Family Values, Pt. 3 – A Silent Visitor 

The crime scene investigator’s camera flashes forced me to squint against the dimly-lit apartment interior, each bulb burst like a dagger through my eyes. Next to me, Avian surveyed the scene, arms crossed over her chest. Chirp sat on her shoulder, preening himself, seemingly oblivious to the mangled corpse on the floor in front of us. 

“Initial impact, blunt force trauma to the back of the skull,” the CSI told us. “Once Miss Landam was incapacitated, our killer carved her up with what appears to be a serrated hunting knife. He definitely took his time with her . . . looks like she succumbed to her injuries after about two hours.” 

Avian looked to me. “What do you think, mom? Is this the work of Huntsman?” 

“I’m not sure,” I admitted, crouching to examine the body. My trench coat draped across my knees, weighed down by the gadgets my Call had anticipated me needing for this case. “He seems to only operate in situations that are . . . higher profile that this. But, we know little about him, or how he operates. Still, there’s the anomaly; the reason we’re here.” 

The CSI nodded. “You’re right, Inspector. Same reports as the last few murders. Right before the moment of initial impact, neighbors reported temporary deafness. They said that all sound, quote, ‘faded away,’ only resuming after the two hours of Miss Landam’s torture had elapsed.” 

“So, we’re looking for an SPI,” Avian mused. “One who can manipulate sound, at least in the sense of making it go away when he’s near a victim.” 

I nodded. “Precisely.” 

“You know, the other officers have started giving our killer a name,” the CSI commented. “They’re calling him ‘Mr. Silent.’”  

“Well, that’s a terrible name,” Avian replied. “Why not just call him ‘Silent but Deadly?’” 

I grabbed her by the shoulder, leading her away from the scene of the crime. “I think we’re a little off-track here, chère. We have other areas to investigate.” 

We approached the nearby kitchen window, and I affixed a pair of latex gloves to my hands before sliding it open. “Look outside. Someone’s lowered the fire escape.” 

“Ah, so Mr. Silent exerted some effort to get to Landam,” mused Avian. “She wasn’t a crime of opportunity. She was his target.” 

I turned to the CSI. “What did Landam do for a living?” 

He checked his notes. “She was a nurse at Pathfinder General.” 

“Hey, that’s the same hospital Treble Clef is still holed up in,” Avian said. 

“More than that,” the CSI added. “She was one of his caretakers.” 

“What about the other victims?” I pressed. 

The CSI shook his head. “I’d have to check our files, but I don’t think any of them worked at the hospital.” 

“So, it might be a coincidence,” I muttered. “But we have a sound-manipulating villain who’s targeted at least one person connected to a popular sound-manipulating hero. I sense a wannabe arch-nemesis in the making.” 

“What should we do?” Avian asked. 

I smiled down at her. “We deploy the most effective tool in a detective’s arsenal . . . a simple conversation with an old friend.” 


I’d never tell Avian, but hospitals terrify me. 

Right after the bombs went off and the Great War of 2022 began, I’d attempted to use my Call to keep others safe. The wrong people in power heard about me, and they abducted me, committing me to a psychiatric ward for several months before they realized my powers were true. After that, I became a cog in their war machine, under the promise that I’d never have to return to that sterile, white hell. Ever since, I found it difficult to step inside hospitals . . . which, unfortunately, is more common than I’d expected in my line of work. 

Still, we had a job to do. 

Avian guided me through the hallways, taking me up to the third floor of the building. We approached a room at the end of the corridor whose entrance was blocked by two tall figures in suits and sunglasses; one man, and one woman. As we closed the gap between us and them, they held out their hands to stop us. 

“Only authorized staff are–” began the man, before pausing at the sight of my daughter. “Miss Avian, is that you? I almost didn’t recognize you without your costume.” 

“Hey Tom,” Avian responded, nodding to him. Turning to the woman, she asked, “How are the kids, Nancy?” 

Nancy shrugged. “Terrible, as always. Cheryl’s one more broken plate away from going postal, I think.” 

Avian chuckled. “Tell your wife I said hi. We need to catch up sometime.” 

Tom cleared his throat. “Miss, did you want to talk to Treble Clef? I can’t bring unauthorized–” 

“What, you don’t see the resemblance?” Avian interrupted, gesturing to me. “This is my mom.” 

