Something slid by Chris’s head with the sound of sandpaper on wood. He heard a loud hiss from the same direction. Up. I’m awake. Why am I lying here? Chris wrenched his eyes open, to be met with near total darkness. Bad. He froze for a second. What am I dealing with here? Glass above shattered, and he covered his head out of reflex. Nothing sharp hit him.
A familiar growl, an amalgamation of angry person frustration and a dry reptilian hiss, cut through the muffled silence. Someone, smart money said Olivia, crashed through a wall nearby, towards Chris’s feet. He couldn’t see anything other than the negligible glow of light from under a doorway, but the sounds of property devaluation were unmistakable.
Olivia snarled. Whenever she’s hissing or snarling, she’s gone all huntress mode and refuses to listen to anyone. Who is she going after? A couple of heavy footsteps made the line of light under the door flicker, then wood shattered and Olivia removed the door, letting light fully into the room. She stomped out, then snarled at something again. Not after someone in here. Good enough for now, and she can take care of herself.
His arm hit something warm and mildly squishy as he rolled to the side, trying to get up.
“Ung. Watch it,” said Miya.
“Sorry,” he grunted. He retracted his arm and got to his feet without further incident. He took a quick headcount. Miya held a hand to her face, Amanda helped Rob up, and Ben raised a hand to shield his eyes from the light pouring into the room from his position on the floor.
Chris leaned against the nearby wall, on the far side of the room from the now empty doorframe. He rubbed his temples with one hand, squeezing his eyes shut. Fuck me. I thought… I thought Alice was alive. That bizarre guy knew. He knew everything. Fuck, I thought I’d accepted this. I want to be angry at Miya for smacking and yelling at me, but she was right. Was she right? God damn it, I don’t know.
“Chris,” snapped a voice right in front of him. Amanda’s. Olivia roared in the background, and something glass shattered.
He opened his eyes to look at her. Rob stood behind and to her side with folded arms. Miya sneezed to Chris’s right. Ben, now up, poked his head out through the doorway to look left and right for any kind of threat. He still shot a glance back to Chris, a small smile flickering on his face.
“Olivia’s pissed off. She just took off through a window, flying after John. You got any ideas?” asked Amanda. It took everything in his power not to sigh and close his eyes again.
John? Who? Why? Why does everyone think I know what I’m doing? I have no clue. I’m just acting the part, more or less. I just say stuff because no one else ever has any idea what to do. It’s not like I’m smarter or anything. They’re waiting for me to do something.
Quit your bitching. Get moving.
“Fine, let’s go. Ben, get after Olivia, we’ll follow on the ground. Let’s get some answers.”
“Gotcha,” Ben responded with a nod, teleporting off towards the other ruined door. The rest of the group began to head towards the door with the powerless green EXIT sign over it.
“What happened?” asked Chris as they ran. My memory is a bit spotty. Outside confirmation that I’m not crazy would be great. He took the stairs down two at a time, soon leaving the others behind. There are benefits to being tall.
“Freaky guy you saw. John Doe. Trapped us in our own realities. Made us think it was real,” called Miya behind him, over the clatter of three other sets of feet, echoing all throughout the stairwell.
Chris didn’t respond until they got down another five flights of stairs, instead taking a moment to process. Fits with what I’m starting to remember. Ben kept dragging me away, and I kept accepting the illusion. Fuck me, I’m an absolute dumb ass.
“Olivia’s going after John. Don’t wanna know what’ll happen if she runs into other people,” said Amanda. I need to know what we have available to work with. A techie without their gear, and we have two, isn’t near as helpful as a techie with their gear.
“Does anyone have anything on them?” Chris asked. He swatted his pockets after another swing around another 180 turn in the stairs. No wallet, keys, or phone. That’s not good. No weapons either.
Three variations of “Nope, nothing,” came from behind him. Wonderful. They finally reached the ground floor, found an exit leading out of the building, and burst out onto the streets.
“Where the fuck are we?” asked Miya.
“Not a clue. Not important,” said Amanda. Houses across from the apartment building signified a residential area, but Chris couldn’t see any major street signs to know where they were. Night kept the mountains hidden, so he couldn’t just find them and gauge his geographic position. No streetlights either. Was there another city wide blackout? I thought they’d finally solved that problem.
Another roar from Olivia up above caught Chris’s attention. He caught sight of John Doe running on a roof before Olivia dive bombed and crashed the both of them through it, leaving a ragged hole in their wake. How the hell is he still alive?
