By the time Nick had managed to rewire the elevator to work, it was clear that the attackers had left.
His first priority–making sure that everyone was safe–was immediately satisfied when he charged into the lobby, sonics armed and ready to fire.
Haley raised her hands. “Everyone’s okay,” she said. “Daniel and the others are in the lab, cleaning up the pieces.”
“What happened?” Nick said.
“‘Legion’ hit us,” she said. “Three of them–Daniel’s, mine, and Cassie’s, I think. They stole some gear, but not much. We tried communicating with you, but–”
“They had a broad-frequency jammer in a black van outside,” Nick said. “My sensors picked it up when I got close–first clue something was wrong. I toasted it.”
Haley nodded. “Daniel wants to talk to you–about his clone, ‘Paradigm’. I think they had a talk. Also, they took that thing–the sphere thing.”
“Omnisphere,” Daniel said, coming from up the stairs. “More bad news. They also took the Power Impregnator.”
“What?” Nick said. “They already have powers. Why would they need that?”
“Couldn’t get much out of ‘Paradigm’–his brain isn’t a friendly place,” Daniel said. “But I managed three pieces of info before he left. First, they want it because apparently there’s a way to improve it to give you even better powers. And two, they’re not working alone. They’ve got another ‘leader’, of sorts. Whoever he is, Paradigm’s scared stiff of him.”
“What’s number three?” Nick asked.
“This ‘benefactor’ of theirs told them that none of us are to be killed or seriously harmed,” Daniel said.
“They got Shock Jock out,” Vaughn called out from the other side of the room, emerging from a hallway. “Is Anna okay?”
“Yes,” Anna said, drawn into the lobby by all the noise. “Daniel saved me.”
“Improved powers,” Nick said. “Crap. Okay. They’re probably going to head back home and use that thing.”
“Maybe not,” Anna said. “That thing–you called it the ‘Power Impregnator’?”
“Yeah?” Nick asked.
“First off, that’s a pretty horrific name,” she said. “But second off–we had something like that in our world. Could enhance your powers, but also usually turned you into a frothing lunatic.”
“Sounds similar,” Haley said. “What of it, though?”
“The one we had required an immense power output,” Anna said. “Assuming this one’s anything like that, they’ll need a lot of juice. And they’ll probably want to expend it before they head back home.”
Nick nodded. “They’ll need generators. Hydroelectric plant’s the closest source, besides the coal plant.”
“It’s a stretch,” Haley said.
“All we’ve got,” Daniel said. “We’ll call Lim on the way. Let’s go.”
They took the League jet. Anna came, grabbing a modified version of the particle beam she had used on Nick earlier; when Nick saw it, he frowned.
“That thing’s pretty much only going to be lethal,” he said.
“I know,” Anna replied. “I just couldn’t think of any other way to be–um, useful, you know? Just have the arms, plus a taser. I won’t use the particle beam unless we have to. Maybe blow up their version of the Power Impregnator?”
“Maybe,” Nick agreed. He had set the jet on autopilot, steered it in the proper direction, and was quickly working on some last minute updates on his suit. The others had assumed he was making repairs, but when Anna caught sight of him adjusting the roachbots, she raised an eyebrow.
“Electromagnetic countermeasures?” she asked.
“Thought it might scramble Shock Jock if he tried to infiltrate the suit again,” Nick said.
“Don’t you have a built-in degausser?” Anna asked. “Would probably do the same.”
Nick lifted his head and peered at Anna. “Degausser?”
“Yeah, y’know, like the Britains used to throw off German land-mines. Counters magnetic fields with electromagnetic ones. Great when you’re up against some Magneto wannabe.”
Nick smiled. “That’s a good idea, actually. I know at least one guy like that. It’d be nice to have some countermeasures. I think the roachbots could pull it off.”
Daniel stepped in from the cockpit. “Been trying to call Jaclyn and Cassie, but no luck,” he said. “Tossed a call to Lim, told him the situation. Said he’d arrange some backup.”
“Good,” Nick said, returning to his work. “Not really relishing the idea of going up against four super-clones.”
