Zack Brannigan pulled himself out of bed. Channel 72 News wasn’t exactly pulling in the numbers, but they were still managing to hold on. The real issue was getting to any news early enough that it mattered- and with equipment. If a dozen people were on site recording with their phones, a news organization doing the same didn’t add anything. It only worked out when he was the only one there.
It was impossible to know where something might be happening in New Bay, but that was his job so he did his best. The issue was learning about something ahead of time and also being able to keep his camerawoman Jody and himself out of danger if they were to show up.
Just the other day they showed up to a hole that had apparently held Shooting Star for a few moments. If they’d caught an image of her there it would have been a story- without it, it would be a silly political move. Just because they’d run a few stories about Shooting Star’s glory hogging habits didn’t mean they’d be willing to try a story without a good image. It wouldn’t be worth it.
Normally people got out of bed in the morning- and Zack could still say that despite there being a significant nocturnal population. More trouble happened under the cover of night, but life was all about balancing risks. He wasn’t planning to go to the worst parts of the city and invite trouble, just sit in the van ready to speed over to anything newsworthy.
They’d managed to get some after-footage of a break in a couple nights before, but that was about it. He was hoping for something better. What he got was rats.
“There have been a lot of reports of large rats in the area,” Ice Guy said. “We don’t have confirmation of whether they’re real rats, or Rodentia’s. We’ll start at both ends of this section and work in.”
Tonight we were working in a smaller area, both because we had a specific reason and because with the Mod Squad we really could have used more people together. We’d never split up solo, of course- only certain types of supers could operate solo- but the teams of two had been reasonable for most expected situations.
The area we were in was a mix of storefronts and apartments- convenient for those nearby, depending on what they needed. There weren’t many people out and about and most places were closed, but we passed by a corner store that still had the lights on.
Shockfire and Acid Man were assigned with me, as previously planned. Whatever sort of rats might be in the area, Acid Man was a good ally to have along. The other team would do well with swarms as well- both Ice Guy and Rocker could handle them. Midnight could use my magic, but only Sonic Lance was really effective against groups- and only if they were really packed in.
“Lots of electronics in this district,” Shockfire commented. “Also, some of these places are leaving way too much of their stuff on. They’re just wasting power. Guess it’s cheap enough they don’t care.”
The other two of us didn’t have much to say in response. We just kept alert as we passed by alleys and the like. I actually noticed something move first. “There,” I pointed. “Is that something?”
It scurried off even as I pointed, but Shockfire nodded, “I think I felt it going towards the back of that shop.” As we walked closer, he held out his hands to stop us. “Careful, there’s more than a couple.”
We kept in communication with the others, and they were approaching the front- the building took up almost half a block, at least depthwise. As we approached, we suddenly heard shouting. Not from our companions, but from inside. “Rats!”
There was more shouting, and the sound of something breaking. More importantly, I heard a vaguely familiar mechanical sound. Some sort of ‘bwooo’ or whatever. We came right up onto the rear, which had the metal doors that rolled up common for things that needed to load and unload many things.
“I’ll get us in,” Acid Man said. Since we’d heard an incident, breaking into the building was totally acceptable- and as long as we didn’t damage anything, they’d thank us even if there weren’t the problems we expected. He walked right over to the door, then turned into a puddle of acid. Strangely enough when he pressed against the door he acted more like a goo, bunching up around the seam. It seemed there was some squeeze room, however, as within a few moments the bulge disappeared, the trailing bits being pulled in after. Then the door was rolled up. “Careful!” Acid Man called out.
I could see why he said that. I could see not only a trail of various sized rats carrying various bits of metal on their backs, but also people who looked suspiciously like the Mod Squad- one of which had rats swarming over him.
Acid Man quickly dove into the fray, like a tidal wave crashing over the smaller rats. Their movements were restricted and I was quite glad that they only had metal bits underneath the surface.
I quickly provided Stoneskin for Shockfire, then crushed one of my better mana crystals. Using them one at a time seemed to be safe- and while it was only a few extra mana, that was kind of like being a few levels higher. Eventually I hoped to be able to make larger ones, but that wasn’t the case quite yet.
I tried to pick out a target. Mod Squad cyborgs were rather recklessly firing beams at the surrounding area, shelves of electronics that were fortunately not terribly flammable. Whatever the beam was, it could set things on fire. It seemed rude to attack them even though they were doubtless trying to rob the place as well, but attacking a swarm of rats caring off stuff wasn’t quite appropriate either.
I kept mental track of Midnight so that I could apply Stoneskin to both of us once he was close enough. I didn’t have to be able to see him, but somewhere around a hundred feet was the limit. Maybe more with an upgraded bond, but not much.
