Maybe The Light was right about the whole human evolution idea. It would certainly help with overpopulation as there were too many humans congregating this country. Earth could definitely afford some sort of humankind purge, Cade mused lightly as she distastefully watched the shifting masses of bodies in front of her.
She hated crowds. It was absolutely suffocating and the sound of thousands of voices yammering away in the multistoried building echoed painfully. The Metropolis Downtown Mall was packed floor to floor with people shopping and enjoying their weekend. Cade herself was at the mall for similar reasons: spending money. A boatload, obnoxious amount of money, as per orders of Luthor, because she was bait and as bait, Cade was supposed to make a show as his 'adopted daughter'. Cade had spent the last four hours perusing the most expensive products and exclusive VIP selections and picking out objects worth spending four figures. She was waving a red flag for a bull that has yet to charge in. Several mobs and gangs were most likely alerted of her presence since the first hour, so all that was left to do was leave the mall.
The normal citizens appeared to be entirely engrossed in their normal lives with their friends and families, absolutely unbothered by the ongoings of heroes and villains over and under their noses. Cade wondered if she wanted to live like that. Blissfully ignorant.
Cade recalled a scene from a famous movie that allowed the main protagonist a choice between a red pill and blue pill. Cade's eyes glazed over aimlessly while she walked into the private elevator with two bodyguards, one of them pressing the button to head down to the separate parking garage for VIP members of the mall. The elevator moved smoothly, but the quick speed was causing her stomach to lurch and Cade internally lamented at her weak body. She might have been a successfully lab-grown human, but her body was too sensitive and frail sometimes.
Though Cade admired Neo for choosing the red pill, she personally would've been okay with the blue pill.
Cade thought back to the crowds of people walking about on floors above. They were all living with the blue pill while she had the red pill, but she couldn't blame them for their ignorance. If anything, they would never have the chance to have the red pill because villains would crush any civilian underfoot if anyone attempted to uncover the truth. Additionally, heroes and governments preferred keeping the public eye out of important affairs, so no average Joe would ever know about the invisible war between good and evil.
And as for herself… she never got the option to choose, Cade grumbled as she stared at her two incompetent bodyguards standing stiffly at her sides. One should be standing in front of her and the other behind for more proper coverage, not at either side and leaving her like an open target.
The elevator dinged, its doors opening to the private garage, however instead of being greeted by the valet service, a half a dozen men dressed in dark camo came into view. They had barrels of guns pointed forward.
Oof, Cade thought as chaos erupted.
Shots rang out, the bodyguards at either side of Cade fell to the ground and she saw tranquilizer darts sticking out of their skin before getting dragged away by the masked men. Stepping out of the elevator, Cade attempted to wrestle their hands off her arms, but they were well-muscled and clearly used to kidnapping because all of the men moved with practiced ease. They didn't bother hiding their faces with masks or helmets, so they were workers who were open with their criminal identities. While getting hauled around, Cade scanned their gear and clothes like their leather lined vests or gloves and tried to check them for noticeable tattoos. She spotted the valet workers scattered on the ground around the garage, all knocked out with the same darts used on the bodyguards. They must have timed the entire operation to perfection in order to clear the garage before security could be alerted and catch her right at the elevators.
Cade wanted to whistle a token of appreciation at these men's work since their plan was working perfectly so far. She only wished that she wasn't their target presently.
She recognized Russian letters stitched on one side of a man's sleeve before getting a black cotton bag pulled over her head. Two held onto her while all the others rotated around them in a set perimeter, then they shoved her into a dark bulky van. Once inside the vehicle, one man smothered Cade's face with a folded piece of cloth soaked with chemicals.
Cade belatedly recognized the strong smell as an altered form of the chloroform drug and struggled against the forced suffocation. Her arms were held down, but she kicked the offending man's arm, gaining a second to breathe before getting pushed down again. Cade's eyebrows furrowed as she fought the urge to gasp, losing the battle for air, and ultimately gave in to the drug.
