Chapter 11: Brutes

I tossed one of the spare helmets over to Thunderbolt as we walked into the garage. We’d had to take a pod down, because we couldn’t exactly ask another pilot to get us in a drop-ship. She pulled off her glasses, and reorganized her earpiece so that she could put the helmet on. She slid her glasses on though the shield, and folded it down once again. She was a little less nervous now, but the moment we’d hit the ground in the pod, I’d gotten the signal from the team that they were moving in. I opened the garage door with the remote fastened to the front of the bike, and we were both hit by a cool breeze. Her cape danced in the wind, and admittedly, she looked pretty bad-ass. I wheeled the bike out of the garage, making sure Thunderbolt had come out with me before I ripped the remote off of the front of the bike, and tossed it back into the garage as the door closed. It cracked as it hit the ground and slid underneath one of the SUV’s, but there was nothing I could do about that. I hopped onto the bike, and revved the engine as Thunderbolt sat down behind me. Tentatively, she wrapped her arms around my waist, trying to find a grip that would be comfortable for the both of us. When she was comfortable, I quickly re-tuned the radio inside my helmet, so if she or I needed to say anything to each other during the drive, we’d be able to hear over the roar of the engine. Needless to say, I didn’t plan on driving safely. The roads heading into the Ashes were normally virtually empty at this time of day anyway, and the closer we got, the less traffic we’d have to deal with. The only time there’d really be any danger would be when we were getting into the business center. Hopefully, I’d get lucky with the lights, or I’d be able to weave my way between cars.

“You ready?” I asked. Thunderbolt jumped at the sound of my mechanical voice. Man, that was getting boring. So what, it was a little surprising? It’s just a little different. I felt her helmet move against my back as she nodded, and the slightest twinge of pain from where I’d been struck. That was probably going to bug me for the rest of my life.

I revved the engine once again, and we shot off onto the road.

Immediately, I cut off what looked like a family car, and I heard a gasp through its open windows as the passengers noticed me. If they only knew where we’d just come from, they’d be even more stunned. I was steadily accelerating, and I pulled away from that car, and turned onto the bridge. There was still damage on it from the incident way back when we’d gotten this bloody armor. That was probably back in June, if I remembered correctly. We sped down the road, Thunderbolt’s grip on me getting tighter as we got faster, and the engine roared beneath me. As we reached the end of the bridge, I took a sharp turn, planting my foot down on the bitumen to help us turn. I was taking a different route than last time, and hopefully this would be faster, and avoid a lot more traffic. Thunderbolt buried her head into my back as we drove, and probably had her eyes tightly clamped shut. She wasn’t a fan of this, what a surprise, and was probably worried I was being a little too reckless. I didn’t want this to go badly, in fact I was doing everything I could to make sure we got where we needed to go on time, and as safely as I could manage, so that May wouldn’t decide to screw with my body. It was not fun thinking about the fact that she could do that from range.

The roar of the engine beneath me filled my mind as we made another sharp turn, heading onto a main road. Meridiam was very much a business city, and there were skyscrapers lining the place. The majority of the buildings outside of the Ashes and the still standing suburbs were at least three stories tall, and every main road was populated by many pedestrians and vehicles alike, and the traffic problems had only been amplified by the destruction in the Ashes. I switched lanes to get around a particularly slow moving car, and stuck myself between lanes for a little while in order to truly speed down the road.

The engine growled like a hungry beast, startling any pedestrians who hadn’t already turned to look at me. Skyfire was doing it again, speeding down the road on a motorcycle, but this time, my partner was a little different. I half waved to some of the people on the streets as we drove, carefully keeping my hands on the handlebars to ensure that we didn’t suddenly spin out. I had an urge building inside of me to try and go faster, to stomp my foot against the road and propel us forwards, but I knew that it would do nothing. I took the next turn in the same way I had coming off of the bridge, and flung Thunderbolt and myself round another bend. She almost slipped off from the sudden change, but I managed to catch her arm and pull her back before we launched forwards once more. Her grip felt like a vice after that, and I didn’t see any reason to blame her.

