Curveball Issue 24: Triple Helix

Part Ten: Riding the Waves

Jack Barrow and Vigilante stand in front of Warehouse Two’s heavy outer door, arms crossed, wearing almost exactly the same frown.

They completely ignore the sound of Red Shift destroying Warehouse Six. They react only when it finally goes down and dirt, stone and dust roll over them in an immense cloud—even then, all Vigilante does is wipe a layer of grime off his visor, while Jack shakes some of the dirt out of his hair.

They ignore CB’s warning of the soldiers on the roof, listening to the sound of energy weapons discharging as they continue staring at that door.

“It’s not a regular door,” Vigilante finally says.

“Really isn’t,” Jack agrees.

The door looks like a blast door—a solid piece of metal without any visible handle or hinge. There isn’t even a control panel on the side to allow fingerprint or card key access.

“You don’t put a door like that on a brick building,” Vigilante continues.

“Brick’s a facade,” Jack says. “My guess is, they gutted the building and built their secret villain base under it.”

“Yeah…” Vigilante moves two steps to the side, as if the change in perspective might reveal something new. “So what do you figure happens after we bust it down?”

Seven, four on the roof.”

Vigilante and Jack continue to ignore the sounds of gunfire and discharging energy weapons.

Jack sighs impatiently. “Look, we’re short on intel for this part. That’s why you and me are going in first. So as far as I can tell, there’s really only one way to find out.”

Vigilante nods, expression sour. “I know. It’s just… something’s off. I mean, if this were my secret underground base, I’d have, I don’t know, more surveillance. And if I found us standing outside the front door, I’d probably try to—”

Curveball breaks in over the line. “Four down. All wearing some kind of enhanced combat armor. Go for the mirrored faceplate, it seems to be their weakest—”

Curveball’s report is interrupted by a metallic screech that fills the entire warehouse complex, followed by a quick, blinding pulse of light. When the light recedes, there are armored troops everywhere: battlesuits with polished, reflective faceplates and carbines attached to their right arms.

Hey guys… I think they finally figured out who we are.”

Vigilante turns to Jack. “This is closer to what I’d try to do.”

They scatter as beams of green energy flash through the air, cutting through the ground and walls. Chunks of brick are sliced away from the wall, revealing a silvery alloyed metal beneath. A beam of green energy hits Jack squarely in the chest, causing him to grunt in surprise and burning away his shirt. He looks down and sees that part of his leather jacket has also been sliced away. He swears, drops the remains of the jacket to the ground, then steps into the fray.

Jack has been fighting all his life. He got his nickname before he even knew he was metahuman—as a kid he had a bad habit of never backing down, even when he knew it would hurt, and once people started calling him “Scrapper” they never really stopped. His instincts were always good, and he never stopped trying to get better. He’s mostly a boxer, focusing on short, fast strikes (with the occasional low kick—he’s not a fair boxer) while keeping his arms close to his body to avoid telegraphing his moves. A jab to the chest caves in the upper torso completely. A strike to the arm shatters the arm. Occasionally he’ll aim a low kick at a shin or kneecap, with similarly devastating results.

Vigilante never had the constant exposure to fighting Jack did. He’s also not as strong, or as immediately durable. But he fights with a tightly-controlled fury that seems to fuel every blow. He leaps for a soldier, ignoring the pain of energy hitting, then ultimately punching through his skin, he grabs, throws, twists, tears at his enemies. He pulls no punches, and gives no quarter. The trail of mangled alloy and steel he leaves in his wake is a testament to the effectiveness of his rage.

Together they battle their way across the complex, nearing the collapsed remains of Warehouse Six, and through it all they catch glimpses of the others fighting as well. Curveball has descended from his perch on Two, weaving between multiple targets, engaging them all at once, lining them up in such a way that they can’t actually attack him without risking friendly fire. Red Shift tears through the melee, a blur the human eye can barely follow, leaving a trail of carnage very similar to Vigilante’s, only faster.

Individually, the soldiers are outmatched. Together they are still outmatched, at the moment, but thirty seconds into the fight Jack hears another metallic screech and sees another flash of white.