I smiled politely, extending a hand. “My name’s Annelisse.” 

They both stared at me, unmoving, and I awkwardly retracted the greeting, glancing down at Avian. 

“Mom’s a detective,” Avian continued. “She’s helping me become one, too. We think Treble Clef is being targeted by a serial killer who can manipulate sound, like him. It’s important we talk to him.” 

Sighing, Tom and Nancy nodded to each other, parting to let us through. We quietly pushed open the door, entering a room devoid of much furniture beyond a wall-mounted television and a small hospital bed. In the bed lay a white, blonde-haired man with a slender build, his face and arms covered in cuts, burns, and bruises. He glanced at us with piercing blue eyes, and broke into a grin at the sight of Avian. 

“Hey there!” he whispered, his voice hoarse. “I was wondering when you’d come see me. I heard you left the Public Servants.” 

“Yeah.” She walked up to his bedside, sitting at the foot of it. “I’m just going in a different direction now.” 

“Good.” Treble Clef offered her a tight smile. “We’ll miss you, of course. But it’s important that you find what makes you feel fulfilled and happy.” 

His eyes drifted up to meet mine. “The Inspector, right? I know some of my colleagues have crossed paths with you before. So, you’re her family. Her real family.” 

He chuckled. “Some people would kill for that opportunity.” 

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said. “I wish it was under better circumstances.” 

“Peter,” Avian asked, “do you know a nurse with the last name Landam?” 

Treble Clef furrowed his brows, glancing back and forth between the two of us. “Nurse Landam? Yeah, she’s been one of the night nurses in charge of my care while I recover. Did something happen to her? She didn’t come in last night.” 

I grimaced. “Sir, she was killed in her apartment last night. We think the culprit is an SPI with abilities similar to yours.” 

“The police are calling him Mr. Silent,” Avian added. 

“Oh boy,” groaned Treble Clef. “That’s not a great name.” 

I snorted quietly. “She said the same.” 

“Great minds think alike,” he muttered, lying back against his pillow. “How can I help?” 

I reached into my trench coat, producing a manila folder. Opening it, I handed to him, revealing a thin stack of photographs within. He flipped through them, pausing to examine each one.  

“Are these Mr. Silent’s other victims?” he asked. 

“They are.” I nodded. “Do you recognize any of them? From the hospital, or from your personal life?” 

He shook his head, setting the folder down on his lap. “I’m sorry, but I don’t. At least, not that I remember.” 

Avian patted him on the leg. “That’s okay, Peter. Maybe you can help us a different way.” 

“How so?” he inquired, cocking his head curiously. 

“Mr. Silent,” I said. “He has the ability to suck away the sound in a localized area for extended periods of time while he tortures his victims. I know it’s sometimes hard to define the physics behind SPI abilities, but as an expert in the field, how do you think his powers work?” 

“Hmm . . .” he pondered for a moment before speaking again. “Well, the easiest answer would be that he’s capable of producing a very unique ultrasound frequency.” 

“Really?” I asked. “He’s making a sound of his own?” 

“Yes,” Treble Clef replied. “But, it’s not a normal sound. This one likely produces vibrational waves that oppose the waves naturally produced in a city environment.” 

“Wait, what?” Avian rubbed her temples. “I’ve got a C in Physics.” 

The Call tugged at my mind, and I chuckled. “Here you go.” 

Reaching out, I dropped a small water bottle into Treble Clef’s lap. He picked it up, opened it, and took a long gulp, until about half of its contents remained. Screwing the cap back on, he held the bottle on its side, gripping the bottom with one hand. The water inside sloshed back and forth before growing still. 

“Step into my world for a moment,” he said.  

A low hum radiated from the hand holding the bottle, and his fingertips vibrated. The water within the bottle began to generate an endless cycle of small, equidistant waves, like an oceanic microcosm. Avian leaned forward, watching the movements in fascination. 

“Now, what you’re seeing are the city sounds,” Treble Clef continued. “Cars passing, doors slamming, dogs barking. They create waves through the air and along surfaces, waves which are invisible to our eyes but interpretable by our ears.” 

He raised his other hand, placing a fingertip on the opposite side of the bottle. “Now, imagine that I am Mr. Silent.” 

