Long ago, there was a comics experiment called the "New Universe". It was the forerunner of modern-day diversions like "Heroes" - ordinary people suddenly gaining powers or traits outside the human range, with (at least, ostensibly) realistic consequences. Sadly, commercial pressures drove them from that core vision, and they had the 'Comics Code' to worry about. I've taken what I liked about it, and cheerfully left behind or modified what I didn't.
Though not strictly necessary, I suggest you read the prior story, "Downsides And Upsides", first. Think of it as a prologue, or perhaps a 'trailer'.
I always get scared before the action. Practically shaking, truth be told. I hate those few peaceful moments before the shit hits the fan.
That might surprise a lot of people. After all, I have what I've nicknamed a 'vector field' around me. Sort of like telekinesis; no physical object can touch me. Not only am I bulletproof, I'm bazookaproof. It magnifies my strength, too - I once tore my way into a bank vault with my bare hands. What do I have to worry about, right?
But think - how many ways are there to die besides being struck or stabbed? There's chemical poisoning, radiation poisoning, electrocution, suffocation and drowning, frostbite and hypothermia, dehydration and heatstroke, disease, starvation, etc. etc. I have what amounts to totally bitchin' body armor. That does not make me Superman.
This ain't the comic books, either. The people we get paid to fight are under no obligation to be stupid, or honorable, or even unlucky. And they have every reason to want us dead.
The chopper swerved and surged forward. "It's go!" Dustoff called on the shared channel. We made it over the last ridge and the insurgent camp lay before us. Thick black smoke roiled from the west side; Veronique's job had been to take the generators out first, and clearly she'd done it.
Colin popped out the far side of the copter and flew on ahead. As fast as a small plane, but so much tinier and vastly more maneuverable, he was damn near impossible to hit. But he could sweep out any anti-aircraft fire and make safe Dustoff's approach.
The copter passed over the 'motor pool'; one quick glance at Val and I hopped out. A good hundred-foot drop, but at least it was onto pavement. If I hit dirt after a jump like that, I'd usually sink down in to my knees. Annoying.
The asphalt cratered but my boots survived. Probably the most expensive custom footgear in the world - steel-belted Kevlar. I charged at the pair of old trucks parked by the fence. Long seconds passed without any response; even now, paranormals are rare enough that actually seeing one tended to put people off-balance. Coming so soon after a bunch of explosions and the power going out, you can imagine the guerrillas were a little disorganized. The shooting didn't start until I was almost to my first targets.
As I said, though, I'm bulletproof, so I paid it no mind. I simply grabbed the front of the first truck and flipped it over. Then the same for the other one.
Next step was disabling the cars. Nothing fancy, just smashing a wheel or two on each. Bam, bam, bam. They could be salvaged by our employers but nobody would be retreating in them.
Unfortunately, I'd gotten too wrapped up in the job, ignoring the bullets careening off my back. It was the low-tech weapon that got my attention. A Molotov cocktail whipped over my shoulder into the jeep in front of me. A cloud of flaming gasoline splashed in my face.
Heat travels by conduction, convection, and radiation. The first two couldn't get through my field, but the last one had no trouble. Ever swim in a cold pool, then jump in a hot tub? It was like that, from the waist up.
I responded by reflex. A unique reflex, I admit, but it wasn't thought out. The field that normally hugged my skin pulsed out several feet around my upper body. My burning clothes - and the jeep I stood next to - were hurled away and I could breathe again. But I still felt the heat; my pants were on fire too. A second pulse and they were gone. I drank in the delicious coolness.
Of course, except for some smoking boots I was now buck naked in the middle of a battleground.
Goddammit, not again! My headset was junked, I was out of radio contact. Well, they could keep tabs on me through Clyde but I couldn't get new orders.
It was annoying, embarrassing. At least here it wasn't immediately life-threatening. Try being half-naked on a fucking glacier at nineteen thousand goddamn feet - now that was a clusterfuck. Still, our eventual success at Siachen had helped get us this job.
