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“Look, all I’m saying is this better not be our public debut.” The boy saying that, Zed Chambers, made the announcement while gesturing up and down to indicate the very simple black jumpsuit and ski mask he wore. “There is no way we’ll ever live down the shame of being this basic.”
His twin, Lexi, was dressed identically (something they had grown out of ages ago). She stood next to the boy, giving him an appraising look. “You know, what you should really be worried about is what happens if one of us takes that mask off your head so we can see what your hair looks like when it’s actually messed up.”
The fourteen-year-old twins, as well as the other two (or five depending on how one counted) in their little group were standing across the street from a dive bar near a truck stop about thirty miles south of Detroit. The city of Monroe, Michigan was a few miles further on, but this place had the fueling station, diner, motel, and the aforementioned bar. It was essentially the middle of the night, definitely past curfew time back in Detroit. But this wasn’t Detroit, and both the bar and diner were still hopping. From the dirt lot behind the motel where they were gathered, the group could quite easily hear the music blaring out from the bar despite the fact that it was clear across the street. How the people in there could spend more than five minutes without going deaf permanently was anyone’s guess.
“Oh please,” Zed shot back with an audible scoff. “I’ll have you know, I get the good stuff for my hair. I could stand in the middle of a wind tunnel and it wouldn’t move. See?” He reached up as though to pull the mask up.
One of their companions, Damarko (or the version who called himself Rabbit) quickly caught the younger boy’s hand. His voice was slightly pained. “Ah, let’s try to keep the masks on, huh? I don’t think you really wanna explain to your parents how some random person happened to get a picture of you behind a motel in the middle of nowhere at one in the morning when you’re supposed to be safe and sound asleep in Jae’s guest room.” He gestured toward the identical jumpsuit and mask he and his duplicates (who were spread out to keep an eye on things in case anyone approached) wore as well, rather than their usual Syndicate costume. “Especially not while we’re all dressed like we’re about to rob the place.”
“Yes, please,” Jae put in while shifting from foot to foot. “I’d rather not have to explain any of this.”
“What, no rhyme?” Lexi asked, looking that way.
“I’m not Carousel,” Jae reminded her easily while waving a hand demonstrably in front of her ski mask-clad face. “No jester’s mask. We can’t be here as other selves. We have to be… other other selves.” Her eyes, visible through the holes, squinted slightly. “You get the point.”
Rabbit gave a quick nod. “Exactly. We’re not here as the Minority, which means Jae pretends her power is normal telekinesis and I keep my other selves out of sight and stick to turning intangible and invisible. As for you guys… well you don’t have any public identities anyway, but like I said, you don’t want to explain to your parents what you were doing here. None of us want to have to do any explaining.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Zed agreed. “Mom and Dad can be pretty scary when they wanna be. But come on, are we gonna get in there and find this guy or what?” He waved a hand toward the loud bar in the distance. “There’s no way that party’s chilling out any time soon. So the only people in that motel should be the guy we’re looking for and his buddies or bodyguards or whatever.”
Lexi’s head bobbed. “Yeah, we already came this far. If this is really the dude who sold phony IDs to guys who tried to kidnap us from Jae’s house, he’s gotta know who they really were. He’s the only lead we’ve got. So let’s get in there and find out what he knows!” She punctuated the last couple words by slamming her gloved fist into her hand.
Instead of responding immediately, Rabbit held a hand up for them to wait while cocking his head to the side. “Okay,” he finally murmured after getting a report from his other selves, “looks like the entire back is clear. They’ve got one guy in the night manager’s office watching wrestling in front, the first floor is empty, then two guys on the second floor playing cards by the stairs on the east side. Our guy’s door is three down from them, and he’s watching TV with some girl.”
“At least he’s not doing something else with the girl,” Lexi noted. “We’re not even old enough to legally watch R-rated movies without adult supervision yet.” She waited for the others to look at her before snickering. “And I don’t think Mom would understand if I called to ask her permission to go in that room.”
Snorting despite himself, Rabbit agreed, “Yeah, that might turn into a whole special conversation none of us want to have. So let’s be grateful for small favors, and try to avoid any extra attention, okay?” He waited until the other three nodded, before turning back to look at the motel. “Quick and easy, without letting anyone know who we really are. Let’s do thi–what the–?!”
Those words came as his head snapped around toward the motel. They were staring at the back of the building, but the loud roar that suddenly filled the air a second later came from the front. As did the loud crashing sound, and the following high-pitched scream.
