Chapter Four: Countdown
“Hey! Are you alright?!” Kurtzberg coughed while she waved away purple gas.
Phantom opened his eyes lying face down on the bridge. He pulled himself to one knee, held his gut, and groaned.
He and the trio he’d saved were now hundreds of yards from the bus, out of harm’s way near the eastern exit of the bridge. Phantom looked to the power meter under his wrist and it flashed back at two percent. A glance to the countdown timer showed three minutes and ten seconds remaining.
“Damn,” said the masked teen.
Kurtzberg knelled beside him. “Are you injured?”
He peered down the bridge and saw Cretaceous Queen struggling to save the bus. “Oh no.”
Behind his partner, Hernandez bounced the two-year-old in his arms and followed Phantom’s gaze. “You’re not the original Purple Phantom, are you kid?”
The skinny teen in purple stood up and shook head. “No. Dad’s an asshole.”
The officer nodded as the toddler sniffled. “Well, thanks. We owe you one.”
He pointed to the opposite end of the bridge. “I’ve gotta go and help my friend to save those people. But if we fail, it’s the science center’s space transmitters that thing wants.”
Kurtzberg squinted puzzled eyes. “That old place? Why—”
Queen’s theropodian legs strained for traction on the roadway as she pulled back with her jaws locked on the bus. Her tail thrashed as she fought against the vehicle’s weight, but she couldn’t prevent it from inching closer to disaster every second.
The drone turned itself around. After a brief analysis with its lens, an undamaged arm of tendrils rose and fell to scourge the tyrannosaur’s back. She winced as they gripped her like hooks, their constrictions leaving bloody lacerations.
Phantom fell from a sudden rush of gas a few feet above the bus. His boots clattered onto its dented roof, then immediately slipped on its pitched angle. Nearly sliding down and off the bridge, he found two handholds when his hands grabbed onto Queen’s flared nostrils.
Her eyes, pained and wide, met his before a great tear rolled down her saurian maw.
He dangled as she tried to save them all. “Queen, the sigil stones disappeared! Is that normal?”
The tyrannosaur strained, eyes narrowed in concern as her huge head shook a no.
Phantom grabbed the Banshee Gun from his back, clinging one handed to her other nostril. He then brought it down on her nose and hit a button. It squealed as if powering up.
“Listen! The gun’s acting as if you are the banshee stone! Your sigil and the gun’s were matched like bookends… I think when you used them both you got its power!”
He glanced to the robot as it tightened its grip around Cretaceous Queen. “The Koa made the oricanas to fight the Kitzillaki, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Banshee Stone fries them! And the gun’s meter is off the chart touching you!”
Queen gave a nod with her mouth full of bus, then looked down to it. Phantom followed her gaze, then met her eyes again with a solemn expression.
“Count to ten, slow. Then let go. I’ll save them.”
Surprised, she shook another no.
He checked the power meter under his wrist flashing zero percent. “It’s big, but I’ve got plenty of juice. I need to make right what my dad did wrong… and you need to save the world!”
Queen watched him push over to the roof’s edge, Banshee Gun in hand. His feet dangled over the side still above the bridge, then he gave one last look to her before his legs slid through one of the bus’s broken windows.
He disappeared into the bus and all that remained for Queen to see was the Kitzillaki drone crushing the life out of her. She labored to breathe, but a moment later her eyes narrowed and her voice reverberated against the metal in her mouth.
Phantom fell into the midst of panicked passengers pressed to one side of the leaning bus. The teen heard prayers, profanity and screams in equal measure.
“Ooo…” Queen’s voice rumbled.
“Are you going to save us?” A woman yelled.
“I’m gonna try!” he shouted over the noise.
“What should we do?”
He ripped open a battery compartment on his teleportation harness. “Pray and hold on!”
Unhooking a pair of wires from the battery, the bus shifted and drooped even more over the edge. Phantom nearly fell, but braced himself against a seat.
“Ive…” Queen strained as the stressed roof began to tear away from her teeth.
Tucking the muzzle of the Banshee Gun under one arm, Phantom cocked the stock down and frantically unscrewed the cover of its primary battery.
“Come on, come on!” he said with fastener covers falling to the floor as fast as he undid them.
