Olympus – the ruins of a once-great civilization.
Jaunt, AKA the guy behind everything.
I’m Hatter, by the way. Not that you asked.
Alice Winters looked out over the desolate landscape, wondering why she was here. The air was dense, difficult to breathe, and everything seemed covered in a sea-blue hue. It was an arid wasteland, with columns reminiscent of Ancient Greece.
“Rome,” said Alice.
There was nobody around her.
“I’m talking to you, idiot,” she said, crossing her arms. “The columns are closer to Roman, not Greek. Greek columns are thicker, and didn’t have the ridges.”
Wait, are you talking to me?
“Yes, you,” Alice said. “And enough of this ‘Alice’. People call me ‘the Hatter’; it’s more fitting.”
How are you doing this?
“It’s my Third Gen power,” Alice Hatter explained. “I can talk to the narrator. I also have some limited powers of narration, myself.”
What do you mean, ‘powers of narration’?
“You’ll see,” Hatter said slyly, putting a knowing finger next to her nose. “Later this issue. Anyways, Jaunt’s almost here.”
Sure enough, a man stepped out of the shadows to address Hatter. “Who are you talking to?” he asked.
“Nobody important,” Hatter said.
Thanks a lot.
The man shrugged, used to her oddities. “Are you ready?” he asked.
“Ready to take on members of the Asylum because you want to ‘test’ them again?” Hatter asked him, “Or ready to pull off a heist and intentionally stick around for the Asylum guys to find me?”
“I know it’s not your usual method,” Jaunt said, “but it’s necessary.”
Hatter scoffed. “If you say so,” she said. “I hear Jorge’s sister is still in Zatvor prison, despite your ability to get her out. But what do I know?”
“Not that it’s your business,” Jaunt said, “but plans have been made to extract Skadi when the time is right. She’s still recovering from surgery, after all.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Hatter said. “So she’s not useful to you yet. I get how it works.” She clapped her hands together and rubbed them expectantly. “Are we going to do this or what?”
Jaunt raised an eyebrow. “Sure,” he said. “Shall I get the door for you?”
“Please,” Hatter said, missing the sarcasm. Jaunt smirked and clapped his hands together. When he pulled them apart, a rip opened in the air leading to Eon City’s museum. “Thank you,” Hatter said. “This shouldn’t take long.”
She stepped through the portal, and it closed behind her.
* * * * * * * *
Asylum HQ, training center.
The team is at it again.
“Stop getting in my way!” Reiki growled, pushing past Shadow for the fifteenth time that training session.
“I wouldn’t get in your way if you told me where you were going,” Shadow said, jumping and pulling himself up onto a beam overhead. “Or, you know, communicated anything. At all.”
“I am communicating!” Reiki shouted back to him, already moving on to the next part of the obstacle course. “You need to listen better!”
“Can you two stop bickering for two seconds?” Outlier asked, jumping up to Shadow’s perch and following Reiki forward. “I swear, if I have to do this same course for an eighth time because of you two…”
“To be fair,” Trick said, passing her, “the fifth time was your own fault.” She whipped out a scarf, tossing it over a beam overhead to help her balance. “You’re the one who fell.”
“Floor is lava,” Shadow nodded sagely, jumping to the next beam. “Gotta move carefully.”
“Says the guy who ruined the last run by stopping to argue,” Outlier shot back. She jumped to the next beam as the one she had been standing on suddenly retracted into the wall.
Outlier passed Trick again, racing to catch up with Reiki. The goal of their “Floor is Lava” training was to make it across the training room floor without touching the ground – it was harder than it sounds, as the beams in the room kept rotating and disappearing. If they paused for too long, they would be dropped onto the floor.
The atmosphere in the room was sweltering, which also affected their judgement. Because Agent had a wicked sense of humor, a hologram on the floor made it look to the team as if they really were above a pit of lava. He had also raised the temperature of the room to a hundred degrees, which didn’t help their attitudes or their tempers.
“We need to work together,” Outlier added, coming up next to Reiki. “This is supposed to be a team exercise.”
“Oh lighten up,” Trick said. “Why are you always so serious?”
“Why don’t you ever take these drills seriously?” Outlier argued. “We’re supposed to be training to be heroes. This kind of stuff could be life-and-death some day.”
