Shotguns were very loud, especially when they went off right next to one’s ear. Please stop. My ears will be ringing for the next couple hours. Olivia raked her claws along the side of the shotgun, catching something, she didn’t know what, and yanking it from the grasp of the gang member. She grabbed his arm and twisted it to behind his back before he could get away. What did Ben call it? A chicken wing, that’s it. He started struggling, then discovered this only twisted his arm in a direction it was not meant to go even further. Olivia didn’t budge.
She hesitated to twist further, the fight mostly already knocked out of the kid. She wrapped another arm around his upper chest, lifted him off his feet, and dropped his face into the ground. There are probably better ways of doing that, but whatever, it worked. One knee on his back, she pinned both hands against his back and bound them with plastic zip ties. Handy little things, and Delta’s got about a million of them. She pinned his legs down and did the same to them with two.
Nomad kept two more restrained in his liquid body, only their heads not submerged. Skulker threatened the last with a knife to the throat. Skulker had given the guy a small cut to the forehead, a surprising amount of blood came from such a small wound. Olivia walked over to Nomad with more zip ties, Nomad twisting the guys within him to allow Olivia easy access to their hands and feet.
She heard the metallic clicking of a pistol from where Skulker and the fourth guy stood. “Down on the ground,” commanded Skulker.
With that done, Nomad snapped back to his usual self and said, “Thank you. That should be all. Skulker, how you doing?”
“We cool,” he responded. All four of the Undead, none with powers, lay on the ground, hands and legs tied down.
“Do you want to do the honors?” Nomad asked.
“Bueno,” said Skulker, pulling out his phone. In the other hand he held his pistol. He dialed 911. The operator picked up and Skulker immediately fired two shots into the air. “Gunshots at the corner of Evans and Holly. I think they’re the Undead. Four of them.” Another three shots and he hung up.
Nomad spoke to the Undead. “You heard him. Cops are coming, and we’re leaving. She’ll,” he gestured to Olivia, “be watching to make sure none of you escape.” They glanced between him and Olivia. “Good day to you,” he said as he inclined his head in a brief nod.
She nodded as Nomad turned into liquid again and flowed off, Skulker teleporting after him. Olivia watched the surroundings and the Undead, and took off once the sound of multiple cars approached. Oh, no sirens this time. Olivia’s group (we need a name) had done this before, they knew the process.
They had spent the last three days harassing the Undead, breaking up drug deals, taking out any armed bands they found, and generally terrorizing them. The police helped too. They had raided two more compounds like the one Olivia’s group had taken out three (or is it four?) days ago. Olivia’s group had given up on taking captives after the first fiasco at the shantytown.
Olivia flew back to the lair, the cops having found the bound Undead members and shoved them into the patrol cars. Wait, is that Skulker down there, sitting on the roof? It was. He talked on the phone, swinging his legs as he sat on the edge of the roof.
“…two, where’d he get one exactly like ours? You made it. An’ somethin’s off ‘bout him.” A pause as Olivia came closer. “Yeah. Fuck. Try to see what you can get on yer end, ‘K? Lock Corp. don’ always have the best security.” Another pause. “Yessah. Ciao.” Maybe this is something I shouldn’t be just stumbling into. Maybe.
“Hey!” he said as Olivia landed.
“Hi. Where’s Chris, err, Nomad? Sorry.” Whoops. Rob and Amanda were doing their own techie things, Miya was still healing, though she said she would be fine tomorrow. She’s been saying that every day, and every day Chris or Rob or Amanda tell her no.
“He went on ahead, I had to deal with some stuff with Rob. He’s talkin’ to the new Company fella,” said Skulker, not getting up. Olivia joined him.
“Something wrong?” she asked, concerned.
“We’ll see. Not right this moment.” He doesn’t sound like he wants to talk about it. I think.
After a minute or so, Olivia asked, “Hey, Skulker. I have a question.”
“Why do you always use a knife or gun or something? You don’t have to.”
“Haven’t we had this conversation before?” he asked.
“Well, kind of. I’m not judging, just wondering about, you know, the logic behind it. I don’t know why, I guess.” She’d given up on trying to get them to stop completely. I can still try to limit the bloodshed. Though I thought Chris and Amanda would be more on my side.
“Olivia, do ya realize how high up the power scale ya are?” he asked, sounding highly amused.
“High?” I’m not that strong. Am I?
“Insanely. You can afford to do non-lethal stuff a majority of the time. It’s hard to hurt ya. Me, an’ near everyone else for that matter, is a bit more squishy.”
