Codex, perched on a rooftop across from the former children’s clinic scowled as she surveyed the building through her binoculars, then looked down at what her palmtop was showing her. “It never occurred to me just how good a fortress a non-emergency medical facility can be.”
“How’s that?” Asked Chaos over the comm. He and Darkness were on other rooftops, keeping eyes out for any new comings or goings at the building.
“Well,” Codex started, “because they keep plenty of prescription and controlled drugs on premises, most of the windows are either made of security glass, barred, or too small for most people to go through. The doors are also tougher, with higher grade locks. Being non-emergency, they don’t have soft points like visitor and out-patient entrances either. And you can’t cut the power thanks to an on-site generator and solar batteries.”
Darkness was watching the building with her infra-red goggles. “Is that your way of saying we’re not going to be able to sneak in?”
“Not a chance.” said Codex. “Blasting in is about the only hope we have of getting in there. What’s worse, there are so many good places to set up a lab in there. We’re going to have to go room-to-room once we’re in. What’s it look like inside?”
From her perch, Darkness surveyed the three story building once more time, counting the heat signatures. “I’m counting about twenty—not sure because I’ve only got so much range on these things. No one’s alone. We’ve got groups of two or three patrolling the outer hallways, six on the front door and three at the delivery entrance.”
Bringing up her copy of the building plans from City Hall, Codex put glowing red markers at the entrances. After a moment’s thought, she had a plan. “Alright: I’m going through the delivery entrance and I’m going to need a distraction. If you blast your way in on the second floor, third window from the southeast corner, the guards on the back door should be able to hear it and I’m hoping they’ll come up the stairwell to check it out.”
“Sounds like a plan.” said Chaos, already rising to rendezvous with Darkness.
“Just be careful.” Codex warned. “If I was manufacturing something like this ‘Gold’, I would make sure my guards had some on hand, especially in a city full of superheroes.”
Darkness found herself frowning. “Kind of makes me wonder why they would set up shop in Mayfield? There aren’t any prelates in, say, Richmond. Why here?”
“Maybe they want to test their stuff out against us.” Chaos guessed. “Or maybe they hoped the high descendant population of Mayfield might mask all the people who got powers from the Gold.” He came down to hover next to his fiancee, cape rippling in a summoned wind.
“All the more reason to be careful: because we don’t know. Hopefully, interrogations and snooping in their system will give us some answers.” said Codex. “Are you two ready?”
Chaos looked to Darkness, who swathed herself in black heat and nodded. He then triggered the reservoir in his gauntlet, calling a Chaos Nova into being. “Just give us the mark.”
“I don’t like this shit.” Sweat was pouring down Brandon ‘Brand’ Fawkes’s face and neck as he rubbed the site of his recent injection of Gold. When the case full of Gold injectors had been passed around along with actual old-school syringes of something their boss called a ‘catalyzer’, he’s chickened out and just taken the generic, baseline Gold that increased toughness and healing.
Dorothy ‘Big Dot’ Jones gave him a sidelong look. “You look like shit.”
The two had worked together before. Mayfield being what it was, the pool of hire-able goons not loyal to either the Underworld and its secret master, or to one of the street gangs were few and far between. When someone from the outside wanted muscle, the freelancers found themselves working with the same people over and over.
Normally, Brand was a loud, straight-backed asshole that exuded machismo and liked to flaunt how in shape he kept his body. Now, he was hunched, sallow and a tower of sweat. Even though Dot, whose heritage was of the variety where the women were expected to carry a sheep under each arm to market, was always a bit taller than him, this was the first time she dwarfed him.
Lorenzo Cavo, the third of their group patrolling the second floor, barked a laugh and held up a hand. At the other end of the hall, a trash can was rimed in a blue-white aura and rose slowly into the air. “He’s just getting nervous that the cop powered armors might be on their way and all he’s got is healing.”
He was a stocky Guatemalan with a five o’clock shadow that only seemed to form above his upper lip. Of the three of them, he was the most seasoned, having been an actual mercenary for many years before learning about the steady pay Vorran was paying to protect his concerns in New York. Cavo had only just arrived in Mayfield, on ‘special assignment’ to organize the local heavies into something on par with private security. It also wasn’t his first time taking Gold.
Dot shrugged. It wasn’t her problem; she just didn’t want Brand getting in the way when things got real.
No sooner did she think it than it happened. Ten feet behind them, The window exploded in a swirling mass of flame, flying glass and creeping darkness that drifted like a dust cloud out of the center of the explosion. Being a life-long resident of Mayfield, Dot knew instantly what it was and what it meant.
“Shit.” She said as all three of them turned and spread out, “Prelates.”
“Even better.” Lorenzo grinned and raised both hands. The still-flying debris was encased in the same blue-white energy and was thrust back out through the destroyed window in a jagged storm.
