I don’t hear what Tim Prince says. I don’t even sprint to the door, I cross the distance with kinetic energy. My voice says something, Bedevil and the others start moving, but they move like they’re caught in sap.
“The car is downstairs!” Epione says.
No time. I put my mask on. Vault off the balcony. Tendrils grab me.
“Gabe!” Bedevil screams.
I drag her with me across the street, wind and blood roaring in my ears, my chest squeezing my heart like a grape. My feet touch the cement of the next building. Another burst of energy. I fly.
I wish I could fly.
“Gabe! Slow! Down!”
If I hurry, if I’m fast, there won’t be another dead child at the end of this. Rooftop after rooftop under my stride, I can’t stop. I will not stop. I must save her.
Different voice. Mil-dot.
I skid to a stop on a sun-baked rooftop, the air so hot it shimmers. An ancient AC creaks along with the babble of Houston traffic. The city stands tall. Buildings rise all around me and fence me in concrete.
Bedevil lands and falls to her knees, and dry heaves behind her mask.
Mil-dot cries over the watch comm. “Gabe, I’m sorry!”
The black hole. No. The Fear. Chilly fingers pulp my heart.
“Mil-dot,” my voice says. “Please. Please, don’t say it.”
“He’s gone, Gabe. He… he took her. I’m so sorry. He used his power and…” She growls. “I couldn’t, I’m sorry. Lugs is-”
I sprint for the edge of the roof. Bedevil’s tendrils lift me off the ground.
“Let go!” I shout.
“Gabe!” Bedevil pulls me back to her. “This is reckless.”
“I have to get Maisa. I have to. Let me go!” I flail my arms to get free of her telekinesis, but I’ve no idea how to break the bond. She’s not pressing into me, just, holding. No energy or force to work with.
Bedevil wrenches me toward her. She’s stronger than I am. “Gabe, listen, there’s got to be a smarter way to do this! You can’t just charge in!”
“You said you’d help me! He’s taking her!” I kick with kinetic energy into an aerial flip. Her tendril falls away from my ankle.
I spin in the air and drag her toward me by the tendrils wrapped around my waist and legs. Bedevil splats onto the roof, face-first, and her telekinetic grip loosens.
I launch into the air as high as I can. More of Bedevil’s tendrils grab my arms, but my momentum is too much to stop. She takes flight with me. We soar over the Third Ward, higher and higher, until I’m over the concrete fence and free. I push with all the energy I have.
The familiar line of McMansions along MacGregor peeks through the tangle of woods and urban jungle. I let up on the energy and careen toward the ground, aiming for Epione’s house.
Just before landing in the street, the telekinetic harness pulls hard, and I stop mid-air. Bedevil alights next to me, and we both touch down gently.
Bedevil falls to her hands and knees, and vomits. “You fuckin… you fuckin asshole.”
I start to run for Epione’s house. Tendrils grab me again. “Stop!” I shout. “Maisa needs us!”
Bedevil floats to her feet. “You… you flew…” She groans. “I haven’t flown like that… in years…” She lifts her mask and spits out more bile.
“I… flew?” I’ve wanted to fly since the lab, and I just did, without even knowing it? I shake my head. Maisa is in danger. “We’ll worry about that later.”
“You’re being stupid,” Bedevil says. “You can’t just charge in.”
I sprint for Epione’s house without another word. The door hangs open on the hinges, the window on her porch is shattered, and there’s pellet marks from a shotgun in the floor. I charge through the carnage, into the entryway.
Lugs and Mil-dot are on the stairs. Lugs is sprawled out, his body twitches and shakes, and he’s staring at nothing. His babbles, like Mr. Gold did.
Mil-dot has her hand on his chest, but stands when I run in. “Gabe! How did you get here so fast?”
“Where is he?” I ask.
“He got away.” Mil-dot, the soldier, the scowling girl, the stone cold sniper, hugs herself. The act of holding herself is so out of character it knocks me out of my rage. “He used the thermos, and when I saw that, I dove into the bathroom.” She grimaces. “He got away because of me.”
I grab the banister for support. “He’s gone.”
I fall to my knees, and plant my forehead to the floor.
A scream escapes my chest, and I channel all of the energy inside of my body into Epione’s tile floor. The tiles crack and shift, the house groans as I flow everything I’ve got into its foundation.
“Gabe! Stop!” Bedevil grabs my arms and lifts me off my head.
I fall quiet, the energy settles. “She’s gone.”
“We’ll get her, Gabe,” Bedevil says. “I promise, we’ll get her back.”
A jet passes right over the house.
“What the hell was that?” Bedevil asks.
Mil-dot looks up and squints her eyes. “Four people, flying overhead. No, five, one of them’s carrying another person. They’re landing in the front yard.”
Five people land in the front yard. The Harris Hawks, led by Snow Owl. Tim called them here, or they were right on his tail.
“What do we do?” Mil-dot asks.
“You get Lugs out of here, back to my place,” I say. “He can’t fight like this, and we can’t protect him. You won’t be any good in this fight without a gun.”
Mil-dot nods. “We can try and find Pandahead.”
