The List Episode 18: Martial Law (Part 1)

I crushed the skulls of two more escaped convicts, adding to the already substantial body count littering the alley.  I actually found myself panting, and realized I’d lost count of my kills a long time ago.  Normally I’d enjoy executing felons, but if you couldn’t tell, fighting against large groups of nobodies was starting to get on my nerves.  Not that it was difficult; it just got monotonous after a while.

I waded through the blood and crouched next to the woman these men had ganged up on.  Her body lay folded against the cornerstone of an equally shattered glass tower.  I didn’t even press my fingers to her purple neck – I simply sighed and left the corpse to rot.  I’d been too late.  Seemed like that was becoming the story of my life here recently.

And you know what?  It pissed me off.

I stumbled out of the alley, and the piercing drone of sirens amplified.  Every building ad space that hadn’t yet been destroyed flashed warnings, turning the entire city an off shade of alternating red and yellow.  In the distance came the bark of orders and the stomping of heavily armed men.  I hid behind the smoldering wreckage of a hover car and waited as a platoon of soldiers trod down the road, rifles at the ready and boots crunching glass and debris.  I let them pass, then continued on my journey.

The sirens stopped, replaced by the chime that indicated a public service announcement.  I kept my pace and watched the screens out of one eye.  The warnings took to the borders A masked face appeared, the letter M emblazoned across the forehead.  The Mayor.

“We are declaring a state of emergency,” the Mayor’s voice echoed through the streets.  “I am invoking martial law within the limits of New City.  Anybody caught on the street that is not a superhero or officer will be terminated without question – no exceptions.”

I put the message he spoke in the background as the pieces finally snapped together in my head.

The Mayor’s name was on my list, but I had been saving it for later.  I didn’t agree with his politics, but his policies were predictable down to which lobbies he accepted bribes from and which crimes he’d sweep under the rug.  Plus, I knew exactly where to find him.  Only once I had rooted out all the sources of evil funding his campaigns and pulling his strings would I take out the figurehead.  To put it blunt, he was a puppet.  And now the puppet master wanted to take the stage.

Brick buildings popped up here and there between the glass and steel behemoths, and I knew I was getting close.  I spotted the Old City warehouse I had picked out in advanced and entered a side door.  A single overhead light hummed in the deep recesses of gears and machine grease, and as I neared it I was met by a cloud of smoke.

“Good to see you’re still alive,” the Doctor said as he tugged on his cigarette.  “But you’ve really done a job on that beautiful face I created for you.”

“Save it,” I said.  “You got the goods?”

He patted the crate that sat on the table he was leaning against.  “Everything, just like you asked.  Say, you didn’t happen to pick up a straggler did you?”

A figure dropped from the rafters.  He moved like liquid in the darkness, and in an instant he had his arm, which from the wrist to the elbow was actually a chainsaw, nudged against the Doctors throat.

My gun was aimed right between his eyes, but the mag was empty.  It had been for a while now, but it still had the power to make low lives wet themselves.

“Don’t move, or his head gets zziiiiipp right off!”  The chain spun in sporadic bursts, as if it was sputtering on low fuel, but it would have no problem severing the Doctor’s neck.  “You’re going to do exactly what I say.”

“Don’t tell me you’re getting sloppy, Levi,” the Doctor said, laughing despite the throat ripping weapon threatening to lop off his head.  Then his laughter stopped.  “Look at that.  He ruined my cig.  Those are expensive.”

I shrugged.  I’d had eyes on me ever since I escaped the prison, and hadn’t felt like expending the energy on bringing my follower out of hiding.  “I figured I’d kill him when he revealed himself.”

“Hey, listen to me!” chainsaw arms said.

I dusted some sleep out of the corner of my eye.  “And who are you?” I asked.

“I’m…I’m the Log Cabin Cutter!”

“Never heard of you.”  I holstered my gun.  “Doctor, he’s all yours.”

The Doctor’s eyes twitched behind the reflections in his glasses.  His smile swallowed half his face.  He let out a hiccup of laughter.

“What are you laughing about?  I’ll cut your damn head off!”

The Doctor’s laugh bellowed in the cavernous space of the warehouse.  He lifted a hand up to adjust his glasses, and the overhead light caught on the glint of blood that dripped down the scalpel held loosely between his fingers.

“Hey, what did you do to me?” the Log Cabin Cutter stammered.  He grunted and his body fidgeted like he was going to slice the Doctor’s neck, but he could only manage a stiff jerk of a couple centimeters.  I could only guess, but it was likely the scalpel had been coated in one of the many nasty poisons the Doctor enjoyed concocting in his spare time – this one probably a paralysis agent combined with who knows what else.

