Conflict Resolution

Part Twenty-Five: Action

by Scalar7th

Tags: #another_day_at_the_office #any/all #multiple_partners #romance #superhero #urban_fantasy #bondage #comic_book #D/s #enchanting_voice #exhibitionism #scifi #socialism #villainy

(CW: drug-like effects)

The Bright Society heroes meet the docks.

Port City, USA

The unmarked building that is the central security headquarters for the Port City Dockworks Cooperative Confederation

5:08 PM Friday

Following Psilocyber's directions, Axe and Arctic Angel stand in the pouring rain outside the front doors.

"SURPRISE THEM?" Axe asks, one hand on the door, the other at his side holding the axe-like projection at his side.

"I would be shocked if they don't already know we're here," the Angel replies. "Let's go in."

Axe nods and swings his weapon at the door, knocking it open easily. There is the sound of a lock breaking, but otherwise the heavy door is undamaged. Three men who were at the ready further in the building start to approach, but before they can say anything, angel feathers spiral across the room and freeze them in place. She doesn't recognize them, and breathes a sigh of relief at that, although she doesn't understand why she's relieved about it. Her weapons do not cause harm.


Arctic Angel nods, looking around the room. The lobby seems to be mostly a gathering space, with the expected reception desk near the entrance, but also benches, tables, potted plants... It is a pleasant place to be. But the Angel isn't here to see the sights, or to put her feet up.

She puts a hand on Axe's shoulder and points to one door. She indicates another for herself. The big man nods his understanding and shuffles off, and the Angel pauses a moment, thinking. As she's about to head further into the building, a burst of static on her communicator catches her attention.

"Nod twice if you can hear. Don't fucking ask how. In fact don't fucking say anything, only you can hear me, but everyone can hear you."

Tanya. Arctic Angel nods twice.

"Good. I can see you on the cameras. Nice fucking shot by the way, too bad you didn't get the bruiser as collateral damage."

The Angel looks for a camera in the ceiling and mouths, what are you doing? directly towards it.

"Seeing if I can still break into the Bright comms, seeing if I can fucking distract you, seeing if I can convince you that I'm not the firebug the police think I am."


"Because I don't wanna end up a fucking ice sculpture like Sharon. And because I want my friends back."

Arctic Angel puts a hand to her chest with an inquiring look.

"Yes, you, you dork. Or not you, but Chelsea, because right now, seriously, fuck you, Angel. You know, Sharon was always smarter 'n me about a lot of this psychology shit. Fuck, I'm no good at this." There's a loud sigh on the line. "She's got your fucking number, though, you know? Yeah, don't look surprised, I heard the conversation you two had last night. You're out of fucking control, and I don't mean you've gone bug-wild, I mean you're not Chelsea and I hate it. And that stupid sash ruins the lines of the dress I made, and that pisses me off even more. But you know what? If this is who you wanna be, then I guess this is just who you're gonna be, and you might as well zap me, too, Angel, because you took away the only people who meant any goddamn thing to me in my life. I'm so fucking broken right now that I had to take a job with these pricks to pro—"

"Flamehammer," the Angel jumps in. Tanya is working with the enemy, that's a major security problem. "The comms have been compromised. Recommend a quiet protocol."

"Oh that's really fucking great, bitch. Right, signing off, go fuck yourself, and know that this is a war now, Angel, and I'm going to get my goddamn friend back."

She means Sharon, obviously, the Angel reassures herself as a second burst of static signals Tanya's departure from the system.

The War Room at the head of PCDCC communications and IT

5:10 PM Friday

"Rotating things again," Tom Harvey groans. "I think I've managed to isolate Maintenance. Doesn't matter if they're in the system if the system isn't connected to the rest of us."

"Great, Tom," Anna says from the control seat. "That'll help a lot." She swivels to look at another screen and pull up some more information. "Seems to be the only place things are coming from. Must be Psilocyber, right?"

