The way this was written means I don’t have any real chapter breaks in the text, but this is a fun action scene which highlights some of the mutant powers and characters from later on in the story.
You’ve managed not to completely flip out after realizing that you’d experienced some sort of memory wipe [authors note: spoiler!], and drove on toward the ongoing rally. Intercept can access a camera that points at the parking lot, and could see the couple you’d photographed walking to and getting into the Suburban. They plainly show up in your phone’s storage. Why can’t you remember seeing them? The more you wrack your brain the more the memory seems to slip away, so you stop trying. You can remember not remembering them, so that’s going to have to do for now.
Hopefully the rally will wrap up soon so you can go home and eat the Thai food you’ve asked Vigilante to bring back! Working through lunch sucks. You don’t have an elevated metabolism, per se, but you do tend to pack away the food. It sounds like she’s got her hands full at the Locos HQ. Person-shaped shadows that can slip under doors are definitely something you need to know more about - especially if they’re affiliated with the Locos.
As you park your car and prepared to hike in toward the courthouse (there sure are a lot of people here!) you purse your lips, concerned about Intercept’s vulnerability. Whoever is working with, or coercing, Vigilante has a mutant who can effectively remove things from one’s memory, and they either know all about your little League of (anti)heroes, or soon will. The obvious target to cripple your burgeoning organization is Intercept. The guy might look like someone from Duck Dynasty, but you know he hates guns and with Squib on loan there’s no firepower anywhere near him for protection.
With effort you force your worries out of your head (although you do ask Intercept to make sure the front door is locked to the apartment), and begin to hear the speaker who’s standing in front of a very diverse crowd on the lawn in front of the courthouse. You’re still fairly distant, but you lengthen your stride and text Eel to find out where he’s at.
A cheer raises up from the crowd. You can see a young mother near the edge, struggling as one of her kids tugs on her hand while the other is jostled about in the stroller she’s trying to push through the grass.
Eel: Near the back of the crowd.
Damn, you’re on the opposite side of the rally from him. You pause at the outskirts of the mass of enthusiastic people, and look around, your hands on your hips.
“...and we won’t stand for it anymore!” The woman on the stage lifts a fist high in the air and the rally responds. You are fairly tall, but you find yourself standing on your tiptoes anyway (as much as you can in your steel toed boots), and so you have a pretty good view as the roar of applause turns into screams.
In the middle of the rally an arc of electricity comes from the ground to a tree, splintering it with a loud crack that cuts through the noise. There’s a moment of shocked silence, and then the screaming as more electricity spiders out from what you assume is a mutant gone crazy. It sounds like the Youtube videos you’ve seen of Tesla coils, an incredibly loud buzz of energy that nearly drowns out the rally organizers on the stage asking people to please stay calm.
Your first instinct is to push into the mass of people that’s begun to move toward you, find the mutant and..do something, but then the panicky crowd begins to surge in two directions at once. Another mutant is attacking - you can’t get a good look but you see something huge moving toward the back of the lawn, and an inhuman roar.
The LAPD, formerly content to watch the goings on from the sidelines, is moving in onto the grass as one of them takes the stage and begins instructing people to leave the area at once.
“Eel, get to the electric mutant, hit him with something if you have to!” You find yourself shouting over the confusion and noise around you as you wade upstream through the crowd.
”Got it,” he says in your ear, and you bark orders for Digger and Billy, more immediately close to the mutant raging at the rear of the rally, to do what they can. Spectrum sounds a little worried, but agrees to meet up with Anna if she can, and then you’re back to feeling like a salmon struggling toward your spawning grounds.
The woman with the stroller is behind you now, but she’s screaming a name, her face white with terror as chaos reigns around her. You catch a glimpse of Eel striding in the other direction, people leaping out of his way as he electrifies his skin just enough to make them jump.
The roar of the hulking mutant - you decide to call him Monstro - is loud enough to drown out whatever Billy is saying in your ear piece, and you push through the last of the crowd just in time to see Billy charging at the guy’s side. Digger is clinging to one of Monstro’s arms, just strong enough to keep it out of play, and Billy connects solidly, knocking Monstro to the ground. He’s roaring again, and as you watch he seems to swell, muscles growing as he gets his hands underneath him. His features become simpler as he enlarges, his face looking like a quick sketch someone did of a caveman, and Monstro flings Digger off of him, grabbing for Billy with the other hand.
