as narrated by Eric “Covalent” Hintermann
There are things that you’re never ready to hear. News of a loved one passing away. A lover starting a conversation with “we need to talk”. I’d known for a long time how easily bad news could tear your heart apart. What surprised me was that there were kind words that could leave you just as shell shocked and at a loss for how to respond.
“You can say that you’re not all you like, but when I look at you, I see heroes.” Simon said.
If it had been a joke or a taunt I could have taken those words and laughed them off. Nobody saw me as a hero. Some people didn’t even see me as human. For the longest time I’d thought of myself as nothing more than a failed villain.
The thing was, Simon had never seen me that way and I hadn’t ever seen that before. Looking over at Milo, my dear, idiotic, wonderful Milo, I saw something else. Milo had never said the words aloud, and probably never would have, but I saw a fierce pride in his eyes when Simon spoke. Not pride for himself. He was looking at me. He saw me the same way Simon did.
My brain went a little fuzzy trying to absorb that. Simon’s communicator said something, but I missed parts of it because there was a voice speaking inside of me at the same time. A voice that asked the question “Do you really want to be a hero?” followed by a chorus of voices that rose up in answer. I looked at Milo again and I saw the same affirmative answer shining through his smile.
“They need more than me.” Simon said, his voice shifting to the deeper, richer tones he used when he was speaking as Lux, his heroic alter ego. If I wasn’t happily involved with Milo, that voice could have melted me like butter. “Doctor Wyrd is no joke. He’s crazy, but he plays it up as a mask. Behind the jokiness, he’s deadly serious about something and we don’t know what it is yet.”
Looking at him, even in his plain clothes, Simon was every bit the Champion of Aphrodite and the hero that he’d always been, even before the goddess chose him to bear her blessing. He was confidence and strength and certainty all wrapped up together, and he needed us. He wasn’t desperate and pleading for our aid because nothing else was left to him. He’d come here knowing what he was up against and knowing what we could do. He’d come to us because he believed in us, and because he thought we were friends.
I looked at Milo. There was no way either of us was going to let Simon down. If Doctor Wyrd had only planned for Simon and the other Champions of Olympus then he was going to be in for a very rude awakening.
* * *
When I’d originally designed the red suit of power armor for Milo to protect him and augment his natural power to manipulate stone, I’d told myself I was building it so that he’d be safe when, not if, the next disaster struck.
Brassport was becoming a more active hub for metahuman activity all the time. That meant we were exposed to more than our fair share of alien invasions, demonic incursions and general supervillain hijinks. Our heroes did what they could be there was no guarantee that there’d be one around when you needed them. Hence the need for power armor.
Or at least that’s why I thought I was making it. Watching Milo, or “Groundstrike” since we were working with codenames, move and fight the robot hordes that Doctor Wyrd threw at us, I had to wonder if I’d always been planning for this day.
“Covalent, we’ve got another set of drones incoming. Can you disarm them? We don’t have enough spatial stabilizers to go around.” the heroine Heartbeat asked me.
“Not a problem. Drones will be down in ten.” I told her and boosted into the air past her. The assault on Doctor Wyrd’s lair was not going quite as planned.
Heartbeat gave me a thumbs up as I flew past her. Without waiting to see me take on the drones, she dove back to the ground to engaged the automated power armors that were too shielded for me to shut down with my electrical powers. At her side a snake man reformed from the cloud of mist he’d been dispersed into. Together they ripped the head off one of the power armors to reveal the unconscious citizen who was lodged inside.
Doctor Wyrd was chattering on in the background but I’d tuned him out. Simon was right. He was pretending to be crazy, but underneath that he was lucid enough to fight dirty.
Robots are easy for heroes to fight, from a certain perspective. Even fully sapient robots can usually be ripped apart without causing them irreparable damage. That freed heroes to fight more effectively and use a broader array of their powers, since they didn’t need to worry about avoiding lethal blows.
Doctor Wyrd has short circuited that game plan by placing the people he captured inside his “robots”. That’s what technically made them “power armor”.
