10.10 Interlude (Gentleman)

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Conglomerate Shelter, somewhere beneath the Pacific Ocean – Monday, the 18th of June 2012. 04:04 PM.
“Look at yourself,” Scott de Luca lectured the man who had appeared in the mirror across from him. “You, my self-deceiving friend, are a beautiful lie.”

He grinned at the mirror, displaying obscenely perfect teeth. The teeth were not the only part of his face that would have fit right into a toothpaste commercial. The man in the mirror had been blessed with pale blue eyes, a straight nose, defined cheekbones and a mouth that People Magazine had once described as a ‘proof of god’s love for women’.

As Scott held his own gaze, those lips gradually twisted into a snarl, and he growled words that didn’t belong to him. His voice now had a deeper, subtly scratchy timbre, complete with that Russian accent some hero groupies across the world used to fawn about.

Scott always played his roles to perfection. They were the source of his power, after all.

“I’m going to kill you,” the man in the mirror said, eyes narrow and full of menace. “I don’t know where you’re hiding, but I’ll find out. Watch your back, Gentleman.”

Gentleman’s lashes fluttered in feigned disbelief. He grasped his power to give an appropriate response, triggering an appearance change according to the template he’d formed in his mind. A warm tingle spread over his skin. There was no transition; the face in the golden-framed makeup mirror changed as suddenly as a spring sky.

After half a lifetime of having floundered with make-up and costumes, the ease of the transformation was glorious.

Gentleman sank into a padded chair and invested a moment in assuming the perfect pose for his new appearance. In combination with the shoulder-length brown ponytail and the frilly white shirt that had become his trademark, the Victorian half-mask he now wore demanded an air of graceful elegance. He could have assumed any posture by assembling an illusion. But that would have been cheating, and he didn’t feel like investing that much mental effort on his day off. Not for holding a conversation with himself, at any rate.

“Oh, please,” he blurted with a dismissive finger wag. “Can you not come up with a more original line? That one is so terribly cliché. Boring.”

He sank back into his chair with a dramatic flourish, letting his arms dangle at his sides as he gave the mirror a slanting glance. “You see, my transparent friend, you are a wound-up clockwork hero. Predictable. Pretending to have a conversation with you is simple as brewing a good cup of tea, but not nearly as satisfying.”

The conversation called for another appearance change, and Gentleman gave in, allowing his power to flow and make the necessary adjustments. His posture was off – he couldn’t picture the athletic, broad-shouldered Russian hero lounging in a chair like this – so he pushed up to sit straight with his hands on his knees and his lips drawn into a thin, determined line.

“That’s what you like believe,” Radiant’s voice said from Gentleman’s lips, dripping the appropriate amounts of heroic self-righteousness. “But I’m moving forward. Making changes, forming new alliances. Our paths will cross again, and when they do, I’ll be the one in control. Mark my words.”

Gentleman dismissed the hero from the mirror and reassumed his villain persona, pursing his lips in false consideration. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to surprise himself any more than the hero would have.

“Ah, yes. The island project,” he said. “You gather all your little hero friends and scheme how to save the world. Alas, this is not a novel idea by any stretch. Every other comic book hero has built a base of some sort.”

This time, the hero didn’t make a comeback in the mirror. There was nothing him to add.

Gentleman’s eyebrows rose above the rim of his half-mask as he studied his reflection and spun the thought thread further. “Do know what would be a twist worthy of Greek plays? No, of course not. How silly of me to assume so. You have no appreciation of dramatic literature.” He drew in a breath, content to answer his own question. “Let me tell you what my favorite twists are. Mascot battling Dancer over assumed captivity of that child Empath. Or perhaps Dancer and Legion.”

The names that rolled off Gentleman’s tongue had the sound of promise to them. He sank back into his chair, eyelids sinking downward. Both of the names brimmed with potential tragedy in their own right, but if brought together under the right circumstances…

It would be a drama worthy of legend: a twist and an ending with the power to change the face of the world. Not even Shakespeare had accomplished anything remotely like it.

