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Chapter 23

"Alright, guys," I say. "Fire at will!"

I can't see through my blindfold as my friends try to hit me with various items, but I'm not blind. Not exactly. At the first hint of nausea, I shift right. It sharpens quickly, so I go left instead. Something brushes my right side and then thumps against the wall behind me. But the nausea isn't gone. I abort the leftward dodge and go right again, but that's no better, so I jump. Thump. It sharpens again on the way down, but there's not much I can do about that. I try twisting, but I still take a baseball to the hip with a grunt. The nausea backs off after that, so I rise into a ready crouch. Twinge! I dodge and there's another thump behind me. The nausea leaves and I wait. Still waiting. Something soft bounces off my face without warning, then my gut squirms again and I sidestep what sounded like it might have been a punch. A thin stream of cool water hits my shoulder unannounced, but my gut moves me out of the way just in time to avoid what I think was a snapped rubber band. Then it does a little backflip, so I jump backwards just in time to hear more water splatter on the ground in front of me. That must have been the hot water. At a sound to my right and a faint burst of nausea I dodge forward, but that was the wrong direction and my cheek stings lightly as a rubber suction cup dart bounces off my face. Something silent threatens to the left and I dodge that, then jump something that whooshes through where my feet were. There's a sound clattering on the floor beneath me while I'm still airborne, so I don't need the gastrointestinal upheaval that causes to know to widen my stance substantially on the way down. I still trip slightly on whatever it was, but I stay upright as I shift over to my left foot and stable ground. Then I fend off an incoming slap with my arm because I'm in too precarious of a stance to dodge it. Then I nearly lose my breakfast as I dive to the ground and something loud whooshes through where I'd been.

"Whoa, what the heck?" I yank off my blindfold. "We're testing my danger sense, not trying to kill me!"

Hannah just smirks as she leans on her baseball bat. "Looks like it's working to me."

"You were like a ninja!" adds Tiff.

"But it's not directional," I say as I rub my bruised hip. "I have to guess which way to dodge and hope I have time to change direction if it gets worse."

Joe raises an eyebrow. "Are you sure? I saw you do that a few times, but not as often as I'd expect if that was true."

Hannah nods. "Let's test it. Put your blindfold back on, and this time don't dodge. We'll snap you with rubber bands, and you try to point in the direction you think the next snap is coming from."

The next five minutes are a stinging mess, but it turns out Joe was right. It takes a while to get the hang of, but I can sort of tell which direction to move to not get hit. That's not quite the same as knowing which direction the threat is coming from, but it's probably more useful.

"So," says Hannah as I rub my arms. "You have a superpower, George. Where'd you get it?"

Joe and Tiff nod and I frown. "That's a good question. I'm pretty sure I haven't been bitten by any radioactive fortune tellers or ninjas recently." I scratch at my partially healed bullet graze and then freeze. "Pharmedica. While I was down there, some kind of pink goop got splashed over my side." I pull up my shirt, but my graze just looks like a scabbed and somewhat inflamed wound, nothing special. No pulsing green veins or anything. "It stung and itched, but I washed it out afterwards and it seemed mostly fine. But, well, Pharmedica did have all those enhancement-related names they were considering..."

Joe nods. "Getting powers from lab accidents is a well honored tradition. A fictional tradition, but..."

"I don't know for sure if it was the goop, though. I also tripped into a machine that emitted... something. I'm guessing UV light, but I'm not sure. All I know is I got out before it could hurt me. The other guy wasn't so lucky. It was like sunburn cranked up to eleven for him."

"And the other supers? Do you think Pharmedica is the common denominator?"

I nod slowly. "Me, Carrie, Fat Jimmy, Marco, that Dream Enforcer... we were all there. I don't know about the other people; I didn't get a good look at everybody I rescued. That's too many of us for coincidence, though."

Hannah raises an eyebrow. "What's this about Marco?"

Oops. I wince at Tiff, but it's too late to backpedal. "I'm not certain, but I think he might have regeneration."