“Like a mini Godzilla,” murmured Rob with a wide grin.
There were some terrified screams of civilians inside. John teleported onto the street opposite of Chris’s group. Shadows attempted and failed to cling to him, but blood dripped to the ground where he stood, and beneath the shadows he pressed a hand to his ribs to staunch a long and nasty looking wound. What? That’s the only fucking injury he has? Is he just using teleportation to avoid the worst of it? How would that even work?
A window on the second floor of the house shattered. John immediately broke into a run, not bothering to look up at whatever (it was Olivia, let’s be real here) had shattered the window. Olivia jumped out of the building and glided in pursuit of John, who’d managed another short teleportation. There are all sorts of things you can do with that power, but animal survival instincts override that kind of critical thinking, and I don’t think he has much experience in a fair fight.
“Olivia!” shouted Miya. No reaction. “OLIVIA!” Miya repeated. Olivia continued, making no indication that she’d heard.
“Oh no,” murmured Amanda.
Chris caught sight of Ben teleporting onto the ruined roof. Ben paused at the edge of the hole, then jumped off the roof and teleported down before gravity could make him regret that decision.
“Wait,” he shouted before the rest of them could follow after Olivia and John. “She ain’t all there.”
“What?” asked everyone else. Now what?
Ben teleported and caught up. “She ain’t respondin’ at all. She’s gone full rage mode like that one time with F.F. where she got all pissed. There’s a man in that house,” he pointed to the damaged house, “with his entrails clawed out. She’s knocked down one house completely, damaged another, then this one.” He grinned. “Kinda cool, really.” Rob snickered. The hell is wrong with you two? He resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
“Wait, what?” asked Miya. “She killed some guy?” Oh yeah, that’s right, you haven’t seen her like this have you?
“Yep,” responded Ben.
More destructive sounds caught their attention. The apartment they’d just left was just one in a complex of about five, so far as Chris could tell. All six stories tall, whitewashed, windows crammed together on each wall. Graffiti covered the bottom two floors, and even somehow extended up to the fifth floor. One caught his eye, the one with the large ragged hole in it. I really hope no one’s living in there. Something within made the building shake.
“Is he leading her on?” asked Chris.
Ben shrugged. “Could be. He could jus’ be runnin’. Could be both. She’s caught his smell though, got some of his blood on her. She’s trackin’ him that way, though there’s no trail. His teleportin’s gettin’ stronger, FYI.”
“Come on. Less standing and talking. We have to do something,” declared Miya.
“Do what?” asked Chris. “Trust me, she won’t hesitate to attack any of us right now.” Hey, remember that time she threw Amanda aside like a rag doll and smacked Ben to the ground with her tail in the course of five seconds? Because I do.
Miya whirled around. She unclenched her jaw long enough to say, “Anything. Better than just standing here.”
“She’s right,” said Amanda.
They’re right. Fuck, this sucks. “Fine. Ben, what did you do in the brief time we were separated?”
“Tried to keep up with her.”
“OK, anything’s on the table right now.” said Chris. “Ben, do what you were doing, try to stay ahead and keep people out of her path, and keep an eye out in case the police show up.” Ben flipped off a salute and teleported off once again.
The sounds of a segment of the apartment building crumbling spurred the two of them into action. An entire side of the building near the top began to shift. Then something broke, and the chain reaction took out a good third of the building, displaying its innards to the world. She took out an important support beam, I’m guessing.
“Go, go,” he urged them.
They began to sprint towards the building. Chris caught a flash of John teleporting into the overgrown common space before teleporting out again to parts unknown. One thud from up above, then another. Chris’s group reached the base of the building.
“I kinda don’t wanna get killed by fallin’ debris,” said Rob.
Olivia appeared on the exposed inside of the building, on the third story. She launched herself in the air again, in the direction John had gone.
“Wish granted,” said Amanda.
Olivia reached the same apartment they’d just exited. Back the way we came.
Before they could start running again, Rob said, “Wait, I got a theory.”
They looked around at him. He held up his hand. “Wait for it.”
The apartment building trembled. “There we go,” said Rob. “Any second now.”
A window shattered outward and John plummeted to the ground about ten feet from them. He let out a nice juicy crunch as he landed on the sidewalk. “Ah, better than expected,” said Rob, looking awfully pleased with himself. “Pattern recognition!” Fair enough.
