Something slid by Chris’s head with the sound of sandpaper on wood. He heard a loud hiss from the same direction. Up. I’m awake. Chris wrenched his eyes open, finding near total darkness, even as the warm, familiar memory of the library vanished. Ben and Amanda weren’t lying, that wasn’t real. Fuck.
He struggled upright, finding his limbs made of lead for a moment as paralysis wore off of him. Several metal things popped off of his head as he heard Amanda whisper something across the room. Olivia stormed off, away from him and Amanda’s whispers. OK, not us, he thought as he massaged his temples. Like every day, the urge to dissociate from whatever nonsense was happening and stop caring weighed down on him, even as the last of whatever knocked him out worked its way out of his system. A memory, even if it was false, stopped him from obeying. I helped make that library. Was I in charge of building that library? No, it wasn’t just me.
Another familiar growl, an amalgamation of human frustration and a dry reptilian hiss, cut through the muffled silence. Olivia crashed through a door nearby. He couldn’t see anything other than the negligible glow of light from a panel set in the wall, but the sounds of property devaluation were unmistakable.
Who is she going after? A couple of heavy footsteps made the line of light under the door flicker, then wood shattered, and Olivia removed the door, letting light fully into the room. She stomped forward, puffing her wings out once she cleared the frame, then snarled at something again.
His arm hit something warm and mildly squishy as he rolled off the wooden table.
“Watch it,” said Miya, already off of her table and on her own two feet.
“Sorry,” he grunted. He got up and took a quick headcount. Miya kept watch on Olivia’s receding back, Amanda helped Rob up, and Ben raised a hand to shield his eyes from the light pouring into the room from his position on the last table.
Chris leaned against the nearby wall, on the far side of the room from the now empty door frame. He rubbed his temples with one hand once more, squeezing his eyes shut. It wasn’t just leading. It was serving. Was it both?
“Chris,” snapped a voice right in front of him. Miya’s. Olivia roared in the background, and something glass shattered.
He opened his eyes to look at her. Rob stood behind and to her side with folded arms. Ben, now up, poked his head out through the doorway to look left and right for any kind of threat. He still shot a glance back at Chris, a small smile flickering on his face. Amanda examined the alien’s terminal, built into the wall. The silver wires from each of the five tables fed into a hole drilled a few inches below.
“Olivia’s pissed off. She just took off through a window, flying after the alien. You got any ideas?” asked Miya. It took everything in his power not to sigh and close his eyes again.
Alien? Right, they mentioned that. Why does everyone think I know what I’m doing? I have no clue. I’m just here. I just say stuff because no one else ever has any idea what to do. It’s not like I’m smarter or anything. They’re just waiting for me to do something.
Quit your bitching. Get moving.
“Fine, let’s go. Ben, get after Olivia, talk her down.” Ben gave a lazy salute as he teleported off. Drywall crunched as Amanda began digging the terminal out of the wall. “What are you doing?” demanded Chris.
“When Olivia woke up it was like someone had dumped her there,” she explained, still locked onto the terminal. “Right in front of the freaky alien nest? I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Maybe I can figure out why.”
Chris nodded in understanding. “Rob, give her a hand. Miya, with me, let’s get some answers. Does anyone have anything on them?” He swatted his pockets. No wallet, keys, or phone. That’s not good. No weapons either.
Four variations of, “Nope, nothing,” replied. Wonderful. Do what we can with what we have. Rob kicked the nearest table leg, breaking it off. He began wrenching off a cabinet door as Chris and Miya began checking the other room of the alien’s apartment.
The first room they found a single table in the center, sturdier, with thicker legs and broader footprint. Miya eyed the claw gouges on the doorframe. More alien equipment lay scattered around the outskirts. Should I grab some more of this stuff? No, Olivia’s yelling might bring in the cops. No need to waste time. The cables at the table’s head ran into another terminal, built into the same wall as the techies worked at. Said terminal jostled free, as Rob used his two pieces of wood as a lever to wedge the opposite side free. Amanda took his place, leaning in to examine the now exposed core within. The next room on the opposite side of the apartment gave them pause.
