Hunting Season – Guns, Guns, Guns!

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.

One.

Still moving, pistol almost out.

Two.

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.

Three.

He moved to grab the woman’s arm at the wrist, aiming the pistol an inch from her temple.

Four.

Skulker reached his position. Brain hurting more now. Hurting bad.

Five.

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.

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Hunting Season – Hide or Seek

“What? The fucking Koitsenko are here?” Miya shouted over the riot. She sounded genuinely concerned. She wore some spare clothes Delta had given her, though they fit loosely. Miya stood shorter than anyone else in their group, which meant she barely reached Olivia’s elbow.

“Soon,” said Nomad.

“How do you know this?” Delta asked Nomad.

“Cyrus is keeping me in the loop, as much as he can. He’s the one that gave me the advance warning at HQ when Marcus put up the warrant for my arrest. He’s not out of the Unit though, at least not yet.”

They moved on foot; the others had been forced to abandon Delta’s car by the mob (Olivia had flown directly above them, keeping low). This time, Freedom Fighter’s soldiers were in the mix, distributing guns and generally stirring up more chaos. A lot more people composed this riot; they were in a more densely populated area than the first. This riot was very similar to the first one otherwise, only an order of magnitude more violent.

Olivia and the rest passed a group of riot police launching tear gas into the crowds, Olivia flew far around to avoid those grenades. A police helicopter made its presence known with bullets; still better than inhaling tear gas. That would probably completely incapacitate me. Her nostrils burned anyway, just by the virtue of being in the general area as the police launched tear gas grenades.

Like last time, the closer they approached Freedom Fighter’s location, the more violent things got. Dead bodies unattended by the living. Fires, looted stores, shattered windows, wrecked cars, combinations thereof. More screaming. Olivia’s group hadn’t quite reached the point of no return, where Freedom Fighter’s power would actively affect someone. More than likely this riot was inevitable, Freedom Fighter or no. He just made things a lot worse.

Before they left the lair, there had been reports of riots breaking out in New York and around the capitol. People dissatisfied with the current state of the economy and/or the government, or people who would use any excuse for violence, all took to the streets.  Less violent protests formed in most other cities.

Olivia and her group made their way through side streets and alleyways. Rioters sometimes took shots at them, but by and large the riot focused more on the police, a visible symbol of what they protested, than they were on Olivia’s little group. Thankfully, their aim was terrible. Olivia hated flying so low, but the helicopters above them would probably spot her and shoot at her again if she went much higher. Normal handguns hurt, she didn’t want to feel what the much larger guns on the helicopters were capable of.

They ran below I-25, heading north. We must be getting close, there’s a lot of gunfire and shouting up ahead.

“We’re comin’ up on that fuck ugly factory. F.F.’s bolt hole is close, right?” asked Skulker. They slowed down as the top of the factory in question came into sight: a huge brick building, old, abandoned, the majority of the windows broken if not outright missing.

A voice called out ahead of them. “I seeeeee youuuuu! Gimme a torch,” followed by unhinged laughter. That doesn’t bode well. Olivia saw a pale man, smirking and staring at them from down the street. A swarm of people ran up from an alleyway behind him.

To their right, a large group of people, maybe ten or so, turned the corner and headed straight for them. Naturally, they all carried some sort of firearm, though otherwise none of them would stick out walking around on a normal day. They opened fire. “Get that door open,” ordered Nomad as he and Miya returned fire at the people to their right. Skulker and Delta fired in the direction of the man. I guess that means me.

She tried to door of the aging building to their left. Locked. Now what? Wait, I’m an idiot. She rammed the door with her shoulder, sending it crashing to the ground. Apparently I have a thing against doors, because I’ve destroyed about five of them now. “It’s open,” she called out to the rest, moving inward and out of the doorway for the others.

They filed in, Skulker bringing up the rear, pistol aimed out the door. Sweat, adrenaline, a little fear, but no blood that Olivia could smell from anyone. Skulker knelt by the door, pulling something from his explosives bag at his hip. “Claymore by the door,” he said over their comms, low enough so that no one besides them could hear him over the gunfire.

“Cut through, keep moving,” said Nomad.

Miya and Delta started moving, Skulker teleporting to join them. Olivia held back, waiting for Chris. She heard people shouting, approaching where they were. The building featured few windows and walls of concrete. That didn’t mean people couldn’t shoot through the door. Better I get shot in the back than you. He seemed to have the same idea, because he shifted to liquid form. Better a liquid get shot than me. No complaints here.

Olivia ran to rejoin the others, Nomad flowing behind her. Olivia gagged as something awful reached her nose. Something is burning, something that isn’t meant to be burnt. Then the wall caved in, a good distance away from the door.

In the newly made hole stood two men: the pale man Olivia saw moments earlier on the streets next to another, taller man. Kind of skinny, actually. The pale man wore the remains of a charcoal suit. Frayed bits of string marked where the buttons used to be, the right sleeve ended in a ragged tear around the man’s elbow, and a white-ish stain marred the pants. Don’t think about what that might be. At all. The once-white shirt beneath looked like it had been scribbled on with purple crayon. A noose wrapped around his neck in place of a tie. A noose. Why would it be anything else?

He held a rusty machete in his right hand, what appeared to be a burning stick in the other. On closer inspection, the stick had some sort of tar wrapped around it. She felt sick as the burning tar seared her nostrils, acrid smoke forcing itself into her lungs. The man holding it wasn’t much better. You don’t believe in personal hygiene, do you? The pinky finger on his left hand ended in a knobby purple stump.

In comparison, the man next to him was fairly ordinary. Dressed in green camo, he held no weapons in his hands, though a pistol holster was strapped to his hip. He wore a tan ski mask over his face, along with dark sunglasses. Behind the two men, more people like those on the street before rushed forward.

The pale man laughed and walked forward towards Nomad, back in human form at the sight of the burning torch. “Why thank you, Tod.”

“Shut up and kill the other, Membrane. I’ve got the feral,” responded Tod.

“Guys, help,” said Olivia on the comms, right as she heard gunfire from where they were. Too much to keep track of.

“Busy over here,” barked Skulker.

“I’ll skin you alive!” cried out Membrane, brandishing his machete and attacking. Nomad ducked under the swing of Membrane’s machete, trying to back up away from the man, presumably so he could shoot him. Membrane didn’t let up. Nomad would have to drop his rifle or keep dodging in hopes of getting enough space.

Olivia turned to help, when out of the corner of her eye she saw Tod move. Suddenly something hit her, hard, and she hit a wall, also hard. She barely had time to register the fact that Tod stood where she had moments before when he raised a fist and moved again. She hit the wall again, hearing it crack. Her head rang from being whipped into a wall twice, her ribs and shoulder hurt from where Tod hit her. Stop it.

