The armor started coming off in chunks.
The fists, first; they made a soft hiss before metal staples popped up, causing them to slip off my hands. It was followed by several more hisses as bands of metal unfolded from my back and legs--piece by piece, it started to tumble away.
Gasping and wheezing, I helped it along as best as I could. When I was finished, I was wearing a simple version of the dark suit underneath--with only the backpack from the battle suit still attached to me. That, and, of course, the helmet.
"That was..." Sumerset began, but I cut him off.
"Need a sec," I told him. "Hurts."
"You ain't got a sec, starling. You'll have all the time in the world to sleep once you get your ass out of there." Then he paused, and added: "Your voice."
"Huh?" I hadn't noticed it--but I did now. It wasn't a mechanized purr--it was my own voice.
"Must have gotten screwed up during the fight. Christ. He probably heard your voice," he said, before adding: "Don't talk anymore. Not unless you absolutely got to."
I dragged myself up to my feet. Hot lances of pain were still traveling up my arms, but my legs felt relatively fine. I used them--pumping them hard as I ran up the steps. When I came up to the steel door that separated me from the rooftop, I kicked it open.
It exploded out with a clang.
Just as the soldier fell from the sky, landing in front of me with a solid crunch.
"Fucker," he groaned, getting back to his feet. It looked like he might have sprained something in the fall; he favored his left foot heavily.
I realized, now, that the helicopter above me was watching--along with several news choppers in the distance. This was a city-wide event--hell, maybe even a national-wide event. The Skull's first public appearance in, Christ. Five years?
Everyone was watching me. Everyone was expecting... something.
"Gonna mess you up," the soldier said, and then he threw something at me.
Without the armor, I could move my arms. When he threw it, I caught it. It was the same device that I'd used to send him soaring into the sky.
Now it was my turn to grin.
What an idiot.
I fired it at his chest, bracing myself. He blinked as it hit him in the torso with that familiar splat; then, as it started to reel itself in, I reached behind me and grabbed the frame of the door. He was pulled straight at me, sputtering curses--I swung my arm around and met him in the throat with a clothesline.
He went down, hard. I pressed the switch on the splatgun that cut the cord, then gave him a solid kick in the stomach.
"Gnnf," he muttered.
"Jump off the building's south end," Sumerset told me. "Aim for the black car's roof. When you hit, do it with the balls of your feet--and crumple down to your knees."
"Don't talk, goddammit! And just look--it's coming."
I stepped to the building's edge. At least six police cars were piled up on this side, lights flashing--a dozen or more officers were staring up at the roof or waving onlookers away. Behind them, I saw a pair of headlights coming in close--and picking up speed.
The Tank had been a bright, ivory white when I last saw it. Now? It was a crisp charcoal black.
It hit the cars with a solid crash. Windshields exploded as it tore between two of them, forcing the vehicles to jack-knife aside. Officers scattered, yelling and screaming.
I reached forward and plucked up soldier boy, throwing him over my shoulder. He groaned, giving a mild kick and a few more curses.
This was stupid, I knew. But the whole world was watching... and I felt like I owed my mom a little something special. To make sure everyone remembered just why the Skull had been so goddamn scary.
I leapt off the roof as soon as the Tank was under me. For a moment, I soared down through the night sky, the soldier screaming somewhere behind my head--then I slammed into something soft. The car's roof sagged beneath me like the surface of a trampoline, deflecting the worst of the impact--I felt a jarring bolt of pain sear up my legs, but nothing snapped.
I threw the groaning soldier off my shoulder and onto the hood of one of the nearest police cars.
"Special delivery," I said. "Freshly kicked Cape-Buster ass. Courtesy of the Skull."
The police just stared. Several of them stepped back.
The car beneath me rumbled, wheels screeching across asphalt as it drove off into the night.