“He sounded really angry, Ich.” Pulse slid his fingers through his long, blond hair, pointing in the direction where he left Shockwave. “Never heard him that pissed, and he was talking to Valkyrie. I know those two go way back, but. . . ”
Isaac waved him off. “Let it go, Pulse. Those two have a history before any of us joined up. Stuff happened just prior to my inclusion in the Guardians. I’ve heard things, but it’s looked like they’ve made what peace they needed with it all. Even so, some things have a way of rearing up between friends. They’ll get past it.”
“We need to get this stuff loaded, no telling when we’ll need to roll out.” Isaac shook his head and packed some of the gear they might need into a cardboard box. “Better to just leave it.” He could tell the younger man wouldn’t, however. If there was one fault above the others in Pulse, it was his inability to realize when to shut up.
“Hey,” Pulse said. “Wasn’t there something about a superhero dying a couple years back? Could that have something to do with it?”
Isaac folded the flaps over one another and he lifted the box to take to the van. Pulse stood in his path. He managed to keep the exasperation out of his voice. “Yeah, from what I know, it does. Now, drop it. If Shockwave or Valkyrie wanted us to know all the details, they’d tell us. It’s between them.”
That seemed to do the trick. Pulse frowned, but stepped out of the way. Isaac slipped by before Pulse could think of more questions he shouldn’t be asking.
The van wasn’t far. Isaac set the box on the edge of the vehicle’s floor and pushed. There wasn’t much room left for more and space to fit the Guardians who would be traveling inside. They were just about ready to go. But go where? Now that was the question. No telling when or where the Guardians would be needed.
Shockwave and himself, as Ichabod, had spent nearly three hours with the local police and morgue owners. The place had, indeed, been cleaned out of every corpse and as-yet unidentified limb. Security footage inside had matched what Isaac had come across, the mystery there being how did a private CCTV feed become broadcast on the internet?
The pair of Guardians had been repeatedly questioned. They handed over the copy of the video Isaac had made, and pointed out the website, which was still active. Lucky for them, the detective in charge was a supporter of the team, and the morning, while long, went as smooth as they could have hoped. Shockwave and Ichabod were permitted to enter the morgue alongside the officers to perform a cursory inspection of their own.
Just before they had left the scene, the morgue owner approached Shockwave with an offer of reward if the Guardians could capture the villains and help restore the morgue’s reputation. Shockwave thanked the aged owner, but ultimately turned down the offer. It was the Guardians’ purpose to bring those who abused their extraordinary powers for evil gains, after all. They weren’t bounty hunters.
Isaac glanced at his watch. Melissa should be on break. After letting Pulse know what the last load of equipment and gear should be, Isaac moved off to a vacant room to call his wife. He let her know the situation and that he wasn’t sure when he’d be home.
“So,” she said. “What you’re saying is tonight is a good night to have an orgy with my five boyfriends?”
“Wow. I had no idea.” Even though she couldn’t see it, he added a hand touching his chest to complete the effect of mock shock. “What happened to six and seven?”
“Oh, I wore those two out last week. Double funeral next Tuesday.” She laughed. It was music to Isaac. Not for the first time, he marveled at how such a wonderful woman had chosen him.
“Tell me again why I deserve you?”
She laughed again, yet there was no trace of malice in it. “Silly man, you don’t. But we’ll keep that secret to ourselves. I love you, Isaac.”
“I love you, too, Mel. I’ll call when I know something more.”
They spent the next five minutes saying their goodbyes, like they were still a newlywed couple infatuated with one another. Yet another reason Isaac counted himself lucky. He’d heard of too many relationships that simply faded as time went by, because it was the expected thing to happen. The concept boggled his mind. How could anyone expect their fervor to diminish for their partner? Wasn’t the purpose to grow together? That was just another of a million reasons Isaac knew he had found the perfect mate in Melissa, they shared an incredulity of such a defeatist notion.
After he hung up, Isaac went to the Comm Room. Both Sludge and Vector were busy running myriad scans with the base’s complex equipment. Too bad the only two people on the team with any kind of working knowledge of the devices were still figuring it all out themselves.
Hector looked away from a panel of monitors as Isaac entered. He greeted his fellow Guardian with a nod.
“No luck yet,” Hector said. “We’ve tagged some anomalous energy signatures to take closer looks at, but nothin’s jumpin’ out.”
“I’m writing a program which should cross-reference all the data and flag correlations,” Vector added. “But without a definite flow type to work off of, the data forms won’t yield anything concrete. At least not until I’ve refined the parameters.”
Isaac chuckled. Vector may have been the youngest of the group, but Isaac was willing to bet that she’d be the smartest, as well. If not today, her potential was through the roof. Some of the college courses she was studying—Advanced Calculus, Systems Analysis, Mobile Application Software Engineering—were essentially gibberish to him. Oh, he knew his way around his desktop at home, he could work a ‘normal’ computer just fine. When it came to the advanced concepts bandied about in a tech magazine, Isaac knew it was his time to bow out.
“Anybody want to break that one down for laymen?” he asked.
Hector grinned. “Sometimes our friend Shy forgets we’re not all professors of college, sí?”
Vector blushed as she muttered a quick apology. A second later her fingers were flying over the keyboard once again.
“What she means,” Hector continued, “is that without a unique type of energy to look for, we’re gonna have to check those that look most promisin’ one by one ’til our luck comes in.”
