Monday, 27 February 2023 19:00

Crystal Sights Files: The Catspaw (Part 2)

Written by
Rate this item
(7 votes)

A Whateley Tale

Crystal Sights Files:
The Catspaw




Part 2


“So, they left false leads to throw us off?” Detective Rishenbach said from the other end of the line.

“It’s likely. Whether it would’ve worked or not. I’m not sure. Though it would’ve still left us without a clue or lead to pursue.” Comsat reported.

“I’m almost scared to say it might’ve worked on the regular detective. Many are eager to turn in their case and move on. So, if it seems it can belong to someone else’s beat, they would be fast to push it.”

“You better not let your fellow officers hear you. They might get angry at you.” Comsat teased.

“Yeah, well that would be a problem,” David said disingenuously in such a way that it brought a smile to Comsat’s lips as a giggle slipped off her. She paced around the abandoned hallway, dust rising with each of her steps, but far more comfortable than having this conversation in the open plant where the echo was far louder. “If you have the chance to laugh, that just means you aren’t in a precarious situation.”

“I’m not right now,” Comsat said as she steadied herself. It was easy for her to get swept up in the conversation when things were peaceful… specially if it was with someone she felt good around. “We’re safe and sound on a stakeout.”

“So, you found where they’re hiding.”

“Fortunately, the man that planted the evidence was there to make sure we would pick the bait, unwittingly ruining the entirety of their plan.” Comsat recounted the spotting and pursuing of the onlooking goon, omitting the part where Lily slipped off their custody and abridging the part of their encounter with the Asphalt Biters. “… That minor incident set us back a couple of steps in our investigation. Fortunately, Dart placed one of Livewire’s tracking needles on him and managed to stick it in the neck of the goon’s clothes before he was let go.”

“And he led you to his base?”

“Yes, after a long walk around town the goon took us back to his lair. Concerto and I followed him just to be sure. We’re at a small office on the opposing side of the district, at the border, overlooking a building with the address of 354, Collins. Waiting for backup.”

“And you’re certain this is the right one?” David asked.

While that hurt Comsat’s pride, it was a valid question, considering there were a couple mistakes of that same nature when they first began. “We’ve confirmed the tracker’s location and have been staking the place since three o’clock. Rare movement in and out of the place, only departing to receive takeout, large bags meant to feed a group of twelve.” She then glanced at her wristwatch and then out a nearby window, one that had its face towards downtown, where the sun had already set in the distance giving way for the lights within the buildings and the streaking cars. “It’s already six and we see no hint of a regular crew. This has to be the place.”

“Very well.  I’ll start rallying a team and send a message to the members of Columbia Heroics. You have any confirmation on the leaders?”

“Yes, according to the audio, one of them is a devisor. One of the goons confirmed he was the one who changed Lily. There is another who calls himself Ticker, who I suspect is a different person, presumably the one who funds the operation.”

“Ticker… Not a lot to go on, but at the same time it’s more than we had.” David said, on his end of the line, there appeared to be some commotion as people began to discuss something energetically, not exactly a good thing.

“My money goes on gadgeteer.” Comsat continued staring at the sky’s outline before checking the time to remind herself she was to pick up her son from Livewire’s home. “Seems like a crew that is on the small side. Should be easy to have them arrested within the hour, even less if CH sends-”

However, her words were interrupted by flashes of light that popped in the middle of the air above downtown. Lights that sputtered and flashed before flying themselves around and onto each other, bouncing symmetrically and leaving trails of light. One was of a bright blue color whilst the other was of a dark red hue. If Comsat could hazard a guess, she recalled one of the members of Columbia Heroic, ‘Bluestar’ having powers that enabled fast flight and, when fully charged, did so leaving an expected blue trail… she wasn’t sure what was the other one, but it acted in the same manner, only with the difference of color.

Despite the mesmerizing dance, Comsat’s mind was brought back to the urgent implication of the matter when the two collided and, as a result casted the side of the building into darkness as windows were shattered.

“David! What was that? What’s going on in downtown?” She asked.

“It was a developing situation. The Tricksy Trio have managed to get a hold of the Negative Mirror and have just used it on the members of Columbia Heroic just outside of the station.” And it was punctuated by a large rumble that coincided when the two lights spun themselves before coming down on them. Now, all of them are facing off with their copies and… Oh shoot. He’s using the mirror on the officers! Esme, I have to hang up.”

“Wait, David! Do you need Crystal Sight’s support?”

“As tempting as it might be, please don’t get anywhere close to the area. Last thing we need is criminal version of you out and about.” David muttered as there was running heard on his line. “Sorry, but I’m going to have to leave the resolution of this case to you. I’m officially deputizing you to act as law enforcement for the operation!” There was something unbecoming of such nomination when it was done in such urgency, but she understood the urgency.

“Very well… Be careful,” Comsat said.

“I’ll put a call to Columbia Heroics through the direct line. They should, at least, be sending any of their backup heroes to support you.”

“We’ll start our assault,” Comsat said as the two promptly hung up. In the distance, no flash of light emerged following that crash, so hopefully Bluestar managed to defeat his doppelganger. As much as she wanted to help, David did have a point about not getting her close to something that could make an evil copy of her. And not to mention she couldn’t afford to abandon her current job. It was already hard to allow the operations of that devisor’s gene therapy clinic to go on for the remainder of the day, there was no way they would back out and risk letting them escape.

Helping people when the police had their hands tied was the original reason Crystal Sights was founded.

With some resignation that this job might take a bit more than she imagined, she began her walk back towards the group. Stationed in the office, they had their spying equipment placed up against the window pointed towards the hideout.

Concerto sat on the only cleaned table in the room, typing away in his computer setup. Either working on some of his assignments from the first year of college or practicing his surveillance skills, he appeared fully focused on it.

At the back of the office, around the corner and into the hallway, Dart and Livewire circled around Lily making comments and notes. Something about it didn’t sit well with Comsat, partly because she pieced it together once she got close enough.

Rather than the plain clothes she’d been given, which had been stained and dusted during her encounter with the Asphalt Biters, she sported a more formfitting outfit. Sport pants of flexible fabric that fit her legs and a shirt that appeared to be of a good material. The highlight of the attire appeared to be the pieces of armor and protection that were being slipped onto her arm. Some by hand and clasp while others were fitted through the use of Livewire’s own smart fabrics. Along with a belt fitted for tools, some of which appeared to have been taught to her recently, it was clear what she was planning.

“Is it fitting? Try lifting your leg. See how high you get it and if it bothers,” Dart encouraged through example before realizing that Comsat was just a few steps away. “Esme. There’s still no activity.”

“I can tell… Why is she wearing that?” She asked, despite already knowing the answer. “We can’t have civilians operating on the field.”

“I know. I know… but I asked for this, because I really wanted it.” Lily said, word by word putting her resolve together. “I want to be a part of the men’s downfall. If my normal life is over and I go downhill from here as my body starts to break apart…” She choked at the thought but found herself holding back the tears and the crack in her voice. “I need to do this… please.”

Comsat looked at Lily, then at Livewire and Dart. “You made the arrangements for this while we were tailing the goon, didn’t you?”

“Well, yes,” Dart said answered sheepishly though hardly hiding his pride on the end result. “She decided to do this after she braved those five thugs and I agreed to help her.”

“He came to me as soon as we made it back and asked me to make her a suit.” Livewire added, gesturing at the resulting getup she was wearing. “This is the best I could do.”

“Please, Esmeralda… I want to do this,” Lily begged, her ears dropped as her eyes were wide and close to tears welling up

“Fine… Fine,” she said resting her head in her hand. “Are you aware that this is going to be a serious matter? Where you might end up getting hurt, even if the pieces are played as they’re supposed to? Knowing that, do you still want to be a part of the operation?”

“I am…” Lily admitted.

“Fine. Dart will be your supervising officer. He’ll guide you and will define if the situation is too dangerous for you.”

“Understood,” Lily said proudly.

“You’re going to need a name,” Dart noted. “Unless you’re fine with us calling you by Lily on the field.”

“Yeah… Lily doesn’t work,” Lily admitted before lingering for a moment in thought. “I can’t choose a name.”

“Well. I don’t know if you feel comfortable to go into appearances,” Comsat muttered. “But you could be Egyptian, after the… ahem… cat.”

“Egyptian doesn’t roll off the tongue as smoothly.” Livewire noted, though didn’t object.

“How about Egy?” Lily asked.

“Egy works for me,” Dart agreed.

“I like Egy too,” Concerto said from his end of the room, seemingly having been paying attention throughout the conversation.

“Welcome to the team, Egy. Even if provisionally,” Comsat greeted, despite being unsure on this matter, there appeared no dissuading Lily on the matter.

“By the way, how did the call go?” Dart asked.

“It went well… the police and Columbia Heroics are a tad too busy at the moment to provide support.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing important. Just a case that’s taking much longer than it should.” She said avoiding going into details, especially as she knew that Dart was the kind of person who’d be more than interested in squaring off against a negative reflection just for the sake of fighting. “Bottom line is that we won’t have any support until that crisis is resolved. David gave us the authority to intervene so, we could proceed with the raid if we wanted.”