“Right,” Trick said. “Because one day we might find ourselves dangling over a pit of lava, having to race to the top as our means of escape suddenly disappears.” She shook her head. “That’s totally gonna happen.”
“Guys?” Shadow said. “Maybe we should – ”
The beams fell out from under all of them, and all four hit the ground.
“And that’s it for match seven,” Agent said tiredly over the loudspeaker. “You guys weren’t getting anywhere fast on your own, and we have a call to answer.”
“Where are the others?” Trick asked, wincing as she stood up. They had fallen down at least fifteen feet, and as humans Trick and Outlier didn’t have powers to cushion their fall. The floor was matted, and she had landed in a roll to disperse the energy of the fall – years of parkour practice had made that second nature. “Nightmare, Earthborn, and Granny? I thought Earthborn was out on patrol.”
“Earthborn found a problem with the bridge that he’s busy fixing, and I deployed Nightmare and Granny for another call while you four were on attempt number four.” Agent crossed his arms. “I’d rather not use all four of you, considering that performance, but reports are saying this one’s big.” He pulled out his data pad and looked at it. “And weird,” he added. “People are saying that the Eon City museum exhibits are coming to life.”
“Coming to life?” Outlier repeated. She had crashed to the floor in a break-fall, protecting her head but otherwise taking the hit. Years of rough-and-tumble sparring with her satyr brothers had toughened her against most blows.
“Sounds like that one old movie we saw that time,” Shadow said. He had used his shadow-bending powers to make a cushion to land on, rolling off it in a similar fashion to Trick’s parkour roll. Reiki didn’t say anything, but used his light-bending powers to help him float down from the fall.
“Yes, exactly,” Agent said. “So get to it.”
The four, already in uniform from training, ran to the helipad on the roof.
* * * * * * * *
Eon City Museum.
Hatter again. Hi.
“They are really taking their time in getting here,” Hatter said aloud, watching the chaos unfold around her as she stood on an empty pedestal in the center of the main hall. An elephant tiptoed around an old lady, while a gaggle of cavemen ogled at the sparkling jewels in the Natural History displays.
In her right hand, she held a small, grey bag filled with what looked like gravel. It was much more than that, though; it came from –
“Oh, get to the point already!” Hatter cried. “I stole an exhibit called ‘Stardust’, which my client told me to pick up while I’m here. Now I’m waiting around for those Asylum guys to get around to catching me.”
Fine, then. Why did you bring the exhibits to life?
“Because I’m bored,” she said. “I’d been waiting for an hour, and the sucky security around here didn’t even notice that the Stardust was missing! Honestly, it’s the easiest heist I’ve ever pulled, and on this one I’m being paid to wait around for the Watchers. I had to do something to get their attention.”
Seems like overkill. Is that a buffalo on a skateboard?
“Bison,” Hatter said. “He seemed so disappointed that there’s no grazing; I had to give him something fun to do while we wait.”
Sure. Makes sense.
“Don’t get snippy,” Hatter chided. “He’s having much more fun riding that thing around than the moose did.”
And the whale?
Hatter shrugged. “He needed to float to move. I just made it so he could float through the air.” She gave a satisfied sigh as she looked at her handiwork. “This’ll confuse them plenty. Hey, narrator – when do you think the heroes’ll get here?”
They should be arriving any minute. We wouldn’t have started the scene now if they weren’t coming.
“Good.” Hatter jumped down from her pedestal, rubbing her hands together in anticipation. “This oughta be fun. Maybe I could speed it up.” She cleared her throat, then said in a deep, booming, echoing voice, “Trick, Shadow, Outlier, and Reiki chose that moment to arrive.”
Oh, that’s what you meant by ‘powers of narration’.
Sure enough, the four heroes came through the museum entrance, staring at the chaos surrounding them.
“Is that a dinosaur with a laser?” Shadow asked, adjusting his goggles in awe.
“Brachiosaur,” Reiki confirmed, his eyes wide. “With a laser.”
“Oh good, you’re here!” Hatter said, skipping over to where the heroes were waiting. “I’ve been waiting long enough.” They saw a girl, probably still a teenager, dressed in a tailcoat and fishnet stockings. She wore a large top hat, cocked to one side, and looked rather mad.
