Joaquin carried out the unfinished motion his body had started dragging him two steps into an empty space where a second ago Anne had stood. He looked around confused.
“Did what I think just happen?” Kid asked, waving his hands up and down in the air testing to see if they were in slow-mo.
“That Silas guy, that was his thing, manipulating time. Dos mio…” Nightwave ran his fingers across his chest.
“He took Anne! Sonofabitch!” Joaquin swore kicking a trash bin to spill its contents. He could hear footsteps outside; see black clothed shadows move around. “We got Prowlers outside. Shit, how did this happen, yo? We was so close!”
“Apparently we weren’t. We fell right into the trap.” Quake shook his head in disbelief.
“Andy, can you hear me? Andy?” Joaquin touched his ear not finding the alien host previously safely tucked there. “He took our earpieces out.”
“Holy crap!” Kid exclaimed. Joaquin was about to no shit him when he saw that Kid wasn’t talking about the earpiece. He was looking at the elevator. It was coming down.
“Guys…” Kid called, voice trembling.
Nightwave and Quake saw the point of interest.
“Something’s coming,” Joaquin observed not liking the turn of events, Anne taken away, Betty alone, Massey racing with time. They were too divided.
“It’s more than one thing. It’s a lot more,” Kid blurted.
Through his eyes a hundred tiny objects were moving above their heads spiraling down the insides of the walls. If they listened closely they could hear some metallic clicking becoming louder with the decrease of floors.
The elevator doors opened with a “ding” revealing three figures. A black clothed woman stepped forth first, black nailed hands holding her sleeveless long coat tightly closed. She blew them a kiss before throwing the coat open relishing at the shock Joaquin and his team showed.
Two dozens of small robotic tarantulas with red beady eyes sprinted toward the four, tiny metal claws clinking on the floor, crooked metallic fangs snapping tirelessly at their ankles. Identical metallic creatures spilled down the stairs in a wave, slipping and regaining balance, hoping over one another and back on their sharp legs.
Kid pulled his baseball bat out swinging at the jumping critters, bashing them to spare parts but more kept coming trying to dig their eight claws into his shoe. He somersaulted to a clear spot and kick-flipped the nearest incoming spider, lifting it into the air and battering it. The ones that he broke apart reassembled themselves back up.
“They’re too many!” He screamed while swinging madly.
“Look for a weak point!” Joaquin ordered shooting back at them, bullets shattering the corpuses to spill out the guts made out of a chip, nuts and bolts and springs.
Nightwave was about to wrap shadows over the spiders when five version of the same man with a shaggy ponytail surrounded him like a wall.
“Puta madre!” Nightwave reached for his shadows but the doppelgangers were faster.
“Hi,” all five said in unison before they jumped him, each grabbing a part of him, fingers fumbling over his mouth, nails scraping over his neck, hands twisting his arms back, knees kicking his legs down.
Quake came to the rescue pulling at the bodies, elbowing his way through them to grab Nightwave but a pair of strong arms pulled him back. Two more versions of ponytail man appeared and held him in place while the last of the newcomers stepped into view. He was a towering, bulking man, pink and blonde, crooked in tooth. He didn’t waste time but brought his meaty hand full force. His fist caught Quake square in the jaw sending him free off the hands that held him and through the glass screen of the receptionist’s desk. The five that held Nightwave stepped over his prostrate body drooling blood and bounced around giggling.
“KID! Think faster!” Joaquin shouted pulling away from Kid’s struggle and lurched at the large man, head butting him to knock him off stance. The collision rang bells in his head; in the moment of distraction a handful of spiders crawled up his leg, tiny blades darting out to slice into his skin. They broke at the attempt and Joaquin shook them off, stomping them with his shoe. The doppelgangers produced knives and began to madly swing them at Joaquin’s face. He was caught in a dizzy spin glinting with the shine of dancing blades.
Kid pushed an eager half-demolished tarantula drooling blue fluid over his face and battered two more clean off into the far side of the foyer. He darted for the woman controlling them, arcade throwing spinning kicks and boxing moves. She whistled her spiders at him, their claws slicing through his cloths, pulling him down by the backpack. Kid rolled, hands over his eyes to protect them. He managed to lift himself to a hand stand and flip himself back on his feet, flinching away from the cuts done to his arms and legs. He tuned his X-ray to the doppelganger men pressuring Joaquin. He found what he was looking for quickly enough.
“The one on the left, Joaquin, he’s the real one!”
Only one of them emanated a bright red heat signal. The rest were simply empty shells made to look identical but only on the outside. When Kid looked at the tarantulas turning to come at him he saw a similar setting – most of them were dark shapes with no real spark in them and only a handful showed a live link. They were clones too.
Joaquin struggled with the spiders slashing at his clothes, running up his back. They came at him like a tidal wave, obstructing his vision, face-hugging him in an attempt to claw his eyes out.
“The spiders are fake too! Shoot him and the spiders go away!” Kid shouted again bringing his bat full force on top of a larger spider.
Joaquin brushed the tarantula away from his face and tried to shake them off of his gun hand which they tried to paralyze, locking around it like a bracelet. Joaquin grimaced with the struggle but succeeded in raising his gun under their weight. The doppelgangers tried to scramble but Joaquin had kept his eye on the real one just like the trick with the ball and the three cups had taught him.
Before his balance could be knocked off he fired and the bullet connected with the forehead of the man slumping him to the ground immediately. All the other doppelgangers disappeared. The tarantulas burst into dust too, only a dozen remaining, returning to their mother.
“What do ya’ll want?” Joaquin asked panting, his arm free of the weighting spider bodies. He put the gun as a warning between himself and the tarantula woman, the strongman getting back to his feet.
