Mutants and Masterminds

Mutants and Masterminds

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Session Six - Nemesis

Dealing with a nefarious super-villain organisation was one thing.  Dealing with bad PR, our heroes discovered, was something else.

The Liverpool populace didn’t take Vomit Man to their hearts. In fact, in light of his vomit spreading ways, he was targeted with numerous death threats, slapped with an anti-social behaviour caution from the fuzz and ordered to go back to Runcorn where he belonged.

The Liver Birds were left to deal with the fall out.

It was a quiet day, crime-wise and so BOB had decided that it was a good time for their long-put off clean up exercise in Everton Valley. Nymph contacted the local press and the others loaded up the van with mops, buckets and a lot of cursing aimed at the much maligned Vomit Man.

They had heard nothing more about Hydra.  Katherine had stayed on to become part of the team, operating under the code name Distortion; homage to the name of the secret nanite operation that had given her her powers. Her identity was secret and no one outside HQ suspected notorious party girl Katherine Knotts as being their latest member.  She was currently busy with university assignments and had wheedled her way out of clean up duty, along with Joules, who was tackling potato blight on her farm.  Oddly enough, neither of them seemed too upset to be missing out.

So it was that our heroes found themselves in deepest, darkest Everton Valley on a drizzly morning, armed with cleaning apparatus and piles of vomit to tackle.  Devi got to work, conjuring a water spell to thin the vile stuff out. Vixen used her telepathy to push the watery sick down the street drains.  Facade skulked near a tree, refusing to do anything. Nymph hung around near the three journalists and photographer who had showed up, batting her eyelashes and giving them positive ‘soundbites’ which everyone knew was a ruse to avoid work.

Cass and Devi got a couple of big sponges and began scrubbing graffiti off the brick wall off the abandoned community centre.  Devi’s sponge had barely made contact with the brickwork when she stopped.

Something was wrong.  She sensed a malign magical presence.  Suppressing a shudder, she scanned the walls and spotted it.  A rune, imbued with dark powers, sprayed onto the wall.

She grabbed Cass’s arm.  ‘Don’t touch it,’ she whispered.

Cass frowned and on Devi’s nod, scanned her mind.  She let the sponge fall to the ground and muttered, ‘BOB, can you hear me?  We’ve got problems here.’

‘BOB recommends that you encourage the media to leave.’  His voice crackled through her phone.

Cass sent a psychic message to the Liver Birds making all of them collectively look up with interest, even Facade. Anything was better than mopping up Vomit Man’s spew, even dark magic.

Nymph turned to the press and smiled her most winsome smile.

‘Oh, by the way, did you guys know Psylocke has a new man?’  They visibly brightened at this piece of news worthy gossip.  ‘Yeah, I saw them just before at the Costa on Tithebarn street, holding hands and giggling.’ Nymph frowned as if thinking.  ‘At least I think she was with a man...

The journalists practically ran back to their cars and took off, tyres screeching.  Nymph giggled.

Devi explained the runes.  ‘They’re like magical booby traps, activated by anyone who touches them.  This one here,’ she pointed, ‘will give an electric shock.  And that one will generate illusions.’
‘What does this one do?’  Asked Facade, whacking the next rune Devi pointed at with a clenched fist.

An enormous fire ball exploded, engulfing them in flames.  Devi and Facade managed to jump out of the way but Vixen, who was stood right behind them, got the full blast.  She was blown ten metres back and landed burned and bleeding as Nymph, Distortion and Cass nursed their own injuries, screaming obscenities at Facade.

‘When are you going to think before you punch stuff, you massive jerk?!’ Cass yelled.  Facade shrugged.

Devi, choking back a sob, ran to Vixen’s aid, healing her with a spell.  Vixen groaned and sat up. Her bloodshot gaze took in the scene of smoke and rubble, and then rested on Facade. She pointed a trembling finger at her team mate.

‘You jerk-off.’  She snarled.  ‘As if I don’t have enough crap to deal with, you put me in the infirmary again? Well, I’ll tell you what,’ She gestured at the pool of scarlet that surrounded her as she hobbled to her feet.  ‘You can clean this blood up.  I’m not doing it.’

Facade apologised profusely and begged for forgiveness.  Well, actually, no she didn’t.  She just shrugged again.

There was blood now as well as vomit to deal with and runes or no runes; the team had a cleanup op to complete.  Devi summoned some local rats and Distortion morphed into a rat herself, communicating her desire for them to eat the vomit. Being rats, and from Everton Valley, they weren’t fussy.