The Doctor stepped out from under the chainsaw arm.  He pulled a fresh cig out of his lab coat and struck a match.  “Just performing a ‘life saving’ emergency operation,” he said as he lit the cig.  “Of course, that life is my own!”  At that, he cackled, and even I had to smirk.

The man’s mid section split open from the Doctor’s quick incisions, and he screamed as his insides bulged out.  His body crumpled to the ground and spilled out on the cold cement.

I unlocked the crate and inspected the contents.  Clean jacket, full mags for my Seiver, and my trusty beam blade, along with a few other surprises.  I threw the jacket on and loaded it down with the gear.

“I’ve got another surprise for you,” the Doctor held out a small strip.  “It should work the way you asked, but it cost a fortune just to synthesize the one.”

I hid the strip in a concealed pouch on my jacket collar.  “Put it on my bill.”

Back on the streets, I searched the skyline for City Hall.  It was as tall as the rest of the skyscrapers, but instead of ads, marble columns ran up its sides to meet the dome that capped it off.  A thirty foot tall statue of the Mayor adorned the peak of the dome, as if he was overlooking the city.  Looked more like he was turning his back on the city to me.

That was my destination.  But they weren’t going to let me waltz in the front doors, and I couldn’t afford the time it would take to climb to the top.  For this I’d have to get creative.

Bursts of gun fire broke the silent blaze of the city – not even a couple blocks away.  I jogged towards the source of action, and once the gunfire became thunder I crept along the edge of an adjacent building and peered around the corner.  The air sizzled, causing the hair on my arms to stand at attention, and the stench of burnt corpses and ozone weighed heavy on the wind.

Soldiers unloaded off a hover tank, their guns already firing as they stepped around their dead comrade’s bodies.  At the center of the war zone glowed a blue sphere of electrical arcs.  Little bolts of lightning forked out from the sphere, decelerating the metal slugs until they were useless bits of lead.

I kept one eye on the tank, waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.  I didn’t have to wait long.

I felt a shadow pass by overhead, and then the whole city block rattled, causing what little glass that remained in the buildings to sprinkle down.  The soldiers held their fire as a figure rose from the brand new crater that’d been punctured into the street.

His bulky forearm armor whirred, true to this man’s name sake – Turbine.  Not entirely original, considering he owned half the airports in the world, but he got points for sticking to a theme.  And yes, he was on my list – but then again, who wasn’t?

“Come out, Socket!” Turbine yelled.  “Face me like a man, and maybe I’ll go easy on you this time!”

The blue orb shrunk to reveal a man bandaged in what looked to be black electrical tape.  His eyes were hallowed out, replaced with a blue glow that sparked and crackled.  I’d fought electric types before, but compared to this, Blitz’s “lightning” powers were on par to hearing aid batteries.  I’d heard about Loose Socket’s escapades before he’d been buried in the Tomb.  He’d actually been on my list at the time, but had made some faux pas political moves that stepped on the toes of some Very Important People.  I decided I’d see how this played out before jumping at the chance to finally remove his name.

“Oh, you don’t know how long I’ve waited for this,” Socket said.  “But this time it’s just going to be you and me. You’ll be the first, my message.  Because once I finish you off, I’m going to find the rest of you that did this to me.  And this time no one is going to interfere.”

Turbine whirled his fingers.  “You done?”

“You don’t get it.  I made some – I wouldn’t quite call them friends – in the Tomb.  Outbreak, Mirror-Man, you can come out and play now.”

I felt myself smile.  Suddenly, things became a lot more entertaining than I could have anticipated.

The two villains catapulted out from the depths of a building and descended on the soldiers.  The soldiers opened fire, but Mirror-Man shifted in front of Outbreak.  Mirror-Man’s body was composed of thousands of right angles, each one a miniature caricature of the surrounding cityscape. He spread his reflective arms and legs wide, and the triangles unfolded and expanded.  The bullets met the mass of mirrors, and disappeared without a sound.  A second later, the missing bullets whistled back down to their previous owners, shredding them apart.  As an outsider, I knew the reflection itself was just a trick, an elaborate optical illusion combined with some very powerful technology.  But it was still a harrowing effect.

Outbreak flipped around Mirror-Man and landed in the middle of staggering soldiers.  Outbreak’s own costume left something to be desired – in all actuality it was still just the prisoner uniform, the arms torn off and wrapped around his waist.  But what the sleeveless uniform revealed was what set Outbreak apart.  His veins bulged huge and purple on his pale green arms.  Purely cosmetic, but what they represented was all but just for looks.

His gnarled looking hand brushed the throat of a soldier, the face of another, then slipped up the cuff to make contact with the wrist of one more.  Outbreak moved on, but I watched the unlucky soldiers as they doubled over, their faces grimacing and turning a shade of purple that matched the Outbreak’s discolored veins.  Their skin continued to darken and crack, and they frothed at the mouth as their bodies convulsed on the ground.  All in all it took less than a minute for the virus to completely consume them.

