Gears let the hood of the MHU van drop down and slam shut. “Should be good to go,” he announced, fitting his gauntlets back on to his hands.
The MHU officer beside him brushed some char and oil off his own hands before slipping his gloved back on. “Great. Want to take a look at the armor plating on the side?”
“Sure.” Gears followed the officer, his armor whirring and clanking with every move as the mechanisms within moved hundreds of pounds of steel. Like moving in quicksand.
“Here we are. Those burnt ones.”
Gears tilted his head at several holes melted into the side of the van. “The hell is this? It’s all melted an’ shit.” What kind of bullet does that?
The officer shrugged. “Dunno. I was too busy trying not to die.” Fuck it, whatever.
“Can’t argue with that. Well, that meltin’ ain’t exactly good for the armor, but I don’t got a way to fix it here. What’s left is still better than nothin’. We got bigger problems.”
“Alright,” the officer said with a nod. Something in the distance exploded. “Thanks for the help.”
“No problem. You seen Delta ‘round? Black armor, helmet coverin’ her whole face?”
The officer took a moment before responding. “I think so. Check with the radio people, other side of the lot. Can’t miss ‘em.”
Gears yawned under his mask as he stomped away. Just keep swimming. He followed the officer’s directions down the road, not that they were hard to follow. He found Delta on one knee, arms deep in the innards of some device he didn’t recognize. A couple other people with headsets chattered on in the background at similar setups in the middle of the crowded road. The fuck is going on here?
It took her a moment, but Delta noticed his approached and looked up with a wave before returning to her work.
“How you doin’?” he asked, stopping by her side.
Delta grunted and hung her head for a moment. “Tired. I need to get my contacts out soon or my eyes are going to make me suffer.” Her shoulders jerked as she snapped something in the device.
“Yeah, I hear that. The tired bit, my eyes are fine.” Didn’t make this armor to be worn for long periods of time. I probably smell real bad, too. He sniffed. Correction: I smell real bad.
“Bastard,” she murmured, just loud enough to be heard.
“No one else has to deal with crap eyes, I swear.”
“Nah. Been thinkin’ ‘bout gettin’ a pair myself. Stuff far away is gettin’ kinda blurry for me.”
“Really? Skuker doesn’t seem to have a problem. He’s a sniper.” She grabbed something from the belt at her hip.
“Yeah, his power’s helpin’ him out there.” Lucky bastard. Sorta.
“Really? His eyesight?”
“Yeah. He got a whole grab bag of stuff. Most of it’s minor though. What’cha up to here?”
“Fixing stuff. They pulled this out of one of the MHU vans.” She patted the side of large metal box. The hell we got here? He recognized the radio build into the top, but beyond that, the bank of dials and computer monitor were beyond him.
“The hell is all this for?” he asked.
“The dispatch radio. It’s very heavy duty encryption, basically.”
“What’re the odds Overlord’s listenin’ in on ‘em anyways?”
“Oh, I almost guarantee it. But the alternative is not being able to talk. What the…” She trailed off. What? She slapped a small, thick length of cable on the top of the device for him to see. “What is this little thing?”
“Is it a mechanical piece?” he asked.
Gears shrugged. “Then I got no clue. It a problem?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I’ll take a look at it once I fix this up.”
“Fix? You tore a bit of it out.”
“I cut it, but yeah, I see what you’re saying. It wasn’t actually doing anything. And it seemed off.”
“How can ya tell?”
“It’s made of a different kind of plastic. And I have no idea what it was supposed to do. Oh thank god, done,” said Delta. Gears helped her to her feet. “I’m fine.” she muttered.
No you aren’t. You took three bullets to the gut not that long ago, and now we’ve been running around for hours. He held his tongue and watched as she reattach the panel on the side of the device. Something clicked. She flicked a couple switches on the console. A couple lights came on, none of them red.
“There, working.” She grabbed the cut cable and waved the two other technicians over. “It’s all locked up and working now.” To Gears she said, “I want to take a look at this.”
“Need some help?”
“Sure,” she said as they walked off. “I gue-”
The technicians cut off whatever else she was about to say. “Hey, the screen isn’t quite the same as before. The color is off.”
Delta stared for a brief second. “It’s fine. I’ll be right over here if you need anything, OK.” Once out of earshot, she sighed and said, “Why does everyone doubt engineers?”
Gears shrugged. “I got no philosophy for you. Sorry.”
“Oh, good, no philosophy. That means you’re not useless after all.”
“Aw, thanks. I try.”
They sat down on the street curb, Gears’ armor letting out a heavy thud as it made contact with the concrete.
“Let’s see here.” Delta withdrew a couple wires from her glove and tied them around the frayed ends of the cable. She then drew a taser and jabbed at the center of the cable with it. Her head shot back in surprise. What? “Do you recognize this kind of rubber?” she asked, holding it out for him to see.
“No. Should I?” Never really paid attention to it before.
“It’s super resistant, to both heat and electricity.”
“Isn’t that the point?” asked Gears.
