Ash – Gearbox

A nurse rushed by Rob as he leaned against the wall of the corridor. He gripped his knife, keeping it out of sight behind his forearm. He kept an eye on her until she rounded a corner. No threat.

“Shit. Where are the others?” asked Miya. She paced in front of Amanda’s door.

Rob simply folded his arms, keeping the knife covered. I’ll try to not be a dipshit and cut myself by accident.

“I don’t know,” said Quarrel. “I think Roach is getting in contact with the hospital staff.”

Rob glanced at the locked door of Amanda’s room. Don’t know for sure if they’re here for her. Might be here for the rest of us, maybe just for recon, whatever. But I don’t care what they’re doing, they need killing.

An alarm sounded. He recognized the blaring sounds and red floodlights. Most public places had that kind of alarm: Attack is not contained, highly dangerous, seek safety. Man, they’ve got some serious hitmen. Or spies, whatever.

Feet pounded down the hall. Miya and Quarrel turned towards the sound. Rob continued leaning against the wall, looking in the other direction. No backstabs. Chris and Ben barreled down the hallway, skidding to a stop right before reaching Miya and Quarrel.

“What happened?” asked Miya.

“Olivia butchered two of the three hitmen. A couple security guards got to the last one before we could ask her anything. We have maybe three minutes until the cops get enough people here to lock down,” explained Chris in a rush. And we’re probably wanted for breaking Olivia out. Speaking of which, where is she?

“How did they find us here?” asked Quarrel.

“The docs an’ whoever else were all hush hush, but ya can’t cover up a frantic new patient like that. Janitors, service boys, maintenance people, hell, the nurses. They talk,” explained Ben in a rush. Rob cocked an eyebrow at Ben’s hand. Namely, that he had it stuffed in his pocket.

Everyone’s getting injured. But people aren’t simple like cars or perpetual motion machines. I like fixing things but I can’t do shit for a hand or stomach. What could I do?

Rob glanced at Ben’s hand again. Mechanical fingers, maybe? How would that work? He glanced at his own hand, flexing the two middle fingers Ben’s hand was missing. He’s got two small stumps there, the fingers aren’t completely gone. There’s some movement. Hell, my finger curling just looks like the little muscles are pulling the bones back. His head buzzed.

–Imitate the old fingers. Model it off of your own, or anyone else’s. Stump moves back in a curl, moves some trigger. That trigger, based on how far it’s moved, can curl the other two segments of the fake finger. Treat the joints as gears. The muscles or tendons can be treated as chains or ropes.–

Rob curled his fingers again.

–That solution is a bit too simplistic for full recovery. It won’t restore the full dexterity you’re observing right now. However, with what you’re trying to fix, there is no other method of providing energy and direction.–

“We need to get out of here,” ordered Chris. “Roach can only delay them for so long. Olivia is already gone, we told her to run before the cops came.”

Rob noticed the muscles of Chris’s face extend and contract as he talked. They pulled his jaw up and down, the gears below his ears on either side keeping it attached to the rest of his skull.

“Won’t they arrest Amanda once she’s fit for trial, though?” asked Miya.

“We can’t do anything about it,” said Chris. “Unless we can wheel her out of here right now and patch her up ourselves.” Rob tightened his grip on his knife. Nothing stopping this gang from just trying again, and I wouldn’t trust the same cops who have lost half the damn city to keep Amanda safe.

Ben nudged him. “Hey, come on. Can do more from the outside,” Ben said under his breath. Rob glanced at him. Really? Ben noticed. “Come on, murder time. Can’t do that in a cell.” Rob nodded with a grimace. Fair enough. I may not like it, but fair enough.

“Alright,” said Quarrel to the group at large. “My car is this way.”

She led the way, jogging to the stairwell on the far side of the hallway. Her knees acted as two larger gears. Her calf muscles contracted, pulling her leg back. Different muscles, pulling different gears.

Rob followed once Ben tugged on his arm.

***

“Gotta strike back somehow,” said Ben, wedged between Rob and the car door in the back seat. The engine of Quarrel’s car purred as she drove them through the dark, abandoned streets. She knows cars, I’ll give her that.

“We’ll have no way of knowing what we’ll be walking into,” said Chris from the shotgun seat.

“He’s right,” said Quarrel. “That’s just suicide otherwise.”

“Well, the fuck are we gonna do now, then?” asked Ben.

“Regroup, then strike at the head,” answered Chris.

“OK, how?”

“That’s what we need to find out.” Talk, talk, talk.

Quarrel pulled into the driveway of a small whitewashed house. “Alright,” she said. “I think I have enough room for you guys to stay. Roach might stop by, but he has his own apartment.” They’d judged going back to the hotel too big a risk, in case the police were looking for them.

They climbed out of her car. “The police won’t bother you or Roach?” asked Miya.

“No. We have an agreement with them. We can technically count as law enforcement, so that’s why they didn’t investigate you guys at the hospital earlier. So far as they were concerned, it was our investigation. But if your friend killed those hitmen, they’re going to get involved in that.” Ain’t no rest for the wicked.

The still air whooshed, and Olivia landed behind Rob. She can use her phone for something besides jaguar pictures now. As a group they hurried inside once Quarrel unlocked the front door. Thank god for her it’s about one in the morning. We’re suspicious as hell.

Quarrel sighed. “OK, crash wherever,” she said, motioning to the living room. “Just stay out of my room and my workshop downstairs. You’ll probably get shot with a crossbow if you go into the workshop, just as a warning. I’m going to grab some blankets and pillows for you.” I like her philosophy on that.

“We’re just gonna crash now?” asked Ben.

“We’ll plan that out tomorrow. Thank you for the place to stay,” said Chris.

