The next day, I woke up to a disturbing sight. I had fallen asleep after we had found a reasonably safe place, around three blocks away from where we’d engaged the members of Streamline. Atlantis had said he’d keep watch, and wake me should anything happen or when he needed to rest himself. So the charred ground surrounding me and the half-open door made me worried. I called out for Atlantis, but no response came. Groggily, I stood up and checked my immediate area. It looked like there was some evidence of a struggle, the tattered furniture had shifted, and there was some damage to the door and the walls around it. I walked up and out into the hallway, and found a more gruesome scene. Chunks of the wall had been smashed in, exposing pipes, wires and the frame itself. One of the exposed pipes had a massive dent in it, bending it back into the wall and almost pulling it out of its place. There was some blood on spikes of wood that had broken free from whatever had impacted the wall, and small droplets drew a path along the floor, heading out the door. I followed the trail outside, where it moved along the footpath, and down to what seemed to be a laundromat. There was still broken glass lying on the footpath, from where the windows had been blown to smithereens. The glass crunched beneath my feet as I walked inside, and found a small scrap of paper that didn’t seem as damaged as the rest of the building.
“Be at the Cinema on 12th and Morrison Streets at 11 pm tonight, or your buddy dies, Sparky,” The note read. Great. I guess I was going to get the chance to scope this place out today after all.
I walked down the main street of the Ashes, what had once been the shopping district. I remembered this street well. Iris and I had come down here a lot in the past couple of years, whether it was to meet up with friends or to browse through the cafes, record stores and boutiques. We’d always had the money to afford whatever we wanted, something that had been new to me, and Iris had complained about my stingy spending on numerous occasions. She’d always been one to pick up something when we came out, even if she hadn’t needed it. It struck me that none of our old friends would know where we were, or how we were doing. The Ashes was only just eight months old, and that was about the same amount of time we’d spent on the Sandman. I wouldn’t be surprised if they all thought we were dead. I took a seat on one of the mostly intact benches, and pulled up the hologram on my wrist. A telephone was basically just a radio, a transmitter and a receiver, so it would make sense to be able to re-work the radio in my helmet into a phone. I muted all of the external speakers in my helmet, and switched on the radio.
To my surprise, a dial pad appeared on my wrist. And I hadn’t even done anything to it. I punched in the number of one of our old friends’ phones, and a calling icon appeared on the internal view of my helmet. I quickly shrunk it, and moved it out of my direct line of sight, where it continued to bounce, in a less distracting manner.
“Hello?” A voice said into my ear. It was surprisingly loud.
“Now, I know what you’re going to say, and yes, I am an asshole,” Chelsea laughed. Man, Iris was going to be pissed at me.
“Yeah you are. Where have you been?” She asked.
“Honestly? I can’t say. So let’s go with France,” I laughed. It had been a long time since I’d had a normal conversation.
“Didn’t expect you to. If you of all people go dark for eight months, well, let’s say we knew it would be something big. So, how’re you holding up?” She asked.
“I’m doing better. I’ve got good people with me, they aren’t all the best, but I’ll manage,” I checked the time on the screen, and it ticked over to 4 pm. I’d slept in until almost noon, so it wasn’t much of a surprise.
“Actually, Iris and I are going to be back in Meridiam in a couple of days. You guys want to meet up on, let’s say the sixth?” I asked. She laughed at me.
“That’s tomorrow dude!” I pulled up a calendar on my screen. She was right.
“Tomorrow it is. Message my regular phone whatever you guys decide on, I think I need to go catch a plane,” I hung up the phone, and wandered further down the street. There was a cafe down here that I used to go to, and I wanted to take a look at it.
It was around quarter to eleven when I arrived. I was crouched down behind the fence of a nearby building, and I was surprised to find the base of operations of Streamline. Annoyingly, they were all gathered in the street, which made attempting to enter discreetly impossible, or rather, the easiest thing ever. Because technically, I was already inside. Presumably, the note I’d found had not initially been left for me specifically, but rather, one of the place’s they’d leave details about how to find their meetings, and the group that had taken Atlantis had simply modified it. Speaking of Atlantis, he was tied to a street lamp, completely unconscious. He was surrounded by a group of men and women, armed with either large hunting rifles or massive bats. In the poor light, I could make out some bruising on his head, but the light of the dumpster fire that had been lit in the middle of the street wasn’t sufficient enough to tell me much more. They didn’t look like they were expecting me just yet, so I waited for a little longer.
