In the darkest corners things start to look up thanks to some unlikely allies. Sorry for the late post, had a bit of a formatting nightmare.
Five Chapters to go, things are about to be rocky. As a note the last five chapters will be posted around 4pm EST daily. (As opposed to the 12pm EST they’ve been posting.)
Chapter Twenty – Showdown
Russ followed the tracking map in a daze. A familiar building came into view. Only then did Russ absorb their meeting place— the Channel Six news building. Ray waited in the center of the parking lot.
He touched down a safe distance away and approached on foot. Ray was alone, for now, but he had no doubt the others would catch up in time. So how do I convince him?
Ray chuckled. “I knew you’d come.”
“Why would I chicken out? Not my style.”
“To be fair it’s part of the problem.” Ray shrugged. “So, here we have a problem. You don’t agree with the plan, but you’re not a part of the team, are you?”
There was little point in bicker back and forth. He had to get to the core of the problem. “Mac, you’re being a hypocrite. This is exactly what Cirrimus tried to do. It didn’t work for him, it won’t work for you. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was behind all of this.”
“He isn’t,” Ray said. “I know because Cirrimus already approached me.”
“What? That only makes it that much more suspicious.”
Ray gestured to the building behind him. “On the contrary. My handling of the situation inspired him to offered me his power impressed him enough. Do you remember last year? He sees me as a perfect vessel. Now our aims align enough he is willing to sacrifice himself to give me the missing half of a whole.”
“I’m sure that comes with no catches, Mac.”
“That’s why I refused.”
Tension fled Russ’ shoulders, but a completely new set of problems came with it.
“There’s a critical flaw in your thinking. You are assuming I don’t know what Negator did to me. I did what I always do, I ask for help— you aren’t my only consultation.”
Russ’ resolve returned. “It doesn’t make what you’re doing any less crazy. I’m not affected, I may be the only consultation that matters.”
“As I feared,” Ray said, narrowing his eyes. “You just proved your uselessness. Whatever Negator took away from me, I don’t miss it. You have two choices: Stand down or be put down.”
“You’re threatening me?”
“I’m making you an offer Micron, a very fair one. Call it a severance package.”
“Even if you wanted to fight me, you can’t catch me. I know your weaknesses and you know mine. You’re not going to win a duel against me.”
Ray closed his eyes, and the air buzzed with power around Russ. It wasn’t enough to trigger his instincts, but Russ knew exactly what Ray was doing. The air tinted a pale green. A quick inspection brought Russ to realize, the entire parking lot was covered.
“Sonar,” Russ said.
“Cirrimus warned me before it happened,” Ray said, opening his eyes. “I didn’t believe him of course, but I took the precaution of establishing a ‘bond’ with Freda before I set precautions against Negator. I saw no harm in consulting with Vuhis and her on possible ways to stop him.”
“If you knew why didn’t you tell me?”
“To make it easier for you, at first. Keeping you in the dark would only make the acting easier. Then the trial happened. You made it clear you couldn’t be trusted. When Negator made his move, you and Kirin were the only ones not affected, so you lack the clarity we’ve gained.”
“Clarity? How can you say that? You’ve been infected. It’s like a disease!”
“More like cutting out a tumor. Sorry, Micron, time’s up.” Ray beckoned him. “Give me your best shot, or get out of the way.”
Russ clenched his jaw. Ray might have been near invincible, but he couldn’t stop something he couldn’t react to. The world slowed to a crawl. Ray froze mid taunt, his fingers curled on the second wave of his fingers. He deepened his focus further, doubling the output of his comprehension then doubled that. At this speed, the sonar waves flitted about like spinning blades. They plashed through him harmlessly. Macro Man could only generate power with such speed to detect him.
If Ray wants me to knock him out, so be it. Russ deepened his focus further and charged forward at the first break in the waves. He reared back, tightened his stomach and drove his fist hard against Ray’s jaw. His exposed chin collapsed under the strike. A jolt of pain shot through his arm, rattling him to the core of his being.
Sparks erupted from his knuckles, and Ray’s jaw held fast.
Russ yanked his throbbing arm back, and worked against the momentum of his charge. He broke free and stepped backwards, only to brush against a wave of sound. It coalesced and gathered waves behind him like metallic sand drawn to a magnet. It was thicker and tangible now, enough to block his retreat.
He twisted, turning to flee to the side, but another wave drew closer, stopping his escape. Russ tried to buy himself time, tried to deepen his focus further, but he had hit his limit.
The waves of sound accelerated, a byproduct of his loss of focus. They curled around him, threatening to cage him completely. Russ curbed his impulse, waited for a chance to slip free. A wave passed, he leapt and he was free.
The air around him grew heavy. Tiny residue of the sound pelted him like a focused snowstorm and slowed his advance— enough to buy time for the larger waves to close in. The final wave of energy slammed into him head on and he could do nothing but succumb to the mercy of impact.
His focus faded.
