Despite advancements in materials technology over the past few decades, superhero costumes still ran the gamut between stylistic and functional. The line wasn’t always clear; for example, most people would consider Flawless Form’s gi to be a functional choice, but there were plenty of other options that would provide similar coverage and freedom of movement. The gi also suggested unarmed combat as a matter of style.
There was no ambiguity in the two costumes worn by the supers who stepped out of the armored van. 9.9 wore a shimmering unitard and skirt that would have gone unremarked at any figure skating competition, with a matching half-mask framed by feathered hair. Framerate was faceless behind military police riot gear, a superhero emblem in place of department insignia. The outfits screamed “style” and “function” respectively.
I had checked their profiles and listed powers while Bronze Scarab and Flawless Form filled in Millisec on the situation. 9.9 manipulated friction in her vicinity, allowing her to skate on virtually any surface and trip up suspects. Reading between the lines in her file, it looked like the main problem that she had run into was friendly fire – she affected an area and had sometimes tripped up her allies as well.
Framerate was one of the newest members of NYST, and another recruit from the “reformed villain” program. He could focus on a person to speed up or slow down their passage of time. That meant he could be a low-grade speedster when working on his own, but was expected to be far more effective in a group scenario where he could enhance an ally.
Millisec shifted position to include the two arriving supers. Trellis had been carted off to the hospital; other than Captain Mallory, the only personnel left on the scene were a handful of uniformed police hanging around the trunk where Refraxx’s body still lay. There were apparently complications about removing a federal law enforcement victim from the scene.
“I’m mainly worried about the extent of their powers that they haven’t shown us yet,” Millisec said. “Buzz wasn’t even known to be a super, right? He can burn something by touch, but what about at a distance? Does it tire him out? Is he protected from heat? How much control does he have?”
“He had gotten increasingly angry during our encounter,” Flawless Form supplied, “and visibly flushed. It’s possible he was channeling excess heat from inside. The ability might even be linked to his anger somehow.”
“So it’s true?” asked 9.9 in an accented mezzo soprano. “The targets killed a cop and are IPD?” In response to nods from the other supers, she continued, “What about the kid? He’s just got a gun, right?”
“HQ didn’t distinguish,” Bronze Scarab said. “But if we can’t disarm and arrest a kid with a gun, we should hang up our capes.”
“None of us are wearing capes,” Millisec pointed out.
“Mission tactics are your call,” Zephyr said over the channel. “I’m not going to micromanage you. But don’t put your team in danger to protect an IPD, all right? That’s the whole point.”
“Oh, hey, HQ. Is Liberty there?” Millisec said. His tone was casual, like he was having a regular phone conversation.
“I’m listening,” sounded Lady Liberty’s rich female voice. “But I’m not there. We’re en route back to New York. Two hours minimum.”
“Oh! Good.” He shifted gears with practiced ease. “I think we can be pretty confident that Old Joe is just standard enhanced force and shielding by projection. The hardest of the three to deal with, but no surprises there. I’m worried about what Buzz can do, but I doubt he has any serious defenses to what we’re packing. That leaves Big Joe.”
“I can handle Big Joe,” Flawless Form answered plainly.
Millisec looked over the super with speculation. “How?”
“He telegraphs his moves,” he explained. “Before a burst of speed, he takes a second to plan what he’s going to do. If I can see him, I can counter him.”
“As long as he comes after you,” Liberty inserted. “What about if he’s smart, stays on the periphery, attacks the soft targets? By which I mean Nine-point-nine and Framerate.”
“We should be okay,” said Framerate. “I can counter him if he comes after me. Nine can stay mobile enough to keep him off her.”
“That’s not a great answer,” Liberty said. “You two are going to need to coordinate against the heavy. I don’t think the team can keep him restrained without both of you on him.”
“Okay,” Millisec mused. “So what’s the plan, exactly?”
“Is there any reason,” 9.9 asked, “why we don’t wait two hours for more supers to show up?”
Zephyr answered, “Not unless we want to give Newark PD first crack at it. They’ll act within the hour, no question.”
“Right, so, plan?” Millisec insisted.
There was a momentary pause, broken by Bronze Scarab: “Delphic, anything?”
Way to put me on the spot. “Millisec,” I sent, “you have night vision equipment, correct?”
“Up to about Mach four, yeah,” he responded. There were looks from several of the other supers present, so he explained. “The pack is specially shielded, because a lot of electronic stuff starts to short out at higher speeds. Don’t know why.”
“Here is a plan,” I continued. “Cut power to the house, then ambush them based on neutralizing the least tractable threats.”
The supers looked uncertain so I elaborated. “Disarm Mikey, hobble Big Joe, stun Buzz. Do everything you can before they can coordinate a response.”
“What if something happens to him?” Liberty asked. “You’re sending him in by himself.”