Tod, now right next to her, seemed confused. Off balance, she tried to slash at him, forcing him to back up. Now with a little breathing room, she shook her head and regained her bearings. Tod still backed up, well out of arm’s reach. He stopped and moved forward, almost too fast for Olivia to catch. His punch connected, though he moved far faster than humanly possible. This time she did go through the wall and onto the street.

She started getting up, shoving down the pain. “How are you alive?” said Tod, right before he rushed forward again, with a kick this time. She managed to brace herself, and was shoved back a foot or two, her hands and feet leaving long gouges in the concrete of the street as the kick connected with her shoulder. She heard sharp cracks, and felt other, smaller things hitting her.

“Watch it, you idiots,” shouted the man hitting her. Kill him. She let out a threatening hiss and pushed forward. He tried backing up again, but she was done being cautious. She followed, now on two legs. He changed gears, darting to the right, then striking again. He didn’t hit nearly as hard as before, but she twisted, her heel claw getting caught in the ground and tripping her up. He drew his pistol and fired point blank while she caught herself from falling.

She grunted as the bullets hit the palm of the hand she held up in the direction of his gun. The man said something else, Olivia didn’t know what. Something buzzed in her ear, she dismissed it. He turned, trying to get away. Close enough. Her tail whipped around and the tip took out the man’s knee. He went down with a scream, and Olivia lifted her foot to bring down on his head. He rolled as she brought her foot down, cracking the pavement. More things hit her, prompting a hiss of pain. She ignored them otherwise; the man hurt more.

The man attempted to crawl away, having lost his gun…somewhere. I’m forgetting something. He’s not it, he’s not food, he’s beaten. Don’t kill. Shouts and gunshots came from everywhere, but familiar scents came from that building, the one with the holes in it. So did something bad smelling.

She reentered the building. There were two other men fighting in a new room; one familiar, a blue thing over his face and a rifle clipped to his uniform; one dirty and laughing. She heard and smelled other recognizable people further down in the building. A couple other people eagerly watched the two fight, fingering various weapons.

Olivia struggled to remember the name of the familiar man. Not important. Needs help. She grabbed the nearest bystander, resisting the urge to simply tear something important out, and threw her into the other two, knocking them down. Olivia followed that up by running forward, bringing her foot down on a dropped rifle as a man reached for it, impaling his hand. Olivia lifted the impaling toe and roared. The three ran.

“Your mommy died screaming in that car. She shat herself! Too bad daddy was already gone. No saving him.” The familiar man froze momentarily at that. Don’t just stand there. She struggled to remember his name, but was reasonably confident she liked him more than the other. Nomad! That was it.  Tears ran down dirty man’s face, and his laughs sounded more like sobs, but he still advanced with machete in one hand, burning stick of wood in the other.

“How the fuck did you know these things?” Olivia heard Nomad whisper. Dirty man giggled/cried and swung the machete again.

Olivia let out a growl and moved forward to intercept the man. Alerted to her approaching, he swung his torch in her direction, prompting a violent spat of coughing from her as she breathed the burning tar. Nomad still wasn’t moving, though she thought she heard him whisper something else. Guns going off right next to one’s head deafened even normal people. Suddenly more shots rang out, from the interior of the building. More people to fight. A short woman was aiming at Membrane. Miya, her name is Miya. Don’t fight.

“The prodigal granddaughter returns!” Membrane shouted over the noise. Miya hesitated and stopped firing, lowering her pistol slightly before raising it again. “Yeees. I see things. Secret, secret, heart shaped things. Or brain, I never can remember.” A pause, the man twitched before continuing. “You will never find Don, or Overlord. And I’m here to make sure you don’t find Freedom Fighter.” The mention of seeing things evoked a recent memory. Membrane.

Miya looked stricken when more gunfire came through the holes in the wall, the gunmen probably didn’t care if they hit Membrane or not. Miya and Nomad took cover. People approached the doorway, but the first was killed by the claymore. The rest retreated. You will stop hurting them.

Olivia reached up behind Membrane, forcing herself past the burning tar. She tore the torch from his grasp, along with another finger of his, and threw it as far away as possible. Her other hand wrapped around his neck. He swung the machete at that arm, which bounced off harmlessly. She took that from him too.

Membrane grinned with bloody, or straight up missing, teeth (Nomad hadn’t been idle, contrary to popular belief) as he grasped at Olivia’s hand around his neck. “You can’t kill me! I’m already dead tomorrow.” Olivia threw him as hard as possible. He disappeared through the hole Olivia went through earlier. She heard a thud.

Olivia ran to where Miya and Nomad were. “Olivia, over here.” They had taken cover behind another interior wall, out of view of where someone outside could shoot them. Olivia’s ribs hurt. And her arms. And her head. And her back. And her everything else. Bullets hurt. Come back, adrenaline. And where are Ben and Amanda?

Suddenly, the amount of gunfire outside doubled. At the same time, less and less bullets came in. “Go, go, go,” said Nomad, pointing in the opposite direction. They got up and ran. They opened a door and came face to face with five heavily armed MHU officers, supported by two more hulking figures in power armor. Where did you come from?

“Don’t move.” The voice was eerily reminiscent of Delta’s, though Olivia couldn’t tell which it came from. Her ears buzzed from the constant audible assault of recent events.

Olivia hissed and moved herself between Nomad, Miya, and the rest. The two power armor figures raised their much larger guns in her direction.

“Olivia, no. Do what they say. Calm down.”

She froze, eyeing the officers warily. More boots behind them. We’re never getting this Freedom Fighter Business over with, are we?

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Hunting Season – Boom

Olivia missed flying. Flying for fun, not having to worry about people with guns, or helicopters, or helicopters carrying people with guns. She’d flown to the Freedom Fighter outpost and back, but that was less for enjoyment and more for getting from point A to point B as fast and quietly as possible. Now they were in the auto shop, or the lair, as Ben had christened it.

When they arrived Delta immediately got out and checked her car for damage, while Skulker got out of the driver’s seat and mocked her. Those two need to stop. Nomad had to focus their attention to other things. “Ben, put the real license plates back on. Delta, I think Miya would like you disable those things in her.” The two went to their allotted tasks. “It’s like herding cats,” Olivia heard Chris mutter under his breath.

Miya moved quietly off to the side as Delta grabbed some black and red wires and an unidentifiable tool from the desk not covered in computers. Delta motioned to Miya to sit on the chair near the wall, saying, “This whole process is going to be something out of a horror movie. And in the interest of full disclosure, it’ll probably kill you.” Olivia felt faintly nauseous at that.

Miya nodded, a hard look in her eyes. “Freedom Fighter’s people will definitely kill me in the next day or so. Do it.” Ben started snickering from where he sat at the front of the car.

Chris and Ben had rigged up some curtains for privacy in shop while Olivia and Delta were watching and storming the outpost. Considering there were four, maybe five now, people living in the lair, Olivia considered this to be a good idea. Delta blocked their view of her and Miya with one, and Olivia heard another zap. At least Miya knew that time. I know I wouldn’t be OK with something like that.

