Month: September 2014

Chapter 25: Recovery

George Sadler was still in bed.

He’d messed up. He’d lost control.

It wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t even the worst.

But he’d lost control three times last night. The last time had sent two men to the hospital. Criminals, sure, but they were normal humans, and if that earth manip hadn’t blocked most of his flames, then there would’ve been more, and some of them would be dead.

And that would’ve been it wouldn’t it?

Last night, he hadn’t been a hero, he’d just been lucky.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Jack Rider slammed his fist into the punching bag. It didn’t go flying off the hook and into the wall.

“See?” Phil’s voice came from the other side of the bag. “That’s what I’ve been talking about; Control. Once ya got control over those fancy muscles of yours then you’re on yer way to bein’ a real hero!”

Jack stayed silent as he walked over to the bench for his water bottle.

“What’s got ya so down kid? Didn’t ya get to kick some tail last night? I heard there was a big ruckus downtown.”

Jack snorted.

“So no riots then? Didn’t get to contain any civvies?”

Jack stayed facing the wall. “There shouldn’t have been any riots. We messed up.”

Phil let out a bark of laughter.  “You? You and your little therapy group might, and I mean might, be good enough to handle a couple prowlers, but you’re nuts if ya think you can handle a real threat. Asclepios has been around since I moved to this town, and he’s not gonna be stopped just because you little punks got after him.”

Jack turned back and stared Phil down. “We had the intel, we had the source of the gas, we had a diverse enough team to cover every base, except maybe magic. There’s no reason we should have failed.”

“Cocky punk,” Phil said. “You’re not working with that secret super team of yours anymore. These kids haven’t been working half as long as you, and you’re not exactly a vet. It’d take a lot more than you all can dish out to take on anything half as tough as a real monster.”

“Doesn’t matter. We had our chance, we fucked up.”

“Did ya now?” Phil asked. “Where were you when the real shit was going down?”

“We were stopping a robbery. Apparently somebody hired Asclepios for a distraction. We figured out where they would hit.”

“And how’d you manage that?”

“I’ve seen enough distractions to figure out where they’re distracting you from.”

“Ya call that fucking up? Look kid, no one got killed last night, and the one’s that got hurt are gonna walk again. The way I hear it, you kids had more to do with that than a lot of people a lot bigger than you. And you stopped the guys who started the whole thing off.”

“We could have done better. We should have done better.”

“Can it, kid. Ya may not be the best of the best, but last night, you were a hero. Now is that gonna be enough, or are ya gonna be a baby about it?”

Jack smirked and sent the punching bag into the wall. “Little bit of both I guess.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Tina Kovac paced around her kitchen. Rachel had called her earlier; the coffee shop had gotten hit during the riot. They couldn’t do anything until Janet finished talking to the insurance company.  She wouldn’t need to go into work for at least another day.

“The riots were not even close to the coffee shop. Some kid probably thought he could get away with it with the police so far out.”

Of course, that meant she had to figure out what to do today.

“I should be working on my armor…but the guns are reloaded and there is not much more I can fit on there. I need to make it more compact, but unless I get a look at something new, that is not going to be easy.”

She needed a project.

“Maybe I can figure out a way to update the car tracker. There has got to be a better way to separate the ion trails.”

Or maybe what she really needed was a distraction.

“Janet might need help at the shop. Rachel’s handwriting is terrible, I bet she cannot even read the inventory list.”

Tina started for the door, but she knew Janet would just throw her out when she got there.

Tina huffed and sat down on the couch. She almost reached for the remote, but she knew had not been able to enjoy television properly since she had been cured.

The events of the last night began to play through her head. She had done everything right, followed the clues as well as she could. There was nothing she missed, nothing she could improve on.

But it still had not been enough. The gas had been released. People had almost died.

In the end, the best she could do hadn’t been enough.

And she wasn’t sure how to get better.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

John Andros bounced a ball off his wall.

His left arm was in a sling, and it would be for another few days at least. He had turned the tv on for a while, but every other station was talking about the riots, and the rest were on daytime television.

Either way, not worth it.

The ball thudded against the wall once more.

At least he had one free hand, if he couldn’t use both of them he’d probably go insane. And the painkillers were keeping him from travelling much further than the bathroom. He’d nearly fallen down the stairs when he tried to get his own water bottle.

The ball bounced against the wall again.

Asclepios hadn’t been arrested, of course. Even if they’d managed to prove the drug was his, they hadn’t figured out where he was hiding, or his real name.

It was the same story as always. If they ever caught him, they had 20 years’ worth of evidence to throw against him, but until then, it was all just collecting dust.

John stumbled over to his desk and pulled out a map of the city.

It was covered with notes and little circles. Most of them had been crossed out as he worked his way up the ladder, but it still focused almost entirely in his neighborhood. Only the warehouse existed outside the small section of Macropolis he called home.

He hadn’t had time to check the files in the warehouse, so he had no idea where to go next.

He breathed a deep sigh and looked over the closest neighborhoods.

“Back to square one.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Lilliana Rosenthal had called in sick today.

