Dystopia Chapter 23

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 26 by Krasnaya Zarya (Sunday, August 27, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 27 by Krasnaya Zarya (Thursday, August 31, 2006)

(posted Tuesday, August 29, 2006)

“Not much of a home,” Alex stated as he and his comrade crested the large pile of rubble that had once been a bank and stared out across the city. Somewhere beyond the horizon, obscured by massive black smoke, was the apartment where he and Sofia lived. If he wanted to return to Berkeley, it wouldn't be until after the massive fire that used to be East Los Angeles was put out and the behemoth forcefield nicknamed the 'War Wall' beyond the smoke was destroyed.

“In Paragon City, they've got a honeycomb structure of those walls,” Nick said to break the uncomfortable silence, following Alex's gaze across town. “The Freedom Phalanx and all the other Supergroups were able to keep the Rikti out of some of the city. It's all divided into human-controlled and alien-controlled. Don't just have one big forcefield ring, like we do.”

“They also have over hundred times as many heroes as we do,” Alex grumbled. The pair resumed walking down the hill, taking great care not to trap their legs in the rubble or skewer their feet on busted steel. “Not to mention the focus of the government's resistance efforts. Not even Washington D.C. has the kind of support that Paragon gets.”

“Oh, we've got quality, though!” The doctor flexed his mostly nonexistent muscles.

“Yes, yes, I am sure that somewhere in Rhode Island, Statesman is quivering in his boots,” Alex replied drolly.

“Statesman can kiss my-” Nick began but was quickly cut off by an urgent wave of Alex's hand. He turned his head a little, listening to the sounds in the distance. The fact that there even were sounds had already set the pair on edge, the neighborhood having been deathly quiet except for the echo of their own voices. Barely audible, but still alarming, came a series of small
crack!s. “Gunfire?”

“Sounds like it.” Alex nodded. “I was not aware that the Army was operating near here.”

“They aren't,” Nick confirmed. His eyes widened as a thought rushed to the front of his mind. “National Guard? The ones escorting the evacuation teams?”

Alex gulped audibly.

“Aw, hell,” Nick groaned. “Don't tell me Sofia's on evac duty today!”

“Where's it coming from?” Alex span around quickly, trying to pick out the original direction amongst the echoes. He stopped, his eye catching a small shaft of green light in the distance, stretching up into the sky until it vanished among the scattering effects of the Earth's atmosphere. “Rikti Portal.”

“I see it.”

Goosebumps rose on Alex's limbs, his breath suddenly visible as a small white cloud before his face, the wisps quickly vanishing. The ground underneath him grew cold, and in a matter of moments the two of them were standing on a horizontal sheet of ice, perfectly flat except for small pockets around their feet. He nodded at Nick, who raised his arms into the air, the newly created platform rising into the sky to match.

“Hurry, Kolya.”


Agent Viy paced back and forth across the prison cell, his hand raised to the strange device covering his right ear. He held the mental projector entirely out of habit, the four large needles extending from the device and into his brain were more than sufficient to keep it from falling off. He shifted a small dial two notches, returning his mental awareness to the cell around him and its three other inhabitants.

“Cryokinesis, it would seem,” Viy spoke his thoughts aloud. At least, it felt like he did, though his lips never moved. The psionic translator attached to the system was projecting his thoughts to the other occupants, who would actually receive it in the speech centers of their brain directly, bypassing the ears. “Any evidence of mental powers from the subject?”

“Search: not performed,” came the response from the lead ripper. The only time the rippers ever spoke were through the psionic translators, and even then, in a strange pattern. Viy had long suspected that the rippers' speech centers were somehow altered as part of the long mysterious process that created them. That was a closely guarded secret of the ISB, unknown to even him. “Conclusion: unknown. Evidence: not found.”

“Keep an eye out while you're in there.”

The white-blue transport dodged around the blown out husk of a former apartment complex, swerving wide to keep the edge of the icy disc from colliding with the structure. Nick was concentrating entirely on piloting, not even flinching when the rushing wind pulled the blue beret from his head down to the street below. He had to, at the speed they were going, with air pressure pushing down at the platform, which was flat at the top and rounded at the bottom, working against Bernoulli's principles of lift and drag.

The pair shook as the bottom of the flying iceberg ricocheted off an abandoned car, the loud crunch of metal ringing in their ears.

“Don't kill us before we get there, Nicholai!”

