The Hunt Is On 3.1

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Having someone new in charge changed everything. You were forced to get used to how this new person ran things even though you had gotten comfortable with how the old person did it. Kind of reminded Cameron of her foster care days. Those days ended when she got her powers, no one was willing to take her in after, too difficult to deal with a damaged child let alone one with superpowers, and they put her in that place for troubled superpowered youth.

“Ah, Miss Pierce, thank you for coming to my office so quickly,” Agent Camelo said, smiling pleasantly as he sat in Hayes’ chair, in Hayes’ office. That was a red flag if Cameron had ever saw one. “Close the door behind you.” She did, then took a seat in one of the two chairs facing Agent Camelo. That smile never left his face as his eyes looked at her from top to bottom. “You haven’t met my team yet, have you? They came with me to Avocet, since you’re all lacking in firepower here.”

What kind of game was he playing? Of course Cameron hadn’t met any members of his team yet, he had called her to his office a minute after the status update came. “No,” Cameron said. “I haven’t.”

“That’s a shame, but I’m sure you will meet soon enough. I think you might get along with them, Miss Pierce, like yourself some of them are former criminals. You wouldn’t be able to tell, looking at them now but I assure you they were.” He leaned back in the big leather chair Hayes owned. The warmth of his smile never reached his eyes.

“Oh, don’t you worry Agent Camelo, I assure you I’m just as reformed as they are.” Cameron gave him her biggest, brightest smile.

“That’s not what I asked you here to talk about but that’s very nice to hear. I just wanted to know your opinion on your team, so far. You’re likely to have a more unbiased opinion than the others,” Agent Camelo said.

Cameron shrugged with her uninjured shoulder. “They’re pretty cool. I don’t have anything to complain about.”

“Great, that’s great. How’s your arm, by the way? I read in a report you were injured in your fight with Gladwell?”

“I did, and I’m fine.”

“It was Agent Brown’s recommendation that you, Ionic, and Violet Knight were all given time to properly rest and I agree, despite being qualified for being a superhero, all of you are still teenagers. Do you have a problem with that?”

“If you think you can find Gladwell without me, then yeah, no problems here.”

He nodded. “We’ll do fine without your ability. It would be nice though, if you told me more about it and how it works. It’d be useful information for Victory Lad to have once he copies your powers.”

Cameron hated power copies almost as much as she hated power thieves, even if they were on her side. It just didn’t feel fair that they were able to copy what made you special. “Victory Lad is a part of your team?” she asked.

“Well, no, he’s not. I doubt you’ve been told but Victory Lad isn’t part of any official team yet. He moves from team to team, learn something from all the superheroes we have. I don’t just mean powers, of course. He’s recently been assigned to my team for the next while, part of the reason why we were allowed to come here and help with your Gladwell problem,” Agent Camelo said.

“You fight fire with fire so you fight power thief with power copier,” Cameron commented.

Victory Lad was the up and coming superhero. He was one of those ultra powers, superhumans much stronger than their peers, and his ability to copy the powers of any superhuman he spent time with made him very useful, but dangerous. The SAA was grooming him to become the next Champion, the current highest ranking superhero in the country.

Why they let him call himself Victory Lad was a mystery.

“Honestly, he should stay away from that power, it’s hard to control. I haven’t even mastered it yet,” she admitted. “It’s more distracting than helpful, most of the time.” What she didn’t say was how useful it was when used properly. It saved her ass more than once.

Agent Camelo nodded. “Thank you again, for your time Miss Pierce. You may go unless you have something you want to talk to me about.”

“Nope.” She rose from her chair and left before he could change his mind. She was about to go back to her room, enjoy her day off, when her phone beeped the second she reached the elevator. It wasn’t Agent Camelo calling her back to his office, no, it was Allison. Cameron remembered finding the phone numbers of everyone important already programmed into her phone but it was the first time a team member had contacted her.

That was almost never a good sign.

Cameron, please come to my workshop, I’d like to talk to you about weapons.

Boy, Allison sure knew how to get Cameron’s attention. The only way she could make that more appealing to Cameron was if she had half naked men serving them pizza.

She stepped into the elevator, tapped her ID card against a panel, and hit the button to take her to where the workshops were located. Then she got out at her stop, heading straight for a door clearly marked as being Ionic’s workshop. The door opened as she approached it. She walked in and the door automatically closed behind her.

Cameron wasn’t sure what she expected to see but it felt very Allison. Everything was neatly organized, tools were nicely arranged on the walls, each workbench contained only the essential items, no clutter as far as Cameron could tell. Personally, Cameron liked a little mess, made things feel more real, natural. Allison stood behind a table, a partly dismantled Ion drone in front of her and beside it was something that looked kind of like a car engine.

“Thanks for coming, I needed to talk,” Allison said, looking up from the parts on the table and pulling off her gloves. “It won’t make you uncomfortable if I ask about your past?”

“Depends on which part you want to ask about,” Cameron said as she walked up to the table and stood across from Allison.

“Specifically, I want to talk about your time as a thief.”

“Oh, that.” She smiled. “I’m not one to turn down an opportunity to brag, so go ahead, ask away.”

“You stole equipment from all sorts of people, at least some of which had to have a fairly sophisticated tracker, considering you stole from inventors. I’m wondering how you dealt with that.”

That wasn’t what Cameron was expecting but she wasn’t lying before, she loved an opportunity to brag. “I have more than teleporting powers. I’ve also got a perception power and it’s more complicated than just letting me see invisible people. Don’t really know how to describe it but if I concentrate I can see these images that overlap everything. They’re not really images, really, they’re more like… concepts? Or ideas. I use it, look at all the parts and then I can mostly figure out what part does what from their images. I knew a guy who helped me with the technical stuff.”

“Very interesting. How much do you know about inventors, Cameron?”

She shrugged. “You guys build stuff, and those things can do some crazy shit.”

“Well, yes, that’s correct,” Allison said. “But when inventors first started appearing, a lot of effort went in determining whether it was actual science being used, which we would be able to replicate, or if it was a power making it worked, which we wouldn’t be able to be replicate. For the most part, it’s not real science, so when I look at the inventions of other inventors, I’m almost as clueless as anybody else.”

“Okay, I think I get it. You want me to look over something, tell you about it, so you can try and copy it?”

Allison pointed to the engine thing. “That’s from Hoplite, another inventor. It generates forcefields but unlike mine, this doesn’t take as long to start up. It’d be very good for the both of us if you helped me.”

“Wait, what do you mean when you said good for the both of us?”

“To compensate you for your time spent, I’d be willing to do you a favor, make you a weapon or improve your armor or something. You can pick,” Allison said.

Cameron thought about the standard stun gun the SAA gave her, about how it barely affected Gladwell. “Cool,” she said. “Sounds like a good deal to me. When do you want to work on it?”

“Right now would be my preference.”

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Home 2.7

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Sneaking out was ridiculous easy when you could teleport. Took the fun out of it. Sneaking back in while drunk, that was a bit more of a challenge.

Cameron must have done alright considering she woke up in her own bed, an empty bottle of orange juice sat on her bedside table. Right, she remembered pouring vodka into it last night. It was a bad habit from when she used to be more of a party girl, turning to alcohol whenever she couldn’t deal. How did regular people deal with finding out their father wasn’t dead and instead had abandoned them to join the fucking mob? Was there some kind of pamphlet for her to read or a how to guide online? He hadn’t even left her a fucking note, her mom had managed that much, making clear she was leaving and never coming back and doing so of her own free will.

She had so wanted to believe he was dead. It would have been better than knowing he had betrayed her, breaking the only promise she needed him to keep, and left like Mom did. Now he was back in Avocet, hunting Gladwell. She recognized his spirit the second it showed up. It was really hard to forget what it looked like when it still haunted her nightmares. That thing had been the bane of her existence when she had been a kid. A force of nature she couldn’t win against, could only avoid if she was lucky.

Seeing Gladwell carve it up like a turkey had been nice. Real nice.

Her phone buzzed and it didn’t stop despite her begging. It laid on the floor near her leather jacket, close to the window. She teleported it to her hand. Thank god for superpowers. Without them, she might have actually had to get out of bed. She hit accept and put it on speaker, too lazy to move it up to her ear. “For your sake, I really hope this is important,” she grumbled.

“I guess you’re not having a good morning. I just wanted to check up on you, see if you’re alright. I haven’t heard from you and I saw the news and you’re not at school.” Ah, Sarah, always the good one, always there.

“I’m fine,” she said. It was probably a good idea to leave out the part where Gladwell’s copy had hit her with those energy blasts of hers. “Just wasn’t up for school. Well, even less up for school than I usually am.”

“I have to go to class, talk to you later?” Cameron could hear the smile in her voice.

“Yep. I’ll text you or something. Annoy Mr. Mullet enough for the both of us.”

Sarah hung up and Cameron went back to curling up in her warm blanket, enjoying the moment. If only she could stay here for the rest of her life. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed from Sarah’s phone call to someone banging on her door but it didn’t feel like enough. “It’s not locked, you can come on in,” she shouted.

A girl walked in, light brown hair tied in a ponytail, dressed in a purple hoodie and jeans. She looked concerned when she saw Cameron still in bed. “Oh, are you okay? I know you got hurt yesterday.”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine.” As long as she didn’t apply pressure to her bandaged arm and shoulder. “I’m lazy is all.”

