Crossing the Ex (Pt. 1)

May 17, 2018:

Harley delivers on her part of the bargain with Taskmaster to get her babies back, and Owen gets dragged along for the ride. The problem is… success could come with a high price.

Edgar Woods Prep - Gotham

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: The Joker

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Edgar Woods Prep.

When one thinks of Gotham City, one doesn’t typically think of an All Boys finishing school. Once upon a time, Edgar Woods was a promising school in an upscale neighborhood that hoped it would raise business and political leaders capable of turning around its fortunes. The outside of the school’s walls has recesses where once stood the busts of visionaries and inspiring social activists.

Now they, in a fitting metaphor for Gotham’s void of proper role models, stand empty. The gates and fence are wrought iron, but the top is curled in barbed wire… making the place look more like an upscale prison than a school. The neighborhood a pale specter of its former glory. The wealthy send their problem sons; scholarships fill the rest of the seats. It's an odd roster, trying to still achieve an outdated and improbable dream.

When Taskmaster said to move, sending a text message with the time and the rendezvous point, bodies moved.

It’s after hours, so the grounds are presently vacant and a thick fog rolls in off a nearby hollow. It rolls by, a sickly grey, past the old-fashioned, retrofitted street lamps that were once gas-fueled but now feature candle-shaped incandescent bulbs.

It’s quiet, save for the distant rumble of a train and wail of police sirens. Well. It was quiet.

And then a petite woman in a red and black bodysuit marches up to the fence with giant stomping steps and a giant pair of bolt cutters, she makes a very intimidating snapping motion. Her toes jingle with the bells she’s sewn on, as does the white collar lying about her throat. “Beware the Harley Quinn, my son…” she sing-songs, face deathly white and marked by her black domino mask. “The jaws that BITE. The claws that SNATCH.”

Not only would Owen not think of finishing schools for boy when he thinks of Gotham, but he would be hard pressed to even tell you what a finishing school is. But he got a text from Task obnoxiously full of emojis as usual giving him a time and a place and as per his agreement with Harley, he’s here.

Dressed in his *I am in no way Captain Boomerang* outfit of all black with matching black domino mask and nary a boomerang to be seen he makes his way. He takes the time to survey the property first from afar, using optics now built in to his mask. The mask also has some facial blocking features that make him harder to recognize, at least by electronic surveillance methods.

“I like those claws though… And the biting.”
Owen appears behind Harley in a burst of speed, partially to cover his approach, but fine also a little bit to scare the crap out of her.

Taskmaster's contacts go deep and far into the underbelly of the criminal underworld. It's only a matter of days after his agreement to help Harley and find schematics for the school that they're acquired, copied and images are being sent to cellphones of both Owen and Harley. The emoji storm ended information updated.

Acquisition came through a roundabout of Department of Building, call in an old student that works for the Owl that knows a guy in Gotham that has a cousin and voila. Stuff happens. Results achieved.

The skull-motif merc isn't anywhere near the two right now. He's dressed to the occasion though, dulled matte bone mask, deep navy to black form fitted gear, weapons available. He's on the inside of the gates, back against one of the few trees within. A shadow that could be mistaken for a gnarled root if someone doesn't look close enough. Just standing there watching them upon arrival. Debating whether or not he even wants to show himself.


Harley—if she wonders at all about the curiousness of Taskmaster’s uncharacteristic tardiness—does not seem to show it. She’s ready to get this show on the road. Get the job done with. Her focus is there and her pause at the school’s back gates to debate the best place to start cutting is interrupted.

Owen wants to scare the crap out of Harley, and his wish is her command. Unfortunately, it also carries an important caveat: it’s usually unwise to intentionally spook an overwound, overstressed, bona fide and diagnosed psychotic.

But that’s kinda Owen in a nutshell, ain’t it?

Quinn starts with a shriek, and those bolt cutters become a potentially deadly bludgeon as she wheels around on instinct.

Good thing he’s a speedster, huh?

Yes, spooking someone in the middle of a job, particularly someone as volatile as Harley is not a good idea, but this is Owen. He doesn’t have good ideas. He does however have very good reflexes and a bit of extra speed that comes in handy in stepping back from the swinging bolt cutters.

“Woah! Prolly best I didn’t grab yer ass like I planned. Would of lost a hand or something.”

Waiting a beat for her to realize who it is, he then gives his best charming smiles and says. “Hi.” He purposefully looks around and then asks, “And where is Princess Skull-omina? He joining us for this little excursion or are we just playing goons tonight?” Owen is decent at surveillance and scoping a site, but even with his added tech he missed seeing Taskie.