I was irked by her phrasing. I wasn’t sending the team anywhere. I was just offering a plan; I wasn’t in charge.
“The rest of the team can follow me up,” Millisec offered. “I’m planning to avoid Old Joe; I don’t think there’s much I can do to him.”
“Hey,” the captain said as the two officers approached the group again. “Let’s get some ID if you guys are going to hang out at my crime scene.” He looked the three new arrivals up and down with disdain.
“That won’t be necessary,” Millisec said. “We were just heading out. I’ll see you guys there.”
“Hey, wait! You can’t…” but at this point it was clear that Millisec was long gone, a small rustling of hair and clothes accompanying his silent passage.
Millisec was significantly faster than any other human on the planet, having a known running speed of approximately Mach 10 (over seven thousand miles per hour, able to get anywhere in the continental US in about 20 minutes). When researching USST, I had learned a fair amount about his abilities, which were detailed in his secured files. His temporal acceleration, which reduced his effective mass and his rate of interaction with stationary matter, capped out at 300 to 1 – giving him 5 minutes of movement for every second in the outside world. But because the acceleration took him “out of phase” with the rest of us, this didn’t allow him to abuse momentum like some other supers could; no steel-breaking supersonic fists for him. Still, in addition to allowing him to react and position himself perfectly, he could retain a small fraction of his momentum when “phasing in” and returning to normal speed. He had used powerful jump kicks and charging tackles on several occasions.
“We’re going to raid that residential location,” the captain rounded on Bronze Scarab, whom he had pegged for the team leader, “and recover the suspects. Are you going to be in our way?”
The heroine glanced at her teammates, tensing up, before responding. “No, sir. We’ll stay out of your way.”
The captain’s eyes narrowed, but after a moment’s further scowl, he turned on his heel and moved off with his partner.
“… because we’ll have the mission done before your team gets there,” she murmured, a comment that the captain thankfully could not hear, although her own team did. Smiles cracked on the heroes’ faces as they crowded into the van.
I transitioned my View to the hide-out at the same time that Millisec spoke over the channel. “I stopped a block away. I’ll stay out of sight until the rest of the team gets here.”
Lights were on in the kitchen, but not in the adjacent living room where Old Joe and Mikey sat on opposite ends of a threadbare couch. Each held a beer bottle, although the darker amber of Mikey’s told me his was still mostly untouched, unlike his mentor’s.
The other two men were upstairs in separate bedrooms. Until recently they had both been asleep, but Buzz was sitting up at the side of the bed talking into his mobile phone. His eyes narrowed and his lips pursed as he listened, and despite the poor light from the hallway, his skin was visibly flushed.
“Big Joe is asleep,” I sent over the team channel, “but the other three are not.”
“Where in the house are they?” Millisec asked.
I started to answer, but stopped as Buzz stood up, moving into the hallway and yelling something. Somebody from downstairs must have responded to him, because he looked that way and called out, heading down the stairs. I looked in on the other bedroom, but Big Joe hadn’t stirred.
I shared their movements, and Zephyr cursed. “Must have been police chatter. Somebody tipped him off that they’re prepping a raid.”
The kid grabbed a duffel bag that had been tossed in the corner and headed to the car in the garage, while Joe took two grocery bags and started loading up items from the kitchen cabinets. Buzz went back upstairs to prod his other enforcer awake.
“We’ll be there in two,” Bronze Scarab said. “Do we abort now that they’ve been tipped off? Wait and regroup?”
“They will likely be leaving the residence within the next few minutes,” I shared.
Millisec was confident. “We should do it, now. They’re as vulnerable as they’re going to get.”
Nobody proffered a counterargument. From their camera feeds I saw the New York supers exit from the van directly across the street from the target house. Flawless Form and 9.9 each had a pair of dark goggles resting above their eyes, as did Millisec when he appeared briefly giving a thumbs up. Bronze Scarab and Framerate had night vision features built into their existing eyewear, meaning the whole team was ready for the nighttime operation.
“Old Joe and Mikey are still in the kitchen. Buzz is standing over Big Joe in the bedroom as he puts his shoes on,” I sent.
Bronze Scarab headed for the front door, bathing the front step in faint blue as a single large hammer-like shape grew from both of her hands. Flawless Form was right at her side with Framerate and 9.9 just behind. “Millisec?”
“Ready.” I couldn’t see him, but I knew he was behind the house at the trunk wire next to the power meter, ready to sever the line that fed electricity to the house.
“On my mark.” She pivoted to the sides, holding the hammer behind her with both hands, and the tension mounted. “Mark!” She said, bringing her blue construct around and into the front door with all her might. The loud crunching crack of the door breaking away from its frame resounded, and at the same time both the upstairs and downstairs windows ceased to glow with indoor light.