Deciding that throwing some confusion into the mix could help, I scattered Dancing Lights among part of the swarm crawling along with their ill-gotten gains. I swirled the lights around randomly, and it seemed to be slightly useful.
Midnight was almost close enough, which meant the others would be closing in. They should be at the front right about- the sound of a strumming guitar and a door blowing off its hinges somewhere out front indicated they were all there. Before the rats could take too much notice of me I cast Stoneskin on myself and Midnight.
Acid Man was making his way through the swarm of rats, and was now mixed in with the Mod Squad cyborgs. While they were screaming and flailing, I could tell he wasn’t dissolving them. Shockfire and I couldn’t help the people without risking injury to them, but just because they were criminals didn’t mean we shouldn’t save them. Then promptly arrest them, but that was on their head.
Ice Guy burst into the room, quickly taking in the situation we’d already relayed. He shot a sphere of ice which encased one of the Mod Squad and all of the rats on them. “Acid Man, you help us here. You two, take Rocker and follow the trail!” A tendril of green goop formed a thumb’s up, showing great improvement in Acid Man’s flexibility. I saw Midnight pounce on one of the rats… then look quite surprised. It took me a moment to realize why, but he’d used Storage- maybe to try to get the little box it was carrying away from it. Instead, the rat was gone.
Not exactly efficient, since we could only store a few smaller rats, but I might use a similar trick if there was anything I needed to grab. Before saving stuff however, we had to make sure people were safe.
Back out in the alley, the trail of rats was fairly obvious once I looked beyond a dumpster. They scurried along in a corner of the alley, around a bend and… then around a van. They were mostly small rats and were only beginning to cover the front, but I could see two people inside.
“I’m going to burn them away,” Shockfire said.
“Wait!” I held up a hand. “Let me try to protect the van first!” I hadn’t really used spells on vehicles before, but Energy Ward did work on what people were wearing. Otherwise it would have major drawbacks.
I didn’t want to walk into the swarm, so I used Mage’s Reach, shoving it forward as quickly as possible while Shockfire was still getting in position. I felt the magic flow onto and around the van, so it should have worked some.
Rocker took an opportunity to blast away some of those on the ground away from… most things, at least. “Yeaaah!” Mechanical rats scattered everywhere- and some turned their eyes on us.
“Do it!” I said to Shockfire, who immediately sprayed a cone of fire from his hands. My trick definitely worked, as tons of mechanical rats began to fall apart while the van itself remained sturdy.
The trail of rats didn’t take to the attack kindly and began to crawl over us. I stomped and smashed at them, and when there were a few at a time trying to bit into my ankles and legs I used Shocking Grasp. Shockfire could zap the ones touching him as well, and Rocker had a sort of constant sonic thing pushing them away. We managed to deal with that swarm- after which we could see the news van with a familiar Zack Brannigan inside. I could also see about half of the engine scattered about the alleyway having already been disassembled by the rats.
Back inside, there was one Mod Squad member who had only one arm and leg, mechanical ones having been snatched by rats. He was restrained with a couple others, but they were all basically unharmed- any scratches and bites were more coincidence than intent. The shelves of the storage area were about a quarter cleaned out, and on the other side we found what had formerly been a very fancy getaway van stripped nearly clean of parts, with a terrified man sitting where the wheel had been.
All in all it was a good night. We saved some people, caught some perpetrators, destroyed some others, and kept a storage area kind of intact, minus the parts the cyborg beams had cut through and all that. And I learned magic worked on cars. Though really it generally worked on most objects, and I just didn’t have reason to most of the time.
Also, robotic rats fit in storage… which was cool.
Zack Brannigan was glad that Jody had the same commitment to the news as he did. By the time they’d noticed the weird noises in the engine they couldn’t start the van, and then they’d started swarming up trying to get inside. It was terrifying, and amazing footage.
Getting out of the van to do follow-up interviews was nerve wracking, even after learning that the rats weren’t interested in people. He got tons of great footage of the rats- apparently a product of Rodentia- as well as some Mod Squad gang members who had been involved in a robbery at the same time.
And it was Mage’s squad. He’d had good luck with that guy recently. Maybe with other things, in a way. It turned out that by pure coincidence they’d parked the van over a sewer grate the rats had been using. “Are you going to follow them down?” Zack asked of the squad leader.
“Not at this moment,” Ice Guy said. “The important thing is to keep civilians safe, followed by business property. Though there will no doubt be follow-up investigations to take down this villain.”
Sadly there weren’t civilians around to interview and express how grateful they were to be saved- and spending too long on camera thanking people as a news crew would be a bit much- but they could certainly ride this incident for a while. And maybe he could find out more about these rats. Without going into the sewers, preferably.