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Vincent Macleod: Agent of T.R.A.C.E.

By Derek Smith All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Adventure

Chapter 10

Vincent woke up feeling lighter than air, the sweet smell of Alexis’ perfume still lingering on his nanosuit. He bounded up the stairs and greeted his mother in the kitchen where she was washing dishes. Beyond the kitchen window, his father attempted to get in one last cut of the yard before winter arrived.

“Well, it seems like things went well for you last night. I didn’t even hear you come in,” Catherine said as her son parked himself at the table and grabbed an apple.

Vincent took a large bite off the apple, answering while he chewed. “Everything was perfect. We had such an amazing evening you could say...”

The phone rang and Vincent stopped short as Catherine picked it up. “No problem, Doug. I’ll send him right over,” she said to the voice on the other end of the line. She returned the phone to its cradle and turned to her son. “That was Mr. Mackenzie. He says he has some work to do today and could use your help with a last minute appointment. ”

His stomach sank. He shouldn’t have opened his big mouth. Vincent tossed the core into the garbage can and gave his mother a quick kiss goodbye before running out the door to the Mackenzie house.

When he arrived in the driveway, he could see Doug pacing frantically inside the open garage. Vincent ran inside where Doug greeted him and hit the large garage door button to close the door.

“What’s going on?” Vincent asked.

He placed both hands on Vincent’s shoulders. “I know you haven’t exactly been home for very long, but something big is about to go down. I need you to come with me to headquarters immediately.”

Doug moved over to his workbench and pulled on a crowbar that hung from the peg board. There was a barely audible clunk, and a moment later the garage floor shook, and the empty parking spot elevated to reveal the entry into the Mackenzies’ nest. Doug lead Vincent down the submerged stairway to a nest much like Vincent’s. A hover rail transport waited for them and both agents hurriedly entered, barely belted in when Doug engaged the engine.

One night just wasn’t a long enough break from being a TRACE agent. Here he was, back in the very same war room where he learned about his powers. Justin, Matt, Adam and the other fathers were already seated at the table and being briefed on the events at Giest Industries. Vincent took a seat beside them while Bob and Curt moved toward a large screen that filled a wall at the other end of the table.

“Boys, I brought you here to announce that you will all be given your first official field assignment today.” The seriousness in Curt’s voice seemed graver than usual.

Matt nudged his father and whispered, “You’ll finally get to see first hand what I can do, old man.”

Curt shook his head. “The four of you will be going into this mission alone.”

This concerned Justin. “Are you sure we are ready to handle something alone?”

Curt motioned towards the screen displaying a map of the Giest Industries building. “You’re as ready as you’re ever going to be. Besides, we’ve run out of options. It has come to our attention that Giest plans to unveil his Spartan soldiers tomorrow morning to a group of investors. The power these machines possess places a massive threat on the human race. Since Thomas has worked with your parents, sending them in with you would compromise the mission. Trish has processed ID swipe badges for the four of you based on the data we have collected, granting you high level security clearance.”

The screen now displayed a detailed layout of the building. The colonel gave directions as the layout began to show the various rooms of the building. “Justin, you will enter the building as an intern on his way to work. Once you are past security, take the elevator up to Thomas’s office and use this thumb drive to upload a virus to his computer mainframe. That should destroy all data on the manufacturing of these abominations. Vincent and Adam will follow you into the lobby using their invisibility. They will pass through security with you and take another elevator down to the sub basement where we saw the Spartans being manufactured. Unfortunately, Trish’s ability to recreate the layout of the sub basement has been limited by Thomas’ security, so I’m afraid you two are going to have to find your own way through the manufacturing plant, locate the Red Eco generator, and destroy it.”

Matt looked up at the screen when he noticed his name had not been mentioned. “And what is my role in all of this?”

“I am going to need you to stand watch outside in the car and maintain outdoor reconnaissance,” Curt responded. “If anything drastic should happen, it will be your job to contain it and keep the public safe.”

Matt rolled his eyes at getting the short end of the stick.

Curt ignored the insubordination. “We only have one shot at this tomorrow and failure is not an option. We’ve worked hard to keep Eco from becoming public knowledge and we cannot let Giest ruin that now. Up until now we have had a pretty good relationship with him, but we must draw the line and gain control of the situation. X has been sent back to Southdale to resume your home schedule, Vincent. We are going to ask that you all stay at TRACE tonight so that we can all be prepared first thing tomorrow morning.”

Adam clapped his hands like an excited school girl. “Oh goodie, it’s a sleepover!”

Curt sighed. “Unless anyone has something intelligent to say about the subject, I believe this meeting is adjourned.”

The boys were laughing at Adam’s remark as they left the war room and made their way to the living quarters. Everyone turned in early to rest up, but it was a restless night for Vincent. The pressure of such an important first mission, even with his friends by his side, caused his brain to remain wide awake with worry. He tried to close his eyes and force himself to sleep with negative results.

