Down South – Security Measures

Info, info, need info. Amanda scrolled through the various reports her monitoring programs fed to her screen. She only half paid attention to the argument going on behind her, throwing the occasional bit of information over her shoulder as she found it. That was, until Ben slammed open the door to the lair. Jackass.

“THE FUCK?” he shouted. No one responded. “What? Nothin’ to say?” he continued. “Tha’ was bullshit, right? I haven’t lost my fuckin’ mind, right?”

“There wasn’t anything we could do,” said Chris, his subdued voice much lower than Ben’s angry near shouting.

“No shit. Unarmed, five minutes east of MHU, an’ Cyrus descends from the fuckin’ heavens to kick our asses? The fuck was that? Oh, yeah.” He marched forward to the table, then reached around behind him and grabbed a small brown duffle bag strapped to his back. He tossed it to the tabletop. “Everyone’s shit is in there. I stuck around after you lot bugged out.”

Amanda got off her chair. You’re good for something after all. I didn’t want to have to track down all that stuff that was in my pockets, or cancel that credit card. One of those phones was actually hard to get. Had to negotiate with paranoid corporate suits for a week to get it.

As everyone started for the bag, Ben put a hand on the opening and leaned forward, preventing anyone from reaching inside. “First thing’s first. The fuck happened?”

“Out of the way, all of my money is in there,” said Miya, grabbing at the bag.

Quicker than Amanda’s eye could follow, Ben’s free hand whipped around and stabbed a long knife deep into the table right beside Miya’s arm.

“I will beat the shit outta you again an’ Olivia ain’t here to stop it,” he roared. Again? What?

Amanda took a surreptitious step back towards her desk. Fuck, where is my baton? To Miya’s credit, she didn’t flinch after retracting her arm, and instead locked eyes with Ben.

“Can I have my knife back when you’re done?” asked Rob, still slouching in his chair. How can you look bored right now?

“Sure,” replied Ben, not breaking eye contact with Miya.

Baton, where are you? Amanda’s hand searched the desk behind her as she kept her attention on the conversation in front of her.

Chris’s chair skidded along the concrete floor as he stood up. “Ben, back off, now.”

“Answers,” Ben barked back.

“Do we have to do this again?” asked Chris. Ben started acting up last time the police captured Olivia. Something about burning Marcus alive.

Ben’s grip on the knife tightened, his knuckles white. “I’m jus’ gonna repeat myself. Answers,” he spat at Chris. Both straightened their shoulders and glared at each other. Miya backed off. Great, now they’re starting some kind of male dominance ritual.

“This isn’t helping,” said Chris with forced calmness.

“Boltin’ didn’t either,” replied Ben. He worked the knife out of the table.

Chris didn’t answer. Instead, he turned into a giant mass of goo and slammed into Ben. He wrenched the knife from Ben’s grasp and tossed it to the side with a goo tendril. Amanda took the time to turn around and grab her stun baton, which she found lying just an inch away from where her hand had been blindly searching.

When she turned back around, Chris had Ben pinned against a wall. Rob just slouched in his chair. He actually looked up at the proceedings, so he was showing at least a bit more interest than before.

Miya stomped up to Ben. “What?” she yelled at him. Chris retracted enough for Ben to hear what she had to say. And for him to breathe. But that is of secondary importance. Amanda kept one eye on Rob, another on Ben.

Miya continued, “What, you thought we just ran off because fuck it, running is fun, may as well get our cardio in? You think we just abandoned her? You think we’re just going to take this sitting down?”

“You lot were sittin’ here when I came in,” he said through clenched teeth. “I’m kinda doubtin’ yer resolve here.”

“Ben,” called out Rob. “Hear them out. There were reasons behind this.” Thanks for speaking up earlier. You’re a dumbass, and your brother’s a jackass. Great. Amanda shot a sideways look at Rob. The little upwards curl at the corner of his mouth could’ve meant anything.

“The prospect of me gettin’ my ass kicked amusin’?” Ben asked Rob.

“Yep.”

Ben sighed. “Fine. What happened?”

“Eight MHU officers nearly killed us,” answered Miya.

“They didn’t all go for Olivia?” asked Ben.

“No,” said Amanda. “If it weren’t for Chris we’d be in jail cells right now. Where the hell were you?”

“Got off the roof once Cyrus came so I wouldn’t go splat. Dodged debris, an’ Olivia once, on the way down. Had no clue what was goin’ on, ‘til you guys left an’ they got Olivia in a truck with Cyrus.”

“We’d have died if we stayed. Same as you,” said Miya.

“Why do you care, Miya?” asked Ben. “You were all for leavin’ her an’ the rest of us behind last time ‘round.” I hate to agree with him, but he’s right. You were all for leaving to go on your revenge rampage in Arizona last time this happened.

“This is different,” said Miya, her face contorting with anger.

“How?” asked Ben with a toothy smile.

“That… I’d just met her, and all of you then. Now is different,” she repeated.

“Fine.” Ben glanced down at Chris. “Wanna let me down.” Nothing happened. “I’m done for now,” added Ben.

Goo Chris withdrew until Ben’s feet reached the ground, then Chris snapped back to normal. Watching that is so strange. Never see him move. One minute he’s liquid, the next he’s standing there. Amanda watched him for a moment. Ben stretched his neck to get out some kinks, then took a seat by the table. She tossed her baton back on the table. Fine then.

Everyone dug through the bag to find their personal items, and Rob retrieved his knife from where Chris had tossed it.

“So, any plottin’ I miss?” asked Ben when everyone settled down again.

“She’s in the vault,” said Chris.

After giving him the same explanation from earlier about its nigh impenetrableness, Ben said, “Get her in transit like last time?”

“Last time? What happened then? Where they gonna take her?” asked Rob. Right, you weren’t here for that.

“Same situation as this,” said Chris. “After we killed Freedom Fighter, the police rounded us up for questioning. Marcus, the MHU head, let the rest of us go, besides Olivia. We were hunting down the van they were transporting her in. She broke out herself, no help from us. Oh, and they were taking her down to Houston. That’s where the main feral research facility is for the US.”

Rob nodded. “Gotcha.”

“So, we can’t assume that she’ll get out again. They’ll have learned their lesson,” said Amanda.

“You think they knew we were trying to find her?” asked Chris. “We never showed our faces to them, Olivia did all the work.”

“Maybe not. Why would they?” said Miya.

“They expected us earlier,” replied Chris.

Amanda returned to sifting through the MHU recordings. The police had finally managed to block her off from the most of the systems, but she still had a backdoor they hadn’t closed off yet. And this is why you don’t frame me, your entire MHU IT department, for treason. Fuck you, Marcus. Oh, here’s something. She tuned out the conversation behind her for a couple minutes.

“Hey, shut up. Got something,” Amanda called over shoulder.

She pressed play, and the audio clip started. The voice she recognized as the night MHU HQ dispatcher, an ordinary male voice somewhat distorted by static, began the recording with, “Jeremiah, quartermaster will have you good to go in less than a minute.

Some scratching noises in the audio, then a different, deeper voice replied, “Roger that. We’ve got eighteen officers, plus drivers. Who are we up against?

I sent the full list to you. Short version: rampaging feral. She’s primary. Two minutes out, stop for nothing. There’s the chance her friends might be there. Nomad, so bring thermite, Delta, assume they’re listening into the comms, magician, named Miya, homemade armor techie, and Skulker, no counters. They’re secondary. Don’t worry. Quartermaster’s got you covered.

More scratches over what sounded like a muffled conversation in the background. “Alright, moving out,” said Jeremiah at the end.

Good luck,” replied the dispatcher. The audio cut out.

“They sent that to the news channels, edited of course,” said Amanda after a silent moment.

“They know all about us,” said Rob. “Not talkin’ with other police departments if they don’t know me. But they knew I’d be there.”

“The Watch,” said Ben. “Kinda regrettin’ workin’ with them earlier.”

“We needed the manpower,” responded Chris.

“We had all the time in the world,” shot back Ben. “We had a week to do the job. We were makin’ progress. Didn’t need to work with ‘em an’ let ‘em know what we can do.”

“You didn’t have these issues at the time,” said Chris.

“Do now.” I really want to punch that shit eating grin off your face.

“Well, get over it,” said Chris. Thank you! “Now, if they were expecting us there, they’ll probably be expecting us when they’re moving her.”

“If they move her. Why not just keep her in the vault if they judge her too much trouble?” said Rob. “Vaults are for trials for the more dangerous people. They hold people long term in them, and there’s one to three more cells they have open if I recall.”

“Red tape is on our side,” said Amanda. Everyone looked at her. Why am I the only one who does research on this? “At some point, they have to move a feral to ‘an environment suited to their wellbeing.’ I don’t think lawmakers ever really anticipated an intelligent feral like Olivia, and this was passed during the big environmentalist push decades ago, so they were just throwing hippies a bone anyway.”

“How do you know all this?” asked Chris.

“Remember when we were supposed to track her down two months ago? I read up on the laws and feral behaviour then. You didn’t?”

“A little.” His eyes twitched. Liar. Whatever.

“So, yeah. They might be doing some wrangling, push back how long they keep her for security purposes, but at some point she’s got to come out of the vault.”

“When?”

“Don’t know.”

“Well, we gotta do somethin’,” said Ben, voice getting heated again. Unnoticed by anyone else, Rob rolled his eyes, got out of his chair, and circled around the table.

“I never said we weren’t going to do anything,” said Chris.

“This ain’t gettin’-” Rob cut Ben short with a smack to the head. “Ow, wha-” Rob smacked him again.

“NO MORE WIRE HANGERS!” shouted Rob, punctuating each word with another smack. Ben shielded himself as best he could with his arms. He laughed the whole time as well.

“We cool?” asked Rob once he finished.

