Miya crawled behind a desk as gunfire went off all around her. Fuck you, Sanchez. I’m not getting shot or ripped in half by a feral for you. The buzzing at the back of her skull, there ever since Sanchez tried to force her to bring back his dead wife and nearly summoned a demon, had vanished once she entered the hideout. She summoned a ribbon of magic, coiling it around her hand for a moment before letting it dissipate. OK. No control over me for now. Maybe I can grab a gun in the confusion. If Sanchez wins, maybe I can kill him and figure out something if he doesn’t have a lot of guys left. If the vigilantes win, maybe I can do the same. Or maybe I can cut a deal or something. They had a techie.
The absence of gunfire broke her train of thought. Am I out of time already? She heard muffled talking, then footsteps approached. Fuck, fuck, fuck. The desk Miya hid behind was lifted up and tossed aside like cardboard.
“Wait, wait!” cried out Miya, holding up her hands in surrender. She found herself staring down three people. Far taller than Miya or the others, the feral stood out with wings and claws. I can see where they got the demon angle from. No glowing eyes though. To her left stood a man in a grinning mask. To her right stood what looked like a somewhat smaller than average riot cop, without the shield. She pointed a pistol at Miya’s chest and asked in a distorted voice, “You one of Sanchez’?”
“No,” replied Miya, taking pains to keep her hands up and in their sight. “It’s complicated. He’s holding me hostage and dragging me around.”
“Was. He’s dead now,” barked the man to the left, his words blurring together.
“Great,” said Miya, pumping as much genuine sincerity as she could into a single word.
The woman let her pistol drop a few inches, now pointing it at the floor. The feral moved forward. Don’t eat me. Instead it offered a hand to her up, asking, “Do you have a name?”
Huh. “Just call me Miya.” A scaly hand engulfed Miya’s, hauling her to her feet with ease.
“I’m Delta,” said the woman. “That’s Olivia. He’s Skulker.” The guy gave her a quick mock salute.
Miya’s gaze drifted past them, to the shot up and half ruined building beyond. Dying flames licked the side of the truck the vigilantes had somehow to slag. Several dead or dying men lay spread out on the ground between the front wall and the wreck. If there were any injured, they had been pulled out by their friends as they retreated. Well, I guess I’m stuck here. The air reeked of residual gunpowder smoke, even though the wind dispersed most of the white smoke.
“So, there any particular reason we should believe you?” asked Skulker.
Miya looked to Delta and nodded. She must be that techie Overlord wanted. Amanda something. “You wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with everything electrical going all wonky here, would you?”
“Yes, why?” said Delta after a few seconds of hesitation.
“Well, Overlord did some experiments with me. I’ve got a kill switch in me that will activate once things return to normal. I’d rather not die.”
Skulker broke into laughter. “Fuck, I hope that ain’t a lie. Be damn stupid of you if it were.” Well fuck you too.
“Oh shit, Overlord? You’re lucky not to be a brain in a box right now,” said Delta, not bothering to wait until Skulker finished.
“I think that’s what they wanted to do originally. Good thing they don’t know much about magic,” said Miya.
“Magic, huh?” asked Skulker.
Miya shrugged. “I’m a mage. Overlord wanted a way to control magic, and the best way he’s found so far is to control a mage.” The vigilantes remained wary, guns still held at the ready even if not aimed directly at Miya. Please believe me. Please don’t shoot me. I should throw them something else. “Overlord is looking for you two,” added Miya. “You dead, and you alive.” She pointed to Olivia and Delta in turn.
The feral tilted her head to the side a few angles in confusion and Delta’s helmet gave no clues as to her expression. We’re all on the same side here. After a few seconds, Miya’s heart pounding in her ears, Delta asked her, “So what do you know about what Overlord did to you? I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to do anything, but anything you can give me will help.”
“There’s a chip in my brain, I’d rather you not go poking around with that. They told me some knife was set up to ruin my spine, I think. There’s wires hooked up to pain receptors to keep me in line. And there’s some stuff in my hands, to regulate magic.”