She grabbed a computer out of the back alongside Chris. She’d noticed that Delta hadn’t taken off her helmet during the ride back, though Ben and Chris had. It must be because of Miya, though Olivia couldn’t figure out why. “Hey Chris, why is Delta nervous around Miya?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, I don’t know. I mean, she is still wearing her mask, even though no one else is. Is that weird, or…?”

“It is possible that the helmet is showing her the locations of Overlord’s implants or other relevant information,” he said, placing his computer near Delta’s main desk, the one with the big monitor Delta was always shouting at them to watch. Olivia placed hers beside his. They stopped there. “But did you hear me talking to Miya while the rest of you were packing the car?”

“No, I was more listening for other people, if they were coming in or not. And…I’ve been trying not to eavesdrop on other people talking. I figured it would be kind of rude.” I know. I’m weird.

He smiled slightly. “Fair. Basically, Miya told me that she was a small time thief in Arizona until she was captured by Overlord’s people. Or maybe that was in the car. Anyways, Delta is just erring on the side of caution.”

“Miya never went with the secret identity thing?”

“Nah, not everyone does. It’s kind of a recent trend, comic books affecting how people act in real life. Actually, it’s usually associated with criminals, so you’ll have to ask Miya why she didn’t have one before.” Chris’s phone began to ring. He glanced at the screen. “Excuse me, I need to take this.” The normally stoic Chris sounded eager for once.

She walked over to her designated spot in the shop. There was a thin mattress and a couple blankets they had managed to buy or scrounge in the last day or two. No one else had any better; Amanda hadn’t finished furnishing the lair when they moved in. The city’s water didn’t connect to the building, the others went to nearby gyms to shower, and they drank out of water bottles. Except they didn’t need to steal them. Must be nice to have a bank account. Or even be able to have a bank account.

Olivia tried to ignore the sounds of the others as she walked. The sounds of snipping from where Miya and Delta were, Ben throwing the screwdriver and fake plates randomly on a desk (Delta hated other people messing with her mess), and Chris talking very intently on the phone. No, bad Olivia. You just told him that you are trying not to eavesdrop. You told him that not ten seconds ago.

She heard it anyways. “Yes Mr. Kenner, this is Chris speaking. Is Alice alright? Can I talk to her?”

Much more faintly, Olivia heard from the phone, “Chris, I’m sorry.” The man, Mr. Kenner, whoever that was, sounded choked up.

“No. No, she was nowhere near the hospital. How…?”

“She got caught by a group of men. They…they,” said Mr. Kenner.

“Stop. I…” Chris trailed off.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you til now. They just found her…”

Olivia was distracted by a zapping sound and Delta saying in a panicked voice, “Shit! Fuck! Son of bitch! Oh, wait, that worked.” The noises from Delta’s area returned to normal levels.

Chris hung up his phone in silence. Olivia was stock still, she didn’t hear the end of his conversation. Curiously, she heard nothing from Ben as well. What are you supposed to do in this kind of situation? I don’t think it would be a good idea to ignore something like this.

Olivia got up, walking towards where Chris stood, staring at his phone and leaning against the wall with his shoulder. His heart beat faster than usual, and he smelled…angry. Olivia had no idea how she got that out from everything her nostrils picked up constantly, but she did.

“Hey, Chr…” she began.

“I’m going for a walk,” he cut her off tersely, continuing to stare at the phone.

“Isn’t there a curfew? And I don’t think the streets are safe…”

She trailed off at the glare Chris fixed her with. “I. Am going. For. A walk. Do you need me to say it any slower?” I messed up something, didn’t I? He’s just angry, right?

Before she could speak further, Ben called out, “Hey Olivia, can ya come here a sec? Need yer help with somethin’.”

She spared a final concerned glance for Chris before going to Ben. Ben held up a hand when she arrived, forestalling any questions. He watched with a half smile as Chris left, then counted down on his hand once the door closed behind Chris. Then he said, “You wanna watch out for him or me to?”

“I’ll do it.”  It’s not as though I can do anything else productive here.

“Bueno. An’ might I suggest stayin’ outta sight, an’ be back in before he is? I’m guessin’ he’s not in the best of moods.”

So Olivia followed, keeping a good distance but still able to keep tabs on Chris. At least I’m flying again, though I wish the circumstances were better. There was a brief scare when a patrol car stopped Chris. Olivia thought the cops would attempt to arrest him: a young man, alone, with an angry expression, after a curfew, in a city in lockdown from a terrorist organization. He probably set off some alarms with the police. She felt sick to her stomach.

Olivia landed on a rooftop, ready to jump in. The officer approached Chris, who stood his ground. The cop’s partner hung back by the car. “You have your ID with you, son?”

Chris provided it without a word. The officer read it, saying, “So, Mr. Collins, you are aware that you are breaking curfew right now, correct?”

“Yeah.”

“Any reason for that?”

“Just lost someone. Wanted to clear my head.”

The cop fixed him with a hard look for several seconds, then passed Chris’s ID back. “I recommend you get back home soon. The streets aren’t the best place to be at night nowadays. Stay safe.”

With that, the police drove off, and Chris walked aimlessly a bit before returning to the lair. Olivia returned slightly before he did; she was fairly confident that he never knew she was there, he seemed lost in his own thoughts.

Delta was cleaning blood off her gloves and Ben whistled while disassembling his pistol when Olivia returned. Olivia exchanged a brief nod with Ben, then went to Delta.

“How is Miya doing?” Olivia asked.

“I’m no surgeon, so there’s an excellent chance her brain is fried. If it were anyone else, I’d give them a fifty-fifty chance, but with magic her chances are better.” Chris walked in at that moment, immediately going to his section of the lair, pulling the curtains shut. “It could automatically heal her without her say so, though that is not something you ever want to count on. Way too unpredictable. But right now, she’s alive and unconscious.”

Olivia heard a distant thud, then another. I’m not going to ignore that this time. Pattern recognition! “You didn’t hear that did you?”

Delta cocked her head to the side. “No. What are you talking about?”

“I heard something loud.” Another thud. “It sounds…kind of like…” Like the bomb that took out that hospital.

“Olivia…like what?”

“The hospital bomb, just a lot further off. Three of them.”

“Oh, no fucking way.” Delta ducked her head down. She’s probably checking something in her helmet. Or she’s just standing there unmoving for no reason, one of the two. Several seconds passed. “Yep. Police band just confirmed it.”

Delta shouted to the others as she sat down at her main computer, “Hey, get your asses over here, Freedom Fighter set off more bombs.” She opened up a map of the city and surrounding area. Ben suddenly teleported to Olivia’s side. To Olivia’s immense surprise, she heard Miya slowly walking towards where they were. She’s alive! Maybe Delta was just exaggerating. But…where’s Chris?

