Masks 18: Part 12

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Rodford Edmiston

Part Twelve

The Toyota Corolla wagon had been equipped with a siren and the same sort of behind-the-grill lights as unmarked police cars. Vic used them, as well as a magnetic mount light on the roof. However, as she hit the exit ramp she turned the lights and siren off and pulled the roof light in. Her orders were to get there quickly, but to approach quietly.

Naturally, I get sent on a mission in another city on a school night, was Vic's irritated thought, as she navigated off the Interstate and onto a state road. Damn budget cuts. I miss flying in near-supersonic business jets.

The time of day was late afternoon, and fortunately the call had come after her classes were over. The trip wasn't all that far, and she had avoided both heavy traffic and police interference from those who might think lights and siren could not possibly be valid on her particular vehicle. In previous instances she had simply presented her ID and mentioned budget cuts; that and a radio check usually solved the problem. Fortunately, even that hadn't been necessary this trip; Vic might need the time. She had no idea how long this assignment would take or much else about the situation. Vic only knew that local law enforcement had asked the Bureau of Special Resources for help dealing with a rogue super at a mall.

She soon came to the turnoff to the mall entrance. However, Vic found the road thoroughly blocked by police vehicles. She drove up to the barrier and showed them her badge, but they just waved her away.

More than four years since the Bureau was created, some cops still don't recognize our badges, she thought, tiredly. Of course, what happened here is that they didn't even look!

Rather than argue with the perimeter guards, she parked nearby and got her bike out of the back of Monstro. No-one seemed to notice. The bike, too, had lights and siren - and other non-standard equipment, thanks to the Bureau and gadgeteers at her college - but she wouldn't use those this close to the mall. Soon she was cycling across open ground, completely unhindered as she peddled over the well-tended grass, saddlebags bouncing.

She bumped over the curb onto the pavement of the parking lot and actually rode up to the police gathered around their mobile command center before anyone took notice of her. She parked her bike and walked to the nearest clump of uniforms as they turned towards her, confused. Vic removed her helmet as she approached, tucking it under her arm. Again, she pulled out her badge holder and opened it, holding it in plain sight as she announced her name, rank and agency in a clear voice. A couple of them frowned; the rest went back to what they were doing. Which seemed to mostly be standing around, talking.

"Beat it, kid," said the older of the two. "This is a crime scene."

Of course, part of the problem is that during a tense situation some folks get so focused on what they perceive to be important that anything else may get shunted aside.

Vic had been there, herself, so she kept her temper.

"You should have been told someone from the Bureau of Special Resources would be here," she said, loudly. "That's me."

Muttering under his breath, the cop jerked his thumb in the direction of a Captain a few cars away.

"You're the BSR rep?" said the startled Captain, who had Blakely on his jacket.

"I'm older than I look," said Vic, dryly. "I'm in a graduate criminology program. Also a decorated veteran of the Shilmek War."

"Oh," said the Captain, stunned. "All right. Uhm, the situation is that some guy in a crude costume walked into a book signing by Cyanide and blasted him with a power. Lots of people hurt, lots of panic, guy's holding hostages, won't talk to the negotiator. We have only a vague idea of how many are hurt or how badly."

Vic nodded, excused herself and stepped away a bit. She pulled out her Bureau-issue smart phone and hit the speed dial. She was soon talking to someone at the nearest Bureau facility. Well, the nearest one still open.

"That's the situation as the police know it," she finished. "Okay, that would be great! Thank you. Yes, I've met him. Right."

She put the phone away and moved back to the Captain.

"They're sending a super who is good at stealth. A Bureau employee named Gilbert Harkner, code name Smoke. He's in this area and should be here in under half an hour."

"All right," said the Captain, noncommittally.

Smoke actually arrived in under 15 minutes. Vic sensed something and turned to look just as the new super materialized. She hadn't seen him with his power active before; even in his solid form he looked like a grey man made of smoke. She remembered that he didn't wear a costume; he didn't need to.

"Ah, good," said Vic, as Blakely did one of the few legitimate triple-takes she had ever seen. "You're early."

Vic briefed Smoke on the situation and what was needed. Then she turned to the Captain.

"Can you think of anything else?"

"Uh, no. That about covers it."

"He can - with your permission - get in there and scout the situation. Then come back and tell us. Without the suspect knowing."

"That... could actually be useful," said the Captain. He thought for a moment, sighed and nodded. "Go ahead."

Smoke nodded and faded from sight. Vic was left wondering how long this would take.

As it turned out, less than ten minutes. Vic had just sensed Smoke returning and was looking in the direction of his approach as he materialized. He seemed to be in distress, coming out of whatever immaterial state he had been in a bit too far away and too high off the ground, then dropping and staggering the last few steps to those waiting for him.

"All the hostages are down," said Smoke, looking sick despite the lack of facial detail his powers caused. "Some of them are probably dead. Maybe all of them. Including Cyanide."

