Delta tossed her belt on the desk and slumped in her workshop chair with an exhausted sigh. The temptation to steal some sleep weighed on her, though events with the brand new schizophrenic feral they’d just brought in would pass her by if she did. Nomad had left to keep the feral calm, leaving Delta alone to fill out paperwork. She’d given her verbal report as soon as they’d come back, all that was left was to see what the powers on high would decide. I can’t wait for this to be over with.
The whole situation reeked of strange-ness. Sanchez’s gang somehow beat them to the feral. The feral went from berserk to curling into a terrified ball after a quick nap. The MHU had no prepared cell or anything to deal with the feral once they got it, despite dealing with powers being their sole reason to exist. We’re missing something. Or I’m missing something, and someone else is keeping it from me.
A curt knock on the door grabbed her attention. Cyrus walked in uninvited as Delta spun in her chair. “Back from your feral hunt. How are you doing?” he asked.
“Good,” she replied, not bothering with anything more. The whole MHU meandered in confusion, the head had to take blame at some point, or at least take charge. Yet here he was, wasting time on a techie only barely related to the feral in the building.
“Were you aware that Lock Corp. has opened a new office in Westward? Only a block away, in fact.” Delta froze, thinking, Wait, when the fuck did this happen? Cyrus gave her a look, fully noticing her reaction. “I know that it is a bit of a personal matter, but it would be remiss of me not to let you know.”
Admit nothing. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You doubt the word of the head of the city’s MHU?” He gave her a small, rueful smile. “You wouldn’t be the first. Or has that not happened yet? Regardless, there is a reason I’m telling you this.”
“I have nothing to do with Lock Corp. What are you-”
He leaned forward. “Miss Lafitte, we have precious little time. I am trying to help you, unless you simply play coy.”
Delta leaned back in her chair, considering her options. Her baton lay on the desk attached to her belt, a mere foot away from her tense hand. I can’t just zap him and dump his body somewhere. Her eyes briefly flickered towards the door, though Cyrus blocked the way, intentionally or not. I can’t run and I’m flying blind. “You knew,” she probed.
“Recently learned,” he corrected. “As did Marcus and the quartermaster. And that is the problem.”
Something about his word choice struck her. “Not me?” she asked.
“No. Though Marcus very much thinks it is.”
“What does Marcus have to do with this?” asked Delta.
“A little bird, is that the phrase? A little bird told me a warrant will be out for your arrest from a judge today, for espionage for Lock Corp. against the MHU and US government. Marcus fully intends to carry it out.”
“That’s insane.” I have gone out of my way to avoid doing exactly that. It’s an arrest warrant, not a death penalty, but they’ve already started digging. Is this why everything is confused?
“Is it? Why were Sanchez’ men exactly where you thought the feral would be? That, and you are constantly disgruntled,” replied Cyrus. Delta studied his serene face as best she could, seeing nothing other than placid anticipation of her answer. Is he trying to drag me down with him? Fuck it, I’ve got to get out of here anyways. If he knows, others can figure it out.
“What do you want?”
“I would be rather disappointed if you didn’t have a contingency for this exact situation.” Of course he knows. How much can I give away? She nodded, volunteering nothing else. “I believe there will be a few other scapegoats. Gather them in the garage, if we scatter we are doomed.”
So Delta found herself sweating in a corner of the garage, pretending to look busy for the pair of mechanics also in the room. Nope, I’m not suspicious at all. Just an engineer, doing engineer things. The fact that I just nuked my workshop is not suspicious. Nope, nope, nope.
She and Cyrus had agreed on no signal, no hidden communication of any kind. The entire headquarters shaking from a shockwave of air and everyone running for cover did, however, tip her off to get moving. With keys to a van she’d grabbed, she pulled up to an open garage door and waited, hands locked onto the wheel. Hurry up, I don’t want to be here a nanosecond longer than I have to.
The double doors to the garage shot open as Nomad charged in like a demon was chasing him. Huh, he looks like what Cyrus was talking about. Of course it was the new hires who got blamed. Delta leaned out of the window, grabbing his attention from something across the room. “Get in!” He jumped in the back, followed by a second set of footsteps. Who is that?
