"Are you okay with this?" I asked.
"With what?" Red replied. She held on fast to my arm as we flew. Beneath us, I could see the still-smoldering footprints where the demon had walked--and in the distance, I could see him marching toward the center of the Stix.
Didn't know what he wanted or what he was looking for, but I didn't plan on letting him find it.
"Killing Voodoo Jones," I said.
"I do not know how to break his spell," she said. "There is a chance that, upon dying, this will end. I know of no other effective means to save the Stix."
"Okay. It's just, you know. He seemed to mess you up earlier, and--"
"I will be fine," she said. "Is here sufficient?"
"Yeah," I said, and I let go.
I fell a dozen or so feet to the ground. I could see the demon lumbering away in the distance, see the wreckage of cars he had thrown aside. There were people popping their heads out of windows to watch--other people were running, hiding. A few were even trying to call the police on their cells.
"Stay safe," I shouted up to Red, and then I broke out into a charge.
It isn't long after Sue and Red leave that I feel something hard clench around my lungs.
It's funny. There are words for pain--excruciating, agonizing--but no word for out-of-breath. That's what I feel right now; like I can't even get a speck of oxygen to stick to my lungs.
"Not now," I wheeze, and then I reach for the hypospray in my pocket. With a soft hiss of compressed air, it fires a shot straight through the pores of my wrist and into my bloodstream.
Almost instantly, I feel my lungs grow loose and full.
I put the hypospray away and get to my feet. Then I start moving down the stairs--without the aid of an exoskeleton to buffet each step.
Three stories down--it's a breeze when you're a kid, but the goddamn Exodus when you're 73 years old. After a while, each step is agony; I have to fold up and press my body against the railing for a minute after the first flight of steps.
Serum's barely making a dent in the pain anymore. Which is bad--I'm building up an immunity to its effects.
I fight through the pain. Try to remember that there are lives at stake. As I make my way to the second flight of steps, I flip the cover off the keypad built into the uniform's forearm and start typing up the frequency for a new channel.
When I put in the call, the Tank responds--and redirects my signal via satellite dish.
I hear the ringing in my earpiece. After the third ring--and the fifth step--I hear a click, and someone's voice.
"Bueno?" a woman asks.
"No comprehende español," I reply. "That you, Esmerelda?"
A moment of silence. And then: "...Mierda. You sound like shit, Sumerset."
"Aerobics," I say between gasps for breath. "Need help. You still operating?"
"You know the answer to that," she says. "This line secure?"
"I wouldn't call you on it if it wasn't."
"The world's already got one too many Blinks," she says.
"One more'll have to do. Daysdale's kid is in trouble."
"I heard about--mierda, Sumerset--on the news, the new Skull--is that--"
"Her kid. Yeah. Trouble in the Stix. How soon can you get here?"
"I'm already on my way. Situation?"
"I'll explain on the channel. Set your frequency to the old band we used to use," I tell her.
"...you're calling in more of us? Is it that bad?"
"Worse," I say. "I'm calling in everyone." And then I hang up.
I finish the second flight of stairs and start making more calls.
The bus hisses to a halt somewhere on the edge of home. Shrugging off my hood, I step off and back into the Stix.
Feels good to have the old street under my feet again--to be back where I belong. Where the scars aren't weird, or strange, or upsetting--where they're a badge of honor.
Except the moment I get off the bus, I sense something's wrong. My territory has been invaded--my sanctuary penetrated.
There's smoke rising up from the Stix, along with the sounds of yelling. On occasion, I hear what might be gunshots. And a distant, inhuman roar.
The bus-driver looks uneasy. I throw a look back at him. "Call the cops," I tell him, even though it won't make much of a difference. Cops don't come to the Stix. The Stix handles its own problems.
I turn and do my Wolverine thing. Bones sprout out of my knuckles--two foot long serrated blades.
With violence in mind, I head back home.