This is a bad idea, this is such a bad idea. “OK, be ready for the next one,” said Delta, her hands gliding over the controls of the tanks. A light turned on, and the fluid began to drain from the tank of another dragon girl.
Skulker grimaced under his mask and readjusted his grip on his pistol. This is a bad idea, this is such a bad idea, he repeated to himself. He kept a watchful eye on the other dragon girl. She had backed away on wobbly feet, blinking rapidly at Olivia. She kept wings folded tight against her back, her tail with a blend of red and green scales twitching behind her. Seems confused. Let’s see if she’s anything like Little Bird. I should call her something. Red? Sure. Easy enough.
She’d noticed her nudity and covered herself with her arms and hands as best she could. She seems sane now. Clothes anywhere? He twisted around, searching the T shaped lab. Ah. He teleported over and grabbed a lab coat hanging off a hook by the door.
He walked over to her instead of teleporting. No surprises. He offered the long white coat to her. She blinked and took her eyes off Olivia to stare at him for a moment.
“I ain’t gonna bite, Red,” he said.
She snatched the coat of of his hands, her claws ripping small tears in the collar. She struggled to get it on around her wings.
“May wanna cut some holes in the back,” he pointed out.
She stared at him for a second before ripping the back of the coat out with her claws. It barely fit around her shoulders, and only came down to her mid-thigh. Better than nothing. Gives her some grounding.
“Hey, you alright, Red?” he asked, craning his neck up at her to speak. Damn it, she towers over me too.
Her gaze flickered between him and Olivia. She let out a hiss more tired than threatening and shook her head.
Skulker shrugged. “Yeah, I didn’t understand that.”
“Loud,” Red murmured. Olivia mentioned stuff like that. Sounds and shit. “What’s going on?”
He chuckled. “That’s a long, long story.”
She took her eyes off Olivia and faced him fully. “Who are you? All of you?”
“I’m Skulker, tha’s-” The release of the next dragon girl interrupted him.
He spun around to watch Olivia give her the same treatment as Red. Both hissed, before Olivia lowered her shoulder and rammed into the girl, then pin her to the wall. Behind Skulker, Red let out a low hiss of her own. God damn it. The third dragon girl let out a half scream, half roar and clawed at Olivia’s eyes.
The moment one of Olivia’s hand left the girl’s shoulder, she twisted away, still half screaming, half roaring. As she spun she smacked her tail into Olivia’s stomach, sending her reeling back a couple steps. Rather than continue the fight, the girl broke free and bolted for the door.
“Watch it!” shouted Delta, pulling Miya out of the way of the charging dragon girl in the nick of time.
The girl burst out the the room, Olivia on her heels. Miya and Gears followed soon after. Skulker readied himself to teleport before remembering the person beside him. Everyone just going to ignore Red? Come on, do you people not know how to deal with released captives? He holstered his pistol and turned back to Red. She had her claws out, glaring at the door the others had bolted out of.
“You still with me?” he asked. She blinked in surprise and curled up her clawed fingers. He waited for her to nod. “They’ll be back. Again, I’m Skulker, the one in grey is Delta,” he said, pointing out Delta, who’d stayed behind.
Delta tore her gaze from the door at the mention of her name. She waved and said, “Hello.”
“The tall one like you tha’ ya saw is Olivia, short one’s Miya, armored one’s Gears.”
Red stared at him. “What kind of names are those?”
“Code names. What can you remember?” How like Olivia are you gonna be?
She closed her eyes and grimaced. “I… nothing. What the hell? What? Just…” Her breathing picked up.
“Calm down. Was kind of expectin’ this.”
She reopened her eyes. “You were?”
“Yeah,” he replied. He looked around and spotted a stool off in the corner of the tank wing. “Wanna take a seat?” he asked.
She shook her head. OK. Not a big talker, then.
“We’re in a lab. We let you outta one of these,” he said, pounding on the empty tank beside him with a fist.
