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My name is Darcy Sandoval, and I've been out for a while.
I spent about a week, well, running around Metro City like some kind of idiot terrier because I found out I wasn't actually a mutant, but an artificially bioengineered organism. I freaked out completely and... to be honest, I don't really remember much of it. Blessings in disguise and all that.
I've been told I ate rats. I've already gone through a whole bottle of Listerine.
I'm better now, thanks to the other superheroes in town, and especially to my family. I've had a couple days since I got back into my right mind to just hang out with my parents, my sister, and my uncle. It's been nice to just talk with 'em, talk about what's worrying me, what's worrying them, and how we can all get past that stuff.
Anyway, as you may know, in addition to being an artificially bioengineered organism, I'm also a ballerina. And I'm going in today for my first rehearsal since I went all crazy-snarly-terrier on everyone. I've been told that the Chrome Cobra has cleared everything with the folks at the Zelda Lieber Dance Company and the Lieber Arts Center. And I guess we'll see how good her excuse was.
I show up earlier than normal so I can go find all the higher-ups -- Dr. Trevor Cameron, the center director, especially, plus anyone else I can locate -- and beg them to let me keep dancing here. Dr. Cameron isn't in his office, and I can't find anyone where they should be. I finally find almost everyone in the green room -- they've got bagels and juice and a fruit platter and a balloon bouquet and a big banner that says "WELCOME BACK, DARCY!"
Everyone wants to hear about how I got kidnapped by the Church of Sorrow, what they were going to do to me, how the Chrome Cobra, Atlas, the Star, Gearbox, and Defender broke into their temple and saved me. I tell 'em they kept me in a trance the whole time, and I don't remember a thing, which is what the Cobra told me to say, and everyone accepts it. We have a lot of fun, but finally, our choreographer, Phoebe Pizzino, breaks it up and orders all us dancers to get to work so we don't lose any more daylight.
I have a lot of catching up to do, and we're dancing to Léo Delibes, who I hate. It's just been a few days, but it feels like all my dance muscles have atrophied, so there's a ton of sweat and hard work and memorizing and practice.
It feels like heaven.
Hours and hours (and hours) later, I'm in my little secret HQ in a forgotten storage room in the arts center. I got my costume on, got my hair teased out, got my mask on. It's my first time back out on patrol since that night. I'm trying not to think about it much. It's just another night back on the street, making monster faces at bad guys and trying to make the world a better place.
I haul the window of the storage room open, and take a quick check outside to make sure there's no one in the alley to see me. Out onto the window ledge, then a simple superpowered backflip onto the roof above me. Sweet, serene, and if I may say so, completely elegant and balletic.
"Hey, Hybrid, how are you doing?"
Gah, sometimes I think the Chrome Cobra wants to give someone a heart attack.
"I figured you might go back on patrol tonight," she says. "We'd decided to give you a few days of recovery time before we came and bothered you with anything else, so I just wanted to touch base with you. Everything cool?"
"Uh, yeah, yeah, I think so," I say. "I think I probably need to call up Iota or Hypothermia. I got the basics of how I spent my week on the wild side, but I probably need to ask them some questions about what they found out from my blood sample."
"I reviewed the results that Iota's scanner came up with," she says. "What do you need to know?"
"Well, gosh, so much," I shrug. "I wish I'd written some questions down first. I guess the big thing I've been worried about is whether I run a risk of getting turned into black goop at some point."
"Iota and Hypthermia both agree -- no chance whatsoever," says Cobra. "There has to be a specific kind of genetic code present, coupled with a specific kind of external or internal stimulus to make it trigger. Whoever designed your DNA didn't put any sort of destruct code into your DNA. Either they didn't want you to self-destruct, or they didn't think of putting in that destruct code until they created the Hybrids 2.0."
"And when you say 'they,' you're talking about this Chittenburg guy, right?"
