Every April as part of the Reciprocators' anniversary, the Perspectives series revisits its inaugural topic: participants sign up for a random draw to see who will write about whose character. 2010's saw another lucky draw for me, this time I got Bolty, who wrote pretty much the definitive "Lt. Hess" story, and threw in some terrifically memorable new NPCs to boot. Which reminds me to go bother her for more Boom stories. Also, major bonus points for not missing a single Spivak pronoun (a feat even I've rarely managed on the first posting), and for the mental image of a phase shifter suggestively humping his bits into a brick wall.
"I can take one other wit' me, maybe two, but those fuckin' bubbles always mess up my molecules." Mattermeld gestured vaguely as he explained to the other three, "More than one of ya and there's no guarantees we'll all be separate on the other side."
The Androgyne frowned as E considered this. E and eir team were currently hunkered down behind a burnt out tank, where it rested in the torn up earth near the Rikti Mothership's crater. The sides of the tank were pockmarked with old energy blasts and bullet holes; signs of the constant conflict in the area. The Mothership itself loomed just beyond. Beside em, Babelfish shifted his weight in his crouched position, trying to avoid cramping one leg. "Well that's settled then. I must enter, and it would not do for us to become merged with the Androgyne or Boom." Meld leered at them with that. Earlier on in the day, after making Boom so uncomfortable she was almost a liability while fighting, Meld had turned his 'romantic' attentions Ani's way. E had pointed out that E actually lacked the appropriate equipment for what Meld had in mind in the hopes of stalling all further attempts, but the mustachioed villain had simply grinned and said they could "just pretend", then pelvic thrusted a nearby wall. Instead of experiencing something painful and embarrassing his hips had disappeared completely into the brickwork.
Shaking eir head, Ani attended to Babelfish as he continued on with his plan, drawing lines in the dirt to indicate the best point for he and Meld to enter the Mothership itself and complete the mission. Fish was a certified mutant genius, able to comprehend and fluently articulate in any language; any at all. This included all computer programming languages, an ability which had made him invaluable in gaining intelligence. The Helm had set them the dangerous task of accessing some fairly significant computer systems in sections of the Mothership which were still mostly intact and in use by the Rikti. No doubt these were all heavily patrolled by elite Rikti soldiers; Ani frowned as E considered this. "It's too dangerous. Without us as backup you'll never make it close enough. Every hallway is going to be crawling with guards."
"Not if ya smoke 'em out fer us." Mattermeld drawled, leaning back against the tank with a smug look. "Go shake yer non-goods at the aliens and draw 'em off."
"Like, uhm...a distraction?" Boom asked timidly, tugging at her braid where it stuck out of her crash helmet. She took a deep breath to calm herself. Boom was quite possibly one of the most nervous people on the planet, being born with the amazing and horrifying ability to make anything explode. Anything. Hero Corp. sponsored her through a number of different relaxation and meditation programs as a condition of her citizenship. Though she'd been living safely in Paragon City for a number of years, rumours still abounded about her early childhood in Brazil, the most notable involving a distressing event with a bully which ended with a very young, very shocked Boom being covered in brain matter.
"An excellent suggestion." Babelfish replied, nodding once. "Something suitably large and important enough so as to require the attention of more than the nearest patrol squad. You two will need to seem like a direct threat to the safety of their officers or base of operations."
Ani stared out across the desolate ruin at the centre of the warzone, eir gaze settling on a structure nearby the line of partially intact buildings. "...A pylon. If we hit one of those hard enough they'll have to respond. If those things come crumbling down they'll lose their forcefield. The Mothership itself will be vulnerable." E looked appraisingly at Boom, making her dip her gaze reflexively. "Think you're up to it, Boomer?"
"I-I'll try..." She said, fidgeting. Meld grinned and stretched. "Perfect...c'mon Fishface, let's get movin'." A minute more of hurried planning as to correct timing and the other two disappeared, Mattermeld dragging Babelfish down through the ground so as to approach the ship without detection. Ani and Boom were on their own. "This shouldn't be too hard." E stated cheerfully, trying to keep Boom calm and uplifted.
The two heroes skirted the crash site, searching for the optimal pylon to attack. Something with plenty of cover, and as far from the ship as possible so as to buy the others more time. Unfortunately, the outer pylons were already crawling with guards, and so to even begin there they'd need to fight their way through. Running out of time, they eventually settled on Pylon 18.
Quietly setting down behind a broken wall, Ani and Boom quickly talked strategy. E would watch her back and irradiate any Rikti that came by while she concentrated explosive fire on the Pylon's inner workings. Taking a deep breath, Boom slowly stood up and narrowed her eyes, staring down the pylon through a chink in the wall. Ani waited tensely.
