Miya finished breaking down the cot and tossed it in the office they’d used as storage. Finally leaving this shithole. Actually, this didn’t even take too long. No complaints here.
“I think we’re basically ready to leave. Think Rob and Amanda will be done soon?” she asked Chris as she passed him.
“I just asked Amanda. She thinks so,” he said over his shoulder as he carried the last cot in.
Wonderful. She looked around the warehouse. Amanda had taken the time out of her busy schedule to pack up all but one of her computers. The desks she’d used were now pushed up against a wall. Ben walked out with a case of ammunition. Miya joined Olivia, who looked about ready to nod off near the office wall.
“You alright?” asked Miya. Someone looks miserable.
“What? Oh, I’m fine,” said Olivia. She covered her mouth to conceal a huge yawn.
“Really?” asked Miya, eyebrow raised as Olivia’s yawn continued.
Olivia finally closed her mouth. “I’m just a little tired. I couldn’t sleep last night, Amanda and Rob had some engine thing going all day. And there were a bunch of cars every now and then driving near by.”
“Do you think you’re going to be able to fly tonight? We’ll be leaving soon-ish.”
“Oh, um, yeah. I can.”
“You’re not going to fall asleep midair, are you?” asked Miya with a teasing smile.
“I can do it,” insisted Olivia with a small frown.
Miya nudged her. “I’m just teasing you.”
“Oh, sorry.” Olivia stifled another yawn.
Amanda barged in, pushing a few boxes on a dolly Rob had welded together from scrap earlier that day. At the same time Ben returned from the front, minus the ammo boxes.
“Hey, jackass, get this stuff out to Chris’s car,” Amanda called out to Ben.
“Sure thing, hon. We almost ready to leave?” answered Ben.
“Maybe two hours. We did something weird with the wiring, and it’s kind of hard to figure out,” said Amanda. Oh, hey, these two sniping at each other. I haven’t seen this in a while.
“Says the electric techie,” said Ben with a grin.
“Hey,” said Amanda as she relinquished her grip on the dolly for Ben to take it. “I’d like to see you do it. Besides, we’re on a time crunch. And Rob is more concerned with whatever that other project he’s been working on, I can’t do everything on my own.” Other project? What?
“Says the electric techie,” repeated Ben. Whatever, I’ll just ask Rob about it later.
“I’m going to stab you, says the electric techie,” said Amanda as she walked out of the door, flipping Ben off over her shoulder. Ben snickered and wheeled away the dolly.
“Should we help with anything?” Olivia asked aloud, looking between Ben and Amanda. What’s this ‘we’ you’re talking about? I’m just waiting for the green light so we can get out of here.
“I’m sure they’ve got it,” answered Miya. Olivia yawned wide a third time. “Are you absolutely sure you won’t fall asleep in the middle of your flight and plummet to earth?” asked Miya.
“Yes… um… maybe.”
Don’t be dumb. You sleep at least twelve hours a day. If you didn’t get any sleep last night you’re going to be especially tired. “Yes or no, Olivia. If you fall asleep at a random point in the night and fall into the desert, we will never find you.”
“No, you’re right. Sorry. But what if the cars are too full?”
“Well, let me check.”
Miya walked over to the office, the last place she’d seen Chris. Why is he still in here? He just had to carry the last cot in. There’s nothing else. Miya poked her head in as Chris adjusted the top cot of a neat, organized stack of them. The gasoline cans they’d used to keep the gas generator running had received a similar treatment next to the generator in question. She eyed the trash bag that he’d filled and placed by the door. Really? Whatever.
“Hey Chris, Olivia will need a ride for tonight, she didn’t sleep at all because of Rob and Amanda.” Chris raised an eyebrow at her in an unspoken question. Wait, that will stick the two biggest people in the smallest car. That’s just mean.
“I think my car is packed,” he said. Oh, maybe that’s what the eyebrow was for. “Rob and Amanda are sharing Amanda’s car with whatever they’ve made in the last couple days. Might want to try Ben.”
