Chapter 34

               Titan stepped through the area that had once been the front door of the apartment building, carefully surveying the landscape as he moved. In a situation like this, where the building’s stability was in question, someone of his strength could accidently bring the whole thing down with one misstep. The ground floor was, thankfully, largely bare; with the support columns easy to spot. So long as he steered clear of those and load-bearing walls, he should manage to get through this rescue mission without causing some collateral destruction of his own.

                There was just enough time for Titan to stop and wonder how Granite was going to get past the small front door before the giant rock-man sauntered calmly through the wall, Aether resting a gentle but firm grip on his shoulder. Once they were completely out of the entrance, Aether released her hold. Granite seemed to shimmer for a moment, and the subtle sound of wood groaning beneath his massive feet told everyone he was solid once more.

                “Handy. I don’t know many density changers who can affect others so easily,” Titan said.

                “You still don’t,” Aether replied, floating carefully over to him. “What I do more akin to shifting us to another plane of existence, one that interacts visually and audibly with ours, but not physically.”

                “Damn.” Titan had been around a long time and had worked with dozens, if not hundreds, of Supers. Aether’s ability wasn’t wholly unique, but something that powerful was strikingly rare. He’d read up on the local Hero teams, and while Transcendental Justice had been one listed there was nothing especially wowing about their records. If a woman with this ability was playing second string then Granite may have understated just how hot Brewster was for Heroes at that moment.

                “Damn is right, I am quite incredible,” Aether agreed. “Granite, Scope believes the south wall to be the weakest currently, so that’s where you’re needed. Keep your radio on, you may need to change positions as Titan moves around the upper floors.”

                “Oh great, I don’t get enough of being bossed around from Gale.” Granite’s words were glib, but he still headed over to fulfill his assignment. Titan understood the reaction; sometimes in stressful situations making bad jokes was a small way to fight back against the sense of seriousness that threatened to overwhelm Heroes. It was why so many of them ended up quipping through a fight; they were trying to mentally push back the terror and violence so they could function.

                “Titan, you’re with me on the first few floors. They should be stable, but there’s no reason to risk it unnecessarily.” Aether’s hand landed on his shoulder. There was a light tingling sensation, and for a moment Titan’s stomach lifted as though he were at the crest of a rollercoaster’s tracks and just beginning his descent. Then, as suddenly as it started, the sensation was gone and he was still firmly standing on the floor.

                “That is… unexpected,” Aether said. “I didn’t expect you to be a nullifier.”

                “I’m not, but I did fight a guy with phasing powers a few decades back. He could trap people in this dark existence without light, sound, or touch for hours at a time. Bastard managed to sneak up and get me on our first encounter.”

                “Fascinating, but it doesn’t explain why I can’t phase you.”

                “I was getting to that,” Titan said. “Next time I fought him, he got a hand on me and then received the shock of his life when I stayed right there in front of him. The same tricks don’t work on me twice, and I think your power is similar enough to his that my resistance countered it.”

                “Can’t you turn it off? What if you need healing?”

                “My body handles its own healing, and while I can suppress it if I really need to, it’s an imprecise process. I don’t think either of us wants me slipping back to solid while suspended in the air,” Titan said.

                “A fair point.” Aether floated down to the ground, rippled momentarily, and became solid. “I suppose all we can do is go slowly and let me test the stairs as we move.”

                “That was pretty much my plan from the get-go,” Titan replied.

                The two set off one the careful climb, checking each of the stairs as they went. Luckily, the building had been constructed in a more industrial era, long before cheap cost-cutting measures made staircases that were thinly attached at each level. Within five minutes they had passed the first two floors and managed to make it to the third without incident. The floor there was less solid than on the lower levels, and a part of the back wall had been blown out, allowing them to see the clean-up going on outside.

                “This is as high as you can go,” Aether told him. “Everything above is too unstable. Scope and Afterthought finished the scan while we were climbing. I’ve got three targets on floor four and one on floor five. You’ve got two here, one in room four-three-four and one in room four-two-one. Got that?”

                “Got it,” Titan might not have had the world’s best memory, but he had long ago mastered the art of quickly memorizing short bursts of information. In the field, it often made the difference between people saved and lives lost.

                “Good. As soon as you’ve got both, get them out and get clear. Crush is in position to implode this building the moment we’re done. The sooner we can bring it down, the better for everyone around it.”

                “What if you need help with all of yours?”

                Aether rolled her eyes in an exaggerated motion. “I can fly through matter, remember? Smart money says I’ll get all four of mine out before you finish your two.”

                “Five bucks?”

                “Fine. First one to have all their people on the ground, safely outside the building, wins,” Aether said.

                The two Heroes shook briefly, then Aether lifted off the ground and floated through the ceiling to the floor above. Titan watched her go, noting the seamless way she phased herself through the various barriers. The woman was clearly hiding some aspects of her abilities, not that Titan blamed her. Even among other Heroes, it was usually prudent to keep a few bits about one’s power close to the vest. It wasn’t an everyday occurrence, but Heroes did fall from grace. Fighting someone who knew all of your limits and weaknesses was a worst-case scenario for any Hero.

                Titan started tentatively down the hallway, listening carefully to the groans of the floor for any signs that something was about to give. In a situation like this, Heroes like Aether definitely had the upper hand. Still, there were people depending on him to get to them, so Titan was determined not to go crashing through the floor.

                He hoped.