the indestructibles (book 2) breakout

Advertising Download Read Online

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Indestructibles: Breakout

 

by

 

Matthew Phillion

 

 

 

 

The Indestructibles: Breakout

 

PFP, INC

[email protected]

144 Tenney Street

Georgetown, MA 01833

 

October 2014

Printed in the United States of America

 

© 2014 Matthew Phillion

 

First PFP edition © 2014

 

ISBN-10:0991427580

ISBN-13:978-0-9914275-8-1

 (also available in print format)

 

Front cover photos:

Biohazard Symbol on Grungy Texture

© Peter Zelei - Getty Images

 

Brooklyn Bridge Sunset Panorama

© Wenjie Qiao - Getty Images

 

Back cover author photo:

© Joe Williams - JWLenswerk

 

Acknowledgments

 

      It occurs to me that, when writing acknowledgements for a sequel, you're not actually thanking people for their help with the second book so much as you're thanking them for everything they did to help the first book be successful enough that you’re allowed the privilege to write another one. And so, for that reason, I have to once again thank the people who made
The Indestructibles
possible in the first place:

      Stephanie Buck, thank you for letting me play mad scientist all summer working on both the first and second books while you kept everything else from falling apart. I'm sure there’s a Pepper Potts and Tony Stark joke here I should make.

      My early draft readers: Stephanie, Rebecca Gianotti, Christian Hegg, Colin Carlton. You kept me honest, helped me figure out if I was being true to the characters, and most of all, let me know that these were characters who deserved another adventure in the first place. Jay Kumar: thank you for turning your editor's eye on a late draft to save me from myself (as you have for years in so many other editorial endeavors).

      My family. Thank you for forever letting me be the weird one, for tolerating my comic book obsessions, and for supporting the pursuit of my dreams. A very big thank you to my parents for always supporting imagination and creativity. You both made this possible just by being you.

      My far-flung friends. From Florida to California and everywhere in between, thank you for everything you've done to help keep me sane during the writing process, and for being my advocates for the book from afar.

      Peter Sarno and PFP Publishing. Thanks again for taking a shot on the book, and for supporting the idea of a sequel. There was no way
The Indestructibles
would be taking flight a second time without your ongoing efforts.

      The reviewers who took the time to give
The Indestructibles
a shot. As a new, unknown author, my appreciation for your enthusiasm and support cannot be overstated. A special thank you to the Young Adult and superhero bloggers who gave me a chance to write guest posts on the social issues in this genre — those were important topics near and dear to my heart, and I very much appreciate your giving me the chance to weigh in.

      A special thanks to Hank Phillippi Ryan and The Jungle Red writers — I had a wonderful time visiting your site and taking part in the discussion in such prestigious company. It was an experience I'll never forget.

      The artists and writers I've met at comic book conventions throughout New England — as a kid I always hoped but never expected I'd be behind a table signing copies of my own book at a Comic-Con, and when it finally happened I was scared out of my mind. I couldn't have asked for a warmer welcome. Thank you for letting me become a part of your community.

      And lastly, but most of all: the readers. To everyone I've had a chance to speak with at a convention, or who has reached out to let me know your favorite hero, or taken the time to let me know what you thought. This book is for you. I hope you'll allow me the privilege to continue to tell stories about these young heroes for a long time to come.

 

- Matthew Phillion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For my family, both by birth and by choice.

You are my Indestructibles, every one of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prelude:

The Plague Season

     

     

      The sounds of humanity filled the diner: the clinking of silverware on plates, the rumble of banal conversation, the laughter and crying of children. Regulars made up most of the crowd, so when the young man walked in alone and wobbled up to the counter, the manager took notice.

      "You don't look too good, son," the manager said.

      He thought about saying something more accurate,
you look like you're dying, son
, because the kid really did look like a corpse. A thin, greasy sheen of sweat covered his exposed skin, which was taut across his face, revealing the bones of his skull. Bruises formed around the sockets of his yellowed eyes. When the boy smiled, his grin was a death's mask.

      "Don't worry, I'm not catchy," the skeletal boy said. Even his voice sounded deathlike, raspy and hollow.

