Conflict Resolution

Part Nine: Discoveries

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

Sterling finds out some important information about a friend, Sharon finds out some important information about her work, and Chelsea finds out some important information about herself.

Port City, USA

Sterling Grey's apartment

The living room

7:32 PM Sunday evening

Sterling Grey is sitting in his armchair, still in his boxer shorts and t-shirt, eating a slice of pizza that's gone tepid. A young redhead, stout, tanned and bespectacled emerges from the bathroom and smiles at him shyly.

"I hope it's as good as usual, Mr. Grey," she says. "Glad I was on shift tonight. Especially after what I saw on the news."

"It wasn't that bad," he replies bravely. "And the pizza is delicious as ever, Marie."

She giggles. "Well, I'm always glad to deliver here, Mr. Grey. And I'm glad you're doing okay. You're not the first person I know to take a hit from Flamehammer."

"Hm?" Sterling mutters around a mouthful of bacon and ground beef.

She lets out a slow breath. "Last year my brother was brought in by Flamehammer riding shotgun in a stolen car. Sat in lockup six hours with four broken ribs and a bruised back, in real pain, you know, Mr. Grey? And he had to have those ribs broke somehow." She shakes her head. "Go over 'n' talk to people in Barwater or Trace Point. Almost everyone's got a story 'bout Flamehammer, something that happened to them or someone they know."

He nods. "Thanks, Marie. Yeah, I've got that impression of him."

"The news don't say half what he does, Mr. G. He's a damn piece o' work." She moves to the door. "Thanks for letting me wash up. Just wish I had a little more time..." She winks at him.

"Doesn't your work want you back?"

She giggles again. "Boss knows when I deliver to you, I might be a bit. I'm not in a rush."

He raises his slice of pizza in a salute.

"Only too bad that it wasn't the usual reason." She blows him a kiss.

"I don't like to interrupt people at work," he explains.

She giggles. "When did that change?"

He laughs. "It's always been a personal rule. A loose one, but a rule all the same."

"Sure sure," she replies, clearly not believing him. "Should I come by later?'

He shakes his head. "Not tonight, Marie, but thanks."

"Oh hoh, someone else coming by?"

"Maybe, but there's more going on, too."

She nodded. "Seems like it's a busy time."

He glances at his phone. "You might say that."

"Has tonight's marching started?"

He nods. "My team's out there with the protesters."

"You're here?"

"I'm resting up after yesterday. And I'm co-ordinating things, some." He sighs. "I have other things to deal with, too."

She steps back into the room, leans down, and kisses his forehead. "Poor thing. Well, maybe you should take up pizza delivery. Might do you some good."

He chuckles. "Can't walk away now. I'm in too deep."

"Oh, Sterling, didn't you know?" she says, as she turns to the door. "There's always a way out."

And she leaves with that.

He turns back to his phone. There were two messages that he hadn't checked yet, both because they weren't necessarily important to tonight's efforts, but also because he was concerned about what they might tell him.

He opened the email from Callum, first.

Yo boss

Just got traces from the gloves, and it's not an accellerant, it's an anesthetic. Strong stuff. Gallium-derived, vaporizes at body temp and disperses pretty good once its evaporated. Would need more to do more extensive testing but I think it interferes with higher brain activity for a bit, will knock someone out pretty good, probably fuck up short term memories too. Looks like no long-lasting effects and no lingering trace in the body but I can't know without more of it.
 
Wish I'd thought of first. I kept enough to replicate but it'll take a couple weeks and a lot of money
 
Cal
 

That clears up a fair bit, Sterling thinks to himself. Memory inhibition could make it tricky for Tanya to come up with any details about what happened in the cafe. Of course, that's probably just a convenient side-effect; he's convinced, now, that Tanya wasn't intended to make it out of the cafe alive.

"Which means someone's a fucking murderer," he growls. Unnecessary violence is bad enough, but deliberately trying to kill someone is beyond the pale.

But there's the question, or one of many: were they trying to someone? Or were they trying to kill anyone? Was Tanya the target, or was she collateral damage? But... if she was the target, how was she put there? If she wasn't, why did the killer believe that anyone would be in the cafe at that time?