The others dealt with the runes by ganging up on Facade and pushing her into them to activate them.  Foul green smoke emanated from one and custard pies from another.  Facade leapt about a foot into the air when she got an electrical shock and was surprised when another rune caused her feet to swell up to three times their normal size.

‘Now I know how it feels to be you, Jumpsuit.’ She smirked at Cassandra.

Once all the runes were safely deactivated, the vomit cleaned up and their spleen fully vented on Facade, the team headed back to the van.

‘You know, for dark magic, a lot of that stuff was kind of...’ Vixen wracked her brains for the right description.
‘Infantile?’ Nymph suggested.
Devi nodded.  ‘It struck me as the sort of dumb magic kids would do.’
Distortion cleared her throat and said, in a self-important manner, ‘Exposing the public to magic through runes in this way is illegal. It violates the Coven Act of 1998.  We need to investigate this more thoroughly.’
‘Thanks, Bambi.  Where would we be without your legal knowledge?  Sorry.  I mean Daddy’s legal knowledge.’ Facade smirked.
‘Everyone coven has to register with the government.’ Devi chipped in before another fight could kick off. ‘We could research local covens and see which ones have children or teenagers.’
‘BOB, scan city-wide CCTV for any more of these runes.’ Vixen commanded. ‘And stop the van off at Maccies. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need a Big Mac.’

No one argued with that.

Back at HQ, they studied the CCTV footage BOB had pulled together for them.  Sure enough, the grainy footage shot a few days previously outside the abandoned community centre showed a small gang of hoodie-wearing youths.  One was much taller than the others and presumably older.

‘That one must be the ringleader.’  Cass pointed at the gangly figure. ‘Devi, do you know these kids?’ Devi shook her head.
‘I don’t understand why anyone would do this.’ She murmured.
‘That’s what we need to find out.’ Nymph said.
‘There are three covens in Liverpool.’  BOB added.  ‘Two contain members of the Abbott family.’
Devi sighed.  ‘My dad’s coven split in two in the seventeen hundreds.  The two halves haven’t spoken to each other since. As far as I know, they’re still based in Scotland.’
‘Maybe not.’  Vixen made a show of grimacing and putting her bruised leg up on a footstool, throwing a poisonous look at Facade.  ‘They sound like just the sort of people to hold a grudge against the local covens.  Maybe they want to cause trouble on their enemies’ patch.’

Devi’s brow creased with concern.
‘BOB,’ Nymph asked. ‘Is anybody registered as being in more than one coven?’
A whirr and pause.
‘Yes.’  BOB said.  ‘Arun Abbott, eighteen years old.’

The team looked at the gangly youth on the CCTV footage and at each other.
‘Time to pay the Abbotts a visit.’ Vixen said.

It was decided via a game of paper, scissors, stones that Cass, Facade and Nymph should go to the Abbott elders while Vixen, Distortion and Devi called on the other clan, the Jahars.   

Distortion rang the front door bell and was greeted by a wrinkled quartet of ladies, none of whom looked a day younger than eighty.  They were ushered in. Distortion explained who they were and asked them about Arun and was promptly met with a shower of praise.

‘Such a lovely young man.’ One cooed.
‘The image of his father. So handsome.’ Another gushed.
‘He works hard at his studies.  He’s training to be a doctor.’ One beamed proudly.
‘He just needs a good wife to look after him.  Do you have a boyfriend, dear?’ The last old lady asked Distortion, who backed up so quickly she almost fell over.

‘Do you know where he was three days ago?’  Vixen asked, strictly business.
‘We’ve no idea what the young folk get up to.  He was probably studying or spending time with his friends at university.  Are you single, my dear?’

‘Can you give us his address?’ Vixen whipped a notebook and pencil out of her pocket, ignoring the question completely.  As soon as she had scrawled it down, they swept out of the room before the ladies could ask them about their dowries.

Meanwhile, at the Abbott’s place, Cass, Facade and Nymph were given a decidedly frostier reception.  They guessed that this had something to do with the vomit streaked walls that signalled that Vomit Man had recently passed by overhead.  Cass started to explain that they hated that douchebag as much as anyone until Nymph shook her head. 

She beamed at Mr and Mrs Abbott, complimenting them on their home, Mrs Abbott’s dress and saying what lovely children they had until her charm offensive thawed them out and they were admitted inside.

It turned out that Arun often took the younger kids under his wing.  He talked to them, took them out places.  The team raised their eyebrows at each other, a fact that went unnoticed by Mrs Abbott.  Though she smiled as she spoke, it was clear from the tuts and dark looks from Mr Abbott that someone in the family at least didn’t think much of Arun Golden Balls.