“Fine. Yeah,” said Ben. He leaned back in his seat and didn’t say another word. Rob returned to his seat. What the fuck just happened?

The others shared her confusion.

“Wh… but… what?” asked Miya.

“Nothin’ you gotta worry ‘bout. Continue,” said Rob.

“Is…” Chris trailed off, searching for the right words. “Is whatever just happened going to be an issue?”

“Nope,” said Rob.

“OK, what was-”

Rob cut him off. “Leave it be.”

Chris turned his head towards Ben, who simply drew an X over his mouth with his index finger. Did he just shut up? I need to try that sometime. That was some weird, triplet custom, right?

“Whatever,” said Chris, pushing on. Probably not worth dealing with right now. “We’re going to need information if we want to pull this off without just getting killed or arrested.”

Right, information, that’s me. “I’ve got ideas. But don’t expect good information this time around. Someone, or several someones, whatever, is replacing a lot of what I’ve done. There used to be…” She trailed off. These guys won’t understand. Rob might if he weren’t computer illiterate. She sighed. Why can’t everyone be an engineer? Life would be so much easier for everyone.

“Never mind. What you need to know is that I could access records and other stuff. They haven’t bothered to change the MHU frequency for the dispatchers, but out best bet is to just watch with our eye things.” She stifled a yawn. It’s almost as if being in a frantic do or die situation is tiring. Who knew?

“What time is it?” asked Miya.

Rob checked his wristwatch. Didn’t know he had one of those. “Four AM. John only knocked us out for an hour, I guess.”

“I don’t think we’ll accomplish anything productive on one hour of sleep,” said Chris. “If you’d call whatever that was sleep.”

“Not much to do right now, anyways,” said Rob.

“I’ll be staying up. Remember, I’m an electrical engineer. That’s hardware, not software. I do programming for fun. Two different things right there, so this is going to be frustrating. But Rob’s right. Not much for anyone else to do right now.”

Monitoring cameras, that could work. May as well break out the mini supercomputer I made a while back. Chris broke her train of thought. “We all need some sleep. We’ll be better equipped to get Olivia back after, and she’s not going anywhere right now.”

“I’m staying up,” said Amanda. “There are things I can do.”

She locked eyes with Chris. After a moment he sighed. “Alright, I trust your judgment. Just… know when to stop, OK?”

“Not the first all-nighter I’ve pulled, won’t be the last.” She glanced around.

Rob had already passed out on the table. Miya had resumed her pacing at some point, Amanda didn’t know when. Her lip is going to bleed if she bites it any harder. Chris and Ben watched her, until Chris got up.

“Come on. Let’s keep cool heads, OK,” he said to Ben.

Ben grinned at Amanda. “You got this,” he said. He followed after Chris. Amanda spun back around in her chair.

Fuck yes I do.

***

Two days and a dozen tiny cameras manufactured later, Chris drove Amanda and Rob down Colfax Avenue, three blocks south of the MHU HQ.

Rob, in the back seat, kept looking out the window. He broke the silence with, “Sean told me a game to play called Colfax.” What?

“Never heard of it, and I’ve lived here my whole life,” said Amanda.

“Everyone grab some McDonald’s job applications, same amount each, and pass them out to all the hookers. First one done and back at the McDonald’s wins.”

Chris’s shoulders shook with silent laughter. “That’s terrible,” said Amanda, indignant. She twisted around to fix Rob with a glare. Mind you, most of Colfax is shitty, but still, that’s… kind of funny. Rob just grinned.

“Where the hell did that guy learn that?” asked Chris.

“No clue,” replied Rob.

Just as Amanda opened her mouth to scold the two of them, Chris finished parking his car on the side of the road and said, “Here we are. Ben not meeting us here?”

“Gettin’ a new car. Kind of excited ‘bout it, actually,” responded Rob, popping his seatbelt and getting out of the car. Amanda and Chris followed suit.

“Meet back here in an hour or so?” asked Chris for confirmation.

“Yessah,” replied Rob. Amanda nodded. She kept herself from looking up at the distant specks of the surveillance drones overhead. For every one you see, there are two you don’t.

They split up, Rob and Chris going one way, Amanda the opposite. Chris and Rob would split up later while giving the appearance that they were shopping. The plan called for them to place small cameras that would overlook the streets to and from the MHU headquarters. Getting to close would just be asking for trouble, but the police couldn’t monitor the whole city. Anyone walking around MHU HQ at night during lockdown is just asking to get shot.

She meandered her way up through the various shops along the streets. She even bought another cell phone to carry around to look more like an authentic shopper. Was looking for another one of these old CTC phones. I’ll tear it apart and salvage some of those unique parts later.

Later, she came across a potentially stolen laptop in a less than reputable store. Ooooh. I always need more chew toys, and that looks shitty enough. In the bag that went. Can’t wait to see what that EMP gun I’m working on does to this poor bastard. Or I can see if that experimental battery melts the rest of the hardware. So many choices.

Eventually, Amanda came to the street leading into MHU, about two blocks due east. She entered a clothing store and browsed the various frilly things that would almost assuredly get caught on the wrong wire and ignite should she ever wear it while working.

After a deliberate circuit around the store, she returned to the front and pretended to look around. She stuck a camera to the back side of a shelving unit thing as she placed a blouse she’d been checking out back on its shelf. She checked her phone in the meantime. Multitasking!

She cycled through the video feeds on her phone as she left the store. The first video, from the camera she’d just placed, actually recorded Amanda as she walked down the sidewalk. Looks good enough. It’ll catch anything major on the street. She cycled through the three other camera feeds. Everything is looking good so far.

This continued on for another hour. Chris had a camera with a terrible view of a lamppost and nothing else, but otherwise they had every street to or from MHU covered. Even got one watching the air, too. Doubt they’ll move a rampaging feral by air, but you never know. We’ll get her back.

They met back up at the car, Rob the last one to show up, carrying a very large box. “No problems?” asked Chris.

“No. Actually ordered this cool 3D printer type thing. Kind of small, but the tolerance on these things are insane.”

“How much did that cost?” asked Amanda. Just act normal. Nothing suspicious. And that does sound very cool.

“All my paychecks and then some. Worth it. Can’t wait to pull the thing apart and see how it works,” he said with an enthusiastic grin.

Amanda opened the rear door, placed her bag on the far seat, then left the door open for him. “Thanks,” he said as he pushed the box in in front of him.

“You do know a good half of that thing’s capabilities are because of electronics and programs and whatnot.” You know, I actually haven’t looked into 3D printers before. I kind of want to see what’s inside now. “Just tells it to cut from point A to point B using arc angle X right? There’s more to it than just the cutting mechanisms,” she said as she swung into the front passenger seat.

“I know. I plan on puttin’ the thing back together. For the coolness factor if nothin’ else.”

“OK. Gotcha.”

“What’d you get?” asked Rob.

“Oh, just some old laptop and cell phone. Always need more chew toys.”

“Chew toys?” He raised an eyebrow with a bemused grin.

“Gotta break stuff to know its limits. And studying damage of stuff is good for future prevention of things I actually do care about.” Got a big box at home of old stuff I need to recycle at some point.

“Oh, OK. Didn’t know what you meant by chew toy. Couldn’t just get crappy old ones online?”

“I could but… I saw it. Figured may as well.”

Rob rubbed the back of his head. “That may have been why I’ve been luggin’ around that big ol’ box around for the last half hour.”

Before Chris started the engine, he looked at both of them and said, “You two are the most techie techies to ever techie.”

***

“How are the cameras looking?” Chris asked Amanda back at the lair. Amanda had six different monitors in a semicircle on top of her desk. Man, this thing looks like an executive’s desk. All big and official looking. So much room to put stuff.

“Good. No MHU trucks, no vans, nothing that they’d use to transport her so far. Miya should be listening to the dispatcher right now.” They both looked over to Miya, who wore a large set of noise cancelling headphones over her ears. She noticed their attention and removed one earpiece.

“Yeah?” she said.

“Anything?” asked Chris.

“Nothing unusual. No code, just plain, ‘go here, do this’ kind of stuff. Dispatcher’s actually a friendly guy.”

“He is,” replied Amanda.

“Ben should be back soon, give you a break,” said Chris.

Miya nodded in confirmation. “Cool.”

Amanda helped Rob unpack the printer as Chris watched the videos. We’ll deal with the printer later. She had systems also monitoring the videos and normal police band, but human eyes and ears still worked better for picking out anomalies.

Ben came in a little later. “Finally own a car again,” he said immediately.

“Whadja get?” asked Rob.

“Old squad car, actually. Drives well enough.”

“You’re just gonna run the poor thing into the ground, aren’t you?” said Rob with a long suffering tone.

“Yessah!” said Ben with a grin. Why don’t you ever take care of your stuff? Grah. Not worth the argument.

“Amanda!” shouted Chris.

“What?” she yelled back, running over.

“Helicopter on the roof.”

“What?”

“Helicopter in the roof,” he repeated. “Big military one.” Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Military? She’s a military grade threat?” asked Ben.

“Apparently,” barked Amanda. I’ve got access to three different cell phones. No messages at all. The cameras are only catching the helicopter. Why are they moving her now? Amanda checked her computer, seeing if it had flagged anything as important. Nothing.

“In the cars, move,” commanded Chris. Fuck, not going to have my full armor.

They grabbed as much as they could in thirty seconds, then piled into three different cars. Amanda lowered her helmet on in Ben’s passenger seat.

“How the hell did we not catch this?” she asked as Ben pulled out of the parking lot in his new car. His rifle slid against the rear seats as he took the turn way too fast. That better not go off and shoot me in the back of the head somehow. Ben offered no response, instead concentrating on the road.

Rob’s truck fell in behind them with the others, following. Amanda played the police band in her helmet, projecting it so Ben could hear as well. I’m not going insane, right? This is something they’d at least mention, right?