“Okay, um.” She brushed a few strands of hair out of her face. “I’m Kate, if you don’t remember. From the training session that got interrupted. I asked you if you wanted to hang out, sometime?”

That jogged Cameron’s memory. She did remember Kate, and remembered thinking it was weird how Kate wanted to hang out with her. “Yeah, course I remember. Gladwell didn’t hit me in the head,” Cameron said. “You came because you wanted to hang?” Kate nodded. Doing something other than wallowing sounded good. “I guess I’m free. Give me a few minutes.”

Kate smiled, the kind that lit up her whole face. “I’ll wait in the living room.” She practically skipped out of the room.

Cameron climbed out of bed and walked to her own private bathroom, one of the perks of finally being moved to the superhero floor. She brushed her teeth and combed her hair. Most of her clothes were a mess, tossed on the floor in the area around her closet. She would need to do laundry soon. She picked out some clean clothes, nothing fancy, a grey sweater and jeans and went to meet Kate in the living room.

“So, you wanted to hang,” Cameron said, as she plopped down on the couch beside Kate.

“Yeah, I thought it might be nice if we got to know each other. Since you’re on the team, and everything,” Kate said.

“And here I was, starting to think friendliness was a foreign concept here.” They hadn’t been mean but she didn’t exactly get a party or anything. Not that she wanted one but it would have been a nice gesture.

“But if I’m being honest, I have other reasons.”

Cameron smiled. Her instincts were right, it seemed. “Color me unsurprised. So? What is it?”

She stared down at the floor, avoiding eye contact. “Later. I don’t think now is the right time but I don’t want to start this with a lie, so. Yeah.”

“Hmm.” Trying to figure this out before Kate made the reveal would be a nice distraction from thinking about her dad being in town. “Okay. Whatever, I can wait.” She raised a finger and swung it back and forth, alternating between pointing at Kate and pointing at herself. “What, exactly do you mean by ‘this’? Or is that a secret too?”

Her eyes widened when she understood Cameron’s meaning. “Just the beginning of our friendship, that’s all,” Kate insisted with more force than necessary.

Didn’t look like she was lying. Cameron lowered her hand. “Easy there, I was just curious.”

“I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it but it’s definitely not what this is,” Kate said, flustered.

Cameron’s smile turned into a smirk. She hadn’t been expecting that strong of a reaction when she made the joke. “Right, so, in the spirit of friendship and since you were nice enough to answer my questions, I’ll answer any you have.”

“Favorite color?” Kate asked. She gave her a look, the kind that asked whether you were being serious or not. That question was so boring, kind of cliched, and pointless, really. What did it matter what your favorite color was? “Are you going to answer it or not?” Kate said, crossing her arms and met Cameron’s eyes.

“Green.”

“That explains the color of your costume, Point Blank.”

She leaned back into the couch. “Well, since you wasted your question on an easy one, it’s my turn.”

Kate gave her a questioning look. “I didn’t know we were taking turns.”

“We are now. So, my turn. What’s your deal, are you like Tom who is only kinda on the team? Trying to learn to control your powers from our resident specialist Agent Brown?”

Kate shook her head. “I control my abilities just fine. I’m an inventor, like Ionic, most inventors don’t have too much trouble controlling their powers, not like Tom does, anyway. I want to be on the team, really badly, but I haven’t managed to pass my exams, the ones that will let me go out into the field. Even if I do pass them, my mom would never let me do it, she’s overprotective.”

“Don’t think you can call it overprotective when you’re talking about throwing yourself into harm’s way.” She lightly touched her shoulder; the bandages were covered by her sweater. “It’s good that your mom cares. Most moms would, I bet.”

From the sympathetic look that crossed Kate’s face, Cameron knew she had read her file. Everyone had, no doubt. She never really knew how to deal with the looks, or the pity that always came with them.

“Well, um, my mom and I have a deal. She lets me come here and work for them, even practice for the tests. I just can’t, you know, fight crime if I do pass. It’s not so bad, my power lets me work on the sidelines pretty well,” Kate said.

“This is Avocet City, known for its inventors,” Cameron replied.

Back when the public was first becoming aware of superpowers, the first few inventors in America all lived in Avocet. It attracted a lot of attention at the time, some were even saying inventors would save mankind, level the playing field with their technology, and the people in charge decided to capitalize on it, get them to build something pretty to wow people. They did and people came rushing to see realistic holograms casually walking through the park. They started to add other crap after inventors appeared in other states and cities. UltimateTech Industries, the company responsible for making most of the standard equipment used by the SAA, had started out here, too.

“But they still keep you informed on what’s going on and stuff, right?” Cameron asked.

“Yeah, why?”

Cameron shrugged. “Just wondering if you knew whether they made any progress on the Gladwell search.”

“Last I heard they haven’t found anything yet. Which is not surprising, since you guys said she has some power that lets her avoid being detected by our sensors and she can become invisible. Maybe if we’re lucky you guys hurt her enough that she decided to give up and leave town.”

“In an ideal world, maybe. In this one? I doubt it,” Cameron said. “Kinda surprised Hayes hasn’t gotten me to help with the search. I’m the only one in town who can see pass her invisibility.”

“I think I remember Agent Brown telling Agent Hayes not to bother any of you guys for awhile, give you a chance to rest.” A phone beeped, too loud to ignore. Kate pulled hers out and swiped her thumb across the screen. Cameron realized she left her phone in her room.

“Oh, good timing I guess. It’s a status update. The reinforcements Agent Hayes requested are here and… they’re taking over. Agent Camelo is officially in charge while they look for Gladwell.”

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The Long Way Home – B

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Felix did end up getting more girls to entertain them. A good mixture of brunettes and blondes. They kept him up late which meant he was snoring like a baby when David woke up early. His spirit messed up yesterday by attacking and being forced to retreat. Now Gladwell knew there were people aware she was here and they wanted her dead or gone. She would be more prepared for them when having the element of surprise was an advantage they needed against someone as strong as her.

Some people just had all the luck.

David didn’t need luck, he’d make his own. Bitch was going to pay for making him look like a fool in front of the rookie.

This time he wouldn’t let his spirit do the work for him, this was a job only he could do. He summoned his spirit but seized control immediately. Most of his attention was on it and its body but he could still move his own body, was still aware of it and what was happening there just not to the same extent he had normally. He had his spirit go through the walls and grab him a cup of coffee. If he fell asleep or someone disturbed him and he lost his concentration then control of his spirit went back to it. David couldn’t afford to make a mistake here, his pride wouldn’t allow it.

He swallowed mouthfuls of coffee before he let his spirit leave the apartment. If Gladwell was smart, she would have found a new place to stay while she was in town, somewhere people wouldn’t expect her to stay at. No abandoned warehouses or sketchy motels. He decided to recheck every location on the list anyway. If she was smart, she wouldn’t be there but people like Gladwell got arrogant. Too used to being top of the food chain.

David lost track of time, it wasn’t like his spirit wore a watch. As expected, she wasn’t hiding in any of the locations on the list or maybe she was just out for awhile, doing business. He flew around Avocet, using his spirit’s unique way of perceiving the world to search for Gladwell. Yesterday’s fight had let him get a good look at Gladwell’s mist. Every power’s mist was different from the mist surrounding everything and the mist of other powers. That was just how it was. David didn’t care about the whys.

Felix had woken up while David was searching and made some noise in the kitchen before returning to his room. The kid was smart enough to keep to himself and not disturb David.

He felt his stomach growl. Well, considering all the work he had done, he deserved a break. His spirit could manage for a few minutes. He released control of his spirit and went to the kitchen to make himself a sandwich. Nothing too fancy, he didn’t have the time or patience to sit around and cook a good meal. His wife had usually done most of the cooking but he had been forced to learn after she left him and their daughter.

Ten minutes to make then eat the sandwich, go to the washroom, and some stretching. David returned to his room and made himself comfortable before he tuned back into what his spirit was doing.

It had been productive while he rested, continuing the search. The search was so boring David felt like dropping down to his knees and thanking the universe when he spotted bright flashing mists. Powers fighting each other. Had to be Gladwell, barring one exception the city was too peaceful for it to be anything else.

Gladwell was soaring through the air chasing after a ship, the size of two vans stuck together with glowing blue lines running across it and coated with mist. Inventor made. The ship had been damaged and was struggling to stay in the air as Gladwell pelted it with more energy blasts. The people in the ship owed him one. David swooped down and slammed into Gladwell. He didn’t give her an opportunity to get her bearings. He dug his fingers into her skin, ripped through it. One of her hands sliced through his fingers when he moved to do it again, the other cut off his spirit’s shadowy arm from the elbow down.

He flew backwards to give himself some space and she let him.

The ship was falling to the ground, too much damage done to it. David didn’t know who exactly was in there but chances were high that they were superhumans and he could use their help. His spirit wasn’t at one hundred percent. They needed his help more than he did theirs. It felt alright when he thought about it like that.

David went over and gave them a hand, helping to slow their descent by pushing it up. It opened fire on Gladwell, preventing her from stopping him. Whoever was aiming was frighteningly accurate, David noted, even when Gladwell became invisible. Huh, they had someone capable of seeing through invisibility like he was. That tended to be rare.

Gladwell managed to get a few blasts out but a forcefield soaked up most of the damage. Where the hell was that when they were getting pummeled?

