Warp vs Zone
Gleeson sprinted across both westbound lanes without a glance at oncoming traffic. If there’d been so much as a single-seat delivery drone timidly making its way through the blizzard, Kyle thought, Gleeson would’ve been reduced to a sixty foot grease stain. As it was, he made it to the highway divider without incident. He didn’t even fall on his ass.
Warp followed. He moved at a leisurely pace, content with overtaking Zone before he cleared the westbound lanes.
But Zone had one trick left. He didn’t clamber over the divider rail as Warp expected. Instead he straightened, reaching inside his jacket. Suddenly Warp had trouble focusing on the man. He blinked, making sure it wasn’t his eyes. The blur around Zone was less effective than the one he’d used to obscure Whip, but it still disguised his features. It seemed like he was looking at Zone through a rain-washed windshield.
Warp wasn’t sure why Zone bothered. He squinted, trying to resolve just what blurry-Zone was doing as he approached. Near as he could make out, Zone had pulled something from his pocket. It was impossible to see what, but it had to be something small like –
Warp ducked, cutting sharply to the right. He accelerated rapidly, gaining altitude, keeping his flight path as erratic and unpredictable as he could.
Like a gun, he realized.
When he’d cleared two hundred feet he risked a furtive glance over his shoulder. A blurry version of Zone had leaped the rail, and was dashing across the eastbound lanes. It was hard to make out, but it looked like he was sprinting for a low grove of bushes a few hundred yards to the east.
Warp changed course, diverting to the grove. He was less than halfway there when he spotted what he was looking for: a white four-door sedan, parked well off the highway on a shadowy section of road. That must have been how Zone and Whip arrived, to set their trap for Bear.
There was no way Whip could fit his monstrous frame inside that midsize, Warp thought. Whip was famously a shapechanger, but could he possibly make himself small enough to cram into a Nissan Altima?
Despite himself, Kyle glanced back at Whip’s prone figure in the snow. With a start, he realized it was gone.
No – not gone, Warp saw after a tense few seconds. Shrunk. The giant had vanished, and in its place was a small still form. The real Kollerwip, Warp thought.
The real Kollerwip didn’t look human at all. His physique was clearly alien. He was blue-skinned and slender, and his cranium was over large and ridged with bony plates. A cluster of thick growths, like purple antlers, grew out of the back of his head. No wonder they call him U07, Kyle thought. He looks like he’s from a different planet.
He was also nude as a cockroach. Alien or not, his chubby ass wouldn’t survive long in a snow storm. Especially not with a probable skull fracture.
He might be a notorious Villain and a psychopath, but Warp couldn’t leave him to freeze to death. The Black Signal Group might be largely covert, but it still had a reputation to protect, and that was exactly the kind of thing that invited stern investigations by the Federal Pulse Authority. He’d have to get Whip out of the cold in the next ten minutes or so to prevent frostbite.
Fifteen, maybe, Warp considered. I guess I don’t mind a little retributive frostbite.
He’d lost sight of Zone, and it took a full minute to locate him again. He was still blurred, and had made his way close to the sedan. Too close. Warp moved on an intercept course.
Zone must have spotted him. He stopped dead in the middle of the eastbound lanes, and raised his right arm. It looked like he was taking careful aim. Warp dove for the side of the road and snaked away.
Zone was running again. Warp debated letting him reach the sedan, but it was clear that was a bad idea. There was probably a radio inside, and ammunition. Maybe even an assault rifle.
Out in the open, shivering the way he was, it was only a matter of time before the Iowa wind chewed up Zone like a dog toy. Ten minutes, maybe less. But if Warp let him get to the car, all that changed. He could hold out for hours – certainly long enough for the infamous Ops team to arrive, anyway. Warp needed to be long gone before that happened.
And if Zone decided to use the car to make a break for it, Warp knew he couldn’t chase him for long. His first priority was Whiskers and Lone. For all he knew they were in the open field right now, slowly dying of hypothermia. He had to make Zone tell him where they were, and then wrap this up fast.
Warp sucked in a lungful of cold air. Then he skated forward resolutely, until he was between blurry-Zone and the sedan. Zone was barely seventy feet away. Too damn close for someone who was a decent shot. Despite the cold, prickly sweat formed on the back of his neck.
Zone stopped running. If he focused, Warp could see the gun in his hands. For now, it was pointed at the ground. He began to pace to the left. Warp mirrored his movements, keeping himself between Zone and the car. Warp stayed in motion, tried to keep his movements unpredictable.
“I know who you are,” Gleeson said. There was a confident smirk to his voice. “You’re Kyle Price, right? Warp. The flier.”
“What was your first clue?” said Warp.
“I gotta tell you, mate. You got style. All that woooosh, just dropping out of the fucking sky like that? It’s beautiful. The briefing we got on you didn’t do you justice. Not even close.”
That was interesting. Who gave that briefing? Warp wondered. He wanted the answer to that question very badly.
But it wouldn’t pay to tip his hand yet. Zone didn’t seem to be in a rush. His pace, in fact, seemed unhurried, almost casual. He projected the air of someone who enjoyed a good conversation.
That was an act, and Warp would be a fool to drop his guard. Moments ago Zone had been shivering uncontrollably; another ten minutes, and his fingers might not work well enough to hold a gun.
