Web Of Ruin: Chapter 20

Cobalt and Kronos stood back to admire their work. Their gift for Carbon was finally done, and ready for delivery. String Theory would use the GPS built into her armor to track her and deliver it to her. They wished they could be there to see her face when she received it.

 

“Do the honors, Kronos?” Cobalt asked and the young man nodded. He pushed a button on the gift and it folded itself up into what looked like a wide, shiny black pack. String Theory walked over and picked it up. It slipped easily onto his back like an armored backpack.

 

He saluted the assembled group, then blasted off into the sky. Within minutes he could see the steady pinging of the GPS in her armor, and he flew off to the north and west. Little did he know that she was miles away from her armor.

 

Even less did either know how badly she was going to need the gift.

 

Several days had passed since they had started their binge, and Cavalier was ready. He’d wanted Crater to stay, but the big man insisted on going. He would travel with the group of soldiers and bots, while Cavalier was going to fly in for a dramatic entrance.

 

The troops were gearing up for their first fight in months. PArt of the reason Arachne had sent this group was because they specialized in first assault; they were her military’s equivalent of marines, and they were eager to fight. They expected little resistance from a group of farmers and merchants, but were going in full armor with a wide array of weapons anyway. Most carried modified Heckler and Koch G-36 assault rifles or the Fabrique Nationale P-90, both futuristic looking weapons that carried a great deal of ammunition and did exceptional damage.

 

Every one carried a high caliber sidearm, typically a .357 Desert Eagle, ideal for blowing through standard body armor at close range. Additionally they carried large hunting knives, in case they got in too close. Their body armor was made of large black plates of ablative ceramic coated in kevlar designed to give them a subtle arachnid look. Their heads were encased in black steel helmets with goggles and faceplates that also subtly resembled a spider. The result was that even normal footsoldiers had an unnerving resemblance to humanoid spiders, which gave them a psychological advantage over their enemies.

 

The elite soldier geared up separately. Their combat armor was different. It integrated metamaterials that allowed them to blend almost seamlessly into their environment. Their weapons were more varied; two carried modified M-14s that were fitted with flash suppressors and oversized magazines. In their skilled hands, they made excellent sniper rifles. There were also two heavy weapons men. Both were taller and more muscled than the rest of the group, one armed with a SAW machine gun, while the other carried a Chinese QLZ-87 grenade launcher, which was essentially a machine gun that fired grenades.

 

The last two carried standard assault rifles, and acted as point men for the other four. While the main body of soldiers would approach behind the robots, the special forces would flank the main group. When the fighting started their jobs would be to pick off defenders from afar and open a hole in their defensive wall. The snipers were going to be all set to pick off the spokesperson that Cavalier was going to be speaking to if they did not agree to his terms. They would either volunteer to be his subjects, or they would make them be. It didn’t matter to them, although they did hope they would have an opportunity to shoot someone.

 

The robots, of course, were always ready.

 

Crater was gearing up himself. Unlike the older days where he wore little more than a suit to cover himself, he now wore some custom-built armor. The interlocking plates protected him against bullets and made him look like a large grey-steel lobster. The knuckles sported spikes to make his side-of-beef fisted punches even more devastating, and a helmet protected his large, featureless head. He still felt somewhat nauseous when he stood for extended periods, and he was nervous of what might happen once the fighting started, if it did. He was likely the only person not hoping for a conflict. He’d discovered recently that when his adrenaline started pumping, he lost control of himself. He could feel control slipping away and the ravenous animal he would have become if he’d died started to cut through.

 

He didn’t want to think about how he might compromise the team if things got bad, but Cav wasn’t hearing any of it. He wanted Crater with him when he conquered these people, and honestly, he wanted to see that. When he finished buckling on his armor, he looked at himself in the mirror and smiled. He looked large and intimidating. No, he looked terrifying. He flexed and punched his fists together, making a loud clang that shook the walls. He would tear the border of trees down with his hands and roast all of their livestock over the flames. He smiled wider and waded out of the room.

 

Nicole was outside the wall coaxing rows of thistles to grow into huge bushes. Not only did they provide visual cover, but they also sported one inch thorns that encouraged invaders to stay away. Sure, it wouldn’t work on zombies, but that was why they had a thirty foot tall wall of living hickory. She’d been working on the hedge off and on for days and had managed to encircle the village three quarters of the way. They also had the added advantage of potentially attracting bees, which several of the villagers had expressed interest in raising for honey.

She was smiling and admiring her work when she felt something wrong. Through the grass beneath her feet, she could sense that far away, grass connected to that beneath her feet was being trampled. Without thinking, she turned and ran for the gate. It could be zombies, it could be raiders, or worse, it could be Cavelier. She didn’t care, she just ran. William was at the gate, and running toward her. “What’s wrong?” He called.