"We think so," she says. "Daphne Diller is investigating Chittenburg Biological Testing -- quietly, because we don't want him to know we suspect him yet -- and she doesn't think anyone else in the company would have the technical knowledge or resources to do that sort of serious work in genetic engineering."
"Okay, so do we have plans for hitting this guy yet?" I ask. "You know I'll want in on that raid."
"No, not yet," she says. I can see her smiling slightly under the mask. "Daphne would like a few more days to wrap up her investigation and make sure she's got a nice package of evidence to present to the police when she's done. And of course, we want you to come along."
"Good enough. I think I can wait," I say. "Did you find out what the -- um, can we not call them 'Hybrids 2.0'? Did we find out what they were doing in that lab?"
"Yeah, basic corporate espionage," says Cobra. "Probably not a very efficient way to do it. But he may have been testing how they responded to his remote-control signals. He didn't get much information out of the burglary, but what he got was related to more legitimate genetic engineering."
"Okay, I guess..." I have to take a deep breath -- to be honest, I don't really want to know the answer to the next question, but I have to ask. "What -- What did the DNA results for me show? How human am I, and how... not human am I?"
"Ahh, yeah," says Cobra. She doesn't look very enthusiastic about answering either. "Hang on, I kept a copy of that report. Give me a minute to call up the file. It's a virtual-reality database, so I'm going to have to type on the air for a bit." She puts one hand up by her ear. I can hear a quiet whir from an onboard computer, and she starts moving her other hand around, sometimes scrolling invisible pages past, sometimes typing in filenames and passwords.
After a moment, she says, "Okay, here it is. Percentages are very approximate. This is Iota's fast estimate, and Hypothermia said he'll want a few more weeks to analyze everything. Okay. Human: 35%; cheetah: 17%; gray wolf: 10%; Bengal tiger: 9%; mandrill: 6%; African civet: 5%; Thomson's gazelle: 5%; American alligator: 4%; African wild dog: 3%; grizzly bear: 3%; American badger: 2%; and Boa constrictor: 1%."
It takes a moment for that to all sink in.
"Wow," I finally manage. "Not even halfway human."
"At least you're over a third," says Cobra. "Doesn't sound like much, I guess."
"Tigers, cheetahs, wolves, and alligators," I say. "Plus gazelle. That's a lot of predators and one little herbivore in the middle."
"Maybe that's where the dancer comes from," says Cobra helpfully. She actually sounds apologetic about all this.
"You know, I can do a lot of stuff that none of those animals can do," I say.
"Yes, Hypothermia mentioned that," she says. "He said it looks like all the genetic strands had been significantly tweaked, possibly after being combined into the organism. I mean, into you."
"Oh, alright. So what's a civet?" I ask.
"Hmm, basically a small carnivore. Looks like a cross between a cat and an otter."
"Oh, okay. How about a, what did you say, a mandrill?"
"Yeah, it's a kind of, um, baboon."
"Oh, great," I say. "Can't wait for my sister to find out about that."
Cobra makes a high-pitched snort. "Sorry."
"Don't worry. Can you send me the file?"
"Yeah, hang on." She makes some more typing gestures in the air, then taps the side of her head again as the computer whir goes quiet. "There's a bit of scientific jargon in the report," she says. "I can translate some of it for you, but you might want to check with Drs. Denziger or Mauro to make sure it's all accurate."
"You bet," I say. "I'll give 'em a call."
"You still interested in patrolling?" Cobra asks. "I don't think I'd blame you for wanting to spend another day or two digesting that info."
"Are you kidding?" I ask. "I'm officially in the mood to beat the hell out of some bad guys. Where's the Canelli Mob hanging out these days?"
So that was that. I spent about half the night scaring the crap out of mobsters and muggers and lowlifes. I got to hang out with Squid Kid a little. (Did you know she had X-ray vision? What the heck?) I ran into the Wheelman, too, and he let me surf on top of his current sportscar, which was fun up 'til it got completely terrifying and he started driving up the sides of skyscrapers.
And a little before midnight, someone hit the Panic Button.