      Behind him, an older man, a regular who'd been coming to the diner every Saturday morning for ten years, began coughing. Soft at first, the man tried to be polite, stifling himself into a napkin, but the cough grew louder. The manager watched the older man excuse himself to step outside.

      A ceiling-mounted television nattered on at the end of the counter, tuned to a news station. The manager glanced at it for a moment. The hosts were talking about those kids again, the ones with the special powers who had stopped some sort of attack out at sea last year. Old footage played over the talking head's shoulder of one of the kids, the pretty girl with the red-gold hair, speaking to the camera. She seemed to be their spokesperson. People liked her.

      The manager turned back to the young man, who was staring at the screen with a hint of anger in his eyes, his mouth a thin, hard line.

      "
Were
you sick, then?" the manager asked. Somewhere out of sight, another person began coughing. It sounded like a woman, but the cough was very harsh, as if she'd swallowed her coffee wrong. "I don't mean to pry, but . . ."

      "It's okay. I know how bad I look," the young man said, returning his attention to the manager. He brushed back his thin, brittle hair from his brow. "I've been sick most of my life, actually. But that's about to change."

      Now the manager heard several people coughing. He watched one patron comfort a small child, patting him on the back as the child turned red in the face. Someone near the windows cursed loudly, a tired, uncomfortable single-syllable swear word, holding his stomach.

      "What the hell is happening here?" the manager said.

      He found himself suddenly worried about food poisoning, bad meat or dairy, and all the consequences of that, the inspections, the loss of revenue, started running through his head. They ran a clean restaurant, though, never skimped or used expired products. Maybe one of the distributors delivered a bad batch of something.

      The manager felt a little tickle at the back of his throat and barked a single, rough cough. He could sense the onset of one of those ugly fevers, the kind that makes you cloudy-headed and useless. I hope I'm not getting sick, he thought.

      "I'm sorry," the manager said to the boy. "I'm suddenly not feeling that great myself."

      "It happens sometimes around me," the boy said.

      Then a twenty-something man vomited violently in the middle of the dining room. There was a collective gasp at the sound, his fellow diners taking a step back, the man himself looking too ill to be embarrassed. He clutched his throat, tried to speak, unable to get words past his lips.

      Someone else broke into a coughing fit intense enough to make her sink to one knee, fall out of her chair. One of her companions stood up quickly to help, but he began to sway on his own feet, falling to the floor beside her. The manager watched in horror as patrons slid or fell out of their chairs, gasping for air, reaching out for help.

      He stared at the young man in front of him. The boy no longer appeared quite as sick. He certainly didn't seem healthy — not by a long shot — but the circles under his eyes were less pronounced, his hair looked fuller, his skin less clammy, his smile less tight and pained.

      The boy reached across the counter and took a full plate of pancakes from in front of another patron, who had slumped down onto the tabletop. The manager couldn't tell if the diner was still breathing. The boy dug into the pancakes happily, dousing them in too much syrup. The sight of it, the food, the boy's sickly face, the dripping syrup, turned the manager's stomach. He leaned back, resting his elbow against the service counter.

      "You.
You're
doing this?" the manager said. His voice sounded whispery and weak. He wasn't sure how much longer he could stay on his own feet.

      "I am," the boy said, shoveling a sopping forkful of pancakes into his mouth.

      "What are you?" the manager said. His voice was now barely audible. His vision had narrowed to pinholes. It seemed as if the whole world had been reduced to this strange young man's eerie, dying face.

      "I don't know," the boy said. He looked at the television. "But I know who does. And plan on finding out."

      The manager fell to the ground, unconscious. The boy slowly, and with great relish, finished his pancakes, then stole a fistful of bacon from a neighboring plate, and stuffed a whole piece in his mouth. He stood up, the only human being in the restaurant still conscious, and walked out into the street. Outside, the first man to start coughing, the older patron, lay on his stomach, rasping for air, dying in the morning sun.

 

 

 

Chapter 1:

Cretaceous Man

     

     

      Jane Hawkins touched down in a field in the middle of nowhere, a vast open space under a big sky.

It was not a graceful landing.

