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Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

The Fens, Freedom City

1:29 PM EST (GMT-5)

It was a sweltering summer day for Freedom City, the sun perched on high as it bombarded the urban sprawl that was the Fens. The signs of an uncharacteristically intense heatwave were evident everywhere, from the passers-by in shorts and tanktops to the lack thereof on many of the streets, its denizens having moved inwards to escape the torrental heat of the outdoors through air conditioning and shade. If it weren't for the weekend itself, no doubt nobody would have been trawling the urbane jungle today, and the dapper-looking young man standing beside a cart filled with ice cream wouldn't be made to suffer as he parked his mobile business alongside the corner.

But that wasn't why he was present. In fact, beyond that lone purveyor of deliciously decadent treats, there was quite the gathering outside what was considered one of the

older apartment complexes still standing amidst the Fens. Through super-battles, the Terminus Invasion, and everything else that transpired regularly in the legendary city, it

had remained standing on the same foundation it was formed upon almost twenty years ago. No, the reason they had all gathered like a wild flock of birds to rest their weary

wings wasn't the prospect of something cool to beat the heat, but the sight before them: the Lacrenza Apartments complex up in roaring flames and spewing smoke, a trio of fire

trucks blaring their sirens as a warning even as the firefighters scrambled in vain to quelch the blaze. The mortar and brick building looked like it was in dire straits as

things quickly began to escalate, policemen and ambulances moving in to cordone off the area to keep the civilians safe, pushing the gawkers and would-be onlookers as quickly

and as far away as the civil servants could legally manage.

As the flames licked and seared the old building, rickety fire escapes began to slough and windows shattered, causing many of the on-lookers to yelp and holler in shock and

surprise. The scene growing precariously more dire in the few moments the mysterious flame had erupted, another vehicle found its way to the already littered site. As the van

came to a stop, its familiar Channel 3 logo emblazoned upon its side, a confident looking woman and her cameraman burst from its confines with practiced aplomb, causing several of the individuals watching the heavily-clad firemen spraying the fire in futility to shift their gaze to the media personality for but a moment.

"This is Amy Feng of Action 3 News reporting live from the Fens where a massive fire has engulfed a local apartment building," she chimed into the camera with all the

professionalism of a soldier whom had been raised upon the battlefield, her unflappable calm a vast contrast to the coos and screeches of the ensemble of citizens watching the

horror unfold. It was almost uncanny how the daring reporter almost always managed to hit the latest of Freedom City's iconic onsets with such rapidity, but perhaps that was

part of her strange charm - a woman of danger blessed with perpetual serendipity. "As you can see, firefighters are already attempting to quell the rising fl--"

"There're people up there!" a middle-aged Hispanic woman cried, her accent prevalent as she pointed sharply towards a smattering of windows on the upper-floors. Like

clockwork, the news cameraman aimed his tool of the trade skywards, zooming in to catch several residents of the now burning building waving frantically out of their smoke-

spewing windows for assistance. Without missing a beat, the newswoman motioned for the cameraman to return, her face quickly recontorting itself into her trademark of poised

precision, a single droplet of sweat beginning to form at her brow as the combined heat of the outdoors and the raging fire began to take its imminent toll, spreading across

the building itself like a living, breathing thing bent on wanton destruction.

"We've now got confirmation that people are still trapped inside the burning building as firefighters desperately try to get inside to help. As details unfold, we'll keep you all posted. This is Amy Feng, Action 3 News."

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Finally, Summer Vacation had arrived! For many youngsters in Freedom City, this was a chance to sit back and relax, to hang out with their friends and family without having

the looming concern of homework, school projects, extracurriculars, or teachers looming over their shoulders. Teenagers all over the city would be free of the semi-tyrannical

reign that was the school system, at least for a time. In the wake of this absence, no doubt more than a few would leave the comforts of home for greener pastures until time

again forced their return; to the scenic southern beaches, to see distant relatives, or simply to party like teens are wont to do in the wake of freedom, a mere moment of

their own to live a stress-free life that all too soon would feel like a distant memory of yesteryear.

But Baxter Bowles - a garden-variety dime-a-dozen FDR High attendee - had other plans. He'd had plans for months, quietly plotting and planning, feigning ignorance and

carefully practicing what he'd be doing for the rest of the summer. He'd given it much thought, contemplating the impact his endeavors would have. In his mind he saw what he

wanted, how he wanted to achieve it; how things would go perfectly in his head like a masterfully constructed but nonetheless campy summer special for children. But there were

times that he saw what could go terribly wrong. Was he really meant for this? Baxter wasn't conflicted, so much as afraid; afraid of failure, of coming up short in his

idealistic designs. His rehearsals were coming to an end just as summer had arrived, but now it was time for his curtain call. It was time to see if he had what it took to

follow what some might consider a fool-hardy dream. That dream had been an obsession once already for the young African-American boy, but now it felt as though it were in his

grasp on this particularly balmy summer day as the sun scorched the pavement and cast delicate shadows across Freedom City. There was a pit in his stomach, vaccuously gnawing

at the excitement in his heart; right now, Baxter was living the dream.

And so here he was, donned in some ridiculous getup with whirring wings and insectile antennae, buzzing through the air faster than any car he'd ever seen as the crowded

streets below moved by in a blur; its denizens all but oblivious to the flitting entity above the clouds, brick buildings and poorly maintained asphalt roads below . It was

the suit, of course, that had inspired Baxter's new secret hobby, its mechanical marvels an unintentional gift from his insane uncle that had given Baxter this one opportunity

to be greater than his Joe Shmoe status. Today, on the the first day of his liberation from what had become a scholastic prison ever since the Bee-Keeper II had assaulted

Freedom Hall, Baxter would put his own convictions to the test - a trial by fire as the new Bee-Keeper III, an attempt at becoming redemption personified for all the heinous

things the former had orchestrated. But he needed something... something to get his foot in the door to the whole superheroing gig; nothing too flashy or grandiose - after

all, the Bee-Keeper II did have a bit of a reputation! - but at this point, the young Apian-themed adventurer wasn't terribly picky. Yet, despite the supposedly crime-ridden

streets of Midtown, nothing had so much as been mentioned on the police scanner, the suit's radio picking up little more than muffled static or the ocassional check-in or

meager disturbance.

Just when he was about to change course, that's when the channel crackled to life; an ominous flurry of orders spewing into Bee-Keeper III's helmet, the automated antennae twitching towards the source to maximize the clarity of the frequency.

"Attention all units: 10-76 on Fourth and Crenston at Lacrenza Apartments. Civilians confirmed. Engine 4 is en route. Requesting additional assistance..."

This was it! Something other than sticking muggers to alley walls in the dead of night or interrupting a gas station hold-up. Bee-Keeper, behind the unflinching mechanical

facade that was the battlesuit's yellow-and-black helmet, couldn't help but smile slightly. But even as the mechanical wings upon his back veered him towards the Fens, the

young boy couldn't help but feel a twinge of anxiety now. This wasn't something he'd ever done before; butterflies now dancing in his gut as the computerized navigational

system focused in on the address provided, pointing the way to the intended destination. There was a lot at stake here; peoples' lives were on the line. It was do-or-die, and

Baxter - no, the Bee-Keeper! - had to be on top of his game. Just had to stay cool, despite the relentless sauna he was rushing towards all aflutter.

High above, the scene fell into view immediately as the new Bee-Keeper flew into the Fens district, the fire trucks having already arrived on-scene and the obvious torrent of

flame and smoke a more than adequate indicator of the already alarming situation. Below, policemen and what appeared to be a news van became evident as well, Baxter himself

loftily poised as he surveyed the scene, taking in the situation with all the experience of an infant.

"Geez!" decried the bee-themed adventurer to himself, a metal gauntlet clapping against the side of his sturdy helm as the stared in awe-struck disbelief at the ensuing chaos

and the patrons trapped therein. "Okay, Baxter. Keep it together, man. You can do thizzz. No prezzzzure. Juzzt... juzzt people to zzave, a fire to put out, and try'n not get

arrezzted by the copzz. No biggie. Juzzt... you know, don't blow it."

