She slowly came back to consciousness. She hurt all over, as if people had been beating her with chains for several hours. Her head felt worse. Something distant spoke, and her head moved, not of her volition, causing an explosion of pain. She slowly came back to her senses, temporarily paralyzed by the overload. There was a strange taste in her mouth. Nothing else really made sense. A thing nudged her head again. Still hurts. Now aware she lay on the ground, she tried to roll over to the side away from where the thing was coming from, her movements clumsy and slow.
She grumbled something unintelligible, then tried to piece together what was going on. Where was she? Who was she? At that she opened her eyes and attempted to bolt upright, her muscles still not responding as well as they should, muttering “Nonononono, not again.” Not again? “No, I woke up…a couple weeks ago. I scavenged food. I’ve…I’ve got some weird…monster body…or something. Some people found me. Feral. There was an explosion. …Olivia. That’s…that’s my name.”
Her hands grasped the sides of her head. She had managed to get upright. Where she was or how she got there she was hazy on. There was a bomb in a hospital, a riot, and some guys shot at me. That was all she could recall at the moment. Then she realized someone was talking to her.
“…really appreciate it if you’d simply tell us if you’re gonna try an’ kill us or not instead of spoutin’ crazy talk. Make life so much easier.” Why is he talking so fast?
She looked over to the source of the voice. There was a guy in black in a squat nearby, with a smiling mask and a length of pipe in hand. That’s…um, Skulker. Behind him was a strange blue blob and someone in riot police armor, holding a long gun at the ready.
“What…what happened?” asked Olivia, shakily attempting to stand. The arm she was pushing up with stopped cooperating, and she collapsed again.
“Olivia, we need to know you’re not a threat to anyone. What do you remember?” said an automated voice that took Olivia a moment to connect to Delta.
Olivia had recovered enough to be able to struggle to her hands and knees. She looked up and said, “Nothing. I was at the hospital, I think. This isn’t the hospital though.”
Skulker tossed the pipe he was holding aside and stood upright. He took a step to Olivia and stuck out his hand to help her up. “Good enough for me.”
Olivia gratefully took the hand, careful not to drive her claws into his arm, and stood. “Jesus Christ, how do you fly, weighin’ that much?” said Skulker, hauling her upward. “OK, now we get to fill you in on all the people you killed! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’re just absolutely covered in blood.”
Olivia stared at Skulker blankly, then looked to the others for any hint as to what he was talking about. The blue blob suddenly turned into Nomad. Oh, so that’s what he does. She looked at herself. Her hands were blood red. They should be green. Right? It took her longer than it should have to make the connection, but when she did her mind went into overdrive. With a calmness she didn’t feel she looked back up and said, “Please tell me what happened, right now.”
“We don’t know. You need to tell us what you were thinking, going directly after Freedom Fighter like that. There’s a reason we told you to stay where you were,” said Nomad. He had approached, now shoulder to shoulder with Skulker. Delta hung back, rifle pointed down, looking apprehensive.
“I didn’t want to sit there and watch people die. I didn’t know that Freedom Fighter was there because you told me NOTHING other than ‘stay here’. And what was that about me KILLING PEOPLE?” Olivia was practically shouting at this point, trying to piece together her memories and that strange taste in her mouth…
An absolutely horrifying thought struck her. Her fears were confirmed when Skulker said, “You were all hissin’, flayin’ everyone left and right. About fifty people. Kinda cool actually. You practically ate this one guy…” He mimed grabbing someone and biting, continuing to talk animatedly, right up to the point Olivia doubled over and vomited.
She would have fallen over had Nomad not grabbed ahold of her. She was busy trying and failing to form some sort of coherent thought, there was only static in her mind. The others were still talking, though not to her, the monster.
“We should very probably get her out of here,” said Nomad, “Let’s get her cleaned up, and get her side of the story before we jump to any conclusions and get her hanged. Delta, want to grab the van?”
“Yeah.” Delta responded. Olivia heard her footstep recede.
“Ya know Olivia, you basically won the feral lottery” Skulker said in the brief moment of silence after Delta’s departure. That got Olivia to react. She stiffened a little, though she couldn’t bring herself to make eye contact.
