They aren’t going to get more than a fraction of the people out of here, Stingray realizes.
Nautilus has been telling everyone about Atlantis since forever. But the ninja corps and intelligence service have been infiltrating world governments for decades, at least. It’s easy to falsify reports, deny funding, put a thousand bureaucratic roadblocks in the way of any real action. Apathy is a powerful tool. Many governments have enough trouble taking care of the citizens already in their care. What’s with these wacky tales of people being held captive underwater? And Nautilus as a person isn’t the most charming and charismatic sort to begin with.
Jason Quill isn’t Byron, but he adventured with him. The two of them came back from their world travels with some outlandish stories, sure, but they brought back trophies as hard evidence. There were plenty of people who disliked Byron, but nobody who doubted him. And Harry Gale - ‘nuff said. The son of two legends, and fast growing into a legend of his own. So when the pair of them took Nautilus’ place to spread the word about Atlantis, folks listened.
On the one hand, Stingray remembers things Leo has said to him. “Connection is strength”. The value of friendship. It all sounded soppy and sentimental, but when you have connections like Quill and friends like Harry Gale, maybe there’s something to it.
But what if you don’t have that? That’s why Nautilus and his few supporters went to a supervillain, almost twenty years ago, reflects Stingray. The only person they could get to try and do something was King Winter. And then the Gales intervened. And then everyone wrote it off as a maniacal supervillain attack and went back to their lives.
He’s finished fighting off the first wave of Atlantean open-ocean defenders when he hears a commotion over the communication system.
“Hey, what’s happening in there?” he asks.
“Ninjess is here. Some of the rescuees don’t seem like they wanna be friends with her,” reports Alex.
A surge of anger runs through him. “The hell they aren’t,” Stingray growls. He maneuvers his sub toward the nearest Leviathan, matching his airlock with one of its loose tentacles in seconds, unbuckles himself from the command chair, and bolts.
He passes through airlock after airlock impatiently, pounding on the durable carbon hatches in a vain effort to get them to open faster. Finally he emerges into the Attic, only to find Ghost Girl doing her best to calm the crowd. He sees Fuko nearby. Adam is still battling the Blood attackers, but let her through. Now the crowd, who doesn’t know her like the Menagerie does, is confused, angry, and shouting.
Stingray reconfigures his suit for Frog, and makes a mighty leap over the crowd. He lands in a four-point posture, and tears off his helmet so the people here can see his human face.
“Hey! HEY! What the fuck? She’s on our side!”
Calls come from the crowd. “She’s one of them!” “Why is she here?” “Don’t let her hurt us!”
Stingray glares at the crowd, bristling with defiance, making eye contact wherever and whenever he can. “She is the reason we can even be here to rescue all of you. She’s a Halcyon City hero. Her name is Ninjess. You better remember it!”
“How can you trust her?” demands one voice from the crowd.
“Because we’ve been teammates, we’ve fought back to back, and because she’s trusted me with her life before,” Stingray answers sharply. “She risked her life to be down here for all of you. Now we’re getting everyone out. You, and her.”
He scoops his helmet up, plunks it back on his head, and reaches out a hand. He feels Fuko’s hand close around it, and he starts walking. Past the people, past Ghost Girl, and toward the Leviathan.
Only when they’re back in his sub does he take off the helmet again, and let out an exhausted sigh.
Fuko is watching him from the other seat, with a strange smile on her face. “You don’t usually stand up to other people.”
He manages an embarrassed shrug but not eye contact, and focuses his attention on the sonar display.
To his great surprise, he feels her lips kissing his cheek. “I liked it. But you should stand up for yourself too, okay?” she tells him.
Stingray feels his face burn, and his mouth turning into a goofy smile in spite of himself. “Aye aye, Captain.”
Mo hears the call go out. “The hospital ships are nearing capacity. We’ve got a long queue down here still, so bring whoever you have and we’ll focus on getting them aboard.”
Configured as an ambulance, he’s got a couple of people in the back who aren’t doing well. Whatever they have, Atlantean science hasn’t been able to treat it. His human shell is in the driver’s seat now, remotely operated, when it’s not being used to carry people into the back of the vehicle.
“Bringing two,” he acknowledges, via the radio. “Won’t go for more.”
He hears the people in the back talking - to him?
“You can leave us if you need,” one says, weakly.
“No can do,” he replies, and keeps driving.
“It’s okay. The healthy and the young should be going,” the other passenger adds.
“S’fine,” Mo remarks.
There’s a moment of silence, and he can feel their discomfort at the thought of taking the place of someone else. He sighs mentally and puts together whatever words he can. “Look. Everyone we can fit, goes. Y’all fit. I promise.”
He glances over his shoulder to see their faces. There’s still worry, but it’s now giving way to relief.
I already hate how many we have to leave behind. Like hell would I take the guilt for abandoning two more.
“Weapon is some kind of railgun,” reports Summer. “Maybe some kind of metamaterial ammo?”
