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A Single Thrown Grenade

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“How much longer?” Superwoman asked, scanning the shadows. The central room of the Stockholm High-Energy Research Facility was filled with a cluster of catwalks, platforms, machinery, and monitors, all flattened into abstract looming shapes lit only by multicolored LEDs on the status panels throughout the room. Behind her, Owlman stood at a console overlooking a massive chromed chamber stretching from the floor to the ceiling far overhead, typing in intermittent spurts.

“Five minutes,” he said curtly. Superwoman huffed a sigh and started pacing again.

Two minutes later, she asked, “Remind me why I’m here again?”

“This facility is EMP-shielded and can withstand a small nuclear blast. If it goes into lockdown, I don’t have the firepower to get out without damage to myself or the mission.” His typing barely paused.

“Then why not bring Power Surge?” she insisted.

“In lockdown mode, every part of the facility except the main containment chamber is physically disconnected from the power grid. He’d be a liability.”

“You could still let him hack this for you.” Superwoman turned and walked up behind him, sliding an arm around his shoulder. “What’s the real reason?”

Owlman’s hands stilled for a fraction of a second as he glanced in her direction, more a visible acknowledgement of her presence than any attempt to meet her eyes. “You’ve been complaining that I’ve been unavailable lately. I thought you’d appreciate it.”

“You’re right,” Superwoman replied drily. “This is real quality time.”

“If you’re unhappy with this, I’ll make it up to you.” He hit the enter key decisively. “After this.”

The containment chamber in front of them unfolded like origami, layer after layer of shielding pulling away until it finally revealed a small, brightly-glowing glass capsule at the center. It would almost be comical if Superwoman didn’t know that that bright glow was the faint meniscus of radiation around enough concentrated energy to permanently change the course of human civilisation.

Owlman took a small metal casing from his utility belt and twisted it apart into two asymmetrical halves. “Put the capsule into this and wait for the light at the top to turn blue. If it doesn’t, put it back exactly as it was before and I’ll troubleshoot the problem.”

Superwoman took the casing, turning the halves over in her hands to see how they connected. It was heavier than it looked. She floated up off the platform and into the heart of the containment chamber. As she passed the first layer of shielding, her hair lifted away from her body and frizzed out from its sleek ponytail, crackling with static. Drifting magnetic fields brushed her skin, soft and lazy as the underwater eddies of ocean waves. The air tasted thickly of ozone. A few seconds later, she stopped in front of the capsule, removed it from its mounting, slotted it into the casing Owlman had given her, and waited.

The light at the top of the casing turned blue.

Superwoman glanced around to see if any alarms or failsafes were about to go off; when they didn’t, she flew back out of the containment chamber and alighted on the platform, brushing her hair back into place with limited success. Owlman held his hand out for their prize. Superwoman didn’t budge.

“How likely was it that that would have turned out very badly for anyone who wasn’t me?” she asked.

Owlman studied her expression, then seemed to decide he might as well answer honestly. “The researchers here use robotics to manipulate everything inside the containment chamber, for safety’s sake. If you’d been willing to wait, I could have programmed them to accomplish what you just did in thirty seconds.”

It would almost be impressive how many layers of justification he’d prepared if he didn’t do this kind of thing all the time. Superwoman brought the capsule up to eye level as if to examine it, watching the slight motion of Owlman’s head as he tracked every movement. She was no engineer, but even she could tell that the casing he’d given her had to be a marvel — a hundred-ton containment system compressed into something small enough to hold in her hand. “How long have you been planning this?”

“In general terms, since the first successful quantum battery experiments five years ago. I’ve been developing that containment device for the past four months, ever since the SHF announced the creation of a stable quantum trigger.”

Superwoman glanced at the open containment chamber, at the occasional glints of fluorescence in the air around the central mounting pedestal, then back at him. “And this will get us what we want?”

Owlman typed a brief command into the console and the containment chamber began to close. “You know how after mankind invented nuclear weapons, everyone believed they’d be the weapon to end war?”

“Of course.”

“With that, I can create the real deal.”

Superwoman felt the grin spread across her face, involuntary and irrepressible, unfurling inexorably like ink in water. “You were right,” she said. “This is a good date.”

Owlman accepted the compliment with the graceful assurance of one to whom it was rightfully due. “We should go. I’ve disconnected the containment chamber from external monitoring systems, but it will have to shut down in the next few minutes so the containment field doesn’t start to destabilise.” He held out his hand again.

This time Superwoman handed the capsule over. A blue-white spark leapt from her fingertips to his as they touched. He started to put it away, then froze as Superwoman wrapped her hand around his wrist.

“Seriously, though,” she warned. “After this? A real date.”

Owlman looked at her inscrutably for a moment, then nodded. Superwoman let him go and he slipped the quantum trigger into his belt. He snapped the compartment shut and raised his first two fingers to his helmet to signal radio transmission. “Owlman to Talon. We’re on our way out.” He lowered his hand and met Superwoman’s gaze again. “Shall we?”

Superwoman took his hand in hers and gently, emphatically kissed his knuckles before releasing him. “Absolutely.”