“Alright, come with me. If your friends didn’t ruin all my stuff I’ll see what I can do.”
Delta led Miya back towards the warehouse Sanchez and the feral had fought. Olivia followed right behind, looming far over Miya, with Skulker bringing up the rear. They returned to the warehouse Miya had just escaped from, when Sanchez and his few remaining loyal men fought Olivia and the other man. Said man, a tall blonde with hints of a beard on his cheeks poking out from the blue bandana covering his lower face, watched her entrance with curiosity.
“Who’s that?” he asked. Once Delta and Skulker, both talking over each other, introduced them and explained the situation, he studied Miya for a moment and said, “Alright. Delta, help her out. Skulker, keep watch out front in case they come back. Or if the police come around.” As the two went to their allotted tasks, Miya heard Chris mutter under his breath, “It’s like herding cats.”
“Fuck, he’s right. I forgot about the cops,” grumbled Delta
“We’ll have to get ready for that,” said Nomad.
“You aren’t thinking about getting into a firefight with the whole MHU, are you?” asked Miya, incredulous. Am I going to have to jump ship again?
“Absolutely not,” replied Delta with a shake of her head, though she refused to elaborate further. Instead, she asked, “What kind of magic do you do?
“Bio magic,” simplified Miya. “Bones.”
“Bio, that makes this easier.” What? How? You’re a techie, not a mage. “Alright, I’ve got a low power metal detector that won’t heat up the metal inside of you and melt important stuff.” Delta tapped something on the side of her helmet and studied Miya for a moment. “Why isn’t this working? Right! The jammer.” Delta froze, halfway to a laptop set up on a nearby table. “Lock Corp.” she whispered. She spun around and jabbed a finger at Miya.”What do you know about them?”
“Lock Corp.?” asked Miya, hands half raised in surrender again and thoughts scrambling to keep up. They’re that big security company, right? “Sanchez might have mentioned them once or twice but I never saw them or talked to them.”
Nomad asked Delta, “What is this about Lock Corp.?”
“If I shut down the jammer I can track down where that Lock Corp. guy is. Or maybe it’s a small team. It doesn’t matter, they’re probably still in the area and waiting on Sanchez. Once they figure out their contractor is dead they’ll bounce. I need to get to their systems.”
“I’ll die if you turn that jammer off,” Miya pointed out. Please don’t.
Nomad tried to put his foot down, “We’re not fighting a war with Lock Corp.”
“That’s not the plan,” insisted Delta. “I’m not going to kill him. I just need his equipment and computers. He’s not going to sit around forever. This is my chance!”
“Amanda!” said Olivia, tone full of disappointment.
Silence hung in the air for a moment, with Delta’s hands right above the keyboard as all eyes bored into her. If I try to stop her, will the others stop me?
“Fuck,” said Delta, shoulders slumping as she withdrew. “You’re right. Let me think of something.” She brushed aside some debris and opened a box beneath her desk. Olivia and Miya both craned their necks to look inside, only to see a mass of indecipherable metal parts and insulated wires. Delta pulled out a foot long rod, with several smaller ones jutting out at regular intervals, then paused. “Hey Olivia, can you grab that black and yellow striped box? The one I usually keep under the second desk?”
Olivia nodded and trundled off. Did she just boss around the feral? Miya watched as Delta began wiring several small metal boxes to the base of the metal rod. Once Olivia returned, she rifled through the striped box for a moment before withdrawing what appeared to be a wifi antenna. Fifteen long minutes passed before Delta finally deemed her contraption ready.
She waved the rod over Miya’s upper body a couple times, pausing a few times over her shoulders and wrists.
Delta tapped her helmet as she set the rod aside, saying, “Come on. There, done.” She remained quiet for a couple seconds. “All right. I think I can stop it from killing you, but it’s going to hurt.” She pulled out a combat knife about as long as her palm.
