any obstacle in her way. Patience was not her
strong suit as far as Mike could tell. Letting her come to Las Vegas for two days of
boring talk had to be some kind of punishment detail for her.

 

Or Cassidy wanted to make sure she wasn’t blowing stuff up in Vancouver while his
assistant was also in Las Vegas with them.

 

It could go either way in Mike’s opinion.

 

He couldn’t wait to see the look on her face when they told her she wouldn’t be able
to hit the clubs.

 

It would be even better when they got to the conference and she had to listen to a
bunch of old people talk about future methods.

 

He leaned back in his chair. Something might happen at the conference. Maybe they
could set up exchange programs so some of the Deacons worked with the other
groups part of the year.

 

He wondered who was coming from the other teams. No one had finalized the check
in as far as he knew. On the other hand, the first team was within flying time of an
emergency in Vegas thanks to Starlit. The others would have to come from Texas,
Minnesota, and Chicago.

 

“Do you know any of the people on the other teams?,” asked Mike.

 

“I’ve dealt with the Enforcer and Hue Man when I was a kid,” said Cassidy. “I don’t
know what these new robots will be like.”

 

“Hue Man?,” said Mike. “There’s another name I don’t know.”

 

“No one knows what happened to him either,” said Cassidy. “He was around in
Reagan City for a while. Some people thought he had killed the main hero working
there, but I never got the story straight until I saw a write up on the Hero Museum that
opened up there.”

 

“But Hue Man mysteriously vanished just like the Gunsmith?,” asked Mike.

 

“Probably for the same reason too,” said Cassidy. “He probably ran up on some
villian ready for him. The fact that he had government ties just means no one will
hear the whole story because it is classified somewhere. He might have went overseas
somewhere and was lost in some other country.”

 

“If he did that, it was some government job,” said Mike.

 

“A few of the other masked men associated with him were also lost,” said Cassidy.
“Except Atom America. He hung around for a while, then retired. He said his power
was used up and he couldn’t save the world any more.”

 

“Larry loves this stuff,” said Mike. “You should tell him some of your stories.”

 

“Why would I do that?,” asked Cassidy. “He’s already going through old case files
like a fan. The last thing I want to do is encourage his hero worship.”

 

“He wants to find the Deacon,” said Mike.

 

“And the answer is in our old case files?,” asked Cassidy.

 

“Who knows?,” said Mike.

 

“I guess I would since I have been over the case files myself a hundred times,”
said Cassidy. “The Deacon didn’t disappear. He left a note and quit. Then he
took himself off the grid such as it was. I looked for him forever and never found
a clue to where he had gone.”

 

“He might have found a way to go over to the next dimension and explore there,”
said Mike.

 

“And how do we find him if he did that?,” asked Cassidy.

 

“Larry hasn’t figured that part out yet, which is why he is going over the case
files for old villains that used teleport-like effects like the Great Gildersleeve,”
said Mike.

 

“So he thinks the Deacon used some gadget to take off somewhere where no one
could find him?,” asked Cassidy.

 

“It’s that, or magic,” said Mike.

 

“I think you are stirring the pot,” said Cassidy.

 

“I would never do that,” said Mike. He kept his laugh to himself.

 

“I think that you would,” said Cassidy. “And here’s the airport. Go inside and find our
guys. Then we can hit the hotel.”

 

“So we’ll be able to hit the casino and a show,” said Mike. “That’s great.”

 

“The conference is tomorrow,” said Cassidy. “We’re going to have to get ready for
that.”

 

“So no show, or gambling?,” said Mike.

 

“No show, or gambling,” said Cassidy. “This isn’t some vacation.”

 

“I’ll be right back,” said Mike. “It might do you some good to take a vacation.”

 

“My time in the hospital was all the vacation time I needed,” said Cassidy. “Vacations
are for the weak.”

 

“I can’t wait for my next one,” said Mike. He got out of the car and headed into the
terminal. Ojai and Bobbi knew what he looked like. He didn’t need a sign to wave
to attract their attention.

 

Cassidy shook his head. There was no way Larry could find the Deacon with the old
case files. He had gone through them himself, and the private ones from his father.
He had never seen a clue to where the original had gone.

 

If Larry did find something, that would be better than he had ever dreamed.

Maybe he shouldn’t dismiss the claim out of hand.

 

Mike came back with the Canadians in a few minutes. He opened the back doors of
the car for them.

 

“Hey, old man,” said Bobbi Hastings, hair dyed pink and green. She wore tattered
pants, a t-shirt, and a jacket she had taken off someone in a bar fight.

 

“Hello, Bobbi,” said Cassidy. “Business casual?”

 

“I have two suits in my bag,” said Bobbi.

 

“Our luggage didn’t come in,” said Ojai. “We asked for the flight service to send it
over to the hotel.”

 

“We’re gambling, right?,” said Bobbi.

 

“We’re gambling,” said Mike.

 

“We’re working,” said Cassidy. “That means no booze, no sex, and no gambling.”

 

“I thought this was supposed to be a fun thing,” said Bobbi. “That’s why I
volunteered.”

 

“We’re meeting people we might have to work with later to save some portion of
the country, maybe the world,” said Cassidy. “What’s more fun than that?”

 

“Slot machines,” said Bobbi.
 

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3

Charlie Moser drove southwest toward Las Vegas. He planned to be in the city in a
few hours, look for his hotel, and get settled in. He had talked things over with his
partner, Dave Pack, and they had decided that was the best way to do things.

 

Flying with the kids would have been too much trouble trying to explain their nature
to the airline. They would have been relegated to cargo. Charlie and Dave felt that
might have led to trouble eventually.

 

So they had the kids to draw paper straws and the short straw drove down with
Charlie. Dave and the remaining boys would remain in Chicago and handle anything
that might come up without their missing pieces.

 

Charlie had been willing to let Dave take the long drive. The nature of the conference
had not attracted his interest. They had decided that the winning kid could carry a
camera to record everything in his liquid metal body so the others could watch it later.

Green won the straw pull. The others told him to look at everything. They had never
left Chicago, and seeing a new place should be good for something.

 

Green sat in the back of the company SUV, looking out the back window. He didn’t
say anything as they drove down the highways from Illinois to Nevada.

 

Charlie was used to that. The other kids argued with each other, complained about
life, compared how they had performed rescues. Green barely moved from any spot
he settled in, rarely talked unless spoken to.

 

Were the other boys supposed to be more like him, or was he supposed to be more
like them?

 

Charlie and Dave had talked about it, but they didn’t have any answers. They had
their different personalities, and ways of talking and doing things. Green just seemed
to be more like a lump of metal compared to his brothers.

 

That didn’t make him any less dangerous than the others for all their command of the
elements. He was the one least taken off guard, and more prone to knocking a
villain’s lights out.

 

Charlie wished he knew who was going to be at the conference. The meeting with the
rep at the local precinct house had just been a request for members of his group to be
there. He didn’t have a clue on what they were going to talk about, or how his group
could fit in with the others who might be present.

 

The kids had singular powers secondary to their robotic bodies. Dave had looked
them over when they got started. He said it would take a genius to duplicate the
hexagonal skin they had as an outer covering. He didn’t have a clue how the vacuum
tube and chip arrangement that acted as their brains did things.

 

The only thing he could confirm was that they were solar powered, but he had no clue
how that was supposed to work either.

 

Fitzgerald had not left any manuals behind to explain how he had built the kids, or
Hue Man. And since he was dead, they couldn’t ask him any questions.

 

They couldn’t ask Hue Man anything either. He was gone. There were buried reports
he was lost fighting some monster in Reagan City after taking over for the Monster
Squad. No one knew for sure.

 

Maybe Atom America knew, but he wasn’t talking about it either.

 

Charlie and Dave’s other contact in that time period hadn’t been on hand when Hue
Man vanished. He might have tried but his own power had kept him busy fighting in
Chicago after the robotic ranger had moved from the windy city to his new home.

 

The man had saved Charlie’s life and created the four kids from the remains of
Fitzgerald’s lab and the fifth brother they had accidentally created. His explanation
of what had drawn him to the scene and why he had set up the rescue agency
amounted to following dreams.

 

Moser understood since following a dream of fame and glory is what had led him and
Pack down to the buried lab and their almost deaths.

 

His talks with the Veil had given him information on the lost heroes that had fought
for the world before he was born.

 

One of the reasons he had agreed to attend the conference was Calvin Cassidy was
going to be present. He knew the Deacon, and could answer questions about the weird
hero and his sidekick, Kid Deacon. That would make the trip worth it in his opinion.
He planned to hit the Hero Museum on the way back. It was a long detour, but he had
wanted to go there since it opened.

 

Raising the kids, and dealing with Chicago’s problems had kept him busier than he
thought it would when he agreed to run the agency for the Veil.

 

He doubted Green would be interested in any of that. The synthetic child seemed
more interested in watching the world around him than digging up the past.

 

“We’re going to swing through Reagan City on the way back, Green,” said Charlie.
“I want to visit the Hero Museum and look around before we head back to the city.”

 

“Okay, bub,” said Green. His green eyes tracked a line of road dust as they drove
along.

 

“They have the world’s biggest ball of twine there,” said Charlie.

 

“Okay, bub,” said Green.

 

Charlie smiled. He supposed if he told the machine that they were going to fight a one
eyed purple people eater, okay bub would be the response a second later.

 

Nothing seemed to phase Green. It was just a part of his stoic nature.

 

“Would you like to visit anything on the way back to Chicago?,” asked Charlie.

 

“I don’t know, bub,” said Green. “Are there any zoos we can visit?”

 

“I think there are more than a few,” said Charlie. “Do you have anything in mind?”

 

“No, bub,” said Green. “Could I use the laptop to look for some?”

 

“Pick one, Green,” said Charlie. “This is supposed to be all business and boring. Dave
and your brothers will be pains about us taking time off while they are working extra
hard without us there to help out.”

 

“Okay, bub,” said Green.

 

Charlie smiled as he drove on. The other kids were going to complain anyway, and
Dave might have something to say, but visits to a museum and a zoo were in the time
allotted for them to drive back and get back on duty.

 

And it felt good to ride along in silence without someone shooting at his car, or
having to give information to the kids over their radio links, or wondering what the
emergency of the day happened to be.

 

And the city needed the kids to help out where they could. The Veil had been active
for a long time defending the city. Scattershot was more of a street level vigilante that
sometimes punched upward with his gun powers. E.P. did help out where he could
but he mainly had a lot of strength at his command. There were a scattering of others
across the area but the superhuman crime was low level in Charlie’s opinion.

 

If they could get an organization together across Illinois out of this conference, the
trip would be worth it in his opinion. The experience of meeting others doing the
same thing he was doing would be something to carry home and tell Dave.

Hitting the Hero Museum would just be a bonus.

 

And he doubted Dave had the kids working extra hard at anything unless it was some
way to get cheaper Internet and some work done on the office they used.

 

“Green?,” said Charlie. He looked in the mirror. The machine still stared out the
window.

 

“Yes, bub,” said Green.

 

“Why are you interested in zoos and animals?,” asked Charlie.

 

Green had always focused on things more than his brothers. His one interest seemed
to be in animals. The other kids acted like human kids with a wide range of interests
from video games to sports to favorite television shows. Green liked anything to do
with animals, but hardly liked anything else enough to take an interest in it.

 

While the others played under the jungle gym treehouse the Veil had built for them,
Green would stand by himself and watch the birds in the neighborhood at the edge
of their property.

 

“I don’t know, bub,” said Green. “I’m trying to learn how to fly.”

 

“Can you do that?,” asked Charlie.

 

“I don’t know, bub,” said Green.

 

Hue Man and the other kids could change shape with Blue being the best at it echoing
his fluid inspiration. Green always seemed like a rock to the partners.

 

“What do you think you need for that?,” asked Charlie.

 

“I don’t know, bub,” said Green. “I can do minimal things like Red and Whitey. I
want to be able to do more.”

 

“You probably won’t be able to fly like a bird because you’re heavy,” said Charlie. “Maybe you can glide like a flying squirrel but you would need a high spot to jump from.”

 

Charlie frowned in the mirror. Green never changed his shape as far as he knew. The
fact that he could was both surprising and not at the same time.

 

“Flaps, bub?,” asked Green.

 

“Yes,” said Charlie. “I mean they can parachute an elephant from a plane, I don’t see
why you couldn’t extend flaps to catch the air. The main factor would be your weight
and the size of the flaps.”

 

“Thanks, bub,” said Green. He fell silent as he watched the road slide by.

 

Charlie put the information away in the back of his mind. Maybe there was someone
at the conference who could show Green how to change his shape enough to fly.

 

Just gliding would be big because of his weight. Flaps to catch the air might not be
enough to keep him aloft. It might slow down a long fall enough that the landing
impact didn’t destroy the robot.

 

That was one thing he didn’t want to test. The kids were like his kids. Having them
do dangerous things was mitigated by their toughness and secondary abilities.
Throwing one off a roof of a skyscraper to see if he could learn to glide on the way down seemed a bit excessive.

He definitely didn’t want Green trying on his own.

 

“Do me a favor, Green,” said Charlie. “Don’t jump from any place that will kill you
while trying to learn how to glide.”

 

“Okay, bub,” said the robot.

 

It was hard to tell when Green was being sarcastic, but Charlie thought he saw the
edge of the deadpan in the answer.

 

He drove on toward Vegas.

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4

Wayne Ward checked the work orders for his group one last time. Things could
change to make his decisions moot. He wanted to make sure he had everyone in the
right place until he went down to drive to the airport. He had to fly to Las Vegas with
Lewis Bodenheimer.

 

Shelly was supposed to fly out at the end of the conference so they could take a few
days off and enjoy the town. It would be a second honeymoon for them.

 

He had picked Lewis to fly out with him for the conference because none of the jobs
they had lined up needed his talent. And he was an ex-boxer and knew a little about
tactics. And he was the group’s hand to hand teacher. Whatever they picked up at the
talk, he could give to the others as part of the training they were already doing to get
better at their jobs.

 

Bodie and Gravity Man had put them on a training schedule to get them fit, and it had
worked out for the most part. Wayne felt better than he had ever had, and Shelly
thought it was an improvement over his former physique.

 

She didn’t like his job, but he kept out of the way as much as possible. His talent
wasn’t much use except to give him warnings, and that wouldn’t stop a tank on its
own. That’s why he had kept the others together, even Joe Pusser, the Random Man.

