Olivia huddled on the air conditioning unit, eyes on her knees. Her limp tail hung off the edge by her side . Gunfire rattled off in the early morning air all around, too distant to be an immediate threat. A scattering of soldiers and MHU officers . Some rushed about on one errand or another, others simply rested, nervous eyes on the surrounding streets and buildings.
Skulker teleported to her side poked her in the cheek, sniper rifle in his free hand. Not now. He poked her again. “Please stop,” she asked, her voice soft.
“How ya doin’?” he asked, brushing her wing aside and hopping up on the AC next to her.
What do you think? “I’m OK.”
He snorted. “Tha’ ain’t the truth an’ you know it.”
“I couldn’t do anything,” she burst. “I just had to stand there and watch. I hated it. I hate remembering it.” There, better? Happier I said that?
“There ya go. Not much you coulda done, ya know? But we got a new day ahead of us, can’t be all mopey.”
She sighed and looked him in the eye. “How can you sound so… chipper?”
“I ain’t got any wise words for ya, not really” he said with a shrug, expression unreadable under his mask. He rested the butt of his rifle on the corner between the AC and his leg. “But I ain’t dead yet. No reason to make myself all sad an’ miserable, won’t bring Chris back. Gotta look at other stuff. We got revenge to get, we got guns, we got like minded people ‘round us. We’re all in one piece. Kinda.” He held up his maimed hand and wiggled his three remaining fingers.
Olivia bowed her head again. That doesn’t make it better. That just makes it not worse. You shouldn’t have lost your fingers, Amanda shouldn’t have been shot, Chris should still be alive. Why can’t people leave us alone? Something in the far distance exploded. Beyond some turned heads, no one on the roof reacted.
A familiar scent caught Olivia’s nose. She whipped her head around to the open door of the roof access. Miya stomped up the stairs, sweat covering her brow and long black hair in disarray. A white armband with a red cross hung on her exposed upper arm. Olivia noticed blood spatters on her hands and forearms. Miya caught sight of her and Skulker and staggered over.
Without preamble, she spat, “Ten minutes. I lasted ten minutes in that hellhole. Too much blood and screaming. Can’t take it.” Olivia moved over, making space for Miya on the air conditioner.
“That bad?” asked Skulker.
“Yeah. Lots of wounded. Lots of dying. There’s some nanobot grey goo thing. Dissolves flesh. They think it’s on a timer or something, it pops up on people who’ve been there a while with no sign of it.” Dissolves?
“Shit. Not much you can do ‘bout that, either.”
“Yeah. I got a couple people back on their feet. That was good.” Some of the stress and anger in Miya’s voice seemed to recede with the last statement. Olivia wrapped a wing around her shoulders, pulling her closer.
A pair of patrolling soldiers walked by. One did a double take at them. I know, I’m weird. He pointed at Miya. Olivia suppressed a threatening hiss at the sudden movement.
“Hey, take that off,” he said.
Miya blinked. “What?”
“Just, just take it off. The armband. Take it off or those bots will shoot you in the head.” You care? The soldier looked wild eyed. His partner watched him with concern.
“OK, OK,” said Miya, raising a placating hand. Her other hand wrestled with the armband before finally ripping it off.
The soldier sighed and said, “Thanks.” He walked off without another word.
“Yeah, the bots targeted medics we were with,” added his partner. “It’s not like they’d have medics. Maybe mechanics. Fucking crazy.” With that, he followed after the other soldier.
The three of them on the AC exchanged glances. He was kind of nice. Right? He didn’t just ignore us, at least. And now Miya is safer.
“Man, bots suck,” said Skulker after a moment.
“No kidding,” said Miya, her voice shaky. The armband slipped through her fingers and fell to the ground. “I’m surprised they haven’t rained missiles down on us yet.”
“No way that’d work here,” said Skulker, waving a dismissive hand.
Olivia tilted her head. “What do you mean?”
