The List Episode 14: The Coalition

Silas slinked through the shadows of Old City, circumventing the streets of half burnt out neon lights and hookers in favor of the damp alleyways.  He ignored the reek of rotten garbage and moans of diseased bodies, as was customary when traveling through Old City.  I silently trailed behind Silas, careful not to step on a bum or in the puddle of piss he lay in.

Silas came to the edge where New City rose out of the earth like the teeth of a demon and ate into Old City.  He stopped and snapped his head almost 180 degrees in both directions, and I pressed myself into the shadows.  He turned his head back to his path and started to walk the tight rope where steel and glass clashed against brick and mortar.

After waiting for him to get a good head start, I abandoned my pocket of darkness and continued my hunt.  Silas was smart, and when it came to covert abilities, he was possibly the most skilled in the entire city.  This meant two things:  I could only follow him because he allowed it, and I just had to be that much more careful.

Tonight I would find out what the sneaky bastard was up to when he wasn’t pestering me with his little visits.  I had always been curious, it just so happened that on this occasion I had an open date in my planner and decided to take a night out on the town.

I followed the glimpses of Silas’s flickering shadow as he passed between alleyways in the distance.  I was four blocks out and keeping my distance, but noticed my own pace was picking up to stay with his shadow.  I was almost to a full jog now, and his shadow was flickering faster and faster.  Had he spotted me?  Not yet, but something told me his instincts had kicked in, and from here out the chase would only be that much more fun.

I ducked into a brick apartment building, the door swinging almost freely on only one hinge, and sprinted around the overflowing trash bags that lined the hallway to the exit.  Once I made it out I resumed my slower pace, concealing my presence amongst the meandering street rats.  I caught the tail end of Silas’s shadow as it bobbed into the crevice between the two cities.  I strolled up to the next building and after discretely breaking the latch on the door, cleared another city block.  In less than five seconds I was back out on the street.  This time there was no shadow.  I shot through two more buildings, and again, nothing.

I spotted a fire escape drooping from the side of an old factory a block up, and didn’t waste any time scaling it.  On the roof I ran alongside the ledge, my eyes darting up and down the alleys, looking for a shadow, a sign, a door drifting closed.  And that’s what I saw, as Silas’s hand swung back to slam the door behind him.

I shimmied down a drain spout and ran to the other side of the building Silas had entered.  Either I had lost him, or he was still inside the squat sheet metal warehouse.  It was fifty-fifty, so I placed my odds on him still being in the building.  Instead of barging in, I searched for a side ladder.  Buildings like this were guaranteed to have a glass sky roof to peer down – or if necessary, break – through.

I found both the ladder and the sky roof.  I crept over to the murky glass ceiling and wiped a circle of grit clean.  I stifled a chuckle.  I had half expected Silas to be cohorting with the likes of Rune and the rest of Superior Six.  But I hadn’t expected this.

Inside the warehouse, beneath the suspended steel gantries, was row after row of stacked crates and metal shelves.  I wasn’t interested in the contents of those shelves.  No, I was more interested in the group hunkered around the long fold out table smack dab in the middle of the goods.

Silas took a spot at one end of the table, and laid his two ancient guns out on the particle board surface in front of him.  To his left sat a misshapen Russian man known as Lump, to his right was Irezumi, whose serpent like tattoos literally crawled across the exposed skin of her right arm.  At the other end of the table, propped back in his chair like he was the king of the damned, was Arturo Gallo – not so secret alias Corrosion.  Despite the table being full, I recognized only one other member – the man dressed in a spaghetti western costume who went by possibly the most asinine name I’d heard yet:  Bang Bang.  All in all I counted fourteen men and women who represented the disgusting underbelly of both cities.  Apparently the Sin Coalition had been recruiting.

I had been keeping tabs on the more prominent members if not just out of curiousity, but for the most part I ignored their shenanigans.  The superheroes did a pretty good job mopping the floor up with these guys, but if they managed to kill or weaken a superhero or two, I wasn’t going to complain.  Silas being here changed that, and now I was itching for a conversation with the self proclaimed super villains.

I checked the readout on my gun and raised my boot to send a shower of glass cascading down on them.  Before I got a chance to do so, Irezumi’s serpents appeared to hiss in my general direction, and the entire table focused their attention on me.  Bang Bang snapped his index finger up to the sky light, and I dodged back in time to avoid the telekentic bullets that peppered several small holes in the sky light and sent glass pebbles sprinkling down on my jacket.

