Hank King, alias Brainwave of Infinity Inc., lifted himself and Jennie-Lynn Hayden from the tunnel they had dug out when they had fallen to the fractured planet they overlooked. The curling trees sprouted on the floating chunks of land in abundance. The only wildlife they saw was a bird the size of a pteranodon. A sound like a ringing bell escaped it as it flew away, startled by the strangers.
“I’m glad it flew off,” Hank said, watching the bird go. “I don’t have enough power left to drive off something that big.”
“Let’s land under those trees,” said Jennie-Lynn, pointing at a grove. “We can rest and get our bearings before we start looking for the others.”
Hank nodded as the invisible platform extended to a particular floating column. They dropped under the swaying limbs of the pink trees. Silence permeated the air in a solid blanket as the travelers looked at the surrounding landscape.
“What do you think happened to everyone else?” Jennie-Lynn asked.
“I don’t know,” said Hank. “All I remember is hitting some kind of wall when we got close to this planet and your dad’s flame protecting us on the way down. I’m sure everyone is alive. We just have to find them.”
“Rest first,” said the former Jade. “Then we can look around.”
Todd Rice examined the shackles around his arms and legs as best that he could. His limbs were wrapped in solid steel and spread apart. As soon as he saw the manacles, he knew he would never be able to pull his way out of them. He was bound to the rack until he was released, or if he chewed through his appendages somehow. He couldn’t reach anything to try something like that.
He hung his head as he tried to think of a way out of this mess. There was always a way out. He wrenched at the rack in frustration. Pain shot through his nervous system to let him know that was a bad idea. He wondered if he could trick a guard close enough to try to attack for keys. He didn’t think he would be given water or let down to go to the local equivalent of a bathroom.
The former Obsidian felt he was extremely lucky to be alive. As soon as they decided his true worth, he would be terminated as slowly as possible. He had to get out of his shackles before that eventuality. The problem was how he could accomplish the impossible.
Stephanie Harrigan adjusted the strange helmet again. The armor was three sizes too big for her, and she had no way to adjust it. The large rifle in her hands felt like a ton. Her finger kept a slight pressure on the trigger. The rifle whined to release its charge as she walked.
One of the armored soldiers accosted her in its language of chitters. He seemed nonplussed when Steph kept walking. She heard a rattle of sounds as she kept moving. She turned the corner, turning to catch the soldier by surprise. She pulled the trigger on the rifle as the trooper came into view. The spherical round erupted around the armored form, and the green metal broke apart under the point-blank shot. Steph listened for an alarm, surprised that no one seemed to have noticed the loud roar from the rifle’s barrel.
She moved on, looking for Todd. She had seen the flying guardsmen bring him to this huge dome in the middle of a desert devoid of the normal life they had observed when they had climbed out of the systems of tunnels they had crashed into. A desert and the black dome seemed to fit together, she had decided when she had seen the two together for the first time.
Steph eased through the corridors slowly, her stolen armor rubbing painfully against her skin. The helmet filed symbol after symbol in the corner of her visor. She wondered what they were as she used the stolen gauntlet to open locked doors.
Finally, she opened the door to Todd’s cell. She fought back the urge to retch. He had suffered through more than just a beating, from the look of it. His head hung down in defeat.
“Todd?” Steph said, raising her visor so that he could see her face. “Can you hear me?”
“They said you were dead,” Todd said through cracked lips. “Can you get me out of this thing?”
“I think so,” said Steph, looking for a gauntlet lock that was prevalent everywhere else. “The owner of this rig hit a wall in those tunnels we arrived in. A rock took care of the rest. I flew in behind your guys.”
“Do you know where we are?” asked Todd.
“Not really,” said Steph, finding the lock and pressing it. “Maybe ten miles from where we got out of the underground.”
A siren screamed in alarm. Steph stepped back from the torture rack, leveling her rifle. The weapon whined to charge up. “Close your eyes and look away,” she ordered. Then she fired the rifle.
Todd felt the sharp impact throughout his body. Then he felt himself falling over to his left. Smoke and blood filled his nose when he hit the floor. A small scream sounded. He couldn’t tell if that was from him or Steph. Let my legs still be there, he thought as he heard a hum. Suddenly, his legs and arms came free. He flopped on the floor, unable to move from the long hours held in one position. “Steph,” he gritted out. “I can’t move.”