Natalie shook her head, the first to remember why they were there. “Who are you, and why did you bring the museum pieces to life?”
“More importantly, how did you bring them to life?” Outlier asked. “I’ve never seen a Third Gen power like this before.”
Hatter shrugged. “I have some powers of narration,” she said. “I don’t expect you to understand; there’s only one other character in this story who could, and we haven’t seen her since the first trailer because she’s so incredibly shy.” She walked over to the heroes, shaking each of their hands in turn. “My name’s Hatter. It’s so nice to finally meet you; I’ve heard so much about you all!”
“Charmed, I’m sure,” Outlier said uncertainly.
“You still haven’t answered my question,” Trick said. “Why are you here, and what did you do to the museum exhibits?”
“Well, that’s a bit of a long story,” Hatter told them, “and a lot of it would spoil the ending of this season, so I’ll just give you the footnotes: I just stole something, and since nobody noticed I’d stolen it I decided to cause a little chaos to get your attention.”
“What?” Shadow asked, nonplussed. “We’re going to need some more details.”
“The important question here is how are you going to stop me?” Hatter asked. “Tell you what: you guys try to hit me, and if you manage to tap me before I escape, I’ll come quietly.”
Trick didn’t wait; she immediately lunged at Hatter. Hatter danced to the side, laughing, while Trick growled her frustration. “Stand still, you little – ”
“I got this,” Reiki said, his hands glowing with his power.
“Oh, you didn’t wait to hear the rest!” Hatter said. “Reiki and Shadow suddenly switched powers.”
Light burst forth from Shadow’s hands as Reiki tried to attack. Reiki pulled his hands back, pulling shadows with them. “Hey, what the hell?” he shouted, waving his arms around. The more he moved, the more he became a smudge of shadow in the middle of the room.
“What did you do to us?” Shadow cried, trying to turn the light on his hands off by shaking them.
“Don’t worry too much; it’ll wear off as soon as you catch me – however long that takes,” Hatter said, jumping back up on her pedestal.
Trick pulled a handkerchief from one of her uniform’s pockets. “Don’t think that’ll stop me,” she said. Outlier began running at Hatter as well.
“Oh, you two are no fun,” Hatter said. “So obvious. You don’t have Third Gen powers like the boys, so I guess I’ll have to be more creative.” Just before the two Watchers reached her, Hatter said, “Trick and Outlier suddenly found themselves in the other’s body.”
Outlier tripped, ramming the pedestal head-first, while Trick suddenly sneezed as the glitter in her handkerchief flew everywhere.
Hatter sighed, hopping down again and shaking her head. “Look at them,” she said. “So confused. I ought to give them a chance to acclimate.”
You could always change them back.
“Where’s the fun in that?” Hatter said. “Like I said, they’ll change back if they catch me. I’ll even make it a narration if you like.” She cleared her throat and said, “Everything will change back to normal as soon as the heroes catch the Hatter.”
Now what will you do?
“I’ll give them a day,” Hatter said. “Hey, heroes: I’ll meet you back here tomorrow at the same time. We’ll continue our little game then.”
Hatter walked out of the museum, leaving a trail of chaos in her wake.
* * * * * * * *
Asylum Headquarters, Dale’s lab.
Ain’t I a stinker?
“I hae ne’er seen a Third Gen power quite like this afore,” Dale said, his accent thickening in shock as he finished his examinations.
“How bad is it?” Agent asked, gripping his umbrella with white knuckles. He had never faced an enemy that could knock four of his team members out of commission at once – even when his last team fell apart, they had never lost more than two members at a time.
Dale shrugged. Agent glared at him, so he added, “I cannae say. Reiki seems to be pulling shadows around himself,” he gestured to a smudge on one table, then to Shadow on the next. “Frank’s got light-bending powers, and cannae turn ‘em off. And Natalie and Haley seem to have each other’s mem’ries. I cannae make heads or tails of it.”
Agent went to Natalie’s bedside. “Nat?” he asked.
“Over here,” came Natalie’s attitude out of Haley’s mouth. She was holding an ice pack to her head and scowling in a very un-Haley-like way. “I don’t know what that bitch did to us, but the second I see her again I’m gonna tear that stupid hat off her head and make her eat it.”