Nomad said warningly, “Skulker…”
Skulker continued, “Don’ get me wrong, in the grand scheme of life you are definitely still gettin’ pooped on. But you’re bulletproof, not many people can say that. Yer mental facilities are all still there. An’ even physically, yer symmetrical” he made a vague hand gesture towards her, “not many ferals can say that. I mean, if they could talk. It woulda sucked if ya only got stuck with one wing or somethin’. Happens to ferals, y’know.”
Skulker chattered on, something about a heavy metal album cover, but Olivia didn’t pay attention. The sounds of cars and sirens and fighting did reach Olivia, though only one drew closer. Eventually, Nomad said, “Here’s the van. Let’s get her in,” as Delta drove up.
“Bueno, where are we headin’? Can go to my place if ya want,” said Skulker.
“Yeah, why not? Need a place to go. Never really cared about the secret identity thing anyhow, an’ you an’ Delta don’t seem to be the types to use it against me.”
Nomad nodded and opened the back doors. Olivia got in silently and sat at the edge of one of the two seats in the back, Nomad following suit. Skulker joined Delta in the front, giving her directions. After a couple minutes of otherwise silent driving, Skulker called out to the back, “Hey, she spoken yet or did we break her?”
“I’m still here.” Olivia mumbled, staring at her feet.
“Skulker, not the time,” said Nomad. To Olivia he asked, “How are you holding up?”
Olivia was silent for another minute, gathering her thoughts, then asked, “Why are you doing this?”
“Hmmm…” Olivia was hoping he was considering his answer, rather than coming up with something “witty” like Skulker would. Nomad wasn’t a sarcastic person, so far as she could tell.
“I don’t condemn people out of hand. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt. Freedom Fighter’s done the same to a lot of good people. People would be forgiving but you’re a feral. They’re going to want you dead now, regardless of any other information, and they will get that if we just turn you away.”
Good people. “You should have just left me there.”
“No. None of that angsty ‘I wanna die’ bullshit. You get knocked down you get the fuck back up. Learn from your mistakes and move on.” Skulker had been listening in from the front.
“Listen to us this time. You said you didn’t want to stand by and watch people die. Well, we aren’t going to sit here and watch you die either,” said Nomad.
Olivia took this in silently. From the van’s movements she could tell that they were west by southwest of their original location, heading towards the mountains. She could hear sirens everywhere, though there were no windows in the back of the van.
“Here we are,” called out Skulker after a couple more minutes.
They got out of the van, in a parking lot across from what Skulker pointed out to be his apartment building.
“Wait a minute,” said Delta, “do people regularly see supers go in and out of this building? We are going for low key here.”
“Well, lately a lot of people’ve been movin’ out, can’t afford rent anymore. I’m probably gonna have to move soon, landlord can’t maintain the place. Still, ya have a point.”
Delta slowly turned her head, scanning the area. “Looks like no one’s coming. People are probably holing up because of the riot. From the chatter I’m getting it wasn’t contained nearly as well as HQ hoped it would be.”
They got into the building and to the third floor where Skulker’s apartment was located without incident. The building reminded Olivia of her home, dilapidated, in bad repair, and otherwise worse for wear. I’d like to go back. All of my stuff is there. Skulker unlocked his apartment and they all entered.
The interior was spartan. The walls were a light grey, adorned only with a mounted tomahawk. There was a couch across from a small TV, hooked up to a cable box, on a table. A tiny kitchen was off to the right. To their left were doors to the bedroom and bathroom.
Skulker flipped on the light. “Home sweet home.” He pulled back the hood over his head and removed his mask. He was a nondescript guy, clean shaven with close cropped, dark brown hair. A smile hovered at the edges of his lips. “Hi, my name is Ben, and I’ve been vigilante-ing for four years.” He paused. “What? It’s weird if ya call me Skulker without the getup.” He gestured towards the mask in his hand.
Wait a minute. “I thought your name was Samuel,” said Olivia.
“Eh? Oh, right. Fake name. Well, kind of. I’m an identical triplet. We borrow each other’s names from time to time to make things more fun. Sam’s one of my brothers.” He pointed to himself, “I am Ben.”
“Identical?” Delta asked in horror. Skulk-Ben nodded. “Oh God, there are three of you.” Ben laughed. Delta, Nomad, and Olivia had closed the door behind them, but moved no further into the apartment.