In an effort to take his mind off the mission, his thoughts turned to Trish and how he was going free her from her computerized life when it hit him. Vincent jumped out of bed and made his way into the hallway, making a mad dash for the elevator rapidly jabbing at the button. As if pressing buttons over and over again made things happen faster.

When the elevator arrived, Vincent requested it take him to Level Two and within minutes the doors slid open. In three long strides, Vincent pushed open the doors to the main recon control room. Even this late at night several agents frantically hustled about the room collecting information from various sources. A smaller group going over the map Curt showed them earlier caught Vincent’s eye.

One of the agents scurried over to greet him. “Mr. Macleod, is there something we can do for you?”

Vincent shook his head. “No, I just came up to see Trish. And please, just call me Vince.”

“I certainly understand. Please go on ahead, Mr. Mac... uh, Vince.” He stepped aside and returned to consulting his tablet.

Vincent walked around to the hallway that led him to his mother’s chamber. The retinal scanner retracted into the wall after confirming he had access, and Vincent walked up the small stairs to the cylinder where his mother sat suspended.

“To what do I owe such a late visit, Vincent?”

Smiling, he closed his eyes and placed his left hand on the tank. “I think I found a way to fix this.”

His hand firmly pressed against the glass, Vincent focused his energy and it was as though he could feel his mother’s heartbeat. A blue glow enveloped his forearm as he released his energy.

“I can feel your energy!” Trish exclaimed. “I haven’t felt anything in years! Focus, Vincent, focus.”

Vincent pressed harder and poured every ounce of power he could mustering into his hand. The stress was too much for him and the glow diminished. His body felt weak as his face began to wrinkle just as it had in the limit chamber. “No! Not now! I just need more power!” Vincent gasped as he fell to his knees.

Feeling completely defeated, Vincent struggled to regain his footing while holding back tears of frustration. Just when he was ready to give in Adam appeared next to him.

“Sorry, Vince, I couldn’t sleep and saw you leave your room.” He offered his friend a hand, hoisting the exhausted boy to his feet. “I’ve never seen such power from an Eco user before. That was incredible.”

It was all he could do to remain standing. He hunched over, hands on his knees, and watched a single tear splash on the floor between his feet. “It’s not enough power. I can’t fix this.”

Trish spoke to both boys. “This isn’t for you to fix, Vincent. In time we will find a way to set things right, but you don’t have to carry this burden. You don’t have to fix everything.”

Vincent placed his hands back on the tank as though he was reaching out to his mother. “You don’t deserve this! It’s because of me that you are like this.”

Trish tried to reassure her son. “I am like this because someone else put me in this position, not you. Bob will find a way to fix this. You have more important things to concern yourself with.”

“You are the only thing I want to concern myself with. I will find a way to get you back to normal,” he promised.

Reluctantly, Vincent allowed Adam to lead him away from his mother and back to the dormitories. It was a good thing Adam had followed; there was no way he would have made it back on these wobbly legs alone.

#

The following morning, Vincent sat in the back of the town car and stared at the entrance to Giest Industries. The anxiety level in the car was high seeing as everyone was nervous with this being the boys’ first major TRACE mission. On top of Vincent’s condition after the previous night’s events, Adam and Vincent felt it a little more strongly than the others.

Decked out in a three piece suit, a smart leather briefcase, and ID card pinned to the breast pocket, Justin sat in the back with Adam and Vincent who looked a lot more comfortable waiting to activate their combat suits than he felt. Matt sat in the driver’s seat and tapped his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel, hoping he’d see at least some of the action and not end up stuck in the car the entire time.

A quick beep buzzed in their ears. “Alright, gentlemen. Let’s get moving,” Curt ordered from the safety of the TRACE surveillance room.

Twisting the face of his wristwatch, Adam’s armor extracted and expanded to cover him from head to toe, and Vincent shifted his synthesuit into the black puckish exterior and HUD he was accustomed to. Once his friends were suited up, Justin took a deep breath and reached for the door handle as both Vincent and Adam vanished into thin air.

Thanks to the lenses in Vincent’s HUD, he could clearly see Adam’s outline as they exited the car and followed Justin into the building. Justin confidently approached the counter and presented his ID badge to the security guard for scanning through the card reader. A green light blinked and the guard urged a Mr. Armstrong through. Justin reclaimed the card and walked through the metal detector.

Despite assurances from his grandfather that he’d be fine clearing the metal detectors, Vincent couldn’t help but worry. What if Giest had updated the security after his last visit?

“You’re okay to pass through the gate, Vincent,” Trish told him. “I have temporarily scrambled the gate’s signal to allow you all to pass through, so just stay calm.”

