Tuesday, 29 March 2022 00:00

Making a Noise in the World (Part 3)

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Forte's actions have consequences she never expected.

People and plans are in motion,

Choices must be made.

Will she make the right ones?





A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story

Making a Noise in the World

by Domoviye


Part 3


South Mountain, Phoenix
Monday, October 31st
Early Afternoon

Foot Long scratched at his arms. He could feel the nanites under his skin, crawling through his veins, digging into his flesh, making more of themselves before they went to his brain. As he waited for his friend, he stared at his bloody nails, something seemed to be moving through the blood. Was it a nanite?

His vision wavered.

“No! No! No!” he moaned. “Stay out of my brain!”

“Damn man, you OK?”

 He looked up, almost crying with relief at seeing his friend. “Bobby, I need your help. I fucked up big time.”

“I'm here for you man. Come on inside and sit down, when was the last time you slept,” Bobby asked, opening the door to his apartment.

Drawing his gun, Foot Long pointed it at his friend. “I'm sorry Bobby, I need everything you've got. Cash, drugs, everything.”

Raising his hands in the air, Bobby tried to calm things down. “Hey Conner, calm down. You don't need to do this. Sit down and talk to me.”

“I can't calm down! I need to get 50K by tonight or I am fucking dead.”

“Let's get in my car, I can drive you to my brothers in New Mexico. You keep your head down there for a few days, get your shit toge-”

“You don't understand! They're in my head already. She put them there. I need the money to get them out before they blow up. She already fucked up Clumsy. He had all the money and shit.”

“Who is she?”

“Forte! She blames us for Cannibal. She like a fucking terminator and she's going to destroy my brain. Now give me EVERYTHING YOU'VE GOT!” he shouted, his pistol pointing straight at Bobby's head.

Five minutes later Foot Long ran out of the apartment. All told he had about fifteen thousand dollars in drugs, and almost ten thousand in cash. Hopping into his car, he tried to think of where he could get the rest of the money.

His nails left long bloody gouges in his arms.

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Paradise Valley, Phoenix

Alastair leaned back in his chair, and gave his second in command a small smile. “Emma, thank you for coming so promptly,” he said, motioning for her to sit and accept the wine sitting in front of her.

“It was my pleasure, sir,” she replied, before taking a sip of her drink.

She didn't look like much. No one would look at the tiny, willowy woman and think she was the right hand woman of the second most feared cartel enforcer in the state, and that worked perfectly for him. While she had never killed anyone, or even overtly threatened a person, she was one of the reasons Alistair had been able to rise so high. The low level empath was truly gifted at reading people, being a highly intelligent, ice queen, who wanted money and power was an added bonus. He provided her the money and power she craved, and she helped ensure his operation ran smoothly.

“I want you to find a trusted middleman to buy some weapons for us,” he said.

“I assume this is for the new devisor you've been playing with?”

“Yes, I think she'll fit my plans quite well,” he replied

She tilted her head and looked at him curiously. “May I ask exactly how she fits?”

He nodded. “Did you ever watch Gilligans Island?”

Now she was very interested. “The shipwrecked people on an island? I saw a few episodes when I was a child.”

“Good. Forte is going to be Gilligan.”

“If I remember correctly, Gilligan was the idiot who always ruined the plans to get off the island. He wasn't exactly helpful,” she replied.

His smile grew bigger, it was always a pleasure to catch Emma by surprise, she had ears everywhere, even in his office, which was one reason he paid her so well. “Gilligan was an agent of chaos, naivety and stupidity, ruining everyone's plans, enemies and allies alike. We have many enemies, and they all have their many intricate plans to gain power, keep power, remove enemies, and gain allies. If I move one way, they each have three plans to deal with me. We are all bound up in threads, afraid to move, for fear of losing our balance and strangling ourselves.”

She nodded in understanding. “And our own enemies, and allies, are currently tightening their threads around our neck.”

“Exactly! I enjoy stability. I could happily stay like this until I retire, but my enemies won't let me. So I must show them that while I do well in the status quo, I thrive in chaos. And if my plans are destroyed in the process, it doesn't matter, I can always go back to my old ways.” He grinned, almost looking like his Cannibal persona.

“I can't cause the chaos myself, but given some time and quiet support, my little musician could. She has proven to have the ruthlessness, anger, and stupidity to go far, if she doesn't die first.” He hit a button and a holographic screen appeared, showing an article of Forte's attack on a local gang.

“So make sure she gets some money to build her toys, and a list of potentially helpful resources. If she doesn't use them properly, we can always kill her ourselves.”

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Central Village, Phoenix, Arizona

Natalie peered at her right hand, moving each individual finger singly and together, looking and feeling for any snags, friction, or faults. Picking up a paper cup, she frowned as it bent a little, it wasn't crushed and she could drink from it, so it was ultimately a success, but the feedback wasn't what she was used to.

“I guess this will do,” she muttered, leaning back in her seat.

Her once sleek prosthetic was now covered in clip on plastic parts up to her elbow, that not only made her limb a little bulkier, but looked almost like a toy. It was a common look for prosthetic limbs, avoiding the uncanny valley look of more realistic designs, and looking like something a superhero would wear. She'd worn one for a while after losing her limbs, but it had never felt right. She'd also hated looking different.

Now, she needed to look different. If she kept wearing gloves all the time, people would start wondering why she and Forte always covered their hands. But a teen girl with an obviously missing arm, there was no way she could be a supervillain. Now if only she could work up the courage to leave her home with it on.

Her alarm went off. It was time to meet her potential new customer, and then she'd need to deal with Foot Long. If he believed her about the nanites, he was probably getting pretty desperate by now. Smiling to herself, she wondered if her bluff had worked. He'd looked terrified when she'd lied to him, a long night worrying about his brain turning to mush couldn't have been nice.

 Unclipping the plastic pieces, which were to be kept as far from her business as possible, Forte went to get ready.

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Alhambra, Phoenix, AZ
Late Afternoon

Forte looked around the dingy fast food joint. “Gotta say, I preferred the mall,” she muttered to herself.

Her contact was sitting at a table out of line of sight of the counter and staff, a half eaten meal in front of him, recognizing him by his Phoenix Suns hat. Brushing aside a long brown bang that refused to stay in place, she'd decided halfway there to cut it off when she had a chance to take the wig off, Forte walked over and took a seat, putting her heavy backpack on her lap for easy access.

“Hello Mitch, I'm Forte,” she said.

“I know,” he said. “Foot Long told me what you look like, he didn't say that you'd look so out of place.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“The Hot Topics get up,” he waved at her outfit, his distaste extremely obvious. “You're like a little rich girl slumming it for kicks. You stick out, it's bad for your business.”

“Do you still want to do business, or did I waste my time?” she asked.

He leaned in close. “I want to know why you went after Foot Long and his crew? It seemed like you guys were pretty tight, doing some good business together.”

“They shouldn't have set me up to be ambushed by The Cannibal. I take being almost killed, then questioned by a psychopath a little personally.”

His eyes widened a little. “You survived The Cannibal?”

“No,” she said very clearly. “I survived his men who wanted to see if I was bulletproof. When I took all five of them down, The Cannibal decided I was worth talking to. Do you want to see the bruises?”

She had thought very carefully about how she would answer any questions about her attack on The Mountain Boys. She didn't want to seem like a crazy person who would attack people mindlessly, but she also didn't want people thinking she was lying about The Cannibal to make herself look good. Telling the truth seemed like the best option.

“All right. I can respect that.” His phone buzzed. “Hold up a second.”

Mitch got up, pulling something from his pocket, keeping it well concealed in his hand. Walking over to a guy and girl who had just come into the restaurant. He grabbed the guy by the hand, giving him a half hug, then walked back to the table. She saw him slipping a wad of cash into his pocket, as the pair went to the counter.

He saw her looking around a bit nervously, and gave her a smile that was almost a sneer. “Lighten up. No cops come here, and I give a discount to the staff to leave me alone. You really are fresh. Now, I need one of your silence domes, how much?”

Forte decided that even if Mitch was an asshole, his money was good enough. She was still going to charge him extra. Smiling, she named her price.

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South Mountain, Phoenix

Foot Long tore apart the room, leaving bloodstains on everything he touched. His arms were raw, open wounds, scabbed over in places, and weeping blood in others. He knew it was here somewhere, he just had to find it.

The front door opened.

“No, no, no, no,” he whispered. They weren't supposed to show up yet, he didn't want them to see him.

“Uncle Conner!” a child said. “Are you here to see daddy? He's in the doctors.”

“Hey there, Timmy,” he said. “I'm a little busy right now, how about you go and sit on the couch with your mommy and everyone else.”

Timmy gasped. “You're bleeding. Come on, mommy will get you a band-aid. Did you get hurt when daddy got hurt.”

Clumsy's wife came in, holding a baseball bat. “Conner, what are you doing here? And what the hell have you done,” she demanded, looking over the tossed room.

“Kat, I'm sorry,” Foot Long said, holding his hands up, hoping she would understand. “I need Clumsy’s stash. Forte did something to me, she's going to blow up my brain if I don't get her fifty thousand dollars tonight.”

“Get the fuck out of my house!” she shouted. “You're the one who shot that guy, which made everything go to hell. You are not getting my family's money. We need it for Howard. Do you have any idea what that bitch did to him? He'll probably never walk again.”

“I'm sorry! I didn't want any of this to happen! Give me the stash, and I'll pay you back, and I'll make sure you guys have enough to survive on until Clumsy gets better,” he said. “But for gods sake, I'm going to be even worse off than Clumsy if I don't get the money.”

She raised the bat. “You'll pay me back? How? You're a goddamn idiot, who only became important because you were Howard's friend. GET OUT!”

A baby started to cry in the living room, and Timmy had backed up against the bed, his eyes wide with fear and confusion as his uncle sobbed and his mother screamed.

“Mommy,” a little girl called, “Bobby's crying. What's going on?”

“Don't worry, honey, your uncle and I are just having a little argument. He's leaving now,” Kat said.

Foot Long scratched at his arm, drawing more blood. He had thirty three thousand dollars in cash and drugs, he'd sold everything he had, borrowed, begged and stolen from everyone he knew and a few he didn't. He was going to end up in the hospital, shitting his diaper, and never walking again. A spot floated in his vision.

He screamed in terror.

Grabbing Timmy, he pulled out his pistol and put it to the boys temple. “GIVE ME THE FUCKING STASH!”

 “Don't hurt my baby,” Kat said. “I'll give it to you, but don't you dare hurt him.”

Putting down the bat, she went to the bed and crawled underneath. He heard wood being moved, and then she came out holding a small portable safe. Placing it on the bed, she opened it for him, revealing several tightly bound stacks of bills, and five sealed bags full of different kinds of drugs.

“It's all yours, just give me Timmy and leave,” she said.

Pushing the child away, he practically fell on the small fortune. With shaking hands, he started counting out the money. He only needed seventeen thousand, Kat could keep the rest of it, and he'd pay her back. It would all work out, he just needed to get the nanites out of his head and he could make everything better.

The baseball bat came down on his back. He rolled to the side, the bat grazing his arm as it struck a second time. Kat moved around the bed, raising it a third time, aiming for his head.

Foot Long emptied his pistol into her.

“God no! Why did you do that!” he screamed at the dead woman.

Her children were screaming. Timmy ran to his mother, holding her as she bled out onto the carpet. Grabbing the entire stash, Foot Long ran out of the apartment, leaving his pistol.

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Clumsy's Apartment
Fifteen minutes later

Jackalope stood outside the door of the apartment, cradling a baby and two crying children, the oldest of whom couldn't be older than six and was covered in his mothers blood. He'd been walking nearby when his intuition had told him to cross the street and turn the corner. He'd heard the children screaming from the street.

Turning on his built-in camera, he asked, “Do you know who hurt your mommy?”

“Uncle Conner,” the boy sobbed.

“Why did he do it?”

“Said he needed money. He was yelling and crying and his arms were hurt bad.”

“Why did he need the money?”

“I don't know. He needed a lot or,” the child screwed up his face, trying to remember. “Or his brain would blow up.”

Jackalope gave him a squeeze. “Why would his brain blow up?”

“I don't know. He yelled about a fort, and he put his gun to my head and then he shot mommy.”

“Thank you. You are a very good and smart boy to remember all of that. You did a very good job,” he said, keeping his voice soft. Inside, hidden safely away, rage flared within him. He vowed that Forte would pay for this.

Sirens pulled up downstairs, the front door opened and people came running up the stairs. The cavalry had finally arrived.

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South Mountain, Phoenix
Late Evening

It was a little later than she had planned, but she had finally managed to find a quiet spot and was now waiting for Foot Long to show up.

For some reason the area was full of cops, clearly looking for someone. Fortunately they didn't seem to want her, they hadn't even given her a second glance as she walked along with her hands in the pocket of her hoodie. She was still nervous, which was why she'd taken extra care in picking a meeting place.

From her spot on the roof of a run down business, she scanned the area and a smile came to her face. Foot Long was stumbling along with a beat up laptop bag under his arm. Taking her time, she studied him, he'd sounded terrible on the phone, and seeing him in person, he looked like shit.