“They’re porting in more!” He doesn’t bother using his earpiece. Vigilante and CB are right next to him at the moment, and for all he knows Red Shift might be too. He snarls as one of the soldiers manages to get him in the side of the head with the glowing green tip of a melee baton. He’s dimly aware of the discharge of energy, but he doesn’t feel anything more than a tingle. He grabs the soldier’s arm and squeezes at the elbow. He feels it shatter, and can dimly hear the soldier screaming as Jack throws him into another a few feet away.

“Well that’s just great.” CB steps to one side, lighting a cigarette as a wall of green energy washes over him, somehow missing him completely. The soldiers standing on the other side aren’t so lucky. “I know the whole ‘fight the minions first’ thing is kind of traditional, but I was kind of hoping we could skip the grind and cut ahead to the boss fight.”

Jack has no idea what he’s talking about.

“Street Ronin!” Vigilante cuts in over the line—an unsettling effect, since Jack can also hear him shouting not fifteen feet from where he’s standing. “What’s your status?”

“We’re working on it.” The response is clipped and hurried. “We could use some backup though. We need a little room to breathe.”

“I’m on it.” Red Shift’s voice is heavy with fatigue. “The rest of you keep fighting by Two, hopefully most of the soldiers will head over there.”

“We’ll be OK.” CB flicks some ash at one of the soldiers and winks. Jack hears something pop off in the distance, and suddenly the soldier’s joints lock in place. Then he uses the frozen soldier as a springboard, vaulting over the heads of two more as pistols suddenly appear in his hands. He fires as he somersaults over the heads, almost exactly the way some guy did in a ridiculously over the top action flick Jack saw once, and both of their faceplates crack and splinter. He moves casually, even lazily, but Jack can see a sheen of sweat on his forehead.

He’s pushing it hard. Whatever “it” is.

Jack doesn’t really understand what CB does, but he knows he’s good in a fight. But CB gets tired. Red Shift won’t last long, either—Jack saw how fast he was going, and he’ll literally burn himself out if he keeps going like that. He and Vigilante can last a lot longer, stamina-wise, but if they can’t actually bring the numbers down—

Another metallic screech cuts through the air, another flash of light fills the sky, another legion of soldiers joins the fray.

“This is pissing me off.” CB spins, firing his pistols a few more times. The bullets begin to ricochet from one soldier to another, like an elaborate pool shot. They don’t really do anything other than startle the ones they hit, but by the time they recover CB has moved somewhere else, and either Vigilante or Jack has taken them down. “Street Ronin, look, not to be pushy but they’ve got stormtrooper in a can down there, so either find a way to turn that off or—”

A column of white-hot flame crashes out of the sky and engulfs three soldiers, their battlesuits fusing instantly from the heat. Jack looks up, surprised, and sees a humanoid surrounded by flame, floating above them. The figure—vaguely female, though it’s impossible to be certain—extends its hands, and a thick wall of flame surrounds another ten. The soldiers focus on the figure and begin to return fire. Four beams appear to hit, and the figure flies back.

Ow!” The voice is definitely female. She dives toward a large group of soldiers, and as she nears the ground the flames around her appear to contract, almost disappear, and then with a sudden boom they flare up, brighter than ever. Jack can feel the concussive wave that emanates from her and armored soldiers go flying everywhere.

There’s a brief break in the fighting. She flies back to where CB, Jack, and Vigilante have regrouped, all watching her warily.

“Federal agent,” the burning woman says. “Travers sent us.”

“Travers?” CB’s eyebrow shoots up in surprise.

“He’s here,” the woman says. “I’m not entirely sure where, at the moment, but—”

The air fills with a metallic screech, a flash of light fills the sky, and legions of soldiers appear out of nowhere.

“I really hate this,” CB mutters, and pulls out his pistols again. His hands shake for a moment.

“Let’s go,” Jack says, and leaps toward the nearest target.

“So you’re a Fed?” CB ducks as a soldier swings a glowing baton at him. It goes over his head and hits the soldier closing in behind him. Jack can’t count the number of times something like that has happened during this fight, but it seems to be a recurring theme.

“DHS,” the flaming woman shouts. She shoots up into the air again, drawing their fire as her flames grow more intense. The light she radiates plays off the cloud wall, leaving red-and-orange patterns over the eerie green glow.