“This is the fuckin’ mint,” said Skulker. “They make money here. Literally. This is a massive target for any crime boss with supers. It’s built like the fuckin’ White House. Security’s prepared for damn near anythin’. Solid steel walls, cameras, sensors, the whole deal. Hell, tha’s jus’ the shit they tell you ‘bout on the tour. You bet yer ass there’s way more than that. Yeah, this is the safest building in the city, provided you got good people protectin’ it. An’ I think we do.”
“You’ve been here before?”
“Yeah, took tha’ tour I mentioned. Kinda cool. But yeah, this place can take near anythin’.”
“And it’s been quiet. Sort of. That seems really strange,” commented Olivia. It’s loud, actually. But no one else seems to notice, so I guess it’s just me.
“Yeah. Why hasn’t the hammer come down yet?” added Miya.
“You really don’ hear or smell anythin’, ‘liv?”
Olivia closed her eyes for a moment. The buzzing of drones, muffled by intervening buildings, reached her. Not just one. She opened her eyes pointed forward. “Drones over there. Sounds like about five.”
“Are they moving?” asked Miya.
“Um, no, I think they’re just hovering there.” Stupid things.
“Should probably tell the guy in charge up here,” said Skulker.
“Who?” asked Miya.
“That guy towards the center. No clue what his rank is.”
Together, they slid off the the big grey AC box and walked over to the soldier. Olivia hung back with Miya as Skulker explained. I’ll just be dumb and stammer. Chris was always better at talking.
“Anythin’ we can do ‘bout them?” said Skulker as he finished.
The soldier frowned. “No, not really, not from up here. Don’t have a clear line of sight.”
“Smell any bots?” Miya asked Olivia.
“Yeah, all around. There’s a lot where the drones are,” she replied. Right, I probably should have said that earlier. Stupid, stupid, stupid. But there’s so much of that oily stuff everywhere.
“You sure?” asked the soldier. Olivia nodded. “Yeah, that’s bad. Alright, I’ll pass this on to the lieutenant.” The soldier unstrapped a radio from his belt.
“Really? You ain’t gonna fight us on this?” This is too easy. This is kind of nice.
The soldier shrugged as fiddled with the radio. “From what I hear, she’s a dragon. I ain’t gonna doubt you.” He raised the walkie talkie to his ear; they took that as their signal to leave.
“That went well,” commented Miya as they returned to their patch of the roof.
“Yeah,” agreed Olivia. “I thought he’d… I don’t know.”
“Not believe us? He didn’t really seem that scared by me, either. It was… I don’t know. Nice?”
Miya managed a small laugh and nudged her with an elbow. “You’re not scary. Tall, sure.” I know. Tell that to everyone else.
“Not scared. Just… wary?” Is that the right word?
Skulker scoffed. “Come on. You’ve been around, what, three months now? Think of all the weird shit you’ve seen. At some point it stops bein’ weird. People roll with stuff. An’ you haven’t attacked anyone in forever.”
Olivia frowned. I know, I’m weird. I just… I don’t know. Need better self control. Her stomach growled.
“Hungry?” asked Miya. Olivia shrugged. Can you guys really hear that?
“Think we can jus’ leave?”
“Does it matter? Nothing is happening,” answered Miya.
“Yeah, but somethin’ might happen.”
“What, are they going to get pissed at us for eating food?” asked Miya.
Skulker chuckled. “At the wrong time? Yeah, absolutely. I’ll stay up here.”
Miya shrugged. “Alright. I passed by a sort of cafeteria looking thing on the way up here. They had some of those prepackaged food pack things. Want to see if there’s anything you can eat?”
“Sure,” answered Olivia. I guess I’m hungry.
“See you guys in a bit,” said Skulker with a wave. He grabbed his rifle and teleported to the edge of the roof, alongside a group of soldier manning a large tripod mounted gun.
Olivia followed Miya as they took the stairs back down into the mint. As they reached the floor below the roof, a woman rushed out of a door leading to the rest of the building. She stopped herself right before colliding with Miya. Hey.