Isaac thought about it for a moment. One idea came to mind. He figured these two would have already thought of it, but figured he’d mention it anyway on the off chance. “The Guardians have fought those three before. Shouldn’t we have some. . . recording or whatever, of their powers to input into the system?”
“Yeah, we thought of that,” Hector replied. “Problem is, none are usin’ those powers. Until they do, we’re lookin’ for anythin’ else. They supposed to have a teleporter?”
Isaac nodded. “We think so.”
“Well, whoever that is,” Vector said, fingers still tapping away with a speed beyond that of a normal human. Isaac didn’t know she could imbue just portions of her body with her super-speed. The visual effect was dizzying. “We’re trying to pin down. If we can trace any kind of pattern of unrecognized energy to either of the crime scenes, we may be able to home in on them.
“There’s a couple of problems with this, however.” Vector stood up. In a blink she was across the room, rifling through her pack for a specific book; Vector had answered Shockwave’s summons directly from her classes and had all her textbooks with her. Just as quickly, she returned to her workstation, book in hand.
Isaac waited until she was seated before prompting her to go on.
“Oh, right. We’ll, we’re working under the assumption that they just have one method of travel. If they’re using multiple ones, it could be quite a while before a pattern can be detected. After that, there’s an issue of range.”
“Meaning?” Isaac wondered if Shockwave should have been here to listen to all this. He doubted he’d remember all the details.
Hector was the one who answered. “How far can the teleporter work his mojo? We’re running a sweep of the city and suburbs, but what happens if they’re comin’ from China? To figure out where they come from, we need to match both ends. Much harder when we don’t know what we’re lookin’ for here.”
“OK. I get it now.” At least Isaac thought he did. “I’ll let Shockwave know what you guys are working on. If there’s anything the rest of us can do to speed up the process, let us know.”
They pair signaled their acknowledgments and Isaac left the Comm Room, feeling a touch more confused than illuminated. He just hoped he didn’t run into Pulse right now, his brain needed some quiet to process.
“Everyone take one. They will render simple munitions harmless against you.” Sawbones held out a blood-caked instrument tray with four devices reminiscent of portable mp3 players.
Hands reached for the devices. No one lingered. None wanted to even accidentally touch the mad surgeon, let alone chance being purposefully touched by him.
“What do they do?” Bloodhawk asked, scraping a claw down the side of the rectangular block. A line of plastic curled away beneath the talon.
“They stop bullets, you simpleton,” Anchor hissed. She was already hooking the equipment to her belt. “If you haven’t wrecked the thing by scratching it to hell.”
Bloodhawk snarled and ran his tongue over his serrated teeth. Dribbles of blood leaked over his chin as the sharpened points left runnels in the muscle.
“All right, children, let’s not get feisty too early.” Hellion stepped between the two. Truthfully, the thought of watching his partner rip the conceited bitch into tiny shreds excited him. But there was a place and a time.
After the mission was completed. Maybe. Hellion sneaked a glance at the curvature of Anchor’s backside in her costume. There were. . . possibilities.
“B, just hook the gadget to your belt,” Hellion said, looking away from Anchor’s derriere. “The little yellow button on the top will turn it on, right, Doc?”
“Yes, yes.” A thick gobbet of drool hung by a string of mucous out of the right side of Sawbones’ misshapen mouth. “These lovely machines come from my medical colleague, the venerable Dr. Madd. They cost quite a large sum, but they should prove well worth the investment. Though, they are far from as lovely as my little ones.” Sawbones turned to gaze with adoration at his Flesh-kin. The golems stood in organized lines, vacant expressions hiding the smallest rudiments of intelligence.
“Dr. Madd is a real doctor, too?” Bloodhawk asked as he clipped the device to his outfit.
Anchor snorted behind her mask and muttered, “Imbecile.” Bloodhawk snarled in response.
Hellion ignored the two this time. “Those two, eh, Reave?”
The giant met Hellion’s wild eyes with his own dark pits. Eventually, after setting his own shield device on his oversized brigandine, Reaver turned and strode away.
“Some people,” Hellion muttered. Sawbones was still lost in his strange infatuation with his creations.
“Nobody knows much about Dr. Madd, B. But he makes some of the best toys out there.” Hellion set his own device on his hip, next to one of the tubes he used to fly for short bursts. “If the Boss got us some Madd machines, I say we take ’em and count ourselves lucky.”
Depressing the yellow activation stud on the top of the device caused the air around Hellion to haze. A tingling sensation accompanied the slight visual distortion.
“Heh. Guess that means it’s working. Fuzzy.” Hellion set his feet and squared his shoulders toward Bloodhawk. “Hit me with a scream, B. Let’s see what this baby can do.”
Bloodhawk shrugged and stepped forward. After a short inhalation, the killer opened his mouth wide and triggered his unique talent. A sonic shriek emanated from Bloodhawk’s throat, rippling the air between him and his target.
The frequency of the scream was piercing, causing Hellion to cover his ears and cringe, but the expected physical blow was missing. There was a slight pressure coming from directly in front of Hellion, but he’d seen and felt his partner’s sonic scream enough to know he should have been bowled over as if smashed with a wrecking ball. It looked like the shield device was working.
With a shake of his head to clear the effects of sound upon his eardrums, Hellion said, “All right. Not bad, not bad.” Flames ignited in the air around his palms. “My turn, B.”