“How is he doing back there?” asked Nomad as he drove his car back to the hideout.
“Still alive. Still hurts,” said Skulker through gritted teeth. He’d torn his mask off and thrown it to the side the moment they’d gotten in the car.
Miya checked the bandages wrapped around his left hand. The black cloth Delta had cut from Skulker’s hoodie thing for an ad-hoc bandage wasn’t completely shiny from blood. Hasn’t completely bled through yet. That’s good. Well, better than the alternative. Skulker’s non injured hand drummed a rapid tempo on his thigh.
“Is anyone following us?” Nomad asked Delta in the seat beside him.
She shook her head. “Don’t think so, no.”
“I can knock you out if you like,” Miya said to Skulker. Because, you know, this is my fault. Fuck me, I’m an idiot.
“With some delicious, delicious morphine?”
Delicious? You don’t eat morphine. Fuck it, cut the wounded guy a break. “No. Sorry.”
“Damn. Sure, do it.”
She grabbed his shoulder and summoned a large stream to his nervous system. He passed out as it bonded with him. There, magic stream should degrade in about twenty minutes.
The rest of the car ride passed in silence. No one spoke to Miya, and Miya didn’t think she had anything to say that wouldn’t come across as a half-assed attempt to cover up her mistake. I ran off with Ben, stole Amanda’s baton, started a fight with a mage coven, and got Ben maimed. All to kill a dude they don’t even know. I deserve every ounce of scorn that will come my way.
They pulled into the parking lot to the side of the hideout. Miya got out and rushed over to the other side of the car to help Nomad with a still unconscious Skulker. Nomad pulled Skulker’s right arm over his shoulder and carried him. Miya hung back, unwilling to mess with Skulker’s injured hand any more than absolutely necessary.
Nomad lay Skulker on a cot as Miya grabbed some fresh bandages and antiseptic wash. Amanda put her helmet next to her computer setup and removed her gloves.
“Pass me my baton?” she asked Miya, pointedly not facing her. Miya silently handed it to her as she carried the supplies to Skulker. I suppose I should be grateful she didn’t have it fry me when she realized I’d stolen it.
Nomad had peeled off the bloody, ad-hoc bandage Delta had wrapped around Skulker’s hand. Shit, still bleeding. It’s not spurting out, though. Nomad kept the arm elevated above Skulker’s chest as Miya wrapped the bandage around the two short stumps as tight as she could get them.
“There,” she said as she finished. “Should probably get that cleaned once the bleeding stops.”
Nomad nodded silently as he undid the bandana around his face. He took in a breath, about to say something, when his phone began to buzz. He glanced at Miya, then answered it. It’s like I’m back in school, and he’s the principle about to tell me I’m suspended again.
“Olivia?” he began.
“Um, Chri-Nomad? The cops are following me. I didn’t want to lead them right to you,” replied Olivia , the phone on speaker
Chris grimaced. “Where are you now?”
“At the top of this tall building. It’s full daylight out now. They can see me easily if I move. I… I don’t want to get caught again.” I really don’t understand how she can go from bad-ass dragon chick to super timid girl in an instant. She was ready to fuck people up when she showed up to the fight.
“Do they know where you are now?” asked Chris. Amanda joined them, a concerned look on her face.
“No, I think I lost them. But if I try to fly anywhere, they’ll see me again,” stammered Olivia. I guess that’s fair. Those wings of hers are enormous when she stretches them out all the way.
“Alright. Do you know where you are right now? I’ll come pick you up.”
“I, um, I don’t really know.”
“Hang on, I’ll find her,” said Amanda, returning to her computers. How? Oh, right, she made Olivia’s phone. I bet she has a tracking thing in that, too.
“Ok,” said Chris to his phone. “Amanda’s going to find where you’re at, I’ll drive there and pick you up.”
“But, I’m on the roof. How will I get down?”
“We’ll figure that out when I get there. Stay out of sight until then, alright?”
“OK. Thank you.”
“See you soon,” said Chris, hanging up. He sighed. “Well, the cops know we’re here now.”
Miya screwed her eyes shut. Good job, me, good job.
“Nrrrrg,” groaned Ben, about fifteen minutes after Chris had left. He rolled over on his cot and sat upright. Right on time. I can at least do that right.
“Hey, how you feeling?” asked Miya, rushing over.
“Blurg. Hand fuckin’ hurts. Still bad as I remember?” he asked with a grimace.
“Kinda hazy. An’ hurty.”
“You weren’t left handed, were you?” asked Miya.
“What do ya mean ‘weren’t’?”
“Those fingers are gone. Amanda couldn’t find enough for doctors to be able to reattach or anything.”
Ben held his hand in front of him and wiggled his three remaining fingers. “Fuck. Feels really fuckin’ weird. Like there should be fingers there movin’ around when I tell ‘em to move.”