Whistling, her armour surrounded her. She jumped off the roof, her legs and armour taking most of the impact, and walked over to her former customer. “You got what I want?” she demanded.

He threw the bag at her feet. His eyes seemed dead, none of the cockiness that had filled them when they'd first met remained. She noticed that blood was dripping from his fingers, the sleeves of his shirt were oddly dark and stiff.

“It's all here?” she asked. Opening it up to see several bound stacks of bills and bags of drugs.

“Yeah. Cash and drugs, couldn't get it all in cash.” His voice was a monotone whisper.

She was about to ask him what she was supposed to do with the drugs, but his voice and eyes were utterly dead. She had wanted to taunt him a bit, ask him a few questions about the supervillain scene of Phoenix, ask him some clinical questions about the non-existent nanites, but he was actually freaking her out. For a moment, Forte wondered if she'd gone too far. She forcefully shoved that thought away, he'd been the one to betray her.

“Get on your knees, getting rid of the nanites will knock you out for a minute. I don't want you cracking your skull and getting your blood on my shoes,” she said.

Foot Long fell to his knees, like a puppet who'd had its strings cut. She winced at the thought of how much that had to hurt the knees.

“I keep my side of a deal. When you wake up, you'll be completely clean, the nanites will dissolve and be absorbed in a few hours. I never want to see or hear you again. if you try to come after me in any way, I won't be so nice next time,” she said.

He nodded, utterly defeated.

Placing her right hand on his head, she put him to sleep. That was probably a mercy, it looked like he hadn't slept in days. The job done, she looked around for any observers, then took off her armour. It was time to go home, she needed a shower.

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Central Village, Phoenix, Arizona
Tuesday, November 1st

Natalie clipped a black choker around her neck, adjusting it slightly to place the silver broach over her voice box. Tapping the broach twice, it hummed to life and then fell silent.

“I'm Forte,” she said. The choker tingled, causing her voice to sound much deeper and masculine.

Tapping a hidden wire on the side, she spoke again, her voice a barely understandable growl. “Your money or your life.”

Another tap made the choker heat up. “I'm going to fuck you up!” a chirpy three year old said.

The choker was becoming hot against her neck. “Muhahaha! I will conquer the world!” a witch cackled.

Taking the devise off, she giggled with delight. Once she worked out the bugs, it was going to be fun to use. It would also help make her a little harder to track, and it matched her new style. It was funny, two years ago she wouldn't have been caught dead looking punk, unless it was a costume for a show. Now it was her go to look. Being a supervillain with over fifty K in cash, and god only knew how much in drugs, was something else she wouldn't have thought would happen. She didn't know what was up with Foot Long, but he'd given her a hell of a lot more than she'd asked for, not that she was going to complain or give it back.

Falling onto the couch, Natalie picked up her phone and went to Villain Watch. Since her attempt at remaining mostly faceless had failed, it was time to see what type of name she was making for herself. The front page of the social media site was showing some fight from Italy between a goblin like villain and some hero dressed up like one of the three musketeers. Ignoring that, she searched for 'Forte'.

A page opened up, with her name and a C- at the top. She couldn't really complain about her ranking, she hadn't exactly done that much in front of a camera. It was also better to be underestimated than overestimated, she'd prefer not to have the heroes pulling the gloves off too soon.

There were videos of her 'fighting' Jackalope, the news conference where her codename was revealed, and a security camera from the bar showing a blurry image of taking down The Mountain Boys. Seeing herself in action brought a smile to her face, especially when she saw her sonic cannon work. At the time she hadn't been able to admire its effectiveness, now she could. Clumsy had been instantly put down, and everyone near him was stunned by the noise.

Surprisingly her page had about a dozen commentators having a go at trying to figure her out. They mostly seemed to be local, but one guy claimed to be from Sweden and liked her tech. He also complimented her figure, which made her smile.

There was a small but heated discussion about how old she was, most were guessing about twenty years old, a few thought she might be fifteen or sixteen and just looked older because she was a mutant. They seemed to have reached the conclusion that her codename was a reference to music and not about what she was good at. She almost wanted to confirm it, but held off, her phone wasn't exactly secure.

Then she got to the power ranking. These were ranked by letters, A being the lowest and G being the highest, a few supervillains had higher than G, but those were the biggest threats that required a virtual army to deal with. Each of the letters also had a bar graph, where the more obsessed members could see just how good the supervillain was in that area. These bar graphs had their own colour to make things easier. A was violet, B was blue, C was green, D was yellow, E was orange, F was red, and G was of course black.

It was all speculation of course. Cape and villain followers used pictures and videos to argue for hours about how powerful and skilled a particular person was until the majority sided with one or the other. And then it all started up again as soon as another video came out. When it came to strength, equipment and fighting skill, the site was actually pretty useful. For other powers, especially mental and magical powers, it left a lot to be desired.

While a couple of people were trying to say she had some special powers like shapeshifting or a psychic field that made people ignore her, to explain how she'd successfully gotten away with the bank robberies, they'd been shouted down pretty hard. She had to chuckle at some of their reasoning, they put far too much faith in people actually paying attention to what was going on around them.

The only three rankings listed for her were 'Fighting', 'Tech Development' and 'Combat Tech'.

As expected her Fighting rank was a low A. Natalie couldn't blame them, she really did have to find a trainer and time to learn how to fight effectively. But she had to wonder what they would think if they had seen her taking out the five hitmen.

Turning her attention to Tech Development, her eyes went wide.

“What the hell?!” she shouted. They had her as a rank B, and were currently arguing if she was a low or mid level. Did they have any idea how hard it was to create a metal that would go from liquid to a solid using simple sound? Getting it to do that had taken her months of work. She was at least a mid level D, and once she got a workshop going, getting up to E rank would be easy.

She was somewhat mollified at seeing they had her combat tech as a mid C. She could one shot a superhero, her cannon had impressed them, and jumping over twenty feet straight back without losing her balance was considered impressive. The argument for the last one was that most virtually skin tight power armour, couldn't enhance the users strength that much, so it had raised her from a low C to the current mid C.

“How little they know,” she muttered, tapping her leg.

She spent some time going over other Phoenix based villains to see if anything had changed for them since she'd last checked. The Sewer Queen's dead dogs had been seen out in Casa Grande, which was just on the outskirts of where she usually roamed. Speculation was running rampant on what was going on there, ranging from scouting out a potential enemy, assassinating someone who had annoyed her, expanding her territory, or meeting someone on neutral territory.

Natalie shivered at the photo of the pack of rotting dogs that had mushrooms growing out of their eyes and bodies. While the Sewer Queen had never attacked a civilian, no one wanted to be near her or her army of undead things that could be found in the Phoenix storm drains and sewers.

The only other bit of interesting news was some blurry webcam video from Chandler. That place usually wasn't in the news, being pretty safe and boring compared to the rest of the Phoenix metro area. That could be changing though, a tiny werewolf was running around at night. Natalie smirked, the werewolf really was a little thing, judging from the car it ran past, it had to be under five feet tall. Not very intimidating.

“Are you a villain, a hero, or some mutant out for a nightly jog?” she asked. Maybe she could go and sound them out. They were probably just as new as she was, but having a partner would make things easier, and they may know a bit of the local crime scene, which she desperately needed help with.

Finally she shook her head, it wasn't worth the risk. If it was some budding hero, it would draw unnecessary attention to herself. And if it was just some teen going for a jog, going and asking if they wanted to be a supervillain would make her look like an idiot. Best to ignore the little wolf until she had to deal with them.

Her break over, she went to her workroom, putting on her gas mask as soon as she stepped through the door. The filter hummed with every breath, the special frequency breaking apart the harmful fumes, leaving breathable air in its place with just a slightly higher than average oxygen content.

Putting on a pair of rubber gloves, she took a roll of aluminum foil and went to her soup pot of sonic metal. Lifting the lid off revealed a mound of silvery metal shaped much like a mushroom top. Ripping off a piece of foil, she draped it over top of the metal, and listened to the faint plinking sound that rose from it. The foil became duller, small cracks developed on the surface as it was absorbed into the growing sonic metal.

The plinking sound became louder.

It took five minutes for the foil to be completely absorbed. Behind the mask Natalie grinned, this batch was working 25% faster than her older batch. She couldn't wait to harvest it. Ripping up half of the foil, she filled the pot, put the lid back on and left the room, her mind dancing with ideas.

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Tempe, Phoenix, Arizona
Friday November 4th

Forte stepped into the small office, carefully looking around, while trying not to look nervous. The other day she'd gotten a call from a man who claimed to be working as an agent for a potential client, and had set up the meeting. She couldn't tell if he was legitimate or not, but couldn't turn down a potential customer. She'd spent the last four hours nervously watching the small, relatively new building for any signs of an ambush, not that she really knew what to watch out for. She'd seen Jackalope off in the distance earlier, and had almost bolted, until he left looking frustrated. Other than that, it looked OK.

Now she was wearing a nice outfit that was perfect for the office, tan pants, a white turtle neck sweater that was great for the cool day, a brown vest, and white leather gloves. With her shoulder length dirty blonde wig, and makeup making her seem more mature, she looked like a young business woman who was dressed and ready for success.

No one would be able to guess that the vest was actually quite heavy, being filled with sonic metal. It was the last of her old suits, the other two being used for parts. It was also her weakest one, being little more than body armour. Which was why her satchel had several shrieks, boomers, and her sleep gun.

A well dressed middle aged man stood up to greet her. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Forte. Please take a seat.”

“Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Jackson,” she replied, gratefully taking a seat. She'd woken up with her left stump sore and itchy, putting on her leg had not been fun or easy. Still she couldn't risk losing a potential client, so it was a case of grin and bear it.

“My client has seen the effects of your devises, and is interested in purchasing several of them for security,” he said, getting straight to business.

“I have a few devises ready to go that I think would suit their purposes. I'm also working on several others that should be ready by the end of the month, after testing for quality control,” she replied. Reaching into her satchel, she pulled out her basic security alarm. “You mentioned wanting to keep certain rooms secure. You can stick this devise to metal, wood or plastic by squeezing the sides, then squeeze it again to remove it. When it's in place press the button on the side, and if it's dislodged it will cause a blinding headache to anyone within five feet, while alerting everyone for several hundred yards. Traditional means of disabling it won't work.”

He picked it up, studying the faint yellow line running through it. “This uses your special metal?”

“Yes, Mr. Jackson. It's a solid piece of sonic metal. It's relatively simple inside, so while its a devise, it won't break down for quite a while. The first one I made a year ago is still in working order. It will need periodic recharging, a typical wireless charger will work.” She allowed herself a small smile at one of her successes.

“And how do I disable it from the other side of the door?”

“I can provide a small key fob, that when placed against the door will use a specific series of harmonics to deactivate it. Generally I set one fob to one alarm, but I can change any number of alarms to work with it,” she said.

Nodding, he looked interested. “When you attacked that gang, you used a devise to put the bouncer to sleep. Is that for sale as well?”

Reaching into her satchel again, she pulled out the sleep gun. “I have a working copy here, but I'm not quite satisfied with it. The range is very poor and aiming it is a bit hit or miss. It's one of the devises that is being worked on, I'm currently debating creating something like a dart gun which can fire a small sleeping devise, or a tactical whip for hand to hand combat. Both devises would have to connect to the head to put the target to sleep.”

Mr. Jackson leaned back in his seat, putting his fingers together as he thought. “Start work on the tactical whip idea. When it’s ready I'll have some people test it out.”

“I'll get right on it,” Forte said.

“Now about your shriek and boomers, I'll want ten of both, along with five of your alarms and two fobs for all of them. When can I have them?” he asked.

“It will take a few hours to get the alarms and fobs synced up, and I'll want to give everything a last check. So lets say tomorrow afternoon at one. Will you want me to deliver them, or will you have someone pick them up, I know a good place to do the pickup.”

“Very well. Now about the price, I know how much you charged The Mountain Boys for their weapons. I believe it's a little high.”

Forte bit back a quick retort, she thought she'd given them a pretty good deal. “What were you thinking would be a better price?”

He placed a paper on the table. “You're very new to Phoenix, and my connections tell me you don't know who to talk to or where to go, to make things a little easier on yourself. This list has the names and numbers for doctors who don't ask questions, certain places that have things you will require, and places you can go to hire help. How much is that worth to you?”

Forte couldn't help it, her eyes lit up and her jaw dropped. If it was true, that list was worth everything she was selling today. “That would be useful. As for how much it's worth, are you thinking this will be a one time deal, or would you like a long term relationship?”

He smiled. “Let’s look at the long term.”

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Forte's Home
Early afternoon

Natalie took the lid off her batch of sonic metal. She'd have preferred letting it build up a little more, there was a nice layer of ready metal, but it was going to be annoying to peel it from the starter. Unfortunately she needed the metal if she was going to make the alarms. She only had one of the new designs, she'd shown Mr. Jackson, the rest were activated by whistling. She had perfect pitch, so they worked for her, most people didn't have that skill.

Holding a tuning fork over the metal, she tapped it with a rubber hammer, creating a clear, perfect A note. She could have created a devise that generated a frequency of 440 Hz, but she preferred the traditional method, it reminded her of when she still played.

