Apparently Ashton was allergic to making phone calls or something, because the device that Wren had given me didn’t make a peep throughout the rest of that day. I basically sat on a roof alternately playing with my own phone and staring intently at the silent tracker, silently (and not-so-silently) willing it to light up. But there was nothing. This guy was really laying low. He wasn’t making any calls, and until he did, I had no way to find him. One van somewhere in the city? Yeah, the odds of tracking that down just by randomly looking were basically zero.
So, I had to wait. And wait. And wait some more. I ended up going home with the thing in my pocket, not wanting to take the chance that he might trigger it if I left it behind. I even slept with it under my pillow, one hand on the device so that I would feel it go off.
And yet, the next morning… nothing. Nothing at all. I went through breakfast with Simon (our parents had ‘left’ the day before) and then let Jefferson drive me to school. Instead of going in, however, I called from my cell and used an ‘adult male’ setting on the voice changer to pose as my own father pulling me out of classes for being sick. It was somewhat risky, but being stuck in school when the tracker eventually went off would’ve been even worse. I just had to hope that it would actually go off today, because I couldn’t keep doing that all week.
All of which led to me hanging out on a roof again, waiting hours for something to happen. I didn’t dare get myself involved in anything else and risk not being able to immediately run off the instant the tracker (please God) went off, so I mostly just sat there doing work in my textbooks or watching people and cars passing by on the street below.
Right now, being a superhero basically amounted to a lot of boredom. I sat against the wall, I laid on my back, I stood on my hands and practiced walking upside down like that, I did somersaults, cartwheels, and the odd flip or two to pass the time. I even tried (unsuccessfully, of course) to figure out what the pink paint was supposed to do. And I prepped my costume by adding an assortment of paint to it for when the time actually came to chase down my rabbit.
But mostly I stared at that tracker and prayed that it would do something.
Then it happened. I was laying on my back, legs draped over the raised lip on the edge of the roof, while listening to music on my phone and daydreaming, when the song was suddenly interrupted by an abrupt, persistent beeping. For a second, I thought something was wrong with the phone. Then I realized the truth and abruptly bolted upright with a yelped curse, falling over myself in a rush to grab the tracker from where it was lying next to me.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. The tracker was beeping. The dot had become an arrow, just like Wren said. It was pointing off into the distance, and was… pretty small. So I had a lot of distance to cover.
I didn’t waste any time with that. Grabbing my helmet and pulling it on (I’d had the mask on the whole time, not wanting to take the chance of someone noticing me), I shoved my backpack out of sight before taking a quick hop up onto the edge of the roof. From there, I checked the tracker once more, then leapt off, shooting out a wad of red paint to yank myself through the air.
Moving as fast as I could, I rushed across the rooftops, pausing every now and then to check the tracker. The arrow was still flashing, and getting steadily larger. So the phone was still in use. For now. But I had to keep moving. He could hang up any second, and while the tracker would continue to point toward his last position, I didn’t want to take the chance that he’d abandon that spot. This was my best chance to find him again, after I’d screwed up by not having the stay-down handcuffs with me before. If I’d had them, he never would have gotten out of there.
I wasn’t going to make that mistake again, that was for sure. I had two of the cuffs right with me. The second I found Ashton, he was going to end up wearing a pair of them so he didn’t pull another disappearing act. And I was going to make damn sure there were no more stun bombs.
Racing across the edge of the roofs, leaping between buildings, running along the side of billboards, I used every trick and power I had to follow the way the arrow was pointing. Unfortunately, after a few minutes, the thing beeped again and the light stopped blinking, indicating that the call had been ended. I cursed, but the arrow was still there, and I pushed myself to run faster. Maybe I could still get there before he went anywhere. Please, please let me get there before he disappeared again. Damn it, damn it, I had to be faster!
Then the thing started beeping again. I did a quick double-take after landing on the edge of a windowsill. Sure enough, it was active. He was making another call. We were still in business!