Thomas nods, knowing that no one but Sterling would see him. "Unless the Brights brought another hacker with them. She'll probably shut it all down once it's served its purpose."

Sterling agrees. "They want all the information they can get. I don't know what the nanobots can do to a computer, so—"

"A lot of damage," Anna explains. "Don't expect anything electronic in Maintenance to work tomorrow."


"No," the three senior engineers say in unison.

"We're probably talking physical damage to the hardware," Tom continues. "In the end, do we really want to keep anything with Psilocyber's nanobots in it hanging around? We don't know how long they can hold up, or what they can do if they're still active. Anything she's been near to will need to be scrubbed at the very least, down to a molecular level, and I don't know that any of us have the equipment or know-how to handle that."

"Does anyone?" Anna asks rhetorically. "The Brights might, especially with some nano-engineers around, but as much as we have trouble with them, we're not here to fight them, we're here to run a shipping organization. Maybe if we pumped a couple billion dollars into development, but we don't have Bright Society money, and we have a different job to do."

Sterling shakes his head and sighs. "I don't suppose we can bill them for it?"

"Talk to Sandy," Thomas replies with a shrug.

"Right." The supervillain lets out a slow breath. "Anything I can do?"

"No," the three engineers say together again.

"Alright, I'll just—"

"Stay put," Thomas interrupts him, "sit there, don't get arrested, and don't break anything."

"I'm not used to being inactive."

"Get used to it. At least for now."

Anna snickers. "There's cables in the closet if you need to tie him to a chair."

"Ooh, don't tempt me," Thomas replies, offering Sterling a grin. "It'd be the first time in twenty years that he wouldn't be bouncing off the walls."

The main workspace of Dockworks Telecom

5:12 PM Friday

Tanya returns from the bathroom where she'd made her call to the Angel and puts her head in her hands. Mark, Vanessa, and Paula all note her return, then continue their work on figuring out Psilocyber's defenses. They had moved out of the War Room to let the senior engineers work on controlling police and Bright presence without cross-talk. It had cost a little time in setting up, but in the long run would make things flow more smoothly.

Right, fuck it, no time for regrets. I'm a minion now, especially since one friend is frozen and the other one is coming to get me. She takes a deep breath. Keep it simple.


The word rings in her head, clearing away the interpersonal distractions, helping her to focus on the job. The Brights haven't changed their communication protocols since she'd been released from duty, and that makes things so much easier.

"Okay," she says to the room, "the Brights have the same comm setup from when I was working for them, which means that if I can get a lock on their devices we can at least listen in on their chatter."

"Good start," Vanessa replies, turning to face Tanya, "but that's more what Tom, Thomas, and Anna are doing, yes?"

Tanya nods. "I'm just passing the necessary information along." Might have been useful if the Angel hadn't narced on me, but whatever, had to take the chance. She's Silver Tongue's minion, not the co-op's; talking Chelsea down was a greater benefit to him than being able to listen in on the Brights' conversations, no matter how much benefit the PCDCC might receive, so the chance she'd taken was worthwhile. "Paula, there might be something in there that can help us get a fix on their addresses and locations."

"Send it my way, I'll see what's there," they answer. "Right now, any clue is a good clue."

"On it."

She slips easily into working mode. Simple to just focus on being a good minion. Nothing else matters right now.

The War Room

5:17 PM Friday

Sterling is sitting idle, watching the senior communications engineers work, wishing he could be doing something useful.

Not being arrested is useful, Thomas had said to him, momentarily looking up from the security camera footage he was following. The Brights want you and don't have you. The PCPD want you and can't get you. That's a PR win for us, the longer you're free.

Sterling isn't entirely sure he trusts his friend about that, but he stays put. They're going to bring the big sword, and you're the best shield we have, Elena had told him only yesterday. He puts his hand to his head. Stars swim in his vision. So much has happened in the past week. The floor seems to shift under his feet. The monitor behind him... rattles?

Now is definitely not the time to be catching a bug, he complains to himself. Although with how little sleep I've had lately, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise.

