One More Trigger


Part Thirty-Three: Let's Twist Again


[A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]


Hebert House
Half an Hour Later
Ladybug


"We're all clear," Taylor announced. She strolled down into the basement, closing the door with a nudge of her elbow, then descended the steps holding a tray bearing glasses of orange juice. "Capturing supervillains is thirsty work."

Flechette was staring around at the basement, including where Amy had her bug-creation 'laboratory' at one end of a work bench, and where Riley's bed had been moved up against the wall. "This can not be your secret base," she said, shaking her head. "Oh, thanks," she added as she took a glass.

"Nah, it's more like our secret basement," quipped Taylor. After all but one of the glasses had been taken, she scored the last one and put the tray on the lid of the washing machine. "ABB's running in circles like headless chickens. They haven't got the first idea where he's gone to." She snorted. "Even the guys in the PRT surveillance van didn't pick us up bringing him in through the back door."

Riley, standing next to Lisa, was staring where Oni Lee was kneeling in the middle of the floor. He was still zip-tied, and the bag was very firmly fastened over his head. Nobody wanted him to be able to see.

"That can't be Oni Lee," she declared. "You were only away an hour. No way you captured him so fast."

By way of answer, Missy reached into her pocket; like a conjuring trick, she enlarged the fanged spirit mask to full size, then handed it to her. "Well, if it wasn't him, it was his stunt double."

"Which it wasn't." Lisa buffed her nails on her T-shirt. "He walked like a pretentious asshole who didn't have a care in the world, not like someone who was pretending to be one. And trust me, I know pretentious assholes."

"From the mirror, maybe?" snarked Riley. Taylor smirked just a little; the kid was certainly bouncing back from that first night's funk.

"Oh, ha ha, short stuff." Lisa wrinkled her nose at Riley, but the grin lurking at the corner of her mouth told Taylor a different story. "So, Amy, want to do the honours and wake our guest up? I'm pretty sure Flechette's got some … pointed questions for him."

"Oh, hell yes," purred Flechette. She watched as Amy touched Oni Lee's ungloved hand then stepped back.

The villain visibly stirred, then turned his head from side to side in an attempt to dislodge the bag. Next, he tried to move his arms, to equally minimal effect.

"I wouldn't bother," Flechette said, moving to stand in front of him. "Even if you managed to free yourself, you're surrounded, and we'd put you down again just as fast."

"Faster," Taylor acknowledged.

Oni Lee went still for a moment, took a breath, then spoke some language that Taylor didn't understand. Flechette answered him back; short, sharp and curt.

Lisa and Taylor shared a grin. The 'no habla ingles' ploy was one they'd planned for. Flechette only knew a few phrases of Japanese, but she'd brushed up on 'I don't speak English' and 'Yes, you do' for this specific occasion.

The villain took a few moments to figure out what to do next. "Who are you? What do you want with me?"

"You've just been captured by Team Samaritan," Flechette said boldly. Taylor raised her eyebrows slightly and caught Emma's eye. Emma nodded; she'd noticed the phrasing, too. "All I want is the answer to one question, and then we can hand you over so the PRT can shove you in a nice comfy cell: Why did you attack Parian?"

Oni Lee paused long enough that Taylor thought he was refusing to answer the question. Then he asked one of his own. "Who?"

"He doesn't know who Parian is," Lisa supplied.

"Okay, fine," snapped Flechette. "The doll-making cape down at the Boardwalk. This morning. Three, four hours ago now. You demanded protection money, then threw a grenade at her. That one. Ring a bell now?"

Again, it took him a few moments to answer. Taylor was starting to wonder if he needed the time just to fit his head around new ideas. "No," he said. "I have not been on the Boardwalk all week."

"You're lying!" shouted Flechette. "Why are you lying?"

Lisa took a step forward and put a hand on her shoulder. "He's not lying."

"What?" Flechette whipped her head around. "Of course he's lying! We have witnesses who said he was there! Parian saw him! He teleported away!"

"What if he didn't?" All eyes went to Taylor as she straightened from where she was leaning against the stair rail. "I mean, did Parian herself see him teleport, or did someone else say they saw it?" A picture was forming in her head, and she didn't like the pattern it was making.

