Community Service – Blunt Force Trauma

Gears let the hood of the MHU van drop down and slam shut. “Should be good to go,” he announced, fitting his gauntlets back on to his hands.

The MHU officer beside him brushed some char and oil off his own hands before slipping his gloved back on. “Great. Want to take a look at the armor plating on the side?”

“Sure.” Gears followed the officer, his armor whirring and clanking with every move as the mechanisms within moved hundreds of pounds of steel. Like moving in quicksand.

“Here we are. Those burnt ones.”

Gears tilted his head at several holes melted into the side of the van. “The hell is this? It’s all melted an’ shit.” What kind of bullet does that?

The officer shrugged. “Dunno. I was too busy trying not to die.” Fuck it, whatever.

“Can’t argue with that. Well, that meltin’ ain’t exactly good for the armor, but I don’t got a way to fix it here. What’s left is still better than nothin’. We got bigger problems.”

“Alright,” the officer said with a nod. Something in the distance exploded. “Thanks for the help.”

“No problem. You seen Delta ‘round? Black armor, helmet coverin’ her whole face?”

The officer took a moment before responding. “I think so. Check with the radio people, other side of the lot. Can’t miss ‘em.”

“Alright. Thanks.”

Gears yawned under his mask as he stomped away. Just keep swimming. He followed the officer’s directions down the road, not that they were hard to follow. He found Delta on one knee, arms deep in the innards of some device he didn’t recognize. A couple other people with headsets chattered on in the background at similar setups in the middle of the crowded road. The fuck is going on here?

It took her a moment, but Delta noticed his approached and looked up with a wave before returning to her work.

“How you doin’?” he asked, stopping by her side.

Delta grunted and hung her head for a moment. “Tired. I need to get my contacts out soon or my eyes are going to make me suffer.” Her shoulders jerked as she snapped something in the device.

“Yeah, I hear that. The tired bit, my eyes are fine.” Didn’t make this armor to be worn for long periods of time. I probably smell real bad, too. He sniffed. Correction: I smell real bad.

“Bastard,” she murmured, just loud enough to be heard.

“What?”

“No one else has to deal with crap eyes, I swear.”

“Nah. Been thinkin’ ‘bout gettin’ a pair myself. Stuff far away is gettin’ kinda blurry for me.”

“Really? Skuker doesn’t seem to have a problem. He’s a sniper.” She grabbed something from the belt at her hip.

“Yeah, his power’s helpin’ him out there.” Lucky bastard. Sorta.

“Really? His eyesight?”

“Yeah. He got a whole grab bag of stuff. Most of it’s minor though. What’cha up to here?”

“Fixing stuff. They pulled this out of one of the MHU vans.” She patted the side of large metal box. The hell we got here? He recognized the radio build into the top, but beyond that, the bank of dials and computer monitor were beyond him.

“The hell is all this for?” he asked.

“The dispatch radio. It’s very heavy duty encryption, basically.”

“What’re the odds Overlord’s listenin’ in on ‘em anyways?”

“Oh, I almost guarantee it. But the alternative is not being able to talk. What the…” She trailed off. What? She slapped a small, thick length of cable on the top of the device for him to see. “What is this little thing?”

“Is it a mechanical piece?” he asked.

“What? No.”

Gears shrugged. “Then I got no clue. It a problem?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I’ll take a look at it once I fix this up.”

“Fix? You tore a bit of it out.”

“I cut it, but yeah, I see what you’re saying. It wasn’t actually doing anything. And it seemed off.”

“How can ya tell?”

“It’s made of a different kind of plastic. And I have no idea what it was supposed to do. Oh thank god, done,” said Delta. Gears helped her to her feet. “I’m fine.” she muttered.

No you aren’t. You took three bullets to the gut not that long ago, and now we’ve been running around for hours. He held his tongue and watched as she reattach the panel on the side of the device. Something clicked. She flicked a couple switches on the console. A couple lights came on, none of them red.

“There, working.” She grabbed the cut cable and waved the two other technicians over. “It’s all locked up and working now.” To Gears she said, “I want to take a look at this.”

“Need some help?”

“Sure,” she said as they walked off. “I gue-”

The technicians cut off whatever else she was about to say. “Hey, the screen isn’t quite the same as before. The color is off.”

Delta stared for a brief second. “It’s fine. I’ll be right over here if you need anything, OK.” Once out of earshot, she sighed and said, “Why does everyone doubt engineers?”

Gears shrugged. “I got no philosophy for you. Sorry.”

“Oh, good, no philosophy. That means you’re not useless after all.”

“Aw, thanks. I try.”

They sat down on the street curb, Gears’ armor letting out a heavy thud as it made contact with the concrete.

“Let’s see here.” Delta withdrew a couple wires from her glove and tied them around the frayed ends of the cable. She then drew a taser and jabbed at the center of the cable with it. Her head shot back in surprise. What? “Do you recognize this kind of rubber?” she asked, holding it out for him to see.

“No. Should I?” Never really paid attention to it before.

“It’s super resistant, to both heat and electricity.”

“Isn’t that the point?” asked Gears.

“No, as in a lightning bolt could hit this and nothing would happen.”

“No way in hell. It’d melt.” Lightning bolts are hot. I is so smartified.

“I know how much heat electricity puts out and how it would affect materials. This thing would be slightly charred on the point of impact. I mean, I’d need to test it to make sure, but this is unicorn horn or something right here.”

“Cool.”

“No, not cool. Where the hell did this come from?”

Getting kind of tired of not knowing answers to shit. “No clue,” said Gears with a sigh. He waved when he spotted Bob and Jeremiah approaching from the direction of the mint.

“Hey,” said Jeremiah. “Have you seen the dispatcher?”

“Yeah, I was just working on fixing some of their equipment. Right over there,” said Delta, pointing.

“Alright. Thanks.” Behind him, Bob nodded. Together, they hurried off. Delta and Gears exchanged glances. She returned to examining the cable in her hands. Gears listened in when the two MHU officers reached the two technicians. Oh, something interesting about something besides electricity.

“Dispatch?” asked Jeremiah.

“Yeah, that’s me,” said one of the technicians. He hung his headset around his neck. Oh, him.

“I’m Jeremiah, and this is Bob. We’re with the MHU, like you. We have a couple questions for you, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, go ahead,” said the dispatcher, leaning against the console that Delta had fixed.

“When was the last time you saw Marcus?”

“Saw? I haven’t seen him since he left work yesterday, before this all began. But he was in contact with us right until those bots overran HQ, giving out orders.”

“Did he say where he was at the time?”

“No, sorry.”

Something much closer exploded. Shouts broke out from the surrounding people. Uh oh. Gears stood, shotgun in hand. Delta seemed torn between joining him and studying the cable. Guess her helmet’s showing her something interesting, because that cable is still just a cable. Bob, Jeremiah, and the dispatcher looked at the smoke billowing into the air from the wall on the opposite side of the mint.

“Slim Jim!” shouted a soldier rushing past.

“Slim Jim? Where the fuck did he come from?”

“I don’t know,” replied Delta, her voice distant.

He offered her a hand. “Come on, up. This might be an attack.”

She brushed his hand aside. “I’m fine.” Her hand shot to her stomach and she let out a strangled cry as she collapsed when she tried to stand.

Shit. He knelt down next to her and placed a hand on her shoulder as she curled up slightly. Gotta do something. Uh… “You got pain killers? Somethin’ like that.”

“No. Didn’t… didn’t think I’d need them.” Right, we should be sitting back at the lair, waiting this out. I don’t want to fight fucking Overlord. I want to sleep, really.

“Ok, I’m gonna get a medic.”