There were a few soft pops, and Boom relaxed slightly. "I...I think I've screwed up its targ--" She cut off with a squeal and jumped at Ani, rolling them both out of the way as the wall shattered into chunks of rock and mortar. The head of the tower clunked slowly around to try and track them for another volley of missiles. Somewhere behind them there were sounds of alarm and heavy movements. Ani scrambled to eir feet. "Don't stop now, we need attention. I'll hold them off!"
Turning from Boom, Androgyne set eir feet into a ready stance. E could see long dark threads trailing out to random points in the debris nearby, occasionally connecting with a flash of movement as the Rikti soldiers came closer. It looked as though they were fanning out to try and surround them; E'd have to do something about that. Taking careful aim, Ani concentrated and called up a tremendous ball of radiant energy which E hurled out towards one of the edges, noting with grim satisfaction that one of the threads connecting em to eir enemies was cut. The process was repeated on the other side as E tried to herd the soldiers back into a more manageable group. Behind Ani, a series of explosions sounded as Boom set off the next volley of missiles, making them explode harmlessly in the air before reaching them. Having to divert her concentration like that though was taking its toll; it would be some time before the Pylon stopped functioning. Those things were designed to handle artillery fire.
The Rikti soldiers broke from cover, charging towards Androgyne and Boom across the rubble strewn ground. Plasma blasts were fired, thankfully doing little more than singeing Ani's suit. E grit eir teeth and shot back blasts of eir own, causing immediate cellular breakdown wherever they hit. Confusion and horror ensued, the disjointed cries of alarm from the soldiers led to most of them falling back and giving Ani a short reprieve. The patrol leader reached em, bringing its heavy energy blade in a sweeping overhand arc at Ani's skull. E dodged to the side, feeling the sword whistle dangerously past eir cheek, then stretched up to thump the Rikti hard in the throat. With the contact E unleashed a deadly burst of radiation which spread outwards. Ani's unique abilities took over, transforming the DNA of the horrified creature to a carbon copy of eir own. The deathly mask of a mingling of eir own face and the Rikti's natural features stared at em before it slumped to the ground.
"Andr--FFFFT--oom? They're movi---CCCCHHHHHHHTTTTCHHH--ere." Babelfish's voice came buzzing in Ani's ear, the speech garbled. E winced at the static.
"Fish? You getting this? I think the forcefield must be screwing with the signal."
"Wha--TTZZCH-at? I think yo--ZZCH--any soon. FFTPCCHHH--oing in." The comm signal cut off. Ani risked a glance over eir shoulder at Boom. There was a sizeable crack in the shell of the pylon, and as E watched another wave of missiles burst in the air. The concentration was clearly taxing her though; the hair poking out from under her crash helmet was drenched in sweat, and her shoulders had a definite slump to them. "It's working!" Ani called to her, hoping a shot of morale might keep her going that little bit longer. "We hold the soldiers off for a little while and the others will do the rest!" Boom gave him a single, droopy nod and one more missile exploded harmlessly. Eir attention was dragged away as the remaining soldiers from the patrol squad returned for another attack. This time they spread out again, firing from the cover of broken walls and piles of rubble. After trading bolts back and forth ineffectually for a minute the Androgyne decided to move out to meet them. Following the threads which bound em to eir foes, Ani sought out each soldier and irradiated them. Eir movements may have almost seemed casual; Eliminating lone Rikti soldiers had become something of a pastime for the Androgyne. Dusting eir hands, E turned to head back to Boom just in time to hear a shrill scream rend the air. Ani's blood ran cold; the thread of fate which bound Boom to em was about to be severed. Reaching out, E drew emself along the thread, bringing em to Boom's side in the blink of an eye. E was greeted by chaos.
The pylon still stood, preparing itself for another deadly rocket swarm. Boom lay in a crumpled heap on the ground, half her body burned by a barrage of energy blasts, however in her distress she had lost her barely held control. Littered around her were the bodies of an elite Rikti unit; two had split open, and steam was now rising from exposed organs. Three more lay twitching, blood leaking from their nostrils and auditory openings. The last walked dazedly around in a circle, staring at the grizzled stump where its arm used to be. It flopped to the ground and garbled "Patrol: Ambushed..." before keeling over.
Ani's attention was torn from the horrifying scene as Boom's thread snapped in two. Frantically E snatched at the ends and drew them back together, tearing a fragment away from the thread of the dying Rikti to patch hers. Boom gasped out in pain and shuddered as life flowed back into her. With only a moment's hesitation, Ani unclipped eir medical transport beacon and attached it to Boom's armour; discarding her own which had been destroyed in the Rikti attack. E activated it, sending her to safety.