And he wasn’t taking Joe anywhere near Las Vegas even if he was clear to go. That
would spark warnings every time he looked at his phone.

 

He grabbed his phone, wishing he had an assistant for the administrative work. Shelly
had her own business to run. She wasn’t going to step down to help him run his
irregular service.

 

They had gone through a rough patch as the Rangers came up to speed, and she got
used to his ability. She seemed to be okay with it now.

 

He pushed the button on his phone to call her. They seemed to be the only ones
together. The rest of his team lived on their own, and self-isolated for various reasons.

Most of that had to do with their powers and natural inclinations.

 

“Hey, Wayne,” said Shelly. “What’s going on?”

 

“Last check in before I head over to pick up Bodie and head out to Nevada,” said
Wayne. “I don’t know if I will be able to call before we land.”

 

“You are such a worry wart for someone who can see the future,” said Shelly.

 

“I like properly cautious,” said Wayne. “Most of the guys will be out on jobs, but if
there is any trouble while I’m gone, call Phil, or Cord. They will send somebody to
fix things for you.”

 

Phil Ball, Eyeball, and Cord Liner, the Dowser, were Wayne’s team leaders if they
could be called that. They identified problems for the others to do something to solve
them.

 

“Don’t worry,” said Shelly. “We’re almost done with this job, and I will be out to
Vegas on time.”

 

“I’m not worried,” said Wayne. “Thank your mother for me.”

 

“She loves the kids,” said Shelly. “I got to go. My marble table top just arrived.”

 

“I’ll call when we’re settled in,” said Wayne. “My end should be boring to until you
get out there.”

 

“No gambling, or shows,” said Shelly.

 

“Not while we’re working,” said Wayne. “I don’t know who’s going to be there, or
what they’re bringing. Tell them to be careful with the tabletop. It might crack if handled
wrong.”

 

“All right,” said Shelly. “Don’t forget to call.”

 

She cut the connection.

 

Wayne hoped her tabletop survived the transit to the counter her company was
renovating.

 

He checked his paperwork one more time. There were no last minute flashes of things
that could go wrong with the jobs they had on hand. Hopefully, the team could do
without him for the next two weeks.

 

Bodie was supposed to come back and get with the others after the conference. Phil,
or Cord, would grab him up to handle anything that popped up that needed his power.

 

Wayne put the orders away, cut off his computer, and shut off the lights. He needed
to go now if he wanted to pick up Bodie and beat traffic to the airport.

 

He wondered what the other reps would be like as he headed downstairs to grab his
Ford Focus from its slot in the underground garage.

 

He made sure his bag was still in the trunk before he got in and headed out of the
garage. His team was doing wonders protecting as much of Texas as they could reach,
and with the Biker on deck that was a lot, but they were a bunch of oddballs. He
wanted to see how other teams handled things.

 

His specific power allowed him glimpses into the future.

 

Bodie harnessed impact damage to counterstrike harder than he had been hit. He had
survived falling into a deep pit because hitting the sides and the bottom kept him alive
somehow.

 

Phil had a suite of vision powers they used to find people. He had turned into a great
tracker thanks to the others. He was already a fairly successful divorce detective.
Switching jobs had allowed him to get out of that before one of his clients killed their
spouses. 

 

Cord was a dowser. His dowsing rod gave them locations, weak points, hidden
advantages they could seize. He had a good working relationship with the local
police, and that helped the rest of the team.

 

Gravity Man and the Tool were their heavy hitters in the field. Controlling gravity or
a wand that could transform things were good trump cards to have.

 

The Biker had a transport teleportation power that allowed them to get across the state
fast, but wasn’t useful in a fight. They used him for rescues to move people out of the
way so they could clear trouble spots.

 

The Armadillo had a suit of armor they used for tunneling problems and if they
needed someone tough to attract attention until they came up with a solution. That
solution sometimes meant getting the Tool or Bodie into position to do what they did
best.

 

Joe and The Moko were their wild cards if nothing else worked. The news had started
calling Joe Random Man and the others had picked up on it. His power came from a
watch filled with a drug that changed his DNA every time he used it. So he had
random powers that may or may not fit the situation they were trying to fix at the
moment.

 

The Moko controlled animals and could blend them into each other. The animal
power by itself was limited by circumstances, but he could force an opening for one
of the others with the right combination.

 

No one liked a flying horse kicking them in the face while they were trying to commit
a robbery.

 

Wayne’s job as the team leader and precognitive was to pick the right guys for the
jobs he was taking for the government of Dallas, and other local governments and the
state government of Texas and send them out there to handle things.

 

And if he went into the field, he tried to stay in the back and use his warnings to steer
things his team’s way. It didn’t always work out that smoothly, but he did what he
could.

 

Shelly worried about him, but she hadn’t left him for another man yet. He had seen
signs that she could, but she hadn’t.

 

The kids loved their dad was out saving the world to the best of his ability. They
wanted to be masked men too. He let them know it was a job, and you had to train for
it just like any other job.

 

That had earned him a lot of awwss, but a smile from Shelly. She wanted them to pick
something a little less dangerous than rounding up chupacabras for some rancher in
the back of beyond.

 

He wanted them to do what they could do, but knew some people weren’t cut out for
the heroing life such as it was. He worried constantly when Joe was going to
backslide and try to take the rest of them out.

 

He had more power now than he had when he was a junkie and petty thief. He could
slide back into that life and be more of a menace with his watch of drugs.

 

Wayne pulled into a slot at Bodie’s new place. His old apartment building had been
damaged by the hurricane they had stopped. And then Bodie had punched most of the
collapsed roof off his neighbor. Finding a place to live for him had been part of the
deal when he went in with them.

 

Wayne and Shelly knew enough people between the two of them to pick out a place
cheap enough to rent, but new enough that it hadn’t started collapsing yet.

Bodie came to the door at the first knock. He frowned when he saw Wayne in his suit
and tie on his doorstep.

 

“I thought you were coming to pick me up in a couple of hours,” Bodie said.

 

“We won’t make the plane if we wait,” said Wayne. “It’s going to be that kind of
day.”

 

“I have company, man,” said Bodie. He looked over his shoulder.

 

“Kiss her, or him, goodbye,” said Wayne. “There’s going to be a crash on the
highway in twenty minutes, and I want to be ahead of it before it happens.”

 

“You can be a real pain sometimes,” said Bodie.

 

“It’s my job,” said Wayne. “I’m not driving to Vegas, I can tell you that.”

 

“Who is it, Lewis?,” said a querulous voice.

 

“It’s my boss, Roxanne,” said Bodie. “He’s here to take me to the airport.”

 

“Hello, Roxanne,” said Wayne. “Wayne Ward.”

 

“Hello yourself,” said Roxanne. She wore Bodie’s bathrobe over her slender body.
Finger nails were decorated with some kind of design Wayne couldn’t make out.
“You’re Bodie’s boss?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” said Wayne. Technically they were all partners, but he could see going
along with things would make it easier for Bodie. “We have to catch our flight. Do
me a favor, call out sick tonight at the club.”

 

“I can’t call out sick,” said Roxanne.

 

“Ma’am, you’re going to die tonight if you go to the club,” said Wayne. “Just stay
here. Go in tomorrow. Bodie will be back in a couple of days. Tell them that you had
food poisoning.”

 

“You’re kidding,” said Roxanne.

 

“I’m just warning you,” said Wayne. “Two knuckleheads are going to try to rob the
club tonight. You will be shot if you show up. The other girls will get through
without a problem.”

 

“A real warning?,” asked Bodie.

 

“Yep,” said Wayne.

 

“Stay here,” said Bodie. “I will square things with your boss when I get back.”

 

“I need the money,” said Roxanne.

 

“You won’t need it if you’re dead,” said Bodie. “Trust me. Just stay here. Work on
your school work. We’ll deal with the tuition stuff later.”

 

“All right,” said Roxanne.

 

“It was a pleasure to meet you,” said Wayne. “What are you taking classes in?”

 

“Business administration,” said Roxanne.

 

“Secretarial work?,” asked Wayne.

 

“Some of it,” said Roxanne.

 

“What are you thinking?,” asked Bodie.

 

“I’m thinking that we need someone to handle the paperwork, but I’m sure Shelly
wouldn’t like me hiring a stripper,” said Wayne.

 

“It’s exotic dancer now,” said Roxanne. She crossed her arms.

 

“Stay away from the club,” said Wayne. “Working with us is not the same money as
dancing but it’s safer and more boring.”

 

“Safer?,” said Bodie.

 

“For her,” said Wayne. “We’ll still be going out to do things.”

 

“If I stay away from the club, you’re offering me a job,” said Roxanne.

 

“I guess,” said Wayne.

 

“I would like to see this in writing,” said Roxanne.

 

“I’ll ask someone to drop by with the NDA and package for you to read in a few
hours,” said Wayne. “We’re a small group so you probably won’t have a lot to do
other than filing things and making sure the city’s checks clear.”

 

“We’ll see about that,” said Roxanne.

 

“Let’s go, Bodie,” said Wayne. “We can still beat the crush if we go now.”

He got in the Ford and got ready to pull away.

 

“Stay away from the club,” said Bodie. He had his go bag over his shoulder. He gave
her a kiss before he turned to go to the car.

 

“Is this guy for real?,” asked Roxanne.

 

“Yes,” said Bodie. “He will get the money for your school if you want the job. If he
says you’re going to be hurt at the club, then you will be. Just stay here and wait on
the paperwork. One of the guys will drop by with it.”

 

“All right,” said Roxanne. “How do you know this guy?”

 

“He helped save my life,” said Bodie. “I’ll be back in a few days. We’ll deal with
everything then, if you want.”

 

Bodie walked to the car and placed his bag in the back seat before he got in. He
glanced at the Warning. The superhuman was using his phone in the console as he
backed out of the slot. His eyes had a blank silver sheen as he glanced at the future.

 

“Yeah, hon,” Ward said. “Bodie’s girlfriend whom he failed to introduce and whom
he apparently is knocking boots is a stripper. She’s due to get killed tonight in a
robbery. I told her to stay away from the club. If she can do that, maybe we can hire
her to deal with the admin stuff I have to do now. That’s odd.”

 

“What’s odd?,” asked Shelly Ward.

 

“The future changed,” said Wayne. “She’s going to be killed at Bodie’s place. We
have to turn around and get her out of there.”

 

“I got it, Wayne,” said Shelly. “When is she supposed to die?”

 

“Sundown from the looks of things,” said Wayne. “The highway is going to be closed
in a few minutes. We’re going to miss the flight.”

 

“I told you I got it,” said Shelly. “I’ll go over and pick her up right now. She can hang
out with me until your boys get done with what they are doing. Then we’ll figure it
out.”

 

“Be careful,” said Wayne. He didn’t like leaving town when they might have an
emergency.

 

“Your chicks have to leave the nest sometime, Wayne,” said Shelly. “We’re going to
be enjoying Vegas next week and they’ll have to operate on their own while you’re
gone. They’ll have to live without your forecasting.”

 

“Call Roxanne, Bodie,” said Wayne. “Let her know that Shelly is coming to pick her
up and she’ll have to hide out for a while. She’s not to call anybody until we solve
this.”

 

“Are you sure we should do this?,” asked Bodie. He reached for his phone.

 

“I trust Shelly to do the right thing,” said Wayne. “Cord and Phil will be able to figure
something out as soon as they get on the job. I don’t like it, but they’re better
investigators than I am, and they’ll be able to trace this back to whatever is causing
it.”

 

“If the future changes again, call me,” said Shelly. “Forewarned is forearmed.”

 

“Will do, honey,” said Wayne. “Be careful.”

 

“I will,” said Shelly. She hung up the phone.

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5

“I don’t know why we’re doing this,” said Odd Dorfman. He grumped along under
the silver and purple colored Uncle Sam hat shaped like a bowler. People looked
away from the thing as he crossed the Marlowe Air Terminal.

 

“Because I always wanted to see Las Vegas,” said Kitty Dorfman. She smiled at him
under her big glasses and blond hair done up in a pony tail. “Why are you so grumpy
about this?”

 

“Because we don’t really have a team of superhumans, and never did,” said Odd.
“And half of our founders have quit and moved on to other things.”

 

“I know,” said Kitty. “But we’re still hanging in there and the kids are taking our
place eventually.”

 

“Jimmy Harmon and his jet suit,” said Odd. He made a harumph noise. “He was lucky
we still had the med bay from when Quin was hurt.”

 

“And now everyone admires him for helping to find lost people in the Medevah,” said
Kitty. “What’s the real reason you’re grumpy.”

 

“I don’t know,” said Odd. “I don’t know what good we’ll be at a conference. Enforcer
has more experience as a superhuman than the both of us combined. He should be
doing the boring scutwork while we’re partying it up.”

 

“Chad is retired,” said Kitty. “His powers are almost gone. That thing with Narf the
Mouse might have been his last hurrah.”

 

“I know,” said Odd. “There’s nothing I can do about that either.”

 

“There never was,” said Kitty. “I want you to cheer up and enjoy the trip. We’ll take
notes and talk to the others and the kids when we get back. Maybe there will be
enough there, but we’re not really a team. Some of it won’t apply.”

 

Odd nodded. They had started out as a loose alliance in the face of Zornwill the Kaiju
Turtle Dragon. They had faced a couple of big problems and some small problems
since and part of the alliance had moved on to deal with other things in their lives.
With Chad losing his powers, the Dorfmans, Quin Martin, Billy Keys, and Tim
Bucket were the only ones remaining.

 

Oz Mike had returned to Australia and New Zealand to use his powers to help down
under. He still sent postcards and e-mail to let them know he was still around. He
couldn’t surf competitionally any more. His power made sure of that.

 

His ability to shape water would be considered cheating if he tried to surf
professionally.

 

Alice and Squirrel had vanished in the night. They had left a note saying they had to
take to the road again. They didn’t explain why.

 

Odd felt that if he knew what had bothered them, he would figure some way to help
them.

 

Thia had joined the Marines. She was only in Marlowe when she had leave. She
didn’t have time for their group unless it was a genuine emergency. They had been
lucky she had been on hand to help the new kids with their genius mouse.

 

Tim was getting ready to go to college. He hadn’t told them where he was going yet.
He said he didn’t have an idea.

 

Odd didn’t know what they would do if they had another Zornwill and had no way
to deal with it.

 

Just because Alchemo’s mix was supposed to be out of the water supply didn’t mean
it was out of the water supply.