Once he had gotten the ship safely on the ground, he charged at Gladwell. She had grown, nearly five times as bigger as she was before. She bisected him with a wave of her arm.

Fuck, he hated people with more than one goddamn power.

He felt so cold as his spirit fell to the ground. The two separate pieces were pulled together and his spirit was back on its feet. David let his spirit have control, he needed to go get Felix. He rushed out of his room and barged into Felix’s, uncaring. “I got Gladwell, fighting her right now. You need to get your ass over there.”

Felix looked up from the bowl of popcorn resting on his stomach as he laid down on his bed. “Where?” David had already pulled out his cell phone and punched in the location. Felix wasn’t a native to Avocet like he was, he’d need directions. He tossed the phone onto the bed. Felix grabbed it and left, pausing to grab a mask.

David returned to his room and took control again.

It took him a second to figure out what had happened. The people inside the ship had gotten out and were doing as much damage to the giant Gladwell as they could. Superheroes. He recognized Violet Knight and Ionic, the third one was new. Violet Knight was the most recent successor of the Color Knight identity. What made him notable enough for David to remember him was that he was a superhero, while the previous two knights – the Orange and Red Knights – were villains. Dangerous ones, too.

He was on the ground again, waiting as his body healed enough for him to fight again. Gladwell had chopped his spirit into itty bitty pieces.

Another embarrassment. What if Felix had been there to see his spirit get dominated like that? It stoked the anger inside of him and it didn’t take much to set him off. He could feel it building under his skin, demanding release, retribution for what she had done to his pride.

He rose and hit the back of Gladwell’s knee like a torpedo. For a moment, he lost awareness of what he was doing, could only feel the slickness of his fingers as they were coated with blood.

A merging between him and his spirit. He was still there, still inside his spirit’s body yet it was his spirit in control. It was savage, brutal, more animal than man. It cared only for violence, no strategy, no finesse. It was this that made him dangerous, one of the best enforcers in their group.

Gladwell lit up, covered herself in flames, and he caught fire too. He didn’t stop even as he could feel his real body shake from the cold. He did as much damage as he could, literally ripping heaps of flesh off of her. The only thing that stopped him was another bisection. His spirit fell from the sky and he saw a second Gladwell, smaller than the other one, floating in the air behind where he had been. Duplication.

He laughed manically, the sound only reached his real ears. His spirit was incapable of speech.

Fucking power thieves.

The other Gladwell chased after him, ready to take him apart. David didn’t know how much more his spirit could handle, it had sustained a lot of damage from the flames but he couldn’t retreat, not with Felix on the way, not with those heroes watching. She landed beside him. She raised her left hand above her head, like an executioner’s blade.

The third hero, the one he didn’t recognize, materialized above Gladwell, a sword in her hands. It was pointed downwards. Gravity did the rest, plunged the sword into her chest. It didn’t make it all the way through. The hero vanished before Gladwell could turn around and return the favor. The hero reappeared to Gladwell’s left and took a swing. She blocked it but the hero disappeared again the second she did. A teleporting hero came from another angle, and managed to stab Gladwell in the back again. It went all the way through, right where the heart was.

“Nice try, sweetheart but I’ve moved the location of my heart,” Gladwell said, smiling.

The hero disappeared, not making a sound but taking the sword with her.

It gave him enough time for his spirit’s body to pull together.

He leaped up from the ground and grabbed Gladwell’s head, ignoring her hands cutting into him. He squeezed as hard as he could, until he felt her skull collapse between his hands. For good measure, he ripped off her arms and legs. They came off as easily as the limbs of a barbie doll. It would have been harder to do if this Gladwell was still alive.

“You helped us not crash, I bought you time to recover. We’re even.” He spun around and the hero was standing behind him. The voice made him think it was a girl. “I don’t owe you anything else.”

He shrugged. Didn’t matter, he didn’t plan on needing her help again.

She vanished again. David looked around and found her beside her companions. The sword had remained deadly sharp even in her hands.

The giant Gladwell had shrunk back down to her regular size. Her and another copy were flying through the air avoiding small round balls shooting blue beams. Not just those balls, there was something else up there. A bolt of lightning was shooting through the air in straight lines, chasing after the Gladwells, trying to turn them into burned crisps. Small cracks sounded as the lightning changed direction. Felix, in his lightning form.

Felix got a few good hits in before the bolt hit the ground in front of David, reforming into his human shape. He had to shift back into his human form after a minute, unless he wanted to be trapped in his lightning form forever. He flashed David a grin then changed forms again, continuing the fight.

He wasn’t going to let Felix have all the fun and credit. He took to the air and slammed into the closest Gladwell while she was distracted.

The Gladwells glanced at each other then split up, flying in opposite directions. Divide and conquer, wasn’t a bad strategy to use in this situation. Felix moved to the ground and changed forms. David shook his head, he seemed to get the message and stayed put. She had more stamina than he did, chasing after her would be stupid. At least this way he could say she ran away from them.

Those balls came down to surround Ionic. She kept her distance but she was looking at them. David landed beside Felix, to give them more presence. He doubted they’d start a fight, but some heroes played dirty. They could use this opportunity to take him and Felix down, to make up for the fact they didn’t manage to capture Gladwell. It’d be a real feather in their cap too, if they got Felix in jail. Felix was new but he’d made a splash a few days ago back in LA.

“Thanks for the help,” Ionic said. “We appreciate it, regardless of whatever motive you may have for hunting Gladwell.”

Hard to tell if she was really sincere with a device altering her voice or if she was just being polite, secretly angry a criminal had to come to her rescue.

“Not a problem, not a problem,” Felix said. “We’ll be leaving then, got things to do. You know how it is.”

“Of course. We’ll let you go regardless but would you mind answering a question for me?”

Felix turned to him, looking to him for instruction. Wouldn’t hurt to listen to the question, especially if they were going to end up staying here for awhile, could earn them some goodwill. David nodded.

Ionic took that as a cue to continue. “Are you here in Avocet for Gladwell? A grudge?”

“Yeah,” Felix said. “That’s all we want. We won’t be causing you any trouble, if that’s what you want to know.”

“Fair enough. Thanks again for the help.”

David nodded at the three superheroes as Felix transformed and headed off in the direction of their apartment. David left in a different direction. He didn’t want to give them any clues on where they might be staying. Heroes were never to be trusted.

The teleporting girl watched him go.

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The Long Way Home – A

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Most hated working with rookies, but they were idiots, unable to recognize the perks that went with it. David wasn’t an idiot. He sat down and enjoyed the sight of some very beautiful women with a very beautiful lack of clothes prance around their apartment.

There was a certain power that came with being a part of an organization like theirs, made them confident, bold, daring. When someone asked if they needed anything at all, they didn’t hesitate to answer. Some would scoff at the lack of professionalism and tell the rookie off, get them to do it on their own time, not when they have a mission to accomplish. David liked to kick back, grab a beer, and indulge in whatever fun the rookie planned. There wasn’t a point to this life they were living if they couldn’t enjoy themselves.

This rookie, Felix, preferred the simple pleasures, women and cars. All of this was on their gracious host’s dime, of course. It was the least they could do, considering David and Felix were only here at their request. Avocet City was having some troubles – completely unsurprisingly to anyone who paid a lick of attention to Avocet – and it changed from being the kind of trouble criminals like them thrived in to being the kind of trouble they hated and needed to deal with. Avocet survived because it was a lucky city; its villains were, mostly, committed to keeping it peaceful. It was a tourist hotspot and that meant a lot of cash flowing into the city, and the pockets of its villains.

The setup was good for the local SAA branch, the criminals, and the tourists coming to gawk at fancy inventor made shit but the nobodies on the fringes suffered. If they ever got too uppity, made too much noise, they’d get taken care of before they knew what hit them. David knew from experience. He used to live in this dump, the places carefully hidden and kept away from tourists, and he didn’t have a lot of options when he lost his job when the factory closed down to make room for another fucking tourist attraction. He borrowed money from the Russian mob to feed his family and when he couldn’t pay, they gave him a choice. Leave Avocet and work off his debt in another city or have his corpse dumped into the river.

Best decision he ever made in his damn life.

Mostly.

Sometimes, very late at night, it was the worst thing he had ever done and would ever do.

The women left after Felix and David got their money’s worth. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and tossed one to Felix, who sat on the couch, a manila envelope in his hands.

“That from the kid Park has looking after us?” David asked as he popped open his can. Park – their host and a business partner of their boss – ordered a waiter from one of the restaurants he owned to attend to their every want and need while they were in the city working on this situation.

“Yeah,” Felix said. “They’ve got Gladwell’s hideout narrowed down already, wants us to check them out and fight her if she’s there.”

Answering an unspoken need, his spirit stepped out of his body. It looked like him, if he was a featureless mass of black smoke shaped like a human. Despite what it looked like, it was as solid as a truck if it wanted to be. It strode forward and read the paper in Felix’s hands over his shoulder. Then it was off, phasing through the walls, to hunt down Gladwell.

It acted on its own most of the time, doing whatever David wanted to be done, even if he wasn’t aware of that want. He could sense it, feel it doing something but the details were fuzzy. Years of experience let him take over or see from its perspective if he concentrated. It was the reason why he got picked for the job. Gladwell needed to make a physical connection to use her crazy ass ability and she couldn’t do that if he was safely hidden in this apartment, far away from the fight.

Felix got chosen for a similar reason.

