Masks 13: Chapter Thirty-Seven
Vic popped out of the hatch onto the roof of the dorm and took off running, quickly gathering speed. She leapt, pitching forward and straightening until her fingers pointed to her landing spot and her toes pointed towards the sky. At impact with the lower roof of the Hall Classroom Building she went smoothly into a tuck and forward roll. This was as much to prevent damage to the roof as to prevent damage to her.
Vic was impressed with her rig. Aside from the armor and her new costume, she had a pair of hardwood tonfa and a rattan hanbo. All lightweight, all non-metallic. Her weapons had been positioned after much experimentation and advice from several people, including Jude Trujillo, to make certain that they didn't rattle, didn't shift, didn't interfere with her movements and were easy to get to. The armor performed as promised, once properly adjusted. It didn't hamper her movement, and once she was used to it Vic barely noticed it.
Vic popped out of the roll into a long leap across this second roof, using her momentum to cover the distance faster than she could running. She landed out of that on her feet and smoothly kept going, full speed. She was grinning. This was fun!
From roof to roof she ran, jumped and tumbled, the general trend towards lower and lower buildings. Finally, however, she was on a one-story building facing a three-story structure across a narrow street. Without hesitation she jumped, hitting the wall near a large drainpipe. Vic slid towards the ground, using the drainpipe to slow her fall, the gloves taking most of the punishement from friction and encounters with support brackets.
She hit the ground hard enough to injure most people, turning the impact into a roll. She immediately took off from that running again. She vaulted a chain-link fence and jumped a ditch, then lunged for a doorway, landing on her belly and sliding across a line on the floor.
"Touchdown!" she shouted, rolling onto her back while still sliding and shaking her fists triumphantly in the air.
"I don't believe it," said Trujillo, looking at his stopwatch. "You shaved almost half a minute off the record. Which was set by a super speedster."
"Yeah!" said Vic, doing a kip-up to get back on her feet.
She was short of breath, but not so much so she couldn't still victory dance rather vigorously.
"Okay," said Melanie, looking stunned. "I am officially humbled."
"Hey, your forte isn't speed and agility," said Vic, patting her on the arm. "I sure can't lift a car!"
There was quite a crowd here. Most of the super martial arts class, some of the other super students, several of Vic's friends and some of the security staff - who were supervising - with all of them having a good time.
"Yeah, but that's the night record," said Speedy Sue Mayewski, the previously mentioned super speedster, dismissively.
The race was from a starting point to an ending point. Choice of route was left to the person competing. For someone like Vic that was usually a nearly straight line horizontally, with much travel vertically. For someone like Sue the trip was nearly all on a horizontal plane with lots of swerving around buildings and other obstacles.
"Uh, no, Sue," said Trujillo, his tone consoling. "Vic set the absolute record."
She scowled, gave Vic a brief glare, then walked out.
"Why's she taking this so hard?" said Vic, puzzled. "It's just a game."
"For some people, games are all they have," said Trujillo, quietly, as he watched her leave. He turned back to the crowd and resumed his previous tone. "All right, folks, I know you're all eager to celebrate - you're college kids, you'll use any excuse - but it's Sunday evening and you have classes tomorrow. So don't stay up too late!"
* * *
"This data from our agent in the school security department is disturbing," said Rokuro, after reading an update the next morning. He frowned in deep thought, considering the situation. "Something happened. Something which pushed her to a new plateau. Perhaps it was merely a boost to her confidence, from defeating Mr. Truth. Whatever it is, given Peltior's currently confirmed abilities she's now our priority subject there."
"I think we need to reevaluate her," said Banpresto, just as thoughtfully. "Not only her abilities, either. Her threat level."
"Come on!" said Sam, in mild protest. "I know she's got a mad on against us, but she doesn't even know who 'us' is!"
"No-one does," said Rokuro, smugly. "Yes, we reevaluate her. That is all. She is still a child, and while physically promising has no clue about our operations, beyond the bare fact that there are operations."
"It's not just her, remember," said Banpresto, pointedly.
