Monday, September 26, 2011

Chapter 10: The Rescue

What? It can't be all smooth sailing!

Chapter 10: The Rescue

John pushed at the world, the wind pulling at his ski mask and battering his eyes until he couldn’t go any faster. Maybe he needed goggles in his real costume, when he made one? Or could he shield himself against the wind with a telekinetic field? He pushed out his field, but it was hard work to push individual molecules back. Finally John throttled back. He might have to go a long way tonight.
Where was Jason, anyway? Could John pick him up telepathically?
Hunh. Apparently, he could. Jason was out there, north and east over a mile away, towards Mrs. Crudup’s Black neighbourhood. He must be worried about Rafaella, John thought. John was, too. Surely the adults had made arrangements for her? Except that “arrangements” might not be enough. Seven superheroes had died fighting Doctor Destroyer in Detroit, and plenty of other ones since. Some even said that Takofanes was more dangerous than the Destroyer, and one thing was for sure: Uncle Kwan worked for Takofanes, and that  horrible creature had plans for the Wongs. Rafaella wasn’t a Wong. John wasn’t a Wong, either. For some reason, the thought hurt. But they both lived in the Yurt, and Kwan had more than enough hate to go around. John knew that much.
The lamplit streets flickered by beneath John, separated by wide, dark backyards and still brightly lit houses, Jack-o-Lanterns stood on porches, mirroring the Goblin Moon that hung over head, far brighter than the thin crescent of the real, new moon. The city was waiting for the excitement of Halloween, but it also knew that its superheroes were out tonight. Clearly that hadn’t stopped the adult costume parties were in full swing tonight. John had already flown over a police roadblock, with a line of cars pulled over for breathalyser tests. Yet for most people, both the excitement and the perceived danger wouldn’t peak until tomorrow night, the ‘real’ Halloween, with its trick-or-treating. People might look at the calendar and note that October 31st would be starting in ninety minutes, that this was already Halloween night, but they could hardly grasp the extent of the threat. No one could. Takofanes didn’t explain himself. He didn’t talk to anyone, perhaps not even to Uncle Kwan. He hadn’t even stood up from his levitating throne, at least in public. Everyone expected him to show up in Detroit tomorrow night, but he could be anywhere, doing anything, right now.
Case in point: John recognised the blue SUV parked on the side of the road beside a small park up ahead. It was the “clean” one that the Juniors used on patrol, at least until Rebecca started jumping them around. That was not what was going on right now. Now, it was surrounded by wolves. John blinked. Don’s lightning blasts were bright. How long could he even keep those up? Jameel was throwing the dogs around with gusto, not that 31st Century cybernetic muscles were going to do more than inconvenience werewolves. Jamie stood on the roof of the SUV, loading her absurdly oversized automatic pistols. Did she even need to load them? John didn’t know. And a were had slipped by Jameel and was slyly sliding up the hood and windshield. Jamie’s back was to it.
Where was May? Someone needed to do something about this, even if it meant that someone was going to be rumbled for breaking curfew. John slowed down, hovered. How much power would he have left over for a telekinetic move? Enough to lift the were up and away from Jamie. The Juniors would have to take it from there.
But then the Captain surged out of the passenger side window. The dog usually rode at the back end of the truck, so it must have taken it a second to get up to the front of the car. Now it made up for lost time, coming up onto the hood and planting a big paw on the windshield before it seized the were by the throat and shook the whole, shaggy monstrosity like a chew toy. It vanished with a soapy pop.
May came up behind Jameel, kicking one of the wolf-thingies so hard that it flew level with Jamie’s right-hand pistol as it descended into level arc. A much dimmer flash illuminated the wolf, and it was gone, too. “They’re fakes!” Jamie yelled.
Jameel reached right through one and pulled. For just a second there was an image of blood and gore in his emerging hand, and then it, like the wolf he was holding, disappeared. “So they are.”
Jamie continued. “Good thing we learned that before I fired off my silver ammo.”
May asked, “you can get it back though, can’t you, G.G.?”
“Not if the werewolves come in on the second wave,” Jamie/Gun Girl replied, giving the shadows of the park her scan. But nothing emerged from the bushes and playground equipment.