 

Still, he thought they had some surprises between his hat and Quin’s tactical question
notes. The two of them should be able to keep the Stranger name alive until one of
them got killed.

 

He would have to think about expanding his arsenal with Tim going away to school.
There was no way they could get by with the gravity gun and hypno ray that he used
most of the time. They needed more options.

 

Billy’s power was okay, but if they got where there wasn’t any doors, then there was
nothing he could do. And he had no offense at all. Any villain could take him out
without working up a sweat.

 

Odd didn’t know what they could do about any of that. There just wasn’t that much
demand for superhuman protectors in middle Minnesota. The adventuring life had
been fun while it lasted.

 

He didn’t know why he had let Aylwin talk him into this. He should be running his
bookstore instead of flying out to Nevada.

 

“We can still do a bit against the forces of evil,” said Kitty. She smiled at him. “And
besides after the conference we can do all the touristy things we planned.”

 

“You still want to go on the nature hikes?,” asked Odd.

 

“Yes,” said Kitty. “And it will do you a lot of good.”

 

“Fine,” said Odd. “If you get bitten by a rattlesnake, it’s not my fault.”

 

“I know,” said Kitty. “I just want you to stop being such a grump. Not everyone can
go to Las Vegas for a meeting and then stay for a vacation. Now, straighten up. Pull
on that optimism like a well worn coat. Stop grousing.”

 

“What if I don’t want to?,” said Odd.

 

“Then I will give you something to nurse for the next two weeks while I am enjoying
myself with all the young men I can find,” said Kitty.

 

“What?,” said Odd.

 

“Plenty of our customers tell me I fall in the motherly but sexy category that they
love,” said Kitty. “I could dump you like a hot rock and get a better model that didn’t
whine as much.”

 

“You are sexy,” said Odd.

 

Every time they were apart for any length of time, she took his breath away when they
got back together. It was like falling in love again and again.

 

Kitty smiled, her green eyes glittering like little emeralds.

 

“No more complaints?,” said Kitty.

 

“You’re right,” said Odd. “I’m being a whiny baby because I don’t know what I can
contribute, and we don’t really have a team to represent. The fact is we probably
never did. On the other hand, I should let your womanly wiles cheer me up so we can
enjoy this trip without thinking about the other things. The book store is still going
to be closed this week no matter what, and Quin and Billy will have to handle things
on their own while we’re out west.”

 

“I talked to Querysphinx,” said Kitty. “She’ll give Quin a hand in an emergency.”

 

“She’ll drag her whole crew in,” said Odd. He smiled. “That’s a bossy young lady.”

 

“She’s just what those kids need,” said Kitty. “I wonder when she’s going to realize
that her Jimmy isn’t going to be aware she’s in love with him.”

 

“After they break apart and go their separate ways,” said Odd. “That’s not our
problem. We can’t do anything about other people’s problems. We can just help them
get back up after they fall down.”

 

“That’s my Odd,” Kitty said. She gave him a hug as they made their way to the gate.

 

“You always bring out the best in me,” said Odd. “I don’t how you do it.”

 

“Practice,” said Kitty. “Here’s our line. Get ready to show your hat is just a hat.”

 

“I hate this part of things,” said Odd. “The hat always sets off metal detectors.”

 

“Let’s go through as fast as we can,” said Kitty. “The faster we can get it over with,
the faster we’ll be able to board.”

 

“All right,” said Odd. He emptied his pockets into a bowl. He took off his hat and put
that on top of the bowl before he stepped through the metal detector. He reclaimed
his property on the other side of the metal detector.

 

“That went better than I thought it would,” said Odd. He put everything away, placing
his bowler on his head as he went to the long hall leading toward the loading area for
the plane.

 

“I told you,” said Kitty. “Let’s get our seats and stow our carry-ons. I think a visit to
Lake Mead should be okay after we have our talk.”

 

You look good in a bathing suit,” said Odd.

 

“It’s the yoga,” said Kitty. “You should give it a try.”

 

“Really?,” said Odd.

 

“Yes,” said Kitty. “It lets me do the things.”

 

“The things?,” asked Odd. “What things?”

 

“You know,” said Kitty. “Bedroom things.”

 

“Really?,” said Odd. He frowned at the squeaking in his voice. He tried again with
a deeper voice. “Really?”

 

“Really,” said Kitty. “I’ll give you a practical demonstration when we get settled in
at the hotel tonight.”

 

“You’re making this trip suddenly wild and crazy like when we were kids and
streaked naked down main street,” said Odd.

 

“I never did that,” said Kitty. She grinned.

 

“Then you really missed a treat,” said Odd. He grinned back.

 

“I’ll bet,” said Kitty. She leaned into his shoulder as they went down the hall. She
closed her eyes as she felt everything around her. It was nice to be hooked in to the
world with her love by her side.

 

Odd wrapped an arm around her as they walked. It was hard to believe he had been
so lucky to find someone so great to spend the rest of his life with. There were so
many times he had thought he would be dead. Then he became a minor hero and seen
some things.

 

They boarded the plane and found their seats. Odd had the window and looked out
over the wing. He had his hat in case the plane breaking up gave him time to save
anybody but himself and Kitty.

 

“We should do this more often,” said Odd. “Take some time off, and go somewhere
else to hang out for a few days.”

 

“You know we can’t,” said Kitty. “If Aylwin hadn’t kicked in the money, we would
have had to depend on Billy for transportation.”

 

“Good point,” said Odd. “A vacation every little bit would be nice. You could show
me the benefits of yoga in exotic places.”

 

“Or I could show you the benefits at the store after lights out,” said Kitty.

 

“I thought we had a rule against that,” said Odd.

 

“Rules are made to be broken,” said Kitty.

 

“What about the rule about two people going to the bathroom on an airplane at the
same time?,” asked Odd.

 

“That one was definitely made to be broken,” said Kitty. “But I don’t see how
we can break it.”

 

“I’ll think of something when we get in the air,” said Odd.

 

“You will?,” asked Kitty.

 

“I think so,” said Odd. “How hard could it be? The problem I can see is that it will be
cramped.”

 

“That’s what the yoga is for,” said Kitty. She smiled.

 

“I’m game if you’re game,” said Odd.

 

“We might as well get it out of our systems before we hit Vegas and have to buckle
down,” said Kitty.

 

“We’ll never get it out of our systems,” said Odd.

 

Kitty grinned.

 

“But we’ll have to wait for the plane to get in the air before we commit our foul
deed,” said Odd.

 

“That’s not a problem,” said Kitty.

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6

Tom Kerry looked the small crowd over behind his mask. Ten people had arrived for
the meeting from the groups operating in the States, and over the line in Vancouver.
A small group of agents from the government were also present, filling up tables in
the large meeting space.

 

Lucinda was there in her Tachyon gear. He spotted her talking to a bland guy in a
suit. She waved at him to join them.

 

Most of the people there wore suits so it was hard to see which side of the equation
he was on at first glance.

 

Tom walked over. Ryan’s briefing gave them brief snapshots of the others, but he
knew there was always going to be some kind of surprise that no one knew about
hidden away.

 

It was what he would do.

 

“T.K.,” said Lucinda. “This is the Warning. He helped me get the certification stuff
so we could operate.”

 

“Rangers?,” asked Tom.

 

“That’s right,” said the Warning. “We have a small group based out of Dallas-Fort
Worth.”

 

“We have a small group,” said Lucinda. “You have a small army.”

 

“It looks that way on paper but most of our group are specialized except for Random
Man,” said the Warning. “If both of our heavy hitters go down, and then him, we
would have a lot of trouble to deal with.”

 

“We have a Random on our team too,” said T.K. “But he is in school until the nuns
cut him loose.”

 

“What does he do for your team?,” asked the Warning.

 

“Bites people’s faces off,” said T.K.

 

“Ouch,” said the Warning. He pulled out his phone and looked at it. “My wife is
getting ready to call. I left an open case before I came out here, and hopefully this is
good news.”

 

“Seeing the future must be convenient,” said Tom.

 

“Sometimes,” said the Warning. His phone started buzzing. “The problem is I don’t
always see the whole future.”

 

“Hello, hon,” said Wayne. “How’s things?”

 

“Phil and Cord have got things locked down,” said Shelly. “What’s that noise?”

 

“I’m here at the conference talking to two of the Aces,” said Wayne. “Why were those
guys looking for Roxanne?”

 

“She flushed their dope,” said Shelly.

 

“Have you talked to Bodie about this?,” asked Wayne.

 

“No,” said Shelly. “They were hoping you could do it for us.”

 

“All right,” said Wayne. “Should we hire her?”

 

“I don’t know,” said Shelly. “The police have asked us to look after her for a bit while
they figure out what they can use to charge everyone the guys rounded up.”

 

“I’ll talk to Bodie,” said Wayne. “Have her fill out an after action report.”

 

“Really?,” said Shelly.

 

“In case we have to charge her for services rendered,” said Wayne.

 

“She’ll love that,” said Shelly. “I’ll call back as soon as I know anything else. Your
guys did a good job. They’re ready to fly on their own while we are on vacation.”

 

“Thanks for shepherding this, Shell,” said Wayne. “I’ll see you when you get here.”

 

The Warning put his phone away, discovering the two Aces had hung on every word.

 

“I don’t know anything, so I can’t say anything except it looks like the case was
closed without me,” said the Warning. “I have to let my friend know that his
significant other might have some problems that we might have to address when we
get back home.”

 

“That’s a lot of mights,” said Tom.

 

“The future is fluid enough that you can change it,” said the Warning. “We might be
able to give this woman a second chance. I don’t know. Let me talk to my friend. It
was good meeting you.”

 

“Being able to see the future in glimpses seems like a cool power,” said Tom. “I
wonder what the drawbacks are.”

 

“Never being sure that you are changing the future, or being caught in a loop that you
can glimpse but can’t affect,” said Lucinda.

 

“That was pretty grim,” said Tom. He wandered off, checking the doors with his mind
power as he fell to listening to a younger man and his green companion talk to an
older man.

 

“I never found anything out about Hue Man,” said the older man. “I tried.”

 

“I’m sorry for bothering you, Mister Cassidy,” said the younger man.

 

“Mike’s brother, Larry, is going through the old files,” said Cassidy. “I’ll call him up
and ask him if he’s seen anything.”

 

“That would be great,” said the other man. “Thanks, Mister Cassidy. Green?”

 

“Thanks, bub,” said the green piece of metal in the shape of a boy.

 

“It’s no problem,” said Cassidy. “I knew the Veil, and he was an all right guy. I owe
him that much at least.”

 

The three of them took notice of the masked interloper. He smiled at them.

 

“How’s your stay in town so far?,” asked Tom.

 

“It’s okay,” said Cassidy. “Calvin Cassidy.”

 

“Charlie Moser,” said the younger man. He was taller and thinner than Cassidy’s
solid blockiness. “This is Green.”

 

“Hello, bub,” said Green.

 

“Hello,” said Tom. “I’m T.K. It’s good to meet the three of you.”

 

“Everyone is saying you saved the world,” said Moser.

 

“That’s an exaggeration,” said Tom.

 

“The All Caps?” said Cassidy. He said it in such a way to say that he had some
experience with the group.

 

Maybe he had.

 

“They had to be put down,” said Tom. “They were trying to come back to life
permanently by working for someone else. There was a small threat to the city at the
end but we handled it.”

 

“The Gunsmith?,” asked Cassidy.

 

“Never saw him,” said Tom. “From what the All Caps said, he put them down in the
first place out in the desert close to where we stopped them.”

 

“How did you stop them if they were already dead?,” asked Moser.

 

“I fed them to a monster with too many tentacles and mouths,” said Tom. Moser
winced. Cassidy and Green didn’t.

 

Cassidy had probably done worse in his time, and Green seemed like a statue when
he wasn’t moving.

 

“Extradimensional monster?,” said Cassidy.

 

“Looked like,” said Tom. “It was vulnerable to daylight so we cooked it out in the
desert before it could think about heading down here to rip things up.”

 

“Good call on that,” said Cassidy. “Some of those things can do a lot of damage if
they get in a neighborhood.”

 

“Tachyon deserves all the credit for figuring out its weak spot,” said Tom.

 

“I have never been to meeting like this,” said Moser. “What’s on the agenda?”

 

“They’ve never had a conference like this,” said Cassidy. “There’s only been a couple
of teams in modern history. A lot of superhumans work on their own, and any time
you see them working on the same job, it’s usually some kind of luck.”

 

“I can see that,” said Moser. “To be honest, I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for
Green and his brothers. The others are little more rambunctious so we decided they
should stay home while we were here.”

 

“Low attention spans, bub,” said Green.

 

“Sounds like normal kids,” said Tom.

 

“I know,” said Moser. “Half the day would be spent on getting them to pay attention
to what was going on.”

 

“What do you think about this, Green?,” asked Tom. The machine glanced at him
without moving his face.

 

“A conference of people in the same line of work is good for networking between
groups,” said Green. “If we chase someone out of Chicago, being able to call here to
give you a head’s up without having to explain things is good. Any kind of action that
requires immediate attention will negate any advantage of being able to call on
reinforcements to help out due to the distances involved except in certain rare cases,
bub.”

 

“What are the rare cases, Green?,” asked Moser.

 

“The Aces and Deacons maybe could help each other because of the closeness of Los
Angeles and Las Vegas,” said Green. “They both have flying movers that can carry
their teams across the gap, and Tachyon can be in Los Angeles in a few seconds
depending on her navigation. The Rangers could probably scramble a team anywhere
if their Biker was available due to his power. None of us would be able to get to
Texas in an emergency unless the emergency was developing and the Rangers could
buy themselves some time, bub.”

 

“We could only get here if Starlit was in town,” said Cassidy. “She’s our only big
time mover, but Lady Specter could get here instantly through the phone. She
wouldn’t be able to carry anyone else.”

 

“Your team?,” asked Tom.

 

“We don’t have any travel powers and we’re in Illinois, bub,” said Green. “We could
maybe help the Strangers if we had some prep time.”

 

“What about the Strangers?,” asked Tom. He looked around and spotted the odd hat
their representative wore.

 

“They don’t have any travel powers, defensive fighters, or major shooters, bub,” said
Green. “Half of their original team have left. So Odd, three others, and an auxiliary
group of kids are all that’s left of the team. As long as they don’t have any major
problems, they can get by with what they have, but they couldn’t help anybody else
from where they are. They don’t have the reach.”