The Panic Button is a preset all of us Metro City heroes have on our cell phones or communicators. You hit the Panic Button, and it calls everyone else immediately. And all of us have it set up with a special ringtone so we'll recognize it fast. You don't hit the Panic Button to chit-chat. The Panic Button is there for seriously big emergencies -- alien invasions, giant monsters, zombie outbreaks, stuff like that. No one ignores the Panic Button.
I grab my phone as quickly as I can -- it's Atlas. "I'm over Marston Street, south of downtown," he's saying. "I'm looking at a six-block area, centered at about Marston and 102nd, that's completely overrun with those Hybrid 2.0 clones. Can't give you an accurate count, but I'm guesstimating at least 300 of these guys, maybe more. I don't think they can hurt me, but I doubt I'll be able to control the situation by myself. Help would be very, very appreciated."
I'm on my way before he even finishes his message. I don't know if this is a coincidence or what, but I'm not going to miss the opportunity to try to find out what's going on.
By the time I get downtown, it's pretty clear we have a complete disaster on our hands. Atlas may have miscounted by a bit, 'cause the streets are just filled with those clone guys, and they've all gone completely nuts. I see Atlas swinging his fist around and knocking monsters all over. Wheelman is knocking over every one of them he can with his car. Express is zooming all over the place. I see the Star and Defender and Gearbox incoming. And it still looks like a total catastrophe is on the way.
I land in the middle of a large group and do everything I can to put as many of them as possible on the ground. But I haven't had time to knock but three or four down when they all seem to focus on me. And I mean all of them, not just the group I'm attacking. I get grabbed by at least 10, maybe 20, maybe 30 -- and more are joining. I get dogpiled, pushed to the ground, and I feel a needle go into my leg. Did one of these things just inject me with something? I'm fighting back as hard as I can, but everything gets dark and slow, and I'm unconscious in only a few seconds.
By the time I finally wake back up, everything has gotten very quiet and very bright. I've got a screaming headache, and my tongue feels like I've been eating sand.
I open my eyes, and I'm inside some kind of cell -- walls about 10 feet across, and a ceiling about 20 feet up. There's no furniture of any sort in here, and the walls are metal, except for one that looks transparent -- but I can see a little green glow along the edges, so I figure there's a forcefield in place. The blank wall is looking out on a large, technologically advanced, somewhat cluttered science lab. And it looks like the entire lab is ringed by cells just like this one, housing at least 40 of those clones. They don't look much happier about confinement than I am, but at least they're not all screaming and roaring, for once.
Standing about five feet in front of the cell is a tall, thin man wearing a lab coat. He has thinning gray hair and appears to be in his early 60s. He looks like an accountant. He's staring at me like I'm a fly that landed in his soup.
"So you're Hybrid," he says quietly and contemptuously. "I wish I were a bit more impressed."
"And you must be Harlan Chittenburg," I reply, wishing I had a healing factor that would take care of headaches. "If you're not impressed, take it up with the designer."
"Charming," he says with just a bare hint of a sneer. "No doubt Dr. Mauro made the connection. Perhaps that upstart gadgeteer Denziger."
"You think you could let me out of here?" I say. "I'd love to get a chance to catch up with Dear Old Dad."
"Oh, that famous superhero chatter," says Chittenburg. "It's quite as irritating as I'd always heard it could be. I am at least relieved I won't have to listen to it for long."
"Oooh, threats," I yawn. "Are you going to punish me, Dad? Did your widdle baby do something to make you mad?"
"I'll thank you to stop referring to me that way," he spat. "You were a failure. You are a failure. You're nothing to be proud of."
Oh, good, now he's getting mad. If I can push him just right, he might even start monologuing for me.
"Well, you clearly thought I was a failure," I say. "You wouldn't have thrown me in the garbage otherwise. Didn't even bother artificially growing me to maturity, like you did all those other clones. But something obviously changed your mind, right? Did you see me on the news and figure out who I was? Decided to dig out your old monster-genes and try to conquer the world?"
