“Uh oh,” Olivia murmured to herself.
The massive armored robots on the rooftops before her opened fire. She pulled in her wings and dropped like a rock, though a shot still grazed her tail. At the last moment, she pulled up, landing on her feet on a different rooftop. She ducked behind the edge of the roof as a couple more heavy bullets whizzed overhead. One of the grey suits teleported near her after a moment. How do they keep finding me like that?
“You still following Slim Jim?” asked the grey suit, a different one than before. Other than the woman Smith, the bulky man who’d accompanied her when they’d first captured Slim Jim, and the man Slim Jim had killed, Olivia hadn’t seen another of the grey suits until now. The one next to her now had darker skin and a shaved head.
Olivia stared. “Yeah.” Why do you think I’m out here getting shot at?
“Just making sure. You’re bleeding.” He pointed to her tail.
She curled her tail to get a better look. A couple of the scales had been shot off but the bleeding had mostly stopped, plugged by a fast forming scab. “I’m fine.”
“We need to go, keep the pressure up.”
“OK. Um, how?”
“Go on, straight for Slim Jim. We’ll be right behind you.”
Oh, OK. Just have me charge into the really big guns. Great. Wonderful. Olivia jumped over the edge of the roof and spread her wings, flying parallel to the robots’ roof. She pumped her wings, gaining altitude. A couple bullets shot by beneath her. Bad. She tucked in a wing, spiraled, and dropped, gaining speed.
Another bullet hit her in the shoulder. She hissed and carried on, putting the robots’ roof between her and them. Once she reached the corner of their building, she turned and followed Slim Jim’s scent. The heavy metal footsteps of the robots followed.
Slim Jim had made good time on foot. A block passed before Olivia closed the gap. Then, she heard a booming sound from up above. Uh oh. She pulled up and dropped onto yet another rooftop, and not a moment too soon. A missile streaked down from the sky and hit the building in front of her. The shockwave knocked her off her feet, and her ears exploded in pain.
She lay stunned for a moment, with only the deafening ringing in her ears and the smell of smoke and dust in her nostrils. Her lungs sucked in breath again, and she rolled over, digging her claws into the roof. Up, up. Someone grabbed her upper arm, helping to haul her to her feet. Miya stood with two of the grey suits, the new one and Smith.
“They don’t want us in there,” said the male agent, his voice fuzzy and muffled. Another missile struck, blowing up closer than Olivia was comfortable. She hissed and covered her ears. “They really don’t want us in there.”
Smith shouted something by a roof access door. Olivia stomped over and rammed it down, letting the others in. Make it stop.
Down a flight of stairs, Smith brought everyone to a stop and nodded to the other grey suit. “Do it, now.”
The agent sat down on a step, closed his eyes, and went completely still. What? That’s not helpful.
“Alright, we should be invisible to the robots and whatever is shooting those missiles for a while,” said Smith.
“This takes a great deal of concentration. Hurry,” said the agent.
“Where the fuck did that come from?” demanded Miya, pointing up at ceiling and the sky beyond.
“Congress passed a law that allows the deployment of armed drones over American airspace a few months ago. Someone in the Air Force probably had the bright idea to use them. Damn it, we told them that was a terrible idea.”
“And he’s…” started Miya, making a vague gesture to the sitting grey suit.
“He’s making us invisible to any sort of electronic surveillance. We’re the anti-Overlord task force, we were chosen for a reason.”
Miya didn’t respond right away, instead producing a bandage from her back pocket and reaching up to wrap it around Olivia’s upper arm. Oh, bleeding. Again. Olivia bent down to make it easier on her.
“Thank you,” Olivia murmured to her.
Miya nodded and knotted the bandage. “If there are missile drones, it’s going to get really ugly back at the mint, real fast. We need to get back.”
“That doesn’t matter. What matters is finding Slim Jim.”
Miya and Olivia stared at Smith. How can you say that? There are people back there. Our friends are back there. The sitting grey suit kept sitting, his neutral expression unchanged. “What makes you so sure about that?” demanded Miya.
“A decade spent tracking him and Overlord,” said Smith, her expression grim. “Slim Jim knows where Overlord is, in this city, trust me. We can find Overlord and end this, no matter what happens back at the mint.”
Miya threw up her hands. “Screaming robots and power nullifiers and now fucking drones raining down missiles. Remind me, why would Overlord even in be in Westward? He could be slinging back drinks in Tahiti while these robots and fucking hellfire drones do all the dirty work.”
“You’ve spent time seeing his operation first hand. You know that’s not how he operates. What does he always want?”
Miya frowned for a moment. “Control,” she said, eyes on the ground.
