The All-Talking Episode.
Grad Student Residence, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada
“How is she?” asked Kirby, one of the other grad students.
“Watch.” Izzy opened the door to her shared room and raised her voice. “Gillian? I’m going out for lunch. You want some?” Izzy watched Gillian type. It looked like she was actually typing words related to her thesis—no “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” stuff.
“Hmm? No, I’m good. I ate just after I swam at the pool. I think I can get ten more pages done before I break for dinner.”
Izzy closed the door and turned to Kirby. “See?”
“Is it true, what Tom said? Did someone mess with her mind to make her that…that focused?”
“Yeah,” Izzy said. “Someone I know across the river.”
“I wonder if that would work for me.” Kirby had slightly less urgent deadline issues; he alternated worrying about his thesis with fixating on the latest diet so he could lose a hundred pounds.
“Don’t even think it. I don’t know if it’s safe. I don’t know what will happen to her when she’s done her thesis.” Izzy resolved not to say Ninety-Nine Percent’s name.
“I just… I could use that kind of willpower.”
“It’s not worth the risks. It might not be worth letting the person into your head.”
“Look at me. Look at me,” Kirby said. “I’m going to be a threat to somebody? If I roll on them, maybe.”
“You’ll do okay. You’ll finish your thesis under your own power and you’ll find someone.” She reached forward and gave him a hug.
His hand moved to her butt. She pushed him away, a bit too hard: he slammed into the opposite side of the corridor. “See?” he said. “I can’t even resist doing something like that.”
Steel City Sentries Headquarters
“Okay,” said Featherstone-Haugh to the heroes gathered at the headquarters. “I have to wait for parts to get shipped in from Japan to fix the hoverbikes. I know a specialty manufacturing shop there. They have to make the equipment to make them, so it’ll be about a week. I’ll see you then.”
“But the computer’s up?” Huitzil asked.
“Sure. You’re all listed in the security profiles. You have to turn on security yourself, but it’s voice controlled. You have my number if there’s a problem.” She smiled. “Nice working with all of you, and I’ll see you soon.” She picked up her cases and walked out, passing two teenagers who were coming out of the elevator.
“We need an office manager,” said Ninety-Nine Percent to the other two.
Volt added, “Or an office manager and a receptionist.”
The teenagers reached the front desk.
“Hello,” said Huitzil. “You I remember,” said Huitzil to the boy. He was fifteen or sixteen and still had on the Black Hole t-shirt. “You I don’t,” she said to the black-clad goth teenager.
“What would you like?” asked Ninety-Nine Percent.
“I—we—want to join the Freedom Foundation you were talking about. We’ll pay,” said the boy, Kid Singularity. Huitzil touched a button on the reception desk and brought up his application where the minors couldn’t see it. Josh Landsdowne, age fifteen.
“Of course,” said Ninety-Nine promptly.
“You can call me Ghostlight,” said the goth girl. Huitzil went to shake her hand but went right through it. “Oops,” said the girl, and solidified so that Huitzil could shake her hand.
“We haven’t really set it up yet,” said Huitzil. “Even the name waffles. Future Foundation, Freedom Foundation.”
“But we’d love feedback on our current plans,” said Ninety-Nine. “How much have you brought for membership?”
“Well, I got my grandpa to sign over part of my trust fund for this. So I have a bearer bond here for a hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
“Security system on,” said Volt. A computer voice confirmed this.
“I brought my babysitting money,” said Ghostlight. “A hundred and eleven dollars.”
“You should really have an investor. Volt, you know about this stuff.”
“Conflict of interest,” he said. “I can give you some names, though.”
“But I want to join.”
“The foundation isn’t even set up yet,” said Huitzil.
“But we’ll save you a spot,” said Ninety-Nine. “Both of you.” To Ghostlight, she said, “We’re thinking of adding a monthly option. Would that work better for you?”
“You should put this into a bank,” said Volt.
“How much you want to be it will get robbed while we’re there?” said Huitzil.
“Don’t be silly,” said Ninety-Nine. “Banks are mostly closed by now—it’s after five. I could put it in the vault.”
