The busy season at the museum was over for me. I was still working on one major restoration, but it was a smaller painting whose value dictated a slow and steady approach. I was continually having to fend off the praise of those who watched me work. They were amazed at my ability to work in such fine detail and with such precision. Little did they know that their presence was slowing me to a crawl!
The holidays were coming too, and I was wanting to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas away from Terana, if possible. Andy had sent invitations for both, and it sounded like Mom and Dad were going to get their first invite to Arbor, and so were Cor's.
I had sent a thought to Harvey letting him know I wanted to get together. He had replied with a location and a time. I could sense that it was Midnight who should show up too, not Sarina Kelvin. The location was the top of the Chesapeake Tower. Chesapeake Financial was a large banking and investing company, one that would be a multinational corporation back on Earth. Terana's communications and transportation capabilities weren't up to the task of supporting a true multinational yet. Despite this, Chesapeake's reach was global, if a trifle slow.
The advantage of meeting on top of the Tower was that it was the tallest building in that part of the city, and there would be nobody looking down on our meeting. I jumped myself onto the rooftop at the appointed time. Of course I did a quick mental sweep first and found Harvey there, sitting at a small table, linen table cloth and all. There was a vase with a daisy in it sitting on the table and an ice bucket with a few bottles resting in the ice. I jumped to the roof behind him.
"Doesn't this look cozy!" I said. "Where's the violin player?"
"Good evening Midnight."
"Can I offer you a root beer?" Harvey asked, motioning to the ice bucket.
"Sure," I answered, noting that Harvey had brought the same local root beer I'd served him at our previous meeting.
"I'm glad you asked for a meeting. There's word out that the Black Adder is operating in this area, and you'll need to keep an eye out."
"Who's the Black Adder?" I asked.
"The Black Adder is one of the world's most notorious villains," Harvey said, pouring a root beer. "He is an international assassin, uses an undetectable poison of his own devising that stops the heart. It is always fatal. Not only has he never been caught, but he has almost never even been seen by anyone other than his victim."
I had been doing as much research as I could into the history of Terana, but I hadn't focused much on the specific history of the super hero community. I'd have to ask Harvey if there was a resource I could go to for that kind of information.
"You wouldn't go to all this trouble," I motioning at the table and the ice bucket as I sat down, "just to tell me about a new villain in town."
"I think you have what it takes to bring down the Black Adder."
I sipped my root beet while I contemplated that thought.
"This is, as you said, the world's foremost assassin, uses a poison that never fails, and you think I can take him on?"
"Yes, and for several very good reasons," Harvey sat across from me and took a sip of his own root beer before continuing. "Everything publicly known about you suggests a hero whose powers are physical, as manifested by your 'midnight force'. We both know that this is a cover for your true abilities, and you've even managed to conceal the existence of your armor so far."
"Okay, so the Black Adder will think all he has to do is catch me unawares and give me a shot with whatever his wonder drug is, and boom! He's got me. I see where you're going with this."
"Exactly. So as long as you don't do something silly, like lowering your armor to drink a soda in public, you're immune to his poison."
I considered my wise-assed Teranan mentor with one raised eyebrow for a moment.
"Has it occurred to you that the Black Adder could very well be using some completely different mechanism for killing his targets? You say that he uses an undetectable poison. If its undetectable, how do you know it exists?"
"Deduction?" Harvey replied without conviction. "We assume a poison that stops the heart because we find no evidence of anything else, and what else could do that?"
"I could do that," I offered, quietly. "I could do it with a thought."
"Telekinesis?" Harvey asked.
"Yes, that would do the trick too, but it would leave signs of physical damage." I answered.
"I could just tell the heart to stop beating."
That brought a long pause, and a strange look to Harvey's face.
"You could do that?"
"Yes, probably," I answered. "It would be hard to do to you. You have some sort of defense that I find difficult to get through. I would have to work at it to use that trick on you."
