“It’s a pretty sentiment but a stupid one,” Nicholas said through gritted teeth. At times like this he wished Amy’s husband was in on their secret. Amy was a dear but an actual medic she was not. Following the chaos they managed to reconvene at the house then were able to pull Nicholas’ bloody and bruised body from the armor. It hadn’t made his disposition exactly sunny and when Elliot proposed going straight after Mutatio, his father was considerably less so.
“Do you have a better idea?” Elliot was still in the armor but was sans the helmet. He came out of the encounter without a scratch, not a small feat when a building falls on you.
“I would say the three of us head out like the old days, but” he gestured to his body which now starting to resemble a mummy. “the spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak. As for Amy,”
“Someone actually needs to keep an eye on the city and organize a defense if need be,” she finished. Elliot had got her taking the occasional glance at the display case featuring her own armor.
“Not that it matters your old suit makes for pretty window dressing but it’s hopelessly out of date. Had ideas of revamping it but this definitely forced my hand,” Nicholas said quashing the issue and earning a mild blush from Amy.
“So I go it alone and I do so soon. He’s already got a head start and actually seems to have some idea how the outside world works now.”
Nicholas heaved a sigh. “Figures you’d embrace the suit only when it comes to a suicide mission,” it was quite evident Nicholas wasn’t joking in regards to the suicide mission. As much as Elliot wanted to go directly after Mutatio even he couldn’t fault the logic that doing so without a plan would be just as good as sticking a gun in his mouth.
“Mutatio might have lost it but he was right about being proactive. Whatever’s out there we’re exposed now.” Elliot persisted though he knew he wasn’t convincing anyone.
“And whatever’s out there was enough to drive a respected member of the council bat shit crazy,”
“Have we thought about whether he’s right or not? I mean someone out there knew we were in here. Where was the aid, the support, or communication whatsoever?” Amy said finishing off the last of the bandages.
The three went silent at that. Writing the doctor off as a crazed maniac was far simpler than the alternative. Elliot shook his head. “Moot point, right or wrong he has to be found. He’s the only one with a damn clue about what’s going on,”
“We are seeking to change that.”
The three turned to find the Minister walking in unannounced which at the start of the day would have been a shocking revelation but now just raised quizzical eyebrows for both Elliot and Amy. She had a few small bruises but seemed to have escaped the chaos at Apex tower unharmed.
“Elliot and Amy I believe you know the Minister,” Nicholas stood with a wince and Amy hastily provided him some support though her eyes didn’t leave the newcomer.
Elliot gave her a polite nod before asking the obvious, “how long?”
“Pretty much since the beginning, you think the smartest people in the city couldn’t find out the identities of three vigilantes?” the thought brought a smile to her face. “Though it did help that original Flying Fox was on good terms with most of the council, figuring his son was the Gold Standard wasn’t a stretch,” she said mustering a degree of humor.
“None of that matters though, not anymore,” she turned to face Elliot. “As much as I wished I could offer you the full support of the city in tracking down that bastard the city is on the brink, and we have no idea of the validity of this unseen enemy.”
“See someone agrees with me,” The young man said with a smug smile aimed at his father.
“I also acknowledge I’m quite possibly sending a bright young man to his death.”
“Aside from the bright young man part I fully agree.” His father prodded. “In the meantime I trust we have the device?”
“What remains of it in any case, the best and brightest are looking over but Devson kept its secrets well hidden.”
“And we have no idea how long we have.” Amy said stating what they were all thinking. If nothing else Mutatio left a strong degree of paranoia running through everyone in the city and they certainly weren’t above it.
“All the more reason to get going,” Elliot couldn’t hide his eagerness though rationally he knew it was foolish. A large part of it was the suits doing. He had thought the addiction to that kind of power for years and now had been given an extended taste. It was impossible to deny he was eager for another chance at it.
“Boy you barely know how to operate the thing.”
