“Is that all of ’em?” Dash asked, between heavy gasps of air.
Strong looked around, then darted across the square and back before Dash finished blinking. “I didn’t see anyone, but maybe we need Stretch.” Unlike Dash, his breathing was normal.
“Need me for what?” Stretch yelled. They looked up, and up. Shading their eyes, Dash and Strong saw a Stretch-shaped silhouette poking from a broken window in the building behind them. He looked to be ten stories up.
“If you see or hear any more damn robots,” Dash said under his breath, groaning to stand. He coughed in the thick, smoky atmosphere.
“Okay!” Stretch called back.
“I’ll pop over and see if Rad’s found that submarine,” Strong said quickly, and was off before the other two even thought to respond.
Dash looked up to the building again. He could vaguely make out Stretch, through the naturally-waning light of dusk mixing poorly with the smoking fires from the armored vehicles around him.
Stretch’s shape cupped hands around its mouth. “All clear!” He shouted. “I’m. heading. down.”
A small breeze passed between the skyscrapers, clearing smoke and cooling Dash’s sweating face. He couldn’t see any movement either, but had learned to never count on his limited sight.
“Nothing to report from Rad yet,” Strong said, at Dash’s elbow. Not surprising, the huge man nearly jumped out of his spandex.
“Sorry,” Strong added quickly, grinning.
Dash waited for his heart rate to slow, clapping a giant hand over his chest as he recovered. He was tempted to “accidentally” clap his speedy associate on the shoulder in response; but that sort of trick only worked once, and once had come a long time ago already.
Deliberate, even footfalls echoed behind them. They turned to see a tall woman with a wet, black ponytail jogging through the rapidly-clearing mists. “Rad,” Dash said, happy that the approaching steps had not belonged to more enemies.
“Strong. Dash.” Radio acknowledged, as she reached them. She tucked a stray strand behind her ear calmly, subconsciously smoothing her minuscule gills as well. “I searched most of the bay, and could not find our target.”
The door of the nearest building opened, and Stretch descended the stairs to join the party.
“I may have heard a motor in the water just before the robot army opened fire,” Stretch told Radio. She gave him an exasperated look, to which he shrugged.
“Next time, tell Rad before she has to get her feet wet,” Dash reprimanded the forgetful Stretch. Sometimes, he felt Stretch missed obvious sights and sounds as he sought the subtle ones.
Strong bounced up on his heels, impatient. “Where’s Shade?” He blurted.
Dash looked around quickly -quickly for him. “I don’t know! I forgot she was with us during the fight!” He couldn’t believe he’d lost track of her.
Radio laid her hand gently on his massive bicep. “It’s okay, Dash. She usually waits in the plane. I forgot she came along, as well.” She turned to Strong, raising a dark eyebrow expectedly.
“Right,” Strong said, and was gone before he was done speaking.
“Didn’t Snipe come along, too?” Stretch asked Dash. Dash rubbed a sooty hand in his short, blond hair, considering.
“I don’t know.” He concluded.
“Well,” Stretch joked, “If you don’t know, we’ll never find her.” He laughed his nasally snorting chuckle for a bit, then stopped when no one joined in.
Radio looked sideways at Stretch. “Isn’t that your area of expertise?” She queried.
Chastened, Stretch nodded. “I’ll… um, I’ll go look around,” he said, and headed into the damaged square. The only lingering smoke was centered around a few smoldering trucks, but it was enough to irritate his movement-tracking.
“I wish you’d found that sub,” Dash grunted. “I’d like to smash the guy that just blew up a whole city block.”
Radio closed her eyes in agreement, then opened them to meet Dash’s fierce scowl. “I did sense a somewhat warmer stream near a suspicious outcropping,” she told him. His scowl cleared. “But,” she continued, “I lacked the necessary strength to move it.”
Dash was thinking about possible options, that would hopefully not put him under water, when the streak of Strong returned. Dash opened his mouth, then closed it at Strong’s panicked expression.
“I need you, now,” he said, and was off again. Dash and Radio spent a precious half-second to look at each other, then ran in the direction Strong had. They caught brief glimpses of him as they moved, impatiently tapping a foot or literally bouncing up and down as he watched their much slower progress.
Dash cursed mentally, lacking the energy to do so aloud. He had trouble enough keeping tabs on Strong’s position in normal situations. In the waning sunset light, amidst the battle detritus, he had an easier time following Radio’s wagging ponytail than Strong’s intermittent pauses.
The more lithe Radio pulled ahead of Dash, who was breathing heavily again. She disappeared around a sideways assault vehicle; he pumped his stocky legs to catch up. As such, Dash nearly ran right into the back of her.
He bent over, supporting himself on the vehicle’s undercarriage, gasping. The metalwork groaned. “Careful!” Strong cautioned, raising his hands. “You’ll crush her!”