Taking a deep breath, his heart racing within his chest, Baxter dove down towards the scene below, making a bee-line towards what looked to be an middle-aged man flailing at

the window. The rush of hot air as he grew closer and closer was practically debilitating, the scent of smoke and uncomfortability of the heat just barely staved off as the

Bee-Keeper came to a stop, hovering in front of the window-bound fellow before him as the rise of murmurred voices rose up from the packed street below. Baxter couldn't let it

get to him; this was important. Whatever beef they had, or sentiments they wanted to hurl his way could wait for the time being. Right now, the people inside were his

priority, and he was already nervous enough as it was about whisking folks out of the high-rise building currently on fire before the structure either caved in on itself or its denizens suffocated.

"Hey! I'm here to buzzt you out of thizz mezz! Juzzt zztay calm, okay?" Baxter implored, hands help up defensively as if to seem unthreatening. This, however, was probably a

poor tactic, given his insectile appearance and notoriety pre-emptively established, the suit's voice synthesizer making the young teenager sound suspiciously similar to the

last Bee-Keeper whom had presided in Freedom City. "You gotta truzzt me. Give me your hand, and I'll have you outta here bee-fore you know it!"

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The sun beat down on the city and the humidity rose from the bay and the rivers, until it was choking, like breathing through a wet cloth. Blue Jay was used to humidity or the sun, but not both at once. It was a strange feeling, but her costume could have been tailor-made for this sort of weather -- trim, sleeveless, and well-fitted, not allowing anywhere for sweat to gather or much loose material to rub and chafe. The mask was an oddity, but she accepted it as a challenge. the weight of her quiver and bow across her back was reassuring, and she drew strength from that.

Just now, she was running across the rooftops of the city, hurtling alleys without a care and taking longer gaps with a special grapple-line arrow. She only had a few of those, and took care to recover each one. She liked this part of the city, what the maps noted as the Fens, because the buildings were fairly low and the roofs flat -- perfect for some exercise like this. She caught flashing lights out of the corner of her eye and slowed to a halt, breathing deeply, heart beating strongly and rapidly in her chest, as she watched the swirl of emergency vehicles and gawkers. She remembered the commlink she'd been issued by the Academy and dug it out, fitting the ear-piece and switching it on. The little piece of tech sought out the emergency band in a way that was still mostly magical to the teen, and she listened in as the firefighters called in more engines and ambulances.

Blue Jay was not trained or accustomed to working in the public eye. She was an assassin by training, a hunter by inclination; her way was slowly catching up to her target and ambushing it, finishing the fight before it had properly begun. In the resistance camps a disaster like this one would be a sign for evacuation -- but in a crowded city like this, she reasoned, people couldn't simply abandon it all in a few minutes. Heck, most people around here didn't even seem to keep an emergency go-bag! Shaking her head at the foolishness, she fired off an arrow and was pulled across by the road by the special winch built into the side of her bow. A fire might not be a foe she could subdue with blows and traps, but she could certainly evacuate the civilians.

She picked up speed as she moved and landed on the loose gravel of the building's roof, her breath catching in her throat as her entire skin contracted in the heat of the fire. She drew an arrow from her quiver, carefully using the thumb selector to pick a broadhead; she could see the door leading off the roof and deeper into the building, but it was likely locked. The archer nocked the arrow, paused briefly, went to full extension, fired, and resumed her run in a single smooth motion that took less than a second. The arrow pierced the lock and continued on. Blue Jay slammed into the door, rebounded, and fumbled at the catch for a moment before getting it open. She jumped across the stairwell, grabbed her arrow where it had embedded itself in the smouldering roof, and landed heavily on the turning below. Arrow went back in the quiver and bow collapsed with a squeeze and a jerk, to be slotted in its own holster on the outside of the quiver. She hurried down to the next landing and the first proper floor, banging the fire door open and stepping into the smoke-filled hallway. She bent down under the smoke roiling on the ceiling and started crab-walking forward, calling as she went. "Hello! Is anyone still up here? I'm here to help you!"

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With a crack of metal on concrete, the King of Suits sailed over the edge of the abandoned clothing store, his high-collared cape swirling about him as he looked in horror at the apartment building in flames. He had first learned of the horrible event when one of the fire engines parked nearby had gone roaring past during his defusing of what had almost become and armed robbery attempt. It hadn't helped very much to calm the frayed tempers. After dealing with that mess, Marceau had come racing towards the distressingly close-by pillar of smoke that heralded the burning, and so was deeply grateful that he had managed to train himself to not be affected much by high heat, which in his heroics garb would have been mild torture. Surveying the scene as he readied himself for entry he was struck at how depressingly often he had seen something like this: a tall building in flames, workmanship or materials proving not up to the task and foiling escape efforts, and s crowd of horrified onlookers watching the catastrophe. At least the response was blessedly quick he thought to himself, aiming the grapple gun at the wall just above a shut window on one of the highest floors through which billows of smoke could be seen. Donning a gas mask over his face, fastening the seals that connected to the cowl that concealed two-thirds of his head, and sliding a razor and explosive card into he holsters on his sleeves, he fired the grapple line and soared off, passing like a red and black cloud above the heads of the horrified citizens, firefighters and the news crew.

As he raced for a collision with the wall, he folded his legs, aimed at the wooden window frame, and when he was almost upon it struck out with his feet, sending the frame smashing out of the sill against the wall as he rolled inside, striking his shoulder with a painful crash against the same barrier. Stifling a groan, he leaped to his feet, retrieved the grapple anchor from its mark before replacing it in his belt, and immediately began to set about the task of finding people who needed help fleeing the deathtrap. He cut a ghoulish figure as he dashed through the smoke-filled halls, hammering on doors and shouting "Hello! Is anyone in here?" thinking better of it, he slid out the powerful hand-rams from their compartments on the back of his utility belt, putting them on and giving them an experimental clench that sent a low thrumm through the air.

Nodding in satisfaction, he resumed his search, seeking out closed or locked doors to find those still trapped in the slowly burning apartment complex.

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Jay Xavier yawned and stretched as he woke up from a (literal) catnap. The blatantly non-human sleeping patterns that came with his feline body were… annoying, but at the same time, he had to admit that his nonstandard sleep pattern came in handy now and then. Not now, however; not when he woke to a news report of a burning apartment building. Oh, flipping hell, he thought. How long -- never mind. Only good thing is that it couldn't have been more than a few clock-minutes I was sleeping while it burned.

Pausing only to fully re-stock all the tools and supplies in his Vest Of Many Things, Jubatus blurred down the streets of Freedom City, straight for the Lacrenza Apartments in the Fens. When he arrived, the Fastest Cat Alive downshifted to the normal tempo of 1 and then looked for whoever was in charge of the firemen. Jubatus had no intention of working at cross-purposes with the firemen's already-existing efforts…

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As the Lacrenza Apartments continued to smolder in the wake of the spontaneous fire, the assembled crowd of fearful citizens let loose cries of jubilation as Freedom City's protectors began to make their fortuitous arrivals. Like actors walking the red carpet, it was a thunderous and abrupt affair accented by whistles and encouraging fanfare, particularly so for the card-themed crusader and the fleet-footed feline as the crowd chants for their favorite on-scene advocate.

Outside of the blazing apartments, Jubatus' timely arrival to the heated scene was a mostly welcomed sight, as evidenced by the cheering of formerly panicked citizenry watching the catastrophe unfold in front of them, though more than a couple individuals give the fellow a hard look of incredulity, curiosity and expressive concern. It doesn't take a scientist to figure out who's calling the shots at this shindig, and the clever technocrat quickly found the head honchos leading the charge to liberate the imprisoned evacuees still confined to the quickly degrading apartments. There were two, in fact, and as they stood amidst the impromptu command center of huddled ambulances, fire engines, and police cruisers, they seemed to be embroiled in a flurry of activity of their own. One of them was an older Caucasian fellow, dressed in the typical boy-in-blue attire common amongst Freedom's Finest, a thick grey mustache lining his upper-lip, standing out more prominently due to the fellow's otherwise chromed dome. The other man is much younger by comparison, a middle-aged man whose heritage is more debatable with his darkened skin but exotic, almost oriental features, clad in a thick array of fire-retardant garments and shielded helmet, visor uplifted so as not to obfuscate the fellow's features.

"Finally! Someone to help!" the policeman shouted, extending a hand towards the felidae hybrid as he approached. "Good to see a friendly face. I'm Sergeant Johnson, and this is Lieutenant Reddy. We're working on coordinating our boys here, and we could use an extra hand. This is getting out of control! First the fire, then that guy showed up," the elderly officer shouted so as to hear himself over the throng behind the police line, thrusting a finger towards the armored entity fluttering in front of the window of one of the survivors as smoke continued to bellow out of the windows.