“We’re still liable then,” said Volt. “I saw an ad for TD. They’re still open, and there’s a branch not far from here.”
“We escort him?” asked Huitzil.
“Escort them,” said Ghostlight.
“Seems the only safe way,” agreed Volt.
“Fine,” said Ninety-Nine.
“We walk?” said Huitzil. “I can’t fly them. If Canadian Lass were here—”
“We walk. It’s two blocks, and there’s no place to park the hoverbikes legally.”
Huitzil and Volt flanked Kid Singularity, and Ninety-Nine Percent walked with Ghostlight from a bit behind them.
“Could I have an autograph?” asked a gentleman in a dark pinstripe suit.
A woman held up her smartphone. “May I pose with you for a picture?”
“We’re not even to the end of the block yet,” said Volt sotto voce.
“Hold on,” said Huitzil, posing for a photo. “Folks, I appreciate you all, but we have to get these two safely to the bank. Do you mind walking with us?”
“How late is this bank open?” asked Ninety-Nine.
“Late enough,” said Huitzil. Slowly they made their way to the bank, and got Kid Singularity inside.
“See?” said Volt. “No robbers.”
“I’ll wait outside,” said Ninety-Nine. “Ghostlight?”
“Sure. I don’t really have much to deposit anyway.”
“I’m going to go invisible,” said Ninety-Nine. “Attract less attention. Don’t worry; I haven’t gone away.”
“Great. I’ll be talking to myself. Ah, they already think I’m crazy.” Ghostlight sat on the window ledge of the bank.
“Everybody. People at school. The company I blog for.”
“I get paid, too. Alternative life teenage stuff.”
“I know a blogger or two. Maybe I can introduce you.”
“Really. They’ve gone to set up the account, so we’ll be a bit longer.”
Ghostlight stuck out her tongue at a passerby who gave her a disapproving look.
“So,” asked Ninety-Nine. “Powers?”
“Ghost things,” said Ghostlight. “Evil eye, death touch. Intangible unless I think really hard.”
“Sure. If I were older.” Ghostlight sighed.
“How do I know I’m not dead?”
“Maybe the whole Silver Storm thing killed me and nobody’s telling me.”
“I have a stethoscope. I could check.”
“You have a stethoscope? Get real.”
“I was checking the tumblers on the vault when you guys came in. I just shoved it in the utility belt.”
“You have a utility belt?”
“Sure. It’s a perk.” Ninety-Nine thought a moment and crafted an illusion of a stethoscope: something recognizable as a stethoscope but futuristic. “Here. Listen to your heart. You’ll have to go solid.”
Ghostlight reached for it, then waved it off. “’S fine. I know you have it. I can ask any time I get worried, right?”
They sat in companionable silence for a moment. Ninety-Nine saw someone she knew go in, but since he wasn’t in costume he was almost certainly just casing the bank. She put her finger against her nose in recognition, but since she was invisible, he never noticed.
The Traynor House, Windsor
“Hey, dad,” Izzy said and gave her father a hug. “Not on the afternoon shift?”
“Command shift,” he said, and grinned. “Commanders gotta command.”
“She’s never talked about family in Vancouver before.”
“She went there once before, when you were a baby. If you want dinner, it’ll be takeout. I don’t feel like cooking tonight.”
“Takeout’s fine. It’s kinda creepy being around the room with Gilly being so…focused. You mind if I use the central database? Something came up across the river and I want to see if we have anything on it.”
“Knock yourself out,” said her father. “That Thai place fine with you?”
“Sure. Call me when you’re back.” Izzy headed downstairs to the secure hole.
The redacted report on Thornbird was mostly blacked out. Izzy found clear text mentioning her mother, and a mad scientist named Doctor Prometheus. She went to pull up the report on Doctor Prometheus, and was denied access.
She flexed her fingers, ready to start hacking, when she heard, “I’m back!”
La Vida Latte
The next morning, Hadley dropped by La Vida Latte for coffee. Sonia served him is long flat, and said, “Can I talk to you?” Hadley nodded. “Chris? I’m on break.”
