Part Thirty One: Ingress
The Alpha Mobile Command Vehicle site is an odd mishmash of uniformed police, armored police, and CB’s team. CB’s team is currently divided into “people who can reasonably do something against a giant walking animated skyscraper” and “people who will reasonably be turned into a carbon smear if they try to do something against a giant walking animated skyscraper.” The people in the first category are currently out there trying to keep the building from moving further into the city…
Trying to keep the building from moving further into the city. That is actually a thing we are trying to do today.
That consists of Jack, Red Shift, Sister Sentinel, and Derecho, plus a few other New York heroes who showed up to help. They’re young, and CB has never heard of them, and compared to a guy like Jack they’re not really in the same league—but none of that really matters at the moment. They are helping, and CB’s the last guy to discount something like that.
The rest of his team isn’t really suited to taking on “the Kaiju,” as the other metas on the scene have been calling it. Well, Agent Hu is, but CB needs her for something else, so she’s at the Alpha site standing next to her partner and another man—a black man in the same kind of suits they wear, only this time with sunglasses—and fuming.
Jenny is fuming as well, though after seeing what those armor plates did to the city outside the evacuation area she’s more interested in being part of the evacuation and recovery efforts, figuring that’s where her talents would be more useful. Street Ronin stands silently, keeping apart from the cops but obviously monitoring more than just LMA Band they were all given access to. Brother Judgment and Blink are standing together, Brother Judgment’s gazed fixed on the building, while Blink occasionally shoots CB a questioning look. Each time CB shakes his head no.
Not yet. Getting there, but not yet.
That leaves LaFleur, David, and the turncoats. The Supervillain known as Overmind is standing watch over his rescuers: a middle-aged Black woman, a young Asian man and a hoodie with legs. They look desperately unhappy to be where they are, though also a bit relieved at the same time.
David Bernard is trying to explain to the new Sky Commando how the end game has to play out. It’s not a pretty ending, but to her credit Sky Commando isn’t dismissing it out of hand. She’s asking questions, trying to poke holes in the plan, and trying find other options—something she ought to be doing—but she’s not actively opposing it. She wants to know that when the blame for everything falls on her shoulders, she’s willing to take what comes because there was nothing else to do.
A uniformed officer comes up to CB, expression unreadable. CB faces him, tensing slightly, wondering what this is about.
“Captain said I should give you this.” The officer reaches out, an unopened pack of cigarettes in his hand.
CB takes them. “Thanks,” he says.
“This is gonna help?” The cop is an older guy, thick dark curly hair mixed with streaks of gray, thick mustache and sideburns making him look more like a fixture from a 70s cop show than an actual police officer.
CB looks down at the cigarettes. It’s exactly the kind he smokes. He expertly tears the plastic around the top and pushes back the cardboard, revealing full rows of unlit cancer.
“Yeah,” he says. “It’s kind of a trigger for what I do. It’ll help a lot.”
The cop shakes his head. “My wife won’t believe it. But I’m gonna tell her anyway…”
CB smirks, reaches into his trenchcoat pocket, and pulls out his lighter.
Jenny sidles up to him, watching him go through the process of lighting up. She’s helmeted, so he can’t see the expression on her face, but he’s pretty sure he knows what that expression is.
He pulls, the cherry brightens then fades as he exhales, watching the smoke curl. The world, ever spinning, suddenly clicks into place.
Time to push. He’s been pushing, almost constantly, ever since they breached the lobby, and it’s giving him a headache… but it’s time to push more. Time to go all in.
Push. Push. Push.
His brow furrows as he concentrates, and the world starts spinning like it always does—but it’s not like it always does. It’s different this time. This time, he’s controlling the spin, just a little, making it wobble this way and that, letting him see more angles and possibilities. It reminds him of the early days, when all he could see were angles and ricochets, lining up shot after shot to determine which was the best.
“I found him!” Brother Judgment points up to near the top. “I know Ms. Tanner said the guy originally worked on the 13th floor, but apparently he moved. He’s about a quarter of the way down from the top.”
With that announcement the world shifts a little. Possibilities change.
