Ben heard a tiny click as Rob’s lock pick broke. Rob muttered, “Fuck.”
Ben bit his tongue to keep himself from shooting a witticism at him. Must… not… mock. Must… stay… quiet. Rob pulled another bit of wire out of his pocket and returned to the fence’s lock. He kept his other hand on the chain links surrounding the impound lot to prevent any shaking.
Ben faced the streets behind Rob, one hand on his phone. Olivia circled overhead in the night sky, ready to send him a pre-written text if anyone approached.
Another tiny click. “There it is,” said Rob.
He pulled the chain out from around the gate posts and pushed it open with no resistance. He’d broken the gate motor by forcing a knife into a vent a minute ago. Ben teleported through, and Rob closed it behind them to avoid suspicion. He threaded the chain back in a lazy loop around the gate before he followed Ben.
They made their way through the impound lot. While the normal impound was a vast expanse of towed vehicles, their own cars were in a higher security area next to the main building, cordoned off by a taller fence. Ben’s phone vibrated halfway through the lot.
“Down,” he whispered. He grabbed Rob’s shoulder and yanked him behind a large truck. His phone displayed the nonsense text Olivia had sent that they’d typed up before as he pulled it out of his pocket.
Ben laid down on the ground to observe the street they’d left behind. After a few seconds, a police cruiser drove by. Ben counted to thirty in his head. No second message from Olivia; the cop car hadn’t stopped.
He nodded to Rob. They climbed back to their feet and continued towards the main building. Inside waited one sleepy guard, according to Quarrel. They’d avoided cameras so far, but their cars weren’t exactly built for stealth. That guard would trip an alarm if he were to see anything. They skirted around the view of another camera.
My turn. Ben pulled on his ski mask as they drew close to an open window one story above them. He jumped, extending his arms, and teleported up. He caught the edge of the windowsill and pulled himself up. The break room appeared to be empty. Guy was just sitting at the front desk when we were scouting out the place a half hour ago. He let go of the windowsill with one hand and grabbed one of Rob’s knives at his belt.
His other hand almost immediately started to slip. Shit. He tightened his grip and pulled the knife out of his belt. A couple quick hacks at the screen and he was in. Good, would’ve never have heard the end of it from Rob if I’d had to teleported down again. He pulled himself into the break room and returned his knife to the sheath at his belt.
He crept through the lifeless hall. No one heard me cutting? Good. The glow of a red exit sign at the end of it caught his eye. There’s the stairs. He opened the door, keeping an ear out for any footsteps beyond his own.
Ben finally reached the ground floor. Security, where are you? He followed the sound of a distant grunt. Is he jacking off? He poked his head through a partially opened door. A guard sat, back to Ben, before a massive bank of security cameras that showed various points of the impound. A laptop displaying something pink had the guard’s attention. Oh my fucking god, he is. Must be really boring this time of night. Do I have to do this? Fuck it.
Ben teleported in, catching the guard unawares. He wrapped his arm around the guard’s neck. Hope you’re not into this. The guard shot up, nearly driving the top of his head into the underside of Ben’s chin before Ben could tighten his grip.
Ben used his knee to shove the chair back under the guard, keeping him off his feet. His free hand reinforced the arm around the guard’s neck. He pulled as tight as he could to push the bone of his forearm into the arteries in the side of the guard’s neck.
The guard twisted to the side, bringing them both down. His fingernails scratched at Ben’s arm, trying to get a grip and pull it away. No. Ben redoubled his effort, eliciting a gurgle from the guard. His struggles lessened, and eventually stopped altogether. Finally.
Ben rolled the pantless man off of himself. You got some explaining to do whenever you wake up. He grabbed a small key ring from the guard’s belt. Security down. Should be a cakewalk from here out.
Ben sauntered out of the security office and to the back door. He unlocked the door and strolled outside. Rob gave him a thumbs up from the car he’d been hidden behind. He joined Ben by the gate to the walled off section of the impound. Ben pulled out his phone and sent Olivia a text.