Said storm, however, was diverted by a minor hurricane that came roaring in. The pieces of telekineticly thrown debris were scattered before the gale, allowing Chaos and Darkness to fly into the hall.
“So you do have powers.” said Chaos. “Don’t think that makes a difference: you’re going to jail tonight no matter what.”
Darkness hovered beside him. “Actually, if you took the Gold, you’re going to have to go to a secure ward of a hospital before the night is over. I’m not sure what your boss told you, but when the Gold wears off, it’s going to make you very, very sick.”
Both Lorenzo and Dot couldn’t help but steal a glance at the sweating and increasingly ill-looking Brand. A tremor had started in his hands.
Lorenzo was the first to get his bravery back. “If I take you down, I’ll probably get a bonus and that’ll make up for a few shakes.”
“Shakes?” Darkness started to ask, but the ceiling panels, swathed in the aura of Lorenzo’s telekinesis, started slamming down onto the pair.
The attack was enough to snap Dot out of her thoughts about what exactly the Gold might do to them. She clenched her fists and felt the effects of the Gold kick in. She’d picked Gold-Mach because she’d secretly admired the plucky heroic of Callie Kreiger during Inexorable’s attack.
Around her, the world blurred and slowed down. A smirk came to her face as she launched herself forward. Chaos was closest, so she hit him first. And second. And fiftieth. The hero’s costume absorbed most of the blows, but he couldn’t evade or counter a high speed assault. When she had him good and off-balance, she reached up, grabbed his arm, and whipped him around at full speed into an unbroken window.
The security glass cracked in a flurry of spiderweb patterns around his back and the air-wielding hero collapsed, ironically winded.
Meanwhile, Darkness was retaliating against Lorenzo’s swarm of ceiling tiles but burning them all away. Dot cracked her knuckles and prepared to give an encore performance. A sound behind her gave her pause.
She turned to see Brand on his knees. He was talking to no one in particular; just begging for help as he stared at his hands. Hands that were vibrating faster than a person could manage on their own. As Dot watched, he started to lose his balance and caught himself but throwing out a hand against the floor. The floor started to vibrate as well.
“What the hell?” Dot Looked back to find Lorenzo drawing his gun, having realized that TK’ed tiles weren’t going to take Darkness down. “Hold on!” She bellowed. “Cavo, look at Brand!”
Lorenzo paused, weapon halfway out of his holster, and to Dot’s surprise, Darkness stopped charging a bolt of black heat as well. They both stared dumbfounded at Brand. “Dios…” Lorenzo muttered, shoving the gun back into the shoulder holster and looking to Darkness. “What kind of sick is this? Is that what’s going to happen to us?”
“No, the gold makes you starve yourself almost to death.” said Darkness. “This is new. Let me… let me see if Codex knows.” With the fight on hold, she dispelled her surrounding black heat and touched her finger to the tiny bone induction comm attached to the side of her head.
One floor below, Codex was regretting that the plan had only partially worked. Only one of the men watching the rear entrance had taken the bait, leaving two for her to deal with after hacking the computer lock. She blocked a clawed swipe by a burly man who was now covered in thick, shaggy hair and whose face had taken on ursine features.
She slammed the tonfa not keeping the claws at bay into his armpit, then ducked aside from the bright red beams coursing out of the second man’s eyes. Turning the dodge into a spin, she dropped low and withdrew her blocking weapon, bringing it in hard against the big man’s knee. He howled and went down.
“Codex, one of the guards is having some kind of high-speed seizure.” Darkness’s voice came in over the comm.
More red energy blazed through the air, forcing Codex to take cover behind the receiving desk. “Seizure? I don’t remember that from the symptoms. Could it be the powers from the Gold?”
“Hold on, I’ll ask.”
The energy burst tore a hole in the desk, inches from where Codex was crouching. She steel herself against flinching and took note of the angle of the beam. The bursts were essentially lasers (and had to be burning through the guy’s metabolism like fire through flash-paper), meaning they traveled in a straight line. Assuming he was looking straight ahead, she was easily able to calculate where he would be in the room from that angle.
Darkness was back on the comm. “The basic kind; just the healing and toughness. I think it’s getting worse—the whole hallway is shaking.”
Now that she mentioned it, Codex could feel a slight tremor in the floor herself. A worrisome idea crossed her mind, but she would have to take care of her own situation to voice it.
After a deep breath, she sprang into motion. As she rose, she pushed the tonfa’s spring loaded handle back into position so that the weapon was now a uniform cylinder. With the math still in her head, she didn’t have to look to aim her throw, slinging the collapsed tonfa like a javelin at the man’s temple.
It wasn’t a hard enough throw to knock him out, but it did hurt so bad that he squeezed his eyes shut. Before he could open them again, she was on him, cracking him in the opposite temple with her remaining tonfa before catching arm in a wrestling hold and pulling it across his face to cover his eyes. Her grappling hook cable was swiftly deployed to bind him like that.