A bowl of wood, paper, and fabric three feet high, like the bottom half of a gigantic broken eggshell, dominated what would have been a human bedroom. A transparent wax coated the individual pieces, keeping the jumble in one solid structure. Beyond that, drawings etched into the walls themselves caught Chris’ eyes. One was unmistakably of a human body, sexless and without any facial features. Another was the cross section of a human brain. Alien scrawling covered every spare inch.
Shelves, squat steel things made from scrap found throughout the city, held a bizarre assortment of alien equipment mixed with various scavenged human bits. A frosted glass cup from Pizza Invicta held some sort of light yellow liquid, the same swirling around without regards to gravity within a glass and white metal contraption. Below the shelves lay two smooth white crates. Those look way too small for all this alien crap. Chris felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. I am a dumb monkey, staring at something I don’t understand. “Don’t touch anything,” he said to Miya, who skirted around one of the crates. I don’t want to get nuked today.
In the closet he found half a dozen human skeletons. Each had a large, flat rock over the skull, along with two pieces of wood tied or nailed together. Are those supposed to be crosses? I think they are. What the fuck is this alien doing?
“Was he trying to bury people?” he asked Miya. “Is he evil?” Everything he showed me was pretty nice.
“He kidnapped us. Fuck him,” she replied, with an uneasy look at the skeletons.
“Yeah, it’s a Gulmer. I recognize some of this shit from the museum,” said Rob as he and Amanda rejoined them.
Amanda examined the drawings and diagrams of human bodies on the walls and said, “Those look like something you’d put up in a lab.”
It was studying us. Don’t know how the fuck putting us in dream world actually does that, but whatever. “You got what you needed?” asked Chris.
“Yes,” she said, holding up the silver core she’d pulled from behind the terminal. Only one cut cable dangled from it, caught on several bent metal pins.
How do you know? Whatever, I have to trust she knows what she’s doing for now. “Then we’re leaving. Where are Ben and Olivia?”
Miya, by the window, waved them over. Chris peeled back the ragged old curtain and leaned over her. He squinted through the lack of light to track her gaze to a row of houses a block over, run down with older fences and satellite dishes streaked with rust, but none of the telltale boarded up windows and sagging roofs of truly abandoned buildings. Was there another city-wide blackout? I thought they’d finally solved that problem.
A roar from Olivia up above caught Chris’s attention. He caught sight of the alien running away on a roof before Olivia dive bombed and crashed the both of them through it, leaving a ragged hole in their wake. Uh oh. Did she lose it again? She just went through a roof with her shoulder and some momentum.
“Like a mini-Godzilla,” murmured Rob with a wide grin. It wavered as the others turned towards him with no humor. That’s right, you’ve never seen her go huntress mode.
The faint, terrified screams of civilians inside managed to reach them even at that distance, along with the crack of a gunshot. The alien teleported onto the street between the apartment building and the houses. Blood, or rather a pale green ichor that Chris assumed was blood, dripped to the ground where he stood as he pressed a gnarled hand to his side.
We need to get her under control, now. A window on the second floor of the house shattered. The alien immediately broke into a run, not bothering to look back. Olivia jumped out of the building and pumped her wings in pursuit of him. I wonder if it’s panicking. Chris, out of the corner of his eye, caught sight of Ben teleporting onto the ruined roof. Ben paused at the edge of the hole, then jumped off the roof and teleported down before gravity could make him regret that decision.
Chris tore himself from the window, opening his mouth to urge the others to do the same, when out from a shadowy corner of the room dropped the alien. The group and the alien stared at each other for a split second stretched out for an eternity. Its jaw twitched to the side.
The alien bolted to its feet as Miya, the nearest to it, took a clumsy, untrained grab at it. Does it have bones for her to mess with? It teleported to the side, near the shelf of equipment and devices. Chris phased into liquid form and shot himself as a column towards it. Rather than teleporting through the shadows once more, it clung to a small T shaped device built into the walls, even as Chris slammed into its back. It hammered some mechanism in it, then teleported out, its body sliding out of Chris’ grip. A dull thud shook the building.