The new fingertip also vibrated, sending a ripple in the opposite direction that flattened the waves instantly. Though the water trembled, the surface remained a smooth plane, more still than before he’d ever touched it. 

“You . . . you stopped it,” Avian commented. “You turned off the city sounds.” 

“Not quite,” corrected Treble Clef. “As you see, I haven’t eliminated anything. I’m still creating the original sound waves. But I have also introduced a new sound: An equal, opposite series of waves which stifle the original ones.” 

Avian’s eyes widened as realization dawned on her. “So what you’re saying is, we shouldn’t be searching for silence. We should be searching for the frequency he’s using to emulate silence.” 

Treble Clef’s fingers stopped vibrating, and he dropped the bottle back into his lap. “Bingo.” 

“Thank you for your help, Treble Clef,” I said. “I’m happy to see my daughter was in inspirational hands during my absence.” 

He nodded. “Any time, Inspector.” 

Avian and I turned to leave the hospital room, and Avian whispered to me, “What the hell is a bingo?” 


Back at the office, I laid a paper map across my desk, flattening the corners with old coffee cups. Avian circled the desk, examining its contents closely.  

“So,” she said, “they still make paper ones, huh?” 

“Normally, I’d share your opinion,” I replied. “Back in my childhood, before Apple dissolved, they used to make mobile computers. I’d use one for digital maps all the time. But sometimes, you need a bigger perspective, and that’s where analog observations come into play.” 

Leaning over, I retrieved a marker, uncapping it with my teeth and marking the location of each Mr. Silent murder with a small red circle. Once I’d completed my additions, I stepped back, surveying the map with my daughter. 

“New General City is a big, big place,” I continued. “Look at the murders, though. They’re clustered mostly in the Midwest. This is the hunting ground, where Mr. Silent likely lives or works.” 

I applied the marker to the map once more, adding dates above each circle. 

“Now, we can see a timeline.”  

Avian squinted her eyes. “Look at that. The murders, they’re drifting further Southeast.” 

“That’s what I thought, too,” I mused. “But, look at this.” 

I tapped my finger on the symbol for Pathfinder General. 

“What you’re seeing as a trend moving Southeast is a red herring. Nurse Landam works at Pathfinder.” 

Avian cocked her head. “And Cassian Chips lived in the same apartment building as May Fitz, but his body was found at an abandoned warehouse rather than his home, like the others.” 

“We already know Landam was an outlier,” I said. “Likely a connector to something at Treble Clef’s hospital. But as far as we know, Fitz was one of the first victims . . . which means Mr. Silent was sloppier. He made himself identifiable in some way during the murder, doing something that Chips saw at home. Rather than reveal this, Mr. Silent took Chips to a separate location to intentionally water down the crime scenes.” 

Snatching the marker from my hand, Avian sat on the desk, crossing out the circles for Landam and Chips. “Look, mom. Once you remove those two murders, the intentional ones, the rest form a sort of concentric circle pattern.” 

I smiled at my daughter. “Good work. Since he knows how to obfuscate a crime scene map, we should first look for businesses he might work that would employ someone with knowledge in the field. Law offices, police stations, emergency dispatch centers . . .” 

“Whoa.” Avian drew my attention to a marker in the middle of the bodies. “What about my old home?” 

My eyes widened as I read the name: PUBLIC SERVANTS HEADQUARTERS. 


“Thanks, Piston,” I said into my cell phone. “I’ll wait for your text.” 

I ended the call, leaning back in the driver’s seat of my rental car. Avian sat next to me, peering past the passenger’s side window and into the alley where we were parked. 

“She said her tech guy is going to run a sonic map of this area,” I explained to my daughter. “Based on the direction of the concentric circles and the date range between murders, we should expect the next murder to occur within twenty-four hours, somewhere in the next few square blocks. Piston’s scans of such a narrow space will give us instant access to the source of Mr. Silent’s noise-cancelling frequency, and we can stop him before his next crime.” 

“How is her tech guy going to map out the area?” Avian asked. 

“Something about ambient data collection,” I muttered.  

“What?” She spun to look at me. “You know that means monitoring computer and phone microphones illegally, right?” 

“I do,” I said. “And as much as I’d like to think such a concept was not possible, I have faith that all we’re listening for is a subsonic frequency. Not any personal data that those computer and phone manufacturers already collect.” 