“No problem. Me and Roach have a score to settle too, don’t worry.” Quarrel walked off, presumably to find the blankets.

Rob sat back as everyone else drifted off, the conversation ended.

Ben nudged him with his elbow. “Sleep?”

Rob shook his head. Been sleeping for too long already.

“Don’ do anythin’ dumb, OK?” Rob shrugged.

I got work to do. He jumped off the chair once everyone had left and went out to the backyard. Like most homes in Arizona, the backyard had lots of rocks and not much else. After a moment, he grabbed one.

***

Rob scraped the single edge of his knife along the stone. The long, curved blade more resembled a miniature machete than a knife. The blade was about ten inches long, not including the well-worn, leather wrapped handle. He didn’t bother with the tip, this knife was meant for wide slashes, not small, important holes. His fingers ran over the intricate Celtic knots he’d worked into the flat of the blade with another scrape of his impromptu whetstone. Got to make this sharp as possible.

–Sharpest things you’ve ever seen are Aztec obsidian knives. You can make steel that sharp too, with enough carbon, folding it correctly, and so on. You’ve done that already with this knife, if the color of the steel and resistance to the whetstone are any indication. But that makes the metal too brittle. It’ll shatter the instant you use it wrong. But if you work that kind of steel into only the very edge, and leave the rest of the knife pliable, the knife will be sharp and usable.–

–If you had enough time and a good source of heat, you could induce small purposeful fractures in the edge that won’t affect its utility, rather than let random ones form from wear and tear. But you don’t, so that’s a project for later.–

He threw the flat rock back to the ground. Now for the test. I’d rather not accidentally cut my thumb off, so hair it is.

Rob plucked a hair from his head. He held it about an inch above the knife edge and released it. The hair floated down and split in half the instant it touched the knife’s edge. Good enough. He returned the knife to its sheath, and placed it next to the two others he’d given the same treatment. Never leave home without some.

He stood, stretching kinks from crouching for an hour and a half of his neck. He glanced back at the house.

They’re going to stand around and talk forever tomorrow. Well, maybe not Ben, but he’s taken enough shit here. He strapped the smallest knife to his boot, covered up by his cargo pants. He placed the curved knife at the small of his back, and the last knife in the large pocket on his thigh.

Alright, good to go. He hopped the fence to avoid going through the house and possibly waking the others. Wait. He paused at the street and checked his wallet. He rifled through the few bills within. Think that’s enough for a bus fare. We’ll see.

***

Rob walked down the streets of the industrial district, hands in his pockets and head down. He checked a nearby street sign. Maybe a block left until the scrapyard. Damn well better be gangbangers still there, otherwise this is going to be infinitely more annoying.

He skirted a large pile of trash on the curb, noticing how close that put him to the dark alley to his left too late. A metallic click accompanied the tap of a gun barrel on the back of his head. He froze.

“Wallet,” demanded a rough voice from behind him. Not entirely unexpected.

Rob drew his hands out of his pockets with exaggerated care, holding his nearly empty wallet in one. He extended his hands to either side, taking care to let them tremble convincingly. He released his grip on his wallet before the mugger could grab it. The guy cursed as the wallet hit the ground. He heard the mugger move to grab the wallet. Someone isn’t very good at this, could have told me to pick it up myself.

Right as he heard the man bend down to grab the wallet, Rob made his move. He twisted to the side as his hand shot down to the knife at his hip. The man, maybe the same age as Rob, still partially crouched over Rob’s wallet reflexively fired. The shot went nowhere near Rob. Yep, dipshit.

Rob pulled his knife out, handle towards his thumb, and stabbed. The man finally burst into action.

–Cords of his left shoulder and arm tensing. He’ll put his arm up, it’ll probably hit your wrist. Right arm is shifting to point the gun at you.–

Rob corrected his swing, bringing it in by an inch. The knife hacked through the man’s forearm and cut everything, bone included.

The man screamed and dropped his gun as he fell to his knees. Enough of that screaming. Rob’s next stab caught the man in the eye. The mugger stopped screaming. Rob crouched and grabbed his fallen wallet. Shoving that back into his pocket and returning his knife to its sheath, he checked the neck of the dead man. There it is. He tapped the dark blue skull tattoo on the man. Guess they’ve expanded to this area.

Rob hurried away, leaving the body and the gun. Got no ammo and no way to carry it discreetly. He only resumed walking pace once close to the scrapyard. A couple unfamiliar cars were parked out front. Home sweet home.

Rather than barging in through the front door, Rob skirted around the yard itself. The barbed wire topping the fence and the lack of hole in the chain links gave him pause for thought.

–There, that slight discoloration in the wire. That means that a small tug, not much force, could break the wire. You see two other points like that.–

Easy day. Rob scaled the fence and loosened the barbed wire, enough for him to jump to the other side without tearing a hole in his skin. He headed not towards the building, but his ad hoc forge he’d set up to the side. Wonder if they touched anything. Not much to sell on the black market, it was all prototypes that needed testing. Maybe the wirepatch killed a couple if they were dumb enough to fuck with it.

He passed a couple scrap heaps before finding what he was looking for. Motherfuckers. Half of his makeshift wall had been knocked down. The heating apparatus was in shambles, different pieces strewn all around in the ground and propane tanks completely missing. The gears of the clock he hadn’t had time to pack were buried under dirt. Rob took a moment to control his breathing. There’s a special circle in hell for these people.

Something on the ground a few feet from the detritus caught his attention. They didn’t find the wirepatch. He picked up the dark grey canister, maybe one and a half times the size of a normal grenade, from under an old car door. Pin’s still in place and everything.

