The Night Howler never had any regrets—until he felt his esophagus caving in from the weight pressing onto his carbon fiber armor. For the first time in his twenty-seven years of fighting crime, he felt helpless. His adversary was getting the better of him. It was a first for the villainous Blackout, if he could even be categorized as such in his cheap biker jacket and pleather pants . . . but it would be his last.
“Your age is showing, Howler,” Blackout said as he leaned into Night Howler’s neck with the armored plating attached to his forearm. “Now prepare for a blackout!”
If Night Howler could roll his eyes, he would. Even Blackout, in his outdated cracked leather attire, was playing up the cliché one-liners that criminals had been adopting over the last few years.
But there was no time to reflect on that. Night Howler was in a bind. Literally. His arms were pinned down by Blackout’s muscular legs and padded armor. But what Blackout overcompensated for in strength, he lacked in intellect. It was something Night Howler had noticed with the current generation of criminals: all flash, no substance. If Blackout had done his research, he’d know of Night Howler’s upgraded suit, now with built-in repulsor technology.
Night Howler lifted his heel a few inches off the ground and slammed it down, triggering a high-pitched noise—a backup method to wind up his suits power for situations just like this. This quickly caught Blackout’s attention, and for a moment he loosened his grip, reeling back. Almost simultaneously, Night Howler drove his knee into Blackout from behind and, with the momentum, threw him across the rooftop they’d been wrestling on.
He winced from the pain of the impact but ignored it, lunging for Blackout before he had a chance to get up. Positioned on top of him now, Night Howler pulled his index finger down once and middle finger down twice, as if he were typing in some sort of code. The knuckle padding on his gloves began to glow an electric blue. He cocked his fist back.
“Good night, Blackout.”
Blackout’s head recoiled against the tarred rooftop, then hung to the side. Out cold. Night Howler wasn’t too proud of his one-liner, but it had felt like the right thing to say in the moment. Right by today’s standards, anyway.
Night Howler staggered onto one knee and grabbed it, letting out a seething groan. He adjusted the knee brace underneath his armor and slowly propped himself up onto his feet. He massaged his aching joints, then flipped up his wrist to check the battery gauge built into his armor. It read 1% then dropped to 0%.
If only he’d known, Night Howler thought.
The high-pitched sound that had come from his suit was a last gasp. Had Blackout waited one more second to react, he would have surely kept his upper hand.
Night Howler walked to the edge of the roof, passing by a half dozen antennas and satellite dishes, and leaned forward, peering down into the street. He attempted to suck in his gut as his utility belt dug into his hardened beer belly. His long black cape flapped in the wind while the breeze picked up, carrying the smell of exhaust fumes and burnt asphalt. One by one, streetlights flicked on as the remaining light from the setting sun gradually dwindled. Police sirens whirred in the distance. Cars and trucks revved their motors. The incessant honking and screeching brakes of rush-hour traffic pierced his ears.
Without looking down, he reached into his utility belt and pulled a cigarette out of a pack, lighting it. The glow of the cherry revealing the five o’clock shadow around his exposed mouth and square jaw. Just above, his mask squeezed his face, with a long beak covering his nose and protruding ears reminiscent of an owl’s head. To anyone unaware of his legacy, he looked like an old man playing dress-up for a cosplay convention.
He turned to look back at Blackout. REM sleep in full effect. Night Howler cracked his neck from side to side and started to rub his throat.
That’s the last time I skimp on binding upgrades.
A phone started ringing. Night Howler fished for the cell phone attached to his utility belt and pulled it out. There was only a handful of people who could be calling him.
“Hello?” he answered, keeping his voice low and gruff, as if whoever was calling didn’t know the face behind the mask.
“Howler, it’s PV.” Prince Vulture, the young prodigy. The heroic embodiment of the twenty-first century, with its short attention spans, instant gratification, and flashy style. “Where are you?”
“I’m downtown, near City Hall. Blackout is . . . out.”
“That’s awesome! Good job, Howler. Can you meet me down at the precinct? I’ve got a surprise for ya.”
His voice was coming in faint and unclear, like his mouth was far away from the receiver.
“Vulture, take me off speaker.”
The sound cut out for a second. Night Howler took a pull from his cigarette. A second later Prince Vulture came in clearer.
“Sorry, NH. Is this better?”
“I said come to the precinct. I’ve got a surprise for ya.”
He always hated the way Prince Vulture said ya, like he didn’t care enough to put in the effort to sound out the whole word.
Night Howler hung up without responding. He took one more deep pull of his cigarette, flicked it off the edge of the building, then stepped back. With Blackout still out cold, he began zip-tying his limbs.