One shallow breath sucked into the back of her throat.
The truck screeched as Athena drove it into the lobby of yet another government institution. Glass shattered, spraying across the ground like windchimes detonated across a metal sheet. The truck slid up to the lobby’s front desk, pressing up against it, and then lurching back as its weight redistributed. Athena exhaled as the hydraulic truck brakes sighed, smoke tracking back from the tire marks across the marble floor. Athena looked up from the steering wheel, where her hands were gripped with white knuckles enveloped in black, leather gloves. She smirked and reached out with her mind.
“There’s one behind the desk, and three behind the false mirror,” Athena shouted into the back of the truck.
The truck’s back doors swung open with a metal creak, and the big man dropped down to the floor; his boots crunching broken glass underneath. Marshall zipped up his jacket and held a fist out as he adjusted his gloves.
“Good looking out, Athena. Knew there’s a reason I brought you on,” Marshall joked, as he pulled the security guard over the top of the front desk, ripped the keys from his belt, and tossed the man up against the wall. The guard felt to the ground, slumped over, unconscious.
“Gee, I’m so happy to be useful, sir,” Athena jeered, as she slammed the truck door behind her.
Marshall punched the false mirror, sending shards of thick glass in all directions, and revealing three shocked guards. They raised their handguns at Marshall, shouting excitedly.
“Oh no, Marshall, they have guns,” Athena retorted in a dry tone. “Whatever will we do.”
“Put your hands up! Reinforcements are on the way,” one of the guards shouted. “Don’t make us -.”
The guard dropped his gun, wincing in pain. He pulled off his glove and looked down at his beet-red hand. The guard looked back up, and his other two co-workers dropped their guns as well. Another pair of boots crunched glass as they came closer and closer to Marshall and Athena.
“Cutting it a little closer there, Castor,” Athena chided.
Castor tossed a used-up cigarette butt onto the ground and pressed his boot against it, crunching more glass in the process. His other hand was outstretched, glowing orange and steaming. He adjusted the aviator sunglasses on the bridge of his nose and flipped off Athena with his free hand.
“Didn’t want to waste my smoke. They’re contraband, remember?” Castor said gravely, and coughed after his explanation.
One of the guards flicked out a police baton, catching Marshall’s eye. Marshall smiled, and pulled the nearest guard towards him and threw him into the air. The air-bound guard squealed as he slammed into the marble floor and skidded across it like an errant plaything. The guard with the baton swung at Athena. She dodged his blow, and punched his kidney, sending him to the ground in agony. As he tried to get up, Athena punched him in the face, which knocked him out cold. The final guard tried to attack Athena as it happened, but Marshall grabbed the man’s arm and wrenched him to the side wall, pressing the air out of his lungs violently. He gasped for air as Marshall released his grip, leaving the man slumped over on top of the crushed glass.
Athena winced, shaking her punching fist in the air, and hoarsely whispering obscenities as the unconscious guard at her feet.
“I told you we’d handle it,” Marshall reminded.
“Oh screw you, Marshall,” Athena rebuffed as she gripped her throbbing hand. “I deserve to have a little fun too.”
“It’s not going to be fun later when you won’t shut your damn mouth about the pain,” Castor sneered. “All day at the base, just chatting away with Lizzie about how much your hand hurts, and how much bigger the guy was than you. What a load of crap.”
“Shut up, Castor,” Athena snapped. “I hope the sprinkler system turns on. Then you’ll be a steaming pile of -.”
“Both of you, shut up,” Marshall said in a correcting tone. He was the defacto leader of their little band of misfits; their little renegade army of superpowered freaks.
They had a job to do: get in, get their friend Nick, and get the hell out before the Director brought a detachment of operatives to the fight. With Athena’s ability to read minds, it was easy to spot when people were coming, but it would get a whole lot more complicated when other supers came into the equation. They wouldn’t be able to escape… just like Alan. Marshall remembered Alan most in these situations. He knew Alan would want him to protect their friends. Well, Alan kind of hated Castor, but still… Marshall didn’t want to waste Alan’s sacrifice. They were going to bring down the government board enslaving their people.
Marshall motioned toward the door that was rattling behind the false mirror they just destroyed. “They’re coming.”
The door cracked at the handle at a gun peeked through, one gunshot cracking the air like a whip. The bullet whizzed between Marshall and Athena, ricocheting off the lobby desk, and into the ceiling. The sprinkler system activated.