“We outnumber this time, anyway,” Vaughn said. “Counts for something, right?”
“Three of them beat the crap out of three of us,” Daniel said. “And if they get that thing up and running before we get there, it’ll be worse.”
“We’re here,” Haley called from the cockpit.
By the time they cleared the fence, it became apparent that they had chosen right. The bodies of three dead guards were laid out past the gate’s perimeter–their wounds were self-inflicted.
“Paradigm,” Anna whispered. “Probably just commanded them to shoot each other.”
“Ugh,” Daniel said. “Alright. Going to try to cloak our presence from Paradigm as we get in close. Not going to be good for much else, though.”
“Understood,” Nick said.
The five of them proceeded forward.
They found the four members of Legion near the center of the facility, inside of an immense concrete bunker with a dozen of the generators humming nearby. The Power Impregnator had been set up beside the generators, hooked directly 5in–it had been modified with what looked like several parts raided from a Radioshack. Paradigm and Commando were standing next to it; Beast Girl was sitting inside of it, writhing and snarling. Shock Jock was crouched on the floor nearby, surrounded by incandescent arcs of electricity.
“Crap,” Nick whispered.
Beast Girl’s torso swelled; when she opened her mouth, her teeth extended into serrated points. She produced a blood-curdling howl as she shifted, her skin disappearing beneath a thick, black fur. Bones started to crack and crunch, reknitting underneath her muscles.
“Oh, wow,” Haley whispered. “That’s, um–oh, ew.”
With a shriek, Beast Girl tore herself off the Power Impregnator and dropped to the floor. Her entire body had grown by two feet–every inch of her was taut with hard sinew. Her skin was coated in a thick, ebony mat of fur.
When she opened her mouth, it was like staring into the jaws of a shark.
“Holy crap,” Vaughn whispered.
“She and Shock Jock are probably the only ones who went through so far,” Daniel said. “We’ve got to stop the rest of them from–”
Anna took aim with the particle beam. “On it,” she said.
Several generators were enveloped in a brilliant glow before they disappeared with a loud ‘pop’. In an instant, the concrete had fused with the high-grade steel–four generators were melted into pure slag. The Power Impregnator was sent toppling on its side; sparks flew as the entire facility’s lights flickered on and off.
“Subtle,” Vaughn whispered.
“We’ve got company,” Paradigm said, shifting his eyes to peer over at the League members.
Nick stepped forward and armed his sonics. Shock Jock grinned and jumped to the front. “I’ve got Robocop,” he said, and then he turned into a bolt of lightning and sprang for Nick’s chest.
Nick grinned beneath his helm and activated the electromagnetic countermeasures in his roachbots.
The lightning veered off course and slammed into the ground besides Nick, reforming into Shock Jock.
“Okay, new plan,” Commando said. “I’ve got the Rocketeer. The rest of you take your bizarro clones.”
Legion charged. The League attacked.
The room erupted into a full-out fire-fight.
Commando shoulder-checked Nick and sent him skidding. He hit a wall and kept going straight through it, rolling to a stop in the next room.
She pulled out a rather large handgun and started firing at Nick. The bullets pinged off his armor, but not without leaving a dent–he figured it had to be a .50 caliber.
Nick fired the sonics, but they only knocked Commando back a little. She fired directly into his faceplate, and caught the edge of his helmet. Warnings flashed over his screen right before she used the side of it to pistol-whip him.
It hit hard enough to crack the pistol’s pommel and seriously dent his helmet.
He hit the ground hard, just in time to catch a kick to the stomach. He was flung into the air and the far wall–concrete buckled against his back as he hit. When he landed, it was in a slump.
“You realize,” he told her as he started to get up, “that this suit qualifies as a tank, right?”
“I’ve broken tanks before,” Commando replied, grinning. She grabbed Nick by the helmet and hurled him into the ground. As he hit, he reached up and grabbed her shoulder, wrenching it out of the socket.
Commando grimaced, kicked him in the chest, then grabbed her arm and reinserted it with a crack.