      Jane, known to the public as the hero Solar, landed with enough force to kick up a cloud of dirt twenty feet tall, her impact created a ten-foot crater in the ground.

      Covered in dirt and dust, she hauled herself out of the crater, and yelled into an earpiece she wore to communicate with her teammates.

      "This is not going well," she said. "I could use a little help here. Billy?"

      "On my way," Billy, also known as Straylight, said.

      That was when the dinosaur landed on the ground in front of Jane and bellowed a screeching war cry.

      This wasn't exactly a dinosaur out of an archeology textbook, Jane thought. Rather, he was more like a lot of different dinosaurs all mashed together. The massive head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, his tail spiked with four prongs like a Stegosaurus, the wings of a Pterodactyl where his arms should be, and enormous, scythe-like Velociraptor claws on his toes. Cretaceous Man, one of the remaining escapees from the lab the Indestructibles had raided last year, had been wrecking havoc across several states for weeks. After having defeated a living hurricane, the team had expected a fight with a human-dinosaur hybrid to be easy, but from Jane's point of view, they'd definitely underestimated him. He'd proven tougher, and smarter, than any of the team had anticipated.

      The creature roared again, the ground shook as he set down his eight-foot tall frame of muscle and scales. The dinosaur bellowed again, daring Jane to step out of the crater.

      Jane roared back. The dinosaur blinked a few times, confused, opening his mouth to take a bite out of her. She punched him in the nose, which had thus far proven ineffective, and he lashed out with that spiked tail and sent Jane sprawling.

      "Any day now Billy," she said.

      Jane heard the strange humming noise Billy's energy field created when he flew at his top speeds and looked up to see his signature white-blue glow approaching fast. Unfortunately, the dinosaur followed her eyes and saw it too.

      "Billy, I think I just — "

      With comical delicacy, the dinosaur took a light step back and let Billy fly right past him. Billy, clearly planning to crash into the dinosaur and take the creature down, lost control of his trajectory and started skipping across the field like a glowing stone along the surface of a pond.

      "You accidentally warned him, didn't you," Billy said through the earpiece, his voice muffled with dirt.

      "Why do you keep doing that?" Jane asked.

      The dinosaur took another step at her and Jane punched him again. Ineffective or not, it was all she could do to keep those T-Rex jaws from clamping down on her.

      "It's my signature move," Billy said.

      Entropy Emily's voice piped up over Jane's earpiece.

      "Did he try the Sparkly Torpedo Attack again?" Emily said.

      "Can we not call it that?" Billy said.

      "I love when he does that. It never works," Emily said.

      "It does too work!" he said.

      "Never not once have you ever done that right. Never not even once, Billy Case."

      The dinosaur lashed out with his tail at Jane again. This time she caught it, using those boney spikes for leverage. He tried to shake her off with a few big, sweeping swings, but she held on.

      "Can we talk about this later? Emily?"

      "I just want to point out, for the record, that the Stegosaurus existed during the Jurassic period."

      "And this is relevant why?" Billy asked.

      "The spikes on his tail. Those are from a Stegosaurus. So calling him Cretaceous Man is a misnomer."

      "A little help, Professor Emily!" Jane yelled as the dinosaur shook her free, sending her sprawling back into the crater where she first landed.

      The dinosaur charged Jane, his eyes widened, and Jane saw him lift slowly off the ground. Those ridiculous wings flapped uselessly as he drifted, his eyes searched wildly, and the sharp-toothed maw continued to roar furiously.

      Emily touched down next to Jane, her hands outstretched.

      "Hey look, a Floatasaurus!" Emily said.

      "Why didn't you do that an hour ago?" Jane asked.

      "You looked like you were having fun."

      Jane inspected her tattered cape and pulled leaves and twigs out of her hair.

      "Yeah, fun," she said.

      "Kate and Titus have fun when we fight," Emily said.

      "Well, Titus is off on his little soul-searching expedition, and Kate is pouting and being anti-social, so you're stuck with me," Jane said. "And I don't fight for fun."

      "Says you," Emily said.

      "Says me," said Jane.