“No. I can do this.” She straightened out and brought her breathing rate back down. Slowly, carefully, she got to her feet, Gears following suit. “See? Let’s… let’s go.”

Funny. “No. You’re in no shape to fight.”

“I said I’m fine.”

“An’ I don’t believe you. You think I’m blind an’ deaf?” asked Gears.

Delta put her hands on her hips. “I think you’re sticking your nose where it’s not welcome. Or whatever the saying is, you get the point.”

Gears looked around. Any immediate threats? Bob and Jeremiah still stood next to the dispatcher and his equipment, rifles at the ready. The other technician had vanished. A tank rumbled to life nearby. Gears’ own truck sat off to the side, untouched.

“Come on, back to the truck.”

“No. What about the others?”

Stalling. Fine, whatever. “Well, we got those comm things. Let’s give ‘em a call.” He fiddled with a few buttons on his own comm embedded on the upper arm of his armor. “Skulker, you there?” asked Gears.

“Yeah. I’m good,” he replied. “Miya an’ ‘liv ain’t with me. Bot movement spotted, can’t talk.”

“Gotcha, take care.”

“You too.” Skulker’s line went quiet.

Beside him, Delta asked, “Miya, Olivia, you guys OK?”

“Yeah, we’re fine, kind of,” replied Miya. “Olivia’s after Slim Jim now.” God damn it.

“Shit. No, that’s not fine,” said Delta.

“There are some teleporting government spooks with her. I’m healing one of them now. Slim Jim knows something, apparently,” said Miya.

“Wait, so the guy who might know somethin’ just happened to fuckin’ materialize right where we are? That strike anyone else as a tiny bit suspicious?”

“Wait, what?” asked Bob. Gears jumped in his armor. Bob and Jeremiah stood behind them, waiting. Don’t surprise a guy like that. Come on, there’s a war going on. Gears and Delta filled them in on their conversation.

“How did he even get in here?” asked Gears when they finished.

“Maybe he snuck in. We just drove up and asked,” said Jeremiah.

“Yeah, I don’t think security is very tight here,” added Delta.

“Speaking of which, something is off with the dispatcher,” commented Bob. “Couldn’t put my finger on it.”

“Oh, I could have told you that. This cable,” said Delta, wiggling it in her hands, “is a little piece of Overlord tech. I can’t quite figure out what it’s supposed to do, either monitor or send a signal. But it was put in there by someone. Someone who had access.”

“What? That could be anyone,” said Jeremiah.

“No. Only dispatchers and the MHU chief have access to something as important as that radio. They don’t exactly know how the insides work, but they’re able to control who has access to it. So only Marcus and that dispatcher could have put that there.”

“And we don’t know where Marcus is,” muttered Bob.

“Exactly. The dispatcher is our only lead on this.”

Jeremiah nodded for a moment. “Alright. Let’s have another chat with him.”

“Why didn’t you mention this earlier?” asked Gears.

“I didn’t want to call you two over and raise suspicion or something.”

“You spent all your time in tech support, didn’t you?” said Bob.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Jeremiah, over Delta’s retort. “Let’s go.”

They approached the dispatcher, still at his radio. What was it Bob said about dispatchers? Rain, sun, or nuclear annihilation. Gears grabbed the dispatcher’s arm and threw him to the ground. He shoved the shotgun barrel under his chin. “Talk.”

It took the dispatcher a moment to find his voice. “What?”

“I said talk.”

The dispatcher cringed under the gun, trying to back away on his back. “What? What are you talking about?” Behind them, a couple soldiers took notice and approached. Bob headed them off, raising a placating hand.

“You know. Overlord.”

Sweat beaded on the man’s forehead. “I… what? No, I don’t know-“ Gears cut him off with a jab to the chin with the gun barrel.

“You know we received a lot of faulty orders,” said Jeremiah, kneeling down beside him. “Orders from you. We were led straight into ambushes. All of us should be dead.”

“I’m just the messenger. They told me where people needed to go, so I did my job. Look, I didn’t know. If I’d known, that never would have happened.”

“Define ‘they’.”

“The brass. You know, the people in charge.”

“Do you know what this is?” asked Delta, holding the cable in her hands. Gears saw a flash of recognition in the dispatcher’s eyes.

“He does,” he announced. Lying piece of shit.

“Why betray us?” asked Delta.

The dispatcher gritted his teeth. “I didn’t. Now let me up.”

Gears gave him another jab with the shotgun. “Liar.”

Jeremiah sighed. “I agree with Gears here. You’re digging yourself deeper. What does Overlord have on you? We can help you if you tell us.”

“I. Am. Not. A. Traitor.”

“You know how many you got killed?” roared Gears. Liar, liar, liar.

“What? You think I’m going to just let that fucking robot blow my wife’s brains out?” the dispatcher blurted out. That’ll do it. Now quit beating around the bush.

Gears moved the gun barrel to the right of the man’s ear and pulled the trigger. The dispatcher screamed as the shot tore up the asphalt a bare inch from his ear.

“You still hear me? I don’t lie. Your wife your weak spot? I’ll drag you fuckin’ wife out here an’ blow her brains out myself unless you start givin’ me answers. You’re between a rock an’ a hard place, but this hard place is much fuckin’ closer.” The dispatcher turned away, screwed his eyes shut, and kept quiet. Look at me, liar.

“Allow me,” said Jeremiah, standing and placing a hand on Gears’ shoulder. To the dispatcher he said, “We’re not going to be executing anyone. Just tell us what you know.” Gears removed his foot from the man’s chest and took a step back, shotgun still at the ready.

The dispatcher gave a nervous smile. “Good cop from you, Jeremiah?”

“Yep. You’ve already confessed. It’s just a question of how much you tell us now.”

His smile vanished. “I tried. I really tried. If I talk they’ll kill her and me.”

“How did this happen?” The gunfire drew closer.

“Marcus. It was Marcus. He was nervous, told me to visit an old house on the outside of town. They had my wife, and told me to do whatever they said. They gave me that thing and told me where to put it. Then I’d see messages on screen, them telling me what to say.” The dispatcher’s voice was growing more and more desperate, the words coming out faster and faster.

“Where is Marcus now?” asked Jeremiah, his voice as calm as ever.

“I don’t know. I don’t know, probably dead. Oh god I’m sorry, Jennifer. I’m so sorry.”

“That’s all we needed to know. We’ll find your wife,” said Jeremiah over the dispatcher’s sobs.

Bob turned the dispatcher over and handcuffed him as Jeremiah walked up to Delta and Gears.

“Would you really have done that?” Delta asked Gears.

“What?”

“Shoot him and his wife?”

“Yeah. Why would I give a shit about her or him?”

Delta stayed silent. “The Company appreciates your assistance in this matter,” Jeremiah whispered into Gears’ ear. Eh? Jeremiah continued in a normal voice, “So that’s one mystery cleared up. But we’re no closer to Marcus.”

“Maybe not,” said Delta, her voice quiet. “He mentioned Marcus was nervous. Maybe he’s under threat too.”

“What do we never need him for?” asked Gears. From what Ben tells me he’s a dick.

“He knows how to command the MHU more than the military. He knows the city better than that lieutenant guy and he’s a mage,” called out Bob.

Jeremiah nodded. “Yes. That. Dispatcher was our best lead, but I think I have a few others, if I can get into contact with them.”

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Overlord’s Robotic Legions – Scab

Miya slumped in the bed of Gears’ truck, beside Olivia. Bob, the MHU officer, sat across from them. Gears started the engine and drove past the remains of the MHU convoy in the middle of the street. Miya’s long black hair whipped around in the wind. The three massive, armored vans burned, the flames shooting up high into the night sky above.