Avian huffed, rolling her eyes. “If I see my cloud photos leaked online, I’m gonna be pissed.” 

“I don’t think that– wait.” I glanced at her. “What’s on those photos?” 

Before she could respond, my phone lit up with a text from Piston: ACTIVE SIGNAL. LIGHTFOOT APARTMENTS. 

“We may be too late,” I whispered, unholstering my Walther and chambering a hollow-point round. 

“Did The Call tell you you’d need that tonight?” Avian asked, gesturing to my gun.  

“No,” I replied. “Common sense did.” 

We burst from the car, sprinting out of the alley and angling towards the Lightfoot apartment complex. As we approached, I felt my ears ring, the sensation steadily growing in pitch and volume with each footstep. Glancing at my daughter, I saw her try to clear her ears, but her efforts seem in vain. 

We’re in the radius of his powers, I thought. Hopefully we have time to stop him before someone else suffers. 

As the thought entered my consciousness, the world around us fell silent. 

Overhead, through the wall of windows which composed our view into the Lightfoot Apartments, I saw a lamp fall away from the pane of a third-story unit, casting elongated shadows into an otherwise motionless room. I made eye contact with Avian, who nodded, darting ahead of me and body-slamming the door to the building. It exploded from its hinges without even a whisper, silently crashing into the hallway between units. 

I joined her, twisting open the knob to the stairwell and hurrying up the steps. Avian, however, shifted into her bird form, taking flight with Chirp so that she reached the third-floor landing in a split-second. I sighed, my voice muffled by Mr. Silent, and tried to pick up the pace as my daughter left the stairwell ahead of me. By the time I reached the landing myself, I found myself slightly out of breath, but I pressed forward, sliding into the third-floor hallway. 

In the shadows of the hall, I saw one door slightly ajar, distorted light leaking from within. I rushed to the door, shouldering it open to find Avian standing a few feet inside, arms crossed. On the floor lay an old man, blood gushing from a horizontal slash across his throat. Dropping to my knees, I retrieved a gauze roll from my coat pocket, tightly winding it around the man’s throat until blood stopped leaking through the layers. Taping the bandage together, I helped the man sit up a little, and he spat out the blood he hadn’t yet swallowed, spraying his carpet red.  

In my peripheral vision, Avian scoured the apartment interior, hunting for signs of Mr. Silent. Glancing at the window, I noted it remained closed, locked from the inside. Releasing the old man, I gripped my Walther tightly, swiveling around the room. 

He’s still here. 

I felt a faint gust of wind ruffle my hair, and I reflexively shifted into cat form, shrinking below an attack from behind. My feline body spun around, pausing to absorb the details of the person who’d snuck up on me. He was tall and slender, his body obscured by a black suit, black trench coat, and black fedora, ironically giving him the impression of a gothic private detective. His face, however, was covered in a white mask, devoid of any features besides a line of black stitches where the mouth should have been.  

Hello, Mr. Silent. 

He seemed surprised by my transformation, but reacted quickly regardless; dropping to one knee, he whipped the point of his serrated hunting knife at my head. I dashed away, running between his legs as his blade buried into the carpet. As I shifted back, I spun on my heels, taking aim with my Walther . . . 

But Mr. Silent no longer stood in my field of vision. Instead, he’d already made his way to the window, and as I adjusted my aim, he used an elbow to shatter the glass. Before he could exit, though, Avian flew into view, tackling him while in her bird form. Her enhanced strength sent him flying across the apartment, and he collided with the wall, leaving a dent in the plaster. I opened fire into his chest as he slid to the floor, the absolute silence an alien juxtaposition with the recoil I experienced from the Walther. The bullets, however, seemed to bounce away from a shimmering field that enveloped the masked man, and he returned to his feet, looking at me. 

Great. Now I just made him mad. 

He rushed at me, knife at the ready, but Avian intercepted, roundhouse-kicking him sideways. He crashed through the window, soaring into the night air before dropping into darkness. I ran to the window, looking down, but as I registered no bodies on the grass below, a hum washed across me, announcing the return of the city’s sounds.  

“Where did he go?” Avian said, her voice harsh against my now-sensitive ears. “No way he already recovered from a fall like that.” 

I retrieved my cell phone, dialing the emergency number. “Hello, this is Inspector Annelisse Monet. We have an attempted murder at the Lightfoot Apartments, room number . . .”  