The moment eleven o’clock came around, a man strolled out of the cinema. He was completely unarmed, and thinner than I had been. He was wearing a long black coat, with an arrow crudely drawn on the back of it. He made his way over to Atlantis, flanked by Nick, who was wielding an even larger bat than last time, and another brute of a man, wearing brass knuckles. A harsh rumbling came from above as a storm moved above the city. Within the hour, it would break, and Atlantis would be incredibly powerful, but I would rather not have to deal with these guys until the storm broke.
The wispy man in black slapped Atlantis across the cheek, and he jumped off of the ground, suddenly awake.
“You!” Lake screamed, struggling against his bonds. The lamp shook from his puling, which gave me the impression that the lamp would break before whatever was binding him did. Or perhaps he was trying to trick them. He stopped struggling, and sat back down on the ground. The wispy man grabbed his face, and ripped his mask off.
Okay, not good.
“Well if it isn’t good old Lachlan Jones! Come to kick my teeth in like you promised?” The wispy man asked, and Atlantis thrashed against his binds, trying to punch the man. Okay, I was stepping in now. I stood from my position crouched behind the fence, and stepped out into the light of the dumpster fire. No-one paid any attention to me as I stepped into the light, as all focus was on the wispy man and Atlantis.
“I’ll be honest; I didn’t think you’d end up a freak. Seriously, just because your brother’s dead doesn’t mean you have to take up being a clown!” He laughed like a mad man, and although no-one else seemed to find it funny, they all laughed out of fear.
“Well. That’s a surprise,” I said. My fist made its way into the jaw of the man standing next to me, and he fell to the ground. I walked towards Atlantis, and no-one made a move to stop me. In fact, Nick actually seemed scared. These people didn’t behave normally. They seemed to simply fear whoever was the center of attention. Perhaps I’d knocked out a high ranking member of their gang, or maybe it was what I had done to Nick that got them all so worried. It didn’t matter, their hesitation gave me the time to free Atlantis, and he quickly collected his mask. He stood beside me once he had it back on. Now wasn’t the time to question what I’d overheard, my time would be better spent figuring a way out of here, because the gang members were arming themselves.
“Sparky! You know, whatever it is you were doing back at that place made it a real pain for my boys to get Lachlan out,” he grinned at me. What was with the grinning?
“And you are?” My mechanical voice echoed out though the empty streets, and it was only then that I realized that, apart from the soft crackling of the fire, the street was deathly silent.
“Well I’m Streamline, of course!” He said, and the two brutes next to him sprinted towards us. Atlantis took on Nick, preventing the brute from having to take another hit from me, and I focused on the new guy.
As per my regular strategy, I let the big guy take the first punch, and I was instantly scared. He moved fast, faster than I could, and with the muscles he had, he’d hit far harder, even without the knuckles. Sparks flew around my fists, the only way I’d take this guy down would be with a little extra pain in each punch, and with the way these guys operated, I wasn’t afraid to fight dirty. The big guy took a swing at my head, narrowly missing as I punched up into his arm. He followed through with a jab to my stomach, and sent me flying into the ground. I struggled onto my knees. He’d knocked all of the air out of my lungs with a single punch, and easily broken a few ribs in the process. I turned to look over at how Atlantis was faring against Nick, and he didn’t look to good either. These were brutal tactics, hits with only hitting hard in mind. We’d trained against one another, fighting smart fights to knock an opponent out of the ring in seconds. These guys were unpredictable. I felt a foot on my back, and it slammed me back into the ground. Another kick sent me rolling onto my side, and yet a third sent me into a nearby fence.
My ribs cracked quite audibly, this time. I struggled onto my knees while I had the time to, and waited as the brute charged me again. What could I do? If I countered his initial punch, he’d do something to knock me to the ground, and we’d repeat the process. Perhaps letting him have the first swing had failed.