How are we going to stop this? Can we? She stared down and flexed her hand. Fucking Overlord. Everyone remained silent. In the distance, Miya could hear gunfire and the occasional explosion all throughout the city, echoing off the skyscrapers as they moved deeper into the city and towards the mint. Didn’t know Westward had a mint. Phoenix didn’t. She glanced around at the MHU officer in the back of the truck with her.

Goggles attached to Bob’s helmet covered his eyes, along with most of his face above his cheeks, making his expression hard to read. Nonetheless, a small frown tugged at the corners of his lips. His folded arms and rifle rested on the dark grey chest plate of his body armor. He turned his head a fraction, facing her fully.

Shit. He noticed. “Did you have friends back there?” she asked, raising her voice enough to be heard over the rumbling of the truck’s engine and the rush of air around them.

He nodded and sighed. “Not the first time. Won’t be the last.”

“Sorry.” God I hate that. ‘Sorry.’ Feels so token.

They fell into silence again. Miya leaned over and bumped against Olivia, hoping to elicit any sort of reaction. Olivia’s wings twitched. She pulled her tail that had been hanging out back into the bed of the truck. OK. She’s not brain dead or anything

Bob spoke up, “Didn’t see Nomad with you.”

“You knew him?”

“Yeah. Worked with him a couple times before Marcus took over MHU.”

“He… he didn’t make it.” Miya heard a faint hiss from Olivia, almost unnoticeable under the sounds of the truck.

Bob hung his head for a moment. “Sorry to hear that. He was a good kid.”

“Yeah.” He and Olivia were the ones who came along to deal with my family bullshit.

“You knew him. Keep yourself alive and remem-” They hit a bump as Gears pulled onto the curb to avoid a bullet ridden and abandoned Army checkpoint blocking the road. Bob gave a sharp grunt and held a hand to his mouth.  “Fuck. Bit my tongue,” he muttered.

Miya smiled in spite of herself, letting out a small laugh. I’m a terrible person. Bob managed a small chuckle.

“That’ll teach me to open my mouth.”

They turned onto a larger street. Miya’s eyes widened. Whoa. The shattered remains of two tanks on either side of the road burned, smoke pouring out of them. She saw bodies.

“Whoa, stop.” Bob reached out and hit the roof of the truck’s cab. The truck, already slowing, came to a full stop.

Bob jumped off the side of the truck. Miya nudged Olivia with her elbow as she stood. After a moment, Olivia followed, her movements sluggish. The others piled out of the front.

“Techies, Bob, stay here,” ordered Jeremiah, rifle at the ready.  “Be ready to get us out of here.”

Gears remained behind the wheel; Delta joined Bob by the side of the car. Miya pulled her pistol from its holster at her hip and joined the others as they approached a row of bodies sprawled on the sidewalk. They stopped ten paces away. Miya couldn’t tear her eyes away. That’s… that’s a lot of bodies.

Jeremiah was the first to speak. “These people were executed.” Not all wore uniforms. Miya counted a man and two women in normal clothes. All had gaping wounds in the backs of their heads. Blood ran on the ground. “Put down on their knees, then a bullet to the back of their head.”

“Smells wrong,” murmured Olivia, behind Miya.

“Stop,” said Miya. Everyone froze. “What was that, Olivia?”

“Something smells wrong. Not the bodies.”

“Well, what is it?” asked Jeremiah, turning away from the bodies. Olivia’s frown deepened, her gaze distant.

“Give her some space,” said Miya.

“Smells like robot,” said Olivia in the same subdued voice.

Jeremiah snorted. “Yeah, no shit, there were robots here.”

“Hey, fuck off,” responded Skulker, sniper rifle in hand.

“Something’s still here,” said Olivia, showing no indication she’d heard either of them. “Under one of the bodies.”

That got their attention. Shit, which one? “Back up,” said Jeremiah, slowly backing away.

“When did you-” started Skulker.

“Not now,” barked Miya as she followed Jeremiah’s lead. He’s a dick, but he’s right. She gave Olivia’s wing a tug. She followed.

“I’m thinking those bodies are booby trapped,” explained Jeremiah. “Saw stuff similar in Afghanistan. With piles of trash, but same concept.”

“Can’t jus’ leave a bomb out here for some other poor fucks to stumble on.”

“They’ll probably detonate once they’re disturbed. Unless your dragon friend can smell a robot nearby, then that might be a triggerman. Bot. You get it.”

Olivia shook her head. Skulker took a knee and aimed.  “Which one?” he asked her. She pointed to a body in the middle of the row.

He fired into the body. A small explosion ripped through the sidewalk. Miya covered her head with her arms as bits of rubble and the shockwave shot past. Beside her, Olivia shook the wing she’d stretched out between Miya and the explosion, dislodging a couple flakes of concrete.

“Everyone OK?” asked Skulker, standing back up.

Every answered affirmative. “Let’s get going,” said Jeremiah.

***

“Halt!” a man yelled.

Once the truck jerked to a stop, Miya poked her head around the side. A low wall of sandbags and scrap from cars stood between them and the mint. Several large machine guns mounted to the walls or the pair of humvees aimed at their truck. The soldiers who manned them looked battered and bloodied. One was missing his helmet, another had a bloody bandage around his upper arm.

“Careful,” said Bob, his voice low. He placed his rifle on the floor and stood up with his empty hands where the soldiers could see them. “MHU and locals. Dispatch told us to come here.”

One of the soldiers responded, “Locals?”

Bob glanced at Miya. What? Oh right, we need a name. Still. She shrugged. “Yes,” answered Bob.

“Get out. Keep your hands where we can see them. We’ve had incidents.”

“Do as he says,” murmured Bob as he slowly climbed out of the truck. Miya and Olivia followed suit. The doors opened to let out the others. They clustered near the front of the truck. One of the soldiers stood, rifle still aimed at them.

“Two MHU, four local supers, and, uh, a feral.” A pause. Olivia pulled her wings in closer behind her back. “No sir. She’s with the other four. Not aggressive. Wings. Yes sir.” To them, he called out, “The feral going to be a problem?”

“She’s fine,” barked Skulker. Miya’s hands tightened into fists. Bastards.

The soldier looked to Bob, who nodded. He lowered his rifle. “Alright, let ‘em through. Go see the lieutenant, he wanted to talk with you.”

Three other soldiers ran up to the spiky metal barricade in the center of the road and pulled it to the side. They drove through, and they pulled the barricade went back. Miya saw movement in the surrounding buildings. She caught sight of uniforms. So they have the streets and buildings around the mint. Anything else?

In the street in front of the mint were parked two tanks, a couple more battle scarred humvees, and various other vehicles Miya didn’t know the names of. Soldiers and MHU officers in their dark grey armor rushed to various tasks, weapons close at hand for everyone. Temporary spotlights lit up the area.

They got a few odd looks, but by and large no one seemed to care that there was a massive pickup truck with a feral on the back driving through. They approached the black fence surrounding the four story, white stone building. Looks old. Really old. The fence curved in on either side of a set of doors, stopping at the wall of the building. Two soldiers guarded the gate. The first moved to block their way as they got out of the truck once again. The second openly stared at Olivia the whole time.

“We’ve just arrived. MHU and locals. The men at the gate told us to meet with the lieutenant,” said Jeremiah, voice confident.

“Stairs to your left, second floor. Can’t miss him,” said the first guard.

He stepped to the side and let them in. The second nodded to Olivia as they passed, though she didn’t seem to notice. Weird.

