The jump jet swooped silently down toward the building. It landed with a dull thud on the black tar roof. The four members of Forum Team gathered in the back of the small machine.
“Okay,” Ben whispered. “Garrett was right, this should be a simple op.”
He was clad in his gray-steel and glowing-red armor, his matching helmet tucked under his arm. All of them were dressed in a similar fashion; all “costumed up,” as Kimmy liked to put it.
“Our target is on the thirty-fifth floor. It’s a computer, 35-09-a, one of dozens on that floor, so keep your eyes peeled. Mission objective is to get the intel on that drive. Building should be empty; so as long as we avoid blowing anything up no one should find us.”
Kimmy raised a hand.
“Uh, Kimmy?” Ben asked.
“If no one’s in the building, why are you wearing your ‘work clothes?’” the speedster questioned. She figured that a boy in a robot suit wouldn’t exactly be stealthy.
Ben grinned, “What’s the Scout motto? ‘Always be prepared?’”
He slid the helm over his head. With a sharp click, it attached to the rest of the suit. The V-shaped visor burned red.
“Alright,” he garbled through the suit’s speakers. “Forum Team, let’s move.”
The four of them crept through the building. From the roof they had descended the twenty-ish floors to the thirty-fifth.
They all crouched in front of the door. Bellona, who was closest, raised her hand to the push bar. With a slow, deliberate swipe, Bellona popped the door open. The four of them surged into the room, ready to leap into a fight.
The room was empty.
“Okay, team,” Vulcan murmured, “time to play needle in the haystack.”
“More like computer in the computer stack.” Mercury interjected.
“Not your best . . .” Jupiter shot back as they spread across the room.
After a few minutes of frantic clicking on keyboards, Vulcan spoke up.
“Got it!” he said excitedly before going back to work on the computer. The other teammates crowded around him.
“What are we here for?” Bellona asked.
“No idea,” Vulcan answered. “The instructions were just to get everything on this drive.”
“You don’t think that’s weird?” Bellona persisted, “They aren’t even telling us what we’re trying to recover?”
“Oh I think it’s very weird,” Vulcan shot back, still crouched over the computer, “which is why I’m also going to make us a copy of the drive.”
The vigilante was seemingly satisfied with this answer, as she dropped the subject.
“Never thought that when I signed up for super-school I’d be committing corporate espionage,” Mercury mused.
“The Noman Corporation is involved in tons of shady dealings,” Jupiter responded, eyes still intent on the computer. “Weapons deals, drugs, who knows what else.”
“How do you know all this?” she asked.
“I did some research on the flight in. Vesta had some pretty impressive data files for me to check out, and there was some more in the briefing,” Jupiter said, grinning at her. Mercury returned the smile.
Vulcan swore loudly.
“What is it?” Mercury said, her attention snapping back to their leader.
“I tripped a firewall and the alarm went off,” Vulcan muttered darkly, still furiously typing. “Gimme a minute and we can bail.”
For a few moments the only sound was the clacks of a keyboard. Then:
“Done!” Vulcan shouted.
As if on cue, two men burst into the room.
“Hands in the air!” the one of the right shouted.
The men weren’t dressed like normal night security guards. They were dressed all in dark black body armor, with matching helmets that covered their entire heads. Each carried a wicked-looking assault rifle, both of which were pointed at the four heroes.
The other one must have been confused by the four figures before him, as he lowered his gun for a split second:
“What the – ” he began.
Bellona seized the opportunity, flinging her baton at the right one’s head. The man’s head snapped back and he crumpled to the floor. The baton wheeled back toward Bellona, and she snatched it from the air.
His partner jumped, momentarily distracted. Suddenly a bolt of red light shot across the room, connecting with the second man’s chest. He was flung backward, landing in a crumpled heap. The projectile had shot out from Vulcan’s gauntlet, which still glowed red with energy.
“Holy shit!” Mercury exclaimed.
“They’re just unconscious,” Vulcan said, lowering his arm. “But we should leave before more of them show up.”
“How do you know more of them will show up?” Jupiter asked.
