Overlord’s Robotic Legions – Empire

Chris checked his phone again, his free hand fiddling with the napkin on his lap. The waitress of the diner arrived with his cup of coffee. He thanked her and took a sip, mind wandering. Maybe I should stop showing up so early to these things.

He leaned back in the booth. How in the hell am I going to patch this up? Can I even patch this up? They probably thought their foster child died at the feral place after getting him a job there. And now I just show up out of the blue, alive. I fucked this up.

“Hello, Chris,” he heard over his shoulder. It took him a moment to match the voice with the person he knew, but when he did make the connection he practically jumped out of his seat and spun around to face his foster parents.

Patricia and Frank Collins were both tall even in their early fifties, though they still stood a couple inches shorter than Chris. But that was where the similarities between the two ended. Frank’s skin was pale from long hours in an accounting office. Patricia, a retired MHU officer, probably could have snapped him in half. Chris’s eyes wandered over the scar on the side of her neck. They stood side by side, waiting for him to make the next move.

“Hello,” Chris managed. Handshake is too formal, they don’t look like they’re in the mood for hugs. What do I do? He offered them a seat in the booth across the table from him. They all sat, not bothering with the menus.

Frank had a nervous smiled on his face. Someone isn’t looking forward to this either. “So, kiddo, how’ve you been? What’d you wanna talk about?” This was your idea.

Chris blinked and said, “Well, what do you want to know?”

“The truth, please,” said Patricia, her voice icy.

Chris explained as much as he dared. He ran through Olivia’s capture and their efforts to break her out of the research facility in Houston. “So Miya had some family business to take care of in Phoenix. We wrapped that up and got back about a week ago,” he fnished.

They digested this in silence. Then Patricia said, “What were you thinking?”

He took a deep breath. “I was thinking I was helping the people who rely on me, and who I rely on.”

“We thought you were dead. Dead. Shall we list everything?” asked Patricia, locking eyes with Chris. “You call us to say Alice had been killed in the riots, and then went silent for a month.” Under the table, Chris’ hands clenched into fists.

“We thought you needed some space,” added Frank.

“And then, then, you called us asking to help you get a job in Houston. Not a week later we saw the news and thought you were dead in a mass feral breakout. We called some people and they said you’d just vanished. Just gone.”

Frank’s smile had vanished now, replaced by a serious frown. Chris felt himself shrinking under their gazes. I’m an idiot.

“We had our suspicions, especially when they said a certain feral was missing and you vanished from their systems. And you just confirmed those suspicions. You used us to break it out. So explain. Go on. Explain,” finished Patricia. She leaned back in the booth with folded arms.

“You were in the MHU,” he replied. “What would you have done for your squad mates?”

Patricia’s face darkened. “Don’t try to turn this around like that. This is about you, not me,” she exclaimed, her voice rising.

“Dear,” Frank murmured in warning. The loud and busy diner was filled with people, people with

“I can and will,” said Chris. “They’re my friends. We’ve kept each other alive when supers were trying to kill us. You think I should just throw that away? Just cut and run at the first sign of trouble?”

“Excuse me?” said the waitress as she approached, cutting him off. “Hi. Is there anything I can get you two?” she asked his foster parents.

“No thank you,” said Patricia, her voice curt.

“I’ll take a glass of orange juice,” said Frank with a smile for the waitress as he handed her the menus.

“Can do. That will be out in just a moment.”

“That’s your excuse?” Patricia continued when she left.

“Come on. You know she’d never see the light of day again if we didn’t get her out.”

“She?” asked Frank, eyebrows drawn together.

“The feral.”

They both sighed. Patricia massaged her forehead and said, “We thought you’d grown out of doing dumb things.”

“You didn’t think to tell us any of this,” added Frank.

“I thought you’d disapprove. And obviously you do.” I’m butchering this, aren’t I?

“Then why lie to us? Why?

“I did what I thought was right.”

“For who? A feral and a couple crooks?”

“The feral’s name is Olivia. She’s a sweet girl who’d rather curl up with a good book than anything else. Two of those crooks? Rob and Ben. They’re worried about their brother, deployed overseas. They try to hide it but they’re always gobbling up news about Iraq. Or Miya. She’s always angry, lashing out. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Doesn’t that sound exactly like me when I first moved in with you?” He took a moment to gather his thoughts. “Please don’t talk about them like they’re irredeemable thugs.”