“Why?” she asked, her voice low. Not soft, low. Too much to hope for a second Little Bird.
“Because we ain’t assholes.”
“No, why… why was I in there? What did you call me? Red?”
“Red. Yeah, the scales,” he said, pointing to her tail. She curled it around to get a good look at it, and grimaced. “That ain’t yer real name. Hey, Delta? Those files say anythin’ ‘bout them?”
“Digging into that already,” she called back, face glued to a screen.
“Bueno,” replied Skulker. Turning back to Red, he said, “So yeah, patience.” She frowned and nodded, pulling the lab coat tighter around her shoulders. She seemed to wear a permanent scowl. “Don’ worry, we’re gonna get you outta here an’ fill in the blanks.”
At that moment, the others returned. “She got away,” announced Gears as he stomped back into the lab. “Fast an’ desperate. We didn’t wanna get too far away from here.” Miya and Olivia followed him soon after.
Now liv’ looks pissed. I’m getting a headache from all this. “Give me a moment,” he murmured to Red. Olivia stopped as Skulker teleported to her side. “She…” she began.
“You tried beat the shit outta her, what were you expectin’?” he asked. I’m kinda surprised Red stuck around.
“She was… she was…” Olivia grimaced. “I don’t know.”
“Confused as hell an’ gettin’ pummeled?”
“Tha’s exactly what happened,” he said, cutting her off. “You sure ‘bout releasin’ the others?” Together, they returned to the wing of the room with the tanks, still containing three dragon people.
Olivia hesitated, casting a glance towards Red, on the opposite side of the room from her. “Yes.”
Skulker raised an eyebrow, then remembered his mask would obscure the gesture. Gears read his mind. He asked, “You sure? That one nearly took out Miya.”
“Maybe don’t beat them right out of the gate,” added Delta.
Miya managed a shaky grin, the first Skulker had seen on anyone in a while. “I don’t know. Maybe she would have breathed fire everywhere before getting her head bashed in.” Skulker snorted. Just what we need. Fire!
Delta returned to the command console. “Alright. Try to hold off this time.”
Olivia’s face reddened as she nodded. Delta pressed a few buttons, and the release process began again. Skulker suppressed a yawn and teleported back to Red. Back and forth, back and forth. She jumped when he appeared next to her and uncurled her claws.
“Whoa, sorry,” he said, holding up a placating hand.
She took a deep breath and curled her hands back up. “She’s… like me,” she said, motioning towards Olivia with her head. “Claws and a tail and shit.”
“Yeah. She’s kinda the template you’re based on.” She nodded. “You’re takin’ this pretty damn well,” he added.
She barked out a quick, humorless laugh. “Day’s not over yet. I’m kind of overwhelmed right now. And… wait, based on? Her? Me?”
“Ya know what powers are, right?” She nodded. Huh. Didn’t Olivia need a reminder about that? He nodded to Olivia. “You got her power.”
“That’s not normal, is it?”
“Absolutely not. Ain’t the worst power in the world, though. I’ve seen her lift cars.”
Red’s reptilian silver eyes widened. She’s got gold flecks in her eyes. Cool. “Whoa. Really?” She looked down at her hands.
“Ready!” shouted Delta. Red and Skulker turned to watch.
The walls of the drained tank retracted into the floor. The girl inside simply curled up, hands over her ears. Red and Olivia both let out a hiss. Olivia’s tail swished in agitation, and a quick look over his shoulder showed Red’s doing the same thing. OK, is this an unconscious thing for you two?
Miya approached the new girl first. Skulker flexed his maimed hand. Don’t get your fingers clawed off. The girl let out a halfhearted hiss, not so much as twitching when Miya laid a hand on her shoulder.
“She’s in pain. Her ears and eyes hurt,” announced Miya after a moment, her gaze distant. “Something isn’t quite right. Her muscles aren’t responding as well as they should.”
“How the fuck can you tell?” asked Gears.
“Right,” grumbled Gears.
