“So we really doin’ this?” Patrick asked quietly. While it was happening, the week had seemed like an eternity to him. But now that they were about to go on the mission his memories of it were a blur. The faces of all the family members and friends he would likely never see again flashed through his mind. Saying he was nervous would not even begin to describe it. He even imagined that he felt a bit warm, and Patrick never felt warm. Fire flows through my veins like ice water, leaving the world a cool oasis.
He also never sweated. He didn’t know the biology or physics of it, but he was certain his brain cells must be as heatproof as the rest of him or he’d have stroked out a long time ago. He wasn’t even sure they remained cells whenever he transformed. It was good he didn’t sweat or anyone within eyesight of him would know he was up to something.
He was impressed by Jared’s composure. The guy’s demeanor was relaxed. Of course he’s not the primary weapon here, is he?
The plan was simple. They’d been discretely boosted fifteen minutes ago, would arrive at their destination in another ten minutes. They would make their way to a conference center at the top of the Éclair building, a twenty story office building just a couple of miles away from the edge of the crater. Hargrave, a sucker for promptness, would start the induction ceremony for new recruits within just a few minutes. It would be brief. Within the next twenty minutes he would shake Patrick’s hand, welcoming him to Blue Skies.
And Patrick would incinerate him in an instant. If that failed, Jared would take out the gun he was concealing with Krieg’s technology and shoot him. Then they should have at least ten minutes to escape before their boost wore off. May would assist them with the veritable army of bodies she could now call up and control while boosted, arriving in a host of military equipment she’d stolen this past week. He hoped her current effort to also grab a couple of helicopters was successful.
If they were not clear by the time the boost wore off, what little chance of survival they had would diminish greatly. What was more, Mr. Choi intended to try and maintain his cover and made it clear he would start boosting his fellow Blue Skies members as soon as the assassination took place. Patrick had no idea what would happen then, but he suspected it wouldn’t be good.
“What choice do we have?” Jared asked him in a whisper back. Neither of them wanted their driver overhearing them. “Ignoring the pain chip in our heads, Tasha could probably kill us all herself without a boost. The only way to get rid of her would be while boosted ourselves. And Mr. Choi may not like Black Rain, but I’m pretty sure in a fight between us and them, he’ll pick them. Did she ever mention to you on one of her check-ins what happens if she gets a boost?”
“The leviathan,” Patrick said sullenly. Tasha had a habit of dropping in when he was alone in bed to ‘say goodnight’ as she put it. Once he even woke up with her naked in his bed and it’d taken everything he had not to shout bloody murder. He couldn’t even tell if her forward behavior was really because she wanted to sleep with him or if she just enjoyed tormenting him. He guessed those reasons might not be mutually exclusive. Hell hath no wrath like a woman completely off her rocker with super powers and a crush.
On one of her visits she saw fit to mention an example of what would happen when Mr. Choi boosted someone. She told about the time she’d been boosted, turning into a leviathan so large that it swallowed an oil platform whole. He remembered that the oil platform’s disappearance had been all over the news a couple years back.
They had always suspected the involvement of someone who was empowered, but never had any proof. Despite being in sight of the coastline, there were no witnesses or video of any kind. Patrick now had no doubt that was a result of Tasha’s comrades at work.
“We don’t even know who most of them are, Patrick. Mirkov may have told us about a few, but unless we can infiltrate them and identify more, they will kill us the moment we step out of line. I hate to say it, but we need Mirkov’s resources to stand a shot at living through this, and even they won’t save us if we can’t figure out everyone he needs to target.”
It was a blunter answer than he was used to getting from Jared given how paranoid Jared was of Tasha spying on them. Patrick could hear the desperation in his voice. He really doesn’t think this is going to work, Patrick realized. He just doesn’t know what else to do. He looked more closely at Jared and saw that his hand was trembling, contrasting with his relaxed posture. But as they pulled up the building, it stopped completely.
“Game time, buddy. We can do this,” Jared said. A minute later they were meeting Diego in the lobby.
“Nice to see you two again. Glad you were able to make it. Now sometime we can have a rematch for our sparring session.”
“Any time, though I suggest having it somewhere a little further away from the edge of a cliff. I hope you didn’t get in too much trouble for that.”
“Heh, a stern talking to. Nothing new amigo,” Diego said with a smile.
“That’s good. Your truck ok too?” Patrick asked, trying to keep it casual, resisting the urge to respond to Diego’s ‘amigo’ comment by replying with a little Destrian.
“Well I haven’t had to get a new one yet, at any rate.”
Jared chuckled, but did not reply. They had reached the body scanners set up for this meeting. Patrick thought it a little odd considering that the meeting room would be full of living weapons, but he supposed it could still be a target for a terrorist attack. No one who hated the empowered could hope for a better target. He was fuzzy on the math, but Jared had said something like as many as one in a hundred of the C.S.’s empowered population would be in the auditorium with them.