Other than the dispatcher warning the MHU officers patrolling about an accident on southbound I-25, the audio didn’t say anything.

“Wait, play back the last twenty seconds.” Why? I didn’t catch anything

She did so anyways. I’m obviously missing something.Damn, won’t get home in time to catch the kickoff,” said an officer. That was the only audio.

“You see?” asked Ben

“What?”

“Kickoff. Football. It’s June right now. There’s no football on TV that anyone would care about.”

“It’s a recording,” said Amanda.

“Yep,” replied Ben. “An’ tha’ helicopter’s flyin’ faster than we can drive. Where’s it headin’?”

“Northeast…”

“DIA.”

The airport. Fuck. We have zero air capacity with Olivia gone.

***

They parked at the outskirts of the airport. The helicopter they recognized from the cameras had been powered down completely by the time they’d arrived. No planes were in the vicinity. Already gone.

Amanda rested her head against the dashboard. I’m sorry, Olivia. I’m so, so sorry. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Ben, or the others in Rob’s truck, parked beside them.

Ben sighed. “Looks like we’re heading to Houston.”

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Assemblage – On the Other Side

Miya stood with Nomad and Delta in the observation room. Cyrus and several other officers stood with them, watching as Marcus and two other officers brought Olivia into the interrogation room. They still wore their combat uniforms, though the police had allowed Nomad to put his bandana back in place.

Being in the same room as Cyrus, gave Miya a sense of nervousness. He could thrash her or anyone else in the room without a problem. Do they know I’m a criminal, beyond the Freedom Fighter stuff? I know that’s why Skulker isn’t here. She avoided any questions about her past for that reason.

They had seemed more concerned with Overlord and Freedom Fighter than her during her session, which suited her just fine. They were releasing her on the condition she come in for further questioning. We’ll see. I want nothing more than for Overlord’s head on a spike, I don’t care whose spike it is.

Marcus joined them in the observation room, followed by Pathfinder. Marcus glowered towards Olivia. Where is the interrogator guy?

“So now what?” asked Nomad.

“Be quiet,” snapped Marcus. Prick.

“Marcus, it’s a valid question,” said Cyrus.

“We wait while intel send us another guy, one with a spine,” Marcus spat out. “Waste of time though.” Someone’s in a bad mood. Though from what little Nomad and Delta had told her, this was standard from Marcus. A somewhat thin and bony man, Miya guessed him to be in his late thirties or early forties. His hair certainly showed the signs of going grey.

“And how long will that take?” asked Cyrus.

“Hey, it’s not my fault the intel man lost his nerve,” said Marcus. If this intel guy was the same one who questioned Miya, she could actually believe that. He did not appear to possess the strongest of constitutions, and Olivia was still a hulking feral after all. The other three (Delta, Nomad, and Skulker) seemed to keep forgetting that. As if the random hisses and growls weren’t enough to remind them. Marcus continued, “I told him we’d gas her the second she got aggressive, but the pussy still wouldn’t go. And I don’t know how long until intel gets it act together.”

After a moment, Nomad asked, “And then what happens after?”

Miya eyed Nomad. He’d kind of fallen apart after being told of his girlfriend’s death, but the next day it was as if nothing happened. He seemed tenser afterwards, sure, but even Skulker hadn’t managed to get him to snap, though Miya swore Skulker lived to be annoying. In all fairness, he does have his moments.

Nomad also spent some time in the presence of Membrane. You know, the psycho who apparently can drag up all the bad shit in your past. At least she guessed he was a psycho. Psycho was the slang term for someone whose power had driven them insane. Membrane had probably said disturbing things to Nomad during their little fight. Stoic son of a bitch isn’t he?

“Do you not remember?” asked Marcus contemptuously.

More gently, Cyrus said, “You know, Nomad. After this we’ll send her to the research facility in Houston. If she can be convinced, all the better.”

“WHAT?!” shouted Nomad. What do you mean ‘what’? Houston is where ferals go, doesn’t matter if she named herself or not.

“You knew this was the end result. You and Delta were there to see if this could be resolved peacefully or not,” said Cyrus.

Out of the corner of her eye, Miya saw Pathfinder tap Delta on the shoulder. Miya noted an officer by each door. One stood between her and Marcus, two between Marcus and Nomad. And Cyrus was in the room. Pathfinder had surreptitiously taken a position behind Delta. “I wouldn’t do that miss,” he whispered to her. Delta jumped slightly, but said nothing.

“She’ll be better off there. Food, a place to live, medical care from the vets there,” Cyrus still spoke. He knows what he’s talking about, at least.

“Vets? But what if she doesn’t want to? You’re just going to drag her off there against her will?” OK, maybe vets wasn’t the best term to use here.

“And if we don’t the people will riot again. She did kill over fifty people,” said Cyrus. Holy shit! What? No one mentioned this before. Cyrus added, “That we know of. They saw us take her in, we announced it. We can’t just tell them we just let her go. The only reason she isn’t being charged with many counts of murder is that you can’t really take a feral to trial.”

Nomad looked as though he would argue further. Don’t start a fight in the middle of MHU headquarters. This is literally the exact opposite of the place you want to start a fight in.

Marcus spoke up, putting his phone away. Miya hadn’t been paying attention to him. “Intel is dragging their feet on this one. Saying they need someone of sufficient strength in there.” He muttered something under his breath. What about the two officers in there?

After a quiet moment, Cyrus said, “I’ll do it. What do they want to know?”

“Hey, I’m not sure you can handle it. You managed to botch Freedom Fighter’s containment.” Wow. Just wow.

But Cyrus just said, “OK, let’s just stand here while the desk jockeys argue for the next hour.”

Marcus considered and sighed. “Fine. Don’t mess this up.”

Cyrus left. Nomad looked as though he wanted to punch something (Marcus). Delta’s helmet gave no clue as to what she thought, though Pathfinder behind her was likely the only reason she hadn’t disabled all the lights or something similar.

So they watched as Cyrus questioned Olivia, who seemed almost timid about the whole thing. Especially when he started asking questions specifically about her. Lots of stammering, and Miya only saw one or two instances of Olivia actually making eye contact with Cyrus. She did dodge around how they found me somewhat. Only the presence of the officers restrained Nomad, Delta stood with arms folded.

As Cyrus started to wrap up, Marcus said, “You two, get out.” The two officers in the interrogation room left. Everything was quiet for a bit.

“Ummm, excuse me, um…Cyrus?” asked Olivia from the room.

After a pause, he said, “Yes?”

“What…exactly, is going to happen…now?”

Barely a second passed when Marcus bark out, “So, what are you waiting for? Tell it.” OK, the ‘it’ part is a little excessive.

Cyrus absorbed this. He sighed and said to Olivia, “Your friends will be released, without charges. You will be sent to the feral institute in Houston.”

Olivia immediately stood up and effortlessly snapped the cuffs on her wrists. What the fuck was the point of those things? She opened her mouth to speak, but Marcus must have already given the order for the gas to be released, right after he ordered Cyrus to tell Olivia what would happen.

Nomad broke. “WHAT THE FUCK?” he bellowed as they realized what was happening. He started for Marcus. Bad idea. Really bad idea. She grabbed him before the two officers between him and Marcus got the opportunity to rearrange his face and organs. At least he’s not liquid right now. Delta had begun to move, but stopped herself.

They watched helplessly as Olivia succumbed to the gas. Cyrus maintained a bubble of clean air around himself. Miya knew he was some sort of aerokinetic, but the details escaped her. Yes this sucks, and no, there’s nothing you can do about it that won’t make our situation worse, Nomad.

As some officers entered to drag Olivia off, Marcus turned to them with a sneer beginning to form on his face. God damn it. Nomad almost lunged for him again, Miya maintaining her grip on him. “You may go now,” said Marcus.

The officers showed them out, no one speaking a word. They left them at the front door.

Delta spoke up, “This way, Skulker’s with the car a block from here.” They continued in silence, Miya bringing up the rear. They came to Delta’s car (though Skulker must be the designated driver or something, because I’ve only ever seen him drive it), with Skulker sitting on the hood. Miya heard Delta mutter something under her breath.

Once they were close enough, Skulker waved and shouted out, “HEY, you lot’re finally out. I has obtained much alcohols in preparation!” No one else said a thing, but Skulker appeared to be incapable of picking up on people’s moods. He continued as they reached the car doors, loud rock music blaring from within. “I finally figured out where ya hid the Ipod connector thingy, Delta.”

Nomad opening the car door with more force than necessary. Delta took the shotgun seat, and Miya joined Nomad in the back. Skulker said, “Oh, yeah. Olivia’s flyin’ back I take it?”

“No,” said Nomad.

Skulker was about to start the engine, but stopped at Nomad’s statement. “You gonna explain?”

“Marcus gassed her. He’s sending her to Houston, to that research place,” said Nomad.

Skulker turned in his seat, and watched Nomad carefully. After a moment, he laughed and said, “So I take it we’re regroupin’ at the lair?”

“Yes,” said Delta.

“Alrighty then.” Miya never saw the speedometer go below five over the speed limit the whole time, though from what she knew of Skulker that could have just been his standards operating procedure. No one spoke. Everyone’s alone with their thoughts it seems. Nomad was as angry as Miya had ever seen someone. Delta still wore her helmet, and remained utterly silent. Skulker occasionally sang along to snatches of whatever was coming out of the speakers at the time and drumming on the wheel.

It was well into the afternoon when they pulled up to the lair. They got out, and Skulker said, “Hey hon, you got Marcus’s home address or are we goin’ for HQ itself? I have explosives for almost every occasion. Of course, we could get more up close and personal with him. Gas and matches ain’t expensive.”

Nomad reminded everyone that he was actually a large and imposing figure in his own right by grabbing Skulker by the shoulders and slamming him against the car. “Dumbass. Get your priorities straight. We get Olivia back,” Nomad growled.