She pulled him to the back, into the storeroom. Surrounded by milk containers and coffee bags, she said, “Do you have powers?”
Hadley said, “No.”
“Because I do. Everyone who was struck by lightning during the Silver Storm either got killed or got powers. You got struck by lightning and are not dead. QED.”
“Thirty-five people died, a hundred and fifty got powers, and seventy-five are still in cocoons, but presumably will have powers.”
“Well, I guess I’m the exception. Because there’s nothing unusual about me.”
She sighed. “Look, Hadley, maybe my powers aren’t great, but I got them after I touched you when you were hit by lightning.”
“I haven’t seen anything,” repeated Hadley. “I’m not unusual.”
“Here’s the thing,” said Sonia. “Doesn’t matter if you are. Allie’s missing.”
“Allie…the other barista?” Hadley as Volt had seen her apply to the Sentries. She was calling herself Chains then.
“Right. She’s missing. Maybe someone’s collecting Stormers. Maybe they think you’re a Stormer.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m sure there’s another reason.”
“Right. Her medication might have failed. But we don’t know.”
“She takes drugs for her anger issues, but her new metabolism burns through them too fast. So I found a source of dog pills—”
“Dogs have the same issue, and you can get them without a prescription. Don’t try it with antibiotics.”
“I wouldn’t try it at all.”
“That’s good. I used to be in med school—”
“So you’ve been getting this woman illegal prescription drugs—”
“Just until she could see a doctor! Between her powers and her rage, there could be a terrible problem!”
“This sounds totally dangerous, Sonia.”
“So is heroing, Hadley. Heroing is not being able to stand by and do nothing.”
“No, heroing is helping people.”
A knock came at the door. “Sonia? Can you stop having sex in there? Your break is over and I need more skim.”
“I’m not having sex! You can come in, Chris!” She turned to Hadley and said earnestly, “Be careful.”
As soon as he got to the office, Hadley called the Sentries call line and warned them. They’d never heard Hadley as anything other than Volt, so he wasn’t concerned about being identified.
Steel City Sentries Headquarters
Lunchtime. Mrs. Lipponen showed up to see Huitzil…or Vieno, as Mrs. Lipponen said.
“Vieno, I was thinking, we bonded so well during that whole attempted maiming-reunion thing, we should hang out more. Mother-child stuff.”
“I’m not sure that’s really—” said Huitzil.
“So I was thinking dinner and the museum. Tomorrow. They’ve got a whole exhibit on the rise of Hightower.”
“I, uh… I can’t guarantee it. Rampaging supervillains can happen at any time.”
“I see,” said Mrs. Lipponen, and she looked at the floor. There was silence.
Finally, Huitzil said, “Yes. Okay. I’ll go. If there’s no rampaging supervillain.”
“Great! I’ll pick you up here at half-past five?”
Huitzil forced a smile and nodded. Please let there be a rampaging supervillain.
Browder Stone Arms
“This is not a high-class building,” said Huitzil, stepping over an empty bottle.
“She’s a barista. What do you expect?” said Ninety-Nine. “I’ll check her apartment with remote senses.”
“That might violate her right to privacy.”
“Fine,” said Ninety-Nine. Without inflection, she said, “Oh, listen, my super senses have picked up a cry for help. I think it is coming from inside the apartment. Let me check.”
It was a small apartment. The bedroom was astonishingly tidy; the kitchen was not, although all the dishes were washed and stacked beside the sink. Not put away, though. Ninety-Nine counted three cats; the food bowl and the water dish were set up with multiple days’ worth of food and water.
“Looks like she expected to be away. Extra food for the cats.”
Huitzil knocked on the neighbor’s door. A plump old woman answered the door. “Aren’t you cute? Which superhero are you supposed to be?” She pinched Huitzil’s cheek and called, “Morrie, you got to see this.”
“I’m busy. I’m in the bathroom!” came a male voice from deep in the apartment.
“We’re actually superheroes, ma’am,” said Huitzil.
“I’ll bet. Is this some holiday, like that Mexican one in May?”
