I'm back, with rather a more ambitious project than "It's a Tradition." This started knocking around in my head a while ago, but I wanted to finish "Tradition" first. It will eventually be slash, but not for a while yet, so if that's not your cup of tea, you should be safe for several chapters.
Disclaimer: Four score and sevenminutes ago,a young author didst bring forth this 'fic, conceived in the principles that she owned nothing having anything to do with "Static Shock," or its creators. She doth humbly ask that those who do own "Static Shock" (as if they hang out on fanfic sites) do not sue.
"I can't believe you got us lost!"
"Me? Uh-uh, this one's entirely on you."
"You're the one who insisted on coming down here in the first place."
"You're the one who forgot to bring a map! Are you seriously telling me that you don't have a compass in all that tech you carry around?"
"Backpack has a built in GPS!"
"Well Backpack ain't doing a whole lot of good right now, is it?"
"Because you electrified the puddle before it got clear!"
"I thought it was clear."
"And exactly what part of 'Wait! Backpack's not clear!' made you think that?"
There was silence for a moment. Then, a heavy sigh. "Okay, you're right. This is my fault."
"Glad you see things my way."
Virgil glanced down guiltily at the little robot gamely clinging to his partner's back. The casing was charred a nearly solid black, and every few seconds a wisp of acrid smelling smoke escaped the vents on the sides. Richie had built the thing tough…but not tough enough to withstand a few thousand volts of electricity.
"Are you gonna be able to fix it?" he asked quietly.
"Probably." Virgil winced at the short, clipped tone of Richie's voice. He sincerely hoped his friend was just caught up in trying to figure out a solution to their problem and not genuinely angry with him. It had, after all, been an accident. More or less.
Virgil sighed again…here he had thought it would be an easy night. A little patrolling, put in an appearance at dinner, and then head up to his bedroom with Richie to settle in for an all night marathon of "Zombie Hunter II, III, IV, and Zombie Hunter V: Son of Zombie Hunter." Such were the delights of summer vacation. He'd been looking forward to it all week.
Instead, 'a little patrolling' was quickly turning into an all-nighter. He'd nearly finished his final circuit, almost half an hour ahead of schedule, when Richie had signaled him over the Shock-box. Backpack had detected major meta-human signature activity in the commercial district. The police scanner was going crazy with calls for backup. There was no question that Static and Gear were needed—quickly.
The evening went downhill from there.
They arrived on a scene of pure chaos. It was one of Dakota's more upscale shopping hubs—the kind of place where none of the merchandise on display had price tags because if you had to ask how much it was, you couldn't afford it. Nearly every storefront had been broken into. Shattered glass practically carpeted the street, cars had been overturned, a fire hydrant had been blown apart and was still spewing a tower of water into the air.
There was no sign of the meta-human who was responsible. However, a thrill of uneasiness went through Virgil as he took in the sight of several of Dakota's finest huddling together behind makeshift shelters of cars and debris. To a man they had their weapons out and were pointing them wildly in seemingly random directions, as though they were trying to cover every in of space around them at once.
"That's not overly reassuring." Virgil turned his disc in midair to find Richie hovering beside him, watching the police with the same faintly alarmed expression.
"Tell me about it. What's the 411?"
Richie shrugged, a perplexed look replacing the alarm beneath the green visor. "That's the thing—I'm reading massive energy output in the area, but I can't tell you what kind. Reports off the police band aren't much help, either—" Richie broke off as Backpack beeped insistently. Virgil saw the faint tracings of data scrolling across the interface screen Richie wore, and the perplexity deepened on his friend's face. "Aw man, where have I seen this before?" Richie mused aloud.
He got his answer seconds later.
There was hardly any warning—only a soft whump and a rush of frigid air behind them. Then something slammed hard into Richie's back, and Virgil could only watch in shocked horror as his friend began tumbling out of the air, his attacker still clinging to his back.
Richie reacted like a pro, firing the rockets on his skates at full blast and managing to turn his downward spiral into more or less horizontal flight. He still dipped dangerously close to the earth, but relief welled up in Virgil when he managed to avoid hitting the ground. The offender, realizing its plan had failed, leapt from Richie's back with uncanny grace, twisting in the air like a cat to land on the hood of one of the few untouched cars on the street.
