Cavalier floated in the sky over the outskirts of his beloved city. There would be no more fighting crime, no more glory or news shows. There was a five mile wide swath that had been levelled by the explosion. The air was still too warm from the lingering heat. He had dedicated his life to protecting it from crime, but the thought of terrorism on this scale had never occurred to him.
He had sworn to protect it, and had failed. String Theory had gone in with Carbon to try and stop this, and had failed. They were likely dead. Cavalier had not even succeeded in beating the dead monster he had left behind. Looking below, a swarm of some things crawled over the ruined city, flowing through streets.
Whenever they encountered a person, that person was dragged down, and when the swarm passed, all that was left was a skeleton and shredded meat. He felt helpless, an unfamiliar sensation for a man who could stop a train with his hand. He watched below as a man fired a handgun at a group of approaching animal men, only to see their numbers double as the bullets hit them. They pounced and the man died horribly. It appeared that whoever orchestrated this attack arranged for Ratpack to use the explosion to multiply, and it had worked.
It occurred to him that he could lift people out of harms way, but the swarm moved so fast, he couldn’t reach them once he saw them. So he hovered and watched, panicked, terrified and unsure of what to do.
Carbon emerged from the end of the subway tunnel to daylight. The trip had been terrifying; the groans and crashes of falling ruins above reverberated through the subway system. More than once she had been forced to run to avoid being crushed as the ceiling caved in, every time threatening to bury her underground.
Since the tunnel faced away from the city, things almost looked normal. Almost. Train cars were knocked over on their sides, and twisted burning car wrecks lay scattered around the yard. She tried not to look in any of the vehicles, certain that the occupants were dead and possibly burned to charcoal.
She reached up to wipe the sweat from her forehead and realized her mask was missing. No matter, she thought. Who needed to hide their identities now? Her precinct wasn’t far from the explosion, and no doubt all who were in the office were now dead. She walked around to the hillside the tunnels emerged from to get a better look at the city.
What she saw left her dumbstruck; the broken skyscrapers, melted, bent metal frames. Buildings on fire, trees naked and leafless. The swarm of Ratpack clones descending from the wreckage. Carbon drew her sword and ran back down the hill. She was all too familiar with the MO of that one, including his depravity and cannibalism. She knew he was human, technically, but was hard pressed to see the resemblance.
She glanced over her shoulder to see a team of perhaps thirty of them peel off from the rest of the group and head after her. She glanced up in the sky and happened to see a familiar form hovering overhead.
Cavalier saw the lone figure emerge from the subway tunnel and flew down closer, having noticed the mob approaching. He meant to swoop in and rescue whoever it was, but when he got closer, he recognized the black armor and sword of Carbon. His face scrunched into a scowl.
She’d tried to warn him and the others, but he didn’t listen. His pride would not acknowledge that she had tried to stop this, that he was wrong and he and Crater had delayed her. Still, he could not ignore his shame. Suddenly, this was about the two of them, her prescience and deductive skill and trumped his simple assertion that he was right.
He could not face her, for that would mean facing himself. Better to protect his pride, he thought. If he could regain his confidence, he could help rebuild. He was stronger than her, more physically gifted. They needed him to be mentally strong, he thought. She glanced up as she ran from the crowd. He’d never seen her face before. Her bright blue eyes and beautiful face would haunt him as he turned and flew toward his home in the mountains.
Carbon sneered as Cavalier veered off and flew away. She’d figured he was spineless, but had hoped that he wasn’t. She had no weapon against Ratpack, any damage she might do to him would only make more and sink her even deeper into trouble. She turned and ran toward what she hoped would be the exit for the trainyard as the crowd closed in. She was a fast sprinter, but Ratpack could cover more ground lurching on all fours, so they gained on her.
She scaled the side of a fallen train, gaining the advantage of high ground for a while, but then she ran out of train, and very quickly, the crowd surrounded it. She drew her sword; at least she could keep them at bay. Carbon figured she could likely survive the assault, but never considered it particularly wise to test the limits of her natural healing ability. One Ratpack reached over the side; she swatted him back with her sword.
