Community Service – Mirror

“Get out and put a brick on the pedal!” screamed a soldier.

“I’m sorry, old girl,” said the officer as he patted the wheel of the van before jumping out. Delta flinched as something exploded nearby. I will not get shot again. I will not repeat that experience. I will not get shot again…

Gears trundled up to the massive and battle scarred MHU van. He leaned into the van’s cab with a large cinder block, then jumped back. Tires squealed as the van shot forward, barely missing Gears and another soldier. The earth itself exploded as the van careened through the minefield that the robots had hidden in the narrow street. A ton of armor plating moving fast is hard to stop, I don’t care who you are. The burning mass of the van came to a stop just shy of the wall of the MHU headquarters, where Overlord had hidden his lair.

Heavy machine guns on both sides emitted an unceasing barrage of gunfire, filling the air with hazy white smoke in the morning light. Delta and the others, minus Olivia and gears, knelt behind a couple cars along with some soldiers.

An officer nodded to Delta. She activated the comm in her helmet and said, “Olivia, mess ‘em up.” For the love of god, make the robots stop screaming.

Olivia fell from the sky, landing feet first directly on a robot machine gun nest. The gunfire stopped not long after.

Delta gave the officer a nod. “Clear! Go!” he yelled.

Delta’s group, plus close to a dozen soldiers, rushed for the MHU headquarters. An armored robot emerged from behind a building and bulled into their group, flinging an unfortunate soldier flying and trampling another. The robot spun towards the largest remaining group with its oversized rifle raised, spraying bullets indiscriminately. Another soldier fell as the others dove for cover. Counter fire bounced off of its chest. Then, it stopped moving.

The armored robot toppled, a massive hole melted through its chest. What…

“I love this thing!” yelled Skulker from behind the scope of his sniper rifle. He stood and teleported over to join Delta and the others.

“Get inside! Go, go!” screamed the soldier before turning back towards the oncoming robot horde.

“Do as he says,” barked Skulker, returning the rifle to the sheathe on his back

They burst in through the front doors of the MHU headquarters. The thick walls deadened the sounds of gunfire outside.

“OK, now we need to find the vault. I’m not sure where that is, but I’m pretty sure it’s downstairs,” said Delta. Shit, I should have gotten out of my workshop more when I was here.

Skulker laughed. “Or just follow the massive trail of destruction,” he said, pointing to three ruined robots and a massive scorch mark in the ceiling.

Delta sighed. “Or we could do that. Come on.”

They jogged through the familiar hallways and corridors of the MHU headquarters. A couple rooms had exploded, a couple more had machine gun nests that would have cut down any intruder had they been functional, but beyond that the robots hadn’t done much to the place. Where do they get repaired and maintained? The bunker?

The trail led them a wide room in the basement. They climbed through a one foot thick steel door that looked like giant hands had twisted them aside like tin foil. Beyond that was an elevator. There it is. The vault is always underground.

“Think you can fly down there?” Skulker asked Olivia as they approached the elevator doors. The doors themselves were nowhere to be seen. There was simply an empty doorframe leading to a darkened elevator shaft with no elevator.

Olivia faced the shaft fully. She spread her wings out a bit and sized it up. “Maybe. Um, yeah, but it’ll be tight. But… what about you guys?”

“Point. Hold up. Oliva, pull this?” asked Skulker, motioning to a cable in the middle of the shaft.

She reached out and grabbed the steel cable. Gears steadied her as she pull it and herself back. She gave it an experimental tug.

“Hang on,” she muttered. She dug her clawed toes into the bare concrete floor and yanked, hard. “Heavy.”

“Can ya bring it up? Should be the elevator,” said Skulker.

“Yeah,” said Olivia through gritted teeth. She began the slow process of hauling the elevator up the elevator shaft.

Delta leaned against the wall beside the elevator door, feeling her eyelids droop with the sudden lack of threats to her life. Stay awake. Sleep later. Maybe I could give myself a shock. She smiled. Heh, terrible idea.

“One more pull,” said Skulker over the sounds of the elevator itself scraping along the walls, breaking Delta’s train of thought. The top of the elevator came into view.

“Think you can carry the five, no, four of us?” asked Delta, joining them by the torn up elevator door.

Olivia nodded, keeping her concentration on the elevator she held. Her feet dug deep gouges in the floor. Delta put an experimental foot on the roof of the elevator. Olivia held it steady. Well, let’s see how this goes. Delta walked onto the elevator, the others following behind her. Olivia let out a hiss when Gears in his armor stepped last onto the elevator roof.

“You good?” he asked her.

“Heavy,” she replied through gritted teeth.

She began the arduous task of lowering the elevator plus Delta and the others. Soon, their surroundings were dark, only the light from up above

“Think this’ll hold?” asked Skulker, tapping the taut cable in the center of the elevator.

Gears snorted. “It’s an elevator cable,” he replied. “Its purpose in life is to hold.”

A sharp drop stop cut off their conversation. Miya let out a stifled shriek. The fall jerked to a stop a couple meters down, slamming them back down on the elevator roof. Everyone remained frozen for a moment. Olivia slipped? She OK?

A faint voice above called out, “Sorry.”

Skulker let out a shaky laugh and stretched his neck. “We’re good, keep goin’,” he called back.

Could she hear that? She probably heard that. Olivia lowered them the rest of the way without incident. The elevator came to a stop just below the floor of the vault. They climbed up out of the elevator shaft and into an imposing concrete hallway. The remains of several bots were smeared across the walls and floor to one side. To the other was a bank of monitors. I’d be willing to bed that’s where the actual cells are. Overlord’s bunker look like it was hidden in the broom closet.

Wind blew out from the shaft behind them as Olivia descended. The bangs of her messy brown hair were plastered with sweat against her forehead.

“You OK?” asked Gears, offering her a hand up.

“Yeah,” she replied, accepting. “My arms kind of hurt. And I think a couple scales got torn off,” replied Olivia, flexing her hands.

“All the security stuff looks busted. And there’s Overlord’s bunker,” said Delta, gesturing to the broom closet. Follow the destruction.