It took Virgil a second to realize he was already moving, pulling power into himself from every available source. By the time he and Richie met in the air again to hover above the meta-human, his hands were crackling with blue light.
"You okay?" he asked tersely as soon as Richie was within hearing distance.
"Yeah! Damn look at that poor guy!" Richie answered, a little breathlessly. Virgil looked, and instantly saw what his friend was talking about. A lot of the bang babies they had encountered over the years had been very fortunate—like Richie and Virgil themselves, the effects of the Big Bang could not be readily seen. A lot of them had not been so lucky.
This poor soul was one of the unlucky ones. The man (if you could call it a man) sitting on the car, glaring up at them, looked like the love-child of a professional wrestler and a leprous toad. He had to be at least six foot three, and it all looked like solid muscle. There, the resemblance to anything human ended. The bang baby was completely bald, and his face was far too wide, as though the bones of his skull had been stretched beyond their natural capacity. A wide, gaping mouth through which razor sharp teeth could be seen, and reptilian black eyes completed the demonic features. The guy's skin was a grayish-green, covered with oozing pustules and blisters…as if it was slowly rotting off his bones.
The bang baby was crouched, gargoyle-like, staring up at them with unholy glee. There was, Virgil was worried to note, quite a lot of intelligence in those eyes—but not much sanity. "Well, well, well…if it isssssn't the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Thisssss will be more exciting than I thought." The bang baby's voice was a deep, sibilant hiss, bringing to mind visions of snakes and muck and crawling things.
"Tonto?" Virgil and Richie both protested at the same time, identical tones of outrage in their voices. Then Richie crossed his arms over his chest. "Hey, how come you get to be the Lone Ranger?"
"Later, bro," Virgil said quickly. The bang baby crouched further down, muscles bulging. Virgil and Richie automatically split up in the air as the bang baby sprung at them, leaving him high and dry with no target to land on.
In theory, anyway.
In actuality, the bang baby sprung at them, and then seemed to fold in on himself. There was the strange whump again, the blast of icy air, and a flash of white light. The bang baby was gone. Virgil paused to share a wide-eyed look with Richie, and then it was his turn to be slammed from behind.
whump The weight was gone from his back and he heard Richie cry out in what he fervently hoped was not pain.
whump Something hard stuck him across the face, sending him tumbling still farther down.
whump The whine of Richie's rockets sounded again, but then there was an awful crash—as though something had struck the side of a building.
whump The weight landed between Virgil's shoulder blades again, and finally forced him to the ground.
He hit with bone-jarring force, though thankfully he hadn't been high enough in the air for any real damage to be caused. He felt the bang baby's foot digging into the back of his neck, heard a wheezing, trilling laugh.
"Isssss that all you've got, hero?" The foot was moved from his neck and Virgil immediately rolled to his back, letting fly with a blast of power in the direction the voice had been coming from.
whump There was nothing there. At least now he knew why the police had been so freaked out. Painfully, Virgil got to his feet and scanned the street. The bang baby was nowhere to be seen. Richie was on the ground a few yards away, just struggling to his knees and holding one hand to his head. Virgil recharged his disc with a thought and leaped upon it, hurrying over to his partner's side.
"You okay, man?" he asked anxiously. Richie lurched to his feet and leaned against the side of the building he had landed next to.
"Oh I'm just super," Richie muttered sarcastically. "Wasn't that just a special surprise? Where'd he go?"
"I dunno." Richie joined him in the air and the two moved loosely back to back. This time, they were careful to stay closer to the ground. "How do we beat a teleporter?"
"He's not teleporting," Richie muttered. Virgil ignored him—he didn't care about the particulars, he just wanted to know how to take the guy down. The two of them looked around the street warily. Except for the still spouting water, things were eerily silent. A few brave cops peeked over the edges of their shelters, shooting questioning glances at the two heroes.
Richie shot straight up the instant the strange explosion of air sounded behind them, narrowly avoiding getting hit again by the bang baby. Virgil fired off a blast as the bang baby sailed past. He howled in pain as the blast connected with perfect accuracy. Unfortunately, it only seemed to anger him. The bang baby twisted in mid-air to land once again on all fours, hunkering down on the asphalt. Then, he vanished again.
"Okay…that's going to get real old, real fast," Richie growled, rejoining Virgil yet again.
