Issue #14 – In Another Time

Eon City, four months ago.

Frank Mejia, AKA Shadow.

Frank walked away from Parker with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, everything was falling apart around them, and it was all Parker’s fault.  On the other hand, Parker had been one of his best friends since middle school. Injuries and exhaustion aside, Frank couldn’t fight him.  So he had let him go.

As his stomach rumbled, Frank realized that he hadn’t eaten yet.  His body was screaming at him to find someplace to sleep – he had been awake for nearly two days now.  His muscles were on fire, and it hurt to move. His eyes kept closing, too – so he didn’t see the kid until he ran into him.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, his eyes snapping open.  “I didn’t think anybody was out now. Curfew, and all.”

“Not a problem, Shadow,” the kid said.  He was a teenager, at least – obviously younger than Frank, but not yet fully grown.  Frank was used to people recognizing him, so the kid calling him “Shadow” wasn’t out of place.

“Look, you should go home,” Frank told him.  “The Asylum is still patrolling, but law enforcement is stretched thin right now.  It’s not safe.”

“Oh, I agree,” the teenager said.  “It isn’t safe right now. But it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.”

Frank frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, wondering if the scrawny teenager knew something he didn’t.

The kid looked him up and down.  “I’d have preferred to get you at your best, but you’ll have to do as-is,” he said cryptically.  He held out a hand for Frank to shake, adding, “My name is Janus, by the way.”

“Shadow,” Frank said, shaking the kid’s hand reflexively.

Janus grinned, tightening his grip.  “Good to officially meet you, Shadow,” he said.  “On your side, anyways. Now, please come with me.”

It wasn’t a request. As Janus’ grip tightened, the air around them turned opaque – as if a thick fog had settled over everything.  It cleared in what felt like only a few seconds later, but when Frank looked around, the sun had set.

Looking to his left, Frank saw that the Asylum Tower was suddenly whole again.  It looked a little different from before, but there was a building where only seconds ago there had been rubble.  The air smelled different; there was a distinct odor that hadn’t been there before, and Frank saw trash lining the streets.

Janus began pulling him back towards the tower.  “Come on, Shadow,” he said. “You need to meet yourself.”

“Wait, what the heck just happened?” Frank asked, pulling his hand out of the kid’s grip.  “This is Eon City, but it’s not – where am I?”

Janus turned back and gave him an exasperated look.  “I keep forgetting this is your first time,” he sighed.  “I know you’ll need a warning or five about what’s coming, but it still should be obvious.”

Frank just glared at him until he answered the question.  “Oh, all right,” Janus said. “You’re right – this is still Eon City.  Just, for you it hasn’t happened yet.” He grinned, throwing his arms out in a ta-da gesture.  “Welcome to your future,” he added.  “Hope you enjoy the show!”

“‘My future’?” Frank asked.

“Yes, your future,” Janus said.  “I’ve brought you a few years into the future.  You need to talk to yourself.”

Frank shook his head, trying to wrap his mind around what had happened.  “So your Third-Gen power is time travel?” he finally asked. “Who even are you?”

Janus gave an exasperated noise before answering.  “Seriously?” he asked. “Are you really that slow?  I told you already, my name’s Janus.  And I’m not a Third Gen,” he added as an afterthought.

“So what are you, then?” Frank demanded.  “Are you a Fourth Gen like Nightmare?”

“I’m what will eventually come to be known as a Fifth Gen, if you’re going to obsess about it,” Janus said.  “My parents were both Fourth Gens, and their powers mutated – kind of like what tends to happen in your time when Third Gens and Satyrs mix.  You have hybrids – we have Fifth Gens.”

Frank was lost.  “What?” he asked again, his eyebrows narrowing in confusion.

“I’m not going to explain it again,” Janus said.  “Look, if you want answers, you’ll go into the Asylum building and talk to yourself.  The you of this time,” he added slowly, as if Frank wouldn’t understand.

Which, to be fair, he didn’t.

“This is the future?” he asked.

Janus put a hand to his forehead.  “Come on, man, the concept’s not that hard to get,” he said.  “This is a few years into your future. I’m not giving you the exact date because then it all might start getting messed up, but there are some things you need to know about what’s coming for you if you’re ever going to survive it.”

“Where do you fit into all of this?” Frank asked, still suspicious.

“I’m a traveler,” Janus said.  “I’ve been running around time since I was born, the way you ran around the construction site when you were a kid.  I can’t change anything, but I have a little influence if I can push people in the right direction.”

“You ought to talk to Casey,” Frank muttered.

“Sparrow’s powers aren’t the same,” Janus said.  He apparently knew exactly who Frank was talking about.  “She gets limited visions of the future, kind of like she’s skipping to the last page of a book.  And most everybody around her doesn’t believe a word of it, because her powers influence them, too.  I travel through time, so I can see everything – as long as I know when and where to go. Right now, I’m trying to get you to talk to yourself so you have an inkling about what’s going to happen.”

“Why don’t you just tell me what you want me to know?” Frank demanded.  “Why bother bringing me here?”

“It’s complicated,” Janus said, shaking his head.  “If I interfere with things directly, then other stuff starts changing until what’s supposed to happen happens anyways.  If I want to take steps to change the world – to, say, save everybody on it – then I have to work indirectly. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but I can take you to the guy who knows; namely, you.”

Frank stared at him.  “Say I believe you,” he said, folding his arms over his chest. “Isn’t that… I forget the word for it, but isn’t there some kind of physics law or something that breaks?” he asked.

“You mean a paradox?” Janus asked.

“That’s the word,” Frank said.  “Isn’t that a paradox?”

“Of course it is,” Janus shrugged.  “Paradoxes are kind of my specialty.  I’m a time-traveling kid who messes around the universe in six dimensions – I’m a paradox.  This,” he added, gesturing around them, “is nothing.  Now, are we gonna stand around yapping all day, or are you going to go inside?”

Frank thought for a moment, before nodding and walking to the edge of the alley.  “Thank you,” Janus said, walking right behind him.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, four months ago.

Parker Fawkes, AKA Fallen.

Parker watched his old friend until Frank rounded a corner.  He put his hands back into his hoodie pockets and turned to get away from the rubble.  As he wasn’t watching where he was going, he nearly ran into a man in a suit.

“Excuse me,” he muttered, moving to walk around him.

The man grabbed his arm with a gloved hand, making Parker look at his face for the first time.  The well-dressed man was wearing a mask, smiling kindly at him. “Parker Fawkes?” he asked.

“You’re Jaunt,” Parker said, freezing in his tracks.  “You broke up Team Ark!”

“And you just broke up the Asylum,” Jaunt reminded him.  Parker hung his head, all fight leaving him for the shame.  “The whole country is calling you the worst criminal since… well, since me.  Everyone knows your face by now, because you broke their heroes. You have no place to go, and nothing to do – except, of course, run from the law.”

Parker sighed.  “What do you want?” he asked.  “Here to rub it in?”

“No,” Jaunt said.  “I’m here to offer you a job.”

“You can’t be serious,” Parker scoffed, folding his arms in front of him.  “Why would I ever work for you?”

“There’s a lot more going on here than you know,” Jaunt shrugged.  “I think it’s time to fill you in on some of the more… finicky details.”

Parker rolled his eyes as Jaunt clapped his hands together to summon a portal.  “‘Finicky details’?” he repeated. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m not,” Jaunt admitted, throwing his hands apart to tear a hole in space.  “It’s a gross understatement, I know. But take a look through here, and I think you’ll have too many questions not to follow me through.”

Parker peered through the portal, seeing a blue haze on the other side.  “What the…” he trailed off, his eyes widening as he saw what lay beyond Jaunt’s portal.

Jaunt smiled beneath his mask, putting an arm around Parker’s shoulders.  “Like I said,” he repeated as they stepped through to the other side, “there’s a lot more going on here than you know.”

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, three months ago.

Haley Prince, AKA Outlier.

Not him,” came Reiki’s insistent voice over the coms.  “I don’t care who we get, just not him.

“Trust me,” Outlier said grimly, “he’s far from my first choice, too.  But once we locate David he’ll be our best bet of getting him back. Name one person half as accurate with a blow gun.”  She walked down the sidewalk, shaking her head as she began listing to one side.

I don’t see why we can’t just do it ourselves,” Reiki grumbled. “He might not even show up – it’s not like we can pay him.

“David’s a powerhouse,” Outlier explained for what felt like the millionth time, stopping to lean against a building.  “He can level the tunnels if he wants to, and right now he doesn’t have any inhibitions. He’s why we’ve been having all the earthquake tremors this last month, and we need to stop him before he causes serious damage – he’s already been delaying work on rebuilding the tower.  Now, half the team’s down, and we’ll only get one chance at getting him Dale’s treatment. If we miss, then he could disappear for good. You and Granny can take him on head-to-head while I run interference, but we’ll need somebody else to shoot him with the blow gun, to get the treatment into his system.  With David’s powers, he’ll probably protect himself with his usual rock shield; we need somebody who can make a bull’s eye shot through any crack in his defenses.” She sighed, hating to be right, before adding, “That means we need him.  He’ll show up.”

I don’t trust him,” Reiki growled, sounding even more surly than usual.  “Ten bucks says he won’t show.  Are you sure there’s nobody else?  What about Holmes?

“I’ll take that bet,” Outlier said.  “And Holmes hasn’t been seen since the riots.  A lot of Watchers were hurt that day, not just Natalie and Rina.  Either that, or she can’t get away from her day job. That’s why the three of us have been on overtime since the curfew was lifted.”

Which begs the next question,” Reiki muttered – though since he was speaking into his comm unit, he must have wanted Outlier to hear him.

“We’ve been over this, Reiki,” Outlier said patiently.  “The city needs the Asylum now more than ever.  We can’t just give up on it.” She noticed some people walking towards her, so she ducked down an alley and began climbing up a fire escape to scope things out from a rooftop while she finished the call.  Agent had once told her that the point of patrols was to show the city their faces, to gain the public’s trust – so it wouldn’t do any good for people to see Outlier collapse from exhaustion.

Why not call the team quits?” Reiki asked.  “We went from a team of ten down to a team of three in one night.  Even Agent gave up on us; why won’t you?

Outlier bit her lip and counted to five before responding as she climbed up a fire escape.  Yelling at Reiki wouldn’t help matters, even if it was the hundredth time she had to answer the same question.  “I told you,” she said, “the city needs us. Even if we’re not at full strength, it gives people hope to see our faces.”  Pulling herself up over the top of the building, she added, “Besides, what would you do without the Asylum?”

Probably go to the Watcher board myself and take a paying gig,” Reiki answered immediately.  “It’s easier to be idealistic when we have a place to live and a steady paycheck coming in.

“Agent will be back,” Outlier told him.  “He just… needs some time.”

Haley,” Reiki started, but Outlier interrupted him.

“I’m Outlier when we’re on duty, remember?” she said.

Fine, Outlier,” Reiki grumbled.  “Agent’s probably not coming back.  He’s been through this before with Team Ark, and they didn’t lose so many people.

Outlier sighed.  “We didn’t lose anybody, Reiki,” she said.  “We know exactly where most of them are, and once they get back on their feet, things will get back to normal. We’ll get Earthborn back, Rina and Natalie will heal, Agent will snap out of it, and we’ll find out where Frank went.  We’ll rebuild the tower, and it’ll be how it was.”

I sometimes forget how new you are,” Reiki said dryly.  “Things will never ‘get back to normal’ for us.  Even if everything goes according to your plan and the others get back to Watcher work, we lost Parker.

“Parker isn’t dead,” Outlier pointed out.

No, he’s not,” Reiki agreed.  “He’s a traitor, which is worse.  We worked with the guy; he was on my patrol shift before you came along and he went on that undercover thing.  He’s Natalie’s brother, and he was Frank’s best friend. No wonder Frank ran off.

“Frank didn’t run off,” Outlier said.  “His family hasn’t even seen him since the day of the riots.  He used to go see them every week; he wouldn’t have left without at least talking to them.”  She shook her head. “No, something happened to him, and as soon as we get Earthborn back, we’ll find out what.  In the meantime, you and I’ll patrol the city and keep people from taking advantage of our lack of manpower.” She dropped to a knee on the rooftop, still watching over the city while giving in to her fatigue.

“When was the last time you slept?” came Reiki’s voice from behind her.  Outlier shut off her comm and spun around to face him, ignoring the slight tilt in her vision as she stood up.

“I’m fine,” she said, folding her arms.  “You’re supposed to be patrolling the other side of the city.”

“Haley, go home,” Reiki growled.  “I can handle things until dark; you can pick back up after you eat something and sleep for eight hours.”

“I told you, I’m fine.”  She took a step forward, and her vision swam.  “You can cut out your light tricks, too. I’m not falling for it.”

Reiki scoffed.  “Fine,” he said as Outlier’s vision cleared, “but I’m not the one making you lean to one side.  You were doing that before I came up.” He raised an eyebrow. “You patrolled yesterday, you stayed out patrolling all last night, and you’re still here this morning.  Haley, you’re human – you need breaks at some point.”

“Just because I’m human doesn’t mean I can’t keep up with the rest of you,” she shot back.

Reiki raised his hands innocently.  “I’m not saying you can’t,” he told her.  “I’m a Third Gen, and I need to sleep, too.  That’s where I was while you were patrolling last night – sleeping.  Like a normal person.”  He put a hand on her shoulder, adding, “You’re not immortal.”

Outlier took a deep breath, steadying herself.  “Fine,” she said. “I’ll go home and take a nap.  I’ll be back to take the night shift.”

“Good,” Reiki said, letting his hand drop.  “That gives you nine hours, at least.”

“And then I’m making that call,” Outlier added rebelliously.  “We need him.”

“Fine,” Reiki growled.  “Call the merc. Natalie won’t be happy about it, though.”

Outlier shrugged, stepping back down to the fire escape.  “She doesn’t have to be,” she pointed out with an innocent smile.  “Trick’s in no shape to go up against Dark David, so she won’t even have to know we called him.”

Reiki rolled his eyes.  “She’ll know,” he called after her.  Outlier just gave him a jaunty wave as she descended the ladder.

Haley Prince, also known as the hero “Outlier”, found her way home somehow.  She didn’t remember much of the drive once she got back to her motorcycle, but she had made it home without crashing so she must have been awake.

“Damn,” she muttered as she took off her helmet.  “I guess I do need sleep.”

But she didn’t go to bed right away.  Since the Asylum building had been blown up, she was staying at her parents’ house in the suburbs.  Her mom had left a plate of ham and cheese sandwiches out for her and her brothers, with a small note.

Kids, the sandwiches are to share.

Dad and I will be home at 5 o’clock to start making dinner.

I love you!

Since Haley was the youngest at twenty-one years old, her mom didn’t need to go through the trouble of taking care of them – but ever since Haley and her brother Scott moved back home, they regularly found their mom treating them like they had never left.  Haley shook her head, grabbing a sandwich and moving to the living room to eat.

Scott was sitting on the couch, staring at the blank TV.  Haley took one look at him, then returned to the kitchen to grab the plate of food and brought it back with her.  “Scott, Mom made sandwiches,” she said, putting the plate down on an end table next to him. “You need to eat something.”  she flopped back into the recliner, taking a big bite of her own sandwich.

Barely moving his head, Scott’s eyes moved to look at Haley.  He raised an eyebrow as he took in her uniform. Haley looked down before rolling her own eyes and turning back to her sandwich.  “No, I didn’t bother to change,” she said between bites. “I’ve been out on patrol for thirty-six hours straight, and I’m hungry.  So sue me.”

