Joe Macayle stood at the end of the quarantine site, almost in a daze. He was not paralyzed; he was still doing what was directed, helping to guide the civilians nearby to freedom, breaking away when need be to go where he was needed. The sound of cries dragged him down Ellsworth Avenue. A family of four, likely stragglers from the celebrations, were being driven down a back alley by two Omegadrones, their power pikes bleeding darkness into the scarlet air.
He didn’t even bother to draw their attention. He charged forth like a bullet, his fist driving into the small of one Omegadrone’s back. Metal crumbled like tin foil, and he didn’t hear - or care about - what may have happened to its bones. He simply stared at the family. He didn’t even have to say anything. They just ran.
His victory was short-lived as he felt the fire spreading at his neck. The other Omegadrone had jabbed him with the pike, sending entropic agony shooting through his system. He tried to stay upright as the warrior moved in for another blow, trying to pierce his heart --
-- only for the pike to suddenly vanish from his hands. The confusion was short-lived, as the drone was slammed into the wall by a blue blur, blows landing on its head in a concentrated fury until it was unconscious. When all was still, Barrage - Joe’s brother Andy - stood over him, in his blue and white speed suit.
“You owe me one,” said Barrage.
“Good,” said Joe, half-heartedly. “You still owe me a dozen.”
Joe got back to his feet, adjusting his helmet. “I ran as fast as I could,” said Barrage. “The chaos hasn’t spread to Boston yet, and the city’s still preparing for the storm. Freedom looked like it could use my help. Mom?”
“She’s still with her family,” Joe said. “She’s fine.”
Joe looked past Andy. He just moved towards the mouth of the alley, trying to return to the chaos. He felt Andy’s hand on the shoulder, but broke free from it. The only thing that stopped him was Andy blinking in front of him, the rush of air running over him from the back.
“Joe. Where’s Dad?”
Cannonade stood at attention, hands clasped in front of him. The VIP section was off in the distance - he’d just been a toddler when the Terminus Invasion happened, after all, and he hadn’t been there to face down its horrors directly. But as a hero, he knew he had to be here to pay tribute. And the city had decided that he should be there as well.
Eight years, and it still felt a little weird. He’d just been a kid trying to do good by his scene and his class. He was a worker, a punk, a guy just pulling his weight like he was expected to and making sure that he didn’t getting buried under a bunch of false plaudits. And now here he was. A hero of Freedom. There were still people who called him a radical, a thug, a dangerous man given validation - but the city most definitely didn’t see him as a menace. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be here.
“It was a hell of a time.”
Cannonade turned to the man next to him, trying hard not to give too much away. He was far enough from the crowds that people wouldn’t necessarily suspect much if he was trading friendly words with Greg Macayle, a man who had managed to survive the Invasion back in the Nineties. And who happened to be his father.
“Still don’t remember it.”
“You were in diapers. You were expecting to remember it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe something. All I’ve really seen is the footage…”
“What, you thought it might dislodge something?”
Cannonade didn’t really feel like answering that one. He was starting to realize how foolish it all sounded. “How’s Mom doing?” he said, a little softer.
“She’s fine. Called me this morning. The funeral’s today, and she just wanted to talk. Get some support.”
The funeral for Great-Aunt Mary. A woman who had been born around the same time as Greg Macayle. Before he’d realized just ran through his family tree, Joe had just accepted his parents’ relationship as “a little different,” but still something that worked. Even though his father looked like a man 20 years his junior, which - going by the old photo albums - must’ve started at around age 30 and progressed at an exponential rate. Looking at him, one wouldn’t think he’d have been born in the months right before WWII ended.
It was likely some side effect of the treatment Joe’s grandfather had received. Even if his dad didn’t get the powers, he at least got the constitution of a man who could take on tank shells. He’d at least look relatively young and relatively fit into old age. Though the closer that time came, the more it felt… not strange, but on the outside of things. Like a displacement from the flow of the world.
Then again, Cannonade had traveled to alternate dimensions, been flung back in time by horrible gods, and had his hear gear insulted by velociraptors, so who the hell was he to think that things felt out of place?
