The day had started out with a mystery and had only gotten worse. The mood in Big Red was silent and grim as Mark, another of the scavengers, lay in the bed, ashen-faced and whimpering in pain. An ex had broken its own neck to bite him as he'd tried to wrestle it away from Lynne, the new girl, and Zzzap had removed the offending arm--cauterizing it at the same time--with his hand, a single finger burning through muscle and tissue and bone. Once that grisly work was done, Zzzap had shot through the air like a comet, heading back to the Mount to inform Docs Connolly and Garcetti that they had an injury coming in. If Zzzap had gotten the arm off in time, if they got to the Mount before Mark succumbed to shock, there was a chance he could still be saved. Regenerator was plain old Josh these days, the bite that had sent him into a coma for a month had also robbed him of his spectacular abilities to heal, but he was still a damn good doctor. If everything went well, it was possible that Mark would lose his arm and keep his life.
"How's he doing?" St. George asked, swinging up from Big Red's running boards.
"Serious shock," said Lady Bee. "Some blood loss. He's burning up. Not one hundred percent sure Zzzap got to him on time." From the back of the van, Lynne whimpered.
"He's going to be fine," St. George said, firmly. "We'll be home in less than ten minutes. Barry's already there, letting them know what happened." The truck swung hard at an intersection for emphasis.
Lynne's knuckles were white on her rifle. "Why didn't he just shoot it?" she asked, vividly remembering the stink of the ex as it lurched over her, as she fought it off, trying to keep its clacking teeth away from her skin. "Then maybe he wouldn't be--" The truck hit a bump, jostling the bed, and Mark groaned.
Cerberus looked down at her. "They're full of disease. You were under it. He killed it and any of the fluids got on you, you'd be the one dying right now."
The teen winced. "Is he dying?"
The armored titan shrugged. "Probably. He--"
"STOP!!" Lady Bee's voice echoed through the truck as she hammered on the roof of the cab. Luke slammed the brake to the floor, wrenching up the emergency brake. Big Red squealed on the pavement, leaving a trail of black rubber. Jarvis threw himself over Mark, holding the wounded man down. Cerberus staggered. Lady Bee pitched forward off the roof of the cab and St. George grabbed her as he lunged through the air.
It wasn't enough, though. Both front tires exploded. The truck dropped, stumbled forward, and the rear dually tires blew out. Big Red lurched a few more feet, limp wheels slapping the asphalt, and came to rest just between the crooked intersection of Melrose and New Hampshire. "Son of a BITCH!" bellowed Luke. He pounded on the steering wheel with both hands and then threw open the door. The cursing didn't stop as he examined a tire; if anything, it intensified. "Ruined. No patching these."
St. George set Lady Bee down, then poked a tire. "Don't suppose you happen to have six spares hidden away somewhere?"
"Yeah, let me just pull those out of my ass." Luke drove his boot into a sagging tire.
Cerberus glanced down the road. "How far are we from the Mount?"
"Little over a mile," said Lady Bee. "Too far to walk before dark. A bunch of blow outs and a nice, high-pitched brake squeal on a private evening? Every ex for six or seven blocks is going to be headed this way."
"Any guess how many that is?"
Bee shrugged and held her walkie up in the air. "Five, maybe six hundred? And to make matters worse, we're still too far to get a walkie signal."
"Even worse," boomed the battlesuit. "We're being jammed. There's something broadcasting wide-spectrum white noise nearby."
Behind the crippled truck, two of the other survivors, Andy and Lee, were sweeping the road with their feet while the other riders covered them. Something on the ground clinked and Lee bent down. "Shit," he swore. "Boss, come take a look at this." 'This' was a thick chain, the size used for trailer hitches and fences. A pair of nails were welded across each link; a line of spikes stretched out across the road. The chain was spray painted black and a couple of crumpled up old newspapers completed the camouflage. "Good eyes, Bee."
"Jammed and crippled," muttered Andy. "That sounds like a trap to me."
"Worse," said Lee, since everything about this situation was the worst. "A trap someone set since we drove by earlier."
Ty looked around. "The Seventeens?"
"Well it sure ain't the exes," said Lee.
Lynne gripped her rifle even tighter. "So what the hell's the point of this?"
"We get left out here," said Luke with another glare at Big Red's ruined tires. "Best case scenario, from their point of view, we stay here, the exes kill us all, they get half a truckload of supplies come morning. Worse case, we run away, the exes kill some of us, and they get half a truckload of supplies come morning."
Mark groaned, reminding them that there was another time-sensitive reason to get back to the Mount. Cerberus and St. George argued over who to send back to the Mount; Zzzap had flown off to prep the doctors but had no reason to think that they were more than five minutes out. By the time he realized that something had gone amiss and came looking, it would be full dark. None of the riders liked the thought of either hero leaving the truck, especially as the first exes came into view, clacking their teeth in anticipation of a hot meal.
"No more time for arguing," St. George said, stripping off his heavy jacket and tossing it into Big Red's cab. "I'll be quick. And I'll send Barry along to keep you charged until we can get another truck out."
"You'd better," Cerberus retorted. "I'll be red-lining the power already, providing defense against the exes."
St. George saluted, then took a deep breath and a few running steps from the truck. The air hissed, the darkness fled, and there was Zzzap, hovering above them. Hey, he buzzed. Not interrupting anything, am I?
St. George stumbled to a clumsy stop. "Bastard."
Saw this cloud when I was running to the Mount and thought I should head back and check it out.
Jarvis squinted at the gleaming outline. "What cloud?"
"He sees radio waves," said Cerberus.
Hey, did you guys know there's a signal jammer in that car over there? A fist of light slagged the jammer into dust and a second later, Cerberus nodded. All clear. Bee immediately hopped onto the walkie-talkie again, giving a full status report to the guards at the Melrose Gate. Her expressive face went quiet after a few moments and she nodded several times, mouth tightening when she glanced into the bed, where Mark was thrashing about.
"Looks like we're on our own for a bit," she said, heading back to the group a few minutes later.
"On our own?" Lynne squeaked. "Why? We're only a mile away! They can come and get us--"</small>
In the distance, gunfire sounded. A lot of gunfire. "This wasn't the real trap, guys," Bee said grimly. "We were meant to be the bait."
[NFI, NFB, taken and heavily adapted from Chapter Six of Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines. My apologies, should have been up earlier but augh, real life!]
- Ex-LA, Wednesday Evening