Part Twenty Nine: Downtown Manhattan
According to Alishia’s instrumentation, the Air Force won’t be on the scene for another twelve minutes. This poses something of a problem.
The Haruspex Analytics building is too wide to travel down city streets, so it is trapped in a relatively small space—the area where the building originally stood, and the small park placed in front of it. It can’t move beyond this spot because the buildings surrounding it are too tall. This is a good thing: Alishia had been directing the police to evacuate the area for hours, and at the moment it is the least populated part of the city. Unfortunately, the building is not content to stay put, and it has reacted to the presence of other buildings blocking its way by attempting to tear one of them to bits.
Thirteen cable/tentacles bore into the side of the Foster-McLaughlin Center, punching through the concrete and glass with no negligible resistance. Stone cracks, and the cables burst through the sides, causing sheets of rock and glass to fall to the street below. The ease at which the cables can cut into and tear away a piece of building at a time is chilling, and as each piece of wall or roof slides to the ground Alishia feels as if a fist is slowly closing around her heart.
The good news is that for all that it can easily rip off chunks of building, it hasn’t yet destroyed enough of the building to let it pass by. For the moment, it’s still hemmed in.
Alishia means to take advantage of that.
“Sky Commando to Operations. Have our new arrivals arrived at the Alpha MCV site?”
“Affirmative.” Captain Banks doesn’t sound thrilled by the admission. “I, uh… I knew who was coming, but it’s not quite the same as seeing them arrive.”
“Just one of those days,” Alishia says. “Do they have earpieces yet?”
There’s a moment’s silence. “Yes,” Banks says. “LMA Band.”
Alishia switches over. “This is Sky Commando. All Licensed Metahuman Assets and police monitoring this channel: understand that as of this moment any metahuman not actively engaged in criminal activity has a 24 hour amnesty, regardless of criminal status, so long as they assist with the current crisis. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
She takes a moment to let that sink in, then continues. “Now: Scrapper Jack, are you receiving?”
“Here.” The voice is deep, rough, and just a little cautious.
“You’re probably the strongest person here, and the most durable. So I’m going to have to rely on your judgment for this next part. We currently have the… er… kaiju…”
“It’s a golem,” Scrapper Jack says.
“Well thank God for that. We have the golem hemmed in but it’s trying very hard to break out. The Air Force will be here in twelve minutes, and we need to make sure it doesn’t leave before then. This is currently the most evacuated part of the city—if it gets out, casualties go way up.”
She tries not to think about the devastation those fucking bits of metal shell already did to the rest of the city, and focuses on making sure nothing else goes FUBAR.
There’s a brief silence on the other end, then Scrapper Jack says “I’m pretty strong, but I don’t think I can fight a skyscraper.”
“I want you to assemble a team to keep it occupied. I’m putting you in charge of that task.”
Another short silence. “Understood.” She can hear him start shouting orders before his connection ends.
Over the Operations channel Captain Banks says “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
She switches over to Ops, making sure the meta channel is muted. “I do. Whatever his career has been, Scrapper Jack has always been about minimizing casualties.”
“I get it,” Banks says. “But there’s going to be fallout after. You know… the stupid kind.”
“The guy who wore this suit last almost got killed doing the job,” Alishia says. “Least I can do is risk getting fired.”
“About that,” Banks says. “I’ve taken the initiative to give one of our ‘new arrivals’ access to our ops channel. He has some intel you might find useful, and… well. You’ll see.”
A moment later an unexpectedly familiar voice comes over the line. “Heya, Webb.”
Alishia blinks. “David?”
David Bernard, the-guy-who-wore-this-suit-last, laughs ruefully. “I’m going by Doctor Enigma now.”
It takes a moment for Alishia to match the name with the descriptions Agent Grant had provided before everything went down. “The magic guy?”
“What?” David sounds a little defensive. “Things happened. There was a magic island. Anyway, you need to know something about this golem.”
“Magic island?” Despite her best efforts Alishia can’t keep the incredulity out of her voice.