Being Luthor's 'adopted daughter' was officially the most troublesome thing Cade has ever had to deal with.
Her body ached.
A dull throb at her temples made her wince as she tried to lift her head.
Grey concrete columns stood scattered throughout the dim place, rubble covered the floor, and bags of cement, metal bars, and wooden beams stacked alongside the walls. Cade guessed that she was held in an abandoned factory.
Typical, Cade thought with irritation and glanced at the people surrounding her. A few dozen men stood around her in rings of loose circles with heavy guns held in their hands. They seemed to belong to the same group as the ones who had kidnapped her.
She was strapped to a chair, thick heavy duty zip ties tying her hands to the arm handles and her feet to the chair legs. Cade shifted in discomfort. The posture was already getting uncomfortable.
Metal screeched as a factory door rolled up, letting in the evening sun that burned Cade's eyes. A figure walked out of the light, flanked by several men dressed in the same dark camo as everyone else.
Cade's eyes stung as she tried to catch a glimpse of the person. She bet that he was standing in front of the light on purpose to make his entrance as dramatic as possible. The guy stepped closer until she could finally see his face and without meaning to, Cade raised a brow out of surprise.
Well, her kidnapper was younger than expected, Cade contemplated. The guy couldn't be more than four years older than herself with tanned skin, clean cut hair, and bright green eyes.
"Do you know who I am?" He had a lilt to his voice, faintly Russian.
Cade examined his designer silk shirt and slim trousers under the long coat, mentally sorting out which of the Russian mobster's dozens of children, both legitimate and illegitimate, had the nerve to initiate the kidnapping and have enough rubles in their savings to pull it off. Built like a swimmer, her kidnapper's wide grin made him appear like a normal teenager instead of a mobster's son. His chlorine-tinted sandy hair shined like gold in the evening light, giving hints towards his identity.
"Anton Devin Stepanov," Cade said. "The Stepanov family's fourth son and heir-apparent."
She tried not to sound exasperated.
Anton clapped. "Very good! But please, call me Devin. My friends call me Devin, Anton is for enemies."
Cade breathed deeply. "Okay, Anton, so is this a kidnapping? Are you sure you have the right person?
Anton laughed like she cracked a joke. "Oh no, this isn't a kidnapping! What makes you think so?"
Cade glanced down at her restricted hands and feet. "Well. I'm not so sure, Anton."
Anton leaned down and placed a hand at her cheek. His grip wasn't rough, but it wasn't exactly gentle, either.
"Call me Devin, remember?" he said with a cold smile, patting her cheek. "And I know we have the right person, you're Lex Luthor's very own precious adopted daughter, Cade. I've tried to meet you for a while now, but your security was in the way."
His hand was still on her face, his thumb circling her skin. Cade really wanted to bite it.
"Your father's charity ball next month. We want in," Anton said.
Cade looked at him in the eyes. "You should be asking my father then."
"Your father is a clean man-"
Cade tried really hard not to burst into laughter at that.
"-and he does his best staying away from people with less honorable reputations. Since you are his lovely daughter, we thought you'd help connect us," Anton explained pleasantly. "Not a big favor to ask for, I hope."
"Adopted daughter," she corrected.
Anton shrugged. "Adopted or not, you are his only visible weak point."
The hand on her cheek slid down to her throat, his thumb pushing in, creating pressure.
"So, what do you say?" Anton asked brightly.
Cade wasn't deterred by the physical warning. "Why not ask for the invitation as ransom?"
Anton waved the suggestion aside with his other hand. "Ransoming is flimsy business. Unguaranteed trades. Unsafe and unpredictable, it always tends to go south in my experience. I'd rather secure my demands."
His thumb was definitely pressing into her trachea now, it was getting a bit harder to breathe. Cade watched his eyes as he did so, searching for tell-tale signs of human unease or distress in his gaze. Usually, when people performed dangerous or threatening acts against other humans, their subconscious would send warning signals that they were doing something morally wrong. The ones who didn't get this kind of alarm bells were usually psychopathic serial killers, sociopaths or supervillains.