"Any ideas?" Richie cocked his head in a strangely birdlike movement, scanning the street below them. Seconds later, he focused on the hydrant, still churning out the water.
"Actually…yeah." Richie glanced behind him and Backpack disengaged, leaping onto the side of a building and scurrying down. "You just stay up here—be ready to give it all you've got!"
"Wait, what? What're you gonna do?"
Neither of them hesitated this time, they just moved. The bang baby caught Richie around the waist as he fell past this time. This time, though, Richie grabbed on just as hard, firing his rockets at full blast. The two of them sped towards the ground, Richie twisting more or less on top of the tangle of limbs they had become.
"Gear!" Virgil shouted as they hit the asphalt. The cry was echoed by a few of the officers who were still on the scene. Two brave souls broke cover and hurried into the street, weapons drawn. Richie was back on his feet quickly, though, and frantically waved the police officers back.
Virgil hovered indecisively—on the one hand, if Richie had a plan, it was probably best not to mess with it. On the other hand, it went against every instinct Virgil had not to try and help. Anxiously, Virgil searched the street for Backpack, trying to find some hint of what his partner was planning.
"Oh come on, ugly! Is that all you got?" Richie was tossing a zap-trap from hand to hand, even though he knew it would not be much help against this bang baby. That wasn't the point, though. The point was to keep the bang baby focused on Gear.
Virgil realized what his partner wanted him to do a split second before he had to do it. Backpack had made its way from fire hydrant to fire hydrant along the length of the street, methodically busting each of them open. The resulting torrent of water pouring into the street had created a small stream around Richie and the bang baby. "Gotcha," Virgil chuckled slyly. "Gear, now!" he shouted, raising his hands in the air and calling the energy for a nova ball to him.
"Wait! Backpack's not clear!" It was too late. Virgil let his power loose and Richie was forced to take to the air again or risk being fried right along with his prized gadget.
Electricity met the standing water and did its thing. The bang baby howled again as the shock raced through its body. Richie howled too as the shock raced through Backpack. A truly painful shriek of feedback erupted from his interface with the small robot, and Virgil could only watch as Backpack nearly exploded. The casing blackened, the legs twitched spasmodically, and the "eye" waved wildly as the electricity arced into it. It was over in seconds.
The bang baby collapsed onto the street as the electricity dissipated, and the police swarmed out from their hiding places. Richie dived to the ground, landed next to Backpack, which was still twitching pathetically. A cloud of black smoke was pouring out of the vents on the sides, and the stench of fried wires hung in the air. Virgil drifted down to hover above them.
"Um…oops?" he said lamely.
"Aw man, I can't believe you did that!" Richie shouted. "Backpack—run diagnostic." A pitiful beep answered him, along with a fresh belch of smoke. Richie sighed. "Well, that answers that," he muttered.
"Sorry, bro," Virgil said sheepishly. Richie merely glared at him.
"Static! Help!" Both boys looked up at the shout. The police were clustered in a knot around the place where the bang baby had fallen. Even as the shout's echo was dying down, though, the men and woman were flung aside like so many toys. The bang baby roared as he lurched to his feet, gripping one female cop by the neck and raising her off the ground.
Virgil was already moving. He heard Richie behind him, glanced back to see that the burned out Backpack had made it back onto his partner's back and Richie was pulling up close behind him. The bang baby roared again and threw the woman in the direction. Richie instantly changed his trajectory to catch her, leaving Virgil to deal with the bang baby.
"Think…think you can just take me down like that, boy?" the bang baby hissed as Virgil drew closer.
"Thought crossed my mind," Virgil shot back flippantly. The bang baby laughed and suddenly dived forward, hooking his hands into a manhole cover in the street in front of him. As if it were made of cardboard instead of solid metal, he heaved it up and flung it at Virgil like a Frisbee. "Oh, yeah, that'll work." Virgil caught the cover with his power and flung it back, with interest. The bang baby barely managed to duck in time.
Richie meanwhile, having safely deposited the policewoman with her partner, rejoined his friend in the air. The bang baby snarled at both boys, before a twisted smile broke out on the hideous face. "Another time, kids," he spat. Then he rushed forward and dropped down into the manhole, down into the sewer below. Virgil and Richie came to a stop in the air above the hole, and Virgil sighed heavily.