“Don’t open your eyes,” She told the man, who was still reeling from the two ringing blows to the head, “I’m fairly sure you’re not getting hazard pay if you lose an arm.” Cruel, but they were protecting whoever was exploiting Cyn’s DNA.
“Huh?” asked Darkness.
“Sorry, wasn’t talking to you. Okay, those tremors aren’t from his powers and they aren’t part of the usual crash people have from the Gold.”
The bear-man groaned from the floor, trying to rise on his injured knee. “Crash? What crash?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you to a hospital before that happens.” Codex said, distracted. “Darkness, I have a bad feeling about this: the drugs in that stuff… it’s meant to trigger the powers the Gold is tailored to give them. But what if the person taking it already has one of the descendant genomes in an inactive state?”
Silence for a few seconds. Codex definitely felt the ground shaking now.
Distantly, she heard glass breaking above her.
“I think I get what you’re thinking.” Darkness returned, “He just blew out half the wall here. He’s going through a manifestation… but a worse one that I’ve ever seen.”
Codex cursed. “It’s the Gold. The chemicals are making it so he can’t throttle it down subconsciously. That’s why you hardly ever hear of violent manifestations: the human brain cuts the power before you hurt yourself too much.”
Darkness watched as Brand continued to panic. He had the wherewithal not to point his hands at himself or at them, but otherwise, he was trying to point them everywhere else. The first motion-blur of vibration to come out of his hands had blown out the window Dot previously slammed Chaos into.
As she watched, a second blasted apart the ceiling above him, showering them all in concrete dust and drywall. The white powder of the chemical sprinklers started pouring out on top of it.
Chaos hauled himself to his feet, watching Brand warily. “That’s not some kind of energy burst. It’s a vibration—like a sound wave, only suped up.”
“Can you set up a bubble around him and then another of vacuum?” Darkness asked.
He shook his head. “I can’t do hard vacuum like that and that’s what it would take to stop those vibrations. But…” He looked down at his gauntlets. “I think I know how to slow them down long enough to thin out the air and knock him out. Will that do the job?”
Darkness nodded. “Most powers go dormant when the user is unconscious. Even if this one doesn’t at least he won’t be freaking out and pointing all over the place.”
With that assurance, Chaos unlocked the filling ports for his gauntlets’ reservoirs letting the water drain out and using his power to keep it in one viscus glob which he gathered up in his hands. “In case this doesn’t work: get everyone out of the building.”
“On it.” Codex reported. “Patching into the old PA system shouldn’t take more than a minute.
Chaos and Darkness shared a look that didn’t get past the two guards despite the heroes’ goggles and visor. Then Darkness looked to the pair. “You two first. I’ll fly you out one at a time.”
Dot considered for a moment. The others, aside from maybe Lorenzo, were more or less her coworkers. Some of them were assholes and some of them weren’t people she would ever be friends with, but she didn’t wish them actual harm. Playing guard for a drug operation, putting some physical pressure on some folks, and even getting into a fight with the cops were one thing, but she wasn’t a hitter.
“I’m a lot faster than you are.” she finally said. “I can grab anyone that can’t get out.” She didn’t give Darkness time to reply, she just took off down the hall past Brand.
Lorenzo had been listening to the whole thing with a neutral expression. “You think this place is gonna come down because of him.” He realized.
Darkness had been looking in the direction Dot disappeared, but now turned her attention to him. “Right. Let’s go.”
“If the place comes down on the guy I’m supposed to keep an eye on, I don’t get paid.” he pointed out.
“Hell of a time for you guys to all turn noble.” Chaos had dropped to one knee in front of Brand and was wrapping the globules of water around his vibrating hands. To Brand, he said, “The water ought to slow down the vibrations and keep them from coming out destructive.”
Brand was hyperventilating and could only nod and pray.
“To hell with noble, this is self preservation.” said Lorenzo. “I’m going after that lab rat and pulling his ass out of here.” He glared at Darkness. “You gonna stop me.”
She shook her head. “A life saved is a life saved. I don’t care about your reasons.”
Lorenzo let out a rough chuckle and sprinted off toward the stairwell.
“Attention.” Codex’s voice came on over the PA, “This is Codex of the Descendants. This is not a trick or an attempt to capture you. This building is in danger of collapse and it is of the greatest importance that you get out now. I repeat, get out now.”
“Shit.” said Chaos.
Darkness rushed to his side. “What is it?”
“Too much energy.” He didn’t have to explain it to her further: the water around Brand’s hand was starting to boil and the man was shaking violently trying to get the suddenly searing globes of water off his hands. “Get out of here.”
“Even if I held it like this and boiled his hands off, at this rate,t he water will boil off first and he’s going to let loose. You need to get clear.” said Chaos. He was concentrating on keeping the air around Brand’s nose and mouth thin, but was having a hard time of it with the man’s deadly hands so close. “I’ll be fine. I’ll try and aim his hands up or something.”
Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.
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