The next day had an initially pleasant surprise: Amanda finally had Olivia’s phone ready.
“Here you go, give it a try,” said Amanda, passing the phone to Olivia.
Olivia took it and flipped open the phone. The screen read “Yes or No.” That was it. But… what’s the question? There’s no question on the screen. Maybe I’m just missing something. She pressed “Yes.” “Error.” The “Yes or No” reappeared. She pressed “No.” “Error.” What?
“Need some help?” asked Amanda.
“Um…” She showed her the screen. “I don’t think it works.”
“Damn it. That shouldn’t happen. It worked before.” Amanda grabbed it, muttering the foulest curses Olivia had ever heard.
“Hey, Amanda,” started Ben, wearing a plain red shirt. Amanda said nothing, probably trying desperately to ignore him. “Amanda. Amanda.” A pause. “AMANDA!” he screamed almost directly in her ear.
“WHAT?” she screamed back. Ow. Please stop shouting.
“No. No. None of this,” she said. “Go away.”
“So how is yer great an’ superior techie power workin’ for ya?”
“Go fuck yourself.”
“Reserves of intelligence depleted?” Amanda glared. Ben continued, “Don’ worry, hon, happens to a lotta girls.” What did he just say?
At Amanda’s expression, Olivia gently smacked him upside the head on general principle. Gently in this case meaning his head jerked and he stumbled forward a little bit. Was he being sexist? I think so. Better safe than sorry.
“Stop it,” said Olivia.
“Get away from me, right now,” said Amanda, still glaring at Ben.
Ben snickered and rubbed the back of his head, leaving to join Rob, wearing a plain green shirt so everyone could tell them apart. Rob was doing… something over there, Olivia hadn’t asked what yet. Something that warranted lots of sharp metallic clanks from his anvil. Amanda took the cellphone back to her desk and plugged it in to a computer. Miya rolled her shoulder at the table in the meantime, working out any remaining kinks. She’s finally able to move it around without grimacing. A couple days ago Olivia had to separate her and Amanda; some tensions remained about Miya trying to leave. Chris talked on the phone outside of the lair. Then the door opened and Chris came back inside, putting away his phone as he did so.
“Look alive,” he announced to the lair at large. “The Watch just called me. They know where Nevermore’s going to be tonight. We’ll need to be moving in an hour or so.” Really? I kind of got the feeling that they didn’t like us too much.
“Seriously?” asked Ben, voicing Olivia’s skepticism.
“Seriously,” replied Chris. Everyone began gathering around him. One of their biggest hurdles, as it was with Freedom Fighter, was simply not knowing where Nevermore was.
“Apparently there’s a big meeting between the Undead and the Russian mob, the Bratva. The Watch wants to swoop in and break it up, but they don’t have enough manpower. It’s a big meeting, and the Watch only has four people right now,” said Chris. “They asked us to assist. I told them about the hit on Nevermore’s head, and they were OK with it.” Seriously? Am I just a strange anomaly when it comes to this?
“If they’re looking for manpower, why didn’t they tell the police?” asked Miya.
“The Watch’s got a weird relationship with ‘em. They don’ like runnin’ to the cops every time somethin’ major happens. They would’ve if we weren’t here, but they’d rather not,” explained Ben.
“And I’m guessing you and Olivia were the ones that told them about us in the first place?” asked Chris. They’d told him what they did when they got back last night, but he hadn’t asked any questions about it. Good. I thought Ben would have made me explain everything again.
“Yep,” said Ben.
Chris nodded. “OK. This meeting between the Bratva and the Undead is going to be a major one. There are going to be a lot of hostiles there. And even more footsoldiers, but we’re going to have the element of surprise if we do this right. The Watch wants to meet up in about an hour to talk strategy.”
“This a trap?” asked Rob.
“Possibly, but I doubt it. Also, tangent question for you, Ben. Why did you have so many explosives in your old apartment?
“I got bored,” was his glib reply. “An’ every problem can be solved with the proper application of explosions, might I add.”
“Yeah. That’s super illegal,” said Amanda.
“I’m aware,” said Ben. Of course you are.
Chris sighed. “That’s why the police are actively looking for you. Anyways, if the Watch was gunning for us, they wouldn’t have let Ben and Olivia go so easily. Laura was pretty clear about that, and she’s got a good head on her shoulders.” I don’t really know anyone outside of the five of you, do I? Chris continued, “I’m willing to meet with them, and I don’t think there’s any real reason to arrest Amanda, but if the rest of you aren’t comfortable with meeting them, you don’t have to.”
