Atlanta- September 2016
Cat ran out onto Lorrie's balcony and looked down at the street below her. She'd found, on Lorrie's kitchen table, the address of Oscar Harlan's house and a map on her computer. She'd already tried calling the office but her idiot teammates had already run off to get themselves killed. And without a communicator she had no way to warn them.
No grappling hook. No cord. No way to get across town to save her teammates. No way to stop Lorrie. Not in this condition. Not with whoever the hell was on their way to Harlan's house presenting themselves as fodder. There was no way this ended well. There was no way she could do this.
And yet she was about to dive off a balcony with the hopes that she had suddenly gained the ability to fly so she could pull this off. Because she was a hero, damnit, and she had come too far to lose another teammate to the big bad world. Not this time. Not this city. Never again. She was going to pull this one off if it killed her.
Looking over the railing, Cat saw a semi-truck turning onto the street right in front of Lorrie's apartment. Cat turned and ran back into the apartment. She kicked off her boots because she had a feeling she would need the claws on her feet for this one. Cat drew several deep breaths to try and calm her nerves since she couldn't risk overshooting this jump.
Her gold eyes opened. Bengal pushed forward, running towards the balcony. The first two steps were slow, but after that the super strength and super speed kicked in. Once she hit the edge of the balcony, there was no stopping. She grabbed the railing as she jumped and used it to vault her into the air and towards the street.
The ground rushed towards her at an alarming speed. And then it was a semi rushing towards her. Bengal twisted right before she hit the semi so her shoulder took the brunt of the impact. Bengal yelled as she felt it pop out of the socket. But she didn't have any time to worry about that as she slid along the top of the trailer. She dug the claws of her feet and good hand into the metal and just managed to stay on top of the semi. Once she was stable and not at risk at flying off, Bengal sat up and wrenched her shoulder back into the socket. She let out a small cry that left her gasping and dropped her head between her knees.
That got easier every time.
Bengal got to feet and looked around to get her bearings. The semi was going in the right direction and at a pretty good clip. She would stay here until it started to veer off in another direction and then she would jump to a new car, truck or semi going in the right direction. Until then, all she could do was hope and pray that Lorrie wasn't as driven to kill Oscar Harlan as the Persian had been to kill her teammates.
"There it is," Jaz said as she and Torque made their way into the Protectorate's banquet hall. The skull was exactly where it had been during the Protectorate event Jaz and Cat had attended several days ago: prominently displayed in a glass case. Jaz grinned as she circled around the case. This was her absolute favorite part of a heist- the moment when she took control of someone else's dearly loved and treasured item. And this time it was doubly sweet because both Zolnerowich and Remy highly valued this item. And soon it would be all hers.
"That's an alien skull?" Torque asked.
"Inter-dimensional being," Jaz said. "Let's get our monsters right, biggy, since were dealing with so many different types."
"We've been in here way too long," Torque said, motioning to the case. "So could you...? Please?"
"Spoil sport," Jaz said, taking the device she had used during the previous Glitech break-in and kneeling down to attach it to the base of the case. She didn't set a timer this time. Instead she simply powered it on for immediate molecular reconfiguration. Then she straightened up and reached through the glass to claim her prize.
A dark hand attached to a gray sleeve reached through the glass and snatched the skull before Jaz could touch it. The thief sighed as she drew her hand back. Torque had already turned away from her to study the skull. Apparently he didn't see anything world changing because he tucked the skull underneath his arm and looked back at Jaz.
"Let's go," he said, heading out of the banquet hall and towards the stairwell.
"Yes, darling," Jaz said, with a backwards glance at the next nearest display. This one was of an old wooden bow and quiver of arrows with sharpened wooden tips. "Let's."
Siren blaring, O'Conner's police car pulled up right in front of the Harlan house. The passenger door opened and Patrick O'Conner stumbled out. He managed to get a hand on the hood of the car to steady himself. Leaning forward, the cop drew in deep breaths while he fought to keep his dinner down. That was... that was...