      She gazed at Cretaceous Man, who stared back with a look of panic in his eyes. "Well, we can't leave you floating there forever. Someone call Sam Barren and ask if he knows where we can put him."

      Billy walked up to join her, his blue and white form-fitting costume a wreck of dirt and debris.

      "Don't look at me. Where am I going to put a cell phone in this suit?"

      "Emily?" Jane asked.

      "What?"

      "What do you mean, what? Do you have your phone with you? You always have it with you."

      "I am bubbling of floating like wow right now. My phone's in my pocket."

      Jane rummaged awkwardly through Emily's pocket, pulling out a cell phone with a plastic cover that looked like the Tardis covering it. Billy motioned for Jane to look at something in the distance.

      "We have company."

      "News van," Jane said.

      "News van? They're really following us this far out?" Billy said.

      Jane tossed him Emily's cell phone.

      "You call Sam. Emily, bubble of float Cretaceous Man up to ten thousand feet so the news cameras can't get a peak at him. I'll deal with the press."

      "You always deal with the press," Emily said.

      "We let you say one thing on camera one time and it became an internet meme. You're not allowed to talk to the press. Go," Jane said.

      Emily drifted skyward like a loose balloon. Billy winked at Jane once and then took off to join Emily in the sky, cell phone to his ear, clearly laughing at something Sam had said on the other line.

      Jane sighed. Leading this team of lunatics was difficult enough, but being the unofficial press liaison was the part that was really going to drive her insane.

     

 

 

 

Chapter 2:

Solo performance

     

     

      Kate Miller, the vigilante known to the public as Dancer, waited like a gargoyle on the edge of a building in the City's Factory District. The whole area was made of sooty and aging red brick, a dead zone in the city's economy, old warehouses and mills vacant and underutilized. There was talk of turning them into condos or an artists' community or both, but for now, the district served as a place to get things done you don't want law enforcement seeing.

      Kate counted cars. Three vans, an old black Cadillac, a high-end sports car, two motorcycles. The Caddie arrived last, with the stereotypes. Old school gangsters in suits, the guys in charge of this entire grubby operation, come downtown out of their shiny towers in the Financial District where they monitor their white collar endeavors to check in on their grunts.

      The last man to exit the Caddie wore a three-piece, pin-striped suit, like he was playing a character in a movie. Kate had been following him for months. She knew it was an act, the way he dressed, but she also knew that Jimmy "The Teeth" LaCoste was one of the most dangerous men in the City. He pretended to be a silly mobster stereotype because people were less likely to wonder how many bodies he'd buried.

      LaCoste and his two bodyguards walked into the nearest warehouse. Kate had the place bugged, but she already knew what they were talking about inside. Guns.

      Illegal guns run up and down the coast under LaCoste's orders. Inside were lieutenants and mercenaries, frightened curriers, a couple of representatives of the local biker gang who helped move the wares over state lines. Bringing guns into the City and putting them in the wrong hands. Kate's city. And she was tired of it.

      "Look at these jerks," Kate heard LaCoste say as he walked in. The reception through her earpiece was remarkable. She's borrowed the microphones from the Tower's stash of gear from questionable places. Neal had indicated the equipment wouldn't be invented for another ten years. Another relic of the future found aboard the Tower.

      "What are you going to do about our problem?" another voice joined in. As she listened, Kate skirted the rooftops of the parking lot until she reached the main building where her targets were gathered, a cement block of space lined inside with industrial-sized storage racks. Cheap, grimy skylights on the roof allowed her to look inside.

      The second speaker was Dusty, real name Frank Wilson, one of the biker gang reps. Dusty was the antithesis of LaCoste — slovenly where LaCoste was pristine, loud instead of soft-spoken, and presenting a clear level physical threat that LaCoste hid in himself. Both men were capable of incredible brutality. Kate had witnessed their handiwork firsthand.

      "You're telling me you can't handle her?" LaCoste said. He sat down at the end of a makeshift table, a long plank of plywood supported up by a pair of metal drums. One of his bodyguards put a Starbucks coffee cup down in front of him.

      "Your boys aren't doing much better," Dusty said. "How many shipments have you lost this month?"