Frank considered Chris. He placed a hand on Patricia’s arm when she opened her mouth. “And so your best idea was to lie to us to get into that research place,” he said.

Chris nodded. “It was the only way we could think of to get in. Otherwise we would just be reduced to beating our heads on the walls. I’m sorry. We made sure they couldn’t trace us back to you, but I didn’t think about what it would look like to you when the news broke. I’m so sorry.”

Just then, the power in the diner went out. Now what? Conversation in the diner faltered as everyone looked around at the now dimmed lights. Plenty of light came in through the large windows in the walls.

“Here you go. Sorry about all this,” said the waitress as she hurried up with Frank’s glass of orange juice. “We’ll try and get everything back up and running as soon as possible.”

“No problem. Thank you,” said Frank, accepting the glass. He took a long drink then asked, “You really want to stick with those people?” I guess we don’t need lights to have a conversation.

“Yes.”

“Well, I agree with your intentions, if not your execution.” He nudged Patricia, who nodded.

“You need to consider your friends carefully. Very carefully,” she added.

“It’s your decision and we will respect it,” said Frank. His tentative smile vanished. “But don’t do anything like that ever again.”

“We’re not going to keep this a secret, but we’re not going to go around telling everyone either,” added Patricia. Frank nodded in agreement.

That’s probably as best as I could have hoped for. “Thank you.”

“Sorry folks. Everything in the kitchen’s gone out,” announced a manager in the center of the diner. “If you didn’t get your food, it won’t be coming out unless your waiter says otherwise. Don’t worry about paying.”

“Just in the nick of time,” said Frank, his smile returning as he took another drink.

Chris took a sip of his now lukewarm coffee. A silence overtook their table. Not a hostile, glare ridden silence, or the silence of a lull in a friendly conversation, but a sort of awkward silence between people who don’t know what to say next.

Once they’d finished their drinks, Frank broke the silence. “Well, it was good to see you again, Chris,” he said as he got up. Chris and Patricia followed suit.

Chris shook his hand and said, “You too.” Frank moved aside for Patricia.

She wrapped an arm around Chris. “Don’t do anything else stupid.”

“I’ll try.” She released him, they said their goodbyes, and they went their separate ways. Chris headed back to the bus stop. That… that was good to get off my chest.

***

Bus is twenty minutes late. Wonder what’s going on. He leaned on the bus stop sign. I miss owning a car already. Around him, several other people also waited for the bus. He pulled out his phone. Whoa, no bars.

“What’s taking so long?” a woman said to herself aloud.

“Power went out. Probably messed with the lights,” replied the man between Chris and her in a gravelly voice. God damn it. Another power outage? I thought that had been fixed.

Finally, the bus trundled into view. Chris climbed on behind the man once it came to a stop. He managed to claim an empty seat. The bus lurched from stop to stop. Someone mentioned Overlord.

“Thank god. Finally,” said Gravel Voice, in the row ahead of Chris.

That caught the attention of the couple talking across the row from him.

“Did you just say thank god Overlord is here?” asked the young man. Chris turned his attention from the window to the conversation. This can’t be good.

The man grinned. “Maybe. Whatcha gonna do about it, punk?”

“What is wrong with you? He’s evil,” said the young woman.

“What did you just say, you little bitch?” Gravel Voice stood up from his seat. The young man shot up right after him. I can almost smell the testosterone.

“Hey, sit down back there,” called out the driver from the front.

“Shut up,” Gravel barked back.

“What did you just say to my girlfriend?”

Chris stood up. Alright, you two have had your fun. “Hey, pack it in-”

Flames shot out of Gravel Voice at Chris, cutting him off. He took a cautious step back. Why is it always fire?

“You know what Overlord means? Do you know?” asked Gravel, his voice low. The young couple also backed away, eyes wide.

“What are you on about?” asked someone from the back of the bus. Chris realized that the driver had pulled over, and spoke quickly and quietly into a two way radio.

“Order, that’s what. He won’t put up with bullshit like this.”

“And what are the police for?” asked a woman towards the front.

“The cops are band of well-meaning idiots too blind to see the truth.”

“And what truth is that?” asked Chris.

“That they’re protecting a corrupt and complacent society.”

“You’re an idiot,” said the bus driver, hanging up his radio.