“It's hero time, Krasniy Zakat,” came the measured reply between gritted teeth. “Call me Big Chill.”

“If you say so, Kolya...”

Meanwhile, a rather large ball of energy had appeared between Alex's outstretched hands, pulsing as it grew in size and power.

“There, what's that!?”

“Unknown: present. Restriction: observation.”

Passing another brick apartment building, the disc made a sharp right turn, nearly throwing off both of its passengers. Neither particularly noticed, being entirely focused on the flashing green lights ahead of them and the sounds of gunfire and energy blasts. There was no planning occurring on the makeshift craft, no wishes of good luck or encouragement, just the silent preparation for the short fight ahead, and the long recuperation afterwards: the wailing and the gnashing of teeth, if they'd come too late.

A half-dozen Rikti soldiers stood in the middle of the street, covered in body armor and wielding large black rifles. Green blobs of plasma were flung across the road at the National Guard soldiers crouching behind a makeshift barricade – the burning husk of their transport truck, horribly deformed by the force of the onslaught. A soldier leaned out from the cover and fired upon the aliens, then quickly ducked back as a ball of hissing energy flee past and into the building beyond, melting a small hole amongst several others.

The chunk of ice dropped low to the ground, the tips of the icicles breaking off as they brushed the concrete. It continued on a straight path down the middle of the road without hint of slowing down. Both passengers crouched low, causing it to pick up speed, and mentally counted the rapidly decreasing distance. As one, they leapt into the air. A horrible crashing sound rent the air as the massive chunk of ice hit the ground, its momentum carrying it onwards.

The Rikti barely had time to react, only one of them turning around fast enough to witness fate bearing down upon them.

The ice continued down the street, gouging deeply into the asphalt and leaving a long trail behind it. A pair of aliens had been crushed underneath it, mangled splotches of metal and flesh in the groove, while most had merely been flung to the side, crashing into the walls of the neighborhood. The tallest of the Rikti - recognized quickly due to the unique structure of its body armor as the group's sole 'Mentalist' – had been completely beheaded by the razor edge of the top of the platform.

One of the Rikti gunmen, having been outside the path of devastation, turned its head up to find the cause of the interference. All it saw was the plummeting body of Alex, coming down from the height of his jump, the ball of glowing energy pointed directly at the alien observer. It raised its gun to fire upon the newcomer, but was unable to beat the great acceleration of gravity, Alex dropping down on him within fractions of a second.

Instead of crashing into the alien as physics would dictate, Alex was buffeted upwards as the ball of energy between his hands was released. The sphere impacted into the chest of the alien before exploding in a ring of intense heat and force, launching the alien – and those unfortunate to be near it – into the air, while Alex calmly rode the shockwave safely to the floor.

His companion, on the other hand, was still in the air, standing upon a bobbing-and-weaving disc of ice, much smaller than the one they had used to reach this destination. He raised his hands into the air, the wind suddenly picking up and swirling around them obediently. Strange icy particles could be seen on the wind, cycling around him as he rode the disc to the middle of the Rikti, just beginning to pick themselves up off the ground.

One of the small blue-white spheres careened into the nearest alien, which suddenly found itself encased in a block of ice. The rest of the Rikti quickly met a similar fate as Nick lowered his hands, causing the frozen particles to dip downwards, meeting the enemy halfway. He turned towards Alex – who had just landed and was running towards him – and nodded.

“Your turn, Zakat.”

Alex clenched his hands into fists, the small balls of energy he had been holding in his palms suddenly bursting into bright shades of red and orange and engulfing his forearms entirely. He swung his arms over his head, then down into the nearest block of ice, shattering it – and the Rikti inside – into thousands of pieces. Without slowing down, he changed direction towards the next frozen Rikti, a path of destruction in his wake.

“Where's the Communications Officer?” Nick yelled over the sound of Alex's fists crashing through the last alien. He spun towards the pulsing green portal that could potentially bring thousands of Rikti to this location. “The bastard wasn't among this group. If we don't destroy his beacon, we won't live through this.”

As he spoke, the portal emitted a sudden burst of light, several Rikti suddenly appearing. They turned their heads – and their guns – to the speaking human, and started firing. Strange blobs of plasma flew across the intervening space, only to impact against a large sheet of ice that Nick had hastily constructed between them. Loud hisses filled the air as Nick fought to reinforce the barrier against the burning plasma.

