Community Service – Bunker 7-16

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?”

“Yes.”

The agents eyed the blood and holes in Cyrus’ MHU uniform. “You’re not injured?”

“No.”

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.

“Not here.”

“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.”

“Are you-”

“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.”

“Thank you.”

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.”

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Community Service – Patriot

“Uh oh,” Olivia murmured to herself.

The massive armored robots on the rooftops before her opened fire. She pulled in her wings and dropped like a rock, though a shot still grazed her tail. At the last moment, she pulled up, landing on her feet on a different rooftop. She ducked behind the edge of the roof as a couple more heavy bullets whizzed overhead. One of the grey suits teleported near her after a moment. How do they keep finding me like that?

“You still following Slim Jim?” asked the grey suit, a different one than before. Other than the woman Smith, the bulky man who’d accompanied her when they’d first captured Slim Jim, and the man Slim Jim had killed, Olivia hadn’t seen another of the grey suits until now. The one next to her now had darker skin and a shaved head.

Olivia stared. “Yeah.” Why do you think I’m out here getting shot at?

“Just making sure. You’re bleeding.” He pointed to her tail.

She curled her tail to get a better look. A couple of the scales had been shot off but the bleeding had mostly stopped, plugged by a fast forming scab. “I’m fine.”

“We need to go, keep the pressure up.”

“OK. Um, how?”

“Go on, straight for Slim Jim. We’ll be right behind you.”

Oh, OK. Just have me charge into the really big guns. Great. Wonderful. Olivia jumped over the edge of the roof and spread her wings, flying parallel to the robots’ roof. She pumped her wings, gaining altitude. A couple bullets shot by beneath her. Bad. She tucked in a wing, spiraled, and dropped, gaining speed.

Another bullet hit her in the shoulder. She hissed and carried on, putting the robots’ roof between her and them. Once she reached the corner of their building, she turned and followed Slim Jim’s scent. The heavy metal footsteps of the robots followed.

Slim Jim had made good time on foot. A block passed before Olivia closed the gap. Then, she heard a booming sound from up above. Uh oh. She pulled up and dropped onto yet another rooftop, and not a moment too soon. A missile streaked down from the sky and hit the building in front of her. The shockwave knocked her off her feet, and her ears exploded in pain.

She lay stunned for a moment, with only the deafening ringing in her ears and the smell of smoke and dust in her nostrils. Her lungs sucked in breath again, and she rolled over, digging her claws into the roof. Up, up. Someone grabbed her upper arm, helping to haul her to her feet. Miya stood with two of the grey suits, the new one and Smith.

“They don’t want us in there,” said the male agent, his voice fuzzy and muffled. Another missile struck, blowing up closer than Olivia was comfortable. She hissed and covered her ears. “They really don’t want us in there.”

Smith shouted something by a roof access door. Olivia stomped over and rammed it down, letting the others in. Make it stop.

Down a flight of stairs, Smith brought everyone to a stop and nodded to the other grey suit. “Do it, now.”

The agent sat down on a step, closed his eyes, and went completely still. What? That’s not helpful.

“Alright, we should be invisible to the robots and whatever is shooting those missiles for a while,” said Smith.

“This takes a great deal of concentration. Hurry,” said the agent.

“Where the fuck did that come from?” demanded Miya, pointing up at ceiling and the sky beyond.

“Congress passed a law that allows the deployment of armed drones over American airspace a few months ago. Someone in the Air Force probably had the bright idea to use them. Damn it, we told them that was a terrible idea.”

“And he’s…” started Miya, making a vague gesture to the sitting grey suit.

“He’s making us invisible to any sort of electronic surveillance. We’re the anti-Overlord task force, we were chosen for a reason.”

Miya didn’t respond right away, instead producing a bandage from her back pocket and reaching up to wrap it around Olivia’s upper arm. Oh, bleeding. Again. Olivia bent down to make it easier on her.

“Thank you,” Olivia murmured to her.

Miya nodded and knotted the bandage. “If there are missile drones, it’s going to get really ugly back at the mint, real fast. We need to get back.”

“That doesn’t matter. What matters is finding Slim Jim.”

Miya and Olivia stared at Smith. How can you say that? There are people back there. Our friends are back there. The sitting grey suit kept sitting, his neutral expression unchanged. “What makes you so sure about that?” demanded Miya.

“A decade spent tracking him and Overlord,” said Smith, her expression grim. “Slim Jim knows where Overlord is, in this city, trust me. We can find Overlord and end this, no matter what happens back at the mint.”

Miya threw up her hands. “Screaming robots and power nullifiers and now fucking drones raining down missiles. Remind me, why would Overlord even in be in Westward? He could be slinging back drinks in Tahiti while these robots and fucking hellfire drones do all the dirty work.”

“You’ve spent time seeing his operation first hand. You know that’s not how he operates. What does he always want?”

Miya frowned for a moment. “Control,” she said, eyes on the ground.

“Yes. He’ll want personal, hands on control for something this big.”

“But… why Colorado?” asked Olivia.

“It’s a central location. Why do you think most US airlines use this city as their hub?” They do? “There are also a disproportionate number of robots here. He wants absolute control this city, top down.”

“Wait, disproportionate number of robots? Is that why there’s a fucking infinite number of the damn things?” asked Miya.

“Yes. He’s had close to twenty years to prepare for this. And most other cities aren’t seeing an invasion like this. He’s not toppling the government, he wants it intact and running, just with him in control of it. Classic tactic. The Romans did it, the conquistadors did it. This is less of an invasion and more of a very aggressive coup.” What?

Miya snorted and rolled her eyes. “Tell that to the CIA.”

“Yes, that line does get blurry. But you understand what I’m saying.”

“I understand I’m not leaving my friends behind,” said Olivia.

“And I am sorry, but this takes precedence.”

No. Olivia stood fully upright and looked down at Smith. “I can find Slim Jim from here. Can you?” she asked.

“We have our ways.”

“That you would be using if you had any other option,” said Miya. “But we’ve lost one friend already today, we’re not-”

“I’ve lost three people under my command in the last week, one of them from your stupidity,” shouted Smith, jabbing a finger at Miya. Olivia uncurled her claws. “Don’t preach to me about loss.”

“Faster, people,” said the sitting agent through gritted teeth. Olivia smelled sweat on him.

Smith broke eye contact for a moment, then said, “He’s right. We need to make a decision, now.”

Miya’s hands clenched into fists. “I don’t trust you. I remember you from somewhere. I know that.”

“That’s nice. Now will you help us or not?”

Olivia tilted her head at the woman. Something is off. Is she lying? Before she could ask anything, the comm in her ear crackled to life. She winced. “Pokey, ‘liv, Cyrus comin’ yer way,” said Skulker. Cyrus’ boots landed on the roof above them that instant. She narrowed her eyes as she looked up the stairs where he was heading. Where have you been? The last I remember from you is me getting possessed and you just flying off.

He appeared in view a moment later at the top of the stairs. “There you are,” he said, jogging down to join them.

“Cyrus,” said Smith with a nod.

He came to a stop beside the sitting grey suit. “I understand you are on the trail of Slim Jim,” he replied, addressing the group at large.

“That we are,” replied Smith.

“Good. He knows where to find Overlord.”

“Yes, we are aware.”

“Oh, the government hasn’t been idle after all?”

“Not all of it,” said Smith, a note of pride entering her voice. Olivia saw the other agent’s back straighten a little bit behind Cyrus.

Wait, Ben said Cyrus was coming. Does that mean… “Um, Cyrus? You were at the mint, right?” He nodded. “Was everyone…” Don’t say dead.

“They’re holding out. The lieutenant there filled me in. I took out the two drones that were giving them trouble on the way here, and the one over here,” he said casually. Olivia let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. Wait, it’s that easy to destroy military drones? Really?

“Thank god,” murmured the sitting grey suit. He opened his eyes and stood, dusting off his suit jacket.

Miya’s brow furrowed as she stared at Cyrus. “The records don’t mention you being able to fly at those altitudes,” said Smith.

“It’s always good to keep something in reserve.”

“Not when you’re working for the Secret Service. They should have known.” With a frown she added, “They would have known.”

“It must have slipped their minds. Now, do you want to stand here debating or move?”

Smith paused for a second before nodding. “Point. Are you two in?” she asked Olivia and Miya.

“Are the others safe?” Olivia asked Cyrus.

“As safe as they can be, last I checked.”

Miya held a finger to her comm. “Delta? Gears? Are you guys good back at the mint?”

Gears’ voice crackled over Olivia’s comm. “We’re holding out. Need somethin’?”

“No, we’re good. Just checking in.”

Stop Overlord, stop the robots. “OK. Um, I can find Slim Jim,” Olivia said to Cyrus and Smith. Next to her, Miya nodded.

***

Several blocks later, they came to a stop near an abandoned factory. “There,” said Olivia, pointing a clawed finger at the low brick building. Cyrus nodded, landing next to her. A moment later, the two grey suits plus Miya teleported in. They took in the building, while the dark skinned agent masked them from any prying robot eyes.

