The hum of a small plane engine filled Miyahuatl’s ears. The heavy canvas sack covering her head did little to deaden the noise. A bout of turbulence shook the plane, sending her bouncing on the tiny bench she perched on. She reached out with her bound hands, steadying herself on a metal crate beside her. It’s been hours, she thought with resigned numbness. We have to land sometime. They’re not going to kill me. They’ve had months. Or maybe we’re over the ocean, and they’re going to shoot me and dump me in the middle of nowhere.
She shivered in her threadbare clothes, the plane barely heated for its only living passenger. The stubble on her head didn’t help, exposing the surgical scars across her skull to the elements. The ones across her spine didn’t feel much better. She had no idea what the day was, though it felt like months had passed since she’d been free.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, when Arizona didn’t resemble the surface of the sun, Miya ducked out of the house to avoid her family and wandered off to a nearby convenience store. Grandmother bitched at her for not taking the heat “with stoicism befitting Aztec blood,” though neither of them had ever set foot in Mexico. She’d kept her magic quiet, not wanting an earful about whatever archaic tradition demanded of her. Unlike powers, she couldn’t just use them from the word go. Dozens of schools for mages were scattered around the country, all too expensive for her to even think about.
Shoplifting saved enough money for books from Don’s shop. Trial and error into the arcane nearly killed her, but the books and amulets from the Italian man made more sense than eleven years of public school education ever had. With the camera of the convenience store blocked by the shelf, she stuffed plastic sunglasses into her oversized pockets.
Keeping her expression neutral, she headed out to find a deserted front counter. She spun around, expecting the employee to ambush her. Instead, dull green and wrinkly tentacles tore open roof above her. A tall, thin man, tentacles emanating from beneath his skin, dove on her. One grabbed her foot as she tried to run, her head hit the ground, and the world went black in the span of five heartbeats.
She awoke some indeterminate time later strapped to a hospital bed, a handful of humanoid robots preparing her for surgery. She only met a handful of humans in the windowless facility, though she caught one name: Overlord. Once stable, they started testing their clumsy control of her power. She imagined having a stroke was similar to the experience of someone forcibly extracting an otherworldly force using her brain as the conduit.
The cold, firm grip of a robot grasped her upper arm, breaking her train of thought. It hauled her out of the plane, and her feet hit dirt. They stood a few paces away from the plane for a couple minutes, moon and star light barely filtering through the bag over Miya’s head. Over the idling engine of at least two cars, she could hear movement. Not only precise, measured movement from robots, but the breath and grumbling from other humans as well. Her heart rate picked up. Now what? Who the fuck are these guys?
“Got it,” said a human voice, the first she’d heard in nearly a week since Dr. Orange wished her luck in her future endeavors as robots strapped her to a gurney and carted her off.
The robots grip on her arm released, replaced by one of flesh and blood. She stumbled over a clump of earth she couldn’t see as a man dragged her towards one of the cars. After a long drive over a miserable dirt road, they reached pavement. Some time later someone finally pulled the bag from her head. She blinked, eyes adjusting to the sudden influx of light.
They drove through what appeared to be a district composed of abandoned buildings, lots of homeless and few lit buildings. Graffiti coated most walls. Where the hell are we? She looked around, and nearly jumped out of her skin as she realized the man sitting next to her was a robot. Its head whipped towards her at her sudden motion. It looked identical to the dozens she’d seen patrolling the halls of the labs. Shaped like the average human, with burnished steel instead of anything resembling skin. It wore clothes, a utilitarian jeans and jacket. I guess a naked robot would stick out. A screaming face set in steel met her gaze, then swiveled back to the front, where two humans sat in the front of the car. The one in the passenger seat took a nervous look over his shoulder before swiftly returning his attention to the road.
They pulled into the garage in the back of what appeared to be an office building. The sign near the roof read Lehman Construction. They marched her into an elevator to the top floor, three other waiting men unloading the second car that had been at the landing site with Miya.
