Basil lowered his arm, removing the knife from her throat. “Hello. I did not expect you here,” he greeted her.
She rubbed her throat, as if checking for cuts – but he had not even nicked her skin. He was surprised to see that her hair was brown, which he really had not expected, not with the way she ran around in costume; but he could still recognise her by her pink visor, which she apparently kept at hand just like he always had his soft mask with him at all times.
<Brennus? Is that you?> she asked, her lips unmoving except to breathe. He looked down and saw that she was wearing a slightly bulky glove, blue with wires running through it, and her fingers were moving as if she was tapping keys.
“Just like how I control my suit’s functions,” he said, taking a closer look at her glove.
<Oh, I knew you used a similar system, I saw your fingers move every time you were in that suit!> she replied, her earlier question forgotten. She lifted the glove to show it off. <It’s still rather bulky, and easily damaged, though.>
“Why did you bring it along, then?” was his reply as he looked at it from beneath while she typed. A speaker was worked into the palm, and he could tell that the glove extended further down her arm, probably with some power source hidden somewhere beneath the bulky sweater. “Better bring a sturdy unit attached to your belt, or something in that vein.” He quickly looked her up and down – winter boots, baggy black pants, a blue turtleneck sweater. Nothing like his quickly converted costume. “Speaking of which, do you not have an emergency costume?”
She gave him a sheepish glance. <I didn’t think to make one – it’s not usually a problem for us official heroes, since we’re not supposed to do heroics at all when off duty.>
He stepped back, smiling (which should show, slightly, through his mask). “Why are you back here, then, attacking me?” he asked.
<How things are and how they should be are two vastly different things; that’s why we put on costumes and go out risking our lives, after all, right?> she answered with another question. <And speaking of costumes, how exactly did you work that jacket, did you have a second one over it as cover or…>
“Stop!” he said, raising a hand, palm out. “I just realise that we are taking an unnecessary risk staying here and chatting up… though we certainly should compare notes on those control gloves, at a later point in time,” he continued, trying to steer them away from the Gadgeteer Zone they would probably slip into in a moment.
She nodded. <Do you have a plan?>
Flipping the knife into the air and catching it, he said, “Get access to the surveillance system to destroy any recordings of the two of us, somehow contact the outside – hopefully, they did not cut all connections to the outside world.”
<Right. Let’s do that – but I need a costume first, or I can forget my secret identity as soon as someone snaps a cellphone picture of me.>
“I think I saw a SuperWear shop earlier. It should be nearby, and I can disable the cameras inside – though that will alert our opposition, if they took the surveillance system over, which I will assume they did.”
<Let’s hurry then.>
* * *
A few minutes, two disabled cameras (he had not had the time to tie them into loops) and one popped lock later, they were in the shop – and what a shop it was.
The original SuperWear had been the first commercial store for superhero and -villain costumes, founded in the late Twenties by the man who had been making and fixing Lady Light’s costumes (she used to go through a lot of them, before she mastered her powers) so as to make a living out of his talent (and make it tax deductible). He had provided custom-made outfits for anyone who could pay, thus preventing supervillains from coming after him – they were his customers, too, after all.
From there, it had grown and grown, and was now the biggest retailer of all things costume-related (they did not provide hand-tailored custom works anymore, though).
The one they were in had been hailed as the largest SuperWear store in the world, taking up space on every level of the Bright Arcades. Its interior was well-organised, easy to navigate and utterly exploding with colour. Basil had to blink when he first entered and turned the lights on.
“Well, at least you are sure to find something to wear,” he said, as Polymnia looked around in glee, then ran over to the girl’s section.
<No peeping!> she shouted back as she vanished among the racks of clothing.
“Not interested!” he shouted back, annoyed. As if every guy was a horn-dog like Outstep (or Dalia). “I will stand watch near the staircases!” And he proceeded to do just that. Fortunately, the lockdown had also closed the shutters of all shops; and though the front door had been opened again, most likely by the criminals so as to collect the customers and herd them all into one place. These guys work fast.
