The List Ep 12 – Fractured

My fingers trembled as they forced a stimstrip through my cracked and busted lips.  I choked it down, along with a pint of blood.  It was the third of the night – this night that would never end.  My muscles tensed and ached as the effects of the last stimstrips battled to keep the vessel known as Levi Cole on his feet.  A tickle grew in my lungs, and then I was on my knees, convulsing, coughing the kind of cough that emphysema only wished it could induce.  I gasped for air and struggled back up to my feet.  I waited for the surge of energy to engulf me as I dragged my carcass of a body over the turnstiles, setting off another alarm that blended in with the thousand others already screaming their warnings.

My right arm flopped against my side as I continued to shuffle my feet in a pathetic excuse for running.  Blood dripped down the dangling appendage and spattered a nice pattern on the once pristine tiles of the New City subway station.  I wasn’t sure where he was, but I knew he was close behind.  Toying with me.  Trying to break my spirits.  Trying to completely destroy me.  And it was working.

11 MINUTES 37 SECONDS EARLIER

Shell stood before me, darker than the night itself.  One of the members of the prestigious superhero group dubbed the “Superior Six”.  Also rumored to be the physically strongest of the six.  Tonight I would put that to the test.

Time seemed to slow down as I waited to see if Shell would make the first move.   His wide, toothless grin seemed to hover against the backdrop of fat thunderclouds that painted the sky, its only purpose to taunt me.  While I appreciated the Cheshire Cat impersonation, I didn’t so much like the fact that his foot was buried through my last target’s head.  I supposed I should have just seen it as a favor – a check off my list was a check off my list.  But it just set my blood boiling that much more.

He was waiting for me, the same way a cat waits for a mouse, his haunches spring loaded with a thousand pounds of potential energy, and ready to pounce the millisecond I twitched from my spot.  So let him think I was playing into his little game.  I had plans of my own.

I keyed a sequence into my palm, the same one I had used earlier to take off Valor’s arm.  The trajectory on the cannon was still set to the same location, and Shell had taken the liberty to stand right in the path of the bullet.  The bullet slammed into the back of his head, folding him in half, and hammered him deep into the stone roof.  I didn’t wait to see what was left of him in the crater – I spun towards the edge of the roof and sprinted while reaching for the grappling gun on my waist.  It wasn’t part of my usual arsenal, but it wasn’t everyday that I got to fight Shell.  I’d have to use every dirty trick hidden in the recesses of my mind if I wanted to see this night through alive.

I reached the ledged, pushed off, and prepared to fire the grapple, which would allow me to swing down to the elaborate set of traps I had laid for Shell.  I’d only made it a foot off the ledge when I felt a crushing sensation in my left ankle.  My face smacked into the side of the building, and the blood rushed to my head.  I looked down to see the 200 story drop between me and death, and looked up to see Shell holding me suspended by the leg.  I wasn’t sure which was worse.

He yanked me back over the solidity of the roof, then spun back around and sent me flying like a human discus.  The lights of holo-ad plastered skyscrapers blurred by as I tumbled through the air in an uncontrolled spin.  I fired my grappling gun, hoping it would catch onto one of the passing buildings, but the cord went slack.  The severed cord reeled back into the gun, and all I could think was Well, that’s odd.  I ditched the gun along with Plan A.

I felt a shadow blanket me, like a buzzard hawk swooping high above, ready to pick the meat off my bones.  In my frantic rotations I caught a glimpse of Shell, sailing through the air along with me.  He passed me up and brought his feet forward as if preparing to land.  I fought to correct my spin and finally brought into view my destination for this short trip.  An oversized face of an overly-plastic woman enjoying a cheeseburger and fries played out in front of me – a holo-ad that served as a veil to the steel and glass and carbon structure behind it.  I brought my arms up in a futile attempt to protect myself from my headlong dive into the side of the skyscraper.  Shell disappeared through the holo-ad and bore into the building, composing a symphony of twisting metal and broken glass.  I had no other choice but to follow as the shards and debris cascaded around me.