With nothing left at the remains of his forge, Rob continued to the main warehouse. Right before the warehouse sat the car. The car he and Amanda had turned into a futuristic hovercraft. Fuck yeah, still here? Oh yeah, I never put in a couple parts. He examined the car exterior. A scorch mark in the shape of a hand marred the driver’s door. Rob smiled. Amanda’s security still works fine. Guess I gotta finish the job.

He peered in through a hole in the crude welding job they’d put up on the ruined wall. He counted about four sleeping figures from his limited view. What are they still here for? Trap? Why? They think they’ve got us on the run. The blinking light of a familiar laptop caught his eye.

Oh, Amanda’s stuff is still all here. Techie gear could be incredibly valuable, but unless the techie wanted someone to have it, doing anything with it had an enormous chance of backfiring. They want to sell her shit, but don’t want to move it in case that fucks with it. His knuckles around the wirepatch whitened.

Fuck them, let’s do this. This door lock doesn’t work, Olivia accidentally broke it. He pulled the pin.

–Now, if you didn’t make an error in the design or creation, that pin sparked a small fuse. That fuse should hit the core. That core, composed of powdered aluminum you treated to increase combustibility, should explode, breaking the canister open. Now with the canister open, the spools of wire wrapped around the horizontal axis should extend fully.–

–If you correctly directed the energy of the core’s explosion, the wirepatch will act as a sort of bouncing betty. The axis will spin rapidly, swinging the wire and traveling in an unpredictable pattern. Now, the real question is whether all that wire held the tiny serrations you worked in a couple days ago. Ideally the wire, at the speed it should be moving, will tear apart any exposed flesh or clothing. You’d need to do some tests to see how different armors hold up to it.–

The pin came free of the cap. Rob tossed it in the warehouse. A small pop, then the screaming started.  Something, or more likely someone, collided with the wall on the other side of Rob, hiding near the door.

A man came stumbling out, bleeding profusely from his face, arms, and legs. He shot a couple fireballs into the air at imaginary enemies. Rob tackled him and drove his knife into the man’s lower ribcage. He hacked upwards, towards more important organs like the heart and lungs. The two of them hit the ground, the fire man unmoving and Rob very much alive.

Rob pulled the knife out of the fire man and stood, just in time to see a massive man tear a couple thin wires out of his face as he marched out of the doorway. His clothing looked torn to shreds, but Rob couldn’t see a drop of blood. Shotty.

Shotty took in the sight of Rob standing over the corpse with his knife. He laughed. The gears and pistons under his skin shifted as he began his lunge. I’d rather not get hit.

–He’s putting a lot of weight his left foot. Tension forming in the arm cords. Forearm tensing as well, making the hand form a fist. Punch, very fast, will aimed for the center of your chest, an inch below your throat. It’ll won’t be perfectly straight, the path will be more of a swing to your right.–

Rob turned to the side and let the punch glide past him. He glanced at the arm, the thick collection of more gears and pistons and cords. How do I make that stop?

–That cord towards the center looks important. Connected to several gears in the middle of the arm. Cut that and the arm won’t be nearly as strong.–

Rob stabbed the knife into Shotty’s tricep. The man’s arm put up far more resistance than the mugger’s arm had. Rather than simply slicing through everything, the knife got stuck deep in the large muscle. Shotty recoiled, ripping the knife out of Rob’s grasp.

–Arm and chest muscles tensing. Wrong kind of tension in his forearm for a punch. Looks like he’s going to swing his elbow at your head, you don’t think a punch at this range would make sense.–

Rob ducked and reached for the slashing knife on his back.

–Another punch. Injured arm this time. Aim for your center of mass again. —

Rob noted the trajectory of the punch and twisted, dodging it by inches. Too close, can’t slash. He backpedaled another step.

–Punch, you recognize it as a haymaker. Right side of your head.–

Rob ducked.

–Punch, uppercut, left side of your jaw.–

Rob leaned back.

–Punch, haymaker, right side of your throat.–

Rob backed up another step, slashing his knife at the top of Shotty’s forearm. The man roared in pain, his hand limp at his side. Rob smiled.

–Leg muscles tensing. Looks like a charge. Arm muscles tensing as well. Looks like a bear hug. You’ll have about three feet under that arm. He’s expecting you to go to his bad arm.–

Rob tucked and rolled, coming up behind Shotty.

–That muscle on his shoulder lets him pull his arm back. From what you’ve seen, your knife can cut through fairly well. Tensile strength of this man is much higher than that of others, however. You’ll need more tests for a number.–

Rob slashed as Shotty turned, leaving another deep cut on the man’s shoulder.

–Leg muscles again. Kick, towards your hips.–

Rob jumped to the side.

–Upper body tensing. He’s going to swing his arm at you. The muscles aren’t completely cut, they can still put force behind the swing.–

Shotty managed to swing his arm with a growl. Rob rolled out of the way again.

–Back of that gear, middle of the leg. Lots of tension there. Cut.–

Rob lunged and delivered a slash to the back of Shotty’s knee. The giant tumbled. There it is.

Rob circled a few steps around the fallen man as he struggled to get up.

–Neck cords tensed at the sound of your footsteps. Tracking you.–

Rob kicked loose dirt into the man’s eyes. Shotty recoiled, long enough for Rob to crouch down, grab the last knife in his boot, and stab it down into the base of Shotty’s skull.

Rob spoke, something he’d been meaning to say for a long time, “Now I’m angry.”

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Ash – Keep Away

The roof behind Ben exploded. He tore his attention from the peeling wall before him to twist around, catching sight of two metallic figures jumping down the new hole in the ceiling. Aw hell. The barrels of the rifles they held flashed, though Ben saw no sign of recoil. Roach’s head jerked back. Amanda collapsed.

“Shit!” Ben yelled, alerting Rob and Preacher, who still watched the wall.

Preacher flipped the table towards the gap in the wall as the figures from the roof hit the floor. Quarrel shot one of the figures in the chest, the bolt simply bouncing off the metal chest plate. Metal plates encased the lithe figure, with plenty of joints and seams to allow for a whole range of motion.

“Robot!” yelled Miya from across the confusing mill of people. A gunshot rang out.

Olivia hissed and grabbed one of them; Chris shifted to liquid form and barreled towards the other. The one closest to Ben jumped out of Chris’s way,  far faster than even its small stature would have suggested. Ben drew one of the two knives in his belt.

Chris, still liquid, squared off against the nearest robot. It backed up a couple steps and aimed at Ben. Nope. Ben teleported to his left as Chris moved to cut the robot off on the right. Just before Ben teleported again, fire burst in from the ruined wall.

Ben teleported, taking himself out of the worst of the flames. However, his sleeve had caught fire. He clamped down on the urge to flail in panic and swatted the flames down while keeping moving with another teleport. Hot, hot, fire hot. Movement in his peripherals caught his attention. Ben turned, and the robot aimed at him. Enough of that.

He teleported to the robot’s right. As the robot swiveled, tracking him, he jabbed his knife into its stomach with a laugh. Surprise! The knife tip barely brushed the joint he aimed for before the robot bashed his hand away with the butt of its rifle. The knife clattered to the ground. Ben ducked as the robot aimed back at him.

Without time to draw his second knife, and the garrote in his pocket worthless against an opponent without a nice soft windpipe, Ben instead closed the gap between him and the robot.The instant he passed the end of the barrel, the rifle would only be good as a bludgeon. He grabbed the barrel of the rifle and the robot’s trigger hand, pushing up.

The robot’s shot went up, well away from Ben. The robot pushed back, nearly knocking Ben off his feet. His hand, his three fingered hand, slipped. The robot’s free hand released the rifle and struck him in the ribs. Ben saw stars. The next blow fell and Ben blacked out.

***

Ben regained consciousness, his head pounding. Someone was screaming. Something burning crackled. Something was buzzing. He suppressed a groan of pain and forced himself up to see just how bad things were.

Preacher lay dead beneath a door, a beam of wood jutting from his still chest. The robot and the unseen mage beyond the wall who controlled the flames tormented Chris with bullets and fireballs in the center of the room. Chris tried to keep to the center of the room for more options to maneuver, but the projectiles inched him ever closer to the corner of the warehouse.

On the other side of the warehouse, an absolutely enormous man closed in on Quarrel. Miya and Olivia had their hands full with the second robot. People popped up from behind the torn wall and shot indiscriminately into the warehouse. Oh, well this sucks.

The closest robot started sobbing, even as it fired a couple more shots into liquid Chris. He flowed out of the way of a fireball, and the robot turned its back on Ben to track him. Enough of that.

Ben drew his switchblade from his boot, ran a couple steps, then teleported to the robot’s back. The robot twisted around. He stabbed down into a kink in the armor of the robot’s neck. Its head twitched. He withdrew the knife and wrapped his other arm around its neck, stepping back to keep behind the robot and pull it off balance.

The robot let out a desperate scream and dropped its rifle. Its metal hands struggled to find purchase on his arm as he pulled it off its feet. You like knives? He shoved the knife into the joint in the stomach area he’d aimed for before. One of its hands withdrew from his arm and elbowed his hand. The knife stuck in the robot broke from the hilt as its elbow collided.

Damn it. Ben pulled it a couple more paces away from its discarded rifle. The robot twisted. Ben moved with it, keeping his grip. Its other hand quit grabbing at his arm. Uh oh. Ben threw the robot to the side and released it. It slammed face first into the ground. Ben caught sight of a knife in one of its hands. No fair.

The robot pushed itself up and on its feet faster than Ben ever could. Something roared in the background. Right as the robot advanced, Ben turned and teleported away. I ain’t sticking around to get stabbed. Someone across the warehouse roared. Then Ben glimpsed a bright flash of orange light.

He teleported again, and a fireball hurtled through the the air where he’d just been standing. The fireball careened into the far wall, leaving it warped and melted.

Someone shot at Ben. He teleported again without thinking, and barely dodged a swing of the robot’s knife. Then liquid Chris grabbed the robot from behind, lifted it into the air, and slammed it headfirst into the ground .

Ben blinked. I just watched a ball of goo suplex a robot. These are glorious times we live in! Chris shifted back to human and tackled Ben to the ground. A couple fireballs flew overhead.

“We need to leave,” yelled Chris as he climbed off of Ben.

“Yep,” Ben shouted back.

The gunmen seemed focused on Olivia instead of Ben and Chris. The fire guy, however, lobbed another fireball. Chris jumped out of the way and Ben rolled on the floor. How do you have so much magic juice still?

Quarrel joined them. “Roach and the others are gone,” she called to them, shooting off a long bolt into the arm of the robot. The bolt pinned it to the ground. The robot pulled at the bolt, metal creaking in protest. A small pool of brown oil formed on the concrete floor.

“Door,” yelled Chris, pointing at the ruined door.

They ran. “Preacher,” said Quarrel as they passed his body. She stopped.

Ben grabbed her and pushed her forward. “Not worth it.” A fireball hit the wall a bare foot behind him. “Move!” Fire hot.

She hesitated for a second, then obeyed. Chris shifted to liquid, then burst through the ruined door to the outside. Gunfire. Good man. Take those bullets. Quarrel went next, growling something angry at the gunmen outside. My turn.

