“Sorry, Sparky. We’re not going to do the same thing twice,” That was the note I found on the floor of the Laundromat, and annoyingly, it made sense. They would have to know I’d go looking in there, so why should they put the location of their meeting spot there? What a waste of time. I walked back out, holding the tiny scrap of paper in my hand, and promptly forced enough lightning into it to burn it to a crisp. I shook my head to try and tell them it was nothing useful, but that didn’t stop pain welling up in my back. I had no clue whether that was Miracle, or just the lightning. The skies above us were perfectly clear, so there was no chance of that trick working again. We headed out once more, but knowing that this was a waste led me to one other option. There was always the cinema that I’d fought Streamline at last time, but I severely doubted they’d leave any evidence of their presence there. Of course, it was always possible that someone was idiotic enough to go there, so it wasn’t absolutely worthless to go there. That was a major part of this operation, and any search and destroy mission. We had to find them, so we could get to the ass kicking.
We strolled down the street, checking around every corner before we passed it, just in case we saw something that might be related to Streamline, but after a while, we still hadn’t found anything. This’d be what the rest of the team would be doing, walking up and down streets, checking inside every house they could find, unless they ended up in a fight. It wasn’t going to be the most efficient way to get through this, but it was better than blindly chasing around my theories. I did have a good track record with them though, so this tactic was just a little insulting. Thunderbolt was walking slower than the rest of us, and she was starting to lag behind more and more the further down the road we went, and she was fidgeting with the end of her cape in one hand. It was weird to see her looking so nervous when she was dressed like such a badass, but that was how she was. I was kind of surprised at how long she’d managed to keep herself from freaking out in that fight, and I knew my intervention was going to be bugging her, so I let Miracle and Cherufe drift ahead as well, and slowed my pace to walk alongside Thunderbolt. It was then that I realised that pockets would be incredibly useful to have in my suit. I pressed my hand to my left sleeve, and the holographic pad that allowed me to control the functions in my helmet appeared. I tuned the radio so that only Thunderbolt and I could hear each other, and turned off my external speakers, so that apart from inside Thunderbolt’s earpiece, it would seem like I wasn’t talking at all.
“So, how’re you holding up?” I asked. I didn’t exactly know how to handle this conversation, but I knew we needed to have it.
“Not so good. I, um, well, that guy scared me,” That was pretty much what I expected, but from the sound of things, it was a lot more than he should have.
“Why did he scare you?” I asked. I felt like I was being a little too blunt, but again, I had no idea how I was meant to handle this.
“He hurt me, and he very easily could have killed me,” I could hear her choke up as she spoke, the memory was just as bad as the experience in her eyes. But that was very telling, she was ignoring a key fact that got me through most of my fights with very little fear, and what seemed to be what was starting to inspire fear in our opponents.
“But you have the armor. It’ll protect you from that kind of thing,” I said. As cruel as it seemed, I wanted her to explore every detail of her fear, because like I’d told Miracle, if she got scared she was more of a liability than an asset, and I didn’t want anyone to have a friend’s death on their hands, even though I doubted it would ever come to that.
“I know, but he still managed to break my ribs,” I think holding off on the fact that one of the slashers had managed to stab me would be a good idea.
“Yeah but Miracle can fix that. It seems to me like you don’t trust three things: Your own abilities, Miracle’s abilities, and the suit,” I said. She stopped dead in her tracks, and I stopped with her. I heard her sniffle through the microphone. Well, now I felt like shit.
“Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-,” she raised her hand, and cut me off.
“No. You’re right. I don’t and I have no idea why. I mean, I’ve seen you fight with the exact same abilities I have and the exact same help that I get, and I still just don’t,” she was definitely crying now, but not because of me, instead because she was upset with herself. I walked over to her and put my arm around her shoulder.
“Come on. I’m no better than you. In all honesty, fear is a good thing to have. It enables that fight-or-flight reflex that’ll let you survive pretty much all of the fights and scuffles you could possibly get into, but it’s when it consumes you that it’ll mess you up,” I said. She leaned against me, and as we walked, I let her gush about why she was so scared, and whenever I could, I tried to give her that little glimmer of hope, the bright side of a situation. Like the fact that I had learnt what certain bones in my body were called after having them severely broken. In hindsight, that was probably a mistake, but she laughed anyway. I felt like I was managing to help her through her nerves for once, and at the same time, we were scanning the area. We still hadn’t found anything, but while Thunderbolt and I talked, Cherufe and Miracle were searching. We stopped every so often for Cherufe to check out a house, or for Miracle to scout out a garden. It was nothing really, just walking down the streets and trying to figure out just what was going on. I was kind of loosely guiding the team down to the cinema, but I knew that we’d get there eventually.