“You just had to say it,” Castor groaned. Athena shrugged.
Marshall shook his head, and barreled his way toward the door, knocking over the men bunched up on the other side with a thunderous crash. The men moaned as they squirmed on the floor, broken bones and bruised egos limp against each other in a pile. A few men stood by, and they came running and saw the commotion. One guard pulled his pistol and aimed in the doorway at Marshall. The gun cracked, somersaulting in the air from Athena’s swift kick. She grabbed his arm and pushed him off balance into Marshall’s oncoming fist. His head made a thunk sound against his black helmet, and he fell backwards into the other man coming towards their team. They both fell to the floor, lying motionless in fear.
“I thought you were only going to give five percent power?” Castor asked, disappointed there weren’t many left for him. Marshall smiled as he pulled himself all the way to his feet. A piece of the doorway fell to the ground with a loud crash, metal and drywall scraping the marble floor.
“That was five percent.”
“Care for me to show you ten?” Marshall asked. Athena stood to the side, amused at the situation.
“He’s thinking about it,” Athena said through a wry smirk.
Castor looked at her with a raised eyebrow. Another guard came running up, and Castor held his hand out, melting the tip of the gun. The gun backfired, knocking the man unconscious. He rolled his eyes, and pushed the guard’s body onto the other pile, eliciting another collective groan from the injured men.
“Oh, shut up. You’ll live,” Castor chided.
They had no time to revel in their win. Another group of guards came sprinting down the hall after them. But these men were different: they were super powered too. One of the guards grabbed Marshall by the jacket and tossed him against the side wall of the hallway, cracking the drywall and leaving a Marshall-shaped dent in it. He threw Marshall again, breaking through to the other side and into a room that appeared to be the kitchenette break room for the guards.
Marshall grabbed a microwave and struck the guard’s helmet, sending him to the ground momentarily. The guard punched upwards as he rose, knocking Marshall off his feet and into the kitchenette counter. The guard grabbed the refrigerator by its door, ripped the door off its hinges, and swung toward Marshall. Marshall’s eyes glowed red, sending beams flashing through the refrigerator door coming at his face. Marshall threw his arm up, splitting the door where it melted from his ‘high beams’, and ripped it away from the guard. Marshall smacked his head against the guard’s helmet, cracking through to the man’s skull and knocking him out cold.
Marshall bent down, picked up the melted refrigerator door, and threw it at one of the guards running at Athena. With a loud bang, the guard fell over into the pile of other guards near Castor.
“Hey! I had him!” Athena protested, as she kicked the next guard near her, sending him to the floor.
Marshall pushed his way back out of the kitchenette, rolling his eyes at his little friend. “Whatever you say, Athena.” An errant red beam sliced through Marshall’s jacket lapel, and a piece of the cloth slowly floated to the crowded floor. Marshall looked over at the guard who had shot the beam at him.
Marshall’s eyes lit up orange-red and the fluorescent light panel above the attacking guard fell onto his head, and he tumbled to the floor with a loud crash of armor and broken bulbs. Marshall picked up the piece of the errant piece of his jacket lapel, and tucked it into his front pocket flap.
Athena rolled her eyes at Castor as he shoved another guard through a glass wall, which revealed a small conference room. The guard tumbled into the conference table, sending chairs rolling on each side of him.
“I know you’re having so much funny, Castor, but I think it’s time to get Nick.”
Nick. The magnet who could move metal with his mind by tapping into magnetic fields. The Nick who got locked up because of Alan’s brashness. That Nick. It was one of Alan’s last wishes: that his friends would help Nick out. Call it guilt. Call it compassion. Whatever the case, Alan wanted Nick to be free like the rest of them.
Castor grunted as he pulled an unconscious guard over to the pile of the rest of his buddies. He heaved the man onto his friends, and looked up at Athena with panting breaths.
“You ruin all the funny, little girl.”
“Shut the hell up and find me the database,” Athena said through grinding teeth. “We don’t have time for your frat boy shtick.”
Castor rolled his eyes, and touched his hands to the closest wall. The farther away they got from their subservient past, the more they found their abilities evolving. Castor found that in concentrating, he could feel heat coursing through objects. He became a bloodhound, sniffing out heat and energy to its source. It came in handy when looking for computers, specifically servers with their high energy and heating. He could feel the warmth of processors caching information, pulsing as they drained energy from their outlets. Castor nodded, and looked over to Marshall and Athena.