“Do we have to do that?” Livewire muttered as he nervously began to fidget with one of the settings of one of his personal inventions, twisting one of the knobs meant to up the mechanical pressure. “It’s not that I don’t think we can do it. I’m just wondering if we can wait for backup.”

“David said he would contact CH through the emergency line. It might still take a while.”

“You can’t let them keep operating,” Lily intervened, almost vehemently. When they discovered the hideout, she was the one who advocated for striking forth and it took quite some convincing arguments to get her to agree to waiting till sunset. “The longer they spend there, the worse their changes will be.”

“I agree that we should strike, just to close the case.” Comsat agreed.

“Then it’s settled,” Dart said, eager for action.

“Um… guys?” Concerto called their attention to the lookout window. “I see a truck being driven to the front gate… with the two remaining goons.”

The words put concern in the heads of the members of the group. As they approached the window to get a better look, they confirmed it without giving themselves away. It was indeed a large truck that pulled into the cargo entrance, the kind one would expect to see transporting heavy elements, such as vats with humans being experimented on.

“Our intervention earlier today must’ve rattled them,” Livewire noted. With a resigned sigh, knowing they would have to act. He moved to the back of the office and grabbed the remaining pieces of armor for his outfit as well as his holdout gadgets and capped it by slipping the large over-sized coat on.

“Alright, we move on to the strike.”

linebreak shadow

The briefing was quick. Certainly nothing too elaborate, just outlining the basic plan of action and giving them one last chance to memorize the layout. Ten minutes later, four people had left the building, making their way around the plant through the alleys. And in the building, Concerto acted as mission control, keeping their comms open, mapping the area and relaying information.

The layout of the factory was open on one of the screens with a rough layout of their plan. The main gates of the factory side were up in the north where the truck was parked. Side accesses were on the south and east, with the latter being under the main lights of the street and, as such, the couple of men that occasionally passed by the windows would see anyone getting closer. Southern and western sides were protected behind a fence that outlined a yard which was clouded under the darkness since the locale wasn’t in operation. Not that it would pose a problem for the members of the team. Be it Dart’s acrobatics or Livewire’s tool, they were in the process of breaking into the perimeter.

Crystal Sights assumed that this new location had recently been acquired, so the current holders hadn’t had that much planning, with all the moving around, to set up defensive positions. And just an hour before, Dart got a tip from a contact within the syndicate confirming that the place was a part of the organization’s catalog for hideouts, class D, on the cheaper range of the spectrum. So, a certain degree of alarms and traps were to be expected but still not impregnable. Knowing this, as Livewire’s ‘worms’ pierced into the wall and plugged themselves into the power grid, Concerto’s screen updated signaling the points where energy was being drawn, effectively giving them a clear view of where traps might be.

With the partial access to the operating sub-systems, Concerto felt that, by taking control of one of Livewire’s wires, he could easily cut the access to the alarm. The idea of ‘you get what you pay for’ fortunately applied here.

Once inside, Dart and Egy split off from the group and moved towards the western side. There was an access up a balcony with a climb the two were supposed to be able to make. While Comsat and Livewire slipped through the back entrance.

Egy couldn’t believe what she was actually doing this. She’d wanted to, to step in and be the payback of the people that experimented on her and ruined her life. But how she was going about it, she could barely imagine she would be playing the part of a ninja, or that she was even capable of the things she’d done so far. As much as she hated to admit it, her new body made it possible… of course it didn’t take away the growing dread that within her after she had the time to search about the Catamount experiments and how their lives were pretty much ended in the span of years for the experiments conducted on them.

She needed to cast those thoughts and fears away and focus on the now.

After vaulting over the fence, and splitting off from Comsat and Livewire, Dart led her around the field to the side of the building. Once there, he pointed her towards the top of the building, where there was an open door, where every now and then two of the goons would go up there for a smoke break. She followed the plan so far, trusting that they knew what they were doing, but knowing that she was meant to climb three stories to make it to the roof felt daunting.

But Dart appeared more than enthusiastic on the matter. Not even waiting a moment for consideration and instead setting himself up against the wall with both hands netted together at the ready to provide a boost.

“Are you serious?” Egy hissed, her hand reflexively clutching the short coil of rope across her shoulder.

“Come on.” Dart said. Another thing that Egy noticed about her new form was that, despite it being dark and past sunset, she could quite clearly see Dart and know he was nodding encouragingly.

“No. I can’t do that. I’m no acrobat.” Egy muttered.

“You can do it. Trust me, I believe you can,” Dart answered with whispering encouragement. “I’ll catch you.”

“You’ll catch me?”

“Or you can fall on your feet.” Dart half teased.

She should’ve been mad that he made a reference to her current predicament, but the task at hand had her more worried as to what might end up happening. And she liked Dart enough to allow it. “I…” She muttered, though her tightening the rope around her frame signified that she was going on with it.

Dart looked up the wall, wearing high tech glasses that she imagined had some sort of night vision filter, and took a couple of steps forth before preparing himself again. “Have a running start, ease up as you are about to reach me, and I’ll do the rest of the job. You don’t need a lot of momentum, just don’t fully halt.”

“Okay, okay… I can do this.” Egy muttered as she took a couple of steps back.

“Oh, and try to not make much noise,” Dart added.

“As if it were that easy,” Egy tried to snarl at him, but she was already running and not giving herself the chance of distraction. Four strides before she lifted her digitigrade foot up to the height of Dart’s hands before stepping on them. And from there the rest of the world appeared as a blur and she felt as if the soul left her body from the sudden ascent. A feeling that swiftly passed as she saw the railing of the balcony and her ascent began to slow.

Entering a brief moment of panic, she fumbled in the air but managed to get a grip of the concrete railing and, with some fumbling managed to vault over it, standing on her hands for a moment before her reflexes kicked in and she spun around to touch the solid ground feet first. Barefoot she’d managed to do so barely making a sound.

Still, that didn’t keep her body from trembling at what she just did. Adrenaline coursed through her, and a sense of pride erupted within her. Her legs itched as did her arms, still bursting with energy but she had to restrain herself to focus again on the job, especially when she heard Dart calling for her. “Egy? Egy? Are you there?”

“Sorry. I was just catching my breath.” She said reaching for her outfit’s hood, which had slipped open during her jump, and pulled it over her head and mouth to hide her feline features. Not that that would make her inconspicuous, after all there was no shoe that would fit her and nothing that could hide her hairless cat tail without creating some discomfort for her.

Still, she uncoiled the rope that hung across her shoulder and tossed an end to Dart, while she held onto the other. His ascent was fast and nimble, so much so that Egy barely noticed it with the exception of a couple of tugs from the rope.

“We made it.” Egy sighed relieved.

“Not yet,” Dart corrected pointing upwards a nearby wall. “Our destination is the roof.”

“Ugh…” Egy grumbled, all she could do so as to not groan out loud. Fortunately, Dart gave her a reprieve.

“I’ll do this one and throw you the rope,” he said taking the short coil and wrapping it over his shoulder.

 And before Egy could offer a hand in assistance, not sure if she could propel the man as high, he made the run in a burst, meeting up with the wall and bouncing off from side to side of the corner, doing some parkour the likes of which would make Jackie Chan proud. With a fast ascent, he covered the last inch of wall outstretching his hand to grab onto the concrete edge of the balcony. Just like that, Dart managed to cover a four meter climb in five seconds, making it seem just as easy.

“Egy, over here,” he whispered casting the rope off the side for her to do the climb.

Compared to him, she was particularly slow and pretty self-conscious on each step of her ascent. There was a clear difference when doing things fast and taking the time to actually realize what every step meant. Still, getting to feel Dart’s grip around her own came as a huge relief.

Egy gave him a relieved smile now that her feet were touching solid ground again. “I didn’t think I could do it.

“You did well.”

“Thanks… I can’t believe I made that climb,” Egy said, finding herself cracking a smile under her mouth guard. “There aren’t any more steps, right?” she joked.

“Hah, no don’t worry. Now we have to deal with the thugs.” He said gesturing to the open entrance to the side from which the light in the area seeped in. A small concrete hallway with windows to the sides was what separated them from what the blueprints stated was the emergency stairs.

“Oh, right,” Egy mumbled, inwardly grimacing at the prospect of a fight, her hand reached down to her belt where one of Livewire’s contraptions hung. It appeared to be a strange mix between a gun and a stapler, with a strange gap on the top of the barrel where a wire could be seen loaded up and the muzzle tip bearing a strange add-on wheel that appeared to be cable reel.

Dart noticed her uncertainty and reassured her. “You’re doing well. Just remember what we told you. The gadget won’t deal a killing blow by design but can still be dangerous. Try to aim at the limb’s height and let the cables do the rest. Use the top of the barrel for wide shots and the end of it for the grappling hook. I usually use it to-”

He was cut short mid-sentence as Egy’s ears suddenly perked and she immediately grabbed him by the Kevlar vest, pulling him outside of the spotlight into the shadows. The two tumbled out of sight, falling behind the concrete wall, fortunately masked by the loud creak of the door as it opened.

“Ugh… Moving again,” One of the voice grumbled as the steps carried them through the dusty ground.

“You better hope Ticker doesn’t hear you. He has a bit of a temper for insubordination.” Another voice muttered, by the sound of it, it was just two of them.