“What–what the hell’s going on?!” Zed blurted, spinning to stare that way with the others.
“Oh shit,” Rabbit started, “Colt says it’s–”
That was as far as he managed to get, before the sound of breaking glass interrupted the boy as a chair was thrown through one of the windows in the motel’s second floor. Another roar came, before a figure hurled himself out through the opening, sprawling out in the dirt.
Behind the panicked, window-diving figure, an enormous reptilian figure came crashing through the same opening. Or rather, part of the opening. The figure was too large for the actual size of the window frame, so it took out part of the wall on every side as well. The ground seemed to violently shake as it landed heavily, sending dirt and debris flying. Then it loomed up, its form illuminated in the glow from the distant lights.
With a blurted curse, Lexi reared back her hand with one of her glowing ‘eggs’ that would transform anything hit by it into light and send them flying off in a direction of her choosing cupped in it. She started to throw, before Jae stopped her.
“Wait! That’s… that’s…”
“Mars Bar!” Up inside the motel room where the identity forger had been a second earlier, Pack grimaced at the enormous hole where most of the wall had been a moment earlier. The bear-lizard would be fine, of course. It was only a one story drop. But still, seeing her reptilian partner slam through like that was enough to make her wince.
Broadway, straightening up from where she had just finished ensuring that the man’s two bodyguards weren’t about to cause any problems, spoke brightly. “Well hey, the job was to chase him out of the motel, and I think we managed that. Thumbs up to us.” Even as she said that, the sound of someone whimpering in the corner caught her attention. Looking that way, toward the woman their quarry had been watching the movie with as she huddled on the far side of the bed, Broadway waved. “Hey, don’t worry. We’ll bring your boyfriend back safe and sound. We’ve just gotta talk to him about a fake ID he sold to some shit-ass murderer, that’s all. I know he looks scary, but Mars Bar is a big old softie. Your guy’ll be fine.”
Despite her efforts, the reassurances probably weren’t very helpful, coming from a figure in dark-purple power armor with a helmet that had a V-shaped visor across the front with multi-colored lines that danced wildly whenever she spoke.
“Guys!” That was Eits, coming through the open doorway at a sprint, out of breath. He blurted, “There’s people down there with Mars and the guy! People in masks!”
“What?!” Both girls blurted that together, looked at each other, then ran to the broken wall to see what the hell was going on down there. What they saw was Mars Bar calmly standing with one paw holding their quarry gently yet firmly against the ground, while four people in masks stood around him clearly arguing with each other. Mars Bar wasn’t attacking them, but he was growling low, making it clear that any attempt to approach would be a bad idea.
On top of that, the bear-lizard was joined just then by Holiday, who had been prowling through the bushes as backup just in case they chased the guy in the wrong direction. Now, the panther-lizard stalked up next to her friend and bared her teeth at the strangers.
“Hey!” Without wasting another second after shouting that, Pack jumped through the hole. As she did so, Scatters came charging up in her reindeer form and leapt, catching the girl on her back before landing smoothly. Perched on her mount, Pack came up on the opposite side of Mars Bar from Holiday. Her attention was focused on the four masked figures. “Who the hell are you guys? Cuz if you’re trying to rob our little friend here, boy do you have shitty timing.”
With a sharp whistle, Broadway used the sound waves to teleport down next to them. “Yeah, dudes. All you had to do was wait like thirty minutes and we would’ve been done with him so you could clean out his wallet or whatever. We’re not trying to horn in on your territory.”
“Our territory?” one of the figures, clearly male and young, blurted. “Wait, we’re not–” He stopped as one of the female figures stepped on his foot.
“What are you guys doing here?” the other male figure quickly put in. He stood there, gaze snapping back and forth between the lizard-animals and the two Fell-Touched. “Aren’t you usually up in Detroit?”
“Hey, they do know who we are!” Broadway exclaimed brightly. “Look, like I said, we’re not trying to barge over your territory or anything. This isn’t an expansion. We just need to chat with this guy here for a few minutes, find out what he knows about something pretty important, then we’ll be out of your hair.” The last thing any of them wanted to do was accidentally start some sort of gang war with an unknown group down here and have them blame Blackjack for it.
The second girl, who hadn’t stepped on the boy’s foot, took a small step forward. “We need to talk to him too. It’s…” She paused as though considering how much to say. “It’s important.”