Before David can respond, things start happening on the LMA Band.
“This is Scrapper Jack.” The low, rough voice doesn’t wait for any acknowledgment before continuing. “Red Shift will open the show by trying to plow through the left… leg, is that what we’re going with? Leg. After that, I want me, Sister Sentinel, and any other metahumans with strength, mobility, and durability converging on the source of the cables. Tentacles. Whatever. We’re trying to rip ’em out of their sockets. We won’t succeed, but that’s the best to keep it occupied. We’ll go up the east side as Derecho summons as much wind as she can from the west to try to push the thing back. Any metas with energy attacks should provide artillery support, but do not close. When the Air Force gets here we need to get as far away as we can, as fast as we can. Doc, give us about a minute, and if we don’t have its attention, do something flashy. These guys seem to really hate you a lot.”
If Alishia was doubting it was really him before, the doubt is gone now. She remembers that tone. It was the way he sounded just before he placed himself between Rampage and a bus full of civilians. Weary, unhappy, but all in.
“Red Shift,” Scrapper Jack continues, “I’m gonna let you start the—”
Something red catches the corner of her vision. It starts a few blocks up Murray Street, but by the time she turns her head to look, the Haruspex Analytics golem staggers as something tears through the leg on the street. The sonic booms, more than she can count, follow shortly behind.
Five figures—Scrapper Jack, Sister Sentinel and three others Alishia recognize as street-level strongmen—leap into the fray, coming from the east and almost immediately disappearing behind the golem. Seconds later, an incredibly strong wind tears down Murray Street and slams into the west side with such force that she can almost feel the impact from her spot in the air. Rain and lightning follow soon after.
Alishia looks to her left and sees Derecho, hanging in midair, one slender arm outstretched toward the contained but savage storm currently battering the golem. Derecho inclines her head in a brief nod.
Alishia tries not to gape in amazement. That woman has serious control. According to her instrumentation, she’s directing winds at speeds of fifty miles per hour, and she’s not letting a bit of that weather exist beyond the width of the street—no rain, no wind, no lightning, nothing.
Because the weather is so focused, it only hits the right half of the golem. Because Red Shift has torn through a “foot,” it isn’t stable. It sways, and for a moment Alishia thinks it might actually fall over. Before she can decide if that would be good or bad, one of the cables lashes out and burrows into a relatively undamaged building next to the Foster-McLaughlin Center for stability. More sonic booms, and more pieces of “foot” go skittering across the street as a crack at the base of the “shin” widens slightly.
Alishia flies around the golem, eyeing the other 12 cables cautiously until she sees the five figures scaling the side of the building. Scrapper Jack is almost at the 25th floor, the apparent source of the cables, and Sister Sentinel is not far behind. Their climbing methods are direct and effective—they simply punch through the concrete wall to create handholds and pull themselves up with little effort and a lot of speed. The other three trail behind, using the same tactic but requiring a little more effort.
Scrapper Jack gets there first. He moves to the closest cable, kicks through a piece of the wall to lock himself into position, and reaches up to the base of the cable. It’s wider at the base—the width of three men, shoulder to shoulder, but it’s braided. He doesn’t try to grab the entire cable, he just grabs one of the braids and pulls.
The golem’s response is immediate: two cables abandon their attempts to tear through the Foster-McLaughlin Center and lash out at Scrapper Jack. He ignores them. Alishia wonders if he intends to try to take the hit, but it becomes clear that the golem doesn’t precisely know where he is. One cable aims a little too high, one a little too low. Both leave huge gashes in the wall.
He’s too small, Alishia realizes. It knows he’s at the base of the cable, but it can’t pinpoint his location. It’s like trying to scratch at a flea in the dark.
She’s not sure Scrapper Jack would appreciate being compared to a flea.
She hears more booms in the distance: Red Shift is starting another run. A third cable snakes around, getting ready to strike at Jack, but by this time Sister Sentinel has grabbed a cable of her own and is also starting to pull. All of the free cables snake around the building, lashing out towards where both might be. Most of them miss.