Miya visually checked over the others as they headed inside, MHU men included. Any broken bones? Bob and Jeremiah stood alert, never looking in the same place for long. They’re fine. Gears hadn’t done much besides drive the truck, and from what Miya could tell their armor was in good shape. Rob needs to repaint that armor though, if he wants any of that stuff legible. As for Skulker, she couldn’t see anything wrong. Maybe check his hand, see if anything’s gone wrong there.

Delta curled slightly at the stomach, even when standing. Need to keep an eye on her. Olivia just kept her head down, shoulders slumped. Miya bumped into her with her hip.

“Hey, you alright?” Olivia nodded, extending a wing around Miya’s shoulders. “You don’t have to worry about-” She was cut short when they entered the mint.

The wounded lay everywhere. Men and women with red cross armbands rushed between the myriad cots and stretchers on the floor. The smell of blood, piss, feces, and all sorts of other bodily fluids hit Miya’s nostrils. Olivia physically recoiled, hand held to her nose. Across the wide room frantic screaming picked up. A few doctors and nurses rushed over.

“Grey goo, grey goo!” screamed the nearest one.

“Quarantine!” roared a doctor.

Everyone backed away from the screaming, writhing man, pulling patients along with them. Two soldiers rushed over with what looked like a large metallic blanket. They pulled it over the man, sparks flying off its reflective surface. Beneath it, the man’s thrashing stilled. Shit. Shit. What the shit? Screaming robots and bodies with bombs and now whatever that was?

“Come on,” said Jeremiah, seemingly unconcerned by what had happened. He led the way towards the stairs.

Blood and soap and needles and no, no, no. Miya jumped when Olivia nudged her. No orange. Hip to hip, or as close as their wildly different heights would allow, they followed Jeremiah, trying their utmost to not look for another moment at the scene behind them.

Soon enough, they reached the second floor of the mint. The halls were lined with portraits of official looking government employees. One opened door had people constantly rushing in and out. They headed for it.

Inside was organized chaos. In the corner, a couple people with headsets operated a large radio set. A massive topographical map of the city had been attached to a wall on the opposite side of the room. A man in his thirties stood by a table in the middle, a touch of grey in his buzz cut brown hair.

“Sir,” called out Jeremiah. Sure. Let this asshole take the heat.

The man looked them over. “Give me that file.” The lieutenant thumbed through the folder an underling passed him for a few moments.

“You know us?” asked Gears.

“Yes,” answered the lieutenant, not looking up. “You were mentioned by MHU forces here. And we’ve got close to thirty soldiers and MHU officers here who said they would have died in two separate ambushes had a human dragon thing not swooped down and pummeled the ambushing robots long enough for them to get away.”

Olivia’s eyes didn’t leave the ground. The lieutenant closed the file and leaned forward, hands on the desk.

“One of you was put through Overlord’s experiments. Another of you was shot by his robots. Another stole from him. And finally another one of you is on his radar for future experiments. You’re no friends of him,” he said, looking Miya directly in the eye.

She nodded. I will kill him. Him, Slim Jim, and Doctor Orange.

“Welcome aboard. We’ve gotten some metahuman volunteers, but you’re the last organized group. The Bratva was getting rounded up and slaughtered last we knew, and we’ve heard nothing from the Watch, Cyrus, or the Company here. Our own metahuman units were targeted and killed nearly to a man. They have some way of blocking powers.”

“Yeah, the big bots,” broke in Skulker. “Not the armored ones with big guns, the lighter ones with the antennae outta their backs.” He motioned to Miya. “Mages aren’t affected. Neither was Olivia.”

“Who?” Skulker jerked his head to Olivia. “Ah. Odd, but I’ll take it. Their range?”

“Dunno. No time to test.”

“I understand. Spread the word.”

“Cyrus,” murmured Olivia.

“What was that?” asked the lieutenant. He stared at Olivia.

“Um, one of those big robots had Cyrus. I stopped it, and Cyrus flew away.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know, sorry.”

The lieutenant cursed. “We need everyone who can hold a gun without shooting their foot off, metahuman or no. Our communications are shot. I’m the highest ranking one here. We found the police chief dead in his own home. We’re not sure where the MHU chief is.

“Marcus. He’s a mage,” said Bob.

“Dispatch says he was getting orders from Marcus right before HQ was overrun,” added Jeremiah.

“Then you two find your dispatcher. From there figure out where Marcus is. If he’s outside our perimeter, come to me.”

The two MHU officer nodded. “Yes sir.”

“Good luck,” added Bob to Miya as he left.

The lieutenant continued, “You two techies, get out to the motor pool. Might have something for you.”

“We’d rather stay with the rest of our team, sir,” said Delta.

“Not an option. But if we have an operation outside our perimeter, you all will be in the same unit. Healer mage, you get back down to ground floor, report to Doc Miller. Flyer and sniper, rooftop.”

Miya opened her mouth to protest. Not going back down to that hell. No. Before she could, Delta said, “We’ll do our best.” She shepherded everyone outside before Miya could react. No, no, no.

Once out of earshot of the lieutenant, Delta said, “Sorry. I’m sorry. But fighting him is not worth it.”

“What? Splittin’ up ain’t a good idea, hon,” said Skuker, good hand on the knife at his belt.

“I know. But our comms work. First sign of trouble and we meet back at the front door, OK? And that guy was right. Miya can heal someone better than anyone else can. Olivia has better eyes and ears than anyone here.”

Everyone but Miya nodded. “I…” she began. What am I supposed to say? Everyone’s ready to do this. Fuck.

Miya spun on her heels and shouldered her way past a woman in a scuffled, charcoal grey suit as she headed back downstairs. Overlord’s head on a spike. That’s what I’m working for.

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Overlord’s Robotic Legions – Flatline

Skulker peeled himself off the ground. His head throbbed, and his eyes felt like they were trying to pop out of his skull. The fuck was that? Gunfire and screaming rang out around him. Something large roared. Bad. A hand grabbed his shoulder and pulled him upright.

“Get up,” Miya shouted over the uproar. “Chris is down.”

Skulker couldn’t hear the pops and zings from incoming gunfire, so he poked his head over the hood of his shot up car. I just got this damn thing. Chris lay face first in the street, a pool of blood gathering beneath him. Shit, shit, shit. Chunks of robot lay scattered around him.

Most of the remaining robots had scattered around Olivia, standing in the wreckage of a particularly large robot. She rushed at one. Rather than standing its ground, the robot backpedaled as the others circled around her and fired.

Miya grabbed Skulker’s arm as he raised his pistol. “They’re distracted. We’ve gotta get Chris,” she reminded him. Right.

Skulker jumped over the hood of the car and teleported to Chris. Miya’s golem trundled up on four legs, many of the bones comprising its body fractured or broken completely. It shifted, forming a low, crude wall between him and the robots. Skulker knelt down and turned Chris over. Not breathing, no pulse. Fuck.

He stared down at Chris even when Miya sprinted up to join him. His mind raced. Six bullet wounds to the chest.

“Dead,” he managed, before Miya could say anything.

Another roar from Olivia caught his attention. He peered through the golem. Two more of the robots were down. She took flight after a retreating group, leaving nothing but a golem between five stragglers and Skulker and Miya. Damn it.

Beside him, Miya crouched, hands on Chris, and said, “No. Maybe I can… I can-”

Skulker grabbed her shoulder and pulled her towards the nearby buildings lining the streets. The living come first. Fuck. I’m gonna rip someone’s fucking head off by the time this is done.

“Get your golem moving. We gotta go, now!” he shouted.