Information without context is less than helpful. Which means that the next goal is context.

There was a text message on his phone that he's dreading, but it's there. From Thomas. A little research project he'd set his head of IT onto.

And there it is. One tap away. Either a name, or the failure to find a name. He's not sure what the second one means, but the first could mean nothing, or it could mean exactly what he's dreading.

He taps.

Thomas: Someone's done an impressive job of keeping it under wraps, but we got through. It's definitely Chelsea Donovan.

Fuck.

Warren Donovan's daughter.

She's the right age. She doesn't much look like her father, but there's more than a few things that could account for that.

Sterling feels a little sick to his stomach. Part of the reason for the Silver Tongue's low profile was because of the years-long feud with Warren Donovan for control of the Port City underworld.

Donovan was a much flashier villain that Sterling ever had been. What Callum could do with substances—analyze, break down, and replicate—Warren could do with powers. He never managed to get ahold of The Lawman or Silver Tongue, but it was well-known that he was trying.

Silver Tongue was forced to become a mystery, a legend, a bogeyman. He didn't have Bright Society resources behind him to protect him, just a few friends and a few thralls, any of whom were a liability in the effort to keep secret. It was a minor miracle that he didn't get brought to the carpet at some point in those years. It was no coincidence that the dockworks co-operative project didn't move forward until Donovan was no longer running things.

The Bright Society are enforcers of the status quo, and while he's not okay with that, he can deal with them. That's a political difference. It's a political difference that sees good people die hungry, but it's a political difference all the same. But Warren Donovan brings a whole different brand of malice, impossibly cruel, irredeemable. Donovan is the villain that the Brights pretend Silver Tongue to be.

And I'm fucking his daughter. Isn't that interesting.

No one had heard much from Warren Donovan in years, and Sterling hoped it would stay that way.

"Still, that would explain Sharon's worry for you, wouldn't it," he says to his piece of pizza. "And why you don't have anyone but your two friends. Well, hopefully you can count me as a third person to rely on."

He muses for a moment, before taking another bite, that casting her aside for his safety never crossed his mind. He wonders what to make of that as he turns on the television to watch the news.


The Docks

The corner of Water Ave and Pardie St

9:15 PM

What had been a physical battleground the night before is now a symbolic gathering place. Chief Marrol had announced that the patrols would continue, but that Bright Society activity would be relegated to backup only, and neither Flamehammer nor Arctic Angel would be present. It is a concession, but not enough of one.

Dozens of people are being held in police custody in violation of their rights. The crowd is present to discuss that. And already, word is going around that no one non-essential comes to work tomorrow. If there aren't enough workers to do the job, then the jobs just won't get done.

The Dockwords Co-operative Confederation isn't powerful enough to bring all transport to a halt, but they will definitely make a noticeable impact, simply by putting down their work for a day.

Their demands are simple: release the unjustly-held protesters and end the patrols. Let the collective rebuild the cafe and control its own security. That's all, really. Not difficult.

The mood is electric. Sharon wanders slowly, aimlessly through the crowd. There's anger, sure, but there's also a feeling of satisfaction, of doing something to make things better, or at least to keep them from getting worse. That's definitely a sentiment that a tradeswoman and a maintenance worker can get behind. The weakness of the political sphere being run by the rich is that if you hit the changepurse hard enough, you can shape the politics. Sharon smiles. This might just do the trick.

There's not going to be more formal protest tonight, no more marches, not like there had been through the day. Just people going home in groups and turning in, and not showing up for work until everyone's back on shift. Every protester that was detained must be released without charge, or not a crate gets lifted. Feeling the mood of the crowd, the determination, the air of success, makes her want to go and celebrate... but Tanya's in a cell, and Chelsea's working. But Sterling is at home, and looked to be staying there.

And the things he can do with his hands.

She's made a few subtle inquiries about Sterling over the past few days. It seems that there are a lot of rumors about him in the docks. He must be aware of some of the news, but she doubts that he knows all of it. Everyone's got a Sterling Grey story, it seems, and now, so does she.

She wants another.

