As I crawled towards the sounds of people in trouble, I tried to figure out where I was and what I was supposed to be doing here. The mechanics of the teleportation had never been explained to me, so I had no idea why I showed up exactly where I did.
Doesn’t matter. Now matters.
The beds were small beds, and there were a lot of them. They were no dividers between them, and each bed had a footlocker bolted to its base. A residence for lots of children? An orphanage? Maybe a military-themed camp?
All of the beds were rumpled and slept-in looking. Some of them were missing their sheets, with a few blankets, mattresses, and thin pillows laying haphazardly on their bed springs, or strewn randomly on the floor.
Some people had taken their sheets. Everyone knows about tying sheets together to make a rope. I figured I might be several stories up, so I cautiously grabbed the top sheet of one bed with sheets as I passed by, and yanked yard. The sheet pulled away from the thin blanket and flimsy mattress. I was able to collect two more sheets before I reached the end of the line of beds.
I heard the sound of rocks or bricks knocking against one another and a loud, low groan of pain from an adult male, followed by heavy breathing and the sounds of stern speaking. There were several young voices speaking over one another, all at once. I didn’t recognize the language. It sounded like an Asian language.
Building on fire, and some problem evacuating. This group is trapped?
My hands were getting painfully hot on the slick white ceramic tile. I wrapped two sheets around my left hand and one around my right. My jeans were getting damned hot too, all over, especially the knees where they touched the tiles. My riding boots were giving me little traction and my knees were taking a beating as I scrambled as quickly as I could towards the end of the room past a series of what looked like lockable wardrobes. I could see windows through the smoke, and a border where white tile met tan tile at what seemed to be the border of the room.
Maybe a hallway? A fire exit? Was the exit blocked?
I shook my head, crawled onto the tan colored tile, and faced the direction that I could hear the voices coming from. The windows were closed, unbroken. I wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea or not to try to open or break them. Giving the fire more oxygen near me didn’t seem like a good idea, as long as there was still enough for me to breathe.
Will I know the oxygen is getting too low before I’m too weak to break the windows?
The speaking voices were getting clearer as I approached what seemed to be the end of the hallway. The man’s voice speaking with calm and authority, and the children speaking chaotically, but not in panicked tones. I heard loud scraping and clunking noises. The door was a metal door with a panic bar, and it was closed. Based on the fact that it was a fireproof material, next to windows, and at the end of a hallway, it was probably a stairwell door or a building exit.
I scrambled the rest of the distance of the hallway, and reached up to hit the panic bar on the door to let myself through.
The door opened about three inches, and hit something hard and unyielding.
The male voice yelled something that sounded like “Sarinza!” and I was knocked back on my ass, arms spread, sliding away from the door as the door pushed back at me, hard. When I stopped sliding I saw that the door was now bowed out towards me, a piece of rebar jammed a few inches through the center of a bubble-shaped lump on the door. I slapped my chest with my hands, reflexively, checking myself for rebar-holes, but didn’t find any. It had to have been close. I watched as the rebar pulled out of the door with a very loud metal on metal rasping noise.
That damn near speared me.
So, there was a super with enhanced strength in there. Why was he staying put? Was he somehow trapped? Why not just go through the wall and down to ground level? What had happened? Why was I still hearing the noises of children? How high up were we?
Can they speak English? What does sarinza mean?
I moved close to the door, but did not touch it. I could hear very fast speaking, but understood none of the words, or even how the words fit together. Definitely not a Latin, German, or Russian based language. Almost certainly an Asian language, as I thought before.
Stay away from the hole in the door; he might be able to see through it.
“I want to help.” I said loudly, while throwing myself to the side and back while and covering my face. The piece of rebar came through the cinder block wall next to the door, narrowly missing me. The backs of my hands and my chest were spattered with shards of cinder block.
I heard the male voice again, speaking rapidly and indecipherably. An adult female voice mixed with radio static followed. “Powwah?” and then a string of syllables I couldn’t follow.
It’s getting damn hot out here, and I’m doing nothing to help. Shifting would be stupid.
I saw motion at the hole in the cinder block. The hole was just large enough for me to catch the sight of a child’s face rapidly looking at me then getting away from the hole.
The man immediately yelled “Papo!”
I heard a boy’s voice reply, loudly. “Oo Yi” and then the boy’s voice and the man’s voice started back and forth, speaking so quickly I couldn’t keep track of even the sounds.
The man and woman spoke over the radio, again too quickly for me to understand
A boy’s voice spoke up, making a statement, by his tone.
The male voice and the new boy’s voice went back and forth for a few exchanges.
A few seconds later, I finally heard someone speak English. A boy’s voice, quiet, scared sounding, but clear. “You are from the hidden group?”
