Carnage. The clash of metal on metal sounded as Conthan struck the crawling synthetic. Stepping on the machine’s back, he swatted with the bat. Exhaustion set in during the first skirmish amidst the towering skyscrapers of Chicago’s downtown, now only stubbornness remained. Another swipe of the bat and the head knocked free, skipping down the street like a smooth stone along a pond’s glassy surface.

The street had been destroyed, the train rails spilling onto the road. Three massive mechs lie against the support columns, blackened holes in the center of each. Cars turned on their side burned brightly while glass fell from stories above, smashing to millions of tiny pieces. It’d be months if not years before the residents were able to return to these battlefield ruins.

The bodies covered the ground in every direction. The killing machines didn’t identify soldiers or citizens, blind to class and rank as they opened fire. What the military originally believed was a thousand synthetics must have been twice that. Not that it mattered, the robots were dead, mostly.

The teleporter collapsed to his knees in the middle of the street. The baseball bat rolled from his hands. Conthan feared he’d be the next in a line of soldiers abandoned while the front line progressed. Would he be alive to watch another sunrise? Or would a stray synthetic do away with him, extinguishing his light? Even if he died, Conthan took pleasure in knowing he’d given them hell on the way out the door.

The large confrontations hadn’t been a problem. No, they turned into army versus army as each fought for a tactical advantage. The most gruesome events came as they chased individual synthetics into abandoned buildings. Marines died one by one, trapped and isolated in those hallways. 

Chaos broke out as they fought through office buildings, along rooftops and demolished the Warden’s army one robot at a time. If it hadn’t been for a Marine or Dwayne or even one of Needle’s stolen synthetics at his back, he’d be dead a dozen times over. He only survived this long thanks to the loyalty created by war.

Conthan feared to look down at the wound along his abdomen. Seeing the blood seeping through the t-shirt would only make the ache worse. The memory of fingers reaching inside the hole and tearing it wider persisted. As the adrenaline in his body ran dry, the pain increased. A growl forced its way out of his lips as he got one foot under him. He stubbornly stood. The growl turned into a loud groan as black spots violated his vision.

The orange and yellow hues of the street lights vanished and he prepared to lose consciousness. A desaturated Gretchen held him, her powers washing over his already spotty vision. Her grip tightened, holding him up as much as holding him still. Two synthetics hovered at the mouth of an alley, searching for the prey that suddenly eluded their trackers.

“Not much further to the tower.” Gretchen’s voice betrayed her stoic determination. Covered in more blood than him, her role had been to safeguard the fallen. Bullet wounds, concussions, missing limbs, this night removed any ability to ever be squeamish again. Like him, she was an artist, and after the sights of men’s eyes freezing open as death took hold, they’d never be able to partake in 

Guns fired, bullets striking the metal robot hides. They had run out of explosive rounds and heavy artillery an hour ago. Now, even the most advanced rifle might as well shoot hugs and kittens. At least the kitten had a chance of leaving a scratch. 

The well in Conthan’s chest, the imaginary location where his powers resided had been bled dry. His last super powered act had been opening a portal large enough to march Needle’s robotic army into the middle of the battle. After that, he relied on his charm, good looks, and enhanced strength to beat robots to death. Once it had been a source of anger management, but it lost its fun when there was a significant chance of dying.

A screeching car shot down the street, tires spinning relentlessly while they blackened the pavement. Gretchen pulled Conthan to the side of the road as the car zipped by, nearly missing them. The two machines fixated weapons on the vehicle, littering the hood and front windshield with a spray of bullets. The car turned, jumping the sidewalk.

Catching the synthetics in the grill of the car, it smashed against a building, knocking bricks loose. Three Marines descended upon the robots, jamming pieces of metal into the neck hydraulics and pulling until the heads tore loose. A bit of satisfaction danced upon their tired faces as the synthetics powered down, damaged beyond repair.

Alyssa shoved the door open, staggering as she squeezed out of the demolished vehicle. It took Conthan a moment to realize her hair flowed around her shoulders, her hijab goes missing. He could only imagine she sacrificed her modesty for a tourniquet or packing to stop a bleeding wound. The sacrifice paled compared to the number of dead bodies littering the streets, but the idea she set aside a piece of her identity for this fight bothered him none the less.

A mile away, a flare rocketed into the sky. The heap of white light soared above the buildings. Gretchen let go just in time for Conthan to see the explosion. Yellow. Tiny sparks rained down on the streets below, a shower of tiny cadmium lemon flecks. For the first time that night, another squadron of soldiers were reporting in. Yellow. The marigold light signaled victory. The tides were shifting. 

Another yellow flare lit the distant sky. The soldiers behind him cheered, life breathed into their weary limbs by the potential win. Throughout the night they witnessed red flares, green flares, orange flares, they signaled defeat, confrontation, and retreat. The colors of a lost cause had been abundant. A man behind them shouted, his hand pointing just East of the first flare. Another flare reached the sky and a burst of yellow shoved strength into Conthan’s stomach, easing the pain. As one of the Marine’s to his side raised a flare gun, he looked to Conthan for approval. A simple nod launched a flare.

Yellow.

Conthan staggered forward as a dozen battered rogue synthetics followed his command. Behind them, wounded soldiers held one another, determined to push on. The humans were bloodied, missing limbs, in desperate need of medical attention, and there was nothing he could do. He drained himself of power, his imaginary well dry. As the cheers continued, Conthan raised a fist in the air and let out a series of howls. When his powers were nowhere to be found, Conthan rose to the occasion. Now Children and humans alike followed behind him. He was more than the sum of his powers. 

As the darkness descended upon Chicago, Conthan discovered that it wasn’t his powers that made him a leader, or even a fighter. An unwillingness to give up pulsed through his veins. When his powers vanished, he picked up a gun. When he ran out of bullets, he relied on his fists. The tenacity of his determination served him more than his ability to teleport. Even now, powerless, and nearing the threshold where pain threatened to cripple him, he led on.