"Don't be ridiculous," sniffs Chittenburg, pacing the room. "You were a failure -- a complete failure. But if other people thought you were a success... well, why shouldn't I get the credit? I've been working like a drudge for decades. Biological testing -- you could farm it out to undergrads. It wasn't worthy of my capabilities. I'd actually managed to create life, and that's more than most other scientists could say. So yes, when I realized you'd survived, I knew I couldn't just give up on genetic engineering. I created experimental mutagens like these."
He pointed out a display case on one wall filled with a bunch of hypodermic needles. "Perfect for overwriting DNA and creating biological chimeras, but not easy to control. So I returned to your old design, made some genetic tweaks, installed a self-destruct gene -- something I wish I'd thought of a couple decades ago -- and made sure they were susceptible to remote control commands. And as you can see --" He made a sweeping gesture at the other cells around the room. "--They've been an unqualified success!"
"Some success," I say. "Can't think, can't talk. If you're not operating them by remote control, they can't do much of anything. Oh, wait, I get it. You made them all boys. Don't you like girls, Dad?"
Ha ha. He actually spluttered.
"You're a fool," he says when he finally recovers. "I don't know why you would think anything like that. This is why you're a failure -- you were raised by non-scientists who didn't know the right way to treat biological failures. No, the new creatures are successes because I devised a way to grow them quickly and in mass quantities. That's how I was able to have so many of them swamp the downtown area. And once they'd drawn all you metahumans out, they recognized you, as they were pre-programmed to do. I remote-controlled a few dozen of them and had them capture you. Then I self-destructed all of the ones who were still downtown. A simple and elegant solution when the meta-soldiers have outlived their usefulness -- no mess, quick clean-up, and little serious damage to existing infrastructure!"
"So you're just going to sell them as vat-grown cannon fodder? What do you even need me for, genius?"
"Because you're a loose end!" Chittenburg shouts. "Because I made you, and you're mine! You're my property, and I should be the one to decide what you're going to do and how you're going to be destroyed. You were stolen from me illegally, and no one gets to walk away with my property. I'm going to take you apart and harvest your DNA to build better soldiers, and there's nothing you can do about it! If I can figure out whatever ignorant family stole you from me, I'll make sure they --"
His cell phone rings suddenly, and he just about jumps out of his skin. He grabs it out of the pocket of his lab coat. "What do you want? I'm busy here. What? They can't know about this place -- it's completely secret! No, you can't let them down here -- I'm not finished with my work! I don't care, I'm paying your firm a lot of money to deal with judges. Tell them their search warrant is no good here! Just tell them, they'll believe it! Oh, you're a failure, Severn! I'll deal with them myself!"
Chittenburg throws the phone onto the floor and stomps on it, then stops, grabs the bridge of his nose, and takes a lot of short, deep breaths.
"What's the matter, Harlan?" I say. "Ya got some superheroes upstairs?"
"Shut up," he says, right back to acting like an uptight accountant. "I'll deal with you soon enough."
He goes to a desk in the middle of the room, opens a drawer, and takes out a .45. "Not the most technologically advanced piece of equipment, Miss Hybrid," he says. "But a few headshots will be enough to overwhelm your regenerative abilities. That's what you have to look forward to. But for now..."
He puts the gun back in the drawer and takes out a remote control. He punches a few buttons, and all the clones stand up in their cells. Another few buttons, and the forcefields on all the cells but mine power down.
"Follow," says Chittenburg as he starts for the door. The clones obediently lope behind him. "Enjoy your last few minutes," he calls back to me, and they all disappear upstairs.
Okay, I figure any of the heroes upstairs can handle Chittenburg's clones just fine, but it'd be nuts for me to just wait here for someone to come rescue me. I'm not getting past that forcefield, but the walls don't look much easier to get through. I'm strong, but not punch-through-walls strong.
