Amanda blew on the cup of noodles to cool it off, walking back to her desk. I should probably get outside at some point. And exercise. And eat something beyond twenty-five cent noodle cups. Oh well, this is dinner. No real time for anything else. No one else lived in her house, she could do whatever she pleased without the fear of someone annoying her about it.
She wrapped up drawing plans for a better generator on the brand new computer she just built earlier that day, a small black box as strong as a higher end desktop. Built in this case meaning delicately attaching each component on each circuit board by hand. It’s not wheezing yet, and everything is running smoothly, so I did something right with this one. She considered making her own operating system, but it would be a lot of work, be inferior to what she could simply buy or torrent, and she’d have to alter any program from an outside source she might want to use.
The two generators currently powering the lair were aging old clunkers she got for sale, and she hadn’t modified them too much. They burned up gas at a high rate, which would be a problem in the near future. We don’t have unlimited money after all. She could increase the power yield, but not decrease the fuel consumption. Damn it. I might have to ask Rob about this. If he could get that massive truck halfway across the country, he could probably improve the mechanisms of the generator.
Having reached a dead end, and with little motivation to continue it at the moment, she closed the window and started eating the noodles she had almost forgotten about. She turned to monitoring the police feeds she had opened up on a different computer. The authorities had begun locking her out, changing systems and methods, and no doubt had other engineers on the job as well. None the less, she still managed to get the general gist of the goings on.
The Koitsenko were being flown back to the deep South. With Freedom Fighter gone, the military had other issues to worry about. Even though the Civil War had ended long ago, the occasional Confederate insurrection broke out in various parts of the region. On occasion, some people said that the military shouldn’t police the populace. At least until a threat came up that required military intervention, like a terrorist leader bringing an entire city to a halt for a couple days. From what she could tell from the internal chatter, the intel community still wasn’t quite sure on why Freedom Fighter attacked Westward City in the first place.
Even with the various pieces of intelligence Amanda handed to them, as well as other pieces of info they had gathered from his main hideout in Westward, the details remained hazy. The news gobbled up F.F.’s stated motivations (bringing the fight to the oppressive capitalist pigs, and so on), one of the leading theories among the people who actually knew what was going on suggested that Overlord was involved. Well fuck. That’s not good. One reason people in the MHU had been so quick to believe Amanda’s supposed betrayal was that she was flagged as a medium to high risk of defecting to the Overlord Initiative. Such a cheesy, egotistical name. No thanks.
As for the Freedom Fighters (another shitty name), they began disintegrating a couple days after the news of Freedom Fighter’s (note the apostrophe) death. The ones in Venezuela, where they had started, were the best organized, but the ones in Colombia and Ecuador were already fracturing into smaller armed groups. The best guess was that they would be assimilated by local rebels, turn to banditry and get killed by the government or local militias and vigilantes, or disperse completely. Nothing had been heard from the survivors of the ones Freedom Fighter brought into the States.
Amanda would probably have to tell the others about these developments. Chris was currently negotiating a contract with a potential client, though that should be wrapped up by this point. Still, she didn’t want to call or text him at an inopportune time.
She tossed the empty styrofoam cup into a nearby trashcan. What to do now? There were some tests she could run on her armor. She should probably get around to modding Ben and Olivia’s phones. Rob’s too, once he gave it to her. She told Ben she wouldn’t do his, but Chris reprimanded her, saying that they needed to have a good, reliable way to communicate among one another. Might as well do Rob’s too, if I’m swallowing my pride. Olivia’s was harder. Almost all smart phones came with touch screens, which they discovered were scratched up by Olivia’s claws. So Amanda had to turn an old, dumb brick of a phone into a usable, smart phone. Like hell I’m going to settle for making a dumb phone.
There was also the matter of collaborating with Rob on the design of their base. She would be doing most of the wiring and technological stuff, so she and Rob would have to accommodate each other’s plans and designs if they wanted anything to work. That’s gonna suck. Rob is just a Ben knockoff.