"No, she said … she said …" Flechette shook her head. "Actually, I can't remember."

"Shit," muttered Emma. "Call her. Ask her." She pointed at Missy. "Call the lab, ask them what they made of the ash."

"Fuck," Lisa said a moment later. "Have we just been played? I think we've just been played."

The laughter started a few seconds later. Looking around, Taylor saw Riley leaning against the wall, arms wrapped around herself, tears running down her face. "I told you!" she wheezed. "I told you it was all wrong!"

Lisa nodded ruefully. "You did." She pulled the girl closer and gave her a quick noogie as she squawked and flailed. "You knew supervillains better than we did. Shocker."

"Wait," Missy said, halfway through dialling. "Does that mean I should tell them to stop looking for the mole?"

Taylor shook her head. "Nah. We don't know there isn't one."

"Fair." Missy went back to pressing buttons.


Sparx


They reconvened in the living room. Oni Lee, once more unconscious courtesy of Amy, had been left lying on the floor of the basement. Both Flechette and Vista looked grim in the aftermath of the phone calls.

"Let me guess," Emma said to Flechette. "She didn't see him teleport, but someone else did, right?"

Flechette screwed up her nose and nodded. "Yeah. Apparently, the couple who stopped to help were the only ones who saw him teleport. And there's no security cameras with the correct angle to see where it happened."

"And the lab guys say the ash resembles previous samples," Vista reported, "but it's mixed in with other stuff; like it's been scraped up and stored. They're saying it's contamination from the collection process, but with what we just heard …" She hooked her thumb downward, in the direction of the basement.

"… the whole thing sounds like a frame job," Emma concluded. "And if it is, we fell for it. Hook, line and big fat sinker."

"It's absolutely a frame job," confirmed Lisa, who was sharing an armchair with Amy. "He wasn't there, but for whatever reason, someone's trying hard to make it look like he was. That by definition makes it a frame job."

"So what do we do with him now?" asked Taylor. "We can't just let him go, and I don't want to give the PRT credit for capturing him when we did all the work."

Madison shook her head. "Screw the credit. We've never been in this for glory. He's still a murderous asshole. Hand him over and call it a day."

Flechette folded her arms and dropped onto the sofa. "Okay, so if it wasn't Oni Lee, who was it, and why?"

Lisa steepled her fingers. "Well, if you think about it, all we really have to do is ask ourselves cui bono? Who profits?"

Emma met Taylor's eyes. "The Empire," they chorused.

Lisa snapped her fingers. "Pick a mook who looks even vaguely Asian and give him enough of a makeup job to pass for ten seconds. Put Victor in an Oni Lee outfit, with a full-face mask and wig. Dump out a bag of Oni Lee ash, toss a grenade to get everyone's attention while the mook and the fake Lee dive into an anonymous van …"

"… and have a couple of people at the scene to proclaim loudly what they said they saw, while the main actors vanish behind the curtain," finished Missy. "Classic misdirection. I bet everyone who was anywhere nearby believes by now that they actually saw him teleport away."

"Okay, I get that," Flechette said. "That all fits together. But how the hell did they know that she's my girlfriend, and that I'd get you guys in on it, or that we'd take Oni Lee off the board for them?"

Silence fell as they mulled the question over. Emma had the mental impression of trying to fit a square block into a round hole. The facts didn't fit together.

"But what if they didn't?" Taylor asked slowly. She looked around at everyone. "Suppose they found out that you and her were a thing but instead of jumping all over the 'evil lesbian cape' as the Empire, they made it look like Oni Lee did it."

"But why such a roundabout method?" Emma shook her head. "The Empire can do subtle, sure, but this sort of thing is where people like Hookwolf would love to send a message."

"And besides," added Madison, "they would've used a frag grenade or something even nastier, to make sure she was dead, not just scared. It still doesn't add all the way up."

