“Hey Delta, bosses want to see us,” called Nomad through the doorway to Delta’s workshop.
Amanda grunted in response. She didn’t know Nomad well, and besides, she was busy. Did they have any idea how delicate this circuit board was? No, no they didn’t. She helped keep the technological side of this meta-human unit running, but someone would always expect her to drop whatever she was doing for something else. Never mind the fact that she always had other projects from other people, on top of her own equipment. She wanted to just zap anyone who walked into her workshop without permission, but the people in charge weren’t big fans of being zapped.
Join the force, they said. You have powers, use them for justice! Never mind the fact that her life was an endless bureaucratic nightmare of red tape and suits. Even Cyrus was powerless against the grinding, unstoppable monstrosity that was the USMHD. She envied those independent teams. They just dumped criminals on the government’s doorstep and let the Meta Human Unit do the paper work. She just wanted a place to put her work to good use, but whatever she made was strictly monitored. Should have gone corporate, or independent.
She thought that the graveyard shift would give her some peace, but no. She usually had to deal with Marcus Abbott, who was in charge about this time, unless Cyrus had something for the unit at four in the morning. And Marcus is a prick.
She was getting a similar sense from Nomad from the brief time she had known him: righteous, official, and stuck up. Probably just got out of the law enforcement part of the Academy, does everything by the books. He was a big guy for his age, which she guessed to be about 18 or so, same as her. He was dressed in urban camo fatigues with a standard issue pistol on his hip and a blue bandana covering his face below the eyes.
At least he has something resembling common sense. No need to let everyone know who you are. She didn’t know exactly what his powers were, something to do with water maybe, or strength? Amusingly enough, he was white, blond haired and blue eyed. Doesn’t exactly fit with the image of a wandering desert nomad, but whatever.
The workshop itself was small, dimly lit, and chaotic. There were four different computers set up around the walls of the room. One was dismantled, its guts strewn about in the nearby vicinity. Right. I’ll get that up and running one day. The workbench where Delta was currently sitting was covered in various tools, ones she had made specially to help her with her work. Soldering materials, various components for circuit boards, far more efficient than anything on the market, and a very bright lamp to illuminate her work.
After a moment, with Delta not making a move to get up from her work, Nomad said, “Come on, Cyrus has got something for us. Something about a feral in the city.”
Delta sighed. “Fine, just give me a minute. What do they need me for against a feral anyway?” she said, her voice altered by the helmet she wore. The helmet covered her entire head, with a jet black visor over her face. She could see everything beyond it just fine, as well as the Facebook tab she currently had projected on the inside.
Her heavier combat version could also show her thermals, UV, maps, and others. The one she currently wore was a much lighter, more comfortable version. No need to tell everyone who she really was, and besides, no one could ever tell she was dicking around on the internet while they explained to her the utmost importance of whatever stupid project they had for her next. The meta-human unit was far more casual than the normal police.
“I don’t know. Apparently this one is weird. Skulker’s the one that found it, he’s with Cyrus right now.”
She put the circuit board down. She’d reached a good stopping point anyways. “Alrighty then,” she said as she got up, “lead on.” She locked up the workshop behind her.
As they walked, Delta asked “Skulker, that guy with the smiley mask? Crippled those three gangbangers up north last week?” Nomad nodded silently. “I’d have thought he’d have just shot a feral.”
“Yeah. I’m not quite sure what the story is. Cyrus called me up and told me to get you. At this point you know as much as I do,” Nomad responded. He sighed, “A feral, here, on top of everything else. Never mind the fact people are angry about damn near everything, and letting us know.”
“No kidding. Marcus had me working all week on crowd recognition software stuff. Something to pick out individuals in a mob.”
They crossed the building and walked up to one of the conference rooms, soundproofed and secure. The walls were a featureless grey, so as to focus everyone’s attention on the presumably important reason they were in the room in the first place. Standing inside around the long table were Skulker, Marcus, and Cyrus. A woman who looked to be a civilian was sitting at the table, observing the argument Skulker and Marcus were having as Nomad and Delta walked in.