      "Including the two shipments your guys abandoned on the side of the road so they could run from some high school girl in a costume?"

      Dusty stood up, his chair squeaked loud and sent feedback through Kate's earpiece.

      "I've gotta take a leak. It was a long ride to come listen to you insult me," Dusty said.

      Kate scurried along the rooftop, trailing Dusty's path to the men's room. She wanted him out of the action first because despite his uneducated demeanor he was one of the two most capable fighters in the room. Things would move more smoothly if she took him down early.

      She reached the small window to the men's room first, slid inside, and jumped into one of the stalls. Kate heard the door creak open and watched Dusty's black biker boots sidle toward the urinals along the wall directly across from her. When he crossed in front of her stall, she shoved the door, kicking off the wall with her full strength. She felt the different points of impact on the other side of the door — nose, teeth, hips, kneecaps.

      Dusty staggered, both legs unsteady from the impact of the door. Kate quietly closed the stall door and punched him in the throat. He tried to call for help, but choked on his stunned and split lips. Blood gushed from a clearly broken nose.

      A quick zap with her taser and it was on to his colleagues.

 

* * *

 

      "That's a long leak," one of LaCoste's gunrunners said just before the lights went out.

      Kate had rigged the entire warehouse into a psychological battlefield. The lights went off just long enough for the spinning spotlights she'd installed on the ceiling to kick in and start roaming the floor, throwing off any hope of her enemies regaining their night vision. To make matters worse, she'd hung disco balls from the ceiling, just for the added chaos they would bring to the room. And then of course there was the music, death metal screaming at inhumane volume, Kate's own ears protected with plugs.

      The room transformed into hell for people who hated nightclubs.

      Kate launched into action, her ballet of kicks and punches took out each of LaCoste's men. Someone tried to raise a gun but Kate was quicker, throwing a knee at the man's elbow and sending the pistol spinning across the floor from numb fingers. Another flashed a knife, but Kate dodged it easily, deflecting the outstretched arm and planting a knockout blow to the man's temple. She flung LaCoste's steaming Columbian dark roast at someone's groin and followed it up with a kick to the head.

      Finally she landed on the table and faced down LaCoste himself. He never moved, simply sat there watching the chaos as if he were in a bar people-watching. They made eye contact, and LaCoste smiled, showing off the reason why everyone called him "The Teeth," those surgically enhanced incisors loomed like a predatory animal's fangs. He stood up slowly, unbuttoned his suit coat, and held out his arms.

      "I've got no problems with killing a kid," he said.

      Kate answered him with a kick, which LaCoste deflected with surprising ease. She felt his huge hand get a good grip on her ankle and yank her leg out from under, letting Kate slam down onto the plywood table. The table's surface splintered and the barrels holding it in place tipped, sending her sliding to the floor. LaCoste clamped another hand on the same ankle, his fingers locked like vices.

      Kate didn't bother trying to attack him directly. Instead she sent the tungsten-capped heel of her free leg slamming into LaCoste's fingers. Once, twice. She felt his bones cracking. Three times. His grip loosened. Kate scrambled to her feet. LaCoste's face was a grimace of pure rage, saliva ran down his lips from his oversized teeth. He tried to make a fist with his shattered fingers. Kate scrambled to her feet as the mobster charged her. She couldn't get out of the way fast enough and LaCoste slammed into her, knocking the wind from her lungs when he fell on top of her.

      His hands tried to find a way to grab hold and pin her down, but she'd done too much damage to his fingers. She pulled her wrists from his weak grip as he leaned in, his teeth flashed and he lunged for her neck and face. Kate wrapped both hands around his neck, held him back, then pushed a knee into his solar plexus to keep his weight off her.

      "Who do you think you are?" he said, working his jaws like an attack dog.

      Instead of answering, she head-butted him twice, bang-bang, forehead to forehead. The protective layer she installed in her mask took most of the impact, but still it left her dizzy — though not as dizzy as her opponent, whose eyes went bleary and jaws went slack. Kate shoved LaCoste off of her and yanked a zip-tie around his broken hands behind his back.

      She fell to one knee; the room swam around her. Tapping a button on her belt, she turned the music off and the lights back up.