John began to move almost instantly. No fucking way. Miya, closest to John and quickest on the uptake, dove in a tackle. John rolled out of the way, and Miya only grasped his arm for a moment before he wrenched it free.
John bolted to his feet as Chris phased into liquid form and shot a column of himself at him. John teleported a few feet, then another inch or so. He flickered, then collapsed face first. Chris snapped back to human.
“What did you do to him?” Chris asked Miya as she got up and dusted herself off.
“Don’t know, let me check,” said Miya. She jogged over, knelt down, and grabbed John’s limp arm. “Oh, cool. I was working on that.”
“That means?” asked Amanda.
“Long story short, I made a couple little spikes grow into his brain from his skull. Itty bitty ones, only had a second of contact.”
“Is he dead?” asked Chris.
“No, just a vegetable,” said Miya. She let go of the arm, which flopped down over John’s chest.. Miya stood straight, then brought all of her weight down in a stomp to John’s head. His head cracked against the pavement as her boot made contact. “Yes, he’s dead.” That’s over with.
Something passed overhead with a hiss, and Olivia landed feet first on John. Chris saw at least six of the claws of her feet tear up John’s chest. Miya staggered backwards as Olivia’s wings shoved her before folding up against Olivia’s back.
“Hey, Olivia, HEY!” said Miya, as Olivia did an about face. Olivia bared her teeth and hissed, eyes narrowed. Where have I seen that before? Oh, right, that day she slaughtered fifty people. Miya, you’re an idiot. Chris readied himself to turn into liquid form and get her out of Olivia’s reach.
After the hiss died off, Olivia turned her attention to some point past Miya. Chris didn’t particularly feel like taking his eyes off her to figure out what it was.
“HEY!” shouted Ben from a rooftop nearby over the wind. “WE GOT COPS COMIN’!”
Chris listened for a moment. Sirens, approaching sirens, drew closer.
“Is it just me or is it getting windy?” asked Rob over the sound of the trees rustling.
Chris froze in horror. This is very bad. “That’s not good,” said Amanda.
“Why?” asked Miya.
“Cyrus,” Chris stated.
Now that Rob had pointed it out, Chris noticed nearby trees bending in the wind, and the occasional plastic bag whipping its way down the street like a particularly ugly tumbleweed. Wind whistled through the shattered windows of a nearby storefront.
Great, we have two techies without their gear and a magician without her golem. If Cyrus is here, there’s not much we can do to stop him. Olivia could get lucky though. Maybe. I’ve watched him suck all of the air out of a pyro’s lungs and let him suffocate in a mini vacuum, no clue if she can withstand that or not. And that’s not to mention the fact we’re going to be drowned in MHU officers soon enough.
Olivia growled, then a wall of air blasted Chris and the rest aside. Olivia merely stumbled back a bit. Chris turned into liquid form and anchored down the other four before they could hit something unyielding, like a concrete wall of an apartment building.
Cyrus kept up the gale force wind as he approached Olivia, completely unaffected. He frowned under the black beard with pistol pointing to the ground. The wind drowned out all other noise, but Chris was willing to bet that Cyrus was trying to talk her down. Olivia responded by shooting forward and swinging a clawed hand at Cyrus’s throat. Naturally.
Three Metahuman Unit trucks, which may as well have been tanks for all the armor they boasted, burst onto the scene. They came to a stop between Chris’s group and Olivia and unloaded about eight heavily armed and armored MHU officers each. Beyond them, Chris saw Olivia get thrown into a previously untouched apartment building. Cyrus followed on a cushion of air, unwilling to let her escape.
Chris hoped that the twenty four armed men and women were there exclusively for Olivia, right until sixteen turned their attention to Chris in his liquid form. His light blue liquid form was about twice the volume of his human form, so he stuck out from the usual browns and greys of the urban blight surroundings.
He released his grip on the others. Amanda, get the others moving. It’ll take them all of five seconds to remember I’m basically gasoline.
The officers leveled their rifles at them and shouted. The wind drowned out most of it, but what Chris could gather it was something along the lines of, “Surrender or get shot a lot.” I really hope I can catch all these bullets, guys.
Behind him, Chris could hear Amanda shouting for Miya and Rob to get up and get moving. They started running, and the officers opened fire. Chris spread himself out to provide as much cover as he could. Bullets hot. Bad, bad, bad. He expelled them as soon as he could. Four or five made it through him, but went nowhere near his fleeing teammates.