Anton hummed in curiosity, his eyes returning her stare. "You're not afraid, are you?"
"No," Cade admitted. "But I'm very uncomfortable. Can I ask you to remove the zip ties?"
The mobster chuckled. "I apologize. You must understand, I've been told that you can be a slippery guest, so I took precautions."
Anton backed off and raised his hands. "It seems you need time to decide. We can wait."
The Russian mobster turned to leave when the ground shook. The tremors rocked everyone off their feet and crumbling concrete showered from the ceiling.
Cade braced herself.
A huge bang shattered everyone's eardrums and the metal factory doors flew, slamming into several men. Cade winced at that, it looked extremely painful. Two blonde teenagers powered through the dust and dirt, kicking mercenaries aside.
"Ain't this a little too easy peasy for our tastes, Tommy?" The blonde girl asked loudly, sounding very satisfied with the chaos.
The other blonde shoved three mercenaries into a wall before replying, "Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, sis'."
Anton's bodyguards cocked their pistols in the Terror Twins' direction, shots ringing out, but the superhuman twins slapped the bullets away. With everyone's attention focused on the two blondes, someone else cut away the zip ties on Cade. A tall imposing man dressed a tough black bodysuit sheathed his blades.
Cade rolled her numb ankles. "Took you guys long enough."
Deathstroke's bronze and black mask stared at her. "The twins are a handful."
They both glanced at the mess that the Terror Twins were having a blast creating. Not all mercenary groups were trained in dealing with metahumans and the ones that did were extremely expensive to hire. It seemed that Anton bought a team that specialized only in basic human kidnapping and guarding because the poor mercenaries didn't stand a chance against the two superhumans. The Russian mobster hadn't anticipated a metahuman fight.
"Let's get the ball rolling," Cade sighed. "Icicle Jr.?"
"Securing the perimeter in ice. No one can get out now," Deathstroke confirmed.
Cade locked eyes with Tuppence Terror, motioning for them to finish up their responsibility. Save for a few brief spats, the twins quickly stripped three dozen men of all their weapons with Deathstroke supervising their work. If the twins missed a knife or hidden firearm, the experienced mercenary pointed it out. Icicle Jr. came through a forcibly opened entrance and created a thick ice dome as a pseudo-prison in which the twins roughly tossed the men like sacks of potato.
"Iced every corner and opening?" Cade asked.
Icicle Jr. flashed an 'OK' sign with his frozen fingers, grinning. "Just like you said, boss."
"Don't call me boss," she said with a hint of exasperation and knocked on the cold prison out of curiosity. "Wow, that's rock hard."
"Here he is," Tommy declared, shoving a shivering Anton onto his knees in front of Cade.
Cade squatted in front of the Russian. "It seems you were right, Anton. I can be a slippery guest."
Anton's eyes darted from Cade's face to Deathstroke behind her, then to the three metahumans surrounding him, and lastly to the ice dome. In just less than five minutes, his hired guns had been manhandled like rag dolls and the entire operation ruined.
Anton stammered, "Who-who're they? Where did they come from? Are they with you?"
Cade smiled mockingly. "You bit off more than you could chew, Anton, but that's not your fault. You didn't know what you've gotten yourself into. You wanted a family invite to Luthor's charity ball next month, right? It comes with a price. Tell your father that we'll be speaking with him soon and be sure not to tell anyone else, okay?"
The fear in the Russian mobster's face morphed into indignation. "You can't tell the Stepanov family what to do!"
"Oh, you and your family have been playing in a small field, Anton," Cade said coolly. "You're about to be in the big leagues now. Tell your father, he'll understand what I'm talking about. I'm sure he'll be excited."
Deathstroke, Icicle Jr., and Terror Twins following her steps, Cade left the shaken Russian behind in the abandoned factory. She whistled appreciatively at the tall ice walls and spikes jutting from the walls outside the decaying building to which Icicle Jr. puffed out his chest proudly. Just some paces away, one girl waited for them in front of a miniature jet.