 

“Someone’s coming!” Nicole shouted back. William picked up the pace and covered the ground between he and Nicole in seconds. He swept her up, pivoted on his heel and ran straight back toward the gate. A second later, there was a high pitched whine and something slammed into his back hard and threw him to the ground. Nicole fell hard and rolled a little. When she looked back, William was on his face in the dirt.

 

One of the snipers looked up from his scope. Over his mic he said “One down.” With no small amount of pride, he’d hit the big man square in the spine right where his heart should be. He wouldn’t be bothering anyone any time soon.

 

A few seconds later, the report of the gunshot echoed over the village. Without even thinking, Gwen had her sword in hand and was running with all speed toward the sound. She rushed out the gate to see nicole pulling herself up off the ground facing what appeared to be William laying prone. “Oh crap.” She whispered and ran as fast as she could. When she reached Nicole, the young woman was reaching over to William. “Honey, please get up…” she was saying frantically. Gwen grabbed her arm and Nicole’s head spun around. “What?!” She asked tersely.

 

Carbon was shocked. Nicole had seemed so perky, almost bubbly. It belied a great deal of strength just below the surface.She immediately felt bad that she had misjudged the young woman. William groaned and both sighed in relief. As he climbed to his feet, they could see the hole in the back of his shirt, but the steel skin underneath was untouched. By the time he was upright, he was gleaming metal from head to toe. Nicole smiled. “Thank god.”

 

A second later, Gwen shouted in surprise and spun to the ground. There was a burning pain in her left shoulder. She sat  up as another bullet pinged off of William. “Run!” she shouted as the jumped up and ran with all speed toward the gate, making sure that William was in front of her and Nicole in front of him. Three more bullets whizzed by, but missed, then the gate door slammed shut behind them.

 

Nicole started to speak. “What the hell is going on-” The words caught in her mouth when she realized that Gwen had been hit in the shoulder. The rifle round had penetrated her body suit and blown a sizeable hole in her shoulder. The woman seemed unfazed. “We need to flush out that sniper. We also need to get the word to the sentries to keep cover. We don’t need any of our people getting picked off while we figure out what is going on.” She looked at Nicole and William who were staring in disbelief at her shoulder that even as they watched was knitting closed, the shattered bone repairing itself as blood vessels reattached at the muscles closed up.

 

Not having time for delays, Gwen snapped her fingers. “Hey! guys! People are going to die. I am fine, spread the word, NOW.” The couple snapped out of it and nodded, then began running around shouting to people to spread the word to not look out of the wall, there were snipers. Word spread fast, and the wall sentries wisely kept themselves hidden. “What’s going on?” asked William. Gwen had no questions, she knew the second she heard the first gun report. “It’s Cavalier. He’s got some allies and he’s coming to flex his muscles.”

 

“How do you know?” Asked Nicole. Gwen laughed without humor. “It’s the kind of thing I would have expected from him years ago. He’s insanely full of himself. My guess is that he found himself some allies, and after his humiliation at this one’s hands” she pointed to William “and his rejection by you, he’s here to take what he wants by force. No doubt the wall solidified his plans.”

 

“I had no idea, I…” Nicole began, but Gwen cut her short. “You’re dealing with a sociopath who thinks he’s owed what he wants. He wanted Nicole, and I bet now he wants to be king or something ridiculous. It would be laughable if he wasn’t indestructible.” She looked into the sky, and saw a small figure speeding from the castle toward the field in front of the north wall. “Speak of the devil…”

 

Cavalier flew overhead like a missile, and landed roughly a football field away as the wall of robots, bookended by the centaurs, and followed by the footsoldiers. It was exactly the dramatic entrance he had planned. Speaking into a headpiece and projected by several of the robots, he spoke. “People of the village. There is no need for further bloodshed. I am taking command of your town. Send out a spokesperson to surrender or we will start shooting until you do.”

 

Gwen smirked without humor. “Let’s you and I go out, William. I think we’re the only two those snipers can’t kill.” Nicole nodded. “What the hell are we going to say?” Gwen shrugged. “No idea, but it won’t be ‘we surrender.’” She looked at William who straightened his back and nodded. Nicole asked them to wait, then ran back to her and William’s place. She returned seconds later with William’s shotgun and a pistol in a holster for Carbon, who nodded. “Good thinking. Smart girl.” She said with a smile. She put her hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. “Stay inside and stay safe. These people need you, and not just because you can make more food than the lot of them in a week.”

 

Nicole sighed deeply and nodded. She then grabbed William and held him close. “Do not change back until it’s over. Promise me.” He grinned. “I promise.”  Gwen secured the holster on her sword belt then pulled the pistol and then checked the magazine; .40 caliber with 9 rounds in the clip and one in the chamber. Slim pickings, but any helping hand was a good one. She slapped William on his metallic shoulder. “Let’s do it. You lead, I’ll be right behind you.”