“We can’t stay here,” said Steph, examining the room. “I’m open to suggestions.”
“Take off and leave me,” Todd whispered. “Come back with my dad.”
“Let’s see what’s behind door number two first,” Steph said, leveling the rifle again. She pulled the trigger, glad that the armor took much of the recoil from the firing. The spherical round ripped at one of the walls. The desert outside was revealed by the shot. “Time to get out while we can.”
“I can’t move,” said Todd, whose body was a mass of bruises and cuts. He had kept part of his pants from the suit he had been wearing earlier for their dinner date.
“I’ll carry you,” she said, trying to pick him up gently and placing him over her shoulder in a fireman’s carry. “Hopefully the jets on this thing will carry two.”
The couple flew away from the dome as fast as the jets on the green armor could carry them. Numerous green-clad soldiers took to the air behind them. They fired on the pair as they tried to catch up.
“Looks like they aren’t taking prisoners anymore,” Todd noted as the metal shoulder dug at him. “I guess that’s a good thing.”
“They aren’t going to knock us out of the sky, either,” vowed Stephanie Harrigan. “My dad would be ashamed if I couldn’t outfly these goons.”
“I think he would want you to come home alive more,” Todd said.
“Watch this,” said Steph. She spun in place, cracking the rifle along her arc. Todd closed his eyes, the motion making him nauseous. He fought back the stomach bile as Stephanie completed her turn and continued her flight. Three of the pursuers had been struck by the spheres and suffered various degrees of damage. One nose-dived into the ground as Todd watched.
“Three down, a hundred to go,” he joked quietly.
“I think I’m out of ammo,” Steph said, checking her belt. “This might be a little harder than I thought.”
“Try to get lower so I can drop off,” said Todd. “I’m only holding you back.”
“We go together or not at all,” said Stephanie, dodging projectiles from the green men.
The emerald flame paced the crystal floor slowly. He saw that two young ones were in serious trouble. The Locusts would surely overtake them and shoot them out of the sky. Time to become involved if he could without creating a trace of where he was. He had limited the effects of the Light’s presence on Thanagar, but sooner or later they would meet in open conflict. The flame was trying to delay that inevitability for as long as possible, since he would surely lose any such combat. He had to do something.
He willed a black piece of himself into existence. He gave the creation instructions. The shadow nodded in understanding. Then it flew through the wall, glowing eyes on its task. It flew across the fractured planet, hopping from shadow to shadow for concealment as it moved swiftly along the surface of Thanagar.
The pillar watched and waited, hoping its servant would be able to reach the fleeing flyers in time. The Light needed to be denied at all costs. Each death and act of destruction made it stronger. While the flame was not weakened, soon the Light would be at a level to finish destroying Thanagar, no matter how much resistance he encountered.
The shadowy servant reached the aerial battle. Now for the second part of its instructions. It flung itself directly at the fleeing couple. Stephanie could not veer to avoid the unexpected obstacle. They passed through the creation unharmed.
“What was that?” Steph demanded.
“It looked like the thing that took my powers,” Todd said. He blinked, feeling stronger. His arms seemed to be healing before his eyes. “I think it gave me my Obsidian powers back.”
“Are you sure?” Steph asked, trying to dodge several more blasts from the green men behind them.
“Let’s find out,” Todd said, smiling through the pain he was suffering.
Black shadow erupted around Todd’s form liquidly. He felt lighter and stronger while encased in the comforting darkness. A white smile creased his blank profile. “Keep going,” said Obsidian, drifting up and away from Steph’s shoulder. “I’ll keep these misfits busy.”
Obsidian sailed through the green sky, limbs stretching out as his body flattened into ribbon. He covered the trooper in the lead, wrapping him in darkness. The pair hung together for a moment as Todd covered the green man’s shadow. Then the trooper began to fire randomly out of sheer terror. Obsidian broke away, shoving his victim into the path of the still-oncoming pursuit. The trooper’s cohorts shot him out of the sky as he fired at them in his panic. Todd smiled.
He reached for the next one in line, hoping to buy enough time for Steph to escape from the invaders. He grabbed hold of the trooper’s shadow, causing fear to well up into panic. Panic led to the soldier to fire at the closest thing he saw, which was his comrade. He began to fire into the upcoming line, wounding some of his fellow conquerors. A concentrated line of fire blotted the scared trooper out of the green sky.