“You can relax, enjoy your beer. It’ll do the searching for us while we relax,” David said, grinning.

Felix returned the grin. “Maybe I should get some more girls. Brunettes, this time.”

“Later. After my spirit is done with the list.”

Felix shrugged. That was one of the other perks of working with rookies. A lot of the time, when working with more experienced people, David tended to butt heads. He liked being in control, being the leader. He was good at it, despite what people might think. So many dismissed him because of where he came from but he’d show them, someday when he saw the perfect opportunity. He’d show them. Behind this skull of his was one hell of an intellect.

He downed the rest of his beer. “I’m going on a walk. Don’t trash the place until I get back.”

David grabbed his jacket from off the other couch and left. If he was in town on business, he might as well check things out, see if anything changed in the years he’d been gone. Maybe he was looking for someone. It didn’t matter if it had, he couldn’t, wouldn’t come back, stay here. There was still the matter of all the money he owed to the man he was working for and he wasn’t sure he could handle it, all the awful memories he made here.

But if he stayed, maybe he’d get a chance to fix what he had done. A chance to find his daughter and make things right, be a family again if she was willing. He hated leaving her, just like his wife had done after she found out about the affair, but what choice did he have? She would understand, wouldn’t she?

She was better off without him. He wasn’t a good man or a good father, too little patience, too much anger. How could someone who knew fuck all about – and experienced just as little – good parenting grow up to be a good parent?

He stopped in his tracks, brought out of his thoughts by a sudden sensation. Wasn’t pain, but a chill. Shit, guess his spirit found Gladwell. David took a deep breath and concentrated, shifting his attention over to his spirit, not enough to take over just enough to see what the hell was going on over there.

It was Gladwell alright, sharp blade-like hands carving chunks out of his spirit. Every smoky pound of flesh grew back within seconds of being chopped off but there was a limit to how much it could endure before having to retreat. Didn’t help that in the moments before the spirit healed itself, it was less solid than it usually was, dealt less damage. His spirit was mindlessly punching Gladwell. It wasn’t doing much good, Gladwell’s wounds were repaired as easily as his spirit’s.

His spirit saw the world differently. It could easily see the mist invisible to most. The mist surrounded everything, grew a little bit denser every day, and was especially thick around powers. With it, he saw through invisibility and illusions as if they weren’t even there. Whenever someone was using their powers, the mist around them would flare.

When the mist around Gladwell flared, brighter than most, he – and by extension the spirit – knew to hightail it out of there. This was a fishing trip, meant to figure out where Gladwell was hiding, he didn’t need to stay and fight til his spirit couldn’t anymore. It flew away from Gladwell. Not fast enough. A beam of energy, very concentrated mist, ripped through the lower half of his spirit. It didn’t feel pain. It kept going, phasing through the wall and headed straight for him.

Fuck, he was going to make Gladwell pay for the damage done on his spirit. The damn thing would take hours to get back into fighting shape, days to fully recover.

David hated to lose even if it was up against a badass like Gladwell.

He returned his focus back to his own body and grabbed his phone out of his jacket pocket. He dialed Felix’s number. The kid picked up promptly. “Something wrong, D?”

“I found Gladwell but the asshole wreaked my spirit. I did some damage to that motherfucker. We’re going to wait until tomorrow to launch our actual attack and drive her out of town. Put her into the ground if we can,” David said.

“Cool with me, I was about to watch a movie,” Felix replied. “Gonna be a pain in the ass tracking her down tomorrow.”

David’s eyebrow twitched. “You let me handle that, Felix. Won’t even be a problem.”

“Sure, sure. Call me before you get into a fight with her, so we can kick her ass and get this job done, alright?”

“I was testing her, seeing if she was as tough as everyone says she is. We weren’t planning on taking the bitch out today anyway,” David said, defensive.

“Yeah, of course. Gonna start that movie, see ya later D, when you get back.” Felix hung up.

David frowned as he stuffed his phone back into his jacket. Damn, damn, damn. Now the rookie was going to think he was weak and David couldn’t stand the thought.

He was going to fucking devastate Gladwell tomorrow.

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Sometimes Cameron really wished life worked like it did on TV. There, it’d either be the first, third or last location on the list, a number with significance. One of those would be where Gladwell was hiding.

It turned out to be none.

They still didn’t find anything when they looped back and did a more thorough search. Frustrating. Cameron sighed as Allison’s Ion drones hovered in the air above a bunch of storage units, the last location on the list. Maybe Creed’s intel was off. Rare for it to happen to him but nobody was perfect and if Gladwell was easy to predict, she would have gotten caught a long time ago. Still, it would have been nice if the universe did her a favor for once and had Gladwell be in one of those places they checked.

Cameron leaned against the side of the ship and watched Matt pace back and forth. Allison stared at the storage units, unusually still. Lost in thought or communicating with Hayes privately. What would people think of them, a bunch of teenagers with no clue what to do next were their only line of defense against one of the more terrifying villains around? Lucky for them, nobody was around. No one in this side of town stayed when they saw superheroes approaching.

“You’re talking to Hayes?” Cameron asked Allison.

“I was. He told us to stay here until he decides what he wants us to do next,” she answered.

“Which should be calling for backup, right? Get some other heroes to come and do the grunt work for us?” Cameron smirked, a smiley no doubt appearing on the front of her helmet. “Or instead of running around, getting nothing done, we get Gladwell to come to us. Challenge her, see if she shows up.”

“Eager to rush into danger for people you claim not to be your friends,” Allison replied neutrally. “Or is this for the common good of the city?”

Cameron shrugged as nonchalantly as she could. Ian didn’t need the scrutiny that would come from the SAA knowing they were friends, more than that sometimes. “It’s neither. I’m a girl of action and I don’t like to be pushed around. That’s all she’ll do if we give her the chance to. She’ll push Avocet around like we’re puppets on a string.”

“We don’t have to do anything right this second,” Matt cut in. “We can call Agent Hayes, get his opinion. He might even agree.”

Allison took a step forward, her Ion drones coming to meet her. “If we had more time, perhaps.” She didn’t get a chance to figure out what that meant before the answer appeared right in front of her.

Gladwell looked like a person. No horns or tail to clearly mark her as something different, something evil. She wore stylishly ripped jeans and a white tank top, her blonde hair tied in a ponytail. She greeted them with a wide smile, friendly. Despite herself, Cameron flinched. Gladwell came out of nowhere, standing in the center of the triangle they had unintentionally formed. “I thought I was doing a good job of hiding myself. What gave me away?” she asked.

“My drones didn’t find anything. They should have at least detected Point Blank’s energy, but they didn’t. Whatever you’re doing to mask your energy is working a little too well,” Allison answered. Cameron didn’t know what freaked her out more, Gladwell trailing her all this time or Allison having such a calm, casual conversation about it.

Gladwell was essentially the boogeyman. The very idea of her power would freak anybody out. Once she made a physical connection, the means varied but reportedly she preferred to drink their blood because of some gross vampire fetish, she could share her power, skills, memories with you, and you with her. She never left it at that, instead of sharing she took everything. What happened to the other person after wasn’t pretty. Being superhumans meant they had some level of protection against Gladwell’s power, more than the common person, but they weren’t immune. Her power was strong enough to bulldoze through resistance, given a strong connection.

“It’s new, it’ll take awhile for me to master it,” Gladwell said. “Now, what was that about a challenge? I love challenges, personally.”

It took Cameron a second to find her voice and speak with the same casualness Allison and Gladwell had. If Allison could do it, so could she. No way was she going to let herself look weak in front of these people. “The challenge was supposed to get you out of hiding. No point to it if you’re already here.”

“And now that I’m here, what are you planning on doing?”

Wasn’t that a good question? This would be easier if Matt and Allison weren’t here with her. They were deadweight if she needed to escape and leaving them wasn’t a good option. Things would get really messy if she left them to die at the hands of Gladwell.

The problem with having a brand new costume was Cameron wasn’t sure of all the commands and features like talking without it being broadcasted by the speaker built into her helmet. She would just have to hope Matt or Allison had this covered and were talking to Agent Hayes right now.

“Well?” Gladwell prompted, when no one spoke up. “I don’t have all day, you know. I’m being nice, giving all of you the chance to make the first move.”

Allison stood, rooted to where she stood, so very still. Planning? Matt didn’t seem sure of what he should do. “Don’t suppose we can get a rain check, do this tomorrow or something?” Cameron asked.

“And what would I get out of that?” She crossed her arms.

Cameron’s power required either touch or sight to be able to teleport an object and she needed to see where she would be moving it. With her already leaning against the ship, it felt obvious what she should do. She drew the stun gun. “You won’t get squished.” She teleported the ship, putting it above all their heads. Predictably, they looked up to see the ship falling down, ready to do the squishing. She used this opportunity, fired a few shots, hitting Gladwell in the face. She didn’t expect it do more than distract her for a second or two.

Matt and Allison both moved to get out of the way, not fast enough. She teleported the ship again, moving it up and more to the right, so it wouldn’t squish her too.

It gave Gladwell too much time. Cameron blinked and Gladwell wasn’t under the ship anymore, wasn’t anywhere. When the ship hit the ground, there wasn’t a sign of a person being under there. For a horrible moment, images from the news flitted through her mind, images of people, dead in mind if not body. She looked around, finding nothing but Matt and Allison seeming equally alarmed.