“Yeah. Phantom sensations or something like that.” Miya sat down next to him on the cot. What the fuck am I supposed to say? Sorry I fucked up and got your fingers shot off? “Sorry.”
“Can’t regrow them?” he asked, eyebrow raised.
“The bone, nothing else. You know, like muscles and stuff.”
“What? Ya knocked me out jus’ fine. Can’t do that?”
“No, I’m sorry. No. If it’s not bone, I can only do stuff your body would do naturally. You naturally sleep, so I was able to put you under like that. People don’t regrow fingers naturally. I’m so sorry.”
“But it’s magic,” he stated with a grin.
Miya hung her head. “I know, I know. I’m sorry. This is my fault.”
“Sorry,” Ben repeated. Here it comes. Ben nodded for a moment, looking off into the distance. “Did ya pull the trigger?”
“Then why the fuck would I blame ya?”
“Because I dragged you there without any idea what we would find. I dragged you there without knowing he would have an alert set up for reinforcements if people attacked him at his shop. I didn’t bring the others and you wouldn’t have been there if I wasn’t such a fucking idiot.”
“Whoa, whoa. Back up. I agreed to an’ went along with all of tha’ shit ya jus’ said. An’ ya ain’t a precog, unless you’ve been holdin’ out on us. Have ya?” he asked with a wide grin. How are you so fucking happy?
Ben cut her off. “An’ even so, some guy shot me. In the interest of fairness, I woulda shot whatever chucklefuck shot me. He jus’ got lucky. Or me unlucky, one of the two. Anyways, he’s the one I’d blame.”
“Shh.” God damn it.
“I got a whole bag of shh for you.”
“Fine,” barked Miya. She sighed. “Really? No anger?”
“No amount of anger in the world is gonna make those fingers grow back. Stuff’ll probably be a pain in the ass now, but if I can’t manage I deserve to be a little bitch. Besides, I can still shoot a gun.”
Miya smiled. “OK, tough guy.”
“Oh yeah. Where’s everyone else?”
“The cops started following Olivia after she saved our sorry asses. She lost them, but if she starts flying again they’ll catch on quick enough. Chris and Amanda are going to pick her up now.”
He nodded. “Wait, where’s Rob? Didn’t see him earlier,” he said. Miya’s eyes widened. Wait, where is Rob? Totally forgot about him.
“That’s a good question. Let me go see where he is. You going to be alright?”
“I ain’t a fuckin’ invalid. Just a tiny bit lighter now.” He forced a grin.
Miya pursed her lips and nodded. “Right. I’ll go get Rob now.”
Well, Rob hasn’t left that scrapyard since we got here. Hell, I don’t know if he’s even slept or not. Miya passed by Amanda’s car, still in pieces. A mess of thick wires led from what Miya assumed was a generator to the trunk. Wait, grinding noises. That must be him.
Miya followed the sounds of Rob to a far corner in the yard itself. What the…
Rob had set up a sort of fence. Bits of rusty wire suspended sheets of corrugated tin from posts set haphazardly in the hard packed dirt. Miya heard the clanks of metal on metal and the roar of gas burning. What? This wasn’t here when me and Ben left last night. She found the entrance to the fenced off portion and turned the corner. A wall of heat immediately blasted her in the face. Jesus it’s hot in here.
Rob hammered at a glowing rod of metal. Not with dramatic, sweeping motions, but short and firm hits. Sparks sputtered out from the metal. To his side was a crude box of some kind. She saw about three propane tanks connected with hoses to the back. The box rattled as the air above it shimmered. He nudged the base of the box with his foot and continued.
“Rob!” she shouted over the clamor to catch his attention as she approached.
He looked up and his eyes widened. He made a shooing motion. “What are you doing? Out, I’ll be there in just a sec.” He glared until Miya backed away, putting the fence between her and the fire box thing. Fucking techies. The roar of the fire died down.
“The hell are you doin’?” demanded Rob as he joined Miya and hung the thick protective apron up on a fence post. “You don’t just fuckin’ walk in machine shop, especially when there’s-”
“Ben’s hurt,” said Miya, cutting him off.
“OK. How bad?” Well that’s an underwhelming level of concern right there. I thought you two got along.
“He lost fingers.”
Rob sighed. “Fuck. The hell happened?” he asked as he started towards the main building.
Miya followed, saying, “A bunch of guys tried to kill us, and Ben got shot in the hand.”
“Why were there a bunch of guys shooting at you in the first place?” asked Rob as he wrenched the door open and ushered Miya in. Ben, digging some food out of the bags they’d bought, looked up and waved his injured hand at Rob.
“You got shot?” asked Rob. “Dumbass.” Miya’s eyes widened. Did he really just say that?
