Part Thirty: Air Support
The five figures on the 25th floor don’t go down the way they came up: they just jump as far as they can manage. For all of them that turns out to be pretty far. The three local strongmen manage to get almost all the way to the building’s original location before they hit the ground, and in two more jumps they’re back at the Alpha MCV Site. Scrapper Jack and Sister Sentinel make it to the Alpha MCV with a single leap each. Red Shift was a few blocks up when Alishia sent out the call, so he just stays where he is, waiting. Derecho’s storm ends in seconds, fading from gale to drizzle to nothing. And just like that, the Haruspex Analytics golem stands alone, nothing between it and the rest of the city except for a building that has already been torn to shreds…
…and five of the Air Force’s most advanced interceptors.
New York City doesn’t have an Air Force base—the closest is 70 miles out and is actually part of the Air National Guard. Still, it became apparent that a city with abnormally concentrated levels of metahuman activity benefited from access to air support, so the FBMA, DoD, and Air Force made sure that along with the Sky Commando program there was also access to more traditional airborne offense. No one had ever needed to activate it until today.
The jets are working a little outside expected parameters at the moment: the assumption was they’d be called in if there was an attack from the harbor, or if metahuman forces were coming in from the air. No one, it seems, had ever planned for a scenario where a skyscraper would somehow come to life and start attacking the rest of the city. As it happens, this unplanned scenario actually works to their advantage: the skyscraper, while not the largest in the city, is still a large, slow-moving target. This means they can attack it without getting close.
They come in high and from the east, giving them a comparatively open target. Alishia hears the chatter from the pilots as they confirm radar and computer targeting have locked on the target. They’re eight miles out when they fire the first volley of attacks, and there’s a delay of a few seconds between when the missiles are fired and when they strike the golem.
The force of the explosions combined with the sonic booms the missiles themselves almost knock Alishia out of the air. The entire west side of the building opens up, briefly revealing shifting, slithering blocks of cable and steel that look like grotesque parodies of internal organs. The loud thummmm that had been ever-present at the beginning returns in force, almost like a prolonged cry of pain. The golem sways around its center like a bowling pin not quite ready to fall.
The pilots scatter and reform, preparing for another run. Smoke and pulverized concrete dust hangs in the air, but Alishia can see glimpses of the building within. Two of the thirteen sides—the two facing most fully west—are completely gone. Strips of cable lay on the street, ripped away from the building by the force of the blast, still twitching through some unseen power not able to strike or coordinate in any effective manner. The golem groans, tilts, then steadies itself. Slowly it begins to turn, allowing fresh walls to face toward the new threat even as the damaged walls start to seal off and repair.
More chatter as the pilots prepare for the second volley. Target acquired, target locked, and again she sees the explosion before she hears the missiles streaking past. Again the air is filled with flame and dust, again the westmost sides of the building open up. As Alishia takes in the damage the jets are inflicting on the building she begins to hope that even if the jets can’t ultimately take it completely out of the game, maybe they can force it to burn through enough of those weird little symbols that they’ll still have a chance of finishing the job on their own.
That, unfortunately, is when the golem begins returning fire.
A loud snap! reverberates through the air as a cable, fully extended, launches a piece of debris the size of a small car at the fighter planes. There’s a burst of panicked radio chatter, then Alishia hears the boom of a distant explosion. Her HUD confirms it—one of the planes is down.
The golem scoops up rubble strewn around it—some from the building it’s been tearing to bits, some from its own injuries—and throws it across the city. The method the cables use is strange and eerily accurate—it coils back, like a snake wound around itself, and then unspools straight toward the target, releasing the debris only when the cable has reached its full length.
All of the cables have debris now, all roughly the same size and shape as the first. The jets prepare for another attack, but just before they fire thirteen chunks of concrete hurtle across the city, and two more jets go down. The remaining two open fire, and again the side of the building explodes in fire and dust, just… not as much fire. Not as much dust. It’s not enough to completely tear it open, and Alishia can see symbols on the golem pulse and fade as the wall begins to knit itself closed.
Then thirteen more chunks of debris hurl across the sky, and one more jet bursts into flame, breaks apart, and falls to earth.
One jet remains.
It banks sharply, dropping altitude quickly as it rolls to make a more difficult target. The tactic works as the next volley of rocks aim too high, missing it entirely. However, the jet is too low to get a clean shot at the building, and Alishia realizes it will have climb higher, exposing itself, if it wants to take the shot. When Alishia hears the command for the jet to break off and abort, she’s not surprised. In a matter of seconds, the scenario changed from devastating attack to devastating loss.
