We need to shut Nevermore down, now. Wait, of course they couldn’t hear that. It’s always fun trying to talk like normal when you don’t have a mouth. Or lungs. Nomad flowed forward, engulfing another Bratva soldier and slamming him against the wall. Nomad flowed off, taking the man’s gun with him and chucking it behind him, out of the construction site. Blackout and Whiteout followed behind him. I would tell them what to do, but I can’t talk right now. Several bullets hit liqui-Nomad, entering with a quiet plop and coming to a stop about a foot in. Never mind, I take back every complaint about my power.
“Right side, right side!” yelled out Whiteout. Blackout turned and began firing in that direction, giving the three Bratva a pause for thought.
Nomad snagged two nearby Bratva. He ignored the incessant sourceless whispering, the dim, flickering lights, and the fact that gravity oscillated in strength in certain places he spread out over. The gravity part is incredibly annoying, actually. Everything moved in almost slow motion. He pummeled one man (he could exert force within himself just as easily as outside), the other’s arm he twisted until something went pop.
The Undead had panicked once the attack began. Some thought the Bratva betrayed them, and proceeded to make Nomad and his group’s job much easier. Others ran directly into Gears and Miya. Rob didn’t bother with hostages or hand to hand combat, and Miya’s golem had a similar lack of remorse. The more dead Undead, the more likely they are to break up. Whatever helps me sleep at night. Olivia crushed one of the Undead’s cars as she came in.
The remaining six or so Bratva around Nomad’s group began to rally. The rest were either down or fleeing with their leader guy. These were Russian immigrants, some of them no doubt ex-military. Nomad would be surprised if at least one of them hadn’t served in Siberia or Afghanistan. Two took cover behind a concrete barrier and forced Whiteout to Nomad’s left to duck behind a concrete support column. The hail of bullets would overwhelm his shield rapidly, and then move on to his vital organs. Damn semi-auto weapons, and damn the competent people using them. Blackout actually had the advantage here, his shield kept them from shooting him with anything resembling accuracy, and bullets would not break it and force him to take the time and effort to reform it.
Nomad flowed and washed over them, one managing to dodge out of the way in time. Hey, there’s a grenade on one of them. He pulled the pin and flowed away as fast as possible. He joined Whiteout by the large support column, expelled the random bullets and dirt from himself, and reformed into his normal self. It took him a long moment to feel his hands and feet again. Hate that feeling. Nervous system doesn’t reform quite as fast, and it only gets worse the longer I stay a liquid. He heard the grenade explode behind him, accompanied by some screams as men died. Jesus, did that happen right next to me? That was extremely loud.
“We’re good, go,” he shouted to Whiteout next to him, now the noise muffled for some reason. Now it’s quiet, now it’s loud. This needs to stop. “Where’s Nevermore?” he asked. He winced as his earpiece shocked him, and the chatter from the rest of the team stopped. Damn it, why? Oh well, it doesn’t work when I’m liquid anyways. I’ll make do.
Whiteout poked his head around the column, Nomad doing the same from the other side. Through the flickering lights he saw Blackout drop his gun (it still remained strapped to his uniform), using a baton against an armored Bratva with a sword. A super, I’m guessing. Who uses swords nowadays? Cinder had broken through the ceiling, and had engaged the Galina woman. The rest of the Bratva had escaped or were dead at this point. This is moving faster than we thought. And is an incoherent mess.
“Found him,” said Whiteout. From his body language Nomad could tell he shouted, but it sounded like he yelled through a pillow. “Middle, for some reason.” And there he was, with two guards. Galina near to them let out an explosion of some kind, and the two guards staggered, one dropping.
“Blackout needs help,” shouted Nomad as loud as possible.
“BLACKOUT,” repeated Nomad, accompanied by a frantic gesture towards the armored soldier hacking at Blackout, who desperately backed up towards Nomad and Whiteout.