 

“Half their team left?,” repeated Tom.

 

“That’s what I heard, bub,” said Green.

 

“Did you hear why?,” asked Tom.

 

“Nope, bub,” said Green.

 

“The problem is they are in an Alchemo dumping spot,” said Moser. “And the
chemicals dumped have weird effects. The original Strangers formed up against a
giant turtle.”

 

“Yeah,” said Cassidy. “If something like that happens again, they might not be able
to save the city with what they have left.”

 

“I take it they know this,” said Tom.

 

“Yeah,” said Cassidy. “I doubt they’ll be able recruit anybody to move up there to
help out.”

 

Cassidy frowned as he watched two women walk by their group. Tom turned to
follow his gaze. The younger one stood out because she had decided on a mini-skirt
and suit jacket without sleeves with red running shoes. The old man shook his head.

 

“I told her business casual,” said Cassidy.

 

“It is casual,” said Moser. He winced at the look he got for his comment.

 

“Who’s she with?,” asked Tom.

 

“Kitty Dorfman,” said Green. He hadn’t turned his head like the humans had. “She’s
strange for a baseline human.”

 

“In what way?,” asked Moser. “She looks normal to me.”

 

“Her reflexes are way sharp, bub,” said Green. “Way sharp. But she doesn’t seem to
have any powers to go with it.”

 

“Who did she come with?,” asked Tom. He looked around the room.

 

“The rep from the Strangers,” said Moser. “The hat guy.”

 

Tom nodded. There was only one hat guy in this crowd.

 

“Is she on his team?,” asked Tom.

 

“I think they’re married,” said Moser. “I doubt she’s on his team.”

 

“Probably came out with him to enjoy some time alone,” said Cassidy. “Coming to
Vegas was something the second wife and I used to do back in the day.”

 

“I think the Warning is doing the same with his wife next week,” said Tom.

 

“I’m hitting the Hero Museum and taking Green to a zoo on the way back to
Chicago,” said Moser. “I can see turning a trip into some time off.”

 

Tom Ryan walked up to the lecturer’s podium at the front of the room. He looked at
the crowd before tapping the mike.

 

“Thanks for coming in,” said Ryan. “I’m Tom Ryan. I liaison with the local team, the
Aces. If you can take your seats, we’ll get started. Tomorrow, we’re going to have the
representatives from the teams to come up and answer questions about things going
on in their neck of the woods. We’re hoping to expand this conference to other teams
who might be starting in the future and need a hand.”

 

Tom stood in the back and watched the room. The reps had settled on side of the
room. The agents and liaisons had settled on the other side. He wondered how many
times any of them would be around to hear the same speech year after year.

 

He smiled as he crossed his arms and listened to the spiel about cooperation.

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7

Wayne Ward looked at the paperwork given him by Agent Ryan. He shook his head.
It was too bad Roxanne had let him down. He would have loved to give all this to her
to sort.

 

He hadn’t been able to talk to Bodie about any of this yet. It bothered him that he
didn’t know how invested his friend was, and how he felt about his girlfriend getting
into trouble because she flushed a package of drugs without telling anyone.

 

He had already checked in with Shelly. She had given him a picture to remind him of
what he could expect when she arrived at the hotel at the end of the week. He shook
his head at the thought.

 

Wayne glanced at the television. He had put the local news on out of habit. There
might be something he could handle with a phone call if his talent activated. He
didn’t like the newscaster going on about out of town tourists being killed at the Lily
where he was staying.

 

He especially didn’t like his name coming up in that context.

 

He should tell the others, starting with Bodie. The man could take bullet impacts.
That would make him an excellent blockade for anyone coming up the stairs.

He had T.K.’s number. He should give the local a call.

 

First, he had to issue the warning so he could get the others moving. Once they had
a defensive set up in place, they could worry about the rest.

 

At least the news was helpful in giving him an exact time to when he was going to be
murdered. He still had time to change the future.

 

First, I have to get Bodie to help me.

 

Wayne put his phone in his pocket to call T.K. once he had everything else in motion.
He opened his door and crossed the hall. He felt the tug of his eyes toward the
emergency stair door. That was where the attacks were going to come from. It was a
bottleneck if Bodie got in front of the door and blocked it.

 

He gave Bodie’s door a quick rap with his fist. He listened as the ex-boxer came to
the door.

 

“What’s up, Wayne,” said Bodie when he came to the door.

 

“Someone is coming to kill us,” said the Warning. “We need to let the others know.”

 

“It’s never a quiet vacation with you,” said Bodie, retreating into his room. He came
back with his facemask. “What are you going to do when you’re out here with
Shelly?”

 

“Try to ignore the signs,” said Wayne. “We have to get everyone ready to go. They’ll
probably know there’s a group of us and sent a bunch of goons.”

 

“Obviously they don’t know who they’re messing with,” said Bodie.

 

Wayne started knocking on doors as Bodie went to keep watch on the stairs and the
elevators. He could block one, maybe both with his counter strike. That would be
enough for the rest to do what they had to do.

 

The Project had rented a floor for their guests. The Warning and Counterstrike had
the rooms nearest the elevators and stairs. The rest were spread out along the hall,
separate rooms for everybody but the Dorfmans and Moser and his robot son.

Everybody was still up, watching television, using the internet, sitting on their
balconies and watching the city below.

 

“So we’re going to be attacked?,” said Odd. He held a long cannon in his arms. He
pulled out his phone. “I wonder what these guys are thinking.”

 

“Who’re you calling?,” asked Cassidy, adjusting a bullet proof vest over his button
shirt.

 

“The Question Man,” said Odd. He waited impatiently for his friend to answer his
phone. “I have a couple of questions for you, Quin.”

 

“Say someone was going to attack my hotel floor in the next few minutes,” said Odd.
“Where are they now?”

 

He listened.

 

“A group in the elevator and a group on the stairs,” he said. He lugged the cannon to
the front of the elevators. “Anybody else in the elevators?”

 

“Someone open the elevator doors for me?,” Odd asked.

 

Kitty grabbed the doors and pulled them open before anyone else could move.

 

“Way sharp reflexes,” said Green.

 

Odd waved her out of the way. He fired his cannon into the elevator shaft. The twang
of snapping cables answered his blast.

 

“They have anybody that can climb up the shaft?,” said Odd. “So they’re stuck.
Great.”

 

“Green,” said Moser. “Hit the elevator, and then flank up the stairs.”

 

“Good thinking, bub,” said Green. He walked to the edge of the shaft.

 

“I’m going first,” said Bobbi Hastings. She had changed into shorts and a tank top
since coming up from the meeting. She leapfrogged over Green and dropped down
in the elevator shaft. A small boom echoed up the shaft.

 

Green stepped out the door and plummeted down to the top of the elevator. He
punched through the damaged access hatch in the top of the elevator and then he was
inside.

 

“Looks like we only have to worry about the stairs now,” said Cassidy. He held a
pistol, ready to shoot anyone coming through the door.

 

“Green should be able to come up behind them,” said Moser. “And he’s bulletproof.”

 

“Bobbi will take care of some of it,” said Cassidy. “If she’s smart, she’ll use him for
cover.”

 

“Who do these guys work for, Quin?,” said Odd. “Suspetta? Spell it. All right. Thanks
for the hand. I’ll call to let you know how it went.”

 

Odd put away his phone. He had got a name from his friend. It wasn’t admissible, but
maybe they could do something with it.

 

Wayne secured the rest of his disguise. He called T.K. to let the local know they were
dealing with local trouble.

 

“There’s a local gang guy named Suspetta,” said Ojai, holding his phone in front of
him.  “He’s suspected in a lot of conspiracy to commit crimes, but he’s always stayed
one step removed from the street operations.”

 

“All we have to do is hold the door,” said Cassidy. “Green and Bobby can catch them
from the other side. Seems simple enough.”

 

“I called T.K.,” said Wayne. “He said that he’ll be here in a few seconds.”

 

“We won’t need him,” said Cassidy. “Bobbi will have blown most of the goons up by
the time he gets here.”

 

“Suspetta has a rocky history with the masked men who operate in Vegas,” said Ojai.
“It’s a surprise he’s still alive.”

 

“What do you mean, Barry?,” asked Mike Plumb. His hand kept fading in and out as
he reached into the weak stream flowing through the hotel. He would have a better
pull if he was at ground level.

 

“His personal history says he’s been implicated in three, or four, clashes with the
Gunsmith, two with Deserta, and one with the Pyramid,” said Ojai. “Right now, Joker
Wilde has been putting his guys in the hospital pretty regularly.”

 

“Wilde is on the Aces,” said Wayne. “He only operates at night for some reason.”

 

“Gunsmith, Deserta, and Pyramid are all dead,” said Cassidy. “T.K. told me that the
Smith went down against the All Caps in the desert outside of town. Deserta was
electrocuted in her home. Pyramid was found inside a sealed vault. It looked like he
ran out of air.”

 

“Looks like we have a motive,” said Mike. “We look like reinforcements for the Aces
to come in and clean out his operation for once and for all.”

 

“How would he know who we are?,” asked Odd. “He would have to have someone
inside the Project personnel that told him of the conference.”

 

“But not the liaisons,” said Moser.

 

“Why not the liaisons?,” asked Odd.

 

“Because they didn’t know the Warning would know about the threat,” said Moser.
“That suggests that they knew there was a conference, but not who we were
specifically.”

 

“Which means they didn’t know anything but teams were being represented,” said
Cassidy. “They would have known the Deacons were coming but not which ones.”

 

“He might have believed we were coming in to help the Aces clean out his
operation,” said Odd. “I like it.”

 

“Joker Wilde may be on the Aces, but he is an old school vigilante,” said Ojai. “His
public history is nothing but beatings for criminals. Some were done in the middle of
criminals committing crimes. The rest have only been operating in emergency
problems here, but he’s actively hunting targets all night, every night.”

 

“They might have thought he would be here,” said Mike.

 

“No name, no address,” said Ojai. “Maybe they wanted to send a message.”

 

“You don’t back off, I’ll kill your friends?,” said Odd.

 

“A guy like that would never back off,” said Cassidy. “If he’s trawling every night,
he’s not going to back off a warning like that. He would just double down.”

 

“Killing us would just make him go into overdrive?,” said Mike.

 

“If he found out the attack was supposed to hurt him in some way,” said Cassidy. “I
have dealt with enough of these guys to know threats never work. They don’t have
anything to live for, and don’t care if they get killed. If Wilde thought this was a
threat to him, he would catch Suspetta somewhere and put him in the hospital.”

 

“I got movement,” said Bodie. “They’re trying for the door.”

 

Bodie waited at the door. As soon as they came in, he could use his power to defend
himself. If he had a big impact stored, he could attack first.

 

He hated the fact that he had to take an impact before he could punch back. On the
other hand, a big enough impact could let him punch through almost anything.

 

Wayne moved to the back of the group. His forewarning would only allow him to do
what he could with his hands.

 

“Open the door, Cee Ess,” said Odd. “Let’s see what happens when I point this at
them.”

 

“Right,” said Bodie. “On three.”

 

Bodie counted down and pulled the door open. Odd stuck just the barrel of his cannon
out and fired three quick blasts. He stepped back before bullets could touch him.

 

Counterstrike pushed into the stairwell as a rain of bullets reached for the metal door.
He took the impacts, lighting up as he headed for maximum storage.

 

He released the energy into the stairwell. Cries of pain answered his punching of
concrete and steel as the glow faded from his body. He drew back. He spotted Green
and Bobbi coming up the stairs. The fight was over unless they had some way to take
out the robot before he took them out.

 

And Bodie didn’t think they did from the way bullets flew around. One big boom
brought on silence.

 

“We’re going to have to go down and see if they have anything else in the building,”
said Cassidy. “We don’t want any goons trying to kill us while we try to administer
first aid to the ones we already put down.”

 

“We need a way to crack this Suspetta,” said Odd. He took off his hat and dropped
the cannon into it. “Any ideas? We can’t just trot out the Question Man to testify that
he knows the answer to any spoken question.”

 

“I have an idea,” said Kitty. “Let’s go down and see if there are any survivors. Then
we can turn our attention to our mastermind.”

 

“They won’t testify if they know what’s good for them,” said Cassidy.

 

“We won’t need anything like that,” said Kitty. She smiled. “All we’ll need is a
clown.”

 

She opened the door and hopped over the damage done by Bodie’s punch. She started
checking the thugs on the steps, throwing guns over the rails to the next landing
down.

 

“Are you sure she’s not one of us?,” Mike asked Odd.

 

“She’s one of us,” said Odd. “She’s the one who keep things going when it looks bad.
Let’s tie these goons up and see what she has in mind.”

 

Mike nodded. He followed as they moved into the staircase. They would have to deal
with the goons in the elevator next.

 

This was going to be a busy night before things were done.
 

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8

The group spread out once they hit the lobby. Chief of Security Valdez let them have
access to the cameras. They spotted more goons in the garage waiting by their SUVs.
The attacking goons hadn’t gone anywhere but the stairs and the elevators.

 

T.K., Cassidy, Odd, Moser, and the Warning stood in one corner of the room.

 

“The police have the garage surrounded,” said T.K. “Ryan asked them to stay back
so we could take first crack. How do you guys want to do things?”

 

“Kitty wants one of the SUVs for her scheme,” said Odd. “Otherwise, we can send
Green down there to show his mettle.”

 

“I think you can handle the goons,” said the Warning. “Then we can see if we can get
the mastermind behind this.”

 

“Good pun,” said Moser.

 

“I thought so,” said Odd.

 

“There’s no such thing as a good pun,” said Cassidy. “Let’s stay on track. Whatever
we do, we need to make sure Suspetta doesn’t try to target any more masked men in
Vegas. If he killed Deserta and Pyramid, we need to make sure he can’t come after
us next.”

 

“All right,” said T.K. “Let me go down and deal with the goon squad in the garage.
They’re probably nervous as heck with the falling elevator and the lack of
communication with the hit team.”

 

“Will Wilde go for phase two?,” asked Moser. “It’s suicidal.”

 

“He loves this type of stuff,” said T.K. “If anything he would insist on being the one
sent in just to see how much of a scare he could put in Suspetta.”

 

“That’s what we thought too,” said Cassidy. “Let’s get this show on the road. We’re
not going to be able to keep the media out of this much longer.”

 

“Right,” said T.K. He left the room.

