Scene 25 – October 22nd
Exterior City, Continuous
“Thank you,” I cautiously said. “Is she…”
He shrugged. “I’m sure she’s fine – Legion is a tough cookie, after all. It’ll take more than a little rubble to take her out.”
“Thank you for not burying me as well,” Emilia said, seeming a little nervous. She had never had any trouble playing nice with our friends on the other side like Essa, Maria, and especially Max, but Rube was not a friend. The man was a psychopath, with little care for how his luck powers affected others, and it was surprising that they had bothered to protect Zookeeper.
“I’m not here to fight you,” he noted, “so what would be the point in hurting you? Particularly when as a hero, you’re bound to protect me once Legion gets out from under there.” And there it was – only helping because it was a benefit to him.
“Even so, our thanks,” I said again. I didn’t particularly like having a casual chat with him either, if I was being honest with myself, but it was my job – particularly given my cultivated image as the friendly, approachable face of the MLED in New Venice.
I idly wondered if we would be able to get a snapshot of Rube’s face from my cowl’s camera – unlike most villains in the city, they hadn’t been identified. Not in a way that would stand up in court if necessary, anyway. There was always something that messed up the image or the procedure – glare off a window, a painter unknowingly painting over a hidden camera, and in one memorable case a bird that had flown by at just the right time and place to cover the man’s face.
“Abe,” Starling whispered in my ear, “your helmet cam has been filled with static since that rubble came down. I can see rough details, but…” Yeah, that figured. And Zookeeper, of course, couldn’t carry that sort of equipment.
“Anyway,” Rube said, reaching into his hoodie and producing a pistol. “I have a hunch that Legion is about to make a reappearance, so…”
Indeed, seconds after he spoke, the rubble began to roll away and crumble as from underneath the pile, something rose. Something large and broad, far bigger than the shapes Legion had been taking up to this point.
It resembled a tree in the same way that a sea anemone resembled a bush. Thick tendrils hung down from branch-like arms, each long enough to reach the street and writhing, ready to grab anyone within reach. The trunk of the monstrous thing was ringed by eyes, with a single enormous mouth filled with far too many razor-sharp teeth.
“And who are you supposed to be, exactly?” Legion boomed out, her voice both magnified and deepened by her new form.
“Lucky for me that she’s never heard of me,” Rube quipped, gesturing vaguely with his pistol. It fired in the middle of his arc, the bullet sailing off… somewhere.
“I hate her,” Emilia muttered, glaring at Rube. “She has no right to be as dangerous as she is while when she doesn’t take this shit seriously.” Suddenly she was a falcon again, her coat falling empty to the ground as she winged to avoid a chunk of rubble that Legion had hefted in a few tentacles and flung at us.
I slapped the car-sized piece of rubble, twisting with my power as I did, and it stopped dead in midair, falling to the ground a moment later and creating a barrier between us and the monstrous tree Legion had become. “Any ideas?” I asked Rube as I crouched behind it, trying not to let it sound bitter.
He shrugged, not even bothering to use the cover I had created. “I don’t make plans, Canaveral, things just work out for me.” Another chunk sailed directly at his face and was interrupted by piece falling from the sky – it must have only just dislodged from the building.
“Great,” I sighed. “Console, what’s Vulcan’s ETA?”
“It was three minutes, but after that gunshot a moment ago the streets are clearing in a wide radius. Call it 90 seconds.”
“Again, you’re welcome,” Rube said with a bright smile.
“I hate you,” I muttered, and launched myself into the air over the top of the rubble.
Three tentacles began to snake through the air towards me, but a twist of power adjusted my trajectory to send me between them. As I sailed through the air, I produced a cluster of ball bearings and sent them towards Legion’s eyes, popping several of them.
At that point I was caught by the leg by a fourth tendril that I hadn’t seen, and I bit back a scream as it wrenched me in an unexpected direction – there was an unpleasant pop as my knee dislocated.
Emilia, still in the form of a falcon, let out an angry screech and zoomed towards me. In the blink of an eye she was a jaguar in midair, tearing through the tentacle that held me, then she was a bird once more before she touched the ground. The tentacle, severed from its branch, was now falling and me along with it, but I was caught bare moments later by a long trunk – Emilia as an elephant didn’t let me touch the ground and set me down safely before turning into a parrot and landing beside me.
“Are you alright, Navi?” she asked, somehow conveying her worry despite the limitations of a parrot’s voice.
“I’m okay,” I said with a grunt. “Just a dislocated knee. But without Anima here…” I lacked the enhanced toughness or regeneration of some heroes – I relied on mobility and dodging instead. I instinctively reduced the force of blows that hit me, and if I was expecting them I could negate the hits completely as I had with the giant chunk of rubble Legion had thrown, but a surprise like that could wreck me. And given my reliance on mobility, a dislocated knee put me out of the fight without Anima’s healing abilities on hand.