On the other hand... the lights. Standard fluorescent lights under a wire grid cover. I bet he's got all his security here focused on the forcefield and the walls -- the clones probably don't have the smarts to do anything but try to get past the forcefield, so he's never imagined that the lights could be a weak spot.
The ceiling's about 20 feet up, but that's no problem for me -- I jump up and tap the grid over the lights. No shock, no crackle from a forcefield, so that much of my hunch holds up.
I jump up again, grab the grid, and yank it down. It comes right off -- even better. Another jump, and I jam the grid through the fluorescent bulbs.
I've got my claws out now, but it takes a few more jumps before I'm able to get a claw-hold through the metal of the light fixture so I can hold myself up and start tearing my way into the ceiling. Not an easy task, and I've got to hope I can finish before Chittenburg comes back.
Once I can squeeze through, I crawl into the ceiling. I've caught another break here, too -- it's not nearly as cramped as I thought it would be. I was expecting to have to crawl and tear my way out if I wanted to get anywhere, but I'm able to stand almost upright. I go to the next cell over and stomp on the ceiling over the light fixture.
One of the fun things about being able to super-jump is how much damage you can cause by stomping on something.
After that, I drop down into the cell next door, exit past the powered-down forcefield, and head for the laboratory door. I can get upstairs and help out everyone else upstairs -- I might even be able to sneak up behind the bad guys and surprise them.
I open the door, and Chittenburg and a bunch of his clones run right into me.
On the bright side, it's not all of the clones -- only four of them. Unfortunately, they're not being chased by a bunch of my friends. In fact, I can still hear the sounds of fighting upstairs.
And Chittenburg's as surprised as I am. "How did you --?" he says, then catches himself and starts to bring up his remote control.
You don't catch me napping that often. I hit his arm, and he drops the controller and then actually steps on it. There's a crack. The guy is such an amateur.
The clones immediately go nuts. All four push into the room past Chittenburg and grab at me. I dodge backwards, but even as large as the lab is, I'm not going to be able to keep away from all of them for long.
"You've doomed yourself," Chittenburg says. "They're completely out of control now."
"You're in worse trouble than I am," I say. Claws graze my arm, and I judo-throw one of them behind me. "When they're bored with me, they'll go for the easy prey."
"Not likely," he says as he walks to the desk and gets out his gun. "I hardwired an aversion to attacking me into their genetic programming. I'm going to blow your brains out, if they don't tear you to shreds first."
Claws rake across my back, and I jam an elbow hard into one of their snouts. Another one snaps at my throat, and I punch him in the chest.
Chittenburg squeezes off a shot, and I'm lucky it went into the leg of one of the clones charging in for another attack. Unfortunately, these things heal as quickly as I can, and it won't even be limping in a few minutes.
I'm in trouble -- my only chance is to go completely feral and hope I can match their ferocity.
"What a show!" Chittenburg laughs. "Like watching dumb animals fight..."
And like that, I can see the problem. I can't afford to fight like a dumb animal. I can't match their ferocity. Even if I could, the clones aren't the real danger. That's the very smart sociopath holding the gun. But I can't get to him by giving in to the temptation to monster out -- if I do that, I'll focus on the obvious threats and not the real one. So I'm going to have to stay smart. And I'm going to have to surprise them.
I grab one of the clones by his arms and swing him around hard, using him as a club to knock the other three backwards, then I throw him against the others, knocking them all into a tangle on the floor. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Chittenburg start to raise his gun again.
I assume basic third position -- one foot slightly in front, heels almost touching, one arm in front, one arm over my head. One of the most recognizable positions in ballet.
Chittenburg lowers the gun, looking dumbfounded.
Léo Delibes. "Coppélia." The Danse de Fete.
The clones charge.
Pirouette, spinning clockwise, deflecting outstretched claws, letting their momentum push themselves around me, turning farther away from them.
They jumble together, snarl at each other, charge again. Another pirouette, much like the first, but with some new stylistic touches. Eye gouge to the first, an elbow in the throat for the second, two broken fingers for the third, and a groin punch for the fourth.
