Ada Byron ran her fingers across the computer. “Sayleen troops are falling back on the twelfth to twenty-first floors, except for the eighteenth, where they're advancing. Still advancing on tenth and twenty-second, moving up to the twenty-third now. I'm engaging the Skullblazers.” She glanced over to Doctor Ecchs, raising an eyebrow. “And it seems that the forces on the eleventh floor have run into our invading heroes. Handyman is engaging their leader now. Should I interrupt them?”
“Good god, no.” Ecchs shook his head fiercely. “This is exactly as planned.”
Ada pressed a button, toggling the building's upper floor defenses to automatic, and spun in her chair. “Spencer, please explain.”
Ecchs leaned back in his chair, glancing over the monitors. Phil was busy managing the defenses of the first to eleventh floors, as Sayleen troops moved downwards and encountered a few resistance fighters moving up. Outside, Psiborg and Shivarex blasted their way through resistance troops. With a smile, he turned from the monitors to face his wife. “Alright, it's simple. There is a lot of tangled narrative force in this building. Potential energies from a thousand outcomes are pulsing through the air right now.” He stabbed the air for emphasis, and Ada frowned. “That's going to cause trouble for our machine, when we need it to be using as much energy as possible. Hence my solution.”
“Narrative tangles.” Ada said slowly.
“Well…” Ecchs waggled his hand. “Narrative resolutions, really. Our machine is giving reality a bit of a nudge here and there, ensuring that everyone meets people they know and have reason to fight.” He glanced down at a flash of light from his board, triggered a camera, and chuckled. “Oh, hey, Jason just threw Kaniessa out a window. What were the chances.”
“Tho you're winnowing down our enemieth?” Phil asked, not looking away from his screens.
“That's phase one, yeah. Letting them duke it out. Every time one of those little threads gets snipped, though, a lot of potential boils away.” Ecchs grinned widely. “We're harnessing it. All of it. For a little while, I am going to have complete control over the laws of narrative.” His grin turned cruel. “That should be fun.”
“Seems rather dangerous, Spencer.” Ada said. “There are three potential Alpha Teams active here, plus several narrative-powered supers and your narrative engine. Can it handle the load?”
“Absolutely.” Spencer answered. “Honestly, my only concern is that we might lose some people along the way.” When Ada frowned at him, he shrugged. “I don't really have a choice. Shivarex and Lord Mayhem don't have nearly the narrative connection to the Champions and the Oligarchs that the rest of us have, but without the engine, they'd be steamrolled.” He turned his attention to the monitors. “We're just going to have to see what happens…”
Outside, Shivarex threw a blue-suited body through the air with a roar of triumph. “Is that all that you can bring?” He laughed, looking around the shattered streets outside Malefico.
In a rush of air, a second figure grabbed the first, vanished, and then reappeared a short distance away, behind the relative safety of an overturned van. He looked over at the young black woman next to him, her silver-and-grey armor crinkled and torn from the waves of explosives that Ash's drones had unloaded before their destruction. “That's it.” He said with a shake of his head. “Helios is down. I dropped him at the hospital twenty blocks away.”
“It'll have to be enough.” Strategos shook her head with a frown, risking a peek around the rim of the bus. Shivarex and Psiborg were standing back to back in the centre of the street, accompanied by the few dozen Ultiminions that remained. The Resistance members still active were scattered around the periphery of the street, everyone momentarily under cover. She looked over to her companion. “I guess that leaves you in charge, Nightlord.”
Derek Ladd gave her a horrified look. “Me?” He said, raising his hands quickly. “No. I don't have a head for leadership. I always let Nate or Jessica handle that.”
“Dudeman is dead and Crusader retired.” Strategos snapped, and then winced as Nightlord's face fell. “I'm sorry, sir.”
“You're the planner, Strategos.” Nightlord said. “Take the lead. I've got your back.”