The sonic metal reacted to the sound, cracking and splitting into pieces. If there had been more ready metal it would have formed one neat crack down the middle, letting her peel off two large pieces. Instead she spent several minutes picking and peeling tiny chunks of the finished metal from the unfinished layer beneath it. It was finicky work, and she had to use tweezers to get the smallest pieces, carefully placing each piece and crumb into a metal bowl.

She fed the starter with more foil and sealed it up again. Then taking the bowl of sonic metal, Natalie put it in the middle of her speakers set up, hitting the play button on her laptop. The sonic metal reacted to the harmonics melting into a puddle. She dropped the prepared copper wires into the puddle, and looked away as they began to glow. She'd put in more copper than usual to help make up for the limited amount of sonic metal, it wouldn't hurt the finished product, and might even make it stronger.

Once the copper and metal were done bonding, she divided the metal into four small trays, hooked them up to separate car batteries, and started a new sound program. As Natalie watched the metal vibrate and form itself into tiny rectangles, she winced a little at the thought of how expensive her electricity bill was going to be. Her devises were a little power hungry.

Seeing the process was working nicely, she left her workshop, and collapsed on the couch. Pulling off her pants, she removed her left leg, forcing herself to look at the stump. Her skin was a brilliant red, and the bottom of the stump was developing a nasty bruise. She rubbed some antibiotic skin cream onto her leg, wincing as it felt like thousands of needles were piercing her flesh.

Taking off her right leg, she saw a similar red rashes forming around her thigh. Now that she was actually looking at them, they stung a little. The rash on her left leg must have started a few days ago and she simply hadn't noticed.

“OK, I need a doctor,” she said.

Looking over the contact list she'd been given as a down payment, with a not quite vocalized threat that bad things would happen to her if she didn't meet her end of the deal, Forte called the number simply labeled medical.

A machine picked up, and while it nattered on about health insurance, she tapped in a long set of numbers.

"Morris and Associates. How can I help you?" a young man asked.

“Hello, I'm Forte. I need to get an appointment for my legs,” she said, not quite sure how she was supposed to set up an appointment with a back alley doctor.

“You're a first time patient, correct?”

“Yeah. I only recently came to Phoenix.”

There was a pause and the sound of typing. “Are you free in the next hour? And will you be in an obvious costume?”

Forte looked around, the alarms would take a few hours to form, and once they were done, the program would shut itself off. She really didn't have anything else to worry about. “Yeah, I should be able to get wherever you are by then. And no costume, just a disguise.”

He gave her an address that wasn't too out of the way. “Someone will meet you there. Come alone.”

Thanking him, she hung up, hired an Uber and got ready to go.

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Camelback East, Phoenix

Jackalope knelt on the roof of a parking garage watching the street below, looking for Forte.

He could usually find crimes just by following his hunches. He'd been tentatively listed as having precognition when he was a teenager, and years of use had improved it. The problem was it wasn't very good at finding things he really wanted, it was more general, focusing on things that were close by. To find someone it was almost useless.

However he'd found a way to combine his luck manipulation and his precognition. By focusing on something, usually a person, using his manipulation and 'pushing' very hard, he could sometimes get an idea of where he should go. It wasn't easy, and too much of it would give him a migraine, but it had proven invaluable sometimes.

And that was why he was here. Driving around the city he'd felt a pull to come this way, and sitting here it just felt right.

The place was mostly offices with a few small stores on the bottom floor, so there wasn't much foot traffic. Was she inside one of the offices doing business with a crooked owner? Or did she rent a place nearby for her base of operations?

A young woman came into sight walking down the street.

Pulling out a pair of binoculars, he got a closer look. She was limping, clearly in pain from the way she grimaced with every step. And she had a prosthetic arm, a colourful plastic one like he'd seen children and teen amputees using. Could that be Forte? Prosthetics could be changed.

As he watched, she kept shifting her arm, covering it with her left hand, then uncovering it, putting it into her jacket pocket, then struggling to pull it out. She even glared at it for a moment.

He thought about going down to talk to her, or getting a closer look, but decided not to. A hero bothering a young woman, who was having a bad day, and an amputee at that, that would look great on social media. Shaking his head, he decided it wasn't Forte. There was nothing confident about the girl, she looked like a nervous wreck.

Putting away the binoculars he got into his car and started it up. It seemed like today was one of those days where his powers just didn't want to work with him.

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Wincing with every step, Forte cursed her legs. It hadn't been so painful when she didn't know how bad the rash was, now that she did, every move was agonizing. She almost wished she had her wheelchair again. The fact she also had the plastic disguise covering her prosthetic arm made her feel even worse. The clearly fake arm was drawing too much attention, she felt like eyes on her and didn't like it.

She came to the place, a large parking garage. Leaning against a handrail close to an elevator, she looked around for any sign of life. It was actually kind of creepy, being all alone in the garage, waiting for a stranger. With her long skirt she really wasn't dressed for trouble either,. Even with her backpack armour, running or fighting in the skirt would be annoying. But putting on a pair of pants would make getting her legs off for the doctor a real pain.

Five minutes into her wait, she looked at her phone to make sure she was in the right place.

Then the elevator dinged and a man stepped out. “Sorry about the wait,” he said, sounding like the person she'd spoken to on the phone. “If you'll come with me, we can get you checked in immediately.

Getting into the elevator, Forte began to hum, her fingers tapping her thigh.

The man hit a few buttons on the elevator and they went down further down than there were floors. They came out in a lobby that wouldn't be out of place at a small town doctors office, her humming got louder.

“I just need to ask you a few questions before Doc Morris sees you,” he said, pulling out a tablet.

“Yeah. Yeah sure,” Natalie said. Her mind flashing back to the painful weeks spent in the hospital not that long ago.

“You said you have a problem with your legs, what exactly is the problem?”

Biting her lip, she lifted her skirt, revealing her prosthetics. “My stumps have a bad rash, and my left stump is developing a bruise around the bone. I didn't feel it until today.”

“How long have you had the prosthetics?”

“These ones, about two months. I've had a few different types in the last year and a half.”

“Any previous problems with these in particular?”

 “No. I made them myself to deal with problems like this.” Her fingers began tapping the counter.

 “How did you lose your limbs?”

 “An explosion. Took my legs and right arm,” she said, through gritted teeth.

The rest of the questions were easier, just her blood type, allergies and similar. Then she was led to a room where a grey haired man in a lab coat, and a woman in scrubs were waiting for her. She had to stop in the doorway, with her eyes closed for a few moments, concentrating on her breathing, before she could step into the room.

“Hello Forte, I'm Doc Morris, and this is my nurse Isabella. Please take a seat on the bed and remove your prosthetics,” the doctor said.

“Yeah. Ok,” Natalie said, taking off her backpack. With tiny steps, she moved to the bed, lifting her skirt as she sat. Her left hand shook as she took off her left leg. Trying to take off her other leg, her right hand spasmed. She got it under control and was able to take it off.

Covering her underwear with her skirt, she revealed her stumps and looked away.

“Do you have a phobia of hospitals?” Doc Morris asked.

Natalie realized she'd been humming rather loudly. “Spent way too much time in them recently. I can handle it.”

“If it gets too hard for you, I can give you a mild sedative to help,” he offered.

“No. I'll deal with it. Let’s just get this over with,” she said.

He glanced at her leg, nodded, then took one of her prosthetics and looked inside. Pressing his finger into the padded socket where her leg went, he glanced at her, then went back to studying the prosthetic. A minute later, he put it back down. “Isabella, can you clean the rashes with the #3 antibacterial cream.”

“So what's the problem?” Natalie asked, staring up at the ceiling.

“Contact dermatitis, caused by a build up of natural oils, sweat, dead skin and soap residue. How often do you clean your prosthetics?” he asked.

“Every night. When they recharge, a devise inside breaks down the sweat, oil and other stuff, I know how to keep myself clean,” she said, feeling a little insulted.

“Not clean enough, there's still traces of all of it in the padding. Were you told about compression socks by your former doctor?”

She nodded, her mind only half on the doctor. The rest of her attention was desperately trying not to think about the nurse who was busy rubbing cream on her stumps.

“Why aren't you wearing them?” he asked.

“My legs and arm mold themselves to fit my body when I put them on. They keep the swelling down and are a lot more comfortable.”

He nodded, seemingly placated by that. “You have three problems. First, you need to remove and properly clean the padding in your prosthetics. Replacing and cleaning them everyday will keep the chances of developing rashes or infections down.”

That would be annoying, it would take a whole day at least to make them replaceable. Still she nodded, a bit of work to avoid painful rashes was an easy decision. “And the second?”

“You need to use more padding. For regular use, you've created a nice design. But you aren't using them in the regular way. If you don't increase the padding by at least half, you'll risk severe injury to your vestigial limbs. You have the bone pressing directly into your flesh, which it isn't designed for. Without the padding, you'll get bruising, internal bleeding and a severe risk of infection. Your remaining leg bones will also lose some density and strength over time. Again, normally not a serious concern, but if you're going to be fighting, jumping extreme distances and other things the baseline human leg doesn't normally do, it raises the risk of fractures and bone splinters. If any of these get bad enough, it could lead to further amputation of your limbs,” he said.

A wave of dizziness overcame her. The nurse grabbed her shoulders before she could fall off the bed. They couldn't cut her like that again. She couldn't go through that again. She wouldn't go through that again.

Doc Morris handed her a cup of water and a pill.

“What's this?” she asked, trying not to drop the cup.

“A very mild sedative. It will help calm you down.”

“I don't want it,” she said, realizing that she sounded like a stubborn child, but she couldn't help it.

He put the pill directly into her hand. “You're on the verge of fainting or having a panic attack. This is doctors orders, take the pill or I'll get a needle.”

Very grudgingly, Natalie realized he was right. Popping it into her mouth, she used the water to wash it down. Almost instantly she felt a little calmer. When she was certain she wasn't about to faint, she said, “You said there were three things, what's the third?”

“Get over your disgust at your disability.”

“What?!” She hadn't been expecting that.

“You haven't once, willingly looked at your residual limbs. From the way you designed your prosthetics it seems you want to deal with them as little as possible. When you wash, do you look at them?” he asked.

“No,” Natalie replied, looking away.

“I thought so. If you had, you would have noticed the rash starting much sooner, letting it get this bad is almost self abuse,” he said.

“It's not that easy.”

His voice became a little softer. “I'd recommend therapy, I can set you up with a person who is very discreet.”

“Tried therapy, it didn't go well,” she said, thinking about the numerous support group meetings and therapy sessions her parents had insisted she go to.

He patted her shoulder. “If you really don't want to go that route, you should find someone you can talk to. Can you at least promise me you will look at your limbs when you wash them?”

She nodded, not trusting her voice.

“All right, that's good enough for now,” he said. “Do you have anything else you're worried about?”

She shook her head, then remembered something. “Wait. Do you know where I can do some power testing, without the MCO or anyone knowing?”

“We can do that here, Robert will set it all up before you leave,” he said. “I'll let you get sorted then. Take the bottle of cream, rub it on in the morning and at night until the rash goes away. Store it in the fridge, it will last for a year in case you need it again.”

“Thanks,” she replied as he and the nurse left.

She leaned against the wall, letting the sedative work, softly humming to herself. When she trusted herself to move, she slipped her prosthetics on, grabbed her backpack and left the room. In the waiting room the receptionist met her.

“Forte, are you free on the thirteenth for powers testing? You should clear the day for it,” Robert said.

She nodded, just wanting to leave now that her leg was feeling better and she was sure she wouldn't collapse.

“All right, I'll set that up for nine in the morning. Now, how would you like to pay your bill?” he asked, handing her a piece of paper.

Her eyes went wide at the numbers and she felt like fainting again. “Do you take cash?” she squeaked.

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Glendale, Phoenix Metropolitan Area
Monday, November 7th
Late Afternoon

Forte was glad to be out and about. She'd spent the last two days in her workshop, with her only real break being a short trip to deliver the order to Mr. Jackson. The rest of her time had been taken up with making her alarms, and then improving her legs. She'd stayed up until six that morning getting the new padding to fit comfortably while still being removable. And she still had to work on her right arm, that was going to be a pain, with only her left arm to do everything.

So after waking up a little after noon, she'd decided to take it easy for the rest of the day. It was time to get a drink, a nice meal, and meet some people.

“Outlaw's Tavern,” Forte said, reading the graffiti . “They aren't exactly subtle about who they are.”

The place was at the back of a run down building, which had a big sign offering cheap office space. It was covered in graffiti and a lot of the windows were cracked, possibly from bullets. This was the kind of place she would have gone around the block to avoid before she'd decided on her career. Now, she opened the battered door like she owned the place.

Stepping inside, she found the interior was much nicer than the exterior. Old country music was playing quietly, the tables and floor were immaculate, and the decor was muted. There was a bar off to the side and a row of stools for the drinkers. A handful of customers turned to look at her, and that's where things got odd.

A man and a woman were sharing a bottle of wine and holding hands. He had a tacky green costume that looked like it was made of hundred dollar bills, while she was wearing armour that looked like it was pure gold. She recognized them from Villains Net, Mr. Green and Carat.