At the same moment Outbreak and Mirror-Man started their attack, Socket and Turbine’s battle started.  Light sprouted from Socket’s eye holes.  Turbine’s arms roared, and propelled him out of the way of an oncoming lightning whip.  Turbine directed an arm at Socket.  The loud whir of his arms became a deafening blast, and the ground cracked and split open.  The growing chasm seemed to snatch Socket and pull him into the void.  Beams of light shot up from the fractured ground.  Socket erupted from the pit, his whole body glowing white and blue, and he met Turbine head on.  Fist met fist, creating a thunder clap of power followed by a wave of glass and rocks.

The two rocketed out of control, their bodies caught on one another.  And unbeknownst to them they were heading straight for me.  I dived and rolled.  The corner I had been hiding behind crumbled under the force of impact, spitting chunks of concrete and rebar in every direction.

A shadow quickly grew beneath me, and I jerked my head up to see a sheet of marble break off from the façade of the building.  I lunged.  The marble tagged my legs on its way down and slammed into the street.

A rush of air and electricity swept over me.  Socket and Turbine locked powers just a few feet above my head.  The two continued to pummel each other, oblivious of me.  I fixed the hover tank in my sights.  I would have enjoyed joining in on the fray, but that wasn’t what my mission called for.

That didn’t mean I wouldn’t have to get my hands a little dirty.

I snuck wide around the block and plucked a nade off my belt.  I slinked closer to the tank, and rolled the nade between the shuffling feet of soldiers as they tried to circle around Mirror-Man and Outbreak.  It was a simple propulsion nade – not enough to cause any real destruction, but powerful enough to get my point across without destroying the tank.  It lifted the mass of soldiers off their feet and flung them thirty meters up.  A stream of stray bullets cut a line an inch from my boots.

Mirror-Man remained on the ground, unaffected by the nade.  He turned to face me, and I shifted a thousand times in the facets and angles of his body.   I let my beam blade drop into my hand.  He charged.

The beam met him head on and appeared to twist and fracture around him.  It jutted back, aiming for my own head.  As I had anticipated.  I worked the controls, bending the beam back around.  It shot back out, and I repeated.  Again and again, until Mirror-Man was within striking distance.  Mirror-Man slowed as his suit spent all its effort on deflecting the beam, which looped in and out of him a hundred times over.

I reached into my arsenal of nades to pull one that had been inspired by Sargon.  I latched it onto a free spot on Mirror-Man’s chest, and let it do its job.  I searched through the frequency range, until it found the right match.  And when it did, Mirror-Man’s outer skin started to warble and hum.  You see, in all actuality this nade was meant for tearing holes into armored plate glass, allowing me to enter or escape, depending on the situation.

Hairline fractures traced out from the nade.  Mirror-Man screamed, then shattered in a dazzling cascade of shards.  The ground hamburger of a body – previously protected by the mirrors – slapped against the ground in a wet mess.

The beam blade fizzled out, and I retracted it back into its holster to charge.

The mass of arms and legs and guns smacked into the pavement.  I ignored the random shots they fired and entered the hovertank.  I passed by the empty seats and harnesses of the passenger hold and drew my gun.  A superinium reinforced door and biometric scanner protected the cockpit.  I found the necessary explosives and planted it on the locking mechanism.  I timed the detonation and rammed into the door the moment it went off.

The captain and copilot jumped out of their seats.  I put a bullet into the forehead of the captain, and the copilot froze when he noticed the gun at his neck.  I removed his sidearm and tossed it back into the passenger bay, then motioned for him to take a seat.  He hunched back down to face the controls.

“Up,” I said. “Now.”

A bead of sweat trickled down his nose.  His hand moved almost in slow motion, jerky and unsure of what it needed to do.  He reached to flip a switch.  I dug the gun deeper into the fold of his neck.

“Better think carefully about which buttons you press.”

His finger trembled above the switch for a few seconds, then he changed his mind and threw some levers.  The repulsors hummed and I had to lean forward to counter the hovertank’s pitch.  Outside the window, floor after floor fell below us, until we were finally above the city.  City Hall – stupid statue, columns, and all – lay just before us.

Red lights blinked on the cockpit’s console.  Two hovertanks hung just above City hall, their cannons pointing right at us, no doubt trying to infer our reason for neglecting protocol.  And then the repugnant stench of death hit my nostrils, and I felt myself gag.  No, I was immune to the smell of death.  This was something much worse.

“Going somewhere?”

I whipped my gun around and brought Outbreak into my sights.  He lounged in one of the seats, his fingers flicking the loose end of a strap.