Several more crawled up and charged, then were knocked back with a vicious punch followed by a solid kick. One came up from behind and grabbed her leg; she dropped the pommel of her sword onto its head, driving it down onto the windows of the overturned train. Its chin hit the glass, which shattered. Unfortunately, it was the window Carbon was standing on. She quickly caught herself before she fell into the broken vehicle, but her advantage was lost. Ratpacks were trying to grab her dangling feet while still more crawled up onto the top of the train.
She pulled herself up as one grabbed her leg from below, and still another grabbed her arm from the front. She punched him off, but two more grabbed each arm and pulled in opposite directions. one bit her wrist deeply, trying to make her drop the sword, but it only managed to make her angrier. She lifted her arm, hoisting the biter and the other off the ground and punched him in the eye hard enough that two more formed from that one hit. They leaped up, hissed and advanced.
Then a bright bolt hit one, blowing him back and leaving a charred hole in his chest. To everyone’s surprise, he was dead, and did not multiply. Two more bolts killed the other two, and the surprised lot backed off for a second. Carbon looked up to see String Theory floating down to her. She sheathed her sword and jumped straight up over the head of a ratman than had just dove for her. String grabbed her wrist.
“I thought i’d lost you, lady.” He said as he lifted her away. “You almost did.” She replied, watching the enraged animal men grow smaller below her feet. She decided not to ask him just yet how he managed to survive a nuclear blast.
Gwendoline Gutierrez stood on top of a tall building, wishing there was something she could do. Below, Ratpack’s clones attacked and swarmed, and there was nothing she could do. String Theory floated over them, firing blast after blast of energy into them, each concussive shot killing another one. But there were millions. They should all be decomposing piles of dead flesh in time, but they were still half a day at least before that time, and they were killing people by the dozen every minute.
But String didn’t give up. he just kept flying and shooting, and Ratpack’s kept falling and dying. Maybe he would get lucky and hit the original and end that threat once and for all, but right now they had no way of knowing. Rather than watching the futile fight that she could not help with, she turned to face the ruined city. Her apartment building was gone, one of the shattered skeletons of steel that marked the center of town. She hoped Mrs Reinhold and Muffin were out of town. She was a nice lady and didn’t deserve this.
She thought about the delays caused by Cavalier and Crater, and almost laughed. Well meaning idiots. She supposed they were no more to blame than Indigo Shift. Someone had orchestrated a horrifying attack on the city. Between the army of monsters and the nuke, she had no doubt that the city was dead. She tuned the radio in her headset to pick up any active radio station she could find.
Finally she found someone broadcasting.She stood and listened, and after several minutes, she sat down, dumbstruck. Nuclear bombs had gone off in no less than fifty major cities worldwide. Sydney, Darwin, Jakarta, Moscow, London, Toronto, Buenos Aires…. All crippled in low grade nuclear blasts, the kind that maximized nuclear fallout.
In the south west, a storm of unimaginable magnitude had formed and would likely kill every living thing from Texas south. And the Moon, the moon, had been repositioned. In almost all other parts of the world, the dead rose to feast on the living. Someone had coordinated the end of all things, and apparently had succeeded. How small all of her accomplishments seemed at that moment. So what if she’d killed tens of horrible human scum?
In an instant, the best and the worst of the city had been reduced to nothing more than carbon stains on the concrete. The world was falling apart.Untold millions, perhaps billions died and were dying. For what purpose? She couldn’t fathom why someone would want to cause such destruction.
She watched as the fires in the city caused a spiral of hot air, which turned into a tornado of flame. Who would profit from this carnage?
Ward climbed from rooftop to rooftop, easily avoiding the throngs of ravenous dead people swarming the streets. He would eventually need to get down to ground level to escape the borough, but he wasn’t worried about that quite yet. He stared up into the night sky. Earlier there had been a full moon; now, there was nothing. What in hell had happened?