“Is it, now?” The new voice came from directly behind the four black-masked figures, as Grandstand revealed herself. When they twisted around and separated to try to look at both her and the group in front of them at the same time, she continued. “Believe me when I say, whatever you want to get out of this guy isn’t nearly as important as what we want to get out of him. But we can all come to an arrangement. Just back off for a minute, let us have a–”
“Wait!” The new interruption came from Eits, his second in the past couple of minutes. Rather than jump from the second floor, he had run out and around to come down the outside stairs, and was now stumbling into sight while panting even more. “There’s guys coming! Lots of guys, they just pulled up! Guns, big guns, maybe powers too. They’re still getting organized but there’s a lot of them!”
Producing a shotgun seemingly from nowhere, Grandstand pointed it at the group in front of them. “Friends of yours?”
“What?” the girl who had stepped on the boy’s foot to stop him from talking earlier blurted in disbelief. “No, they’re not with us! We’re not–I mean we’re really–uh.”
“It doesn’t matter,” the second boy, who seemed to be in charge, immediately put in. “Your friend over there is right.” He nodded toward Eits. “There’s about three or four truckloads of guys out there, and they’re all armed to the teeth. And before you say it, there’s guys back that way too.” He gestured toward the dark woods behind them. “They parked on the dirt road over there and they’re spreading out to come this way. They’re trying to trap us between them. And don’t ask how I know all that.”
From his place on the ground, the man they had all been after started to laugh. “Yeah, you stupid fucks! Thought I was just a helpless little bitch, huh? Well I’ve got friends too, people I hook up with anything they need, and they’re about to whip the shit outta you cocksuckers!” He got that much out before his words turned to a terrified noise as Mars Bar pressed very slightly down on his back and growled to remind the man of his immediate situation.
Without hesitating even for a moment, Grandstand spoke up. “Okay, sounds like they’re here for all of us. So we’ll just have to work together. We can figure out who gets first dibs to talk to our friend here later.” She nodded over her shoulder. “I can handle the guys coming up behind us before they get close. Will uhh…” She paused, frowning just a little while looking at the three La Casa Touched. “Will you guys be okay with this side?”
“Oh, we’re good,” Pack assured her. “Especially with our new friends here. Err…” Blinking that way, she slowly asked, “Do you guys have… any weapons at all?”
Before the others could respond, the first girl piped up. “We’ll be okay. Actually, can you explain something to your lizards so they won’t freak out too much?” She asked that while raising both hands, holding two glowing silver egg-shapes.
“Cuz I know how we can scare the shit out of those guys.”
From his position up on the roof of the motel, Colt-Syndicate stood in plain sight to look down at the people who had just shown up in the parking lot. He was invisible at the moment, so they couldn’t see him anyway, and standing up like this gave him a good view of the whole group. They didn’t look like any organized gang he had ever seen, given the random assortment of flannel, army camo, or just random sweatshirts. But they were definitely working together, and they were heavily armed. Whatever or whoever they were, these guys meant business.
He was relaying all the information he could to Rabbit, while Armadillo did the same for what he could see of the group coming up through the woods behind the motel. Puma was on the far side of the street, watching the group below from behind while keeping an eye out for anyone who might come out of the bar.
If they had to, all four Syndicates would reveal themselves. It would give away who they really were, even though they all wore the same masks and black jumpsuits. The fact that three of them were always intangible, and could only be seen as blue-gray ghost forms, would make that obvious. But if necessary, they would do it. Making sure they all got out of this alive was more important than keeping their involvement secret, no matter what that meant.
Colt’s main job right now, however, wasn’t to reveal himself and the others. No, at the moment, his job was to aim. Well, he and Rabbit working together. They judged the exact distance needed, the appropriate angle, everything necessary to have the best… impact.
After one more minor adjustment, Rabbit announced, Okay, I think we’re good.
Holding his index fingers and thumbs out in the shape of a rectangle together, Colt slowly nodded. The group of whoever they were had just finished having whatever very brief discussion they were having, and were turning to head up to the motel. All good, but they’re coming, so do it now, now!
On the far side of the motel, the others did their part. An instant later, two streaks of light came flying through the motel. They were intangible, doing no damage to the building itself. But immediately after clearing the building, Lexi’s power wore out as planned. Which sent Mars Bar and Holiday flying into the assembled group before they could so much as register the sudden appearance of bright lights. The panther-lizard crashed into two of the men, knocking them to the ground before catching hold of another man’s waistband in her teeth to yank him down as well.
And yet, those three were the lucky ones. A dozen more went down as a flailing Mars Bar slammed into them. Six of those were sent flying into the side of one of their trucks before collapsing in a heap, while the other six were scattered along the ground.
