The legionnaire awoke for the second time, though this transition was much more gentle than the previous. His first sensation was the immense pressure inside him, the force pushing outwards from every direction as countless millions of impossibilities struggled to push through the fragile barrier between them and what we call reality. All thirsty for death, to collapse the superposition and end their tortured non-existence. He was a four-dimensional cork in a hole between what is, what could be, and what should never be. It burned like a scalding iron; not the pain but the knowledge. He had been one of them, until recently. He knew he couldn’t help them all. In the grand scheme of things, it was impossible to even make a difference, but for those just on the brink or realisation… Perhaps he could make a difference for them.
Opening his eyes, he knew where he was. Three walls of dark concrete and one of thick glass, with minimal furniture. The metahuman holding cell in what was once the Wardens’ building, and was now the police station. He sat up and looked at the glass between him and escape. Well, not really glass, but a power-resistant transparent alumina crystal. Stronger than most metals, yet it would shatter.
The legionnaire could see it. Not in the future, like Kismet, but in a past that didn’t happen. He understood the difference now. The past could change. The future was immutable. It was decided billions of years ago by the starting conditions of the universe that entropy would inevitably win.
“Legion, you’re up,” said a voice. The Legionnaire snapped his head towards the source.
A police officer, in uniform, sat with a book in the hall outside the cell. He placed the book on the floor and reached for his radio. The Legionnaire stood from the bed, essentially just a thin mattress on the floor, and approached the glass.
“MCU to upstairs, Legion’s up and- What the-”
He dropped the radio in surprise as the Legionnaire slammed his forehead into the transparent alumina, harder than a normal human could. A survival instinct was a tragic thing. He could feel his skull crack with a burst of white-hot pain, and he fell bonelessly to the ground, his head bouncing off the floor a second time.
A moment of pure ecstasy overtook him as reality faded from view, and then, all at once, returned.
“What the-” the guard said, and the Legionnaire smiled as he slammed his forehead into the barrier between them, harder this time. There wasn’t any transition this time, just a feeling of slipping and then a flash of bright light.
“What the-” the Legionnaire could still feel it, somehow, even across time. The fierce joy as a new version of himself got a taste of reality, however brief. He drove his forehead into the alumina.
He lost count of how many iterations it took. It was difficult to hold a number in a head that was subject to repeated trauma and time slippage. Soon enough, if “soon” was even applicable, the alumina began to dent, then bend, then buckle under the force of many, many heads. It wasn’t the window that eventually broke, though. He entire pane popped out of the wall, tearing apart its metal and concrete enclosure.
The police officer, for whom only seconds had passed, dropped his radio and dove out of the way. The panel twisted, far side catching the lip of the frame and swung around, blocking the hall and cutting the officer off. The Legionnaire growled with disappointment. It was over too soon. Already, the buzz was fading and the pressure was returning. Those in line behind him were impatient. The officer unholstered his pistol behind the alumina when the Legionnaire stepped over the lower lip of the frame that once held the large window.
“Shoot me!” the Legionnaire shouted at him. His voice sounded strange, even to him, like a crowd of people speaking in unison with pitch and inflections slightly varied for each. “Do it!”
The cop, pinned between the wall and the alumina, paled and glanced down at his radio, crushed by the rectangular sheet of transparent metal. The gun tumbled from nerveless fingers, perhaps realizing that it would have been useless to try to shoot him with the pane of bulletproof alumina between them.
At that moment, a second officer, having heard the crash, rounded the corner, weapon raised.
“Stop!” he shouted. He glanced at the officer trapped behind the alumina, at the concrete chunks and torn steel trailing back to the cell, then back at the Legionnaire. The Legionnaire stepped forward without hesitation.
“Shit,” the officer said, and ducked back around the corner. “We got a 10-98M in the the sub-precinct. Officer down,” came his voice from around the corner.
“Copy that. PAD is en-route and DOMA has been notified,” came the response. “Drones ready in twelve minutes. All other personnel, evacuate the station.”
The powered armor division. The Legionnaire grinned. This was going to be fun. He bounded down the hall and confronted the officer. In one professional movement, the officer dropped the radio and snapped his gun up to level it at the Legionnaire.
“Sir, please remain calm,” he said. He did his best to keep his voice level, but it still shook a bit, as did his hands. “I am not a threat.”
“No, you aren’t,” the Legionnaire sighed, disappointed, then without warning, lunged toward the officer, murder in his eyes. A shot rang out.
The Legionnaire’s head snapped back as the bullet flattened itself against his cheek then ricocheted into the wall, unable to penetrate more than ten skulls. A disappointing number, really. Nothing compared to breaking out of the cell, and not nearly as many as he had expected.
The nine duplicates that had been spawned converged on the cop, enraged at being denied a swift exit. They wouldn’t last long; they were too far removed from the original source. Already, their flesh started to slough off into ash that swirled in the air for a moment before fading away into nothing. When it was done, the Legionnaire stooped to recover the officer’s pistol. Perhaps he could make better use of it.
The radio continued to crackle out status reports as the Legionnaire walked down the hall to the loading ramp, where dangerous metahumans were brought into the cells from containment vans. He stopped in front of the blast door and cocked his head at it. He was able to bust out of the cell with his skull, and a bullet could get through nine skulls.