The sound of a metallic thud rang out as Nomad slammed into the panel separating Delta from the back of the van. She twisted around, nearly jumping out of her skin when she noticed the feral also in the back alongside him, sitting down as if this were the most normal thing in the world. “Go!” he yelled.
“Is she going to try to kill us?”
“No,” he replied as the feral flinched away. Fine, whatever. Does she even have a name? I don’t think she’s ever said anything to me.
Delta gunned the engine, peeling up the ramp and out of HQ. Nomad filled her in on what happened in her absence, the feral sitting in silence in the back. Cyrus got himself shot but shrugged it off. Marcus smelled a rat and went scorched earth.
Without warning, a bright flash struck the front of the van. The wheel spun in Delta’s hands, and the van flipped as she lost control. She slammed against the door as her whole world spun, the shriek of metal drowning all else out. It took her eyes to adjust once movement stopped. Blood rushed to her head, and the late afternoon sun appeared below what should have been the horizon. Upside down. She released her seat-belt, ignoring the rapidly forming bruise on her hip and shoulder where it yanked at her through her armor, and checked on the others in the back.
Light blue greeted her eyes. Nomad had burst into goo, saving him from the tumble. A pounding on the door next to her pulled her back.
“Hey, wanna talk to you,” barked out a voice outside the van. Fuck. Now what? Delta wrestled with gravity, trying to free her baton. “Don’t try it.” Delta found herself face to face with a leering, grinning mask of gunmetal grey, along with a pistol aimed at her chest. Delta froze. Smiley mask. Skulker, I think. Vigilante. “You know anythin’ about a feral? Big girl? Quiet? Y’all brought her in this mornin’?”
“No,” she replied.
They both paused at the sound of rumbling hissing. The van jostled as metal shrieked and broke. Is the feral going insane again?
“That was easy.” Skulker leaned up, out of Delta’s view, and called out, “Hey, Olivia, havin’ a day?”
The feral, Olivia, finally spoke, in something other than incoherent hissing or whispers, “What?” Delta got back to freeing her baton. Skulker couldn’t see her at the moment, but she could see his gun, now pointed at the ground in front of her. When he convulses, his hand will clench, pulling the trigger. I’ll have five to ten seconds to move.
“What’cha doin’? Let him go an’ let’s get outta here.”
“He’s hurt. They’re helping me.” Delta adjusted herself, readying the shock baton and getting out of the way of the gun.
“Really? You sure?” he asked.
Delta struck, thrusting the tip of the shock baton into his thigh. He let out a choked shout as every one of his muscles tensed. His pistol fired, the bullet slamming into the asphalt. Delta jumped half out of the broken van window as Skulker fell, diving on his gun hand. Just as she began prying it from his stiff fingers, something sharp grabbed her by the collar and lifted her off Skulker and the ground.
“Stop!” said Olivia placing herself between Delta and the vigilante. She wore what looked like old, extra large MHU fatigues, a trade up from the bloody rags when Delta had seen her last.
This lunatic tried to kill us! Delta reached in vain for her baton, dropped so she could wrestle with the gun now on the ground beside Skulker. Nomad appeared beside Olivia. “Put her down. Everyone, stop,” he said. “You too, Delta.”
With a groan, Skulker climbed back to his feet. To Nomad’s credit, he’d put his foot on the loose gun, instead of assuming everyone would just listen. Delta didn’t immediately dive for her baton the moment Olivia set her gently down.
“What are you doing?” he asked the vigilante.
“Lookin’ for her. She seems alright though,” replied Skulker. “Fuck that sucked,” he grumbled under his breath, rubbing his thigh.
“Great. We’re in broad daylight, so maybe we should all stop fighting out here before the MHU catches up to us,” explained Nomad. Delta looked around, spotting a couple parked cars down the street, their drivers looking out at them with phones out.