Craning my neck, I read the brass plate on the front door. “Three-oh-six.” 

Something caught my eye in the grass below, and paused. “I’ll stay on the call, but I have to step away for a second. Please send medical assistance immediately.” 

Setting the phone down, I gestured for my daughter’s attention. “Avian. Let’s take the direct route outside.” 

Morphing into her bird form again, she wrapped her legs around my waist, and together, we glided out the window, landing on the ground outside the apartment building. As soon as she released me, I retrieved a small tuning fork from a coat pocket, holding it out. 

“What’s that for?” Avian asked. 

I shrugged, slowly crouching. “Not sure yet.” 

The tuning fork began to vibrate in my hand, almost imperceptible at first, but growing in violence as I brought the device closer to the grass. Waving it back and forth, I felt the vibrations wax and wane, and I paused at its peak intensity, examining the ground below. I dropped onto my belly, trying to place the grass horizontally in my view. A line of foliage stretched before me, the blades trembling uncontrollably in a straight path leading away from the scene. 

“Well, would you look at that,” I commented.  

Avian dropped down next to me. “Son of a bitch.” 

“Grab your phone,” I instructed. “I suspect we’ll need a little extra help.” 


Avian, Piston, Turbine and I stomped down the hallway of Pathfinder General, ignoring surprised glances from the medical staff as we approached Treble Clef’s hospital room. At the other end of the corridor stood Tom and Nancy, who waved amicably at the sight of Avian and myself. I glanced to Turbine, who frowned in their direction.  

“What is it?” I whispered. “What do you sense?” 

He shook his head. “I’m not sure. But something is off.” 

“Hey Tom! Hey Nancy!” called Avian as we closed the gap between ourselves and Treble Clef’s security guards. “Does Peter have a moment to talk again?” 

“I’m afraid he’s not feeling too well,” Tom apologized. “I can check in with him in a bit and schedule a–” 

His stopped mid-sentence, furrowing his brows at Turbine. “You got a problem? Why are you staring at me?” 

Turbine tilted his head. “How old are you?” 

“I’m forty-five, rude-ass,” the guard replied. “Old enough to know not to ask questions like that.” 

“Forty-five?” Turbine slowly backed away. “Why do you have the bioelectric aura of a toddler?” 

Tom and Nancy simultaneously drew their pistols, opening fire at Piston and Turbine. Avian dove in front of them, morphing into her durable bird form to absorb most of the bullets’ damage. Still, the barrage knocked her to the floor, and she wheezed on the ground as the projectiles pushed out of her rapidly-healing chest.  

The guards shifted their aim, but Chirp swooped up from Avian’s prone body, batting the firearms from both of their hands. As he carried their weapons away, Piston darted forward, lashing out with a front-kick into Tom’s chest. The blow propelled him backwards, through the closed door and into Treble Clef’s hospital room. Nancy spun in a circle, retrieving what appeared to be a railroad spike from inside her suit jacket and burying it into Piston’s right shoulder. Piston screamed, stumbling back, but Nancy retained a tight grip on the spike, now dripping in blood. 

“Peter is resting right now,” Nancy said, her voice suddenly monotone. “Please come back at a later time.” 

“Not a chance,” I retorted, drawing my Walther and opening fire. 

To my surprise, Nancy danced around the gunshots, twisting and flexing her body in a way that left her unharmed as she rushed in my direction, railroad spike raised. Turbine tried to stop her approach, but Tom reappeared, wielding a mallet, and collided with him. Nancy dove at me, spike extended, but I shrank into cat form, launching myself at her face. My claws dug into skin, but she batted me away from her head with inhuman speed and strength, sending me tumbling across the hospital floor and back into my human form.  

“Mom!” I heard Avian cry, and turned to see the girl leapt into the fray, side-kicking Nancy against the wall. Behind her, Piston and Turbine engaged with Tom, who kept them at bay with heavy swings from his mallet. As I returned to my feet, I caught a glimpse of the cuts I’d left in Nancy’s face, and paused. 

No blood leaked from her wounds. 

Instead, the skin pulled away in pieces like a rubber mask, revealing something pale-white beneath. I watched Avian strike the woman across the face, and some kind of contact lens flew from her eye, revealing beady blackness inside the socket.  