Another person didn't have a costume, but his face was way too handsome to be a baseline, the way his eyes seemed to be made out of flames was another clue that he wasn't strictly normal.

Before she could study the rest of the room, a very large woman got up from her chair. Forte looked up at her, guessing she was about nine feet tall, then she realized that the woman also had four arms, each one thicker than her waist.

“Turn around girl, your kind isn't wanted here,” the bouncer said.

Forte almost turned around and ran for the door. She managed to stop herself and took off her gloves. Holding up her metallic right hand that had glowing yellow lines all through it, she forced herself to smile. “How about now?” she asked.

The bouncer looked her up and down, nodded and stepped aside. “You're good.”

Walking over she took a seat at the bar. The bartender, dressed up in a red vest, white shirt and black trousers, came over. “Welcome to Outlaw's Tavern, I'm Delany, the owner and bartender. And you would be?” he asked, even though he clearly knew her codename simply by glancing at her hand, despite her waist length, red wig.

“Forte,” she said. “You've got a nice place here.”

“Thank you, my customers' comfort and privacy is my top priority. And speaking of comfort, what can I get you?”

“A ginger beer, please.”

“Alcoholic or non-alcoholic? We don't card people here,” he said, giving her a cheerful smile.

“Non-alcohol for now.”

A bottle and a glass full of ice appeared in his hand. Placing the glass in front of her, he popped the cap and held it above her glass for a moment. When she didn't say anything he filled her glass. “Would it be prying if I ask what brings you here?”

“Decided it was time to meet some new people, learn a bit about the community, maybe make some deals,” she said.

“You've come to the right place,” Delany said. “If you hang around here long enough, people will get curious. If you want to leave a message for someone, just ask myself or one of our servers, we'll pass it on, for a reasonable tip. Or if you need someone with a special skill, I can make sure the right people hear about it.”

“For a reasonable tip, of course?

He grinned at her. “Nothing in life is free, except the peanuts,” he said, placing a bowl of shelled peanuts in front of her.

Forte had to chuckle at the cheesy line. She could like it here. Taking a sip of her drink, she was surprised at how good it was, the type she usually got wasn't nearly so flavourful.

Delaney excused himself for a moment when a server with knee length inky black hair that writhed and shifted came up. A moment later a bottle of expensive looking wine and two glasses appeared out of nowhere on the bar.

“You're new to Phoenix?” he asked.

“Yeah. I visited a lot in the past, but now I'm living here. Just the typical small town girl wanting to make it in the big city.”

It was his turn to chuckle. “Since you're here, I wouldn't consider you very typical. Would you like a bit of advice I give most people new to the business? Just a few tips for working in Phoenix.”

She raised her eyebrow. “I thought nothing was for free?”

“Call it a long term investment. The more you know, the more likely I am to get a repeat customer.”

“I can get behind that. Lay it on me.”

“Avoid working with Flame Fist, he has a... thing for young women, and a few have disappeared or died while working with him.”

Delaney's face was very serious as he spoke, with no trace of the cheerful bartender that had been there seconds before. She nodded, and was happy to see the smile return.

“You already know about how important a reputation is, that will save some time. At least I assume that's why you took out The Mountain Boys after they set up your meeting with The Cannibal.”

“How do you know about that?” Forte asked.

“Phoenix supervillains have a precarious position. We have the law on one side, and the very wealthy, vicious and organized cartels on the other. Any independent Phoenix supervillain is either very powerful, very smart, or is small enough to be ignored,” he explained. “For a devisor like yourself, it's even more dangerous. Your skills make you a high value item. You have more eyes on you than you know.”

The ginger beer suddenly didn't taste so good. The Cannibals words ran unbidden through her mind, “You'll probably end up dead or enslaved, but if you survive, the Cano family may have some business with you in the future. Remember this moment, and think very carefully on it when naming a price.” She took another sip from her drink trying to hide her fear.

He must have seen her shudder. “You've already made a decent start at your reputation. People know you have some fight in you, that will help keep a lot of the bottom feeders looking for an easy edge from bothering you.”

“Thanks,” she muttered. “Anymore advice?”

“Always pay your tab. People in your career exist on favours and debt. Cash is good, but a favour can save your life. If you welch on a deal without a very good reason, you will find yourself with no friends and a lot of enemies. More than one new hotshot has made a deal then broke it for one reason or another. Most of them are in an unmarked grave, prison, or were shown the errors of their ways and paid up. You show you're trustworthy and not stupid, life is a lot easier.”

“So no promises I can't keep, I can do that.” She'd already figured that being an 'honest' weapons dealer was the best way to go, it was all part of her future reputation. It was still useful advice.

“Don't start off trying to take over the world. Selling to gangs and baseline criminals at first isn't a bad idea, it lets you build up your reputation and if things go wrong you can handle it personally. But remember that vengeance is bad for business. Defend your reputation, but think ahead and make sure you're helping yourself, not just making yourself feel better.

“And that leads into the most important rule. Know what you want and realize when you've gotten it. Don't be one of those people who rushes from one thing to another like a toddler with ADHD. And when you've achieved your goal, short term or long term, come here to celebrate, and then plan the next step. People not realizing when they've won, has caused too many disputes to escalate from being something both sides could walk away from, to a bloody mess. Walking away, alive and with your freedom, from The Cannibal is a win. Learn from it, plan for a possible rematch, but accept the win and keep moving towards your main goal,” he said.

Forte nodded. She'd already done that, but it was good advice. Then the tiny voice in the back of her head asked if maybe she had gone too far with the Mountain Boys. She pushed it away, even if she had, it was too late to fix it now, best to move on.

“And the last bit are the basic rules of the bar. Don't lead any heroes here. Don't start a fight, we have security for that. No major crime happens in the bar. You can make deals, talk about your plans, and other things, but if it would bring a superhero and an MCO tactical team here, please go somewhere else,” he said with his trademark grin.

She nodded. “Easy enough. But why don't the superheroes bust down the door and arrest everyone?”

Delaney leaned in close, and lowered his voice a little. “My customers are the type who can break bones by patting someone on the back too hard, sometimes forget that they can shoot laser beams from their eyes while drunk, have hair trigger anger issues and carry weapons that can take out a tank. What do you think would happen if they were getting drunk in a regular bar?”

Forte thought of the armour concealed in her backpack, and her prosthetics. “Yeah, that's a disaster waiting to happen.”

He nodded in agreement. “So I make sure no one does anything too stupid or illegal here, the heroes and police turn a blind eye, and my customers get a nice place to relax, enjoy a drink and have a nice meal.”

Putting a hundred on the bar, Forte stood up with her drink. “Thanks for the advice. If you know anyone who is looking for a devisor, I'd appreciate it if you gave them my name.”

“I'll be sure to do that,” he said.

She went to a nearby table and had a seat, it was time to see how good the food was.

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Outside Outlaw's Tavern
Early Evening

Jackalope sat in a doorway smoking a cigarette. He was out of costume, hoping that he might have more luck finding Forte if he was a little less obvious. A hunch had brought him close to Outlaw's Tavern, a place he generally avoided due to the unspoken arrangement between the owner and the side of justice. He wasn't planning on doing any crime fighting, he just wanted to find Forte and follow her.

Across the street, a young woman with long red hair came walking out of the alley leading to the villains bar. Her age, height and location were already pretty good evidence she was Forte, the gloves all but confirmed it. As casually as possible he got to his feet and followed her.

He realized this was well over the line of personal, and he didn't care. He knew it was irrational, but he took the deaths and violence that Forte had caused personally. The memory of the three kids, especially the boy covered in his mothers blood, wouldn't leave him alone. He'd been the first person to see her, and he'd utterly failed to stop her.

She didn't go very far, crossing to his side of the street to wait at a bus stop. He stopped as well, keeping a few yards away and looking at his watch, while he considered his options. If there were more people he could pickpocket her backpack, getting her wallet, phone or some sort of ID. Talking to her was out, he was a bit too old for her and would come off as creepy, and she would probably give him a fake name. He'd have to keep following her and see what happened.

A bus came and she hopped on, he was a few feet behind her.

He watched as she got the last free seat, putting her backpack on her lap with her arms tightly wrapped around it. Pickpocketing was definitely out. He stood while away from her, keeping watch from the corner of his eye.

Ten stops later, he followed her off the bus, then watched as she checked her phone and sat on the bench to wait for another one.

Didn't she have a vehicle of her own, he wondered? What would she do if she needed to make a quick getaway or had to do something at night or where buses weren't running, use a rideshare?

He wished she was being a bit less observant. If she stopped looking around so much, he could try to get her picture and do a facial recognition search. The only photo's they had of her actual face weren't clear enough to do a decent search.

Leaning against a wall, he waited to see what bus she was going to catch next.

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Forte stood in the uncomfortably cramped bus, trying not to look straight at the guy following her. She wasn't certain he was following her, but she'd seen him outside of Outlaw's, and then he'd followed her onto two buses. It could be a coincidence, unfortunately in her career she couldn't trust coincidences.

She didn't recognize him, dark brown hair, a tan, an old plain shirt and light blue jacket, he wouldn't stand out in a crowd. So was he from The Cannibal, a friend of the Mountain Boys, working with someone else, law enforcement?

At least he wasn't too close to her. That gave her some options.

The bus stopped, one or two people got off, but several more got on, making it even more cramped. The potential follower got closer to her.

Something needed to be done to lose him.

Squeezing past some people, Forte made her way towards the door, coming to a stop surrounded by men, with a well dressed woman close by. There was another stop, letting more people come on, and her tail was almost on top of her. If she was going to do something it had to be by the next stop.

Very slowly and casually she slipped her right hand through the small space between two of the men. She was barely breathing, planting her feet to avoid bumping into anyone as the bus moved, silently praying the people around her were too lost in their own little worlds to notice her arm.

The bus started to slow down for the next stop.

As the door opened, she grabbed the woman's ass, squeezing it hard enough to hurt, while driving her middle finger into the crack.

The woman screamed in shock, anger and pain.

Whipping her hand back, Forte used the confusion to shove her way through the door, and took off running down the street. From the uproar behind her, she had at least a few seconds to get a good head start.

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Jackalope cursed as he watched Forte run away. There was no way for him to get through the confused mess of people by the door, as a woman angrily accused one of the men of grabbing her, while the men proclaimed their innocence. Even if he could get out, he was clearly busted, and even his power couldn't help him.

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Ranch outside of Phoenix
Thursday November 10th

Alastair stepped out of the SUV, wearing a pitch black suit. Three of his best men were standing outside the ranch door, they nodded to him, indicating that everything was ready. He wasn't in his Cannibal persona for the meeting, a display of strength to show how little his enemies worried him. It was also a matter of practicality, as he wouldn't fit in the SUV or ranch house in his full size.

His men weren't the only ones there. The Luna and Barrera cartels had their own three man squads at the ready. They'd spent all morning ensuring the ranch was clean and no one was trying to set an ambush. Over a dozen men from all three family's were spread around the property, watching for outside threats. Now that the meeting was about to start the cartel leaders and their enforcers had arrived.

Two more cars came to a stop, they weren't as big as the Cano SUV, but they were almost certainly just as heavily armoured and had force fields. The cartel leaders deserved only the best protection, especially on a day like this, where the three major cartels would make deals, resolve disputes, and deal with potential problems.

Depending on what needed to be worked out, negotiations could last for as little as thirty or forty minutes, until well after midnight. It made the meeting a particularly good target. If the leaders were killed, it would take several days for the cartels to recover. That was more than enough time for their many enemies to take territory, resources and kill more key members. Avoiding this was one of the few things the cartels could agree on.

From the first car a veiled woman in white stepped out. La Llorona had the body of a true beauty, but something about her was repellent, even with the veil that hid her misshapen face. She was also extremely deadly, as Alastair had learned the first and only time they had ever fought in the ruins of the Luna mansion. He gave her a mocking smile, which she completely ignored.

The third enforcer stumbled out of the car. Her stained, rotten rags, that looked like something worn by Asian peasants centuries ago, were almost as repellent as her greenish black flesh. she held large Buddhist prayer beads in her hands, muttering to herself in Chinese, seemingly ignoring the world. Without waiting for her employer, The Hungry Ghost headed into the ranch. The nine hardened men, standing guard at the doors unconsciously leaned away from the monstrosity, even the Barrera guards who had to deal with her regularly looked uncomfortable.

The three leaders stepped out and headed for the ranch, each of them had a pair of guards at their back. Alastair fell in behind his employer, Don Cano, who entered the ranch before the others. As the Cano cartel was the strongest of the three, they needed to show power and strength whenever possible, without pushing their enemies so hard it became a war.

The ancient Senor Luna was next, La Llorona was at his side, not quite offering an arm of support to her great grandfather. While the man was frail, his mind was sharp, and discounting him was a mistake Alastair had only made once.

Don Barrera came last, flanked by his baseline guards. His family was the weakest of all, almost destroyed five years ago in the bloody drug war that Alastair had helped start. They'd only survived by somehow making a deal with The Hungry Ghost, and she was no true enforcer. She was a missile they pointed at their enemies and then stood well back as she left a trail of dead in her wake.

