It was only a matter of time before the ‘cold war’ between Project Dreamland and the group I’d taken to calling the ‘Romans’ set to burning, and my capture and escape had been the flint and steel that sparked it.
Dreamland One sent us in force back to the secret lair where I’d been held, where little Portland had rescued me with her localized time-freezing power, where Junia and Carl — probably not his real name — had been hiding, and found only an empty hole. At least Massive got to have fun knocking down security doors; maybe it was therapeutic after he’d been fought to a draw by Chasm’s golems.
We found the room with the X-Frame, which had been left intact; I guess it didn’t have the same sentimental value to Junia it held for me. Mandy came in, closed her eyes, cocked her head to the side. She’s fishing for a vision, something, anything. I stood close, to catch her if she got overwhelmed.
“Nothing. It’s dry.” She shook her head, put her hand on my chest. “It’s like it’s been wiped clean, psychically speaking. Don’t know how they could have done that.”
“It doesn’t matter. We’ll get them.”
She looked me in the eye. “And then what? Do we kill them? We don’t really even know what they want.”
I shrugged. “Way above my pay grade.” I know my part in all this. But it probably wasn’t above Mandy’s, and it definitely wasn’t above Dreamland One’s.
Something you should know by this point: me, Rapture, Massive, Selene, and Merry Punkster, we’re B Team. We’re good, and we’re known, but we’re not the ones the kids trade three other baseball cards and a candy bar to get.
That’s A Team: Glowwyrm, The Knack, Raijin, and Tundra. If we were a band playing state fairs, they were U2. They had action figures. They were on fast-food soda cups. They had a syndicated animated series on one of the kids’ networks. The merchandising alone was enough to keep Project Dreamland flush. Hell, when I was a kid I’d had a Raijin 12” with a real silk robe and Eye Staff that really glowed. But A Team wasn’t around.
Surely that was why Junia picked that moment to make her move: with A Team off on some other planets heading off some existential threat to the Earth, Dreamland was down to the J.V. squad. And we didn’t even know the Romans’ full strength; they probably figured they had an advantage.
Debatable. But McLeary summed it up: “They have the initiative. They can go where they please, strike where they please. We have to react, they know how we’ll react, and with what.” He shrugged. “Sorry: who.”
“D1 has something up his sleeve, I’ll bet.”
“How would I know? Ask Mandy, maybe she’s already seen it happen.”
“She’d tell you.”
“Would she?” I couldn’t answer to that question. But Mandy was all about Junior right now; even getting her out of HQ to try to ‘read’ the Romans’ place took convincing. In the end we’d scheduled it to coincide with a nap.
We didn’t have to wait long. Word came that Sanctuary Island was under attack. Specifically, the single noteworthy feature of the island: Sanctuary Island Penitentiary, where the region’s most dangerous criminals were held.
They were all there — the Speaker, Panix, Micro, the Game Player, Cetacea, Methis, the Wildling, and the surviving remnants of Michigan Jack’s gang — every bad actor and henchman we’d beaten over the last two years, behind bars. But for how long?
The guards were no match for Chasm’s stone golems, and were falling back to try to hold the cellblocks themselves. Fortunately the golems seemed to be taking their time. Of course, because it’s us they really want.
I know I’m not the strongest one on the team. I know I’ll never be any eight-year-old’s favorite Cape. But the one thing I have going for me as someone who can run fast enough to leave a plasma trail behind me is that I reach the scene first. Even Rapture, airborne and at full-on glowy goodness, is an order of magnitude slower than me.
The others take helicopters; I don’t rub it in too much.
I didn’t take the causeway; I run fast enough that the water’s surface tension will support me. I figured coming from an odd angle might give me some slight advantage.
When I got to Sanctuary Pen, golems were battering down the outer walls with their fists, pulling iron-bar gates from their frames. Chasm, encased in rock armor, stood atop an intact section, hands outstretched as if puppeteering; Carl — my old friend from the bar — stood next to him. As soon as he saw me, he lifted his phone to his face and I read his lips: ‘Now’. I set myself up for a run at them, but suddenly Aspect appeared between us, grinning, and then disappeared.
Aspect teleports short distances, in what to a normal person seems like a ‘blink of an eye’. I’d been chasing him when I was captured by Junia, led into a trap like a rookie. He appeared again, a little ways off, towards the water. “Rematch, Fleet?” Gone, then back again in another spot. “Come on, you know you want to!”
I ran at him.
It went on for five, maybe six minutes, with me getting ever closer, crossing the slope again and again. The grass caught fire in intersecting streaks. I almost had him a couple times. But the golems had meanwhile stopped their Joshua’s trumpets routine and were now converging on our little duel of speed. Soon I was having to avoid being clotheslined by their huge arms while still tracking Aspect, and though they’d never be able grab me, I would never be able to grab him. I was losing ground, and I was getting tired.