There were other experiments she wanted to do, like a rudimentary sentient AI. Better people than me have tried and failed, but it’s still a fun little mental exercise. Another idle project was see if she could direct an EMP in a specific direction, and be potent for a set length but not beyond it.
Idea! An electricity gun! One without the cables! There was the whole matter of lethality to accommodate as well, but a gun that shoots electricity! Her tasers still used lengths of cables to deliver the shock. One of her first inventions. Well, not so much an invention as improving something someone else came up with. But a rifle or pistol not as limited in terms of ammo or range, that could be worthwhile. Another thing to do was improve her earlier close range taser devices. I think I’m a bit better at this than I was when I made those old things. Could induce arcing between it and someone if I wanted a more lethal option too.
Her phone buzzed with an incoming text. Oh, I should probably work out how to harden the phones against EMPs without destroying their functionality. Might come in handy. She had to be careful when experimenting with magnetism around computers and her credit cards. Already gone through five of those things. She could do all sorts of fancy stuff to a phone, but a good enough magnet would render it all useless. Her phone buzzed again, then a third time very soon after.
“Oh, yeah,” she mumbled to herself. The first text was from a friend she met at the Academy, a fellow engineer. She finally got her doctorate in biology, though Amanda didn’t remember the exact field. Amanda had toyed with the idea of going for a doctorate herself, but decided to get some experience first before going through a year or two of more suffering. Amanda said she would come to her celebratory party, then looked at the second message.
“We’ve got a job. Get to the lair by ten,” said the text from Chris. Yay. Finally, a job. Got about a half hour to get there. She got up to get ready while checking the last one.
The last one was from Miya, asking if Olivia was at Amanda’s house. No. Why? She put that into text form and sent it back. She got to her room and stared apathetically at her clothes. Fuck it. Sweats and a t shirt are fine. She got to her bathroom and stared apathetically at her contacts. Fuck it. Glasses are fine. Aaaand I’m ready! That was easy. Now where are my keys?
Miya texted her back. “She left this morning. Haven’t seen her since. Wondering if you had.” Amanda sighed. Let’s see if the police caught her again. I swear to god if one of those idiots said the wrong thing to her… In hindsight, sticking Olivia with the two, now three, criminals to live with wasn’t the greatest idea, though Olivia said she was OK with it.
“This morning?” she sent back. She forwarded the info to Chris, then sat down and tried to see if she could look into the government system still, keys forgotten.
Miya responded immediately. “Yes.”
That’s maddeningly useless. While the computer worked Amanda called Miya, the conversation moved too slowly for Amanda’s taste. Of course, this is the same girl that was willing to leave Olivia to the research people against her will. Can’t believe she did that. Miya picked up on the third ring.
Before Miya could say anything, Amanda said, “Hey. What the fuck happened?”
“Fuck off. There’s only so much I can do about this,” Miya barked back.
“Well Olivia sure as hell didn’t fly off in the middle of the day for no reason.”
“She’s a big girl. She can take care of herself. Her choice. Doesn’t need you to hold her hand.” Their voices got a bit heated now.
Over the phone, in the background, Amanda could make out one of the triplets saying, “Hey, let’s calm down a bit. Put it on speaker.”
“Fine,” spat Miya.
“Hey, this is Rob. You’re on speaker now. Ben’s here in the conversation in spirit, not actuality.” Amanda heard a saw in the background.
“OK. Same question. What the fuck happened for Olivia to disappear like this?” Amanda wedged her phone between her shoulder and ear as she talked when her computer asked her to specify something for it.
“Not a hundred percent sure. What was it? We were unloadin’ some stuff outta my car,” he said, sounding somewhat confused. “She grabbed a super heavy box on her own. I said somethin’ along the lines of ‘cool’…”
“Yeah?” said Miya.
“Well, kinda. I don’t remember the exact wordin’ an’ neither do you apparently. She got all defensive about it… aaaaaaan’,” Right before Amanda broke in he said, “I dunno. I said somethin’ about it not being a big deal. She muttered somethin’ about gettin’ some fresh air an’ flew off. I’ve been tryin’ to figure out what happened for a bit.”