In a blink of an eye, a coffin of green light enveloped him, holding him from shoulder to heel.
Ray closed his hand into a fist and the field of green light outside of Russ’ prison vanished. “Checkmate.”
Russ struggled on principle, but he knew he was trapped. I’ll just bide my time and shrink my way out of it.
“You can drop the act,” Ray said. “I thought of that too. Getting smaller will only give you a smaller cage. Just take the loss gracefully.”
After seeing what Ray could do, he didn’t doubt him. When he changed size he shrunk down at the center of his weight, so it would give the coffin plenty of time to lose the gaps.
“Fine, but what do you plan to do with me? Kill me?”
“Of course not,” Ray said. “You’re free to go. Now that you understand, attacking me isn’t an option. If you want to help, drop the uniform and tell the truth. The video was a clumsy ploy to blackmail us. I’ll make a statement about the modifications to the video.”
“That’s up to you. Continue your crusade against us, for all I care. I’ll need the costume back of course. Shouldn’t bother you too much, you’ve always hated the name after all.” Ray typed something on his arm panel and a video feed appeared in his heads up display. It showed John Seiser’s body melt away to a shadowy haze. “That right there will clear our names. Superheroes doing superhero business. People will have the peace of mind to know we can sniff out impostors like Negator.”
Russ scowled. “I could have done the same thing without making us look like hit men.”
“OK. Time for a little hardball,” Ray said, typing on his panel again. “You were stupid enough to wear your uniform after we took it from you. We have a log of everything thing you’ve done. We knew the instant Freda took it and we were ahead of you every step of the way. We can also use your little visit to Jett to expose you for who you are.”
“That would give away your identity as well.”
“If they watched the whole video, sure. Things get lost.” Ray waved a hand dissipating the coffin of force. “Face it Micron, you’ve lost.”
Russ slumped over, punching the ground In frustration. “How are you being so ruthless, this isn’t you.”
Ray shrugged. “You’re right. The old me was weak. I said it before, I’ll say it again. Whatever Negator stripped away from me, I don’t miss it. Not one bit.”
The others approached, settling behind Mac, Kirin was conspicuously absent. At least she hasn’t turned on me. “TF, come on, you know this is crazy.”
“I have to agree,” Dave said, smiling sadly. “However, Mac has enough dirt on me to have me put in test tubes for life. He makes a convincing argument.”
“Bandit, IB, Vuhdis you know he’s wrong.”
“It’s not really a matter of wrong and right here,” Matt said. “It’s about being on the best side. Who’s gonna stop us?”
Jay shrugged. “You heard him.”
“Mac has given us a real chance,” Samantha said. “We’re not about to throw it away.”
Jeb shook his head. “Makes sense to me Micron, me an Rusty ain’t gonna find a better deal anywhere. Sometimes you gotta break the rules to make em’.
Rusty nodded to agree. “Gra!” His collar beeped. “Yeah.”
“Enough,” Joyce said stepping forward. She turned to her brother. “We don’t have time for this. I’ll escort him away and get his uniform once I’m done.”
Ray nodded. “We have work to do anyway, Thanks Medica.”
The others turned to leave, but Mech offered one more insult-to-injury smirk before she followed Mac into the news building.
Russ avoided eye contact with Joyce. No amount of optimism would pull him from this pit of despair. He needed a plan, something Ray would have never thought of.
Joyce laid a hand on the side of his face, and an electrical shock wracked his thoughts. His mask’s HUD went dead, pinged an error message and ‘rebooting’ appeared in the field of his vision. He glanced up at her, confused.
She winked in response and tugged at his arm to stand him up.
Russ trudged along in a confused daze. “Medica? What are you doing?”
“Helping,” she said.
“You’re not infected?”
“Not anymore,” Joyce said. “Freda got to me. Above all else, it’s the duty of a doctor to be in top condition. Ray might be able to settle for this excuse, but not me.”
“Wait, that won’t work. He can hear us.”
Joyce wagged as scolding finger. “Did you forget the shock so quickly? You would be right, but I took a chance. Mech is on our side too. She lent me some of her programming know-how. The Form wants to help us too, as long as he can keep it quiet. He isn’t under the influence because of his powers.”
“Mech? Are you crazy? She’s not gonna betray Mac.”
“She’s not. By helping us, she’s helping him. Her official stance on this is simple. She prefers the direct approach, but this makes things interesting. I asked her if she’s content to be with someone who isn’t in their right mind.”
So in other words, Joyce got the confirmation she’s always wanted. I guess Kari really does love Ray. “Thanks, Medica. With you, we have a chance.”
“Do you have a plan?”
“Speed can’t stop Mac, but with you in my corner, he only has one of the big three. The tide has turned. Let’s get to Negator and see if we can squeeze a more efficient cure out of him.”
“He’ll never cooperate,” Joyce said.
Russ smirked. “He will with some exaggerations of the truth. By now I have a good idea of what makes Negator tick, so I have just the angle to bring him in line with our needs.”