“This shit is easy when Cyrus does everythin’,” said Gears with a laugh.

“No kiddin’,” agreed Skulker. Can’t argue with that. Maybe Cyrus will handle everything. That’d be nice.

They climbed through the wreckage and into the bunker. Olivia had tear out a piece or two of concrete so she and Gears could fit through. If it weren’t all in ruins, the defenses that greeted them would have torn them to shreds. I count… thirty armored bots. Too many normal ones. Can never have enough bullets, I guess. I can barely tell what kind of static defenses were here. It looks like Cyrus tore out solid walls here. The fuck? Who is this powerful?

“Gas canisters? Probably poison, cuz fuck you. Looks like they exploded,” said Gears, pointing to several holes torn into the walls.

“Yep, Cyrus was here,” agreed Skulker.

They climbed over more machine guns, more wrecked robots, and other, stranger things.

“The fuck is this?” asked Skulker, pointing his pistol towards what looked like a three meter long snake made of razor blades embedded into the wall. That’s a lot of wires in that wall there. Oil dropped slowly and steadily into a pool beneath it.

“I don’t know,” replied Delta. “Lick it and find out.” Oh, sure, the engineer will magically know all the technology things.

Skulker snickered and replied, “Pass, thanks though.” They moved on into what looked like the bunker proper. Less space seemed devoted to defense, and more to research. They passed several empty robotics labs.

“Hey, Delta,” began Gears. “When this is all over, wanna go get dinner somewhere?”

Sure, why… wait a minute. Delta blinked under her helmet. Really? I know we’ve kind of been spending a lot of time together. But dinner? Like, a date? That’s a date, right? But where would we go? I’d need to check if I can eat the stuff on the menu. Or…

“Yeah, sure. Where?”

It’s just the two of us, right? He would have asked everyone else otherwise, right?

“I dunno. Whatever’s left standin’?”

Delta laughed. “Sure.”

“Alright, sounds good,” replied Gears. Woo! I didn’t fuck that up!

“Why’d you two say that? Now one of you is gonna die,” said Skulker. You jackass.

Olivia swatted him upside the head. “Not funny.”

“Yeah, little too far,” said Gears.

Skulker snorted and held up his hands in mock surrender. “Sorry.”

Olivia stopped in her tracks. Miya took notice. “What is it?” she asked, bringing Delta and the others to a stop as well.

“I smell something,” replied Olivia, gaze distant.

“What?”

“I don’t know. But…” She turned towards a side corridor labeled “Biology & Nanotechnology”. “Over there.”

They followed Olivia’s lead down the thinner corridor. She ignored several doors, until she came to a locked one. “Here,” she said. She worked her claws into the crack between the doorframe and the wall, then yanked the sliding metal door free.

A man in a lab coat with glowing orange goggles confronted them. “What are you doing here?” Beside him stood a similarly dressed man with grey goggles.

“You,” whispered Miya as she shouldered her way past Olivia. “You motherfucker!” she screamed.

The orange doctor tilted his head. “Hm? Oh! The initial mage subject. I remember you. You’re still alive! Amazing! Have you encountered any problems with the implants?”

“Problems? Problems? I was a fucking lab rat against my fucking will. I will put you in the fucking ground!”

“So? The advances we made were amazing! We have so much to thank you for.”

“Oh, oh, it’s that feral, too” said the grey goggled doctor with a small giggle.

The orange doctor looked at Olivia, and said, “Truly? That’s not my department. She’s the original?” Original?

Miya leveled her gun at Doctor Orange. “Shut up, you two. Any last words?”

He frowned. “There’s no need for that.” Wait, he kept his hands are in his coat pockets when a bunch of people pointed guns at him.

Right as Delta opened her mouth to yell a warning, a light flashed and mass of shiny grey goo burst out of a tank set into the wall next to Miya. Her shot went wide as she whirled around and backed away from the oncoming tide. The goo flowed over the desk and left a melted mass in its wake. Oh no. Miya scrambled away, the doctors giggling as they ducked under a desk.

Olivia skirted around the goo, heading for the doctors. The mass adjusted, throwing itself at her. She snarled and thrashed, trying to dislodge the flecks of the silver goo that had caught onto the edges of her wings. Skulker fired a couple shots into the oncoming mass, doing absolutely nothing to stop it. It formed a crescent on the floor, spreading towards all of them.

“Not helping. Run!” barked Delta.

Miya and Skulker made a break for the door they’d come in through. Gears pulled Olivia along. The bots had burned small holes through her wings, though there was no trace of them now. Delta brought up the rear.

We’re gonna run out of hallway real soon. She chanced a look over her shoulder. The goo advanced at a brisk walking pace. Always at the same speed, never slowing, never speeding up. The corridor after it looked partially melted. Not getting bigger. Not replicating, Don’t want apocalypse. Shiny. Metal. Heat! Heat or electricity. Not enough heat. Electricity, power, where? Wait.

She activated a baton at full power and dropped it in the path of the advancing goo. Where the active part of the baton touched the goo, it blackened and powderized. Soon enough, the tide overtook the baton, reducing it down to its elements. Yes. More power. Armor can’t provide enough. She looked around, still backing up. The lights overhead caught her eye. There. We have room? She glanced at the goo again.

“Gears, Olivia, tear the walls open!” she screamed, backing away from the oncoming tide. The two of them skidded to a stop. “Now!”

Olivia clawed open the paneling on one wall, Gears hammered away with his crowbar on the other. “Why?” he shouted.

“Power.” Delta took her eyes off the approaching grey goo to take a look at what they’d done.

“What’re we lookin’ for?” He pried his panel free.

“That one,” she said, pointing to a thick grey cable. Power line. The goo advanced, now only a couple meters away. Shit, need more space. “Olivia, over here. Tear out all the panels over this thing, as far down as you can go. Don’t touch the cables. Gears, with me.”

Miya and Skulker lead the way as Olivia rushed as fast as she could with one hand tearing through the panels on the walls. Gears and Delta followed behind, regaining a little distance from the goo.

Far enough. She pulled out a knife from her boot. Gears grabbed her arm. “What’re you doin’? Zappy things bad.”