“No, as in a lightning bolt could hit this and nothing would happen.”
“No way in hell. It’d melt.” Lightning bolts are hot. I is so smartified.
“I know how much heat electricity puts out and how it would affect materials. This thing would be slightly charred on the point of impact. I mean, I’d need to test it to make sure, but this is unicorn horn or something right here.”
“No, not cool. Where the hell did this come from?”
Getting kind of tired of not knowing answers to shit. “No clue,” said Gears with a sigh. He waved when he spotted Bob and Jeremiah approaching from the direction of the mint.
“Hey,” said Jeremiah. “Have you seen the dispatcher?”
“Yeah, I was just working on fixing some of their equipment. Right over there,” said Delta, pointing.
“Alright. Thanks.” Behind him, Bob nodded. Together, they hurried off. Delta and Gears exchanged glances. She returned to examining the cable in her hands. Gears listened in when the two MHU officers reached the two technicians. Oh, something interesting about something besides electricity.
“Dispatch?” asked Jeremiah.
“Yeah, that’s me,” said one of the technicians. He hung his headset around his neck. Oh, him.
“I’m Jeremiah, and this is Bob. We’re with the MHU, like you. We have a couple questions for you, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure, go ahead,” said the dispatcher, leaning against the console that Delta had fixed.
“When was the last time you saw Marcus?”
“Saw? I haven’t seen him since he left work yesterday, before this all began. But he was in contact with us right until those bots overran HQ, giving out orders.”
“Did he say where he was at the time?”
Something much closer exploded. Shouts broke out from the surrounding people. Uh oh. Gears stood, shotgun in hand. Delta seemed torn between joining him and studying the cable. Guess her helmet’s showing her something interesting, because that cable is still just a cable. Bob, Jeremiah, and the dispatcher looked at the smoke billowing into the air from the wall on the opposite side of the mint.
“Slim Jim!” shouted a soldier rushing past.
“Slim Jim? Where the fuck did he come from?”
“I don’t know,” replied Delta, her voice distant.
He offered her a hand. “Come on, up. This might be an attack.”
She brushed his hand aside. “I’m fine.” Her hand shot to her stomach and she let out a strangled cry as she collapsed when she tried to stand.
Shit. He knelt down next to her and placed a hand on her shoulder as she curled up slightly. Gotta do something. Uh… “You got pain killers? Somethin’ like that.”
“No. Didn’t… didn’t think I’d need them.” Right, we should be sitting back at the lair, waiting this out. I don’t want to fight fucking Overlord. I want to sleep, really.
“Ok, I’m gonna get a medic.”
“No. I can do this.” She straightened out and brought her breathing rate back down. Slowly, carefully, she got to her feet, Gears following suit. “See? Let’s… let’s go.”
Funny. “No. You’re in no shape to fight.”
“I said I’m fine.”
“An’ I don’t believe you. You think I’m blind an’ deaf?” asked Gears.
Delta put her hands on her hips. “I think you’re sticking your nose where it’s not welcome. Or whatever the saying is, you get the point.”
Gears looked around. Any immediate threats? Bob and Jeremiah still stood next to the dispatcher and his equipment, rifles at the ready. The other technician had vanished. A tank rumbled to life nearby. Gears’ own truck sat off to the side, untouched.
“Come on, back to the truck.”
“No. What about the others?”
Stalling. Fine, whatever. “Well, we got those comm things. Let’s give ‘em a call.” He fiddled with a few buttons on his own comm embedded on the upper arm of his armor. “Skulker, you there?” asked Gears.
“Yeah. I’m good,” he replied. “Miya an’ ‘liv ain’t with me. Bot movement spotted, can’t talk.”
“Gotcha, take care.”
“You too.” Skulker’s line went quiet.
Beside him, Delta asked, “Miya, Olivia, you guys OK?”
“Yeah, we’re fine, kind of,” replied Miya. “Olivia’s after Slim Jim now.” God damn it.
“Shit. No, that’s not fine,” said Delta.
“There are some teleporting government spooks with her. I’m healing one of them now. Slim Jim knows something, apparently,” said Miya.
“Wait, so the guy who might know somethin’ just happened to fuckin’ materialize right where we are? That strike anyone else as a tiny bit suspicious?”
“Wait, what?” asked Bob. Gears jumped in his armor. Bob and Jeremiah stood behind them, waiting. Don’t surprise a guy like that. Come on, there’s a war going on. Gears and Delta filled them in on their conversation.
“How did he even get in here?” asked Gears when they finished.
“Maybe he snuck in. We just drove up and asked,” said Jeremiah.
“Yeah, I don’t think security is very tight here,” added Delta.
“Speaking of which, something is off with the dispatcher,” commented Bob. “Couldn’t put my finger on it.”
“Oh, I could have told you that. This cable,” said Delta, wiggling it in her hands, “is a little piece of Overlord tech. I can’t quite figure out what it’s supposed to do, either monitor or send a signal. But it was put in there by someone. Someone who had access.”
