“Hey, shut up, we’re on the news,” said Amanda to the others. You can lick your wounds later, she thought. She turned up the volume of her computer speakers so the others could hear.
“Last night a fight broke out in a Westward city suburb,” began an attractive blond anchor for the morning news of one of the local channels, shuffling her papers and maintaining a plastic smile. “A segment of the Colorado Watch attempted to arrest suspected metahuman Freedom Fighter sympathizers.”
Her older male co-anchor, plastered with a similar smile, continued, “The fight occurred in Lakewood, at around 11:30. Five members of the Watch – including Blackout, Whiteout, Ryan McDonald, Lancer, and their leader, Laura Weaver – were alerted to the presence of the suspects: the vigilante known as Skulker and former MHU Officer Nomad.” Pictures of the two in costume appeared on screen. “The two also appeared to be in possession of the feral spotted several times in the city over the last week.” The picture of Olivia in her bed sheet popped up.
“Wait, did they say…” began Olivia.
“Shh, later,” Amanda cut her off.
The woman continued, “According to eyewitnesses who were awoken by the combatants, the Watch had attempted to encircle the suspects’ car. After a protracted car chase through the streets of Lakewood, the Watch managed to corner them.”
“After the clash, the suspects fled the scene before the police or our news helicopter could arrive. The suspects are believed to be working with another former MHU officer, named Delta. The Watch members all sustained injuries, ranging from mild to serious. Lancer is currently in surgery, having sustained several severe knife cuts to her arms in the fight. Representatives of both the Watch and the MHU declined to comment.”
A hotline number appeared at the bottom of the screen. “If you have any information regarding these four, or Freedom Fighter, 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.”
Amanda exited the window the news was opened in and turned to the other three. They had dragged themselves into her new shop a little after midnight, looking roughed up, except for Skulker, who looked like something ran him over. He’d taken off his mask to reveal that recent events had not been kind to him.
Now they were in Amanda’s shop. It had been one of her uncle’s auto shops, until he died of a heart attack around a year ago. This particular shop came into her family’s possession and summarily closed for lack of business. She doubted anyone remembered it, or cared, so she ‘borrowed’ the keys and gradually turned it into her own personal lair. It still looked closed and abandoned on the outside, but on the inside it looked…still like crap. I don’t have time for interior decorating.
Oil and grease stained the concrete floor, where the others currently sat. Amanda 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. 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.
The shop wasn’t big, with room for only three cars, and a small office adjacent to it. She used the office as storage; various materials, spare parts, some food that she had bought for when she didn’t have time to leave the lab. The city grid didn’t connect to the building, so Amanda used two standard gas powered generators that she had modified to power the building. Her car took up one of the spaces, her workplace the second, and everyone else sat in the third. She had shoved the remaining automotive equipment into a corner when she moved in, at least that which could be used in her work at some point.
Ben lay on his back on the floor, using his bag as a pillow, despite the fact it didn’t look too comfortable. He’d called it recuperation, which, to be fair, he did look like he needed. Chris was pacing, frequently checking his phone, returning to it once the newscast had ended. Olivia sat nearby, keeping a worried eye on both.
“Well, everyone knows our names now, if they didn’t know before,” Amanda said.
“Yeah, fuck ‘em,” said Skulker, slurring his words slightly. Huh, thought he was asleep, or better yet, dead.
“Did they say you owned me?” That was from Olivia, who hadn’t spoken much since they had walked in a couple hours ago.
Amanda hesitated, as did Chris. Oh well, she’ll hear it eventually. Amanda 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 are you talking 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 Amanda was willing to let it lie.
She returned to wiring a new invention of hers. The long range sensors she had used yesterday picked up some faint but noticeable spikes when Freedom Fighter used his power. At least, that was the theory Amanda was operating on. Those spikes had never occurred before.
What she was making would cancel that out. Or fry the user’s brain, one of the two. Biology was not her specialty. To make her batons she had needed to consult a biologist for the data to figure out how exactly to short out a human’s nervous system without killing someone. Once she knew what to do, it was easy.
She heard someone walk up to where she was. Her grip on the multitool in her hand tightened. You better have something good to say or I shove this up your ass. She had been well and truly pissed when she realized what Marcus had been doing, trying to use her systems and inventions against her. But she possessed what she called prudence. If anyone besides her tried to use her stuff without permission, she would know. Others may have called it paranoia, but it turned out it worked out in her favor regardless of what you called it.