 

He flew down the hall to the stairs leading to the underground garage. He paused at
the door leading out into the garage itself. He cracked open the door. He established
sightlines on three of the four drivers. He slid out the door and looked around. 

 

The fourth driver was a little more toward the center of the garage. It looked like he
was smoking alone.

 

He grabbed the fourth man and jerked back to the other three. He grabbed all three
and made sure they couldn’t move. He didn’t want to be shot in the back. He looked
around the garage, but no one else moved.

 

Police came into the garage and put cuffs on the wheelmen. One of the police
commented on the penalty of being a felon with a gun. They led them out to cruisers
in the street.

 

T.K. checked the nearest SUV. He smiled when he saw the key still in the ignition.
It looked like they were in business for the next step.

 

He wondered if some clown breaking in and accusing you of past deeds would go
over well. He decided that it wasn’t his problem.

 

Wilde would love it. It suited his sense of humor and the way he liked to do things.

The thought that the Project might have a leak in the local scene was a worry he could
put aside until they were done. The Project held information on superhumans around
the world. A local mobster using that information didn’t make sense unless he was
going to use some kind of superhuman threat in the near future.

 

Or as blackmail against the superhumans already there in Vegas.

 

Anybody trying to use Sister Anna against Random got what they deserved. The boy
wasn’t likely to go along to get along in that kind of situation.

 

It would be easier to just kill him and try to get someone else to do your bidding.

 

“All right,” said T.K. The others came out of the stairs and looked around. “Mission
accomplished. We have control over their cars.”

 

“All right,” said Cassidy. “Let’s get Wilde wired up and send him in.”

 

“No problem,” said T.K.

 

The next few minutes went as fast as they could with Wilde declaring himself
ticklish, the technician being scared of him, and the clown hitting on Kitty and Bobbi
at the same time. They both turned him down flat.

 

Kitty leaned over and whispered something in Odd’s ear. He shook his head.

 

“You got the plan?,” Cassidy asked.

 

“I think so, Old Man,” said Wilde. A grin covered his golden face. “But I don’t know
where I can get a thousand tutus for dancing hippos.”

 

“Try again,” said Cassidy. He didn’t grin.

 

“I go in and engage with Suspetta and ask him what he thought he was doing,” said
Wilde. He didn’t grin.

 

“Better,” said Cassidy.

 

“Don’t worry, Wilde,” said T.K. “We’ll be right outside if things go worse than we
anticipated, we’ll bust in and save the day.”

 

“Just stay clear,” said Wilde. “I might have to break some bones. That’s not going to
go over well with the federales. Joey Suspect is canny. He won’t admit anything to
anyone unless I can rile him up somehow.”

 

“Talk to him about his family,” said Ojai. He scrolled up and down on his phone.
“Most of the males ran into the Gunsmith during his rampage.”

 

“That’s an excellent motive, Watson,” said Wilde. “I’m glad I thought of it.”

 

“You thought of that?,” said Ojai.

 

“Yes, and the fact he has federal access somewhere, and those of us with secret names
might be compromised,” said Wilde. “I thought of all that.”

 

“Can you get him to admit to any of that?,” asked Cassidy.

 

“That’s the question, isn’t it?,” said Wilde. “Let’s see if I can get him to admit to
something. All we have are his soldiers sitting in a tank waiting on their phone calls.”

 

“And we won’t have that if they make bail,” said Cassidy. “You ready?”

 

“I don’t see why not,” said Wilde. He started giggling. “Let’s get this show on the
road before the sun drives me back in my coffin.”

 

Wilde headed for the SUV. The plan was for him to drive up and use the car to get
through the gate. After that, he would have to improvise some way into the house to
talk to Suspetta.

 

Cassidy, Ojai, and the Warning were taking the surveillance van with the tech from
the Project. They needed it to record everything between Wilde and Suspetta.

Odd, Kitty, Moser and Green were taking one of the captured SUVs. Ryan, Wild
Card, and Counterstrike were taking a company car and using that as a roving patrol
unit.

 

Mike had been able to reach into the red stream and grab a car to drive out of it. He
smiled at the red and blue sports car. He and Bobbi had decided to roam around in
that.

 

T.K. and Tachyon chose to fly to a perch on a nearby roof where they could see the
neighborhood from on high. If things went bad, they could swoop down and strafe the
Suspetta property with their powers.

 

Wilde drove up to the gate. He waited for the gate to open. A guard came over to his
side of the SUV and tapped on the window. The gatekeeper tried to back up from the
SUV. A gloved hand grabbed the front of his shirt and dragged him in front of a fist.
His head jerked back from the hit. He turned into jelly. The clown got out of the SUV
and used it to jump the gate.

 

He contained himself as he crossed the yard and used some wall jumping to get into
an open window on the second story of Suspetta’s house.

 

“He’s in,” said Cassidy. “Let’s see what happens next.”

 

Wilde prowled the house, heading to the study where he thought Joey Suspect did
most of his business. He heard movement all around him, but he only moved when
he thought no one was around. He reached the study and sat down at the desk. He
pushed the big chair away from the desk and line of sight of the windows.

 

He pulled the taped wire off of his chest. He stuck it in the knee hole, taping it to the
under side of the desk. He didn’t care if Joey found it. He just wanted to record
anything after he immediately left.

 

Anything they could find out would be good in his opinion.

 

He had no idea if Joey Suspect had killed Deserta and Pyramid. He had no idea if he
had used Project files to do it. He didn’t care.

 

He did care that the penguin, T.K.’s assistant and her kids, the other girls at
Tachyon’s dorm could be used against them and then discarded as another pile of
bones in the desert.

 

He knew his nature was more rage driven than before he had changed, but he didn’t
mind that so much. It just pointed him at people who needed bones broken.

 

“Get that jeep moved out of the way of the gate, and find out what happened to Sal,”
said Joseph Suspetta as he walked into his office. He turned on the lights. “And then
call Tony and the boys again. I need to know what happened.”

 

“Your boys at the hotel are in jail, or the hospital,” said Wilde from his seat. “Come
on in, Joey. I thought we should talk.”

 

“Kill him!,” shouted Suspetta, backing out of the way for his goons to run in and start
shooting. The flying chair put everything on pause before it filled up the door. Then
a laughing loon vaulted the desk and used a lamp as a bludgeon. The metal bent under
the impacts.

 

“Sit down,” said Wilde. He righted the chair with one hand. He dropped the mangled
lamp out of the other. “I just want to talk. I don’t need to hurt you tonight.”

 

He threw the beaten guards out of the office and closed the door. He threw the locks
so he had some alone time with his favorite mob boss.

 

“I’m going to kill you,” declared Joey Suspect.

 

“How?,” said Wilde. “A stern look? I would be a lot more worried about how much
it hurts to have your head shoved in a desk drawer and then have that desk drawer
forcefully closed if I were you. That’s usually the next step where I’m involved.”

 

“You can’t do that,” said Suspetta. “You’re some kind of fed now.”

 

“There are feds that uphold the law and keep things down, and there are feds that do
whatever they have to do as long as they can justify it to a committee in Washington,
and there are feds that don’t even have to justify what they do,” said Wilde. “Guess
where I fall.”

 

Suspetta started looking at the door.

 

“Don’t think help will arrive before I break your legs,” said Wilde. He made sure he
couldn’t be seen by anyone trying to look in through the two windows facing the
study. “Now I know someone told you about the conference. I want you to give me
the name of your informer.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Joey said.

 

“A two day meet and greet and your boys try to take it out on the first night,” said
Wilde. He went to the desk. He opened and slammed the desk drawer closed. “Now
who told you it was happening.”

 

“No one,” said Joey.

 

The desk drawer made another thump.

 

“I’m telling you the truth,” said Joey Suspect. “I don’t know anything about that.”

 

“Then who were you trying to kill?,” asked Wilde. “You knew something was up, you
sent a ton of goons.”

 

“Someone put a reward for the robot,” said Suspect.

 

“This about a robot?,” said Wilde. “Pull the other one.”

 

“The guy called me and asked me to get the green robot,” said Suspetta. “He offered
some big bucks for it.”

 

“You got his number?,” asked Wilde.

 

“No,” said Suspetta. “He was supposed to call me when the job was done.”

 

“So your friend asked you to steal this robot in the middle of a masked man
conference?,” said Wilde. “It looks like he wanted to get you hurt while he got away
with the merchandise. When he calls back, tell him I’m looking for him. And he
won’t like it when I catch up with him.”

 

“There’s no way you’ll find him,” said Suspetta.

 

“I found you, didn’t I?,” said Wilde. “Finding people and hurting them is what I do.
You should know that by now.”

 

Wilde went to the door. He threw the locks. He pulled the door open and stood to one
side. The goons on the other side of the door paused to get a clear picture of where
he was. That was too slow a reaction time as far as the clown was concerned. He
delivered multiple blows in a few seconds before making his way toward the front
door and freedom.

 

Suspetta pulled out his phone. He put in the pass and called his contact. He waited for
someone to pick up at the other end.

 

His partner had to know about this. Joker Wilde would keep picking at this until he
had interfered in deals across the country, or he was dead.

 

Suspetta wanted him dead first.

 

The microphone under the desk kept recording as he relayed the failure of his men
and the appearance of the vigilante at his home. It would be up to the other man to try
with his own men.

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The group gathered back at the Diamond Lilly. They left a group of agents with the
technician to record everything the planted bug picked up. So far Joey Suspect hadn’t
looked under his desk and spotted it.

 

Or if he had, he didn’t mind incriminating himself with the orders he was giving. The
foremost was find Joker Wilde and kill him as soon as possible. No masked freak
clown should be able to live after breaking into his home.

 

He had called a couple of brokers and put out an open contract with them. Hitters
from all over the country would know about the bounty and be on the way.

 

That was out of the alliance’s hands. Most of them would be flying home when they
had the immediate problem wrapped up. That might wrap up the contract problem
too.

 

Odd spent most of the morning asking questions of his friend, Quin. He had secured
the white board from the conference room and used that to fill in the answers as best
that he could. Ryan secured pictures from the federal databases the Project had access
to as part of its superhuman enforcement.

 

The answers weren’t admissible in any court of law, but they were enough to direct
an investigation.

 

The Warning checked in with his group. They were still wrapping up their own cases
and the fallout from Roxanne. Shelly said she understood what he went through now.
Renovating houses was so much easier.

 

Moser called home to let Pack know that Green had been the target, and he should
keep an eye on the rest of the kids. He wasn’t worried but he wanted to make sure that
his partner took it seriously enough to lock everything down.

 

Green hadn’t shown any power other than his strength. Running into Red, who was
basically a flying flame thrower, probably had been considered and discarded for
obvious reasons.

 

The last thing they did before they held their briefing was invite one of the file clerks
down to look at things, maybe gamble a little in the casino part of the hotel when
they were done.

 

The file clerk, Pete Kovacs, spotted his name and picture on the whiteboard and
turned to run. Kitty Dorfman had been standing by the door when he did. The edge
of her hand caught him in the face and he fell back into the arms of Calvin Cassidy
who dropped him in a chair.

 

“It’s all in the reflexes,” Kitty said with a smile.

 

“We have some questions for you, Pete,” said the Warning. “And we would like some
clear answers, or we might just leave you in the same room as Bomb Girl and let her
do her thing.”

 

“Not threatening enough,” said Cassidy. “You have to be more intimidating.”

 

“Go ahead,” said the Warning, gesturing with an arm.

 

“We’re going to bury you in the desert unless you give us what we want!,” shouted
Cassidy. He had a grip on Kovacs’s shirt and was shaking him like a maraca. “Do you
hear me, boy?”

 

“I don’t know anything!,” shouted Kovacs. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

 

“We should give him to Joker Wilde as soon as he’s back on the scene,” said T.K.

 

“You can’t do that,” said Kovacs. “He hurts people.”

 

“You have to be kidding,” said Cassidy. “You went in with a mobster to steal a
piece of technology that no one understands. You’re going to be hurt no matter what.
The only distinction is do you get something that’s going to last the rest of your
life, or prison. Better make your mind up which one you want.”

 

“I have to admit Joker Wilde is looking good as an option to me too,” said the
Warning.

 

“The only bad part is we would have to wait until nightfall before we can use him,”
said T.K. “I don’t know if we want to wait that long.”

 

“What part of the body does he break the most?,” asked Kitty.

 

“Knees,” said Ojai.

 

“How do you know that?,” asked Odd.

 

“I plugged into the database for the project when we got down here,” said Ojai.
The shorter Canadian held up his phone. “Everyone that Joker Wilde has hurt is
plugged in by the local hospitals.”

 

“So he breaks the knee the most?,” asked Kitty.

 

“Yes, ma’am,” said Ojai.

 

“That ain’t no ma’am, that’s my wife,” said Odd.

 

“Don’t mind him, Barry,” said Kitty. She waved them off. “Which knee do you want
to keep, Pete?”

 

“Are you serious?,” he asked.

 

“We can’t wait for nightfall to let Wilde have his fun,” said Kitty. “So I am going
to do what he does, hopefully in a neater, cleaner way. I’m going to let you decide
which knee, but if you can’t give me an answer, I am just going to pick one. There’s
a fifty/fifty chance I will pick the wrong one, but that’s the breaks.”

 

“That’s against the law,” said Pete, looking around. “You can’t do that.”

 

“You’re in a room full of off the books operators, Pete,” said Cassidy. “I personally
would love to see a clean break on a knee. There’s always some kind of collateral
damage.”

 

“Don’t look, Green,” said Moser. “This might be too much for you.”

 

“All right,” said Pete. He held up his hands. “I was just asked to track the robots.
When I saw one of them was coming to the conference, I passed the word along.”

 

“But you didn’t tell them about the rest of us, did you?,” said Cassidy.

 

“Why would I?,” asked Kovacs. “That wasn’t part of the job.”

 

“I’m surprised you’re still alive,” said Cassidy.

 

“What?,” asked Kovacs.

 

“You sent your employer’s partner into a hornet’s nest,” said the Warning. “There
might be some blowback for you personally.”

 

“I just told him where the robot was,” said Kovacs. “I did what he asked.”

 

“But you didn’t tell him about the rest of us, Pete,” said the Warning. “You didn’t
tell him that the robot would be on the floor with a bunch of other masked men
who would take offense at the theft.”

 

“And that they would burn him down in retaliation,” said Cassidy. “He probably
knows that we know about you already. Even if we did put you in prison, you might
wind up dead because of this.”

 

“Do you have any family, or friends?,” asked T.K.

