“Are you sure about this, Ian?” Erin asked for what seemed like the millionth time.
“Positive,” Ian stressed, getting more annoyed with every round of questioning. “Mr. Simmons’ satellite detected a magnetic signature in this area exactly like the one I noticed when Dr. Thatcher was taken.”
“Mr. Simmons?” I asked, not recognizing the name.
“Colossus. His real name is Simmons.”
“You’re on a first name basis with him now?” Whitney teased.
“Haha. I think you all are jealous that I got to know a real pro hero,” Ian replied.
“Well, Nate knows Cypher, so he wins.” Whitney said with a smug grin.
“Really, you know Cypher?” Ian asked in disbelief.
I shrugged, “He broke into my house.”
Whitney rolled her eyes, but the drop ship landed with a thud, distracting her and Ian from their attempts to one up each other. We grabbed our things and followed Erin down the rear ramp.
“Didn’t you say we were meeting with a local?” Adam asked, scanning the almost deserted Argus section of the Wichita Regional airport.
“The closest ‘major’ team is in Dallas. They didn’t want to spare anyone, so they reached out to solo acts. They said they would be meeting us here,” Erin said.
“Well, I don’t see anyone,” Whitney said. “I still wish you would have let me stay behind.”
“Corey will be fine, we need you with us on this one,” Erin said, leading us through the airport. It wasn’t anything fancy as far as airports go, but not a bad little place.
“Why would our goopy friend be out here in the middle of nowhere?” I asked, thinking aloud.
“I guess we really don’t know much of anything,” Erin said as we left the terminal and stepped outside. There was a man standing in front of an Argus transport truck holding a sign saying, “Welcome Argonauts”.
Was this guy our backup? He didn’t look like any kind of hero. He was wearing flannel, jeans, boots, and a baseball cap. Defiantly not standard hero wear.
“Howdy everybody. I reckon you’re the Argonauts.”
“Uh. Yes, Sir,” Erin said, cautiously shaking the man’s hand. “I’m Norn, team leader.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Norn. I’m Boondock, but you can call me Marshall.”
“You’re our backup?”
“I suppose so. From what I’ve been told, ya’ll are tracking down a villain of some sort.”
Erin nodded, “We think it’s someone with teleportation tech and a…fluid suit of some kind. It was like fighting living goo.”
“Not to mention the lasers,” Adam said.
“So, you’re talking about an amorphous, teleporting suit that can fire lasers?” Boondock asked, a puzzled look on his face.
“And it can fly,” Erin added.
“Sounds like a fun afternoon. You have any idea where this villain might be hidin’?”
“I have a way to track it,” Ian said, stepping forward and showing a small device. It looked like one of the tablets I saw Argus agents carrying around back at HQ.
“Perfect. Climb in and we’ll be off,” Boondock said, walking around to the driver’s side of the truck. It looked like a military vehicle; heavily armored and black with the Argus logo printed on the side. It was just like the one we were in when we visited the prison. They were clearly built for utility and not comfort. That seemed to be a fitting theme for Argus in general: utility not comfort.
“Ian, ride up front since you have the tracker,” Erin ordered. She filed in the back with Adam, Whitney, and me. The back of the truck was a bit sparse on windows. They were small metal shutters that you could fit the barrel of a gun through, but not large enough to really see much through.
Almost as soon as we pulled away from the curb, Adam fell asleep. Whitney seemed more reserved than usual, but still seemed to smile whenever anyone looked at her. I ended up looking out the front window most of the time. If it wasn’t for the trees and houses, the entire place would seem flat.
And the flatness continued to become more apparent the further from the city we went. “Again, why would the slime be out here?” I asked.
I could tell Erin was getting annoyed, “That’s why we’re here; to find out why.”
“I might have a few ideas if you don’t mind me sharin’,” Boondock said from behind the wheel.
“Sure, go ahead,” Erin said.
“Well, I don’t know how familiar you all are with this part of the country as it pertains to metahumans, but this area used to be quite popular with speedster types. I used to respond to quite a few speedsters causing trouble.”
“How’d you stop speedsters?” Ian asked.
“Well, let’s just say they tend to trip a lot more frequent around me,” Boondock answered with a grin.
“You said used to?” Erin asked.