As we walked I took in the sights, well, I looked around at what had become the ashes. According to the news, the fires had started after several bombs went off in the shopping district. The fire had then spread to the surrounding suburbs, claiming family homes and small businesses like the laundromat in its path of destruction. So much had burnt that the smoke had become incredibly thick, and ash rained down as the fire was beginning to be brought under control. From what I’d heard, it had taken days for all of the fires to die down, and what had been left wasn’t pretty. Burnt out husks of homes, charred deadwood and streets blackened with ash. Some families had come back to find their homes and all of their belongings destroyed, their lives in ruins. Most people had come through that event without a family member, or with one less friend. People like Gordon were common nowadays, in fact it was considered rarer to not know anyone who died during the Incident. People had come for the bodies, of course, but that was a grim undertaking, and many volunteers were known to still have nightmares from doing it. Then Streamline had swept through, and taken away any hope of rebuilding. They’d come through, killing anyone they found in the ashes, and then the city quickly abandoned them. There’d been attempts at recovering the ashes, and taking the land back from Streamline, but they had been very quick to make sure that that was impossible. I’d heard they’d almost killed a detective who was looking for them, and that they’d done plenty of terrible things in here. Things had gotten to the point where cops were stationed at entrances to the ashes, mainly where large groups of people tended to gather, and would actively discourage against going in. Most of the buildings in here were on the verge of crumbling anyway, so it was no surprise that no-one ever did return. That is, until now.
Walter’s plan, in a word, was crazy. There was no way anyone could ever have actually pulled it off without our powers, especially knowing the strength of the individual Streamline. With his entire gang behind him, and the knowledge that there could easily be more superhumans waiting for us, alongside all of those brutes, yeah, cops wouldn’t have stood a chance. But his idea to simply scan through the area as thoroughly as we could, and to take down any member of Streamline that we found, that was what was truly crazy. The ashes covered roughly a third of the city, and the city was around six thousand square kilometres in size. This place covered massive amounts of the suburbs, and to thoroughly search the entire place could take weeks. But, thankfully, we knew where Streamline mainly operated. While it was true that they owned the ashes, they rarely ever moved outside of the original blast zone, the part of the city that had been destroyed by bombs, and where the fires had started. So, only like a hundred square kilometers.
I froze in place as a sudden cracking noise echoed from behind me. Thunderbolt was still clutching my hand, and hurried to let go as I turned around. A large crack had appeared in the road, spreading up into the houses surrounding us. That wasn’t good. I looked around at where we were, and as the buildings around us began to crumble, the four of us ran.
We barely managed to avoid all of the falling debris, and there had been a lot of it thrown into the air as those buildings had crumbled. Thankfully, when the buildings had stopped, you know, exploding, we had made our way down to the cinema. It was quite a sight from the outside, and seeing it in better light than that of a dumpster fire was helpful. Now I could better assess the situation, and it really wasn’t good. One of the two main doors had been crushed by part of the overhang above it, but the two doors were glass, and so instead of being a door it was more of a moving hole in the wall, with broken glass scattered around it. The girls seemed to understand where we were, and I saw the lamppost Atlantis had been tied to. It was bent, no surprise there, and there were scorch marks on the ground from my own powers.
“Let’s head inside,” I said, and the trio followed me in.
It wasn’t at all surprising that the interior of the cinema was destroyed. We had walked in through the lobby, and of course, the stairs up to the actual theaters were pretty much destroyed. The place was charred and heavily scarred, with rubble strewn about from the ceiling collapsing. It looked like it had been your average cinema, but now it was absolutely desecrated. The Incident did that. Of course, there was no-one here. Like I’d expected, since I’d already been here, no-one had left any evidence of their presence here. The girls took a seat on the charred carpet, but I was still suspicious of our surroundings, after all, the ground had cracked open and the buildings around us had exploded as we’d run here. Thunderbolt was incredibly alert after that, and thankfully, Miracle was doing her best to keep her calm.
The ground exploded open in front of the two of them, and the echoing blast of a shotgun sent Thunderbolt flying. Rocks and mangled shards of concrete sprung up out of the ground around Miracle, and clamped down on her so she couldn’t move. She screamed out of her own fear and her anger at whatever had just happened to Thunderbolt. Cherufe was in a similar position, but the stone encasing her seemed to be shaking, and dust cascaded down her entrapped limbs. Nothing happened to me though, which was absurdly worrying.
“Whoever you are, show yourself,” My modulated voice echoed through the empty lobby, and I heard the pump of a shotgun behind my head.
“Pull that helmet off or I’ll blast it off,” The woman said from behind my back. Well then. I raised my hand to the bottom of my helmet, to the protests of my teammates. That was a little disheartening. I obviously had a plan. I cut the internal microphone in my helmet, so no-one could hear me, and twiddled my thumb along the underside of my helmet. For all she knew this was the entire process.