Scott shook his head slightly, grabbing a sandwich from the plate.  After another few seconds of awkward silence between them, Haley sighed.  “You’re going to have to say something to me eventually,” she told him. “I know you can – you were pretty chatty with Mom the other day until I came in the room.  What’s the matter?” she added, taking a bite of her sandwich and talking with her mouth full to hide the tremble that came into her voice. “You still hate me for becoming a Watcher?”

“That had nothing to do with it,” Scott muttered.

“Excuse me?” Haley raised her eyebrows.  “Did you just deign to speak to me?”

“Haley,” Scott sighed, resigned to his little sister’s attitude towards him.  “It wasn’t about you becoming a Watcher.”

“You could have fooled me,” Haley said.  “The last time we spoke, you called me a ‘blood-traitor’ and said I was no sister of yours. You said the Watchers and the police were arresting the Fauns – whom you called ‘activist seekers of justice for the satyr community’, if I remember correctly.” The last part was redundant; they both knew that Haley had an eidetic memory, and never forgot details. “Then you ran off to join the Fauns, cutting off contact not just with me, but with the rest of the family, too.  Mom and Dad were worried sick!” She was nearly yelling at this point, pointing at him with her sandwich. “Then, a month ago, the day after the riots, you come crawling home with your hat in hand asking Mom and Dad for a place to stay, but not saying a word to me.  You wouldn’t even stay in the same room as me for two weeks!”

At the end of her rant, Haley was panting – she really needed sleep, if she could get that worked up.  Scott raised another eyebrow at her as she sat back down and took a defiant bite of her sandwich.

“Like I said,” he told her, “it had nothing to do with you being a Watcher.  I said those things because I was taken in by the Fauns’ ‘equality for all’ message.”  He shoved the last bit of his own sandwich in his mouth. “I was wrong, okay?” he said with his mouth full.  Swallowing, he added, “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, and I’m sorry for all the stuff I said before leaving.”

Haley stared at him, dumbstruck.  Scott had never apologized to her before, not even when they were little and he had pulled the head off of her favorite stuffed animal.  Not when he had broken her arm while sparring in high school. Haley’s memory was close to perfect, and this was the first time Scott had ever apologized for something.

All she could think of to say was, “Thank you.”

“I didn’t mean to snub you when we got home,” Scott continued.  “I just didn’t know how to face you after… you know, the riots and stuff.”

He was clamming up again.  Tired as she was, Haley didn’t want her brother to stop talking.  “You’ve been different this past month,” she told him. “What happened with the Fauns?  Why’d you leave?”

“You sure you want to talk about that?” Scott asked, resting his elbows on his knees and putting his head in his hands.  “You and me, we never saw eye-to-eye on a lot of stuff, but the Fauns were at the top of the list.”

“You were so gung-ho about joining them,” Haley said, polishing off her sandwich.  “Then the riots happened, you left them, and now you’re apologizing for what you said.”  She shrugged, dusting her hands of crumbs as she stood up to get the vacuum from the hall closet.  “I’m curious.”

Scott rolled his eyes as she got the vacuum out, but didn’t say anything about it.  Their mom would lecture them for an hour if she came home to find crumbs all over the carpet.  Instead, he said, “It has to do with Parker. You know, the Asylum guy?”

Haley stopped dead in her tracks when he mentioned Parker’s name.  “You mean the traitor?” she asked carefully, starting to regret her line of questioning but too curious to stop.  “What about him?”

“He saved my life,” Scott said, standing up and taking the vacuum from his sister.  “The night of the riots, Claw was going to kill me, but Parker stepped in. That video went viral, but it didn’t show the whole story. Claw and I were off camera, and if Parker hadn’t pressed that button, I’d be dead now.”

Haley shook her head.  “Wait,” she said, “you’re telling me that Parker sold out the team to save you?”

“Yeah,” Scott said, looking away.  “Pretty much.”

Haley sat down hard in the armchair, the vacuum forgotten.  “That… that changes things,” she muttered, before suddenly standing back up.  “I need to go, there’s way too much to do – ”

“You aren’t going anywhere, baby sister,” came another voice from the doorway.  Apparently Haley had been so caught up in Scott’s revelation that she didn’t hear the front door open.  Sean, her oldest brother and a bear-satyr, marched over to her and pushed her back down into the chair.

“Hey!” Haley cried.  “Sean, what’re you doing here?!”

“That friend of yours, Reiki, stopped by the bakery,” Sean said.  “He asked if I could make sure you got home and got to sleep. Good thing I came by, too, since you seem to want to run yourself into the ground.”

Haley jumped up.  “I’m fine,” she insisted.  “I have to get some things together, and I need to talk to some people about tomorrow.  This is important, Sean!”

“You’re no good to anyone if you collapse from exhaustion, Haley,” Sean pointed out, sounding annoyingly like Reiki.  “You get to bed and get some sleep first, then you can go.”

“This can’t wait,” Haley insisted.  “If I’m going to talk to Parker – ”

“You are not just going to walk into Faun headquarters,” Scott piped in, his eyes going wide.  “That’d be suicide!”

“Not necessarily,” Haley shot back.  “Have a little faith.”

Sean folded his arms.  “Okay, tell you what, baby sister,” he growled.  “If you can get past me to the door, I’ll let you walk out of here.  But if you can’t, then you go to bed and sleep for at least six hours before you go gallivanting off somewhere.”

Haley balanced her stance and raised her arms, preparing for a fight.  Sean raised his eyebrows – he never could raise just one, even when he tried – and the fight drained out of her.  She couldn’t take Sean on in her current state, which meant that walking into the Fauns’ lair without a plan and before getting some sleep was a stupid idea.  Slumping a little in defeat, she muttered darkly on her way to her room.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, a few years in the future.

Frank Mejia, very confused.

“This is supposed to be the Asylum building, right?” Frank asked Janus as the elevator took them up to the top floor.  “Where are the licenses? They used to be hanging in the entrance hall.”

“Only copies were ever hanging there,” Janus said.  “Besides, you all don’t need them now.”

Frank shook his head.  “‘Don’t need the licenses,’” he repeated.  “I’m not even going to ask. So, the future, huh?  You can travel through time.”

“And space,” Janus told him.  “To me, it’s like walking down the street is to you.  I go where and when I want.”

“I only know of one other person who can go where he wants, when he wants,” Frank said.  “Jaunt. Any relation?”

“Oh please,” Janus said, waving a hand lazily in the air.  “That hack? His portal-jumping isn’t even a Third-Gen power.  He gets it from… but I wasn’t supposed to tell you that. I really shouldn’t have said that,” Janus began muttering to himself.  “The timeline needs to be handled carefully. Stupid!”

The elevator dinged, and the doors opened onto a large living area.  It looked identical to their home before Parker had blown it up, and Frank looked around in awe.

The only difference he could see was the people.  Instead of his team, there were about twenty people in the different rooms, hanging out as if they were at home.  Frank had known that the Asylum was supposed to grow over time, but seeing how many members there were in the future shocked him a little.

“Who are all these people?” he asked his guide.  “How did the Asylum expand so much in just a few years?”

“Shit happened,” Janus shrugged unhelpfully.  “You recruited a lot over time, and more people began stepping up to follow your team’s example.  Come on, this way.”

Janus began leading Frank to the lounge, but they were stopped by a few people along the way.

“Hey, Shadow,” asked a young guy with a scottish accent.  “Merlin and I were wondering if you’d like to join us for dinner.  We’ve got a lot to talk about lately, what with Avis’ – ”

“Not now, Duck,” Janus cut him off.

“Janus,” the one called “Duck” greeted, “didn’t see you there.  So today’s the day, huh? Shadow’s been waiting.”

Janus nodded.  “Yep. He’s in the lounge, right?”

“If I knew where he was, I wouldn’t have mistaken this one for him,” Duck replied, nodding back at Frank.

“Thanks anyways,” Janus said, continuing to lead Frank.

Frank had a million questions about this time, but he started with, “Who was that?”

“Oh, Duck?  You’ll meet him in a couple of years,” Janus told him.  “In your time, Duck, Merlin, and the rest of Avis are a group of Scottish heroes who basically do what the Asylum does, just in Scotland.  Ah, here’s Shadow!”

They entered the lounge, and Frank had a disconcerting moment when he first saw himself.  The other version of Frank – the one from this time – looked older, and had a few more scars.  One in particular ran along his jawline, which the younger Frank didn’t have yet.

The older Frank looked up from the papers he had been pouring over.  “Janus!” he cried, standing up suddenly. “Today’s the day, then?” He looked over at the younger Frank, looking him up and down.  “Dang, this job’s aged me,” he muttered. He gestured for the younger Frank to take the seat opposite him. “Let’s get to it,” he said.  “You have a ton of questions; I’ll try to answer them.”

Frank sat down across from himself, and began to hear about his future.

* * * * * * * *

 

Episode 2: The Station, Part 2

 

Andromeda One

Episode 2: The Station, Part 2

The crew kicks dragon butt, and Sam tells Ace to shove it.


Written by Helena Billington and Mary Herdman
Produced by Mary Herdman

Starring:
Christina Wordham as Alice
Stephen Blyskel as Commander Sam Tanner
Darlena Birch as Doctor Kaladelia Aine
Charlie Kuykendall as Colonel Ace Williams
Daniel Travi as Lieutenant Kalle Erikssen
Mary Herdman as Riley Jackson
Jkessel as Tinnec “Tinny” Jelensson (Check out his Fiverr page here.)
Helena Billington as Camilla Stark
JC Angert as Zambak “Zari” Zahara

Guest-Starring:
Timtones as Epic British Voice Guy (Check out his Fiverr page here.)
Daniel Rathaus as Ejder (Check out his Fiverr page here.)

Artwork by:
Crisshasart (Character art)
Arespro (Station scene)
Knopkodav (Hub scene)
Arannihk (Portal scene)
Yanliw (Doryu Homeworld scene)

 

Copyright StorySpinner Productions
All Rights Reserved

Enjoy the show!

Episode 1: The Station, Part 1

Andromeda One

Episode 1: The Station, Part 1

Meet the misfit crew of Andromeda One.


Written by Helena Billington and Mary Herdman
Produced by Mary Herdman

Starring:
Christina Wordham as Alice
Daniel Travi as Lieutenant Kalle Erikssen
Charlie Kuykendall as Colonel Ace Williams
Helena Billington as Camilla Stark
Mary Herdman as Riley Jackson
Stephen Blyskel as Commander Sam Tanner
Darlena Birch as Doctor Kaladelia Aine
Jkessel as Tinnec “Tinny” Jelensson (Check out his Fiverr page here.)
JC Angert as Zambak “Zari” Zahara

Guest-Starring:
Timtones as Epic British Voice Guy (Check out his Fiverr page here.)
Daniel Rathaus as Ferris (Check out his Fiverr page here.)
Sheila Carmichael as Epony

Artwork by:
Crisshasart (Character art)
Arannihk (Portal scene)
Arespro (Station scene)
Knopkodav (Hub scene)

 

Copyright StorySpinner Productions
All Rights Reserved

Enjoy the show!

Prologue

Andromeda One

Prologue

Gu’Tah and his team scout a new planet, but things are not as quiet as they expect.


Written by Mary Herdman and Helena Billington
Produced by Mary Herdman
Music by SSP

Starring:
Christina Wordham as Alice
Glenn Angert as Gu’Tah
Charlie Kuykendall as Ri’Dal
JC Angert as Fa’Nor

Guest-Starring:
Daniel Travi as the Scout

Artwork by:
Crisshasart (Character art)
Yanliw (Desert Quarry scene)

 

Copyright StorySpinner Productions
All Rights Reserved

Enjoy the show!

Issue #13 – Fallen Angel

Faun Headquarters.

Parker Fawkes, undercover.

“Three, two, one…” Kiara counted down, a spoonful of mashed potatoes in her hand.  “Blast-off!” She flicked the potatoes at Parker, who threw his head to the right to catch the potatoes in his mouth.

“Ack!” he gagged as the fluffy white stuff choked him.  The gorilla-satyr to his left patted him on the back between his wings, and Parker managed to swallow.  “Thanks,” he said, turning to the satyr who had helped him. “Scott, right? Scott Prince?”

“Yeah,” said Scott.  “You know me?”

“Only by reputation,” Parker answered carefully.  “I met your sister the other day.”

Scott’s eyes widened in alarm.  “You met Haley?” he asked nervously.

Parker knew why.  Haley Prince was a Watcher in the Asylum, who was better known around the city by her moniker “Outlier”.  The Asylum was making a name for itself in the underworld by bringing criminals in, and the Fauns – a terrorist group by anyone’s definition – had standing orders to take members of the Asylum down by any means necessary.

“That was the drunk chick, right?” Kiara asked, loading her spoon again.  “What happened to her?”

“I sent her home,” Parker said, raising his eyebrows at Scott.  “No point in waylaying bakers, right?”

“Right,” Scott said weakly.  “Thanks, Fallen.” He used Parker’s nickname among the Fauns.

“So Fallen,” Kiara said sweetly, arming another scoop of potatoes, “Rumor has it that you’re going to take over Eon City when Claw leaves.  You’ll be in charge of all of this!”

Parker shrugged, shaking his shoulders to loosen them.  “That’s the rumor,” he agreed. “I haven’t heard anything from Claw about it, though.  I know he plans to leave the city soon, but I don’t know where or when.” With any luck, it’ll be to jail within the week, he thought.

Another satyr slammed their plate down next to Parker.  “Did you hear?” Lizard asked them. “The House just passed the Leash Law!”

“What?” Parker jumped up from the table.  “When?” The Leash Law had been a bill in contention for more than a year: if ratified, then all non-citizen satyrs would be required to be kept on a leash in public areas.  Satyrs already needed a special license before they could become citizens, and unlike humans and Third Gens, they weren’t born with their citizenship – they had to go through the naturalization process when they turned twenty-five, unless they opted for government service when they turned eighteen, as Parker had done.  Some states already had the Leash Law (or laws like it) in effect; the current threat was the law becoming a national standard.

“Last night,” Lizard reported.  “If the Senate passes it, then we’ll all be reduced to nothing more than animals.”

“I can’t believe it,” Kiara said, her spoon prepped to fling another scoop of potatoes at Parker.  She had frozen in position at the news. “How could they do that? How could anyone vote for that?”

Lizard rolled his eyes.  “King,” he said simply.

The CEO of King Enterprises, Jonathan King was a vocal opponent of satyr rights.  The Fauns had been at war with King Enterprises for years, protesting the unethical treatment the company gave satyrs, but King was an influential force and had the resources to lobby for the Leash Law.

“Of course,” Parker muttered.  “When’s the Senate vote?”

“Next week,” Lizard said, before taking a big bite of his lunch.  “If we want to stop it, we’ll have to move fast.”

Parker nodded at Kiara, who began clearing his plate.  Without another word, he was off to find Claw.

Claw took his meals in his War Room – a large meeting place where he briefed his lieutenants on the Faun’s strategy.  He was alone when Parker found him, pouring over maps of the city. “Parker,” he acknowledged without turning around. “Just the guy I want to see.”

Parker came up next to him, looking at the maps for himself.  “I just heard about the House vote,” he said. “I came straight here.”

There were five maps spread out on the large table, each of a different sector of the city.  Different spots were marked with exes, marking areas where crowds were known to gather. Claw studied these, his eyes narrowed in concentration.

“The vote is troubling,” he said.  “We’ll have to move up our timetable.”

“What’s the plan, boss?” Parker asked, every bit the picture of a loyal Faun lieutenant.