Gentleman’s fingers drummed against the edge of his make-up desk. He stilled their movement, knowing his excitement was premature. He wasn’t there yet, and as it were, he didn’t even know Dancer’s location at present. The Irish boy who accompanied her was powerful enough to keep her hidden from everyone, including the young Visionary from Indonesia who had inherited Queenie’s tracking abilities.

Gentleman flicked a finger at the mirror without looking at it. “You would protest, of course. Claim the moral high ground. But remember that we are but pawns in the eyes of the Watchers. Who are they, you might ask? Well, in this particular case, even I must admit ignorance. The silent Watchers granted us powers while they themselves stay hidden behind the curtain. The stage is ours, for now. But rest assured that we are not alone.”

Gentleman tilted his head back to gaze up at the red-rimmed eye symbol that adorned the white-paneled wooden wall above the mirror. The paint job had been done by Magpie and was about three feet high and five wide, outlined without much in the way of artistic skill, but still offered plenty of motivation for keeping the boss happy. The sight of it filled Gentleman with a sense of purpose he’d never felt during his any of his scarce church visits.

He tapped his fingertips together in contemplation. After a few minutes of hopeful silence, the Watchers seemed to draw closer to his reality. If he listened long enough, he could almost hear them whisper in the shadows beneath the shelves and clothes hangers that filled his personal prop room.

They were at home in the darkness, Gentleman knew. He’d dreamed of them before he understood who they were and what they wanted. In those dreams, the world had been shrouded in absolute darkness, and the Watchers had whispered to him.

The whispers had spoken of power. The memory of them sent a shudder of anticipation through them.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Gentleman sing-songed, squinting at the shadows beneath his vanity table. “No? Ah, well. I do believe I will prove myself worthy yet. Wait and see, my elusive friends. Wait and see.”

No answer came, and his thoughts wandered to Preacher. While Gentleman didn’t hold the head of the Godkin movement in high regard, he had to admit that Preacher possessed a certain madman’s insight. The man understood that humans didn’t reach their full potential until circumstances forced them to rise above themselves. Happy people were boring, truly. People needed tragedy. It brought out their true colors and forced them to confront their real selves.

Dancer was the best proof of this.

“The stage is set, my watchful friends,” Gentleman told the painted eye. “There will be a final act, and a climax worthy of your expectations.”

He smiled faintly to himself. There was an unwritten law of the universe that assured maximum escalation if minimal influence was applied to the setting. Within the right window of opportunity, a tiny push could topple a mountain. And Gentleman knew exactly where and when to push. Whichever end the world was going to take – he had no doubt that it was going to be glorious.

Not that he meant to end the world. He was no comic book villain, and watching the escalation happen on its own was so much more satisfying.

“All the world’s a stage,” Gentleman told himself, quoting one of his favorite passages by Shakespeare. “And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.”

After he had finished, Magpie’s voice came through the intercom on the wall next to vanity table. She had timed her interference well – the woman knew better than to interrupt him while he was quoting Shakespeare. He might killed her if she had.

No one interrupted Shakespeare.

“Hey, boss? Are you talking to yourself again, or should I kick the door in to come rescue you?” Magpie failed to sound terribly concerned for his life; she knew him to be quite safe within his quarters.

“Have I, now? How pretentious of me,” Gentleman quipped in an attempt to muster some humor that didn’t quite match his mood.

“It was a good monologue, boss. You left out all the villainy bits, but we can work on that.”

He unfolded from the padded chair leisurely, adjusting his chest frills with his fingers. “Perhaps so. Have you come to lecture me on proper villain conduct again?”

Even through the intercom, he could hear the smirk in her voice. “Not today. I just thought you might want to check on our guests, you didn’t stop by this afternoon.”