The baseline guards took their positions around the front room. The enforcers and the leaders moved further into the specially prepared ranch. They passed a smaller room where The Hungry Ghost had already made herself comfortable kneeling before a wall, still praying. La Llorona and Alistair entered the final room, which had been reinforced with magic, devises and more traditional means to be as secure as humanly possible.

A large table had an assortment of drinks, snacks and fruits, a smaller one was set for the talks. No device or person would enter the room unless summoned, once the door was closed. Sweeping the room one last time for threats or bugs, La Llorona and Alastair left, closing the door securely behind them. They, and The Hungry Ghost now guarded the only weak point.

Alastair and La Llorona ignored the chairs that were set out, opting to stand near the outer door, well away from The Hungry Ghost who was still kneeling in the corner, but had begun banging her head against the floor as she prayed. Both of the enforcers kept a wary eye on the monster, in case it turned rabid on them.

“How have you been, La Llorona? It's been too long since we last talked,” he said, leering at her. While the leaders talked to keep the peace, it was just as useful for La Llorona and himself to share information on potential threats.

Her mismatched eyes looked at him, much like she would a slug. “Things have been quiet. A group of supervillains thought they could steal some of our goods. They aren't a problem anymore.”

“It's been the same for us. Since the law finished punishing Barrera and the rest of us for the murder of Laughing Man,” he cast a dark look at The Hungry Ghost, “life has been boring.”

“I thought you'd found a new play toy.”

He gave her a curious look.

“The Mogollon Monster,” she said. “He was matching you almost blow for blow when you fought him this summer.”

He gave her an honest smile, it was a mild relief that she didn't know of his new interest yet. “He has balls, and some talent. Give him a few years of experience and it will be a good fight. But it's not the no holds barred, life on the line fight I truly enjoy. It's been five years since I've felt that. Maybe we should try it again.”

She removed her veil, revealing a face that almost made him shudder. There was no single thing about the misshapen and oddly proportioned features that made the gorge rise in his throat. But combined, the too wide mouth, the too little nose, the unbalanced ears, and more, was somehow even more unnerving than the rotting flesh of The Hungry Ghost.

“If you want a real fight, monster, I will gladly give you one. I still remember how you ran away bleeding the last time,” she said, giving him a lopsided smile.

He grinned in return. “I remember that as well. But this time your foster father won't be there with a plasma cannon.”

She put her veil back on and walked to the far side of the room. He'd handily won the round, so at least the day wasn't a total loss. Going to the bar he got himself a beer and sat down, seemingly without a care in the world.

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Doc Morris Clinic, Phoenix
Sunday, November 13th

Forte felt a little better about being in Doc Morris' clinic this time. Unlike the last visit she wasn't there to be checked out by doctors, just to get power tested. It was different, and she had chosen to be there, it wasn't for some treatment or problem. She could handle it easily enough.

“Before we start,” she said, “will you send this information to the MCO or DPA?”

Doc Morris shook his head. “I'll keep a file for my records, and provide you with a document of the results with the official seal and paperwork. Simply hand them over to the MCO and they'll give you an MID.”

“So if I don't give it to them, no one will ever know about this?” she asked, wanting to confirm everything.

“That's correct. But it is advisable to have an MID,” he said.

She nodded. “I know, I'm just thinking about my secret identity. How easy is it to fake out the tests?”

“Not as easy as you think, but easier than they would like. If you are worried about your secret identity, I would recommend going out of state to get your MID, and don't pretend to have a different power, that will almost certainly fail,” he said. “Will you try to fake the results today?”

“No,” Forte said. “I want to know what I can do.”

“Good,” he said. “I don't want to waste my time.”

They entered a gym, which surprised Forte, she hadn't expected an underground clinic to be so big. She looked around and wondered what she was supposed to do, or more specifically how she was supposed to do it. Did she keep her prosthetics on or take them off?

“With your disability, most of the regular physical tests would be pointless, and you clearly don't have regeneration, or you wouldn't have gotten the skin rash,” he said. “So the only test we'll do here is weight lifting, with your left arm only.”

“Oh joy,” Forte said.

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Three hours of testing later, Forte was looking over the results of her power testing. “So I'm a devisor 4, with a focus on sonics,” she said. “I was kind of hoping for more.”

“It's a respectable rating,” Doc Morris said. “And with your focus, you'll be able to make some very impressive devises, like your prosthetics.”

“It also makes me easy to spot and track,” she said. “How easy is it for a devisor with my type of specialization to shift track into something else?”

He gave her a skeptical look. “Not that easy. For some devisors it's virtually impossible. A few have been able to shift their thinking to something similar to their focus. I know of one gadgeteer who focused on biochemistry, when his interest turned to the environment, it took him two or three years to shift to a more environmental chemistry focus. Similar, but different enough to cause him some headaches.”

“So it is possible, at least.”

“If you want to fake your focus for the MCO test, you will need to work very hard at it. You also don't have much time. If you wait too long, the MCO will be very curious why you waited until you were over eighteen to register,” he warned her.

Grinning with a confidence she didn't quite feel, she said, “Well then, I'd better get started.”

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Forte's Home
Late Afternoon

“OK, what is sound?” Natalie asked herself. “It's just vibrations. Vibrations are easy to do, the problem is making sure it isn't too noisy. If they feel it but don't hear it, most people won't think of sonics.”

Pulling out a notepad, she started writing. “A handheld devise that causes vomiting? I could use the basic boomer plan, but make it contact, so it's like a hand held vibrator.”

She crossed it out. “No, that's too much like the boomer, any half decent check will have them wondering why they're almost exactly the same.”

Her eyes went to her arm. “Anything with sonic metal is right out. Too obvious, and I can't bring any with me.”

A new thought rose in her head. “FUCK!” she shouted. “I can't use my arm or legs. Even if I cover them up, they'll probably want to look at them. They are not getting their hands on my limbs.”

She realized exactly what she needed to do, and she hated it. “I'm going to have to buy some regular prosthetics.” She let out a long stream of curses. She tried them before, but they hadn't felt right. She could walk with the legs, and use the arm, but they were clumsy, heavy and uncomfortable compared to her sonic metal ones.

There was another problem with them, they were expensive. Unless she went with the cheapest available, which were practically useless, she didn't have enough money to pay for them. How was she supposed to pay for supplies, basic living expenses, a new workshop, and prosthetics?

“What if I just got a wheelchair and a prosthetic arm?” she wondered. It would save money. She shook her head, she didn’t want to look that helpless. 

“Maybe I should rob another bank?” she said.

Her mood ruined, Natalie went to her makeshift workshop to work on her newest project, the tactical whip sleeper devise.

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Chandler, Phoenix Metropolitan Area
Monday, November 14th

“As you can see everything is still in good condition. Electricity and water are hooked up, we'll just need a day to get it running. The security system is dated, but the secret entrance will keep most people from even realizing it's here,” Jane said.

She'd decided that it was time to get a proper workshop and had called Jane that morning, using the very helpful list Mr. Jackson had given her. She'd expected someone a bit more cloak and daggers, but the real estate agent was surprisingly friendly and professional. It was more like looking at a house or condo than a supervillains lair.

Forte looked around the dark room. The lighting sucked, but it was solid, relatively clean, and had a large room for a workshop, and a separate living space, about the size of a small studio apartment. For a secret lair it wasn't too bad.

“This is really the only place I have in your price range, Forte,” Jane said. “The other two are quite far off in the desert.”

“It's good,” she said. “But why is it so cheap?”

The woman didn't look very happy that she'd asked, but it was a resigned look, rather than an angry one. “When the lair was constructed in the 1980's, the land above us was for business purposes only. Then the owner disappeared and it was forgotten for over a decade, until it came to my employers attention and they took control of it. In that time there was a zoning change, and a middle school was built on the land. It actually just opened up two years ago.”

“Uh-huh,” she said, realizing the problem. A supervillain hiding out under a school would not look good if they were discovered. It wasn't quite as bad as kidnapping children, but heroes, police, the MCO, and judges would take a very dim view of potentially putting children in harms way.

Still, it was cheap. She also wasn't planning on doing anything that would draw attention to the base itself, and both the main entrance and emergency exit were off of school property.

“You said you had a moving crew that knows how to handle devises, right?” Forte said, making her decision.

Jane beamed. “They're the best movers in the Southwest.”

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Outlaw's Tavern

Forte was sitting back enjoying a ginger beer, letting her dinner digest, watching the very colourful crowd that filled the villains bar. Seeing over a dozen people in costumes, it felt more like being at a Halloween party than a tavern, and she was beginning to feel underdressed. Nice jeans and a sweater just didn't compare to a skin tight outfit that looked like it was made out of fire, golden armour, a silver dress that moved like water, or a beautiful fur collar that actually growled.

Delaney had been too busy to chat much, he did tell her that a few people asked about her, but no one had mentioned anything about wanting to talk to her yet. She didn't mind too much, it was still early days, and she was relatively unknown. Expecting to strike it big right off the bat would only leave her frustrated.

Finishing her drink, she was just about ready to call it a night when a girl with short peroxide blonde hair, came up to her. “Hey!” she said, a bubble came out of her mouth as she spoke. “You're the new devisor right? Forte?

Forte looked the girl up and down, she was dressed for a dance club, in a hot pink, latex micro-skirt and tube top, a lot of glittery makeup and an elaborate glittery pink mask that covered her nose, eyes and forehead. “Yeah, I'm Forte. What can I do for you?”

“I'm Bubbly. My gang and I are planning a heist and we totally need a devisor to help pull it off. Are you interested?” she asked, more bubbles escaping her mouth.

She thought very hard for several seconds on just how smart it would be to follow a girl called Bubbly, who sounded and dressed like a party girl. Then she remembered that between renting a lair for three months, medical bills, buying supplies, and needing to buy civilian prosthetics, she was not only going to be broke, but also in debt. Beggars couldn't be choosers.

“Sure, do you-” She was dragged out of her seat by the surprisingly strong supervillain, and found herself being hugged hard enough for her spine to crack.

“Oh wow! Your arm is solid metal all the way up! That is so cool!” Bubbly exclaimed, grabbing her right arm to take a closer look at it. “Zip said you couldn't be that good, because you don't have a costume, but he's a bit of an idiot when it comes to fashion. I told him you would be great. Come on,” she said, dragging Forte towards the stairs.

Given the choice of following or quite literally losing her arm, Forte followed, snatching up her backpack as she went. She whispered to herself, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”

They went to the second floor where the tables were spaced well apart with electronic privacy screens muting the conversations and obscuring the customers. They went to the first table, and Forte found herself thrust into a seat, across from two guys. One of them had a bluish tinge to his pale skin and spiky bluish white hair, he had skin tight, dark blue tracksuit and thick goggles over his eyes which worked better than a basic domino mask at covering his face. The other was wearing a tuxedo and had a black mask covering his hair, ears and upper face, a top hat was on the seat beside him.

“Forte, these are Zip and Ta-Da, my partners. Together we're the Triple Threat!” Bubbly said.

Forte resisted the overwhelming urge to face palm and walk away. Maybe they were better at planning than dressing. She'd known a few people who looked like complete flakes, but give them an instrument and they were masters of the craft. Instead she smiled, “Hi. So I heard you need a devisor.”

Ta-Da put his hands together, leaning forward and began to speak with an obviously faked deep voice. “We have a client who wants us to acquire a prototype and destroy as much of their research as possible from a tech company in the city. We already have the talent to get the items quickly,” he motioned to Zip. “I can mesmerize any guards or employees we see. And if we need something broken or run into trouble, Bubbly is more than capable of handling things. But we need someone who can take out the electronic security.”

“How much of a pay off are you looking at?” Forte asked.

“If we get the prototype and destroy what we can, we're looking at a payday of 200k,” he said.

That payout was potentially worth the risk. “What's the company?”

“A start up, Cutting Edge Cyber-Tek. They're doing some cutting edge work on computer technology.” He chuckled at his little joke.

“Do you have the building's blueprints and any information on their security system?” Forte had never planned a heist before, but she'd studied enough that she had an idea of what to look for.

Bubbly reached into a large bag, pulling out a long poster tube. She was practically jumping with glee, while Ta-Da pushed the glasses and bottles to the side of the table.

“Hey!” Zip shouted. “Why are we showing this new person the plans? We don't even know if she's in or out.”

“And you won't know if I'm in or out until I see what we're going to be dealing with and what your plan is. I'm not going to risk going to jail if I don't think we can do it,” Forte said.

“Come on, Zip. This is really uncool,” Bubbly said.

“How do we know she won't take all of our planning and steal the stuff herself?” Zip said.

“OK, say I steal the stuff, who do I sell it to?” Forte asked. “I have zero clue who your client is, and I won't ask for any details about them. I don't have a fence. And the main thing I do with computers in my devises is use them for audio programs. This stuff is less than useless to me.”

“See Zip,” Ta-Da said. “I told you, you worry too much. She's a professional.”

He didn't look happy, but the blue boy at least sat back in his seat and drank his beer. “Fine, you guys like her, I won't say anything.”