Claw looked at him.  Parker knew that Claw was suspicious of his motives, and rightfully so – he might not have known about Parker’s double life as an Asylum Watcher, but he did know that Parker was in contact with his sister.  Natalie was a well-known Watcher in Eon City, going by the moniker “Trick” in the Asylum. Parker had so far earned Claw’s trust by being the model Faun, and he was the next logical choice to run the organization in Eon City, but he knew how precarious his position was.  He could see all of the doubts flashing through Claws mind as the crocodile-satyr considered.

“Okay, Fallen,” Claw finally said, moving over to give Parker a better view of the table.  “I think it’s time to let you in on the big picture.”

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

Natalie Fawkes, training.

“Damn!” came the shout from across the room.

Natalie had been training on a Wing Chun dummy, and the shout was just distracting enough to let her get hit by one of the spinning arms.  “Hey!” she cried, marching over to the bench where Haley sat. The new girl was checking her phone, taking a break from her workout. “What’s the big idea?” Natalie asked, shoving Haley’s shoulder as she rubbed the spot on her arm where the dummy hit her.  “That’s going to bruise!”

Haley looked up.  “Did you hear about this?” she asked, ignoring Natalie’s ire.  “The House just passed the Leash Law!”

“What?”  Natalie snatched the phone out of Haley’s hand, her bruise forgotten for the moment.  “When?”

“This morning,” Haley said as Natalie scanned the article.  “The Senate vote is next week. How could they do this?”

“That doesn’t matter,” Natalie said, tossing the phone back to her.  “What matters is that it’s done. We need to be on our toes for the next week – the Fauns have been pretty quiet lately, but shit’s gonna hit the fan sometime before the Senate vote.  Be ready.” She walked off, grabbing a towel to dry off.

“Where are you going?” Haley called after her.  “Training’s not over!”

“I need to talk to Agent,” Natalie called back, not turning around.

She headed up the stairs to Agent’s office, not bothering to knock as she barged in.  Agent was sitting at his desk, staring intently at his surveillance screens. “I had a feeling you’d be here, Nat,” he said.  “The answer’s still no.”

“This is going to blow up in our faces,” Natalie said.  “The Leash Law is the biggest issue on the Fauns’ agenda – they already trashed a bunch of DMVs in the state because of the licensing; what do you think they’ll do after this?”

“I’m hoping they’ll focus their efforts outside of our city for once,” Agent said.  “I’m planning on them starting some kind of riot, though. That seems to be Claw’s pattern – hit multiple areas at once to spread police forces thin, and then run and hide.”

“Parker’s still undercover,” Natalie pointed out.  “He needs to be out of there before Claw makes his move, or he could get hurt!”

“Nat, we’ve been over this,” Agent said.  “Pulling him out now would only put a target on his back.  Parker’s doing well where he is – he’s one of Claw’s closest lieutenants now, and this is the exact opportunity we need to get enough evidence to take down the ringleader.  You think Claw’s going to sit this one out? If Parker can tell us where he’ll be, we can catch him red-handed, and send him to Zatvor where he belongs!”

Natalie folded her arms.  “You know this for sure?” she demanded.  “Or is this just you trying to placate me again?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Agent asked.

“It means I know you’ve been lying to me!”  Natalie grabbed his shoulder and spun him around to face her.  “You’ve been lying to me for months! Parker’s been missing check-ins, and he’s all but gone off the grid.  You told me everything was fine!”

Agent looked surprised, which was rare for him.  “How did you – oh.” He closed his eyes as he realised.  “Haley told you. I thought she didn’t remember anything from when she was under the drug.”

“She has an eidetic memory, remember?” Natalie reminded him.

“I’ll keep it in mind,” Agent said dryly.

“Parker acted like she had been down there to see him,” Natalie hissed.  “He admitted to missing his check-ins.  Now tell me – are you refusing to extract him, or is he the one refusing to get out?”

Agent looked away, saying nothing.  His silence told Natalie everything she needed to know.

“I need to see him,” she said.  “You need to set up a meeting – ”

“Absolutely not.” Agent looked straight into her eyes, glaring intensely.  “And don’t you dare go behind my back on this one, Nat. I mean it. If you talked to Haley, you’ll know that the reason he’s been ghosting us is that he’s being watched. Haley got away with that little excursion because she’s still new enough that some people don’t know her face on sight.  You’re much more recognizable, especially to the Fauns. They have kill orders out on all of the Asylum Watchers; I’ve had to use my other resources to keep an eye on that side of the city.”

“Fine; so send one of them,” Natalie demanded.  “Get him a message from me.”

Agent stood up, putting a hand on her shoulder.  “I know you’re worried about him, Nat,” he said, “but Parker’s an adult, and a Watcher.  He’s not defenseless – he knows just as many illusions as you do, and he’s also a hybrid.  He can fly, and he has super-strength; he can handle himself.”

Natalie took a deep, shuddering breath.  “I like you, Agent,” she said, “but if my brother gets hurt, I’m holding you personally responsible.  Got it?”

“That’s fair,” Agent said, nodding.  “Can you keep a cool head?”

“Always,” Natalie said wryly.

“Then let me bounce some ideas off of you.”  Agent turned back to the screens, pulling up a map of the city.  “Here’s what I think they’ll do.”

* * * * * * * *

Eon City Park, Two A.M.

Parker Fawkes, deeply concerned.

“Come on, pick up,” Parker muttered to his burner phone.  He had to sneak out of the Fauns’ headquarters, which was made harder by the tension in the air.  None of the Fauns seemed to want to sleep with the news of the Leash Law hanging over their heads.  While Claw only shared the details of his plans with his trusted commanders, all of the satyrs in the organization knew that something big was coming.

The line clicked, and a voice came through the other end.  “Hello?” Frank said sleepily.

“Frank!  Thank god,” Parker said.  He ran a shaking hand through his hair as he nervously shook his shoulders out.  “I’ve got news; it’s pretty bad. Can we meet?”

Parker?” Frank asked.  “Where are you?  What’s wrong?

“Frank, it’s bad.  Please,” Parker pleaded.  “I need to talk to you. I couldn’t call Agent because it’s too risky, but you can sneak in a lot better.  I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”

No problem, buddy,” Frank said, sounding a lot more alert at Parker’s tone.  “Meet me at the last place I saw you.

“Thanks,” Parker said.  He suddenly realized he had been pacing.  “Twenty minutes?”

See you there.” Frank hung up.  Parker shrugged his shoulder again, taking off in the direction of the docks.  It took him exactly twenty minutes to run there – he didn’t dare fly.

The shadows on the dock were dense at this time of night.  Parker couldn’t see Frank and Natalie approach until they were right in front of him.  Both were dressed in their full Watcher gear; the Asylum Watchers were all quick-change experts out of necessity.

“Parker!” Natalie ran over and hugged him.  She had been worried – it was obvious from her relief at seeing him.  Parker hugged her back, just as happy to see his twin as she was to see him, until she pulled away and began hitting his arm.  “You idiot!” she said. “Why won’t you let Agent extract you?”

“Ow!” Parker cried, rubbing the spot she had hit.  “What are you even doing here? I called Frank!”

“Sorry buddy,” Frank said, shrugging.  “She wouldn’t leave me alone until I brought her.”

“You have news?” Natalie asked, folding her arms in front of her and tapping her foot impatiently.

Parker shook his shoulders out, and Natalie’s face softened at the familiar gesture.  “Yeah, I’ve got news. It’s pretty bad,” he said again.

“Spit it out,” Natalie said.

“Claw’s planning multiple riots around the country,” Parker told them.  “The Fauns have grown so much lately that he basically has an army at his command.  They’re going to form up the day after tomorrow, posing alongside peaceful protesters, and then Eon City will be turned into a war zone – along with five other major cities in the country.”

“A war zone?” Frank asked.  “I mean, riots can get pretty bad, but that has to be an exaggeration…”

“No, it’s not.”  Parker began pacing again.  “The Fauns as an organization are bigger than anybody realizes, even other Fauns.  I just found out how big this afternoon; Claw has other Fauns coming in from the rest of the state for this.  We’re expecting around ten thousand people, and most of them are going to be Fauns with weapons. They’ll outnumber the police three-to-one.  I think ‘war zone’ is the right term.”

“How do you organize a riot?” Natalie asked.  “Aren’t they usually just protests that get out of hand?”

Parker shook his head.  “Mob mentality isn’t that hard to control,” he explained, “especially when you have the numbers to back it up – which Claw has.  And that’s not the worst part.”

“Gen Juice,” Frank said, a note of accusation in his voice as he raised an eyebrow at Parker.

“You saw that, did you?” Parker said, dropping his eyes.

Natalie looked between the two of them.  “What’s he talking about, Parker?” she asked.

“You want to tell her, or should I?” Frank asked.

Parker let out a sigh.  “I was under orders from Claw,” he said by way of excuse.  “I was supposed to grab a vial of the stuff they used on Miranda and bring it back to him.  It was a test of loyalty, and I’d never have been able to help Frank get her out of there if I didn’t take it.  I swear, Frank,” he added, looking his friend in the eye, “I had no idea what it was at the time, or what Claw had planned.”

“I couldn’t believe it myself,” Frank replied.  “I heard what it was from Jaunt, after all.”

Natalie looked between the two of them, putting two and two together.  “Agent doesn’t know about this, does he?” she asked. “This… ‘Gen Juice’, whatever it is – neither of you told him that Claw has it.  Why?”

“It’s a Third Gen power enhancer,” Frank explained.  “Kind of like Elutherios – it makes Third Gen powers stronger for a time, but all of the satyrs who had been given it turned feral.”

“Even your sister?” Parker asked, worried.

Frank waved a hand dismissively.  “No, not her,” he said with relief, “but all of the others had to be taken to the nature preserve in California.  The powers faded, but the psychological damage is permanent. I can’t believe Claw would use something like that on his own people.”

“Wait, hold up,” Natalie said waving her hands to get the boys’ attention.  “Claw has some of this Gen Juice that turns satyrs feral?”

“Yeah, but just a vial,” Frank said, shrugging.  “He’ll probably make our lives harder by dosing a few satyrs and letting them run amok, so the police would have to handle the riots without the Asylum.”

“It’s worse than that,” Parker said, fidgeting.  “I only took one vial – but Claw has scientists of his own.  They managed to duplicate it and turn it into a gas that Claw plans to release throughout Eon City during the riots.”

Natalie stared at him.  “The protest isn’t going to just be Fauns,” she whispered.  “He’s organizing a real protest with civilians that he’ll turn into a riot by dosing everybody in the city with the Gen Juice!”

“And it won’t just be satyrs turning feral,” Frank added, horrified.  “Third Gens will lose control of their powers. Humans might start developing powers of their own.  It’ll be chaos!”

“The riots will take place in five other cities around the country – I don’t know which ones, but it’s a good bet that any protests organized over the Leash Law are at risk of turning violent,” Parker told them.  “But here in Eon City, it’ll be disastrous. And it’s all my fault.”

“But we know now,” Natalie reminded him.  “We have a day and a half to figure out how to contain it.  Claw would have gotten his hands on the Gen Juice whether it was you or someone else making the pickup – but by telling us, you’ve just saved a bunch of lives.”  Parker looked away again, so Natalie grabbed her brother’s jaw and forced him to look at her. “You’re a hero, Parker,” she insisted. “You’re a Watcher, like us, and you just saved the city.  And now you’re coming home.”

Parker pulled away.  “I can’t, Nat,” he said, shaking his head.  “Not yet. All we have on Claw right now is circumstantial, and he’ll be leaving the city soon.  If I pull out now, we’ll never get him – but if I wait until after the riots…”

“Parker!”  Natalie was the only person who could make Parker feel guilty, reckless, and ashamed, all at once, just by saying his name.  He saw his own blue eyes reflected back in her identical ones – eyes that were worried about him – but he had his own goal in mind and he wouldn’t abandon it, even for his sister.

“Here,” he said, pulling a sheet of paper out of his pocket.  “I copied the map of Claw’s plans. I put exes over the spots where the riots will concentrate, and circled the spots where he plans to release the gas.  If you guys can be waiting there for him, we can stop this.”

“Who else did he show this to?” Frank asked, frowning.  Parker didn’t answer, so Frank continued, “Nobody, right?  You’re high enough in the Fauns now that he expects you to lead this, so you’re the only one who knows the full plan.”

Natalie punched Parker on the shoulder again.  “You idiot,” she said.  “If we take this to Agent, if Claw sees that we were ready for him, he’ll know that you’re our informant.  He’ll kill you, Parker!”

“Maybe,” Parker admitted.  “But this is our last chance to get him, Nat.  All I have to do is place him at the center of the riots, and he’ll be charged with reckless endangerment, incitement of violence, the full monty.  I just have to grab his plans from the war room, along with the tapes from the security cameras in there, and we’ve got him!” He turned a pleading look on his sister, knowing that she would understand.  “This is the guy that killed our mom, Nat. He’s killed so many people without even a moment of guilt, and I can bring him – and the Fauns – down once and for all. Then I can come home – you’ll see.”

“Or you’ll die,” Natalie said bluntly.  “Claw will go free, and I’ll be left to tell Dad why I let you do this alone.”

“I don’t intend to die,” Parker said, giving her a cocky grin.  “Count on that.” He looked at his phone, checking the time. “I have to get back.  Promise me you’ll show this to Agent,” he said, looking at both his sister and his best friend.

“You need to get rid of that phone,” Frank pointed out.  “You’ve had it for too long. If this works, then you won’t need it, and if it doesn’t…”

“Then I won’t need it,” Parker finished, nodding.  He handed the phone to Frank, adding, “I have some pictures on there that put Claw at the center of it all.  If something happens to me, you still might be able to bring him in.”

Natalie gave him a swift hug, growling, “Nothing better happen to you, idiot.  If you die, I’ll kill you myself.”

“Always with the death threats,” Parker grinned.  He gave them both a jaunty wave and turned to walk back to the Fauns’ headquarters.  He wished he felt as confident as the show he had just given them, but deep down he had a feeling that this would end badly for him.  He only knew one thing for certain:

One way or another, this assignment would end with the riots.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, the next evening.

Trick, Shadow, Nightmare, and Granny.

“You sure about this?” Earthborn asked as they headed down into the tunnels.  “I know that Parker’s info said that they’d be releasing gas from the sewer lines, but it seems… I dunno, too complicated to be one of Claw’s plans.”

“Blackbird risked a lot to get us the information,” Trick said.  “He sounded sure.”

“Earthborn has a point, dear,” Granny told her.  “The riots sound real enough – the Fauns have pulled similar things before.  But I don’t see how they could have replicated that Gen Juice stuff to cover the whole city in just a few weeks, especially from only four points underground.  Something seems off.”

Shadow shrugged, bringing up the rear.  “Dale confirmed it,” he said. “Apparently it’s possible, so we have to assume Blackbird’s info was right.”

“We’re heading underground, splitting up, and we left Nightmare back at base in case she’s affected by this stuff,” Earthborn pointed out.  “Since when have these tunnels ever been nice to us? This smells like a trap.”

“If something goes wrong, you can collapse the entire tunnel network, E.B.,” Shadow reminded him.  “What are you so worried about?”

“We left Nightmare, Reiki, and Outlier to take care of the riot,” Earthborn said practically.  “Nightmare’s powers would only make a mob that big worse, Reiki’s powers don’t work so well after dark, and Outlier’s human and a newbie. Agent’s last update put the numbers at close to fifteen thousand protesters throughout the city; I’m worried, that’s all.”

