Fantastic Tales – Ch 17: “Honor Among Thieves!”

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as narrated by Crystal “Borderskipper” Kostopoulus

    The most important part of any race is the finish line. My life’s a lot like that too. I need to know what goal I’m running towards, otherwise I might as well just be jogging in place.

    In a sense, that made the city being overrun by mutant animals almost perfect for me. Lots of clear and immediate goals and no need wait to act on any of them.

    “How are you doing with the library Borderskipper?” Helios, my teammate, asked over our communicators.

    “Fine. It looks like the third wave of mutants was the last one. No more active hostiles here.”

    I rested my hands on my knees as I bent over to catch my breath. Around me a small army of mutant animals and insects lay unconscious on the ground. I muttered a spell under my breath to keep them asleep until we could figure out something else to do with them.

    “Good. We’re going to need you head to West River. We’ve got reports that there’s another group of mutants swarming at the middle school there.” Helios said. West River was one of the satellite communities of Brassport. A little suburb area that attracted new families and retirees.

    “No problem. How are the others holding up?” I asked. My team, the Champions of Olympus, were pretty tough, but fighting an army of super power mutant animals like this was a first for us.

    “Aegis and Thundercrash are reporting some serious fighting near the college. The others seem to be doing ok.” Helios reported.

    “Aegis and Thundercrash are out fighting? After what they’ve been through? Are they going to be ok? I can move to reinforce them.” I offered. The thought of Mr. Indestructible and Ms. Power of Zeus needing help would normally have been a joke but we’d lost them once to the unexpected technology that Doctor Wyrd was deploying and none of us were eager to see that happen again.

    “Nope. Thundercrash has explicitly, and I mean very explicitly, informed me to keep everyone away from them.” Helios said.

    “She’s not holding back is she.” I guessed.

    “Of course she is. The city’s still here isn’t it? She’s just, letting herself cut loose a little more than normal.” Helios said.

    Thundercrash and Aegis made a cute couple for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that she didn’t have to worry about barbecuing him when she flexed her real power.

    “I read and copy that. Avoiding College Ave like its on fire.” I said.

    “Wait, when do you ever run away from things that are on fire?” Helios asked.

    “It’s happened…um, once or twice, I think.” I grumbled. I had a reputation as being the team’s hot head that I had to admit wasn’t unearned. That was one of the problems with being the Champion of Hermes though. He’d gifted me with inhuman speed. I mean there was fast and then there was “gets bored waiting for a hummingbird to beat it’s wings”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the gifts I’ve been given. It can just be a irritating waiting for everything because everyone else is so incredibly slow by comparison.

    Hermes told me once that the reason he doesn’t appear as a central character in a lot of the old myths is because the myths were often about the times when the gods screwed up. It wasn’t that he’d never made mistakes like that but being the fastest of the gods by far he could usually fix the things that went wrong before anyone else noticed.

    I’d loved that idea when he told me about it. It had been part of his sales pitch for me to become his Champion. Honestly he had me at “Have you ever thought about being a hero?”, but the idea of being able to fix my mistakes before they caused anyone else trouble seemed like a dream come true.

    As with a lot of things in life, the reality of the dream turned out to be both better and worse than I’d expected. As a speedster I did gain the ability to fix things quickly. That also meant I could break them quickly too. I tried to be careful about that and not actually charge into situations as blindly as my team thought I did, but there were times when even with super speed I had to make quick decisions.

    “How is the evacuation going? Should I do a house-by-house search on the way to West River?” I asked.

    “There’s been a complication there.” Helios said.

    “That doesn’t sound good. What happened, did people not make it to the shelters?” I asked.

    “No, they did. The problem is someone has encased several of the shelters in force fields that we’re still working on a way to penetrate.”

    “Force fields? That sounds like it would be a good thing, but I’m guessing not?” I said.

    “The force fields are keeping us out but not the muta-morphs. That’s the battle Aegis and Thundercrash are fighting.” Helios explained.

