Dawn of the Asylum, Issue #14 – Complicated

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. People believe me when I tell them what’s coming, at least as much as they would believe anybody else.  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 who blew up our tower?” 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.  Dean, her oldest brother and a bear-satyr, marched over to her and pushed her back down into the chair.

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

“That friend of yours, Reiki, stopped by the bakery,” Dean 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, Dean!”

“You’re no good to anyone if you collapse from exhaustion, Haley,” Dean 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.”

Dean 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.  Dean raised his eyebrows – he never could raise just one, even when he tried – and the fight drained out of her.  She couldn’t take Dean 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.” He looked Frank up and down curiously.

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. Frank rubbed his goatee, noticing that his older self had changed the cut.

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.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City Hospital Rec Room, a little less than three months ago.

Natalie Fawkes and Sabrina “Rina” Dawson.

“Hit me,” Natalie said, tapping the table between herself and Rina.  Rina dealt a card face-up, shrugging as she did so.

“Not sure why you’re obsessing,” she commented.  “They’re going after Dark David tomorrow because he’s a danger to the city until they get him the treatment.  They can’t wait for us.”

“Easy for you to say,” Natalie scoffed.  “Your powers just got a little out of control.  You might be down for weeks. I’m fine; the stupid doctors just want to keep me here for ‘observation’.”

Rina raised her eyebrow at her.  “You think this is easy for me?” she asked.  “My powers imploded.  I’m kept in isolation at night so I can get some sleep without the entire hospital freaking out over imaginary monsters from my nightmares.  I can’t even use them the way I normally would to help during the team out during the day, not accurately. I have to stay behind because I’m powerless to help my friends – that’s far from ‘easy’.”

“You know what I mean,” Natalie muttered by way of apology.  “I never had powers. I’m used to going out exactly like I am right now – tricks up my sleeves and cards in the air.”  She threw her hand down and pulled a card from the top of the deck. Tossing it up, she caught it by making it float between her fingers.  “I could help right now, if the doctors weren’t so… so mother hen-ish.”

“That’s a neat trick,” Rina admitted, having seen her friend pull it many times over the last few weeks in the hospital.  “Let’s see you do the scarf-throwing one. You know, like you’d actually do in a fight.”

She grinned at the annoyed look on Natalie’s face.  Natalie had been trying unsuccessfully to toss her scarf around a practice dummy in her room for weeks – her shoulder hadn’t quite healed enough to use that particular trick, which is the real reason the doctors were keeping her in the hospital.  Dale had done his best with his Third Gen power, but some things would only heal over time.

“I just can’t believe Haley’s in charge,” Natalie said, changing the subject as she put the card back in the deck.  “Agent left the team in the lurch.”

“Agent’s dealing with his own stuff,” Rina said, shrugging.  As Natalie picked her hand back up, she added, “You know this isn’t the first time he’s lost a team.”

Natalie pursed her lips.  “Don’t make me say it,” she warned.  Rina just smiled knowingly. “Seriously, I hate agreeing with Haley on anything, but it’s like she and I are the only ones who haven’t given up on the team.  We’re not lost, we just had a setback.  A big setback,” she admitted, “but not insurmountable.  Agent needs to pull his head out of his ass and realize that, because Haley’s not a leader.”

“She’s not doing a bad job,” Rina shrugged.

“Did you not hear what Reiki said earlier?” Natalie asked.  “Haley’s running herself ragged trying to do everything instead of delegating anything.  That’s not a leader.”

“You should be happy,” Rina pointed out dryly.  “We finally found something that Haley’s bad at.  You don’t have to call her ‘Little Miss Perfect’ anymore.”

Natalie rolled her eyes.  “I liked calling her that,” she said.  “When the team fell apart, it was comforting to know that Little Miss Perfect could hold everything together.”

“Except that it’s been a month, and she’s barely hanging on to it all,” Rina added.

“Right,” Natalie said, showing her royal flush and raking in the chips.  “I need to get back out there, and so do you. We can get Earthborn back, and when the team’s back together Agent will come back.”

Rina nodded, twisting her mouth as if she didn’t want to say the next words.  “And what about Frank and Parker?” she asked.

Natalie’s face turned stoney.  She didn’t say another word, but stood up and left the room.  Rina watched her go, not surprised at her reaction. She sat back in her chair, wondering how her friends could have left them like that.

“Agent, we need you,” she muttered to no one.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, Faun Headquarters, four months ago.

Parker Fawkes, AKA Fallen.

Parker was battling cabin fever.

He had never been good at waiting around, and that’s all he had been able to do for the last month.  Sure, Claw left him in charge of Eon City, but he was still on the ECPD’s Most Wanted list. He had been holed up in the Faun’s headquarters since the riots, and he was going stir crazy from it.  He had taken to working out in the afternoons, just for some sort of movement – and because sitting around gave him too much time to think.

“You know, I don’t understand your obsession with push-ups,” Kiara remarked from the doorway, crossing her arms and smirking at him.  “Aren’t you supposed to be super-strong, or something? What’s the exercise supposed to do?”

“Did you want something, or are you just here for the snarky comments?” Parker asked, standing up and dusting his hands off.

Kiara raised her eyebrows, coming further into the room.  “Can’t I just be here to admire the view?” she asked, grabbing his shirt from the chair and holding it out to him.

“Thanks,” Parker said, grabbing the shirt and putting it on.  “Sorry I’m being a grouch. I can’t stand being cooped up like this.”

“I’m surprised you came back here after Claw leaked that video,” Kiara said, shrugging as she sat down on one of the room’s folding chairs.  “How can you trust him after that?”

“Didn’t have much of a choice,” Parker said, fitting his wings through the slits in his shirt and sitting down across from her.  “He leaked that video to make sure I had nowhere else to go.”

“I’d have just flown away,” Kiara said, “just to spite him after a stunt like that.”

“Then I’d be dead.”  Parker shook his shoulders loose, his wings feeling heavy.  “Law enforcement, Watchers, and the FBI are all hunting me – I couldn’t run from them and the Fauns, too.”

“But then he put you in charge here,” Kiara added, a curious tone creeping into her voice.

So this was why she was there.  “Well, you almost went a month without bringing that up,” Parker remarked, standing back up and stretching his arms.

Kiara stood up, too.  “You’re at the top of the Eon City police’s list for blowing up the Asylum building, and Claw put you in charge of the Eon City Fauns.”

“Is there a question in there?” Parker raised an eyebrow.

Kiara threw up her hands.  “Only the obvious ones,” she said.  “Why the hell are you now the leader here?  Why didn’t he send you someplace else until the heat cooled?  How does he trust you enough to put you in charge of the city?”

“It’s complicated,” Parker answered, shrugging.  “You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you, too – I almost didn’t believe it, myself.  But the short answer is that Claw’s not the only one calling the shots.”

“Oh, come on,” Kiara said, twirling one of her whiskers with a clawed finger.  “You can’t say something like that and not give me any details!”

“Kiara, you once told me that you kept your head down around here because that was the only way to stay safe,” Parker said, leaning against a table.  “Trust me when I say that asking questions about this will bring the wrong kind of attention.”

Kiara sighed, but said, “Point taken.”

She might have continued the conversation, but Lizard chose that moment to interrupt.  “Fallen!” came the cry by the doorway. “We have company!”

“What?” he asked, following Lizard into the hallway.  “What do you mean, ‘company’?”

“She just showed up,” Lizard explained.  “Walked through the front door like she owned the place.  Under Claw we would have just killed her on sight, but she’s… she’s asking for you, Fallen.”  Lizard shook his head. “By name, too. I thought we ought to let you see her before we cut her throat.”

“We’ll see about the whole throat-cutting thing, Liz,” Parker said.  “That’s how Claw does things, but I’m not Claw.”

“If she knows you’re here, then chances are she’ll tell someone else if you let her go,” Lizard warned.

