Peggy was six stories in the air with a tentacle around her waist, and really not happy about it.
"Howard!" she snapped into the radio, clinging to it with one hand and her (entirely useless) gun with the other. Much too far below her, shrieks of panic blended with the crushing, grinding sounds of parts of her adopted city being smashed to pieces. "Where are those weapons you promised me?"
It was Sousa's voice that answered. "He's in the lab, biting people's heads off whenever they ask how it's coming along, last I heard. I'm on the east edge of the cordon and it looks like we've cleared most of the civilians out of the area. How's your end?"
Hopefully Agent Parillo was managing adequately in her stead. Peggy gasped as she was flipped upside down and nearly smashed face-first into the neon sign of some sort of low-rent hotel. However, this also gave her a view of the street, refreshingly clear of bystanders. "Progress is being made," she reported breathlessly. "However, I seem to have a small problem."
"How small of a problem?"
"Rather large actually."
She was now facing the bulk of the creature again, staggering her all over again with its astonishing scale. She had no idea what it thought it was doing, or why, or if it even could think; that was for the SSR analysts to determine later. All she knew was that it had attempted to crawl out of the ocean in Red Hook. The tentacle wrapped around her was slimy and cold and very muscular.
"Peggy, are you near the creature?" Daniel asked.
"Rather near, yes." Peggy unloaded her last clip as close to the base of the tentacle as she could aim. The only noticeable reaction was a certain increase in the amount of thrashing. It was rather like being on a carnival ride, except with a great deal more chance of having her head slammed into a brick wall. "I am also out of bullets, not that they seem to do much. Which is why I need Howard and whatever he's working on before more people die." Such as me, she couldn't help thinking, as the side of a warehouse spun dizzyingly past her nose.
"We might have something to help in the meantime. We still have some of those captured Hydra guns from the war, the energy ones? The lab guys think they might be pretty effective."
"And where are they," she wanted to know, as calmly as possible under the circumstances. "Where are they relative to my current position, I mean."
"Thompson's getting them."
"And where is he, Daniel?" She was now dangling upside down by one leg. Of all the unwise days to wear a skirt.
"On his way," Daniel said unhelpfully. He sounded out of breath.
"Peggy!" a sharp female voice from below her shouted, and then there was a searing bolt of blue-white energy that nearly took off her head, followed by the same voice saying, "Sorry!"
"Agent Parillo, do not shoot at me. That's an order!"
"I ain't tryin' to!"
Agent Parillo was one of their new hires. Peggy had, by a combination of persuasion and coercion, managed to get several female agents included in the latest lot. Agent Parillo was, to be technical about it, a 22-year-old former girlfriend of one of Angie's brother's friends, who had spent most of her teenage years doing things that Peggy was pleased not to know too much about. However, she'd successfully managed to avoid getting caught at it, which meant that she'd been able to pass the SSR background check. She was streetwise, good in a crisis, excellent at any and all card games (assuming one checked her sleeves for spare cards beforehand) and absolutely unfazed by much older male agents being rude to her.
Guns, however, were not really her thing. She was more of a switchblade kind of girl.
"Agent," Peggy called, "I believe you may be able to make it drop me if -- not now!" She'd been over a roof, but then it swung her out over the street again. It was a very long way down, especially headfirst. "Do not shoot except on my order! Aim for the -- ah! -- bulk of the thing --" Its thrashing was growing more frantic, which she expected meant that the energy weapons had arrived all up and down the cordon, and it was under attack from that quarter as well. Which was excellent except for the part where she was in imminent danger of becoming a smear on the sidewalk. Or, she thought, struggling for air, simply being crushed.
She was over the roof again, chimney-pots sweeping past her nose. She tried to say "Now!" but was unable to muster the breath to do so.
She couldn't see precisely where the energy beams came from. There were at least two of them, but one did vaporize the tentacle very neatly about halfway down. The constricting band around her middle relaxed at last, and she tumbled through the air and landed on something that turned out to be markedly softer than the roof she was expecting.
Something that grunted "Ow!"
Peggy rolled off him. "Thank you," she panted, "for trying to catch me."
"A mistake I'm never making again," Thompson groaned.
Another bolt of man-made lightning crackled past the edge of the roof, and fried bits of tentacle pattered down around them.
"Well, she is certainly having fun," Peggy said, propping herself up painfully on somewhat wobbly arms. "I take it Parillo is not the sharpshooter who shot me down."
"No, that was Sousa. He's on a rooftop over there somewhere." Jack gestured vaguely at the block of warehouses off to their left, and sat up stiffly. "Parillo is being a distraction, mostly. In other words, what she's best at."
"Are you all right?" Peggy asked.
"I'm fine, I'm fine. Nothing broken but my --" He started to raise an arm and winced. "... collarbone, actually, I think."
"To go with my ribs." She was going to be all over bruises from her hips to shoulders, from the feel of things. "Do you have your radio? I seem to have lost mine."
Thompson handed it over. More bits of fried squid pelted them. "Daniel," Peggy said into it. "The Hydra energy weapons appear to be quite effective."
"I know, aren't they something? Are you two okay?"