Skulker laughed and laughed. He gasped, “Funny, kinda forget you ain’t short, Olivia’s jus’ always loomin’ over ya.”

Nomad was not amused. “I need to hear you say you’re going to help get Olivia back. We just got out of conflict with the authorities. Burning the head of the MHU alive will not help us, no matter how satisfying it may be.”

“Yeah, yeah, I hear ya. We do need to get Olivia back, but I won’t make any promises about later. At least right now.” Skulker grinned at Nomad even as Nomad pinned him to the car.

After a moment, Nomad said, “Good enough,” and released him.

Miya began gathering her things in the meantime. Not much, just an extra set of clothes Delta had loaned her, some toiletries, and the bones she’d scavenged from the F.F. outpost. She’d tried carving into one of them with a knife she’d borrowed from Skulker, only to find that her hands didn’t respond nearly as well as they should have. Of course, they shoved a bunch of electrical crap in there. Hands are somewhat intricate. It still pissed her off that she could barely write.

Delta had removed her helmet after watching Skulker and Nomad’s exchange. She turned to Miya. “What are you doing?” Delta asked.

It was coming up sooner or later. “Packing my things. I’ve got some things to take care of in Arizona.” Someone to beat to a bloody pulp and extract information from. Order doesn’t matter.

“So you’re leaving? Just like that?” asked Delta incredulously.

“Yep,” Miya responded. Nomad and Skulker noticed their conversation.

“Seriously. You’re just going to leave Olivia like that?” said Delta.

“Jesus Christ, people,” exclaimed Miya. “She’s a feral. As much as I hate to admit it about a cop, Cyrus is right! Ferals go to Houston.” She stopped herself from saying that Olivia would have been simply slaughtered in Mexico, regardless of how smart she was. But fuck my ancestors, they’re dead. “They’re not going to dissect her or anything. Hell, she’ll probably get better food than she’s been getting here. And you all failed to mention the whole ‘killing fifty people’ thing. That’s not an insignificant body count.”

Delta said, with icy fury, “You know why we were there at your little prison thing in the first place? Sure as hell wasn’t for you. We were there just for observation and planning. The only reason we went in at all is because Olivia saw that guy beating the shit out of you and insisted we do something. Why do you think it was just me and her, rather than all four of us?”

“Hey, I’m grateful for that, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not going to war with the MHU. I’ve got an axe to grind with some people in Arizona right now. I also don’t want to ‘save’ a murderous feral. Do you not remember all the random hisses earlier today?” said Miya. Stop trying to guilt me, let me go. I know this is shitty, let me go. She’d stopped packing her bag though.

“You didn’t see her afterwards,” said Nomad. “She wasn’t in good shape.”

“Understatement, she was a complete wreck once she fully came around,” added Delta.

“She didn’t even remember anythin’ about what happened for a bit. I do remember her throwin’ up though,” said Skulker. What?

“We couldn’t get her to say a damn thing for almost twenty minutes. It took about that long for her hands to stop shaking. So no, I don’t think she’s murderous,” said Nomad.

Miya grimaced. They were right. But she didn’t want to back down from an argument. Before she could formulate a counter argument, Skulker grinned extra wide. Uh oh.

He said, “Hey, do ya remember bein’ captured?!” Don’t you dare play this fucking card. “Do ya have any…fond memories of it? All the times, not bein’ able to make yer own damn choices, not able to leave a fuckin’ room without someone’s say so. Fuckin’ fantastic, accordin’ to you!”

He started jabbing his finger at her emphatically, practically shouting at this point. He maintained a somewhat maniacal grin. “An’ the sheer, utter, fuckin’ boredom, of sittin’ in a fuckin’ cage with abso-fuckin’-lutely nothin’ to fuckin’ do! Fuck yeah! Why doesn’t everyone go to fuckin’ prison?” He took a breath and slowed down a bit.

“An’ you know somethin’ funny? This is the stupidest fuckin’ conversation I’ve ever fuckin’ had, an’ I once had a legitimate argument with my brothers whether or not it’d be economically viable to shove a soft serve ice cream machine up one’s ass to smuggle it inta prison, cuz you’ve been arrested for the theft of a soft serve machine.” He seemingly stopped.

“Oh, an’ we determined two things,” he said suddenly. “One: once the machine is safely stored in the rectum, it is imperative tha’ ya don’ somehow pull the chocolate lever.” What the fuck is wrong with you? “And two: it’s actually not economically feasible to bring it inta prison.” He finally stopped.

Fuck, he’s right. About Olivia, not the ice cream. She hovered in indecision for a moment. “You’re right,” she said through gritted teeth. I hate being wrong. “Let’s go get her.”

***

This is going well. We’ve only been tracking the wrong truck for THREE FUCKING HOURS. The authorities apparently had begun to wise up to Delta’s methods. She’d found that they were moving Olivia by truck. She didn’t find out till later that Olivia was in one of five different trucks, varying in departure time and route to Houston. Delta eventually found her error and corrected, but by that time the sun had almost set and they were a good way down the wrong road.

Security was tight at the feral institute. They kept some truly terrifying monsters in there, and some activists insisted on trying to free the less scary ones on occasion. If need be, the four of them agreed they would try there as a last resort, but it would be better to get Olivia in transit. They didn’t really have a plan, they didn’t know what kind of security the police would have around Olivia’s truck.

They finally got on the correct road, several hours south of Westward City, just south of Colorado Springs. Then, suddenly, they came across several flashing lights in the distance. They slowed (oh God, we’re rubberneckers), eventually coming to a stop on the side of the road. Ahead of them parked a van with its back doors dented and busted open. A wrecked police car, its hood and roof crumpled as if something large and winged hit it really hard, tilted crookedly in the median.

The cops on the scene waved them forward, they weren’t the only gawkers. That’s right. Just four college age friends for a ride. Nothing to see in here. Delta had something projected on her lap, turned off the second they came near the officers. Otherwise, they all wore street clothes, weapons stored close at hand and out of sight of the outside.

As Skulker drove past, they all exchanged glances. “Ummm…I’m thinkin’ Olivia said ‘fuck that damsel in distress bullshit’ an’ got ‘erself outta there. Jus’ a thought.”

They made record time back north.

***

They pulled up to the lair sometime around midnight. Nomad got out to open the shutter to the interior, Miya following. Need stretch legs. Can’t sit much longer. She helped him lift the shutter. It opened, sliding the rest of the way after going a certain distance upwards. Nomad and Miya turned towards the inside of the lair when something hit Miya hard, and from the grunt to her right, Nomad as well.

Something nearly crushed Miya’s ribcage, forcibly expelling most of the air in her lungs. Oh god what ow bad ahh. “You guys are back! I was so worried.” Olivia. Hurt. Stop. Out of the corner of her eye Miya could see that Olivia had her and Nomad wrapped up in a bear hug. Miya managed a croak/squeak thing.

“Oh, sorry, sorry.” Olivia released them both. Miya nearly collapsed, managing to catch herself. She breathed again. She heard Nomad take a ragged breath. Precious, precious oxygen! Skulker and Delta both stood half outside of the car, laughing at Nomad and Miya. Olivia had withdrawn, looking apologetic. Animal control and the police hadn’t given her a change of clothes, hers were still riddled with bullet holes.

Miya held her ribs, Nomad in slightly better shape. Slightly. Olivia said, “I…I didn’t mean…I’m sorry. I just…” she trailed off, scratching the back of her neck with eyes fixed firmly on the ground. She seemed to be favoring her left leg.

“S’all right,” Miya managed. Nomad nodded, twisting to the left, then right.  They managed to move out of the way for Skulker, still laughing, to drive the car into the lair. Everyone else followed it inside. Olivia’s definitely limping pretty heavily.

They gathered around the front of the car. Skulker got out and immediately said, “Olivia! We were tearin’ ass down twentyfive with guns blazin’ when we found the wreck you left behind. The fuck?!”

“Oh, well, they had me chained up to this cot thing in the back of a van,” said Olivia. “They’d strapped on this gas mask thing,” she mimed a mask over her face. “It had that knockout gas stuff. I woke up. I…don’t think that was supposed to happen. I broke the cot I was chained to and got away. I flew back here, but you guys were gone. I was worried that you’d been arrested or attacked or ran away or something.”

“You were limping. What happened to your leg?” asked Nomad, pointing to her leg.

“Oh…yeah.” She pulled the pant leg of her right leg up to her knee. Her kneecap had been dislocated, a couple inches lower than it was supposed to be, and slightly to the right.

“What the…” said Delta.

Olivia winced, looking embarrassed. “Yeah, I don’t know what happened. I would’ve looked for you guys, but I didn’t want to move around unless absolutely necessary on this, and I was kind of tired from flying all the way back here.”

“The knee’s just dislocated,” said Miya. “Sit down, I think I can fix it.” Olivia sat. She doesn’t seem like she’s in too much pain. Miya knelt and said, “Let’s see if this works.” She rapped her finger on the spot where the kneecap was supposed to be. Hey, it did work! The muscle attached to the kneecap retracted, bringing the kneecap back with it. “There, should be good.” Wait a minute. “How did this happen again?”

“Ummm…I got hit by a car when I escaped,” said Olivia, bending and straightening her leg. Miya got up. To her she said, “Oh, and thanks!” Miya nodded.

Skulker said, “On the highway?” Olivia nodded. “You got hit by a car goin’ seventy, an’ all ya got was a dislocated knee?” Skulker laughed. Who the fuck is that strong?

Olivia mumbled, “I know. I’m weird.”

Immediately, Delta, and Nomad started protesting along the lines of ‘no you’re not’. Olivia appeared startled by the sudden outburst. After they subsided, she mumbled, “Sorry?”