"What Chuck said," added the fireman clearly running the rescue op, granting the would-be cat-person an amalgamated look of disbelief and skepticism. "We've got boys on the ground floor pulling folks out, but the stairwell's inaccessible till' we can get a water relay setup going; we just don't have enough water to stop the spread and get up there. Problem is, we've got people still stuck on the second and third floor and we can't spare a ladder team; if we can't get them out quick, the smoke'll get to them before we can. Hopefully those other heroes'll get to them in time." The experienced fireman sighs heavily, removing his helmet to run a hand through his sweat-drenched dark hair in thought before returning his headgear to its proper place. "No fire alarm went off when the fire started so we didn't get a chance to catch it early, and reports on that are sketchy, too. There's no telling how many folks are inside still, but that's our number one priority. If you've got any ideas beside running in there or beating our heads against a brick wall, I'm all ears."

Meanwhile, back at the smoke-filled window, the fellow coughing and sputtering his insistence at rescue seemed uncaring as to whom exactly was doing the rescuing. Rightfully so, given the grim situation he'd been placed in. Already covered in a small coat of soot from the burning interior, the man extended his arms towards the armored apiary adventurer, a pleading look etched into his face.

Inside the Lacrenza Apartments' third floor, both King of Suits and Blue Jay had made their way into the inner workings of the complex proper. With the fire the most intense inside, the already staggering heat from outdoors was magnified in the wake of the blaze. It was unlike what was often portrayed in the movies; within the brick and mortar facility, the carpeting and walls are asunder with the roiling flames, whilst the hardwood floors remained (mostly) navigable; the scent of burnt paneling and paint suffused with the smoke causing an uncomfortable but bearable irritation. The air was dry and rough, inhalation even below the rising levels of smoke an ordeal in itself; stifling and exhaustive as the oxygen becomes more and more scarce. But the time for such concerns might be moot as the pair of otherwise ordinary heroes call out, letting whomever might be within the building that help has arrived; in fact, the two hear each other's inquiries, an almost comical echo were it not for the circumstances that had brought the two adventurers now only separated by the opposite sides of the building's square-shaped floor plan.

"Yes! In here!" comes a voice nearest to Blue Jay on the south end of the building, near the rooftop entryway and opposite the firemen and news crew. The archer readily recognizes the source of the cry, pinpointing the feminine request for aid just a few doors down where the hallway turns, spouts of fire and smoke curling their way lazily near the junction. The path itself seems unobstructed, but time is of the essence; the spreading flames don't appear to be waiting for anyone as they begin to creep towards the doorway!

"Get us outta here, man! Hurry!" another voice echoes, followed by another murmur from one of the rooms just a few feet from where the King of Suits was poised. Following the auditory trail and trying hard not to breath in the wafting smoke rife with an odd odor, the caped crusader found the locale easy enough. The problem, of course, lied in that the flames had already begun to consume the paneling around the metal-barred door, its frame wreathed in a smoldering sheath of roiling embers that stripped the meager coat of paint and crass graffiti that lined the walls with equal aplomb.

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From his lofty vantage point, the newest incarnation of the Bee-Keeper was all but oblivious to the affairs transpiring back on the streets behind him, the roar of the sirens and clamoring crowd, however, lent a distinct sense of something going on. Baxter's face was thankfully fully obfuscated by the heavy metallic helmet of the Bee-Keeper Armor, for as the smoke and fire rose and spread, the young boy's face contorted into a very unhealthy grimace of displeasure drenched in sweat. Heart beating against his chest like a hammer to a nail, this wasn't quite what Baxter had in mind when he wanted a definitive test; but it was too late now to complain, and the young man was saddled with his decision. These people were counting on him.

Just as the fellow trapped at the window began his second bout of intense coughing in the wake of the searing, smoke-laden complex, arms outstretched in his helpless situation, something peculiar draws the Bee-Keeper's attention. The first thing is a peculiar sight; a darting shadow above the would-be hero's head as a figure absconded to the rooftop, the entity's identity having been missed by Baxter's own tardy reflexes. Soon thereafter, another fellow crashed the party in a very literal way, barreling through the window with astounding efficiency despite the danger presented near the aspirant himself. This time, the bee-themed hero got at least a glimpse for that small window of opportunity; the fellow looking not unlike the living embodiment of a deck of playing cards. Whether they were friends was a moot point at the moment, the sudden entourage set aside by the adrenaline-fueled youth loitering by the window for what felt like a small eternity.

"Right. Letzz go!" buzzed the robotic-sounding busy bee, taking the man by the arms and hoisting him out of the smog-clogged window. It was a surprisingly easy affair thanks to the battlesuit's superior servos doing most of the heavy lifting; all Baxter had to do was not drop the man at this point. Whirling around mid-air, man held aloft, the sight below looked much more hoity-toity than he'd first thought. Between the crowd, the police, EMT, and firemen, it was certainly quite the turnout! But as the Bee-Keeper descended from his lofty spot in the air, something peculiar caught his eye: a cat! A giant, spotted cat that looked like it'd been stripped out of a National Geographic special and bombarded with radiation! Now there was something Baxter didn't see everyday.

Plopping the victim of the abrupt inferno down in front of the ambulances and putting the weird cat-thing's appearance aside for the moment, the Bee-Keeper stopped a moment to revel in his good deed. Just a moment, of course, was all he could spare before the looks of incredulity started finding their way towards the post-infamy heir of the Bee-Keeper name. Behind the helmet, Baxter couldn't help but furl his lip inwards, no doubt appearing more as an emotionless vigilante thanks to the unflinching visage of the battlesuit's design. It was more uncomfortable than he thought it would be; the stares. But it was one of those things he'd come to expect. After all, Baxter's uncle certainly earned his place in the realm of villainy, comical though his endeavors often were. Thankfully, the Bee-Keeper wasn't going to stick around for things to escalate beyond this state of awkwardness.

"You zzhould bee okay now," Bee-Keeper reassured the man, patting him soundly on the shoulder before taking a deep breath himself. There might still be more people inside, and if those other people charging inside were here to help, the least the inexperienced apian could do was lend a hand; preferably without getting in the way. With a whir of steel wings and a faux salute to the assembled patrons outside of the still burning building, the Bee-Keeper lifted off again, rocketing back towards the open window the man had crashed through only moments ago, granting a "Back to buzzinezz!" quip before his departure.

Inside the gigantic furnace, the Bee-Keeper's already bulky suit was doing little to stave off the intense waves of heat. But despite his fear, despite the sudden tightness in his lungs and his shortness of breath, Baxter was here to do a job; or, at the very least, try. But now, standing inside and within eyesight of the living deck of cards whom had made his way inside before him, the young battlesuit bearer couldn't help but feel a twinge of excitement... he certainly looked like the heroic type, and for right now, looks were enough for him.

"Hey! You! Find anyone elzze in here?" Sure, it might not have been the most professional-sounding inquiry on the Bee-Keeper's part as he addressed the King of Suits in a shout just above the crackle and roar of the sweeping flames, but it was a new thing for Baxter to see supposed superheroes live and in-costume. Besides, being in a hurry tends to skew the formalities in lieu of expediency. The last thing the Bee-Keeper wanted to do was get caught inside the building if it collapsed; and doubly-so for those still present.

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As was his habit, Jubatus paid attention to the crowd as he made his entrance. Some heroes might do that because they basked in the adoration of the masses; Jubatus did that because he didn't want to be blindsided by an idiot who thought they could perform a public service by attacking the 'cat-monster'. Fortunately, the number of such idiots was vanishingly small -- media coverage had its benefits -- but it wasn't zero. Jubatus knew very well that he wasn't any tougher than any natural-born cheetah, physically speaking. One thrown-rock-to-the-head which he didn't see coming could seriously ruin his day; therefore, keeping an eye on the crowd was simple prudence.

Sgt. Johnson outlined the situation; about what Jube had expected, but independent confirmation was always nice. When Johnson pointed out "that guy", Jubatus frowned. A tin can with a bee-themed paint job, and insectile accessories? What the… Then the penny dropped: There had been another bee-themed supertype. More than one, in fact. Which suggested -- Oh, great. A third, or maybe it's the fourth, Bee-Keeper. Then again, the tin can didn't seem to be doing anything antisocial right now, so maybe the current armor-wearer wasn't a sociopathic nutcase? Regardless, dealing with the apiarist was clearly a lower-priority task than getting the civilians to safety.