“But nothin’. I get shot, I’m losin’ blood. You see what’s goin’ on with Miya. Hell, I’m surprised she came with us in the field for that F.F. shit. Anyways, I like me more than I like whoever I’m hurtin’.” I guess that makes sense.
“So even people with powers, they all still seem to use guns.”
“Guns kill things. Powers help. Cyrus can rip the air from yer lungs if he’s lookin’ at ya. Any dipshit lookin’ at ya with a gun can also shoot ya an’ kill ya. Cyrus can fly. The average dipshit can’t. An’ by you I mean everyone who ain’t bulletproof.”
“Wha?” asked Skulker.
“Bullet resistant,” repeated Olivia. “Bulletproof makes it sound like it’s nothing.”
“If it were somethin’, you’d be dead. I’m talkin’ to ya, so it ain’t a huge problem for ya.”
“It still really hurts. And I don’t think you can fully appreciate just how loud a gun is when I hear heartbeats on a good day” There are few things I’m certain of, and this is one of those things.
He shrugged. “Really? Cool.”
It’s not cool at all. “It’s more disorienting than anything else.”
“Eh, ya seem to be copin’ fine.” Before she could retort he said, “Ya really are super strong, so general complaining might not be taken well by most people.” Complaining? Complaining?
“I’m not that strong!”
“Yer perspective’s a bit skewed. There’s ‘bout three rough categories of powers, an’ they’re by no means cut an’ dry. The first third, well, more ‘bout forty percent, is the junk powers. They’re just so minor no one bothers. This one chick I knew could perceive a particularly vivid shade of blue. Tha’s it. Can’t do shit with that. The other forty is more powerful stuff ya still don’ use in a fight. Not everythin’ has to have a military application. Lots of techies jus’ aren’t good for fightin’. I think Miya falls in that category, most of what she does is touch based, I think. The last twenty is you or me or Tod or whoever. An’ you’re a bruiser, an’ bruisers usually only come in the powerful varieties.” Bruiser? What? I mean, I know I can hit stuff hard, but…
At her expression he laughed. “Nah, don’ worry, bruiser’s jus’ a rough class of power.”
“So why are they only strong?”
“Cuz triggerin’. Think about it. A power reacts to whatever’s causin’ stress, helps ya survive. If you’re a bruiser, tha’ means it was physical threat of some kind. An’ since we’ve established that not all powers are actually powerful, the weak bruisers get killed slash maimed pretty quick. Survival of the fittest and whatnot at it’s most basic. Mental stress ain’t quite so immediately deadly as a sabertooth bearin’ down on ya.” Physical. Someone attacked me? Why?
Skulker continued on. “You’re in the top ten, easy. Here only Cyrus is close to ya, raw power wise. An’ maybe Purifier, hard to tell. Depends on the situation.”
“So bruisers have more physical triggers?”
“Yeah… oh shit. You rememberin’ anythin’?”
“So ya don’ know what he was talkin’ ‘bout with that Bible stuff.”
“Yeah. I’m sorry about letting Membrane go. I never got a chance to tell you and Nomad earlier.”
“Eh. S’all right. An’ besides, ain’t a bad thing to not remember yer trigger.”
“Why is that?”
“Pft. They suck a great magnitude and variety of penises, tha’s why,” he said with a laugh. Ummm. OK? Haven’t heard that before. “Jus’ trust me, ya ain’t missing anythin’.”
“So what was yours?” she asked. Skulker remained silent for several moments. His hands clenched into fists. I messed up, didn’t I? Wait, they’re awful, and I just asked him about a bad moment in his life. I’m an idiot.
“Sorry,” she stammered. “I didn’t… I mean… sorry. I-”
“S’all right. Ya didn’t know.” He didn’t sound cheerful for once. “But yeah. Tha’s not a thing to bring up.”
“I’m really sorry. I’m really sorry.” I’m an idiot.
He chuckled a bit. “I told ya, it’s all right. Ya didn’t know.” He gave her a light punch to the shoulder. “You stress out too much.”
He doubled over laughing for a solid thirty seconds. What did I say? He eventually straightened and hopped to his feet. “‘Sorry’ she says,” he muttered under his breath. “You’re funny,” he said in a more normal voice. “Come on, let’s get goin’.”
As she got up she said, “Do you hear that?” No, I take it back. Stupid question.
Without a pause he said, “Nope.”
“Gunshots. That way.” She pointed north.
“OK,” he said, walking to the western edge of the building, towards the lair. Come on.
“Should we help?” she asked.
He stopped. “You got yer own logic an’ opinions. Wha’ do you think? Do ya want to?”