She hadn’t been lying, not really. She’d made sure to tell her boss that she didn’t think she could even get out of bed. That was entirely true.

Fighting criminals into the night did that to people.

Unfortunately, it meant she had used up another sick day. She only had two left for the year, and the year was barely half over. She didn’t know what she’d do if she ever actually got sick.

She held her hand off the side of her bed and brushed her fingers against the small tree sitting in the corner of her room.

Before her eyes, a peach grew on the tree and dropped itself into her hand. Once upon a time, that had fascinated her. Nowadays it was just another part of her routine.

She looked at her clock and watched it change to 10:00. She had officially used up her sick day now.

She finally forced herself to get out of bed, but she didn’t bother changing clothes. She had nowhere to go today.

She flipped on the tv and watched the news going over the riot for what she assumed was at least the fifth time that day.

A small part of her felt at fault for the riots. She had been acting as the leader, even if they never really decided she would be. But she had been in the workforce for long enough to understand what had really happened.

They never had a chance to stop all the canisters.

Which was, of course, the point of the whole thing. They could have stopped them with another dozen walkers and a decent bit more information, but they had neither.

It was a no win situation going in, and, as much as she hated missing the other attacks, she thought they had come out ahead.

For now, that was enough.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Mitchell Chase took another deep breath and focused.

“She sells sea shells by the sea shore. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat. That good enough yet?”

“You’re getting better,” his sister answered. “But we’re not done yet. It’s not like you’re going anywhere today after all”

“Aw come on-on! We stopped the bad guy­-uy, and I barely even got scratched-ed! Why do I have to be grounded-ed!?”

“Because you promised me you’d tell me before you did anything like this,” Rachel answered. “Not halfway through the night when you should have been home already.”

“But you were fighting too-oo! And it’s not like I was alone-one, we were working together-er!  We even stopped one of those things from going off-off!”

“Half of The Council could have been working with you and it wouldn’t change a thing.You guys did all right for newbies, you even managed to stop a real crime. But that doesn’t excuse you. Now, go again, and hold it for longer this time. If it doesn’t become habit then you’ll get found out, and that’s not something we want to happen, got it?”

“Got it-it,” he grumbled.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Will Writer listened to the detective’s questioning.

“Okay then, Mason. Who hired you? You don’t have any use for those chips.”

“You know I have no intention of telling you. He paid good money for my services.”

“I also know that you won’t get to spend a penny of it.”

“Perhaps I am attempting to fund my retirement. A healthy interest rate over my sentence would make a good investment like that could go a long way. Wouldn’t it, detective.”

“You aren’t the kind to think that far ahead, Mason. And considering your record, it would be very far indeed.”

“And what are you willing to do to change that.”

There was a smirk in the detective voice. “You’ll get your time cut in half. Just as soon as you tell us everything you know.”

“I need it in writing.”

“You’ll have it. It’s on record.”

Mason handcuffs rattled as he shrugged. “I don’t know his real name. He contacted me all shadowy like, said he could assure a good distraction and he definitely was rich enough to afford me. He called himself Trump.”

 

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Chapter 24: Storm’s End

Burnout’s fists kept clenching and unclenching as they descended into the tunnel. His heartbeat started growing louder and louder until he was sure they could hear it at the far end of the tunnels. His mouth tasted like sand and his stomach kept trying to climb up his throat.

The group marched on in front of him, following Mach. He had offered to go first, to light the way, but the others pointed out that it would be too easy to them coming. Mach’s visor had shifted until it glowed a dim green, and she had a small light on her back, just bright enough for them to see.

It wasn’t enough. Even if he couldn’t see the walls, he could feel them, just out of reach. They were everywhere, and if they started to collapse then there was nowhere they could run fast enough to escape.

Every shifting rock, every bone-chilling breeze, every distant echo made him surer that he was going to die down here. Even if he could burn hot enough to melt rock, he would just drown in what was left. There wasn’t a way out, not for him, not for any of them.

The light in front of him turned a corner, and for a moment the darkness ruled. It was almost comforting, without the light there was no hope, his death in the tunnels was assured. But when he turned the corner, and saw the light again. That accursed hope that he might make it out after all came back, and the fear seemed that much stronger.

It would help if they would talk, if anyone would talk, but he knew they couldn’t. The sound would travel, and there wasn’t anything important enough to say. They couldn’t be heard, if their target ran then they would never find them. It was only the tracks from their cart, barely visible even with Mach magnifying them, that gave the group the smallest hope of finding them. If they started moving faster, gave the cart less time to dig into the ground, they would lose them, and themselves, in these tunnels.

Somewhere in the back of his head, he was trying to keep track of the turns, trying to remember the way back to the surface, but there had been too many, and the tunnel was too dark. He had already forgotten, or maybe he never wanted to remember. It would just be another meaningless gesture, a sad attempt to bring hope into a hopeless situation.

A slow creaking made its way to his ear. That was the cart, he supposed. Or maybe it was the foundation of a building finally giving up and bringing its burden down upon their heads. Either way would suffice. Either way this accursed journey would end and he could escape this oppression.