Once they rounded a corner beyond yet another apartment building, Chris flowed after them. Four of the officers had gone to each flank, and the remaining eight pursued directly. A couple had pulled out small thermite grenades.
Chris caught up to the others, who had forced open the main door to the apartment building and made it a short ways up. He got rid of all the gravel and other detritus he’d picked up and returned to human form. Don’t want to stay liquid too long, no matter how bullet proof I am when liquid.
“Keep going,” he urged them, following behind them on foot. The clomps of the MHU officers came in right behind him.
The choose the fourth floor to exit the stairwell at Rob’s insistence. Don’t know why, don’t care. One is as good as any other. “Fuck. I hate not bein’ armed,” said Rob in between panting. They kept up the run through the central hallway.
“I might be able to clear a path, but they’ve got thermite on them.”
“Ambush?” suggested Miya.
“They’ll see that coming a mile away,” responded Chris.
“Idea!” cried out Rob. “This room.”
They came to a locked room. Chris shifted to force it open. The officers behind them reached the floor and flooded out of the stairwell. The others ducked in the room. One officer pulled out a grenade before another caught his arm to stop him. Thermite deterrent, not offensive. They still shot at his non-liquid companions.
Chris followed after and returned to human. Oh, this is convenient.
“I chose well!” said Rob over the howling wind.
An Olivia hole punched through their current apartment and the adjoining on. And the two below theirs. And one above. And the exterior wall of the building itself, letting in all that wind they’d been sheltered from. The resulting rubble, while in no way stable, formed a sort of ramp to the lower floor. Miya and Amanda already clambered down to the floor below.
Rob scrambled down, with Chris right behind him. He caught himself falling once or twice on unstable rubble.
Rob stopped at the base. “Wait, cover me.”
Rob ducked down to the pile. Fuck, what are you doing? Chris turned liquid once again. Gunfire came from above, the officers preferring to shoot anything on the other side of the door rather than walking into any possible ambush by five known supers. Rob dragged out a bit of concrete, then yelled, “Outta here.”
With Chris blocking the way, Rob ran out the apartment. What was the point of that? Chris backed up, and some officers appeared at the lip of the hole. Then the rubble shifted, collapsed, and began pouring out of the hole in the building, the officers nearly included.
Chris flowed after Rob. “Physics based engineers, motherfuckers,” Rob managed while maintaining a decent sprint.
They caught up to Amanda and Miya at the ground floor. Four officers had them pinned to the walls. Chris didn’t allow the officers the opportunity to take in him or Rob. Chris, still a large mass of liquid, slammed into them, engulfing two and knocking down the others. He removed anything canister shaped on the two of them. Thermite bad.
Amanda and Miya both turned on their nearest officers, with Rob throwing himself in the fray as well. Chris, for his part, rhythmically slammed his two officers into the ground about four times each. He kept their heads from hitting the ground, though. Don’t want to ruin their lives and give them brain damage. Just want them to stop shooting us.
He tossed the two aside onto a patch of dead grass nearby and took the other two, mostly subdued by Rob, Amanda, and Miya while Chris wasn’t paying attention. He made sure they were in no shape to fight, and disarmed, then dumped them with the other two officers. He snapped back to human.
“Thanks for that,” said Amanda. Rob just laughed.
“Where’s Olivia and Ben?” asked Miya.
“We got maybe a minute before the other twelve officers catch up,” said Amanda.
Chris poked his head around the corner. A scrap of corrugated tin screeched by on the road. Small particles of dirt immediately whipped into his eyes. Ow, fuck. Several rapid blinks later, he said, “It’s pretty bad.”
Several husks of nearby houses provided a nice backdrop to Olivia and Cyrus’s property destruction war. Crumpled cars, toppled trees, a downed power line, and the apartment buildings they’d spent the last twenty minutes or so abusing all looked rather worse for wear.
Chris watched as Cyrus slammed Olivia into a nearby wall about forty yards away. This wasn’t the first time, based on all the holes in the nearby buildings. Olivia regained her feet and shook her head, as if to shake off the blow. Then the wind completely changed direction and the weakened wall behind her collapsed on her.
Shit, shit, shit. The only thing that stopped him from getting up and going to her were the eight MHU officers on the perimeter, keeping an eye on the proceedings and taking the occasional shot at Olivia. Some of the rubble shifted, and Olivia began climbing out again.