“Where did they go off?” asked Ben

Delta highlighted an area near the river in red. “The water treatment facility for the city.” She highlighted a portion well outside of the city, to the west. “A portion of I-70 is now covered in a good chunk of mountain.” Another area, this time to the southeast of the city center. “The Cherry Creek mall. And…hang on.” She highlighted a fourth area, very close to city center. “Counterterrorism caught another bomb at Union Station. They’ve got it contained though.”

Miya staggered up to them. “So we gonna kill Freedom Fighter now?”

“Gimme a sec. Checking the chatter,” said Delta. “Er, it’s sounding like he’s not out there right now. Still don’t know where he is.”

“Did he do this because of what we did earlier?” asked Olivia.

“Nah, doubt it. Ya can’t come up with bombin’ places like these on the fly. Needs preparation,” said Ben.

Miya gave a dissatisfied grunt. Olivia noticed she swayed slightly on her feet, slowly flexing her hands. There was still something slightly off about her face, specifically the left side. It…doesn’t move? I can’t put my finger on it. Olivia realized she was staring, and Miya noticed. Olivia looked away quickly. Oops. Sorry.

Delta spoke to the group at large before Miya said anything. “And where the hell is Chris? Isn’t he supposed to be in charge for this kind of stuff?”

“Ummm…” How much should I say? It sounded really personal to Chris.

Ben saved Olivia from having to explain. “He’s grievin’ right now.”

Delta sounded apprehensive. “Is he…?”

“Dunno. We’ll see.”

After a quiet moment, Miya said, “Hey, back to the matter at hand. When are we going to find F.F.?”

Olivia felt a jab of pain in her gut. She winced and held a hand to her stomach, trying to ignore it. Delta caught the look on her face. “You OK there, Olivia?”

“I’m fine,” she mumbled, withdrawing her hand and putting both behind her. No, don’t throw up. Bad stomach, bad.

“Really? Didn’t look like it.”

“Olivia, if yer not at the top of yer game out there, we’ll probably get killed.”

“My stomach’s hurting a bit. It’s nothing.”

“Wait a minute, what have you guys been eating lately?” asked Miya, eyeing the tower of pizza boxes in the corner, interspersed with the occasional donut box. Ben got food on the cheap.

“That, mainly. I figured we shouldn’t pump ourselves full of crap before getting into a big fight, so we’ve had some fruits and vegetables…” Delta trailed off. “Oh, I get it.” Get what?

Ben started laughing. “Hon, wanna gimme the keys? I’ll go get somethin’ for her. Unless of course you feel like drivin’ on a couple hours of sleep.”

Delta sighed, then said, “Don’t hit anything, jackass.” She tossed him the keys and he went to the car.

“What?” asked Olivia over the sound of the car starting.

“Let’s think this through,” said Miya. “You’ve had nothing to eat but pizza, random junk food, and vegetables and fruits lately.”

“Yeah. So?”

Miya paused for a second. “Describe your teeth for me.” Sharp? Pointy?…Oh, I get it. Her realization must have shown on her face, because Miya continued, “You’re not built to run on junk food for long. You seriously didn’t know this?” Miya regarded Olivia curiously.

“Well, no.” Olivia scratched the back of her neck, feeling awkward. “I’ve never had a problem with eating stuff that wasn’t meat before.” She winced as her stomach reminded her that she was, in fact, having a problem with eating a meat free diet. This is so backwards.

“OK, little Ms. Apex Predator,” said Delta, sounding amused. “Ben is probably out getting…I don’t know. Some fried chicken or something. I am 100% confident that will come with no health concerns.” Why did you say it like that? Oh, sarcasm.

“Sorry. I didn’t know,” Olivia mumbled.

“Yeah. Also, we should probably make sure you aren’t getting slowly poisoned by some random chemical in food. Your biochemistry seems a bit off.” Delta looked at Miya.

“What?” asked Miya. “What do you want me to do? I’m not a doctor, at all. If you have a broken bone, I’m all over that shit, but beyond that I can only heal minor stuff. And right now I’m pretty tapped out. Do you even have an idea of how magic works? Either of you?”

Olivia shook her head. Delta said, “Nah, it’s basically black magic to me, only literally.”

Olivia smiled. “So magic has to do with magnets?”

Delta snickered, while a confused look crossed Miya’s face. “No. And none of this gets us closer to F.F.”

Delta groaned. “Another all nighter? Challenge accepted.” She rubbed her hands together and moved towards the computers Olivia and Chris had moved for her.

“Do you need any help?” Olivia asked.

“Nah, this is mainly just editing some programs I have and pointing them in the right direction. No offense but you’d have no idea what to do. And I don’t know about Miya, but she looks like she’s about to die on her feet. Go get some sleep. Or wait for food, whatever.”

“You need sleep too.”

Engineers don’t sleep!” exclaimed Delta, grabbing a cable of some kind. Miya staggered off, collapsing on the first mattress she saw, which was Olivia’s. She needs it more anyways. Delta began furiously working on…something, and Ben was still gone.

I wonder how Chris is doing? She hadn’t heard much from where he was. Everyone seemed to think that giving him space was the right idea. Trying to talk to him certainly hadn’t worked for her before. I wish I could help him somehow. She realized she didn’t know anyone too well. Maybe Delta would like some company at least, even if Olivia couldn’t do anything concretely productive.

***

The sun came up, and everyone else was asleep, even Delta. Olivia sat on the edge of the chair, munching on a piece of fried chicken and monitoring the computers. This was the first time Delta had all seven of them running at full capacity, Olivia couldn’t sleep over the noise they made even if Miya wasn’t passed out on her mattress.

I’m just glad I convinced Delta to get some shuteye. Olivia currently monitored for red alerts. Delta didn’t expect it, but if a document on the stolen computers said exactly where Freedom Fighter currently hid, that would pop up as red. Same with an attack, or news like they had gotten before when they first came in.

Uuuuugh. This is boring. And why does every chair have to have a backrest? Her tail prevented her from sitting normally, and the wings made leaning back uncomfortable. At least it wasn’t a couch. To sit on one of those she had to bend her wings forward and to her side awkwardly. Then again, a chair with no backrest is just a stool.

Miya woke with a start, causing Olivia to whip her head in Miya’s direction at the sudden noise. Miya stood up, grumbling. She looked around, confused for a second, then realized that she wasn’t in a cell.

“Good morning,” said Olivia, quietly so as to not wake the others.

Miya grunted. “Too early for words. Fuck mornings.”

When did everyone get grouchy? “Food is over here.” Olivia pointed to the pile of random food next to her that they accumulated over the past few days. We should probably get organized at some point.

“Those words are OK.” She walked over and pulled out a box of Poptarts. She fumbled with the wrapper. “Anything happening?”

“No. I’ve just been sitting here for the last several hours.” Miya still struggled with the wrapper. “Need some help?”

“I’m fine.” As if to prove her point, she finally got it open.