Since they were shielded from outside interference, or at least as much interference as I could deliver at range, they weren’t my problem. Instead I turned to the incoming drone fleet.
The drones were small flyers, each equipped with a single weapon system – one of Doctor Wyrd’s capture sphere systems. We’d found out the hard way how effective they were when we’d lost Fire Forge and Borderskipper within a second of our attack on Wyrd’s lair. Extracting them from the capture spheres had been my first task, while Milo created a safe area by burying us all in dome of earth. I’d managed to get the two heroes free and Milo had been able to hold the drones off long enough to buy me the time to do it safely. Turns out the capture spheres have a maximum area of effect and if you’re outside the area – say because you’re a giant dome of rock – then the entire effect bypasses you.
We’d recovered from that setback and gotten back to our full fighting strength when I released Fire Forge and Borderskipper but that had given Wyrd time to rally his troops. We’d fallen back out of Wyrd’s underground lair as about ten times as many automated defenders as we’d expected showed up for the fight.
Some had flown in, like the drones, others were teleporting to us under their own power. What was supposed to have been a simple and lighting fast raid was turning into a rolling brawl with the winning side impossible to determine.
I didn’t like that thought at all so my mind, being still a little bit of super villain, provided me with a suitably evil plan to rectify the problem..
“Covalent to team: I’m going to need a minute to deal with the drones. Please avoid them and do not engage or destroy any of them. Repeat: do not destroy the drones.” I transmitted.
“What are you doing Covalent?” Heartbeat asked. Since she was the team lead I should have run the idea by her but the middle of a battle is not exactly the best place to debate strategy.
“I’ll let you know in sixty five seconds.” I told her.
To her credit, she didn’t press me further. Given her years of experience that might have been because she figured out what I was planning. Or maybe Lux’s word plus my saving Fire Forge and Borderskipper was enough for her to give me the benefit of the doubt. I was kind of stunned either way. Being trusted felt scary somehow.
I flipped on every diagnostic system that I had installed in my own power armor and began feeding my power through them. Capacitors filled and voltage regulators engaged. Electricity is a wonderful force because it behaves in very predictable ways. Predictable until I get my hands on it that is. Then it does whatever I tell it to.
Once I had my suit configured to monitor the power that I was going to emit, I took the energy I’d built up and light up the sky like the Fourth of July. Lightning danced all over the incoming drone fleet. My fellow heroes cheered at first but when the drone fleet kept right on flying the heroes shut up and started dodging.
Five of the two dozen drones peeled off to engage me, which was my first clue that Doctor Wyrd had figured out what I was doing. I felt the weapons system in the five drones lock and fire from quarter mile away. Unlike heroes like Borderskipper, I’m not super fast so dodging incoming enemy fire was not an option, especially not when I was locked in concentration and performing some very exacting manipulations on a few dozen targets at once. I looked to the ground for support and saw that Milo was too busy to help. My edict to not destroy the drones meant he needed to shelter the ground based heroes as they came under attack by the capture spheres.
The drone shots were a hundred yards away and my pulse rate felt like I’d become part hummingbird when the world rearranged itself and I was on the rooftop of a building two blocks away from the top of Doctor Wyrd’s lair.
“Sorry – had to teleport you to get you out of the way of those spheres.” the masked woman codenamed Ghost Step said. She’d appeared near me and teleported me away just in the nick of time.
“No apologies needed, you can save my bacon any time you’d like!” I told her.
She smiled and then winked away, presumably to save someone else.
I focused on the displays that were measuring my power and the feedback that I was getting on it. I’d be a sitting duck when the next wave of capture spheres were sent my way – and with Doctor Wyrd’s intelligence I know that wouldn’t be long. I decided to play for the risky shot anyways though and trust that someone would have my back when the time came.
As it turned out that was a good choice. It wasn’t Milo or Ghost Step who saved me though. The next round of capture spheres were vaporized by “arrows of light” that Lux fired from a perfectly normal bow. Don’t even ask me how that works. It’s a divine gift thing and I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to make any rational sense.
