Month: May 2016

Chapter 97: Infiltration

Pain.

It had been cold at first like an ice bath that had started at his fingertips and slowly crawled up his arms and flowed around his body until it covered him completely. And then it grew colder, until it burned, until his mind was pushed further and further back and the only thing left was the desire to escape it. He would have done anything to escape it.

But what came next was worse. It started at his fingers again, the nothingness. He couldn’t look down, but he knew, with absolute certainty that the tips of his fingers were gone, and then his toes. The nothing crawled up his body to his neck. When it finally reached his head, he thought it would be over. The feeling didn’t stop, even with the knowledge that his brain no longer existed, his mind refused to stop.

Burnout would have screamed if he still had lungs.

The return happened all at once. The nothing, the pain, the cold, it all disappeared, and he was somewhere new. Burnout gasped, filling his lungs with air in a single burst.

“What the hell?” Allspades said. It was impressive that he was able to talk at all. Burnout couldn’t get enough air in his lungs.

“It fades quickly,” Will said. He was the only one who hadn’t grown a little paler in the instant it took them to arrive on the blimp. “In a few seconds, you’ll barely even remember it.”

Burnout was about to argue, but the words dies on his lips. His entire focus was on the trip through the teleporter, but even so, it was slipping away from him. Slowly, the room came into focus.

The room in Beck Industries had been stark white with an unadorned silver platform in the middle. They appeared in a dark conference room surrounding a circular table. The projector had been left on, but the computer it was connected to had long since fallen asleep, leaving the room bathed in the blue light bounding off the far wall.

“Beck’s scientists have been working on their teleporter for years. It can get you to the other side of the planet in a second, but they’ve never been able to get rid of the discomfort. Human minds can’t handle the experience. We forget it almost as soon as it happens.”

“That doesn’t make me want to try again,” Hawthorne said. She was shivering, but her voice was strong.

Unimportant seeped into Burnout’s consciousness. “i don’t know what lab we’re looking for…trump will be difficult to find.”

“We’ll have to split up,” Hawthorne said. “Allspades, come with me. Unimportant, Burnout, head to the left. Will…”

“I’m heading to the control room. I might be able to figure out where the Ambrosia is being kept from there. The labs were placed wherever they had room, so you’ll have to move quickly to find them all. I should be able to let you know over the PA’s in your area if I find anything.”

Allspades had already started moving, and Hawthorne had to hurry to keep up. Will was out the door right after them.

Burnout ran down the corridor, his footsteps echoing on the tiled floor; he couldn’t see Unimportant, but he could feel waves of emotions coming off of him anyway. It was a reversal he’d never felt form him before.

As fast as they needed to move, they had to glance into each room they passed to be sure they didn’t miss their target. So far, there had only been conference rooms and offices. The zeppelin had been mostly empty, but there were a few people collapsed at their computers.

They couldn’t find any labs.

Burnout’s steps started coming faster. He opened each door a little harder than the last, barely glancing in the rooms before moving on.

“stop.”

Burnout slid on the tiled floor, nearly falling backwards before catching himself.

“guards ahead…go for the room three doors back.”

There wasn’t time to question him. Burnout moved as quickly as he could without making noise. There had been a small meeting in the room; its members had all slumped over on their chairs.

“far side…head on the table…cover your eyes…can’t fight.”

Unimportant’s voice was fading into nonexistence, but Burnout got the message. Surprise was the only advantage they had. He hurried around the table and stole an empty chair. If the mercenaries only saw the top of his head, then they’d never notice he was in costume.

He ticked the seconds off in his head while he tried to force his breaths to come slower. Despite his best efforts, he could feel his heart jump up to his throat with every beat. He could hear them now, their soft footsteps punctuated by slamming doors as they checked the rooms one by one.

Their footsteps slowly drew closer, echoing louder and louder through the empty hallway into the conference room. They marched in such perfect rhythm that he couldn’t count how many there were. Even with his eyes wide open, he could only see the red cloth of his outfit.