Harvey looked at me in silence for a long time.
"But you wouldn't use it, would you?"
"No, except in self defense, and as a last resort, I would never do that. It would go against everything I've been taught, and everything I believe."
"But the Black Adder might not have those kind of moral restrictions?"
"This is all speculation," I pointed out. "We have no idea how he does what he does. All we can say is that it could be poison, it could be something else. The bottom line is, we need to understand him well enough to draw him out in a way that gives me a shot at him without endangering anyone else."
"That's going to take some time. We'd better hope he doesn't have too many targets lined up in the near future."
"Which leads me to my reason for asking to meet. I'm going to be gone for a while, starting a week from next Friday."
"Five weeks, maybe six," I answered. "Through the New Year, but not much past it, I expect.
"Good enough. That will give me plenty of time to flesh out a plan. Let me know when you get back."
I was busy the two weeks before I headed to Arbor for the holidays.
The museum held several very high profile events during the Christmas holidays, but they didn't have a Thanksgiving holiday here, so things didn't get rolling as early as they did back on Earth.
While my boss might have wanted me around when he was bragging about some of the restorations that had been accomplished to the many donors who would be invited to these parties, he understood it was the holidays, and I was just another of the denizens of the deep. He already knew I wasn't willing to be eye candy for these sort of things.
The upcoming parties did require some work getting some things out of the archives and prepped for display, and every one of the denizens pitched in for that. I had my pieces of that puzzle done early, and left a detailed set of notes for the rest of the crew regarding any special handling that might be needed.
Only one of the pieces required anything special, and that was only because there had been a small touch up required in one corner of the canvas where a little moisture damage had been found after we got it out of the crate. The painting had been put in a room where we had complete control of the temperature and the humidity, and we had it hot and dry in there, wanting to chase out any other moisture that might be remaining in the canvas. Our paintings were never stored framed, and Becky was making sure she had a good bone-dry frame to display it in while it was out for the holidays.
That occupied me for most of the time before my vacation, and the rest of the time I spent on Smoke.
Smoke was the third of my unrevealed facets.
Temple was the first place I'd found that I'd kept for my own, and Terana was the last, having come after my introduction to Arbor, but Smoke had been a find that had come to me while I was deep in the middle of my 'goddess quest', for lack of a better description.
If I hadn't been wearing my armor the day I jumped into that facet, I would have stood a good chance of dying. Smoke was a dark, harsh world with an atmosphere of black, roiling clouds and a land of smoky, broken ground separated by inky black seas.
Because I didn't die, I found the Slurr. That wasn't really their name for themselves. They didn't have a name for themselves. What they did have were bright, burning little minds that latched on to my thoughts with joy and awe and who became the first, and last of my worshipers.
What they also had were physical bodies made of clouds of miniature electrochemical furnaces, and an innate ability to take just about anything and pull it into themselves and remake it, clear down to the molecular level.
The first of them I saw physically were sitting in a pool of something oily looking that they were slowly 'digesting'. Their little cloudy black bodies looked like a slurry of gritty coal dust and oil, and that's where the name came from. Slurry became Slurr.
With their little matter replicator bodies, and their bright little computer-like minds, the Slurr were tools waiting to be used. A billion beings, every one of whom worshiped me utterly, and they were tools desperately wanting to be used.
My struggle was to not use them wastefully. To not squander their devotion and love.
So I gave them tiny little tasks that I thought were crucial and impossible to get done otherwise.
It was the Slurr who were quietly and efficiently putting my communications taps and interfaces into Terana's existing network of 1950's level telecommunications. They were also the way I was getting my cameras and video equipment spread from light pole to light pole across Fort Richardson. If I had been the evil super villain, then the Slurr would have been my 'minions'. As it was, they were my tireless sidekicks, in a way far more complete than any traditional sidekick might have been.