“I’m sorry I couldn’t make it out,” said Cannonade. “If I could --”
“It’s all right,” Greg said. “They understand. Mary was a bit distant from us; think you only saw her a handful of times.”
“Yeah, but… I don’t know. Guess I’m feeling weird about the whole family thing…”
“Does this have something to do with Asli?”
“Look, I’ve told you --”
“Dad, I really don’t think this is the time for --”
The silence hit maybe a second before the shockwave. Cannonade could remember it well, because it hit with such speed, that it felt like the words themselves were caught on his tongue.
Then the screaming began, and the sky bled.
They were everywhere.
The idea of focusing on anywhere else seemed ludicrous, because to Cannonade, the Omegadrones were everywhere else. The ones in the air flew in such tight formation that leaping up at them like a cannonball seemed like trying to knock down a brick wall with a tomato. The ones in the ground were marching in full formation, power-pikes at the ready, tearing through the crowd with dreadful precision.
Of course, the best way to deal with that was to just tear everything down. He rose, and he fell. He swung blindly, grabbed tight, tore through armor and shattered pikes in his hands. There was no time to breathe. There was just a path to clear. A way to get everyone out.
The blows kept landing. Cutting through his costume, searing his nerves. At this point, he was surprised his helmet was still on. He didn’t care. He just had to break these bastards. The more he took down, the more space there would be for everyone else to get out of the park. Get to shelter.
Finally, the ecstasy of fury became too much. Cannonade had to stop, had to breathe, had to assess the terrain. And that was when his heart broke.
A group of civilians were penned in towards the south gate, surrounded on all sides by Omegadrones. At the head of the group was Greg, standing in the way of everyone else.
Cannonade ran across the green at top speed, but he knew it wouldn’t be enough. The lead Omegadrone brought his power-pike down --
And Greg caught it.
And Greg bent it.
Cannonade kept coming, not letting the display give him pause. He arrived just in time for Greg to drive his fist right into the Omegadrone’s armor, denting it hard enough to nearly cave the thing’s chest in. Cannonade took advantage of the chaos to grab another Omegadrone and hurl it right into the other. “Run!” he said to the rest of the group.
They seized the opportunity. Greg did not. He just seemed to stand there, stunned.
Greg smiled. “Well, it’s about ****ing time.”
Cannonade wrapped his arms around his dad. “How… I mean, damn, I thought…”
“Must be the same thing as you and Andy. Near-death experience. Guess I just haven’t been dumb enough to throw myself into harm’s way.”
“But the car crash…” Years ago, some asshole of a wannabe supervillain had seen Cannonade as a moral scourge on the city and decided to try breaking him. Greg had been hit by a car and sent into a coma. If this was enough to trigger his powers, then why hadn’t that?
“Maybe I needed more of a jolt. I don’t think this is supposed to be consistent. They gave this stuff to my dad in, what, the Forties? What the hell did they know about genetics back then?”
“Well, if they didn’t know crap, we wouldn’t be here.” Cannonade looked back on the burning park. There was still a lot to do. “What do you say? Macayle and son?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
The sky was still on fire. Captain Thunder was trading blows with some mad god of metal and oblivion above, raining carnage down below. And there were still people unlucky enough to be caught, and monsters unlucky enough to be in the way.
Cannonade was leading a group of people out of the forest, where they’d sought shelter when the invasion had started. Greg, his suit practically in tatters by now, was driving back a horde of Omegadrones single-handed, nearly beating them into the ground like tent pegs. By the time Cannonade got back from the gate entrance, they’d be routed.
“Damn,” he said. “I didn’t know you could hit like that.”
“You didn’t see me in my boxing days. Guess I’ve been… penting it up for a while…”
He and Cannonade ran back into the field. “Not the right time, I know,” he said, “but we gotta come up with a name for ya. Cannonade, Barrage… it’s kinda become a thing. And if you’re gonna be wearing the atomweave with us…”
“As long as it’s not Blitzkrieg, I think I’ll--”
Greg started to slow, and Cannonade felt himself slowing to catch up. Greg was breathing hard, clutching his chest.