Hannah nods. "Now that you mention it, I remember thinking he didn't look as bad as I'd thought when we left him with Nurse Parson."

Joe looks thoughtful. "You mentioned that Pharmedica seemed like they were excessively worried about people breaking out. That makes sense now. All that firepower, the drugging, having the facility deep underground... those are sane precautions if you're keeping superhumans captive."

"So," says Hannah, "counting you, there are possibly a hundred and seventy-two superhumans in Forchester right now. Maybe more if any of Pharmedica's people risked using the treatment on themselves."

"But do all of the escapees have powers?" Joe asks.

I shrug. "Paula and Larry are the only others I've encountered so far. They seemed... well, maybe not normal, but..." My face begins to warm as I think of Paula.

Hannah gives me a suspicious squint. Joe doesn't notice, but Tiff does. "I ran into Marco Gomez -- the one with the piercings? -- at school and he seemed normal too. As normal as you'd expect, I mean, after something like that." She winks at me when Hannah's not looking.

"Exactly," I say quickly. "Not normal normal, but non-powered normal. That kind of normal. Though, I guess I look normal too, so maybe that doesn't count for much."

Hannah's eyebrow is raised again, but Joe starts talking before she can say anything. "So we're aware of ten people with powers, six of whom were definitely at Pharmedica, and we know of two people who were at Pharmedica who may or may not have powers. It's not exactly a good sample size, but if we can trust it, then we're probably looking at at least a hundred twenty people with powers, and around a third of those were diverted from prison or juvie to be experimented on. Not good."

"Who do we know was there who we haven't seen?" asks Tiff. "People we should check in on?"

I cast my memory around. "There's Angry Chick, whose name I never got, Jacob, Harris, and Jones from the Cueballs, Hijack, Hank's brother Brian or Brandon or something, and have any of us seen Frank?"

Hannah shakes her head. "Carrie said he's doing alright when I asked yesterday, but she didn't mention anything about powers, and I haven't actually seen him myself since Tuesday. He wasn't showing any powers then, but nobody was, so that doesn't count."

"Besides those people, there were a bunch I recognized from school but don't have names for, as well as at least seven of the nine women Dan and Seeley told me about, and the missing son. I checked in with Dan on my way home last night. Apparently two of the women are still missing. Dan and Seeley aren't sure if they've just skipped town or if there's something darker going on. I didn't think to ask about powers though, and they didn't volunteer anything relevant."

Joe opens his mouth to say something, but the walls of the Wheelhouse rattle as a deep booming noise in the distance grabs our attention. I start gearing up while Joe and Hannah begin monitoring social networks and online radio scanners for clues. Tiff, meanwhile, eyes the bits of plaster that shook free of the ceiling as she edges closer to a corner.

Five minutes later I'm lying on the roof of the Drowsyman Hotel watching police a few blocks away watch the Moonbond Bank. They've got the roads blocked off and are crouching behind the engine blocks of their cruisers as they hold their guns on the doors and various blown out windows of the bank. It looks as though a bomb went off inside. A few bits of the ceiling near the center have collapsed, and what I can see of the inside looks a lot worse for wear.

I'm not sure what I'll be able to do to help; if I try going down there I'll only get in the way. And judging by what I can hear between my ParaMic and their megaphone, it seems to be a hostage situation. Yuck. So for now I'm just hanging back to see what-

One of the walls bulges and then flies apart, and the fragments slam into the side of a police car, which slides across the street with a squeal of tires. The cop who'd been using the car for cover pulls himself out from under and crawls away weakly. Suddenly I hear the cracks of gunfire, and I look back at the destroyed wall to see a man with a large, full sack slung over his shoulder. He's casually walking toward the nearest cop, ignoring the rest of the police entirely as the air around him shimmers. So, he's got some kind of force field or deflection power. My guess is force field. The rubble from the wall wasn't moving fast enough to push that cop's car its own, so it had to have been pushed by some kind of power. I figure it's more likely that he's using that power to shield himself than it is that he has multiple powers.

