#53: First Strike: Midway City Aug 17, 2019 15:36:02 GMT -5
Post by Admin on Aug 17, 2019 15:36:02 GMT -5
Issue Fifty-Three: “First Strike: Midway City”
Written by Eric Guptill
Cover by Ariel Duran (click the link for his DeviantArt)
Edited by Mark Bowers
Jon sat in the passenger’s seat, the sirens roaring through the early morning sky. The call had come in less than four minutes ago, but they had already been told that the fire was moving through the apartment building fast, and at least two families were still inside. Each of them knew their jobs; Jon, Tommy and Ray would suit up and go in, looking for anyone trapped within the building. It was a job that they rotated every call, but Jon would willingly do it every time if they let him.
He watched through the window as they pulled onto the scene. He only had a second to glimpse the flames licking at some of the upper windows, an orange glow wavering through others, and a horde of people standing in the street. It had been an unusually chilly night; that would explain why most of the windows were closed, it also helped slow the spread of the fire.
Before the truck had completely stopped, he jumped out of the vehicle. Moving to the side compartment, he pulled out the masks and oxygen tanks, handing them to Tommy and Ray as they ran up to him. They donned the equipment, doing a quick once over on each other. Each grabbed an axe, then headed towards the front entrance.
As they rushed forward, they saw two others setting up the hose to the nearby fire hydrant. Each call to a fire made him recall his powers. He had become used to the loss of his Kryptonian powers, but that didn’t mean he didn’t miss them. Of course, when he had them he had only wanted to kill his half-brother, Kal-El, or Superman as this world knew him. Now, they were building a brotherly relationship. He had been upset he couldn’t get together with everyone in Smallville, but duty called.* Clark said he would stop by on his and Lois’s way back to Metropolis, even though Midway City was out of their way, but when they could fly faster than the eye could see, a little side trip was nothing.
*Action Comics #52
The door to the complex was open, no code needed to get in. That saved them precious minutes. Jon took the lead and they headed up the stairs. Protocol dictated they stay together, head to the top floor and make their way down, checking as quickly as possible. It was in place to keep them safe, but went out the window when others were in danger.
Their cardio training paid off as they rounded the last stairwell to the tenth floor. All three were barely winded, but halted quickly. The exit to the stairs was a wall of flame. They could feel its heat, though their equipment would protect them if it was only a thin layer of flame. The other scenario, an entire floor engulfed in flame, well, they couldn’t survive that.
Jon looked back at Tommy and Ray. “Back to the ninth.” His radio crackled within their helmets. They nodded their understanding and began heading back down. Most of the people had evacuated, but there were a few unaccounted for, at least that is what the caller had said.
“Start going room to room.”
Tommy and Ray nodded to Jon. All of them spread out in the same direction, checking the few closed doors; those open were a signal that people had left and they didn’t have time to check every door.
Jon felt the door handle, no heat. That was a good sign. Heat meant there was fire on the other side and opening the door could create a blast of flame that shot out at him. He pounded on the door. “Firefighter, open up.” He never knew why some people did not run out when there was a fire, but it happened.
He glanced back and saw his two partners, opening two other apartment doors. They had been unlocked. He tried his and it did not give.
“Back up!” The words seemed to reverberate through the smoke that was beginning to blanket the hallway. He pulled his axe off of his belt and chopped at the door handle, only needing two strokes to destroy it and force the door open.
The room was smokier than the hall. He went in, listening to see if he could hear anything. From room to room, he scanned through the smoke, until he saw the outline of a man on the floor. As he got closer, he could see a small girl crying over him, her sobs wracked with coughs that spasmed through her whole body.
Jon ran back to the kitchen and grabbed the two dishcloths hanging from the oven’s door handle. He silently prayed to his god, Rao, that the water still worked, as he turned on the cold faucet handle. Cool crisp water rushed out and he doused the two cloths in them before rushing back to the bedroom.
He bent down to the girl and smiled through his mask. “I’m here to help, put this over your face.”
The girl took the wet rag and placed it on her face. Jon adjusted her hand so that she was holding it over her mouth and nose. Then he bent down to her father. He slapped him on the face a few times and he began to come too.
A scream erupted from his mouth as he saw Jon above him, like an alien being emerging from the haze. His daughter began crying, but did not remove the cloth from her nose and mouth.
“Sir, I’m a firefighter. We have to leave. Put this over your nose and mouth and I will help you stand.”
Jon didn’t wait for a response. He handed the wet cloth to the man and began helping him up. His body began to sag before he was completely erect, but Jon steadied him until the dizziness passed. The man looked at Jon and nodded. Jon picked up the little girl.
“Hold on to me, sir,” Jon said, then took off as soon as he felt the man’s grip on his coat.
They headed out of the apartment, into the hallway. Tommy and Ray were waiting for him.
“Two rooms left on this floor,” said Ray.
Jon handed the girl to Tommy. “You'll be okay, sweetie.” Then he looked at his compatriots. “Tommy, take ‘em down. Ray and me will check the two rooms and begin heading down. There were only two families missing, we have one.”
Tommy nodded and led the father away from Jon, and they began descending the stairs. Jon and Ray headed past the stairwell, the heat having increased dramatically.
“I got the right, you the left.” Ray nodded his understanding and they split up, both rooms across the hall from one another.
Jon pounded on the door, then felt the handle. Not too hot. He turned it and it opened. That was a good sign. He moved through the apartment easily, not finding anyone. That was a small favor.
As he turned back and entered the living room, a large whoosh of air pummeled him from the hallway; smoke and cinders rained across his vision. Ray!
He pushed out of the hallway, waving his hand to dissipate some of the smoke. Something had collapsed, but it wasn’t in the hallway, it was the entryway to the other apartment. He could see his partner wriggling under a beam. It had him pinned, but didn’t seem to have done too much damage.
Jon rushed to the beam, parts of it were glowing red, but nearer to the top than to Ray. He tested it quickly, before pulling up while Ray pushed. The beam grudgingly moved, just enough for Ray to pull himself out from underneath it.
Jon dropped it. “You okay?”
“Ribs, bruised or broken.”
“Anyone in there?”
Ray looked at Jon and nodded.
“I got this, you head down.”
Ray pulled himself up, a grimace crossing his face. “Kiss my ass, Jonnieboy, I ain’t leaving.”
Jon knew Ray and knew he couldn’t persuade him. He turned back towards the beam and studied it. It wasn’t holding anything else up. That’s all he needed to know. He brought his axe up and swung towards the upper part of the beam. Sprays of smoke and smoldering ash flew free with each smack, but the already burnt wood couldn’t hold out to the assault for very long. With a crack it collapsed to the ground, Jon and Ray moving back.
“You crazy man,” Ray said.
Jon just laughed.
As they entered the apartment, Jon looked up, watching the waves of flame slithering across the ceiling. Ray followed his gaze, both of them realizing that they had little time.
This time they didn’t split, as they checked the apartment Ray had been in. The flames and heat were increasing in strength, they would need to help one another. They moved through the living room, and into the nearest bedroom. The smoke was thicker here and there were three bodies on the ground, near a partial collapse of the ceiling.
Jon headed in first, he rushed up to the bodies. Two young boys lay before him, near them was what appeared to be their father. Part of the ceiling had landed on his upper body, flames creeping down his pajama bottoms. Jon shook his head, though this hadn’t been the worst thing he had seen on the job.
He turned his attention back the boys, both of their chests were rising, though only faintly.
“Damn, barbecue brisket. How are the boys?” Ray pulled up behind him, his attempt at humor a defense mechanism against the horrors of the job. Both souls would suffer nightmares for weeks from the scene of a man cooking before his children.
“Not good.” Jon handed one boy to Ray. “Can you carry him?”
“Got it, bud.” Ray grabbed the kid and ignored the pain in his midsection. The rib was definitely broken.
Jon grabbed the other child and they began moving out of the apartment. The smoke was beginning to thicken and through the crackling flames, they could hear the creak of wood above them. It would crash soon, at least in the area directly above this apartment.
Ray moved first, Jon right behind him. Through the hallway and into the living room. They continued forward, a slight rumble behind them. Jon turned for a second as a window imploded. He turned his body to protect the boy from the glass, most of it bouncing off of his heavy uniform.
Ray turned around as well, his face losing color. Jon saw it and saw his friend’s stare moving past him. He saw a white humanoid figure fly through the window and land on the carpet. There was no face, no mouth, nothing.
Jon turned to Ray, pushing the child into his other arm. He could see his partner wince, but he knew he would push through it. “Get the hell out of here!”
“What about you?”
Jon interrupted him with a push. “Just go.”
