Roy threw a vicious haymaker that George sidestepped with ease. George capitalized on Roy’s open side by delivering two quick jabs to the boy’s ribs and then kneeing him in the diaphragm. Roy coughed as the wind left his body and he sank to a knee. George moved in to put him down for good when a horizontal pillar of fire smashed into his head, momentarily blinding him and sending his temperature to dangerous levels. George was forced to roll away and regroup, a consequence of which was that Roy was afforded the same privilege.
George had to admit it: Daniels had gotten a lot better since the start of the year. He was thinking his movements through, recovering well from hits, and fighting with a brain instead of all brawn. All those weeks slugging it out with the number one rank had done him a world of good. Not so much that he could pose an actual challenge to George, though. This fight would have been over in minutes if not for Reynolds doling out those flame-based blasts. Every time George went to return fire, Roy came at him in close range. The two were focusing on their specialties and keeping him off balance enough so that he couldn’t permanently remove either one from the fray. It was a terrible strategy if they wanted to win, but for buying time, he had to concede it was pretty functional. Somewhere deep down inside his metallic system George felt a sensation akin to pride. The little dipshits had actually learned.
George activated his thrusters and began rising into the air. Unlike his opponents, he had no compelling reason to try and win this fight. All he had to do was get away and recapture the Smith girl for delivery. Unfortunately, Roy had already recovered and was ready for this. He leapt several feet in the air, grabbing George by the leg and getting a face full of thruster fire for his trouble. Roy didn’t even seem to notice; he pulled himself out its range and tightened his grip.
“I’d think between you and your brother one of you boys would think of a different strategy than just clinging on to me,” George said.
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” Roy snapped back. He tested his right arm and found it still unresponsive. He knew it would heal eventually, probably within the half hour. That just wasn’t much help at the moment, though. It was a shame, if he’d had both appendages he could have been hammering away on George while in this position; instead he was leaving himself wide open. Roy steeled himself for whatever was about to come. If Hershel could take it so could he.
For his part, George wasn’t feeling particularly creative. He raised his own arm and fired off several bolts of energy into Roy’s torso. The boy’s grip was shaken as the pain rippled through him, but he held on. George readied himself for another volley; however, he was forced to sweep through the air instead to dodge a flurry of fire from Vince on the ground.
“You little pains in the ass,” George swore. “How long do you think you can keep this up? Two more minutes? Maybe five? It doesn’t matter! I’ll catch that girl before the sun is up no matter what you do. I’m a trained, experienced, veteran Hero, and you are just three Powereds who got a little control. The three of you alone could never beat me.”
George’s arms suddenly shot out to his sides and his legs snapped together, locking his whole form into a rigid lower case “t” shape. Though his face was capable of only showing the barest emotion, Roy still recognized the look that swept through his eyes. It was the same one he’d worn on a fall night only a few weeks into the school year. Roy turned his face to George and gave him the biggest smile he could muster.
“Guess it’s a good thing they made five of us, then.” Roy released his grip and fell away as George was sent violently slamming into the ground. The concrete exploded upward at the force of his impact and cracks sprawled outward all the way to the road’s edge. Before the dust could settle, George was airborne again, being lifted up and driven back into the roughly the same spot with ever increasing force.
It was on his third trip up that George finally saw her, the five-foot-tall Valkyrie being lowered to the ground by her blonde escort. Their eyes locked for a moment before he slammed into the earth once more. The next time up he used his thrusters to try and break free, but all that earned him was a faster return to the earth. George was impressed; he’d fought telekinetic Supers before and knew holding onto someone as strong as he was took a whole lot of power.
The others were impressed as well, though that emotion was being steadily passed by fear for the prime position. In all the time they’d known Mary she had always been calm and composed. A bit eccentric at times, certainly; however, her cheerful demeanor had faithfully shone through whatever other fleeting emotions were clouding the surface. That wasn’t the Mary that strode across the concrete, though, moving steadily closer to man who had taken her. This Mary wasn’t cheerful, or kind, or motherly in the slightest.
This Mary was pissed off.
At long last she reached the crater that bore a plethora of George shaped dents in it. She stood over the edge and glared down, increasing the pressure on him so moving even a finger would require tremendous effort.
“You kidnapped me,” she accused.