This was why she hated power thieves or copiers. They were like Swiss army knives, a power for every occasion. So hard to counter when you didn’t know what they were hiding in there. Doubly annoying when they had irritating powers like fucking invisibility.

She switched on her super-vision. It came easily. Something she might worry about if she wasn’t concerned about being ripped to shreds then absorbed.

Gladwell was watching them leisurely, enjoying the spectacle, a foot away from the ship. One shot. She had one shot before Gladwell realized she could see pass her invisibility and act accordingly.

But what the hell was she supposed to do? She wasn’t a heavy hitter, couldn’t make the insanely durable hurt. The stun gun was little more than a short distraction at best against Gladwell.

She grabbed a cartridge of sticky rope from her belt, and loaded it into the gun. Gladwell’s hands shifted into razor sharp blades, her eyes moved between the three of them, assessing. Cameron aimed for the face and like always, she hit her mark. Maybe it was surprise or arrogance that stopped her from dodging it, either way Cameron wasn’t complaining.

Matt charged. He swung wildly at the space surrounding the sticky rope, cutting her open.

“We need to go!” Allison ordered. The ship moved on its own, backing away from Gladwell and Matt, its doors opening. She sprinted to the ship. “Violet Knight!”

Cameron unloaded more sticky rope on her, emptying every cartridge she had stashed in her belt. Matt reluctantly stepped back, and ran toward the ship. She covered the retreat, pelting Gladwell with stun blasts. A distraction was a distraction, no matter how little of an effect it had. And it was little. Under the sticky rope, Cameron swore she was smiling.

“Point Blank!”

She turned her head. The ship was already in the air, about to fly away. Its doors still open. Cameron teleported directly inside.

The ship took off at – what Cameron was guessing was – full speed. The doors shut behind her. Cameron rushed to the window and stared at the scene they were leaving behind.

Gladwell had burned through the ropes. She gave them a wave with her bladed hand and jumped, then soared into the air. Of course she would be able to fly.

“Fuck, fuck. She’s chasing after us. Can this thing go any faster?” Cameron asked.

“Backup? Do we have backup?” Matt said.

Gladwell wasn’t that far behind them, closing the distance a little more with every second that passed. The tip of her sword hands pointed at the back of the ship. It glowed and the glow kept getting brighter.

The entire ship rattled from the hit. It knocked her off balance, and Cameron fell to the floor.

Not long after, she could feel the ship falling too.

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Matt and Allison were already there in the garage, waiting for her, when she arrived. Their helmets hid any glares they might be directing her way.

“Where we heading off to first, boss?” Cameron asked, seeing as Allison held the folder with the list of Gladwell’s possible hideouts. Cameron had her own copy, but they didn’t know that.

“I’ve planned out our route, to give us the shortest travel time,” Allison said. “Are there any objections to following it?” Matt shrugged.

Cameron shook her head. “What about Droid, though? Is he coming?”

“No,” Allison answered. She didn’t elaborate and Matt didn’t feel like chiming in with an explanation either. Gee, they must get along because of their shared characteristic of being such great conversationalists. “We shouldn’t waste time, let’s go.” Without anyone moving a muscle, the ship’s hangar doors opened, the same ship Cameron and Agent Brown rode to pick up Tom. They all piled in, Allison sat in the pilot’s chair, the seat next to hers was left empty as Cameron and Matt settled down in the benches pressed against the walls of the ship. Then they lifted off, flying toward the first location.

The ship barely made a sound as it flew.

“How are we going to do this?” Matt said, breaking the silence. He tapped his armor, unlike the ship it did make a sound, and it was loud.  “I’m not the best at recon. And she’s new.”

“At least this new girl is stealthy, unlike you tin man,” Cameron retorted. “Is your stealth suit at the cleaners?”

He groaned. It sounded kind of different from his out of costume voice, though she didn’t hear enough of it to say for sure. “I don’t have any suit but this one, and I can’t change it, or anything about it, alright?”

“Cameron and I will go investigate, you stay close by and come if there’s any unexpected trouble,” Allison said. “We’ll be landing in exactly a minute and ten seconds.”

“According to the card that came with this.” Cameron gestured to her new costume. “It’s Point Blank.”

Allison shook her head, her disappointment clear as day. “Ignore her,” Matt said. “She has a thing against two word codenames, I heard she argued with the PR team when they tried to stick her with one when she was new.”

“They’re clunky,” she protested.

Conversation stopped as the ship slowed then landed on the street. The back door opened and they hopped out.

Cameron recognized this part of town. It wasn’t far from where her, and Ian’s, apartments were. Scary to think how close Gladwell could be to them without either of them knowing. One of the big reasons Gladwell hadn’t been caught before was her ability to change her appearance, there was a lot more to it than that obviously; a mere shapeshifter wouldn’t freak out some of the strongest powers in the country.

The first place on their list was an Italian restaurant, down the street from where they parked the ship. A few people on the street saw them and scattered, practically running away from them. Ah, she loved being in the bad side of town, people knew to mind their own business.

“I’ll have my Ion drones scan the area for superhumans. Point Blank, survey the restaurant. I assume a thief like yourself knows how not to be seen?” Ionic said.

Cameron smiled, and if the PR team listened to her suggestion, a big glowing smiley face would appear on the front of her helmet.

Ionic sighed. “Hurry up and go, and turn that off. You’ll attract more attention with it on.”

The PR team had called her up many times while they designed and built her costume, asking for her opinion and features she would want added. Having smiley face pop up on her helmet every time she smiled was one, a camera capable of zooming in and panorama was another. Fortunately, she actually listened when they told her how to use it. Cameron squinted. Once she got a good look at the alley beside the restaurant, she teleported there.

As much as she loathed to do it, she made a circle on her helmet with her finger, shutting off the smiley face feature.

Cameron tugged on the alley door. Locked. Of course it would be, life could never be too easy. It’d be boring if it was. A pin and tumbler, it looked like. She checked the utility belt and after digging through a few pouches, she found a lock-picking kit. Another item she had requested. A moment later, she heard the click and then she was in. The alley door led to a small room, filled with boxes and crates. Nobody was in it, fortunately. Partially concealed by the boxes was another door. She crept toward it, stopping to look through some of the many boxes. The only suspicious thing here so far was her, dolled up in her superhero suit. This other door wasn’t locked. Cameron carefully opened it, making sure it didn’t creak and give her position away.

Past it was the kitchen and they appeared normal enough, maybe not as sanitary as they could be but that was pretty normal considering where in town they were.

“- not to distract him, just be polite. Get it?”

A man standing by the sink, washing dishes, glanced down at the phone he put on speaker. “Yeah, I got it. Sorry, sir.”

“Good, I don’t want to have this conversation with you again.” 

The person on the other end was also male and Cameron couldn’t say from where but she felt like had heard it before. The owner, maybe? Cameron had probably come to this restaurant before, considering how close it was to her home.

She tried to tell herself she was imagining it but she couldn’t shake the feeling.

“Point Blank, my Ion drones found nothing. Unless you saw something odd, let’s move on to the next location,” Ionic said over the comms built into her helmet.

Cameron gave the restaurant workers another examining look before she closed the door. “I’m coming.”

Even as she teleported back to the ship, the feeling remained.

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Picking up the phone now, with Tom and Agent Brown standing right next to her, wasn’t an option. So she waited until they got back to HQ and she headed to her room, hoping Creed left a message or something.

He did.

It was a short message, giving her a progress report of his search of the city. His subordinates found a couple of places that Gladwell might be hiding in, though they didn’t venture inside to find out for sure, afraid she’d spot them and kill them. Creed didn’t want to start a conflict between his organization and Gladwell, and he’d be forced to if Gladwell killed any of his men. They were still looking for more possible hideouts, he estimated he’d narrow it down to two or three by tomorrow evening. She had been hoping he would somehow manage to get it done by tonight but tomorrow wasn’t bad. Ian could stay out of trouble for that long.

The extra time did give her a chance to figure out the little details of her plan, like how she was going to get the SAA to come investigate. Initiating a big fight that would cause a ton of property damage didn’t seem like a good idea and it was always a pain in the ass for everyone involved.

Or she could just not be an idiot and forward the information to the SAA. Right, why didn’t she think about that earlier? If Agent Hayes knew Gladwell was in town from his precog, he would be more inclined to believe and act on it. If he didn’t, Cameron could always go ahead with her current plan. Cameron liked her challenges but there were limits, stuff she wouldn’t even consider. Messing with Gladwell wasn’t past her limits but it was pretty damn close, too close for anyone’s comfort.

That was a problem for tomorrow, when she received the info.

For now, Cameron was hungry. The heroes’ floor had its own kitchen, shared by everyone who had access to it. The fridge was almost always fully stocked with only a few items clearly marked as belonging to someone. After meeting Tom earlier today, she now knew T.H was him, which left A.N. Cameron was betting A.N was Ionic. She tossed a steak TV dinner into the microwave and sat down on the kitchen counter as she waited.

“Sit in a chair, not the counter.”

She looked up from the bird game she was playing on her phone. “Ionic?”

“Or Allison Nakamura, I’ll respond to either.”

True to Agent Brown’s word, Ionic or Allison, was young, fourteen or fifteen at the most. Her long dark hair was tied in a ponytail and from the sweat and clothes she wore, she probably just came from the gym. A few inches shorter than Cameron but today wasn’t a special occasion; Allison worked out often and had the muscles to prove it.

