Stella soon discovered that the Humanity First compound was a confusing maze of piled up trash, wrecked vehicles, mobile homes, sheds, and outbuildings. The place has clearly once been a farm, then a construction business of some kind, then a scrap yard, and finally the sort of place that people who’d hit bottom and kept going lived. Stella’s life had not put her in contact with the more unsavory elements of society, but she was sure one of those outbuildings contained a drug lab.
Choosing a different building on the outskirts of the property, Stella dragged her prisoner along. He’d tried to make noise and delay her, but Stella was able to safely choke him out with her enhanced strength, and just slung him over her shoulder. It was a bit of a struggle while bonded to gold, copper, and silver; but Stella stuck with the weaker metals just in case the strange radiation that killed Influx and crippled her fellow VCS agents came back.
The third building Stella broke into was a run down barn that was perfect for her needs. It was full of boxes and scrap; there were piles of stuff that she had to wade through just to get into the lofted area fifteen feet above the floor. She took her prisoner with her; zip tying him to a rack of machine parts, and gagging him with rags she found nearby.
In a situation like this, as a civilian super, and a VCS agent, she was expected to get herself away from any fight as soon as possible. If escape was impossible, she was expected to avoid conflict and await extraction. She’d only taken the kid because he could have revealed where she’d hidden Monique, Gerald, and Miriam.
Retreating from this fight grated on Stella’s nerves. She was sorely tempted to ignore DVA policy and go rampaging through the compound. However, if she did that she might lose her position as an agent, and she found that she loved the work. Giving these Humanity First monsters the beating they deserved wasn’t worth the risk of losing her job.
As chance would have it, someone else had decided the barn was a good place to hide as well. Stella found one of the heroes from the briefing that morning. He was a mess, and Stella couldn’t comprehend how the man had even made his way up to this lofted section of the barn. He must have had an inhuman level of pain tolerance to have dragged his way anywhere, leave alone up a steep and narrow flight of rickety wooden stairs.
His costume was a black armored suit with highlights and patterns in a deep blood red that covered every inch of flesh. He carried an impressive amount of gear on him, and at his hip was a ludicrously huge handgun. The most striking thing about him at the moment was how all of his limbs were bent at wrong angles, like every single bone in his body had been shattered, and put back together wrong. His head lolled to the side at Stella’s approach, and he mumbled incoherently at her; gesturing futilely towards his head.
“You want me to take your mask off?”
“Yuh,” the hero gargled. “Brkn… Cntlk… Hear.”
“All of it? You’re OK with me seeing your face?”
“Yuh,” the hero said, and then made a strange wheezing noise. Stella realized it must have been an attempt at laughter.
It took Stella several minutes to extricate the hero from his mask without hurting him, or making too much noise. It became clear that the reason he wanted it off was because all the gear inside it had shorted out like Stella’s phone, and made it difficult to communicate. She did her best not to recoil in horror at what she saw when she got the last of the mask off of the hero. His face was crumpled and distorted, like a partially crushed beer can.
“Need good healer huh?” He asked.
“Yeah, but at least you don’t have to worry about your identity. I won’t recognize you after that’s all fixed up.”
The hero moaned in pain. “Don’t make… Me laugh… Ribs all broke.” His right hand flopped around his torso in an attempt to shake hands. “Strike.”
Stella shook the hand gently, partly because the bone breaks had messed up Strike’s hands, and partly because she was still fairly strong despite being bonded to lighter metals. “Agent Hawkens.”
“The ferro-mimetic. Was with Influx. She OK?”
Stella shuddered, shook her head, and looked away. Influx’s horrific death was going to haunt Stella’s nightmares for years. She’d known that violent death would be a part of her life if she’d graduated from the HCP, but seeing someone explode like that was worse than anything she could have imagined.
Strike’s head fell back against the floor, and he closed his eyes and sighed. For several minutes he lay there, apparently exhausted by his injuries. Stella’s initial impression seemed to be correct. All of the hero’s long bones, his face and part of his skull, and several of his fingers and ribs looked like they’d been broken, and then healed incorrectly.
Stella got as many rags and other soft objects as she could find, and put Strike in as comfortable a position as she could, sitting him up a little while she was at it. Eventually he roused himself, and seemed to have a little more energy; even able to talk clearly. It looked like his head was starting to straighten itself out.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’ve never been hurt like that before. Whatever that energy was, it increased everyone’s power past their ability to control. My muscles went haywire.”
“That sounds right,” Stella agreed. “I was mostly gold and silver, so it just rolled over me, but it felt nasty. What is your power anyway? Can you use it at all to help us get out of here?”
“Unfortunately not,” said Strike. “I’m a strongman. That’s why my muscles got out of control and broke all my bones.”
Stella was confused. “I thought all the heroes in on this mission were subtlety heroes?”
Strike grinned. “I am a subtlety hero. We’re always what you least expect, and no one expects a subtlety hero to throw a truck at them. You can do a lot with super strength if you’re sneaky. I know you can carry me and your prisoner out of here, but it’d be better if I could walk. Do you think you can re-break my legs, so they can heal back straight.”
“Are you sure? Can you take it without making too much noise?”
In response, Strike grabbed a mass of cloth and shoved into his mouth, and then nodded to Stella. Stella shifted to one of the lighter titanium alloys she kept with her, and went to work, doing her best to ignore the muffled grunts of pain and suppressed screams.
Stella had broken limbs before, both her own and other people’s, but it didn’t make the experience of breaking Strike’s limbs and pulling them straight any more pleasant. Like most strongmen he had a prodigious healing ability, but it still took well over an hour just to get him to a point where he could walk. His arms still dangled uselessly at odd angles.
“I think you should take my gun, just in case. We’ll strap sleeping beauty over there to my back, and we’ll leg it out of here. Take the belt and holster too, and don’t fire it at anyone unless you’re certain you want them dead. It’ll kill a normal human, and most supers, even if you wing them.”
Stella grabbed the weapon, surprised to find it had some heft even while she was in a form that could lift well over a ton. It was clear that no normal human could have fired it without hurting themselves. It took some time to get the belt and holster adjusted, and then they were ready to go.
It took almost as much time to explain to Strike that she wasn’t going with him, because she was going to rescue Miriam, Monique, and Gerald before the Humanity First anti-super weapon could be turned on again.