The dark blur of Millisec passed through the doorway as Bronze Scarab recoiled from the blow, her hammer construct losing shape. Flawless Form rushed in, heading around the front stairs and into the kitchen. The active microphones on the NYST supers picked up something happening upstairs, where Millisec had gone, but for the time being I kept my View downstairs where Old Joe was running toward the commotion in the front. Mikey had the duffel slung over one shoulder and had flung open the garage door, heading for the car.
Old Joe rounded the corner from the kitchen at the same time that Flawless Form did, and both of them visibly recoiled as though hitting a solid surface. Both adjusted and reached for the other an instant later.
The powers of the two were not symmetrical. Old Joe had greatly enhanced strength and high-powered force projection, making it useless to punch or kick him. Flawless Form knew this. Instead, the martial artist pulled the enforcer’s limbs into and through the man’s own lunge and, bending low to the ground, tumbled with him into a hold that twisted Joe’s limbs entirely behind his back at an awkward angle.
An odd half-yelp sounded from above as Buzz hurtled forcefully down the stairs and into the opposite wall with a thud. This noise almost matched the unnerving cracking noise from where Flawless Form continued to hold Old Joe, but Buzz’s yelp was nowhere near the volume of Joe’s horrific cry of pain that came next.
There is a downside to force projection as the basis of your defensive power. If someone can find a way through it – like, for instance, slowly forcing your limbs out of joint until they separate from their sockets – your actual underlying physique is no better than a baseline human. You can feel the same amount of pain, and an injury can put you out of commission for just as long. FF had completely dislocated both of Joe’s shoulders. As the hero released him, he slumped against the nearest wall, weeping; the old criminal was out of the fight.
Buzz, on the other hand, was not yet ready to call it quits. He stood at the foot of the stairs, his face and neck flushed an unnatural orange, and as Flawless Form approached him from one side and the other supers watched him from the doorway, his shirt caught on fire.
It was Flawless Form that Buzz chose to face as bluish flames licked around Buzz’s chest and up both his arms, causing patches of his shirt to blacken and flake away. The flames themselves didn’t cover his head or hands, but only due lack of fuel, not lack of heat: the distortion in the air coming off of him made it clear that Buzz Kowalczyk’s surface temperature was truly dangerous everywhere above the waist.
But whatever the man was planning, Flawless Form did not stand there and wait to react. The martial artist simply charged him, fists cocked and ready. Buzz took two steps back, grinning, ready to envelop the hero in a roiling bear hug… and found himself unable to move backwards, as small but strong cords (light blue, entirely unaffected by the heat) were wrapping around his limbs and hindering his movements, courtesy of Bronze Scarab.
Framerate was focusing on Buzz as well, and the crime boss seemed almost comically slow in trying to respond to the rapid and repeated blows to the gut, head, and legs that FF unleashed. The lavender hero had no expression on his face as each fist and foot repeatedly drew back from contact with Buzz blackened and charred, much of the flesh eaten by the flames… only to have it grow and smooth out within moments as his healing power instantly reversed the damage.
Flawless Form did finally show pain, visibly gritting his teeth, when he wrapped his arms around Buzz Kowalczyk in a submission hold to put him under. I couldn’t look away from the gruesome sight of the hero’s arm and chest muscles shriveling up like overdone meat glimpsed through the smoking holes burned in the grey gi, until Buzz finally succumbed and FF’s lavender flesh bloomed healthy again (the gi, of course, was not restored). The willpower necessary to fight every instinct and hold tightly onto something that is burning you, is one of the most heroic things I’ve seen.
Old Joe was still whimpering as Buzz collapsed on the ground, and it was then that young Mikey decided to make his appearance to save the day yet again. Unfortunately, he was anticipated this time… even as he stepped from the garage into the kitchen, the impossibly graceful form of 9.9 zig-zagged past him and yanked the gun out of his grasp, sending his feet out from under him on the suddenly frictionless floor.
“We’ve got three,” Bronze Scarab announced quickly. “Millisec, how are -”
That was as far as she got before the speedster appeared in front of her, tossing a hogtied and gagged Big Joe into the hallway next to his partner. “That was weird,” he offered continuing to look toward the speedster enforcer but focused elsewhere. “Hey, I wouldn’t recommend untying Joe here until we get an expert in.”
“On what?” Zephyr asked.
“Spacetime… dimension… stuff. You know, the high level speed stuff.” He took deep breaths, in and out, as though forcing himself to relax. “There’s something going on with this guy’s powers.” He shook his head. “But more importantly, we did it! All four targets down, HQ. No casualties!” He took a slightly closer look at Flawless Form, who was still crouching near Buzz. “Right?”
The others nodded. “All four down,” Bronze Scarab agreed.
“Good,” came Zephyr’s voice, laden with frustration. “Because Newark PD just arrived at your location, and somebody is very unhappy with us.”