Ultimate Vanguard Chronicles 2
Chapter 2: Lack of Communication
New York City – One Month Later
The twilight was on the horizon, illuminating the skyline so that it almost seemed like it was burning as the dying day’s light neared its end. The twin pig-tailed brunette leaped off a rooftop and over an empty alley, coming to a roll on the adjacent one as she stuck the landing. There was a slight ache in her muscles as she had to do so with both jeans and a long-sleeve t-shirt to hide her outfit as she moved, the trench-coat she preferred to wear nestled safely in a backpack next to the others waiting for her another rooftop over. Daisy had ordered they learn how to navigate through the city in the high-ground and low-ground, with Lana preferring the motorbike they provided and the low-ground to the high-ground.
Honestly, why the fuck do I need to learn how to move across buildings? Lana whined in her head running towards the edge of the building and jumped over, landing on a crouch next to the other three who were standing in front of Jessica with a stopwatch that she stopped.
“It took you roughly five-minutes to get here when the others did it in three or less,” Jessica said. “There were at least five other ways you could’ve gone from Point A to Point B quicker.”
“Well excuse me,” Lana snarled. “When I signed up for this crap I didn’t know you’d expect me to spend all my time running across buildings, going over dozens of files on what to do and what not to do, or try to figure out how to get from one building to another like I’m a traceur or something. What the hell does it matter how fast I get there as long as I do—and why couldn’t I simply use my power to propel myself there faster?”
“You should learn about the territory you need to look over so you can respond quickly to a cry for help while it’s calm now,” Jessica reasoned. “There are also times when your powers may not function properly.”
“Well, either way, this is boring,” Lana huffed as she reached over her backpack.
SKKKKKIIIIRRSSSHHH! BOOOOM! Then, as if the city heard the young mutant’s displeasure and the older clone’s temptation of fate, the sound of an out of control vehicle and distant explosion showed cut her off, followed by a spout of smoke rising marking the location and gunfire that quickly faded. Being New York City meant that it could be one of many things—mutants, aliens, crazy robots, car accident, or just run-of-the-mill robbers—but for Lara, it meant she could finally alleviate the boredom that had been accruing.
She jumped off the roof with her backpack slung over her shoulder without a second thought, ignoring Jessica’s order to wait, and used her ability to propel herself towards the location, twin streams of streaking orange illuminating the flight trail as she used it in short bursts between rooftops.
Jessica sighed and looked at the other three just standing there. At least they weren’t as impulsive as she was. Nodding her head towards the site, the three took off after their teammate with Tandy vanishing within the dark veil of Tyrone and Miles swinging off. Jessica picked up her phone from a pocket in her suit and called Daisy on the other end. “It’s me. We’re about to go public a bit prematurely…you may want to warn the PR consultant we’ve got to get started.”
Herman Schultz felt that this was going to be a good day today and it showed on his face as he stood opposite the armored car that had been turned over and the guards on the pavement, unconscious and breathing if they were lucky. After breaking out of prison a few days ago, he managed to get replacements for his equipment and, best of all, there was no more Spider-Man since the kid got himself killed fighting off some of the A-Listers while the supposed replacement was nothing but a hoax, not seen in a year.
“Shocker’s finally going to get what’s his!” His grasp on the controls of his shockers tightened. The hummed as they came to life, the air itself shaking from the release port of the device that was aimed for the door of the vehicle. Metal groan in agony as the projectile was released shook it apart and the force carried, scattering a few of the bags of money and making it rain money.
He couldn’t help but laugh a bit at the sight as he made his way towards the rest when a single guard crawled out of the opening and reached for his gun. A quick shot sent the man careening to the ground and his arm broken from the concentrated air projectile slamming into it. He aimed for another shot when—
“Hey, old guy!” said a voice from above descending. There was a gust as Lana cushioned her landing with a quick burst from her hands while dressed in her outfit and mask, her white trench coat billowing. “Step away from the fat-ass rent-a-cop and truck!”
Blue eyes narrowed behind red-tined shades as he trained a shocker on her while the guard used the opportunity to scramble. He didn’t get paid enough for this. “This is my score! Beat it!”
