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Raveled

Science Shenanegians (IC)

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"Girl, I work for a living," Wail responded with a derisive snort, a deep, reverberating sound that had taken the wind from the sails of many a brash, self-righteous student. "The brain behind any old successes I've had was my late husband. He died from doing the right thing his whole life, because he was the best man I've ever known." LaMarr's voice was a frozen boulder of resounding ice as he indicated the fallen Block. "If I'd snapped his fool neck while you were in the middle of protecting a bunch of kidnapping cowards, could you honestly say the same of him? Give your damn head a shake."

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"Don't you dare talk about what my husband does," Tackle snarled. "There are men and women alive today that wouldn't be if my husband didn't do what he did. And before you assume all we do is cover another person's ass, maybe look at the folks we do business with. You might be surprised to find people like --"

"Are you going to move?" Tackle blinked and glanced to the side, noticing Ironclad standing over her. "I've scanned every square metre of this warehouse while you were yelling at Wail, and there's no hidden or invisible flier here. There's no tunnel for it to disappear under, either -- unless you're sitting on it. So you can move, or we can move you."

Tackle pressed her lips into a thin line, but after a moment picked Block up and moved off several feet. Ironclad punched straight into the concrete floor -- which crumbled away, revealing itself to be a thin shell reinforced with rebar, over a deep, dark pit. She glanced over at Wail. "I'm guessing you won't mind much if we take off and these two escape?"

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"I'd like to crack their skulls together and see if an ounce of good sense would leak out between the two them," Wail grumbled irritably from deep within a throat and chest ideally suited for grumbling. "More'n twenty years in the game, never took a job knowing it was for the bad guys. Fool girl thinks a bodyguard gig makes up for a kidnapping, some kind of jive accountant..." Muttering to himself much more than speaking to anyone else, the aging hero had obviously been put into a foul mood as he glared at Tackled and her unconscious husband. "But we've got more important things to do. Told Des' parents I'd get him back safe. Let's go."

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Ironclad stepped over the lip of the hole and fell, trusting in her armor's suit of sensors to tell her when the floor was coming up. As it turned out she didn't have to fall very fall; the tunnel was only a half-dozen meters deep, coming out in a half-flooded sewer tunnel. In front of her the outflow was blocked by a silvery metal plate, and behind it stretched out for some distance, lit by strings of LEDs.

Ironclad pulled a face underneath her helmet and sloshed through the muck and sewage. "Why do I keep finding myself knee-deep in human waste? Don't these bad guys know how long it takes to get the smell out of metal plates?" Several tunnels intersected with the sewer and the suited heroine made sure to check each one, but none seemed to hold anything of interest. A few tunnels passed by before the the LEDs came to a halt at another metal door. She put her palm on it and glanced at Wail. "Want to take the loud and fast option," she whispered, "or want to see if this group of lackeys is any more sensible than the last?"

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Wail followed Ironclad down once he could see the lights of her armour move away from the spot directly under the hatch, simply falling downward and landing with a reverberating thump and sizable splash of displaced sewage. He didn't have the best history with ladders and metal rungs supporting his super-dense mass, and preferred to hit the bottom on his own terms.

In front of the metal door further down the tunnel, the veteran hero punched one fist into the opposite palm with a meaty sound. "These jokers are working my last nerve. Besides, loud I like."

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"Loud it is," Ironclad agreed with a nod. The heroine stepped back, aiming both wrist blasters at the door. There was a pause, then Wail could hear a low humming fill the tunnel. The armor's blaster apertures glowed brighter and brighter, as more and more sub-atomic particles were gathered there and given an ionic charge; then Ironclad let them go all at once and the entire fusillade smashed into the door, vaporizing it in a shower of metal fragments and smoke.

The entrance was obscured, but the heroes could clearly hear a woman's voice say, "As you wish, my lord." A few moments later the smoke cleared and they could see that beyond the door lay a single large room, maybe half the size of the warehouse above. It was walled in steel, and a projector screen several feet across was just folding into the wall. In the middle of the room was a pair of women; the taller one had mocha-colored skin and wore a red-and-black bodysuit that covered her from her neck all the way down. Her dark hair was bound up in a ponytail and hung down her back. The other woman was clearly of Asian descent and wore a shimmering silver bodysuit that left her right leg and the opposite arm free. She tugged on a fingerless gloves as the heroes made their presence known. Off to one side was a large steel birdcage with a human form crumpled on the floor -- Wail's student.

The darker-colored woman sniffed sharply and looked the heroes up and down. "Should have known those mercenaries weren't good for anything but a distraction," she said. "Sidetrack, why don't you take our new acquisition and meet me at facility Seventeen?"

The Asian woman nodded curtly. "Right away, Ms. Scarlet." She took a step towards Desmaris, but a quick blaster bolt from Ironclad stopped her dead in her tracks.

"It's not nice to leave the party before it's over... Sidetrack, was it?"

Sidetrack sniffed and turned to face the armored heroine. "Ironclad, isn't it? Let's see if I can fry those eyes out of your head, hm?"