“What are you?” I asked her as she struggled against my daughter, who’d pinned her against the wall. “You certainly aren’t human.” 

“Human?” I heard a voice reply, and turned to see Treble Clef exit his room, dressed in loose-fitting scrubs and a hospital gown. “They’re as human as I am. You two, come to me.” 

Tom and Nancy instantly relaxed, dropping their weapons and shambling over to the Public Servant. As they took their place on either side of them, he raised his hands, patting them on the head.  

“After all, they are my children.” 

His hands vibrated, and their heads exploded, bursting like dropped watermelons. Blood sprayed across the white floors and walls, and the decapitated corpses crumpled to the ground. 

I took aim with my Walther while Avian, Chirp, Piston and Turbine formed a circle around Treble Clef. He made no sudden moves, smiling at the squad. 

“What brought you back to me?” he inquired, glancing at me. 

“We had an encounter with Mr. Silent last night,” I responded, keeping my gun trained. “He made a pretty quick getaway, I noticed.” 

Too quick,” added Avian. “He used sonic leylines, to travel at high speeds.” 

Treble Clef feigned shock, gently touching his chest. “But use sonic leylines. Are you accusing me of being a serial killer?” 

“We thought it possible, or even probable,” I said. “But, there’s the matter of the pattern. You’re fast, but not that fast. The pattern of regular murders followed concentric circles branching out from the Public Servants headquarters. No, I think the only people you killed were Nurse Landam and Cassian Chips. Likely to cover the tracks of someone else. Someone with the same powers as you.” 

Piston gestured at the headless guards on the floor. “Another child, perhaps?” 

Sighing, Treble Clef crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the door frame. “A child, of sorts. Where I come from, biomedical technology has far surpassed what exists in New General City, even from before the Great War. Gene editing, biomechanical integration, even cloning.” 

“These are clones?” Turbine asked. “They don’t look like you.” 

I crouched, tugging at the tan rubber which hid something paler beneath Nancy’s neck stump. “I get the feeling that you don’t look like you, either. Am I right, Peter?” 

He smiled wider, gesturing to his face. “If I may?” 

I nodded. “Slowly.” 

Slipping his fingers into a slit in the skin of his neck, he peeled away a rubbery outer layer, exposing a bleached-white face, thin, red lips, and beady, black eyes. I saw my daughter balk, and he winked at her, dropping the mask.  

“What happened to you?” Avian asked. 

“Oh, nothing,” he replied in a sing-song voice. “Life in The Underneath, I suppose.” 

I narrowed my eyes. “The what?” 

“My home,” he explained. “See, where I’m from, we’ve advanced so much technologically, it would blow your little minds. Early on, we learned how to use our cells to create meat-puppets, mindless clones with enhanced physical abilities designed to do our every bidding.” 

“Like Tom and Nancy,” Avian muttered. “Or, these things you used to replace Tom and Nancy.” 

“Yes.” Treble Clef chuckled. “How do you think we made the original Public Servants, before the bombs’ radiation had infected the world? They weren’t born. They were built. Utilizing the same technology the leaders of The Underneath had been using for years.” 

“What does that have to do with these murders?” pressed Piston, and Chirp twittered in apparent agreement. 

“Well, there’s a reason our technology focuses on the biomedical,” Treble Clef admitted. “In The Underneath, my people deteriorate psychologically with age. It’s inevitable, and quite difficult to avoid.” 

“Unless you could treat yourself with stem cells,” I interjected. “Stem cells from someone with the same genetic makeup as you.” 

“What, so you’re growing clones of yourself to make your own Lithium?” Turbine exclaimed in incredulity. 

Piston inched closer to Treble Clef. “Seems that way, mate.” 

I saw realization glimmer behind my daughter’s eyes, and she glared at the Public Servant. “Except this new clone, the one you grew a few weeks ago. He accidentally inherited the powers you gave yourself when you became a Public Servant.” 

Treble Clef sighed. “The cloning process was too unstable, the result of my Tom and Nancy clones working on my behalf while I lay unconscious in the hospital. He developed too quickly into an older variation of myself, without the stem cell treatments to hold back his insanity, and without the genetic dampening which normally suppresses their sonic powers. I was sloppy, and many people have lost their lives because of it.” 

“Why are you telling us all of this?” Turbine said. “You know how this makes you look, after all these years as the Public Servants’ golden boy.” 

