So clearly my parents had incredible timing. Just when we really needed to focus on what we were going to be trying to do that night, they dropped that bombshell on Izzy, asking if she would allow them to adopt her. Which sent the girl into an emotional tailspin for many different, equally valid reasons. Even after everything her mother had done, she still loved her and missed her. Some part of her still hoped to work things out, at least in some way. Which was something I could definitely understand, given my entire situation and how hard it was for me to see my parents as being capable of the stuff I knew they were capable of.
In any case, I stayed with her while she talked a bit more about her mother. Not just about reading Charlotte’s Web, but other stuff too. She wasn’t in denial about the whole situation. She did tell me some bad things, and I could hear the anger and frustration in her voice. It was obvious that the girl wasn’t under any delusions about what sort of person her mother really was. Not anymore. Still, there were plenty of moments that she looked back on fondly, even if tears kept filling her eyes whenever she thought about them.
My parents came by around eight-thirty in the evening to ask if we were certain that we didn’t want to go with them to the play. Yeah, they were going to see the opening performance of some new production that was supposed to be pretty huge. The guy behind it was being eccentric about the start-time and insisted that it begin precisely at eleven pm, rather than the standard eight. I had no idea if that was actually important for anything in the play, or if he just thought making a demand like that would make his play stand out. Whatever the answer, that was another reason for why we had chosen tonight to make our move. The play was a big enough deal that the media was covering people who showed up, so my parents would actually be there. Between the play itself and all the schmoozing my parents would need to do afterward, I was pretty sure they weren’t planning on going anywhere near the base tonight. And they were taking Simon with them, which was another bonus. Obviously, the base wouldn’t be completely unprotected or anything. At least I was pretty sure it wouldn’t. It would be pretty surprising if the place was empty. But either way, my family wouldn’t be there. Though it was almost certain that they would get a call very shortly after our arrival. I had a feeling my parents wouldn’t be sitting there through the entire play once that happened. But with any luck, by the time they got to the base, we would be long-gone with everything we could grab. And with a bit more luck, at least one thing within all the stuff we managed to grab would actually be useful. Particularly the address of Pittman’s secret labs that Raige had said was in that place.
Needless to say, we politely declined the invitation to go with them, and I gave my parents a hug. Izzy looked uncertain, but stayed where she was on the bed while giving a hesitant wave. Mom and Dad seemed happy to see us sitting and talking together, and they tugged me aside to talk in private in the hallway for a moment.
“Cassidy,” Mom started, “I know this whole thing was a lot to spring on you. On both of you. Your father and I… we thought about talking to you first. But we wanted Izzy to feel like this was about her. It’s her choice, she–she deserves to have that focus. And with as much as the two of you have been getting along, it was… perhaps we–”
“It’s okay,” I interrupted. “You’re right, we have been getting along. I like Izzy. I mean–” Boy there was a lot I wanted to say, but keeping it simple and short was probably the best way to go. “You’re right, you didn’t need to ask my permission to ask Izzy if she wants to… to stay. She’s not a pet dog or whatever. It’s about what she wants. It should be about–it should be about what makes her comfortable and… and making her know she’s wanted. You didn’t need to ask my permission.”
My parents glanced at one another, then each embraced me once more. Dad lifted me from the floor, crushing me against his chest. “That’s my girl,” he murmured proudly before setting me back down. “Aww, now see, you went and messed up my suit.”
“Naturally,” Mom retorted as her eyes rolled. “She’s the one who messed it up.” Giving me a look, she added, “He just wanted to be able to blame it on you rather than on the way he’ll be slouching in the theater.”
“Eh,” I replied with a shrug, “I guess I can take that hit.” Without another word, I reached out and started rubbing my hands over the jacket and shirt as though deliberately mussing it up.
Dad swatted me away lightly, but laughed. “See, told you she was my real hero.” he announced while winking at me. “I can always count on her to come through in the end.”
With a few more words about staying with Izzy for the evening and seeing how she felt about things, the two of them headed out. Sure, it was still early as far as the play went, which wouldn’t start for a couple more hours. But if there was one thing I’d learned about this sort of thing by growing up in my family, it was that people stood around talking for about as long as the play itself, if not even longer. There was a reason I’d decided long before I knew anything about the whole Ministry thing that I didn’t want to have anything to do with going to those events.