A voice echoed off the walls, but he couldn’t make out the words. The light on Mach’s back blinked twice, the signal to stop.

One more blink and Burnout heard Unimportant approach the front of the group. As he moved forward, the sound of his steps faded far faster than they should have. For a moment, he saw the tunnel light up, but in an instant it was as if the light had never existed.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Unimportant let himself shift farther and farther out of this reality. After a moment he allowed himself to whistle quietly. It was a habit he had picked up soon after getting his powers. It assured him that he was still there, even if no one else could tell.

Right.

The tunnel in front of him was bathed in the soft glow of his flashlight. Mach said their target had to be within a few hundred feet, but he had to stop at every fork, listening for the quiet creak of the cart’s wheels.

Right.

He was getting closer, he could hear the creak constantly now, overlapping with the too high notes of his whistling. In a turn, or maybe two, he would be able to see them. Then he’d have to hurry back. He had learned once tonight that his powers could fail, or rather, that he could fail to use them properly. It wasn’t an experience he would like to repeat.

Left.

The creaking was even louder now. And with it came the voices. They were trying to be quiet, but their excitement was winning out. Each turn of the wheel brought them closer to freedom. Each step they didn’t hear another voice meant was a sign they would never get caught.

Right.

He could see them now, following a man whose large arms made the rest of him look even skinnier. A small light hung on the top of the cart illuminated the tunnel in front of him, but a bandage wrapped around the leader’s head suggested he didn’t need it.

“How much farther do we gotta push this thing?” one of the men working the cart asked.

“Soon.” The leader’s voice was deep and gravelly. “We’re out from under the block, we’ll cross the street in the next hundred yards.”

“I don’t get why we couldn’t dig straight under the street.”

“Physics.” The leader took a breath and began to lecture on the finer points of tunnel digging.

The men pushing the cart groaned in unison. Apparently they’d heard this one before.

Unimportant took another step forward and the leader paused. He instantly let his power run even stronger. He didn’t know what the man in the lead could do, but he didn’t want to risk it.

Whoever this man was, he was rich enough to pay off Asclepios for a night of terror. Whatever he had stolen from the officer building, he thought it was worth setting off a riot over a third of downtown. He was not someone they wanted to lose the only real advantage they had against.

Unimportant didn’t force his power back down until he had already reached the group. He gathered them all as close as he could and spoke in the lowest whisper he could manage.

There are five of them pushing the cart… They shouldn’t be a problem… Their leader is a walker… but I’m not sure what kind… He nearly realized I was there…My guess is he’s a tel…I’ve never been sure how well I was shielded from mind readers.

“If he is a tel, then you are the only one who could get close enough to really surprise him,” Mach said.

“Really, no gizmo for blocking tel’s?” Allspades asked. “You’re suit has everything else.”

“No, I’ve just been lucky,” Mach said.

“No time!” Hawthorne cut in sharply, but still quietly. “Time to plan.”

He didn’t detect me until I was close…and he hasn’t noticed us yet… I have no way of being sure… but I think we could get about halfway there before he noticed you.

“I could run up-up. If we were close enough maybe I could get him before he warned the others-ers.”

“No,” Hawthorne said. “We’ve put you in danger enough today.”

“I believe you or Burnout would be the best option then,” Mach said.

“Not her,” Allspades said.

Hawthorne glared at him, not that he could see it.

“You don’t seem that great at controlling something you can’t see, and if you dug into a wall you could disturb the tunnel.”

“And how would you know?”

“I had to learn how to fight walkers on the spot a lot. Figuring stuff like that out became habit.”

Burnout then,” Unimportant tried to force them back on topic.

Burnout felt his heart jump. He wasn’t sure if he could concentrate enough to control the flames. But he couldn’t tell them that, not now. He felt the eyes of the group focus on him through the darkness. He nodded.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Mason marched on silently. He knew that the men behind him had no interest in the fine art of tunnel digging, and he knew better than to waste his words on the unartistic.

And this tunnel was art. An entire maze built beneath a city block in downtown Macropolis, with none the wiser. Sure the buildings began to seep down once he opened the tunnel on the other side, but until then no one was any wiser.

It was unfortunate that he wouldn’t be able to use it anymore, weeks of work for a single night of use. It didn’t seem worthy of his artistic touch. But he had been promised a hefty sum for his work, and assured a distraction that would last the night. It all balanced out in the end.

Just one more turn and they would reach the final stretch. He allowed himself a small moment of relaxation. The warm breeze helped.

He stopped. There shouldn’t be a breeze in his tunnel. “Move!”

The men pushing the cart looked at him in confusion. He growled and jumped over the cart.

Mason reached into the ground at his feet and pulled. A wall of rock rose in front of him. It wasn’t quite big enough though.

The blue flames hit the wall of earth and began to seep around the edges, searing the men on either side of the cart.

Mason didn’t wait to see who was attacking. He hurriedly began to shove the new wall into the edges of the tunnel, sealing it off.

He turned and grabbed the cart himself. “Keep up or get caught,” he barked.