Next, Vixen, Distortion and Devi visited Arun’s parents.  As Vixen rang the doorbell, Distortion climbed out of Devi’s bra and onto her shoulder.  Not as her usual self, obviously, but as a gerbil, which she had turned herself into in order to be able to hitch a ride with the two heroes with flying abilities.  Funnily enough, she hadn’t suggested turning into a bird.  She gave a gerbil-wink at Thelma the rat, sat on Devi’s other shoulder.  Thelma seethed, if a rat could be said to do such a thing.

The door opened.  Distortion had quickly regained her human form and was winningly dressed in a gaudy yellow dress that looked like a peeled banana.  Vixen glanced at the plunging neckline and rolled her eyes, shaking her head.  Distortion flipped her hair over her shoulder.

‘Hi.’  She greeted Arun’s mother brightly.  ‘We’re here to chat to you about your son.’

Instantly, Arun’s mother, an Indian woman, gave them a huge smile and ushered them into the living room.  She was more than happy to talk about Golden Balls. It turned out that, surprise, surprise; she was Arun’s number one fan.  The team listened to her drivel on about how wonderful Arun was, all the while bringing them piles and piles of food from the kitchen – curry, naan breads, popadoms, bowls of rice.  Soon the coffee table was groaning under the weight.

The Liver Birds were more accustomed to being told to piss off than being invited into people’s homes. Generally, they considered themselves lucky if they were offered a cup of tea.  This was a treat so generous it instantly made Vixen suspicious.  She sniffed the food, tasting it carefully with the tip of her tongue.  As soon as she had chewed, swallowed and not keeled over, the other two tucked in with gusto. 

The team ate happily, pretty much ignoring Arun’s mum wax lyrical until the front door opened and in strode Arun’s dad.

He took one look at our heroes and demanded, ‘what’s the little shit done now?’

They glanced at each other. Here was a turnaround.  A pattern was emerging. The women in Arun’s family thought the sun shone out of his nethers.  The men, perhaps being more wise to his ways, were not as easily impressed. Their reactions hinted at a darker side to Arun, which was all our heroes need to know.

‘Don’t call him that!’  His mum trilled.  ‘You’re always so hard on him.’
‘He’s always in trouble.  Who called the police this time?’
‘These women aren’t the police.’
‘So he’s knocked one of them up? I’m not paying out unless there’ a DNA test.’

Voices rose, our heroes grabbed the leftover naan breads for the road and slinked away, closing the front door behind them just as they heard the smash of crockery.

A quick phone call and the two teams met up at the rendezvous point – KFC. They ordered takeout from the drive through and held a brief meeting.  BOB had narrowed down the names of some local coven kids and it was agreed that Vixen should lead the party that visited them. Devi and Nymph swapped teams and they headed in opposite directions once more, Devi heading up the team going to Arun’s digs.

‘You’re best talking to him.’ Vixen handed her the scrawled address. ‘This is your area.’

Devi tried not to panic.

Once at the halls of residence, Cass scanned the building and immediately sensed him. ‘Fourth floor.’ 

Devi conjured a key card to let them in before Facade could kick the door down and send their insurance premium to unmanageable heights. They ran up to the third floor and let themselves into the unlocked room without bothering to knock.

Facade was wearing her new costume; an armoured jumpsuit with a red ‘crying’ theatre mask and red taped knuckles to match.  No wonder the bleary-eyed young man dressed only in his underpants leapt off his beanbag with a girlish cry of terror. 

The two other men in the room also leapt back in alarm.  No doubt due to Devi, whose eyes had blackened, as did the room itself.

‘What the...’ Cass gaped as the gangly man she assumed was Arun himself, rolled his eyes back in his head.  They began to glow and the half of the room he was stood in grew brighter.  Neither Cass nor Facade knew what was happening but unless their instincts were off, something bad was about to go down.

BOB patched a message through to Vixen, who was wondering why the weather had darkened so suddenly.

‘What is it, BOB? Is there a storm on the way?’
‘You could say that. I won’t because metaphors are not an intrinsic part of my programming.’
‘BOB, hurry up and tell me what I need to hear.’
‘You need to get to Arun’s halls of residence immediately.’

Vixen didn’t need to be asked twice.  She abruptly changed direction, mid-flight and sped back the way they had come, Distortion wriggling uncomfortably in her bra in her guise as a gerbil.
Nymph was on the ground, travelling on foot.  BOB rang her mobile phone and told her Devi was in trouble.