Too close together to shoot at them. Whiteout used his shield to interfere with the soldier’s sword swing while Nomad resumed liquid phase and came to Blackout’s side. The Bratva tried another stab with the tip of his sword towards Blackout. A white orb appeared between the two, deflecting it. Then Nomad was on him, twisting his arm to make him release the sword, then compressing his chest to knock the wind out of him. Nomad spat him back out towards Blackout, ready in case the man was more resilient than most. The man wasn’t, he provided no resistance when Blackout hit him with his baton twice more to be certain (no idea what his powers are, best to be cautious), then pulled out some cuffs. Real cuffs, not the zip ties we’re using.
In the middle of this, gravity suddenly increased threefold, and a horrible metallic screeching sound came from nowhere. Blackout stumbled, then everything blurred around them. Nevermore. He’s one of those guys who need time for their power to get to full strength. Nomad managed to flow away from the area of increased gravity, to a part resembling normal. Light from the spotlights struggled to illuminate the area.
Nevermore still stood in the same place on his own, the others around him were gone. Nomad didn’t see Miya or Gears, he knew Whiteout and Blackout were still behind him, Cinder and Galina hammered at each other, the ground occasionally vibrating from Galina’s explosions. Olivia was on her knees in front of an Undead member leveling a gun at her head. Bad. Nomad started towards her.
Her head jerked, and she fell to the side, beginning to get up again with only a slight pause. The guy shot again, and must have been feeling cocky, because he advanced to right next to her. She backhanded his knee, beginning to get up for a third time. How is she still moving? Her free hand shot forward and dug into the guy’s gut as he began to fall. Now on her feet, she pulled back with her grabbing hand. Her other hand hooked around to the base of the guy’s skull. Some blood and a separated chunk of skull, and the guy lay still on the ground. Olivia stood. Nomad made it about ten yards in the time it took this to happen.
His first thought: She can be pretty lethal when she wants to. His second: Holy shit. Olivia? The same one who protested killing people every step of the way? She turned to the closest person, Nomad, and began to growl. Fuck. Not this again.
He backpedaled quickly. Don’t provoke her, don’t provoke her. She considered him second, sniffed the air, then turned away and stalked towards Nevermore without a word. I hope this goes how I think it will go. The lights flickered on and off, giving a sort of strobe effect, and gravity once again threw down on Nomad. Olivia grunted and kept moving. Everything sounded normal again, just in time for Nomad to be nearly deafened by another Galina explosion. Cinder rocked back from it, managing to not let go of Galina’s arm. As loud as it was for Nomad, it must have been worse for Olivia, because she stopped and let out a roar of pain, hands held to her head.
It took her several seconds to get back fully on her feet, and Nevermore still just stood there. Gears and Miya reached Nomad in the intervening time.
“How we doin’?” asked Gears, coming up beside Nomad.
“OK. Olivia’s pissed. Where’s everyone else? My communicator’s not working.”
“Laura and the rest are fighting the fellas who escaped. Whiteout an’ Blackout left to help, they’re puttin’ up some good resistance.”
“That’s Nevermore, right?” asked Miya, pointing to Nevermore.
“Yeah,” said Nomad.
“He hasn’t run yet?” Olivia began to run towards him.
That’s… actually a good point. Why hasn’t he? “That one guy we interrogated said his power didn’t let him move,” he said.
“So why didn’t he stop using his power and run?” said Miya, some condescension slipping into her voice.
“They did mention something about him not having great control, and it feels like he’s been using it pretty hard,” thought Nomad aloud. “Maybe he can’t shut it off on his own at this point.”
Olivia didn’t take long (poor dude can’t even move), and everything snapped back to normal. No flickering lights, no strange gravity, no whispering from nowhere.
“That was straight outta Mortal Kombat,” commented Gears.
“Olivia?” asked Miya. “The hell? The fuck did they do to her?”
“Someone shot her in the head,” stated Nomad.
“Who?” asked Miya. Her golem shifted, taking humanoid shape and forming a large club capped with a cow skull on the end of the single arm.
“That corpse over there,” said Nomad.
“Oh. Well, that’s best,” she said, looking almost disappointed. Getting protective, are we?
“She’s remarkably spry then, all things considered,” said Gears with a chuckle. How is this funny? “Should we do somethin’ ‘bout scary Russian lady?” He jerked his thumb towards Galina.