Mason shoved the cart in front of him, one they reached the end of the tunnel he could collapse it upon their pursuers.

He had been buried alive once. It wasn’t pleasant.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

The group spotted the wall ahead of them, and Allspades let out a quiet curse.

“Out of the way!”

He charged ahead of the group and lowered his shoulder. The wall crumbled in front of him.

He didn’t pay much attention to the two men on the ground, they were already down.

A sense of vertigo washed over the group as Red Racer charged ahead.

“Wait!” Hawthorne called out, but it was too late.

Red felt a rush of excitement as he began to run on the wall and then the ceiling of the tunnel. He passed above the thieves, planning on cutting them off before they could reach the exit.

The one pushing the cart grunted and shoved his fist into the tunnel wall.

The tunnel in front of Red began to grow smaller. He tried to avoid the new ledge but it was too late. With a startled cry, his feet left the roof of the tunnel and he felt himself flying forward. He hit the ground with a painful thud and skidded to a stop.

“Hey you got ‘im boss.”

“No. There are more. Keep moving”

The thieves turned and saw the rest of the group running up to them. They immediately began to run for the exit.

Red saw them running too him, and realized there was no way for him to stop them anymore. He ran out the exit ahead of them and began to pick up speed.

“Let’s see him try that trick in the open-en.”

Mason turned the moment he reached the end of the tunnel and began to pull it closed.

A thick branch extended through the open tunnel and hit Mason square on the forehead. The force pushed him off his feet and away from the tunnel’s exit.

The other thieves stared at their downed boss, rubbing his forehead as he stood back up, before looking back at the tunnel.

They missed the red and white blue coming in from their left, knocking one of them off their feet.

The two who kept their footing backed away from their downed allies.

Allspades was already there, with a smile growing on his face. He picked them up off their feet, one with each arm, and slammed them together. Not too hard, but hard enough to knock them out.

Mach approached the third, and shot him once in the chest with a tranq dart.

Mason felt all of this and immediately moved for the cart. He triumphantly grabbed it and began to drag it behind him, only to stumble over the unexpectedly light load.

He felt back, the cart’s contents had been neatly stacked near the tunnel entrance, a good three feet from the cart.

“What-” He began to ask when a wooden staff slammed into the side of his head and knocked him unconscious.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Mason woke up. The first thing he noticed was the pile of men unceremoniously dumped on top of each other. The second was that his hands had been tied around a light post, and he had been forced to stay on his feet.

“I noticed you needed your hands to pull off that earth moving you were doing earlier,” Allspades said. “Figured this would keep you from getting loose.”

“Very well,” Mason said. “You have captured me. I suppose we wait for the police now.”

“Not quite….we have a few questions first.”

Mason jumped at the sound of the voice, that voice that was coming from nowhere.

“Why did you hire Asclepios…? You don’t seem well enough off to afford such a distraction.”

“Asclepios?” Mason asked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was hired by an anonymous donor to grab those-” He nodded to the crates. “chips. He said the cops wouldn’t bug me and paid me a lot. I don’t know anything about a drug dealer.”

“I think he’s lying,” Allspades said.

“He’s not,” a new voice joined in.

The group turned to see Will walking across the street.

“When did you get here?!” Hawthorne asked.

“Mason here’s a prowler that’s been in and out of jail for the last 5 years. He doesn’t have the money to buy a handful of Asclepios’s drugs, let alone his services.”

“Good to know I’m recognized. I’d just like to know by who.”

“I’m sure you would Mason,” Will said. “But I think they want to know who hired you more.”

“Wouldn’t tell if I knew. Honor among thieves and all that.”

Unimportant grabbed the thief’s collar and pulled him forwards. “Bullshit… You aren’t stupid enough to do a job without knowing where the money’s coming from. No one does a job if they can’t be sure they’re getting paid.”

Mason shrugged. “Already was. Got the last of it yesterday. Anonymous drop and all that. Tunnel was already built, wouldn’t do me any good to back out then.”

Unimportant glared into the bandages a moment longer before shoving him back into the light post. “Dammit.”

Will clasped a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t give up yet. The cops’ll trace the money.”

A group of flashing lights approached and the group turned to see three squad cars pulling up.

“Let them handle it from here,” Will said.

The group began to walk away, but Red Racer looked back and forth between the approaching cops and the retreating walkers.

“Wait-ait, that’s it-it? We’re giving up just like that-at?”

Will shrugged. “It’s how the world works kid, sometimes you can’t find the trail that easily. The cops are better suited for this part anyway. If it’s something they can’t handle, they’ll call in someone who can.”

“But it won’t be us-us.”

“No.”

“But we’ve done everything-ing. We found out about the drug-ug, we tracked down one of the bombs-bs, we found the robbers-ers. What’s the point if we give up now-ow?”

Will smiled. “You’ve done more tonight than anyone would’ve expected, kid.”

“But we don’t know who released the drugs-ugs.”

“We uncovered an entire factory of the stuff,” Unimportant said, fading more and more into reality as they left the cops behind. “We may have stopped it from hitting the streets completely.”