“It’s not just them,” Granny said, pulling her wolf doll out of her bag and touching her knitting needles to it.  As Louise the wolf grew to life-size, Granny said, “Agent is calling in all of his seconds and mercenaries. Every Watcher in the city will be helping to quell the riots – Holmes, Vulcan, Butterfly, all of them.”  She mounted her wolf, smiling down at the others. “They can get along without us for a few hours.”

“Besides,” Trick added, “Outlier and Reiki are just going to keep an eye out for anyone who needs shelter.  Nightmare’s going to keep an eye on things from a distance, and Agent’s going into the field for this one. Agent knows what he’s doing.”

“We can hope,” Earthborn muttered.  He knelt down, putting a hand to the ground.  “I don’t feel anything unusual down there, but it’s hard to tell.  We all know where we’re going?”

“We all have copies of the map,” Shadow said.  “What do you mean by ‘unusual’?”

“There are people down there,” Earthborn said, “but there are always people down there.  I can count them for you, but I can’t tell you which ones are usually there and which ones might be Fauns.”

“Well, we aren’t getting anywhere standing around here,” Trick said.  “Keep in touch over coms, and let’s get started.”

The others nodded, and they all headed off in different directions.

* * * * * * * *

Faun Headquarters.

Parker Fawkes, AKA Fallen.

Parker deployed the Faun teams according to Claw’s plan, still playing the role of the good lieutenant.  He watched the clock, waiting for his chance to go into the war room to steal the plans. Claw was watching Parker from his throne in the main meeting room, lazily sprawled over the armrests as he listened to Parker addressing the team leaders.

When he finally dismissed the Fauns to the protest, Claw finally spoke up.  “Scott Prince, could you stay back a moment?” he said in his soft voice. Scott looked around, confused, but stayed back in the room while his team left.  Despite phrasing it as a question, Claw had given an order – and nobody disobeyed an order from Claw.

“I think we should talk in private,” Claw said, jumping up from his seat at the front of the room.  “Meet me in my war room, both of you.”

Parker walked silently beside Scott as they headed for the room, wondering what Claw wanted with them. This was his chance, though – all he needed was a moment of distraction, and he could get everything he needed to take down Claw.

Scott nodded to him as he entered first.  They both stood at attention in the dim room, in front of Claw; Parker was dwarfed next to Scott, but he kept his wings unfurled to show his status as a satyr.

“You both are wondering why I called you here.”  Claw didn’t look at them. He was standing at the table, looking over his plans as he spoke.  “I’m sure you already know what you two have in common.”

A chill went down Parker’s spine as Claw spoke.  Scott was Haley’s brother, and he was Natalie’s – what they had in common was the fact that their sisters were both Asylum Watchers.  He knows, thought Parker, fighting back a shudder.  Any sign of weakness from him, and Claw would kill him before he could blink.  Waiting for confirmation was his best bet for survival.

“Tonight’s operation was carefully planned,” Claw continued.  “Every piece was in place, and every team leader knows their part.  I have teams of Fauns mobilizing to create chaos in different sectors of the city.  So imagine my surprise when Erinyes reported that the Asylum was waiting for us in the sewers, to stop the gas from being released.”

He turned around to face them.  “It doesn’t matter too much,” he continued.  “There is no gas to release. But I do wonder why the Asylum thought there was.”

Parker’s eyes widened slightly as he realized what was happening.  The story of the gas had been a trap, and he had walked straight into it – leading his friends in, too.  “What happened to the Asylum, then?” he asked, trying to feign nonchalance.

“Erinyes’ team is taking care of them now,” Claw answered.  “But there’s a bigger issue to address. I know that I was betrayed,” he hissed, baring his teeth in a crocodile smile.  Walking slowly over to Scott, he added, “I know exactly who it was, too.”

“I didn’t betray you!” Scott cried.  “I swear! I haven’t seen my sister in months, and I only knew where my team was going to be stationed, nothing else.  Honest!”

Claw put one of his claws up against Scott’s chin.  Scott gulped, looking like he was about to cry; he knew as well as Parker did what would happen if Claw didn’t believe him.  Parker had to do something.

Terrified, and knowing that it would kill him, Parker said, “It was me.”

* * * * * * * *

Eon City Tunnels.

Natalie Fawkes, AKA Trick.

“I’ve got nothing,” Trick said to her comm unit.  “Anybody else see anything?”

No,” came Shadow’s voice over the comm.  “There’s no movement here, but it feels like I’m being watched.

That’ll be the people who usually stay down here,” Earthborn added.  “Are we sure that Parker’s intel was good?

“Granny?” Trick asked, ignoring the question.  “What about your side?”

All clear here, dearie,” she replied.  “Earthborn, would you mind checking the tunnels again?  Louise is getting a bad feeling, too. I think there are more than the natives down here.

There was a brief pause while Earthborn used his powers to scan the tunnels again.  “That’s weird,” he reported.  “There’s a crowd of people at all four of the spots on the map.  Guys, check your six – I think we should meet back up at the entrance and get out of here…

Trick looked up, just in time to see a large bat-satyr jumping towards her.  Jumping out of the way just in time, she spun around to find five more satyrs facing her.  Trick backed down the tunnel, knowing that the five-on-one fight was very bad for her.

“Oh, come on,” said the bat-satyr.  The girl had short, dark hair and black eyes, but her teeth were bared in fangs.  Her arms were leathery, and extended down to make bat-like wings. Her long fingers ended in claws, which were currently poised as weapons.

“How could you miss, Erinyes?” one of the other satyrs asked.  “She’s a sitting duck!” The satyr’s own webbed fingers made it almost a joke, but Trick wasn’t laughing.

“Shut up,” the bat-satyr – Erinyes – said.  “The squad in tunnel C shouldn’t have let Earthborn get off a warning.  But no worries – we can still take them all down.”

Trick pulled her scarf out of her front pocket, along with another packet.  “You’re all welcome to try,” she said to distract them. “But I doubt you’ll be much more than a nuisance to us.  After all, you couldn’t even surround me properly.” She grinned at the Fauns, and threw the packet to the ground.  It exploded in a cloud of colored chalk and glitter, making the Fauns cough and buying her a minute’s head start.

Trick ran back towards the entrance, where the team was supposed to meet if anything went wrong.  She had the closest position to the entrance, as the others all had powers to draw on; Granny could easily out-distance the Fauns on her wolf, Earthborn could travel underground, and Shadow could hide himself in the dark tunnels.

It was a three-minute run for Trick, but she could hear the bat-satyr screeching from behind her.  Despite the twists and turns in the tunnels, Erinyes could at least keep up with the Watcher – though the other satyrs in her group seemed to be falling behind.

Just as Trick turned a corner to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Erinyes slammed into her back.  Trick gripped the scarf she still held, twisting around to wrap it around the bat-satyr’s neck. She yanked it downwards, slamming Erinyes’ head against the cold concrete floor.  Erinyes fell off of her, dazed, allowing Trick to jump to her feet and reach another pocket.

“Echolocation, huh?” she asked, pulling out a small pellet.  “Try this on for size!” Trick threw the pellet down next to Erinyes’ head, where it exploded with a flash and a loud BANG.  Erinyes screeched, and Trick ran to put some distance between her and the rest of the Fauns that were starting to make up the distance.

Erinyes recovered quickly – at least enough to continue the chase as the rest of her squad caught up.  The five Fauns raced for the tunnel entrance, only to find Trick stopped there, facing them with her arms crossed.

“Giving up so soon?” Erinyes spat at her.  “I’m disappointed. Fallen made you out to be some kind of demi-god with the tricks you have up your sleeves, but you’re just a lowly human after all.”

“‘Tricks up her sleeve’,” the duck-satyr sniggered.  “I see what you did there.”

“Shut up, Lou,” Erinyes rolled her eyes.

Trick raised an eyebrow at them.  “I’m no god,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.  “I just happen to know something you don’t.”

“Oh yeah?” one of the other Fauns sneered.  “What’s that?”

A burst of electricity shot through the corridor, hitting all five Fauns in a chain of lightning.  “Earthborn’s right behind you,” Trick said dryly as the Fauns all fell, unconscious, to the ground.

“You okay?” Earthborn asked.  As Trick opened her mouth for a sassy reply, he staggered.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” she asked instead.

Earthborn shook his head.  “That’s the fourth time I’ve done that in the last few minutes,” he pointed out.  “Granny and Shadow are tying up the other Fauns now – I need to see Dale.”

“Dark David?” Trick asked hesitantly.

“Yeah, he’s… argh!” Earthborn clutched his head as he cried out in pain.  “He’s trying to break out. I need to get to Dale, now!” He looked up, and his eyes glowed red in the dim corridor.

“Granny, Shadow, come in!” Trick called over her communicator.

On our way to the entrance,” Shadow reported.  “Granny’s got her wolf and dragon carting the Fauns that tried to ambush us.

Shadow took a beating, but he should be fine,” Granny added.  “How are you doing?

“There are five more Fauns lying at the entrance to the tunnels,” Trick told them, helping Earthborn to his feet.  “E.B.’s in bad shape; I’m going to take him back to Dale. Can you guys handle clean-up?”

I’ve already called it in to Agent,” Shadow said.  “We’ll pick up those others on our way out; we should be there in a minute or so.  You go on ahead.

“Got it,” Trick said as she helped Earthborn into the car.  She didn’t like leaving the five Fauns unattended, but they didn’t have any time to waste.  Granny and Shadow could handle themselves against a bunch of tied-up satyrs, and they could get a ride back to Headquarters from Granny’s dragon if need be, after they brought the Fauns to the police.

Trick drove as fast as she could through the city, needing to get Earthborn help as soon as possible.  The protest was already in full swing, with satyrs blocking off many of the streets downtown – Trick had to take three detours before they pulled up into the Asylum tower’s motor pool.

* * * * * * * *

Faun Headquarters.

Parker Fawkes, formerly Blackbird of the Asylum.

Claw looked at Parker from the corner of his eye, not moving a muscle for a long minute after Parker admitted to betraying the Fauns for the Asylum.  Slowly, he smiled. “I know,” he said, taking his claw away from Scott’s neck and giving the kid a fatherly pat on the cheek. “I just wanted to see if you’d come clean.”

The scary part was that he wasn’t angry.  Claw seemed almost gleeful that Parker had confessed.  He turned to look at Parker, putting an arm around Scott’s shoulders.  “You were a Watcher,” he continued. “It stands to reason that you would tell Agent what I had planned.  I had to test your loyalty, see; I told each of my lieutenants something different about tonight’s operation.  So yes, I knew that you were the one to betray me as soon as I saw where the Asylum Watchers were headed.”

“So why’d you call us both here?” Parker asked, confused.  Now that his charade was finally over, a calm settled over his nerves.  He knew that he would die before he could leave this room, so now his only concern was Scott’s safety.

“Fallen, you’re a hybrid,” Claw said, as if explaining to a child.  “Hybrids are rare when born. So far, any attempts to create them have had problematic consequences – they go insane, or they have serious drawbacks.  You’re unique, and I can’t just throw you away that easily.”

Parker’s heart skipped a beat.  There was a chance he might get out of here alive, if he played his cards right.  “What do you want from me?”

“Loyalty,” Claw said, shrugging.  “But since you’ve already proved yourself a traitor, I’ll settle for insurance.”  His left arm still around Scott’s shoulder, Claw used his right hand to point at the table, where a small box sat.  “Open it,” he instructed.

Parker didn’t hesitate.  He went over to the table and picked up the box, opening the lid.  He hadn’t seen it when he first came in the room, but first Claw had been standing in front of it and then his attention had been on Scott.  It was a reasonable oversight, and if Parker had not been scared out of his wits he might have seen what was coming.

The cardboard popped open easily.  Inside was a small, metallic cylinder with a small, unassuming red button on one end.  “Pick it up,” Claw told him.

Parker gingerly took the detonator out of the box.  Tossing the box to one side, he turned back to face Claw, who gave him a smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes.  Claw pulled a remote control out of his pocket, and as he pressed a couple of buttons on it he told Parker, “Stay right there.  I’m just turning on the cameras.” Parker looked into the corners of the room, noting the security cameras as little red lights blinked on.

Claw took a few steps backwards out of the camera’s sights, still hanging onto Scott.  “To leave the room, all you need to do is push the button,” Claw said. “But first, I want to make sure you know all of the consequences.”

He ran a claw under Scott’s chin pointedly.  The gorilla-satyr’s eyes were wide, and he gave Parker a pleading look as Claw silently threatened his life.  Parker gripped the detonator as his heart beat faster.

“That button is a remote detonator,” Claw continued.  “My associate has planted bombs on the top floors of the Asylum tower, where the Watchers live.  Three bombs, to be precise – one in the medical bay, one in the weapons lab, and one in Agent’s office, where all of his spy equipment is based.”

He raised his eyebrows at Parker, who said, “It’ll destroy the Asylum’s infrastructure.  They’ll be crippled for months until they could rebuild.”

“Yes,” Claw confirmed.  “Now, the time is currently…” he checked his watch, to be accurate, “twelve-forty-two in the morning.  At this time of night, the building is closed to their regular workers. The only people in the building would be the Watchers – except at this moment, the Watchers are currently spread out across the city, dealing with the riots that have broken out.”

“Nobody should be in the building,” Parker clarified.  He didn’t doubt Claw’s word – the Faun’s leader was ruthless, but he was no liar.

“Correct,” Claw said.  “Nobody should be in the building.  Now, to be fair, we have no way of confirming that.  So pressing the button is taking a chance with people’s lives.  If you press it, you might kill or seriously injure someone. At the very least, debris from the explosion will fall out onto the street, and any civilians walking by could be injured or killed.”

Claw was careful not to say it, but another stroke of his claw against Scott’s neck showed Parker the ultimatum: either Parker presses the button, or Claw would kill Haley’s brother.

Parker hesitated.  If he pressed the button, chances were that nobody would get hurt.  If he didn’t, then he and Scott would die here and now. Parker took a deep breath to calm his nerves.  If it had just been him in the room with Claw, he would have broken the detonator and thrown it as far away as possible – but he wasn’t alone.  Scott’s life also hung in the balance, and Parker couldn’t be responsible for the other guy’s death.

“The choice is yours, Parker Fawkes,” Claw said, licking his lips.  The psychopath didn’t care what Parker chose – if Parker chose to die, it would be done in a flash, and if he pressed the button then Claw would gain a new lieutenant, as no sane person would testify against Claw as long as he had proof that they had committed this level of terrorism.  Even if nobody was hurt in the blast, Parker would be facing twenty to life for his role in detonating the building. Since Claw had this on camera, while carefully keeping himself and the ultimatum out of it, he could use it any time he thought Parker might turn on him again.

Parker narrowed his eyes at Claw, hating the Faun’s leader for putting him in this position.  He glanced at Scott, seeing the fear on the other guy’s face.

Closing his eyes, Parker made his choice.

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

Natalie Fawkes, AKA Trick.

Outlier was there with a few civilians.  “Trick!” she called as they opened the car doors.  “What happened? You guys stop the gas already?” The civilians crowded around the car, looking the worse for wear.  Nobody seemed injured yet, but all of them were frazzled by the commotion outside.

“There was no gas,” Trick explained, helping Earthborn out of the vehicle.  “It was a set-up. Shadow and Granny are cleaning up now, but we need to get E.B. his treatment soon.”

