With the press of a button on his gauntlet’s palm, Joe shot into the air. The giant followed him, not directly on his tail, but not in any danger of losing him.
Was the Nexus playing with him?
The creature could have opened up on him, but hadn’t yet. Of course, they hadn’t been in the air for long. They were only about as high as the highway. It seemed strangely empty, all gray concrete that ended abruptly in the air only a few hundred feet away.
In Nexus’ situation, Joe would already have fired. Whatever that bracer did, it seemed to have an area effect. That would take care of whatever problems it might have with moving while aiming.
Joe didn’t expect it to have many. If it was an Abominator AI, it was probably as accurate as it was on the ground.
He aimed left, flying over the bridge, continuing to curve until he’d flipped over and was flying toward and then underneath the bridge.
By the time he’d flown back across the empty lot and then over another, the creature still hadn’t fired on him.
That bothered him. He didn’t know why. It was as if the creature wasn’t making a real effort to kill him.
He dove, flying only twenty feet above the road, twisting as he adjusted his course to whip around one of the buildings.
He didn’t lose it. It came around the corner, passing the dark, brownish-red brick.
Even while he made another corner, this one past the old lumberyard, he found himself thinking furiously. If he had a weapon that could swap out an El Camino and the road under it with an El Camino from a completely different universe, and he wanted to kill somebody, he wouldn’t have done that way.
He’d have designed a weapon that unsuccessfully swapped things, and he wouldn’t have excluded living things either. Swap someone’s body parts with infinite different versions of themselves and they’d fall apart.
If he had no choice but exclude living things, he’d do the same thing to their equipment. Swapping out armor with parts from different universes and turning it into a mixture of different alloys, ceramics, and incompatibly placed cables would make the armor structurally unsound even if it somehow stayed together.
The only point of swapping out a person’s equipment as whole, and leaving them untouched would be to warn people what you could do without hurting anybody.
Before they’d demolished the old factory, they’d brought out the wooden shells of unfinished speed boats, leaving them next to the empty paper mill.
Joe dipped and nearly hit one as he understood. He should have seen it the moment he’d seen the giant’s expression. He’d realized that they’d used Mark to create this thing, but he hadn’t realized that Mark had enough control to affect the giant’s actions.
His consciousness was in there. Who knew how? The Abominators could grow a body based on his DNA (and mixed with who knew what), and transfer over his mind. They might have inserted Mark inside, and modified him directly.
He’d seen their gene modification devices—long platforms made out of grayish-green metal with a dozen or more tubes. He’d seen one with hundreds of tubes on one of their ships.
It had made it easy to mass produce soldiers.
Even on that ship, he’d seen tubes made for creatures larger than human, or shaped differently. Disturbingly, they’d had power impregnators built into all the platforms, human and monster sized. It had struck him as strange because they could have simply put in genes that would activate their powers from the beginning.
He didn’t doubt that the Abominators had their reasons just like he had his theories.
Unasked for, he remembered Giles’ death. He’d designed the machine that killed him. Giles had forced him to design it by capturing the rest of the team.
Giles and he had seen the possibility of designing a new version of the power impregnator that would bring supers to a higher level of power back when they built the first one.
By the time Giles forced him to turn their theory into reality, Joe knew he had to kill him. Giles wasn’t going to turn into the man he once was—not with any technology they’d ever heard of. Later he wondered whether the Xiniti or even the Abominators might have been able to do it.
The Abominators gene modification platforms might have worked, but Joe knew they’d have done worse to him in the process of fixing him.
It might have been for the best that he hadn’t known of the possibility.
He could tell himself that, but it was hard to reconcile it with the fear on Giles’ face as he realized that he had more power than he’d ever had in his life and he couldn’t control it at all.
Joe had only survived because he’d known what was coming, and made an excuse to stand just outside the dome at the final moment. Everyone left inside had burned to death as Giles ripped through the dome, flying into the cathedral sized cavern above it.
In superhero comics, Joe imagined, Giles would have come back as a pure energy being, determined to kill them all.
In reality, Giles burned to death in the air even as he tried to shed as much energy as he could, starting fires all over the cavern with his lightning strikes.
Joe never saw him fall. He’d started running to the cells to release the others when Giles took the air.
Joe found himself flying across the empty lot where the fight had started again, still hearing Giles screaming in his memory.
For a second, he considered calling League HQ and telling Larry and Freddie not to come. If they did come, he knew he should tell them to bring the jet. In terms of sheer power, none of them had the ability to beat the giant, but the jet did.
All the same, he didn’t feel right about it. If Mark was in there, he didn’t deserve to die. He’d done nothing wrong. He’d given the League the clues that they’d needed to find the Abominators, and even now he was stopping it from doing real damage.
Joe checked behind him. The giant was still on his tail, and firing away. Multi-colored light gathered around the bracer and extended ahead, changing the dirt and bits of broken building into subtly different soil and bits of ruin.
Still, it never hit him, and he felt sure it wasn’t because of his evasive manuevers.
He knew how he’d handle it now. If Mark and the Abominator AI programming were fighting for control, he’d have to work out a way for Mark to get the upper hand.
Making a quick turn that made his insides sink, Joe aimed for the giant, ignoring the nagging feeling that he might be allowing guilt about Giles to make his decisions for him.