He had to fight to not hold his breath when they reached the next room over; it was growing harder to keep his breathing steady.

The sound of boot meeting wood slammed into him when the door was kicked open. With his eyes covered, he could only imagine the two or three mercenaries scanning the room with their guns swerving back and forth. He swore he felt the moment one of them passed over him.

They didn’t say a word. As one, they backed out of the room and the left the door squeaking on its remaining hinges.

Burnout waited until their footsteps faded down the hallway, and then waited even longer.

“you’re good.”

Burnout raised his head off the table. Unimportant was still hidden from him, but he nodded in thanks anyway.

The broken door hung wide open, as did every door he could see up and down the hallway. Burnout made a mental count of them and held back a sigh.

“This is taking too long. We can’t keep looking like this. Keep close.”

With the doors open, Burnout didn’t even have to slow down. He barely glanced in the offices before moving on. A wave of confusions that followed him told him that Unimportant wasn’t far behind. The first five offices were useless to him, the next five as well.

“There has to be one…” he muttered.

“what are you looking for?”

Another door open, and he found it. One of the sleepers had passed out on his keyboard.

“This,” Burnout said. He pulled the man back off his computer and rolled his chair out of the way. “I probably can’t get into anything important, but I might be able to find something to help us out.”

The interface was a little strange, of course Beck wouldn’t let his employees use a public OS, but it was similar enough to what he was used to. Burnout got rid of the windows he had open and started at the desktop.

“He still has his new hire documents here. And…there’s a map.”

“no printer though.” There was a rustling sound and then Burnout found a phone in front of him. “take a picture.”

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Chapter 96: Ambrosia

Will was pacing. He’d started as soon as Unimportant mentioned going into Beck Industries, and he’d been getting a little faster with each turn.

“What was he looking for?”

“I only caught a glimpse of the document; he-” He nodded at the once-again unconscious man they’d dragged from the car “-locked it back up before I could get to the computer. He woke up on the way over and we managed to get him to tell us where it was before passing back out. He called it Power Nectar.”

Will’s fist slammed into the wall. “He was supposed to destroy it. He promised us that no one would ever get another chance to touch the stuff.”

“You know what it is?”

Will nodded, his voice grew quiet.“Ambrosia. If you believe the stuff mages say about it, then it’s all that’s left from when gods spent more time wandering around earth. The Council got their hands on it about the time they took over from the first generation. It can give certain walkers a massive power boost, but it kills most of the people who drink it. It was used once, and then it was supposed to be destroyed. Beck must have decided to try and improve it instead. If Trump really found some on one of Beck’s zeppelins, then we don’t have time to think of a plan. Let’s go. Put him in the trunk.”

Will headed out the door and straight for Allspades’ and Unimportant’s stolen car. The group quickly followed behind him. Unimportant’s masking grew a bit thicker as he ran alongside the others.

“So he’s trying to get stronger?” Burnout asked. “That’s why he took over the city?”

“He wouldn’t be the first,” Will said. “The last time someone was after it, they barely stopped him from blowing up half the country. It’s as close to infinite power as a normal walker can get. Trump might just consider the city worth it.”

“No,” Allspades said. “If he just wanted the drug, then putting on a show like this isn’t making it any easier for him. Trump could have gone after it directly and he probably would have been able to drink it before anyone realized he needed to be stopped. He said he wanted to make the city an example, that stuff is just phase one.”

They reached the car and Will hopped into the driver’s seat. He glanced at Allspades sliding into the seat in the back. “You talked to him.”

“He came to talk to be before he blew up the library. He said that he want to show people that walkers weren’t tools to be thrown at problems and forgotten.”

“Normally that’s the kind of speech they save for the end. He’s from you’re old crew isn’t he? King?”

Allspades paused, but quickly nodded. “He’s holding onto a grudge from the old days. King was always an asshole, but we never doubted that he was one of the good guys. I don’t know what could’ve driven him this far, but I need to stop him.”