“We warned the city that something was going to happen,” Hawthorne said, twirling her staff back into pocket size. “Half the heroes in town were prepared because we warned them.”

“We managed to stop an entire stadium from going insane,” Mach said, her visor began cycling back to normal.

“We stopped that guy from stealing a couple million’s worth of computer chips,” Burnout said. He lifted his now dirt-covered goggles to the top of his head.

“We got to piss off whoever put this shit into motion,” Allspades said. “That feels pretty good to me.”

Will nodded. “Take the small victories, kid. The big ones can wait ‘til you’re ready for them.”

Red Racer thought about it for a moment. “I guess-ess. It just feels wrong to leave it like this-is.”

“And that won’t go away,” Will said. “The question is, was it worth it?”

Will looked back. Red Racer stared at him, then his lips curled into a smile. “Yeah. I guess it was.”

 

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Chapter 23: Thunder

Unimportant crossed his fingers and cut the wire.

A low laugh echoed through garage and Unimportant felt a shiver run down his spine.

The rest of the group ran into the room behind him.

Mach checked over the machine. “It is not releasing the gas. Is that…?”

Unimportant faded into view, nodding. “That is Asclepios…but I do not understand why we are hearing him now.”

Oh, Im sorry,” Asclepios’s voice echoed from behind them. “I honestly didnt expect anyone to stop one of my canisters, but I had to take a look at whoever did. I must admit, Im disappointed that I dont recognize any of you.”

Allspades was about to throw it in his face, but the wording caught up to him. “One of the canisters?”

But of course, do you honestly believe I have survived this long because I didnt plan for failure? This is not the only canister, and this is most definitely not the only target. But do not fret; you have stopped Plan A. That is far more than most of my enemies can claim. Unfortunately for you, it is far too late for you to stop them.”

Unimportant worked his way to his feet and turned towards the voice. “Why are you doing this…? You’ve never been one for terrorism.”

Terrorism? If that’s how you see it very well. But the truth is that this is nothing of the sort. I am not a terrorist, I am a businessman. This little act of terrorism, as you call it, will fund my business for the next 20 years. If all I have to suffer is some bad publicity, so be it.”

“So,” Hawthorne said. “I don’t suppose you’d tell us where the rest of them are.”

Of course not. Not that it matters either way, you should be hearing the effects in a matter of moments. I suggest you get moving; Id hate to see anyone get hurt.”

A resounding click filtered through the speaker.

A quiet roar echoed from the street.

“We screwed up didn’t we-we?”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Will stared down from the roof of the Carpenter Tower, next to him stood a tall man with blood red hair. His eyes reflected the city below, dying it in the green of the purest emerald.

“Looks like your kids missed something,” the man said in a deep baritone.

“They tracked the truck fine, Sigurd. You couldn’t have done any better with that much time at their age.”

“So what’s next, Rumor, crowd control?”

“Half the skywalkers in the city are down there working on crowd control. From what Red Racer told Miss Mirror, the group is probably gonna try to figure out what’s going on that needed such a big distraction.”

“So what are we going to do? I’m not staying out of this fight.”

“Do what you want, you greedy worm. My job is to keep an eye on the group, no more no less.”

Sigurd grunted and began to walk to the edge of the roof. “Just keep them out of my way. I’m gonna find the bacraut who decided to do this when I’m in town.”

Will sighed as the man dove off the edge of the roof, sprouting a pair of bat-like wings as the fell, and glided into the distance.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Allspades slammed his fist into the speaker they found in the back of the van. “Dammit. What the hell are we supposed to do now?”

“There’s a riot to stop. We can worry about everything else after that,” Burnout said.

“No,” Mach said. “Filtration masks have been issued to every walker willing to help already. By the time we retrieved a mask from a provider, the riots will have been quelled.”

“You get radio in that thing?” Hawthorne asked.

“Of course.”

“Where were the other blasts centered?” Allspades asked, with a touch of excitement in his voice.

“According to the reports, one was placed in the Perry Hotel, the other in a park off of 40th and 501st, at a concert.”

Allspades tore the door off the passenger side of the truck and began digging around the glove compartment.

“What are you doing-ing?” Red Racer asked.

“When I worked with the cards, distractions were a big part of my job.” Allspades pulled out a city map. “Found it. The trick to distracting cops is to make it far enough that no one investigating has any chance of seeing you, but it has to be close enough to guarantee the one’s investigating are from the right station. It works for heroes too; they tend to be territorial.

Allspades laid the map on the ground and began looking for the right section.

“Burnout, I need you to mark each target, here too.”

Burnout reached down and burnt three dots into the map.

“Closest station is….” Allspades studied the map for a moment.

“Three blocks north of the park,” Mach provided.

“Good.” Allspades guided Burnout to burn an oval around the targets and station. “Okay, so…south of the park, east of here…”

He motioned to a block a few miles east of the stadium. “What’s here?”

“Bunch of stores,” Burnout said. “They have a jeweler, a couple clothing outlets, and a pretty good computer store for custom builds.”

“The other side is mostly an office building, a distribution company, I think. They’re a middle man between manufacturers and retailers.”