Deadshot’s screams still echoed in his head, but he shrugged them off. He would make his way back to his teacher’s estate, he would claim it as his own. Deadshot was reckless, or worse, stupid. Ward had been looking for an opportunity for the man to have an “accident”, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
The moaning of the dead was annoying, but it was already becoming background noise. He could only imagine what happened elsewhere; this could not possibly be isolated. Had the world ended? He would worry about the finer points once he was in the mansion that was now his.
Hours passed and String Theory still fired away, blasting, by this point, tens of thousands of clones of Ratpack. Their bodies piled high, and a mountain easily thirty feet tall had formed. He was certain he had not killed the original yet. He was not sure why, he just had a gut feeling. Almost a day had passed since the nukes went off, he knew this because the clones were beginning to die on their own.
String was encouraged; if a day had passed, then soon enough the only standing Ratpack would be the original. As soon as he had the chance, he was going to kill him. Also, the more clones that attacked him, the less were out devouring the innocent survivors. Of course, the original could have died in the blast, or be anywhere else. He only had hope to work with.
He suddenly had an idea. String Theory dropped into the middle of the crowd. If kinetic energy caused him to spontaneously clone, then he couldn’t punch him to death. But what about other means to kill him? As the crowd descended on him, he converted his body into polonium 210, the most radioactive material known to man. He charged himself, creating a plasma that accelerated the radioactive decay of the suit in its current form.
The ratmen in the general area were bathed in deadly radiation. The artificially accelerated decay caused the affected Ratpacks to suffer the immediate effects of radiation poisoning. Al was encouraged by the number that seemed to simply fall over dead. He only hoped that he had irradiated the original Ratpack. maybe he could give the son of a bitch cancer.
Ratpack stumbled into the entrance to the subway tunnel. That clever bastard in the metal suit had figured out a way around his ability to shrug off a punch or a gunshot, and had simply irradiated him and his clones. He had not received the dose that many of the others had, but he had absorbed enough. He coughed several times, then spit out a wad of phlegm and blood.
The others would be disgusting puddles in the next few hours, but he intended to live. He needed to get back to the base. maybe Arachne or Golem had something that would take the edge off the radioactive destruction that was even now murdering him at a cellular level.
He could feel himself dying. He found a gun lying on the ground nearby, and decided to test a theory. He placed the barrel against his chest and pulled the trigger. There was a loud BANG and another one appeared, only to fall over and dissolve into a gurgling mess of flesh. He laughed a little and spit out a tooth. It was ironic; he had survived a nuclear explosion just to die hours later from radiation exposure unrelated to the blast.
Glass waited outside the city for several hours, initially ecstatic. She and Indigo were to meet up and return to Colorado together as a triumphant pair, but her enthusiasm gradually faded. Now she was bored and increasingly convinced that Indigo had either left without her or had died in the explosion. Both were disappointing, but she’d get over it.
Glass had actually been close to ground zero when the bombs went off, and had managed to encase herself in a force field just as it happened. Being invisible, the light from the blast had passed right through her instead of reducing her to vapor, and the force field, an impenetrable sphere of energy, had kept her from being smashed like an ant by the shockwave. She’d simply ridden the expanding bubble of force and had been launched miles outside of the city.
The whole thing had been like a ride; she’d enjoyed the feeling of travelling at the speed of sound and flying through the air, the field rolling like a marble when it hit the ground, but Glass simply hovered in the center of it, completely protected from inertia and any outside force. She’d been thrown through several buildings like a six-feet-around bullet, and had even hit a person while she passed through one of them. She almost regretted it when she came to a rolling stop in the outskirts where she waited for some sign of Indigo Shift.
Long after nightfall, after the sudden disappearance of the moon, she had managed to find an electric bike. She surrounded herself and the bike in a shield, and rode off in the dark, in a powered ball of energy.
Cobalt had been instructing Kronos on the use of the new drone when everything fell apart. He was a smart kid, somewhat undisciplined but he learned fast, and most importantly to Cobalt, he listened.
