Even the rigamarole surrounding the attack couldn’t compare to the chaos swirling about in its aftermath.
Thanks to NYPD resources still being tied up with the numerous disturbances all across the city, not to mention the mayhem following the Hip Sing Tong’s ill-fated raid against the Corbins, the National Guard had to be activated to support them alongside a Superhuman Intervention Unit.
The SHI Unit was taking point in dealing with the Aces High members. Leo, still trapped inside the remains of the kiosk Alloy sealed him in, was placed in a pacing crate and placed under guard. Meanwhile, Avatar was put swaddled in insulated cloth so as to keep him from using his powers on any of his captors and put on a transport.
“A disaster!” Mayor Raymond groused as she watched the cleanup crews and first responders dealing with the victims of the ordeal; some or merely confused, others had been trampled and required medical attention. She was in the middle of storming her way from the police lines where her limo parked toward where Adamantine was explaining Leo’s capabilities to an SHI marine. “A complete disaster!”
She reached the robotic officer and grabbed her arm. “You! You are supposed to be a keeper of the peace. I paid for a keeper of the peace and instead you’ve instantly become a… stormcrow. I have half a mind bring Atan in right now to have you disassembled and recycled.”
“You just said you had half a mind.” The Whitecoat strolled up before Adamantine could respond. He had his gauntlet back on, but the central disc was still missing. “I would make a joke about that—okay, I’m lying, I would make a lot of jokes about that and will later—but I think you’re missing the big picture here, Mayor: Your officer just did exactly what the city would want her too: protected the citizens and apprehended two powered criminals who previously evaded justice. I’d have to confer with my compatriots, but I think the NYC prelate community would be proud to work side-by-side with this fine officer of the law.”
Mayor Raymond glared icy death at the man. “Who the hell do you think you are and what makes you think your opinion or the opinion of any of you freelancers,” She spat the word, “means jack or shit?”
Whitecoat grabbed the brim of his hat and tipped it to her. “The name is Whitecoat, Mayor. And what I think probably matters to that news crew you’ve been trailing since you got about halfway across the street.”
Sure enough, then the Mayor looked, she found a reported from News Provider 8 standing there with a cameraman. Her jaw worked, forming oh so many curse words and insults to the Whitecoat’s mother. As she was formulating a way to regain control of the situation, Alloy swung down, holding Renaissance around the waist.
“It looks like Manriki got away.” Renaissance reported, speaking mostly to Whitecoat because she knew hm best between Adamantine, the mayor and the SHI marine. “He didn’t go after any of the people the Athertons told Infinity he would, so it was probably just a diversion.”
Beneath his bandana, Whitecoat smirked and made sure it came through in his voice. “Oh, so you say that Infinity was diverted from this emergency situation—involving the mayor no less—by a cheap diversion?”
By then, Adamantine had caught on to the game that was afoot and decided to join in. “That sounds like a mistaken dispatch. Someone as powerful and invulnerable as Infinity would have been much better deployed to deal with the Corbin-Tong gang war situation, rather than a simple home invasion.”
Whitecoat nodded to her. “If only the city reached out to us—what the word you used ‘freelancers’, Your Honor?”
“Yes.” Mayor Raymond ground out. At this point, the marine saw what was going on and headed back over to his transport to wait for Adamantine to become available again.
“Well, we freelancers would have been happy to deal with that Manriki guy if only we had known about him.” Whitecoat inclined his head toward Alloy who picked up the cue.
“In Mayfield, the MPD relay calls involving powered activity to us even when they dispatch our own Powered Armor Division. No sense in not making use of us when we’re here to help, right?”
Whitecoat took a giant step forward so that he was framed on camera with the Mayor. “And excellent point. Your Honor, I believe it’s high time the city started an initiative to coordinate with us—and the progress of that effort could be a News 8 exclusive.”
The Mayor gave him a look that promised she would someday introduce him to the ways of pain, but then put on her best political mask. “That certainly is something we will want to explore.” She stepped away from him, speaking to the camera. “But for now, I think the people of this great city would like to know what Adamantine can do for them.”
As she spoke, she walked briskly away, leading the crew along with her.
Turning with theatrical flare, Whitecoat bowed slightly to Adamantine. “Congratulations, you’re now the lesser of two evils.”
“Thanks.” Admantine hesitated a moment before returning the bow. “I didn’t expect you to be so eager to help me politically.”
Whitecoat folded his arms. “The cops in this town tend not to like us ‘freelancers’, but I for one am still generally in favor of the cops. Unless you’re talking about the robot thing, in which case…” he shrugged, “You don’t act like a robot—not like your asshole little brother.”
Adamantine tilted her head to the side. “Little brother…”
Alloy picked that moment to lean in. “Job well done, guys, but something doesn’t smell right.”
“I know what you mean,” Renaissance said looking around at all the people on the street.
“What?” asked Whitecoat.
“Leo and the Legion are the only Aces were picked up or even heard about during this hole thing.” said Warrick. “But we’ve fought the Aces before. We’ve heard Fallgaze go checked into a psych hospital, but where’s Thunderhead? Where’s Shine? This fight would have gone way different with him here.”
Renaissance nodded. “So if they weren’t here… where are they?”
