The List Ep13: The Summit

A sliver of light forced its way through a sticky and swollen eyelid, and was blocked out by a figure leaning over to inspect the train wreck that was my body.

“Levi, what do you think you are doing?” The figure said, but the speech sounded jumbled to my busted ear drums, muffled as if the speaker was in the process of shoving a sock into his mouth.

“You’re not allowed to die yet,” I heard more clearly this time, and the features on the face in front of me morphed from blobs of dull color to something that resembled a human.  I squeezed my eye shut and opened it again, clearing off the crud that had dried over it.

I clamped my jaw tight as full alert mode took hold of my mind.  I willed my tattered muscles to move. I managed to writhe in a puddle of blood, slick as oil, and then my body shut down.  My eye fluttered shut.  I didn’t have time to contemplate why Rune was standing over me, or whether it was even real, before the darkness consumed me again.

✓✓✓✓✓✓✓✓

“Finally coming to?” A voice cackled, seemingly coming from a building on the other side of the city.

Not Rune’s voice.  But that didn’t mean I was in the clear.  I jerked my arms and legs, willing them to move.  I was still stuck, motionless.  But the pain was gone, and my muscles actually felt…good.  Strong.  I tried to force my body up once more, and as my senses returned to me, I realized that my arms and legs were restrained.  There was no mistaking the way the synthetic leather rubbed raw the first few layers of skin – they had become oh so familiar during my weekly face smashing sessions.  I breathed a sigh of relief and sucked in a lungful of thick smoke.

“You going to let me out of this or not?” I asked.

“I should be getting awards for the work I had to do on you.  You’re lucky to even be alive,” The Doctor chuckled.  He seemed to appear from the shadows of the dark corner of the room, and the dim overhead light caught in his glasses, creating an eerie glare that hid his eyes.

“Maybe I’m lucky.  Maybe I’ve got an angel watching over my ass.”  The Doctor unfastened the straps.  I rubbed my wrists and stretched my arms and back, and all the joints in my body popped in satisfaction.  My muscles, which felt stronger than before, ached to be used, to be put to the test.

I stared blankly for a moment, recalling the events that lead up to my blackout.  “How long has it been?”

“About a month.”

I nodded.  “Quite a bit has happened since then,” he continued.  “That suspicious friend of yours…Sylar?  Silas? Anyway, he left this for you.”

I took the digital pamphlet from him and flipped through the headlines compiled over the last month.  New City Rejoices over the Death of Levi Cole.  Shell, Champion of the People, Triumphs Over the Old City Menace.  This continued for about one hundred articles, along with headlines along the line of “Valor Stocks Hits Record Highs”.  I skipped the list of brand endorsements Shell had garnered after defeating me.  The last headline caught my eye, and I tucked away in my mind for later:  Super Villain Group Sin Coalition Declares War on Super Heroes!

I tossed the readout aside.  “I guess it’s time to prove to the world that Levi Cole isn’t dead.”

✓✓✓✓✓✓✓✓

My breath formed little white clouds in the chill as I stood at the top of the mountain and waited.  Torrents of snow blasted my face, trying to break through the thin layer of protective second skin, but only managing to give the impression of frostbite.  I spit out a chewed up oxy-tab and popped a fresh one into my mouth.  The oxygen at this level wasn’t just thin, it was practically nonexistent.

I brought my binoculars up and zoomed in on the landscape that seemed to stretch out to infinity. The binocs were an advanced model, able to cut through the snow and clouds, and able to bring into focus anything within 7 miles.  Despite that fact, they lost sharpness at just halfway down the mountain.  The Astrocrag – as it had been named – really was a marvel of science and ingenuity – and money, lots and lots of money – and had been created by thousands of controlled explosions along a natural fault line.  Never mind that the resultant earthquakes wiped out the neighboring coastal cities, we now had a man made monument that dwarfed any natural structure.  And now the elites had another mountain to climb, another story to tell at their expensive cocktail parties.

Compared to some of my previous undertakings, climbing this mountain had been a cakewalk.  But I had a challenge in front of me higher than any man-made summit. And he would be here soon.

Finally I caught sight of him, through the clouds and snow, about three-quarters up the mountain.  He wore no coat, he carried no supplies.  His skin, darker than obsidian, was all he needed to protect him from the elements.  It wouldn’t be enough to protect him from me.  At least not this time.

Camera drones buzzed circles around Shell, documenting his triumphant voyage as he easily ploughed up the mountain.  I keyed a sequence into my palm, and a cleft just above Shell exploded outward, bringing thousands of tons of rock and snow crushing down on him.  I knew it wouldn’t even put a scratch on his indestructible skin, but I smiled anyway.  No sense in letting him make it to the top without at least a little bit of trouble.

I zoomed in on his location again, this time a mile farther down the mountain.  He dug his way out of the shifting snow drifts and continued as if maybe a light gust of wind had blown a sprinkle of snow into his face.  By now he would be putting together the facts and figuring out that the avalanche wasn’t natural.