Ben and Rob exchanged glances and shrugged. Miya said, “I’m good.”
Everyone looked at Olivia. Oh, right. “Sure,” she said.
“Alright,” said Chris. “You have an hour to prepare,” he said to the group. “Also, the Watch told me they might have Purifier on board, just as a heads up. They’re not sure on that though.” Another vigilante. I really hope he’s not like Guardsman. The group dispersed.
“No Purifier?” asked Nomad as they walked into the back of the restaurant. Why is everything we do at night? It makes us seem… illegitimate. Wait, we aren’t exactly on the right side of the law. Never mind.
“Nope,” said Cinder as he held the door open. I can live with that. “This is owned by a friend of ours. Don’t mess with anything.”
Inside stood or sat Laura, Blackout, and Whiteout around a table. A beat up, crooked old table. Olivia could see three different deep gouges on the top, and a set of blueprints only partially concealed a large dark discoloration on the rough surface of the wood. The table wasn’t large enough for all ten people, so only Laura, Whiteout, Nomad, and Delta stood around it. The rest went off to the side, in easy listening distance. I can just look in over Laura’s head anyways.
“So what are we looking at?” asked Nomad.
“The Russians your people helped us apprehend were led by one of their boss’s enforcers, a woman named Galina,” said Laura without preamble. Getting right to it then. Also, that explains why there were two or three supers in that group of five people. “She escaped, but her men didn’t. They mentioned this meeting, and they’re well placed enough that we believe them to be credible. The Undead are mostly just kids playing part, but the Bratva aren’t to be underestimated.”
As Laura continued, Olivia overheard Cinder tell Blackout, “All we need to do is blast the national anthem loud enough. They’re Russian, they’ll just ignite. Like daylight to some vampires.”
“I, uh, I don’t think it works like that,” responded Blackout through the black cloth of his mask.
Olivia asked Miya next to her in a low voice, “Why are they Russian?”
“There’s a lot of Russian immigrants here, I think. Doesn’t snow nearly as much here,” said Miya.
Gears, to her other side, said, “Russia’s not a nice place to be, since the whole fall of communism thing. Siberians don’t really like humans.”
“What?” asked Olivia. What is this about Siberians? And the fall of communism?
“You’re going to have to be more specific,” said Miya.
“Sorry. What’s a Siberian? And what’s communism?”
“Wha’s communism?” repeated Skulker in a hushed voice. Laura and Nomad still talked, Delta and Whiteout chiming in on occasion. “Ya are familiar with what a government is, right?”
“Let’s start here. Wha’s democracy?” said Skulker.
“Eh. Basically,” said Miya.
Gears said, “It’s super complex, an’ we don’t really have time to go into it, but basically us, ‘merica, and communists, Russia, were in a cold war, an’ occasionally hot, for about forty some odd years. Then their economy collapsed or somethin’, this was ‘bout when we were born so I’m not entirely sure on the specifics, an’ now here we are.”
“When you say hot and cold wars, does that mean…” Climate? No, that’s dumb. Um… maybe it’s…
Before she could finish her thought Skulker said, “Cold war is two guys talkin’ shit an’ sizin’ each other up.”
Gears finished, “Hot war is actually throwin’ punches.”
“While interesting, I still don’t know what communism is besides Russian,” said Olivia.
“It’s not Russian. At least not necessarily,” said Miya. “You’ve basically got the right wing way of thinking and the left wing way of thinking. Those are more economic schools of thought, but for right now I’m including some social implications. The right is more for the glory of the nation rather than anything else. I know Mexico is fairly right wing because of Cuauhtémoc’s philosophy. The US is considered moderately right, I think a good third of all presidents have also been active generals. The prevailing theory is freedom to do what you want with stuff leads to a sort of utopia, but if the Nazis proved anything it’s that that concept is very easily subverted. Communism is the exact opposite, trying to eliminate private property. Spreading the wealth for the good of the working class, spreading the revolution and whatnot. Ultimately the government tells you what to do, and a populist dictator takes over using proletariat rhetoric. None of this is exclusive to one country. Socialist, and I know that’s not the same as communist but you’re going to have to roll with it for now, exist everywhere, and corporations exist everywhere. So it’s a choice between the lesser of two evils. That’s my understanding at least, and grossly oversimplified, but people take entire college courses on this kind of stuff.”
