Dauphin island was a beautiful place at the best of times. Rare birds rested there after weeks crossing the gulf of mexico during migrations. Scenic beaches whirred their way past civil war fortresses, partially restored to their original structures. Aquariums bubbled to keep track of the gulf’s unique ecosystem at all times, lest it be disrupted.
The Association base was decided less pretty. It was an old air force base, built before aesthetics mattered beyond being able to see what was going on. Perhaps against the Cubans, or against the southern Americans. Whoever clawed their way up strong enough to threaten this side of the ocean would be dealt with.
Ironmarrow parked the car by the bridge and locked it with a flick of her keys and then vaulted over top of the barrier blocking entry to the island.
An officer greeted her there.
We stared at him for a long moment, his eyes drifting across each of us in turn, before settling across me.
“Gale? What’re you doing here? This is dangerous.”
I swallowed, but kept right on walking past him, shooting a glance at the other three. “There’s an evacuation request on the radio, officer. You should probably get somewhere safe, this could get dicey.”
I knew it would get dicey. But what could I do about it? That wouldn’t leave me a wreck on the ground.
“They’re at the base,” The officer said, shooting me a long look. “Are you sure you’re up for this? You’re not…”
“I’m fine,” I asserted, looking towards Mary. She was giving me a long look. Grey eyes like gravel. Or steel. Did she knew?
It was impossible she knew. I was Gale, B-Class. Not Gale, D-class. Who’d die a martyr.
“Let’s hurry it up,” Gunze said. “Keep up the good work Officer. Sorry about your colleagues in Mobile.”
“Actually… “ I hesitated. I was here to recruit people, and yet, I was thinking about turning down this officer just because he recognized me. How selfish. “Could you leave too? The citizenry are getting nervous, and the badge might help.”
“Who is in charge?” The officer asked.
“I am,” I replied. “So we need your help.”
His gaze swept over to where his car was parked, and slowly, the barrier raised so he too could escape.
Then he left us there.
“We didn’t need to do that,” Hands said, a bit quietly. “He seemed like he got under your skin a little there, Gale.”
“It’s fine. He’ll be safer in Mobile, won’t he?” I said. Hesitating.
Gunze walked in front of us and towards the burning base in the distance. “We’ve got colleagues to save. Worry about your hierarchy after the mission is over, New Capes. It’ll save your damn lives.”
Mary took a deep shuddering breath, and then bowled forward, her skin turning into corded metal and her bones bulging in her taut skin until she looked like a bodybuilder instead of a suburbanite.Her clothing stretched across her body, just barely holding intact, (I recognized the material used in her uniform, but couldn’t put it to a name) but she pushed pack Gunze to take up the head.
“How long can you hold that?” Gunze said. Long tendrils dripped from his finger tips, spooling off into spread on the ground below. Warm ups. How long had it been since they joined the field of battle?
“As long as it takes to get me back to Mobile,” Ironmarrow grunted. “I’ve gotta get home before the kids get up in the morning.”
“Heh,” Gunze cut in. “You went and had kids?”
“We all get tired of fighting eventually.”
“And yet you’re here,” Hands said.
“Doesn’t mean we ever forget why we fight,” The behemoth said, crossly. We crossed the sandy ridge and I felt sweat roll down the back of my neck.
The rows of beach houses and condos and gargantuan skyscrapers that had spited hurricanes for generations came into view. Skeletal, like desperate fingers digging into the sand, windows broken, shattered.
There was a brief flicker in one of the windows, then Gunze scowled. “SNIPER!”
The sandy dirt exploded in front of them, cracking through pavement and sending up hot chunks of asphalt into the air.
“I got it!” Ironmarrow called, and lumbered forward like a beast, hurling herself forward with each punch of her sallow, bruising skin.
Gunze drew his hands out in front of them and threw up a wall of threaded cord, then ran off into the condos for cover.
Hands and I looked at each other’s eyes, her face rimmed with fear, and I nodded, gritting my teeth. “Time to be heroes, Hands.”
She started a bit, then stared at me. “Right!”
Then she dove off into cover, with me just a few seconds behind her.
Gunze’s threads wove their way between buildings before snapping taut like rubber bands, away from the old man that had thrown them up. They glistened like wet silk in the setting sun, red against the ocean, clouds painted in pastels instead of blood.
Then as we watched a building that had once held only snowbirds, we saw a single body fall from it, foot by foot, spinning end over end, and smash across the pavement.
Ironmarrow was not built for nonlethal takedowns.
My com went off on my hip as I peered out from cover.
“Sniper down,” The bulky heroine came through, loud and clear. “The building is bristling with guards. I’ll take them down and make some noise. Gale, Gunze, can you make a play for the building while I distract them?”
She couldn’t join us. She was too obvious, and given I couldn’t hear anyone fighting from the base… we could only assume that those inside had been captured. Were being interrogated.
There were other options, but I didn’t want to think about those, not now. I couldn’t stand the thought we were already too late.
If Ironmarrow were to come with us, then they’d just execute everyone in their claws, just to cut ties and salt the earth for the rescue team.
This had just gotten even more complicated, and turned into a stealth mission.
“Get in, get out, get who we can, save what we can,” I said, locking eyes with Gunze across the street. He nodded in agreement. “Hands, back to our position. I need to know how much stealth training you know.”
We had a plan to make.