“Those guys weren’t dressed like your average security guard,” Bellona answered. “They were heavily armed and armored. Something big is going on here.”
“Agreed, hence my wanting to go,” Vulcan began. “The fastest way up would probably be out the window but – ”
Before he could continue, Mercury decided to take matters into her own hands. She dashed over to the window and, in the blink of an eye, shattered it. Just as suddenly, an alarm began to blare. Blast shields came down on the outside of the windows.
“– they’re probably alarmed.” Vulcan finished.
They could all hear the thud of boots in the stairwell.
“Form up,” Gwen growled. “We’re gonna have to fight our way out.”
The soldiers exploded into the room.
Vulcan opened fire with his wrist-mounted blasters. Wherever one of his shots connected, a soldier fell. But still, more came. Vulcan stopped firing and the soldiers surged forward. Forum Team came up to meet them.
Mercury zipped right up to the first soldier. In a high speed blur, she dismantled his gun, dropping the pieces to the floor as she went. She then swept the man’s legs out from under him, sending him sprawling. The speedster dashed up to her next target, stopping to do no more than punch the woman (at least, Mercury thought this one might be a woman) straight in the helmet. She too crumpled. With a grin, Mercury whipped around, shooting off to take care of another soldier.
Jupiter charged his fists with lightning as two soldiers ran toward him. The first he decked with a punch straight to the face. The second reached him, swinging the butt of his rifle in a frenzied attack. Jupiter ducked, slamming a left hook into the man’s abdomen. The soldier tumbled back. Jupiter fired off a small electric shock, sending the soldier to the floor. More of the black-clad soldiers stepped up to fight him. With a grimace, Jupiter started towards them.
Bellona ducked below her first adversary’s swinging fist. She swung her baton in an upward arc, clipping the man on the chin and sending him reeling. Another lunged at her from the right. She grabbed the soldier’s rifle with her left hand, yanking it across her body. She brought her baton down into the soldier’s arm, then slammed the butt of her weapon into his helmet. He dropped immediately. With a flourish, the baton shot open to its full-length of six feet. Bellona swung her staff, taking out the legs of one soldier and knocking into the head of another. She jabbed forward with it, catching one of her opponents in the chest. On impact, the end of the staff released a blast of energy. Bellona twirled the staff in her hand before turning to face her next foe.
Vulcan’s armored fist slammed into the soldier’s chest. Another charged him, but the armored teen grabbed the man by the front of his shirt. He lifted the soldier, then slammed him into the ground. A rifle butt slammed into Vulcan’s helmet. He didn’t flinch. Instead, he grabbed hold of the man’s weapon, yanking it from his grasp. With a quick burst from his wrist-mounted-lasers, he cut the gun’s barrel straight off and flung the pieces away. Letting the computers in the suit do the work, he sent a blast of concussive energy at another soldier without looking.
Jupiter whipped around. He had just dropped another two soldiers when he caught sight of another. This one was raising his rifle, aiming down the sights at Bellona. Jupiter raised his arm to loose a bolt of lightning at the soldier. He targeted the man and called upon the electricity flowing in him. He was ready to fire but . . . he couldn’t. He felt frozen. He couldn’t think; he could hardly move. He felt himself being pulled back to that night, in the alley. Felt the walls of the office melt away for cold brick and concrete.
No, he thought desperately, not now, my friends need me!
Still he could not budge. He could not even cry out in warning. Helpless to stop it, he watched as the soldier pulled the trigger. Heard the gunshot. Smelled the powder.
A golden blur shook the air behind Bellona, carrying her out of the way. The soldier cast about for his quarry.
The two girls landed on the floor. Bellona scrambled to her feet and threw a small projectile at the man who shot at her. It hit his head and knocked him to the floor. She glanced over to Mercury, still on the floor.
She was bleeding. The bullet had entered her right leg. It seemed to be a through-and-through shot, which was good, but she wouldn’t be able to use that leg anytime soon.
“Cover me!” Bellona barked before diving down next to her teammate.
Jupiter snapped out of his daze with a growl. He loosed shocks at two. Three. Four soldiers, all of them went down. With a shout, he charged another clump of them.
