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March 7, 4:30pm

Even though the Manor was locked as usual, Erin’s key let her in the kitchen door, or rather the door to the largest of the many kitchens. She’d come bearing gifts, and cat as well, a sure sign that she planned to stick around for awhile. Charlie wasn’t the independent soul that his father was, and he pouted if left alone too long, even with sufficient kitten chow. Even now he wasn’t too happy sitting on her shoulder, with her hair still wet from the shower she’d grabbed after work.

“Trevor?†she called, her voice echoing in the silent hallways of the Hunter Estate. “Are you home yet? I brought a pizza!†Pausing at the counter, she filled Charlie’s food and water dishes and left him to dig in.

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The sound of metal shifting and knocking into other metal came from the workshop down the hallway and before long the dark haired young man in question appeared in the kitchen doorway, simple white t-shirt stained with spots of oil along with his pale skin and roughly half of some unidentifiable gadget held absently in one hand. Trevor blinked his unusually coloured eyes at Erin somewhat owlishly, having been roused from single-minded concentration. "Finished early?" he asked, looking over at the clock above the stovetop and blinking again as he realized the time. "Ah. That would explain why I’m hungry. Haven’t eaten today."

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“Yeah, I figured, and that you probably haven’t got anything in the house. ‘S why I brought the pizza,†she told him with a quick grin. Dampening a cloth in the sink, she dabbed the oil spots off his face before giving him a glad-to-see-you kiss. Things between them were never entirely uncomplicated, but they’d gotten a lot better after she’d confessed the loss of her powers and started to come to terms with it. The routine they had going now was a nice one, a comfortable one. Almost like family. “I picked up a large, so your grandpa can have some too. What are you making?†she asked, nodding towards the doohickey in Trevor’s hand.

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"Sure there’s food somewhere," Trevor defended as a matter of rote, the kiss leaving a faint smile behind on his otherwise inexpressive face. Turning his attention back to the partially assembled gadget, he grunted softly and placed it unceremoniously on a nearby cutting board, heedless of the last trickles of lubricant still leaking from its innards. "A mess, mostly," he answered Erin question wryly, wiping his hands on his pants before opening the nearest cabinet and deliberating between stacked rows of sealed containers of roasted beans. "Tried to shave off space with a thinner valve; didn’t hold." Making a decision, he retrieved the canister and a scoop. "Smaller: not always better."

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“Very true,†Erin agreed solemnly, her lips twitching as she dug the pizza cutter out of a drawer and began slicing the pizza. Charlie abandoned his food to wind around her ankles and meow piteously, obviously angling for a bit of mozzarella or a pepperoni. “No way,†she muttered to the cat, “the carpets here cost more than our apartment. I’m not letting you barf on them.†While Trevor brewed coffee, she slid slices of pizza onto plates and poured herself a glass of ice water. The sound of distant police sirens caught her attention, but even in a ritzy neighborhood like this, it wasn’t a particularly unusual noise. “How was school?â€

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Filling the carafe with filtered water from the refrigerator while the growling machine of the counter reduced the beans to fine grounds, Trevor offered the kitten a vaguely apologetic look, though he expected they both knew that Erin was entirely correct. "Fine," he told her as he poured the water into the coffee maker before closing the lid contemplatively and twitching the corner of his mouth in what, for him, passed for a grimace. "Dull. First year still largely theory. Already know it." Letting out a breath, the engineer crossed his arms and leaned against the counter. "Good practice being... normal, anyway." He’d let his skills at passing as a largely uninteresting heir to a moderate fortune as opposed to the heir to a crime-fighting tradition atrophy somewhat while at Claremont; he couldn’t afford to be sloppy when dealing with his fellow FCU students.

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“Sitting through boring freshman classes sounds pretty normal,†Erin agreed, hopping up on the counter and taking a bite of pizza. “I’ve got the day off tomorrow, Murdock and I traded shifts because he wants a free weekend later this month. Mind if we hang out here?†Much as Erin liked having her own place, it could be claustrophobically small when she spent too much time there. And the company was better here, Charlie notwithstanding.

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"Don’t really have to ask, you know," Trevor reminded her, the particular variant of deadpan suggesting he was well amused. Pouring out two cups, he took a deep sip from his own, rolling the black coffee around his mouth to deal with the dryness left from losing track of time in the workshop before preparing the second cup to Erin’s prescription. Truly, if he could overlook the unholy amount of sweeteners she preferred, there was little he could not forgive in the name of love. "Bit surprised. From what you’ve said, didn’t seem like the type to make weekend plans," he noted of her coworker as he handed her the mug and retrieved a piece of pizza for himself.