I did have concerns about the whole 'plucky sidekick' thing. Having one would fit my idea of the super-hero image, but there was no way I was willing to risk someone's life to fulfill that part of the image. For now, Harvey Keaton or the Slurr were going to have to fill the role, and both in a behind-the-scenes fashion.
The Slurr were also a key piece of my two most mysterious weapons. Dream and Nightmare, my twin swords, were made of the Dream Stuff, and not formed out of it into something solid, but pure unmodified and unrestricted Dream Stuff from the Dream World itself.
It was only a cloudy layer of Slurr that allowed them to exist in the world that way at all, and the Slurr who gave of themselves that way couldn't live more than a few months under those conditions, so it was time again for me to return to Smoke and exchange the Slurr who had served for new ones.
The focus on Smoke was an eerie place — a dark pool of utter black, with what looked like a giant upside down Christmas tree rising up out of it, glittering with a billion tiny sparkles of light.
Well, a Christmas tree that was combined product of Tim Burton and M.C. Escher, perhaps.
When I reappeared in the focus, the Slurr reacted, and their amorphous, inky bodies went stiff and blue for miles around in reaction to my presence. Every Slurr mind within broadcast distance was instantly clamoring for my attention, and for a 'blessing' from me.
I try hard to keep from anthropomorphizing their behavior. They do think of me as their god, and their devotion is utter, but this is not religion as men think of it. There are no rituals, no dogma or catechism. This is simple worship, and unlike Earth, their deity is able to answer. I pulled deeply from the Light and sent a wave of it washing through the gathered Slurr, as far as my senses could reach.
I drew Dream and Nightmare, holding them up and out, and two Slurr, in what appeared to be a random selection, burned brighter blue, and almost white for a second as they rode a charge of plasma out of the roiling fields around me, each dropping onto a blade.
As I understood it, from what the Slurr could communicate to me about it, the new Slurr volunteers and the returning Slurr mated then, and the returning Slurr always left their time with me pregnant. That these beings were not in any way sexual left a lot to interpretation. The closest I could come was like adding an electron to an atom and shifting it from one ionized state to a higher one.
Even that was a major league guess, and I had to ask Spinner and the Woodwise for their help in interpreting what I did know. If I had not learned how to talk to those two when I was little, I probably would never have recognized the Slurr for what they were in the first place.
This ritual was brief, but it was draining. The constant call of their bright minds demanding attention did not take long to wear on me. I had not come this time to gather more of them for my ongoing projects on Terana, so it was a brief stay.
Two days before I left for Arbor, I ran into a nasty fellow known as RazorBurst.
I was at the dockside markets picking up some fresh fish for dinner that night when an alarm bell began ringing from about a block away. The screams followed very quickly after, and I began running towards the sounds, while I got Wing up and out of her resting spot. It was broad daylight, so I had her in stealth mode before I jumped her overhead, but I still put her up a mile.
By the time I had her in position, I had been able to find a spot of concealment, and in an instant was in my costume. With the suit fully engaged I was able to tap into the sensors aboard Wing as well as the live feed from my camera nearest the center of the commotion.
"Run!" some woman's scream was caught in the audio pickup of my video unit.
"Its RazorBurst!" a male voice screamed at the same time.
I had been building myself a little database of known criminals, but it wasn't very complete yet. I was surprised to find I had some information on this guy.
RazorBurst was not exactly a petty criminal, and not exactly a major villain either. He usually hired himself out to someone needing muscle. According to the admittedly thin dossier I had on him, he was one Randolph Grimes, born in Cairo, 32 years old. A former British citizen who, as was typical of many of the super-powered villains, had been renounced by the British government, his citizenship revoked.
He seemed to have an ability to generate 'bursts' of razor sharp wire that he sent out around him at high speeds. Anything in the area softer than concrete tended to wind up looking like it had been run through a Cuisinart.
When he got hired, it was usually because someone wanted to scare some people, and RazorBurst did indeed have some people scared.
