The building shook slightly at an impact. What caused that impact Skulker didn’t know.
“Guys, help,” said Olivia over the comms. That doesn’t bode well.
Skulker took a moment to squeeze off several shots at the rioters pouring in in front of him before responding, “Busy over here.” He’d assumed Nomad and Olivia followed right behind him, Delta, and Miya, but now it sounded as though they were otherwise occupied. Of course the two bulletproof people aren’t here, as people shoot at us with bullets. How dare this be easy?
The three took cover behind desks or a low dividing wall as armed rioters surrounded the building. Skulker popped up, dropped a man who probably thought the large intimidating (i.e. overcompensating) black rifle he carried made him magically invincible, then ducked again. The secret to combat isn’t shooting. It’s about not getting shot.
A thud preceded the building shaking again, then another thud. A pause, then another thud and tremor. Meanwhile, Miya and Delta kept firing where they could. The rioters had good suppressing fire going on. Odds were Skulker would get torn apart if he got up to teleport close to them. The shaking building wasn’t good, however he trusted Nomad and Olivia to be able to take care of it. They could go toe to toe with most bruisers or shock troops Freedom Fighter would be able to dish out.
The firing died down a bit, Delta and Skulker both having killed a rioter apiece, the others backing off. Miya seemed to be having trouble aiming, though most of the rioters were too angry to consider tactical innovations like taking cover. “Hey, Olivia, still need help?” asked Miya. They heard a loud hiss over the comms. That’s familiar. Fuck. Another inhuman snarl.
“Olivia, ya there?” he asked. More hissing.
“Delta, Skulker, get moving,” said Nomad rapidly, sounding like he was fighting for his life. Unhinged laughter filled the background. “We’ll catch up.” His voice cut off.
Delta took charge while Skulker fired some more to keep the rioters at bay. “Miya, check in on them.”
“Fuck no. I’m coming with you.”
“You can’t keep up, and your bone amulet thingy should help you out more here. Nomad and Olivia sound like they need help.”
“The berserking feral? No fucking way I’m staying here.” We gotta move. I don’t think that’s been said enough lately.
“Don’t got time for this. We gotta move. Delta, flash out,” he called. With that he threw a flashbang, waited for the resulting flash, then sprinted for the exit as several people blindly reached for him. “Come on Delta, its terrorist season!” Miya can bitch all she likes later, she can’t teleport, now can she? Of course, I should be grateful she regrew that tooth of mine, but now isn’t exactly the time for sentimentality.
He teleported rapidly once outside, making it hard for any potential shooter to keep track of him. Over the comms he heard, “Shut up and do your job, Miya,” from Delta, sounding like she was running. A weird rumbling sound came from Olivia’s end. He pitied the recipient of her anger. The fool, if you will.
He reached the roof of a random building. “You following, Delta?” he asked for her alone. Hey, we got out of there alive! Good thing most of them don’t really know how to shoot.
“Give me a moment.”
The computers Delta had gone through had provided some useful information. The ping he had woken everyone up for had alerted them to the protest turned riot they were currently in. It wasn’t the best idea in hindsight – Nomad was in a foul mood and Delta spent three minutes bitching to him about waking them up – but they would get over it.
They had found mentions of some of Freedom Fighter’s bolt holes, safe houses where he or other fighters could escape to in the chaos. Other tidbits included vehicles, arms shipments, and orders for that particular outpost. There were other, more boring things like memos and day to day communications that would be a goldmine to the intelligence community. Too bad none of us are in the intel business.
Delta caught up to him. “What the hell, jackass? You just bolted on us.”
Bitch to me when we’re done. “Hon, I wanna get this over with as quick as possible. Bitch to me when we’re done. Now, you got the cool HUD thingy. Lead on.” He motioned in a random direction.
She took a moment. “Fine. Rooftops?”
“Works.” Quicker that way.
She jumped, enhanced by whatever sorcery powered her inventions. He teleported after. Soon, she came to a stop again. She pointed in the direction they’d been traveling. “Go about three buildings that way, then tell me if you get pissed off or not.”