“Vulcan will be here soon,” Emilia assured me. She hopped a little closer, onto my shoulder, and rubbed my cheek briefly with her beak in a tiny bird kiss. “Just wait here.” Then she was gone.
God, I loved that woman.
Scene 26 – October 22nd
Exterior City, Continuous
I lay back, trying not to move my leg any more than necessary. “Console, status update,” I ordered.
“I have no eyes on the battle at present,” he noted, “but Vulcan is only 30 seconds away. I’ve notified the medical team to be prepared to treat your knee and sent a message to Anima, but she probably won’t be in until tomorrow.”
I nodded. “…I should give you a view of what’s going on, shouldn’t I?”
With a grunt of effort and a spike of pain, I propped myself up on my elbows and focused on the battle, allowing Starling to view the mayhem through my cowl’s camera.
My wonderful girlfriend was still deftly swooping around the tentacle-adorned tree monster, neatly avoiding the tendrils as they attempted to grab at her. As I watched she was caught by one wing and swiftly trussed up by two more tendrils, and I tensed in worry, but a moment later she was a rhinoceros and the tentacles, were forced off of her suddenly far larger form. She shifted back into a bird before she hit the ground, and continued harrying Legion without pause.
Unlike me, Zookeeper was lucky enough to have regenerative powers. Specifically, injuries she received in one form didn’t carry into any others – they persisted if she returned that that shape before she had had time to recreate the form, but she kept a large enough collection of the most useful shapes that it was rarely an issue. The injury she had likely suffered as a hawk a moment ago were now gone, having become what I thought was an owl of some sort.
Meanwhile, Rube simply stood and watched – the asshole didn’t seem inclined to contribute. He glanced up at the sky, and I followed his gaze to see a star that seemed to be getting brighter rather quickly.
“Starling-” I began, intending to ask if he was seeing it too, but I was interrupted by a thunderous crack like a cannon going off as what I could only assume to be a small meteor struck the tree squarely in the trunk, setting it on fire and destroying at least half of the branches when it exploded on impact.
Rube observed Legion for a moment as she released a deep and pained scream, then nodded decisively. “My work here is done!” he declared, then turned on his heel and left.
Behind me, I heard another loud retort, but one I recognized – the sound of Vulcan using his incredible strength to run, each step cracking the asphalt beneath him. He barreled into Legion as well and the flames swiftly began to die down as the metal man absorbed the heat, frost beginning to form over her monstrous body after mere moments.
He began tearing her apart with a startling amount of ease – perhaps she was still stunned by the meteor Rube had apparently summoned. She began fighting back after a moment, tentacles sliding ineffectively off his steel hide, then twisting around each other to thicken and attempt stronger blows, but to no avail.
Within a few moments, it was over.
Scene 27 – October 22nd
Exterior City, Continuous
The aftermath of the battle, of course, took a lot longer.
First there were statements to give to the police officers who arrived a few minutes later – the response time in this Buff Boy-controlled part of town was horrendous. Then we had to wait even longer for a group of MLED agents to arrive with a containment truck to transport Legion back to the Compound. Then it turned out that the truck wasn’t quite large enough to fit all of her, so Vulcan had to use himself as a plasma torch to cut some of her frozen branches and tendrils off until she fit. Then I had to give an official statement to a journalist from the NVT who had showed up. Then it was slowly making our own way back, me held in Vulcan’s arms as Emilia fretted. Somewhere in there an EMT had given me a brace to help me manage until I could get back to the more advanced facilities at the Compound.
The work didn’t end there, of course. There was a more extensive debrief with Director Shepard – or actually, at this time of night, Deputy Director Blackmire. There was my personal policy of holding a debrief with the other combatants to determine what we did well and what we could have done better. There was Dr. Rogers fussing over my knee when I got back. There was Miriam fussing over my knee when he was done, and then magically donating some of her life force to heal me, even though she wasn’t supposed to have been in tonight. There was Rogers fussing over my knee again because he had never trusted magic. There was the paperwork to fill out with the PR department because I had talked to the press. There was double-checking all the paperwork that Zookeeper and Vulcan had filled out, and the one-on-one debrief with Blackmire about how the team had handled itself during the combat…
I liked being a hero. It was what I had always dreamed of being, and I liked almost everything about it. I liked being a role model, I liked making people feel safe, I liked helping people. I liked fighting bad guys, and I liked bantering with the ones who engaged in banter. But I had never planned to become a team leader, and the vastly increased responsibilities I had as the leader weren’t something I liked. They were important, yes, so I did them, but I wasn’t happy about it.
Eventually, however, all the paperwork was finished, and I could finally rest. I woke up Emilia, who had been dozing in the common room while she waited for me, and we went home.