Contract – Collaborative Restructure

“You got a look at ‘em?” asked Skulker over the comms, sounding unconcerned about the possibility of another cape stumbling in on their teammates.

“Um, no. I smell fire though.”

“Oh, well then,” he said, sounding much more alert. “Could be Guardsman. Stay on your toes. You catch that, Nomad?” He’s that vigilante guy. Chris and Ben mentioned him before, I think. The footsteps hadn’t stopped, still marching purposefully towards the building the rest were in.

She poked her head over the edge of the building to get a closer look. From behind she saw a heavyset man in an army jacket and matching pants. He had what she guessed to be a black ski mask over his head. The occasional flame broke out at random points on his person, curling upwards almost lazily before dying out after a few moments. His clothing remained untouched by the fires. Olivia also noted a pistol, flashlight, and knife at his belt.

“Nomad, Skulker, he’s on fire. I don’t think that’s good.”

“Nope. Tha’s Guardsman, an’ tha’ means he’s here for a fight.”

“Figure out what he’s here for,” whispered Nomad in Olivia’s ear, sounding like he was hurrying.

“He’s probably lookin’ for the Undead, same as us. Don’ worry ‘bout the rest, Olivia. They’re doin’ fine, by the way.” Just as he said that, shots rang from the building below. “At least they were,” he added. “New plan, you go talk to him.”

Over the comms, Olivia heard from Delta, “You guys missed one.”

“Fuck, sorry ‘bout that,” said Gears.

What? No. What if this turns into a fight? I’m not too good at public speaking. Guardsman had nearly reached the building at this point. “I don’t think- I mean-”

“Olivia, go,” said Skulker with far more calm than Olivia had ever heard in his voice before. “I’m on standby to start shootin’. It’s gotta be you. Don’ worry, you got this.” His voice cut off.

Olivia got up. What am I supposed to say? She jumped off the roof and started gliding towards Guardsman. OK now. Um… don’t be threatening. I should land in front of him so I don’t surprise him. Just… ask him to go away? Warn him?

Olivia kept one ear out for any sirens that may be approaching. That was her job, more or less. One thing they didn’t want to happen was for the police to barge in. Of course, we talked about using the police to break the gang up, but Ben pointed out that it’s hard to assassinate someone in the MHU headquarters if they arrest Nevermore.

Olivia landed off to the side just as Guardsman reached a door. Fires broke out on him with greater frequency, intensity, and duration than what she’d seen before. That’s probably bad. He turned sharply in Olivia’s direction, one hand resting on his pistol, the other shimmering with heat. Doesn’t matter. Say something to keep him from accidentally shooting someone. Or roasting. Say something.

“Um… Hi?” I’m an idiot. “Please don’t go in there right now.” From where she estimated Skulker to be came a sharp crack and the shattering of glass from the target building. She heard loud voices and straight up shouting from the inside.

“That guy, that guy!” said Nomad. Focus.

Guardsman gave a mirthless chuckle. “Why not?” he asked with a gravelly voice. “You with them?” He jerked his head towards the building. The flames disappeared from him, though his ready stance remained unchanged.

“What? No. We’re um… we’re taking care of them right now, so you… you know… don’t have to do anything, or go in there at all.” Did that get the point across? I think that got the point across.

He watched her silently for a couple moments. Instead of flames, now tendrils of frost flowed downwards off of him in the same pattern as the fires. No frost accumulated on his clothing, though his breath showed as a wisp of frost in the air. “Who’s this ‘we’? You and the rest of your little wanted buddies from before?” More gunshots from inside. More talking over the comms, she managed to ignore it this time.

Please don’t fight. I really don’t want to fight. “Yeah?” That was a mistake wasn’t it? “So, you know, we’re on the same side, so we really shouldn’t-”

The temperature around Olivia dropped, cutting off whatever she was about to say. A lot. Not just my imagination. It’s physically a lot colder all of a sudden. Olivia began backing up, which proved wise as Guardsman drew his sidearm and roared, “Don’t you lump me in with you scum!”