He laughed. Good thing I’ve never wanted to be a guinea pig. Oh well. He moved to the indicated building. “You angry?” Delta asked.
“Your voice is somewhat grating, and I dislike you as a whole. But no, no anger.” It’s important to be honest with yourself and others. Clears up so much confusion and doubt. People always double checked his words, looking for loopholes and hidden meanings. Occasionally he did resort to using those, but not often, as that completely defeated his purpose of not lying in the first place.
Delta caught up to him. “Alright. MHU is thinking that Freedom Fighter is in that direction, roughly. They’re basing it on patterns of the riot and reports of cops in the field, so we might have some searching to do, but he is towards the center.”
They moved once again. Rooftops were such an easy mode of transportation. No one shot at them, no one got in their way, no rush hour traffic. That wasn’t to say it was perfect. At one point he miscalculated his teleport and barely managed to grab the edge of the roof, as the rifle on his back reminded him of its weight. He pulled himself up level with the roof and pushed forward into a roll, then was back up on his feet. I almost pulled that off.
A loud roar emanated from the comms. “What the… I hope Olivia’s OK,” said Delta.
“Pft. Sounds like she’ll tear whatever the problem is in half pretty soon,” said Skulker.
“No, mentally. Remember last time she got all growly and scary? Or do you just not care?”
He didn’t reply, except with a chuckle. Kind of. She’s a nice enough person, I guess. Though the eating people bit was a bit excessive. He did feel bad about not getting her the right kinds of food, which seemed really obvious in hindsight. “Kinda. I’m guessin’ she’ll get back to her normal self at some point.” Delta sighed audibly, shaking her head.
They continued in silence for a bit, then Delta said, “We’re getting close. Let’s get to the streets. That’s where he’ll be.” She began to sound winded. Spent too long sitting being smart than training.
There were few people, most having angrily followed the sound of conflict to the outskirts. Skulker didn’t see a single window intact. Or almost anything intact, for that matter. Getting angry makes you stupid. How many marriages are ending in tears today? It’s the little things like that you never see coming. Oh God, tire fire. Blech. They passed the unattended column of foreboding black smoke reaching high into the air.
He still followed Delta, keeping silent. Why is she hugging the wall so close? Her left shoulder almost brushed against the corner of a building. He saw something flash. Bad. He froze time. Everything stopped, color receded. The bleached world around him made no sound, no movement. His head pounded. The freezing was effortless, maintaining it hurt.
He reached for his pistol and began to dart ahead of Delta’s still form.
Still moving, pistol almost out.
He could see what was happening. A woman, wielding a long kitchen knife, lay in wait behind a corner. The knife tip aimed, by chance, directly at Delta’s throat, where her armor was weak. Delta began to react, not quick enough. For once Skulker’s timing was perfect. His skull pounded with the effort of freezing time itself.
He moved to grab the woman’s arm at the wrist, aiming the pistol an inch from her temple.
Skulker reached his position. Brain hurting more now. Hurting bad.
He braced himself, pulling as hard as he could on the arm, it would resume its path exactly as before. He put his finger on the trigger.
Time resumed forward progress.
Immediately he pulled the trigger, killing the attacking woman instantly. He arrested enough of the momentum of the knife so that it barely brushed Delta’s throat. The knife dropped from slack fingers. I’m sure there’s a parallel to draw to Jurassic Park somewhere, but, goddamn it, I can’t think of a good one.
She screamed, “SHIT,” as he shouted, “SAVED YER LIFE!” He laughed.
She stared at the body, then at Skulker for a couple seconds, then said, “So? Don’t just stand there. We don’t have all day.” He rolled his eyes under his mask. Kinda funny.
“How did you not see her?” he motioned to the body. They began to jog again.
“I can only keep track of so many things. I’ve got a map, police communications, and the others to worry about. I don’t need to see everything in thermal vision on top of that.”
They hurried, eventually coming across a boarded up grocery store. “There,” she said. Then, “Uh oh.”
