21 - The Rat King

When the members of the Virtue Squad, a superhero team, are all killed by a new supervillain, their sidekicks and powerless allies are the only ones left to stop the villain.

The Rat, a small-time supervillain with the abilities of a rat, holds dozens of people hostage in his hidden base in the sewers. He taunts them with death.

Chief Virtue and his allies, Caped Mystic and The Machinist, descend into the sewers to find The Rat. The sewers are huge, though, so they split up; Chief Virtue uses his super-hearing to listen for rat sounds, Caped Mystic uses a spell that lets him sense rodents, and The Machinist coordinates with his sidekick, Gadget, who pilots the Gad-jet and scans the sewers from above while guiding him with the blueprints.

All three of them are ambushed individually. Chief Virtue is attacked by a swarm of rats which have each had their teeth individually coated with gold - his weakness. Caped Mystic is attacked by a blind martial artist, whose lack of sight renders him immune to Mystic’s illusions. And The Machinist triggers a pressure plate that activates an EMP mine, immobilizing him and knocking him underwater, where he drowns.

Gadget freaks out, but there’s nothing she can do. The Gad-jet goes into emergency override and flies her back to the base.

he Rat emerges from the sewers, surrounded by a swarm of rats and armed minions. He dumps the three superheroes’ bodies in front of town hall and crowns himself The Rat King. The city belongs to him now.

Gadget tries to plan a counterattack on her own. She gathers The Machinist’s gear, alters it to fit herself, and prepares to go to war with The Rat King.

She attacks a gathering of his minions as they rob a bank. She’s significantly better-armed than them, but she doesn’t know how to fully utilize her new equipment yet, and though she puts up a fight, it’s not long before it’s clear the fight is going against her.

She’s saved at the last minute by Warlock, Caped Mystic’s old apprentice who left town years ago. Warlock kills the men she was fighting, whereas she’d been trying to avoid permanently injuring them. Even still, they’re forced to flee when reinforcements arrive.

Gadget and Warlock get into an argument over the killing, and it’s clear this is an argument they’ve had before. Gadget almost gets to the point of saying Warlock never should’ve come back, but stops herself; without him, she - and the city - would be doomed. Even with him, they might be. They apologize and share their grief, then go to watch the triple funeral being held for the fallen Virtue Squad.

At the funeral, they encounter Penny Peters, Chief Virtue’s girlfriend, and Mayor of Capital City. She tells them that she’s going to help them take down the Rat King, whether they like it or not. They don’t like it, but they can’t deny that her contacts as the Mayor will come in handy.

The three of them turn The Machinist’s lair into a makeshift militia headquarters, with information from the police that Penny has reporting to her being constructed into a massive map of where The Rat King can and can’t be hiding.

When they think they’ve located The Rat King’s lair, Gadget and Warlock prepare to go attack it. Penny forces them to let her come with them - armed with some of The Machinist’s equipment.

They find the lair, but it’s as well defended as they feared, and the fight to get in is brutal. In the middle of the brawl, though, The Rat King suddenly appears and calls off his minions. He asks Penny to check in with her police. She does, and they tell her that martial artist that killed Caped Mystic is attacking the dam outside the city, along with a group of The Rat King's minions. If they destroy it, tens of thousands of people will die, and the entire city will be without power.

The Rat King tells them they have a simple choice: they can fight him, risk their own deaths, and guarantee the deaths of twenty thousand people. Or they can run as fast as they can to get to the dam in time, with very little risk to themselves, and not much more risk to the citizens living in the shadow of the dam. It’s their choice.

Of course, it isn’t a choice. They all immediately book it for the dam.

They stop the attack at the dam, but by the time they get back to The Rat King’s lair, he’s gone, along with any sign that he was ever there.

Warlock freaks out, blaming Gadget. If she was just willing to kill people that were actively trying to kill her, she could take out The Rat King practically single-handedly. Gadget tries to explain The Machinist’s morals, about how that’s exactly the fear - she’d be too good at killing. It would be effortless, and thus way too easy to make a mistake. Warlock won’t hear it, though; her unwillingness to kill is costing lives.

Warlock tells her that he’s going to do what it takes to stop The Rat King, and leaves. Penny and Gadget return to their lair.

They discuss what Warlock said, and whether it’s acceptable to loosen their standards, given that they’re practically in a wartime scenario. Gadget tells Penny she can do whatever she wants - she even shows her how to turn off the safeties on The Machinist’s gear. But she personally won’t do it. She won’t kill. If that lets The Rat King kill more people, so be it, but it’s on him, not her.

They continue doing things the way they had been, and occasionally come across the aftermath of one of Warlock’s fights. Gadget wants to judge him, but when Penny points out the people he saved doing it, she just can’t.

Penny asks Gadget if she’d kill The Rat King, if that was the only way to stop him. Gadget doesn’t know. She doesn’t think it’s wrong, but she also just… doesn’t want to. She doesn’t want to live with blood on her hands, you know? Penny understands, and she understands with Gadget’s philosophy in general. But if you see someone in the process of murdering someone else, and you don’t stop them? It’s at least kind of on you.

They get an astral missive from Warlock; he’s found The Rat King at the docks. Warlock is still doing his own thing, and going after him alone. But in case he fails, he wants them to be able to pick up his slack.

They book it to the docks, but when they get there, they get a message from The Rat King telling them that Warlock is currently on a speedboat with the throttle held down and a leak in the bottom. If they don’t go save him, he’ll drown.

Penny tells Gadget to go save Warlock; she’s going to go after The Rat King. Gadget protests, but Penny points out what Warlock had said before - the fact that The Rat King is doing this means he knows he’s vulnerable. They have to take this chance. Frankly, she knows Warlock would rather they both stopped the Rat King and let him die, but Penny knows Gadget won’t accept that.

She’s right. Gadget gets in the Gad-jet and flies off to save Warlock, while Penny charges into the boat where The Rat King has been staying.

It takes Gadget ten agonizing minutes to reach Warlock, and she loses radio contact with Penny halfway there. When she does find Warlock, he’s already dead - The Rat King had killed him before even putting him on the boat. Gadget turns around and books it back.

Penny had managed to delay The Rat King’s escape long enough that he’s still around when Gadget gets there. She fights her way through his minions, furious and blinded by wrath, but still unwilling to kill.

When she fights her way into the middle of the boat, she finds The Rat King holding Penny up as a human shield. He tells Gadget that if she lets him go, he’ll let Penny go. Penny tells Gadget not to do it, just to let her die.

Gadget disables the safeties on The Machinist’s gear, and kills The Rat King with a single autoaimed bullet.