“Shut up, you little faggots,” barked Gravel. He pulled out a pistol from his belt, flames shooting off of him. Guardsman? The vigilante? “You think he’s just going to go away like a bump in the night? He’s here to put an end to this bullshit,” he roared.

He won’t burn up everything in here. That would destroy his own oxygen supply. He’ll either use it small scale or try to get out so he can go hog wild. Or…

The temperature in the bus dropped several degrees. I hope he can’t go below my freezing point. Chris shifted into liquid and slammed into Guardsman’s arm. Someone screamed. The temperature around him plummeted, though Chris remained liquid. He slammed Guardsman’s arm into the ground. It went off. Shit.

Chris ripped it from Guardsman’s grasp and whisked it away within his liquid body. All the while, the temperature dropped further and further. Pain spiked at Chris through the usual numbness. Bad. He flowed off of Guardsman, and the pain died off.

Frost had accumulated on any exposed metal in the bus. The breath of the other passengers who hadn’t already escaped clouded in the air, despite the fact it was mid-June and eighty degrees outside.

Guardsman climbed to his feet with a shaky grin. “That all you got?”

I can’t spend too long around him. I think that pain was me freezing. Chris flowed between the seats to the right as Guardsman sent a blast of cold down the aisle and towards the back of the bus. A couple people in the back who hadn’t gotten out collapsed, shivering.

Chris burst up from behind a seat and rushed towards Guardsman. Guardsman dodged to the left, taking only a glancing blow to the shoulder. Chris readjusted, sending the middle part of his liquid body directly into Guardsman’s chest and punching him through a window.

A massive spike of pain arced through Chris. He forced the gun and random debris out of himself and reverted back to normal. It took a moment for him to recover, but he grabbed the gun and peeked out of the new hole in the bus.

A bloody Guardsman staggered to his feet, away from bus. He managed to pick up to jogging pace, crossing the street. Chris fired the magazine at the retreating figure until the magazine was empty. None hit.

“Fuck.” Chris cursed to himself and threw the now useless gun to the ground. Fucking lunatic. Fucking vigilantes.

He heard something from the back of the bus. A man curled on the floor, shivering. The young couple tended to someone else who had been hit by the cold.

Chris knelt by him. “Hey, listen to me. We’ll get you out of here and warmed up.” He looked up to the young couple, who nodded back.

Chris hauled the man to his feet and helped him walk down the aisle. He heard the couple behind him do the same. Everyone outside stared at him once he got out. He heard sirens in the distance approaching. Why can’t I have nice things? He passed the man to a bystander. “He’s super cold. Just let him warm up.”

With that, he shifted to liquid and flowed away, trying to put as much distance between himself and the bus that would soon be crawling with police. Once he gone a respectable way, he came to a stop behind a grocery store and half collapsed against a wall.

Once he’d caught his breath, he took stock. Well shit, I don’t have a way home now. Maybe I could walk to… where? He pulled out his phone to call a cab. Still no reception. Damn it. Lightrail? I have no idea where the nearest station is. I guess if I’m not too attached to my kidneys I could hitchhike. I should probably avoid public places, though. He sighed. Walking it is.

***

Hours later, several dodged police checkpoints, and a close run in with a tank, Chris found himself back in familiar territory. A few minutes later he slipped in into a lair completely devoid of people. This can’t be good.

He searched for a note, or any kind of indication as to where everyone else could be. Some yellow white flakes on the table caught his eye. These… these are bone. He spotted a half carved bone on the floor, along with a knife. Never seen Miya leave stuff like this lying around.

The work area was in more chaos than normal. Scattered tools. Par for the course. What is this? He spotted several opened gun cases strewn about. They armed themselves. Why? I don’t see any casings on the floor. No bullet marks on the walls, either.

He threw up his hands. It’s just one thing after another. He collapsed on a nearby chair and peeled off his shoes, letting them do something besides carry him for the first time all day.

A familiar rumbling came from the back lot of the lair. He pulled his shoes back on and rushed out back to the sight of the whole team, plus an armored man with an axe, climbing out of the battered and bullet ridden truck.

“What happened? Are you…”

“Purifier. You must be Nomad,” said the armored man as he climbed out of the back of the truck.

“Yeah,” answered Chris.

“Me an ‘liv’ were scoutin’ around. Ran afoul of some Overlord bots.”

Amanda and Rob got out of the cab and staggered towards the back.

“Olivia’s hurt. She got knocked out,” added Miya, next to Ben.