She nodded. “Sure.”
Miya returned to the warehouse proper, Chris following behind her. A metallic flash caught Miya’s eye as Olivia fiddled with one of the little gold bars. Damn it. Whatever, it brings her joy.
Ben burst in from the front door. “Guys, guys! Lookit!” he exclaimed, waving his phone in front of him. He rushed over and shoved it in Miya’s face.
“What?” asked Miya before her eyes could focus on the screen in front of her.
“I’ve been makin’ a point to be more up to date on the news. An’ guess what? Guess what? Nah, jus’ read it,” said Ben, a crazy smile on his face.
Ok, something about John Doe. Huh, almost forgot about him. News fluff about urban legends. And… whoa. He was an alien?
Miya looked back up at Ben. “Ya read it?” he asked. She nodded. He passed the phone around to Chris and Olivia, who had gathered around.
“Why are you so happy about this?” Miya asked Ben. “I’d kind of wanted to forget about him.”
“I met a fuckin’ alien! Kinda. But still, tha’s fuckin’ cool.”
“It’s not as though he was a previously undiscovered alien species,” said Chris as he read the article, Olivia looking over his shoulder with a frown. “They’re pretty sure he was a Gulmer.”
Ben’s smile slipped. “Bullshit. We saw him first hand. He looked all human an’ weird an’ shit.” I’m with Ben on this one, he looked fully human to me.
“How far did you actually read into the article?” asked Chris. “Or did you just read the title?”
“Uh, title an’ first paragraph or so before. Then I got all excited an’ told you lot.”
“Yeah. They think he, or she, they’re still not entirely sure on Gulmer gender, was a survivor from one of their slaving raids back in the day.”
“Thought the army mopped them up… hell, before we were born,” said Ben.
“Doesn’t mean one of them couldn’t have slipped by,” said Chris as he passed the phone back to Ben. “Besides, I guess that explains John Doe’s bizarre power.”
“Um,” began Olivia. She closed her mouth when Chris turned around.
“Question?” he asked.
“How does that, um, how does that explain his power?” she asked.
“Aliens have powers and whatnot too, but they work differently,” said Chris.
“Really?” asked Miya. I always assumed they worked like normal, well, human powers.
“From what we know, and from what we’ve gotten from Siberians, yes,” responded Chris. He’s positively chatty today.
“Where do powers come from, then?” asked Olivia.
“I dunno,” said Miya. Ben just shrugged.
“I am not the person to ask,” said Chris. “Biological quirks? Will of God? No idea.”
“Lemme check. The internet knows all,” said Ben. Miya sat back, waiting on him. I actually kind of want to know the answer to this.
After a while, Ben said, “No fuckin’ clue. Oh, or ya can believe this one sane gentleman who says that we’re all sinners who have been cursed by Beelzebub or whoever and will burn in the pits of hell for all eternity.” That’s nice.
Chris just shook his head. “Of course. Anything else to pack in the cars?” he asked.
“Nope,” answered Ben. “Jus’ waitin’ on Rob an’ Amanda.”
“Um,” began Olivia. “Why is it so important we leave now? No one knows we’re here.”
What? “They do know we’re here,” said Miya. “Remember when you flew around, and the police chased you?”
“No, here in this building. Sorry.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Ya know it wouldn’t be all that hard to find us here, yeah?” said Ben. “A couple of homeless people have already probably tried to squat before noticin’ us here since we moved in.”
“Um,” began Olivia. “Maybe?” she said.
What? “What do you mean, Olivia?” asked Chris.
“I might have smelled other people when we first came here. They were faint, though.”
“Yeah,” agreed Ben. “An’ I’d be willin’ to bet all of ‘em in the area have noticed that there’s people here now.
“Then why didn’t they steal all of that stuff I had stockpiled? It was just sitting there for months,” asked Miya. Well, not I. It was the rest of the gang too. But that’s not important.
