CB forces himself to breathe. It’s hard—mucus keeps filling his lungs, and he’s constantly coughing and gagging, trying to take a clear breath, but he finds if he focuses on breathing it's easier to handle everything else: the fever, the chills, the pain shooting through his gut. Focusing on a very basic act of survival allows him to move everything else into the background.
It doesn’t solve the problem, though: Plague is killing him.
“I didn’t even have to try this time.” Plague sounds smug. “Last time we met, I really had to work up a sweat to break through your—I don’t know. Whatever it is. That thing you have that’s protected your sorry ass for as long as we’ve known each other. But here, in this place? With all this power swirling around? I just had to think and it happened.”
CB coughs, wheezes, and says nothing.
“What, no smartass comment? Well I’m not surprised. Disappointed, I guess. I kinda hoped you might go down swinging. For old times' sake, you know? On the other hand…” Plague chuckles to himself. “I did give you a hell of a disease, didn’t I? And you know what the best part is? This is the best part…”
Plague crouches down in front of CB, staring at him hack and cough and try to breathe.
“The best part is, I made it up.”
Plague stands and walks over to the Prodigy Harness, staring at the desiccated form of Horace Preston.
“I just came up with a bunch of symptoms, threw ‘em together in a big old stew, and put the whole thing in your lap. I don’t even know what to call it yet. I don’t even know how it ends. I mean, I got a few ideas on that front, but…” Plague laughs. “It’s amazing what you can do with the right amount of power, CB. You can break down barriers like they were nothing. Before today I’d never be able to invent a disease from scratch. But today? Today, with all this power flying around, just waiting to be used… today I did it twice.”
The sound of the heavy metal door opening at the end of the hall causes both Plague and CB to look up.
“Hey Curveball.” It’s Agent Grant’s voice. CB tries to call out a warning, but all he can do is make tiny choking noises in the back of his throat.
“Hey Curveball, thought you should know that—”
As soon as Agent Grant sees CB on the ground he goes for his gun, but he’s not fast enough—his skin turns pallid gray in a matter of seconds, his eyes roll back into his head, and he collapses in a heap.
“And that makes three,” Plague says. He walks over to Agent Grant and nudges him with his foot. “Don’t worry, your friend ain’t gonna die. We’ll need someone to interrogate later.”
CB tries to get up on his hands and knees, but Plague pushes him over with his boot.
“Stay down, CB. Just lie there and die, OK? Die knowing that you lost. You lost big. You die now, everybody else dies later. God created man, man created gods, and I’m gonna put every single one of ‘em in the ground.”
Plague laughs again. “Except for the ones we approve of. Except for those chosen few…”
“You ain’t in that number, CB. I guess you already figured that out. Your services are no longer required…”
A windstorm fills the room, a blur streaks toward Plague and he’s slammed into the wall next to the harness. The wall buckles and twists, and as Plague’s runes glow brightly, quickly repairing the damage to his body, he looks up to see Roger Whitman standing in front of him. CB immediately feels the pain in his gut subside, his body stops shaking, and after a final racking cough he can breathe again.
Plague’s eyes go wide with fear. His fist clenches, and he concentrates, only to gape in surprise as the other man doesn’t fall.
“That’s what I thought,” Roger says, and grabs Plague by the neck, his other fist raised to strike.
Plague’s runes glow even brighter. He laughs. “You can’t kill me, asshole. Try all you want, but I don’t go down. But you… I bet with a little time, I could—”
Three gunshots fire in rapid succession. Roger and Plague turn in surprise as CB stands before the Prodigy Harness, gun extended. Horace Preston slumps forward, shot three times: two in the chest, one in the head.
“Sorry, Horace,” CB says. “Rest in peace, if you can swing it.”
“No…” Plague’s voice cracks. “No, that’s not fair.”
A faint purple glow envelops Plague, and Regiment jerks his hand back as if shocked.
“No!” Plague looks up, eyes wild. “No! You can’t do this! Not now! I can still pull this off. I was so close, I just need a little more—”
The purple glow flashes, fills the room, and when it’s gone, so is Plague.
CB and Roger both stare at the dead body in the Prodigy Harness.
“Was that necessary?” Roger isn’t accusing him.
CB sighs heavily. “Yeah. Afraid so. You remember Yuba City.”
“I remember,” Roger says. “Who was he?”
CB shrugs. “Weather manipulator. Name’s Horace Preston. That’s all I know.”
Agent Grant groans and opens his eyes. “That was really fucking weird.”
“Look who’s talking.” Regiment turns to look down at Agent Grant, adopting a decidedly lighter tone in an attempt to change the mood. “CB, did you know he’s a mult?”
CB looks at Grant. “No shit. You make copies?”
“No.” Grant almost spits out the word. “…not exactly. Excuse me, I gotta… not be here right now.” His outline blurs, then he disappears from the room.
“Teleports, too,” Regiment says. “That explains a few things.”
He laughs softly, a low rumble in his chest. ”Well, here we are again. And it looks like I saved your ass. Again.”
“Yeah,” CB says. “You know what, Roger? You keep right on doing that. I ain’t proud.”
Regiment laughs louder this time.
“What are you doing here?” CB asks. “Not that I’m complaining. I was trying to figure out how to get in touch with you without tipping off the Feds for weeks, but—”
“You’re kidding, right?” Roger shakes his head in amusement. “Mysterious, big-ass storm breaks out in the middle of Farraday City—your last known location—and you think we won’t think it’s you?”
CB raises an eyebrow. “We?”
Roger nods, smiling. “Robert wants a word. He sent a ride.”
CB blinks. “Robert? Seriously?”
“Seriously,” Roger says. “You ready? There’s room for everyone. It’s a big ride.”
CB starts to say yes, then catches himself. “Uh… We gotta take care of some things first. They were doing something down here, Roger. Test. On people. There are survivors.”
“Agent Grant told me,” Roger says. “We’re taking them too. It’s a big ride.”
CB looks at the spot where Plague disappeared, then back at Horace’s corpse. He shudders once and turns away.
“OK, Tin Man. Let’s go see the Wizard.”