“How about I beat your ass instead?” The first blast was fired, a concussive blast that encompassed his figure and threw him back against the brick wall of the corner the overturned truck was at, past the rows of parked cars as people gathered around at what they assumed to be a safe distance and pulled out their phones to record it. The sight of him slumped over, his shades falling of his face as he frowned, amused her. “Ready to cry uncle?”
Herman’s response was to aim and fire, forgoing any charging of the blasts for rapid-fire bursts that were launched at her in succession as she ran and took cover behind a car that had its windows shattered and metal dented. Lana fired a concussive burst from both of her hands and turned the car into a projectile. He dodged the two-ton vehicle that went tumbling towards him after crushing another vehicle and bashing against the wall, punching through the brick and finally stopping as dust rose in a small plume.
Then he countered, unleashing a concentrated blast that release a pulse and sent two parked cars flying towards the teenager, who blasted them without a second thought and scattering debris as the force of the blast made it rain and those stupid enough to hang around weary of the small chunks of smoldering metal and glass coming down.
The groaning of metal under stress caught her ears and Shocker pointed above her. Lana looked up to see the neon sign of the shop’s name had been knocked loose by some of the debris…and she was right under it. The snap of the last support it had sent it tumbling down towards her, instinct beating out thought as she channeled her powers and fired a blast that ruptured on impact in a glory display of fire and smoke, rubble showering down and breaking nearby windows that had yet to shatter.
Herman saw an opening and took it, aiming both shockers and pulling the triggers as the blast left, sending Lana through the display windows of the shop that were blown out by the previous blast and through a countertop that shattered under her weight.
“Owww…” Lana wheezed, her body aching.
That had to hurt, Miles thought as he clung to the building behind the engineer gone rouge, camouflaged before he touched down seconds ago. If there was one thing he had learned, it was that trying to fight upfront was stupid when you had stealth capabilities. Extending a hand to take aim, he was preparing to give the Shocker a little taste of his Impact Webbing and ending this while no one was watching him, striking from the shadow and utilizing the element of surprise.
However, before he could fire, he noticed a huge shadow being cast that blotted out a portion of the sun and looked up. Like many others he saw Tandy emerging from the veil of dark matter that made of Tyrone’s physiology, followed by light raining in the form of blades. The shower of blades was beautiful in a sense…and as deadly as a hail storm in that it was indiscriminate and tripped Miles’s spider-sense.
He was forced to dodge as the entire sidewalk and side of the building had daggers of light sticking out like weeds. The only reason Herman remained standing was because he was sheltered from the downpour by hugging an SUV closely and allowing it to be his shield. His shockers weren’t so lucky however, leaving him defenseless.
“You’re under arrest,” Tandy told him. New daggers of light formed between her fingers as Herman backed away until he felt the cold chill of the abyss and turned to see Tyrone there as well, leaving him nowhere to go.
“What is with all these kids showing up today!?” Herman shouted in frustration as the pair cornered him. It seemed like that would be the end…until Lana emerged, her temper flaring and the burning orange rings around her hands getting ready to unleash hell.
“I. Am. Going. To. Fuck You Up!” Lana yelled before unleashing a powerful wide-scale burst in anger, catching the parked vehicles and turning them into deadly fastballs…right at all four of them. It would be a second later that the consequences of her rage hit her. Crap!
It felt like time slowed for Miles as the camouflage dropped, his reflexes moving faster as he used his web-shooters to lasso Herman and toss him out of the way of the armored truck he tried to rob. Tyrone had bypassed the criminal entirely and wrapped around Tandy, vanishing into the shadows. Flipping over the SUV that came his way, Miles twisted and fired his Impact Webbing to ensnare Herman before landing as the sound of crunching stone and metal joined with screams.
He turned to see the armored truck tumble along towards one very unlucky civilian with his smartphone out, caught like deer in the headlights of a train, and crashed into a boutique uninterrupted, breaking through display case and entrance with the sound of groaning metal and fountain of glass that forced those nearby to flee in panic. Everyone was expecting to see a mess of pounded flesh and leaking visceral fluid, their faces lined with panic and a cacophony of voices. The only reason the man’s mashed corpse wasn’t found was because he had been pulled into the air by Jessica as Spider-Woman.