Olivia eyed the knife and hesitantly asked, “Amanda, what’s the knife for?”
“I need to get to the implants somehow. Come here.” Delta set up a curtain around an old beat up bed on the floor. She tapped a point on Miya’s wrist with a finger. “Biology isn’t my specialty. If I go in through here, will I nick anything important?”
Miya reached for her magic, sending ribbons of magic to examine herself. “That should be good.” They repeated this process a few more times, gradually narrowing down their options. The implants inside her felt like rocks in an otherwise living and healthy river, cold and out of place.
Miya moved quietly off to the side as Delta grabbed some black and red wires and an unidentifiable tool from the desk. “This whole process is going to be something out of a horror movie. And in the interest of full disclosure, it’ll probably kill you.”
Miya nodded, a hard look in her eyes. “I don’t have much of a choice. Do it.”
“Lay on your back on the bed. There’s a wire to cut in you. Olivia, hold her down, no matter what.”
Olivia’s eyes widened, and she hesitated. Delta said, “Now. Trust me.” This is going to suck, but I’m not exactly drowning in options.
Miya lay down and felt a sudden shock in her side, knocking her unconscious.
She came around with her back on fire. Olivia and Delta were arguing elsewhere in the room.
Olivia was saying, “I don’t think you should do that without telling her first.”
“Hey, it’s over with. If she’d have been conscious there was a good chance something stupid would happen, like her twitching and me cutting something important,” replied Delta. That’s her normal voice, isn’t it?
“I’m still not OK with it.” They stopped arguing as Miya groaned and sat upright, hands seeking out where Delta cut the most, near her left shoulder blade. I’ve gotten through worse. The gash on her back was covered by a rough bandage that Miya couldn’t see. Please be clean. She began to reach for magic when everything started hurting again.
Olivia was beside her, Delta not long after. Miya waved them off. “I’ll be fine, just recovering” she managed through gritted teeth. Fuck, knife wounds hurt. “How long was I out anyways?” asked Miya.
“Almost ten minutes,” said Delta.
Oh, that’s not bad. “Did it work?”
“Well, the jammer is off and you’re still breathing.”
Miya blinked. “You turned it on while I was asleep?”
“Yeah, I did what I could. If it didn’t work you would have died in your sleep instead of in pain.”
The vigilantes had managed to get a little cleaning done in the time Miya was out. Bodies had been lined up near the exit, their feet sticking out below a ragged old blue tarp pinned down with broken bricks. A phone sat on one of Delta’s desks, surrounded by bits of techie equipment. The laptop next to it cycled through pictures. Is that Sanchez’ phone? I saw Jess for a second, there. Skulker was back, helping Olivia sweep up broken masonry, drywall, and discarded bullet casings.
Nomad approached. He took a knee, getting closer to Miya’s eye level as she sat upright. “Delta, how is that phone cracking going?”
“Almost done. Let me check.”
“Olivia, go help Skulker with some of the bigger pieces of rubble.” Once the two of them left, he looked to Miya and said, “You should know that the four of us are wanted right now.” He trailed off as Miya started laughing. “What?”
“So am I,” she replied with a wave of her hand. “Even before all this. That’s not a problem.”
He raised an eyebrow. The bandana still covered his face, though he’d set aside his rifle. “It might be. The cops are on their way, I give them about five more minutes since I called them. Do we need to hide you?”
“I’m not from around here, they won’t know me,” she said with a shake of her head.
“If you say so,” he said with a shrug. “Are you good to stand?”
“Yeah.” He helped her to her feet.
Miya kept herself out of the way as the vigilantes prepared for the arrival of the cops, her time with Sanchez giving her ample opportunities to practice. That’s it. Sanchez is dead. I’ve got the crap out of me. Now what? She could hear the sound of approaching sirens. Miya hung back, next to Oliva, as Delta and Chris opened one of the back garage doors.