That’s definitely Nat, Agent thought, moving over to her. Haley, in Natalie’s body, sat up and pulled her knees to her chest. She looked thoughtful, and wasn’t scowling or angry – which meant it was definitely Haley in there.
“She said she’d be back at the museum the same time tomorrow,” Haley said. “She also said that whatever this is will wear off as soon as we catch her – and that if we can just touch her, she’ll come quietly.”
“Oh, I’m gonna touch her alright,” Natalie growled. “I’m gonna shove my boot so far up her – ”
“The question is,” Haley continued as if Natalie hadn’t spoken, “how are we going to catch her like this? No offense Natalie, but you’re kind of puny – I feel weaker than I’ve ever felt in my life. My usual approach won’t work here.”
“You think I want to be a clumsy giant?” Natalie asked. “These meaty fingers of yours couldn’t grip one of my cards without crushing it. Not to mention that my coat won’t fit your mannish shoulders.” She raised her eyebrows at her own body. “Offense meant, by the way,” she added.
“At least you guys don’t have powers,” Frank said. “Reiki, how the hell do I turn this off?”
“I could probably tell you if I could see anything,” Reiki said sullenly. “I’m stuck here, blind in the dark abyss of solitude, and hearing you guys talk is the only reason I’m not panicking.”
Frank rolled his eyes. “Look at your hands,” he instructed. “If you feel that fluffy stuff, that’s the shadows. Just push it away, like swimming through cotton balls.”
Reiki was quiet for a minute, but this time when he moved his arms he emerged from the shadows. “… Thanks,” Reiki said. “To turn the light off, you have to think about dimming light. Think of any sad memory you can.”
“Okay, how about when I found out my mom had been shot?” Frank asked, closing his eyes. “I didn’t know how bad it was, or if she was going to live – I was so scared…” The light turned off from his hands. “I wanted to find the bastard that shot her, and – ”
“Wait!” Reiki cried, but it was too late. The lab shook as the air in front of Frank exploded.
He coughed, blinking. “What did I do?” he asked.
“Anger makes explosions,” Reiki explained. “Other emotions mixed in makes them different colors. That one was blue, which meant sadness or fear.”
Haley looked over at him through Natalie’s eyes. “So when you do fireworks shows in the park…?” she asked.
“I can manipulate my own emotions to make it do what I want,” Reiki said. “I’ve had those powers since I was born; I grew up learning how to control them. Now Frank has to do in a day what took me a lifetime?”
“I never really use my own powers,” Frank pointed out, looking at Agent. “Except for the occasional prank or sulk, I’ve lived mostly like a human. How are we going to fix this?”
Agent pursed his lips. “By training,” he said, “just like anything else. Natalie, you show Haley how you fight, and Haley, you teach Natalie some of your skills. Reiki and Frank, you two work together until you both have those powers under control.” He turned and gestured to the others to follow. “You guys will have to work together, whether you like it or not. Now you’re under a time limit.”
* * * * * * * *
Asylum training floor, three hours later.
Good luck, guys.
“Ouch!” Haley cried, sucking on her finger. “What do you do, sharpen the edges?”
She had just gotten cut trying to throw Natalie’s playing cards at a target ten feet away. So far, she had managed to hit the target once – and the card didn’t even wedge into the wood, like Natalie made them do.
“In my belt, there’s a vial – give it to me,” Haley said, pointing at Natalie. “Quick!”
“Relax,” Natalie said. “It’s just a paper cut. It’ll stop in a second.”
Haley took the cut out of her mouth, staring at it in astonishment as the blood clotted. “Whoa,” she said. “You heal fast.”
“No faster than anybody else,” Natalie shrugged. “That’s what people mean when they tell you that you heal slowly, you know.”
“Huh.” Haley said, flexing Natalie’s hand experimentally. “I never realized.”
Natalie clenched a fist. “You still wouldn’t have had to realize if you’d hold the cards carefully,” she chided. “The edges have metal inlaid, which yes, I do sharpen. Be careful!”
“Hey, it’s bad enough that you can’t fight hand-to-hand worth a damn,” Haley said. They had just come from the sparring ring, where Natalie tripped over herself at least ten times in the past hour. “If I can’t even figure out how you do fight, then neither of us are getting our own bodies back.”