Something blurs out of the corner of his eye. Something blurs into view near two soldiers, then disappears. Jack turns his head to focus on the spot, and suddenly the soldiers are surrounded by goo that quickly solidifies into a hard shell. He activates his earpiece. “Red Shift, are you using stuckey?”

“What? …no…” Red Shift sounds very tired. “Are we… done… yet?”

A soldier forgoes his weaponry and punches Jack squarely in the face. He isn’t hurt, but he wasn’t expecting it, and the battlesuit outweighs him considerably—the force of the blow knocks him into the Warehouse Two wall, and he stumbles as he lands, falling over on his side. The air blurs above him, and a man with slicked-back dark hair, wearing a black suit and a matching long black trenchcoat appears between him and the soldier. He fires an automatic pistol three times, and scowls as the shots bounce harmlessly off the armor.

The battlesuit is engulfed in a sheet of flame as the burning woman floats down to hover next to the man in black.

“Grant? How the hell did you get here?”

“Don’t ask.” The man grins, blurs, then disappears.

Jack gets to his feet. “He with you?”

The woman nods, then flies back into the sky.

In a few minutes the area is cleared again.

“We did it!” Street Ronin’s voice is relieved and triumphant in equal measure. “We blocked the teleporter. They won’t be able to send in any more soldiers for a while.”

CB lets out a long breath and bends over, hands on his knees. “I need another cigarette.”

Vigilante eyes the flaming woman and the man in black warily. “Good news. Get over to Warehouse Two. We have some new arrivals. From the DHS. They say Travers sent them.”

In the few minutes it takes for Street Ronin, Red Shift, and Zero to arrive, the others regroup and the new arrivals introduce themselves. The flaming woman lands, her flames wink out, and standing before them is a slim, athletic Asian woman with slightly reddish skin, wearing a leotard that appears to be made out of stiff, uncomfortable material. She introduces herself as Agent Hu, and the man in black as Agent Grant.

Jack nods. Vigilante says nothing, and watches them warily.

CB laughs, and fumbles through his pockets for another cigarette. “So Travers is here, and he brought the Feds? I’m surprised. I didn’t think he was a field agent.”

“Yeah, you can keep not thinking that,” Agent Grant says. “I’m dead, she’s on vacation, and Travers is a wanted fugitive suspected of collaborating with known terrorists.” He jerks his head in Vigilante’s direction.

Vigilante relaxes slightly.

“I can’t believe I’m using vacation for this,” Hu mutters.

“Hey, at least you’re getting paid. I’m just doing this out of the goodness of my shriveled little heart. And also because I’m a goddamn patriot.”

Street Ronin, Zero, and Red Shift appear around the rubble of Warehouse Six. Street Ronin’s armor is scorched, but otherwise he looks OK. Zero’s helmet is missing, and a purple bruise blooms just under her left eye, spreading downward onto her cheek. Red Shift is limping—from fatigue, apparently, rather than any visible injury. A small, rugged IV is attached to his suit, and he occasionally taps at it, as if he’s trying to get it to work faster.

Hu and Grant introduce themselves all over again.

Zero stares at Jack. “You’re naked.”

Jack looks down. His clothes are never as resistant as he is. “I’m not naked.”

“OK,” Zero says, reddening slightly.

“I’m not naked,” Jack insists.

Hu looks Jack over. “Is your secret identity a lawyer? I feel like you should be on a calendar right now.”

“Or shouting ‘this is Sparta!’” Grant chimes in.

“Shut up, Grant,” Hu says. “Where is Travers right now?”

“We’re close,” Grant says. “It’s, uh, slow going. It’s getting a lot worse out there.”

Hu narrows her eyes. “And how are you actually getting here?”

“Ask me no questions, Hu.”

Hu’s voice raises in volume and sharpens considerably. “Grant, if I find out you’ve been driving my car—”

A metallic sound fills the air—similar to the sound before, but accompanied by a bass rumbling that makes it feel larger, even though it isn’t louder. The flash of light is purple—not as intense as the white light, but it fills the air around them, blocking out all sight for an instant. The group scatters instinctively, and when the light leaves they see something new.

Standing in front of them is a metal construct, humanoid in shape, standing fifteen feet high. A line of symbols written in an unknown script trails down the length of each arm and leg, and a single massive rune glows purple on its chest.

“Oh look,” Grant says. “A convenient distraction.”

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