"The feds are as much in the dark as she is," said Rokuro, waving his concerns away. "No, they might have a few suspicions, but even they are directed towards others."
Banpresto wasn't so sure. His boss was brilliant, but also egotistical. Like so many masterminds - including Banpresto, himself, in the old days - he minimized his opponents' intelligence, dismissed the likelihood of failure. Banpresto wasn't going to argue with Rokuro over this - not right now, anyway - but he decided to take measures. Nothing behind his boss' back... he had enough authority to do these things on his own initiative without problems. If he were right, Rokuro would reward him when Banpresto's extra caution paid off. If the precautions weren't necessary, the matter would likely never come up. So it was a "win-don't lose" situation.
* * *
"Wow," said Doro, as the morning's briefing for the top staff of the Bureau for Special Resources wound down.
"In regard to what, particularly?" said Ray, barely stifling a yawn.
"Vic. She's really starting to show a lot of physical aptitude. Even Trujillo is impressed. She's not quite at Champion's level, but with her still recuperating and maybe never returning to full strength, Vic would be a valuable asset to the crime fighting community."
"We weren't the only ones to think there might be a connection between Vic and the destruction of the keep," said Ray, nodding.
"Actually, I'm pretty sure by now that there is no connection," said Doro. "She's still impressive."
"I think we need to reevaluate her," said Brade. "It is, indeed, all but certain her powers have nothing to do with the destroyed keep. A proper, full-scale evaluation would likely make certain of this, besides properly quantifying her abilities. It will be up to her, of course, but I think she'd welcome it."
"We should make this part of our job offer," said Doro, eagerly.
"Look, just because she's strongly motivated..." said Ray.
"She is that," said his boss. "However... She's also begun to take things more seriously. I'm starting to think we need to act sooner rather than later, and maybe more definitively."
"So... What?" said Doro.
"Deputize her. Let her in on our plans."
"That's rather a big jump," said Ray, surprised.
"I have a feeling about that gal..." said Brade. Her gaze was thoughtful for a moment, then she got back to business. "Not yet, though. If the opportunity presents itself, then, yes. You have my recommendation. If you're on the scene, though, it's your call."
* * *
A few days later Melanie stopped by to ask Alex for help with some homework. The younger girl was gone, but she found Vic laying on her bed, looking up at the ceiling. Looking a bit concerned.
"What's the problem?" said Melanie, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"With all those purchases I made recently, I'm running short on money," said Vic, reluctantly. "I miscalculated how much I'd have left for school, forgetting they'd take out taxes for the reward money. Nothing serious, but I'm thinking about finding a job."
"You should sit for the life drawing classes," said Melanie. "They're always short on models, and the pay is good for just a few hours a week of sitting still."
"Oh, come on! With that hard body of yours?"
"Yes," said Vic, firmly. "With this hard body of mine. Why do people keep trying to get me to pose naked?"
"It's easy money, and not really all that embarrassing. It's pretty clinical."
"You've done it?" said Vic, suddenly curious. As well as a bit turned on by the idea of Melanie posing naked.
"No, but I've been thinking about doing it. Harriet has, and to hear her talk about it she had an easy time. You aren't the only one who could use the extra cash."
"I'm really not interested."
"You sure? You could probably get a premium rate, since you're not the typical model."
"Yeah. I'm sure. "
"Oh!" said Melanie, suddenly, snapping her fingers. "I know! Tutoring!"
"Huh?" said Vic.
"You are good enough with several subjects you got credit for them with tests, right?"
"So, you could tutor someone who is having trouble in those subjects!"
"That might just work," said Vic, thinking it over. "How do I do this?"
"No idea," was Melanie's airy reply. "I just remember there are notices on bulletin boards all around campus, asking for tutors pretty much constantly."
* * *
Speedy Sue seemed to have forgotten her pique towards Vic for taking the record the next time they had lunch together. She was older than most of those at the table where Vic usually sat, being a Junior, though this was her first year at this institution.
Despite the age difference, she obviously felt some kinship with the female supers in the group. Though she liked to brag too much.