"Damn," said Vic, now also feeling sick. The Captain didn't look much better. "What can you tell us about the suspect?"

"He had this glowing shell, probably a force field. He was ranting, talking to himself, or maybe the hostages. I don't think he knows they're out or dead. He's... really demented. Not rational. No idea what his powers are, but there's a lot of physical damage. No signs of heat or cold or energy blast damage, but there's what looks like explosion damage."

Vic looked at the Captain, who now appeared rather grim.

"I need to get in there," she said, quickly. "I think I can take this guy out with little or no collateral damage. Even if I can just get him away from the hostages that would help. Be sure your people are ready to go in on short notice. SWAT if I can't handle him, and EMTs either way."

"Roger," said the Captain, nodding. "How... will we know if you do need help?"

The report on the situation and Vic's quick decisiveness had made him realize the situation was well outside his competence zone and that she was the expert on scene. While not exactly deferential, he was now obviously much more receptive to her suggestions.

"I have a two-way radio in my helmet which covers police bands," said Vic. "I'll set it for whatever frequency you need."

She looked at Smoke.

"Also, I want you following me. Do not engage; you don't have enough training or experience for a super fight. If I can't call for help, you do it. You got that?"

"Yeah," he said, voice squeaking a bit. "I have my radio, too."

Vic went to her bike and started pulling her combat outfit from the saddlebags. Thanks to good design and long practice it went on quickly. Mostly it was the same armor she had started with her first year at Ramsey, though much had been repaired and some parts replaced. The weapons were largely the same, as well. The most significant new component was her helmet, which was the same one she had worn riding her bike here. This had been built specifically for her by techs at the Bureau. It had built-in com gear and neck protection which tucked inside the collar of her armor. The same techs kept trying to get her to allow them to install sensors in the helmet, but with her sense of perception and heightened normal senses she didn't need those.

"That should do it," said Vic, after a quick inspection.

"I don't doubt it," said Smoke, looking very impressed.

Vic noticed that even the cops now seemed to be taking her more seriously. The two supers set their radios and set out.

"How are you going to deal with that guy's force field?" said Smoke, quietly, as they approached the nearest entrance.

"I have something which should work, given your description," said Vic.

She had actually practiced using her abilities against a force field, thanks to the folks at the Bureau of Special Resources. They didn't work as well through the immaterial barrier as through physical armor, but they did work. Though only for people who "wore" their invisible protection close to their bodies. Fortunately, this guy did. Even if the Purple Art was ineffective against his shield, she could probably use throws to disable him. He didn't seem to be unusually resilient, from what Smoke had seen. In fact, the less experienced super had described him as "pudgy."

Smoke vanished before they reached the door, moving ahead unseen. Vic did a quick around-the-corner glance, saw it was clear inside and entered. She moved quietly towards the bookstore where the signing had been held. There were obvious signs of damage to the store and the area immediately outside it.

Vic went flat against the store's wall and sidled up to the broken display window. She carefully peeked around the edge.

The stranger was Caucasian, maybe in his early thirties, overweight and wearing an obviously homemade costume. No mask. His hair was light brown, unkempt and already thinning. He was pacing around, occasionally stumbling over something - or someone - heedlessly, muttering to himself.

Vic steeled herself, took a deep breath, and stepped into view.

"I am Special Agent Vic..."

"Yahhhhh!" the man screamed, shrilly, charging.

Vic jumped backwards, unnerved by his strange attack but glad to be getting him away from the injured. She dodged repeated attempts to hit her, leading him out into a central atrium of the mall. Suddenly he paused, gasping for breath. Vic was quite happy to let him just stand there, and didn't close. After a moment, though, he posed again. She thought about telling the Captain the culprit was away from the hostages, but decided she didn't want to remind the guy of them. Hopefully, Smoke would relay that information.

"What do you want?" she said, as calmly as she could.

"Ah'm Billy Bang!" he screamed. "Ah'm gonna' bang ya'!"

"What?!" said Vic, startled.

He may have been trying to take advantage of her being startled, or perhaps had already decided to attack. He charged again. He was fast but clumsy. He lunged at where Vic had been well after she dodged out of the way. She snapped a light punch at him, using the Purple Art and ki projection. She was thrown around and backwards, her entire arm stung and throbbing.

Vic rolled nimbly to her feet. Billy Bang shook his head for a moment, looking stunned. His lip was bleeding on the left corner, so at least she had hurt him a little. He looked at the floor in front of him as if expecting to see Vic lying there. Vic did not try to take advantage of his distraction. She was still shaking off whatever he had done to her, noting that her armor was damaged around her right fist. Unfortunately, he quickly realized she wasn't lying on the floor and spun around.

"There you are! Cain't hide from me!"

This time, when Vic dodged his attack she went for more separation, then threw a concrete trash can at him. It struck, and exploded, hurling fragments.

His force field reacts explosively to attacks! she realized.