Once data started rolling in about the moon, the ocean temperature off the west coast, and the nuclear attacks in several cities, Cobalt had decided it was time to give the drone a test-run, and he thought maybe he could use Kronos’ talents to get an accurate picture of just how bad things had gotten.
Kronos’ ability was nearly godlike; he could freeze time, or accelerate his personal space-time to the point that time froze, they weren’t sure. He could also be selective about it, allowing some people or objects to continue to move and interact just like he could. From what they could tell, he truly stopped the flow of time, since he appeared to stop aging when time stopped. So Cobalt had him stop everything except for the drone and himself, then dialed his suit into the drone so that he could see everything Kronos did.
The younger man drew everything to a standstill, and the pair embarked on what would (relatively speaking) be a week long tour of destruction and horror, cataloging the trip with video and high resolution images. Cobalt wanted a detailed view of Armageddon. First, they viewed the aftermath of the nuclear strike on the city.
The warped steel of the murdered city was still glowing hot in some areas near ground zero. Pools of glass cooled into thick plates of melted silicon and the asphalt in the streets were baked into hard cakes. Cobalt was happy they hadn’t seen any bodies yet. Kronos was inexperienced, and he was going to see the horrors of war soon enough, let it not be the burned corpses of innocent people.
They swooped in closer. The radiation was off the charts, explaining the lingering heat. The drone skimmed the broken landscape of melted metal and shattered concrete. “Oh my god…” Kronos gasped. They passed a bus, crushed like a soda can, filled with the the burned remains of two dozen people. “Move along, son. Pretty soon this is going to be old hat to you. Push it down, you can throw up later when we have time.”
Both men had a laugh at that. “Good, Kronos, you can do this. We need to do this. We may be all that there is left. If not, then we need to help the others, and we need to know as much about it as we can.” Kronos fought against his desire to throw off the controls and run to the bathroom and throw up.
The world was surreal. Flames hung motionless in the air, while showers of sparks remained motionless, looking for all the world like special effects from a movie. Waves of heat were frozen in place, making the air look as if it was constantly filtered through uneven glass. As they passed out of the devastated interior, they moved out into buildings that were crushed and burning, which gave way to building merely missing windows.
Eventually they passed through hordes of Ratpacks murdering and eating people. They hurried through; Kronos was about to unload the miniguns on the drone into the crowd of rat men, but Cobalt warned him that they would only make things worse. Instead, they used the drone’s pump and hose, put in place to put out fires, to douse the crowd with gas and set it on fire. When Kronos started up time again, they would explode into flame.
They reached the outskirts of the city, where they searched for the other heroes.They searched for hours, finally catching a glimpse of String Theory flying off with Carbon. Cobalt breathed a sigh of relief seeing them safe. “Mark this position. Before we’re done, we’ll grab them and bring them here. We’ll keep our eyes peeled for Lightfoot and Trembler, too.”
“What about Crater and Cavalier?”
Cobalt let the question hag for a moment. “We’ll get the others and then discuss how to handle those two afterward. If they are even alive.” Kronos nodded, although he knew Cobalt could not see him. “Go up. I want a top-down view of the US. I’ll tell you when to stop.” The drone quickly rose above the clouds. They slowly panned to get a glimpse of the entire North American continent.
Several cities across the country showed signs of nuclear detonations. The western seaboard was drowned. The drone’s cameras, capable of ultra-high resolution images from thousands of miles away, zoomed in. They saw trees laid out flat. Even many redwoods had been knocked down in the megatsunami that crushed the coastline. San Francisco was a forest of bent metal and flooded foundations. The Golden Gate Bridge was a shattered lump of metal cables strung over what remained of the Golden Gate national recreation area.
Further south, not even the tops of the tallest buildings in Los Angeles were visible above the receding flood waters, presumably having been knocked over by the force of the waves. The image was the same up and down the western shore; low-lying lands covered in the bizarre three dimensional landscape of time-frozen waves, and higher regions covered in flattened buildings, still soaked from the massive influx of seawater.
