“Yo, Joaquin, ain’t we waiting for the cop?” Nightwave joined him in his stride.
“Told you she would be a no-show,” Cosma threw mockingly. “Poor baby is too scared of the Nightprowlers.”
That resulted in a snicker from Quake and an uncomfortable head scratch from Kid. The boy liked Betty and Joaquin thought it might be a little more than just a friendly thing. Joaquin’s eyes turned to slits but he remained silent. His impulsive reaction was to think Betty had ditched them, gone to Massey. The thought that made him bite his lip was that Betty had been caught. She hadn’t picked up the phone when he called, hadn’t done that the second and third time either.
Choosing to ignore the first and pursue the second thought distracted Joaquin from the task at hand. If she was in danger she could use their help but securing Miles Jensen was equally important and they had only one chance at that. Then again the prospect of Betty captured and tortured frustrated him deeply. Joaquin chased those demons away. The dome of the place weighted on him filling him with regrets and doubts. It amounted feelings atop of him, tightening his chest with the responsibility of someone’s life lying in his hands. This church was a quiet torturer itself. Joaquin set his jaw firmly waving a hand, the decision made.
“Naw, we go. We got this.”
They looked suspicious together so they moved separately through the bustling chatter of the city, its wet grimacing face stretched to sharp outlines, skyscrapers lost amidst low rolling clouds, the only things see-through – the tall glimmering lights, promises written in nostalgic neon, pop colors spilling through the old cowboy with the cigarette and down the length of the “ladies” in drag. They rejoined in the dark where there was nothing above a whisper, no color but that diluted grey that reflected their figures in dusty car windows, in pools of rainwater eagerly savored by grey dogs with yellow eyes sniffing their true purpose through their dark clothes.
At the interception location there was a sense of vastness; low buildings, modern shacks drenched in dark, concrete ambitions sprung from the ground soon to house businesses; tall smokeless chimneys loomed in the background close enough to breath in the poisonous smoke they puffed out lazily into the starless sky. Joaquin closed his eyes taking in the ambient atmosphere, the stretching night cool and quiet save for the distant rumble of the departing storm. Postcard scenery, eerie and calm drenched in the dull glow of buzzing lights. The asphalt was slick, the moist in the air still detectable, a refreshing sensation against his skin. He opened his eyes and pointed one long finger north.
“Tha’s where the van would be comin’ from. I want eyes on it before it hits that curve and comes swingin’ our way. Kid, get up on that building see if you got a clear vision.”
As Kid, with his backpack holding a baseball bat in place, began climbing up the front skeleton of an unfinished construction doing fast rounds on the makeshift pull up bars, Joaquin turned to Quake, Nightwave and Cosma.
“As soon as Kid gives the signal I wants you two ready to jump the van once Quake flips it like a pancake.” He received their nod of approval.
“No problem mijo. They’ll feel the night close to their hearts,” Nightwave sniggered.
Grunting with the effort, Kid swung himself onto the open balcony on the second floor and propped his body against the concrete column. He pushed the blond strands of hair out of his eyes and went quiet, scouting, locating, analyzing. His little yelp of surprise sent Joaquin’s nerves aflame. The shit was about to hit the fan very soon.
“I see them! Less than a mile away, one vehicle approaching, two men in the front, four in the back, heavily armed.”
“And Miles?” Quake asked standing under the balconies, looking up.
“He’s in there alright, all chained up.”
“Will it be safe to do the stunt?” Joaquin questioned, arms crossed over his chest.
Joaquin had to crack a smile. The fools were doing them an easy favor coming this light. Four-five guns would be nothing to take away.
“Listen up yo, this is easy pickings. Same drill as other times. We mess their shit up, take Miles and ditch. No braveries, no macho bullcrap. I ain’t scraping your sorry asses off the floor.” He eyed Nightwave who just shrugged. Then he nodded to Quake to take his position. Joaquin put his hand on Kid’s back when he joined them, ushering him to the big pile of dumped concrete behind two big green containers. The boy unzipped his backpack and drew out the baseball bat, twirling it nervously in his hands.