In the dark, around the corner, Egy and Dart laid together, both of them resting close to each other’s arms, in what felt like an embrace she’d needed. Her heart, already beating faster from the activity of the past ten minutes was close to bursting, but at the same time it raced peacefully as if wanting to remain in this position. And her ears told her that Dart’s was mirroring her own. “I…” She began but was gestured to maintain silence.

That felt like the hardest thing in the world because when she felt his arms wrap around her lower back, she was close to arching and letting out a startled yowl. Avoiding giving herself away, the two rolled out of the shadow and behind the wall, as they heard the sound of the door hinges creak as the corridor was opened.

“You’ve been with him longer. How bad does it get?” The first man asked.

“Well, he’s pretty up front with where we stand. We’re just mooks to him and we get paid… slightly above the average… though I sense it’s because he has no idea of the current rates outside of the city. Just don’t displease him and if you try to leave work, be sure to do it in good terms unless you’re already planning on leaving the city.”

“Really? He has that much influence?”

“Not as much as he makes it a personal vendetta. There was once this guy who did so…”

Of course, by that point, Dart and Egy were barely listening. They laid down on the floor with her under him, trying to steady herself and to not let her imagination wander to things she might want… even if she was unsure if there was room for it with all that’d happened. She couldn’t take it anymore and reached out to push him off.

He obliged, just to be quiet about it and carefully crouched against the dark of the wall. By then, their noses told them the two men were smoking on the side, going on about a story now revolving some sort of incident in a water park and smuggling bath bombs. Once crouched watching face to face. Dart eased up and placed his hand on her shoulder, as if asking if she was alright. She nodded.

The gestures then became to simulating a chokehold, the number two and then pointing to him and then at the men at the back. The message was hard to follow, though she could get the gist. However, not everything would go to plan. He was moving on the attack, with half of his face out around the corner before he had to suddenly pull back. And Egy could tell why, her nose and ears were telling him one of the men had turned around and was a couple of steps from the other.

“…And the food truck could never run again,” The mook finished his narration.

“Wow… that’s messed up.” The other said with genuine surprise.

“I tell you. Rule one about being a mook, try to not stand out on your boss’ bad side when you know or don’t know if he has one. I still wish he would make up his mind about moving again. I kinda like this place more than the other factory.”

“Well, that isn’t his fault. That devisor he hired is the one who made the arrangements behind his back.”

“What did you say about not getting on his bad side?”

“Don’t think he cares.”

All the while Dart was trying to explain his new approach to Egy through signs. It went as well as it would to someone who’d never done this sort of thing before, even with her night vision, she couldn’t ascertain the message, which is until he pointed towards the rope gun she had on her hands.

She got the message and fiddled in with the mechanism, unholstering and preparing it, which came in with its own audible click. Much like a stapler’s springs voicing their complaint.

While, normally, that wouldn’t rouse much attention, in the quiet night where everything around was made of concrete, the ringing of the mechanism turned some heads. “What was that?” one of them asked.

“Maybe it’s nothing.”

“Maybe,” the other voice conceded though Egy’s ears could hear one of the guys drawing closer.

Egy’s stomach sank but she steadied herself fumbling with the arm… And when she turned to ask Dart for assistance, she saw him already slip out of sight, dexterously climbing over the concrete wall and onto the upper side of the hallway without making a sound.

“Well… crud,” Egy thought to herself. The man’s footstep was just around the corner, and the flashlight of a phone danced around exposing the darkness. Moments away, she couldn’t allow herself to hesitate.

“Who goes there?” the man said turning around and casting the light around the corner and shining it over her.

Egy was still unaccustomed to her night vision, so when the flashlight was turned upon her, the world became of a blinding white for a painful moment and her body reeled back as a reflex. “What the hell?” the man blurted, now with a clear view of the strange creature. “Yo, check this out.” Was all the man could utter to describe the situation as before he could describe or get a better look, the sound of footsteps touching the ground, a fist colliding and the rustling of clothes pulled his attention.

Dart had descended from the roof of the hallway, coming crashing down against the goon with a fist down on the man’s shoulder as he landed. Pulled down, the mook fell  into his opponent’s grasp. With an arm wrapped around the neck and a kick to the leg, he instantly fell into a chokehold from which he struggled to break himself free. But it was to no avail as he lacked any proper stance.

“Who are you!” The goon blurted out as he reached for the gun on his holster.

That was the opportunity Egy had been waiting. Even if her eyes were still blinded, she pulled the trigger of the device. It let out a hissing launch that was hard to describe to her ears, but it did its job, launching black cable through the air that instantly wrapped itself around the man’s body before the end’s fastened together as they stopped spinning. The man had an arm pinned but the other was still free.

But, Egy wasn’t done. Aiming better she pulled the trigger again and again, sending more wires that repeated the process, wrapping around the man’s chest, down his legs, and by a stroke of luck around the man’s mouth before he could scream. Unable to balance himself after withstanding the multiple impacts, he fell down.

“Good job,” Dart praised as appeared around the corner after having cuffed the goon and left him up against the wall. “Might I suggest, though being a bit more conscious of the ammo?”

“I couldn’t see. I panicked,” Egy muttered rubbing her eyes as her pupils dilated and shifted in between each blink, getting used to the light again.

“It’s okay. You still got it,” Dart said reaching a hand out.

Egy took it and was pulled up to her feet. “What do we do with him?” Unlike Dart’s target, the one she took down wasn’t left unconscious and still moved about, though with four cables, he was effectively immobile: Legs forced together, one arm pinned around his stomach and the other fastened to his head, he resembled more like someone trying to pretend to be a snake, wiggling about trying to get up, though unable to break free from the position.

“He won’t get out of those anytime soon,” Dart reassured as he knelt by the man and searched his pockets. He didn’t find anything of interest, so he just took the man’s gun and, with simple absentminded movements picked it apart, before throwing the pieces on opposite sides of the building, much to the man’s gagged protests. “Besides, our objective is the level below.”

“Okay…” Egy muttered looking down the hallway. “Do you think we’ll save them?”

“I know we will,” Dart said as he led the way, walking past her and moving up against the door. With cautious steps, he swung the door open and stepped in, inviting Egy as the coast was clear.

The stairs were dimly lit by the light below and spiraled themselves down. These should take them to the rendezvous point. “Do you think Es- I mean, Comsat and Livewire have made it in without a problem?”

“I’m sure they have, otherwise we would be hearing of any troubles. And that reminds me,” Dart said as he reached for the earpiece. “Concerto? Egy and I are in.”

linebreak shadow

<Well, seems like we’re making good progress> Comsat muttered through the telepathic channels as she finished cuffing and gagging the three guards that had been posted on the southern side of the compound. One of them psychically put to sleep and the other two were knocked out by Livewire’s cable with a taser head. <All done.>

And with that, the cables that held them came to life and unhooked, releasing themselves onto the ground and slithering back towards Livewire arm wherein they coiled themselves in, plugging back onto the chargers under his sleeve. <I’m worried about the transport. If they take off in the truck, things will get dicier.>

Comsat took a pause as she spied around the corner into the empty corridor. Giving her enough berth to speak out. “Concerto. Has there been any change?”

The ear piece’s channel opened up. <so far there’s no movement and they’ve closed the main gate. I think I can pick up some arguments, though> There was a slight pause as he focused his ears upon another channel. <It appears that this Ticker fellow isn’t happy that the devisor, D-Rob, went around his back to procure the truck. Claiming it’s beating the point of a hidden lair.>

“Any idea on how many people are present in the room?”

<I detect between six people there, not counting the high profile targets. Also, Dart and Egy just took down two more men.>

“Good, we should be arriving in a matter of minutes.” Comsat said as she silenced her side of the comms and reestablished the mental link. <I’m not sure how to feel about that.>

<Of what?> Livewire said as the two carried down the corridor, completely silent and cautious in case there was an errant mook wandering about.

<You know, of having Lily here.>

<It’s just a one-off thing. Is it really much to worry if she’s with Dart?> Livewire said as he reached into his holster and produced his cable gun, the same type he issued to Egy and Comsat. However, with a pop, the barrel came detached around the hinges and it allowed one of the smart high tension wires wrapped around his arm to climb in, slithering like a snake into a hollow log.

<I get the feeling Oscar might be interested in extending her the official invitation to join us.> Comsat said taking a moment of self-reflection before adding. <Maybe it bugs me because I’m someone who is uneasy with change… or rather the hints of it. After all the crap I’ve gone through and the constant flux in my life, I’ve felt that I’ve finally gotten myself in a stable situation I don’t want to change. And to that I should start to be more open minded and stop looking at things with a more pessimistic glance, stopping to focus on what I fear might happen… Oh, Sorry, Gus. I found myself rambling on.>

<It’s alright, Esme. It’s always interesting to catch you during your psychoanalysis process.> Livewire said, smiling under the dimmed lights of the corridor.

<I just need to focus on getting this over and going back to my son.>

<Oh, I don’t think he minds spending more time with Danny.> Livewire said with a smile.