Well, that was that. The Juniors could track down their illusion-throwing enemy without some Grade 9 kid poking his nose in. It was time to see about Jason. And Rafaella. John turned back to his original course and set off again, amazed that he still had the energy to move, even after flying seven full blocks. Hopefully they weren’t going to be fighting werewolves again. John had some old, old silver-coated quarters from Doctor Stonechild had given him, but he found it hard to believe throwing quarters would stop raging werewolves.
Another three blocks, another familiar car. Like Jamie Neilsen, you knew Mrs. Crudup by her car; a 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood, royal purple from above, or it would be if it weren’t black under the streetlights, cream on the side, where John couldn’t see it through all the zombies. The car had stopped right next to Woodlands Cemetery, trouble on a night like this. Or maybe they came looking for the trouble. Either way, Jason was in the midst of a clot of bodies, flying high like the one that her sister had just kicked, but apparently much more real. Rafaella was a flicker, fast as her sword, carving through the corpses. John hoped that his zombie plan worked better than his werewolf plan. (He had a squirt gun full of holy water, too, via the Major, thanks to Dora Guzman. But would it still be holy water if it were shot out of a squirt gun? It seemed kind of sacrilegious.)  
John swept in low, shouting as loud as he could. “On three, jump: one, two, three.” It sounded stupid. He felt stupid. That guy who gave orders and shouted numbers and expected everyone to listen to him? John wasn’t that guy. Still, he could only do what he could, and as he shouted “three,” he swept out with his telekinesis, field spread wide, ankle height, as hard as he could. Supposedly, Mr. Wong had once swept the leg of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. That was what awesome kung fu dudes did; and while John was absolutely not awesome with his powers yet, zombies could barely walk, and they were old and dead and surely brittle. At least, the ones that were easy to raise must be, and there had to be some limit to Takofanes’ –or whoever was using him as cover tonights’--  power, or they were all doomed.
So it was. The zombies were scythed down by the telekinetic field, and whether Jason and Rafaella jumped in time or not, they weren’t affected. The Fleetwood shuddered as the field hit its front tyres, but they didn’t pop, fortunately. Oops. You might have thought about that before you pulled the stunt, John thought to himself.
John landed on the car. No point in getting too close to the zombies. They might all have shattered ankles, but they could still bite, just like in World War Z. “Hey, Jas. Aren’t you supposed to be in bed, dreaming of sweet pairs of pants?”
“Whatever. And like I’d sleep if I thought about that.” Jason kicked away a head that had snagged his pant legs.  It shattered. “Ew. I wouldn’t want to be one of the custodians in the morning.”
Rafaella hopped down from the roof of the Fleetwood as John landed and began kicking ...things... out from under the front tyres. The old Detroit iron didn’t even flex from all the landings and takeoffs. Or maybe it was reinforced somehow. Over her shoulder, she sounded almost winded. “Thanks for the assist, dude.”
Underneath John, the car started up and the headlights came on, presumably showing a clear road ahead. Rafaella jumped back up, but John had already decided that car surfing wasn’t going to be his thing.  Besides, if Jason wasn’t going to let the zombies phase him... John brought up his defensive screen and dropped to the pavement. Now if the zombies bit him, it would just be a powerup. Unless they could bite really, really hard. Which would be stupid. Just how powerful would the universe allow stupid freaking zombies to be? “So, uhm, why the Zombie Dawn thing? You could have just got out of their way.”
Jason shrugged. “Figured we could take ‘em. No top tenors.” That was what his Dad liked to say before singing ‘Men of Harlech.’ “Besides,” he said, gesturing at the car, stopping again at the side of the road just beyond the carpet of wiggling zombies. “We got issues.” Miss Hirsch got out of the driver’s seat and took her own, slow, old lady’s tour around the car. “Don’t leave your time machine with the zombies. It’s, like, right there in the owner’s manual. And...”
>Incoming! Get air, John!
John levitated, yelling “Incoming!” Plagiarism didn’t count in combat. Fast. Below him, three snarling brown-furred werewolves dropped Jason. Miss Hirsch turned. threw herself into the open Fleetwood. It banged shut even as she disappeared. A werewolf bounced off the side of the car. Clearly even stronger than it looked, but John could still hear a kid screaming inside. Unfortunately for the weres, they’d missed any chance of taking people unawares. Rafaella’s sword swept through an arc, and a werewolf’s head soared free. A lot of those flying body parts around tonight, but John was more worried about Jason. He looked down. What exactly was he going to focus telekinesis on? He tried a mental bolt, but werewolves were too crazy for that stuff to be super-effective, and, anyway, there were five of them all over Jason, who was still rolling and punching and kicking up a fight.
