Sunday, August 19, 2018

39 : Strider


I came to a stop at the southernmost tip of the shores of Yemen, the closest point to Madagascar, which I’d left behind when helping form New Gondwana. I wanted to go further, but of course, we hadn’t actually taken the time work out how we were going to cross the ocean. I’d gotten us this far in just a couple of minutes, but the island nation was thousands of miles south across the ocean.

Hitchhiker and Shoggoth were huddled together, heads tucked into one another’s shoulders, eyes squeezed shut. Echo also had her eyes closed, but as soon as we stopped, she opened them again. “Okay, look, before we go any further, can I at least stop to get some clothes?”

She glanced over to the equally naked Shoggoth. “Him, too, maybe?”

I had totally forgotten she was nude. “Alright,” I said. “Hang on a moment.” We had passed a port city on the way here, but I didn’t know what it was called. I terraported us in front of a years-abandoned clothing shop. Like the vast majority of human settlements throughout the Euarasian supercontinent, the city had fallen to disrepair. Plants grew through cracks in the street, vehicles had become immobile rusted statues with decayed tires, windows where broken, natural detritus and man-made debris was everywhere. A few wild animals scattered as I terraported us right in front of the shop.

“Alright, we’re here,” I said. “No guarantee on the quality.” Echo nodded, and then vanished into a blur, blowing through an already mostly busted windowed door. Even with my ground sense, it was difficult to keep up with her movements.

She came out dressed in an all-black outfit, jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and some boots. They smelled a bit musty, but were free of dust, probably pulled from packages in the stockroom that had never gotten the chance to be opened. She’d found some more white robes and some plain brown shoes for Shoggoth, who was shaking his head and blinking as he oriented himself. He accepted them wordlessly.

“Thanks,” Echo said. Then she crossed her arms and gave me a once-over. “You’re familiar with the Ten Queens? Beyond just knowing they exist, I mean?”

I frowned. This was neither the time nor the place to be coy. Hitchhiker kept silent, but watched me expectantly. I knew if I didn’t say something, she would.

I took a breath and steeled myself. It had been a while since I’d attempted the regal posture, but it came back to me easily. Standing tall, I made a serene expression, and tilted my head slightly so that, even though I was shorter than everyone, there was sense that I was looking down at them. Not necessarily in a cruel or mean way, but in the way a Queen might appraise her subjects as they come to her for an audience.

“My name is Atalanta the Terraporter. Until six months ago, I was one of the Ten Queens. It was I who moved the continents.”

Shoggoth did a double take. Echo blinked in surprise. Even Hitchhiker’s eyes widened a bit; she hadn’t yet figured out that latter part of my identity.

“You?” said Echo. “You have that much power?”

I shook my head. “The power of the Ten Queens relies on a special combination of abilities. Two women in particular, Yrba the Replicator and Xyla the Excelsior, have a means of vastly amplifying the powers of other superhumans.

“Xyla is capable of greatly increasing the powers of other superhumans. She can turn a Rank E ability into a Rank B, a Rank B into a Rank S. With my power, I can move a whole building a mile away. Under her influence, I can move an entire city a hundred miles away. The only one she can’t increase the power of is herself.”

Echo nodded, intensely interested. Hitch and Shoggoth still looked a little stunned.

“Yrba is capable of creating duplicates of any life form, superhumans included. The duplicates are under her complete control. I’m not sure what her normal limits are, but with Xyla’s help, the duplicates can last up to three days apiece, and she can create hundreds of them at once.”

“So,” said Echo. “Xyla empowers Yrba. Yrba replicates herself and Xyla, and these replicants further apply their power to a superhuman whom they wish to use. A spiraling effect of ever-increasing power.”

I nodded. “I think they eventually reach a natural limit, but I don’t know what it is. In my case, Yrba created thousands of duplicates of me, each amplified by a Xyla duplicate. We combined our power, and under my direction, I shifted the two landmasses along the tectonic plates to lock them together and reposition them. I shifted things around so the ocean currents wouldn’t be too greatly disturbed, rerouting things to make sure they remained stable.”

I remembered what having that level of power had been like, both through my own senses, and directing the army of me as Yrba allowed. I remember thinking in that moment that I had touched true Godhood. And I’d been too young and naïve to not let that sense of importance leave me when the feat was done. No wonder I’d been so easily suckered into playing the role of a Queen.

“And these other two you mentioned? Kilika? Ojau?”

“Kilika the Eater of Souls. She has the power to kill any life form with a glance. Ojau the Annihilator. He can completely erase matter and energy, again with a glance.”

The others shared a glance. “Jesus Christ,” said Shoggoth. “Are you fucking kidding me? We’re supposed to go up against that?”

“How would Cero know about them?” said Hitchhiker.

“She probably doesn’t,” I said. “She just knows the Queens have access to powers that can move continents.”

Echo nodded. “She probably planned to sink all the land beneath the oceans.”

“Right,” I said. “But of course, I’m no longer there. But once she does get to the Queens, she’ll find out all the other options at their disposal. With Kilika, she could create another Extinction Wave, one that won’t leave any life left behind. With Ojau, she could tear a massive hole in the planet, and let gravity and physics do the rest.”

“So we have to stop her before she can get to them,” said Hitchhiker. “But isn’t New Gondwana protected by a force field?”