Anyway, I was done ignoring the enemy. I brought my hands up and pointed at the nearest guerillas. The field leapt out again, and they went flying as though they'd been hit by a bus. Already running, I gestured at the final jeep; the side nearest me imploded. Screw salvage. They'd pissed me off.
Okay, fine, they'd scared me. Damn RENAMO for being adaptable. By now they'd learned I didn't like fire much, so the remaining forces were adjusting their tactics. Hopefully too late to do them any good.
One more hit on a clot of gunmen and the rest broke. Some fled into the forest, others retreating deeper into the base. I chased a group of them toward the arsenal. Veronique and I were assigned to materiel; the rest were on antipersonnel.
A low building was in my way. As I ran I pointed my palms at the ground and shot my field out. I could push objects away from me, remaining unmoved. Or, at my discretion, I could push myself off things. This time I popped into the air, landed on the roof, and kept jogging to the far side.
It didn't make physical sense. It violated conservation of momentum, and probably energy too. But ever since the White Event, the "Laws Of Physics" had apparently become the "Suggestions Of Physics, But If You Want To Do Something Else, Hey, Y'know, That's Cool Too."
I hopped down off the roof; the building where the insurgents stored their weapons was already under siege. Screams and crackles and flashes of light filled the narrow 'square' out front.
Veronique scared the crap out of me. She - if gendered pronouns still applied - was basically nothing but a woman-shaped lump of ball lightning. Maybe she'd been crazy before the Event. Probably becoming - in effect - an electrical ghost had pushed her over the edge. Either way she was flatout nuts. She killed with relish, and for no particular reason. God alone knew how Thame had convinced her to join Scylla and not kill her teammates. Besides shelter from the rain, what did she even need anymore?
I watched another pair of soldiers get fried. She could have done it instantly; instead it lasted many seconds. I pursed my lips but moved on to the door.
Kicking it in, I got a surprise - an RPG right in the chest. It startled me some, but it ended up worse for the guys inside - most of the explosion backflashed onto them. Still, better me than Veronique. Although bullets only irritated her, nobody was sure she could survive a major disruption like a grenade.
I secured the interior. Crushing a gang of half-stunned gunmen - gunboys, almost, for a couple of them - was pretty distasteful. Thing is, I couldn't let anyone use the weapons on my compatriots, or me. And shooting off guns around explosives is generally a bad idea.
You can't be in this line of work for long without getting at least somewhat desensitized. Once the job was done, I loaded up a bulky machine gun - looked to be a Soviet PK - with an ammo box and peeked out the door.
Veronique hovered among a dozen smoking bodies; nobody else was visible. She saw me motion her over, and glided my way. In air, she couldn't move faster than a brisk walk. Of course, along a conductor she moved ... well, like lightning.
I didn't speak French. Hand signals were enough. I left her guarding the front door and launched myself onto the roof of the makeshift armory. I scooted to the far side to cover the rear.
Finally, a chance to listen. An explosion, somewhere off to the left. Small and medium-arms fire all over. Confused shouting in a couple of dialects. About the way it should be. The main FRELIMO force would be here soon; they'd meet a disorganized resistance at most.
Although the morning sun was warm, the breeze was still a mite brisk, making my private areas ... well, huddle for warmth. My endowments were not in the porn star category. Not below average, I hasten to add, but certainly not paranormal. Being naked as often as I was, not always in tropical climes, made me a little anxious sometimes.
A flurry of gunfire sounded from down to my right. I opened up with the PK and drove whoever it was back. We traded fire for a few volleys, then he fell silent, either wounded or changing position. Motion by a wall ahead of me; I fired a short burst. A sharp, pained scream that faded to a gurgle.
You might well ask, 'why bother with the gun'? My parabilities are dangerous, but the field's invisible. I point, and things get smashed. Magic powers are foreign to most people's experience; you'd be amazed how often they just don't make the connection. An automatic weapon, on the other hand... that's a threat people grasp immediately. Even wielded by a naked dork.
The chaos was getting closer. Colin buzzed low overhead on one of his sweeps. A smuggler before the Event, he'd already been something of a tough cookie. Gaining the ability to fly had made him a terror.
.... There is more of this story ...