“Hmm.” She tapped her finger against her chin as she thought. “I think I’m going to call you A, I when in costume.”

Allison shook her head, unamused. “AI. Funny.”

“I thought so.” She grinned. The microwave beeped. She hopped off the counter and popped open the microwave to retrieve her dinner. Allison rummaged through the fridge, pulling out ingredients for her own dinner. Athletic, smart, and knew how to cook, Allison had it all, it seemed. Cameron grabbed a fork and was careful to grip the edges of the box, so she wouldn’t burn her fingers. “See you later.”

“Tomorrow,” Allison said before Cameron could head to her room. “We’ll be seeing each other tomorrow, during the training session we have scheduled.”

Training session tomorrow, that sounded vaguely familiar. Cameron probably hadn’t been listening when Agent Brown told her. Allison glanced away from the contents of the fridge to Cameron’s face. “No one told you?”

“Maybe. I don’t remember.”

Allison sighed, closing the fridge. “We have one training session every week, sometimes more. It’s four to seven. You’ll arrive at the gym on time. There’s no need to wear your costume, either. It’ll be mostly CQC practice.”

This wasn’t ideal. She didn’t want to be all worn out when she went to deal with Gladwell. “I’m going to guess it’s not optional.”

“It’s not. You’ll be there.”

“Aye aye captain,” she said, forcing a smile on her face. First order of business, she’d need to text Creed and get him to send Hayes the info the moment he got enough. Second order of business, dinner. Allison was taking out a knife and a cutting board when Cameron went to her room. She grabbed the burner phone from the pocket of a leather jacket hidden in a stack of dirty clothes. With the message sent, she ate her crappy microwavable meal, wondering what Allison was cooking in the kitchen. You’d think she would have learned how to cook already, with her mom being absent for most of her life and Dad being hopeless in the kitchen.

What were they both doing now? Dead, their bodies buried in a ditch somewhere, or alive, doing whatever they wanted?

The thought of them being happy made her angry. After leaving her, at two different points in her life, with no goodbye and all the shit she went through because of it, they didn’t deserve to be happy. They should be twice as miserable as she ever was or burning in hell. Those were the only two outcomes she’d accept.

Cameron arrived four minutes late to training and she received a glare from Allison. Allison should have been happy Cameron showed up at all. Honestly, Cameron spent a lot of time debating about whether she should go or not.

There were two other people with her, a girl about Allison’s age with brown hair a shade or two lighter than Cameron’s own, and a lanky teenage boy holding a sword. The boy had to be Violet Knight. They were all just standing around, waiting.

“We doing this training thing or what?” Cameron asked.

Allison shook her head. “Agent Hayes told us not to start yet, he needs to speak to us first.”

The girl came up to her, smiling, hand outstretched. The preppy type. “Hi, I’m Kate, it’s nice to meet you,” she said, perky.

“I’m Cameron, but I’m betting you already knew that. Nice to meet you too,” Cameron said without even ten percent of the cheer in Kate’s voice. She made sure her voice was loud enough for Violet Knight to hear from where he stood. “And that’s VK, over there?”

He nodded. “It’s Matt.”

“Glad to see you all got introductions out of the way,” Agent Hayes said. She whirled around and saw him striding over to them, holding a yellow folder. “I just received this packet and if it’s true then we’re all going in to be in a lot of trouble.” He met Cameron’s eyes. “Though you may already know about this.”

She could feel her heart rate spike. Experience let her keep her expression even, indifferent. “Know what?”

“I had a few of our agents working on this since we got it.” He tapped the folder. “They’re fast workers, and get even faster with Foresight helping to guide them. Her target, as far as we can tell, are the Speed Fiends and you’ve been known to associate with them.”

Luckily, plausible deniability was still on her side. “They helped me out, once or twice. We’re not friends but in a city like Avocet, with all the big crime groups running around, we little guys like to stick together, you know? Whose this ‘she’ you’re talking about, anyway?”

Hayes broke their little staring contest and turned to address the others. “Gladwell.”

Remembering that she shouldn’t already know this, Cameron tried to look shocked, like anyone would be upon hearing a scary fucker like Gladwell was in the same city as you. “Shit,” she added, to help sell the act.

Kate’s eyes were as wide as saucers and Matt had nearly dropped his sword when Hayes spoke.

Allison didn’t even bat an eyelash.

“What else do we know about the situation?” she asked, going straight to business.

Hayes handed Allison the folder. “We know the Speed Fiends were spotted in New York, around the same time as Gladwell. They could have gotten into an disagreement and now she’s here to get her revenge. I’m assuming you all know the details of her powers and her general personality?”

“Hard not to,” Matt said. The news loved to talk about Gladwell, the havoc she wreaked made entertaining if sometimes tragic headlines.

“Included in the folder is a list of places Gladwell might be hiding in. With my more mundane operatives lacking in the innate protection you all have to powers, I’ll have you three go check out it instead,” Agent Hayes said, deliberately not looking at Kate as he said the last part. Maybe she was like Tom, someone who came here to learn how to control their abilities, not be a superhero.

The frown on her face told Cameron otherwise.

Allison finished reading and passed the folder to Matt. “You are not to engage Gladwell if you find her,” he continued. “This is strictly recon, understand? She’s dangerous and I’d like to have a plan before we even attempt to capture her.” The barest hint of a smile was on his face. Catching Gladwell would take him right out of the doghouse and put him first in line for a promotion. For once, he and Cameron were on the same page. There would be no other way to stop Gladwell from going after Ian. “Go, get suited up. Cameron, you’ll find your official costume has been completed and delivered to your room.”

Matt and Allison rushed out the second Hayes gave the order. “If it doesn’t look badass I want my money back,” Cameron said to Hayes, as she moved to follow them.

“Hey, um, Cameron?” Kate said. She stopped and turned to face her. “We should hang out, sometime. When you’re free.”

“Uh, sure,” Cameron replied. It wasn’t very often people she barely knew asked her to hang out, especially people well aware of Cameron’s criminal history. She hurried out, wouldn’t want Matt and Allison to leave without her.

As promised, a brand new costume was laid out on her bed with a note on top of it. Boots sat at the foot of her bed. She picked up the note and fully admired the costume. It reminded Cameron of Droid’s outfit, with its forest green jacket over a body armor. The body armor was black with green lines over the chest and arms, and it actually looked like body armor, not like skintight spandex that some superheroes wore. There were a pair of gloves laying on the side, beside a utility belt. She picked up the black helmet with her right hand as her eyes moved over to the note she held in her left.

Three words: Welcome, Point Blank.

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Cameron yawned for the second time in as many minutes.

She sat slumped in a chair pushed against the wall, staring at the door Agent Brown had disappeared into ten minutes ago. Definitely more than the moment she said it would take. The many games she had downloaded on her personal phone weren’t entertaining enough to keep her attention when she was this tired. Last night was one of those nights where sleep was practically impossible.

“Sorry for making you wait, hopefully this will make up for it,” Agent Brown said, finally emerging from the room with two cups of coffee in her hands, handing one to Cameron. She took a sip, testing to see how hot it was, and was pleasantly surprised to find it almost the perfect level of warmth. “They’re going to let us in, soon. They need to finish a few things up.”

“Okay, so clarify something for me while we wait. Why am I even here?” Cameron gestured to the cramped hallway they were waiting in. “Visiting a facilities for crazy powers isn’t on my bucket list.”

Agent Brown smiled indulgently. “I told you last night, remember? After I caught you staying out past your curfew. You could call this a punishment, I suppose.”

“Getting to miss school is a punishment? I think we have very different definitions of punishment. Unless you’re planning on putting me here, because I’m already getting the creeps from the cheery flower wallpaper.”

“Well, maybe warning is the better word to use here. We’re not tracking you anymore but we will take that freedom away if you continue to push it.” She paused to drink some of her own coffee. “The warning is a bonus, the real reason I wanted you to come with me is because I wanted you to meet Tom.”

“He lives here?”

“Used to, now he lives at the SAA building in Avocet, like yourself. He’s been gone for a couple of weeks, he was required to come back to do some tests, so they’re certain he’s safe to be out in the world. He is, and that’s why we traveled all the way here to pick him up and bring him back with us.”

“And you want me to meet him because…?”

“I think you two might get along,” Brown admitted. “You’re both around the same age and I saw you reading that book, the one with the bar of soap on the cover, I’ve seen him reading it too. People with similar taste in literature tend to get along, so they say anyway.”

Cameron drank more of her coffee. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to introduce this possibly psychotic teenage boy to a convicted criminal?”

Agent Brown laughed, and laughed and laughed. Cameron wondered if she’d pass out. Finally, she got herself under control. “Tom is a lot of things, Cameron but psychotic is the last word I’d ever use to describe him. He wasn’t sent here because he’s unhinged or violent, Tom just can’t control his powers very well and with a power like his, that’s very dangerous to the people around him.”

Most powers had trouble learning to control their abilities at first, when Cameron got hers she would accidentally teleport random objects into new locations. It was a huge pain in the ass to find where she moved her stuff. “But he’s got it handled now?”

“Of course, I’ve been helping him, he’s made a lot of progress since we first met. It won’t be long before he’ll be capable of having a normal of a life as he wants.”