“Yes. He’ll want personal, hands on control for something this big.”
“But… why Colorado?” asked Olivia.
“It’s a central location. Why do you think most US airlines use this city as their hub?” They do? “There are also a disproportionate number of robots here. He wants absolute control this city, top down.”
“Wait, disproportionate number of robots? Is that why there’s a fucking infinite number of the damn things?” asked Miya.
“Yes. He’s had close to twenty years to prepare for this. And most other cities aren’t seeing an invasion like this. He’s not toppling the government, he wants it intact and running, just with him in control of it. Classic tactic. The Romans did it, the conquistadors did it. This is less of an invasion and more of a very aggressive coup.” What?
Miya snorted and rolled her eyes. “Tell that to the CIA.”
“Yes, that line does get blurry. But you understand what I’m saying.”
“I understand I’m not leaving my friends behind,” said Olivia.
“And I am sorry, but this takes precedence.”
No. Olivia stood fully upright and looked down at Smith. “I can find Slim Jim from here. Can you?” she asked.
“We have our ways.”
“That you would be using if you had any other option,” said Miya. “But we’ve lost one friend already today, we’re not-”
“I’ve lost three people under my command in the last week, one of them from your stupidity,” shouted Smith, jabbing a finger at Miya. Olivia uncurled her claws. “Don’t preach to me about loss.”
“Faster, people,” said the sitting agent through gritted teeth. Olivia smelled sweat on him.
Smith broke eye contact for a moment, then said, “He’s right. We need to make a decision, now.”
Miya’s hands clenched into fists. “I don’t trust you. I remember you from somewhere. I know that.”
“That’s nice. Now will you help us or not?”
Olivia tilted her head at the woman. Something is off. Is she lying? Before she could ask anything, the comm in her ear crackled to life. She winced. “Pokey, ‘liv, Cyrus comin’ yer way,” said Skulker. Cyrus’ boots landed on the roof above them that instant. She narrowed her eyes as she looked up the stairs where he was heading. Where have you been? The last I remember from you is me getting possessed and you just flying off.
He appeared in view a moment later at the top of the stairs. “There you are,” he said, jogging down to join them.
“Cyrus,” said Smith with a nod.
He came to a stop beside the sitting grey suit. “I understand you are on the trail of Slim Jim,” he replied, addressing the group at large.
“That we are,” replied Smith.
“Good. He knows where to find Overlord.”
“Yes, we are aware.”
“Oh, the government hasn’t been idle after all?”
“Not all of it,” said Smith, a note of pride entering her voice. Olivia saw the other agent’s back straighten a little bit behind Cyrus.
Wait, Ben said Cyrus was coming. Does that mean… “Um, Cyrus? You were at the mint, right?” He nodded. “Was everyone…” Don’t say dead.
“They’re holding out. The lieutenant there filled me in. I took out the two drones that were giving them trouble on the way here, and the one over here,” he said casually. Olivia let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. Wait, it’s that easy to destroy military drones? Really?
“Thank god,” murmured the sitting grey suit. He opened his eyes and stood, dusting off his suit jacket.
Miya’s brow furrowed as she stared at Cyrus. “The records don’t mention you being able to fly at those altitudes,” said Smith.
“It’s always good to keep something in reserve.”
“Not when you’re working for the Secret Service. They should have known.” With a frown she added, “They would have known.”
“It must have slipped their minds. Now, do you want to stand here debating or move?”
Smith paused for a second before nodding. “Point. Are you two in?” she asked Olivia and Miya.
“Are the others safe?” Olivia asked Cyrus.
“As safe as they can be, last I checked.”
Miya held a finger to her comm. “Delta? Gears? Are you guys good back at the mint?”
Gears’ voice crackled over Olivia’s comm. “We’re holding out. Need somethin’?”
“No, we’re good. Just checking in.”
Stop Overlord, stop the robots. “OK. Um, I can find Slim Jim,” Olivia said to Cyrus and Smith. Next to her, Miya nodded.
Several blocks later, they came to a stop near an abandoned factory. “There,” said Olivia, pointing a clawed finger at the low brick building. Cyrus nodded, landing next to her. A moment later, the two grey suits plus Miya teleported in. They took in the building, while the dark skinned agent masked them from any prying robot eyes.
“So what’s the plan?” asked Miya after a moment.
“Trap?” asked Cyrus.
“Trap,” agreed Smith. “No reason to stop in that building otherwise.”
“But we have no other choice but to go in,” added Cyrus with a sigh. “And they’re too smart to get drawn out of there.”