I jumped myself into the air, about fifty feet above the docks and towards the thinnest part of the crowd. There were bodies in his vicinity, and blood. Lots of blood.
I saw about half a dozen people, still breathing but wounded to some degree or another, struggling to get out of the area. They were my first priority while RazorBurst was still unaware of me. I pointed a gloved hand at the nearest of them, moved the hand in a vaguely circular motion and zap! They were suddenly outlined in black fire and then engulfed in an impenetrable shell of my 'midnight force'. This was nothing but Light based holography, but it provided the cover I needed to jump all of them to safety at Harborside, the nearest hospital.
"Bitch!" came the cry from RazorBurst. "Who in the bloody hell are you?"
He wasn't apparently gentleman enough to actually wait for a reply, and a wall of razor wire came flying my way. I pulled Dream and Nightmare for the first time and sent my Light senses into the tangle hurtling towards me.
"Call me Midnight!" I answered, swinging both swords in crossing arcs in front of me and into the wire.
Have you ever watched a strand of steel wool burn? Or a strand of dusty spider web?
The razor wire flared and burned like that, burning from the point of contact out to the ends of the wave, leaving remnants of sparkling embers and dying wisps of orange that quickly faded.
The nasty grin on this bad guy's face disappeared, and several nasty curses followed. Nothing worth repeating.
Unlike the Crimson Spear, the other actual 'super' villain I'd gone up against so far, RazorBurst didn't depend on any kind of technology. His ability to generate the bursts of razor sharp wire were some sort of innate ability, and as he sent a stream of it at me this time, like water out of a high pressure hose, I could see the familiar blurring, like I'd seen when looking at Harvey Keaton. Dream and Nightmare again made quick work of his wire, but he adapted quickly, I had to give him credit. A second stream from the other hand shredded the heavy wooden planking under my feet, dropping me momentarily towards the water below.
I dropped two feet before I caught myself and floated up.
"Nice try," I laughed. "Did I mention I can fly?"
To the best of my knowledge, I already had all the wounded moved to where they could get help, but I had gotten here late, and didn't know for sure where he had started. He needed to go to sleep, and quickly. A patented blast of 'Midnight force' knocked him back against a wall, and then onto his ass, and I flew, as quickly as I could over and as he rose a hand, a fresh wave of razor sharp metal just forming, Nightmare slice through his neck.
Like the razor wire, the two pieces of Razor Grimes became dying embers before quickly dissipating into a wisp of ash that just as quickly faded away.
Because of the funky field that seemed to permeate anyone with 'super powers' here on Terana, I didn't trust the Zombie field in my glove to work instantly, and any hesitation on my part could have meant that the next move by RazorBurst could take yet another victim.
At least that's what I planned on telling myself later, when I knew my conscience and I would be having a few words with each other. Right now other matters required my attention.
With RazorBurst gone, I sent my senses out looking for more injured, searching a much wider radius than I had used during the initial rush. I did find several, but they were already being tended to by emergency personnel. I did find one person who was pinned by a large beam that had toppled over, cut loose by one of RazorBursts attacks, onto her legs. The emergency people had her stabilized, but they were waiting for someone to bring over a fork lift to try and get the beam off her.
"Allow me," I offered, grabbing the beam. It was pretty heavy, but between me, the boost my armor added, and a little telekinesis, I was able to pick the beam up in one smooth motion and moved it over to a clear spot and ease it gently back onto the ground.
There were some police officers among the emergency people, and I headed for one immediately after getting the beam in place.
"Officer, there's a hole in the dock over there," I pointed back to where I had been battling RazorBurst, "You'll want to get it barricaded right away."
"Thanks, Midnight," he said with a wide smile.
I shook my head and frowned, "I only wish I'd got here a little sooner. Some people died here today."
"We all can only do what we can do," he said, with some sadness of his own.
I never did get my fish.
By the time I got Wing back in her hanger, I was drained. I settled for a little comfort food at Charlie and Banjo's and then it was early to bed. Everyone had been notified, all the arrangements were made. I was on vacation!