Lisa slapped her forehead. "It does if they didn't know about Flechette and Parian. What if they didn't know any of the connections? Then this whole thing is a pure fluke for them. Which means they absolutely never intended for Oni Lee to be caught so easily, especially not by us. Because the PRT wouldn't let Flechette actually ask him why he attacked Parian. They'd just go, 'Oni Lee being Oni Lee' and toss it in with the rest of the other charges."

"Okay, so what the hell is this all about?" Flechette threw her arms in the air from where she sat on the sofa. "Why even pretend to attack her, if it's not about her lifestyle and mine?"

Danny shook his head. "It wasn't an attempt to hurt her. It was scare tactics. They threw the spectre of the ABB at her, so she'd look for protection elsewhere." At Flechette's confused look, he added two words. "The Empire."

Alan was the next to speak up. "Holy shit, you're right! All this wasn't aimed at Lee. It was aimed at Parian. Five gets you ten that the people who 'helped' her will be back, the next time she shows up. They strike up a friendship. Agree how terrible it is that people like that just attack law-abiding capes in broad daylight. Suggest that they know people who could help protect her in future." He tapped one finger in the other palm in time with his words, over and over. "Wearing away her resistance, one drop of water at a time."

Emma watched the realisation overtake Flechette's face. "The … fuck? All this was a … recruitment scam? The Empire's trying to frighten Parian into joining them?"

Danny nodded soberly. "'Fraid so, kiddo. I've seen it before."

"Son of a bitch!" Flechette clenched her fists. "I am gonna …" She paused, her expression dropping. "I want to tell Piggot to shove the whole thing up her undoubtedly capacious asshole so I can stay in Brockton Bay and kick some Empire butt, but … there's serious legal penalties for Wards who just walk away, especially now that I've turned eighteen. And I don't want the PRT deciding to lean on Parian next, because of her association with me."

Missy grinned. "We might just have a plan for that."


PRT Building ENE
Director Piggot's Office
01:30 PM


"Director, Flechette and Vista are here to see you."

"Send them in." Emily was in a good mood for once.

Not half an hour ago, Glory Girl had dumped Oni Lee—zip-tied and hooded—into the main lobby of the building, then handed a bag containing his gear to one of the troopers and walked out again without a word. Everything had checked out, down to DNA on the mask matching the man in restraints, and ballistic testing with the pistol. This was indeed Oni Lee; the ABB was now cape-free.

The pistol had required cleaning before being tested; it had been covered with phenomenally sticky spider-webbing to the point that a solvent was needed to get it out of the holster. The knife had been likewise trapped in its sheath, and the grenades affixed to their bandoleer. Emily had to admit, it was a neat solution to a thorny problem. How they'd gotten him to stand still long enough to be captured was a question she still had to answer, but she was sure it had something to do with his missing boot and glove.

On the downside, Parian wasn't yet in the Protectorate, but tomorrow was another day. Getting Lee off the streets was a good start.

And now, Flechette herself had shown up. Why Vista had come along, she wasn't sure—the girl was still on detached duty with Team Samaritan—but she was sure she would find out. Idly, she wondered if this would be another pointless display of defiance, or if Flechette had finally seen reason.

The two teenagers entered her office, both in full costume. Vista was empty-handed, while Flechette held two pieces of folded paper. Emily felt uneasy but brushed it aside. All T's had been crossed, all I's dotted. Her knee nudged the hidden recording switch in what had become a reflex action.

"Good afternoon," she greeted them pleasantly. "To what do I owe the pleasure, Vista?"

Vista came to a fair approximation of attention. "This morning, acting on a report that Oni Lee had assaulted Parian at the Boardwalk, Team Samaritan entered ABB territory, captured him, and brought him out. Glory Girl should've handed him over by now. We since found out that he was innocent of the assault, but I'm sure you have enough other charges to lay at his feet."

Emily almost smiled at the girl's serious demeanour. "We do indeed. Well done." And that answered that question. She glanced at Flechette. "And you are here for …?" Now that Oni Lee was off the board, she couldn't even request protection for Parian.

Flechette unfolded one of the pieces of paper and placed it on the desk, dead centre. "This is a petition for me to be released from the Wards with no legal penalties attaching thereto, for my trust fund to be paid into a bank account named therein, and for the name, costume and accoutrements associated with the identity of Flechette to be ceded to me in perpetuity."