Maybe thirty seconds passed before Olivia landed inside of the fenced off section and tore the gate open. The cameras probably caught every second of it, but there was no point in disguises anymore. There may be security cameras still, but there’s only one Olivia.
“Thank you,” said Ben as they joined her inside. She gave him a small smile. They were far enough away from the roads that they wouldn’t need her on lookout duty.
“Happy birthday,” said Rob as they reached Ben’s car.
Ben pointed out Amanda’s car a few cars down. “Happy birthday to you too,” he responded.
“What are those yellow things?” asked Oliva, pointing to the tire of Ben’s car.
“Boots. Gotta get them off.”
“Could we just…” began Olivia as she reached down to grab one.
“Wait, gotta make sure we don’t wreck the tire like that,” said Rob. “Put your hands here, an’ pull straight out.”
Olivia wrenched the boots off the cars, keeping the tires intact. Ben pulled his keys from his pocket and started the engine. Still got gas. We’re good. He leaned over the central console to open the glove box. Papers, papers. Aha. He found the small silver device Quarrel had told him about, maybe the size of a fingernail. He tossed it out the door. Through the window, Ben saw Rob do the same.
“An’ we’re good to go. See ya back at the church,” he said to Olivia.
“OK. Good luck, guys.” She waved and took flight again. She’s gonna take someone out with a wing doing that one of these days.
They drove out of the impound and onto the darkened, abandoned streets. Rob led the way towards the construction site Roach had prepared for them. They passed few other cars, 3 AM not exactly being an active time of day for most people.
They pulled into the construction site on the outskirts of town. Behind a trailer were a set of massive brown tarps. They both stopped short of them and rolled down their windows.
“Tarps are there. I’m likin’ Roach,” said Rob. Damn right.
“Yep. Let’s get these covered an’ get back.”
Disguising the cars went smoothly. They hurried away from the construction site and hopped into a familiar car across the street.
“Oh, hey, fancy meeting you here,” said Quarrel as Rob and Ben sat in the back seat of her car.
“Yeah, figured you could use the company,” said Ben.
Quarrel smiled as she started her car. “Everything go alright?”
“Yep. Plan went off without a hitch,” said Rob. It’s like Christmas came early.
“Not completely, I had to tackle a fappin’ guy.”
“Seriously?” asked Quarrel and Rob.
“Yeah. Security guy was… yeah.”
Rob snickered. “You avoid a sticky situation?” Ben sighed. They mocked him all the way back to the church.
The next day brought no cops, or attacks, or any other life or death situation. I could get used to this. Ben had joined Rob in the kitchen, cleaning up their last meal in Phoenix.
“I made you a watch for our birthday,” mentioned Rob. “It’s in the lair in Westward.”
Ben passed him another bowl and asked, “Is it a cool watch?”
“Who the fuck do you think I am? It’s a fuckin’ amazin’ watch. Gotta barometer an’ shit in it. Even put in a little battery an’ light.”
“Look at you, branchin’ out to electrical shit. How’d ya do that?”
“Lot’s of tinkerin’ an’ trial an’ error.”
Olivia poked her head around the corner. “It’s really your guys’ birthday?” Shit. Forgot she can hear everything.
Rob and Ben glanced at each other. “Yeah…” said Ben.
“Oh. Happy birthday! But… wait. Sorry. I didn’t get you guys anything. I didn’t know, or… but…. why didn’t you guys say anything?”
Great, now everyone is going to hear. “Uh, yeah, yeah,” said Rob. “It’s alright. No need to worry or anythin’.”
Miya joined Olivia. “What was this I heard about a birthday?”
“It’s their birthday,” said Olivia helpfully. Damn it.
“Oh, cool. Happy birthday. Or is it birthdays?”
Ben glanced at Rob, who shrugged as he scrubbed another bowl. “I dunno. Birthday,” said Ben.
