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Catalyze

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It had been a week since spending the night at Midoriya’s. Or rather, at Izuku’s. He was still trying to adjust to the change, testing the name out in his free time.

Now was not free time. It was another night of playing mission control for the Network while they investigated leads. Last night, Shinsou had informed him they had a possible match on one of All For One’s known associates in the area, and they were tracking him down. Normally Shouto only worked when Midoriya( Izuku ) was on patrol, since he was the newbie in need of the most help and they only had one functional bodycam setup. Also because he was frankly more invested in his friend’s well-being than anyone else’s. However, Shinsou had told him this was important, so he was manning the station in case there was an emergency.

Instead of looking through Izuku’s perspective, Hydrophobe wore the camera-synced vest and helmet, since they were the closest to Izuku’s size and the second greenest in terms of experience.

“So like are we gonna stand here all night or what, bossman?” Flashback whined into her mic.

Shouto had never worked with her before, and he was quickly hoping to never work with her again. For someone so small, she produced a prodigious amount of complaining.

“The target is currently walking with a group of three other men,” came Shinsou’s tired reply. “I’ll let you know when it’s safe to close in.”

Shouto wished Shinsou was the one touting around the camera gear, since his view was likely the most interesting, perched atop a nearby roof. However, Shinsou had been adamant about Shouto watching over the newest and most vulnerable members.

“Ugh, can’t you just tie them all up?” she whined.

“Not a good idea to start a fight with a bunch of people when you don’t know what their Quirks are,” Shouto explained, trying to hide the irritation in his voice.

Hydrophobe’s cameras were angled at her, allowing Shouto to get a good view of her throwing her head back and groaning in exasperation. Like most of the Network, her costume was mostly no-frills body armor. Apparently Amalgaknight was the only one who bothered spending large amounts of money ordering custom gear. Everyone else settled for a few touches of personalization over the standard uniform, such as Flashback’s oversized nightvision goggles that gave her an owlish appearance.

“Looks like he’s splitting off from his party,” Shinsou said. “I’ll approach him casually and see if I can get him to engage in conversation. Head to my coordinates.”

“Finally,” Flashback groused, breaking into a sprint. “Come on, Hyd, I’ll race you.”

“Seems unnecessary,” Hydrophobe replied, following after in a light jog. It was the first thing they had said all evening. Shouto had been concerned their microphone wasn’t on.

Through Shinsou’s communication system, Shouto heard a gruff, “Hey, watch it.”

“You watch it!” a voice shouted back.

Got him.

It was the old ‘accidentally bumping shoulders with someone and then acting offended’ trick Shinsou liked to pull on unsuspecting victims. Normally, Shinsou’s powers weren’t good for interrogation or tracking. People couldn’t use their higher brain functions when they were under his thrall, meaning he couldn’t ask them any questions or find out where they were going. He was built for subduing and controlling perpetrators. However, when paired up with his crew, he was much more effective.

By the time Hydrophobe arrived on the scene, Flashback was in position, staring straight into the man’s eyes. Shinsou’s Quirk made it so he stood still and unresisting. The lens of her goggles popped up so that she could make direct eye contact.

“Be ready for when she breaks it off,” Shinsou instructed Hydrophobe as they pulled up to the group. “He’ll probably be too on guard to talk to me again. We’ll need you to make sure we make a clean getaway.”

“Glad I can be useful,” Hydrophobe replied.

Flashback’s eyes sparked, and the stray bits of silver hair not pulled back into her bun frizzed out with static electricity. In response, the man she stared at shuddered then went rigid. As long as they were like this, all of Flashback’s other senses would be cut off. She was helpless for as long as she played around in the man’s memory, meaning her teammates had to keep watch.

“Mission Control, I slipped a GPS tracker into his pocket when we bumped,” Shinsou said. “If he’s smart, he’ll find it and destroy it. On the off chance he’s an idiot, which isn’t too unlikely, can you make sure the computer is recording his movements?”

“Can do,” Shouto replied, flipping through his applications.