The cover came loose and he threw it aside. He grabbed the pair of wires connecting it to the gun, and ripped them out.
Phantom thrust the paired wires from the harness into the gun’s battery and held the mismatched connection firm with his thumb. Frantic eyes turned to his wrist and the power meter upon it.
“Thirty percent! Come on! I’ll need at least thirty percent!”
It flashed sixteen percent. Then twenty one as Phantom stared in shock.
Her jaws released, and Queen drew in a deep gasp of air as the drone’s tendrils pinched her chest and lungs ever tighter. Free of the anchoring weight of the bus, the machine’s strength dragged her back with an unexpected snap that slammed her into several abandoned cars.
But her eyes remained locked on the bus that didn’t disappear in a purple plume. It instead tipped over the edge of the bridge.
Phantom’s wrist meter hit twenty eight percent as his stomach felt the start of the drop. Amid the screams surrounding him, the bus’s rear arched high as its front dipped and fell. He caught a split second glimpse of the eastern exit before the vehicle slipped off completely.
The bus disappeared over the edge, and Cretaceous Queen loosed a roar of shock and rage that shook the bridge in its ferocity. The glass of every vehicle around her shattered as she tapped her newfound power with an intensity far greater than Banshee Gun had ever possessed.
A chain reaction spread out in a wave. Windshields exploded in its wake, and the bridge’s metal framework rattled before the vibrations sent the tentacles clamped around her into spasms. Their grip fell away, and unable to stop the sonic beam, she staggered up and cast a savage bellow at the Kitzillaki drone.
It reeled, blasted with a deafening cone of force and sound that tottered the behemoth backwards. The alien robot struggled against the fury Queen unleashed, and the fisheye dome of its cyclopean lens cracked and shattered. Now exposed, the sensor buds within twitched and gawked.
The machine shouldered forward, leveraging its weight against the blast before the six tendrils of its undamaged arm slapped around one of the suspension bridge’s supports. It pulled forward on that grip, then lashed the three tendrils of its damaged limb around Queen’s throat.
With a choking yank, she was silenced.
Kurtzberg shouted as she and Hernandez ran for the side of the bridge and watched the tyrannosaur thrash and fall. “She’s down! What the hell can stop that thing?”
The officers reached the railing and peered over the side. Their eyes scanned the river almost a hundred yards below them, but there was no bus in the water. Only faint purple haze just under the bridge.
Hernandez looked to his partner, the toddler still in his arms. “I told you I didn’t hear a splash!”
She took off her now cracked glasses. “All I can hear is the ringing in my ears.”
“But if he teleported it, where are they?”
Kurtzberg stuffed the broken frames into her shirt pocket, then shook her head grabbing the radio on her belt. “I don’t know.”
“Do you think they all got, disintegrated? Like what happened with the original Phantom in Tribeca?”
“I don’t know!” she yelled watching the drone lash more of its tendrils around Cretaceous Queen to choke her. “All I know is that our friendly neighborhood dinosaur is down, and some kid-superhero might have just blown himself and a busload of people into nothingness!”
Hernandez nodded grim-faced as the child started to cry again.
She lifted the radio. “I’m gonna try to contact ESWAT again about the science center.”
Kurtzberg pulled the radio away from her ear and eyed it strangely. The hissing noise remained as she adjusted the squelch of the unit, and a moment later she discovered the noise was coming from behind them.
She turned. “A gas leak?”
Hernandez pointed and smiled over her shoulder. “A purple gas leak.”
A small cloud of curling plumes spread in and out of a crack that grew between extradimensional spaces. It coughed and expanded in gassy spasms ten feet above the bridge as seconds passed. Then with a foom the aperture gave a final push, and the bus dropped from it.
The vehicle landed on its front wheels first, then its rear suspension slammed the pavement a second later. The impact burst all of its tires, and the bus bounced trailing purple vapors before it came to a clumsy stop.
The police ran to the bus’s side as the dimensional crack folded in upon itself and disappeared. It left behind a column of colored mist, and an odor like ozone blended with lemons and limes. They reached the bus’s side exit as it opened, and from a gush of purple gas streamed nauseated passengers.