“No, ma’am. We’d like to talk to you about your neighbor, Allie.”
“Nice girl. I like her friend, too, the one that went to med school. No parties, no men. Very quiet. Sometimes the friend comes over. I’d volunteer to look after her cats but Morrie’s allergic.”
“I told you, I’m busy,” came at the mention of his name.
“If I even go near one, he starts wheezing, but we’ve been here for thirty years so why move?” She smiled. “We retired here. Had a dressmaking business in Queens, land is cheaper here and our son was here.”
“Don’t mention his name!”
“He married a goyim. So the grandchildren are not in the faith.”
“He’s dead to me!”
“So I guess Allie’s a Stormer now,” she said. “I saw some people talking to her, an alligator man and mound of tar. They were in the building. Mrs. Bosch, she’s a Stormer too.”
“Fourth floor. I know they talked to her because they referred to her when they were talking to Allie.”
“Do you know what apartment she’s in?” asked Ninety-Nine Percent.
Gig-A-Byte Internet Café, Windsor
Izzy didn’t want to be at home or her parents’ home while hacking airline databases. She paid for a large decaffeinated coffee and began to search. She had to be careful, but the protections weren’t anything unusual.
Her mother had bought an airline ticket for Vancouver but it was a connecting flight, Windsor to Toronto to Vancouver. At Pearson, she had switched planes to Ottawa.
From the report, Izzy knew that Thornbird was based in Ottawa. Innnnteresting, she thought. She called Sentries headquarters and explained that she had a family emergency to take care of. She wouldn’t be in the next day. From the tests, Izzy knew she could fly faster than a hundred miles an hour; a straight line flight to Ottawa was four hours. That would put her there by midnight.
Her coffee had gone cold. She dumped it, checked that she had her purse, and took off.
Browder Stone Arms
“Go away, I’m not interested.”
“We’re superheroes, Mrs. Bosch. We’re from the Steel City Sentries. Please open the door,” said Huitzil.
The door opened a crack. “Come in quickly.”
They stepped in. The room stank of cat litter, sour air, and something acrid-sweet. Mrs. Bosch stood there in a shredded nightgown: oily-tipped spines stuck out from her elbows, knees, wrists, shoulders, ribs, and thighs. She was perhaps seventy, all dried leather and spines. “The park,” said Huitzil. “You were there, with a stun gun. I remember.”
“Yeah. Great. That’s when all my troubles started.” She led them around the small half-wall to the living area. Huitzil noticed that she even had spines along her backbone. All the furniture was shredded. “I hoped you were the grocery delivery people. I can’t go out any more.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Have you seen these men?” Ninety-Nine briefly sketched a description of Gator and Tar Baby.
“Yeah. They wanted to talk to me. Had a list of Stormers. They were talking to all of’em. I didn’t want to talk to’em.”
“Good choice,” said Huitzil.
“Choice?” said Mrs. Bosch. “What choice? You’re the first people I let in since I came home from the hospital, and that’s only because you’re both women.”
Huitzil did not think it was the time to discuss gender binary norms.
“I got no clothes. You don’t have a spare keyboard? I broke mine. Mine got a spine through it. And during the war I was a typist! I can’t type F, G, and H any more. I can’t— Ah, hell.” In the dimness, Huitzil could see that Mrs. Bosch’s eyes had filled with water.
“I’m sorry about your cat,” said Ninety-Nine Percent. Mentally, she said to Huitzil, %Cat food and litter in the spare room.%
“Stupid cat,” said Mrs. Bosch. “She was fifteen, you know? Only friend I had since Klaus passed on. Couldn’t smell too good no more. Bad kidneys. And I drip. These things. They drip.” She paused for a long time, and then her breaths came fast and deep. “And he saw a puddle of this stuff after I showered and she, she, she licked it.”
“I’m sorry,” said Huitzil, feeling stupid.
“I didn’t know what to do with her. I got her in the freezer. Nobody got curing powers. Nobody can cure a damn dead stupid cat. All I can think of to do is stuff her. To keep her near.” She hit her hand on the end of the sofa, and broke it. Mrs. Bosch looked at it and started to snuffle.
