Setalite City, 7:02 PM.
Thursday, February 24th, 2022.
“Nothing yet,” Erin said, unable to stop himself from scratching at the seam of his new helmet. “He’s still inside.”
Wraith had assisted him in constructing the helmets, and they were pretty ungainly given the time constraints they’d been working under. He wished he had time enough for a rubber seal or some kind of cloth lining.
The metal rubbing directly against his skin was starting to edge into his focus.
There was always the chance that Lecture’s power had some sort of visual component, that reading her lips, or comprehending what she was saying in any way, even without the auditory stimulus, would still enthrall them. The best bet was to avoid doing anything that might lead them into that situation in the first place.
“I can see him; he’s with a short woman in a coat—I can’t see her face,” Skye said nervously, “It’s scary to think that she can just blend in with everyday people like this—she could have just walked up to the HQ, and we wouldn’t have even realized it was her.”
Erin used his visor to zoom in on Loren’s hands; the helmet distorted the view slightly, the second layer adding another obstacle for it to parse. It was enough that he could make out the fingers on both hands. The left one was resting on the small of the woman’s back, steering her onto the path and heading further into town.
His right hand curled up at his hip, extending two fingers downwards.
“He made the signal,” Erin said, relieved.
“This helmet is annoying, Erin—couldn’t you have put some lining in it? Hold on a second; Loren has his hand on her back!” Skye said, incredulously, “Why the hell is he trying to pick up Mara fucking Melancholia?”
“It’s not a romantic gesture; it’s a reassuring one,” Erin said, returning his gaze to the entrance to the subway. “They most likely are on pretty good terms; he said he’d known her for a while—which is kind of alarming, honestly.”
“That isn’t reassuring at all, and alarming is a time traveler appearing out of nowhere,” Skye said in disagreement, “Trying to bang a member of Epilogue is insanity.”
An alert on his hud popped up, and he opened the channel again.
“There is no sign of Lecture,” Erin said clearly, “Loren has removed Monstrous from the subway; he’s currently headed west.”
“Recognized,” Alana said calmly.
“Let’s go!” Threadbreaker’s voice came over the public channel, “I want to get a better look—”
Erin closed the channel, switching back to local.
“Contact,” Lanette said, breathing heavily; there was a grunt of effort that might have been her landing on a rooftop and the sound of rushing water. “Heading east, towards the subway—average height, black hair, cut short in a pixie cut, swept to one side; exactly how he described her.”
“No costume?” Skye asked, tone going flat.
Erin was thankful that they were able to put aside their anger enough to work together, but he’d expected nothing less. They were professionals, and he knew they could keep it together—at least until they’d dealt with Lecture.
“No, she’s wearing civilian clothes,” Lanette said, finally catching her breath. “She keeps on stopping to talk to people.”
Erin frowned, turning his gaze to the west, hoping to spot the woman in question.
“She’s looking for her teammate,” Skye said evenly, “Not exactly unusual for her to be asking around—has she tried to use her phone yet?”
“Not that I’ve seen,” Lanette said, moving again. “Eye’s up; she’s approaching your position.”
Erin peeked over the edge, studying the crowd and spotting her almost immediately. Hands stuffed into the pocket of a tight hoody, she meandered along the path, refusing to move out of the way for anyone.
She stopped, reaching out and snagging a middle-aged man by his tie—the man stumbled at the suddenness. He shook his head, then nodded, and she patted his tye flat before continuing on her way.
The man fished out his own phone and then held it up to his ear—before moving it back and trying again. Erin watched as she stopped half a dozen more people, leaving them behind in her wake, and each of them attempting to use their phones and failing.
“She’s trying to contact someone—most likely Reset, or Monstrous,” Erin explained, “The fact that she keeps trying means she’s aware the phone network is down.”
“Target is inside the subway,” Lanette said, appearing from an alleyway below him.
“Move in,” Erin said firmly, tossing his cable over the ledge.