Armor is insulated against lightning. So is his. Should work. “We need to cut this somehow.”

He shouldered her aside, pumped his shotgun, and fired it two inches away from the power line. “That work?”

Fuck it, sure. She grabbed the part of the cable furthest from the goo. Warning signs flashed in her helmet. Faster. “Gears! Other end! Get the end close to the ground.” Gears nodded and yanked out more cable.

The others had stopped at a corner. Long enough.

“Good!” she yelled.

Gears dropped the cable, letting it dangle just enough to touch the floor and the goo. They turned heel and ran, the goo just brushing up against Gears’ boot. Should work. Or it’ll arc and just burn little bits of the goo. No time. She looked over her shoulder. The grey tide overtook the first end of the cable. Gears thundered towards Delta.

“Now this end!”

He grabbed the other end and yanked it out of the wall. The goo washed up against his boots. No, no, no. Come on, Rob, faster.

“Drop it,” she yelled at Gears once he had a long enough length of cable free of the wall. He dutifully dropped his end of the cable on the floor and picked up speed.

The goo overtook the end he’d just abandoned. Complete the circuit. Please work please work please work. Sparks flew as the entire mass of nanobots writhed. Veins of black lightning shot through the mass. The goo contracted as the veins grew, until the whole blob was nothing but black ash. Silence fell over the hallway, with only the sound of Delta’s ragged breathing in her helmet as she finally stopped running.

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” said Skulker, pulling back his hood and running a hand through his sweaty hair. Oh god.

Miya and Gears leaned heavily on the walls. “Thought we were going to die, there,” gasped Miya.

Delta pulled off her helmet just in time to avoid vomiting all over the inside of it. She fell to one knee, clutching her stomach. Breathe, breathe.

“Whoa, what’s wrong?” asked Skulker.

“Hurts,” she gasped. Running. Too much. Can’t…

“Here,” said Gears, offering her a metal canteen from his hip.

“Thanks,” she managed before gulping down a couple mouthfuls. Hate throwing up. Hate, hate, hate it.

“Good to go?” he asked after a minute had passed. The others had formed a semicircle around her, concerned looks on their faces, even Miya’s.

It’s not like I have a choice. Delta grimaced, straightened up, and replaced her helmet. “Come on, we need to keep moving.” God help me.

“Where are the bots?” asked Miya. “We haven’t seen any in here. Well, moving ones.”

“Probably gettin’ killed by Cyrus,” said Skulker. “Overlord’s got no other choice.”

They headed back towards Doctor Orange’s lab, the floor of the hallway now warped and misshapen. They paused a few meters behind the door Olivia had clawed open.

“Let me,” said Miya, going in first. Fuck it, sure. Don’t screw up. Delta and the others followed after her.

The doctor stiffened, then spun around as they rushed in, mouth agape. “How-”

Miya cut off his question with three bullets. The doctor staggered back, colliding with the counter behind him. Miya kept firing and advancing. The wall behind the doctor took a couple bullets. She let out a wordless scream, advancing until she came to a stop by the doctor, out of bullets.

She spat on his body and kicked his head for good measure. “Fuck you!”

“I think he’s dead now,” pointed out Gears.

“Grey?” asked Delta. If he’s waiting with some other horror I’m finished. I quit. Cyrus can deal with it.

“Don’t see him,” replied Skulker.

“That way,” said Olivia, pointing a claw towards a second door to the lab, opposite where they’d come in from.

“Wait, what about that thing you smelled before?” asked Delta.

“Also that way.”

Miya hadn’t moved, still standing over the orange googled doctor’s corpse.

Olivia wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her away. Miya kicked her in the thigh, struggling as hard as she could against her.

“Miya, stop,” Olivia whispered.

Miya stopped and took in a shaky breath. After a moment she said, “I’m good, let me down.”

Olivia spun around, putting herself between Doctor Orange and Miya, and set her down. Gears began systematically shooting every computer he could find.

“What are you doing?” Delta asked.

“Makin’ sure these can’t be used,” he said, cocking the shotgun and blasting the last computer. “Good to go.” Whatever. They’re not paying me enough to care anymore.

Olivia led Miya out the door she’d pointed out. Skulker and Gears followed after. Delta took one last look at Doctor Orange’s lab. Nope, not gonna fuck with whatever else he has in here. Nope.

They passed rooms with empty hospital beds, some with bloodstains and toppled IV drip stands. Miya kept her eyes firmly on the ground in front of her, following Olivia’s lead. She’s probably got a whole bunch of issues I’m in no way qualified to take care of right now. We should very probably get her out of here soon.

“Here it is. Um, the thing I smelled. Grey is further in,” said Olivia, stopping at a door.

“Cool,” said Skulker. “Let’s go.”

Gears kicked in the door, Olivia close after him. Miya, Skulker, and Delta followed after, and nearly collided with their backs.

“Uhhh,” began Gears.

Everyone followed his gaze to a wide room attached to the new lab they’d burst into. What the hell? Two long rows of floor to ceiling tanks stood along each wall. Five held people, floating in a pale and sickly green liquid. It took a moment for Delta to register the fact that each person had a massive and familiar pair of wings jutting out of their backs, and thick, scaly tails trailing behind them.

Skulker teleported and rapped a knuckle on the wall of one of the tanks. The girl gave a barely perceptible twitch. “They’re out of it,” he announced. “The fuck are we lookin’ at?” How is this possible?

Delta and the others joined him, still staring. Of the five people in the tanks, three were girls, two were boys. Each floated in the liquid, arms a few inches out from their sides. It took Delta a moment to realize they were breathing, albeit at an extremely slow pace. They’re all huge, too. Delta cast a glance at Olivia. She had frozen, a stricken look on her face.

“Let them out,” she whispered. Right. Delta spun on her heel and headed towards the one thing she knew well, the computers in the lab.

“Whoa, hold up. What if they come out swingin’?” asked Gears, holding up a hand.

“What? Fuck, let them out,” barked Miya, squaring off against him.

“Said hold up,” said Skulker. “Think this through.” Whoa, come on, you two. Delta found what looked like an important console. It’s got a computer, it’s got a bunch of important looking buttons. That’s why I went to college.