She let out another explosion, and Olivia roared again. Fuck. Does she know friend and foe right now? Cinder finally got a good hold of Galina, and punched her in the temple twice. She went limp. That about wraps it up. Hold up… Olivia still marched towards Cinder and Galina.
An oblivious Gears walked to intercept her, waving shouting, “Hey, fan-fuckin’-tastic job there!”
She flinched at the sound, then stood her ground and hissed at him, claws out. No, no, no, you idiot, Gears. Gears stopped.
“What the hell?” he asked her with no small amount of indignation, throwing up his hands with his shotgun in one. Wait, that’s right, he hasn’t seen her in a murderous frenzy before.
She reacted to the motion, rushing forward with her shoulder and ramming Gears. The seven foot tall mass of metal that was Gears in armor staggered back. A followup swipe of her hand tore off a part of the armguard he raised to defend himself. Olivia picked him up and slammed him on the ground, landing on him and pinning him to the ground. God damn it.
Nomad fired two shots in the air. That got Olivia’s attention. She recoiled away from the sound for a moment, before getting to her feet and off of Gears. “Back off, back off,” he shouted to Cinder and Miya, waving to the side at them to get away. “Gears, stay down, stay quiet.” Don’t agitate her. She doesn’t seem to like loud noises.
Olivia made a weird rumbling sound, stalking towards Nomad.“Olivia,” he said, enunciating each word clearly. “You know us, Olivia. Calm down.”
She advanced. He slowly put his rifle off to the side. Won’t do too much good anyways, and I can just go to liquid if this goes wrong. “Olivia…” he repeated, raising a placating hand. That got a not-bad response. She stopped, hesitating, though still watching through narrowed, suspicious eyes. She stopped baring her teeth too, that’s a start. Now what?
“Calm down. We’re done now.” He advanced, slow and steady, hands out to the side. He stopped when she let out a hiss. “Olivia, come on now.”
She glanced to the side, at Gears dutifully laying on the ground (I really hope he’s not dead or something) and at Miya, watching on with concern. Olivia sniffed the air, then slowly curled her hands back up. She let out a breath and scratched the back of her head.
“Sorry,” she mumbled.
“You OK now, Olivia?” asked Nomad.
“What?” she asked.
“You OK now, not going to attack anyone?”
“What? I can’t hear you.” She looked over him with concern. “Wait, that was Gears back there.” She whirled around and rushed over to where he lay.
“Ow, fuck,” he said as he accepted her help standing up. “Why did you do that?”
At the same time Olivia said, “Sorry, sorry. I’m really sorry. I didn’t… I’m sorry.” She sounded close to tears.
“It’s all right, I guess,” said Rob. “What the hell were you doin’?”
Olivia stood there looking at her feet, hands behind her back, not responding. Gears cocked his head to the side. “Olivia, you with us?”
“Sorry. Did you say something?”
“Say yes if you can hear this,” he said. Olivia didn’t respond. Gears’ face is covered by a mask. She can’t tell what he’s saying.
“The hell was that?” said Cinder, joining them. “That looked an awful lot like a feral attack to me.”
Nomad sighed. Just one thing after another to deal with. “I don’t know. Nevermore might have messed with her head, I know some dude shot her in the head. And now it’s sounding like she’s deaf. I’m not sure if that was a pun or not but that was unintentional.”
“Wait, in the head?” asked Cinder.
“Wow, alright,” he said, sounding more understanding. “You up to date on what’s going on outside?”
“No, my comm’s gone,” said Nomad. Delta’s going to be pissed to have to replace that.
“They’re wrapping up outside. The cops will be here soon, you and your people might want to scram.”
They pulled into the lair an hour later, split between Nomad and Gears’ cars. After the Watch made Miya give back their gun, and Delta took photo evidence of Nevermore’s death (and the Watch promised to forward them the official rulings). Olivia’s deafness put a damper on the otherwise high spirits of a contract completed. We still need to make sure the Undead split up, but I doubt that will be a problem. There are still a bunch of metahumans, and a power vacuum.
Nomad, Skulker, and Delta got out of his car, while Gears’ truck went around to the back. Nomad opened the door as Olivia and Miya’s bone pile climbed out of the back. Other than Olivia, no one received any injuries.