He snapped back to human, checking the room in case the alien attacked someone else with a shiver. The others either stared at him or checked the rest of the room. All jumped as something collided with the window they had just been crowding around, sending a shower of glass into the room. A clawed hand punched through the curtain, tearing it aside to reveal Olivia from the shoulders up as she began to climb up into the room. Her lips curled back in a snarl, and her silver reptilian eyes scanned the room without a hint of recognition. She paused and twisted her head around back towards the outdoors, sniffing the air.
“Olivia!” shouted Miya. “Olivia!” Olivia jumped off of the wall and out of sight. Fuck, I forgot how fast she can move.
“Oh no,” murmured Amanda.
“Come on. We have to do something,” declared Miya.
“Do what?” asked Chris. “Trust me, she won’t hesitate to attack any of us right now if Ben hasn’t gotten through to her.” Hey, remember that time she threw Amanda aside like a rag doll and tried to gut me in the course of five seconds? Because I do. Hell, it was right here.
Miya whirled around. She unclenched her jaw long enough to say, “Anything. Better than just standing here.”
“She’s right,” said Amanda.
They’re right. Fuck, this sucks. I guarantee someone has noticed this by now. Another dull thud shook the building. They stumbled as the floor seemed to drop a few inches beneath them. A great crash of glass and wood and concrete rang in their ears. What did that alien do?
“Buildin’s fallin’,” said Rob, already running for the door.
“Go, go,” Chris urged the rest as he brought up the rear.
They thundered through the halls and down the stairs. A third thud knocked them off their feet. Chris grabbed Amanda’s collar to keep her from falling over as he clung to the handrail with his free hand. OK, that neighborhood might have two-shots. Someone has called the Watch or MHU, no question. Get a quick sitrep from Ben, if not I might just have to suffocate Olivia again and drag her out of here. We don’t have a car, though. Deal with that later. Rob wrenched the dented metal door on the ground floor open, just as a beam collapsed in the stairwell and punched through the floor. Dust rained down on them.
As they finally escaped the apartment building, a pair of gunshots rang out into the night, then another pair. Across the street, Ben teleported along the rooftops, waving his arms at Chris and the group. They stopped in their tracks as a pale figure appeared at the mouth of the alleyway. The alien, bleeding from half a dozen more cuts since last they saw it, staggered forward a few steps. It twisted its drooping head to the side, gazing at them.
Olivia landed feet first on the alien’s back with a scream. Five claws of her foot tore into its chest as she slammed it into the pavement. She reached down, hooking her clawed hand into the underside of what would have been its chin, and ripped upwards with an arc of ichor. Chris flinched back, even with an entire street separating them. Jesus fucking Christ.
“She normally do shit like that?” asked Rob.
“No,” replied Amanda in a hushed whisper, still clutching the alien computer core tight.
“Hey!” shouted Ben from his rooftop. “We got cops comin’!” Chris listened for a moment. Sirens approached. Ben dove for cover as another pair of shots rang out, one sending a puff of tile from the roof.
Great, we have two techies without their gear and a mage without a golem. None of us have guns, and we’re about to be drowning in MHU officers. Chris directed the others away from the oncoming police, though they needed no urging.
“Olivia,” he called out. “Run!” She paid him no attention, head raised and sniffing the air once more.
Three Metahuman Unit trucks, which may as well have been tanks for all the armor they boasted, burst onto the scene. They came to a stop between Chris’s group and Olivia and unloaded about eight heavily armed and armored MHU officers each. Black armor covered their grey fatigues, with hard plastic mask and goggles covering their faces. Each had their own assortment of equipment strapped to their chests and belts. Two breachers had shotguns strapped to their backs, while three others held familiar batons at the ready. Unlike the others, one wore no helmet, instead barking out an impatient order as they circled Olivia. Marcus.