"That was a lot easier with the siren," Midge said, getting out of the driver side. O'Conner looked up at her in disbelief. "Why are you just standing there? Lorrie could be here any minute."
O'Conner straightened up and was grateful when his legs didn't give out under him. He stiffly walked around the car to his trunk. He rapped his knuckles on the window of his backseat to knock Merrick out of his daze. The attorney started and then fumbled with the door. O'Conner didn't pay him much more attention as he opened the trunk and started looking to through the cases, trying to find the tranquilizer rifle. Midge joined him and the trunk, looking rather pleased with herself.
"You can't install a siren on your car," O'Conner said. "It's against the law."
Midge's face fell. "Well... could I make some upgrades to this car? Make it safer?"
"How many times has your car blown this past year?" O'Conner asked. He found the tranquilizer rife and started putting it together.
"That's not relevant. All of those explosion were purposeful."
"Tranq," O'Conner said, holding out his hand. Midge looked down at her hands at the two vials she was carrying and passed Pat the lighter colored one. "You sure this will put her down?"
"Only after we give her the antidote," Midge said. "Considering how quickly Cat was able to burn through a tranquilizer when she was on the serum, this won't have any effect on Lorrie right now."
"I still hate that part of the plan," O'Conner said, loading the vial Midge had given him into three tranquilizer darts. One vial was all the office had had on hand. Apparently super-tranquilizers went bad as quickly as diluted boost serum and Midge hadn't exactly been swimming free time to make new stuff.
"The tranquilizer gun doesn't have the capacity to hold a full dose," Midge said, holding up the antidote. "And if we don't give Lorrie the full dosage..."
"We run the risk of what happened with Cat," Merrick said. O'Conner and Midge looked up to find him out of the car- the Bengal costume clutched tightly in his hand. O'Conner didn't know why the attorney had brought that. All things considered, it seemed like Cat was the last person they wanted at this little shin-dig. According to Midge, she was still too unpredictable to be expected to stick to one side. As it was, they were probably going to die. They didn't need Cat joining in on the blood bath.
"Cat needed to go twenty-four hours without an adrenaline rush to ensure that the antidote took," Midge said. "I managed to build in a fast acting norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor into the serum this time. Once I dose Lorrie with the antidote, use the tranquilizer to put her down. She won't be out long, but it should give us enough time for antidote to take full effect and the NRI will keep the serum from overcoming it within the twenty-four hour window."
"Do I really need to go through everything that's wrong with this plan again?" O'Conner asked.
"Not again," Midge said. "Use the first dart to slow Lorrie down so I can get in close enough with the antidote. Whatever you do, make sure you save one dart for after I administer the antidote."
O'Conner opened his mouth to say more, but Merrick interjected first.
"We don't have time to go over all the flaws again," the attorney said.
"Fine," O'Conner said. "You're up."
Merrick walked around the squad car and headed up the walkway to Oscar Harlan's front door. O'Conner walked beside him with Midge following a few steps behind them. O'Conner's eyes darted around the neighborhood as they walked- trying to find some hint of Peterson ducking in and out of the shadows. Nothing, but then O'Conner didn't exactly expect to see her before she took their heads off.
When they reached the front porch, O'Conner motioned for Merrick to stay back as he stepped up and pounded on the door. "Oscar Harlan! Police!" He took a step back and lifted the tranquilizer rifle in case someone besides Oscar Harlan or his wife opened that door.
Fortunately, Oscar Harlan did open the door. O'Conner let out the breath he had been holding and let the rifle drop. They'd arrived in time. So far there was no crime scene to process. No need to call the ME or check over the bodies for clues. He hadn't realized how much he had been dreading that possibility until it was swept off the table.
"Mr. Spring!" Harlan yelled.
"Mr. Harlan," Merric said, stepping between Harlan and O'Conner.
"The case was dropped with prejudice! You can't just barge in here again- I want to see a warrant and then I'm calling-"
"Mr. Harlan, we have reason to believe your life is in imminent danger," Merrick said.
