Ben jogged towards the motel, teleporting every five steps or so. That’s over with. Had to sprint out of the shanty town before I got murdered, but we’ll be out of here by the time the cops find the getaway van.
He tapped the comm in his ear. “Delta, am I good to come in?” he asked.
“Yeah. Don’t trip on your way up the stairs,” she said. The comm went dead.
He took two stairs at a time up to the motel room the others were in. He burst in, mask strapped to his belt. “How’s it goin’?” he asked the second he closed the door behind him.
He scanned the room. Amanda looked like she’d been nodding off sitting on the motel bed. Those are some dark rings under her eyes. The screen of the computer on her lap let out a soft glow at a regular interval. Chris, still by the window of the motel room, kept an eye on the outside. Rob leaned against the fridge with a grin, Olivia stood on her uninjured leg next to him. In the tiny kitchen, Miya washed some blood off of her hands in the sink.
“Hi Ben!” said Olivia immediately, limping towards him.
“You’re alive!” Always better than the alternative.
“Take care of the van?” asked Chris.
“Course. It’s a burnin’ pile of scra-” Then, Olivia cut Ben with a bear hug. He winced as his feet left the ground. She’s so enthusiastic about it. So painfully enthusiastic.
She let Ben go, mumbling, “Sorry.”
Ben just laughed. “Good to see you too,” he said with a wince. He pulled off his rifle and various other pieces of equipment and tossed them onto his dufflebag on the floor. I’m sure that rifle won’t go off if I do that.
“So, what’d I miss?” Ben asked, removing the grenade bandolier from his shoulder.
“Not much,” said Miya, taking a seat next to the bed. “Nothing from the cops, Olivia’s patched up.”
Bandages enveloped Olivia’s left calf, right forearm, and midsection. She had another circular bit of bandage taped to her cheek. Miya got around to buying medical supplies. No more vodka sterilizations.
Ben grinned. “You feelin’ alright?” he asked her. Gah. Knife right in the calf muscles. Damn, that’d hurt.
Olivia nodded. “Yeah. They’re kind of sore, but not bad.”
Ben grinned and gave her a light punch on the shoulder. “Good to have ya back. Got borin’ in the past week or so.” Miya smiled as well. Olivia simply ducked her head down. Someone’s smiling too.
“Thanks,” Olivia mumbled.
Rob hopped around Miya and over to the door of the fridge. “Anyone want some pizza?” he asked the group at large as he opened the fridge. Food time. Food is good. We’ve still got some pizza leftover, forgot about that.
“Oh, yes please!” said Olivia as she and Ben approached the kitchen.
“We got some hawaiian, veggie, an’ sausage. What’cha want?” asked Rob. Smart money says hawaiian. It’s got meat on it, pineapple is awesome, it’s a win-win.
“Um, sausage please.” Damn.
He passed her a slice. “Anyone else?” he asked.
Everyone else shook their heads or said no in some capacity. Eh, sleep sounds better. But hey, Olivia’s back!
“You want to take a seat, Olivia?” asked Amanda. She scooted over a couple inches on the king sized bed. Olivia sat down next to her, stretching her injured leg out in front of her. I’m sure that wing wrapping around Amanda is accidental.
“So, those stab wounds will just heal over time?” Olivia asked Miya between bites of pizza. Rob leaned against the side of the old fridge in the meantime.
“Yep. You’ll probably have some scarring on your leg and back, though.”
“What?” asked Amanda. “I thought she healed quickly.”
“Quicker, not better,” replied Miya. “Quick healers go through the natural process. With Olivia, I’d say it’s about six times quicker. But if she broke a bone, say her arm, and it was set wrong, her arm would heal crooked. Better healers aren’t faster, but they would have a straighter arm at the end of the process.”
Olivia’s eyebrows furrowed in concern. “That doesn’t sound good.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” said Miya. “It’s not as though we’re going to fuck up treating your arm or something.” We, you’re the medic, Miya.
Ben peeled off his gloves, then took a seat against the night table by the edge of the bed. “So,” began Ben to Olivia. “How was it?”
“Oh, well, you know. It wasn’t great. I really missed you guys,” she said to the bedspread below her.
“Hey, we won’t let that happen again,” said Chris.
Olivia gave him a small smile, then continued, “There were guards everywhere and stuff. A lot of testing, too. I haven’t gone outside in a while.”
“Testing?” said Miya, a dark look on her face.
“No, stuff like memory tests and eyesight tests. And I learned some stuff. About me. It wasn’t all bad,” replied Olivia.
“Like what?” asked Amanda.
“Well, um, they think I’m fifteen years old or so.”
“Oh, wow,” said Amanda. “I guess that makes sense. That’s about the average age for triggers.”
“I’m supposed to get taller, too,” added Olivia. Ouch. She already towers over everyone, and she’s not exactly thin like most tall people.
“By how much?”
“I, um, I think they said between five and ten, no, fifteen inches,” replied Olivia. “And some medical… stuff.”
“Wait, anything bad?” asked Chris with concern.
“No. Well, maybe. I just have to watch out for a couple magic diseases. And cancer.”