“Recovering alright, then?”

“Yeah. Healed most of the stuff Delta cut up while I slept. It was actually kind of cool. I think she attached a couple wires to the things and ran a current through.”

“Ummm, OK.”

Ben got up and coughed a bit. “Nrrrg.”

“Someone else not want to be up?” asked Olivia.

He rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Sleep is precious. Sleep is sacred. An’ our sleep schedules are fucked. Anythin’ happenin’?”

“No.”

“Then what’s that red thing?” He pointed at the screen, and a happy sounding ping emerged from the speakers.

“That’s a thing,” said Olivia.

“WAKE UP MOTHERFUCKERS!” Ben shouted, then cackled to himself.

***

Olivia flinched as bullets whizzed overhead. Something exploded nearby, deafening her. The riot finally erupted in the afternoon, this was their best chance to get Freedom Fighter

“You sure this thingy’ll work?” Skulker asked Delta, motioning to the device clipped to his mask.

“No, but that’s half the fun, jackass. Go on, the rioters are waiting.” Olivia cringed inwardly, remembering the last time Freedom Fighter used his power. I hope Skulker doesn’t react how I did. He doesn’t seem full of rage, but I don’t think I am either.

Nomad said, “We need to hurry. The Koitsenko are inbound. They’re here for us and F.F.”

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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.

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

Hunting Season – This Just In

“Hey, shut up, we’re on the news,” said Amanda to the others. You can lick your wounds later, she thought. She turned up the volume of her computer speakers so the others could hear.

“Last night a fight broke out in a Westward city suburb,” began an attractive blond anchor for the morning news of one of the local channels, shuffling her papers and maintaining a plastic smile. “A segment of the Colorado Watch attempted to arrest suspected metahuman Freedom Fighter sympathizers.”

Her older male co-anchor, plastered with a similar smile, continued, “The fight occurred in Lakewood, at around 11:30. Five members of the Watch – including Blackout, Whiteout, Ryan McDonald, Lancer, and their leader, Laura Weaver – were alerted to the presence of the suspects: the vigilante known as Skulker and former MHU Officer Nomad.” Pictures of the two in costume appeared on screen. “The two also appeared to be in possession of the feral spotted several times in the city over the last week.” The picture of Olivia in her bed sheet popped up.

“Wait, did they say…” began Olivia.

“Shh, later,” Amanda cut her off.

The woman continued, “According to eyewitnesses who were awoken by the combatants, the Watch had attempted to encircle the suspects’ car. After a protracted car chase through the streets of Lakewood, the Watch managed to corner them.”

“After the clash, the suspects fled the scene before the police or our news helicopter could arrive. The suspects are believed to be working with another former MHU officer, named Delta. The Watch members all sustained injuries, ranging from mild to serious. Lancer is currently in surgery, having sustained several severe knife cuts to her arms in the fight. Representatives of both the Watch and the MHU declined to comment.”

A hotline number appeared at the bottom of the screen. “If you have any information regarding these four, or Freedom Fighter, please contact this number provided by the USMHD.” They changed camera angles, moving on to the next news story. “Is your teen truly safe from drugs? The answer, of course, is no. A concerning trend is rising among high school students, called Getting Fucked Up, where they smoke all of the drugs at once, while drunk.”

Amanda exited the window the news was opened in and turned to the other three. They had dragged themselves into her new shop a little after midnight, looking roughed up, except for Skulker, who looked like something ran him over. He’d taken off his mask to reveal that recent events had not been kind to him.

Now they were in Amanda’s shop. It had been one of her uncle’s auto shops, until he died of a heart attack around a year ago. This particular shop came into her family’s possession and summarily closed for lack of business. She doubted anyone remembered it, or cared, so she ‘borrowed’ the keys and gradually turned it into her own personal lair. It still looked closed and abandoned on the outside, but on the inside it looked…still like crap. I don’t have time for interior decorating.

Oil and grease stained the concrete floor, where the others currently sat. Amanda only had one chair, the one she currently occupied, and there was no other furniture beyond the desks she had covered with various electronic devices. The monitor she had displayed the news on, the largest she had, rested on an old toolbox. I should make sure there’s nothing important in there at some point.

The shop wasn’t big, with room for only three cars, and a small office adjacent to it. She used the office as storage; various materials, spare parts, some food that she had bought for when she didn’t have time to leave the lab. The city grid didn’t connect to the building, so Amanda used two standard gas powered generators that she had modified to power the building. Her car took up one of the spaces, her workplace the second, and everyone else sat in the third. She had shoved the remaining automotive equipment into a corner when she moved in, at least that which could be used in her work at some point.

Ben lay on his back on the floor, using his bag as a pillow, despite the fact it didn’t look too comfortable. He’d called it recuperation, which, to be fair, he did look like he needed. Chris was pacing, frequently checking his phone, returning to it once the newscast had ended. Olivia sat nearby, keeping a worried eye on both.

“Well, everyone knows our names now, if they didn’t know before,” Amanda said.

“Yeah, fuck ‘em,” said Skulker, slurring his words slightly. Huh, thought he was asleep, or better yet, dead.

“Did they say you owned me?” That was from Olivia, who hadn’t spoken much since they had walked in a couple hours ago.

Amanda hesitated, as did Chris. Oh well, she’ll hear it eventually. Amanda said, “I think, like, by law, you aren’t a person. Somewhere in between animal and person, in terms of rights at least. So, you know, feral fighting rings are illegal, no torturing them for fun, and so on, but I don’t think voting is in your future. Or taxes! See? Silver linings.” What the hell are you talking about? Taxes? You just told her another way she’s getting screwed. But Olivia smiled slightly at the tax thing, though she looked at the ground, and didn’t raise further comments, so Amanda was willing to let it lie.

She returned to wiring a new invention of hers. The long range sensors she had used yesterday picked up some faint but noticeable spikes when Freedom Fighter used his power. At least, that was the theory Amanda was operating on. Those spikes had never occurred before.

What she was making would cancel that out. Or fry the user’s brain, one of the two. Biology was not her specialty. To make her batons she had needed to consult a biologist for the data to figure out how exactly to short out a human’s nervous system without killing someone. Once she knew what to do, it was easy.

She heard someone walk up to where she was. Her grip on the multitool in her hand tightened. You better have something good to say or I shove this up your ass. She had been well and truly pissed when she realized what Marcus had been doing, trying to use her systems and inventions against her. But she possessed what she called prudence. If anyone besides her tried to use her stuff without permission, she would know. Others may have called it paranoia, but it turned out it worked out in her favor regardless of what you called it.

“Hey hon, I think my rifle got banged up a bit in the wreck. Got time to take a look at it?”

Amanda stopped herself from reflexively saying no. It’s Overlord made, isn’t it. Even if Overlord himself hadn’t touched it, his undercover research companies based everything on his technology, which was some of, if not the most advanced created by man. Even something like the rifle, based on Overlord technology, could be very informative. I might even forgive Ben’s ‘hon’, just this once.