The door opened enough for a nurse to poke her head out and smile politely at them. “Sorry about the wait, Agent Brown. You can come in, now.” They both got up from their seats as the nurse pushed the door all the way open. “Follow me, I’ll show you where he is.” They did, entering the room – a small office between the waiting room and another hallway – and passing it go walk down the hall. All the walls had the same pastel green paint with little flowers in random places. The doors were identical too except for the number on each one. They stopped in front of the one marked B15. The nurse knocked on the door, the sounding echoing down the hall.

A teenage boy came out after the third knock. He was only a few inches taller than her, his dirty blond hair cut short, and his green eyes brightened when he smiled at Agent Brown.

“I assume you can take it from here?” the nurse asked Brown.

“Yes, thank you,” she said. The nurse left, going further down the long hallway, disappearing when she reached the end and turned right. “Tom, this is Cameron Pierce. Cameron, this is Tom Harris.”

He extended his hand, still smiling. “Hi, it’s nice to meet you.”

She shook it. “Likewise.” His hand was unusually warm, as if he held it against a heating vent for several minutes.

“Come on, let’s go. Our ride is waiting for us,” Agent Brown said, before the silence that ensued could get awkward. Cameron and Agent Brown had ridden an inventor made ship to get here. There wasn’t actually a pilot, the ship drove itself once someone inputted the coordinates. They walked back to where they just came from.

“So, what were you doing in there?” Cameron asked.

He shrugged. “Just having me test out my powers, see how well I control it, check what my power level is. That kind of stuff.”

Ten years after the government officially acknowledged the existence of superhumans, an inventor came forward with a device that could detect the energy surrounding all superhumans. Power levels were based around the amount of energy around a superhuman. The device wasn’t perfect, though, there had been some cases of superhumans not being detected by the device at all. Creed told her it was possible to learn how to conceal this energy to bypass the detectors, it was how he managed to keep his identity hidden despite interacting with the SAA often.

“That so? What’s your level?” Agent Brown gave her a warning look. Cameron rolled her eyes. “If you don’t mind me asking, of course,” she added.

“I don’t mind, really,” Tom said, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Thirteen. I’m a level thirteen.”

Cameron whistled, impressed. Thirteen was considered to be very high, it was estimated that in twenty years, thirteen would be the average power level for superhumans. What a scary thought. “I’m only seven myself.”

“Seven isn’t anything to be ashamed about, Cameron. It’s quite impressive, really,” Agent Brown said.

“I don’t think level is anywhere near as important as the power itself, I consider yours to be way more useful than mine,” Tom said.

She felt her phone vibrate, distracting her from the conversation. Her personal and SAA phones were both set to ring if someone sent her text message or called, this had to be the burner phone.

Creed was trying to get in touch with her.

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Cameron’s life was a bunch of failures stacked on top of each other, sixteen years high. The kind of failure resulting in a freak like Gladwell out for your blood? She hadn’t managed to fuck up that badly, yet, and she hoped she never would.

No one knew when the first person with powers was born but it wasn’t until the 70’s that it became too hard for the government to cover it up anymore. Clairvoyants and people with weak telekinesis were one thing, but hiding a growing population of people who could smash tanks or do some other flashy trick required a much more powerful government, or a lot of delusion on the public’s part. Ever since the common person realized anyone walking down the street could potentially have the ability to tear them apart with a single thought and there wasn’t a damned thing they would be able to do about it, they’ve been scared out of their minds. Superhumans started wearing colorful tights to put them at ease, remind them heroes like the ones they read in comics or saw on TV were real. They had people protecting them, nothing for them to be frightened of.

The Gladwells of the world reminded them they had plenty to be afraid of.

Unlike many, Gladwell didn’t wear a mask to hide herself, didn’t bother with social conventions in general. She did what she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted.

“How the hell did you do that, Ian?” Cameron asked. “Jesus, you should have come to me sooner.”

Ian sighed. “I went out of town with the guys, to New York. Us being there messed with some dude’s, the master of something, plan. Gladwell wasn’t happy about that so she sent that guy, the one who wrecked the mall.”

Cameron would never understand the appeal of any name with master in it, they sounded lame more than half the time. “Guess that explains why he didn’t have a costume. You sure Gladwell sent him? He seemed, I don’t know, just generally crazy, not like he had an agenda.”

“I’m sure, Gladwell left a message for me at one of our garages.”

“You don’t have to worry about him though, he’s been unconscious since the attack.”

“Yeah, but him failing is what’s brought Gladwell to Avocet. I’d rather deal with him than her.”

“You know for sure she’s in town? She’s not getting some lackey to do all her dirty work for her, pretending she’s actually here to screw with you?”

He nodded but didn’t elaborate.

How was she going to explain to Agent Hayes how she got this information? She wasn’t supposed to associate with people from her criminal past and no one outside that world would know Gladwell was coming. Hell, maybe he already knew. The conversation they had about a week ago came back to her, he said he had it on good authority things wouldn’t stay quiet for long in their city. He probably had a precog on his payroll, someone she hadn’t met.

“Fuck. Think I should leave town, try to get her to go somewhere else. Somewhere with more heroes.”

“She knows you live in Avocet City, anyone with an internet connection does. She’s going to tear apart this city until she finds you, Ian.” Telling Gladwell where Ian was would end all of this, before it got a chance to get ugly. Cameron wasn’t a good person, she knew this. If it came down between Ian and people she had never met before, would likely never meet, well, fuck those people. What did they ever do for her? They weren’t there when she needed protection from her dad, weren’t there to deal with the aftermath. “You should go. Gladwell’s not invincible, the SAA can handle her.”

He shook his head, scowling. “All the shit she’s going to do to Avocet, that’s my fault. I’m going to make her pay for it, someday.”

Cameron checked the time, and sighed. “Right, I should go. If you decide to leave, tell me before you do. Be careful out there, Ian, because I really don’t own funeral clothes and I really don’t want to.”

“I’ll try not to inflict funeral clothes on you,” Ian said, smiling. “Don’t do any crazy shit either, Cameron.”

She left, wondering whether what she was about to do counted as crazy shit.

The smart thing to do would be to go back to HQ, staying out late on one of her first nights of freedom might arouse suspicion, make them question if she was actually responsible enough to handle the freedom.

Before she met Creed, she worked as a thief. She started small, a couple of bills out of someone’s wallet, jewelry, watches, then she began going into people’s houses. Whenever she got comfortable, she went to the next level, upped the challenge. With a power like hers, it didn’t take long before she stole gear from superheroes and villains. Ian had connections she used to sell off her stolen goods, and she made a ton of cash from it. That came to an end when she stole from the wrong person and they went after her. Cameron had a stash of equipment she didn’t sell, some because they were useful, some because it looked cool and she wanted to keep it as a trophy. It was all safely stored in the tiny apartment she lived in before getting caught by the heroes while out doing an errand for Creed and forced to live at their HQ.

Her place wasn’t far from Ian’s so she walked. The landlord never asked why a teenage girl was living by herself, not as long as he got his money. Cameron hadn’t wanted the SAA to know about this place so she hadn’t seen it in months. She got Sarah to stop by and pay the rent. She wasn’t worried about anyone breaking in, the security system she bought was high-end, no ordinary burglar would be able to get past it.

The stairs creaked as she stepped on them, loud enough to hear throughout the building. She went to the third floor, stopping in front of apartment 3B. The walls were a mottled green, the doors more of a military green. It gave it a very dirty, grimy feel despite being clean.

She always kept the key on her person, didn’t feel safe leaving it where it might get stolen. Cameron unlocked the door, using the key combined with the thumbprint scanner hidden on the doorknob. The apartment had an open layout, no walls separating the kitchen and living room. There was only bedroom, the bathroom right beside it. The place was surprisingly tidy, with all her books on the shelf in the living room by the window, no garbage laying around, the kitchen counter shined under a thin layer of dust. Sarah. This had to be Sarah’s work, that girl couldn’t stand seeing things out of order or dirty.

Other than being a lot cleaner than when she left, it looked to be the same, all her things were still here. She teleported the coffee table and the rug under it out of the way, moving them to the kitchen where there was space. Hidden by the table and rug was a metal safe, lodged into the floor. Opening it required a bit of work, punching in the code, waiting for it to scan her thumbprint, saying the password into the microphone. The safe door automatically swung open revealing its contents, one of them being her old costume.

It wasn’t flashy or eye-catching, the opposite, really. Black from head to toe, it consisted of a bodysuit, a jacket, and a motorcycle helmet.

Good, it was still here.

Tomorrow, she decided. Tomorrow night, she’d grab some equipment from her safe and go out to confront Gladwell. Cameron wasn’t sure how much Hayes knew and she couldn’t ask without getting in trouble. So she’d make it obvious what was going on, make a ruckus, get the local heroes to come and see Gladwell in town. That had the bonus of catching Gladwell off guard, she probably wouldn’t expect them to find out about her so soon and being forced to leave whatever base she managed to set up.

First, she’d need to figure out where Gladwell was staying. She had some experience tracking down supervillain bases, one time she found a lair and took a pair of laser swords and a shield from Hoplite, a vigilante who died in the same event that killed half of Avocet’s superheroes. She didn’t have the opportunity to go around looking, not with a curfew, one she was breaking right now by still being out.

Tomorrow might be too optimistic. Still, this was good, knowing what to do and how to accomplish it. Having things to do, a goal, it kept her grounded, knowing she wasn’t just floating through life. Once Gladwell was dealt with, she could devote herself to the task Creed gave her.