The boys held their breath as they passed through the gate and kept their breathing low it until reaching the elevators. Justin summoned the elevator and his invisible friends followed him in.

Adam whispered. “Mr. Armstrong? Where on earth did you come up with a name like that?”

“I don’t pick the names, Adam. They are just given when the cards are generated,” he replied. As the elevator reached its destination the doors swung open, Justin adjusted his tie and stepped off the elevator. “This is my stop. Good luck.”

The remaining two kept their cloaking activated even though the elevator hadn’t moved. Something seemed to be bothering Adam. “Wait a minute. If Giest took you to this sub basement with an access card, how are we supposed to get there without one?”

“Be patient, boys. Trish is re-routing the elevator as we speak,” came Colonel Marshall’s voice over the comms system.

A few seconds later the elevator began to move. Vincent’s hands began to sweat as the elevator neared the sub-basement. The doors opened and Vincent could see rows upon rows of Spartan robots standing powered down on the manufacturing floor through the glass windows. “Let’s get this done and over with quick, Adam. Those robots give me the creeps.”

Adam stopped to look out the window. “They don’t look so bad. I wonder if I could get one for Christmas if I put it on my wish list. I could train it to do my homework for me.”

Vincent let out a small chuckle. Was there any situation Adam couldn’t crack a comment over? They proceeded across the floor toward the restricted access door on the other side of the room.

“Be careful, Vincent. We don’t know what’s on the other side of those doors,” said Curt over the communicator.

#

Justin hastily made his way to Giest’s office. Something didn’t seem right as he approached the room. He opened the glass doors to the office, quickly surveyed the room and immediately accessed his communicator. “Colonel, the office is in ruins!”

Curt quickly came back to Justin. “I need you to take a look around and see if we can find out whom or what may have caused this.”

Giest’s desk sat split in half and all sorts of books and papers lay scattered over the floor, artwork either askew on the wall or thrown carelessly to the floor. Justin began to sift through the rubble in an attempt to find out what had happened.

#

Now past the restricted access door, Vincent and Adam stood in awe of the massive machine that encompassed an entire wall in the area. “Are you getting all of this?” Vincent asked into his communicator as he scanned the room so his HUD could relay footage back to HQ.

It was Bob who replied. “Aye, lad, that looks like a generator to me. The only thing that bothers me is the way it’s been built. It looks very different than the one originally designed for Project Pandora. I need you to get closer so we can get a better look at its structure.”

As Vincent moved closer to the machine, Adam pointed towards the centre. “There are traces of blood on the floor over there, Vince.”

Intrigued, they followed the blood trail to a large pod in the center of the generator. As Vincent examined the inside of the pod, he noted several long spear like needles all pointing toward the chair in the middle. Vincent placed his finger over one of the needles. “There’s blood on these. Whoever was sitting inside this pod was removed recently or the blood would have dried.”

Bob came back over the communicator. “It would appear that Giest has found a way to directly draw the Eco straight from an Elite and harness that energy into his Spartans, no matter the cost. How is he doing this?”

#

Justin’s attempts to locate any useful information seemed futile. His continued search through the rubble was interrupted by the startling sound of the bookshelves splitting in half and revealing the elevator that Giest had used to take Vincent and Curt to the sub basement.

The doors opened, but no one stood inside. A large cylindrical apparatus filled with water and a coil sat on the elevator floor. Justin walked closer, explaining what he saw to the control room. When he was barely a foot away from the container, the water bubbled and the coil began to turn almost as though it was gathering energy. Waiting for new orders from Curt, Justin took two steps back.

Curt’s voice exploded through everyone’s communicators. “Everyone, pull back! It’s an EMP!”

The room filled with the electronic hum of the device powering up. As Justin ran back to the hallway, he grabbed the face of his wristwatch and activated his combat armor for protection.

He’d barely made it to the elevator when a massive electromagnetic pulse knocked out all electronics within a thirty mile radius of the blast.


#

The sub basement was pitch dark. Vincent and Adam dropped their invisibility shields and stood still in the darkness as the menacing sound of steel and hydraulics moving could be heard all around them. The mechanisms screeched to a grinding halt.

“Vincent?” Adam whispered softly.

From the darkness came two glowing fists of Blue Eco as Vincent illuminated the immediate area surrounding them. All around them the Spartan robots powered up and their red eye lenses broke the dark like pinholes. Night vision support on their HUDs activated and the green outlines of thousands upon thousands of Giest’s creations began to move.

“Run!” Vincent shouted, grabbing Adam by the arm.

Red Eco blasts hurled toward the boys as they ran through the halls, each boy taking turns at returning fire of their own. The robots were more agile than he’d expected and took quite a beating between their Eco attacks but weren’t slowing down.

Vincent switched to his communicator to contact his grandfather. “If that was an EMP, how are the Spartans online?”