Olivia, Gears, and Skulker stared at her. “How the hell do ya know all that?” asked Gears. That must have been too loud, because the talking at the grown up table faltered for a moment before resuming.
She shrugged. “My grandmother was pretty nationalistic, and not American nationalistic. My two older brothers gobbled that communism shit up from those pamphlets the communist party would sometimes go around distributing where I lived.” I didn’t know she had siblings.
“Alright everyone, gather round,” called out Whiteout. “We need to see if there’s anything glaringly stupid in the plan we’ve hashed out.”
Everyone crowded around as best they could. “So the two gangs are meeting in this construction site in two hours. It was supposed to be a children’s hospital, but funding dried up.” Oh god, that’s terrible. “It is somewhat within Bratva territory, or at least what they claim as their territory. The police do have a good hold on some of it, but after Freedom Fighter, the mob has reasserted themselves in this part of the city.”
“What are they hopin’ to get from the Undead? Or vice versa?” asked Skulker.
“The Russians are well known weapons smugglers. The Undead are better entrenched in large parts of the southern parts of the city, and there’s no one who doesn’t want money. The two of them occasionally clash on the outskirts of each other’s territories,” explained Whiteout, his eyes on the blueprints. “That doesn’t change the fact that they’re going to be here, and in force. About seven parahumans, and maybe twenty to thirty foot soldiers.” This sounds really dangerous. Really, really dangerous.
“Now that all of us are here, and we have a rough idea of what everyone can do, we have a plan,” said Delta.
“Which will turn to shit the moment we meet the enemy,” said Skulker. Everyone looked at him. “What? It’s Murphy’s Law… I think.” That thing again.
Cinder snorted in amusement, and Delta said, “Anyways, there are three entrances, one of which is fairly out of the way. We split up and attack from both directions except one. That way will still be guarded, but they won’t know that. They’ll run for that, rather than standing and fighting and overwhelming us with their numbers. Me, Laura, and Skulker will…”
Olivia and Cinder stood on a tall building in the Tech Center, a sort of second downtown area primarily for businesses. Cinder surveyed the area with a pair of binoculars. At least I don’t need those. After another pass Cinder lowered his binoculars.
The ability to fly made them the most mobile of the group. They watched for the Undead, supposed to come in from the southern part of the city. Delta, Laura, and Skulker watched the third, hidden exit to the abandoned construction site. Gears and Miya took the Undead entrance to the meeting place, and Nomad, Blackout, and Whiteout took the Bratva entrance. And we get to be the advanced scouts. And we get to make our own entrance as well.
The plan called for the two flying bricks to hit the center of the meeting. Gears’ group and Nomad’s group would move in once everyone was sufficiently distracted. So it will be just me and Cinder against a bunch of people, on our own for a bit. And everyone else is in trouble if we don’t do this right. She took a deep breath. No cars came this way that she could hear. Her ears were better now. Of course they’ll be hurting just as much, if not more, by the end of this. The shotgun pellets she’d taken to the chest yesterday still hurt when she moved too much, but that wasn’t crippling, just mildly annoying.
She took a deep breath. Don’t mess up.
“Hey, you all right?” asked Cinder, making her jump. This was the first thing he’d said to her all night. “You look nervous.”
“Oh, sorry. Yeah. Kind of.” Good job me. Way to be weird.
“First time doing this?”
“Yeah. I haven’t done anything like this before.” The Freedom Fighter thing had been more trying to avoid a large fight like this, rather than instigate it. Everyone was expecting a lethal firefight. The Watch wielded submachine guns with some weird German name this time, and even had a spare one with enough spare ammo for Miya to use. They have a lot more money at their disposal than we do. Miya was pretty happy about the new toy.
“Eh. It’s alright to be nervous. So long as you don’t fuck up because of it, of course.” Of course.
“I know. I just don’t want anyone of ours to get hurt. And it is kind of depressing that this is a failed children’s hospital.”
“Wait, so you understand the implications of a children’s hospital running out of money, but you don’t know what communism is?” he said with a small smile.
“I know. I’m weird. I can’t remember a lot of stuff.”
“No kidding. That is unfortunate.”
“Olivia, Cinder, got eyes on the cars?” asked Delta through the comms.