 

“Human shield?” he asked over his shoulder. “Of a sorts.” She replied. “I’m pretty sure that arrogant ass doesn’t know I’m here, and I’d love to see the look on his face once he realizes I am. Might give us a little bit of an edge. Screw him either way.” William started toward the gate. “Damn right. Screw him.”

 

Cavalier smiled when he saw William emerge. Of course the cowards sent the man of steel. It was a smart move, of course, especially after the snipers open fire on him and the women that had been out with him. Someone was behind him. His smiled changed to a dismissive smirk. Whoever it was, they were hiding behind the metal bulk of the young man. Hiding, afraid. Probably hoping to jump out and maybe fire a shot at Cavalier. They would be the ones who were surprised when he didn’t even flinch.

 

Except he did.

 

When they were less than a hundred feet away, the second person stood out from behind William. Cavalier’s look of shock was genuine. He recognized the long brown hair and the broad shoulders, and the sword was a dead giveaway, but the thing that struck him like a slap in the face was the eyes. There was no mistaking the bright, eggshell blue eyes of Carbon.

 

In the back of his mind, he admitted he was intimidated. He’d made a hobby of underestimating her. Being condescending during their Patriarchy meetings was one of the highlights to him. Who was she to pretend she was on par with the real heroes? Apparently someone who could survive seven years in the wild after an apocalypse and then meet an army with no armor and a smirk.

 

Gwen’s smirk widened into a broad smile when she saw the involuntary look of shock on Cavalier’s face. She was already enjoying this fight and the first rounds had been fired against her and William. Gwen stole his thunder, speaking before he could give the speech that he had no doubt prepared. “No, we won’t surrender. No we will not pay you a tithe, and I don’t know about the rest of them, but it’s my suspicion that you are behind the disappearances of several villagers this past week. Did I miss anything?”

She assumed a pensive posture, inwardly enjoying Cavalier’s sputtering. I don’t remember what I was going to write here.

 

Her taunting had the desired effect. Instead of making a grand speech, Cavalier just screamed “We will tear this village to the ground! You might have had a chance to work with freedom, now you’re all slaves!” He gave the hand signal to attack and the robots advanced. Gwen stepped back just in time as bullets from both snipers crossed paths in the air where her head had been.

 

A second later, close to a hundred villagers popped out of cover for just a second and fired rifles, bows and crossbows before ducking again. Most of the rounds, arrows and bolts either missed or bounced off of armored torsos, but a few hit vital areas in the joints of the bots or passed by to hit soldiers behind them. There were screams as several suffered leg and body injuries, and at least two robots fell to the ground, one catching a bullet through the knee joint and buckling forward while the other caught a lucky crossbow bolt right through the eye.

 

The robots and soldiers opened fire as the passed the odd copses of trees that spotted the area just outside the thistle. Both snipers were hiding by these deus ex machina that I will introduce earlier in the story next draft so this isn’t just some bullshit I pulled out of my ass to keep the story moving forward.  The bullets from all of the bots and soldiers cut into the thick-trunked hickory with loud thuds, but the sturdy trees held. Nicole winced as she felt the tree’s pain. William fired occasional rounds from his shotgun but mostly did his best to protect Carbon from errant gunfire as he strolled forward so she could engage the enemy up close.

 

The centaurs opened fire. Their cannons did much more than the gunfire of the soldiers, and they were supported by the heavy-weapons spec ops men. Sections of the great tree wall exploded as steel and high-energy explosives blasted into the wood. Several of the windowed sections of the north wall were ripped open, and the first onslaught killed fifteen people with splinters thrown at high speed. Some sections caught fire, making the battlefield smell like barbecue as it was bathed in a hickory haze.

 

Cavalier flew toward William, forcing the young man to stop shooting at the soldiers. He pointed the shotgun at the speeding former hero, and as he pulled the trigger, Cavalier punched the end of the barrel. The immovable strength of William combined with the firing shell and Cav’s punch caused the weapon to explode like a bomb, dazing them both. Cavalier collided with the big man and in his surprise at the whole thing, actually managed to knock William off his feet. Carbon ducked just in time to avoid getting crushed under the two.

 

The first ranks of robots were not very far away now, so she drew her sword and charged in. It reminded her of the early days of the apocalypse when she and her friends had defended the smoky mountain base form a similar assault, only much larger. Of course, she was also armored at the time. Now there was the danger of her suffering a head injury and being reduced to a very powerful adult child. But so be it. This fight was without the blurred lines of so many recent conflicts. There was a clear right and wrong, and she happily threw herself into the fray.