Pushing myself harder, I basically pinballed my way between several close buildings, bouncing from one to the other with a mix of blue and red paint before throwing myself out over a busy street. I came down on top of the trailer for a semi, ran across to the other side, then used red paint to yank myself to a nearby bridge. Landing there just long enough to startle the woman feeding a few squirrels, I blurted an apology while glancing at the scanner, then kept going.
With every passing block, the arrow was steadily getting bigger. I was close, so close. The second call ended before I reached my target, but a third started not long after. Whoever the guy was talking to, he was making several calls to do it. Maybe shopping the vials around? He could be trying to get more money from the other gangs by offering the medicine to them, so they could sell it to Blackjack themselves. Or maybe he was arranging a trip out of the city, or… anything. There were a whole host of reasons he could be making so many calls, and I was letting myself get too distracted thinking about them. Right now, one thing mattered: getting to him.
Finally, the arrow took up almost the entire screen. I skidded to a stop at the edge of a supermarket roof, before glancing at the tracker. Yeah, this had to be the place, so I started looking around, scanning the parking lot below as quickly as I could, checking the direction the arrow was pointing and trying to match it to a van.
Then I saw it. A red van parked about halfway across the lot. My eyes had just centered on it, when I got absolute confirmation in the form of Ashton himself. He was just coming around the side of the van, phone held up to his ear as he was clearly in the middle of an intense conversation on his way into the store.
Or at least, he was in the middle of an intense conversation… until he looked up. Just as I was reacting to the fact that I had finally found the slippery bastard after losing him the first time, he happened to glance up to the edge of the roof, right where I was standing. His eyes stared right at me, and I saw his mouth move in the approximation of an exaggerated curse of surprise, before clicking off the phone without another word to the person he had been talking to.
“Ashton!” I blurted out loud, attracting the attention of a few passersby while shoving the tracker into the pocket of the coveralls that made up the base of my costume, “stop!”
He, ahh, didn’t. Very much so, in fact. He didn’t stop so much that he actually turned and ran the other way, back to his van. With a curse, I leapt from the roof, shooting a ball of red paint at him. Unfortunately, the paint narrowly missed, hitting the ground at his feet while the man dodged around it and leapt for the van. I tried to shoot another bit of red at the van itself after landing easily on my orange shoes, but nothing happened. Even with the paint that I’d added to my costume earlier, I’d used a lot getting over here. I was drained, at least for a few seconds.
Worse, Ashton had the van started and was already starting to reverse out of the spot. There was a couple there, however, forcing him to stop short and switch gears to pull forward, up and over the small median there with a loud thunk while the people he’d nearly hit shouted angrily.
Oh shit, oh shit! He was right there and I was out of paint. But I couldn’t let him get away, paint or no paint. Even as the van’s tires screeched on the pavement, I was running. Not toward the van itself, but in the direction he had to go in order to exit the lot. I sprinted, leaping to slide across the hood of a parked car while several people shouted. On the way over the car, I blurted the command to pop my skates out, landing on my wheels while smoothly pushing off.
From the corner of my eye, I could see the van tearing off for the exit, cutting off a truck, which blared its horn. He had to swerve around a handful of pedestrian shoppers, leaning on his own horn then before clearly mashing the pedal to the floor. The tires were squealing, and he hit a stray shopping cart on the way, sending it clattering up against the nearby wall.
I was skating hard for the sidewalk between the parking lot and the street. To the right of the exit was a long wall, and ahead was another building. The only way he could go was left, and that was the direction I was angling, trying to get ahead of the man even as the van tore its way out of the lot and onto the street, tearing up the edge of the grass as he cut the corner.
Hitting the sidewalk just as Ashton’s van passed straight ahead of me, I opened my mouth to shout at him. Then I saw the gun he was pointing out the window, and hurled myself to the side and down as he opened fire. Bullets. Actual bullets (would I ever stop being terrified of them?) went over my head, several ricocheting off the concrete where I had been standing.