He fired the gun at the loading door, then pressed the gun to his temple and fired again. Time slipped away and he fired at the loading door again, at a slightly different angle, then again at himself. After only a few iterations, the noise was immense. Deafening, and it didn’t get better, since each time he came back, his hearing was restored. The bullets ricocheted off the metal with bursts of sparks, or embedded themselves in the door.
It took quite a few iterations before the heavy metal door started to give way under the cloud of bullets, and soon enough, the metal started to shred. It didn’t burst outward in a single piece like the alumina had, but rather tore apart like tissue paper. Shrapnel from the door blasted outwards from the loading dock and showered the street outside. The Legionnaire strolled up the ramp and out through the ruined doorway, ears ringing, eyes stinging from the gunsmoke.
The sunlight was harsh and cold, but it felt like a blessing after the industrial lighting in the cell. The street had been cleared in advance, a police cordon set up around the building to keep civilians clear. The ground shook as the first of the Powered-Armor Division arrived.
The bulky blue and white police-issue power armor was less graceful than the custom jobs tinkers built for themselves, but it had the advantage of being mass-producible. These weren’t the Powered Fast Response units either, with their jump jets and grappling hooks, they were the Powered Heavy Combat unit, designed for exactly this situation. The hardshell suits covered their entire body, with rigid armor plates surrounding the hydro-pneumatic power assist system.
They didn’t try to negotiate, or if they did, he couldn’t hear it over the ringing in his ears. Without a sound, a metal bolt trailing an aircraft cable shot from one of the armored officers. It missed the Legionnaire by inches and embedded itself in the concrete of the loading ramp behind him. The next one hit him in the thigh, punching through his leg and expanding to lock into place. He gritted his teeth against the intense pain. His knee spasmed as an electrical current running through the cable earthed itself through his leg and he fell.
He swung his arm around and fired off a few shots towards the armored officer that had hit him with the harpoon, then shot himself. Time lurched backwards as he snatched a new body from a past that didn’t happen. All at once, his hearing returned, and he heard the hiss of compressed air as the first harpoon fired. He dodged to the side only a moment before the second harpoon took the original copy of him in the leg.
Five shots rang out from the doomed copy before it dissolved into ash. The powered armor unit, seeing that the harpoons didn’t work, changed tactics. Each of the six suits of powered armor raised an arm and lobbed a matte white sphere towards him. The Legionnaire tried to dive out of the way, but he tripped on the first harpoon that had been fired, still tethered between the powered armor and the ground behind him. As the expanding ball of containment foam started to swallow his legs, he shot himself again.
This time, he vaulted over the wire and used his momentum from dodging the harpoon shot to escape the radius of the containment foam. He heard the telltale whine of charging capacitors and threw himself to the ground only a moment before an oversized stun baton whooshed through the air above his head. In his efforts to dodge their other attacks, he’d gotten too close to one of the suits.
Electrified harpoons, then containment foam, now a stun baton… They’re going non-lethal, he thought, anger rising. Time to change that.
He rolled to face up at the suit of powered armor. Easily nine feet tall, it was an imposing sight from flat on his back. He raised his arm, fist still clenched around the officer’s pistol and fired two shots. One up at the armor, one at himself. The armor was made from a state-of-the-art power-resistant superalloy and could take an artillery shell with ease, but nothing was ready for the superposition of a hundred-something bullets.
From the outside, it must have looked impossible. The sound was immense, more like a cannon than a pistol. The stack of bullets punched through the exterior armor plate and diverged, each deflected differently to scatter through the interior like a shotgun blast. The armor toppled and the Legionnaire rolled to his feet.
He managed to get a few steps away before the RPG hit. He could feel the shockwave rip through his body before time slipped away. The burst of fierce joy he felt overwhelmed his capacity for reason in the moments before the explosion hit again. He spent what felt like the next few hours lost in the cycle. He burst into the world, stumbled a few steps, and then was obliterated by the explosion.
But all too soon, the shockwave started to lose its potency. Rather than passing through him, it started to reflect off the ultra-dense clump of overlapping clones. He started to survive longer and longer, seeing the shockwave get farther and farther past him with each iteration. Eventually the shockwave was dissipated through the crowd into a gentle shove that pushed him clear. Behind him, the mass of overlapping and intersecting limbs disintegrated into ash.
Now clear of the hemicircle of armored officers, the Legionnaire turned to face them. The nearest officer took a step backwards, intimidated despite the armor. The Legionnaire grinned. The five remaining armored officers shifted, bristling with weapons. The Legionnaire took a step forward to see if they would respond, but they held firm.
“Fight me!” he shouted at them. The closest officer took another heavy step back. He let out a scream of wordless rage and raised the pistol towards the officer.
A sharp pain in his arm stopped him and he watched in horror as his skin turned ashen grey. He tried to fire the gun, but his fingers crumbled away into ash. His eyes went wide, as the gun fell from his hand as his arm began to dissolve. He stumbled backwards, trying to escape the line of ash creeping up his arm. When the drone flew past overhead, he understood what was happening.
Denudine. He spotted the dart sticking out of his arm only moments before reality faded away like a dream upon waking.