July 15 2010. 2000 hours: City Hall
“Augury, open a new incident file.”
“Incident Logged: Bomb CC023.”
“I’ve opened the outer shell of the explosive… yes: we have two… no three interwoven explosive devices in one, very clever. The Bomb has set the largest charge to go off on a five minute fuse – or if I make a mistake – possibly a compressed solid fuel, such as rocket fuel, roughly 100 gallons. Also, the second device, a large quantity of C4, has been packed to be a secondary ignition to the main charge, and to go off if the primary device is tampered with.
“The third device has already been triggered, possibly by the presence of my armor, just to give me extra pressure – classic Bomb. All wires the same color, this incident red.
“I will need to work on the secondary device to neutralize the C4, and then deactivate the primary fuse. I don’t have the time to deactivate the third device. I will trust to my armor to shield me.”
“Tinman, the Bomb will have worked your armor into any equations…”
“I believe he has underestimated it, Avenger: I know the chances I’m taking. You get on to the Mayor and ask him to keep the FCPD back. Kids, hold ready to respond to the next incident. If you go anywhere, stay as a group.”
2030 hours: Greenbank Railyards
Built in the early years of the previous century, the rail station is an impressive monument to a bygone era of travel. It’s not known as gothic: but tonight, a massive excrescence squats gargoyle-like atop it. Beside the inky freak, Skylark’s lithe beauty is a startling contrast.
“All cool out front. How you doin’ Homie?”
“Nightfall is gettin’ me in! Uhh… a little help here Nightfall?” The comms net scratches as Holmes scrabbles to get purchase on a ledge. Nightfall is tired: he’s just spent a good half-hour jumping trains to get from his folks’ home into town. He readjusts the rappelling line and helps Holmes.
“Sweet fuckin Nora!” Tripp grumbles irritably. “Ain’t the Black Man got some moves to show the White Man?”
“We done th’ 60s, Tripp,” Skylark asserts coldly, “Just be cool, fool!”
“I’m just saying get some fuckin skills is all,” but the beast subsides obediently at beauty’s command, asking merely:
“Youse on ya way inta th’ control room right? See whutz really goin down wid th’ maglev.”
“Right. We’ll double-check passenger train status. How’s your search going Wraith?”
“I can summarize my results already, Holmes. I think you’ll agree I’ve found a clue so big you could load it onto a forklift and ship it to China.”
“Wow! What’d you find?”
“Our Mr Victor Taylor’s log led me to the Inter-State and Inter-yard container manifests. Very early last Tuesday someone acquired admin access, made a container in Inter-State vanish, reappear with a new label, vanish again, reappear in Inter-yard with another label, and vanish again.”
In the control room, Holmes lightly runs his fingers along the antiquated banks of screens. He post-cogs the time-slot Wraith is referring to: the transactions were all done remotely and very efficiently. It has to be the work of someone with the mad hacker skill of say, Calculus II! Then the basso growl of Bad Tripp cuts into his reverie:
“If youse mugs’re done, how’s about we check out th’ container yards?”
But the team is unable to respond, for at that moment Panoply’s voice cuts in again:
“I’ve shut down the fuse to device two, and removed the trigger from the compressed liquid. I’m now going to work on the third device.”
“Or you could just jet out of there, Tinman. If the first two charges are neutralized, nothing to be gained shutting down the third…”
“I am maximizing the situa… wait…”
There is a blast, a rolling, battering sound. Then as the communications systems in Panoply’s suit balance out again, his breathing quickly steadies and he begins speaking again…
“Tertiary charge detonated, not sure what triggered it. The other charges are intact. Suit function at 95 percent, small seal breach self-repairing. I’ve picked up a fragment in my lower back, otherwise okay. You don’t need to say anything Avenger.”
“Don’t I!” Avenger snarls.
2031 hours: City Hall
Well away from the blast, among the TV vans, Channel Three’s Amy Feng is racking up more invaluable exposure with her breathless summary of…
what appears to be a blast from where well-known Superhero Panoply has been attempting to defuse yet another explosive device
It’s a studio setting: in front of stylized shadows of prison cell doors, the Bomb holds a microphone stand. Underneath his jacket is a t-shirt barred horizontally in black.
“Time for a classic number!”
A guitar starts up, and a drum answers in a familiar way. The voice of Elvis Presley cuts in:
“Warden threw a party in the county jail…”
As the King sings on, images of two new parachuted devices are broadcast on split screens, and it becomes apparent that the devices are coming to rest on the roof of the Correctional Institute far to the north of Hanover, and the South River State Penitentiary.
“I love a captive audience! Make your choice, Panoply: north, or south: or don’t the convicted count as regular folk?”
Panoply’s voice, powerful and controlled, comes back over the comms: “It’s started: the accelerating threat rate. Team two, you are still nearest to the South River State Penitentiary? Good, proceed and get as close as you can to determine the threat there. I will move to Freedom City Correctional Institute: Avenger: with me!”