Marcus was in a run of the mill police uniform, which meant he couldn’t nearly match the creepy factor that Skulker could pull off with that leering mask, despite the fact that Marcus was the most powerful magician in Colorado and quick to let anyone know it. Delta idly wondered how Skulker saw out of that mask of his; there were small eye holes, but that rather restricted what you could see.
“…its just ridiculous. How could we have not heard anything about this until just now, in this way? You both are obviously mistaken.” Marcus was saying, gesturing to both Skulker and the woman.
“You callin’ me a liar, you prick?” retorted Skulker, his hand resting on the hilt of a long knife. Delta smiled beneath her helmet at the prick comment.
“Quiet you two,” Cyrus broke in before either man could do or say something stupid. Cyrus was only of average height and build, which didn’t quite fit his reputation amongst the average citizen. He had a magnificent black beard and a helmet that covered the top half of his head, but left his vision unimpaired. He wore the light armor the secret service had let him keep.
He’d been a major part of the meta-human secret service for the president, but post 9/11 paranoia had gotten him booted by several prominent fear mongering politicians. So far as Delta could tell, he was the son of Persian nationals who’d fled to the US back in the early seventies. It didn’t matter that he had served eight distinguished years before, people still got riled up over his religion and heritage.
Cyrus paused to make sure Skulker and Marcus obeyed before continuing. “Delta, Nomad. Thank you for joining us. Now,” He gestured to the woman “Tell us your story. From the beginning, short and sweet version.”
“OK. So I was walking home after visiting some friends. We’d gone to a bar and probably stayed out later than we should have. I mean, it had been forever since we’d seen each other and I’m from out of town and…”
Cyrus cut her off. “Focus, we need relevant details.”
“OK, sorry. I was alone, walking back since I wanted some fresh air and I was probably a little drunk, and these three guys came out and surrounded me. I screamed for help and punched one a couple times, but then one of them came at me with a knife. He had it up to my throat when the girl with wings came out and yelled out at them.”
Marcus snorted, “Yes, some feral just talked in a complete sentence. It was probably a shifter or something.”
“Marcus,” said Cyrus warningly, “let her finish.”
“Anyways,” she continued with a glare at Marcus, who glared right back, “We were all standing there when I noticed she had claws on her hands. Then she started hissing and looked like she was about to attack or something. The guys ran off.”
“Why didn’t you? You should know that ferals are dangerous.” interjected Nomad.
“I was kind of in shock. She hadn’t stopped hissing when the men left. I thought I was a goner when she just stopped and asked if I was OK. I told her I was, then she kind of got distracted and left after the men. I left and called the police.”
“Describe the feral for us again.”
“Alright. She had a normal woman’s body, over six feet tall. The hands and feet were reptilian, and ended in claws. She had a tail and wings, and all of this was with dark green scales. Um…she had silver snake eyes, and her teeth were all sharp, like a shark’s. She was dressed in some bulky old clothes. That’s it.”
“Yeah, tha’ checks out with what I saw too,” added Skulker.
“So you’re saying that a feral, a mindless animal, wore clothing, spoke to you, then just left you alone. It didn’t do anything else,” challenged Marcus.
“Enough,” said Cyrus firmly before the woman had a chance to respond. He turned to her and said, “Thank you for your cooperation. Marcus here will escort you to the police department, so you can identify your attackers, provide a statement, and so forth. Marcus?” He looked at Marcus expectantly.
When they had left, Cyrus turned to Skulker, who practically oozed smugness at Marcus being shown up. “Your turn.”
“My turn! ‘K, I saw those three guys runnin’ hard away from her, didn’t know tha’ at the time. I stab…er… incapacitated ‘em. Then she came round the corner an’ started hissin’ like tha’ lady said. She eventually backed off, so I called you lot. An’ I don’t care what tha’ dick Marcus says, she was more intelligent than jus’ some animal. Was only aggressive when she recognized that I was reachin’ for a gun.” Skulker said as quickly as humanly possible.
Delta mused on the new information for a moment, as did everyone else. Hmm. This is new. Ferals are just half human half animal things with fucked up heads that kill people. This is probably bullshit, but Cyrus seems to believe it. Weird
She spoke up, “What’s the statistic? Only around 30% of ferals can even speak, mostly not well?”