"Yeah, my powers activated really early," she said, with an impish grin, as she tore a piece from a slice of bread and played with it a bit before putting it in her mouth. "First time my parents took the training wheels off my bike, I was in the next county before I could stop."
Vic suspected a bit of exaggeration, there. From what she had seen of the gal's powers she was barely faster than Monstro. Though she was also very, very agile, with incredible reflexes.
"So, you been practicing?" said Vic, her tone teasing. "Now that you know you have a worthy challenger?"
"Oh, you better believe it," said Sue, the malice in her tone just a bit too sincere. "I'm going to whip your ass good!"
Well, it's nice to know where we stand, thought Vic. She was pretty sure all the animosity was focused on this competition. At least, she hoped it was.
"Maybe we should find a way to add a water hazard," said Alex, thoughtfully. She looked at Sue. "Can you run on water?"
"Barely, and not reliably," said the speedster, with a shrug. "I can swim super fast, though."
"What's that like?" said Alex. "Running on water, I mean?"
"Have you seen those videos of people running on corn starch in water? Like that. It's wobbly, but as long as you keep moving fast enough you stay on top."
"Fascinating," said Alex, with a huge grin. "Let's see, corn starch solution in water is a non-Newtonian fluid, whereas water is Newtonian. Therefore it's not a perfect relationship. However..."
Lunch over, the others rose and left, quietly.
Vic was happy. Three weeks back at school and things were going well. No attacks. No legal troubles. Her class load was lighter. Her powers were under control.
Still, when she was approached during a Saturday afternoon shopping trip by three men in suits, Vic came instantly alert. The nature - though not the degree - of the alertness shifted when the lead man produced an FBI ID.
"Miss Peltior? Agent Morganstern. These are Agents Timkins and Bischoff. May we speak to you in private?"
"Sure," said Vic, puzzled.
The moved to an isolated corner of the strip mall and sat on some benches there. That is, Vic sat on one and Morganstern sat across from her on the other, while the other two Agents stood discreet watch.
"Sorry for the melodrama," said Morganstern, with an apologetic smile. "The people who set up the operation at your school already have replacement spies there."
"I'm not surprised," said Vic.
"Yes, well, that action gave us some clues which have finally led us to the boss."
"Now that is good news," said Vic, surprised at the relief she felt. "Who is it?"
"I can't tell you," said Morganstern, seeming a bit embarrassed. "I was asked to emphasize that you shouldn't tell anyone about even this much."
"Sure; I'll keep quiet," said Vic, nodding.
Morganstern suddenly looked more serious, even a bit concerned.
"I want you to know that I object to this next part," he said, face now carefully neutral. "My superiors and the people at the BSR want me to offer to deputize you to help with the operation to take these people down."
Vic was startled. Yes, she knew that the BSR, at least, was thinking of recruiting her, but put her on the job now?!
"That's... rather a major change of policy, isn't it?"
"There are three factors which have led people to change their minds. First, you've shown repeatedly that you're good enough at fighting to be a definite asset. Second, we don't expect the actual arrest to involved any violence - though I can't tell you why unless you agree to help. Third, well, we are very short on super help. Between natural disasters and many supers still being suspicious of governments..."
Vic nodded. She could understand that part. However...
"If there won't be any violence, why do you need supers along?"
"Intimidation, to help reduce the chance of violence," said Morganstern, again looking uncomfortable. "Also, if there is violence, well, there are supers known to be on the other side. We're trained and equipped for handling rogue supers, but..."
Vic nodded. Having someone on their side known to be a super combatant would definitely shift the balance in the Agents' favor. Still...
"I am interested," said Vic, slowly. "But... this is such a big change in attitude... and so out of the blue... When would you need my answer?"
"Not for at least another few days; probably longer," said Morganstern, nodding. "If you want to think it over, go ahead. I'm afraid I can't give you any contact information, but we have people watching the school anyway. If they see you heading out somewhere they'll let me know and I'll contact you again."
"I should definitely be back here in less than a week," said Vic, nodding herself. She gave him a reassuring smile. "Thanks for the offer. I promise to give it careful consideration."
"That's all we can ask. Thank you."