2035 hours: South State Pen
The streets to the State Pen are lined with vehicles, flashing lights and sounding sirens. The FCPD are moving rapidly to support the facility guards: the entire Pen has a police perimeter and more are arriving all the time.
Wraith, coming in on his own power, spots the device on the northern-most wing, jokingly known as the “River-view” wing to the inmates. He can hardly miss it: most of the security spotlights are focused on the device sitting on the roof.
Guards, rifles at the ready, stand on the towers’ walkways as the prisoners below are moved into the exercise yards. The inmates are hostile to the move: the place they are going to doesn’t seem significantly safer than the cells they are leaving.
Performer is becoming more expert handling his team-mates descent all the time. He drops Tripp off on a southern wing, Skylark and Nightfall near Wraith to assist with the disabling, and he and Holmes hover in the shadows near the yard, ready to assist should the prisoners stage a riot.
Wraith pushes his face right through the gleaming metal casing.
“This is nothing more than a kinetic charge! No switches, no timer, just a detonator in C4, attached to piano wire tied off to the access plate! Basically, it’s a decoy.”
“Yuh mean it don’t do nuthin’?”
“I’m saying it’s like a great big grenade with no timer. The access plate is like a grenade pin. Pop it, the grenade goes off.”
“So if’n I just t’row it in th’ river, that’d be OK, right?”
“Very OK! Come on down!”
Tripp leaps over the intervening wings, scoops the bomb up in one ink-whorled mitt, weighs it briefly, and hurls it as far as he can. It glitters in the last evening rays, arcs down to the river, and there’s a brief waterspout where it strikes: that’s all.
Wraith reports in. Avenger responds:
“Copy that. This just in from the Mayor’s office: following the discovery of an explosive device on the Mona-Glen Bridge, and another on the D-Line subway between Gould and Promenade, all bridges, highways, and subways running across the Bay, the South and Wading Rivers have been shut down by the Freedom City PD.”
Panoply cuts in, his usually firm voice halting…
“My device… appears to also be a decoy… the Bomb has drawn most of the police force out… of Freedom City from Downtown to Wareton State Forest… quite… quite successfully… Alex… Alex help me…”
“Rob? …. Tinman is down! He’s collapsed! I’m closing on the roof of Corrections now… He’s not moving!
“I’m here Rob! I’m not getting a response… trying to break into the suit. Damned thing is as tamper-proof as he could make it! I can’t even get in to check his pulse! Come on come on… I’ve popped the visor,” – there is a hissing sound – “He’s out, he’s not responding, his breathing is… oh Jesus Rob… I’ve got his breastplate off. I’m starting resuscitation. Red if you can hear me, put out an all points, come on Tinman!
“Guys – if you can bring in the Bomb, do it. We cannot assist. Don’t let him get away with it.
“Red, I need an all points – respond!”
2055 hours: Greenbank Railyards
Performer races toward the container yards from the south, carrying Bad Tripp, Holmes, Nightfall and Skylark. Wraith will have to get here as soon as he can: he insisted on inspecting the Mona-Glen device though well aware a new threat had jetted into the rail-yard. Ahead, hard up against a service building, Bomb stands, amid a ring of stakes driven into the ground and surrounded by mortar-like tubes. The sodium glare of arc-lights around the yard is enough to show his dishevelled figure clearly. Around the ring of stakes stands a cadre of the meta-powered. But there is something less than threatening about the group: they seem a little second-rate.
One figure is strapped into a red-painted exoskeleton, and although his pate is bald, the hair on the sides of his head is standing out, either by poor hairstyling, or static electricity. Next to him stands an enormous figure, muscled like an ox, with industrial extensions of metal extruding out of the skin: the mark of The Surgery. It could be a woman. Next to this figure stands a normal individual, if a moustachioed man in a 17th-Century costume, complete with heavy boots, cape, gloves, and feathered broad-brimmed hat can be called normal. Add to that his sword and dirk, and he looks as though he escaped from a production of Cyrano de Bergerac! All this looks the more amateur owing to the bulky communication devices strapped to their heads. Even at this range, there is a feeling of technical interference: a static charge making communications difficult.
“Drop me right there!” yells Tripp, pointing ahead to a mark about 5 yards short of an empty line of connected wagons, “and don’t hit the ground before I do!”
Skylark and Nightfall scan the battle-zone looking for threats and cover. The rail-bed is raised, offering cover against ground fire, and the service building stands a decent height. Other than that the train and some more distant buildings offer the only cover.
Performer drops Tripp but ignoring his instruction, also sets the other three down while hovering a little off the ground himself. Tripp lands on all fours, smashing his huge fists into the ground: a shock-wave runs along the rail-yard, rocking the train and toppling the exoskeleton and the constructed one. His companions are lucky to stay on their feet.