Already hooked to it, he leaped off the side, sliding downwards, using his foot against the face of the building to help control his descent. He touched down, leaving the cable behind and meeting the other two at the entrance.
“Keep your helmets on no matter what,” Erin insisted, sliding the compacted kinetic rifle off his back. “Don’t take any chances with her, and don’t try to read her lips; avoid staring at her face at all if possible.”
They reached the bottom of the stairs, and Skye went flat against the wall, peeking around the side before pulling her head back. She made a gesture to the pillars, then held up her hand, peeking around again. Erin burst forward when her hand dropped, silently covering the gap and posting up behind the pillar, getting eyes on the target.
Lecture was standing in a group of three, looking annoyed—he frowned when she struck the woman across the face, sending her to the floor. The man on her left started to interfere but then froze where he stood.
Erin cocked his weapon and took aim, unwilling to shoot while there were civilians next to her. Lanette moved next, swinging around the corner and to the right, moving quietly behind a pillar out of sight.
“Skye, knock the men down, Lanette, block her from running.” Erin said plainly, “Three, two, one.”
Two arrows crashed into the legs of each man, sending them down beside the woman, and a wall of water rushed outwards, forcing her to move closer to them. Lecture dove on top of one of the civilians—the man beneath her spun them over, shielding her from sight.
The woman that had been struck scrambled to her feet, sprinting past the three heroes and heading up the stairs. The second man stood up slowly, moving to place another body in between them and her.
“This is why we should be going lethal,” Lanette muttered, but the helmet transmitted it regardless.
Erin moved left to the next pillar, attempting to get the angle on Lecture, but the man stepped with him.
“Lanette, disrupt them, nonlethal,” Erin said, frowning. “Skye, see if you can pull the taller man out of there.”
The wall of water changed directions, slamming down on the three of them and sending them tumbling across the concrete. Erin took the shot at Lecture, and red energy burst forward, crashing into her right hip and sending her back to the ground as she tried to break the line of sight.
Skye loosed another arrow, and it impaled the man’s leg at the shin, splattering blood on the concrete—he didn’t even look at it, eyes locked on them. His leg was violently yanked out from under him, dragging him away from the others and slamming into one of the pillars in the process.
The shorter man moved closer to Lecture, standing directly in front of her with his arms out wide.
“Why is she smiling?” Skye said, concerned. “She’s planning something.”
“Don’t look at her face,” Erin reminded, leaning to get the angle—something moved in the corner of his eye—
A fist crashed into his helmet, sending him stumbling—people were flooding down the stairs, dozens of them. Skye was already on the ground dogpiled by the people clearly under Lectures control, and then water erupted outwards, surging up over him and everyone else in the subway.
It smashed into the walls, rising higher, and then he was entirely underwater; he could see perfectly with his helmet because it was equipped for this exact scenario.
There were people everywhere, diving down and trying to find the three of them. Erin dove down, recovering his rifle and swimming closer to the tracks—Lecture was swimming towards the tunnel, hoping to escape while they were distracted with her army.
“Lanette, she’s at the tunnel; bring her back in,” Erin ordered, lining up and sending a red bolt of energy crashing into one of the people trying to rip Skye’s helmet off.
“On it,” Lanette said.
Skye’s power finally kicked in, having targeted the clothing of those who’d dogpiled her, and they were sent rocketing backward through the water away from her, slamming into walls and pillars.
Lanette surged past him in the water, currents swirling around her, and he saw the water twist into a funnel—Lecture was drawn backward, violently spinning in the water despite her best efforts. Erin switched his focus back to the civilians; they had to be running out of air now, but for some reason, they weren’t attempting to flee the water.
Instead, they just kept on mindlessly attacking, and they were getting slower every moment.
“Civilians are out of oxygen—Lecture doesn’t care if they drown; you should start pulling the water back.” Erin pressed, easily holding back one of the last men who’d managed to get close enough to grab his rifle. “You’ll need to start drawing the water out of their lungs.”