Shells fingers reached out and wrapped around my throat.  And then my flight stopped.  My body jerked forward, sans my neck and head.  My eyes bulged, the blood in my face boild, my vision went black for a second.  My gag reflex kicked in, telling my stomach to spew its contents, but the vice grip around my throat kept anything from coming up.  I punched at the arm holding me, but did nothing but bruise and blister my knuckles as they struck against the impenetrable surface of Shell’s skin.

Shell’s grip lessened, allowing me to steal a gasp of air, and he brought my face to his.

“That the best you can do?” he asked, his voice like gravel on glass.

I didn’t answer, and instead drew my beam blade and swiped up into his arm.  The blade etched about a centimeter deep into the flawless obsidian skin, then abruptly stopped.  The nanites that composed his skin were hard at work repairing the armor just as fast as the beam could damage it.  Shell’s chest heaved as if he was laughing, and I could do nothing but watch as he grabbed my hand and tightened his fist around it, crushing bone and flesh and composite beam blade handle materials into one.

It was at that time that the stimstrip started to kick in, sharpening all of my necessary senses while sending the pain of my mangled hand to a location very far away.  It had been smart to slip that into my mouth during my low earth orbit.  Now I just had to figure out what to do with it.

“What exactly does he see in you?  Why has he kept you alive this whole time?” Shell yelled right into my ear, and I wished that the stimstrip hadn’t upgraded my hearing.

“Who?” I asked sarcastically, and he tightened his grip around my throat.  Just a little more pressure, the right squeeze from those rock hands of his, and my head would pop right off the top of my body.  Shell was having fun though, and was going to make my death last as long as possible.

“What do you know about Rune?”

I coughed in return, and he granted me back my air supply.  So it appeared he wanted something from me after all.  Maybe he wasn’t content with being the sidekick, or maybe he wanted to take over Rune’s company.  I didn’t care which; I just wanted to see them all dead.

“Fine, I’ll tell you,” I said hoarsely.  With my heightened senses, I heard the soft rumble of a New City Transit train.  I stitched together a patchwork map in my mind based off of my preliminary scouting and knowledge of the area, and compared that with my earlier trajectory from Valor Tower and the sights I had glimpsed.  Factoring in the sound of the train, I now knew I was on the thirty-first floor of the Undine-Hurst building, a company that had been ran by two men long since marked off of my list.  And I also knew that the tracks ran right along side of this building, and only four stories down.  My mind crunched the numbers and also told me that the very same train I heard would be there in less than twelve seconds.  Today is my lucky day.

“What are you smiling about?” Shell asked, but I was already pulling the armed nades off of my belt.  The first one was an electrical pulse grenade, nothing that would actually harm Shell, but enough to screw with his nanite armor for a split second.  I brought up both feet and rammed them into Shell’s chest as that nade went off.  His fingers slackened by a fraction, but just enough for me to squeeze my neck out of his grip while only losing a couple layers of skin.

The second nade went off at Shell’s feet, a thermite type grenade that exploded in a column of fire and melted through both the floor and ceiling.  The heat licked at my exposed skin and singed my face as I flipped backwards out of the Undine-Hurst building.

The lead car of the train shot by under my feet as I dropped.  I twisted my body around and bent my knees as I prepared to land, more out of a force of habit, seeing as how there was no good way to land on a vehicle traveling over 200 miles per hour.  The balls of my feet touched down, and then my balance was ripped out from under me.  The speed of the train sent me bouncing along the top of the cars, making sure to hit every bone possible before I could catch hold of a car ledge with my good hand.

I laid flat on the car as the wind lashed at me, trying to billow up under my clothes and throw me from my ride.  I rolled to my back to watch the tail end of the train pass under the Undine-Hurst building, when a portion of the wall exploded outward, raining down sparks of molten metal.  Inside of the glowing mass that crashed down onto the train was the unmistakably void form of Shell, completely unscathed.

Shell walked the top of the train, stepping lightly from car to car, indifferent to the speed we were traveling.  The scream of the train barreling down the track pierced my ears.  Something in my brain told me that was wrong – these trains barely made any noise, even when braking from 200 miles per hour for a stop.  No, the noise was familiar, something I had heard in a past long since forgotten.  Or long since erased.