Taskmaster is peeling away from that tree to stride towards them across that school courtyard, "You two hormones done grab assing?" His voice affected with that usual electronic distortion. He is moving through blind spots in security, these ones at least. Beyond here it is likely to get more difficult and the current freedom of exchange they have right now won't exist.

"Unfortunately beyond the schematics I nabbed us I got no clue what we're dealing with here. Could be Godzilla for all I know or just some lumpy ass moron with a club."

A wrist mounted crossbow unfolds in the gloom, the *click* sound of a microsized dart loading up.


Harley isn’t amused once she realizes who it is, and she moves to (mostly) lightly shove at his chest if she can get there. “Not funny, B,” she tells him with some heat, leaning on her authority on the matter of what is and is not actually a good joke. It is, after all, a clown’s purview.

Her deeper breaths strive to calm the nerves that he’s danced upon, and then her pale gaze shifts to the approaching Taskmaster. She ratchets down her irritation, giving him just the palest hint of what transpired before… as if he hadn’t witnessed it for himself. “Yer with me, Mercer. Yer on wire-keepin’ duty. ”

Indignant, she moves back towards the gate to start cutting it open. “Yeah, I didn’t manage to get that part out of yer new lab rat.” There’s the strange sound of coiling metal as Quinn goes after the barbed wire, hoping that none of it actually catches her when it comes down. “Didja find a demo guy, Tee, or are we on our own?”

Hunh. Owen realizes that Harley is far more tense than he’s seen her, even on the “job” where they regularly face death, dismemberment or at the very least some very bad bruising. So.. what’s different? Why is she tense? He lets her shove him back and only gives her a mildly quizzical look in return.

“First of all, I didn’t even get to grab her ass. And second, I’ll get to yours soon enough big guy, don’t get jealous.” Owen makes appropriate goosing gestures at Task, but stops when Harley assigns him a duty. “Wire-keeping duty? I… don’t know what that means, but okay.”

He looks between Harley and Task with again slightly more confusion as he doesn’t know the plan, the objective, the risk or the person they are stealing from. All of those things would likely be a big ol’ Nope! from Owen, but he’s here so it’s a bit late for that.

"I am the demo guy." Taskmaster states, "Consider it one of my many trade talents."

The two get a measured study, one then the other. "You ain't in my league, Mercer. No funny ideas. If I was jealous, truly jealous we'd be having a different conversation about now." To a point, he is, but thats background noise at the moment. They got business to attend.

"How much do we wanna blow up here, Harle?"

"I got enough to level this place if you feel like making a statement." Not that it'll do the prep school or those kids who attend it any good.


Harley looks over her shoulder and frowns in the boys’ direction, and then carefully picks up some of the fallen barbed wire from the top of the fence. This? She hands in Boomerang’s direction. Wire-keeping duty; she doesn’t want to get cut up.

“Let’s not blow anything up, huh? I thought the point was keep yer stuff intact.”

The blonde—not that any of her hair is visible beneath the jester’s cap she wears—goes after the second coil of wire up there with her bolt cutters. She’s certainly not herself, if there’s ever the same Harley twice, as she stretches up. “Unless we find Him in there. Then I get to blow it up.”

There’s a small pause, a frown, and then a look to Owen. Her voice is an unhappy, grumbling murmur as she looks back to the fence, gets back to work, and pointedly avoids any further eye contact. Thank Ben Nye for clown white paint; she feels her face grow flushed beneath it. “The Ex was here.”

“Super.” Is all Owen has to say when Harley mentions The Ex. If it were my ex or one of my exes it might leave some ambiguity about who she is referring to. But “The Ex” can only be exactly one bat-shit crazy (pun intended) villain. But it at least saves him from having to ask who ‘he’ is when she talks about blowing someone up if he’s present.

Dutifully holding the barbed wire so that it doesn’t fly back and attack anyone, Owen looks at Task and then back to Harley. Why does Task want Harley’s help in stealing from the Joker? And why does it feel like he’s suddenly in the league of evil exes.

“Do I get clued in on what we’re grabbing here? Now that I at least have an idea who we are taking it from?”

There are probably no good answers to the question: What are we stealing from the Joker? But there are definitely ones that are worse than others.

"Once we have it, it'll be intact. Outside of that? Fuck cares. Game on." Taskmaster shrugs a shrug that says hes not committed to it either way.

"If we find him in there, I will be recording all of this." He does anyways, there’s a small camera lens on his shoulder harness, its usually always active.