In my darkened bedroom though, I felt the bile rising in the back of my throat. My conscience had decided it was time for that conversation.
My internal Harvey Keaton alert began pinging like mad immediately upon my return. I sent my senses out, and found him easily, sitting in a coffee shop on The Point - what would have been the Presidio back on Earth. After I got the few things I'd brought back with me put away and changed into a fresh set of Sarina Kelvin clothes, I jumped myself to the sidewalk outside the coffee shop, using Dad's famous Light trick for not being noticed, and walked in and sat down across from Harvey at his table.
"Hello Harvey, did you miss me?"
Harvey eyed me with what seemed like genuine relief. "Sarena! Yes, you could say that. Things have heated up a little around here while you were gone."
I got the waitresses attention and got a cup of coffee and a piece of blueberry cobbler. There was nothing but polite pseudo conversation until the waitress left after delivering both to me.
Harvey looked around, and I felt him exercise a bit of his own special ability. "We can talk freely for the moment."
"Okay," I answered, sending out a little Light sweep of my own that came back clean. Nobody interested in us in the immediate vicinity, and nothing electronic of any kind. "So tell me all about it."
Fort Richardson was in the middle of a gang war, and it had escalated to include some of the super-powered mercenary types getting hired, and causing a fair amount of damage here and there.
"This is probably relevant to the conversation we had before your vacation." Harvey said. "The Black Adder moving into the area, even if its temporary, has caused a series of power shifts and territorial disputes, mostly centered on Chinatown. They have been the immovable object amid all the irresistible forces in this struggle, so a lot of the violence has occurred around its edges."
"Was RazorBurst's appearance just before I left a part of that?"
"Yes and no. He came at the request of the Pocket Lake gang, but hadn't even made official contact with them before your run in with him. Apparently that little outing was his idea of playing tourist in a new town."
"Do you have names and faces? I've got to show up at work tomorrow to let everyone know I'm back, but its still the winter schedule at the museum, so I've got a pretty light workload, unless someone's unearthed some great work of art or something."
"Just my memories, but you know how good I am with those."
He was good with them. At least as good as I, or anyone in my family was. I had some fresh memories of my own, borrowed from Harvey, moments later. We finished our coffee, and me my pie, which wasn't as good as I was used to, and we went our separate ways.
It was a Sunday, and on Terana, Sundays in America still meant that most places were closed. Most of the serious businesses, and especially those in the 'essential service' segment had weekend operators answering their phones. I left messages to restart my newspaper delivery, turn the gas back on, and got my own messages from the service I subscribed to.
I had done a good job of letting people know I'd be gone. I only had two messages, and one of those was from the insurance company I'd contacted regarding the insurance on the car that had been the old Sarena Kelvin's. They were prepared to have a check cut for me and wanted to know how I wanted to receive it. In this day and age, at least on Terana, these sort of things were much more likely to be handled in person than by mail, and there was certainly no such thing as electronic bank transfers, though Terana had its version of Western Union, and 'wire transfers' between banks were possible. This being Fort Richardson, they had a branch office here, and I arranged to pick it up there at the end of the week.
I dropped by work after breakfast, not expecting much work, but wanting to see everyone and get caught up. There wasn't much new going on there, though Becky did let me know that she had dumped her boyfriend over the holidays after he had announced that he was going to be spending his Christmas with a half dozen of his old college buddies in Tombstone.
Tombstone, Arizona was Terana's version of Las Vegas. The same kinds of people that started Vegas, and with the same kind of motivations, had moved into Tombstone, choosing the location for its wild and notorious history. The same processes that had created legal gambling in Nevada did the same in Arizona for Terana. The big difference was the casino's names tended to take advantage of the local history. The first casino in Tombstone was called The Boot Hill, after the towns famous cemetery.