“Yes,” responded Cyrus, “And the ones that we don’t get to end up as criminals in some way. They have no real human empathy. That’s why the three of you are going to track her down.”
What? Just the three of us? Isn’t this usually animal control’s problem? And why the hell is Cyrus taking this seriously? Delta would have spoken up, but she had the feeling that Skulker wouldn’t react too well to being called a liar again. His not-so-subtle threat to Marcus, a higher up in the Meta Human Department, in front of Cyrus, currently one of the strongest supers in the world, did not indicate a rational mind.
Ahead of any questions Skulker, Nomad, or Delta could voice, Cyrus raised a placating hand and said, “If she is mentally human, and it sounds like she is, we want to get off on the right foot. I know this a big if. We protect people, and if she is mentally human, she just woke up with no memories and a strange body, complete with more animalistic instincts. She’ll need help. However the risk is too great to send in a psychologist. You will give a preliminary assessment of her mental situation, if she can be reasoned with or if she is just another feral. If she is feral, us and animal control go in. If not, it would be highly unethical to treat what is essentially a person like an animal. Questions?”
“Why us?” said Delta immediately. Nomad nodded.
“As a group, you all should be around her age, if she just triggered. You specifically because you can be very effective at information gathering. I would be shocked if she hasn’t shown up on a security camera somewhere. Nomad because she can’t kill him if things go bad, and he can restrain her. Skulker because he is good in a fight, good at finding things, and should it be necessary I don’t think he’ll have any moral compunctions about killing her. He may not be part of the force, but I’m trusting he will assist us in this manner,” Cyrus looked to Skulker.
“Yeah, I’ll cooperate.”
“Good. Now don’t get me wrong, we are taking every precaution in this matter. Warning civilians, telling the police and our patrols to be alert, and the rest. The instant we believe she poses a threat, animal control subdues her. But if I’m right in this, we could have another super on our side, or at least neutral. Now, I believe you all have some work ahead of you. Nomad, you’re in charge.”
The moved for the door when Cyrus said, “Oh yes, a word of warning. You’ll get a more complete briefing with everyone else later but we’re starting to believe that Freedom Fighter is in the area, and is behind the recent protests and near riots.”
“Doesn’t he stick to the South or other war torn parts of the world?” asked Nomad.
“Yes, we don’t know for certain but we’re looking into any possible reason why he would be here. Now, anything else?”
There was nothing else. They filed out, parted ways with Cyrus, and at Nomad’s suggestion went back to Delta’s workshop. Delta hated other people in her workshop more than absolutely necessary, but they needed to get this farce over with. Besides, she had a few ideas…
But first: “Let’s get this over with. I’m Delta” she said for Skulker’s benefit, sitting in the chair she had occupied before as they entered her workshop. “I’m an engineer, specializing in electricity and electronics.” It was vastly more complicated than that, but that’s what the end result was, and explaining to these two would be wasted breath.
Skulker chuckled “A techie. Cool. I teleport, mostly. Enhanced reflexes, the like.”
Techie. Delta sighed. She hated her job. If you wanted to be condescending to a super powered engineer or scientist, techie didn’t get much better. There were other, better names, tinker for example, techno mage if you were in a backwards part of the world, but the term techie was ingrained in the American public, and therefore most unlearned American supers, psyche. She preferred engineer.
“I turn into goo.”
Delta looked up. That had come from Nomad.
“I get the feelin’ there’s more to tha’ statement,” said Skulker after Nomad didn’t offer up any further comments.
“Yeah. I’m completely in control, can change my shape, and can snap back to normal at will.”
“So why did Cyrus say that this feral can’t hurt you?” asked Delta.
“You ever try to beat up a pool of water with yer bare hands? Do it an’ tell me how it goes. I thought techies were brighter than average,” said Skulker, laughing. Oh, we’re going to get along just great, I can tell already.
“Yeah, ferals depend on raw strength. That doesn’t work so well against me, provided I’m liquid.”