After standing at the front door long enough to make sure they had left, I said good night to a couple of the staff who were standing around. It took everything I had not to run upstairs, considering I wanted the staff to have no idea that anything was going on. And thus have no reason to tell my parents that I seemed to be up to something. Once all this went down, and I wanted my parents to think that Izzy and I had been here asleep, or at least just hanging out, the whole time. So, I made a trip through the kitchen to grab a couple cold drinks before meandering upstairs. I didn’t go as far as whistling innocently, of course. That might have been a little over-the-top and suspicious. But I did basically everything up to that.
Izzy was still sitting on the bed, looking at the back of that book. When I came in, however, she stood up and waited until I closed the door before speaking. “Did um, did they leave?” While saying that, she set the book down and stood a little taller, clearly trying to show that she was ready for this. Which I had my doubts about, but who was I to tell her not to go? It wasn’t like I was any better when it came to being emotionally compromised.
“Yeah,” I confirmed. And speaking of being emotionally compromised, “So I guess we should get over to the shop before Mr. Pittman calls.”
Izzy made a face at that. “Do we have to call him mister? I don’t think he’s really earned that sort of courtesy or whatever. Can we call him Jerkface Pittman? Or Stankbutt Pittman.”
Despite myself and this entire situation, I found myself snickering at that. “Stankbutt Pittman, huh? Yeah, I think the twins might be good with that.” Pausing then, I frowned. “Is twins the right word?”
“Close enough,” she agreed with a tiny smile, before swallowing hard. Her gaze met mine. “We should go. I need umm, I need a distraction, please.” She sounded almost desperate then, clearly needing to take her mind off the whole family situation. Which, again, I could completely understand.
So, I gave her a quick nod. “Yeah, let me just grab my stuff.”
After grabbing her backpack, the other girl was right behind me as we slipped out into the empty hall, looked around briefly, and headed for my own room. There, I took my own bag out of its hiding place under the heavy mirror and floor in the closet and slipped it onto my shoulders. Then the two of us waited at the balcony for an opening before heading out. With Izzy’s help, we floated right over the wall, landing silently on the other side out of sight of the cameras before heading off through the darkness. We went a pretty fair distance through the wooded area before cutting across to the sidewalk, not wanting to let anyone passing by see us at this hour. At the very edge of the treeline, the two of us watched the empty street for a minute to make sure it was clear. In the distance, we could see the guard shack where the obviously sleepy guy sitting at his chair was doing his level best to stay awake with coffee. Which was a bad sign for how his night was going to go, considering it was just barely after nine o’clock. Or maybe it was fine for him. I doubted my parents would allow any part of the gang war to take place this close to their house, so the guard at the gate for getting into the neighborhood (as much as it could be considered a neighborhood given how far apart the houses were) probably wouldn’t have anything to do. His job was to make sure that cars going in and out were allowed to be there, and given the whole curfew situation, he probably wasn’t getting many of those.
Of course, there was also always the question of how involved he was with my family’s business. Was he really half-asleep, or was that a front? Did he know exactly what was going on? It just made sense that my parents would have the gate guard to their neighborhood have at least some idea of the situation, didn’t it? Or maybe they—
Shaking that off with some effort, I took a step back (literally) into the woods once more as Izzy and I changed into our costumes in the darkness. We shoved our normal clothes into the bags, then continued on our way, following the treeline to get as far away from that neighborhood as possible. In no way, shape, or form did I want anyone to see Paintball and Raindrop emerging from the same neighborhood we lived in. That was just entirely too dangerous.
Eventually, we managed to walk far enough away from the gate that we both figured it was safe. So Izzy made us both weightless while I used paint to yank us from rooftop to rooftop. We were still careful to avoid people following us, but that was easy enough at this point. It wasn’t like there were many cars on the street or anything. Still some, particularly police cruisers here or there. But for the most part, things were quiet.
Everyone else was waiting in Wren’s shop, but I just took the time for a few quick greetings before heading upstairs. It was getting close to the time that Pittman was supposed to call, and I didn’t want to screw that up. Not with what could be on the line. So, I asked the others to wait a few minutes and jogged up there. I was still dreading the conversation that was about to happen, given we had no idea what the situation with Irelyn/Flea was. Not to mention the fact that just thinking about Irelyn and Flea being the same person still made my head spin.
