One Bad Day
Part Eleven: Regathering
[A/N: This chapter commissioned by GW_Yoda and beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]
Dean groaned as he woke up. He had a mild headache and there was an unpleasant taste in his mouth; in addition, the muscles all the way down the left side of his body were stiff and sore. The last time he'd felt this horrible was the day after his first cape fight in the Wards, but he had trouble remembering who he'd fought this time.
He was just levering his eyelids apart when the memory returned. Girl Scouts? I was fighting Girl Scouts? There'd been two, and then there'd been one, and Brandish and Lady Photon had shown up, and there'd been a bunch of bugs, and Brandish had gotten all creepy at the red-haired Girl Scout, and …
What happened next? It was like he'd been KO'd, but he didn't have any bruises or dizziness to indicate a concussion. A vague memory suggested he might've been tasered, but those things didn't actually knock someone out, especially not for hours.
That was when he realized he wasn't lying in his own bed, at home. Neither, for that matter, was he in the PRT infirmary. The sheet under him was clean, but the mattress was thin and the wall opposite was blank grey concrete. Oh, shit. I've been captured.
"Oh, hey. You're awake."
The familiar voice—Laserdream's here too?—brought his head spinning around to focus on the folding chair at the end of the bed. Vicky's cousin sat there with a paperback in her hand, a smirk on her face as she observed his obvious confusion.
"Wakey wakey, sleepyhead," she said with a smile in her voice to match her expression. "Have you been getting enough rest recently? Amy said you needed to wake up normally, but even after she cleared the knockout stuff from your system, you didn't come to for another half hour."
"Laserdream!" he said in a hushed voice, coming to his feet. Looking up at the ceiling, he scanned for cameras and microphones. A tiny caged dome in one corner confirmed his worst fears. "When did they capture you? What's going on? We've got to get—"
"Jeez. Chill." She rolled her eyes. "We're not prisoners. I'm here to explain what's going on."
"We're not?" For the first time since he'd woken up, he paid attention to his power. She was calm, a little amused, and not at all angry or afraid. "Wait … we're actually not prisoners? What's going on, then? Where are we? Who attacked us … were you attacked?"
She huffed and rolled her eyes again. "Take a breath. Gimme a chance to answer even one question before we move onto the next, okay?" She waited until he nodded before continuing. "So, first things first. We might've been kind of … enthusiastically collected. Kidnapped, even. But it's for a good cause. And no, we're not prisoners." To demonstrate, she got up and pulled on the cell door. It swung open, barely even creaking. "We put you in here in case you came out of it attacking everyone in sight. Mom's in the next cell over."
This was too much for him to take in all at once. "Kidnapped for a good cause?" How's that supposed to work? She's too calm. Has she been Mastered? Is this even Crystal? Does New Wave have Master/Stranger protocols? It might've been nice if Vicky had ever shared them with me. "Uh, you are Laserdream, right? Crystal Pelham?"
"Yes," she replied, putting a certain amount of irritated emphasis on the word. His power registered the answer as truthful. "Now, I know this is a lot to take in, but I'm going to need you to listen to me, because apparently you wouldn't listen to Lisa."
"Lisa …" He frowned. "The redheaded Girl Scout? Did they … did she … come to my house to abduct me?" When he thought back, he had trouble recalling if there were one or two girls involved. "There was a purple car?"
"Well, no, they came to your front door to ask you to come quietly with them," Crystal explained. "It's only when Mom and Aunt Carol barged in that it escalated to abduction. Also, it didn't help that Mom left Aunt Carol to try and force answers out of Lisa. I'm thinking we might need to do an intervention before Carol goes totally off the rails and kills someone. On purpose or by accident. Lisa says she was drunk and waving her energy blades around."
The honest concern in her aura went a long way toward settling Dean's worries. Also, her commentary dovetailed neatly with what he did recall of the confrontation. "The girl, Lisa, said Vicky was hurt but Amy couldn't help her. Something about her being part of the problem."
Crystal sighed. "That's the basic thing, yes. Before we go any further, I'm going to tell you the rest, but I think you need to be sitting down for it."
"Okay, back up a bit," he said, though he did sit down on the bed again. "Didn't you say your mother was in the next cell over? Why isn't she in the cell here, explaining everything to me?"