<Still. I’ve been a bad parent… am I?>

<You’re a single mother doing the best she can, on every aspect. I think that, deep down, he appreciates it. And I’ve seen you two together. His love is unconditional.>

<Oh, you’re just saying that to make me feel better.> Comsat laughed. <You know what? After this, perhaps we should close Crystal Sights for the day tomorrow? I mean it’ll be Friday, so why not reward ourselves with a job well done.>

<Sounds good> Livewire laughed telepathically <Think we should make plans to visit the water park or the zoo. Both families together?>

<Sounds lovely> Comsat said, gesturing at him to pause the conversation as she stopped just around the corner. Livewire heard it as well: someone was coming their way.

Still, Comsat was more than used to it and prepared. Having taken far too many lessons from Dart, the moment the person was about to turn around the hallway, she launched forth. A pointed chop to the man’s throat to keep him from screaming and sent him reeling back gave her the chance to wrap her arm around the guys’ neck and knock him out through a chokehold.

By the time the minute had elapsed, Esme was finishing putting the cuffs on the knocked out goon. <You’re getting better at it.> Livewire noted.


<Have you considered that,> Livewire continued as they stepped in down the hallway, getting closer and closer to the main plant of the lair where most of the sound and movement became apparent. <If Lily decides to join us, it would allow us more time to be with our families.”

<Heh, and if we add in more powerful mutants or prodigious interns like Concerto, we might be able to register as a superhero team.> Comsat said, while as a mock, there was no denying in her mental voice that she could see the appeal of it all. <We’ll first have to see how she does and what she wants… Her status worries me.>

<Me too… maybe if we can get a hold of the devisor’s notes we can assess the extent of the damage and if it’s irreversible.> Livewire noted as the two fell into silence as their focus was projected to the other side of the closed door, where the main floor of the plant rested.

The door was slightly ajar, just enough for them to get a good ear on the events. Livewire had one of his cables detach themselves and slip in under the door as he presented the phone to Comsat so she could get a view of the head’s camera as it recorded the faces. The main gate of the factory was closed and the truck that had arrived earlier was parked with its back open and in the process of loading up the materials. The seven men loaded items back and forth into the truck, though half-heartedly as they were focused on the side, near the tanks filled with bright fluids wherein the outline of floating people could be seen. And before them the two higher members of the group were having an argument: One appeared to be a normal man, almost dressed in civilian like clothes, whilst the other was dressed in some sort of light plated armor, that one she guessed was Ticker. Both were a perfect match with Egy’s memories.

“This is the place.” Comsat muttered. “Concerto, are you getting this?”

<I am.> He responded through the comm-links. <Forwarding this to the detective’s office… Additionally, just received a call from him. Says that the matter they were tending to was sorted, should be mobilizing the remaining forces here soon.>

<That’s great,> Dart’s voice chimed in. <By the way, we’re in position, awaiting on the catwalks.>

And upon hearing that, the cable’s camera turned and twisted looking up in the darkened upper area of the plant. Turning up the brightness, they got a clear look of Dart and Egy’s silhouettes slipping closer towards the entrance.

<We’re waiting for your orders.>

“Good. Just wait one moment.” Comsat said wanting to get some more insight on the argument going on.

The two men argued, Livewire’s spy cable did the best to amplify the sound and voices, projecting them into their headset.

“…It’s not the first time you’ve gone around my orders! We’re this deep because of you.”

“Must I remind you whose men were responsible for letting the subject escape?” The other man, the one that had his back to the camera, the devisor. snapped back with a calmed voice.

“We wouldn’t be in this situation if you hadn’t forced us to take guinea pigs.” Ticker snapped.

“Oh, is that so? Then how did you expect me to perfect the formula? Want to get degenerative side effects? Maybe instant death? You knew when you gave me this asinine request that we would need subjects and even I know that using your own henchmen is the easier way to turn them against you.” He then turned towards the five men that were listening to the conversation. “Didn’t he tell you? He was close to using you lot and you could’ve ended up like subjects one and two.”

“Quiet!” Ticker snapped.

“And need I tell you that this issue would’ve been solved much easier if you’d actually gone ahead and built up the subcutaneous tracker, I asked you to implant subject-03.”

“You’re a devisor! Couldn’t you do it?”

“Correction! I’m a power mimic who only works with devised things!” The ‘devisor’ snapped. “That is your job. But as usual, you half ass it and just throw in money to cover the difference. Issue being, you wanted to outsource the creation of a gadget, because it’s not a fancy power armor.”

“You have quite a mouth on you.” And to that, Ticker charged forth with a sudden burst of speed, colliding with the ‘devisor’ and sending him to the ground.

<A speedster gadgeteer.> Comsat noted.

<I can deal with him.> Livewire assured.

Still, the shoved man appeared barely concerned or scared, instead he pushed himself up. “Well, considering that you’ve been a pain to deal with as of recently and that we’re in the latter stages of the experiment. I find myself looking forward to the end of my services once I can confirm that the latest formula or iteration was a success.”

“The process that takes weeks of a coma? You plan to call it quits?”

“What? Do you want me to perfect it? You have to pay extra… and treat me better.”

“Extra? I’m the one who risked my neck by getting you the Animan samples you’ve used for the experiment! Do you have any idea of what-”

“You keep on amazing me by being so confused by things you should’ve known by now. You wanted me to conjure a transformation serum from anything? Of course, I was going to need a sample to base it off. And of course, it wouldn’t have turned out perfect from the get-go, which is why I needed the kidnapping victims to do your human testing.” The devisor snapped back as he reached the side of the room, between the truck and the wall where a motorbike rested. “You, as a gadgeteer, as low and unimaginative as you are, should know this process isn’t flawless. Should be thankful I’m getting you a ticket to furry island.”

“Remember that I’m doing this to steal secrets and bring down the place. Truthfully, I loathe those creatures and the attention they get for the sole reason of being.”

“Understood,” the devisor said dismissively. “Either way, we’re moving the operation to the nearest city. And as luck would have it tonight, there is a bit of a chaos downtown, movement should be the better idea whilst the police are dealing with whatever is going on there.” Giving the seven henchmen a look just to get them to go back to loading the containers.”

“And where are you going?”

“To my pad. Afterall, I’m a local here and your operation is skipping town. I obviously need to get some things in order before I move,” the devisor grumbled but the sound of metal slipping off leather and the cock of the gun’s hammer got him to stop in his tracks. “What is it now, Tickler? I’ve had about three hours of sleep in the past 24 hour and you’re pulling this crap on me?

“Oh, I just think things have been going a little too convenient for you,” Ticker said, holding his gun in a steady aim towards the target’s midsection, a customized model FN with silver plaques and parts placed upon its frame in a way that matched the armor, whether decorative or actually doing something was up to anyone’s guess. A gun was still a gun. “Change the schedule and suddenly disappear? You’re staying here where we can see you.”

“Or what? Are you going to shoot me?” the devisor was clearly bluffing as his composed demeanor began to change ever so slightly towards frantic.

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea. I would rather shoot you down and hand you over to the police before letting you just leave while we’re busy. Your MID has you registered under those powers and you are the only person here that can be accused of forceful gene therapy. And you said that the formula works, but it requires perfecting. If I could hire you, I can find another devisor who can finish the job.” Ticker snorted. The devisor could only scoff, throwing a look to the side, one that spelled that he saw it coming… but still had nothing planned on this situation as he trembled when taking his next step. “So, by far, the best of option is for you to stay in our lair until we move out and until you finish the formula.”

“You’re really going to do this? You know that the moment you  open fire things won’t-”

Whether the pulling of gun was for a bluff, or he actually meant to kill him to go with the plan of turning him in, was uncertain… But the Crystal Sight’s team couldn’t take that chance. <Go!> Came in the order through their pieces as the two teams moved in.

Comsat and Livewire emerged from the hallway, the latter producing his customized cable gun and fired a shot aimed towards the truck’s large hind wheel. It hit the large mark, with its hard metallic head puncturing the rubber. But that wasn’t the end of it as, right after, the metal fiber body came to life and wrapped itself around the steel axis, effectively grounding the vehicle… Of course, the men didn’t notice that as they were immediately prioritizing in defending themselves, which led to them managing to dodge Livewire’s and Comsat’s shots.

Crystal Sights had picked a fortuitous moment to attack: as the men were loading up the truck, not only were they tired to a degree, but they had also divested themselves of extra weight, which meant leaving their coats with their provided gear and their guns lying down in a corner by the tanks. A shot from Livewire’s grappling gun left a cable latched onto the ground which, with snakelike moves, wrapped itself around the guns with its body sizzling with an electrocuting current.

By the time one of the goons reached to try to wrench the guns free, he received the hard discharge that sent him flying. Though still conscious, that did its job dissuading the men from trying further, which was what Livewire had hoped for, considering he knew his proxy had expunged about half of its charge already.

But there was still another weapon at play, the one held by Ticker who was in the process of turning it towards both Livewire and Comsat, picking the latter as the former’s bulky coat gave the illusion to be hiding some better protection. His eyes trailed over onto Comsat who was in the middle of a sprint to the side, seeking the cover behind the computer setup.

“Don’t you dare shoot the computers or the serums!” The devisor called out, but the warning wasn’t needed as, close to where he was, a pair of feet touched the ground with running momentum and carried on towards Ticker.