      She almost screamed when she saw the costumed man cuffing one of the gunrunners a few yards away.

      "Missed one," the familiar, gargled-glass voice said.

      In the old days, before he retired, the man was known as the Alley Hawk. One of Doc Silence's old teammates. He was like Kate, a normal human running on determination and planning and luck instead of some sort of superhuman ability. They spoke once in a while, Kate visiting him in his ramshackle hideout on the outskirts of town, but she'd never seen him in costume before. Not in person. Certainly there were photos around the Tower, old news clippings, but up close, he was terrifying — costume both gargoyle-like and avian, a smoky blend of dark grays and gritty browns. His suit was not unlike Kate's own, with protective plates and hidden compartments, a half mask revealing mouth and jawline but hiding his identity. She could see the scars that ran all over his face on his exposed skin. There was something almost birdlike about the shape of his half-mask, a slight hooking downturn that hinted at a beak.

      "You're wearing a cape," she said, taking the protective buds from her ears.

      "You might consider it," Alley Hawk said in his low, rumbling whisper. "They have their uses."

      "Like getting caught on doors."

      "And helping you blend into shadows. And making you look twice the size you really are," he said. She had to admit he did have a point. Out of costume the Alley Hawk wasn't much taller than she was, though he was built like a fire hydrant. In costume he seemed enormous.

      "What are you doing here, Hawk?"

      "Backing you up," he said. He slammed the gunrunner's face against the floor and stood up to his full height. "You have an entire team of super-powered allies and you decided to take these guys down alone?"

      "This is my beat. My collar."

      "Fair enough," Alley Hawk said. "Where's your partner? The walking carpet?"

      Kate sneered. She did it before she even had a chance to think about it.

      "He's busy."

      The Alley Hawk adjusted his cape, shifted his shoulders. He cocked his head, hearing the sirens before Kate did. Police on their way.

      "You call them in?"

      "No. But you could hear your music trap three blocks away."

      "I liked my music trap."

      The Hawk smiled.

      "So did I. Are you going to stay and talk to the cops?"

      "They aren't crazy about me," Kate said.

      "They never liked me either," he said. "Do me a favor, kid."

      "I don't owe you any favors yet."

      "No, you don't," he said. "But listen to me. Let someone watch your back. I did it alone for years."

      "And everyone said you hated working with other heroes."

      "No," the Hawk said, letting out a barking laugh. "I hated taking orders. But it'll drive you mad after a while. "

      Kate nodded. The Alley Hawk pulled a grappling gun from his belt and she did the same. Before he fired, she spoke.

      "What happened to your partner, Hawk?"

      The Alley Hawk looked at the ceiling, never making eye contact as he answered.

      "He went in without me one time too many times," he said. Then his grappling gun coughed and the aging vigilante disappeared through the skylight.

      As the sirens grew closer, Kate escaped as well. And she wondered where
her
partner was, going it alone.

     

 

 

 

Chapter 3:

The Battle of Public Opinion

     

 

      Jane landed outside Ishmael's Donuts in full costume and walked in, feeling, as she always did, more self-conscious among regular people than she did flying into combat. The Tower, or rather the flying, alien space ship which used to be the top floors of the Tower, was visible drifting above the City when she touched down.

      They really needed to figure out what to do about their base, Jane thought. For now it was safe enough, unreachable from the ground as it meandered like an escaped parade float over the City. Neal, the sentient computer program who acted as the Tower's central nervous system, could easily keep the ship moving to stay effortlessly out of the way of commercial aircraft but Jane was beginning to worry. At what point would the residents of the City stop seeing the Tower as a gentle protector and view it more as big brother looking over their shoulders?

      Jane got in line in the coffee shop like anyone else would, feeling ridiculous in her form fitting top, impractical skirt, and cape. Her hair, which became more and more like open flame with each year, made matters even worse, so much so that she'd taken to building up an extensive hat collection for when she was off duty. More than any of the others she dressed like a classic comic book hero, but where Kate looked dangerous up close, Billy mysterious, and Emily almost harmless, Jane felt like an escaped cheerleader when she wasn't on a mission. People stared. She received a mixture of shy glances, jealous sneers, intimidated shrugs, and more. Sitting at a table in the shop, though, a six year-old girl waved to her excitedly and held up a crayon drawing of Jane, as Solar, flying through the sky; a bright yellow sun complete with smiley face rose behind her.