Ben grinned. “Try it sometime. Shut ya up right quick.”
“I’ll pass. Gotta give you a nickname now.”
“You start callin’ me Stumpy I break your nose,” said Ben, deadpan.
Rob snickered. “Fair enough. Hey, you can even make that rock sign thing they always do at those metal concerts you go to.”
Ben extended his three remaining fingers and grinned. “Hey, yeah, you’re right.”
The others came in at that point. Olivia immediately wrapped Ben up in a bear hug without preamble.
“Watch the hand,” burst out Miya. Finally got that to stop bleeding. Please don’t agitate it.
Ben snorted as Olivia released him and said, “Sorry.”
Ben grabbed a bag of potato chips, then stopped as he realized everyone was looking at him. “What?” he asked.
“Are you alright?” asked Amanda.
“Good enough, I guess. Don’ hurt near as much as before. I ain’t made of glass all of a sudden.”
“You’re missing two fingers,” Chris pointed out. Yeah, you seem disturbingly accepting of that, Ben.
“Thanks,” said Ben. He popped open the bag and munched on a couple chips. “You all gonna keep staring at me?”
I think he just wants some space. “Well, I was up all night. Maybe some sleep would be best for everyone.”
“Yeah,” agreed Rob. “I’m gonna get back to work now.” He headed for the back door.
“Don’t you care?” asked Olivia, frowning.
Rob whirled around, not smiling. “I care fuckin’ plenty. All the carin’ in the world ain’t gonna help right now. He’s alive, conscious, an’ so on. I could whinge about it, or I could get some stuff done before I shotgun some dudes in the face.”
“When’s the last time you slept?” asked Amanda.
Rob shrugged. “Before we got here? Maybe?” Oh god, that sounds terrible. How?
“Jesus. Even I got some sleep last night.”
Rob shrugged again. “I ain’t tired. Also, I almost got that last super magnet thing done,” he called out as he left. Amanda perked up at that. She glanced at Ben.
“Um,” she began.
“Quit fuckin’ fussin’ ‘bout me, people,” said Ben with a smile, waving her off. Amanda smiled and chased after Rob.
“If you insist,” said Chris, walking off. “Don’t forget to tell us anything you need.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Ben, taking a seat at his cot again.
Olivia settled in, wrapping a wing around Ben. She’s been doing that a lot lately. I guess wing hugs are better than bear hugs though.
Miya stifled a yawn as Olivia began asking a Ben question. She’s too quiet, and I’m too tired. Sleep time.
The next day, right as Miya finished a little box of cereal for breakfast, Chris said, “Getting everyone together. We need to figure out what to do now.”
“OK. Thanks for telling me?”
“Just… don’t vanish.” Yeah, yeah, I’m an idiot.
After everyone had gathered around, even Rob, Chris began, “Miya, is there anything else you wanted to do here?”
“No, I think I took care of everything. Wait, no. I’d like to figure out if there are any of Overlord’s people in the city.” If that’s OK.
“That’s a hornet’s nest you’d be better off leaving alone,” said Amanda from her plastic folding chair. “Overlord is well above our pay grade. Several orders of magnitude, actually.”
“Yeah, all those mulched up people they found in Iraq weren’t there because he’s so nice and cuddly,” chipped in Ben, rubbing the fresh bandages wrapped around his hand.
“Wait,” said Olivia. “Did you, um, mulched? People?” I can believe it.
“Oh, yeah, Overlord ruled Iraq for most of the nineties, actually. When the coalition thingy invaded, they found places where people’s bodies had been experimented on and shredded after,” said Rob.
Olivia looked sick. Yeah, I’m with her. That’s fucked up. “Why?” asked Olivia.
“Don’t know,” said Amanda. “Don’t wanna know. But Miya, that’s the kind of guy you don’t want to mess with.”
“Ben stole that sniper rifle from him,” Miya pointed out.
“Ehhh, not an experience I’d repeat. Also, that was a low level weapon mod place that serviced the real cloning lab in the area,” said Ben.
“How do you know there was a cloning lab in the area?” asked Amanda.
“Cuz tha’s where they were holdin’ those velociraptors and the captive scientists, remember? I told you tha’ story. They took you to the heart of the medical division, right? They hired Slim Jim? Color coded doctors an’ shit?”
“Yeah,” said Miya. What does that have to do with anything?
“So tha’ means Overlord himself actually cared. Slim Jim I’m willin’ to bet don’ come cheap. An’ those science fellas I got outta there said somethin’ about a Doctor Grey an’ a Doctor Green.” I kept having to deal with Doctor Orange, and he kept talking about a Doctor Brown, I guess that makes sense.
Olivia jerked upright at that. “Doctor Grey?” she asked.