“You have to be quick,” Natalie told her. “Rabbit moves – never let them see you coming. You take a card, and…” She demonstrated, hitting the target in the uppermost ring.
Haley tried, but her movements were stunted. “How the hell do you move in this thing?” She asked, pulling a wedgie from Natalie’s outfit. “It’s so tight!” She tried bending her elbow, but the sleeves wouldn’t let her bend very far.
“Better than this thing,” Natalie said, picking at Haley’s lack of sleeves. “You’re so exposed! With your bleeding problem, I’d think you’d want to be more covered.”
Haley shook her head, walking over to her body. In a sudden movement – more sudden than she intended, in fact – she punched Natalie in the arm.
“Hey!” Natalie said angrily, before she realized what Haley was showing her. “That didn’t hurt.”
“I’ve been taking hits from a four-hundred-pound gorilla-satyr my whole life,” Haley pointed out. “Anything less than being hit by a car doesn’t hurt all that much. Though you do have to watch for the bruising,” she added. “I’ve learned to handle the blood thing, but bruises last for months and cuts don’t heal without help.”
“Noted,” Natalie said. “How’s your aim coming?” Haley threw another card, managing to hit the target again – but not with the sharp edge of the card. Natalie rolled her eyes. “No, like this.” She picked up another card, holding it delicately by the corner. In one swift motion, she flicked it at the target, where one corner remained wedged in the wood.
“Maybe you’d better hold onto these,” Haley sighed, handing the cards to her. “You don’t know how to throw a proper punch, but you still have your aim. I’m going to be useless tomorrow.”
“Thanks,” Natalie said, taking them. “Hey, you still know a bunch of fighting styles, right?” she asked. Haley nodded (which was still disconcerting to see on her own face). “Do any use speed instead of strength to hit hard? I’m pretty fast.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” Haley said. “It’s like being fifty pounds lighter lets you move faster.” She thought for a second back to her training in the gym. “I’ve been focusing on a hard-hitting style for years now, to use my height and weight to my advantage,” she said, “but when I was a kid Andy taught me some Aikido.” She looked back at Natalie. “If I can remember it, that might work for me!”
“Glad to see you two have it figured out,” Frank said dryly.
“Any progress on your side?” Natalie asked him.
Reiki just growled as Frank answered, “Well, Reiki’s not covered in shadows. That’s something.”
“I haven’t heard an explosion in nearly an hour,” Haley pointed out. “That’s an improvement.”
“I’m too tired to be mad about anything,” Frank said, his eyelids half-shut. “Right now, I’m just exhausted.”
“Maybe we should take a break,” Reiki suggested. “That is, if you can stop feeling emotions for any length of time.”
“Hey, why don’t you – ” The air in front of Frank exploded again, although this time it was a much smaller boom.
“Thought so,” Reiki said, smirking at him. A stray shadow came up around his face, but he swatted it away. “You know, if you could get control of your emotions, you might find a better use for your power, too.”
Frank crossed his arms. “Like what?” he asked.
“Like this.” Reiki began plucking shadows out of the air and arranged them in front of himself, until they formed a smiley face in mid-air.
“Shadow art,” Frank said. “How original.” He held his hands up and shut his eyes, concentrating. Multi-colored lights burst from his fingertips until he had a rainbow in front of him.
“Better,” Reiki said, nodding. “Now, can you turn it off?”
Frank concentrated again, and the light slowly dimmed.
“Progress, I guess,” Natalie said, flipping another playing card at the target. “At least these giant fingers can hold the cards without crushing them.”
“Do you have to do that?” Haley asked.
“What?” Natalie flipped another card over her shoulder, hitting the outside ring of the target. “In my own body, I can get a bull’s-eye every time without even trying. Now I’m five inches off, because this lumbering, giant body is five inches taller. Five inches makes a huge difference when you’re throwing sharp objects, you know.”
“You keep calling me ‘giant’ and ‘lumbering’,” Haley said. “I’m an athlete – my body is mostly muscle, and a heck of a lot more flexible than yours. Why do you have to insult it at every turn?”
“Because it’s not what I’m used to,” Natalie said, shrugging. “My style is light, quick, and short movements. If I take too long, the enemy can see my tricks coming a mile away.”