“Did I not?” Gentleman asked, distracted by the selection of walking canes in front of him. They all looked so equally suitable for a walk he didn’t truly want to take. He exhaled a sigh. “I did not. How negligent of me.”

He picked a silvered, snake-headed cane from the rack and tucked it beneath his arm, then checked himself out in the mirror. He had no need for a walking aid, but the accessory enhanced the air of authority he had to maintain when he walked among his minions. Truly, leadership of the world’s most notorious villain group was no walk in the park, and the location of their headquarters – a small floating fortress a quarter mile beneath the surface of the Pacific – complicated matters further.

Gentleman had united some of the world’s most dangerous individuals, and the lack of outside stimulation made them restless. His ‘guests’ were no exception.

“You did not,” Magpie echoed through the intercom. “In the mood for some company? I’ll be with you in a minute.”

“If you insist.” He watched the corners of his mouth sag downward in the mirror and found himself lacking the willpower to fix his countenance. Instead, he applied a minor illusion to correct the flaw.

Magpie must have picked up the lack of enthusiasm in his voice, because there was an awkward stretch of silence. The Darkshaper woman wasn’t easily fooled, and they had slept together often enough that she occasionally saw through his illusions.

Maybe she has grown too close to me, he noted with some regret. Perhaps it is time to let her go.

“Hey, if you need some alone time because of Data, that’s understandable. But if you want some first class bullshitting – or maybe something else – to kill a few of those pesky spare hours in your day, I’ll be right there.”

He looked at the heavy security door that separated his private quarters from the rest of the underwater fortress, tapping his fingers against the snake-headed cane in consideration. He needed to speak to one of his prisoners in particular, though he did not enjoy the idea of killing her if she gave the wrong answer. Besides, his merry band of troublemakers wasn’t exempt from the laws of escalation, and some of his more unruly minions would interpret his absence as a sign of weakness. They’d sense the opportunity for change.

Like he had, not that long ago.

“Very well,” he said. “Let us pay a visit to our caged little birds. I do hope they missed me.”

“Oh, I’m sure of it,” Magpie said in a tone that contained enough enthusiasm for the both of them. “I actually placed bets with Rampage on who’s going to beg, threaten you, or ignore you today.”

“Did you, now?” Gentleman asked, lips twisting sourly beneath his illusionary face. He should have been glad that she’d stopped blathering about Data, but her earlier mention of the traitor’s name had left a sour taste in his mouth that would not dissipate.

“Oh yes. And he still owes me for yesterday. He was sure the Chinese chick would try to kill you after we brought her in.”

Gentleman clacked his tongue in disapproval. “The foolish boy.”

“Yeah. Even the heroes have to know you’re covered up by illusions, bodyguards, and safeguards almost twenty-four seven, right? Hell, Radiant knew, and the guy’s a dumbass. Anyway. I’m headed over!”

After an immeasurable amount of time spent dealing with smooth-talkers and liars, the woman’s blunt frankness was refreshing, and he wouldn’t enjoy letting her go any more than he wanted to dispose of that prisoner. Doing what was necessary was always hardest.

This was doubly true for a villain.

“Fine,” he said. “I will be expecting you in a few minutes.”




As they were heading to the galley, their first stop on the way to the lower levels, Magpie validated her position as a pleasant distraction by prattling on endlessly. She was very good at mindless chatter, and as the minutes passed, Gentleman felt his mood shift from irritable to mildly pleasant.

“You’ll never guess who made a showing today,” Magpie announced as she stepped in front of the steel security door leading to the galley. “I took a peek when I passed through earlier, and there he was. I hope he hasn’t sensed you and ran off.”

“I didn’t think I was that intimidating.” He let out a soft sniffle for effect.

“The rumors are going around,” she said. “It’s not every day that you… nevermind. Not important.”

Deal with traitors, he thought, frowning beneath the cover of his illusionary poker face.

