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.
* * * * * * * * *
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.
“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?”
* * * * * * * *