Paige’s body was sitting up on the couch when I got up there. She and Raige were obviously waiting for me. When I came into the room, they exhaled sharply before Raige noted, “About time. Cutting it a little close, weren’t you?”
Before I could respond at all, the same mouth and voice spoke, but it was clearly Paige that time. “Stop it. She’s here, that’s what matters.” Her eyes found me. “He hasn’t called back?”
My head shook. “No, he hasn’t called. We still have time.” There were a few other things I wanted to say, but I couldn’t find the right words. I could tell she was worried about Irelyn too. Actually, given Raige’s reaction, it seemed like they both were. Which raised some interesting questions about what sort of feelings and memories the other girl had, but this probably wasn’t the right time to get into all that. I wasn’t sure when the right time would be, but it definitely wasn’t when we were about to take a call from their psychotic father to find out what he wanted in exchange for not hurting their adopted sister.
Of course, thinking about ‘adopted sister’ put my brain in another spin for that whole Izzy situation. But again, not the right time to think about it. I was going to have to shove that in a box and deal with it later too. Boy, this shelf in my brain was getting a bit full. At this rate, I was going to have to take some of the things out of their boxes and deal with them.
Or build another brain shelf. Yeah, that sounded more likely.
Shaking that off for the moment, I focused. “Okay, real quick. I don’t think we should say anything about Raige.” Before they could respond, I pushed on. “I mean, he didn’t say anything, so I don’t think he knows. As far as he’s aware, she’s been erased. I don’t know if that’ll ever be a relevant advantage, but it feels stupid to give him information that he doesn’t already have, you know? Maybe someday him not knowing that Raige exists will be important.”
There was a brief pause while they clearly considered that. Then Raige agreed. “Sure, I can go with that. Fucker tried to kill me, might as well let him think he succeeded. Then it’ll be a nice surprise when I punch the back of his head in.” Another pause, then, “I mean, nice for me anyway.”
“Nice for us,” Paige confirmed.
Before I could say anything else, the special phone buzzed in my pocket. I jumped a bit even though I had been expecting that. Plucking it out, I looked at the unknown name and number briefly before exhaling. Then I put the phone to my ear and answered, making sure to use the same voice changer setting I’d had a couple nights earlier. “Hey again.” Boy was it hard to make my voice sound even somewhat nonchalant. Somehow, I managed it. Maybe it was all the practice I’d had over these past couple months.
There was a brief pause before the same man spoke. “Give the phone to Paige, now.” Again, this guy was obviously accustomed to people hopping to follow his every command the moment he said it. Which seemed a little odd coming from someone who was living on a prison island full of other psychotic supervillains, but I had no idea how things worked over there. Plus he was obviously used to working with his automatons and other things he could program and control.
But I wasn’t one of those. Giving a quick glance toward Paige, I shook my head. “No, sir, I don’t think I’ll do that.”
Again, there was a pause as though he couldn’t comprehend the words and was playing them back in his head in total disbelief. When he spoke again, his voice was even more dangerous. “This is not the time to be playing games, whoever you are. Give the phone to my daughter.”
Steeling myself a little, helped by how annoyed I was by his demanding tone (not to mention the fact that he’d tried to have me killed by a girl who should have been my friend), I once more denied him. “You can repeat yourself as much as you want, but I’m still not giving her the phone. She’s right here. If you want to talk to her, I’ll tell her anything you want to pass along. The thing is, I’m pretty sure you probably still have some secret commands that even she doesn’t know about. So in the interest of fairness, I’ll just give her the gist of whatever you want to say to her, and she can respond. If you want, you can ask something that only she’d know the answer to, just to make sure she’s really here.”
From the sound of the heavy sigh that escaped the man, I was pretty sure it was taking all he had not to curse me out and spit out a bunch of threats. A glance toward Paige showed the girl watching me with a mixture of curiosity and worry, but she didn’t say anything. And boy was it a weird feeling to look at the girl who had been such a royal bitch to me for so long and worry about how she was feeling.
Finally, Pittman spoke. “Tell her to say… what color her carpet was in our first primary lab, in her bedroom.”
Blinking at that, I finally shrugged and muted the phone before looking at Paige to pass along the question.
“It’s a trick question,” she immediately replied. “There was no carpet in my first bedroom.”
“Yeah,” Raige agreed darkly, “motherfucker put us in a room with linoleum on the floor.” Belatedly, she added, “That was white.”