"Okay, I get the picture," Jubatus said when the Sergeant and Lt. Reddy finished briefing him. "I'm on it." And with those words, the Fastest Cat Alive upshifted and blurred into action!

Jube circled the building as he approached, the better to figure out the safest means of egress from the burning building -- and if he saw any other hero-types while he was at it, that would be nice, too. Annnd… that on the second floor looks like the least-hazardous exit. Groovy. It was a window without any discernable glass; Jubatus couldn't tell if the panes were thoroughly broken, or if the window was just open. Not that it mattered, because there was also a panicking woman at the window, whose wide-open mouth suggested she was probably screaming for help.

The feline downshifted, clinging to the wall with his claws a foot or so to the right of the window. "Hi there!" he shouted, making sure he could be heard above the roar of the flames. "My name's Jubatus. I'm here to rescue you. Anyone else in your apartment?"

Jube's abrupt appearance had obviously surprised the woman, but she recovered herself quickly: "Oh! You -- my babies --" KOFF "-- Duncan and Sheila --"

"Duncan and Sheila," Jube repeated. "Got it." Then he upshifted and zipped past the woman, entering the apartment through the top side of the window. No children in this particular room, but there were three doors, each of which Jubatus tried in turn… and it looked like the woman was the only human inhabitant of this apartment. No babies; no children; no teenagers; no spousal units. However, there was a cage containing two large rats…

Jube shrugged. Then he picked up the cage and zipped into the living room. "Duncan and Sheila?" he asked, holding the cage up so the woman could see it clearly.

"Oh yes --" she began, but Jubatus upshifted before she could say anything else. He let the cage float in midair while he got a good, safe, grip on the woman, then caught the cage's handle in his teeth and blurred on down to the paramedics.

"Here you go," Jube said, and he was off again…

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Blue Jay hurried down the hallway to the door. It opened easily under her hand and revealed a small front room with a couch that was already smouldering, a kitchen with dishes piled in the sink, and a bedroom in the rear where a woman not much older than Blue Jay was struggling with a locked window. She looked back over her shoulder and noticed the heroine. "They painted over the jamb," she cried out, eyes tearing up either in fear or from the rising smoke.

"Stand aside," Blue Jay ordered and unhitched the baton from her belt. A quick flick brought it to full extension and she smashed the glass out of the window, drawing in a rush of oxygen from the outside. The heroine carefully but quickly cleared the glass shards from the frame and stuck her head out; the window fronted onto an alleyway with a fire escape, but the ironmongery was already rattling and shaking fiercely and didn't seem safe enough to chance it. Instead Jay pulled the grapple line arrow again and anchored it a few feet up the wall opposite the window, then grabbed the woman around her waist. "Hold on," she ordered, and the pair jumped for it.

The grapple caught and lowered them down as swiftly as Blue Jay dared. The floor of the alley was littered with glass shards from the burst windows above, and even as they caught their bearings another window shattered and rained more deadly shards down on them. The heroine urged the other woman on and they raced for the opening of the alley. They were almost there when a huge and heavy groaning filled the air above them; Blue Jay looked up and watched the fire escape part ways with the wall with a scream of tortured metal bolts, and begin to fall. The heroine pushed the civilian forward and out of the way, ending up flat against the burning building as ironwork crashed down around her. The civilian was hauled away by EMTs as Blue Jay considered her situation; trapped against a fire trap, surly to die or pass out from heat exhaustion if she didn't escape.

Moving slowly in the confines of the space, trying not to breath the foul air too deeply, Blue Jay unfastened the end of her quiver. Instantly the nylon lost rigidity and allowed her a little more room; this was merely a side effect of the situation though, as Blue Jay's fingers went questing in the business end of the quiver. She found the curiously rounded head of one of the arrows and drew it out with careful motions, trying to to pull the entire load out at once. It took precious seconds, but eventually she held the matte black shaft in her hand; only the green striping on the fletching betrayed it as anything out of the ordinary. Blue Jay rapped it against the ironwork confining her in, hitting it once, twice, three, four times before the bulb at the end of the arrow shattered. A strong organic acid spilled out, adding its smoke to the blaze as it ate through the already rusted and pitted metal. Blue Jay spread the acid as well as she could and in moments the mess began to shift as girders were cut, changing Blue Jay's prison moment by moment. Finally she saw her chance, dropped the arrow, and leapt! For a horrifying moment she felt the quiver catch on a spar, then she was on top of the mess and doing a quick dance across shifting joists.

An open window caught her eye and she made another leap of faith, ending up in another burning apartment unit. She fought the urge to breath deep as the adrenaline trickled through her system. She grinned suddenly, exalting inwardly at her unorthodox solution -- trapped and moments from death, she'd freed herself and gotten back on the case! Damn, she was good! Full of a sense of her own accomplishment she made her way back into the burning hallway, looking for more civilians to save. She'd get them out one by one if she had to!

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The smoke was obliterating the precious air the costumed vigilante needed, and the heat was cleaving his tongue to the roof of his mouth. Sweat was finally beginning to slide down his face, and evaporating to maddeningly fog up the goggles. The distant shout of another would-be rescuer did a lot to alleviate these discomforts, but they were still no bed of pleasure. For all that, he laughed aloud when he heard the answering call from the room just ahead, dashing down the hall to the door with leaping strides that were abruptly checked with a thud on the floor as he saw the flames licking around the steel door frame. He briefly considered clambering around on the outside to let them out, and quashed that instantly, speed was everything in this case. He took a sharp step backwards and began to raise his left gauntleted fist when the buzzing and mechanically-filtered voice spoke to him from out of wreathing billows of smoke.

"Hey! You! Find anyone elzze in here?"

Whirling around, the tall Frenchman was deeply surprised to see a man dressed in a suit of bee-themed armor standing nearby. Looking curiously at the synthetic compound eyes he rasped out with a stronger than usual French accent through the clinging and bitter clouds "Yes, I think there are two within that room. Please" he said earnestly "help me get them out, the window just down that way is broken open, you can get them out through there!" he added, pointing down the hallway where he had smashed-in the window-frame, and its shivered glass laying winking in the sun. Darting forward with a cry of "You inside! Get away from the door!" he brought the gauntlet slamming into the door as he pulled the triggers, sending a blast of pressure through it that shot the flat-headed ram outwards with enough force to send most of the door clean off its hinges, several large bits of wood breaking off from it and scattering across the interior floor. On the one hand that let him get inside with all speed, on the other hand that let a wave of grey and black smoke go rolling smoothly into the the dingy and ill-furnished apartment, some of it going out the opened window. Already moving, the masked man strode in, quickly locating the sources of the calls for help: a middle-aged man of Mexican descent with thin and graying hair kneeling by the bedside of a much older and very frail woman sunk onto a bed, holding a damp washcloth to her forehead in the sole bedroom. Starting at the collapse of their door, the man leaped to his feet, yelling desperately "Get my mother-in-law out of here! She hurt her leg, can't walk a step!" he said, gesturing to the limb swathed in bandages. "I'll...I'll..." the man coughed painfully as the smoke poured remorselessly in, before being silenced by the King of Suit's upraised finger.

Marceau told the man in his harsher than usual voice "Please, follow closely, we will get your mother out of here in no time at all" calling back to the Bee-Keeper he shouted "Mister Bee! There's an injured party here, wounded leg, needs more ginger transport than I could manage, I'll see to her son!"so saying he took the man's hand and pulled him along as he dashed through the smoke to the broken window, got the man securely attached to him with a few lines, and attaching the grapple anchor to the underside of the window slid briskly to the ground, where he deposited the man. "Remain here" he coughed as he shot back into the burning fray.

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Between the choking exhaust of the still-growing flames, the helpless individuals trapped like rats inside a burning cage, and the sudden urgency of what was Baxter's first truly heroic endeavor, the young yellow-and-black clad vigilante found himself in a disquieted state. Adrenaline coursed through his veins as the danger surrounding him began to embroil his endeavors, doing more than placing a mild case of anxiety upon the Bee-Keeper's state of mind. The only saving grace at the moment was the gentleman trapped inside the conflagration alongside him; a fellow much more experienced in his occupational hazards than the novitiate heir to the Bee-Keeper legacy. It was a calming thing, having someone else in the same field of work to watch; to see how a true superhero coped with the pressures presented and encouraging the juvenile hero-in-training to follow the man's example with renewed zeal.