“If she knows I’m here, then others might already know, and it’s a moot point.” Parker shook his head. “Just take me to her,” he instructed.

They came to the room Claw had once used as a throne room.  Parker was still uncomfortable taking Claw’s usual seat on the dais, so he entered the room intending to stand in front of the intruder…

… and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw who it was.

“Is she trying to get us both killed?” Parker muttered.

“Who is she?” Kiara asked from behind him.  Apparently she had followed them to the throne room.

Parker sighed in defeat.  “Kiara, meet Haley Prince, Scott’s little sister,” he said.  “Otherwise known as Outlier of the Asylum.”

“She’s an Asylum Watcher?” Kiara repeated. “I thought they were disbanded.”

“Not quite yet,” Haley said with a cocky grin.  The Fauns had tied her hands behind her back and forced her to kneel in front of the dais, but she didn’t seem bothered by it.

“There’s only two of you left,” Kiara shot back.  “The night of the riots we took your team down.”

Haley shrugged.  “Sure, we’re running on fumes,” she admitted, “but we are still running.  I’m making sure of that.”

“What the hell are you doing here, Outlier?” Parker asked tiredly.

“I had an interesting chat with Scott this morning,” Haley told him.  “Should I keep talking, or do you want this conversation to be more private?”

Parker paused for a second, before telling the Fauns, “Clear out.”

“Fallen – ” Kiara started, but Parker cut her off.

“Whatever else you all might think right now, I’m in charge here,” he said.  “Clear the room.”

The Fauns all looked confused, but they obeyed.  Haley watched them go with raised eyebrows. “I honestly had no idea if that would work,” she admitted once they were alone.  “So the rumors are true; you are in charge here.”

“So you had a chat with Scott,” Parker prompted, impatiently.

“I did,” Haley said.  “He had an interesting story to tell me.  He said the only reason you pressed that button was to save him – not just to save your own skin, like the video implies.”

“And you walked into Faun headquarters to confront me about it,” Parker finished for her.  “That was probably the stupidest thing you could have done. You realize that I can’t just let you go.”  He started pacing, shrugging his shoulders to loosen them. Of all the idiotic things…

“Since the video, you’re labelled as ‘unreliable’ to the team,” Haley pointed out.  “You think I walked in here without an exit strategy?”

“What team?” Parker asked, suddenly coming to a stop and rounding on her.  “You and Reiki are all that’s left, and Reiki won’t stick around forever. As for the others…” he trailed off, wanting to ask about his sister and his friends, but dreading what Haley might tell him.

“That’s actually the real reason I’m here,” Haley said, raising an eyebrow.  “We’re going after David.”

Parker blinked.  “David?” he repeated.  “You and Reiki are going after the guy who can shoot lightning from his fingers?  You’ll never be able to take him down.”

“We have help,” Haley said, “but it would be even easier if we had a super-strong bird on our side.  Especially one who knows what David can do.”

“Ha ha, very funny,” Parker crossed his arms.  “But right now, you have bigger things to worry about.  How do you plan to get out of here? You’re tied up, and I can’t hold back the Fauns forever.  Claw still has a kill-on-sight order out on you guys.”

Haley held up an arm, showing him the rope that had previously been holding her.  “You mean this?” she asked innocently. “I told you months ago, Natalie’s been teaching me some tricks.”

“Impressive,” Parker said dryly.  “That still doesn’t tell me how you’re getting out of here in one piece.”

Haley shrugged, standing up.  “Like I said, I’ve got an exit plan.”  She looked at the watch on her wrist. “In fact, I’ve only got about a minute left.  You in, or what?”

Parker shook his head, smirking.  “Okay, tell you what: if you can make it out of here alive, I’ll help you guys get Earthborn back,” he said.

“Awesome,” Haley said.  She held up a hand and started counting down the seconds on her fingers.  “Three, two, one…”

Right on cue, there came a loud BANG from outside the throne room.  The sounds of panicked Fauns mingled with loud animals roars from behind the closed door.

“What, exactly, was your exit plan?” Parker asked, staring at the source of the commotion.  His tone was unconcerned, but his eyes were screwed up with worry.

“I like to call it, ‘Little Old Lady With Dragon,’” Haley said, grinning proudly.

Parker raised an eyebrow at her.  “Granny?” he asked.

“And Herchel,” she confirmed.

“They sound pretty pissed off,” Parker observed as a loud roar shook the building.

“You did blow up her zoo,” Haley pointed out.

Parker put a hand to his forehead.  “Fine,” he said, waving his free hand in the direction of the door.  “Go on, get out of here.”

“We’re going after Earthborn tomorrow at noon.  Meet us at the caves,” Haley told him, heading to the door.  “Oh, and Parker?” she said, her hand on the doorknob.

“What?” Parker looked up at her.

“It’ll work out.  You’ll see.” Haley turned the doorknob, then stopped and looked back at him again.  “I’m glad we didn’t lose you,” she added, then opened the door and raced through it.

Parker watched her go, dumbfounded.  “She’s either the bravest or the craziest person I’ve ever met,” he observed to the empty room, “and I grew up with Natalie.”  Shaking his head, he waited until the sounds of roaring had faded before checking on the Fauns.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City Tunnels, four months ago.

Haley Prince, AKA Outlier.

“You made it,” Haley said, biting back a grin as Eli Howard, also known as Butterfly the mercenary, strolled up.  Reiki was standing next to her, rolling his eyes. He handed over the ten-spot, and Haley took it with a satisfied smirk.

“Well, I wouldn’t have missed this fiasco,” Eli said, grinning at her.  “Besides, I have a different revenue stream for this gig. You’re in luck.”

“As long as you can use that thing,” Reiki growled, nodding at the blow gun Eli had strung across his back.

Eli shrugged.  “I’ve never actually used one before,” he admitted.  “But how hard can it be?”

Reiki started protesting, but Haley cut him off.  “We need him,” she reminded her teammate.

“So when’s the party going to start?” Eli asked, nonplussed.

“As soon as the other two members get here,” Haley answered evasively.

Reiki turned towards her in surprise.  “Two?” he asked. “I thought we were just waiting for Granny.”

“Right.”  Haley bit her lip.  “I didn’t want to tell you, because then you’d tell Natalie and it was bad enough that I called Butterfly…” she started babbling, talking around the answer.

Reiki saw through her mumbling.  “Who is it?” he demanded.

“Yo,” came a greeting from behind him.  Reiki spun around, his eyes narrowing as he saw Parker walking up.

Him?” he cried, getting into a fighting stance.  “What the hell is he doing here?!”

“I asked him to come,” Haley said, shielding her eyes from the sun as she glanced upwards.  “Hey, Granny’s coming now.”

“Don’t change the subject!” Reiki barked.  “What’s he doing here?”

Haley gave Reiki a patient stare, one she often used to let him know that he was being testy.  “There’s more to the story than the video showed,” she explained. “Parker’s not a bad guy; he was just put in a difficult spot.  He’s here to help.”

“Don’t worry, sonny,” Granny called over, dismounting from her dragon as it landed.  “Herchel and Louise will keep him in line. Bird-boy’s not going anywhere.” She took her plush wolf doll out of her bag, tapping her knitting needles to it and whispering something.  Louise the wolf sprang forward towards Parker, hackles bared. Granny laughed as Parker stumbled backwards in surprise.

“I forgot how big she is,” Parker said defensively, flapping his wings to get his balance back.  “Look, I’m sorry about the tower. Nobody was supposed to be there.”

Reiki relaxed his fighting stance, but crossed his arms as he glared at Parker.  “‘Nobody was supposed to be there’?” he repeated. “Natalie, David, and Dale aren’t ‘nobody’. And the security guards.  And the people we were saving from the riots. And the rescue workers from the riots.”

“And my zoo,” Granny piped in, giving Parker a disapproving look.