He leans back in the chair, tries to ignore the lurch in his stomach, and passes out.

5:20 PM Friday

Just outside an unmarked building with an unusual amount of wiring

Mechanician stands with his hands on the walls, trying to ignore the pouring rain. It's messing with his ability to get a good read on what's happening in the building.


The redhead nods and, without a word, pushes through the front door.

He keeps the sonic pulses up for a few moments, knowing that the hum of Psilocyber's cloud of nanobots would offer her a measure of protection. They'd practiced this many times before. He knows her tolerance levels, and will stay well below them, easing up before she could come to any trouble on his end. Unless she gives a distress call, he'll let her do her thing for a couple minutes, then follow behind, like at the mechanical shop they had just left. Easy. As the various people at what looked to be a party started to wake up, they were already under Psilocyber's sway, and they were manipulable, helpful. Hungry, too, with all that food there. Most of them were blissfully sitting around, slowly snacking whenever the mood struck them, pointedly not interfering with the heroes as they conducted their business. They wouldn't resist the police search, later, either.

He shivers in the rain, trying to keep focused. There's too much noise, too much interference for him to tell whether or not he's managed to knock everyone out inside, and there's too great a risk of hurting people or damaging the building's structure if he increases the intensity of his attack. He has to trust that she can handle herself, as he lets up, stepping back from the wall and into the torrent. After a moment's consideration, he follows slowly through the door, noting the security guard at the front lying on the ground and the open security door heading further into the building. No doubt that last is his protege's work.

He decides to leave her to handle the electronics. Unless there's a reason to continue on, he'll save his resources for a later fight. He takes a seat with a sigh, waiting for any indication to move on. Maybe it's time to retire from active duty and take a back seat in the Society. Gerald's gone, any debt he owes to the Society is long since paid. There's little left for him to accomplish, anyway, little joy in what he's doing. It's time to, at very least, reevaluate his life.

The unmarked building that holds Dockworks Telecom

5:21 PM Friday

Mark Spirit is dead.

At least, that's what he assumes.

The world had started spinning a few minutes before. Stars had appeared in his vision. Tanya had said something about the Mechanician and needing some sort of sound or music to counter, and to keep as still as possible to avoid letting on that they weren't being knocked out. Paula had grabbed their phone and triggered the ringtone, which had helped, until Vanessa could start playing one of the Forro dances she loves from her phone as well, and Mark could get some heavy metal out from his. The sound was obnoxious, between the jangling, the rhythmic folk dance, and the driving guitars, all turned up to their maximum volume, but it did help steady him, and apparently everyone else.

Tanya had the four of them working on hacking into Psilocyber's nanobot swarm to try to figure out how it was that her allies aren't affected. They had ruled out the most obvious solution, after some work—that the nanobots had a DNA-exclusion list stored somewhere on a remote server that kept Psilocyber and the other Brights from being attacked by the swarm. Which meant that there was some local effect keeping them safe.

Mark had only just found a radio frequency protocol bouncing about, but before he had been able to investigate further, everything went pink, and there was a beautiful hum to match the vibrations from the equipment around him. No stranger to mind-altering substances, Mark finds these twin feelings of lethargy and confusion very familiar. He allows himself to relax into the mood, choosing not to go to war with the chemistry, seeing where it would take him.

And so he finds himself surrounded by angels: a gorgeous redhead who has just come through the door, his beloved Vanessa two terminals down who looks very concerned, the very pretty Paula a little bit away, frantically typing, and their newest team member Tanya sitting close to the War Room. This is his idea of heaven. Computing and comfort and love and gorgeous people.

Which is why he comes to the natural, the only possible conclusion: that he's dead.

5:21 PM Friday

Vanessa Silva watches in shock and horror as the door to the workspace opens on its own. The guard outside was disabled, and Psilocyber's nanobots had invaded the electronics on the lock, either shorting them out or coming up with a password. It didn't matter, either way.