While Magpie was talking, the identification access system worked its magic through the small camera lens that was mounted above the door. The system was one of a kind, and Gentleman absently wondered if he could trust the underlying AI not to slam the door shut and crush him to a pulp as he passed through. The traitor had designed it, after all. Like almost every other working mechanism in this swimming fortress.

“You are correct,” he replied drily, squinting at the camera. “The rumors are not important.”

They passed through the door unharmed, and Magpie gave a roguish grin that budged more than just one of her facial piercings. A smile wouldn’t have suited her, but the grin was a perfect mirror of her personality. It went nicely with her sidecut and the black and purple punk outfit. Unlike many young women her age, Magpie had found her style and was comfortable enough with it that she didn’t fuss over her looks.

You could have played the Pirate Queen, he mused, watching her.

“Not me,” she pointed out. “Over there. There’s your surprise.”

Gentleman followed her glance to see a brown-skinned young man at the very back of the large galley, tucked between a long wooden table and a chromium steel buffet that contained considerably more empty beer bottles than comestibles. Upon spotting Gentleman by the door, the youth froze, his skin seeming to turn a shade paler. Gentleman noted that single-use plate in front of him contained a half-eaten sandwich.

The young Visionary was the only other human present. The dining area was large enough to seat a crew of a hundred, but at this time of the day, most of the Conglomerate members who hadn’t been deployed preferred to grab one of Eve’s homemade soldier rations and eat elsewhere. Like most of the shelter, the galley wasn’t very comfortable. The metal walls hadn’t been covered with canvas or wood panels, and the heating consisted of old parts that had been acquired from vacant buildings.

“How adorable,” Gentleman cooed. “Did Eve forget to feed our mobile surveillance system? I was not aware he had begun leaving his cell.”

“You’re the one who unlocked his door,” Magpie said. “He just never actually left. Until now anyway. I guess he didn’t want to leave his folks alone in his room. He probably thinks we’ll murder them all when he isn’t in earshot.”

“I could hardly offer full guest rights to a family of six,” Gentleman argued. “Not all of them are as mild-mannered as our young friend here. And, I must add, they are not nearly as helpful to our cause.”

Magpie raised her hands in a gesture of surrender. “Hey, I wasn’t criticizing you, boss. Don’t kill me.”

The joke hit too close to home, and Gentleman’s smile beneath the illusion slipped a notch, along with his mood.

The fearful pair of brown eyes that watched him from the other end of the galley inspired him to head in that direction, and Magpie followed, trudging along in her combat boots. The reverberating sound of them seemed to intimidate their special guest further. He looked as if he might want to disappear beneath the table.

“Well, hello there,” Gentleman said pleasantly. He put a hand on the young man’s slender shoulder and squeezed it. “I see you are in the mood for some sightseeing, my fearful friend. I do hope you enjoy the French cooking.”

Magpie snickered to herself, but quickly fell silent when Gentleman shushed her with a finger.

“French?” The young man blurted. He gave the half-eaten sandwich an utterly perplexed look that was truly heart-warming.

“Quite so,” Gentleman replied in the same pleasant tone. “The lovely Eve is presently on kitchen duty. Please feel free to share any leftovers with your loved ones. They must be hungry as well.”

The Indonesian Visionary – the others had taken to calling him Watchmirror, though he hadn’t claimed the name for himself – stared at Gentleman for a couple of seconds before he managed to produce a response.

“I eat,” he said in his crude English. “I help, yes? Always help. Maybe can go, some?”

Gentleman gently squeezed the youth’s shoulder again, then withdrew his hand. “You are very helpful indeed,” he purred. “Maybe some can go, yes. You just keep watching and reporting.”

Watchmirror gave a quick, anxious nod. “I watch, yes. Radiant. Legion. Buddy. Others too, but they important most.”

“Such a clever young man you are.” Gentleman beamed at him, then turned to Magpie, the smile withering. “If only all of our guests shared his worth ethics.”