“Oh, sorry about that,” said the woman, trying to shoulder her way past them.
“Whoa, wait, who are you?” demanded Miya, grabbing the woman’s arm. Olivia stopped alongside her and tilted her head at the woman. Wait, haven’t I seen her before? Oh, right, when we saw the lieutenant guy. She was out in the hall.
The woman in the battered charcoal grey suit curled her lip. “I’m an employee here.”
“So what are you still doing here? I haven’t see any other workers.” Miya put her hands on her hips, her brow furrowed.
“I was working late, and got trapped. That, and my car was destroyed. This area had a lot of the early fighting going on. Now, if you’ll excuse me-”
Miya tightened her grip on the woman’s arm. Miya, what’s wrong with you? “So why do I recognize you from somewhere?”
“I don’t know, and that’s not my problem. Now let go of me.”
A couple MHU officers had poked their head through the opened door, taking a look at the commotion in the stairwell. Olivia lay a hand on Miya’s shoulder. Not here. Please let go. Miya stared at the woman for a moment before releasing her grip.
“Thank you,” said the woman, her voice icy. She marched down the stairs in a huff.
Miya continued to stare after the woman, even after her footsteps receded to the point where Olivia doubted anyone else could hear them. The onlookers that had gathered dispersed, a couple throwing glances over their shoulders as they left.
“Come on,” whispered Olivia, guiding Miya to the door the charcoal suited woman had exited. It’s not worth it. And I smell food.
They made their way through the crowded hallways and grabbed some MREs from the self appointed quartermaster. Several more people, soldiers and officers alike, did double takes at the sight of Olivia. Sorry. Miya found an out of the way corner for them to sit down.
“Are you OK?” asked Olivia. You’ve been brooding. Well, more broody than usual. She ran a claw through the MRE packaging and sliced it open.
“No. Something about that woman is off. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me.” Her face lit up. “Could you track her?”
“What?” Olivia tilted her head again. Can we just eat please?
“Track her. Like, you know, by smell or something?”
She blinked. “I guess.” Are you’re OK?
“Let’s go, come on.” Miya climbed to her feet.
Olivia stared down at the contents of the MRE on her lap. But… but… Miya didn’t notice her hesitation, instead heading back for the stairs. Olivia placed her food on the floor beside her, then stood up. I guess I’ll come back for this later.
“So, she went downstairs, right?” asked Miya when she caught up.
Olivia sniffed. Um… “Yeah, follow me.”
They walked down through the mint. No one got in their way, most people too preoccupied with whatever else they had to do. Some slept in the hallways, others cleaned their rifles. Eventually, away from other people, Olivia heard a familiar voice talking down the hallway. Whoa, hang on. She held out a hand to bring Miya to a halt.
“Blackjack? Go ahead,” the woman spoke to an empty hallway. Three new scents entered the room, completely without sound. What? “We have ten minutes.”
Two different voices, men’s voices, replied, “Yes ma’am.” Three sets of footsteps headed for where Olivia and Miya stood.
“What’s happening?” whispered Miya, oblivious. “Should we call the others?”
“Back up,” Olivia whispered back. They retreated as far as they could go before reaching a dead end. Oh no, nowhere to go. The footsteps grew closer.
The woman in the charcoal suit adjusted the watch on her wrist as she passed. Her suit spasmed. The wrinkles and tears vanished, repairing themselves. In maybe three seconds, the woman wore a pristine suit that could have come fresh from the tailor. She didn’t break her stride, and the two large men behind her didn’t so much as blink, nor spare a passing glance to either side.
Miya and Olivia exchanged glances, then followed. Miya never caught sight of the people in suits, but Olivia could keep track of where they went by their footsteps. They avoided the heavily trafficked areas, but didn’t shy away from people. They headed straight for the western part of the mint, above where Olivia had met the lieutenant.
A door opened, and the footsteps stopped. “You know why we’re here. Turn yourself in,” said the woman, her voice calm. Olivia and Miya crept closer.