“What?” demanded Olivia, turning on him with eyes wide.

“Little Bird, I know you. I trust you. I don’ know ‘em. I don’ trust ‘em.”

“They’re gonna come out panickin’ and scared. I would,” added Gears.

“‘cept my hands can’t carve up steel an’ bones like paper,” concluded Skulker. Delta thought back to when they’d first met Olivia. She got mad and killed fifty people. Olivia, the big, cute teddy bear. She took her hands off the command console.

“So, what? You’re saying we should just leave people in there?” said Miya. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Both of you?”

“I like keepin’ my organs on the inside,” replied Skulker.

“Amanda?” asked Olivia.

Delta glanced at the others. Miya and Olivia’s eyes bore into her, while Skulker and Gears refused to look them in the eye.

“Hang on. Let me see if I can even get them out of there at all.”

She turned on the main screen. Looks like no one bothered to log out. It’s not like the robots would try to steal anything, I guess. A background of a beautiful tropical island greeted her, almost buried under folders on the desktop. Commands? No? Information. Information never hurt.

“OK, it looks like they were in the ‘let’s see what we can do phase’. And…” Delta’s eyes skimmed over the report. “It went better than they thought possible.”

“All this from just a few blood samples?” asked Miya, casting a look over her shoulder at the tanks.

“These are people who revived fuckin’ dinosaurs,” pointed out Skulker, making a vague gesture to Doctor Grey.

“Still though. How?”

The tension in Delta’s shoulders eased with the change of topic. “These aren’t the first experiments Overlord’s people have done with powers. From the wording, they have a way to induce certain powers. They keep referencing ‘the Lakhanpal effect’. It looks like this is just the first time they’ve done it with a feral power.”

“So they force a trigger.”

“Yes. It takes a lot of energy, it looks like. It doesn’t look like it comes from wherever a power’s energy comes from usually.”

“That’s the how. Where’s the why?” asked Gears.

“Hang on, I think I saw something about that back here.” A few more clicks brought up the document in question. Delta’s eyes flickered over the page. “Living magic generators, I think. Oh, this part makes a bit more sense. Whether certain aspects of her power could be isolated and used. Weapons, super soldiers, there’s about a dozen possible applications here. They want funding for cloning as well.”

“Wait, the fuck you readin’?” asked Skulker. “Why would that all be spelled out here?”

“A big report. They had a section labeled applications, I just went down to that. I figured it would explain things for non-geneticists like us.”

“Huh?”

“Whoever was working here, they need to be able to communicate with people outside their field. Hell, that’s half of the average engineering job.”

“So, can we let them out?” asked Olivia.

Shit, right. Delta grimaced under her helmet. Compromise? “How about this? We let one out. One. If they’re fine, we release the others. If they go berserk, we…” How do I say this?

“We keep ‘em in there, let smarter people than us figure ‘em out,” said Gears. Delta gave him a grateful nod.

“But…” began Olivia, facing them fully.

“But we gotta look out for each other first,” said Skulker.

“Can you live with that?” asked Gears.

Olivia frowned. “Fine.”

Let’s see here. Ah, here’s the release command. Fluid first, then the person. She double checked the number of the controlled tank. “Alright, the girl in the middle. Be ready,” announced Delta. She hit the button.

A green light appeared at the top of the tank. The fluid began draining. Once its level passed the girl’s face, she coughed and a finger twitched. Once the tank drained completely, leaving the girl crumpled at the bottom, a yellow light came on next to the green light, and the machinery stopped. OK. Another command? Inside, the girl coughed, spitting up the green liquid. Her eyelids fluttered open. Ah, here it is.

With the press of another button, the walls of the tank retracted into the floor with a faint hydraulic hiss. Everyone except for Olivia stood back as the girl began climbing to her feet. Then, the girl let out a hiss.

Olivia growled. She grabbed the hissing newly released dragon girl by the throat, dragged her off her feet, and slammed her against the wall. Whoa. The girl bared her teeth and spat in Olivia’s eye. As she recoiled, the girl shoved her away with a hiss.

Olivia swung a hand at her shoulder and threw her to the ground. She grabbed hold of a flailing wing and twisted until the girl let out another hiss and went still, chest heaving. Olivia released her wing and stepped back. What… the fuck? What happened to nice Olivia?

“Olivia?” asked Miya in the silence that followed. “Are you…”

“I’m OK. Let the others out,” she replied, catching her breath.

“No, the hell was that?” demanded Gears.

“It’s fine, let the others out.”

The other dragon girl had climbed to her feet, keeping an eye on Olivia. She kept her wings drawn in tight behind her back, fingers and claws curled. The hissing from her had stopped, at least.

“No, the hell was that?” repeated Skulker. “You two gettin’ all territorial an’ shit?”

Olivia let out a frustrated growl. Her hand uncurled momentarily before she took a couple deep breaths to calm herself. “Nothing. She’s just… she’s fine. I’m fine. Please let the others out now. One at a time. Please.”

Delta’s fingers hovered over the next button. What do I do? Say no? That’s just cruel. She stared at the other dragon girl for a moment. She looks fine now. “OK, be ready for the next one.”

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Hunting Season – Miyahuatl

There were currently five people you never wanted to meet in the world: The Mother, Overlord, Cain the Torturer, Angela Goodrum, and Slim Jim. The reasons to fear them were many and varied, but ultimately they didn’t matter. At the end of the day you ran in the opposite direction from them if at all possible.

The Mother was supposedly an ancient Germanic goddess. The kind that demanded bloody human sacrifice. The kind that inspired neo-Nazis.  The kind that had thrown back the might of the Roman legions from the dark forests of central Europe. Stark raving mad, she shared that insanity with anyone who went near her dwindling forests.

Overlord was a notorious war criminal originally hailing from Serbia. He’d worked for various dictators across the world before deciding he liked having power for himself. The man was brilliant, one of the greatest techies the world had seen, but that didn’t lend itself to benevolence. He’d gone to ground the last time he’d been ousted from the nation he’d been currently terrorizing. In this case this meant a full NATO coalition force ousted him from Iraq in the late nineties.