Mark had just, only just concluded that the Brights had RF devices on them to protect from Psilocyber's swarm when the translucent pink dust had enveloped him.

There is nothing she can do.

So she finishes what she's working on: breaking the uplink from the Bright's communications to their main server, bouncing them over to the Dockworks' local system. Robust cellular networks don't just fail with the loss of a point of contact, after all; they simply grab a new one and keep going. Those in the system usually never notice the change, unless they're suddenly subject to roaming charges, and Vanessa doubts that the Brights really cared if they would be or not.

Then she looks over at Mark as a lovely soft sound calms her. He looks back. The two of them smile shyly. She slides her chair towards his, adjusting her glasses, trying to see him more clearly through the pink haze.

The beautiful redhead that walks purposefully towards her, invading her phone and computer with nanobots, shutting off the music, is an afterthought. Her entire vision is focused on Mark.

5:21 PM Friday

Paula hears the door open, and hears Mark's strangled warning, but they can't look away from their terminal. There's too much going on.

If they're right, there's only a few seconds to act, and they have to hope that—


New connections ping off the local tower. Paula quickly grabs the needed information and passes it to Tanya: device identifiers, protocols, software versions.

Head down. Get it done.

It's hard to see the keyboard, though, the way it's swimming in a pink cloud. Still, they type away, even as the hum in their ears makes it a challenge to concentrate, even as they turn away from the desk, still typing letters that aren't before them on a device that's not there, their fingers still reflexively twitching as they look up to see Vanessa and Mark embracing, feeling that warm flutter in their heart at the sight of their friends being so... just so in love with one another.

So in love.

They push their chair towards their colleagues, past the redheaded interloper.

They hadn't ever admitted how much they would dream of those two, of the touches and kisses and embraces they would share. But as Mark and Vanessa stand unsteadily and hug each other, Paula can't help but move closer and closer.


None of it makes sense.

He isn't religious, Vanessa is Catholic, and Paula Muslim, shouldn't they all be going to different heavens? And why is he in heaven at all? It's not like he's led a good life. But Paula is there, too, and looking simply amazing as he runs his hand over the soft fabric of their headscarf, and he stops questioning as he and Paula share a first-ever kiss. And then kisses Vanessa again. As an experiment, he closes his eyes, and he can tell the difference between the two of them even though he can't see who he's kissing.

Somehow, somewhere, Vanessa's shirt got lost. He doesn't know when or how because his eyes had just been closed.

And now he's indulging a workplace fantasy, fondling his partner's breasts on the job; there's no way he's still alive. If the nanobots hadn't poisoned him, Vanessa would definitely have murdered him for it. She's not this sort of an exhibitionist, although maybe Paula slipping their jeans off has had something to do with it; it's easier when you have an example to follow. And now Vanessa is helping him to stand and Paula is slipping his pants off and...

Definitely heaven.

Definitely heaven.

5:22 PM Friday

Tanya gets the information from Paula and works frantically to integrate it with the program she is wildly pulling together.

"you're the arsonist," says a small, piercing voice.

"I'm the hacker," Tanya corrects without looking up. "I've never set a fire in my life."

"you're coming with me."

A minion stands by her villain against the heroes. "Not a chance." She hits the 'enter' key to set the program running. "You know the fun thing about RF communications?" Finally she looks up. Psilocyber is close and her swarm is within arm's reach.

Within a finger's breadth.

"no, tell me."

The hum of the nanobots in her ears is beautiful. She sighs, smiling genuinely at the superhero. "They're jammable."

Psilocyber smiles back. "yeah. they..." She blinks. "they..."

If they get in a draft they just go up a nose, they don't care whose. Even, apparently, their makers'. Tanya steps back a bit, trying to minimize her contact with the swarm. She grins. "Figured it wasn't a DNA list."

The redhead weaves on her feet. "you jammed my radio signalers?"

"Yeah, with the telecom's towers. Liking the taste of your own medicine?" Tanya smiles, leaning against the War Room door to stay upright, taunting the hero to keep focus. A good minion works through all distractions. "Maybe you should turn off the swarm so you don't get more infected."

