Well that sucks, Skulker though. He pulled back with his pistol behind some shelves, eyeing Solid Tod as he hefted his shotgun onto his shoulder and turned with a wide grin to the rest of his gang. Didn’t Olivia fuck him up when they hit her apartment? How is he back in action so fast?
After getting the drop on two, half of the gang had tried to bury him in lead in their depot ambush, the other half doing the same to Nomad and Delta. With those two running for their lives out of the depot, pursuers hot on their heels, Skulker abandoned fighting and simply kept hidden, teleporting to keep an eye on Olivia. Not that she made it easy once she charged off, roaring and hissing, at some distant figure.
His own pursuers kept together, refusing to wander alone where he could teleport in and pick one off. Even now, after nearly a minute with no contact, they stalked on the catwalks he’d abandoned on the other side of the room. The moment he broke cover they would come running.
Olivia lay on the ground behind Tod, unmoving after taking the shotgun slug to the head. Come on then, get up. Is she dead? He found himself gripping his pistol tighter than usual, his knuckles white against the black metal. Worry gnawed at the pit of his stomach. She can’t be dead. Skulker spotted her chest slowly rise and fall. Oh, thank god, she’s not dead. Cool. He eyed the half dozen gang members around her, Tod included. Teleportation meant nothing if one lucky bullet caught him in the spine. Or gut. Or head. Or leg. They hadn’t noticed she still lived, but that wouldn’t last long, and they had plenty of ammo for when they did.
Skulker eyed the exit ground floor exit. Going back the way they came would lead to a long run down open corridors that could have a gunman hiding anywhere. His own hunters were now at the second floor door they’d tried to reach initially to get higher in the building, along with a window Olivia had shattered. Following Delta and Nomad out would be the best course of action. He might run smack into their attackers, but they would have their backs to him, and he would have more freedom to maneuver than in the cramped equipment depot. He could still hear gunshots from that direction over the dwindling thunderstorm.
She’s still breathing though. Ain’t dead yet. They’re just gonna shoot her. Come on, I’ve seen you shrug off bullets before. He paused, watching for a moment to see if she would recover. Kind of a shame to just drag her through all this and leave her. No one else around to care. The trio hunting him left, assuming he’d followed Nomad and Delta out of the room.
He spared a glance at the exit before he padded off to the original ambush point, where four bodies lay scattered. Olivia had crushed two, Skulker shot two others. One of Olivia’s had curled into a ball, clutching a ruined arm and muttering in delirious pain. After a moment’s searching, he found some grenades on one of the still bodies that they’d used to break up Skulker’s group.
A few quick teleports brought him to another hiding spot. Tod had clustered off with half of his men away from Olivia, checking their guns and redistributing ammo. The other half had spread out, keeping an eye out.
“What are you up to back there?” Tod called out over his shoulder.
“Somethin’s weird. Boss!” called out one of the men, kneeling down to inspect Olivia.
Time’s up. She’s far enough away. I hope. Skulker pulled the pin and lobbed the grenade towards the largest group, Tod included. The grenade bounced off the concrete floor and came to a stop in the middle.
“Down!” With a boom, Tod grabbed a man and shot away from the lump of dark green metal, shotgun dropping to the ground.
The grenade exploded, shooting shrapnel all among the men around it. Skulker peaked his head out from behind his cover.
Tod, the man he’d grabbed, and the man closest to Olivia still stood. Aiming high, Skulker fired off half a dozen shots at the one over Olivia. One managed to find its mark, hitting him and sending him sprawling. A boom shook the shelves, sending tools rattling as Tod appeared right next to Skulker’s flank.
“Get on your goddamn knees!” Tod spat in Skulker’s face, face contorted with rage. Fuck, that was fast.
Skulker managed to dodge out of the way of the haymaker Tod threw towards his head. Another dodged punch, and Skulker turned and teleported away to get some room. He turned around again, back towards Tod’s direction, and saw Tod lunge from a good fifteen yards away. Reflexively he froze time…
…and stopped Tod’s fist, an inch from shattering his skull. Tod was frozen, and not just because of the time thing. He’d traveled about fifteen yards in the exact same position as he started, lunging fist first.