“Right. There haven’t really been as many speedsters running around lately. Honestly, I can only think of a few. Rumor has it that there’s a boogeyman of sorts offing speedsters. Don’t know if it’s true, but some of the less notably villainous fast-movers have gone quiet.”
“What could kill speedsters?” I asked.
“Usually? Other speedsters,” Boondock said.
“This is the place,” Ian said.
“What is this place?” Adam asked, looking at the abandoned industrial buildings in front of us.
“Fertilizer plant,” Whitney said, pointing at a sign partially fallen over from neglect.
“Everyone be on guard. Boondock, what’s your power class?” Erin asked, looking back at our chaperone.
“Anomalous, and Type A Kinetic.”
“What’s your anomalous?” Erin asked.
“It’s something like probability manipulation. Works better the number of variables I have to play with.”
“And the Kinesis?”
“Standard superhuman set: slightly stronger, little bit tougher,” Boondock replied.
“Prophet and I will take point, the rest of you stay close and don’t wander off. Riot, keep your safeties on until we can confirm no civilians, or we get a lock on our target’s position.”
“Roger that,” Adam replied, slipping on his mask.
Erin started faintly glowing green and I took that as my queue to summon my energy. We headed towards the warehouse-like building as a group, quickly covering the distance. Avoid the front door, we skirted around the outside until we found a side entrance.
“It’s locked,” Erin said, trying the knob.
“Let me,” Boondock said. He walked past us and jiggled the handle seemingly at random. Then there was a slight “click” and the hero managed to swing the door open. He gave a wink before gesturing for us to lead the way.
To be entirely honest, I wasn’t looking forward to fighting the goo again, much less anyone else it might be with. Still, we must have looked cool as we crept through the halls. We moved past several offices before entering the warehouse proper. The place looked old and run down. Sunlight filtered in through cracks in the roof, illuminated shafts of dust that hung suspended in the air.
Rows of shelves and stacked boxes turned the place into a maze. Why did Erin make us take the lead? If we ran into anything, it would be my shins that would take the hit.
Suddenly, Erin held me back, gesturing for us to be quiet. We all peeked over a short wall of crates and found our targets. The slime was here, looking humanoid with it’s back turned to us. Shard, Morales, and Cooke stood near it, all facing a fifth person. I didn’t recognize him, but he was rather tall and built like a brick wall.
“Shit. All of them?” Whitney hissed as Adam quietly disengaged his safeties.
“Shh,” Ian said, acting like he was listening.
“…I hope you’ll accept our offer…”
Whose voice was that? The slimes? The accent wasn’t American; probably British or something similar. That eliminated most of the group, but I still couldn’t place it. Then I saw the slime guy was holding something. A tablet?
The voice stopped and the device disappeared back into the goo’s body. It was strange, until you saw the slime shift, it almost looked like smooth tire rubber. Like it had structural integrity until it chose to liquify.
“What’s our move?” Adam whispered, drawing another motion to wait from Erin.
“Let’s see how this plays out first. We might need backup with all of them here.”
“Threat level?” Boondock asked.
“At least Class III, maybe Class II,” Ian replied.
“So, what do you say?” I focused back on the herd of villains when I heard Shard’s voice. I’d only heard it briefly during the fight in Chicago, but it was easy to recognize.
“Show me the armor,” The unknown man said in an African accent.
Shard lazily waved his hand, and a metal case floating nearby opened. I couldn’t see what was inside from where I was crouched, but the large man seemed unimpressed.
“Trust me, once you try it, you’ll love it,” the villain seemed to almost hum.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” The mystery man said. As he walked over to look at the contents of the case. The man had a large form, but he had a striking appearance besides that. Dark skin was accented by almost white blonde hair and light patches on his face that almost seemed to form an ‘X’ centered on the bridge of his nose.
“You’re in luck, then,” A voice from the slime said, turning to look where we were hiding. “Those heroes we warned you would come are hiding over there.”
“Shit,” I said, getting ready to fight.
Erin’s order was cut off by a sudden gust of wind that threw us all to the ground. Ian was the first to realize what had happened. “He’s a speedster!”
“Norn, what’s our move?” Boondock asked, moving himself into a kneeling position and checking on the group of villains still across the room.
“Norn?” he asked again, confused, looking round wildly for our leader.
“Shit, the speedster took her,” Ian said.
“That’s not the only thing he took,” Shard mused, looking at the empty crate that had apparently held armor for the speedster.