‘My information tells me that the phenomenon of light and shadow is not restricted to the halls but is happening the world over.’ He added.
‘Bollocks.’ Nymph swore, sticking her arm out to hail a cab.

Back at Arun’s place, Cass tried desperately to read Devi’s mind but had no joy.  Devi twirled and rotated in the air, hidden in supernatural darkness.

BOB called Cass.  ‘I have it on good authority that Dr Strange and the top mystics in Britain are aware of the situation and are working on a plan to contain it.’
‘Well tell them to bloody hurry up before this gets out of hand.’ Cass yelled, as she felt something like an invisible fist punch her.  Across the room, Facade yelled out in pain, clutching her arm. 
‘We need backup.’ She shouted above the roaring wind that swirled around them.

On cue, a large bat fluttered in through the open window.  It was Distortion.  As she swooped over Cass’s head, a pulse of white light shot out of Arun’s fingertips, sending her reeling away to the darkness.  The floor began to shake and with a sickening groan, began to crumble underneath them.
Facade punched the glass covering the fire alarm and the wail filled the building.  She grabbed one of the students – the clothed one – and dragged him out of the room and down the stairs.

She met Vixen outside.
‘What’s going on in there?’
‘Smurf’s gone to the dark side.’
‘What are you talking about?  And who’s Briggsy?’
The student Facade had dragged with her was whimpering about Briggsy. Facade shrugged. ‘I dunno. The guy in the underpants?’

Vixen couldn’t be bothered to ask further. Using her greatly-honed telepathy skills, she sought the underdressed student and lifted him clean out of the building through the window and set him gently on the ground.  He looked completely stunned.

‘Don’t worry.’ Vixen told him. ‘This is all a dream. Go back to sleep.’
Briggsy nodded gratefully, curled up on the floor and began to snore lightly as panicking students streamed, screaming from the building.

In her taxi, Nymph was yelling at the driver for taking her a roundabout way, threatening not to pay him, for which he threatened to throw her out of his cab.

Back in Arun’s room, Cass, being unable to communicate with Devi, did the next best thing, grabbed Thelma and ran. 

‘BOB, what’s going on?’  She cried but all she heard in reply was the fizz of static.  Cass yelled in pain as she was assailed once again with invisible punches.  She burst out onto the street and nearly ran into Vixen.

‘Something’s hitting me!’ She raged, swinging her fists about. Thelma squeaked and scurried into Cass’s jumpsuit pocket.
Vixen grabbed her arm.  ‘That’s not going to help.’  She said firmly.  ‘I saw what hit you. It was your own shadow.’

Cass stared open-mouthed. ‘What the hell is going on?!’
‘I don’t know, but it doesn’t look good for Devi.’ Vixen looked up at the building, half cloaked in shadow, storm clouds, streaked with lightning raging overhead. ‘Or any of us.’

Distortion relaxed out of her bat form into a naked girl. It said something of the bizarre nature of the scenario that neither Devi nor Arun seemed to notice.  She tried not to feel offended.  She grabbed the rat cowering in the corner – Arun’s rat, Gerard, as it happened – and ran. 

As she did so, Arun glowed dazzlingly bright and the floor gave way completely, plunging Distortion into an abyss of dust and chaos.

As the fourth floor disappeared and the smoke cleared, figures emerged from the wreckage.  Facade limped into the sunshine, clutching her arm, Vixen her shoulder. Cass was unharmed and scanned the ruined building.

‘Distortion?’  She yelled.  There was no answer.

The team looked at each other.  Vixen tried to think of something comforting and ultimately pointless to say but was spared the job when Distortion emerged from the ruins with a cough, covered from head to toe in dust.

‘My hair is frigging ruined.’ She wailed. 

From here

Monday, 22 December 2014

Session Five - Operation Distortion

Katherine continued to lash out and hurl abuse at her rapidly-running-out-of-patience rescuers as they bundled her downstairs.  Cass sent Devi a mental message pleading her to ‘try and convince this arsehole to come with us to HQ’.

Devi cleared her throat.  ‘Katherine. I know this has been a rough night for you, but we’re only trying to help. Do you think you could –‘
‘Do one, bitch!’

Façade’s limited well of patience was finally exhausted.  She grabbed Katherine around the throat and before Vixen could protest, threw their charge into the back of the van.  Façade and Devi hopped up front and Vixen and Cass climbed in the back with Katherine.

Who turned into a crocodile.

