Puck followed the signs and skated towards the Data Centre.
Fenris ran to her side. ‘I WONT BOTHER TRYING TO GUIDE YOU THIS TIME, RUNT. EVERY TIME I DO, YOU JUST DISOBEY ME. YOU HAVE GOOD INSTINCTS. FOLLOW THEM.’
Puck nodded. ‘Right.’
Fenris ran away.
Ahead, a hundred servicemen were about to breach the door to the Data Centre tower block. SWAT police, soldiers, marines, and a dozen other outfits Puck didn’t recognise were armed to the teeth and out for blood. It was like the end of The Blues Sisters.
‘Could you hosers get out of the way please?' she said. 'I’d kill you, but I’m kind of in a rush right now.’
They all turned their guns on her.
One of them held a hand up to stop the others. It was a Texas Ranger wearing a cowboy hat, a gas mask, and a duster coat. ‘Wait. Ain’t you that Blue Nastie that licked Pigskin? One of the Big Five?’
Puck smiled broadly. ‘That’s me!’
‘I thought I recognised you. Duck, right?’
She gave him a death stare. ‘Puck.’
‘Right, right. Say, we don’t usually work with slashers, but we’re racing against the Doomsday Clock here. Since you’re such a badass an’ all, how’s about you take point?’
She grinned. Finally, some respect! ‘Sure! I’ll take you boys under my wing!’
She got in position in front of the entrance. The Texas Ranger placed a C-4 plastic explosive on the door. The explosion blew the door off its hinges. Sam skated inside. The Data Centre was a maze of ceiling-high computers.
‘Stay frosty, y’all,’ said the Texas Ranger. ‘We have no idea what we’re up against.’
Puck led the servicemen through the computer maze. She expected Patriots to ambush her at every turn, but none appeared. Eventually, she picked up the sound of munching coming from around a corner. She held a hand up to the servicemen to stop them and peeked around the corner.
Mammoth was hunched over eating a pile of Patriots.
‘Holy hell!’ said Puck. ‘Contact! Mow him down!’
The servicemen turned the corner and opened fire.
The bullets bounced off Mammoth’s skeletal armour. He lunged forwards and cut a dozen servicemen in half with his giant spear.
‘Zone Technique: Frost Bite!’ Puck slashed at him repeatedly with her icy bladed hockey stick.
Mammoth whacked her into a computer with the flat of his spear. Her ice skin cracked, something in her spine snapped, and a stabbing pain shot through her back. She tried to get up, but the pain kept her down.
The servicemen kept firing until their guns click-click-clicked empty.
Mammoth rose to his full towering height, blood streaming from his mouth. ‘Your efforts are futile! There is no one on this weak planet that can defeat me! I've defeated Pigskin, and I've defeated Shark Man! The only reason I didn’t ascend to the Big Five was because I didn’t want slashers getting too scared to fight me! Once Colonel Ripper has cleansed this world in fire, I’ll defeat him and the King in Yellow too! Then I’ll move on to the rest of the Multiverse and find a real challenge!’
The Texas Ranger took out a combat knife. ‘If bull were music, you’d have a brass band! Come on, y’all! I’m sure he’s got a weak spot someplace!’
The servicemen all took out their combat knives and dogpiled Mammoth.
A blur of motion, Mammoth ripped them to pieces with his tusks.
He spat out the Texas Ranger’s cowboy hat. ‘The weak should fear the strong.’
Fighting through the pain, Puck got up and launched a combination attack at Mammoth. ‘Zone Technique: Frost Bite! Zone Technique: Blizzard! Zone Technique: Avalanche!’
Her attacks did nothing.
He swatted her aside with the back of his hand. She felt like she’d been hit by a car. She crashed to the floor.
‘I expected a meal from you by now, runt,’ said Mammoth, ‘but I suppose I’ll have to make do with a snack.’ He bared his bloody teeth.
Puck skated away through the computer maze. Mammoth stampeded after her.
How is this happening?! I was supposed to have gotten stronger!
Memories flashed through her mind.
Winning the Canadian Women’s Hockey Championships.
Signing up with the Montreal Canucks in the men’s Hockey Championships.
Getting nicknamed Puck by the team for being so small.
Getting thrashed in the tryouts due to the sheer difference in strength.
Her mother beating with a wooden spoon for embarrassing her.
Ambushing the Montreal Canucks in the locker room and slashing them to death with a hockey stick ending in an ice skate blade.
It had always been like this. No matter how good she was, there was always someone better. Most of her life had been one long, unhappy competition.
Yet strangely, the two months she’d spent with the Blue Nasties getting her bum kicked had been the time of her life.