He ducked under the fist, moving to behind Tod. One, he thought, keeping a mental timer of seconds.
Still moving. He readied his pistol. Two.
Still moving. His head pounded in pain. Three.
He now stood behind Tod. Four.
He prepared himself, standing firm and aiming directly at the back of Tod’s head, finger on the trigger. Five. Time resumed.
He pulled the trigger. A gunshot as the pistol pushed back into his hands. Tod came to a stop where Skulker had been standing, then turned back towards Skulker and punched again, catching him off guard. I fucked up somehow. Did I miss? Skulker reflexively teleported, smacking his face into a wall but avoiding the bone shattering punch Tod would have driven into him. Tod capitalized on his surprise, punching Skulker in the gut without his power, elbowing him in the head, then grabbing it with both hands and driving it into his knee. Fuck. Ow. Fuck. Ow.
Skulker reeled back from the blows to the head, somehow still standing. He covered his head with an arm, firing his pistol from the hip to either kill Tod or force him to back off. Three shots whizzed past Tod, distracting him enough for Skulker to wiggle free and teleport out. Before he could regain his bearings, Tod teleported with a boom right after. This is no fun, being on the other end of this, Skulker thought as he wheezed out a breath.
He ducked left as Tod careened over him. Going for the head again. Tod overshot him, stumbling over Skulker. The man Tod had pulled from the grenade tackled Skulker in the midsection, blindsiding him. The two of them hit the ground, the force triggering a shot from his pistol. The shot ricocheted off, biting into something wood in the depot. Skulker managed to free a knife from his belt as the larger man pinned his gun hand to the ground.
The man swung to the side, giving Tod room to swing a kick at Skulker. Skulker slashed with his knife, scoring a deep cut on Tod’s leg for his efforts. Tod dropped with a gasp of pain. The man on him realized too late what was happening, taking two stabs to the gut as he released Skulker’s arm to defend himself. Another stab and the man went limp, clutching his ruined gut instead of wrestling.
Skulker dropped his knife and dug himself out from beneath the man as Tod let out a feral grunt. They both struggled to their feet at the same time, eyes locked on each other. I’m faster.
Skulker fired as Tod tensed to lunge. The first shot hit Tod straight through the shoulder, the second through the chest proper. The third shot clicked, the magazine empty. He lowered his now empty pistol, listening for a moment for anyone else who might take a swing at him. Who else wants a piece? Nothing answered his silent challenge. Hope Olivia’s alright. He teleported off to her side. Still breathing. Great!
Skulker lifted one of her arms and draped it around his shoulder. He struggled to stand under her weight. Yep, this is where all that food has been going. Eventually, he managed to half carry, half drag her through the depot and to the door.
The thunderstorm had passed, only the occasional drip of dirty water fell from the surrounding buildings and trees. The occasional crack of gunfire some distance away rang out into the night. Well, sounds the others are still alive and fighting. Skulker hauled Olivia out of the building and away, putting as much distance between them and any other ambushers that might be left.
He ducked down behind a parked truck as a pair of men ran past. This is too slow. Might not make it. He set her down and flicked her nose. No response, though her closed eyes did twitch. Another flick, and her eyelids fluttered open. A soft hiss died in her throat as she took in Skulker kneeling over her.
“Hey!” he whispered. “Welcome back. We’re gettin’ outta here. Can you stand?”
She blinked a few times, reptilian eyes unfocused. “Ow. I think so,” she said, her soft voice now unsteady and slurred. He flinched as he spotted a couple missing shark teeth in her mouth, along with a few more chipped ones. “What?” she asked.
“Later,” he replied, offering her his hand. How could you tell through the mask? Body language? Must have been.
She stood as best she could, still requiring Skulker’s shoulder to lean on. They made faster progress to the fence at the edge of the property, only having to dodge one more agitated patrol along the way. Olivia leaned against the shipping container blocking off the view of them from the building as Skulker weighed their options at the barbed wire fence.
“Climb or fly?” he asked, pulling his hoodie off to throw over the barbed wire at the top.