They covered the distance at a sprint’s pace whilst Ticker was so concerned with trying to line up the shot. By the time he pulled the trigger, a hand had already forced the aim down towards the ground and the bullet ricochet off the mark, bouncing harmlessly in the open. Dart stood just next to Ticker with a hard grip on the gun’s barrel. He then capitalized in Ticker’s surprise by immediately connecting a punch down at the kidney height and at the end of the ribcage.

Ticker was at the level of a strong baseline and resisted to losing his grip of the gun after the first two hits. But it was apparent that, little by little, his strength would whittle down, so instead he lashed out. He tried to force the gun, but that just resulted on Dart dismantling the barrel effortlessly sliding it off. The gadgeteer mistook the seeming release for a victory on the struggle and proceeded to try to win in close quarters.

With the twist and a click, a blade projected itself from the underside of his wrist and instead had it swing around in an effort to slice off Dart’s arm. The man dodged again and again. Even as he injected some speed boost into his movements, Ticker couldn’t land a hit. A long swipe and Dart took a step back. Getting closer, he dodged, even going as far as spinning him like a dance partner.

At some point, Ticker realized he was uselessly holding the grip of his gun and nothing more. Frustrated, he threw it at Dart before charging back in.

In the meantime, the devisor had pulled himself with his back up against the door, and, inch by inch, he began to slip closer towards his goal, the loading bay controllers. In his mind, the plan was simple: pull the lever to open the gate, then ride his bike out of the way. It was something that shouldn’t have taken more than a minute to accomplish.

However, he wasn’t alone, and he wasn’t unnoticed. A figure slipped off the catwalks and, landing on the truck’s cargo box and then gracefully leapt down into the light. A slim figure that the man had seen several times before during testing, that he could recognize before he even saw the hairless ears poke between her still human hair or the skinny tail that swished behind her garments.

“You… You came back…” He blurted out with a mixture of feelings. Pride was apparent in his tone, as was the knowledge of what was to come.

“Yes! Me!” Egy said, barely able to contain herself. Her ears lay down against her head, her lips pulled back to reveal her fangs and her features wrinkled themselves to allow for an animalistic hiss. Her claws unsheathed and her hands tensed for the hardest of beatings. “The woman whose life you ruined. Who you turned into this freak.”

“But. It worked for you…” The devisor answered. With quivering voice but still overcome by the sense of accomplishment that bothered her to no end. He was met by a closed fist from Egy. She found herself reeling back after the hit, realizing that this’d been the first closed punch she’d thrown since her change and feeling her claws painfully wanting to pierce her palms in the attempt. While stunned, the devisor pulled himself up and continued, all the while backing away. “You… you are perfect! My perfect creation. Or at least I want to think that… Let me get a good look at you. Look at you somewhere safe!”

Egy didn’t answer, instead, she just stepped forth and with a twist of her hips whipped out a kick that came in fast and hard. Even as the devisor had his arms raised and tried brace for what appeared to be a thin limb, he was blindsided by the strength and momentum it carried, sending his back up against the concrete wall and almost falling down. “You… You’re wonderful… Seem to have exceeded the parameters, probably matching what I would expect of my next couple of iterations. My talented work at its finest.”

The words did nothing to endear him to Egy as she opened her hand, with the clear intention of clawing. And signaled to him not to keep on pissing her off, so he switched strategies. “You don’t like how you look? I’ll say Egyptian sphynx cat wasn’t my ideal form, it was just the sample one of Ticker’s morons could provide… That being said, it wasn’t a bad choice. No fur meant an easier upkeep when taking you out of the vat.”

Egy came in with her arms swinging. Too telegraphed, they were easily dodged by the devisor who backed away to the bike and continued running his mouth. “Listen! Listen! You want me to undo the changes? I can fix them. I’m, after all, the one who made them happen. I can undo them. I’m the only one!”

The man’s words forced Egy to pause, staying her hand from a certain hit but keeping her target from running away.

“I have my research with me. If the crew is coming down, with me included, I’ll never get a chance of giving you the solution or solving your predicament. What say you? Let me go and I’ll turn you back into how you were before.”

Lie or truthful offer. Egy didn’t know the guy enough to make an assessment. And didn’t get the chance to consider it any further.

Her ears perked at the sound of a lock of a door opening at the front of the truck, at the front of all the chaos that was going on. Crystal Sights just happened to assume that there was no one at the driver’s seat. And Egy’s back stiffened upon hearing the cocking of a gun.

From there the trigger was pulled in her direction and her gut reaction was to sprint towards safety around the cargo hold of the truck. Despite the man’s lack of aim, two bullets found their mark, one grazed Egy’s waist, cutting through the unprotected clothes and drawing some blood (not that she could blame Livewire for it, since this outfit had been crafted in such short notice, leaving gaps) and the other striking on the devisor’s leg, getting the guy to scream and curse profanities towards the irresponsible mook.

Still, the man didn’t care. To him, it was obvious that this would be a losing battle, whilst hearing some of his comrades exclaim about having their arms and legs bound or about what were ‘electric rope snakes’. So, his sights were set on the gate controllers on the corner, to where he ran, though not ignoring Egy’s presence. When she tried to peek in around the corner, she was narrowly missed by an shot, which bounced off the truck’s cargo steel frame.

She tried to prepare her cable gun and turn it around the corner and pull the trigger, with what was probably the last of her ammo… However, she forgot Dart’s advice of not firing it close to a wall: the cable came out flying with the head striking the hard surface of the truck and, in turn, sent it flying off in a random direction. The gunner had the chance to answer and, this time, the bullet collided with the steel frame of the gun, sending it out of Egy’s hands.

One more attempt, she tried to reach for the gun, even if it was fully unloaded, and the bullet struck the concrete near to where her hand leaned on. There was nothing she could do without risking herself but watch as the devisor limped towards his bike and suddenly hearing the sound of the lever coming down with a hard crunch.

All of that lasted but one or two minutes while the gadgeteer-vigilante fight reached its break. When Ticker tried to drive in a stabbing strike, seeking Dart’s stomach. But the windup was so great and his opponents reaction and reading skills were on point. The vigilante just stepped to the side out of the run through, though not without adding insult to injury by giving him a push to the back to the head.

That little mocking gesture threw Ticker off balance and almost had him against the ground, and yet he recovered just in time to realize that one of Livewire’s ‘dumb’ capture cables were flying towards him. With the enhanced speed, he managed to duck out of the way, letting them fly by, and, as a result, hitting one of his goons. Even if it only touched an arm, the iron fiber immediately whipped itself around to bound both arms and force the man down, unable to break the restraint.

On the sides, two unmissable sounds could be heard springing to life. The first was the engine at the top of the gate starting to whirr itself into work, rattling the sleeted steel sheets as they were reeled up, letting in the breeze of the outside seep in with each passing second. The other was much louder and boisterous that, coming after, robbed the attention of the opening entrance. The engine of a motorcycle also waking up and the revving of it to get it on the ready. And at the top was his hired devisor. His intentions were clear enough that no word was exchanged but a smug grin from him and a frowning glare from Ticker.

Adding gas to the engine, his bike suddenly sprinted forth with a trail of rubber smoke, slipping down to the enclosed side of the truck, where the capture ropes wouldn’t hit him. Egy tried to pounce upon him in mid-movement, now that the person who’d opened the gate had escaped, but he swerved to the side on his ride, narrowly missing her. From there, the engine’s sounds came in further and further away until they disappeared.

Seeing this, the other thugs realized that they might be slightly outclassed and began eying the open garage door with much more temptation than before.

“Don’t run! You cowardly bastard!” The gadgeteer called out as if his hired devisor cared. And the moment he saw his men start to inch towards following the example, he turned to them. “I’ll up the salary for every intruder defeated!”

Among the five henchmen, there was some reluctance about taking on the challenge, specially at the uncertainty of how much that raise would entail… however it only took for one of them to recklessly charge forward for the rest to buy into the offer and chase after.

That brief pause was all Ticker had needed to re-assess his priorities and that of his men. He could’ve gone for the vigilante that’d given him so much trouble, who was running to tend towards the escaped experiment… even so, he had a feeling that still might not work. So instead, he aimed for the seeming gadgeteer that had been giving his men that much trouble.

Touching ground for a second to assume a runner’s position he broke forth into a fast empowered sprint. Nothing to the level of a hyper speedster, but it was enough to cover the distance of the factory in a short time and, while Livewire tried to take another shot at him, he had enough foresight to dodge it.

This just happened to be around the time Livewire had ran out of ammo. As he tried to load more of his cables into the contraption, Ticker had already vaulted over his cover and met him with a hard hitting kick, sending him to the ground, as well as sending his gun flying against the wall. He came in closer to bring his bladed gauntlet down to the man’s coat when all of the sudden, he felt a presence coming to his side.

Comsat had arrived to provide support to her co-worker and was immediately forced back by a back swing of the bladed gauntlet. But her goal was achieved: getting Ticker to focus on her, just to give Livewire time to recover and provide the needed support. But the situation was changing at a fast pace. The goons that had been held back by Livewire’s suppressive fire and threat were now pouring in to support their boss. Two were running in their direction whilst the others were going after Dart and Egy.

<Gus! Are you okay?> Comsat asked, almost in a scream as she took a couple more steps as Ticker tried to drive the wrist blade right into her stomach.