She was serious, though, about it not being a regular thing with him. She's not looking to settle down, even for a short while; it doesn't seem like he is, either. So she decides not to let the habit form. Instead, she steps out of the crowd and calls Chelsea, expeciting to be sent straight to voicemail, and is surprised when Chelsea actually picks up the phone.

"Hey Share, what's up?"

"Oh! Hi Chels, aren't you at work?"

"Got sent home early, not feeling great," Chelsea explains.

"Well, you had a big night, and not a lot of sleep. You want company?"

"Yeah." One word sometimes says a lot.

"Should I come there?"

"Actually," Chelsea says, "I'd like to meet you at your apartment, if it's okay. Or maybe for a late night snack."

Sharon pauses a moment. She had told Sterling she might be back, but... "How about you meet me at my place? We can throw on a movie or two and have some snacks."

"'Kay, sure. Be there in an hour?"

Sharon does a few mental calculations. "Yeah, I should be there. Still got your key?"

"Still got my key."

"Then just come on in."

"Will do. Bye!"

The line goes quiet. Sharon puts her phone back in the pocket of her jeans. She isn't too far from home, a good jog will get her there in under twenty, then there's time for a shower... The meeting is wrapping up, and the maintenance team is gathering separately, since they can't just hold up their operations like the rest of the confederation. Sharon hovers close enough to be a part of the meeting, but her mind is on other things. After two minutes, it's decided that work shifts would continue as normal, but would likely be shortened as necessary. As with the rest of the dockworks, no one will see a cut in pay unless the strike continues for at least two weeks, and since maintenance team is technically employed by the other co-operatives, they have a certain obligation to continue operations until the money runs dry.

Security, meanwhile, is stepping up their operations. In fact, several members of the security team are waiting nearby for the maintenance to finish their quick discussion.

So she's due at work at 6 AM, Tuesday. Simple, easy. Nothing different. Just an ordinary week.

Once the meeting ends, a member of the security team raises their hand for attention. "We want to make sure everyone gets home safe tonight," they say. "After last night's trouble, the police are being hypervigilant, so no one travels alone. We're here to escort anyone who needs to the edge of the docks, or to their vehicle, as needed. We're going to insist that everyone in the docks walk with someone else from the docks. Who needs someone to go with them?"

A few people raise their hands, including Sharon. Looks like the jog will wait, but if security thought it was best to keep together... A large young woman, maybe twenty, taller than Sharon by a head, walks up to her. "Hi, I'm Crystal," she says in a warm, deep voice. "If you need someone to walk with you, I'll go."

Sharon looks her up and down. She definitely believes the cheerful, muscular woman as a security officer, if the badge wasn't a giveaway. "Do you run?" she asks.

Crystal smiles. "Every day to work, and every chance I get on patrol."

"Great, I could use a jogging buddy."

"I'm your gal, then. Show me the way."

Sharon laughs. "Alright, follow me."


Sharon's row-house near the docks.

10:23 PM

Chelsea gets out of the cab, pays the driver, and walks up to the door, Sharon's keys in her hand. She unlocks the door and heads inside. She can hear the shower running as she comes in.

She doesn't feel so tired or ill that she had to leave work, but it was nice to be able to make the excuse when things calmed down. She really doesn't want to be at the hospital right now. Bright General is a little too closely tied to Reggie Bright at the moment for her to feel completely at ease in her new job this night.

"Sharon?" she calls out, putting her purse down and slipping off her coat. It was pretty clear where she was, though. Chelsea heads down the hall to the bathroom and knocks before opening the door.

"Hey Share?"

Sharon's voice emerges from behind the opaque curtain. "Oh! Hi Chels, c'mon in, I'll just be a moment."

Chelsea walks in and sits down on the toilet. "How was your day?"

"Good shift, good meet." Sharon's shrug is near audible to Chelsea's ears. "Considering the excitement from yesterday, feels a bit anticlimactic. Police presence was notable all day but they left us alone. How was nursing?"

"Hectic, until about 8:30, then things calmed down. That's when I asked my supervisor if I could run." The shower shut off. "He was nice enough to have a little pity on me, and then you called, as I was getting changed."

"Speaking of that, you wanna hand me the towel?" Sharon says.