Lanette didn’t reply, and he got a visual on her—there was an orb of violently swirling water right in the middle of the room. She right next to it, feet on the underwater platform with her arms outstretched.
“Lanette,” Erin said flatly, “Get rid of the water now.”
“I’m working on it,” Lanette said snapped.
The water levels lessened rapidly, and his feet slapped onto the wet concrete; the man who’d been struggling with him landed on his hands and knees, coughing up water but otherwise out of the fight.
“Lanette,” Skye said, approaching the orb of now slowly spinning water. “Is she unconscious yet—”
The orb broke down, and Lecture’s remains smacked into the concrete, twisted, broken, and lacerated beyond recognition; the only thing left untouched was her face.
“Mission complete,” Lanette said easily, “Better phone it in, let the others know.”
Skye stared down at the body in horror, and Erin wondered when everything had become so complicated. Skye grabbed her by the arm and yanked Lanete around to face her.
“Why did you kill her? She would have gone unconscious like the rest!” Skye snarled, “We could have resuscitated her and then taken her back to interrogate—”
“Lecture had two dozen hostages!” Lanette said scathingly, ripping her arm away and stabbing a finger in her face. “You should have shot her in the head right at the start, you fucking coward—”
He’d been far too optimistic about them remaining professional while in the field, but at least they’d waited until after they’d dealt with Lecture.
“Enough,” Erin snapped, and they jumped from the volume. “Lanette, give me the phone and then go save the civilians. Skye get up top; we need eyes on the crowd outside.”
Lanette ripped the phone she’d stolen out of her pouch and handed it over to him before stalking away—it was perfectly dry, the water having been drained out of it by her power. Skye didn’t move to follow his directive.
Instead, she stepped closer to him, unclipping the helmet.
“Lanette killed her!” Skye whispered furiously, “This is just like Louis—no, it’s fucking worse because she actually went through with it.”
“This isn’t the time for this discussion, Skye,” Erin said quietly after he’d removed his own helmet. “We need to finish this job; then we can discuss this back at the base. We need eyes up top and someone to stop any more people getting down here—go.”
Skye spun on her heel and stomped away, leaving the helmet to fall to the floor next to Lectures mutilated body. Erin hit the power button and then held the phone over Lectures face to unlock it. He searched quickly through the contacts and found the one he was looking for.
He switched to public channel once more.
“Wraith. Lecture is dead; we have two dozen civilians down, we need emergency services on site.” Erin said concisely. “I have the target’s phone. Is your team ready?”
“Yes,” Wraith said immediately, “The network is back online, and emergency services are already inbound—Make the call.”
He dropped off the public channel again.
“Skye, we’re making the call; keep everyone upstairs,” Erin said over the local line, “Lanette, I hope you’re a better actor than I am.”
He dialed the number and then placed the phone on the concrete. A man’s voice spoke, and he shot the ground next to the phone and then once more further away from it.
“She’s getting away!” Erin shouted, firing again. “There’s too many—deal with the civilians first; she won’t get far on foot!”
“Get these assholes off of me!” Lanette cried out, “Fracture—help me!”
“Dammit! We need some backup—Lecture’s made it into the park!” Erin shouted again, firing three shots into a pillar. “She’s heading south through the trees!”
He shot the phone, sending shards of plastic and glass shattering everywhere and ending the call.
“That was terrible,” Lanette snorted.
Erin flushed but ignored her, instead moving to the nearest civilian and checking her pulse. He opened the public channel once more.
“Team two is green; all objectives are complete.” Erin said clearly, “Reset should be on his way to central park; he knows she’s heading south.”
“Perfect,” Untold said seriously. “I’ve been looking forward to this.”
“I haven’t,” Ogre said, bored. “I come in for a checkup, and now I’m a hero.”
“You got scammed,” Haunt said, amused. “You want to join a better team? I’ll put in a good word for you with the rest of the Patheon.”
“I’ll consider it,” Ogre said curiously.
“Good work, Fracture,” Wraith said, interrupting the chatter, “Team three is in position; checkup in three minutes.”