“Not going to be that easy,” she said.
“You think this is easy?” Nick replied. He dove straight at her, wrapped his arms around her waist in a bear-hug, then kicked the engine on to full. They flew across the room, straight toward the far wall.
Concrete gave way beneath Commando’s back. Nick drove his head down hard into her sternum and kept going.
Daniel barely blocked the third incoming generator with his mind, deflecting it to the left; Paradigm walked forward, smiling.
You realize this is inevitable, Paradigm said. You’ve spent your life learning how to use your powers to save people. I’ve spent my life learning how to use them to kill people.
You won’t kill me, Daniel replied. You still need–
Our benefactor gave us the tech on how to improve the Power Impregnator, Paradigm said. I feel no compulsion to follow his orders any longer. Once we’re through here, we’ll rebuild it, finish our work, and go back home.
I’ll stop you.
I imagine you’ll try, Paradigm replied. Daniel could feel his mind being probed, each defense tested–searched for an opening. Hm. I wonder where our divergence in personalities began.
Probably at the part where you decided lobotomizing and killing people was fun, Daniel said.
Not ‘fun’. Easier. People are complicated, Paradigm said, and then he added: You know this.
That’s not synonymous with ‘disposeable’.
Sometimes, it is. You’ve been tempted, before. But at some point you must have–ah. Here we are, Paradigm said. I think I’ve found a hole in your defenses.
Daniel grimaced. “Get out of my head,” he said.
Oh, that is just so precious coming from you, Paradigm said, grinning. Always watching. Always reading. Of course, you never get your hands dirty. You never fix.
Daniel clutched his temples and stumbled back.
Still, you are tempted, aren’t you? Because it would be so much easier. To turn the sociopath into the empath; to neuter the mind of the murderer and the sadist. But no… you just watch. Observe. ‘Peruse’.
“Out,” Daniel said. He dropped to one knee and shuddered.
How many lives could you have saved if you were more like me?
“Stop,” Daniel groaned.
I think it’s time for a change of perspective, Paradigm said, reaching out for Daniel’s forehead.
“You smell scared,” Beast Girl said.
It was hard to make it out behind a mouthful of fangs, but Haley managed. Ever since Beast Girl had attacked, Haley had been on the steady retreat–the clone’s new form was bulkier, but still had all the nimble dexterity from before.
Haley kicked a chunk of concrete at Beast Girl’s head as she flipped back; Beast Girl swatted it aside and pounced. Haley managed to jump out of her range just in the nick of time–she felt the whoosh of clawtips passing by her thigh.
“You’re afraid you’re gonna end up like me, aren’t you?” Beast Girl said as she gave chase. Haley could detect the sound of a suppressed chuckle. “All fangs and fur. Just a beast.”
Haley threw herself through a doorway and rolled through the facility’s offices. The space here was more cramped–a dozen dimly lit cubicles obstructed her view. With her smaller frame, she’d have a better chance of fighting Beast Girl.
“It’s so hard to pull back, ain’t it?” Beast Girl said as she smashed through the wall in an eruption of wood and drywall. “Every time you really let it out–even for a little while–it’s harder and harder to put it away and go back to being just a normal teenage girl.”
Haley sprang up on the edge of one cubicle wall and threw a computer monitor at Beast Girl. It clocked her in the head, shattering. Beast Girl grinned as drops of bright crimson dribbled down her temple.
“And eventually, there’s gonna come a day when you’re not gonna be able to pull it back.”
Haley backflipped off the wall and ontop of another one; Beast Girl tore through the maze of cubicles, smashing them underfoot. By the time she reached the wall Haley was on, Haley had dug her foot-claws into the wall, leaned forward, and grabbed hold of a heavy filing cabinet.
When Beast Girl landed in front of her, Haley wrenched the filing cabinet up and smashed it under her chin.
Beast Girl’s head snapped up. Haley leapt away; Beast Girl spat out a wad of blood mixed with what looked like a chipped tooth. And then she laughed.
“But don’t worry, sister,” she said. “By the time that day comes, you won’t want to.”