“So, how do you contact Medusa?” I asked for probably the fifth time since rescuing Core. We spent a little bit of time laying low in a places nobody would dare enter: Ruby Tuesdays, a Taco Bell bathroom, and even this one Gamestop. I’m pretty sure the Gamestop people knew Core was a fugitive from justice, but they were just happy to have someone in there. It got a little annoying, but they were more than happy to keep Core company while I found him some clothes. An assistant manager looked twitchy, but I bought his silence with a pre-order that I canceled as soon as we set foot outside the store.
He wasn’t ready to let me call up Medusa just yet, which is why I asked him maybe the fifth time since we left. “Come on, I need to get in touch with her,” I pressed.
He whirled on me, blue shirt hiding the blue glow beneath. “Call her yourself!” He turned and started walking over toward the nearby Wal-Mart where we hoped to pick up fresh transportation.
“I can’t,” I admitted, following after. “I had to get rid of a lot of stuff so it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.” Isn’t it odd that I can say that with a straight face now? Omega wasn’t smart enough to figure out what I got rid of when I did it, but I knew enough to narrow some of the information down. I know I had Medusa’s number. I know I don’t anymore. That’s not the only piece of information that eludes me. Omega might have realized some of the potential of the Dimensional Bomb.
I lost my mind before, involuntarily. Giving it up of my own free will to save the ones I love? A fucking bargain.
Core passed up a perfectly inconspicuous SUV for a Dodge Charger. “I’ll make you a deal. Help me retrieve something I stashed in the swamp, and I’ll give you a chance to talk to her.”
He didn’t believe me. “Fine. First bit of help, we stand out a hell of a lot more in this thing than we do in something like that.” I pointed back to the SUV.
He turned and pointed to the backseat. There was a carseat. “A family probably needs that. We’re going in this.”
I shrugged. “Fine. Dork.” Worse, he took the driver’s side.
I didn’t realize how far Shreveport was from Bayou Blanc. That’s the difference between highways and the smaller backroads. We passed farmland and woods, then turned down roads of smaller and smaller roads. We were on a red clay road when we turned off even that to down a grass path shaded by uncut branches hanging overhead.
“So,” I asked. “You think it’ll be dangerous?”
“Maybe. When I was out here before, Freedom Legion got me. They’re probably out here looking, or they found it and left a surprise for me.” He looked around as we both stepped out of the car. “Besides, this place freaks me out.”
He took the trip a bit worse than me. He used tree roots and raised land in the swamp to try and avoid the water. I just slogged through it with my environmentally sealed suit. Once, when there was no way forward but through deep, murky water, I picked him up and carried him over my shoulder. “How do you know where we’re going, anyway?” I asked.
“A pattern of radiation I left. It’s harmless to the environment and hard to distinguish from the natural background radiation on the Earth, but most background radiation doesn’t spell out English words when looked at through the right instruments.” He started when he saw a log floating nearby, but he peered more closely at it and then relaxed when it didn’t move. I set him down when we got to a muddy section above most of the water, glad I couldn’t feel either the humidity or the muck. Core himself sighed in disgust at the squelching noise that came from setting his feet down on high ground.
“Which direction now?” I asked.
“Over here,” he said, pointing. He had a pretty good path that way.
We followed it another fifteen minutes before he ducked behind a tree. I caught a glimpse of a boat and faded into the environment with a camo pattern that shifted into a view of the environment behind me. People were talking up ahead, loudly. I moved up next to Core that way. “Nobody can see me at the moment,” I said quietly.
“Looks like bags of pot in the boat,” he said. “I didn’t realize I stashed the files so close to a drug operation.” There were a couple of men in the boat dressed for a hunting trip, though what they’d bagged was a lot more valuable. They were arguing, both occasionally gesticulating at the boat motor that was off for some reason.
“Oh yeah. No GPS or cell signals. Few pesky bystanders to stumble on it. Hard to find your way back if you get away…” I drifted into silence because something had startled the pair of drug runners in the boat. They stood up, one pulling out an AR of some sort while the other had a plain black revolver. They weren’t looking our way. In fact, they had their backs to us. The one with the rifle laughed and aimed it at something in the water.
Before he could shoot, a large man with a beard splashed up out of the water and tackled him off. I didn’t see it until he was on this side of the boat, but he wore a dead alligator on his back. The drug grower’s friend shot at the water where the gator man was busy drowning the other man, missing half his shots. The ones that hit didn’t do anything, and he even tried to shoot his empties a couple times before realizing it. Then man tossed the revolver down then and ran for the boat’s motor. He tried and failed to crank it, then kicked it, then pulled out a paddle. That’s when Gator Man pulled him over the side by his leg. He screamed, then gurgled, then he quieted down.