Bubbly was instantly smiling again and unrolling the blue prints, which also had a very basic rundown on their security. Forte looked over them for about an hour, as the Triple Threat talked among themselves and occasionally asked her questions. If she had more experience with blueprints, she would have been done much quicker, but since she didn't it was slow, steady and thorough for her. At least her brain seemed to pick up the details fairly quickly, so she understood what she was looking at, and what she saw wasn't great.

“OK,” Forte finally said. “What's your plan?”

“We are planning on hitting them around midnight,” Ta-Da said. “You cut off their alarms, Bubbly smashes the door in. We go in, you use your trick to destroy electronics, I mesmerize the guards, Bubbly destroys anything that looks important. You give Zip a devise to get the vault open, he runs in gets the chip and we're out in a couple of minutes.”

Forte almost walked away. That was the stupidest plan she had ever heard of, and they had failed to read the blueprints or security info. But there was a chance of making this work, if she could make them understand the problems with their plan, and make a completely new one.

“That won't work.”

“Why not?” Zip demanded.

She pointed at the safe. “First the safe is on a timer lock. Once it closes about the only thing my knocking out the electronics on it will do, is keep it closed. You'll either need a safe cracker or some way to destroy it. Bubbly, since you seem to be the muscle, how much can you bench press?”

“Like 3 tonnes,” she said.

“Yeah, unless one of you can dissolve solid steel, that door is not opening.” She turned to Ta-Da. “Those guards you want to mesmerize will use their cell phones to call police. I can destroy electronics, but not for the entire building in one shot.

“So you're saying it's hopeless?” Bubbly said.

“No, we just need to make a new plan, and I think I have one. How big of a risk are you guys willing to take to succeed?” Forte asked. Despite herself she was smiling as music filled her mind.

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Forte's Home
Tuesday, November 15th

Forte poured herself a cup of tea, and took a sip of the hot liquid, hoping it would wake her up. She'd talked long into the night with the Triple Threat working out the details and keeping their enthusiasm in check. Well after midnight they had come up with a plan that would probably work. It all hinged on one critical detail that she was about to do.

Picking up her phone, she dialed Cutting Edge Cyber-Tek.

“Cutting Edge Cyber-Tek, how can I help you?” a woman asked.

“Hi,” Forte said, making herself sound enthusiastic and a little nervous. “I'm Miss Newman, a student journalist with the Phoenix U newspaper. I've been following your company's work for the last few months, and I was hoping I could write a story about your company.”

“If you'll please hold for a minute, I'll forward you to Ms. Dembele, she's in charge of PR.”

“That would be fantastic. Thank you very much,” she said. It took a few minutes of annoying muzak, before someone got back to her.

“Hello, this is Grace Dembele, and you are?”

“Hello, I'm Valerie Newman, a student journalist with the Phoenix U newspaper. Cutting Edge Cyber-Tek has started making some big waves in the tech field with your new graphene processors. So I'm wondering if I could do an article on your company, and maybe interview one or two of your employees to let our readers know about the next generation in computer technology?” Forte asked, crossing her fingers.

“I'm not sure if that's possible,” Ms. Dembele said. “We're at a critical stage of development, so time is rather tight.”

“I completely understand,” Forte said. “But I think this is very important news. So I'm willing to go whenever it's most convenient for you, morning, lunch hour, evening, midnight.”

There was a pause, and the sound of typing. “OK, you sound enthusiastic, you can come on the twenty-first, at four thirty, you'll get a short tour, and can talk to one of our engineers.”

“Thank you very much! That is perfect for me.”

“Your welcome Valerie. Be sure to be here at four thirty sharp. Have a good day,” Ms. Dembele said before hanging up.

Forte immediately phoned Bubbly, “We're in!”

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Chandler, Phoenix Metropolitan Area

Forte nervously watched her boxes of supplies and chemicals float through the air, carried by a telekinetic mutant under the cover of darkness. They moved gently from the back of the large box van through the rusty door at the back of a building, and through a secret doorway that was impossible to see when it wasn't open. In a matter of minutes, all of her things were moved into her new workshop.

Her old place was bare, the only sign she'd ever been there were chemical stains on the cement floor, and how clean it was otherwise. She'd left her keys on the counter and a message on her ex-landlords phone.

Closing the doors leading to her new lair, she couldn't help but grin. She'd been at rock bottom a year ago, and now she was rising high, being sought out for her skills, and about to really start working.

Sitting down on her couch, Forte put on her night shirt, took off her prosthetics, plugging them in to recharge, removed the padding and setting it aside to be washed, and put new padding within easy reach for morning. Laying back, in near total darkness, except for the dim light coming from the kitchen, she couldn't wait to see what was going to happen next.

Turning off the last light, she slept like a baby.

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A tiny were-wolf like figure moved through the darkness of the alley. Its enormous ears were alert for any strange noises, as it sniffed the air. It had heard the truck a few minutes earlier and arrived just in time to see the last of the boxes float into the building.

Going to the rusty door, it took a deep breath. There was the smell of a woman, but it was strange, it was mixed with copper. Taking another large sniff, it snorted at the faint odour of harsh chemicals. Backing away from the door, it sat on its haunches and cocked its head.

“Who are you, and what are you doing in my neighbourhood?” it asked, its words an almost unintelligible growl.

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Forte's Workshop
Thursday, November 17th
Early evening

Forte swung the tactical whip, watching how it bent and flexed. The weapon had a comfortable grip, and forty-eight inches of flexible metal cable, that hurt a lot when swung. She had modified it by wrapping several dozen strands of sonic metal around the metal cable, ensuring it stayed flexible. The grip had a small hole drilled through it where the wires connected to the sleeper devise. Pressing a button on the handle she held the cable in her hand feeling the vibrations numb her hand.

It seemed to be working properly, but there was only one way to confirm it. Laying on the couch, set the timer on her phone, and brushed the whip across her temple.

She opened her eyes, wincing at the mild headache. Looking at her phone, a little over five minutes had passed. Her sleeper whip wasn't as good as her hand or the gun, but it was definitely acceptable. Now that she had a working prototype, she needed to pretty it up and see how durable it was, but that would have to wait. 

Moving through her new workshop, she checked on the dozen pots that were growing the starter for her sonic metal. Once they were ready, she'd be getting several pounds of sonic metal each month and she could really start building. A single dome of silence kept the process from being interrupted. A proper work table was covered in speaker parts, wires and other debris, while a large shelf held a few domes of silence, and the easily made boomers and shrieks.

Now that she had the workshop going, she had another problem. Even using as few chemicals as possible, she was out of mercury and most of the restricted chemicals. She had found a few places to buy mercury legally, but they sold it in such small amounts it was virtually useless. Once she was done with her current heist, she'd have to ask around to find a source for chemicals.

Looking at her watch, she saw it was time to leave. Throwing some devises into her backpack, she went to the door and checked the security cameras. Flipping through the cameras, she saw the stairwell, the entrance, and all along the alleyway was clear. Throwing on her shoes and a hoodie, Forte went out to meet her fellow supervillains.

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Outlaw's Tavern
Late Evening

“You've finally arrived,” Zip said, as Forte came to their usual booth.

“You're here!” Bubbly shrieked, giving her a hug.

Ta-Da snored, his head in his arms.

“What's up with him?” Forte asked.

“He worked hard last night spotting all the cameras and things in Cutting Edge Cyber-Tek with his brain. He was up all night and a lot of this morning with a headache,” Bubbly explained.

“Did he see anything?”

Zip tossed her a few papers, each one showing the floor plan for one level of the building. There were several dozen little circles drawn on each of them. “Good enough for you?” he demanded.

“These are very good,” Forte said, putting them into her backpack. “I'll memorize these and try my best to have the devises take them out for the main event.”

Bubbly handed her a notebook. “I watched the building everyday this week. I wrote down how many people go in and out each hour, how many security guards they have, when most of them leave, and how often cops drove past.”

She gave the girl a big smile. “Great work. We'll be kicking things off ten minutes after five. I'll be wrapping up the 'interview' around then, and it will be the start of rush hour, so that the police and heroes will be slower. This will help us get a good idea of what to expect.”

“So what will you do about your hand?” Zip asked.


“Your freaky robot hand, it's a dead giveaway, and you never wear a mask, people are going to recognize you,” he said.

Natalie almost laughed at the blue skinned, white haired speedster calling her hand freaky. “I have wigs and I know how to use makeup and clothes to make myself look different. And don't worry about my hand, I've had to hide it in more dangerous situations than this. But if something goes wrong, that's why we have a plan B.”

“But why are you going in at all? Why don't we just rush the place?”

“We've been over this,” she said. “We need someone in the building to take out as much of the security as possible the moment we begin. If I'm in there, I can place my devises in the hallways and rooms, that will destroy the power supply, alarms, security doors and cameras. I'll also be talking to people in an open office. As soon as I armour up, I take them hostage and keep them together until it's time to go. If I'm not there, there's a good chance they'll try to escape and get help.

“But if you would rather go instead of me, or have Bubbly or Ta-Da do it, be my guest,” she offered.

Zip didn't take her up on the offer.

“OK, I'm going to order some food, and we can go over the plan in more detail, any objections?” she asked.

Zip stayed quiet, while Bubbly started suggesting what they should order.

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Forte's Workshop
Saturday, November 19>th

Sweat dripped down Natalie's nose and her head ached from the discordant, cacophony of noise that filled it.

Glaring at the stupid pile of junk on the work bench, she resisted the urge to throw it at the wall, she could tear it apart for pieces later. She'd been trying to make something that didn't use ultrasonic vibrations to work, but nothing had worked.

She had devised a knife that acted like an ultrasonic cutting device, it was a lot like what were already on the market, just much better, being capable of cutting through solid steel. The vibrations were silent, but the moment the MCO studied it, they'd realize it used ultrasonic vibrations, and she'd be tagged as focusing on sonic energy.

“Why is this so hard?!” she shouted.

All she wanted was something that didn't use sound waves. It didn't even have to be anything complicated, a toy that walked across a table on toothpicks and somehow kept its balance, would be perfect. Simple, stupid, harmless, was that too much to ask for?

Stalking over to the living quarters, she popped a painkiller, put on some Japanese Wood Flute music, and laid down on her couch. Once her headache went away she'd work on the last of the anti-electronic devises for the coming heist. Tomorrow she would run all of her devises through her cleaner, which would gently shake away any fingerprints they had on them.

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Cutting Edge Cyber-Tek, Phoenix, Arizona
Monday, November 21st

Forte tried to ignore the weird feeling of having superglue covering the fingers and palm of her left hand as she spoke quietly into her burner phone. It was better to feel weird then to leave finger prints all over the place. “You guys in position?” she asked.

“Yeah, let's get going, I'm getting bored,” Zip said.

“Ready and waiting! This is going to be so cool!” Bubbly said, giggling with excitement.

“Just give the word,” Ta-Da said, his voice squeaking a little.

Nodding to herself, she said, “Alright, cross your fingers.”

Putting the phone away, she gave herself one last look in the reflective glass. She was using her dirty blonde wig again, not too showy and fairly professional, her skin was very pale, with makeup that was a bit subdued, like a student who didn't get out in the sun enough and was hoping to be taken as more than a pretty face. Her wide legged white pants went all the way down to her white flats, and it was topped by a thin white sweater. She also had her backpack with her, she was a student after all. The only thing out of place was the sling over her shoulder which was holding her right arm and bandaged right hand.

Satisfied with her appearance, she walked into the start up and was immediately greeted by a receptionist.

“Hello, I'm Valerie Newman, from Phoenix University, I have an appointment for a tour and interview.” 

“We've been expecting you. Just have a seat and I'll let Ms. Dembele know you're here,” the receptionist said.

Taking a seat, Forte waited until the receptionist was looking away, than gently tapped her foot. A small square devise, about three inches on each side and an inch thick, fell out of her pants. Without looking, she used her foot to maneuver the devise behind a potted plant. It wasn't the ideal place for it, but it should be able to destroy all the electronics in the immediate area.

A few minutes of waiting and two people came into the reception area. Forte stood up to greet them, with a nervous, yet excited, smile.

“Hello, Miss Newman, I'm Ms. Dembele,” the well dressed PR manager said. She started to hold her hand out, but seeing the sling, smoothly brought her hand back. “What happened to your hand?”

“I fell and sprained it pretty badly yesterday,” Forte said, using her discomfort she felt at having her hand pointed out, to make it seem like she was embarrassed.

“Oh you poor dear. I hope it doesn't hurt too much.”

“It only hurts if I use it, so I've got the sling to remind me to take it easy on the hand,” she said. Reaching into her pocket she pulled out a tiny and expensive recording device. “Fortunately I have my little helper.”

“Oh, no. I'm not sure if that can be used around the office. Carla, can you call security, we need to have them look this over,” Ms. Dembele said to the receptionist.

“But, what will I do for the interview?” Forte asked.

The older woman patted her gently on her left arm. “Don't worry. I understand how important this is for you, if security has a problem with it, we'll work something out.”

