Part of Basil’s inner self was admonishing him/itself for using an untested gadget in such a situation, nevermind bringing it along on such a sensitive mission in the first place.
Another, far larger part of him was jubilating at the fact that the force projector worked. It was just its most basic function that he’d used – in this case, using the stored energy in its batteries to generate kinetic force, which was then projected onto the door he’d pressed his palm to – but nevertheless, it had worked.
Had the situation not been so dire, he would likely have danced a short jig.
However, it was dire and so he focused on the room ahead of him instead. The door he’d launched into it had slammed into a group of armed, armoured men, knocking five of them over – painfully so, judging by the groans and broken limbs he could make out.
Which left seven more standing, raising their rifles to aim at him.
They were all clad in heavy, padded body armour, all black save for a crude skull apparently hand-painted onto each of their left breast’s, each sporting a belt with half a dozen grenades clipped to it as well as a combat knife and a baton in a holster, as well as wielding blocky rifles of a make he couldn’t identify, topped by scopes casting red dots, now rapidly centering on his body.
Alright, let’s hope the next one works, as well, he thought, his left arm rising up even before the trained soldiers could squeeze their triggers, presenting the broad side of his gauntlet to them.
They pulled their triggers just as he twisted his fingers in the correct activation sequence; their guns made surprisingly quiet pops, firing glowing blue projectiles at him; his gauntlet’s circuits filled with light, and a small disk, the size of a saucer, appeared above it. A thin circle appeared around it, wide enough that it shielded him from his head down to his thighs. Both looked like they made of crackling, unstable electricity, flickering like crazy.
Then the projectiles fired by the Skullmen impaced the seemingly empty space between the central disk and the outer circle, only for tiny bolts of electricity to arch between said centre and the circle, the force-field becoming visible as it absorbed the kinetic energy of the glowing darts fired at him, deflecting the projectiles themselves, bouncing them back and onto the ground.
He knelt down, slowly, gesturing for Polymnia to do the same, until his shield was covering him entirley, before one of their foes got the bright idea to aim for his or her legs.
Soon, the hail of glowy shots stopped, leaving the ground in an arc in front of him covered in rapidly darkening darts, as the Skullmen reloaded their rifles, without exchanging a single word.
“You can make force-fields now?” Polymnia asked from behind. “Why am I not surprised?”
“I got the idea after working on Sovereign’s equipment. It uses- actually, let us talk about this later, we need to take these people out,” he replied calmly, or as calmly as he could, feeling as exhilerated as he did right then and there.
“You’re right. So,” she spoke, as the soldiers finished reloading and aiming again, filling the air between them with glowing darts once more, causing lightning to dance through his shield as it continued blocking their attacks. “How should we do that? Can that gauntlet attack while it’s also projecting that shield? Because at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it did.”
“No, it can not. Do you know what else it can not do?”
“No, but I assume it is important?”
“It is fully permeable to sound, and sound-based attacks,” he replied quietly enough that only she was likely to hear it.
“I could kiss you right now,” she said, instantly picking up on his meaning, as she reached with her arms over his shoulders, one on each side of his head, so as to remain behind the safety of his shield.
He saw the speakers built into her heavy gauntlets – if they were as heavy as they looked, then he doubted he’d have been able to use them without power armour, but her current set seemed to lack servo motors – start to vibrate. There were eight of them on each one, six arranged in two rows of three down the length of the forearm, while two more were facing forward, built into the part of the gauntlet that stuck out over her hands, at the wrists. The ones on the back began to oscillate, visibly, making a dull, thrumming sound for several seconds – but it was the ones aimed forward which actually performed the attack.
Concussive sound so powerful it visibly distorted the air shot out of the front speakers, in two pairs of two, passing through his shield as if it wasn’t even there – which was just how he’d intended when he’d set the shield’s harmonics – and impacting the two rows of armed Skullmen.
As there were only seven of them, and they’d bunched up in a formation of one kneeling in front, with another standing behind, they were all hit by the blast, bowled over as it impacted the front row and burst.