“I got some suggestions for improving those work ethics,” Magpie said cheerfully. Then she squinted at Watchmirror and paused. “Uh, maybe I can give you those suggestions when we’re out of earshot.”

“Very well.” Gentleman dipped a final nod to Watchmirror and departed without further ado. He stepped around the gleaming, obscenely understocked chromium buffet and made his way to the small, red-painted door that was behind it. A sign above it said ‘staff only’.

It was an understatement of almost comical proportions. If the surveillance system detected any unauthorized persons in the restricted area beyond the pantry, they would be vaporized by a combination of tech and the Transmuter powers it had been charged with.

Fortunately, that scenario had never come to pass. The traitor’s security was solid. Or had been. As Gentleman peered up at the three scanner lenses above the door, he wasn’t so sure anymore.

Magpie stepped to his side with a purposeful stride, clearly unconcerned. She was looking forward to this, Gentleman knew. She’d always enjoyed prodding the prisoners.

He dropped the minor illusions he’d been maintaining to adjust his appearance, and three lights lit up in sequence. He heard a faint buzz before the painted metal door slid open. In the room beyond, the lights flared to cast a glossy sheen over utilitarian kitchen equipment that hadn’t been used in months.

“Man, I’d love me some real French cooking,” Magpie said as she passed through the door. The heavy thuds of her boots resounded hollowly, providing proof that she hadn’t been vaporized and replaced by a holographic projection.

Gentleman took a deep breath before following suit. Once he had passed over the threshold, he wove new illusions to replace the ones he’d dropped. For his special guests, nothing but his best appearance would do.

“Speak to Drifter,” he suggested with practiced nonchalance. “Convince him to bring you a connoisseur of haute cuisine from Paris.”

She gave him a mock glare. “As if he’d do me any favors. He thinks I’m sleeping my way up.”

“Are you, now? I was not aware,” Gentleman said, already stepping in front of the door that was on the left side of the room. This one was smaller and much more unobtrusive than the first, without labels to warn any would-be trespassers of their impending vaporization.

“Ouch,” she complained. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but I have feelings too.”

“I am a villain, dear,” he replied softly. “I have expectations to meet.”

Magpie cocked her head to the side and gave him the evil eye, but said nothing. After a few seconds of him waiting patiently beside the door, she caught the drift and stepped through first without complaint.

Once she had passed through and turned to face him, Gentleman rewarded her with a beaming smile. “You are my favorite minion, you know,” he said, not quite sure whether he was being honest or not. Truth and falsehood blended so easily that he could hardly keep them apart. He could have invested a moment in pondering the statement, but his attention was on the metal corridor and the tech-packed door frame he still needed to pass. The faint hum it emitted made his skin crawl.

Please don’t vaporize me, he appealed as he passed through with one big, swift stride. The hum intensified for a brief moment before fading into silence. Upon glancing down at himself, he was pleased to note that he still appeared to be intact.

Magpie was watching him with one eyebrow raised. The inquisitive look didn’t suit her young face, but he resisted the urge to paint the illusion of a grin on her.

“Well, then,” he said, continuing down the corridor as if he didn’t have a care in the world. “Let us make our house calls.”

“Right,” she said, quick as ever to fall in beside him.

They passed the first sets of doors in silence. Most of the rooms beyond them had never held any guests; they were used to store explosives and other hazardous equipment. Even without looking at the doors, Gentleman knew the exact moment they passed Data’s former quarters. He had walked there daily to check on the cryo chamber and pay his respects to his former leader. They had not always been jailer and captive, after all.

They had been friends once.

The memory stung, prompting Gentleman to pluck a nicely clean handkerchief from his breast pocket. Even though the blood was long gone from his hands, he wiped them anyway, before settling his gaze on the first of the large, bulletproof glass windows that lined the corridor on the left side.