I beelined across the roof as imaginary bullets that had very real effects tore through the thin metal and nipped at my heels.  I was a step from the ledge when the surface fissured in bright red lines.  This wasn’t Bang Bang’s doing.  The roof collapsed, and I had no choice but to roll with the falling sheet metal and splintered beams.

I landed on my shoulder and pain spurred across my back as a sliver of metal sliced through layers of skin.  I didn’t wait for the dust to clear.  I ignored the pain and was on my feet, looking for my first target.  Corrosion had been waiting there, arms crossed, and he didn’t so much as flinch as I pressed the barrel of my Seiver against the pink flesh of his forehead.

And he didn’t have any reason to move.  I felt, more than saw, the villains surrounding me.  Bang Bang with his index finger cocked at my temple.  Silas on the other side, with his old fashioned pistols leveled at my skull.  Irezumi’s serpents writhing off her skin, their two dimensional fangs dripping nanite-laced venom.  A dozen other weapons behind them, all pointing in the general direction of my central nervous system.

Corrosion cracked an infectious smile, and we both let out a laugh.

“You guys might want to relax,” Corrosion said.  “I hate to admit it, but he’s got us all beat.”  He eyes flicked down, towards the nade I held in my free hand, the dead man switch fully depressed under my thumb.

A moment of hesitation from the group around me, and then all at once I felt their collective presence back off.  The animal lust for violence still lurked, thick and heavy in the air.

“I’d like to know who invited killer here,” he said, ignoring the gun.  I watched as he eyed each member, and each, including Silas, returned a cold as death stare.

“Lump, I thought your men were supposed to be surveilling him.”

Despite being behind Corrosion, Lump shrugged.  “He must have killed them.”

That answered a question that I hadn’t really cared about.  The men that had been trailing me had barely even registered a bleep on my radar.  And they weren’t dead – at least they hadn’t been when I left them bound and gagged in the sewers last week.

“Silas, you were the last one in.  And you were late.  Explain.”

Silas smiled his bright all teeth smile.  “You got me, boss man.  Didn’t you know that Levi and I are in the same bowling league?  Had such a good time scoring strikes, I must have let the info on this meeting slip!”

Corrosion’s lip twitched almost imperceptibly while Silas maintained that grin that made you want to break a few teeth.

This told me two things.  One, the Sin Coalition wasn’t the source of my money.  Two, Silas was playing them.  But why was beyond what I could capture from this quick interaction, and it was something I planned on asking him the next time we met up.  That is, if I didn’t kill him first.

Corrosion shrugged his shoulders.  “Nobody wants to fess up.”  Then turning back to me:  “Mind telling me why you are here, then?”

“Honestly,” I said, cracking a grin, “I’m a little hurt you haven’t asked me to join your club of misfits yet.  I thought I’d drop in, maybe learn your secret handshake.”

Corrosion cocked his head to the side and smiled right back.  “I was wondering when our paths would meet.  The truth is, I didn’t see a reason to ask a question I already knew the answer to.”

“You’ve got a point there.”

“While we’re being honest, I’ve got no interest in men like you.  See these people I work with?  These are some of the most notorious scumbags in the city.  When it comes down to it, they wouldn’t hesitate to stab me in the back.  The thing is, I know this.  They’re predictable.  But you?  I don’t even think you know what you’re doing half the time.”

My finger twitched on the trigger, but I stopped it just at the fulcrum of pressure that kept the bullet out of this man’s head.  Since taking on the list, I had endured slander of all shapes and sizes and shrugged it off.  For whatever reason, Corrosion’s words had struck a nerve.  Why?  Because it’s the truth, a voice deep inside my skull whispered.

A raid siren blaring from above broke me from my moment of introspection.

“We have the facility surrounded,” a voice boomed from a megaphone.  “Disarm yourselves and lay prostrate.  Comply or you will be shot on sight.”

This was Arachnos’s men, no doubt – they were the only ones arrogant enough to announce they were about to storm a joint.  Flood lights poured through the windows that lined the upper walls of the warehouse.  For a brief instant I could see the black silhouette of the police raiders against the harsh light, and then the windows shattered in.  The figures swung through on ropes and dropped in onto the gantries, guns raised.