“Maybe the whole riot rumor was a set-up, then,” Outlier said hopefully.  “Reiki and I have been getting people off the streets who are just caught up in the crowd; apparently the motor pool was designed as a bomb shelter.  They should be safe down here until it blows over. There hasn’t been any violence yet, though, so maybe – ”

Reiki chose that moment to come crashing down, leading a young mother and her two toddlers while flashes of light burst behind them.  “It’s starting!” he called over. He checked to make sure the civilians were okay before coming over to the others. “Some kind of signal went off.  Sounded like gunshots, and suddenly people began pulling out weapons. The police are already out in riot gear, but there are way more protesters than there should be.”

“Better get out there, then,” Outlier said grimly.  “Agent’s downtown at the city capitol building, protecting the government officials – he’ll need our help.”

“No,” Trick told her.  “You and Reiki keep doing what you’re doing.  Agent can take care of things down there; right now, the important thing is to save the civilians.  Earthborn and I will join you after Dale sees him.”

“Better get going,” Reiki said, looking at Earthborn.  “He’s in bad shape.”

“No duh,” Trick said.  “Good luck out there.”

“You too,” Outlier told her, before she and Reiki ran back out into the fray.

It took only a few minutes more before the elevator reached the fourteenth floor.  “Dale! Glad you’re here,” Trick said breathlessly, helping Earthborn to a medical table as she greeted the doctor.  “He’s used too much electricity – he needs treatment!”

Dale’s eyes widened as he shut the lid on a box.  “I have to treat patients downstairs,” he said, grabbing a medical kit and heading for the stairwell door.  “Please, take him and follow me down.”

“He can’t wait,” Trick insisted.  “Look at him!”

Earthborn’s rock armor had crumbled, leaving David’s face exposed.  They could see his eyes burning red like Nightmare’s, and static electricity crackled around him.  Trick’s hair was frizzing from being in contact with him, and David’s face was screwed up in concentration as he fought back against his alternate personality.

“I’m sorry, Trick,” Dale said, heading for the stairs.  “Now that the riots have started, there will be people in the motor pool who will also need immediate treatment.  I’ll treat him on the way down, if you can follow me.”

“It’s fourteen flights down,” Trick pointed out.  “Wouldn’t the elevator be faster?”

Dale looked around, as if dazed.  “Maybe. We don’t have time to debate this, Trick!”

“Dale, come on – he just needs a shot.  You treat Earthborn, and I’ll go stock up on my supplies.  I’ll meet you two downstairs, and we can get back out there.”  Trick opened the door to the stairs despite Dale’s protests, and started up the stairs to her room where she kept her spare tricks.

A flash of heat hit her from behind, and a roaring sound filled her ears.  She was dimly aware of rubble falling around her, before a piece of the building hit her head and she blacked out.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, night.

Nightmare.

It took fifteen minutes for the rest of the team to make it back to the tower.  Firefighters were already at the scene, helping Outlier and Reiki evacuate the civilians from the lobby where they had been waiting out the riots.  They needed to get people as far away as possible, as debris was still raining down from the top floors.

“What happened?” Nightmare asked, looking up in shock.

“Someone planted bombs in our living quarters,” Agent told her, coming from the direction of the Police Chief.  “I was just debriefed. I’ve got the rest of the team helping the evacuation – Granny’s up on the top floors trying to find survivors, and Shadow’s helping get people out down here.”

Nightmare took a deep breath, trying to get her emotions – and her powers – under control.  The last thing they needed in the current atmosphere was more panic and fear. “What about the others?” she asked.  “Outlier and Reiki were supposed to be guarding civilians here.”

“They’re fine – a little shaken up, though,” Agent told her.  “Outlier took a hit from a beam that fell, but aside from a nasty bruise she should be all right.  Reiki’s already helping Shadow. You okay?”

“Fine,” Nightmare told him.  “How can I help?”

“Probably not with the evacuation,” Agent admitted.  “I need eyes – my main server was destroyed. You can help by getting me my data pad from the car.”

Nightmare nodded and ran for the back entrance to the motor pool.  The motor pool was underground and reinforced, meant to act as a bomb shelter for the building.  Most of the civilians that Reiki and Outlier had saved from the riots had been bunkered down there, and none had been injured.  Nightmare dashed down to Agent’s car and grabbed the pad for him, avoiding contact with any of the civilians or rescue workers. Her powers would only hurt the situation, and they made her feel useless in times like this.

She ran back to Agent, staying close in case he needed something else.  Agent turned the data pad on, scanning the many cameras around the city to assess the damage.  At his side, Nightmare grimaced when she saw images of looted businesses and rubble in the streets.  It would take them weeks to clean up the damage. It almost didn’t seem real, watching it through a computer screen – if she hadn’t been out during the riots, seeing the writhing mob destroy everything in its path first-hand, she might have thought it had been a television show.

The sound of a roar brought her back to reality, as Granny landed her dragon in front of them.  Nightmare’s breath caught as she saw the dragon set two bodies down at the medical station. One stirred, and Nightmare saw Dale’s face screwed up in pain as he slowly sat up.  The other body lay deathly still. Nightmare felt Agent tense up next to her as they recognized their teammate.

Granny motioned frantically for everybody near the building to move.  She brought the dragon around, pointing up at the top floors. A loud rumbling started, drowning out anything she might have said.  The dragon began picking people up from around the building, setting them down a ways away from the building as the rumbling grew louder.

“Oh, no…” Agent muttered.  He shoved the data pad into Nightmare’s hands before running to help.  Nightmare looked down at the pad, which showed the view from the news chopper circling the tower.  There was no sound, but she could see a figure standing at the top of the shattered floors.

David swept rubble out of his way with a flick of his hand as he made his way to the edge of the building.  He looked into the camera for a second, grinning maniacally. Nightmare flashed back to the memory of Dark David impaling her as she recognized the expression on his face, and the red eyes that shone in the predawn darkness.

She barely had time to shout before Dark David clenched his fist.  The building shook, rumbling for one long minute before it collapsed.  Nightmare saw through the data pad that David dove off the building, and looked up to see the ground rise up to meet him.  There was a roaring in her ears – someone was screaming, and it almost felt like her own voice. She was dimly aware of Agent running towards her, until a sharp blow to her head left everything mercifully dark.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, the next day.

Aftermath.

Parker kept his hood up in the crisp fall air as he watched the cleaning crews clear the rubble around the building.  He had spent the morning trying to find some kind of news source – he had dumped his burner phone after warning Frank and Natalie two days before, and he had left the one he had gotten as a Faun behind after last night.  The city was still under curfew from the riots, so the papers hadn’t been distributed yet. Aside from the cleaning crews that the government and big businesses in the city coordinated, there was nobody out on the streets.

He closed his eyes, clenching his fists as he tried to remember something – anything – that made sense.

Scott’s safe, he thought.  Claw let him go once I… once it happened.  As soon as Parker had pressed the button, Claw turned off the cameras and released his hostage.  Scott ran for the door without looking back, and never came back to the base. If he’s smart, he’ll go home and forget about the Fauns, Parker thought bitterly.

He couldn’t do the same, no matter how much he wanted to right then.  His home had been destroyed when he pushed that button.

Until he saw the rubble of the tower for himself, Parker had hoped it wasn’t true.  The last few days – the last few months, even – had to all be just a bad dream, and he would wake up any minute.  When he opened his eyes, he’d be on the Asylum’s couch, and Natalie would be giving him grief for napping so long just before their patrol.

A sudden, sharp pain to the back of his head made him open his eyes, bringing him back to reality.  “You have a lot of nerve showing up here,” came Frank’s voice from behind him.

“Frank!” Parker cried, spinning around.  “Thank god!” He stopped suddenly, seeing the state his best friend was in.

Frank was still in his Watcher gear from the night before.  He was covered in dust and bruises as he glared at Parker from behind his goggles.  He held his phone in his hand, letting the news clip play for Parker.

“ – an anonymous source.  The video shows Parker Fawkes, formerly a Watcher of the Asylum, detonating the bombs that destroyed Asylum Tower.  The Asylum had been using the Tower’s underground parking levels as a shelter from the riots. Rescue teams pulled twenty-one injured people from the scene before the building collapsed, killing eleven.  Bodies have been identified as – ”

Frank stopped the clip there.  “Eleven dead,” he repeated. “Four were night shift security guards, and seven others were firefighters and EMTs who were checking to make sure people got out.  Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

“I can explain,” Parker said, closing his eyes again in shame.  He opened them again to say, “I had to do it, Frank.  Nobody was supposed to be there, and – ”

“Maybe I wasn’t clear,” Frank interrupted, clenching his fists at his sides.  “Do you have any idea what all of this has done to the team?”

“They weren’t up there,” Parker pleaded, his heart beating faster as the bottom dropped out of his stomach.  “They couldn’t have been. You guys were supposed to be handling the riots, and the rest of the building is closed at night…”

Frank shook his head, not taking his eyes off of Parker.  “Earthborn needed treatment,” he explained. “Nat had taken him back to see Dale in the medical center – where one of the bombs went off.”

“No,” Parker said, shaking his head.  “No, Nat couldn’t… They aren’t…” He refused to finish the thought.

“Dead?” Frank said the word for him, and Parker hung his head.  “No. They’re not.” Parker glanced back up, hope rising in his chest.  “Earthborn was in enough of his right mind to cover them from the blast.  Granny pulled Dale and Nat out of there with her dragon.”

“And David?” Parker asked.  Frank’s tone was making him dread the next words out of his mouth, but he had to hear it.

“He didn’t get the treatment in time,” he said.

Parker shook his head, trying to deny the accusation he heard in his friend’s voice.  “You said they weren’t dead,” he countered.

“Oh right, you weren’t here for that part,” Frank said.  “Turns out that when he uses too much of his electric powers – like he did in the tunnels last night – David turns into a supervillain.  I mean full-on, stab-Rina-in-the-chest type bad guy. He brought the rest of the tower down before he disappeared.”

“Rina?” Parker asked.

“The stabbing thing was last month,” Frank explained.  “She got better. But right now they have to keep her sedated – between the riots and the building coming down, she’s lost control of her powers.  Agent had to knock her out to keep her from starting another riot last night, and every time she wakes up, she causes a stampede in the hospital. Have you ever seen injured and terminally ill people try to run for cover?” He let out a short laugh, and Parker’s mouth twisted up at the mental image until Frank added, “It probably would have been funny if it didn’t rip IVs out and break bones further.  The hospital staff had to work overtime last night strapping the worst cases down in case it happened again.”

“Where’s Nat?” Parker asked.  “I need to see my sister.”

Frank shook his head.  “She’s still unconscious,” he said.  “Earthborn hit her with a literal ton of bricks while he was saving her life.  She has a bad concussion, and a lot of broken bones.”

“What about the others?”  It was like watching a train wreck – the more Frank told him, the worse the news got.  Parker couldn’t stop listening.

“The riots disbanded when the building came down,” Frank said.  “People who had just been throwing Molotovs came to help us dig through the rubble.  Even the protesters knew you’d gone too far.”

“The others?” Parker asked again.

“There was no gas,” Frank continued, ignoring him.  “I don’t know what Claw plans to do with the vial you gave him, but the riots here were the same as the others around the country.  Mob mentality struck, and five cities are now trying to clean up the mess. I don’t know what you thought this would do, but the anti-satyr feeling is only growing.  Mom’s keeping my sister at home for now – ”

“What about the others?!” Parker was shouting now, his own fear and guilt crushing him like a weight.

“Granny lost her zoo,” Frank said.  “Those stuffed animals she had knit?  She only had the dragon and the wolf on her last night.  The rest of them were in her room, which went up in flames.  I’d steer clear of her if I were you,” he added wryly. “She’s pissed off, and she still has the dragon.”

Parker bit his lip as Frank continued.  Granny loved her zoo; they were living creatures when she was around, after all.  But there was more to worry about. “Reiki’s fine,” Frank said, “but he’s worried about the girls, who are all in the hospital right now.  Haley was hit in the shoulder by a falling cinderblock in the first explosion – her collarbone is broken, but she’s still looking to patrol today because apparently she’s a masochist.  Let’s see…” he began counting on his fingers. “I told you about Rina and Nat. And David. Chip wasn’t there last night. Dale was dazed, but he’ll be okay – he says he was right next to Earthborn when the bomb went off, but Nat was on the staircase.  E.B. didn’t need to throw rocks at Dale like he did her. But Agent’s only barely keeping his head above water.”

“Why?” Parker jumped on the news.  “What’s wrong with him?”

“What do you think is wrong with him?” Frank asked.  “A teammate turned on the rest of us, another one disappeared, and half the remaining team is down for the count.  This isn’t the first time it’s happened to him, too – Team Ark disbanded for less!”

“I had a reason…” Parker said weakly.  After hearing about the fallout, it sounded bad to him, too.

“Eleven people are dead, Parker,” Frank reminded him.  “Your own sister was nearly one of them. Your team could have been on that list, too.  The country wants to blame you for the nationwide riots last night, too. Agent already gave the order to arrest you.”

Parker had to laugh at that.  “Arrest me?” he repeated. “In the aftermath of Claw’s riots?  They’d throw the book at me!”

“Claw wasn’t on the video,” Frank said, shrugging.  “You were.”

“You know I was being coerced,” Parker said, almost asking.  “Claw would have killed someone right then and there if I hadn’t pressed the button.  The building was supposed to be empty – I traded the building for Scott’s life.” He put a hand on Frank’s shoulder.  “You believe me, right?”

Frank looked away, staring at the rubble heap that had once been Asylum Tower.  Pulling out of Parker’s grip, he said, “I want to believe you, buddy. I can only see it from hindsight – but there’s just so much damage… I don’t even know if the team can recover from this.”

Parker let his hand drop to his side.  “Are you going to take me in?” he asked.

Frank hesitated.  He pressed his lips together, coming to a decision, before saying, “I’m supposed to.  I got banged up in the riots last night, too – I couldn’t force you to come with me. I won’t fight you, buddy.  At least, not now.” He turned around, calling back as he walked away, “I’ll have to arrest you if I ever see you again.”

Parker watched his old friend until Frank rounded a corner.  He put his hands back into his hoodie pockets and turned to get away from the rubble.  As he wasn’t watching where he was going, he nearly ran into a man in a suit.

“Excuse me,” he muttered, moving to walk around him.

The man grabbed his arm with a gloved hand, making Parker look at his face for the first time.  The well-dressed man was wearing a mask, smiling kindly at him. “Parker Fawkes?” he asked.

“You’re Jaunt,” Parker said, freezing in his tracks.  “You broke up Team Ark!”

“And you just broke up the Asylum,” Jaunt reminded him.  Parker hung his head, all fight leaving him for the shame.  “The whole country is calling you the worst criminal since… well, since me.  Everyone knows your face by now, because you broke their heroes. You have no place to go, and nothing to do – except, of course, run from the law.”

Parker sighed.  “What do you want?” he asked.  “Here to rub it in?”

“No,” Jaunt said.  “I’m here to offer you a job.”

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, outside of the former tower.

Frank Mejia, AKA Shadow.

Frank walked away from Parker with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, everything was falling apart around them, and it was all Parker’s fault.  On the other hand, Parker had been one of his best friends since middle school. Injuries and exhaustion aside, Frank couldn’t fight him.  So he had let him go.

As his stomach rumbled, Frank realized that he hadn’t eaten yet.  His body was screaming at him to find someplace to sleep – he had been awake for nearly two days now.  His muscles were on fire, and it hurt to move. His eyes kept closing, too – so he didn’t see the kid until he ran into him.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, his eyes snapping open.  “I didn’t think anybody was out now. Curfew, and all.”

“Not a problem, Shadow,” the kid said.  He was a teenager, at least – obviously younger than Frank, but not yet fully grown.  Frank was used to people recognizing him, so the kid calling him “Shadow” wasn’t out of place.