Haley put her hands on her hips, looking more like Natalie than she had all day with her glare. “Well, it’s insulting. My style is straight-forward, beat them into submission. No fancy moves, no running around, and no cheating.”
“It’s not cheating,” Natalie protested. “It’s using my skills to my advantage. I didn’t have a gym trainer and a gorilla-satyr; I had my brother and my dad, who are both bird-satyrs. Dad taught me how to use street illusions, and Parker helped me develop them for combat.” She folded her arms, looking more Haley-ish than she had all day. “It’s unnerving to have to run straight at someone.”
“Maybe instead of trying to use each other’s moves, you guys can come up with combo moves together,” Frank suggested. “Haley’s got that Aikido thing, and Natalie can still use her cards, so why not figure something else out?”
“What about you and Reiki, huh?” Natalie shot back. “Instead of relying so much on your powers – which you never did anyways – why don’t you guys practice your hand-to-hand?”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Haley said, nodding at Reiki. “I know we don’t get along, but maybe if we work together – ”
“Hate to disappoint you, princess, but that’s never been our strong suit,” Reiki said.
Frank took a deep breath, trying to hold back another explosion. “Maybe if you communicated better in the field – ”
“I do communicate!” Reiki growled. “Haley there’s the only one who ever listens!” He gestured first at Natalie, then at Haley.
Haley raised a hand. “He does communicate,” she says. “He goes first, and expects you to do what he does. That doesn’t mean I agree with it,” she pointed out to Reiki, who looked smug. “You still need to learn to vocalize your thoughts more. We shouldn’t have to keep our eyes on you as well as our surroundings. But yeah, he does advertise his moves.”
Frank just looked at her. “I’ve been training with him for nearly two years, and you picked that up in a couple of months?”
“I was new,” she said. “My instinct was to see what he did. Still cost us time while I figured it out.”
Frank looked back over at Reiki. “Okay, fine,” he said. “Now that I know what to look for, let’s go train.”
“Hey, yogi,” Natalie said, nudging Haley in the arm. “We still need to work on our moves.”
“Okay then,” Haley said. “Let’s get to it.”
* * * * * * * *
Eon City Museum, the next day.
About time, amiright?
“They try so hard,” Hatter said, shaking her head as she looked around the museum. The chaos from the day before still ran rampant, despite the obvious measures taken to contain it. The police had rounded up the moose, the bisen, and the Neanderthals, but they couldn’t contain the whale, which still floated lazily above everyone’s heads.
“They took the bisen’s skateboard,” Hatter pointed out. “That was just mean. He looks so sad now.”
You could always give him another one.
“No point,” said Hatter, hopping back up on her pedestal. “The heroes should be here any minute. I take it they were training?”
Most of the night. They’re pretty tired, but they should give you a challenge.
“Good,” Hatter said, rubbing her hands together in anticipation. “Let’s speed this up, then, shall we?”
You want to do the honors?
“By all means,” Hatter said. She cleared her throat and added, “Trick, Outlier, Shadow, and Reiki entered the museum.”
The four heroes ran through the door, ready to take on their opponent. Hatter greeted them with a smile. “Welcome back!” she said cheerily. “I trust the rematch will be more entertaining than the first round?”
“Change us back!” Natalie shouted, glaring at her.
Haley added, “Enough games. Return everything to normal!”
“Or what?” Hatter asked, her voice silky. “You’ll throw some playing cards at me?” She batted her eyelashes, grinning.
“No, but I will,” Natalie said. She gripped her cards delicately with Haley’s hands and threw three in a row.
Hatter danced aside, hopping off her pedestal as the cards flashed beside her. “Ooh, much better!” she said. She flipped her top hat off her head and rolled it down her arm, easily dodging as Shadow came at her from the left.
Another figure flashed beside Shadow. Reiki had hidden himself in Shadow’s shadow, nearly hitting Hatter with a haymaker. “Little too slow,” Hatter taunted as she jumped backwards. She nearly missed Natalie coming up from behind.
“Oh, thanks for the warning!” Hatter said, ducking under Natalie’s punch just in time. She dove to her free side…
Right into Haley’s waiting embrace.
Haley moved in, knocking one of Hatter’s arms aside in a half-remembered Aikido move that she had practiced all night. Grabbing Hatter in a headlock, Haley threw her to the ground.