“Because,” he said, gesturing behind us, “I was waiting for Mr. Silent. He and I don’t plan on leaving behind any witnesses.” 

We spun around to see the black-clad man in the white mask approaching from the other end of the hallway, knife in hand. I glanced back to see Treble Clef grinning wildly now, both hands raised . . . 

. . . but, as a few seconds passed, nothing happened. 

Frowning, Treble Clef looked at his hands. “What? Why aren’t my powers working?” 

“You gave us the idea yourself,” Avian commented, holding up a small remote. “Using one wavelength to counter another. In this circumstance, we made one that counters the wavelengths your powers fall within. That’s what’s playing over the hospital intercom right now. We were just waiting for your buddy to show.” 

“You didn’t think the Public Servants kept extensive files on their own members?” scoffed Piston. “We know everything about the experiments that made you like this.” 

“But . . . how?” he started to back away, panicking. “You aren’t Public Servants. Not even Avian, anymore.” 

Behind me, I heard rapid footsteps as Mr. Silent approached. I turned to see him inches from me, knife raised, but a gunshot resounded, and something whizzed over my shoulder. A red hole appeared in the center of Mr. Silent’s mask as the back of his skull burst away, and he tumbled to the floor, sliding to a stop in a pool of his own blood. Startled, I spun to see Piston with her arm outstretched, smoking 1911 in hand. 

“This isn’t what we discussed,” I hissed at her, but she ignored me, addressing Treble Clef instead. 

“That’s where you’re wrong, mate. Turbine and I are just as much Public Servants as you are. We’re just the blokes that no one knows about. Or, at least, no one wants to know about.” 

She took aim at his head. 

“Sterling Silver is very disappointed in you, Peter. You and your glorified blow-up-dolls have been making a mess of New General City, and now we’ve gotta clean it up. But first, one more mess.” 

He turned to run, but she fired again, the bullet penetrating his temple and dropping him instantly. 

Silence fell across the hospital, and in the distance, I heard police sirens approach. 

“What the fuck was that?” I cried, storming towards Piston and Turbine. In the corner of my eye, Avian remained still, her mouth agape in disbelief. 

“Sorry, mate,” Piston apologized. “I know you’re here to solve a crime, but that’s not our job. It’s like you said when we first met . . . I just do the Public Servants’ dirty work.” 

“Don’t worry,” Turbine added. “We’ve already got people sweeping his lab back at the headquarters. If he’s left behind anything dangerous, we’ll dispose of it.” 

“And this? I extended my arms, gesturing at the carnage. “How will you explain this?” 

He reached beneath his shirt, producing a small, black box. “Best I can sense, our little fight triggered a hospital-wide evacuation. Seems like a great time to avoid casualties if, say, the person who blew up The Living Mortar’s home came back to finish the job with Treble Clef.” 

Tossing the box into Treble Clef’s room, he held up a small remote with his free hand. “Better get out of here, ma’am.” 

I glared at him, shifting my eyes to meet Piston’s. “I know that Avian and I can’t stop this. I’m not even sure we should stop this. But you manipulated me, and you took this far further than I would have ever agreed to, especially with my daughter here. I don’t ever want to see you again. Consider my investigative services beyond your reach.” 

Piston sighed. “That’s fair, Inspector. We’ll go our separate ways, then. Best of luck on your journey with Avian.” 

I spun on my heels, grabbing Avian by the hand and pulling her away from them. Chirp fluttered behind us, twittering somberly. My daughter looked at me, eyes wide and glassy. 

“What do we do, mom? How do we make this right?” 

Shaking my head, I replied, “We can’t. This is too beyond us.” 

I felt The Call tug at me, ever-present in the back of my mind, but as I gazed back at my traumatized daughter, I responded differently for the first time in my life: This time, I ignored it. 

“In fact, I think it’s time you and I went on a long, long vacation.” 

“Really?” excitement trickled into her voice. “I’ve never had a vacation before. Where should we go?” 

The Call faded, and I released a breath that I felt like I’d been holding since my childhood. Sensations flooded in its place; memories of cobblestone streets, of baked bread and sweet flowers, of smiling faces and jovial conversations. A warm smile crept across my face, and I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye. 

“I know just the place, chère. How’s your French?” 

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