“Are you okay?” Jessica asked as he hung there suspended, like a puppet, with others recording the moment.
“I hate New York,” was all the man said, trembling in the wake of his experience. Then he passed out after he touched down onto the concrete.
Jessica let loose a long sigh as she glared at Lana behind her mask and swung off as they scattered to meet her back at base. These kids have a lot of work cut out for them.
Back at Base – Thirty Minutes Later
“Herman Schultz,” Daisy started out, her voice like steel and just as rigid as the team sat around the table with a holographic screen coming from a device on it. “You caused the city over a quarter of a million dollars in collateral damage in a battle with Shocker, one of the lesser known villains that the original Spider-Man had faced down roughly five times. Someone even the police consider a joke. Would anyone care to explain why?”
“How did he keep getting out?” Miles asked, attempting to stir the conversation away from that direction. Daisy shot him a glance that felt like a light shining in a frog’s eye and immobilized him for talking out of line. “Just asking in order to know the enemy…”
“Apparently he kept building the parts needed for his gauntlets in the prison’s machine shop,” Jessica answered, breaking the glare. “He doesn’t end up in SHIELD custody and we put the prison on notice, but it seems like they failed to either keep him out of it or he had it done covertly with contraband.”
Taking control of the conversation, Daisy cleared her throat and asked, “Can anyone tell me where exactly you guys went wrong?”
“He got a lucky fucking shot,” Lana defended, having deposited a ten into the swear jar ahead of time and using her words unreservedly.
“Wrong. The first mistake all of you committed was that every one of you failed to take into account the safety of the people you were supposed to protect, with the girls causing the majority of the collateral damage and endangerment.” Daisy switched over to a different filming, showing Jessica rescuing the guy. “There are four of you while there was one of Shocker, meaning that while one or two confronted the enemy, the others could have gotten the civilians to safety.
“The second mistake was that you nearly took each other out since you didn’t move as a unit,” Daisy continued, shooting a glance at Lana. “What were you thinking firing a blast like that when the others were there?”
“How the fuck was I supposed to know they were too stupid to get out of the way?” Lana blurted out.
“Lana, that blast could have seriously hurt them all,” Jessica pointed out. “You have to lower your output when dealing with ordinary people without enhancements or body armor, and consider the collateral damage. At half-power alone, the splash damage could put the others in danger. Losing your temper could have proved fatal to all those there.”
“If she can’t control herself then she shouldn’t be anywhere near anyone else,” Tandy stated.
Jessica then turned to Tandy. “Tandy, you were just as bad. A rain of light daggers was just excessive and showy, causing excessive damage to the area and nearly taking out Miles in the process. A few daggers would have been fine since light is on a different spectrum than sound and could have bypassed his attack to damage his shockers or create an opening.
“Tyrone, your mind was focused solely on Tandy and you let her do something so risky without considering the consequences. What if there had been civilians in those vehicles or hostages and she did that? Would you have abandoned them to solely save her? I get that you’re a couple, but love in the field is dangerous and compromises the unit if you don’t call her out on something that risky.
“And Miles, you didn’t tell anyone your plan,” Jessica finished. “Your stealth ability is useful, but in the heat of battle with a group, friendly fire is a real threat and will most likely be your undoing. You almost got caught by both of their attacks and spider-sense or not, you can’t dodge everything.”
“Well, it’s not like I could shout out what he was planning on doing,” Miles countered softly. “It defeats the purpose if I give away the element of surprise.”
Daisy typed at the keys on the console and brought up a screen with the columns, one for letters, one for numbers, and one for descriptions, “Hence why we will work on contingency plans, formations, and code words starting tonight.”
“We can’t hold Miles and Lana any longer,” Jessica reminded her. “One needs to be home and the other needs to be at his dorm. Tyrone and Tandy need to sleep as well. Given what happened, they’ll need to be fresh to deal with having their credibility called into question.”
“With all due respect Miss Drew, I’m their trainer,” Daisy reproached Jessica. “They need to have it hammered in until it sticks as soon as possible for the good of the unit. If we’ve got to put them through the basics a hundred times all day and night to do it, so be it. We can’t have a repeat of this type of stunt.”
