Kevin Ferris looked around the holding cell with an equal mix of shock and disgust. There had been a very brief, extremely violent struggle, at the end of which Mudshark, a.k.a. Vincent Kowalski, had been irradiated from the inside out, and now lay sprawled face-up on the floor. The smell of cooked meat permeated the cell. Smoke no longer rose from the corpse, but it still filled the air.

"Ugh. This air's as bad as Denny's kitchen on third shift." He took a swig of coffee. "But the java's even worse. Any signs of forced entry?"

Two of Ferris' squad-mates had gone over the scene before he arrived. "No sir. The cell door hadn't been touched. However, security video shows a flash of light in the cell just before the time of death, then the camera was destroyed."

"What about the other one? Thunderbolt?"

"He appears to have died in his sleep, sir. No sign of forced entry, and the security camera shows no activity in his cell all night. It must have happened before Mudshark was attacked, or the noise would have awakened him."

Ferris walked down the hall to the adjacent cell, and looked at Garret Maxon, formerly known as Thunderbolt, lying dead on his bunk. This was possibly even more disturbing than Kowalski's cell--no cause of death, no weapon, no suspect, no evidence. Nothing.

"I don't buy it. No way does Maxon die in his sleep the same night Kowalski gets knocked off. Looks like it might've been a mentalist. Get American Dreamer on the phone."

Shortly, one of his agents passed Ferris a cell phone, with American Dreamer on the line, sounding hung over. "Dreamer, I need to know if a mentalist could have geeked one of our prisoners last night. Are there any unaccounted for?

Dreamer thought for a moment. He sounded bored. "Well, Virago's still out of town. Cosmic Ray is in the asylum. And Jade Gorgon was at work all last night."

"And how, exactly, would you know that?"

"I was at the Third Rail. You won't believe...."

"I thought you were with Blackout.

"That's right."

"Dreamer, you know you shouldn't be taking her down there. We'll talk later. Who does that leave?

"Just one. Blackheart."

"Right. Ferris out."

Of course it was Blackheart, but nobody could ever prove anything. Blackheart never left any evidence. Ferris knew who the other assassin was, though. She killed with unmistakable cruelty, appearing without warning and burning her victim from the inside out, then disappearing just as suddenly. Flashburn had followed the same pattern with Mudshark's murder, except for one thing.

Even the slightest deviation from a killer's normal pattern could have enormous significance, but this one made Ferris' blood run cold. His career, the new prison, and all ICoMP's forces suddenly seemed futile in the face of the Second Syndicate's capabilities. There would be no security, no safety for the Syndicate's enemies in the coming war, wherever they tried to fight, or hide, or run. Flashburn had made that frighteningly clear.

At most of Flashburn's crime scenes, nothing got burned other than the corpse of her victims, but this time, next to Kowalski's body, she had scorched a single word into the floor.


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