The three of them dropped off, and he stayed on the call with Haunt.
“How’s team one doing?” Erin said, making sure another man’s airway was clear, and he was breathing steadily.
“They haven’t been in contact for a while,” Haunt said, yawning, “Last we heard, they were flirting over coffee—this Loren guy is something of a lady killer, huh? Or maybe he’s just into killer ladies?”
If the latter was true, he’d be in Lanette’s pants by sundown—Erin winced at the thought, mentally chastising himself. Everything had become such a mess—and it had happened so quickly that the consecutive shocks had rendered him mostly numb.
Louis actively planning the murder of The Crew had been completely out of the left field, and despite what Lanette professed, it wasn’t something any of them could have picked up on in advance. They’d all injured someone more than they’d intended during their careers; it was something that came with the job.
Erin had believed him about Sunder, and he’d acted apologetic afterward; it had been hard to take the word of the villain over his long-time teammate. Louis had an easy confidence about him, and when Erin had first joined the team, he’d reached out immediately.
They’d built a friendship, along with Gradient, with the trimmings of mentorship about it; he’d taught them both so much about how to be a hero, about how to approach things with the right mindset, to consider all aspects of something before taking action. Now he knew that Louis had never believed in being a hero at all—or maybe he had, at some point, and he’d lost that piece of himself to the job it along the way.
Lanette was falling into his orbit now as well, being drawn downwards into Louis’s fall from grace. Mareke had given them the green light on using lethal force if they couldn’t capture her, but the expectation had been that they would at least try and capture her first.
There wouldn’t be any consequences for what she’d done here today, Erin already knew—she’d be praised for taking down a member of Epilogue and did so while working within the orders she’d been given. Lanette herself would feel encouraged by it, and he couldn’t help but wonder if in a year he’d be thinking his way through the same situation, only with Lanette in a cell instead of Louis.
The sirens outside grew closer by the moment, and Erin hoped that nobody else would need to die today.
The conference room was in complete chaos when he arrived, and Erin hovered at the threshold, hair still wet from his shower, trying to piece together several discussions at once. Erin stared around—Lanette and Skye were already here as well. Along with most of the others, but Loren was nowhere to be seen.
“—Where did you leave him?” Wraith said shortly.
“At his residence, he said he needed to be alone,” Seeker said quietly, “He was extremely upset by what happened to Monstrous.”
“It’s not my fault!” Threadbreaker said, looking harried. “We took her down—who cares if he’s gone off on his own? Why does it even matter?”
“It matters because—” Haunt said, seriously, her quiet voice overrun by the other conversations.
“I don’t see a problem,” Vapid shrugged, “Two out of three is way better than we expected anyway, right? Threadbreaker took out our target, I’m happy with that.”
“Our guy didn’t even turn up,” Iza said, leaning against the wall. “He must have seen through the phone call or saw us before we saw him and fled.”
Erin winced, hoping his acting wasn’t the cause.
“I doubt he wants to see any of us after what Threadbreaker apparently did in the café,” Untold sighed, “He was friends with her, right? Despite the fact that she was a villain?”
“He seems to make a lot of friends like that,” Iza said, plainly, “If you’ve got any plans to hit me next, we’re going to have a problem, kid.”
“Why would I hit you?” Threadbreaker said, confused. “Who the heck are you anyway?”
“Forget it,” Iza snorted, looking away.
“He’s not answering his phone,” Wraith said, frowning.
Thank you to all the supporters, on Patreon, on here, and everywhere else, you guys are what is making it possible to keep improving on my passion, and I really appreciate all of you. If you’d like to help support my mission to snap as many elbows as I can get my greasy little mitts on, but aren’t in a place to chip in–you can support me for free as well! Leaving a comment, or a review on any of the other fiction websites I post my content on helps out more than you know.
Keep on keeping on!
Reroll – Season 3, Chapter 69 – Live.
Ameliorate – Chapter 9(NSFW)