“I’m their handler and they’re not soldiers, Miss Johnson,” Jessica countered. “They’re teenagers and have to balance this, school, and coming to terms with their powers. They’ll make mistakes, which is something I can vouch on from memory. You can start on this tomorrow after everyone has had a good night’s sleep and time to deal with the fallout. ”
Lana had to hide a smug look on her face as she watched the two older women tense up, as though about to come to blows. It was almost worth the pain in her ribs from Shocker’s attack and crashing, just to see the two people on the second and third place of her shit-list stare one another down. If it came to blows she’d probably double over laughing while trying to find some popcorn.
Daisy rubbed the bridge of her eyes. “We cannot have more people questioning the value of this unit. They need training.”
“We will train them, but it’s too late for the questioning anyway,” Jessica grabbed a remote and played the news report that on the screen this time, with a male and female anchor.
“This is the Channel 3 News Network and we’re here today with an interesting story for you this evening folks.” A window on the screen showed Mile’s picture while in costume during the earlier events. “Spider-Man is back after more than a year, but this time he’s not alone. The scene shows at least four other empowered individuals at the scene, including the Ultimate member known only as Spider-Woman.”
The male anchor took the role of devil’s advocate. “However, can we be sure this is the same Spider-Man successor who vanished last year without any trace? Many thought the second webslinger had been killed, but it seems like that wasn’t the case after all. In that case, where was he for the last year when the city needed him?”
Miles looked away at that as the female anchor took the lead again. “In addition, what is the story behind the others joining him today. We have it on good sources of one of the youngsters being a mutant suspect in two robberies well over a year ago and was captured by both the previous Spider-Man, deceased Peter Parker, and Spider-Woman, although the records of such have been sealed and rendered unavailable through means we are not privy to. Could this ‘Bombshell’ be reforming or is there something else going on?”
The male anchor intruded again. “But is it safe for these kids to be allowed to play heroes if they cause enough damage in a single incident to—”
Jessica cut it off after that. “Well, anyway, the good news is that all records pertaining to Lana’s past have been taking care of by SHIELD, so your identity isn’t known to the general authorities or the public.”
“The bad news is it’s a bad start for our program and we’ve lost some credibility with the higher-ups,” Daisy added. “That sort of bad PR doesn’t help and the expert we have on staff has advised not to make a statement to the public until we’ve gotten some good work under our belts to offset this disaster.”
The group was dispersed after that, with Miles silent in the car ride as Jessica’s fingers were tense around the steering wheel while she drove him as close to his dorm as she could with the intention of letting him enter under camouflage. As they pulled to a stop a short distance away, Miles finally gathered the courage to apologize.
“You don’t have anything to apologize for,” Jessica told him. “The absence was due to grieving and as for the damages…well, all of you…it was just too soon for all of you to move as a group and counter-productive. Johnson is right that you will need it hammered in, but all of you are so young with various difficulties and clashing personalities. Time is needed to resolve that.”
Saying goodbye, Miles left and stealthily scaled the fence separating the outside from the dorm, before bounding to the nearest tree and then clinging to the wall like a spider and climbing to get up to his room window. He saw Ganke still up, using his Legos to build something with his back turned and no one else inside. Three quick raps of his knuckles against the glass drew the Asian’s attention and he slid the window open for him to enter.
“I saw the video and evening news,” Ganke told him. “On some of the forums I went to for Spider-Man fans, there were a lot of questions about your team and if you were the real deal.”
“It’s not my team,” Miles told him through the room’s bathroom door as he changed into his night clothes. “I’m not the leader.”
“C’mon, you’re Spider-Man. You’re the face of the whole thing compared to everyone else. No one knows the other three, and Spider-Woman wasn’t around before Spider-Man. You were the reason people tuned in to watch the news tonight.”
Miles emerged from the bathroom dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, ready to go to sleep as he placed the suit into a briefcase. “And how many of those forums were questioning if I could live up to the Spider-Man legacy?”