Soon enough, three heavy vans rolled up to the backlot. They came to a stop and disgorged dozens of heavily armed and armored MHU officers. They fanned out in a semi-circle around the opened door. Out of the frying pan. A trio of officers marched forward, a heavier man taking the lead. Nomad and Delta, without their face covers and guns, walked down the concrete ramp to meet them. The two groups stopped half a dozen paces away.
“Bob,” Nomad greeted them.
“Chris,” said the lead man, Bob, his voice far frostier. Miya paused for a moment. The tall man to his right looked familiar, but she couldn’t place the face. “I’m shocked you two didn’t skip town entirely.”
“We’re not traitors,” replied Nomad with a shake of his head. Wait, those two are cops too? “In fact, we did our job. Sanchez is dead.”
Bob waved a hand up. Two of the officers marched forward, towards the body Delta indicated. One knelt down, pulling a small camera from a pouch at his hip. The other studied Sanchez’s face for a moment before giving Bob a thumb’s up.
Nomad continued, calm and steady despite the firepower arrayed against him, “Lehman Construction was in charge of the renovations at HQ. You know, the ones super late and over budget. They were walking right into our building under our noses. You have a bigger problem than us. You have a rat.”
Delta passed him a flash drive. Bob studied her with a critical eye for a moment before taking it. “We’ll have to confirm this.”
“You still have a feral,” pointed out the tall man.
“Jeremiah brings up a good point,” said Bob, cocking his head to the side. “Now what? You keep her as a pet? She gets a desk job?”
“She’s one of us. She was critical in helping us and I think throwing her into a jail cell would be a mistake on a moral level. As for what’s next, that’s for her to decide, and I trust her judgment. I hope that still means something.”
“You’re asking us to take a lot on faith. She’s killed.” He’s not wrong. Miya glanced at Olivia next to her. She stood stiff as a board, eyes locked on Bob.
“You’ve met her yourself. If you don’t push her she wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“That sounds unstable to me. Dangerous.”
“That was then. Now-”
Bob held up a hand, stopping Nomad. “I’ve heard what you have to say. What does she have to say?”
“What?” croaked Olivia as everyone looked to her. You’re not good at talking, are you?
“Are you a danger to yourself or the people of this city?”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone,” mumbled Olivia.
Bob cupped a hand to his ear and said, “Kid, speak up, I’m too old for that whispering shit.”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone,” she repeated, now louder and steadier. “I don’t know who I am and I want to figure that out. I don’t want to fight.” Huh.
“Marcus wants all your heads,” pointed out Jeremiah.
“Marcus didn’t even bother to be here, instead we did his job,” countered Chris, motioning to Sanchez’ body. “We’re not asking for the keys to the city here, we’re asking for a fair shake instead of a cell and six months before a trial even gets considered.”
Bob sighed and motioned to the other officers. “Pack it in, we’re done here. We’ll get these bodies and evidence back to HQ.” Once the mass of men got moving, he turned to Chris and the rest and said, “We’ll be keeping in touch. And by that I mean all of you are calling in once a week. We’re not throwing you in the slammer for the moment, but running again will look very bad.” Miya suppressed a snort. That’s a paper thin threat right there.
The vans rumbled to life after a few minutes of packing, driving out one after the other, leaving them alone in the late afternoon with a ruined building. Olivia fidgeted, pressing a knuckle to her ear.
“You alright?” asked Miya as they withdrew back into their building and shut the door. You’d better not go crazy when I’m right next to you. I’ve seen what those claws can do.
“Ever since the grenade went off my hearing has been weird. And I hear this ringing. It’s not going away. I guess that’s the weird thing I was hearing when they were here.”
Silence reigned for a minute or two.
“Are you going to stay?” asked Olivia. “I mean, I don’t really know where to go from here. I want to figure out who I was before. Do you have any plans?”Miya considered for a moment. “I guess I’ll stick around for now,” she replied with a shrug. I’m still low on options. Olivia beamed down on her with a smile.