Fight 15-VI

There'll Be No-One There.

The buddy system is based on a pretty simple idea. Freefall’s power is great, but it's kind of unilateral. We can't exactly designate targets or whatever: a giant wall of force isn't going to go 'oh, Jess likes that person, I guess I won't hit them, then’ (if Jess does like us, that is). But when we added up the numbers, we realized that approximately half of us had some way of resisting or protecting themselves from it. Tide can raise a barrier, Ribbon can create a shield like she did back at Ramsay Park, Vortex and Stonewall both have forcefields, and Void can just tank a hit. The buddy system, then, is pairing up those who can't take the hit from our very own human artillery with someone who can. Essentially, in quasi-military terms, it allows us to shell our own position and survive. And if you're not willing to shell your own position, you're not willing to win. And we are very willing to win.

Smoke and dust whirled across the square. The dust was from the impact, but Jess had pointed out that the square was too solid to really throw up a good-enough smokescreen with just what it produced. So Lis had pulled out a belt of smoke grenades with the pins tied together and given them to her, with instructions to pull the string just before she hit. The light obscured it, but when it had faded after a second, the square was quickly becoming blanketed in acrid black smoke.
The crowds around the edges ooh-ed, but the sound quickly became muffled as the smoke washed over them too, turning into hacking coughs. Lis had assured me that there wouldn't be any long-term negative effects of inhaling the smoke, but it wouldn't be pleasant. It also probably wouldn't leave people too well-inclined towards us, but that was unavoidable.

The wind suddenly picked up, unnaturally strong. The bank of smoke and dust began to shift, moving away from the Tower lobby, but then it changed direction as the wind did. It began moving upwards,  lifting the cloud off the confused crowd and into the air. That must've been Instance: I was seriously starting to wonder why he wasn't running everything, considering how ridiculously overpowered he seemed to be. He had to have some kind of catch, I figured. It didn't make sense otherwise.

The smoke grenades still lay in various places on the concrete, releasing streams of smoke like signal flares as the wind dragged them upwards. The Guardians stood at various places across the square, in varying conditions. Most looked like they'd been knocked down, but there was a wall of ice between Fog and the impact point, and Instance was standing with his arms outstretched, not looking worse for wear as he directed the cloud upwards.

The crater in the centre of the square wasn't as deep as the Ramsay Park one, but it was still not-insignificant. Maybe 6 feet deep, double across? Standing in the centre was, of course, Freefall. Of the rest of the Outliers there was no sign.

She gave a half-salute with two fingers, clearly mocking, then disappeared, just before a veritable storm of ice tore through the crater. Fog stalked over, screaming various foul obscenities. Her serene mask was cracked, on an angle starting just below the nose and ending right below one ear. The affected section had fallen off, and there was blood on the dark skin below. Stump intercepted her before she could reach the crater, sticking one hand out in front of her. She immediately took a swing at him, and he took the blow without flinching as it bounced off his… armor? Skin? I don't know.

What I could hear was the murmuring of the crowds as they watched the scene play out. Honestly, although things had gotten off the rails a little, this whole thing had gone better than we possibly could've hoped.

Pulling that Batman trick had probably been the hardest part of this. It had also been quite possibly the silliest. See, remember how Flatline had ridden one of Tide's waves? Yeah, it was basically like that, combined with forcefields and Ribbon’s fabric to hold everyone in place. It both looked and felt stupid as all get-out, but it worked, and we'd all managed to successfully be whisked off into one of the many side alleys off the square before the smoke began to clear. It was a memory I'd both treasure forever and never tell anyone, ever.

Thankfully, there were no people in the alleyway, so nobody had been crushed as we'd come tumbling gracelessly out the other end, into another, slightly grimier passageway. Immediately, Foresight had begun recounting what was going on back in the square while everyone gathered around.

“And… yeah,”he continued, “they’re starting to figure out that we couldn't have gone far. Comet’s yelling at the civilians to disperse.”

“It's advice we should follow,” Void said. She'd taken off her helmet, wiping some sweat off her forehead as she grinned uncontrollably. “But… hot damn, we actually did it! We pulled an au-natural Batman move!”

“Plus, you know, all that other stuff,” I said, mock-grumpily, and she laughed.

“But seriously,” she said, “split up and scram. Meet back at base once you're sure you're not being followed.” The helmet went back on, and she lifted off with a gust of wind.

“So,” Stonewall said slowly, “is no-one going to ask what happened to me?”

“Later, big guy,” Vortex said, punching his shoulder lightly with a bruised and bloodied fist. “It's good to have you back, though.”

“Oi,” I interjected. “Come on, get going.”

“So there I was,” Stonewall continued unabated, “heading down to-”

I threw my hands up in the air and stalked off. “Ridiculous,” I muttered. “Ridiculous people.”

The thing not a lot of people know about New Chicago is that as big as it is, it was supposed to be bigger. The plans and basic infrastructure already existed before 9-11: it was supposed to be the next big city, a fully-planned urban and economic metropolis. The destruction of Old Chicago put a damper on those plans, forcing them to build in a hurry to deal with all the displaced people, but certain systems had already been built according to those original ideas. And one of those systems were the sewers.

(“But Flint, didn't you not know anything about the city’s history just before?” It's not an all-or-nothing switch, genius. I know about the sewers because they're actually relevant to my life.)

The original plan had been to disappear into the pipes that ran underneath the streets as a group, but that'd been nipped in the bud when Shauna had gone online and figured out that there wasn't any access in or close enough to the square. We’d had to go with the much stupider alternate plan, which George had called the pooper scooper. But, now that we were successfully away, I could find a manhole and successfully slip away.

Heh. I'd just been through the pooper scooper, and now, seeing as I was sneaking across town in sewage tunnels, I guess you could say I was being a…

Pooper snooper.

I'm not sorry.

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