“I am from the Enclave. I arrived a minute ago.”
The boy and man spoke, briefly in the other language. I heard the sounds of movement beyond the door and the hole in the cinder block.
“The Bull called for help fifteen minutes ago. There is a collapse in the stairwell and the door cannot open. Can you fit through a small hole? He is afraid to damage the wall or door any more, or more walls may collapse on us.”
I thought about the teleportation gizmo. It looked like a grenade. Whoever was in there would probably react very poorly if I just tossed it in without showing them how it worked.
“I have a device to allow me to teleport. It looks like a grenade. When the grenade part hits the ground, I teleport to that place. Watch through the hole and I will show you.”
The man and the boy spoke back and forth, obviously arguing, but the boy came back to the hole and I could see him looking out. “Show me.”
I unwrapped the sheets from my hands, and pulled the grenade from my fanny pack. Then I put my finger through the ring on the teleporter grenade, pulled the two pieces apart, and then tossed the grenade a few feet behind me. I popped into the new position where the grenade had hit the floor the first time, and was disoriented slightly. Despite the gentle toss, the grenade had bounced another fifteen feet down the hall away from me.
I scrambled on hands and knees across the hot tile to retrieve the grenade, and then back to the door again, taking about thirty seconds. “Did you see?”
“Yes. We will make room for you next to the hole where you can see my face.”
I wrapped all three sheets around my left forearm, and almost tossed the grenade through again, but then remembered I had to reset it. I fed the trigger back into the grenade, and then waited a few seconds before pulling it again.
“OK, teleporting in now, where the device hits the floor” I said as I put my right arm through the hole and dropped the grenade. After a brief disorientation, I appeared inside the stairwell, and nearly collapsed as I found myself on my hands and knees on a pile of rubble.
The boy’s voice spoke. “Be still.”
I wasn’t moving an inch with a piece of rebar poking me right in the nose. I stayed silent and looked at the man holding the rebar. He wasn’t much bigger than a normal man, dressed in a dark brown skintight suit, with a little ring through the nose of what I assumed to be a costume muzzle, but he was mounded over with rubble, several feet thick across his back.
As I looked him over quickly, I saw he was hunched over, very awkwardly, with only one arm free, the one holding the rebar spear. His other arm was at an angle, braced against the ground. He appeared to be on the verge of collapse, shivering with stress. The wall of the stairwell had collapsed inwards on him. There was cool, fresh air in the stairwell due to the hole, and I could see no other buildings from where I was kneeling.
It was dark outside, so this had to be Asia, since I had left home at around ten AM. China was twelve hours ahead, Korea thirteen, Japan fourteen.
Something moved under the man, and I could feel my eyes opening wider. In the hollow under his body, I saw various limbs and body parts of children mixed in with rubble. As I watched, some of them moved. The man’s eyes were watching my face closely as I looked at him and took in the surroundings.
“Tell him to use his other hand to hold himself up, before he collapses on the children.” I said, while carefully not moving anything but my mouth.
The English-speaking boy talked to the man again. More language that I did not understand, but the end result was that the man carefully put down the rebar and braced his body with both hands, still watching me closely, but no longer shaking with stress.
“What has happened here? I know nothing.” I said.
The boy and man spoke back and forth, rapidly. The boy occasionally saying a short phrase in English.
“The camp was attacked by Arson.” There was some more speaking between the boy and man before the boy continued. “He is a villain, a killer of the very worst sort, with control of fire. He can fly but normally does not. He has killed three supers that we know of since he appeared in Seoul two months ago. We are not sure how many normal people he might have killed.”
When the boy stopped speaking, the man stared at my face.
I nodded my understanding, and dropped the sheets with the rest of the sheets in the pile of sheets by the door. It looked like they had been planning on tying sheets together and dropping down the side of the building through a hole in the stairwell. The stairwell must have been blocked farther down. It wasn’t hot enough for there to be fire in the stairwell.
Seoul. Korea then, or near Korea, and a firebug super that’s a known killer.
“I can probably defeat him with my power, but if I activated the power now, the children you shield with your body will almost certainly die. Do you know who I am?”
The boy and man spoke a few seconds.
“No, I only asked for help against Arson, told them his known powers, and dropped the beacon. He would kill me, or any of my team, easily.”
I looked at the children trapped under him. It looked like we might be able to free one or two of them fairly quickly. “We need to get those kids out from underneath you. I will push rubble back to the kids, and the kids need to push it down the stairwell.”
The boy translated and then said “Yes, we were doing that before you arrived.” He spoke to The Bull for a few moments and then spoke to me again. “The Bull wants to know if the teleporter you used to get in here will work on the children under him?”
“Probably, but it might cause shifts in the rubble as their bodies come out from underneath him. I need to see where all the children are before I try to get them teleported out using the device.”
