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    "I'll train them, and then we can set 'em loose on the punks of the city. Set a punk to catch a punk." Phoenix Talon seemed pleased by this turn of phrase.
    Reilly sat back in his chair, his skepticism renewed. "Okay, your end goal with this is setting them loose on other gangs?"
    "No," I said firmly. That was too much of a nightmare even to contemplate.
    "I was right there with you until that point," Thunderbolt agreed.
    Phoenix shrugged. "Like I said, an auxiliary organization. Like Ground Zero Defense Forces, or the Guardian Angels, we just have to avoid the daemons and shit. I told 'em that if daemons come we have to take of them, but I think that's a fair deal."
    "So what you're saying is that you want this dozen kids to be on the street to deal with other gangs and people like Postal Employee Man?" Reilly wore a dubious expression.
    "Yeah, yeah, that's a good way to phrase it!"
    "I suggest we start small," I emphasized, trying to rein this in a bit without killing it entirely. The way Phoenix Talon's mind works is a mystery to me. I can't say trying to reform the Blood Boards is a bad idea, but I'm not inclined to trust the little rats any farther than I could move a tanker truck. They seem to have a bad case of following the first guy to come along with anything that even vaguely resembles a plan.
    Not to mention the punks tried to kill me, of course. Funny to think about how much has happened since then.
    "You've made it clear to them that if they do anything wrong...?" Reilly asked Talon.
    "Oh yeah, they'll have to answer to me."
    "Never mind conventional law enforcement," he pointed out patiently.
    "That too, eventually."
    "Somehow there seems to be something just innately wrong with this," Scott spoke the thought we all shared.
    "And yet...." I shook my head.
    "Hey, everybody makes a few mistakes," Talon shrugged.
    "No, I see where he's going with this," Thunderbolt agreed.
    Our robotic teammate gestured with a pseudopod. "I'm great right up until that set them loose on the punks of the city part."
    "Not unsupervised," Phoenix Talon explained hastily.
    "Okay, so it's a violent work-release program?"
    "Phoenix, you have my full support," Thunderbolt told him heartily. "Except for the setting loose on the...."
    "We're all still hung up on that," Scott noted.
    "I think you can say that the idea has the team's qualified support," I summed up. "But this is your thing, here." His idea, his responsibility. I have to admit, he does seem to have grown up some since he left.
    "So anyway, I gotta find these kids jobs, or schools or something, so if you know anything let me know," Phoenix asked.
    "I'll look around," Reilly promised.
    Scott moved us on to a new topic. "Well, it's starting to look like the 1-800-HENCHMEN organization is actually a group that sells franchises to local start-up investors."
    "Franchises?" This didn't sound good.
    "It's sort of like supervillain Amway."
    I raised a brow. "Such unfettered evil we never suspected."
    "My god, that's insidious," Thunderbolt murmured.
    "Wait a minute," Reilly said. "So even if we deal with the local...?"
    "There is still the national and potentially international 1-800-HENCHMEN organization," Scott confirmed.
    "Ready to move in someone new to take over the failed franchise. I can see it now," I sighed.
    "It's like trying to get a McDonalds out of a neighborhood."
    "Right, then."
    "So we can expect to see more people like Count Bastard?" Our police liaison did not look happy. "I figure Postal Employee Man came from there, too."
    "Yeah, that would be my guess as well." Scott nodded his head-approximation.
    "Well, they have to be set up somewhere...." I started trying to think up ways we could track them down.
    "Well, Larry couldn't find them."
    "Damn." There went my confidence in that approach.
    "This bodes ill," Reilly noted.
    "Unless of course Larry's the local franchise," Scott chirped.
    "I'd really rather not contemplate that," I sighed.
    "I've thought of it, but I don't think so."
    "You're sure that he's actually in Hamlet?" It was a nasty thought. "Maybe you should check, just to be sure. I hate to mistrust Larry, but...."
    "I really don't actually think Larry is the local franchise," he insisted.
    "This isn't exactly his style," I admitted after a moment of thought.
    "No, see I can see it being his style, because it's a way to return a certain amount of quality to the profession."
    Weird idea of quality. "No acting involved, though."
    He shrugged liquidly. "Actors get old enough, they get into directing."
    I gave him a look. "I wish you hadn't said that. We'll check up on Larry, discreetly. Is that everything from everyone else, then?" Nods from around the table. "We've been invited to the grand opening party, I guess, 'do' for the Caduceus Project." I looked at Thunderbolt. "You missed Poughkeepsie. Short version, the World Crime League is real, no matter what anybody else might have told you. The Caduceus Project just opened up recently, they bought a bunch of information, not quite variant level tech, that the government had auctioned off, that was confiscated from World Crime League premises. They could be perfectly on the up-and-up," I added as he frowned. "I tend to be suspicious about things like this, go figure. However, they have asked us to be there, they've invited us to their little party. They say they want to have good relations with the local variant teams so that when villains break in and try to steal their stuff, they'll know our faces when we show up."
    "Hold on a second, this biotech group? I was wondering where Javelin was going to show up again.... Of course, Javelin can apparently make dispensable Javelin out of the stuff you can find in the average closet," Scott added thoughtfully.
    "We're keeping our eyes open for him. I don't know if I should go to this," I added, "because I actually went to their headquarters and had a look around, and met this guy who's issuing the invitation. I don't actually know if they're involved in anything that Javelin would be able to make use of or not. They haven't obviously produced anything yet, they're IPOing in a couple of months."
    "What do they theoretically do?"
    "Virus research. Theoretically, at least, of the 'stopping them' kind."
    Scott gave me a startled look. "You really are paranoid, aren't you?"
    I sighed. "We've been over this. Yes, I'm paranoid."
    "It pays to be cautious," Thunderbolt chimed in.

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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson