Olivia tore her gaze away from Slim Jim and stared at Cyrus, hovering in the air beside her. “You died,” she whispered, drowned out by the sound of gunfire from the upper level of the abandoned factory.
“Not now,” he replied, keeping his eyes fixed on Slim Jim. “You, talk.”
“No, no, no, you died. You were dead. How are you alive now?” insisted Olivia, raising her voice. I know what I saw. I saw the blood.
“The feral is right. One of the foot soldiers put three bullets in the back of your head,” added Slim Jim, the faintest hints of a smile playing on the corners of his mouth. He remained pinned by strong currents of air. Behind him floated and spun the remains of the robots Olivia and Cyrus had torn apart.
“Thirty years, not bad,” murmured Cyrus. “Can’t be helped now.”
Wind picked up in the factory, followed by the shriek of metal tearing. Olivia whirled around to witness some invisible force tear apart the robots engaged with Miya and the grey suited agents on the upper catwalks of the factory. The air howled and whistled as it blew past ruined robots and ancient abandoned equipment. Then, without warning, everything went still. Olivia, Miya, and the agents stared at the destruction around them
“The reinforcements outside have also been dealt with,” said Cyrus, who hadn’t so much as looked at the scene behind him.
“Ahh,” replied Slim Jim with a slow, knowing nod.
Olivia turned on him. What? How does this make sense? How does any of this make sense? Cyrus was dead. I saw his head. And why can he suddenly just destroy all the robots on a whim? Behind her, the grey suits and Miya floated down from the catwalks, weapons at the ready. The bulky agent held a hand to his side with his free hand, a few droplets of blood trailing behind him.
“You did that?” one of the grey suits asked Cyrus. “All of that?”
The agents eyed the blood and holes in Cyrus’ MHU uniform. “You’re not injured?”
Smith leveled her pistol at Cyrus. Behind her, the other three grey suits fanned out. “You’re the Haboob,” she said, her voice dead calm. Olivia stopped herself from letting out a nervous laugh at the sheer absurdity of that statement.
Cyrus nodded. “Guilty.”
“The Haboob is an old Arab myth, right? He’s not real,” said Miya. Wait, what? Oh, right, I think Ben or Chris mentioned him before. He’s… yeah, they said he was a myth.
Cyrus shot her a glance. Olivia flicked her tail on the ground, drifting between him and Miya. “I’m right here,” he said.
Olivia jumped as one of the agents fired into several bullets into Cyrus’ chest. Slim Jim took the opportunity to whip a few tentacles at Olivia’s face. She snarled and grabbed at one, yanking herself towards him. The moment she got close, he drove both feet into a kick to her chest and retracted his tentacles. In the gravity-less room, he shoot back towards a broken window and the outside, far out of her reach. No! A huge gust of air bashed Slim Jim’s head into the concrete floor a few feet from the window. Olivia froze for a moment. Is he… is he dead?
Cyrus turned on the agent who had fired as Slim Jim’s tentacles began repairing himself. “Why did you do that? What possible purpose did that serve?” he asked with a sigh, his flesh knitting back together under his battered jacket.
“You’re a monster,” replied the dark skinned agent, his pistol still aimed at Cyrus’ chest.
“A monster who is on your side.” Olivia flapped her wings and floated back to Miya.
“Stand down,” barked Smith at the agent. After a moment, he glared at Cyrus and lowered his gun. Smith looked Cyrus in the eye for a moment, then raised her watch to her mouth. “Blackjack, ready to move Slim Jim to containment?” She paused for a moment as a tiny buzzing sound returned. “Good. On my mark.”
“Wait,” said Cyrus, raising a hand. “I’d like a moment.”
“You already have a lot to answer for, Cyrus or Haboob or whatever your name really is. I’m sure the Turks would like you back for leveling Istanbul.”
“I’m sure they would. I’m sure they also appreciate not living in a scorched wasteland even more, however. I’ve defended my home from Mongol hordes and Roman legions, kept disgruntled Ottoman mages from accidentally disintegrating half the planet, and prevented an insane imam from burning Jerusalem to the ground. What makes you think I’m on the side of chaos?”