“Only reason we ain’t gettin’ swamped already is cuz they look busy.” Skulker pointed back at HQ. A column of dust drifted in the air, towering above the cracked concrete dome of the building. Did Cyrus do that? “I’ve got a ride if we got a place to be.”
Delta looked over their van. Skulker had, somehow, reduced the engine block to a molten, twisted crater. This isn’t going anywhere. “I’ve got a place we can lay low,” said Delta. I guess we were heading there anyways.
Skulker led them off through a side alley to an old green jeep. Delta squeezed in the back, pressed between Olivia and the door. Olivia noticed her wing shoved in her face and twisted, giving her some room. The jeep started with a rattle, and Skulker drove them to Delta’s safe house. They skirted around the street with their ruined van, then headed west, toward the mountains.
Olivia leaned forward after a minute. “Um, Be-, I mean, Skulker, how did you find us?” she asked, her voice barely audible over the engine.
“Cops put out a presser. Said they caught you,” replied Skulker. His accent sounded vaguely mid-Atlantic, though with how fast he talked Delta couldn’t tell for certain.
“So you were just going to attack the MHU?” asked Delta, incredulous. “Also, your turn is up here.”
“Fuck no! Lookin’ for opportunities,” replied Skulker, spinning the steering wheel. “Like a van tearin’ outta HQ for some weird reason.”
Nomad took a break from staring out the window to ask, “How do you two know each other?”
“Ran into each other,” replied Skulker. “Decided to help each other out.” Delta leaned forward to get around the wing, catching Olivia’s attention for confirmation. It took a few awkward seconds for Olivia to get the unasked question, but she nodded.
OK, there’s got to be more to it than that. “What were you doing when this happened?” asked Delta.
Olivia opened her mouth to respond, but Skulker beat her to the punch, saying, “Fuckin’ with Sanchez.”
“Did you even know who that was?” Delta asked Olivia.
“A bad guy?” replied Olivia. Delta nodded, thinking, That’s it, huh? You had no idea what you were doing, did you.
They pulled into a light industrial park. Two single floor off white buildings ran in parallel to each other, each a row of offices and attached warehouses half a block long. A battered old “FOR SALE” sign fluttered in the breeze near the roof alongside one of the broken cords that had kept it in place. A single dead tree stood out in a bleak landscape of concrete and asphalt, the parking lots completely empty save a few cars at the far end of the park.
“My unit is over here. Park in the back, it’s out of the way,” said Delta.
It had been one of her uncle’s auto shops, until he died of a heart attack a few years ago and summarily closed for lack of business. She doubted anyone remembered it, or cared, so she ‘borrowed’ the keys. In bits and pieces over the year since she’d moved to the city, she’d turned it into her own safe house off the grid.
“You sure? Looks like there might be another Olivia lurkin’ around in here,” said Skulker.
“What?” asked Olivia
“You don’t live here. Know if this place has been broken into while you’re away?”
“I made a special security system for this myself. I would have installed it in my MHU workshop too, if Cyrus would have let me.” Nomad snorted out a reluctant laugh.
As they approached, Delta hit a button on her key chain. With a happy beep, the lock on the steel door disengaged, letting them into the main workshop area. The automatic lights flickered alive. Oil and grease stained the concrete floor.
The shop wasn’t big, with room for only six cars, and a small office space connected to it out front. She’d left the office empty, keeping up the appearance that the shop was abandoned. The city grid didn’t officially connect to the building. Unofficially, Delta had tapped into it anyways. She even paid utilities under a ghost address to reduce the likelihood of questions being asked by some accountant somewhere. She had shoved the remaining automotive equipment into a corner when she’d moved in, constantly forgetting to sell it off when she had free time. Joke’s on me, I never have free time.
“Looks like you were ready for this,” observed Skulker.
“Seems like it,” replied Delta.
“Why the fuck does a cop do somethin’ like this?”
She shrugged, unable to muster the energy to argue further. “Who knows?” Olivia swayed on her feet. Nomad stared off into the distance when he thought no one watched, eyes tight with worry. “I wasn’t expecting guests. I’ve only got a cot for myself. I’ll see what I’ve got stored away for you two.”