Chelsea reaches for it, before realizing that no, she doesn't want to. She wants Sharon to pull the curtain aside and stand there naked with her fists raised in a fighting stance, Still, she tosses the large grey towel over the curtain rod and watches as Sharon pulls it into the shower. Physically, Chelsea was no match for her, which was made all the more evident as she did pull aside the curtain with the towel covering her from chest to her thighs.

Sharon notices Chelsea's gaze. "You must be tired," she says. "You look like you're about to leap at me."

Chelsea forces herself to relax. "Sorry, I'm still a mess. Gah, was it only last night? Feels like a week ago, and like I haven't slept the whole time."

Sharon steps out of shower and onto a bathmat. The small bathroom starts to feel very crowded.

"I can still hear what he said to Re—to Flamehammer," Chelsea continues. "'I think you actually want violence,' he said."

"You told me this morning," Sharon replies, loosening the towel and using it to dry her front. "But he wasn't talking to you, was he?"

"Doesn't matter. And I told you this morning that he was right, too. And right now, I..." She shakes her head. "When I was busy, I could handle it, pretty easily. But once things quieted down, and especially after my debrief meeting this afternoon, all I wanted to do was get my hands on the rioters and..." She throws her hands in the air.

"Oh, we're 'rioters,' now?" Sharon teases. "You know you've got one here, right in front of you." She turns, exposing her front to the bathroom door as she dries her back.

Chelsea knows that Sharon's teasing, but that anger is still there. Simmering. "The riots were anarchic. Violent. Threatening."

Sharon turns back, holding the towel against her chest with her left hand, letting it drop to cover her. "They weren't riots, Chels. Protests. Nothing more."

"We were hemmed in. Threatened and provoked."

Sharon's face shows deep concern. "Chels, are you okay? You sound—"

"I'm not fucking okay!" Chelsea snaps. "I thought we were in this together, you, me 'n' Tanya! But she's in jail, and you're here on the wrong side of the goddamn law!"

Sharon waits, her expression unreadable.

Chelsea catches her breath. "Sorry. I'm... I'm sorry. I should go."

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Sharon asks, wide-eyed. "You're not leaving, not when you're like this." She points out the door. "Go, sit in the living room. I'll be down when I'm not quite this naked."

Something needs to be done about the docks and the violent people there. The words, her own, ring in her ears.

Sharon is standing in the doorway, holding the towel in front of her. The entirety of her naked back is visible to Chelsea.

She isn't moving.

Chelsea looks at her hands. Ice crystals dance around them, mocking her.

Sharon isn't moving.

Chelsea gets to her feet. "No, no no no." She knows that Sharon is unhurt, just frozen. "You stupid... Why would you..."

Why do you make me do this?

Not her words. Her father's. And she's echoing them.

She's angry. Furious. The Angel sings in her blood. She feels the ice in her heart, watching the frost settle on her friend.

I think you actually want violence.

"Well, are you happy now, Sterling Grey?" she says aloud, her voice shaking. She can hear her voice shaking. "You're goddamn right, you bastard."

She's deflecting, though. She knows that she's deflecting. But she needs to deflect, to turn this anger aside, somewhere other than Sharon.

Somewhere other than herself.

Too many warring ideas fought for territory in her mind. Sterling? (adored / the enemy). Sharon is (a close friend / antagonistic). Tanya — (her sister / a criminal). The (protests / riots) are (admirable / violent).

There is only one thing that certain. She can't leave this house. Not now. Not until Sharon's thawed out. A process she can speed up.

Chelsea sighs. She lost control. She's responsible, and she's going to face the music. She turns on the shower again, making sure that it's warm but not too hot. She gently removes the towel from her friend's hands and awkwardly lifts Sharon's stiff, naked body, propping her up under the showerhead, holding her to make sure she doesn't fall—not that such a fall would hurt her, but the way she's posed now means a lot of coverage from the spray, which will speed up the thawing process.

She makes a mental note to promise to clean the bathroom floor, which is getting wet from the diverted spray.