We were getting close now, and we’d managed to get this far in only five minutes. I’d probably run about eight or nine red lights, and was going far above the speed limit. We stood out though, and I had my reasons. It wasn’t like anyone was going to argue with me.
“You two had better be getting close,” Miracle said over the radio. Her icon on the GPS in my helmet pinged as she spoke, giving me a better idea as to her location. Two more lefts, a right about a hundred meters later, and then half a kilometer down that road and we’d be on top of them. I took the first left as Riley responded to her.
“We should be there soon, Ah!” she yelped as we suddenly flung around the second left turn.
“Ninety seconds,” I said. It was a rough estimate, but we should be there in about that much time. The engine roared again, and I planted my foot into the ground to take the final right turn. We were in the ashes now, and it was pretty easy to tell by the sudden dull grey that overcame us. I was still speeding up, even though we were getting close. A stream of flames shot up into the air, and I realized just what was going on. Three hundred meters away, Miracle and Cherufe had encountered their first brute. This guy looked pretty big compared to them, and he didn’t look like he was holding back as he hit Cherufe with a sucker punch that sent her flying into a brick wall. She looked okay, and Miracle seemed to be helping her back up, but that had to hurt.

Two hundred meters away now, and I could see the brute a lot better. He was smaller than the one at Park, but far bigger than the one I’d taken down in front of the B Team. No matter what, that was a scary dude. I had an idea as to how to beat the guy, seeing as the same trick never really worked twice. He seemed to be reacting pretty badly to Cherufe’s flames as well. Perhaps the brutes had their own individual weaknesses, or perhaps they were just completely unpredictable.

One hundred meters away, and I started accelerating even more. I was going to need speed to pull this off.

Fifty meters away, and I made the call.
“Get away from the brute,” I said into the radio, and Miracle and Cherufe backed up. Cherufe saw me, and started to run in the opposite direction, with Miracle quickly following suit.
“You’re going to have to jump off now,” I commanded, and Thunderbolt hastily jumped away from the bike. She fell, and rolled away, but was quickly caught and checked up on by Miracle. The brute charged me at the site of that. This had better work.

I sprang over the handlebars of the bike, moving my hands so that I was holding it behind me, and used my momentum from the bike to flip it over myself, raising it above my head and bringing it down on the brute. Just as the bike was about to hit him, I sent an electrical current running through the bike, and the moment it hit the fuel tank, the bike exploded.

I was thrown away from the bike, landing hard on the bitumen and sliding away from the fireball that had engulfed the brute. I heard a monstrous roar as it fell, but I didn’t pay much attention to it, I was more concerned with the burns on my hands. I struggled off of the ground, pain rushing through my hands as I did so. They felt like they were actually on fire, and the pain wasn’t stopping. Pain shot through my right leg as well, which had apparently been broken, and I awkwardly limped over to where the three girls were sitting, next to a massive crater in the cement, where I could only assume Cherufe had previously landed. I got that look of disappointment from Miracle that I knew all too well, and she let me sit down before fixing up my hands. She punched my broken leg, sending another wave of pain through me, and then fixed it up. She let the pain linger for a little while, until I could finally relax.
“Well, I can’t say you don’t know how to make an entrance,” Miracle begrudgingly said. Yes, well, I was also a massive idiot who just blew up a motorcycle rather than fight a brute.
“It was dumb,” I said, and Cherufe smiled.
“At least you can admit it,” The four of us stood, Miracle extending her hand to Thunderbolt to help her up, and I looked around the area. Miracle and Cherufe would’ve been looking for information to try and figure out where Streamline would be today. We were on that same street I’d ended up finding the note that led me to where Atlantis had been, so it wasn’t a bad place to start. Plus, there’d been a brute here. Video game logic said that the more enemies you encountered in one area, the more likely it was that that was the right direction to head in. Thanks, Gordon. I checked in on the radio to make sure no-one else had found anything yet, and the four of us headed towards the burnt out laundromat I’d been to last time. I was wary though, the likelihood was that there would be more brutes and members of Streamline to get in our way.

Together, we made our way down the road. It felt slow, honestly, we were trying to be as quiet as we could, even though I had made our presence very obvious. There was really no way of telling how many people were in Streamline’s gang, and how many had recovered after the… shock I’d given them. It was very possible that I’d only taken on one percent of all of Streamline, and since it was pretty reasonable to believe that they knew we were coming, that could mean there’d be a hundred times that many people waiting for us. There had probably been thirty people at the gathering Atlantis and I had interrupted, and I knew it was rather unreasonable to believe that Streamline had three hundred people that were well-versed in fighting, but they could overpower us with sheer numbers if that was the case. Honestly, it would be impossible to tell how many men and women Streamline had under his influence until we encountered each and every last one of them. I sincerely hoped that we wouldn’t have to do that though.

