“Becca!” Mason pushed his way through the panicked crowd.
He hadn’t gone far. He’d met EMS personnel moving toward the bomb site less than a quarter of a mile away. He’d handed the injured woman over to them, and then brought a few others back to the site. Right now, he was acting as a bouncer. He pushed people aside, told them to get out of the way, and even took a few punches from frantic men trying to get out.
<Why isn’t anyone moving?> It was weird that everyone seemed to be bottlenecked. The crowd was starting to expand outward and get deeper, which was making things that much harder for emergency responders.
Once Mason finally pushed his way back to the front he saw why. There were two reasons. First, a building had collapsed and blocked the alley where the dumpster had exploded. Second, a barrier of light stood just beyond that. It flared as people pounded their fists futilely on it. Several people were even standing on top of the rubble and trying to bash their way to freedom.
<Good luck.> Mason had seen those barriers before. He knew an HCP professor’s power when he saw one.
He didn’t have long to shake his head at the humans before panicked calls started flying through his head. <Mason, hurry! It’s Becca and Anika.> An image of the building collapsing right on his two friends played right in front of his eyes.
He went from trying to find a less physical way through the throng of people to bodily pushing them aside. None of them could stand up to his strength, and he tried to leverage that while not making it too obvious he was a Super.
<Some things are more important than others.> He reached out a massive hand, palmed the side of a guy’s face, and pushed him aside. He crashed into the people next to him, and they only kept standing because the people were so closely packed.
“Make a hole! EMS coming through!” Mason tried to make it sound official, but that didn’t stop people from cussing up a storm at the giant black guy who was flinging people around.
Once they finally got to the rubble, he realized there were two types of people present. The first group was the one he’d seen while approaching. They’d climbed to the top of the pile of brick and mortar and were banging their fists against the barrier. Other people like them tried to climb up after them, and the people at the top pushed them back. In more than one case, a person went falling back down to the bottom of the pile and was scuffed up pretty bad. Mason fought the urge to go up there and throw everyone off. He understood they were in full survival mode, but there was no chance they were getting through Force Field’s barrier.
The second group of people were the one’s following Kyoshi’s lead. They were combing through the debris trying to find anyone who’d been injured in the attack. If what she had relayed to him was correct, then more than one person had been caught in that urban avalanche.
Kyoshi was discretely leading them to the survivors. She’d say she thought she heard something over there, or brick shifted over here to cover up her telepathy. He wouldn’t be surprised if she was pretending to be an angel and saying comforting words to those trapped beneath the rubble.
Despite all Kyoshi had shown him, Mason couldn’t stop from playing favorites. He’d watched Anika jump in front of Becca and both be pulled under. He wanted to help them first.
<Where are they?> He asked when he’d nearly reached the pile. People were starting to get the message and moving out of the way as he approached.
<Left side of the pile nearly halfway up.> Kyoshi couldn’t pinpoint the location more than that until he saw what he was working with.
<Guide me.> He broke through the small perimeter around the debris and went straight to work.
The pile was big. Mason wasn’t the best at math, but there had to be hundred if not thousands of tons of materials blocking the former alley. Lifting that wasn’t going to be a problem. He was a mid-level strongman, and for a sophomore in the HCP that was still getting stronger, that was pretty damn good. The problem was getting it off without crushing the people beneath it. Becca and Anika might be tough, Anika more so, but enough weight would crush the petite speedster, and she couldn’t run away from this one.
<There.> Kyoshi told him when he was right on top of the spot where their two classmates were buried. <Slow and steady, Mason. They’re conscious, and they’ll tell me if anything shifts while you dig, but please be careful.>
<Always.> He started slow, one brick at a time until he’d gone down a foot.
He tossed the bricks behind him toward the group of onlookers. They yelled at him at first, but a glare over his shoulder shut them up. <Nut up or shut up as Coach Meyers would say.> He went back to work, and a few people actually started to help by clearing the bricks away that he’d already cleared. Every extra body helped.