Cain the Torturer was a normal guy with no powers. He had no relation to the Cain of the Bible, Cain was just the only name he responded to. Because if you are crazy, you might as well go the whole nine yards. The media dubbed him Cain the Torturer as a result. He liked causing pain. There was no reason behind it, he just snapped one day, killed his family, and started a rampage across the US. The government currently held him in an undisclosed super-max prison, while lawyers debated the death penalty for him.

Angela Goodrum was the pseudo head of the De Beers cartel. You didn’t mess with De Beers, or you would vanish from the face of the Earth without a trace. No one knew for certain if she had some sort of mentalist power, though it was considered likely. She would only meet with you if you had displeased her, hence why you never wanted to meet her in the first place. Angela currently lived in South Africa, where De Beers was headquartered.

Slim Jim was a mercenary. He’d gone solo after being kicked out of Lock Corp. for ‘unprofessional conduct’. Lock Corp. was well known as the most immoral major mercenary company, taking jobs that violated a plethora of international laws and conventions, so getting kicked out meant that his methods were probably awful for all involved. He currently stood in front of Miya.

This day was awesome until just now. Miya and her team had pulled off a nice armored car robbery, an important step for any criminal gang, despite some interference from the police and the Arizona Watch. They had made good their escape and retired to their ad hoc base: an out of the way garage attached to a house that the gang used as a hideout after the occasional major robbery. Then, without any warning or reason given, Slim Jim attacked.

It was that time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it wasn’t blisteringly hot outside. Miya’s grandmother would have chided her for being weak in the face of the heat of summer. “It was far hotter in Mexico, this is nothing. The northerners have made you weak.” Amusingly enough, grandmother had been brought by her own parents from Mexico sometime in the early twentieth century. Grandmother had spent most of her life in the States.

Miya’s full name, Miyahuatl, marked her as an Aztec. Aztecs were somewhat second rate citizens in the US; though that was improving as Cuauhtémoc became less belligerent, Miya could admit as much. Cuauhtémoc hadn’t been doing Aztec ex-pats any favors in the past, even though Miya’s family had fled Mexico because of his autocratic regime. He’d maintained a sort of proxy war with the US (and the Soviets, to a lesser extent) in Central America since the end of WWII, turning American public opinion against people like Miya. At least he finally stopped all human sacrifices in the seventies. That was a plus.

Grandmother had been too proud to work for any American, Miya’s parents had resigned themselves to a life of destitution. Miya took another option. Magic came easily to her. She found her specialty in biology, bones to be specific. She had power, she wasn’t going to sit idly while life passed her by while she controlled it.

Miya started with stealing food, money to pay the bills, things like that. Eventually a local magician named Don offered to teach her more of magic (she’d been working it out by herself), but for a price. The monetary kind. Demons were the only ones who used souls as a resource; they had a controlling interest in the soul market and didn’t appreciate mortals trying to muscle into their business.

She’d joined up with a small local gang, the Scorpions, to help pay for the ever increasing costs of lessons. Which isn’t to say the lessons weren’t worth it. Miya learned far more from Don than she had by trial and error. She’d even begun to like some of the gang members, but they were all dead now. Slim Jim killed them. Stop it with the info dump. Focus on the matter at hand.

The matter at hand was a tall man in only a pair of desert camo pants. He was thin and without any body hair that Miya could see. As in, no hair anywhere, on the head or anywhere else. He had almost no body fat, and his skin had no blemishes. No tattoos, freckles, or anything else. Except for the tentacle extending from beneath the skin of his upper arm, wrapped around Thomas’s neck. He stared at her without expression, snapping Thomas’s neck.

Miya tried to reform her golem, smashed when defending against Slim Jim’s attack. It happened fast. One moment Miya and Thomas were grabbing the alcohol while three more gang members unloaded the truck they had loaded the money into. Without warning Slim Jim’s tentacles tore open the garage door and entered the eyes of the three at the truck.

The tentacles weren’t really tentacles, they had no suckers, but Miya didn’t know what else to call them. They were two to five inches in diameter, green, wrinkly, and strong, as evidenced by what they did to the metal garage door. They emerged from any part of Slim Jim’s skin, more accurately from beneath. So far as Miya or anyone else knew, the only limiting factor to their numbers was how much skin Slim Jim had. No one knew how long they could get, it wasn’t as though Slim Jim sat down to discuss the limitations of his power.

Miya and Thomas went into combat mode before they realized who they were dealing with, Miya’s bone golem activating while Thomas opened up with his uzi. Slim Jim calmly walked forward, two more tentacles emerging to deal with the golem. Several bullets hit him in the chest.

Immediately several small tentacles emerged to cover up the wounds. They then turned back into skin, and it was as if he was never injured in the first place. He tore the gun out of Thomas’s hand while the rest of the tentacles grappled with the golem swinging a bone club at him.

Golem was the term for anything magically animated. Miya’s was made of bones, hence the name. She’d had to steal the bones from rendering plants and slaughterhouses. The result was an ever shifting mass of random cow bones, connected with the red ribbons of her power. They were cow bones for several reasons: they could get big, they were easily found at rendering plants, and bones of sentient species were magically…volatile. Miya had even thrown in a couple cow skulls to up the freaky factor.

“It’s Slim Jim. RUN!” Thomas screamed to Miya, right before a tentacle grabbed him by the neck. The tentacles were shattering the bones of Miya’s golem.

“I rigged that door to explode the moment it opens. It won’t kill you, just like I won’t kill you, Miya,” said Slim Jim without inflection. The golem was down, its components scattered. The tentacles receded back into Slim Jim, save the one wrapping itself around Thomas’s neck.

So there they stood, Thomas about to die, Slim Jim watching, and Miya trying desperately to figure out what was going on. He’s gonna kill me the second I turn my back now, doesn’t matter if he’s lying about the door. I can’t go toe to toe with this guy. Fuck it, I’m not gonna die without a fight.

“What do you want with me?” she asked to buy time. The golem was slowly coming back together, this time more under her control. Thomas’s neck snapped.