“So what’s the plan?” asked Miya after a moment.

“Trap?” asked Cyrus.

“Trap,” agreed Smith. “No reason to stop in that building otherwise.”

“But we have no other choice but to go in,” added Cyrus with a sigh. “And they’re too smart to get drawn out of there.”

“Wait, with him here we could just sit here picking them off,” said Miya, jerking her thumb back at the grey suit, who’d sat back down and closed his eyes again.

“They’re not dumb. They’d figure out where we are really quick and carpet bomb the area. And Slim Jim isn’t a robot.”

“Power nullifiers?” asked Cyrus.

“I guarantee it.”

“Wait, why would he cut off his own power?” asked Miya.

“He’s not exactly helpless without powers. And those robots definitely won’t be.”

“I’m not. Olivia’s not.” Really? I thought I had a power.

“But the three of us will be,” pointed out Smith. “And, since this is a trap, there will be overwhelming force in there. Do the two of you want to take on everything in there?”

“Olivia, you can take a hit,” said Cyrus. Wait, what? “You go in first, draw their attention and take out every nullifier you can. You agents can teleport in after her. I can go up, make sure the airspace up is clear, then come in through the other side of the building. Two pronged assault.”

Bullets hurt. What do you people not understand about that? “Um, wait,” said Olivia. She fiddled with the bandage on her arm. “I, um, I…” How do I put this? “I don’t want to die?” Is that right? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s reasonable.

“Was that a question or a statement?” asked Cyrus.

“Both.” Does it matter?

“The moment you get clear of a nullifier in there we’ll teleport in after you,” added Smith. “Oh, and it won’t be just us. I have two more agents ready to join us.” Oh, five other people? Olivia’s confusion must have shown, because Smith spoke into the watch on her wrist. “Blackjack, can you get Jones and Taylor here?”

Two people teleported in behind Olivia. She spun around. One was the big guy that had been with Smith when she’d confronted Slim Jim. The other was a short blond woman, in the same style charcoal grey suit as the other agents. Both nodded to Olivia and the others.

“Wait, how do you keep teleporting to me?” asked Olivia.

“We put a small camera on you. Blackjack teleports us to where he can see through it. Jones is a short ranged metallokinetic.” The man nodded. “And Taylor is a multiplier,” said Smith. “With no nullifiers around, we have a fighting chance.”

Cyrus stepped up. “This is a long shot, but it’s the only shot we have. Anything to add?” he asked Smith.

“Slim Jim is utterly implacable. No one’s ever really stopped him before. He just heals and hammers away until you give in. If you can, take him out quick.” Oh, wonderful.

Cyrus grimaced. “Let’s do this.” He took off, fading from view into the early morning sky quicker than Olivia thought possible.

OK, let’s do this. Olivia lept off the roof and headed straight for the factory. In one the old, dirty windows she spotted robots. The power nullifying robot, flanked by two normal ones, had no visible head or neck, just a slight protrusion on top of its teardrop shaped torso. Two antenna stuck out from its back. You. Olivia tucked in her wings and held an arm in front of her eyes. She crashed through the window and into the power nullifier, sending them both sprawling.

That was dumb. She began climbing to her feet, when a metal foot kicked her in the teeth. Several bullets hit her in the back as a pair of normal robots started screaming. Stop it, stop it, stop it. She spat blood and whipped her tail around, aiming at the robot shooting at her. It jumped, only taking a glancing blow.

The second robot, the one that had kicked her, didn’t go for a second kick. It backpedaled and aimed its rifle. She gathered all the strength she could in her legs and lunged with a hiss. Her hand carved through the robot before it could fire a shot. More bullets hit her back, one glancing off a spike. She whirled around.

The second robot backed away, dragging a damaged leg. It raised its rifle. Behind it, the nullifier climbed to its feet, trying to escape. Olivia flinched as a bullet hit her cheekbone. No. She lowered her shoulder and charged.

In a woman’s voice, the robot sobbed, “No, no, no, please no.” Shut up. Olivia slammed into the robot. Its rifle spun free as the robot ragdolled.

The nullifier scrambled for the rifle as it flew by to its right. Olivia snarled, hooked her claws into its back, and brought it down. Go away, she thought, punctuating each syllable with a slash of her claws to its chest. The robot went still. She stood up straight and rolled her shoulders. Stupid bullets.

Slim Jim’s scent was still fresh in the building. She followed it, heading down the hallway as five friendlier scents materialized behind her. This isn’t hard. Two bullets melted through the wall, hitting her injured shoulder. She hissed and recoiled at their heat.

“Down,” yelled one of the agents. “One moment.”

A robot with a familiar sniper rifle came into view, dragged by an unseen force. The other agents and Miya opened fire, tearing it apart.

“Only one nullifier?” asked Miya.

Two of the grey suits exchanged glances. “Look like,” they replied.

He’s close. Olivia climbed to her feet and led the way towards the center of the factory. They found themselves on a catwalk overlooking the factory floor. A massive column of air burst in through the ceiling on the other side, carrying Cyrus with it. Robots went flying, bashing against the outer walls of the factory. Cyrus himself hovered a few feet above the ground.

In the center of the factory floor stood Slim Jim. Come on. Put on a shirt. Smith opened fire. Three bullet hit him, though his tentacles patched him up in an instant. The air around him howled, and he was raised up. Four thick tentacles of his wrapped around nearby machinery and flung them hard at Cyrus, who dropped to the floor to avoid getting smeared against a wall.

“He’s stalling,” muttered a grey suit.

A buzzing sound filled the air. Then Olivia found herself floating off the ground. Robots rushed into the room, including two armored and two nullifiers. They took the lack of gravity in stride, half floating towards Olivia’s group, the others towards Cyrus. She flailed, trying to grab onto something. Her tail whacked against the guardrail of the catwalk, sending her spinning.

“I recommend surrendering,” said Slim Jim, his emotionless voice still audible over the buzzing.

Behind Olivia, an agent threw a grenade towards the group of robots. One of the armored ones grabbed it and curled its body around it, taking the brunt of the blast. The other agents opened fire, the gunfire sending them back towards the hallway behind them.

The armored robot that had taken the grenade wasn’t active, but the others sailed on directly towards them. Olivia swiped as they clambered onto her. One let out a piercing shriek. Olivia curled up, unable to think about anything besides the noise. She didn’t even hear the gunfire all around her, didn’t feel the metallic hands on her. Everything was drowned out by the shriek.

Bullet hit her. Not the bullets of a robot’s rifle, but smaller pistol bullets. The shriek cut off. Olivia shrugged off the other robots and looked around. Miya clung to the remains of the armored robot, whether by accident or design the hulk was between her and most of the robots firing at the agents. Olivia stared at her. You shot me. Miya shouted something and pointed towards Slim Jim. Right. The momentum of the robots had brought Olivia up against the wall. She slashed apart another robot that had come back in range and pushed towards Slim Jim. Just like flying.

Slim Jim twisted, letting Olivia barrel past him and into Cyrus. She backhanded a robot as she tumbled, crushing its chest. Cyrus wrestled with another. He shouted something, Olivia still couldn’t hear.

The armored robot batted her aside as she drifted past. She reached out and hooked her claws into its arm, pulling it off its stable position above Cyrus. With her too close to bring its large gun to bear, it released it and hammered down on Olivia’s injury with its free hand. She let out a roar as her hand spasmed and released its hold. Right as the robot brought back its fist for another blow, Olivia pulled the robot back to her and released her grip, narrowly avoiding getting her fingers broken.

The robot floated back in her grasp, and she pried off one of its back plates as it tried to twist. She drove a hand into whatever looked delicate. The robot went still. Finally.

The moment she released her grip, it sprang back to life, driving an elbow into her ribs and grabbing her hair with its free hand. It pulled her over its shoulder, her claws leaving deep gouges in its back as Olivia held on for dear life.

She stretched her clawed toes and drove them into the robot’s gut, keeping her arms wrapped around its neck. She kicked and kicked, until the robot went still. She kicked a few more times, until her foot burst completely through the robot’s gut.

She shook her head free of its slack hand and spotted the nullifier behind her, hanging back and out of reach. Wait, there’s still air here. She stretched her wings straight out and flapped them, driving her back towards the nullifier. It had no way to change course. The moment she made contact, she reached around, wrapped an arm around it, and began to crumple the metal.

Blood, lots of blood, floated past her. Several robots had killed Cyrus, shot him in the back of the head. Slim Jim hovered nearby, looking on. Olivia roared and finished off the nullifier. Her struggle had brought her against the wall again, and again she pushed off of it straight for Slim Jim.

He looked up and summoned a good dozen tentacles. The moment she drew close, three tentacles wrapped around her and her wing. He swung with her momentum, letting her collide with the solid concrete floor instead of him. His tentacles twisted. Something popped, and Olivia’s back exploded into pain. A robot on the sidelines shot her in the head.

