Stanley couldn’t believe his eyes—perhaps he shouldn’t have.
His mouth opened and closed on borrowed air as he stared agape at the Big Daddy. His eyes were wide—despite the copious bags beneath them.
“Oh, no...” he said aloud. It sounded stupid coming from him. Hell, it probably was.
The girl was looking up at her fabricated father, smiling, that massive blood-sucking needle hanging from her hand.
“God, no...” he spoke again.
He recognised the girl, her black hair, tangled, bobbed, just a little curly.
Her little familiar fingers curled around the Protector’s pointer.
Her voice was familiar, too.
And Stanley’s heart travelled up into his throat. His head hurt, and he was dizzied by the revelation.
Marina Casales, that girl... oh no, and she’s with... oh, crissakes.
His hands went to tangle in his wiry hair, his eyes fixed on the scene. Pinned wide and bloodshot.
The hand of the Protector bore a familiar white sigil of Epsilon.
Stanley stared at it in awe, dumbstruck horror. His legs shook, knees threatening to buckle as all sorts of thoughts attacked at once.
The small voice spoke again, but inexplicably directed toward something other than her father. “Look, Daddy,” she whispered, “it’s the man that hit me.”
Stanley looked up, stepping back. Marina withdrew, hiding behind her father’s leg. “It’s a bad man, Daddy.” She pointed at him, whimpering. “A bad, bad man.”
Stanley put his hand up in a show of surrender. “Hey... wait... I...” he stammered as he heard Epsilon’s footfalls, coming closer.
Stanley cowered, covering his head. “Please...”
They were in Dionysus park, Stanley had parted paths from Grace, he continued to conduct his own search in solitude.
He hadn’t stepped foot in the Park in a long time, not since his induction into the flock of demented butterfly worshippers.
He heard Epsilon’s breathing—watery, and hard. Stanley gulped, looking up at him. “Sinclair...” he mumbled, “please, it’s not... it... I... didn’t mean for this to happen.”
Epsilon growled, and Stanley made a small sound, sort of a cowardly squeak.
“I want to fix it, okay? Just don’t hurt me.” He begged. “I don’t want to die.”
Stanley stepped backward, back hitting a series of pipes and valves. He gulped again, staring up at Epsilon. “Look, I... I’ll get rid of the news story, man. I’ll do anything.”
He heard Epsilon’s fist clench, and the steady ticking of a drill on his other arm, eager to start turning.
“I’ll even get the doctors to fix ya,” he looked at Marina, “and the girl... I’ll... I help her, too—“
“You took me away!” The girl said, her voice sharp—Stanley whimpered. She pointed at him. “Get him, daddy! Get him!” She climbed up on Epsilon’s arm and monkeyed her way to his back.
“No! I... it wasn’t personal!” He shrilled.
It wasn’t personal, but... you still did it, didn’t you, Stan?
Epsilon swung his drill down at Stanley with no regard for his claim—but the man ducked, diving away from the attack.
He heard the hollow creak of the pipes, then a rush, and a spurt of water hitting his back. The drill had damaged the valve.
He winced away from the flow and Epsilon grabbed him by the shirt collar as he scrambled to escape.
He was quickly thrown back against the leaking pipes, and they creaked more, the flow became more intense as it poured over Stanley.
He let out a series of terrified pleas as he covered his head.
But Epsilon let out a guttural growl and landed another damaging blow into the pipes just above Stanley as he shrunk even smaller—just short of falling to his knees.
The pipes finally gave. And the sudden rush of icy-cold water threw Stanley forward like a fire hose.
Dazed, he looked up and realised what was happening.
The valve groaned more, and Epsilon tried to grab for Stanley, failing again as the weaselly little man dove underneath his hand and skidded along the slippery, wet floor. “Oh shit, oh fuck,” he swore, chewing the inside of his cheek in fear.
The valve finally shot off with a screeching sound and skittered across the floor as a blast of water came after. Stanley turned his attention to an emergency airlock as everything between himself and Epsilon had suddenly become obsolete.
Epsilon’s attention turned to his bonded little one, his great hands grabbed her tightly and he seemed to form a truce with Stanley, knowing the danger was mutual.
“Hidey hole! Hidey hole!” The girl shrieked urgently, clambering up onto Epsilon’s shoulder.
The water began to beat at Stanley’s ankles. So far, it wasn’t too deep, but he was not waiting around to watch as the flow steadily increased in ferocity.
He ran, slipping a little as he threw himself against the water-tight airlock door, leading out to the glass and alloy-ribbed hallway.
He turned around to watch Epsilon slosh about in the water, carefully lifting the girl up to the brass opening of the pipe.
The pipes went all over the city. And they led anywhere, and a feature to them was that they would lock if one flooded. The girl would be fine, Epsilon stared numbly at the opening as the child disappeared into parts unknown.
Then he looked back at Stanley once he was certain his little one was safe—his visor grew into a vehement red.
His great figure loomed closer with the rumble and splash of his thudding boots.
Stanley pressed his back against the unopened door. “Please,” he beseeched, as Epsilon sloshed through the water, which had grown to knee hight for the great beast, and thigh height for Stanley. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said breathlessly, “I... I lied, I... I shouldn’ta...”
The door behind Stanley shifted open after the tense pause with a hiss.
He looked back at the saving hallway, then hopped back hurriedly.
He slammed his fist onto an emergency lockdown button—which was tucked in a corner beside the door—shutting Epsilon in the slowly flooding room with no hope of escape.
He stepped back into the sheet of water that had managed to come through with him in the brief period that the door was open.
“What have I done?” Stanley said as he heard Epsilon’s panicked and enraged whale-like bellows exude from behind the metal door. And the sound of great fists beating the door as well as the drumming of water.