Olivia woke up sprawled on a couch under a blanket. The TV across from her was on, though turned down to the point where it was simply white noise. Where am I? Oh, right, Skulker’s place. There was no sunlight coming in through the solitary window. She heard the TV clearly, there were more sirens than she could remember cutting through the night, and someone was muttering occasionally close by, along with furious clicking.
She got up, wincing as the bruises caused by the bullets across her chest made their presence known once again. They didn’t feel nearly as bad as they did before, but that didn’t mean they felt good. Quite the opposite. She didn’t see Delta, Nomad, or Skulker. Or rather, Amanda, Chris, and Ben. She did, however, see her box of donuts.
Food. Food is good. She grabbed one, then followed the muttering to a partially closed door across from the bathroom. She nudged it open, the sounds came from in there. Ben was there, a large set of headphones over his ears, controller in hand, grinning maniacally at the screen of the computer at his desk. “Bah! Fire hot. Fire hot. Stop shooting at me.” He chuckled a little.
As sparse as the living room was, Ben’s bedroom was chaotic. She saw three guns, including the long one he usually carried, leaning against the wall in the far corner. Two crowbars, a fire axe, and a sledgehammer were in another. On the walls were a couple movie and videogame posters thrown up haphazardly, as well as a mounted crossbow. The closet was thrown open, clothes clean and dirty spilling out. The bed was unmade, various papers strewn across it, as well as his Skulker outfit. There was a clock that read 10:14 next to the bed, which confused Olivia until she read PM.
Two boxes sat below the desk Ben was at, one full of knives, another full of what appeared to be homemade explosives and grenades. The desk itself had a small fake Christmas tree on it, a fake jack o’ lantern, and more knives, in addition to the desktop computer Ben had set up. It all smelled like him too.
He looked up as Olivia stood in the doorway, looked back at the screen and pressed several buttons. “Hey! You’re awake! And excellent choice of donut. Cake ones are fantastic.” He looked back at her and put down the controller and headphones. “Don’ have to jus’ stand there ya know.”
She walked in and sat on his bed (please don’t be breaking some taboo) while Ben spun in his chair to face her directly. He looked at her expectantly, so she asked, “What were you doing?”
“Playing Battlecall: Medal of Duty. The whole objective is to shoot other people dead until they shoot you dead, perpetuatin’ a never endin’ cycle of fictional death and violence that some philosopher could make some profound statement on about the situation of man.” He laughed, obviously pleased at his own “wit”.
She looked at him, slightly confused. Playing what? He stopped laughing. “Never heard of it, have you?” he asked. She shook her head. “I don’t suppose the phrase ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore’ holds any meaning for ya.” It didn’t. “Or ‘I am your father’,” he said in a strange deep voice. “Or ‘Yipee ki yay, motherfucker.’ Still nothing?” She shook her head. He sighed, “Tragic.” He spun and leaned over to the side, starting to sift through another box Olivia hadn’t realized was there.
“Where are the others?” asked Olivia.
“Nomad, he should be back any time now,” said Ben, his voice muffled slightly. “He went to the MHU to check on things. Delta went home, had to fix some of her gear an’ get some sleep. That’s probably what Chris did too, now that I think about it. I know I passed out for a couple hours.”
She heard several things thump in the box Ben was going through, then he came upright with several DVDs in hand. “We shall watch movies until our eyes bleed and our brains leak from our skulls! So it is written, so shall it be.”
“But…nobody wrote it.” Now what are you talking about?
He winked conspiratorially. “Tha’s jus’ what they want you to think.” He noted her lack of enthusiasm. “Or are ya still bein’ a worry wart about everythin’?”
“Yeah. I mean, I killed people. I’m getting kind of flashbacks about it and they’re awful. That was me doing that. I attacked everyone. I hurt you too, I think.”
Ben set down the DVDs and rubbed his neck. He said, “Well, to be fair, I had jus’ jabbed a taser into yer neck, so tha’ wasn’t entirely without justification on yer part.”
“Yeah, but you were trying to stop me from killing other people.”
“Yeah, but…” then he suddenly leaned over and jabbed her in the eye.
“Ow, why?” she asked, holding a hand over the poked eye. Did I do something, or is he being mean for no reason?
He considered her with a grin, stroking his chin in mock contemplation. “Interesting. Ya see, if you were a monster, as ya seem to think you are, you woulda bit me or attacked or somethin’. Instead, you’re making me feel as though I jus’ kicked a puppy. Not a classic monster trait, I’ll tell ya that for free. Also, I didn’t getcha too hard, did I?”
She blinked her eye a couple time and removed her hand, her eye was fine. “I’m fine, but please don’t do that again.” He smiled and nodded, holding his hands up to as if to say ‘I’m innocent’. She sighed. “Why?”
“Why did this have to happen? All of it, everything.”
“You want the short version or the long version? Never mind, I’ll tell ya both.” He grinned and settled more comfortably in his chair, leaning forward. “The short reason is because fuck you. That’s why.”