“Hey hon, I think my rifle got banged up a bit in the wreck. Got time to take a look at it?”
Amanda stopped herself from reflexively saying no. It’s Overlord made, isn’t it. 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. Even something like the rifle, based on Overlord technology, could be very informative. I might even forgive Ben’s ‘hon’, just this once.
Amanda was a natural, which meant that she was born with inherent powers. Naturals gained powers slowly, a child with super strength would only reach the max of their power at around sixteen. For an engineer like her, this meant she gained insight when exposed to her area of expertise. She hadn’t known as a child how a circuit board worked, but her power went haywire the first time she opened the insides of a computer when she was about twelve. An Overlord rifle, one that could supposedly melt nearly anything…
“Gimme,” she said, turning around and extending her hands.
“Yep, I figured any techie worth their salt would have an irresistible craving for anything Overlord,” he said, handing over the rifle and returning to his seat.
“Uh huh.” Amanda set down the rifle on the bench and began disassembling. Let’s see here. This has got to have a crazy power source. Tracing this back here…no. This? Yeah. Now, show me your secrets! Holy… She stared at the power source. She continued to stare. This went on for an indeterminate amount of time, 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 Ben. “Are you OK?” asked Olivia, while Ben craned his neck to look over Amanda to get a look at his rifle.
“Are ya gonna put it back together?” he asked. “Been starin’ at it for about fifteen minutes now. Can’t shoot anythin’ with it like that.”
“Yeah, sorry,” said Amanda. Chris paid them no mind, still glued to his phone. Ungh, migraine coming on. But if this puts out the power I’m thinking it does, it has some insane heat pumps 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.
Amanda could cover the electronics part 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 wasn’t a materials scientist, at least not pertaining to durable substances, so she couldn’t develop armor that could sustain more hits than standard armor. She could develop a power source just fine, but thermodynamics had been her stumbling block, at least until now. Gotta keep the pilot from being roasted alive, after all.
She could also program the suit. Amanda had actually received a degree in computer sciences, complimenting her power, in about two years. Damn right it took me only two years, I’m not an idiot without my powers.
Most people thought power armor when they thought of frontline engineers. Sets of power armor were, however, few and far between. There were a few suits maintained by the military, which meant supported by around three super powered engineers, and piloted by a military pilot: a suitable super, one of the engineers themselves, or just a very skilled pilot. Otherwise, there were a limited number who could afford to maintain them. Truly high quality suits were ludicrously expensive to maintain, ludicrously expensive to produce, and ludicrously difficult to design in the first place.
She checked over the rest of the rifle, there was nothing out of place that she could see, and reassembled it. Ben and Olivia might have talked to her at that point, she didn’t really pay attention. Need…to…write…ideas…down.
She practically shoved the rifle back at Ben before wheeling over on her chair to her main computer to start writing down all the different ideas her power provided her. Weapons, armors, consumer electronics, military applications. Ben 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 migraine on full force. She lost track of time again.
A ping from the computer derailed her train of thought. Initially irritated, she thought: Well, I could use a break. Got a lot of good stuff down. She would prefer to bounce some of the ideas off of some other engineers, see if they had any insight she had not considered. Some of her ideas would be beyond anyone without a doctorate or two, but some experienced engineers and scientists could look over her work and understand what was supposed to be happening. Wait a minute, all the ones I know think I’m a traitor. Damn you, Marcus.
She sighed. Now, what was that ping about? She had another computer set to search the internet for various relevant information. It had sent her the link and alerted her with the ping. A ping was only the most important information, everything else was stored for later sifting.
The ping turned out to be a clip on a national news site, titled New Video Released by Freedom Fighter, posted about one minute ago. “Hey guys, shut up again, more news.” She pressed play. I need to get a projector for in here.
There were two different anchors this time, with the standard creepy smiles. “We have just received a clip from the known terrorist Freedom Fighter. We haven’t actually watched it yet, and its contents could possibly be disturbing. Let’s watch.”
Freedom Fighter appeared on screen. He dressed similarly to all the pictures of him Amanda had ever seen, though this time he was missing his left sleeve. Boots, drab brown clothing, a balaclava, and the rest.