“Look, you should go home,” Frank told him.  “The Asylum is still patrolling, but law enforcement is stretched thin right now.  It’s not safe.”

“Oh, I agree,” the teenager said.  “It isn’t safe right now. But it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.”

Frank frowned.  “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, wondering if the scrawny teenager knew something he didn’t.

The kid looked him up and down.  “I’d have preferred to get you at your best, but you’ll have to do as-is,” he said cryptically.  He held out a hand for Frank to shake, adding, “My name is Janus, by the way.”

“Shadow,” Frank said, shaking the kid’s hand reflexively.

Janus grinned, tightening his grip.  “Good to officially meet you, Shadow,” he said.  “On your side, anyways. Now, please come with me.”

It wasn’t a request.  As Janus’ grip tightened, the air around them turned opaque – as if a thick fog had settled over everything.  It cleared in what felt like only a few seconds later, but when he looked around, the sun had set.

Looking to his left, Frank saw that the Asylum Tower was suddenly whole again.  It looked a little different from before, but there was a building where only seconds ago there had been rubble.  The air smelled different; there was a distinct odor that hadn’t been there before, and Frank saw trash lining the streets.

Janus began pulling him back towards the tower.  “Come on, Shadow,” he said. “You need to meet yourself.”

“Wait, what the heck just happened?” Frank asked, pulling his hand out of the kid’s grip.  “This is Eon City, but it’s not – where am I?”

Janus turned back and gave him an exasperated look.  “I keep forgetting this is your first time,” he sighed.  “I know you’ll need a warning or five about what’s coming, but it still should be obvious.”

Frank just glared at him until he answered the question.  “Oh, all right,” Janus said. “You’re right – this is still Eon City.  Just, for you it hasn’t happened yet.” He grinned, throwing his arms out in a ta-da gesture.  “Welcome to your future,” he added.  “Hope you enjoy the show!”

* * * * * * * *

 

The Asylum will return after the mid-season break.

Issue #12 – Butterfly Net

Olympus – the ruins of a once-great civilization.

The timetable is accelerating.

“He said we had two Earth years,” Jaunt said, glaring from behind his dust mask.  “He promised!” The dry desert air chafed his exposed forehead, but he was too focused on his current problem to bother putting on a hat.

The blue-tinged hologram he addressed smiled pleasantly at him.  “He did not lie. He will arrive in two years, two weeks, five days, four hours, two minutes – ”

“Then why are you taking over?” Jaunt demanded.  “I promised to have a candidate ready, and I meant that I would find one!”

“There is a candidate we have scouted,” the hologram said.  “We simply intend to test them. They are currently incomplete, but show an indication of aptitude for the prerequisites.”

Jaunt rolled his eyes.  “And exactly what ‘aptitude’ are you talking about?” he asked.  “If they don’t meet your standards, then why bother?”

“Humans have shown a resilience, particularly this one,” the hologram said.  “They adapt easily, and can be molded to fit the standard if they show the proper aptitude.  Based on your current reports, this one seems promising.”

“So you’re just going to take over now, is that it?” Jaunt demanded.  “I have done more than a decade’s worth of research for you, trying to find the best candidate, and you just take a random kid?”

“The selection was hardly random,” the hologram said, still giving Jaunt that annoying, mechanical smile.  “We have received your data on the team known as ‘The Asylum’, and made a preliminary hypothesis about one of the members.  Given the data provided, we think she will be an excellent candidate.” The hologram’s face didn’t change, but it moved closer in a slightly threatening manner.  “Of course, if you disagree with our assessment, we can always change the timetable. However, given his excitement over the current rounds, I cannot imagine that he would be pleased with you interrupting him.”

“You’re a machine,” Jaunt countered, hiding a shudder at the veiled threat, “you can’t imagine anything.”  He sighed in defeat, adding, “Nevertheless, I see your point. Fine; if you want to waste your time with an unqualified candidate, be my guest.  I’ll be continuing my other research.”

“Very good,” the hologram said, backing up.  “I look forward to working with you.”

Before it could disappear on him, Jaunt asked, “Hey, which Asylum member are we testing?”

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, evening.

Casey’s bar.

“Woo-hoo!” Natalie cried, slamming a shot glass down on the table.  “I win! Pay up.”

Haley shook her head, pulling her wallet out of her pocket.  “I can’t believe you just took ten shots of Jack,” she said, handing Natalie a twenty-dollar bill.  “Good thing we walked here.”

The bar was only a few blocks away from Headquarters, so Haley, Natalie, and Reiki had decided to walk down for a change of scenery after their patrols.  Earthborn and Granny were busy with the evening patrol, and Frank and Rina declined to join them; neither of them drank alcohol. Rina said it made her nauseous, and Frank just didn’t like the taste.  Since they also had the night patrol, they decided to just stay at Headquarters until the shift change.

“Ah, this is nothing,” Natalie said, grinning.  “Agent has rules about us getting too drunk in our off-hours; my limit is thirteen.”

“Though you still hope that we aren’t called in,” Reiki pointed out.  “Especially not tomorrow morning.”

Natalie shrugged, picking up a shot glass from the table in front of her and licking the rim.  “I don’t get hangovers,” she pointed out. “I’ll be fine.”

“That may be,” said Casey as she cleared the empty glasses off of their table, “but you’re still cut off.”  Cassandra “Casey” Johnson was an old teammate of Agent’s from Team Ark. Despite her codename being “Sparrow”, Casey was a Third Gen with the ability to see the future.  She still reported her visions to Agent, but was otherwise retired from Watcher work.

“Come on, Casey,” Natalie pleaded.  “Just one more?”

“Nope,” Casey said, picking up the shot glasses and putting them on a tray, “Agent would kill me if he found out I served you this much.”  She took the one out of Natalie’s hand last, bringing them back to the dishwasher behind the bar.

“Fine then,” Natalie said.  “Anybody up for karaoke?”

Haley pursed her lips.  “I don’t sing,” she said.

“Sure you do,” Natalie told her.  “I heard you last week, singing that one song for the doctor…”

“‘Lavender Blue’ is an old tune my mom taught me as a kid,” Haley pointed out.  The night was young, but she had to raise her voice over the growing din of customers.  “I hummed a few bars to distract the mark; that’s very different from singing a pop song in front of everybody.”

“You’re no fun,” Natalie said.  She stood up from the table and grabbed Haley and Reiki’s hands.  “If you won’t sing, then at least come dance.”

The bar had a dance floor in the back room, while karaoke was done in the front.  On the weekends the place was crawling with satyrs, Third Gens, and humans all looking for a good time.  Casey had a heavy hand and a good wait staff, so her place was pretty popular.

Haley groaned, but got up – she knew that Natalie wouldn’t let it go unless she did one or the other, and dancing seemed like the lesser evil.  After a sharp tug on his arm by the insistent Natalie, Reiki got up as well. He and Haley exchanged glances as they allowed Natalie to drag them to the dance floor.

After a few minutes of awkward movement, Natalie stopped and put her hands on her hips.  “Haven’t you guys ever been clubbing before?” she asked.

Haley was stiff in her movements, self-conscious of the people watching from the sidelines.  In contrast, Reiki looked like he was having an upright seizure: his arms were flailing while his feet tangled around each other.  Natalie stopped them, shaking her head. “Come on guys, like this.” She demonstrated, keeping her feet close together while she swayed to the beat of the music.

Haley tried to copy her, but Reiki just shook his head and went to find a seat on the sidelines.  Watching him leave, Natalie shrugged. “Oh well, looks like we’re the ones having fun tonight. Right Haley?”

“I’m not sure I call this ‘fun’,” Haley pointed out.  People were beginning to look their way; as Watchers of the Asylum, most of the city knew their faces.  Even though most of Casey’s other patrons were also Watchers, Haley could just see a video of her awkward dancing going viral.

“If you’re really that worried about it,” Natalie told her, “then I’ll take the pressure off of you!”

Natalie left Haley’s side, moving to the center of the dance floor.  She strutted to the beat of the music in a large circle, opening up some room in the dancers as the song changed.  When the first beat dropped in the new song, she began to really let loose.

When they were kids, Natalie had trained in many styles of dancing with her brother.  Along with some of the acrobatics she learned when training to be a Watcher, she combined different dance styles into something graceful and unique.  Once the spotlight was on her instead of Haley, the bigger, less coordinated girl faded back to the sidelines.

After a minute of watching Natalie on the dance floor, a vaguely familiar voice came over Haley’s shoulder.  “She really does love the spotlight, doesn’t she?”

Haley spun around, coming face-to-face with Eli Howard, also known as the mercenary Watcher, Butterfly.  “You!” she cried, startled. “What are you doing here?”

“Can we talk?” he asked, gesturing for them to take it outside.  Haley nodded, allowing him to lead her out the front door.

Once they were outside in the brisk summer night air, Haley asked, “What is it?”

Eli was looking around for something.  “I just wanted to see how you were,” he said distractedly.  “I haven’t seen you in a while, and I thought we could talk.”

Haley narrowed her eyes.  “You know where I live,” she said. “If you wanted to talk, then why follow me to the bar?”

“That’s presumptuous,” Eli scoffed, his eyes still darting around.  “What makes you think I followed you here? I happen to like Casey’s.”

“Then what are you looking for?” Haley asked.  “You’re acting shifty. I think I’m going to get the others.”

“Wait,” Eli said.  “You know Trick hates me.”

Haley shrugged, turning to go back inside.  Eli grabbed her arm, and years of fighting practice took over; reflexively, Haley swung his arm up behind him and held it there, slamming Eli up against the wall of the bar.

“Why did you want me out here?” she asked.  “No lies this time!”

“I don’t know,” Eli admitted, his face pressed painfully up against the bricks.  “I was paid to just get you out of the bar and away from the others.”

“What?” Haley asked.  “Paid by who?”

A bright, bluish spotlight came down on them.  “I assume by them,” Eli said, glancing up at the source.

Haley shoved him against the wall again in annoyance.  A tingling sensation ran up her spine, and she suddenly couldn’t feel anything – not the night air on her face, not the concrete under her feet, not even Eli, who looked as if he was dissolving in front of her.  Haley looked down at her hands, noting with detached alarm that she could see straight through her hands. She tried to look up at the spotlight’s source, but her vision chose that moment to go white.

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters, the next morning.

Natalie Fawkes, AKA Trick.

Natalie fought back a yawn as she poured herself a bowl of cereal.  She might not get hangovers, but the dancing and alcohol from the night before really took it out of her.  It was lucky that her patrol shift didn’t start until the afternoon; she could stand for some downtime until then.  Poor Reiki had the early morning shift; it was a good thing he didn’t dance much the night before. Natalie’s muscles ached from the hours-long unscheduled workout she had given them.

She had just decided to get a glass of water with her cereal when Agent stormed into the living area.  “It was pretty stupid to get that wasted last night,” he said loudly, crossing his arms.

“Wasted?” Natalie asked, blinking innocently.  “What ever gave you that idea?”

Agent gestured to his data pad.  “We keep track of your vitals, remember?” he said.  “If I had needed you three, you wouldn’t have been fit for duty.  You guys already missed training this morning.”

Natalie’s heart skipped a beat in nervousness.  “I didn’t have training this morning,” she said, shaking her head and checking her schedule.  “I double-checked before we left last night – yep, says right here: I have patrol this afternoon, but I have the morning off.”

Agent took a breath before responding, irritated.  “I know you didn’t,” he told her, “but Haley did. And Reiki was ten minutes late this morning.”

“Then why are you asking me?” Natalie said, turning on the sink for her water.

“Because you’re here,” Agent said, “and the others aren’t.  I’ll be having words with them, too.”

“Reiki didn’t drink that much last night,” Natalie told him.  “He had, like, two beers. He was swaying a bit on the way home, but I thought he was just dancing.  He should have been fine this morning.”

“And Haley?” Agent asked.  “I’ve never had a problem with her before, and I don’t want your influence rubbing off on her.”

“Because I’m such a bad influence?” Natalie said sweetly, grinning at him.

Agent smiled despite himself.  “Exactly,” he chuckled. “Do you know where she is?”

“No idea,” Natalie said, shrugging.  “Haley left a couple of hours before me and Reiki last night.  Casey said she left with Butterfly, so I assumed she had just gone home with him.”  She took a swig of water before adding, “Don’t you keep track of our vitals? She’s fine, right?”

“Her chip malfunctioned last night,” Agent admitted.  “I was going to tell her at training this morning to see Dale to have it checked out, but then she didn’t show up.”

Natalie finished chugging her water and refilled the cup.  “She left with Butterfly last night,” she repeated. “You might try asking him.”

“I’ll make the call,” Agent said.  “If you see Haley, tell her I’m looking for her.  And don’t you be late for your shift,” he added.

Natalie gave him a mock salute.  “Yes, mon capitan,” she said.  As Agent left for his office, she picked up her spoon and stared at it.

Last night at the bar hadn’t been a first for the group – Natalie dragged them out every other week to blow off some steam.  Haley had never skipped training before; she loved the job too much.

Shaking her head, Natalie began eating her breakfast.  It’s probably nothing, she thought.

She couldn’t shake a nagging feeling in the back of her mind, as if she had missed something important.

* * * * * * * *

A metallic room, on board a ship.

Haley Prince, AKA Outlier.

Haley groaned as she sat up.  Her head was pounding, and her mouth tasted like sandpaper.  She could hear a feint humming noise, and the metal floor beneath her seemed to be slightly vibrating.

Remembering what had happened the night before, Haley’s eyes snapped open.  She was alone in a large, sterile room; there was no furniture, no door, and she couldn’t even tell where the light was coming from.  It seemed as bright as any office in the room, but there were no lamps, windows, or overhead lights.

“What the hell?” she asked herself, standing up.  She still wore her casual outfit from the night before: a sleeveless floral-patterned nylon shirt, a knee-length black skirt, and dress sandals.

“Hello?” she called angrily.  “What the hell am I doing here?  What’s going on?”

As if summoned by Haley’s questions, a small bluish figure appeared out of nowhere in front of her.  It looked kind of like a little girl, with high cheekbones and big eyes. On second glance, however, she could see that it had ridges on her nose, and long, pointed ears.  The little girl was wearing long robes that covered her feet; it took Haley a second to realize that she had no feet, and was floating a foot off of the ground. The girl flickered, and Haley realized that she was just a projection.

A holographic screen appeared across the girl’s chest.  Words began typing across it, as if the girl were speaking.

Hello.  My name is Ayu, it wrote.  How might I be of assistance?

“Um, hello?” Haley said once she got over the initial shock of the girl’s appearance.  “Where am I, and why the hell am I here?”

You have been selected.  The little girl had a pleasant smile on her face, but it didn’t meet her eyes.  We require you for testing.

“‘Testing’?” Haley asked.  “What testing?”

You have exhibited traits that we find desirable, Ayu wrote.  We would like to see if you have more.

“What do you mean, ‘desirable’?” Haley asked.  “What have I done?”

You are the hero known as ‘Outlier’ on your planet, correct? Ayu said.  You have caught our attention.

Haley rolled her eyes.  “So I ask again: What have I done?  I just started as a Watcher three months ago.”

In that time, you have been tested along with the other members of your team, Ayu explained.  You have demonstrated wit, cunning, patience, diligence, discipline –

“As much as I enjoy being complimented,” Haley said, interrupting the list, “I must insist you take me back.  I have training in the morning, and I’d like to punch Eli in the face before bed.”

It is midday in your sector of Earth, Ayu told her.  It has been twelve Earth hours since you arrived on board.

“Twelve hours?” Haley sputtered.  “What… why?”