A massive burst of air rocked Slim Jim and Olivia. All remaining nearby robots nearly disintegrated from the force driven into them. Cyrus floated, whole and untouched. A slash of air hit Slim Jim.

Olivia ran a claw through his arm as Slim Jim released her to deal with the new threat. At the same time, a blow from Cyrus took out his knees. Slim Jim spun in the air, droplets of blood flying through the air. A gust of air bashed him against the wall. Cyrus spun him around and steadied Olivia. Slim Jim stared back, impassively, his wounds already healed.

Cyrus spat and said, “Tell me what you know.”

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

Community Service – Blunt Force Trauma

Gears let the hood of the MHU van drop down and slam shut. “Should be good to go,” he announced, fitting his gauntlets back on to his hands.

The MHU officer beside him brushed some char and oil off his own hands before slipping his gloved back on. “Great. Want to take a look at the armor plating on the side?”

“Sure.” Gears followed the officer, his armor whirring and clanking with every move as the mechanisms within moved hundreds of pounds of steel. Like moving in quicksand.

“Here we are. Those burnt ones.”

Gears tilted his head at several holes melted into the side of the van. “The hell is this? It’s all melted an’ shit.” What kind of bullet does that?

The officer shrugged. “Dunno. I was too busy trying not to die.” Fuck it, whatever.

“Can’t argue with that. Well, that meltin’ ain’t exactly good for the armor, but I don’t got a way to fix it here. What’s left is still better than nothin’. We got bigger problems.”

“Alright,” the officer said with a nod. Something in the distance exploded. “Thanks for the help.”

“No problem. You seen Delta ‘round? Black armor, helmet coverin’ her whole face?”

The officer took a moment before responding. “I think so. Check with the radio people, other side of the lot. Can’t miss ‘em.”

“Alright. Thanks.”

Gears yawned under his mask as he stomped away. Just keep swimming. He followed the officer’s directions down the road, not that they were hard to follow. He found Delta on one knee, arms deep in the innards of some device he didn’t recognize. A couple other people with headsets chattered on in the background at similar setups in the middle of the crowded road. The fuck is going on here?

It took her a moment, but Delta noticed his approached and looked up with a wave before returning to her work.

“How you doin’?” he asked, stopping by her side.

Delta grunted and hung her head for a moment. “Tired. I need to get my contacts out soon or my eyes are going to make me suffer.” Her shoulders jerked as she snapped something in the device.

“Yeah, I hear that. The tired bit, my eyes are fine.” Didn’t make this armor to be worn for long periods of time. I probably smell real bad, too. He sniffed. Correction: I smell real bad.

“Bastard,” she murmured, just loud enough to be heard.

“What?”

“No one else has to deal with crap eyes, I swear.”

“Nah. Been thinkin’ ‘bout gettin’ a pair myself. Stuff far away is gettin’ kinda blurry for me.”

“Really? Skuker doesn’t seem to have a problem. He’s a sniper.” She grabbed something from the belt at her hip.

“Yeah, his power’s helpin’ him out there.” Lucky bastard. Sorta.

“Really? His eyesight?”

“Yeah. He got a whole grab bag of stuff. Most of it’s minor though. What’cha up to here?”

“Fixing stuff. They pulled this out of one of the MHU vans.” She patted the side of large metal box. The hell we got here? He recognized the radio build into the top, but beyond that, the bank of dials and computer monitor were beyond him.

“The hell is all this for?” he asked.

“The dispatch radio. It’s very heavy duty encryption, basically.”

“What’re the odds Overlord’s listenin’ in on ‘em anyways?”

“Oh, I almost guarantee it. But the alternative is not being able to talk. What the…” She trailed off. What? She slapped a small, thick length of cable on the top of the device for him to see. “What is this little thing?”

“Is it a mechanical piece?” he asked.

“What? No.”

Gears shrugged. “Then I got no clue. It a problem?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I’ll take a look at it once I fix this up.”

“Fix? You tore a bit of it out.”

“I cut it, but yeah, I see what you’re saying. It wasn’t actually doing anything. And it seemed off.”

“How can ya tell?”

“It’s made of a different kind of plastic. And I have no idea what it was supposed to do. Oh thank god, done,” said Delta. Gears helped her to her feet. “I’m fine.” she muttered.

No you aren’t. You took three bullets to the gut not that long ago, and now we’ve been running around for hours. He held his tongue and watched as she reattach the panel on the side of the device. Something clicked. She flicked a couple switches on the console. A couple lights came on, none of them red.

“There, working.” She grabbed the cut cable and waved the two other technicians over. “It’s all locked up and working now.” To Gears she said, “I want to take a look at this.”

“Need some help?”

“Sure,” she said as they walked off. “I gue-”

The technicians cut off whatever else she was about to say. “Hey, the screen isn’t quite the same as before. The color is off.”

Delta stared for a brief second. “It’s fine. I’ll be right over here if you need anything, OK.” Once out of earshot, she sighed and said, “Why does everyone doubt engineers?”

Gears shrugged. “I got no philosophy for you. Sorry.”

“Oh, good, no philosophy. That means you’re not useless after all.”

“Aw, thanks. I try.”

They sat down on the street curb, Gears’ armor letting out a heavy thud as it made contact with the concrete.

“Let’s see here.” Delta withdrew a couple wires from her glove and tied them around the frayed ends of the cable. She then drew a taser and jabbed at the center of the cable with it. Her head shot back in surprise. What? “Do you recognize this kind of rubber?” she asked, holding it out for him to see.

“No. Should I?” Never really paid attention to it before.

“It’s super resistant, to both heat and electricity.”

“Isn’t that the point?” asked Gears.

“No, as in a lightning bolt could hit this and nothing would happen.”

“No way in hell. It’d melt.” Lightning bolts are hot. I is so smartified.

“I know how much heat electricity puts out and how it would affect materials. This thing would be slightly charred on the point of impact. I mean, I’d need to test it to make sure, but this is unicorn horn or something right here.”

“Cool.”

“No, not cool. Where the hell did this come from?”

Getting kind of tired of not knowing answers to shit. “No clue,” said Gears with a sigh. He waved when he spotted Bob and Jeremiah approaching from the direction of the mint.

“Hey,” said Jeremiah. “Have you seen the dispatcher?”

“Yeah, I was just working on fixing some of their equipment. Right over there,” said Delta, pointing.

“Alright. Thanks.” Behind him, Bob nodded. Together, they hurried off. Delta and Gears exchanged glances. She returned to examining the cable in her hands. Gears listened in when the two MHU officers reached the two technicians. Oh, something interesting about something besides electricity.

“Dispatch?” asked Jeremiah.

“Yeah, that’s me,” said one of the technicians. He hung his headset around his neck. Oh, him.

“I’m Jeremiah, and this is Bob. We’re with the MHU, like you. We have a couple questions for you, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, go ahead,” said the dispatcher, leaning against the console that Delta had fixed.

“When was the last time you saw Marcus?”

“Saw? I haven’t seen him since he left work yesterday, before this all began. But he was in contact with us right until those bots overran HQ, giving out orders.”

“Did he say where he was at the time?”

“No, sorry.”

Something much closer exploded. Shouts broke out from the surrounding people. Uh oh. Gears stood, shotgun in hand. Delta seemed torn between joining him and studying the cable. Guess her helmet’s showing her something interesting, because that cable is still just a cable. Bob, Jeremiah, and the dispatcher looked at the smoke billowing into the air from the wall on the opposite side of the mint.

“Slim Jim!” shouted a soldier rushing past.

“Slim Jim? Where the fuck did he come from?”

“I don’t know,” replied Delta, her voice distant.

He offered her a hand. “Come on, up. This might be an attack.”

She brushed his hand aside. “I’m fine.” Her hand shot to her stomach and she let out a strangled cry as she collapsed when she tried to stand.

Shit. He knelt down next to her and placed a hand on her shoulder as she curled up slightly. Gotta do something. Uh… “You got pain killers? Somethin’ like that.”

“No. Didn’t… didn’t think I’d need them.” Right, we should be sitting back at the lair, waiting this out. I don’t want to fight fucking Overlord. I want to sleep, really.

“Ok, I’m gonna get a medic.”

“No. I can do this.” She straightened out and brought her breathing rate back down. Slowly, carefully, she got to her feet, Gears following suit. “See? Let’s… let’s go.”

Funny. “No. You’re in no shape to fight.”

“I said I’m fine.”

“An’ I don’t believe you. You think I’m blind an’ deaf?” asked Gears.

Delta put her hands on her hips. “I think you’re sticking your nose where it’s not welcome. Or whatever the saying is, you get the point.”

Gears looked around. Any immediate threats? Bob and Jeremiah still stood next to the dispatcher and his equipment, rifles at the ready. The other technician had vanished. A tank rumbled to life nearby. Gears’ own truck sat off to the side, untouched.