“It’s all right, Olivia. Good to have you back,” said Nomad. The rest, including Miya, gave their various agreements.

“Thanks. You guys…OK?” Olivia said. Aww, she’s blushing a little. Olivia got up and offered the chair to Delta, who declined.

“Some bruises and cuts, nothing too major,” said Nomad. “Delta got grazed on the arm, but some medics patched that up. I know I’m more tired than anything else at this point.”

Skulker said, “Yeah. Soooo, I’m feelin’ like hittin’ the sack, don’ know ‘bout you lot.” Now that they mention it, sleep sounds great. Didn’t sleep to well last night anyway, and it is past midnight. And you know, I might stay here for a bit after all.

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Assemblage – Q & A

They exited the van, and immediately several cameras flashed. Miya and Nomad had an escorting officer apiece. Four officers flanked Olivia in a box around her, X walking behind, guns held loosely. At least they didn’t bother locking the cuffs too tight. She figured she could break them fairly easily if it came to it, no matter what they did with them. The police seemed to know that too. They seemed kind of spooked by the whole bulletproof thing at first. She’d cooperated, and that seemed to take the edge off them. Olivia herself felt far more at ease now that a good dozen guns weren’t aimed at her.

The police had herded Olivia, Nomad, and Miya onto the armored van with several officers and X. Pathfinder and the other officers without a patrol car got in the other police van. Olivia couldn’t see or hear it now. They marched towards the somewhat grim, grey, concrete building. Few windows marked the walls; nothing but more concrete and the occasional dark metal statue composed of the surrounding exterior.

Some members of the press were there (hence the cameras), taking pictures as they entered the building. Olivia ducked her head down to attract less attention, but they gawked anyway. At least the officers are keeping them away. Some police lined the short walkway into the building, keeping the reporters out.

Once inside, most of the officers peeled off, heading down a different hallway to the right, leaving Olivia with only one officer (Bob, I think) and X. The one leading Nomad continued going forward. The remaining officers led Olivia and Miya down. She saw, with some other people at some computers, Delta, who waved. Olivia was too nervous to drag up a sincere smile, but tried anyway. That seemed to satisfy Delta, who nodded and returned to talking to the others. They moved on. Finally, they came to a cell. Bob removed the cuffs as X opened the door. Ahead of them, Miya and her officer continued on further.

There was a mattress, a toilet, and nothing else beyond the metal walls, ceiling, and floors. X motioned for her to go in, saying, “You’ll wait here until we call you for questioning and we get this sorted out.”

She hesitantly moved forward, then stopped in the doorway. Half turning, she said, “Excuse me,” to Bob. She could gauge his reactions better than X’s, who hadn’t taken off his helmet.

“Hmm?” he grunted curiously

“I’m not going to be sent to a…lab, or anything…right?” she asked. “And…my friends. They aren’t in trouble, are they?”

Confusion briefly crossed Bob’s face, but it was X that responded, “Depends. It’s not for us to say. But don’t worry too much about that.” With that he motioned to the cell again. She entered, and the door shut behind her. At least those stupid cuffs are gone.

She waited about an hour. At one point she tried to stretch her wings, only to discover that the cell was not big enough for that. Combined with the fact that the cell didn’t smell too great, this gave her a mild case of claustrophobia. She spent the rest of the time torturing herself with all the different ways this could go terribly, horribly wrong.

A beep sounded from over the door, causing her to jump slightly. The door opened to reveal three different officers. One looked at her with barely restrained hostility, and ordered, “Up. Now.”

She mutely complied, even when he produced the cuffs again. Why? They led her to a well lit room with a metal table in the center, with two chairs on either side. A black glass window took up one of the walls to the left of the door. They indicated she should take the far seat, then the angry one left, leaving the two officers, one man, one woman, flanking the door. Five minutes passed, the officers not so much as coughing. Olivia fidgeted nervously on the edge of her seat. Stupid backrest.

She could hear faint murmurs from outside the room, occasionally rising in volume, then falling again. Finally, the door opened and in walked a bearded man, lightly armored in black. His helmet extended to cover the top half of his face.

He introduced himself as he sat across from her, “My name is Cyrus.”

Olivia got even more nervous at that. Delta and the others had told her that Cyrus had one of the strongest powers in the world. Why is he in here with me? She managed to keep herself from reacting further than slightly widened eyes and a twitch of her tail.

Cyrus continued in a matter of fact tone, “I’m here to ask you some questions.” Everyone I’ve talked to has a high opinion of you, so I’m just going to assume some government protocol is making you state the obvious.

“For the record, state your name.”

“Olivia.” He seemed to be waiting for something else. She fixed her eyes on the desk in front of him. “Um…that’s it.”

He nodded and continued, “First things first, were you and your friends working with Freedom Fighter in any way?”

“No.” Hadn’t we gotten past this by now?

He seemed satisfied with that. He said, “Now, we want a recounting of the events today.”

“Um, OK,” she said, thinking of what to say. “We were looking for Freedom Fighter. Delta, she had made some things that blocked out his power, so we could get close. We ran into a big group of rioters, and two guys with powers. One was called Membrane, I think. He smelled pretty bad. The other was…Tod, that was it.” She remembered not remembering any names (if that made any sense), even Nomad’s. She’d think about it later, now was not the time.

She continued, “Um…they shot at us. We fought. I think Skulker and Delta got away. Then you found me and Nomad and Miya.”

“So did you take part in this combat?”

“Yeah. Um…the Tod guy. He hit me a couple times. I think I might have broken his knee or something.”

“Solid Tod hit you?” He sounded somewhat incredulous. Solid? Whatever.

“A couple of times. Um…three or four times, I think. It kind of hurt.”

“Kind of?” She glanced at him. He eyed the bullet holes in her clothes, they hadn’t provided a change of clothes.

What did I say? “Yeah. I don’t…I don’t remember it too well though. Why?”

“Tod strikes with enough force to go through walls and vehicles. Most people wouldn’t be in one piece after one hit.” Cyrus let that sink in, then continued, “You said Delta developed some new invention, correct? One that would nullify Freedom Fighter’s power.”

“Yeah, I have no idea how though. I mean, she was here earlier, she’d know how it worked.”

“Yes, but do you know if it worked?”

“Erm, well, I never got within Freedom Fighter’s power, so…no, I guess I don’t know. Sorry.”

He nodded. “You mentioned Miya. How did she fall in with you four?”

Olivia wasn’t entirely certain if there was anything she shouldn’t tell the police. She couldn’t think of why she shouldn’t. On the other hand she hadn’t thought that her little trip to the hospital would end the way it did, so maybe caution was best? Lying will probably get me nowhere with these people.

“We were looking for ways to find Freedom Fighter. Delta,” was basically the only reason we were able to do this. “found some sort of hideout his people were using. We found Miya in there.”

After a pause, he said, “And? Why was she in there?”

“Um, I didn’t really talk to her about it.” It seemed like a personal thing to Miya; Olivia didn’t want to talk about her to someone else like this. “She mentioned something about someone named…Overlord, and experiments.”

“Then how did she end up with Freedom Fighter’s men?”

“Um…well. I think they…sold her to…to them.” The words left a bad taste in Olivia’s mouth.

“Yes. Unfortunate. Now, about you,” Olivia flinched slightly, eyes still firmly planted on the desk, “Why did it take you so long to pop up on our radar? Why did you hide, instead of trying to find help or information?”

She thought for a moment. Because look at me. Though on second thought that probably wasn’t the best answer she could provide. She managed to mumble, “I…I don’t…know. I didn’t…didn’t know what…was going on.” Why am I stammering so much? “I don’t want…to be dissected or anything.” She was quiet after that.

“How long ago do you remember? We know some strange things happen to feral minds.”

“Um…about three weeks, I think.”

“Was there anything you did recognize? Names, places, anything like that?”

“No. I kind of…learned everything from scratch. Or relearned, I guess.” I know, I’m weird. “Skulker seemed almost…offended that I didn’t know what ‘I am your father’ was. I still don’t, either.”

Cyrus blinked, as did the guards by the door. “So you didn’t know what Freedom Fighter could do? At the hospital.”

Olivia had been wondering when this would come up. Of course, she still didn’t have a good answer for them, but you can still worry about a problem without a solution to it. “Um…no. I…I didn’t.”

“We need you to tell us exactly what happened.”

I killed a bunch of people. “Well, there was the bomb. The others were ordered to go somewhere, they told me to stay there. But, I don’t know. I…I guess I thought I could help…or do something.” Her reasoning sounded really dumb to her once she said it out loud. Cyrus’s expression gave no indication of what he thought.

He remained silent, so Olivia continued, “When I got there…I got…I got really angry. And then I kind of…blacked out.”

“So you don’t remember any of what you did?”

“No. Not really.”

Cyrus remained silent for a minute. I messed up something didn’t I? They’re going to kill me, aren’t they? The earpieces of the door guards buzzed with orders. Both exited without a word. She heard shouting as the door closed. Olivia looked around, but found nothing helpful in the featureless walls of the interrogation room.

“Ummm, excuse me, um…Cyrus?”

She waited until he said, “Yes?”

“What…exactly, is going to happen…now?”

Cyrus also had an earpiece, and from it she managed to hear a harsh voice bark out, “So, what are you waiting for? Tell it.” It. He sounded like the angry guy from earlier. I really don’t like where this is going.

Cyrus seemed to consider his words. He sighed. “Your friends will be released, without charges. You will be sent to the feral institute in Houston.” Nononononono.

There was a faint hissing sound, not from her, but from the walls. Pale white gas filled the room. There seemed to be a bubble of clean air around Cyrus. She was up, handcuffs snapped and chair on the floor before she realized it.

Cyrus remained in his seat, unfazed. He muttered, “Marcus,” and shook his head. Olivia managed to take a step towards the door or glass, then felt the knockout gas take effect. She heard the murmurs of yet more shouting from the glass before the world went dark. That was fast.