Ben ducked through the door in case anyone still happened to be aiming at it. Chris had everyone fairly occupied, tossing a couple men aside like rag dolls. Quarrel shot the gunmen he didn’t have wrapped up. One man about two feet from Ben held one hand to the bolt in the leg, the other hand scrambling for a dropped handgun.

Ben kicked him where the bolt stuck out. The man screamed and collapsed. I bet that hurt. Ben grabbed his handgun off the ground. He looked around and spotted a small group of gunmen, five strong. Oh, hi guys. Hope this works. He froze time.

One.

Ben broke into a sprint through the colorless world.

Two.

He ducked under a bolt, frozen in midair, and kept moving.

Three.

Still sprinting. His eye twitched. He shoved a hand in his pocket for his garrote, little more than a length of fishing wire strung between two bits of dense foam to keep his hands relatively intact.

Four.

His head pounded.

Five.

Blood roared in his ears. He reached the men. The two in front aimed at Quarrel.

Six.

Make it stop. He squeezed between the front two.

Seven.

Fuck this. He wrapped one end of his garrote around the index finger and pinkie of his maimed hand and let time resume.

Before the gunmen could react, he shot the two aiming men and a third. Another swung his rifle towards Ben. He batted the rifle out of the way with his left hand, then shot two bullets into his chest. The gun clicked impotently the third time Ben pulled the trigger. Something slammed into his shoulder.

Ben jumped back. The fifth man swung his gun like a club. Ben backed up a pace and dropped the now useless handgun. The man froze in indecision. Ben faked a jump to the man’s right, then teleported to his left. Ben smiled. The man fell for the fake, turning his back to Ben. He wrapped his garrote around the man’s neck. His full hand caught the other end. Ben pulled and the man went down gurgling as the garrote bit deep into his throat. Easy day.

Quarrel shot another gunman, unaware of what had transpired behind her. Chris finished the final two men in his grasp and reverted to human form.

“Come on,” Chris urged. No one else appeared to try to kill them. And the annoying buzzing had stopped as well.

Way is clear. Fuck yeah. That’s everyone, right? Hold up. “Wait, wait!” Ben called to Quarrel and Chris. They hesitated. “Olivia,” Ben reminded them.

From within the warehouse, Ben heard Olivia roar. Then she was thrown through the wall. She came to a rest a teleport away from Ben. She did not move. Fuck. About to have company, too. Ben teleported to Olivia. She raised her head.

OK, movement is good. Olivia snarled as he approached. Damn it. He took a cautious step closer. She hissed and slammed a hand down towards his foot. He jumped back a couple inches. How the fuck did we forget you back there?

“Come on, it’s me. Get up, we gotta go.” He crouched down to get to eye level with her. She continued hissing, watching him beneath a black eye. She struggled up onto hands and knees.

“Olivia!” he repeated. “You remember me. You remember me, right?” He glanced up. The robot climbed through the hole Olivia had made. The massive man strode through the doorway, his shoulder shattering the remainder of the frame. Shotty?

“Ben, Olivia!” shouted Chris. He charged towards them and shifted to liquid. Quarrel stood between the empty streets and the enemy infested warehouse.

Olivia hissed again, even as Chris passed her and collided with Shotty.

“Olivia,” Ben shouted at her, leaning forward. “You are Olivia, remember? I am Ben. Come on, you know me.”

The hissing trailed off. Olivia hesitated. The robot jumped down from the wall, and three more bolts immediately struck it. In the meantime, Shotty waved at Chris like an annoying fly.

“Come on, Olivia, we gotta get out of here.” Ben extended his hand to her. Please don’t take more fingers. After a moment, she took it.

He pulled her to her feet. “Come on,” he said. Fuck, she’s heavy. She took a step and stumbled. He guided her away, her leaning heavily on him. OK, I can’t carry you. “Olivia, can you fly?”

She nodded. “Sorry,” she murmured. Sorry for what?

“Get out of here, we’ll meet up later. Go,” he said, letting her take her own weight.

“But-” she began.

“GO!” he repeated. He slapped her on the back for encouragement.

She jumped into the air and spread her wings. She kept climbing, even as men flowed from either corner of the warehouse and opened fire on her. Ben soon lost sight of her in the night sky.

“Quarrel, Chris, outta here,” Ben shouted over the sounds of fighting. Quarrel began to back up, but Chris stayed stuck to Shotty, who growled in frustration and continued to try to pull Chris off of him. “Chris!” repeated Ben.

Chris oozed off of Shotty, though he kept most everyone’s attention.

“What is he…” said Quarrel.

“Distraction. Run,” said Ben. Don’t think much can hurt him, besides the fire guy. The two of them ran off down the street.

“Our cars… this way. I drove,” said Quarrel between breaths.

They rounded a corner, passing another boarded up warehouse. Distribution center? Dunno. Ben heard a slithering behind them. Chris, still a liquid, caught up with them. He shifted to human, then promptly collapsed. Ben skidded to a stop, Quarrel following suit a moment later. Uhhh…

Chris lay in the street, unmoving. Not even breathing. The hell? Ben teleported to him and checked his pulse. Nothing. Right as Ben began to worry, Chris drew in a long gasping breath.

Chris groaned and began to get up.

“What the hell is wrong with him?” asked Quarrel, behind Ben.

“Power… kind of die every time I use it,” answered Chris as he struggled to his feet. “I’m good, can’t use my power much more though.”

Rapid metallic footsteps caught Ben’s attention. The robot sprinted after them down the street, closing the distance. Ben smiled. “Go,” he said to the others.

They ran, Chris managing to keep pace with Quarrel. Ben waved to the approaching robot. Its head hung to the side, swaying slightly as it closed in. You wanna play? Ben let out a low laugh, raised his leg, and teleported. His kick caught the robot in the chest.

