as narrated by Rebecca “Heartbeat” Kostos
Somedays being able to fly is the most peaceful and relaxing thing in the world.
“Dispatch to Heartbeat, checking availability for response to a 116 at the Museum.” a voice from my comm unit said.
Other days being able to fly just means you can shuttle from one crisis to the next faster.
“Heartbeat to Dispatch, are the perps still in the museum?” I asked. I’d just gotten back into Brassport’s air space after a week of work tracking down a self-multiplying alien bio-weapon that had crashed landed on Earth. It had been a nightmare making sure I got all of them and I was more than ready to plop into a hot tub and watch some utterly mindless television for a while. If duty called though, the hot tub and TV would have to wait.
“Affirmative Heartbeat. Perpetrators still on site.” Claire, my dispatcher, answered back.
“I’m available then. Send me the link.” I said.
“Registering availability and transmitting situation reports now.” Claire said and added. “Fly safe!”
It was the way she always signed off, it was outside of regulations and it always made me feel a little better.
In theory there wasn’t any relationship between the agents of the Federal Bureau of Metahuman Affairs (like me) and the dispatchers who coordinated their actions (like Claire). Any dispatcher was capable of handling the deployment of any agent. In practice though we usually got paired up in teams that worked well together.
I’d been working with Claire for a little over three years. She’d been inducted into the FBMA about six months after I’d been promoted from sidekick to full fledged hero. I sometimes wound up working with other people, during major crises or when I was doing work in another country, but in general it was Claire’s voice I heard when I was on the job. My own little guardian angel feeding me info and running interference for me so that my time could be spent on useful things rather rescuing cats from trees or signing autographs.
The data link that she’d sent flashed up on the heads up display that I wore, and I blessed her once again. First up was the map of the museum and a flight plan for me to follow to get there. Claire had worked out a glide pattern that would let me rest on the way down while not losing speed. She’d also marked the exits and entrances of the museum and the location of the perps (apparently there were two of them), color coded the artifacts around them based on reported value and given me preliminary reports on what their observed capabilities were with footnotes on likely additional traits that could be extrapolated from historical data.
She’d put all that together in less than five minutes, not via any meta-human capabilities but just because she was that good. That’s part of the reason why I didn’t mind making my hot tub and TV plans wait. If Claire thought it was worth calling me in, then I could trust that it was for a job that really needed me.
Checking out the map I saw there was a skylight over the display room that the two perps were standing in. Three years ago I would have gleefully gone crashing through it to surprise the bad guys. These days I thought about the poor slobs who would have to clean up the glass, replace the broken panes and deal with the rest of the inevitable property damage that came from me charging in fists first.
Also, with my powers, shock and awe tactics are a waste. I’m a biomancer, that means I can control physiology on a subcellular level. If I want people terrified I have much more direct ways of making that happen than a flashy entrance.
“Dispatch, be advised I’m following suggested flight plan, ETA to targets is thirty two seconds. Engaging radio silence now.” I said. The FBMA has some of the best encryption on their radio broadcasts that money can buy. A lot of mad scientists don’t sell their encryption cracking technology though and with neither of the perps matching any of the known villains in our registry it was safest to assume that they might have access to tech that could intercept our communications.
I floated down next to the skylight exactly thirty two seconds later, just as predicted. It was locked and alarmed, which said neither of the perps had entered that way. Morphing my finger into the key took less than a second and as I carefully opened the access panel in the skylight I heard the two of them talking.
“That’s why I have to take this. I would have asked, but…” the snake-man looking perp said.
“But you were afraid the red tape would tie things up long enough that they’d all be dead before it cleared.” the masked woman who was laying on the top of one of the statues said.
That was not the conversation I’d been expecting them to have but even so I didn’t think they’d be happy to see me. Crooks generally hate being caught in the act.
So I froze them.
Not with ice of course, that might hurt them. My method of freezing someone is to take control of their major muscles and prevent those from moving. I can make captures very clean and violence free, but I need to be careful. For some people being trapped in a statue of their own body is a little more than their psyches can tolerate. I watch heart rates and their glands for that. If a perp starts to freak out then its off to slumberland they go. That can induce headaches but its a lot better than screaming in terror and not being able to even breath harder to showing your panic.