Nomad removed his bandana. Everyone looked at him as he did so. Taken somewhat off guard by everyone’s sudden attention, he said, “You can call me Chris.” He had a ridiculously square jaw, complimenting a blocky head.
“My God man. I feel justice and America coursing through my veins just looking at you,” said Ben.
Surprisingly, Chris smiled briefly at that, “Yeah, I get that sometimes.”
Ben maintained a grin not dissimilar to the one on his mask. “Come in, make yourselves at home. ‘Cept you, Olivia. You look like shit. Bathroom’s down on the left. Use the shower if ya like.”
Olivia brightened a bit at the mention of the shower. She headed in the direction Ben referred to as Chris and Delta moved towards the couch. Ben kept the bathroom clean. The smell of cleaning chemicals in a confined space made her eyes water, though it was better than the alternative. She closed the door behind her and got a good look at herself in the mirror.
Bleh, he wasn’t exaggerating. At all. Her clothes were riddled with bullet holes, with the occasional splatter of blood. She poked at an isolated hole in the side of her shirt, and it corresponded to a black and blue bruise on her rib. The shirt was originally plain green with some small company logo on it, but was now a mixture of green and dark red, and her mouth… She dry heaved in the direction of the toilet, but managed to keep the remaining contents of her stomach in their proper place. She grabbed a towel, soaked it in the sink, and scrubbed vigorously, not looking at the mirror again until finished.
There was a quick rap at the door, “Hey, you vomit again in there?” asked Ben. Apparently she hadn’t been quiet about it.
“No, I’m fine.”
“Alright.” Ben left the door.
Olivia took a second to recover, then stripped off her ruined clothes. She was covered in bruises, which explained the general pain she felt in movement. That done, she entered the shower. She spent a long time in there, getting two weeks of accumulated grime off felt fantastic, despite recent events.
Let’s take a step back. What am I going to do now? She felt terrible, and not just physically. Who did I kill? Did they deserve it? Who am I to judge those things like that anyways? It was tempting to just descend into self-pity, to just blame anything and everything besides herself. However, she had made the conscious decision to ignore the others. She would have to deal with it, even though it had cost others dearly as well. This felt far worse than the guilt she had over stealing food and clothes. She had a good reason then.
She heard the others talking in the other room over the noise of the shower. Nomad said, “I’m going to drive the van back, report in, and figure out how the Unit is responding.”
Skulker said, “Can I bum a ride from ya? Mine’s back at the donut shop. Oh, yeah, an’ might as well grab some of Olivia’s stuff for her on the way back.”
“Sure. You good here Delta?”
“Yes,” she responded. And with that, the guys left. Olivia heard the TV turn on.
Memory had been something of a sore point for Olivia lately, though some of hers were coming back. Now she kind of wished they weren’t. She remembered an arm in her hand, unattached to its previous owner. Fighting, screaming, blood, fires. Guns going off, usually accompanied by a spike of pain. She vaguely remembered the others, Nomad, Delta, and Skulker as well, thinking that they were attacking her like everyone else.
Eventually, Olivia reluctantly exited the shower, got dressed, and returned to the living room. Delta had her armor off, with the helmet before her on a low table. A thick panel on the back of the helmet was open, and she fiddled with something within. She wore a tight grey bodysuit. The TV was on some standup comedy show.
Where Olivia was tall and bulky (you know what? Let’s go with big boned), Delta out of armor was comparatively short, about Ben’s height, with a runners build and her black hair cut short.
Delta looked up at Olivia’s entrance, moved over to give her room on the couch, then returning to her work. Olivia sat down on the edge, trying to make sure her wing didn’t accidentally get in Delta’s way. She tried to watch the TV, but didn’t understand a single reference the comedian made.
Delta hadn’t spoken a single word to her since they were at the top of the apartment building. Wait a minute, I probably nearly killed her, from what I can remember. What are you supposed to say to someone after that? Olivia took a couple minutes to think of something, then reasoned that she might be more willing to talk about her work than anything else.
“So, what are you working on, Delta?” asked Olivia. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Delta’s eye twitch, and worried about how she had messed up this time.