***

She slowly came around, all of her surroundings vibrating slightly. She cracked her eyes open slightly. She appeared to be in the back of a moving van of some kind. She immediately forced down her rising panic to take stock, and stay absolutely still. I want to get out of here as soon as possible.

She re-closed her eyes and listened. And smelled. They had a gas mask attached to her face, making her breath what she assumed was the gas that had knocked her out in the interrogation room. Olivia picked up a very faint odor from it. She recovered from the effects of it remarkably quickly. It was probably in place to keep her under until they got to Houston. I might have the element of surprise if they’re not expecting me to be awake.

Olivia could tell that they strapped her to a bed or cot of some kind on her back. It’s actually incredibly uncomfortable. There’s a reason I’ve never slept on my back, and that reason is called wings. The straps were actually chains, Olivia could feel the cool metal and links on her. One length on her shins, another on her waist (keeping her arms pinned as well), and the final on her upper chest. I really hope I can break those. She had no idea how strong she was, she’d never really been pushed to her limits in that respect.

From the smell, the van had a driver, and two other people monitoring Olivia in the back. She hazarded a look through her eyelids. One held a rifle of some kind on his lap. Some kind of guard, from his clothes. She couldn’t make out any insignia that would mark him as an officer, MHU or otherwise.

The other was a woman in plainclothes, watching Olivia. Uh oh. Did they see me twitch or something. The woman pulled out a book and started reading. I guess not.

The guard said, “Nothing?”

The woman spared him a glance up from her book. “Nothing,” she said. “We have enough of the sedative to keep her out for two days if need be.”

“Isn’t it kind of dangerous to keep someone on a sedative for this long?”

“No, it’s techie made stuff, apparently. It shouldn’t be lethal.” The conversation trailed off.

Olivia had fully overcome the effects of the gas at this point. She maintained a slow breathing, in spite of every survival instinct screaming at her to get out as fast as possible. She began to plan.

Olivia couldn’t tell how far they had gotten from Westward City. The guy with the gun could be a problem. I really hate this. The back of the van lacked windows, it was hard for her to confirm what was outside. By the sound, they were moving fairly fast on a highway, very probably going east. She could kind of make out the sounds of other cars and trucks moving as well. No signs of any helicopters, though they could be surrounded by patrol cars.

Got to get the chains off. And this stupid mask thing. I think I can block the guy from getting a good aim on me once I’m up. If I can, stop them from radioing anyone, though that’s a nice to have, not priority. But if I can’t break these chains this is going to be over real fast.

She steeled herself, and took a deep breath. She pushed outward with her arms and legs. The cot, pulled by the chain, began to crumple up towards her legs. Then cot was deformed enough for her to kick her legs free. Meanwhile she managed to get her hands on the middle chain, pulling it free. The woman screamed. Olivia grabbed the mask with one hand, the final chain with the other and tore them both off. She sat upright. That was easy! At least she was thinking clearly, she more wanted to escape than fight anyone.

The guard tried to bring his rifle to bear on Olivia, difficult to do in a tight location, such as the back of a moving van. This was made even more difficult when Olivia snapped her nearest wing to buffet the man in the face. The woman had banged on the wall separating the driver from the back section, screaming that Olivia was loose. The van swerved slightly, then began to slow down. Need to leave now.

Olivia threw herself at the back doors. They burst open. Now airborne, she took stock of her surroundings for a brief second, then thought, perhaps there was a better exit strategy than this. She was reminded that they were still moving fairly fast on a highway when she was rammed by the police car trailing the van as an escort before she could get lift. Oww.

She bounced off the top of the police car, smashing the top in the process, and hit the ground. She rolled to a stop a couple yards later. Owwwww. Note to self: don’t do that again. She lay partially stunned in the road; two cars swerved to avoid her. The police car’s rear stuck out of the median ditch thing separating the flows of traffic of the highway. The van had come to a stop well ahead of Olivia. The sun had just set in the west, by the faint glimmer of light from that direction. A siren came from…somewhere further down the road in the direction of the van.

Olivia pushed herself up, and tried to stand. Her right leg protested with a spasm of pain when she tried to put weight on it. She did her best to ignore it. Some shots cracked out from behind her, missing. Get moving. Her wings didn’t hurt, but her leg screamed in agony when she jumped. She managed to get lift anyway, leaving the van and cops behind her. She followed the road, heading back west.

***

Several hours of nonstop flight. That’s how long it took for her get back to Westward City. She hadn’t flown that long nonstop before, though it wasn’t that much of a strain in comparison to walking on her bad leg. She kept a watch for helicopters or the police in any way. It tired her more than anything else she’d done before.

During the flight, she managed to pinpoint the exact location of the source of pain in her leg. Her kneecap wasn’t exactly where it was supposed to be, which might have had something to do with the ache she felt. She didn’t have enough medical knowledge to begin to figure out how to fix it. At least flying was remarkably easy on the legs, and she could ignore the pain enough to function.

She finally came to the shop, setting down as gently as possible. She limped towards the door to their base, hearing nothing. No. The door was locked, she forced it open anyway. Abandoned. No one inside. Most of the stuff was still there. It smelled like they hadn’t been there for about a day, though she could be wrong on that. Did…did they leave?

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Blood Red – Delta

“Hey Delta, bosses want to see us,” called Nomad through the doorway to Delta’s workshop.

Amanda grunted in response. She didn’t know Nomad well, and besides, she was busy. Did they have any idea how delicate this circuit board was? No, no they didn’t. She helped keep the technological side of this meta-human unit running, but someone would always expect her to drop whatever she was doing for something else. Never mind the fact that she always had other projects from other people, on top of her own equipment. She wanted to just zap anyone who walked into her workshop without permission, but the people in charge weren’t big fans of being zapped.

Join the force, they said. You have powers, use them for justice! Never mind the fact that her life was an endless bureaucratic nightmare of red tape and suits. Even Cyrus was powerless against the grinding, unstoppable monstrosity that was the USMHD. She envied those independent teams. They just dumped criminals on the government’s doorstep and let the Meta Human Unit do the paper work. She just wanted a place to put her work to good use, but whatever she made was strictly monitored. Should have gone corporate, or independent.

She thought that the graveyard shift would give her some peace, but no. She usually had to deal with Marcus Abbott, who was in charge about this time, unless Cyrus had something for the unit at four in the morning. And Marcus is a prick.

She was getting a similar sense from Nomad from the brief time she had known him: righteous, official, and stuck up. Probably just got out of the law enforcement part of the Academy, does everything by the books. He was a big guy for his age, which she guessed to be about 18 or so, same as her. He was dressed in urban camo fatigues with a standard issue pistol on his hip and a blue bandana covering his face below the eyes.

At least he has something resembling common sense. No need to let everyone know who you are. She didn’t know exactly what his powers were, something to do with water maybe, or strength? Amusingly enough, he was white, blond haired and blue eyed. Doesn’t exactly fit with the image of a wandering desert nomad, but whatever.

The workshop itself was small, dimly lit, and chaotic. There were four different computers set up around the walls of the room. One was dismantled, its guts strewn about in the nearby vicinity. Right. I’ll get that up and running one day. The workbench where Delta was currently sitting was covered in various tools, ones she had made specially to help her with her work. Soldering materials, various components for circuit boards, far more efficient than anything on the market, and a very bright lamp to illuminate her work.

After a moment, with Delta not making a move to get up from her work, Nomad said, “Come on, Cyrus has got something for us. Something about a feral in the city.”

Delta sighed. “Fine, just give me a minute. What do they need me for against a feral anyway?” she said, her voice altered by the helmet she wore. The helmet covered her entire head, with a jet black visor over her face.  She could see everything beyond it just fine, as well as the Facebook tab she currently had projected on the inside.

Her heavier combat version could also show her thermals, UV, maps, and others. The one she currently wore was a much lighter, more comfortable version. No need to tell everyone who she really was, and besides, no one could ever tell she was dicking around on the internet while they explained to her the utmost importance of whatever stupid project they had for her next. The meta-human unit was far more casual than the normal police.

“I don’t know. Apparently this one is weird. Skulker’s the one that found it, he’s with Cyrus right now.”

She put the circuit board down. She’d reached a good stopping point anyways. “Alrighty then,” she said as she got up, “lead on.” She locked up the workshop behind her.

As they walked, Delta asked “Skulker, that guy with the smiley mask? Crippled those three gangbangers up north last week?” Nomad nodded silently. “I’d have thought he’d have just shot a feral.”

“Yeah. I’m not quite sure what the story is. Cyrus called me up and told me to get you. At this point you know as much as I do,” Nomad responded. He sighed, “A feral, here, on top of everything else. Never mind the fact people are angry about damn near everything, and letting us know.”

“No kidding. Marcus had me working all week on crowd recognition software stuff. Something to pick out individuals in a mob.”

They crossed the building and walked up to one of the conference rooms, soundproofed and secure. The walls were a featureless grey, so as to focus everyone’s attention on the presumably important reason they were in the room in the first place. Standing inside around the long table were Skulker, Marcus, and Cyrus. A woman who looked to be a civilian was sitting at the table, observing the argument Skulker and Marcus were having as Nomad and Delta walked in.

Marcus was in a run of the mill police uniform, which meant he couldn’t nearly match the creepy factor that Skulker could pull off with that leering mask, despite the fact that Marcus was the most powerful magician in Colorado and quick to let anyone know it. Delta idly wondered how Skulker saw out of that mask of his; there were small eye holes, but that rather restricted what you could see.

“…its just ridiculous. How could we have not heard anything about this until just now, in this way? You both are obviously mistaken.” Marcus was saying, gesturing to both Skulker and the woman.

“You callin’ me a liar, you prick?” retorted Skulker, his hand resting on the hilt of a long knife. Delta smiled beneath her helmet at the prick comment.