“Uncle, uncle!!” Hatter cried. “You got me!”
“Rules are rules,” Haley said. “Change everything back and come quietly.”
“Fine, okay, sure,” Hatter said. “Everything then changed back to normal.” She gave a sigh. “Thanks for the heads-up,” she added.
I can’t give away everything. They are the heroes, after all.
“True,” Hatter said, raising her eyebrows in a resigned manner.
The commotion around them stopped as the exhibits turned back into inanimate objects. Reiki began to glow, then got a hold of his powers and turned them off. “I’m back!” he cried.
“So am I!” said Shadow, drawing a smiley face in the air with his powers and grinning. “Are the girls…?”
Hatter had her head slammed into the ground again. “Yep, we’re back to normal,” Haley said from her own body.
Natalie gave Shadow a half-smile. “Had to be done,” she said, standing up now that Hatter was unconscious. “Let’s get a muzzle on her, just to be sure.”
* * * * * * * *
I’m gonna go lie down now.
Narrator can take it from here.
“Hatter is in lockup,” Agent said. “The guards have instructions to keep her muzzled at all times unless she’s eating. If she tries to say anything then, knock-out gas will immediately fill the room.
“Good riddance,” Natalie said, stretching her arms out. “Feels good to be back!”
Agent smiled. “We did manage to interrogate her, by having her write her answers,” he said. “She admitted to stealing the stardust, and delivering it to her employer. She wouldn’t say who her employer is past his street handle – ‘Jaunt’.”
“Wait,” said Shadow. “That’s the one…”
“Jaunt is the villain that Team Ark was trying to take down when they fell apart,” Agent finished grimly. “There were a lot of issues there to begin with, but he knew how to exploit every single one of them.”
“So what’s our move?” Haley asked.
“For now, we keep protecting the city,” Agent told them. “Jaunt can open portals anywhere on Earth at will. We don’t know where he makes his base, so we’ll have to stay alert and look for more leads.” He smiled at the group, though he couldn’t hide the shadows under his eyes. “You guys did good,” he said. “That was excellent teamwork. Keep it up!”
With that, he went to the elevator and left the team to themselves.
“Jaunt,” Shadow spat. “My mom got shot chasing that guy.”
“I wonder what he meant by ‘Jaunt exploited Team Ark’s issues’,” Haley mused. “The papers back then reported that Team Ark disbanded, but they didn’t give any details.”
Shadow jumped into one of the cushioned chairs around the living area. “I don’t know it all, either,” he admitted. “All I know is that after Lyta was killed,” he nodded at Natalie, who tensed at her mom’s codename, “The team had a bit of bad blood in it. Dad once mentioned that Striker had been challenging his leadership. Sparrow was Striker’s little sister and followed him everywhere, and Marauder closed himself off from the group.”
“That’s why that night hit Casey so hard,” Natalie continued, her voice soft. “Casey – Sparrow – had the power to see the future. She knew what was coming, and she couldn’t stop it.”
“If I had to guess,” Frank continued, “I’d say Jaunt played on her fears, on Marauder’s cageyness, and on Striker’s beef with my dad. With all of that, they’d have fallen apart in an instant.”
“That’s why Agent keeps after us about teamwork,” Reiki said, “right?”
“And why I was so pissed at him for keeping Parker’s mission from me,” Natalie added. “You’d think he’d know better than to keep secrets from his team after all that.”
“We still don’t know a thing about this Jaunt guy,” Frank said, pulling shadows around himself like a blanket. “I’m willing to bet Agent knows more than he let on, but he won’t tell us.”
“Come on, guys,” Haley said with a nervous giggle. “He’d tell us if we needed to know, right?”
“If he thinks we need to know,” Reiki corrected her darkly.
They all sat in silence for a minute before Haley broke it. “Well, this is depressing,” she said. “Speculating will get us nowhere, and my mom sent cookies from her bakery.”
Frank perked up. “Cookies?” he asked. “I heard cookies.”
Haley laughed, and the tension in the room was broken. “Come on, they’re in the kitchen,” she said, grinning. The team followed her, and they started chatting about more mundane things. While the mood was lifted, the question remained in the back of their minds:
Who was this Jaunt person, and what was his endgame?
* * * * * * * *