"Yanno I beat him up once. If I recall right. I think, Gotham couple years ago when I was trying to make Javelin look bad. Messed with some black op guys in a marketplace, slapped your ex-ex around real good, old man? Older man? The guy before the last guy. Before you downgraded again." A shine of dark eyes past that mask and he looks at Owen.

"Fuzzy on the details as these things go, but it was a lot of fun. Again though, fuzzy on the details."

Taskmaster is just talking on right now as he drifts attention back around them, squinting at spots of possible interruption past his optics.

“No. It’s a surprise.”


The grounds are still quiet, and there’s no real sign of another body present on the property save the trio.

It’s a surprise.

Quinn’s head sinks lower between her shoulders as Taskmaster digs in, hangdog expression barely visible as she shoots a look of near-apology in Owen’s direction. It was supposed to be helpful to have him here. Another body to help save the day. Another something to bolster her against the creature whose memory looms large in the school’s darkened halls ahead of them.

She’d have told him. She wants to tell him now. But Taskmaster tells her not to, and she holds her tongue.

Another twang sends barbed wire coiling down, although this latest round falls on the other side.

When she speaks, her voice is quiet and small: “Heh. …I guess it’s ladies first, huh?”

“I’d be impressed if I believed you T-bone.” Owen answers quickly back. At the jibe about Harley downgrading he just smiles and gives a little shrug. He’s not exactly new to people disapproving of him, especially as a boyfriend.

Of course it makes more sense now to Owen why Harley is so on edge. It has nothing to do with Task and Owen bickering or even bringing Owen into a heist. It’s all about the big guy. That makes perfect sense. Shit. She’s obviously screwed up as hell about it still… which makes perfect sense. And how’s Owen helping? By screwing her over. And Taskie, but oh well, he’s a big boy, he’ll deal with it.

“So again. Do I get to know what it is we’re in the process of possibly borrowing and possibly exploding a school for unfinished boys over?”

He continues to hold the wire with one hand, but does offer Harley his other hand if she wants him to boost her up over the fence.

"Believe what you like, Stump Chucker." Taskmaster retorts. "Actually… better yet, lemme give you a lil proof. This will be a reach… "

"…. the Hello Guy, Rhymes with Die…" A clearing of his throat, a distorted noise then the pitch drops, there is an electronic click then his electronic voice modulator hops tones, drops its filters.

It's a reach, back almost four years ago, a firefight in Gotham, Burnley, a Farmers Market, the scent of a flare gun, crushed vegetables, manic laughter, screams…

"Lemme see your smile, Owen Mercer." A perfect delivery, Taskmaster shows off a particular byproduct of his gifts, voice mimicry and the Joker's own sadistic vocals just escapes through the bone teeth of his grinning mask.

Maybe a tad insensitive and enjoying himself a bit much here but really, this is what these guys do and the skully merc is all about skirting the line, even with his friends.

The distortion of his voice has returned, back to sounding like a Transformer like the usual Taskmaster, "You'll know it when you see it, right, Harley?"


The effect of that voice on the petite thing in her red and black is like nails on a chalkboard, immediate and visceral. The bolt cutters have been set aside and Harley’s hand—reaching up as she prepares to jump for the top-most rail beneath the spiked balusters and make use of Owen’s helpfully placed hand—draws back to the protective space over her belly in a tense, claw-like arrangement. She feels her breath escape her lungs, but has to consider for a moment before she finds herself able to draw it back in.

And then Quinn turns a baleful eye in Taskmaster’s direction. Yeah, he definitely tromped over a nerve with his boots if the thin and tightly pressed line of her black-painted lips is any indication. “Yeah,” she says after she manages to quell the half-dozen things that she wants to say instead, and bury them beneath a barely suppressed growl as she sets her nose to the grindstone and returns her attention to the job before them. It makes her voice thick; she hates the sound of it. “I should know it.” Should. It’s never a guarantee.

And, so long as Mercer’s hand remains where it is, she just narrows her eyes behind her domino mask and springs up to grab the top rail, using his help to get her feet—shod in flexible, soft leather soles—beside her hands soon after.

Owen’s brow furrows and his countenance darkens as Taskmaster decides to ‘prove’ something. Gone is the friendly banter, particularly when he sees how much it impacts Harley. He growls, “All that proves is that you’re a dick who is trying to get me to accidentally blow you up in this whackadoo richie rich school.”

He doesn’t offer Harley any consolation as it likely wouldn’t be well received right now and it’s a little awkward with Taskmaster there anyway. He shakes his head and then his tone changing from down right hostile to more clipped and business like, “Whatever, let’s just get this smash and grab over with.”