“Quiet you two,” Cyrus broke in before either man could do or say something stupid. Cyrus was only of average height and build, which didn’t quite fit his reputation amongst the average citizen. He had a magnificent black beard and a helmet that covered the top half of his head, but left his vision unimpaired. He wore the light armor the secret service had let him keep.

He’d been a major part of the meta-human secret service for the president, but post 9/11 paranoia had gotten him booted by several prominent fear mongering politicians. So far as Delta could tell, he was the son of Persian nationals who’d fled to the US back in the early seventies. It didn’t matter that he had served eight distinguished years before, people still got riled up over his religion and heritage.

Cyrus paused to make sure Skulker and Marcus obeyed before continuing. “Delta, Nomad. Thank you for joining us. Now,” He gestured to the woman “Tell us your story. From the beginning, short and sweet version.”

“OK. So I was walking home after visiting some friends. We’d gone to a bar and probably stayed out later than we should have. I mean, it had been forever since we’d seen each other and I’m from out of town and…”

Cyrus cut her off. “Focus, we need relevant details.”

“OK, sorry. I was alone, walking back since I wanted some fresh air and I was probably a little drunk, and these three guys came out and surrounded me. I screamed for help and punched one a couple times, but then one of them came at me with a knife. He had it up to my throat when the girl with wings came out and yelled out at them.”

Marcus snorted, “Yes, some feral just talked in a complete sentence. It was probably a shifter or something.”

“Marcus,” said Cyrus warningly, “let her finish.”

“Anyways,” she continued with a glare at Marcus, who glared right back, “We were all standing there when I noticed she had claws on her hands. Then she started hissing and looked like she was about to attack or something. The guys ran off.”

“Why didn’t you? You should know that ferals are dangerous.” interjected Nomad.

“I was kind of in shock. She hadn’t stopped hissing when the men left. I thought I was a goner when she just stopped and asked if I was OK. I told her I was, then she kind of got distracted and left after the men. I left and called the police.”

“Describe the feral for us again.”

“Alright. She had a normal woman’s body, over six feet tall. The hands and feet were reptilian, and ended in claws. She had a tail and wings, and all of this was with dark green scales. Um…she had silver snake eyes, and her teeth were all sharp, like a shark’s. She was dressed in some bulky old clothes. That’s it.”

“Yeah, tha’ checks out with what I saw too,” added Skulker.

“So you’re saying that a feral, a mindless animal, wore clothing, spoke to you, then just left you alone. It didn’t do anything else,” challenged Marcus.

“Enough,” said Cyrus firmly before the woman had a chance to respond. He turned to her and said, “Thank you for your cooperation. Marcus here will escort you to the police department, so you can identify your attackers, provide a statement, and so forth. Marcus?” He looked at Marcus expectantly.

When they had left, Cyrus turned to Skulker, who practically oozed smugness at Marcus being shown up. “Your turn.”

“My turn! ‘K, I saw those three guys runnin’ hard away from her, didn’t know tha’ at the time. I stab…er… incapacitated ‘em. Then she came round the corner an’ started hissin’ like tha’ lady said. She eventually backed off, so I called you lot. An’ I don’t care what tha’ dick Marcus says, she was more intelligent than jus’ some animal. Was only aggressive when she recognized that I was reachin’ for a gun.” Skulker said as quickly as humanly possible.

Delta mused on the new information for a moment, as did everyone else. Hmm. This is new. Ferals are just half human half animal things with fucked up heads that kill people. This is probably bullshit, but Cyrus seems to believe it. Weird

She spoke up, “What’s the statistic? Only around 30% of ferals can even speak, mostly not well?”

“Yes,” responded Cyrus, “And the ones that we don’t get to end up as criminals in some way. They have no real human empathy. That’s why the three of you are going to track her down.”

What? Just the three of us? Isn’t this usually animal control’s problem? And why the hell is Cyrus taking this seriously? Delta would have spoken up, but she had the feeling that Skulker wouldn’t react too well to being called a liar again. His not-so-subtle threat to Marcus, a higher up in the Meta Human Department, in front of Cyrus, currently one of the strongest supers in the world, did not indicate a rational mind.

Ahead of any questions Skulker, Nomad, or Delta could voice, Cyrus raised a placating hand and said, “If she is mentally human, and it sounds like she is, we want to get off on the right foot. I know this a big if. We protect people, and if she is mentally human, she just woke up with no memories and a strange body, complete with more animalistic instincts. She’ll need help. However the risk is too great to send in a psychologist. You will give a preliminary assessment of her mental situation, if she can be reasoned with or if she is just another feral. If she is feral, us and animal control go in. If not, it would be highly unethical to treat what is essentially a person like an animal. Questions?”

“Why us?” said Delta immediately. Nomad nodded.

“As a group, you all should be around her age, if she just triggered. You specifically because you can be very effective at information gathering. I would be shocked if she hasn’t shown up on a security camera somewhere. Nomad because she can’t kill him if things go bad, and he can restrain her. Skulker because he is good in a fight, good at finding things, and should it be necessary I don’t think he’ll have any moral compunctions about killing her. He may not be part of the force, but I’m trusting he will assist us in this manner,” Cyrus looked to Skulker.

“Yeah, I’ll cooperate.”

“Good. Now don’t get me wrong, we are taking every precaution in this matter. Warning civilians, telling the police and our patrols to be alert, and the rest. The instant we believe she poses a threat, animal control subdues her. But if I’m right in this, we could have another super on our side, or at least neutral. Now, I believe you all have some work ahead of you. Nomad, you’re in charge.”

The moved for the door when Cyrus said, “Oh yes, a word of warning. You’ll get a more complete briefing with everyone else later but we’re starting to believe that Freedom Fighter is in the area, and is behind the recent protests and near riots.”

“Doesn’t he stick to the South or other war torn parts of the world?” asked Nomad.

“Yes, we don’t know for certain but we’re looking into any possible reason why he would be here. Now, anything else?”

There was nothing else. They filed out, parted ways with Cyrus, and at Nomad’s suggestion went back to Delta’s workshop. Delta hated other people in her workshop more than absolutely necessary, but they needed to get this farce over with. Besides, she had a few ideas…

But first: “Let’s get this over with. I’m Delta” she said for Skulker’s benefit, sitting in the chair she had occupied before as they entered her workshop. “I’m an engineer, specializing in electricity and electronics.” It was vastly more complicated than that, but that’s what the end result was, and explaining to these two would be wasted breath.

Skulker chuckled “A techie. Cool. I teleport, mostly. Enhanced reflexes, the like.”

Techie. Delta sighed. She hated her job. If you wanted to be condescending to a super powered engineer or scientist, techie didn’t get much better. There were other, better names, tinker for example, techno mage if you were in a backwards part of the world, but the term techie was ingrained in the American public, and therefore most unlearned American supers, psyche. She preferred engineer.

“I turn into goo.”

Delta looked up. That had come from Nomad.

“I get the feelin’ there’s more to tha’ statement,” said Skulker after Nomad didn’t offer up any further comments.

“Yeah. I’m completely in control, can change my shape, and can snap back to normal at will.”

“So why did Cyrus say that this feral can’t hurt you?” asked Delta.

“You ever try to beat up a pool of water with yer bare hands? Do it an’ tell me how it goes. I thought techies were brighter than average,” said Skulker, laughing. Oh, we’re going to get along just great, I can tell already.

“Yeah, ferals depend on raw strength. That doesn’t work so well against me, provided I’m liquid.”

After a brief silent moment, Skulker turned to Nomad and said, “Alrighty then fearless leader, what’s the game plan?”

***

Find the feral they said. It should be easy they said. Well, too bad she can fly and apparently doesn’t want to be found. As much skepticism as Delta had for Skulker’s claim, the only explanation she could think of for the feral’s elusiveness was a reluctance to be found, backed by at least a rudimentary intelligence. She would only believe it once she heard it speak, but she was now willing to give Skulker the benefit of the doubt.

Delta had programs sifting through security feeds and logs from the nearby stores and buildings in that shopping center. The first thing they found was footage from an ATM camera from over a week ago. It was the feral, Skulker confirmed that the instant he looked at the still picture. She was wrapped in some bed sheet. OK. She’s been around for a while. No one has disappeared lately, so she hasn’t eaten anyone. She’s actively looked for clothes, unless someone gave the ones Skulker saw on her, but no one in their right mind would approach her.

“Well, she’s not small.” commented Delta.

“Yeah, and you bastards wondered why I didn’t shoot her. She was five feet from me, an’ hissin’.” replied Skulker, “like some sort of snake or dragon or somethin’.” They sent the picture to the newspapers and continued their work.

Two days they had been searching, and still had only the roughest idea of where she was. Delta, Nomad, and Skulker were in the workshop once again, hammering out ideas. The trio was sitting in a triangle, with Nomad sat in a folding chair off to Delta’s left. Skulker was bouncing up and down on a stool balanced precariously on two legs. Delta idly scrolled through the data she’d compiled on ferals at the bench.

Two kinds of alterations happened simultaneously with a feral trigger: the body and the brain. The amount of change in each was completely independent of the other. On one end of the scale was a girl who had grown an extra set of arms and antennae, with no other physiological changes, but she was no more intelligent than the average worker ant.

The most intelligent feral recorded to date, and there had only been around 140 in the US since 1900, was a man named Steve, who was a large hairy…thing. Delta didn’t want to say Wookie, but only because Wookies traditionally didn’t have eight legs. According to his IQ test he was only a little behind an average person.

The only consistency with ferals was that the animal they were based off of had to be somewhat terrestrial, based on Earth DNA. This meant no aliens or ocean life. They had found footage of a feral trigger, the only such trigger caught on video. Delta and Nomad had almost vomited, and even Skulker looked away.