She’s taken two more hits, despite her evasive tactics. She’s switched to offense, aiming beams at the Blood soldiers and forcing them to hide behind their shields for cover. But she can’t do this forever.
“There’s more of them,” reports Aria via the radio. “They took a chunk out of Otto and he ejected me. I’m on my way back to the breach site, and he’s keeping them busy.”
“If they reach the breach site, they’ll tear through the Leviathans’ armor,” Leo concludes. “That’ll trap everyone we’ve still got here. You can’t let them get close.”
Summer gets an idea. She’s got most of her drones left. They can project barriers - and maybe she can line the barriers up, create a line of force fields they’d have to shoot through. But they can project images too.
She collects her drones around her, manifesting a holographic Summer through each of them. And then they - and she - disperse. Without a clear target, and with only one railgun, the Blood show momentary confusion.
She hears a loud squeal, guesses it’s biological sonar, and worries for a moment. But the drones project a hard-light image. She can wrap herself in the same kind of barrier, and now does so. Whatever sonar image they’re going to pick up, it’ll all look the same. She hopes.
The drones whirl about the knot of soldiers, and Summer dives at the railgun rifleman. Decoy beams come from the drones, forcing the shieldmen to raise their barriers. She lines up her own shot, hitting the hefty power pack. The Blood is forced to throw away his weapon before the whole thing explodes.
The mecha-medica are already healing her shell. That’s good - but this was against only a single railgun.
How many more are there?
“Looks like every squad has one of these danged things,” Otto says over the radio. “I’m starting to feel like Swiss cheese.”
From his position, Jason Quill observes the situation via the Leviathan’s holographic projection. “Otto, fall back,” he calls urgently. “Ghost Girl, how are we doing?”
“We’re still behind schedule,” Charlotte reports. “I can keep these people safe. But I don’t know what those weapons will do to my barriers, stretched thin as they are.”
“Evaluation. Can they use those weapons underwater?”
Alycia answers this, and Jason can hear the repeated firing of a sniper rifle from her comm chatter. “Negative. Underwater weapons need to be self-propelled, like a torpedo.”
He directs his next question outward. “Stingray, Nautilus, status.”
He can see the Leviathan’s own sonar. Numerous blips are on screen. And a blip at this scale isn’t just a swimming Blood. It’s something big. Really, really big.
“Third wave of attackers is already here,” Stingray reports. “We’re running low on munitions. They’re targeting us for now, probably because we’re Atlantis’ Most Wanted, but if we go down they may turn on the Leviathans.”
Jason digests and analyzes and thinks, at the lightning speed he’s capable of achieving. “Right. Goal right now is to get everyone aboard a Leviathan as fast as possible. Newmen, retreat to the breach site.”
He hears Summer and Aria acknowledge. Mo acknowledges, having pulled up to drop off his last two passengers.
“Otto, acknowledge,” Jason says after a moment.
“Got a problem,” Otto announces.
“Are you on your way or not?” Alycia asks, and Jason can hear a bit of worry in her voice.
“Uh, negative. I don’t think I can move or transform right now. They’re–”
The call stops.
“I’m goin’,” announces Mo.
“We’ll come too–” Summer and Aria both voice the same sentiment, but Mo cuts them off. “You leave him to me. Tend to the folks who need you.”
When Otto created Mo and Big Bill, it was an experiment. He didn’t have anything specific in mind, other than a couple of buddies who could do rescue work with him. But personality emerged anyway.
Big Bill, the transport plane, is friendly, outgoing, honest, self-effacing. He’s the sort to tell you “aw shucks” if you compliment him. You could put him in a cowboy hat and give him a banjo, and he’d fit right in as the winsome young man at the country cotillion.
Mo knows what Otto had in mind with him. He is Otto’s memory of men like Mr. Dorsey, one of Leo’s foster fathers. Taciturn, capable, dedicated. Since his creation, he’s been assisting Otto, performing rescue work while the other bot fights bad guys. This is his first time working with the bigger team, rather than attending to mundane matters like house fires.
Mo doesn’t like to fight. But he inherited something from Leo, through Otto. You don’t not fight, you just save it up inside yourself until it has to come out.
He roars at top speed through the streets of the Attic. He finds dozens of Blood surrounding where Otto lays. Without hesitation, his launcher fires gobs of quick-freezing foam packets at them. As they scatter from the initial assault, and before they can re-form to make a counterattack, he’s plowing through their ranks. His brakes engage and his grapples lash out, and the angular momentum of the handbrake turn causes the lines to whip through the Blood.
As the enemies go sprawling, two of his industrial-strength grapples target and grab hold of Otto. His tires get traction against the rocky ground of the Attic. He speeds away from the scene, dragging his brother across the rough stone, not noticing the railgun shots that whiz past him - or those that occasionally find their mark in his own chassis.
Alycia is using the grapples built into her shock gloves to move between different vantage points in the Attic. Now, staring through the scope of the rifle she brought along (“just in case”), she spots Blood soldiers approaching the breach site’s perimeter. Some of them are carrying heavy power packs and long barrels. The railgun.