“Ooh, ooh, I wanna guess. The military’s nukin’ the city. Olivia ate a toddler with some A1 sauce. Angry Cyrus is standin’ right behind me. The Mother is invadin’ with Cuauhtémoc and the Siberians. Stop me when I get close.”
“Shut up, jackass. The Koitsenko and MHU have the others.”
“Balls. What’re they doin’?”
“Nomad had them surrender.” Good, resisting arrest is just another charge against you. And if anyone gets killed, you get charged with murder regardless of whether you were guilty in the first place. Also, Olivia would absolutely kill someone. “The Koitsenko are just holding them for now. They don’t know who Miya is, and they haven’t shot Olivia yet for some reason, so not all is lost.” And Olivia’s out of ‘kill everything’ mode apparently. Called it!
“I suggest we get this over with as quick as possible, then we’ve got some explainin’ to do to some humorless military people.”
“Agreed. Let me take a good look at the building.”
He waited and observed their surroundings as she did so. No one. This is freaky.
Delta spoke up again, “OK, we’ve got six people. One of them is missing the same arm F.F. is, so the odds are excellent this is the right place. Oh, and bodies. Looks like some people tried attacking here.”
“How come the other five with F.F. ain’t killin’ each other?”
“Don’t know. He might have an inner radius as well, so people close by don’t go berserk. Our best bet at getting in is looking like the back entrance. They’ve got two guys hauling out corpses. We can ambush them, then make our way in.” Now that they both discussed ways to kill and not get killed, they were all business.
“Gotcha. Sniper time?”
“Can you take out both quietly?”
“One, absolutely. The other you might wanna cover instead. Better odds that way, in case something stupid happens.”
She nodded, and they moved off. Skulker took his position, another fire escape overlooking the back loading area. Two men unceremoniously added two bodies to the small pile at the base of the building, then disappeared back inside. He pulled out his rifle and aimed. The two didn’t seem particularly observant, probably just dumb hired muscle. Delta took position around a corner, near where the men had been, pistol drawn. Exactly like that one woman who nearly offed her. Funny old world we live in.
The two men came out, bodies carried fireman style. One’s skull was split wide open. Nice and burdened and slow moving. “Now,” said Delta. Skulker shot the first one through the center of his chest, the rifle making a low thunking sound. Headshots are so stupid hard they’re not even worth trying. Shooting the heart and lungs makes them just as dead. Delta turned the corner as he did so, shooting the second man in the chest with her taser pistol (Quieter than a gunshot. Good girl). The man convulsed and went down.
He looked up from his rifle. “Come on down,” said Delta as she waved ‘all clear’. He returned his rifle to his back, then rejoined her at the back entrance. He got out a knife, the long triangular one Rob had made for him before they split. Cuts through armor like butter. He knows his stuff.
“We good to go?” he asked.
“Yep.” They entered the store, moving through the darkened hallway and into the storage area, devoid of any food. Some blood spattered the walls, the occasional spent bullet casing caught Skulker’s eye. Delta took the lead, Skulker behind and to her right. Suddenly, Delta frantically motioned for him to go back, find cover. Someone ahead of them muttered something in Spanish. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that wasn’t Delta.
He teleported silently to midway between the two walls of the room, then ducked behind an old shelving unit laying on its side. Delta moved to behind a counter, closer to the walkway they left. A small man in a black balaclava and street clothes walked by, calling out to who Skulker presumed to be the two men they’d taken out outside, in Spanish still. Skulker readied his knife. I should probably learn Spanish for real at some point. The man stopped briefly, then broke into a run, not bothering to turn, shouting something that sounded like a warning over his shoulder. Noooooo! Fucking son of a bitch. He had some sort of stupid warning power didn’t he?
Skulker immediately popped up, jumping and teleporting in pursuit. The man moved faster than Skulker thought, but instantaneous teleportation is faster than running. Delta better be moving up to cover where the others are behind me. He raised his knife, teleported, and discovered as he slashed that the man had ducked in the nick of time. This is going to be frustrating isn’t it? I can’t just freeze time again either.