I rise to my feet. My fury’s back. “You’ll just put Maisa in danger, and he’ll use his power again. But Snow Owl’s his sister.” I walk toward the door. “I’ll get her to talk.”
“Gabe! You’re being reckless!” Bedevil says.
“Don’t you think I know that?” I shout. “Don’t you think I know this is all fucked? But Maisa needs me, and I’ve got to get there the fastest way possible.”
“You don’t have to kill yourself to save her!” Bedevil shouts back. She floats over and gets in my face, turning me around so she’s blocking the door. “She needs you alive more than she needs your corpse hurtling at her.”
“Get out of my way.”
“Tim!” Snow Owl calls. “I’m giving you the chance to come out peacefully! Leave your weapons and come outside to the front lawn!”
“They’re gonna come in here if we don’t go out.” Mil-dot’s helping Lugs to his feet, but the poor guy stumbles around like a drunkard, and babbles like a toddler. “Half of 2nd Amendment and Home Run might be too much to pass up on bagging.”
Bedevil sighs. “Okay, but shift gears to diplomatic. Maybe she’ll work with us.”
“I can do that.” I make for the door.
The Harris Hawk are significantly less hawky than I was expecting. Snow Owl is familiar in her dazzling white suit, gray cape that falls to the small of her back, and helmet that looks like a snowy owl’s head. A large visor shows her grim face soften with confusion.
To her right is Gyrfalcon. Gyrfalcon was Elena’s right hand woman for years, the second in command of the Hawks. She wears a brown suit of a similar style to Snow Owl’s, though her helmet looks more like a falcon’s. A sharp beak tops her visor like a hood.
The other three that I don’t recognize are non-bird themed. A tall guy in silver-blue armor and a blue domino mask that could barely skirt by the ‘no-masks’ OPI rule, a guy in a business suit and a trilby hat, and a dude that looks like he came out of military boot camp for this, wearing only a sweat-stained tank top, camo pants, and combat boots.
“You’re Home Run. The super villain,” Snow Owl says.
“Sure. Where’s Tim?” I ask.
“I don’t know where my brother is.”
“How am I supposed to trust that?” I ask. “Maybe you’re here to cover his tracks.”
The Hawks look uneasily at Snow Owl. Maybe they aren’t all on the same page about her being back on the team.
Snow Owl takes off her helmet. Her hair is in intricate dreads that spill down her shoulders, all the way to her stomach. She’s everything her brother isn’t: tall, stately, noble. Her suit isn’t actually pure white, there are flecks of black and silver that resemble feathers. “I came here because he called me, and told me he wanted to meet. That turned out to be a lie.”
“You believed him?” I ask.
Snow Owl’s mouth drops open, and then closes tight. She sniffs, a disdainful, bourgeoisie movement. “I suppose I shouldn’t have. Still, I’d hoped he’d have the decency to meet with me.”
“Did you know about Parlor?” I scowl through my mask. “OPI and FIS like covering up their mistakes.”
“I knew he was trouble, but I didn’t know about Parlor.” Snow Owl clenches her jaw, her lips nearly disappear. “If I had, I’d have done the same thing you did.” She takes a few steps forward from her team, and offers a hand to me.
Huh. Not what I was expecting. “You don’t want to fight?”
“You’re not my priority,” Snow Owl says. “Our priority is the immediate capture of my brother. If you want to provide civilian assistance, I’m not going to turn that down.”
“That’s a funny way to say ‘crime,’ Snow,” business suit says. “But you’re not the leader here. I am.”
“There’s no reason to take him in right now,” Snow Owl says. “As far as I’m concerned, he helped us last night.”
“Twenty kids died.” Business suit looks at me. “My name is Afterthought, Home Run. And this is Trainwreck, Gyrfalcon, and Jettison.” He gestures to boot camp and silver armor in the same order. “Thought you should know who’s going to bring you in.”
“No one’s bringing anyone in,” Bedevil says. She gestures to Trainwreck. “Crew cut better think real hard about how close he wants to get to this porch.”
“Trainwreck doesn’t think,” Afterthought says. “He obeys orders.”
Trainwreck charges the porch, shoving Snow Owl to the side. Bedevil points a finger at him and he lifts off the ground, his limbs splayed out. He writhes against the invisible crucifix.
“Jettison!” Afterthought shouts.
The guy in the silver-blue armor winds up and throws a fist at us, and a jet stream rips Bedevil off her feet, smashing her through Epione’s wall. The porch tears apart under his powerful blast of wind.
Trainwreck drops to the ground and rushes at me.
I catch his charge with my arms around his waist. I wrench him down to the ground. He’s not super strong at all. What’s his power then?
“Trainwreck, stand down!” Snow Owl shouts. “And you, Afterthought!”
“You’re not thinking clearly.” Afterthought says. “Go chase after your brother! You too, Gyrfalcon. You can still catch him. We’ll take care of Home Run.”
Snow Owl looks at me. She’s torn. “This isn’t right.”
“That’s an order, Snow! Out of the way!”
Snow Owl stammers, scowls, and puts her helmet on. She lunges into the sky and flies off, over the house. Gyrfalcon follows her.