I charged the brute, and when we met, my fist was planted deep into his stomach. He made a strange strangled noise, and backed away from me. He wiped the saliva that had dripped out of his mouth away, and pounded his fists together, relishing in the ringing that came from his knuckles being knocked together. I ran at him again, charging my fist this time, and clocked him in the jaw. He stumbled backwards, smashed his fists together again, and charged at me once more. I planted a fist in his stomach once again, and took a sweeping kick at his legs, making sure to keep up the assault with my fists to distract him. As my leg made contact with his, he didn’t budge. He didn’t even sway as I hit him, and I had hit him hard enough to make my leg sting. He laughed, a short, nasal chuckle, and swung at my head.
As his fist made contact with my helmet, I would’ve expected it to break, or at least for the screen to crack, but nothing happened. In fact, my neck didn’t even move from the force of the punch. It felt as if he’d pulled his punch last second, but the clacking of metal hitting the carbon-fiber outer casing of my helmet proved he’d hit me. So what then? I took another swing at him, hitting his jaw once again, and he fell to the ground, completely unconscious. Something had changed, but I didn’t have time to ponder it. A third brute had wandered out of the crowd, even bigger then the guy I’d just taken down.
There was a superhuman here.
I looked over at Atlantis’ fight, and saw that he was steadily gaining the advantage over Nick, who’s bat had now been broken in half, and had presumably left an incredible dent on whatever it had hit to do that. Atlantis expertly placed a punch on Nick’s jaw, and the brute fell to the ground unconscious. As soon as he did, another brute stepped out of the crowd.
This wasn’t going to go well for us, for all we knew, there could be a hundred more men waiting inside the cinema for us to finish off this crowd, and I doubted we could even manage that. I had to think of something that could easily remove any additional people from the equation, and potentially whoever was creating the brutes as well. Thunder rumbled overhead, and a very, very bad idea came to mind.
“Atlantis! How’s the weather?” I asked, as another one of the brutes approached. He took one look at the sky, and realized what I was doing.
“Stormy,” He said, and took off, heading down the road and as far away as possible.
Electricity crackled around my fingertips, stray bolts flying off of my hands and down onto the ground beneath my feet. The brute approaching me stopped, and cocked his head to one side, curious as to what I was doing. Lightning pulsed around me, steadily flowing from my head and chest and down into the ground. It sped up, and stray bolts started to arc towards the crowd, striking the brute first. It knocked him back slightly, but it wasn’t enough to knock him down. He roared at me, and the wispy man form earlier, Streamline, stepped forward to look at me. The brute moved in sync with him, and they pounded their fists together. The brute charged, taking a swing at me, and I let him try and hit me. His fist bounced off of the electricity wildly arcing around me. I raised my hand, and the flow sped, pulsing ever faster. It was starting to leap forwards from my hand, and the brute dived in front of Streamline to protect him from the electricity about to hit him. I raised my other hand as well, and the electricity stopped accelerating. It flowed around me like water, and exerted the heat of a wildfire. I would be okay; it couldn’t hurt me. I raised my foot, and stomped it into the ground.
The moment my foot impacted the ground, an explosion of thunder roared overhead, sending down a lightning bolt to impact my back. I screamed, the sheer pain of it striking me was overwhelming, and the electricity pulsing around me froze, the bolt also lingering in place for far longer than it should, as its power flowed into my body. I opened my hands, and let the power it had free, tendrils of electricity arcing from my hands and scattering through the crowd that had gathered around me. I pumped the brutes full of it until they fell to the ground, unconscious. I was no killer, and I made sure that each person touched by my power would live. I concentrated on the brute in front of me, screaming in agony as the electricity flowed through me and into him, and the brute roared as he fell. The other brute who had stayed back collapsed as well, and steadily, the crowd fell away, or ran away. As the final man fell, the bolt flowing into me exploded with a second echoing thunderclap. Sparks fell to the ground around me as the energy flowing into me and out of me dissipated, and as I finally collapsed, I felt an arm grab me. I only saw a brief glimpse of the blue on his arm, before the world faded into darkness around me.