“Yes, Doctor Nelson, I understand that it could ruin you. That’s why I’m calling.” Brother Wright sat in his study, in a chair by the window, overlooking Central Park. A tumbler of brandy was in one hand, his palmtop in the other. “Look, this isn’t blackmail, this is a trade. I need you to extract a bullet from an associate of mine, no questions asked, and in return I will give you the name of your patient who is actually undercover trying to gather evidence of you writing phony prescriptions.”
He listened to the voice on the other end of the line as it went from panic to capitulation, just as expected. “Yes, I suspected you would. He’ll be in your living room in ten minutes and the name will be texted to you the second he checks in.” Another pause. “Good. Pleasure doing business with you.”
With a few commands on his palmtop, he sent the injured Legion the address.
Once that was done, he slumped a little in his seat. A long, slow breath passed through his nostrils and he squeezed his eyes tightly closed while counting. And thinking.
Five minutes later, he made another call.
“What?” Came Shine’s voice, hushed and impatient.
“Plan A is a bust.” said Wright, “Avatar is burned… and they got Leo’s body.”
Shine cursed quietly. “Then what the hell did we even do this for? Did you—”
Wright looked over to a second, specialized palmtop sitting on the windowsill in front of him. “I dumped his memory to the back-up drive and replaced his operating system with the dummy the second he was captured. When the government analysts hunt down all the bread crumbs, it’ll lead them to a company called Worthy Robotics—a Tome front company.”
After a period of silence, Shine let out a frustrated sigh and asked, “So what am I doing here then?”
A smug smile tugged at Wright’s lips. “Why dear, didn’t you just hear me? A number of Tome’s robotics engineers are about to need a favor—namely ducking a federal investigation. We’ll be there to lend a helping hand and in return… well Plan B gets a slight modification. Finish the mission and come home.”
“Ha.” said Shine under her breath as she hung up. She looked at the screen in front of her and found that the virus she’d installed had finished its work: retrieving the information she wanted and destroying the evidence of her making any copies.
She plucked the flat format stick from its cradle on the desk and pocketed it before getting up. Unfamiliar balance almost made her sit back down again. It was the first time she’d ever used the Potentia to take on a shape of someone physically larger than she was and it left her both lighter than her new frame should support and her mass oddly distributed. For a moment, she mentally cursed Wright for picking the one overweight lab assistant on the lab’s roster for the day.
Gathering herself, she took a look around her workstation to make sure the coast was clear, then walked (carefully) out of Lab 2700.
More Than A World Away…
The landscape was ravaged. Plant life lay withered and bare with brown-black leaves swiftly turning to rot under the onslaught of an array of poisons that slowly choked the life out of them. The local fauna avoided the place even though the death of the plants should have made it safer for them. They all sensed the blight and how it was a harbringer of what was to come.
The thing that murdered the plants stood in what had once been a clearing, but was no Ground Zero of an epidemic. It was foreign to that environment, a thing of steel and rubber; plastic and ceramics. A pair of heavy tracks supported a wide, flat body upon which sat the open engine and drive train, protected only a fine mesh of iron wire. Black-domed sensors monitored the area from all sides while a parabolic dish scanned for signals from home.
Rising like a misshapen hump on the thing’s back was a cylindrical drum rigged with a ring of spray nozzles. Some of the nozzles still dripped poison five days since the day it arrived and began breathing out a cloud of death.
Its arrival point was on the back side of an island, far off the beaten path for the local villagers. They knew nothing about what was coming, of the alien creatures who were on their way to ravage their world. They didn’t know that this day was the beginning of an invasion.
It started with a flicker of green light; a pillar of brilliance that rose twenty feet into the sky that faded from verdant hues to cerulean and then azure. From the column of blue, another thing on tracks rolled out, this one carrying more sensors as well as three heavy machine guns; two on the front sides and one on the rear, and a flame thrower mounted to the top.
This device rolled out to its toxic cousin and did a quick circuit around it before parking between it and the pillar of light. Its own parabolic dish sent the all-clear to home.
Within minutes, men and women in fatigues and flak jackets, all wearing breath masks and carrying either compact flamethrowers or machine guns poured out of the pillar, which was in fact a gateway. Alongside them were three more tracked machines, these with broad, flat backs loaded with supplies and building materials.
Twenty-six armed mercenaries in all emerged from the gate and began either securing the desolation wrought by the herbicide-spewing drone or setting up the beginnings of their base.
One in particular, a man with a flamethrower in one hand and a palmtop with a sensory attachment in the other, consulted the latter and then pulled down his breath mask. “Air readings are clear.” He called to the others, only a handful of whom removed their masks.
He took a few minutes to ensure that everything was well underway before reaching up to activate his com. “Handel here, sir. Foothold secure.” Switching screens on his palmtop, he checked a timer display. “And we’re just about at the eleven minute mark.”
“Excellent.” said the voice of Simon Talbot, “Get my base up and running, Mr. Handel and you’ll be seeing a generous bonus in your accounts. The next window of opportunity is in fifteen hours. Check in as soon as the gateway stabilizes.”
“Yes sir. Looks like we’ll have the perimeter and a skeleton camp by then. Handel out.” Turning to the gateway, he checked the timer again. At exactly eleven minutes, thirty-five seconds, the pillar’s color faded back to green before flickering out of being. Nodding to himself, he turned back to the camp and started barking orders.
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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