 

“No,” said Kovacs. “Why?”

 

“Because we might be able to place you somewhere else as a witness,” said T.K.
“I think that would be the best for you right now.”

 

“You’re going to have to give a full deposition of how much harm you’ve done the
Project,” said Ryan. “What else do you know?”

 

“How much other technology have you allowed to be stolen?,” asked Odd. “I think
that’s a better question.”

 

The group knew the Stranger had hit the mark by the way Kovacs’s face twisted.

 

“We’re going to need a list,” said Ryan. “And you better not hold anything back.
We’ll call Odd’s friend and have him double check your answers.”

 

“Quin has trained you well,” said Kitty.

 

“I know, right?,” said Odd. “I was like all they care about is Green, or maybe all
of Hue Man’s kids. Then I thought they had a perfect leak to what they wanted.
Why would they have stopped at one thing? And then I saw the word syndicate
on the board and knew he had given them other things like the power generator
Mister R. wanted back.”

 

“What does that leave us?,” asked Moser. He looked at the flowchart on the
whiteboard.

 

“I think it gives us a perfect shot,” said Mike Plumb. He rubbed his bristly mustache
down as he grinned. “Doesn’t it, Pete?”

 

“I don’t understand,” said Kovacs. His face said he did.

 

“I think to mitigate any jail time and broken bones,” said Plumb. “You should call
your chum and tell him where to find Green in five hours, or so. And then we will
put you in Witness Protection, barring where you have to testify in court to what
you did.”

 

“I don’t think I can do that,” said Kovacs.

 

“Which knee gets broken, Pete?,” asked Kitty. “I’m still ready to go.”

 

“All right,” said Pete. “What am I supposed to do?”

 

“Just call him and let him know that Green is going to be somewhere,” said Mike.

 

“The local zoo, bub,” said Green.

 

“Sounds good to me,” said Mike. “Then we’ll hand you off to the Marshals and the
prosecutors and put you through the process.”

 

“Don’t blow this, Kovacs,” said Ryan. “We need the patter to be perfect.”

 

“Don’t worry,” said Kovacs. He pulled himself together with a shrug of his shoulders.
“Let me have my phone to make the call.”

 

Kitty handed over the phone she had taken from him when she had cracked his face.
She smiled at him.

 

“Don’t think about screwing this up, Kovacs,” said Ryan. “I might not be able
to break your knees, but I can still rail you.”

 

“Just let me make the call,” said Kovacs. “I’ll have to leave a message. Then he’ll
call me back to get the information.”

 

“Then you hand off the information?,” asked the Warning.

 

“Yeah,” said Kovacs. “He doesn’t like being on the phone long. They’re too easy
to listen to if you know how.”

 

“Go ahead, Pete,” said the Warning. “The faster we do this, the better everything will
be for you.”

 

Kovacs dialed a number. Cassidy wrote it down as evidence they could use to nail
everything down.

 

“It’s Kovacs,” said Kovacs. “You still want the robot? Call me back.”

He hung up and put the phone down.

 

“Now we have to wait for him to call me back,” said Kovacs. “I don’t know how long
that will be.”

 

The phone started buzzing. Cassidy looked at the calling number.

 

“It’s our guy,” he said.

 

“Kovacs,” said Kovacs. He waited for the question from the person on the other end.

 

“It’s supposed to visit the local zoo. How should I know? I just lucked out and found
out about this. It’s a green robot. How hard could it be? As soon as the conference
ends. Ryan got it a pass.”

 

Garbled words came out of the phone.

 

“I guess it wanted to be alone in the zoo,” said Kovacs. “If you want, I will call its
room and ask it.”

 

More words came out about the lack of information.

 

“I don’t know,” said Kovacs. “All I know is the one pass. Maybe that’s for its
handler.”

 

The phone went silent.

 

“He hung up on me,” said Kovacs.

 

“Now we have to see if he took the bait,” said Mike.

 

“He did,” said the Warning. “He didn’t believe Pete about Green being there alone.
He’s going to show up with extra help.”

 

“Good job, Pete,” said Kitty. “You get to keep your knees. Phone.”

 

He handed over his phone without complaint.
 

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They loaded Green up at the end of the work day into Moser’s car. His bodyguard
was Random. The spikey haired boy sulked about missing all the action so far. Green
assured him that there would be enough action to go around. Moser pulled away from
the curb and out into traffic.

 

“That’s Random?,” said the Warning. “He looks harmless. Does he have a super
power?”

 

“He bites people’s faces off,” said T.K. “We got him a keeper so he doesn’t bite
people he comes across now.”

 

“That makes me feel so much safer,” said the Warning.

 

“Don’t worry,” said T.K. He grinned slightly. “We gave him a raw steak to keep the
biting manageable.”

 

“I really feel much safer now,” said the Warning.

 

“Moser just picked up a tail,” reported Mike Plumb. “I can see two cars moving along
behind him.”

 

“They won’t try anything before the kids get to the zoo,” said the Warning. “They’re
probably trying to figure out which one Moser is going to.”

 

“All right,” said T.K. “Let’s get started.”

 

He wrapped his telekinesis around the Warning and Counterstrike and took to the air.
The sun was still up, so they would be without Wilde, but Random should be able to
handle any close in threats with his abilities.

 

Moser was the one that was at the most risk. He was Green’s handler. Threatening
him might make the robot compliant enough for things to be settled.

 

There was no telling how Green would react if he got hurt.

 

“There’s Mike in his squirrel suit,” said Bodie. He pointed at the gliding shape in
front of them.

 

“Mike said he would have to switch up once away from the Strip,” said T.K. “The
gadget doesn’t allow him to stay in the air indefinitely.”

 

“It’s a neat power,” said Counterstrike. “At least he doesn’t have to worry about using
it by accident.”

 

“It quits if he hits something too hard,” said T.K.

 

“What do you mean?,” asked Bodie.

 

“He told me that the suit only works if he can jump high enough, but he can’t hover,
and he can’t hit anything in midair,” said T.K. “If he hits a bird hard enough, the suit
will vanish and he has to try to grab something out of the stream that will help him
avoid any impact.”

 

“That sounds like a big drawback,” said Bodie.

 

“Maybe,” said T.K. “But he has enough control to dodge them if he sees them first.”

 

Wayne pulled out his phone and waited. It rang in his hand.

 

“Hello, Shelly,” said Wayne, smiling. “Still working the case. I’m flying through the
air with Bodie and T.K. We’re on the way to deal with some tech thieves. They
wanted to steal Green all along.”

 

He nodded at the reply.

 

“Robot boy,” said the Warning. “We sent him ahead as bait so we can round the
thieves up so WE can enjoy ourselves.”

 

“Shell says hi, Bodie,” said the Warning. “The police raided Roxanne’s strip club.”

 

“I haven’t talked to her,” said Bodie. “I felt kind of used.”

 

“Hold on, Shell,” said the Warning. “Why? She didn’t know you were Counterstrike.
She just saw you as some man love. Did you expect some commitment?”

 

“Yeah,” said Bodie.

 

“Did you tell her that?,” asked the Warning.

 

“No,” said Bodie.

 

“Were you going to commit, or were you just going to be a friend with benefits?,”
said Wayne. “If you weren’t going to, you can’t be down because the girl didn’t want
to either.”

 

“We’ve been dating for a bit,” said Bodie. “I thought we were hitting it off.”

 

“Maybe you should ask her what she wants,” said Wayne. “You know talk about
things.”

 

“Is that what you and Shelly do?,” said Bodie.

 

“Yep, except for the times I edit things to make me look better,” said Wayne. “Bodie
wants to know how Roxanne is doing.”

 

“He’s scared of the future,” said Wayne.

 

“I am not,” said Bodie.

 

“Shell says she will get Roxanne to call you,” said Wayne. “Apparently they are as
thick as thieves.”

 

“They’ve only known each other two days,” said Bodie.

 

“If you had brought your other girlfriends around, she would have warned you about
the trouble they were,” Wayne said. “He is properly chastened by his lack of
judgement, honey.”

 

“I wouldn’t go that far,” said Bodie.

 

“We’re doing the raid, honey,” said Wayne. “The plan is to throw Bodie at them.”

 

He smiled, then put his phone away.

 

“She told us good luck storming the castle,” he said.

 

“You use your warnings to deal with Shelly,” accused Bodie.

 

“Not all the time,” said Wayne. “Just enough to nip possible problems in the bud. I
do admit that we do butt heads sometimes over things, but not every marriage is
perfect.”

 

“Roxanne blindsided me,” said Bodie. “I don’t know if we can fix things.”

 

“If you can’t, tell her and move on,” said Wayne. “Make a clean break, and not a
lingering process that takes years. We’re in a dangerous business, Lewis. You might
not have the time.”

 

“What do you think, T.K.?,” asked Bodie.

 

“I am crap at relationships,” said T.K. “Matter of fact, you have already met most of
the people I know in the last two days. I think you should think about what you want,
and ask this Roxanne what she wants, and maybe you can get it together.”

 

“If we can’t?,” said Bodie.

 

“Figure something out where you’re both happy,” said T.K. “Just don’t let it make
you bitter.”

 

“Beating up bad guys is a lot simpler than figuring out women,” said Bodie.

 

The Warning smiled under his scarf. Shelly still surprised him after years together and
raising two kids. The future changed as you looked at it.

 

T.K.’s phone rang. He answered it as he arrowed for the trap zone.

 

“Thanks, Card,” said T.K. “How many are there?”

 

“Right,” he said. “We’ll be dropping down in a second behind them. Then we’ll see
how things go.”

 

He put the phone away. He frowned at the city passing by underneath them.

 

“What did Wild Card say?,” asked the Warning.

 

“More than two cars rolled into the lot of the zoo,” said T.K. “They brought some
exotic weapons and an exoskeleton.”

 

“I’m not any good against pure energy,” said Bodie. “I can maybe take an exoskeleton
if he hits me first.”

 

“They’re moving into the Zoo,” said T.K. “We’ll see what they have when we land.”

 

“Will your telekinesis work on exotic weapons?,” asked the Warning.

 

“Only if they shoot solids,” said T.K. “I need something to grab.”

 

“Unknown weapons and a suit of armor,” said the Warning. “They must think Green
is more dangerous than he looks.”

 

“Random definitely is,” said T.K. “The others will be able to handle this before we
get there.”

 

“All right,” said Bodie. “It looks like they have a rear guard.”

 

“They don’t want to disable their machine in the middle of a zoo and not be able to
get it away before someone responds,” said the Warning. “This is a heavy duty risk
they’re taking.”

 

“I don’t see the boss anywhere,” said T.K. “He’s the one we really want.”

 

“Let’s deal with these minions,” said Bodie. “Drop me.”

 

“Are you sure?,” asked T.K.

 

“Just make sure I hit a car on impact, or something,” said Bodie.

 

“All right,” said T.K.

 

He flung the Ranger away from him. He watched as Bodie hit the roof of a car and
bounce off. Sparks danced around the ex-boxer as he got to his feet. A glowing fist
punched a car and it flew through the air at the men trying to use it for a shield.

 

“Okay,” said T.K. “That was a good opening shot. Let’s see if we can follow it up
before they get their act together.”

 

“The guy on the right is going to start shooting lightning at us in a second,” said the
Warning.

 

“No, he won’t,” said T.K. He reached down and crushed the gun with his mind. “I’m
going to have to let you drop so I can deal with this.”

 

“No problem,” said the Warning.

 

T.K. released his mental grip and let the other Ranger drop in some trees around the
edge of the lot. He floated above the lot and crushed weapons as he looked at them.

 

Mike Plumb appeared in a blue coat. He threw ice balls at anyone who looked like
they were threatening him. Struck targets froze in place.

 

Counterstrike sent the sentries on his side to the ground with careful punches. The
glow around him diminished with each punch.

 

“It looks like we’re done here,” said Mike.

 

“Let me put on some temporary restraints so our victims don’t try to run away,” said
T.K. He concentrated and damaged weapons became cuffs around the guards’ limbs.

 

“Lift me up, T.K.,” said Counterstrike. “I would like to take a run at this
exoskeleton.”

 

“All right,” said T.K. He and Bodie started floating again.

 

“We’ll take the low road and try to catch these guys from behind,” said the Warning.
He adjusted his hat. “You two attracting all the attention may give us more openings.”

 

“And he’s a lot sneakier than he looks,” said Bodie.

 

“We’ll see you when we get done with things,” said T.K. He floated over the fence
and sped toward the heavy fighting in the zoo.

 

“Let’s see what we can do about the rest of this,” said the Warning. “Nice coat.”

 

“You like it?,” said Mike. “I got it at the Goodwill for cheap.”

 

“I think we should work our way around the bottom of the clock,” said the Warning.
“Cassidy and Ojai need us more than Kitty Dorfman.”

 

“She has some fast hands,” said Mike. He walked toward the gate.

 

“I don’t think Odd knows what he has,” said the Warning. He followed the bigger
man.

 

“I think he does,” said Mike. “He just likes to live dangerously.”

 

“A broken face is the least of his worries then,” said the Warning.
 

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The Maven Zoo was one of the dozens of animal exhibitions that dotted Clark
County. It wasn’t famous, and didn’t attract a lot of attention from tourists. Green
walked the exhibits with Charlie Moser and Random in tow.

 

“What are we doing here?,” asked Random.

 

“We’re waiting for some people to try to kill us and take Green,” said Moser. “We’re
bait.”

 

“I hate being bait,” said Random.

 

“I’m not thrilled with it either,” said Moser. “The others are here. When things go
down, I guess we’re supposed to sit back and let everybody else handle it.”

 

“I’m not doing that,” said Random. “If I have to come down to a zoo to be bait, I’m
hurting someone.”

 

“Animals are cool, bub,” said Green. He paused at a large tiger pit. He examined the
area closely as Charlie and Random waited. “They are naturally gifted.”

 

“I don’t really care about animals, much less tigers,” said Random.

 

Charlie’s phone buzzed. He checked the text message on the screen before putting it
back in his holder.

 

“Looks like they’re here,” said Moser. “Where do you guys want to go next?”

 

“The monkey house, bub,” said Green.

 

“Why do you always say bub?,” asked Random.

 

“Brain damage, bub,” said Green. “Why do your ears change shape?”

 

“You’re a machine,” said Random. “What kind of brain damage?”

 

“Ears first, bub,” said Green.

 

“I’m listening for people closing in on us,” said Random. “My ears changed to let me
hear better.”