Miya cursed, he couldn’t make out the exact word, and sprinted alongside him to cover. Bullets whizzed around him; the robots’ rifles softer than normal gunshots but no less deadly. The golem took a serpentine shape, slithering along behind them. Skulker raised his arms over his face and busted through the glass door of the building, taking a few cuts. Miya and her golem followed.

“Back door,” he urged her. He ducked against the doorframe and fired back at the robots once she was clear. You fuckers stay out there. Rather than reloading, he spun on his heels and teleported after Miya. Together they pushed an emergency door open and ran into a back parking lot.

“They following?” she asked

Metal footsteps clanked on the tiled floor behind them. “Yeah. Golem trap.”

Miya nodded. The golem pressed itself up against the wall to the side of the door they’d exited.

Olivia went east. Skulker led the way, Miya’s shorter legs struggling to keep up. Gunshots rang out, none aimed at them.

What felt like an eternity later, Miya gasped, “Golem’s gone.” Hope that bought us enough time.

It didn’t take them long to find where Olivia had gone. Three more robots lay in pieces on the sidewalk. Three bots, but I only count one head here. No, wait, that’s a fake mouth thing. Two. A couple nearby cars had claw marks, dents, and bullet holes. The remains of a shattered tree lay across the chestplate of one of the bots.

Wordlessly, Miya and Skulker continued. Every now and then they stumbled across another robot, and lots of destroyed property. They heard a roar in the distance ahead of them, along with sirens and gunfire all around. We ain’t the only thing happening in the city.

The comm in his ear buzzed. Skulker slowed to a jog, then a walk. Miya caught up a moment later. He looked around. The residential neighborhood they found themselves in looked deserted at first glance. Dogs barked nearby, and some lights flickered on the windows of nearby houses. They ain’t dumb. They’ll stay inside. No use going out and getting vaporized if it’s a super’s rampage.

“Skulker, Miya, Nomad, you there?” asked Amanda.

Between pants, he replied, “Yeah. Both here. Chris is dead.” Miya looked around behind them, chest heaving.

Rob spoke up, also over the comm. “Repeat that?”

“Chris is dead. Too many bots in the area, we couldn’t grab his body. ‘liv’s on a rampage. Tryin’ to catch up now.”

“She’s tearing apart every robot she can find,” added Miya. She and Skulker resumed walking in the silence followed.

“How?” asked Rob.

“Power nullifier, I think. Tha’ big bot.”

“Must have been,” said Miya. Skulker boosted her up a fence, then teleported after her.

“What? Power nullifier?” asked Amanda in a shaky voice.

“Didn’t think that was possible,” said Rob.

“Whoa, hold up,” said Skulker. They approached around a humvee with two clawed up robots halfway out of it and a torn up engine block. “We got bots in military vehicles.” Another humvee down the road lay on its side, with more robots scattered around it. She’s doing a number on these things.

“OK. That can’t be good. We’ll be on the lookout,” said Rob. Silence reigned. Shit. I don’t know what to do. Chris always had that figured out. I just shoot stuff.

“So, where are you two at?” asked Amanda. Skulker rattled off their location.

“Dropped off Purifier. We’re armored up an’ followin’,” said Rob.

“Keep following Olivia. We’re not loosing anyone else,” said Amanda, her voice tense.

“We’re maybe three minutes out. Stay safe,” added Rob.

“You too. See ya in three.” The comm shut off.

They followed Olivia’s trail of destruction through the city with a jog. More busted robots, more torn up scenery, and the occasional humvee. One of the bots was still moving when they found it. It crawled with its one functional arm away from a small crater in a lawn. A crater? The fuck is she doing? They put a couple bullets in it and carried on.

They heard the rumbling of a large approaching vehicle behind them. The comm crackled to life again. “No worries, it’s us.” The BAT pulled up next to them. They all came to a stop.

“You see bots chasin’ behind us?” Skulker asked his brother through the broken window of the driver’s door. Gears, and Delta beside him, wore their full armor.

“Nope. Just dead ones,” replied Gears, his voice dull.

“Cool. I’ll climb in the back. Keep an eye out.” Gears nodded as Miya climbed in the cab behind Delta.

Skulker traded his pistol for Senior Lopez, his sniper rifle. Once in the bed of the truck, he pounded the roof twice with his fist. Gears resumed driving. Skulker sat with his back against the wall of the cab.

Chris. Fuck. He’s a good guy. Is, was, fuck it. Didn’t deserve that. Not much I can do about it now, except shoot everything that looks like a bot. And that’s it. That’s all I can fucking do do.

The truck turned a corner, then slowed down. Now what? Skulker twisted around to catch sight of a line of burning MHU trucks. This can’t be good. He heard gunfire. A few bots fired at a building. How many of those fucking things are there?

Gears brought the truck to a full stop. As the others began piling out, Skulker crouched down, rested his rifle on the wall of the truck bed and took aim.

Gears tossed something at a pair of robots. It exploded into hundreds of wires tangling themselves in the robots’ limbs. Delta opened fire, cutting down another robot. Miya hung back, without a golem or any way to affect robots with magic exclusive to living beings. Skulker picked off another one trying to circle around the building where they’d been firing.

Suddenly, Gear stopped advancing. He held a hand to his head. A robot fired at him, though his armor held. Skulker caught sight of a larger robot lurking in the wreckage of one of the MHU trucks. He scrambled to readjust his rifle. Miya rushed forward when Delta also froze, firing at the smaller robot.

Rather than armor, this large robot had a rod sticking out of its back. Oh, I recognize you. Piece of shit nullifier thing. Skulker fired. The robot took the shot to the chest, staggered for a moment, and continued. He fired three more times. The first shot ripped through a different part of the chest, the second removed its arm, and the last stopped it completely. It collapsed in a heap of sparks and twisted metal.

A hushed silence fell over the street battleground, Miya having handled the last robot. Gears and Delta looked as though they’d recovered.

“Hey, we’re friendlies,” called out a voice.

Two MHU officers stood up from behind the low wall, rifles pointed at the ground. The two parties stared at each other for a moment. Don’t try to arrest us. For the love of god don’t be that dumb.

“Oh, it’s you lot. Right now you’re not shooting at us so I don’t give a shit. Name’s Jeremiah.” They climbed over the wall to join the others.

I guess I’m not doing anything useful now. Skulker returned Senior Lopez to its sheath on his back and jumped out of the truck. A couple teleports put him beside his brother.

The other officer spoke up. “Bob. Hi, Delta.” She nodded in response.

The one named Jeremiah smirked.

“We’re looking for a friend. What happened?” asked Delta, her voice electronically distorted by her helmet.

“Bunch of bots ambushed us. Took out the first and last two trucks before we knew we were being attacked. We managed to get out before they lit ours on fire. They picked most of us off, I think we’re the only two that made it. They had us cornered, then that feral came out of nowhere and took a lot of the heat off us.” You’re really damn chipper about this, all things considered.

“Six trucks worth of MHU officers gone?” asked Gears, his tone incredulous.

“Divide and conquer. We got about ten calls in as many minutes. We figured it was a trap, so we only responded to about four of them. Didn’t fucking matter, though.” Jeremiah spat and grinned. “And not that I’m complaining, but what brought you here to save our sorry hides?”

“We’re looking for Olivia. The feral,” said Delta.

Bob pointed down the street. “Right over there, last we saw. Went in that office building.”

Skulker took one look and teleported in that direction. He spotted a large, ragged hole torn into the wall of the building Bob had pointed out. He climbed through the rubble. Inside, Olivia was on her knees, head hung low. An armored robot lay unmoving in front of her.

Skulker teleported over and waved a hand in front of her. “Hey, you hear me?” She made no response. He heard some of the others jog up from behind and kept trying Olivia to react. No, she’s not dead. She’s breathing. Her eyes are open. The fuck, Olivia? Hell, why were you even out here?

