“Here it is,” Blitzkrieg said, motioning to the contents of the crate. The Gumshoe looked down at the pieces of his armor and shook his head. His brother had taken the armlet that allowed him to control the armor via remote. Blitzkrieg had been carrying the small electronic device on him ever since and it had been inadvertently destroyed in his skirmish with Rift.
David Meinstein was left with two options… leave the armor here in the sublevels of Patriot Robotics where he might not be able to get to it so easily again or don it now and wear it out. His mind ran over the captives the Affiliation still had. According to Blitzkrieg, Silverback and Jack Olsen were being kept here in the sublevels while Fathom, Hourglass and Sarah Anderson were held in the penthouse.
His mind calculated what he knew about the Affiliation’s remaining threats. Again, he was going off of the information he had gathered from Blitzkrieg: Lodestone had incapacitated many of the clandestine group’s minions in his escape from Patriot Robotics. The heavy hitters such as Professor Incendiary, Doctor Splash and Rift had been taken out by David himself. Pandora had been absorbed into Michuru and Chimera had gone rogue.
All that remained were Coriolis, Nor’easter and the leader himself… Adonis Skraag.
Wearing the armor meant sacrificing the luxury of stealth but gaining protection and power in return. If only three remained to stand against them, David was almost certain such a trade would not be a hindrance. Putting on the armor would enable him to better continue with the objectives his group had been dispatched here to deal with originally. Anomaly had sent the four young heroes to shut down the force fields imprisoning New York City.
Still, he knew Adonis had the girls. While there wasn’t much Adonis could do to them, he could coerce them to do anything. As much as he didn’t like the thought of possibly allowing them to end up in the same situation Loess now found herself in, he told himself that one of the most densely-populated cities on the globe was depending on his mission’s success.
He had to take down the force field first; save the girls second. He had to put on the armor.
“David gained armor,” came the electronically disguised voice from within the Portal suit. “Battery cells seem full. System responds fine… I think I’m set.”
The dark visor built into the helmet focused on Blitzkrieg. The elder Meinstein had a relieved look on his face. Possibly he was concerned for the damage his younger brother’s heart may have sustained from Rift’s attack; the armor’s built in life support functions would protect him against any further damage. Still, there was something else… “Dad built that armor to take me down,” Blitzkrieg finally offered.
“What’chu talkin’ about, Willis?”
“Please, Da- Portal. Electrical auras? Flight speeds and teleportation? Whoever is in there could keep up with me, would be insulated against my attacks and be equipped with everything they’d need to take me out. He- he intended to hunt me down… capture me and…”
“David… you were too young to remember but… mom was killed by a Neo-Sapien. Dad found her dead in one of the labs one morning. The equipment was shorted out and… well, she- she was pretty much smoking when he found her. He always assumed a Neo-Sapien had come after her. The wife of Patriot Robotics’ face kind of made her a big target. He started to hate Neo-Sapiens. He didn’t know she was one. He didn’t know she passed her powers to us.
“Our abilities manifested together and dad… dad assumed the worst. We displayed the same powers that had killed her. Dad was convinced she was in some secret tryst and her lover had come to claim us. He wanted to eliminate any suspicion that we weren’t his children. He found a way to cure Neo-Sapiens. He killed your powers and he… he tried to do the same to me.
“There was never anyone else though. We’re the sons of Noah Meinstein. Dad’s just never been able to accept that mom killed herself. She found out about his funneling obscene amounts of money into Project: PRIME and… well, she couldn’t live with being married to the man he was becoming.”
The armor hid the array of emotions David was feeling. “Why are you telling me all this?”
“You deserve to know.”
“If you believed that, you would have sought me out before now. You would have come to my school or found some other way to get in contact with me. You didn’t though. You didn’t bother. You never even tried.”
“Dave… what dad used to cure you? It’s on the streets.”
“Knitter,” Blitzkrieg said sadly. “Dad’s pretty far gone, Dave. We have to stop him.”
Portal said nothing.
With a renewed purpose to match his vigor, Portal led the charge down the halls. Blitzkrieg matched his pace to his brothers- much as it was difficult for the impatient man. The two turned at Blitzkrieg’s commands- he steered him closer and closer to their first target…
The hydraulics built into the armor magnified Portal’s strength and allowed him to tear the door from its iron-clad hinges. The steel crumbled in his hand and his thermal vision quickly found the heat signature of the large form, crouching in the corner. “Who’s there?” came the dry voice of Doctor James Howell, the former villain better known as Silverback.
“A friend,” came the electronically masked voice of David Meinstein from deep within the Portal armor. “Doctor Howell… I’m glad to find you alive.”
The gorilla-eyes were also adjusted to the dim lighting and allowed him to register their party’s third member. “He’s with them!” the normally verbose Neo-Sapien exclaimed, jutting an accusing finger at Blitzkrieg.
“He’s on our side. He helped me take down Rift. He told me about what happened to you…” Portal’s eyes ran over the wound the simian had received hours before. “Adonis took command of Chimera… forced it to attack you…”
“Chimera likely would have, had I put a human’s anatomy. Our resident shapeshifter apparently is not adept with dealing with our genetic predecessors. Our lady Jorgenson is a capable martial artist and trained killer…” Doctor Howell’s large fingers gently traced the wound in his chest. “Still… my form is apparently quite thick… thicker than it was used to.”