"You got it, bozz," wheezed the bee-themed fellow in the heavy-looking armored suit forcibly, stifling an uproarious cough as he navigated his way to the injured woman. The heat was bad enough as it was, but all this smoke? All this smoke was for the bees, man! Only now, after all those visits from fire fighters and drills at school, did he earnestly take what he'd been taught seriously. As instructed by his veteran counterpart, Baxter maneuvered through the bedroom and up towards the now infirm woman, the crackle of splintering wood from the devouring element particularly loud in the young man's ears as he surveyed his intended rescue, the sight of her injury more than a little disconcerting . As frail and light as she was, the suit's superior strength was probably unnecessary, but certainly helpful as the bee-themed fellow hoisted her cautiously between his arms, charging after the suit-patterned through the blinding smoke. Following the man's example and prior instructions, the Bee-Keeper floated as best he could out of the window as his elderly dependent let loose a small squeal of shock and surprise, the armored avenger landing as gently as he was able before depositing her into the other rescuee's capable arms along the side of the building.

"Zzee? That wazzn't zzo bad!" Baxter consoled the older woman, himself giggling with relief as a wave of fresh air flooded the metallic suit he'd been encased in. But despite his confident facade, the Bee-Keeper had been more than a little unnerved by the situation. He might not have been an engineer, or up and up on how buildings were constructed at all, but he'd seen enough action movies to know that a burning building had a tendency to collapse on itself. There wasn't any telling if it was up to the task of remaining elevated for much longer, as far as the Bee-Keeper could tell, and that only further filled him with a sense of impending dread. He and his newfound compatriot needed to get moving if they wanted everyone out in time! And so, following the King of Suits, the newest incarnation of the infamous villain fluttered his way upwards after him back into the building.

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After the hail of scrap and debris, Blue Jay's newest surroundings amidst the rising pyre seemed remarkably unchanged by comparison on the ground level of the apartments. Like the higher floors, this one was a wreck wreathed in dancing lights, the overwhelming heat and blinding smoke a constant reminder that this wasn't just some sort of ridiculous clambake. The room itself the young heroine found herself looked like it'd been vacant for months, if not longer. The walls were peeling paint, taking on an ashen appearance; but even in the ensuing chaos of the Lacrenza Apartments fire, this domicile looked like a den for rats. What little signs of life that might have once resided here had long gone, leaving in its wake disparaging stains and patchwork repairs on the wide-open metallic door. Thankfully, the fire didn't seem quite so widespread here on the first floor; and even as this became obvious to the archer, smoke drifting through the room like some sort of malignant black disease, the tell-tale sound of voices and heavy footfalls echoed throughout the creaking building.

"Good. Great. That's the last of em'. Now get that hose in here, Brown! There's still civvies up on the second floor," comes a voice, muffled but pronounced as the footsteps grew louder amidst the crackling of splintering wood. Suddenly, the figure comes into view; garbed in a heavy-duty looking outfit of beige, its face obscured by a bulky mask and helmet with its visor turned down protectively. In one hand, the discernibly male figure carries what appears to be a heavy hatchet of sorts, its blade an eerie shade of red despite its wooden handle. The other arm, however, is what's important: a young boy likely still attending high school, propped up by the fireman as he was working his way out of the building through the still burning hallway. For a moment, he seems to glance Tona's way, a surveying glance thrown towards the mask-bearing young lady.

"You a cape? God, it's good to see someone else in here! Kid here's the last one on this floor, but we can't get that stairwell under control. We've still got people trapped on the next one up," explained the fireman with all the expediency he could muster, pointing down the hallway where the stairs likely were as the young man straddling his arm coughed violently. It isn't more than a moment later that the distinct sound of a collapse breaks the monotony of smoldering embers, causing the rescue team member and his young ward to jump slightly at the clatter of concrete and furniture further down the hall. This notion seems to spur the firefighter on, as he recoups his exit from the burning brick building. "Not sure how much time we've got before it comes down! After I get this kid out of here, we'll be back to try and get the fire down. If you can, see what you can do! Please!" the man pleaded, and with that he began his escort out of the Lacrenza Apartments with all the haste he could muster.

Meanwhile, outside of the building up in smoke, Jubatus zoomed around the perimeter back to where he'd rescued the woman and her pets. Another quick survey of the building revealed more information about the surroundings as the blur of fur whizzed along, catching a glimpse of a young girl donned in heroic attire through a window and a smattering of firemen, but any more signs of stranded civilians weren't made obvious... at least not at first. Further up on the second story, the speedster caught a glimpse of a silhouette in one of the windows, the figure's form all but blotted out by the smoke as it pounded weakly upon the glass pane. An educated guess would deduce that's probably where the fire originated, but without a proper investigation, there was no way to be certain. What was certain - at least for Jubatus - was that there were still people up there, unable to escape... and looking significantly worse for wear, accented by the visage of the figure at the window fading from sight within raging inferno!

Back on the third floor, the King of Suits and Bee-Keeper III were quickly coming to the conclusion that there weren't any other civilians atop the final floor of the building. Doors had been flung open, and the ones that hadn't been bore no signs of life; either locked up tight, or bearing things such as burnt mail that had been delivered to the doors of the apartments' denizens they could only hope either escaped or weren't present when the blaze began. A quick inspection of the remaining domiciles proved this to be true, a number of the doors having fallen off their hinges in the wake of the reaping flames. There wasn't much left of the top floor, and it was becoming increasingly clear that the structural integrity of the apartments - even for an untrained mason - was creaking and groaning under the strain of the turmoil. The thing could come down any minute now! Whatever civilians were left, they had to be on one of the lower floors; though the stairway down was looking particularly unwelcoming, its own carpeted pathway downwards coated in a fine layer of searing heat.

That's when the voice broke through, catching all of our heroes' attention with her cries for help: "Is anyone else out there?! We-- we need help! Please, I don't want to die! Help!!" screeched the voice of a young girl, coughing and wheezing between bursts of what sounded like sobs. "Oh, god! Someone, ... please!"

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Point of view: To anyone operating at the normal tempo of 1 second per second, Jubatus in action was a sand-colored blur. To a speeding Jube, the world was an exquisitely detailed still life. The Fastest Cat Alive zipped up to the second floor again; whereas he'd scanned from a distance the first time around, this time he looked in all the windows for signs of people in need of immediate rescue.

Should've done this first, damnit, he cursed himself. Greater good for the greater number trumps individual benefit, if it comes down to being forced to choose between 'em. His survey of the second-floor apartments with windows revealed 7 people in danger and 2 instances of things which might be people, but it just wasn't possible to tell from the outside. Damn smoke. Screws up vision and smell, not that my nose is good enough to catch a scent through a pane of glass. Jubatus also noted the presence of firemen and a smaller woman whose garments looked like they might be some sort of supertype uniform: Another newbie? Weird. File her under 'tentative assumption of Hero', just like Bee-Dude, and get on with business.

7 to 9 victims, plus the necessarily indeterminate number of people who didn't happen to be within line-of-sight of a window when Jubatus was looking. The feline's mind raced, doing mental triage -- who needed to be brought to safety first, and who could afford to wait the single-digit number of clock-seconds it would take Jube to deal with the most-endangered victims? -- and pondering the safest, most-efficient routes to them all. Already got one open window; don't want to open any others if I can help it, as the fire's getting enough air. Then again, the fire's done so much damage already… meh. Time's a-wasting.

The feline had a number of compact rebreather units in his vest; he put one of them in his mouth, and carried a second in his left forepaw. Thus prepared, he blurred up to, and through, the rat-lady's window, then re-scanned her apartment, this time opening all drawers and cupboard doors just in case a small person might be hiding behind one… Okay, nothing's changed. Cool.

Jubatus blurred on to the smoke-clogged room in which he'd half-seen one person. His progress was unimpeded; when he shoved the charred remains of the door out of his way he was greeted by, among other things, some large patches of flame. Oh, joyous frigging day. The room's occupant turned out to be a man in his early twenties, who (to Jube's accelerated eyes) was frozen in the middle of the process of collapsing to the floor. The feline downshifted momentarily -- just long enough to open the man's mouth without putting dangerous strain on the man's muscles/tendons/jaws, install the rebreather he'd carried in his left hand, and close the man's mouth on said rebreather -- and performed a swift, thorough sweep of the apartment, looking for other at-risk individuals.