“From what I can tell, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She’d been getting really weird lately,” said Miya. Amanda hadn’t been spending too much time at the lair, preferring to come up with inventions in an environment free of distractions. And no one to mess with her stuff. That last one was a major plus.
Amanda sighed again, going over the information her computer fed her. “Alright. So far as I can tell the police don’t have her, luckily enough. She was spotted a fair ways away from the lair at about ten fifteen or so. ” That had been another major worry. Now that the immediate crisis was over, Miya was right, Olivia should be able to make her own decisions. Don’t get too angry with someone you’re going to work with. That won’t work well. “Did she just run off to the great blue yonder or something like that?” asked Amanda in her most level tone. I’m still mad though. And I will get worried if she’s not back soon.
“OK,” said Rob. “So there’s no worries on that front. Anyone told fearless leader about this?”
“I texted him,” said Miya. “He hasn’t responded yet.”
“He just told me he wrapped up negotiations for our first contract. He said he was driving to the lair right now,” said Amanda. And now to get you to actually answer my question. “Do we know where Olivia could possibly be? I know she knows that the cops are watching her old place and Ben’s place. The reports I’m getting are saying she went west somewhere.”
“Nah, she didn’t say anything about where she was going before she took off,” said Miya.
“Did you ask her?” asked Amanda. Come on. It’s a simple and obvious thing to do.
“I think you’re overestimating how much she said,” snapped Miya.
Some indistinguishable noise came over the phone, followed by, “Whoa, back up, Miya,” from Rob. To Amanda he said, “No, nothin’ like that.”
“I’m gonna come over for Chris’s contract talk, so we’ll talk more once I get there.”
“See ya,” said Rob, right as Miya hung up.
Amanda put away her phone. She grabbed a light jacket and headed for the front door. She stopped at the sound of a light knock on the back door. Her house was small, and only one real story. The basement was taken up by workspace and the water heater and whatnot. The top floor had a tiny “kitchen”, a bedroom, an attached bathroom, and a living room populated exclusively with boxes of stuff Amanda would get around to soon and an old tube TV she got for free and never used.
Amanda paused. She heard the knock again, a little fainter. She walked back and checked the screen of the camera watching the back door. A little extra home security never hurt. There stood Olivia. Amanda was the only one with a place to live and without a roommate, so Amanda let Olivia use her shower one or two times. The city’s water restrictions should ease off soon. I’d offer her a place to stay, but there’s barely room here for my own bed. Also another reason I should get out more.
Amanda opened the door and promptly made room in the doorway for Olivia to get through. Olivia kind of stuck out, and it wouldn’t do for someone to see her at this house. “There you are. You had us worried,” said Amanda with concern. Don’t mention the fact you found out five minutes ago. Amanda closed the door behind her and they made their way into the kitchen.
“Oh, sorry,” said Olivia as Amanda sat on one of the counters to get closer to eye level. Olivia remained standing, hands fidgeting slightly. “I just wanted to get some space. I mean… you know…”
“We were worried you’d run away and gotten attacked or something.” Amanda stopped herself from saying ‘don’t do that again’. She simultaneously began texting the others that Olivia was at her house. “Why did you leave? Did someone say something?”
Olivia looked confused. “Yes? Why would that…” Realization dawned. “No, no! They’re fine. It wasn’t that. I…I just wanted some space.”
“It wasn’t that,” Olivia repeated. “I really do like them. It’s just… I don’t know. I wanted some time to think for myself.”
Amanda considered her for a moment. “I guess I can’t begrudge that. Where did you go?”
“I um… went into the mountains. It’s quiet there,” she said, on the verge of mumbling.
“Quiet?” Amanda asked. She guessed Olivia wouldn’t elaborate unless prompted.
“Yeah. There’s a lot going on here and everywhere else. It’s kind of a headache to deal with all the time.”
Amanda listened for a moment. I like to think my house is pretty quiet. “What do you hear right now?”