"Because she's still out to it," Crystal said pragmatically. "We didn't want to be splitting our attention between two upset capes at the same time, so we figured we'd wake you up first, get you up to speed, and then we could all talk Mom down when she loses her shit at us over this."
"I'm not sure that'll be much of a problem," he said. "Lady Photon's always been level-headed and approachable."
"Oh, I have no doubt we'll be able to talk her around." Crystal's voice was gloomy. "But I'm equally certain I'm gonna get grounded so hard I'll need a walking cane by the time she lets me out to go to my senior prom. Just for waking her up second."
"Ooh, ouch." Dean grimaced. "Yeah, I can totally see that." He took a deep breath. "So, can I see Vicky now? What's wrong with her?" It crossed his mind just to get up and try to push his way past her, but he didn't want to hurt her. Not to mention, her force fields were easily strong enough to contain him, even if they were weaker than the ones her mother and brother could generate.
"Okay." Crystal didn't look or sound as though she was looking forward to this next bit. "You know how Amy loved Vicky?"
An alarm bell rang in the back of his head as he took note of the past tense of the word. "I knew they were very close," he said cautiously.
She gave him a disgusted look; her aura mirrored it. "Stop pussyfooting around," she snapped. "Did you know Amy was in love with Vicky? Not sister love. Love love." Because even as dim as boys are, she didn't have to say, I'd be surprised if you didn't.
He hesitated too long before answering, and saw the change in her aura. She knew he'd known. "… yes," he admitted. "And she hated me for being with Vicky." Why he put that bit in he wasn't sure. Perhaps to show Crystal he was actually on the ball?
"Fucking knew it," she muttered. Taking a deep breath, she skewered him with a look that should by rights have been registered as a Blaster power. "And you told nobody about this?"
"Who could I have told?" he asked helplessly. "Amy knew. I knew Vicky didn't love Amy like that, but she still loved her like a sister. Telling her would've maybe pushed her away, and it wasn't my place to do that." He raised his eyebrows. "And I'm pretty sure your aunt wouldn't have been thrilled about it, either."
"Well, no, true," admitted Crystal. "But you could've told Mom or Dad. Mainly Mom. Or you could've spoken to Amy about it. Talked about getting therapy, because repressing that sort of thing is in no way healthy, even when powers aren't involved."
The lurch her aura gave into darkness at the end gave him the clue he needed. "Amy … she did something to Vicky, didn't she? With her powers?"
"Wow, you finally got a clue," she asked bitterly. "Yes, Amy did something to Vicky. Oh, did you know Vicky was going out on her own and beating up gangers, then calling Amy to come fix her messes when she hit them too hard?"
He blinked. This was both a segue he hadn't been expecting and news he wasn't ready for. "No. Um, what's this got to do with Amy hurting Vicky with her powers?"
Crystal sighed. "Because Vicky hit this guy way too hard and fractured his skull, then called Amy. This wasn't the first time, or the second, or even the third. Amy was sick of it, and told Vicky she could wear the consequences if this guy died. Vicky tried to guilt her into it, and said she'd do anything for Amy if she'd just fix the mess."
Dean blinked, a lot of puzzle pieces dropping into place at once. "And this is after she caught me and Vicky together in bed."
Crystal stared at him. "I didn't know that. But it makes a little more sense now, yeah. So, she's got all that, she's still carrying the torch for Vicky, and Vicky makes an open-ended promise like that."
"Oh, shit," whispered Dean. He didn't know exactly how bad it was going to be, but he knew it was going to be bad.
"Yeah, no shit." Crystal's tone was harsh. "So yeah, thanks to that, you get to wear a little bit of this too. Amy did the thing, unfucked the guy's brain—"
"Wait." Dean's brain finally caught up with the conversation. "Amy can't do brains."
Crystal laughed mirthlessly. "Nope. Turns out our little Amy's full of surprises. She can absolutely do brains. She just chooses not to. Because, and get this, it's too easy to go too far. Direct quote from the girl herself."