* * *
"You going somewhere?" said Alex, as she saw Vic getting dressed, that evening.
"Feeling restless," said Vic, as she finished lacing her shoes. She grinned at her roommate. "Also, since Speedy Sue took back the absolute record, I'm feeling a need to prepare for a rematch."
Vic - wearing a black warmup suit and hoodie pulled tight around her head, and a dark brown knit face warmer - headed up the stairs to the top floor of the dorm. There, she climbed the roof access ladder. Once on top of the building, she quickly closed the hatch, took a short run and jumped. She landed almost silently on the roof of the Hall building. However, on her next jump she veered left. Vic landed on the roof of the Physics Building, one of the newest structures on campus. Against its fresh, black roof she was effectively invisible. Since it was still warm from the Sun, hopefully even IR wouldn't spot her against that background.
Vic proceeded to make her way carefully and quietly to ground level, then lifted a storm drain grating and continued down. Not needing any light, thanks to her heightened senses and awareness, she literally ran through the darkness, crouched half over.
She came out of the drain in a roadside culvert off campus. Vic turned left and began running full out along the narrow country road. The partial Moon helped but was not really necessary.
A bit less than a quarter of an hour later, she reached a defunct service station. This was another product of the industrial collapse in the Detroit area. There were no lights on here, the power lines actually removed years ago. However, the old pay phone was still connected, and still worked. Vic dialed from memory.
"Doro," said a familiar voice.
"This is Vic," she said in a normal speaking voice. Either she was completely alone, thanks to her precautions, or the spies already knew where she was and who she was speaking to. "There's something odd going on."
Vic related the events at the mall.
"We are thinking about deputizing you," said Doro, suddenly more alert. "However, that was the just BSR, and is only an option for later. Also, if the FBI knows who the big boss is, they haven't told us."
"Something just seemed... off about those guys," said Vic, frowning in the darkness. "The presentation was too slick, too polished. It felt like watching an expert performance."
"I hope you're calling from your usual place."
"Yeah, the old gas station," said Vic, nodding by reflex. "Don't worry; I'm pretty gun shy about this."
"What were those names, again?" said Doro.
Vic told her.
"I also got part of Morganstern's badge number," said Vic, giving that as well.
"That will be a big help. Call the primary contact number tomorrow, sometime after lunch, at your convenience. Even if I'm out of the office, someone here will know about this situation and talk to you."
* * *
True to her promise, Vic traveled openly to that same strip mall the next Sunday afternoon. She saw no sign of observation or that anyone was following. Nevertheless, within twenty minutes of her arrival the same three men approached her.
"Do you have an answer?" said Agent Morganstern.
"Yes. I'm in."
"Good. We should be ready to move in about three days. I'll have someone call your cell, pretending to be a friend from your hometown visiting the area. They will tell you when and where to meet. Naturally, it'll be with me, instead."
"Sounds like we have a plan," said Vic, smiling confidently.
* * *
"Okay," said the tech, as she finished wiring Vic. "You're good to go."
Vic nodded, and looked at Doro.
"Thanks for getting a woman for this," she said, quietly, as she adjusted her armor. "I would have been really uncomfortable with a guy doing it."
"Hey, I get women to do mine, too," said the slightly older super. She motioned for Vic to leave the curtained off area of the surveillance van. "Now, you clear on all this?"
"Yeah," said Vic, nodding as she pulled her assault gloves on and tightened the straps. "I get them to do something obviously illegal, you folks raid 'em."
"Not exactly," said Doro, quickly. "No entrapment. You let them take the lead, and wait for them to do or say something obviously illegal or try to get you to break the law."
"Don't be afraid to use your code words," said Ray, standing as they entered the main area. "You may see or hear something we don't."
"Roger," said Vic, trying to be serious but unable to keep from grinning. "Hey, don't worry. I won't let you down."
"Just don't let yourself down," said Doro, seriously.
Vic sobered a bit, and nodded.
"Okay. I better get going, or they'll be suspicious I'm taking so long."