But if Jason’s skin was too hard for werewolf fangs to penetrate easily, it was also too hard for the fragmentation grenade that suddenly bounced on his chest and detonated. The grenade that Amy had loaded with tinsnipped fragments of the same coins that John was carrying in his pocket. The werewolves sounded almost human as they screamed, their nails clicking on the paved shoulder as they scattered. One absurdly fat one was going slowly enough that Amy’s lance caught it. It went down. John leaned down with his TK as hard as he could, and Rafaella appeared over it, pricking his backside with her silver-edged blade. The were howled in woe. “Change. Or put Depends on your shopping list. Your call.”
The werewolf changed. Pretty cheapass effect, if you asked John, but then this was magic, not a horror film, and why should magic look like a timelapse of Lon Chaney getting his wolf on? Amy, he couldn’t help noticing, appeared out of nowhere. She was wearing a somewhat ninja-inspired outfit, if a ninja went to the Old West and used a blue Hudson’s Bay blanket jacket as the base. The outfit had a ninja mask, but she took it off before opening the rear door of the Fleetwood and pulling the little girl that Mrs. Wong had been talking to yesterday out. For some reason, John could remember her name now: “Hi, Megan,” he said. This might be a good time to start being cheerful and reassuring. He was going to suggest that maybe Megan was safer in the car, but the road was suddenly full of the red and blue lights of the arriving police.
Megan said, “Hi! My Daddy’s a superhero.” She held out a draggling stuffy. “Amy can hold my bear.”
Amy held the little girl in her arms a little further out and asked, “What did we say about sharing with everybody, Meg?”
Megan started crying. “Where’s my Daddy?”
With a muffled pop, Miss Hirsch appeared beside Amy and Megan. “Mrs. Wong is waiting for you, Megan.”
Megan sniffled, Amy started. “Oh my God. You didn’t tell Mom we were out here, did you, ma’am?”
Miss Hirsch sounded amused as she replied, “Your secret is safe. I just want Meg with your parents before her Dad shows up. He’s got enough to worry about tonight without worrying about the sitters.”
Meg said, “Can I have some chai? It helps me sleep.”
Miss Hirsch sounded amused again. “A hammer couldn’t help you sleep, Meg.” Then she disappeared.
Amy shook her head. “Pawned by a four-year-old. Jenny makes that look so easy.”
“Settle for saving her life? That’s gotta be, like, class participation credit, anyway.” John took Amy by her shoulders for a second and froze. He really didn’t want to let go, but everybody up to and including the police were looking at them.
“I want an A.”
“Because you’re a keener.” Gah! It wasn’t much. He wanted to be funny. Where was the guy who lived inside his head who always had smart things to say at a moment like this? Probably on strike because John had let go of her shoulders. But she giggled, and he giggled, because he really liked hearing Amy’s laugh. As they talked, they walked over to where Jason and Rafaella were standing, watching a Police MARS team handcuffing a gigantically fat man with cuts and lacerations all over his body.
“Aren’t you breaking curfew, Amy?” Jason asked.
“Aren’t you guys breaking curfew?”
“But... we’re boys.” John was so staying out of this.
Amy snarled like a werewolf. Well, not really, but she sounded pissed. “We used to break curfew all the time.”
“But it’s dangerous now.”
“We’re boys.”
“You said. Mom’s double standard is straight out of the Seventh Century. What’s your excuse, Jas?”
“I...Thanks for saving our asses tonight, uhm, Blue Ninja.”
“It was nothing, Not-a-Clue Boy.”
“Cue Boy. I like that.”
“I said...”
“I heard it, Blue Streak.”
John could see that that could go on as long as their ‘pink/purple’ argument, so he walked over to the MARS van. “Officer. Blue Ninja and Cue Boy would like to know anything you can give us about the perp.”
“Before I tell you about the perp,” the officer said, sounding the last word sarcastically, “Can I have your codename for my report? Ski-Mask Boy, is it?” He waved at the still-bickering twins. He even managed to make the wave look sarcastic. He was sarcastic aces. John would have worshipped at his feet, if he just had time.
John  said the first thing that came to mind. “I’m ...Air King.” Why did Amy give a telepathic jolt of surprise when he said that?