With a grimace, she managed to stand up straight on her own power and flex her wings. “I think I can fly.”
“OK, get movin’, quick.”
He clambered up the fence, not bothering to try to untangle his hoodie after clearing the barbed wire. The rumble of approaching engines echoed off the walls. Olivia managed to get herself airborne, her wings pumping to gain altitude. Though wobbling in flight, she managed to get herself over the fence as well. Olivia half landed, half crashed, then collapsed as her legs gave out beneath her. Skulker helped haul her back up, and together they limped across the street towards another office building.
They ducked behind the corner just ahead of the approaching cars. Shouting echoed from behind them as they noticed the left behind hoodie. We got out on the opposite side of the building, we’ve got to head north for a block or two to get back to the car. Olivia stumbled, almost dragging Skulker down along with her in the process. Never mind, she’s not going to make it that far. They’ll catch up.
He led them around another corner, looking for cover. They wrenched open a door, leaving behind a rock to keep it propped closed. Footsteps behind them grew closer. The two of them froze, not daring to make a sound. The gang members moved on. Skulker released his grip on his pistol, and Olivia let out a sigh of relief.
No one looks up. Once up the stairs, they tucked into an unused office space, bare of anything but old carpet. He settled down at the corner of a window, keeping an eye on the streets below. Dozens of armed men patrolled the streets, with not a cop or civilian in sight. A few patrols passed by below, keeping an eye out for Skulker or Olivia. She simply collapsed in a heap in the corner, eyes half open.
After nearly fifteen minutes of waiting, with no changes below, he thought, Alright, fuck it. I don’t care if Lock Corp. knows about our techie stuff. Skulker activated his comm and whispered as loud as he dared, “Hey, you guys hear me?”
It took a few moments for the answer to come back. In a far more normal voice, Nomad responded, “Yeah, we’ve got you. The two of us are getting pushed out. What’s your status?”
“Olivia is out of the fight, I pulled her out.”
“Fuck. Alright, we’re leaving,” ordered Nomad. “Get yourself and Olivia out of there and back to the car.”
“We’re hunkerin’ down for now, She’s in no shape to be runnin’. We got guys patrollin’ right near us.”
“Alright, do you think we can get to you?
“If you wanna get shot, sure.”
“Amanda’s got the spare car key. We’ll be in the area if you need us.” Static hissed at the end of Nomad’s transmission.
“Wait, they’re jamming us?” cut in Delta, the static growing more incessant. “Oh, you son of a bitch, don’t you dare-” The transmission cut off. Better and better.
Olivia sat upright, wings splayed to either side. “Should we help?” she asked, starting to rise.
Skulker held up a hand, stopping her. “We need to help ourselves first. They’re doin’ the same.” She opened her mouth to argue, but stopped, shoulders slumping in defeat. “How’d you get those cuts?” he asked to keep her focus elsewhere, pointing to the two long gashes on her arms. They’d scabbed over, though the flesh around them looked angry and red.
She considered them for a moment, as if just remembering they existed. “Um, the robot. It had a knife. It hurt.”
“Two questions: Robot? An’ a knife?” You eat bullets.
“Yeah, there was a robot there. It shot me. It really hurt. When I got close it pulled a knife out of its arm and cut me a couple times.”
Skulker leaned forward. “Describe it.” Is that what I think it is?
“Like a grey person. It had a screaming face. But I don’t think it was actually a head. I bit it almost off and it didn’t care.” Sounds about right.
“Overlord bot,” explained Skulker. “Don’t see them too much, unless the big guy himself cares. I’ve only seen ‘em once in passin’. Sanchez is more connected than I thought. I guess that was some crazy techie knife the bot had.”
She studied her knees. “Why am I so stupid?” she asked with a sigh.
“What makes you say that?”
“I thought I could, I don’t know. Keep everyone safe? But I got distracted. I was thinking about other stuff. I should have noticed the ambush.”
“Keep everyone safe?” he repeated. “You just charged at people! They all had guns!”
“There was the robot. I didn’t want it to kill you guys! I didn’t know what else to do.”