Dean slumped back on the bed until his back hit the cold concrete wall behind him. "Well, fuck," he said blankly. "I always thought—"
"The same as the rest of us," agreed Crystal. "Boy, were we wrong. Anyway, she did the thing. Then she went to Vicky and basically wanted to steal a kiss. She hasn't actually told us in detail what happened next, but I'm thinking she was kissing Vicky, Vicky got weirded out and tried to stop, but Amy was finally getting what she's wanted all this time. So, when Vicky tried to push her away, Amy reacted instinctively and wiped away everything in Vicky's brain that wanted her to stop." She paused for a beat. "Permanently."
Horror flooded through Dean's brain as he stared at Crystal. Whatever he'd been expecting, this was worse. Ten times worse. A thousand times worse. Vicky being physically injured, he could handle. She was tough; injuries could be overcome. But to have everything that was her just … erased? "Jesus fucking Christ on a Tinkertech pogo stick," he said slowly. "She fucking did that?"
"She did." Crystal got up from the chair and dropped the paperback onto it. "Come on. Now that I've filled you in, I'll take you to see her."
Dean stood as well, with considerable alacrity. "Her? Which 'her'? And what's being done with Amy?"
"Vicky." Crystal glanced back over her shoulder. "And nothing's being done with Amy. She's the one organizing this whole thing. Gathering everyone together."
"What?" Dean felt vaguely outraged. "She basically killed Vicky! Why isn't she being … well, punished?"
"Trust me, nothing we could do to her would match what she's doing to herself." Crystal led the way out of the cell and down a corridor composed of the same blank concrete. Cell doors were visible to the left and right as they passed by. "Besides, they've figured out a plan. It's why we're getting everyone in the same place. Everyone who knows Vicky well."
Dean frowned as he tried to figure out where she was going with that. "So they can … describe her personality to Amy and she can rebuild Vicky from scratch?" That didn't sound like it could go wrong at all.
"Not quite, but very close." Crystal glanced back at him again; this time, her aura showed a strong tinge of respect. "You're just missing the final bit of information. Specifically, the people Amy's working with to fix Vicky." They passed through the final doorway and up a set of stairs.
A bunch of people were gathered in what looked like a common room, or a prison cafeteria; all that was missing were the armed guards on the catwalks overhead. There were still no windows that Dean could see, which made him wonder exactly where they were. "Wait … are we in an Endbringer shelter?"
"Again, very close to the truth," Crystal said. "Tell you later; it's not important right now." She raised her voice. "Guys, he's up and he's been filled in."
"Woo! Sleeping beauty is awake!" A dark-skinned girl with a purple streak through her hair popped up from where she'd apparently been having an animated discussion with Eric Pelham—oh good, he's okay too—and waved. "Come on over, G-man!"
Dean frowned slightly, but his secret identity was less important to him right now than the welfare of one other person. He let his aura sight guide him; most of the people around the table were registering as various shades of determined, but there were two that were far different from the rest. One was a boiling, bubbling black hole of self-loathing and laser-guided purpose, and the other … a pure soul. No hate, resentment or anything other than happiness.
His attention fixated on the last one, and he looked with his eyes to see Vicky's blonde curls as she sat at the table, gazing vacantly into space. He couldn't be sure, but he thought she was humming to herself. Her hand was intertwined with Amy's, and her other hand stroked it gently.
"Vicky." The word was torn out of his throat.
Slowly, the girl wearing Vicky's face turned to look at him. "Yes?" she asked. "Oh, hello, Dean." Then her eyes drifted away from him and she went back to humming softly.
He wasn't sure what hurt more; the fact that she simply dismissed him from consideration, or the sheer blankness in her eyes and face. There was barely anything there that could be called a person anymore.
Guided by Crystal, he reluctantly approached the table and sat down. The movement attracted Vicky's attention for a second, but her aura didn't so much as flare when she noticed him. It was as though he were a mobile piece of wallpaper; to be reacted to when he did something, but thoroughly unimportant otherwise.
By contrast, Amy's aura became even darker and grimmer when her eyes briefly met his. She went to glance away, but stopped. He could tell she was forcing herself to meet his gaze, and that she hated it, but she would not let herself stop. An immense well of anguish and regret overflowed as he watched her aura.
"You did this?" He wasn't sure how he managed to say it without sounding accusatory. Most every part of him wanted to shout and scream at her, to take her throat in his hands and squeeze. But that wasn't who or what he was, so he sat opposite her and spoke civilly, no matter what it cost him inside.