The minutes spent standing, holding Sharon up, feel like suitable penance for losing control, giving her lots of time to think about her careless action. Some time spent breathing deeply helps to calm the angry impulses. But nothing in the tangle of contradictions that were swimming in her head seems ready to sort itself out. Every time she tries to follow one of those threads, it just ends in itself, as though it's simply true. She adores Sterling Grey. And he is the enemy. Every time she tries to reconcile those two facts, it just ends in confusion. Tanya's arrest puts her in opposition to Chelsea's law-abiding persona. Sharon's willingness to walk with the protesters makes her primary support also a violent terrorist.

She needs to talk to them. She wants to talk to them. And yet, she has just cut off the conversation, and possibly damaged her relationship with Sharon.

There is a point of clarity, at least, in the whole mess. Reggie. By her side the night before, agreeable and supportive that afternoon. Perhaps, she thinks, she might lean on him a little, see how he might be able to help, what advice he has to offer. Though perhaps he might be the wrong person to ask about anger management.

Chelsea feels slight motion in her arms, and then... "Chels, two questions. Why am I back in the shower, and why is your hand on my ass?"

She sighs. Can't get away with anything. "I lost my temper."

"I guessed that," Sharon replies, shifting a little. "Doesn't explain the groping."

"I wanted to keep you upright while you thawed."

"And yet you've still got your hand on my ass."

"You haven't moved."

"Maybe I like it."

"Do you?"

"I think maybe you do, too."

Chelsea flushed. "I'll freeze you solid again and just leave you here."

"You could take off those clothes and join me, instead."

She huffed. "Why is everyone thinking about sex today?"

"Well, I am naked," Sharon chuckles. She grabs Chelsea's arm and gives her a tug, causing her to stumble on the edge of the tub and step into the spray, and suddenly it's Sharon that's supporting Chelsea in the shower.

Chelsea gives a surprised yelp at the sudden change in circumstance. "Sharon! What are—"

"Helping you cool off, dummy." Sharon wraps her friend in an embrace, only serving to make Chelsea more wet. "And telling you that I'm fine with you losing control and freezing me."

"And if I do it again?"

"Then I'll dunk your head in the harbor."

"If you can catch me."

"Gonna fly away, little bird?"

"If that's what it takes. Fuck, I'm soaked."

"You were before I pulled you in here." Sharon grins. "Deflected spray did a number on you."

"Okay, well, now I feel it." Chelsea sighs. "I just can't shake all this... weird... knotted... tangled mess in my head."

Sharon nods. "Wanna talk about it?"

"Fuck no, but I think I have to. Jesus, this is annoying, trying to talk when your panties are riding up your ass like this."

"Take 'em off. If you don't want me to see, I'll turn around, but it's not like I haven't see you naked recently."

Chelsea grins. "You've been after me to get naked since I got here last night." She started to struggle out of her clinging sweater. "I guess you win this round."

"Let me help," Sharon says, and Chelsea can't decide if she's too tired to resist or if she doesn't really want to, as Sharon's hands start to undo the fly of her jeans.

"Guess I'm staying the night again."

"No objections here, sweetie, you know you're always welcome." She slowly slides Chelsea's pants down her legs. "I have spare towels, shitty movies, and microwave popcorn, as promised." She pulls the jeans off one foot at a time and tosses them unceremoniously to the far end of the tub.

Chelsea braces herself against the wall as Sharon works. Her mind and body flashed back to Sterling making the same motions that morning, and she suppresses a moan. "That's... not really what I want tonight," she says.

Sharon's fingers trace long lines up Chelsea's legs as she stands back up. "Oh really," she says.

"Yeah, really," Chelsea replies. "I know you must be tired, and God knows I am, but..." she sighs, looking her friend in the eye. "I want a fight."

"Still, Chels?" Sharon's fingers are under the waistband of her panties now.

"More now than ever. Even after being with Sterling this morning. Even after freezing your gorgeous ass." She's marginally more comfortable in her underwear than she had been in the sweater and jeans. "Even after dealing with Tanya's situation and a work shift and ..." she shrugs. "There's something simple about a fight. Two sides opposing each other, nothing complex, it's just—"

Sharon suddenly grabs Chelsea's wrists, presses her arms again the cold tile and smirks. "Go on then."