“Those infernal machines are still working for the same reason your synthesuit and Adam’s armor were unaffected - they run purely on Eco. You need to get out of there!” They both heard the slight trace of panic in the colonel’s voice.

The two continued through the factory, dodging and returning fire as they rounded corners. The elevator was now in sight and they made a final push for it.

Vincent radioed all TRACE channels. “Has anyone seen Giest?”

Justin was first to respond. “Negative. There is no sign of Giest in his office. We’ve got panic in the streets, though. Abandoned cars everywhere, no police on scene, even the lights in Times Square are out.”

Colonel Marshall barked out new orders. “We have a human strike team on route to your position. Try and maintain your ground with the Spartans until they arrive. We must keep this contained at all costs.”

Vincent and Adam had reached the elevator doors and were doing their best to keep the Spartans at bay. “We can’t take on all of these robots ourselves! We are moving to higher ground.”

Adam frantically inserted his generated ID card into the slot in the elevator with no response. After the umpteenth time, the realization hit him. “There’s no power for the elevator!”

Vincent gathered a large amount energy and fired a wide blast at the door, busting it open. The boys ran into the lift as the robots closed the gap, no more than a few yards away. Adam stood in the doorway and shot off a dozen rapid blasts while Vincent fiddled around with something behind him.

“So, if there is no power, what are we doing inside the elevator?” he asked.

“You’re going to give me a boost. We’ll go out through the emergency hatch.” Standing precariously on Adam’s shoulders while he lobbed shots at the AI, Vincent propped open the catch and climbed up. Laying flat on his stomach, he extended a hand down to Adam and pulled him up just as the Spartans had reached the elevator. Vincent moved toward the elevator cable as his suit formed a harness strap around it. He quickly grabbed Adam’s hand as he charged a blast with the other. “If the elevator isn’t going to work, we improvise.”

One Spartan’s hand shot through the open hatch and grabbed Adam’s leg as Vincent blasted the other elevator cord. They shot upward at an amazing speed as the elevator car plummeted downward with several Spartans inside. Adam screamed as the Spartan who was holding his leg charged a Red Eco blast through its cannon. He kicked his legs frantically, eventually landing a hit as he bashed the robot against the wall, sending it back to its friends below.

Thinking they were in the clear, Vincent stared down the shaft only to discover a swarm of Spartans climbing along the walls almost as fast as the snapped cable shot them upward.

Amazed as he was by their agility and speed, he was thrilled to spot a set of closed elevator doors on a floor above them. “This has been fun and everything, Adam, but I think this is where our ride ends!”

With his free hand he tossed an Eco blast at the doors and lunged for the opening. They had made it back to the lobby but there was no time to waste. Picking himself up from the floor, he lent Adam a hand and the two bolted towards the office tower’s main doors.

An audible wince escaped Adam as he fell behind. Vincent turned to find his friend limping as quickly as he could, so he slipped an arm under his friend’s as support.

“I’m not sure how much I have left, Vince. I think I twisted my ankle on that landing.”

As they ran through the abandoned lobby, Vincent spotted Matt near the security desk, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Spartans.

Vincent stopped beside Matt. “Are you crazy? We have to get out of here! Let’s go!”

Matt shook his head. “And miss all the fun? Forget it! Get Adam somewhere safe. We were told to contain this problem. I want to see what these tin cans have behind them anyways.”

Vincent hated to leave Matt there but his priority was to get Adam to safety. Once he did so he could join Matt and hopefully Justin would have regrouped with them as well.

Waves of Spartans rushed the lobby, moving in unison, arms raised in attack position. As the Spartans gained ground, Matt reached for his wristwatch to arm himself. Gauntlets formed around his hands, complete with two smoke grenades, and in one deft move he pulled their pins, tossing them onto the floor beneath him.

He stepped into the growing cloud of smoke while his armor finished assembling. The Spartans did not hesitate and barrelled straight into the smoke cloud to attack their target. The metallic snick of Matt’s swords retracting from his armor rang through the lobby and the ensuing crash of metal on metal lasted only a few moments. The smoke dissipated, revealing Matt standing atop a heap of destroyed Spartan robots. “That was hardly even a warm up. I thought you guys were supposed to be tough,” he taunted.

Before Matt could relish his victory, a second wave of Spartans poured out of the open elevator shaft. Matt gripped his swords and braced for another round, mentally kicking himself for speaking too soon.

#

Vincent helped Adam limp to the side of the street where their town car was parked. He opened the door and placed Adam in the back seat. “I’m going to heal your ankle so we can get back inside and help Matt,” he explained as he switched to his communicator. “Justin, Matt has his hands full in the lobby. Any sign of Giest yet?”

“Negative,” came his frustrated response. “All I see up here are signs of forced entry but no clues as to where he is. I can’t even search through any data since the EMP fried everything to hell.”