That made corralling him much more difficult, but at least she had him away from the hostages. She thought about using one of her weapons, but wasn't confident of still being able to project the Purple Art through his protections that way. Even her gloves and boots would slightly hamper that, and she likely would need every advantage she could get.

He posed, raising his arms wide, fists clenched.

"Bang yah!"

He slammed his fists together. That protective barrier of his reacted by projecting a blast of explosive force at Vic. She couldn't dodge - the effect was too wide - but she was able to prepare herself. The blast hit her, and she rolled with it. She hit a wall, crashing through into a service corridor.

Thanks largely to her armor Vic was not hurt and only a little stunned. She rolled away from the hole, out of the line of sight with Billy Bang. Then she did a kip-up and light-footed it to the wall.

She could sense his approach. Vic moved along the wall to beside the hole her exit had made and waited. Just before the demented super reached it she attacked with a plain, old-fashioned roundhouse kick, swinging her foot around the edge of the hole and putting everything she had, everything she had learned, into it. There was a substantial blast. Vic cried out at the pain which radiated from the armored top of her foot up her leg. The wall moved, actually shoving her back over a meter as dust filled the air, but even as the echoes from the explosion faded she could tell that Billy Bang was gone, beyond the range of her senses.

Vic grabbed the ragged edge of the hole and stood on one foot to examine the damage to her leg. The armor was busted up but there wasn't any blood. Indeed, a tentative test showed her leg would support her weight, if she went easy. She looked around the edge of the hole, and as the dust settled was not surprised to see another hole in the far wall. She was a bit surprised to see another hole along the same line in the wall beyond that. She was astounded to see the holes continuing all the way outside. Vic really hoped he hadn't gone much further than that.

She hopped across the destroyed atrium, through the hole there, across the next room, and so on until she reached the outside. Billy Bang, fortunately, was lying unmoving in the parking lot. He appeared to have hit and bounced multiple times before coming to a stop. Even better, this was not the side where the cops were waiting, and except for a few cars left from the evacuation it was otherwise empty.

Vic limped over to Billy Bang. He was out. Very soundly out. She sighed with relief.

She looked up as Smoke appeared.

"That was incredible!" he shouted.

"Actually, he did most of it," said Vic, wincing as she put too much weight on her injured foot. She explained about his force field. "I managed to turn that against him."

Several police officers - most of them SWAT - came running around the corner.

"Any of you have portable neutralizers?" Vic called out.

Three suddenly reversed course. Vic sighed.

The others surrounded Billy Bang, well out of reach, aiming various firearms at him. More cops arrived, the Captain among them.

"Are the EMTs heading in to help the victims?" she asked.

"Yeah," said Captain Blakely. "I sent them and some officers in as soon as the security cameras showed you had this nutcase away from them."

"Good work," said Vic. She suddenly felt tired, but managed to not sag. This often happened when her regeneration kicked in. She was just glad it would wait until she was no longer active and needed the energy for something else. She'd need food, soon. "I think, though, that you need to get one of the EMTs here to check him. He's still not moving. Does anyone have any information on this guy?"

Even with the name she gave them and now photos being sent out, the answer came back as a negative.

"Oh, here comes the neutralizer," said one of the cops.

"Better not use that until you have one of the EMTs check him," said Vic, reflexively moving back as they set the older model, breadbox-sized gadget on a sturdy tripod, aimed at Billy Bang.

They didn't like that advice, but the Captain agreed and sent word.

"I hope this guy is just stoned," Vic said, with a grimace, as she looked down a the still-unmoving figure. "I hate to think I had to do this to someone not responsible for his actions."

"Whatever his reason," said Captain Blakely, "he's going to be put away somewhere for a good, long time."

"Amen," said Vic, nodding.

She was about to say something else when someone screamed. Vic looked quickly at Billy Bang... and froze. He was still lying there, motionless. However, a shapeless thing rose from his form, gathered itself, and headed for Smoke. Who stared at the sight, in stunned immobility where he hovered well above the others present.

Vic sprang towards the... creature, grabbing a weapon from the assortment on her back. She leapt and swung the wooden tonfa overhand at the thing, reflexively projecting her ki through it. She expected the tonfa to pass harmlessly through it, but there was a solid impact.

The indistinct thing screamed, then lunged at her. Vic dropped and rolled away, coming back to her feet with her second tonfa in her left hand. The thing had turned back to Smoke, who was frantically dodging. Vic lunged in, striking alternately with both weapons, working them long, mixing swings with thrusts. Despite her armor she did not want to get any closer than that.

The thing now turned its entire attention to her. It attacked; she dodged and struck. This sequence was repeated, over and over. Each time it came at Vic she dodged and swung; each time she hit it seemed diminished... yet it kept coming at her. Until, finally - with one last, hard strike - it vanished with a distinct pop.

"What... was that?" demanded Captain Blakely.

"I have no idea," said Vic, catching her breath, and now feeling really tired. "I can assure you that I will do everything I can to find out, though!"

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