And both of them are being super cagey about what they are stealing. That plus the fact that they are stealing it from the Joker equals bad news bears for sure. Possibly bad news enough that Owen might intervene instead of help. Possibly.

Taskmaster's chuckle is hollow even to his own ears. Despite his mild sadistic enjoyment at tossing barbs towards the two fellow Task Force X'ers, it’s just not quite the same when Harley Quinzel is the brunt and worst yet she is not laughing alongside him. Perhaps that is one of his big problems. A decent audience is hard to find. Friends when you're a violent sociopath with skills that ultimately equate to ending the happiness of others… even harder to find.

"All I caught out of that weird assed garble you call English Mercer was dick and blow me. Fine fine, whatever, right no need having you two getting frazzled and emotional here. Who knows what kinda insane horror house /bat/shit we're dealing with here."

"There are reasons I hate Gotham and it's not the architecture." The acrobatic scale and clearance of Harley has him preparing to follow up with the two.

"Schematics should all be on your UnterNet linkups, we splitting up Scooby Gang style in here or keeping this lovely this ménage à trois intact? What is the game plan, Harley?" At least it sounds like his heckling has ended for now and he is taking things serious again. UnterNet linkups? For villains by villains. The UnterNet, created by the Calculator supposedly and goes deeper than even the DarkWeb, named crookeds like these three have a VIP pass, expensive encryption included. Who says there is no honor among thieves?

Not even Amanda Waller has access. That's testament alone to how much TLC was put in to the UnterNet by its shadowy mastermind(s).


Once she’s up and over, landing in a crouch on the other side, Harley stands, backs up to make room for the others to come behind, and then continues talking.

“So, I guess it’s what ya boys wanna do. Way I can tell, there’s a few places He might have put the stuff yer lookin’ for.” Quinn pulls out her phone from her bag of tricks and starts pulling everything back up, falling into a cross-legged sit on the thin, winter-dead grass of the lawn as she squints and pinches at the screen.

There’s the basement and the roof, with low traffic and low likelihood of something being discovered before The Joker’s countdown. And there are a couple outbuildings, most notedly a large greenhouse. But the school is large and sprawling, with mezzanines and storage rooms galore.

“My money’s on the roof or basement.”

And then, she says: “Bozo only knows how long we got left before the joke’s on us. Georgie didn’t say.” Then her head tilts to one side as she considers the two men: “You two think you can manage stickin’ together, or does Mommy have to put you two in separate corners? Because I wanna be done and outta here already.”

“Yup. Suck my dick. Blow me. You got the gist.” Owen shrugs that off with a joke that at least brings him to a slightly more normal joking tone. He then continues to offer his hands to boost Taskmaster over, with raised eyebrows? Not waiting for him to actually accept though, he uses his speed to get enough momentum to vault up and over the fence. He’s not as graceful as Harley but it gets the job done. He lands with a roll and then is up brushing himself off.

Owen pulls out his phone as well to checkout the schematics. He speed scrolls through it and then turns back to Harley.

“As much as I would love to be rid of him, let’s stick together. There’s bound to be surprises and I’d rather not find them all myself.” Sure, wanting Taskmaster to set off a booby trap instead of him is one reason not to split up but it’s much more about making sure he can keep an eye on whatever the prize is.

“So yes sweetie. I can play nice.” He then adds with a curled lip. “But please don’t ever refer to yourself as Mommy. That’s a no go for me.” He shakes his head for emphasis on how much he is not into that.

"Then we hit roof and basement." Taskmaster confirms having joined them over the fence with less ease than he'd prefer, stretching one leg out while Harley parks there to look up the next step.

"We can work together just fine, this ain't our first date." He counters, despite their attitude and bickering like siblings they manage well enough to survive several Suicide Squad missions now. "Besides, extra meat shield if it comes to it."

A nod of his head, "Ground up, let’s find a way in to the basement." He's not memorized the lay out, he has looked at it a few times and knows he'll irritate himself if he has to pull it up again.

“Right. Save the mommy talk for your fuzzy mongrels..”

The rest of the banter he ignores, he is not about to agree further and sound complacent. It’ll ruin his mood and tempo. He has a theme to keep up.


Harley considers Owen’s protest for a long moment, theatrically pantomiming the ponderance with the weight of a Jeopardy! question. Finally she shrugs lightly and pulls her bag forward into her lap. “Yeah, okay, fine.” It’s not sarcastic or biting, but simply blithe acceptance.

But it’s Taskmaster who—just as easily as he derailed her and dredged up her doubts and insecurities—refocuses Quinn on the thing to keep her trudging forward. The Babies.