Vincent stood outside of the car in the street. “We can’t leave without finding Giest!”

Vincent had barely finished his sentence when Adam gasped, causing his friend to turn around as a large car flew through the air and took the town car door clear off its hinges. The impact sent Vincent rolling down the street along with the thrown car. Knowing he was useless injured, Adam activated his invisibility and vanished into the back seat of the car.

Muffled sounds coming from outside the car mixed with the deafening ringing in his ears and he came to thanks to the throbbing headache. He swallowed and his ears popped, allowing him to clearly hear Adam’s distraught pleas. “Vince, are you alright? Vince? Answer me!”

Vincent blinked hard. “I think so. Feels like I was hit by a bus!”

“Well actually, it was a car. And who ever threw it at you is big, bad, and pissed off!”

He wasn’t going to stay put and wait for this big, bad, pissed off enemy to find him. Gathering some Eco, Vincent launched the wrecked car into the air, picked himself up off of the road, and cracked his neck when noticed the road pulsing from sort of minor tremor. He scanned his surroundings and quickly spotted the cause of the disturbance. From his neck to his boots, the seven foot tall adversary was covered in crimson red and black stone-like armor. With each step he took towards Vincent, the bald man’s eyes flashed bright red.

Vincent gazed in amazement at his attacker stunned almost for a brief second with anxiety and fear. “What the hell is that?” he exclaimed.

The reticule from his HUD scanned the goliath’s face and relayed new information to Vincent as Trish replied. “That is Benjamin Ross, aka Barricade. He is a Red Eco Elite and was your father’s partner for many years. Like your father, he possesses enhanced superhuman strength and is considered extremely dangerous.”

Vincent knew nothing good would come out of this encounter as he took a defensive stance and prepared himself for a fight. The aggressive juggernaut stopped in the roadway amongst the graveyard of cars when realized by the Blue Eco surrounding his target who he was about to face.

“So you’re Jack’s boy,” Barricade shouted. “I can’t say I see the resemblance since you have your face covered with that silly synthesuit. I’ve been given orders to take you out, but since your old man and I go away back, I’m going to be generous. There’s two ways we can do this - the hard way or the painful way!”

Vincent said nothing. Instead, he fully charged his Eco and ran full speed at his opponent. Barricade guffawed and motioned for Vincent to give him everything he could. As Vincent closed in on his target, he charged his Eco into his right fist as he unleashed a punch into Barricade’s abdomen packed with an Eco blast. Ross, much to his carelessness, flew back into several cars causing them to scatter on impact.

As he pulled himself off of the hood of one of the unfortunate cars, Ross realized that Vincent may actually pose a threat to him. “You’ve got your father’s strength, kid, that’s for sure. But one way or another, you’re coming with me!”

Vincent glared at Barricade. “You want me? Come and get me!”

Ross returned the previous attack by charging toward Vincent while building up his own Eco. The boy focused on defense and watched as the brute force of Ross’ charged Eco fist made contact with his abdomen, sending him hurtling uncontrollably through the air. Vincent flailed around like a rag doll for a brief second, woozy from the blow. As he went whizzing past a light post, his synthesuit acted on its own and projected a long black tether from his forearm to grasp the pole. He gracefully swung around the pole one hundred and eighty degrees before the tether detached and returned to Vincent’s suit.

Vincent crashed into the road on one knee, his fist clenched as he locked eyes with his target. Again, he coaxed Vincent to make a move. The mere sight of Barricade caused Vincent to lose his temper and he ran towards him once more. Nearing his opponent, Vincent grabbed the bumper of a nearby petroleum truck. Every ounce of strength he could muster surged though Vincent as he hurled the tanker toward Barricade, smashing it on top of his shiny head and burying him into the pavement. Vincent gave into his temper and unleashed a barrage of Eco blasts at the exposed tanker just to be sure he had eliminated the threat.

A massive explosion filled the New York City street, launching debris into the air as flames shot outwards and ignited anything in the immediate area. Vincent stood in the roadway trying to catch his breath amidst the smoke and heat. He cautiously walked toward the large fire and reassured himself that the battle was over. The town car was thankfully outside of the danger zone, so when Vincent neared it, he ducked his head inside to check on Adam. “Adam? Are you okay?”

Adam returned to a visible state, wide eyed and relieved to see Vincent was more or less fine. “I’ll live, but remind me to never get on your bad side.”

The moment was ruined when the boys heard shuffling coming from inside the burning pile up. A large crash urged Vincent to return his attention to the mess, and he soon realized that the battle was far from over as Barricade’s silhouette towered over the flames.

Ross emerged from the flames, laughing. Soot marks scarred parts of his armor but apparently kept him from taking any major damage. He approached the town car and saw Adam sitting inside completely defenseless. “Oh look, you brought your little friends to play, too!”