"I hate it when they do that," he drawled.
"Do we follow?"
"No choice, bro. I don't want someone like that running around town."
"I was afraid you were going to say that."
Which brought them to their current predicament—slogging through the Dakota sewer system, searching for a bang baby that could disappear at will. Richie was crouched in front of him on the disc, scanning the tunnels with some incomprehensible piece of equipment he had produced from one of his many pockets. The data on the display made no sense to Virgil, but Richie must have been getting something from it for he occasionally directed Virgil to go left or right. After nearly half an hour of it, though, Virgil was beginning to think it was hopeless.
"Gear? Hey, Gear? Yo Gear!" Richie finally dragged his eyes from the screen in front of him, blinking up at his friend in that slightly confused way that told Virgil his mind had been miles away.
"This is nuts, man…that creep's long gone."
"Yeah, probably." There was something in Richie's voice, though, that begged further questioning.
"What's that gizmo telling you?"
"Not as much as I'd like. I'm still picking up the guy, but he's bursting all over the place. Probably trying to throw us off the trail. These readings are totally random. I can tell you he's still down here, I can tell you where he's been, but I have no idea where he's going or where he'll end up next."
"Look, Virg, much as I hate to say it…there's no point in running around here all night."
Virgil sighed, punching one fist into the opposite hand. Richie was right—all they would be able to do tonight was exhaust themselves. Besides, he knew Richie was dying to get back to the gas station to try and repair Backpack. He still hated the thought of just leaving the bang baby down here to cause more mischief.
"You're right, you're right. Let's punch out. You think you can rig something up to keep that guy from teleporting the next time we run into him?"
Richie blinked up at him and Virgil could practically see the calculations start firing across his brain. It was strange, sometimes, how Richie's mind worked. Virgil had gotten used to the "brain blasts" after Richie had become a meta human, but these days it seemed like anything, even a simple rhetorical question could send his partner spinning into a frenzy of scientific invention.
"Hmmm," Richie muttered vaguely, waving a hand in what might have meant 'yeah no problem,' might have meant 'let's get going.'
Or might have meant 'look out behind you!'
whump Virgil whirled his disc around, nearly dislodging Richie and came face to face with the bang baby they had been chasing. He looked nearly as startled as the two heroes, and Virgil couldn't help but notice that all the teleporting must have been taking a toll on him. The skin was definitely more grey than green now, and new blisters had appeared across his face.
Richie leapt down off the disc, firing his skates up as he went. He whipped out a couple of zap traps and Virgil powered up, blue lightning racing up and down his body. The bang baby began backing up, wheezing for breath and stumbling slightly. He hissed at the two boys, teeth gleaming in the light provided by Static's power.
"Take two?" Virgil asked his partner, nodding meaningfully at the seven inches or so of watery sludge that filled the tunnel.
"Places and action!" Richie agreed. The bang baby clenched his fists and closed his eyes, and a strange, green glow began emanating from his body. Virgil pushed all the power he had available into the water below them, just as Richie's eyes went wide and he yelled, "oh shit, WAIT!"
The electricity met the bang baby's green aura and time seemed to stop. Sound ceased, the light from Virgil's power faded, and it suddenly seemed as though all the air was being sucked from the tunnel around them. Virgil gasped for breath, and his eyes widened in horror as the green glow around the bang baby began to expand and grow brighter.
There was a tremendous explosion, a rush of wind and Virgil was thrown back into the wall behind him. Light flared all around him, blinding him, and suddenly he felt as though he had been thrown off a cliff. His stomach dropped, he lost all sense of direction, and he was suddenly enveloped in cold so absolute it seemed as though the very blood would freeze in his veins. He screamed, he couldn't help it, and the sound seemed to echo strangely around him, as if the sound was being pulled in different directions at once.
Then it was over.
Virgil crashed down into the mucky water, landing on his back. He lay gasping for a few moments, feeling the cold slime of the water seeping into his uniform, and tasting something truly vile in his mouth. He sat up quickly and spat a mouthful of sludge out, furiously wiping his mouth. "Ugh! Oh, man that's gross! Ugh!" He spat several more times, desperately trying to get the taste out. Then his brain caught up with current events. He jumped to his feet, frantically scanning the shadowy dimness around him. The water had shorted out his powers and he groped along his belt until he encountered the mini-flashlight he had taken to carrying for just such an emergency. He flicked it on and began rapidly searching for his partner and the bang baby.