An extra level of pain shot through her aura, showing him that his act wasn't perfect. "Yes," she whispered. "But I'm going to fix it. I have to fix it." Her eyes squeezed shut, so tightly it looked painful, but tears leaked out anyway.
"How?" he asked. "How do you fix something like this?"
"Cranial," said the redhead sitting on the other side of Amy. "She's a rogue working with Toybox." Reaching over the table, she offered her hand, then gave him a smirk. "Hi, we met before, but the introductions were cut short. I'm Lisa, and we're gonna help Amy fix Vicky."
He shook her hand, suddenly matching up the aura of smugness with the encounter on the front doorstep. "You're one of the Girl Scouts!" Then he glanced at the black girl, who was cheerfully listening in on the conversation with zero apparent shame. "You … were there too?"
"That's us!" The black girl gave him a finger-wave. "Figment, but you can call me Aisha." She rolled her eyes. "Boy, were you a hard sell."
"Um." The reality of the situation was starting to come home to Dean. "How long's it been? Since you snatched me and Lady Photon, I mean."
"About two hours." This was the other girl at the table, a tall brunette with curly hair and glasses. "Why?"
"Why?" He stared at her, unsure why she was being so blasé about the whole thing. "Because you kidnapped a Ward! Also, a member of New Wave!" His brain kicked in around then, and he corrected himself. "Another member of New Wave!"
"Chill." Lisa waved away his concern. "They'll never find us here. This place literally doesn't exist on any official plan of the city. My former boss made sure of that. They can look all they like, but all they'll get is pictures of a purple car that doesn't even exist anymore." She gestured to the brunette. "And Taylor here'll be able to give us warning if they do start sniffing around any of the entrances."
Taylor frowned, her aura shifting hues toward 'concern'. "Uh … about that?"
Lisa slowly turned toward her, a frown creeping across her face. "Don't you fucking dare."
"Sorry." Taylor grimaced. "But three people and a few dogs just came into the parking garage. Did you ever get around to changing the codes? Because one of the people has opened the switch box and is punching in a code, right now."
Clenching her eyes together, Lisa ran her hands up into her hair and clenched tight with both hands. "Motherfucker! It's Circus, with Regent and Bitch!"
Dean knew the first name, but not the other two. This did not stop him from figuring out that this was a bad thing. "Uh … they're not on your side?"
"They used to work for my former boss." Lisa gave him a tight smile, but her aura had nothing but aggravation in it. "My dead former boss. I'm guessing Circus is back to get new orders."
"So … tell them he said to go away, and keep doing what they were doing before?" suggested Dean.
"Hah. I'd love to." Lisa rolled her eyes. "The last job they were sent on was to hunt me down."
That … was a problem. A big problem. "Well, fuck. So, what are we gonna do?" He barely noticed the fact that he'd just included himself with everyone else there.
Taylor cracked her knuckles. "Whatever we have to."
"Dunno why we couldn't have come back yesterday," Alec grumbled as they waited for Circus to punch in the last of the code. "And why couldn't I get the code as well?"
Rachel didn't answer, but Circus did. "Because you would've come back yesterday. Your boss didn't see fit to contact me with the news that he had Tattletale. I had to find out the hard way. So he gets to pay me an extra day for babysitting you two."
That actually sounded like a pretty good idea to Alec. "Hey, do we get paid extra for putting up with you?"
Circus chuckled as the door clicked and slid aside. "That's something you should've arranged with him before you came out with me. Personally, I'm getting four times my usual rate. And now that the job I was hired for is done, I'm taking my money and heading for the tall timber." She glanced over at Alec, then at Rachel. "And just between you and me, if I were you, I'd do the same."
"Why?" asked Rachel bluntly. Well, she said everything bluntly. "He pays us on time."
"Because you're just tools to him." Circus started into the corridor thus revealed. "To be thrown away when you've outlived your usefulness. I mean, you two don't make a team. If I wasn't there to ride herd on you, you'd kill each other or walk away inside of six hours."
"Three," corrected Alec.
"One," Rachel put in.
Circus spread her hands. "And thus, my point is made. Unless he can bring in new capes who can keep you under control—and that's not me, just saying—you're basically useless to him. Worse, you know about this base now. That makes you both potential liabilities. If I were you? I wouldn't turn your backs on him. Like, ever."