Devi screamed as the rabid reptile flung itself at Vixen who was shocked but managed to dodge it.  It slammed into the back of the doors, rocking the van from side to side.

‘Put your foot down!’ Vixen yelled at Facade as the dazed croc rounded on them again. Façade obliged and they took off, tyres screeching.

‘Cass, mind swap with her!’

Cassandra placed her fingertips to her temples and tried to concentrate which wasn’t particularly easy at that moment.  It was no use.  The van was now nearly tipping over from the bad tempered crocodile bashing into either side, missing Cass and Vixen by inches. 

As it turned to attack Cass, Vixen saw an opportunity and threw herself on top of its jaws, grappling them shut.

‘Oh my God, we’re all going to get EATEN!’ Devi sobbed.  Façade glimpsed the mayhem in the rear view mirror and speeded up. She jumped a red light and a car emerged prematurely from the junction, driving directly in front of them.  With a bang and sickening crunch of metal, they collided.

Vixen lost her grip on the croc, went flying between the front seats and sailed through the windscreen in a hail of broken glass, rolled off the bonnet and landed face down on the tarmac.

There was a split second of horrified silence before Devi resumed screaming.

Façade leapt out of the van, gave a vulgar hand gesture to the stunned-looking driver of the other car, grabbed Vixen under her arms and dragged her back into the van. 

A quick once over and it was clear that their leader wasn’t too badly hurt, apart from the gash on her forehead which was spurting jets of blood all over the cab.  At least the crash seemed to have temporarily stunned the croc.  It sat there, motionless, giving Devi time to work her magic.

‘Is Vixen going to be okay?’  She wailed as she held her hands over the croc, draining its energy and subduing it completely.
‘Fine.  We’ll patch her up at HQ.’ Façade said, revving the engine. 
‘You’re not driving, you complete and utter lunatic!’  Cassandra screamed.  ‘You nearly killed us all!’
‘I don’t want to die!’ Devi wailed.
‘Ugghhh.’ Vixen moaned, slipping in and out of consciousness.
BOB came over the radio.
‘Would you prefer if I drove?’
‘YES!’ Cass and Devi shouted.  Vixen was too busy vomiting over herself to reply. Façade shrugged and relinquished control of the wheel.  ‘I was sick of driving you jerks anyway.’

‘Um, guys.’  Cassandra’s voice sounded high pitched from the back of the van.  ‘We have a problem.’
‘What?’  Façade and Devi turned around in time to see Katherine the crocodile swell, double and then triple in size, turning blue and rounded, getting bigger and bigger until she had turned into…
‘A bloody whale!’ Cass moaned.
‘BOB, do something!’ Devi cried.
‘Bambi has supersized on us.’ Façade said.
BOB’s voice crackled over the radio.
‘I suggest that Devi use a teleportation spell to send Katherine Knotts straight here.’
‘Just so you know; she’s going to need something roomier than a holding cell.’  Façade cut in. 
‘I will have a tank prepared.’

Devi clambered into the back of the van, trying to ignore the whale’s gaze, which was difficult as its eye was now the size of a football and swivelling menacingly in her direction.

She took a steadying breath and began the incantation.

The creak of buckling metal grew louder.

‘Hurry!  She’s bursting out of the van!’ Cass yelled.  Devi’s chants filled the van as did a brilliant white light.
‘Wait! No!’ Devi cried before a bright flash blinded them all.

Our heroes blinked.  They looked out of the window.

‘We’re back at HQ.’  Cass wondered.  ‘How did that happen?’
‘Where’s Bambi?’ Façade asked.  The back of the van was empty except for Cass and Devi.
Façade raised an eyebrow as Devi dropped to her knees and began crawling around.  ‘Just before I could complete the teleportation, she turned herself into –‘

The back doors were flung open.  Joules scanned the van.
‘Where’s the girl?’  She asked.
Devi yelped and gathered something in her hand.  She stood, holding her hand out.
‘She’s here.’
‘Is that an ant?’  Joules wrinkled her nose.  ‘If that’s all she is I don’t know what took you so long.  I thought BOB said you were bringing mail?  What was that about?’
‘A whale.  Long story.’ Cass clambered out to join Nymph who came running over.
‘Oh my God, what happened to the van?  And to her?’ 

‘Nothing a plaster and some asprin won’t fix.’ Façade dragged the bloody, unconscious Vixen from the cab.
‘When she changed from a whale into an ant, the shift in weight must have allowed me to transport all of us, including the van.’  Devi was surprised and rather pleased.