Jubatus found two other people: An older woman who was curled around what looked like a bundle of clothes, and the young child around whom that bundle of clothes was wrapped. He also found a few goldfish in a small tank. Great. Looks like the three of 'em all together are 300-350 pounds… doable, but it won't be pretty or elegant.A downshift to provide rebreathers for the woman and child, and then pick them both up; then the feline upshifted to his standard operating tempo of 40 and grabbed the fishtank, placing its base flat against his chest, with its open top facing forward. Assuming I do this right, the water in the tank won't have time to spill out.

Back in (what he assumed was) the living room, Jubatus put the fishtank in the air. He didn't watch as the tank began its drifting, leisurely descent to the ground, as he was busy with several velcro straps from his vest. These straps were normally intended for restraining uncooperative criminals; they worked just as well as an improvised harness to ensure that a semi-conscious person on Jube's back would, in fact, stay on his back. By the time the feline was satisfied that the teenager was securely fastened, the fishtank was three feet below the level at which Jube had originally released it. He grabbed it out of the air and put it against his chest once again… and within a clock-second or so, he'd reached the paramedics.

Jubatus recovered his rebreather units -- since they might well be needed by other people, he wiped them down with disinfectant -- before he went back into the burning building. Knowing the operational limits of his musculature, he knew he couldn't rescue everyone simultaneously; but he could definitely handle one or two at a time, and occasionally more than that. And if he ran into a cluster of more people than he could hope to rescue in one go, well, his rebreather units and heat-reflective 'space blanket' would tide them over for the small amount of clock-time it would take Jube to get to them.

So the Fastest Cat Alive returned to the burning building, again and again…

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Blue Jay paused in the burning building and let her shoulders slump for a moment. The problem seemed impossible, insurmountable -- the entire building was going to come down in a few minutes, there was no way only a dozen human beings were going to get every last soul out. Then her shoulders went back with a snap and she was moving again. She was used to hopeless situations, they were the bread and butter of a resistance fighter in the Terminus. Was she not used to was being helpless, and here she wasn't -- she was better armed than she had ever been in her life, in fact! She might still be working when the building came down, but if so it would be pushing someone else closer to the exit.

Her feet hit the stairs and the first one cracked, putting her off her stride. The next one was solid, but the third was simply gone. Blue Jay fired one of the grapple arrows into the flame-weakened wood above her head and winched up it to the second floor, banging open doors and calling out as she went. The second floor was no better than the first and she skirted a large hole in the floor, when she heard the shriek. She broke into a sprint, the air burning in her lungs, and slammed into the door. The open door, she found out, as she sprawled across the floor of the apartment. The heroine climbed to her feet, only to be confronted with four scared faces; children, ranging from fourteen years old to a babe still in diapers, crying lustily at the heat and smoke. Blue Jay froze. "Wh... where are your parents?"

The fourteen-year-old, a girl, stepped forward, trying to hold and feed the baby, but the littlest wasn't having any of it. "Mom's at work. Mrs. Nesbitt usually watched us after school, but she went to the store." She glanced at the other two, a pair of boys maybe ten and five. All of the children were covered in smoke and flinched whenever the fire crackled particularly loudly. "When we heard the firemen, I tried to get us out but I couldn't leave Joshua behind!" She indicated the baby with a nod. "By the time I got him ready, the door was too hot to open."

Blue Jay sucked in a breath with her teeth and nodded. "Okay. Follow me, and stick close." She took the girl's hand, and the older boy grabbed a belt loop on the girl's jeans while the youngest grabbed the older boy's hand. The train of youngsters went out into the hall and Blue Jay glanced both ways, trying to figure out where to go. She couldn't go back to the stairwell, the kids would never be able to negotiate the gap, not with the baby. So reluctantly, Blue Jay headed deeper into the building, traveling as quickly as the children could.

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Marceau was getting to liking the armored apian, he(Well, they) seemed eager to help, and quite tireless. He had clanked and whirred throughout the hallways, searching with minute care and a quick eye that the King of Suits outright admired. That he could also bust through doors with tremendous ease and clear fallen debris was even better.

The search was fruitless, which in a way was a relief to the gas-masked man, as it meant that nobody else on the floor was in danger and needed to be helped to escape. He was just about to suggest going to the lower floors when the cry rang out through the hallways, stopping his head in mid-turn as he tried to figure out where the call for help had come from. As the echoes died away he said rapidly to the Bee-Keeper "Can your armor find wherever that shout came from? I cannot track such things. If not, an idea of the direction would be welcome." He had whipped the explosive card from his sleeve as he spoke, and stood ready to move at the next moment.

For all that he asked, he was even then trying to figure out where the cries seemed to be coming from himself, his head craning around the hallways at the haze of smoke and licking flames.

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Still in the thick of it after his first rescue alongside the vigilante in the colorful getup, Bee-Keeper snooped around the remains of the Lacrenza Apartments' third floor. The fire was still creeping along, having now engulfed the room where the man and his injured relative had been only a few moments prior. He might not have been the most experienced, or the most naturally gifted, or even actually have a viable skill set for the whole heroic fire rescue thing, but what Baxter lacked therein he made up for in a strange sense of idealism and energy. Even as he wheezed and hacked within the confines of the tin can that was the Bee-Keeper Armor, the young man behind the helmet was still concerned and ensconced within a shell of worry. What if he missed someone in the blaze? What he just wasn't fast enough? Sure, the multitude of extra hands helped, and provided the other two figures he'd spied earlier were anything like himself, they were no doubt doing their own parts.

The cries of that missing someone, no doubt some young girl in danger from being immolated, only further served to motivate the aspirant. Spurred on my desperation and a sense of dread, Baxter gave his more colorfully-garbed counterpart as furtive a nod as he could muster.

"I zzink zzo. Give me a zzecond..." the apian adventurer coughed over the crackle of embers in the dark building, a stark contrast to the well-lit outdoors. The roar of the fire came on like someone had blared their radio as the Bee-Keeper activated the armor's auditory sensors, antennae twitching to and fro as it worked to pinpoint the source of the feminine distress signal.

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With a few zips at an impossibly fast speed, the Fastest Cat Alive does his best to evacuate the group of trapped civilians from the Lacrenza Apartments. One by one they came,

brought by the awkward-looking super-speedster right to the awaiting paramedics, where it seemed more like they'd just magically appeared in lieu of an actual rescuer being

present. It's certainly faster than the trained medics can handle them, but at least the denizens of the complex had been liberated thanks to the fleet-footed feline's quick

thinking and swift election towards action. The people, no doubt, would be immensely grateful if they weren't either busy hacking up what sounded like a lung or being rushed

inside ambulances. It's hard to tell for sure, but it looks as though they'll all come out all right in the end. This was fortunate, as even now the man-cat was feeling the

strain of his endeavors, his hind legs feeling as though they were slabs of meat and some punchy boxer just went a few rounds on them. But still, with his sudden escapades,

Amy Feng was already all over it, her voice loud and proud as to rise above the commotion around her as she rolled with the sudden appearance of the newfound evacuees.

"This is Amy Feng, reporting live from the Fens. What began as a nightmare here at the Lacrenza Apartments has taken a turn for the better, as local heroes have since

arrived on the scene. Civilians have been brought to safety in the wake of the fire, thanks in no small part to our own local firefighters working in conjunction with Freedom

City's finest. So far, more than a dozen individuals have been brought out of the blaze. Witnesses have confirmed that three superheroes are on the scene, as well as who is

believed to be the Bee-Keeper, the very super-villain whom terrorized Freedom Hall."

Whatever congratulations Jubatus might have received, however, are quickly stunted as the crowd outside gives a loud, collective gasp. The building the cheetah-man had just

departed creaked and groaned as the building's roof caved slightly, sending asphalt and mortar raining down to the street below. This was it; there was no saving the Lacrenza

Apartments now, but hope of doing so before was slim at best to begin with. It was just a matter of time now before the whole thing caved in on itself, leaving nothing behind

but broken debris and memories of what once was someone's home.