The new girl didn’t protest when Olivia lifted her to her feet. She leaned on her heavily. Red’s hissing grew louder as Olivia approached with her burden.
“Over here,” said Gears, from his position by the door they’d entered the lab through. Furthest from me and Red. Together, Gears and Olivia set the girl down on a stool, where she huddled without a word.
Red hadn’t calmed down any. Olivia stayed back, unwilling to approach her. Thank you, Olivia. Keep the peace. Skulker snapped his fingers in front of her. “You with me?”
Her face contorted, and she let out another hiss.
“Hey, hey, listen to me. You know I am, right?” he asked, standing in front of her. Everyone in the room held their breath, watching the one sided exchange. “You got control over yerself or not?”
Red got her breathing under control. She curled up her claws yet again. She noticed Skulker and turned away. “The hell was that?” she murmured.
Everyone in the room seemed to draw a collective breath. “Next one?” asked Delta.
“Sure,” said Miya and Olivia.
“Alright, guy in the middle,” she said, pointing.
Skulker followed her finger to the tank in question. You know, given how big Olivia and Red are, I thought a dude version of them would be jacked. He returned his attention to Red. She kneaded her forehead with her knuckles, her frown deepening.
“You back with us?”
“Yeah,” she replied.
Don’t look it. He snorted in amusement. “Don’t look it. You sure?”
“Leave me alone,” she snapped.
“OK.” I’m not poking this particular bear anymore. “I’ll be over there if ya need anythin’.”
She just grunted in response. Skulker teleported over to Gears, who had knelt down by the other dragon girl, who remained huddled on a stool with a lab coat awkwardly draped over her shoulders. Gears met his eyes and shrugged.
Skulker joined Gears in kneeling down beside her. “How you doin’?” he asked. She flinched, not saying a word.
“Can’t handle the noise,” said Gears. “Can’t move well. Power hasn’t set in yet.”
“How the hell you know that?”
“I don’t. Total wild-ass guess.”
Skulker laughed. “Fair enough.”
Everyone froze as something rattled the entire bunker. Nearby, a beaker slipped off the counter and shattered on the ground. The girl let out a small whimper and clutched her hands tighter to her ears. At least she’s not berserk.
“So, any chance you could make this go just a tiny bit faster?” Miya asked Delta.
“God I hope so. But I doubt it,” she replied, leaning over to inspect the console more closely.
Skulker returned his attention to the girl by his side. Her tail, its scales a deep, dark green, had curled around the leg of the steel stool.
“Hey, can you understand me?” he asked, speaking slowly.
She managed a short, jerky nod, face still buried in her arms.
What did Olivia say? Something about concentration. Yeah, concentrating on things helped her. Well, fuck it. I don’t have any other ideas.
“OK. I want you to focus. Listen to me. I don’t know what else you’re hearin’, but I can tell ya it’s far, far away. Tune that shit out, it don’t matter.”
Gears added, “Yeah. We ain’t gonna scream an’ shout at you. Calm down, listen, get your bearings.”
The girl still huddled, though her hands had loosened around her ears. “You gettin’ a little better?” he asked. Another nod, and a small hiss. What is it with all the hissing?
Gears stood up. “About time for the guy,” he murmured to Skulker.
Skulker got up just in time to see the walls of the tank vanish. Just like before, Red and Olivia began to hiss. The guy got to his feet, letting out a hiss. Before Miya could say anything, he lunged at Olivia, claws aimed for her throat. Olivia turned and slammed her elbow into his face as he passed. He skidded to a stop on unsteady clawed toes. As he spun around to face Olivia again, she closed the gap, grabbed his shoulders, and drove her knee into his ribs. Scary Olivia is scary.
Olivia stood over him, foot resting on his back. He let out a final hiss and went still. Dragon hyper aggressiveness spans gender. Wonderful. Olivia stood back as he picked himself up, backing away from her. Miya guided him over the the end of the tank wing of the T shaped lab. Oh, right. Skulker grabbed the third and final lab coat from the hooks by the door. Last guy is gonna have to go freebird until we find something
Skulker walked over to the guy as Delta began the release process of the final person.