With the two perps apprehended I was thinking I might actually be able to get in my hot tub and TV night after all. Normally once the bad guys are caught I called Claire and had her send in the pickup squads. “Normal” however had left the building.
The masked woman vanished from my power’s grasp and an instant later fell on top of the snakeman. Less than a second after that they both vanished.
“Dispatch, be advised, we have a teleporter on premise. Or we did. She and the snakeman have vanished.” I said, breaking radio silence.
“Confirmed Heartbeat. I have them on a surveillance camera in the parking lot.” Claire said.
“The parking lot? What would a teleporter need in a parking lot?” I asked as I took flight to intercept them.
Teleporters are a problem for me, especially purely mental ones like the masked woman. I can’t hold them in place, obviously, and if I let them drift off to sleep gracefully they tend to port away before they’re fully unconscious. That meant the only way to deal with them was to knock them out fast and hard. I could do it easily enough, but doing it without hurting them was another matter. When the choice was that or let someone dangerous get away though I didn’t have a lot of options.
“What did you do?” I heard the snakeman say as I glided down at them. My outfit was in “night stealth” mode, so against the black sky I was all but invisible.
“I’m sorry, I panicked. Something paralyzed me, and I saw you freeze up too so I got us out of there. “ the woman said.
“It’s good that you did. I don’t know what happened. Thank you for rescuing me.” the snakeman said.
“Well, I don’t know if I should, but I believe the story you told me. If you’ll tell me where your children are I can take us there.” the masked woman said.
“Oh thank you! I have known people who would have reacted very differently to someone who looked like I do.” the snakeman said.
I glided down silently to be within range but held my power back. This was not at all the way museum thieves normally talked. On the other hand, if the masked woman teleported them away again they probably wouldn’t land anywhere Claire had a convenient camera and we’d lose contact with them completely.
Hating myself for it, I reached out with my power and slammed the masked woman into unconsciousness. Left on her own she wouldn’t wake up for hours and she’d have a splitting headache when she did.
“NO!” screamed the snakeman as she fell.
I could see what it looked like from his vantage point. There’s only a few reasons that people go bonelessly limp in an instant and none of them are good.
Rather than fleeing, the snakeman dove down with incredible speed and cradled the masked woman before she could hit the ground.
“I’m sorry about that. She’s only sleeping.” I said as I glided to the ground, two car lengths away from the snakeman. I didn’t paralyze him as a show of good faith.
“You! You’re the one who attacked us in the museum!” the snake man shouted.
I got as far as “Yes…” when he suddenly vanished in a cloud of smoke.
I thought he was fleeing but instead I felt an intense pressure wrapping around me while the air was sucked out of my lungs.
Against anyone else that would have been a remarkably effective attack. Against someone who can make the entire surface area of her skin function as her lungs it was annoying but not particularly threatening. What was worrisome though was that in his mist form the snakeman’s body fell outside the reach of my power. He couldn’t knock me out but I couldn’t arrest him either.
I was weighing the options of flying away vs. calling in backup when another voice spoke up.
“Father! Stop! She’s a hero! I’ve seen her!” said a young snake girl.
It took the snakeman a moment to process the girl’s words but once he did, he hurled me away and reformed his regular body, interposing it between myself and his daughter.
“Stay back Alil. She attacked us.” the snakeman said.
“Did she catch you stealing? Cause that’s what heroes do to people they find stealing things right?” the snake girl asked him.
“She’s right.” I told him. “But I don’t think you’re the typical kind of museum thief I bust.”
“Alil, why are you here? Why did you follow me? You’re not well!” the snakeman said. Turning to his daughter and turning his back on me.
“I’m fine Dad. But we need you. There was a robot who attacked us! He took Amphi!” Alil, said. I could hear the terror in her voice climbing higher with each word.
“Attacked!? Where are the others?” the snakeman asked.