BOB’s voice came from the tannoy. ‘I take it Katherine Knotts will no longer be requiring the fifty ton water tank in the basement?’

‘Er, no.’ Cass answered.  There was a sigh and the sound of a plug being pulled and gurgling water.

‘Take Vixen to the infirmary,’ Cass instructed one of HQ’s lab technicians.  ‘And let’s get this one to the holding cells.’  She looked through narrowed eyes at the tiny insect scuttling over Devi’s palm.

Once she was deposited in her cell and the power nullification field activated, Katherine was not a happy bunny – literally or metaphorically. 

‘You pack of fucking morons!’ She screamed, rattling the bars of her cell.  ‘Why couldn’t you mind your own business? Who do you think you are?’
‘Who do you think you are, you jumped up, piss-head trash?’ Cass exploded.  Things were set to get nasty.  BOB intervened and for once, didn’t aggravate the situation. 
‘We must unite against the real enemy.’  He persuaded. ‘There is the small matter of the scientists waiting for you, Bambi.’
‘What did you just call me?’
‘Sorry. I meant... Miss Knott.’
‘Oh God, I’m in soooo much trouble!’  Katherine groaned, head in her hands.  ‘You freaks have no idea. If they discipline me over this, I could fail the entire year. My Dad is going to be so pissed.’
‘Believe me, Bambi, that’s the least of your problems.’ Cass said.  ‘The stuff you knocked over while breaking and entering was nanite technology.  It’s what’s causing you to morph into different animals.  The scientists sent us to get you back so they can extract the nanintes from you –‘
‘Did they say if they’re going to press charges?’
‘ – but we know that what they weren’t saying is that removing the nanites will probably kill you.’


‘So, you have a choice. We can take you back to the scientists to have the nanites removed; bearing in mind they don’t particularly rank you as their first priority.  Or you can stay with us while we figure out how to remove them.’

‘Or...’  BOB said over the tannoy.  ‘You can wait for twenty four hours and do nothing, by which time your body will have completely metabolised the nanites.  You will permanently have the power to change into animals but with more control.’

Katherine was uncharacteristically quiet.  It was a pleasant break for our heroes’ ears.

‘I can’t think!  This is way too heavy!’  Katherine wailed. ‘Do you guys have anything around here to, you know?’  She waggled her eyebrows.  ‘Help a girl chill out?’
‘Yep.’  Devi beamed.  ‘We have just the thing.’

Two hours later, the whole crew were lounging on the couches and armchairs of HQ living quarters, blissful and smiling contentedly.
‘That was just what we needed.’ Cass sighed.  Devi nodded happily.
‘Wasn’t it?’
‘I haven’t seen The Little Mermaid in years.’ Nymph said, taking the disc out of the DVD player.
‘What shall we watch next?’  Katherine asked, dressed in an old pair of Nymph’s pyjamas, munching from a huge bowl of popcorn.
Frozen?’ Cass suggested.  There was a general cheer.

The heroes worked their way through Disney’s back catalogue, amid much singing, of varying quality.  Nymph sent out for pizza. Joules fell asleep during Mulan but woke in time for the ballroom sequence in Beauty and the Beast, having fortunately missed out on the debate between Nymph and Katherine as to whether Belle was, in fact, suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

Joules looked at her watch.  ‘Guys.  I think Katherine can try out her powers now.’

They all looked at her expectantly.  Katherine got gingerly to her feet, brushing popcorn from her front.  She furrowed her brow – and turned into a cheetah. Everyone cheered and clapped.  She turned back into Katherine once more – swishing a cheetah tail.
‘What do you think?’  She purred.  ‘I might wear it on Saturday night around town.’

Cue more cheers all round.  As Katherine skipped off to the bathroom and the team celebrated this sort-of victory, BOB patched through.

‘I have the scientists on the telephone. They want to know the current status of our mission.  My programming is inconsistent when it comes to the interpretation of voice intonations but I have concluded that they are not happy.’

That lowered the mood.  While BOB put the call through, a plan was hurriedly thrown together.
‘Okay, so – we’ll tell them Katherine died while we teleporting her back to base.’ Cass hissed.  ‘We’ll invite ourselves over to discuss what happened, Katherine can disguise herself as Devi’s freaky rat –‘
‘Don’t talk about Thelma that way!’
‘- and once we’re there she can change into something bigger and attack those bastards.  We just need to keep Katherine quiet while we talk to the –‘
Cass’s mobile rang.  She hushed everyone with a dramatic finger to the lips gesture making Facade roll her eyes. She answered, putting them on speakerphone.
‘Hello?  Cassandra speaking.’
‘Where is Miss Knott?’ 

