“How is Olivia holdin’ up?” Rob asked Ben.
“Not bad,” he replied. “Think she went out flyin’ with Beth last night, once she finally got in the right headspace.”
“Good, good,” said Rob. She’ll shake it off. He returned to the back plates of Amanda’s new armor, screwdriver in hand. He tightened a screw between two plates, then tested the range of motion between the two of them.
“How’s that goin’?” asked Ben.
“Alright. Just doin’ the bare bones right now, we gotta sit down an’ design the full thing here soon.” Rob didn’t bother to explain further, it would simply go right through Ben’s ears like it always did. “Just gotta get this done soon. We’re goin’ to an Italian place tonight.”
“Mmm, pasta,” said Ben, swinging his legs beneath him, seated on the workbench next to Rob.
“That was my thinkin’. I ain’t met someone who hates Italian.” One less thing to fuck up. Rob moved onto the next pair of plates. Miya and Amanda had left the lair together earlier, while Olivia snored softly from her beanbag.
“Good thinkin’. Hey, just remembered, heard anythin’ ‘bout Sam?” asked Ben.
“I fuckin’ wish. Dead silent, like always,” replied Rob, tightening the screw harder than strictly necessary. “Think Cyrus was tellin’ the truth? All that shit ‘bout some old timey god takin’ him over?” I wanna call bullshit, I really do.
Ben threw up his hands to the air and said, “I don’t fuckin’ know. Ain’t like anythin’ I’ve ever heard of. That shit just don’t sound possible. An’ what the fuck was the dude’s name again? Taauth? That a real word?”
“Think Cyrus was bullshittin’ us, then? Cuz that means we got no idea where Sam is.” He was working for Lock Corp. That’s the only lead we’ve got.
“Cyrus has always done alright by me. An’ hell, you saw that tornado thing he killed Overlord with.”
“That just means he can make a tornado, not that he’s thousands of years old. Two separate things right there,” said Rob. He stood up from the armor and grabbed a rag, wiping off the lubricating oil from the armor joints on his hands.
“Never heard of someone that powerful, though. An’ besides, the Mother and Cuauhtémoc are both ancient. Can’t deny that. Gotta consider if it’s true, cuz then we gotta beat down a god to get Sam back.”
Fuck, forgot about those two. “Fuck, I don’t know. We’ll deal with that when we get to it.” Rob spun the armor stand, now facing the chest plates.
“It’s be nice if we had a little more info to go on.”
“Then you wanna grab the thing?” asked Rob.
“You know, the thing,” he said, waving his hand towards his desk where his laptop sat
“That don’t help.”
“My laptop.” Come on, wasn’t that obvious?
“Coulda just said that,” said Ben, reaching over and grabbing the laptop. He opened it and asked, “What’s your login again?”
“Type notapassword. All lowercase, no spaces,” said Rob, not looking up from the armor.
Ben laughed and said, “That’s probably not the best password in the world.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s what Amanda said, too,” grumbled Rob. I’ll get around to changing it when I get around to changing it.
He focused his work on the armor as Ben began typing away. The armor’s a bit thicker over her stomach, right? He tapped a knuckle against the plates in question. Yeah, good. I don’t think she can take any kind of injury there again and keep breathing.
“Well this is interestin’,” said Ben after a minute or so. “Was lookin’ up anythin’ with Lock Corp. The feds are tryin’ to dismantle ‘em. Sayin’ they were workin’ for Overlord.”
Rob looked up. “Say what?”
“Lock Corp. was workin’ for Overlord.”
“Shit.” He set his screwdriver aside and looked over Ben’s shoulder. Hold up, what’s this? “Quit scrollin’. Look at that. List of wanted people. An’ Lafitte. Lafitte. Shit, that’s Amanda’s last name.”
“Really? Oh right, yeah. Totally forgot about that.” When Amanda had finally gotten back to them after the severe bullet wound in the stomach she’d received in Arizona, she’d given them a brief explanation of where she’d been and why.
“Yeah, an’ remember when she went missin’ for a bit? We couldn’t find her?”
“Of course. Didn’t she have you pick her up in a…” Ben trailed off as realization dawned. “A super nice car, right?”