“Come on, back to the truck.”

“No. What about the others?”

Stalling. Fine, whatever. “Well, we got those comm things. Let’s give ‘em a call.” He fiddled with a few buttons on his own comm embedded on the upper arm of his armor. “Skulker, you there?” asked Gears.

“Yeah. I’m good,” he replied. “Miya an’ ‘liv ain’t with me. Bot movement spotted, can’t talk.”

“Gotcha, take care.”

“You too.” Skulker’s line went quiet.

Beside him, Delta asked, “Miya, Olivia, you guys OK?”

“Yeah, we’re fine, kind of,” replied Miya. “Olivia’s after Slim Jim now.” God damn it.

“Shit. No, that’s not fine,” said Delta.

“There are some teleporting government spooks with her. I’m healing one of them now. Slim Jim knows something, apparently,” said Miya.

“Wait, so the guy who might know somethin’ just happened to fuckin’ materialize right where we are? That strike anyone else as a tiny bit suspicious?”

“Wait, what?” asked Bob. Gears jumped in his armor. Bob and Jeremiah stood behind them, waiting. Don’t surprise a guy like that. Come on, there’s a war going on. Gears and Delta filled them in on their conversation.

“How did he even get in here?” asked Gears when they finished.

“Maybe he snuck in. We just drove up and asked,” said Jeremiah.

“Yeah, I don’t think security is very tight here,” added Delta.

“Speaking of which, something is off with the dispatcher,” commented Bob. “Couldn’t put my finger on it.”

“Oh, I could have told you that. This cable,” said Delta, wiggling it in her hands, “is a little piece of Overlord tech. I can’t quite figure out what it’s supposed to do, either monitor or send a signal. But it was put in there by someone. Someone who had access.”

“What? That could be anyone,” said Jeremiah.

“No. Only dispatchers and the MHU chief have access to something as important as that radio. They don’t exactly know how the insides work, but they’re able to control who has access to it. So only Marcus and that dispatcher could have put that there.”

“And we don’t know where Marcus is,” muttered Bob.

“Exactly. The dispatcher is our only lead on this.”

Jeremiah nodded for a moment. “Alright. Let’s have another chat with him.”

“Why didn’t you mention this earlier?” asked Gears.

“I didn’t want to call you two over and raise suspicion or something.”

“You spent all your time in tech support, didn’t you?” said Bob.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Jeremiah, over Delta’s retort. “Let’s go.”

They approached the dispatcher, still at his radio. What was it Bob said about dispatchers? Rain, sun, or nuclear annihilation. Gears grabbed the dispatcher’s arm and threw him to the ground. He shoved the shotgun barrel under his chin. “Talk.”

It took the dispatcher a moment to find his voice. “What?”

“I said talk.”

The dispatcher cringed under the gun, trying to back away on his back. “What? What are you talking about?” Behind them, a couple soldiers took notice and approached. Bob headed them off, raising a placating hand.

“You know. Overlord.”

Sweat beaded on the man’s forehead. “I… what? No, I don’t know-“ Gears cut him off with a jab to the chin with the gun barrel.

“You know we received a lot of faulty orders,” said Jeremiah, kneeling down beside him. “Orders from you. We were led straight into ambushes. All of us should be dead.”

“I’m just the messenger. They told me where people needed to go, so I did my job. Look, I didn’t know. If I’d known, that never would have happened.”

“Define ‘they’.”

“The brass. You know, the people in charge.”

“Do you know what this is?” asked Delta, holding the cable in her hands. Gears saw a flash of recognition in the dispatcher’s eyes.

“He does,” he announced. Lying piece of shit.

“Why betray us?” asked Delta.

The dispatcher gritted his teeth. “I didn’t. Now let me up.”

Gears gave him another jab with the shotgun. “Liar.”

Jeremiah sighed. “I agree with Gears here. You’re digging yourself deeper. What does Overlord have on you? We can help you if you tell us.”

“I. Am. Not. A. Traitor.”

“You know how many you got killed?” roared Gears. Liar, liar, liar.

“What? You think I’m going to just let that fucking robot blow my wife’s brains out?” the dispatcher blurted out. That’ll do it. Now quit beating around the bush.

Gears moved the gun barrel to the right of the man’s ear and pulled the trigger. The dispatcher screamed as the shot tore up the asphalt a bare inch from his ear.

“You still hear me? I don’t lie. Your wife your weak spot? I’ll drag you fuckin’ wife out here an’ blow her brains out myself unless you start givin’ me answers. You’re between a rock an’ a hard place, but this hard place is much fuckin’ closer.” The dispatcher turned away, screwed his eyes shut, and kept quiet. Look at me, liar.

“Allow me,” said Jeremiah, standing and placing a hand on Gears’ shoulder. To the dispatcher he said, “We’re not going to be executing anyone. Just tell us what you know.” Gears removed his foot from the man’s chest and took a step back, shotgun still at the ready.

The dispatcher gave a nervous smile. “Good cop from you, Jeremiah?”

“Yep. You’ve already confessed. It’s just a question of how much you tell us now.”

His smile vanished. “I tried. I really tried. If I talk they’ll kill her and me.”

“How did this happen?” The gunfire drew closer.

“Marcus. It was Marcus. He was nervous, told me to visit an old house on the outside of town. They had my wife, and told me to do whatever they said. They gave me that thing and told me where to put it. Then I’d see messages on screen, them telling me what to say.” The dispatcher’s voice was growing more and more desperate, the words coming out faster and faster.

“Where is Marcus now?” asked Jeremiah, his voice as calm as ever.

“I don’t know. I don’t know, probably dead. Oh god I’m sorry, Jennifer. I’m so sorry.”

“That’s all we needed to know. We’ll find your wife,” said Jeremiah over the dispatcher’s sobs.

Bob turned the dispatcher over and handcuffed him as Jeremiah walked up to Delta and Gears.

“Would you really have done that?” Delta asked Gears.

“What?”

“Shoot him and his wife?”

“Yeah. Why would I give a shit about her or him?”

Delta stayed silent. “The Company appreciates your assistance in this matter,” Jeremiah whispered into Gears’ ear. Eh? Jeremiah continued in a normal voice, “So that’s one mystery cleared up. But we’re no closer to Marcus.”

“Maybe not,” said Delta, her voice quiet. “He mentioned Marcus was nervous. Maybe he’s under threat too.”

“What do we never need him for?” asked Gears. From what Ben tells me he’s a dick.

“He knows how to command the MHU more than the military. He knows the city better than that lieutenant guy and he’s a mage,” called out Bob.

Jeremiah nodded. “Yes. That. Dispatcher was our best lead, but I think I have a few others, if I can get into contact with them.”

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

Community Service – Professional

Olivia huddled on the air conditioning unit, eyes on her knees. Her limp tail hung off the edge by her side . Gunfire rattled off in the early morning air all around, too distant to be an immediate threat. A scattering of soldiers and MHU officers . Some rushed about on one errand or another, others simply rested, nervous eyes on the surrounding streets and buildings.

Skulker teleported to her side poked her in the cheek, sniper rifle in his free hand. Not now. He poked her again. “Please stop,” she asked, her voice soft.

“How ya doin’?” he asked, brushing her wing aside and hopping up on the AC next to her.

What do you think? “I’m OK.”

He snorted. “Tha’ ain’t the truth an’ you know it.”

“I couldn’t do anything,” she burst. “I just had to stand there and watch. I hated it. I hate remembering it.” There, better? Happier I said that?

“There ya go. Not much you coulda done, ya know? But we got a new day ahead of us, can’t be all mopey.”

She sighed and looked him in the eye. “How can you sound so… chipper?”

“I ain’t got any wise words for ya, not really” he said with a shrug, expression unreadable under his mask. He rested the butt of his rifle on the corner between the AC and his leg. “But I ain’t dead yet. No reason to make myself all sad an’ miserable, won’t bring Chris back. Gotta look at other stuff. We got revenge to get, we got guns, we got like minded people ‘round us. We’re all in one piece. Kinda.” He held up his maimed hand and wiggled his three remaining fingers.

Olivia bowed her head again. That doesn’t make it better. That just makes it not worse. You shouldn’t have lost your fingers, Amanda shouldn’t have been shot, Chris should still be alive. Why can’t people leave us alone? Something in the far distance exploded. Beyond some turned heads, no one on the roof reacted.

A familiar scent caught Olivia’s nose. She whipped her head around to the open door of the roof access. Miya stomped up the stairs, sweat covering her brow and long black hair in disarray. A white armband with a red cross hung on her exposed upper arm. Olivia noticed blood spatters on her hands and forearms. Miya caught sight of her and Skulker and staggered over.

Without preamble, she spat, “Ten minutes. I lasted ten minutes in that hellhole. Too much blood and screaming. Can’t take it.” Olivia moved over, making space for Miya on the air conditioner.

“That bad?” asked Skulker.