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Ms. Scarlet stepped forward, rolling her arms and causing a length of coiled metal to fall from her right hand. She grinned at the senior hero and swung the whip with ease, raising sparks from the floor and ceiling. She showed her teeth and snapped the metal left and right, almost to fast to see; and on the next pass a twist of her wrist brought the entire length up and crashing onto Wail's shoulders. "Dear oh dear," she said. "Not quite as fast on your feet as you used to be?"

Sidestep, for her part, vanished from the room entirely. Ironclad only barely noticed her reappearing behind them, in the sewer, just long enough to note the glowing bundle of energy between the woman's hands. She winked at the inventor and the purple energy contracted, then exploded in a deafening, blinding roar. Wail was facing the wrong direction and Scarlet was shielded by his bulk, but Ironclad's wrap-around sensors caught the full blast.

The young hero stumbled into a wall as her sensors whited out and shut down. Inside the armor, she squeezed her eyes shut and once again debated the wisdom of making the face plate a single, unbroken piece. The fact that her ears were ringing loud enough to drown out any ambient sound was a further irritant. Still, she had planned for this -- a quick mental command and the suit sent out a strong pulse of radio waves. The return on the steel walls and Scarlet's whip were strong, as radar always was off metal, but even Sidestep was picked out in a ghostly fashion.

Sidestep danced around the disabled inventor, laughing to herself. "Oooh, oooh. Not so fancy when someone pokes you in your all-around eye, are y--" The metal-clad fist caught her entirely off-guard and ended up propelling the criminal to the opposite side of the sewer tunnel. Ironclad pulled herself upright. She turned to Sidestep, enunciating carefully since she couldn't hear herself speak. "Next time, try just punching the problem."

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Wail took the lash across his shoulder with a faint grunt but looked largely unphased by the attack or the taunt. "With age comes the wisdom to know when to stand your ground, girl," he told the red clad woman in a level tone, setting his feet into the subterranean room's floor with a audible crumbling sound. Inhaling, he waited for Ms. Scarlet to draw back for another attack, carefully watching the villain's movements. Without warning or preamble, the aging educator let loose a devastating sonic bellow, tightly controlled into a lance of concussive force as wide around as a tree truck. The hammering vibrations caught Ms. Scarlet squarely in the chest, sending his surprised opponent toppling backward in an uncontrolled spin, her woven cable trailing behind.

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Sidestep struggled to her feet, pulling herself out of the hole Ironclad had punched her into. Her eyes tracked aimlessly for a moment, then focused on the unconscious Ms. Scarlet. She let out an anguished cry and disappeared in a flash, reappearing by Ms. Scarlet's side just long enough to grab the other woman, and then the pair disappeared.

Ironclad stayed on guard for a moment, but it seemed that the villains had retreated for the time being. She moved into the single large room and reached out with her mind, connecting to the computer she could sense behind the steel walls. The mainframe was protected behind multiple firewalls, but the young genius' mind went to it at superhuman speed. She could see the structure of the file system beyond it, see it pulse with data, and hear the connections with outside networks, presumably belonging to whatever organization Ms. Scarlet and Sidestep worked for.

Abruptly, the mood changed in an instant when the lights changed from bright, clinical white to blood-red. Ironclad snapped out of her machine-fugue and held up her hands. "I didn't do that," she said, raising her voices as kalxons began to sound. "This isn't my fault!" The big monitor on the far wall lit up again, displaying a few choice words in a heavy, blocky font. "SELF-DESTRUCT ACTIVATED" with a timer counting down from two minutes.

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"Blame game later, girl!" Wail called to Ironclad as he quickly moved to Desmaris' side and tossed his student over his shoulder with obvious ease. "Get going!" He was right behind the armored inventor, the tunnels reverberating with the weight of his footfalls as he sprinted back the way they'd come. If had just been him down there the aging hero might have pressed his luck and tried to dig up a few clues before the base went up but with a couple of young people in the mix he wasn't taking any chances.

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Ironclad was hesitant to leave, but Wail wasn't going to retreat without her and even if they survived the blast, Desmaris wouldn't. So she rocketed back in the direction they came, following the shaft upwards. Block & Tackle had disappeared, but the other unconscious mercs were still scattered around. The armored heroine grabbed them and hauled them out of the warehouse, just before a huge crash and a plume of smoke and dust from the passageway signaled the underground base's collapse. She went out to the edge of the harbor and watched the water spin into a short-lived whirlpool, pulled down by the sudden subsidence.

Ironclad took a seat there, staring at the water where the base had been, and shook her head. "Dammit. All that and the chemicals are still missing."

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LaMarr took a moment to shift the unconscious student slung over his shoulder into a position less characteristic of a sack of potatoes before turning the Ironclad. "We saved the kid; take the win," he advised, obviously the voice of experience when it came to bittersweet outcomes and pyrrhic victories. Supporting the boy's head on one shoulder, he began walking back toward the Desmaris' apartment. "C'mon, you can meet some very grateful parents. Make you feel better."

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