“Relax, and be heroic,” Dr. Monroe reassured me as we walked into the observation room. Slam got us in under the lie that we’re a group of superheroes who know something about what’s going on. He wore his costume, I wore a new set of armor I sent down to Atlanta from home. One with gauntlets that don’t get torn up when I use those laser claw powers. Murko was with us. He had some bright tights on that looked like spandex to me, a red that was almost pink broken up with a white stripe. There was a cartoony black bullet image on the chest in the stripe. Newburgh and Gates stayed behind, but Slam figured since Murko had been in the thick of it, he’d need the cover and it might give us more people on hand if something was up. I don’t know what he expected to be up, but I’m ok with the paranoia this time.
There was a small crowd of us, but the observation room was designed with more in mind. I recognized some of them from the newspaper articles about and other news media about the events around here. Down below, past a glass barrier in an operating theater, a CDC medical examiner waved up at us and spoke into a microphone clipped to his collar. His lab coat collar, I should say, not the collar of the Hawaiian shirt he wore underneath it. “Hello everyone. There are a lot of you, but don’t worry. The room is designed to allow everyone a clear view. Take seats if you like. Maybe we can get someone in to take drink orders?”
One of the other scientists in the observation room stepped up to a speaker. “Dr. Strode, if you please.”
Dr. Strode smiled wide. “I was just kidding. Right, so some of you are here because you fought this or one of the others like it.” He motioned toward the table where a bright pink person laid. She was almost back to human size. There was another body in the room though. Another table held a much larger version without the top half of his head and a large hole in his chest. Strode continued talking about the one I’d fought more recently. “What you’re seeing here is the victim of an unusual virus. This one was subdued in an unusual manner and some attempt at medical attention was made, but it was futile. Sorry. It wasn’t your fault!”
I wasn’t in a hurry to draw attention to myself and my use of nanites. “The virus causes cellular growth that’s only limited by its fuel source. The process of consuming body fat on internal organs caused extensive damage to them, that their body then tried to regenerate using more body fat. If they didn’t feed, they were going to die. Even medical nanomachines have proven incapable of healing the body while fending off the infection. If you’re wondering what they’d look like if they had more energy available, that’s where this guy comes in!”
He walked over to the table with the one I killed. That one was much bigger, though I suppose different circumstances kept the size difference from being all that obvious to me. Strode walked around to the head of the gurney that one was on to try and push it. His first attempt didn’t work, so he lowered his center of gravity. We all got to hear his grunts of exertion, along with his muttered comment, “I hope that was a fart.”
He stood back up and pointed to the body. “This was recovered in the aftermath of the attack on a government contractor’s office. We believe it to be related the ones getting loose. We don’t know who or what killed it, but they left us enough to confirm it was the same virus, and the subject had been extensively modified to acclimate to the virus.” He pulled one of the wounds open to give people a look at metal beneath the skin. “There is armor underneath the skin, but woven throughout the body is an intravenous nutrition system that fueled greater initial growth without the organ damage and would have kept it alive longer.”
The doctors gave us what information they could. The virus didn’t appear to be airborne or transferred by bites. “The CDC has a protocol to test for unusual diseases transmissible by bites in October,” Dr. Strode informed us all. The doctor by the intercom shook his head at us after hearing that and mouthed “Not true.” I’m siding with Strode on that one; if they don’t do that, they need to. There’s precedent.
The CDC would love to get a live one. I looked to Sgt. Slam when the doctor said that. He shrugged, so I take that as a maybe. We didn’t really come to provide more information to the CDC because that would let them know we had that kind of information. And if we had that information, it’s likely because we had something to do with what happened to DIE. They probably don’t know the Directorate for Investigation and Experimentation was a fascist organization. They’d be inclined to think badly of us trying to wipe it out. And the fact that this virus doesn’t seem to spread in more incidental ways suggests we missed someone who is inflicting this on people. The CDC’s going to work on studying it and coming up with a cure, but it’s up to the heroes and us to try and handle any outbreaks that happen.
“Because the cops are fucking useless, am I right?” Dr. Strode asked with a laugh. I like the guy.
That positive feeling lasted until we walked out the door and a bunch of ICE goons were marching across the CDC campus toward the entrance we were leaving. Slam tensed up looking for a fight, but I put a hand on his shoulder and asked, “What seems to be the officer, problems?”