The transfer can be difficult for a species that has not yet adapted to space travel, Ayu explained.  You needed to… “sleep it off”.

“You’re kidding,” Haley said, exasperated.  “Fine. I missed training. I still need to get back; or am I a prisoner here?”

You will be tested, Ayu wrote.  Then you will be returned.

“Tested for what?” Haley asked.

Testing will begin shortly.  Please enter the next room, Ayu wrote.

A door opened in the wall in front of Haley.  Sighing in annoyance, she stepped through. “Better get this over with,” she muttered.

The next room was just as sparse as the one she had left, with two key differences.  First, there was a big red button on the far wall – which was about twenty feet away from the entrance.

Second, Eli stood on one side of the room.

“You!” Haley started towards him, flexing her arm threateningly.

“Now, hang on one second,” Eli said, putting his hands out as if to hold her back.  “I was just doing a job, and now I’m stuck here just like you.”

“A job, huh?” Haley said.  “You get me away from my teammates, so that I can be abducted and brought to who-knows-where, and I have some kind of alien kid telling me that I have to be ‘tested’ before I can go home.  That was a ‘job’ to you?” She strode over to him and grabbed him by the collar.

Eli shrugged.  “It paid well,” he said.  “They just want to see what you’re made of, then we can go back.”

“When we get back, I’m getting Agent to lock you up,” Haley told him, letting him go.  “I agree with Natalie and Frank: you’re a menace.”

“Whatever,” Eli said, straightening his shirt and rubbing his neck.

Haley looked around at the room.  “So when is this ‘test’ supposed to start?” she asked the room.

Nothing visibly happened, but the soft hum of energy was suddenly in the room with them.  A female voice spoke over an intercom, saying, “The test has begun. Push the button.”

“That’s it?” Haley asked.  “Just push that big button over there?”

“Push the button,” the disembodied voice said again.

Raising her eyebrows, Haley started forward.  Eli shook his head. “Wait, Outlier, maybe we should – ”

“You don’t get to talk,” Haley said, walking backwards.  “I’m taking this test, and getting us out of here so I can bring you in.”

“I’m just saying, it can’t be that easy,” Eli said, putting his hands on his hips.

Haley ignored him with a wave of her hand as she turned back around – just in time to walk face-first into an invisible wall.  “Ow,” she said, rubbing her nose where she hit it. “Damn.”

“Told you,” Eli said, smirking.  “What kind of idiot are you? Of course there’s going to be something else to it.”

Haley turned to glare at him.  “Okay, smart-ass,” she said. “What do you recommend?”

“No idea.”  Eli shrugged, walking over to her and feeling for the invisible wall.  “I’m guessing it’ll be a maze.”

As if it heard him, the voice said again, “Push the button.” Haley looked around the room, but she couldn’t tell where the wall was or which way to go.

This was going to be harder than she thought.

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters, evening.

Outlier has been missing for twenty hours.

“You haven’t seen him either?” Agent was taking a call in the common room, as most of the team gathered to compare notes.  “… Okay. Let me know if he turns up.” He hung up, turning back to the others. “Haley didn’t show up for her patrol this evening,” he said.  “I checked with building security, and she didn’t come back last night after the bar. The last time anybody saw her was when she left the bar with Butterfly – I just heard from some of my contacts on that end, and nobody’s seen him, either.”

“That’s not so unusual for Butterfly, though,” Rina pointed out.  “He comes and goes as he wants.”

“But Haley is Miss Perfect,” Natalie pointed out.  “She’s never so much as stepped a toe out of line before; she wouldn’t just disappear on us.”

Frank pulled his uniform hoodie over his head, getting ready for his patrol as he spoke.  “So what do you want us to do about it?” he asked. “Any places we should check?”

“I have another person to check with,” Agent said.  “If you guys could canvas the city, that might turn something up.  Earthborn is currently checking the tunnels, to see if either of them turn up down there.  I’m also asking Toby to check with the Fauns – she can get in and out of there a lot more discreetly than any of you, and she won’t raise a flag with them.  I’m not sure what other enemies she might have made,” he admitted. “Our best bet is to figure out where Butterfly might have taken her. I have a list of his usual haunts; you guys check these places out.”

He set a very short list down on the counter.  Natalie took one look and raised an eyebrow at him.  “You’re kidding, right?” she asked. “‘Butterfly Garden’, a studio on the north side, and then a few dives?”

“He’s a pretty straightforward guy,” Agent said, shrugging.  “If he’s in the city, he’s usually at these places unless he’s on a job.”

Granny stood up from a chair in the corner.  “I’ll check out some of the dives,” she said.  “I can handle myself if there’s trouble – though most people wouldn’t trouble an old lady,” she added with an impish grin.

“I’ll take the studio,” Natalie said.  “If he took Haley somewhere, I doubt we’ll find them at any of these places, though.”

“I’ll check out Butterfly Garden,” Frank said.

“That leaves me splitting the dives with Granny,” Rina said.

Agent nodded.  “You have your assignments, then,” he told them.  “Get to it.”

* * * * * * * *

The Invisible Maze.

Haley and Eli, still trapped.

“Push the button,” came the robotic voice yet again.

Haley was really starting to hate that voice.

“I’m trying,” she growled, as Eli laughed at her.  She spun to face him. “What’s so funny?” she demanded.

“You,” Eli said, still chuckling.  “You’re yelling at a machine.”

“Oh, she knows what she’s done,” Haley said, shouting.  Whether she was shouting at him, or the voice, or at the general situation, she wasn’t sure.  “She knows exactly what she’s done!  We’ve been at this for two hours now, and not only can I not figure out where we’ve gone wrong, but the only path I can seem to find leads us to the wrong wall!”

“Aren’t you supposed to be some kind of genius?” Eli asked, mocking her.

Haley took an angry breath.  “I have an eidetic memory,” she said.  “In this case, that means I can draw a map in my mind of where the walls we’ve found are.  But no matter which way we go, it always leads us back to this one point – nowhere near the button!”

“And of course we can’t climb it,” Eli said, also frustrated.  “We can’t see how high it is, but the sides are smooth, and apparently the top is out of jumping range.”

“It’s a stupid optical illusion,” Haley fumed, pounding her fist on the nearest invisible wall.  “I don’t know how she’s doing it, but I swear, next time she shows that smug little holographic face…”

“You’ll beat up a kid?” Eli said.  “Or will you just throw your fists through the air, since holograms don’t actually have bodies to hit?”

Haley pressed her lips together in annoyance.  “You know,” she said, “you have a body I could hit.  Maybe I’ll just take out my anger on you.”

“Idle threat,” Eli said, completely unconcerned.  “You’d never hit me. It goes against that whole Asylum ‘holier-than-thou’ complex you’ve got.”

“Lucky you,” Haley said drily.  She pounded her fist against the wall again.

Something suddenly occurred to her.  She hit her fist against the wall again, but more thoughtfully than angrily this time.  “The walls all lead back to this spot,” she muttered.

“Oh, gears finally turning in that rusty brain of yours?” Eli said.

“Are you trying to be annoying, or does it just come naturally to you?” Haley asked.

Eli shrugged, putting his hands behind his head.  “It’s a gift,” he answered.

“Well, if you’d shut up for a minute, you might figure it out, too.”  Haley walked over the metal wall, feeling the invisible one beside her as she went.  “We’re still assuming that what we see matters,” she explained. “We can’t see the walls in the middle of the room…”

She put her hand on the metal wall, but met no resistance.  Eli stared as her hand went through the wall. “So why would the walls on the edge of the room be real?” he finished.

Haley stepped through the holographic wall, coming into another room on the other side.  This room glowed green, and the invisible walls reflected the light enough to be seen – though they were still sheer enough to see what was on the other side, at least now they showed up to the naked eye.

“Video game logic,” Haley muttered as Eli stepped through the wall behind her.  “Rina’s much better at those.”

“Well, we’re not done yet,” Eli said.  He clapped her on the shoulder, then walked ahead.  There was a soft click as he stepped on a loose tile on the floor.

“Wait!” Haley cried, pulling him back.

Three knives flew in front of Eli’s face, where he would have been standing if Haley hadn’t stopped him.  “Whoa,” he muttered, his eyes wide.

“Video game logic,” Haley repeated.  “Rina’s always telling me that you have to be careful of traps in dungeons like this.”

“Noted,” Eli said, pulling his arm out of her grip.  “So what do we do?”

“No idea,” Haley said, peering around through the green light.  “I’m horrible at these kinds of games.”

The voice chose that moment to come back on.  “Push the button.”

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, Butterfly Garden.

Frank Mejia, AKA Shadow.

“He lives here?” Shadow asked the groundskeeper, looking around at the field.

Butterfly Garden was a nature preserve on the edge of Eon City, where hundreds of butterflies nested.  The air around them was moist, as the garden was kept at optimal conditions for the winged insects. The smell of the plants around them was unlike anything Shadow could smell in the city – the air was fresh, and the dew sparkled in the sunset.

The groundskeeper shrugged.  “Eli often comes and helps out with the grounds,” he said.  “So I let him kip out here when the weather’s nice, or in the main building when it’s not.  He’s got a way with the butterflies, see – he moves like them, and he can walk into the middle of a flock without hurting any of them.  It’s that Third Gen power of his, all kinds of useful.”

Shadow stopped gazing around the picturesque garden to look at the groundskeeper.  “When was the last time he came here?” he asked.

“Few days ago,” the man said.  “He’s a drifter, that one – he don’t hang around much.  He just likes the butterflies, when he’s got no other place to go.”

“So he didn’t come here last night?” Shadow asked, his shoulders slumping slightly.  The garden was a dead end.

“Nope,” said the groundskeeper.  “Try the Essex Studio across town – he sometimes talks about going there.”

“Thanks,” Shadow said, turning away and turning on his com unit.  “Butterfly Garden was a dead end. Any luck, guys?”

* * * * * * * *

Green Room.

Haley Prince, on her last nerve.

“Push the button,” said the robotic voice.

Haley started mocking it.  “Push the button, push the button,” she said.  “I know I have to push the freaking button – I’m just not sure how to get there!”

The floor was covered in hidden switches, and it seemed like every time they made some progress something would force them back.  They were still a ways away from wherever the maze was leading them this time, and had already had to backtrack twice.

“I think we have to go through the choke point,” Eli said, citing a spot they had passed twice due to the size of the spinning blades shooting from the walls.

“And what, dance our way through?” Haley asked sarcastically.  “Every time we try going there, it’s a close call.”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense,” Eli argued.  “We’ve tried all of the other paths – the other walls are all solid!”

“I know, I know,” Haley said.  “I just have a really bad feeling about that one.”

Eli shrugged.  “Doesn’t that mean it’s the right path?” he asked.  “Video game logic, remember?”

Haley rolled her eyes, but she led the way back to the choke point.  There were two spinning buzzsaws moving quickly up and down the corridor, but they had already discovered that other traps were peppered along the way.

“On three?” Eli asked.

“Okay,” Haley said, a nervous feeling in her stomach.  She hadn’t felt such a sinking feeling since her last Watcher license rejection.  “One… two… three!”

She darted forward, keeping an eye peeled on the ground for the loose tiles that indicated a trap.  Dodging the blades on the sides, she saw the first volley of arrows zip out of the wall in front of her with a SHUNK.

“Allow me, milady,” Eli said, coming up beside her and using a break in the saws to get in front.  He tapped out a beat on his leg with his fingers, counting the time between arrow volleys. In rhythm, he said, “Three, two, one, now!” and pulled Haley forward.  He stopped suddenly, allowing another volley to pass in front of him before pulling her again.

Five volleys later, they had made it to the other side.  “That was incredible!” Haley said, looking at him in awe.  “How did you know?”

“My Third Gen ability is hyper-proprioception,” Eli explained, grinning at the praise.  “I know exactly where I am in regards to everything around me. It gives me excellent aim, and – more importantly – a really good sense of timing.  Come on, let’s move.”

He took one step, straight onto a trap tile.  A knife shot out of the wall, aimed straight at his head.

“Watch it!” Haley said, catching the blade just before it reached Eli’s head.

His eyes widened as he turned to see how close he had come to dying.  “Thanks,” he said as Haley dropped the knife.

Haley swore.  “I’m still in my clubbing clothes,” she muttered, looking down at her outfit as she held her hand away from her body.  Blood began to well up in her palm from where she had gripped the edges of the blade.

“Afraid of getting a bit of blood on your pretty shirt?” Eli teased.

“No,” Haley said.  “I just don’t have my first-aid supplies; they were in my purse, which I left in the club.”  She shook her head, wincing as the blood in her hand began dripping onto the floor. “From now on, I’m not going anywhere without my utility belt.”

“Here,” Eli said, taking off his shirt and handing it to her.  “Wrap it with that. Least I can do, since you saved my life and all.”

Haley took it, thanking him.  She gripped one of the sleeves with the bleeding hand and wrapped the cloth tightly around it.  “Well, it looks like we made it to the wall,” she said.

Eli picked the bloody knife up off the floor and slipped it into his pocket.  “Never know when a weapon might come in handy,” he said. “No pun intended.”

“Ha ha,” Haley said dryly.  “Let’s see what’s next.”

The two Watchers stepped through the wall into the next room, which was bathed in a red glow.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, Essex Studio.

Natalie Fawkes, AKA Trick.

“Trick here,” she said over the coms.  “The studio is a bust, too. They haven’t seen Eli since yesterday morning.”

Roger,” Agent told her.  “You and Shadow check out the next bars on the list.

“How are things on your end?” Trick asked him, getting onto her motorcycle and revving up the engine.  “Any leads from your contacts?”

No,” Agent sounded mad.  “They are being purposefully vague in their answers.  I think they know something, but they aren’t talking.

Trick pressed her lips together as she drove off.  “Want me to go kick their asses for you, Agent?” she asked.

I’d love that, actually,” Agent admitted, “but it’s more than my job’s worth at this point.  Did the studio tell you anything?

“It’s a gymnastics studio,” Trick said.  “Butterfly’s been a gymnast since he was a kid.  Who knew?”

The guy sleeps in a field of butterflies,” Shadow added over the coms.  “At this point, I don’t think anything would surprise me about him.

“Apparently he’s pretty good.  He teaches gymnastics to kids in his spare time,” Trick said.  “He’s got that in common with Haley, at least.”

Haley isn’t in the Watcher business for the money, though,” Agent pointed out.  Trick could hear the worry in his voice.  “We still need to find her; if she isn’t back yet, then there’s something wrong.

“We’ll find her,” Trick promised.  In the silence that followed, she knew that Agent was remembering the day they found her mom.  She might not get along with the Outlier, but Trick hoped that history wouldn’t repeat itself.

* * * * * * * *

Red Room.

Haley and Eli, and a lot of fire.

“Something’s wrong,” Eli said, looking at Haley.  “Why are you losing so much blood?” She had already re-wrapped the shirt twice, and it was nearly soaked through.

Haley looked down at it and grimaced.  “My blood doesn’t clot,” she told him. “It’ll keep bleeding until I get to a first-aid kit.”

Her face appeared bright red in this room, reflecting the light around them.  Eli couldn’t tell in the light, but he thought she looked paler than she had in the last room.  “Hang on,” he said, counting the time for the next trap. “We’re almost through this one.”

“You know that for sure, huh?” Haley asked him.  She had let him take the lead a while ago, as her head was starting to get fuzzy.  “We could be going around in circles for all I know.”

“What happened to that eidetic memory of yours, huh?” Eli asked.  “Shouldn’t you know where we are?”

Haley shook her head, stumbling.  “I lost track after the last fire burst,” she admitted.  “I could really use some water.”