He dug and he dug. Because of where Becca had been helping the injured she was in the deepest part of the rubble. Becca and Anika relayed instructions through Kyoshi, and it was a big help. Becca could dial up her perception and see how his efforts shifted everything around them. The insight was invaluable, but it was still slow going, and that was their biggest problem.
<Mason, I don’t want you to freak out, but you need to move faster.>
He was in the middle of shifting a partially-intact piece of wall that weighted at least five hundred pounds, and he was doing it with the added difficulty of looking like he wasn’t doing anything.
<What do you mean?> Despite the warning, he was starting to freak out a bit.
Then it hit him. It didn’t matter how strong Anika was, or how fast Becca was. They both needed one thing to survive: air.
<They’re running low, and trying to conserve as much as they can.> Kyoshi heard him come to the correct conclusion and did her best to calm him. It didn’t help much.
He finished shifting the giant piece and got back to work. He was a little more reckless now. He took chances. He moved bigger amounts and didn’t always wait for feedback from Becca. If he didn’t move faster the feedback was pointless anyway.
Several hurried and fairly tense minutes later he finally broke through the outer pocket of the space created during the collapse.
“Sweet Jesus,” Becca coughed as fresh air replaced the stale carbon dioxide in the small space.
“Is she ok?” The sense of relief was short lived when Anika didn’t move.
She was lying on top of Becca. Her body had taken the brunt of the wall’s weight when it collapsed on them.
<Anika is unconscious but otherwise unharmed.> Kyoshi relayed as she checked the other woman. <I would get her medical attention though. Any loss of consciousness should be taken seriously.>
“You push and I’ll pull,” Mason directed Becca, and together they wrestled Anika out of the rubble. “Hold tight.” He walked Anika back down to the waiting EMS teams that had set up a makeshift triage unit at the edge of the rubble.
He dropped Anika off with them and went back to grab Becca. She was already climbing out of the hole when he arrived. She was covered in grime from head to foot, she had some cuts and bruises that would need some serious disinfecting, but other than that she looked fine.
“Did she make it?” Becca’s eyes scanned the area and immediately widened at the sight of the energy barrier behind them.
“They didn’t say, but it looks like Anika will be fine.”
“Not her,” Becca shook her head. “Anika’s tough. She’ll be fine. I’m talking about the woman who lost her leg. Is she going to make it?”
After the chaos of the last twenty minutes, Mason had forgotten about the woman they’d helped form the original explosion. “I left her with the EMS personnel back there,” he waved in the direction of the stage. “They didn’t tell me anything, but she looked like she was going to make it.”
Truthfully, he had no idea what the woman’s status was, but he sensed Becca needed a win. The perpetual positivity always present in the speedster was absent at the moment. She just didn’t look like Becca, and it had nothing to do with her whole body being dyed gray by the debris.
Whatever was on the speedster’s mind, she pushed it aside and started helping despite her own injuries. Mason followed in her wake with Kyoshi helping from the rear. It didn’t hit them until they were nearly done that this was what a Hero team up would look like in real life. The strongman and speedster in the field coordinating with local law enforcement to get the job done, while the advanced mind was in reserve helping piece together the puzzle or think of solutions to the problem.
Suddenly, capture the flag seemed kind of stupid in comparison.
“Keep the pressure on them!” Daisy yelled as another forked bolt of lightning shot from her fingertips. It crackled and died all around the two fleeing villains, but she could see it was starting to take its toll.
The smooth blackness of Nightingale’s compression armor on Stal was beginning to crack and dull. I had more of an ashen hue to it now, and that meant they were getting somewhere. Now that things were getting under control with the search for more dumpster bombs, more Heroes were pouring in to join in the action.
