In a room where he was surrounded by men and women working with quiet intensity, Hector heard his friend scream. Whatever had caused that sound, a great crash, it had damaged the cameras Jason wore. Luckily, it left his microphone intact. Hector listened, sick with dread, as Jason explained what had happened. Dr. Lizborne replaced by some sort of patchwork monstrosity, the Lodge’s members and their story of altered powers, the imposter using Jason’s own ability to kill all but one of them, it resonated immediately with things that Hector should have paid more attention to.
A series of deaths among the city’s registered Empowered, especially those who had participated in Lizborne’s research, a newly made drug that inhibited all forms of healing, a ritualistic serial killer and body thief whose impersonations had never been discovered until a corpse was found. Hector stared down at the missing ‘skin sample’ on his own arm, that was on all of his arms. Patchwork. When he spoke next, it wasn’t to Jason, it was broadcast over the state’s emergency communication line and it wasn’t a guess.
“This is Analyst Hector Hive, declaring a hard Class Two threat in Phoenix, Arizona. The Empowered criminal codenamed Skinthief has replaced the city’s head of Empowered registration and research. Skinthief has the ability to alter her appearance and acquire the Empowered abilities of her victims. Known abilities include those of a top tier Strong type, an extreme level regenerator and duplicator, as well as the ability to kill any living creature within her line of vision or groups of up to roughly half a million within a mile of herself.
“I am requesting Intervention Prime to deal with Skinthief and any other assets available to assist with the evacuation of Phoenix. Skinthief’s objectives are unknown but she has a history of serial murder and torture and has just killed a small group of civilians and attacked an operative. Extreme caution is advised.”
Even as he spoke, elsewhere, Hector acted.
“Liz,” he said, “I don’t have time to explain but I need to get you out of the city. If you have anything precious that you can carry with you, you have three minutes to get it.” He heard her run to her bedroom without questioning him. He was too busy opening his duffel pay any more attention than that.
Inside, there was a large box made of a dull green ceramic. It had a complicated electronic lock that he completely ignored. Entering any combination of numbers into it would cause the small explosive within the box to detonate. It wouldn’t breach the box but it would irreparably damage the contents. Instead, he rested his left palm against a random portion of the box’s surface while he used his right index finger to tap a complex code out on a section of the box that looked completely unimportant.
Once he’d finished, the box unsealed with a hiss and a strange smell. Hector had done this enough times that the escaping nitrogen was familiar to him now. It wasn’t a security issue, just meant to preserve the contents. They were literally irreplaceable, the products of several Richards types whose works had never been understood well enough to replicate. Well, irreplaceable for anyone but him. Hector had been practicing with the gear for months, ever since his last phase of training had been completed and Bruce had helped him assemble the gear.
It didn’t hold a candle to Bruce’s combat rig but it was enough to multiply Hector’s combat power by an order of magnitude, even before his duplication was taken into account. The black bodysuit went on first, visually similar to the ballistic cloth he wore in his normal uniform. The rest of it was similar, resembling normal Citadel body armor. White bracers, a heavy vest and tactical helmet and protectors for his shins and thighs.
There were a few differences, the bracers were a little thicker, with a raised tube attached to each. The vest was closer to an actual breastplate than the standard ceramic plate held in place by a cloth vest. This helmet was a little larger, the internal visor displays more complex. That was it though, at least visually. Once everything was in place, Hector grimaced in fearful anticipation and activated the system.
He screamed just as Liz returned from her room with a small bag under her arm. No matter how many times he went through it, the sensation of dozens- maybe hundreds- of tendrils burrowing into his bones never got any better. For a moment, it hurt as bad as anything he’d ever experienced. It cut out abruptly and he could feel Liz’s hand on his back, resting against the armor, as clearly as if it was naked skin.
“Hector! Are you okay? What do you need me to do?”
A new him stepped aside, leaving the original in place with her hand still touching him. He pointed his left arm straight up and a section of her ceiling the width of a car simply vanished. Hector used his right arm to draw her to him, picking her up as easily as if she were a child, and flew up and through the hole he’d just made. Once they were in the sky above, she was too awestruck by what she saw around her to notice the steady stream of Hectors that followed them out or ask him anything else.