“And Granny’s zoo,” Reiki agreed.  “You know the riot drills: the tower was a designated safe area for civilians!”

“And the bombs were on the top floor,” Parker snapped back.  “The garage was reinforced, and the whole building wasn’t supposed to come down on top of it!  I took a calculated risk to save the life of the guy in front of me, and I stand by it!”

“Reiki,” Haley warned as her teammate opened his mouth to respond.  “He saved my brother’s life.”

Reiki turned to stare at her.  “It’s true,” she told him. “So just… stop.  Okay?”

He nodded and turned towards the tunnels. “Let’s just get this over with,” he muttered.  Granny followed, with her wolf and dragon shuffling behind her. Louise gave Parker another growl for good measure before stalking off after Granny.

“Well, that was entertaining,” Eli said jauntily, putting his hands behind his head in a stretch.  “Parker, glad we’re on the same side.”

“Shut up, Butterfly,” Parker growled at him, shaking his shoulders to loosen his wing muscles.  He followed behind Granny, keeping a safe distance back from Herchel and Louise.

Eli shrugged, saying to Haley, “You’ve got yourself quite a ‘team’ here,” he said.  “Everybody’s got each other’s backs, in any case. Just need to know if it’s help or a knife coming.”

“We can work together long enough to get David back,” Haley said hopefully.  “We may not trust each other, but we can get the job done if we all stay professional.”

“Not sure where you got that idea,” Eli muttered.

“So, you have an ‘alternate revenue stream’?” Haley asked, changing the subject as they all headed into the tunnels.

“Yep,” Eli said.  “Somebody seems to like you, in any case.  They paid for me to help you get Earthborn back.”  He peered ahead as the dark of the tunnels closed around them.  “How did you say we were going to find him?”

Haley marched on.  “He’s in here,” she said.  “I got reports through Agent’s network of crackling lightning down here, and a commotion involving new tunnels being created.  He’s definitely holed up here.”

“So… you have no idea how to find him,” Eli translated.  “Great.”

“Have a little faith,” Haley said.  “I have a plan.” Eli said nothing, waiting for her to continue.  “Okay, I have part of a plan,” she finally admitted.

“There it is,” Eli said.

“It’ll work!” Haley insisted.

“Milady, you are an excellent fighter, and I have great respect for your lack of fear,” Eli told her, “but a leader you are not.  When’s Agent going to start calling the shots again?”

“He’ll be back,” Haley said.  “I’m only here for now. We can do this!”

Eli shrugged, barely visible in the dark tunnels.  Haley found her flashlight in her utility belt and switched it on as Eli continued, “You rely a lot on faith, milady.  People aren’t all good, and life isn’t made of sunshine and rainbows.”

“I know that,” Haley said.  “I just think there are more good people in the world than bad, is all.  And I know that Agent will be back before we know it. Natalie’s looking after him, after all.”

“Oh, Natalie’s got him,” Eli said in mock surprise.  “That’ll fix everything!” He grinned, teasing her.  “What’s with you two, anyways? I can’t tell if you’re friends or what.”

“Me and Natalie? We work together,” Haley said.  “She and I came to an understanding, and we help improve each other.”

“So you’re rivals,” Eli said.

Haley shrugged.  “I guess, if you want to put a label on it,” she said.

“Hey, you two in the back,” Reiki growled from farther ahead in the tunnels, “this works better if we’re quiet.”

“Reiki’s mad,” Eli whispered, teasing Haley.

Haley took a deep breath.  “One more mission, one more mission…” she began repeating under her breath.  The familiar feeling of being watched crept up again, and Haley shuddered in the dark.  The tunnels were creepy.

The team came to the opening where they planned to set up their ambush.  Haley pointed Eli to the pile of rocks where they had captured Dark David the last time.  Eli mimed a salute, and hid behind the rubble.

The rest of the team took positions with their backs to the wall – which was pointless, since they didn’t know where David might appear.  They all looked at Haley expectantly.

“What now?” Reiki asked in a whisper.

Haley responded in her normal tone.  “Now we get his attention,” she said.  “David, I know you’re there. Come out where we can see you; we just want to talk!”

“That’s your plan?” Parker scoffed, rolling his eyes.  “‘Come out and talk to us’? You know, I thought you were gutsy for barging into Faun Headquarters like that, but you really are just making this up as you go along, aren’t you?”  He shook his head and started back towards the entrance to the tunnels. “I’m out of here.”

Louise jumped in front of him, baring her teeth in a snarl.  Parker jumped back in alarm as Granny laughed. “Nobody leaves until we see Earthborn,” Granny said.  “At least give her a chance.”

She nodded at Haley, who took a breath and continued.  “David, you told Natalie last time that you felt trapped,” she called.  “You said you just wanted your freedom. If you talk to us, we might be able to work something out!”

“This is stupid,” Parker muttered, eyeing Louise warily.  “It’s not going to – ”

“Last time I trusted one of you, you just trapped me again,” came a growl from behind Haley.  “Why should I trust you now?”

Haley turned around to face him.  Dark David’s face stuck out of the wall, but the rest of his body was still behind the brick of the tunnel.  “Because we just want our friend back,” Haley told him, keeping her hands in view so that he could see she wasn’t carrying anything.  “We’re tired of chasing after you, and you’re tired of running from us or you wouldn’t be here. Let’s work together to find a compromise.”  She gave a hand signal to Reiki, and he lit up the tunnels so that they could see.

“What compromise is there?” Dark David spat, squinting in the sudden light.  “Either he’s in control, or I am. We both can’t be there!”

“Help me understand,” Haley said, trying to keep him talking.  “Why not?”

“It just doesn’t work that way!” Dark David said.  His head came out of the brick wall, as if he took a step forward.  “He’s got different plans, different goals. When he comes out, I get locked up!  It’s not fair!”

Haley kept her eyes on his, showing him that she was sincere.  “I want to help you, David,” she said. “We need you.” She took a step back.

Dark David followed, stepping fully out of the tunnel wall.  “You need me?” he repeated, disbelieving. Electricity began crackling around his hands.  “You brought the traitor, the mercenary, the grouch, and the Djinn all because you need me?”

“How did you know about that?” Granny asked, surprised.  “I never told Earthborn; I never told any of the team!”

“Oh please,” Dark David smirked.  “It’s so obvious. You have one of the talismans.  Those needles – am I right? You meet some interesting people in the dark places of the city.”

Haley stepped between them.  “David, we all want to help you,” she began again, but David cut her off.

“Help me? Then why does the mercenary have a blow gun?” he demanded to know.  “You plan to trap me again.”

“If that were true, then he would have fired already,” Haley pointed out.  “You don’t exactly have your armor on.”

Dark David looked uncomfortable.  “That’s the only reason I’m still here,” he said.  “I can pull up my armor faster than he can shoot.”

Haley narrowed her eyes, taking in the scene.  He was hiding something; she silently thanked her brother for making her get a good night’s sleep so she could see it.  “I don’t think so,” she said slowly. “I think you and our David are more symbiotic than you let on. He controls the earth, and you control the lightning, right?”  She stepped towards him, making him back up, but he didn’t retreat into the wall like before. “That’s why your own mud armor held you down when Natalie faced you. That’s why Earthborn has such a hard time keeping his lightning straight – you two are fighting each other, so neither of you can use all of your power.”

“No,” he said.  “I can use the earth powers just fine on my own.”

Haley took another step in.  “I doubt that,” she said. “I think the reason you aren’t running right now is because our David won’t let you.”

“Haley…” Reiki warned.  She held up a hand to quiet him.

“Eli could shoot you right now, and you couldn’t stop him,” she said confidently.  “I’m right, aren’t I?”

“You want to find out?” Dark David said, raising a brick off of the floor with his powers.  “Try me.”