“The server room is down the hall to the right. Get me in there and I’ll overload the firewall controller.”
“Same old, same old,” Marshall grunted as he parted the bodies between him and the server room hallway.
The room was filled with towers of enclosed computer parts, like small skyscrapers filling a gray box. Castor put a hand on a server rack, finding its input wires. He followed the wires to the firewall control center, which was housed in another rack. Castor melted the lock off the control console, and pulled back on the small metal door. He touched a hand to the power supply, melting it down into plastic and metal pudding. The green light of the firewall indicator flashed, then turned yellow as plastic and metal dripped around it. The liquid concoction slowly overtook the bulb as it pulsed red, then died.
“We’re good to go,” Castor shouted.
Athena pulled out a small drawer in one of the racks labeled “Array 273, Detainment Records.” The metal drawer slipped out, revealing a keyboard connection and a small screen, which sprang to life, bathing Athena’s face in blue light. She slid a small drive into the input panel, and pulled up a diagnostic program from the directory.
“Second floor. Block A. Cell 24,” Athena said, and she then opened another window. “Copying files to our drive.”
“Good,” Marshall replied, and he pushed a large metal filing cabinet in front of the doorway they came through. “I think we’ve gotten some more attention.”
The cabinet rattled as the door behind it start banging. “Ok, I know we have.”
“So we go up to the second floor,” Castor cried out as he melted the door back onto the firewall control box.
“No, you idiot. These buildings do their floor numbers backwards. Floor 2 is beneath us,” Athena snapped, her eyes staring at the file copy process box on the computer screen.
Castor rolled his eyes and melted down the firewall controller cabinet from the exterior inward. The metal and plastic bubbled over on themselves, collapsing the tower into a heap. Castor grinned, and straightened his jacket.
“Whatever you say, little girl.”
“Stop calling me that,” Athena said under her breath.
The file copy was 98 percent complete.
“Guys,” Marshall said, his body pinned up against the shaking cabinet. “We don’t have time for this.”
“No time. Gotcha’,” Castor said, and he bent down to put his hands on the white, tiled floor. The floor began glowing red, the floor melting all around Castor’s palms.
“What’re you doing?” Athena called out, her eyes still on the copy process.
“Shortcut,” Castor grunted, as he concentrated even more on melting down the floor beneath his feet. The tile began to bubble and crack under his weight. “This may take too long.”
“I got this,” Marshall cried out from the spastic cabinet that he was perched on. Castor ran over and pressed himself against the cabinet, and Marshall went to the red spot forming in the tile. He leaped into the air and drove his arms down with a force that created a crack down the entire room’s floor. He punched again. A fissure tore through the tile, revealing crumbling concrete underneath. Another punch. Now Marshall could see pipes. Marshall reached down and yanked rebar that was reinforcing the concrete out of his way. The rebar flew through the air and stuck into the drywall around them like darts in a board.
“Hate to rush, but…,” Castor grimaced, using all of his strength to keep the cabinet pinned to the door.
Marshall looked up for a brief moment to see the door’s hinges snap under the pressure of a dozen shoulders and rifle butts. He lifted his fists in the air and slammed his arms down onto the floor, and his body – with a mountain of rubble – crashed down into the next floor. The pipes had been filled with water, so the room Marshall was in was already ankle deep and soaking his boots. Marshall pulled back his long hair and saw several guards looking on in disbelief.
“Sorry. The elevator was broken,” Marshall said stone-faced.
A guard broke up the gawking onlookers and punched Marshall across his face, sending him flying into a wall behind him. The second floor walls weren’t as flimsy, made of steel and concrete, so Marshall could feel his back pop a little bit, knocking the air out of his lungs for a moment.
“Not bad,” Marshall managed through a hearty cough.
The guard grabbed Marshall by his jacket and punched him in the face. Marshall felt his jaw rattle from the impact. He coughed as another punch smashed him up against the wall again.
“Guys… little help,” Marshall called up. The guard pulled out his nightstick and held it over his head.
“They warned us about you. Have to say: not impressed,” the guard jeered, then he shrieked, dropping the glowing hot nightstick.
“Likewise,” Castor said with a smirk, and he grabbed the guard by the arm, a stream of hot air spraying around the edges of Castor’s grip. The guard winced, and jerked his arm back, catapulting Castor into the wall where Marshall had been slumped up against. Marshall wasn’t on the ground though. He was running at the guard at fullforce, slamming into him with enough power to snap a normal man’s back. But this guard was strong like Marshall, so he was merely caught off balance, and he smashed against another wall next to the other dumbfounded guards. The guard’s head wobbled and fell over.