“No you don’t,” Hawthorne said. It was the first time she’d spoken since she’d seen Will stopping Adamant. “The last time you tried to take on something from your past you ended up running off to kill them. I am not chasing you down again. When we catch up to him, we’re going to take him down together.” She turned to Will. “If he drinks the Ambrosia, what’s going to happen?”

“He’ll…probably die,” Will said slowly. “The last time there were a couple dozen walkers drinking it, and only three of them made it through alive. Half of them died right away; the rest managed to use their boosted powers for a few hours before they died; one of them lasted two days.”

Trump’s men had abandoned the streets, but craters and cars, abandoned or with sleeping drivers, still littered the roads. Will had to stop talking while he snaked his way past the remains of rush hour on Main Street.

“…he won’t die,” Allspades said. “King was always an arrogant prick, but he earned it. The only reason I’ve seen one of his plans fail is if he didn’t have all the information before he started. If he really plans on drinking that stuff, then he’s sure he’ll survive.”

“Even if he survives drinking it, it takes a few minutes to build up, so you have a window to take him out.  After that, the only thing you can do is run; even the weakest of the walkers who drank it could have taken out a city block in an instant. Someone who can shoot metal like he can could probably level the city in one go. It’ll cool down to about half that level after a day or two, but until then, he’ll be unstoppable, and the effects never wear off for good.”

“One in eight; almost 90% chance we don’t even have to do anything,” Hawthorne said. “In some jobs, that’d be enough to ignore the problem.”

“A job where the city isn’t at stake,” Burnout said. “You get to sleep at normal hours, have a consistent schedule, and you get paid too. It’d almost be like winning the lottery.”

“I’d be dead or back on the streets in a week,” Allspades said. “I could barely stand working at the library and I could literally disappear for hours without anyone noticing. Sitting at an actual desk might kill me.”

“you’d have to wear a nice shirt too.” Unimportant said.

Allspades shivered. “Don’t remind me. I only have one shirt that even has a collar; having to wear one every day might actually kill me.”

Will coughed, but he was hiding a smile behind the clenched fist he used to cover his mouth. The group’s attention shifted back towards him. “Anyway; most of Beck’s zeppelins have labs on them, but only one of them has the kind of security he would need for Ambrosia. The best way to get there is to get a lift from one of his supercopters.”

“Supercopter?” Allspades asked.

“I didn’t name it. Unfortunately, everyone who knows how to pilot one is probably asleep right now.”

“So how are we supposed to get there?”

“…have you ever watched Star Trek?”

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Chapter 95: Sleeping

Hawthorne had been silent since they left the department store, but she hadn’t stopped staring holes into the back of Will’s head. He was leading them on a circuitous path around the city, practically taking them in circles at points. She didn’t know how, but he was leading them around the mercenaries. They were passing fewer patrols, and the few they saw were heading somewhere in a hurry.

Over the next half hour, they went through basements and over walls and down alleys and the number of patrols they ran into turned to zero.

Hawthorne heard their footsteps echoing throughout the alley. With each empty unlit opening they passed she felt a weight in her stomach growing heavier and heavier. She could hear her heart beating in her chest and even the slightest ruffling of cloth seemed to drown her in its noise.

“It should never be this quiet,” she said. “Even in the country, in the middle of the forest, there was always something making noise.”

“If we’re lucky, then it’ll be quiet for a little longer. We’re overdue for a disaster.”

“Overdue?” Hawthorne stopped walking. “Asclepios set off his riot bombs less than three months ago and we’re going through a small war. I wouldn’t say we’re overdue for anything.”

Will shrugged and slowed down, but didn’t quite stop. “You haven’t lived here long enough, and you’ve been a hero for even less than that. We managed to keep some of the worst stuff off the news, and nothing you’ve seen has come close to it. The city’s stirring, but it hasn’t woken up just yet.”

“Woken up?” Hawthorne started following again.