As everyone began peeling off gear, Chris pulled Miya off to the side. “Can you do anything with ears?”
She sighed. “Are there bones in ears?”
“Seriously? Bones?” asked Miya as she went to check on Olivia. “I guess that does make sense, I wondered what those tiny ones were for. Now you,” she said to Olivia. “Hold still.” She grabbed her arm. After a moment, Miya said, “This is going to suck, I’m not gonna lie.”
Olivia said, “What?”
Miya held her free hand up to her own ear and mimed an explosion. Suddenly Olivia doubled over and thrashed, breaking Miya’s hold. Her feet clenched, cracking the concrete floor. Miya staggered back. “I was hoping that’d knocked her unconscious.”
Olivia’s hissing continued for a long, tense moment. The hissing stopped, and Olivia came back upright, noticed everyone watching her, then ducked her head again. “Sorry,” Chris heard her murmur.
“Hey, can you hear me?” asked Miya loudly. Olivia’s eyes scrambled.
“Ow,” she said.
“Crap. Sorry,” said Miya in a more normal voice. “Can you hear me?”
“I… can kind of hear you saying stuff. It’s all really muffled. But there’s still this weird ringing sound in my ear, I can hear that,” said Olivia.
“Miya?” asked Amanda.
“I don’t know how ears work. Sorry. I told the little bones to go back to the way they were before about a day ago. It’ll take some time.”
“No. That ringing’s tinnitus, I’m pretty sure.”
“So wha’s that mean?” asked Ben, joining them.
“Erm,” stalled Amanda as she got on the internet. “Could be permanent, could go away. It’s weird, it looks like.”
“We’ll have to wait and see,” said Miya. “Not much we can do.”
There was a prolonged crash behind them as Rob tripped over his armor mannequin. “Fuck,” he said as the bits scattered all over the floor.
“The fuck you doin’ over there?” asked Ben with a laugh.
“Shut up,” called back Rob, starting to pick up the pieces.
“Alright,” said Chris. “Amanda, you contact our client?”
“Lemme go do so,” she said.
“Who wants some celebratory food?” asked Ben enthusiastically.
“Not burgers again,” groaned Miya. “I swear I’ve gained ten pounds from the damn things.”
“Hey, that’s the fastest stuff that’s also meat for her,” Ben said, motioning to Olivia. Hold up a sec, she’s been sitting there watching us talk without knowing what we’re saying.
He pulled out his phone and typed “do you want food?”, then passed it to Olivia.
She read it and smiled slightly. “Yes please.”
“Um, we could get barbeque again,” said Ben.
Amanda said, “And they’re not open. Only fast food joints are open this time of night.”
Miya said, “I guess. I am starving.”
“Food is good. I like food,” called out Rob.
“burgers?” typed Nomad. Olivia nodded.
“We’re good for burgers again,” he said for himself and Olivia.
“Right on!” Ben said.
As he drove off, everyone else began settling down, Olivia joining them when Miya waved her over. They settled into companionable silence. Which is good, because it would be a dick move for us to hold a conversation in front of Olivia while she can’t hear.
They spent the next two days monitoring the Undead. Nothing had been heard of them, and Jeremy seemed satisfied. The exchange happened smoothly, and entirely online. And I never have to be in the same room with that man again. It’s a win-win, really. The Watch had sent a message thanking them (we really need a name) for their help. Amanda and Chris reciprocated, and from what they could tell Marcus had finally gotten distracted by other things than hunting Olivia.
Olivia’s ears had healed enough for her to hear again, though she still mentioned a constant ringing in both. Which there’s nothing we can do about, which is driving Miya up the wall. Nevertheless, Ben and Rob declared it true celebration time, and dragged off Miya and Amanda to help them get more alcohol. As if all the rum, vodka, everclear, and beer he got last time wasn’t enough. And I’ve gotta figure out how much I’ll owe him for this.
Chris joined Olivia at the table. She’d been staring at the surface for the last ten minutes. I should very probably say something, I haven’t been around here that much lately. She’d spent most of the last day just flying around, and hadn’t really spoken much at all. He had no idea if she would hear him if he spoke quietly, and knew full well she wouldn’t like him raising his voice to louder than average levels. Normal, and hope for the best.
