Dead 22-I

Following The Railroad Tracks.

The gang was back together.

Sure, the circumstances were dire. Sure, almost all of us were injured or exhausted or mentally off-balance. Sure, there was a very real chance that we might die (which I was trying hard not to think about).

But we were back.

“Stop grinnin’” Ricochet snarked. “Ya look like a psychopath.”

“Well, excuse me for me being happy.”

We were all sprinting across the rooftops, following the meat-tornado. He seemed to be moving around the city in an arc, keeping us the same distance from the Tower and the city center. We’d never even have gotten close to keeping up with him if Stonewall and Vortex weren't alternating creating bridges for us, a straight block of darkness, then an arched semi-transparent shield, then back to the darkness. It was proving to be surprisingly efficient: despite the speeds I'd seen him move at before, we were managing to keep pace with the whirling cloud of meat and bone. Part of that, though, was Void’s efforts; she was running with us, instead flying like normal, and both her hands were outstretched, pointing forward. She wasn't stopping him cold like before, but it was pretty clear that it was definitely hampering him.

Problem was, we weren't gaining any ground either. And I somehow doubted he'd get tired before we did. I was already feeling the burn; the healing had gotten me moving, but not much more than that.

“I can't keep this up forever, guys,” Void yelled back at us over her shoulder. She sounded strained, but not puffed at all. Jerk. “We need to bring him down, and soon.”

“Can either of you cage him?” I asked Stonewall and Vortex.

“Too far,” Vortex replied. Stonewall nodded in agreement.

“I can intercept,” Freefall said.

“Yeah?” I glanced at her. “Power levels?”

She grunted. “I’ll manage.” And then she was gone. Well, that boded well.

“Anyone else?” I asked as we came off an upwards-sloped black bridge. “Go wild.”

“I could’a shot him with somethin’,” Ricochet said, “but that fucker broke my gun.” She very clearly had recovered multiple firearms, and repopulated her webbing with ammunition. I knew what she meant, though; that rifle was tricked out, and there was all sorts of weird stuff it could shoot. Combine that with her power working best at longer-ranges for trickshots, and taking it away removed a lot of her utility.

“Yeah, you're basically useless, aren't you?” I did my best to hide the panting in my voice. “Why did we even bring you?”

“Meat shield,” Flatline said. “With the additional bonus of bulletproofing.”

“I'll shoot ya both.”

“You three, stop fucking around,” Void said. “This is serious.”

Foresight gave a satisfied/smug little chuckle at that, but I just ignored him. “Tide, Ribbon?”

“I haven't got much left,” Tide answered. “I could… maybe launch someone at him?”

“Really?” It was a good thirty yards. “That's pretty far.”

“It's relative velocities,” she explained. “I could launch someone that far from-”

Ribbon laid a hand on her shoulder. “Not now?”

“Uh, yeah. Now now. Sorry.”

“Okay, so we have Plan Human Cannonball.” A thought occurred to me. “Freefall,” I said, activating my earpiece, “are you getting all this?”


“Good. If you can, hold back, give us a chance to stop him, then you can hit him once he's stationary.” She grunted in acknowledgement. “Right. Plan Human Cannonball. Any volunteers?”

“Ribbon makes the most sense,” Tide said immediately. I looked at her quizzically, as did the cannonball in question, her with a bit more hostility.

“Really?” I said. “I was thinking one of the forcefields, you know, cage him?”

“We need the bridges,” she replied, gesturing below us at the translucent platform. “They can try and seal him when we catch up. We just need to get him out of the air, and Ribbon’s the only one of us who can hit hard up close.”

“Aren't you supposed to want to keep your partner out of trouble?” Flatline asked snidely.

“That's what I thought too,” Ribbon said.

“Look, it makes sense-” she started, a little flustered.

“She's right,” I said. “Sorry, Ribbon. What do you need?”

She craned her neck. “That building, there. Three forward, one to the right. It has enough space.”

“You heard the lady,” I said to Vortex and Stonewall. “Void, you okay?” It's generally not a good sign when she doesn't talk, but I'd been a bit distracted.

“Just dandy,” she replied from in front of me. “I swear this guy is getting stronger. What an absolute bunch of horsefeathers.” The building Tide had selected was two away now, and Stonewall obligingly created the next bridge at a diagonal, crossing us over so it was directly in front. “Ribbon, he still has the datapad. Don't get near him, or look at it, unless you want to end up like Paladin back there.”

The words hung heavy in the air. None of us had mentioned it, but I think we had all been pretty shaken up by that scene. “What even was that?” Ribbon asked.

“Best guess?” Void replied. “It looks like it turns your power against you somehow. Distorts it, or…” she trailed off. “I don't know. Just get him down and back off, okay?”

“Okay,” she acknowledged, a little distracted. Tide grabbed her arm, and the two of them engaged in some meaningful eye contact for a few seconds. “Okay,” she repeated, more serious. “I'll be careful.”

We'd reached the bridge to the rooftop now, and Tide raised a fist and clenched it, then dragged it downward. A divot appeared in the surface, and as she strained, it deepened further. Ribbon picked up speed, pulling ahead of us, her costume beginning to lash at the air around her. Just before reaching the divot, she leaped into the air, fabric coiling underneath her like springs.

Just before she landed, Tide released her hold, and the ground in front of the divot shot upwards, catching Ribbon and sending her flying up and forward. As it did, the coils pushed back on it like springs, giving her even more momentum. She soared through the air, ribbons trailing behind her, and I could see that her arc was going to bring her down just in front of the meat-tornado. “Nice aim,” I commented off-hand.

“Pssh,” Ricochet said. “I could'a done better.”

If he noticed Ribbon coming for him, the meat-tornado didn't show it. He kept on barreling ahead, right up until she fell on him in a whirling storm of super-tough fabric tendrils. For an instant, everything was visual chaos, too much going on to be processed by the human eye. Then, there was a distinct, clear, motion within the blur, and the meat-tornado spun off to the side. Ribbon dropped out behind it, costume now tattered and torn, but whatever she'd done had worked: he was significantly slowed, and almost seemed like he was having trouble orienting himself, listing to one side, barely just skimming the rooftops.

For a second, it looked like he was starting to recover, beginning to rise up again. And then a streak of bright light dropped from the sky at an angle and smashed him through the side of a building.

And then out the other side. And then through another building entirely, and through one side of a third.

I winced, as the first two buildings slowly began to crumble. “God, I hope those were empty.”

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