She stared at him for a moment, then said, “Of course, it’s all so clear now. How come I didn’t think of that before?” I am never asking you a question ever again.
He burst into laughter. “Oh God, oh, that was great. You have sarcasm after all.” His laughter subsided. “OK, OK, OK. Lemme explain. Long version. You an’ I an’ everyone else are insignificant specks on a chunk of rock, which in turn is an insignificant speck, hurtling through the icy screamin’ void of the infinite expanse of space. We mean nothin’. We can’t even perceive even the tiniest fraction of the universe. Everythin’ we do is ultimately meaningless. No matter what happens to ya, trigger or no, means jack shit. Tha’s the truth. You with me so far?”
“Really, you only just made everything I’ve ever known meaningless. Please continue.”
“But ya can’t look at it like that. It’s important to note that, in spite of what I jus’ said, people still do amazing shit. Apollo missions, the Pyramids, the concept of agriculture, an’ so on. You may be one in a billion, but ya never know what’ll come outta what ya do until ya try. Ninety nine point nine repeating percent of all 9.7 billion people on Earth wouldn’t care if I died, so why do I continue? Because I want to. Because I’ve got my brothers, I’ve got friends an’ acquaintances, I’ve got stuff I wanna do before I kick the bucket. It matters what you do more than anythin’ else. So what are you gonna do? Mope about somethin’ outta yer control, or do somethin’? I watched you eat bullets. Bullets. There’s a reason we use those to kill each other, an’ you jus’ shrugged ‘em off. You can do a lot of shit if you put yer mind to it.”
He leaned back and took a deep breath. Olivia barely heard him breathe during that entire tirade.
“I get what you’re saying. But…I don’t know. I’ve been afraid of nearly everything for two weeks now.” Ben started coughing at that. “What?”
“Nothin’. Continue.” He waved her off, hiding his smile with the other hand.
Olivia was getting tired of Ben treating everything like a joke. “What, you’ve never been afraid that some government agency is going to swoop in and dissect you? You’ve never been afraid that you were going insane because you didn’t even know your own name? Never been afraid of how you’re going to get by day to day, if you’re ever going to get a job or fit in anywhere?” Her voice was raised at that point.
Unfortunately, he still grinned. So help me, I’ll…I’ll…do…something. Ben spoke up before she could think of something suitable, “You got a point. Several actually. Sorry ‘bout that. Never really thought about it. But let me tell ya this: even without the whole dragon thing goin’ on, you look like you could break me in half, no problem. So it’s kinda funny when you get all scared and uncertain. Kinda jarring.” He caught her look. “Hey, hey, it’s a compliment. The breaking in half part at least.”
He did sound apologetic, as much as she had ever heard him before. As well, not lying seemed to be his thing. “Sorry, I kind of lost my temper there.”
He looked incredulous. “What, you lost yer temper? Tha’ sounded like a normal conversation with me. You’ve spent more time around me without snappin’ than anyone who’s not my brother. Hell, had you not said that, I wouldn’t ‘ave recognized it anyways. An’ what the hell are you saying sorry to me for anyways? I’m a jackass. My job is to hurt people. You saw me stab that one guy. Guess what? No moral repercussions for me. None. Kinda funny actually.”
“What, you’re OK with killing other people?”
“Yeah.” By the way he said it, you’d think it would be obvious to anyone.
“How are you a good guy then?”
“I’m not, not really. My brother Rob, he’s a techie, goes by Gears. He’s in Pennsylvania as a freelance criminal. Sam never got powers, I don’t think. He joined up with Lock Corp. a couple years ago when we split. Haven’t heard from him in a while. But the thing is, Rob said he’d go into the crime business, Sam said he’d be a merc. I said I’d be a vigilante, which is basically a criminal who hurts other criminals.” He motioned around them to the room full of weapons. “Hell, I stole most of this from criminals, or bought it with money I stole from them.”
“Why do you even have a job then?”
“Because if you’re tryin’ to figure out who the vigilante is, who you gonna pay more attention to? The ghost of a guy, no records to his name, or the minimum wage shmuck just goin’ through life? Gotta be careful when you’re wanted.”
“You were going to kill me if I was feral, weren’t you?”
Without hesitation, he said, “Yep. Wouldn’t ‘ave lost any sleep, either. BUT, you ain’t a standard feral, which I don’ think has been drilled into yer skull quite enough yet, so that bears repetition.” His phone started ringing. He started to pull it out, not stopping the conversation. “I’m thinkin’ you’re bein’ a bit hard on yourself for what happened today, and my patented ‘Get Over It’ technique seems to have failed. So I tell you what, we track down Freedom Fighter, an’ murder him. Violently. Until he dies, of course. How’s that sound?” He looked at the still ringing phone. “Ah, it’s Delta.” He answered it. “Hey hon. What’s up?”
Olivia could hear Amanda on the other end perfectly clearly. “Shut up, jackass. I’m making this quick, I’m on to something over here. Nomad told me to call ahead. He’s coming your way now.”