He hoped that what he was going to see on the other side would perhaps elevate his mood. He was a modest man without great expectations, so any kind of change from his last visit would do. Perhaps the imprisoned boy would cry for once. Or beg for mercy, like some of his predecessors had. Or just… do something.

But when Gentleman stepped up to the cell, Jasper Davis didn’t do him any favors. The British youth sat on his cot with his back turned to the window, facing the unadorned grey steel wall. The state-of-the-art – and rather expensive – music composer’s equipment that took up the right side of the room had never gotten more than a glance from him. The boy hadn’t even touched the piano, which Gentleman knew to be Jasper’s preferred means of escape.

“Still defiant,” he commented, glad for the many years of acting experience that covered up his frustration. He could have broken Jasper’s resistance act, he knew. Laughing Wolf had asked for permission to lend a hand, but musicians needed to have their wits about themselves to do their job. The power boosting ones were no exception.

“Hey, if all else fails, you can throw his horribly mutilated body at Dancer,” Magpie suggested. “Just in case you ever need her to stop being boring and pathetic.”

“I believe the last push was quite sufficient for the time being. I do not want to see her deliver the end of the world prematurely,” Gentleman replied, turning away from the window to face his companion instead.

“Do you believe she could actually be the Antithesis? For real?” Magpie asked.

“The Antithesis is anathema to the Healer,” he explained. “They are counterparts. I believe she has the potential to be the one or the other.” He clacked his tongue in consideration before adding, “Still, I do like your suggestion, dear.”

She dipped a nod in the direction of the window. “You might need her if you actually want him to cooperate. Or maybe you could just use someone he likes. It worked for Mascot.”

“Somewhat, but not exactly,” he corrected. “I fear her terms will be the end of me.”

“You shouldn’t have let her go help with Legion,” Magpie said. “Now she knows how much we need her. Those forcefields are insanely powerful, especially considering she hasn’t had a surge.”

Gentleman adjusted his grip on the cane and continued onward at a leisurely pace, shaking his head as he went. “She did not need Legion to know of our need, dear. Guardians are exceptionally good at what they do, and until we find Sanctuary, she is the last of them.”

“What of that Empath kid? Why didn’t you keep her as leverage?” Magpie asked behind him, prompting him to stop well before he reached the next cell.

“Emily is exceptionally dangerous,” he said in a level voice that was perfectly serious for once. “Her power includes a passive effect that affects anyone near her. That child would have turned my crew against me.”

“Okay, she brainwashed Mascot,” Magpie said. “Mascot has a weakness for kids because her baby brother kicked the bucket. But our crew? Really? No one even batted an eye when you needed volunteers to go take a grade schooler from her home.”

“Of course not. The effects of the child’s powers accumulate over time.” Gentleman shot Jasper a final glance, noted that nothing had changed, and continued down the corridor that wound its way through the fortress. The second holding cell, similarly equipped with a large, unbreakable viewing window, was only a few meters ahead.

This time, Magpie had nothing to add. The sound of her boots came with some delay, indicating that he’d succeeded in delivering food for thought.

“You are correct about one thing,” he said. “I very much would like to acquire some of our defiant British friend’s kin. Alas, the United Kingdom has seen fit to move them into hiding. A certain someone who shall not be named promised to find them but never did.”

He refused to let the traitor take up space in his mind. His thoughts wandered to Watchmirror instead, his most prized acquisition. Sadly, the young man could only locate other powered individuals.

It was fun to pretend otherwise, though. It certainly had Radiant on edge.

The prisoner who occupied the second cell was of the not so useful sort. The Hermit – a spindly, wild-haired man in his fifties – had been a member of Buddy’s group, but not a particularly knowledgeable or high-ranked one. However, seeing as his material altering powers weakened in relation to the number of other people nearby, he was more easily contained than Rage or Powder Train would have been.

Gentleman only spared him a glance in passing. He had no need to talk to this one, he only had to ensure that the man was safely tucked away and not causing trouble. The Conglomerate’s guests would all be useful in due time, Gentleman knew. He was not one to waste resources.