    “This is getting serious then. Has a general call gone out for aid yet?” I asked.

    “Yes but Unity City and New Delhi have posted priority alerts as well.” Helios said.

    “What for?” I asked.

    “Mutant animal hordes attacking the city.” he said.

    “Are you serious? I thought Doctor Wyrd was behind this?” I said.

    “He is. But he may be working with other people as well.” Helios replied.

    “Could this day get any better?” I asked, knowing that I was tempting Fate. The only thing less fun to deal with than a super villain with a scheme to destroy the city was a cabal of super villains with a scheme to destroy the world.

    “I’m going to remind you that you said that you know.” Helios teased me.

    “Yeah, yeah. I’m heading to West River now. Was there a command center set up at the middle school already?”

    “Not operational yet but there are National Guardsman on the scene.” Helios said.

    I reached into the gift that Hermes had given me and called for the first mantle of speed, the Mantle of the Winds. Each mantle that I put on let me run faster but would drain me for a longer time when I took it off. For getting out to the suburbs, running as fast as the wind was sufficient.

    The streets passed in a blur as I whizzed along them. I was surprised to see that they were mostly empty too. Granted, the people had all fled to the safety of shelters but usually there would be monsters roaming around like they owned the place. Not so with the muta-morphs. They were working in groups, even across species, and they were working towards some specific goal.

    Evidence of that presented itself as I arrived at the middle school’s field. In place of children playing before the bell rang there were several dozen muta-morphs trying to fight their way into the building.

    I streaked in towards them and called for the Mantle of Sound. I could fight one or two of the muta-morphs at the speed of the wind but for a whole ton of them like this I needed to be able to move so fast they couldn’t even see me.

    The sonic boom that heralded my arrival got their attention but by the time they knew to watch for me, I was already beyond their grasp. I left another sonic boom as I changed course and made a second pass through their ranks striking out at any that were close enough to hit.

    One of the gifts that comes with each mantle is the ability to survive impacts at those speeds. I can extend that gift to others if I need to pick someone up or if I don’t want to break everything I touch. In the case of giant mutant insects though breaking everything I touched seemed like a really good idea.

    I was on my third pass through them, when I noticed that the first group of metamorphs weren’t the only ones assaulting the school. Another group had broken off and was harassing an old man and two children who were outside the building for some reason.

    I was moving too quickly to speak with the National Guardsmen that were inside the school but I could see that they’d noticed my attacks and were setting up to take advantage of them. From the looks of it through they hadn’t noticed the old man and the children yet.

    I left the Guardsmen to handle the first crowd of monsters for a few moment and sprinted to the next group to rescue the people who were trapped outside.

    The muta-morph group was composed of a motley array of mutated creatures, mostly insects but a few squirrels, a coyote and large transformed dog.

    I struck out at the mammals first since they were the biggest targets. The squirrels manifested metal skins where I hit them but the force of my blow sent them sailing away regardless. The mutant coyote was trickier, he turned to smoke in the areas I punched. I’d fought enemies like that before though.

    A series of punches reduced him to  a completely misty state for a moment. That was all the time I needed to whisper the spell for a small tornado to sweep him up and carry him off. It wasn’t a permanent solution but it would keep him spinning and disoriented for the better part of an hour.

    The last mammal was the mutant dog. Something about it’s stance and the way it was facing registered as wrong for me. It wasn’t until the dog lady dodged my blow that I figured out what it was.

    The dog lady wasn’t attacking the old man and the children. She was protecting them!

    That’s when I looked at the children and the old man more closely. They earn wore torn up bits of power armor and each was covered in a skin tight layer of blue radiance.

    This was no ordinary group of civilians. Given that the mutants were attacking them too though I was willing to take it on faith for the moment that they were more likely to be on my side than not.

    Like with the guardsmen in the school, I was traveling too fast to explain anything to the old man, the children or the mutant dog. Sometimes though actions can speak a lot louder than words.