One dozen of Chris’ former coworkers formed a semicircle around Olivia, standing her ground with wings half spread. One hand she used to shield her eyes from the glaring headlights of the vans and mounted flashlights of the officers, though below it Chris could see teeth bared. If we get arrested we’re never seeing the light of day again. We’re responsible for Olivia and she just went of a fucking rampage through who knows how many houses. The three baton armed officers inched towards a hissing Olivia. The moment she made towards one of them, he backed up while the other two pressed forward. Any time one of her several flailing limbs got close, they swatted it with an arc of electricity from the baton.
The other dozen turned on Chris’ group. The officers leveled their rifles at them and shouted over the din of the sirens several variations of, “Surrender or get shot a lot.” Chris shifted into liquid form, placing himself between the officers and the others. Amanda, get them moving. It’ll take them all of five seconds to remember I’m basically gasoline.
Behind him, Chris could hear Amanda shouting for Miya and Rob to get moving. They started running, and the officers opened fire. Chris spread himself out to provide as much cover as he could. Bullets hot. Bad, bad, bad. He expelled them as soon as he could. Four or five made it through him but went nowhere near his fleeing teammates. The apartment building finished collapsing in on itself, sending out a billowing cloud of dust, obscuring them from the pursuing officers.
Chris caught up to the others, who had forced open the main door to the computer shop across the street and made their way inside. Me and Amanda were here before. That’s right! There’s roof access in here. He got rid of all the gravel and other detritus he’d picked up and returned to human form. Miya and Amanda coughed out white dust.
“Keep going,” he urged them, following behind them on foot as Rob worked on wrenching open the lock to the roof access. The clomps of the MHU officers chased after him. He poked his head around a window, catching sight of four dust covered officers pounding toward them, the others raising their carbines at the shop. Noble designed those masks, no amount of dust would bother them. Chris flinched back as a hail of bullets tore up the window.
They bolted up the ladder, Chris pausing to topple a shelf over the door to slow the pursuers down. He shifted to liquid and wove his way up the ladder.
“Fuck. I hate not bein’ armed,” said Rob in between panting. They kept up the run over the gravel covered rooftop.
“Ambush?” suggested Miya.
“With what?” responded Chris. “Circle back around for Olivia.”
A whine caught his attention, now that a ruined building separated him from the sirens of the trucks. He caught sight of a small black quadcopter drone, almost invisible in the night sky, hovering far out of reach. Behind them, metal groaned under the weight of armored men as the pursuing officers began to climb the ladder. That drone has to have a camera. They weren’t going to climb a ladder if we were just going to sit there and club them one by one. There’s no cover for us up here.
“Down, down!” Chris shouted, jabbing his hand at the edge of the roof and the ground below. He shifted into liquid once more as the first officer up leveled his carbine at the group and fired off three shots. The next one up took one look at Chris and pulled out a clunky pistol. An incendiary flare rocketed towards Chris, forcing him back into human form. Two more MHU officers finished climbing the ladder and began advancing as more bullets flew. He spun around to find only Rob, down on one knee and weighing a rock in his hand. He reached back and flung it with all his might, nailing the drone in one of the rotors and sending it crashing to the ground. Techie? What? Whatever.
Without a word, Chris jumped and Rob climbed down off the one story roof to catch Amanda and Miya on the ground. Each had an officer pinning them to a wall. Miya grabbed at the arm of the one on her, unable to find any contact through the armor. Amanda clung to the computer core as her officer tried to seize it from her. Two more officers leveled carbines at them. “Chris! Stop!” shouted one.
Instinct took over. Still a large mass of liquid, Chris slammed into them, engulfing two and knocking off balance the others. One smacked the back of his head on the pavement, going limp despite his helmet. The other submerged officer fought Chris for another flare gun on his belt, even as he gasped for air. You idiot, you’ll kill us both. His hand almost made it to the trigger before Chris lifted him and slammed him into the concrete once more, knocking the fight out of him for a second. The next slam knocked the fight out of him for much longer.
