2.6.B

Echo put the last touches on her make-up. She felt the fine details sold a costume, hero or vigilante, and she always made the effort to polish those details until they shone. Winged mascara, smoky eye-shadow, it all looked fine under her mask. Black-cherry lipstick put that last dash of pizazz, and Echo felt ready to conquer the day.

She kept her mask in her purse, and wore the rest under her trench-coat, which she’d had fitted by a tailor so she didn’t look like a bell walking around.

Echo texted Crane that she’d be there soon as she road the bus to the Bay hideout. Eight days and they still hadn’t found that little girl Home Run wanted to find. For a guy touted as the supervillain of Houston, he sure seemed to care about hurt kids a lot.

Course, Echo knew that was all baloney. Home Run was a vigilante, just like her. His debut just happened to be spectacular. Any guy that could knock Krater out of the park would make the city stand at attention. Echo didn’t fancy men, but if she did, she mused that she’d go for a spectacular guy like that. No settling.

Echo actually had her eyes on that Remise girl. Echo felt the vibe from her, and those arms! That butt! That accent!

Before she knew it, her bus ride of fantasies was over, and the bus driver called out her stop. Echo thanked the driver for their time and meandered to the Bay hideout. Weird, Crane hadn’t messaged her back yet.

At least the week hadn’t been a total wash. They knew that Pandahead was in the Second Ward. OPI would be making a move on him tomorrow at the latest, and even if he found out, fat chance he could leave the city now. OPI had eyes all over that part of town now, police checkpoints, drones, everything! They’d know the minute Panda poked his head out a window, and thanks to that Drone chick with the Underground, the masks would know a minute later.

The Bay Biters refurbished an old bed and breakfast as their hideout. Not much to say about it, except that it hadn’t seen a guest in over two years, even despite still advertising online. Crane tried to get the thing up and running again, got it in his head he’d stop being a mask and put his strength to good use for tenants or something.

Echo loved the way the place looked in the late evening, though. The plot of land was a few acres of dense woods just short enough so you could see the roof of the building as you approached the fence. Ivy vines tangled themselves in the white fence boards.

The lights were out, strange at this time of night. The building waited in darkness, crowded in by the short trees. Echo didn’t need light to see, thanks to her power. She clicked the roof of her mouth with her tongue to create an ultrasound. The noise bounced all around the dim woods, the house with its rickety porch, and through the open window on the second floor that Crane always left open.

Her heart stopped. Crane, Tamper, Sidestep. Pyre.

Crumpled on the first floor in the kitchen, Crane had a knife in his throat, and Tamper’s head was pulped by the wrecking ball Crane carried. Pyre’s head was twisted around, his arms broken back like he tried to fight. Sidestep’s chest had two gaping wounds at the heart. No breathing, no heartbeats she could discern.

There was another body in a bed on the top floor, no heartbeat or breath. Echo felt them out with her ultrasound.

Also… Sidestep?

Sledge. Shapeshifter.

Normal people had flight or fight mechanisms, but Echo was always calm enough to know which was the better idea. Right now, standing still was the best idea, even as her heart ripped to pieces over the other Biters. She fished past her tube of mace and grabbed her phone, started to type in Remise’s phone number.

Sledge started to breath on the second floor, and their heartbeat started to pound a faint beat. Echo cursed. Their hearing was sensitive.

Echo silently panicked, trying to dial Remise’s number.

Sledge moved down the stairs, and passed Pyre’s broken form in the living room.
The door creaked open, and Sidestep Sledge emerged from the darkness. The costume was torn at the shoulder, and blood stained the fabric all the way down to the crotch. Three holes in the abdomen.

“Stay back,” Echo barked, trying to sound threatening. She may have powers, but she was no match for this person that could kill all three of her teammates. She wasn’t the heavy hitter, that was Crane. Oh, God, he’d never get to run the bed and breakfast.

Tears blurred her vision, so she used her ultrasound to keep up with Sledge.

“When are they coming?” Sledge asked with Sidestep’s voice.

Echo shook her head. “The Underground-”

“OPI.”

Echo closed her mouth. Like she’d tell this bastard anything now.

Sledge clicked their own tongue. “Ah well.” They rolled their shoulders and stepped off the porch.

“I said stay back!” Echo knew that wouldn’t stop him, but the words tore from her all the same.

Sledge did not relent their stride. Their arms crunched like the bones were breaking underneath the skin, and swelled to triple the size.

She had seconds. Sledge had sensitive hearing. Advantage. She couldn’t wound him, but maybe she could slow him down by overloading his hearing.

Echo opened her throat and screamed using her power. The piercing sound filled her ears, and resonated off the windows of the bed and breakfast. Sledge hissed and covered their ears, too late to stop blood dribbling out of their canals.

Sledge locked predator’s eyes on her. The trickle of blood running down their ears stopped.

Next option: flight. Echo turned and sprinted for the fence.

She breathed steadily, trying to control her emotions and stay ahead of her enemy, but when she looked back, she saw that Sledge was right on her heels. She wouldn’t make it to the fence before he ripped her to pieces.

Echo ran through her last option: fight. Sledge still felt pain: they hissed when she’d used her powered scream. She could slow them down with her mace.

Her fingers nimble, Echo reached into her purse just as Sledge hooked an arm under her shoulder. Echo flicked the safety off, turned into Sledge’s murderous embrace, and sprayed the mace tube right into his eyes.