<I’m fine! Worry about yourself!> Livewire grumbled as he pushed himself up and took stock of his weapons while the men approached and he was already preparing a surprising offensive the moment they tried to engage. In the distance, Dart would certainly make quick work of the men after him. Her partner was right, she was the one at greater risk.

And that realization came in just as Ticker’s legs tapped the ground and he sprinted forth using his enhanced speed. He strived to deliver a horizontal cut at the height of the stomach, an attack that would be hard to avoid just by stepping back and she wasn’t at Dart’s level to try for one of his unorthodox counters, so she did the next best thing she could think of. Holding the empty cable gun, she switched it for an extended grip and brought it down to clash on the point of contact.

The wrist blade was deflected, but it won the exchange, sending the pieces of the cable gun to the ground.

<My gun!> Gus’s errant thoughts came in as he rose up to meet the thugs head on. While as unimpressive as he might look as a middle-aged man dressed in a bulky coat, she was certain that the moment they would come in close, the tools concealed there would attack and hold them down.

<Sorry, Gus! I’m going silent now!> Comsat apologized as she tried to close in the distance while the blade’s tip was pointed out. Her hand clamped around his elbow, as strong as possible, to keep it from bending as her fist sought his throat for a disabling hit. However, he didn’t allow her and, instead, hit back with his free arm. Fortunately, the left gauntlet didn’t have a blade that he could pull and, it being a reflex, all his counter amounted to was a slight bruise on the left of her waist. Enough to have her release his arm and send her back.

But her goal was already established.

<Ow that hurts… Is that how you treat women?> She spoke up, projecting her thoughts through the established link.

Ticker’s reaction was predictable. He stopped on his tracks, with Comsat giving him some room to gage his reaction. suddenly looking around when hearing the voice but had some hard trouble piecing it together where it’d come from.

<Boo!> Comsat projected her voice, making him think it came in from behind him where in reality came from within his head.

In his heightened state the simple whisper, clear and loud in his head almost had him jump, having the pieces of armor rattle in the spontaneous movements. His hands reached up as if expecting to find some sort of headphone or talking bug buzzed about on him. Comsat didn’t get to use her power for combat this way often, but it was always funny to see it at work.

It didn’t take long for Ticker to piece it together just by looking at his opponent grinning amusedly.

“You’re doing this!” He called out.

<No, I’m your conscience. We don’t talk often,> Comsat mused, a line she’d used before. <You know what would be a good thing to do? Just surrender and accept the consequences for your deeds… Hehehe… I’m so sorry, that sounds so cheesy when I think of it.> She finally said mentally laughing, reflected by the quivering corner of her lip.

Ticker couldn’t take it anymore and instead just darted forth, covering the distance with his speed before raising up the wrist blade towards Comsat’s neck, only for it to be a feint and instead turned the tip towards the stomach. he was desperate to get her voice out of his head… but, there was no certainty to his action. His opponent instead sidestepped back, making him think she fell for the feint before her arm came whipping down flowing with the motion and grabbing him by the gauntlet and spinning with it. At the end of the movement, she would’ve thrown him if she’d managed to land a better grip, instead they just separated.

<But seriously. You should consider surrendering. Works out for every one of us present.> Comsat noted as she held up her hands in a boxer’s stance. <It’ll hurt you less  this way.>

“Cut that out! Get out of my head!> Ticker snarled as he dashed forth throwing punch after punch. Sometimes with his powers and sometimes without believing as if the change in timing would throw her defenses off. But Comsat could somehow see through every attack and attempted strike, ducking, sidestepping and backing and avoiding damage. The blade missing her desperately.

<Why? Are you afraid that I might be about to lecture you? What are you even thinking? Whatever you’re planning… is it worth it?>

<Shut up shut up!>

<Oh, I see that you figured out how to maintain a conversation. Isn’t it more convenient when you don’t have to worry about biting your tongue?>

<What-> he thought halfway when Comsat made honor to her word and weaved herself past a thrust of the armed gauntlet and delivered two punches to Ticker’s shoulder and cheek. Not meant to be knockouts or even strong, but mostly annoyances to wear out his defense and annoy him. <I’ll get you for that, bitch.> He responded throwing his other arm, but as expected, it was a miss as she was already taking more steps back.

<What do you expect to gain from this? To harm others? Why? What do you get from that?>

<What do you mean why? Because I want things and I get them. Am I going to lower myself to the level of others just to be nice? Why do I care about what happens to others?> Ticker muttered. <I despise furries and want to make sure the doctor that makes them can’t anymore. I also want whatever money and riches he has hiding in that island. It’s such an expensive operation.> Just as Comsat expected, Ticker had no defenses nor filter against this sort of attack and was spilling out his thoughts just as easily. In fact, it was the reason why she’d grown so efficient in the fight, dodging attacks because his intentions were clear in each strike.

And as he was now busy trying to manage both the physical movements and word by word sparring, his performance became all the worse.

<And that justifies your actions? Stepping all over others? Your recent victim back there,> In that moment, Ticker turned around to see how Egy and Dart were mopping the floor with the three men they faced and would be done in any moment now. And it was in that moment that Comsat made her move, throwing in a kick that struck the gadgeteer’s face, sending him reeling back. <You’ve ruined her life in your pursuits. To you is she nothing but an inconvenient byproduct? Or do you feel any sort of pity?>

<Pity?> Ticker thought mockingly, earning a couple of light punches to his face and one hard to his stomach that sent him staggering back. Once again, Comsat gave him the space and distance.

<I take it that you feel nothing.>

<Why? She’s no one. I am the one who is fighting my own crusade and who wants what I want. I deserve it for my family’s coffers. Neither her, nor you, nor that coward of a devisor deserves anything.> He spat. <So don’t try to moralize or lecture me.>

<I have to practice. After all, I’m a mother. I have to be on point on my nagging game… as well on my punishment divvying.> Comsat said holding up her hand in an inviting gesture. <I guess I should move on and ask as to what caused you to turn out this way… But I should be wrapping this up, considering you’ve run out of men.>

At that, Ticker took a couple of steps back, ensuring that he wouldn’t get sucker kicked, again, while he turned his back to look. Effectively, his henchmen were no more. At the back of the factory, at the gate, at the back of the truck, all three of his reinforcements had been felled and were lying face down on the ground as Egy and Dart were looking their way and slowly approaching.

While on the other side, Livewire stood atop the two henchmen that were supposed to be their backup. One of them had been thrown up against the wall with cables that were not unlike the ones that had been used to capture their comrades, while the other was in the process of being roped in by the cables that were emerging from his jacket’s sleeves. The situation was lost.

“Livewire.” Comsat called out. “Go and secure the pods, check on their status. I won’t take much longer.”

And even then, Ticker didn’t really have an answer to give but he raised himself in preparation for the attack. The frustration was cleanly visible in his eyes almost raging as she felt the subtle grumble of negative energy that exuded from him.

Comsat responded, but with the smile rather than a frustrated frown. <Later let me know how you feel about it. As your plan falls into pieces and you have to contemplate the idea of starting again or changing your life… I wonder, who will you blame? Me or yourself. Because all this was warranted by your lack of compassion.>

<Quiet!> Ticker snapped as he reached down for his toolbelt with his left arm, the one that lacked the wrist blade. No doubt fishing for some item he could use to create an opening. Comsat wasn’t about to let him do that and instead lashed out with a snap kick that struck on the fingers of his gauntlet. The impact couldn’t be ignored, at least with that level of armor. Still, in doing so, she’d placed herself in range for an attack from the bladed limb.

, She narrowly managed to sidestep the stab and tried to target the gadgeteer’s throat. The man saw this coming and could only react. Emotionally off-balanced, he did the only thing that came to mind, to keep on attacking. He tried to throw a punch with his off hand, a thing Comsat had been expecting. She dodged and immediately wrapped both arms around Ticker’s overextended limbs to keep them in place. And before he could resort to the use of his legs for kicking, she threw her body down to the ground, using her weight to drag him as well.

And in doing so, she made sure that both his arms, pinned together would hit it first, potentially breaking them.

The sudden sounds of ticks and clicks came in between Comsat’s hold and she felt the gauntlets expand in the midst of her fall and something hastily slipping out from within. By the time she touched the ground, the pieces of armor were now empty, and Ticker had already broken into a sprint towards the factory’s door, painfully aware that he couldn’t beat any of them head on.

So instead, he used his powers to up his running speed and make himself untouchable.

“He’s escaping!” Comsat called out as she recovered her breath, casting aside the empty gauntlets.

Livewire tried to catch him, holding up his arm to reveal the wires that rose themselves like snakes prepared to strike. Ticker was running in a straight line, so interception would be likely. Suddenly Ticker reached into his belt’s pocket and produced a couple of improvised explosives. Holding them out long enough so the device expert could identify them before they were thrown, he tossed them towards the tanks. His priorities were forced to shift and the cable heads went after the mini bomb explosives. One was immediately thrown into the open area while the other was caught dropping to the floor. The explosions were hard and impactful, but nothing overly destructive. The tanks with the subjects were spared, but Livewire was thrown back against the wall, spared by the protective layers of his coat… but still having left Ticker to slip by.