Amanda was a natural, which meant that she was born with inherent powers. Naturals gained powers slowly, a child with super strength would only reach the max of their power at around sixteen. For an engineer like her, this meant she gained insight when exposed to her area of expertise. She hadn’t known as a child how a circuit board worked, but her power went haywire the first time she opened the insides of a computer when she was about twelve. An Overlord rifle, one that could supposedly melt nearly anything…

“Gimme,” she said, turning around and extending her hands.

“Yep, I figured any techie worth their salt would have an irresistible craving for anything Overlord,” he said, handing over the rifle and returning to his seat.

“Uh huh.” Amanda set down the rifle on the bench and began disassembling. Let’s see here. This has got to have a crazy power source. Tracing this back here…no. This? Yeah. Now, show me your secrets! Holy… She stared at the power source. She continued to stare. This went on for an indeterminate amount of time, until she was dragged back to reality by a hesitant tap on her shoulder.

She jerked a bit and turned. There stood a concerned Olivia and an amused Ben.  “Are you OK?” asked Olivia, while Ben craned his neck to look over Amanda to get a look at his rifle.

“Are ya gonna put it back together?” he asked. “Been starin’ at it for about fifteen minutes now. Can’t shoot anythin’ with it like that.”

“Yeah, sorry,” said Amanda. Chris paid them no mind, still glued to his phone. Ungh, migraine coming on. But if this puts out the power I’m thinking it does, it has some insane heat pumps or something. Dissipated energy has to go somewhere. She continued, confirming her suspicions with various devices along the barrel. If I could put these on a large scale…I am one step closer to my own set of power armor.

Amanda could cover the electronics part of a suit just fine, but there was so much more. She wasn’t a mechanical engineer, so the joints, strength enhancement, and overall design were beyond her. She wasn’t a materials scientist, at least not pertaining to durable substances, so she couldn’t develop armor that could sustain more hits than standard armor. She could develop a power source just fine, but thermodynamics had been her stumbling block, at least until now. Gotta keep the pilot from being roasted alive, after all.

She could also program the suit. Amanda had actually received a degree in computer sciences, complimenting her power, in about two years. Damn right it took me only two years, I’m not an idiot without my powers.

Most people thought power armor when they thought of frontline engineers. Sets of power armor were, however, few and far between. There were a few suits maintained by the military, which meant supported by around three super powered engineers, and piloted by a military pilot: a suitable super, one of the engineers themselves, or just a very skilled pilot. Otherwise, there were a limited number who could afford to maintain them. Truly high quality suits were ludicrously expensive to maintain, ludicrously expensive to produce, and ludicrously difficult to design in the first place.

She checked over the rest of the rifle, there was nothing out of place that she could see, and reassembled it. Ben and Olivia might have talked to her at that point, she didn’t really pay attention. Need…to…write…ideas…down.

She practically shoved the rifle back at Ben before wheeling over on her chair to her main computer to start writing down all the different ideas her power provided her. Weapons, armors, consumer electronics, military applications. Ben led Olivia away, and she was blessedly alone with her thoughts once more. She couldn’t remember it all on her own, and just letting it simmer in her mind would bring the migraine on full force. She lost track of time again.

A ping from the computer derailed her train of thought. Initially irritated, she thought: Well, I could use a break. Got a lot of good stuff down. She would prefer to bounce some of the ideas off of some other engineers, see if they had any insight she had not considered. Some of her ideas would be beyond anyone without a doctorate or two, but some experienced engineers and scientists could look over her work and understand what was supposed to be happening. Wait a minute, all the ones I know think I’m a traitor. Damn you, Marcus.

She sighed. Now, what was that ping about? She had another computer set to search the internet for various relevant information. It had sent her the link and alerted her with the ping. A ping was only the most important information, everything else was stored for later sifting.

The ping turned out to be a clip on a national news site, titled New Video Released by Freedom Fighter, posted about one minute ago. “Hey guys, shut up again, more news.” She pressed play. I need to get a projector for in here.

There were two different anchors this time, with the standard creepy smiles. “We have just received a clip from the known terrorist Freedom Fighter. We haven’t actually watched it yet, and its contents could possibly be disturbing. Let’s watch.”

Freedom Fighter appeared on screen. He dressed similarly to all the pictures of him Amanda had ever seen, though this time he was missing his left sleeve. Boots, drab brown clothing, a balaclava, and the rest.

“People of Westward City,” began Freedom Fighter quietly, looking into the camera intently. “For too long you have toiled beneath the shadow of those who oppress you, those who take and take and take from you, until you have nothing, and they have everything. The government is just a tool to them, to accomplish this.”

He gradually raised his voice “They, and the government, would see you suffer while they live in idle luxury. They keep the truth from you, to keep you afraid, to keep you from seizing the power and wealth that are yours by rights. Oh yes, they lie. They released a feral, and tell you that it was me. It was not. They merely seek to deceive you.” He practically shouted at that point.

He ranted for some time about how the proletariat shall rise up and cast off all shackles, not saying anything useful in terms of information. Amanda closed the tab once the video finished. “Was it just me or was he missing his left arm?” she asked the group at large.

“No, it wasn’t just you. How did that happen?” said Chris, phone in pocket at last.

Amanda realized Olivia was talking “…have been because of me.” All three turned to Olivia, who tried her level best to look as small as possible, eyes fixed firmly on her feet.

“Wait, wait, wait. Ya disarmed him?” asked Ben, sounding much more alert. Amanda failed to suppress a groan. That was one of the worst jokes I’ve ever heard. Ever. At any point in time.

“I…maybe. I know he was there, you know, in the room, when I…lost it. And I remember hitting someone…with an arm…a couple times…before I remembered to let go of the hand.” Amanda was stuck somewhere between awe and discomfort at this announcement. I really can’t tell whether to be impressed or horrified. Chris’s face was impassive, Ben had a wider grin than usual.

“Ya beat him with the soggy end of his own arm? Well then, my draconian friend, you have jus’ gained admittance into a very elite, very exclusive club, one I hope to join someday,” Ben exclaimed.

I’ll go with horror. Still though, Olivia looks like she might burst into tears now. “To be fair, I can’t think of a more deserving person for that to happen to,” said Amanda.

Chris nodded in agreement. “We need to figure out how to deal with him. That will probably put us back in people’s good graces, prove that we aren’t working with him. We’ll get vigilante or mercenary status, better than arrest on sight. Are we all on board with this?”

They gave their various agreements. He continued, “Now, we’ll need to work as a team, we’ll need to know what each and every one of us can do. Secondary powers, weaknesses,” he looked at Ben, “other abilities that may have slipped your mind. If you are poisoned by the presence of bananas, combat is not the time for the rest of us to learn of that.” Everyone remained silent once he finished.