The man turned and struck Skulker’s stomach with a fist, withdrawing before Skulker could bring his knife to bear. Skulker managed to turn away a strike to his head with his shoulder, feeling it glance off as he tucked his head. He heard sounds of fighting behind him as well, including a zap from something Delta used.
Skulker took a step back, presenting the side without the knife to the man. Come on. Attack and get perforated. The man began to draw a pistol, interrupted as he sidestepped around a kick Skulker aimed at him with his lead foot. The man grabbed at his leg, but was forced to retreat with a stab of the knife. Let’s see if the overwhelming approach works on you.
Skulker focused on attack, punching, kicking, stabbing, and slashing. The knife never connected, the man considered it the greatest threat. Strikes with hand or foot rarely stuck home, usually bouncing off some bony part of the man’s limbs, rather than anything satisfying to hit. Though this kept the man more concerned with staying alive and intact than hitting back. Skulker did spare a look at Delta over his shoulder, exchanging fire with three other men. They think they can take the two of us, no need to run.
How do I end this? The man in front of him was focused more on the knife than anything else… Bwahahahahahaha! Idea! Skulker feinted forward with his knife, the man dodged, as expected. Skulker turned his body during the motion so that his front was blocked from view of the man. Skulker grabbed a small grenade attached to his chest, detaching it and pulling the pin. To buy time, Skulker followed up with another slash, just to keep the man occupied. The man apparently didn’t expect Skulker to turn 180 and teleport away. Good thing I dropped that live grenade on the ground next to him right before I teleported!
A second teleport took him to a safe(ish) distance, about where he had taken cover before, right before the grenade exploded at the feet of the confused man. Skulker heard a scream from him. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Excellent. This is most pleasing. His internal laughter died down as he saw Delta. She crouched behind a counter, occasionally raising her pistol up and firing randomly in the direction of her assailants. Her other arm was injured, he saw a small trickle of blood. On the bright side, there were only two others firing at her now.
They didn’t appear to be focusing on Skulker, however. He traded his knife for Señior Lopez and took cover. He flicked a switch. An orange light, then green popped up in the scope. He focused on one of the men firing an AK-47 (why is he using such an old gun?) at Delta through a broken window, tearing up the wall right above her head. The gunman was behind a different, thicker wall, according to the scope. Plasma time, motherfucker. Skulker took aim and fired, feeling the temperature around him raise about twelve degrees. A blinding white bolt burned a hole through the wall, and a good chunk of the man behind it, whose clothes also caught on fire from the heat. A ‘suck a dick’ cherry atop the ‘fuck you’ sundae, if you will. The remains of the bolt melted partially through the outside wall of the building itself, eventually losing enough energy to become relatively harmless.
Skulker put away the rifle. The barrel was blisteringly hot, but the case on Skulker’s back was meant to hold and insulate the rifle, so as to not completely cook his back. Knife out again. He took a moment to assess. Delta still knelt behind her cover about three teleports away, more relaxed now that she wasn’t being shot at. The other man was…where the fuck is he?
There he was, slinking to Skulker’s left, trying to avoid sight. He only had one arm. Delta was beginning to get up, exposing her head to Freedom Fighter. “Delta, down!” shouted Skulker, teleporting with knife in hand. Freedom Fighter saw him coming and aimed. Fuck, he’s knows where I’m going next.
Before Freedom Fighter pulled the trigger, Delta shot at him, disrupting his aim enough. Skulker teleported again, roughly near to Delta. He began to reach, and draw his knife to throat level. Another teleport. He wrapped his free arm around F.F., the other bringing the knife across F.F.’s throat. Pull.
Say a one liner, say a one liner. How do I not have one prepared for this? “You just… got… got… stabbed… graaaah!” He stomped his foot in frustration. “Goddamn it! Almost had one.” I am deeply ashamed of myself right now.
Delta joined him in looking at F.F. emit a final gurgle. After a moment of silence, she said, “That’s over with. Let’s go figure out what to do with the others.” Skulker laughed.