Stal and Nightingale dodged between buildings to avoid her lightening, but Jetwash caught them in an alley. The wave of hurricane-force winds broke around them, but all the crap it kicked up still slammed into them. Nightingale stumbled and fell as a crunched up beer can hit her in the ass at over one hundred and fifty miles per hour. Stal grabbed her by the belt without breaking stride and carried her away from the Hero. She didn’t leave without a parting gesture. She grabbed a pizza box from a passing dumpster and tried to make it into the Frisbee of Death. She chucked it at the flying Hero, and he barely got out of the way.
The Heroes hurried to reposition, and met the two villains with ranged attacks when they emerged on the other end. Stal stumbled under the brunt of the force, but Nightingale caught some flak. She got spun around by a beam of energy that exploded next to her. The sudden hole blocking her path forced her to go through a doorway to an upscale apartment building. Stal didn’t see her change course and she took that energy beam in the chest but kept on pushing.
“Separate them, keep them separated. Iron Giant, go…go…go…”
It was the moment the Heroes had been waiting for. Together, the two villains were strong, but apart their weaknesses could be taken advantage of. Stal was physically strong, but her nullifying armor was beginning to fray. Once it was gone she was vulnerable to Reaper’s particular talents. Nightingale was always protected from those same talents, and her nullifying bullets posed a problem to any Super, but anything non-powered she was as vulnerable to as any normal human.
Iron Giant pumped his powerful legs and spirited forward. The sheer strength of his bounds turned him into a silver blur as he tackled Stal just as the energy attack was letting up. Meanwhile, Daisy poured a ton of electric energy into the doorway of the apartment building. The building’s super was going to be pissed, but that’s why they had insurance. Keeping Nightingale’s head down while Iron Giant removed Stal from the battlefield was more than worth a melted entryway.
Iron Giant and Stal grappled. The big shifter got a leg behind Stal feet and tripped her. She went down to the ground, but used the shift to yank the hero off his feet. They both went down on their sides and started slugging for an advantage. Daisy watched out of the corner of her eyes as she poured volts into the building.
“Someone tell me about this building. I need a count of civilians, exits, and preferably someone up to cover the roof.” While the move the Heroes had just pulled isolated the villains away from each other, it also put a psychopath in a confined space with innocent civilians. Right now, Daisy had to assume they were all hostages.
Daisy knew what they needed. “Dispatch, where the hell is Hunter?”
“Hunter is…” the report got interrupted by a stone-crunching BOOM. Stal had somehow gotten her feet underneath Iron Giant and thrown him back and through the wall of a nearby building.
Stal was scrambling to her feet, and looked like she was about to jump away.
<No you don’t.> Daisy heightened her perception gauged the jump and fired herself off toward the fleeing strongwoman just before she jumped.
Her aim was a bit off. She hit Stal in the knees, but the kinetic energy transfer was more one way. Technically, Stal kneed her in the face, but she turned Stal’s vertical leapt into a head-over-ass tumble where she just ended up landing back on the street. That was mission accomplished as far as Daisy was concerned. Stal was still shaking her head and getting back to her feet when Iron Giant landed on her like a man-shaped cannonball. The street cracked under the impact and a big fissure spread for about fifty feet before stopping.
<She’s got to be down.> Daisy thought before the concussive waves of Super punched started to shake the area.
“Dispatch, say again. Where’s Hunter?”
“I’m hunting Wraith.” The teleporters frustrated voice replied. “With all the chaos going on, OPD and the DVA have been spread thin and someone hit HQ. Preliminary reports say it was Blood Hound.”
“Why would Blood Hound…?” Daisy stopped mid-sentence.
<No.> She hoped for once that she was wrong.
“Seth Abney is gone.” Hunter confirmed her worst fear. “He burned down half the Protectorate’s office and aided Blood Hound in the escape, but when he saw him it looked like he’d taken a bullet in the process.”
“We need to get him back.” Daisy’s professor mind overrode her Hero intuition.
