Flux, take the north side. Power, take the south. Keep the fight contained.
Man wasn’t meant to fly but he’d always wanted to. Billy remembered.
He’d seen some of the first planes, crude things compared to what they had today. Wood and paper, a bit of metal framework, but they’d let people touch the sky. It’d been a while and he’d had other things to concern himself with at the time, even after he’d been Empowered the First War had been terrifying. Even so, there’d been something… something incredible about them.
They were slow. Once he’d been able to fly on his own he’d realized that. It was even more obvious when you compared them to modern jets. Biplanes and the like had been mostly open air, nothing to separate the men inside from the sky around them. Trying that at jet speeds would kill normal people. Still…
He held his post, drifting above the earth, watched the cloud of duplicates above and the smaller one below. The trails of new bodies, arising from all over the city and converging here, were thinning, a few had already stopped. Billy could see the webwork of interconnected light, the shared power that maintained the duplicates. It was disorienting, hard to focus on. The smaller one was worse.
Skinthief. His was… it had that same interconnected effect but it was combined with… with something other. Billy couldn’t see the original power, the one that was letting the killer mimic others. Instead, all he could see was a gathering of a dozen or so lights, stretched and forced together until they almost looked like one. Too early to tell for sure but he didn’t think Skinthief could combine intensities, just use them all at once.
It was the difference between holding two flashlights and holding one that was twice as bright. You’d get the same light either way but only one would damage your eyes. So long as he was right, and Bruce ordering him here implied he was, his Null ability should be able to cope without an issue.
So far, the fighting had been contained to the building, friendly duplicates attacking it while the enemy defended. Billy watched one of Grave’s creatures enter below, knew it would begin spreading. He could’ve assisted, gone in, but then he’d have lost sight of the external. Better to stay here, make sure one of Skinthief’s bodies didn’t make a break for it.
He knew Bruce was in among the cloud of duplicates but couldn’t spot him at the moment. The man’s light wasn’t very bright and, visually, he’d look almost identical. He’d given the kid a scaled down version of his own combat rig, plus a few one-off devices that could only be used for a short time. Billy almost dove in to intervene when he saw a small cluster of Skinthief bodies pursue a Hive as it darted around, getting further and further from the hospital.
Billy stopped himself when he recognized what the ‘Hive’ body was doing, firing some kind of gun to blind the pursuers. That had to be Bruce. The ridiculous precision needed was his hallmark and Billy had seen him use the tactic against high end Strong types before. He decided to wait, let Bruce do whatever it was he’d meant by ‘verify an assumption.’ When he saw Bruce’s body fall from the sky, he acted. The four that he’d been fighting were too far from the hospital, Billy couldn’t leave them be, had to intervene before they spread out.
You can tell a lot from someone’s posture when they fly. The Hive duplicates flew headfirst, trying to minimize their profile and maintain sight ahead. It was clumsy, the first stumblings of someone new to the skill. As the distance between him and his target rapidly shrank, Billy noted the steady rain of Hives falling around him. That wasn’t combat, they were dying or incapacitated by their own maneuvers, stopping and starting and turning too fast or too slow, more than a few collisions. Odd for someone that Bruce had praised for their multitasking and coordination.
Billy’s first target was kept aloft by an energy construct, green and black in the shape of abstract wings. It hung there, not flapping but just… just supported rather than actually flying. He stretched out his arm, wrapping it around the enemy’s head as he impacted. Billy used the sudden collision to held him turn, pivot with the- now broken- neck of the duplicate as his fulcrum. The ‘wings’ vanished the bulk of his body passed through them, disrupted by his Null. He ended the motion by driving the heel of his foot into another body’s temple.
He felt his boot come apart but saw them both falling. A broken neck wouldn’t keep someone with regeneration on Billy’s level down long but it should buy enough time. The brain damage that had accompanied his kick should be more effective. The maneuver had left him, effectively, laying on his back with his left side towards the other two. One stood on a golden platform while the other drifted within arm’s reach. Both raised a hand, palm towards him.
Billy felt his Null field flex as it suppressed whatever it was they were trying to do. Without pausing to reorient himself he dove, towards them and down. The platform tilted slightly as the one standing on it tried to adjust, too late. Billy shot straight up, his foot extended. He disrupted the golden square as he passed through it and lodged his still intact boot… well, somewhere painful. Not pausing to watch the result, he spun in a motion that could have been called a flip and caught the remaining enemy’s ankle, pulling him in close and wrapping him in a bear hug.
Now that he was so close, Billy could see its weird, patchwork skin. It fit perfectly with the smashed together lights that he saw their powers as. Disgusting on too many levels. The thing was about as strong as he was and had some fight training, quite a bit of it. Billy maneuvered, adjust his grip constantly, seeking a hold or angle that would let him inflict damage even as he spun them wildly. The thing might have some skill in grappling but Billy had been fighting other Empowered for almost as long as man had been able to fly.
He dislocated joints and used the advantage that gave him to drive thumbs into eyes, careful to avoid meeting them. The Grim kid was supposed to have some sort of gaze effect and, even if he was probably immune, there was no point in taking chances. Shortly, the enemy was helpless in his hands and he used it as a battering ram, drove it into the recovering enemy below them. The one he had kicked in the… The one he had kicked.
All three of them hit the ground together, the enemy cushioning his impact. Billy recovered first and was on them immediately, kicking and punching, blows aimed for head and spine. It didn’t take long before he’d done enough damage to be relatively sure they wouldn’t be back in the fight any time soon. He was familiar enough with these situations that he didn’t take the time to recover before moving again.
Billy flew up and away, out far enough to get a good overview of what had happened during his brief encounter with the small group of duplicates. The opposite side of the hospital was covered in a brilliant blue sheet of ice. He could see that weird ball of almost liquid looking fire that Flux became when he went all out. The cloud of Hives above had shrunk, no visible trails of new bodies to reinforce it.
More of the patchwork monstrosities were leaving the hospital. Some of them were born by those same green-black wings, most by nothing visible. None of them moved with any kind of confidence in the sky. Hives swarmed down around them and a few vanished, soon to be replaced. The Hives flared up and burnt away or fell without visible injury. The kid’d be out of this soon. He activated the com in his helmet, broadcasting to the rest of Prime.
“Glory, we’re losing ground at the hospital. Soon as you can, we could use your help. Analysis, what’s the ETA on Gatekeeper? We can’t afford to let this thing get out.”
Instead of verbal, the reply came as text. ANALYST 88NAME88: BY SO RICHARDS’ COMMAND, ALL COMMUNICATION IS TO BE NONVERBAL IF POSSIBLE. CODENAME SKINTHIEF’S VICTIMS INCLUDE SOMEONE WITH EXTREME AUDITORY SENSITIVTY. GATEKEEPER INBOUND, ARRIVAL IN 10. EARLIEST DEPLOYMENT OF NON-CITY SCALE TECHNIQUE IN 15. WINTER’S FIST AVAILABLE ON ARRIVAL.
Careful to keep it under his breath, Billy swore. Then he looked around for the nearest concentration of the enemy.