Haley took in the scene, calculating the odds.  He could raise a brick, but could he escape? “You’re bluffing,” she decided, reaching out to grab his arm.

Dark David let the brick drop as he shot her with a bolt of lightning from his hand.  “Clever,” he said, stepping towards the team. “But not quite clever enough.” He raised his hands, readying another lightning bolt, but Parker darted forward, grabbing his arms and holding them behind his back.

“Now, Butterfly!” he cried.

Eli used the rocks to keep the blow gun steady and fired.  In seconds, Dark David stopped struggling against Parker’s super strength and fell limp.  Parker let him fall, then turned to help Haley. She had fallen against the tunnel floor when the lightning bolt had hit her, and her shoulder had a large burn on it.

“Outlier?” Parker said, almost afraid to touch her.  “Come on, you can’t die. Outlier!” Reiki and Granny came over, pushing him aside as they checked their teammate.  “Hey!”

“Haley,” Granny said, picking up her hand.  “Come on, dear, get up.”

“Ugh,” Haley groaned, opening her eyes.  “That hurt more than I thought.”

“You freaking idiot,” Reiki muttered at her.  She tried to sit up, but he pushed her back down.  “Stay down,” he ordered. “You’re lucky that blast didn’t kill you.”

“Chip does a good job,” Haley pointed out, pulling some of the torn fabric of her uniform away from the scorch to reveal an insulated layer underneath.  “My uniform took most of it.”

Eli came over next to Parker.  “You didn’t think a little thing like that would kill her, did you?” he asked, clapping a hand on his shoulder.  “Haley’s made of tougher stuff than that.”

Parker shook his head.  “I can’t decide if she’s insanely brave or bravely insane,” he admitted.  “She took that bolt on purpose?”

“One thing I’ve picked up on, working with the Asylum,” Eli said, “is that you all have your roles.  Haley’s role seems to be taking whatever beating is necessary for the rest of the team to do their job.”

“So why did she even need us?” Parker asked.

Haley sat up, shaking off Reiki’s worrying as she looked at Parker.  “I had no idea until we were down here that he didn’t have the same rock armor as Earthborn,” she admitted.  “Reiki was here to light up the scene, and Butterfly was here to take the shot. Granny’s now going to get him out of here and back to Dale, before the tranquilizer wears off,” she said pointedly.  “I’m fine, Granny. Go.”

Granny shrugged, and whistled for Louise and Herchel.  The big wolf darted forward to Granny as the dragon walked over to David and picked him up in his jaws.  As Granny’s animals moved David out of the tunnels, Haley continued.

“When my brother told me what you’d done for him, I figured we could trust you enough to help hold David while Eli took the shot,” she said.  “That would make it easier for us. Then we got down here, and I found out that he didn’t have full control of Earthborn’s powers, and it suddenly got much easier.  I love it when that happens,” she added with a sigh.

Parker stared at her.  “So your plan really was to just come down here and ask him to talk?” he said disbelievingly.

“Yep,” Haley grinned as she stood up.

As Parker stood blinking at her, Eli and Reiki looked at each other and shrugged.  “You get used to it,” Reiki said, turning down the tunnel to head outside. “Come on, Outlier; you should see Dale about that shoulder.”

As they left the tunnels, Parker just shook his head.  “I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that level of insanity,” he said, unfurling his wings in the sun, “but thanks for getting me out for a morning.”

Reiki glared at him.  “This doesn’t mean you’re forgiven, Fallen,” he spat, using Parker’s Faun name.  “Next time we meet, you’re fair game.”

Haley elbowed Reiki in the ribs, but Parker just flapped his wings.  “I wouldn’t expect any less,” he said. Giving Haley a cheeky grin, he took a running start to fly back to the Fauns.

Haley shook her head as she turned to Eli.  “You know,” she said, “even with Earthborn back, we could use an extra hand on the team.”

Eli considered it for a moment.  “Let’s let Agent get back first,” he answered.  “Sorry, Milady, but your particular brand of insanity isn’t something I can take on every mission.”

“Offer’s always on the table,” Haley said.

“Don’t push it,” Reiki growled.  “Natalie will be back any day now, too.”

“She’s still upset about the whole ‘I shot her’ thing?” Eli asked.  “She really needs to chill out.” He gave a jaunty wave as he jogged off.

Haley turned back to Reiki, grinning.  He stared back with a questioning look.  “How are you this happy?” he finally asked.

“I love it when a plan comes together,” Haley said.  “We got Earthborn back – that’s a huge victory. 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.”

Reiki just sighed and walked away.  Haley looked back at the tunnels before following him.

Things really could get better.

* * * * * * * *

Dawn of the Asylum, Issue #2 – …Come Great Things

Office building in Eon City.

Jorge Cruz, AKA Poisonshot.

“Where’s my sister?” Poisonshot demanded.  “You told me that if we pulled that job you would get us out if we got caught.”

“And I keep my promises,” the man in the shadows agreed.  “But I never told you when. I have an image to keep up, and so it will take time – ”

“I don’t give a damn about your image,” Poisonshot said.  “We go for my sister now.”  He pulled out his bow and nocked an arrow; while he didn’t point it at the man, it was meant as an unveiled threat.

The man in the shadows stood up, calmly straightening his suit jacket.  “Patience,” he said, walking around the desk to lean against the front of it.  He was intentionally making himself a bigger target, which reminded Poisonshot that he wouldn’t stand a chance in a fight with the suit.  “We’ll get your sister back. It just has to be on a certain timetable – otherwise, she would have been caught for nothing.”

“You never even told us why we had to hit that bank,” Poisonshot said.  “Now I have the Asylum searching for me, and my sister’s been locked up.  I think you owe us some answers.”

“Soon,” the man said.  “For now, though, I need you to finish what you started.”

Poisonshot raised an eyebrow.  “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.  “And when, exactly, will you give us what you promised?”

“You’ll get your reward when the job is done,” the man snapped, before composing himself.  “You did well, stabbing Shadow with that arrow. He’ll be out of commission for awhile. But the Asylum has a new member – and she needs to be tested.  Go after her, and I’ll be sure to give you what you need.”

“And my sister?” Poisonshot asked.

“In Zatvor, she’s currently better off than you are,” the man said, raising a hand.  The air in front of him seemed to tear open, revealing a desolate wasteland on the other side.  Poisonshot had seen the man do this before; he was a Third Gen who could open portals to many different places.

This time was different, though.  The air on the other side seemed almost blue with dust, and the ruined buildings seemed inhuman.  The man smirked at the bewildered look on Poisonshot’s face. “We’ll talk again soon,” he said before stepping through.  As the portal closed, he added, “Try not to get yourself caught, too. At least, if you want to get your sister back.”

As the portal closed, Poisonshot gripped his bow with white knuckles.  Screw you, he thought at the suit before turning to leave the office.  A small portal opened in front of him, dropping a file at his feet as if the man had heard the rebellious thought.  Poisonshot picked it up, thumbing through the file for instructions on his new target.

An Asylum noob, he thought as he read.  Just what’s so special about you?

* * * * * * * *

Outside Eon City National Bank.

Haley Prince, Newbie.

“Is he going to be okay?” Haley asked as they passed Shadow off to Dale’s medical team.  The arrow wound in his side looked serious; he had already lost a lot of blood, and from the nasty shade of red his skin was turning around the entry wound, the arrowhead had probably been poisoned.  The medical team took him in a helicopter directly back to the Asylum’s medical center.

Agent grimaced.  “Dale’s the best doctor in the country.  If anyone can stop the poison, it’s him.”

Haley bit her lip, knowing that he hadn’t answered the question and afraid to ask why.  The rest of the team had returned to the tower, all except for Reiki and Granny. Reiki had to go out on the next patrol, and Granny was still tracking down Poisonshot.  Agent stayed behind to supervise the clean-up, and Haley stayed with Agent since she wasn’t fully cleared in the headquarters building.