“Hey,” he called out, offering the lab coat. The dragon guy turned around and gave him a scornful stare. Skulker grinned. “It’s a war zone out there, buddy. I don’t care who ya are, you don’ want it all hangin’ out.”
The guy narrowed his eyes, then grabbed the coat and tied it around his waist with a crude knot. Tough guy? No. Buddy!
“Buddy! I’m callin’ you Buddy.”
The guy sneered and spat on the floor, on Skulker’s boot. Jackass, just what I was worried about. Skulker began to laugh. God damn it. He thinks I care? Buddy tried to backhand him. He leaned out of the way, still laughing. A bastard with Olivia’s strength. Just our fucking luck!
“Whoa there, Buddy!” Life is funny.
Skulker heard a familiar roar from behind him. He teleported to the side, and out of the way of the charging Olivia. Her shoulder hit Buddy square in the chest. They both hit the floor. Olivia grabbed his head and slammed it down before he could recover, cracking the concrete. Skulker felt his laughter subside. Funny old world, isn’t it?
Olivia released Buddy’s head and stomped away. As she passed Skulker, she wrapped an arm around his midsection, carrying him away.
“Stay,” she said a few paces later, setting him down.
“But I wanna poke him more,” said Skulker, pointing to a shaken Buddy on his hands and knees.
“Skulker, how long’s it been since you last slept?” called out Gears.
Skulker chuckled. “Too long, probably.”
“Yeah. Shut up and stay,” said Gears.
“Jackass,” Delta murmured under her breath.
They settled into an uncomfortable silence as the last guy was released. The walls of the tank retracted. He burst to life for a moment, thrashing off the pedestal like a fish out of water before the dragons in the room had a chance to start hissing. He lay on the ground and twitched, foam at his mouth.
Miya rushed over. “His heart is going crazy. We’re losing him,” she shouted.
“Do something!” replied Olivia, hovering over them.
“Do what? It’s not a heart attack. It’s… I don’t know.”
The guy’s twitching and foaming stopped. His chest lay still. Miya cursed. “He’s gone. Something went wrong, I don’t know. He’s not human.”
“What? No, no, no,” said Olivia in desperate voice. “Maybe…”
“Olivia, there’s nothing we can do. Something was wrong with his heart,” said Miya, blocking Olivia.
One moment you wanna beat the shit out of them, the next you care. Why? He closed his eyes, and the urge to curl up and sleep nearly overwhelmed him. Fuck it. Just fuck it. This is tomorrow’s problem. Figure it out later.
“Anyone forget we’re in the middle of a robot fortress? We’ve spent way too long in here as it is,” spoke up Gears after a moment.
“I didn’t. I just said fuck it and downloaded everything I could,” said Delta, retrieving a pair of flash drives from the computer. “These should have everything on these guys. Ready when you are.”
“Olivia, we need to get out of here,” said Miya, guiding her away from the body.
Gears helped the nameless girl to her feet. Despite her good half a foot in height on him in armor, he managed to keep them both upright. Skulker spared a glance at Buddy. I like Red more. He teleported over to her. She’d remained in the same spot he’d last left her. She stood up taller, however, and straightened her shoulders.
“We’re outta here. Comin’?” She nodded.
“Same way we came in?” called out Gears.
“Any other ideas?” responded Delta.
“Then back to the elevator it is.”
They filed out the door, making sure to keep Olivia and the others as spread out as possible. Skulker kept himself between Gears’ charge and Red. Another quake shook the bunker. The hallways were still empty of any people or robots. You know, I don’t really miss getting shot at by those bots. As they traveled, a flash of color in an otherwise soulless and grey corridor caught his eye.
He held up a hand. “Hold up. What’s this?”
He poked his head into the room. Six bodies were laid out on tables, all in colorful costumes. One large blond man had runes all over it, another looked like a knockoff of a plant woman from a comic book.