"mmmmm..." The pink cloud retreats towards its creator and dissipates. "good idea..." Psilocyber seems distracted by the sounds of her victims behind her.

This minion needs to check on her villain. Tanya's hand is on the door handle. There's still a hum in her ears, a warmth in her chest, and a smile on her face. Mechanician's attack probably left the rest of them completely out of it.

5:25 PM Friday


Someone is shaking Sterling awake.

"Hey. Boss. Up and at 'em."

That was... Tanya? He's sitting. Lounging, more. It's not his armchair. It's something like an office chair. Not comfortable. He's not sure why he fell asleep.

"Seriously. This is the third time I've got you to come around and you keep dropping out. Need you awake here. Things happening."

He opens his eyes. The world is swimming. "What..."

"Mechanician, that's what. And Psilocyber."

A sudden fear grips him. "What?" he says, trying to right himself. The world seems to be spinning.

"Mechanician knocked you and the rest of these nerds out. Psilocyber came in and got to the other team before we stopped her." Tanya's grinning brightly. "I managed to finish things off batting clean up. Grand slam for your comms team. And I'm aiming for the 'Minion of the Year' award."

"File a nomination," he says, trying to get his feet to work. The floor keeps dancing out of the way every time he's about to get upright. "Everyone okay?"

"Anne and the two Tommy's are out cold, like you were. My fellow hackers are busy getting themselves into a superhero-assisted drugged-out orgy. Haven't seen the Mechanician yet but he's gotta be around. No line on Axe or Chels or Flamehammer, either." She giggles, a strange sound to hear from her. "Got myself a bit of a breath of Psilocyber's—"

"Wait." Finally the ground cooperates and allows his feet to get under him. He doesn't risk standing. "Are you okay?"

Tanya twirls around. "I'm great! I'm high as a fuckin' kite, Silver Tongue!" She laughs out loud. "I've never felt better! Everything's so clear and easy and simple, as soon as I finished one job I know what to do next, it's just fuckin' perfect!"

"Okay. Okay, great." He puts his hand to his head again. His stomach seems to be settled, anyway. "Why would Chelsea be here?"

Tanya stares at him in disbelief. "You know. Chelsea Donovan? Arctic Angel?" She giggles and taps him between the eyes, almost knocking him backwards into the chair. "What, did Mekky scramble up your memories, too?"

He tries to stand up and sits down again. "What... what do you mean? Chelsea's..."

"Yeah!" She grabs his hands and yanks him to his feet, and he just manages to keep his balance and not fall directly on top of her. "Jesus, don't you remember Tuesday night? I sure fuckin' remember Tuesday night. Wednesday morning, whatever. Doesn't matter!" She sings. "You said it! You told me you knew her secret!" She pokes him in the chest, punctuating her statement. "Your. Exact. Words. 'While you were in jail, we found out about Chelsea.' I'm never gonna forget that. Those words are burned right here." She taps the side of her head. "Right there. 'We found out about Chelsea.'" She moves her finger along her temple as though she's writing. "The exact reason I chose to come here instead of just having you wipe my brain." 

Sterling closes his eyes and shakes his head, leaning against a desk for support. He speaks slowly. "We found out that she's Warren Donovan's daughter."

Tanya stops cold and turns to face him directly, her wild grin frozen on her face. "... What?"

"That was... that's what we found out. That's what we thought you were hiding."

"That's... that's it?" She stares. She starts to giggle, then to laugh. She grabs hold of the chair that Sterling just vacated, tears streaming down her face. "I joined the co-op... because... because you knew! To keep her... to keep that safe... to make sure it... didn't... get out!" She hops into the chair on her knees. "I gave up my freedom for no reason! Wheeeee!" She hugs the back of the chair and spins in circles.

Sterling reaches out a hand and stops her spinning. "Tanya, I'm sorry, I need you to focus."