There was no time to rest though as the telltale whistling alerted the Androgyne to a fresh attack from the only superficially damaged Pylon. E turned and ran as a number of missiles crashed into the ground where E and Boom had been only seconds before. E could only count on a few minutes before another group of soldiers would arrive to investigate the dying Rikti's message; Ani had to make the most of it. "You and me now, buddy." Still running, the hero twisted eir body to face the Pylon and cast out eir arms, firing concentrated bursts of radiation at the top of the tower. If E could just destroy the targeting system, things would become much easier.
Hurdling over a low wall, Ani turned and threw a colossal ball of eir personal brand of radiation at the head of the tower. Sparks erupted from it in a satisfying manner, and it spun and shot a volley of rockets off at all angles. E dropped down behind cover as one came careening overhead; it hit a heap of broken brickwork and sent chunks of rock and dust into the air. A few more devastating explosions sounded out of sight. Taking a deep breath, Ani carefully rose up on all fours and peeked over the top of the wall. The Pylon's head was spinning around, seeking likely targets. Every now and then it would fire off a few projectiles at a relatively inoffensive patch of the landscape. Ani grinned and stood properly. Gathering radioactive energy E tossed another powerful blast at the tower, and yet another. The Pylon launched missiles in all directions, like a wounded animal flailing to deter predators. Stepping out of cover as it was struck by one of the rockets, Ani prepared a final strike. E took aim and--BLAM! A plasma blast struck em in the side, sending em reeling. "Hero: Contact!" a Rikti soldier shouted to its fellows, raising its rifle for another shot. Stumbling to keep eir feet, Ani ran for more cover. E threw eir prepared energy at the Rikti and knocked its weapon from its hand. The Rikti clutched at the appendage as the flesh morphed into something wholly alien to it. A few more soldiers emerged from between the broken buildings and fired upon Ani as E scrambled for safety. A few steps away from the dubious shelter of a shell of a car Ani was brought to a sudden halt as a Headman class Rikti materialised directly in front of him. It raised its energy blade, ready to strike. "Game: Over." Frantically, Ani took hold of the thread which linked their fates and used it to fling the Headman into the air. The confused Pylon set off another round of untargetted missiles, one of which the flailing Rikti careened straight into. Smouldering chunks of its armour fell to the ground, one smacking heavily onto Ani's shoulder, dislocating it and pushing em to the ground. E rolled quickly behind the burnt out car before more shots from the other soldiers could hit em. "...Continue?" E gasped to emself in pain as E tried to pop eir shoulder back into place unsuccessfully.
The Androgyne listened as footsteps neared eir resting place. The Rikti's movements sounded wary, but still they drew closer. Ani's mind raced through possibilities as eir eyes darted about in search of better cover. Much of the area had been turned to Swiss cheese by the erratic blasting of the Pylon, and so none of the nearby options for shelter were particularly sound. Running out of time, E desperately launched emself to eir feet. Shooting a burst of radiation with eir only workable arm at the tower, E ducked under a blast from one of the Rikti soldier's rifles and dove at the legs of two of them. The unsuspecting Rikti fell upon Ani in a tangle of limbs as the Pylon spun its head around for retaliatory fire. As the flurry of missiles flew down towards them Ani discarded outside influences from eir mind and opened up to the threads of fate. Tugging hard upon one E propelled emself as far from the unfortunate Rikti as E could, materialising in the sky a safe distance away and dropping heavily to the ground behind a wall as the rockets detonated.
With a pained yelp as E tried to stand Ani discovered eir ankle was sprained, whether during eir struggle with the soldiers or in the fall E could not tell. Using eir good arm E dragged emself up a nearby wall and hobbled back towards the combat zone. However, the sound of frightened breathing and hurried footsteps nearing eir position made em stop suddenly and press against the wall as the final Rikti soldier edged past, looking back at the scene where their comrades had all met their end. "Discretion." It said, babbling distressedly, "Better part: valour." With a faint smile, Ani stepped out of eir hiding place, one arm dangling uselessly at eir side, and held out a hand almost welcomingly to eir terrified foe. "Let me make you beautiful..." E whispered, releasing a wave of radiation and bringing an end to the Rikti's misery.
The last of the Androgyne's strength was spent limping back towards the Pylon and firing a few bursts of radioactive energy directly at the top. The missiles loaded for its next shot detonated, showering the ground with shards of Rikti technology. Ani let out a tired sigh as eir comm unit crackled back to life.
"Ani?" Babelfish's voice came through, much clearer this time. "We have the data. Boom's not responding to my hails, are you alright?"
"Yeah...yeah all good here." Ani replied wearily.
"Excellent. Well, I think you've created enough of a distraction, we're evacuating now. You'd best get out of there before things get really hairy."
"Right, right." E shut off eir comm and took hold of a thread, rearranging eir destiny elsewhere.