Earthborn had successfully caught Poisonshot’s partner Skadi, a snake-satyr, and after handcuffing her and putting a muzzle over her fangs they passed the criminal off to the police.  Agent explained that Satyr and Third Gen criminals, who might overwhelm a regular prison, were kept in a special facility outside of the city called Zatvor Penitentiary.

Just as Agent was explaining the process they had for booking criminals, he was interrupted by a loud roar and a flapping sound.  Haley involuntarily backed up as a large dragon landed in the bank’s parking lot.

Agent seemed nonplussed, as if he saw dragons every day.  “Oh, Granny’s back,” he said, clicking his tongue in disappointment. “Doesn’t look like she caught Poisonshot.”

Haley just looked at him, completely shocked.  Turning back to the dragon – an actual dragon! – she saw a familiar shape dismounting from its shoulders.  Granny turned back to the dragon with her knitting needles in hand and whispered something to it. The dragon folded its wings back and shrank until it could fit into the palm of her hand.  Granny bent down and picked it up before shuffling over to Agent and the startled newbie.

“I lost him about five blocks from here,” she reported bitterly.  “He slipped down a tunnel, and it branched a ways in. I think there must have been a hidden passage in there, but Herschel’s too big to take in the tunnel in the first place; I need to go back to the tower for Louise.”  Granny put her hands on her hips as she added, “Not to mention that a place that dark is more Shadow’s territory than mine. How is he?”

“Dale has him,” Agent told her.  “No news yet. I’ll send Reiki to the tunnels, see what he can find.  Haley, stop gaping. You’ve already met Granny.”

Haley quickly closed her mouth, which had been hanging open ever since the dragon landed.  Now that Granny was closer, she could see that the dragon had turned into a small, plush, knit toy in Granny’s hand.

Granny smiled at her, even though her eyes still showed her worry for Shadow.  “The short answer to your question is ‘magic’, dearie,” she said, patting Haley’s arm sympathetically.  “Not widely known, but it is still around. The long answer might have to wait for another day; it’s rather complicated.”

Haley nearly responded, but thought better of it.  After all, Agent and Granny were acting like the dragon was a usual occurrence; like the callsigns, it was probably something she would get used to.

Agent was already moving on, instructing Granny to take Haley back to the tower.  “I’ll be back in a bit,” he said, “but there’s still a lot to sort out here. Granny, could you make sure Haley is caught up with the others until I get back?”

“Will do,” Granny said, touching her needles to the plush dragon again.  Turning to Haley, she asked, “How would you like a ride on a dragon, dear?”

Given Haley’s expression, Granny already knew the answer.

* * * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

The team waits for news.

“Shadow’s still out, but Dale says he’ll be okay,” David told them when Granny and Haley returned to HQ.  “It was a good thing he bled so much; the poison was diluted, so it was easy-ish for Dale to counter it.” The team was in the common area’s lounge, waiting for either news on Shadow’s condition from Dale or else orders from Agent.

“Dale’s a Third Gen,” Rina explained to Haley, who looked confused.  “He can heal people with a touch, including cleaning wounds of irritants and poisons.”

That explained a lot.  With a Third Gen for a doctor, no wonder Agent wasn’t as concerned about injuries as everybody else.  “So what now?” Haley wondered aloud. “How do we catch this Poison guy?”

“‘Poisonshot’,” Natalie corrected her, standing up.  “And we,” she gestured to the veteran members of the team, “will do our job and track him down.  Newbies like you stay behind and wait until they have an actual uniform before going out on patrol.”

There wasn’t much Haley could say to that.  It was Rina who spoke up in her defense. “Hey, I’ve seen her stats.  Just because Haley beat you in a fight doesn’t mean you have to be so rude.”

“Beat me?  Hah!” Natalie laughed, but looked discomfited.  “Who told you that?”

“Parker,” Rina said, smirking at her.  “He said he heard it from Agent. You went to see what the new girl was made of, and you lost.”

“I’m going to kill them,” Natalie muttered.  “As soon as those smug bastards get back, they’re dead.”

“Anyways, Haley,” Granny said, as Natalie and Rina kept bickering, “When Agent gets back, he’ll give out assignments.  Reiki is going to the tunnels to see if he can find Poisonshot – but if the archer has any sense, he’s gone to ground.”

David stood up and stretched.  “We’ve got his sister in lockup,” he added.  “Those two never leave each other behind for long.  He’ll come out of the woodwork for her.” The elevator made a ding sound as the doors opened on their floor.  David added, “I’m more worried about why those two were robbing the bank.  Poisonshot and Skadi usually go for museums, and they don’t usually make so much noise about it.”

“That will have to wait,” Agent said.  “Reiki’s checking out the tunnels now, but he can’t look everywhere.  Nightmare, Granny, I need you to meet him in the tunnels. Granny, trade out your dragon for something that can fit down there.”

“Hey, what about me?” Natalie demanded as Rina and Granny turned to leave.  “Shadow was hurt by this guy; shouldn’t you put everybody out there?”

“You and Earthborn just finished patrol.  Earthborn doubly so since he also had to fight at the bank,” Agent told her.  “You know the drill: Dale has to check you out before any more assignments. Which means you two have to wait until he’s done with Shadow to join the hunt.”

“So you’re sending those two out with no backup?” Natalie said.  “That’s the kind of stupid call that got Frank hurt at the bank.”  She didn’t wait for a response, but stormed to the stairs to her room.

“That wasn’t fair,” David said, staring after her.  “There was no way to avoid a fight with those two, and sending in any more than me and Shadow would have just gotten in the way.”

“She’s just stressed,” Agent said, shrugging.  “I understand. Frank was an old friend of hers and Parker’s from long before they became Watchers.  Their moms were both on Team Ark together.”

Haley spoke up, “She’s got a point, though.  With how dangerous Poisonshot and Skadi were at the bank, we should assume that Poisonshot could surface again.  Shouldn’t more than three people go?” After she said it, she realized that she had just corrected Agent on her first day.  “I mean, you know, since there are some…” She trailed off, shrugging, before she put her foot further into her mouth.

“As it happens,” Agent said, amused by her outburst, “Chip says she has something you can wear.  I hate to throw you into it on your first day, but let’s see how you do out in the field.” Haley’s eyes widened, and a huge grin broke out on her face.  Agent added quickly, “You’re to stay close to Granny and Nightmare – if you guys split up, you don’t go off on your own. As soon as Trick and Earthborn are cleared for duty, they’ll come relieve you, and you come straight back to base.  This is recon only until they arrive; no taking any unnecessary risks.”

“I won’t let you down, sir,” Haley said breathlessly, biting her lip to stop smiling so hard.  She didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of her new team any more than she already did.

“Report to Chip on the fourteenth floor,” Agent ordered.  “As soon as you’re changed, meet Rina and Granny in the motor pool.”

“The motor pool?” Haley asked.

“B-1 on the elevator, dear,” Granny told her as she stepped into the elevator.  “Rina and I will meet you down there.”

As the elevator doors shut, Haley pumped her fist into the air.  Field work on her first day! Could it get any better than this?

* * * * * * * *

Tunnels under Eon City.

Reiki, searching for Poisonshot.

Probably not going to find him.

Reiki threw light into the stones around him as he walked through the tunnels.  He had been searching the tunnels for two hours since the bank heist; chances were that Poisonshot wasn’t down there anymore, but it couldn’t hurt to see where he was going.  His light stayed put, showing him the path out as well by illuminating the stones on the walls.

When he first entered the darker parts of the tunnels, he followed a trail left behind from when Poisonshot turned on a flashlight.  Reiki’s Third Gen powers allowed him to manipulate light and energy, including seeing where light had recently shone. But the trail stopped cold less than fifteen minutes into his search; Poisonshot must have turned off the flashlight at that point.  Since then, Reiki searched the tunnels methodically, lighting up the darker parts to see if there were any hidden passageways.