After a brief silent moment, Skulker turned to Nomad and said, “Alrighty then fearless leader, what’s the game plan?”
Find the feral they said. It should be easy they said. Well, too bad she can fly and apparently doesn’t want to be found. As much skepticism as Delta had for Skulker’s claim, the only explanation she could think of for the feral’s elusiveness was a reluctance to be found, backed by at least a rudimentary intelligence. She would only believe it once she heard it speak, but she was now willing to give Skulker the benefit of the doubt.
Delta had programs sifting through security feeds and logs from the nearby stores and buildings in that shopping center. The first thing they found was footage from an ATM camera from over a week ago. It was the feral, Skulker confirmed that the instant he looked at the still picture. She was wrapped in some bed sheet. OK. She’s been around for a while. No one has disappeared lately, so she hasn’t eaten anyone. She’s actively looked for clothes, unless someone gave the ones Skulker saw on her, but no one in their right mind would approach her.
“Well, she’s not small.” commented Delta.
“Yeah, and you bastards wondered why I didn’t shoot her. She was five feet from me, an’ hissin’.” replied Skulker, “like some sort of snake or dragon or somethin’.” They sent the picture to the newspapers and continued their work.
Two days they had been searching, and still had only the roughest idea of where she was. Delta, Nomad, and Skulker were in the workshop once again, hammering out ideas. The trio was sitting in a triangle, with Nomad sat in a folding chair off to Delta’s left. Skulker was bouncing up and down on a stool balanced precariously on two legs. Delta idly scrolled through the data she’d compiled on ferals at the bench.
Two kinds of alterations happened simultaneously with a feral trigger: the body and the brain. The amount of change in each was completely independent of the other. On one end of the scale was a girl who had grown an extra set of arms and antennae, with no other physiological changes, but she was no more intelligent than the average worker ant.
The most intelligent feral recorded to date, and there had only been around 140 in the US since 1900, was a man named Steve, who was a large hairy…thing. Delta didn’t want to say Wookie, but only because Wookies traditionally didn’t have eight legs. According to his IQ test he was only a little behind an average person.
The only consistency with ferals was that the animal they were based off of had to be somewhat terrestrial, based on Earth DNA. This meant no aliens or ocean life. They had found footage of a feral trigger, the only such trigger caught on video. Delta and Nomad had almost vomited, and even Skulker looked away.
Just as supers had been around forever, so had ferals. Many monster myths in the world could be attributed to them, like werewolves. There were many theories on how exactly ferals came about. The most commonly accepted explanation was that their safeties had been warped somehow. But there were so few constants among ferals it was hard to verify any scientific information on them.
“I say we jus’ blow up the building she’s gotta be hidin’ out in. Boom, problem solved,” Skulker was saying.
“And how exactly does that help us?” asked Nomad. That man was a bottomless well of patience. He hadn’t snapped at Skulker’s stupidity once in the two days they’d known each other. And, unlike Delta, he never rose to the bait Skulker offered.
“No more feral,” said Skulker, as if it were completely obvious. “See? You can solve any problem with the proper application of explosions.”
“And you think this is a good idea, and that we should follow through with something like that?” Nomad responded in an even voice. How does he do it?
“No, but it’d make life easier for me at any rate. An’ at the end of the day, isn’t that what’s most important? Ask yourself not what can Skulker do for you, but what can you do for Skulker?”
“No. Not at all,” spoke up Delta, “Anyways, why are you even doing this if you just want to kill her?”
“I help cuz I said I would. An’ I don’t particularly wanna kill her, jus’ sayin’ it would make things easier, short term wise.”
“Don’t blow anything up. We’re here to help her, if we can,” said Nomad.
“Fine, fine. I’ll help her,” replied Skulker
Skulker might be a pain to work with, but if you got him to say he’d do something, it would happen, and well. But he needs to stop making bad electricity puns every time he walks in here. I WILL install that security system now, just for him. Skulker made it plain that he obeyed them only for the duration of their mission.
Nomad was better, not that that was saying much, but it was true. He was thankfully quiet, reserved, and not too imposing when Delta was working on something. That alone earned him many brownie points in Delta’s books. She was reconsidering her earlier evaluation of him. And Skulker, for whatever reason, listened to him more than he ever did to Delta.