Vulcan was still fighting furiously. By now, the soldiers had decided that the armored warrior was the biggest threat. They had surrounded him and separated him from the rest of Forum Team. One charged him, but Vulcan easily dispatched him with a swift punch. Two more opened fire on him, but his energy shield popped to life on his left arm, stopping the bullets cold. He spun and push kicked a desk into a pair of approaching soldiers, sending them sprawling. A fresh volley of gunfire caused him to hide behind his shield again.
“What’s happening over there?” Vulcan asked into his mic.
“Mercury got hit!” Jupiter called back, sounding panicked.
Vulcan swore violently.
“Get her out of here!” he instructed. “I’ll hold them.”
“What? No – ” Jupiter started.
“On it.” Bellona interrupted, lifting Mercury into a fireman’s carry. Bellona had put some medical bandages onto the wound, which had seemed to stem the blood flow. Mercury didn’t look too good however. She hung limply in her teammate’s grip.
“C’mon,” she growled at Jupiter before taking off for the door. Jupiter, without seeing any other option, took off after her.
Vulcan watched his teammates flee from the room.
“Alright Vesta,” he muttered, “Gimme a breakdown.”
“There are thirty-two hostiles in this room,” Vesta chattered back. “Each seems to be armed with a modified Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle and wearing moderately shock-absorbent armor.”
“Okay,” the teen answered, “I’m gonna need the sword.”
“Okay, sir,” The A.I. chirped.
“And, uh . . . play some music.”
“And don’t call me ‘sir.’”
The strains of Manfred Mann’s “Doo Wah Diddy” filled Vulcan’s helmet.
His armored hand reached down toward his right thigh. His hand found the handle, and he pulled upward. He was brandishing what looked like a small, rectangular box, with a hole in the front and a handle sticking out the back, attached by two thin sheets of metal. With a quick flourish, the box transformed. The handle slid along the top sheet until it was flipped onto the bottom of the box. A long metal blade slide out from the hole. The edges of the blade began to glow a vicious red, just like the rest of his suit.
There she was just a-walkin’ down the street, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”
The soldiers backed away momentarily. Then one (who was either stupider or braver than the rest) charged him.
Snappin’ her fingers and shufflin’ her feet, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”
Vulcan swung his sword and caught the man right in the midriff. The same concussive force from his blasters arced from his sword.
She looked good (looked good)
The man crumpled immediately.
She looked fine (looked fine)
Two more ran at him.
She looked good, she looked fine and I nearly lost my mind
He sliced at the first with his sword, hitting his arm and knocking the gun from his hand and the man to the floor. He punched the second in the head with his free hand, sending him sprawling.
Before I knew it she was walkin’ next to me, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”
Another few opened fire on him. His shield popped open and absorbed the gunshots.
Holdin’ my hand just as natural as can be, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”
He flourished his wrist again, and the sword changed back to its original form. Vulcan stuck it around the outside of his shield.
We walked on (walked on) to my door (my door)
The hole glowed red, and a bolt like those from his wrists fired at the soldiers. He hit one. Two. A third.
We walked on to my door, then we kissed a little more
From the corner of his eye, he saw more soldiers flood the room. He brandished his sword and charged.
Bellona sprinted up the stairs, Mercury still slung over her back, and Jupiter running behind her.
Two soldiers ran down the stairs toward them. The two groups met at a landing and immediately engaged. Bellona ducked under the first one’s punch and swept his legs out from under him. With a swift kick to the head, the man was out cold. Jupiter leapt at the second, tackling him to the ground. After a brief struggle, Jupiter scrambled back up, the soldier unconscious below him.
“Wha-wha’s happenin’?” Mercury said, her voice sounding far away.
“You got hit,” Bellona responded. “We’re getting you out.”
“Oooh, that’s greaaat,” the speedster responded. “You know, it’s always been a dream of mine to get carried off by a hottie in black spandex.”
“Shut up or I’m dropping you,” Bellona answered, not even pausing in her ascent.
“On second thought—Jupiter, you meet the requirements. You wanna carry me?” Mercury asked.