He tilted his head up to the sky, as if sniffing for a scent on the wind.  Then he disappeared from my view.  I tossed the binoculars aside and threw the pack off my shoulder. I could see him now without the aid of the binoculars, lunging hundreds of yards at a time, the drones trailing farther and farther behind with each jump.

I rolled my head and wheeled my arms around in large circles.  When fighting superheroes, I’ve found it was best to loosen up first – the last thing you want when eye beams are firing at your face is muscle cramps.

Shell fell from the sky like a meteorite, cratering into the earth directly in front of me.  The tundra shook and cracked beneath my feet and the surrounding snow and rocks began to shudder.  I kept my weapons holstered and waited like a good sport for him to pull himself out of the hole.  I wanted to see if that blank face of his could express shock.

“You,” he said as he straightened up in front of me.  “You’re dead.”  That last part sounded more like an item on his agenda than an announcement or question.

I held my hands out to my sides as the drones buzzed by, each one taking a different angle.  Right now, they were pumping a live feed to millions of warm and cozy living rooms.  Somewhere in a very tall building, someone was making a ton of money off of this.  I made a mental note to check later to see if that person would need marked off my list.

“I keep hearing that,” I said.  “The funny thing is, I don’t feel dead.”

Shell stood there, a silent monolith, as he contemplated these new facts.  But there was something else there, behind the coolness of that dark impenetrable skin.  Hesitation?  And he was right to feel that way.  I had failed in my last attempt to kill him.  Today, failure wasn’t something I even considered.

Shell finally cocked his head, and the lower part of his face split into a mockery of a smile.

“You missed your chance,” he said.  “You should have ran.  But I thank you for the opportunity to finish the job.”

It was my turn to smile.  “I’m a glutton for punishment.  Now how about we give the viewers something that really entertains them.”

He stood there motionless for another moment.  Then he was a blur, barreling towards me, aiming to take my head off with one punch.  The effects of the stimstrip had already started coursing through my veins in controlled bursts.  The Doctor had taken the liberty of concocting a new formula, one that reacted more to the impulses of the body, giving me more precision over my senses and movement.  He swiped air as I ducked under his swinging fist.

He used his momentum to continue the attack, gyrating on one leg, his other leg straight out and whipping towards my knees.  I hurdled straight up and brought my knees to my chest as the air below me cracked.  As an added touch, I kicked backwards, catching his still moving leg with my foot and sending him toppling towards a snow mound.  He twisted back around and swung again, hard enough to cave in my chest – had it hit.  This time I moved with the swing, placed my hands on his chest, and pushed.  He went skidding twenty feet down the icy mountain, and came to a stop as he dug his fingers into the ground.  His face would have shown surprise if it were capable of it.

“I thought you were going to finish the job?” I yelled down the mountain.  “You’re going to have to do better than that.”

A low growl emitted from an approximation of his mouth, giving the impression of a feral dog that needed to be put down.  I sighed, released the beam blade from its holster in my jacket sleeve, and let it fall into my hand.  I’d had my fun toying with Shell.  I could drive the nail in further, but I think the audience at home was getting my point.  It was time to stop playing games, and time to destroy Shell once and for all.

Shell pounced, but I was already on the move.  I sprinted down the slope, bouncing every couple of steps and letting gravity do the work of carrying me down the mountain.  I switched the beam to a wide setting, held it low to the ground and let it travel into the distance.  Steam rose from the path cut out in front of me.  I continued running, and could already feel my footholds becoming slick as the snow melted and cooled back to ice.

I glimpsed back to find Shell, legs and arms straight out in front of him like an Olympics long jumper, soaring through the stratosphere.  Judging by his trajectory, he was planning to overtake me.  I flicked the beam blade off and holstered it.  I had learned the hard way that it wouldn’t do much good against Shell’s thick hide.

I dug in for traction and thrust myself head-long and back-first onto the ice track.  As I fell, I pulled a nade out of my jacket and chucked it at Shell.  He tried to bat it away, but it exploded as soon as his hand made contact with it.  The explosion sent a shockwave of snow that powdered my clothes, and flung Shell tumbling down the mountain after me.

Still on my butt, I spun so my feet were down hill.  I straightened my body like a board and watched as the passing snow drifts sped up.  I hit a ridge and ramped over a deep crevice, bruising my coccyx as I landed on the other side.  Behind me, Shell finally managed to make it up to his feet just as it looked like he’d plummet into the darkness, and flipped over the crevice.

I was nearing the end of my beam-made luge track, and I keyed the next sequence into my palm.  The mountain erupted just in front of me, and a pillar of snow and rock climbed to the sky.  I hit the end of the track and dove into the rising pillar.  I covered my head as earth and ice pelted my body.

My vision was restricted to white static, limited to a radius of a couple feet.  I strained my ears for the faint hum of machinery in the torrential roar that would be Shell’s resting place.  I trudged through the storm, managing as straight a line I could while the wind ripped at my clothing and tried its best to sweep me off my feet.