“Shock?” suggested Jeremiah as he took in the scene.

“Dunno,” replied Skulker. To Olivia he said, “Come on, gotta get outta here.” She made no response.

Skulker grunted and lifted her arm. He wrapped it around his shoulders and hauled her to her feet without resistance. Damn she’s heavy. Three hundred pounds of love right here. Gears approached and shouldered most of her weight. Together, they half dragged her back to the truck. She made no sound.

Miya and Delta kept watch by the truck. In the background, he saw Bob searching through the ruined trucks for any survivors. They placed Olivia in the bed of the truck. Jeremiah and Bob joined them, Bob shaking his head.

“Where to now?” asked Gears.

“Streets aren’t safe. We’ve been given orders to fall back to the mint,” said Jeremiah.

“Not HQ?” asked Delta.

“No, it’s been overrun. The guy on dispatch duty barely made it out.”

“He’s still goin’? Tha’s commitment,” commented Skulker.

“Rain, shine, or nuclear annihilation,” Bob muttered.

Everyone exchanged glances. Payback time. “Let’s get movin’ to the mint, then,” said Skulker.

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John Doe – Riot

Something slid by Chris’s head with the sound of sandpaper on wood. He heard a loud hiss from the same direction. Up. I’m awake. Why am I lying here? Chris wrenched his eyes open, to be met with near total darkness. Bad. He froze for a second. What am I dealing with here? Glass above shattered, and he covered his head out of reflex. Nothing sharp hit him.

A familiar growl, an amalgamation of angry person frustration and a dry reptilian hiss, cut through the muffled silence. Someone, smart money said Olivia, crashed through a wall nearby, towards Chris’s feet. He couldn’t see anything other than the negligible glow of light from under a doorway, but the sounds of property devaluation were unmistakable.

Olivia snarled. Whenever she’s hissing or snarling, she’s gone all huntress mode and refuses to listen to anyone. Who is she going after? A couple of heavy footsteps made the line of light under the door flicker, then wood shattered and Olivia removed the door, letting light fully into the room. She stomped out, then snarled at something again. Not after someone in here. Good enough for now, and she can take care of herself.

His arm hit something warm and mildly squishy as he rolled to the side, trying to get up.

“Ung. Watch it,” said Miya.

“Sorry,” he grunted. He retracted his arm and got to his feet without further incident. He took a quick headcount. Miya held a hand to her face, Amanda helped Rob up, and Ben raised a hand to shield his eyes from the light pouring into the room from his position on the floor.

Chris leaned against the nearby wall, on the far side of the room from the now empty doorframe. He rubbed his temples with one hand, squeezing his eyes shut. Fuck me. I thought… I thought Alice was alive. That bizarre guy knew. He knew everything. Fuck, I thought I’d accepted this. I want to be angry at Miya for smacking and yelling at me, but she was right. Was she right? God damn it, I don’t know.

“Chris,” snapped a voice right in front of him. Amanda’s. Olivia roared in the background, and something glass shattered.

He opened his eyes to look at her. Rob stood behind and to her side with folded arms. Miya sneezed to Chris’s right. Ben, now up, poked his head out through the doorway to look left and right for any kind of threat. He still shot a glance back to Chris, a small smile flickering on his face.

“Olivia’s pissed off. She just took off through a window, flying after John. You got any ideas?” asked Amanda. It took everything in his power not to sigh and close his eyes again.

John? Who? Why? Why does everyone think I know what I’m doing? I have no clue. I’m just acting the part, more or less. I just say stuff because no one else ever has any idea what to do. It’s not like I’m smarter or anything. They’re waiting for me to do something.

Quit your bitching. Get moving.

“Fine, let’s go. Ben, get after Olivia, we’ll follow on the ground. Let’s get some answers.”

“Gotcha,” Ben responded with a nod, teleporting off towards the other ruined door. The rest of the group began to head towards the door with the powerless green EXIT sign over it.

“What happened?” asked Chris as they ran. My memory is a bit spotty. Outside confirmation that I’m not crazy would be great. He took the stairs down two at a time, soon leaving the others behind. There are benefits to being tall.

“Freaky guy you saw. John Doe. Trapped us in our own realities. Made us think it was real,” called Miya behind him, over the clatter of three other sets of feet, echoing all throughout the stairwell.

Chris didn’t respond until they got down another five flights of stairs, instead taking a moment to process. Fits with what I’m starting to remember. Ben kept dragging me away, and I kept accepting the illusion. Fuck me, I’m an absolute dumb ass.

“Olivia’s going after John. Don’t wanna know what’ll happen if she runs into other people,” said Amanda. I need to know what we have available to work with. A techie without their gear, and we have two, isn’t near as helpful as a techie with their gear.

“Does anyone have anything on them?” Chris asked. He swatted his pockets after another swing around another 180 turn in the stairs. No wallet, keys, or phone. That’s not good. No weapons either.

Three variations of “Nope, nothing,” came from behind him. Wonderful. They finally reached the ground floor, found an exit leading out of the building, and burst out onto the streets.

“Where the fuck are we?” asked Miya.

“Not a clue. Not important,” said Amanda. Houses across from the apartment building signified a residential area, but Chris couldn’t see any major street signs to know where they were. Night kept the mountains hidden, so he couldn’t just find them and gauge his geographic position. No streetlights either. Was there another city wide blackout? I thought they’d finally solved that problem.

Another roar from Olivia up above caught Chris’s attention. He caught sight of John Doe running on a roof before Olivia dive bombed and crashed the both of them through it, leaving a ragged hole in their wake. How the hell is he still alive?

“Like a mini Godzilla,” murmured Rob with a wide grin.

There were some terrified screams of civilians inside. John teleported onto the street opposite of Chris’s group. Shadows attempted and failed to cling to him, but blood dripped to the ground where he stood, and beneath the shadows he pressed a hand to his ribs to staunch a long and nasty looking wound. What? That’s the only fucking injury he has? Is he just using teleportation to avoid the worst of it? How would that even work?

A window on the second floor of the house shattered. John immediately broke into a run, not bothering to look up at whatever (it was Olivia, let’s be real here) had shattered the window. Olivia jumped out of the building and glided in pursuit of John, who’d managed another short teleportation. There are all sorts of things you can do with that power, but animal survival instincts override that kind of critical thinking, and I don’t think he has much experience in a fair fight.

“Olivia!” shouted Miya. No reaction. “OLIVIA!” Miya repeated. Olivia continued, making no indication that she’d heard.

“Oh no,” murmured Amanda.

Chris caught sight of Ben teleporting onto the ruined roof. Ben paused at the edge of the hole, then jumped off the roof and teleported down before gravity could make him regret that decision.

“Wait,” he shouted before the rest of them could follow after Olivia and John. “She ain’t all there.”

“What?” asked everyone else. Now what?

Ben teleported and caught up. “She ain’t respondin’ at all. She’s gone full rage mode like that one time with F.F. where she got all pissed. There’s a man in that house,” he pointed to the damaged house, “with his entrails clawed out. She’s knocked down one house completely, damaged another, then this one.” He grinned. “Kinda cool, really.” Rob snickered. The hell is wrong with you two? He resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

“Wait, what?” asked Miya. “She killed some guy?” Oh yeah, that’s right, you haven’t seen her like this have you?

“Yep,” responded Ben.

More destructive sounds caught their attention. The apartment they’d just left was just one in a complex of about five, so far as Chris could tell. All six stories tall, whitewashed, windows crammed together on each wall. Graffiti covered the bottom two floors, and even somehow extended up to the fifth floor. One caught his eye, the one with the large ragged hole in it. I really hope no one’s living in there. Something within made the building shake.