It was a rather impressive display of raw force, Basil thought, watching their weapons be smashed to kindling, their bodies launched with such force they slammed into the walls around them – even the ones his attack had already taken down were moved, though not nearly as violently, sliding towards the sides of the room.
When it was over, there was no foe left standing – and judging by their lack of motion, few of them were even still conscious.
Still, it paid to be careful. “Can you determine whether they’re all unconscious?”
Polymnia left her arms as they were, aimed into the room beyond. After a few seconds, he saw her left hand’s fingers twitch. “Judging by their breathing and heartbeats, they are all unconscious.”
“Good enough for me,” he spoke, and rose up after she pulled her arms back. Deactivating his shield – it would not do to waste battery life – he walked into the room and did a quick triage of the Skullmen, both to make sure that none of them would die due to the wounds they’d received, and to get one of their communication devices.
Fortunately, he was successful on both accounts – they would all, likely, survive, and he got a boxy communicator off the belt of one of them that hadn’t been shattered by Polymnia’s attack.
“Brennus, take a look at this,” said heroine spoke up behind him. When he turned around, she held up one of the darts the Skullmen had fired at them. It was still glowing, slightly, though the light was growing steadily more dim.
“Looks like a knockout dart,” he observed, taking it from her hand to look closer. Running a simple spectrometric analysis revealed it to be filled by a commonly used sedative – one employed by most police forces, among others. That much made sense. What did not make sense was why they were built to glow (as were the rifles they’d been fired from), as it didn’t seem to serve any function he could make out. “Pretty common sedative, all things considered.”
“That’s kind of my point,” she spoke through her vocaliser. “These are the people who created those monsters, right?”
“As far as we know, yes, though I am reasonably certain of it,” he replied, wondering what she was getting at.
“And one of their members is Dusu, a woman who wiped out a large part of Hawaii’s population – almost a million people.”
“Yes, they are horrible people. What are you getting at?”
“Even though they are, at the very least, responsible for a number of casualties in the six-digits – likely even more – they… made an effort to create a teleport-interdiction system which split us up and deposited us – presumably – in separate rooms meant to disable and contain, instead of killing us. Their security forces even wield strictly non-lethal technology – those are flashbangs and other non-lethal grenades on them, no?”
He aimed his spectrometre at a grenade belt, analysing it. “Yes, they are…” he answered her, as he caught up to their thought process. “Which raises the question, what kind of group participates in wide-spread slaughter on a scale that’d make Weisswald proud…”
“… yet takes great pains to spare the lives of anyone who attempts to infiltrate their very stronghold – the place in which they ought to be at their most vicious when defending it!?”
He looked down at the knockout dart in his fingers, contemplating the question, but came up empty.
“It does not matter,” he answered, wrapping his fist around the dart and squeezing. When he opened it again, the crushed remains of the dart fell down on the ground. “We have to fight them either way – let us be on our way.”
Leaving the room proved to be no problem at all – the door behind the Skullmen had been open, leading out into a hallway with an octagonal cross-section, which however led straight to their first problem – hub where it crossed with three other similar hallways, giving them a total of seven options for where to proceed, but no indication as to which path they ought to take; there were no markings or signs whatsoever in this part of the structure and neither of them had any way to determine where to go; Basil had a compass built into his interface, but he had no idea where they were, within the structure they’d seen earlier on, and so could not say at all which direction was the wisest one to take.
In the end, they had to rely on Polymnia’s ability to pick up even the faintest sounds; though the only ones she could get, other than the heartbeats of the fallen foes behind them, were too faint to truly identify, she could determine which direction was the loudest. In this case, the hallway that intersected theirs at a right angle, specifically the right-hand part of it, was the loudest one by far.
Next, of course, they had to decide whether to move towards or away from it. On one hand, it was likely to be the least safe direction to go towards. On the other, it was also the one most likely to yield some information, which they were in desperate need of.