An older fellow in a suit with the bearing of a military man stepped forward. “Our business is not yours. CDC yourselves out.” The Icers and their leader walked past us into the building, so they hadn’t figured us out.
Slam looked around called up Murko on the ear comms they liked to use. “Bulletman, where are you?”
I didn’t need special ear transceivers with all the parts I’ve got installed in me. This was over the general line we had, so I heard when Murko answered, “Sorry, Slam, I just finished talking with Dr. Strode. I wanted to make sure we were cool with the field triage.” I took it he meant the nanites. I don’t know why Strode didn’t mention them; maybe it was to avoid giving unnecessary information to a bunch of people who put on costumes and stick their noses in other people’s business. Murko’s the team cleaner, though. It makes sense he’d think to stop in and see how likely it was that a secret of ours would stay secret.
“What’s the word?” Slam asked.
“We’re good,” Murko answered.
“Good. ICE walked into the building on some business of theirs. Don’t cause problems,” Slam told him.
“Won’t even stop to use the bathroom,” Murko responded.
I went ahead and uploaded the talk to our stuff in the new place. Murko had us change motels out of a sense of paranoia I can appreciate now that we know DIE’s not dead and ICE is sniffing around.
I put in the appearance of patrolling so folks would at least have seen me out and about. It gave me a possibility to be around when a brute attack happened. Mostly, I made sure to patrol the strip clubs. Listen, folks, we have to stop the epidemic of lapdance thieves, and I could think of no better way than having a big Black ass in my face. I even got to handle a couple guys who tried to get violent with the girls.
I was on my way back from a bit of on-land boating one night when I got the call from Slam. “Gecko, a brute’s have been spotted. Murko and I are on our way, but you’re closer. Sending you the location.”
They weren’t slumming it that night. This time, the pink brute had ended up in a pretty location, a gated community. I jumped into the air, my nanomachine cape and hidden jets carrying me toward the land of cast iron fences and meticulously manicured lawns. I was too late to stop all the damage. By the time I arrived, the giant had time to tear this house up. A van by the street didn’t have any one wheel connected to another. The garage had a cartoonish hole smashed through it, and a wall inside there was gone with a car poking out of a kitchen instead. Several upstairs walls were more hole than wall now. I tore open the front door just as something in the house gave a loud pop and it all went dark.
In horror movies, this would somehow give the giant, angry man a chance to sneak up on me like a stealth tyrannosaur. In reality, without all the additional noises people get used to, it made it even easier to hear where the brute was. I picked my way through wreckage more akin to a tornado than a person and found it lashing out blindly in the dark, mouth frothing and teeth clenched around an arm hanging out of its eating hole. We were in some sort of dining room. Thick, expensive wood chairs surrounded a table that looked like a bitch for anyone without powers to carry. On the back wall were a pair of cabinets full of crystal dinnerware.
I had a nifty idea involving a grenade. Chicken grenades like I usually prefer stand out too much. I had the nanites do a different sort of disassembly and reassembly, this time with explosives instead of tissue and organs. The brute finally caught on once they started to crawl down his throat. He tried biting and slapping and puking. Then they rebuilt the grenade inside his neck and rushed out of him back to my cape.
His head actually flew off and bounced off the ceiling when it exploded in his throat. He flopped around a bit like a chicken without a head before falling over and smashing a chair flat underneath him.
Turns out it was the mayor’s house. And the mayor’s arm. And the mayor’s half-eaten corpse in the upstairs bedroom. That was all further confirmed when the same man who spoke for ICE at the CDC went on TV and announced what was going on, declaring the heroes ineffective in protecting the city from this emerging new “foreign” threat, and stating that they were taking control of the city until the current crisis was over.
The reporters started to ask silly little questions about authority, laws, the Constitution, and duration. That lasted until the Icer pointed out one of the journalists. ICE agents grabbed him, threw a bag over his head, and hauled him off while the speaker declared, “This is no time for amateur heroes and whiny reporters to make our job harder. This crisis requires a firm hand to solve. When this city is safe, then you can have it back.”
Monroe and Slam put him on the top of the Accountability list. Second place goes to the mystery person who is creating these brutes and set one loose at the mayor’s place to aid this power grab.
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