“Anyone else?” Marshall asked. The other guards ran away, fumbling over each other to get to one of the two exits in the room. Marshall chuckled as he picked himself up off the wet floor.
Athena dropped down into the hole in the ground and helped Castor to his feet.
“Thanks for the help, Castor,” Marshall said, his body still recovering from the shock of its damages. Castor nodded and twisted his torso back and forth.
“Everything seems to be alright,” Castor moaned as he felt a little pop in his torso from stretching. Athena helped Castor over the snarled remains of the concrete, rebar, and metal sheets reinforcing the floor they had come through.
“At least physically,” Athena shrugged and tapped her index finger on Castor’s head. Castor chuckled and nodded in agreement, and then the three of them tried to get their bearings.
“You didn’t happen to get a map, did you?” Marshall asked Athena.
Athena shook her head. “Oops.”
“Oops? Oops!” Castor replied, frustration rife in his body language as he shrugged off Athena’s help and stood on his own. “Well what do we do now?”
Marshall, Athena, and Castor turned to the wall lined with cells that the guards had been standing in front of moments before. Nick was standing in one of the cells, orange jumpsuit, water up to his shins.
“Little help here?” Nick asked.
Marshall smiled a huge beaming grin that set the others at ease. He ripped the thick cell door off its fused hinges and tossed it like a piece of cardboard. Nick hugged Marshall, a decidedly un-Nick move. It had been a long time. Marshall could tell from Nick’s deep set eyes that he hadn’t slept much.
“Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes. Hey, where’s the kid? I figured he’d be here trailing your shadow. At this point I even miss his annoying voice,” Nick asked Marshall. Marshall looked down at the ground. The group was silent, a thick fog of depression overcoming the jovial spirit they enjoyed not two seconds before.
“Alan’s gone,” Athena said, her voice trailing off trying to mask the lump in her throat. She cleared her throat. “We need to go. They’re recovering.”
Marshall pulled out a handset, pressed a button and heard Song’s voice on the other end. “Song, we’re going to need a lift. We’re on the second floor of the building in the A block of cells.”
A blue light exploded nearby, and a small wormhole opened up. Song, their lithe teleporting friend – once an operative of the Board and enemy – stepped through the portal and held her hand out.
“I don’t want to go through that thing,” Nick moaned. “They make me sick!”
Athena shoved Nick, and he tumbled into the hole and disappearing before their eyes. Marshall gave Athena a judgmental glance.
“What? We don’t have time for bullshit,” Athena argued. Song hid a coy smirk, as Marshall shook his head in disapproval. “Just go,” Athena snapped.
Marshall walked through the portal and Athena followed after him. Song looked at Castor with an amused grin.
“Time for the fireworks?” Song asked. Castor nodded, pulling a detonator switch from his jacket.
“Man, I loved that truck.”
He pressed the red button on the switch, sending a shockwave through the building as the truck in the lobby detonated. The ceiling above them shook violently, concrete and dust loosening into mist across the flooding room.
“We’ll steal another one. Come on,” Song implored, waving Castor on toward the portal. The two jumped into the light together and disappeared, just as the ceiling above them collapsed into a pile of metal and stone.
~ ~ ~
Nick threw up on the concrete floor of the basement in the team’s headquarters. He pulled an arm back, wiping his long, orange sleeve across his mouth. Athena rolled her eyes. Some people got sick from the strange physics of the dimensional, space and time jump that Song’s type could pull off. Marshall picked Nick up off the floor. Nick stood uneasily, wobbling like a man who’d been at sea for too long; now back on the earth, the gravity and friction an uncertain, alien feeling. His sleeve pulled back in the process, and Athena saw something she didn’t quite believe.
“What the hell is that?” Athena asked, her voice skeptical and haunted.
“My tattoo? We all have one…,” Nick trailed off looking at the ink on his arm.
“Not that. What is that?” Athena pointed to the watch on Nick’s wrist. It was a trinket. An interesting face. Somehow familiar, yet foreign. An old memory, yet a new visage. Nick shrugged.
“I woke up one day, and it was just in my cell, bundled up in my mattress. Don’t know where it came from,” Nick explained, looking at the watch as if it was mysterious and majestic at the same time. “Why?”
“That was Alan’s watch.”