Just like that, of the roughly thirty men who had rolled up and started to head into the motel, fifteen were on the ground and had absolutely no interest in getting up again. Which left another fifteen still standing, for the moment.
But that moment didn’t last long. Even as the men who hadn’t been knocked over reacted to the sudden arrival of Mars Bar and Holiday, the others all came flying through the building as well. Lexi had given everyone an egg and told them to crack it against their chest. Now they were right in the midst of the suddenly-overwhelmed group.
One man pivoted and raised his gun, only to take the butt of a shotgun to the face as Pack struck him hard. As he stumbled, she fired the gun at a second man, hitting him in the chest with a beanbag round.
A third guy was trying to lift his own shotgun, just before Zed lunged at him from behind and managed to trail a hand down the man’s arm and leg. As he did so, his power activated, creating a solid-light duplicate of the guy’s shirt and pants. In this case, however, the duplications didn’t move. They remained frozen in place, trapping the man in solid hologram copies of his clothes so he couldn’t raise the weapon or move at all.
The fourth and fifth men were sent flying across the street and off into the next field as Lexi hit them each with another couple eggs. At the same time, the sixth man flinched as Zed reared back, only to blink as he realized it was only a rock in his hand. Yet the boy used his power again just as he released it. And in this case, he didn’t create only a single copy, nor did that copy stay where it was. Instead, he created fifty copies at once, sending all of them flying into the man until he was practically buried under solid-light rocks.
By that point, the seventh and eighth men had managed to figure out they were under attack, and even brought their weapons up properly. But Rabbit materialized behind them (he had shifted his solid-form over to Puma briefly so he could turn invisible and get in position), catching first one, then the other with one of the Minority-issued tasers that would actually put people on the ground.
All of which left three men out of the initial thirty still standing. But before they could do anything else, a cloud of dirt, rocks, bricks, chunks of asphalt, and other bits of debris crashed into them. They were blinded and pummeled repeatedly until they dropped to the ground and covered their heads. Jae, making sure she sent objects flying before they had time to expose her identity by shrinking down and orbiting her, walked forward with her hand outstretched.
Finally, as the whole group of suddenly-ambushed men were trying to decide if they wanted to risk clambering back up to make a real fight of it now that their opponents had lost the element of surprise, Broadway stepped right into the middle of them before pointing both hands toward the trucks they had shown up in. A near-deafening crack of thunder blasted from the speakers on her suit, and all four vehicles were torn off the ground by the kinetic blast before being sent flying a good fifty feet through the air. They crashed down into an assortment of broken parts, several wheels rolling off out of sight.
The men, those who were conscious enough to make any decisions, chose to stay on the ground.
We still good, guys? Rabbit checked in with his other three selves. Only once he had gotten the affirmative did he exhale. “Okay, I think we’re–”
“Well, I took care of my targets,” Grandstand announced while coming around the corner of the motel. “I sure hope you’re all–ah. I’m impressed.”
She was here before, Colt noted. She has no idea we’re here so she didn’t use her power on us. She’s pretending to be surprised, but she was watching just in case something went wrong.
Yeah, Armadillo confirmed from his own position in the woods. She was done with these guys right when you all started your thing. Pretty sure she ran back there to keep an eye on her friends. Wait, are they friends now? Is Grandstand part of La Casa?
That started a whole discussion amongst the others. But Rabbit was focused on the people who weren’t his duplicates. “Is uhh, is everyone okay?”
“I’m not.” A small, weak voice announced as a shaky hand rose. It was one of the men who had shown up. He was pinned underneath one of Mars Bars’ paws. “I think… I th-think I need to change my pants.”
“Might wanna think about that the next time you start shit,” Pack informed him. “Mars Bar, Holiday, if any of them try to get up, bite them somewhere they’ll remember it.”
“And how’s our other friend doing?” Grandstand asked, gaze focused that way.
“Twinkletoes has him,” Pack assured her. “All we’ve gotta do is grab him and get out of here before more of these chucklefucks show up.” She glanced over her shoulder toward the still-loud bar. “Or they stop serving alcohol over there.”
“Great,” the woman replied before turning her attention to Rabbit, Lexi, Zed, and Jae. “Well, I dunno who you guys are, but you were pretty useful. And a promise is a promise. So, let’s get out of here together.
“Then we can take turns smacking answers out of that asshole. It’ll be a blast.”
This storyline will be continued at the end of the next arc.