They’re on their own again.
Alishia takes a quick scan of their surroundings. Unfortunately, the attack did more than simply damage the Haruspex Analytics building—it also turned what was left of the Foster-McLaughlin Complex to rubble, removing the only thing keeping it from venturing into the rest of the city.
Alishia activates the LMA Band. “It’s on the move. It’s no longer penned in and we no longer have air support. We need to stop it in it’s tracks, now!”
A red blur and a sonic boom announce that Red Shift is back in the game, and once again the “foot” splits open as he moves through it. This time, however, the golem has access to projectiles, and Alishia winces as the concrete smashes through cars, buildings, and burrows deep into the road.
None of them hit the speedster. Mach 12 is hard to track.
Derecho whips up her gale again, and the golem, which was just beginning to move forward, shudders and falters. Each time it seems to force its way forward, the strength of the wind increases and it falters once more.
Unfortunately, the level of concentration Derecho is using renders her motionless, in midair, one arm extended.
A perfect target for thirteen thrown rocks.
Alishia races through the air, calling for Derecho to drop to the ground now, dammit. Derecho’s head swivels toward her, eyes widening as she sees the armored form of Sky Commando racing her way.
This is probably going to hurt her, Alishia realizes. But it probably won’t hurt as much as getting hit by anything the building throws at her.
The Sky Commando sensors show all thirteen cables coiling back, preparing to strike. Alishia only has seconds to act; she uses them as efficiently as possible. She deploys a stuckey, hitting the woman full on and instantly encasing her in a hardened lumpy sphere. Not slowing down, Alishia rams her shoulder into the sphere, pushing it out of the way as the first rock hurtles by, missing it by inches. Alishia grasps the stuckey, digging into it with metal fingers as she pushes down with all the strength her flight system can muster, narrowly avoiding two more rocks thrown in short succession.
Gripping the stuckey tightly, Alishia swoops behind an eight story building as two more chunks of concrete whistle past, bursting into a twelve story building on the other side of the street and shattering the top three floors. She sets it down on the sidewalk and sprays it with the release compound. Almost immediately the stuckey dissolves and falls away. Derecho, disoriented, begins to shiver and cough.
“Are you all right?” Alishia peers at her in concern. Being cocooned in stuckey isn’t fatal, but it’s not pleasant either, and can trigger latent claustrophobia.
Derecho shivers again, draws a deep breath, and nods. “Thanks.” Her voice is soft, barely above a whisper. “I didn’t see them coming.”
Derecho flinches at the sound of two more impacts, further up the street.
“Work your way back to the Alpha MCV if you can,” Alishia says, “but stay on the ground as much as possible. If you can set up that gale while keeping out of sight, do it, but don’t make yourself a target.”
Derecho nods again. Alishia takes a few steps back, turns, and launches back into the air.
She flips on the metahuman channel. “Derecho is OK.” She risks gaining altitude in order to get picture of the battlefield. The golem is now officially out of containment: it has moved past the remains of Foster-McLaughlin Complex and has hit patch of two and three-story buildings. Alishia doesn’t expect them to slow it down.
It is, however, taking the opportunity to cause as much damage as it can as it slowly ambles along, its cables lashing out at anything it can hit.
The metahuman channel is still open. “I need options,” Alishia says. “Sister Sentinel, you said you ran into this before. How’d you handle it?”
“We—” Sister Sentinel hesitates. “Well, we…” she trails off.
“I killed the man controlling it,” Red Shift says, voice calm.
“Not exactly.” David again. “The man was already dead. Sky Commando, there are different ways these golems can be made, but the most powerful require a human to willingly die in the act of its creation. When that happens, the body becomes a conduit between the physical world and the realm that makes these things go. So… destroy the body, destroy the link.”
Alishia stares at the behemoth on track to destroy every part of the city it touches. “Same with this one? Destroy the body, destroy the link?”
“I’m positive of it,” David says. “The problem is, the body is somewhere in there, and I don’t know how to find it.”
“I know how to find it,” a new voice says.
Alicia frowns as she tries to place it. “Who is this? How will you find it?”
“This is Curveball,” the voice replies. “And in order to find it, I need someone to get me a fresh pack of cigarettes.”