“Overlord would like to meet with you,” he said. Fuck me. She remembered Overlord’s old name, when he worked for dictators, rather than being one himself: Slave Driver. You are going to kill me before I go to him. I’m trying my chances with the door.

The golem, now reformed enough to be mildly useful, lunged at Slim Jim, while Miya bolted for the door. Slim Jim turned to face the golem, unconcerned. Did that seriously just work? She pushed open the door, heard an additional click, then the world went black.

***

Miya slowly regained consciousness. She could not however, move any part of her body. She knew it was there, but attempting to move anything resulted in nothing.

Feeling slowly returned to her, and with it, pain. Primarily her face, though her hands, gut, and left leg hurt as well. She cracked open her eyes, that much she at least could do, and was promptly blinded by the light. She tried to speak, but the words came out as more of a burble than anything intelligible. Wha…?

Her eyes slowly adjusted, and Miya took the time to fight the chemically induced mental fog and assess what might be happening. Slim Jim attacked…for some reason. Door…was rigged. Most of the rest of the gang was in the house, they’re probably dead too. Miya couldn’t really bring herself to care. Thomas had been alright, but the rest were shortsighted and violent. Slim Jim wanted to…capture me? Maybe? Where the fuck am I?

Her eyes adjusted enough to make out what she took to be a small hospital room without windows. Everything was white, sterile, and utterly still, save for the machine she was hooked up to, monitoring her vital signs. She herself lay in a typical hospital bed. There was a closed door in front of her, no distinguishing features on it. A black orb on the ceiling directly above her signified a camera. Grey metal cabinets lay to her right, closed, with no hint of exactly what lay inside them.

She tried to raise her hand to get up, but found she was strapped to the bed. Oh this is just great. Just fucking splendid. I’m in some medical horror movie, after having just been attacked by Slim Jim of all people. Grandmother is laughing at me from hell right now, vindictive bitch that she is. She squirmed, not expecting to find any way to get out, but attempting none the less. Nope, good and tight.

She took stock. She could see that everything was still attached, she wasn’t feeling any phantom sensations from missing limbs. Though the left side of her face, besides feeling pain, felt odd. Almost numb. Plastic. Shit, shit, shit, shit. What did that door bomb thing do? There was no mirror in sight for her to check. She reached for her magic, and immediately felt a severe spike of pain in her head. She screamed in spite of herself.

She lay in the bed, panicking for a few minutes, when the door opened and a doctor in scrubs walked in, clipboard and all. A surgical mask covered his face, and a pair of glowing orange goggles covered his eyes. Not reassuring.

“Ah, you’re awake! Good,” he said before Miya could formulate anything to say. He continued, “Slim Jim dropped you off here two months ago, in pretty bad shape. Overlord was…less than pleased, shall we say? Though he was pleased the equipment he gave him worked.” He opened a cabinet, blocking the interior from Miya’s view with his body, and rummaged within.

“We actually had a bet going on, whether you would make it or not. A good chunk of your face was blown off; Doc Brown had to rebuild it. Did a good job too, I’ll give him that,” he nattered on cheerfully as he prepared a syringe full of a grey liquid. Fuck this. Fuck, fuck, FUCK.

“What is that?” asked Miya, her voice shaking.

“This? Oh, this.” He held up the syringe. “This here is full of nanites that should help your body adjust to the implants, rather than rejecting them. Designed them myself, with some help from Overlord. Last dose for you too. You should be good after this one. We could have used an automated machine, but I prefer a more personal touch.”

“IMPLANTS!?”

He looked at her. In a somewhat exasperated tone he said, “Yes, implants. Overlord has been wanting to incorporate magic into his technology, see if there was any way for it to be controlled. The only way we know to control magic so far is through people. A contact of Overlord’s in Arizona tipped us off about you, said you were very strong. Now hold still, unless you want to be sedated again.”

She thrashed wildly. I’m leaving now. He sighed. “Look, without this you might die. We don’t cause needless pain here.”

She stopped at the sheer stupidity of the statement. He took the advantage and stuck the syringe into her arm and depressed the plunger. “There. See? Didn’t hurt a bit. And we could have kept you awake for most of your twenty five surgeries. We kept you under instead.” This guy is a sociopath.

He looked around the room conspiratorially before leaning over her by the bed. “Now, before testing, I should probably explain the implants a little better. Using other test subjects, the research team determined that magic is activated from a certain portion of the brain.  A chip was developed that should allow us to control the magic of someone without restraint when placed on the frontal lobe.”

“This chip functions as a sort of receiver for commands to the rest of the implants. For example, if you were trying to escape this facility, when you passed a certain point, the chip receives a command to shut down all of your organs, done through other devices. We could have had it explode, but that chip already holds some key data we would like to retrieve at some point. Of course when I say we, I mean us at the medical division. Magic is not quite our forte, if you will.” He sounded awfully chipper about everything. Miya, for her part, was desperately trying to keep herself from imagining exactly how they did all of this.

“Now, we know that your kind of magic occasionally requires you to maintain contact with your hands, so we put regulators of sorts in them. Apparently magic is a certain kind of energy. To be perfectly honest I don’t know the specifics.” He began unstrapping her. “Another note, if you try anything, Control up there,” he motioned to the camera, “can paralyze you, painfully. You felt it already. But enough talk, you’ve been sitting in a bed for over two months. Let’s see if you can walk, shall we?”

He held his hand out to help her up. It took all of her willpower to not faint, to scream, to fool herself into believing he was bluffing. I am going to kill everyone involved with this. EVERY LAST ONE!

***

The tests were less than successful, so they sold her to Freedom Fighter’s organization. A less than perfect prototype unit, they called her. Doctor Orange was almost apologetic about the fact, as if in that, and only that, he had wronged her. If you overlooked the mad scientist aspects and the complete lack of human empathy, he could be considered quite friendly. He actually wished her luck as he oversaw the exchange between Freedom Fighter’s people and Overlord’s. I will make that fucker pay.