"You drove here pretty fast," said Ray, straight-faced. "You've got plenty of time. If they do make a fuss about you being late, just look embarrassed and tell them you got lost."
"Or stopped for speeding," said Doro, teasing a bit.
"Right," said Vic, nodding again.
She stepped out of the van and walked quickly to Monstro. In moments she was back on the state road and headed for her rendezvous with the fake feds, who were not far from the real feds' van. She didn't get lost, though she dithered approaching one turn before taking the right leg at the last moment. Vic gave a gusty sigh of relief after she confirmed she was actually on the correct street. Not long after that she saw what looked like a delivery van, with the markings she'd been told to look for.
Vic pulled into the parking lot beside the van and reached for the key. She was surprised to realize her hands were shaking. Vic stopped, took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and flexed her fingers a few times. Hands steady, now, she turned off the ignition and put the keys in her pants pocket.
"What's with the outfit?" said Agent Morganstern, frowning, when he saw Vic.
"You said you needed a super, so I put together a costume," said Vic, with a grin.
That was not exactly the truth, since she'd been trying various combinations of clothing and equipment for weeks. However, this was the first time for this particular combo. Vic had on medium blue workout pants and a sweatshirt, plus a hoodie with ballistic cloth lining and pads normally used for a football helmet glued inside that. The lining and padding weren't really visible from the outside with the hood pulled tight, though they did bulk out the hood a bit. Hopefully, anyone who noticed would think that was due to her hair.
Vic was ready for her performance, as practiced as that of these fake FBI Agents. She stood there, confident and relaxed, actually eager to put these guys in a position to incriminate themselves.
"She's wearing a wire!" shouted someone behind her.
There was a frozen moment. Vic, realizing the sting was spoiled, punched "Agent Morganstern" hard in the face, as he reached for his shoulder holster. There was a sickening crunch as the hardened segments in the backs of the glove's fingers broke not just cartilage but bone.
Several others were also reaching for guns. However, the most urgent danger was the two actually holding submachine guns, standing guard on either side of the door. Vic did a back flip into a handspring from which she delivered a split kick to the right arm of each man.
"I need extraction now!" Vic yelled, almost screamed.
She rebounded off the kicks into a forward roll, popped to her feet and reverse-punched the man who had been standing to Morganstern's right. She hopped onto her right leg and snapped a left kick to the chest of the man to her left. He had been sitting, and was lunging to his feet and spinning around while drawing his gun.
The next few seconds were full of frantic activity, punctuated by several shots. When it was over Vic was the only one left standing.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," she panted. "I'm okay, but I took a round through my right calf. Not even bleeding much, but it really hurts. They're all down."
By the time her rescuers arrived Vic had most of the criminals on the ground outside the van.
"You! Sit!" Cosmic Ray ordered, as he and Doro landed.
While the bulletproof member of the team checked the delivery van, Ray checked Vic's leg.
"Went right through this light ballistic cloth, both sides," he said, as he pulled the cloth away from the wound and used his powers to carefully cut the fabric. "I've worked with regenerators before; you should be fine pretty quickly."
Vic gave a sharp intake of breath as Ray worked.
"Yeah; it's already stopped bleeding."
"Stuff's supposed to be good for up to nine millimeter," she gasped.
"From the size of the hole and the way it went completely through, it was probably a 5.7 X 28 armor piercing round. Didn't hit bone or any major vessels, you lucky b... gal."
"They knew I was wearing armor?" said Vic, startled.
"Maybe. They could have been carrying those because you're a physical super. Which would have been a mistake."
"This is the last of them," said Doro, as she exited the van with a double armload of perps. She grinned at Vic. "You really tore that place apart."
"Not much choice. They were shooting at me in close quarters. I was literally running on the ceiling at one point."
There was a moment of quiet. In the near distance they could hear cars approaching at a good clip.
"Sorry about messing up your plan," said Vic, shyly.
"Wasn't your fault," said Ray, putting a hand on her shoulder from where he crouched beside her on the pavement. "We had no idea they'd check for a bug."
He stood and looked at the van.
"We should have. We should have."
"We're still learning, too," said Doro, quietly.
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