“Only attempted to kidnap at this point,” George pointed out. He was feeling all those drops - not even he was immune to that kind of assault - but he’d been through worse attacks and survived. He’d get free eventually; Mary couldn’t keep up this level of power indefinitely. Even if she held him down and the others beat him up, George was confident nothing they had could truly put him down for the count.
“You hurt my friends,” Mary continued.
“Now that one I’ll give you. But in fairness, they started it.”
“Do you feel even the slightest remorse for what you’ve done today?”
“Of course,” George replied. “I regret that your friend interrupted me, otherwise I could have been done with this whole mess by now.”
“I supposed asking why you did it is a waste of time,” Mary surmised.
“Why don’t you try reading my mind and see?”
Mary shook her head. “I can’t read you when you’re in that form. Maybe that’s how you hid this from me until it happened. I don’t know and I don’t care. If you’re not going to talk, then I won’t bother asking.”
“So is this the part where you try to kill me?”
“No, this is the part where I make you what you made me: helpless. Vince, drain him.”
“What?” Vince asked.
“What?” George near-yelped.
“He’s not just metallic like Stella; he’s a functional robotic life form. He was quite clear about that during our class. So that means he’s running on some kind of energy. Let’s see what happens when that tap runs dry.”
“But what if it kills him?” Vince asked.
“Then stop before he dies,” Mary instructed.
Vince thought about questioning her more, then he saw the look in her amber eyes. Not just the rage, but also the fear. She’d been taken from a place she thought was secure by someone she thought she could trust. Now she was just trying to hold it together until it was safe to break down. Vince looked at the face of the man who had done that to her, and he could swear there was a smirk on his robotic face. Vince set his resolve.
He hopped down into the crater and pressed his hand against George’s chest. He was surprised to feel electricity flow up his arm; Vince had half expected some super New Age form of power. Instead it was a good old familiar current, familiar only thanks to the man he was currently depleting. Vince wasn’t sure if that was ironic or not; he’d never been good at figuring out what fit that definition. He knew it made him smile, though.
“Wait, stop,” George said, the first feel hint of worry entering his voice. “You don’t understand what you’re doing.”
“I’m stopping you,” Vince replied. “I think I’ve got a good handle on it.”
“I’m saying there’s more to this than you think. You don’t understand the implications.”
Vince increased the rate he was pulling the energy. George had quite a bit, but sooner or later every well ran dry. He knew he was making progress because George’s voice was growing weaker.
“You stupid kids... you have... no... idea...”
There was a ripple across his body and suddenly the students were staring at their former teacher’s human visage. George looked tired but awake as he stared up at the five faces peering down upon him. He’d been too cocky, too sure they couldn’t hurt him. Now he’d have to wait, recover, and then ambush them when they weren’t expecting it. George was still plotting his next move when a pair of well-manicured hands lifted his head from the rubble and slipped a silver band around it. After that it was some time before he was allowed another conscious thought.
Alice clapped the dirt off her hands and floated back up to the road level. “That should take care of him. Now, who is calling Mr. Transport?”
“If no one objects,” Nick said, plucking his phone from his pocket. “I believe Alice and I are the only ones with non-smashed or melted phones, and since she made it last time, I believe it is my turn.”
The others signaled their agreement, and Nick punched in the number.
“We’re ready to be picked up,” he said. For the first time that year an emotion Nick didn’t intend crept into his next words, happiness bounding free and plain for anyone with sense to discern.
“All of us.”
* * *
Dean Blaine handed Mr. Transport back his phone. The tall man took it and looked at the dean with uncertain eyes.
“It was Mr. Campbell. It seems they’re all safe and are requesting to be picked up,” Dean Blaine informed him. “This adds only more to the heap of explanations you gentlemen owe me.”
Mr. Transport and Mr. Numbers both nodded. The last few minutes had been... unpleasant. Dean Blaine had been significantly displeased with their story so far, and it was only going to get worse as they continued. They'd been fortunate he had consented to picking up Mr. Transport’s phone on the possibility it could be the students in question.
“A heap of explanations, by the way, that you will be providing to me. Tonight. But after you’ve retrieved your charges,” Dean Blaine said. He certainly wasn’t going to make the children wait any longer than they had to. They’d surely had a hard enough night, it was time for things to get easier for them. As for their caretakers, on the other hand, their evening was only just beginning.