Just as supers had been around forever, so had ferals. Many monster myths in the world could be attributed to them, like werewolves. There were many theories on how exactly ferals came about. The most commonly accepted explanation was that their safeties had been warped somehow. But there were so few constants among ferals it was hard to verify any scientific information on them.

“I say we jus’ blow up the building she’s gotta be hidin’ out in. Boom, problem solved,” Skulker was saying.

“And how exactly does that help us?” asked Nomad. That man was a bottomless well of patience. He hadn’t snapped at Skulker’s stupidity once in the two days they’d known each other. And, unlike Delta, he never rose to the bait Skulker offered.

“No more feral,” said Skulker, as if it were completely obvious. “See? You can solve any problem with the proper application of explosions.”

“And you think this is a good idea, and that we should follow through with something like that?” Nomad responded in an even voice. How does he do it?

“No, but it’d make life easier for me at any rate. An’ at the end of the day, isn’t that what’s most important? Ask yourself not what can Skulker do for you, but what can you do for Skulker?”

“No. Not at all,” spoke up Delta, “Anyways, why are you even doing this if you just want to kill her?”

“I help cuz I said I would. An’ I don’t particularly wanna kill her, jus’ sayin’ it would make things easier, short term wise.”

“Don’t blow anything up. We’re here to help her, if we can,” said Nomad.

“Fine, fine. I’ll help her,” replied Skulker

Skulker might be a pain to work with, but if you got him to say he’d do something, it would happen, and well. But he needs to stop making bad electricity puns every time he walks in here. I WILL install that security system now, just for him. Skulker made it plain that he obeyed them only for the duration of their mission.

Nomad was better, not that that was saying much, but it was true. He was thankfully quiet, reserved, and not too imposing when Delta was working on something. That alone earned him many brownie points in Delta’s books. She was reconsidering her earlier evaluation of him. And Skulker, for whatever reason, listened to him more than he ever did to Delta.

“Alright, last night our feral broke up another attempted murder, the third time this week, including the one you found, Skulker. It was the same pattern as the last two, she swooped in, the thugs ran off, and so does our feral once they’re gone.”

Nomad continued, “It’s not much to work with, but I think we need to concentrate solely on the area near where Skulker found her. That’s roughly where those other incidents were, as well as most of the sightings on the cameras. I think we’ve established that she does possess intelligence, especially since we’ve had so few sightings of her in over two weeks since the first one.”

“Yeah, she’s been avoidin’ people. I’ve been talkin’ to some homeless fellas. Only two of ‘em have even had a passin’ glance of her. It’s hard to hide somethin’ like this from the homeless. They see almost everythin’ on the streets,” added Skulker.

“She’s even avoiding security cameras, so she can recognize those as well,” said Delta.

“So me and Skulker will continue to patrol the area. Delta, you’re working on something to help right?”

“Yes. Got a couple of scanners. If she’s cold blooded, and she very well could be, this one right here should pick up on that,” responded Delta, pointing to a large ball with what appeared to be multiple camera lenses pointing in different directions.

“Got a tracking system all set up for it, and I just finished the modified tasers for you two,” Delta continued, passing what seemed to be a normal taser to each of them. These were part of her standard arsenal, good for non lethal takedowns. It wasn’t hard for Delta to make it so that it knocked people unconscious, rather than just cause pain. “These should knock her out if you need them too. Had to pump up the power a bit just to be safe.”

“Thank you. So these scanners will be ready by?” asked Nomad, trailing off to let her finish the statement.

“Tomorrow. Still testing to make sure they, you know, work. Make sure they can distinguish between our feral and every other person in the city. Also gotta install them in a vehicle as well. They’re too heavy to carry around, and they don’t do us any good in here.”

“Alright. I’ll tell Cyrus that we will probably have something for him by tomorrow. Him and Marcus are getting impatient. They don’t want the populace to get angry about a loose feral on top of everything else.”

***

It took longer than Delta thought, but the van was finally ready. She enlisted Nomad to drive in the general area while she monitored. Skulker was at his day job by the time they got moving. As a vigilante, Skulker didn’t do hero work for a paycheck.

They had found their feral fairly quickly with the thermal scanner, but the feral never remained in more than one spot for too long. It also didn’t register as cold blooded. Well that scanner was a waste of time. The feral never went to somewhere they considered to be its home, unfortunate considering that they would probably have better success if it was comfortable with where it was at.

Nomad and Delta both doubted she could be reasoned with. Intelligence did not denote rationality. Orders were orders, but that didn’t stop them from being reluctant from approaching what they both considered a killing machine. Just because she didn’t hunt didn’t mean she couldn’t kill.

Delta watched as the feral landed in the middle of the street, then take off again almost immediately. Odd. She hasn’t done that before. She directed Nomad to drive to where the feral had landed. There was nothing to indicate why that had happened. They drove on, not letting the feral out of scanner range.

Delta saw the feral land again, pace around, then go into a building.

“Uh oh. She just went inside a building with people in it. Can’t tell what building though.”

Suddenly Nomad’s phone buzzed with an incoming text. It popped up on the inside of Delta’s helmet. The text was from Skulker, an address not too far from their current position, with an attached picture.

“Isn’t Skulker at his other job now?” asked Delta from the back.

“Yeah, was that him?” said Nomad.

Delta looked at the attached picture. It was the feral, standing in what appeared to be a donut shop, if the signs and ads were anything to go by.

“Oh, here we go. Skulker works in that building she just went into. Go to this address.” She told Nomad the directions, then another text came in. Delta read it, then said, “Holy shit, she just walked in and bought a dozen donuts. She is sane. Skulker’s tracking her now. No, turn that way, she’s moving.”

They followed the feral’s signal to an abandoned apartment building, common in the area. Skulker followed soon after, then moved to the rooftop. Delta dressed in her combat kit, tasers and batons charged. Nomad parked, pulled out his assault rifle, and him and Delta piled out of the car. The scanners didn’t show anything cold blooded within the building (of course not), but the thermals did show the feral in question.

“Give me something Delta, is she in there?” said Nomad, “You too, Skulker.

“On the roof now. Haven’t seen any movement other than you two,” was Skulker’s reply.

“She’s in there. I make stuff that works, you know.”

Delta called the Meta Human Unit HQ. She informed Cyrus of the situation, and set up a live feed to the HQ from her helmet. They would see and hear what Delta would.

Delta turned on the thermal sights on her helmet as she and Nomad approached the door. She saw the feral lying down on something, it was hard to tell what. Nomad cautiously opened the door and they walked inside and up the nearest staircase. The feral got up and walked several paces away from the window, towards what Delta assumed to be the central hallway. Suddenly she bolted for the other staircase.

“Damn it, she’s onto us. She’s going up the other set of stairs.” she told the rest of the team. Nomad and her broke into a run.

“Skulker, you still there?” asked Nomad.

“Yep. In position now.” was the reply. After a few moments, she head Skulker again over the comms. “Whoa, back. Hi there!” He was transmitting what his mic picked up to everyone else. “No, don’ even think about it. We’re not here for a fight.” That’s concerning. She grabbed a stun baton from her hip.

As Delta and Nomad rushed up the stairs, HQ sent them a message. “Hey you three, be advised. There’s a major protest going on in the area, to the north of your location. It’s starting to look like it might turn violent, so watch yourselves.”

Nomad said back, “Is it looking like Freedom Fighter is out there?”

“Yeah, we’re starting to think so. That’s got to be the only reason they’re up this early in the morning. Cyrus says to keep doing what you’re doing though, we’ve got it covered. Good hunting.”

Nomad and Delta finally reached the rooftop with Skulker and the feral. Skulker was holding a knife. That doesn’t bode well. Did the feral try to attack or something? Did Skulker? Despite Skulker’s claims that he didn’t lie, that just made Delta trust him less. It didn’t look like either had tried to kill each other, the knife blade wasn’t out, and neither were panting as though they had just had a go at each other.

The feral turned and backed away with a growl, her eyes focusing on the weapons they held. This was somewhat intimidating, considering Delta in armor barely came up to the feral’s shoulder. Nomad spoke up, trying to calm her down, with Skulker trying to help, (maybe?), and failing miserably. Good idea. I don’t think Skulker is a calming influence. Delta told Skulker to shut up. Then the feral spoke, in a relatively small voice that sounded scared, out of place with the looming figure with claws, or her mouth full of sharp teeth.

“What… Please just leave me alone.”

Nomad pressed on, telling her their names. Then he mentioned the Meta Human police. The feral got angry at that. How did she…Skulker you idiot. Why did you show her that? She’s smart enough to figure it out. Delta’s doubts as to the feral’s intelligence were gone now. She can remember how to read. That’s definitely new.

The feral started backing away, but stopped when Nomad mentioned the memory loss. The feral stopped. Oh yeah, I’d be freaking the fuck out if I were her. She’s not going anywhere if she thinks that we can make sense of her situation. The feral didn’t want to go back inside, still paranoid that they were there to capture her. She was reassured by Delta and Nomad putting their weapons on the ground. Even Skulker managed to not be incompetent and got a name out of her: Olivia.

Delta found herself explaining the concept of triggering, since she was the only one who truly had taken any time to research. Just because she didn’t believe Skulker didn’t mean that she had dismissed him out of hand, and he did turn out to be right after all. As she explained, Olivia relaxed, leaning forward eagerly for any information.

HQ sent another message. “Delta, a word of warning, let the rest of your team know. The protest is a full riot now. We’ve got a sighting of Freedom Fighter riling up the mob with his power, so you three are on standby.”

She relayed this to the others when they weren’t talking. Nomad had taken over, and Delta honestly felt bad when he had to explain the permanence of Olivia’s position to her. They could have continued with the exposition for Olivia for much longer, but a large explosion cut off Nomad mid explanation, and soon after the comms with HQ came live once again.

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