“Tha’s a pile of bodies right there,” said Gears.
“Aren’t these guys the Chevaliers?” asked Miya, crowding the doorway.
“Where do I know that name?” Skulker asked the group at large.
“They were on TV. They said they were going after Overlord,” whispered Olivia.
“Well, they found him,” said Gears. Skulker chuckled. Idiots probably thought it’d be good PR.
Olivia smacked him upside the head, sending him reeling. “Don’t be mean,” she said.
“Ow. Fine then,” he replied, rubbing the back of his head.
They froze again as a much larger quake hit the bunker. Dust fell from the roof, and all of the dragon people hissed in pain, Buddy and the nameless girl covering their ears.
“Let’s keep moving,” said Delta from the corridor now dust filled corridor.
Their travel ended by the next corner, where they came face to face with a massive pit that lead all the way up to the surface, if the distant sound of gunfire above them was any indication.
“Well, Olivia, you wanna pull us all up on an elevator or climb.”
“Oh thank god. Climb,” she said.
They began the laborious process of climbing out of the dusty pit. Skulker had a slightly easier time of it than the others, teleporting from solid spot to solid spot. Olivia took flight, landing to help anyone in trouble. Above them the winds howled, drowning out any other sounds. Is this what a tornado sounds like? Like, one of those monster tornados? The sky is clear, though. I can see the sun through the dust. That’s Cyrus, isn’t it?
A grueling half hour later, Skulker made it to the top, followed by the others. The dragon people even seemed too tired to snap at each other. The winds up top forced Olivia to land beside them. In the distance, two specks hovered in the air, rocketing towards them.
“Shit, outta here!” yelled Skulker.
He led the way towards a shell of a building as Cyrus and a sleek armored figure he took as Overlord approached. Overlord slammed into the street, leaving a twenty yard gouge in the asphalt. Cyrus hovered in the air, with Overlord between Skulker and him. A few tiny rockets burst out of his shoulder, streaking towards Cyrus.
Just as the wind shifted the rockets’ trajectories, they exploded, spraying a fine grey mist at Cyrus. Grey goo spread along Cyrus’ front half. He paused before blasting off the goo along with flecks of blood off himself before it could form into the ball of goo that had menaced Skulker and the others earlier.
In the meantime, Overlord floated back into the air and aimed his wrist at Cyrus.
“Oh shit!” shouted Delta.
The air shimmered as Cyrus bolted out of the way. A hole melted in the building behind him. As Overlord spun in place after him, carving three buildings in half before an uprooted tree slammed into Overlord from behind. The fight moved on, leaving Skulker and the others staring at three collapsing buildings.
“We should help. We should do something,” shouted Olivia over the wind.
“‘liv, Overlord just shot an invisible beam through three buildin’s,” shouted Skulker. “This is outta our league. This is outta everyone’s league. Best thing to do is keep ourselves alive, an’ that means gettin’ outta here.”
A high pitch screeching sound brought everyone to their knees. Through blurry vision, Skulker watched as Cyrus flew past their shattered window, the screech emanating Overlord close behind him. They couldn’t move for an eternity, before the screech cut off entirely.
As they picked themselves back up, Skulker asked, “So, what were ya sayin’ ‘bout helpin’?”
“Not now,” replied Olivia with a sigh.
They ran as fast as they could back to the mint, dodging debris and the odd rocket. Delta and the nameless girl flagged, Gears and Olivia supporting them. They passed piles of ruined bots and burning vehicles, not to mention the odd body. The military seemed to have pulled out. They came to Gears’ truck, with a street sign resting on the hood.
“Damn well better work,” said Gears, pulling the keys from a small box on his hip. The dragon people piled into the bed with minimal hissing. The truck started without a fuss, and soon the maelstrom of lasers and debris was behind them.
Skulker grinned. We’re alive. We’re alive and not dead. Overlord is someone else’s problem now.