He made a gesture as if throwing something at the wall, but nothing happened.  “Welp, that’s as far as I can go,” he muttered. He peered as far as he could into the darkness, but saw no trail of where his prey might have gone.  He would have to go back out into the sunlight to recharge before he could continue.

As he turned around he heard a feint sizzling sound, as if something were being burned behind him.  Reiki turned back, but barely caught a glimpse of a rip in the stone wall before something hard hit him on the back of the head.  The last thing he saw before he collapsed was Poisonshot stepping out of a tear in the air itself.

* * * * * * * *

The Motor Pool.

Haley Prince, decked out and ready to go.

Haley’s new uniform itched.

Wish I could give it a wash first, she thought, wriggling uncomfortably before checking herself.  She desperately wanted to scratch her butt, but as this was still her first day she thought it would be crass.  Sure, she was in an elevator for the moment, but the last thing she needed was the doors to open on her scratching her ass for the entire team to see.

Despite its “new clothes” feel, the outfit looked amazing.  Haley had to admit that Chip had an eye for design: the unitard was a fashionable blue with red trim and a gold-colored utility belt, making her look like she stepped out of a comic book.  The fabric was light but sturdy, with extra armored padding around her knees, chest, elbows, and neck – Chip had told her that the padding could stop bullets if need be. The outfit was sleeveless, giving Haley the freedom of movement in her arms that she loved when working out, but included a light pair of gloves that would make it easier for her to grip heavy objects.  Her bust was supported without crushing her, so she could breathe easily and not make a scene even if she didn’t wear a bra underneath. It also left a little room in the hips, so that her underwear wouldn’t ride up. The boots were well-balanced, so that Haley couldn’t feel the extra weight of the steel toe. With her short-cropped hair, Haley felt like she could take on the world in this outfit.

Rina whistled when Haley stepped out of the elevator, and Granny nodded her approval.  “Chip’s outdone herself this time,” Rina said, gesturing for Haley to follow her to the car they had pulled around.  “That outfit looks amazing!”

“Now I just have to live up to it,” Haley said, getting into the passenger side and buckling up.  “Not taking the dragon this time, Granny?” she asked.

“I’m getting too old to ride everywhere, dear,” Granny said, sliding behind the wheel.  “Poor Herschel’s also getting worn from so many transformations. I’ve already had to stitch him up twice.  Best to let him rest a bit.”

Granny drove like a maniac.  They arrived at the tunnels in minutes, even though they were across town.  Haley and Nightmare jumped out of the car as soon as it stopped; Haley’s hand hurt from gripping the grab handle so hard, and Rina looked like she might throw up.  Granny slid out of her seat, picking up her silver knitting needles and her purse. “Oh, I keep forgetting: you young people don’t have the same reaction time I do.”

“On the way home,” Rina gasped, getting control of her stomach, “I drive.”

“Pish-posh,” Granny scoffed.  “We’re alive, aren’t we? Now let’s catch that crook!”  She marched over to the tunnel entrance as the two younger women stared.

“I’m learning all sorts of things today,” Haley said, shaking her head.  “I’m not sure if she’s crazy, but I want to be her when I grow up.”

Rina bit her lip and led Haley to the tunnels.  “Granny’s something else,” she said. “I’m not sure what, though.”

Granny began taking out another plush toy from her purse.  “Herschel would be too big for this,” she told Haley, tapping the side of her nose knowingly.  “But Louise is perfect.” She whispered to the toy, tapping her silver knitting needles to it as she set it down on the floor, and it grew into a large wolf.  The wolf began sniffing around the scene, occasionally looking back at Granny.

Haley wasn’t even surprised anymore.  After the dragon, a wolf seemed pretty tame – even though it was as big as her.  Granny slid on to the wolf’s back and said to Rina, “We’ll go ahead and find Reiki; Louise can sniff you two out again when we do.”

“Gotcha,” Rina said.  “The Outlier here and I will search on foot.”

“‘Outlier’?” Haley whispered.

“Your new call-sign,” Rina said, grinning at her.  “Reiki picked it, we all agreed. Welcome to the team, Outlier.”

Haley shook her head with a small smile.  She wasn’t sure of her new name, but now she felt more like a Watcher on the team instead of the newbie tag-along.  As Granny rode ahead on the wolf, Rina straightened up and became more business-like. “Right,” she told Haley. “We’ll start searching in a grid pattern.  Reiki will have started straight, no turns. We’ll start searching the side paths until Granny gets back.”

“Why do we think he’s still in the tunnels?” Haley asked.  “He could be anywhere by now.”

“We don’t think he’s still down here,” Nightmare said – Haley began thinking of the all-business Rina by her callsign.  “But if we find the passage he went through, then we can follow it to wherever he’s holing up.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Haley added, nodding.  “Agent wouldn’t have sent the new kid if he thought we might actually run into the target.”  A twinge of disappointment crept into her voice.

Nightmare smiled, not unkindly.  “You saw what this guy did to Shadow,” she pointed out.  “Stands to reason you would need some more training before you get put on a take-down.”

“Makes sense,” Haley said, her mouth twisting wryly.  There would be other criminals to catch; she didn’t have to get into a fight on her first day.

They took the first right down the tunnels, looking at the walls for any hidden passages.  In high school history class, Haley once learned that the tunnels were left over from the old city, connecting Eon City to the ruins underneath it.  After a flood wiped out the old city fifty years ago, Third Gens with elemental powers were paid to raise the ground up above sea level. As they couldn’t create new ground, they pushed the existing ground back to create large cliffs overlooking the ocean.  The ruins of the old city were pressed into a cavern directly below Eon City, and the tunnels were built so that people could still access the ruins as needed. It was a long hike down the tunnels, miles below the surface, and most people were not allowed to go down there.  The ill-lit tunnels became the perfect hideaway for criminals running from the Watchers, and so was deemed “unsafe” for humans to enter.

This was Haley’s first time in the tunnels, and she had never seen the ruined city before.  “Do you think he’s hiding out in the ruins?” she asked Nightmare as she remembered.

“Doubt it,” Nightmare said, still watching the tunnel walls for a hidden passageway.  “The ruins are miles down, and most of the passages down to it have been walled off. It wouldn’t be practical to run down there, even if there was a way down.”

“Not to mention the monsters,” Haley said, laughing.  At Nightmare’s puzzled silence, she added, “You know, the urban legends saying that monsters have taken over the old city?”

Nightmare shrugged.  “I’ve seen enough monsters in Eon City to worry about ones below my feet.”

“They’re not real,” Haley told her.  “It’s just something they told us in grade school to keep kids from exploring down here.”

“Oh,” Nightmare said.  “I never went to school.”

“Homeschooled?” Haley asked, trying to make conversation.  The dark tunnels were giving her the creeps, so she wanted to keep talking while they looked.

“Sort of,” Nightmare answered.  “I was part of an experiment with nine other kids.  They tutored us in our down-time.”

“Experiment?” Nightmare had said it so matter-of-factly that Haley found herself asking.

Nightmare didn’t mind talking about her past.  “Genetics research. Illegal, of course, but some companies still do it.  Some humans and satyrs want Third Gen powers, so they try to recreate the original Third Gen experiments.  In my case, they were trying to combine Third Gen with the Satyr serum to control the outcome. The result varied between the ten of us, but we all wound up with the black veins and red eyes.”  She stopped at a patch of the wall, peering intently at it as she added, “They called us Fourth Gens.”

Haley stopped asking questions.  Even though Nightmare sounded fine, Haley felt like she was bordering on some big secret about her new teammate’s past.  Nightmare noticed Haley’s silence and added, “Everybody on the team has a backstory. Mine’s nothing compared to some of the others’.  What about you?”