Ben stopped smiling. “Wha’?”
“Yeah,” said Olivia, averting eye contact again. “That’s a problem for ferals, apparently. I mean, I don’t have it right now, but that’s still, you know…”
Amanda wrapped an arm around Olivia’s waist. The room grew quiet for a minute. We aren’t the best of counselors.
Olivia spoke up again. “Dr. Ruskov was nice. And Dr. Sullivan.”
“Was Dr. Sullivan the psychologist?” asked Chris. “Heard the name before.” Guards hear more than lowly cooks like me.
“Yeah. I liked her.”
“Really?” asked Miya.
“Yeah. She, you know, she listened to me. And stuff.”
The conversation trailed off. Ben reached behind him without looking and groped around for the TV remote on the nightstand. There it is. “Let’s turn our brains off for a bit. Objections?”
No objections. He flicked on the TV and settled back. Damn, everyone is dead tired.
Ben glanced to the side after an hour. Amanda and Olivia had fallen asleep on the bed, leaning against one another. Amanda’s getting some sleep? She’s been up working nearly every night since we got here. A soft, deep snore from the other side of the room meant Chris slept as well, unless Ben had vastly underestimated Miya’s lung capacity. I doubt she weighs a hundred pounds soaking wet, so no, I don’t think her snores would sound like a grown man’s. But hey, I’ve been wrong before.
Do I want to get up and go to the other room we’ve got rented? Nah. May as well stay up, keep watch in case Johnny Law catches on to where we are.
The next day, after waking up and eating breakfast, Amanda yelled, “News is on. Rob, Ben, might be important.” Never pay attention to the news. Why?
The newscast was already underway. Two anchors, a white haired old man and a young woman, sat behind a desk with unwavering smiles.
“-government has announced the loss of Baghdad to the terrorist leader known as Taauth,” said the male anchor. Sam’s in Iraq. I think. He could be doing stuff in Iran for all I know.
“The US has ordered the withdrawal of troops around the Baghdad area.” Rob and Ben exchanged glances. “This news comes after a week of sudden heavy fighting in the city. It is unknown where Taauth’s organization came from, or even what the man himself looks like. The only image of him so far is here.”
An image appeared on the upper right hand corner of the screen. A man in ordinary clothes stood in front of a large pile of stone.Except the towering stone pile happened to be in the process of bursting through the walls of a building, if the chunks of concrete flying outward were any indication.
“The fuck?” said Ben and Rob simultaneously. The man wore the exact same grinning comedy mask that they wore.
“Shit, think Sam got out?” asked Rob.
“Dunno,” said Ben.
“Sam? Your other triplet?” asked Amanda. Yep. Black sheep without powers. Funny how identical triplets work out.
“Yeah. He’s workin’ in the Middle East right now. Black ops shit for Lock Corp,” answered Rob.
“Hm. I thought you guys would have been interested for the mask thing,” said Miya from behind them.
“From what I can find, he only appeared a week ago, and the first thing he did was destroy an armored convoy,” added Amanda.
“Captured?” asked Rob. Military isn’t an easy target.
“Destroyed. Slagged. Gone.”
“Yeah, tha’s also concerning. I don’ wanna be wearin’ the face of guy like that,” said Ben.
“Damn it, we had the thing first,” said Rob.
“I’m really not sure what’s going on here,” said Amanda. “You’d think he’d have gone with something more culturally Muslim. That’s a Greek mask.” Wouldn’t have thought of that, but now that she mentions it, that is really weird.
Rob and Ben exchanged glances again. “We’ll try to get back in contact with Sam,” said Rob. Fuck, he’s half a world away. Not much I can do right now, pasty white guy that I am.
The TV caught their attention again. “In other news, last night there was a mass breakout at the feral research institute.” Olivia and Chris joined them around the TV.
“At least twenty of the staff have been confirmed dead, and many others wounded. It is not yet known how this outbreak occurred, but officials are investigating.” The smiles on the anchors’ faces never wavered.
Chris glanced pointedly at Amanda. “Not right now,” she said.
“At least seven ferals are reported missing. Two are classified as highly dangerous.”
Two pictures popped up on the screen. One appeared to be a stretched torso with eight legs sticking out to either side, covered entirely in dark brown hair. “Steve,” said the caption.
The other was a mass of concentric metal bands. I really can’t tell what the fuck is going on in that picture. “Slinky.”
“If you see any feral, please contact the authorities below with the number on your screen.” A phone number appeared at the bottom of the screen.
The camera angle shifted as the anchors moved on to a new story. “Later today, a possible new alien contact ship was spotted over the Dallas area, but first, a special report.”
The other anchor continued. “In a disturbing new trend, teens are now using complex interpretive dances to signal to other teens that they are willing to have sex.” Amanda turned off the TV.
“Amanda,” began Chris.
“I’m looking into it,” she snapped. “From what I can tell, that shouldn’t have happened. I had it coded so that only Olivia’s door would unlock. Not make every door open.”
Chris sighed, deciding not to press the issue. “Fine. We will need a place to go now. They’ll be expecting us to head back to Westward, and they’ll be combing this city for us as well.” Blurg. I only really know Baltimore and Westward very well.