 

One of the snipers, hiding in the thistle, trained his rifle on the woman as she cut into the first robot. He breathed out in surprise as she cleaved the end off the bot’s rifle, then spun around bringing the blade up just in time to block a blow from its right arm, the blade severing it midway through the forearm. He centered the crosshairs on her head, and prepared to fire, when something heavy stepped on his foot. The shot went off but flew wide in his surprise.

 

Little did he or the other minions of Cavalier realize that the strange “copses” of trees outside the thistle were actually boxes, sealed for noise, filled with zombies. And Nicole had chosen that moment to unseal them. There were seven on the field, each with between fifteen and twenty walking corpses. And both snipers had used them for cover. Had he laid still, there was a chance the undead would have walked right by him, but thanks to his surprised shout and the gunshot, the entire group that included the one that had stepped on his ankle turned and fell upon the giant thistle he was using as cover.

 

The nearby soldiers turned to see what had caused the horrible screams, and found themselves facing an army of ravenous undead right on their heels. They suddenly forgot the assault on the village and began firing at the undead. That was the signal to the village, and the gate flung open and the first wave of villagers poured out armed with shotguns and assault rifles. They slowly advanced, firing into the soldiers ranks. Several soldiers continued to fire at the zombies, trying to make headshots to bring them down. The others returned fire on the villagers.

 

The second wave emerged firgin bows and crossbows to lay down a wall of suppressing fire. People on both sides screamed as bullets tore through limbs, bodies and the occasional head. In the midst of the chaos, Cavalier rained a heavy barrage of kicks and punches on William to keep him off guard. he’d managed to prevent him from getting his bearings so far, though he knew he would have to regroup the second he did. He just continued to punch, kick, knee and headbut the young man, but made little real progress since he was impenetrable steel. Maybe, he thought, he might be able to confuse him into turning back into flesh, then he could just kill him.

 

Throughout it all, Crater watched, trying to find where he could fit in. Several arrows had hit his armor, but they just plinked off. he’d considered going after that bitch Carbon, but she had her hands full. Five robots had ganged up on her, and although she was fighting magnificently, they clearly had the upper hand. He saw Cavalier pounding on the steel man, and thought maybe he could help, so he started to run in that direction.

 

Carbon did all she could to keep all five bots at bay. They occasionally landed a punch or stabbed with retractable blades in their wrists, but more often than not she ducked or blocked before they could do any real damage. Then one opened fire, apparently ignoring the protocol that prevented them from shooting one another. Bullets tore through her thigh and one of the robots behind her cutting through its arm. It didn’t seem to notice as its other arm cut across and its metal fist crushed her jaw on the left side.

 

It hurt, and her mouth dropped open, but to the outside observer, the gunshots and broken face just seemed to make her angry. Her leg wouldn’t hold her weight, so she swung it like a club at the nearest robot to put it a little off balance. She drew her gun and fired three rounds into its face, then laughed inwardly that some idiot actually put the brain of the things in their heads.

 

Another one swung down on her extended arm and snapped her forearm bones in half. That hurt enough to force a pained scream out of her. She swung her sword, but it was batted away and out of her hand. She rolled with the blow and used it pick up her gun and fire two more rounds into its face. two down.

 

A few miles away, String Theory stood staring helplessly at Carbon’s armor, heaped in a pile on a hillside near the city. He was a Navy SEAL in his former life, and had been flying the String Theory armor for decades now, but for the first time that he could remember, Seaman Al Pierce was at a total loss. What could posses a woman who was likely the most capable and together person he’d ever known to just take off her armor and leave it? He was almost certain it had not been taken from her. For one thing, no one would have been able to get the drop on her.

 

Also, it had been left in a neat pile, almost reverently stacked. That was Carbon’s work. He scanned the ruins for a heat signature of a grown human, but saw nothing. he then scanned the area for speech or any other human sounds, which was when he heard the gunfire. He figured that if Breanne Gutierrez was anywhere nearby, that gunfire had something to do with her. He rocketed into the air and scanned for where the gunfire was coming from.

 

He saw the unusual village wall, and the shapes of small forms engaged in combat, some with guns, others hand to hand. He zoomed in and saw soldiers and robots fighting armed villagers on one side and an army of walking corpses on the other. he scanned everyone, hoping to find a positive id on Carbon. In one corner of the battle, several robots circled a single form that was giving them a run for their money.

 

He smiled. “Bingo.” and started toward her. As he sped closer, he saw exactly how the fight was going for her and his stomach turned. One eye was bruised shut, her jaw hung limply and she had a severely broken arm and gunshot wounds to her leg. Her torso had several cuts and stabs. She could heal from all of them, but needed a breather and the robots were not going to give it to her.

