Miya slumped in the bed of Gears’ truck, beside Olivia. Bob, the MHU officer, sat across from them. Gears started the engine and drove past the remains of the MHU convoy in the middle of the street. Miya’s long black hair whipped around in the wind. The three massive, armored vans burned, the flames shooting up high into the night sky above.
How are we going to stop this? Can we? She stared down and flexed her hand. Fucking Overlord. Everyone remained silent. In the distance, Miya could hear gunfire and the occasional explosion all throughout the city, echoing off the skyscrapers as they moved deeper into the city and towards the mint. Didn’t know Westward had a mint. Phoenix didn’t. She glanced around at the MHU officer in the back of the truck with her.
Goggles attached to Bob’s helmet covered his eyes, along with most of his face above his cheeks, making his expression hard to read. Nonetheless, a small frown tugged at the corners of his lips. His folded arms and rifle rested on the dark grey chest plate of his body armor. He turned his head a fraction, facing her fully.
Shit. He noticed. “Did you have friends back there?” she asked, raising her voice enough to be heard over the rumbling of the truck’s engine and the rush of air around them.
He nodded and sighed. “Not the first time. Won’t be the last.”
“Sorry.” God I hate that. ‘Sorry.’ Feels so token.
They fell into silence again. Miya leaned over and bumped against Olivia, hoping to elicit any sort of reaction. Olivia’s wings twitched. She pulled her tail that had been hanging out back into the bed of the truck. OK. She’s not brain dead or anything
Bob spoke up, “Didn’t see Nomad with you.”
“You knew him?”
“Yeah. Worked with him a couple times before Marcus took over MHU.”
“He… he didn’t make it.” Miya heard a faint hiss from Olivia, almost unnoticeable under the sounds of the truck.
Bob hung his head for a moment. “Sorry to hear that. He was a good kid.”
“Yeah.” He and Olivia were the ones who came along to deal with my family bullshit.
“You knew him. Keep yourself alive and remem-” They hit a bump as Gears pulled onto the curb to avoid a bullet ridden and abandoned Army checkpoint blocking the road. Bob gave a sharp grunt and held a hand to his mouth. “Fuck. Bit my tongue,” he muttered.
Miya smiled in spite of herself, letting out a small laugh. I’m a terrible person. Bob managed a small chuckle.
“That’ll teach me to open my mouth.”
They turned onto a larger street. Miya’s eyes widened. Whoa. The shattered remains of two tanks on either side of the road burned, smoke pouring out of them. She saw bodies.
“Whoa, stop.” Bob reached out and hit the roof of the truck’s cab. The truck, already slowing, came to a full stop.
Bob jumped off the side of the truck. Miya nudged Olivia with her elbow as she stood. After a moment, Olivia followed, her movements sluggish. The others piled out of the front.
“Techies, Bob, stay here,” ordered Jeremiah, rifle at the ready. “Be ready to get us out of here.”
Gears remained behind the wheel; Delta joined Bob by the side of the car. Miya pulled her pistol from its holster at her hip and joined the others as they approached a row of bodies sprawled on the sidewalk. They stopped ten paces away. Miya couldn’t tear her eyes away. That’s… that’s a lot of bodies.
Jeremiah was the first to speak. “These people were executed.” Not all wore uniforms. Miya counted a man and two women in normal clothes. All had gaping wounds in the backs of their heads. Blood ran on the ground. “Put down on their knees, then a bullet to the back of their head.”
“Smells wrong,” murmured Olivia, behind Miya.
“Stop,” said Miya. Everyone froze. “What was that, Olivia?”
“Something smells wrong. Not the bodies.”
“Well, what is it?” asked Jeremiah, turning away from the bodies. Olivia’s frown deepened, her gaze distant.
“Give her some space,” said Miya.
“Smells like robot,” said Olivia in the same subdued voice.
Jeremiah snorted. “Yeah, no shit, there were robots here.”
“Hey, fuck off,” responded Skulker, sniper rifle in hand.
“Something’s still here,” said Olivia, showing no indication she’d heard either of them. “Under one of the bodies.”
That got their attention. Shit, which one? “Back up,” said Jeremiah, slowly backing away.
“When did you-” started Skulker.
“Not now,” barked Miya as she followed Jeremiah’s lead. He’s a dick, but he’s right. She gave Olivia’s wing a tug. She followed.
“I’m thinking those bodies are booby trapped,” explained Jeremiah. “Saw stuff similar in Afghanistan. With piles of trash, but same concept.”
“Can’t jus’ leave a bomb out here for some other poor fucks to stumble on.”
