One Month Later....

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Hardball awoke sometime before noon, hung over and banged up, as usual. Last night he'd broken up a Syndicate-funded drug-deal, at the cost of having several rounds 'pancake' against his body armor. He'd be stiff for a few days. Nothing, compared to what they've done to Sis. He put the thought out of his mind, and counted the drug money he'd stolen. It was enough, finally.

For weeks he'd been trying to scrape together enough cash to buy a case of psi-clone for Cosmic Ray. It was true, Ray wasn't without assets, but they were frozen. He'd had a brief discussion with Technicality about possibly hacking the accounts, but then she'd left town for a week, after geeking a Syndicate suspect and putting herself at the top of ICoMP's hit list. She was pretty much radioactive now, as far as Hardball was concerned, so he'd just do this the old-fashioned way, thanks very much.

He suited up and stopped by the Donut Ho to grab a late breakfast and the daily SLANT, just to make sure he wasn't in it. Hardball had an understanding with Chase—she knew he liked to keep a low profile, and respected what he was doing enough not to mention him. But he always read the paper, just to make sure, and to keep up with what all his 'friends' were up to.

This morning he looked at the front page and damn near spilled his coffee.


He'd already read about the fiasco in Los Alamos the previous week, but it still came as quite a shock. Hardball knew how to fight street thugs, Syndicate agents, and the occasional super-powered freak, but the U.N.D.??? Life as he knew it was over the moment he saw the headline.

They wanted Blitzkrieg. Six days left. At the Arch. Oh, shit....

Get on the phone. Speed dial the Rail. "This is Jack. We open at two."

"You're at ground zero, Heartless."

"Yeah." He sounded so damned calm. "You might want to get outta town."

"You're staying?" Hardball almost raised his voice, for once.

"I figure we nail two of 'em." Jack didn't add before it's over....

"And the third...?"

"She gets away. Like I said, get outta town. Take your sister. There's nothing you can do."

"I'll think about it, Jack. Later."

Hang up. Speed dial again—the Coffee House.

No answer.

Six rings. Recording with business hours, indicating they should be open by now. Not good.

Time to go check it out. Headed west on I-64, Hardball noticed the eastbound lanes out of the city into Illinois were bumper to bumper, nearly at a standstill. The evacuation was starting.

Gonna be a long six days....

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