History aside, Tombstone of today on Terana was the Las Vegas of Earth's 40's and 50's. The gangster element still ruled there, and a bit more publicly than had ever been true in Vegas. Due pretty much to that element, Tombstone was also often a hangout for super-powered bad guys, though it was always an uneasy truce. The gangland guys had made their own deals to enable them to demand that the super powered types keep to themselves and not scare off the gamblers.
I visited with Jack for a few minutes up in his office, and got an invite to dinner the following week. He was still curious about where I'd gone over the holidays, but I told him that your parents dying doesn't ease your fond memories, and the holidays were a time when you tended to look back on those fond memories.
The soft-hearted sap ate it up, and I knew I didn't have to worry about any further nosiness from his end, at least for a while.
Once the rest of the staff came back to full strength in the coming week, the schedule would call for a new section of the archives to be brought out for review and preventative maintenance. This included about thirty paintings that I would have to inspect. There were always one or two that had developed minor problems, so there would be work.
Winter weather in the Bay area was generally wet and miserable, and the next few days fit that mold perfectly. The area gets eighty percent of its annual rainfall between November and March, and several inches were contributed. It never fell into the category of a downpour, but it was a steady rain with a good bit of wind.
In some ways it was exhilarating, this kind of weather, this time of year. The leaves had fallen months ago, and the streets had been scoured by the preceding month's weather. Today's storm seemed a phenomenon of pure wind and water, clean and powerful.
Personal enthusiasm or not, it felt strange hovering in the rain-soaked sky a hundred feet above Signal Hill, watching a crew of thieves scurrying like ants as they carted electronics and precision tooling equipment out of the back of Martine's Electronics and into the back of the large van they had brought with them.
I'd already called it in to the nearest precinct house, but these guys weren't likely to hang around long.
I dropped down out of the heavy drizzle and the night sky until I was alongside the driver's side door of the truck's cab. They were smart enough to keep a driver in the car at the ready, but he was sitting in the darkened cab with his eyes closed.
Smart plan, but not-so-smart pawns to execute it. I yanked the door open and jerked the driver out, giving him a little zombie glove love as I tossed him away from the truck and against a pile of pallets near the rear wall of the building. He fell, limp and unconscious. There was a little noise as the driver's body rolled against the pallets, and I knew it would draw some attention.
This didn't look like the Dream and Nightmare kind of crime, so I left the swords on my back and pulled Slumber from her holster.
There was a man in the truck, three in the store and two men, arms full of boxes, between the truck and the store. I went stealth and waited as the two men delivered their boxes and came running around the corner of the truck. They saw the driver's body immediately.
"Crap! Only Leo would trip over his own feet trying to take a piss in the dark." The taller of the two men commented with a snort.
"Shut up Don," The second man replied. "Keep your eyes open and your yap shut!"
They had walked past my more-or-less-invisible form, heading towards their fallen comrade. I dropped the stealth mode and shot them both in the back with two quiet 'whooshing' sounds from Slumber.
That should have been good, but one of the two men in the truck had gotten curious when these two had headed my way, and poked his head around the corner of the truck just in time to see the slight flare from Slumber and the two men falling to the ground.
"Its her! Send the signal! Send the Signal!" He yelled as he ducked back around the corner. I chased after him immediately, but didn't like what I'd just heard. You don't need a signal unless you've got reinforcements ready to come at a moments notice.
Or if it was a trap.
When I 'see' someone with my senses, its usually a combination of their mental output and Light signature, combined into an almost radar-like overlay of the area around me. I can't actually see them, unless I focus my senses remotely, which leaves me oblivious to whats actually around me. I 'saw' the three crooks that I'd spotted in the store making a break for it through the front of the building, and the guy who'd done the yelling making a break for it through a hole that had been cut in the fence on the other side of the truck. At the same time, three 'blurry' presences impinged on the edge of my senses, and headed my way fast.