The caped weaponeer is quickest to react, effortlessly leaping far through the air over the train and landing beside Tripp.
“Ha! So you dare challenge… the Marauder! … Ah, you’re quite large aren’t you?”
Tripp growls. A lead-headed crossbow bolt slices out of the dark, taking Holmes in the shoulder! He winces but runs on toward cover.
Skylark nimbly charges at Marauder and takes him in the back of the head with a crescent kick. The kick lands solidly but somewhat to Skylark’s surprise, Marauder shakes it off.
The exoskeleton gets clumsily back to its feet and launches itself into the air, rockets screaming, the building and train shaking with the reverberation. Performer jockeys for height, wary of being power-bombed. As the jet-propelled figure gets closer, the static coming over the comms gear worsens.
Tripp swings at Marauder, who deflects the massive arm easily, nearly causing Tripp to swipe Skylark instead. Tripp closes the remaining few yards to the train.
Nightfall runs around the fight, crouching in deep shadow by the train’s buffer block. The building offers the next block of cover. He watches, wary, decides not to hurl a missile.
Holmes reaches out with his senses, trying to sense the hidden marksman, fails, and begins concentrating on the Bomb, who can be seen clearly from his position..
Skylark, about to kick the retreating Marauder again, senses a shot being taken and catches the bolt before it strikes her head! She ducks Marauder’s feint then winces as he slams his real attack through. She replies: this time Marauder is stunned by the force of her kick!
The Bomb raises his fist in defiance and rage:
“Where’s Panoply?! Where’s my cameo?! Where’s the big man? I deserve A-grade! I have a public to consider!”
He launches a rocket from one of the mortar tubes around him: it bursts, a concussive wave shaking the battling opponents.
Tripp picks up two cars of the train and swings them like a gigantic baseball bat at the exoskeleton.
“You dare try metal against… Doc Magnetic?!”
The car cabs peel back away from their undercarriage and bits of metal fall around Tripp, who moves to help Skylark in her pursuit of Marauder.
Nightfall hurries to the building, and peers about. So far, he is in no danger. He sees his chance: hurls a flash-bang arcing up: Doc Magnetic jerks inside his exoskeleton, dazzled!
Performer unleashes a barrage of dazzle attacks, stopping Doc Magnetic and the she-Meta. Holmes slides under the train, produces a convincing illusion of Panoply jetting onto the scene:
“It’s time to hand yourself in, O’Shaunessey, you’ve done enough damage!” The Bomb, screaming with mixed delight and rage, unleashes all the remaining air-bursts. Fortunately Perfomer is unharmed, and Doc Magnetic is so dazed that his jets cut out and he begins a slow descent.
As Skylark readies herself for another devastating kick to Marauder, a crossbow bolt slams into the back of her head: she staggers, stunned. Marauder is in little better condition. Tripp slams one ham-like mitt down onto Marauder’s feathered head, grabs him before he can crumple, and pitches him right into Doc Magnetic! Marauder falls the remaining 15 feet or so, unconscious, and Doc Magnetic is stunned.
As Nightfall gains the roof of the building, the misshapen she-Meta finally makes a move: she slams her metal-reinforced fists into the ground, shouting “Pound Down hurt you!!” Nightfall retains his balance with difficulty. To his amazement he sees Panoply becoming translucent, then disappearing, as Performer reaches out with his powerful Light of Truth to search, unsuccessfully, for the hidden marksman.
As the Bomb screams with rage and frustration, Holmes takes the chance to grab hold of his will: the Bomb surrenders, walks out from the circle, and calls on his minions to do the same!
Just as it looks as though Holmes has it all wrapped up, a crossbow bolt slams into his back, knocking the wind out of him! The Bomb rouses himself again!
Tripp roars, leaps into the air and smashes a fist into Doc Magnetic, driving his unconscious form still in its exoskeleton back into Pound Down, who also falls.
Nightfall finally makes his move: he leaps down off the building, right behind the Bomb: and misses completely with his king hit!
Performer, though hurting, whips a powerful binding spell around the Bomb: he is held fast.
As Wraith finally arrives on the scene, the PA crackles into life and the static generated from Doc Magnetic cuts out:
“The code is AJ324, Stack L, people: decide which way you want to go!”
The team assembles, in somewhat bedraggled fashion. Tripp drags Holmes out from under the train as gently as he can. He stoops, wraps Holmes’ bandana around a crossbow bolt, and tucks it into Holmes’ pocket. “Ya never know, might show up prints,” he rumbles. “Gotta keep a few evidence bags wid’ me next time.”
Performer and Skylark shake off the worst effects of the blasts and wallops and join the group. Wraith navigates. Marching the Bomb with them, they find the stack and the container. AJ324 is full of nuclear-fissile materials!