I squeezed my eyes closed, and when I opened them again, Rune was standing in front of me.  Only it wasn’t the Rune I knew.  He was clad in an all black outfit, and I noticed I was wearing the same sharp suit.  At his hip he held the source of the noise – a long barreled plasma rail cannon.  The blast from the cannon obliterated everything in front of him, even breaking apart the dust at a molecular level.  He nodded at me and released the trigger.

I shook my head, and I was back on top of the train, with Shell just a few cars away, and the piercing sound just a memory.  At first I thought it was the work of a psychic, ghosting into my head, but there would have been telltale signs of a mind break and I hadn’t noticed any.  I dabbed at my ears, and pulled my fingers away wet.  I rubbed the clear fluid off on my jacket and quite possibly frowned.  I happened to like keeping my cerebral spinal fluid inside my head, where it belonged.  And that vision of Rune, whatever it was, couldn’t be good.

I rolled onto my knees, which wobbled under my weight, but maintained my balance.  We were nearing the entrance to the underground section of the transit system, where phase two of the plan which I’d given the code name Don’t Die and also Try to Kill Shell would commence.  I placed another stimstrip on my tongue and rode the ebbing waves of the last one as I analyzed the layout of the transit system in my mind, located the stops and intersections, and overlaid a map of traps I had set up just for a special occasion such as this.

I waited for the first car of the train to slip into the tunnel leading into the underground section of our journey, and once the second strip started mingling with my system I flipped off the edge of the train and crashed through a window on the side.  Yellow warning lights flashed on, and the passengers screamed and scrambled towards the ends of the car.  A calm voiced enveloped the entire car, alerting the passengers to a possible disturbance in their commute, but reminding them to stay calm.

The ceiling caved in, raining Shell down on me.  The stimstrip kicked in, allowing me to dodge Shell’s dense mass and escape his reach.  His hands shredded the car walls as he swung them after me, but the double dose turned everything into a slow motion blur and kept me alive.

The signs and speakers that weren’t shouting warnings announced the current platform, and the passengers still in the car scurried out of the doors before they were even fully recessed.  Pedestrians on the platform peeked in curious about the commotion.  Upon seeing the dark hulking figure tearing through the seats to get to the bloody and battered me, they turned tail and evacuated with the fleeing passengers.

The doors shut and the train lurched forward as I ducked under a punch that caved a seat in.  Now I just had to survive until the next stop.  I waited for my next pulse of stim, and dove around Shell’s oncoming heel, a blow that would have turned my face to liquid.  I came to the door that led to the next car and it buckled on its hinges with the first kick.  The second kick smashed it in.  Shell spun and sprinted after me, but I was already to the next door and crashing into another car.  I worked my way like this to the back of the train, from empty car to empty car, until I kicked the final door open.  The tunnel lights blinked by and merged to a point in the distance.  I leaned over the safety railing, just out of curiosity.  At this speed, the tracks would mangle my body and spray the body parts over a two mile distance.  That still didn’t compare to what Shell could do with his bare hands.  I turned back into the car, and he stepped through the door and grinned.

Twenty seconds until the next stop.

“Just how much human is there left of you?”  I asked, stalling.

“Enough to know what the pain I’m about to inflict on you will feel like.”

“I don’t blame you for covering up that face of yours with that mask,” I said through a broken smile.  “I’ve seen pics of the befores.  Your parents must have passed all the good genes to the brother of yours.  Although I can’t say his face looks like much anymore.”

“Do not soil the name of my brother,” he said, his voice even more grating than usual.

“Getting defensive?  You’re the one that killed him.”

“I ended his shame, so his honor could live on.”

Honor?  You call that honor?  Out of all the shit I’ve heard you superheroes spew, that’s the biggest load I’ve come across.  You and your brother are both trash, not worthy of even speaking the word honor!”

At that, Shell lunged at me.  But he was too late, and I was flipping out of the slowing train.  I landed on the track, skidding on the pebble bedding while careful not to touch the third rail, and keyed a sequence in my hand.