Jupiter kept running.
The three of them burst onto the roof and sprinted toward the ship.
The back of the jump-ship opened like the maw of a great beast, and the trio shuffled into the small cargo-bay. The door eased closed behind them.
Bellona laid Mercury down onto the low bench on the left side of the cargo-bay. The speedster’s bandage was soaked through with blood. Bellona quickly removed the stained wrapping and started to replace it with a fresh one. She took a quick glance at the wound. It looked . . . smaller. As if Mercury had already begun to heal.
Super-speed, Bellona realized. It not only made her run fast, it made everything fast.
Still she replaced the bandages on her friend, stemming the remaining blood-flow.
The jump-jet’s engines began to rev up.
“Vesta, no!” Bellona barked. “Vulcan’s still down there!”
“Don’t worry,” Vesta chirped. “Master Ward will find his own way out.”
The engines roared and Bellona felt the ship buck as it took off.
Jupiter slumped into the seat.
“This is all my fault,” he muttered.
“Nah, man, you can’t do that to yourself,” Kimmy responded, her mask now pulled off her face.
“You don’t understand,” he responded, peeling off his domino mask and pushing off his hood. “I saw the guy aiming at Gwen but . . . I couldn’t do it. I froze. I’m sorry . . . I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, it’s alright,” Kimmy told him from her makeshift bed. “Nobody’s perfect . . . besides, I’m already feeling better.”
A ghost of a smile touched Terry’s face.
“You have accelerated healing,” Gwen told her. “The same power that lets you run at Mach speed is helping your cells regenerate at a faster rate.”
“Whoa,” Kimmy said, stunned. “That’s neat.”
“Neat and lucky,” Gwen answered. “Otherwise you could’ve been off that leg for weeks. As it stands it’ll probably only be hours.”
Kimmy lay in silence for a few seconds and then said:
“I just hope Ben is doing okay down there.”
Ben was, in fact, doing quite okay.
He stood in the middle of a rough circle of assailants, but had yet to suffer any serious damage to his suit or himself.
With a swift ferocity, he knocked over another of the soldiers.
“Who’s next?!” Vulcan growled.
A few soldiers opened fire on him. His shield popped open and the bullets pinged off harmlessly.
“When are you idiots gonna realize that doesn’t work?” Vulcan taunted.
“Uh, sir,” Vesta said.
“What’s up, Vesta?” Vulcan asked, firing with his blaster.
“That soldier has a grenade.”
Sure enough, one of the soldiers had just popped a pin on a grenade. Vulcan saw the projectile come sailing towards him.
In a fluid motion, he spun, whipping his shield arm toward the explosive.
The energy field connected and sent the grenade flying. It flew away from him, over the heads of the soldiers, and straight towards one of the sealed windows.
The grenade detonated, shredding the metal that had closed off the outside world.
“Are the others to the ship, Vesta?” Vulcan asked, looking at the gaping hole.
“They’re already airborne, sir,” she responded.
Vulcan took off running for the hole. He held his shield in front of himself and bulled through the crowd of soldiers, coming out the other side unscathed.
He closed the shield and pumped his arms as he closed on the hole. Vulcan reached the edge and, without even pausing, flung himself into the night air.
He felt himself plummet a few stories.
C’mon, he thought, work!
With a sudden blast of power, the jet-powered flight system kicked in. The jets in his boots and on his back turned up to full-throttle and sent the armored teen skyward.
“WOOOOOO!” he cried, twisting and rising through the air. Suddenly he sailed past the roof of the building he was just in, climbing higher and higher with each passing second.
Vesta marked the ship on his HUD. Vulcan jetted toward it, closing the distance in a few moments.
The ship’s cargo bay opened. He could see his friends inside, staring out at them, looking utterly bewildered.
He put on an extra burst of speed and landed in the bay. The doors snapped shut behind him, and the roar of wind that had filled the room a second ago died out.
Vulcan crumpled to the floor, suddenly exhausted. He removed his helmet and grinned at his teammates.
“Hell of a start, wouldn’t you say?”