The boy spoke again to The Bull, who then started speaking out loud, but not to either me or the boy. I heard radio static and a woman’s voice, replying. Apparently, he had a communication device in his mask. Why I could hear both sides of the conversation in his radio device, I didn’t know. Maybe the volume control was broken? The boy looked at The Bull, and said a couple words. The Bull spoke a couple sentences to the boy, then nodded towards me.
Once again, the youngster translated for us. “I did not want to expose Aria any longer than necessary to collect the children, if you could free the ones under me cleanly with the teleporter, but you can’t. She is almost here now. She will clear the rubble, grab the children, and then flee with them. She is a strong telekinetic but a new super, inexperienced, with weak defenses. She will not stay and fight.”
I started to clear rubble away so there would be less for Aria to deal with. The Bull said “No” quickly, and then spoke to our translator.
The boy translated, “Aria can move it all safely, and cleanly. Do not risk shifting any of the rubble now. Just be ready to engage Arson if he shows up. I hope you can fight him.”
That could get complicated. Especially with a fire manipulator. If I shifted, everyone nearby would be trying to get close to attack me, and fire powers tended to have potent area effects.
I reassembled the teleport grenade and put it back in the fanny pack.
I heard what sounded like part of the building collapsing, back in the direction I had come from.
How stable is this stairwell?
I heard a high-pitched female voice singing, mostly in a single tone but with apparently random variations. It sounded a little like an opera solo. One moment the hole in the side of the stairwell was empty, and the next, there was a young-looking woman in a black suit with silver trim suspended in the middle of the hole. The Bull started speaking very rapidly, and the woman, Aria, glanced at the mound of masonry on The Bull and nodded, before turning her head and looking towards the ground below her.
Rubble started flying out of the stairwell in a rapid stream, dropping out of my sight as it moved in the direction I had just seen her look. There was a slight shimmer surrounding all the rubble I could see, as well as the walls. Nothing but us living people moved as the stairwell was rapidly emptied of fallen bricks and cinder blocks while the woman continued to sing. The sounds Aria made seemed to be louder when she moved heavier things. I couldn’t figure out what the other variations of her voice were doing, but I was willing to bet it was something to do with the direction she moved things in, as she pulled rubble off the pile.
If Arson is around, and the fire isn’t too loud between him and her, he’s going to hear her. They said he normally does not fly, but he can.
I collected all the children together and kept them within arm’s reach of me, so Aria could grab them quickly when the rubble was cleared.
I looked at our translator. He might have been twelve, and the grime on his face was streaked with tears. “Tell Aria and The Bull that they must leave me here. They need to get everyone away as soon as possible, as fast as possible. My main power has a range of one hundred feet and they cannot escape it if I turn it on when they are close.”
“What is a foot?” The boy asked me, looking at me strangely. “Is it like my foot? Is that the word you meant to use?”
Metric system, I’m an idiot.
“My range is forty meters. They must have all of you outside that range as soon as possible.”
He nodded and spoke rapidly to The Bull and Aria. They both looked at me and nodded.
The stairwell was growing hot now, even with the open hole to the night air.
The Bull’s head rapidly swiveled, facing towards the door that he had punched a hole through with the rebar while trying to spear me earlier. He spoke in a whisper, and Aria’s head turned to look at the building rather than into the stairwell.
The little boy spoke, “The Bull hears footsteps and whistling. He comes.” The shimmering light from Aria’s telekinetics surrounded The Bull, all the children standing by me, and the parts of the children under The Bull that I could see. Then the entire side of the stairwell blew out and Aria’s song ascended into a scream more like a high performance jet engine than opera as she dragged tons of rubble and people out of the stairwell.
I had to cover my ears, but I was still able to watch as she slowly pulled away from the building, obviously straining with the weight. I watched her as she rapidly threw large chunks of wall and bricks by the dozen at the building with staccato bursts of singing woven into the overbearing jet engine sound she was projecting to carry the huge mass. The projectiles were crashing through the glass windows I had just passed by making what must have been a huge noise of broken glass, since I was able to hear it over her singing, through my hands over my ears. She was apparently lightening her load, while attacking Arson, who I could not yet see. The remaining rubble formed a shield between Aria, her passengers, and the building, and the whole mass of masonry and people slowly started to move away.
Too slow. Too much mass.
After a few seconds, I heard a loud laughing noise, probably a male voice, and the lighting outside the building changed dramatically. There was a new light source outside that was much brighter than what the fire had been putting out. The shadows shifted rapidly in the stairwell and the light source moved, apparently following Aria. A few bright beams of light reached out and melted parts of the masonry shield Aria had raised.
A brightly glowing humanoid figure appeared, not as bright as the sun, but bright enough to hurt my eyes in the dark. Features were indistinguishable beyond two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head.