From my estimations, it should have been right there.  But it wasn’t.  Even with my boosted senses I couldn’t pick the hum out of the noise.  A howl cut through the pillar.  I spun.  The source of the feral cry materialized in the white, oblivious to the chunks of rock and ice that peppered his exposed form.  He swaggered towards me like he knew what the future held.  I was going to shatter that dream.

I closed my eyes and poured all my senses into hearing.  I had to stifle a laugh.  If I had walked two more feet, I would have found exactly what I had been looking for.

I had stolen the idea from my fragmented memories that had surfaced during my last fight with Shell.  In it, Rune had been showing off a weapon – a plasma rail cannon, to be exact.  To my credit, this one was somewhere near a magnitude of ten times more powerful.  It had been a pain to set the giant contraption up in the mountains, it wasn’t cheap, the parts weren’t easy to come by, and it had only enough juice for one shot.  But it would do a lot more than just annoy Shell.

I waited for Shell to take one more step, and struck the sequence into my palm.  I cupped my ears as the hum turned into a deafening, high pitched whine.  The world seemed to open up in front of me.  A gargantuan hole appeared in the side of the mountain, creating a vortex that sucked in the icy whirlwind that had diminished my vision just seconds ago.  Suddenly, the white was gone, and I was again exposed, a tiny speck on the side of the Astrocrag.

A hand clamped around my throat.  Well, this isn’t familiar.  Shell lifted me by the neck until my toes were just scraping the ice.  I felt my eyes bulge in their sockets, and the thin layer of moisture started to freeze them in place even with the protective layer of second skin.

“Did you really think that would work?”

Shell loosened his grip enough for me to choke out a laugh.  “You really think I was aiming for you?”

Shell jerked his head around to inspect the perfect circle now burned into the side of the mountain.  The ground beneath us shifted, and the mountain let out a low moan as if it were in extreme discomfort.

“What did you do?”

I didn’t answer, and instead slapped both of my palms to each side of his head.  He hesitated for a split second before deciding to take action.  By that point it was already too late.

I don’t know how I could have forgotten about the beauty of psycho-torture.  The secret had been lurking in the deep recesses of my mind, waiting for a good opportunity to present itself.  And now I had it, along with all the techniques and tricks that made it so devastating.

Of course it wouldn’t have worked without the correct preparations.  Shell’s nanites would have blocked the signal under normal circumstances, but I hadn’t spent the last week lounging around.

At this height, snow wasn’t a natural occurrence, and it had been a simple matter to infiltrate the system that created the artificial white stuff that spit out from vents all over the mountain.  The snow Shell had been casually strolling through contained a special enzyme that I had tested against dead nanites salvaged from our previous fight.  Once activated by a special trigger – such as the radiation generated by the cannon – that enzyme would counteract his nanites abilities to adapt to the situation, if only for a few seconds.

That was all the time I needed.  The connection had been made, and I was inside his skull.

Five seconds later, his grip around my neck slackened and I slipped to the ground.  Smoke streamed up from the fried psycho-torture devices I had installed in my gloves.  The mountain shook again, and Shell toppled to his back, billowing a puff of snow around the outline of his body.  It had only taken five seconds, but subjectively I had spent half a year in there, crawling around, finding the pain that would shatter his existence.  It had been easy, too – Shell’s pride in his undefeatable armor had ended up being his down fall.  With the very small possibility of someone bypassing his nanites and invading his mind, he hadn’t bothered with putting any blocks in place.  Add to that the fact that he’d forgotten what pain was after spending all that time in the comfort of that indestructible skin, and you got a mind just begging to be broken.

The ground trembled again.  This time layers of rock collapsed off the side of the mountain.  The cannon had served another purpose.  If Shell was rescued within the next 48 hours, there was a good chance they could unscramble his brain and send him right back after me.  I needed that like I needed my limbs chopped off, and the rail cannon had been my insurance policy.  This mountain, this monument to mankind’s hubris, was nothing more than a blemish on the face of this earth, and would serve as a fitting burial ground for Shell.

The mountain continued to devour itself.  I shot one of the still buzzing camera drones out of the air, and ran towards the second one.  I lunged and caught it by the sides.  My fingers slipped on the slick surface, then stuck as the skin froze to it.  We dipped under my weight, spun wildly for a few seconds, then regained stability and started our decent down the mountain.  Together we plummeted, my feet skimping the chasing avalanche.  I glanced back to the Astrocrag as it collapsed in on itself, then focused my efforts of not being caught in the wave of destruction.

Shell was now nothing more than his namesake, a hollowed out husk.  And the world learned something very important that day:  Levi Cole was back.

  • Timothy

    Aaaaw, is this the last episode? : (

    This story is really good.

    • Timothy

      Oh good, it isn’t, the link to the next episode thing just isn’t there for some reason.

      • http://kristruitt.com Kris Truitt

        Thanks for reading! And good catch, that’s fixed now. There’s 19 episodes out currently and I’m working on the next one.