Same last name as some people super high up a massive corporation. She had a really expensive car, like the kind owned by people super high up a massive corporation. She didn’t offer that many details about her parents. Hell, I just assumed they were able to dictate her because she was hopped up on painkillers. “Shit. Her parents are wanted for treason.”
“Think she knows?” asked Ben.
“Think she cares? Might be a better question.” Ben just shrugged. “Well, I’ll let her know, see what she wants to do with that info.”
They didn’t manage to find much on Taauth beyond conspiracies and calls for his death by various Islamic militant groups fighting against him as he cut his way through the Middle East. The fact that he came out of nowhere and that he was commonly seen on the front lines as his armies advanced had people throwing out all sorts of speculation as to who he might be. But his first documented appearance was only a week before both Rob and Ben received some strange, garbled texts from Sam.
As for Lock Corp. and Overlord, Amanda didn’t so much as blink when they told her, once she returned about an hour later with Miya. She simply shrugged and said, “That’s nice.”
Note to self, don’t bring up her parents, thought Rob, finishing the last button on his shirt. “How do I look?” he asked Miya and Ben as he turned around.
“Exactly like me, just in a nice shirt an’ pants,” said Ben with a grin.
“Haha, you fuckin’ jackass.”
Miya looked up from her phone and gave him an appraising look, biting down on her lower lip in thought. After a moment, she nodded and said, “Good.”
“Thanks.” Rob turned to Ben and said, “See, that’s what I was lookin’ for.”
“You two are making way too big a deal out of this,” commented Miya. “Relax. Just let it happen.”
“It ain’t like she’s a piece of metal or somethin’. If I fuck up I can’t just hammer her back into shape.”
Miya stared at him for a moment, concern on her face. “I would hope not.”
“OK, bad example. But you get what I’m sayin’, right?”
“That you’ve been workin’ too long with machines an’ get a little scared when you’re outta your comfort zone, cuz you don’t know how to fix this if you fuck it up?” said Ben. Miya looked up from her phone and stared at him.
“Well, I wasn’t thinkin’ of that before, but now that you say that…” Now you’re just being a dick.
“What the fuck did I just say about relaxing?” said Miya, turning her attention on Rob.
“Good. You should be.” She focused on something over his shoulder. “Now get out there and have fun.”
Rob spun on his heels to find Amanda approaching, Olivia looming behind her. “Ready?” she asked, a small smile playing on her lips.
“Sure.” He turned to the others and said, “See you guys later,” with a wave as he and Amanda left the lair.
By some unspoken signal, they both headed to his truck, his keys jangling in his pocket as they walked side by side. Is she wearing perfume? That smells nice. Wait, shit, am I supposed to say something about it, then? He shot her a sideways glance. She wasn’t studying his expression. I guess not. Saying, ‘I like how you smell,’ is kind of creepy.
“You ever been to Mario’s before?” he asked as he climbed into his truck.
“Once or twice,” she replied, shutting her own door. “It’s pretty good.”
“Good. The internet didn’t lie. I’ve only been livin’ here for a month, gotta find all the good places to eat again.” They pulled out of the lot behind the lair, heading towards downtown.
“Yeah, I can see that,” said Amanda. “I keep meaning to bring everyone to this awesome little pizza place near my old house. But I keep forgetting to grab some honey at the grocery store. That places pizza is just made for honey.”
Rob held up a hand. “Wait, hold up. Honey?” Who came up with that? Who looked at pizza and said, ‘This needs honey.’?
“Yeah. Don’t you put it on pizza crust?” asked Amanda, with a genuinely confused look on her face.
Rob shook his head and said, “No. I’ve never heard of that.”
“Seriously? That’s just a thing you do. Huh.” Amanda sat back in her seat, confusion on her face.
“You’ve never lived outside of Colorado, have you?” he asked.
“No, I’ve lived in Colorado all my life.”
“Good skier, then?” he asked with a grin. It must be nice to have real mountains here, not a bunch of little Appalachian hills.
Amanda snorted and said, “Not so much. When I was eight I crashed and broke my arm. I haven’t been since.”