Making a face, I unmuted the phone. “White,” I replied, letting that hang for just a second before adding, “But it wasn’t carpet. It was linoleum. Which, for the record, makes you an even shittier father than I expected. And that bar was already pretty low, so congratulations on managing to limbo under it.”
“You think you can judge–” Pittman started to snarl before catching himself. “I don’t care what you think. I care about progressing the human race. Now tell Paige that she needs to get back in line and do her job, or the superheroes, including her sister, who ended up on this island thanks to her will pay the price.”
My mouth opened to echo the word ‘superheroes,’ only to catch myself. Muting the phone, I stared at it for a second before murmuring, “He says Flea’s there on the island.”
“Fuck!” one of them blurted before slamming Paige’s hand into the side of the couch. “Stupid piece of shit! I knew that whole thing was a bad idea, I knew it was–I knew–fuck!”
“Just–wait.” Quickly, I interrupted before they could go on. “He said superheroes, as in plural. Who would Irelyn take with her? Who else is–?” Even as I said that, my fingers were snapping. “Trivial. It’s Trivial. She’s the other one who hasn’t been around lately. The news was talking about that earlier, about how she’s been on some sort of vacation or something. I was mostly thinking about how her timing sucked with Flea being gone too.”
“He… he has Irelyn and Trivial,” Paige murmured. “We have t–”
“Hang on.” Holding my hand up to stop her, I thought quickly for a couple frantic seconds. Then I hit the button again and spoke to Pittman. “Put them on the line. If you want something from Paige, we need to know Flea and Slider are both safe.”
Another sigh escaped the man. “They are fine, for now. Unless Paige fails to do as she has been told. Then they both die. Put her on the phone.”
My finger hit the mute button again, and I looked back to Paige and Raige. “He doesn’t have them. He has her phone, but not them. Trivial’s only been here in the city for less than a year. And she was in Nebraska before. He doesn’t know who she is. He didn’t know the name was wrong. And he refused to put them on the phone.”
“He could not know who she is and still have her,” Paige pointed out slowly.
My head shook. “I don’t think so. If he had her, he seems like the type to dig into who she actually is so he’d know how to keep her contained, you know? If he doesn’t even know her name, I don’t think he knows anything else about her. Just that she exists.” Then I thought of something else. “Besides, think about it. If he had two different heroes’ lives to bargain with, do you really think he’d waste time trying to tell you to do the same job you were doing before? Seems to me like he’d be bargaining with someone who has more actual power than you. Hell, he could call out to a news station and threaten to kill two Star-Touched. But either way, he’d know what her name was, because he’d be talking about her with the outside world. He would’ve gotten as far as knowing her name.”
“If he doesn’t have them, but has Irelyn’s phone… what does that mean?” Paige murmured.
“It means he’s fucking with us,” Raige answered. “Still thinks he can make us–err, you dance under his strings. They must be on the island, but not… he doesn’t have them. Maybe they dropped the phone or–whatever the fuck, all that matters is he doesn’t have them.”
We talked for another moment before I unmuted the phone. “Pittman?” I dropped the mister, as Izzy had suggested before. “Paige has something to say to you.” With that, I hit the button to make it so he could hear her voice but she couldn’t hear his.
“Hey, Father,” she announced flatly. “I just wanted you to know that you should probably get to work on giving yourself a robot dick. Because when Flea finds you, she’s going to cut the real one off. We’ll call back and leave a message when we have something to say to you.”
With that, I disconnected the call. Which had to piss him off, but that was what we were going for. We had other things to worry about right now. He didn’t have Irelyn or Trivial, that was what mattered.
“Okay,” I announced, “I’m going to head out for that tunnel thing so we can get Raige a new body and go from there.”
“Close,” Paige replied, “but I’m going too. Or we are.”
“What?” I blinked at that. “What do you–”
“We’re sharing the body for this,” she informed me, already pushing herself to a standing position. “If Irelyn is stuck on that island somehow, who… who the fuck knows how, but either way, if she and Trivial are stuck there, we need to get on with this.”
“So yeah, we’ll share it for now, for this,” Raige put in. “We’ll take turns. So I can get my own body, then we can figure out how we’re going to get those two the fuck out of that prison.”
“Well… in that case, what are we waiting for?” I slowly replied. “Speaking of bodies, let’s go tell the others we’ve got another one coming along for this mission.
“God knows we can use all the help we can get.”