“Remember how we needed Rob to pick the lock to actually get in? A random homeless person very probably doesn’t have those capabilities,” said Chris. “But anyways, to answer your question, Olivia, we should probably get to a city where people with guns don’t know we’re there. Whoever that gang was, they obviously don’t like us, and I wouldn’t put it past them to try to get revenge for killing one of their own.”
“Who were they, anyways?” asked Ben.
“They’re called the Tzontlis,” answered Miya. “I’m not sure where they came from. They weren’t around last time I was here.”
“Not sure? Ya knew who some of them were,” said Ben.
“The people I knew were from the Underground. They don’t have manpower.”
“Wait, the what?” asked Ben.
“Underground Mage Collective.” She observed everyone’s blank looks. Seriously? None of you know who they are?
“Oh, wait. Those sickos in Salem?” asked Ben.
“No, there’s three different ones that I know of. The first one was started in Oregon, hence the name. They’re a bunch of hippies. The ones on the east coast are the ones you’re talking about, in Massachusetts. That’s where the Salem you’re talking about is, right?”
Ben shrugged. “Think so. I dunno though.”
“Yeah, they’re why the Salem witch trials were so bloody. And the only other main one I know of is here in Phoenix. I think that’s more a result of all the Aztecs living around here. But that’s not the point. The point is that it’s more of a society or a club than a street gang.”
“So some hobbyists are now warlords?” asked Chris.
“Apparently. They were always kind of, you know, underground. Not just a clever name, you see. I know their leader, Samedi, refused to get involved in anything that wasn’t about magic.”
“Fuck if I know.”
Someone pounded on the door and everyone froze. Shit. Who? Miya reflexively reached for a gun. Shit, everything is packed in the cars. Shit. Silence reigned.
“Ben, Olivia, check the back,” said Chris, his voice hushed. Ben lead the way as the two rushed to the scrapyard.
Miya hung back as Chris approached the front door. I won’t be able to do shit. She whirled around as she remembered the office. Check there. She grabbed Chris before he could open the door and jerked her head towards the office once she had his attention. You OK with doing this on your own? I won’t be much help. He took a second to consider, then nodded.
Miya rushed towards the office. Chris gave her a moment to get halfway, then opened the door. Come on, come on. She wrenched open the door and rushed in. Fuck, Chris organized it all. I have no clue where anything is. She scrambled, ducking around a stack of cots. Didn’t turn on the light. Damn.
Nothing. Did we even leave a gun here? She tore the top off a box. Blankets. Another box. Cans of food. She stood up straight and looked around. It’s organized. This is domestic stuff. She ran to the other end of the office, only the light from the opened door behind her illuminating the way. A metallic glint caught her eye. There.
She grabbed a pistol and a magazine from the small locker. Heavy, got rounds in it. Good. Haven’t heard any shouting or gunfire, maybe I won’t need this. After hurrying back to the warehouse, she leaned in the doorway and took in the scene.
Chris stood by the front door, the door fully opened. Why are you so trusting? Or why am I so paranoid? They’re obviously not fighting. Who’s he talking to?
The tall man in question wore a black, full brim hat. He spoke intently to Chris, who nodded. Miya recognized him. Uh oh.
Fuck, that’s Preacher. Where are Roach and Quarrel? A quick glance past Chris and Preacher into the darkened outdoors didn’t show either person. I don’t see Quarrel anywhere, she’s probably covering Preacher. Roach? I’ll find out in a moment.
“Preacher!” she called out, advancing. “Chris, out of the way.”
Chris sidestepped, shooting Miya a questioning glance. Oh thank god he listened. Preacher, meanwhile, noticed the gun in Miya’s hands. She kept it pointed towards the floor, at the same time kept her feet apart in a firing stance as she came to a stop. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked.
“Miya?” asked Chris.