“Hurry it up,” She jammed the barrel of her gun into the back of my head, and pushed me forward.
“Vent all,” I said, and massive plumes of grey smoke flowed out from my helmet, quickly filling the room. I heard Miracle and Cherufe cough through the growing smoke, and I ran. I knew I couldn’t do anything to help the two of them for now, so the best I could do was find Thunderbolt, wherever she was. Hopefully, she was okay, but she had just been blasted in the face by a shotgun, so I wasn’t exactly optimistic.
I found her when I heard her crying. That, that was depressing. She was crouching behind one of the piles of rubble created by the crushed stairs, and a small trail of blood led up to her. Her helmet was tossed to the side, and the shield was shattered. There was a lot of blood on her face, and a small shard of the shield was sticking out of her cheek. She tried to cover her face up as I walked over to her, and it didn’t surprise me. Her face was pretty cut up from the pellets that had fired out the shotgun, and she looked like she was in a lot of pain. I sat down in front of her, and she pulled her hands away from the wounds on her face. They were soaked in blood. I pulled off my helmet as I crouched down in front of her, and tried to muster up a smile to help calm her down.
“Oh boy. Listen, I can’t really do anything for you until I get the glass out of your cheek,” I said. The fear in her eyes was starting to get to me, and I felt nervous about trying anything.
“O-okay,” she said. It was pretty surprising that she’d let me do anything like that. I grabbed the piece of glass in her cheek, and slowly started to pull it out. It was slippery from the blood covering the majority of it, and I could see her wincing as it moved. I felt like this was my fault, I’d asked her to wear the helmet after all, but I knew I couldn’t be held responsible. That woman was the one who had done this.
Once I had the glass out of her cheek, I tried my best to seal up the wounds on her face, but I was nowhere near as good as Miracle. It took time, and it left some odd markings on her skin. She looked happy that the pain had died away though. There was still a problem though, she couldn’t wear the broken helmet anymore, and that would mean she couldn’t fight. There was one thing I could think of to solve that, but it would leave me pretty unprotected, and without the same information I was used to. I guess I’d just have to deal with it.
“Pass me your,” She cut me off by kissing me on the cheek.
“What was that?” I asked. Her face was bright red.
“Thank you,” Well then.
“Pass me your earpiece,” I asked. We didn’t need to talk about that, and Riley looked very happy I was changing the subject. She’d embarrassed herself. She unclipped the little radio device from her ear and gave it to me, with a quizzical look on her face. I quickly adjusted the radio inside of my helmet, and closed down all of the unnecessary applications running, at least that was what I thought I was doing as I looked through the screen where it sat on the ground. There was no way for it to pick up on things like my vital signs without being attached to my suit, and I’d no longer be able to see the control panel on my arm, but it was better than having Riley unmasked and unprotected. She pulled off her glasses as she realized what I was doing, and placed my helmet on her head.
“Are you sure?” she asked as she pushed her glasses on through the opening.
“Pretty sure,” I tapped at the green fabric outlining my eyes, and she understood. I wasn’t going to let myself get hit, so something covering up my identity was all I needed. The helmet was a simple advantage. Lightning crackled around our hands as I pulled her up off of the ground, and we walked out to face the superhuman with a shotgun. She’d need a name. The radio crackled softly in my ear as she tested the microphone, and I could hear someone grunt on the other side. Cherufe was struggling against the stone binding her to the ground. Not surprising, really. Thunderbolt was dawdling behind me as we walked out, and adjusting the helmet on her head. I could tell she was uncomfortable, so I tried to pay as little attention to her as possible.
Looking out into the empty lobby, I couldn’t see the woman anymore. She was probably using whatever method she had used to get in here to hide from me after my little disappearing act. That was pretty scary to think about, especially now I didn’t have my helmet on. I walked over to the ground where she had suddenly appeared, and things started to click in my head. There was a massive hole in the ground, surrounded by mounds of scattered dirt and rock, which had also been thrown around the room. Particles of dirt were clinging to Cherufe and Miracle as they struggled against the stone restraining their arms and legs. Cracks were starting to grow around Cherufe, and it looked like she was making progress, but I didn’t have any time to talk, as the shotgun woman exploded out of the ground behind me. She jumped into me and kicked me from behind, and I fell headfirst into the stone. I shook my head as I stood up, and scanned the room again. She’d vanished.
“Who the hell are you?” I muttered to myself. I turned very slowly, to make sure I wasn’t about to have my head blasted off from any direction. She was doing something with the stone, that was for sure. A large spike erupted out of the ground beside me, and I only barely managed to jump away before the jagged hunk of stone ripped a hole in my side. She was someone who didn’t like me, I guess. I hadn’t even seen this woman’s face.