As was to be expected from criminals led by a mastermind. Kudzu was not exactly one of the big names – he just about cut the middle class – but Basil had, nonetheless, heard a bit about his exploits. He did not remember any flaws in his power, or even how exactly it worked – which was too bad, because people with mastermind powers usually had built-in blind spots their power could not account for (like Formula, a villainess whose power over math let her calculate even the future, but was utterly incapable of accounting for positive emotional factors).
Which would have been really good to know when going up against such a mastermind. If at least I knew whether he’s a precog or just a super-powered planner.
Either way, he closed the main entrance again (the shutters were mercifully quiet) and then disabled the mechanism, so it could no longer be opened from the central control, only from within the shop. Keep an escape route open to you, but deny your enemies the entry. Always a good thing to keep in mind.
Now if only I could access the cameras outside. But that would have to wait until they got to the control room (which was likely to be heavily guarded now, as Kudzu would almost assuredly be there) or some other access point to the system. Like perhaps the maintenance room? Only he had no idea where it was.
His train of thought was derailed when Polymnia stepped out from the racks of clothing.
<Done!> she said. <They actually have a bodysuit styled like my armor! Doesn’t it look great!?>
“It certainly looks… colourful,” he supplied. “But would not some more… uh… coverage, be good?” There were a lot of transparent parts to it. “How about you put that sweater on over it?”
Her face fell, and he got the feeling he said something wrong. <It doesn’t look… good?> she asked, the artificial voice sounding a little disappointed.
She even has mood settings for that thing – I so need the technology for Eudocia. “Oh, I’m sure it looks good… if you just want to, uh, you know, show off. But it looks a little bit, uh… indecent? As in, a lot? You are a little… young to wear that, I think.” Not to mention way too busty.
<I guess I’ll, uh, pick out something else…> she said, crestfallen.
“Please do. It really does not suit you. And do hurry, we do not have much time before someone gets here and tries to take us out!”
She hurried back into the racks of clothing, while Basil went back to watching the entryway, sliding behind a nearby rack of masks – and not a second too soon, as soon he heard someone shout on the other side.
Though he could not tell what was being said, the other person seemed agitated. He heard someone answer, and then the sound of something being stuck to the metal shutters.
“They are about to break through, I think!” he said in a normal voice – according to her public profile, she should be able ot easily hear it.
<I can hear them; coming through!>
And she stepped back into sight, now wearing a simple blue bodysuit with pink boots and a pink glove on her free hand, and a pink scarf that hid her face from the nose down. She had also gotten a wig in her usual colours.
Talk about garish. But it probably looked great to most guys – it was not her fault that Basil preferred a much more clothed style. “Get behind some cover,” he told her, pulling a stun grenade from his belt. “And cover your e-“
<Can you disable their communication equipment?> she asked suddenly, cutting him off, while she remained standing in full view. <If you can, I can take care of the rest.>
“I have a single emp grenade with me. Short range, so it should not affect your equipment. Do you have any weapons with you?”
<Kind of. Watch and be awed.>
“Guess I will have to trust you…” He took the grenade and threw it over to the entrance way, where it stuck to the doorframe over the door, ready to be set off. “I sure hope you know what you are doing.”
With some luck, she will show off some new invention of hers. If she is this confident in it, it ought to be good.
* * *
There was a surprisingly quiet series of explosions – really more of a succession of ‘plops’, each accompanying a circular part of the shutter being melted, forming the outline of a door.
Basil drew his knife in his left hand, and a stun baton in his right. He was still hidden behind the rack, using a nearby mirror to keep an eye on the entrance.
When the outline had been melted into it, a stiff kick dropped the whole section into the shop, and six men streamed inside, clad in battle fatigues and wielding highly tricked out assault rifles…
Oh, this is just too rich, Basil thought as he set the grenade off. There was barely any sound, just a short crackle, and then the men were inside, moving to surround Polymnia, guns held ready.