He’s in range, but so are they.
I could hear The Bull yelling, and all of a sudden, he dropped out from underneath the shield, and as he fell, he threw his rebar javelin. At the same time, about half of the mass of Aria’s masonry shield exploded out towards Arson.
Arson held out both hands, creating two oval shields of flame between himself and the incoming attacks. The rebar and bricks appeared to evaporate against his shield, with no visibly significant effort on his part. He then fired a beam of light towards the ground and I heard The Bull scream in pain before there was a loud thump.
I looked around in the stairwell, and found a few bits and pieces of brick that were of good throwing size. I picked up three, holding two in my left hand, one in my right.
Aria was moving herself and the shield at a decent pace now, Arson was lazily following her. Moving extremely rapidly from position to position, hovering for a few seconds in each position like a curious hummingbird. Every now and then he shot one of his beams and melted some of her shield.
He’s playing with her.
I threw a piece of brick at Arson’s back. It missed, and he appeared not to see it. I threw the second piece, and it missed too. The third hit, striking him on the left leg, from behind.
He stopped moving in the air and turned to face towards me. His expression clearly indicated that he found my attack baffling, he was looking at me like he was trying to figure out if I really was that stupid.
I leaned over, picked up another piece of brick, and threw it at him. He casually dodged it, and I watched his shoulders fluctuate slightly and could hear him starting to laugh.
“Papo” he yelled at me, loudly enough to hear from around seventy feet away, even over Aria’s voice. He started to slowly drift forward, his head fixated on me, watching me. Despite my night vision being completely shot due to looking at Arson, I saw Aria’s glowing effect pull an adult-sized person towards her from the direction of the ground, probably The Bull. After the adult-sized person she had picked up was close to her, Aria dropped her masonry shield and rapidly sped off with the kids held in front of her, away from Arson. Arson lazily turned, and fired four beams in her direction. One above her, one below her, one to her right, and one to her left. All within a few inches of her, but hitting neither her nor anyone she was carrying. The message was clear; he could have easily killed her. Her voice got even louder and shriller as she shot off, even faster.
Get away, little bird.
Then Arson turned his attention back to me, and drifted lazily closer to the building. Before he had come much closer, he glanced down, seemingly distracted, and rapidly descended.
Being trapped in the burning wreckage of a building had less than zero attraction. I did not want to fight inside the building as Strangest, there wasn’t enough room, and fire was painful as hell. I’d have to stay in shadow form to avoid being killed, which would dramatically complicate anyone trying to clear the rubble to get me out. I was effectively toxic to rescue and firefighting efforts if the local authorities and heroes didn’t have sufficient automatons and long range powers to clear the rubble.
I have no desire to imitate a Superfund site.
At this point, based on the shadows he was casting, Arson wasn’t moving much, whatever he was doing. Besides, if there was anyone alive in the building still, and I switched to the other body, they would all try to find me in the building. If I was outside, they would try to get out of the building to find me. Outside was marginally safer for normal humans than inside, even with Arson and I fighting.
Rather than silhouette myself in my human body by standing in the hole on the side of the stairwell, I simply leaped out the hole after three steps of a running start in the stairwell, without looking, and shifted as soon as I cleared the hole. I was four stories up. I couldn’t help but yell “Oh, shit!” as I was falling, even though I knew from experience that it wouldn’t hurt much when I hit the ground.
I hit the top of a truck, putting a substantial dent in it, bounced off, and rolled a few times before being stopped by a chain link fence. There were three conscious humans in my range. Two of them were on the roof, six stories up, and one of them was about fifty feet from me on the ground. The two on the roof moved to the edge of the roof. I could see them standing there in the smoke and chaotic lighting, barely, and only because I knew where to look. They did not jump, thankfully. They did, however, move towards the same stairwell I had just jumped out of. The third mind started moving slowly towards me, on the ground.
Arson came into view, and I could hardly look at him due to his body’s brightness. His English was very good, with a slight accent. “I heard you yell in English, and saw you change as you fell.”
I stared at what he held in his left hand. A human arm, burned off at the elbow. Arson was carrying it by the wrist. Between the wrist and elbow, I could see a brown fabric slowly peeling away as the ambient heat from Arson’s body cooked it off. The smell of pork was in the air.
The Bull’s arm?
It didn’t make any sense. Why would this guy use an arm as a club? Was he insane?
“You wouldn’t believe how many calories per day I have to eat.” Arson said conversationally, as he lifted the arm up towards his head. A much larger than human jaw opened, looking like a snapping turtle mouth in profile. As I watched in shocked horror, the turtle-like jaw bit at the edge of the arm by the elbow where it had been burned off, and a moment later, Arson clearly swallowed something.