Ben chuckled as the robot staggered. He stopped laughing when the robot pulled its knife back out and slashed. Nope. He teleported past the robot. Ben felt a grin form on his face once again. I can play the keep away game too. Another teleport put him further down the street. The robot gave chase. Speedy motherfucker.

Ben teleported again. He reached a chain link fence topped with razor wire. He teleported along the fence twice more. The robot stopped. Eh? The robot considered him for a moment, then ran in pursuit of Chris and Quarrel, ignoring Ben completely. I’ll have none of that.

Ben ran and teleported off. Right as he got in range, he lunged. The robot turned. Ben teleported. The robot grabbed him and slammed him to the ground.

He lay stunned for a moment. The robot walked up to him and struck. Bad.

Ben raised his arms, taking the brunt of the blow with them. The knife cut between his forearms. He rolled out of the way of a kick. The pavement cracked where the robot’s foot slammed down. He tried to jump to his feet, but a kick to the stomach sent him down again.

An engine roared, and a car sent the robot flying. Bwah? Chris opened the back door. “In, get in!” No complaints here.

Ben staggered to his feet and climbed into the car. “Go!” he yelled the instant his feet left the ground.

Quarrel hit the gas and sped away. The robot simply stood there, until she rounded a corner and Ben lost sight of it. Oh thank god. He sighed and leaned his head back with a smile. I’m going to be feeling this city for the next month.

“Know anythin’ ‘bout the others?” he asked after a minute, after regaining his breath.

“Roach got them to a hospital,” replied Chris.

“He’s friends with a couple of important people there,” explained Quarrel.

“That where we’re headed,” said Chris. They drove in silence for another minute.

“Preacher’s dead, ya know,” said Ben.

“I know,” snapped Quarrel. She took a breath. “Nothing I can do about that right now,” she continued in a more level tone. Well, I suppose that’s as healthy an attitude as one can have about that.

“Hospital people OK with us?” asked Chris, steering the conversation elsewhere.

“Yes. They’re good, and discrete. We should have a waiting room to ourselves,” replied Quarrel.

“Amanda alive?” asked Ben.

“Hopefully,” answered Chris. Ben closed his eyes. Fuck.

***

They walked into the waiting room of the hospital. The nurse who’d escorted them from the main office left them. Inside were Miya, Roach, and Rob.

Quarrel joined Roach, the two of them stood off to the side. Ben took the seat next to Rob. “How’s Amanda doin’? Do ya know?” he asked.

“They rushed her off to surgery the moment we got in,” replied Rob.

Miya hung her head. “Haven’t told us anything else,” she murmured.

“Did they say anything else?” asked Chris.

“Nope,” replied Rob, his face stony.

“She was struggling to breathe when we brought her in. I did what I could. I don’t… I don’t know,” said Miya, her voice cracking.

“Gotta wait,” said Rob.

Ben nodded. I’m not a surgeon.

“Wait, what about Olivia? She can’t come in here,” asked Ben. I ain’t forgetting her again, either.

Chris sighed. “I don’t know. Do you think she could have followed us?”

“She could. I hope.”

“Roof access then?”

Ben nodded. “Sure.” He walked off, looking for a staircase.

On the roof of the hospital, he looked around. Nothing. Fuck. Wait, cell phones are a thing. If hers is still intact. He texted her the name of the hospital. After a minute, he got a reply. Oh, cool, she’s still alive, and so is her phone.

Olivia landed hard on a clear strip of roof. She stumbled, then turned to Ben.

“Whoa, you OK?” he asked. Never seen her land that sloppy.

“Um, Amanda, is she… you know…” began Olivia, her words slurred.

“We’ll find out after surgery.” Olivia’s eyes widened. He blocked her from the door. “Nothin’ we can do, it’s up to God an’ the docs now.”

“But-”

“Nothin’ we can do.”

Olivia collapsed next to an AC. She yawned wide. Is that a chipped tooth of hers I see? Ben squinted. Yep. “Sorry,” mumbled Olivia. “Tired.”

Ben looked around for cameras. I think this place is safe enough. “You fine with here?” he asked.

No reply. She sat with her head hanging, back to the AC. Is she… she is asleep. Good conversation. Now what? Maybe we can get her into a hospital room. Dunno. After a second check of the roof, he returned to the inside.

Ben walked back into the waiting room. Roach and Quarrel had rejoined the rest of them. Why do they care? “Olivia’s passed out on the roof.”

“You just left her there?” asked Miya.

“Dunno what else to do.” Too tired to think anymore. “Oh yeah, she had a chipped tooth. You may want to check it out.”

Miya sighed and pulled herself out of her chair. “I’ll take a look at her.”

Ben collapsed in her newly vacated chair.

“Would it be possible for her to have an unoccupied room?” Chris asked Quarrel and Roach.

Quarrel looked at Roach, who shrugged. “Maybe. I’ll check,” he rasped, getting up in search of some hospital staff.

The room fell into silence once he left. We’re a woman down. Don’t know what the Watch is going to do. We sure as hell aren’t just leaving her here, so we’ve stuck here for however long it’ll take her to patch her up. If they can patch her up. Nah, don’t think like that. She’ll get through, if only so I don’t have the last laugh. Don’t know what to do now.

Ben broke the silence. “Now what?”

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Ash – Silence

What’s this about oil again? “Olivia, what is it?” asked Miya.

Olivia’s face scrunched up in concentration. “I’m trying to hear something,” she answered, her voice distant. She never tells us what she hears and smells. Something going on?

Meanwhile, the conversation had picked back up again after Amanda’s recognition of the Overlord robot. “Guys, shut up, shut up” shushed Miya.