“People of Westward City,” began Freedom Fighter quietly, looking into the camera intently. “For too long you have toiled beneath the shadow of those who oppress you, those who take and take and take from you, until you have nothing, and they have everything. The government is just a tool to them, to accomplish this.”
He gradually raised his voice “They, and the government, would see you suffer while they live in idle luxury. They keep the truth from you, to keep you afraid, to keep you from seizing the power and wealth that are yours by rights. Oh yes, they lie. They released a feral, and tell you that it was me. It was not. They merely seek to deceive you.” He practically shouted at that point.
He ranted for some time about how the proletariat shall rise up and cast off all shackles, not saying anything useful in terms of information. Amanda closed the tab once the video finished. “Was it just me or was he missing his left arm?” she asked the group at large.
“No, it wasn’t just you. How did that happen?” said Chris, phone in pocket at last.
Amanda realized Olivia was talking “…have been because of me.” All three turned to Olivia, who tried her level best to look as small as possible, eyes fixed firmly on her feet.
“Wait, wait, wait. Ya disarmed him?” asked Ben, sounding much more alert. Amanda failed to suppress a groan. That was one of the worst jokes I’ve ever heard. Ever. At any point in time.
“I…maybe. I know he was there, you know, in the room, when I…lost it. And I remember hitting someone…with an arm…a couple times…before I remembered to let go of the hand.” Amanda was stuck somewhere between awe and discomfort at this announcement. I really can’t tell whether to be impressed or horrified. Chris’s face was impassive, Ben had a wider grin than usual.
“Ya beat him with the soggy end of his own arm? Well then, my draconian friend, you have jus’ gained admittance into a very elite, very exclusive club, one I hope to join someday,” Ben exclaimed.
I’ll go with horror. Still though, Olivia looks like she might burst into tears now. “To be fair, I can’t think of a more deserving person for that to happen to,” said Amanda.
Chris nodded in agreement. “We 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?”
They gave their various agreements. He continued, “Now, we’ll need to work as a team, we’ll need to know what each and every one of us can do. Secondary powers, weaknesses,” he looked at Ben, “other abilities that may have slipped your mind. If you are poisoned by the presence of bananas, combat is not the time for the rest of us to learn of that.” Everyone remained silent once he finished.
…Looks like I’ll start. No one else was. “OK, so I’ve got a great variety of gadgets. The stun batons and the tasers you all have seen. I’ve worked in what is basically a computer into the armor. Can see thermals and UV with the helmet. I can access the internet too. I normally would have more, but it all went through the MHU, so that’s not an option anymore. All of it is EMP hardened, so I can throw these EMPs I have if I stop caring about collateral damage. Resists magnets pretty well too. Which brings me to my next thing.”
She steeled herself for lecture mode, then realized it wouldn’t matter. “So, for explanation purposes, magnetics equals black magic. Everyone got that?” There were some hesitant nods. “Good. I’ve got things in my boots that let me jump really far, and cushion my landings so that my leg bones don’t shatter. Because magnetics. It’s not strength enhancement, I’m just a normal person in that respect, so much as another force pushing me upwards. It activates too slowly for combat, but it helps me get around.”
Ben looked like he was about to say something. She pointed to him and snapped, “And not a goddamn word out of you about my word choice, jackass.” He laughed. “Anyways, I’ve got some flash drives with some standard viruses to cripple a computer. A program that opens two more of that program, that kind of stuff. Got an excellent portable power system. I can win basically any wrestling match, because I can just electrocute them. Only got enough juice to do that a couple times though. That should be it, unless I’ve developed another set of powers without my knowledge.”
“What about those things you were making earlier?” asked Chris.
“Oh yeah. They should block out Freedom Fighter’s effect on you. Should.”
“Should?” asked Chris.
“Or electrocute you, severely. Not a huge chance of that but I make no guarantees. I volunteer Ben to do the field test.”
“Sure,” said Ben. Dumbass.
“Hold on,” said Chris. “You invented a device to cancel out the power of one of the most wanted men in the world in a day.”
“Fuck yeah I did,” said Amanda. “I was seventy five percent of tech support for the MHU. A bunch of tedious work, easy but time consuming. I don’t have shit on my plate now, except for projects I want to do.”