“No,” replied an inflectionless voice.
“Something’s happening,” whispered Olivia. They drew closer. I don’t think there’s anyone else here.
The sounds of a scuffle broke out from the room in front of them. Olivia poked her head around the corner right as it died down.
A tall, bald man in cargo pants and a thin tank top stood in the center of the room, feet slightly apart. One of the men had a pistol aimed directly at his chest. The woman stood directly in front of him, hands held behind the small of her back. The third man held his hands out in front of him, back to the others. What is he doing?
“You didn’t think Overlord is the only one who can nullify powers, did you?” asked the woman.
“No,” replied the thin man, still as emotionless as before, even with a gun aimed at him. His neutral expression didn’t flicker.
“Slim Jim,” spat Miya. She drew her pistol.
“I smell oil. From Slim Jim. Not a lot, but more than most,” said Olivia. That can’t be good.
“Yeah,” replied Miya, not listening. She marched into the room and barked, “Motherfucker!” What are you doing?
The three people in charcoal suits turned for a brief moment. “Stay away-” began the woman as Miya took aim.
In their moment of distraction, Slim Jim struck. Lightning fast, he threw a knife into the eye of the man threatening him. He ducked down and sprinted for the woman, tentacles bursting from his skin. Oh god.
Miya fired a couple shots, missing Slim Jim. Two dark green tentacles wrapped around her arms and snapped them. Her pistol clattered to the floor, discharging another shot into the air. Olivia felt a roar escape her lips. Leave her alone. The woman backed up as Slim Jim approached, reaching for her watch.
Olivia rushed forward, charging for Slim Jim. He readjusted, skidding to a halt and whipping three long tentacles towards her face. She took their blows, then wrapped a hand around one tentacle and yanked with all her might. Slim Jim didn’t budge an inch. The woman lobbed a grenade toward his chest. It exploded, rattling Olivia’s eardrums.
Slim Jim was knocked off his feet, and the tentacle in Olivia’s hand ripped from her grasp. Thin tentacles appeared all over his body, covering his wounds. Before Olivia could tell what they were doing, the grenade by his bloodied legs reformed, exploding in reverse, then exploded normally again.
Slim Jim’s body was thrown back again, and Olivia staggered backwards at the second explosion in an enclosed space. She hissed and held her hands to her ears.
Miya had struggled to her knees, red ribbons of magic surrounding her arms. Olivia staggered towards her. Miya looked up and screamed something, pointing to somewhere behind Olivia. Behind?
She whirled around to catch sight of Slim Jim standing again, all wounds on his body gone, though his clothes were tattered beyond repair. The longer combat tentacles burst from him again.
“Blackjack!” barked the woman.
The other man, the one who’d simply been standing there with arms raised, vanished right as the tentacles reached him. The plowed into the floor instead, digging deep gouges into the floor. Then, half a dozen small robots descended from the ceiling.
Each robot was only about as long as Olivia’s forearm. It had six legs sticking out of it, ending in sharp points. A small barrel stuck out of its central case. One lunged at Olivia’s face, two others circled around her, scuttling on the walls like spiders.
A sudden shot hit her shoulder, twisting her around. The lunging robot collided with her face, sharp legs jabbing at her eyes. A couple more shots rang out. Olivia slapped down the robot before it could do any damage. Before she could get her bearings back, another attacked in the same way as before. It leaped out of the way, letting Olivia claw herself in the face.
Damn it. She extended a wing and twisted, catching a third robot mid-air. She threw it to the ground and stomped down on it. She looked up to find the the robots scuttling out of sight. Olivia hissed, and nearly charged after them, before something occurred to her. Miya! She whirled around, to find her crouching over the remaining grey suit.
The woman in the charcoal suit held a hand to her chest and gasped, “Not a normal suit.”
“Yeah, you’ve still got a broken rib or three,” said Miya, her voice weary. She held a hand on the woman’s shoulder, keeping her from getting up.
“I don’t care. We need to catch him. Alive.”