Several people run out the hole he made and tear off down the street, but Mr. Bank Robber doesn't seem to care about his hostages anymore. He's too busy freaking out the wounded cop who's lying on the ground and frantically shooting at him from around his car. Then the cop grasps at his throat and convulses before going limp. The bank robber turns to the next cop.

Well, crap. I relay what I've learned to Joe and the others as I climb down the building and start skating toward Moonbond. Maybe I could have let this guy go if he had just took the money and run. But no, he had to go and start suffocating the police. The police and Wheels might not get along, but they're still people, mostly. The corrupt ones are a minority. So now I've got to go save them from freaking Darth Vader.

Whelp, no use complaining. I've got wheels on my feet and music in my ears. Today it's electropunk. I bounce off a wall into the air behind his shimmering shield to the yowl of a synthetic guitar, and McVader adds his own angry noises when I snag his face in my hobo coat as I soar past holding it by the sleeves. One of those sleeves nearly rips off at the shoulders, and my own shoulder isn't feeling too hot either, but I succeed in yanking Vadey to the ground. Of course, I hit the ground too, but I was expecting it, and all I've got obscuring my vision is the thin fabric of my grinning mask, stretched to near transparency around the eyes. I roll to my feet, barely maintaining my grip on my poor coat, and make to stomp on Vadey's face before he can get up. Instead, I nearly puke as an unavoidable blast of air hurls me away from him.

I skid across the ground for a bit before getting my wheels under me, at which point I let myself keep rolling backwards away from the intense sense of gut-rending danger I can still feel surrounding Vades. He's clawing at my coat, which seems to be stuck to his face and flapping in the wind.

Wind. Not force fields. Wind. He controls air. This calls for a new nickname. I carve into a turn and pivot around to start sprinting. I'm not going to be able to get close to Air Bud without getting hurt, but that's not quite my objective. He's just getting my coat off his face as I reach the edge of the danger zone and lean into a sharp turn. With a flash-bang in one hand. If the police can't shoot this guy with bullets, there's no way I'm going to be able to hit him with pepper spray or anything else without catching him by surprise, which probably won't be happening at this point since he's cocooned himself in a dome of tightly contained tornado level winds. However, I can see and hear Air Bub swearing at me from inside over the sound of my music. I'm holding the flash-bang on the side opposite him, and I drop it next to some rubble as I skid past, nearly bouncing into his dome. Now, with my ordinance deployed, it's time to get some distance. I power out of there, diving right when he does... something to the air to my left, and then I'm crouching behind a cop car with my hands clamped over my ears.

"Any second now," I tell my writhing gut.

I give an involuntary gasp as the air around me thins suddenly and my lungs give up their precious holdings. I frantically work my throat to try to clear the pain from my ears as my hands go to my throat of their own accord. I fight the threads of panic trying to lash themselves around my brain and start sprinting away from the cop car. Have to get to somewhere with air-

Pop.

That's it, just a small popping sound, accompanied by a bright flash from behind me, and suddenly the atmosphere is hugging me again, pushing painfully against my ears, and I can breathe wonderful tasty air again. That popping sound must have been the flash-bang. Air Bud's thin air made way better earplugs than hands. Painful ones, though, but let's not toss out the silver lining with the cloud. Air Bub's staggering around without enough focus to use his powers, and I'm not. Checkmate. I ignore my body's desire to just lie down and breathe, and instead I sprint over to Hurricane Vader and introduce his face to the Pepper Fist, followed immediately by it's buddy Mr. Baton.