“How you holding up?” he asked.
“I’m OK,” she said. At his doubtful look, she added, “I think.”
“What do you mean by think?”
“I… um… I don’t know. It’s stupid.”
“Come on, Olivia. I’m not going to make fun of you or anything.” At least I guess that’s why she’s so hesitant.
She took a moment. “I killed a guy… again.” She sighed. “I hated every word of that sentence.”
“Olivia, a guy shot you in the head. I think that’s justified.”
“I know. It’s… I don’t know. Did Amanda tell you anything?”
What is this? “I don’t believe so.”
“Oh. Ummm… well… I… that… that’s happened before.”
“Yeah, with Freedom Fighter, right?”
“No.” Chris suppressed an internal groan. That can’t be good. She continued, “I… I forgot your name the first time we fought Membrane and Tod. And Miya’s. And everyone else’s. That happened again that night, and look what happened. I think I hurt Rob, and I’m an idiot, and-”
Chris cut her off. “Don’t worry about Rob. We went over this already. He’s fine, he’s not angry or anything, and this doesn’t sound like anything you can control. You’re not dumb, no more than anyone else.”
“But I killed people again.”
“So?” … wait. I goofed. Way to be an idiot, me.
“So?” repeated Olivia. “Weren’t you in the police? Why are you OK with this?”
“Because I don’t care about Nevermore or any of the Undead, and neither does anyone else,” said Chris. “There are over nine billion people on this world, Olivia. Human life just isn’t worth as much as it should be. Notice how we never really knew any of those faceless guys we mowed down? I just don’t care about any of them. Besides, there’s always more people. Each of them had their own struggles and emotions and everything else, and I couldn’t care less about any of that.”
“But it’s still not right,” said Olivia. Chris strained to hear what she said.
“So? Lots of people die, all the time. It’s them or us, and I do care about us. You get used to it, I guess. Protect and serve all you like, it’s hard to stop every dick with powers from causing at least some harm to the populace.”
“So why did you join the police?” asked Olivia. Chris sighed softly.
She noticed. “Sorry,” said Olivia.
“It’s a long story,” he said. “My parents died in a car crash when I was fourteen. That’s actually how I got my power, only reason I’m alive. The guy got about fifteen years in prison, and the state had the pissed off kid with new powers that was me. They sent me to a foster family, a married couple with no kids of their own. The husband is an accountant for the Freeman Company, the wife was an MHU officer. She’s retired now, don’t worry about the past tense.”
He gave a soft chuckle. “I have no idea how they put up with me for four years, but they did. They’re good people, we visit for Christmas and Thanksgiving. But looking back I want to punch young me in the face for being so obstinate, but they were patient.”
I was a temperamental, self-centered kid who was a jackass for no reason to everyone around him. It was more of a personal failing than anything else. And everyone would just chalk it up to the recent deaths and be so full of pity. Oh, the endless, goddamn pity. Whatever, don’t need to tell Olivia that. I don’t even know why I’m telling her any of this.
“I got better, met Alice once I got into high school a year later. She helped a lot, I’ll be honest.”
“My girlfriend, yeah. I have no idea what she saw in me, but we made it work. Five years as of last month.” He stopped. Fuck me. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Olivia’s wing practically wrapped around him. He glanced at her. She kept her head down, eyes fixed on the table in front of her, fidgeting with the hem of her shirt.
“Anyways,” he managed, “the guy got let out on parole after about two years. At that point I decided to be a cop, so I could stop those kinds of things from happening.” And now I can’t, because even after all this, I’m probably blacklisted from the police and the military. God DAMN it, Marcus. “So, yeah,” he finished lamely. “That’s my story.”
“I’m sorry. That’s awful. I couldn’t… couldn’t imagine losing one of you guys,” she said.
“No worries, we’re not going anywhere. And this was years ago,” said Chris, forcing some cavalier-ness (is cavalier-ness a word?) into his voice. “Cheer up, we just…” Don’t mention the contract, though she’s probably right. “survived a good amount of danger.” What the hell did I just say? “Come on, let’s get everything ready for the rest.” Something to do, rather than just sit there.