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She shrugged. “I didn’t ask him. Maybe he wants to catch a baseball game or something. Hopefully he’ll have better luck with it than we ever did. I was thinking if the weather holds, maybe tomorrow after your classes we could take one of the convertibles out to Wharton Forest and have lunch or something. Been awhile since we got outside...†She trailed off at the sound of another siren, frowning a little at the unexpected noise. “Police are busy tonight,†she remarked. “I wonder what’s going on.â€

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Tilting his head to one side as he listened, Trevor frowned, the most severe expression of the afternoon yet. Producing a handheld tablet from the rear pocket of his pants, with a few swift gestures across its surface he brought up a number of aggregated feeds and news sites. "Hnn. Social sites going crazy. Gas attacks. ‘Motley’...?" Onyx and ruby eye abruptly widening, his hand shot out to fling Erin’s glass of water toward the empty sink where it shattered. "Water supply’s been tainted," he explained urgently, already making his way toward the hidden entrance to the secret caverns below the mansion. "Contagious designer mutagen. Powers erupting all over the city, exponentially."

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Erin jerked in surprise at Trevor’s sudden violence against her glass, but it was a tribute to three grueling years of therapy and training that she didn’t so much as raise a hand. “Tainted?†she repeated as she pushed off the counter to follow him, tipping Charlie’s water dish into the sink as she did so. “What do you mean, powers erupting? Is it another invasion?†In moments they were at the stately old clock that was gatekeeper to the true Midnight Manor, swinging it aside and heading down the narrow staircase. Down in the control room, the signal boards were lit up with the emergency calls beginning to go up all over the city, the monitors lit with emergency newscasts. Erin took it all in, then ran a hand through her still-damp hair. “What the hell?â€

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"Normal people suddenly developing powers," Trevor clarified as he flicked a series of switches on the massive computer’s old fashioned interface to bring up several different news programs all covering the same thing. "A ‘Mister Motley’ claimed responsibility. Power dealer; growth hormones, genetic cocktails. Never on this scale before..." Grabbing one of the several utility belts hanging in an orderly row on an equipment wall, he used one hand to wrap it around his waist en route to the Midnight Manor’s extensive chemical laboratory. Rifling through the supplies there, he considered quickly what might be of use. "Police, other services responding, spreading too quickly." An announcement coming simultaneous to the various anchors on the screens drew his attention. "...quarantining the city."

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Erin faltered, her face losing some of its color at that announcement. Not the same, she reminded herself harshly. Just some jumped-up supervillain attack, people scared and overreacting. “So the tainted water itself isn’t hurting anyone, but it’s giving them superpowers?†she asked. It took another moment before the potential impact of that struck her. Bad enough at Claremont when some kid suddenly manifested a new power and couldn’t control it. Outside the school environment, and dozens or hundreds of people at once... “What kinds of powers are we talking about here?â€

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"Wide range," Trevor grunted somewhat distractedly as filling the compartments of his belt with vial after vial, doing his best to anticipate any possible needs. "Physical transformation, psychokinetic from reports, at least." Turning around he paused midstep as he caught sight of Erin’s expression. Instantly making the connection, his own features softened. "...not going to let it grow out of control," he promised, moving close enough to place one hand on her shoulder.

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“I know,†she said firmly, lacing her fingers through his for just a moment. “But we’d better get to work. Cold pizza later will have to do.†She squeezed his hand once, then went to the closet where she kept a uniform for just this sort of occasion. Quickly hanging up her civilian clothes, she skinned into her purple and black uniform in under a minute. She was just fastening her collar when she suddenly doubled over, putting a dent in the door as she grabbed it to avoid falling. Closing her eyes, she caught her breath in short gasps until the pain was gone, as quickly as it had come.

Straightening, she shook herself, brushed herself off. “Weird,†she said, concern in her face as she looked over at Trevor. “Muscle pain all over my body. Like you know how growing pains feel? But all over.†She pursed her lips. “We better get to work,†she said again.

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"Like hell," Trevor retorted brusquely, his customary black jacket still unfastened and his featureless mask hanging undone about his neck even as he donned his beaten fedora to free up the hand holding it. Slamming a button on the Manor’s intercom with entirely more force than was necessary, he quickly intoned, "Downstairs. Quickly." Turning back aroung, he jogged back to Erin, searching her face intently. "No idea how mutagen might interact with your vaccine. Examination before we go anywhere."