He saw Ray leave as he turned towards the creature, his axe now in his right hand as the creature appeared before him, grabbing his left. Jon didn’t hesitate, he bought the axe up and down on the creature’s arm. It seemed to dent, but not cut, though it was enough for the creature to let go.
Jon backed away. “Everyone evacuate, now.” The radio channel was monitored by command and they would relay his message to any other firefighters who might be on the lower floors, or near the blaze. In most cases, an evacuate now call meant that the building was about to collapse. Everyone would back away, just in case.
He began moving deeper into the apartment, the thickening smoke obscuring his view, and he hoped that of the creature. He remembered the bathroom being on his right and ducked into it, though it was filled with smoke. He moved far enough back that he hoped the creature wouldn’t see him.
Jon waited patiently, axe still in hand and a concerted effort to slow his breathing underway. Staring ahead, it seemed like an eternity. Hours slipping away that were actually seconds. The creak of the upper floor groaning louder and louder, calling to him to run, but he remained where he was. More and more he waited, thinking he had made a mistake, then he saw the whirl of smoke as the creature moved through the hall. It passed the bathroom, heading towards the bedrooms.
Jon counted to ten then rushed into the hall and headed back the way he came. He didn’t try to keep quiet, but pounded through the apartment, into the leaving room and towards the door, before he was halted and spun around.
The creature had grabbed one of the straps holding his oxygen tank. Jon saw a glowing redness where eyes should have been, as he turned, his axe coming around with him. It slammed into the creature’s jaw, pushing its head up as beams of heat erupted into the flames that danced above them.
Heat vision, worse than I thought. Kryptonian, gotta be after me. He pulled the axe back down and flipped it in his hand, grabbing it and smashing it into the side of the creature’s neck. It wasn’t doing damage, at least none that was visible, but it was keeping the creature off-balance.
He continued to push at the creature with one hand while using both the hilt and head of the axe to hit it, with the other. It still had one strap of his oxygen tank, leaving him at an angle when attacking the creature.
He glanced down for a second and saw flames licking at its right leg. Where they touched, the skin was sagging, only slightly but it was enough. He had to get out of here, but take care of this creature too.
Jon freed both his arms from the creature, then took a deep breath of the rich oxygen filling his mask before pulling the tubes that connected it until they separated. Then he kicked at the oxygen tank now in the hands of the creature. The blow pushed it back into the wall. Jon wasted no time, he turned towards the door and ran.
At the last second, he turned to the creature and hurled his axe. In their free time, the firefighters had competed in axe-throwing contests. Jon had aways won, hitting the target dead center. Maybe it had been all that practice when he had had heat-vision, before losing his powers. That practice paid off as the axe hit home, dead center into the oxygen tank.
The impact of metal on metal created a spark that ignited the erupting oxygen. Jon dove out of the apartment as a blast erupted behind him, ripping out of the building and collapsing the apartment into itself.
Ray ran out of the building, nearly collapsing as he exited the door. His lungs felt like they were on fire, his side throbbed, sending cascades of pain up and down his right side. Each movement with the two boys had tested his limits. He had wanted to rest, to sit down and tell the boys to run outside, but he wouldn’t let himself give up.
And here he was now, collapsed at the entrance, the two boys falling with him. They did not cry out as they hit the cement, instead pulling themselves towards the firefighter that had dropped them. He was their security. Ray saw that in their eyes and forced himself off the ground, a cry of agony erupting from him as he gained his footing.
“C’mon boys.” He held out one hand to each and walked shakily away from the building. He didn’t have to go far, two other firefighters and paramedics came to help him away.
“It’s okay, they'll help you,” he said as paramedics swarmed to them and began picking up the young children. They looked at Ray, who did not fight the hold of the medics.
His partners sat him down, helping to take off his mask. Ray gulped in the cool night air, ignoring the tinged smoke he tasted with every breath. He was out of there, the kids were safe, but Jon was not.
He didn’t know what that thing was, but he had to let someone know.
“You okay?” It was Sasha, Jon’s girlfriend. She must have arrived with the other Midway police officers.
“Yeah, but Jon, there's some big ass thing attacking him in there.”
“Sash, I don’t know, it was this white thing, attacking Jon. He needs help!”
Just then an explosion ripped through a side of the building, on the ninth floor, bits of flame and wood cascading down on the firefighters, bystanders, paramedics and police.