She heard talking as the four approached partially opened double doors at the end of the hallway. The robot ushered her in, the two men who’d driven them waiting outside. A massive desk dominated the center of the well lit room. The man behind it took in the arrivals, one hand stroking his full, well groomed black beard. A scar ran across his forehead, aged nearly to the point of invisibility. Well muscled, he dominated his high backed chair, a suit jacket thrown over the back of it. Thick blinds covered the floor to ceiling windows behind him.
The man he spoke with was rail thin and taller than anyone she’d met. Miya, just shy of five feet, craned her neck as far as she could to see his face. It’s him. Her breath caught in her throat as she jumped back, though the robot inexorably shoved her forward and into the room beside the man who’d kidnapped her however many months ago. Now that she saw him up close, the man had next to no body hair, save for his eyebrows and eyelashes. He had almost no body fat, and his skin had no tattoos, or freckles, or blemishes of any kind.
“Another delivery will be made next month,” said the kidnapper.
“Sure. Same place?” asked the man behind the desk.
“No, we’ll be moving it again. We’ll let you know ahead of time. I believe fifty handguns will be more than enough to compensate your crew for the trouble.”
“Music to my ears.” The man behind the desk let out a quick, sharp whistle. The double doors opened once more, and a man came in with a heavy black leather briefcase and presented it to the mercenary. “Your pay, as agreed upon.”
“One more matter, Sanchez,” said the kidnapper, his voice inflection-less. He swept a hand towards Miya. Sanchez turned towards her, curiosity returning once more. “This is a defective prototype. We offer her as a bonus, free of charge.”
Sanchez paused, “She ain’t a robot?”
“No, flesh and blood,” replied the kidnapper. Despite your best efforts. Miya stood up a little straighter as he placed a familiar grey box on the desk.
Sanchez leaned back in his seat, considering. “Defective prototype. What can she do?” he asked.
“She is a mage of not inconsiderable power,” said the kidnapper. “This power would be yours to control and wield as you see fit, through the controller before you. I’m told the control is imperfect, and the head of the project would like to his extend his apologies for this. As I said, defective.”
“Sure, sure.” He asked Miya, “Aztec, huh? Can you speak English?”
The mercenary turned towards her. “Yes,” she said, voice hoarse from disuse. I guess I should be happy the scientists didn’t cut my tongue out when I was screaming profanity at them.
“Sounds good,” said Sanchez. “Could always use a good mage. Can I assume there are instructions,” he added, eyeing the controller and its myriad buttons.
“Of course. They’re with the rifles.”
“Knew I’d say yes, didn’t you,” Sanchez grumbled. The mercenary simply stood there, with neither a smile nor a frown. “Well, pleasure doing business with you. Tell Overlord the construction crew should be finished up in the next couple days.”
The two men shook hands, and the kidnapping mercenary left Miya with Sanchez. No more experiments? Sanchez headed towards a door on the right. “Come here,” he said with a wave of his hand, the other with her remote control. With no other choice, Miya followed.
“Where are you from?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Arizona,” she replied. She coughed a couple times to clear her throat. “A little town south of Phoenix. What month is it?” she asked.
He cocked an eyebrow. “Mid April.” Half a year. I lost half a year of my life. She slowed to a stop, eyes fixed on a point a thousand yards away. Sanchez gave her an awkward, hesitant pat on the shoulder, the most human gesture she’d received for six months. “Come on.”
The large conference room he led them into stretched on before her, nearly as large as his office. A massive round table with eight chairs stood in the center, with a collection of alcohol and glasses in the center. A door opened on the opposite end of the room, and people began trickling in.
Sanchez pointed to a couple of chairs shoved in the corner of the room. “Sit there, keep quiet. We’ll figure out what to do with you.”
When everyone settled, six of the eight chairs were filled. Miya cast a weary glance at the eclectic bunch. A man build like a shithouse brick caused his chosen chair to creak under his weight as he sat, sunglasses hooked onto his collar. The black man who entered last with a pronounced limp gave a friendly nod to Sanchez. A few shot curious looks at the woman with dyed blond hair to the right Sanchez, though the overwhelming majority were in Miya’s direction.
“Tod?” began Sanchez to the man with sunglasses. “I believe you have a bit of important news for us.”