Quake walked to the middle of the road. When the headlights hit his face he steadied himself aiming for the right moment. The vehicle gave out a warning for him to move and then Quake put his palms flat on the ground. The asphalt broke at the tremor and a crack snaked its way up to the van. The vehicle veered off, bumping over the risen ground and tried to find the road again, straightening itself. That’s when Quake lifted a hand up and this time hammered it against the asphalt. An eruption right under the van lifted it in the air and sent it flying sideways inches past Quake. It crashed outside the road flipping on its hood, its shape rocking back and forth as the wheels spun wildly.
Joaquin moved swiftly grabbing the handles of the door and tugged at them, twisting the handles in the correct way. They gave in easily under the pull. Inside Miles Jensen was unconscious bundled from head to toe; a chain snaked its way around his waist, connecting to a loop bolted into the sidewall of the van, straining to hold his body locked in place. He was suspended in the overturned vehicle, the side of his face bleeding.
“He’s not dead, there’s a pulse,” Kid informed them scanning the body.
Joaquin’s attention spun toward the Prowlers motionless in their fall. Unlike Miles they were sprang on what was the hood of the van, all seemingly out of the game. He climbed in keeping a balance and slowly reached for the helmet of a Prowler pushing it back up. He jumped his hand back startled by the unmasking. The smooth plastic face of a dummy stared back at him with its empty white eye sockets. Joaquin did the same with the other three “bodies” finding all dummies.
“I don’t get it, I saw the heat signal,” Kid exclaimed. Joaquin ran his hand over the stiff torso finding the bulge strapped to the chest. He ripped the bulletproof vest off of a dummy discovering a small heat box with wires running up and down the length of his stiff limbs.
“It was a trap! Move out!”
Just as Joaquin was about to reach for Miles he heard the siren, the sickening wail the Nightprowlers used to disorient their chase. He backed out, feet denting the van in his rush. Slamming the door on Miles hopefully meant leaving him in a more secure place than what was waiting outside.
“Let’s just deal with these suckers fast-”
The words died in his mouth. Ten Prowlers armed with stasis rifles had crawled out of the shadows holding his team at gun point. Joaquin was dumbfounded. How had Kid not seen this many men?
He balled his hands into fists. The prospect of angering them got the better of him escalating above the why and how of the situation.
“Why ain’t you shootin’ pussies? You is about to die if you don’t,” He spat at their black visors expressionless, reflecting his angry face. He could feel their hidden eyes on him.
“They’re not shooting because I haven’t told them to…yet.” Cosma left their circle, all swagger, and joined the Nightprowlers having them move aside for her.
“The fuck?! Bitch!” Joaquin took a step forward resulting in the rifles rising to level with his face now. Cosma looked so smug in this new role. Her teasing eyes rested on Joaquin watching every painted expression he was making in his effort to keep calm.
“Don’t look so stressed, honey. This is just business.”
“You sold us to Globe? Why?” Quake’s tone was close to a bark.
Cosma ignored him, her stare still fixed on Joaquin.
“You were so caught in your dream to be this big city hero that you never once stopped to think that the people around you may want a normal life, that this vigilante bullshit is exhausting.”
Joaquin’s mouth hung open.
“Why the fuck join then, huh?”
“I thought I didn’t have a choice, that if I wanted to survive I had to fight this way, your way. But I was wrong.” Cosma’s lighted up, stray tears catching the side of her eyes, a byproduct of her anger and this twisted version of triumph that was creeping up the sides of her pretty face. They never rolled down her cheeks.