    I switched from using passing strikes that would keep me safe to jumping into the middle of the melee and staying there. Tooth and claw, fist and spell, the dog lady and I fought the mutant insects that were attacking them until none were left. I zipped a little away from the group and took a look back towards the school where the guardsmen had managed to incapacitate the distracted mutants with flashbang grenades and hyper-tear gas.

    Gritting my teeth against the fatigue that was to come, I let the Mantle of Sound go and looked back to the group I’d just fought beside.

    “Borderskipper!” the young girl of the group cried out.

    There are perks to being famous.

    “What are you people doing out here?” I asked.

    “Trying to get in there.” the old man responded.

    “Is anyone hurt? Are you all ok?” I asked.

    “Hurt no. Ok, also no” the old man said.

    “Let me help you get into the school then. You’ll be safe there.” I said.

    “I don’t believe we shall be.” the old man said.

    “It’s the best place for you sir, believe me.” I said.

    “It’s certainly better than out here.” he agreed.

    I brought the four of them in with me. The National Guardsmen were in the process of getting their base setup. Communications were up and running but they seemed to be short handed when it came to the defensive positions.

    “Borderskipper, glad you could make it here. Can I ask who your friend is.” the commander said, looking at the dog lady.

    “I am Princess.” she said.

    “She’s on our side.” I told him.

    “I, however, am not.” the old man said.

    “What do you mean?” I asked him. The force fields that the three humans were wearing made me think of the force fields that Helios had reported around the shelters.

    “I mean that what you see before you is an old man. Perhaps even a crazy old man. It is important that you take this crazy old man seriously however.” he said. He didn’t sound crazy at all actually. He sounded poised and assured. Just like some of the super villains that I’ve fought. I reached for the Mantle of the Winds as well as some of my containment spells but didn’t cast them. I was too tired from using the Mantle of Sound. I didn’t want to casually call on more power unless it was needed and something about the way the old man spoke told me he wasn’t going to harm us.

    “Please communicate this message to an archivist or an expert system with access to historical crisis records.” the old man said and then listed out a string of numbers and letters.

    “What is this?” the Guard commander asked.

    “It’s a code. Tell them to decrypt it using the encryption key Doctor Nightshade provided.” the old man said.

    “Doctor Nightshade is dead.” the Guard commander said.

    “He was. For quite a long time.” the old man agreed.

    The Guard commander sent the string of characters but kept a wary eye on the old man.

    “In a moment, you are going to receive orders to arrest me. I will take no issue with that providing you understand a few things.” the old man said.

    “First, these children have nothing to do with me beside being my neighbors. Please do not mistake them for henchmen or underlings. I would be disappointed if you did something that made Princess unhappy.” the old man looked at the dog lady with a smile.

    “Second, Princess is not my creation either. She is their family pet, transformed into this state. There is a tremendous amount we can learn from her. If you should treat her poorly please assume I will know and take appropriate counter actions.”

    “Lastly, as to the handling of my own person, you may chain or detain me in any way that you like.” the old man finished.

    “That’s it? No ultimatums? No demands?” the Guard commander said.

    “One must be in a position of control to make demands. I restrict myself there to only those requests that are reasonable therefore.” the old man said.

    “Why would you turn yourself in now though? It’s been twenty years.” I asked.

    “Perhaps I’ve gone mad, or maybe this is what sanity looks like.” the old man said.

    There was a ping on the Guard commander’s screen.

    “They decrypted your message.” the Guard commander said, his face grim.

    “What did it say?” I asked.

    “It said ‘I am back.’ What did the rest of their message say though?” the old man asked.

    “It said that I’m going to bring you to the primary command center.” a masked woman said after she blinked into existence beside us.

    “What’s happening Ghost Step?” I asked.

    “We had a researcher working on a counteragent for the mutagen. She was trapped in one of the shelters by the force fields. The shelter was assaulted and they fled. She’s lost somewhere in the storm tunnels.” Ghost Step said.

    “Why do they need him though?” I asked.

    “Because I’m the one who designed those force fields.” the old man said.

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