Jared saw the walls around him cracking. It didn’t seem to matter whether the wall was made of stone or metal, every part of it shattered to pieces. A man came crashing down through a roof that cracked outwardly away from him.
“You ok?” he asked, voice heavy with Redarctican accent. “Mirkov wants to give you offer.”
“If it includes a pain chip, he can forget about it,” Jared replied, mildly surprised Grey Snow was attacking The Locker. Averted a possible war by letting them know it was Black Rain behind the attack on Hargrave and this guy comes right along, risking another one.
“Haha, no need for pain, my friend. He offers you transport to mutual enemy. You just kill them and not him and you are even. We have deal?”
“Deal. Get me out of this thing,” Jared said. “Your boss is a bastard, but we all have bigger fish to fry.”
“Dah, I like fish fried but I think we must be killing people first.” The man said, touching Jared’s suit. The metal shattered around him and he stood up, free for the first time in days. He heard gunfire out in the hall.
“Have someone getting Patrick and May?” Jared asked.
“No, we get da boy. May already send other surrogate. But my friends distract. Well, they free others to distract. This prison, you know.” Thank God, May’s safe then.
“I’d noticed. So we’re freeing bad guys so we can go fight other bad guys. That’s… that’s just stellar.”
His rescuer only shrugged. “What matter it to us? We are not good guys.” Jared sighed at the reminder, but didn’t have a rebuttal for it. Revenge, no matter how justified, did not lend itself to claiming the moral high ground.
“Fair point, guess we should get going then. So what should I call you, anyways?”
“I am The Cracker,” the man said proudly. Jared burst out laughing, observing The Cracker’s pale skin tone. “Oh yes, that, that certainly is appropriate. Mirkov give you that name?” Jared asked. Patrick’s going to get a kick out of that, assuming he’s not too traumatized.
“Dah, Mirkov say good codename because I crack anything.” He demonstrated by touching the already crumbling doorway. Cobwebs of fissures spread out, shattering the door completely. More than a few cracks. But can it stand up to bullets?
He found out quickly as they entered into the hall and soldiers rounded a hallway corner, lowered assault rifles and opened fire without a word of warning. Cracker put his hand up and the air itself split open, cracking reality. The bullets disappeared into the cracks, which began to spread towards the soldiers slowly. They realized it was unwise to still be standing there by the time the cracks got to them and retreated around the corner.
Holy SHIT, Jared thought, realizing his first impression of The Cracker’s power was very, very wrong. He literally meant anything.
They didn’t bother traveling along the hallway for long, Cracker breaking through several walls. They made the mistake of breaking through one of the other inmate’s cells.
The inmate sat against the wall in a strait jacket, a mask settled on her face. Her eyes were visible though, and Jared had a vague sense of recognition. He didn’t watch the news much, but most of the prisoners in The Locker were pretty famous. By sheer numbers there weren’t many violent specials, and not many of those were taken alive. Where have I seen those eyes?
“It feeds us? It feeds us?” the young woman said, opening a mouth full of sharp teeth. The pupils transformed into slits and he knew where he’d recognized the woman.
“Oh hell no, Bethany Taylor? You know, part of me debates the ethics of locking people up in this manner, but if anyone deserves it…” He walked over and slammed a fist into the side of her head, knocking her out cold. He didn’t know what other monsters they were letting out as distractions, but he didn’t need this one on his conscience. He remembered now seeing the newscasts as a child, Bethany Taylor’s photo pasted all over the web.
She was younger then, a kindergarten teacher barely out of college. No one knew what made her snap, maybe it was even just finding out she had powers. But by the time they took her down, she’d eaten most of her class. The only reason she’d survived at all was a remarkable resistance to small arms fire. He remembered hearing that the officers shot her twenty-five times. He wasn’t sure how many of the shots were fired after she went down, but he couldn’t really blame them. All those children.