Ray began to wipe tears from his eyes and whispered, “There.”
Jon pulled himself off the ground. He didn’t bother to look at the remains of the apartment, he just wanted to get out. His lungs burned from the smoke he had inhaled. He had no oxygen anymore and wouldn’t last long in this building.
He ran towards the stairs. He could get down the stairwell and out the building before the building collapsed. He was an El after all and if his half-brother had taught him anything, they could conquer the odds.
The haze was thicker, but Jon recognized the stairwell through the haze. The stairs going up still had a cascade of flame near the top, but going down was clear. His way out.
The force of the explosion should have killed the creature in the apartment, but with it exhibiting some Kryptonian powers, he didn’t know if it had been enough.
He took the stairs two at a time, but only made it down one set before he saw another white being coming up the stairs towards him. Its eyes glowed and shot out twin beams of heat, which Jon ducked. He was stuck and the only way out was now up.
He turned and began running up the stairs. He would head up to the ninth floor, make a right and run to the end of the hall. There should be another stairwell there. He just hoped that he could beat the creature.
He made his way to the floor and began turning when a rush of cold air passed near him, creating a wall of ice that effectively ended an escape plan. Another blast created an identical wall on his left. There was no escape, down was the monster and up was a floor engulfed in flames. Jon had only one option.
He ran up the stairs. Putting all his force into it, he jumped through the wall of flame that covered the tenth floor, hoping that it was not too thick. He was in luck, it wasn’t. He landed on the ground; both sides of the hall were reminiscent of a hellscape, flames licking up from the floor and down from the ceiling. This must be what humans imagined hell to be like.
The smoke didn’t help, making its way into his helmet. He couldn’t keep it on. Quickly tearing it off, he went further up the staircase. This was a dangerous choice, he was heading to the roof. It could be engulfed by flames at this point, but he had no real options.
Continuing up, coughs wracking his body, he ran to the roof access door. He shook his head, felt through the smoke for the door handle, and found it locked. He couldn’t go back down, this was it.
Positioning his feet, he began kicking at the door over and over again, the bit of air in his lungs fighting for freedom. His vision began to swim, blackness creeping in through the tears caused by the smoke. Then the door gave and he fell on the roof. Smoke billowed over his body, but near the roof, there was clean air.
His lungs fought against him, railing against crispness that invaded them, forcing out the choking fumes of smoke. It seemed like an eternity before he could pull himself up, but he did it. Surveying the scene before him, he only had about a third of the roof to work with, and that was quickly being consumed by the flittering mouths of flame.
Jon moved forward, seeing a fire ladder in the distance. A firefighter was directing water onto the heaviest flames, but there was a clear path to it. If he could reach it, they could move closer and grab him. It was his only hope of getting out of this alive. Sucks not having powers.
He began moving forward, testing the roof with each footfall. It wasn’t long before a rumble began near him and a section of the roof collapsed to his right. He covered his head as spouts of ash erupted upwards. A slight breeze twisted the smoke and cinders, revealing a white shape hovering over the destruction. It faced Jon and began moving towards him, its eyes glowing.
Jon began moving forward, diving behind an air conditioning unit as heat ripped above him. He wasted no time getting back up and running towards the ladder. He didn’t have time to test the roof, he could only hope that it would hold. One weakened section could take him plummeting down into the inferno below.
His eyes remained focused on the ladder. The firefighter saw him in the distance and redirected the ladder towards him. Closer and closer he got before the creature floated down in front of him. There was no time to pause, Jon bowled into him. His bulk knocked the creature to the ground, its feet not having purchase on solid ground when the impact occurred.
He used his momentum to roll over the thing, landing on his knees and once again taking off towards the ladder. Heat poured over him, the roof below him felt less sturdy with every passing step, and he imagined two beams of heat frying him to a crisp from behind. Yet, still he continued. The ladder was swinging closer and closer to the building, but it still seemed too far away. Jon realized the chances of reaching it were nonexistent, but he would not stop trying.
The pounding of his boots continued until he felt a shove from behind that sent him into the air. The creature had pushed him hard enough to send him flying. He was heading towards the ladder, but at a much higher speed than he wished for. Oh shit, can’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but this is gonna hurt like he-
His body slammed into the ladder, his hands grasping for a hold as the air was shoved out of him. The injury to his ribs he had suffered a few months ago came back with a vengeance; he hadn’t heard them crack, but imagined that they had.