Most, but not all. One of the cables strikes Scrapper Jack in the arm, and the force of the blow causes him to lose his grip, slamming him into and then through a wall. The cable retracts, and the others shift their focus to Sister Sentinel. She adjusts her position, putting the base of her cable between herself and the ones closing in.
Time for artillery.
Alishia flies closer to the golem, readying a volley of anti-vehicle missles stored in the armor’s right shoulder. They’re nothing like the payload the jets will bring, but she figures it will at least get the thing’s attention. She focuses them all on the base of one of the cables attacking Sister Sentinel and lets them fly. Eight miniature missles streak across the sky, six find their target, two going wide. Fire and thunder light up the sky, and then Alishia has to bank hard to avoid three cables shooting out toward her.
Apparently she’s easier to see.
She activates the LMA Band. “The cables have a much longer range than previously displayed.”
“They hurt, too…” Scrapper Jack’s voice is shaky. “Try not to get hit dead-on. I’m gonna bruise.”
“Yeah…” Sister Sentinel grunts as the sound of something heavy smashes in the background. “I got grazed by one. I’m bleeding a little.”
“How bad?” Alishia recognizes Brother Judgment’s voice.
“It’s not bad. It’s a scratch. A real scratch, not an I’m-too-tough-to-admit-when-I’m-hurt scratch.”
Another boom, as Red Shift tears down the street again. Alishia checks her instrumentation. “We gotta keep it busy another three minutes.” She corkscrews in the air, weaving through multiple cables as they all try to knock her out of the air, thankful that Sam finally fixed that damn wobble.
“Sky Commando, MTHD teams are ready to assist.” Captain Banks’ voice breaks in over the feed. “How can you use us?”
“I can’t yet,” Alishia says. “They’d make a great distraction but they’d never be able to clear in time when the Air Force shows up. Right now focus on expanding our perimeter. If the golem breaks through that building we’re going to want all the extra space we can get.”
“Copy.” She can almost feel the unhappiness and frustration coming out of the Captain’s voice. She can’t blame him, but there’s nothing to be done. She’s not going to order them to charge, only have to them blown apart when the Air Force starts dropping bunker busters, or whatever they’re armed with.
Two other cables shoot toward Sister Sentinel, both missing and burrowing into the wall next to her. That gives Alishia an idea.
“The golem tears itself up pretty bad every time it tries to attack one of you. Any chance we can use that our advantage? Get it to attack itself, do some of our work for us?”
“No.” Sister Sentinel almost gasps the word. Alishia sees her hanging from cable, legs windmilling as she tries to catch a corner of the wall with her foot. She eventually pulls herself up on to the cable, straddling it for support. “We’ve run into this before. Look at where they just attacked me.”
Alishia looks over and chokes down a curse as she sees the holes the cables made filling themselves in.
She hears another boom, and even as she sees Red Shift tearing through the foot she can tell that it’s already managed to repair much of the damage he’d already caused.
“It regenerates?” Alishia doesn’t even try to hide her consternation. It’s the most ridiculous thing she can think of, a self-healing monster skyscraper that can walk and attack people with cables.
“It’s the runes.” This is David’s voice. “You see those symbols covering every inch of the golem’s outer surface? Any time it needs to repair itself it burns one of those symbols. You’ll have to force it to burn through all of them before the damage starts to stick.”
Alishia forces herself to fly back, get distance from the fight so she can take everything in. There are more of those things than she can count. She can see a few blank spots on the wall, places where it looks like the building has already used a few for self-repairs, but… they’re not going to be able to bring it down this way.
But maybe they won’t have to. Her HUD beeps furiously, and as she takes in the new information scrolling by her display she sees they’ve successfully run out the clock.
“That’s it! Everyone on the building, get off the building. Derecho, drop the storm. Red Shift, stay away…”
“The Air Force has arrived.”