I stole a glance over the barrier of crates and saw the villains stalking toward us. Morales was already reptilian, and Cooke was crackling with bright purple energy. The Goo had levitated slightly in the air, its fists glowing, ready to fire its lasers.
Shard looked like a monster all his own. His face seemed to be wreathed in mirth as his eyes burned with hunger. Knives floated around him in a deadly cloud that glinted in the light of the warehouse.
“Prophet, strike first, don’t let them throw the first punch,” Boondock whispered.
“You mean my energy blasts?”
“Sure, whatever you have. I just had a hunch, and I always trust my hunches.”
I nodded and reached out to my power.
“Get ready to move, I’ll cover your retreat,” Whitney said, placing her palms on the floor. Glowing lines began to race out across the floor, turning the entire building into a bomb.
Everyone but Whitney started filing out the say we came as I broke into the area in the back of my mind. It was like popping a water balloon or breaking a dam. Energy started coursing through my arms, and I prepared myself for what I was about to do.
Jumping up from behind our cover, I unleashed the beams of energy from my hands. It unsettled me a bit how much easier it was getting to tap into my new trick, but I couldn’t argue with the results. Shard and his knives vanished before the energy could hit him, but the Goo seemed slightly more like a team player. It stretched out forming a wall in front of Cooke and Morales. A forcefield of yellow energy sprang to life and my blast didn’t do much more than cause it to ripple.
“Get out of here, Nate. Once this thing blows, I’ll be the only thing left in one piece,” Whitney said, smoke beginning to flow down from her hair. She seemed like she was trying to hold back anger boiling right below the surface. I hadn’t seen her like this before; her friendly personality was gone.
The area under the effect of her power was already almost twenty feet across and spreading rapidly. Patterns were beginning to form as the glowing embers traced themselves across the floor. I nodded and hurried through the maze of shelves. I really didn’t want to be charbroiled and I had no idea how long Whitney had before the villains pounced.
I spotted a side door and figured that would be faster than tracing back the long route we took to get into the place. Throwing my energy, the metal door flew open and I caught a glimpse of the barren Kansas landscape before the world went hellish.
From inside my little bubble of relative safety the sound was muffled, yet it was still enormous like a mountain falling into the ocean. Or a volcano erupting next to your head. Everything was on fire. The sky the ground, everything.
I wasn’t sure when I hit the ground, but when the ringing in my ears started to die down and my vision partially returned, I realized I was on the ground. I scrambled up and turned to look at where the warehouse had been.
Small bits of metal fell around and on me like a gentle rain, the only things that survived Whitney’s crater-forming blast. A few larger chunks of scrap crashed down, and the noise brought me back to reality. I felt a pang of panic as I looked around for the rest of my team. Whitney had gone overboard, that was for sure.
Finally, I spotted Adam crouched behind the Argus truck Boondock had brought us in. I rushed over and let out a relieved sigh when I saw Ian and Boondock were safe too.
“What the hell was that?” Adam asked as he readied an assault rifle he elected to bring along.
“Whitney lost her cool,” Ian said, scanning the horizon. “I hope Erin is okay.”
“One problem at a time,” Boondock said. “Your leader is tough, and we still have to deal with anything that survived your friend’s blast.”
“I don’t think anything could survive that,” I muttered, realizing I hadn’t seen Whitney yet.
“Don’t be so sure,” Boondock cautioned.
As if on cue, a pair of hands appeared on the rim of the crater and Adam took aim incase it was one of the villains. Then Whitney popped her head over, grinning. We all let out a collective sigh and Adam lowered his weapon as our teammate hauled herself up and out.
Whitney stood up and dusted herself off before turning back to the rubble. “Yeah! That’s what you fuckers get!” she yelled, raising her hands victoriously before walking back towards us with noticeable swagger. I grinned watching Whitney celebrate, but Boondock didn’t share our exuberance. He walked over to the rim of the indention and seemed to be looking for something.
“Shit…” He muttered, tensing up.
“What?” Whitney asked, worry creeping into her voice.
“Your Goo friend isn’t done yet.”
Great. The Goo missed Whitney’s train to kingdom come. Adam and I walked over to stand next to the older hero and saw what he was looking at. A black speck, no bigger than a golf ball was rapidly expanding. In about a second it was the size of a basketball, a second later it was starting to sprout arms and legs before returning to its original shape.