And his latest acquisition was both the most promising and most potentially frustrating of all.

As he approached the third of the viewing windows, his heartbeat sped up a little, and he quickened his pace until he was close enough to see Mascot on the other side. Her arm had been fully restored with the help of one of the traitor’s gadgets, but she’d failed to express much gratitude. The sight of his latest project filled Gentleman with a mixture of frustration and anxious anticipation.

Mascot sat a small folding table, across from that boy crush of hers whose presence in the fortress provided motivation for her to cooperate. Well, she didn’t exactly cooperate, but she hadn’t caused any property or personnel damage yet. It was a start.

Unlike her friend Ryan, Mascot looked surprisingly unruffled. She was the one talking, Gentleman noted, and there wasn’t a hint of fear on her face. She played her Guardian role well. In contrast, Ryan hung in his chair with his eyes darting across the ceiling, as if he expected to discover a secret passage that would lead him to freedom.

“Damn,” Magpie commented. “Those two are never going to get together. I was really hoping I’d get to watch if they get dirty, but man, they don’t even face suck.”

“She cares for him,” Gentleman replied, smirking faintly beneath his illusionary face. “That is all that matters. Besides, she is aware of the cameras. She found all but one.”

Magpie squinted sidelong at him. “You like her, don’t you?”

“What makes you think that?” he asked, squinting back at her.

She shrugged. “There’s something in your voice when you talk about her. You normally hide it better. Hey, whatever. Just don’t forget to kill her when you run out of reasons for keeping her around.”

“Do not concern yourself with my guests, dear. I am quite aware of what needs to be done, and for what reasons.” He raised his fist to knock on the window, then paused, interrupted by another remark from his companion.

“She hates you,” Magpie said with a satisfaction that was all too obvious. “If she didn’t, I’d probably kill her myself.”

Gentleman decided to ignore her impudence for once. If any other member of his crew had been watching, he would have needed to put her in her place. But they were alone, and he had already decided that she had become a liability.

Villains should not keep lovers, he reminded himself.

His knock on the glass alerted the two young people at the table, whose heads turned to him instantly. The long-haired young man froze on his seat, but Mascot got up from her chair and walked over to the window at a leisurely pace, wearing a poker face that was nearly as good as his own. He couldn’t tell whether or not she’d made a decision regarding their last conversation, and that lack of transparency was incredibly intriguing.

So much villain potential, he thought with a twinge of regret. And so completely blind to it.

“Hello, dear,” he said through the glass. “I trust everything is well?”

“I know why you’re here,” she replied, cutting straight to the point. “So let’s be clear about this. You want the Oracle and Sanctuary, and you can’t get to them without my forcefield. I don’t know why you want them, but the Oracle is the most powerful Visionary that ever lived. She made all those prophecies about the end of the world. I’m sure that if I knew your reason, I wouldn’t like it. So the voice of reason says…” she mouthed the last word silently: no.

“Ooooh, feisty,” Magpie said. “Now we have to kill her. How sad.”

“But that is not everything the voice of reason tells you, is it?” Gentleman asked, sincerely hoping that she’d thought this through.

“No,” Mascot said, only sparing the other woman a brief glance. “If your Visionary actually has Queenie’s powers, you could just kill me, find the next Guardian, and have this talk with them.” She watched him closely as she laid out the arguments, perhaps to determine whether her assumption was true.

And it was.

“And your friends would not be able to rely on your help when Legion makes an appearance,” Gentleman said. “I am quite reasonable. I let you go to them, did I not?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Here’s the thing. I want to talk to your Visionary. I know you let him out, he’s been walking around outside today. I want the same rights for myself and Ryan.”

“And after speaking to my Visionary and looking around, will your answer be yes?” Gentleman pried, struggling to keep the quiver of excitement from his voice.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But I’ll think about it some more.”

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