“In the beginning there were moments I thought about walking out the door and surrendering myself to those trials, to get this accursed power out of my system. I felt like two people, split in the middle fighting nightmares of what had been and what could be– me hurting people in the name of your crusade. I went to sleep imagining the normality it stole from me, my job, my friends, my family. I wondered whether they had been real or true, but I knew I had felt happy there. And I had to pull away from all of that because of you.” Cosma pointed an accusatory finger at Joaquin.
“I never forced you!”
Cosma chuckled. “Ah, speaking like a child, again.”
“Man fuck you bitch, you gone crazy! Imma personally make sure you eat those words back.”
Cosma’s face tightened. “Shut up and listen you little shit.” The gesticulation of her hand summoned a whirlwind of ice cold air which quickly transformed into a transparent misshapen blob. It flew at Quake plastering itself over his chest. His breathing hitched, a white cloud escaping from his trembling lips. His knees hit the ground, hands clawing at his chest and throat.
“I want you to hear this before I take you in. So let’s see how long you can keep quiet while Quake here suffocates. One more word and he dies.” She wasn’t intimidated by his height, his build. Joaquin’s chest rose and fell fast and he clenched his teeth shivering on his own to remain still and listen.
“Do you want to know when I realized that there was something else, something more? After that man died choking in one of my vacuum bubbles, you remember that, saying it had to be done to prove a point? Something flipped. I thought I’d be scared, that I would be repulsed of myself, my actions. But I just felt a sort of calm. Not like he deserved it or anything, just that I felt great doing it. I went to Doctor Globe that night and he offered me the life I needed – a prospect, a future away from the streets. I couldn’t go back to the life I had, I knew that. So I embraced the one that lay ahead of me. I’ll admit thanks to you Joaquin I learned to not be afraid of my power anymore but your basicness could only go so far. Jacob promised me a place next to him in the New World Order. All he wants in exchange is you four. Especially you Joaquin.”
“I didn’t think…Shit. I’m sorry you feel that way,” Joaquin held her gaze until he couldn’t no more. The silence from Nightwave and Kid spoke volumes. Cosma released Quake and the raspy breath of air he took made Joaquin flinch.
“No you’re not. You’re full of it. You took a gamble and lost.” Cosma’s anger had visibly subsided and she put a hand on the shoulder of the Prowler next to her, teasing attitude renewed. “Enough of this chit-chat, it’s beginning to bore me. Take the shot boys, we don’t have all night.”
Joaquin snapped back into focus. “Night-” he started, sensing the first cylindrical rounds escape the barrels of the firing squad, a simultaneous bang that sent them sizzling in the air.
Xavier clicked his fingers dropping all shadows around them, lifting them into a tornado of vantablack.
The inky shadows crashed into the middle of the standoff. Joaquin ducked to the ground feeling the rounds pierce through the black shroud. Instead of disappearing in the spacious background they exploded in thin air casting their nets of electricity to seize the empty space. Joaquin’s eyes widened. That was a new type of gun the Prowlers were brandishing. He heard Xavier’s voice from the descending darkness.
“I got this ese, go get Miles.”
“Go, go! To the van!” He shouted back to Quake and Kid, picking himself off the ground and pulling out his semi, firing through the cover of the shadows. Nightwave orchestrated them like a conductor sending them to seep through the black helmets of the Prowlers filling them with an impenetrable density which allowed Joaquin and his team their exit.
“What are we gonna do about Cosma?” Quake yelled at Joaquin. His response was cut short by two upcoming Prowlers. He spun around selecting a spot and thumped the ground with his boot bursting it open, lifting the block of asphalt like a wall separating them and the van concealing Miles from the Prowlers. Burst pipes renewed the rain on their heads slicking their movements.
To their right bolts from the stasis rifles wheezed but they were off mark. Reaching the van Quake fumbled with its doors aided by Kid and just as Joaquin was about to join them he was thrown back, a choking sensation tightening around his windpipe. His eyes swam with stars, the space around him cold and invading into his opened mouth, mimicking a fish out of water. Cosma crossed the shadow wall.