The colourful cape had a point, Alec conceded. It wasn't like Coil was the first authority figure he'd ever had who was creepy as fuck. The trouble was, cutting loose from Coil would leave him out in the cold again, vulnerable to being grabbed up by whoever his father sent to collect him. "Eh," he said. "Better the asshole I know."
"I can work with people," insisted Bitch. "So long as they don't disrespect me or my dogs."
Circus sighed. "Well, don't say I didn't warn you." She approached a second door; this one was made of steel rather than concrete. The keypad wasn't concealed in a switch box this time, but Circus interposed her body when putting in this code as well. Alec couldn't quite tell what the code was—he didn't have a good enough read on Circus' body yet, especially with all the different tells the grab-bag cape assumed and discarded more or less at will—but he knew it was different to the first one.
The door hissed aside, and Circus stepped through, Alec and Rachel trailing behind. The three dogs, at Rachel's heel, followed along obediently. Alec vaguely wondered who was watching the security panel—in a place like this, there would absolutely have to be a security panel—and why they'd let Rachel bring her dogs inside. He knew he wouldn't have let them in if he was in charge. Oh, well. Sucks to be whoever's gonna get smacked in the head for that oversight. It really, really wasn't his problem.
The corridor beyond was a shorter one, and the keypad on the other end was glowing green rather than red, like the last one had been. "Uh, what's that mean?" he asked.
"Means it's unlocked," Circus said. She glanced back at Alec and Rachel. "Now, stick close to me and let me do the talking, and we might all walk away with the cash we're owed. Got it?"
"Yeah, got it." Alec ran his hand down to his sceptre, ready to pull it out at a moment's notice. Rachel nodded and mumbled something that might've been an affirmative, but her attention was on her dogs. Which were, Alec noticed, a little larger than they'd been before. "We're not here to start a fight. Are we, Rachel?"
She shot him a poisonous look. "I won't start one. But I'll finish it."
"Guess that's the best I'm gonna get," muttered Circus. She pressed the button to open the door; obediently, it hissed aside.
On the other side, as they stepped through, was a bunch of catwalks surrounding a drop to some kind of common area below, with tables and chairs and everything. Overhead, the ceiling was composed of more of the raw concrete that the rest of the base was built out of. But he wasn't paying attention to the architecture. Because there was Tattletale, right there, in front of them. She might've dyed her hair red sometime in the last few days, but that was definitely her. He would've known her nervous system anywhere.
The thing was, she wasn't alone. Across the far side of the huge room, lounging against a doorframe, was a tall brunette with glasses. From where he was, all Alec could tell was that she was kinda skinny and a bit dorkish, but that was about it.
The last person facing them was a black girl wearing what Alec considered the proper style for a girl, along with a purple streak through her hair. Like Lisa, she was standing about ten yards away, but along a different catwalk. She had a secretive grin about her mouth, and her hands were behind her back.
"Oh, hey," said Circus, clearly doing her best to sound unconcerned; Alec could feel the increase in tension from where he was. "Fancy meeting you here, Tattletale. Coil around? We just dropped in to get our payment."
"For trying to hunt me down?" There was an edge to Lisa's voice that made Alec want to roll his eyes. What part of 'just business' did she not understand? "Anyway, Coil's not here. He's been made surplus to requirements."
The implications of that statement made Alec blink twice in quick succession. "Wait, you killed him?" he blurted, in a moment of rare surprise.
"Not me, but yes. He's dead." Her voice was flat and hard. "I'm not inclined to honour any deals he had going on before I took over. You can take Regent and Bitch and leave now. That's the best deal you're going to get."
"No." Circus shook her head, anger leaking through into her voice. "I made a deal in good faith. I tolerated these two, kept them pointing in the right direction. I am owed that money."
"Then feel free to grab a shovel and start digging," called out the black girl impudently. "The bugs might not have eaten all of him yet."
Alec had to admit, she had a sense of humour that ran right alongside his, as muted as it might be. As for the rest of it, this was looking problematic. Lisa didn't look as though she were willing to disburse funds to any of them. His bank account was pretty healthy; but upping stakes and moving to a new town, then dealing with all the expenses of setting up anew, would pretty well drain it.