While unable to fight back, Adam did have enough Eco to summon a protective shield around the vehicle. Vincent threw his arms forward one at a time and unleashed two long black tethers that flew towards Ross. Each one wrapped around either side of Barricade’s well-toned arms, and once secured, Vincent pulled with all of his stregth. Barricade only budged a half step.

“Really, kid? That’s the best you could do?” Barricade wrapped his arms around both tethers and yanked them forward.

Vincent soon realized what a bad idea that had been as he flew off of his feet and was launched upside down into the air. Luckily, his back took the brunt of the attack as he came crashing into the side of a building. He recalled the tethers to his suit and slowly picked himself up. There wasn’t long to recover since Barricade announced an incoming attack with a thunderous roar. When Vincent lifted his head, all he could see was Ross barrelling into him, shoving the boy through the wall he had collided with.

The unstoppable force continued his assault, pummelling him through each wall of the building until the two came crashing out the other side. Ross grabbed Vincent by the neck and hurled him into another pile of disabled cars. As Vincent lay in the street, every muscle in his body burning, he recognized his reserves of Eco were nearly depleted.

Curt interrupted his thoughts. “Vincent, he’s forcing you to drain yourself. You need to find a way to conserve your Eco.”

If I’m almost out of power, then he must be wearing down as well.

He picked himself up one last time and brushed off chunks of debris. He saw Ross preparing himself for another charge. Vincent moved onto the road and stood his ground. “Is that all you’ve got, Ross? For an Elite, I have yet to see any real power. My grandmother hits harder than you.”

An enraged Barricade pitched a flurry of Eco blasts at the young boy which he easily dodged. Vincent knew he was getting to him.

“Too scared to face me head on now?” Vincent jeered. “Didn’t anyone tell you? My Eco is more powerful than yours. There is nothing you can do to hurt me!”

Ross was now so angry that his face matched the red glow of his eyes and fists. He abandoned cars flying all over the place as he cleared a path in his wake. Vincent ran to meet him head on but chose not to ready his Eco. Facing off in that long forgotten street, Ross threw punches that Vincent avoided with ease, each one diminishing Barricade’s Eco supply. Knowing it was last chance, Ross took a final, desperate swipe at Vincent.

The boy avoided the final blow and left Ross standing before him completely drained of power and gasping for air. Aware he could end the fight now, Vincent called forth the last of his own Eco and landed a few more hits to the behemoth’s face before launching a blast at the ground at Ross’ feet, knocking the man to the ground.

Vincent walked over towards the large hole in the building they had destroyed in the battle. He pulled a girder from out of the gaping hole and walked towards Ross. The man’s face was bruised and battered from the beating he had taken, blood dripping into his salt and pepper goatee the corner of his mouth as he tried to pick himself up.

“Please, kid, I give up,” he lifted a weak hand up in defeat.

Vincent held a ball of Eco in his hand as he looked at Ross. “Where is Giest?”

Ross gasped. “I don’t know. My orders were to bring you in. But I can help you! Just hear me out.”

Vincent had heard and sent the ball of energy into the girder. Without hesitation, Vincent swung the girder at Barricade as though it were an oversized baseball bat. “Liar!” he screamed. The swing sent Ross flying nearly half a block away and through the exterior wall of another building.

Exhausted, Vincent dropped the bent girder. Seeing Ross’ lifeless legs hanging out of the wall, it was clear the battle was over. Vincent reached for his ear as he accessed his communicator. “Justin, what’s your twenty?”

At first all Vincent could hear was Justin. “I’m en route to the lobby to help Matt. I still haven’t seen any signs of Giest.”

“Don’t bother coming into the lobby,” said Matt. “There are too many of these things. I need to pull back.”

“I can help but I can’t just leave Ross here.”

Curt joined the conversation. “Some of the strike team will revert to pick up Ross. You need to help Matt with the Spartans. It is vital that they do not reach the city streets.”

Vincent headed back to Giest Industries. Unfortunately, as he approached the tower it became apparent his grandfather’s orders would not be fulfilled. Matt bolted through the entrance doors with a small army of Spartans hot on his heels.

A blast from a Spartan’s arm cannon sent Matt flying onto the sidewalk. Vincent ran towards the army, charging what Eco he had regenerated. As he closed in on the enemy, their forms morphed from robust crimson armor to everyday human beings. As he watched them disappear into the fleeing crowds, Vincent’s heart sunk. There was no way to discern the Spartans from the innocent humans.

He relayed the bad news to his team. “The Spartans are loose. There was nothing we could do. They have found some kind of way to shape themselves into human form.”

“Then our problems are just beginning. Those drones were built off of the same technology as your synthesuit. With them now disguised as humans, we have no way of tracking them down,” Curt replied.

Matt cut into the conversation. “Well, that’s just fine and dandy, but what about Giest?”