“Pleased to meet you, Air King. I’m Sergeant Tatum. This is Keith Tuney, and he’s supposed to be on probation, which has rules against being in a werewolf pack.” The sergeant grabbed a necklace dangling fromTuney’s neck and pulled off a twisted silver-wire pentagram. “Even a fake pack.”
The fat man talked fast. “I don’t know anything about any necklace or werewolves. Someone’s playing me. I Just want to go home.”
John asked, “Who is playing you?”
Tuney gestured at the twins, the police blanket shrouding his body dancing. “Tell him I haven’t said anything to anyone. He said I’m more valuable alive. He said!”
Officer Tatum was looking at his phone. “Oh boy. Not that we don’t appreciate your help, Air King, but this thing just went sideways. No more talking. We’re taking this guy down to the PRIMUS Field Office. Anything more you need to know, I’m sure the Liberty League will tell you.” He sounded a little unconvinced.
“Sergeant...” Tuny began.
“We’ve got vocal restraints in the van, Tuney.”
Jason and Amy had come to stand at John’s shoulder. Jason said, “Thank you, Sergeant. We’ll let the grownups deal with this.”
A moment later, they were standing by the Fleetwood. Rafaella said, ”So. My prisoner, and I don’t get to know what the big deal is?”
    Amy took a moment to answer. “Tuney was a supervillain for a few months. He ran into Jenny and her Senior Patrol, figured out who my parents were, and tried to sell Jenny and Henry to Yin Wu for assorted supervillainous bwa-ha-ha. The cops couldn’t make a serious charge stick, but Dad had a long, long talk with him, and  UNTIL and PRIMUS are supposed to be doing a deep surveillance on him in case one of his old buddies shows up. Like the Demonologist. Small world.”
She was leaving stuff out, John could tell. He just couldn’t figure out what. “I thought you were with Rebecca tonight, Rafe?”
“Gah!” Rafaella was mad. Again. “If I wanted one of you pinkies, I’d go a lot pinker than Rebecca. I was in Babylon at a meeting with my supporters. Booker Crudup and Meg’s mom set them up, I show up to be little Ms. Princess Figurehead and try to talk them out of being stupid. Sometimes Rebecca drives me, sometimes Miss Hirsch. And Emily’s getting the hang of the Fleetwood. Now shouldn’t we be getting back to the Yurt before they notice you’re gone?”
“Ooh! I can drive the Fleetwood back to the house!” Jason volunteered.
Rafaella waved that off. “The car can drive itself, as long as there’s no zombie apocalypse on the road.”
Amy said, “I’ll throw my bike in the trunk. We can drop off next block. Jas? Come with? John?”
No, he wanted to say. Everyone can go but Amy. But he couldn’t. And the frustration was like to killing him, and the world was slipping out of sight, and for a moment he could see the bones of the universe, and he was, only half-surprised, hanging in the night air, light years.... No, wait, five blocks away, to the trees that lined the edge of the Panther Heights mall parking lot. Although Telantassar thought that John might eventually have interstellar range, this was the first time that John had ever actually teleported, and the way that he was feeling, five blocks was more than enough for a first time to thrust through the folds of spacetime. And shouldn’t he be doing something about the falling thing? Through a haze of tired, John reached out and brought his plummet to a halt telekinetically.
Again, he was hanging fifty feet above a midnight street, and  watching a crisis unfolding beneath him, though at least one he could handle. The girl in the tree might be no match for the skeletons that stood, eerily still, beneath it, while one clumsily tried to climb the trunk, but John shouldn’t have much trouble with them. At least if the Monster Manual was right. And why shouldn’t it be?  
A quick telekinetic sweep of the street, and the accuracy of Dungeons & Dragons play aids was demonstrated for all to see. Bones lay scattered in the empty parking lot. John landed, very, very relieved to rest his powers. Teleportation was really, really hard. “Miss? It’s okay. The skeletons are gone now.” That was the sort of thing that superheroes said, John thought.
“Who are you?” The girl said.
“Air King,” John replied. In his head, he added the next line. “Never heard of him.”
“Never heard of him,” the girl said. This was not going to be a fun conversation, it occurred to John.
“I’m new in these parts,” John said. Something something about just in time for me. With a joke about skeletons.
“Well, you’re just in time for me. That was by the skin of my teeth.”
She came swinging down from the lowest branch. Time to see what he’d rescued.
Woah. He knew her. She was Liam’s new friend from school.
And she was beautiful.

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