"Fuck," he muttered, then raised his voice. "Hey, Lise! You hiring? Experienced minion, right here!"
"What the fuck?" Circus stared at him. "What are you even trying to do?"
He shrugged. "Hey, it's one way to get paid."
"Alec," Lisa said politely. "I say this with all due respect and consideration for your difficult position, but you can just fuck off, right now."
Eh. That's fair, I guess.
"Screw this," said Rachel. "We're not getting paid, I'm out of here." She whistled briefly and tapped her leg to get her dogs' attention.
"No!" shouted Circus, her voice echoing from the concrete walls and ceiling. "God fucking damn it, no! I was hired to do a job that I didn't even want to do, and I was promised four times my standard pay for it, and I'm getting that fucking money if I have to hold you by the back of the neck and type in the passcodes with your fucking nose! I've earned that shit!"
"Four times?" Lisa tilted her head to one side. "Damn. That much? He really wanted me back, didn't he?"
"And I've earned every fucking cent of it!" Circus' voice was ragged with anger.
Alec didn't think he'd been that much of a pain to work with … well, maybe he had. A little bit, here and there. If anyone had been a real pain in the ass, it had been Rachel and her dogs.
"Not from me, you haven't." Lisa's tone was final.
"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Circus was well and truly pissed off now. "You've got access to Coil's funds! Just pay me what I'm owed, and I'll never come near you again!"
Alec had to admit, she'd held it together every time he'd pushed and prodded and tried to find her buttons. Meanwhile, Lisa had located them without even trying. He was honestly kind of jealous.
"Sorry." Lisa wasn't sorry; even Alec could tell that much. "We need that cash. All of it. Paying you would take just too big a bite out of it. Not worth the risk."
"Some of that money is mine!"
"Nope. It was Coil's, and now it's mine." Lisa smiled, showing her teeth and hooding her eyes. "Consider it a fucking-with-me tax."
"I'll show you a fucking-with-me tax!" Abruptly, Circus held a huge sledgehammer, decorated with streamers.
Oh, so we're fighting now? Okay, we're fighting. To be honest, Alec had gotten a little bored with the back-and-forth banter. He'd figured Circus and Lisa were either going to come to blows or make out, though Lisa didn't usually do the 'make out' thing. Still, there was always a first time.
Pulling his sceptre, he looked around for … there was someone he'd been going to tase with it. But the only one he could see who wasn't Lisa was all the way across the room. She hadn't moved, and didn't look like she was going to.
And then, as Circus launched herself forward … she didn't. Her leading leg flexed, pushing her upward and onward, and then basically failed to leave the catwalk in its turn. Losing her grip unceremoniously on the hammer, she performed a glorious pratfall. With a scream of rage she curled around; where the hammer had been, she suddenly held a road flare, which she ignited, then blew a huge burst of flame over the off-yellow cords holding her to the metal grating. They shrivelled and curled away, but before she could regain her feet, there was a crackling sound and a smell like ozone. She convulsed and dropped the road flare as she crumpled to the grating again.
Wait, was that me? I don't think it was me. Alec looked down at the sceptre he still held. No, it hadn't gone anywhere near Circus. Something distinctly weird was going on, and it wasn't his doing.
There was a creak from the catwalk and he looked around, to see that Rachel was growing her dogs after all. He wanted to roll his eyes, but there wasn't time. So much for wanting to get out of here.
While he was still trying to figure out what to do—Lisa and the tall brunette were still just standing there, not doing anything he could disrupt—Rachel shoved past him, the dogs following on. Each of them was just starting to get to the skin-splitting stage and were about chest-high. Not quite big enough to ride, but definitely big enough to fuck someone's day up.
Giving an ear-splitting whistle, Rachel pointed at Lisa. "Brutus! Fetch!" she commanded.
The dogs … did nothing. One sat down and began to lick its butt.
Rachel glared at them, whistled a second time, and pointed. "Angelina! Fetch!" she yelled.
One of the other dogs trotted up to Lisa, licked her hand, then lay down at her feet.
Alec stared in admiration. He'd thought Circus was pissed off, but Rachel's expression was downright apocalyptic. She drew in a deep breath, then subsided to her knees. Slowly, as though she really didn't want to do it but knew she had no choice, she slumped onto her side. Raucous snores arose.