I had no clue who the first to arrive was, but I was interested to see my first female super-powered opponent. She was dressed in a red skintight suit with a belt made up of a string of yellow-orange glowing spheres. Her hair was blond and long and I might describe her as strikingly beautiful if it weren't for the ugly sneer on her lips.
I might have tried a witty introduction, but the woman didn't wait for one, and pointing a finger in my direction, sent a tiny glowing yellow-orange sphere at me, looking like a smaller version of the ones on her belt. It was moving pretty fast, but not even bullet -like speed, so I decided to exercise a little discretion and simply dodge it, flying up and to my left, away from her and the other two blurry figures still approaching to my right.
The little glowing ball was no guided missile, but at the end of its trip, it blew up quite spectacularly. My armor was pretty tough, but this was a pretty high-powered blast! I made it my goal of the moment to be sure none of those little balls of boom-boom met up with me.
The other two newcomers had finally arrived, so there was no time to be worried about another little globe. I sent a little jolt blondie's way via my 'midnight force' and it rocked her back a good ten feet.
"Nitro! Are you all right?" The bigger of the two yelled across the parking lot.
"Don't worry about me you idiots! Get her!" The woman I now knew was called Nitro screamed in a voice as nasty as the sneer I'd seen earlier.
"My pleasure boss!" The shorter, stockier guy hollered. He squared himself, widening his stance and holding his arms cocked at his side and opened his mouth.
I mean REALLY opened his mouth! For a second he looked like a snake unhinging his jaw. That image disappeared when a flicker of heat and flame sprang up in the back of his throat. A second later, I was awash in a gout of flame.
I let the flame wash over me. My suit was handling it so far, and I mentally flipped an internal switch to make the temperature indicator show up in the suit's heads-up display. At the same time I triggered my holographic 'midnight field' to make it appear that I was blocking the effects of his flame with my powers.
I could've stayed there ignoring the flames and the heat for quite a while, but Nitro had recovered by this time and sent another sphere my way. I started to move further to my left, but Nitro decided this wasn't a good thing.
"Tangle, Cut her off!" the woman screeched.
The third of my opponents raised both arms, and suddenly a wall of writhing, thorny vines sprang up out of the ground, rising higher and higher, blocking my path. I considered just plowing my way through them, but there was something about the glowing green sap that seemed to be oozing out around the thorns that made me want to avoid it.
Nitro and Tangle. I had two of their names, at least their public ones. The screechy one acted like the boss, but she seemed too emotional to be the mastermind type, so I was assuming she was just in charge of this assault, and whoever had set the trap was not here.
Ruminating about such things in mid-battle was perhaps not what I should have been doing. Yes, I'd dodged glowing sphere number two, but it had exploded against the wall of a nearby two story building and blasted most of the rear wall to rubble. In the meantime, Flamethrower, or whatever his name was had reoriented himself, and I was being bathed in flames again.
At the same time, the police had finally showed up, and I saw several other cars as well. Nitro decided it was a good idea to distract me, or maybe she was just an evil bitch. She sent a glowing sphere towards the nearest patrol car.
I sent a silent signal to Wing, high above me to put a force field between the police and the four of us, and to use the appropriate 'Midnight effects'.
"Well, we don't want any people or cars getting blasted." I said out loud, and flew at top speed towards Nitro. I didn't wait though, I pointed Slumber at her and gave her a good zapping with the zombie gun.
I was right to be concerned about the fields effect on super-powered folks. She didn't go down immediately, but was barely conscious where she stood. I landed right in front of her and delivered a good old-fashioned left hook that knocked her out. With a hand on her, I was able to get past the blurriness and flip her mental sleep switch.
With Nitro taken care of, I turned back towards Tangle and his buddy. My senses were warning me of some motion back to my right, and I looked. That damned wall of thorns was moving towards me, and was still growing!
This was a job for Nightmare. I pulled the sword and flew low and fast along the ground in front of the mass of plant life, running the sword through the base of them like I was pulling a zipper.