But it wasn’t nearly as many children as Black Rain killed and his hand tightened into a fist thinking about it. If Mirkov’s found them… even just one of them.
“Crazy snake woman?” Cracker asked.
“Yeah, that woman makes Tasha Knight look sane and down to Earth.” Cracker didn’t ask who Tasha was. Either Mirkov briefed him or he just didn’t care.
They finally reached Patrick’s cell, only to find Hargrave there. Cracker raised a hand and Jared hurriedly grabbed his arm. Cracker kept his arm raised in a defensive posture, but didn’t use his powers.
“I would really prefer you just let us go,” Jared said. “With your abilities, you might find a weakness in Cracker here’s powers, and you can always just shoot me in the head. But if that doesn’t work then you’re finished. I don’t want to hurt you more than I already have, but we have worse people than us to go fight and I’ll go through you if necessary.”
Hargrave snorted. “Are you finished? If I wanted to kill you I’d just activate the safety measures I had them install. I’d be somewhat surprised if even you could survive several hundred gallons of liquid nitrogen pouring down on your head. I’m certain Vladimir there couldn’t. Hello again, Vladimir.”
“Vladimir? I swear Jared called him Cracker. Proud of ya Jared, ya gone and graduated to random stereotypes. We’ll make a cool kid of ya yet,” Patrick said from within the cell. *Is that what he thinks he’s doing? * Jared wondered.
“Hargrave, glad to see you vell. I’d be sad if you’d died in that helicopter crash. Looks like ‘e kid did better job trying to kill you than I did. But I haz’ no orders to hurt you today. Just need the fireball boy,” Cracker stated.
Hargrave smiled, then leaned over and unlocked Patrick’s restraints. Jared blinked, rather surprised Hargrave was actually standing down. “Oh, I have no intention of stopping you. Couple basic arts of war, you don’t kill enemy forces you can use. Black Rain is a greater threat than Grey Snow and I don’t think you and Patrick are a friend of either. You want to make up for what you did to me and your fellow citizens? You go kill as many of those bastards as you can. And when you’re done, come back and we’ll talk about what we can do about getting you better options than life on the run or in one of these things.”
Jared stared Hargrave in the eye, trying to assess his intent. He could barely believe it. Hargrave didn’t seem the slightest bit bitter about letting him go. It sounded like he and Vladimir had their own violent history and Hargrave just had a smirk on his face.
“You really are the hero type, aren’t you?” Jared said. Hargrave shook his head.
“No, I just have my priorities straight. If I thought it was in our nation’s best interest, I’d kill all of us right now. Hell, I’d detonate the mini-nuke we have in the basement and wipe out this whole prison. But I’m a pretty good judge of character, and I don’t think you’re evil. You’re angry, you were desperate, and you did what you thought you could. But the people who made you do it are on a whole other level and you know better than most what they’re capable of. And people with powers like you three have a better chance of stopping them than I do. So I just wanted to drop by and let Patrick know he has my blessing to go kick some ass since he seems like the type who might turn down your rescue attempt.”
Patrick stood up and stretched. “Yeah, well do kind of figure I earned a timeout. But if you’re cool with me doing community service instead, it beats the hell out of sitting in that thing. We really need to get somewhere I can burn off this stench. You too Jared, smell like the freaking locker room.”
“Hmm, guess The Locker is appropriate for a couple reasons then. How we getting out of here, Cracker?” ask Jared.
“Helicopter,” he said. He pointed upwards and the ceiling caved away around them all. Hargrave rolled his eyes.
“Careful you don’t bring down your own copter like you did last time,” he said.
“Last time you shot me through cracks. Not my fault I hit both of our copters and not only you,” Vladimir replied with a shrug.
Jared looked up, not seeing any sign of a copter. Then a rope came down from out of nowhere. Betting Krieg had something to do with that. Two more ropes came down. He grabbed one and gave Hargrave a final nod, then was rapidly pulled up.