The change in Tanya is instantaneous, but can't completely overwhelm her nanobot-fueled mood. The laughter subsides as she tries to keep her composure. "Yes, Silver Tongue," she says, still grinning.

"So... you thought I knew that Chelsea is Arctic Angel, and because of that, you decided to join the PCDCC to keep that secret contained."

"Bang fucking on, boss." He can see her trying to get herself under control. Still, a couple snickers escape.

"And now the Angel—"

"Is probably coming here to put us both on ice. Again, in your case." Tanya wiggles herself down off the chair. "'Kay, so, there we go, I just fucked everything up. More." She flops into the chair, giggling.

Sterling tests his shaky legs, and they hold him up. "So we need to get out of here."

"Fuckin' pronto, boss." She laughs. "Who says 'pronto'? And what about these guys?" She waves at the comatose communications engineers.

"It took you how long to get me moving? And I'm still not doing great." Sterling starts moving to the door, weaving a bit as he goes. "If we're going 'pronto,' we don't have that kind of time. They're not hurt, and they're not fugitives, they'll be fine if they get caught, they'll understand. Let's go."

"Hehe, right behind you, boss," Tanya says, hopping to her feet. "Gotta warn you though, when I left the other room things were getting pretty fuckin' heated out there—"

"Tanya..." Sterling opens the door and looks at the scene before him, "have I ever told you that you have a gift for understatement?"

Mark lies on his back on the floor, wearing the red t-shirt he'd had on when he'd left the War Room, and nothing else. A stranger, a slender, naked redhead with disfiguring burn scars all over her upper back, is riding him enthusiastically. Nearby, Paula is sitting on a computer desk in just their bra and headscarf, their hands behind them to brace themselves, with a dazed and orgasmic expression on their face; and kneeling on the floor between their legs, eating them out, Vanessa, just in her skirt and heels. None of them seem to notice Sterling or Tanya.

"Bring back memories?" Tanya asks, stepping up beside him to see.

"More than you might think," he replies, picking a path that avoids the orgy and making his way through the room. "What happened?"

"Psilocyber happened. They're all just hopped up to the fuckin' eyeballs. Once spiky-hair and the Latin gal got a look at each other, the sparks were flying and then..." She follows behind Sterling and waves a hand to indicate the commotion. "I only got a small dose so I'm just giggly and horny." Her eyes are clearly on Paula. "I'd probably've joined in but for some reason I'm focused on being a perfect little minion for a certain mind-controlling villain."

"We'll talk about that later."

"Yes, Silver Tongue."

Paula makes a very pleased sounding mewl as they reach the external door, a counterpoint to Mark and the stranger's rhythmic panting and grunting.

"Who's the redhead?"

Tanya chuckles, a bit evilly. "That's Psilocyber herself. I turned off her defenses and her own nanobots dosed her."

"Poetic," Sterling replies, heading out into the lobby.

"Oh, come on! I hacked the nanobot girl! With her right there! If I'd been a second later, I would have been all brain-melted and joining in on the sexy times! And you'd've been hopped up and on your way to jail!"

Sterling notes the security guard, passed out in his office chair with a hint of a smile on his face. "You did, and that's impressive." A long, slow, happy sigh from nearer the entrance catches his attention.

"That's it?" Tanya asks as the door closes behind them. "'That's impressive'? That's all I get, for all that?"

"What do you want, exactly, Tanya?" Sterling replies, distracted, moving into the room. "A Christmas bonus?"

Tanya mumbles something, suddenly seeming shy.

"Tanya," he says, finally spying the source of the earlier noise, "we're on a time limit." He kneels down by the Mechanician, who's sitting against a low table. It's difficult to read his expression under the metal helmet and mask, but from his body language he seems relaxed and unworried.

"A little praise would be nice!" Tanya repeats loudly and a bit petulantly, causing the superhero to look slowly over in her direction.

"Arsonist," Mechanician mumbles, and then chuckles. He doesn't seem to be in any condition to deal with them.