Jettison winds up again. Oh, no.
I’m not fast enough getting off Trainwreck. The jet stream catches us both, shooting us into the house. Trainwreck howls as he smashes into the stair railing, and rolls into Epione’s living room. The wind sends her TV and Drone’s game systems straight through the wall, out into her backyard.
I absorb the energy of the blast, but my power fails in the middle of the torrent, and I’m launched off my feet. I roll into the backyard, over the debris from Epione’s living room.
Trainwreck climbs out from under a couch. Some thing’s not right, though. He was lanky when I had him pinned to the ground. He looks like he got a quick pump workout in between then and now, his muscles are filling out his tank top.
“Look, I’m clearly stronger than you even without my power,” I say. “Let me go. I’ve got someone I need to save.”
Trainwreck yells, tackles me, and we roll together. “You’re not going anywhere!” He locks my arm between his legs, catching me in an arm bar. He’s stronger now, somehow.
I smash his crotch. Trainwreck howls, and I get free. I’ve got to go after Snow Owl, she needs to know about Maisa!
Jettison flies through the house, winding up for another wind blast. He stops mid-air, his arm caught behind his back. “What the-”
Bedevil slings out of the rubble of the porch, whipping to Jettison, spinning like a yoyo. They shoot into the kitchen in a ball of telekinetic power and hurricane force winds.
Trainwreck comes at me, dancing on his feet. Wait, didn’t I just punch his dick? How is he up and at them? He jabs like an experienced ring fighter, needling my side so I drop my elbows low.
I use my power to bounce above his follow up strike, and windmill kick the back his head with as much kinetic energy as I can manage.
Trainwreck rolls through Epione’s hedge wall.
I climb over Epione’s ruined furniture, through the ruins of the McMansion, and back out to MacGregor street.
Afterthought’s still out there, talking into an ear piece. He sees me coming and panics. “Oh, shit.”
“I’m guessing you’re squishy,” I say. “Otherwise you’d be fighting with them.”
Afterthought holds a hand out. “OPI and FIS are minutes away.”
“That’s not soon enough.” I warp toward him with kinetic energy, but my power fails again halfway through the super speed dash, and I fall to my knees again.
Afterthought pulls out a baton and swings it at me. I block it with my arm. My body jumps, and cold fire commands my muscles against my will. Shock baton!
Trainwreck screams behind me.
Holy shit, he’s the size of an elite bodybuilder now. Muscles of steel bulge through his tank top. Just what the fuck is this guy’s power?
He grabs my arm and tries to throw me. I absorb some of the energy of him pulling me off my feet, but he’s Cruiserweight strong. Wasn’t this guy just a whelp a minute ago, when I was beating his ass?
That’s it. He gets stronger the more he gets hurt.
My power fails, energy stops flowing, and he throws me.
I careen into a hydrant. I absorb the energy of my landing but I rip the hydrant off the bolts. A geyser of water shoots up from the ground. Trainwreck’s coming for more. He’s not as strong as Krater, but it won’t be long before he’s close to that level.
Let’s work with what we’ve got. The geyser. I could superheat it and fling it at him, and then freeze it in place.
I stab my hand into the geyser and channel the energy of the water pressure into heat, and fling the boiling mixture at Trainwreck. I try to sap the heat away fast enough to freeze the water mid-air, but it’s like lifting a weight that I’m too burnt out to lift. The water slushes and splatters all over the ground, but doesn’t freeze.
Trainwreck’s fist bursts through the geyser. I hurtle back into Epione’s yard. Trainwreck chases me, a wolf coming in for the kill, and I can’t fight back. My power won’t respond.
He pounces on me, I put my feet on his chest to squat him off, but without my kinetic energy he steamrolls me over. He nails me in the jaw, and the world starts spinning. He bashes his fists into me, each punch stronger than the one before it.
Pretty soon he’ll reach a level where he can pulp my chest and head like a Gabe shaped watermelon.
I’m sorry, Maisa. I can’t.
Trainwreck peels off me and smashes into the street near Afterthought. Bedevil floats out of the hole in the side of the house, but she bobs and weaves erratically as she flies to me. Bile drips out from behind her mask. She’s too sick. Too drunk.
I get to my feet, and Bedevil lands at my side.
Afterthought holds his baton out at us. Trainwreck climbs from the crater Bedevil made for him. Jettison steps out of the hole in Epione’s mansion.
“Surrender,” Afterthought says.
I raise my fists.
A van squeals onto MacGregor, horn blaring. Remise is at the wheel, Epione in the passenger side, both in their vigilante outfits. The van whips toward us and screeches to a stop, and Epione steps out of the passenger side.
“Yer sure about this?” Remise shouts.
Epione doesn’t look back.
What the fuck is she doing?
Afterthought points at her. “Trainwreck.”
Trainwreck’s froths at the mouth, his eyes are wild with berserker rage. He shrieks and tears toward her.
I move to run after him, but my legs are jello, and I fall forward to my hands and knees. I try to use kinetic energy to get to them, but my power won’t respond at all. “No!”
Trainwreck is ten feet from her. He pulls back for a haymaker, and swings.
Epione catches his fist.