“What do you think he did with the bomb? I mean, I doubt he left it in the car.” Max asked Stewart as they advanced.
“Shh, Max. You talk too much.” Stewart said.
“I was just wondering.”
Sentry seemed glad to see them. From his position on top of Aubrey he looked like a rapist caught in the act, a happy rapist. He stood up and put his hand out in front of him, Aubrey grasped it and he pulled her to her feet.
Max found using his zombie vision was much more precise than it was before, he could discern subtleties he hadn’t noticed before and he was having almost no difficulties using it while still maintaining his normal vision. Aubrey wasn’t on Sentry’s side, nor was she under his heel yet, what Sentry did was designed to convey a message that all was well, but it was merely a front. Max steeled himself for what was to come next and Sentry didn’t disappoint. A wave of mental power slammed into them and sent Stewart to her knees. Stewart reached her hand up to Max and he grasped it tightly as her mind was buffeted like a flag in the wind. Max shaped his mind like a knife and started to counter Sentry’s efforts immediately, but not directly.
Instead of putting up a wall for Sentry to wear down, Max envisioned a ship, riding out the storm as wave after wave crashed into him. While he was keeping his mind afloat he started to grab the packets of orders Sentry was sending out to Aubrey, Katie, the other zombies, and towards Stewart. Slowly he started changing them, subverting the attacks to make them ineffective. At first Sentry didn’t notice what was happening, then Aubrey snatched her hand from his and stumbled away from him.
Sentry glanced at her and forced his mind into a lance to penetrate Aubrey’s defenses for the last time and bring her into compliance with his will. That moment was all Stewart needed, from her knees she launched herself at Sentry and pushed the man backwards away from Aubrey. With Sentry’s attention broken, Max started to try and handle more and more of the messages that the man was sending. The effort to handle the traffic took all of Max’s attention, but he finally had Sentry isolated, unable to send out anything that Max couldn’t twist. For the moment Max just converted all of the outgoing orders to “You are free! Do what you want!” and it was working the zombies in the room started to recover and slowly began to move again.
Katie dropped the duffel bag onto the ground and it looked to Max like she was talking, but he couldn’t hear her over the sound of the rain and thunder outside. Aubrey put her hands to her head and slowly sank to her knees rocking back and forth. On the ground Sentry started to glow.
“Stewart! Get back!” Max shouted, knowing what was coming.
Stewart didn’t let go of the man, she grabbed him more tightly and as Max watched she started to share the glow with Sentry, her skin became translucent first, then her clothing, until she was a bright light attached to Sentry on the ground. Pulling back her hand Stewart punched the doctor in the head. Her blow had little effect, so she hit him again, then started to beat him repetitively, sitting up on his torso and raining blows down on him with both hands.
Sentry watched each blow come down and didn’t react to any of them. Finally, with a shrug, he exploded. That was what it looked like to Max anyway, one minute there were two glowing people on the floor blackening the concrete, in the next Stewart was flying up into the beams high overhead and everything else around Sentry was pushed forcefully away from him. When the dust cleared, Max saw the man rise to his feet, he looked ten feet tall and radiated an aura of despair. Max felt overwhelmed, ‘How can we stop this?´ The doctor brushed some imaginary dust off of his spotless white jacket, then smiled as Stewart fell to the ground beside Max.
“I didn’t want to do this. I like being subtle and I would prefer to have allies by my side than to have slaves to trod under my feet, but you have made your decision haven’t you Max?” The orders Sentry sent out doubled and then tripled, overwhelming Max’s ability to deal with them.
Seeing the packets of details escape him, like running water through his fingers almost prompted Max to give in completely. Stewart stood behind him and leaned to whisper in his ear.
“Just keep him off of us. We’ll do the rest.”
Max looked around and found that there were just five people left in the warehouse, he could sense super zombies running like mad to get away from the area and he found Ruben a quarter mile away, carrying Bill at a jog in a beeline down the coastal road. Examining the people in a quarter mile radius he found that Sentry was only spending about half his efforts to bend them to his will; the other orders were going out all around the world.
‘I can’t solve anything if I am dead.’ Max thought, ‘Time to see if I can play defense.’ With that thought he switched his ability to intercept the packets going only towards the people around him in the warehouse, anyone else out there was on their own. To do this he formed four tight circles around the people in the warehouse, parrying each effort by Sentry to reach them.
Sentry didn’t seem to sense that Max had changed anything and he turned back to Aubrey, “First things, first. Here is my offer to you, a paternal partnership. Join me as a goddess of our people or die and be forgotten.”
Aubrey lunged for him. Sentry batted her aside, but then Stewart was there, weighing down one arm and trying to tug him to the ground again. The doctor didn’t budge, he tossed Stewart into the wall to one side where she crushed a section of the concrete wall before falling to the floor. Aubrey returned to the action and hit Sentry in the back, staggering him forward.
Max did his best to subvert the orders Sentry was sending, but a few were getting through to his companions due to the pure volume the zombie was sending out. This worked both for and against Max, he couldn’t create orders of his own and Sentry wasn’t sure if what he sent would get through, so he kept sending a stream, which enabled Max to amend anything he missed the first time. The result for Aubrey was a stuttering sort of movement that made the physical battle easier for Sentry. Stewart seemed to adjust better to the wreath of protection Max was bestowing upon her. Katie wasn’t; she was still struggling inside, despite what Max was doing. She just stood over her duffle bag, muttering to herself.