Fortunately, even as I found myself sprawled out on the grass, Ashton couldn’t adjust his aim. First, because he’d already driven too far past me to have anything resembling a decent angle. And second, because he had to swerve around two more cars who had been trying to turn onto this street. He had to slam on the brakes enough to jerk the wheel, narrowly avoiding one of their hoods as both drivers leaned on their horns. I was pretty sure people in Detroit were not that jaded and the men simply hadn’t seen him using the gun a moment earlier. It was pretty quiet, after all.
In any case, that moment where he had to slow down to get around them gave me a chance. Scrambling to my feet, I started skating after him once more, just as the van made it past the other cars. Praying silently, I snapped my hand up, focusing on the nearest of the two other vehicles. And in a moment that I swore should have been heralded by trumpets blaring from on high, a wad of red paint shot straight at it. I let the paint hit the hood of the car, using it to yank myself that way, retracting my skates on the way.
The poor driver had only just looked away from flipping off the rapidly fleeing van as I landed on his hood. I heard him make a sort-of strangled yelp/curse, before putting blue paint under my feet to propel myself high into the air. Extending my hand toward a sign extending out from the nearby roof, I flew that way, releasing the paint in time to shoot past the sign, landing on the edge of the next roof over.
I was running then, turning my legs green for speed as I raced along the roof after the van. Three steps and I brought my skates out once more, needing every last edge I could get. Ashton was quickly pulling away, but he was at least somewhat slowed by other cars that kept getting in the way, forcing the man to pull onto the wrong side of the street or up onto the sidewalk to get around them. It wasn’t much, but at least it kept him in sight. I was hoping he wouldn’t panic too much if he didn’t see me coming, hence the running and jumping along the roofs.
Left. He was going left. From the height I had, I could see road construction up ahead. There were cones and workers blocking off that whole area, so he had to go left. Taking a chance, I used blue paint to hurl myself from the roof I was on (which happened to be along the right side of the street), all the way over to the opposite side. Skating diagonally along that roof, I dodged around a random air conditioning unit, hopped a couple pipes, and narrowly ducked under an electrical antennae. But mostly I just kept skating, reaching the corner of that roof and leaping off without even bothering to check where I was going. There wasn’t time. I had one chance to catch up with him enough to make this work.
Flailing as I dropped through the air, I saw that my guess had been right. The van squealed its way around the corner just as I was falling. If I’d dropped down just a few seconds later, I would’ve landed on the roof of it instead of directly in its path.
But hey, superpowers. Turning my arms yellow, I made myself fall slower for a moment before cancelling it. The van sped right beneath me as I let myself fall the rest of the way at full speed, changing the yellow sleeves for orange shoes.
I landed in a crouch, coming down hard on the roof of the van. But, to the credit of the girl who had put it together, there was no apparent damage. I very nearly flew right off the roof, but a quick shot of red paint from both gloves anchored me to it even as Ashton swerved wildly from one side of the street to the other. Which, given the fact that there were no immediate cars in sight, I was going to assume meant he knew I was up here.
Well, good. Because I wasn’t exactly planning on being subtle about it. This whole thing had gone on long enough. I felt bad for what had happened to Ashton’s friend, but he was taking it too far.
To that end, I flipped myself up and over just as the red paint ran out, dropping down onto the hood of the van while grabbing onto the space near the windshield. I could see Ashton there, staring at me with wide eyes as he shouted a furious, violent curse about what I could do to myself. His gun came up, and I rolled to the opposite side of the hood as he fired three quick shots through the windshield. Catching myself there, I shot a spray of black paint right across the windshield to block the man’s sight before letting myself slip off the top of the hood, using a bit of red on my gloves to hold myself against the side of it, just above the wheel.
The van simultaneously swerved back and forth while slowing dramatically, tires screeching in protest. I heard a few more bullets go through the windshield as Ashton tried to shoot it out so he could see, but that wasn’t working very well. He was just putting little holes in it, not enough to see through.