“Alright, last night our feral broke up another attempted murder, the third time this week, including the one you found, Skulker. It was the same pattern as the last two, she swooped in, the thugs ran off, and so does our feral once they’re gone.”
Nomad continued, “It’s not much to work with, but I think we need to concentrate solely on the area near where Skulker found her. That’s roughly where those other incidents were, as well as most of the sightings on the cameras. I think we’ve established that she does possess intelligence, especially since we’ve had so few sightings of her in over two weeks since the first one.”
“Yeah, she’s been avoidin’ people. I’ve been talkin’ to some homeless fellas. Only two of ‘em have even had a passin’ glance of her. It’s hard to hide somethin’ like this from the homeless. They see almost everythin’ on the streets,” added Skulker.
“She’s even avoiding security cameras, so she can recognize those as well,” said Delta.
“So me and Skulker will continue to patrol the area. Delta, you’re working on something to help right?”
“Yes. Got a couple of scanners. If she’s cold blooded, and she very well could be, this one right here should pick up on that,” responded Delta, pointing to a large ball with what appeared to be multiple camera lenses pointing in different directions.
“Got a tracking system all set up for it, and I just finished the modified tasers for you two,” Delta continued, passing what seemed to be a normal taser to each of them. These were part of her standard arsenal, good for non lethal takedowns. It wasn’t hard for Delta to make it so that it knocked people unconscious, rather than just cause pain. “These should knock her out if you need them too. Had to pump up the power a bit just to be safe.”
“Thank you. So these scanners will be ready by?” asked Nomad, trailing off to let her finish the statement.
“Tomorrow. Still testing to make sure they, you know, work. Make sure they can distinguish between our feral and every other person in the city. Also gotta install them in a vehicle as well. They’re too heavy to carry around, and they don’t do us any good in here.”
“Alright. I’ll tell Cyrus that we will probably have something for him by tomorrow. Him and Marcus are getting impatient. They don’t want the populace to get angry about a loose feral on top of everything else.”
It took longer than Delta thought, but the van was finally ready. She enlisted Nomad to drive in the general area while she monitored. Skulker was at his day job by the time they got moving. As a vigilante, Skulker didn’t do hero work for a paycheck.
They had found their feral fairly quickly with the thermal scanner, but the feral never remained in more than one spot for too long. It also didn’t register as cold blooded. Well that scanner was a waste of time. The feral never went to somewhere they considered to be its home, unfortunate considering that they would probably have better success if it was comfortable with where it was at.
Nomad and Delta both doubted she could be reasoned with. Intelligence did not denote rationality. Orders were orders, but that didn’t stop them from being reluctant from approaching what they both considered a killing machine. Just because she didn’t hunt didn’t mean she couldn’t kill.
Delta watched as the feral landed in the middle of the street, then take off again almost immediately. Odd. She hasn’t done that before. She directed Nomad to drive to where the feral had landed. There was nothing to indicate why that had happened. They drove on, not letting the feral out of scanner range.
Delta saw the feral land again, pace around, then go into a building.
“Uh oh. She just went inside a building with people in it. Can’t tell what building though.”
Suddenly Nomad’s phone buzzed with an incoming text. It popped up on the inside of Delta’s helmet. The text was from Skulker, an address not too far from their current position, with an attached picture.
“Isn’t Skulker at his other job now?” asked Delta from the back.
“Yeah, was that him?” said Nomad.
Delta looked at the attached picture. It was the feral, standing in what appeared to be a donut shop, if the signs and ads were anything to go by.
“Oh, here we go. Skulker works in that building she just went into. Go to this address.” She told Nomad the directions, then another text came in. Delta read it, then said, “Holy shit, she just walked in and bought a dozen donuts. She is sane. Skulker’s tracking her now. No, turn that way, she’s moving.”
They followed the feral’s signal to an abandoned apartment building, common in the area. Skulker followed soon after, then moved to the rooftop. Delta dressed in her combat kit, tasers and batons charged. Nomad parked, pulled out his assault rifle, and him and Delta piled out of the car. The scanners didn’t show anything cold blooded within the building (of course not), but the thermals did show the feral in question.