Initially they made sure she could function, like walking unassisted, eating solid foods without vomiting, and regain at least some dexterity in her hands. Then they started their testing, which consisted of making sure the various devices in her worked. Now that she was conscious, they could refine the…things…that filled every nerve she had with agony. She’d felt the worst it had to offer when she snapped and attacked a technician within arm’s reach. Now it oscillated between an annoying buzz and agony when activated.

Those were nothing compared to the clumsy attempts by the scientists to control her power. She imagined having a stroke was similar to the experience of someone forcibly extracting an otherworldly force using her and her brain as the conduit. They couldn’t control what the magic did, not nearly as well as she could, but they didn’t appreciate her trying to do anything on her own. The fact they couldn’t control it was apparently a major disappointment.

Internally, Miya frothed at the mouth to hurt someone, in fact, several someones. Don, for selling her out, the only other magician she had ever met, the only one who could know exactly how powerful she was. The color coded doctors, for experimenting on her in the first place. Overlord, for enabling them (she never saw the man). Freedom Fighter, for buying her and giving her to Sanchez as a weapon. And finally, Sanchez, for being Sanchez. But she would wait. Let them think they have me under control. I’ll find a way.

After she had been purchased, Overlord’s people threw a bag over her head and shoved her in a car with Freedom Fighter’s people. After a long drive over a miserable dirt road, they came to a stop and shoved her in a plane. A small one by the sound of it, and by how any amount of turbulence sent her bouncing in her seat. Despite this she drifted in and out of sleep. After a couple hours they landed and transferred to a larger, better plane. They finally took the bag off her head in the dead of night. She saw only stars out the window, nothing on the ground.

They landed once again, as the sun came up to the left. She spent her time at a low end hotel in Venezuela, more specifically the middle of goddamn nowhere, so far as Miya could tell. They kept her prisoner there for three days, during which she nursed her hatred. They didn’t watch her closely, but then again they had the kill switch with them, running would very probably result in nothing but suffering. Overlord’s equipment had a very long range.

Then they packed her into another plane. Oh, no bag over the head this time. It must be Christmas. More flying, more driving, more sleeping for lack of anything better to do. The gentlemen accompanying her on the plane ignored her, save one. Her Spanish wasn’t the best, but she picked up the name Sanchez. She didn’t like the way he smiled when he looked at her. Even the other men seemed a little nervous around him. As well, he had a crude sort of telekinesis, making him the leader.

Freedom Fighter’s organization seemed to operate on might makes right on the combat level. She saw nothing of the actual brains behind everything. They didn’t truly fight for an ideal, only anarchy. This did not attract the best humanity had to offer. Sociopaths, rogue mercenaries, the odd lunatic, the dumb and illiterate, those were the ones Freedom Fighter used as cannon fodder.

They finally arrived at night in an abandoned runway where several cars awaited them. Miya caught sight of several signs telling them they entered Westward City. At least I’ll speak the language here. They drove to what appeared to be a district composed mainly of abandoned buildings, lots of homeless and few lit buildings. Graffiti everywhere.

Miya settled into their new building. This was easy, as she possessed absolutely nothing now. They showed her the room and tossed a prisoner jumpsuit at her, one that had seen better days. No need to spend money on little old me. Her room was devoid of anything beyond a bed with a disgusting mattress and stained sheets. Half the light bulbs were burnt out, and too much grime caked the window to be able to see through it. Naturally, the hot stream of the shower of the attached bathroom read cold, and the cold read hot.

No sooner had she taken in her new surroundings then Sanchez filled the doorway, remote in hand and an evil smile on his face. “Let’s see what this can do.” He pressed a button and Miya’s pain receptors lit up. She screamed. He chuckled. “Ah, too easy!” He pressed another button and the pain stopped. “I don’t need a machine to do my work for me.” Miya crawled up to the bed, sitting upright and panting, regaining composure.

Sanchez continued, “You know what I want. You’ll open your legs to me, willingly once I’m done with you. I bet you got a good bit of fight in you, but you’ll give in willingly.” With that he left.

And so it was for the next three weeks. Sanchez randomly entered her room at night and beat the tar out of her. At the end, he would ask if she was willing then. Her response varied between a shook head and spitting. He treated it like a game, never using the control device from Overlord.

The one time she fought back, throwing a punch in desperation, he caught her arm and twisted. Just twisted for five minutes, going further every time she adjusted to the pain. She fantasized about all the ways she could kill him. Better than contemplate giving in, though the thought had crossed her mind. I will not be some damsel or delicate flower in need of healing. If you do not kill me, I will kill you.

The rest of the fighters usually ignored her completely, and there was no one else in the building. Sometimes the bastards forced her to do magic tricks for their amusement, procuring bones so they could force her to use her power, just because they could. They were lax in their security, talking openly in front of her, though she was technically confined to the floor her room was on. She heard them talking about the latest exploits of Freedom Fighter, about how they were going to bring down the pigs of America, and other nonsensical drivel.

One day, about two and a half weeks in, she overheard them say something about a feral. That’s never good. Though she had to stop herself from laughing when they mentioned Freedom Fighter lost his arm to it. It was a demon with glowing eyes and everything? Jesus, you guys are idiots.

So another night, and Sanchez walked in once more, doing his thing once more, when the lights went out. Sanchez stopped, tossed her on the bed, and stood by the door, observing that the lights were out in the hallway as well. He pulled out his phone. “Damn thing, work. There was reception five minutes ago.”

He returned and watched Miya, who watched back warily. Neither spoke. No signals, no electricity. There’s something weird going on. They both heard noises come from the hallway. Sanchez walked out again, and yelled, “What the fuck are you doing here?” Fuck yeah, other people.

Miya hesitantly reached for her magic, nothing blocked her. She hurriedly reached for some of the nearby bones and rushed towards where Sanchez had gone. Sanchez was trying to run, Miya threw herself at him, taking out two months of accumulated fury on him, screaming something incoherent. The bones drew closer. She hit his knee to bring him down to her level.

Sanchez threw her off him with his power and attempted to get upright. She regained her feet first, kicking him square in the face. The bones were in arms reach now, she grabbed the broken one with the point and shoved it into Sanchez’s throat. Drown in your own blood, you son of a bitch. She meant to say that, but it came out as another scream.