"We really need to be inside," Midge said. O'Conner turned and waved for her to be quiet. They had already agreed that Merrick would handle this part.
"Mr. Harlan, we will explain everything," Merrick said. "But Dr. Cratty is right. It's not safe out here."
Harlan scowled. It was the scowl of the man who had had it with the law and didn't believe in words like justice anymore. O'Conner was pretty sure it was Midge's name that did it. Knowing that Dr. Margaret Cratty, the genius behind the city's superhero team, was standing on his front porch was the only reason Harlan pushed opened his screen door and motioned for them to come inside.
O'Conner had learned a lot in the past year. And one of the things he had learned was that people always believed in superheroes. No matter what.
"What's going on?" Kaylyn Harlan asked, coming into the living room as Harlan closed the door and locked it behind the ragtag group of heroes.
"They say..." Harlan trailed off and looked at Merrick.
"We're sorry for the intrusion, ma'am," the prosecutor said. "But we have reason to believe you and your husband have been targeted by a very powerful super villain."
Kaylyn gasped and pressed a hand over her mouth. Harlan walked towards his wife, but stopped next to Midge and frowned down at the scientist.
"You're Dr. Cratty," he said. Midge frowned, but nodded. "You work with the Cat's-Eye Team."
"The Cat's-Eye Team is here?" Kaylyn asked. "Bengal, Torque and Remnant are outside our house right now?"
Merrick looked down at his hands and tossed the spare Bengal costume he had brought with him onto the floor. "Bengal isn't coming," he said, his voice hard. "None of them are coming. We're the only ones left."
"We don't mean to frighten you," O'Conner said quickly as Kaylyn let out a soft cry and Harlan wrapped his arms around his wife's shoulders. "But we need you to understand the seriousness of the situation. We have a plan- a good plan that Dr. Cratty and myself are confident will work. But it's not without its risks and you need to be prepared."
"And who are you?" Harlan asked. "Who are you to impersonate the police and come into my home waving a gun?"
"Captain Patrick O'Conner," the cop said. "Homicide."
"Captain O'Conner works closely with the Cat's-Eye team," Merrick said. "And he's the only one right now with the skills to match the sheer physical power of this villain. You should be grateful he's here."
"And why are you here, Mr. Spring?" Harlan asked.
"Because I asked him," Midge said sharply and O'Conner started. He had never heard Midge speak to strangers like that. "Because we don't have a lot of options right now and every single person who has had dealings with superheroes is an asset. Now, are you done with these meaningless and inconsequential questions so we can move on to the infinitely more important job of saving your lives?"
Harlan and his wife were only left gaping at the scientist and O'Conner, unable to help himself in the face of what Midge had just done, let loose a small whistle. That caused the scientist to come to her delicate and skittish senses. Her eyes widened behind her glasses and she shrunk away from the Harlan's, trying to duck behind O'Conner.
Fortunately for everyone involved, the lights in the house went out before anyone came up with a response to that outburst.
"Oh god, oh god," Kaylyn whispered.
"Don't panic," O'Conner said, turning on the light attached to his rifle. "This villain is rash and hot-headed. Keeping cool will only play to our advantage." He turned to Merrick. "Stay with them. Whichever way she comes in, you get them out through the next nearest door." The attorney nodded and went to try and console the frightened civilians.
O'Conner looked and Midge and the scientist nodded. She looked terrified, but O'Conner couldn't help but be impressed by her mettle. Here was their shy and withdrawn scientist shouting down strangers and preparing to fight a supervillain to the death. Midge had done some brave and stupid stuff over the past year, but O'Conner figured she deserved a metal for this one.
Assuming, you know, happy endings and stuff.
And that proved to be a terrible assumption as Lorrie Peterson came crashing through the front window at that moment.