True to my request, Lux had only vaporized the spheres, not the drones themselves. That left the drones free to unleash another volley at me but, before they could, their minute was up.
“Complete control established. Please provide commands for translation and execution.” the computer system in my power armor said. On my displays I saw the entire drone fleet fall under my command. A gigawatt of Electricity would normally fry the drones’ circuity but with my suit acting as a translator I knew how to ask it to place nicely with the drone’s control mechanism so that I could steal them for my own use.
“Target all of Doctor Wyrd’s forces and take them down. Deploy capture sphere’s immediately!” I instructed my armor and supplied the power it would need to transmit that to the drone fleet.
“It’s sixty five seconds, what’s happening?” Heatbeat asked.
“We have reinforcements.” I told her as the drones fired and three quarters of Doctor Wyrd’s forces were engulfed in capture spheres and retrieved by the drones.
“Excellent. Team pull back immediately. Dispatch, tell support services to double time the evacuations and brace for impact.” Heartbeat said.
“The drones should be safe from here out.” I told her.
“Yes. Now evac the site immediately. Get the drones out too. Fire Forge, Groundstrike and Ghost Step, disable and evac the remaining enemy power armors.” she instructed.
“Roger that.” Fire Forge said. “Radio jamming zone on me in fifteen seconds. Bring all hostile equipment to my position.”
I was stunned for a moment trying to keep up with what they were saying. I’d expected people to be cheering and victory to be declared. Then I remembered part of our briefing.
I’d made a mistake in winning the battle too decisively. Doctor Wyrd wasn’t in his lair. He also had no reason to allow his lair or his robotic minions to fall into our hands. The reports we’d been given before we were sent in had mentioned that he’d disintegrated the last warehouse they’d tracked him too so he almost certainly had a similar system rigged here.
I recalled the portion of the drone fleet which had captive power armors and sent the rest deeper into Doctor Wyrd’s lair looking for any other hostages that might be still be in harm’s way. From the surveillance cameras on the drones I was able to see that the lab itself had been picked clean aside from an overloading spatial portal generator and vat after vat of chemicals. Judging from the contents of the room anything small enough to be stuffed through the portal had been.
“He’s set a portal to explode.” I told the others right before the radio signals went to complete static thanks to Fire Forge’s jamming field. On the upside that meant that none of the tech we’d captured was going to explode at Doctor Wyrd’s command. I’m sure the people trapped inside the suits were glad about that. On the downside it meant we couldn’t coordinate our actions to ward off the incoming explosion. We had plans in place for this contingency but you can only get so specific in a briefing room when you don’t know exactly what you’ll be faced with in the field.
Milo solved the problem of erecting a durable enough defense by burying us under several thousand tons of earth. I’m not sure how deep he sank us, but it was just barely enough. The blast, when it hit, threw everyone off their feet. Milo waited a minutes before unsealing us. When he peeled back the rock I saw there was only about six inches of stone separating us from the bottom of the crater the exploding portal had left. It was hard to see much beyond that due to the dust and smoke. What I could tell though was that a light rain had started falling where previously it had been a cloudless pre-dawn morning.
I looked around and marveled at our good luck. None of the heroes had been caught in the blast and from the looks of things we’d even managed to increase our number with Aegis, Thundercrash and several snake people being freed from Doctor Wyrd’s capture balls.
As the rest of the people present noticed this too, I saw the cheering and victory celebrations that I’d been expecting begin.
The snake man, Wind Walker, in particular looked delirious with joy at being reunited with his family. Their big group hug was interrupted once the snake man got a whiff of the rain that was falling though.
“The sky…we have to analyze what’s in those clouds.” Wind Walker said.
“Why, what do you think Doctor Wyrd has done?” Heartbeat asked as she injected each of the snake kids with something.
“I can’t be sure, but this rain, it tastes like the serum that I developed.” Wind Walker said.
“What would that mean?” I asked.
Wind Walker looked at me and I saw fear in his serpentine eyes.
“It would mean that Doctor Wyrd has just turned every animal in this city into a deadly mutant killing machine.”