Fighting a high-end supervillain in a one-on-one fight is less than ideal, particularly when you haven't had sufficient prep time. When your only 'real' power consists of chronic insomnia, it leaves you a little vulnerable to people who can light you on fire with their mind.
One plus, though: People who regularly trade blows with folks like Vigil, Aegis, and Sovereign are likely to underestimate the little guy.
And if there's one thing I love, it's being underestimated.
The door we just came through breaks open beneath Jackal's foot. He charges into the parking lot, low and fast--meanwhile, Nova and I both run for my car while she drains what little light surrounds us.
After Marlowe and Blockhead ditched their vehicle, I made sure to make note of the spot. A quick call to a towing service followed by a stop at the nearby classic restoration shop and I had myself a fresh engine inside of a 1931 Imperial Roadster.
I see it as we turn around the corner. Sunlight pours in from the open wall besides it--Nova immediately steps into the light and spreads her arms, absorbing as much of it as she can. Meanwhile, I slam my fist into the trunk and pop it open, then reach inside and pull out Marlowe's shotgun.
Automatic shotguns are a special breed of weapon. They rely on their ability to project a brief, impermeable wall of lead into the face of your target. Not very useful when you want precision or endurance, but when you're up against a killer-for-hire in power armor, it's just about perfect.
Jackal leaps around the corner just in time. I swing the barrel around and smile.
Firing a gun like this is like composing poetry. When I pull the trigger, the sound is not far removed from rapid-fire lightning. The barrel belches out a tongue of flame; each boom is a beat, each rumble a serenade. There is music in the clatter of spent shells as they fall to the asphalt--and the thwack thwack thwack as shot after shot strikes Jackal in the chest.
Getting pummeled by an automatic shotgun hurts, even through power armor. Jackal buckles under the barrage and springs for cover behind a car. But not before he throws something at me.
I block it with the shotgun. It makes a beep.
I throw the weapon as far as I can. The sticky bomb explodes, taking the gun with it.
Jackal braces himself against a concrete column and slams his foot into the side of the car he's using for cover. Metal creaks before the vehicle jack-knifes around, barely missing Nova. She leaps on top of my car, a concentrated look on her face. I notice the lights here are still dimming.
"Whatever you're doing, do it faster," I tell her, and then I charge in close.
Getting into melee range with a guy who can reduce your bones to paste isn't fun, but it's better than the alternative--letting him stay out of range and hit you with whatever he's got in his pockets.
He takes a swing as soon as I clear the hood of the car. I duck under it, grab his wrist, and let inertia do the rest. He rolls over me and hits another concrete column with enough force to crack it; I help it along by spinning around and slamming the heel of my boot into his chest.
He grabs my ankle and pulls. I'm thrown into a nearby car, hitting it back-first; the metal dents behind me. Pain stabs through my spine and ribs as I slump to the ground.
Jackal lands in front of me, produces a nasty set of gold-tipped claws, and moves in for the kill.
A single beam of light spears burns through his stomach and keeps going. He shudders and spasms, before arching up in pain.
I reel my foot back and slam it directly into where the wound is--throwing him back and to the floor. He groans, clutching at his belly.
"Oh god," Nova says, her hands clasped together--formed into the shape of a gun. "I think I--did I kill him? I didn't mean to--"
"No," I tell her as I get up. The sirens are getting louder, now. Police will be here any minute. Along with Vanguard. "Cauterized the wound as it passed through. He'll live, if he gets to a hospital fast." I step toward her, moving out of earshot of Jackal. "Police are going to ask what happened here. You fought him off on your own. The shotgun was his, you blew it up with your laser beam. Got it?"
"I--what?" she asks, bewildered.
"I wasn't here," I tell her.
"Who are you?"
"The guy who saved your life. And I need to stay invisible."
"I just saved your life," she responds, giving me 'The Look'. The one that says 'I'm not buying your bullshit for one second, Mr. Tall Dark and Mysterious'.
Okay, so the kid's not a moron. Score her a few more points. Between this and how quick she was to pull my ass out of the fire back on stage, I'm starting to warm up to her. Even if she is a corporate-funded poptart.
"Yeah, fine," I tell her. "Look, my ass is on the line here. You tell anyone about me, I'm in serious danger, alright? Just let me do my own thing." I hand her a card. Blank except for the number on the back. "If you need to contact me--if there's an emergency--dial this number."
Sirens get louder. Any second, now. "But I should tell Vanguard--"
"No." God, no. "Listen, I don't have time to explain. But if you tell anyone--particularly, Vanguard--I'm a dead man. Okay?"
I take one look into those puppy-dog cinnamon-brown eyes and I know she won't whisper this to a soul. She's a good kid. Too good, maybe. That sort of goodness can get you killed.
"Okay," she says. "I won't tell anyone."
"Thanks." I go for the opening, look around, and choose a spot to jump.
"Wait--we're three stories up!" she says. "You can't fly, right?"
"No, but I'm pretty good at landing," I say, and I leap out.
Taking a three story fall isn't conducive to living. Particularly when you're already nursing what's probably a fractured rib. But it helps when you've got something besides solid asphalt to land on. Someone's parked a car directly beneath the complex. My feet hit first, and then I drop into a ball.
Metal gives beneath me. The windshield cracks and pops. Every nerve-ending stabs a fiery bolt of anguish straight up my spine.
I'm still alive, and if I broke anything else, I haven't noticed yet. I roll myself off the crumpled roof and down onto the street. More bolts of pain stab through my arms and legs. I feel breakfast surge up into my throat.
And then, with the sirens buzzing above and around me, I walk away.