Behind you, the tree that had been struck by lightning cracks in half and falls into the fleeing crowd. Spectrum’s voice comes through clearly, “Some girl with Anna is - she just touched someone and they’re disintegrating!”
Police are surrounding Monstro and Billy, guns drawn, yelling at them to put their hands up.
Shit! You’re still on the outskirts of this, you could be out of here - but no, you got Billy into this mess, so you’ll see him out of it. “Get down!” you yell, and he throws himself to the grass, Monstro’s now massive hand sweeping over him and knocking aside a cop like he was swatting a fly.
One of the officers, rightly concerned for his safety, decides to use deadly force on a mutant at a Mutant Lives Matters rally. He puts two bullets center mass on Monstro, but the mutant merely focuses his attention on the hapless cop and charges. He breaks the loose circle the LAPD has put around him, and you move forward as the commotion moves away, pulling Billy to his feet.
“Thanks,” he says, “Where’s Digger?”
”Okay, I’ve got eyes on you,” says Intercept. ”Not great coverage in the middle of the lawn but … There’s a bunch of Humvees pulling in, and they don’t look like actual military.”
Billy is running over to Digger, who is sitting up and groaning, holding his ribs, and you hear sirens over the Tesla coil buzz of continual electric discharge behind you. “C’mon,” you urge the other two, joining Billy and helping Digger to his feet. He’s heavy, but your ability is kicking in and you’re strong enough to Kool-Aid Man through a wall, so his weight doesn’t bother you.
Monstro is thoroughly occupying the police, wires from tasers dangling from his back and more than a few bullets inside him, turning from threat to threat as they try to contain him. You stop your progress by a police officer who’d taken a hard hit from the mutant, and hand off Digger to Billy as you check his vitals. He’s alive, and you reassure him that help is on the way. The electric show abruptly halts, leaving a bright afterimage in your vision and the ringing sensation of sudden silence in your ears.
"They’re taking people down," says Intercept, calm as ever. ”Paramilitary, some sort of tranq guns. LAPD looks like they were expecting them, and they’re not playing favorites. I’d recommend getting out of there.”
“Billy can you handle Digger?” You shift more of the big guy’s weight over to Billy, and he nods, greasy hair held out of his eyes only by his curling horns. “Get him out of here. Intercept?”
”You’ve got a clear path on your two, Billy,” Intercept says. ”Zombie -”
“I’m going to Anna.” You’re already jogging in the general direction of the group, unable to see them as panicked people are starting to run back in your direction. “Eel, I hope you’re getting out of there!” There’s no response.
Intercept directs you toward Spectrum, warning you that you’re running out of time to get clear safely. You’re already cut off from where you parked your car, so you’ll worry about that later. You see Antonio first, he’s yelling at Anna, who is kneeling on the ground talking to a girl who is curled up into a ball on the trampled grass. As you get closer you can feel a chill in the air. “We need to get out of here,” you say to Spectrum. She’s pale with fear and nods fervently, grabbing the purple girl’s hand (Aimee?) and tugging her aside. Behind her you catch sight of a crumpled body, arm missing, ribs and spine exposed as decay continues to eat away at it.
“Antonio, get the kids to the van,” you order, and he throws up his hands, directing a string of rapid Spanish at his sister before obeying. “Spectrum can find a clear path,” you add, and Intercept takes it from there, telling Spectrum where to go.
“Anna, we have to get out of here.” You crouch next to her, your breath fogging the air. She is obviously distraught, but is holding it together for Rebecca, who is creating an expanding circle of dead grass around her.
“She said she was stung by a bee,” Anna says. “Just a bee. And then she touched someone - she’s always been able to control it. Never does anything like this. Dios mío, que acaba desintegrándose…” You notice her hands are shaking.
“That was a close one,” says Eel, and you turn around, more relieved than you’ll admit to hear his voice. “My electropal fried my earpiece. Took him down but left him for the cops, been trying to find - holy fuck what is that?!” He looks from the body to the girl, quickly putting two and two together, and takes a few steps backward.
”You’ve got about two minutes before you’re cut off, Zombie.”
You can feel the clock ticking, and you take Anna’s elbow. “Come on, we have to get you out of here. Anna!” You give her a little shake, and she snaps out of it, blinking.
“I can’t leave her,” she says, and you shake your head emphatically.
“Anna,” you say, a firm edge to your voice, “Can you make an ice sledge?” She frowns for a second, and then nods, holding her hands out in front of her. The air condenses and mists around her palms, and then the ice is forming and you turn to your second problem: Rebecca.