“Yes. Xyla and Yrba have set up a network of several barrier-makers to create the Great Shield. In fact, most of their current role is maintaining it. It’s a multi-layered Rank S superhuman construct, which is why no amount of superhuman or technological power has managed to penetrate it.”

“With thousands of superhumans working together, Cero’s army might be able to combine their powers in a way to allow an entrance,” said Echo. “Several in her group have space-warping powers, others have energy manipulation, a few are like Razorbeam and have the power to cut through anything. She plans to send them out from Madagascar and attack the shield directly. Once inside, she’s hoping their army will be large enough to handle New Gondwana’s superhumans. All she really needs is to capture the Queens, and there are several Class 5 speedsters and teleporters that could do it.”

I shook my head. “New Gonwana’s superhuman population, last time anyone bothered to take a census, is ten thousand. At least three hundred of them could have given Glorifica an even fight.”

Shoggoth snorted. “How the hell is the continent still in one piece, then?”

I shrugged. “Petty politics. New Gondwana is separated into ten Queendoms who feud on occasion. Sometimes this results in skirmishes, some superhumans have assassinated others to usurp their positions, but generally speaking, everyone abides by a simple hierarchy. The superhumans are basically the nobility over there, and it’s devolved into a continent-wide court drama. Over a thousand superhumans have died through various means that I know of, but no one is willing to go into complete all-out war. Yet.”

“What about—” Hitchhiker began, but Echo cut her off.

“We can grill her Majesty all we want later. Right now, the only way to stop this disaster is to stop Cero. I have to assume she’s already taken the island. If we’re lucky, she hasn’t deployed the army yet. Even though they have some free will, the people under her control won’t do anything without her orders. If we kill her, we can stop them from assaulting New Gondwana.”

“And how do we do that?” Hitchhiker said. “An army of thousands of superhumans. How do we cut through them all to reach her? Incase you didn’t notice, we just lost two of our most powerful members, and while I’m sure there’s a few powerful men in that army I could possess, four supers against thousands is very long odds.”

“I know,” said Echo. “Right now, my plan is this: I bring you to Cero and you pretend to be under her control. She won’t care that we lost everyone else. I’ll present you to her, and in that moment, we need to strike. I know I’m asking a lot, but she will have at least a small entourage of other supers with her. I just need one clean shot at her. By myself, I never had the chance, but with a few of you providing a distraction, or intercepting her defenders, I might be able to take her down.”

“Might,” said Hitchhiker, giving her a flat look.

“It’s all I’ve got. I know I’m asking you to potentially get yourselves killed. There’s a chance that once I eliminate Cero, the others are just going to kill me, and anyone helping me, even if I can make the shot before they can act. However, once she’s dead, she won’t be able to give them any more orders. I’m hoping that means that without her guidance, they will no longer be able to act.

“If so, we can leave them on the island, waiting for orders that will never come. If we do manage to survive, however, we can try to find Cero’s mind control devices and see if there isn’t some way to undo the effects.”

If we manage to survive,” said Hitchhiker.

I probably will,” said Shoggoth. “If the rest of you fall, I’ll do what I can to ensure the job is completed.”

“If you can just get Cero onto the ground, I can teleport her,” I said. “We won’t even need to be anywhere near her.”

Echo smiled and nodded. “That would be perfect. I’ll do what I can to arrange it.”

“Okay,” Hitchhiker said. “So how do we get there? Obviously, you can’t teleport across water.”

I glanced to the ground. “I’m not limited to the surface. I can terraport through the ground, opening up chambers just before I jump into them, and letting them collapse behind me as I go. That’s how I escaped New Gondwana. The force field covers the continent in a dome, but the wall stops after ten miles of depth. I terraported down until I could clear it, then cut through the Earth’s crust until I got past the ocean. I had to hold my breath the whole time and the pressure and heat were awful, even for me. Fortunately, it only took a couple minutes.”

“Yeesh,” she said. “If it was bad for you, it’s gunna be hell for me.”

“It’s either that or we spend the next hour trying to find some place with functioning deep diving gear, and we go across the ocean floor.”

“No,” said Echo. “We need the fastest option. Cero isn’t taking her time now that her goal is in sight and she has an army that doesn’t delay in following orders. She may have already deployed while we stood here talking.”

I nodded. I turned to the other two. I had already dropped the faux regal bearing, but I gave them a sympathetic look. “Sorry you two, this is going to be a rough ride.”

Shoggoth started stripping. We all cocked an eyebrow at him. “Hold this,” he said, handing the white robes to Echo. Then, his body split open, tendrils reaching out to Hitchhiker. She flinched back, but the morphing flesh had already ensnared her. It flowed over her whole body, like a skin-colored sheath, forming a thick body suit. The flesh then bulked out and hardened, and a transparent dome covered her face like a motorcycle helmet’s visor. It slid open like an eyelid to allow her to speak.

“What the hell?” she said, flailing a bit as she tried to move in the sudden bodysuit.

A mouth appeared on the chiseled chest of the suit. It was rather disturbing. “This should protect you better from the heat and pressure.”

“Por Dios, fucking warn a girl before you wrap yourself around her!”

“Sorry, I thought we were in a hurry.”

“We are,” said Echo. “Let’s move.”

I used my power to jump us straight into the Earth and southward beneath the sea.


1 comment:

  1. The final battle approaches it seems.

    It feels so empty without James and Max but...I guess that's just how it is. I wonder if they'll succeed