“An’ I don’t wanna scrape you off the floor with a spatula again. We sparred for a couple hours. That don’t make you some master slayer of men.”
“Was I smarter before?” she asked, motioning to her wings and tail.
He shrugged. We’ve been over this before. “I didn’t know you before, but you ain’t dumb now. An’ is this about that weirdo in the walled off bit?”
“Yeah. And are you OK?” she asked.
“Huh?” Am I bleeding? he though, checking himself over.
“You seemed mad when he talked to you.”
“I’m fine,” replied Skulker with a wave of his hand. “He just dragged up bad memories is all. And hey, he gave us a clue. More than we’ve had lately.”
She frowned, thinking. “I guess.”
“We’ll figure somethin’ out. Once we’re not runnin’ for our lives we can figure out what the Bible’s gotta do with you. We might wanna recheck those old records, see if any car that went by is owned by a church or somethin’.”
“He said other stuff too. ‘They’re one and the same’.”
“Fuck riddles,” Skulker replied with a laugh.
“But what were you saying back there?” she asked. “No one noticed?”
Skulker leaned back, pulling his mask off his face. Not the best memories, no. He studied the streets below him out the window. A pair of guards had taken up position on either side of every entrance to the Lehman Construction building. Headlights flashed as cars came and went.
“I’m a triplet. Not sure if I told you. Me, Rob, an’ Sam. I was kidnapped, an’ no one noticed or cared but my brothers. We were always little shit-heels, not too surprisin’. I got my powers tryin’ to escape. Rob got his tryin’ to think of a way to get me outta there. An’ Sam didn’t.”
“Didn’t get powers,” Skulker clarified. “Fucked him up, too. Started wonderin’ if there was somethin’ wrong with him. We’re identical, you know. You get your power by bein’ under pressure, and two of him got it. But he didn’t. I know he cared. Rob does too. But he started tearin’ himself up, didn’t know who he was. Or who he thought he was. I dunno. We drifted apart once we were able to get work an’ move out. Wanted to see what we could do on our own, rather than with all three of us.” He shrugged and laughed. “Not much I can do about it right now.”
“How are you so happy all the time? You got angry, but now you’re just fine. How?”
“If I can’t change it, I don’t care about it. Can’t change the past. Can’t change most people, so it ain’t worth stressin’ out over.”
“It’s that easy?”
“You are what you do. Not in your past, not in your head. Worry is a choice, same as all the others.”
“I’m tired,” she confessed. “Of being me.”
“You’re fine, you feel like shit cuz you just got shot up,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll get you there. It just takes time. Get some rest, we’ll bug out when they settle down out there.”
At the crack of dawn, with the patrols dwindling and the guards looking sleepier and sleepier, Ben finally called in the others through his cellphone. Olivia lapsed into silence as the night stretched on, though her breathing grew steadier and her bruises subsided. I wish I could shrug off that kind of punishment. They snuck off to the opposite side of the building and stuffed themselves into the car Chris and Amanda drove. Amanda immediately passed Olivia water with a concerned look. Even with the bruises fading her clothes were still riddled with bullet holes.
They pulled up to the lair sometime around five in the morning. Ben got out to open the shutter to the interior. Need stretch my damn legs. Can’t sit much longer. Once inside, and with the door safely closed behind them, Olivia spun around and lifted Chris and Amanda up in a bear hug. “You guys are OK!”
Chris spasmed in surprise as his feet left the ground. Amanda managed a half croak half squeak as the hug forcibly expelled most of the air in her lungs. Where did this bravery come from, ‘liv’?
“Oh, sorry, sorry.” Olivia released them both and withdrew, looking apologetic. Chris took a ragged breath. Skulker laughed at them.
“I didn’t mean…I’m sorry. I just…” she trailed off, scratching the back of her neck with eyes fixed firmly on the ground.
“It’s all right. Good to see you safe,” Chris managed. Amanda nodded, twisting to the left, then right.
“Thanks. You guys are OK though?” Olivia said. She’s blushing a little. Do reptiles blush? Must be the human chunk.
“Some bruises and cuts, nothing too major,” said Chris. “Amanda got grazed on the arm, but we patched that up with no problems. I know I’m more tired than anything else at this point.”