A long moment passed, then Emily blinked. "What?" She took up the petition—for that was what it was—and skimmed through it. It had been filled out with Flechette's customary precise handwriting, all the way down to the reason for the petition. "'Unsafe work environment'? What idiocy is this?"

"Keep reading." There was steel in Flechette's voice.

Emily could do that too. Concealing a harsh smile, she looked to the next line, and the smile turned to a scowl. "I have never lied to you about anything important!"

"Yes. You have." The girl wasn't yelling back. She was standing firm and speaking in a normal tone. "Vista has agreed to be my witness in this situation."

"Fine. Two can play at this game." Emily hit the button for the intercom. "Are there any Protectorate members in the building?"

A pause. "Sorry, ma'am. Aegis is in the Wards section, if that helps."

She made a quick calculation. Aegis was a team player, and meticulously honest. "He'll do. Tell him to report to my office, immediately."

"Yes, ma'am." The intercom cut off.

Time passed. A fly buzzed across the room, making Emily frown. How did those things keep getting in?

"Aegis is here, ma'am."

"Send him in."

The door opened, and the leader of the Wards stepped in. He wasn't breathing hard, because as far as she understood matters, it was virtually impossible to get him to that state. Still, he'd made impressive time. "You wanted to see me, ma'am?" The turn of his head took in Vista and Flechette, and he froze momentarily, no doubt wondering what was going on.

"Yes, I did. Come on in and shut the door." Emily took a deep breath while he did this, then composed her words carefully. "Flechette has petitioned to be released from the Wards without penalty, and has accused me of lying to her about matters of import. Vista is her witness. You are my witness. Do you understand?"

Aegis took a long moment to reply. "I understood what you said, ma'am, but I don't understand the situation. At all."

She nodded. "That's fair. Have I ever lied to you about anything substantial, or to any of the other Wards in your presence?"

He paused for another long moment, then shook his head. "Not to my knowledge, ma'am."

"Thank you." She gave him a tight-lipped smile. "I will need you to listen to whatever testimony she has and give me your opinion of it."

It was obvious that he knew he was involved in deep matters right now; he took his time to think through what she'd said before answering. "I can do that, ma'am."

"Good." She turned to Flechette, erasing all friendliness from her expression. The time for Ms. Nice Director was long past. "State your case."

Flechette took a deep breath and unfolded the other piece of paper, then laid it on the desk. "I want the following recording replayed for me: yesterday, on April twenty-ninth of this year, the meeting that began at two fifty-five PM."

Emily forced herself not to blink in surprise. The Wards had never been informed about the recording system; references to it were buried in the regulations, but nobody ever read those in full. Pretending nonchalance, she reached out and took up the paper. It was the appropriate request form, filled out properly. "I see you've been doing your homework."

"You might say that. Please attend to my request immediately."

Suppressing the urge to growl at the girl—the last thing she wanted was two witnesses stating she'd refused to play back the recording—Emily tapped keys on her computer until the dates were arrayed before her. All she could do was hit Play and Stop. There were no erasure or modification options.

Selecting the appropriate one, she hit Play.

The first thing that came out of the speakers was a digitised voice. "Meeting between Director Piggot and Ward Flechette at fourteen fifty-five and thirty-five seconds, on April twenty-nine, two thousand eleven. All secret identities have been redacted. Recording begins."

She heard her own voice. "Enter."

A few moments passed.

"Director Piggot … has my performance with the Wards been problematic? Have I broken the law, or violated regulations in some way that I have not yet been informed of?" That was Flechette.

"No. Your performance has been within expectations."

"If that's the case, Director, why does it feel like I am being punished for something I haven't done?"

"Punished? I authorised no punishment for you. What makes you think you're being punished?"

"Why am I being transferred to the Miami Wards then, if not as a punishment?"

"Punishment? I wasn't aware that Miami was considered such a hardship posting that it could be seen as a punishment. This is merely a routine reassignment. Not your first, as I understand matters."

"Well, no. But … I don't want to go. I like it here in Brockton Bay. Besides, the grapevine says Lung will be ready to be shipped to the Birdcage soon, and surely we're going to need all hands on deck for that."