“My turn,” said Chris, after considering Amanda for a bit. “Not much to discuss. I can be ignited if the heat is sufficient. So I will always avoid fire. I’ve never been burned and have no desire to find out what happens. If there’s something in me that is not what I was originally, it will displace a portion of my original body when I change back. However, I have a very acute awareness of where my liquid body is, so I can tell where there are foreign objects. I’m stronger and tireless as a liquid, but I have almost no feelings and can only maintain it for so long. My record is…about twenty minutes. If a part of me is severed, it’s gone, liquid or no.”
“Bueno,” said Ben. “I can teleport up to fifteen yards, gotta be lookin’ where I’m goin’ though. Can’t go through shit either. I do have a passive luck thing going on, but it ain’t nothin’ to write home about. I do freeze time…” What the fuck! When could he do this? And why are Chris and Olivia not surprised by this? “…but everythin’ is untouchable, so I can’t just shoot everyone and be done with it. Only lasts about seven seconds, dependin’ on I don’t know what the fuck. Hurts like a bitch to do it usually.”
“Freeze time?” asked Amanda.
“Yeah, it’s super fun. Chris and or Olivia didn’t tell you about it?”
“No.” They had entered her shop saying only that they had been attacked by the Watch, and that they weren’t followed.
“Well yeah, I can. Also got better, faster, stronger kind of stuff. Jus’ a slightly better version of pre trigger me.” His mouth snapped shut at that.
Amanda, Ben, and Chris turned their attention to Olivia. Supers tended to change the subject if triggers were brought up as a common courtesy, Amanda had learned in the Academy. Olivia looked down at the sudden attention. “I don’t really know. I mean, I’m strong. I can fly,” she shifted her wings slightly. “You see the claws and everything. I can hear and see and smell really well.”
Ben asked, “Hey Chris, ya hear some high pitched thing on the roads before we ran?”
Chris considered for a moment. “Maybe. I was distracted.”
Ben continued, “I only heard an annoying buzzin’, an’ my hearing is better than most, but you looked like you were hurtin’.” He pointed to Olivia.
“Yeah, that really hurt. My hearing kind of crippled me when I first…woke up.” I’m just impressed she didn’t go insane. Amanda remembered Olivia’s recounting of…her life story, now that Amanda thought of it. Olivia’s thoughts were very human, which made life difficult when absolutely everything was telling you that you weren’t.
“Speaking of hurt, what exactly did it feel like to get shot?” asked Chris.
“Um…well…kind of like…I can’t think of anything to compare it to,” said Olivia. “It was just a spike of pain where it hit. The pain went away quickly though.”
“So did the bullets simply ricochet off you? No damage?”
“No, from the riot, there were just a lot of bruises, but those are mostly gone now. With Whiteout and Blackout, they left some pretty ugly bruising.” She lifted her shirt to reveal three black discolorations on her stomach for a brief second. Those look remarkably unpleasant.
“So tha’s what professional grade firearms do to ya at near point blank range,” said Ben. “It looks like my universal advice of ‘don’t get shot by a tank’ holds true for you as well. Also, anything heavy calibre might get through to ya. An’ I think ya took enough bullets yesterday to consider a healin’ factor of some kind.”
Olivia continued speaking to her feet, “But there’s nothing else that I know I can do.”
Oh my god, I just had a great idea! “Hold on a second,” said Amanda. “You’re basically half dragon, right?”
Olivia looked up and nodded cautiously. Dragons were firmly in the realms of fairy tale, so far as Amanda knew, but fairy tales had so far proven a good indicator of dragon physiology. Amanda asked, “Can you breathe fire?” As if you weren’t overpowered already.
Chris considered Olivia, while Ben’s grin grew wider again. Olivia nervously fidgeted, saying, “I don’t think so. I could try but that doesn’t seem like a good idea in here.”
“No worries, just an idle thought,” said Amanda. Though it would be awesome if you could, she kept herself from adding.
“So is that all?” asked Chris. “Nothing that might have slipped anyone’s mind?” He looked at Ben, who attempted what Ben probably considered a winning smile. It just makes him look like even more of a jackass, especially with the missing tooth.
Everyone shook their heads. Chris continued, “Now, let’s see if we can find where Freedom Fighter is lurking.”
I think I’ve got some ideas left…