“Freeze!” their leader, a man wearing a red beret over his full-face mask, shouted as they formed a circle around her. “Surrender and you won’t be harmed!”
I do hope those rifles are not EMP-proof, Basil thought as he got ready to attack – they would probably search the shop, and he might catch one of them, at least, off-guard before anyone noticed their weapons were not working…
<Right back at you, Sirs,> Polymnia responded, setting her vocalizer to ‘cocky’. <You do know who I am, right?>
“Polymnia, Junior Hero, Sonic Gadgeteer, enhanced hearing,” he shot back rapidly. “We’ve read up on all the locals, girl. Now, take off that glove, get on your knees and put your hands behind your head! Right now!”
<Take off this glove? Sure, Sir,> she said, pulling her vocalizing glove off – very carefully and slowly. Basil could see the men get nervous, even though they were basically surrounding (well, they had formed a half-circle, to avoid crossfire) a teenage girl in a garish costume, taking off a strange glove…
Well, the had a lot of reason to be nervous.
“Get a move on, girl!” the leader shouted at her.
She smiled sweetly, and dropped the glove.
And then things went in a totally different way than he expected.
* * *
The men’s eyes tracked the glove for a fraction of a second, and that was enough, it seemed. Before even Basil could react, Polymnia had lashed out, kicking the leader so hard in the balls, he fainted on the spot.
Basil, and every other guy in the room, crossed their legs in sheer, instinctual, sympathetic reaction as the man simply collapsed with an almost gentle sigh.
One of the men got his bearings back before the others, and aimed for Polymnia’s center of mass, squeezing his rifle’s trigger – and nothing happened. Much like Basil had expected, their rifles were the modern, highly modified type, probably some lesser version of Gadgeteer work.
Polymnia reacted instantly and, without ever putting the foot that had just crushed the leader’s family tree down, she swung around on her other heel and clipped the chin of the wannabe-shooter, knocking him out.
Now the others reacted, squeezing the triggers of their weapons – to no avail, as Polymnia moved faster than any human should, punching the next two men in the line-up with a fist to the chest for each, throwing them back into a rack of villain costumes for boys, which tipped over and buried them both.
She has been holding out on people, Basil thought as he stared, watching in awe as the petite girl whirled towards the men to her left (she had basically taken out the four in the middle of the half-circle) and threw herself at them, swinging her arms in two perfect (if rather lacking in a formal style) punches to the gut.
Basil was so stunned by the display that he almost did not react when the two criminals behind her dropped their rifles and drew simpler handguns in swift, smooth motions, opening fire.
“Look out!” he shouted, more by reflex than any conscious decision. It was that same reflex that made him vault out from behind his cover and throw his knife into the shin of the nearest gunman, while his baton hurled towards the other man’s arms.
The first man’s shots went wide, but the other was lucky enough to only take a glancing blow – and instead of shooting Polymnia in the back of the head, he shot her in the chest as she whirled around.
“No!” he shouted, running towards them, reaching for his second knife and a medikit… but Polymnia moved before he reached them, reaching out to crush the gun with one hand.
“But you’re just a-” the gunman began before she knocked him out with a single punch.
Basil reached her, staring. “W-what?”
She looked at him, then down herself, inspecting her suit. There were three holes in the chest, but the bullets had not penetrated her skin – only left slightly reddened skin, which was already fading. She sighed as she saw the damage.
“You are a brick?” Basil asked, surprised.
She looked at him, annoyed, and bent down to pick up her glove. When she had put it back on, she said, <I hate that word. I’m no brick! But yes, I’ve got Paragon-tier strength and toughness.>
Wow. “I never heard that you have that kind of power before, and I read up on you very thoroughly!” he replied, exasperated.
In response, she just smiled sweetly. <Well, no one expects the cute, multi-coloured music tech-girl to be able to shrug off small caliber fire and punch through concrete, so I keep it a secret. You know, just in case.> She winked at him.
And Basil thought, I know what Amy would say now, and it would not even be perverted. “That only makes you cuter, I think.”
She smiled even wider. <I know, right?!>