Dead 22-II

To The Brain.

The dust that had been launched into the air by the impact began to drift downwards again. I raised a hand to shield my goggles, but a second later the downwards motion stopped, and the dust started being sucked back upwards. A perfect, empty sphere had appeared in the cloud, and as the dust entered it, it just disappeared.

“Hey, Void,” Ricochet called out, “how much d'ya charge for cleaning?” It got a chuckle from mostly everyone; it certainly wasn’t the first time the joke had been made.

“More than you can afford,” Void replied amusedly, the rote response.

Without the dust blocking the view, we could see that the buildings weren’t handling it well. The first one’s top half had almost entirely collapsed inwards, and the second was teetering pretty precariously. The third building, where he’d ended up, seemed mostly intact, with the hole in the wall being the only exception.

Freefall dropped out of the sky and landed next to us just as we reached the rooftop where Ribbon had landed, both of them falling quickly into step. “Good work, you two,” Void said, grin visible through the scar in her mask. I raised my fist towards Freefall, and after a second, she reciprocated the bump. Her hand was shaking a little, I noticed. Combined with her unwillingness to talk about how her power was doing, it wasn’t hard to guess.

“Save what’s left,” I said quietly to her. She didn’t acknowledge the comment, quickening her pace to pull ahead, and I sighed. Well, I tried.

“...priority is the datapad,” Void was saying.

“So if we get it, we retreat?” Tide asked. “Get it to Freefall, have her teleport out?”

“What? No, of course not. We need to destroy it.”

“Which we didn’t do from the beginning because…?” Foresight had been blessedly quiet up until now, and I missed it already.

We bridged onto the first damaged building, on the half of it that was still intact. “Because I wasn’t there for that discussion, for one. Stonewall, Vortex, how are you doing?”

“Fine,” they both said. “Still plenty left in the tank,” Vortex elaborated.

“Is it a tank?” Stonewall asked. “I just get really tired.”

Void waved it off. “Moot point. And second, Foresight, because we didn’t know whether the potential consequences of destroying it then would be worse than letting it exist or letting someone else have it. Which is obviously no longer true. Ricochet, can you snipe it?”

“I could, if I had my gun, but I don’t.

“That’s what I thought.”

“Though,” she continued, “if ya keep him as a person, I might. Might.

“Better than nothing. Okay, shields and Ribbon, your job is try and contain him. I’ll be busy trying to slow him down, so Skew, you call the shots.”

“Yes sir, ma’am.” Last building now. I wasn’t comfortable with how unstable the rooftop felt.

“Ricochet, datapad. Tide, try and shake him up if you get the opportunity, or move people if he goes for them. Flatline, does your power work on him?”

“No effin’ clue.”

“Then you’re on datapad as well. Shut it down if the opportunity comes up, but be careful and-” Her head snapped around to the hole in the building, now directly in front of us. “Block the hole,” she snapped. “Now!”

A plane of sheer black appeared, filling the gap in the wall. And then an instant later, the meat-cloud came bursting out through the wall next to it.

“Go!” Void yelled, her arms coming up. His movement immediately slowed, but ‘slow’ for him was still a fast run for the rest of us. Inside the swirling mass, for just a second, I could swear I saw the dark grey, oblong shape of the datapad. How he was actually holding it, I didn’t have a clue.

“Skew!” Ricochet snapped at me.

I shook my head a little, focusing. “Right, right.” Head in the game. “Shields!” I barked. “Trap him.”

The rooftop was a bad environment for us, mainly because he could fly and we couldn’t. We needed to pare back that advantage as much as possible; Void slowing him, and the shields (hopefully) making flying as irritating as possible.

Just before he reached us, a sphere of black snapped into being around him. “Good!” I yelled, giving Stonewall a thumbs up as he concentrated. “Is he breaking through?” He nodded. “Vortex, layer a bubble around his! Stonewall, once yours breaks, reform it around Vortex’s!”

“Like a pass-the-parcel,” Vortex said dryly, “but in reverse.” A translucent blue bubble appeared around the black. “And also the prize in the middle is a horrible, gruesome death.”

“Pretty much,” I acknowledged. A second later, the black was torn apart like paper, and Stonewall staggered backwards as the maelstrom emerged. I’d like to think to think there was a brief second of hesitation as it found another shield waiting for it, but it’s hard to read human emotions off of what was essentially a living abattoir. “You okay,” I asked Stonewall, and he took a deep breath, and stood back up with a nod.

“You realize,” Tide said as another black bubble appeared around the shield, “that this isn’t sustainable. Leaving aside power issues, the bubble’s just going to keep getting larger.”

“I know. Just two more, leave some in the tank. But I think it’s a pretty good trade-off to make him expend more energy before he even gets to us.” Vortex hissed, which I guess meant his had broken. “One more, and then leave it,” I said to him. “Ricochet, as soon as he’s out-”

As if on cue, the second black sphere disintegrated. Another translucent one hastily appeared around the meat-storm, but it chewed through it like it was nothing and burst free. “Fire!” I finished.

A storm of bullets tore into the cloud, an experience that was both visually and sonically awful. Despite the damage being done, I could see a solid core in the center, presumably protecting the datapad.

“I’m out!” Ricochet called out as the bullets stopped. Metal clattered against the ground behind me, magazines being discarded.

“Freefall, go!” I yelled. I didn’t look around to see if she’d listened, though; it didn’t feel safe to take my eyes off him. Even though he was just… hovering there.

Not this shit again. But, if he was going to give us an opportunity...“Hey, you giant, flying frog-in-a-blender!” I yelled at him, while gesturing with one hand at my side. “Do you have a fucking contractual obligation to stand around being menacing all the goddamn time?!”

A low, rumbling chuckle emanated from the cloud. “Amusing, aren’t you. I simply find pleasure in allowing you to realize the futility of your actions?”

“Oh my god,” I moaned, rolling my eyes. Come on, come on. “Could you be any more of a pretentious fuckhead?! And ‘futility’ is pretty rich from the guy who ran away.”

“Oh, I wasn’t running. I simply wanted to be further away from my first experiment when I did this.”

In an instant, he was right up in my face. A meaty fist closed around my throat, and I was hoisted into the air. He bared his teeth, and his other hand came up, holding the datapad.

“Gotcha,” I choked out.

The expression on his face was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. The briefest moment of bafflement, that immediately morphed into shock as the datapad yanked itself out of his hand and went flying away.

Directly towards Flatline.

In the same flickery burst of motion that had brought him straight to me, he disappeared, letting me drop to the ground. An instant later, the datapad was gone too, just before it reached Flatline’s outstretched hand. The cloud reappeared back off the rooftop, protective core in the middle. I swore internally. So close. At the very least, his parts seemed to be moving slower now. He didn’t go that fast all the time; it must have been tiring for him.

“Clever,” his disembodied voice said. “But not clever enough.” And then he dived downwards, disappearing from view.

“After h-” I began to yell, but the words caught in my throat as the ground underneath me began to shake. I looked down at the rooftop, remembered the damaged supports below it, and put two and two together.

I had time to utter a single, solitary “fuck” before the ground below us collapsed entirely.

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