The tunnel hummed as the oscillators I had planted vibrated.  The trap caught Shell midair.  His entire body seemed to howl as the vibrations matched the resonant frequency of Shell’s nanites.  Vulnerable spots formed briefly on his arms, legs, and chest, revealing the sinewy muscles underneath, then disappeared as the nanites fought to patch his skin up.  But the lesions on his armor were showing up more frequently, and nanites began to fall from his body like sand.  He writhed and convulsed as the invisible grip of my trap ripped at him, but he couldn’t tear free.

I had broken through the impenetrable defense that was Shell, and now I was going to exploit it.  I pulled my combat knife from my boot and twirled it in my hand.  I lunged at Shell, unaffected by the vibrations that targeted only the nanites of his body.  I pinpointed a weak spot on his abdomen and thrust the blade.

My guess was that he had somehow adapted at the last second, somehow changed the harmonic frequency of his nanites before my trap could completely decimate his armor.  I didn’t have time to ponder how he did it, for my blade snapped in half as it hit, numbing my hand from the impact, and his fist was now shooting towards my face.

The stim kicked up my response time enough so that his knuckles only grazed the side of my head.  The shockwave of pain overrode the stim.  My head rocked, sloshing my brain around inside of my skull in an unpleasant manner, and my legs buckled.  The tunnel lights swirled around me, and I realized the punch had knocked me off of my feet.

Before I could recover, Rune was standing over me.  That wasn’t right – it was Shell – but I was sure I had seen Rune.  Shell swung a foot into my arm, and the force picked me up and sent me crashing into the tunnel wall.  My arm hung limply from my shoulder as I struggled back up to my feet.  I was pretty sure that my humerus bone had snapped through in three places, and knew that the muscle tissues were severely damaged around the impact zone.  I counted myself lucky that the arm he just shattered was the one he had damaged earlier, and not my good one.

I stumbled under a punch that turned the concrete of the tunnel wall to rubble, and hobbled down the tracks as fast as the stim would take me.  Shell followed close behind, in an odd sort of slow motion walk.  The nanites must have still been reeling from the effects of the trap, and were more focused on healing than moving.  I reached the platform and keyed in the next sequence as I dragged myself up off the tracks.

The tunnel rumbled and collapsed in on Shell, buying me some time to clear my head.  The dull colors of the station blended together as my vision faded in and out.  The sounds of alarms and screams merged together to form an incomprehensible pulse.

Then I’m standing in a dark room with a man strapped down to the table in front of me.

“He crack yet?” Rune asked.

“Almost,” I replied.  “This one’s a tough guy.”

The man in front of me screamed for mercy, although there were no visible signs of damage to his body.  That was the great thing about psycho-torture – you could break someone’s shin bones a thousand times and keep the interrogation room squeaky clean.  Well, if they didn’t soil themselves, which was usually the case.

I adjusted the settings on the device that applied the torture, and then I was back in the reality of the transit station.  What the hell was that?

My entire body trembled as the pain from my previous encounters started to surface.  I coughed the blood out of my throat and dove into the third stimstrip.

Through a daze I tumbled over a row of turnstiles.  Blacked out.  Shuffled down a set of stairs.  Blacked out.  Dragged myself to the opposite platform.  Blacked out.  Tripped through the open doors of the train.  Blacked out.  Reached into my jacket for my last nade.

Through the red, it looked like the train was evacuated.  Any idiot that was still on it with as much screaming from the alarms as there was deserved to die.

I had blown it.  I readied my last nade – a void grenade.  I didn’t like carrying the thing, let alone using it.  It had a variable radius, from 2 feet to 20 yards, and half the time it didn’t even work.  On top of that, it was way too easy for the intended target to dodge the telegraphed explosion range.  I depressed the detonator.  I didn’t have a choice.

The train shifted and started to move, and buckled as Shell barreled through the wall a car down.  With my back to the front of the car, I slung the grenade at the door as Shell tore through it.  The nade went off silently and became a slowly growing orb of nothingness.  Darkness overtook me.