The red room didn’t use blades and switches like the green room had done.  Instead, flames shot in random patterns through the corridors. They could see the jets that would shoot the flames, which was a blessing – they could avoid getting burned, though the temperature in the room rose with each burst of fire.  The main walls were still metallic – if they didn’t find their way through soon, they could be cooked alive.

Eli tried to wipe the sweat off his forehead, only to find that his hand was too wet to do any good.  Haley was worse off – she was swaying, and her breathing was coming more heavily. The dry air burned, and he knew they needed more than water to make it through.

“We need to stop the bleeding,” he said. He began to shout to the air, “Hey, hologram lady!  She needs medical attention if you want us to finish!”

“Push the button,” the voice repeated.

“She’s no help,” Haley said, shaking her head in an attempt to clear the dizziness.  She began to unwrap the shirt from her hand. “If bandaging isn’t working, then I’m going to need to cauterize it,” she told Eli.

Confused, Eli asked, “What do you mean, ‘cauterize it’?”  He looked back just in time to see Haley grab the metal base of a flame jet with her injured hand.  “Hey!”

Haley gritted her teeth as the jet roared to life, keeping her head and torso as far away from it as possible.  When the fire died, she pried her hand from the metal surface and cradled her arm. “Bleeding stopped,” she muttered, shivering in pain.

“Here, let me see,” Eli said, reaching for the injured hand.  Her palm was charred, and her fingers were covered in blisters.

“I don’t even feel it,” Haley told him, smiling weakly.

“Yeah, because the nerves are fried,” Eli said.

Haley gingerly yanked her hand away from him.  “I can function,” she said. “Stronger than a rhino, steady as a boulder.  It was the fastest way.”

She pressed forward, Eli following closely behind her.  “Now you aren’t bleeding to death,” he said. “You’re just cooking yourself.  I got stuck with a masochist, and if she dies then I’m never getting out of here.  That’s just great.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Haley asked.  Her charred hand did one good thing – it took her mind off of the burning air.

“It means that this is your test,” Eli said angrily.  “You have to be the one to push the freakin’ button.”

“And I will,” Haley said, shrugging.  “Look, here’s the far wall.”

She reached her injured hand out to touch it, just in case they had reached one of the real metal walls; she couldn’t afford to burn her other hand.  As the burned hand passed through, she turned back to give Eli a confident grin, even as her eyes watered in pain –

– and was pulled through by something on the other side.

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

Agent, about ready to bust some heads.

That’s the last one,” Granny said over the coms.  “Roberta didn’t hear anybody talking about a missing Watcher.” She referred to her dragonfly, who allowed her to listen to multiple conversations at once.

I got nowhere, too,” Nightmare said from her own location.  “It’s another dead end.

Nobody’s seen or heard anything from Butterfly in the last two days,” Trick added. She and Shadow had finished checking the other bars on the list.  “Any luck on your end, Agent?

“Earthborn hasn’t found them in the tunnels,” Agent told them, “and my contact is still being dodgy.  You four meet up back at headquarters; I’m going to meet them in person.”

You could use some backup,” Nightmare pointed out.  “We’ll go with you!

“No,” Agent said.  “It’ll go better if I’m alone.  They’re not dangerous,” he added, just to put their minds at ease.  He muted his com, banging a fist on the table next to him in frustration.  He had spent the last five hours trying to contact anybody who might know where Butterfly had taken Haley, to no avail.  Now there was only one person left to try – and he really hoped it was another dead end.

Agent went down to the motor pool and took his car out across the city.  At this time of night, the roads were mercifully clear – he arrived at the dock warehouses in minutes.  When he stepped out of the car, a hole ripped in the air in front of him.

“Jaunt,” Agent said, gripping his umbrella.

Jaunt stepped through the portal, looking around.  “Pretty clandestine, don’t you think?” he asked. “Where’s your team?”

“I’m here alone,” Agent told him.

Jaunt chuckled.  “That must be killing you,” he said, “to be meeting with me like this.  Now, what did you want to talk to me about that needed such a dreary meeting place?”  He looked around at the warehouses, wrinkling his nose at the fishy smell coming from the wharf.

“Stop playing around,” Agent said.  “You’ve been ducking my call all evening.  Don’t pretend you don’t know what this is about.”

“You’ve misplaced a teammate,” Jaunt said, smirking at him.  “Or should I say, another teammate.”

He was trying to get a rise out of Agent, referring to Striker.  When Agent worked with Team Ark, they had tried and failed to arrest Jaunt – and it had torn the team apart.  Striker had vanished from the face of the earth that day, and the team couldn’t recover. It was Agent’s worst failure, and it had been entirely Jaunt’s fault.

Jaunt knew how Agent felt about him, and reminded him of it every time they met.  Now with Haley missing, there was no doubt in Agent’s mind that Jaunt was behind it.

“Listen here,” Agent said, using his umbrella’s handle to drag the thief’s face close to his.  “You know where Outlier is. You’re going to tell me right now.”

“Pretty touchy for an Agent, aren’t you?” Jaunt said, unconcerned.  He didn’t even try to pull free of Agent’s grip. “I didn’t take the girl.”

“You know who did, then.”  It wasn’t a question – Jaunt knew more than he was saying.

Gingerly, Jaunt pulled the umbrella handle away from his neck.  “She was last seen with the mercenary, wasn’t she?” he asked, evading the question.

“Mercenaries are hired,” Agent said, swinging the umbrella back down to his side.  “I want to know by whom.”

“We don’t always get what we want,” Jaunt told him sagely.  He clapped his hands together, preparing to leave again. “Don’t worry about the girl,” he added once the portal was open.  “If she survives, she’ll be returned to you.”

Agent caught Jaunt’s arm.  “I’m not done yet,” he growled.  “What do you mean ‘if she survives’?”

“She’s being tested,” Jaunt told him, shrugging.  “That comes with some risk. But Outlier should have no problems with that, right?” he asked, smirking.  “After all, you hand-picked her for your team. The human girl with the extraordinary willpower.”

Agent’s grip loosened for a second, and Jaunt yanked his arm free. He stepped through the portal before Agent could grab him again.

“Damn him,” Agent muttered, getting back into his car.  If he didn’t need the thief…

But he did.  That line of thought would get him nowhere, and Haley was still missing.  He could only hope that they found her – or that she passed this “test” – before it was too late.

* * * * * * * *

Blue Room.

Haley’s in trouble.

Haley kept her charred hand behind her as she faced off with her opponent.  She barely registered Eli running through the wall behind her, keeping her eyes on the giant figure that had pulled her into the room.

This room was different from the others.  Aside from the blue lighting, it was round instead of square, and it didn’t seem to have any maze walls, invisible or otherwise.  The floor was covered in a small pool of clear water, coming up to Haley’s ankles. However, the biggest difference loomed in front of her: instead of traps, this room had –

“Is that a knight?” Eli asked, his eyes going wide.

“Boss fight,” Haley said. “Video game logic, remember?”  The knight was in full armor, complete with sword – but it stood ten feet tall in the large chamber.

“At least this room has water,” Eli said weakly.  “We have to fight that thing?”

Haley pointed towards the opposite end of the room with her good hand.  Eli followed it, seeing a door on the other side that was covered in bars.  “I’m guessing we have to subdue it,” she told him, grimacing as she tried to flex her injured hand behind her.

“You’re in no shape to fight,” Eli pointed out.  “You’re injured, and you lost a lot of blood…”

“Yes, I’m aware,” Haley said, exasperated.  “There’s got to be a trick to this room, just like everywhere else.”

Eli rolled his eyes.  “I’m all ears,” he said.

The knight drew its sword, coming after them.  Haley pushed Eli out of the way, then dove to the other side to avoid the knight’s swing.  Luckily for her, the knight was slow and lumbering, as if it weren’t alive. She rolled to a stand, looking around for its next attack.

It had to have a weakness.  Haley could try taking its sword, but strong as she was, she would never be able to wield it with one hand.  There had to be another way – even if she just disarmed it, she had no way of knowing what would open the door in front of her.

The water seeped into her shoes, tripping her as she tried to dodge the knight’s next attack.  Tripping saved her life – the knight sliced his sword through the air over her, and would have bisected her if she had been upright.

“What do we do?” Eli cried, rolling away from another swing of the giant sword.

Haley scrambled to her feet, wincing as she kicked something under the water.  A loose tile! “Eli, there are switches in this room, too!” she called over. “I think we need to press them all.”

“Press the switches?  Are you mad?” he called back, dodging another swing of the sword.  “The last ones tried to kill us!”

“Just trust me, okay?” Haley said, stepping on the switch by her foot.  “Find a switch!”

Eli shook his head in disbelief, but began feeling his way through the water for loose tiles.  Haley, for her part, tried to keep the attention of the knight to give him space to move. Her clothes were soaked from falling into the water, and her pants felt like weights around her legs.  Her breathing picked up again as her heart rate rose, and a wave of nausea washed over her as she narrowly avoided the knight’s sword.

“Haley!” Eli called, snapping her back into the moment just in time to dodge another hit.  “Almost there!”

He stepped on two more switches, but Haley saw the problem: the final switch was at the knight’s feet.  She braced herself, blinking the water out of her eyes as she forced herself to focus on the sword. Eli looked over, crying, “What the hell are you doing?!”

As the sword came down again, Haley dove forward towards the giant knight.  She pressed the switch with her good hand, using her injured one to push off of the knight’s legs in the direction of the door.

The knight raised its sword again, but instead of swinging it at the pair it held it out in front of its sightless face.  The bars in front of the door swiftly retracted into the floor with a shwoop.

Haley stumbled over to the door, meeting Eli there.  Giving him a grin as he opened the door for her, she said, “We did it!”

Stepping through the door into the original room, her eyesight began to blur.  She could tell that they were only a few feet away from the big red button now, and she stumbled towards it.  Eli caught her injured arm, putting it around his shoulders to help her walk forward. “Come on, Outlier,” he said.  “We’re right here; don’t quit now.”

Haley took a deep breath, taking it one step at a time.  She couldn’t even speak, feeling as if she would puke if she opened her mouth.  Her injured arm burned, and the rest of her body felt heavy. She reached out with her good arm, but she couldn’t see if it was touching the button; her eyes chose that moment to roll back into her head, and she gratefully passed out.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, outside of Asylum Headquarters.

Haley Prince, AKA Outlier.

Somebody was talking; that was the first thing Haley realized as she came to.  “Hey, you did it,” Eli said. “Come on, Haley; you beat the test, and you pressed that stupid button.  Don’t you dare die on me now. Come on, wake up.”

“‘M not gonna die,” she mumbled, opening her eyes.  She saw Eli’s face staring down at her, but above him was a pinkish dawn sky.  “We’re back?”

“Haley!” Eli said, grinning at her.  “That was the stupidest, bravest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Raising an eyebrow hurt.  “What?” she asked, trying to sit up.

“I got you into that mess,” he said.  “I was as annoying as I could have possibly been, and you still caught that dagger for me.  Then you burned the cut closed – which, frankly, I thought was both idiotic and the most badass thing I’ve ever seen.  You figured out the puzzle in the knight room, and still managed to press the button at the end.” He shook his head as he summed up the adventure.  “I’ve never seen anybody keep their cool like that.”

“You weren’t so bad yourself,” Haley said, finally managing to prop her arms on her legs to keep from laying down on the sidewalk.  It was still early enough that nobody was around, but she would rather avoid the awkward questions if anybody had seen her. “You figured out the pattern to the knives and the fire.”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t supposed to do that,” Eli said, then bit his lip.  At Haley’s questioning – but not surprised – expression, he admitted, “I was paid to hold you back.  I was supposed to insult you, and basically be as annoying as possible to keep you from focusing.”

“Makes sense,” Haley said. She looked around and saw the familiar doors of Asylum Headquarters.  “I need to get in there,” she said, breathing a sigh of relief. “I missed both practice and my patrol yesterday.”  She didn’t try to move from her sitting position yet, though. Her head was pounding, and her stomach still threatened to rebel at the first sign of movement.

“You need help,” Eli said.  “You’re injured, anemic, and you’re talking about missing work.”

Haley looked down at her hand, wincing as she saw the injury.  The blisters weren’t as bad as they had looked in the fire room, but the charring around the wounds kept her from flexing it fully.  “Meh,” she shrugged. “I’ve had worse.”

Eli gave a surprised laugh.  “You’ve had worse than that?” he asked, disbelieving.

“My brother once dislocated my shoulder while breaking my arm in three places when we were sparring,” she told him.

“Ah.” Eli obviously didn’t know what to say to that.  He was saved responding when a flash of blue light appeared next to them.

Ayu still looked like a smiling alien kid, but she spoke with the same grown woman’s voice that had kept repeating “push the button” on the ship.  “You gave us excellent data,” she said. “Haley Prince, you exhibited more of the qualities we are looking for in our candidates. You are still incomplete, but you show promise.”

“So you’re talking now, are you?” Haley asked, moving as if to stand up.  The world spun around her with the motion, so she elected to remain sitting.

“My voice functions better in the atmosphere of a planet,” Ayu said.  “On the ship, it echoes loudly, and some species have difficulty understanding. I wanted to be sure you understood the parameters of the test; for that reason, I kept vocal instructions to a minimum.”

“I passed your test,” Haley said.  “What else do you want?”

“She’s injured,” Eli added.  “Can’t you do something?”

“She will live,” Ayu said, looking Haley up and down.  “Her own doctor will be able to treat her injuries with minimal scarring.”

Haley blinked.  “Well, that’s something,” she said.  “So why are you still here?”

“I have been tasked with testing the heroes of your planet,” Ayu explained.  “I have delegated this task for too long; now I must begin to take a more active role.  I wish to inform you that you are still incomplete; however, you show promise. We will see whether you have been completed in two years; in the meantime, I will continue to test the other possible candidates from this world.”

“Why?” Haley asked.  “What happens in two years?”

“The Gamemaster will arrive,” Ayu said simply.  She didn’t elaborate, but turned to Eli. “The agreed upon sum has been deposited in your bank account.  Thank you for your service.”

“No problem,” Eli said, giving Haley a guilty look.  “Let’s not do this again, okay?”

“I will not require your services again for some time,” Ayu told him.  She nodded first at Eli, then at Haley in some kind of farewell, and then disappeared in another flash of light.

Haley leaned back, laying back down on the sidewalk.  If she had trouble sitting up, then standing was probably out of the question.  “I think I’ll take a quick nap before going in,” she muttered. “It’s been a long day.”

“Wonder what that ‘Gamemaster’ thing is that’s coming in two years,” Eli mused.

“You don’t know?” Haley asked.

Eli shrugged.  “They paid me to do a job.  I did it,” he said. He stretched his arms for a minute, then got to his feet.  “Anyways, I’d better get going before your friends come down. Trick and Shadow wouldn’t be too happy to see me.”

Haley reached an arm up to him, and he pulled her to her feet.  The world still spun around her, but she managed to stay upright.  Eli helped her to the doorway of the tower, then turned around and walked away.

“Eli,” Haley called after him.  He turned back, stopping on the sidewalk.  “Thanks,” Haley said.

Eli gave her a deep, mocking bow.  “Any time, milady,” he said with a grin.  Then he turned around and walked away.

Haley watched him leave for a minute before pressing the building’s buzzer.  The security guard at the front desk hurried to let her in, catching her before she could fall through the open door.  “Outlier!” he said, obviously startled to see her. “What happened? Everybody’s been looking for you all night!”

Haley gave him a sheepish smile.  “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” she said.

* * * * * * * *