There was a very satisfying sizzle and snap as the plants began to burn, not quite the glowing ember effect I was used to, but a satisfying running flame that quickly had the entire mass outlined, until suddenly, it was all gone with one big, whooshing flame-out.
The one called Tangle was yelling and running. "Flamer, get her!" I flew in his direction, leaving Flamer to his own devices for the moment. Unintentionally a smart move on my part. Goaded by his cohort, Flamer tried to move while still flaming, and the sweep of his flame almost took his partner out. "Watch out you idiot!!" Tangle screamed.
He had to duck and swing back towards me to avoid the flames, and that let me get close enough to grab him by his sad little cape and throw him against the back wall of the electronics shop.
Flamer was still spouting flame, and slowly turning my direction. I decided he probably wasn't much of a conversationalist, especially when flaming, so didn't bother with any repartee, witty or otherwise, and threw up a 'midnight force' ball of blackness around both of us. With him unable to see me, I jumped to a spot directly behind him and reached out with my gloved hand and a little mental reinforcement, and had him lights out.
With my super-powered opponents all down for the count, I did a quick double check on all three of them. It wouldn't do to have any one of them waking up too soon. I also needed to do a little mental digging to see if I could discover who had set this trap.
The woman called Nitro had the only details that were meaningful. She'd been contacted by a guy from the South Harbor Maulers, one of the city's more powerful gangs. The contact was someone she knew only as 'Rawbone'. I got a visual from her memories, but nothing else useful.
"Everything under control Midnight?" a voice said behind me. I turned and saw a uniformed officer.
"Yeah, they're all out for a while." I answered. "There's a few more, regular types over by that truck, and at least three people got away through the front of the store."
"A lot of firepower here, for a simple heist." another voice came from nearby. I turned and saw Peter Bellamy, the reporter from the Clarion.
"Yes it was, Mr. Bellamy." I replied. "But I don't think this was a simple heist."
"Please, call me Pete. Someone set up a trap?" he asked.
"So it would seem, Pete," I nodded. "Or..."
"A test?" he finished for me.
"You don't get to be the Bay City Clarion's ace reporter without having some smarts, I guess," I teased.
"Well, Nitro certainly can tear up some real estate, but these other two are pretty minor characters, as far as super villains go. Based on what's known about you, this wouldn't seem to be a team designed to take you out."
"Assuming I was even the intended target."
"You have been inactive since you took RazorBurst out, so maybe you weren't the intended target."
"Except for the guy who ran away from me yelling, 'Its her, send the signal', I might agree with you there."
I waved at the senior officer to get his attention. "You guys need me for anything else?" I got a grin and a shake of his head.
"Looks like I'm done here, let me walk you back to your car," I offered.
At the car, I leaned against the front fender and gave Peter Bellamy a sincere smile.
"I appreciate what you've written about me so far. I had some concerns when I started doing this that there could be bad press. You know, complaints about 'another vigilante, that sort of thing."
"I write it as I see it, so I can't take credit for being a Midnight booster, but to be honest, what's not to like. You seem genuinely concerned over people's lives, you don't seem to be one of those self-important types who has to utter every pithy phrase in stentorian tones..." He left it hanging on purpose.
"Well, you're not exactly unpleasant to look at either."
Geez! Super hero and newspaper reporter? How much more Superman and Lois Lane could I get! Still, Peter Bellamy was definitely cute, and in a Thistle kind of way that made me tingle. I decided I needed to get back to what had been on my mind when I suggested walking him back to the car.
"Listen, I've got a lead on something here, but I need to talk to someone who has some inside info on the South Harbor Maulers. Do you know anyone I could talk to who fits the bill?"
"Sure! Susan Sanchez has been reporting on the gang activity in that part of town for years. She'd know quite a bit about them, I'd guess."
"Can you ask her to meet with me? I'll call the city desk and ask for you in a couple days."
"It would be my pleasure. Do you want a private meeting, or can I tag along?"