“They’ll probably detonate once they’re disturbed. Unless your dragon friend can smell a robot nearby, then that might be a triggerman. Bot. You get it.”
Olivia shook her head. Skulker took a knee and aimed. “Which one?” he asked her. She pointed to a body in the middle of the row.
He fired into the body. A small explosion ripped through the sidewalk. Miya covered her head with her arms as bits of rubble and the shockwave shot past. Beside her, Olivia shook the wing she’d stretched out between Miya and the explosion, dislodging a couple flakes of concrete.
“Everyone OK?” asked Skulker, standing back up.
Every answered affirmative. “Let’s get going,” said Jeremiah.
“Halt!” a man yelled.
Once the truck jerked to a stop, Miya poked her head around the side. A low wall of sandbags and scrap from cars stood between them and the mint. Several large machine guns mounted to the walls or the pair of humvees aimed at their truck. The soldiers who manned them looked battered and bloodied. One was missing his helmet, another had a bloody bandage around his upper arm.
“Careful,” said Bob, his voice low. He placed his rifle on the floor and stood up with his empty hands where the soldiers could see them. “MHU and locals. Dispatch told us to come here.”
One of the soldiers responded, “Locals?”
Bob glanced at Miya. What? Oh right, we need a name. Still. She shrugged. “Yes,” answered Bob.
“Get out. Keep your hands where we can see them. We’ve had incidents.”
“Do as he says,” murmured Bob as he slowly climbed out of the truck. Miya and Olivia followed suit. The doors opened to let out the others. They clustered near the front of the truck. One of the soldiers stood, rifle still aimed at them.
“Two MHU, four local supers, and, uh, a feral.” A pause. Olivia pulled her wings in closer behind her back. “No sir. She’s with the other four. Not aggressive. Wings. Yes sir.” To them, he called out, “The feral going to be a problem?”
“She’s fine,” barked Skulker. Miya’s hands tightened into fists. Bastards.
The soldier looked to Bob, who nodded. He lowered his rifle. “Alright, let ‘em through. Go see the lieutenant, he wanted to talk with you.”
Three other soldiers ran up to the spiky metal barricade in the center of the road and pulled it to the side. They drove through, and they pulled the barricade went back. Miya saw movement in the surrounding buildings. She caught sight of uniforms. So they have the streets and buildings around the mint. Anything else?
In the street in front of the mint were parked two tanks, a couple more battle scarred humvees, and various other vehicles Miya didn’t know the names of. Soldiers and MHU officers in their dark grey armor rushed to various tasks, weapons close at hand for everyone. Temporary spotlights lit up the area.
They got a few odd looks, but by and large no one seemed to care that there was a massive pickup truck with a feral on the back driving through. They approached the black fence surrounding the four story, white stone building. Looks old. Really old. The fence curved in on either side of a set of doors, stopping at the wall of the building. Two soldiers guarded the gate. The first moved to block their way as they got out of the truck once again. The second openly stared at Olivia the whole time.
“We’ve just arrived. MHU and locals. The men at the gate told us to meet with the lieutenant,” said Jeremiah, voice confident.
“Stairs to your left, second floor. Can’t miss him,” said the first guard.
He stepped to the side and let them in. The second nodded to Olivia as they passed, though she didn’t seem to notice. Weird.
Miya visually checked over the others as they headed inside, MHU men included. Any broken bones? Bob and Jeremiah stood alert, never looking in the same place for long. They’re fine. Gears hadn’t done much besides drive the truck, and from what Miya could tell their armor was in good shape. Rob needs to repaint that armor though, if he wants any of that stuff legible. As for Skulker, she couldn’t see anything wrong. Maybe check his hand, see if anything’s gone wrong there.
Delta curled slightly at the stomach, even when standing. Need to keep an eye on her. Olivia just kept her head down, shoulders slumped. Miya bumped into her with her hip.
“Hey, you alright?” Olivia nodded, extending a wing around Miya’s shoulders. “You don’t have to worry about-” She was cut short when they entered the mint.
The wounded lay everywhere. Men and women with red cross armbands rushed between the myriad cots and stretchers on the floor. The smell of blood, piss, feces, and all sorts of other bodily fluids hit Miya’s nostrils. Olivia physically recoiled, hand held to her nose. Across the wide room frantic screaming picked up. A few doctors and nurses rushed over.
“Grey goo, grey goo!” screamed the nearest one.
“Quarantine!” roared a doctor.