He couldn’t see the copter at all until he was already almost inside it. The surface blended in perfectly with the surrounding environment. *Krieg copying Kevin Knight somehow? *
When he was finally inside the copter he saw the face he was hoping to see. He pulled May into an embrace. She wrinkled her nose slightly then returned his hug.
“Glad I can switch off senses, Jared. You’re in serious need of a bath.”
“So I’ve been told. Not sure what their long-term plan was regarding hygiene, but I’m glad I don’t have to find out.”
“Sadly, I can’t turn off my senses and believe our deal involved you not killing me. Clearly I should have specified that includes not killing me with your stench either.” Jared turned to see the less welcome face of Doctor Mirkov strapped into a seat. “You would think with all the wind up here that it’d be blown away, but no, it’s horrible. And good grief, it just got worse. Were they keeping you in sewage, Mr. Williams?”
Patrick climbed into the helicopter and glowered at Mirkov. Pretty fucking balsy of him to meet with us in person. Just because I said I wouldn’t kill him doesn’t mean I couldn’t. But as much as he hated Mirkov for what happened to Steve and Katherine, if Mirkov had any idea where Black Rain members were hiding, he had to hear him out. Fortunately, it looked like Patrick was going to stay his hand as well.
“So what are we doing, Mirkov?” Jared asked, as the helicopter pulled away after Cracker boarded. “We’re going to pay my old friend Alan Killjoy a little visit. My grandson took an ill-advised joyride in a weapons suit he built. He’d designed it specifically to track and hide from Alan. The first goal was a bit more successful than the second. He managed to get a message to me with his location and the warning that it was a trap. So naturally we’re going to waltz right on in there. Well, you are. I’m going to parachute off ten miles back. They’d kill a normal old man like me in a second flat.”
“You might not have powers, but calling yourself normal is a bit of a stretch,” Jared told him. “Any idea who all we’re up against?”
“Alan was never a fighter, but Krieg said they had the Sword and Shield with them. Plus Eric Choi is missing, so I would be surprised if they don’t have him at their disposal. A boosted Alistair will already be… formidable, to put it mildly. And in addition to him, there could easily be any of a couple dozen field agents. If it weren’t for Eric, we’d be evenly matched. I have every one of Grey Snow’s combat teams en route to their location. Black Rain’s specialties are infiltration and assassination, not open combat. We would probably win if we could confirm they’re actually at the target location.”
“But with Eric… he might not be willing to boost them again. They nearly killed him during the assassination attempt and he already didn’t like them,” Jared put out.
“He might not have a choice. I’ve known about Mr. Choi for a while now and he’s a self-preserving little weasel. But even if he’s grown enough of a conscience to risk his life defying them, Reacher might be able to force him to use his powers on them anyways. And if that happens en masse with the people we’ll be dealing with… well, the only reason I ruled out the nuclear option at all is they have my grandson as a hostage and even then I keep finding myself reconsidering it. My men are well trained and have quite a few powerhouses among them, but the only thing we have approaching a trump card is you. Your poorly concealed ability to copy others’ powers might just be our ace in the hole.” What is it with these guys and nukes?
“How much time till we get there?” Patrick asked.
“About three hours,” Mirkov said.
“Good. Think I’ll take a nap, those metal contraptions are hard to sleep in. If I’m going to get my ass killed soon might as well do it well rested.” Patrick plopped himself down in an empty seat and conked out in an impressive time. Jared shared a smirk with May and went over to hold her hand. He wished he could be with the real her instead of just a surrogate, but he also hoped that her real body was somewhere safe far, far away from wherever they were going.
I don’t know why they took your body Lilly. But if any of them are still alive after I beat the shit out of them, I’m damn well going to find out. He could already begin feeling the adrenaline start to flow through him, excitement rushing over him. He knew he should feel hesitant about walking into a trap with who knows how many people who might be able to kill him. But he also knew, what didn’t kill him would make him stronger. And if he was strong enough, then maybe he could win.