The four of us were walking side by side as the laundromat came into view, and as expected, there was a group of four men waiting for us. There was one holding a baseball bat, as expected, a big guy with brass knuckles, and two guys with machetes. Where they got them, I had no idea, but they had them, and they looked ready to cut us to pieces. I directed Cherufe and Thunderbolt to the man with the knuckles and the man with the bat respectively, and told Miracle to stand back. It wouldn’t do us any good for her to get into a fight now, we were going to need her for a long time, so if she got hurt we’d be screwed. Her powers were pretty damn slow when she tried to use them on herself. Miracle stopped in the middle of the dead street, and the three of us pressed on. I could see the grins growing on the gang’s faces as we walked up. They didn’t believe a word of what they’d heard about me, and Thunderbolt and Cherufe were relatively unknown. Guess they hadn’t seen the brute, either.

I switched my attention to the duo with the machetes, who were staring at me with a fire in their eyes. Streamline had probably offered something good to whoever took us down, and they seemed like they really wanted it. Both of them were bald as well, and had a dragon tattooed on the side of their faces. Obviously, these two fought together. Neither of the two were wearing a shirt either, and wore some beaten up jeans held up by a chain belt. They were really trying hard to look hard-core, weren’t they? One of them swung his machete in a loop around his hand, before suddenly running at me, screaming bloody murder. His movement seemed to trigger the battle, as the ladies and their respective opponents clashed. I saw a brief glimpse of the man with the bat striking Thunderbolt’s stomach, and sending her tumbling back, before the machete guy swung at me. I needed better names for these guys than just their weapons, that was just exhausting to think. I decided to call Cherufe’s opponent a brawler, Thunderbolt’s a basher, and I guess I’d be facing a slasher. It was better than guy with a machete.

The slasher thrust his blade at my chest, attempting to stab with what was very obviously a cutting weapon. I stepped out of the way anyway, and ducked beneath a sudden slash. I stumbled backwards to get out of the way of his mad slashes. He struck down against my shoulder, and a loud ringing echoed off of the shoulder pad he had struck. I took his momentary surprise and used it to get a punch in, striking him across the jaw, and causing him to fall back. Suddenly, I felt something swipe across my back, and turned to find the other slasher. He swung at my arm with incredible force, and when his blade made impact I felt pain shoot through my arm. I tried to swing at him, but I was instead met by another slash coming for my wrist. I changed where I was directing my punch, and smacked my arm into the slasher who had just tried to cut my hand off. He fell back, and his buddy punched me. His fist met the side of my helmet with a resounding clack, and even though he did manage to make me stumble, he probably did more damage to his hand than it had been worth.

The duo charged me again, and I felt another blade come down on my shoulder. I kicked at its wielder’s legs, and knocked him to the ground while I dealt with his friend in the few seconds of peace that provided me. I charged my fists, and punched the standing slasher in the chest, and sending him flying back into the cement. He dropped his machete when he hit the ground, and I knew he was unconscious. That left one more slasher.

His blade came down from above me, and all I could do to stop it from hitting me in the head was to reach up and grab it in my hands. A dumb move, in retrospect, as his blade would have only bounced off of my helmet, rather than actually hitting my head. Still, I had it in my hands now, and I twisted it out of his grip. I tossed it into the air and caught it by the hilt, which actually hurt because my hand had been cut open when I’d grabbed it. My blood dripped all over the hilt, and my smirk was lost because of my helmet. I looked scary now, and the slasher scrambled over to his friend to try and grab his machete off of the ground. Unfortunately for him, Miracle had wandered over, and was now toying with the machete, with the same grin I had on my face. He scrambled away from her, and stood up. He shook his head in an attempt to compose himself, and drew out a small knife he’d had concealed. He launched at me once again, quickly slashing at my chest. I tried to block his swipes with his machete, but he was quick to adjust, and stabbed at my stomach. The very tip of his blade made its way through the armor, and I could feel the sharp point on my stomach. He seemed to realize how far through my suit he’d managed to penetrate, and slashed across my stomach. It wasn’t deep enough to be anything serious, but it hurt like hell. I punched the slasher across the jaw, and as he stumbled from the sudden punch, I kicked his legs out from underneath him. As he fell forward, I brought down the blood-soaked hilt of his machete onto his head, quickly accelerating his face plant. With a resounding smack into the bitumen, I dropped his machete, and wandered over to Miracle. I stuck out my hand, and she passed me a piece of cloth to wipe the blood away with as the wound on my hand sealed. She passed me the other machete, and pointed over at where Cherufe and Thunderbolt were still fighting.