I didn’t waste any time, and neither did Corrosion.  Bullets rained down, and I ducked behind a crate as the shots puckered the floor where I had been standing.  I placed my back to the crate and searched for Corrosion with the sight on my gun, but I had missed my golden opportunity of putting a bullet between his brows.

It seemed the rest of The Coalition was retreating as well.  I dove from cover to cover, following one of the members as he crept through the labyrinth of exploding shelves and boxes.  I spotted a couple more members as they slid down a secluded manhole, and as my mark neared I clipped him in the ankle with a well placed shot.  He tripped over his own feet and sprawled out in the open, where thousands of bullets tore into him.  While the gunners were occupied with turning the grunt into soup, I snuck by and closed in on the manhole.  I readied my gun to blast anyone who was waiting at the bottom of the hole when Lump punched his fist up through it.  He spread his hand out, palm to the sky, and it flattened to create a flesh colored manhole cover.  I fired, and the slugs hit it and stuck in the surface like mud.  It looked as if I would have to find another exit.

“Yee-haw!” Bang Bang yelled from across the warehouse.  “Just you and me, Levi!”

He was popping in and out of cover, index finger of both hands snapping back to mimic the recoil of handguns, the telekinetic bullets blowing chunks out of the invading force above.  For whatever reason, Corrosion had left him up here with me, and I had to admit he wasn’t bad.  I raised my gun and followed suit.

One by one the raiders dropped, but when one fell another filtered down from the hovercopters above to take the last one’s place.  It was as if this city had a never ending supply of men who knew how to both repel and work a rifle.

In between bursts of fire I worked my way to what looked like a possible exit – a weak spot in the metal walls, where the wind must have pulled the sheets loose enough to let a bit of the street light leak in.  The obvious exits were out of the question, there would no doubt be a handful of soldiers with their guns ready to juice anyone that stepped through.

Just past my chosen exit, Bang Bang waved for me to come.  And now I could see the grate propped up against one of the shelving units, and the hole it had been covering.  I didn’t know what kind of games he was playing, but I was heading that direction anyway.

A steady stream of metal continued to rain down as I skidded behind cover across from Bang Bang’s hiding spot.  He whispered something, but I couldn’t hear it over the bullets drilling into the shelves and puncturing crates.  I went to whip my gun up, but I had realized what he said too late.

The Sin Coalition bids farewell.  Enjoy Corrosion’s parting gift!

At that moment, several things happened.  The outer walls of the building began to crack as growing red lines raced their way up to the roof.  Three telekinetic bullets hit me, one in the right shoulder and the other two down the same arm.  A forth ripped the Seiver from my hand.  The glow grew brighter, and several of the shooters above paused momentarily to revel in their few remaining seconds of life.  Time slowed down even further.  My mind raced to calculate the distance to the weakening in the wall, but I knew what the results would be if I tried to make a run for it.  Bang Bang hopped up and hovered over the opening as time seemed to stop.  That same opening would no doubt lead to the rest of The Sin Coalition.  I would be able to take out two, maybe three of them down there, but didn’t enjoy the idea of exchanging my life for such a small consolation prize.  No, there was only one way out.

I launched myself at Bang Bang, tightly clutching the dead man’s nade I’d been holding on to this whole time.  He was halfway down the hole when I wrapped my arms around him and yanked him back up.  With him still in the bear hug, I released the nade.

The blast fused the material of my jacket to my blistering arms.  The concussion wave hurled us crashing through rows of shelves.  My back slammed into the weak point in the steel sheets, just inches of where I’d been aiming.  I didn’t have even a  second to celebrate that small victory.  The building walls shredded outwards as Corrossion’s trap went off.  A wave of pain punched through my body, knocked the wind out of my chest, and sent my head swimming.

Everything went black, then slowly lessened to dots that flashed in my vision.  I coughed the smoke out of my lungs and found myself staring up at the smog covered night sky of Old City. The police barked panicked orders and ran about in all directions, too preoccupied to be worried about a smoldering body laying in the alley.

I went to sit up and had to shake myself free from the charred corpse that had melted to my arm.  Pain pulsed in every part of my body, but I found enough strength to lumber out of the alley and get a safe distance from the cops.

The whole time, my mind wasn’t thinking about the fractures, contusions, and wounds that racked my body with pain.  It was focused solely on one thing.  Corrosion thinks he can play me like this?  Well, I was going to need more paper, because suddenly my list just got a whole lot longer.