Together they bent down and lifted Olivia up. Shit. Chris helped them carry her into the lair. They set her face down on her beanbag. Olivia twitched occasionally, though her face remained relaxed.

“Where the fuck have you been all day?” asked Ben as everyone crashed around the table. “‘liv’s been stressin’ out over ya.”

“I’ve been trying to get back here this whole time. I… may have wrecked the bus I was on.”

“Why’d you do that?” asked Rob with a grin. Ben laughed behind him

“Because it turns out Guardsman is a big fan of Overlord. He got really violent and pulled a gun on some people.”

Purifier sighed. “I was afraid of that.”

“Had a bit of a reputation,” added Ben. He knelt down in front of Olivia and pulled up one of her eyelids. “Anyone know how to deal with reptile eyes? They any different than human ones? Can’t tell if she’s brain dead or somethin’.”

Right as Chris opened his mouth to ask what exactly had happened to them, Olivia shot upright with a snarl and grabbed Ben by the throat.

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Contract – Collaborative Restructure

“You got a look at ‘em?” asked Skulker over the comms, sounding unconcerned about the possibility of another cape stumbling in on their teammates.

“Um, no. I smell fire though.”

“Oh, well then,” he said, sounding much more alert. “Could be Guardsman. Stay on your toes. You catch that, Nomad?” He’s that vigilante guy. Chris and Ben mentioned him before, I think. The footsteps hadn’t stopped, still marching purposefully towards the building the rest were in.

She poked her head over the edge of the building to get a closer look. From behind she saw a heavyset man in an army jacket and matching pants. He had what she guessed to be a black ski mask over his head. The occasional flame broke out at random points on his person, curling upwards almost lazily before dying out after a few moments. His clothing remained untouched by the fires. Olivia also noted a pistol, flashlight, and knife at his belt.

“Nomad, Skulker, he’s on fire. I don’t think that’s good.”

“Nope. Tha’s Guardsman, an’ tha’ means he’s here for a fight.”

“Figure out what he’s here for,” whispered Nomad in Olivia’s ear, sounding like he was hurrying.

“He’s probably lookin’ for the Undead, same as us. Don’ worry ‘bout the rest, Olivia. They’re doin’ fine, by the way.” Just as he said that, shots rang from the building below. “At least they were,” he added. “New plan, you go talk to him.”

Over the comms, Olivia heard from Delta, “You guys missed one.”

“Fuck, sorry ‘bout that,” said Gears.

What? No. What if this turns into a fight? I’m not too good at public speaking. Guardsman had nearly reached the building at this point. “I don’t think- I mean-”

“Olivia, go,” said Skulker with far more calm than Olivia had ever heard in his voice before. “I’m on standby to start shootin’. It’s gotta be you. Don’ worry, you got this.” His voice cut off.

Olivia got up. What am I supposed to say? She jumped off the roof and started gliding towards Guardsman. OK now. Um… don’t be threatening. I should land in front of him so I don’t surprise him. Just… ask him to go away? Warn him?

Olivia kept one ear out for any sirens that may be approaching. That was her job, more or less. One thing they didn’t want to happen was for the police to barge in. Of course, we talked about using the police to break the gang up, but Ben pointed out that it’s hard to assassinate someone in the MHU headquarters if they arrest Nevermore.

Olivia landed off to the side just as Guardsman reached a door. Fires broke out on him with greater frequency, intensity, and duration than what she’d seen before. That’s probably bad. He turned sharply in Olivia’s direction, one hand resting on his pistol, the other shimmering with heat. Doesn’t matter. Say something to keep him from accidentally shooting someone. Or roasting. Say something.

“Um… Hi?” I’m an idiot. “Please don’t go in there right now.” From where she estimated Skulker to be came a sharp crack and the shattering of glass from the target building. She heard loud voices and straight up shouting from the inside.

“That guy, that guy!” said Nomad. Focus.

Guardsman gave a mirthless chuckle. “Why not?” he asked with a gravelly voice. “You with them?” He jerked his head towards the building. The flames disappeared from him, though his ready stance remained unchanged.

“What? No. We’re um… we’re taking care of them right now, so you… you know… don’t have to do anything, or go in there at all.” Did that get the point across? I think that got the point across.

He watched her silently for a couple moments. Instead of flames, now tendrils of frost flowed downwards off of him in the same pattern as the fires. No frost accumulated on his clothing, though his breath showed as a wisp of frost in the air. “Who’s this ‘we’? You and the rest of your little wanted buddies from before?” More gunshots from inside. More talking over the comms, she managed to ignore it this time.