“You move,” I said to the copilot, knowing full well he could still eject, “you die.”  I probably should have rigged a nade to the ejection mechanism, but frankly I thought it would throw an intriguing variable into the mix if the pilot went ahead with it.

Outbreak spread his arms wide, making the throbbing veins more prominent.  “Gonna shoot me, killer?”

No, I wasn’t dumb enough to do that.  A bullet hole would leak his toxins into the air.  Not a good idea considering the enclosed space of the bay.  None of my nades would work in this cramped space without catching me in the aftermath or bringing the whole hovertank down.  Like always, I would have to do this the hard way.

Outbreak sprang, palms up and fingers outstretched.  I holstered the Seiver and pulled my jacket sleeves down over my fists.  His fingertip reached for the tip of my nose.  I batted his arm away and planted the heel of my boot on his chest.  He shot into one of the seats, and at the same time the hovertank buckled, throwing me back into the cockpit.

Above me the cockpit gapped open, revealing a sparsely cloudy and heavily spinning sky.  I realized I was lying where the copilot’s seat had just been, and now I could see the ejected seat and attached parachute in the far distance.  And then I saw the other hole, where the tip of an artillery round protruded, but didn’t quite make it through the hovertank’s armor.   I rolled to my knees and scrambled for the controls.  Console lights screamed, informing me that the shields had lost fifty percent integrity from that last hit.  I flipped a half dozen switches and the spiraling of the outside city slowed.  I lined City Hall up with the view screen and slammed the throttle full forward.  Another shot blasted out of a cannon, scrapping the side of my tank.

I started to input the evasion maneuver when a pair of hands clasped around my cheeks.  Outbreak’s fingers seemed to burn into my skin like slender branding irons.  The disease branched out from the contact points, eating through my veins like acid.  I pawed at Outbreak’s hands, but I could already feel the burn in my arms and knew they were worthless.  The skin on my face tightened, the stench of decay assaulted my senses and my cheeks blistered and split open.

The whole time, I could only look outward, at the incoming hovertanks blocking the way to City Hall.  I watched as the tanks fired a barrage of rounds that filled the entire view screen.  Half the rounds disintegrated in the shields.  The other half ripped and tore chunks of metal from the hull, sending the hovertank into another death spin.

I used the corriolis effect to my advantage and shoved all my weight into a roll.  Outbreak’s hands broke contact with my face, and he clambered over the dead captain slumped over in the pilot chair.

I bit into the hidden compartment of my collar and snatched the strip with my teeth.  My trump card.  And I hadn’t even made it to the big guys yet.  The regen strip had been meant as a counter to Corrosion’s power.  But I needed to make it to him alive first.  I could feel it go to work, boosting  my white blood cell’s mitotic division, the skin on my face softening, cracks and tears stitching back together, the burn in my veins dissipating.

I grabbed Outbreak by the ankle and reached for the ejection trigger.  His palm singed into my forearm, the disease trying to spread, but the regen fought back, replenishing the cells just as fast as they died.  I yanked Outbreak’s foot out from under him and triggered the ejection.  The seat shot up, carrying the top portion of Outbreak with it, and slowed only momentarily to rip him in half at the torso.

Toxic blood sprayed disease down on me, but it only made it to the second layer of skin.  Outside of the cockpit, the hovertank was still careening for the City Hall and ignoring the incoming artillery from the other hovertanks.

I lunged into the bay and wrapped myself in the safety net.  Shrapnel drew quick red lines on my skin, and the regen erased them.  An artillery shell caved in the cockpit and ripped a hole clean through the back.   I caught a glimpse of City Hall just before we smashed into it.

The hovertank roared and twisted.  The netting cut into my skin.  My left shoulder popped out of its socket.  Dust plumed in, coating the bay, and clung to the inside of my throat.  A chunk of metal gashed my forehead, splashing red across my vision.

A final jerk, and then the hovertank went still.  I loosened myself from the netting and gravity spilled me out onto cool marble.  I slammed my shoulder against the hard ground, popping it back into place, then stood and patted the dust off my jacket.  The inside of the Mayor’s office was just as impressive as the exterior – large vaulted ceilings that expanded the entire floor.  A gigantic portrait of The Mayor – posed in front of a burning building, boot resting on the chest of a bleeding super villain – hung just behind a gargantuan ivory desk.  While taking in the details, I didn’t neglect the warm bodies standing in the room with me.

On one side, the Mayor, arms crossed, cape billowing out behind him, huge M on his face.  On the other, Corrosion, understated trench coat flapping at his calves, and Arachnos, over-decorated officer uniform cut at angles to show off his ripped physique.  And at the center of it all – me.

To Be Continued…