“Remember, it could have an entire pocket dimension inside of it. No telling how much spare material it has,” Ian said. He was hanging back from the edge, and I couldn’t blame him. His powers weren’t exactly useful here.
“What’s it doing now?” Boondock asked.
The Goo swelled in size momentarily as two human figures stumbled out. “It saved Cook and Morales,” I realized aloud. The pair seemed slightly disoriented, but unscathed by the fireball.
“Come on!” Whitney exclaimed, frustrated. Dark smoke began to pour from her hands and hair and I though I saw her eyes glowing and fading in sync with her breathing, but it could have been my eyes playing tricks on me.
“We need more backup,” Boondock said. Turning back to Ian he asked, “Can you see if there are any other heroes in the area? We need anyone who can make it.”
“That’s an understatement,” a dreadfully familiar voice snarled. While we were distracted, Shard had appeared right next to us. In the next few seconds, everything seemed to slowdown ever so slightly as a wave of goosebumps rolled over me. It wasn’t the surprise of Shard; it was something different.
Before Shard could take advantage of his surprise attack, Boondock lashed out, hitting shard in his throat. The villain bent over, clutching his throat as he suddenly found it difficult to breathe, and that’s when Boondock struck again. As Shard’s head dropped, the hero brought his knee up to meet him. The hit changed Shard’s direction entirely, flipping him over on to his back, gurgling as he tried to yell in pain.
Boondock dove to the ground just before an arc of violet energy shot up from the crater. Morales was charging towards us while Cooke served as artillery. The Goo seemed to be passive, just floating in the air and watching.
Next it was Adam and me that had to scramble to avoid being hit by flying lightning. We hadn’t fought Cooke before, but I remembered his powers from the skirmish he and his lizard friend had with the Regents. We had to be careful if Cooke decided to use his electric bubble.
Shard disappeared in a swirl of energy, reappearing instantly in a standing position. His face was contorted into rage I didn’t think a human was capable of. He summoned a knife and flung it at Boondock with intent to kill. The hero seemed to grin as I felt the goosebump feeling grow stronger. Boondock almost plucked the blade out of the air before promptly launching it off to his right.
Morales unluckily climbed up the wall of the crater just in time to be on the receiving end of Boondock’s throw. I winced sympathetically as the blade slipped between his armor plates. The lizard man howled in pain and clutched the wound.
Shard was bound to attack again, and I wasn’t sure how many times Boondock could pull off that trick with the knives. I tapped into my deeper powers and felt the energy pour though me again for the second time in the past ten minutes. I fired a blast at Shard who manage to teleport away without any consequences.
“Fuck!” I exclaimed, looking around for the bastard. Adam opened fire on the still screaming Morales, but a blast of Cooke’s lighting cut his volley short. The bullets didn’t seem to do much against Morales’ armor, but the villains still scurried back down into the crater and relative safety.
I hurried to Adam’s side, but I didn’t know what to do. He was convulsing as Cooke’s electricity arced around him. First aid wasn’t really my thing, not that I had any idea how to deal with something like this.
“Are you okay, man?”
“H-hu-hurts like hell,” Adam said, finally relaxing as the sparks faded. That was good, at least he wouldn’t fry. He shook his head, as if he was trying to clear it.
“I think I’m in one piece,” He muttered.
I grinned under my energy, but a flash of blue quickly drained the moment of humor. Suddenly, I was hit in the back by something. I tumbled along the ground and scrambled to see which of the villains had attacked. The Goo was closing in, its fists charged up for another laser blast aimed at Adam.
“Shooting me in the back seems like a bit of a dick move,” I said, but I doubted the goo heard me.
Whitney hadn’t managed to destroy it, what could I do? Still, I had to try something. The barrier around my hands glowed blue-white and I unleashed a blast of energy. My aim was a little off, but the Goo still flew to the side. Even when I focused, I couldn’t keep the blast last more than a moment, so I had to charge up another. This time I would have been dead on, but the Slime generated a small forcefield around himself like he had done before Whitney’s bomb.
I couldn’t hold it off for long, and with Erin gone, we were missing our heaviest hitter. “Ian,” I called out, “How’s that backup coming?”
“I got ahold of a hero who was passing though the area, I might have misheard him, but I think he said he was Paladin,” Ian said, sounding hopeful.
No way! No way Paladin was coming to help. I was going to get to see Paladin!