BOB wasn’t wrong.  They definitely didn’t sound happy.
‘She’s dead.  Yeah.  She died while we were trans-‘
Let it go, let it gooooo.’ Katherine bounded into the living quarters, twirling, and arms in the air like a ballerina.  Cass dropped her mobile in horror while Nymph whipped a vine out from her fingertips to gag Katherine’s mouth.

‘Who was that?’  The scientist snapped. 
‘Nobody.  That is, I mean, that was one of our team members. She loves a good sing song.’  Cass babbled. ‘We try to relax here at HQ, you know? Balance the stress of fighting crime with-’
‘We need her body back. To give to her parents.’ The scientists said, a little too quickly.
‘Of course. We can help you arrange that. And we’re awfully sorry. Terrible mess.’ Cass paused and took a steadying breath, attempting to read the mind of the scientist down the phone. It wasn’t difficult. The scientist didn’t believe a word.

Nymph pulled the mobile towards herself. ‘We’ll clean her up and come straight over to the university.’
‘How long will you be?’ They asked.  Cass heard them think we’ll have to notify Hydra. A chill ran down her spine.
‘Give us twenty minutes.’ Nymph said.
Cass had time to psychically register one last thought before the scientist hung up.  Plenty of time to set up a strike force.

‘We’re in a world of crap.’ She said as Nymph passed her the phone. ‘They’re sending a strike force to whack us.’

Facade swore.  Devi gasped while Joules tutted angrily.  Nymph visibly drooped and in doing so, released the vine gagging Katherine.
‘What are you idiots doing?’  She yelled, Angry Katherine back in full force.  ‘Why did you tell them I was dead?  That was stupid!’
‘We were trying to protect you from them, you idiot!’ Cass yelled back, nose to nose with Katherine. She laughed.
‘I don’t need protecting from them. What can they do to me?’
BOB tried to intervene.  ‘Perhaps we can reach a diplomatic solution to your differences of opinion?’
‘Shove it up your circuit board, BOB.’ Cass snarled.  To Katherine she yelled, ‘you moron. You’ve endangered your own life and ours by letting them know you’re alive. And now they’re going to kill us all, unless we come up with a plan.’

‘Listen.’ Devi held her hands up nervously. ‘There’s a lot of distrust in the room.  We can’t help each other unless we trust each other.’  She approached Katherine. ‘I don’t think we formally introduced ourselves.’

When no one said or did anything other than glare at Katherine, Devi continued. ‘This is Facade...Joules...Cass you know.’  She moved around the room quickly before Cass could speak. ‘And this is Nymph.’ She smiled shyly at her crush who winked back at her.

‘And you’re speaking to Devi.’ Joules drawled.  ‘Nymph’s girlfriend.
Devi blushed scarlet to the roots of her hair.  Katherine sighed in a put upon manner.
‘You people have serious social skill deficiencies.’ She looked Cass up and down in particular. ‘But if we’re all going to be friends.’ She said the word using her fingers as inverted commas. ‘Then we might as well work this crap out together.  I say we go to the university and ambush those pigs before they get their little strike team assembled.’

For once, they were all in agreement.  In a matter of moments Joules teleported them down the telephone lines where they assembled inside one of the lecture rooms inside the university.

Cass mentally swept the area. ‘They’re in the room across the corridor,’ she whispered.

Nymph drew herself up to her full height. ‘Listen everyone.  We’re in a serious situation. Our leader is in a medically induced coma.   We’re up against Hydra and I don’t need to tell you they’re the most dangerous force we’ve encountered yet, one against which we’re hopelessly ill-prepared.  But I know that the people stood before me are heroes. Flawed ones, yes.  We don’t always get things right.  But one thing you can say for the Liver Birds is-‘
Cass tutted.
‘-we never give up. No matter how many times we’re kicked down, beaten up and humiliated.  We get up and keep going.’
‘I don’t know if that speech was meant to qualify as rousing, but you just made us sound like a bunch of complete morons.’ Joules sniffed.
‘Let’s go.’  Cass hissed, opening the door and leading the way down the corridor. 

It was time to throw the first punch.  Cass sent out a mental mind blast across the room with the scientists inside.  They heard someone tut.  ‘Ouch! My head hurts.  I think I need an asprin.’

It wasn’t a great first punch.

‘I recognise that voice.’ Facade growled.  Before the others could stop her she burst through the door.  Inside was their old adversary Hertz, his twin sister Candela as well as the two scientists, whose mouths fell open in shock.