"Static!" Virgil whipped around with the light and found Richie standing behind him. His partner immediately put his hands up to shield his eyes. "Ow, hey, watch where you point that thing!" Virgil adjusted the beam slightly so that it was no longer in Richie's face.
"Sorry. You okay?"
"Yeah…I'm going to drink a gallon of Listerine when I get home tonight, but other than that no major damage. You?"
"I'm fine. What happened?"
"You ssssstupid boy! What have you done?!"
Both Richie and Virgil turned at the sound of the angry words. The bang baby was picking himself up out of the muck to their left, clutching at his head. He glared murderously at them for a moment, then looked wildly around him. "Wrong, wrong, wrong…you made it wrong! Sssstupid child, you've doomed usssss all!" With that, he turned and loped away, quickly vanishing into the darkness.
"If you tell me we have to follow him again, I'm going to hit you," Richie said tiredly.
"No argument here, bro. I think we've clocked enough overtime for tonight. Where are we?"
Richie shrugged as he pulled his gloves off, wringing them out before he stuffed them in a pocket. "We were heading south by southeast…probably somewhere around Delancy and Locke Street."
Virgil nodded. "You wanna just spend the night at my house? You can borrow some clothes and we can still catch 'Zombie Hunter IV' if we hurry."
"Deal. Think your Pops'll let us do the laundry there?"
Virgil raised his sleeve to his nose and sniffed delicately. "I think he'll insist," he said wryly, nearly gagging from the stench that now permeated the fabric. "Right after he makes us hose down in the garage."
Richie laughed shortly. "C'mon, then, let's find another manhole."
The two friends began slogging back through the tunnel. Virgil hadn't dried out enough to get a charge going to power his disc, and Richie stayed on the ground out of a sense of solidarity. Now that was friendship. They had only gone a few yards when the sounds of someone else coming towards them reached their ears.
Virgil motioned for silence and pointed upwards into the tangle of pipes that crisscrossed the ceiling of the tunnel, then quickly cupped his hands. Richie nodded and moved closer. Awkwardly, Virgil boosted Richie up into the pipes. Richie managed to scramble up onto the thickest of them and leaned back down. Virgil leaped into the air, caught his partner's outstretched hand on the second try, and pulled himself up as well. They crouched low over the pipes, staring down into the tunnel below them. The sounds of footsteps were growing louder.
Scant seconds later, light shone into the tunnel. Several figures could be seen behind the light, which was being cast by an industrial sized flashlight. It was impossible to make out any features. Virgil felt Richie tense beside him, and laid a reassuring hand on his friend's shoulder.
"Boss, you sure you heard something down here?"
"Positive." Virgil nearly fell off of the pipe. The tone was curt and cold, colder than he could ever remember hearing…but the voice was familiar. The figures paused right below them, and Virgil heard a sharp, indrawn breath from his partner.
The people below them apparently heard it, too, for suddenly the light was shone full on their hiding place. Virgil heard a shout of alarm from one of them, and then a horrible boom echoed through the tunnel. Virgil felt a bullet whiz by his cheek and was so startled he did fall off the pipe, taking Richie down with him.
For the second time that night, the two heroes crashed into the foul smelling water, landing in a heap of limbs. When Virgil finally managed to disentangle himself from Richie and sit up, he was treated to the disconcerting sight of five people grouped around them, each pointing a gun at their heads. Most startling, though, was the figure directly in front of him, finally illuminated by the light. He had been right.
"S-Sharon?" he asked shakily, more than surprise coloring his words. It was his sister…but it was not. His sister didn't wear her cropped close to her head, his sister had certainly never glared down at him with such hate, his sister would never dress in black leather and body armor, and last time he checked, Sharon didn't wear an eye patch over her left eye, beneath which a twisted, ugly scar could be seen that went from forehead to chin.
"Static. You move, we blow your brains out, got it?" the surreal, nightmare version of his big sister barked harshly. Rough hands grabbed him by the shoulders, and he and Richie were jerked unceremoniously to their feet. Beside him, Richie was gaping like a fish out of water.
"Bro? We are so not in Kansas anymore," Richie whispered.