Ganke grimaced as he reluctantly spoke. “Uh…most of them…”
Miles closed the case, shutting away the suit and all traces of the inherited legacy. “Exactly. No matter what I do, I’m only the second one to put on the mask. I’ve went over the dossiers SHIELD had on Peter, on everything he’s done. It’s not something I can match up to…”
He trailed off as his phone rang and he saw an unfamiliar number with a familiar name. With a moment’s hesitation, he answered. “Miss Stacy? Not to be rude, but how did you get this number?”
“You’d be surprised how easy it is to get a cell phone number off the Internet as long as you know the name of the person you’re trying to find,” she said over the line. “Calling me Gwen is fine for the record. Have a tough day?”
“You saw the news too?” he asked resigned.
“Yeah,” she admitted. “I just called to tell you I’m glad you got back up after everything…and sorry about slapping you before. It was just an emotional thing.”
Miles was silent in thought before saying, “It’s a lot to live up to, what everyone expects of me.”
“Just remember what May told you that night we gave you the web-shooters,” Gwen told him. “Don’t do what Peter Parker would, do what Miles Morales would. Replacing Peter is something no one can do, but Spider-Man is a symbol that you can live up to by simply keep going no matter how hard things get.”
Miles sighed as he scratched his head. “Yeah, I guess. Still easier said than done…”
At the same time – At the Base
Tandy Bowen turned on her bed, the room serving as her home positioned right across from Tyrone’s Room. Both Jessica and Daisy were insistent that they didn’t share a room at their ages, afraid something would happen. Honestly, they were both responsible people so the concern was unneeded.
But tonight she couldn’t sleep, sitting up on her bed and looking at the ceiling. Her mind thought back to the scene of her mistakes, she guessed. Eventually she called for her boyfriend through the wall. “Ty?”
He responded almost immediately. “Couldn’t sleep either?”
“Are we really capable of doing this?” she asked.
“We aren’t heroes,” he said. He hated this power—this curse of his. “All of this, it’s just so we can get back to normal, isn’t it?”
“Right,” she answered. The hero thing is just a job, something to work off their treatment as soon as possible—an exchange, nothing more. Once they were cured, they could just go back to being normal and getting married, living a normal life.
At the same time – Lana’s Home
Lana swore under her breath as she waited for her online call to get through. Her grandmother had turned in early for the night and she was in a fairly annoyed mood. Since Parker and his cousins—correction, the Human Torch and Iceman from the X-Men—were her first…friends, she guessed, everyone had been questioning her through her social site account on if she had any clues about who the new Spider-Man was.
“Fuck them,” she spat out subconsciously. They were like vultures, picking at old wounds after not even giving her the time of day once Peter was gone and the other two left the school. Her expression changed when her mother’s face popped up on the screen, the call finally connecting. “About time.”
“Nice to hear from you too,” Lori Baumgartner replied dryly. Since she was essentially on an island and Lana couldn’t visit her all the time, rather than prison visits she got calls instead using a line established for her. The time for calls were restricted as well and required some level of clearance and safeguards.
“How are they treating you there?” Lana started out with.
“Well, I’m fine physically if that’s what you’re asking,” Lori stated. “But I still find that getting sent here and constantly having my powers restrained fucking annoying.”
“Well, since when was life fucking fair,” Lana retorted.
Lori sighed. “Honestly, you have no idea what it’s like to have to dress in this tacky prison outfit…how’s your grandma?”
“Same as always,” Lana shrugged before asking the question sticking out in her mind. “You saw the evening news.”
“Yep. That’s the deal you cut for me?” she asked. “Baby, you aren’t meant to be one of the ‘good guys’.”
Lana snorted, ignoring the small tremor in her stomach at the declaration. It didn’t bother her, really. “Well, I have to play one to get you out quicker. Besides, we tried the criminal thing twice and look where it got you.”
“And the last time I checked you had less people gunning for you because you’re trying to be something you’re not,” Lori countered. “It’s not fucking pleasant to see some prick shooting at your daughter, or the working with the reason you got put away in the first place. You and your grandma are all I have left and I don’t want you hurt…”
Lana didn’t have a father. Not after he discovered her and her mother’s mutation. But that was fine. She was proud of her abilities, even if the life of crime didn’t pan out too well…because of the very people she was working with to help put other criminals away. “Irony is a bitch.”