Back inside, Blue Jay had better luck finding stragglers than the boys upstairs, the eldest girl and her ensemble of siblings now firmly affixed to the female archer in a

lengthy humanoid chain. As the heroine began to lead them deeper into the bowels of the burning building, she could have sworn she'd seen something out of the corner of her

eye; some sort of sandy-hued fleeting blur, though perhaps it was merely the flames playing tricks on the interdimensional teen's eyes in the wake of the heat. But whatever

illusion Tona might have been drawn to was quickly snuffed out by reality, as there came a moment of dread when the apartments suddenly sashayed. It felt as though the whole

thing just swiveled on its nonexistent hips, and as the sound of crumbling infrastructure reverbed throughout, the disasterous sound of concrete and debris from above pierced

the melodic crackle of flames and gentle wheezing of the children. Time was running out; with the stairwell's descent inaccessible, options were becoming an increasingly

sparse commodity. Even now, the remainder of the hallway was becoming increasingly inhospitable as smoke and fire have begun to converge on the crews' position. They needed to find an exit soon!

Further upstairs, things weren't going quite as well. While Bee-Keeper was unable to determine exactly where the voices were coming from due to interference and made this advent plainly obvious, Marceau was more up-and-up in that regard. While it wasn't a pinpoint location, the King of Suits knew for sure that the voices were originating from below... and that there were others. This revelation is cut short though as a slab of mortar comes crashing through the ceiling, shearing one of the vacant rooms asunder with its wanton destruction at the hands of the inferno. Whatever it was the costumed hero and armored adventurer were going to do, it was as plain as the suffocating smoke and blinding heat in the building that they wouldn't have much time left to do it. Time was running out, and the Lacrenza Apartments were going to come down on their heads if they didn't act soon!

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Not for the first time, Jubatus wondered why the Grue scuzzwad who'd turned him into a feline couldn't have tweaked his metabolism to eliminate the production of fatigue poisons. That would be a biological impossibility, but then his transformation violated several of the known laws of biology in the first place; why couldn't the scuzzwad have gone just a little farther? Eh, Finagle's Law -- "The perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum." Anyway, this is why I carry beef jerky and energy drinks…

The feline allowed himself three clock-seconds for a two-minute break, heavy on snacks. That was long enough for the worst of the exhaustion to fade a little, particularly with the infusion of Red Bull and such into his bloodstream… and then Jubatus blurred into action once more.

Okay, there's that noob again. Not sure if she'll be able to get all those civilians out in time? But any civilians still lurking in their apartment are in worse shape than those guys, so let's see who else needs help now. His mental map of the building was still fresh in his mind, so he zipped through the apartments, ignoring those which he'd already checked, as well as those which he'd seen other people extracting civilians from.

As it happened, there were three more victims in need of rescue, one of them a morbidly obese person who was evidently unconscious. Idiot. I think I can carry this tub of lard out, but that's all she wrote! The feline draped a heat-reflective space blanket over the person, and installed a rebreather in their mouth. Then he zipped off to rescue the final two victims, a toddler with leg-braces and a woman who was presumably the child's mother -- both of whom, together, weighed about a third as much as the large person.

Okay… there's no way in hell I'm going to carry that oversized lump of flesh down to ground-level. Dragging them is a viable option, but they'll need insulation… Obvious solution: Get a mattress under the lump of flesh, so that it can get thrashed by floor-friction. And within less than a clock-second, it was so; Jube found a mattress and sheets, raised the person up a few inches into the air, slipped the mattress underneath them before they had time to hit the floor, and used the sheets as ropes to ensure the person stayed on the mattress.

Dragging the large person worked; the worst problem was the trail of smoldering, shredded fragments of cloth that was left in Jube's wake. The feline downshifted for long enough to shpritz the mattress' remains with the hand-sized fire extinguisher he carried in his vest, just to make sure there was no danger of the thing igniting, and then he went back into the inferno. One more sweep for victims, and let's see if that noob with the bow-and-arrows needs any help…

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So that's where she is! And if my ears do not deceive me, there are others with her though the King of Suits as he caught the slight auditory hints pointing where he and the Bee-Keeper needed to get to. "We need t-" he began to explain, when the collapsing apartment building rudely cut him off in a rain of flaming debris. Starting backwards with a muffled curse he took a moment to regain his composure "Ah...yes. They are trapped below us! Follow me, monsieur Hornet!" he shouted behind himself as he dove down through the hole the crashing mortar had, rolling as he hit the ground and leaping up as he dashed over to where the calls for help had originated.

The heat was like being in a blast-furnace, and Marceau wished he had fire-proofed his costume.

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Static blared through the insect-like helm of the Bee-Keeper, nothing but muffled words and garbled speech resonating through the sensors. It was probably for the best then that the gas mask wearing vigilante was more than on top of the situation in that regard. For all the high-tech gizmos the suit had built-in, it was all but made moot by the crackling of flames and obfuscating smoke. Apparently, Uncle Barry hadn't considered the possibility of himself being locked in a burning building!

Regardless, before Baxter could even so much as announce his inability to locate the position of the voices, the seismic showdown took its course. With a wobble and the detachment of concrete from the ceiling plummeting through the floorboards, the Bee-Keeper found himself tossed to the ground from the surprising outcry. That was all she wrote; it was clear to Baxter that the Lacrenza Apartments weren't going to be apartments much longer. Rising up from having just been rocked to the ground with a weighty stagger, Bee-Keeper panned around towards the site of the fallen debris, grimacing secretly as he coughed and sputtered from the suffocating smog.

"Right beehind you, bozz," Baxter replied, glad that the other superhero stuck in this scenario was seemingly far more competent and experienced. He did have that sort of charm about him, an almost leader-like quality in his take charge mannerisms as he careened down the newly conjured portal to the lower levels. With wings a'fluttering, Bee-Keeper III made his own beeline for the hole, following the Hoyle-inspired hero down into the blazing depths below in search of these remaining survivors.

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Jubatus had not heard the grinding noises from the burning apartment complex. As with the earlier cries of the trapped girl, these noises were transposed deep into the inaudible subsonic, as far as his ears were concerned. However, the feline had plenty of experience with a world that operated more than one order of magnitude slower than him, so his eyes were attuned to picking up on the tiny changes in posture which were associated with slow, slow motion -- including, in this case, the near-infinitesimal shifts which foreshadowed the building's incipent collapse.

Of course, it wasn't at all common for architecture to move, not even infinitesimally! Jubatus pondered possible explanations, but given the circumstances, there was only one viable candidate: Okay… the place is going down, and nothing short of Dr. Metropolis playing deus ex machina can save the structure, so minor tweak of plan: Start at the first floor, and look for indications of access to a lower level, assuming there is one. Damnit, I wish there'd been time to prepare properly for this!

So the Fastest Cat Alive blurred through the first-floor corridors. Every door and cabinet and hatchway he saw, he opened and/or smashed through, as needed. And in every new room, he spent precious fractional clock-seconds looking for indications of as-yet-undiscovered victims…

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The building shifted, signalling its imminent collapse, and Blue Jay fell to a crouch as the ground under her shivered and wavered. Behind her the children in her ward cred out in fear at the sudden motion of their home, and the heroine was reminded of her charge. She stood and grabbed the hand of the oldest one again, then though about the situation for a second. She collapsed her bow and stowed it on her back, then doubled-back to pick up the five-year-old. He was heavy, but laden this way they were still able to make much better time than before.

The stairwell was gone, and even if Blue Jay had thought to check the elevator it wouldn't have been safe in the inferno. As they kept moving, Blue Jay's mind flashed to the fire escape again, but of course that was a ruined, smoking mess...

... Which was probably piled as high as the second story windows. It seemed the only option. She diverted through an empty apartment and found an open window, checking the state of the debris. Yes, the tangle of ironwork was high enough to crawl out on, but it was also hot to the touch. Blue Jay ducked back inside just long enough to retrieve an extra pair of gloves from her belt. These she handed to the older boy. "Put them on," she said, "and get them as tight as you can." She only had the two pair, so she pulled off one of her own and handed it to the little girl. "Hold the baby on your other side," she instructed, "and don't let him or your bare hand touch the metal." She looked at the smaller boy, her face mere inches from his. "I'm going to need you to hold on really tight, okay?"