“It’s as good a guess as any,” Allspades said.

“I can check it out-ut,” Red said. “I’ll double back to let you know what I see-ee.”

The group nodded and ran out of the garage.

When they made it to the car, Unimportant turned to Allspades. “I don’t quite understand…What could they be stealing that they need a distraction this big for?”

“Not sure,” Allspades said. “But that’s the best area for them to hit. At worst, hopefully, I’m off by a block or two and we still find them.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Will watched the blur racing away from the stadium through a pair of binoculars. A small smile tugged at the corner of his lips.

“Looks like they’re following through.”

A part of him felt proud of his latest group, but a sense of doubt still settled in the back of his mind.

“They’ll be fine, I’m not rushing them.”

(‘Except…’)

He shook the thought away. “Something big came up. I wasn’t going to be able to stop them even if I tried.”

(‘Except…’)

“They’re no different than any other group. Once the high of tonight wears off, they’ll start to worry about everything that could have happened. That’s where the struggle happens. I’m not pushing them too hard to stay in the game.”

The blur in his binocular disappeared behind a building and he gave a light curse. After quickly checking to make sure no one was around, he walked to the edge of the building.

“Need to make sure he stays in sight after all.”

He stepped off the building and into the night.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Allspades stopped the truck and they piled onto the street. Mach and Burnout both floated down from the building above them.

“Has Red gotten back yet?” Hawthorne asked the two flyers.

“No,” Burnout said.

“He’s probably checking the alleys…That’s what I’d do,” Unimportant said.

“I just don’t want him getting caught. He’s fast but he’s still a kid.”

“Give him a couple minutes,” Allspades said. “We’ll lose a chance for an ambush if we head out without a location.”

“I believe it is too late for those concerns,” Mach said.

They turned down the street, and saw Red Racer rushing towards them. At first, the rest of them weren’t sure what Mach was talking about.

Burnout saw it first. Red’s hands were waving over his head almost wildly. As he got closer, the panicked look on his face became clear.

He skidded to a halt in front of them. He tried to wheeze out a warning while he was doubled over and wheezing.

“Don’t force it,” Hawthorne said. “Catch your breath first.”

“Ha…half the buildings are tilting-ing. It’s like someone built a maze under the whole block­-ock.”

“It is possible. The only seismic monitors for this city are for the reactors on the other side of town. Provided you moved slowly enough, you could dig under a third of the city without being detected,” Mach said.

“We have no way of knowing where they’ll surface then. We have to get down in those tunnels,” Hawthorne said.

Burnout’s face turned ghostly white.

 

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Chapter 22: Strike

Unimportant closed his eyes and faded from view. “can you still hear me mach?”

“I can.”

good…i do not believe i can risk fading any further…i will attempt to remain silent unless necessary.”

“Allspades, Burnout, you head in first with me. Make sure to draw their attention and keep it.” Hawthorne ordered. “Red, keep to the edge of the fight, we can’t have you running into one of our attacks. Mach, remember to look busy. Unimportant…good luck. You two will be the only ones on the link once we get in. If you need someone else, you’ll have to shout.”

Nobody answered, but there were no objections.

“Okay then, we breach on three.” Deep inside her mind Hawthorne ignored a girlish scream of delight as she said that. “One. Two. Three.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

It is said that no plan survives contact with the enemy. In this respect, Unimportant had a unique view of the conflict. No enemy had ever noticed him before he let them, and that had only backfired once.

This battle was no different.

Making it to the device was proving difficult. For as powerful as the members of the group had the potential to become, none of them were prepared for a fight like this.

Burnout and Hawthorne, manips in general really, have a unique advantage when it comes to drawing attention. It’s easy to ignore the guy punching one of your coworkers, when another’s doing his best flamethrower impression. And the new grove lifting the truck up to the sealing did not go unnoticed.

But being distracted only made them less organized. There was barely any space for Unimportant to slip through if he wanted to stay unnoticed. At least not without cranking his power up to extreme degrees, and that could cause some serious issues if he kept it up too long.

He took a deep breath and stared at the conflict, waiting for his chance.

He spotted Burnout pulling out a lot of flame, and the guards saw it too. The group split almost down the middle as the torrent of fire shot through their ranks.

Just as Burnout began to ease up, he sprinted straight towards the heart of the flames. A small grin found its way to his face as he burst through the other side and made a beeline for the open door behind them.

mach i made it.”

“Good.” Her voice was stressed and he could hear the echoes of the fight through her mike. “Is there any way you can get me a live feed of what you are seeing?”

“uh…skype?”

A low groan sounded through his earpiece. “Unsecured, but it will do. Remind me to get all of you in touch with Beck’s after this. They give out a lot of useful apps to heroes.”

“time.”

“Right.” A video feed popped up in Mach’s helmet she gave an interested hum. “It is definitely advanced enough to be designed by a mecher, but it is sloppy work. I think someone slapped it together off of the real deal’s blueprints.”

is that good or bad?”

“I believe the most astute answer would be…yes.”

“oh joy.”