Helping the disoriented people disembark, Hernandez grabbed a hand from the plum-colored fog and found himself face-to-face with the mother of the child he carried. The young woman’s eyes tearful and shocked, he brought them to the side relinquishing the toddler to her mother’s embrace.
Rejoining Kurtzberg, the officers led dozens away from the wreck who were shaken but alive.
“The kid,” Hernandez asked as the haze dissipated and the flow of people ended. “Where’s the kid?”
At the top of the bus’s stairs, its elderly driver appeared with a languid Phantom propped up by his arm. The old man helped him stumble down the steps, his Banshee Gun and teleportation harness smoking.
The officers joined the driver in pulling him into the fresh air, then lowered Phantom to his hands and knees where he hacked out the last of the purple gas to catch his breath.
“You did it!” Kurtzberg said.
“I almost asphyxiated everyone and trapped them in e-space,” he wheezed. Phantom then glanced to the blank power meter under his wrist. “And I’ve blown the harness array… but Queen fried the big robot, right?”
The officers gazed a few hundred yards down the bridge, to the huge drone bearing down on the tyrannosaurus.
“Right?” Phantom coughed again.
Kurtzberg returned her eyes to him. “She blasted it, but it didn’t stop.”
Queen’s tail thrashed and staved-in a car as she struggled, and Phantom lifted his head clad in cowl and green mask at the noise. He huffed for air seeing her losing battle.
“It looked like it was going down,” Hernandez said. “But then it shrugged it off.”
Phantom gritted his teeth and started to rise. “Damn it! That armored shell’s probably protecting its central systems!”
The teen staggered to his feet, then studied the fused and melted remains of the Banshee Gun he still held. He threw it to the ground with a clatter before he pulled a screwdriver out of his utility belt. Phantom jammed the tool into an access panel on the singed chestpiece of the harness, then he pried it open limping forward.
Kurtzberg and the bus driver exchanged confused looks as Hernandez started to follow alongside the costumed teen. “Without your gun and harness, aren’t you just like the rest of us?”
There was a metal snap as Phantom opened the panel and inner workings of his harness. “Maybe, but I’ve still gotta try.”
Hernandez nodded. “I get it. Save the world?”
Phantom tore out wires with the screwdriver, gutting the harness while giving the officer a glance. “And my girlfriend.”
Hernandez turned and focused on the T-rex gripped in mortal combat with a giant robot. He looked back as Phantom threw the screwdriver away. “She must have a, uh… great personality.”
He pulled a small steel cylinder from the utility belt on his purple jumpsuit and unlocked it with a combination of twists. “She’s a real hero.”
The teen limped faster as Hernandez continued to follow. “So, what are you going to do?”
“Something stupid,” Phantom said.
He reached up with his right hand and tore the induction core out of the harness chestpiece. Phantom shook the forked core free of wire fragments, then brushed off the purple sigil stone at its base with his thumb.
Hernandez watched him shake another purple stone from the opened cylinder. It fell between the forks of the induction core and floated after a spark, the sigil within glowing with a golden light.
Phantom gulped, then turned to the officer beside him. “You’d better get back. I’m probably going to blow myself up.”
Hernandez nodded over his shoulder to Kurtzberg beside the bus, then gave Phantom a pat on the back before he ran. “You’re a hero in my book, kid! Good luck!”
Phantom faced the battling titans two hundred yards in front of him. “Thanks.”
“And don’t blow yourself up!” Hernandez shouted.
He put a second hand on the handle of the induction core, and drew in a deep breath. Phantom watched the sigil stone between the forks spin for a moment. “Okay, Dud-Rock… Please be what I think you are.”
Looking up from his makeshift Oricana, his eyes first focused on the robot, then on a spot about a hundred feet above it.
A flash of blinding light strobed over the bridge and overcame the daylight for an instant. At the shelter of the bus, Hernandez flinched as he reached the others. They turned with him in time to see the light recede into a brilliant green sphere around Phantom.
The bubble shifted to a dark purple color before they heard him start a scream that was suddenly muted by the foosh of the sphere’s sublimation into gas. A gust of wind a moment later revealed a small crater of implosion where he’d once stood.
Copyright © 2017 by Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.
Chapter five of Cretaceous Queen, Overtime, will be released next Saturday! Stay tuned, true believers!