“Fuck,” Ben grumbled. “Long day.”
With that, they drifted off. Their shower, in truth little more than a twenty dollar hose, a ten dollar roll of duct tape, and a five dollar colander set up over a floor drain in the shop they were pretty sure still worked, beckoned to Ben in his sweat stained clothes. Even if the water was freezing. Along with another twenty dollars worth of privacy curtains, it was good enough to get themselves clean.
Chris and Olivia were both quietly talking over the table, but Amanda stayed off to the side, hunched over some laptop screen. She waved him over. That lonely, huh?
“What is this?” she demanded, the moment he came to her shoulder.
He stared at the squiggly line on the screen, wiping a length of wet hair from his eyes. “A thingy. A sign?” I think Rob mentioned those once.
“A sine wave,” she corrected. “And no, even that’s wrong.”
“I assume you ain’t expectin’ me to give a real answer.” He stayed as she considered the screen, Rob often used idiots like himself to bounce ideas off of whenever the techie mood hit him.
“I was worried about Olivia, I forgot to turn off my armor when we got back,” Amanda explained, eyes not leaving the screen. Not me, huh? “I saw this weird anomaly. There’s a very strange signal here, and it was back at the ambush point too. It’s hidden under the noise floor, but it’s there.” She tapped a few keys and the graph refreshed. “It’s still active right now.”
“Where’s it comin’ from?” he asked.
“That’s a great question.” She leaned over, opened a drawer, and pulled out a black plastic box with a handful of buttons on the side. After tossing aside a few antenna, she decided on one and screwed it on. “Take this over there,” she said as she flicked the On button.
He teleported over as she hunched over her computer, typing something.
“Now over there,” she called out, her voice echoing through the shop.
After a quick teleport, he saw Chris look up at the sound of their raised voices. He looked around in confusion at the two of them, but decided to approach Ben at the sight of total concentration on Amanda’s face. Ben gave him the simple catch up version.
“Alright, come back. It’s somewhere inside. I don’t have the equipment to triangulate further,” called out Amanda.
“What is this signal?” asked Chris, as Ben tossed the box back to Amanda.
She caught it in surprise, flipping him off before replying, “Something simple and encrypted.”
“Can you break it?” ventured Chris.
“If I have a year and the signal doesn’t change, sure.” Come on, what kind of techie are you? Do everything, damn it!
“I’ll take that as a no. What is that signal, then?”
“It’s simple. Other than being very directed but hard to detect, it’s not, like, trying to fry anything with RF burns or anything,” explained Amanda. “Wait wait wait. Everyone, stop moving. It changed” Olivia froze, halfway in the process of joining them.
“Olivia, walk over there,” said Amanda, pointing to the far wall where Ben had stood. The graph kept up its strange twitching to Ben as she complied, but he heard a sharp intake of breath from Amanda.
“Alright. It’s coming from you. You two, fuck off,” she said, waving away Ben and Chris. “Olivia, you changed your clothes, so it might be on you personally. I can jury rig a metal detector real fast. Are you alright with it if I check your back for anything? ”
Olivia glanced around at everyone, fear creeping into her expression. “Um, OK,” she managed.
After a moment, with Ben and Chris waiting in the offices out front, Amanda called them back in as Olivia replaced her shirt, her face pale.
“Yeah, there’s a very small bit of metal in there,” she said, motioning to the back of Olivia’s neck.
“Can you get it out?” asked Olivia, worry in her voice.
They gazed past Olivia’s wings at the red welt with a tiny scab on the back of Olivia’s neck. That doesn’t look like a bullet wound. Well, a bullet wound on her. Must have missed that with all the other shit she took today.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure what can get through her, I don’t know, Olivia-ness. And if I do, her spine is right there, I don’t want to kill her through brute force by accident.”
“Is it a tracker?” broke in Chris.
They went dead silent at the implication, broken only as Ben let out a laugh as he headed toward the ammo boxes.
Thanks for the chapter mate
One of your strongest qualities as a writer is building suspense, and because of that, this is a great end to this chapter!