“Give me something Delta, is she in there?” said Nomad, “You too, Skulker.
“On the roof now. Haven’t seen any movement other than you two,” was Skulker’s reply.
“She’s in there. I make stuff that works, you know.”
Delta called the Meta Human Unit HQ. She informed Cyrus of the situation, and set up a live feed to the HQ from her helmet. They would see and hear what Delta would.
Delta turned on the thermal sights on her helmet as she and Nomad approached the door. She saw the feral lying down on something, it was hard to tell what. Nomad cautiously opened the door and they walked inside and up the nearest staircase. The feral got up and walked several paces away from the window, towards what Delta assumed to be the central hallway. Suddenly she bolted for the other staircase.
“Damn it, she’s onto us. She’s going up the other set of stairs.” she told the rest of the team. Nomad and her broke into a run.
“Skulker, you still there?” asked Nomad.
“Yep. In position now.” was the reply. After a few moments, she head Skulker again over the comms. “Whoa, back. Hi there!” He was transmitting what his mic picked up to everyone else. “No, don’ even think about it. We’re not here for a fight.” That’s concerning. She grabbed a stun baton from her hip.
As Delta and Nomad rushed up the stairs, HQ sent them a message. “Hey you three, be advised. There’s a major protest going on in the area, to the north of your location. It’s starting to look like it might turn violent, so watch yourselves.”
Nomad said back, “Is it looking like Freedom Fighter is out there?”
“Yeah, we’re starting to think so. That’s got to be the only reason they’re up this early in the morning. Cyrus says to keep doing what you’re doing though, we’ve got it covered. Good hunting.”
Nomad and Delta finally reached the rooftop with Skulker and the feral. Skulker was holding a knife. That doesn’t bode well. Did the feral try to attack or something? Did Skulker? Despite Skulker’s claims that he didn’t lie, that just made Delta trust him less. It didn’t look like either had tried to kill each other, the knife blade wasn’t out, and neither were panting as though they had just had a go at each other.
The feral turned and backed away with a growl, her eyes focusing on the weapons they held. This was somewhat intimidating, considering Delta in armor barely came up to the feral’s shoulder. Nomad spoke up, trying to calm her down, with Skulker trying to help, (maybe?), and failing miserably. Good idea. I don’t think Skulker is a calming influence. Delta told Skulker to shut up. Then the feral spoke, in a relatively small voice that sounded scared, out of place with the looming figure with claws, or her mouth full of sharp teeth.
“What… Please just leave me alone.”
Nomad pressed on, telling her their names. Then he mentioned the Meta Human police. The feral got angry at that. How did she…Skulker you idiot. Why did you show her that? She’s smart enough to figure it out. Delta’s doubts as to the feral’s intelligence were gone now. She can remember how to read. That’s definitely new.
The feral started backing away, but stopped when Nomad mentioned the memory loss. The feral stopped. Oh yeah, I’d be freaking the fuck out if I were her. She’s not going anywhere if she thinks that we can make sense of her situation. The feral didn’t want to go back inside, still paranoid that they were there to capture her. She was reassured by Delta and Nomad putting their weapons on the ground. Even Skulker managed to not be incompetent and got a name out of her: Olivia.
Delta found herself explaining the concept of triggering, since she was the only one who truly had taken any time to research. Just because she didn’t believe Skulker didn’t mean that she had dismissed him out of hand, and he did turn out to be right after all. As she explained, Olivia relaxed, leaning forward eagerly for any information.
HQ sent another message. “Delta, a word of warning, let the rest of your team know. The protest is a full riot now. We’ve got a sighting of Freedom Fighter riling up the mob with his power, so you three are on standby.”
She relayed this to the others when they weren’t talking. Nomad had taken over, and Delta honestly felt bad when he had to explain the permanence of Olivia’s position to her. They could have continued with the exposition for Olivia for much longer, but a large explosion cut off Nomad mid explanation, and soon after the comms with HQ came live once again.