Chapter – XXIX
Ani-man was a habitually light sleeper.
Anyone who survived four years of the Hero Certification Program, two years of internship, and then life as a Hero on the mean streets of Chicago learned to sleep whenever the opportunity presented itself, fall asleep quickly, and be roused easily. So when his comm beeped insistently from its charging pad by his bed, he was awake in an instant, his hand inserting the small comm into his ear in a well trained reflex.
No sooner did he have the comm in his ear than the beeping subsided and was replaced by a cool, feminine voice. “Dispatch to Ani-Man. We have a situation.”
“Of course you do,” he replied, mock grumpiness dripping from every word. “You never just call to say ‘hello’, do you? Go ahead Dispatch.”
“Certainly. There is an attempted robbery in progress at a gas station and convenience store. The responding CPD officers are pinned down and taking fire, and there is a hostage situation inside. We have reports that this may be connected to the the new gang of supers that Arachne identified as emerging from the South Shore. Chicago Police have created a perimeter but are avoiding additional involvement. There is at least one suspect is employing energy projection.”
“Shit!” Ani-man swore under his breath. Bullets and gas stations didn’t mix. Blasters and gas stations were a recipe for disaster. “What are we authorized for?”
“You are authorized to use whatever force you deem necessary to rescue the hostages and police officers. However your primary concern should be the integrity of the underground fuel tanks; they had a delivery this morning and are full. If those tanks explode the damage will be considerable, as will be the potential loss of life. Resolve the situation, but use caution.”
“Got it.” Ani-Man said, already half into his uniform. He paused for a moment to press a red button near his comm’s charging pad to activate the emergency alarm. “Second City Justice is mobilized and on the way. Dispatch, can you arrange for transport?”
“Burst will be outside your headquarters in five minutes.” Dispatch answered.
“Excellent. Ani-Man out.” he said as he pulled his cowl on. The one weakness in Second City Justice’s current configuration was that they didn’t have regular transportation. They had worked with Burst on multiple occasions, but Ani-Man had never been able to convince him to join the team.
Even with Arachne wearing her lowest-cut top.
There weren’t many teleporters who made it through the HCP. The services of all teleporters were in demand, but the ones that made it to full Hero status had uncommon skill, range, and flexibility. Because of that, many opted to freelance. Teleporting heroes received many requests for transportation or aid when time was of the essence, and the innate desire to help kept many teleporters from committing to any one team. Burst’s ability to pre-program, for lack of a better term, precise patterns of machine-gun fast jumps was dangerous and valuable.
“Good hunting Ani-Man.” Dispatch said, presumably going on to other duties.
In short order all of Second City Justice was gathered outside of their headquarters. Checkmate was still blinking his vision back into focus after being dazzled by the blinding flash as the twins synced into Cold Fusion. The kid was smart, but he still hadn’t learned to not look as Alala and Ailia merged into a single being. Granted it was a pretty unique sight, even for Heroes, but his power depended on his senses.
Ani-Man wiped the smirk off his face and extended his hand to greet Burst. “Morning Burst, how’s things?”
“Same old, same old.” the Hero in the muted green and grey costume responded, taking Ani-Man’s hand. “I presume your people are up to speed and ready to go?” It was as much a statement as a question.
“Hostage situation, cops pinned down, gas station could explode and wipe out most of a block. Just another day at the office” Menagerie confirmed.
“Okay, let’s go.” Burst said. And without waiting for a response from any of them, he went to work. Burst could only teleport a single passenger at a time, but his ability let him get all of them to their destination nearly simultaneously.
Ani-Man was the first to arrive and despite the familiar disorientation of teleporting, he could hear something akin to a giant cloth being torn and a giant stepping on bubble-wrap as Burst teleported back and forth bringing the other members of Second City Justice. A second, maybe two later and it was all over, the team assembled on a rooftop far enough away from the gas station to not be noticed, but close enough to be able to tell exactly what was going on.
Off to one side, Burst had his hand up to his ear, signaling that he was talking to Dispatch. “Okay, I’m on my way.” he said, after a few moments of listening. Turning to Ani-Man he said “Welp, duty calls. Good luck guys.” With that and a pop as air rushed in to fill the new void, Burst was gone.
“Okay.” Ani-Man said mentally shifting gears to the task at hand. “Menagerie, what are we dealing with?”
“Give me a minute” he said, and after a moment’s concentration, he changed.
First his eyes changed, irises becoming the piercing amber of an eagle as the eyes themselves grew. Then each of his pupils split in three and stalks stretched his eyes up above his head as he added the alien-like vision of the mantis shrimp. His ears stretched to nearly the size of satellite dishes as he tapped into a bat’s hearing, and his nose grew like a fire hose as he borrowed the olfactory prowess of the African elephant, dotted along the side with a shark’s electroreceptors.
It was a disturbing sight, watching a person’s head stretch and deform as it took on the some of the most potent traits of the animal kingdom. Ani-Man probably wouldn’t have even known what most of these animals were if he hadn’t accompanied Menagerie to the Chicago zoo to routinely refresh his DNA supply. But seeing it so often, and some even more extreme transformations, had jaded the team to the spectacle, although criminals often weren’t so well adapted.
After a few minutes of scanning with his hyper-charged senses, taking in sensations that people didn’t even have words for, Menagerie’s head returned to normal. “Okay, got it. We’ve got two cops pinned down behind their patrol car, four thugs outside. Three of them are using firearms, a nine millimeter, a forty-five, and an assault rifle, another is using some sort of directed energy weapon implanted in his wrist. Inside we have two hostages, three more punks inside.”
“Our priority is the integrity of the gas tank. We need to get the cops out of there and neutralize the threats outside.” Ani-Man said, launching into action. “Is there any way one of us can get those cops out of the way unseen?”
“Yep, there’s a manhole just a few feet past their car.” Menagerie replied “They’d get shredded if they made a break for it, but we could get someone there without being noticed, yeah.”
“Ricochet, that’s you. Cold Fusion and I will distract the guys outside. Checkmate, you’re on overwatch. Watch our backs and let Ricochet know when it’s time to make his move. Menagerie, get in position to rescue the hostages inside. Try to go nonlethal if you can. Arachne… Back Menagerie up and just be yourself. We good? Let’s go.”
The team of Heroes nodded as one and set to work. Ricochet and Menagerie simply leapt off the roof, trusting their powers to protect them. Upon landing, Ricochet flowed into a nearby storm drain while Menagerie glided silently through the alleyways like a flying squirrel. Ani-Man and Arachne took the more mundane fire escape down to the street.
Cold Fusion waited a minute for the others to get into position before taking off from the roof, powered by an intense blast of plasma from her feet. After Cold Fusion was on her way, taking the powerful magnetic field she generated to control her energies with her, Checkmate powered up the surveillance gear built into his costume and waited, watching.