“It’s okay. I think… I’m just catching up to it. Christ, when was the last time I went to the gym?”
“I had my growing pains, too. Don’t worry. We’re gonna --”
Something slammed into the earth like God’s fist. A terrible tower of black metal and red flame, folded within itself. It soon unfolded, turning into a strange tank poised on sinuous legs. It looked down on Cannonade and Greg, its jeweled eyes burning red.
Cannonade and Greg ran in separate directions from where they’d been standing. Half a second later, the ground was… obliterated. Not in flames. Not exploded. Just… gone.
“We can’t let those bastards stay upright,” Cannonade yelled from behind cover. “The rest of the League’s already fighting the big guys, and if this War of the Worlds ****er joins the party for long…”
Cannonade paused. He realized, even in all the chaos, from several yards away, he could hear his father breathing. It sounded ragged, wheezing. Almost like a death rattle…
“Joe… I’m sorry. I don’t think I was… meant to have this. Not now…”
“Dad… Dad, listen to me. You’re going to be okay. We’ll get you out of here, the AEGIS guys will look at you --”
“Goddamnit, Joe, I’ve worked with guys who lived on beer and brats for years, you think I don’t know what a heart attack feels like?” Greg drew a ragged breath. "Joe... I've been feeling like this for the last thirty minutes. It's just... been getting real bad now... I just... I had to help you..."
Silence hung between them, even as the world burned around them. “Tell your mother I love her, and I’m sorry…”
Greg pulled himself out from cover, eyes bearing down on the tripod. “Tell Andy… he’s going to be a great man…”
“Dad, please, don’t, come on, we can do this…”
Greg locked eyes with Cannonade.
“And Joe… you already are. I’m so ****ing proud of you.”
Greg charged towards the tripod. The flames bore down to meet him. Soon, there was only the rending of metal and the burning of flesh.
The earth boiled away under Cannonade’s feet. He tried to run towards the carnage, but the earth was sweeping him away, like the torrents of an erupting volcano.
And then, for a time, there was darkness.
“Your father died a hero.”
There was a break in the chaos. Liberty Park was closed, but Freedom had become Ground Zero for the Terminus’s latest dreadful campaign. There would be no peace, and there might be no tomorrow. But there was at least enough time for answers.
Commander Grayston had met with Cannonade at a relief camp at Lonely Point, some time after the worst of the first wave. Enough time to recover from the onslaught at the park. Enough time to be pulled from the disturbed earth by Doctor Metropolis. Enough time to tell Andy the terrible news, and to listen to his mother break down from the other end of the line.
“The lab geeks… had a theory like this. That the reason your father never underwent the change after a trigger was that his body would recognize the strain it entailed. Your grandfather your brother, you - you all underwent the change in your early 20s. A man of his age… such a radical process might have overclocked his metabolism.”
“So? Why the **** did this happen?”
“Perhaps…” Commander Grayston threw his hands in the air. “I don’t ****ing know. Maybe your father was bullheaded enough to override the inhibitors. Maybe he was so determined that he willed his body into kicking off the change. Same way a man can get angry enough, he has a stroke.”
Cannonade felt like, if he was still in his right mind, he would have punched Grayston in the face for the comparison. All he could do was just stare ahead at the smoke rising over Freedom City.
“This is what your father wanted, Mr. Macayle. I know it’s hard to accept, but…”
Cannonade shook his head. “No. I get it. It’s… it’s how he’d want to go out. Same way I’d want to go out, I guess. Y’know, if my options were really ****ing limited.”
“Well, I’d hate to say it, but… I think we’re all looking down that barrel right now.” Commander Grayston looked to him. “Joe… if you want to honor your father…”
“Y’know, Commander… you don’t have to talk to me like you really knew him.” Cannonade got up and moved towards the door. “I know what I’m gonna do to honor him.
“I’m gonna kill every last ****ing one of them.”