“Indeed. Okay, to start…”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Hawthorne was having a hard time not grinning. She hadn’t had a chance to stretch her powers out for real in weeks, and as many guards as there were, they weren’t much more than target practice with the whole group here.

Taking out the truck had been an easy decision, if not quite the easiest task. It took a certain level of luck to get the weave on the trees strong enough to support its weight.

Guns were harder. People had the strangest tendency to grip their guns annoyingly tightly when they saw trees growing at their feet.

(‘Oh well. If you can’t stop the guns, stop the bullets.’)

She held her staff tightly in both hands and its wood began to grow over her body, forming the thickest armor she could manage without slowing herself down.

With a gallant cry she charged into the guards, swinging her staff in a wide arc as it grew and mowed down the men around her.

“Do yourselves a favor and-” The guards began to stand back up. “Ah hell with it, not like they listen anyway.”

The armored girl twirled her staff and leapt back into battle.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Allspades slammed his fist into the gut of another guard. His smile grew as the guard fell to his knees and he kicked him across the face.

A circle of guards had formed around him, none of them running but nobody wanting to charge in first.

“Circle of Death, not a bad game. But I think we should go with Black Jack, it’s more my style.”

Allspades stood tall and gave a sweet smile to the guards around him. “Come on then, hit me.”

A single guard charged forward and slammed the butt of his gun into Allspades’s chest. Allspades grabbed his arm and flipped him over his head and onto his back. “Not quite there. Hit me.”

Two guards lifted their weapons and fired. The guards on the opposite side of the circle cursed and dove to the sides.

Allspades stood tall and let the bullets hit him, grinning wider and wider as their guns clicked empty.

“That puts me at 20. Whadaya say, wanna go for the ace?”

The two guards that shot at him dropped their useless guns and turned to run. A red and white blur intercepted them and knocked them to the ground.

“Ooh. Looks like we have a couple of busts. Would anyone else like to challenge the dealer? I assure you, you can’t do any worse than them.”

The rest of the guards charged the hero.

His grin never faded.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Red Racer knocked out the two guards running from Allspades.

He understood that that was his real job here, stick to the edges of the fight and make sure none of them get to Unimportant.

It didn’t make it any easier when he saw Allspades take the full load from two guns without flinching.

He’d actually nearly gotten hit when the other speedwalker had pulled that stunt. Bullets weren’t much faster than punches from his perspective, but it was still scary to see one heading straight for you.

He checked over the crowd of guards again. Most of them had been taken out by now, mostly by Burnout and Hawthorne, but Allspades had gotten his fair share, and Mach had knocked a couple of them out with those darts of hers.

Another one was running from Burnout. Red sighed to himself and grabbed a thing of hose from the side of the garage.

He ran circles around the guard, trailing the hose behind him until the guard fell over from the weight tying him down.

It was almost too easy, really.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Burnout was almost worn out. If he had to be honest, he could have taken out twice as many guards as he had, but he was afraid.

He’d lost control twice already tonight, and he didn’t want to know what would happen if he drew anywhere near that much fire again.

The flames he was using were weak and flashy, they had no real heat to them. He had to focus a beam almost entirely on one person just to singe them.

But everyone fears fire. It was the only advantage he had against these men. They were too afraid to get close, too afraid to aim straight.

So he drew upon the little knowledge he had of other fire users and took a page from their books.

“Come on you punks! Who wants to get roasted?!”

Hot and hammy coming right up.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

“Remove that last panel. You have now reached the core of the machine. It is time for the hard part.”

Unimportant rubbed the sweat off of his forehead. He did not like the idea of this getting any harder. Mach had had him take off half of the machine’s casing before she was certain of where he really needed to start.

“Those three wires in front of you, give me a closer look.”

“please tell me this is not going to turn into which wire situation…i don’t think i can make that call.”

“Do not worry. The red wire connects to the power supply, the yellow to the release switch, and the blue to the timer. Technically, cutting any of them should stop the device.”

“technically?”

“If the device release is held closed by the wire instead of opened by it, then cutting any of them could pop it open.”

“so…?”

“Cut the blue wire, without a signal from the timer the device should not be able to function. We can take our time disassembling it after that.”

“right…hold your breath.”

Unimportant crossed his fingers and cut the wire.

 

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Chapter 21: Rain

“Mach.”

Mach nodded and her visor shifted again; a monochrome filter came over her eyes. She scanned the doors of the warehouse and found a pool of greenish blue near the main exit.

“This way,” she said. The rest of the group followed her out of the warehouse and onto the street. “There are three trucks, They are heading east from here.”

“You couldn’t have told us that before we went in?” Allspades growled.

Mach turned towards him, her glare hidden behind the visor of her mask. “All cars are equipped with an ion trail generator, but unless you can guarantee a unique signature before it mixes with any others, it’s impossible to identify,” she snapped.

Hawthorne whistled. “No time for this. Red, do you have any idea where they’re going from here?”

Red Racer’s face scrunched up in thought. “Almost everything’s east of here-re. I don’t think I can help much-ch.”

Hawthorne sighed. “Then we need to get moving, Allspades, Unimportant let’s get the truck. Mach, do you have anything to help us keep in touch.”