He was hanging onto the ladder with his arms and one leg hooked around the edge. He didn’t have the strength to pull himself up, but he could hold on. Jon swiveled his head back and forth trying to see the creature. It was hard to miss, coming towards him through the air.
Closer it flew before being hammered with a stream of water from the firefighter at the top of the ladder. Water poured from a fire hose at just over 70 miles per hour. It could do serious damage. Jon hoped it would have an effect on this creature.
He was disappointed as it moved away from the water, dodging it and diving down, underneath Jon’s position. It looked up at him before being hit with another spout of water, this time from a hose on the ground.
The creature hadn’t been expecting it and was shoved into the ladder, causing it to bend. The impact dropped the ladder nearly five feet, Jon and the man above him holding on. That type of bend would not allow the metal to hold the weight and with a groan, creak and tearing of metal, the top of the ladder began to fall.
It was a ten-story fall, Jon knew it was the end, but he still held onto the ladder, the man above him doing the same. They prepared for the impact, Jon tensing his body as his eyes caught sight of Sasha. Horror and sorrow had etched themselves within her beautiful features and he wished only that he had more time to explore a relationship with her.
Faster the ground came, then it halted. The jolt was jarring and Jon almost lost his grip, but managed to hold on. There was a robot; a metal version of Superman had grabbed the ladder and was lowering it down. To the ground. Leave it to Clark to find a way to make a last minute save.
Jon jumped to the ground as it neared and moved out of the way. The other firefighter got off as soon as he could, as well. Jon couldn’t help but worry about his younger brother. Something had to be going down if it had been a robot that was sent to save him. He only hoped that Clark was okay, that Superman was okay.
The robot wasted no time, turning towards the creature as soon as the ladder was down. He pulled it from the remains of the ladder, where it was tangled, smashing it over and over in the face, but the white creature did not seem to notice. Instead, it pulled itself away; a burst of superspeed here and there helped to free it from its assailant.
It continued towards Jon, who was sitting with his arm around Sasha. It had a task, destroy this target, and it would not stop until it had succeeded. Its compatriot had been destroyed in the earlier explosion, but this clone was made of sterner stuff, having matured longer. It was damaged, but not enough to stop it. Its facilities were still all there and though some of its skin was beginning to droop, it had enough energy to destroy Jon Kent.
Its descent was halted as the robot Superman flipped underneath it, hitting it with a haymaker. A white rocket, the creature shot into the air from the force of the impact, seeming to ride the force of the punch. In fact, it added its own speed, circling up, down and then around the building to once again come nearer to its target.
The robot was hot in pursuit, but not close enough. It wouldn’t get to Jon in time, and firing beams of heat vision could miss and endanger the people below. It was in a conundrum that it couldn’t figure out, but it didn’t need to. Another blast of water hit the white creature, sending it into the building. The robot followed, fists at the ready.
The brick exterior shook with the impact of titanic forces inside. The entrance exploded, smoke and embers erupting from within. Windows shattered, each concussion causing a slight rippling in the walls.
The police began moving the safety personnel back, creating a larger perimeter. The fear of a building collapse seemed much more imminent. In its already weakened state it could not stand the onslaught inside and began to fall in on itself.
The people were not far enough back, he was not far enough back, Jon realized. They would all be covered in hot ash, the casualties would be high, especially among the emergency personnel. He looked at Sasha, preparing himself as the rumble grew louder and louder and the building finally collapsed.
But no ash or smoke hit them. He turned to look. The robot was flying around the remains of the building, pulling air away from it. The flames within flickered brightly for a second before fading into darkness. The smoke shot into the sky, high above them. He had saved them. Clark needs to invest in more of those things.
Finally, the robot, accomplishing its goal, headed back into the remains of the structure, pulling the creature up and out of it. Its metallic skin showed a slight pink blush that was increasing in intensity. It soared up into the sky, holding the struggling body of its foe. The metal was clearly becoming a bright red as it flew higher.
Soon all Jon could see was the red glow of the robot, looking like a star in the sky, then it erupted into an explosion that, though so very far away, could still be felt on the ground. The force of the blast, a brush of wind against his hair and beard. They were both gone, atomized by the explosion.
Clark, Kal, wherever you are, kick their asses, whoever is doing this, kick their mother%&^*ing asses.
To be continued in Superman #9
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