Please don’t fight. I really don’t want to fight. “Yeah?” That was a mistake wasn’t it? “So, you know, we’re on the same side, so we really shouldn’t-”

The temperature around Olivia dropped, cutting off whatever she was about to say. A lot. Not just my imagination. It’s physically a lot colder all of a sudden. Olivia began backing up, which proved wise as Guardsman drew his sidearm and roared, “Don’t you lump me in with you scum!”

Olivia turned 180 at that and kept moving away in a sort of running crouch (Trying to make myself a smaller target. Ha ha ha.) down the street, looking for something to put between herself and the violent gun wielding vigilante. I know I’m bullet resistant, but they hurt, and it’s super cold near him. Putting distance between herself and Guardsman brought the added benefit of a warmer ambient temperature. Car. Good enough. She ducked behind a car parked on the side of the street as Guardsman fired.

Olivia poked her head up to look through the rear window of the car, ducking down again as that prompted him to start shooting where her head was. Car window glass shattered, sprinkling on Olivia. He advanced, slowly circling around her position for a clear line of sight. If I had a gun I could keep him from doing exactly what he’s doing now. He held the pistol in one hand, the other in a fist. Didn’t Skulker say to hold a gun two handed if at all possible? She thought back to the general firearm lecture he’d given her before in the lair before they had left.

“So if you’re talkin’ to a military type, a gun refers to artillery. Jus’ like a ship is a ship an’ a boat’s a submarine, but tha’s another story. This,” he held up Chris’s rifle, “is a rifle, not a gun. Obviously, if ya say gun everyone knows what you’re talkin’ about, but if you wanna sound like you know what you’re talkin’ about, refer to what it actually is.”

He continued, “Now the big thing to remember with these is accuracy, an’ a large part of tha’ comes from how ya hold it. A pistol held one handed ain’t gonna hit shit if ya don’ know what you’re doin’. It’s possible, so keep tha’ in mind. If ya hold it sideways, you ain’t gonna hit shit, period. If you’re doin’ tha’ retarded dual wieldin’ thing… jus’ don’ do that. Jus’ don’t. A two handed grip with a pistol gives ya a lot more stability.”

“Um, Ben? I’m not going to be shooting anyone.”

“Yeah, but it’s the more ya know. Good information can save yer life. If someone’s holdin’ their pistol sideways, you now know that they’re a fuckin’ idiot an’ don’ know what they’re doin’. Extrapolate!”

From what Olivia could tell Guardsman’s aim wasn’t bad; most bullets landed about where her head had been. Trying to kill me. Of course. No no. Don’t get angry. Tell the others. Tell them something. She couldn’t think of what to say. Guardsman fired again. Out of the corner of her eye frost streaked off to the side of the car she hid behind. He’d shot a column of freezing cold air, trying to flush her out. It certainly got a lot colder. Again.

Need to make this stop. Get away. How? If she broke cover now he’d just shoot her or freeze her. Or both, simultaneously, because how dare he settle for only one? She only held the controller for her comm unit, used to change frequencies, volume, and setting up private channels. Only this car. Wait a minute. She grabbed the back bumper and yanked, pulling a chunk free.

Guardsman stopped to reload, not bothering to take cover. Olivia flung the bumper in his general area, then took off in the other direction. Moving slower than I should. It’s too cold. She heard a curse from Guardsman as he ducked under the bumper part, dropping the new magazine he had in his hand.

She climbed as high up as she could, as fast as she could. Guardsman began firing again. One bullet grazed her tail, the rest missed completely. A column of frozen air, moving absolutely silently, hit one of her wings, nearly sending her plummeting back down to the earth as her wing nearly froze. She regained control, and moved to put a building between her and Guardsman, leaving him shouting general profanities at her back.

Now somewhat removed from imminent danger, she took a shaky breath and remembered everyone else. She listened to the comm as she circled high above where Guardsman futilely searched for her, staying out in the open away from any possible ambush sites.

“Two left. Skulker, one’s going for the north door,” said Delta, speaking hurriedly.

“Gotcha. Movin’.”

“Nomad still keeping the clown and tattoo fuckers busy?” asked Gears.