“Whatcha workin’ on?”
“Some sensors picked up something weird when F.F. started doing his thing. I’m following up on that at my safehouse right now. Then Marcus tried to hijack my stuff. I stopped him, but he’s hunting. Get yourself and Olivia ready to get out of there.”
“Gotcha. That all?”
He hung up. Olivia was leaning in, and he asked “You catch all that?”
“Excellent. Got a bug out bag ready anyways.” There was a loud pounding on the door. Olivia had recognized the footsteps and the smell. Ben had grabbed a pistol from somewhere.
“No, it’s Chris.” Let’s not get too jumpy now.
“You’ve got super senses goin’ on, don’cha?” She nodded.
Ben opened the door for Chris, who was still in his Nomad outfit. Olivia waited in the living room. “Bad news” was the first thing out of his mouth.
Ben rushed around as he talked, grabbing the tomahawk off the wall, and various articles of clothing that composed of his Skulker costume. “Oh, this’ll be good.”
“Marcus went over Cyrus’s head, got Cyrus kicked out. Blamed him for the fiasco today. The four of us are actually wanted now. He could only get Cyrus for incompetence, we are accused of actively aiding F.F. He tried to get Delta’s stuff, but she locked it down, destroyed everything.” Chris sounded grim.
“What? How is he spinning that?” asked Ben.
“Not sure, it’s not as though he gave me the details. From what Cyrus told me, they think that F.F. released Olivia here to cause havoc. He’s saying we aided her, took footage for F.F.’s propaganda later.”
“We were ordered to do that.” Ben sounded incredulous.
“You’re telling me. They alerted the Colorado Watch and Guardsman. The Koitsenko were flown up here to help with Freedom Fighter. Marcus is going to turn the city inside out to find both F.F. and Olivia.” This all sounded bad to Olivia. She didn’t know what they were referring to, but she wasn’t incapable of picking up on tones.
She spoke up, “Um…hey.”
Ben appeared to not have noticed her. “So where’s Delta, exactly?”
“She went underground. She had a techie ‘flash of inspiration’ and nearly took my head off when I called her earlier. She’s pissed at Marcus now though,” Neither had Chris.
Olivia spoke again, “Hey guys.”
“Wait, you’ve been using your phones? The one’s issued by the MHU? You fuckin’ crazy?”
“No, Delta’s paranoid, so she made her own, and gave me another one for the assignment. They will track us here eventually though. Delta bought us time, she was wired into almost everything, but they track nearly everything through multiple systems, not just Delta’s. They will find this place eventually. It would be best we were gone before they did.”
Olivia spoke up once more, a little louder this time, during a lull, “Hey guys.”
They looked to her. “Yeah?”
“What is after us exactly?”
They paused. “Hey, I’m gonna pack up my car. MHU ain’t touched it, should be safe. You wanna fill her in?” said Ben to Chris.
“Sure.” Ben patted his shoulder and ducked into his room. To Olivia Chris said, “What did you ask?”
She closed her eyes for a brief moment. One, two, three, four, five. The repetition was fraying Olivia’s patience. “What exactly is after us right now?”
“Guardsman. He’s the best known vigilante in the city. The Watch is kind of like the MHU. It’s independent, staffed by volunteers, and supported by donations.” Ben passed by them in his Skulker costume without the mask on, carrying a full duffle bag out the front door.
“The Koitsenko are the big issue.” Chris continued “Native American military team. Started by…some tribe, I don’t remember their name off of the top of my head. The Koitsenko were their metahuman warrior society, they fought well enough that they and the tribe weren’t annihilated by the US way back when. They include supers of all tribes now, and they’ve got some heavy hitters with them. They are here for Freedom Fighter, but if they get the chance they’ll come for us too.”
Ben returned, and started throwing some more stuff in another bag. He pointed to Olivia and Chris. “Start grabbing my shit. It’s all packed up in my room.”
They went in. There was a roll full of all the weapons Ben owned, the crossbow strapped to the outside. Beside it on the bed was another duffle bag. Things throughout the room were overturned, and the duffle bag looked like everything had been thrown in carelessly. “Don’ touch the computer, it’ll probably blow up in yer face.” Ben called out from the other room. Chris grabbed the duffle bag and threw it over his shoulder, Olivia mimed him with the roll. It’s not even that heavy. She noticed the sledgehammer and crowbars were nowhere to be seen in the room. Neither was the box of explosives. Just don’t think about where those went.
They followed Ben to his car, an old forest green Jeep that had seen better days. They threw their allotted bags into the trunk. Chris joined Ben in the front, Olivia awkwardly wedged herself in the back seat. Ah! Wing doesn’t bend that way.
Ben spoke up, “We ain’t gonna be able to leave the city like this, they’ll have checkpoints set up for this exact thing.”
“Yeah,” said Chris. “Delta told me to head to where she’s at. She’s got a place set up apparently.” Skulker started the engine, and drove in the direction Chris pointed out.