“Wait, with him here we could just sit here picking them off,” said Miya, jerking her thumb back at the grey suit, who’d sat back down and closed his eyes again.
“They’re not dumb. They’d figure out where we are really quick and carpet bomb the area. And Slim Jim isn’t a robot.”
“Power nullifiers?” asked Cyrus.
“I guarantee it.”
“Wait, why would he cut off his own power?” asked Miya.
“He’s not exactly helpless without powers. And those robots definitely won’t be.”
“I’m not. Olivia’s not.” Really? I thought I had a power.
“But the three of us will be,” pointed out Smith. “And, since this is a trap, there will be overwhelming force in there. Do the two of you want to take on everything in there?”
“Olivia, you can take a hit,” said Cyrus. Wait, what? “You go in first, draw their attention and take out every nullifier you can. You agents can teleport in after her. I can go up, make sure the airspace up is clear, then come in through the other side of the building. Two pronged assault.”
Bullets hurt. What do you people not understand about that? “Um, wait,” said Olivia. She fiddled with the bandage on her arm. “I, um, I…” How do I put this? “I don’t want to die?” Is that right? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s reasonable.
“Was that a question or a statement?” asked Cyrus.
“Both.” Does it matter?
“The moment you get clear of a nullifier in there we’ll teleport in after you,” added Smith. “Oh, and it won’t be just us. I have two more agents ready to join us.” Oh, five other people? Olivia’s confusion must have shown, because Smith spoke into the watch on her wrist. “Blackjack, can you get Jones and Taylor here?”
Two people teleported in behind Olivia. She spun around. One was the big guy that had been with Smith when she’d confronted Slim Jim. The other was a short blond woman, in the same style charcoal grey suit as the other agents. Both nodded to Olivia and the others.
“Wait, how do you keep teleporting to me?” asked Olivia.
“We put a small camera on you. Blackjack teleports us to where he can see through it. Jones is a short ranged metallokinetic.” The man nodded. “And Taylor is a multiplier,” said Smith. “With no nullifiers around, we have a fighting chance.”
Cyrus stepped up. “This is a long shot, but it’s the only shot we have. Anything to add?” he asked Smith.
“Slim Jim is utterly implacable. No one’s ever really stopped him before. He just heals and hammers away until you give in. If you can, take him out quick.” Oh, wonderful.
Cyrus grimaced. “Let’s do this.” He took off, fading from view into the early morning sky quicker than Olivia thought possible.
OK, let’s do this. Olivia lept off the roof and headed straight for the factory. In one the old, dirty windows she spotted robots. The power nullifying robot, flanked by two normal ones, had no visible head or neck, just a slight protrusion on top of its teardrop shaped torso. Two antenna stuck out from its back. You. Olivia tucked in her wings and held an arm in front of her eyes. She crashed through the window and into the power nullifier, sending them both sprawling.
That was dumb. She began climbing to her feet, when a metal foot kicked her in the teeth. Several bullets hit her in the back as a pair of normal robots started screaming. Stop it, stop it, stop it. She spat blood and whipped her tail around, aiming at the robot shooting at her. It jumped, only taking a glancing blow.
The second robot, the one that had kicked her, didn’t go for a second kick. It backpedaled and aimed its rifle. She gathered all the strength she could in her legs and lunged with a hiss. Her hand carved through the robot before it could fire a shot. More bullets hit her back, one glancing off a spike. She whirled around.
The second robot backed away, dragging a damaged leg. It raised its rifle. Behind it, the nullifier climbed to its feet, trying to escape. Olivia flinched as a bullet hit her cheekbone. No. She lowered her shoulder and charged.
In a woman’s voice, the robot sobbed, “No, no, no, please no.” Shut up. Olivia slammed into the robot. Its rifle spun free as the robot ragdolled.
The nullifier scrambled for the rifle as it flew by to its right. Olivia snarled, hooked her claws into its back, and brought it down. Go away, she thought, punctuating each syllable with a slash of her claws to its chest. The robot went still. She stood up straight and rolled her shoulders. Stupid bullets.
Slim Jim’s scent was still fresh in the building. She followed it, heading down the hallway as five friendlier scents materialized behind her. This isn’t hard. Two bullets melted through the wall, hitting her injured shoulder. She hissed and recoiled at their heat.
“Down,” yelled one of the agents. “One moment.”
A robot with a familiar sniper rifle came into view, dragged by an unseen force. The other agents and Miya opened fire, tearing it apart.
“Only one nullifier?” asked Miya.
Two of the grey suits exchanged glances. “Look like,” they replied.