…Looks like I’ll start. No one else was. “OK, so I’ve got a great variety of gadgets. The stun batons and the tasers you all have seen. I’ve worked in what is basically a computer into the armor. Can see thermals and UV with the helmet. I can access the internet too. I normally would have more, but it all went through the MHU, so that’s not an option anymore. All of it is EMP hardened, so I can throw these EMPs I have if I stop caring about collateral damage. Resists magnets pretty well too. Which brings me to my next thing.”

She steeled herself for lecture mode, then realized it wouldn’t matter. “So, for explanation purposes, magnetics equals black magic. Everyone got that?” There were some hesitant nods. “Good. I’ve got things in my boots that let me jump really far, and cushion my landings so that my leg bones don’t shatter. Because magnetics. It’s not strength enhancement, I’m just a normal person in that respect, so much as another force pushing me upwards. It activates too slowly for combat, but it helps me get around.”

Ben looked like he was about to say something. She pointed to him and snapped, “And not a goddamn word out of you about my word choice, jackass.” He laughed. “Anyways, I’ve got some flash drives with some standard viruses to cripple a computer. A program that opens two more of that program, that kind of stuff. Got an excellent portable power system. I can win basically any wrestling match, because I can just electrocute them. Only got enough juice to do that a couple times though. That should be it, unless I’ve developed another set of powers without my knowledge.”

“What about those things you were making earlier?” asked Chris.

“Oh yeah. They should block out Freedom Fighter’s effect on you. Should.”

“Should?” asked Chris.

“Or electrocute you, severely. Not a huge chance of that but I make no guarantees. I volunteer Ben to do the field test.”

“Sure,” said Ben. Dumbass.

“Hold on,” said Chris. “You invented a device to cancel out the power of one of the most wanted men in the world in a day.”

“Fuck yeah I did,” said Amanda. “I was seventy five percent of tech support for the MHU. A bunch of tedious work, easy but time consuming. I don’t have shit on my plate now, except for projects I want to do.”

“My turn,” said Chris, after considering Amanda for a bit. “Not much to discuss. I can be ignited if the heat is sufficient. So I will always avoid fire. I’ve never been burned and have no desire to find out what happens. If there’s something in me that is not what I was originally, it will displace a portion of my original body when I change back. However, I have a very acute awareness of where my liquid body is, so I can tell where there are foreign objects. I’m stronger and tireless as a liquid, but I have almost no feelings and can only maintain it for so long. My record is…about twenty minutes. If a part of me is severed, it’s gone, liquid or no.”

“Bueno,” said Ben. “I can teleport up to fifteen yards, gotta be lookin’ where I’m goin’ though. Can’t go through shit either. I do have a passive luck thing going on, but it ain’t nothin’ to write home about. I do freeze time…” What the fuck! When could he do this? And why are Chris and Olivia not surprised by this? “…but everythin’ is untouchable, so I can’t just shoot everyone and be done with it. Only lasts about seven seconds, dependin’ on I don’t know what the fuck. Hurts like a bitch to do it usually.”

“Freeze time?” asked Amanda.

“Yeah, it’s super fun. Chris and or Olivia didn’t tell you about it?”

“No.” They had entered her shop saying only that they had been attacked by the Watch, and that they weren’t followed.

“Well yeah, I can. Also got better, faster, stronger kind of stuff. Jus’ a slightly better version of pre trigger me.” His mouth snapped shut at that.

Amanda, Ben, and Chris turned their attention to Olivia. Supers tended to change the subject if triggers were brought up as a common courtesy, Amanda had learned in the Academy. Olivia looked down at the sudden attention. “I don’t really know. I mean, I’m strong. I can fly,” she shifted her wings slightly. “You see the claws and everything. I can hear and see and smell really well.”

Ben asked, “Hey Chris, ya hear some high pitched thing on the roads before we ran?”

Chris considered for a moment. “Maybe. I was distracted.”

Ben continued, “I only heard an annoying buzzin’, an’ my hearing is better than most, but you looked like you were hurtin’.” He pointed to Olivia.

“Yeah, that really hurt. My hearing kind of crippled me when I first…woke up.” I’m just impressed she didn’t go insane. Amanda remembered Olivia’s recounting of…her life story, now that Amanda thought of it. Olivia’s thoughts were very human, which made life difficult when absolutely everything was telling you that you weren’t.

“Speaking of hurt, what exactly did it feel like to get shot?” asked Chris.

“Um…well…kind of like…I can’t think of anything to compare it to,” said Olivia. “It was just a spike of pain where it hit. The pain went away quickly though.”

“So did the bullets simply ricochet off you? No damage?”

“No, from the riot, there were just a lot of bruises, but those are mostly gone now. With Whiteout and Blackout, they left some pretty ugly bruising.” She lifted her shirt to reveal three black discolorations on her stomach for a brief second. Those look remarkably unpleasant.

“So tha’s what professional grade firearms do to ya at near point blank range,” said Ben. “It looks like my universal advice of ‘don’t get shot by a tank’ holds true for you as well. Also, anything heavy calibre might get through to ya. An’ I think ya took enough bullets yesterday to consider a healin’ factor of some kind.”

Olivia continued speaking to her feet, “But there’s nothing else that I know I can do.”

Oh my god, I just had a great idea! “Hold on a second,” said Amanda. “You’re basically half dragon, right?”

Olivia looked up and nodded cautiously. Dragons were firmly in the realms of fairy tale, so far as Amanda knew, but fairy tales had so far proven a good indicator of dragon physiology. Amanda asked, “Can you breathe fire?” As if you weren’t overpowered already.

Chris considered Olivia, while Ben’s grin grew wider again. Olivia nervously fidgeted, saying, “I don’t think so. I could try but that doesn’t seem like a good idea in here.”

“No worries, just an idle thought,” said Amanda. Though it would be awesome if you could, she kept herself from adding.

“So is that all?” asked Chris. “Nothing that might have slipped anyone’s mind?” He looked at Ben, who attempted what Ben probably considered a winning smile. It just makes him look like even more of a jackass, especially with the missing tooth.

Everyone shook their heads. Chris continued, “Now, let’s see if we can find where Freedom Fighter is lurking.”

I think I’ve got some ideas left…

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Blood Red – Spiral

Note to self: the next time you hear or see or smell something strange, don’t ignore it. Just don’t. This is the second time now. The shock of the explosion had been physically painful to Olivia, and even now her ears were still ringing. Through it she could hear the shouts and gunshots from the ongoing riot, which was the buzz she had heard from earlier. Skulker was up and looking towards the column of smoke along with Olivia, muttering all kinds of profanities. Nomad had a hand to his ear, talking to someone unseen. Delta stood unmoving.

“What was that?” asked Olivia.

“Freedom Fighter. He’s a super powered anarchist terrorist guy. ‘Down with the bourgeois and the government, mankind must be free of any constraints, blah blah blah.’ Blew up a crowded hospital to send a message. Not the first time either,” responded Delta, sounding distracted.