"Quite well," she said, endeavoring to stand up straight against her body's overwhelming urge to hunch over her injured side. "Thanks to the both of you. Now, while we wait for Howard, we just have to hold off the -- we really must call it something other than the thing."
"I think it might be a kraken," Sousa said. "That's a sort of mythological sea monster. Giant squid kind of thing." With a grin in his voice, he added, "Leviathan of a different sort, you might say."
"Please don't," Peggy sighed.
"The important word in that sentence," Thompson said, "was mythological. Which, last I checked, means not real."
At that point, a quite real tentacle slammed into the roof mere feet away from them. This one was still very much attached to the creature, and it went straight through the rooftop, showering them with brick dust and plaster, and leaving a yawning gap plunging into darkness. The rest of the roof creaked ominously.
"But getting off this roof should be a priority." She tried to take a step and discovered that one of her legs wasn't working properly either. "Arm," she told Thompson.
He sighed and put out an elbow on his uninjured side for her to hang onto. "Not opposed to chivalry in a pinch, huh?"
"I prefer to think of it as helping an injured comrade."
With a great rending, tearing crunch, the kraken took out another large section of the building. Peggy hoped the owners had insurance. Also, that there was still enough fire escape to climb down, and that the building would refrain from collapsing under them while they did. Another energy bolt, Daniel's or Parillo's, blazed over their heads, forcing the creature back enough to give them respite to scramble through the rubble field that the roof was turning into.
"Howard!" Peggy shouted into the radio. "If you haven't come up with anything in the next ten minutes, I shall be very cross with you!"
"No pressure, eh?" Howard's voice drawled out of her -- or rather Thompson's -- radio. "Look up."
She did, teetering on the edge of the roof with Thompson helping stabilize her. A spark of light dove out of the cityglow lighting the low clouds, swooping over the thrashing bulk of the kraken. It was an airplane, a small fast one, painted bright red. Through the writhing mass of tentacles, it dove and twisted fearlessly.
"Howard, do be careful!"
"No problem," Howard said, sounding cheerful though distracted. "Just gotta get close enough to deliver my -- wait for it -- payload."
"I don't know why I even speak to you."
She knew she ought to climb down, but she was frozen in place, watching the little red plane weave in and out of a sky full of thrashing death. Beside her, Thompson seemed to be similarly transfixed. When it seemed certain that the little plane was going to be swept out of the air -- it couldn't possibly pull out of that dive in time -- a cloud of something billowed up around it. Smoke? Gas? Then it twisted in an impossibly tight maneuver and soared skyward again, trailing a diffuse smoke cloud behind it like a crop duster.
"Howard, what is that?" Peggy asked. It was nowhere near them and the wind seemed to be blowing it out to sea, but she still fought the urge to cover her nose and mouth with her sleeve. "Is it dangerous?"
"Not to you or me," Howard said. The airplane was high above the harbor now, making a wide, lazy circle. "Think of this stuff as tear gas for sea monsters. It should irritate it enough to make it decide New York isn't worth its bother."
At the words "irritate it", Peggy shared a look with Thompson, whose expression, she thought, probably mirrored her own. By mutual consent, they began scrambling down the fire escape. They had to go single file, but she was able to put enough weight on her leg to manage a fair rate of speed.
"Oh, huh, that's interesting," Howard said over the radio.
Ominous. Peggy looked up, just in time to see that the tentacles framed against the sulfur-yellow sky were melting and dripping like ice cream in the sun.
"That's not what that was supposed to do," Howard said.
Peggy didn't hear what else he might have to say, because now it was raining disintegrating sea monster all over the warehouse, the street, and them. She and Thompson fled the rest of the way down the fire escape in a mad scramble. By the time they reached the street, the grisly shower seemed to have stopped, although the street was awash in bits of monster, some of them cooked, some not.
Agent Parillo slogged over to meet them, the enormous gun slung carelessly over her shoulder. Her hair was plastered down with the slimy remains of what had been a probably quite rare sea monster until Howard got done with it. And she looked absolutely delighted. "Did you guys see that? Wasn't it bonkers? What an absolute gas."
Peggy wiped off her face with both hands, then wiped the radio on the cleanest patch of skirt she could find, before she was willing to bring her mouth close to it. "Howard."
"Absolutely fascinating," Howard mused. From down here she couldn't see what the plane was doing, but from the sound of the engine, it was circling low down. "Uh, maybe you should avoid contact with it after all."
Peggy looked at the other two. Thompson was trying, without success, to get sea monster goo out of his hair. "We'll keep that in mind, Howard, thanks."
Sousa joined them from a different direction, picking his way carefully through the mess on the street, with his own Hydra energy gun over his shoulder. He was as bedraggled as they were, though less bruised. "Showers," he said, as soon as he was close enough to speak without shouting.
"Showers," Peggy agreed. And then a small word with Howard. And then, probably, quite a lot of paperwork and a great deal of cleanup. Somewhere in there, a brief trip to the hospital might be in order, or at least a handful of aspirin.
Parillo took the lead back to their command post, chattering happily at Thompson, who was clearly making a concerted effort to ignore her. Peggy and Sousa quickly fell behind, he because of the crutch, she because she was still limping.
"Aren't you glad we're getting field assignments now?" Sousa asked dryly.