CB nods. “Good enough place to start.” He activates his comm link to the metahuman channel. “Let’s group up. Agent Grant, Zero, Overmind—you’re with me. Jack, you and the rest keep doing what you’re doing. Brother Judgment, we need you to stay here so you can link us without getting killed. Blink, you’re shuttle service, and Agent Hu… you OK with this?”
“I’m ready when you need me,” Hu says, looking grim.
Brother Judgment grits his teeth, but nods in agreement. “Hate staying behind. Makes sense though.”
“What is going on?” Sky Commando sounds very much aware that things are happening whether she approves them or not, and is not happy about it at all.
CB walks over to David, tapping him on the shoulder. “You have one of those headsets that goes over the special channel, right?”
CB holds out his hand. “Let me borrow it for a sec.”
“Curveball?” Sky Commando’s voice grows a little sharper over the line. “What is going on?”
David removes the headset and hands it over, CB slips it on and opens the Ops channel. “Sky Commando. Let’s talk over here instead.”
There’s a second’s delay as Sky Commando switches channels. “How did you get on this line?”
“I borrowed Doctor Enigma’s headset. I figure you probably don’t want to have this conversation in front of everyone. I’m kind of bad for discipline when that happens.”
“Fine,” Sky Commando says. “What exactly is going on?”
“Nothing,” CB says, trying to sound innocent. “I don’t have a reputation for pulling these kinds of stunts at all, and you won’t find a single cop on the force who will swear uncontrollably when you mention my name.”
There’s a brief silence on the line, then Sky Commando says, voice tight with anger, “there are a lot of people putting themselves on the line right now, and you better not be playing games with any of them.”
Fair reaction. He tries keep the snark out of his voice this time. “No games, Sky Commando. We have a way to take out the golem. Look, I know you’re at the top of the chain here, but we know how to take this thing out and if you tell us to stand down we absolutely won’t.”
He sees David wince visibly at that. CB shrugs. There isn’t any time.
There’s another brief silence over the line. The noise in the city grows louder as the building finds new parts of New York to destroy.
The LMA Band opens again. “This is Sky Commando. Curveball is leading a team into the building to neutralize the threat. Our task is to keep it occupied to keep it from going further into the city. Render all aid to Scrapper Jack and… Doctor Enigma. Captain Banks, I want MTHD forces to close and engage with heavy weapons. We’re not going to bring it down, but we can keep it occupied. We need to do that for as long as possible.”
CB opens the Ops channel again. “There will be a point when Brother Judgment will tell everyone to pull back. That will be just before the target gets neutralized. We… won’t know what will happen to the building at that point.”
Sky Commando switches back to ops. “What’s the worst case scenario?”
CB thinks it over. “Timber?”
She switches back over to the Metahuman channel. “When I give the order to pull back, I want everyone to take that seriously. Put as much distance between yourself and the target as you can. Don’t stop until I tell you to stop. Try for two football fields if you can.”
She switches back to the ops channel. She sounds angry, but controlled. “If Brother Judgment will be your coordinator, I think you better give him that headset.”
“Right,” CB says. “Curveball out.”
He walks over to Brother Judgment and hands him the headset. “It gives you direct access to management.”
Brother Judgment smirks, takes the headset, and puts it on. “We doing this now?”
CB nods. “Link us up.”
CB feels a brief sensation of vertigo, then his mind is filled with thousands of thoughts that he knows aren’t his own. There’s a brief moment of panic, as his brain grapples with how to reconcile all these conflicting thoughts and preserve his own sense of self, but he fights it back and waits patiently for Brother Judgment to finish.
It’s strange, waiting for someone else to reach into his brain and deliberately control parts of it, but it’s not his first time dealing with a telepath. It’s still uncomfortable: he can feel Brother Judgment at work, almost as if he were reaching in and flipping switches on and off to filter out some thoughts and let others in. When he’s finished, the unending babble is gone. All the remains is an ever-present awareness of every other linked mind—an awareness that includes the exact location of every mind at every moment—and the understanding that if he “speaks,” they will “hear.”