Olivia turned 180 at that and kept moving away in a sort of running crouch (Trying to make myself a smaller target. Ha ha ha.) down the street, looking for something to put between herself and the violent gun wielding vigilante. I know I’m bullet resistant, but they hurt, and it’s super cold near him. Putting distance between herself and Guardsman brought the added benefit of a warmer ambient temperature. Car. Good enough. She ducked behind a car parked on the side of the street as Guardsman fired.

Olivia poked her head up to look through the rear window of the car, ducking down again as that prompted him to start shooting where her head was. Car window glass shattered, sprinkling on Olivia. He advanced, slowly circling around her position for a clear line of sight. If I had a gun I could keep him from doing exactly what he’s doing now. He held the pistol in one hand, the other in a fist. Didn’t Skulker say to hold a gun two handed if at all possible? She thought back to the general firearm lecture he’d given her before in the lair before they had left.

“So if you’re talkin’ to a military type, a gun refers to artillery. Jus’ like a ship is a ship an’ a boat’s a submarine, but tha’s another story. This,” he held up Chris’s rifle, “is a rifle, not a gun. Obviously, if ya say gun everyone knows what you’re talkin’ about, but if you wanna sound like you know what you’re talkin’ about, refer to what it actually is.”

He continued, “Now the big thing to remember with these is accuracy, an’ a large part of tha’ comes from how ya hold it. A pistol held one handed ain’t gonna hit shit if ya don’ know what you’re doin’. It’s possible, so keep tha’ in mind. If ya hold it sideways, you ain’t gonna hit shit, period. If you’re doin’ tha’ retarded dual wieldin’ thing… jus’ don’ do that. Jus’ don’t. A two handed grip with a pistol gives ya a lot more stability.”

“Um, Ben? I’m not going to be shooting anyone.”

“Yeah, but it’s the more ya know. Good information can save yer life. If someone’s holdin’ their pistol sideways, you now know that they’re a fuckin’ idiot an’ don’ know what they’re doin’. Extrapolate!”

From what Olivia could tell Guardsman’s aim wasn’t bad; most bullets landed about where her head had been. Trying to kill me. Of course. No no. Don’t get angry. Tell the others. Tell them something. She couldn’t think of what to say. Guardsman fired again. Out of the corner of her eye frost streaked off to the side of the car she hid behind. He’d shot a column of freezing cold air, trying to flush her out. It certainly got a lot colder. Again.

Need to make this stop. Get away. How? If she broke cover now he’d just shoot her or freeze her. Or both, simultaneously, because how dare he settle for only one? She only held the controller for her comm unit, used to change frequencies, volume, and setting up private channels. Only this car. Wait a minute. She grabbed the back bumper and yanked, pulling a chunk free.

Guardsman stopped to reload, not bothering to take cover. Olivia flung the bumper in his general area, then took off in the other direction. Moving slower than I should. It’s too cold. She heard a curse from Guardsman as he ducked under the bumper part, dropping the new magazine he had in his hand.

She climbed as high up as she could, as fast as she could. Guardsman began firing again. One bullet grazed her tail, the rest missed completely. A column of frozen air, moving absolutely silently, hit one of her wings, nearly sending her plummeting back down to the earth as her wing nearly froze. She regained control, and moved to put a building between her and Guardsman, leaving him shouting general profanities at her back.

Now somewhat removed from imminent danger, she took a shaky breath and remembered everyone else. She listened to the comm as she circled high above where Guardsman futilely searched for her, staying out in the open away from any possible ambush sites.

“Two left. Skulker, one’s going for the north door,” said Delta, speaking hurriedly.

“Gotcha. Movin’.”

“Nomad still keeping the clown and tattoo fuckers busy?” asked Gears.

“Yep. Ooh, that was brutal. Our guy’s got a gun, he’s waiting at the door. Gears, you got this?” said Delta, the de facto leader when Nomad was otherwise occupied, apparently. It sounds like they’re doing fine.

“These walls are just drywall, right?”

“Yep,” said Miya.

“I go in one side, golem through the other?” asked Gears.

“Sounds good,” said Miya. I hate not really having a sense of what they’re doing outside of what I get from what they’re saying.

“Go. Three rooms that way. Miya, you keep these three down. I’m helping Nomad. And anyone heard from Olivia? Heard some hissing and she’s still not responding,” said Delta.