Sighing, Forte turned away to take off her backpack, digging around in it she pulled out a much older and cheaper mini-microphone recorder. She'd had Triple Threat scour the city finding it, smart phones and much higher end recorders that could also take video were used by almost everyone. The one she was holding was virtually unheard of now. “I guess I can use this if I really have to. My Dad will be happy I found a use for it at least,” she joked.

“Hopefully it won't come to that.” Stepping aside, Ms. Dembele motioned to the cute young man who looked a little uncomfortable in his suit. “This is Darrin, one of our interns. He'll be your guide and explain a bit of what we're doing here. Unfortunately everyone else is quite busy, so he'll also do the interview. But he'll be able to answer everything, and he'll mostly avoid too much technical jargon, so you're readers will actually understand what he's saying.”

“I'm sure my readers, and editor, will appreciate that,” Forte said.

She saw a man in a black suit arrive. She tried to casually look him over, noticing that his jacket mostly concealed a holstered pistol, and his shirt looked a little blocky, like he had a vest underneath. Ms. Dembele took him off to the side, showing him the recording device.

“Hi, Miss Newman,” Darrin said. “It's great to see more people getting interested in what we're doing here.”

“Please call me Valerie, no reason to be formal with me,” she said. “So they're really strict with security aren't they?”

“We've got some cutting edge stuff here. Companies that are a lot bigger than us are hoping to be the first to create a working graphene processor, we've managed to get a jump on all of them. By late 2018, we'll be mass producing them, and your phone, computer, tablet, everything that needs a chip, will be at least ten thousand times faster,” he explained.

She whistled, that was impressive.

Ms. Dembele interrupted their little chat. “I'm really sorry, but your recorder would break a few of our rules. You can either use your simpler one, or you can just do the interview. Either way we can provide some pictures for your article, including the prototype.”

“I'll take the tour, it's not everyday I get the chance to see the future in computer technology after all,” she said. “But what about my recorder?”

“Security will hold it until you leave. They'll take good care of it.”

Forte gave her a relieved smile, that was one hundred percent genuine. “That's perfect. Thank you very much, I really should have realized that it might have been a problem.”

She only half listened as the woman assured her it was fine, and said good-bye. While it wasn't critical, getting the recorder into security made her plan much more likely to succeed.

“Well now that that's all dealt with, how about we start the tour,” she said, beaming at Darrin.

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Cutting Edge Cyber-Tek

“So Darrin, now that you've covered all the technical information, I'd like to get to know a little bit more about the company and people that make up Cutting Edge Cyber-Tek. What is it like being an employee here?” Forte asked.

They were sitting in a corner of the open office well away from most of the workers. She'd already seen all the parts of the building that weren't off limits, which actually wasn't much. Darrin had quickly stomped on her request to see the actual chip. She wasn't very upset about that, it was in the building, that was all that mattered.

She nodded along, acting like she cared as Darrin talked about the great people, the chance to be on the ground floor of a company that was going to make history, and how it was a dream job. As he talked, she dropped another devise from her pant leg, kicking it under her chair. It wasn't really concealed, but at this point it didn't matter. She'd already dropped two devises in this particular room, and three more in other areas of the building.

“Um,” she looked embarrassed. “Can you wait two minutes, I really need to go to the bathroom.”

He suddenly looked as embarrassed as her. “Oh, yeah, sure. They're just over there,” he said, pointing towards the bathrooms halfway across the office.

Stepping into the bathroom, she saw a woman using some eye drops by the mirror. Taking her right arm out of her sling, Forte tapped her on the head, putting her to sleep with her inbuilt devise. She caught the woman as she fell, making sure she wasn't injured.

Slipping off the sling, she quickly unwrapped the bandage, and took off her wig, throwing all of them in her backpack. The bandages probably wouldn't have been a problem for her armour, but better to remove them entirely.

Putting her backpack back on, she whistled.

The sonic metal poured out and over her backpack, encasing it and her in semi liquid metal. It tore through the sleeve of her sweater, encircling her arm. Tendrils of the metal pierced her pants, bonding to her legs. In a matter of seconds, Forte was ready for anything.

“Let the show begin,” she said.

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Darrin grinned, the interview was going great. When he'd been voluntold for the job, he'd thought he'd be dealing with some pasty geek or an airhead, not a cute girl who seemed a bit nervous and out of her depth but was honestly interested in what he had to say. She was probably more interested in getting the best story she could, but he kind of felt there might be a bit of a connection.

Maybe he could ask her out for a coffee.

Leaning forward in his chair trying to think of the best way to ask, he noticed something under her chair.

He picked up a tiny black box, it looked like it had been glued together out pieces of cut up plastic. Holding it up in the air, he loudly said, “Hey does anyone know-”

Before he could finish asking, the devise let out an ear piercing squeal. He dropped it, clutching his ears, yelling in pain. All around him the lights, computers and everything else with wires died.

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The security room was peaceful and boring, just how Jorge liked it. There'd been a rumour that they were being targeted by some of their competitors for corporate espionage, and like most rumours it seemed to be a false alarm.

Still he was watching the kid reporter fairly closely. She seemed nice enough, and hadn't even squeaked when he'd taken away her recording devise, but it was always a good idea to play it safe. He'd actually advised against letting her come into the building, and as expected he'd been overruled. The big shots wanted to start showing off their toys.

Fortunately she'd only be in the building for another twenty minutes at most, then everything would go back to running smoothly.

A muffled whine came from the security box. Jorge started to get out of his seat to see what the noise was, when three quarters of his security cameras went dead. The ones that remained showed dead lights and people clutching their airs.

He slammed his hand down on the alarm. He had no idea what was going on, but he was certain he'd need outside support.

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The lights went off inside the building.

Zip threw back his hood and ran across the street, dodging and jumping over cars. He was through the door in less than a second and ran right past the receptionist who was holding her ears looking around in confusion.

Zipping through the halls, he made his way to the basement. Taking a devise Forte had given him, he pressed the button and dropped it as he got to the bottom of the stairs. The earplugs he'd bought made the whine only annoying and not painful. The lights in the hallway died, but the vault room was still brightly lit. 

He reached the vault and saw that the door was slowly closing. As Forte had expected, they kept the vault door open for easy access during the day, but made sure it would seal if there was even a hint of trouble. She'd also thought it would be guarded. The sight of two security guards raising their guns at him, once again proved she was correct.

Running past them, trusting his speed to make him too hard to hit, he ripped a pistol out of the nearest guard's hand. He stopped just inside the vault, bent down and shoved the gun into the hinge.

A bullet ricocheted off the metal, right where his head had been.

He slammed into the armed guard, knocking him into the wall at over forty miles an hour. A second later, he broke the second guards nose, leaving him unconscious on the ground.

Turning back to the vault, the door was still closing, but much slower now as the pistol was crushed. Taking a second devise from his pouch, he placed it on the vault door and pressed a button. He felt the devise vibrate for several seconds.

The vault door kept closing, and then ground to a halt. The electronic automatic door hopelessly broken, while the contents of the vault were perfectly fine. Finding the right lock box, courtesy of their employers info, he placed a devise on the keyhole and started it. While it picked the lock, Zip took some C-4 and placed it around the inside of the vault, hooking it up to a digital timer.

By the time he was done, the devise had completed its job. Putting it back in his pouch, he grinned, “Best purchase I ever made.”

The chip was right there, he took it out of its box, placing it in a small padded box, and put it safely in an inside pocket, where it wouldn't get lost. Starting the timer, he grabbed the two unconscious guards, dragging them into the hallway where they'd be safe and ran for it.

Forte had told him his job was most important, and for once he agreed with her. He had the goods, now he had to keep them safe. The best way to do that was to get as far away from the area as possible.

“Good luck guys,” he said, as he ran down the street.

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Bubbly and Ta-Da ran into the building several seconds after Zip.

As soon as they got through the door, Bubbly opened her mouth letting out a stream of bubbles that quickly covered her. She stood a foot taller than before, and was much thicker. She slid her feet along the floor, riding her bubbles towards the server room.

Behind her, she heard Ta-Da ordering the receptionist to hide under her desk and not to move, in his bossy voice. If anyone came in, he would deal with them.

She passed a bunch of confused employees. As soon as they saw her bubbly form, they quickly found somewhere else to be. She was able to get to the server room really easily, thanks to her exemplar memory, and would have gone right in, but there were three security guards standing guard.

They started firing as soon as they saw her, making her flinch back. But the bullets got stuck in her bubbles, so she didn't even feel them. Raising her arms, dozens of bubbles erupted from her limbs. Wherever they hit got covered in gooey slime. The guards were knocked flat on their backs, and glued to the floor.

Giggling, she moved past them knocking the metal door off its hinges. There were two geeks cowering in the corner. “Everybody out! Bubbly is here, and I've got a job to do!”

The geeks ran.

Spinning in a circle, Bubbly spun through the room smashing her fists into everything that looked important, squealing with glee. Her fun was interrupted when the building shook, and a loud boom came from the basement. A little dizzy, she left the thoroughly trashed server room and headed for the exit.

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Forte strode out of the bathroom.

“EVERYONE LISTEN UP!” she shouted, bringing silence to the confused and increasingly scared crowd.

“Get into the middle of the room. If you try to run, I'll have to get nasty,” she said, making her hand glow as emphasis.

 Slowly the employees obeyed her. Some were crying, a few looked angry, most just looked shocked and scared. As long as they did what she said, she could deal with that.

“I'm here on a job, but it doesn't involve you. Sit tight, and you'll be able to leave soon.” Kneeling down, she grabbed a plastic baggie that was duct taped to her leg. It was full of nails she'd spray painted a bright glittery yellow.

Gunshots rang out in the hallway, which made the hostages scream and cower. Forte ignored them, she had her job to do and her partners had theirs.

Walking to the door, she took a nail out and jammed it into the wall, leaving most of it sticking out. Circling the room, she put a nail every few yards, until she arrived at the door again. Stepping into the hallway, she snapped her fingers.

“Those are a devise,” she said, pointing at the nails. “They're connected to each other and have a battery life of thirty minutes. If you try to go past them, crawl under them, or do anything that doesn't involve staying where you are, they'll let out a sonic burst strong enough to liquefy all of your brains. So sit tight, wait thirty minutes, and you can all go home tonight.”

Walking down the hall, she kicked down several office doors, and used her inbuilt devise to destroy the electronics in each one. She ignored the people inside, who were mostly hiding under their desks, or calling the police if their phones worked.

The building shook. “Huh, Zip isn't completely useless,” she said.

It was time to go. Running for the exit, she got there at about the same time as Bubbly. Ta-Da was watching the door, while five people, two of whom were cops, were hugging each other on the floor, staring glassy eyed at each other. Looking at the clock, Forte saw that only five minutes had passed.

“Let's go. Remember your escape route,” she said, stepping outside.

Bubbly picked up Ta-Da, and slid away, leaving a trail of soapy slime that quickly evaporated. Forte was impressed at how fast the girl could go.

Going in the opposite direction, Forte increased the energy to her legs and began running. She just had to go a block and she had a place planned out where she could lose the armour and throw on a coat, then she could act like an ordinary girl out on the town.

The pedestrians on the crowded sidewalk gave way to her. Even if they didn't know who she was, a person running faster than most humans could, while in glowing armour, was someone they wanted to avoid.

She was almost at her destination, when a car pulled out of a side road. Somehow Forte was looking in the wrong direction and didn't hear it over a kid yelling about how cool she looked. It wasn't going fast enough to injure her, but it hit her legs and she fell onto the hood then rolled off onto the street.

Forte was on her feet almost instantly, and found herself looking at Jackalope who was coming at her with a raised baton. She managed to get the buckler on her left arm raised quickly enough to catch the blow. She threw a quick jab, mostly to get some space and was glad to see him back off.

“Hi Jackalope,” she said, trying to sound calm.

“Forte, have you gotten any more people murdered today?” Jackalope asked.

“You seem pretty upset about someone allegedly using my devises to take out a drug house,” she said.

“Your actions got a mother killed in front of her three kids.”

That was not what she had expected to hear. She cocked her head, trying to figure out what he meant.

“After you attacked The Mountain Boys, Foot Long went on a robbing spree. Claiming he was going to die, saying you had done something to him,” he said. “Then he went to Clumsy's home, looking for cash. Clumsy's wife and kids caught him in the act, he shot her. I was the first one there. I had to calm down a seven year old boy covered in his mothers blood.”

Jackalope didn't sound like he usually did. She'd heard him often enough on the news, he was usually happy and upbeat. Even when he'd been talking to her the first time, he'd been almost amused. Now his voice was hard, full of anger and hate. She knew that type of voice all too well, she'd spoken just like that far too often after her accident.

“I-” What could she say? Was he even telling the truth?

“So tell me, whose blood is on your hands this time?”

''I haven't killed anyone. What Foot Long did, he did it on his own. It's not my fault,” Forte said.

“You really believe that? You've been in the city for what, a month? And you've managed to get two people killed so far. You personally put another one in a wheelchair for life. What do you think Clumsy is going to do, with three kids, a dead wife, and years of rehab in front of him?”

That hit home. Natalie remembered all too well what rehab was like. Learning how to walk on legs that weren’t hers, that never felt right. Dealing with phantom pain that had made her scream. Trying to do anything without a right hand. 