“So should we do something?”

Skulker sounded amused, “What’s this ‘we’ you’re talkin’ about? Those two are the only official cops here and they’re gettin’ their orders right now. I’m gonna go on the outskirts if Cyrus doesn’t ‘ave anything for me, pick off looters and see if I can get a shot at him.” Skulker patted the sniper rifle on his back. “An’ what do you intend to do?”

“I don’t know. Help maybe?”

Skulker was about to reply when Nomad spoke up. “Alright, they have enacted a contingency plan for this. Didn’t tell me which one but they need us on damage control until it kicks in in about fifteen minutes. Skulker, Cyrus asked you to assist us.”

“’K, I’m in.”

Nomad paused for a second, then continued, “Let’s get moving.”

“Um…” started Olivia.

“Right. You stay here and stay safe. We’ll be back here once this is over if you need to move for any reason.”

“You know one or more of us is gonna die now right? ‘We’ll be back.’ I mean come on, that’s just asking for it.” said Delta.

“She’s right. Tha’s not outside the realms of possibility,” added Skulker, “It’s a stupid, stupid world we live in,”

Nomad ignored them, continuing to Olivia, “Before you even ask, no, you can’t come, even if you do have powers. We need trained people out there, people who know how to fight without killing or crippling civilians. As well, we need to calm people down. Not just over there, in general. You may be the nicest person on the planet, people aren’t going to react well if you show up at a bomb blast site.”

Skulker and Delta nodded in agreement. Since when did Skulker and Delta agree on anything? She hadn’t known them for long, but they had done nothing but trade insults between each other. Nomad said to Olivia, “Remember, the ability to fly won’t stop a mob from caving your skull in if they catch you. And they can’t catch you if you don’t go near them.”

They turned and ran back the way they came. Skulker was the last to leave. He paused at the doorway, then turned and pointed to Olivia. “No. Don’t do it. I know you’re going to ignore us. Don’t do that. Listen to us. Keep yourself safe.” He said, jabbing his finger at her periodically to drive his point home. With that, he left.

Olivia considered the door they had left for a moment. They couldn’t hear what she heard. She heard the cries of the people caught in the mob, screams of anger and fear, windows shattering, and a Molotov cocktail exploding somewhere. Shots went off in and around the mob, their sharp cracks reverberating through Olivia’s awareness. There was little doubt in her mind that people were dying down there.

Olivia turned her thoughts to what Delta had said. A hospital had been blown up. A crowded hospital. She doubted a rioting mob would offer humanitarian aid in any way.

The others had seemed really worried about this Freedom Fighter guy. The authorities were probably focusing on him, and she doubted any aid was going to reach the hospital through the seething mass of angry people. The others may have told her to stay here, but she had told herself that she wouldn’t be a bystander if she could help it.

This is probably a terrible idea. This is definitely a terrible idea, she thought as she took flight and headed towards the blown up building. The signs of chaos were more prevalent the closer she approached.

Below her a line of riot police was barely holding against a giant mob of people. The mob attacked with wild abandon, using fists, bricks, shards of glass, or anything else that came to hand. For their part, the riot police responded with equal brutality, beating down anyone they could, using shields or batons like Delta’s that caused convulsions in most people they touched. They barely maintained discipline.

As Olivia passed over, she got angry, at just about everything. There are normal people down there, causing death and destruction for no reason. Those police are supposed to protect, not club everything in sight. And who the hell do Nomad, Delta, and Skulker think they are? “No you can’t do this, you’re not even supposed to talk”.

Most of her anger was directed at Freedom Fighter. She didn’t know who he was, but this was his fault. He deserved to die for this alone.  In the back of Olivia’s mind she knew she was being irrational, but she didn’t care.

There were bodies in the streets, some alive, some dead. There were looters taking advantage of the chaos to sack stores and houses. They seemed incredibly violent about it, needlessly smashing anything that got in their way, savagely beating people who tried to fight back with ever escalating violence.

The closer Olivia got, the angrier she became. Angry with the mob, angry with Delta, Nomad, and Skulker, angry at Freedom Fighter, angry at the universe in general for doing this to her, and angry that she wasn’t thinking straight. Unable to think straight, she got angrier, which only put a greater damper on her critical thinking, forming an endless spiral of rage.

By the time she reached the hospital her jaw was clenched and she needed only the slightest excuse to lash out. She landed hard, feeling a sort of satisfaction from hitting something, even if it was just asphalt.

The hospital was in bad shape. The explosion had collapsed the easternmost two thirds of the main building, and the rest wasn’t looking too good either. Debris was everywhere; twisted wreckage comprised of most of what she saw. There were several fires contributing to the column of smoke rising from the hospital. She stormed in, heedless of any possible dangers. Too bad everyone she saw was dead.

She made her way further in, coming across a locked, though intact door. She ripped it off its hinges and carelessly tossed it aside. No one. She snarled and moved on, moving through to one of the side buildings, which was more intact. She heard someone speaking, and headed in that direction. I’m helping that person. Everyone else can go fuck themselves.

There was a man pinned by his legs under a chunk of concrete. He was punching it, leaving a streak of blood on the unfeeling side of the concrete.

“Fuck this bullshit,” the man was saying, punctuating each word with a strike to the concrete. As Olivia walked up behind him and placed her hands on the concrete to lift it, he said, “And fuck you too. I’m fine, you fuckin’ animal.” She had no idea if she could move the concrete but she didn’t care. She heaved, slowly lifting it off the man. He scrambled out despite his earlier protests.

They glared at each other for a couple seconds, then the man spat in her general direction and turned to leave without a word. I should kill you. Would serve you right, ingrate. Olivia was considering taking a swing at him when the decision was taken from her. Several shots rang out and the man fell, dead, at the doorway.

Olivia crouched and snarled at the four people, one woman and three men, who entered. The one at their head, with a rifle of some kind, had a balaclava covering his face and a red armband with a white fist emblazoned on it. There was a brown flak jacket covering his torso. His companions were armed as well, and wearing normal street clothing. Olivia could hear others behind them, a mob eager for blood.

“Ah, so this is the feral I’ve heard about,” said the lead man, “Do you understand me? Yes? No? I am called Freedom Fighter.”

At that Olivia started hissing, and not quietly. YOU! In the back of her mind Olivia remembered that Freedom Fighter had a power of some kind.

“I don’t know why they didn’t do this earlier. You see, they enjoy control. Crave it, one might say. And they won’t stop until everyone is licking their boots. But their control is not as complete as they would like you to think. Individuals among them, working for them, they have seen the truth of what I say. Those with control appear to have taken a special interest in you, they say. And I must oppose them, in any way necessary. I’m sorry, but this needs to be done,” said Freedom Fighter, walking away as his three companions raised their weapons and fired. Olivia roared in defiance as the bullets struck her.

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