“More bad news, Boss,” said the solid looking man. “The warehouse on 34th got hit by a vigilante. Cops swarmed the place. We lost most everything.”
“Purifier?” asked Sanchez.
“Nah, we haven’t seen that bastard for months,” replied Tod.
“Guardsman?” asked the woman, the only other in the room besides Miya.
“No, fucking let me finish.”
“Tod,” warned Sanchez.
“Sorry,” he grumbled to the woman. “No, this was the guy with the smiley face. Skulker, that’s it. Charles and Tammy got out before the cops showed. They said there was a feral with him.”
Miya looked up from the patch of carpet she stared at. There’s a feral here? Where is here, anyways?
“A feral?” asked a mustachioed man with a cigar dangling from his lips.
“That’s what they said,” replied Tod. “Tammy’s got a good head on her shoulders, she insisted.”
“This isn’t the first time,” added Sanchez. “This vigilante’s got a pet feral with him, we need him dead.
“They said it had glowing eyes like a demon.”
“Well, they’re dumbasses. Break out some of the heavier firepower, that’ll kill it real quick. Tod, get some guys on finding these two. Talk with our rat, the cops have got to be looking for this feral too. Level whatever rock they’re hiding under before they can so much as sneeze in our direction again. I want you with them, make sure the thing is dead.”
“You got it,” replied Tod.
“We just received, from our benefactor, two crates of weapons. Take you pick, Tod. We also got her,” he said, pointing to Miya in the corner. He beckoned her to the table beside her, though she got no chair. “She’s got a bunch of control implants in her. She does what we tell her or she dies.”
“So we own a human,” said the black man sitting two seats from Sanchez’s right hand.
“That’s fucked up.”
“She’s a mage, Omar” said Sanchez.
The general murmur died down. Here it comes.
“What kind?” asked the woman.
“Well?” Sanchez prompted her.
“Bones,” said Miya. She reached for magic in vain, whatever implant blocking her free access to her power still the one to work consistently.
“You need to push one of the button on there,” she replied.
“One of these kills you, doesn’t it?” asked Sanchez with a frown.
“Yeah, the covered one,” Miya replied, recalling Dr. Orange’s cheerful explanation of the iron blades millimeters from severing her spine.
“And this one?”
Her bleary, sleep deprived eyes examined the controller for a moment. “I don’t know,” she finally said with a shrug. If you’re going to kill me, just kill me.
He shot her a dangerous look, than returned his attention to his council. “I’ll look over the manual later. I’m inclined to believe Overlord.”
“I still don’t like this,” said Omar.
“What do you want me to do?” demanded Sanchez, wheeling on him. “Tell Overlord no? Is that what you want me to do? Get us all killed? I don’t know what else to do with her.”
“She can’t be more than eighty pounds,” said Tod. “We can’t just throw her in a fight, magic or not. That feral will rip her up before she gets any magic off.”
“You said she’s got implants. Get those out, hire her,” suggested Omar. Can you do that?
“My cousin just had an appendectomy, it set him back ten thousand after insurance,” said the woman. “Getting whatever those implants are out will cost so much damn money. Plus we’d need to find a quiet doctor, and the equipment, because if the doctor recognizes Overlord’s fingerprints and talks we’ll be drowning in Feds.” Never mind. It’s shit on Miya day after all, just like every other day.
“Would Overlord even want us digging his toys out of her?” pointed out the final man at the table, quiet until then. He drummed his fingers against the table.
“If Overlord didn’t want us to know about it, he wouldn’t give it to us. Nothing so far can be traced back to him,” said Sanchez.
“Except for us,” said Omar.
“Believe me, I know,” replied Sanchez, darkly. With no other complaints or suggestions forthcoming, he turned to Miya and said, “If you do right by us, we’ll do right by you. Work with us and we’ll see if we can get those metal bits out of you, but we can’t afford to do this out of the goodness of our hearts. Omar will be in charge of that, since he seems to have taken an interest.” He shot a look at Omar, who nodded. “Do you accept?”
She looked him in the eye. “I don’t have many options, do I?”