Which was why Basil had taken one of the unbroken communicators off the fallen soldiers (Polymnia had taken the sole other one that wasn’t ruined), and was now leaning against the wall, a cable running from a pouch on his belt to the communicator, plugging into a small port to give him direct access to it.
He could, of course, just turn it on and try to listen in on the enemy’s conversation, but he didn’t relish the idea of deliberately tipping his hand like that. While it was quite possible the enemy already knew he had a communicator on hand – though he’d so far failed to make out any cameras or other surveillance in the hallway, it paid to be paranoid, which was the reason why he was modifying the programming on this communicator. Fortunately, it wasn’t a gadget or – even more fortunately! – a contrivance, so he was able to make it no longer transmit its location, as he’d quickly determined it was designed to do. He also blocked it from being remotely turned on so as to listen in to what happened around it, then did the same for the one Polymnia had brought with her.
“How do we know they don’t have other means of listening in on us, though?” she asked once he was finished. “Microphones are much easier to hide than cameras – I ought to know – and they may well have people with powers that allow them to surveil us.”
“There is nothing at all we can do about power-based surveillance, as we are,” he replied, rolling his shoulders. “If Gloom Glimmer was here, then she could do something about it, but she is not – which, honestly, worries me more than anything else that has happened over the last month – what could possibly keep her occupied against her will?”
She screwed up her face, her shoulders rising into a slightly hunched posture. “Yeah… I can’t imagine why… she hasn’t come find me yet… I hope she’s alright.”
“I am reasonably certain that she is safe,” he replied calmly, as even he couldn’t overlook the fact that her eyes had grown quite wet in response to his concerns. “More safe than we are, certainly. Speaking of which, I am far more worried about the other members of our party – they are much less likely to have resisted whatever means our opponents deployed to subdue them than you or I, and certainly far less so than Gloom Glimmer.”
“You really think so?” she asked, her voice seeming completely calm, even if she looked more than a little choked up.
He nodded, reaching out awkwardly to pat her on the shoulder. “Think about it. They had some kind of contrivance that reacted to our attempt to teleport in, then divided us up based on our power sets and sent us into separate rooms, each likely meant to nullify our specific powersets in some fashion – almost certainly via contrivances of some sort, except for the EMP dishes in our cell, which I am certain were mundane technology or gadgets. Now, if they had a cell which can counter every possible power there is, then they would not have had any need to split us up – we would all just have been dumped into the same place. And since nothing short of that could contain Gloom Glimmer, she is likely already free and wrecking this place, or making her way to us – though she is probably refraining from simply teleporting here, so as to avoid a repeat performance of their teleport interdiction.”
She took a deep breath, calming herself. “That does make sense… however, I just had a thought. Maybe… they do have some manner of universal power nullification, and it’s just you and me who were separated from the others? After all, power nullification would be useless against you, and would only slightly impede me.”
He paused, surprised. “Oh… I had not thought of that.” He lowered his hand from her shoulder. “That is… certainly possible.”
Leaning against the wall again, he contemplated quietly, for a few moments. “Unlikely, but possible… however, you just helped me realise something.”
“Assuming Gloom Glimmer’s analysis is correct, then you and me are currently on the Northern half of this city – they do seem to keep Contrivers and Gadgeteers apart; their system would have sent you and me North both for subduing us, and to put us right where people could analyse our equipment, once they pilfered it from us. Meanwhile, power nullification is not something we have ever seen gadgets do – that would be done by way of contrivances, unless they use a metahuman for that, which I doubt, considering their setup here…”
She picked up on his train of thought easily, getting a thoughtful look, wrapping one arm around her torso and putting her other hand under her chin in a classic ‘thinker’ pose. “Which would put them on the Southern half of this place, giving us an idea of which direction we ought to move towards!” Her lips had turned up into a smile towards the end, which he was quite happy to see.
Girls should be smiling, not looking depressed and on the verge of tears, as far as he was concerned.
“Conveniently enough, South lies in the opposite direction from where you are picking up the loudest sounds,” he added, pointing down the respective corridor which lined up exactly with the South his compass was displaying.