“If you have your phones, I can dial them into a private frequency. I have some spare headsets that should help.”

“Good let’s get going then.”

Mach and Burnout took off, and Red Racer kept with the others until they got in the car. All of them heard a ringing.

“Everyone here?” Hawthorne waited a moment. “Mach, how well can you trace them? Any chance we can follow them the whole way?”

“I can trace them if they stay together, but if they split up then their trail will as well and I will not be able to recognize them after that.”

Burnout ‘s harsh voice came over the line. “So we’re fucked then? If they split up, we got nothing?”

Everyone looked away, each trying to find a way to prove him wrong.

“We’re looking at this the wrong way,” Allspades said. “We need to figure out why they’re being ordered to do this. What’s the point?”

“We don’t have time for that!” Burnout said.

“It’s the only chance we got!” Allspades turned to Unimportant. “You know these people better than anyone of us!  What is Asclepios planning? Why bother with this?”

“It’s not like him….He’s never shown interest beyond the drug trade….His normal clients would come crawling back if they heard he had something new.”

“Maybe he’s not trying to get new clients-ts,” Red Racer said. “Maybe he’s just gone nuts-ts.”

“That’s not like him.…He is far more logical than that.”

“Nothing we have seen tonight is logical,” Mach said. “Perhaps it is not him in control of this shipment, or he has come to the conclusion that he is not being taken seriously enough and has chosen to rectify that.”

“Then let’s stop looking at this from his perspective,” Hawthorne said. “Let’s look at this as a bomb, and we’re trying to figure out where it will draw the most attention and do the most damage.”

“They did not turn onto the highway,” Mach said. “I do not believe they intend to split up until they get closer to their destination.”

“That helps, anyone have an idea?”

“They’re not bombers,” Burnout said in a quiet voice.

“What’s that mean?” Allspades asked.

“They don’t have a bomb; they can’t guarantee anything will be destroyed for sure. Any impact they have will be because of the people they hit, not the location.”

“Okay then,” Hawthorne said. “They’re taking the slow route, but they’re heading towards the center of the city. If we had to guess who would cause the most chaos if they were hit, who would it be?”

“Activist group?” Mach suggested. “And they’ve split up, but I can track at least one of the trucks, it moved a few blocks south and turned back east.”

Hawthorne nodded. “Keep an eye on it.”

“Activists are unlikely…” Unimportant said. “The drug causes anger…people who are already angry and haven’t done anything…aren’t going to do anything because of the drug.”

“The university,” Allspades said.

“It would draw attention,” Hawthorne said. “But it’s summer, hardly anyone would even be there.”

“There’s a game tonight-ight.”

“That would be a lot of people,” Burnout said. “But you’ve all seen what can happen after a bad game, and with who we’re playing against…would anybody even guess it was a drug?”

“Maybe that’s the point,” Hawthorne said. “Maybe he doesn’t want anyone to know it was him. Instant riot, and the whole city gets tied up for hours. Who know what you could get done with that going on?”

“That is significantly more like him…” Unimportant said. “Especially if he was being paid.”

“Okay then, let’s go with that. Mach, tell us if that last truck goes somewhere else. Does anyone have a way of getting in touch with Will?”

“My sister might be able to-to. But, she won’t be happy about me doing this-is.”

“Call her anyway. If we’re right, someone needs to figure out what else they’re planning.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

The stadium was always crowded during game days. Allspades had to leave his truck half a dozen blocks away and they had to run the rest of the way.

“Mach, where did that truck go?” Hawthorne shouted into the headset.

“It appears to have entered a tunnel under the stadium.”

“They use it for deliveries,” Burnout said. “All they’d have to do is convince a guard they were delivering an emergency beer shipment and they’d be in. There are enough entrances that all the trucks could get in without too much trouble.”

“Want me to check-ck?” Red asked. “Getting in there should be easier than the warehouse-se.”

Hawthorne looked to Unimportant.

“We don’t have time for me to check…” he said. “He can be done before we even get there.”

“Hurry then.”

Red Racer zipped off to the stadium.

“How are they distributing it?”

“Central cooling unit is in the basement,” Burnout said.

“How do you know all this?” Allspades asked.

“I know a guy.”

“Not important!” Hawthorne snapped. “Mach, if they have a way to pump it in there can you stop it.”

“It is possible, but I fear I would need more time than they would provide us.”

“I can get there…” Unimportant said. “If I can’t disable it, could you guide me..?”

“With any luck. If a smart enough mecher built it then it will be difficult.”

“Good enough,” Hawthorne said. “But if we’re lucky we won’t have to worry about guards.”

“Nope-pe.” Red Racer was within range again. “There are at least thirty of them there-re, and they all have gas masks-sks.”

“Crap. Everyone but Unimportant and Mach are on distraction. Mach, make it look like your busy but don’t get distracted got it? Worst comes to worst, we need to keep the gas out of the vents. We’ll contain it in the basement if we have to. Try to grab a mask everyone.”

“Got it.” The group answered as one.

 

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