Gator Man crawled into the boat then, with the paddle in hand, and began whistling a tune to himself as he paddled the boat away. Core and I waited until he was out of earshot, Core looking around for me, until I figured the other super was far enough away. I dropped my camo and said,”…and whoever that was.”
“Is he gone?” asked Core.
Core stood back up then, stretched his legs, then led us away on a path that would have absolutely been visible to any of the three from that last encounter. We finally came to a gnarly old tree that had seen better days. Core rolled up his sleeve, took a deep breath, and dug his hand down into the water by the roots.
I thought I heard something. “Hurry up. Something’s on its way.”
Core squeezed his eyes closed. “I’m trying. Yuck.”
I was invisible when a trio of Freedom Legionnaires flew into view above us in their identical uniforms and faceless helmets. They stood in a bubble that stopped above the tree. The bubble disappeared and two of them dropped through the branches to land by Core. The other one caught himself in another bubble Only one more than we had looked like pretty good odds to me since they didn’t see me there, but then I noticed a large gator lazing in the water nearby. Or maybe Gator Man?
One of the Legionaries raised his hands and shot white beams that began to encase Core in ice. The other one held its arms in a peculiar way but didn’t seem to be using any powers.
“H-h-h-help!” Core chattered out.
And just like that, the ice guy’s head turned itself 360 degrees. The other guy’s body burst into flames. I felt the heat through my gloves as I pushed him into the water near the gator. It turned and splashed away. “Aww,” I said, disappointed. Fire guy chucked a fireball at where I pushed him from, but I flipped overhead, landing in the water near the escaping gator. The Legionnaire noticed the splash for sure. He turned toward me and got a faceful of gator as I smacked him with the beast I held by the tail.
He grabbed the gator and fried the squirming reptile until it stopped moving while I sank beneath the water. I almost missed him, but then I saw the mud kick up where he walked out of the water onto higher land. I grabbed his foot and pulled him back into the water, doing a barrel roll. Or, as the gators call it, a death roll.
His flames didn’t work so well in the water. My Nasty Surprise mini-chainsaw worked just fine, carving into his gut and up through his chest and neck. I left him behind as fish food as I rose dripping from the muck.
The last of the trio was in front of me, in a bubble again. He snapped his fingers and I was in the bubble instead, being lifted off the ground and into the air while he landed in the mud. Then a burst of intense blue radiation washed over him and left him twitching. The bubble disappeared and I fell back into the water. I came up to see Core was rolling down the sleeve of the remains of his shirt that had been burned through from the center of his chest.
“Good timing,” I told him. The Nasty Surprise slid right back up into its hidden compartment under my forearm. “You ok?”
He nodded. “I warm up quick.” He held up a thermos and unscrewed the top. He looked inside, nodded, then screwed the top back on. “I got what we came for. We better get out of here soon. There will be reinforcements on the way.”
“This’ll be fun,” I said, not entirely sarcastic. Chased through swamps by an army of faceless superpowered goons, never knowing if I’m going to stumble across gun-toting criminal operations or a killer Gator Man?
Core looked to the sky himself. “Come on, where are they?”
“You want them to see you?” I asked.
Core shook his head. “I emitted a low-level burst of radiation when we made it to the clearing that was the extraction signal if anyone had their equipment set to read it. Someone should be rushing to pick us up, but we have to stay here.”
“That could be a problem,” I said as a Legionnaire overflew us. It didn’t stop, but I think it saw us.
Then a missile flew out of nowhere and exploded him. I followed back its flight path and saw a Psycho Flyer materialize. I couldn’t feel its systems at all, probably by simple expedient of them being careful enough.
A rope dropped from the trapdoor on the bottom. Core stuffed the thermos into his pants, but directed me, “Go up first.”
I hopped up, landing near the rope.
“Good day, we both-” I heard Medusa saw as she approached. I stood up, pulling my mask down but otherwise letting her get a good look at my armor and face. And then remembering I look like Dame at the moment. “Gecko?”
I smiled, blinking, before squeezing my eyelids shut so she didn’t have to see in those empty holes, and rushed over to hug her to me. “Put a baby in me!”
We kissed, but she stopped long enough to giggle. “You’re back! You stink. You look like Dame.” Then, as if realizing what I said, she added, “You’re so weird. I love you.”