“Just give yourself in Joaquin and your friends may live to see another day.”
“Get off of him!” Kid had abandoned the van, lifting his baseball bat. He swung it at Cosma catching her in the ribs. Quake pivoted and sent a tremor her way wobbling her legs unsteady. The loss of connection gave Joaquin a breather. He fumbled for his gun and fired toward Cosma but she regained her control fast and captured the bullets stilling them in bubbles of space, deep and dark. She flung her hand and sent Kid and Quake reeling, trapping them in body swallowing bubbles. Joaquin came for her throwing his best punches and firing round after round at her armored body until his gun was empty. All the bullets were swollen by the vacuum. Long dark strands of hair tickled the side of her cold face. Cosma was in her moment, enjoying every bit of it.
“You can’t win, Joaquin, give up.”
“Shut up, bitch!”
Nightwave’s trick was caught short when a stasis bullet found its way through the curtain. It clipped him in the collarbone. Joaquin just caught sight of his body convulsing as the net tightened around his upper body. Freed, the Prowlers advanced. Kid was turning blue in the bubble, space invading his lungs. Quake wasn’t looking any better either. Cosma took another dodge of Joaquin’s punch. In his peripheral vision the Nightprowlers made to do a circle around him selecting him as the primary target. He had to act quickly.
“They saved your ass before. They are your friends too or did Globe brainwash that part too?” The question pulled something on Cosma’s face. It was enough to distract her and give Joaquin the desired reach. He clipped her under the chin, bouncing her head back and sending her to the ground.
The vacuum released Quake and Kid who rolled, coughing.
“You ain’t that good, hoe.”
Quake managed to reach out and smack the ground hard with his fist. “Hold on!” he yelled as the ground flipped under Cosma’s feet just as she was about to get up sending her to her ass again. She smacked her head hard against the asphalt.
Taking the time, Joaquin turned toward the Prowlers ready to fire. “Yo bitches,” he called over to them feeling the stasis shots on his skin before he could even finish. The sensation was close to a mild skin burn, a hand glided over the oven but he didn’t care. The nets just seeped into his skin, the intensity burning through his t-shirt leaving the skin unmarked.
“This shit’s weak, yo.”
There was a moment of realization from the Prowlers that their attack was pointless against Joaquin.
“Lemme teach you somethin’ muthafucka.” Joaquin pulled a stasis rifle clean off the hands of the nearest Prowler dislocating his shoulder in the process. He kicked him in the chest then turned the rifle against another man and shot him nodding in approval at the way the net shook him with enough electricity to take down an elephant.
“Sent them down,” Joaquin ordered shielding with his body. Still a little dazed, Quake threw all his power opening the ground right beneath the feet of two Prowlers before dropping the remainder of the hovering rocks above them.
He shielded from the rounds lifting up chunks of asphalt which shattered when the bullets caught them. The air sizzled with blue lightning. He interrupted their aim when he tremored the street zigzag matching their attempts to dodge; he finally caught them and slammed their bodies repeatedly leaving them no access to their dropped rifles.
Joaquin redirected his attention toward the woman, the former friend, coming to her senses. He picked Cosma by the throat and lifted her, feet dangling as she choked.
“You made a fucking mistake tonight. You is paying for it like all the rest. Gone rogue, gone dead. Say bye to your buddies, cause’ you is comin’ with us.”
“I…don’t….think…so,” she managed, a choked laughter bubbling on her tight lips. She was looking somewhere behind him.
Joaquin heard the monstrous groan. He turned his head seeing the shadowless chimney break at its base and tumble toward them. His eyes snapped to another shape vibrating in the night. The same was happening to the unfinished construction building Kid had climbed.
“Too…much…quake…” she added fingers clawing at his hand, trying to summon her bubbles amid nausea.
“Bruh…” Joaquin managed to spit dropping Cosma, her laughter escalating. Like she had counted on that miscalculation.
Next: Gut Punched