She’s cowering, arms wrapped around her knees and head buried between them, her long brown hair obscuring her. “Rebecca,” you say, crouching as close as you dare, the grass brown and turning to dust under your shoes. Just beyond her you could see the man she’d killed, his body still putrefying and decaying at a visible rate. It was beginning to smell really bad. “Honey, it’s not your fault, you’ve been drugged. But the Feds are coming and we need to go now or we’re all in trouble, so if you don’t get up I’ll pick you up myself ok?"
“Don’t touch me!” she says, scrambling backward, and what was left of her clothes fall away, disintegrating into nothing.
“Okay, okay! I won’t!” You get up and point at the slab of ice Anna has made. “Get on that!”
Rebecca stares at it, and then looks over her shoulder at the fleeing people. You can see someone in a black uniform holding what looks to be a modified tranquilizer gun beyond this last group of rally attendees, and you curse loudly, reaching out with your left hand and grabbing her by the hair. “Come on!”
She squeaks with surprise as you drag her to the sled, but has enough presence of mind not to flail her arms about, and then she’s on it, the ice biting at her bare skin as you grab the back edge and pushpushpush. Eel takes Anna’s elbow, helping her run while she concentrates on maintaining the ice. You imagine that a whole squad is running behind you, but you don’t look, and you get on a concrete sidewalk and feel something ziiiip! and hit your lower back, but you keep going, feet slapping the path. It’s a fast acting tranquilizer, and a heavy dose, but your body surges and burns it out of your system, and you start outpacing Anna and Eel.
“Open the back!” Eel hollers, and Antonio runs around the 12 passenger van to fling open the back doors. Anna coats the inside with ice without you asking, and Rebecca tries to climb in but she’s freezing and stiff, and trying not to flash her naughty bits to everyone. Anna makes an ice stepstool for her, and the girl steps onto it, and slips.
You see Anna flinch toward her, instinctively going to catch her, and you grab Rebecca’s arm, hoisting her up into the van. The girl screeches no!, and you close the doors. “Get them out of here, ‘Tonio!” you shout, your left hand already feeling numb and strange.
"What about you?" asks Anna, as Eel propels her to the passenger seat and helps her inside.
You are staring at your hand as Anna talks; the palm and your fingers are purplish-black and the unnatural color is seeping through to the back of your hand and starting to creep to your wrist. The skin cracks and peels away, your fingertips falling off/rotting, and you say, absently, “We’ll come with you.”
”I can’t quite see you, Zombie, but you’re far enough from the courthouse now that no one is heading that way. For now,” says Intercept.
”We’ll ride my Harley,” says Billy, almost at the same time. ”Digger’s gonna be fine.” There’s a grunt of pain from Digger over the comms, but you’re reaching for the knife you keep strapped to your ankle.
“Woah, wait a minute,” says Eel, still standing at the passenger side door, but you don’t listen, and instead drive the knife deeply into the meat of your forearm.
There’s no pain, just a pressing and tugging sensation as you slice around the bones, blood spurting out. Someone inside the van says “Awesome!” and another person throws up. You are vaguely aware that it was Spectrum, who’s probably reevaluating her decision to join the League right about now, but you’re concentrating on what you’re doing and are being stymied by your radius and ulna bones, which are resisting your knife.
Eel is staring, but then grabs your shoulder and pulls you toward Anna. “Freeze her arm,” he barks, and ‘Tonio hops out of the drivers seat, the van running and ready to go, as Anna complies. You watch the rotting hand attached to your arm turn white and cold, the blood crystalizing in rivulets, the chill extending into your arm and your shoulder. Eel points you at the ground. “Break it off!”
You grit your teeth, but find it too hard to move the arm now, thunking it awkwardly on the asphalt. ‘Tonio says, “Hold it out,” and Eel supports your arm at the elbow, helping steady it. ‘Tonio holds out his own hand, a dull grey color seeping up his arm, and then karate chops at the spot you’d cut apart, shattering the frozen bones with his now metallic hand.
“Thanks,” you say, and he dashes back around the van as you and Eel climb into the back seats. The kids are staring at you as the van pulls into the street and heads away from the courthouse. “Don’t try that at home,” you quip, and then look at Eel. “I’m going to sleep now, I think.” He nods, and you slow your breathing, calming yourself as best you can, and the darkness slowly overtakes you as the van rocks you to sleep.