“They’re going to need a hand,” she said. I had no clue how I’d become the go-to guy for fighting these guys, but at least it made me feel useful. I tossed the machete up into the air, and caught it as I started to stroll over to the ongoing fight.

*

Okay. Stay calm. He doesn’t have one of those massive machetes, he just has a baseball bat. He should be slow to attack. A mortifying scream echoed through the empty street, and suddenly he was rushing me. His bat smacked into my stomach, and I got to learn what it was like to be a baseball as he sent me flying away from him. I skidded across the road on my back, and rolled onto my stomach as I came to a stop. I struggled off of the ground, pushing off of the road with one arm to get a better look at my situation as I tried to rise, and I was then promptly smashed back into the ground by a massive bat. It hurt, oh good lord did it hurt. He probably broke something, oh god what if I couldn’t get up? No, I have to stay calm. I need to fight as well as him. I looked over at Skyfire as he stepped out of the way of a stab, and took a kick to the ribs for it. Okay, that definitely broke something. My breathing was ragged as I tried to stand up again, and I faced the massive man. He was resting his bat behind his head, and looked very ready to smash it into me. I stood up, and sprinted into him. I smashed my fists against his stomach, punching into him over and over again, and he laughed. It was hoarse and deep, but it certainly wasn’t the mangled sound that brutes made. I was pounding against him with all of the strength that I could muster, but it just wasn’t enough. Why was Skyfire hitting so much harder than I was? Why couldn’t I make him stumble and fall in the same way that he could? I punched against his chest again as I felt tears welling up in my eyes, and his laughter stopped.

Very slowly, I was managing to push him back to where our fight had started. My barrage of punches was working, if only slightly. But I should be better than this. I tried slowing my punches and hitting harder, and it seemed to work a little better, but I knew I couldn’t keep this up for long. I’d tire myself out pretty quickly like this, so I had to try something different. The man brought his bat down on my head as I tried to kick him, and I fell onto my back again. He kicked me once more, and planted his foot on my stomach. Steadily, he added more and more pressure onto me, and I could feel my ribs caving to the pressure. He was pushing air out of my lungs and breaking my ribs, but he also provided me with an opportunity. I sent an electrical current into his leg, and he recoiled just far enough for me to slip out from beneath his foot, and stand to face him again. This fight was going nowhere fast, and now this guy was starting to tick me off. I launched forward, and planted my fist into his cheek, forcing him backwards and a gross string of saliva to shoot out of his mouth. I was panting rather loudly now, and I hoped that the helmet I was wearing was enough to keep him from hearing how badly out of breath I was. I stood opposite him, with my fists raised, both totally prepared and completely unprepared for his next attack. If he hit me too badly, I knew I’d be out of this fight, and I was panicking. I’d tired myself out too quickly, and I wasn’t strong enough to block another attack from the big guy. He looked like he could fight on for hours though.

He swung at me, but was cut short when his bat was suddenly lopped in half, and Skyfire punched him in the face with an electrically charged fist. I heard the resounding smack created by a punch echo next to me as well, as Cherufe finished off her opponent too. Part of me wanted to complain to Skyfire, to tell him that I had had that, but the rest of me knew I didn’t. That swing probably would’ve sent me flying into Cherufe if Skyfire hadn’t intervened, and that would’ve made for a much worse situation. As soon as I was sure that the man with the bat was unconscious, and there was no-one left to fight, I fell to my knees and let myself cry, just for a little while. Holding in the fact that I was absolutely terrified wasn’t helping me, and for just a brief little while, I let it out in the silence that the helmet provided me.
“You okay?” Miracle asked as she walked over to me from Cherufe.
“Just in pain,” I lied. It was a struggle to smile, even though I knew Miracle wouldn’t see it, no matter what. She stood me up as the pain died away, and held onto my hand for a little longer than she really needed to. I doubted she liked seeing me do this, but she hadn’t said a word about it. Skyfire looked us all over briefly, to Miracle’s chagrin, but he was like that. Overly analytical and constantly worried about us, even though I doubt he realized it himself. Once he seemed satisfied, he walked into the burnt-out Laundromat, leaving the thee of us standing in the street.