Something twitched at Alec's hand, and he looked down. His sceptre, as yet unused, was no longer in his possession. It wasn't on his belt, and it wasn't in his hand. Neither had it fallen to the ground.
"Well, shit," he said. He raised his hands. "I'd, uh, I'd like to go now, please."
Lisa strolled forward, hands clasped behind her back. The dog trotted past her, already shrinking in size, and sniffed at Rachel. It lay down with its head over her shoulder as Lisa stepped past Circus' somnolent form.
"Yes," she said. "You will."
Alec didn't scare easily, but something in her eyes frightened the hell out of him.
Half an Hour Later
"Okay," said Lisa briskly. "Circus is in a cell until we can figure out what to do with her …"
"Amy could make her forget where this base is," Aisha suggested brightly.
"No." Amy and Lisa spoke at the same time.
I cleared my throat briefly. "Once we're finished and Vicky's back to normal, we could let Circus have the base. It's gotta be worth more than the pay that Coil owed her, right?"
Aisha made a rude noise with her lips. "Yeah, like a hundred times over. But what's she gonna do with a base? Anyway, I thought this was our base. We took it away from Coil fair and square."
"Taylor's the one who did the hard work," Lisa reminded her. "If anyone's got the most claim over it, it's her."
That was the signal for Aisha to turn to me, puppy-dog eyes at the ready. "Please please can we keep the base? I've never had a genuine supervillain base before. It's even got minion barracks!"
"And no minions to go in them," I reminded her. "We kicked Regent and Bitch out, remember?"
"Right before I changed the codes." Lisa was still grumpy about having forgotten to do that.
Still, even though Circus and the others had gotten in, Lisa had managed to keep them talking while I used spiders to web Circus' foot to the floor. Controlling Bitch's dogs had been a bit harder, but I'd managed that too. Bugs with knockout doses had done the rest after Aisha tased Circus and Bitch. Fortunately, Regent hadn't done much, and any time he'd been about to change that, I'd been able to nudge him back toward what seemed to be his natural state of apathy.
"This is the sort of base a megalomaniac goes with," Lisa said. "Not a normal person."
"Who says I'm normal?" Aisha crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out.
"Well, not any of us, that's for certain." Eric strolled out of the corridor leading to the stairs going down to the cellblock.
"Says the guy who dyes his hair blue," Aisha retorted. "How'd it go with Photon Mom?"
"Lady Photon, please." The hero herself followed her son out. "Or, as I'm out of costume, Sarah will do." She took a deep breath. "They've told me what happened. Amelia, how are you holding up?"
Amy's head jerked around at the sound of her name. "Uh … what?"
"Crystal and Eric explained what's been going on and Dean verified it, dear." Lady Photon's voice was warm and forgiving. "I can't exactly say you're without blame in the matter, but there's a lot of it to go around. Myself included, for not seeing this earlier." She went to where Amy was sitting and helped her up out of her chair. When her arms went around Amy to give her a proper hug, there might have been a tear in my eye.
"And that's why me and your dad decided to bring her along," Lisa said quietly to me. "Amy absolutely needs this."
"You know what sucks?" I asked, keeping my voice low enough that Amy couldn't hear me. "If her own mom was as much of a mother as Mrs. Pelham, maybe we wouldn't be in this at all."
"No maybe about it," Lisa confirmed. She took a deep breath as Lady Photon—I just couldn't bring myself to call her 'Sarah'—let Amy out of the hug. I thought I spotted tears in Amy's eyes too, but I wasn't about to say anything about it.
Next, Mrs. Pelham moved to where Vicky sat, lowering herself to one knee to bring herself down to her niece's level. "Hello, Vicky," she said softly. "How are you today?"
"Hello, Aunt Sarah." Vicky smiled happily. "It's good to see you. Is Uncle Neil here, too?"
"He'll be visiting soon," Mrs. Pelham assured her. "Are you feeling alright?"
"Yes, Aunt Sarah." Vicky pointed at Aisha. "This is Most Esteemed Aisha. She braids my hair for me. I like having my hair braided."