They flail about, howling, angry, but scared, too. Chittenburg still looks shocked, his gun forgotten for a bit longer.
I spin to the back of the room and assume basic fifth position -- legs crossed, feet side by side, arms held above head. I feel serene, at peace, music flowing through me. Delibes isn't so bad after all.
Three of the clones charge. The one with the groin injury lags by the opposite wall, holding himself and vomiting.
I let the three almost reach me, then I go straight into an open leap. Never tried this with powers before. I go right over their heads, across the length of the room. I land on the fourth clone. I hear at least two bones break in his right arm. While he's screaming, I make another couple of quick punches and blow out his kneecaps. He flails, twitches, rolls away from me, shrieking in panic.
The clone with the broken fingers charges while his two buddies hang back, nervous, still smarting from their injuries.
I do another pirouette and a kick.
Again, being able to super-jump a half-mile means I can do some serious damage with a kick.
The clone rockets straight backwards and smashes into the one who'd gotten the eye gouge. The first falls to the floor, several ribs shattered, cracked skull, broken jaw, arms and legs fractured, puking blood. I almost feel bad for him, but I know he can heal from this. No serious injury for the second one, but fear and surprise have gotten the best of him -- he sprints past me and runs upstairs, whining.
Chittenburg watches the clone run away, listens to the two injured ones gasp and scream, and he finally remembers the gun. But by then, I've already turned two three, step two three over to him, taken the gun from his hand, thrown the gun in one direction, and tossed the clip at the still-active forcefield in front of my former cell. The energy charge is enough to discharge all the bullets at once. The clip blows up like a string of M-80s.
The last of the clones still has some fight in him. He runs at me, claws outstretched. I push Chittenburg out of the way, turn out of the clone's path, grab his arm as he passes, and trip him. His arm dislocates. I let him drop, and he hits the floor face first, whining and scrambling for some sort of footing.
Chittenburg is standing there, gawping at me. "H-How dare you."
I've lost all patience for this guy. He's caused so much chaos and misery downtown tonight, just so he could get his hands on me. He's created all these clones just so he can have them raise hell, then dissolve them. He's sent his clones upstairs to attack superheroes. And he still wants to pout about me oppressing him.
"You're a bad scientist," I say. "You're a bad parent. You're going to spend at least a decade in prison. You can't tell the difference between success and failure. And you should never piss off a ballerina."
He makes a break and runs for the door at the same time as the clone at my feet finally makes it off the floor. The clone lurches into him, and Chittenburg flinches away, stumbles, trips, and collides hard against his display case full of hypodermics hanging on the wall. He falls over, and the display case wobbles, tilts, and drops onto him with a crash.
Chittenburg screams and leaps back up. There are almost a dozen of the hypos plunged into his back. A dozen different kinds of mutagens in his system.
I start to run over to pull the hypos out of him, but he backs away, terrified. "You did this to me! You did this! Why wouldn't you leave me alone!"
His skin turns pale, visibly hardens. His hair starts falling out. His body shrinks, thickens, and a hunch starts to grow in his back.
"You had no right to do this!" he yells, his voice pitching up an octave. "Youu had no rah-eet to do zis to meee!"
His fingers are merging together. His eyes have swollen shut -- are still swelling alarmingly, larger than eyes should swell ever. His shirt tears open -- his body is covered in white scaly plates, and a couple of tiny segmented arms are growing out of his torso.
I can't understand anything he's saying anymore. Just high-pitched shrieking and chittering.
Some of the other local heroes finally come downstairs -- the Star, Defender, Hypothermia -- but I can't really take my eyes off him anymore. He's got compound eyes now.
Defender steps up and points a glove at him. There's a pop and a flash of light, and he finally stops screaming. Her neural stun pulse generator knocks people out and, most importantly, temporarily deadens the nervous system. Doesn't stop him from continuing to mutate, but at least he's not in agony now.