They slept like the dead for twelve hours. Skulker left them alone after they got settled, promising to be back later. Delta was the first to wake up to a blessedly silent shop. She got her backup workshop organized, at a loss for anything else to do. I could run, I guess. I don’t think the new identity trick is going to work twice, the MHU busted me once already. Nomad and Olivia woke up a little later. Both said little to nothing, beyond bare necessities. What are we going to do? Is there even a we? I guess we have to figure out what’s going on.
“Hey, we’re on the news,” Delta called out to the others. She turned up the volume of her computer speakers so the others could hear.
Delta only had one chair, the one she currently occupied, and there was no other furniture beyond the desks she had covered with various electronic devices. Most everything that had been in the shop before her had been sold off after her uncle’s death. The monitor she had displayed the news on, the largest she had, rested on an old toolbox. I should make sure there’s nothing important in there at some point.
“Recovery efforts continue at the Westward City Meta-Human Unit headquarters this morning,” began an attractive blond anchor for the morning news of one of the local channels, shuffling her papers and maintaining a plastic smile. “The damage left by Cyrus, formerly the head of the MHU, is extensive. Thankfully, the unit has reported no casualties, and the damage to the headquarters will be repaired within a month. Marcus Vandeberg has stepped in as acting head in the meantime.”
Her older male co-anchor, plastered with a similar smile, continued, “Also at large are Cyrus’ accomplices, Amanda Broussard, also known as Delta, and Christopher Smith, also known as Nomad. These two are meta-humans and former officers of the MHU.” Pictures of Delta and Nomad appeared on screen. “The two appear to be in possession of the feral spotted several times in the city, taken into custody by the MHU just yesterday.” The picture of Olivia in her bed sheet popped up.
“After the clash, the suspects fled the scene. The suspects are believed to be working with a vigilante known as Skulker. Representatives from both the MHU and city hall declined to comment.”
A hotline number appeared at the bottom of the screen. “If you have any information regarding these four, please contact this number provided by the USMHD.” They changed camera angles, moving on to the next news story. “Is your teen truly safe from drugs? The answer, of course, is no. A concerning trend is rising among high school students, called Getting Fucked Up, where they smoke all of the drugs at once, while drunk.”
Delta exited the window the news was opened in and turned to the others. Nomad lay on his back on the floor, using a lumpy bag as a pillow. He checked his phone for the fifth time in as many minutes. I need to talk with him about that. The moment he walks out of here they might ping us. Olivia sat nearby, arms wrapped around her knees.
“Well, everyone knows our names now, if they didn’t know before,” Delta said.
“Did they say you owned me?” That was from Olivia, who hadn’t spoken a word since waking.
Delta hesitated, as did Nomad. Oh well, she’ll hear it eventually. Delta said, “I think, like, by law, you aren’t a person. Somewhere in between animal and person, in terms of rights at least. So, you know, feral fighting rings are illegal, no torturing them for fun, and so on, but I don’t think voting is in your future. Or taxes! See? Silver linings.” What the hell am I babbling about? Taxes? You just told her another way she’s getting screwed. But Olivia smiled slightly at the tax thing, though she looked at the ground, and didn’t raise further comments, so Delta was willing to let it lie. ‘Possession’. Poor girl.
Three knocks on the back door caught their attention. They froze. The next three knocks cut the tension in the room. Skulker had bothered to come back, instead of leaving them out to dry.
“Hey! Got food,” he said as Nomad opened the door. Plastic bags rustled as he walked in. He looked around as he unloaded. “Sad an’ quiet today, are we?”
“Fuck you,” replied Delta, helping herself to a bagel. Skulker laughed, tossing what looked like a plate sized cut of ham towards Olivia. They stirred to life, the need for food cutting through depression induced stupor.
Skulker sauntered up to Delta once they’d finished. “Hey hon, my rifle’s been real banged up lately. Got time to take a look at it? I think Overlord made it. Not sure, those mercs weren’t the sharin’ type.” Crude innuendo and resulting fury came to mind, before he slung a giant rifle off his shoulder and offered it to her. Oh, it is just a rifle.