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“We haven’t got time for this,†Erin said impatiently. “If something happens to my powers, I know how to deal with that. And if something does happen, I at least want to be able to feel like I did something to help beforehand! People are in trouble out there, and nothing a spin through one of your weird machines tells us is going to change that.†Her face set in all-too-familiar stubborn lines, she put her bat in its holster. “I’m fine now, and you drank the water too. You’re at as much risk as I am.â€

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The engineer held both hands at shoulder height, finger bent into a vaguely claw like expression of frustration. After a beat a silence, he lowered them and let a breath out through his nose. "Stubborn," he accused with the suggestion of a grumble, stepping quickly to a different rack of equipment to retrieve the kit of tools they’d prepared specifically in case Erin, with her superhumanly durable skin, was found in immediate need of medical attention. "At least taking a blood sample for Gramps to look over while we work," he insisted, producing a syringe.

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Erin frowned at that; getting stuck with needles was not high on her list of favorite activities. But it was a compromise, and it would get them out faster. “Fine,†she agreed with little grace, rolling up her sleeve and closing her eyes so he could take the sample. One of the few benefits of losing so much of her power was that taking blood was far less difficult and traumatic than it used to be. In a moment the deed was done, the wound sealed up before she could so much as hold a gauze pad over it. “Let’s take the motorcycle,†she suggested. “Redbird can keep us up to date on where the worst problems are.â€

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"Sensible," a soft, feminine alto agreed as the matte black Night Cycle wheeled itself, riderless, from its resting place and closer to the pair while Trevor transferred the blood sample to a small vial. Redbird spent the bulk of her ‘free time’ merged with the Night Cycle, occupying herself with its built-in computer systems and wireless connections. The autonomic machine intelligence had a somewhat unsettling habit of only making her presence known when she was addressed or mentioned, but given the human she’d imprinted upon, that wasn’t entirely surprising.

The sound of a tapping cane coming down the stairs preceded another voice of a similarly understated tone. "You’ve seen the reports." Travis Hunter, the original Midnight, appeared from the mansion upstairs, moving more slowly than he would have in his younger years. He made his words a statement of fact rather than a question, taking a moment at the base of the stairs to catch his breath.

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Trevor grunted in affirmation and handed the vial to his grandfather. "Erin’s blood," he explained before finishing buckling his jacket and pulling his mask up over his features. "Potentially exposed." The subtlest shift in his body language was all the was necessary to convey to the elder Hunter that his protege would feel much better having heard the results of testing on the sample. The subtlest inclination of Travis' head was all it took to assure him that he need not worry.

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“Everyone in the city is potentially exposed,†Erin pointed out. “But it doesn’t hurt to be careful.†She ran her hands over her arms, telling herself that the prickly feeling in her arms was just from nerves and adrenaline. “We’ll keep in touch,†she promised Travis. What must it be like for him, she wondered in passing, to have to stay here and watch another Midnight, someone he loved, go out into danger? Maybe it was good he had something to keep him busy and useful. “Let’s go.†She headed for the garage at a run, slowing just enough to let Trevor keep up.

Continued in vignette...

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Continued from vignette...


Within moments, the Night Cycle had maneuvered around the zoo's circular pathway to the now gigantic Wander, though Midnight remained far enough back to both make looking up at her face a little more convenient and avoid being directly underfoot. It seemed a sensible precaution to the startled group of gorillas still on the ground, who had warily retreated to a safer distance without quite fleeing entirely. "How do you feel?" he called upward, resisting the temptation to inanely ask if she was alright.

"Excellent!" Redbird spoke up heartily from within the motorcycle, the Furion part of her current personality matrix overcoming her more recently acquired calm. "Truly, I did not think the shieldmaiden could be made yet more effective in battle. Most impressive."

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Wander stared down at him for a moment, looking both stunned and unnerved. "I..." She crouched on her heels, as though being only twenty feet up instead of fifty would grant them appreciably more privacy. "The pain is gone, anyway," she told him with a massive shrug. "Guess it really was growing pains. But what the hell do I do now?" She looked to the gorilla, still struggling to free itself from her grip, and reached over to set it down in an empty enclosure. "This isn't exactly what I expected to happen!" She'd expected that her powers might malfunction, even wondered if they might possibly come back at full force, but this hadn't even been on her radar. "I don't know how to turn it off!"

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Rising to a standing position atop the Night Cycle is a fluid motion, Midnight jumped from the motorcycle towards the nearest animal enclosure, hoisting himself atop the tall fence and eventually making his way to the roof of a washroom building, bringing him roughly level with Wander's knee in her crouching position. After a moment of silent consideration, the masked man commented, "Were right about leaving the Manor." While the inflectionless deadpan might have left someone overhearing confused as to his attitude, for Erin the weak attempt at ill-timed humour was an obvious sign that Trevor had found himself without an immediate plan and was trying to keep them both calm while he wracked his mind.

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