NAUSIA! I hit the deck as a gunshot echoes through my bowels. Excellent, I managed to stop him before he defeated all of the cops. But that means that now I have to deal with them. Fortunately, I'm a Jedi now. I lurch into motion and weave between the urges to projectile vomit, even managing to snag my hobo coat from where Air Bub threw it. This would actually be pretty fun if my danger sense manifested itself as a tingle, or a prickling, or even a sense of impending doom, but nausea? Not fun. Effective, though. I duck a bullet, skid short of another, jump one, and then there's a thud behind me and the gunfire stops. I pivot around and skate backwards as I look, then blink in amazement. That's Officer Susan standing over the unconscious form of the idiot who was shooting at me. She's glaring at me, but it's a "get out of here, moron" kind of glare, not the "I'm going to arrest you so hard your grandchildren will wear orange" kind she usually has when I'm Wheels. I give her a jaunty wave, jump backwards over a bit of rubble that made me queasy, then spin around forward and get gone.

Lather, rinse, repeat, and there's my next two weeks. Yeah, we're time skipping, not doing the villain of the day routine. What do you think this is, a comic book? I don't manage to track down Terence in that time, but besides Darth Air Bub, I end up dealing with a girl who can make very strong smells in the area around her, a kid from the Dream Enforcers who seemed to think he was a pinball, an extremely blurry person called Sam who was always three feet to the right of where they seemed to be, and Harris. Harris was the first one I encountered after Air Bub, and he got away. He was stealing a computer from City Hall, and nothing I did could touch him. He was intangible, as was the computer he was stealing. Still don't know why he wanted it. Stink Girl, on the other hand, wasn't a villain. She just smelled so bad that-

Actually, screw it. I had to suffer through that, so so can you. Grab your pants tight. Ready? BOOM, it's Tuesday evening now, ten days after Air Bub. I'm in the north part of Downtown, up on the roof of Woodsman's Buffet installing yet another node of the SpookNet. Joe wants to call it the Mesh Encrypted Super Hero Network, but that's stupid, so I say it's the SpookNet. Anyway, he and Tiffany have been putting together all eighty relays, complete with some forged Talaria stickers so maybe people will assume they're supposed to be there, and Hannah and I have spent most of our nights over the last several days trespassing all over Forchester to install them on roofs. We've got about a quarter of Forchester covered so far, using a grid pattern that ensures that no matter where I am, there will be somewhere nearby where I'll be able to get connectivity. What we're working on now is filling in those gaps between grid lines. We've still got the Wheeldio online as well, but we're trying to avoid actually using it whenever possible now that we don't have to. Even with the Wheelhunt called off, all the weird super shenanigans going on mean Forchester's gotten pretty hot lately. Metaphorically, because we're only a couple days away from Thanksgiving and it's cold out. At least we're not far enough north for snow. That would put a real cramp in my style.

Speaking of cramps, I stretch my hand out after I reach the ground and lean against the wall of the Woodsman's Buffet. I'm getting really tired of climbing up and down all these buildings. I don't think I'd trade my danger sense for flight, since I kind of like not being susceptible to snipers anymore, but flight would be pretty nice to have. "My wheels are on the ground, Spook. Where to next?" That's being sent over the SpookNet, courtesy of the node I just set up. It's dark out, but we pre-charged all the batteries. The whole network is solar powered, so all we're stealing is unused roof space, not electricity. This is actually a greener system than the Wheeldio, since the Wheeldio is powered by human legs, which are in turn powered by tacos and granola. Tacos come from cows which eat hay, and while hay eats sunlight the same as the SpookNet, it's harvested by tractors and transported by trucks. Same goes for granola. Also? Cow farts. SpookNet is methane free.

Ah, but speaking of methane, I've gotten sidetracked from Stink Girl. Perhaps you thought you'd be spared. Wrong. Spook's about to speak, and his speakings will speak of spooky-

"Wheels! Are you even listening?"

"Sorry, what?"

"You asked where to go next. The answer is... wait, hang on a second."

"And you wonder why I don't pay attention. Let me know when you figure it out." I dig out a granola bar from my pack; that tangent made me hungry.

"No, it's not that. Looks like there's some kind of ruckus going on in Sand Wedge Park that you might want to check out first. Apparently one of the girls involved, Cassie Quinn, was at Pharmedica."

"A ruckus? Are you sure it's not a hullabaloo, or maybe a brouhaha? Perhaps a fracas or a spat?"