After that, it's all over but the mop-up.
An hour later, and I'm sitting on the roof of a warehouse watching the cleanup outside Chittenburg's secret lab. Once the army of clones had dissolved on them, everyone else realized pretty quickly I'd been kidnapped. Daffodil pulled out her list of Chittenburg's properties around the city and picked this seemingly empty warehouse as his most likely hideout. They hadn't expected to get attacked by another 40 of the clones and had to work pretty hard keeping the accompanying cops and some of Chittenburg's own employees (including one of the city's hotshot lawyers) from getting injured in the fight.
I hear a whipcrack behind me. I turn to look, and it's Penitente, wrapping his whip around a pipe to climb up onto the warehouse roof. Penitente is Metro City's only real unpowered hero. We used to try to discourage him -- "This business is too dangerous for civilians" -- but he's got real skills, he knows what he's doing, and he's not one of those wannabes like Fedora Man or Princess KittyKat.
"Hey, chica," he says as he gets onto the roof and uncoils his whip from the pipe. "Some wild night, hey?"
"You can say that again," I reply. "If things are gonna go this crazy every time I come back from an emotional breakdown, I think I'll just stay gone."
"Don't do that," he says, sitting down nearby. "I mean, don't stay gone. And don't have emotional breakdowns. You scared the crap out of us."
"Thanks. I hear you helped feed me while I was on my freakout."
"Ehh, a package of hot dogs," he shrugs. "Not that much. I'm just glad you didn't kick my ass like you did everyone else."
"Oh, don't remind me," I groan. "I'm still making apologies to everyone."
Down below, the cops are wheeling one of their oversized stasis generators from Chittenburg's warehouse down to a police van.
"A stasis generator?" I say. "Don't they usually use a power dampener for super-criminals?"
"They weren't sure whether he could even stay alive if they shut his powers off," says Penitente. "They decided it'd be easier to put him in suspended animation for now."
"Jeez," I say. "How bad did it get? I mean, what's he look like now?"
"Last I saw, something kinda like a spider," he says. "Or a dinosaur. A little trace of gorilla, too. You know he hates your guts, right?"
"I figured he would, yeah."
"Right. On the bright side, his mad scientist days are over. His brain got resized and reshaped so many times while he was mutating, he can barely remember his own name now."
"So he won't be any help in getting the clones back under control, will he?" I ask.
"You haven't heard," he says. "As far as we can tell, they either all had short lifespans, or they needed something in his lab to keep 'em alive. They've all dissolved, even the ones that got away."
"I feel like I'm responsible for all this," I say. "Maybe I could've caught him before he crashed into that display case."
"To hell with him, chica," says Penitente. "He had it coming. Built a bunch of crazy monster-soldiers and sent 'em out to burglarize and start riots. Kidnapped a superhero and planned to kill her." He looks over at me for a moment, then looks away. "Created a little baby girl in his lab a couple decades ago, then chucked her in a dumpster. To hell with him."
The police van below drives off, a couple of squad cars following behind it. The Special Operations Squad will probably be out here 'til morning bagging up equipment and evidence. But it's mostly quiet now.
"Well, all the excitement's done here for the night," says Penitente as he gets to his feet. "You gonna patrol any more tonight?"
"Nah, I better go get some sleep," I say. "I don't want to be late to my second day back at, um, the office. You turning in?"
"Not quite yet," he says. "Southside always gets rowdy after an all-capes-on-deck emergency like that clone riot. The gangs always think that gives 'em permission to run wild. I'll give Gearbox a ring and see if he wants to help run a few of 'em off."
"Alright, stay safe," I say. We knock fists, and he jumps down off the roof. After a minute, I hear his motorcycle start up and watch him ride off.
I sit out there for a little while longer -- it's a beautiful night, even after all the chaos earlier. But I do have to get home soon, so I get up, stretch out a little, then take off, jumping from the warehouse roof to another to another, heading in the direction of the arts center.
Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. I have lots of dancing to do.
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