The girl was dark skinned and had thick black hair reaching her hip. Multiple gold bangles hung fastened on her upper arms, wrists, and ankles and several gold earrings glittered on her ears. A grey wrap covered her body modestly, but her bare feet stuck out beneath her clothes.
"Nice earthquake, Jinx," Cade complimented as they boarded the jet.
Jinx didn't say anything in response but nodded, going inside after them and ignoring Icicle Jr.'s attempts of flirting. Cade made a mental reminder to have Deathstroke give the ice menace another lecture of field behavior. Deathstroke took control of the aircraft, initiating the engine and takeoff, with Cade co-piloting and the other four strapping themselves in the backseats.
"So, how'd we do, boss?" Icicle Jr. asked excitedly.
Cade flipped a few switches. "Deathstroke, how'd they do?"
"Slow. Less dilly-dallying next time," Deathstroke answered shortly.
Grinning at the supervillain's fussy perfectionist expectations, Cade turned around in her seat and faced the superhumans piled in the back. The Twins and Icicle Jr. were openly pouting at the lack of praise while Jinx seemed unruffled, most likely because she had the least amount of work involved in today's excursion.
"I'd say it was pretty good for their first time on a mission and in a team," Cade reasoned. "No injuries, no major mistakes, and no one got killed."
There was a muffled snort at the last part behind Deathstroke's mask. "Usually deaths are a good thing in this field of work."
From the corner of Cade's eyes, she saw everyone else in the jet minutely shrink at the oldest supervillain's casual talk of killing. Although the younger ones, excluding Jinx, were familiar with villainy courtesy of family backgrounds, they weren't too deep in crime like Deathstroke. The man was experienced with years nearly as long as their age and he scared them, which Cade didn't blame them for. However, despite their fear of Deathstroke, the four of the young metahumans knew that they've learned more from the supervillain in the last month than their entire lives on their own. No one else was giving them tips and knowledge like he was and this was only possible because of Cade. She was the one who brought all of them together and started this task force. Cade was the one closely fostering a tenuous mentor-student relationship between them and Deathstroke. Without her, Deathstroke probably wouldn't have given them a second of his time or lost interest or worse, he might've maimed them at some point out of impatience. He was safe in front of Cade, because strangely, he listened to her and respected her words even.
"Well, kills weren't the goal of today," Cade said smoothly, diffusing Deathstroke's harsh words. "So, good job, guys."
Icicle Jr., Tuppence, Tommy, and Jinx visibly perked up at the positive words. The four of them were like puppies, Cade thought with some amusement. Starved for attention, craving positive affirmation because no one else in their life had given them actual guidance, and eager to please someone in a higher pecking order. Cade knew all of this because of a thorough background check on their lives.
"Uh, so, why'd ya hassle the Russian? Did y'know he was gon' kidnap ya?" Tommy asked. He sounded like a school boy asking a question to his teacher.
Cade turned back around, keeping a cursory eye over the monitors. "No, I didn't know, although he was among the few I was expecting. Ideally, it would've been the Japanese yakuza, but it's not their style to do kidnappings. The Russian mob likes to kidnap, though."
Deathstroke nodded in silent agreement at her words.
"As for why, well, I don't know," Cade sighed. "Maybe I'll find out when I report."
She rubbed the bruised spot on her neck from Anton's rough treatment. Hopefully when she tells Luthor of their small success today, he'll be in a good enough mood during which Cade could convince him to lay off on the heavy surveillance he was casting over her.
It's been getting worse lately. Cade sometimes felt like he was literally breathing down her neck and it was beginning to stress her out. Her phone calls and text messages were monitored, everything on her laptop was synchronized with another laptop in Mercy's possession, and bodyguards shadowed her everywhere. Luthor was keeping tabs on her because he's been knowing for a while.
Luthor knew she wanted out.
It'll be explained why Psimon isn't on the team in the next update. I just wanted this story to be drabble stuff, but I'm spending so much brain energy over the plot lol.
As always, thanks for reading and for the reviews.