“Yeah. Lots of wounded. Lots of dying. There’s some nanobot grey goo thing. Dissolves flesh. They think it’s on a timer or something, it pops up on people who’ve been there a while with no sign of it.” Dissolves?

“Shit. Not much you can do ‘bout that, either.”

“Yeah. I got a couple people back on their feet. That was good.” Some of the stress and anger in Miya’s voice seemed to recede with the last statement. Olivia wrapped a wing around her shoulders, pulling her closer.

A pair of patrolling soldiers walked by. One did a double take at them. I know, I’m weird. He pointed at Miya. Olivia suppressed a threatening hiss at the sudden movement.

“Hey, take that off,” he said.

Miya blinked. “What?”

“Just, just take it off. The armband. Take it off or those bots will shoot you in the head.” You care? The soldier looked wild eyed. His partner watched him with concern.

“OK, OK,” said Miya, raising a placating hand. Her other hand wrestled with the armband before finally ripping it off.

The soldier sighed and said, “Thanks.” He walked off without another word.

“Yeah, the bots targeted medics we were with,” added his partner. “It’s not like they’d have medics. Maybe mechanics. Fucking crazy.” With that, he followed after the other soldier.

The three of them on the AC exchanged glances. He was kind of nice. Right? He didn’t just ignore us, at least. And now Miya is safer.

“Man, bots suck,” said Skulker after a moment.

“No kidding,” said Miya, her voice shaky. The armband slipped through her fingers and fell to the ground. “I’m surprised they haven’t rained missiles down on us yet.”

“No way that’d work here,” said Skulker, waving a dismissive hand.

Olivia tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

“This is the fuckin’ mint,” said Skulker. “They make money here. Literally. This is a massive target for any crime boss with supers.  It’s built like the fuckin’ White House. Security’s prepared for damn near anythin’. Solid steel walls, cameras, sensors, the whole deal. Hell, tha’s jus’ the shit they tell you ‘bout on the tour. You bet yer ass there’s way more than that. Yeah, this is the safest building in the city, provided you got good people protectin’ it. An’ I think we do.”

“You’ve been here before?”

“Yeah, took tha’ tour I mentioned. Kinda cool. But yeah, this place can take near anythin’.”

“And it’s been quiet. Sort of. That seems really strange,” commented Olivia. It’s loud, actually. But no one else seems to notice, so I guess it’s just me.

“Yeah. Why hasn’t the hammer come down yet?” added Miya.

“You really don’ hear or smell anythin’, ‘liv?”

Olivia closed her eyes for a moment. The buzzing of drones, muffled by intervening buildings, reached her. Not just one. She opened her eyes pointed forward. “Drones over there. Sounds like about five.”

“Are they moving?” asked Miya.

“Um, no, I think they’re just hovering there.” Stupid things.

“Should probably tell the guy in charge up here,” said Skulker.

“Who?” asked Miya.

“That guy towards the center. No clue what his rank is.”

Together, they slid off the the big grey AC box and walked over to the soldier. Olivia hung back with Miya as Skulker explained. I’ll just be dumb and stammer. Chris was always better at talking.

“Anythin’ we can do ‘bout them?” said Skulker as he finished.

The soldier frowned. “No, not really, not from up here. Don’t have a clear line of sight.”

“Smell any bots?” Miya asked Olivia.

“Yeah, all around. There’s a lot where the drones are,” she replied. Right, I probably should have said that earlier. Stupid, stupid, stupid. But there’s so much of that oily stuff everywhere.

“You sure?” asked the soldier. Olivia nodded. “Yeah, that’s bad. Alright,  I’ll pass this on to the lieutenant.” The soldier unstrapped a radio from his belt.

“Really? You ain’t gonna fight us on this?” This is too easy. This is kind of nice.

The soldier shrugged as fiddled with the radio. “From what I hear, she’s a dragon. I ain’t gonna doubt you.” He raised the walkie talkie to his ear; they took that as their signal to leave.

“That went well,” commented Miya as they returned to their patch of the roof.

“Yeah,” agreed Olivia. “I thought he’d… I don’t know.”

“What?”

“Not believe us? He didn’t really seem that scared by me, either. It was… I don’t know. Nice?”

Miya managed a small laugh and nudged her with an elbow. “You’re not scary. Tall, sure.” I know. Tell that to everyone else.

“Not scared. Just… wary?” Is that the right word?

Skulker scoffed. “Come on. You’ve been around, what, three months now? Think of all the weird shit you’ve seen. At some point it stops bein’ weird. People roll with stuff. An’ you haven’t attacked anyone in forever.”

Olivia frowned. I know, I’m weird. I just… I don’t know. Need better self control. Her stomach growled.

“Hungry?” asked Miya. Olivia shrugged. Can you guys really hear that?

“Think we can jus’ leave?”

“Does it matter? Nothing is happening,” answered Miya.

“Yeah, but somethin’ might happen.”

“What, are they going to get pissed at us for eating food?” asked Miya.

Skulker chuckled. “At the wrong time? Yeah, absolutely. I’ll stay up here.”

Miya shrugged. “Alright. I passed by a sort of cafeteria looking thing on the way up here. They had some of those prepackaged food pack things. Want to see if there’s anything you can eat?”

“Sure,” answered Olivia. I guess I’m hungry.

“See you guys in a bit,” said Skulker with a wave. He grabbed his rifle and teleported to the edge of the roof, alongside a group of soldier manning a large tripod mounted gun.

Olivia followed Miya as they took the stairs back down into the mint. As they reached the floor below the roof, a woman rushed out of a door leading to the rest of the building. She stopped herself right before colliding with Miya. Hey.

“Oh, sorry about that,” said the woman, trying to shoulder her way past them.

“Whoa, wait, who are you?” demanded Miya, grabbing the woman’s arm. Olivia stopped alongside her and tilted her head at the woman. Wait, haven’t I seen her before? Oh, right, when we saw the lieutenant guy. She was out in the hall.

The woman in the battered charcoal grey suit curled her lip. “I’m an employee here.”

“So what are you still doing here? I haven’t see any other workers.” Miya put her hands on her hips, her brow furrowed.

“I was working late, and got trapped. That, and my car was destroyed. This area had a lot of the early fighting going on. Now, if you’ll excuse me-”

Miya tightened her grip on the woman’s arm. Miya, what’s wrong with you? “So why do I recognize you from somewhere?”

“I don’t know, and that’s not my problem. Now let go of me.”

A couple MHU officers had poked their head through the opened door, taking a look at the commotion in the stairwell. Olivia lay a hand on Miya’s shoulder. Not here. Please let go. Miya stared at the woman for a moment before releasing her grip.

“Thank you,” said the woman, her voice icy. She marched down the stairs in a huff.

Miya continued to stare after the woman, even after her footsteps receded to the point where Olivia doubted anyone else could hear them. The onlookers that had gathered dispersed, a couple throwing glances over their shoulders as they left.

“Come on,” whispered Olivia, guiding Miya to the door the charcoal suited woman had exited. It’s not worth it. And I smell food.

They made their way through the crowded hallways and grabbed some MREs from the self appointed quartermaster. Several more people, soldiers and officers alike, did double takes at the sight of Olivia. Sorry. Miya found an out of the way corner for them to sit down.

“Are you OK?” asked Olivia. You’ve been brooding. Well, more broody than usual. She ran a claw through the MRE packaging and sliced it open. 

“No. Something about that woman is off. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me.” Her face lit up. “Could you track her?”

“What?” Olivia tilted her head again. Can we just eat please?

“Track her. Like, you know, by smell or something?”

She blinked. “I guess.” Are you’re OK?

“Let’s go, come on.” Miya climbed to her feet.

Olivia stared down at the contents of the MRE on her lap. But but… Miya didn’t notice her hesitation, instead heading back for the stairs. Olivia placed her food on the floor beside her, then stood up. I guess I’ll come back for this later.

“So, she went downstairs, right?” asked Miya when she caught up.

Olivia sniffed. Um… “Yeah, follow me.”

They walked down through the mint. No one got in their way, most people too preoccupied with whatever else they had to do. Some slept in the hallways, others cleaned their rifles. Eventually, away from other people, Olivia heard a familiar voice talking down the hallway. Whoa, hang on. She held out a hand to bring Miya to a halt.

“Blackjack? Go ahead,” the woman spoke to an empty hallway. Three new scents entered the room, completely without sound. What? “We have ten minutes.”

Two different voices, men’s voices, replied, “Yes ma’am.” Three sets of footsteps headed for where Olivia and Miya stood.

“What’s happening?” whispered Miya, oblivious. “Should we call the others?”

“Back up,” Olivia whispered back. They retreated as far as they could go before reaching a dead end. Oh no, nowhere to go. The footsteps grew closer.

The woman in the charcoal suit adjusted the watch on her wrist as she passed. Her suit spasmed. The wrinkles and tears vanished, repairing themselves. In maybe three seconds, the woman wore a pristine suit that could have come fresh from the tailor. She didn’t break her stride, and the two large men behind her didn’t so much as blink, nor spare a passing glance to either side.