Lori’s eyes narrowed in warning. “Baby, don’t be fooled into thinking they’re trying to make a hero out of you. They’re using you like a weapon, and the people they’re sending you against won’t hesitate to try and kill you. Imagine when you fought with the spiders, only you’re on the other end now. ”
“Well, it’s not like I’m always going to be going out,” Lana told her. “The vigilante thing can be left up to Spider-Boy. I’m just doing what I have to and, if someone tries to put me down, I’ll put them down first.”
They continued their timed chat until the guards told her it was time to go and cut the line, separating mother from daughter. Lana leaned back in her chair and just stared at the screen in thought before sighing. “She’s right, but I’ve got to do this. No one else but family is going to look out for me without expecting something back. That’s just the way it works.”
Yet a small voice in the back of her mind whispered. “If that was true, why did Peter offer to be my friend?”
I hate this city, Herman thought bitterly as he reflected on everything. One spider gets killed, two return in its place. Not to mention the other three who popped out of nowhere. Maybe I should try my luck in Texas or Sacramento…
Up in the front of the transport, the two police officers were chatting as they drove him to prison. There was a light thud on the rooftop, but they ignored it while a sudden fog seemed to roll in. “So what’d you say when your wife was yammering on about leaving a mess behind?”
“I said, ‘baby I—” the officer was cut off as the windshield’s glass shattered as an object broke through and the truck skidded to a stop as the driver slammed on the breaks. “What was that?”
The officer in the passenger seat held it up. “A metal boomerang?”
Slots on the boomerang opened and vented tear gas into the chamber, pain lacing their eyes and nostrils as they vacated the vehicle and fell on the ground wheezing. To their surprise, the fog seemed to clear and they found an army of orcs lining the street, all hungering for their flesh and bones. The orcs charged and the two men ran down the streets screaming at an illusion from the chemicals mixed in with the tear gas, unaware the fog was coming from a device on the top of their vehicle.
“Ow…” Herman picked himself up off the floor of the vehicle, courtesy of the sudden stop. The doors screeched as they opened, the light of the street lamps pouring in and shrouding two figures in the darkness with an eerie fog rolling from around them. “Who are you?”
“My name is Mysterio,” the first of the two announced as he stepped into the view with mist rolling around him. Flaring his cape while his identity remained hidden by the helmet he wore, he extended his hand. “Herman Schultz…no, Shocker, we have come to grant you the performance of a lifetime.”
Always make an entrance, Quentin Beck preached and practiced. Frederick Myers, donning a purple outfit with a utility belt filled with foldable, metallic boomerangs and a V-shaped visor, crossed his arms and said, “The name’s Boomerang and we’re here to spring you.”
“What performance?” Herman asked.
“One that promises to give you everything you deserve,” Quentin said.
Frederick held back the desire to scoff at the helmet wearing actor-wannabe. “Basically there’s a client who wants us to do him a favor, half-payment upfront and costs for new equipment and everything. Helmet here insisted we bring you along. So are you coming or not?”
Herman ran his cuffed hands through his silver hair and nodded.
Alistair Smyte watched remotely as the final member of the arrangement was carted off to safety with the other criminals and fought down the urge to spit at the thought of aiding such men. He was an expert in robotics and nanotechnology, yet he was forced to assist two jokes and a man whom his employer managed to break out of SHIELD custody by having a guard on the payroll smuggle in the necessary components for his hallucinogens.
Turning on his smartphone, he waited for the other end of the line he called to pick up and said, “Everything is in place, Mr. Roxxon.”
“Good,” the CEO stated over the line. “Remember Smyte, you want more funding for your projects, you bring me Spider-Man and Spider-Woman. There’s a bonus if you bring the other two who broke out from the lab in as well, and don’t forget to tie up the loose ends—I don’t want anymore links back to me. Show me I haven’t wasted my time with indulging in this ‘test’ of your nanotech armor. ”
Smyte nodded and cut the communication, before the look on his face morphed to one of frustration. It shouldn’t have come to this. He shouldn’t have to scrimp by on dredges of funds for his research. Nanotechnology and machines were the future, not wall-crawling creatures in human flesh.
With his Spider-Slayer armor, he would prove that.