“I can find you a taxidermist,” said Huitzil quickly.
“And we can get you some Uberwear,” said Ninety-Nine. “It won’t shred.”
“I’m still gonna look like this.”
“I’m sorry,” said Huitzil again. A deep breath later, Huitzil said, “We’re setting up a foundation to help people learn to manage their powers.”
“That’s right,” said Ninety-Nine. “Those who could afford it would pay but for you, free.”
%I have to know,% said Huitzil mentally. %Did that hurt?%
Steel City Sentries Headquarters
“We need an office manager,” said Huitzil as they huddled around the terminal in the kitchen.
“Hey,” said Ninety-Nine Percent. “I got it to print off a calendar of appointments.”
“Wait,” said Volt. “We have appointments?”
“Apparently so. Some of them are city officials but most are interviews with reporters. And bloggers,” she said, scribbling a name into an empty spot.
Volt read down the automated agenda. “Wait—we have interviews?”
Huitzil looked over his shoulder. “Remember? We had to leave the press conference so the mayor’s office planned interviews for us. One on one interviews, apparently.”
Volt sank into a chair. “We need a media liaison. Someone to do these interviews for us and be our face.”
“And handle our social media accounts. We can’t rely on the Vieno Lipponen Facebook statuses,” said Ninety-Nine. “Did you really tell people we were going out to catch bad guys?”
“I didn’t say where,” said Huitzil.
“We need to get someone yesterday,” said Volt.
“I know who to call,” said Huitzil.
“Oh, God, not the city,” said Volt. “They’ll send an intern.”
“Hightower’s people.” Huitzil held up the cell phone. “I have Bruno’s number.”
“Remind me who Bruno is.”
“Right. Wormtongue to Hightower’s Saruman.”
Rather than ask, Huitzil wandered into another room for privacy while calling.
“Wormtongue didn’t work for Saruman,” said Ninety-Nine.
“The point is valid,” said Volt just as the visitor light went on.
In the foyer were three Stormers. One man looked like some sort of ideal; the other was skinny and pocked by acne. The dark-haired woman carried an air of youth but she looked to be in her mid-twenties. All of them were carrying application forms.
“Hi,” said Volt, who spoke quickly to forestall mention of the Freedom Foundation. “You’re applicants?”
“Yeah,” said the skinny man. “The application said you want code name suggestions, too, so I’m Pufferfish!” He stuck out his chest proudly. “I can blow up into almost a ball, and bounce.”
“Uh-huh,” said Volt.
“And spit poison!”
“No, just paralyzing. I think it only happens when I’m inflated, though. I tried spitting in the bathroom and just got spit.” He shuffled between feet. “Pufferfish is good, though, right? I tried Bouncing Guy and Beachball and they just didn’t sound right. They didn’t have the, uh—”
“Gravitas?” suggested Ninety-Nine.
“Thank you.” Huitzil took the application from him. “And you’re his…friend?”
“We met in the elevator,” she said. She was wearing a Hello Kitty blouse and a pair of very short shorts. “Toxic Kitty,” she said. “I can paralyze people, or make them sick, or make them weak.”
“So you secrete poison, too?”
“No, I turn their sweat into poison. It’s kind of embarrassing how I found out. You want to know?” Toxic Kitty giggled.
“Oh, please, tell us,” said Ninety-Nine.
“Oh, please, don’t,” said Volt.
“All right, I will. But you gotta swear that it doesn’t go beyond this building.”
Huitzil looked at her. “The building?”
“Well, I already told the lady downstairs. Anyway, I was, like, having sex, and my boyfriend did something really good that I think he read about in one of those magazines he reads, and I didn’t want him to move from there, and boom, like, he was paralyzed.”
“I didn’t want to know,” said Volt.
“That must be embarrassing, discovering your powers during sex,” said Huitzil.
“It’s relatively common,” said Ninety-Nine Percent. “Sixteen percent of stormers. More common than school bullying.”
“How do you know this stuff?” asked Volt.