Miya and Olivia exchanged glances, then followed. Miya never caught sight of the people in suits, but Olivia could keep track of where they went by their footsteps. They avoided the heavily trafficked areas, but didn’t shy away from people. They headed straight for the western part of the mint, above where Olivia had met the lieutenant.

A door opened, and the footsteps stopped. “You know why we’re here. Turn yourself in,” said the woman, her voice calm. Olivia and Miya crept closer.

“No,” replied an inflectionless voice.

“Something’s happening,” whispered Olivia. They drew closer. I don’t think there’s anyone else here.

The sounds of a scuffle broke out from the room in front of them. Olivia poked her head around the corner right as it died down.

A tall, bald man in cargo pants and a thin tank top stood in the center of the room, feet slightly apart. One of the men had a pistol aimed directly at his chest. The woman stood directly in front of him, hands held behind the small of her back. The third man held his hands out in front of him, back to the others. What is he doing?

“You didn’t think Overlord is the only one who can nullify powers, did you?” asked the woman.

“No,” replied the thin man, still as emotionless as before, even with a gun aimed at him. His neutral expression didn’t flicker.

“Slim Jim,” spat Miya. She drew her pistol.

“I smell oil. From Slim Jim. Not a lot, but more than most,” said Olivia. That can’t be good.

“Yeah,” replied Miya, not listening. She marched into the room and barked, “Motherfucker!” What are you doing?

The three people in charcoal suits turned for a brief moment. “Stay away-” began the woman as Miya took aim.

In their moment of distraction, Slim Jim struck. Lightning fast, he threw a knife into the eye of the man threatening him. He ducked down and sprinted for the woman, tentacles bursting from his skin. Oh god.

Miya fired a couple shots, missing Slim Jim. Two dark green tentacles wrapped around her arms and snapped them. Her pistol clattered to the floor, discharging another shot into the air. Olivia felt a roar escape her lips. Leave her alone. The woman backed up as Slim Jim approached, reaching for her watch.

Olivia rushed forward, charging for Slim Jim. He readjusted, skidding to a halt and whipping three long tentacles towards her face. She took their blows, then wrapped a hand around one tentacle and yanked with all her might. Slim Jim didn’t budge an inch. The woman lobbed a grenade toward his chest. It exploded, rattling Olivia’s eardrums.

Slim Jim was knocked off his feet, and the tentacle in Olivia’s hand ripped from her grasp. Thin tentacles appeared all over his body, covering his wounds. Before Olivia could tell what they were doing, the grenade by his bloodied legs reformed, exploding in reverse, then exploded normally again.

Slim Jim’s body was thrown back again, and Olivia staggered backwards at the second explosion in an enclosed space. She hissed and held her hands to her ears.

Miya had struggled to her knees, red ribbons of magic surrounding her arms. Olivia staggered towards her. Miya looked up and screamed something, pointing to somewhere behind Olivia. Behind?

She whirled around to catch sight of Slim Jim standing again, all wounds on his body gone, though his clothes were tattered beyond repair. The longer combat tentacles burst from him again.

“Blackjack!” barked the woman.

The other man, the one who’d simply been standing there with arms raised, vanished right as the tentacles reached him. The plowed into the floor instead, digging deep gouges into the floor. Then, half a dozen small robots descended from the ceiling.

Each robot was only about as long as Olivia’s forearm. It had six legs sticking out of it, ending in sharp points. A small barrel stuck out of its central case. One lunged at Olivia’s face, two others circled around her, scuttling on the walls like spiders.

A sudden shot hit her shoulder, twisting her around. The lunging robot collided with her face, sharp legs jabbing at her eyes. A couple more shots rang out. Olivia slapped down the robot before it could do any damage. Before she could get her bearings back, another attacked in the same way as before. It leaped out of the way, letting Olivia claw herself in the face.

Damn it. She extended a wing and twisted, catching a third robot mid-air. She threw it to the ground and stomped down on it. She looked up to find the the robots scuttling out of sight. Olivia hissed, and nearly charged after them, before something occurred to her. Miya! She whirled around, to find her crouching over the remaining grey suit.

The woman in the charcoal suit held a hand to her chest and gasped, “Not a normal suit.”

“Yeah, you’ve still got a broken rib or three,” said Miya, her voice weary. She held a hand on the woman’s shoulder, keeping her from getting up.

“I don’t care. We need to catch him. Alive.”

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

Contract – Trickle Down

Chris waited at the restaurant. A far nicer restaurant than he was accustomed to, in fact. He kept himself from fidgeting with the cuff of his suit jacket sleeve. I’m pretty sure I can pull off the three button look. You’ve done it before, don’t get so nervous. The restaurant itself was a fancy affair, owned by some retired football guy. Dim lights lit the interior, classical music played faintly over the hushed conversations of the patrons nearby. I will never afford anything on this menu. Ever. Oh well. I still have some leeway before the credit card company has grounds to legally break my knees.

Chris had arrived slightly earlier than the agreed upon time. Is that what you’re supposed to do? God damn it. Stop second guessing yourself already. Be professional. Even if you’ve fucked up, don’t point it out yourself. Finally, the prospective employer walked up to the table. Chris stood, they shook hands, and began exchanging general pleasantries. A server came around to take their orders. He finally caught the client’s name: Jeremy Schrader. He knows about that new Iraqi warlord? That hasn’t hit any of the major news networks yet.

During this time, Chris observed the man who wanted Chris and the gang to do…something. They were supposed to work out the details sometime soon. The man himself was rather tall, which would have been imposing if Chris himself was not nearly the same height and had a good thirty pounds on him. But not all command and intimidation comes from physical presence.

Those eyes are creepy. There was something off about Jeremy, the way he carried himself, and the fact he didn’t blink. He’s not going to start something in the middle of a crowded restaurant full of important people. Chris maintained a polite tone during their conversation, regardless of his unease. Their food arrived. We need a job. This job.

Finally, they came to the matters that had brought them there in the first place. During what Chris judged to be a good break in their conversation discussing movements of the Siberians along the Chinese border, he finally said, “So, what exactly was it you wanted me and my team for?”

In the same flat, matter of fact voice he’d been using all night, the other man responded, “There is a group of young men from where I live, in the southern part of Westward. They are involved in unprofessional activities. They call themselves the Undead. They’re a bunch of punks who engage in all the things high school boys think make them badass. Carjacking, armed assault, and the like. They do it for kicks. That assault is against the homeless, more or less. Usually I wouldn’t care but my son has joined them. Well, in all honesty he was one of the founding members.”

Chris listened attentively as Jeremy continued, “Recently some criminal by the name of Nevermore has taken over, and is goading them on to more shameful acts. My line of work means that I am not home enough to discipline my son properly.” I very probably shouldn’t ever ask about this kid’s mother.

Evidently some part of Chris’s thoughts made it to his expression, because Jeremy elaborated, “I would handle this myself, and normally gang activity is not my concern, but combined, I figured a couple ex cops and mercenaries who took down a large scale terrorist organization could take care of some kids so that I can focus on other matters. So I’m paying you to kill their leader, Nevermore, and punish the other members. Teach my son a lesson that this isn’t a game or movie. Obviously if it comes to it, I don’t expect you or your team to get yourselves killed holding yourselves to a no kill rule, so that is on the table as a last resort. I don’t care about the means by which you do this, the end must be that the gang has broken up and Nevermore is in a grave. If you are arrested or are otherwise caught up by the law I will not help you.”

Chris nodded silently, that much was to be expected. These first jobs weren’t going to be the most glamorous. Jeremy paused. Is he wearing a wig? That seems awfully out of place for a guy like this. Chris kept his eyes firmly locked with Jeremy’s after noticing that. He continued again, “I anticipate being gone for the next ten days or so. You have that long if you want your pay. Any questions?”

“Who is your son again?” Better know who not to accidentally kill.

“That does not matter. Like I said, he needs to know he isn’t playing games anymore. If he pays for his mistakes with his life, so be it.”

“But I’m still assuming you don’t want your house trashed, so homes and families should be left out of it.”

“That should not be a problem. I kicked him out three months ago.” Cold motherfucker aren’t you? Wait, how would you discipline him if he’s not in your house anymore? Chris suddenly got the feeling that this Jeremy was not to be underestimated. Jeremy continued, “If he does come back, and it is unavoidable… well, the things in my house are just objects. They can be replaced. I do not care about the families of the others.”

“Just wanted to make sure. Less chance for screw ups that way.”

Jeremy nodded again. “True.”

“Do you have any inside information on the Undead that could be helpful? Favorite hangout locations, members, M.O.s, powers, and so forth?”