      Well if I have one person who thinks I look like that, who cares what everyone else says, she thought.

      The boy behind the counter was one of the veteran staff members and remained completely unfazed as she ordered an iced coffee. Billy, being some sort of marketing genius and white-collar criminal, had brokered a deal with the coffee chain when they realized none of the Indestructibles had figured out a way to carry cash when they were out in costume. The chain had offered them free coffee whenever they wanted it as long as they showed up in uniform and allowed the staff to post photos on social media depicting the visit. Billy had actually dangled the idea of a corporate sponsorship, which the coffee chain ownership had been willing to agree to, but Jane nixed the idea. Trading coffee for some good publicity was one thing, but cashing in on their name for sponsorship money was a dangerous precedent, she thought.

      Still, they did let Emily "invent" her own coffee, which had become a sensation. The Entropy Emi-latte was a mocha latte with four shots of espresso, whipped cream, and a caramel drizzle that even Jane had to admit was appropriately named. One of those and gravity stopped working appropriately around the person drinking it. The Indestructibles took a vote and allowed Emily to pose for promotional photos for the Emi-latte as long as a huge donation went to charity in lieu of payment. Her ridiculous grin adorned the wall even now, staring back at Jane five times the size of real life.

      "Like Emily's head needs to get any bigger," she said.

      "Better not get into the habit of talking to yourself out loud in public," a familiar voice said. "The tabloids will say you're cracking up."

      The voice belonged to Jon Broadstreet, a local journalist who had somehow become the Indestructibles beat reporter. He seemed too young for the job, with a baby face that he tried to offset by always wearing a shirt and tie, but Billy suspected Jon had scored the gig specifically because he was so young, and both Billy and Emily urged Jane to foster a good working relationship with him.

      "We can train him to be our pet reporter," Emily had said, showing uncharacteristic bluntness.

      "How goes it, Broadstreet?" she asked.

      "Good work with the dinosaur man yesterday," he said. "Heard about your girl Dancer's latest act of urban terrorism?"

      Jane sighed as the barista returned with her iced coffee. Jon offered to pay, but Jane waved him off. It felt too much like bribery to take coffee from the press.

      "Not. Yet," Jane said, gritting her teeth.

      Kate had become a PR nightmare since Titus stopped checking in, going after bigger and bigger targets among the local criminal element on her own. Jane agreed with the goals Kate was striving for, but her tactics were making people uncomfortable.

      "She took down the heads of a massive interstate gunrunning ring," Broadstreet said. "She left the cops Jimmy 'the Teeth' LaCoste gift-wrapped last night."

      "You're saying this like you're about to tell me why it's a bad thing."

      "She assaulted twelve men," Broadstreet said. "Now, off the record, these were twelve men who deserved to have the snot beaten out of them, but a good lawyer will be able to get them off. Maybe not as easily as they expect since Dancer left two thousand pages and a gigabyte of evidence for the police, but still . . ."

      "I'll talk to her," Jane said. "Thanks for the tip."

      "No problem," Broadstreet said. "I have another one for you if you want it."

      "Do I owe you anything if I say yes?"

      "A five minute phone interview if you find anything."

      Jane nodded. She had to give Broadstreet one thing — he was pushy, but he knew just how far he could push before she'd fly away. That had taken a few weeks to figure out.

      Broadstreet handed her a newspaper, folded to page three.

      "Look at that."

      Jane scanned the article. There had been three outbreaks of a mysterious, often fatal illness. A diner, a family restaurant, and a huge department store. Dozens of people taken ill in a matter of minutes, most still hanging onto life by a thread.

      "Healthcare is kind of out of our specialty," Jane said. "Why are you telling me about this?"

      "I just get a bad vibe from it," Broadstreet said. "I don't know why. I have this weird feeling the wrong people are looking into it."

      Jane nodded.

      "We'll take a look."