 

As he closed in he turned on the suit’s loudspeaker. “Gutierrez! Put this on!” Carbon was dumbfounded. Through the haze and pain, she could have sworn she heard String Theory. She fired off her last few bullets, and was amazed to see he was in fact right in front of her. He punched the bot that was giving her the most trouble. He pulled a large black pack off his back that looked like a black metallic turtle shell, only rectangular. He spun her around and slipped it onto her back, then flung her away from the fray like a ragdoll.

 

Carbon tucked and rolled, coming up in a crouch facing the group she’d just been fighting, incidentally right next to her sword that was sticking up out of the ground. She forced herself up to her feet. She could already feel the holes in her leg closing, and her jaw popping back where it belonged. Her arm returned to its normal number of joints as her forearm straightened out.She thrust her arms out and stretched, preparing to grab her sword, when something shocking happened.

 

The backpack popped open. A section folded out into a helmet and slid over her head. A faceplate folded down covering her her entire head. Plates slid out and wrapped around her torso while others slid down her legs and arms. The plates slid out like a telescope, then straightened and locked into place, extending down to cover her hand in armored gloves and her feet in armored boots. In a manner of seconds, she was encased head to toe in black armor. From the back of the helmet sprung a black analog of her hair, and the face of the helmet flickered to life to display a grinning bone colored skull image that reflected Carbon’s underlying facial expression.

 

A heads-up display sprung to life before her eyes, showing her the number of allies and bogeys, how much ammunition was in her gun, the ambient temperature and a dozen other useful battlefield metrics. She grabbed her sword and discovered the suit had a scabbard waiting for it. Al’s voice came from inside her helmet. “It’s a gift from Kronos, Cobalt and Mac. They thought maybe your old armor had passed its prime. It will enhance your strength and-”

 

A loud “WHOOOOA!” filled String Theory’s helmet as Carbon discovered quite by accident her new suit flew. She cut the engines mounted in the back of the suit just in time to drop into the middle of the robots again. She decided to test out the strength enhancement. She threw the hardest punch she could muster at the one closest to her, and her fist disappeared into its armored side. The robot looked at her with what could only have been surprise, and she smiled as she pulled out some of its metal guts.

 

General melee had broken out, with soldiers fighting zombies and villagers, robots fighting String Theory and Carbon, and Crater standing in the middle of it all, confused. His heart was racing, and he desperately wanted to fight, but the fog in his mind was growing thicker. He didn’t want to attack for fear that he was confusing soldiers and villagers or robots, but then he saw Cav fighting the metal man, and that gave him focus. He lowered his shoulder and charged the two combatants, bowling over robots and villagers on the way. When he was thirty feet away, he let out a loud roar and sprinted.

 

He succeeded in distracting Cavalier, giving William the opening he needed. The younger man threw a tremendous punch into Cavalier that nearly folded him in half a split second before Crater smashed into them both, sending them flying. Cavalier regained his bearings as he flew up into the air, and looked just in time to see Crater punch the still reeling William hard enough for the steel man to smash into the tree wall and leave a sizeable mark. Figuring his old friend had him well enough, he searched for another target.


String Theory.The armored seaman was destroying his robots, currently blasting sizeable holes into a centaur with his fists. Cavalier flew toward him with his fist extended, and caught him off guard enough to send him flying past the robot he’d been destroying into a throng of zombies. Perfect. He grinned and watched as the former SEAL fought off the moaning cannibals.

 

Crater screamed, a sound of pure, mindless rage as he began punching William over and over again. He was sinking further and further into the wall. William was getting tired of the pummeling he was suffering. Mustering all of his strength, he threw a punch at the same second as crater. His fist caught the much bigger man’s right at the middle finger. The difference in size actually worked to William’s advantage; the smaller surface area of William’s fist acted like a pike against Crater’s torso sized hand. He stopped punching and stared at his hand in disbelief; his middle finger had just popped off. The combined force of both punches was plenty to crimp the metal of his gauntlet and sever the limb.

 

William leapt at the opportunity, pulling himself from the hole in the wall and rolling off to the side to collect himself. He’d spent the entire battle so far with one of two super humans punching him non-stop. He was only mildly dazed, but the sheer frustration of it built up as anger. Crater turned to face him, a look of angered disbelief on his face. William, on the other hand, wore a mask of calm rage.

 

He charged the larger man, suckering him into an over hand punch that put him off balance with his side open and vulnerable. William ducked under the punch and sidestepped. using his momentum from the charge, he planted a powerful roundhouse into Crater’s ribs. There was a loud clang as his armor dented under the strength of the blow. Crater backhanded at William, but the smaller man had already moved around him and landed three powerful punches, left-right-left into Crater’s left kidney. Again, the armor started to buckle. He spun and threw a powerful punch straight at William, hitting him in the upper torso and face. But William was prepared for it, so he was anchored right where he stood. The spikes on Crater’s gauntlet bent under the force of the strike, but William didn’t budge or in any way register the blow.