“You get a lot of bad injuries, don’t you?” asked Rob with a shake of his head. Ow. That hurts just thinking about.
“I know. Trust me, I know. When I was about ten I got a really bad case of pneumonia. I was coughing my lungs out for a week.”
“Damn. We’re probably gonna get E. coli or some shit from this place.”
“Don’t worry, only I’ll get it, knowing my luck. But I’m pretty sure I’m immune to food poisoning, somehow. Have you ever been to Turkey?”
“Nope. Never been outta the US.” Why the hell did you go to Turkey? Isn’t that a Muslim country? I’d have thought that would be kind of shitty for a woman, but what do I know?
“They have these huge kabobs of lamb or chicken rotating next to a heater kind of thing,” she said with a smile. “You can find them anywhere on the street in Istanbul. They’re delicious, I went to one every chance I got. But this one I went to, I ordered a chicken plate thing, I forget the exact name, and started wolfing it down. But then halfway through, I stopped. The chicken was cold. The meat was totally uncooked.”
Rob burst into laughter. “Holy shit! Bird food poisonin’ is some bad shit. Right up there with shellfish, right?”
Amanda nodded and said, “Yeah, but that’s the thing. I was totally fine. Not even a hiccup. Moral of the story is, if I can take undercooked Turkish poultry, I can take whatever Mario’s can dish out.”
“Speak of the devil, here we are,” said Rob, as the sign for Mario’s came into view. Packed, too. They parked at the far end of the lot and began their walk to the restaurant. Shit. Do I put my arm around her? Or is that not something to do. Or… No. Relax. He slipped an arm over her shoulders. Some tension in his shoulders eased as she put her arm around his waist. You know, this is nice. I think I can live with this.
They walked in together. “Reservation for two,” said Rob to the host, who led them to a small booth by the wall at the far end of the building. Just as they sat down, a waiter appeared to order their drinks. Rob ordered a Coke, Amanda a water, and the waiter was off, leaving them alone. Now what?
“What were you an’ Miya up to today?” Women like talking about their day, right?
“Just shopping. Olivia’s starting to grow out of her clothes again, we were looking for anything that might fit, and it wouldn’t hurt if we found some things for ourselves.” Rob smiled and nodded mutely. Oh god, I’ve made a terrible mistake. Amanda continued, “Miya had this great little saying from a friend of hers from Arizona. Sweatpants love you for who you are, not who you want to be.
Rob laughed, though Amanda just took a sip of water, a slight blush spreading up her cheeks. Shit, what did I fuck up? We were doing so well in the car. Talking, that is.
The waiter returned with their drinks and took their orders. They killed the time with idle chatter while they waited for their food, not really discussing anything substantive. Rob did everything he could to steer the conversation away from family. Me and Ben’s problem, not hers. And she hates hers. Probably not good first date material. He wiped his sweaty palms against his pants under the table as the food arrived. They dug in.
His eyes scanned the table after a few silent minutes, looking for a distraction, or anything to break up the sound of chewing. Dinner was a terrible idea. Shit. Should have thought of something fun. “You see that new movie?” he asked.
She blinked. “Which one?”
God damn it. “The new Superman movie?”
“No, sorry.” Shit. What else is there to talk about? In the awkward silence that followed, she set down her fork in her half finished dish, looked him dead in the eye, and asked, “Do you want to get out of here and work on the armor designs?”
“Oh thank god. I was hopin’ you’d say somethin’ like that.”
They rushed to split the check and leave, leaving their waiter blinking in confusion. “I’ve got the bare bones of the armor pretty much done,” explained Rob as they headed out the door and back to the truck. “Now we gotta figure out what we’re puttin’ on it. If we’re goin’ the power armor route, it’s gonna need reinforcement. We ain’t half assin’ anythin’ if we do that.”
“Absolutely. I was thinking-”
“Excuse me, Miss Lafitte?” spoke up a man behind them, cutting Amanda off. She stiffened at the sound of her last name. Together, they spun around to see a man in a suit, hands hidden behind his back. Two more men and a woman, all in similar cheap dark suits, appeared from between the cars in the parking lot, surrounding them.
“We need you two to come with us,” said the man who’d first spoken. Who the fuck are these guys?