“He has vocal mental control. He’s part of the Watch here.” To Preacher she asked, “Did you mess with him?” Chris gave a small frown, and reached for the knife he had in his belt. Maybe Chris is clear. Not sure though.
“No. And who are you?” asked Preacher with his arms folded. If at any point he sounds convincing, shoot. Chris backed up another step. At least he still trusts me.
“A local,” she replied.
“You are the ones that tangled with the Tzontlis yesterday, yes? Your friend has just informed me.”
“So what if we did?”
“Well, we at the Watch merely wished to offer our help in that regard. Surely you wouldn’t…” Bad. No more words.
He stopped as Miya raised her pistol and put her finger on the trigger. “Shut up,” she spat. “Open your mouth and die, Preacher. I ask you a yes or no question, and you nod or shake your head. Understand?”
Preacher’s face hardened when she said his name again. I know your power, fucker. He nodded.
“Quarrel and Roach here?” she asked.
He nodded. She glanced around past him. I still don’t see them. This is bad.
“Quarrel’s about to put a bolt in my eye, isn’t she?”
Another nod. How? I’m in the building. Is she going to shoot past Preacher? Crossbows aren’t strong enough to go through walls, are they? “You’re here to get us to help you fight the Tzontlis aren’t you?” she asked. Please don’t kill me.
Preacher nodded. “Miya, what?” said Chris.
“Two others in the Watch. Quarrel has a crossbow, Roach can’t be killed.”
“Put the gun down. They didn’t come in trying to kill us.”
“That’s Preacher talking,” said Miya. Fuck head games. Just give me something to shoot.
“No, that’s me. He said something about Overlord, I thought you’d be interested.” Miya faltered as she lowered her pistol a couple inches. The fuck?
“All we ask is that you listen,” said Preacher. “I cannot affect all of you at once.”
“I believe you because?” asked Miya. So much for that no talking thing. But if Quarrel wants to kill me there’s nothing stopping her.
“Because I came here in good faith for a simple talk, not combat.”
“Good faith? Quarrel’s about to shoot me.”
“Good faith is not stupidity. We did not know if you would react as you are reacting now.”
At that time, the back door squeaked open. Two footsteps stopped, presumably at the sight of Miya, Chris, and Preacher. “Nothin’ out back. You lot gettin’ along?” asked Ben.
Chris gave Miya a look. “I’m not in the business of needless murder. Are you?” Fine. Miya lowered her pistol. Chris spoke to Preacher next. “We’re showing you faith, now you show us. Where are those other two?” Oh, hey, Chris isn’t a complete idiot.
Preacher smiled slightly. “Very well.” Preacher turned and waved. “They will be here momentarily.
Chris nodded. “Ben, can you grab the others?”
“Yessah,” replied Ben as he left again. Miya kept an eye on Preacher.
A few minutes later, after everyone convened in the warehouse and were introduced to one another, Preacher spoke again, “Thank you for meeting with us.”
“What’s this about?” asked Rob with a frown. Hey, Amanda dragged him out of that scrapyard.
“We need help, pure and simple,” said Quarrel, her voice muffled slightly by the thin brown scarf over her face.
Miya glanced at Quarrel’s goggles. Can’t tell if she’s lying or not. I actually can’t tell shit about her, she’s always been the spooky one. Quarrel’s head twitched in Miya’s direction when she noticed her gaze and ran a thumb along one of the heavier crossbow bolts she had strapped to the front of her dusty brown coat.
“Tzontlis,” croaked the large Aztec man next to her. He scratched at the enormous white gash on his throat. In fact, his whole skin was a web of scars. He caught Miya’s gaze and frowned. Oh, he remembers me. My golem gave you a couple of those scars, didn’t it?
“Yes. The government is trying to keep the news covered, but the Tzontlis have control of a good third of the city and show no signs of slowing. The MHU is on the defensive,” said Preacher.