“What in the hell is that?” Asked Kronos as they turned south. Cobalt was completely dumbstruck. He’d never seen anything like it before. A massive swirl of clouds completely dominated their view from southern California. The eye of the hurricane stretched tens of thousands of feet up into the sky. Cobalt’s mind tried to fathom who could have done something like this? Who could create such massive destruction, alter the weather so profoundly?
His first thought was the villain Cyclone, but even she couldn’t be this powerful. She might have been able to with help, but how could all of these events have been coordinated without tipping off anyone beforehand? They descended into the hypercane; the wind was of no consequence because with time stopped, there was no movement. it did not take long for the drone to lose visibility in the thick mess of rain and debris, so they switched to radar to navigate.
They left a tube of clear air in their wake through the veil of water. They skimmed much of northern Mexico, and scanned Mexico City in the mountains. Buildings still stood, but the windows, to a one, were missing, and the interiors were already scoured clean, in many places the raw steel of the frame was already exposed from the erosive force of the nearly supersonic wind. The two men hoped that at least some people had managed to get belowground and would be able to dig themselves out when and if the gargantuan storm ever subsided.
They did not bother going farther south, expecting the same level of destruction. They checked the east coast on their way up to New York. Already, there was a great deal of flooding along parts of the eastern seaboard as the floodwaters receded from the west coasts of Africa and Europe and sloshed back up on America. Cobalt had known that Deadshot and Ward had made their way to New York City to investigate the quarantine of the Redhook area of Brooklyn.
What they found were empty streets, for the most part. Eventually, they found a crowd. They flew up to see what could cause such a huge gathering, and were shocked by what they saw. The people seemed healthy; it was one of the first places where people were actually standing upright that they had found. Except… They were all horribly wounded, and as they reached the center of the swarm, they found what drew them there.
A pile of bones and guys lay strewn over the pavement, with several people hunched over chewing on it and still more trying to crawl over them to get a piece. Kronos quietly said “I wonder who that poor son of a bitch was…” Cobalt recognized a custom boot and noticed a familiar set of weapons laying among the gore. “I know.” He said.
Kronos was quiet for a minute. As he opened his mouth to ask who, Cobalt said “It was that silly bastard Deadshot. He was always getting himself into close calls, only to leap back out at the last second. I always told him he was going to slip someday. Now I wish I was wrong.” Kronos started to lead the drone away. “Are those… Zombies?” He asked. Cobalt laughed. “I would have called you a nutcase if you’d even suggested that twenty four hours ago. Now… i think you may be right.”
Kronos had an idea; using one of the mechanical arms of the drone, he ripped a sample out of one of the walking corpse’s bodies. “What are you doing?” asked Cobalt. “In movies and TV, zombies are always animated by a virus. I figure we have the tools, let’s not find out what caused this? There were hundreds of small towns worldwide that reported incidents that would fit this description. Maybe there is a cure.” Cobalt nodded. “Good thinking, son. You were a good find, my boy.”
Kronos smiled in spite of himself. He’d never been close to his father. His dad had expectations for his son, and the reserved nerd he had wound up with didn’t fit them. Cobalt, on the other hand, seemed to value a person’s individual talents and character more than anything. He fell naturally into the father role.
They continued across the entire world. The same story repeated everywhere; cities bathed in the nuclear fallout of their destroyed downtown sections. Other cities crawling with the reanimated corpses of their dead. Based on what they had seen, they estimated over half the world’s population was dead or dying. Of those dead, nearly one billion had come back to try and feed on the living.
Dust and debris filled the skies, giving daytime areas of the world a reddish sky. Inland areas had fared much better than the coasts, but they wondered how long that would last as the hypercane made its way around the southern part of the hemisphere.
Someone had orchestrated the end of the world, and had succeeded. After the end of a relative week, they used the drone to grab String Theory and Carbon, and they had also succeeded in finding Lightfoot and Trembler. Kronos let the engine of time resume its plodding forward pace, and the four heroes stared in stunned disbelief at the men who had delivered them to the base in the Smoky Mountains.