Sledge howled and punched her, sending her tumbling over the fence. Echo stumbled to her feet to run for it. Only a few hundred feet more, and she’d be at the road. Sledge couldn’t get her then.

Just as she’d articulated that thought, Sledge tackled her from behind. Echo screamed again with her power, and slammed every limb she could into every place she could on Sledge’s body. Sledge knocked her around the head, running their forearm along her jaw to control her neck. They squeezed, a vice grip that would break Echo’s neck.

What Sledge didn’t know, is that Echo had fangs.

Echo sunk her teeth into Sledge’s bicep, once, twice, thrice. Sledge snarled and smashed their elbow into her back, driving her into the dirt. She bucked free, squirmed around to face them, and planted her knee into their crotch. If they had Sidestep’s body, they’d have his weak spot.

Except, they didn’t. She met solid pubic bone. Still a meaty blow, but not quite the same as kneeing testicles.

She was out of options. All she could do now was make it hurt, and hope she got lucky.

“Oi! What the fuck is going on here?” Remise shouted.

Sledge looked up, distracted by Remise’s voice. Not keen to let him snap her neck here, Echo screamed again, and bit down into Sledge’s neck hard. Sledge threw her off, toward Remise. She rolled right into Remise’s legs.

Remise helped her to her feet. She was in full outfit, motorcycle helmet and saber at her side. “You okay?”

“Sledge, it’s Sledge, the others are dead.” Echo clung to Remise’s jacket, her legs failing her. She felt a surge of pain as she tried to step on her left foot. She looked down to see the leg was bent wrong, the ankle popped out of socket. The real pain hadn’t started yet.

“Fuckin’ hell.” Remise drew her fencing saber. “Okay. You get outta here. I’ll take care of him.”

Echo shook her head vehemently. “They’ll kill you.” She couldn’t walk, anyway.

“When is OPI coming for Pandahead?” Sledge asked again, this time directed at Remise.

Remise laughed, and stepped forward. “Let’s fuckin’ go.”

Sledge lunged, crossing the gap between them in one powerful jump. They jabbed with their right arm, and Echo noticed that arm was thin and emaciated. Remise stepped out of that blow.

A feint. Echo gasped. Their other arm was huge with muscles. Sledge followed the jab with an uppercut that would break through stone.

Remise dodged out of the combo, slicing her saber along Sledge’s ribcage.

Sledge shifted their muscle mass between limbs as they showered Remise with trained blows. Not a single one connected, Remise moved like a blur. She told Echo she didn’t have super speed, but Echo could see right in front of her, that was a lie.

Sledge did another jab-uppercut combo, a familiar pattern that Remise dodged easy. Echo squeaked when she saw Sledge’s hands had grown black talons at the finger tips, and shrieked when Sledge dug those talons into Remise’s shoulder, straight through her jacket.

Remise stepped into Sledge’s arms, instead of retreating from those claws. She kneed their chest, leveraged the talons in her shoulder to vault up onto Sledge’s shoulders, and spun her saber up over his head. With a flourish Echo couldn’t follow, she sank every bit of that steel into Sledge’s mouth, and then wrenched it to the side, ripping their jaw open in a violent jerk. Blood poured from Sledge’s face.

Remise jumped off Sledge and ran for Echo. She scooped Echo into her arms and booked it toward the road. “If they get close, scream.”

“Won’t that hurt you?” Echo asked.

“I’ll get over it,” Remise said.

Sledge pulled the sword from their face, and threw the saber into the woods. Echo felt her stomach turn as the skin on their face knitted itself back in place, even while blood leaked from their lips.

The wound hadn’t finished closing before he started a mad sprint for them. They were still too far, and Remise couldn’t go as fast with Echo in her arms.

Sledge closed the distance like a supernatural linebacker, running at breakneck speeds that must’ve breezed past 40 mph. They’d be all over Echo and Remise in seconds.

Echo screamed.

Remise slipped a small device out of her jacket. A grenade. Where the fuck did she get a grenade?!

Remise pulled the pin with her teeth, and released the lever.

White, searing light filled Echo’s vision. Echo used her ultrasounds to detect what happened to Sledge: they stumbled in the woods a few feet behind them, the distance increasing as Remise sprinted madly for the road. Sledge rubbed their eyes and cursed under their breath.

“Why the heck didn’t you use that earlier!” Echo shouted.

“Wanted to see if I could kill ‘em,” Remise said. “Now we know I can’t.”

The duo made it to the road, where a van idled. The girl Drone was at the wheel, and Iso sat in the passenger seat. Remise opened the side door and helped her in, and slammed the door behind her. “Get us out!”

Drone put pedal to the metal, and they got the hell out of there.

Echo steadied her breathing as they drove off. The adrenaline and shock would wear off any second, and then she’d feel the pain from her broken leg.

“The other Biters?” Iso asked.

Echo shook her head. She couldn’t even speak.

“I’m sorry,” Remise said.

Echo fought with a frown, swallowed the knot in her throat, but the tears got her, ruining the makeup that had taken her an hour to put on. She held her hand out to Remise, unable to respond to her in any other way.

Remise interlocked her fingers with Echo’s, and squeezed.

Echo coughed, and finally found her voice. “I wanted to hold your hand, but not like this.”

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