Olivia, who’d been keeping an ear out, said, “No, nothing.”
“Alright. The Russians just arrived, so the Undead should come your way any moment.”
“Thank you, Delta,” said Cinder. The comms cut out, and he glanced sideways at Olivia. “You gonna be able to do this?” he asked.
Another silent minute, then Olivia heard cars, approaching very fast. “I hear some cars.” No going back now.
Cinder perked up. “Where from?” She pointed him in the right direction. Three cars, like the ones that ambushed them in the shantytown, hurtled down the road. “Idiots,” she heard Cinder mutter under his breath.
As he kept track of them, Olivia said over the comms to everyone else, “Hey, the Undead are coming.”
The groups sent in their various confirmations that they’d heard, and Cinder attached his binoculars to his belt. He hovered up into the air, and Olivia took that as her cue to take flight. They followed the cars a fair distance in the air away from them. As they approached the meeting place, Cinder looked back to Olivia and motioned upwards. He flew with his arms held to his sides, and legs held as straight as possible. That looks awkward and uncomfortable, but he doesn’t fly using an enormous wingspan, so I guess I shouldn’t judge.
They reached the top of the half finished building. The skeleton of the hospital jutted out from a concrete foundation. The site itself had weed growing from the exposed barren earth. The construction companies had even taken the heavy equipment away to other, better paying projects. The only walls Olivia saw were the concrete walls of the foundation on the ground, where the meeting was supposed to occur. The Undead drove in through a gate in the chain link fence around the site. Some armed guards kept a lookout in the middle levels of the skeleton, but Cinder and Olivia flew silently.
They landed as quietly as possible, the rumbling of the idling engines masking the sounds of Olivia’s claws clanking and the thuds of Cinder’s boots on the I-beam. They looked down.
The Bratva had vigilant guards on their side, watching every which way. Everyone seemed to be packing heat, except the Galina woman from before, standing to the side of another, older man at the fore of the Bratva group. The Undead, in contrast, lounged by their cars in a blob, only one bothering to watch the way they came. Which is Nevermore? At least five different people smoked cigarettes. Olivia coughed. I’ve smelled it before, but that is just foul up close.
“Alright,” Cinder whispered. “Skulker, do you have a good idea how many there are up here with us?”
“Five,” he responded. I think I hear more nearby.
“Um…” said Olivia.
“What?” asked Cinder and Skulker.
“I think there’s six. Two there, there…” she pointed out the separate individual Bratva soldiers. Two talking in Russian off while patrolling on the partially finished third floor. Another sat in a hole on the second floor, overlooking the meeting place with one hand on a rifle. The other three were scattered about on the fourth floor. “One is behind a big support column, Skulker.”
“You sure?” asked Cinder. They’re not quiet in those boots.
“Not a deal breaker, but good. Skulker, you know who you’re shooting?”
“Yessah. I’mma shoot the guy on the overlook. His back’s to me, so he’ll fall right onto the rest of the party.” Guy on the second floor. I think. I hope. I don’t want to mess this up.
“Good. You get to kick this off.”
“Goody. I’ll tell you all when,” said Laura.
“We need to take out the guys up here,” said Cinder to just Olivia now. “You go in from the south, I’ll take the north. We’ll meet up in the middle, then Laura or Delta will have something for us. Worst come to worst, you lose contact or I die, go for Nevermore if you can. He’s the area affecting guy, he can fuck up everyone should he so choose. Be loud, don’t die.” Right. Don’t die. That’s important.
“Everyone else ready?” asked Laura.
“We cool,” said Gears.
“Ready,” said Whiteout.
“All good,” said Cinder. That’s everyone. Deep breath.
“Bueno. Shooting in five, four…” Skulker trailed off, presumably concentrating.
Once Skulker began his countdown, Cinder nodded to Olivia and hovered upwards. Get moving, me. You know full well where the guys up here are. Go. She jumped into the open air. Remember what they said. Move and take out quickly. Break bones. I really have no desire to do that. She turned as sharply in the air as possible, towards the first person.
Still too high to make visual contact with her target, she heard Laura in her ear yell, “GO.” A dull crack. She swooped in towards the soldier. Shouting from below. The woman saw her as she came in, beginning to bring her gun up. She collided before it moved more than a few inches. A couple reflexive shots went wide.
