Richter’s eyes narrow as he recognizes Jenny. He says nothing, but eases into a defensive stance, watching her carefully.
He thinks it’s going to be a repeat of last time.
Jenny doesn’t jump in swinging—Richter has, for whatever reason, given her a moment. She takes it, allowing herself to catch her breath, then she too eases into a defensive stance.
Focus, Jenny. Don’t forget how good he is.
She feints with her right, swings hard with her left. Richter ignores the feint, moves to block the left hook, and just as he bats the blow aside, her right arm closes on his wrist. She twists, pulls, and as he starts to fall forward her left arm locks, and she throws him over her shoulder into a row of shelves.
Thank you, Red Shift.
She moves in to follow up, but Richter grabs the bottom of the shelf above him and kicks, striking her in the knee. Her armor absorbs most of the strike, but it still hits with enough force to knock her knee out from under her. She slips sideways as Richter stands, and his second kick would have struck her in the temple if she hadn’t brought up her arm instead. As it is, it grazes the side of her face—the side where she’s already bruised. She gasps in pain, but focuses on grabbing the leg and pushing back as she stands. Richter is knocked down, and this time she throws a crate at him.
His eyes widen as he sees the metal box hurtling toward him, but he doesn’t panic. He catches the crate and throws it back: Jenny raises her arms in front of her face to keep it from taking her head off, and now she is propelled back into shelving.
Richter is on his feet, reaching for his gun. The holster is empty—his gun fell out during the melee. Jenny leaps toward him, forcing him to take a step back, but he counters with a quick jab to her side. She’s wearing armor, but Richter is at least as strong as she is, and she gasps as she hears one of the torso plates shatter. Richter follows up with a knuckle strike to the throat, but Jenny grabs the arm and twists, trying to force it behind his back. He grunts in pain, but the elbow of his free arm smashes against the tender side of her face, and she involuntarily loosens her grip enough for him to get free. He turns to face her again, this time drawing a long-bladed knife.
“You’ve improved,” Richter says.
He jabs with the knife; Jenny steps aside to avoid the blow. It’s a feint, and her head snaps to the side as his other hand smashes into her jaw. She travels with the force of the blow and turns it into a spinning kick. He turns in time to take the brunt of it on his upper arm and shoulder, then counters with a kick of his own. Her torso plate cracks again, and she feels something sharp biting into her stomach.
Richter jabs with the knife again—not a feint this time. Jenny is ready, lunging back and bringing her arms up to redirect the path of the blade, but she still feels the white heat of pain as it slices across her forehead. It’s an unfortunate place to be cut—even shallow cuts bleed heavily, and in a few seconds it’ll be getting into her eyes.
He presses his advantage, following up with a quick jab to the stomach, driving the broken piece of armor into her stomach again, then slicing with the knife again. This time Jenny catches the knife hand with both arms and brings it down onto her knee as hard as she can. She can hear bone crunch as the knife drops to the floor, and hears something snap as she pulls and twists his arm as hard as she can. Richter loses his calm, detached demeanor: his face twists into a mask of rage as he strikes her savagely with his good arm. She spins, losing all sense of direction. Richter grabs the back of her armor and throws her across the room with one arm.
She sees the vault doorway as she tumbles, sees a flash of black and yellow armor as someone runs into the room. She hears three shots fire in rapid succession, hears someone grunt in pain, and then the world explodes in a flash of purple light as Jenny slams into the wall, hard. That’s it, as far as she’s concerned—there’s no way she’ll be able to clear her head in time to fend off his next attack.
But the attack doesn’t come. Instead, when she feels someone grabbing her shoulder, she discovers it’s Street Ronin, peering down at her in concern.
“You’re hurt,” he says.
“Richter.” Her voice sounds strange.
“Yeah,” he says. “I saw the end of it. You broke his arm.”
“Where?” Jenny wipes the blood out of her eyes and tries to focus.
“Gone,” Street Ronin says. “He ported out after I shot him.”
“You shot him?”
“Don’t sound so hopeful,” Street Ronin says. “I only winged him. And it was the arm you already broke, so I didn’t really do much. He didn’t like the odds, though. Keep still. You have a cut on your forehead. Let me get my kit.”
He breaks out a first aid kit and Jenny waits patiently while he cleans and tapes over her forehead. When he’s done, she uses some of the extra gauze to wipe the rest of the blood out of her eyes, and she finally stands on her own two feet. Her whole head throbs with pain, and she can feel the left side of her face starting to swell.
“Thanks,” she says.
“Sure thing.” Street Ronin turns his attention to the vault. “Do you know why Richter was in here in the first place?”
“Backups,” Jenny says. “I think they were trying to destroy the backups. Which means there might be something useful in here.”
Street Ronin looks at the scattered crates and toppled shelving. He sighs. “Well, let’s get started. This could take a while.”
* * *
Asphalt cracks around him as Jack is pummeled into the ground, the golem pounding his body relentlessly, blow after blow sending him deeper into the street. For a fleeting moment, Jack is tempted to stay down, to give up, to let it win, to stop fighting and rest. Somewhere in the distance he hears Agent Hu yelling at the top of her lungs, and the golem stops its attack and turns toward her.