“Even city’s need to sleep. Macropolis has been through invasions, wars, and Eclipse more times than any other city in the last 100 years. She’s always had a habit of saving up energy for when she needs it the most. It’s been on the quiet side for years now, and this is barely a drop in the bucket compared to the old days. When she wakes up, it’s going to be big.”

“There are maybe 20 heroes fighting an entire army with no hope of backup, and that’s if you’re guess about the ones you haven’t seen it right, and we’ve probably already lost half of them.. This isn’t big enough?”

Will’s hand had drifted to the building at his side and started sliding along as he walked.  “Not for her. It takes more than a few dead heroes and impossible odds to make a feast fit for this city. When Macropolis wants a show, she throws all the heroes she can find at it, and makes sure that they’ll barely win. She’s never been one to settle…”

Hawthorne waited. It sounded like he wanted to say more, but Will stopped talking. His hand slowly dropped from the building and he started walking faster.

Soon, he was running and Hawthorne was having trouble keeping up. She heard the gunfire first, but it was slowly being drowned out by a shout that sounded like a buzz saw trying to cut through steel.

The Council’s Headquarters was in front of them; the streets and sidewalks were littered with the unconscious bodies of mercenaries and a few heroes. Some of the mercenaries were still standing, training their guns on a target she couldn’t see yet. In a few more steps, the mercenaries dropped form her mind; her eyes were drawn to the tank attempting to make its way towards the Headquarters, slowly twisting its cannon to point straight at the front door.

The shout was Adamant, but he barely even looked human anymore. He had grown larger, easily breaking seven feet and metallic skin was cracked and layered in spikes and glowing red canyons. He was holding the tank back, but couldn’t take a step for fear of being knocked down. Burnout was overhead, trying to shout something over the Adamant’s scream, but Hawthorne couldn’t hear him. He was trying to aim a fireball at the tank, but there was no way for him to throw it without hitting Adamant.

“You need to stop the tank!”

She was surprised she could hear Will’s voice at all over the shout. Adamant seemed to be doing fine, but Will’s wide eyes convinced her otherwise.

She produced a few seeds from her vest. They weren’t prepared quite as well as the ones she used earlier, but they were all she could make this quickly.

Hawthorne charged forward. A few of the mercenaries turned towards her, but Burnout started shooting jets of flames over their heads, forcing them to duck. She tossed the seeds up, over the tank and reached out with her powers, willing their roots to grow into the cracks in the tanks armor.

For a short moment, Adamant’s shout was drowned out by the shrieking gears of the tank as the roots grew between and around them until they couldn’t move anymore.

Freed from the contest, Adamant drew his fist back and slammed it into the front of the tank, denting it.

Will started running towards him as he hit the tank again and again. The mercenaries inside crawled out the back and started running away, but he didn’t stop, and his screeching shout only grew louder.

Hawthorne couldn’t hear Will, but apparently Adamant did. The monstrous hero slowly turned towards Will, cracking the ground with each step.

He drew his fist back, but moved so slowly that Will was easily ably to avoig it by taking a casual step backwards.

He led Adamant, step by step, missed punch by missed punch, towards the Headquarters. Hawthorne followed as safe distance behind, and Burnout joined her without a word.

They were in the center of the lobby, and each punch of Adamants grew slower and slower. His shouting slowly died down until they could almost make out Will’s words.

Finally, Adamant ground to a halt mid-punch. Will stared up at his frozen face before slowly turning away and walking back to the entrance.

Burnout stared at the statue. “Is he-“

“He’ll live,” Will said. “But he won’t be moving for a few days. I’m guessing you didn’t get any more help while I was gone.”

Burnout shook his head.

“We didn’t run into anyone else either,” Hawthorne said. “Any other heroes awake out there are either too far away to help or in hiding.”

“Which means we have to put an end to this with the five of us,” Will said, turning towards the door.

A jeep screeched to a halt outside the building.

Allspades and Unimportant hopped out of the jeep and ran straight for the entrance.

“Will,” Unimportant said. “We need to get onto a zeppelin.”

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