He still didn’t feel like the most qualified person in the world to be running tech support like this. However, he was picking up on things quickly. It was pretty standard for Shinsou to slip a tracer onto his targets, and they had several active GPS signals to keep track of. Most went offline after a few hours when the targets found and destroyed them or washed their clothes, etc. Even when they survived, they usually just ended up languishing in a laundry pile, showing no interesting movement for weeks on end.

“How long do you think she’ll be in there?” Hydrophobe asked, their camera turning to look at Flashback as they spoke.

“Could take a while,” Shinsou replied. “We’re looking for any contact with criminal organizations, but since we don’t have a specific timeframe we’re searching for, she’ll just have to go back through his memories one by-”

His explanation was cut short by a crashing from the street corner. Both of them whipped around to see a large man with a mutation-type rhino Quirk marching towards them.

“Shit,” Shinsou muttered under his breath. “That’s one of the people he was with earlier. Don’t know what tipped them off, but we have to jump ship. I’ll stall, you get Flashback out of here.”

Hydrophobe rushed to comply. Shouto was already drafting an escape route and sending the coordinates to them.

“Be on guard,” he warned. “His other friends could be circling around, too, trying to box us in. I’m sending you out the backway.”

“Thanks,” Hydrophobe replied. “I would prefer not to die tonight. I’ve got a dentist appointment tomorrow.”

Shouto legitimately didn’t know the hero well enough to tell if they were joking or not.

Through the camera, he saw Hydrophobe take hold of Flashback’s shoulder and give her a rough shake.

“Come on, friend, time to wake up.”

As Flashback regained her senses, so did her target. It didn’t do him any good, though. Before he could blink his eyes, Hydrophobe held up both hands and sent him catapulting back into the wall with a crack.

“Whoops. That was more forceful than I meant it to be,” Hydrophobe said. “You don’t think I seriously hurt him, do you? Should I check?”

“He has a concussion at worst. Don’t waste time,” Shouto ordered.

Flashback shook her head and glanced around, taking in the situation.

“So I guess we’re hightailing it?” she said.

“Yes. Now,” Shouto answered.

In Hydrophobe’s rear camera, he could see Shinsou struggling to avoid the man with the rhino Quirk. Apparently he wasn’t much of a talker, since Shinsou hadn’t been able to brainwash him. However, Shinsou was seasoned enough to be able to dodge around the man’s wild swings.

“I was just getting to the good stuff, too,” Flashback whined as she broke into a run. She was fast, but now that Hydrophobe was actually serious, they were able to outpace her on their long legs.

“Don’t get too far apart from each other,” Shouto warned. “Flashback doesn’t have the offensive capabilities to take on a group.”

“I have my natural charm!” Flashback said, affronted. Shouto rolled his eyes, even though she wouldn’t be able to see it.

Once they were safely down a couple of streets, Shouto switched over to Shinsou’s radio.

“They’re out of range. You can disengage now,” he said over the radio.

“Good,” came the response, “I was starting to work up a sweat.”

Even if he didn’t have visuals on Shinsou, he had a GPS display on the man’s current location. He watched the blip begin to move as Shinsou made his escape, tracking across rooftops where his opponent couldn’t follow. His other charges had also avoided detection, and Shouto routed them to rendezvous with their boss.

“Well, we failed the stealth part,” Shinsou reflected when they were all safely back together and heading for the safehouse. “They won’t know exactly what we did, but they’ll know something’s up. That means they’ll be on guard.”

“I’m not so sure about the ‘we failed’ part, since I didn’t screw up,” Flashback preened. “I didn’t get enough time to get in deep, but I went back about two weeks. As far as I could tell, tonight he was just hanging out with some old drinking buddies. People with shady backgrounds, sure, but they weren’t doing anything illegal.”

“So this was a total wash?” Hydrophobe asked.

“Umm,” Flashback mused, chewing on one nail, “there was definitely some stuff. I don’t get sound in the memories, so I can’t tell you the conversations word for word, but I get echoes of his feelings. And there was one person he met up with a couple of weeks ago that put him on edge. Judging from context, it felt like someone he owed money to, but that could be something, I guess?”