“Alright. You guys doing anything?”
“Ehhhh.” Not really.
“Nah,” said Rob.
“Why not?” asked Olivia.
“It’s a… a private thing. A family thing.” Don’t make a big deal out of this. We don’t. We were trying to avoid these questions, really.
Miya shrugged. “Alright. Well, happy birthday, you two.” She dragged Olivia away. Now that I think about it, when’s Olivia’s birthday? Guess she doesn’t have one. That kinda sucks. Rob passed him a bowl as he shut off the sink
“That the last one?” asked Ben as he dried the bowl.
“Yep,” answered Rob.
They joined the others in the main room. They had a few hours until dark, when they would slip out of the city and north to Westward.
“I like these couches. Could use one of these as a permanent bed,” said Chris, lounging on a couch, his bag packed at his feet.
“Just try not to think about how many farts it’s absorbed,” said Rob, crashing alongside Ben on another.
Chris sighed. “Damn it. Can’t just leave me to my comfort here?”
“Nope,” said Rob with a smile.
A loud thunk came from the closet across the basement. Roach wheeled out an old tube TV atop a cart.
“Church shows movies for youth program,” rasped Roach. “Has DVD player. And cable.” He set the TV in the center of the far wall and plugged it in.
“Cool. What do we wanna watch?”
“What DVD’s do we even have?” asked Chris.
Roach rubbed the back of his head. “Brought a couple,” he said, producing a small stack of DVD’s.
“Hell yeah. Thanks,” said Ben.
“What did you bring?” asked Quarrel.
“Gladiator. And… a couple of these are in Nahua, sorry. Matrix. Godfather.”
“I dunno. Maybe something a little lighter?” said Quarrel. Olivia nodded in approval.
“Forrest Gump?” Sure.
“I’ve never seen it,” said Miya. What?
“What? It’s a classic,” exclaimed Rob.
“Yeah, I think that settles it,” said Quarrel. “We need to cure her of her Forrest Gump ignorance.”
“Olivia, are you still crying?” asked Miya.
Ben glanced at Olivia. She had a tear running down her face. He suppressed a snicker. Are you serious?
“She… Jenny died,” croaked Olivia. “She can’t be dead.”
“Yeah, she’s dead,” said Ben.
“They were so cute together.”
“It’s OK, Olivia, it’s not real,” said Quarrel.
“I know. But… but…”
Miya, sitting next to her on the floor, wrapped an arm around her waist. Like a teddy bear hugging a grizzly bear.
“So, I think it’s about time we head out,” said Chris as he got up from his couch, breaking the moment.
Everyone followed suit. Quarrel and Roach said their goodbyes and shook hands.
“Here, have some guns for you. Unless the roads have turned into an apocalyptic wasteland when I wasn’t looking, you should be fine,” said Quarrel. She gave them a large box.
“Awesome. Thank you,” said Chris.
“Don’t mention it. We were keeping them here. We’ve decided to move out of here, not impose of Father John anymore.”
“Oh yeah, reminds me,” said Ben. “We need to give you shootin’ lessons when we get back, Olivia.”
She frowned. “Why?”
“We’ve been over this. Be better than havin’ to run up to somethin’ with a gun. If you have a gun, just shoot ‘em,” said Rob.
“Better to know it and not need it than need it and not know it,” added Ben.
“But…” began Olivia.
“Those bruises hurt? Cuz they look like they do,” said Ben, pointing to the various bruises on her arm she’d accumulated from getting shot the past couple days.
“A little. It’s not bad or anything. I can ignore it.” Come on, Olivia.
“Ok, given the choice between takin’ pain an’ not takin’ pain, which would ya choose?” asked Ben.
“Exactly. Don’ even have to shoot to kill. Just shootin’ at someone makes ‘em duck. Only thing that can really hurt ya is another bruiser or an iron weapon. If ya have a gun, they can’t use those to hurt ya.”
