Party 7-IV

Sullied Clothes and a Sullen Frown.

I’m not much of a runner. I’m fit, don’t get me wrong, and I have good stamina, but it just wasn’t something I’d ever focused on particularly. I did most of my ‘off the job’ exercise inside, and I didn’t have a treadmill or anything like that. Plus, I’d found doing drills and weights distracted me in a way that running didn’t, and these days I was not overly fond of being alone with my thoughts. It tended to get a little…

Well, anyway, the point is that given my current situation, I’d more than happily take some retroactive painful introspection in exchange for some running experience, because even sprinting as fast as my legs could carry me, I still wasn’t fast enough.

The only warning I had was the slightest of noises, a sort of fleshy whirring, if that makes any sense. I threw myself to the side and the meat cloud barreled past me in a blur of yada yada, see previous descriptions. I hit the ground hard, tumbling a little before managing to get my feet underneath me and skidding for a bit. I felt an unexpected twinge of pain in my ribs, and bit back an exclamation. Seemed my injury hadn’t healed as much as I thought it had, or something in that motion had (literally) touched a nerve.

We’d burst out of the house containing the shithole and swung right, heading down the empty two-lane street. I was at the back, with the stranger out front and Flatline in the middle, and Meat-cloud had come at me from an oblique angle. From where I’d landed, Flatline and metal guy were to my right, and the meat-cloud was directly in front, both having stopped when I’d dived. There weren’t any street lights working, but it was a bright night, so I could see that he was actually back to being a human being again. It made me wonder if he couldn’t hold the form for long. Might be something we could exploit.

I tensed, watching him in the hopes I could still react in time with my injury, but he didn’t do anything. He just stood there. And wow, he was… really fucking excited. It was very distracting.

“So don’t take this the wrong way, but are you actually going to do something, or just stand there creepily?” The words slipped out without any conscious thought on my part; it’s a problem I have. Well, it’s never really been a problem before, but it certainly was now. I should probably work on that, but I’m not entirely sure how.

“Skew,” Flatline said quietly, walking towards me without moving his gaze from the meat guy, “maybe don’t antagonize the man? Just a thought?”

“I never thought I’d say this, but I agree with the Pom.”  Surprisingly enough, the villain had followed Flatline, until we were almost standing in a little formation. “I, for one, am perfectly happy if he chooses to do nothing.” I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard him chuckle quietly. “Heh. I, for one.”

I stood up slowly, doing my best to act nonchalant despite the spike of pain it caused. “Now, don’t get me wrong,” I said in a low voice, “I’m certainly not complaining, but why’d you stop?”

“This guy just negated a thirty second head-start in two. Didn’t figure it would do me any good.” It was the first time I’d gotten a good look at the guy, but I was pretty sure his armor had been in different places earlier. He probably just reformed it with his powers, I thought to myself, or maybe I’d just imagined it. Right now, it was dull silver plates over important areas, not dissimilar to my armor, and a mask that covered the upper half of his face but stopped short of the shock of black hair on top. He probably wasn’t much older than me, I realized. There was nothing obvious that said so, but it was just… small things, body language, that type of stuff. What had he been doing in the Shithole? He didn’t seem to fit with the rest of that crowd.

I nodded at him. “That’s the sort of self-centered behavior I’m more comfortable with. You got a name?”

He seemed to be thinking about it. “Fragment,” he said at last. “It’ll do for now.”

I pointed to myself, then Flatline, gave him our names. “Seeing as he’s apparently giving us planning time, I say we take advantage of it. That thing you did with the sphere, could you actually hold him with that?”

He frowned. “I doubt it, he tore right through it like tissue paper.”

“Okay, then how long do you reckon you could hold him for?”

He spun around, taking in the surroundings. “Maybe a minute or two, I think? I’ll need prep time though. Why?”

I told them what I thought about him having to switch back frequently. “There’s no reason for him to otherwise.”

“That’s a bit shaky,” Flatline said skeptically.

“Do you have a better idea?”

“And what are you and I supposed to do while this happens?”

“Well, the idea is that once he’s back in human form, you can knock him out. I’ll try and keep him occupied until then.”

“How are you going to do that?” Fragment asked.

“Like this,” I said, and then I turned around and shot Meat-cloud right in the chest.

So let’s talk about shock rounds. They’re not Forged tech, or at least I’m pretty sure they’re not. To the best of my knowledge, they’re products of an actual power, like Steelsilk. They’re regular bullets, they act like regular bullets, they fly like regular bullets, right up until they get real close to someone (and no, I don’t know how they distinguish between people and not-people. Power bullshit). Then, they take all that kinetic energy and heat energy and turn it into electricity, which then does whatever the hell it is electricity does. (Apparently, they also convert the sound energy of the explosion too, so each shot just sounds like a small pfft). Effectively, it’s like a cable-less taser at bullet velocities, but with a complete lack of physical impact. You fire at someone and they collapse, writhing on the ground.

So when the blue light flashed and the man didn’t move an inch, I wasn’t that worried. When he utterly failed to collapse, I was a little more worried.

He grinned at me. He had blood on his teeth.

I shot him again. Nine rounds, everything left in the magazine. I could actually see the crackle of the electricity as it coursed through him, and he didn’t even seem fazed.

“Yeah, I wasn’t really expecting that to work,” I muttered as I changed clips – no, magazines, sorry. Guns weren’t my thing, but Lis had pestered me into learning how to use one and getting into the habit of carrying.

Flatline and Fragment had run off, evidently taking my action as the start of the distraction, which was good, because if I’d done that for nothing I’d be really pissed. And he was still just standing there, just grinning.

I pointed the reloaded pistol at his chest, but didn’t fire. “Alright,” I said carefully. “Seeing as you’re obviously waiting for something, howsabout we have a little chat.”

There was a deep rumbling laugh. “If you insist, little man.”

Goddamit, I’m average height. Average. Height.

Thankfully, I managed not to say that out loud. “Fine. Whatever. You said that those guys 'knew'. What, exactly, do they 'know'?” I asked him.

“Too much.”

“Oh well cheers then, that clears it all right up,” I said under my breath. “How did they know too much? Literally all they knew was to stay away from some place.”

“The situation has changed. Drastic measures were needed. A greater warning than before.”

“More like a greater target. I may not like the Tower, but they’re at least upstanding enough that they’re not going to overlook something like this. Plus most of the villain community, they can be surprisingly solid.”

“You say that as if it is something to be afraid of.” Yeah, that was pretty much what I was expecting.

“Okay, then, how about what you’re waiting for? Please don’t get any ideas, but you could have killed all of us by now.”

That got a deep belly laugh. He really liked his menacing laughs, this guy. “Perhaps I-”

And then he was covered in metal. I hadn’t even noticed the wave of particles that had swept across the ground, but now they flew up and onto him, forming thick layers of metal that covered him and kept growing. I turned around to see Fragment with his arms outstretched, tense and straining. I also saw that quite a few of the lampposts had disappeared.

Pretty quickly, there was at least two meters of plating around the man, and the young villain dropped his arms as the particles stopped flowing. I gave him a thumbs up, and he wearily returned that.

“Flatline!” I called, not seeing him. “Get your ass over h-”

I was interrupted by a streak of light that came falling from the sky and smashed into the Shithole. Oh right, Jess. I’d actually forgotten about her, which was a bit embarr-

Again, the whirring noise was my only warning, and again, my ribs spiked as I hurled myself to the side.

“I was waiting,” said the man, not even breathing heavily from tearing through battleship levels of armor, “for that.”