Prologue: Power Rising, part 2

"John! Chuck! You’re just in time!" A tall, large woman waved to the computer jockeys as they entered a cavernous white room. A partially demolished cityscape was sprawled across the floor, and various figures, vehicles and containers were along one wall. Behind the lady who greeted them, several other people were setting up a machine that had a nozzle aimed at the far end of the "city."

"Susan!" John smiled and waved back. "Is Blitzreich ready to die yet?"

"Oh please, John, my parents and that yutz Duane call me Susan. It’s Suzie, okay?" She turned, her broad smile quavering briefly, and she straightened her hair. "Uh, hi, Chuck."

Chuck, trying unsuccessfully to hide behind John, waved back. "Uh, hi, Suzie."

After a brief, uneasy moment, Suzie turned back to her creation. "Well, there it is, boys. Beacon City. Isn’t she a beauty?"

"Yeah, if you’re idea of beautiful includes a swath of destruction that tears up half the town," John quipped.

"Hey, that’s our business," Suzie replied lightly. "So what do you think?"

John nodded. "Great work as always. So where’s Captain Beacon in all this?" As Suzie looked the city over in search of the hero’s tiny stand-in, Wilson leaned back, standing next to Chuck. "Okay, here’s the plan," he whispered.

"Plan?" Chuck asked in a strangled tone. "What—"

"I’ll go look at Cap, and when Suzie comes over here, you can ask her out nice and quietly. She really likes Chinese food." John smiled as Suzie took her time looking for the superhero. No one ever accused her of being stupid.

"Hey — wait a minute — how do you know she even wants to—" Chuck stammered.

"God, Chuck, did you see how she reacted when she saw you?" John hissed into the big man’s ear. "Look, she’s about to find Cap. That’s where he goes down in this scene. Get ready."

"But — but — but…"

"Good luck, big guy," John finished with a smile, stepping forward and leaning over the city for a second, then wandering over to where Suzie had stopped.

"Ah, there he is," Suzie nodded. She gestured to an alley in the far corner of the set. "Not bad, huh?"

Squatting down, John could see the small heroic figure kneeling in the back of the alley, holding his head. Tiny wires had been attached to a gear wheel, which would provide motion for the long shot that would pan above the city. "Amazing. I swear I can see the costume-generator bracelet on his left arm."

"I sure hope so," Suzie replied with obvious satisfaction. "I worked on that figure for a week. About the only easy thing on him was the skin — I just used mine to match the paint."

John nodded. "Yeah, you could pass for Richardson’s sister."

"I sure don’t mind that, John, because he’s one fine brother." They both laughed.

John paused. "Captain Beacon’s the reason I wanted this job, you know," he said quietly, looking the figure over.

Suzie smiled. "Yeah, I know, he’s one of these square-jawed apple pie types who isn’t a WASP. Me, I just wanted to kill a lot of Nazis."

"Well, you’re certainly going to get your chance," John chuckled. He looked surreptitiously at Chuck, who was eyeing the door to the corridor nervously, and lowered his voice. "Uh, speaking of which…"

A sly smile appeared on Suzie’s face. "John. You clever devil. I owe you one."

"Just take it easy on him and we’ll call it even," John replied, trying not to laugh.

"Deal," Suzie replied, then cleared her throat and raised her voice. "’Scuse me for a minute, John. I want to check with Chuck on integration."

"Sure thing," John replied, watching Suzie straighten her shoulders as she walked over to the pole-axed animator. Poor Chuck, John thought as he shook his head. The data jockey couldn’t help a smile, however, as Suzie struck up a conversation with him about the CGI doomsday device that he and John had been working on. Heck with it. If this doesn’t work, next time I’ll tell Suzie to ask Chuck out. He turned back to Captain Beacon, admiring his old hero briefly, then stood. Behind him, Chuck blurted out a "yes!"

John turned in surprise as Suzie smiled fondly and Chuck blushed red enough to use to color-match Blitzreich’s cape. All right! It’s about time, bud—

John’s thoughts were cut off by a small explosion in the back room.

"Oh, great," John sighed. Suzie, however, went wide-eyed as she turned and saw smoke coming from under the door.

Green smoke.

"Holy…" John whispered. Then the door burst open, and a foul, noxious green gas billowed out.

"EVERYBODY OU—" Suzie began to bellow, and was cut off by a sudden fit of violent coughing. John immediately took a deep breath, just clamping his mouth shut in time to avoid a lung full of special effect. My best time: two minutes and ten seconds, he thought with a calm that amazed him. Even in this situation, John had to chuckle inwardly at a stray thought as he jumped over the city — talk about leaping over tall buildings. He then put one hand on Chuck’s arm and one on Suzie’s and started pulling them toward the door. Fortunately, they had already been trying to help each other, so once they were close to the exit he gave them a last nudge and ran back in.

Though he squinted carefully, his eyes still burned and streamed with tears. Two people stumbled past him, apparently on their way out. John nodded to himself and kept going, and nearly stumbled over a prone figure. Blast, John grimaced. I was afraid of this. He reached down and tried to help the person up, and nearly fell over when he hefted the body with ease. Wilson dimly remembered a short, thin woman among the techs who’d been setting up. He gently put her over one shoulder and headed for the door. Another figure stumbled around him, hopefully trying to avoid making his job harder—

—when someone slammed into him in a rush for the door. "Out—hkk—my way," the oaf coughed heavily as he ran.

John almost let his eyes open fully in surprise. Duane?! Nah, even he isn’t that stupid. He and the more considerate escapee leaned against each other as they took the last few weaving steps to the door and burst out of the building. Everyone was coughing badly, and Chuck and Suzie were holding each other up. John carefully laid the diminutive woman against the wall several feet from the door, away from the disgusting vapor. He looked her over quickly. When she nodded through her coughing and waved him off, he turned to Suzie. "Is — guh — is that everyone?" To John’s right, a man in a suit rolled over onto his back, gasping impressively. No way. It is Duane!

Suzie leaned on Chuck as she looked around, pausing just long enough to turn a look of pure loathing on Slater. "I think…no, wait. Oh god. Oscar."

John blinked at her in confusion.

"Oscar has asthma!" Suzie cried, and ran for the door. Three steps later, she fell over in a horrible hacking fit.

John swallowed, took a deep breath, and ran back in.

* * *

Chuck stared at the doorway anxiously. The ugly green fumes has thinned somewhat, but they were still foul and strong as they billowed up and out of the doorway. "How long…"

Suzie looked at her wrist, rubbing her eyes. "Two minutes, fifteen seconds."

"God." Chuck looked down, then stared at the doorway grimly. He started to walk forward when Suzie grabbed his arm.

"No, Chuck—" she coughed painfully. "If John can’t…"

Chuck looked pained, then rounded on Duane, his face a mask of fury. "YOU!" He grabbed Duane’s shoulders and slammed him against the car he’d been leaning on. "I swear, if John doesn’t come out of there I’m gonna—"

Before Chuck could finish his threat, however, John burst out of the building, dragging an older man by the arms. Gasping desperately, he dumped the man at Suzie’s feet and fell to his knees. "This guy needs…he needs…"

With that, the swarthy animator collapsed.

NEXT: Power Rising, part 3

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