 

“Green is interested in changing his own shape,” said Moser. “Let’s go this way. The
monkey house is on the other side of the snake exhibit.”

 

“You’re a hunk of metal,” said Random. His coat flapped around him as he waved his
arms. “You don’t need to change shape.”

 

“I want to, bub,” said Green. “It would be nice to have another trick up my sleeve.”

 

“I don’t think that’s something you can just pick up,” said Random.

 

Green stared at him with blank green eyes.

 

“I can’t teach what I do,” said Random. “It’s just something I can do. Something big
is coming through the park.”

 

“There’s the monkey house,” said Moser. “Come on, boys.”

 

“You’re not the boss of me,” said Random.

 

“T.K. said to tell the penguin if you don’t go along,” said Moser. “I’ll snitch on you
so fast, it’ll part your hair.”

 

“Snitches get stitches,” said Random. He held up a hand. Claws extended from his
fingernails.

 

“Let’s go, bub,” said Green. “It’s part of being bait.”

 

He held up a metal hand. Stubby claws extended out of his hand for a second. They
retracted just as fast.

 

“Did you change your hand, Green?,” asked Moser.

 

“It didn’t want to stay,” said Green. “I could almost feel it in place.”

 

“Maybe you need to practice on it,” said Moser. “Inside.”

 

He held the door open for the boys. The trio walked through the house. The
individual rooms were big as apartments. Different types of trees and platforms had
been put in to give the primates things to play on. They paused in front of the
chimpanzees for the boys to watch the animals at play.

 

Moser stepped back, glancing at the door for men to rush in and start shooting. He
looked at the reflection and the chimp on the other side of the glass. He squinted. All
three had the same expression.

 

Green and Random both looked like hairless chimps.

 

“Let’s keep moving, boys,” said Moser. The chimpanzee waved his butt at them. “I
think the chimp thinks you’re mocking him.”

 

“Why would he think that, bub?,” said Green. He watched the chimp as he walked
down to the next exhibit.

 

“The two of you looked just like chimps,” said Moser. “I think a little practice, and
you will be able to change shape at will like the others, Green.”

 

“Others?,” said Random.

 

“I have three brothers, bub,” said Green. “Red, Whitey, and Blue.”

 

“You named them after colors?,” said Random. “Couldn’t you think of something
else?”

 

“We didn’t name them,” said Moser. “They named themselves. We just brought them
to life to save the city. And we kind of stuck together.”

 

“They’ve been cool dads so far, bub,” said Green. “Our real dad is not around.”

 

“I don’t understand,” said Random. “Wait. The other door is opening up in front of
us.”

 

“Take cover, Mose,” said Green. His voice was quiet. “Let’s see what they think they
can do.”

 

“I’m taking the right,” said Random. He pulled off his coat and threw it to Moser
before scuttling down a sidepath.

 

Green went down the left path, green skin blending in with the shadows cast by the
dim lighting.

 

A boom drifted into the monkey house and upset all the primates. The artificial
thunder sent them scrambling for cover. Moser went down the left hand path.

 

A scream sounded in the exhibit. Demands to get it off followed. Moser wondered
how much damage Random was doing to the bad guys on his side of the building.

He followed the sounds of buzzing. They weren’t shooting bullets at Green. What had
they brought?

 

Green punched one of the men in the face. His metal hand was a club that hammered
flesh like a bat. His enemy went down as the rest tried to line him up in crosshairs.
He ducked along a glass for a room of macaques. The buzzing from their rifles put
the lights out in the room.

 

Moser picked up the rifle from the fallen man. He took aim and fired at the rest. The
buzz did nothing to the gunmen. Their weapons sparked and quit working.

They saw him standing there. He decided it would be a good time to run the other
way. He took off.

 

The gunmen chased after him. He ignored their shouts of stop. Being used as a
hostage seemed like a bad idea. They caught up with him at the branch where the
group separated.

 

“We don’t need you,” said one of them holding Moser down. “It looks like it’s over
for you.”

 

He screamed as a human wolverine exploded out of the other hall and wrapped
around his head with a tearing of skin and blood flying. The men with him tried to
back up from the fury in their midst.

 

Green came out of the first hall. His hand was a solid mass of metal. He brought it
down on the back of the leg of the closest man. When the man’s head dropped down
to his eye level, he brought his hand down on the back of the human skull in front of
him.

 

The last guy looked at Green, then at Random slicing into his comrade. He turned and
started to run back the way he had come. That triggered Random to give chase with
a growl sounding like a thousand buzzsaws coming to life.

 

“Don’t kill him, Random,” called Moser as he got to his feet. “Thanks for the save,
Green.”

 

“You saved me first, bub,” said Green. He looked at his hand. It separated out into
fingers again. “They were using magnetic guns. I could feel the waves when they
started shooting at me.”

 

Moser frowned. He didn’t know what magnetism would do to Green’s brain, and he
didn’t want to experiment with it either. He didn’t have any way to fix something
wrecking the tube and chip that powered the liquid metal boy.

 

“Let’s get Random and circle around,” said Moser. “The trap is sprung now.”

 

“Don’t forget his coat, bub,” said Green. “He seems cranky.”

 

“Tell me about it,” said Moser. He picked up the coat and slung it over his shoulder.

They walked to the back exit. They found Random standing next to the door. He
looked out with the frame acting as cover. He wiped the blood off his face with the
back of his hand. It smeared across his skin like war paint.

 

“You can wash your face in the bathroom, Random,” said Moser. He pointed at the
signs on the wall. “Go ahead. We’ll wait on you.”

 

“They brought a giant robot,” said Random. “I was trying to think how to get the
pilot.”

 

“Don’t worry about that,” said Moser. “I have the perfect solution. Watch the door,
Green, until Random gets back. I will be right back.”

 

Moser handed Random’s coat to Green before he went back to where they had
dropped the magnetic guns. He returned to the door. Random had washed his face,
and the boys watched what was going on outside.

 

“Give me some cover, Green,” said Moser. “Watch for anybody trying to sneak up on
us, Random. Let’s see what this baby will do.”

 

They pushed out of the back of the monkey house. Green went forward and made sure
no one could shoot at Moser as he followed. The robot, exoskeleton, loomed in a
central square with exhibit houses and a concession kiosk standing around it. It
seemed to be having problems moving.

 

Moser took aim and fired a pulse at the exoskeleton. He watched as the machine fell
over. He lowered the rifle.

 

“Looks like we did the heavy lifting, boys,” said Moser. “Let’s hold what we got until
the others can round these posteriors up.”

 

“Posteriors?,” said Random.

 

“Pack and I are trying to watch our language,” said Moser. “Apparently our liaison
at City Hall got a complaint that one of our boys decided to answer a complaint with
some foul language.”

 

“Snitches get stitches, bub,” said Green.

 

“He’s right,” said Random. “Snitches do get stitches.”

 

“And telling some grandma that her cat can do things that cats can’t do is bad for our
business,” said Moser. “Since no one came forward, they all got grounded.”

 

“What does that mean?,” said Random. “They’re machines.”

 

“It means no games, internet, movies, television, or looking at the street, for a week,”
said Moser. “Machines that can’t sleep get bored after two days.”

 

“Solitary confinement for robots,” said Random.

 

“Who get on each other’s nerves,” said Moser.

 

“Who did it, Green?,” asked Random.

 

“We know who did it,” said Moser. “The rest of the boys got punished because he
didn’t come forward.”

 

“Snitches get stitches, but never take the blame,” said Random.

 

“What?,” said Green.

 

“You got a week for someone else,” said Random. “Don’t do anything that stupid
again.”

 

Green studied him with his blank eyes.

 

“You savvy?,” said Random.

 

“I think so, bub,” said Green. He held up his hand. Claws extended. They remained
until he told them to retract.

 

“All right, boys,” said Moser. “Where do we go next?”

 

“The aquarium,” said Green.

 

“Why would you want to look at some fish?,” asked Random.

 

“I want to learn how to swim, bub,” said Green.

 

“You have to be the craziest toaster I have ever came across,” said Random.

 

“Trying to improve myself, bub,” said Green.

 

“We can look at the fish,” said Moser. “Let’s wait until the clean up is done before
we wander off.”

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12

“We don’t have the brains of the outfit,” said Odd. He brushed off his hat with the
back of his hand.

 

“The sun is going down,” said T.K. “I have to make a call.”

 

“I thought you were kidding about your kid,” said the Warning.

 

“You should have seen him before we picked him up,” said T.K. He pulled out his
phone and called his missing team member. He hung up after three rings. “Sister
Anna has been a good influence on him.”

 

“The guys he ran into might want him to keep working on that,” said the Warning.

 

“What happened to the giant robot armor?,” asked Counterstrike. The thing had fallen
over before his cannonball.

 

“Charlie Moser,” said T.K. His phone started singing The Joker in an electronic Steve

Miller voice. He swiped it open.

 

“Talk to me,” said Joker Wilde.

 

“We caught all the little fish,” said T.K. “We need you to check the home address and
see what you can do.”

 

He gave Wilde the address.

 

Wilde hung up the phone.

 

“Wilde is going over to the guy’s mansion to talk to him,” said T.K. “I’m going to
meet him there. Can you guys handle the rest here?”

 

“We got it,” said the Warning. “This guy will want to get away. He might be
desperate enough to try anything. Be careful.”

 

“At least one good thing has come out of this,” said T.K. “We knocked this down fast
with your help. Thanks.”

 

T.K. jumped into the air. He looked at the line of the city and poured on the speed.
He wasn’t as fast as Tachyon, but he was faster than any car on the road.

 

Working with others had been good, but he liked taking care of the villain with his
own two hands.

 

T.K. found a street he could use to orient himself. He drifted along until he found the
place he wanted. He floated toward the round house, pushing on the front door. It
came off its hinges and fell to the floor inside.

 

Where was security?

 

T.K. decided the best thing he could do was look around. Maybe he had missed the
big boss. That would be something to have flown across the city and the guy got away
because he wasn’t home.

 

He approached the door. It was too quiet in his opinion. He paused at the frame. He
thought he heard a whir. He ducked back. The wall where he had stood started
sprouting holes through it.

 

That’ll teach him to complain about not seeing the mastermind.

 

He should have brought Wild Card. The other Ace’s ability to generate force walls
would have come in handy here. Now he was going to have to go in and see if his
telekinesis was faster than whatever was shooting at him.

 

Or he could just punch the wall next to the door and hope he took the watchdog out.

He liked that idea a lot better than just charging in and hoping to get lucky.

 

T.K. summoned his power and flung it at the house. Brick and wood blasted out in
front of him, carving out a hole big enough for a car. Something had been standing
in front of the blast. He felt the weight of it as he kept the beam going.

 

He flew inside. The front of the house was wrecked. The storm he had caused had
torn furniture and decorations to pieces before hitting the back doors to the patio and
pool area behind the small mansion.

 

Lightning reached for him. He dodged out of the way. It danced along the ceiling in
a spray of sparks.

 

“You wrecked my house,” said an electronic voice. “I’m going to kill you.”

 

T.K. ripped up the floor, using that as a makeshift wall. A robot had been posted in
the house. He couldn’t tell if it was armor, or a machine. He was inclined to think it
was armor.

 

Blasts punched through the defensive wall. None hit him, but he could hear the sound
of the projectiles going by.

 

“I’m tired of you masked men getting in my way,” said the robot. “When I’m done,
you will all be smears.”

 

T.K. ripped up the floor toward the machine. If he could knock it over, he might be
able to pull some of it apart. Then he could concentrate on weak points.

 

The thing hopped out of the way of his assault. It looked like a ball with a tripod of
legs on the bottom. An array of cannons swivelled to track him as the egg moved. He
dove again as bullets erupted from one of the cannons and cut across his protection.

He grabbed the smoking barrel of the machine gun and crushed it. That should take
care of some of the problems right there. He had to do the lightning gun next.

 

Lightning reached for him and missed. He grabbed the barrels that formed the
lightning and crushed them too. If he could deal with the remaining weapons as
easily, he could complete the arrest and turn over the armor to the Project to see if any
of it matched what Kovacs had given up.

 

He wondered if there were records in the surviving parts of the house on what was
bought, borrowed, or stolen. He would have to ask a team to look for the stuff when
they showed up to take over for him.

 

The egg stood up. It seemed to think about what it wanted to do. He had a feeling
what it wanted to do was unveil some weapon it had kept hidden from him. What
other tricks did it have?

 

The barrels separated to unveil a barrel larger than the ones he had disabled. If a
cannonball came out of the weapon, then he had a chance. Anything else would be
problems.

 

T.K. caught a whiff of something in the air. He flew back away from the encounter.
A jet of flame followed him. He winced as keepsakes caught fire.

 

Of course the egg would have a flame thrower. It had guns and lightning, why
shouldn’t it also have a flame thrower?

 

T.K. kept backing up. Fire ran up the walls. He could die of smoke before the robot
got close to killing him. He needed something to turn things around.

 

T.K. crushed the flame thrower barrel before the pilot could line the weapon on him.
Maybe this was where he turned everything around.

 

He certainly wasn’t going to fly close enough to get grappled. There was no telling
if his telekinesis would protect him. That made flying around and trying to collapse
the building more acceptable.

 

T.K. headed for a busted window. Once outside, he had more room to maneuver
around the egg. Then he could try some of the simple things that he liked to end this
fight.

 

The egg sprinted to cut him off. He pushed on it. His telekinesis couldn’t move the
armor.

 

T.K. pulled on the roof and tried to bring all of it down. He couldn’t let that thing
grapple with him now that he knew he couldn’t move the central mass of it. It would
crush him.

 

Heavy beams that once supported the second floor dropped down on the egg. It
paused as more and more weight was added to it. It still tried to get out of the pile as
the telekinetic took a breather.

 

T.K. wondered if he was going to give himself a stroke fighting the thing. He decided
that he could take a minute and fly out on the yard. If it came after him outside, he

would have to think of some way to hurt it with nothing to grab and throw.

 

Karen would be so mad when she found out he was dead.

 

He braced himself. He could beat this thing. All he had to do was find the parts that
were joined together and pull them apart with his mind power. He didn’t have to take
the biggest parts. All he needed were screws that he could yank out.

 

The more fasteners he yanked out, the more the bigger pieces would fall away until
it was just him and the pilot.

 

Then it would come down to how fast they were on the draw.