Sentry grabbed Stewart when she came at him, though both were the fastest of blurs to Max and he didn’t see how either could intercept the other at the speeds they were moving. Sentry grasped both of Stewart’s arms in his hands and swung her out from him into Aubrey as the woman came at him. Both women went down in a broken pile and sprang up quickly, but Max noted slowness in the two women that he hadn’t seen before; they were hurt.
The shotgun blast took Sentry from behind and staggered him forward two steps. Another shot, another two steps, he turned to recover and Katie shot him in the head, rocking him backwards, but not knocking him down. Katie stepped forward with each shot, her hand under the barrel fed in another shell with every step.
Sentry took four shots before he reacted, he moved towards Katie, glowing white, she slammed the butt of the shotgun into his face and dodged out of the way, when he went to follow her Stewart tackled his legs, tripping him and allowing Katie to get some distance away. Aubrey tried for a high tackle, but through luck or skill Sentry ducked and the woman flew over his crouched body without touching him. Sentry peeled Stewart off of his legs and flung her into the far wall of the warehouse once again.
The doctor launched a fresh attack on Aubrey, stepping over to where she was tottering on her feet only to be hit by another blast from the shotgun. Max’s face was showing the strain from his mental battle with Sentry; it felt like his brain was ready to ignite. Katie fired three times in rapid succession, driving Sentry towards Max. Aubrey, taking a page from Stewart’s book, dodged low behind the Doctor and one more blast sent him staggering to the ground at Max’s feet.
‘I know what I have to do.’ It was so simple Max didn’t understand why he didn’t think of it before. He fell onto Sentry, making a connection with him like he had with Bill. Stewart landed at his side in the next instance, and then Aubrey was there, wrapping the man’s legs in her vise-like grip. Katie stood above them reloading slowly. Max was fighting a losing battle with Sentry, the man’s mind was an unassailable fortress. The intimate touch he had experienced with his friend was not replicated with Sentry, the details were still there, but Max felt dirty, tainted by the touch. ‘I can’t win this fight.’ Looking at Stewart he lowered his face to Sentry’s throat and pinched the man’s flesh between his teeth.
The skin, unbroken by numerous gunshot and blows, parted like dry parchment under Max’s bite.
“No!” Stewart screamed.
Max knew he couldn’t pass on his infection to the doctor. The doctor was already dead and whatever Max was carrying had to pass between the living. Still it seemed to have some effect on the doctor, his throat started to smolder. The wound closed almost as soon as Max ripped away the skin, leaving behind a smoky haze
Katie lowered the shotgun to Sentry’s throat and when Max pulled another fleshful away, she fired into the wound, splattering Max’s face with the dark blood of the dead. If this affected Sentry in any way he didn’t show it. Nor did he stop his invasion of Max’s mind. Max was trying to maintain a control of his physical ability, so he could keep holding the doctor down and keep biting him. The doctor was invading other parts of Max’s mind, examining and discarding the memories at lightning speed.
The partial memories of everything from Max’s childhood to the fights he had with his wife were tossed out with reckless abandon, shattering his mind in a wake of destruction as Max fought to hold on for just a few more seconds until…. ‘Until what? The cavalry saves the day? My only hope is that the goddamned bomb goes off and Ruben didn’t even have it with him.’
Sentry caught the last part of Max’s thought and focused on the bomb reference and on Ruben, immediately everything Max knew Sentry had access too.
“You stupid fool!” Sentry hissed, throwing everyone off of him and rising to his feet better than the star of a kung fu movie. Katie gave him another blast to the face that slowed Sentry down for a moment as he turned towards the open hanger door. Aubrey caught one foot, Stewart caught the other and Katie fired again, the force was enough to lay Sentry out on the floor and Max retained just enough of himself to land on the man’s back once again.
Pushing to his knees, Sentry inexorably rose. Katie, out of ammunition, slammed him in the back of the head with the shotgun butt, shattering it into a thousand splinters of walnut. Max crawled up Sentry’s body and grabbed the man in a wrestling move he hadn’t used since college, holding him around the torso. This afforded Max a good view of Stewart, clinging desperately to Sentry’s leg.
Max smiled at Stewart and looked into her eyes, searching his mind for words to express what he was feeling. In the end he merely nodded politely, unable to find what he needed to say. Stewart returned his nod and said, “Don’t worry Max, I know. You’ve been a good partner. I love you too.”
The group fighting Sentry had a brief moment of clarity, of knowing that they had fought when called upon and somehow understanding at the last second that the fight was over and they had won.
Ruben’s bomb exploded.
There were two waves to the bomb that those in the fight noticed immediately. The first was a blast that virtually destroyed every atom of material that it came into contact with, including the physical beings of those fighting in the warehouse. The combatants were not destroyed on a spiritual plane and the fight continued at another level even as the explosion destroyed their surroundings.
The second wave created by the blast sucked material into the point of the explosion to fill the vacuum of the first wave. Unlike the airburst in Denver, this bomb created a crater, reshaping the coastline into a new harbor that was a quarter mile deep. At the edges of the explosion there was an eerily clear demarcation where the force of the bomb ended. This edge lasted for the merest of seconds before being eroded away as air swept into the void left by the explosion.