"Oh, you do, do you?" Mrs. Pelham gave Aisha a warm smile with just the slightest hint of an edge to it. I suspected that was because of the 'Most Esteemed' part. "That's very nice of you. Thank you for taking care of my niece."
"Oh, sure." Aisha gave her a guileless smile, the type she used when she was doing her best to con someone into thinking she was cute and harmless. I could've told her it was never going to work against Mrs. Pelham's mom senses, not after the woman had raised two teenagers. "Vicky's real nice. I'm hoping we get to hang out once this is all done and dusted."
That was also probably going to be a no-show, given the blood on everyone's hands. I'd murdered Madison and Coil, Aisha had killed Shadow Stalker, and even Lisa had ended the guy Coil had put in as her new team leader. But I didn't want to rain on Aisha's parade, so I said nothing. Mrs. Pelham nodded and smiled and made a non-committal noise.
"Okay," declared Lisa as the newest recruit in our little cabal took a seat next to Vicky. "Sarah, do you think you'll have any trouble bringing your husband along?"
"A lot less than we'll have with Carol," Mrs. Pelham said candidly. "Neil's smart. He'll listen to me, and he'll look at the situation, and he'll do the right thing. I'm not entirely sure Carol's listening to anything other than the voices in her head right now. I am worried that once she gets the full facts in hand, she's likely to become homicidal toward Amelia, even if we do save Vicky's personality."
I grimaced. "And we can't just leave her out of the mix, because she's one of the central people in Vicky's life. Like it or not, she's one of the people who knows Vicky the best."
"That information might be skewed though," Dean said, concern colouring his voice. "I mean, if she sees everything Vicky does through rose-tinted glasses, wouldn't that affect the memory recording?"
"I did think of that," Lisa assured him. "When I contacted Cranial, she informed me that every memory someone has of someone else has an emotional component. She's able to strip that out, or add more, as necessary. All we have to do is get a person with memories to her, and she'll do the rest."
"Wait, Cranial?" Dean frowned. "You guys mentioned that name earlier. You said she's a Toybox rogue. How can we even trust her?"
Lisa rolled her eyes. "See, this is why I think the PRT dropped the ball when they named rogues. There's criminal connotations built right into the name. Cranial works for money. Cold, hard, cash. We get everyone lined up and sitting in her chair, or however she copies the memories, and she'll do the rest." She shrugged. "Also, half up front and half when the job's done. So, there's the incentive right there."
Eric leaned forward. "So how do you know it'll really be Vicky again; after we're done, I mean?"
"It will and it won't," Lisa said. "But that's okay, because you aren't the you who walked into this base. You've had experiences that have subtly changed your view of the world. Vicky won't suddenly be a villain, or decide to go Goth, or whatever. She'll be the sum total of all the memories that everyone who goes through the process has of her. And who knows; there might be orphan fragments of personality in her brain right now that will weave right in and make the whole mix stronger. All I can say is, she'll be a whole lot closer to the Vicky you know than any amount of therapy by the PRT would manage."
"And she'll have the full memory of what I did to her," Amy's voice was steady and unwavering. "She's the one who gets to judge me on that. Not you, Aunt Sarah. Not Carol. Not Uncle Neil. And not the goddamn PRT. Vicky herself, once she is herself, is the only one I'm gonna allow to stand in judgement of me on that. And what she says, goes."
"But … won't she still love you?" asked Crystal.
"No." Amy shook her head. "If that's still in there, I'm going to ask Cranial to take it out before Vicky wakes up. She gets to know that she loved me, but not feel it. Feelings are what led to this whole fucked-up mess in the first place. It'll be impartial or not at all."
I glanced at Lisa. Vicky's going to kill her.
She looked back and me and nodded ever so slightly, then shrugged. It's probably what she wants.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn't argue with that. It was fucked up, but what in this whole situation wasn't?
As the discussion roved around the table for how we were going to contact Manpower and bring him into the fold, I let my awareness spread out through the bugs and rats and birds around the facility and outside. It might seem as though we were in the home stretch now, with the finish line almost in sight, but I wasn't going to let myself relax and take my eye off the ball (to mix a metaphor or two).
Now more than ever, Vicky's life and Amy's soul depended on the rest of us.
And I, for one, didn't intend to let either one of them down.
End of Part Eleven