She trades phone for glass cutter after a minimum of shuffling around. Then the jester holds it aloft, her dark-tinted smile broad, compulsive, childish, and needful of praise for her Scoutlike preparedness. “Don’t gotta be fancy,” she says as she still sits on the ghostly remnants of a grass lawn. “Who wants the honors for bein’ the bad kid breakin’ into school?”

“Sure, you feel the need to hide behind me to stay safe, knock yourself out skull head.” He tries to keep the banter up while checking out the surroundings. The fact that it’s the Joker they’re swiping from is weighing heavily on him and the long pauses between quips is probably enough of a clue for both of his companions that he’s not in his usual chatty mood.

But they are all a little more on edge than normal. Maybe because Waller isn’t a unifying force for them to rail against, and they’ve actually all opted to work together this time. It takes some of the pressure off to be able to complain about her forcing them into terrible situations, but sadly they have only themselves to blame for whatever trouble befalls them here.

“Oooh me!” Owen raises his hand, appropriately as if in class, to volunteer for the breaking in. And he pulls up the map from the unternet to find his way to a basement door. He does a few cursory glances around at the doors before taking a step back and using a razor boomerang to slice off the lock with a very precise throw.

Slowly, Owen turns the handle and starts to open the door, very aware that it might be wired or trapped in some inventive way.

Well, at least the door doesn’t explode. But maybe going through right away isn’t the best plan.

As the sharp edge of Owen’s boomerang hits the door, a shower of sparks erupts from the door handle. An arc of energy follows it for a moment, but by the time it comes back to Owen it is only slightly off-course and only carrying enough charge to give him a small jolt if he takes it back in hand.

On the right track, perhaps, but Owen can decide for himself whether that makes the door the right one or the wrong one to try to get in through.

Door knobs parading as joy buzzers. Yeah, Gotham’s leading funny man’s been here.

"I can taste the copper to that. Didn't wet yourself didja?" Taskmaster teases, that shield that was over his shoulders now worn on his forearm like a buckler, protective that way. Likely none of them seen him put it on but… when threatened by harm or danger! One reacts.

"You got dibs on the next door too if you want."

-

As Owen forgoes the glass cutter and takes a lead on opening the door with his own favored tools, Harley tucks it back in her bag and starts twisting up onto her feet. The sparks from the door cause her to jump more than is probably appropriate, arms flying up to cover her head with its cap and puff-tipped horns as she ducks down.

She turns around to see what’s happening, only to see Owen near the sparking door and she starts scrambling in that direction to catch up and intervene if necessary.

The sparking was certainly more than he expected and the jolt carried back on the boomerang obviously give Owen pause so that he is not about to go grabbing the handle or touching the door anytime soon. He instead is getting close enough to look for wiring and ways to short circuit it. He glances back in time to see Harley coming to stop him and he raises a closed fist to signal a stop.

“Yea, yea. No touchie touchie, I think I got that bit. As hilarious as the joybuzzer bit would be, might be best if we just blow the doors. I’m not a hundred percent I can disable all the failsafes that might be there, the wiring is … unexpected.”

He steps back and says “Unless you got yet folding mister smiley mallet hidden away somewhere to just bash it in with a non-conductive bang?”

"Then we are blowing doors." Taskmaster confirms and moves in, if he has to he will shove Owen aside, reaching in to one of the many pouches slung across his LBV he pulls out a small rounded device with a wire and a single button. It is joined by three others. They are all then placed in the corners of the door with a white putty overtop.

"Hold your nipples. If you have any." He remarks to both of them and depresses something in his palm, there is muffled explosions, as they go off one by one in the order he placed them. The noise outside is very minimal, the inside that depends on the thickness of the doors and what they're made out of.

The smoke is likewise limited to the single room beyond.


When Taskmaster takes a lead to take the heavy steel door off its hinges, Harley throws on the brakes, ducks down, and sticks her fingers in her ears as she braces against the noise. But that noise is minimal, despite the heavy exterior door that Owen has gotten unlocked.

It’s not until she smells smoke that she uncurls and opens one eye, the other still tightly squeezed shut.

Beyond the door that falls in and then cascades down a steep flight of concrete steps, an exit light offers a dim view down into the school’s basement. The haphazard wiring job that would have rendered the doorknob deadly wraps around the handrails and has been held in place with duct tape brightly patterned with comic-styled boxes declaring BOOM! POW! HA! To Be Continued…

A great find, that roll of Duck Tape was.

Down in the darkness, there’s the whir of the building’s furnace, but no other sound.