“Well, yeah. If we can we should.”
He shrugged. “Alright, let’s go. Lead on.” What is this? No selfishness or complete lack of morals? What? Whatever, don’t complain.
She took off, flying low enough for Skulker to see her, and slow enough for him to keep up. I love traveling like this. No obstacles to get in the way. It’s great. She followed the sounds of fighting to another abandoned intersection. It’s the Watch. She landed on a roof overlooking the scene, waiting for Skulker and taking in what was going on.
In the middle of the street, some guy in a rough grey version of the Watch uniform lifted a woman by the waist and dropped back hard, driving her head into the asphalt. Whoa. He’s not wearing a mask, either. The woman, surprisingly enough, remained unphased. A concussive blast from her doubled Olivia over, hands over her ears. By the time she got back up, the woman and man were back on their feet, squaring off again, circling warily. Did that guy just ignore that? Did that woman cause that?
Two people she recognized as Blackout and Whiteout (are they brothers or something?) exchanged fire with three gang members. The gang members weren’t Undead; they were older, out of Undead territory, and yelled to each other in something that wasn’t English. She didn’t see Ryan or Lancer, the other two members of the Watch she’d met (well, fought) before. She didn’t recognize the man in grey. There was another one, a woman, wasn’t there?
“Wha’s it lookin’ like?” asked Skulker as he jogged up beside her.
“The Watch is fighting another gang, I don’t know which.”
“Hrm. Where’s Laura? I owe her a beer.”
“Who?” Come on, we shouldn’t just stand here. We can help. Maybe I can make it up to Blackout and Whiteout, too.
“Leader woman. No mask, early forties, doesn’t look like she’ll take shit from nobody.” Oh, her. And did he just say a double negative?
Just as he said that, a small golem made of concrete rolled out from behind a building, followed by a woman in a bandana. More gunshots from that area, and a woman who appeared to be Laura marched after them, firing a pistol.
“Well, that answers tha’ question,” said Skulker. “I don’ know who Cinder’s fightin’. Best give ‘em some leeway an’ let ‘em duke it out. She ain’t a lightweight if Cinder’s still dealin’ with her. You help out the other two fellas?”
Whiteout moved to flank the three other gang mooks, using his power to block incoming bullets. The shield, a pure white orb about two feet in diameter, shattered occasionally when shot, but she caught a glimpse of the bullet clanking to the ground, it’s momentum arrested. Blackout provided covering fire, using his own shield, exactly the same as Whiteout’s, only black, to obscure the three guy’s visions towards him. She knew anything physical could go through it, but light and sound couldn’t. Two gunmen just fired blindly in the general direction of Whiteout, the other shot with unerring accuracy at Blackout. All three were bunched up, no other cover besides the truck they hid behind. I can do that.
“OK,” she said. “Good luck.” Don’t get hurt by the concrete thing.
“You too,” he said, vaulting off the edge of the roof and teleporting the rest of the way.
Olivia took flight. The three mooks weren’t looking her direction, either away from her towards Whitout or towards Blackout to her left. She landed a few feet away, letting her her momentum carry her the rest of the way on her feet. She rammed the first guy shoulder first, knocking him into the others. She might have let out a snarl. Calm down. Calm down. Whiteout had taken advantage of the situation, she heard him sprinting towards them. Hey, he’s not bent on killing them, even though he could just shoot them. Cool!
As the middle guy turned his gun, yet another pistol, towards her, she grabbed his wrist and rammed it against the truck with her left hand, making sure it pointed away from her, just in case. The pistol dropped as she grabbed his shoulder with her right hand and tossed him to the side. She stepped on the first guy she rammed as he tried to get up, making sure to not put her toes on anything vital. The last guy shot her in the chest, a glancing blow. Ow.
She elbowed him directly in the chest. He slammed against the truck. Olivia caught herself swinging her other hand up towards his throat. No, no, no matter how much that shotgun hurt. He dropped to the ground, wheezing.
She took stock. She kept one man pinned down, another focused more on drawing breath than fighting, and the last… She whirled around to where she’d last seen him. He scrambled for his lost pistol when a white bubble encapsulated it. Whiteout ran up and stood over him with his pistol.
“Don’t move,” he said. The mook made a lunge for Whiteout, who whipped him in the head with the butt of his pistol for his trouble.
Whiteout turned to Olivia, not putting the gun down. “The feral’s here,” he said to no one. Or his comm thingy. And I have a name. Whiteout listened to someone say something over their team’s communicator thingys. Olivia couldn’t exactly make out the words, just buzzing. Please stop pointing a gun at me.