A sudden rush of air whizzed above me as I instinctively dodged out of the way. Maybe it was the chunk of stone I’d just barely seen, but the fact that she was using a stone bat wasn’t exactly the most original thing. About half of the members of Streamline I’d seen had a baseball bat. Judging by the build-up of her swing, she was probably still on the follow-through, so I swung around and grabbed her arm. She tried to pull herself out of my grip, but I wasn’t going to budge. She had my friends in a stone vice.
“Who are you?” I asked, as the bat she had in her hand crumbled.
“Rumble,” She said, punching me across the jaw with her free hand. She wasn’t exactly strong, and she wasn’t much older than I was, so it didn’t really hurt much when she punched me.
“Well that was rude,” I said, dropping her hand, “I assume you are part of Streamline, then?” I asked. She put a lot more power into the next punch, and managed to knock me off balance. I guess I wasn’t going to be able to just question her. While I was still of balance, she drew her shotgun and blasted me in the chest. It didn’t break the armor, but it hurt like a motherfucker, and sent me flying into the ground. The floor cracked open beneath her, and she fell down into the gaping hole. So she was tunneling around. I tried my best to stand, but my ribs were pretty badly bruised from the blast. Thunderbolt hurried over to me, and extended a hand to help me up, before being sent flying once again. Okay, that was just fighting dirty. I thought about pushing an electrical current through the ground, but that would probably do more harm than good. Thunderbolt stood up across the room, and brushed some of the dust off of her. She was trying to seem calm and collected, but I could hear her ragged breathing across the radio.
“Try and keep calm. It’s two against one,” I muttered, and Rumble burst out of the ground next to me. Miracle cried for me to get out of the way as she pulled out her shotgun once again, but I had an idea.
“What are you going to do, shoot me?” I asked. She grinned, and just as she was about to pull the trigger, I punched her arm aside, knocking the gun out of her grip. It skidded across the floor to where Thunderbolt was standing, and she grabbed it. She had no idea what to do though, and Rumble dove back into the ground to try and get to her. She couldn’t see us now. I waved over at Thunderbolt, and she threw it towards me. I caught it right as Rumble exploded out of the ground. She grabbed Thunderbolt’s throat, and a stone bat formed in her hand. I quickly looked over the weapon to figure out how it worked, it was a pump shotgun, I think, and fired a shot into the air. I beckoned Rumble over, and she fucking charged at me. She was pissed off for some reason, and I doubted our taking her weapon was helping her mood.
“Gimme,” She said as she punched me in the throat. That was a dirty move, but it allowed me the opportunity to send a current down her arm, and she pulled away in pain. Lightning arced out of my hand to strike the ground beside her, and she slowly backed away as the bolts came closer and closer to her. She was freaking out, and not just because I was throwing lightning. There was something else going on.
Thunderbolt snuck up behind Rumble as she moved further and further away from me, and grabbed her arms. She sent a quick jolt through her, and she seemed to give up.
“Okay! I’ll stop. Just what the hell are you?” She asked me. I heard a very loud crunching as stone fell away from Cherufe and Miracle, and the two flanked me. Miracle ran over to Thunderbolt, probably to check how well I’d managed to fix her up, and I could feel the massive bruise on my chest shrink away. Well, at least she wasn’t annoyed with me.
“Why’d you attack us?” I asked. She looked like she wanted to laugh, but then realized we’d have no clue why.
“Streamline put a bounty on your head. Said we’d score some sweet body armor if we managed to put you down. He didn’t say you’d be wearing it though,” She wriggled a little in Thunderbolt’s grasp, but stopped when another pulse ran through her arms.
“Why’d you even join up with them?” I asked, walking over to kneel in front of her. She didn’t exactly seem like the type to be this violent. She really hadn’t hit that hard either.
“It was that or my life,” She said, gritting her teeth.
“Well, its lucky we ran into you then. You’re going to tell us where we can find Streamline,” I said, and she grinned. Man, that did not seem right.
“Oh, I gladly would. If I was told, and if I couldn’t feel my muscles changing inside of me. Sorry, bud,” She said, and opened her mouth to reveal the froth flowing from it. A little bit of plastic dropped out of her mouth, and Thunderbolt screamed, quickly dropping Rumble’s lifeless body.
“Holy shit,” Cherufe looked like she was about to vomit, while Miracle looked incredibly confused.
“What happened? Where did she go?” She asked, looking at Thunderbolt and I.
“Cyanide,” I led them all out of the cinema’s destroyed husk, and we resumed our search. It looked like we were going to be at this for a while.