“Whoa, calm down now. He’s dead. Get up and drop the bone,” said a distorted voice. Miya had forgotten the other people, the ones she assumed had enabled her current near freedom. She dropped the bone, released the others, and turned. There were two others in the hall with her.

The first, the one who had spoken, pointed a pistol at Miya’s chest. She looked like a somewhat smaller than average riot cop, without the shield. The mask and helmet explained the voice, which said, “I’m guessing you aren’t with Freedom Fighter.” No shit I’m not.

The one behind the cop was a feral. Far taller than Miya or the other, with wings and claws. I can see where they got the demon angle from. No glowing eyes though.

Miya might as well see if they were hostile too. “You’re that feral people’ve been talking about. Tore off Freedom Fighters arm. I’m guessing you two ain’t with him either.” Then, to Miya’s eternal shame, her strength gave out and she collapsed.

The feral moved forward. Don’t eat me. Instead it helped her up, asking, “Do you have a name?”

…Huh. “Just call me Miya.”

“I’m Olivia,” said the feral. “That is Delta.”

Miya nodded. “Thanks for the save. You two wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with everything electrical going all wonky over here, would you?”

“Yes, why?” said Delta.

“Well, Overlord did some experiments with me. Got a kill switch that will be activated once things return to normal in me that I would like out.” Miya did not want to talk about Overlord, but her freedom would be short lived if something wasn’t done about the devices controlling her.

“Oh shit. Overlord? You’re lucky not to be a brain in a box right now.” Delta poked her head into Miya’s room and guided her to the bed.

“I think that’s what they wanted to do originally. Good thing they don’t know much about magic,” said Miya, sitting down at Delta’s gesture. The feral, Olivia, followed. Delta pulled out a smaller version of the wands they use at airport security, then paused.

“Hey Olivia, remember that thingy I gave to you for the roof? Go and turn it off. Bring it back down with you too.”

Olivia nodded and left. Did she just boss around the feral? I wouldn’t run the risk of pissing her off if I were Delta. Delta asked Miya, “So what do you know about what Overlord did to you? I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to do anything, but anything you can give me will help.”

“Chip in my brain, I’d rather you not go poking around with that right now. They told me everything was set up to ruin my organs, my heart I think. Wires to pain receptors, keep me in line. Some stuff in my hands, to regulate magic.”

“Magic, huh? Wait…there. She got it.” Miya stopped herself from reaching for magic again. Don’t give the system a reason to screw me. Delta waved the wand over Miya’s upper body a couple times, then put it away. She tapped her helmet, “Come on…and done.” Delta remained quiet for a couple seconds. “All right. I think I can stop it from killing you, and back at base I can disable the rest of it. But it’s going to hurt.” She pulled out a combat knife about as long as her palm.

Olivia chose that time to return, metal spike in hand. She eyed the knife and hesitantly asked, “Delta, what’s the knife for?”

“So Miya here doesn’t die once Freedom Fighter’s people come back. Come here.” She turned to Miya. “Lay on your back on the bed. There’s a wire to cut in you. Olivia, hold her down, no matter what.”

Olivia’s eyes widened, and she hesitated. Delta said, “Now. Trust me.” This is going to suck. Miya laid down, and felt a sudden shock, knocking her unconscious.

***

She came around again, a portion of her back on fire. Olivia and Delta were arguing elsewhere in the room.

Olivia was saying, “…don’t think you should do that without telling them first.”

“Hey, it’s over with. If she’d have been conscious there was a good chance something stupid would happen, like her twitching and me cutting something important.”

“I’m still not OK with it.” They stopped as Miya groaned and sat upright, hands seeking out where Delta cut, near her left shoulder blade. I’ve gotten through worse. There was a gash on her back, covered by a bandage of some kind, Miya couldn’t see it. Please be clean. She began to reach for magic when everything started hurting again.

Olivia was beside her, Delta not long after. Miya waved them off. “Forgot. Can still hurt, just won’t kill now. Still can’t get magic,” she managed through gritted teeth. Fuck, knife wounds hurt.

Delta said, “Alright, Nomad and Skulker will be here in about five minutes. The other men are still tied up, so once we’re all clear we call the cops and let them do their thing.”

“Good, where are they? I’m going to go kill them,” Miya said, getting up and shakily walking towards the door. A large hand on her shoulder stopped her.

“No. You’re not going to kill helpless men,” said Olivia.

“Helpless? Good. They’ll get what I got.”

“No,” Olivia repeated, blocking Miya’s way. Miya’s rational side was telling her to avoid angering the large feral in front of her, especially since Miya was unarmed and powerless. Miya glared, but receded. Whatever, they’re little fish in the grand scheme of things.

“Fine then. How long was I out anyways? Thank you for that, for the record,” said Miya.

“Almost ten minutes. Ah, the others are here, Olivia.” said Delta. Olivia left. After a couple minutes two guys walked in, led by Olivia. The first was a big guy with a bandana over his face, the other was shorter, in all black, with a smiling mask.

The big guy nodded to Delta, who nodded back and said to the smiling guy, “Alright, jackass. Help me and Olivia carry some computers.” The smiling guy laughed and the three left.

The guy said, “I’m Nomad, in case Delta or Olivia didn’t tell you.” He motioned to the door. “I’m told you want to help against Freedom Fighter?” Sanchez’s body still lay in the hallway, Miya stopped to grab the bones from the ground. The two walked down the hallway.

“Yes. Yes I do.”

“So do we. However, you should know that the four of us are wanted right now….” he stopped walking as Miya started laughing. “What?”

“So am I. That’s not a problem.” They started again, reaching the stairs and going down.

“You didn’t hear me out. We are accused of aiding Freedom Fighter. We don’t, of course, but you should know that now.”

“Nah, we’re all good.”

“Good.”

They reached the bottom, exiting the building to where a car waited. The others followed soon after, packing the back with the computers and papers they carried. Skulker got in the driver’s seat, Nomad taking shotgun, while Miya and Delta got in the back.

“Hey, I’ll just follow overhead. I don’t think there’s room for me,” said Olivia.

“OK. Just stay low,” said Nomad. Skulker started the car and they drove.

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