“The part where I don’t believe a word out of your mouth,” said the dark skinned agent. Stop. Guys, stop. Slim Jim is right there.
The air lifted a whole and intact Slim Jim back into a standing position, inches above the ground. “So you don’t believe he’s here, right now, unable to escape? Really?” asked Cyrus.
“Stand down,” repeated Smith. “You shot him and he hasn’t killed you. Yet. Let’s see what he can do. Blackjack, standby.”
Cyrus nodded. Slim Jim said, “If you think torture is going to work, you’re very, very stupid.”
“Piece of shit, what the hell do you know about torture?” muttered Miya. Olivia looked down. Miya’s knuckles were white against the grip of her gun, though she kept it pointed at the ground.
“I know,” said Cyrus. “You don’t feel pain. You can’t. Your own power splits your skin open every time you use it. But you’re beginning to doubt. Pain is how your body tells you if something is wrong. What happens when old age catches up to you and your body begins to fail? When your heart ruptures, will you die, or will your power keep you lingering, ever lingering? You won’t feel it, but you will know something is wrong. You’re a professional above all else. What happens when you can’t perform your job to the standards you’ve set yourself?”
Slim Jim stared, his face impassive. “You haven’t offered anything yet.”
“I offer you freedom. You can either rot in whatever pit they throw you into,” said Cyrus, jerking his head towards Smith. “Or tell us where Overlord is and walk free.”
“If I tell you, Overlord will kill you, then kill me. If I don’t tell you, he kills you and releases me. You’re not very good at this.”
“That’s what every would be conqueror has said,” replied Cyrus, folding his arms across his chest. “Yet here I am and they are gone. Look, I know money isn’t a factor for you anymore. You’ve never shown devotion to any particular cause before. I’d be willing to bet Overlord has something else, some other carrot to dangle in front of you. He’ll never give you that carrot, you have to know that.”
Cyrus absentmindedly stroking his beard, considering Slim Jim. “Family, perhaps? No. If I remember correctly one of the members of the Undead we rounded up was your son. By all accounts you’re a terrible father.” Olivia’s eyes widened. What? Those guys? Miya caught Olivia’s questioning glance and shrugged. Slim Jim remained impassive.
“And he was a terrible son. And apparently one who didn’t know how to keep his mouth shut.”
That… that’s terrible. You’re a dad. You’re not supposed to say stuff like that.
“You wouldn’t retire, not gracefully.” A small smile formed on Cyrus’ face. “You think Overlord will get you a fight, a challenge that could get you killed. A fight with me, or someone like me. If you’re patient I think I can get you exactly what you want. And if I’m wrong I know just to get rid of you.”
Slim Jim’s head tilted, brow furrowing. The air shot him and Cyrus through the hole in the roof Cyrus made during his entrance. Wait, no. Stop doing that.
“Son of a bitch!” Smith shouted after them. The dark skinned agent fired a few futile shots into the sky after them.
Miya and Olivia stayed quiet as Smith composed herself. What do we do now? I have no idea. I’m… I’m just tired now. That was all just for nothing, I guess. She held a hand to her ribs, where an armored robot had elbowed her. Stupid thing.
Miya patted her on the back between two spikes, causing her to flinch. “You OK there?” she asked.
“Yeah, that kind of stung,” replied Olivia.
Miya leaned back, pulled her hand aside, and let out a low whistle. “Your back is black and blue. Jesus.”
“What?” Olivia pushed through the soreness to twist around, only getting a facefull of her own wing. “I got shot a couple times in the back, I think.”
Miya snorted. “A couple times? Try a dozen.” Well, yeah. Bullets hurt. A lot.
“Boss?” asked one of the grey suits. “Orders?”
“Nothing we can do now. Let’s get back to where there’s gravity,” said Smith, her voice bitter. “Blackja-” She stopped herself as Cyrus flew back into the factory. “Where is Slim Jim?” she demanded before he even came to a stop.