 

The smaller man slapped Crater’s arm up high and waded in. A powerful right sent his arm out wide as William punched his forearm. The next step brought another punch, right into Crather’s chest and the last was an uppercut to the chin. Crater staggered back, swinging wildly trying to keep the furious metal man at bay.

 

William ducked another wild swing, then shoved Crater hard in the midsection, knocking him off his feet.

 

Many of the villagers moved in on the soldiers, ducking behind cover, but firing shots from guns, bows and crossbows injuring and distracting Cavalier’s militia as they desperately fought off enemies on two fronts. They received no help from the robots, all of whom had their  hands full trying to catch or even land a blow on Carbon.

 

Picking through the crowd, armed with a pistol and a rag to cough blood into, was Norman. He wanted to help, but was not much of a shot, and was weak. He thought maybe he could provide a distraction, maybe give the other supers some edge so they could take out either Cavalier or Crater and buy a complete tactical advantage.

 

Inspiration came in the form of a cluster of five dead militia soldiers. Half had been overwhelmed by zombies, while the others had been picked off while trying to fend them off. Among their corpses were several assault rifles. He got down and belly crawled toward the bodies.

 

He all but disappeared into the tall grass, which suited him perfectly; he had never been a fighter or a soldier. He was at best a spy, but not the kind that ever really got his hands dirty. He reached one soldier, one of the ones that had been overwhelmed by walking dead. There was a look of horror frozen on his face, and his throat had been chewed open. His left arm had a tear in the armor, and through it the zombies had eaten him to the bone.

 

Norman looked around him for a rifle, but couldn’t see one. The body did, however, have one of the large desert Eagles in a holster. He crawled onto the man’s chest and moved the piece that prevented the gun from falling out  out of the way. As he slid the sidearm out, the body twitched. Norman froze. he glanced up at the dead soldier’s face, and the head pivoted up slightly, the dead man looking down at him splayed across his own chest. “Oooohhh crap…” Norman whispered. A disgusting gurgling rose out of the body’s throat as it attempted to moan and its mouth hung open, trying to get a bite. Norman finished sliding the gun out of the holster and rolled off to the side. The dead soldier started to sit up and face him, but without a second thought, Norman shoved the gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger. At such close range, the .357 round blew the new zombie’s brain out through the top of the helmet and he fell back down , dead for good.

 

Norman took a long shuddering breath and crawled back over the body to find one of the G-36 rifles.

 

Cavalier had a slight advantage in the form of him being invulnerable. The punishing punches of String Theory hurt, and occasionally dazed him, but did not actually cause him damage. String Theory had the advantage of being one of the world’s most highly trained military specialists. In their current melee, neither could get the upper hand.

 

If Cavalier had thought knocking String into a mob of undead would slow him down, he was mistaken. After tossing off a few and punching several more to death, String Theory turned into fusion powered plasma the likes of which would normally be found on the sun. he incinerated everything for twenty feet in seconds. He then turned into tank-grade armor and attacked Cavalier.

 

The two men fought like angry titans. Each punch rang out as air was smashed and superheated from the sheer force of the the blows. String Theory’s fists glowed from the heat, as did the parts on his body where Cavalier’s punches landed. Cav landed a powerful punch across his cheek, and String used the opening on his side to fire a blast of plasma into the man’s ribs. His sui9t burned away from the blast, but the superpowered flesh beneath was unharmed.

 

Cavalier brought his arm back, cracking String in the head with his elbow. he grabbed the navy SEAL by his shoulders and brought his knee up into the man’s chest as he threw his shoulders down. After the third strike, String Theory turned into magma. The gloves burned off of Cavalier’s hands and his knee caught fire. He shouted in surprise, giving String a second to smack his hands off, then kick Cavalier in the midsection sending him back. As Cavalier regained his footing a second later,  String Theory open his hands and pointed both palms at the fallen hero. His hands glowed brightly, then twin beams of pure energy fired out hitting Cavalier in the chest, throwing him back and actually knocking the wind out of him.

 

String Theory fired plasma out of his feet launching him into the air, then turned into lead as he dropped down on cavalier as he tried to stand, knocking his chin down into his knee. The blow landed on the forehead of Cavalier’s helmet, caving it in with a fist-shaped dent. The man fell back for a second, and String Theory couldn’t help but laugh. Cavalier’s helmet was heavily dented, he would have to remove it to keep fighting and not have his vision obscured. Both hands were bare, and the midsection of his white uniform was completely burned away, exposing his pale, rippling muscles.

 

Cavalier growled and pried the helmet off his head. He threw it at String Theory who caught it with one hand, then crushed it as his fist started to glow cherry red. “I’m, sorry, but I think I’m going to have to kill you, Jim.” String said tossing the melted, crushed lump of metal to the side. Cavalier laughed. “How?” he scoffed. String had no answer, but figured he would find a way.