Peering around Radio, Dash saw the prone form of Shadow. The poor woman’s arms were wrapped several times around a deactivated robot’s carapace. Both lay in the shadow of the amtrack Strong was pushing against. He desisted, supporting himself on his knees, instead.
Radio drew closer, carefully. “I think it’s dead,” Strong guessed.
Dash straightened slightly, and stalked forward to check. Radio would be better at helping Shadow anyway, if she could be helped. He kept him eyes down, on the robot, focusing on its inanimate body.
“She’s still breathing,” Radio noted, as she squatted. Dash and Strong let out relieved sighs.
Dash began routine diagnostic checks on the robot, initially verifying that it held no self-destruct automations. He tried to ignore how Radio’s efforts pulled his project side to side; how her concerned mutterings grew anxious. Finally, Dash found a small, pulsing power source.
“Stop!” He commanded Radio, who had successfully unwound a layer of Shadow’s left arm. She paused, holding the oddly-flat appendage. Strong jumped and was suddenly at Radio’s side. Under their undivided stare, he pointed to the faintly-glowing battery. Strong immediately backed a few hundred yards away, though Radio held her position.
“It’s not completely dead, but that’s probably why Shadow isn’t, either,” Dash called to the flighty Strong. Radio nodded.
“I see,” she said, looking up into Dash’s sweating, dirty face. Dash saw that she remembered the last time a team member had approached a recently-destroyed robot; the last time they had fought with the naive, young, and overeager Invincible.
Strong remembered as well, choosing to keep his wary distance. “Get her off and run!” He recommended.
“I’ll need to do it, Rad,” Dash urged, gently. She nodded once, set Shadow’s arm down carefully, stood, and retreated toward Strong’s position.
Dash looked at the pulsing light, at the position of Shadow’s wrappings, and at the dead visual sensors of the robot. Somehow, Shadow had applied enough pressure to disconnect its receivers without turning it completely off. “She must have passed out from exertion,” he mumbled. Shadow groaned, barely audibly.
Attempting to imitate the gentler Radio, Dash continued her work of unwinding Shadow’s twisting limbs. He kept glancing anxiously from the arms, to the light, to the robot’s head. He kept his ears tuned for the telltale beeping of an activated self-destruct.
He needed only to lift the robot body once more, to free the last layer of arms, when he heard the warning knell. “Strong!” He shouted, lifting the metal casing. Before the last echoes of his comrade’s name could fade -just before throwing the flashing, fiery, exploding robot over the armored vehicle; Strong came. Dash saw Shadow’s body pulled free and quickly removed from sight.
Dash felt a sudden, heavy pressure on his back as the assault vehicle fell onto him. His ears rang with sound; his face felt singed. Dash coughed. “I guess I’m not the handsomest guy on the team anymore,” he told the churned-up asphalt beneath him.
Someone else coughed, very near to his crouched position. “What makes you say you ever were?” Sniper’s voice asked, from just outside the vehicle. Dash pushed up, throwing the car from him, to glare around.
Sniper laughed her tinkling laugh, from the deepening twilight nearby. “If you’re finished resting, let’s go check on Shadow.”
Dash grunted, and limped to where Strong had been. Holding a wall of rubble for support, he made his way around a small pile of passenger cars and down a deep groove. “Strong?” He called. “Rad?”
“They’re just ahead,” Sniper’s soft, mischievous voice told him. She sounded a few feet behind him, but he could never be sure.
They cleared an upturned truck on a ridge of street, and found the rest of the party. Stretch looked up as Dash approached, apologetic. “I couldn’t find -” he began, but Dash held up a hand. Sniper giggled, and Stretch’s expression changed.
“That’s enough,” Dash admonished, then turned to Radio. “How is she?”
“She’s alive,” Strong responded without hesitation. He sensed Dash’s disappointed stare. “What?”
“We need to get her back immediately, but she is alive.” Radio smiled gratefully at Dash, then turned to Strong. “Thank you, Strong, for rushing to grab her.”
Strong looked modest, and pleased. Dash considered defending his pride, but agreed with Radio about the praise. When they’d needed him most, Strong hadn’t hesitated.
“Will you carry her, please?” Radio addressed Dash. Nodding, he stooped to cradle the fragile Shadow. She weighed nothing in his enormous arms. He looked around at the battle-scarred, smoke-smudged group -except for Sniper, of course.
“You know we can’t take the plane now,” Sniper piped up, from next to Radio. Radio started slightly, but tried to cover her surprise. Reacting to Sniper only encouraged her.
“You’re right; we’ll have to walk,” Dash acknowledged. Shadow was their only pilot. He hoped he could make it to headquarters.
“No problem,” Strong said, and was off. Darkness was falling, but even daylight would not have helped them follow his trail.
“Show-off,” Sniper’s voice said, in Dash’s ear.