What was the point in striving to be number one all the time if it just made her unhappy? Wouldn’t she rather do something that she enjoyed like she had when she started playing hockey? Wasn’t the fun she’d had worth more than the trophies?
Puck turned around. ‘You win.’
Mammoth crashed against a computer to stop himself. ‘Say again?!’
‘You win. I’m not competing to be the Number One Slasher anymore.’
‘So, you’ve finally realised I’m the strongest!’
‘Sure, you’re the strongest, but it isn’t worth it.’
‘I mean look at where this obsession with becoming the strongest has got you, Mammoth. You’re the last of your tribe, you eat your allies, and you want to commit genocide because no one is as strong as you. If you’re what winning looks like, then I don’t want to win.’
Mammoth pointed his giant spear at her. ‘Bold words for someone within slashing range!’
‘No, I’m running away. You’re stronger than me, but you're not faster. I can tell you’re not interested in finding the nukes anyway.’ She turned around and skated away.
‘Weak,’ said Mammoth, ‘like your father.’
Puck stopped. She glared at him over her shoulder. Her voice was cold. ‘What did you just say?’
‘I said you’re weak like your father. Yeah, I made the connection the first time I saw that snub nose of yours. You’re the daughter of Tiger Gretzky, “the Greatest Ice Hockey Brawler of All Time”.’ He laughed darkly. ‘I remember his final match. Took on the Toronto Trees and cracked his head on the ice. Funny stuff.’
Puck turned around. She was an angry woman; she got it from her mum and dad, but never before had she hated anyone quite like this. It wasn’t hot rage that consumed her. It was a cold lucidity. The man in front of her had belittled the death of her father; her father had taught her to skate at the Snowman Centre ice rink when she was five; the life of the man in front of her had come to an end.
Puck whispered. ‘Mammoth. Help me turn this place into a hockey rink. I promise I’ll kill you.’
Mammoth smiled. ‘Daddy’s girl, eh?'
He set about pushing the ceiling-high computers around them away until he’d created an arena roughly the shape of an hockey rink.
Puck pressed the buttons on the sides of her roller skates, and they turned into ice skates. ‘I was going to save this for when Jack fought the King in Yellow, but I guess he’ll just have to do without. Zone Technique: Frozen Floor.’ Ice spread out from her feet until it covered the ground. ‘Zone Technique: Ice Queen.’ Her ice skin became ice armour, and a crown of ice horns grew out of her head. ‘Zone Technique: Cold Iron.’ The ice skate blade on the end of her hockey stick started steaming with liquid nitrogen.
Mammoth yawned. ‘Is that it? A runt on ice is still a runt.’
‘You’re an idiot. The cavemen were runts to the woolie mammoths’—Puck widened her eyes and smiled—‘and they drove them to extinction!’
She sped around Mammoth and started ricocheting on the computers. She dashed in and slashed his lower leg. He struck out at her, cracking the ice as he did, but she was too fast and got away. She dashed in again and slashed his right forearm. This time, he tripped when he tried to counterattack. The wound on his lower leg had frozen.
Puck grinned. Welcome to Hell.
She dashed in and slashed him again and again and again. Every time Mammoth got hit, a different body part froze, quickly restricting his movements. Soon, he gave up trying to counterattack at all and just started flailing around breaking the ice, which reassembled itself instantly.
A memory of Puck outmanoeuvring a girl in a hockey match while her parents clapped flashed through her mind.
She laughed. This is fun!
Puck slashed one of Mammoth’s eyes.
He stopped the bleeding with a hand. ‘Enough of this child’s play! Zone Special: Woolie Warrior!’
He grew in size until he filled the room. He slashed wildly in every direction, destroying computer after computer after computer until he was cutting through the walls. A glancing strike cut Puck’s right arm off. The tower block started to fall apart around them. Computers from the upper floors fell through the ceiling.
Okay! I know when I’ve touched the Sun!
Puck skated through the falling rubble and exited the door she’d come through.
Mammoth tried to stampede after her, but the falling rubble, his size, and his frozen body parts made it impossible. ‘Where are you going?! You didn’t win! You didn’t win! I’m still the strongest!’
Puck shrugged. ‘The cavemen didn’t win through their own strength either. They drove the woolie mammoths off cliffs.’ The tower block began to fall. She waved. ‘Bye, hoser.’
The tower block collapsed on Mammoth.
It probably wouldn’t kill him, but it would give him enough of a headache to keep him from interfering with the other Blue Nasties.
Puck looked at her missing right arm and smiled. She’d finally met her match.
She felt free.