“We’ve been doing what we can, but we’re always outgunned,” added Quarrel. “There’s always so many of them. And Samedi can move people to wherever he wants nearly instantaneously.” Bullshit.
“How?” asked Miya. “Magic doesn’t work well on living things, especially thinking ones.” That’s why I need physical contact to do anything to someone.
“We don’t know. We don’t know anyone who might know, either. That’s one of the many things that’s caught us off guard,” said Preacher.
“Why do we care? You caught us literally right before we were about to leave,” said Rob. Something, something, Overlord. That’s all I know.
“Hear him out,” said Chris.
“The Underground working with them at all is also surprising. The gang itself appeared sometime in early December, then in February they expanded rapidly. We’re not sure how, but apart from the Underground, the MHU captured someone who they claim was working with the Mexican government working with the Tzontlis.” Cuauhtémoc?
“Found something,” said Roach, his voice rattling.
“Yes. We found something in one of our raids. It was a gravitational bomb.”
“A what?” asked Amanda.
“A graviation-” Preacher began to repeat.
“Yeah, heard that. What does that mean?”
“Gravity is distorted,” said Quarrel.
“One step. Hundred feet in the air,” rasped Roach.
“It was less of a bomb and more of a reality warping generator, but the officers who arrived first called it a bomb, so that’s what everyone’s been calling it since,” said Preacher. “The point is that Overlord is involved. No one else could make this.” I thought Overlord worked with robots.
“Wait, wait, wha’ powers they got?” asked Ben.
“Besides the Underground, they have three powers worth talking about: Shotty and Buzz are two hitmen and Vaca is a smuggler. So far as we’re aware, they don’t have a techie. Especially not one that can warp gravity on such a large scale, that’s the only device we’ve seen.”
“Does Shotty use a shotgun?” asked Ben with a grin.
“Yes he does. A massive, homemade thing that would break most peoples’ arm if they tried to shoot it.”
“And who’s in charge?” asked Chris.
“Brother and sister, Meztli and Xipil. I believe Don was their uncle.” Huh, didn’t know he had a family.
Olivia tapped Miya on the shoulder. “Yeah?” whispered Miya.
“I smell something,” Olivia whispered back. Um, OK?
“Oil, kind of. I don’t recognize it. It’s pretty strong.”
“Don’t you smell stuff all the time?”
“Yeah, but I just wanted to know if you knew what it was.” Oil? I guess it’s just oil.
“No, no clue.”
“OK, sorry.” Miya returned her attention to the conversation.
“-also indicated that Overlord is present in the city,” finished Preacher. Whoa, whoa, whoa. What?
“Overlord is here?” asked Miya. I’m absolutely going to kill that man someday.
“We don’t know. He certainly has an interest in what goes on here,” said Preacher.
“They have robots. We’ve fought them before,” said Quarrel.
“The only effective combat robot I’ve heard of is…” said Amanda, trailing off. Is what? Just say it.
“What’d they look like?” asked Rob. Or don’t say it. Fuck you two.
“Like a smaller person. They have a screaming faceplate, but are completely silent. We couldn’t tell it was a robot until Quarrel shot it.”
“Didn’t bleed,” rasped Roach. “Was strong, too.”
“And it didn’t bleed. My power didn’t affect it either. I’ve never encountered a person who could,” said Preacher.
“Was fast,” added Roach.
Rob and Amanda exchanged troubled glances. “You’re a techie, right?” Rob asked Quarrel. She nodded. “Your thoughts?”
“I wanted to take it apart, I know that much.” Oh come on. Does everyone know what they’re talking about but me? “I don’t know anything about robotics, but that was a piece of work. We honestly thought it was someone with a brick power until Roach got right up next to it. I did get a picture of it, though.” She handed a photo to Rob.
Rob’s eyes widened. Amanda paled. “That’s an Overlord drone.”
Olivia’s head swiveled towards the front door in the meantime. “Oil,” she murmured.