A sudden crash echoed through the vacant streets as a sleek motorcycle came barrelling through the lobby window of Giest Industries. The bike screeched to a halt just a few feet from Vincent, the driver lifting the visor to reveal her crimson eyes. Jynx. Decked out in skin tight armor similar to that of the Spartans, she had an unconscious Thomas Giest in her lap, hunched over the handlebars.

Jynx revved the engine and two Eco pulse cannons spawned on the front of the bike. Vincent ran toward the bike as he delivered the news. “It’s Jynx, and she has Giest! We can’t let her escape. He is our only hope at tracking down the rogue Spartans.”

Vincent sprinted for the motorbike but Jynx flashed an evil grin and took off down the street, the pulse cannons clearing cars out of her way. There was no way he was going to let her get away. He summoned the small steel ball that was his Razorback and he threw it up into the air. Once the bike was half assembled, Vincent leapt forward onto the seat, gripping the bike between his legs as it fell fully assembled onto the asphalt. The Razorback’s tires solidly on the ground, Vincent shot off through Jynx’s destructive wake.

Matt placed his swords back into his armor before brushing pebbles off the seat of his pants. “There is no way Vince is going to be able to handle that witch by himself.”

“The car is out of commission from the EMP,” Curt reminded him. “There is no way for you to catch up to him.”

Matt grinned mischieviously. “There’s one way!”

As he ran through the city block of toppled cars, three holes protruded from his boots, emitting a greenish glow from which lifted him off of the ground by a couple of inches. He alternately pushed back each foot as though he were skating on ice instead of that slim space between him and the concrete. And with each push, the corresponding blaster would gradually increase his speed.

Bob was not pleased. “Matt, the hoverblades were placed in your suit to be tested at a later date. There is no telling if the equipment is stable without a proper field test!”

Matt was impressed with the speed and agility the hoverblades granted him. “There’s no time like the present, Bob!” Catching up to Vincent would be a breeze like this.

Vincent zigged and zagged through the city streets as he continued to gain on Jynx. The long chase through the city finally brought them to the foot of the George Washington Bridge.

He pulled hard on the throttle and was shocked to see Matt keeping pace with him to his right. They were almost on top of her when the long cannons on Jynx’s bike rotated putting the boys in their sights.

“She’s on a Revolver! We designed the bike and later gave it to Giest for production. It gets its name from the fact that it can essentially revolve its cannons around the bike to any position or target it chooses,” Matt explained.

Jynx wove in and out of the immobile cars as she fired the pulse cannons, sending the cars flying towards Matt and Vincent. The cars collided with the concrete, sending them spiraling towards Vincent as he manoeuvred to avoid them. Two more cars sailed toward Matt and he dove through a narrow gap between them just in time. As they came to the end of the bridge, the boys were caught off guard by the looming black cargo ship hovering above Jynx and matching her pace. She lifted an arm towards the sky shooting forth a grappling hook that connected with the open bay at the back of the ship.

“I’m going for it! We can’t lose Giest!” Matt yelled as he pushed forward towards the Revolver.

Jynx wrapped her free arm around Giest and let the aircraft lift her from her motorcycle. Riderless, the bike spun out and struck Matt, keeping him from reaching their target. Vincent looked back wishing the best for his fallen friend as he continued after Jynx. Creating a tether of his own, he aimed for that same bay door and felt the jolting tug that confirmed his connection.

His bike spiralled away below him and hit the side of the bridge. Hopefully, Bob wouldn’t be too upset about that. Allowing the tether to retract back into his synthesuit, he made his ascent but he was too late; Jynx had beaten him into the carrier. She stood on the platform looking down at him and pulled out a boomerang shaped device he’d never seen before. He tried to speed up but Jynx threw the device at him which clamped around his neck and drained his of his energy. His tether vanished, and as he tumbled to the ground, Vincent watched Jynx’s sneer disappear behind the aircraft’s closing door.

Familiar symptoms washed over him and he knew he was almost completely drained of Eco. He was vaguely aware of the shouting in his ear but was too weak to reply. Unable to move, Vincent couldn’t brace himself for the ensuing impact he faced. His suit no longer protecting him, his bones felt as though they were shattered as he lay under the Hudson River, the cool water enveloping him until he could no longer keep his eyes open.

#

A fluttering beep called to Vincent and he slowly opened his eyes. He found himself on a padded table in the TRACE infirmary. Amazed he hadn’t died when he had hit the waters of the Hudson, Vincent moved his head to find Justin sitting on a metal stool anxiously monitoring Vincent’s vitals on a monitor.

“Thank god you’re finally awake, Vince. I wasn’t sure if or when you would ever wake up.”

Vincent slid upright on the bench, his head pounding with a migraine. He reached for his neck to find the device that Jynx had thrown at him gone. “What happened to me? The last thing I remember I had fallen into the river.”