With no small amount of hostility Whiteout said to Olivia, “Hey, you understand me?”
Olivia nodded slowly. Why wouldn’t I? Oh, right…
“Step away from those men, now.”
She weighed her options. The one man with the messed up lungs wasn’t going to be a threat, but the other one she kept pinned could be a problem. He still squirmed, trying to get out from under her foot. Well, I think between me and Whiteout I think we can make sure he doesn’t do anything particularly stupid. She took a step back away from Whiteout and off the man.
Not taking his eye off of her, he said, “I think you can bring the car up now, pick these three guys up. Laura, Cinder, how you doing?”
“Busy!” shouted Cinder about fifty yards down the street. Another boom shook Olivia. She flinched, stopping herself from reflexively covering her ears again. That hurts. Really. Stop it. Through the resulting buzzing in her ears she heard a nearby engine start. One of the Watch’s SUVs pulled up. Hey, I recognize that! I like recognizing things. Blackout got out of the car, watching Olivia cautiously. Um… hi? Should I say hi?
Blackout started putting cuffs on the man near Whiteout. Right, forgot that. She fished some more zip ties out of her pocket and moved to the relatively uninjured man. Stuck between a large feral and a man with powers and a gun, he’d chosen to stay on the ground. Blackout and Whiteout immediately swiveled in her direction.
“Sorry,” she said out of pure reflex.
Blackout hesitated at that, but Whiteout said, “Back up.” They don’t want my help? Fine. She turned to where Cinder and the other woman were fighting.
Cinder hovered in the air for some reason, about three stories above the ground. He can hover? Cool. I can’t do that. He seemed to be searching for something. That woman he was fighting must have run off. She knew she could probably smell the woman at that moment, but it would be so jumbled up with everything else that the woman would be long gone by the time Olivia worked out how to find her.
Olivia jumped up, taking flight and reaching about the altitude Cinder hovered at. Out of the corner of her eye she swore she saw a black figure standing out against the roof of a building, but that vision disappeared. Weird. She circled around Cinder in ever widening circles, looking for movement. Hrm… nothing. Maybe she broke into one of these buildings. That dry cleaner has plywood over its windows, but then again most stores do.
Cinder wasn’t looking for the woman anymore, now rotating in place to keep view of Olivia. Should I say something? I don’t think I can just hover and hold a conversation… no, just go. Don’t be afraid to mess up, remember? Let’s think this through though, I’m going to have to shout at him as I pass.
She headed in his general direction, and motioned downwards towards Black and Whiteout. She landed, followed by Cinder. The two had packed the grunts into their car.
She turned to Cinder. “I… uh… couldn’t find that one person… you were fighting.” And you stopped looking for some reason, and I took that as a cue.
“What?” asked Cinder.
“I was, ummm, just-”
“No, I heard you. I stopped trying to find her because you showed up.”
“Sorry.” I’m an idiot.
“Cinder, I told you she wasn’t hostile,” said Blackout.
Skulker and Laura walked up to the rest of them, Skulker chattering on to Laura while dragging the unconscious golem woman behind him by her arm. The golem itself was nowhere to be seen. “Ya do remember the beer incident, yes? So we’re even?”
“You sent Lancer and Ryan to the hospital. Ryan’s still in recovery. Lancer won’t be able to use her arms properly until we can get a qualified doctor or magician to get a look at her, and the soonest that can happen is months from now,” said Laura
“Hey, in all fairness she was shootin’ frickin’ lasers beams at me. An’ there ain’t lasers shootin’ at me now, so I’m gonna go ahead an’ declare mission accomplished in that respect.”
“And your feral pummeled Blackout and Whiteout.” ‘Your’ feral?
“They shot her.” She grabbed his shoulder, stopping him. “What? I kept yer ass alive back there, so I guess it all evens out. So, yeah, still owe ya that beer. Hi, Olivia, everybody,” said Skulker, dropping the unconscious woman’s arm and waving to everyone.
The rest of the Watch stared at him with barely restrained hostility. Cinder’s hands clenched, Whiteout fingered the pistol at his hip, and Laura sighed. Ben, don’t do anything stupid.
“How are we doing?” Laura asked the rest of her team.
Whiteout said, “We got the three gunmen.”
“That other woman managed to get away. She could cause explosions or something, because fuck me, I guess,” said Cinder.
“Alright. And what are you two doing here?” Laura asked Skulker and Olivia.
Ben’s better at talking. After a few seconds with no one saying anything, she shot Skulker a sidelong glance. He caught her eye and shrugged. “What’re you lookin’ at me for? You’re the one who dragged me along here.”