“You can call me Amanda. And what I’m working on…” she trailed off as she concentrated on something. Olivia heard a zap, and whiff of something burnt. “…is repairing the hardware for what is essentially a phone I have built into the helmet, which got…there we go!” Something else made a strange noise from the helmet. “Which got damaged today.”
Sparks, pain, some annoying thing kept hitting me. Recognition. Shouldn’t be a threat. “Was…that because of me?” Olivia asked.
“Probably, yeah. Are you starting to remember anything?” Amanda put the panel back on the helmet, screwed it in place, then put it to the side with the rest of the armor and sat back more comfortably.
“Yeah. I mean from today, not, you know…from before. I’m really, really sorry about that.”
“What do you remember anyways? You haven’t even smiled at this,” she pointed to the TV, “it’s actually pretty funny.”
“You haven’t smiled either.”
“I smile and laugh on the inside. And you look like you need to talk to someone. Skulker, or Ben, whatever, has the emotional intelligence of a goldfish. Nomad won’t be back ‘till tomorrow, he’s back at the Unit’s HQ getting stuff sorted out.” She fixed Olivia with an unreadable expression.
“I heard.” Olivia paused. Do I, should I trust her? She started haltingly, with the first night she woke up. The dam broke and Olivia found her stride, eventually telling everything. Her thoughts, fears, insecurities, and actions. Amanda listened, not interrupting except for clarification.
Ben came in when Olivia was telling the part about the second mugging she interrupted, carrying a backpack, pizza box, and battered donut box. He had changed out of the rest of the Skulker costume, now in jeans and a light hoodie. From the smell, the only thing on the pizza was cheese. He had been about to shout something the instant he walked in the door when he took in the scene. He grinned, put down the things he carried in the kitchen, and grabbed a piece of pizza. He sat down on the floor, back against the wall, and began happily munching on his slice.
When she finished he said, “Have a nice heart to heart? Or ya still freakin’ out, Olivia?”
“You know what? You are just the worst asshole I’ve ever met,” Amanda burst, getting off the couch, hands forming fists. “You are an idiotic, dishonest psychopath who can’t keep his mouth shut.”
“Dishonest? Hon, you keep talkin’ like that, I slit yer throat.” Ben had also gotten up, a wide smile splitting his face, pointing with a half-eaten pizza slice in one hand, the other hidden from Olivia’s view.
Olivia was dead tired. She had been awake since before sundown yesterday, now it was 10:27 AM. Her body was exhausted, having been shot many, many times. On top of that, she felt as though she had been running for hours nonstop. She was mentally and emotionally drained, discovering you were a mass murderer put a lot of stress on someone. And now two of the three people she knew, people who had stuck with her despite Olivia almost killing them, were at each other’s throats, threatening each other.
Olivia got up. Amanda and Ben were more focused on each other, about a foot from each other’s faces. They did not notice her until she placed a hand on each of their shoulders and gently separated the two of them, fully extending her arms.
“I really can’t thank either of you enough. You’ve really helped me out. And I will throw you both through opposite walls before you two try to hurt each other. Do you understand me?” Olivia spoke slowly and softly, making sure there was no opportunity for any misunderstanding to occur. Please listen. Please listen. Please just listen.
She looked to Amanda, busy glaring at Ben, then to Ben. Ben met Amanda’s glare and pointed his pizza at Olivia when she looked at him, “I’m thinkin’ it’d be best if we all jus’ took a step back.”
“I agree.” This from Amanda, speaking tersely.
“Thank you,” Olivia said, releasing both. She watched carefully as Amanda returned the couch and Ben retreated to the kitchen.
“Oh yeah, Olivia. Swung by yer apartment. Grabbed you a change of clothes, unless ya wanna stay dressed in bloodstained rags. I’ll even spare ya the comment of how you can pull off the look. Also got yer donuts,” said Ben.
“Oh, thank you.” Then a thought struck her. “You two aren’t going to attack each other when my back is turned are you?”
“Nah, not unless she starts it,” said Ben, at the same time Amanda said, “Not unless he starts it.”
Whatever, I’ll take it. She gratefully took the clothes from the backpack that Ben had taken from her home, changed in the bathroom, then returned to the living room. Neither Ben nor Amanda had moved. Olivia grabbed some pizza, then sat on the couch. Tired, with a stomach full of food and only commercials on, she felt her eyelids grow heavy. She soon passed out.