"Shut up."

I stash the two other SpookNodes I'm hauling behind a dumpster for now, then crunch my way through the granola bar as I skate over to see what sort of squabble this shindig is supposed to be. Sand Wedge Park is between Downtown and Vista Grande, and its attractions include one of the nicer playgrounds in Forchester, a sand pit, and several tennis courts, all circling a grove of trees. It's between the tennis courts and the trees that I find the people, divided into three groups.

The biggest group is sort of fanned out in a big C aimed at the other two, their breath puffing in the cold night air as they shout a variety of unpleasant things at the two small groups of girls they're facing. Most of these folks are holding their noses, and I'm already catching a whiff of an atrocious aroma that reminds me of the time I had to squeeze past a dead raccoon in a storm drain. I don't see what it could be coming from though.

The second group is smaller, three girls in their early teens stationed between the two others. They're facing the mob with hands on hips nervous faces and saying something I can't hear over the insults and threats from the mob. Two of them, a chubby brunette and a fit red-head, are looking pretty green. The blonde seems nearly unbothered by the odor.

The third group is just two more girls well back from the rest, one crying while the other hugs her with one arm and holds her nose with the other. That one's glaring daggers through her short black hair at the mob, but barely seems to be breathing. Every so often her glare wavers as she tries not to convulse, but then she tightens her grip on the crying girl and steels herself. As I get closer, I see that the crying girl has a bloody nose. The girl with her looks vaguely familiar, but I don't think I saw her at Pharmedica. The crier, on the other hand, might have been there. I think I recognize her curly brown hair.

I'm not sure what's going on, but at least I've gotten here in time to defuse-

One of the three girls in the middle group yells something I can't make out and the mob goes quiet for a moment, then roars and starts rushing forward with their noses covered, shoving past the three girls like they're not even there. Crap. I sprint hard and then skid to a stop in front of the two girls the people are charging toward. "Stop!" I yell at the approaching crowd, my hands in the air, palms out. The smell is stronger here and I nearly gag before I can continue shouting. "I will handle this! Go-" They are not stopping; if anything, they're more angry. I could maybe fight this many people at once. Maybe. But I can't stop them; all it would take is a few slipping past me while I'm occupied and those girls behind me could be nothing but pink paste on the pavement before I could get free. Time for Plan B.

I loose my ball bearings between me and the mob as I spin toward the girls and invent a Plan B, since I don't actually have one... okay, got it. They both look terrified, but the one who was crying is staring at the crowd while the other looks worriedly at her friend. They must be after the crier, not her friend. I crouch down and scoop her up with a grunt. She's not heavy for a freshman girl, but she's still a lot more weight than I'm used to skating with. I start struggling to skate away with her, then I feel hands pressing on my back, helping push us forward. "Thanks!" I call over my shoulder to her friend as I get up to speed and start accelerating away. I clamp my mouth shut then as my stomach heaves. It's not my danger sense this time, just actual nausea from how terrible this girl smells. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was carrying a corpse. She's most definitely alive, though. "Quit squirming! You're gonna make me drop you!"

"But what about Mary?"

"What about Mary? She's got feet; she can use 'em! You're the one they're after!" Suddenly some of the things I'd heard the crowd saying clicked. This girl's another super. Her power must be creating that smell. I clumsily round a corner and power down and alley. My legs are starting to get tired already. "Any way you can shut off the smell, miss? No offense, but it's starting to make it hard to see through the water in my eyes."

Instead of answering, she starts crying again. Ugh. That is not going to help with her bloody nose. At least we're putting some distance between us and the would-be lynch mob. I clumsily round a corner and start cutting through an alley hoping to lose them when the girl nearly knocks us over by grabbing my shoulders and pulling herself partially up out of my arms. "You HAVE to save Mary, Wheels! You have to!"