“What? I didn’t… drag you along.” What am I supposed to say?
“Figure of speech.” He gestured to the waiting Watch.
She took a deep breath. Ow. Shotguns hurt. “I, uh… well, I heard the gunshots… and…” Why, Ben, why? “… we came up here. To help. Hopefully. Yeah.” She studied her feet intently once finished.
“So you decided to follow the sounds of a firefight without knowing anything about what was going on?” asked Whiteout.
I’m not too good at logic, am I? “I didn’t want to just stand there if I could do something. Sorry,” said Olivia.
“How do we know you’re not just lying to us?” asked Cinder.
“She ain’t lyin’,” said Skulker. Why thank you.
Cinder opened his mouth to respond when Laura cut him off. “Don’t say what you’re about to say, James. Don’t.”
“Hey, so it’s been great an’ all, catchin’ up, but I think we gotta get movin’,” said Skulker, turning to leave.
“No,” said Laura, stopping him in his tracks.
He spun back around and said, “Yes.”
“You need to answer our question. What are you two doing out here in the first place?” asked Laura. Are we supposed to tell them about our job now?
“Ya know that Undead group, yeah?” asked Skulker.
“What about them?” asked Whiteout
“We’ve been paid to vigilante their asses,” said Skulker. I guess we are.
“So you’re mercs?” said Cinder.
“Rent don’t pay itself,” said Skulker. But we don’t pay rent.
“The feral’s wanted. Marcus reminds us every other day or so,” commented Whiteout to the rest of the Watch.
“Come on,” said Blackout. “She did just help us out, even though they didn’t even have to.”
Cinder grimaced. “I hate to say it, but I know the Undead have been having a hard time of it lately. That could be because of them.”
“She nearly killed us. He,” Whiteout gestured to Skulker, “put Ryan and Lancer into the hospital. You can’t seriously be considering letting them go.” He’s sounding a lot like Pathfinder.
In a voice that barely qualified as a whisper, Skulker said, “Get ready to book it if this goes south.” She glanced at him, saying nothing. Book it? You mean run?
In a normal voice Skulker said, “Hey, buddy. You shot her. That kills things, unless ya completely forgot.”
“She’s not dead,” said Whiteout.
“You sure as hell didn’t know that would happen,” Skulker retorted.
Getting tired. Chest hurts, that shotgun blast is going to keep me up all night. Everyone looks like they’re about to fight again. Great. Olivia sighed.
Skulker said “Ya know, we’re leaving. Also, you’re welcome”
Skulker turned to walk away again. Olivia watched the rest of the Watch with caution. Laura motioned to their own cars. “Come on. Leave them alone. For now.” For now?
“Oh. Um… Blackout? Whiteout?” The two of them stopped. She scratched the back of her neck. “Sorry… umm… about, you know, attacking you guys earlier. I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you or anything.”
Whiteout absorbed this without comment, then turning to rejoin the rest. Blackout hesitated, then said, “Uh… it’s all right. No harm done. So, uhhh…” They nodded quickly and went their separate ways.
Skulker was laughing when she rejoined him on the top of the building. “What?” she asked.
“It’s always funny listenin’ to two nice an’ socially awkward people talk.”
“I’m not…” Stop. I am horribly socially awkward. “He’s not-”
Skulker cut her off. “He is. I’ve met all of ‘em before. The lot of ‘em an’ me weren’t even considerin’ killin’ each other then, either. We had to take out this one guy with an army. We had a hulk, though, so it all worked out.”
He laughed and shook his head. “So what‘ve we learned today?”
I don’t know. “Um…”
“There’s no right answer. Though I think ‘people are assholes’ is applicable here.”
“I… uh… people can have a super hero name and a real name and go by either?” Laura called Cinder James, so maybe…
“That’s not what I expected, but yeah, true enough.”
“There are other gangs. And who were the people here earlier?”
“I thought that went without saying, but sure. They we’re in the Russian mob. ” Is he expecting something else? “I know you were doin’ somethin’ similar earlier before we found ya, but ya ever consider bein’ a vigilante?”
“But we’re mercenaries, aren’t we?”
“Doesn’t mean we’ll never ‘ave down time. An’ it can be fun. Meet all sorts of interestin’ people.” What exactly do you mean by interesting? “But we can put pin in tha’ for later. We should probably head back before Chris starts worryin’.”
“OK,” said Olivia. A vigilante? Didn’t they give me vigilante status or something like that before? Skulker started teleporting, and Olivia took flight.