Chelsea's power flares (her hands twitch) but... "Share, if I freeze you now, I'll be stuck, too."

"Then don't freeze me, Chels." Her effortless grip is somehow more infuriating than her smug tone. "Fight me."

Chelsea is strong, of course. Years of daily training alongside her studies, plus Bright Society conditioning over the past few months, had made her powerful. But Sharon is a level beyond: her athleticism is her passion. Plus she had the element of surprise, and now has Chelsea in a disadvantageous position. Chelsea twists one way, then the other, trying to get loose.

"Is this what you want?" Sharon asks, pressing closer.

(so much yes) Chelsea says nothing, pushing back with her legs, trying to break free. Sharon didn't have her combat training, so she's able to get some space for her left wrist, and with that bit of leverage, she's able to duck down a bit, leaving her right arm over her head, and reverse the grip, taking hold of Sharon's wrist. The stance feels strong but must look ridiculous. In a real fight she would deliver a blow with her knee, but she doesn't want to hurt Sharon, not really. Still, with her friend's wrist in her grasp, she lets the ice flow into her fingers, numbing Sharon's dominant hand.

Sharon counters by twisting the arm she does control, forcing Chelsea to turn and release her grip, and holding her from behind, uses the frozen hand in Chelsea's gut to pull her back. "Just tell me to stop, any time," Sharon says, apparently effortlessly, but Chelsea can feel her already-labored breathing.

"Not on your life," the Angel within her responds, slipping lower, ignoring the pain in her shoulder from her arm twisting and the place where Sharon's arm digs into her ribs. There isn't room to try to throw her opponent, not in this tight space, but she can, and does, press backwards into Sharon's legs, forcing her to let go of Chelsea's arm to avoid toppling.

Sharon slips on the wet porcelain, pulling Chelsea down with her, now wrapping both arms around Chelsea's waist as the two of them land in a sitting position. Reacting faster than her superpowered opponent, Sharon brings her arms up under Chelsea's in a wrestling hold, pulling her back. The spray from the shower is in Chelsea's eyes and mouth now, partly blinding and distracting her. She presses her bottom roughly into Sharon's stomach, hearing the breath forced from her captor's body, then turns her head to her right and breathes her icy breath on Sharon's already-frozen hand, feeling it go stiff and inflexible, letting her slip her right arm out of the hold.

Before Sharon can respond, Chelsea grips her thigh and unleashes a full blast of icy power into her friend's body. She feels Sharon go rigid and cold.

Suddenly, slipping out of her grasp is easy.

Chelsea moves across the tub awkwardly, breathing hard, and shuts off the shower faucet. Then she turns back to look at her frozen friend.

Sharon is laughing. Or, rather, she's stopped mid-laugh, her naked body oddly contorted with her aborted breath and the position she'd been in while struggling with Chelsea. Indeed, Chelsea can spot where her ass had been pressed into Sharon's six-pack, where her back had smushed Sharon's breasts, and where her fingers had dug into Sharon's thigh to deliver the finishing blast.

And Chelsea starts to laugh, too, sitting, soaking wet and freezing cold. The relief, the release, is amazing. And enticing. Her hand is already pressing between her legs, her body searching for a second release, further relief. Almost angrily she strips off her bra, but the energy necessary to remove her panties, the arduous tasks of lifting herself up and trying to un-muddle the soaked and now over-tight underwear, escapes her and she makes do with simply running her fingers over sensitive places through the thin cloth.

Her body, charged with the energy and excitement and stress of the last twenty-four hours, responded rapidly. Her legs found purchase on the edges of the tub, still in her ecstasy careful not to hurt herself or her friend. She manages to get her fingers underneath the wet fabric to brush against her clit, and the effect is electric and almost immediate. Her voice fills and echoes around the bathroom, mingling with the sound of her wet skin sliding against the porcelain as she writhes in pleasure, her gasps reducing themselves over time to deep breaths. She lies her head back against the drain.

What the fuck is wrong with me? she wonders, slowly regaining her strength. Still, in the afterglow of the fight and the masturbation, she doesn't feel like there's anything really wrong. But a therapist would have a field day.