“Then let’s go kick some ass and find our fr- there’s something coming our way from the South!” Her exclamation turned into a shocked shout, her eyes widening as she picked up something Basil couldn’t begin to sense yet.
Whirling around, he dropped to one knee, raising his gauntlet to project his shield, as Polymnia joined him behind it.
Soon, he saw black-and-white blur race down the hallway towards them, far faster than either of them could track it.
“Wait, is th-” he began to say, but then it was upon them – and it simply ran around him, faster than he could have turned with it or attack in some way.
He heard a gasp behind him, and then the groaning sound of heavy-duty armour being compressed hard.
Dropping into a roll, he came up facing towards Polymnia, switching his gauntlet from the shield to its attack mode…
But he needn’t have bothered, as all he saw was Polymnia being hugged by Gloom Glimmer, who was squeezing so hard her friend’s bulletproof armour seemed to be on the verge of cracking.
“I was so worried!” she sobbed, squeezing harder, making Polymnia groan, though she did so with a smile. “I came as fast as I could, but my power wouldn’t give me teleportation again!”
“It’s alright, Gloomy,” Polymnia said, her voice coming out calm. “But if you don’t relax a bit, I’m afraid my head is going to pop.”
“Oh! I’m so sorry!” The daughter of the world’s chief heroine and villain let go of her friend, shuffling back with an embarrassed look. “Are you, are you alright?” she asked, clenching her hands behind her back, as if afraid she’d just hug her friend again if she didn’t hold them there, looking down at her feet.
“Yes, I am,” Polymnia replied to her friend, reaching out and giving her a light, brief hug. “Me and Brennus kicked butt here.”
Gloom Glimmer turned her head, looking at Basil – who’d stood up again, now that it seemed like they were at least temporarily safe – as if she’d only now noticed he was there.
Before he knew it, she had her arms around him, and gave him a squeeze he felt even through his armour.
Ugh… definitely super-strength…
“Thank you so much!” she said, before stepping back to wipe a few unshed tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry things went so wrong… my power didn’t warn me about this trap at all.”
“Well, how many people have a teleport interdiction system?” Basil replied with a shrug, as he rubbed his sides. That had been a really tight hug. “No one blames you for not expecting such an arcane security system, even in a place such as this.”
“W-well, that shouldn’t be a problem anymore,” she mumbled, looking chargrined. “I’ve got a danger sense now, and I’ll hold onto it for as long as I can.”
“That’s very useful!” Polymnia exclaimed brightly, stepping up to stand next to her friend, taking her hand and squeezing it softly. “Don’t beat yourself up over getting surprised by this – we all were, and it’s not your job to be ready for everything.”
Gloom Glimmer sighed, relaxing visibly enough, as soon as their hands touched, for even Basil to pick up on it. “Well, it won’t happen again… I’ve had this power before, and it’s a strong one. Should let me steer us around any big threat. And I’m pretty sure I can track down our teammates, too.”
“Any insights so far?” Basil asked. “We need any information we can get.”
She nodded. “Yeah, uh… there are a lot of dangers around here. Especially in the centre of this installation. The top level of the centermost tower, in particular, it’s glowing brighter than anything else around here.”
Both gadgeteers tilted their heads to the side. “What does that mean, exactly?”
“Oh, right, um,” Gloom Glimmer scratched her cheek with her free hand. “This danger sense highlights threats. Colour and intensity of the glow tell me what kind of danger it is, and just how dangerous, irrespective of whether they’re actually an enemy.”
“Meaning?” Basil pushed for more details.
“Um… meaning that, whoever or whatever is at the top of this place… they glow white. Which means, the danger they represent covers every base, physical, mental, social, emotional. And… they glow brighter than my dad.”
She took a deep breath, and looked South, and up – presumably towards this bright glow. “Whoever that is… they’re more dangerous than the Dark.”
Basil looked in the same direction, feeling… oddly calm, all things considered. It wasn’t like he hadn’t expected things to get worse.