He’s close. Olivia climbed to her feet and led the way towards the center of the factory. They found themselves on a catwalk overlooking the factory floor. A massive column of air burst in through the ceiling on the other side, carrying Cyrus with it. Robots went flying, bashing against the outer walls of the factory. Cyrus himself hovered a few feet above the ground.
In the center of the factory floor stood Slim Jim. Come on. Put on a shirt. Smith opened fire. Three bullet hit him, though his tentacles patched him up in an instant. The air around him howled, and he was raised up. Four thick tentacles of his wrapped around nearby machinery and flung them hard at Cyrus, who dropped to the floor to avoid getting smeared against a wall.
“He’s stalling,” muttered a grey suit.
A buzzing sound filled the air. Then Olivia found herself floating off the ground. Robots rushed into the room, including two armored and two nullifiers. They took the lack of gravity in stride, half floating towards Olivia’s group, the others towards Cyrus. She flailed, trying to grab onto something. Her tail whacked against the guardrail of the catwalk, sending her spinning.
“I recommend surrendering,” said Slim Jim, his emotionless voice still audible over the buzzing.
Behind Olivia, an agent threw a grenade towards the group of robots. One of the armored ones grabbed it and curled its body around it, taking the brunt of the blast. The other agents opened fire, the gunfire sending them back towards the hallway behind them.
The armored robot that had taken the grenade wasn’t active, but the others sailed on directly towards them. Olivia swiped as they clambered onto her. One let out a piercing shriek. Olivia curled up, unable to think about anything besides the noise. She didn’t even hear the gunfire all around her, didn’t feel the metallic hands on her. Everything was drowned out by the shriek.
Bullet hit her. Not the bullets of a robot’s rifle, but smaller pistol bullets. The shriek cut off. Olivia shrugged off the other robots and looked around. Miya clung to the remains of the armored robot, whether by accident or design the hulk was between her and most of the robots firing at the agents. Olivia stared at her. You shot me. Miya shouted something and pointed towards Slim Jim. Right. The momentum of the robots had brought Olivia up against the wall. She slashed apart another robot that had come back in range and pushed towards Slim Jim. Just like flying.
Slim Jim twisted, letting Olivia barrel past him and into Cyrus. She backhanded a robot as she tumbled, crushing its chest. Cyrus wrestled with another. He shouted something, Olivia still couldn’t hear.
The armored robot batted her aside as she drifted past. She reached out and hooked her claws into its arm, pulling it off its stable position above Cyrus. With her too close to bring its large gun to bear, it released it and hammered down on Olivia’s injury with its free hand. She let out a roar as her hand spasmed and released its hold. Right as the robot brought back its fist for another blow, Olivia pulled the robot back to her and released her grip, narrowly avoiding getting her fingers broken.
The robot floated back in her grasp, and she pried off one of its back plates as it tried to twist. She drove a hand into whatever looked delicate. The robot went still. Finally.
The moment she released her grip, it sprang back to life, driving an elbow into her ribs and grabbing her hair with its free hand. It pulled her over its shoulder, her claws leaving deep gouges in its back as Olivia held on for dear life.
She stretched her clawed toes and drove them into the robot’s gut, keeping her arms wrapped around its neck. She kicked and kicked, until the robot went still. She kicked a few more times, until her foot burst completely through the robot’s gut.
She shook her head free of its slack hand and spotted the nullifier behind her, hanging back and out of reach. Wait, there’s still air here. She stretched her wings straight out and flapped them, driving her back towards the nullifier. It had no way to change course. The moment she made contact, she reached around, wrapped an arm around it, and began to crumple the metal.
Blood, lots of blood, floated past her. Several robots had killed Cyrus, shot him in the back of the head. Slim Jim hovered nearby, looking on. Olivia roared and finished off the nullifier. Her struggle had brought her against the wall again, and again she pushed off of it straight for Slim Jim.
He looked up and summoned a good dozen tentacles. The moment she drew close, three tentacles wrapped around her and her wing. He swung with her momentum, letting her collide with the solid concrete floor instead of him. His tentacles twisted. Something popped, and Olivia’s back exploded into pain. A robot on the sidelines shot her in the head.
A massive burst of air rocked Slim Jim and Olivia. All remaining nearby robots nearly disintegrated from the force driven into them. Cyrus floated, whole and untouched. A slash of air hit Slim Jim.
Olivia ran a claw through his arm as Slim Jim released her to deal with the new threat. At the same time, a blow from Cyrus took out his knees. Slim Jim spun in the air, droplets of blood flying through the air. A gust of air bashed him against the wall. Cyrus spun him around and steadied Olivia. Slim Jim stared back, impassively, his wounds already healed.
Cyrus spat and said, “Tell me what you know.”