“I-” began Miya. She stopped and bit her lip. “Well, I was thinking-” she began again.
“What?” asked Ben.
Miya grimaced. “There were things I wanted to do in Arizona, Phoenix specifically. I figured if we needed a place to go, some sort of destination…” she trailed off.
“What do you mean by ‘things to do’?” asked Amanda.
“I’ve got family there. I want to see if anyone else I know is still kicking around. And I’d like to see my old mentor.”
“Ok,” said Amanda. “When you say ‘see’…”
“I want to find out how and why Overlord came for me. I want to find out who is responsible, and if I can, get good old classic revenge,” she said, far calmer than Ben would have been. Whatever. I made peace with that shit a while ago. I’m still going to do some tactical throat slitting given the chance, however.
“Mentor?” asked Olivia.
“Guy named Don,” said Miya.
After a moment, Chris added, “We think he’s why Overlord kidnapped Miya.”
“Oh,” said Olivia with a slight frown.
“Do we have any problems with going to Phoenix?” Chris asked the group.
“Sure, no problem,” said Ben the instant Chris finished. Everyone looked at him. “Wha’? Gotta stick out for each other.” Someone killed Sam, I know I’m fucking going after that person.
“OK, said Olivia.
Rob and Amanda shrugged. “Sure,” they said simultaneously.
Chris nodded. “Alright. Phoenix it is.”
“Gettin’ tired of road trips,” said Ben, leaning his head against the car window as they entered the city of Phoenix. So very bored.
“Oh, I’m sure things will get interesting soon enough,” replied Miya. “Spot I’ve got in mind is just a bit outside of city limits, on the north side.” Rob snored from the back of the car. If I could sleep right now I’d join him in dreamland. Got nothing else to do.
Ben looked out the window again. On the side of an adobe wall, the headlights of the car illuminated a skull with a wide tongue sticking out of its mouth leered down on the streets. After passing four or five more, he asked, “Hey Miya, what’s with all the faces? Whose tag is that?” Gotta be an Aztec gang, they like their skulls.
“I don’t know,” she replied with a frown.
“How long since you been here last?”
“It’s mid June, right?” she asked. He nodded. “Six months. This is looking like a very powerful gang. Things don’t change that fast.”
“Powers are probably involved then.” If something weird is happening, assume powers.
They passed another skull. “Damn, they’re everywhere,” Miya commented.
“You’d always see ‘GREEN MAN LIVES’ all around in Baltimore.” Wonder what it was like for Rob in Pennsylvania. I guess he and the rest stayed out in the Appalachians, didn’t really go into the cities too much.
“Didn’t you and Rob say something about him being from the eighties?” she asked. “Why would people still be writing that two decades later?”
“Yeah. Warlord type. Worked with him in an old diner. He was pretty popular, in the city at least. Klan is pretty active in Maryland. You don’ see it much on the news but there’s usually a lynchin’ every week or so, usually a black guy, or a fed if they tried to get involved. Green Man was all ‘bout killin’ the Klan. Well, most white folk, racism ain’t our monopoly, but he left his mark on people. Some gangs try to remind people of him to stir up support.”
“Maryland? DC is south of Maryland. That kind of stuff sounds like it would come out of Florida.”
“Nah. Gotta think of the Klan as a radical branch of the Confederates. Tha’ mentalist guy the Confederates had in charge in the seventies, he kinda shied away from the racism thing, took a more PR friendly approach. Those tha’ disagreed in the south, extreme fuckers, migrated away from him an’ wound up in Florida or Maryland. Press likes to hype Florida, cuz of all the Cuban survivors there the Klan picks on, but Maryland is jus’ as shitty if ya ain’t white.”
“Oh man,” said Miya with a mirthless grin. “Sounds like the politicians here.”
He winced. “Ooh, institutionalized bullshit.”
“No kidding. Cops don’t need a warrant to search an Aztec home. You know what they used as justification for that? World War Two.”
That was so damn long ago. “Wha’?” Paranoid assholes. Cuauhtémoc hasn’t even held a ritual sacrifice in forty years.
“They didn’t say that explicitly in the legislation, but that’s what it boiled down to. Here we are.”
Ben turned from Miya to the building they had pulled up to. Man, I thought the lair was shitty. The heaps of old cars dominated the abandoned scrap yard. Tiny remnants of police tape hung limp on the doorframe of the yard’s office. Office doesn’t scream tetanus quite as bad as the scrap yard, but just barely.
Rob jerked awake. He made a sort of grumbling noise as he sat upright, then stared ahead. “Miya?” he began.
“This is an abandoned scrap yard.” Uh oh. Here it comes.
“I love you.” She gave him a hesitant sidelong glance. “Do you know how much awesome shit I can make out of the metal laying around out here? All of it. All of the awesome shit. Like, I don’t have to pay for anythin’ in there. I could do whatever!”
“Are ya gonna go mad techie on us?” asked Ben. He’s got that glint in his eye, and he just woke up.
Rob grinned extra wide. “Yep.”