"Fine. Up you go!" I slow to a stop beneath a fire escape and boost her high enough to grab it. "Just stay right up there and stomp their fingers if they try to climb up. You'll be fine until I get back. Don't go on the roof." I skate back up the alley before she can answer and nearly into the arms of the mob. Only nearly, though; my danger sense doesn't even trigger. It does start complaining as I zip past into the street, through, but I make it across, begin a turn, wall-skate to finish it, and start heading back toward the park, scanning around with my eyes for this Mary girl while I'm at it. The mob starts to follow me but then changes its mind, disappearing into the alley I left Stink Girl in. Well, she should fare better up on that fire escape than she was in the park, at least.

Speaking of the park, I find Mary and her three other friends there, holding each other up and limping toward me. "What did you do with Cassie!" the chubby one screams.

"She's fine," I yell back as I start leaning into a u-turn. "She was worried you guys needed rescue. But you don't, so I'd better get back to rescuing her."

One of them, the red-head, looks up from her phone with wide eyes. "Cas just texted. She's on the roof and they're following her up."

"That stupid idiot! I told-" No. Move now, complain later. I rush back toward the building whose fire escape I'd left her on, except I approach from the street side instead of the alley side. The mob is in the alley, and if that idiot isn't going to hold the bottleneck I gave her, there isn't any point in me flanking them. Instead, I approach it from the front where there's a fancy stone facade with deep grooves between the slabs. Have I mentioned that I'm getting tired of climbing buildings? I can feel the cold stone through my gloves. At least the rest of me is staying warm.

I make it up and peek over the edge to see this Cassie chick standing with her back to an AC and hands to her mouth as five men approach. I take a deep, fetid breath and then heave myself the rest of the way up. "Wow!" I say through my grimace. "All of you came up here to join the Seventh Story Club with me? I'm flattered, but I have to warn you this is just a fling. I'm married to my job."

One of them continues glaring at Cassie and cracking knuckles, but the other four spin to face me, and I hear more of them clanking up the fire escape. And this is one of those roofs that's covered in gravel, so my skates are going to be a hindrance. Why didn't she just stomp their stupid fingers like I told her to? Stupid coward. At least I've got both my Pepper Fists by now; I dose two of the four men simultaneously as I stomp awkwardly toward the closest of the remaining two. He gets a dose of his own, and the first guy, who tries to fight through the pepper spray, gets a taste of my baton as it smashes through where his teeth used to be. I'm not in a good mood right now; this rooftop smells like death and I'm breathing pretty hard. Bad combination. I lob a Peppernade across the rooftop into the alley before dosing the fourth guy with left hand, then I crack the fifth upside the head with my baton. He drops Cassie and falls to his knees, so I kick him in the side to get his face exposed for his share of the Pepper Fist experience.

Cassie's eyes widen at something over my shoulder, but I can hear the gravel crunching and feel my stomach swaying. Man, that's unpleasant under normal conditions, but with real nausea from this stench added in, it's just miserable. I duck and spin to slam an elbow into the gut of an angry soccer mom, then I shove her back over the edge into the fire escape where she tangles the legs of a scrawny looking man in sportswear. There are more of them on the fire escape still, but they're starting to reconsider their plans for the evening. I spray these two with my Pepper Fists, then drop another Peppernade and a Glownade into the alley for good measure.

Cassie screams, so I spin around to see one of the guys I'd already sprayed dragging her toward the opposite edge of the building. I snarl and start running clumsily through the gravel, but I'm not going to make it. Cassie doesn't seem to want to be thrown off a building any more than she wanted to follow basic life-preserving directions, though, so she clings to the side instead of falling to her death. The man spits and raises a foot to stomp her fingers, but then I'm there and he's in the air. Oops. Fortunately, he misses Cassie on the way down, so I'm able to reach down and pull her back up. Then I take a moment to catch my breath, and another to raise my mask slightly and hurl my guts over the side of the building.

I'm wiping my mouth when I hear another crunch of gravel. "Seriously?" I spin around and slam a fist into the runny nose of the soccer mom, who is completely enraged. Maybe that was her husband or something. Whatever. She tries to get up, but a little big stick diplomacy finally persuades her to stay down. Or maybe her legs just don't work anymore.