Chelsea carefully gets to her feet, strips out of her panties and tosses them aside. She shivers, both with the remnants of joy and with the chill coming off of Sharon's frozen form. She looks down at her friend, still in her bizarre and awkward position.

"I should take a picture," she says to herself, then shakes her head. Instead, she wraps herself in towels to avoid dripping on the carpet. She wants coffee.

Necessary, too, she thinks, making her way slowly downstairs to the kitchen. Necessary, but not sufficient. But together... She takes a deep breath, putting one of the single-use pods in the coffee machine, fills it with water, and starts it going. She sits down where she had been less than twenty-four hours ago and puts her head in her hands just as she had then.

Except right now, she's smiling. She's...

Shit, am I actually happy?

It's not like everything is good. She's still maddeningly confused, her friend is still frozen upstairs in her bathtub, and she still doesn't know what to do about Sterling Grey. She does have a point of clarity in Reggie, though, and a little better understanding of herself. She wants violence. She wants to do it, she wants it done to her. Metaphorically, definitely, and also, sometimes, at least somewhat physically.

Not quite wanting to break out the whips and chains, but... a fight is good. A good fight, anyway. She thinks about Sharon, curious if she'd be up for... no, that would be weird... I think?

Or maybe it wouldn't.

They've already done the friend-with-benefits thing twice—well, one-and-a-half times—and she's a beautiful support, been one for years. And she already gets along with Sterling.

A man to challenge her mind and emotions, a woman to challenge her body. And her emotions. She gets up to retrieve her coffee, and considers going back to the bathroom to turn on the shower yet again and speed up Sharon's thawing, wondering if she really wants to wait another hour-to-ninety-minutes before seeing Sharon's reaction.

One sip of the coffee made the decision for her. It's awful. "Alright, Sharon," she says, walking back to the stairs, "I need you awake and making the java, because I sure don't know how to do it."


A dark corner of the harbor

Belowdecks on a boat, not registered to the Bright Society, but owned by it

The same boat where Flamehammer had awaited retrieval the night before

1:07 AM

"Isn't that interesting," Reginald Bright says, listening to his informant.

"Wouldn't know," the informant replies. "You pay for the news, not the editorial."

"And you were able to plant the bug without trouble?"

"Did I say there was trouble?" The informant sounds smug. "Sometimes, all you have to do is ask for a glass of water."

Reggie nods. "When do you next get a chance to talk with her?"

"We're both on shift Tuesday, we've made plans to go for a run."

"Excellent. You've already done so much for us in security."

"If the money keeps coming in, so does the information."

Reggie nods again. "Are you willing to help turn her?"

There's a pause. "That's a big ask."

"There's a lot of money involved." He produces a small device. "Do you know what a subsonic inducer does?"

"No."

He slides it across the table. "It's a small scanning device and low-level speaker. Pointed at someone and used properly, it can make them more... receptive to certain ideas."

The informant reaches for the device and lifts it like it might house angry wasps. "You never... used one on me, did you?"

Reggie fiddles with his watch, a nervous motion familiar to the informant. "You approached us, remember?"

"I..." The informant stops to think. "You know, it's been... uh..."

"You did," Reggie confirms. "We've never had any reason to use this device on you."

"Right. No reason."

"Since you approached us, you've got nothing to fear from us."

The informant nods. "Nothing to fear."

"I'll send you directions on how to make it work, and what we'd like you to use it for. It's easy, it's harmless, and it would help us greatly."

"Easy. Harmless. Got it."

Reggie tapped at his watch again. "You should probably get back to work."

The informant chuckles and turns to the stairs. "Not like anyone will notice so long as I'm back before my break ends."

"Good. Glad to have you."

"Keep the money coming and you always will."

Reggie sits back in his chair and watches the informant leave. He plans to check in on Chelsea again tomorrow, make sure that she's doing well, just like a good colleague ought. If he can get her in a meeting room again, he should be able to move his plans, both political and personal, forward with incredible speed.

Possessing the Angel is foremost in his thoughts. Once he's done that, dominating the docks will be easy.

Just what is Reggie up to? What will the response be to the dockworkers' strike? How will Sharon respond to being frozen twice?

Find out more in Part Ten!

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