She swayed on her feet, but still attempted a charge at Cyrus. Damn it, Olivia. Where is the flight in fight or flight for you?
All the wind in the area stopped for a brief moment. What is Cyrus doing?
“No, Olivia. No, no, no,” whispered Miya. “Get out of here. That can’t be good.”
Cyrus answered Chris’s question by forming a powerful localized tornado out of nowhere, with himself in the center. The local architecture responded typically: by disintegrating. Olivia lost her footing completely, and the tornado flung her away, debris pelting her deliberately.
“I don’t think we can get to him through that,” Chris shouted into Amanda’s ear over the screaming winds.
“Ben?” she asked.
“See all that flying debris? He’d get torn up. And where is he?”
“Don’t know. Roof last time I saw.” Helpful. And I can barely hear her.
Olivia regained her feet yet again, roaring in defiance at the tornado. Several random bits of building from the fight bashed her about for her troubles. The wind died down around the officers, who began sustained fire. Olivia collapsed after five agonizing seconds.
“We can’t say here,” Chris shouted.
“What about Olivia?” she screamed back.
Fuck me. “We can’t do anything. We’re unarmed. Cyrus alone could take us all on if we were. We’re just going to die.”
Amanda grimaced. “But…” she began, leaving her intended sentence unfinished. “Fuck. No.” She shook her head, as if willing it to not be true.
“What about Ben?” shouted Rob.
“They weren’t looking for him, he can take care of himself,” Chris shouted back. “We need to leave.”
Amanda grabbed Rob. Were her eyes watery because of all the dust and dirt in the air? She mouthed something to him, Chris couldn’t hear exactly what, but it got him moving.
“No, I’m not just leaving her behind,” screamed Miya. I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.
“Come on,” Chris roared. “You can’t fight a tornado. Suicide doesn’t do anyone any good.”
As if to prove his point, the MHU officers finally caught up to them, and promptly began shooting. I’m not dying for nothing. He wrapped an arm around her and heaved her in the direction Rob and Amanda took. I’ve got one foot and eighty pounds of muscle on you. Don’t make this difficult. She took the hint.
They reached some relatively unscathed houses. The officers didn’t bother to pursue.
They limped back to the lair several hours later. The group collapsed on the nearest chairs save Miya, who paced the length of the auto shop. Chris slouched in his chair, staring at the edge of the tabletop. We fucked up. I fucked up. Amanda rolled her office chair over to a computer and woke it up, then typed. Other than that and the pacing, no one did a thing. Rob clenched his hands into fists. He’ll probably kill me if Ben doesn’t show up. And I’d probably deserve it.
After five to ten minutes, Chris didn’t bother keeping track, Amanda said, “She’s still alive. They’re gonna put her in the vault ‘til they can get her to that Houston research place.”
“So?” asked Miya, her voice hoarse. She kept up the pacing. “How does that help?”
“It means that we’re not going to be able to get to her until they get her out of there.”
“The vault’s the vault,” said Rob. “Ain’t gettin’ in.”
“It’s directly under MHU headquarters. Never got access to it when I worked there. Did you, Amanda?” said Chris. I never even had access to the lower two levels, so I have no idea where the vault entrances are.
“No. All systems are self-contained. The only thing that goes in or out of it are people through one of two entrances, within the MHU itself. They even use tanks of air to limit contact with the outside world,” said Amanda.
“It’s way the fuck underground, no one I’ve talked to knows how far, but rest assured that even earthworms don’t escape their sensor’s notice,” said Rob.
“They can flood the whole thing with napalm, collapse it with explosives, vent toxic gas in, or simply get a bunch of guys with large guns to kill everything as contingencies,” added Chris.
“If what I’m reading is correct, they’ve got Cyrus on watch there, Purifier is in the HQ, the whole place is on lockdown, and they’ve got the Air Force doing drone surveillance on the outside, ready to throw missiles anything suspicious,” said Amanda.
“They use the vault for only the most dangerous or powerful supers,” said Rob. “They’ve got redundant systems routed through the vault itself as well as HQ. Everything you can think of, they’ve got covered. Every major MHU’s got one. ” How do you know so much about it? Question for later, no need for distractions. We’ve got to get Olivia back first.
It was that moment when Ben kicked the door open. “THE FUCK?” he shouted. He did not smile.