“Yes let’s go through a week long tutorial before we get more giants coming down the beanstalk.” Elliot barked at his father earning another glare. Despite his condition Nicholas certainly didn’t look like he was going to take much more of his son’s impatience.
Luckily Amy dutifully put herself in between the two hot heads.
“He needs to go,” she said directly to Nicholas. “And you need to calm down,” she said sharply to Elliot, “if we give them a half hour start but you’re fully prepared to go after him we’ll live with it.”
The two backed off looking abashed, “Now the two of you apologize.” Both favored her with looks wondering if she was kidding. “Go on!” she said in a tone usually reserved for her stubborn students.
They both mumbled a quick sorry much to the amusement of the minster. “Not so different than handling kids.” She smirked.
“As amusing as this is, while we’re not set on sending young Elliot off just yet, a coordinated plan is still called for.”
“You still have Mutatio’s henchmen, though how much they know is suspect, he didn’t exactly make an effort to retrieve them.” Nicholas mused.
“Still they shouldn’t be ignored. In addition we have to keep up appearances on the off chance that Mutatio was correct about those outside. We might not be able to duplicate the effects of the device but we may only be able to mirror the appearance.”
“We may need to send someone to accompany the boy. At least into the immediate area outside, making a big fake shield is cute but it doesn’t protect us much if they can recognize it as a fake.” The two elders went back forth like this was something common to them and for all Elliot knew it was. He tried not to read anymore into it but his father probably did get lonely some times.
“We can handle that. I’d say a few hours to organize a team,” Elliot shifted uneasily hearing that but didn’t protest. “Will that be enough time?”
“It will have to be. It’ll have to be.”
Mutatio stared into the mirror as his captive/cohort held him aloft in the sterile confines of one of the compound’s lavatories. He hardly recognized his eyes as they stared back. Tired, weary, cynical, a glaze over them that may have been tears and may have been something else entirely.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like that,” he said though not to Lindsey. “I wasn’t supposed to do this alone. They were supposed to listen, to understand, they’d see the sky and we’d stand united,” his voice strained and frustration mounted. “Damn that Devson! Gold would have listened if it weren’t for that pompous traitorous ass!” He seethed to no one, and slumped into Lindsey’s impartial hand.
“Instead I just have you. A person who would kill me the second I dropped my hold on you. Though if I recall correctly you tried to kill me the first moment you saw me as well. That night when I knew when I found out what you all were.” He looked into her glassy gaze not expecting or needing a response.
“You hate me and I am thankful for that because it’s more emotion than you ever showed anyone in Archimedes. Better to be hated than an afterthought,” he said bitterly.
Still he looked at himself in the mirror and felt a sense of revulsion. The same righteous fire that burned in him to see justice done for Archimedes caused him to lash out at the people he was trying to save.
“Better to be hated for a reason, than suffer under lazy terminal negligence,” he said without much conviction. “Come, the bruises the sidekick left on you are cleaned up. We shouldn’t expect any stops on our journey till your superiors arrive. God willing it will be nearly complete by then.” He knew his earlier assessment was wrong, he would have company. If not Gold then the boy, if not the boy then their young female companion, they would come seeking justice, if not vengeance, for his actions. Justice they deserved. If they all lived long enough to see his mission complete then he’d let them have it without hesitation.
“Be careful when fighting monsters, lest you become them.” He could live with his crimes so long as he would see the ones who drove him to this in hell with him.
“Alright give it a shot.”
“This is starting to feel expensive,” Elliot reached for the wine bottle cautiously as if it would explode given the slightest touch, which was appropriate given the last few bottles actually had. Power control was fundamental. Cutting loose in the suit was easy, restraining it to appropriate degrees took time and time was a precious commodity.
“It’s a ’67 if I didn’t use it for something like this it would never be used.” The elder engineer had quite the collection and most of it gathered dust. A nice display of shattered glass, and poor quality red wine, made quite the impression. ‘Just imagine it’s a hostage’s body,’ Nicholas had cheerily offered. The thought hadn’t saved the first five bottles from becoming ruined shards on the floor.