“I know bloggers.” She smiled at the two. “Are your email addresses on these? Good. We have something coming up—I shan’t mention it again.” She looked at the other man and her smile went from sixty watts to a hundred and twenty.
Huitzil walked out. “I got a couple of names from Bruno for both office manager…and I notice I missed some people.”
“Not important,” said Ninety-Nine Per Cent. “They were just leaving. And you, sir?”
“Hi,” he said. He waved to the other two as they left. “I call myself Tenfold, because I’m roughly ten times more at everything than the average man.”
“Everything?” asked Ninety-Nine, taking an obvious look at his crotch.
“I hope so. Ten times stronger, ten times faster, and…so on.”
“Do you want to test him?” Ninety-Nine Percent asked Huitzil, who looked horrified. “Not that way. I mean, spar with him. I’ll watch.”
“Since we have a combat room….”
The room on the third level had a hand-made sign on it that said “Scrap Yard”. Huitzil took it easy on him at first, but Tenfold seemed up to match her. “Healing abilities?” asked Huitzil between combinations.
“Not that I know of.” He didn’t sound winded. “Of course, I haven’t tested that.”
“You know what’s a good test?” Huitzil launched a flurry of feints and hits, most of which Tenfold blocked or avoided. “Falling a mile. That’s a good test.” Tenfold looked shocked and stepped back. “Not that I’d do it to you. Kind of hard on you if you don’t have healing facilities.”
“How’d he do?” asked Ninety-Nine over the speaker.
“Looked good from here.”
“Do you have a harassment policy?” asked Tenfold, grinning.
“Not yet,” said Huitzil, “but I can see that we need one.”
“Anyway,” said Tenfold, “let me show you this.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a card with a smear of tar on it. It was an invitation to an event at the Packard Automotive Factory, building 3. “That’s the abandoned assembly building.”
“Forty acres,” said Ninety-Nine. “Apparently the fire department won’t even go into it any more. They’ve declared it unsafe.”
Izzy tracked down the hotel that her mother was in and sat in the bathroom. She hacked into the hotel wi-fi to see what her mother was looking at online, if anything. It quickly became obvious that whatever her mother was doing, it was eating most of the bandwidth in the hotel.
A box appeared on her screen:
“Go home. This is Level 9 information and you are Level 5.”
Izzy left the hotel and found an all-night café with wi-fi. Her mother might have followed the correct protocols, but UNTIL was a big place, and some agents hadn’t. She started at the top, and after seventeen, she found someone who had used a guessable password. From there, she couldn’t get into reports, but she could get into emails.
UNTIL was indeed going after Thornbird. Her mother was going as the specialist on Professor Prometheus. The accessible files were heavily redacted but Izzy could read that Professor Prometheus he was a person of special interest to UNTIL because he might have evaporated/transformed six UNTIL agents. Thornbird became a Person of Interest when it became obvious she was using his technology. The current working theory was that Thornbird was Professor Prometheus’ daughter.
She got the time and place for the assault.
Packard Automative Plant
“There’s some kind of electrical power being used,” Volt said. “I can feel it.”
“Now we’re in my range.” Ninety-Nine tried to ignore Tenfold on the back of her hoverbike and cast her senses inside.
An abandoned factory. Posts. Lots of posts. The interior had been cleaned up. Dirt floor, though. Someone had stolen a lot of city benches and set them up around a ring. The ring was like a boxing ring, though it stretched in a square around eight of the posts and left the ninth in the center.
The area over the benches had been reinforced somehow. Perhaps so if Stormers broke the building, the audience wouldn’t be crushed?
Once side was walled with three rooms. She peeked inside. People were waiting in each of them. One of them was Allie—Chains.
The house looked harmless, but given that there were thirty UNTIL agents ready to raid it, Izzy doubted that was the case. She stared and stared at the wall, willing herself to have X-ray vision.
The wall melted away. Izzy saw…her mother. Packing. Except not packing clothes, packing electronic equipment into a large satchel.
She looked over to the command base, two blocks from the house, swarming with agents. Her mother was there.
With another woman who looked exactly like her mother.