They looked at her oddly, though everyone besides the Watch quieted down immediately. “Is something wrong?” asked Preacher.

Miya motioned to Olivia. “She hears something,” she whispered.

Preacher nodded and kept quiet.

After a silent moment, Olivia murmured, “People outside, all around.” Shit. Miya grabbed her pistol and saw Quarrel heft her bulky crossbow. Everyone turned to face the two doors to the warehouse.

“Someone, no, two people on the roof,” continued Olivia. “Smell like oil.” A couple people, Miya included, turned their attention to the ceiling. Up?

At that moment, a portion of the ceiling exploded. Two dark figures rappelled from the brand new hole, aiming rifles on the way down. It took Miya a moment to realize they were firing, the muzzle flashes the only indication that bullets were coming out of the barrels. Roach took two bullets to the head. Amanda dropped. To Miya’s left, the back wall began to peel away like tin foil.

“Shit,” yelled Ben.

Miya backed away as the figures hit the floor feet first. Fuck, what? Quarrel’s shot plinked off the chestplate of one of the figures.

Miya raised her pistol. One of the roof figures snapped towards her and raised his rifle. Miya met his eyes. Except he didn’t have human eyes. Instead, his metal face was locked in a perpetual scream.

“Robot!” Miya yelled in warning as she threw herself to the side and fired.

Olivia roared and grabbed the robot that Miya shot at and threw it to the ground right as its rifle tracked Miya. The robot took Olivia’s throw in stride, twisting its rifle around and firing a burst point blank into Olivia’s face with unerring aim. Olivia growled and staggered back, holding up a hand to ward off any more bullets.

The robot rolled to its feet and backed away, still aiming at Olivia. Miya climbed back to her feet, pistol in hand.

Before she could shoot the robot, the wall behind Olivia and the robot stopped peeling and a cone of fire burst into the warehouse. Someone had flipped the table they’d been using previously towards the wall, and people, Miya had no time to recognize them, ducked behind it as the flames washed over them. Miya threw herself to the ground again. The mass of fire above her sucked her breath out.

Miya patted down her hair. Not on fire. Move. She climbed to her feet once more, this time to the deafening sound of gunfire from all around. In front of her, Olivia and the robot had paid the flames no mind. Olivia rushed forward and rammed into the robot with her shoulder. It’s rifle took the brunt of the blow, bending down the middle. The robot staggered back a few paces before righting itself.

Miya took aim. Right as her finger touched the trigger, Olivia closed the gap between her and the robot. Damn it.

The robot dropped its useless rifle, ducked under Olivia’s follow up swipe, and rolled behind her. Before Olivia could turn, the robot pinned her tail to the ground with a dark knife it had produced from a slot in its wrist. Olivia hissed and tore her tail free as she whirled around to face the robot again. The knife, now twisted and useless, clattered away.

Miya fired at the robot. Most of her shots went wide, but two made contact. The robot ignored the two new holes in its leg, simply shifting its weight to the undamaged one. Miya’s pistol clicked as she pulled the trigger a final time.

“GO! We need to leave,” shouted Preacher as he retreated to the front door, Quarrel a ways behind him, crossbow aimed at the torn wall. How?

Miya took a split second to assess the rest of the situation. She, Olivia, and their robot had drifted about fifteen feet away from the others. Rob crouched over Amanda’s prone form; blood tricked from beneath her on the concrete floor. Roach had rolled over to his side, a hand pressed to his head. Beyond them, Ben lay unconscious near where Chris rapidly shifted between liquid and human forms as he fended off the second robot, fireballs raining down all the while.

Right as Preacher grabbed the door handle, the door itself exploded backwards, taking him with it. Oh god. Oh god he’s dead. A massive man bulled through the wreckage of the door with a laugh, toting a gun about as large as Miya. Shotty? Quarrel shot three bolts into him as she backpedaled. The man rumbled with laughter and took aim as a buzzing noise filled the air. No way out.

Miya backed away from Shotty, though his attention remained on Quarrel. Her crossbow shot five more bolts into him in quick succession with a high pitched squeak. A roar from Olivia caught Miya’s attention. Right, shouldn’t just be standing here. She reached for her pocket, where she normally kept a spare magazine. Nothing. Shit. She dropped her pistol.

Olivia collided with the robot as Miya rushed towards them. The robot went flying, but managed to tumble and roll to its feet.

Just as Olivia charged again, the robot let out a piercing scream of pain. “WAIT! No, please don’t. Please don’t. NO.” The screams dissolved into ragged sobbing. Fuckfuckfuck what the fuck is that?

Olivia hesitated for a fraction of a second, just long enough for the robot to slash at her face with another knife. Damn it. Magic’s no good against that thing. Miya noted the holes in the robot’s leg as it dodged and twisted around Olivia’s blows, leaving another cut on her upper arm. That thing is too fast. Idea.

From across the room, beneath the incessant buzzing and gunfire, Miya could hear the other robot sound like a woman begging for her life. Miya lunged for the robot engaged with Olivia, aiming a low tackle at the back of the knee of its damaged leg. The robot screamed again and leaped out of the way of Miya’s tackle. She only managed to deal a glancing blow to the leg. A jolt of pain shot through her shoulder. Olivia, however, caught the robot’s extended arm as the robot leapt and ripped it off.

Something exploded behind Miya. The robot shifted to a more defensive stance as Olivia followed through. However, when the robot tried to sidestep again, its leg seized up, and Olivia’s hand went through its chest plate. A large amount of wiring and electronics came free. The robot spasmed and collapsed in a heap, the screaming going silent. Oh thank god. Then Olivia flinched as people started shooting her. God damn it.

