Emily, and I stood at the foot of the building, waiting for Kismet to give the signal. Guardian Angel, Plateau, and Jet were perched seven stories up on a rooftop nearby, just out of sight of the ninth floor window where Chastity and the Upright Man were meeting. They were keeping us informed on what the villains were doing. From what they said, it looked like the two were having quite the argument.
Dr. Mind had used a complicated-looking electromagnetic sensor he had assembled to find the superconductors. Based on the position he had triangulated and what I could feel of the building, the cryogenic unit had been hidden in the elevator shaft. Adam and Legion had volunteered go with him to retrieve it, and were likewise waiting for Kismet’s signal to make a break for the elevator.
Plateau prepared to lock down the Upright Man, getting ready to raise himself up two stories to the window and forming armor out of the concrete roof. He had to have line of sight, but otherwise he had the only ranged power in our group.
Kismet took a breath, started to speak, then thought better of it.
“The Upright man just went nuts,” said Guardian Angel from his vantage point. I could feel the Upright Man’s projections appearing around him suddenly, back from where they’d been in the future, preparing for our attack.
“Now!” Kismet gave the command. He’ll see her as being a couple seconds behind, we’ll have a few seconds of surprise.
I reached for the darkness where I’d tagged Chastity and an office blossomed into existence around me. One wall had been replaced with a large window that reached from the floor to the ceiling.
“a precog-” “get down” The Upright Man interrupted himself as I appeared. Kismet’s disruption of causality had advanced the timetables on him, so I was able to catch him off guard by appearing before he had predicted I would.
His projections sprang into motion around me, but I was faster. I flicked my wrist and the the stun baton snapped out to its full length, then whirled and struck Chastity with the same motion. Chastity jerked, spasming as the stun baton discharged with a sharp snap, then went limp. She’d be out for 15 minutes, if that, but if everything went according to plan, the fight would be over by then.
I teleported back to where Kismet was stationed, calling the shots from well outside the Upright Man ‘s range. High above us, Guardian Angel dived through the large window, his wings pulled tight around him. Rolling to his feet, he snapped his wings out, brushing aside the Upright Man’s projections. He grabbed Chastity’s limp form and dived backwards out the window, rolling in the air and then gliding down to the ground. We ran out across the street to avoid the shower of glass shards.
Our surprise tactics had worked, but our time had run out. I teleported to Emily where she sulked below. She paced back and forth at the foot of the building, impatiently waiting to play her part.
Jet took his turn, leaping into the air and using his power while tucked into a ball, accelerating instantly up to supersonic speeds. He flew through the air, compressing several meters of air into a thin pressure wave and slamming it into the room with a sound like a thunderclap. The Upright Man had seen it coming, though, and the shockwave was absorbed by a wall of invisible bodies. He reeled, but recovered quickly. His projections started leaping out the window, diving down towards Plateau. They grappled the edges of the platform and pulled themselves up onto it with him. Jet reversed directions and rocketed back to the other building, though less destructively.
“Plateau! Brace!” Kismet commanded.
-Plateau stumbled, shoved from behind. He tried to catch himself, but-
Plateau formed hooks on the platform he was lifting, boots of asphalt locking him into the surface so he couldn’t be thrown off. The first projections grabbed him, wrenching him off balance, but he impaled them on spikes he extruded out of his body armor and continued rising.
Inside, Adam and Legion had reached the cryogenic unit floating in the elevator shaft and were riding it up to the ninth floor. Hopefully, they would arrive in time to stop Pyroclasm.
Speak of the devil, I thought, as Pyroclasm stepped into the office from his position in the hall outside. When he saw Plateau, now covered almost entirely in angular concrete armor, rising up to the level of the window, he hesitated.
Plateau raised up a wall blocking the door of the office, leaving the window the only opening. He threw out an arm and shelf of concrete extruded from the building under the window, a bridge between his platform and the office.
Plateau called something across to Pyroclasm and began walking across the bridge slowly, the concrete barriers retracting into the ground behind him and rising up again ahead of him. He was far more powerful than I’d suspected- given how simple his power was, it was surprisingly versatile. The Upright Man’s projections threw themselves against him to no avail. The armor was unyielding.
Pyroclasm’s face hardened and he stepped forward. He would bake Plateau alive inside his concrete shell if he attacked now. Plateau saw it and threw up a wall in front of him a fraction of a second before Pyroclasm opened up, splitting the oncoming torrent of fire into two streams which curved around him.
“I can’t get line of sight without exposing myself to Pyroclasm,” said Plateau. “I need instructions!”
Kismet clenched her fists. “I’m working on it. Just stay where you are. Stall, keep their attention. Adam, Legion, are you in position?”