Zone had to know that. If he was going to start shooting, it would be in the next few minutes. Warp could feel it coming, like a storm off a mountain.
Blurry-Zone had stopped pacing. It was hard to make out exactly what he was doing, but it looked like he was spreading his arms. Warming up a pitch like a used car salesman.
“Warp my boy. Don’t make me kill you,” said Zone.
Warp didn’t respond. He kept skating, kept his feet and body in constant motion.
Zone started ambling forward again. Slowly, but very deliberately.
“The thing is,” Zone continued, “I’m a professional. Which means I ain’t stupid. I get hired to do a job, and that job goes south? That happens. I don’t bear a grudge. But I put you down… that escalates things. Because a Hero of your caliber has friends, Warp, am I right? And I’m not stupid enough to want them friends coming after me.”
“Whiskers and Lone were my friends,” said Warp. He withdrew as Zone advanced, maintaining at least seventy feet distance. His feet kept doing their dance, shuffling left and right, left and right.
“Whiskers and Lone? Who the fuck are they?”
“You know who they are. They were in the semi your friend Whip scared off the road.”
“Those stupid fuckers? They’re not hurt. They’re wrapped up nice and cozy in a couple of bags, waiting for Ops to get off their fucking ass, excuse my French, and get out here for a simple pick-up. I mean, I get it, this weather sucks dick. But you and me, Warp, we didn’t let weather stop us, right? We’re professionals. We showed up. Is it too much to ask that the Operational Teams – who are paid pretty fucking nicely, believe me – do their jobs? I don’t think so.”
Step by step, Zone was inching forward towards the car. Not overtly. He did it with theatrical flair, with plenty of exaggerated diversions, pacing to stage left and stage right, raising his arms with admirable bluster. But sentence by sentence, he was relentlessly pressing forward.
Warp risked a quick glance backwards as he weaved above the ground. The car was less than fifty feet behind him.
“Let’s cut to it,” said Zone. “I got you sussed, Warp. You’re not a member of the Black Signal Rapid Response team. You’re no famous Hero. You’re part of the Transport group. You’re just a working stiff. They send you to do the bad-weather rescues, do the clean up. But you got your blood up, with what happened back there with Whip. And now you think you can tangle with professionals.”
Zone came to a stop. The blur danced around him. The gun was still pointed at the ground. Warp saw Zone shake his blurry head.
“But you’ve gotten well over your skis here, mate. The only thing keeping me from killing you right this minute is the situation it puts me in with your associates. Two-Bug and Caspar, right? Who wants to tangle with those assholes?”
“You know a lot about me,” said Warp. And who told you all this, exactly? Who’s pulling your strings, Zone?
“My point is, my patience is running very fucking thin. So why don’t you go do your job. Drag Mister Whiskers and his girlfriend outta the snow, and be the hero. Fuck off.”
Something happened to the blur around Zone. It was like a physical object now, a thick wedge of disturbed air. It grew smaller, and simultaneously more opaque.
It’s moving, Warp realized. It’s coming this w –
It punched him in the gut. It felt like a two-foot medicine ball, a heavy lump of sand. It took the wind out of him, swatting him back two dozen feet. It very nearly broke his focus, knocking him from the sky, but he managed to regain his equilibrium quickly.
“That was only a taste, Warp,” said Zone. The blur was already back where it belonged, distorting his features. “Don’t make me smack you to the ground.”
Warp didn’t respond. He kept up the dance, alert to any sign that the blur was moving again, confident that he could dodge the thing next time. He glanced down. He was nearly over the sedan now.
“I’m not fucking around here,” said Zone. “If we do this, it only ends one way.”
“What makes you so sure?” asked Warp.
“Because you’re Transport,” shouted Zone. “And you’re just as useless as my Operations team. You’re not an elite PIP. They don’t deploy you in the field against professionals like me, because you can’t fucking handle it. You don’t even have a weapon, you daft wanker!”
“I am the weapon,” Warp said.
He shot into the sky. Zone finally raised the gun, tried to get a bead, then gave up in frustration. He started striding towards the car.
Warp dive bombed him.
He came in fast from the east, hands crossed over his chest, giving Zone the smallest possible profile. He missed Zone by inches, then twisted and rocketed away to the west, keeping his flight path looping and unpredictable.
“Jesus Christ!” screamed Zone. “Are you fucking insane? Do you want to die, is that what you want?”
Zone was less than fifty feet from the sedan now. He kept glancing towards it. His desire was obvious, even in his blurred state.
“You’re not getting in that car,” said Warp calmly. He continued gaining altitude, gauging his final approach.
“Fuck you. You’re a bloody flying corpse.” Zone kept walking, focused now on the car.
“I don’t think so. You know what I think? I think you don’t have a gun.”
Zone dropped all pretense. He leaped forward, running at full speed. Perhaps it was the prolonged exposure to the cold, perhaps it was simple panic, but he could no longer maintain the blur. He snapped into perfect focus, and Warp could see him sprinting across the snow, see the long black thing clutched in his hand.
A cell phone.
Zone reached the sedan, fumbling to find the button on his remote key. He wrenched the door open, and turned with a final sneer towards Warp.
Warp came in hard, dropped the last twenty feet, and drop-kicked him in the head at seventy miles per hour.