"This is true. However, it is most likely that Oni Lee will be attempting to whip up fervour in the Asian community, possibly as a cover for the ABB to break Lung out of the transport. I will not send children into that kind of situation, and the fact that you share an ethnic background with some of the groups involved will not endear you to them. Some will see you as a traditional enemy to be targeted, while others will lash out at you as a traitor to your people. Trust me, you going out there will not help matters."

"Then put me on the Boardwalk stopping muggers, to free up manpower elsewhere. The ABB can't foster race riots everywhere."

"We won't be short-handed. Director Partridge will be sending me Wavefront. I've heard good things about him."

"Director Piggot, I don't want to go to Miami. I want to stay right here in Brockton Bay."

"That's interesting. I hadn't heard of any particular reason you might feel that way."

"I'm seeing someone. This isn't just some fling. We're pretty serious."

"Really? Does he know you're a Ward? Because that sort of secret can be problematic in a relationship."

"It's not a he, it's a she. I'm dating another woman. And yes, she does know. She doesn't have a problem with it."

"Indeed. That's very interesting. How long have you been in this relationship? Just so I can check up on when your change-of-status paperwork was filed, and find out why nobody informed me of this before I set up your transfer."

"I … haven't filed paperwork about it. It never seemed important enough."

"Well, that's a shame. If you'd ever gotten around to doing so, I would have been aware that you have ties here in the city, and I would of course have nominated someone else for the transfer. Unfortunately, the paperwork has already gone through."

"Is there any way we can change it? I mean, I haven't gone yet, and I really don't want to go."

"Well, that depends. Are there any details about your relationship which may warrant the time and effort to retrieve that paperwork from the system and reverse an official decision?"

"I'm going to need a little while to think about that, ma'am."

"Take all the time you want. Until next Friday, of course."

"Yes, ma'am. Thank you, ma'am."

The digitised voice spoke again. "Recording ends."

There was nothing new or different on it to what Emily recalled; with a clear conscience, she looked at Flechette. "The recording has been played. What of it?"

"On that recording, you claimed to me you had no idea I was seeing anyone." Flechette still hadn't raised her voice. Again, Emily felt the slightest hint of unease raising the hairs on the back of her neck. The girl was up to something, but she didn't know what.

"And I told the truth." Emily looked at Aegis. "Can you say that you knew I was aware of any outside attachment that Flechette had before last week?"

It was his apologetic look at Flechette that put Emily at ease. "Ma'am, the Wards all knew, or kind of knew, but I know I didn't tell you."

"Hmm." That was Vista. "Ma'am, on what date did you cut her transfer orders?"

The date would be printed on the papers, but Emily had no reason to lie anyway. "The twenty-seventh," she said. "Three days ago. Why?"

"Oh … no reason." Vista did a flick of the wrist, and suddenly she was holding a sheet of folded paper. "I would like to listen to a recording of a meeting I had with you. Tuesday, April twelfth. Nine oh-two AM."

Emily took the paper, the uneasy feeling slithering down her spine. It was all above board. "Why?"

"Please attend to my request immediately, ma'am."

There were those same words again. Still, she didn't know why Vista was pulling this stunt. As she recalled, that meeting had been about her sounding out Vista as a potential liaison for Team Samaritan. Was this about her pressing Vista for extra information about the team?

Scrolling down, she found the correct meeting, and pressed Play.

"Meeting between Director Piggot and Ward Vista at nine oh-two and seventeen seconds, on April twelve, two thousand eleven. All secret identities have been redacted. Recording begins."

"You wanted to see me, Director?" That was Vista's voice.

"Come in and close the door."

There was a pause, accompanied by footsteps on the carpet.

"Are you happy here, Ms beep?"

"Um ... yes?"

"That didn't sound very happy to me. The way I understand things, you're unhappy because people treat you as a kid, even though you've got more time as a Ward than most. Isn't that true?"

"Uh … It's not really important, Director. I'm doing good work here. My personal feelings don't really matter."