Dart tried to run in an intercepting trajectory, but Ticker had the advantage there, swerving close to the wall and even running alongside the surface briefly so as to avoid the kick the fighter threw his way.

With no other line of defense between him and the open door. He knew he’d prevailed over the investigator group and with his will reignited, he picked up the pace into a spirited sprint, already thinking of the ways he would make them pay back. He would start with D-Rob.

“The devisor will see. No one backstabs me and runs for their life. I’ll make sure that he takes the blame for this fiasco. I’ll chase him down, either here or to his other house in Maine. He shall pay…”

“She thinks her life is over?” He thought about the escaped experiment. “I’ll show you what’s to have your life be over! I really will.”

And finally, the woman that gave him a hard time. The Latina beauty that he was already projecting some of the more unbecoming words that he wouldn’t commit them to concrete thoughts. Still, he punctuated it with a vow. “I’ll teach her not to mess with me. She’s a mother, she said it herself. I’ll teach her how not to mess with me. We’ll see what she thinks when her child is in troub-” The words came to a sudden stop when something hard and sharp collided against his leg.

A projectile that clinked against the protective armor of his shins. And yet he could still feel the impact pierce through, almost to the point that he imagined his ankle might’ve been broken. His step faltered and he ended up tumbling down across the ground at such high speeds that it could only be painful to watch, with his arms, now unprotected, taking the brunt of the fall in the form of hard scrapes.

Thanks to the adrenaline spike from the fall, he managed to ignore the pain just enough to focus on getting out and check what hit him. It was something long with the point of a needle, that much he could feel, with a long projected shaft that also ensured the impact would have the extra pressure to throw his leg mid step. It couldn’t have been… an arrow? An arrow fired deliberately to stop his legs?

He never heard the first projectile, but now that he was aware of it. He heard the second, third and fourth shots snap the bowstring and whistle through the air down to the ground. He braced himself for what he imagined were killing shots, yet before they could reach him each of those projectiles snapped and instead, he was impacted by capture wires. Six shafts struck the ground between his arms, with the cables coming right after and digging themselves into his skin.

Try as he might, he couldn’t get enough leverage to uproot the arrow shafts off the ground. He tried kicking, despite knowing there was an archer hiding in the dark, but his struck ankle was killing him with every movement. Incapable of acting, all he could do was let out a frustrated scream as he kept on struggling … but it was useless. He’d almost made it outside of the factory’s lot of land and onto the road.

Dart and Egy emerged from the warehouse, at first seemingly having wanted to catch up to Ticker, their steps eased up as they realized his predicament. The cat woman was confused, self-consciously drawing the hood back onto her head now that they were in the open, but the combat specialist was far more casual on the matter, almost celebrating the capture with his stride. “Good shot there, Amell.”

“I just made it here,” a voice came out from the dark as the sound of someone’s feet touching the ground was heard and, not long after, he made himself known by stepping under the streetlight. It was a man dressed up in a black suit with green highlights that appeared what could be described as a modern ninja. A quiver stuffed with black arrows hung tightly from the belt and a bow rested in his hand, with the sigil of Columbia Heroics sitting in the back of his hand. “It’s the least I can do for being so late.”

“What took you so long?” Dart asked.

“I wasn’t on the reserve list… But I happened to be the first one to deal with the issue we were having downtown, so Mission Control directed me here.” He took a moment to reach into his belt’s pocket to produce what appeared to be a tranquilizer, and with a flick of his wrist, had it squarely stuck into Ticker’s leg. The man screamed and struggled, but that just got the anesthetic to work much faster and, before long he quieted down. With that sorted out, he pulled back the hood and mouth cover to reveal himself. He appeared like a man who’d done his fair share of fighting over the years, with his hair whitening around the temples, also peppered throughout his mustache and beard, but still a long shot from retirement. In the process, they could see the Crystal Sights comm sticking out of his ears. “Your boy, ‘Concerto’ has been keeping me up to date of all the events. It appears that you’re for the most part cleared.”

“For the most part… The devisor escaped,” Egy noted, making the newcomer pause as he got a good look at her.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Dart said stepping forth. “This is Stepan Amell, he’s one of the more prominent members of Columbia Heroics, he goes by hunter. Stepan, this is Lily McLaren, the victim of this man’s schemes.” He pointed towards the knocked out Ticker. “She’s joining us for this mission.”

“I see,” Stepan, or Hunter, said holding the bow up against his chest in a solemn way. “I’m sorry this has happened to you. Wish I could’ve been here earlier… by the time I arrived here I heard a bike driving off in the distance. If I’d known, I would’ve chased… though I’m not sure if I would’ve been able to catch him.”

“No need to apologize,” Egy sighed. “At least one of the two has been stopped.”

“And both computer and test subjects have been secured.” Dart tried to reassure. “Hopefully we can find something.”

“Don’t worry,” Hunter noted as he hung the bow cross shoulder. “Booksmart should be here in about ten minutes. If there is someone who can understand what they’ve done and can find a way to fix it, it has to be him.”

Dart nodded, though somewhat wary. Afterall, he was keen of the difference between Devisors and gadgeteers, and with how that difference could make for a fix for Egy an impossibility. “In the meantime. I should also have him perform a checkup on Lily, just to be sure.”

“I agree. You’re not hurt, aren’t you?” Hunter asked.

“No, I’m not hurt, at least, physically.” Egy noted.

Hunter noted and moved over to pick up the arrows that bound Ticker down and then began to fasten his body with more specialized and resistant cuffs, rather than the thick plastic zip ties Dart had been using. “Would be good to take the time to rest. You have earned it.”

“Thanks… I’ll try,” Egy sighed as she crossed her arms as the realization came to her that she’d achieved her goal, even if partially and… she wasn’t certain of how to feel towards it. She imagined she would feel good, as if it would make all of her concerns and fears just fade away, but it didn’t. She still had to face on a future ahead of herself as she was now and with the implications her new body carried. And it was in that emptiness that her panic began to overcome her in the form of rapid breathing. She wanted to capture the devisor go after him… but unlike this entire operation, now she had no lead nor way to know his next step..

‘I might have to accept this might never change,’ she thought to herself looking down at her nail-less fingers now that her claws were sheathed.

Fortunately, before she could fall deeper into thoughts, warm hands touched her shoulders. It was Dart. “You know what you need? To celebrate the victory with us. We’ll invite you to dinner… that is once we know Livewire is fine, which he probably is. His outfit is really thick.”

“Thanks… I think that would be nice.” Egy brought herself to smile.

“Excellent. Say, Hunter, how do you feel like a trip to the bar? I think I can beat you in darts.”

The Columbia Heroics hero laughed it off in a modest way. “I’ll take you up on the challenge… If I have time after the investigation is over.”

linebreak shadow

About a week had passed since she broke free from her kidnappers and met the members of Crystal Sights who’d stayed by her side on every step of the way. Even letting her be a part of dismantling the operation that did this to her.

While it couldn’t be considered completely over until the devisor who fed her the chemical cocktail that changed her was brought to justice and his secrets were revealed, there was some solace in knowing that this wouldn’t happen again.

And she had to believe that, as a consolation, because there didn’t appear to be a future chance wherein, she would run into the devisor. The captured gadgeteer, Ticker, instantly spilled out the beans about what he knew of him. A mutant that went by D-Rob, with talents focused around deconstructing, emulating and improving devisor tech, while not exactly having full talent for it on his own. He also provided the address where the guy was supposedly staying… but, as it happens to be, it was a false address. Almost as if he’d expected for the operation to go down.

Lily McLaren had to accept that she might not be finding a way to undo her change from the source.

And today’s meeting cemented those suspicions.

As she exited into Columbia heroics reception, she was still processing the news. Since Ticker’s capture, she’d been in and out of tests from different sources. From medical centers for high end research, such as a medical company that went by Artemis Co, to the mutant researchers affiliated with Columbia heroics. They scanned and prodded, drew blood and other samples before working on more analysis without committing to give her an answer… up until today where they laid down the certainties.

The member of the superhero team, Booksmart walked her through the compilation of results gathered over the course of the past days. They told her that her body was perfectly stable and didn’t appear to be showing any signs of degradation, at least when compared to the other forms and cases of artificial hybridization within the same time frame. There would obviously need to be a yearly check-up scheduled for her just to make sure there aren’t any nasty surprises… but the general consensus was that her vitals were positive, even moreso than a normal human, or baseline. Her reflexes were on point, her body was fast and stronger than the thin frame might suggest.

But that didn’t fix her life, nor make her feel any better, especially after finding out that the other rescued test subjects were slowly reverting back to normal. With the treatments halted before crossing a threshold, and the experts and devisors applying a sort of purging agent, their changes began to subside, to the point that some only had vaguely animalistic features and vestigial tails, which would slowly, if not awkwardly, fade out over time.

Each of them had a debt of gratitude towards her that she wasn’t sure if she even wanted or felt right about.

Lily just happened to be the lucky one that had finished her mutagenic treatment and had her genes locked in and working perfectly. Which was a blessing and a curse, considering there were two other test subjects before her in the lineup.

She turned around to look at herself in the reflection of a glass divider.