A quick scan over the rooftop reveals no more threats, but I hear the wail of a siren in the distance. I yank Cassie back to her feet and start dragging her toward the fire escape. Fortunately, everybody else has gotten gone. Cassie tries to dig in her heels as we near the edge, but I just pull her through the gravel and onto the metal stairs. She calms down once she sees that there's nobody left down in the alley and starts following me down of her own accord.

"W- What do we do now?" she asks as I pick the rocks out of my skates in the alley.

I glare at her within my mask. "Now? Now we get the heck out of here before the cops show up and try to arrest us for knocking that guy off the roof. Which, by the way, would not have happened if you'd have just followed my very simple directions instead of ignoring them like an idiot. Not a single one of those morons was armed. You could have held them off on your own indefinitely, and I could have taken my time and been gentle about dispersing them."

"Oh, like you've never hurt anyone before."

"Why were they trying to kill you, Cassie?"

"What does that have to do with-"

"Answer the question."

"I- I don't know..."

"No? You didn't attack them? Accidentally hurt them? Insult them?"

"No! They just... I think they were afraid I could do more than just reek."

I nod. "You have a superpower, and superpowers are scary. They've finished repairing Chester Mart, but there are still people in the hospital. Yesterday, a man irradiated Neon Noise. Three died, and nobody knows where he went. Two cops died before I stopped the windy guy a couple weeks ago. People are scared. So what effect do you think tonight is going to have on them, hmm? Do you think that me beating the crap out of scared idiots is going to make things better, or worse?"

"B- But they're the bad guys!"

"Do you think they believe that? Don't get me wrong. I'll throw as many people like that off roofs as I have to to protect innocents. But there's an important qualifier in there: 'as many as I have to.' We could have avoided doing that tonight. It could have been resolved with nothing more violent than some sore or broken fingers, a twisted ankle or two, and some pepper spray exposures. But you had to go and put yourself in danger, so I had to act fast and hard to stop them in time... and even then you almost got thrown off the building."

"I didn't realize-"

"You didn't have to realize! All you had to do was exactly what I told you to do. Stand there and stomp any fingers if they tried climbing the fire escape."

She sniffles. "I was scared."

"Welcome to my world. Now come on, we need to get out of here. Where do you live?"

"I- I... I don't...." Then she bursts into tears again.

Are you feeling my pain yet? I'm seriously considering just skating off and leaving her there for the cops to find. They're probably not the corrupt ones.

"She can't go home," says a familiar voice from the entrance of the alley. I look up and see Mary and her three friends approaching. "They threw her out."

Of course they did. I grind my teeth. "Well, she can't stay here." I jerk my head toward the other end of the alley. "We need to move-"

"NOBODY MOVE! THIS IS THE POLICE!"

I close my eyes and take a deep breath through clenched teeth. "I decline, Officers. Good day." They start to shout something back, but I ignore it and start skating away slowly. I feel like dry-heaving, but that's from Cassie's odor, not my danger sense. I guess they're not willing to risk shooting Cassie and her friends as long as I'm not moving fast. Fine by me. I roll out of the alley and turn onto the road, quickly gaining speed and then snagging the back of a passing bus.

"Cold, man," says Joe later when I come back in range of SpookNet and relay the night's happenings.

"Eh. Those cops were Officers Susan and Burris. They're uptight but clean. The girls will be fine."

"Well, you could have mentioned that you recognized them! Way to over-dramatize things, Wheels!"

"Yeah, well, you're not the one who had to breath zombie skunk farts all night."

"Well, if it makes you feel better, I heard over the scanner that the guy who fell off the roof is still alive. For now, at least. They're rushing him to the hospital."

A little tension leaves my shoulders. "Thanks, Spook. Now, have you figured out where I need to put this next node yet?"

"Caffegeddon."

I hoist the bag holding the two nodes and skate off.

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