“It’s a ’69 actually.”
The impression on Nicholas’ face turned to stricken horror. Archimedes was not a wine making city before the incident, and while there had been serviceable attempts at a simulated variety it couldn’t hold a candle to the real thing. Any and all wine they had before the crisis was expensive, even the dross that was currently on the floor. The actual quality wine to certain people was more valuable than gold.
“Boy, that’s a bit more precious than your average hostage.”
“If the public could hear you speak,” Elliot said finding more confidence at his father’s distress. “If Lindsey had threatened one your precious 69s I don’t think you would have hesitated.”
His father flinched as Elliot gingerly took hold of the bottle then nearly fainted as his son gave it a gentle toss into the air safely catching the wine in palm a second later.
“You’re lucky your mother made me promise never to kill you, lord knows I’ve been tempted.” His father said with a sigh, relieved as Elliot handed back the bottle.
“So what else are we going to work on?”
“That’s it? Oh the thing is bare bones then.” Elliot said with a degree of disappointment. Still with the durability and power this thing showed that might be enough. “Makes sense, I mean you did just finish it.”
The old man snorted derisively. “You think I would consider anything that couldn’t do everything I wanted it to a finished product? No, what I meant is the suit’s AI is adaptive to the user. Once you’re used to treading lightly the embedded AI will make sure that goes for all systems.”
The engineer walked back to the wine rack and tenderly placed the 69 back down and then after a careful search retrieved one he could part with.
“You can see how you can access your blasters right?”
“I’m afraid where this is going.”
“Try and punch a small hole into the bottle.”
“I rather not, I didn’t go to the trouble of saving you just to commit manslaughter,” Elliot hedged. It was all fun and games before someone got a hole punched through their torso.
“Would you feel comfortable if you were in your old suit?”
“So if you could trust my designs before you can trust them now! Now quit being a baby and shoot me”
“Times like this I really wonder what would have happened if I was born into a normal family,” he said with resignation knowing his father wouldn’t take no for an answer. With his father still dead set against the plan, despite admitting he had no better alternatives, there was tension in the air that neither would address. Better for Elliot just to do what he was told instead rather than address the elephant in the room. Just like old times.
Elliot focused on a gentle push or at least as gentle as a stream of raw energy could be. He thought to the times when he had fought your average street punk, your muggers, your general riff raff. Nothing to warrant the full brunt of the armor’s power but needed a lesson in manners all the same. He smirked and fired.
A burst of energy launched from his palm and the bolt pierced the side of the bottle but didn’t exit out of the back. The attack leaving a neat little hole and something of a mess as the wine began to pour out.
“See? Trust the tech,” Nicholas said vindicated.
“Now if only you could put as much faith in me.”
Elliot had meant to say that under his breath but it came out louder than he intended. He regretted it as soon as he said it and expected his father to immediately round on him, spitting fire, and give him a firm dressing down. Instead the old man almost looked ashamed.
“Look Dad, that was uncalled for.”
“No, no it was. Can’t very well keep asking you to trust the suit, to trust me, when I haven’t been doing the same,” he said as he walked to Elliot’s side. “Every time you went out there in the past, even in the worst of times, I could always tell myself I’d be there to pull you from the fire if need be. I can’t this time and it’s killing me.”
He clasped his hand on his son’s shoulder. “But you are the best chance this city has.”
“But do you believe in me?”
“Son in this situation you could be Jesus H Christ and I would still have a crisis of faith.” Despite the situation Elliot had to bite back a laugh. “I trust you to do your absolute best and that’s all I can ask of you. It’s just that it’s only you and me right now, and still you still owe me grandkids so I’m going to be really pissed if you get yourself killed.”
Elliot smirked and pulled his father into an embrace. They stayed like that for some undetermined about of time before a bout polite coughing grabbed their attention. Amy stood there with a cheshire grin on her face.
“Can I get in on the hugging action?”