“Nothing so dramatic,” Haley answered, relieved enough to tell the other woman about her failed past.  “Eleven tries at the Watcher exams, while also trying out for every military and police branch I could find.  Wasn’t until I met Agent that I had a shot at becoming a Watcher.”

“Eleven tries?” Nightmare asked.  “I’ve seen your scores, though. You’re amazing in every test you’ve ever taken!”

“I have a photographic memory, and I’ve been training my whole life for this,” Haley said, waving off the praise.  “I’ve got a small medical issue that kept me out, until Agent decided to take a chance on me.”

“‘Small medical issue’?” Nightmare prompted.  “What could be so – ”

The ground exploded in front of her.

* * * * * * * *

Tunnels under Eon City.

Granny, riding her wolf.

As Louise followed Reiki’s scent, Granny tried contacting him on the communicator.  “Reiki, come in,” she said. As she heard only static in reply, she muttered, “Darn things don’t work well down here.”

She patted Louise absently on the neck, and the wolf turned to look at her.  “You’ll find him, though, won’t you?” Granny asked. Louise wagged her tail and began following his scent again.

They came into a better-lit corridor, and Granny saw signs of Reiki’s powers in the stones that glowed on the wall.  “Getting closer,” she said, scratching Louise’s right ear. “He should be somewhere…”

The light suddenly stopped halfway down the tunnel, but Reiki was nowhere to be seen.  “What in the world…” Granny muttered as Louise started circling one spot. The scent trail ended at the light, but there was nowhere else he could have gone.

Something’s wrong.  The realization hit her as she put two and two together.  “Louise, we need to get back to the others,” she ordered the wolf.  “As Ackbar would say: it’s a trap!”

* * * * * * * *

Tunnels under Eon City.

Haley Prince, AKA Outlier.

“Rise and shine,” came a voice from above Haley.  She felt a few taps on her cheek, as if someone were slapping her awake.  “Let’s get this over with.”

Haley opened her eyes quickly, remembering the explosion.  She and Nightmare had been knocked off their feet as a purple cloud filled the tunnel.  The smell had been sickly sweet, and both Watchers had passed out within a minute of breathing it in.

Now Haley’s hands were tied behind her.  She was sitting up against the wall of the tunnels, facing both Nightmare and Reiki against the other wall.  Reiki was unconscious, but his chest rose and fell with his breathing. Nightmare was awake and glaring at the figure who had captured them.

Poisonshot – who else could it be? – was stoking a small fire between them.  “Good, you’re up,” he said. “The sooner we get this over with, the better.”

“What do you want?” Haley asked, squinting in the dim firelight to see him.  Taking a better look at their situation, she could see that Nightmare and Reiki both had gags over their mouths.  Since Haley could speak freely, she figured that she could keep him talking until Granny found them.

As if he could read her thoughts, Poisonshot said, “The rest of your team won’t find you for a while.  We did a thorough job of hiding our tracks.” He turned back to Haley. “As for what I want: I want my sister.  But that’s not what should concern you right now. What you should worry about is what my employer wants.”

“Oh?” Haley kept looking around for an escape route.  “And what’s that?” Her hands were tied with some kind of twine, but she couldn’t break it without getting a different angle.  Her feet were also tied together, so standing might be difficult without Poisonshot seeing. She couldn’t get the element of surprise, then, and Poisonshot’s bow was strung in his hand.

Seeing her squirm, Poisonshot said, “You could try to run, hero, but your friends would be at my mercy.”  Sure enough, Haley saw that Nightmare and Reiki were both tied up with more than twine – they were practically cocooned in thick hemp ropes up to their shoulders.

“So what is it your employer wants?” Haley asked him.  If she could keep him talking, maybe Granny or one of the others might find them.  There had to be a reason they were all still alive. Her heart was racing, and she started shivering in fear.

Oddly enough, Poisonshot also started to shake.  He gripped his bow tightly with a white-knuckled fist as he dug around for something in his pack.  “You know what?” he said, stomping over to Nightmare. “I’ve had it up to here with that power of yours.  I warned you, and now you’ll see I’m as good as my word.” He held a small vial under Nightmare’s nose, adding, “Time to sleep.”

Nightmare’s eyes rolled up in her head as she passed out again, slumping against her bonds.  Haley, still panicked from Nightmare’s powers, yelled, “What did you do to her?!”

“Relax, she’s only sleeping,” Poisonshot said, waving her off as he capped the vial.  “It’s the same knockout gas I dosed you with earlier. She’ll be out for an hour – maybe less – which gives us time to talk.”

“Fine then.  Talk,” Haley said, even as her heart rate came down.  She started to see what Rina had meant back at headquarters that morning about causing people around her to panic.  “What do you want from me?”

“It’s pretty simple,” Poisonshot said.  “I just want you to choose.”

Haley gave an exasperated sigh.  “You know, I really hate it when people beat around the bush.  Choose what?”

“Which of your teammates should I shoot?” Poisonshot asked.

“What?” Haley asked, taken aback.  “You’re crazy!”

“I should explain,” Poisonshot told her, sitting across the fire.  “See, my employer says he wants to test you. He’s been testing all of the Watchers in Eon City – probably elsewhere, too.  So he asked me to give you a bit of a ‘Sophie’s Choice’: I’m going to shoot one of your friends, and I need you to tell me which one.”

Haley stared at him.  “And why would I do that?” she asked.

Poisonshot shrugged.  “If you don’t, I’ll just shoot them both.”

“Why do you have to shoot anyone?” Haley asked.  She had to keep him talking until Granny could find them.  “Why don’t you just tell your employer to stuff it?”

“I could,” Poisonshot said.  “But see, I need his resources to get my sister out of Zatvor.”

“She wouldn’t be in prison if you hadn’t hit that bank,” Haley pointed out, twisting her hands behind her to free them.  Since Poisonshot had to look through the fire to see her, she felt safe doing so behind her back. “I assume that was under orders from your employer, too?  They said you don’t usually pull bank robberies.”

“You’re good,” Poisonshot said, nodding in approval.  “Yeah, we hit the bank under orders. He needed a distraction from something else.”

“What else was he doing?”  Haley’s wrists were raw, but she managed to squeeze her right hand out of the ties.

Poisonshot didn’t seem to notice in the dim light.  “Heck if I know,” he answered. “But he said he would help us if we pulled it off.  My sister’s sick, see.”

“Sick?” Haley asked.  Now that her hands were free, she played along until she could do the same with her feet.  That would be trickier to do without Poisonshot seeing. “Sick how?”

“She’s a snake-satyr,” he said.  “Like most snakes, her venom sacs didn’t grow in until she hit puberty.  Since then, they’ve been slowly poisoning her from the inside.”

Haley stopped moving in surprise.  “Oh,” she said, not quite sure what else to say.

“She needs an operation to remove them, and since we have no money and no insurance…”  He trailed off, raising his hands in a helpless gesture. “We started pulling jobs to save up enough.  Skadi’s even been running with the Fauns, ever since Claw told us he could give her an antidote. But it’s not a fix – soon her immune system won’t take the antidote any more, and we’ll be back at square one.  My employer said he’d pay for the operation if we pulled that one job.”

“And one job turned to two, and soon it’ll be three, and four,” Haley said, trying to kick off the ties on her feet again.  “When will it stop?”

Poisonshot gave her a tight smile.  “I don’t know,” he admitted. “But right now it’s the only chance we have.  She’s my sister – I’d do anything to keep her safe.” He stood up and came back around the fire, gripping his bow.  “And right now, that means I’ve got to shoot one of your friends. Have you made a choice yet?”

The twine was at her ankles, but it would have to do.  “Sure have,” Haley said. She bent her knees and rolled to a standing position.  “You’re not hurting either of them until you go through me, first.”

Poisonshot blinked.  “You’re kidding, right?” he asked, raising his bow to point it at her.  “I could pin you to the wall right now, and still shoot both of them before you could do anything to me.  Why would you risk it?”