“I’ve got a lead, but Wraith is up to her usual tricks. I’ve got about a hundred teleportation points to check here and then I’ll go after her.”
“Negative.” KaBoom’s broke into the conversation. “We need you on scene to help contain Stal and Nightingale.”
“Fuck that!” It slipped out before Daisy could stop herself.
“Think about it, Reaper.” KaBoom didn’t back down. “Wraith is a bad apple, sure, and I want her just as much as the next guy for what she did to Mr. Morningstar.”
Daisy didn’t think about it until this moment, but Wraith had fucked the old Protectorate leader again. First, she’d killed him, and now she’d literally blown up his funeral.
“But this is Stal and Nightingale,” KaBoom continued. “Stal is wanted in the US, EU, and a dozen other countries for everything from B&E to murder. Nightingale is a convicted war criminal.”
Once the Republic of Krezic fell, the new rulers of the Super-ruled Island had trails for all the government Supers who’d been the iron thumb of the regime. The US reviewed the facts of the case separately and agreed with most of the convictions. An extradition treaty had been signed to return those criminal supers if they were ever captured. Nightingale was right at the top of that list, and it would do wonders for the US’s relationship with the fledgling Super nation.
“We have to prioritize,” KaBoom’s voice was confident and unyielding, like a leader’s should be. “Hunter, how long until you have a fix on where Wraith went?”
“If I have to shift through all the portals…twenty minutes. Less if I find it early.” Hunter’s tone already said what the outcome of this conversation would be. There was no fighting it.
Daisy wasn’t willing to let is go that easy. A confident voice over Dispatch wasn’t enough to convince someone of her experience. “Do we have another teleporter that can review the portals while Hunter helps us subdue the threats? This way he can return to the scene and pursue the other murderers and fugitive as soon as possible.”
“I’ll relay the request to the DVA. They’re hanging back and letting Heroes handle the two takedowns. I’m sure Agent Phillips wants to do more than stand around and wait.”
<I’m sure too.> That was good enough for Daisy. Right after they took down Stal and Nightingale they’d turn their attention on Wraith.
Daisy turned her attention back on the fight. Iron Giant had Stal by the ankle and was swinging her over his head and repeatedly bashing her into the ground. Daisy stumbled slightly from each blow.
“Iron Giant, aim for the armor. Once that breaks I can take her down.”
The giant shifter didn’t give any indication that he heard, but the bashing shifted a bit so that the majority of the force was hitting Stal’s armor.
Daisy concentrated on her sixth sense. Life-threads popped into existence all around her. While Iron Giant continued the beat down, she checked Dispatch’s data on the apartment building. It was five stories with half a dozen apartments on each floor. Dispatch was still pulling the rental records, but there could be anywhere from thirty to over a hundred people in the building.
<That’s not going to be pretty.> Daisy didn’t look forward to that, but she focused on Stal for the moment. Cops, DVA agents, and Heroes were already securing the building. Nightingale had nowhere to go.
Daisy felt the moment Stal’s armor cracked and she got a glimpse of the life-thread. Daisy immediately squeezed through the metaphysical space in the armor and grabbed the thread. It was like grabbing searing hit steel, but she’d had practice bringing down Supers stronger than Stal.
Stal cried out, which she hadn’t done even as Iron Giant beat her down. She fought back, lashing out at Iron Giant with her feet, but his arms were too long and he was too tough. Stal didn’t have the leverage to bring all of her strength to bear. She might be a world class mercenary, but Iron Giant was a world-class Hero. It was only a matter of time.
Stal’s blows grew weaker and weaker as Daisy leeched the strength out of her. After several minutes, Stal went limp and Iron Giant let her go.
“Target down,” his deep voice rumbled. “Send…”
A single gunshot rang out and Iron Giant went down in a spray of blood. Iron Giant became John by the time he hit the ground, and Daisy didn’t even wait for cover fire before she sprinted into the open to help her fallen friend.