“The gang is formed exclusively of young men from wealth. Too much time, too much money, and too little attention from their parents…” Jeremy trailed off for a moment. “Like all gangs they are not racially inclusive, if you need any more reasons for a clearer conscience. Women are objects to them, they always hold a pistol sideways, etcetera etcetera.” That actually did something to help silence Chris’s conscience. He felt a bit uneasy at the thought of killing just to discipline some rich guy’s kid, but on the other hand, these kids sounded like real pricks. “Nevermore is actually fairly powerful in the right conditions, but he lacks the motivation to go higher than where he is now.”

Chris could think of no more questions (Amanda’s good at research), and so the time honored mercenary tradition of haggling over the final price began. I hate haggling, but there’s no one else to do this. Amanda was always busy, Miya would probably lose her temper, Olivia would just stammer, and Rob/Ben would… Do something really stupid and lose us the contract before it’s even signed. He still wanted nothing more than to get away from Jeremy as fast as possible. Creepy. Just creepy.

Chris managed to negotiate a decent price, within the ballpark Jeremy gave him when he first contacted Chris. At least I think it’s decent. I’ll probably look back on this and want to smack myself, but the deed is done. The two men finished their meals, shook hands again, and Chris happily parted ways with the other man.

Once in his car he texted the group at large, then began to drive towards the lair.

***

He arrived twenty five minutes later, having stopped to quickly change at his apartment before heading out again. And Olivia’s missing and no one bothered to tell me until just now. He walked in, and was surprised to see a new (new in this case meaning new to the building) table and chairs. Rob’s stuff crowded Amanda’s in her corner of the building. I’m going to have to deal with that. Keeping Amanda and Ben off each others throats remained an eternal struggle.

Ben and Rob dressed exactly the same (why did I expect anything else?), and grinned exactly the same when he first walked in. One of them, the one next to Miya, had a faint black eye. Chris did a double take when he saw that to be sure.

After the general greetings he reached the head of the table and pointed the black eye, asking, “What happened to you?”

Rob/Ben smiled ruefully. The other smirked at the injured brother. Miya said to Chris, “They think they’re funny. I kept getting them mixed up, so I punched one in the eye. That one’s Rob.” She jerked a thumb towards the one with the black eye.

“She likes me,” said Rob, deadpan. Before Miya could respond, he said, “You want any barbeque, Chris? It’s probably a bit cold, but you can just nuke it. We got a microwave now.”

Chris eyed the table they sat at. There were indeed bags of barbeque off the side of the table, next to where the three had a poker game set up. “No thanks. Already ate.”

Ben said, “Poker then?” He reached across the table to poke Miya in the cheek, not taking his eyes off Chris. She slapped his hand away, then tried to punch him in the ribs when he didn’t move out of the way fast enough. Rob, sitting to her side, poked her in the other cheek while Ben had her distracted.

She glared at him. “I can still tell the two of you apart if you have two black eyes, Rob.”

He immediately moved to sit next to Ben, taking his money and cards with him. “Fine. I’ll just sit here next to Ben. He doesn’t punch me nearly as often.” He stopped suddenly. “Her nickname is Pokey now, by the way,” he announced to the world at large.

Ben nodded sagely. “Agreed. So it is written, so it shall be.” Miya sighed, fists clenched. Now now children. Settle down.

Chris hesitated. He could play a mean game of poker. However, he couldn’t drum up any enthusiasm at the thought. “Nah. That restaurant the client wanted to meet at cleaned me out. Don’t want to lose any more money today.” That wasn’t technically true, but Chris had no physical money with him at the moment.

“If it mean anythin’ to ya, it was for a good cause,” said Ben.

Chris snorted, then asked, “So, where is Olivia?” No more beating around the bush.

The three of them froze, exchanging glances. Chris felt some anger rising. Did you idiots do or say something? Because I will throttle you all if you got her captured by Marcus again.

Rob began hesitantly, “Well, she didn’t tell us…”

Miya said quickly, “We finished talking to Amanda a little while ago. She said the police don’t have her.” Just then, Chris’s phone buzzed, as did everyone else’s.

The text from Amanda read, “She just showed up here. See you soon.

He glanced up at the rest. Genuine relief showed on their faces, so he decided to let that issue slide. “You get the same text I did?” Never hurts to be sure.

“Yeah. Olivia’s with Amanda.”

“Good. Now why did she leave?”

Rob winced. “We just explained this to Amanda. We don’t know. She didn’t say anythin’ other than she was goin’ to get some fresh air. That’s all.”

He studied them suspiciously. “Did you say something, or some things, unintentionally? People usually don’t leave home for no reason.”

Ben said, “Tha’s our best guess, actually. Problem is we can’t think of anythin’.”

Chris sighed. “OK, what’s your best guess? What did you unintentionally say?”

All three shrugged. Nothing? After a moment, Chris said, “I don’t think I need to say that this shouldn’t happen again.” Something caught his eye. “Also, what did you do to that chair?” He pointed to one with sanded down nubs where the backrest should have been.

“Oh, yeah. Olivia said she hates backrests, so I figured we could jus’ saw it off for her,” said Ben. You thought about someone other than yourself? I’m impressed… And I’m kind of being a dick aren’t I? Just take a mental step back.

Externally, Chris said, “Alright.” The conversation trailed off. I’ve never been too good at conversation anyways.

Then he got a text from Amanda.  “We might be a while.

Any trouble?” he sent back.

Nearly instantaneously she said “No” and that was all. Might as well make myself comfortable. He leaned against the wall as Miya, Ben, and Rob resumed their poker game. He pulled out his phone. It kept his mind off of more depressing subjects.

***

After a while, Amanda and Olivia finally walked into the lair. Chris watched Olivia cautiously. She’s not flinching, doesn’t seem angry at anyone. She actually spoke up and said hi. But she probably doesn’t want to talk about up and leaving in front of everyone, so deal with it later. He met Amanda’s eye, she mouthed ‘later’. Everything’s under control then. He trusted Amanda to be rational if nothing else.

As everyone settled in, Chris said, “So our first job is to beat up a gang of rich white brats with powers and kill their leader. Any complaints?”

“I like it!” said Ben immediately.

Chris continued with the contract details. He leaned forward, his arms on the white table before him. Everyone actually stayed quiet until he finished. It’s like Christmas. Even more silence as everyone digested what he said.

Olivia spoke up first. “So, we’re supposed to kill someone?”

“Yes, he was very specific about that part.” Olivia looked somewhat uncomfortable, so Chris added, “That doesn’t mean you specifically have to do the deed, but going back on the deal now would be very bad for us.”

“Yeah, you don’ have to do it,” said Ben. “I have no qualms with pullin’ the trigger. Do you Rob?”

Rob grinned. “Nope. How ‘bout you Miya? Or Pokey, as you are now alternately styled.”

“If we get paid for it then fuck it, sure,” said Miya with a shrug. Amanda rolled her eyes at the proceedings, but Chris noticed she simply slouched in her chair, not sharing Olivia’s concerns. I mean, we’re not working for the most upstanding member of society, but he is basically paying us for vigilante justice with a few caveats.

“These are the kinds of people you saw mugging other people, Olivia. I’m not expecting this to end in a bloodbath, but if you don’t want to do this, that’s fine.” He kept forgetting that they were basically dragging a civilian into a firefight and expecting her to be perfectly fine with it. To be fair, this particular civilian shrugged off bullets, but there’s more to combat than simple power.

Ben said, “Come on. Irregardless-”

He was cut off by Miya on one side smacking him upside the head, and Rob on his other side punching him in the chest.

“No, we talked about this,” said Miya.

“Irregardless isn’t a real word,” said Rob.

“It is if ya use it enough,” managed Ben defiantly, with a somewhat shaky smile.

“No,” Miya and Rob nearly shouted simultaneously.

Holding his chest Ben muttered, “Right in the nipple, god damn it.”

“You deserve it,” said Rob. To everyone else he said, “Sorry ‘bout that. Please continue.”

Chris waited for Olivia to say something, but nothing came from her. He continued, “Are there any questions on the contract?”

“Yeah,” said Ben in a more normal voice. “How much does he care ‘bout the other ganglets besides his kid?”

“Absolutely nothing. He couldn’t care less if they lived or died. He just wants the gang gone and doesn’t care how.” Preempting Ben’s next thought, Chris added, “Obviously we’re going to have to keep destruction of property to a minimum, so just setting off a bunch of bombs at them will probably get us into more trouble that that’s worth. But not requiring the rest of the gang dead was his way of making this easier on us, and the contract more doable.” Ben adopted an air of self-righteous disappointment. I’m going to ignore you now.

Chris continued, “Any more questions?” There were none. I need to ask that more often, because no one has any once I say that. Then again, everyone expects me to lead, even though I don’t think I have any idea of what to do. “Now before we get too far into how we’re actually going to get into this contract, we need to get our own building in order. Ben, you said you were looking at other places for us to rent while construction happens here?”

“Yeah, I found a couple places. They’re… they’re OK, I guess. I’ll shoot what I got right now off to ya later, but I’m gonna keep lookin’ for a bit. Of course, we’re gonna need some money flowin’ before anythin’ is truly on the table.” Well, he said he was going to look, and he looked.