"Two down," Sterling says, getting up. He turns to Tanya. "Good job."

She flushes with pride, looking him straight in the face with a smile wider than he thought she was capable of. It makes her look like an excited child. "Thank you, Silver Tongue!"

"Silver...?" Mechanician says from the ground. "S-Sterling Grey?" He starts to laugh.

"Shit!" Tanya curses, her smile instantly erased from her face. "Did I just—"

"No time to worry about it now," Sterling says. "Let's just get out of here."


The rain had subsided a bit, but was still driving in off the ocean with some force. "More drowned rat, it looks like," Sterling says, holding the door. "For us both."

"It's fine, boss. Where to?" Tanya heads out into the street.

"Downtown. Let's get out of the docks."

Sterling follows her as they head west, but before they can travel even a block, a loud voice interrupts them.


Sterling makes a show of sighing in exasperation, immediately playing for time. "Hello, Axe."

The security building

Jim Tyler is awake.

He can't move.

He can't even breathe.

So he can't understand why he's awake.

He's no expert in superpowers, not even his own, but this isn't what he'd heard about. Arctic Angel had come in and whipped her wings in his direction. He'd felt a blow to the chest, then a deep cold, then nothing.

And then there was an endless moment of blackness.

And then warmth.

He still can't move, can't breathe, can't blink. But he can think, and feel, and see.

He can feel the warmth coming off the ice that holds him in place.

Arctic Angel walks back into the room and removes something from her ear. Axe is a few steps behind her, and does the same. The two of them are talking, but it's hard to hear them, because his ears are frozen.

He does, between what he could read of the Angel's lips and what sounds reached him, understand the words "missing," and "communications," and "attack." He thinks Axe might be saying something about "revenge."

Thomas works in communications.

The warmth from the ice sealing his body intensifies. He feels his heart beat, once, through the cold.

He holds his breath, keeps himself from moving. If he's noticed, the Angel might hit him again, and might not make whatever mistake she'd made the first time that's allowing him to think, and hear, and wiggle his toes. Discipline, he thinks to himself. He knows how to keep cool, how to keep calm. He's been working on keeping calm for over a decade, to the point that it's more than second nature. He imagines taking a deep breath, both because actually taking a deep breath might be dangerous and because he can't move enough to do so.

The words are clearer, now that the two heroes aren't speaking much. Arctic Angel puts her hand to her ear. She says one word: "Recon," then heads to the main door and out into the rain. Axe is a little slower, but follows suit, saying: "MOVING OUT." And then it was quiet again, but for the sound of the storm outside.

Now is the time for that deep breath.

Jim focuses on the heat coming from the ice, the anomaly. The more he focuses on it, the more that warmth grows. The shell melts a little, giving him room to breathe, and then with a shocking suddenness, the ice comes away from him, breaking into pieces with a sound like glass shattering. The heat is enough to make steam rise visibly from his hands and arms.

Thomas works in communications, and Axe is going there for revenge.

Jim steps out from between the other two guards he had been working with. He would free them, but he doesn't know how, and he hasn't got time to figure it out. And besides, a lot of people had been frozen last week, and none of them seemed to come to harm.

He follows the route he expects Axe will take, moving quickly from car to car and keeping his eyes up to try to avoid Arctic Angel. No one's taking revenge on Thomas, not if he has a chance to stop it.

5:30 PM Friday

A boat moored at the marina


Flamehammer hears Mechanician mutter something.

Then hears those two fateful words.

"Sterling Grey."

Mechanician knows who he is. And where he is.

I think you actually want violence.

He does. He does very much.

Axe and Arctic Angel are headed to the communications building. He intends to meet them—and, more importantly, Grey—there.

He doesn't report his movements on the comms, just in case someone's listening in. That's the quiet protocol, anyway.

How will the communications staff manage? Will Sterling and Tanya escape Axe? What will happen with Jim, and Flamehammer?

Find out more in Part Twenty-Six!

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