“Yep. Ooh, that was brutal. Our guy’s got a gun, he’s waiting at the door. Gears, you got this?” said Delta, the de facto leader when Nomad was otherwise occupied, apparently. It sounds like they’re doing fine.

“These walls are just drywall, right?”

“Yep,” said Miya.

“I go in one side, golem through the other?” asked Gears.

“Sounds good,” said Miya. I hate not really having a sense of what they’re doing outside of what I get from what they’re saying.

“Go. Three rooms that way. Miya, you keep these three down. I’m helping Nomad. And anyone heard from Olivia? Heard some hissing and she’s still not responding,” said Delta.

“I’m here. Sorry. Guardsman attacked,” said Olivia.

“Fuck. He’s hostile?” asked Delta.

Didn’t I just say that? “Yes.”

“Where is he now?”

Olivia looked down. Guardsman backed up towards the building the rest were in, still keeping a watchful eye on the sky and his surroundings for Olivia, pistol at the ready. No fire or frost clung to him. Good thing I can see you from this height, even though you apparently can’t see me. “Coming towards you.”

“How you holding up?” asked Delta.

“I’m OK.”

“Think you can keep him out? A burning building is not a fun building.”

I don’t… yeah. Keep him away from the rest of you guys. “I think so.”

“Alright. I’ll send the first available people your way as soon as I can.”

“I can help,” said Miya.

“No. You’re injured and your golem’s helping Gears. Olivia, watch yourself, OK?” said Delta.

“OK.” How am I going to do this? Guardsman had almost reached the door, and Olivia was above him. She dove. Her first instinct to put herself upright and land on top of him with her feet first. No, that’ll kill him. She extended her wings, cutting her speed. She landed, righted herself, and struck before Guardsman reacted. A knee to the gut, and claws digging into his arm as Olivia tried to disarm him. The pistol, not the arm itself this time. See, I’m improving.

Before she could make any headway, Guardsman got bitterly cold again. She released his arm, and Guardsman reflexively punched her in the jaw with his free hand. Both cried out in pain. Guardsman because he drove the relatively delicate instrument that is a human hand into what amounted to the corner of an unyielding brick wall. Olivia because his fist nearly flash froze her jaw where it hit her. Both backed up. Ow. Face is numb. Bad.

Focus. The temperature around her dropped rapidly. Not to the extreme cold around Guardsman, but enough for Olivia to notice. He holstered his pistol, to be fair it hadn’t been doing him any good, and lunged towards her, going low. Just shoot him. Just stab him. I’m having a hard time caring right now. She raked her claws on the side of his face as he rushed, and immediately regretted her decision as ice began to accumulate on her hand once she made contact. He rammed into her stomach anyway, wrapping around her in a bear hug. Cold. Moving too slow.

The cold shock nearly made her collapse. She kept her balance and grabbed at him again. This time it was to wrench the man off her, as he held her to bring her down with the cold. She’d probably learned how to more effectively counter this kind of thing from Ben, though the details of exactly how escaped her at the moment. With a roar she broke his grip and shoved him back. He came upright, and she drove her foot in a kick to his chest.

Headless of the cold, she followed up, swinging the non-frozen hand. Guardsman barely backed up in time, though that might have been more from residual momentum from the kick. Olivia smelled blood. Calm down, she thought, even as her follow through brought her close enough to shoulder check him. She lowered her shoulder and rammed with as much force as she could muster, diminished by the cold as it was.

Guardsman took the blow with as much grace as he could muster, rolling to the side to get out of her way, even for a moment. He began struggling to his feet again, one hand to his chest where Olivia kicked him. Olivia did not follow. Stay back. Calm, not angry. Even though he did try to kill you. Please stay down. She became aware of the buzzing in her ear again. I need to stop blocking that out. They might have something important to tell me.

At that point the door closest to them of the warehouse burst open, and Gears and Nomad rushed through, shotgun and rifle respectively at the ready. They immediately aimed at Guardsman.

“Fuck off,” barked Gears.

“We don’t have a problem with you, but we will if you keep this up,” said Nomad. “Leave.”

Guardsman, tired and bleeding from several cuts on his face and chest, spat blood. With a sneer in his voice he said, “You little shits broke the law. You think I have any sympathy for you?”

“You think my shotgun slug’s got any sympathy for the structural integrity of your face?” shouted Gears, aiming at Guardsman’s head. “It don’t, so get the fuck outta here cuz you got ten seconds before I put a bullet in ya. Ten, nine…” That count is a little faster than actuality.