She landed on top of her, pinning her chest under one arm, Olivia’s other arm grabbing her gun arm. She heard shots from somewhere else on the floor. Cinder.
Gunshots sounded different, and so far all she’d heard were hunting rifles, shotguns, and various pistols; mobs, or her friends, or gang members using whatever guns they managed to scrounge up. The prolonged low rattling of Cinder’s submachine gun stood out to Olivia. Right, I have things to deal with right now. She’d considered shouting to check the “be loud” block, but couldn’t think of anything appropriate. Well, the gunfire will be good enough.
She elbowed the woman in the face as hard as she dared. Her head jerked to the side and she stopped struggling. Unconscious. Keep moving. She jumped to her feet. Cinder had the other two down. “I got the next two,” he shouted. “Get down there.” Did the lights just flicker?
For the second time she jumped out of the half finished building, this time heading for the ground floor. She nearly crashed as she heard a faint whisper from directly behind her, over the sounds shouting with various levels of panic. Whoa, what was that? People were firing guns all over the place now, sometimes without anything concrete to hit. Another whisper, followed by another crack from Skulker’s rifle, much louder this time.
She went down two levels, then dove in through an opening above the ground floor, tucking in her wings as far as she dared to avoid getting caught between two support beams. She landed in a roll on one the roof of one of the Undead’s cars. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Nomad in liquid form slam a Bratva soldier against the concrete wall. Another crumpled soldier laying against the opposite wall. He took up most of the entrance, allowing Blackout and Whiteout to move forward.
She smacked one Undead member aside with her tail, then grabbed another who reacted too slowly, jumping down from the hood. Something hit her back. That’s annoying. And the lights are getting all weird. She bent the elbow of the Undead she held. I’m really sorry. A crack, this time from bones. She threw the guy aside, not wanting to do any more harm to a guy who probably was out of the fight at that point. Then another crack, this time from Skulker’s rifle. This time she saw an exposed guy jerk a bit, then fall. Don’t think about that right now. Don’t.
The area was complete chaos. The Undead ran in different directions, firing wildly and blindly, except for three in the rough center of the construction site. A small group of Bratva surrounded and escorted the older man away from the area. The attention of the rest was mainly on the floors above where Olivia had been, though she saw some Undead and Bratva exchange fire. Galina kept with the escort, until Cinder burst down through a hole he just made. There was a huge one about ten yards to your right. Why did you do that? A concussive blast emanated from the woman, near the three Undead. Two fell, one just stood there. Cinder bore it, then charged. Ahhh! That hurt a lot.
The lights were definitely flickering off and on, and the whispering Olivia swore she heard became more insistent. Everything seemed to move more sluggishly, her limbs not responding immediately like they always did, instead with an almost imperceptible delay. From what she could see, the same was happening to everyone else. She saw a guy spin around for no reason, then trip. She could barely hear anything beyond a faint ringing sound in her ears. This is a weird feeling. Wait, what was Nevermore’s power again?
She removed her hands from her ears (when did I do that?) took another step in the direction of the three more composed Undead, which took a lot more effort than she was accustomed to. This needs to stop now. With Gears and Miya with her golem coming up to finish the last of the Undead, Olivia made for the last three, one of whom still lay writhing on the ground. The old Russian guy and his guards had left through the third entrance. Cinder and Galina engaged in round two. The remaining Bratva soldiers, about five or so, more than they had originally anticipated, fired at Nomad’s group, keeping Whiteout and Blackout under cover.
She ran, making a concerted effort not to trip over her foot claws. One guy, Olivia took him to be Nevermore based on the black clothing and raven mask, hadn’t moved from his original location, despite the fact that Galina and Cinder nearly leveled him a couple time. The other had dragged the third out of the way, and noticed Olivia. He opened his mouth, but no words came out. He shot. She stumbled as the bullets hit her chest, agitating the previous bullet wounds. He backed up as she continued forward, reloading.
Olivia had been hearing nothing but faint ringing for the last couple moments, no talking, no footsteps, gunshots were so faint she could almost take it as part of the ringing. Suddenly a piercing screech pierced her ears, drowning out the ringing and everything else. Her eyes scrambled. This continued for five or six second. Bad, I’m on my knees. Stop him. Kill him. She began to get up, and a foot hit her in the shoulder. She glared up, none of her momentum taken. The Undead soldier leveled his gun at her at point blank.
A bullet hit her in the skull.