While he was busy with that, I turned my arm purple and used the strength it provided to grab hold of the passenger side door, breaking the lock as I yanked it open. The door was torn completely free, and I dropped it to crash along the ground before swinging myself into the passenger seat.
Ashton snapped the gun toward me, but I grabbed the weapon and tore it from his hand. Just as I did, he slammed hard on the brakes, sending me flying backward against the dashboard while my head slammed into the already-damaged windshield. But hey, at least I was wearing a helmet. The gun fell from my grip, and I yelped while the van spun. There was chaos for a moment as the world went wild before finally coming to a dizzying halt. The van had stopped completely, and Ashton was grabbing for the gun on the floor. Just as his fingers closed on it, I recovered enough to grab the nearest thing available, which happened to be the steering wheel. My purple strength was still very much in effect, so when I yanked, the whole wheel came off, snapping away from the steering column. With a grunt, I smacked Ashton in the face with it. The steering wheel hit him hard enough to make the man drop the gun once more, but I still hit him again before grabbing the gun myself with a blurted, “I’m getting really sick of you trying to shoot me, diphthong!”
On the plus side, he didn’t try to grab the gun again. Unfortunately, he didn’t surrender either. Instead, Ashton hurled himself out of the van, landing on all fours before kicking the door shut behind him to slow me down as he started to run.
“Help! Help!” he shouted to a few passersby, “he’s trying to kill me! He’s gonna kill me, help!” There was blind terror in his voice, enough to make the people turn back to me as I finished scrambling out the other side of the van and made my way around the back of it.
Running. Ashton was running. So he either had the medicine on him, or knew where it was. Either way, I had to catch him. Ignoring the people blurting questions my way, I sprinted that way, using green paint on my shoes for speed. Ashton was disappearing into an alley, but I got there a couple seconds later, just as he was turning back to me.
“Stop!” he blurted, holding up a vial of some kind in one hand. “I swear, you take one more step, and I’ll throw this against that wall. Then that little brat won’t have a chance! You want that on your shoulders?! Back off! Just back off, damn it!”
I didn’t even slow down. My hand snapped up, and I shot a spray of orange paint, catching Ashton himself, as well as the vial he was holding. It dropped from his hand, but was already invulnerable, bouncing twice on the pavement while the man gasped. Reflexively, he grabbed for the fallen vial, but I was there, launching myself into a full jump kick that planted both of my feet into his stomach. He doubled over with a cry while I landed on my side, panting.
Recovering as fast as he could, Ashton stumbled to his knees before grabbing for the fallen vial once more. But I was ready, using green paint to speed myself up enough to slap the stay-down handcuffs across his wrists.
The cuffs activated instantly, yanking the man fully to the ground as he screamed in a mixture of what sounded like terror, frustration, and hatred. He was cursing and spitting, struggling to stand up again even as the cuffs rooted him down. He was a normal guy, there was no way he could fight against them.
“Let me go, you stupid cocksucker!” the man shouted. “Do you have any idea what you’re doing, who you’re helping?! He killed my friend! He killed him! It was his fault! He has to pay, God damn it! He has to pay!”
He was practically foaming at the mouth, struggling and jerking against the cuffs. His face was red, his eyes wild. I… I actually almost felt sorry for him.
“What happened to your friend matters,” I told the man quietly. “But you can’t just let a little girl die because you’re angry. You–”
My words were interrupted by a loud voice. “You see guys, I toldja.” As my gaze snapped up, I saw the whole mouth of the alley full of men. Armed men. There were at least seven or eight of them, all pointing guns my way. They were dressed like members of the Ninety-Niners. The man who was talking was near the front, his pistol pointed my way. “We follow the paint guy, we find the vials. Just like I said. Piece o’cake.”
The man was a black guy just under six feet tall, with a shaved head aside from a thin strip of hair right down the middle of his head. His mouth was full of silver and gold teeth, which he showed off while smiling at me. “So, you gonna hand over that little prize?
“Or do we have to get naughty?”