Strategos took a deep breath, and exhaled. “Right.” She said, triggering her comm. “Powerblock, Brohemoth. You are the only two bruisers we have left. When I give the signal, you are going to charge Shivarex. In that moment, Bloodline, you need to do everything you can to lock him down.”
“I don't know if I…” Bloodline started. Strategos cut him off.
“No excuses! This is our only chance. Deathwaker, there's still gas in the car. Use it to screen off Psiborg. Nightlord, get Mallrat, and drop her as close to Psiborg as you can. It's not a great chance, but we don't have a choice if we want to stop Shivarex. That leaves Kaleidoscope and I to pick off the Ultiminions. Move in three.”
A chorus of assent echoed through her comm, and Strategos closed her eyes. “One. Two. Three!” She leapt from cover, firing wildly. As she did, Bloodline rose from his concealment, clenching his fists with rage as he focused on Shivarex. As Powerblock and Brohemoth charged from cover, the former in his green bodysuit and the latter wearing a fashionable shirt over deep purple skin, Psiborg rose into the air, his central gem glowing as he reached out towards his enemies. In that moment, the bus shuddered, and a stream of gasoline flowed out of it as Deathwaker rose, her eyes turning as black as her robes as she brought it to life. A thousand massive trilobytes took shape from the mist of gas as she called on its ancient life, directing them at the robot villain.
Strategos focused on the Ultiminions, firing as they closed. Across from her, Kaleidoscope sent off prismatic sprays of color from her hands, sending Ultiminions crashing to the ground. She felt the rush of air as Nightlord vanished, and a moment later saw him appearing in the air above Psiborg. As he did, however, the robot simply shifted his angle, blasting upwards with both hands. Golden light caught Mallrat and Nightlord, and they tumbled through the air with cries of pain. As they did, Psiborg turned his attention back towards Shivarex, raising his hand towards Bloodline.
“Abort!” Strategos cried. “Nightlord, get Bloodline!”
“Keep going.” Bloodline said softly into the comm. “We have to get one of them.”
Strategos looked up, saw Nightlord and Mallrat collapse to the rooftop. If Bloodline ducked out of the way, there might still be time… but he didn't. He focused on Shivarex entirely, jaw clenching until a thin line of blood ran down his lip, coiling and spiralling around his hand. Across the street, Shivarex bucked and snarled, his own body caught betraying him. And then two strikes happened at once.
Powerblock and Brohemoth slammed into Shivarex from either side, and the massive alien's eyes rolled back into his head as their blows, completely unblocked, crashed through him. In the same moment, Psiborg's energies gathered around Bloodline, and compacted.
A moment later, Brohemoth was flying through the air, slamming through Powerblock in the same moment. Strategos swallowed, and rose. She fingered the Atlantean bomb that she held, and ran forwards as the robot turned his attention to Kaleidoscope, who fell back in terror as her cover abruptly exploded around her under the robot's psychic assault. She opened her hand as Psiborg began to turn, left the bomb roll out from her palm. “Sorry.” She said quietly, closing her eyes.
A moment later, there was a rush of air and a heavy weight slammed her through the air. Strategos thought vaguely that it was a good cause to have died for.
“We're not dead quite yet.” Someone laughed.
Strategos's eyes snapped open. “Mistral?!” She said. “I thought Shivarex got you!”
“I got up again.” Mistral said with a wince, landing on a rooftop. He peered down at the ruined street. “Damn.”
“I didn't get him?” Strategos's heart sank.
“You did, but not completely.” Mistral shrugged, then winced again as the motion pulled on his wings. “He's retreating, though. Looks like just about everyone is down. I see Kaleidoscope, and Brohemoth is getting up. That's about it.”
Strategos tried to follow, and managed to get herself to the rooftop. “Right. First priority is getting our survivors to a safe distance.” She said into the comm. “We took out a lot of robots, injured Psiborg, and stopped Shivarex. I just hope it was enough.”
“I bet it was.” Mistral said with a smile.