Quinn gets closer to peer down the hole from behind Boomerang and Taskmaster. “Looks pretty empty down there.”

Shoved aside, Owen just laughs and says “Oh by all means big guy. You mess with this one.” He even gives Task a half shove towards the door, which is booby trapped, while the mercenary is holding explosives. It’s fine though, the merc is more than coordinated enough.

As instructed Owen reaches for his nipples and rubs them through his tactical underweave, making sure to make eye contact with Taskmaster while doing so. But then Harley is walking towards the entrance and it’s hard to see. He pulls out a domino mask, all the rage amongst the hero set and sets it in place and then swipes to change to night vision and then infra-red. It’s his own design that he’s been fiddling with and probably not as advanced as the more permanent one that Task uses, but it at least helps give him some idea of what to expect below.

“Booby trapping the wrong place sounds about right to me. But trying to predict this nut is a dangerous and idiotic hobby.”

Owen is obviously in no hurry to hop on down but at the same time feels a little competitive with Task about not showing any fear. So he moves carefully down the steps, cycling between spectrums that might help him see something before it murders him.

"It does. Is it?" He looks over his shoulder at Harley. "This is your special kind of insane after all."

"Agreed but that’s why we got our own token nut, right, clown pants?" Taskmaster turns around slowly looking the empty room over then motions upstairs, "Up or down from here? Put yourself in his big ugly shoes."

Taskmaster's spare hand no longer empty a longsword is in it, he pokes it out at one of the pieces of tape, slicing it. Hesitant. He may have been enthusiastic about explosions earlier but those are the ones hes in control of.

—-

Before Harley descends the seldom-used stairs, she rifles through her bag and pulls out several things. A couple cubes of sickly sweet grape gum which are unwrapped and promptly disappear behind dark lips. A heavy revolver which has its rounds checked as they lie, still but ready to obey the command of a pulled trigger. Then, at last, a heavy flashlight wearing a coat of silver paint and sparkles.

The last is bumped against the heel of her hand a few times, the light sputtering unhappily before resigning itself to the task of illumination.

She shines it down the hole after Taskmaster and Owen, content to take up the rear as they descend the steps.

The splitting of the tape reveals little but the wires that rigged the door—old and probably repurposed from somewhere else if the bare spots and odd splices are to be believed.

Owen, being the first down and with vastly superior equipment for seeing through the dim, might notice the wires haphazardly laid across the ground in a sloppy, technicolor rat’s nest. They run up the other stairwells from the pried open fuse box, wrapped in the same ridiculous tape. It is in no way easy to see all of ways the copper threads wind through the room.

The sound of the HVAC system rumbling mingles with the sound of water trickling, and the louder smacking of Harley’s gum.

She stops her cud-chomping to look in Taskmaster’s direction with her wide eyes, staring at him vacantly for a moment like a vapid cow as she thinks. She crinkles her nose, though whether at the smell of must or an unpleasant thought is hard to say. “Down here, somewhere,” she decides ultimately, “if we’re where He could access the air and water easiest. He wouldn’ta used the good tape for just any party.”

A pause, and then she snorts indignantly from her place on the stairs, a hand coming up to her breastbone. “Aaaaaaand,” she continues, loudly, “I note that you say ‘nut’ like it’s a bad thing. But I'll have you know that most people—unless they have a deadly allergy—happen to like the occasional handful of cashews, almonds, or macadamias. I am the crunchy surprise that makes a chocolate bar come alive.”

It might be noted, she seems to have paused in her descent. She’s buying time.

“I ain’t Him.”

“I for one, am a big fan of nuts. Both kinds. All kinds.” Owen chimes in while exploring the basement area carefully.

Sweet, so they are looking for Joker poison so that … what? Taskmaster wants to get his hands on some? There are probably worse hands for it to fall into … or remain in, so Owen considers how much he feels like he needs to do about this.

“How much do we think is here? We looking for like a single canister? A tank full? Any ideas..?”

Owen has by now flipped off any special gear and is now using his phone as a flashlight to examine small corners and look for things like ceiling tiles that have been disturbed.

"Well aware, Crunchy. Joker wouldn't have got past first base with me. Can’t say the same for our stick chucker. Lil too enthusiastic with the nipple play. " Taskmaster grunts and the ocular mods beyond the lenses of his mask start to sift through ranges.
.
"Enough to break it down and see what makes it so darn fun." Cat out of the bag. "So I suppose that means as much as we can carry."

"Don't worry. It's for a good cause… kind of. I mean… You know." A chuckle, his shoulders bounce with it. He's laughing with himself over nothing?