 

The egg crashed out of the ruined house. It paused to check where T.K. stood on the
lawn. The top came off to reveal a launcher of some kind. It had avoided using the
heavy artillery in the house, but the house was ruined and it had made it outside.

 

It was time to blow this meddler up.

 

T.K. reached out and jammed one of the launchers with his telekinesis. It was the best
he could do. The other missiles would fire at him and there was no way he could stop
the explosions. He was good as dead, but at least the egg would be fried too.

 

A yellow and green car knocked the gate aside and barreled across the property. The
driver jumped out and let the vehicle fly on its path. The missiles launched except for
the one T.K. had grabbed and jammed the cradle on. They flew into the car and
reduced it to burning fragments. A tire rolled away at speed, fire throwing oily smoke
in the air.

 

The top of the egg was blown clear. It staggered under the damage done by its own
weapon. Smoke rolled out where the launcher had been.

 

T.K. started taking apart everything he could see, starting with the legs. They had
joints, so it was that much easier to pull out any connectors with his mental power.

 

“I loved that car,” said Joker Wilde. He brushed off his checkerboard shirt with a
hand. “Do you know how many mobsters I had to rob to get that car and get it street
legal with no identity?”

 

“More than one?,” said T.K. He continued taking the egg apart.

 

“You got that right,” said Wilde. “How am I going to move bodies now?”

 

“Hold that thought,” said T.K. “I’m trying to pry this thing open so we can get at the
pilot.”

 

“This looks like a grand fighting beast,” said Wilde. “I’m glad we stopped it.”

 

T.K. didn’t point out he had done most of the work until his colleague could drive his
car in for a last minute save.

 

Just sacrificing the car was enough in his opinion.

 

“Do you think you can pry him out of there?,” said Wilde. Sirens told him that the
police, or the sheriffs, were on the way. He wasn’t quite sure who had jurisdiction on
the death scene of his car.

 

“I don’t know,” said T.K. “You might want to take off to avoid the police. I think I
got the rest of it.”

 

“I’ll be watching,” said Wilde. He jogged out of the gate and vanished into the night
time.

 

The shell of the egg lay on the ground around the central core of an engine and a chair
with controls built into it. The pilot was dead. The missile backfiring cooked him
inside his armor.

 

Now they had to identify him and see how much of the government’s and other’s
property he had stolen to make his armor. That would have to fall on Ryan.

 

T.K. smiled. Maybe they could get Odd Dorfman to call his friend one more time to
make sure they had wrapped everything up except for Suspetta.

 

Then they were going to have to arrest him for hiring hitmen to kill a vigilante wanted
by the law.

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Epilogue

Tom Kerry and Lucinda Grable sat in Tom Ryan’s office. The conference was
considered a win for everyone involved. The various teams had worked together, and
they had contacts when they had to go into each other’s turfs.

 

The Warning and Odd were staying on long enough to enjoy some time with their
spouses and were holding the rooms rented for them at the Lilly. Nothing was going
to stop their vacations now that the excitement was over.

 

“So how did everything shake out?,” asked Ryan. He had read the reports filed
through the different liaisons. He wanted to know what his team thought of
everything.

 

“The conference went well,” said Tom. “I don’t know if we could get together every
year like it’s been suggested, but we worked together pretty good. Everybody seemed
to know what they were doing.”

 

“Barry doesn’t seem to have any real experience in the field,” said Lucinda. “I got
stuck with him at the zoo. He almost got killed.”

 

“Ojai is nominally Cassidy’s assistant and the information officer for the Deacons in
Vancouver,” said Ryan. “A guy named Captain Copper is their team leader in the
field. Copper stayed behind to keep things quiet up there.”

 

“So what do we know about Joey Suspect and our mystery fried guy?,” asked Tom.

 

“The guy in the power armor was Jerry Caine,” said Ryan. “He used to be a villain
named Easterner. His speciality was egg-shaped weapons. He clashed with Deserta
and Pyramid while dealing with Joey. He also knew the Kovacs family. That was how
he was hooked in with Pete Kovacs, through his dad.”

 

“So we think he killed Deserta and Pyramid?,” said Lucinda.

 

“There are a couple of lines of thought on it,” said Ryan. “The first is he did it as a
favor for Joey Suspetta, the second he did it because he needed to expand his own
operation and they were also getting in his way.”

 

“Did you ask the Question Man?,” asked Tom.

 

“Yeah,” said Ryan. “He told Odd that there were a lot of motivations at the time, but
he hadn’t left any proof so there was no way to tie everything back to Suspetta.”

 

“Does Suspetta know that?,” asked Lucinda.

 

“I would have to say so,” said Ryan. “He’s been around a while and has been able to
make evidence disappear before. I’m going to have to say that anything that was dug
up that looked strange in those cases was buried somewhere.”

 

“What can we prove?,” said Tom.

 

“We can prove he sent a goon squad to the hotel even if none of them are talking,”
said Ryan. “We can prove he knew Caine from the phone call recorded by Joker
Wilde. We were able to get Caine’s phone records thanks to him blowing up in his
own yard. We used that to tie the two together. We have him on record solicitating
a murder from out of town contract dealers who we are still trying to track down.”

 

“But we can’t get him for the other murders we think he committed?,” said Tom.

 

“That’s right,” said Ryan. “They went out of their way to erase any traces of their
involvement in those crimes.”

 

“What did they want with Green?,” asked Lucinda. “That seems to be the moment
they threw caution to the wind.”

 

“We think it has something to do with Hue Man tech,” said Ryan. “The best
explanation the Question Man could supply is they wanted Green’s body for whatever
reason.”

 

“No one knows how any of that works,” said Lucinda. “I talked to Charlie. He said
they looked at the kids when they first started up, and the sample they took was unlike
anything ever devised as far as he and his partner could tell.”

 

“No one knew how the original worked either,” said Ryan. “Project scientists and
researchers have never been able to duplicate what made Hue Man what he was. I
looked at the classified files I could get access to before the meeting. No one has ever
admitted to being able to duplicate the liquid metal formula that Fitzgerald used to
make Hue Man.”

 

“So what did Caine think he was going to do with Green?,” said Tom.

 

“The Question Man said he hadn’t decided but it looked like some kind of life
extension was uppermost in Caine’s mind,” said Ryan. “I’m waiting for the autopsy
results to confirm.”

 

“He wanted to put his brain in Green’s body?,” said Lucinda. “How? There’s nothing
for a human brain to control. The body doesn’t even have a skeleton.”

 

“It makes sense if you have a list of everything he got from Pete Kovacs,” said Ryan.
He looked across his desk top and then grabbed a small sheaf of papers paperclipped
together. He handed that to Lucinda.

 

Lucinda went through the list slowly, frowning at some of the items on it. She paused
at one thing in particular.

 

“You have plans for Mister R.’s braincase?,” said Lucinda.

 

“They’re from when he was captured a couple of years ago,” said Ryan. “He was
trying to get a new body together. Odd’s people stopped him by pulling his head off
his body.”

 

“So Caine had a way he could control Green’s body if he could make it work,” said
Lucinda.

 

“Probably,” said Ryan.

 

“Who’s Mister R?,” asked Tom. “Another forgotten villain from the past?”

 

“This guy designed a way to put brains in jars,” said Lucinda. “He had an accident
and had to use it on himself. Once he did that, he needed to build a body. Each body
was more extravagant than the one before. He attracted the attention of the masked
men in his day, and they put a stop to him for the Project.

 

“A couple of years ago, he hires some mercenaries named the Canines to steal a
portable generator for him. Odd’s people got involved and captured most of the
Canines and reduced Mister R to a brain in a jar again.”

 

“The Project has it stored away somewhere,” said Ryan. “Above my clearance.”

 

“So we’re guessing that a sixty year old villain decided to capture a living machine
so he could extract the machine’s computer brain and put his own inside the metal
skull because he was desperate to save his own life from something like cancer,” said
Tom.

 

“I think that’s exactly what we’re saying,” said Ryan. “But we don’t know what he
was dying from yet, nor do we know what Suspetta wanted for trying to help out.”

 

“Maybe he wanted one of the other kids,” said Tom. He shrugged at the look that got
him. “If one of them was trying for immortality, why not both?”

 

“So once they had the bugs worked out of their brain in a jar process, they were going
to try to grab one of the other kids to work on?,” said Ryan. “I like it for motivation.
I don’t know how well it would hold up in court.”

 

“Luckily, none of this speculation will ever see the inside of a courtroom,” said Tom. “All of Suspetta’s charges stem from the assault on the hotel. I doubt he’s going to admit that he wanted to have a metal kid body to keep control of his empire.”

 

“Some of the charges might not stick,” said Ryan. “We’re gathering as much evidence
as we can to tie Suspetta into things. None of his guys are making a deal. They’re
claiming they were victimized by the government.”

 

“They were caught on the stairs with firearms,” said Lucinda. “Which some of them
knew they shouldn’t be carrying. How do they get to play the victim?”

 

“They were just heading to their rooms in the hotel, and were suddenly attacked by
masked men falling out of the sky,” said Ryan.

 

“So Odd cut the cables on the elevator for nothing?,” said Tom. “I guess that’s
possible. No one can really see the future I suppose.”

 

“What they want is to expose the attendees who have masks to public scrutiny,” said
Ryan. “That’s the Warning, and Counterstrike. The rest don’t have masks and their
lives are already open books.”

 

“The Warning seems like he has his ability under control,” said Tom. “I doubt he will
have to come to court to prove he saw them coming up the stairs to kill them.”

 

“Like I said, we might have to ask him to come back and testify down the line,” said
Ryan. “There’s no doubt that Suspetta’s goons were there to rob someone. All of
them pull guns before they try to get out of the stairwell. Seeing them shoot
Counterstrike is pretty dramatic in my opinion, but not enough to prove that our guy
acted in self-defense.”

 

“They’re claiming they saw a masked man and pulled their guns in self-defense?,”
said Lucinda.

 

“Exactly,” said Ryan. “It will be up to the prosecutor to show they had no reason to
be at the hotel, no reason to be carrying guns, and no reason to be on a floor that was
rented out.”

 

“Still, the process will put some light on Suspetta’s operations,” said Tom. “Wilde
will still be out there, axing knee caps. Maybe he will turn up something we can use
on one of his ramblings.”

 

“A lot of what we get from him is only admissible due to searches,” said Ryan. “The
initial hit he does gets us nothing. It’s the follow up that allows us to get a search
warrant that nets the arrests we make.”

 

“I don’t think Wilde cares about that as long as he gets to hurt someone,” said Tom.

 

“Along with hurting people, I have a report that Random chewed a couple of goons’
faces off during the action,” said Ryan. “And a complaint about the damage done to
the Caine estate.”

 

“Moser said Random acted to protect him during the action at the Zoo,” said Tom.
“He would have been killed if Random hadn’t been on his team.”

 

“And biting is Random’s main weapon,” said Lucinda. She made a face at having to
defend excessive face biting to someone else.

 

“Tell him to tone it down,” said Ryan. “The government doesn’t want to pay for
plastic surgery to have these goons look presentable at court because one of our guys
decided he could chew someone up.”

 

“I’ll ask him to just claw instead of biting,” said Tom. “We could enroll him in some
self-defense classes. That might be good for him.”

 

“It’ll be like teaching a wolverine karate,” said Lucinda. “I don’t know if we should
give him more tools to commit mayhem.”

 

“And the Caine estate wants to know why their million dollar house was blown sky
high,” said Ryan.

 

“The house thing is simple,” said Tom. “If Easterner hadn’t decided to come out guns
blazing, the house wouldn’t have exploded, his armor wouldn’t have turned into a
crock pot for him, and the city wouldn’t have been threatened by all the missiles I
wouldn’t have been able to catch, and Joker Wilde would not be bothering me for a
new vehicle to wage his war on terror. I’m putting this down as equivalent exchange
and they should be happy they aren’t up on charges for aiding and abetting because
I doubt that old man put that armor together by himself in his secret lair.”

 

“He had a secret lair,” said Ryan.

 

“You’re kidding me,” said Tom.

 

“It was underneath the house,” said Ryan. “When you pulled up the floor, you missed
the secret entrance to it by that much. Our guys found it during the after action clean
up to make sure he didn’t have an arsenal stockpiled under his house.”

 

“So they weren’t getting the house back anyway,” said Tom.

 

“No,” said Ryan.

 

“You were winding me up,” said Tom.

 

“Yep,” said Ryan.

 

“You suck,” said Tom.

 

“We’re thinking about setting up an exchange program between the groups,” said
Ryan. “What do you two think about that?”

 

“I can’t,” said Tom. “I still have professional obligations that means I have to travel
at a moment’s notice. I couldn’t just drop that to hang out in another city for some
undetermined length of time.”

 

“I still have school,” said Lucinda. “Maybe Wilde or Wild Card would like to see how
the other half lives for a bit.”

 

“Random is out too,” said Tom. “I didn’t think of that. He’ll be in school, and Sister
Anna doesn’t want him to be unsupervised.”

 

“He bit someone’s face off while he was being supervised,” said Ryan.

 

“That was an action,” said Tom. “What we’re talking about is Random going back to
being feral and living on the streets again.”

 

“And that’s something none of us wants,” said Lucinda.

 

“I have to agree there,” said Ryan. “Keeping bodies from piling up is a net benefit.”

 

“Is there anything else?,” said Tom. “I have to get going.”

 

“I think we have everything covered,” said Ryan. “I’ll call if Random’s goons want
to call. The stuff we’re getting from Suspetta’s office has been gold so far. We’ve
picked up a bunch of guys that should know better. It can’t last. Eventually he’ll find
the bug.”

 

“That’s why Wilde keeps moving it around,” said Tom. “As long as he’s not caught,
the mike will be put somewhere else, and a new battery installed. When Suspetta does
find it, he’ll bolt. He won’t want to fight charges when he can just flee.”

 

“Thanks for the head’s up,” said Ryan. “I need to make sure the surveillance people
know that.”

 

“See you, Tom,” said Tom. He headed for the office door. “I have to meet some
friends.”

 

Lucinda followed.

 

“You’re meeting someone?,” she asked.

 

“The Dorfmans are having a small party at their hotel,” said Tom. “You’re welcome
to come along.”

 

“Really?,” said Lucinda.

 

“The Warning and his wife will be there,” said Tom. “I have to go to practice
tomorrow so I won’t be there long.”

 

“I don’t have anything to do,” said Lucinda. “I would love to come along.”

 

“Then let’s go,” said Tom.
 

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