Hu isn’t burning any more: she’s too tired to keep the flames going. This makes her current tactic—yelling and waving her arms in an attempt to get the golem’s attention—both magnificently brave and magnificently stupid. When it works, and the golem turns to face her, she suddenly feels very exposed. When she’s not burning, she’s as fragile as any other human being.
“Uh…” Hu takes a step back. “Jack?”
Jack groans as he forces himself to climb out of the Jack-sized indentation in the road. His arms and legs feel heavy. It’s hard to think straight.
Shouldn’t be tired this fast. Shouldn’t be this hurt.
Vigilante’s body still lies in a heap where the golem left it. It’s no longer a twisted mass of bone and flesh—it’s actively sorting itself out, re-growing limbs, organs, flesh and hair. Jack tries not to look at it. He wonders, if he manages to hold out long enough, if Vigilante will eventually stand up and rejoin the fight.
I don’t think we’re going to make it.
Jack gathers his strength and leaps, flying through the air and landing on the golem’s back as it advances on Hu. It stops, arms flailing, as he wraps his arms around its head and squeezes with all his strength, as if he’s trying to pop its head off its body.
The golem reaches up to grab Jack, trying to pull him off. Jack grits his teeth and tightens his grip.
Earlier in the fight, this very move distracted the golem long enough to give Hu a chance to take a breather, and cost the golem a mark as it tried to throw him off. Now it’s distracting, but Jack doesn’t have the strength to make it punishing. The best he can do is give Hu time to get away.
“Run!” His voice is ragged and raw. “Just… run!”
“Not gonna happen,” Hu says. “Only two marks left. We can do this.”
“No,” Jack says. “I don’t think we—”
His strength fails. The golem tears him free of his perch, lifts him high overhead, and drives him back into the ground. It raises its fists, ready to start pummeling him again. Jack steels himself.
This is really gonna hurt.
Somewhere, off in the distance, he hears a car horn, honking wildly. The golem hesitates, half-turning toward the noise.
Hu’s eyes go wide. “Grant…”
The car horn gets louder, and with a squeal of tires a slightly beat up silver Ford Taurus squeals around the corner of Warehouse Two, wheels spinning as the driver points it directly at the golem.
“No!” Hu is shouting at the top of her lungs. “Damn it, Grant, don’t you dare do this that’s my—”
The car horn goes full blast as the tires squeal, and suddenly it shoots forward, bearing down on the golem.
“Oh, shit…” Hu watches helplessly as her car races down the road, closing fast. Jack looks up, eyes widening in surprise as he sees the car, and manages to roll off to one side just as the car smashes into the golem’s left side.
The hood of the car crumples as it hits the golem’s left leg, and the back of the car flips up. The golem doesn’t fall, but it’s rocked from the blow, and it stares at the car as it flips over, exposing the undercarriage to the sky.
A dark-suited figure blurs into sight next to the upended car, throws something into the undercarriage, then blurs again and vanishes. A heartbeat later the car explodes, engulfing the golem in a fireball.
Hu stands dumbstruck as she watches her car burn.
Grant appears to her right. “Sorry about your car, Hu.”
Hu nods wordlessly.
“I couldn’t think of anything else to do.”
“I get it,” Hu says. “I’m still probably going to hit you later. Assuming we survive.”
“That’s fair,” Grant says.
Jack pulls himself off the ground and jogs over to where Hu and Grant stand. They see the golem turn silvery and fall on the remains of the car, dousing the flames, then slowly start to reform.
Hu turns to Grant, eyes wide with alarm. “Travers. Is he—”
“I left him back at the loading platform on Two,” Grant says. “Told him to stay clear. What the hell is that thing doing?”
“Healing,” Jack says. “The question is, how much will it cost this time?”
Grant frowns, and looks at Hu questioningly.
“It has charges,” Hu says.
The silvery form solidifies into the golem once again. They look at its leg. One mark remains.
“Damn,” Hu says.
“We can’t keep this up,” Jack says. “Agent Grant, you need to find the others and tell them not to—”
Something streaks out of the sky and slams into the golem. It explodes, silvery liquid flying in all directions. A sonic boom follows, shaking the walls and rattling what’s left of the warehouse windows. A small puddle of liquid attempts to coalesce and reform, but after an initial, halfhearted attempt it goes still.
A man hangs in the air above the golem’s liquid remains: six and a half feet tall, dark-skinned, gray sideburns but built like a linebacker. He’s dressed in a sleek red-and-black bodysuit that looks none the worse for wear from impact.
“Holy shit,” Jack says. “Regiment?”
Roger Whitman focuses his gaze on Jack, and an eyebrow shoots up. “Jack? Jack Barrow?”
“Yeah,” Jack says.
“What the hell happened to you?”
Jack nods to the pool of liquid metal lying motionless on the ground.
Regiment notices the pile of flesh quivering and pulsing near the corner of Warehouse Six. “And what the hell is—”
“Vigilante,” Jack says.
“Really?” Regiment stares at the the pile of flesh for a moment longer. “He OK?”
“Probably. Nice timing, Roger. Things were getting pretty bad.”
“Speaking of mysterious storms coming out of nowhere with enough force to level a city, where the hell is CB?” Roger turns back to Jack, and his eyes narrow as he notices something for the first time.
“And why the hell are you naked?”