Everyone backed away from the screaming, writhing man, pulling patients along with them. Two soldiers rushed over with what looked like a large metallic blanket. They pulled it over the man, sparks flying off its reflective surface. Beneath it, the man’s thrashing stilled. Shit. Shit. What the shit? Screaming robots and bodies with bombs and now whatever that was?
“Come on,” said Jeremiah, seemingly unconcerned by what had happened. He led the way towards the stairs.
Blood and soap and needles and no, no, no. Miya jumped when Olivia nudged her. No orange. Hip to hip, or as close as their wildly different heights would allow, they followed Jeremiah, trying their utmost to not look for another moment at the scene behind them.
Soon enough, they reached the second floor of the mint. The halls were lined with portraits of official looking government employees. One opened door had people constantly rushing in and out. They headed for it.
Inside was organized chaos. In the corner, a couple people with headsets operated a large radio set. A massive topographical map of the city had been attached to a wall on the opposite side of the room. A man in his thirties stood by a table in the middle, a touch of grey in his buzz cut brown hair.
“Sir,” called out Jeremiah. Sure. Let this asshole take the heat.
The man looked them over. “Give me that file.” The lieutenant thumbed through the folder an underling passed him for a few moments.
“You know us?” asked Gears.
“Yes,” answered the lieutenant, not looking up. “You were mentioned by MHU forces here. And we’ve got close to thirty soldiers and MHU officers here who said they would have died in two separate ambushes had a human dragon thing not swooped down and pummeled the ambushing robots long enough for them to get away.”
Olivia’s eyes didn’t leave the ground. The lieutenant closed the file and leaned forward, hands on the desk.
“One of you was put through Overlord’s experiments. Another of you was shot by his robots. Another stole from him. And finally another one of you is on his radar for future experiments. You’re no friends of him,” he said, looking Miya directly in the eye.
She nodded. I will kill him. Him, Slim Jim, and Doctor Orange.
“Welcome aboard. We’ve gotten some metahuman volunteers, but you’re the last organized group. The Bratva was getting rounded up and slaughtered last we knew, and we’ve heard nothing from the Watch, Cyrus, or the Company here. Our own metahuman units were targeted and killed nearly to a man. They have some way of blocking powers.”
“Yeah, the big bots,” broke in Skulker. “Not the armored ones with big guns, the lighter ones with the antennae outta their backs.” He motioned to Miya. “Mages aren’t affected. Neither was Olivia.”
“Who?” Skulker jerked his head to Olivia. “Ah. Odd, but I’ll take it. Their range?”
“Dunno. No time to test.”
“I understand. Spread the word.”
“Cyrus,” murmured Olivia.
“What was that?” asked the lieutenant. He stared at Olivia.
“Um, one of those big robots had Cyrus. I stopped it, and Cyrus flew away.”
“I don’t know, sorry.”
The lieutenant cursed. “We need everyone who can hold a gun without shooting their foot off, metahuman or no. Our communications are shot. I’m the highest ranking one here. We found the police chief dead in his own home. We’re not sure where the MHU chief is.
“Marcus. He’s a mage,” said Bob.
“Dispatch says he was getting orders from Marcus right before HQ was overrun,” added Jeremiah.
“Then you two find your dispatcher. From there figure out where Marcus is. If he’s outside our perimeter, come to me.”
The two MHU officer nodded. “Yes sir.”
“Good luck,” added Bob to Miya as he left.
The lieutenant continued, “You two techies, get out to the motor pool. Might have something for you.”
“We’d rather stay with the rest of our team, sir,” said Delta.
“Not an option. But if we have an operation outside our perimeter, you all will be in the same unit. Healer mage, you get back down to ground floor, report to Doc Miller. Flyer and sniper, rooftop.”
Miya opened her mouth to protest. Not going back down to that hell. No. Before she could, Delta said, “We’ll do our best.” She shepherded everyone outside before Miya could react. No, no, no.
Once out of earshot of the lieutenant, Delta said, “Sorry. I’m sorry. But fighting him is not worth it.”
“What? Splittin’ up ain’t a good idea, hon,” said Skuker, good hand on the knife at his belt.
“I know. But our comms work. First sign of trouble and we meet back at the front door, OK? And that guy was right. Miya can heal someone better than anyone else can. Olivia has better eyes and ears than anyone here.”
Everyone but Miya nodded. “I…” she began. What am I supposed to say? Everyone’s ready to do this. Fuck.
Miya spun on her heels and shouldered her way past a woman in a scuffled, charcoal grey suit as she headed back downstairs. Overlord’s head on a spike. That’s what I’m working for.