“Am I missing anyone else whose life you've destroyed?” Jackalope asked. “You've obviously been busy behind the scenes, got a few bodies hidden away where we just haven't found them yet?” 

He looked at her like she was the scum of the earth. “Congratulations kid, you wanted to be a supervillain, you've succeeded. What are you going to do for an encore?”

Natalie's mind went blank. He might have been lying, but it didn’t sound like he was, and Foot Long had been in a daze when she’d last seen him. She could believe he had done something like that.  

She hadn't known or cared where the money had come from, only that she had it. She desperately tried to think of something to say, but the words wouldn't come. If her hand and legs were real flesh and blood, they would have been shaking. Instead she stood as motionless as a statue, trying to bring some control to her mind and emotions. Unwilling to show weakness, and unable to respond.

Jackalope waited for her to say something, anything. When the silence didn't end, he broke it. “Lolomi still thinks you can be saved. He asked any hero who found you to pass this on. If you surrender and tell us everything you've done, who you've worked with or sold weapons to, he'll get you a good plea deal.

“Right now,” he continued remorselessly, “you're looking at twenty years for the armed bank robbery.”

“I wasn't armed in the bank,” Natalie said, her voice weak.

“That armour you were wearing, it's a weapon. You used it to escape, it's armed robbery. They'll probably try to get you on two counts of armed robbery, since you likely had on similar armour the first time. So twenty or forty years in prison already. Seven counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for attackingThe Mountain Boys, that's a minimum of five years prison. Selling restricted and illegal weapons, breaking and entry, theft, resisting arrest, whatever the hell you just did, you'll need a very good lawyer if you want to see daylight before you're an old woman. Or you can take Lolomi's deal.”

She noticed that they were surrounded by police. They weren't firing, they were keeping the crowd well back. “What's the deal?” Natalie asked.

“You'll be going to jail, but it will only be for a few years and it will be minimum security. You behave yourself, you'll have the option of finishing the rest of your sentence doing community service with the Phoenix Warriors creating devises for them and other heroes.” Jackalope didn't sound happy about the deal.

“That's a pretty good deal, isn't it?”

“Yes it is. The best you're going to get.” His voice lowered a little, becoming a touch softer. “I don't know what you've been through, and maybe you didn't plan for all of this. Maybe you thought this would be a fun ride where you get to act tough and make money. Or you thought it was the only way you could survive. Well, this is reality, people get hurt and die. You have one chance of getting out of this, you turn down this offer, and the gloves come off. You'll spend the rest of your life fighting and running until you end up dead or so deep in jail you won't see sunlight.”

Natalie resisted the urge to stroke her fake arm.

He was right.

She had thought it would be fun and profitable. It would be hard work and dangerous, but that just made it a challenge, she hadn't realized what would happen. Nearly dying to a hit squad, being threatened by The Cannibal. That had been terrifying and painful, almost as bad as what had led to all of this. Being betrayed by Foot Long, that had hurt too.

Natalie thought about Cutting Edge Cyber-Tek. The people had been scared of her, some of them had been terrified. She wondered if she'd looked the same just before she'd lost everything.

Jackalope was right. She did have blood on her hands. Even if the five men had been trying to kill her, she'd likely killed at least one or two of them. And she'd broken Clumsy, leaving him almost as badly off as she had been.

If she kept doing this, what else would she have to do?

“I'll have to give up all my devises, won't I?” Natalie asked.

“Yes. Prisoners aren't allowed to have weapons. Once you get out on community service, you'll be able to create them under supervision, as part of your service, for work and some personal devises. But you'll need to prove you're trustworthy first,” he said.

She was going to lose everything.

Maybe she deserved it.

Natalie pursed her lips together. All she had to do was whistle, and she could get rid of the armour, then accept the punishment she deserved. She could apologize to her parents as well, they had to be so worried about her.

She'd have to give up her arm and legs.

She was going to be helpless.

People wouldn't look at her with pity, they'd look at her with contempt.

The limbless freak who tried to be a supervillain.

No money, no power, no respect.

The failed musician and supervillain.

All of her dreams turned to ashes.

“I'm sorry,” Forte whispered. “I can't accept that.”

Her cannon roared.

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Sun Hawk raced towards the fight.

She was cursing herself and her stupidity, wondering how she could call herself a hero. She'd been patched into Jackalopes camera, listening to his talk with Forte. The girl had been so close to surrendering it was infuriating.

But worse than that, she knew where she'd seen Forte before. When the girl dropped the supervillain persona, she had sounded just like that punk from the mall, the one with the gloves. She'd given a name, Pat or Nat, something like that. She'd shut her mouth so fast after saying it, it might even be her real name.

They'd even gotten her picture. They could have had her caught in a few days.

A sonic boom sent a police car skidding across the road as she arrived at the fight. She took a moment to take in what was happening. Jackalope was beating Forte with his baton, striking her arms and legs, trying to keep her off balance, as the girl struck back with claws and tried to fire her sonic cannon. The police were staying back, one of their cars was flipped onto its side, a massive dent had caved in the side.

It was time to take the villain down. Dropping feet first, Sun Hawk aimed for Forte.

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Forte swore, her left arm was stinging from the hits it was taking, Jackalope was good with his baton. At least he was sticking mostly to her legs and right arm, they could take the blows. If he'd been aiming for her head, she'd probably have a concussion already.

The crowd shouted, some of them even pointed upwards.

Not knowing what was happening, but assuming it was bad, Forte jumped to the side. Half a second later a golden figure landed right where she'd been standing. The night just kept getting worse and worse.

“Hello, Nat,” Sun Hawk said.

Out of breath and full of adrenaline, Forte didn't react to the name. She knew a distraction when she heard one, the important thing to worry about now, was surviving the fight and escaping, anything else she could worry about later.

Raising her glowing hand, she fired her cannon at the newcomer. Sun Hawk easily dodged it, and Jackalope struck her knee again, nearly making her fall on her ass.

With her power falling rapidly, Forte looked for a way to escape.

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Sun Hawk jerked back as razor sharp claws scraped against her helmet. The girl was getting desperate, they just had to keep the pressure on her.

Using her shock baton, she cracked it against Forte's head, staggering her.

Jackalope took the opening tackling the girl to the ground. With Forte on her back, he easily grabbed hold of her left arm, and after almost slicing off his fingers on the stupid forearm blade, got a grip on her right hand. “GET THE CUFFS!” he shouted.

Somehow Forte kicked Jackalope.

Sun Hawk saw the villains leg glow through her pants. It rose impossibly fast, and bent the wrong way at the knee, cracking against the back of Jackalopes skull. He was motionless for a second, then collapsed to the side.

Forte rolled to her knees, trying to get to her feet. Sun Hawk was faster, kicking her in the gut, knocking her into a police car.

Using all her strength, Sun Hawk brought her baton down, going for a head strike. Forte raised her right arm, catching the blow on her forearm blade. The weapon snapped in half.

Off balance, Sun Hawk tried to fly backwards. Forte’s legs glowed again as she threw herself into the air, catching her around the waist, bringing them both back down to the street. Sun Hawk found herself struggling to keep the supervillain from clawing her face off.

“Need help! This girls fucking nuts!” she shouted into her radio.

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“Let me put you to sleep, you stupid bitch,” Forte snarled, trying to put the hero down. Just scraping her claws against the helmet wasn't working, but if she could get a grip on her helmet, there was a good chance the vibrations would carry over.

She needed to end this fight immediately. Her right leg was sending weird signals, after she practically broke her knee kicking Jackalope. Now she wasn't quite sure where it was at any given second, it seemed to be off by an inch or two. And the longer she fought the more likely another hero would show up.

Trying to shift her balance, Forte found herself falling as her knee was several inches off the ground, when she thought it was touching the pavement. Sun Hawk reacted instantly, throwing her off, and jumping on her back.

Forte found herself in a full nelson, her head being pushed into her chest making it hard to breathe, and her arms were painfuly pulled back and upwards. And then Sun Hawk flew into the air.

Before she could figure out how to get out of the lock, they were at least fifty feet in the air and still rising.

“Lolomi,” Sun Hawk said, practically in her ear. “Where are you? I've got Forte, but she's hard to hold and she's not really subdued.”

She didn't hear the response, but Sun Hawk began flying with a purpose.

“Will you stop fighting, I'm going to drop you,” Sun Hawk yelled, as Forte struggled to get more air into her lungs.

Forte looked down, they were well over a hundred feet in the sky. Even if she wasn't in a metal suit, that wasn't survivable. Hanging painfully from her shoulders, the hopelessness of the situation washed over her. She was going to go to prison. She'd thrown away her one chance at leniency for nothing. They would send her away even longer now, she'd hurt Jackalope, maybe even killed him.

They were going to take her devises away.

She was going to be a limbless freak again.

She might as well be dead.

Then it struck her, there was one chance at escape. It would hurt and probably kill her, but it was a chance. That was all she wanted, a chance.

“Drop me,” she snarled.

“What? Are you insane?” Sun Hawk asked.

“Last chance, let me go.”

“Forte. Nat, I'm not going to kill you.”

Forte forced her right arm back even further, groaning in pain. Twisting her hand she pointed it at Sun Hawks head. Using a fraction of its power, she fired the sonic cannon at point blank range. She caught part of the blast on the back of her head.

The focused sonic boom almost broke her neck. For a moment she didn't know which way was up, she was seeing double and only knew she was falling. She saw a golden figure plummeting towards the ground, limp and lifeless. That snapped her mind into focus.

Spreading her arms and legs, she flipped around so she was facing the ground. She was going too fast, and not coming in at enough of an angle. Pointing her arm at the ground, she had just enough time to charge her cannon.

She fired it at full blast.

The shockwave hit the pavement and was reflected back on her. She'd been falling at an angle and the blast cushioned her fall slightly before throwing her back and to the side, so it wasn't instantly fatal.

Forte hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. Something snap inside her. Her helmet slammed into a curb cracking a lens. She wanted to scream as agonizing pain erupted throughout her body, but blackness overcame her.

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“Oh my god! Are you alive? I've called 911, just hold still and don't move,” a woman said.

Forte looked up, she was seeing triple and her body felt numb. She moved her legs, the feedback was weak, still they seemed to be working. Trying to move her left arm made her shriek, but her right arm worked.

“Don't move, you've probably broken your back,” the woman insisted. “An ambulance is coming.”

Ambulance... An ambulance meant police. She was going to be arrested.

Gritting her teeth, Forte raised her right arm. “Help me up,” she said.

“No, I told you-”

She tensed her arm, the sonic cannon sparked, the glow flickered momentarily before steadying. It was weak, but it was working. Pointing it at the woman, she said, “Get me up, or I'll kill you.”

The woman gasped, moving a few steps back. “Please don't hurt me. I was just trying to help.”


The woman came back. Even with her vision fading in and out Forte could tell she was terrified. Getting to her feet with the woman gripping her upper left arm, was excruciating, she almost bit through her tongue to avoid screaming. Her right leg didn't want to work. Looking down, she saw her foot was sideways, and her hip looked oddly disjointed. Trying not to throw up from pain, she asked, “Do you have a car?”

“Yeah. It's yours, just don't hurt me.”

“You're driving me- out of here. Get me- into the back. Cannon can kill. Don't run a-way.”

They limped to the old car which was still running, close to the small crater Forte had left on the road. Getting into the back made her shriek in pain, but her hand remained pointed at the woman. As soon as her hostage was in the drivers seat, Forte laid down, whimpering in pain. “Drive, get us out of here. Go somewhere quiet.”

The woman looked at the glowing hand, and started driving. She was speaking, something about her family, Forte didn't care, she was too busy simply trying to stay conscious. They drove for a while, it might have been five minute or five hours for all she knew. Finally Forte had the strength to speak again.

“Find an alley or something. Somewhere out of the way.”

They came to a stop a minute later.

“Please don't kill me. I did everything you asked.”

“Go to sleep,” Forte said, brushing her hand against the womans head.

She whistled, removing her armour. The movement made her shriek again, she came to the edge of passing out. Desperation pushed the darkness back.

She wanted to just lay there. Maybe lose consciousness. That would make the pain go away.

“Can't stop now,” she told herself, gritting her teeth so hard it felt like they were going to shatter. 

Gutting the pain, she reached into her backpack, pulling out her phone. The screen was badly cracked, but it was usable, her armour had protected it from the devise earlier. Thankful for small mercies, she found her location, then tried to remember the number for Doc Morris.

Slowly and painfully she dialed the number.

She ignored the fake spiel, tapping in the sequence of buttons that would get her to the doctor.

"Morris and Associates. How can I help you?" the person asked.

“Forte here. Injured. Need pick up,” she said.

“Are you currently being chased or around witnesses?”

“No. Out of armour. In car. Owner asleep for a while.”

“What's your location?”

She gave it, and a description of the car.

“A car will be there soon. Stay out of sight.”

She let the phone drop, and drifted into unconsciousness.


To Be Continued

Read 2333 times Last modified on Friday, 13 May 2022 06:32
Dan Formerly Domoviye

Find out what I'm working on in and out of Whately, by checking me out on Twitter.

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