"There's more to it than that. As it happens, we have more boys than girls on the team, and you're at an age when you would like someone to talk to about such matters. And the only other girl on the team is Flechette, and she spends most of her off-duty time away from the base."

"Wait, stop!" Flechette raised her hand. "See, that? That shows you knew about my girlfriend."

Emily clicked Stop, then shook her head. "All I knew is that you were away from the base. Nothing more, nothing less. Aegis, your read on that?"

He grimaced, obviously torn between wanting to support his teammate and his boss. "It's, uh … it's ambiguous at best. Sorry, Flechette."

Flechette folded her arms and looked away from him; she didn't say a word, but the body language couldn't have been clearer.

"Can we continue, please?" asked Vista.

"Certainly." Emily clicked Play again.

"Director ...?"

"You've been watching Brockton Bay AM, with the spot on this new Team Samaritan, correct?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"What is your opinion of them?"

"Well, Armsmaster likes them –"

There was a throat-clearing noise. "If I wanted Mr beep's opinion of them, I would ask the man myself. I would like your opinion."

"Um ... they look pretty cool, actually. I'd like to know where they got their costumes from. That's not homemade stuff. Or if it is, it's really good."

"Indeed." It was a murmur. "Well, if you want, you can find out for me."

"I don't –"

"Ms beep, I would like you to take a leave of absence from the Wards, and offer your services to Team Samaritan as an official liaison from the Wards. They're all teenage girls, so you will have that in common, and your Wards training should be an asset to them."

"I ..." There was a pause. "Quit the Wards?"

"I believe I said, 'leave of absence'. More precisely, detached duty. You will continue to be paid your Wards salary, and you will be joining Team Samaritan on a temporary basis only. They are a new team, and there are sure to be teething problems. You will have us to turn to, to ensure that these do not get in the way of the Samaritans being as effective as they can be." Another pause. "Also, if you happen to see any wrongdoing, it would be your duty to report it."

"So I'm a spy now." Vista's voice was flat.

"I believe I said 'liaison'." By contrast, Emily's was bland. "You won't be acting against them, unless you find that they are committing crimes. I won't be asking you to find out their secret identities, or even carry a wire. I just want you to join the team and help them to become as effective a team of heroes as they can be."

"Why this team? What's so important about them that you have to put a liaison in their ranks?"

"Because the young lady known as Sparx bears a striking resemblance to the person who defeated Lung three months ago, and is almost certainly the same one who brought down Shadow Stalker. From the way she's been handling herself of late, she's been getting professional-level training from somewhere. I'd be very interested in finding out where. Also, as you noted, the costumes. They are not home-made, nor are they store-bought."

There was a pause. "Why me? Why not Flechette? She's closer to their age."

A cold feeling, as of tumbling into the abyss, seized on Emily's heart. Fuuuuck. I forgot about this bit.

As if from a great distance, she heard the next words in her own voice. "She's already got an outside relationship going on. I don't want her becoming distracted."

"Stop it there, please," Vista said politely, then turned to Aegis as Emily reflexively obeyed. "I presume you heard that, too? I can get her to replay it if you want."

He shook his head. "No need. I'm sorry, Director, but I'm stepping down as your witness and stepping up for Flechette. It's become abundantly clear to me that you knew about her outside commitment long before you cut those orders for her, and that you lied repeatedly to her—and to us—about the matter." The regret was strong in his voice, right alongside the intent to carry this through to the bitter end.

Emily glared at Vista and Flechette. They had walked right into her office and baited a trap, and like a fool she'd put her head in the noose and smiled as she pulled the lever herself.

With just one hand, so she didn't succumb to the intense desire to tear the petition to shreds, she took it up again.

Back when she'd been in her PRT recruit course, a training sergeant had said something that stuck in her mind. If you're ever in a situation where surrender is the only option, there's no shame in it. Sometimes, shit just happens. Never let the bastards see you sweat.

She felt as though she were staring down a rifle barrel as she reached up to her breast pocket now and took out the pen she'd been gifted with on being invalidated out of active duty. The button clicked firmly, as befitted a one-hundred-fifty-dollar precision writing implement. Placing the petition squarely before her, she inscribed her signature on it, the action as painful as if her very life-blood were draining out through the nib.