“Nick! Alex! Get back here!”

The pair looked at the National Guard barricade, where a familiar face poked out from the overturned truck, waving them over. They didn't need to be told twice with Rikti pounding on their weakening shield, and the two heroes darted behind the truck.

“Are you two crazy?!” Sofia screamed at them once they were safe behind the hulking scrap metal. “Throwing yourselves at them like that? You're not invincible!” Nick chuckled as she made to bop her husband over the head.

“Yell at me later, dear, please,” Alex implored quickly. He turned his attention to Nick. “I just need a few moments to recover some energy, then I'll send these Rikti to whatever gods they believe in.”

The three of them tensed as the truck behind them rocked with the force of several plasma bolts slamming into it at once.

“They're through my shield,” Nick muttered, looking around them. Four troops down – two of them with large, gaping, singed holes through their torsos marking them as already beyond saving – and three others standing, plus Sofia and another medic, and a dozen civilians being escorted out. “I'll give you the time you need, Zakat.”

“Alex. He has a name,” Sofia stated automatically. “You two are academicians, stop playing heroes.”

“Once the war ends.” Nick leapt to the side of the truck, his arms raised in front of him. A large shield of ice appeared just as the weaponry of their technologically superior enemy bore down on him. He took a step forward, straining against the force of the coordinated onslaught, then another. He glanced towards the Rabinovich's: “Anytime now!”

Alex nodded, a large blue ball of energy appearing instantly between his open palms. He ran out the other side of the barricade and took aim at the center of the pack of Rikti, which were all focused on the cryokineticist before them. Within moments, the ball of energy left his hands and shot across the street, colliding with his target and exploding in a ring of devastation. Several smaller balls appeared in his hands immediately afterwards and were thrown at the knocked down aliens, burning through them and into the asphalt beneath.

The portal still hung in the air, ominously pulsing.

“Where is it generated from?!” Alex dashed forward through the scattered corpses, looking for the communications device. “It's not here. There must be another Rikti hiding-”

A scream cut him off.

Sofia's scream.

He span around as fast as he could, though seeming like wading through molasses.

Behind Nick, standing in the midst of the people they'd been trying so hard to save, was the missing alien bathed in the telltale glow of light from a personal line-of-sight teleportation device. Nick was frozen in place, his eyes staring in disbelief at Alex, the large curved blade of the Rikti sword jutting out through his chest. The square blade of the Rikti weapon was not made for thrusting, and a thick red line appeared from the top of Nick's right shoulder diagonally down and across his chest to where the blade had gotten stuck in his rib cage.

The alien released the blade, Nick immediately collapsing to the ground, and reached down to grab the pistol from its holster. A blue bolt of energy flew across the road from Alex's outstretched palm, taking the Rikti's hand clean off. A second blast hit it square in the chest, flinging it backwards into the wall of the building behind it. Within moments, Alex was on top of it, his energy coated fists pounding through the body armor and the soft flesh beneath it.

It wasn't until after Sofia had pulled him off the mutilated corpse that he realized that he had run out of fuel for his powers, his knuckles broken open and bleeding. He stared back at the body of his friend – cleaved in half – and beyond it, to the small warzone with a dozen dead Rikti. The green portal had vanished. His mouth moved wordlessly, gulping back the tears forming in the corners of his eyes, and he collapsed into the arms of his wife.

“Strange,” Viy murmured, turning the dial on the projector once again. He calmly depressed a button in the middle of it, causing the long needles to slowly draw out of his skull. “Those blasts were the same that our Aleksander had used. I thought it was some technological innovation... This will take some thought.”

The head ripper cocked his head to one side, his eyebrow raised in silent query. Without the mental projector, Viy was once more deaf to their telepathy.

“We are still not done,” Viy replied to the unvoiced question. “But only one more and then he should rest; I would not want our frail scientist's brain damaged.” He grabbed the report they had made earlier and started to head out, when a sudden burst of inspiration sharpened his memory.

“Wait! That woman!” He flipped quickly through the file until he found the electrostatic photograph and typed description. “I saw her in that wedding photo in Aleksander's office. She's here in Omsk!” His eyes narrowed. “Sofia Rabinovich...”

The rippers watched silently.

Viy grinned mischievously, the gears in his mind racing towards the horrible conclusion. He pointed at the head ripper. “Never mind. Pack up now. I want him well rested for his meeting with his wife...”