The sheer volume of soldiers lining the room, all carrying assault rifles, was extremely unnerving. But Krieg’s technology did the trick, fooling the scanners and metal detector as easily as it did the human eye. Jared was through without a hitch, the gun he was carrying undetected. He was lucky they relied on such technology instead of doing a full body pat down or they might have caught him.
Patrick struggled internally not to give a sigh of relief, but Diego must have seen something because he asked “Everything all right?”
“Just some nerves bro’. Til’ Steve got his mojo, I was the only one I knew of with powers. Hard to wrap my head about there bein’ so many others.”
“That’s a pretty common reaction. I couldn’t hardly believe it myself when I first met the others, and there were a lot fewer of us to start. We were pretty skeptical about all getting together in one place like this. But a lot had to in order to coordinate the construction of the aqueducts and guess we just got used to the idea. It’s amazing how quickly things can change in such a short time.”
Jest you not on that point, Patrick thought, uncomfortable with how easily the half-truth came to him. He was also just plain uncomfortable, feeling warmer by the minute. The elevator ride felt like an eternity, but the doors finally opened.
Holy crap, we are walking straight into the righteous lion’s den, Patrick thought as he saw all the people. Tasha and Mr. Choi had described quite a few of the more powerful members of Blue Skies. Yves Alexander, the fire and earth manipulator, would probably pose the biggest threat to the mission given the nature of Patrick’s abilities. It was part of why Patrick would have to wait until he was literally shaking Hargrave’s hand to do the deed.
Emilia Vasquez’s metal bending abilities may also pose a problem. One of their fellow new members, Kokila Mohan, was also a wild card. She’d been the one to force crush Diego’s old truck, completely unboosted. Patrick was able to pick a couple of their faces out of the crowd, Yves sitting on the stage with Hargrave and Dr. Marco. Emilia had taken a seat next to Mr. Choi and Patrick knew that Choi would boost her moments after they killed Hargrave to try and preserve his cover.
Tasha had shown them at least a dozen other pictures and given them many more descriptions, but most of them escaped Patrick’s recollection now. He was pretty sure he recognized someone she’d told him was super-fast, but he wasn’t certain. He definitely recognized a soldier behind Hargrave that she said was a walking switchblade. But the truth was it didn’t matter much what their abilities were because the escape plan was going to be pretty much the same no matter what.
He would melt a hole through the floor beneath himself and then jump out the nearest window. They had to get outside where May could pick them up in a helicopter as quickly as possible or they would die. If they didn’t make it outside, there was no hope for them.
He tried to keep focus as they took their seats. It only took a couple of minutes for Hargrave to begin speaking.
“I know most of you have heard this opening before, so I will try to keep this brief. For those of you who are new tonight, I would like to formally welcome you to Blue Skies. I know for many of you it isn’t easy coming out into the open like this. But your country is thankful for the courage you have shown coming forward to server your nation in this time of need. I am also personally thankful for your willingness to demonstrate that the gifted can be a force for good and not just violence, as so many people now believe following the destruction of Sunlight City. I know it will be a long time before we are able to recover from the damage done to our people. But I believe that together we can not only repair our injured nation but help it emerge stronger than ever.”
Patrick purposefully tried not to pay too much attention, but was unable to block out Hargrave’s words. Every word was like a dagger in his chest. If I don’t go through with this, it might not just be me that they kill. They could kill every single one of my family members as well. But if I do go through with this, I’ll be betraying everything they’ve ever taught me.
“– and with that, I would like to introduce the newest members of Blue Skies.”
“You’re up kids,” Diego whispered, motioning for him and Jared to make their way forward. Patrick stood, knees feeling uncharacteristically weak. It bothered him less than the increasing warmth spreading through his body. If this kept up, he wouldn’t have a choice about releasing his power. Pressure built inside him to the verge of exploding.
“Patrick Williams, joining us today with super strength,” announced a voice. He walked across the stage towards a smiling General Hargrave, who reached out a hand towards him. It would be so easy. All he had to do was take the General’s hand and release the power building inside him. It would be over in a moment and all he had to do after that was run. I’m the surest way… but I…
“I can’t,” he said, keeping his hand at his side. “I’m sorry but I just… can’t.” He wondered for a second if the smile falling off the General’s face was because Hargrave thought he was backing out of joining Blue Skies. But then the General’s other hand moved in a flash and there were two bangs so close together Patrick wasn’t sure it hadn’t really just been one. Patrick saw the General clutch at his chest and fall to the ground.
Jared got him. But he saw Hargrave hadn’t gone down by himself. The large caliber revolver Hargrave had used took off half of Jared’s head. He laid there, no sign that his healing powers were going to work.
Patrick knew he had to get away right now, but he found himself unable to move. Shit, is there someone who can paralyze me? He doubled over in pain though and realized that might not be the problem. He was literally burning up. His skin began to crack involuntarily as it hardened to stone, fire running down his body. He’d never been this hot, not any of the times he’d transformed.
“Oh fuck,” he said, realizing the truth. Their fail-safe in case he didn’t use his powers voluntarily. “They made me a fucking bomb!”
He tried with all of his might to contain his energy, but it bubbled to the surface, ready to explode.