      "And I get my interview?"

      "If, if we find anything," said Jane.

      She gave Broadstreet a little salute to say goodbye and started to leave. As she reached the door, he called out again.

      "One more thing, Solar?"

      "What?"

      "The public wants to know if you have a boyfriend."

      Jane felt her jaw drop open before she could stop herself. She heard a few camera phones snap photos of her accidental look of horror. She shot Broadstreet her dirtiest look.

      "A boyfriend? I don't even have time for regular friends," she said.

      "Your fan club will be thrilled."

      "Goodbye, Broadstreet," Jane said, launching herself into the sky, iced coffee in hand, before the reporter could ask her another question.

 

* * *

 

      Jane flew up to the Tower and entered through a platform that used to be the helicopter landing pad. At least that was how the previous occupants of the ship had treated it, but no one really knew what to call it now. A docking bay? A really uncomfortable deck? Either way, it led into a cavernous garage where an assortment of vehicles no company on this planet had designed or built, including the flying hoverbikes Kate and Titus used to come and go from the Tower.

      Or Kate did, at least. Titus found the bikes terrifying and usually called Emily to come pick him up, which was a sign of how scary he actually did find the bikes. Nobody ever calls Emily for a ride unless this is the last or only option.

      Kate's bike, which she'd been slowly personalizing with gadgets and painting to blend into the darkness, was already parked inside, which Jane did not expect. Kate had been dodging her and the other Indestructibles for a few weeks, using some undisclosed hideout she'd used before she joined the team and only checking in when absolutely necessary.

      Jane found her in the kitchen using one of the ship's bizarre matter manipulators to create some sort of faux macaroni and cheese. Kate was barefoot and wore the armored pants of her uniform and a grimy, sweat-stained tank top. Lately, every time Jane saw her, Kate looked a little worse for wear — new scars, certainly, but she also seemed to be burning down to nothing but raw muscle. She had bulked up a little since Jane last saw her, too, her shoulders and arms more defined than before.

      "I'm going to use the Tower as my base of operations for a while," Kate said, not making eye contact. Jane sat down across from her and helped herself to some of the mac and cheese.

      "You don't have to tell me," Jane said. "This is your home as much as anyone else's."

      Kate nodded, eyeballing the generous helping of dinner Jane stole.

      "Does this have anything to do with the hornet's nest you kicked last night?" Jane asked.

      "I hand-deliver them the bad guys and they all made bail," Kate said.

      "Why didn't you — "

      "I made a miscalculation. Had too much faith in the justice system. Won't happen again," Kate said.

      "That's not what I was going to say," Jane said. "I was going to ask why you didn't ask us for help."

      "You have your job and I've got mine," Kate said. "Good going with that dinosaur."

      "We could have used you with that," Jane said.

      "No, you couldn't," Kate said. "You'd have been looking out for me to make sure I didn't get gutted and I would've been left behind when he took off by air."

      "Kate."

      "I can handle street-level crime, Jane," Kate said. "This is what I did long before we met."

      "I know. I just don't want to see you get yourself killed."

      "I'm careful. I plan."

      "You went up against twelve guys. Why didn't you ask at least one of us to help?"

      "I can't bring you with me where I go, Jane," Kate said. "You three are like Christmas lights. I have to move quietly. I don't have your powers to protect me, and I don't want you to protect me either."

      "Would you let Titus go with you?"

      "A three hundred pound werewolf is marginally better than a human glow-stick," said Kate. She paused, squinted at Jane. "Have you heard from him lately?"

      "Yeah. A few weeks ago. He was heading up into Canada," Jane said. "And he called looking for you."

      Kate shrugged.

      "Good for him, then," Kate said.

      Kate shoved three huge spoonfuls of mac and cheese into her mouth and stood up. Jane watched her as she walked — still very much like the dancer she once was — nimble across the floor.

      Kate turned and paused in the doorway.

      "Jane."

      "Yeah."

      "I'm working on some stuff."

      "I know," Jane said.

      "Thank you for worrying. You don't have to, but I understand."

      "Just don't disappear on us," Jane said.

      "I won't," Kate said. "That's Titus's job."