“Guys, guys, check the news,” interrupted Quarrel, staring at her phone.
“Gettin’ kinda tired of watchin’ the news all the time,” said Ben.
“Seriously, this is about Overlord. He’s invading Venezuela.” What? Why?
Ben spotted the remote and teleported over to it. “This have cable?”
“I think so. Let me plug it in,” said Roach.
Ben turned on the TV to a reality TV show once Roach was done. Who the hell was watching this last?
“Try channel five,” said Quarrel.
Ben pressed the five button on the remote. A commercial appeared on the screen.
“Damn. How about seven?”
Ben hit the seven. On the screen appeared a harried woman on the streets of a city. Buildings burned behind her, lighting up the night sky.
“-units have been unable to repel the attackers. We have multiple reports of Overlord drones being used in the assault, the same models used a decade ago to defend his holdings in Iraq. Citizens of Caracas are advised to seek shelter immediately.” Subtitles in Spanish scrolled along the bottom of the screen.
“Lemme get this straight. Overlord jus’ invaded Venezuela?” asked Ben. Shit, that’s bad. That’s very bad.
“Shush,” said Chris.
The reporter continued, “No one has heard from the president since the attack began. Local police have been losing ground-”
A bright flash overtook the screen and the feed cut out. A couple anchors appeared on screen after a moment.
“We’re sorry about that, viewers. The White House has just released a statement, stating that this incursion of Overlord’s will be met with appropriate force. We’ll try and reestablish contact with our reporter in the field during the break.”
Commercials began playing. When in doubt, go to commercials.
“What the hell is in Venezuela?” asked Rob, breaking the silence.
“Oil? Iraq has oil, too, and he took over there a while back,” said Quarrel.
“Those robots smelled like oil, I think,” Olivia chipped in.
“Awful convenient that Freedom Fighter jus’ up an’ left Venezuela to get killed here two months ago,” said Ben.
“One less competitor,” rasped Roach.
“He’s right. F.F. would’ve been a really bad ally,” said Chris. “Anarchy and all that.”
“I… don’t think that’s how the anarchist philosophy works.”
“You’re right,” said Miya. “Anarchism is more a philosophy of freedom of choice, and that how governments restrict the choices of people. Therefor governments are to be abolished. I’m probably butchering the details, but that’s not the point. The point is that anarchism was just a banner for F.F. to use. Kind of like how terror groups in the Middle East don’t actually represent Islam.”
“That still doesn’t explain why he just willingly got himself killed in Westward.”
“Maybe Overlord tricked him. Said he’d have his back, then left him high and dry.”
“Well, he wasn’t in bad shape, either. Police an’ military weren’t able to do much ‘bout him.”
“Yeah, until you killed him.”
“Wait, wait. You killed him?” asked Quarrel, pointing at Ben.
“That I did. Slit his throat an’ everythin’.” I should put that on my resume or something.
Quarrel stared at him for a second, trying to tell if he was serious. I don’t lie. Realization dawned on her face. “Oh right. I remember reading something about that. That was you guys?”
“Not I, I didn’t join up ‘til later,” said Rob.
“The rest of us, yes,” said Chris.
“Well, full disclosure, it was me an’ Amanda. You, Miya, an’ Olivia were too busy gettin’ arrested.”
Chris rolled his eyes and nodded. “OK, granted. But it was still a team effort.”
The news returned with a blaring theme song, replacing the commercials they’d been ignoring. The anchors burbled something behind their backs.
“What the fuck?” said Rob with a grin, pointing to the TV.
A group of people in colorful costumes sat at a round table across from the microphone wielding reporter. What the fuck? It looked like they were in some big important conference room. A couple tall potted plants graced the corners of the room, and the chairs everyone sat in looked rather comfortable.
“Thank you. We’re here now with Foy, the leader of the Chevaliers.” A small girl in a brown and green skintight leotard smiled and nodded. “Now, Foy, we understand that your team was formed in response to the recent riots in Los Angeles. Would you care to expand on what exactly your goals are now?”