Silverback sighed. “Yes… ‘lucky’…”
“Doctor Howell,” explained Portal. “We…” He paused then and knelt down before the gorilla, removing his helmet and revealing his face to the ape. He couldn’t explain it himself, but he trusted the man. Perhaps it was pathos and perhaps just because he was a fellow man of science. Still, there was something inside David Meinstein that told him if he was going to ask Silverback to help him now, he had to show him how serious he truly was. “We didn’t just come here to rescue you. Topside? All hell is breaking loose. The Affiliation took Michuru Bradshaw and they- they’ve unleashed his inner beast. He’s rampaging through New York City as we speak and the Affiliation has it so that no one can get in or out. The key to shutting down the barrier is here, in Patriot Robotics. If we’re to help evacuate the city, we’ll need to find a way to shut this down… trouble is, we believe the only way to do this may be to kill a small child.”
“Quite a moral quandary but still… ‘the needs of the many’ and all…”
“I prefer ‘Wars’ to ‘Trek’, but… I’d like to explore an alternative. I’d like you to see this child… see if you can figure another way to save the city. Will you come with me?”
Blitzkrieg reappeared in the threshold, accompanied by a struggling Jack Olsen. The young man hadn’t believed the former hero turned former villain when he said he was here to free him. He still had his doubts… but everything else vanished as he saw the face of the man in the armor.
“Great,” Portal said, putting his helmet on after registering the audible gasp from the Enforcer. “One secret identity… is that so much to ask?”
“Little- little Davey… is ZERO?”
“Yes, yes he is,” replied Portal. “David Meinstein is ZERO and not Portal. Definitely. Tell your friends.”
“Young men?” Silverback intoned deeply. “Perhaps it’s time to lead me to this child you’ve spoken of…”
The equipment Detective Long had given Portal had been stuffed into a gym bag and had been carried by Blitzkrieg. Now he pushed the bundle into the arms of Jack Olsen, deciding on him as their new beast of burden. Blitzkrieg took their lead, hurrying around corners and waiting at the next turn for them to catch up. It wasn’t much of a march to lead them to the room… but upon turning the corner, they found Blitzkrieg had not only found the boy Fathom had told them of… but Noah Meinstein as well.
“Don’t worry about him,” Portal said, noticing the hesitation in Doctor Howell. “We’ve got a city save. Go look at the boy.”
“The prodigal son returns, eh?” Noah asked, cocking his head slightly as he looked at Blitzkrieg. “And the thief! You’ve made quite a lucrative career out of making a fool out of me. The 000 and the 001 get stolen, the press has a field day reporting your individual careers as vigilantes and my investors slowly pull out.”
Portal shrugged. Jack Olsen, wisely, kept quiet and remained in the shadows. Instead he peered down into the contents of the bag he held… and his eyes widened at the sight of his step-father’s old costume and utility belt.
Noah Meinstein scratched his chin as his eyes darted from Blitzkrieg to Portal, unsure just who represented the worst of what he kept inside. One was a disappointment as a son. The other had turned him into a laughing stock. “We’re just going to shut down the barrier, dad,” came Daniel Meinstein’s calm, collected voice.
“You’ll let those freaks out!” Noah snapped. His hand flew back, throwing up his lab coat and revealing a gun holstered at his side. The visor of the armor hid Portal’s shock as a bullet settled into the chamber and the barrel pointed for Silverback. “Danny, Danny, Danny… Mister Bedford needs time to heal them.”
“What’s he talking about?” asked Jack Olsen, his attention snagged by Chienne’s last name.
“Knitter,” Blitzkrieg grumbled. “I had been investigating it for a while, until Rift recruited me. The Church of Genetic Purity has been funding Patriot Robotics to engineer a vaccine for Neo-Sapiens. Dear old dad had the formula… my brother was the first victim.” Jack’s eyes ran to Portal then. “The CGP approached him about it and he began producing it on a much wider scale. What do you think they’re using to stop any NS’s they find in the riots?”
“I thought Adonis was the one who set up the barrier?” asked Portal.
“He was,” Blitzkrieg said. “It’s why we nested here of all places. Trouble is- dad took advantage of the situation. He must have used the tunnels to smuggle out his cure and now he’s here to ensure the barrier doesn’t drop.”
“Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Beryllium!” sang Noah happily. “Boron, Carbon, Nitrogen and Oxygen-”
“Drop the senility act, dad,” snapped Blitzkrieg. “Nobody’s buying it!”
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives!”
Portal began to assess the situation. Blitzkrieg could easily outrun a speeding bullet to intercept it before it hit Doctor Howell, but he was hardly impervious. Portal on the other hand could easily shrug off such an attack… but he lacked the speed to interpose himself on the simian’s behalf. Still, an entire city hinged on being able to shut down the force field being generated by the child incubating within the vat Noah stood before.
Something had to give. Blitzkrieg moved. Portal moved. Noah fired.
Next Up! wrote:The force fields go down...
Dante Thao, Gwendolyn Llewelyn, Joan Okafor, Luther Okafor, Mikayla Garrison, Nicholas, Rembrandt Van Benthuysen