“Testing, one-two, one-two…” He’s only thinking, forming words in his mind, but he perceives it as speech. “This thing on?”
“Loud and clear.” Jack sounds like he’s standing right next to him, though he’s actually halfway up the building trying to rip out one of its cables.
“This is weird,” Jenny mutters. “Uh… sorry, I didn’t mean to say that out loud. Or think it out loud, I guess, OK no offense Brother Judgment I know this is really useful but I really, really don’t like this at all.”
Brother Judgment chuckles. “Yeah, that’s a common reaction. And I get it.”
“Let’s get to the important part,” CB says. “Blink, can you use this to port to any one of us?”
“Sure,” Blink says, sounding unconcerned. “We do it all the time. I sort of lose the connection for a second when I’m porting, but it comes right back.”
“All right, then let’s get this started. Doctor Enigma, start the show.”
It’s interesting watching David at that moment, seeing his outward stoicism and contrasting it with the immense sigh that comes through the link. He notices CB, gives him a thumbs up, then rises into the air.
The golem doesn’t react at first. David is small, he’s not attacking, and it is currently under assault from Red Shift, the strength metas, and a small army of heavily armed and armored police. It isn’t until David surrounds himself with that sphere of purple-white light that the golem responds, but when it does it abandons everything else it’s doing and focuses entirely on David.
Thirteen tentacles launch themselves at the floating man. All are repelled by his shield, though CB can clearly feel the impact of each strike as it was his shield instead of David’s. David grunts from the effort of resisting, but the shields hold.
“Think it noticed me,” he says.
“Think you’re right,” CB agrees. “Jack, we need a door.”
“On it.” Jack abandons the cable he was wrestling with and begins climbing higher up the building. “Just tell me when to stop.”
“Keep going,” Brother Judgment says.
Jack climbs using the same method as before, punching holes in the wall and making his own ladder.
“Right there,” Brother Judgment says. “Target is actually probably a little higher, but if you get much closer I think he’ll notice.”
“He?” CB asks.
“Feels like a dude to me,” Brother Judgment says. “Sort of. There’s something else there, too. Not human. Anyway, Scrapper, right there.”
“Got it,” Jack says. He reaches in through the hole he made with his free hand and casually starts tearing out chunks of concrete. CB notices he aims the chunks carefully, avoiding any spots on the ground with people. His aim is pretty good; each chunk lands harmlessly, usually among the broken remains of the Foster-McLaughlin Center.
Jack pulls himself up, disappearing from sight. CB can still feel his presence, and has a vague impression of the space he’s in. It was, at one time, an office, but the shape of the room is broken up with many, many other shapes.
“I’m in,” Jack says.
“On my way,” LaFleur replies. His battleform gleams as the sky brightens, the morning sun rising but unable to filter through the buildings that are still standing. He disappears, and CB feels his mind shift locations, appearing next to Jack.
Agent Grant says nothing, and while he doesn’t appear to move at all, suddenly CB is aware of him in two places simultaneously… and when he concentrates he can dimly perceive him in a third location, much farther away. He immediately draws his own mind back from that, instinctively recognizing that if he tried to focus on it too closely the world would stop making sense.
“I’m here,” Grant says. “And Jesus, this place has really gone downhill. The reorg has not gone well.”
“That leaves just me and Zero,” CB says. “Blink?”
Blink ports over to Jenny, placing a hand on her armored shoulder. “You might want to open your faceplate,” he says. “Not everyone takes this well.”
“What—?” Jenny starts to ask, then she disappears. CB feels a mild rush of panic and discomfort when she joins the others. A surge of concentration pushes it back.
“Oh,” she finishes, voice weak. “Yeah, neat trick. I hate it almost as much as the brain link.”
Blink laughs, reappears next to Street Ronin, and moments later he’s gone as well. Finally Bink appears next to CB, grabs his arm, and this time it’s CB’s turn to try to avoid puking.
A moment later, Blink disappears, returning to the ground, waiting for the next part.
“Well,” Agent Grant says, “here we all are. Anyone need to send a fax? I think I see one in the corner.”