Chapter 149

The three would-be ambushers saw the distant headlights long before they heard the steady thrum of the truck’s engine. The pinpoints of light were too high off the road for a sedan and too widely-spaced for a standard pickup. That left eighteen wheeler or large transport vehicle.

Nick glanced down at his watch. Estimating from the truck’s speed, it would be here in another three minutes, a time which fit neatly into the expected window.

“It’s them,” Nick announced, shooting a quick look at his compatriots. “Everyone ready?”

Vince nodded. Alice did as well, though more hesitantly.

“Good. As soon as they stop, everybody stick to the plan,” Nick instructed one last time. He’d tried to keep things general rather than bogging them down in details, but it was crucial that each one stick to their roles. Their chances of success were already disgustingly slim. If a single person broke rank then all hope would be lost.

“About that. I have a question,” Alice said.

Nick glanced again at the approaching lights, now increasing in size and brightness. “Make it a quick one.”

“It’s about stopping the truck. How do we know standing in the road will get them to brake? What if they just mow us down?”

“Alice, did you really think I would build an entire plan that depended on basic human decency? Give me a little credit.”

“Then how are you stopping the truck?”

Nick gauged the truck’s speed once more. It would be here very soon, so he might as well get started.

“With a whole lot of bad luck.” Nick clenched his fist and drew in a deep breath. He realized the futility of exercising fake tells when he could no longer hide his real one, but Nick Campbell was nothing if not committed to his role. Nick focused on the truck bearing down upon on them, on the front part of the cab, on the engine, and specifically on the driver. He wasn’t sure who would be at the wheel, but he certainly knew who he was hoping for. He kept his mind aimed at the vehicle, and then he began to gather the bad luck. Normally he could use a simple burst; however, for a project this big, he was going to need one doozy of a wallop.

Alice gasped and took a step back in surprise. Vince was more stoic, merely commenting, “Well, that explains the glasses.”

As the luck built up in Nick, the irises of his eyes began the glow with a golden light. It was dim at first, slowly growing brighter as the power accumulated. Nick kept those radiant eyes trained on his speeding metal adversary. He needed to act when the machine was far enough away not to catch them in whatever catastrophe occurred, but close enough to be quickly reachable by Alice. Optimum timing would come down to a difference of mere seconds. The right corner of Nick’s mouth tugged upward ever so slightly. He hadn’t had a challenge like this in years.

The truck grew nearer and the time was at hand. Nick hardened his focus, shifted just a touch more bad luck in the driver’s direction, and then let fly.

What happened next was an orchestra of malfunction. The engine caught fire and began billowing smoke, all four tires blew out simultaneously, and both axles snapped as the truck came careening to the ground. It dove forward in a headfirst motion, smashing the grill into the ground and severely crumpling the front compartment. It skidded across the cement, coming just on the verge of tipping before slamming back onto its base. Dust flew freely into the air and a sea of shrapnel lay in the truck’s wake. Though it was a tremendous amount of action, it occurred in mere seconds. By the time Nick’s eyes had dulled to their normal brown, the only sound remaining on the dark country road was the soft crackling of flames coming out of the engine.

“Holy shit,” Alice said, her voice dumbstruck.

“Worship me later,” Nick chided her. “Right now we’ve got to get over there before they can recover.”

He and Vince began dashing down the road at top speed. Alice lifted off the ground and accelerated, quickly passing them in the race to save their friends.

*          *          *

“Well, that was a shitwreck,” Coach George commented calmly as he tossed Mary over his shoulder. The tall man had switched to his robotic form at the first wobble they’d felt from the floor. The crash had been predominantly absorbed by the front of the vehicle, but Hershel still found himself sore, pitched to the side, and with blood trickling from where his handcuffs had pulled against his skin. It seemed Coach George had lifted Mary up during the worst of it, otherwise she would have been tossed about since she wasn’t restrained to the floor.

“What was that?” Hershel asked, his head finally clearing up with the input of these new injuries.

“Hey, Persephone, report. Did you hit a squirrel or something?” Coach George demanded.

No response came from the smoking front cab.

“Fuck. Guess this just became a one-man job.” Coach George kicked open the back door, sending it sprawling off its hinges. He turned back to regard Hershel. “Kid, it’s been fun but my job is delivery of your friend, not to deal with whatever the hell just smashed my truck. Looks like at least you’re off the hook. I can only fly with one passenger.”

A series of flaps on Coach George’s back opened and his legs began pulse with a green energy. Of course, of course he could fly. Hershel cursed inwardly. Someone had come to save them, and now Coach George was going to soar off before they could reach Mary. Coach George was going to get away and Hershel was going to be just sitting here. Useless as always. It was amazing Coach George had even bothered chaining him to the ground. Hershel blinked and looked at his restraints. His hands were still bound by a long length of chain, but the bolt that held him to the floor had been ripped off in the crash. Hershel sucked in a long breath that made his ribs ache. He made a snap decision.

Coach George was still powering up his legs when over two hundred pounds of husky student slammed into his back. Before he could bring himself to believe what was happening, a chain had been thrown around his neck, then wrapped over again. Hershel managed three more layers before George reached up and snared his right arm.

“It has occurred to you that in this mode I don’t need oxygen, right?”

“I pretty much assumed it,” Hershel wheezed. Holding himself onto George’s back was already proving a difficult task to maintain.  That had been the true purpose of looping his chains: it bound him to the metallic man with something more than his poor arm strength.

“So what are you doing?”

“You can’t fly with two people,” Hershel replied.

“Really, kid? You’ve spent your whole life living in the shadow of your better alter ego, and now you decide you want to play Hero? I’ve got an idea; let’s skip to the part where you realize you can’t cut it and just let go. Otherwise things might get... troublesome.” On his last word Coach George tightened his grip on Hershel’s arm. Hershel managed to bite back a cry. George’s fingers felt like they were already gripping him on the bone and Hershel was under no illusions that this was the strongest he could clutch.

“Roy isn’t the only son of Titan. Do your worst; I won’t let you take Mary,” Hershel spat back, his voice low as he tried to keep it from quivering.

“Have it your way,” Coach George replied.

Hershel wasn’t able to stop the next scream that rose, or any of the many that followed.