“Because,” Haley said, grabbing the twine on her foot and snapping it since she had a second, “it’s what I do.”

She dove towards him, one fluid leap that she had learned from her brothers growing up.  Poisonshot’s arrow grazed her shoulder, but it didn’t stop her from tackling him. In close combat he wouldn’t be able to draw his bow; adding Haley’s experience wrestling guys four times his size, and she had a distinct advantage.

That didn’t stop Poisonshot from trying.  Haley yelled in shock as he dug the butt of his bow into the wound on her shoulder, and her grip on that side loosened enough that he could roll away from her.  He scrambled to his feet, drawing another arrow from his quiver and nocking it to his bow in one fluid motion.

As Poisonshot drew back the arrow, a howl echoed through the air around them.  He cursed, letting the arrow fall as if a timer had gone off on the fight. He put a hand to his ear, saying calmly to the air, “I’m gonna need an evac.  Now.”

Granny’s large riding wolf ran into the tunnel, snarling at Poisonshot.  Granny was still riding its back, one hand on its fur and one hand in the air as she hollered, “Don’t even think about drawing that bow!”

Poisonshot raised his hands in the air, one still gripping the bow, as a hissing sound crackled in the air behind him.  He grinned at Haley. “Well done,” he told her. “We’ll finish our chat some other time, shall we?”

The air ripped open behind him, showing an empty room.  Poisonshot waved as he stepped through the portal, even as Granny and her wolf charged at him.  The rip in the air closed suddenly, and Louise sneezed at the spot where Poisonshot had disappeared.

“Gosh darn it,” Granny swore.  “We’ll never be able to track him now.”  Turning back to Haley she asked, “How are you, dear?  That cut looks bad.”

Haley put her hand to her shoulder, feeling the damage.  “He just grazed me,” she said. “Check on Reiki and Nightmare; they’re both knocked out.”

“As you wish,” Granny nodded, dismounting Louise and examining the two unconscious teammates.  Nightmare was already stirring; the knockout gas that Poisonshot used on her was wearing off. “Reiki was hit over the head,” Granny reported aloud, pointing to a bump on the back of his skull.  “We’ll need to get him back to Dale. Louise?”

The wolf walked over to Granny, who was pulling another stuffed animal out of her bag.  Despite her injury, Haley came over and helped put Reiki onto the beast’s back. “I’ll stay here with Nightmare until she comes around,” Haley said, seeing the dragon toy in Granny’s hand.  “You take Reiki on the dragon, and we’ll take the car back.”

“What about that cut, dearie?” Granny asked.  “Isn’t bleeding a bit of a… problem… for you?”

Haley opened a small pocket on her utility belt, taking out a small bottle of liquid bandage.  “I can stop most of the bleeding,” she said. “I’ll be fine; go.”

Granny pursed her lips, but mounted Louise.  “If we don’t hear from you in an hour, we’ll send someone back.  And dear?” she added, turning Louise towards the tunnel entrance, “You did good.”

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters, Fourteenth Floor.

Haley Prince, End of Day 1.

“I’m sorry you got into trouble,” Agent said as Dale looked at Haley’s cut.  “I didn’t mean for you to be in so much danger on your first day.”

“Hey, everyone’s alive,” Haley shrugged, “and it makes for a heck of a story.”

Agent gave her a half-smile.  “Still,” he said, “First thing tomorrow, we start your team training.”

“What about Poisonshot?” Haley asked.  “Are we going after him?”

Agent’s smile turned thin as he told her, “If he’s using portals as you and Granny reported, then he could be anywhere in the world by now.”  He picked up his umbrella, adding, “We’ll just have to wait for him to come back into the open. I’m more concerned with his employer, in any case.”

Haley bit her lip, saying, “Poisonshot said that his employer was testing me.  That he’s been testing Watchers around the city, if not around the country. What do you think he meant?”

“No idea,” Agent admitted, “but it’s something we’re looking into.”

“Agent, if ye dinnae mind, I’ve got patients needing rest,” Dale pointed out.  Turning to Haley he added, “Lass, the arrow weren’t poisoned, so you’re good to go.”

“How’s Shadow?” she asked, sliding off the exam table and looking around.  “Is he okay?”

“Shadow’s fine,” came a voice near the elevator.  Frank stood there with David and Natalie, grinning at her.  “I hear you’ve had an interesting first day, huh, Outlier?”

She grinned back, heading over to join them as Dale moved on to examine Rina.  “Yep,” she said. “Arrows hurt, don’t they?” She looked at the spot where the arrow had grazed her shoulder, but the cut was gone.  Dale had used his Third Gen power to completely heal the damage.

“You’re telling me,” Frank said, chuckling.

“So new girl,” Natalie interrupted, “first day means we all go out for drinks.  What do you say?”

“You can tell us all about how you took on Poisonshot,” David said, playfully punching her shoulder.  “The others can join us as soon as they’re done here. I think Chip’s already down at the bar.”

Agent added, “We all could spare a couple hours from work.  I’ll schedule a stand-in to patrol this evening.”

Haley nodded.  “Stand-in?” she asked.  Agent chuckled, clapping her on the shoulder as they all stepped into the elevator.

“You still have a lot to learn,” he said.

Haley waved to Dale and Rina as Frank let them know where to go, and stepped onto the elevator with the others.  My new team, she thought proudly.

* * * * * * * *

Office building in Eon City.

Poisonshot, reporting.

“She did good,” Poisonshot told the suit.  “She kept me talking until she got her hands free, and she didn’t engage until I threatened the others.  She stood up for both of them, despite not knowing them that well, and played for time instead of just charging in.”  He shrugged noncommittally. “Is that what you’re looking for?”

“Maybe.”  The man in the suit sat back in the shadows, pressing his fingertips together as he considered Poisonshot’s report.  “I wish I could have seen more of her fighting style in action.”

“I got out of there when Granny showed up,” Poisonshot said.  “I’m not stupid enough to try and fight her.  We already know the outcome of that fight.”

The suit nodded.  “I get it. She’d wipe the floor with you.”

“Exactly.”  It wasn’t a blow to Poisonshot’s pride to admit it.  He’d seen Granny in action before; in a one-on-one fight with the old lady, with no civilian hostages crowding her space, she would win.  “Now, about my sister…”

The man in the suit looked at him expectantly.  “What about her?”

“When are we going to get her out of Zatvor?” Poisonshot demanded.  “I’ve done what you asked, I ‘tested’ the new girl. Skadi needs that antidote, and she needs an operation.  Why won’t you get her out?”

The man in the suit looked at his watch.  “It takes roughly sixteen hours for the antidote to wear off and for Skadi to start showing signs of being poisoned, correct?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Poisonshot said.  “And we’re coming up on that, fast.”

“Then in about two hours, the guards will be informed that there is something wrong with one of their inmates,” the man said.  “Skadi will be taken to the prison hospital, where they will discover the problem with her venom, and they will then extract the venom sacs for free.”

“What?” Poisonshot said, dumbstruck.  “Why would they do that?”

“Because Zatvor has certain rules in place,” the suit explained.  “They can’t allow a prisoner to die without at least trying to fix them.  With the right bribes, and the right doctors scheduled, they’ll fix your sister.  She can recover at Zatvor, and then we’ll extract her.”  He smiled sarcastically up at Poisonshot.  “Sound like a plan?”

“She’ll get better?” Poisonshot asked, hopeful.

The man in the suit nodded.  “As I keep saying, she’s in a better position than you are right now.”  He gestured between himself and Poisonshot. “You and I aren’t done yet.”

Poisonshot breathed a sigh of relief.  Skadi would be okay; that was all he cared about.  Looking at the man in the suit, he considered the bargain he had made for his sister’s life.  Worth it, he thought.  He straightened his spine as he asked, “What do I have to do?”

* * * * * * * *