She left the costume out of the safe, placing it in a neat pile on the couch, for easy access when she came by tomorrow. A quick search of the closet in her bedroom got her one of the many burner phones she owned.

hey C, it’s CP, need to call in that favor. how fast can you find someone for me? contact me asap

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“Thank you for meeting me. They didn’t give you any trouble, did they?”

Cameron slid into the other side of the booth. Creed had a laptop set up in front of him and a cup of hot coffee placed beside it. He had said the words casually, but she knew the importance of making sure she wasn’t being followed. “No trouble,” Cameron said. “They’ve been a lot more willing to let me go do stuff now that I’m officially on the team. Still on probation though, obviously. Can’t rock the boat too hard.”

Creed nodded, looking back down at the screen of his laptop and started to type. “Yes, that’s why I chose here to meet. A lot less suspicious to meet somewhere public, a simple conversation between lawyer and client. If anyone asks, you have more than enough evidence to back up your claim.” He took a sip of coffee, putting it back exactly where it was when he was done. Cameron’s powers also came with a good sense of position, so when she said exactly, she meant exactly. She always thought it was weird how he could do that. “Would you like anything?”

“I would, if some big shot lawyer would be willing to pay for a poor high school student.”

He paused in his typing to give her a look. “I thought it went without saying that I’d take care of the bill. If it needs to be said then, yes, Cameron, I’ll pay for whatever you want to order.”

“Cool,” she said, smiling. She waved over a waitress, who had been looking at them from the other side of the counter. She ordered a plate of fries and chicken fingers, and a glass of orange soda. When the waitress left, Cameron turned back to Creed, who was working away on his laptop still. “So, what do you want to talk about?” The place was loud enough between the music playing and people talking that they didn’t have to worry about being overheard as long as they talked normally.

“The future, and I do apologize for not giving you my full attention, I’m very busy. It’s hard to manage the workload of two demanding, full-time jobs.”

“You’re going to tell me what exactly I’m doing wearing a white hat?”

“Not exactly, not yet, anyway. Combined with my precogs interfering, not telling you until it’s necessary will throw off any precogs watching your future. What I can tell you, however, is that I’ve been planning a takeover for awhile now.”

She sat up straighter in her seat. “Seriously? Hasn’t the guy running the TG’s been there for ages? Bad and good guys have teamed up but still haven’t managed to kick him off his throne.”

“Yes, I know he’s powerful, I know how loyal many of his followers are to him. I’ve been with them for long enough to know how they operate, how he operates. This is a plan years in the making, Cameron. Taking my time to put all the pieces in the proper place. I highly doubt I’ll get a second chance at this, if I fail.”

“Okay, I’ll trust that you know what you’re doing, you being the mastermind and all. I’m one of these pieces?”

He gave her a nod. “You’ll have to forgive me for arranging your capture, it was necessary. As far as pieces go, you’re fairly important.”

“This is what you meant, right? When I first joined up with you and you asked me what I was willing to do.”

“And you answered that you’d do whatever, as long as I don’t fuck you over. I don’t want to pressure you into this, if you’re unwilling I’m more than capable of making new arrangements to get you out of where you are now. I can find someone else to fill your role, although I do prefer you. You can back out at anytime.”

She wondered if he said that knowing she was going to agree and go along with his plan to take over the True Gods. Not because she was some puppet, incapable of thinking for herself, but he knew the kind of person she was. Without him, she’d probably be dead right now. That wasn’t a minor thing and she hated leaving debts unpaid. “Well, I guess as long as you’re not fucking me over, I’m in,” Cameron said, lightly.

Their conversation paused as the waitress came by and dropped off her meal and drink, resuming when she was gone.

“I will be sending you your escape package soon, regardless. In case anything were to ever happen to me, I wouldn’t want you to be trapped in my plan.”

She dipped a fry into ketchup. “What do you even want me to do?”

He had looked up from his laptop screen and met her eyes. “For now? Nothing. Continue doing what you’ve been doing, get their trust, be as good a superhero as you’re capable of being. Within reason, of course, no need to suddenly become a girl scout. And lastly, most importantly, keep your eyes open, watch your teammates and other heroes closely for suspicious behavior. I’m certain our opponent has spies within the SAA, I’d like to find out who is and isn’t one.”

“You planted a spy for the purpose of looking for spies. That’s – wait, the note you sent me. Is that what you were talking about?”

Creed dipped his head in a nod, returning his attention back to the screen. “Yes. Care to explain your surprise?”

“Nothing, I guess. Thought you meant something else, something I saw the day I got the note. It was probably, well, I don’t know. Shared hallucination, maybe,” Cameron said dismissively before shoving a couple of fries in her mouth.

“If you think it’s nothing, then it’s nothing. If you change your mind, I am here to talk, no matter when. I owe you for helping me with this, I’ll make time.”

His tone was so nonchalant, so matter-of-fact. Not the bombshell she felt like it was. She drank some orange soda to cover the big smile she could feel about to form on her face. She’d feel really dumb if he saw it.

“I’m pretty sure it’s nothing.”

“Then it is.”

They fell into a comfortable silence as Creed worked and she ate.

“Agent Hayes has been treating you well, I hope? I can cause a lot of trouble for him, he’s already standing on shaky ground, been for awhile now.”

That was tempting, very tempting. Cameron sighed. “He’s annoying but not that bad. That offer is still on the table if I change my mind?”

“Of course, Cameron. I’m at your service.”

She was still getting used to the new room. It was bigger than her old one, which was nice, and she didn’t have to hear agents running back and forth, at all hours of the day. The only people on this floor were superheroes like herself, most lived offsite but they still had rooms. She hadn’t actually seen any of her new teammates since she moved all her stuff into the room last night. Cameron had thought she would at least see Ionic, since she lived in the building too.

Maybe Ionic didn’t go to school? It’d explain why Cameron didn’t see her up this morning. Maybe she already graduated.

Something she had to ask about if she found a good opportunity. As far as spies went, Ionic was pretty suspicious given her connections to those crooks at the Wrench. A good place to start all this spy hunting shit.

She was in the middle of writing an essay when her phone rang, the incredibly catchy song she had as her ringtone too loud to ignore. She found where she had tossed it and slid her thumb across the screen to accept the call. “Hello?”

“Hey, heard from Sarah they’ve loosened the leash a little. Need to talk to you. Think you can sneak out and meet?” Ian, sounding oddly desperate.

Fuck English class.

“I can sneak out of anywhere.”

“Meet me at my apartment, see you in a few.” He hung up.

Ian had the dubious honor of being the one who convinced her to run away when she had been stuck in a facility for troubled super-teens, basically a group home for young superhumans. Not that she was hard to convince, she hated it there. He also ran a motorcycle gang, the Speed Fiends, they mostly drove around town at insane speeds, sometimes committing crimes. They were in it for the thrills, and with Ian’s power backing them up, it was nothing but.

Cameron grabbed a jacket, before moving to her window, and teleporting herself to the sidewalk across the street. Ian lived in a dingy apartment in the bad side of town, the kind of place where people didn’t call the cops or ask questions. She was pretty familiar with the area, she grew up in the neighborhood and came back after she had run away.

He opened the door after the second knock. Ian embodied the classic bad boy, messy black hair, a leather jacket, and it was obvious he worked out. He smirked. “That was fast, bet you rushed here, so excited to see me.” She rolled her eyes and pushed past him to get inside his apartment. Looked the same as always, his clothes were thrown everywhere, dirty dishes and empty takeout boxes took up space on tables and chairs. It’d probably be an absolute mess if Sarah didn’t come by occasionally to clean the place up.

Ian laid down on the couch, leaving Cameron to sit on the other couch. His small TV played some action movie on low volume.

“How much freedom are they giving you?” Ian asked, failing to sound disinterested.

“They took off my tracker yesterday, I’m going to take that to mean I can go wherever I want. Pretty sure they’re not following me around either.”

“Took you three months to earn their trust, huh? Are you sure about them taking off your tracker? I don’t want your new pals to know where I live.”

Cameron shrugged. “I talked to Creed last night, he checked to make sure.” She gave him a long, hard look but he kept his gaze fixed on the television screen. “What the hell is going on, anyway?”

“Honestly, I fucked up and now some scary fuckers are after me. I’ve been trying to get them to back off but they’re persistent.” He sighed. “There’s not a lot the guys can do to help. They’re just ordinary guys, not like you and me. Besides, you’ve got experience with this kind of shit.”

“Wait, you’re not seriously talking about that one time I got kidnapped and almost killed after I pissed off the wrong people? That definitely does not make me an expert in dealing with scary fuckers. I had to get bailed out by Creed.” It was how they met, actually. Their first time meeting and Creed saved her life.

Ian turned to meet her eyes. “You’re all I got, Cameron. I don’t have a lot of friends who can help.”

Who could say no to a face like that?

“So, these scary fuckers, they got names?” Cameron asked, casually.

“I feel like I should get you to agree to help me before I tell you. Don’t want to scare you away.”

Cameron scoffed. “I don’t scare easily.”

He broke their eye contact and stared at his feet. “It’s Gladwell.”

She stared at him for a moment, waiting for Ian to admit this was one of his lame ass jokes. He didn’t. “…Yeah, you know what? Forget what I just said.”

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