 

Carbon was loving her new armor. She was once again surrounded by robots, and being shot, punched and kicked, but whatever the armor Kronos and Cobalt had made for her was made of, it resisted all of it without a scratch. Every punch or kick she threw dented or tore the robot she struck. She drew her sword and began cutting off limbs. One robot threw itself down in an attempt to crush her. She simply stepped aside and allowed it to impale its face on her blade.

 

She wrenched it free in time to chop another one’s gun in half, then swung around again cutting off both hands at the forearm. using the thrusters built into the back of her suit (which she was beginning to get the hang of) she jumped up using the forced to propel an uppercut that threatened to rip the robot’s head off, then cut them and brought down a devastating elbow that smashed its head flat.

 

Once she cleared the field of robots, she would head over and give String Theory a hand with Cavalier. Beating him down would be satisfying, like fulfilling a dream. Which of course, it was.

 

Norman finally reached the rifles he was trying to get his hands on. On the way he’d had to dispatch another soldier (dead) and three other crawling corpses. He was not a skilled marksman by any stretch, but he knew how to use a rifle, reload them, etc. He picked up one and dropped the partial magazine, opting to use a full one he had scrounged off the second newly dead soldier. He would have to be quick. Cavalier was large and frightening, but Norman had an idea. he just hoped it worked. He chambered the first round and took a deep breath.

 

William was rolling , jumping and dodging the enraged Crater. The bigger man seemed to have been pushed past all reason and thought and was now simply fighting like an angered animal. His punches were wild and uncalculated, but as powerful as any William had ever seen. He could feel the air blow past him with each swing. Whenever an opening presented itself, he would pound the other man with a punishing fury of blows that was slowly reducing his armor to a collection of dents and broken plates.

 

Showing he had not completely lost his mind, Crater threw a wild haymaker. As William started to duck, Crater reversed the punch and launched a vicious kick that lifted William several feet off the ground and landed him flat on his face. Crater wasted no time in stomping on the other man with all of his weight. In no time, William was sinking into the ground. Each time he tried to rise, the huge armored foot would slam down on him. As Crater lifted for another stomp, William lifted himself slightly , then jumped into a forward roll. He slipped just under the step, causing Crater to step into an empty hole and overbalance.

 

As William stood out of his roll, he drove an incredible punch right up between Crater’s legs. Were it not for the armor, his fist likely would have passed straight through the larger man’s crotch into his stomach. Instead, it succeeded in lifting him a good foot off the ground, and the force of the punch had the desired effect. Crater shouted in surprise and pain and fell to his knees. William turned and climbed onto his back. He grabbed the shoulder of Crater’s armor and squeezed, crushing a hand-grip right into the metal. He planted his feet on the giant man’s hips and began pounding on his helmet with all of his strength. Each blow rang out like a bell across the battlefield.

 

Norman heard the loud, rhythmic ringing of William’s steel fist on Crater’s helmet and poked his head up to see what was causing it. He saw William, gleaming steel fist pounding on the big man’s head, and looked over to see if Cavalier had noticed. He hadn’t yet, but Norman watched as he stole a glance and suffered a jab between his jaw and ear from String Theory for the mistake.

 

But he could tell the former hero could see what has going on, and the shift in his body language showed he was going to break off from the SEAL to save his friend. He accepted two punishing hits to the face, then threw his hand up and caught the next punch in his open palm. He shouted, a loud primal sound as he clamped his fingers on String Theory’s fist, pushed his arm down and forced him onto one knee. He then punched the other man several times in rapid succession and kicked him with all of his strength in the chest.

 

String Theory went flying backward and skidded to a stop fifty feet away, stunned. Across the field, William stopped punching, and slapped his open palm against the top of Crater’s helmet. Crater threw a punch over his head that should have sent William flying, but he didn’t even budge. William squeezed his fingers, crimping into the metal helmet, then with a shout of pure rage, ripped the helmet off of Crater’s head, then tossed it aside as casually as a food wrapper. He restarted his punching, but it was now on Crater’s thick skull instead of the protective helmet. Gone was the ringing sound, replaced by a loud thunk as steel pulverized flesh and cracked bone.

 

Cavalier recognized the change in sound for what it was, having watched helplessly as the young man of metal ripped the protective helmet from his best friend’s head. He started to move to help, but String Theory threw himself on Cavalier’s back. Cavalier screamed and slammed his head straight back into Strong’s face, knocking him loose. He then threw a vicious backhand as he spun on the other man, throwing him through the air across the field. Desperation gave him strength he did not usually possess. The pitch of the punching changed ever so slightly, and Cavalier felt cold panic rush through his  limbs.

