Mr. Transport had the fork, laden with pasta and sauce, halfway to his mouth when his phone rang. This was not the ringtone he used for his general calls, nor the flippant one he’d assigned Mr. Numbers, nor even the festive one he had rigged to ring when Sally Daniels called him. This was a ringtone associated with a single number, a line only used in very certain circumstances. His fork clattered to the plate as Mr. Transport grabbed his phone from his pocket and put it to his ear.
“Transport,” he said quickly.
“We have a situation. Numbers with you?”
“No, he’s at the grocery store,” Mr. Transport replied.
“Come get us, then we’ll circle back for Numbers. We’re at a café in Lisbon, two blocks down from where you lived a few years back. Need an address?”
“No, I remember it well.” Mr. Transport hung up the phone and removed the napkin he’d had tucked into his white button-down. With practiced grace, he grabbed his black suit jacket from the nearby hanger and slipped it across his lean shoulders. With a moment of visualization and a minor application of effort, the world dissolved around him, reforming in the shape of muggy day outside a small café, one that served truly great pastries. Sitting on the patio, both with coffee cups in front of them and clad in black suits, were a very large, muscular African American male and a dainty brunette. Mr. Transport walked over to them hurriedly.
As soon as he reached the table, the large man put a powerful hand on Mr. Transport’s forearm, then did the same to the hand of the girl sitting across from him. Just like that, the world around them froze, all life becoming a living sculpture, save for the three people at a single café in Lisbon.
“Glad you could make it,” Mr. Stop said, releasing his grip. He only needed to touch them when he did the freeze; afterward they could function independently. This was what made him such a rare and powerful Super. That, and the fact that the ability to slow or halt time on such a large scale was so uncommon it had manifested in less than five total cases since Supers were discovered.
“I was about to eat,” Mr. Transport grumbled.
“This shouldn’t take long. I bet I can have you back before your dish cools,” Mr. Stop replied. “It’s a standard snatch and grab. Daughter of a Hero named Bilge. Made enemies with people smart enough to figure out who he was. The girl was taken approximately thirty minutes ago. As soon as Bilge realized she was gone, he called Dispatch. Good news is she’s still alive.”
“Alive, and in a building a few miles south of downtown Detroit,” Mrs. Tracking added in. Mr. Transport took her at her word. Mrs. Tracking could find almost any person in the world with just a picture. Her limitation was that they had to be alive, so if she had a location then it meant the girl was still breathing, for now.
“Any intel on the kidnappers? Powers we need to be aware of?”
“One is a baseline strongman,” Mr. Stop responded. “The Heroes would rank him as a Standard Class. We don’t know anything about the others.”
“Understood, go in expecting the worst,” Mr. Transport said. “Anything else I need to know before we get Mr. Numbers?”
“Yes. Bilge is really pissed off, and from his history we don’t think he’ll let logic dissuade him from vengeance, if given the chance,” Mr. Stop informed the team.
“Shit,” Mr. Transport said. “I hate these.”
“Nobody likes them,” Mrs. Tracking agreed. “But it’s gotta get done.” She tried to take a sip from her coffee cup, but it remained frozen. Objects outside Mr. Stop’s touch were locked just as much in their place as they were in time.
“On that note, let’s go get Numbers,” Mr. Stop said.
Mr. Transport put a hand on Mr. Stop and Mrs. Tracking. Usually just proximity was enough to bring people with him, but when operating in Mr. Stop’s time freeze he needed physical contact to teleport people with him.
Moments later, the three appeared in front of a grocery store. It only took half a second of real-time for Mr. Stop to unfreeze the world, grab Mr. Numbers, along with the other two, and bring them back into frozen-time. Once that was done, Mr. Numbers was brought up to speed. Then, the work began.
* * *
Bertram, or Bonecrusher as he was known among his colleagues, had no idea what had happened. One minute, he and the boys were sitting around, discussing what should be the first thing they’d make that asshole Bilge do once they told him they took his daughter. Bonecrusher was in favor of having them make him show his face on live television, but Maggot pointed out that the station would probably just blur his face. Maggot was oddly smart for a grunt-level criminal. The only thing that held him back from climbing higher in some gang’s ranks was his inability to deal with any kind of authority. Flick, who didn’t totally seem to get the concept of street names, was bringing up a point about having Bilge do some robbing for them.
Then, in the span of a blink, Bonecrusher was shoved backward, into a chair that hadn’t been there before, and locked down with some really tough manacles. He knew they were tough because they didn’t give way when he used his considerable strength to buck against them.
“You’re wasting your time,” said a calm voice from behind him. Maggot and Flick were gone; he couldn't see either of them or hear their voices. The voice’s owner stepped in front of him, a short man with frozen blue eyes and a tailored black suit. “The chair, and manacles, were designed by a tech-genius. It would hold up to a Manhattan Class, at least one with just strength. Someone like you will never break free.”
Bonecrusher didn’t like the way this man said “never.” There was an air of finality to it that Bonecrusher was accustomed to hearing when he was the one giving the threats.
“Who are you?”
“I’m no one,” the man replied. “I barely exist. You and I have that in common. For now. So, Bertram, who told you about Bilge’s identity?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Really? Quite a coincidence, seeing as the girl you had tied up was his daughter. She’s gone, by the way. Reunited with her father, who is currently being told that all of you were killed in the extraction process. Viciously, too, we really laid on the gore. Had to, or he’d have come after you himself. Can’t very well have a Hero engaging in cold-blooded murder.”
“So that’s your threat, I talk or you tell him the truth?”
“The truth? That implies that we told him earlier was a lie,” the man replied. “Which, I suppose, it might have been. A lie, or a prediction. That all sort of depends.”
“Fuck you,” Bonecrusher said, working up a good wad of phlegm and spitting it at the man. He dodged it perfectly, as though he knew exactly when and how it would be coming. The man leaned over Bonecrusher, his arctic eyes boring into the bald, tattoo-covered man’s mind. Not since becoming a Super had Bertram felt the kind of deep down, brain numbing fear as what washed over him in that moment.
“You’re going to tell me what I want to know, Bertram. We can’t have people leaking the identities of Heroes, because then someone might do something really stupid, like what you did. Honestly, did you never think to wonder why there’s never been a reported case of hostages being used against a Hero? We’re very good at this, Bertram, we’ve been doing it a long time. That’s how I know you’ll talk. With enough time and motivation, everyone talks. It’s simple math.” The man flashed Bonecrusher a wide smile, one that felt like it was pushing an ice pick of fear right through his eye.
“Trust me, Bertram, you’re going to talk. It’s all just a game of numbers.”