"Run!" O'Conner yelled, trying to shield himself and Midge from the raining glass. Out the corner of his eye he saw Merrick and the Harlans disappearing into the kitchen. Lorrie was slowly straightening up, looking surprised at the amount of cuts she had received going through the window. Raw power, no skill. That gave them the one opening they needed to survive this.
O'Conner lifted the tranquilizer rifle and fired.
The dart hit Lorrie in the shoulder and the tranq took effect immediately. She stumbled down onto one knee as Midge raced around O'Conner, antidote clutched tightly in her hand. Reaching Lorrie, Midge grabbed the newly minted villain by the arm and pressed the antidote up against it. O'Conner finished reloading the rifle and lifted it to fire again.
Lorrie moved. Faster than O'Conner had seen anyone aside from Säde Paiva, the light manipulator, move. She knocked the antidote out of Midge's hand before the scientist could administer it. It hit the ground and rolled across the floor. Out of reach, but intact.
By this point, Lorrie had one hand around Midge's throat. O'Conner rushed at Lorrie and fired the second tranquilizer. It put her down as quickly as the first hand. Pat grabbed Midge by the arm and pulled her out of the way just as Lorrie regained her senses. O'Conner tossed the tranquilizer rifle aside- little good it could do him until they had found a way to administer the antidote- and put up his fists. Lorrie grinned and he could tell she was relishing the prospected of beating him bloody.
"And so the last of the heroes fall," Lorrie said. "First the infallible Cat's-Eye team. Then the golden boy Merrick Spring. Now you, Captain O'Conner. The cop who stood alone. How does it feel to stand here and protect a rapist and a murder? Tell me that some part of your conscious is rallying against this."
"Can we just skip to the part where you hit me already?" O'Conner asked.
Lorrie shrugged and swung at his head. Slow. She didn't see him as any sort of viable threat so she wasn't even trying. A mistake on her part.
O'Conner ducked underneath the punch and socked her in the jaw hard enough to send her crashing back to the ground.
"How?" Lorrie gasped, shuffling away from him on the ground. She looked well and truly terrified. "You're just a human. A normal cop."
"Human as you are," O'Conner said, knowing that it was over. He had thrown everything he had into that punch- all the added strength and power the diluted boost serum had given him. He'd been able to knock Lorrie down, but she was still conscious and now knew what he was capable of. It was over.
"I see," Lorrie said, flipping to her feet. "Like the Bengal. Let's see if you hold up as poorly as she did."
Lorrie jumped at him. O'Conner lifted his arms and turned away, just barely catching sight of a small blue blur hitting Lorrie in the chest. He watched in disbelief as Lorrie and the blur flew across the room- smashing into a coffee table and slamming into the foot of a couch so hard it overturned. Lorrie collapsed to the floor as the blur flipped up onto the edge of the overturned couch.
"What's this about me not holding up?" the blur asked.
"Bengal!" Midge yelled as O'Conner let loose a whoop of excitement.
"What?" Lorrie yelled, pushing herself up to her knees. "How did you get here!"
"Two semis, a pickup, a Prius and a two mile run," Bengal said. "And I've never felt better."
"Prove it," Lorrie said, getting to her feet.
Bengal kicked Lorrie in the head, knocking her back to the ground. "I'm looking forward to it," the hero said, jumping down off the couch.
Lorrie scrambled across the floor- away from the Bengal and back onto her feet. She looked shaken. Good. It was about time Lorrie stopped looking so damn smug and actually started worrying about how she was going to get out of this. Because heroes never stayed down. And Bengal was no exception.
"You're weak," Lorrie said as she paced back and forth in front of the Harlan's fireplace. "Damaged. Tired. You won't last long."
"You keep saying that," Bengal said. "But you're not doing much to prove your point. I never thought you one for empty words, Lorrie."
Lorrie screamed and rushed at Bengal. She swung her fist at the hero. Bengal blocked the blow and sidestepped into Lorrie, slamming her elbow into the other woman's chest. She slammed the palm of her hand into Lorrie's chin, knocking her head into the fire place mantle. Lorrie dropped to the ground, dazed.
Bengal spun around to survey the room. Her eyes fell on the antidote, lying innocently across the room and she made a break for it. But Lorrie wasn't down for the count. She was back on her feet before Bengal had taken two steps towards the antidote. With a shriek she jumped at Bengal's unprotected back. The hero only had enough time to turn around before Lorrie hit her, knocking them both to the ground. Lorrie came out on top and drew back her fist as Bengal struggled underneath her.
O'Conner moved. Not fast enough to stop Lorrie from landing the first blow to Bengal's jaw. But he was fast enough to keep her from landing a second. His hand wrapped around Lorrie's wrist and he yanked her roughly upward so Bengal could scurry out from underneath her. Snarling, Lorrie swung her free arm wildly towards O'Conner's head. He dodged, but the distraction allowed Lorrie to get her get her feet firmly planted on the ground. Now she swung the arm O'Conner held with enough force to send him once again flying across the room. He hit the ground hard. So hard that he didn't realize how much it hurt until he tried to get back to his feet and could only manage collapsing onto his side with a groan.
But Bengal hadn't had any trouble getting back to her feet. The two were trading blows like the world would spontaneously implode if they dared stop for breath. And it was brutal. They weren't making any attempt to dodge the other's attacks. Instead they were taking the blows as they came and were giving as good as they took. Lorrie was out for blood and Bengal was willing to stand in as a target until someone could administer the antidote and bring Lorrie down to a level they could defeat.
Until someone could administer the antidote...
Gritting his teeth against his aches, O'Conner tried to get to his feet so he could stop her. Midge was edging ever closer to the beat down between Bengal and Lorrie. She was going for the antidote and if she kept going down that path, she was going to get herself seriously injured or killed. And Bengal's stupid ass plan to let Lorrie wail on her was playing into it. O'Conner was the only person who could help her and he needed to do that by getting to the antidote first. Of course, right now, getting to his feet would be a feat in and of itself.
Midge was sneaking around behind Lorrie when Bengal took a hard hit to her stomach and dropped to one knee. Lorrie pushed her advantage, wrapping a hand around Bengal's throat and shoved her back up against the closest wall. Feet dangling a foot off the ground, Bengal dug her claws into Lorrie's arm, trying to get her to loosen her grip. If anything it seemed to have the opposite effect.
"What was that about empty words?" Lorrie snarled. Right behind her, Midge was kneeling down to pick up the antidote. Realizing there was nothing more he could do, O'Conner collapsed to the ground- right on top of the tranquilizer rifle.
"Can't say I'm impressed," Bengal managed to get out before her grimaced in pain as Lorrie's hand tightened around her neck.
"You will be," Lorrie snarled, leaning in so her lips were right next to Bengal's ear. She whispered something O'Conner couldn't hear, but the sudden silence in the room meant Midge's misplaced step on broken glass was heard loud and clear. Lorrie jerked and started to turn, but she had pulled in so close to Bengal that the hero had an easy reach for Lorrie's own throat. Lorrie screamed as Bengal wrapped one hand around her neck, claws dug in, while slashing the claws the other one down Lorrie's free arm. Midge lunged forward, slamming the antidote into Lorrie's arm. Lorrie released Bengal and flailed wildly, knocking Midge to the ground with her elbow.
That was when O'Conner fired the tranquilizer. It hit Lorrie in the back and she dropped to the ground like a stone.
Everyone in the room froze. O'Conner didn't know why. For his part, he couldn't believe that they had actually done it and all of them had survived. Lorrie had been subdued, the Harlan's were safe and Cat was back on their side. He should have been celebrating. But he could only stare and Lorrie's prone form in disbelief.
Bengal was the first to move. She crossed the few feet between her and Midge and collapsed to the ground next to the scientist. Bengal wrapped her arms around Midge and for the first time in the year O'Conner hand known her, Midge didn't flinch away from the embrace. Instead, she returned it- holding Bengal as tightly as the hero was holding her.