“What? That could be anyone,” said Jeremiah.
“No. Only dispatchers and the MHU chief have access to something as important as that radio. They don’t exactly know how the insides work, but they’re able to control who has access to it. So only Marcus and that dispatcher could have put that there.”
“And we don’t know where Marcus is,” muttered Bob.
“Exactly. The dispatcher is our only lead on this.”
Jeremiah nodded for a moment. “Alright. Let’s have another chat with him.”
“Why didn’t you mention this earlier?” asked Gears.
“I didn’t want to call you two over and raise suspicion or something.”
“You spent all your time in tech support, didn’t you?” said Bob.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Jeremiah, over Delta’s retort. “Let’s go.”
They approached the dispatcher, still at his radio. What was it Bob said about dispatchers? Rain, sun, or nuclear annihilation. Gears grabbed the dispatcher’s arm and threw him to the ground. He shoved the shotgun barrel under his chin. “Talk.”
It took the dispatcher a moment to find his voice. “What?”
“I said talk.”
The dispatcher cringed under the gun, trying to back away on his back. “What? What are you talking about?” Behind them, a couple soldiers took notice and approached. Bob headed them off, raising a placating hand.
“You know. Overlord.”
Sweat beaded on the man’s forehead. “I… what? No, I don’t know-“ Gears cut him off with a jab to the chin with the gun barrel.
“You know we received a lot of faulty orders,” said Jeremiah, kneeling down beside him. “Orders from you. We were led straight into ambushes. All of us should be dead.”
“I’m just the messenger. They told me where people needed to go, so I did my job. Look, I didn’t know. If I’d known, that never would have happened.”
“The brass. You know, the people in charge.”
“Do you know what this is?” asked Delta, holding the cable in her hands. Gears saw a flash of recognition in the dispatcher’s eyes.
“He does,” he announced. Lying piece of shit.
“Why betray us?” asked Delta.
The dispatcher gritted his teeth. “I didn’t. Now let me up.”
Gears gave him another jab with the shotgun. “Liar.”
Jeremiah sighed. “I agree with Gears here. You’re digging yourself deeper. What does Overlord have on you? We can help you if you tell us.”
“I. Am. Not. A. Traitor.”
“You know how many you got killed?” roared Gears. Liar, liar, liar.
“What? You think I’m going to just let that fucking robot blow my wife’s brains out?” the dispatcher blurted out. That’ll do it. Now quit beating around the bush.
Gears moved the gun barrel to the right of the man’s ear and pulled the trigger. The dispatcher screamed as the shot tore up the asphalt a bare inch from his ear.
“You still hear me? I don’t lie. Your wife your weak spot? I’ll drag you fuckin’ wife out here an’ blow her brains out myself unless you start givin’ me answers. You’re between a rock an’ a hard place, but this hard place is much fuckin’ closer.” The dispatcher turned away, screwed his eyes shut, and kept quiet. Look at me, liar.
“Allow me,” said Jeremiah, standing and placing a hand on Gears’ shoulder. To the dispatcher he said, “We’re not going to be executing anyone. Just tell us what you know.” Gears removed his foot from the man’s chest and took a step back, shotgun still at the ready.
The dispatcher gave a nervous smile. “Good cop from you, Jeremiah?”
“Yep. You’ve already confessed. It’s just a question of how much you tell us now.”
His smile vanished. “I tried. I really tried. If I talk they’ll kill her and me.”
“How did this happen?” The gunfire drew closer.
“Marcus. It was Marcus. He was nervous, told me to visit an old house on the outside of town. They had my wife, and told me to do whatever they said. They gave me that thing and told me where to put it. Then I’d see messages on screen, them telling me what to say.” The dispatcher’s voice was growing more and more desperate, the words coming out faster and faster.
“Where is Marcus now?” asked Jeremiah, his voice as calm as ever.
“I don’t know. I don’t know, probably dead. Oh god I’m sorry, Jennifer. I’m so sorry.”
“That’s all we needed to know. We’ll find your wife,” said Jeremiah over the dispatcher’s sobs.
Bob turned the dispatcher over and handcuffed him as Jeremiah walked up to Delta and Gears.
“Would you really have done that?” Delta asked Gears.
“Shoot him and his wife?”
“Yeah. Why would I give a shit about her or him?”
Delta stayed silent. “The Company appreciates your assistance in this matter,” Jeremiah whispered into Gears’ ear. Eh? Jeremiah continued in a normal voice, “So that’s one mystery cleared up. But we’re no closer to Marcus.”
“Maybe not,” said Delta, her voice quiet. “He mentioned Marcus was nervous. Maybe he’s under threat too.”
“What do we never need him for?” asked Gears. From what Ben tells me he’s a dick.
“He knows how to command the MHU more than the military. He knows the city better than that lieutenant guy and he’s a mage,” called out Bob.
Jeremiah nodded. “Yes. That. Dispatcher was our best lead, but I think I have a few others, if I can get into contact with them.”