Justin began removing the various diagnostic wires from Vincent’s synthesuit which they were lucky enough had been able to produce the necessary ports. “Jynx hit you with an inhibitor collar. Bob said TRACE used to use them as a tool for detaining those with Eco until the devices were deemed inhumane. Luckily, Matt dove in after you just in time. We were certain you were gone but Trish insisted you had a faint pulse. We removed the collar once we returned, just in case. Your body is going to need more time to fully heal.”

Vincent moved to his feet and inspected his body. Several parts of his body were bare skinned, almost as though his synthesuit had been damaged. “What’s the matter with my suit?”

Justin removed the last of the diagnostic nodes. “Bob said that with the massive Eco drain, your suit would need some time to regenerate itself once your Eco stabilizes again.”

They left the infirmary and headed for the elevators. As Justin pushed the button to summon the elevator, Vincent looked over at him. “So I blew everything. Giest is with the Elites, and Spartans are on the loose with no way for us to track them.”

Justin ushered Vincent into the elevator and placed his hand on his shoulder. “What happened at the tower was a trap that none of us saw coming. I’m not sure how we’re going to handle the situation, but let’s look at the positives. You captured one of TRACE’s largest threats. That has to count for something. As soon as we can get Barricade to come to, we’ll find out where the Elites are holed up and get Giest back.”

“What do you mean when Barricade comes to?”

Justin grinned. “Well, you did kind of gave him a pounding, and unfortunately he’s in a little bit of a coma. We’re confident that he will come around some time soon, though.”

Vincent hung his head. “Just great. It seems like no matter who I come into contact with, I always seem to end up putting them into a coma.”

“Yeah, but I’d say this guy kind of deserved it.” The tone in Justin’s voice changed. “We have more important things going on right now. The president is here, which is a first, and apparently he isn’t exactly very happy.”

Vincent’s curiosity was piqued. “The president of TRACE? I thought my grandfather was in charge?”

“No stupid, not the president of TRACE. I mean THE president!”

Vincent’s eyes lit up as his jaw dropped. “The President of the United States?”

Justin rolled his eyes. “No, Vince, the President of Iceland. Yes, of course I mean the President of the United States!”

The elevator doors opened on Level Five. Justin and Vincent stepped off and walked down the corridor. They spotted two agents in black suits, ties, and glasses standing guard outside the door to the war room. On the other side of the hallway, Matt and Adam stood waiting patiently as they noticed Vincent and Justin walking towards them.

Adam was using crutches to aid his swollen ankle. “I don’t suppose you could help a friend out and fix my ankle now?” he asked as Vincent approached.

Vincent smiled as he leaned down and placed his hand over Adam’s ankle. The dull blue glow from his palm brightened and Vincent poured the little energy he had into the swollen limb. The agents guarding the door briefly lowered their sunglasses. Standing up straight, he could feel his synthesuit returning to normal. He must have sparked his Eco to regenerate faster by healing Adam. He was feeling like his old self again as he walked over to Matt.

“I heard you saved my life. Thanks, Matt. I owe you one.”

Matt pointed his nose in the air to not show any form of concern. “Save the hugs and kisses for Alexis. I was just doing my job.”

Vincent laughed and patted his friend on the back, making sure to use his synthesuit to copy Matt’s hoverblades for himself. “What’s going on with the president?”

Adam kept his voice low. “He and the colonel have been going at it in there for a while. We were told to wait out here but who knows how long we’ll be waiting.”

Just as Adam finished his sentence, the doors to the war room opened and the president entered the hall. The agents protecting him surrounded him, blocking Vincent’s view. “Something like this cannot happen again, Curt. Make sure you clean up this mess. You and I go way back but I can’t protect you from everything.”

Flanked by his agents, the president started down the hallway. He suddenly stopped and looked over at the young TRACE agents, giving them a brief nod before continuing on their way.

The moment ended when Curt’s voice called out. “You boys might as well come in. We have a lot to discuss.” Once they were seated at the table, Curt gave Vincent a grateful smile. “It’s nice to see you’re okay, kid, but we need to get down to business. The president has ordered that until we can find Thomas Giest, I am to assume his identity and run Giest Industries. This is not a bad thing. Bob will have the access he needs to properly examine the equipment and technology behind the Spartans. Regarding the EMP, I will be issuing a statement to the public later today that will blame today’s events as nothing more than a failed tech demo that got out of control. This should calm the public and give us time to revive Barricade and make our move on the Elites. In the meantime, there’s nothing more you boys can do. We’re sending you home until we have a strategy together for our next move.”

His grandfather exited the room, issuing orders to nearby agents regarding his absence. Vincent leaned back in his chair and wondered just how long it would be before the inevitable happened and he met his father in a showdown.

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