“Uhhh… well… your house creaks a lot. The fans of the computers downstairs are kind of loud, and so is the…AC?” Amanda shook her head. “No, heater. There are cars on the street. I hear all that, and it’s all the time. I hear heartbeats and breathing if it’s quiet.”
“Hmmm.” I think that would be pretty cool, but I guess I’m not the one living with it. “You can just tell us, you know. No need to run off without an explanation.”
“Yeah. I know. I’m really sorry. I didn’t… didn’t know what to say. And I guess I came here because I don’t know what to say when I got back. And… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt anything you were doing or-“
Amanda cut her off. “You caught me just as I was on my way out to the lair, and anyways, it’s fine. Chris got us a contract, so he’s gonna go over that.” Amanda hopped down from the counter. Now where are my keys?
“OK,” Olivia mumbled, not moving. You are far less enthusiastic about this than the rest of us.
She looked like she was about to speak further, but didn’t. She stayed with her back against the wall. Amanda stopped the eternal search for her keys after a silent moment. “Something you want to talk about?” she asked quietly. There’s a variety of reasons to be so reluctant to talk, and a lot of them can’t be good. Please don’t tell me you ate a random hiker. Amanda immediately felt ashamed for thinking that, but on the other hand: feral. It’s not just a clever name.
“I…ummm…well…” Olivia trailed off again. Olivia closed her eyes for a moment and got an exasperated look before continuing. “I might not be so helpful for this mercenary thing,” she said in a rush.
“Why is that?” asked Amanda, joining Olivia against the wall.
“Do you remember that fight we had with that Membrane guy and that Tod guy?”
“Yeah.” Where are you going with this?
“I forgot stuff,” Olivia mumbled.
“What do you mean? Like what happened or something?” Amanda asked as she texted Chris they might be a while. She muted her phone afterwards and put it away.
“No,” said Olivia, sounding truly miserable. “I forgot names. I barely recognized Chris and Miya. I know people said stuff after the fact, but I didn’t understand what they said. Everything I did was unconscious. And it was… violent. I stabbed a guy through the hand with my toe and didn’t give it a second thought. With that fight with Blackout and Whiteout I was honestly trying to kill them. Like, screaming to myself to kill them. And I don’t want to hurt or kill anyone, especially not you guys, and I might forget everything again and attack you guys again and I want to help and keep you guys from getting hurt and I’m more trouble for you guys than I’m worth and I don’t know what to do.”
Ummmm… Amanda kept her face as neutral as possible. This was the first she’d heard of this. I am not a therapist. She gathered her thoughts, then said, “But you didn’t attack Miya or Chris. They didn’t think you were close to doing that either. That’s the kind of thing that would be brought up.”
“Yeah, but that was luck.”
“OK,” said Amanda. Good things. Good things. She doesn’t need any more verbal abuse at this point. “Chris told me there were other people in there as well. You didn’t kill them. I know you may have attacked them, but they were armed and dangerous. Was that luck too?”
Olivia opened her mouth, then thought for a second. “I guess not. I didn’t even kill that Tod guy. And… and I sort of recognized Chris a little bit.” She sounded a bit more hopeful than before. Drastic change, considering she seemed dead set on painting herself as a barely restrained killing machine moments earlier.
“I… I sort of recognize stuff by… smell… just as much as sight.” Alright. That wasn’t the weirdest thing Amanda had ever heard of. Olivia continued, “Why were they different?”
“What do you mean?”
“I know I was trying to… kill Blackout and Whiteout. I know that. But I remembered their names and Chris and everything. But I wasn’t as homicidal with Tod and the rest, even though I couldn’t remember much of anything.”
“Ummm… Well, let me think.” She was definitely murderous when she was under Freedom Fighter’s power. Anger, maybe? “There’s probably a more scientific way of saying this, but how angry were you with Black and White guy?” I’ve actually never seen her angry outside of Freedom Fighter, but it’s worth a shot.