“Enemy approaching,” she whispers into her throat mic for the benefit of the team. “I count eleven special weapons.”
She aims, fires, aims, fires. “Ten. Nine.”
She’s shooting the power packs, not the people, which is galling to her past self. On the other hand, the power packs explode after a few seconds when hit, which adds to the chaos and causes the Blood to break ranks.
The Blood are well-trained. They scatter for cover as soon as they start receiving fire, and Alycia is pretty sure they’ll try to flank her current position. Fortunately she’s got the grapples. Unfortunately, the more she falls back, the closer they’ll get to the breach site.
She realizes something important. “The Blood at the breach don’t have the railguns. They were trying to bait the Newmen out and dispose of them. The attackers at the breach are a decoy. Radiance, Mo, take over breach defense. Ghost Girl, Concord, rally on me. Mercury, can you dispose of any guns you find?”
After half a second of tense uncertainty, she hears the voice she needs to hear. “Yeah, I concur,” Jason says via radio. “Team, let’s hop to it.”
In a few moments, Alycia can see Ghost Girl and Concord fly past her. The two erect their various barriers and shields. In turn, the Blood raise their weapons and fire. The railguns aren’t able to penetrate these defenses, despite repeated attempts.
Alycia grapples away. “Some probably got through already. I’m on the hunt.”
Mo is busy spraying construction foam to create a barricade around the breach site. Leo, Jason, Aria, and Summer are engaged in hand-to-hand with the Atlantean Blood still trying to reach the site. Otto is unconscious but still alive.
Behind the barriers that Charlotte and Adam are holding fast, Harry Gale is a blur. He streaks from squad to squad, leaping up and over, or ducking under, anyone in the way of his objective. When he finds a gunner, he yanks hold of the cables connecting gun and power pack, then grabs hold of the gun and dashes away. Breaking the guns is easy enough - he swings them at solid things he passes at super-speed, and the devices shatter satisfactorily.
“Five, four, three,” he chants, keeping up Alycia’s count of remaining weapons. “I’ve got all the ones I can see. Charade, where am I going now?”
In the distance, he sees a red flare light up the air. “On my way!” he calls.
A bold voice, amplified somehow, rings out over the sound of melee. “Menagerie! Parley!”
The Blood soldiers at the breach seem to recognize this as a signal, and begin backing off. Jason looks at his friends and nods. The battle comes to a tentative halt.
Senior Commander Saito emerges from the shadows. He’s accompanied by three Blood, carrying a heavy device.
Alycia arrives just in time to recognize it. “That’s one of Pyrrhus’ EMP bombs.”
Saito smiles. “Actually it’s our design. We gave it to him in exchange for the drug, which he did not deliver.”
The Blood commander turns his attention to Leo. “But you’ve upheld his end of the bargain anyway. Leo Snow. You will come with me, as prisoner.”
“Or you set off the bomb, knocking out all our Leviathans and trapping us all here?” Leo asks. “Why not threaten my mother while you’re at it, you fucking scumbag?”
“Her life buys me a different asset,” Saito replies smoothly. He stands next to the bomb, and holds up one hand. In it is a dead man’s switch - a device that’ll activate if he’s incapacitated for any reason. “Choose now. Surrender yourself, or doom yourself and your friends.”
“If I surrender, the evacuation continues,” Leo insists. “Take your jackbooted goons home and let us get these people to the surface.”
“Acceptable,” Saito says, to Leo’s great surprise. “Of course, the surface world may not be as welcoming as we were.”
A long quiet falls over the group. Leo finally turns, and looks for Jason and Alycia among his friends. “Aria and Summer can help you repair Otto,” he says.
Jason reaches out a hand. “Leo, don’t–”
Leo starts to walk toward Saito.
Together, the two depart the battlefield. Saito’s Blood soldiers melt away as well, leaving the evacuation to resume in silence.
The Leviathans are nearing the surface when Alex announces the news.
“The Blood invasion of the surface brought along EMP bombs, the kind we saw in Cairo. They made surgical strikes targeting data centers, City Hall, anything holding official records, paper or digital.”
Alycia breathes out. “But not dams, farms, or hospitals. They’re inciting social chaos, without taking human life en masse.”
“Yeah.” Alex’s voice wavers. “Shit. They knew right where to hit…”
“And the city’s heroes?” Jason asks urgently.
“The Blood had the numbers to tackle them,” Alex reports. “Early reports make it sound like they moved bombs through the sewers, and the surface forces made some pretty convincing feints. The heroes went for the short-term targets the Blood seemed interested in. We have a huge number of captives now, but eh, it doesn’t feel like that does us any good.”
Alycia raises another point. “Those ninja might have left a bomb on a timer anywhere. Like outside the Quill compound.”
“Let’s go to Site Five,” Mo suggests. “Nobody knows about it.”
Most of the team has been there before, thanks to Otto’s invitation to the debut of Mo and Big Bill. Jason, looking worn down, can only nod. “Alright. We’ll get Otto fixed up there. Then we can figure out our next move.”