I expected the Upright Man to react, to move to counter the remnants if our plan, but he did nothing.
He has to know what’s coming. I thought. What is he planning?
He had started to walk along the bridge toward Plateau, heedless of the roaring flames. Pyroclasm stopped blasting just in time to avoid burning the Upright Man.
“YOU KILLED MY SON”
roared all of the projections at once.
“Plateau, get down now! Get out of there!” Directed Kismet.
-The Upright Man smashed through the barrier with the force of an army of his projections, far more than he had ever called out before. With his own arms, he lifted Plateau over his head and threw him off-
Plateau dived off off the bridge to the roof two stories below. He raised up a curved ramp to catch himself, shortening the distance and changing his fall into a slide along the roof.
The Upright Man didn’t react how I expected. He followed, leaping off of the bridge just behind him.
Kismet interjected with instructions for me. “Not over yet. Shadow, back him up.”
I teleported up to Plateau just in time to see the Upright Man breaking his fall by landing in the arms of a ring of his projections.
I snapped out the stun baton to its full length and started taking down the projections. They were more numerous now, but more reckless, barreling charges replacing his careful, calculated strikes. Plateau had lost the concrete armor when he dived off the bridge, so the majority of his defense was gone, and the projections were starting to overwhelm us, advancing from all sides. I grabbed Plateau, wrapping a ring of darkness around him, to provide myself more points I could teleport to.
I’m getting more used to this. I thought as I teleported rapidly around Plateau, holding the Upright Man’s projections at bay. The teleporting wasn’t any more taxing than walking or running, but even so I was running out of stamina from such sustained combat with only one leg. Plateau was creating spikes and walls around the Upright Man, but he dodged and weaved around them expertly, using his precognition.
-Pyroclasm reached the end of the bridge and lobbed down a salvo of fireballs. I dived out of the way, but Plateau wasn’t as nimble, and a projection shoved him into the path of one of the fiery projectiles. He screamed as his costume burned away, his flesh blackening from the heat-
The wall Plateau had erected to block the door had retracted when he had used the mass to create the ramp to stop his fall, and so the door burst open with little resistance as the floating cryogenic chamber made contact with it. Pyroclasm spun around, anticipating an attack, but stopped abruptly when he saw his sister’s face through the frosted-over window. Emily, right on cue, detonated the seals on the wedges driven in around the tightly sealed door, blasting it forcefully off of its hinges. It flew past Cryoclasm and, a moment later, crashed loudly onto the street below.
Cryoclasm stayed upright for a moment, then slumped ungracefully forward out of her temporary containment. Pyroclasm could now see the truth. His sister’s hair had been shaved, all except the front, so she would appear normal through the window on the freezer. The rest of her scalp was now a patchwork of stitches, clean and professional, but undeniably sinister. No freezing aura emanated from her as it had before, only from pipes in the ruined cryogenic unit where she had been stored.
When someone is using their power and is rendered unconscious, Jamisson had told us, their power goes on autopilot as a defense mechanism. He’d seen it happen a lot, apparently, like Blueshift spending six hours unconscious in ten seconds or Locus receding into the distance when knocked out in a fight with the Rose of Thorns one particularly active summer- that had saved his life, in fact. It had happened to me, too: when I’d passed out from Maeve’s fumes, my concealing darkness remained. This was what had happened to Cryoclasm, and seeing her now with her power off… didn’t bode well.
Pyroclasm turned without a word and lobbed down a salvo of fireballs. I dived out of the way, but Plateau wasn’t as fast, and a projection shoved him… into open air. He stumbled, but quickly regained his footing. The Upright man whipped around and ducked behind a barrier of invisible projections upon which the oncoming projectiles splashed.
“You lied to me!” shouted Pyroclasm, the fury in his voice manifesting in the form of a wreath of fire which blackened the concrete bridge where it came into contact.
This seemed to pull the Upright man back to his senses, and a few of the projections vanished, disappearing into the future. He had failed to predict Pyroclasm’s sudden change of heart as he brought out more projections to try to kill Plateau- and I realized then that what his goal was. He was no longer trying to escape or rescue Chastity, but to kill Plateau. Our plan had only succeeded so far because the Upright Man wasn’t even trying to escape or protect his allies anymore. He was focusing so much on one goal, revenge, that he was ignoring the others and neglecting his precognition in order to being more force to bear against us. He would have succeeded, too, if not for Kismet shifting the timetable on him.
But then Legion entered the office and stepped out onto the bridge with Adam. The Upright Man’s projections suddenly all vanished, and he whipped around to face Legion without a word. Somehow, a threat more important than his desire for revenge had appeared, and in an instant we lost every advantage we had gained.