Then one of the golems started to shake, started to glow, started to fall apart. Then another. Rapture. I looked around, and she was a cross-shaped incandescent filament hanging fifty feet up over my head. I caught Aspect looking too, just for a second, and ran at him.
He tried to ‘blink’ at the last second. I saw his eyes go wide as his outline went soft. Maybe he knew he’d started the blink too late, maybe not. I ran through the space he still partially occupied at full speed.
I stopped just past him, covered in goo and shards of bone. The rest of what had been Aspect blinked in ten meters away and collapsed in a wet ragdoll heap. Ugh. But: one down.
All I wanted to do was dive into the bay, clean off, but we still had Chasm to deal with, and then Carl to police up. Or so we thought.
Carl jumped down from the wall section. Maybe twenty feet he jumped down without a thought. A civilian, a normal human, they would have broken both legs. So, not just a lackey then. Chasm just seemed to be waiting, as if he’d already done his part. Carl walked forward a few steps, away from the wall.
“So what’s it going to be, Carl?” I yelled. Rapture hovered above me at the ready. I could hear the approach of the helicopters. “You’re about to be Massively outnumbered. Pun intended.”
Carl grinned. Carl closed his eyes. Carl started to grow, deform. By the time he’d grown taller than Chasm’s ten-foot golems he was no longer recognizable as a man. In the end the golems came up only to his knee, and he was Lovecraftian nightmare fuel. As if wearing bits of Aspect isn’t enough for one day. He stepped forward, towards me.
The golems turned and surrounded him, began beating his lower legs, began grabbing hold and climbing him, tearing at him like a pack of hyenas trying to bring down an elephant. Chasm’s arms were outstretched again, and apparently he’d switched sides. D1’s surprise?
It didn’t matter. There was nothing I could do except give Leviathan-Carl something to distract him. Tentacles snapped at the ground where I’d just been. Enormous taloned feet stamped just behind me. He plucked golems off himself and threw them at me and they sailed over my head like passing locomotives.
The helicopters landed, and Massive sprang out of one and ran at Leviathan-Carl. Black-uniformed soldiers with long guns followed and sprayed the giant horror with gunfire. Selene and Punkster deployed their respective tech and waited for an opportunity to weigh in. If the prisoners get out…
The whole scene was lit up by Rapture’s ever-increasing glow. She was winding up for a big one, bigger than I’d seen since the Mo Ten Rah. Dust and stone from the broken walls were rising from the ground, swirling around her in a great orbital ring, spinning ever faster. Leviathan-Carl launched a golem at her: its midsection struck the spinning disc of dust; it was sliced in half, and the halves missed Rapture.
Leviathan-Carl was angry, and confused, and betrayed. He clearly couldn’t decide whether to squash me and Massive, or bat Rapture out of the air like a slow-pitch softball, or turn around and knock Chasm off his perch in revenge for his perfidy. He didn’t get the chance to do anything.
Rapture’s spinning disc of stone and concrete and gravel and dust was an ever-compressing hurricane above us, and then it was an enormous spear and then a spike and then a bullet. She flung it at Leviathan-Carl. It put a hole through his swollen midsection the size of a minivan and a crater in the ground behind him the size of a swimming pool. The force of the impact knocked me off my feet, and shattered many of Chasm’s remaining golems.
Leviathan-Carl gurgled and fell. It didn’t shrink, change back. The Lovecraftian monstrosity had been his true form; he’d been wearing the figure of Carl as a disguise.
Chasm, atop the wall, nodded to me slowly: but only once, like Boba Fett in the last Star Wars movie. But where was Junia? And: I need a shower.
I shouldn’t have worried.
Junia had seen the writing on the wall in her own visions just as all the elements had fallen into place for the fight at Sanctuary Pen: She’d tossed a few things in a bag and beat a hasty retreat. But in her hurry, she’d let her guard down, and the shield that had been keeping Mandy’s visions at bay had fallen, if only just for a moment.
So Mandy knew where to find her. I don’t know if she notified Dreamland One beforehand, or if she decided to deal with Junia herself as payback for messing with her man. She tapped Junia on the shoulder on the train station departure platform, and when the blonde turned around, Mandy decked her.
I would have paid good money to see that. Seriously. I’m not a fan of ‘foxy boxing’ or anything, I’m just saying: that’s my girl.
She had some of our people with her, of course; Mandy’s not stupid. Junia was loaded into a tinted-window Suburban under guard and Mandy was back at HQ before our little man, still nursing, even noticed she was gone. It helps that Portland is a gifted babysitter.
Chasm got the same treatment Massive and Portland had received before him: he was walked down to the blast-doors that led to an interview with D1, patted on the shoulder and given some words of encouragement, and sent in. He seemed to already know what he was in for. I was almost jealous.
He and his golems might become the newest recruits. If not, we probably won’t have to worry about fighting him again. Once you’ve seen Dreamland One’s ‘true face’, you never return to the dark side. At least, no one has yet.
But either way, we all agree, me, Rapture, Massive, the others: A Team can stay off-planet, as far as we’re concerned.