All of the features were still in. She still hoped to see some changes, something that pulled her more towards human side… but that wasn’t the case. The saving grace today was that it was autumn, allowing her to hide in the comfort and warmth of her clothes -especially since her low body fat and lighter frame made it feel all the more comfortable. Thick pants and shoes to hide her altered stance and tail, a hood to cover her ears and a mask to hide her muzzle, it all made her feel somewhat normal, though under-dressed.

That this was who she’d be from here on out: an Animan without really being a true Animan. More like the equivalent of someone’s fanfiction to a novella. Her form and figure would always be that of a sphynx cat and her life was practically ruined.

 Friends and co-workers ridiculed her and didn’t appear willing to support her if she decided to work on site, so at times she felt herself cooped in her place tending to her administrative job remotely. And there was no doubt that her bosses were looking for the perfect excuse to let her go.

As it was expected, her apartment had been given away and her stuff had been thrown in a storehouse. The city gave her a sort of indemnification for her situation, especially since D-Rob violated many international laws and provided her with a smaller apartment while she would get back on her feet, even if that felt impossible. Animan Island apparently heard of her situation and offered her a visa as well as honorary citizenship, whether it was a PR stunt or a genuine gesture, she would need to wait for her visit… when would that happen? She wasn’t sure. The MCO treated her like an empowered individual and granted her an honorary MID, though according to Columbia Heroics, they did it to have her in their systems, “just in case”. Speaking of which, Columbia Heroics also offered her a position to work for them, as an honorary member.

But Crystal Sight’s offer came in first. The day after the assignment, Dart, Livewire and Comsat… or rather, Oscar, Gus and Esmeralda extended her the invitation to be a member of the team, whether full time or part time, it would still be up to her.

She exited the reception of Columbia Heroics, fixing her baggy disguise before moving out. As comfortable as it was, she had to make the peace with the knowledge she wouldn’t be able to rock a dress again.

Esmeralda, during their sessions, had assured Lily she needed to focus more on the positive aspects rather than the negatives. And she knew there were positives, it was just too hard to acknowledge them as such. Sometimes a process that she thought was testing the therapist’s patience, despite her assurance that it wasn’t.

But it helped fend off the depression and the sense of ruin of her normal life.

A car pulled over before her as she stepped into the sidewalk, a rather modest model that she’d seen plenty of times by now. The windows rolled down to reveal Oscar Newton at the wheel. “Right on time,” Lily noted with a soft smile under the mask that got the tail coiled around her leg to twitch wanting to sway appreciatively.

Oscar just smiled, making a slight bow before unlocking the car’s lock and letting her slip into the passenger’s seat.

“How did it go?” Oscar asked as he drove off at a leisurely pace. Today was a Saturday, so the streets around the business center of the city were rather lax and their trip went on like a calm stream.

Lily then proceeded to narrate all the results, at least in broad terms. “… So, yeah. They argue that my body is more stable as it is and trying to forcefully undo the changes might prove all the more dangerous. An elaborate way to tell me that there’s no way to go back. Well, actually there is, but I doubt that D-Rob will show up to fix me out of good will.”

“I know…” Oscar conceded. By now, all the clues pointed to the devisor having left the city, with whispers and hints that he’d moved over to Maine, it was unlikely that he’d be compliant in fixing her.

“I’ll just have to get used to being this freak.”

“We’re all freaks in our own way.” Oscar tried to say.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that before… I just happen to wear the freak-ness on my skin.” Lily answered.

“And people do wrong by judging you for it. With time, I wish people will come to accept you. Your new form is… nice,” though that last part was mostly meant as a personal note, it still made Lily’s ears twitch. He still didn’t give her the chance to inquire further, shifting the subject. “Esmeralda is a mutant. People think Gus is one, considering all the things he builds and hides under his coat… And that’s not mentioning the control box behind his ear. Timothy almost got expelled from his college after he hacked a bully’s phone and broadcasted him to the entirety of the campus as he was, ahem, courting the teacher.”

“He did that?” Lily said with a small giggle hidden behind her gloved hands. “And what about you?”

“Me? I’m a huge martial artist buff, and an anime fan, isn’t that weird enough?”

“No. It’s not enough. No hidden tail nor anything?” Lily said as she took a sip of her water bottle, this time with a bit more practice so as to not spill out of the corner of her mouth.

“Sadly no… I can work on that, though. I’m sure Booksmart can do something about it-”

“Please, don’t,” Lily said trying to keep herself from spitting or choking with it.

“Are you sure? I think I would pull off the tiger man look.” Oscar said, getting Lily to drool behind her sleeve.

The conversation went on from its lowest to the highest in what was a peaceful ride as the two shared thoughts and experiences. Going from good Animan forms to back to the what was ‘normal’ and wasn’t, and, in particular, to events that cast the protagonists of those anecdotes out of the pedestrian label.

For a moment, not only Lily forgot of her current issues or holdups, but she was pressed to say that this was one of the happier moments of her past couple of months.

Eventually, Oscar parked the car and the two got out. Stopping at the large park within the city’s downtown, the two walked down together under the trees as the leaves began to fall. Today, Crystal Sights had invited her to their day-off celebration, they called it a corporate retreat, but in reality, it was a day off, and, after being in contact with them for a month, Lily got an idea of how chaotic their job could get to be.

At a wooden table draped with a table cloth and with the plates and cutlery to match, next to a community grill, were two of the members. Timothy sat at the side of the table, with a handheld console at hand, judging by his focused expression and the jittery movements, he was in the middle of a high paced boss fight or something along those lines. Whilst not far away, Esmeralda was playing with a kid who appeared to be about seven years of age.

The boy was the first to spot them coming and immediately ran to his mother’s side, while waving over their way. “Tio Newton!”

“Hey Vic!” The kid immediately sprinted around the table and jumped over to meet him and, much like an expert dancer, Oscar had him spun around before sending him flying. Wherein Vic made the landing and immediately ran after to meet him again.

“When can you teach me martial arts?!” Vic asked, throwing one or two playful punches which Oscar playfully blocked and parried, making the kid dance in the process.

“Sorry, he’s been in that mood ever since he began to watch this show… Aviator?”

“Avatar,” Timothy corrected as he put the console down with a defeated look but also sighing in relief, either he’d lost in his game or found himself a good stopping point. “The show is Avatar.”

“I know Avatar. I can’t blame him.” Oscar laughed. “I told you, Vic. Promised your mom I wouldn’t teach you until you were in high school. It was high school, right?”

“Would’ve preferred if you’d said college… but yeah,” Esmeralda laughed. “When you get to high school, Tio Oscar will teach you, hopefully by then he’ll have some better judgment rather than just punching.”

“Aw… promise then.” Vic said with a slight smile before noticing Lily standing nearby. The kid cocking his head as if he was starting to pick up on her non-human aspects. “Hello?”

“Vic, this is Lily. She’s going to be working with us. She’s a little different,” Oscar introduced.

“You can show him, he already knows about it,” Esmeralda said. “And don’t worry, the park is empty today, no one will bother us.”

Lily looked up at each of their faces and then to the surroundings, with just trees and paths that were untraveled, it appeared to be true. “Alright.”

“You look nice,” Vic complimented once the hood was pulled back and the mask was removed and, judging by the way he was fidgeting, he appeared curious enough to reach and touch her. But aside from that she was surprised. There was no outright weird comment nor reaction, the boy acted in the same way as one probably would with a normal woman. “Want to play catch?” he asked eagerly.

“Sure!” Oscar chimed and that was all the kid needed to turn around and try to sprint away only to be stopped by his mother.

“Maybe, in a moment, Vic? There’s something Uncle Oscar and I need to do.” To that, the kid nodded and moved over by Timothy, who began to go back to his game, now with a spare viewer over his shoulder.

“What? We aren’t waiting for Gus?”

“He sent a message,” Timothy noted. “He, and the girls, will be an hour later. Told us we could start without him. He’s also bringing dessert.”

“What for?” Lily cocked her head, her ear flickering against the cooling air.

“Well, this wasn’t a normal cookout for our day off.” Oscar noted.

“But a welcome party… for you.” Esmeralda said, pulling Lily in for a hug. “We’re glad that you’ve decided to work with us at Crystal Sights.”

“I would’ve happily asked for it if you hadn’t offered. After all the things you’ve done for me,” Lily said as she felt Oscar’s hand around hers.

“I’ll be sure to let Gus know that he’s in charge of bringing the gifts,” Oscar half joked, earning a slight nudge from Esmeralda.

Lily felt tears wanting to well up in the corner of her eyes but managed to hold them back, rubbing herself with the back of her knuckle. “I’m not one to celebrate this often. Not sure how to feel.”

“You don’t need to say anything,” Esmeralda reassured.

“You could ask about where’s the food, that’s a valid one.” Oscar laughed as he moved over to the grill, flipping the lighter and knife before catching them.

<You’re lucky Vic didn’t see that,> Esmeralda said through the open mental link between the three of them, much to Lily’s amusement. The young kid did seem to get a hint that there was something going on in the seeming silence, but just felt drawn back into Timothy’s game.

“I’ll get cooking. You’ll love my ribs.” Oscar noted before looking at Lily. “Welcome to the team.”


The End

Read 697 times Last modified on Tuesday, 28 February 2023 01:00

Add comment