A thorough yet timed search of the basement is next, that sword being used like a poker, the tip tapping or touching here and there.

"Anyone seen Ivy? She’s been telling me how she wants to go to Brazil. Then up and just disappears, maybe she went?"

Small talk. Idle chatter. What else to do while they're playing Hardy Boys.


“A canister won’t get the whole school. It’ll be more than that,” Quinn says, finally bracing herself enough to step down into the basement at last. Her feet are careful to step over wires, wary to trip something. Her flashlight bounces around the wall with the same whimsical lack of sense as the rest of her, although she seems to be paying closer attention up as well—to the duct work tacked up along the ceiling and floors to feed the floors above, looking for a breech.

“I jes’ don’t know where He’d put it. The loser is the master of hide and seek when He wants to be. Has to be. Batsy is a real pain about finding the stuff ya’ don’t want him to.”

A glance to the tangle of wires. “Electrician’s job aside.”

Taskmaster’s sword doesn’t find material that gives, stone or cinder block or drywall or otherwise. But his focus on the lower parts of the room does eventually send him closer to the large, ancient HVAC system that rumbles loudly. There’s an auxiliary next to it, which isn’t immediately suspicious. After all, old systems can be jury rigged a hundred ways when funding is low and safety oversights aren’t always the best.

‘Isn’t immediately suspicious’, however, is not the same as ‘not at all suspicious’.

The back grate of the unit has been lifted off and a small rubber tube—of roughly the same color and hue as the painted gray floor—snakes out of the back of it and runs along the crease of the wall in the opposite direction of the duct work.

Meanwhile!

After a systematic search, Owen will see a similar tube that snakes along the metal ductwork when Harley’s brighter flashlight moves across it and then flits past as she misses it, branching out into three separate smaller pipes from a junction a small distance down from the main heating system.

“Ivy and I had a movie night not too long ago. Didn’t mention Brazil.”

Following them small tube mysteriously painted to match the room as if trying to be less conspicuous, Owen is careful not to it but uses his own phone flashlight to try and see where it heads and then follow the branches at least within the room before going back to trace where it came from.

“Taskie we’ve talked all about my sensitive nipples. You can pretend like Dublin never happened if you have to, but we both know the real truth.” It’s almost like it doesn’t take any focus for Owen to taunt Taskmaster as he barely looks up from what he’s doing to make the comment.

“But if I got to choose between you having some deadly poison or chuckles the sadistic murder clown, you are the lesser of two evils, in fact you are the lesser in every way possible.”

Finding himself back at the ‘auxiliary’ HVAC system, Owen frowns and tilts his head to the side. “So yea, if I wanted to pump some crazy neurotoxin branded after myself into a school, this wouldn’t be the worst way to go about it..”

"No? Huh." Taskmaster's only comment towards Ivy. He isn't going to pretend to know more, doesn't remember much more there anyways nor even going to Dublin with Owen. Which, doesn't mean it didn't happen. It very well could have.

"The lesser in every possible way to Harley's ex? So… she's got a serious downward curve happening is what you're saying. You dipshit, what's that make you?" Taskmaster rumbles before walking an explorative pace around the HVAC system, a quick search for bombs, booby traps or additional out of place wiring.

"If this shits all connected, we'll go for the source. I hope you two have protective masks in those stupid get ups somewhere." His own 'skull' hosting a filtration system. Though he isn't sure they'll need them but who knows what sort of failsafe the painted nut behind all this employed. Harley should. That’s why she’s playing point right? Right. Who unknown to Taskmaster may very well be immune to Joker toxins anyways!

He'll then peel off the thermostat cover to expose the inside wiring, always a 'jolt' possible from that, low voltage. Fortunately his gloves are insulated enough.

Wires never meant to be touched are. The brown and red crossed to emit a spark, the furnace going through a hard shut off by blowing its fuse.


Quinn frowns as she smacks on her gum. “Heeeeeeey,” she whines. “My murder suit’s amazing and we all know it. Yer jest jealous, ‘cause y’don’t jingle merrily like I do.” To emphasize the point, she shimmies her shoulders.

There’s a sharp sniff, and then the white-faced gal steps forward at last to form up the trio. She stoops down beside where Owen stands to look at its grate, but otherwise just sits there squatting and staring. Taskmaster’s right; she has nothing to fear from the gas so she simply pulls her bag forward and puts her flashlight and revolver away.

There’s a black flex pipe that stretches out of the back of the auxiliary box, disappearing alongside the other system’s AC condenser into a drainage grate.