Clicking the pen closed and sliding it away again, she looked up at the three—no, two—Wards. "If that will be all, I'll be filing the appropriate paperwork immediately. Aegis, I will be requiring you to escort Flechette from the building." Her voice sounded to her own ears as though someone else was saying the words.

"Ah, ah." Flechette held up a hand. "I have possessions in the Wards area. I'll need to fetch those."

Emily clenched her teeth so tightly, some small part of her worried that she might chip the enamel. "To the Wards area then, and immediately out of the building thereafter. And Flechette, be aware that you signed an NDA with your Wards contract that is still in effect regarding the identities of your former teammates."

"Oh, totally." Flechette beamed at her. "I'm not gonna out them. I just can't wait to get out of this toxic swamp."

"Just … go." Emily growled the last word.

"Wait. One last thing." It was Vista who spoke.

Emily sighed. She just wanted this day done. "Say your goodbyes in the Wards area. I'm pulling you off liaison duty, effective immediately." It was petty, but there was basically no other way she could punish Vista for ambushing her like that.

"No. You're not." Vista placed a sheet of paper—where the hell did she get that from?—on the desk. "My petition to also leave the Wards, on the grounds that I feel unsafe in this workplace."

"What? No. No!" Emily was barely aware that she was shouting the word. "You can not just—"

"You lied to my face!" Vista screamed back at her. "I can't trust you anymore!"

Aegis broke the ringing silence that followed. "I thought … I thought you didn't want to quit the Wards?"

"I didn't," Vista said quietly, in a choked voice. "If she'd just … let Flechette go, I would've stayed. But she had to lie, and lie, and lie." She shook her head. "If I've learned anything from my parents, it's that if someone will lie about the little things, they'll lie about the big things. So, I'm leaving before it gets to that." She reached out and tapped the petition. "Sign here, please."

Emily closed her eyes, feeling the sensation of sliding down a long greasy chute with no solid footing in sight. As she reached for her pen again, she opened them and looked at Aegis. "Are you about to follow in their footsteps?"

Slowly, he shook his head. "No. I'm staying. I'm hoping you can be better than you were today, and the guys need someone to keep an eye on them."

She nodded in bleak acceptance; he wasn't staying for her, he was staying for his teammates. Slowly, carefully, painfully, she signed the second petition. It wasn't worth quibbling over the details. Two Wards had done to her what Ellisburg and Nilbog had failed to achieve. Ten years ago, she'd been beaten, but not defeated.

Now, she was defeated.

She clicked the pen once more and slid it into her pocket. Aegis escorted both ex-Wards out of her office, the door closing behind them.

Leaning back in her chair, she sighed, long and bitterly.

Well, fuck.


Flechette


As Missy—they'd already unmasked to each other—and Lily stepped out of the PRT building, Lily turned to the younger girl. "So you're sure they're okay with me joining?"

Missy nodded enthusiastically. "Oh, hell yes." She pulled her phone—her own phone, as the Wards issued ones had been among the few things they had to hand back—and dialled a number. "Yeah, we're done, and we're on the way. Yeah, both of us. Yes, Lisa was right. Like anyone would bet against her. Oh, and we're gonna need a place to stay. Cool, see you soon."

Shutting the phone down, she put it away. "C'mon, let's go." Space warped, and they stepped away across the rooftops.

"Uh …" ventured Lily. "I wonder how much trouble Piggot's going to get into, over this?"

Missy grinned, showing her teeth. "Well, the Chief Director will be getting an anonymous email any moment now about what she tried to do, and how she went about it, and the results. So … more than a little, is my guess. Even if it's just for getting caught. Enough that she won't have time to take her frustrations out on Team Samaritan."

"Good." Lily turned to the other topic on her mind. "So, uh, about the Empire, and how they also made a move on Sabah …?"

Missy's grin turned savage. "Oh, we've got plans for them, too."


End of Part Thirty-Three


[A/N: The first audio clip that they listened to is lifted out of Part Thirty-One, posted four and a half months ago. The second comes from Part Nine, posted over seven years ago. Woo!]