Grudgingly, Guardsman got up and began to limp away as fast as possible, casting a couple glances over his shoulder on his way. That was sudden. Whatever, he’s going away now.

Once he disappeared from sight, Gears shivered and said to Olivia, “Cold out here. He got ice powers?”

“Yeah,” said Nomad, still watching where Guardsman had disappeared. “Hey, Skulker.”

“Yeah?” asked Skulker over the comms.

“You watch the area, keep an eye out for Guardsman in case he tries to come back. I doubt it, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful.”

“You got it,” was the response.

“Let’s get inside. You look frozen, Olivia.”

“Yeah. Cold,” said Olivia, flexing her hands to get any kind of warmth back into them. “I heard Miya was hurt. Is she OK?”

“Yeah, she’s fine. Small caliber bullet to the shoulder. We’ll fully patch that up later but for now the bleeding’s stopped,” said Nomad as they moved to the open door. Hey, the air is already warming up.

They filed into the warehouse Nomad bringing up the rear. Gears said cheerfully, “You alright, Olivia? Lookin’ kinda chilly. Face is blue an’ everythin’.”

“Sorry. I’m fine. Just warming up now,” she said, rubbing her hands together for friction. My face is blue?

“You’re just in a t shirt and cargo pants,” he commented.

“I’m fine,” she insisted.

“If you say so. I’m gonna get the BAT,” he said.

“Alright,” said Nomad. “Keep an eye out.” Gears nodded and headed in a different direction.

Olivia looked around at the warehouse. Old drywall, corrugated tin, and other scavenged or stolen materials made up most of the walls. I thought they’d be able to afford better. Posters of various gangsters with bandanas and hoodies in videogames and movies dotted the walls. The signs of the recent raid were evident. A smear of blood, a couple bullet casings, and a completely collapsed ramshackle wall. Other than that, it was very similar to the lair, stained concrete floor and everything.

They came to a sort of common room. Delta carried out bags of cash and drugs from a side room. Miya sat on a table, swinging her legs beneath her. She seemed close to happy, actually, despite the bandages on her left shoulder. Must be magic painkillers or something. Her golem, short a few bones, slowly patrolled in front of the five boys on their knees in handcuffs. All wore gags, and shied away as much as they could from the golem whenever it swung towards them. Something smells bad.

“Final count?” Nomad asked Miya.

“Those five and the two dead ones. And that other one that got away from you and Delta.” Dead ones? I know there were gunshots, but…

Nomad grimaced under his bandana. “Think we can get what we want out of them?”

Miya snickered. “Of course. Watch.” The golem lunged forward towards one. He let out a muffled yell, jerking backwards. The golem stopped two inches from where his face had been. “Isn’t that right?” she called out to the five. Miya, that’s messed up.

“Load them up in the truck once it gets here. We’ll take them to that place Skulker found. Delta, anything from the police?”

“Nothing so far, but I only give us about five minutes before they start coming here,” said Delta, not stopping what she was doing.

“The Watch?” asked Nomad.

“Same deal.”

Miya hopped down from the table. She walked forward and squatted right in front of a different captive. She flicked his forehead. “Hey, you ready for a ride.” He simply glared back at her, as if to make up for the fact that he flinched when she flicked him. She flicked his forehead again. “Come on. No response?”

OK. Enough. “Miya, stop,” said Olivia.

Miya looked over at her with a smile. “Why? This is fun.” She looked back at her captive and flicked his forehead again.

“They’re tied up. How is that fun?”

“Cause it is. You going to give me shit for it?”

“I’m sorry, but no. Don’t do that.” Seriously?

Talking over Miya’s response, Nomad said, “Miya, go watch Skulker’s back. He’s on the roof. I’ve got these five. Olivia, help Delta out moving that stuff.”

“What? Come on…” said Miya.

“Now,” said Nomad with finality.

Miya glared for a moment, during which Nomad calmly stared back. Grumbling, Miya complied. Olivia went to help Delta.

They took the cash and the prisoners, leaving the building before the police arrived to inspect the reports of gunshots and parahuman violence. Olivia flew, and Nomad made sure it was Gears guarding the prisoners in the back of his truck. The bones of the golem lay inanimate, next to Gears. Across from him lay the five. Olivia knew they would be interrogated, but after Miya, she wasn’t sure she like where that was headed.

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