“Is he leading her on?” asked Chris.

Ben shrugged. “Could be. He could jus’ be runnin’. Could be both. She’s caught his smell though, got some of his blood on her. She’s trackin’ him that way, though there’s no trail. His teleportin’s gettin’ stronger, FYI.”

“Come on. Less standing and talking. We have to do something,” declared Miya.

“Do what?” asked Chris. “Trust me, she won’t hesitate to attack any of us right now.” Hey, remember that time she threw Amanda aside like a rag doll and smacked Ben to the ground with her tail in the course of five seconds? Because I do.

Miya whirled around. She unclenched her jaw long enough to say, “Anything. Better than just standing here.”

“She’s right,” said Amanda.

They’re right. Fuck, this sucks. “Fine. Ben, what did you do in the brief time we were separated?”

“Tried to keep up with her.”

“OK, anything’s on the table right now.” said Chris. “Ben, do what you were doing, try to stay ahead and keep people out of her path, and keep an eye out in case the police show up.” Ben flipped off a salute and teleported off once again.

The sounds of a segment of the apartment building crumbling spurred the two of them into action. An entire side of the building near the top began to shift. Then something broke, and the chain reaction took out a good third of the building, displaying its innards to the world. She took out an important support beam, I’m guessing.

“Go, go,” he urged them.

They began to sprint towards the building. Chris caught a flash of John teleporting into the overgrown common space before teleporting out again to parts unknown. One thud from up above, then another. Chris’s group reached the base of the building.

“I kinda don’t wanna get killed by fallin’ debris,” said Rob.

Olivia appeared on the exposed inside of the building, on the third story. She launched herself in the air again, in the direction John had gone.

“Wish granted,” said Amanda.

Olivia reached the same apartment they’d just exited. Back the way we came.

Before they could start running again, Rob said, “Wait, I got a theory.”

They looked around at him. He held up his hand. “Wait for it.”

The apartment building trembled. “There we go,” said Rob. “Any second now.”

A window shattered outward and John plummeted to the ground about ten feet from them. He let out a nice juicy crunch as he landed on the sidewalk. “Ah, better than expected,” said Rob, looking awfully pleased with himself. “Pattern recognition!” Fair enough.

John began to move almost instantly. No fucking way. Miya, closest to John and quickest on the uptake, dove in a tackle. John rolled out of the way, and Miya only grasped his arm for a moment before he wrenched it free.

John bolted to his feet as Chris phased into liquid form and shot a column of himself at him. John teleported a few feet, then another inch or so. He flickered, then collapsed face first. Chris snapped back to human.

“What did you do to him?” Chris asked Miya as she got up and dusted herself off.

“Don’t know, let me check,” said Miya. She jogged over, knelt down, and grabbed John’s limp arm. “Oh, cool. I was working on that.”

“That means?” asked Amanda.

“Long story short, I made a couple little spikes grow into his brain from his skull. Itty bitty ones, only had a second of contact.”

“Is he dead?” asked Chris.

“No, just a vegetable,” said Miya. She let go of the arm, which flopped down over John’s chest.. Miya stood straight, then brought all of her weight down in a stomp to John’s head. His head cracked against the pavement as her boot made contact. “Yes, he’s dead.” That’s over with.

Something passed overhead with a hiss, and Olivia landed feet first on John. Chris saw at least six of the claws of her feet tear up John’s chest. Miya staggered backwards as Olivia’s wings shoved her before folding up against Olivia’s back.

“Hey, Olivia, HEY!” said Miya, as Olivia did an about face. Olivia bared her teeth and hissed, eyes narrowed. Where have I seen that before? Oh, right, that day she slaughtered fifty people. Miya, you’re an idiot. Chris readied himself to turn into liquid form and get her out of Olivia’s reach.

After the hiss died off, Olivia turned her attention to some point past Miya. Chris didn’t particularly feel like taking his eyes off her to figure out what it was.

“HEY!” shouted Ben from a rooftop nearby over the wind. “WE GOT COPS COMIN’!”

Chris listened for a moment. Sirens, approaching sirens, drew closer.

“Is it just me or is it getting windy?” asked Rob over the sound of the trees rustling.

Chris froze in horror. This is very bad. “That’s not good,” said Amanda.

“Why?” asked Miya.

“Cyrus,” Chris stated.

Now that Rob had pointed it out, Chris noticed nearby trees bending in the wind, and the occasional plastic bag whipping its way down the street like a particularly ugly tumbleweed. Wind whistled through the shattered windows of a nearby storefront.

Great, we have two techies without their gear and a magician without her golem. If Cyrus is here, there’s not much we can do to stop him. Olivia could get lucky though. Maybe. I’ve watched him suck all of the air out of a pyro’s lungs and let him suffocate in a mini vacuum, no clue if she can withstand that or not. And that’s not to mention the fact we’re going to be drowned in MHU officers soon enough.

Olivia growled, then a wall of air blasted Chris and the rest aside. Olivia merely stumbled back a bit. Chris turned into liquid form and anchored down the other four before they could hit something unyielding, like a concrete wall of an apartment building.

Cyrus kept up the gale force wind as he approached Olivia, completely unaffected. He frowned under the black beard with pistol pointing to the ground. The wind drowned out all other noise, but Chris was willing to bet that Cyrus was trying to talk her down. Olivia responded by shooting forward and swinging a clawed hand at Cyrus’s throat. Naturally.

Three Metahuman Unit trucks, which may as well have been tanks for all the armor they boasted, burst onto the scene. They came to a stop between Chris’s group and Olivia and unloaded about eight heavily armed and armored MHU officers each. Beyond them, Chris saw Olivia get thrown into a previously untouched apartment building. Cyrus followed on a cushion of air, unwilling to let her escape.

Chris hoped that the twenty four armed men and women were there exclusively for Olivia, right until sixteen turned their attention to Chris in his liquid form. His light blue liquid form was about twice the volume of his human form, so he stuck out from the usual browns and greys of the urban blight surroundings.

He released his grip on the others. Amanda, get the others moving. It’ll take them all of five seconds to remember I’m basically gasoline.

The officers leveled their rifles at them and shouted. The wind drowned out most of it, but what Chris could gather it was something along the lines of, “Surrender or get shot a lot.” I really hope I can catch all these bullets, guys.

Behind him, Chris could hear Amanda shouting for Miya and Rob to get up and get moving. They started running, and the officers opened fire. Chris spread himself out to provide as much cover as he could. Bullets hot. Bad, bad, bad. He expelled them as soon as he could. Four or five made it through him, but went nowhere near his fleeing teammates.

Once they rounded a corner beyond yet another apartment building, Chris flowed after them. Four of the officers had gone to each flank, and the remaining eight pursued directly. A couple had pulled out small thermite grenades.

Chris caught up to the others, who had forced open the main door to the apartment building and made it a short ways up. He got rid of all the gravel and other detritus he’d picked up and returned to human form. Don’t want to stay liquid too long, no matter how bullet proof I am when liquid.

“Keep going,” he urged them, following behind them on foot. The clomps of the MHU officers came in right behind him.

The choose the fourth floor to exit the stairwell at Rob’s insistence. Don’t know why, don’t care. One is as good as any other. “Fuck. I hate not bein’ armed,” said Rob in between panting. They kept up the run through the central hallway.

“I might be able to clear a path, but they’ve got thermite on them.”

“Ambush?” suggested Miya.

“They’ll see that coming a mile away,” responded Chris.

“Idea!” cried out Rob. “This room.”