When the fuse blows out, the unit goes silent. Mostly silent. There’s a barely perceptible whine of a small fan and the continued sound of running water through the grate. Harley then boldly lifts up her two glove-covered hands to remove the grate, but doesn’t quite seize hold. “Alright,” she says, and then looks to Taskmaster. “Want me to open ‘er up?”

She glances then to Owen, and her lips purse up unevenly to one side. “If yer gonna wanna back up, now’s the time.”

The background chatter of Taskmaster taunting him about being the end of a downward curve barely registers with Owen as he’s now ultra focused on trying to trace wires and pipes and make any sense of what is purposefully convoluted and nonsensical. He realizes that Taskmaster has stopped talking at some point and tries to come back with “.. yea? Yer.. face!” In what is perhaps his worst comeback, ever.

But then the fuse blows and things get kind of creepy. He looks at his two heist companions and says suddenly “Woah! Woah! No, I did not bring a gas mask because no one decided to share any details about this little field trip!”

And then Harley wants to open something up and is warning him to maybe back up? He takes a few steps back and prepares to zip out of there in a nanosecond if he sees or hears anything that even remotely resembles a deadly neurotoxin demanding that he ‘SMILE!’

"Your outfit is just fine, dollface. Saves us from having to put cat bells on you so you don't just pop up like you Gotham types tend to favor."

"Open 'er up."

Taskmaster steps back and looks sidelong at Owen, "Breath deep. What’s the worst that can happen? Your girlfriend starts making more sense to you?" A low chortle and he looks up at the ceiling, turning entirely away from the duo to walk towards a stairwell headed up.

Just playing look out or if someone wanted to be extra paranoid barring Boomerangs escape…


She’s got the order. After a glance to Taskmaster, the clown snorts. “I make plenty of sense,” Quinn protests to his retreating back.

Harley’s brow furrows after a tight smile of encouragement to Owen for his backwards progress, and then she turns her attention away from him at last to look at the out-of-place steel box anew. Her fingers twitch in the air for a long moment, Quinn just staring at the grate and the dim bluish glow that interrupts the dark of their corner.

“Okay, Harl,” she mutters, mostly to herself to get herself moving again. She pauses to rub her gloved hands together briskly and then reaches out again. “Get it together. Yer fine! Bud and Lou. Bud and Looou. And no problem here, anyway. Mistah J will never know. Probably forgot aaaaall about this. No problem. No problem.” She seizes hold, plants her feet at the base of the fake unit, and gets ready to pull. “Noproblemnoproblemnopro—”

ZZZZZZZZZZT. The buzzing reverberates loudly against the steel as soon as she tugs.

Followed promptly by the sound of Harley’s screaming, completely burying the sound of the front of the box as she jumps to her feet and drops it. And once the screaming has died down, the air is filled with her cursing a blue streak. Eventually, something more intelligible comes out. “THAT PASTY-SKINNED LOUSY SCHMUCK! I SWEAR, I’M GOING TO TEAR HIS FACE OFF THE NEXT TIME I SEE HIM AND FEED IT TO THE BABIES FOR BREAKFAST. I’M GONNA—”

Harley’s practically hyperventilating as she throws her hands around animatedly, feet stomping in exaggerated fashion as she has a complete meltdown with her jingle bells offering a light accompaniment.

Inside the box, clipped to the side of the opening, a wind up toy joy buzzer that must have been triggered when the box’s cover got moved.

But inside the box? Jackpot. Three canisters that look like helium tanks enjoying a second life—haphazardly painted in hues of purple and green—have been bolted to the top of the steel box. They are missing shut off valves now; those have been ripped off for their new existence. Instead, they pipe down into a small, heavy box with an LCD screen that is flashing what seems to be a countdown clock. Surrounding that box is the black of a UPS box, and a rats nest of wires with no discernable difference between the lengths… All spirals of purple and green. From the box, a large flex tube passes through a hole drilled through to the main HVAC system, and from there, presumably, is the grey piping that weaves upwards like a toxic vine. More grey piping snakes down to the water that passes through the grate.

Seems to be a countdown clock.

Because what is on the display is nothing more than four emojis.

Eggplant. Leaves. Dancer. Thinking face.

A moment later, it changes.

Eggplant. Eggplant. Dancer. Thinking face.

And Harley rages on, alternating wringing her hands and flailing them helplessly as she wheels around the dark basement, dancing over the wires that could so easily trip her.

“—AND THEN I’LL PUT THAT IN A GIANT AQUARIUM TO FEED SOME HUGE MUTANT PIRANHAS, AND THEN—”

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