Delta stopped herself from reflexively saying no. Overlord? How in the hell did you get a hand on that? Even if Overlord himself hadn’t touched it, his undercover research companies based everything on his technology, which was some of, if not the most advanced created by man. Learning is power. She hadn’t known how a circuit board worked as a child, but her power went haywire the first time she experimented with the insides of a computer when she was twelve.
“Gimme,” she said, turning around and extending her hands. If he’s lying I’ll figure out real quick.
“You’re a real techie after all. Just say Overlord an’ they all perk right up,” he said, handing over the rifle and heading over to Olivia.
“Uh huh.” Delta set down the rifle on the desk and began disassembling. Let’s see here. This has got to have a crazy power source. Tracing this back here…no. This? Yeah. Holy… She stared at the power source. She continued to stare, until she was dragged back to reality by a hesitant tap on her shoulder.
She jerked a bit and turned. There stood a concerned Olivia and an amused Skulker. “Are you OK?” asked Olivia, while Skulker craned his neck to get a look at his rifle.
“Are you gonna put it back together?” he asked. “Been starin’ at it for fifteen minutes now. Can’t shoot anythin’ with it like that.”
“Yeah, sorry,” said Delta. Nomad paid them no mind, still glued to his phone. Ungh, headache coming on. But if this puts out the power I’m thinking it does, it has some insane heat sinks or something. Dissipated energy has to go somewhere. She continued, confirming her suspicions with various devices along the barrel. If I could put these on a large scale, I am one step closer to my own set of power armor. This is definitely what melted our van.
Delta could cover the electronics of a suit just fine, but there was so much more. She wasn’t a mechanical engineer, so the joints, strength enhancement, and overall design were beyond her. She could develop a power source just fine, but thermodynamics had been her stumbling block, at least until now. Got to keep the pilot from being roasted alive, after all. While a staple of front line engineers, sets of power armor were few and far between. There were a limited number who could afford to build and maintain them.
She checked over the rest of the rifle, rerouting the few wires a little further away from the barrel, and reassembled it. Skulker and Olivia might have talked to her at that point, she didn’t really pay attention.
She practically shoved the rifle back at Skulker before wheeling over on her chair to her main computer to start writing down all the different ideas her power provided her. Skulker led Olivia away, and she was blessedly alone with her thoughts once more. She couldn’t remember it all on her own, and just letting it simmer in her mind would bring the headache to full force. She lost track of time again. She would prefer to bounce some of the ideas off of some other engineers, see if they had any insight she had not considered. Wait a minute, all the ones I know think I’m a traitor. Damn you, Marcus.
“What are we doing?” asked Nomad, his voice bringing Delta back to reality once more. He’d put down his phone and now paced back and forth in the shop. “We can’t just sit here.” Looks like he finally woke up.
“I’m just here in case anythin’ interesting’ happens,” replied Skulker.
“I’m being serious,” replied Nomad, his face betraying no hint of annoyance.
“So am I,” said Skulker with a shrug.
“Wish granted. We can’t sit here. What are we doing? Or are we just going to scatter and hope for the best?” Olivia flinched at the mention of scattering.
“Marcus is who got us into this mess,” said Delta.
“Marcus is a bit out of our reach,” pointed out Nomad. “And I really doubt this was all just him.”
“Sanchez probably wants all us dead,” said Skulker. “Definitely wants me and ‘liv’.” Liv? Oh, Olivia.
“Cyrus seemed to think Sanchez had a rat in the MHU,” said Nomad.
“Not the only thing he’s doin’,” added Skulker. “Movin’ stuff for Overlord, too.”
“We’ll need to figure out how to deal with him. That will probably put us back in people’s good graces, prove that we aren’t working with him. We’ll get vigilante or mercenary status, better than arrest on sight. Are we all on board with this?”
“All of us?” asked Delta.
“Divided we fall,” said Nomad. “I’m not sure who else I can trust. Do you?” No. Delta kept silent. “Then let’s do this.”