“I’m here. Sorry. Guardsman attacked,” said Olivia.

“Fuck. He’s hostile?” asked Delta.

Didn’t I just say that? “Yes.”

“Where is he now?”

Olivia looked down. Guardsman backed up towards the building the rest were in, still keeping a watchful eye on the sky and his surroundings for Olivia, pistol at the ready. No fire or frost clung to him. Good thing I can see you from this height, even though you apparently can’t see me. “Coming towards you.”

“How you holding up?” asked Delta.

“I’m OK.”

“Think you can keep him out? A burning building is not a fun building.”

I don’t… yeah. Keep him away from the rest of you guys. “I think so.”

“Alright. I’ll send the first available people your way as soon as I can.”

“I can help,” said Miya.

“No. You’re injured and your golem’s helping Gears. Olivia, watch yourself, OK?” said Delta.

“OK.” How am I going to do this? Guardsman had almost reached the door, and Olivia was above him. She dove. Her first instinct to put herself upright and land on top of him with her feet first. No, that’ll kill him. She extended her wings, cutting her speed. She landed, righted herself, and struck before Guardsman reacted. A knee to the gut, and claws digging into his arm as Olivia tried to disarm him. The pistol, not the arm itself this time. See, I’m improving.

Before she could make any headway, Guardsman got bitterly cold again. She released his arm, and Guardsman reflexively punched her in the jaw with his free hand. Both cried out in pain. Guardsman because he drove the relatively delicate instrument that is a human hand into what amounted to the corner of an unyielding brick wall. Olivia because his fist nearly flash froze her jaw where it hit her. Both backed up. Ow. Face is numb. Bad.

Focus. The temperature around her dropped rapidly. Not to the extreme cold around Guardsman, but enough for Olivia to notice. He holstered his pistol, to be fair it hadn’t been doing him any good, and lunged towards her, going low. Just shoot him. Just stab him. I’m having a hard time caring right now. She raked her claws on the side of his face as he rushed, and immediately regretted her decision as ice began to accumulate on her hand once she made contact. He rammed into her stomach anyway, wrapping around her in a bear hug. Cold. Moving too slow.

The cold shock nearly made her collapse. She kept her balance and grabbed at him again. This time it was to wrench the man off her, as he held her to bring her down with the cold. She’d probably learned how to more effectively counter this kind of thing from Ben, though the details of exactly how escaped her at the moment. With a roar she broke his grip and shoved him back. He came upright, and she drove her foot in a kick to his chest.

Headless of the cold, she followed up, swinging the non-frozen hand. Guardsman barely backed up in time, though that might have been more from residual momentum from the kick. Olivia smelled blood. Calm down, she thought, even as her follow through brought her close enough to shoulder check him. She lowered her shoulder and rammed with as much force as she could muster, diminished by the cold as it was.

Guardsman took the blow with as much grace as he could muster, rolling to the side to get out of her way, even for a moment. He began struggling to his feet again, one hand to his chest where Olivia kicked him. Olivia did not follow. Stay back. Calm, not angry. Even though he did try to kill you. Please stay down. She became aware of the buzzing in her ear again. I need to stop blocking that out. They might have something important to tell me.

At that point the door closest to them of the warehouse burst open, and Gears and Nomad rushed through, shotgun and rifle respectively at the ready. They immediately aimed at Guardsman.

“Fuck off,” barked Gears.

“We don’t have a problem with you, but we will if you keep this up,” said Nomad. “Leave.”

Guardsman, tired and bleeding from several cuts on his face and chest, spat blood. With a sneer in his voice he said, “You little shits broke the law. You think I have any sympathy for you?”

“You think my shotgun slug’s got any sympathy for the structural integrity of your face?” shouted Gears, aiming at Guardsman’s head. “It don’t, so get the fuck outta here cuz you got ten seconds before I put a bullet in ya. Ten, nine…” That count is a little faster than actuality.

Grudgingly, Guardsman got up and began to limp away as fast as possible, casting a couple glances over his shoulder on his way. That was sudden. Whatever, he’s going away now.

Once he disappeared from sight, Gears shivered and said to Olivia, “Cold out here. He got ice powers?”

“Yeah,” said Nomad, still watching where Guardsman had disappeared. “Hey, Skulker.”