Nicholas cleared his throat and let go of his son. “Perhaps later.”
“Just as well I suppose, the Minister is ready.”
“Our plan is as follows. Dynamo you’ll be accompanying Salmod, Averies and Jenson outside. Pretty much all information we have is scant aside from the direction we need to go. Best guess is this is a facility of some sort. Any effort to engage the outside civilly, or perhaps divert their attention entirely is based on any information we gather.”
“Given what little we could gauge from what Devson said the infrastructure for communication should still be intact. It may just be a matter of rediscovering the proper systems.” Nicholas finished for her. Elliot turned to Amy wondering if she was seeing this too. Already finishing each other’s sentences.
“Dynamo, our top priority is gaining this information and if comes between that and pursuing Mutatio…”
She let it hang. He didn’t like it but there was no arguing with it. If any further crisis could be averted without Mutatio it had to be doggedly pursued, no matter his personal thoughts on the matter.
“Of course once this information is obtained, I can only ask to you to act to the best of your discretion.”
His father did his best to not roll his eyes. Dynamo gave him a pat on the shoulder as he passed. The best reassurances he could possibly give him.
“Nicholas if you could join us at Apex tower we need all the geniuses we can if we wish to make a difference in the time we have. Will we need any of this equipment?” She said speaking of the monitoring equipment. A protest rose in Elliot’s voice before being silenced with a look from his father that said Just because I can’t be there doesn’t mean I’m not looking after you.
“It would be a pleasure my dear, but no this one is a bit more advanced than previous models. They’ll have everything I need at Apex.”
“Alright gentlemen lets proceed.”
It had been that simple. The best they could come up with. Only slightly better than going off cocked by himself. He dropped his father and Amy off at the tower, though she couldn’t stay without coming up with some proper explanations to her husband.
Nicholas didn’t bother saying anything, everything that he needed to get off his chest he already had. From there it was just meeting with team and heading out.
The path out of the city followed the same Lindsey had taken when she entered. It was hard to believe there was a parade this morning. The APC rolled along the damaged route and Elliot, for the first time, took in the damage from street level. The police had managed to evacuate most of the civilians, not that they needed much encouragement. The closer they got to the edge of the city, where the walls used to be, the fewer people remained. This part of town was always, well always since the great disaster, been the most sparsely now it had the feel of a ghost town.
“They used to try to get people to rent here by saying it would be the first back in the world.” Averies was the one who spoke, young man about Elliot’s age of Asian descent, he chuckled as he looked at the older less developed buildings. “I can’t say they were wrong.”
Elliot was in full suit, riding along with the hastily put together team. Any awe they might have had riding with a super hero was tempered given the grave nature of their duty. It would be one thing if they were only stepping into the unknown. But they did know what was out there and they knew exactly what kind of damage could be done by it. It was possible Mutatio was mad. It was possible in his zealous need to prove his point that he bent the truth to make the situation seem all the more dire for whatever purpose. It was also possible that the once humble doctor had been driven mad by whatever he had found out in the world, and now they were willingly stepping into it.
The first change was once they passed the border was the difference in the light. It took Elliot a moment, as the immense scale made it hard to take in, but there was no doubting high above the lighting was artificial. Fluorescent if he wasn’t mistaken.
The entire team, Elliot included, strained to see just what had been hidden from them for decades. The entire city, from border to border, was contained within an immense enclosure. A circular ring in the ceiling, running just past the borders, exposed the city to the sky but once outside the city the structure seemed entirely sterile and lifeless. From the bare walls, to the smooth tile floors that replaced the pavement they had been driving on.
All that paled once they could appreciate just what lay before them. A towering door that even made the giant seemed small; their first destination and first obstacle. The enormity of their task hit them all at once, but if they didn’t rise to the challenge it would surely meet them all too soon.
To keep it from overwhelming him Elliot chose to keep it simple. Get Mutatio and get back. He could think about how all this scared the piss out of him later.