“Um… kinda angry. I mean, they did shoot me,” said Olivia, somewhat defensively. “And… they did call me ‘it’.” Ouch.
“And in comparison to Tod?”
“Well… He kind of blindsided me. I didn’t really have time to think.”
“So what I’m getting from this is don’t get pissed off. Now, as for the recognition thing, I have no idea what’s going on there.”
“Neither do I. And I’m really scared that I’m going to do something bad to one of you guys for some reason, or you guys get hurt because I’m not able to do something.”
“So this is what you spent your time thinking about in those mountains, huh?” Jesus Christ. She should be thinking about if she wants to go to college or not, not whether she’ll accidentally kill someone on an hourly basis. “You’ve just been stewing in your own thoughts for the last couple days haven’t you?”
“I guess,” Olivia said sheepishly.
“Why?” asked Amanda. “You know you can talk to the rest of us, right? We’re not going to laugh at you or anything.” A social butterfly you are not.
“I didn’t… I don’t want to waste your time or anything.”
Amanda failed to repress a sigh. Olivia looked somewhat hurt, so Amanda said, “Don’t be afraid to mess up, Olivia. There’s a good balance to be struck between shyness and outgoingness, and right now you’re in the painfully shy category. There’s nothing wrong with wanting time for yourself, but bottling everything up isn’t healthy.”
“OK,” said Olivia quietly.
Amanda smiled. “Is anything going to come out of that OK, or is that ‘OK, make the talking stop’?”
Olivia smiled slightly, saying, “No, not that. I guess you’re right. Sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about,” said Amanda, giving her a brief one armed hug. “Let’s get to the lair. You can talk it over with Chris about the extent of your participation for this job he got us.”
The two of them arrived about a half hour later than the specified time. Chris leaned against a wall off to the side as Miya, Rob, and Ben played poker. The table they played on was a cheap plastic folding table. I remember them saying something about getting more stuff. Five chairs, also cheap, plastic, and folding, ringed the table. One unoccupied one had its backrest sawed (Or is it sawn? Whatever.) off. Rob or Ben occupied Amanda’s chair.
Rob had made himself at home since he’d arrived yesterday. Three separate contraptions lay next to each other in various parts of the lair, closer to Amanda’s desks than she would have liked. Dark grey metal composed the various slats, gears, and other bits. There were two metal poles attached in the shape of a cross, set in a large metal base. One metal glove covered one end of the horizontal bar, and a grinning mask was strapped to the top of the vertical one. Random bits lay at the base. I’m guessing the rest of that armor is in that big long black box right behind it. Amanda mentally snickered to herself.
From what she could tell of the other things, one seemed to be a jackhammer, the other a shovel. Why the last needed a bunch of gears to fulfill its purpose Amanda didn’t know. To her surprise some of the pieces leaned against a scratched and scuffed anvil. He wasn’t kidding about the old timey stuff was he? Other than that, everything seemed exactly as she left it last night. She’d check fully later.
Of course, she couldn’t tell the difference between Ben and Rob when they dressed exactly the same, as they did now. They looked up from their game when Amanda and Olivia entered, waving enthusiastically even though they weren’t more than ten feet away. It smells like barbeque in here. Did they get barbeque?
“HIIIIII,” they yelled simultaneously, both grinning.
Miya simply turned in her seat, raising a hand in greeting as she ate some food. Yep, barbeque. From the distribution of money on the table she wasn’t doing too bad for herself. I wonder if she’s ever going to deal with those bones she and Ben dumped out back. That’d be nice.
Chris simply moved from his section of the wall and took a seat. Once the twin/triplet shouting died down he said, “Hello you two. Everything all right?”
Amanda nodded as she and Olivia waved back and took their seats. Amanda glared at Ben/Rob to get out of her chair. After a moment he complied with a smirk, sitting between Miya and the other thing. She smiled at the seat thing without the backrest, and she’s making more eye contact than usual. She did listen!
With everyone gathered around the table, Chris said, “So our first job is to beat up a gang of rich white brats with powers and kill their leader. Any complaints?”