“Yeah?” asked Skulker over the comms.

“You watch the area, keep an eye out for Guardsman in case he tries to come back. I doubt it, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful.”

“You got it,” was the response.

“Let’s get inside. You look frozen, Olivia.”

“Yeah. Cold,” said Olivia, flexing her hands to get any kind of warmth back into them. “I heard Miya was hurt. Is she OK?”

“Yeah, she’s fine. Small caliber bullet to the shoulder. We’ll fully patch that up later but for now the bleeding’s stopped,” said Nomad as they moved to the open door. Hey, the air is already warming up.

They filed into the warehouse Nomad bringing up the rear. Gears said cheerfully, “You alright, Olivia? Lookin’ kinda chilly. Face is blue an’ everythin’.”

“Sorry. I’m fine. Just warming up now,” she said, rubbing her hands together for friction. My face is blue?

“You’re just in a t shirt and cargo pants,” he commented.

“I’m fine,” she insisted.

“If you say so. I’m gonna get the BAT,” he said.

“Alright,” said Nomad. “Keep an eye out.” Gears nodded and headed in a different direction.

Olivia looked around at the warehouse. Old drywall, corrugated tin, and other scavenged or stolen materials made up most of the walls. I thought they’d be able to afford better. Posters of various gangsters with bandanas and hoodies in videogames and movies dotted the walls. The signs of the recent raid were evident. A smear of blood, a couple bullet casings, and a completely collapsed ramshackle wall. Other than that, it was very similar to the lair, stained concrete floor and everything.

They came to a sort of common room. Delta carried out bags of cash and drugs from a side room. Miya sat on a table, swinging her legs beneath her. She seemed close to happy, actually, despite the bandages on her left shoulder. Must be magic painkillers or something. Her golem, short a few bones, slowly patrolled in front of the five boys on their knees in handcuffs. All wore gags, and shied away as much as they could from the golem whenever it swung towards them. Something smells bad.

“Final count?” Nomad asked Miya.

“Those five and the two dead ones. And that other one that got away from you and Delta.” Dead ones? I know there were gunshots, but…

Nomad grimaced under his bandana. “Think we can get what we want out of them?”

Miya snickered. “Of course. Watch.” The golem lunged forward towards one. He let out a muffled yell, jerking backwards. The golem stopped two inches from where his face had been. “Isn’t that right?” she called out to the five. Miya, that’s messed up.

“Load them up in the truck once it gets here. We’ll take them to that place Skulker found. Delta, anything from the police?”

“Nothing so far, but I only give us about five minutes before they start coming here,” said Delta, not stopping what she was doing.

“The Watch?” asked Nomad.

“Same deal.”

Miya hopped down from the table. She walked forward and squatted right in front of a different captive. She flicked his forehead. “Hey, you ready for a ride.” He simply glared back at her, as if to make up for the fact that he flinched when she flicked him. She flicked his forehead again. “Come on. No response?”

OK. Enough. “Miya, stop,” said Olivia.

Miya looked over at her with a smile. “Why? This is fun.” She looked back at her captive and flicked his forehead again.

“They’re tied up. How is that fun?”

“Cause it is. You going to give me shit for it?”

“I’m sorry, but no. Don’t do that.” Seriously?

Talking over Miya’s response, Nomad said, “Miya, go watch Skulker’s back. He’s on the roof. I’ve got these five. Olivia, help Delta out moving that stuff.”

“What? Come on…” said Miya.

“Now,” said Nomad with finality.

Miya glared for a moment, during which Nomad calmly stared back. Grumbling, Miya complied. Olivia went to help Delta.

They took the cash and the prisoners, leaving the building before the police arrived to inspect the reports of gunshots and parahuman violence. Olivia flew, and Nomad made sure it was Gears guarding the prisoners in the back of his truck. The bones of the golem lay inanimate, next to Gears. Across from him lay the five. Olivia knew they would be interrogated, but after Miya, she wasn’t sure she like where that was headed.

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7 thoughts on “Contract – Collaborative Restructure

  1. Olivia is actually moderately well-placed to play good cop, I think – she’s big enough and tough enough and scary enough that no-one will want to mess with her however gently she speaks.

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