Facade leapt across the room and threw Hertz a sucker punch that sent him to the floor. A swift uppercut knocked one of the scientists off her feet.  As she fell to the floor, she lifted her arm up in salute.  ‘Hail Hydra!’ She whimpered before she hit the deck, out cold.

Candela screamed in rage.  Katherine winced, not just at the noise but in horror at the yellow neon jumpsuit Candela was wearing.  Purely to punish her for her crimes against fashion, Katherine morphed into a bear and charged at Candela.

Candela was too shocked to move and was thrown to the floor.  Joules threw up her force field and shot a bolt of electricity at the neon-clad villain, knocking her unconscious.

Our heroes remembered the twins well from their first encounter and weren’t in the mood to take prisoners. Devi conjured a tornado in the palms of her hands and blew it across the room to entangle Hertz before he could do any damage.  Unfortunately Joules and Bear Katherine got caught up in the maelstrom as well.

BOB’s voice crackled over Devi’s phone.  ‘In light of us being a woman down, I have called for backup.  Help is on the way.’

At that exact moment there was a horrible noise just outside the room.  A hacking retching could be heard over the noise of Devi’s tornado.
‘Oh no!’  wailed Cass.  ‘It’s –‘
In through the door burst a bedraggled scruff, hacking and coughing vomit.  Yes.  It was Vomit Man. No. Our heroes were not happy to see him.
‘Not him!’ Nymph cried.
‘What’s the situation?’ Vomit Man asked Cass, who shrank away, gagging.  He cast a bleary eye over the room and took a deep breath before showering Hertz with a blast of projectile vomit.  It missed and hit Joules and Katherine instead.

As if he hadn’t proved himself incompetent enough, Vomit Man then also became entangled in the tornado, yelping as it swept him off his feet.

Nymph aimed carefully.  This would be tough.  She mentally crossed her fingers praying she wouldn’t miss and blasted Hertz with her pheromones.  He swirled around the room on the current of turbulent air, looked over, blinked and beamed a dopey grin.  Like Devi, he had fallen hook, line and sinker. 

Devi bristled.  She ran over to Nymph and the tornado instantly dropped, sending the others crashing to the floor.  She barely noticed them as she linked Nymph’s arm, glowering at Hertz.  Nymph laughed.

‘Don’t worry honey.  He means nothing to me.’ 

If love could be personified by tweeting birds flying around someone’s head, Hertz’s head space would look like an RSPB sanctuary.  He stared, dewy-eyed, up at Nymph.  She pointed at Katherine.
‘Go and clean the vomit off that bear.’  She demanded of Hertz.  ‘With your tongue.’
And off he trotted.  The rest was too horrible to describe.

Back at HQ, the team found Vixen had recovered enough to be back on her feet, waiting for them.
‘What happened to the scientists?’ She asked after Cass has described what happened at the university. 
‘We brought them back here. They’re in the holding cells.’
‘Who’s guarding them?’
‘No one.  We all needed showers, thanks to someone.’ Cass sniffed pointedly.  They were doing their best to ignore Vomit Man, who was sniffing around the kitchen, looking for something to eat.  ‘I’ve told BOB never, ever to call on him as backup again.’  Cass hissed.  ‘I’d rather die in battle.’
Joules and Facade nodded in agreement.

Vixen’s eyes narrowed. ‘You mean the scientists are alone?’
‘Yeah. So? It’s not like they can escape.’ Cass said but Vixen was already running.
They followed her to the holding cells, just in time to see the final death throes of the scientists as they twitched and lay still.

‘Cyanide.’ Vixen spat in disgust, as foam spilled out of the glassy-eyed scientists mouths.  ‘They must have bitten on capsules hidden in their teeth.’

‘What now?’  Joules noted the twitching eyelids of the corpses with disgust.
‘Let’s have a little chat with our old friends, Hertz and Candela.’

But our heroes were disappointed. 

‘We don’t know.  Nobody tells us nothing.’  Hertz shrugged when questioned, feet up on the interrogation table.  It turned out that the mercenary twins had been hired as muscle by the scientists.  Candela knew nothing, other than what she was getting paid - the fact that her money was now unlikely to be forthcoming putting her in a vile mood.

A mind sweep by Cass established they were both telling the truth.  Apart from gleaning that Hertz had planned to spend his fee on Download festival tickets and Candela on a new tattoo, there was nothing to be learned from them.

The trail had gone cold.  For now.

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