“Overlord has already caused too much suffering around the world, and even attacked our city. The people of Venezuela need us to put a stop to this. We need to put an end to Overlord for good before he can do anything more.” You chucklefucks? Seriously? “To that end, we’ve formed the Chevaliers, dedicated to tracking down Overlord and bringing him to justice.”
The reporter nodded, a serious expression on her face. “And would you like to introduce the members of your team?”
“Of course. The man to my right is Coyote.” A large, blond man with Viking runes covering his costume inclined his head. But… what?
“The Jabberwock.” A brooding black man in a martial artist uniform sat back in his chair, fingers steepled beneath his chin.
“Rose.” A woman in a green costume with a rose motif waved.
“Tempest.” The thin man next in the circle had a penguin emblazoned on his chest.
“Soul.” A vaguely human shaped mass of grey mist occupied the last chair.
“Turn it off, turn it off,” said Rob, grinning. Oh come on, this is quality entertainment right here.
“Can’t watch this anymore,” muttered Chris. Fine. Ben switched off the TV.
“Did I just see that?” asked Quarrel.
“Some fuckin’ idiots in L.A. tryin’ to go after Overlord? Had the colorful costumes an’ everythin’? Yeah, saw that too,” explained Rob.
“What’s wrong?” asked Olivia. “They’re just trying to help.”
“They’re helping in the least helpful way possible,” said Chris.
“Yeah,” added Ben. “They looked like they were more there for a photo shoot than actually gettin’ shit done.”
“Does it matter what they’re dressed like? I mean, as long as they can do stuff…” Olivia trailed off.
“Kinda. They’re goin’ for looks, not effectiveness,” said Rob.
“MHU training had us all dress in spandex and go through regular sparring drills. It was rather unpleasant,” said Chris.
“Ha! Sucks to suck.”
Chris nodded. “Yes, Miya. Thank you. Anyways, that sucked. A lot. It was insanely restricting, provided no protection, painted you as a massive target, and was just generally a pain in the ass. And yes, you can drop a ton of money for a custom-made costume that removes most of those downsides, or you could just go to an army surplus store and get a combat uniform. The same damn thing for a fraction of the cost.”
“Yeah, but ya don’ look as stylish,” said Ben, grinning.
“You wear a hoodie and cargo pants. I wouldn’t call that a spandex eyesore.”
“So why are they doing that?” asked Olivia. Wide eyed idealists. Idiots. Who knows?
“There have been a couple good teams like that, ones that are competent. There’s a good chance those guys won’t last long, especially if they’re going up against Overlord of all people. But successful teams like that aren’t without precedence.”
“That’s how the Watch was started, right?” asked Miya.
Quarrel paused for a second, then nodded. “I believe so, yes.”
“So you guys are just basing this on their costumes?” asked Olivia.
“PR is secondary to effectiveness. You don’t design a tank to be civilian friendly, you design it to shrug off tank shells, bruisers, and techie contraptions,” explained Chris.
“Tanks are made to fight supers?”
“Yeah there are some scary metahumans out there. Hardware is designed with that in mind. You’re insanely strong, so why do you think bullets still hurt you so much? Lots of bullets and guns are made to shred tank powers and techie armors and so on. And on the flip side, lots of decent body armor models out there can keep you alive if a bruiser punches you. Well, wouldn’t really help you, you’d be fine. The rest of us.”
Don’t we have some place to be? Rob coughed. “We might need to get movin’. Only so many hours in the night,” he mentioned.
Quarrel sighed. “Right. Well, goodbye again. Don’t forget to look us up if you ever come back.”
“Of course. Give us a call if you ever find yourselves in Westward,” said Chris.
They followed Roach out of the church basement and to his truck. Quarrel waved goodbye as Roach drove them to where their cars were hidden.