Miya scrambled on her hands and knees towards where the peeling had stopped at the wall. I don’t have a gun. I don’t have a knife. I can grab someone and kill them, but that’s assuming they have exposed skin. Roach pushed the remains of the table between Amanda and the shooting people, blocking Miya’s view of her and Rob.

Deep laughter caught Miya’s attention. Shotty cornered Quarrel, even as she loaded a heavy bolt. The laughter caught Olivia’s attention, who’d been caught between charging the gunmen or retreating from their gunfire. Shotty still laughed despite the bolt sticking out of his eye. Finally, he lunged and knocked the crossbow out of her hands.

Quarrel kicked Shotty in the stomach as he raised her by her throat. His massive shotgun thing lay ruined on the floor a few feet away. His shoulders shook in a chuckle. He tore one of Quarrel’s bolts out of his shoulder with his free hand, then gripped it like a knife. He raised the bolt to stab Quarrel when Olivia tore off a chunk of that arm.

He roared in pain and dropped Quarrel, then elbowed Olivia. She staggered back several feet while Quarrel snatched her crossbow up and sprinted out from behind Shotty.

Shotty screamed something incomprehensible at Olivia. She hissed and lunged at him. He sidestepped and slammed a fist into the side of her head.

A couple gunmen came in through the ruined door on the opposite side of the warehouse. They immediately shot at Olivia. What the fuck am I supposed to do?

Roach burst from behind the overturned table and sprinted towards her. A couple bullets hit his chest, Miya saw the blood blossom on his clothes, but Roach pressed on. He grabbed Miya.

“Go!” he rasped in Nahua, pushing her towards the outside. Why aren’t you speaking English? Behind him, Rob followed, carrying Amanda’s motionless form.

“Where?” she yelled back.

“What?” he yelled back. He gave an impatient grimace and pointed outside. “Follow.”

“What about the others?” she shouted.

“Escape or die,” he barked. Then he vaulted over the remains of the wall to the sound of gunfire.

Rob reached Miya, arms wrapped around Amanda. Amanda’s chest rose and fell, but her stomach was a mess of shredded fabric and blood. “Come on,” shouted Rob. They’re right.

Miya forced herself to get off the floor and follow Roach. Two gunmen, both Aztecs with dark blue tattoos of skulls on their necks, lay with necks bent at severe angles. Roach had the attention of three more men. Roach had his hands on one, but the other two backed up in different directions, shooting wildly.

Miya scooped up a dropped handgun, then fired at one of the gunmen. Her newly acquired weapon turned out to only have three bullets, but the three were enough to make the gunman dive. Miya led Rob through the scrap yard as Roach kept the attention of several other gunmen who had been drawn to the commotion. There’s the fence. Gate should be close. The building behind them rattled again.

A wayward bullet grazed Rob’s leg. He tumbled, nearly losing grasp of Amanda. Miya’s breath froze in her throat.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Rob muttered under his breath. He pushed himself back to his feet as Miya joined him, letting him lean on her to take some of their weight. They passed through the fence, until Rob collapsed. Miya managed to keep Amanda from hitting the ground too hard, but that didn’t change the fact she had two wounded people she couldn’t move on her own.

Footsteps approached. Shit. Miya jerked her head up and stood, adrenaline spiking. Roach appeared from around a pile of scrap. Miya released the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

“No time,” growled Roach as he took in the situation. “I’ll take her, you take him,” he said, lifting Amanda like a child.

“You awake?” Miya asked Rob.

“Yeah. Help?” he replied. She grabbed his outstretched hand and hauled him to his feet. He leaned on Miya, letting her help him limp away from the warehouse. The sounds of gunfire, roars, and thuds faded behind them as they put as much distance between them and the scrap yard as possible. Eventually Miya could only hear Rob’s ragged breathing.

“Stop,” said Roach as they reached an empty intersection. He lay Amanda down and removed his tank top. He waded it up and pressed it to Amanda’s stomach. He looked up at Miya and Rob. “How bad?” he asked, motioning to Rob.

Miya checked Rob’s leg. The bullet wound on his leg formed a short but deep gash. It bleed, but the volume of blood did not indicate a major injury. Not so bad, thank god. “Hurts like hell,” said Rob, noticing her gaze. “What’d he say?”

“Sit down,” said Miya as she released him. “Need to bandage your leg.” After a moment of standing on his own, his leg buckled.

“Whoa, that… that ain’t good,” said Rob as he sat. Thank you for stating the obvious.

“I’ll check,” said Roach. “Could hurt her more.” He motioned to Amanda.

Miya hurried over to take his place, pushing the ad-hoc bandage into Amanda’s stomach. Amanda, though unconscious, twitched a bit. Her head rolled to the side.

“Oh, this is a lot of blood,” said Miya.

“Pressure,” repeated Roach as he tore a length of Rob’s shirt off for a bandage. That’s not what I said. Can you understand me?

She spoke in Nahua, “This better?

Roach nodded. “Yes, thank you.”

Amanda started coughing. Oh shit. “Amanda, Amanda, can you hear me?” asked Miya.

Amanda’s breathing quickened. “Hurts,” gasped Amanda. She coughed again, then let out a choked scream.

“I’m going to knock you out, OK?” said Miya.

Amanda didn’t answer.

Fuck, she’s bleeding out. Fuck. Dark blood. Um… um… platelets. Those stop stuff like this. Miya freed a hand from the sticky, blood-soaked mass of cloth and grabbed Amanda’s arm. Work, work, work. She gathered as much magic as she could. Platelets stop bleeding. Platelets come from bones. Um… more platelets. Go. She laid the streams of magic over Amanda’s major bones. Please work, please work, please work.

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