They came to a locked room. Chris shifted to force it open. The officers behind them reached the floor and flooded out of the stairwell. The others ducked in the room. One officer pulled out a grenade before another caught his arm to stop him. Thermite deterrent, not offensive. They still shot at his non-liquid companions.

Chris followed after and returned to human. Oh, this is convenient.

“I chose well!” said Rob over the howling wind.

An Olivia hole punched through their current apartment and the adjoining on. And the two below theirs. And one above. And the exterior wall of the building itself, letting in all that wind they’d been sheltered from. The resulting rubble, while in no way stable, formed a sort of ramp to the lower floor. Miya and Amanda already clambered down to the floor below.

Rob scrambled down, with Chris right behind him. He caught himself falling once or twice on unstable rubble.

Rob stopped at the base. “Wait, cover me.”

Rob ducked down to the pile. Fuck, what are you doing? Chris turned liquid once again. Gunfire came from above, the officers preferring to shoot anything on the other side of the door rather than walking into any possible ambush by five known supers. Rob dragged out a bit of concrete, then yelled, “Outta here.”

With Chris blocking the way, Rob ran out the apartment. What was the point of that? Chris backed up, and some officers appeared at the lip of the hole. Then the rubble shifted, collapsed, and began pouring out of the hole in the building, the officers nearly included.

Chris flowed after Rob. “Physics based engineers, motherfuckers,” Rob managed while maintaining a decent sprint.

They caught up to Amanda and Miya at the ground floor. Four officers had them pinned to the walls. Chris didn’t allow the officers the opportunity to take in him or Rob. Chris, still a large mass of liquid, slammed into them, engulfing two and knocking down the others. He removed anything canister shaped on the two of them. Thermite bad.

Amanda and Miya both turned on their nearest officers, with Rob throwing himself in the fray as well. Chris, for his part, rhythmically slammed his two officers into the ground about four times each. He kept their heads from hitting the ground, though. Don’t want to ruin their lives and give them brain damage. Just want them to stop shooting us.

He tossed the two aside onto a patch of dead grass nearby and took the other two, mostly subdued by Rob, Amanda, and Miya while Chris wasn’t paying attention. He made sure they were in no shape to fight, and disarmed, then dumped them with the other two officers. He snapped back to human.

“Thanks for that,” said Amanda. Rob just laughed.

“Where’s Olivia and Ben?” asked Miya.

“We got maybe a minute before the other twelve officers catch up,” said Amanda.

Chris poked his head around the corner. A scrap of corrugated tin screeched by on the road. Small particles of dirt immediately whipped into his eyes. Ow, fuck. Several rapid blinks later, he said, “It’s pretty bad.”

Several husks of nearby houses provided a nice backdrop to Olivia and Cyrus’s property destruction war. Crumpled cars, toppled trees, a downed power line, and the apartment buildings they’d spent the last twenty minutes or so abusing all looked rather worse for wear.

Chris watched as Cyrus slammed Olivia into a nearby wall about forty yards away. This wasn’t the first time, based on all the holes in the nearby buildings. Olivia regained her feet and shook her head, as if to shake off the blow. Then the wind completely changed direction and the weakened wall behind her collapsed on her.

Shit, shit, shit. The only thing that stopped him from getting up and going to her were the eight MHU officers on the perimeter, keeping an eye on the proceedings and taking the occasional shot at Olivia. Some of the rubble shifted, and Olivia began climbing out again.

She swayed on her feet, but still attempted a charge at Cyrus. Damn it, Olivia. Where is the flight in fight or flight for you?

All the wind in the area stopped for a brief moment. What is Cyrus doing?

“No, Olivia. No, no, no,” whispered Miya. “Get out of here. That can’t be good.”

Cyrus answered Chris’s question by forming a powerful localized tornado out of nowhere, with himself in the center. The local architecture responded typically: by disintegrating. Olivia lost her footing completely, and the tornado flung her away, debris pelting her deliberately.

“I don’t think we can get to him through that,” Chris shouted into Amanda’s ear over the screaming winds.

“Ben?” she asked.

“See all that flying debris? He’d get torn up. And where is he?”

“Don’t know. Roof last time I saw.” Helpful. And I can barely hear her.

Olivia regained her feet yet again, roaring in defiance at the tornado. Several random bits of building from the fight bashed her about for her troubles. The wind died down around the officers, who began sustained fire. Olivia collapsed after five agonizing seconds.

“We can’t say here,” Chris shouted.

“What about Olivia?” she screamed back.

Fuck me. “We can’t do anything. We’re unarmed. Cyrus alone could take us all on if we were. We’re just going to die.”

Amanda grimaced. “But…” she began, leaving her intended sentence unfinished. “Fuck. No.” She shook her head, as if willing it to not be true.

“What about Ben?” shouted Rob.

“They weren’t looking for him, he can take care of himself,” Chris shouted back. “We need to leave.”

Amanda grabbed Rob. Were her eyes watery because of all the dust and dirt in the air? She mouthed something to him, Chris couldn’t hear exactly what, but it got him moving.

“No, I’m not just leaving her behind,” screamed Miya. I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.

“Come on,” Chris roared. “You can’t fight a tornado. Suicide doesn’t do anyone any good.”

As if to prove his point, the MHU officers finally caught up to them, and promptly began shooting. I’m not dying for nothing. He wrapped an arm around her and heaved her in the direction Rob and Amanda took. I’ve got one foot and eighty pounds of muscle on you. Don’t make this difficult. She took the hint.

They reached some relatively unscathed houses. The officers didn’t bother to pursue.

***

They limped back to the lair several hours later. The group collapsed on the nearest chairs save Miya, who paced the length of the auto shop. Chris slouched in his chair, staring at the edge of the tabletop. We fucked up. I fucked up. Amanda rolled her office chair over to a computer and woke it up, then typed. Other than that and the pacing, no one did a thing. Rob clenched his hands into fists. He’ll probably kill me if Ben doesn’t show up. And I’d probably deserve it.

After five to ten minutes, Chris didn’t bother keeping track, Amanda said, “She’s still alive. They’re gonna put her in the vault ‘til they can get her to that Houston research place.”

“So?” asked Miya, her voice hoarse. She kept up the pacing. “How does that help?”

“It means that we’re not going to be able to get to her until they get her out of there.”

“The vault’s the vault,” said Rob. “Ain’t gettin’ in.”

“It’s directly under MHU headquarters. Never got access to it when I worked there. Did you, Amanda?” said Chris. I never even had access to the lower two levels, so I have no idea where the vault entrances are.

“No. All systems are self-contained. The only thing that goes in or out of it are people through one of two entrances, within the MHU itself. They even use tanks of air to limit contact with the outside world,” said Amanda.

“It’s way the fuck underground, no one I’ve talked to knows how far, but rest assured that even earthworms don’t escape their sensor’s notice,” said Rob.

“They can flood the whole thing with napalm, collapse it with explosives, vent toxic gas in, or simply get a bunch of guys with large guns to kill everything as contingencies,” added Chris.

“If what I’m reading is correct, they’ve got Cyrus on watch there, Purifier is in the HQ, the whole place is on lockdown, and they’ve got the Air Force doing drone surveillance on the outside, ready to throw missiles anything suspicious,” said Amanda.

“They use the vault for only the most dangerous or powerful supers,” said Rob. “They’ve got redundant systems routed through the vault itself as well as HQ. Everything you can think of, they’ve got covered. Every major MHU’s got one. ” How do you know so much about it? Question for later, no need for distractions. We’ve got to get Olivia back first.

It was that moment when Ben kicked the door open. “THE FUCK?” he shouted. He did not smile.

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