He looked back to his team, Nightwave rising from the floor spitting away blood, Kid covered in sweat, his hands calloused and bleeding from the intensity with which he squeezed the bat and Quake shaking glass off of his head, covered in cuts and bruises.
The foyer was voiced by the eager applause of Globe. His voice addressed them again from the speaker.
“Bravo, Joaquin. Dispatched my main attraction within minutes. What a shame really.”
“Who are these fools, yo?”
“The new you. Improved, diverse and much stronger. Well, not experienced enough yet but they were created, let’s see… just yesterday. You can’t really blame them. Give them a good fight, I’d like to watch that.”
The bulky man flexed his muscles, his neck veiny. The tarantula woman let out a sharp whistle arranging her robotic babies in a circle, all connecting to one another, legs pulling back to form a bigger tarantula layered with multiple blades.
“Quake, I think it’s high time you shake things up,” Nightwave whispered through a slur.
“I can’t move this place, it’s reinforced! Besides what about the people who are still inside? If this thing caves in…”
“Get creative, homie,” Joaquin urged.
Quake felt for the building’s structure hearing the windows buzz via the vibration, bending under the treble. He focused his attention to the floor and what lay below their feet, running deep into the foundation of the skyscraper. He saw that he could manipulate the reinforcements, potentially shifting the 50 floored building off stance and threaded carefully around that. He felt past the columns lodged deep, the raft, the concrete and rebar shafts and reached for the basin filled with gravel and sand and clay, drilling into the bedrock 4000 feet below their feet. He tried to imagine a precision process while creating the seismic hazard.
The strongman lurched at him but Nightwave used the shadows the bars on the doors created and lassoed them around his legs and arms pinning him in place. The strongman pulled with all his might, one leg snapping free from the shadow’s grasp.
“Can’t hold this puta for long!”
Kid readied his baseball bat for the large spider coming at him.
Quake increased the vibrations, a magnitude of four rumbling deep below, shifting things, breaking them apart. The floor weakened by his ministrations started to collapse on itself revealing a gaping hole drilled clean.
The strongman snapped free off the shadows, weak within Nightwave’s shaky control. He jumped the void between him and Quake, and Joaquin put himself there, but his seismic friend was quicker.
Quake had begun his seismic push, excavating large chunks of hardened soil and ancient rock kept hidden underneath the massive structure. The non gravitational field allowed his shaking hands to manipulate the boulders, bursting them to tinier pieces of sharp rock that he used to slingshot toward the strongman and the tarantula. The boulder erupt flew at the strongman, smacking him in the face throwing him back across the void and into the wall, breaking a hole into it. Joaquin was stunned and he hooted with excitement.
“Joaquin go,” Quake shouted, his face straining with the effort.
“What? Naw man, I ain’t missin’ on this.”
“Shit man, you don’t get it. Go get Globe. Leave this to us.”
Nightwave resumed his control over the shadows, raising them like a two-headed viper ready to strike. Kid was going berserk on the spider dancing around it toward its owner.
Joaquin knew leaving them might mean not seeing them again. But with Massey gone, Anne who knows where and Betty far away, he was the only one able to go after Globe.
He rushed for the elevator.
* * *
19 floors above…
Massey peered around the corner gun in hand. His heart beat too fast in his tightening chest and all he could hear were the cries of his daughter playing nonstop through the intercom system. The floor was practically empty, shipment boxes tucked into a corner, their contents unknown; repair tools were on display on a drawing table next to blueprints of the floor. The smell of freshly painted walls still lingered in the air. The normality of the place, the renovation left unfinished churned Massey’s guts. He turned sharply when he heard a brushing noise but it was only a white nylon tarp blowing under the stream of close felt wind. Massey moved through it feeling it shuffle behind his back. The cries came to life, real and close as Massey stepped into an unfurnished office. His breathing stilled, knees turning to jelly.
Denisha was tied to a chair the back legs of which stood outside the space where a window should be. A rope that circled her neck twisted down her body hugging it tight, and around the front pinned her legs to those of the chair. The rope shot straight up attaching to a hook screwed into the ceiling and ran its entire length and out of the room. Massey’s eyes wavered to a single desk sitting in the middle of the room. On top of it was mounted a small TV. It showed a live stream of a candle burning below the same rope, somewhere else, out of sight and out of reach.
Massey covered his mouth with his trembling hand. He ran over to Denisha who whimpered with every sway of the wind that took hold of her chair and moved it dangerously close to the candle, the ever-rising flame licking at the knots already charring them.
Denisha saw him, blinking the blinding tears away. “Dad?”
Massey dropped to his knees in front of her.
“I’m here baby girl, everything is going to be alright.”
She cried louder, words slurring with the saliva bubbling on her quivering lips.
“I’m so sorry, I’m so, so sorry. He put me here, said I had to pay for what you did to him. I didn’t know, I swear…I was only trying to help people.”
Massey brushed her tears away. “Hush now, it’s going to be okay. I’m here.”
“Tick-tock, Detective.” Massey shivered at the honorific rolling off of Globe’s mouth through the speaker. The intercom died, silence downing over him and his daughter.
He carefully peered around her obstructed body to see the difficult knot tying her wrists together. He could possibly work on it if he moved carefully, could possibly untangle it before the candle burned through the rope and it came back snapping, dropping her to strangle free off the side of the skyscraper. Massey reached for his pocketknife gently bringing it around to slide the tip between the folds of the rope. A small tremor creeped up the walls rattling against the windows. Denisha cried out, squeezing her eyes shut. Massey silently cursed at Quake. His own hands trembled, the tremor nesting within him. He stilled his beating heart, taking a deep breath.
“Hold still darling.”