Chris snapped back to human, shivering as his body regenerated the heat lost in liquid form. Rob, Amanda, and Miya kept an eye on the other two officers, one out cold, another cradling a broken arm and leg.
“Thanks for that,” said Amanda. Rob just laughed.
“Where’s Olivia and Ben?” asked Miya.
“More are coming,” said Chris, stopping to scoop up a carbine. Rob and Miya followed suit. “Circle back.”
They circled around, keeping out of sight of the officers as they followed the sounds of roars and gunfire. Chris poked his head around a corner. The dozen officers, including Marcus, herded Olivia away from the houses she’d wrecked. Several torn lead weighted nets tangled her wings. She twisted, trying to rip one off completely, catching a bullet to the ribs for her troubles. Marcus raised a hand, and the asphalt beneath her feet dissolved for a moment, locking her ankle deep in the solid road. The baton wielding officers, with only a chestplate for protection, poked at her peripherals as she wrenched her feet free. Helicopter rotors began to beat the air.
Shit, shit, shit. Olivia swayed on her feet, but still attempted a charge at Marcus. Damn it, Olivia. Where is the flight in fight or flight? An officer next to him hefted a large tube, launching another net at her legs. She tore the fabric, though now two halves tangled her footing.
“No, Olivia. No, no, no,” whispered Miya, joining him at the corner. “Get out of here. That mage knows what he’s doing.”
“I don’t think we can get through that,” Chris replied, gesturing to all the armed officers. Fuck. I thought she might have broken through. She’s just roaring and swinging now.
“Ben?” she asked.
“I don’t even know where he is.”
His stomach churned, and shoulders slumped. He knew what to say. Olivia regained her feet yet again, roaring in defiance.
“We can’t stay here,” Chris said, pulling back from the corner.
“What about Olivia?” Amanda shot back.
Fuck me. “We can’t do anything. We’re outnumbered, outgunned, and only have three magazines between us. Those helicopters are getting closer.”
Amanda grimaced. “But…” she began, trailing off. “Fuck. No.” She shook her head, as if willing it to not be true.
“What about Ben?” demanded Rob with a light shove to Chris’ shoulder.
“They weren’t looking for him, he can take care of himself,” Chris replied. “We need to leave.”
With the thundering sound of helicopters overhead, the group pulled back, barely dodging the eight officers from the roof of the computer shop.
They limped back to the lair several hours later. The group collapsed on the nearest chairs save Miya, who paced the length of the auto shop. Chris slouched in his chair, staring at the edge of the tabletop. We fucked up. I fucked up. Maybe if we’d stuck with Olivia and talked her down. Amanda rolled her office chair over to a computer and woke it up, then typed. Other than that, and the pacing, no one did a thing. Rob clenched his hands into fists. He’ll probably kill me if Ben doesn’t show up. And I’d probably deserve it. Maybe we could have ambushed Marcus.
Amanda called out, “She’s still alive. They brought in Noble and Purifier. They’re gonna put her under until they can get her to that Houston research place.”
“So?” asked Miya, her voice hoarse. She kept up the pacing. “How does that help?”
“It means that we’re not going to be able to get to her until they get her out of there.”
“If the MHU out here is the same as mine,” said Rob. “We ain’t gettin’ in.”
“No we’re not,” said Amanda. “This is one of my last backdoors. If their security is any good they’ll figure out what I’m doing and close it off. They’ve gone into lockdown. The only things going in or out are through the front door. They’ll even use tanks of air to limit contact with the outside world.”
“The cells are probably way the fuck underground,” said Rob.
“They can flood them with napalm, collapse it with explosives, vent toxic gas in, or simply get a bunch of guys with large guns to kill everything as contingencies,” added Chris. And they’re doing that because they know about us. And they know that this is where we live. Fuck. Chris pulled himself out of his chair.
It was that moment when Ben kicked the door open. “The fuck?” he shouted. He did not smile.