"We've got another Skull," Sumerset said.
We were in the bunker, now, sitting in front of one of the monitors. He'd brought up a still image from a newsclip--just a brief figure, nearly a silhouette. Black suit, skull helmet, and something else--a sword strapped to their back.
"This is just what I need," I said, and then I shook my head. "Any ideas who they might be?"
"Not sure. According to the news clips, they stopped an armed robbery. Quick, silent, professional. This is the only footage so far, but witnesses reported that whoever they were, they didn't say much. No one's even realized that this Skull ain't the Skull."
"God damn it," I said. "What the hell is--"
"Relax, kid. This sort of thing is more common than you might think. Some smart ass sees you on TV, figures they can do the job better, puts on a cape, presto. Hell, might not even be that," Sumerset said. "Might be a whole new cape with a similar theme."
"So what do we do?"
"Keep an eye on them, try to see if we can't arrange a meeting. Whoever it is, they seem to be on the level," he said.
"A sword," I said. "I mean, seriously. How tacky can you get?"
"Heh. You might be surprised. You know, Elizabeth--the second Skull--she actually used a--"
Sumerset was cut off by the sound of a sudden alarm. We both jerked up in our seats; Sumerset hit a few keystrokes and pulled up the monitor.
"Is that the bunker alarm?" I asked. It sounded different than how I remembered.
"No," he said. "That's the one for the house above."
The screen flickered and flashed. For a moment, I saw a series of images--a shot of the living room, the upper hallway, the porch. Then the camera stopped on the kitchen--and that's where Sumerset stopped it.
The front door had just been blown off.
Scourge and three other figures were calmly walking inside.
"Oh, shit," I said.
"Fuck," Sumerset said, and he pulled out his cell-phone. He hit auto-dial and cradled it to his ear; a moment later and he snapped it off. "Jammed."
"What the hell?" I asked, leaping to my feet. "He got his head blown off. He's supposed to be dead. What does it take to kill this guy?"
"This is bad," Sumerset said. "He knows your name, Sue."
"Okay. Okay," I said. "Just--we need to make a move, do something--"
The alarm suddenly deactivated. The lights flickered; the monitor in front of us turned off.
Sumerset and I both stared at the screen, then turned to each other.
"That isn't supposed to happen, is it?" I asked.
"No," Sumerset said.
"Greetings and salutations, Miss Daysdale." The voice rumbled through the bunker's intercom. It was unmistakable--I remembered it like it had been only hours ago. Scourge.
"Fuck," Sumerset said. "He's broken into the security system somehow."
"What? How? We just saw him a second ago--"
"He's probably been planning this. Likely has a team. I bet at least one of them's got the ability to control machines, or some shit like that," Sumerset said. "We need to get the fuck out of here. Now."
Scourge's voice continued above us: "In case you're wondering, I'll tell you your current situation: You're surrounded. I've got a man jamming every feasible signal you could send out of this facility. And as of this moment, we're putting your bunker into lockdown mode."
"What the hell is lockdown--" I started, but my question was answered shortly. Yellow and red lights flashed everywhere; immense metal doors started to slam down over the exits and passageways.
"Door, now," Sumerset shouted, and I didn't think. I just scooped the old man in one arm and bolted for the closest door I could find, diving in with Sumerset over my shoulder. We rolled--I heard him grunt and groan as we hit the ground. Behind me, the door clamped into place; I stumbled up to my feet and looked around.
As luck would have it, I had thrown us into Sumerset's workshop--where several of his projects were set and mounted.
Sumerset groaned beneath me; I helped him to his feet. "Okay," I said. "Anything in here we can use?"
He looked around. His eyes settled on something in the corner. "Ain't finished yet, but yeah."
My eyes followed his. A powered suit--smaller than Arsenal, but bulkier than the Battle Suit--was stashed there, out of plain sight.
"Skull-Buster," Sumerset said. "Was supposed to be a surprise. Help me over to that circuit box--gonna jam the doors, buy us a few minutes for you to put it on."
The next few minutes were more terrifying than anything I'd experienced prior.
It took me several tries to lock the chest-plate into place before I realized my hands were shaking far too hard to get a good grip on it; I took a moment to even out my breathing and tried it again. I felt a surge of relief when it made a distinctive click, followed by the return of that gnawing, growing fear.
I knew my options were precious few. Scourge was back, and he knew my name. What's worse, he had come to my house--come to where I live--likely with every intention of killing me.
We were cut off from all the considerable resources of the facility. We had no time to plan, no time to prepare. All we had was a half-finished suit, a wheezing old man, and a teenage girl who couldn't keep her hands still long enough to activate a helmet.
Sumerset worked at the door's circuit board, one screwdriver between his teeth and another in his hands. Every so often he'd grunt, and the lights would flicker; on occasion, he'd glance my way and correct me as I put on the suit. Other than that, though, neither of us spoke.
I think we both figured that we wouldn't be getting out of here alive.
"Got it," Sumerset said, and the door made a loud clunk. "Disconnected most of them from the main system. Whoever's controlling the bunker'll have to force their way through the rest of the doors--one by one."
I shifted in the suit. It felt strange; beneath the armor plating was a sleek black fabric that felt like it was stuffed full of wiring. When I finally managed to get the helmet on, the fabric produced a low hum--nearly inaudible. The only reason I noticed it was because I could feel it against my bare skin.
"It feels weird," I told him.
"Don't worry," he said. "It'll stop anything short of an anti-tank round." He looked at me. "Alright, we're getting out of here."
"Sumerset--the formula," I said. "All the stuff in the Vault..."
"Yeah, I know. He ain't getting it," Sumerset said.
"What are we going to do?"
He reached for something inside his desk. It took me a moment to recognize it--one of the retro-future ray guns I had seen in a display case when I had first stepped into the bunker. He pointed it at a far wall and fired; a brilliant blast of light lanced toward it, splashing outward into an expanding web of frost. When it was done, he turned to me.
I stepped forward and swung my mailed fist into the wall, shattering it with a single blow.
"He's not going to get a goddamn thing," Sumerset said. "We aren't just leaving. We're setting off the self-destruct mechanism on our way out."