As they walked back to the safehouse, Flashback discussed what she had experienced though the man’s memories. Her Quirk only let her see and feel what the other person recalled, which meant it was often hazy or missing pieces, and was definitely influenced by the subject’s biases. However, it was a useful enough ability to make her the Network’s primary interrogator and information collector. She told them how the man had met someone at a bar, a place that was ordinary enough it hadn’t left a strong impression on him. Not much in the way of concrete memories about the actual building. However, the man had remembered it was next to a bookstore and approximately how far away it was from his home. They could triangulate its location later based on that information.

“So like, this wasn’t a regular meeting,” she explained, “because he didn’t know where the place was. He was using his phone for directions to get there.”

“Which means they could be smart and change the location of their meetings every time,” Shinsou mused. “In that case, tracking down this bar wouldn’t be useful. We’ll have to chase the lead anyways to be safe. Can you give us a description of the person he met with?”

“I can do you one better,” Flashback said. “Get me some paper, and I can give you a sketch.”

When they got back to the safehouse, she did just that. Grabbing a spare sheet of paper, she did her best to recreate what she had seen in the man’s memory.

“You have to understand that people’s memories aren’t accurate, per se,” she explained as she sketched. “That’s why my Quirk isn’t admissible in court. Kinda ruined my dreams of being a forensics expert. Anyways, certain features are exaggerated or distorted if they left a strong impression. The stuff that sticks out is sometimes all I see. Like just a floating pair of violet eyes in an otherwise featureless face, if that’s all the person remembers.”

“So this isn’t going to be very useful in actually tracking anyone down?” Shouto guessed.

It was hard not to be disappointed that they were running into another dead end.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Flashback reassured. “We sort of struck gold. Turns out the person our boy was talking to is pretty distinctive. I just want to give you a heads up that I can’t be sure this is exactly what they look like. It’s probably taken to some extremes.”

On the paper, she was slowly sketching out a form. Long and angular, more bone than actual person. A face with piercing eyes and stringy hair.

“This ballpoint pen isn’t exactly great for detail work,” she complained, “but they had what looked like a rash on the top half of their head. At least, the dude thought it was a rash.”

She scratched over the top half of the face, thin lines carving through the skin around the eyes. She also drew one slash across the lips.

As she added more details to the sketch, she continued, “All they did was sit and talk. I didn’t hear what they said, of course, but our target was scared. This man didn’t do anything threatening, just sat there and nursed his drink and barely looked at the dude while he talked. But the whole time, our boy was freaking out. He was almost claustrophobic, you know? Like he felt too close to this other man.”

She was scribbling in the clothes now, filling them with black ink.

“Okay, don’t make fun of me for how bad I am at drawing this, cause like I said, not an artist.”

Her audience of three leaned over to watch as she drew. Over the clothing, she sketched jagged shapes stretching over the man’s arms, shoulders, neck.

“Is that...some kind of body armor?” Hydrophobe asked, tilting their head inquisitively.

“I fucking said I wasn’t an artist!” Flashback snarled. “No, it’s not armor.”

She held up the finished sketch so everyone could get a better view of it.

“See?” she said defensively, gesturing to the drawing. “It’s not armor. It’s hands.”

The thin figure glared at them from the paper, covered in several sets of disembodied hands.

“That’s our guy then,” Shinsou replied. “Now we just need to put a name to the face.”

“Should be easy enough if he has a criminal history,” Shouto said. “That’s a distinctive getup.”

“Hopefully it’s the same outfit he wears when commiting crime, and not just his casual bar hopping suit,” Hydrophobe pointed out, then when everyone gave them a look defended, “You never know. Sometimes fashion is weird like that.”

“Either way, can I take this sketch to Mid- I mean Iz- Deku ?” Shouto asked.

Damn it I have too many names for that boy.

“You think he’s more reliable than a police database?” Flashback said.

“If the police database can’t give us anything, he might have some internet friends who can help us,” Shouto replied, thinking of Izuku’s extensive history of lurking on chatrooms. Honestly, he wouldn’t be surprised if the man was more reliable than a police search.

“Good to know tonight wasn’t a complete waste,” Shinsou said. “Let’s hope this new lead takes us somewhere interesting.”

Looking at the spectral figure on the paper, Shouto was pretty sure “interesting” was exactly where they were heading.