“They got away. I found M’kala though. I brought her here. She’s in really bad shape.” Alil said.
The snakeman turned back to me.
“You must let me go. My children are dying!” he pleaded.
“Not on my watch they’re not.” I told him. I had no reason to trust his story, but I wasn’t going to let kids, even snake, kids die because I was worried about trusting someone who’d been stealing non-magical bits of bone and clay.
“Dispatch, be advised: Perps have been apprehended. Scramble some support for me though. It looks the situation is more complicated than we thought.” I said.
“Understood Heartbeat. I have Lux and Borderskipper on standby. They’ll be in the air in a minute.” Claire said.
“Ok.” I told the snakeman and Alil. “I’m willing to work with what you’re saying. There are two more heroes inbound now though so if you’re going to backstab me know that they’ll make you pay for it. If you on the up and up though, take me to the kids who are in trouble. I can help them.”
The snakeman looked conflicted, but Alil’s eye’s lit up at the offer.
“M’kala’s here. Follow me!” she said and slithered off as fast as a human girl could run.
We didn’t have far to go before we found another, smaller, snakegirl. She was laying against the base of tree, and was as unconscious as the masked woman.
I reached out with my power and felt an immediate “wrongness” permeating her body.
“What happened to her?” I asked, as my biomantic senses probed deeper.
“She’s been poisoned.” the snakeman said. He’d scooped up the mask woman and was carrying her without much effort.
“This isn’t like any poison I’ve ever seen. It’s more like a virus.” I said.
“Yes, except the effect is a purely chemical one.” the snakeman said.
“If I follow what you’re saying that’s not possible. Who did this?” I asked.
“The robot! He said he poisoned us, I think because he wanted to find where we were.” Alil said.
“The chemical is a special compound that attacks the morphic joins between the snake and human cell structures. It will only affect animal/human hybrids who originated as animals.” the snakeman said.
“I see. Thanks. That’s helping me make sense of what I’m reading from inside her.” I said.
“What are you doing to M’kala?” the snakeman asked.
“My power let’s me sense and change physiology on a subcellular level. I’m seeing what’s wrong with her and from what I’m getting that’s ‘everything’ more or less.” I said.
“You can change…can you sense the the morphic joins that I spoke of? Can you change them?” the snakeman asked.
I focused entirely on my power for a moment before responding.
“Yes. Knowing to look for them and knowing that’s what the toxin is targeting, I can see them.”
“Take this then!” the snakeman said and pressed a carved bone dagger into my hand. “If I’m right this will have snake DNA which is sufficiently dissimilar from M’Kala’s own that if you can transform the snake portion of her to match it, the toxin will be unable to affect her.”
“I can do that.” I said and got to work.
It wasn’t easy, or immediate, or painless. I was afraid I was going to lose her a few times, but I do not let patients die on me so I did the only think I could think of to help me focus – I turned myself into a snake girl too. Specifically I turned myself into M’Kala, complete with the same cell damage and the toxin that I’d drawn out of her blood.
That really sucked, but it gave me the foothold I needed to correctly address the problem. From when I started, it only took me around ten minutes to cure her of the cell damage and rip the toxin from her system, but those were a profoundly unpleasant ten minutes for the both of us.
At the end though, I got to see a little snake girl, with ridiculously cute mini-fangs look up at me with tears in her eyes and a smile of joy on her face. Nothing beats moments like that.
Lux and Borderskipper had arrived while I was fighting the toxin in M’Kala’s system, as had the Brassport PD. The masked woman was awake too, but she wasn’t looking any better than M’kala or I felt.
“We’re going to need to hold off on booking anyone for now.” Lux told the police.
“Alil, that robot that you saw. You’re sure it deployed a sphere that captured your sister right?” Borderskipper asked.
“Definitely. It sort of shrank her as it pulled her in.” Alil said.
“It’s gotta be him.” Lux said.
“Who?” I asked.
“Doctor Wyrd.” Claire said in my ear. “He kidnapped Aegis and Thundercrash earlier today. I’ve been listening in and it sounds like we finally have a solid lead on him.”