“What do you mean ‘not here’?”
“I mean he is somewhere else.”
“OK, smartass. You had no right or authority to do that.”
“And yet I did. By the way, he told me the entrance to Overlord’s bunker, seven sixteen, is hidden somewhere within the MHU vault. In case you wanted to know.”
Smith blinked. “The vault? What? How? That’s the most secure place in the city.” Wait, what’s the vault?
“And I guarantee it wasn’t on your list of possible places. So Overlord did his job well, hiding in plain sight. It’s not within the cell itself, he doesn’t want desperate lunatics somehow tripping over it. The entrance is near the lower control room.”
“One of the first places overrun was MHU headquarters,” pointed out one of the grey suits.
Olivia leaned over and whispered to Miya, “What’s the vault?”
“That’s the MHU’s supermax cell thing. Supposed to be inescapable.” Olivia nodded.
“How can we trust you?” asked Smith.
Cyrus sighed. “That’s a risk you’ll have to take. Unless you have a better idea of where Overlord could be.”
“Blackjack, get us back to the mint,” said Smith.
Pressure built in Olivia’s ears. In a split second, their surroundings changed from a run down and abandoned factory to a familiar hallway. The pressure released. Whoa. She looked around. Smells like the mint. That was so cool. Is it like that for Ben when he teleports and stuff?
“We need to get to the lieutenant, tell him what needs to happen,” said Smith. Cyrus nodded. To the three grey suits, Olivia, and Miya, she said, “Catch your breath, and get ready. We’ll let you know when everything is in motion.” She and Cyrus hurried off, leaving them behind.
“Want to find the others?” Miya asked Olivia. She nodded.
Miya fiddled with her comm. “Hey guys. We’re back. Are you all in one piece?”
“I’m good. Keepin’ watch, it’s quiet again,” replied Skulker, his words slower than normal.
“I’m here,” added Delta, sounding out of breath. “Gears is with some MHU guys right now.”
“Cyrus is back. Him and some government spook want us to attack the MHU headquarters ,” said Miya. The three grey suits nearby shot her a look as they escorted their wounded comrade away.
“Shit. Wanna meet up?” asked Skulker.
“I’m near the motor pool, next to Gears’ truck. If you all want to meet up here,” said Delta.
Olivia nodded to Miya. They’re OK. They’re still OK. “Sounds good,” replied Miya.
“Cool, see ya in a few,” said Skulker.
Olivia and Miya passed by several small groups of soldiers and police officers on the way down. Most slumped against the walls of the hallway, their guns on the floor. The smell of sweat made Olivia’s eyes water.
“They just keep screaming,” whispered an officer, to no one in particular.
They made it out to where Delta and Skulker waited. Delta sat in an opened door, hunched over to the point she was nearly curled up. Skulker leaned on the side of the bed. Where is Rob?
“I shot a bunch of robots. Nearly got hit by a missile. Ya know, the normal durin’ a robot invasion,” Skulker was saying to Delta. She just grunted.
“Delta, are you OK?” asked Olivia.
“Just trying not to throw up,” she replied, gaze fixed on the ground.
“Oh, do you need me to…” began Olivia. Do what? Get food? No, that’d make it worse. Maybe…
“It’ll pass,” replied Delta. “I just need a moment.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Delta cut Olivia off. She straightened up. “See?”
“OK,” said Olivia, raising a placating hand.
“So what’ve you two been up to?” asked Skulker.
Miya and Olivia exchanged glances. We got shot at a bunch. “Well, we got dragged along in a hunt for Slim Jim by government spooks, found out Cyrus is the Haboob, captured Slim Jim, and then we found out Overlord is hiding out somewhere in the MHU vault,” explained Miya.
Silence greeted her words. Now that she says it out loud, it does sound like kind of a lot. Delta and Skulker had gone stock still, their expressions unreadable under their masks.
“Uhh,” said Skulker.
“So… What?” added Delta.
Miya gave them a weary smile and pulled some hair out of her face. “What? Didn’t that make total sense?”