She didn't wait for a confirmation from any of them, there wasn't time. She crawled out of the window and onto the pile of metal; it shifted under her feet but seemed stable enough. Part of her wanted to run, to sprint across the rubble and get away from the fire as quickly as possible, but she forced herself to survey the route ahead. There would be two more people coming behind her, after all, and one was burdened with a baby while the other probably wasn't an experienced climber. Not to mention Blue Jay's own passenger, pulling her off-balance. The route had to be perfect, and while it cost her precious seconds of fleeing time she did figure it out.

Her boots gave her purchase on the metalwork and she walked almost backwards, glancing back with every step to make sure that the kids behind her didn't get too far behind. "Step where I step," she said, checking her strides so the little ones could make it. "Don't take it too fast. Stop and get your balance after each step." It was slow, agonizingly slow, and with every shiver of the metal or the building she imagined one of them pitching over and being impaled on the broken metal, or a chunk of masonry coming down and crushing them all. Still, they advanced inch by inch, foot by foot, until Blue Jay felt cooler air on her blistered face. She was standing at the opening of the alleyway, and the ironwork ended in a dangerous spill that the archer didn't even want to imagine navigating. So instead she took a flying leap and landed in a three-point-stance, knee and palm slapping the concrete road surface hard while she made sure to hold the child aloft.

Almost immediately she was surrounded by emergency workers, men in blue jackets with caduceuses on their arms, and other folks in heavy yellow jackets with some sort of clear mask on their faces. She handed the child off to the medical workers; even on her planet, that symbol only had a single meaning. The firefighters tried to keep her back, but she broke free and ran back to the iron spoil, where the little girl was perched at the top of the mangle of metal. "I can't jump," she called down, clutching the baby tightly.

"Sure you can," Blue Jay said, trying to stand steady and smiling up at the girl. "I'll be here to catch you, don't worry!"

The girl's lip trembled and she shifted back from the edge. "I'm too scared," she insisted.

Blue Jay thought for a moment and then adopted an exaggerated pose, hands on her hips and head to one side. "All you've done today, in just a few hours? Keeping your entire family safe, following a strange woman through a burning building, through your burning home, and climbing over all that metal with just one hand free? And you're afraid of a little jump? That's not the girl I saved!"

The little girl got control of herself and stepped back to the brink. She nodded at Blue Jay and flung herself into the air; the heroine had to back up a few inches, but she managed to get both children slamming into her chest. The heroine handed both of them off to the emergency workers. Then there was the last little boy; he managed to climb down a few spars before jumping, and was quickly on the ground himself. Blue Jay allowed herself to be led over to an ambulance, where some cooling salve was rubbed on her burns and an oxygen mask was fitted over her face.

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After the hasty rescue of the rotund individual through a rather haphazard means of bringing the so-called 'lump of flesh' to the awaiting paramedics, Jubatus resumed his self-styled endeavors with another quick scouting of the Lacrenza Apartments' first floor. Zipping through the perpetually frozen flames and winding his way beyond the overwhelming torrent of smoke, the Fastest Cat Alive had ample time to not only scour the lowest floor of the complex, but the other two as well; barring, of course, the occasional interference through newly minted debris. Nevertheless, despite the tumultuous circumstances and the unflinching, unending creaks and groans of the facility, it seemed everyone whom was lodged inside the burning domicile had been aptly evacuated. The last of the potential victims, however, didn't appear to be civilians, but rather a pair of oddly-garbed misfits: a man dressed to the nines in a colorful card-themed attire, and the previously seen Bee-Keeper with which the humanoid cheetah had already discerned minutes earlier.

Back within the relative safety of the various EMT crews and associated rescue teams, Blue Jay has a moment of reprieve, breathing the fresh oxygen through the mask as the children around her follow suit; save for the young baby, whom is aptly whisked away by professionals. One of the attendants, a woman perhaps only a few years older than the arrow-toting heroine herself, took her time as she applied the relieving ointment to the archers' various burns.

"Not as bad as it looks," the woman hums softly, an almost motherly tone inflected upon her voice as another gloved hand lined with the cooling salve brushes the adventurer's chin. "Freedom City's lucky to have you guys around. I sure couldn't be the one to go barreling in--" but whatever the technician was going to say next was quickly silenced as the crowd erupted into an amalgam of shock and horror. It's no surprise why, as onlookers point and scream in the direction of the engulfed building and police move to press the crowd further and further away hurriedly. The Lacrenza Apartments were coming down!

Inside the quickly deteriorating building, Bee-Keeper and the King of Suits hit the second floor running, flames licking at their heels. As they round the corner towards where the siren song of danger had originated only a few moments prior, forced to traverse the sloughing apartments' fallen metalwork and mortar-based obstructions, the two heroes are just in time to witness a young boy leap from the tattered remnants of a fire escape, the sounds of another voice from outside faint but audible in their ears. Were it not for the fallen doors and wall of fire barring their path, perhaps an expedient rush towards the civilian leaping from the building would have been in order, but such a ploy would have been foolish at best. Beyond the roar of the fire, the hurried yelling of medical professionals barely reach the lofty heights of the dynamic duo still present inside the building; a sound of prominent comfort, provided the little boy managed to get down from the second story without injury.

The time for such thoughts are quickly extinguished, however, as the Lacrenza Apartments sway violently again. More debris plummets from the rooftop, shattering floorboards and ripping holes in the brick walls as the steel pillars sustaining it moaned wearily. Again, it lurches and leans, the building filling to the brim with the cacophonous squeal of metalwork coming undone as the floor itself begins to give way; taking on an homage of the Leaning Tower as the apartments begin their final throes. It was now or never; whatever was left of the mortar and steel complex was about to come toppling down on the King of Suits and his apiary associate!

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The smoke and airborne debris was by now overpowering the King of Suits' gas mask, to the point where the taste of burning apartment building was all his mouth was good for. Gritting his teeth against the fog of embers, the rain of dust and bits of charred wood that trickled down onto his shoulders and the roaring flames that seemed to his hazy eyes to be reaching out to snatch him and the Bee-Keeper into a fiery embrace, dragging them down to blazing grave. Giving himself a sharp rap across the skull, Marceau gasped as loudly as he could to the man in the apian-themed armor "If I fall, DO NOT stop to help me up! Search out those people we heard and get them to safety before even thinking about that!" charging onwards he followed his memory of the cries for help to a door that had once been painted green but now was being quickly being consumed by the flames, with a tangle of fallen beams blocking the way. Barely even slowing down he reached for the pack at his belt, muttered a curse under his breath as his fingers were nearly pricked on the razor cards, whipped out a trio of explosive cards and flung them with furious effort at the impeding mass. There was a short flare, and for a horrible moment he thought the lack of oxygen had killed the explosion before it even began. He turned to the Bee-Keeper and began to gasp out "I think we ough-" before being interrupted by the kinetic wave of the explosion, which would have taken him clean off his feet if he hadn't stopped himself by slamming a razor card into the wall beside him.

Seeing the opened way before them he shouted, by now light-headed from lack of air "Onwards! pour la gloire!" and surged into the building like some kind of black bird. Seeing the young girl next to the wedged-open window, he sprang even more into action. With a ram-gauntlet, he put his right arm under the girl's shoulders, punched open the window in a shower of splinters both wooden and glassy, and leaped out into the open air with a wild yell towards the ground, anchoring their descent with a grapple line as he fell, taking the impact of the fall with a hideous jolt in his shins and knees, collapsing to the ground, bellowing "Attendez! Au secours, je vous en supplie!" to the nearby medics that his dimming eyes beheld.

With his last effort he looked behind himself for the Bee-Keeper, praying desperately for his safety and success...

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The rebreather unit felt awkward in Jube's mouth; he continued to ignore that as he blurred through the blazing building in search of overlooked victims. Note to self: Latest reshaping of the mouthpiece still sucks, time for another crack at it. Finding no more civilians in distress, Jubatus then returned to the two people he'd noted on his final sweep through the building -- the King of Suits (whom he'd previously encountered both in costume and in civilian guise), and the presumed Bee-Keeper III.

Hmm… looks like Marceau is okay, but I'm not so sure about Bee-Boy? Fine, I can ask…

The Fastest Cat Alive downshifted to the common tempo of 1 -- a maneuver which, to the Bee-Keeper's normal-speed vision, probably looked like a bipedal cheetah teleporting in beside him. "My name's Jubatus," the feline shouted, his overdeveloped lungs allowing him to be heard over the omnipresent roar of the flames and incipient collapse. "You and I are currently the only people in this building. Need any help?"

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