 

He started to fly, then a hail of bullets began to pelt him. he stopped, surprised by the sound of one of his own soldier’s guns being fired at him. There stood a haggard looking man with one of the G36s against his shoulder, emptying the clip at him. he would come back for him, but he turned his focus back to Crater and William.

 

Those few precious heartbeats were too much. Carter had staggered and was facing Cavalier. William’s relentless punching had caused blood to begin pouring down his face. A look of shock and horror was painted on his sidekick’s face for just a moment. Then William let go of his shoulder, linked his fingers, and dropped both fists down onto the big man’s head, once, twice, and then a third time. On the third strike, Cavalier froze. the was a sickening sound of tearing meat and shattering bone as William’s arms plunged into Crater’s skull and sank into his brain, not stopping until the metal fists struck the top of his spine.

 

Crater lurched forward, dead, the momentum sending William tumbling.

 

All semblance of sanity flowed from Cavalier in those few fateful seconds. He turned at Norman. The dying man almost dropped the gun, then shouldered it again. Cavalier blamed him. had it not been for his distraction, he could have slapped William off of him, and his only friend would still be alive. He flew toward the man, closing the hundred feet between them in a fraction of a second. As he landed, he slapped the gun out of his hands with no effort at all, then grasped him around the neck and lifted him off the ground.

 

“This will take a while, and it will HURT you son of a bitch.” He growled, forcing himself to be just calm enough to not just crush the man’s throat. Norman slapped ineffectually at the former hero’s wrist, or so Cavalier thought.Then he realized he was simply holding it, his hands wrapped around them, a queer smile crossing the dying man’s face.

 

Across the field, Carbon looked over to see Cavalier choking Norman. The last robot facing her cuffed her upside the head. She turned and shoved her sword through its chest, then leaped up and began punching holes in its torso and pulling out whatever components her hand closed upon. All the while watching Norman suspended by the neck by her most hated former associate. Not that Norman didn’t deserve death, or that he didn’t do a damn good job of going down fighting, but Cavalier didn’t get that honor. he didn’t deserve it.

 

As the robot stopped even twitching, she retrieved her sword, and looked over at Norman and Cavalier. Something had changed, something was off.

 

Cavalier felt his grip loosening on the man in front of him. He was confused. Suddenly he felt as if he was setting him down, then looked and had it confirmed, the ground was much closer than it had been to the man’s feet. He looked norman in the face, and where there once had been slack, ashen skin, it now was beginning to look healthy and robust. he was growing heavier and cavalier was losing his strength.

 

A second later, Norman was standing on the ground, and inhaled deeply, grinning evilly. “God, I haven’t had a decent breath of air in weeks. Thank you.” Cavalier didn’t understand at first, then recognition clicked and he realized he knew this man’s face from another life. The man called Sponge.

 

The man who could steal other’s powers.

 

Cavalier let go and staggered back several steps. Norman laughed. Carbon suddenly realized what had happened. as soon as he broke contact, norman’s new powers started to fade. he felt the weight of radiation poisoning start to creep up. Color started to return to cavalier.

 

Carbon fired her thrusters as hard as she could, launching herself at the pair. When she was forty feet away, she cut them and fell into a forward roll. She leapt, clearing twenty feet thanks to momentum, diving into a controlled somersault. Cavalier took a single step toward Norman as Carbon leapt to her feet, drawing her sword and spinning by him. In a single, nimble move she swung her black carbon blade past Cavalier and came to a stop several steps ahead of him, her blade out to the right of her, her muscled, armored body still as a statue.

 

Cavalier stood confused for a few seconds, then turned ever so slightly. His body tumbled to the ground while his head, the face a mask of confusion, rolled away from it.

With the deaths of both Crater and Cavalier, the few remaining soldiers lost their taste for the fight and fled. Most of the robots were either destroyed or broken to the point of uselessness, and all of the spec ops soldiers were dead. The villagers that remained set about the field, finishing off robots and zombies as they found them with the help of Carbon, William and String Theory. No sooner had the battle finished than Nicole went to work fixing the holes in her wall.

 

Carbon had somewhat expected the casual, friendly William to be at least somewhat shell shocked by what he had done, but if it had bugged him at all, he didn’t let one. His and Nicole’s body language spoke volumes about both of them. It wa clear both wanted nothing more than to hold the other, but duty kept them apart. For now.

 

Norman was fading quickly back to his previous haggard state, but he waved off any attempts to to help him. He sat staring at the dead hero in front of him. One villager stopped by at one point and offered him some water, which he accepted gladly. “You did good, man. That was incredibly brave what you did.”

 

Norman chuckled. He was smiling when he looked the man in the face and said without a hint of humor, “Good hell. I did great. I helped kill Superman.” He toasted the other man with his water and drank the rest of it. he laid down in the tall grass and drifted off to sleep.

 

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