“Sorta?” said Skulker.
“I understood the individual words, but all together they made no sense,” said Delta. “So, Overlord is here? And what’s more, he’s here in the MHU vault for some reason. And Cyrus is an old Arabic legend? And Slim Jim just told you all this?”
“Yes. To all of that.” Olivia nodded alongside Miya.
“Oh,” managed Delta.
“Gonna explain that?” asked Skulker.
“There’s not much to explain,” said Miya. “We got caught up when the spooks ambushed Slim Jim. He got away, and we followed after him. Then Cyrus showed up and beat the hell out of Slim Jim. Then Slim Jim told us Overlord was in the vault.”
“You’re a shit story teller,” said Skulker. “That was way too borin’.” Miya just stuck her tongue out at him.
“Wait, so Overlord was, or is, whatever, a prisoner in the vault?” asked Delta.
“No, that’s just where his bunker is hidden.”
“An’ how the hell you know Cyrus is some immortal destruction god guy?”
“Cyrus got shot a bunch of times in the head. I saw the… the pieces,” added Olivia. “Then, when I looked again, he was better.” The grey suits were the ones who called him the Haboob.
“So yeah, Cyrus and the agent lady in charge went to the lieutenant guy,” said Miya. “They want to attack the MHU building.”
“We’d need to get across no man’s land. That’ll get ugly real fast,” said Skulker.
“No man’s land?” asked Delta.
“Yeah, I was up on the rooftops most of the time. Towards the MHU is a lot of bots and wreckage. Fightin’s been pretty heavy.”
Where is Rob? Or Gears, whatever. He should be here for this. Olivia whispered, “I’m going to find your brother,” to Skulker and followed Gears’ scent down the road. And… is that Jeremiah? Yeah. Olivia passed by a wrecked humvee and stopped beside an MHU van with a wheel missing.
“-already saved my hide,” said Jeremiah. “I’m one person. If it comes to light that the Company helped Overlord they will have good reason to stamp us out,” said Jeremiah. “We need you to destroy all records in there that you come across. Do this and the Company will owe you a favor or three.”
“Really concerned ‘bout Overlord? You guys seem pretty entrenched,” replied Gears.
“You think Overlord would tolerate a black market? A market he can’t control? No. I hate to say it but we were tricked. If we’d known we’d never have helped.”
“Sure. If I get in I’ll see what I can do.”
Two sets of footsteps separated. Gear’s heavier armored footsteps approached Olivia’s hiding place. Rob, what are you doing? He rounded the corner to find Olivia waiting for him.
“Oh, hey!” he said with a wave. “Where’s everyone else at?”
“Your truck. Um, what was that?”
“That? Oh, you that. He offered me a good deal. I just gotta shotgun some of Overlord’s computers.”
“He said he’s-”
“Shh,” said Gears, cutting her off. “Company really values their secrecy. Can I trust you to not go talkin’ ‘bout this elsewhere?”
You weren’t going to tell us about this? The doubt must have shown on her face. He added, “You trust me?”
She sighed. “Fine.”
“Cool. Thanks. An’ don’t worry, I know a bad deal when I see one. Now come on. Everyone still back at the BAT?” She nodded. “Then lead the way.”
They returned to the others, still in the midst of conversation.
“What do you think the commander guy’ll have us do?” asked Skulker.
“We’re probably disposable,” said Miya. What? He hasn’t been mean or anything.
“Keep us in reserve?” said Delta. “Me and Gears have been helping keep all the vehicles running. Skulker is a sniper and Miya is a healer. Throwing us into a meat grinder wouldn’t be the best decision in the world.”
“So, we’re not going to split up again, right?” asked Olivia.
“Yeah, we’re stickin’ together. No worries,” said Skulker.
The wind picked up. Shouting came from all around. An idling engine roared to life.
Delta slid down from the truck seat and closed the door behind her. “Cyrus convinced the army guys. They’re moving out,” she said.
Gears shrugged. “Well, let’s see where this goes.”