“Alright,” said Chris as Olivia said, “Excuse me.”

Everyone looked at her. She’s spoken up twice in the same conversation. “Yeah?” said Chris.

“I have a question.”

“Shoot.”

“Um… you know how we had to leave Ben’s apartment really quickly that one time, because they could track us to there?” Chris nodded. “What’s stopping the police from finding us here the same way?”

Amanda spoke up before Chris did. “Nothing. They could. It wouldn’t be easy, but if they were truly actively searching for us, they could. The reason they haven’t is because we aren’t on the government’s shit list right now. They found Ben’s apartment easily enough, mainly because we drove a van owned by the police to there. Also, I hamstrung their main tracking stuff when Marcus crossed me, which gave us time for the Freedom Fighter business. We finished that up before they could make any real headway in finding us again.”

Chris nodded in agreement. “Good question. We shouldn’t have any illusions about our secretiveness. Or lack thereof.”

“So how are we going to make our fortress thing then? If we aren’t so secret.” asked Miya.

“Rob, any thoughts on the matter?” said Chris. Let’s see what our resident builder guy has to say.

“Yeah, been thinkin’ ‘bout that. Might have to contact The Company.” Rob paused as everyone stared at him blankly. “Do any of you know what The Company is?”

Everyone shook their heads, then Miya said, “Wait, are you talking about The Guy at the Place with the Thing?” What?

“Yes,” said Rob excitedly, adding, “I’m pretty sure.”

Chris decided to speak up. “Right now what you’re talking about could literally be anything.”

“Yes,” said Rob hurriedly. “That’s exactly the point. The Company isn’t a real company. It’s the general name for a kind of regional syndicate. Apparently the one in Arizona is The Guy at the Place with the Thing, but I don’t know what it’s called here in Colorado. Every city, at least in America as far as I know, has one. They ain’t unified, but they keep in tabs with one another. An’ they could be anyone. The one I used out east was composed of a local credit union, the owner of a grocery store, and three truck drivers. Those are just the ones I knew of. An’ they do…things. You ever use ‘em, Miya?”

“No. Either we needed them but didn’t have enough money, or didn’t need them ‘cause we had enough money,” she answered. That’s a weird catch-22.

“Wait,” said Ben. “Is tha’ that Fight Club kinda thingy where everyone in the know knows ‘bout it, but no one talks about it?”

“Maybe,” said Rob hesitantly. “My point is, they can either do nearly anythin’, provided it ain’t violent. If we had millions to throw at this problem, we could get them to make the base. If we had even more millions, they could do it in complete secrecy, and we’d have insurance for it to boot. If you need somethin’ moved, they can do that. If you need to obtain somethin’, they can do that. If you need information, they can do that. An’ if they can’t, they know someone who can an’ get you into contact with ‘em.” This isn’t sounding very legal.

“How is it they are in business all over the country?” asked Chris.

“They’re very careful. Very. If Johnny Law ever finds out about their deals, it’s the outside party that always takes the fall. Any investigation finds a perfectly legitimate company on the other end who had no idea they were in business with criminals, or nothing at all. Usually. They don’t have a standard operating procedure for anything. If one of the members of The Company is found out, the rest severs him or her from The Company and replaces them. But the true power is the fact that there is always a Company. In ‘93 alone five Companies were rolled up by the government. Literally within a week five new Companies took their places. The police sometimes keep tabs on ‘em, but they’ve kind of stopped caring. Sometimes they take out a Company for good press if they really need it.”

“I remember hearing something about this,” said Amanda. “Some kind of conspiracy.”

“Kinda, yeah,” said Rob. “Gotta think of it like a hydra, except instead of world domination, it’s money they’re after. There’s probably similar things abroad, but I’m speaking in the capacity of someone who’s never left the country. And disclaimer: almost all of what I’ve said is educated guessin’.”

“But why aren’t they ruling us all right now?” asked Amanda.

“Dunno. They could be, but I doubt it. No one’s that competent. An’ what they do can be expensive. It’s kind of a natural monopoly, so there’s always only one in any given region, an’ they’re good at stompin’ out competition. They’re kinda territorial towards one another.”

“Alright,” said Chris. Let’s get back on track now. “What exactly are you going to do with this company?”

“So, I’m gonna contact the liaison guy I worked with back east. It’s the only way to get in business with a Company, be referred by a friend or business partner who they know. He’ll get us into contact with the local Company, an’ they’ll give us our own liaison for here. All jobs an’ money exchangin’ an’ stuff will go through him. I got a good reputation with The Company, at least out east. So what I’m gonna use ‘em for is stuff that’s really hard, if not impossible for us to do on our own. As of right now, that means moving all the dirt so as to not arouse suspicion.”

“How much is this going to cost us?”

“Don’t know. It’s dirt, so moving it is really super low risk. The main thing is volume, so I’m gonna have to do some calculations and get everything figured it out. Been workin’ on it, don’t worry. I’ll send them what I want with an estimate how much, they’ll give me a cost. Another thing is obtaining materials, like concrete so the thing don’t collapse on us. Also, Amanda, I need to talk with you at some point.” Rob pointed at her.

“What for?” she asked.

“We should set up a dummy construction company. That’ll cut down on our costs to The Company, an’ they’ll use that to get stuff for us. They got access to a lot more manpower than us. I’ll prolly need help on that. My old gang had someone to do that, I never did it myself.”

“OK, so long as you never use the word ‘prolly’ in my presence ever again,” she said reluctantly.

He grinned. “Deal.” He turned to Chris. “That’s all I got.”

“Alright,” said Chris. “Anyone have anything else?” No one did. “Now let’s get to work on the job at hand.”

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

Hunting Season – Miyahuatl

There were currently five people you never wanted to meet in the world: The Mother, Overlord, Cain the Torturer, Angela Goodrum, and Slim Jim. The reasons to fear them were many and varied, but ultimately they didn’t matter. At the end of the day you ran in the opposite direction from them if at all possible.

The Mother was supposedly an ancient Germanic goddess. The kind that demanded bloody human sacrifice. The kind that inspired neo-Nazis.  The kind that had thrown back the might of the Roman legions from the dark forests of central Europe. Stark raving mad, she shared that insanity with anyone who went near her dwindling forests.

Overlord was a notorious war criminal originally hailing from Serbia. He’d worked for various dictators across the world before deciding he liked having power for himself. The man was brilliant, one of the greatest techies the world had seen, but that didn’t lend itself to benevolence. He’d gone to ground the last time he’d been ousted from the nation he’d been currently terrorizing. In this case this meant a full NATO coalition force ousted him from Iraq in the late nineties.

Cain the Torturer was a normal guy with no powers. He had no relation to the Cain of the Bible, Cain was just the only name he responded to. Because if you are crazy, you might as well go the whole nine yards. The media dubbed him Cain the Torturer as a result. He liked causing pain. There was no reason behind it, he just snapped one day, killed his family, and started a rampage across the US. The government currently held him in an undisclosed super-max prison, while lawyers debated the death penalty for him.

Angela Goodrum was the pseudo head of the De Beers cartel. You didn’t mess with De Beers, or you would vanish from the face of the Earth without a trace. No one knew for certain if she had some sort of mentalist power, though it was considered likely. She would only meet with you if you had displeased her, hence why you never wanted to meet her in the first place. Angela currently lived in South Africa, where De Beers was headquartered.

Slim Jim was a mercenary. He’d gone solo after being kicked out of Lock Corp. for ‘unprofessional conduct’. Lock Corp. was well known as the most immoral major mercenary company, taking jobs that violated a plethora of international laws and conventions, so getting kicked out meant that his methods were probably awful for all involved. He currently stood in front of Miya.

This day was awesome until just now. Miya and her team had pulled off a nice armored car robbery, an important step for any criminal gang, despite some interference from the police and the Arizona Watch. They had made good their escape and retired to their ad hoc base: an out of the way garage attached to a house that the gang used as a hideout after the occasional major robbery. Then, without any warning or reason given, Slim Jim attacked.

It was that time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it wasn’t blisteringly hot outside. Miya’s grandmother would have chided her for being weak in the face of the heat of summer. “It was far hotter in Mexico, this is nothing. The northerners have made you weak.” Amusingly enough, grandmother had been brought by her own parents from Mexico sometime in the early twentieth century. Grandmother had spent most of her life in the States.

Miya’s full name, Miyahuatl, marked her as an Aztec. Aztecs were somewhat second rate citizens in the US; though that was improving as Cuauhtémoc became less belligerent, Miya could admit as much. Cuauhtémoc hadn’t been doing Aztec ex-pats any favors in the past, even though Miya’s family had fled Mexico because of his autocratic regime. He’d maintained a sort of proxy war with the US (and the Soviets, to a lesser extent) in Central America since the end of WWII, turning American public opinion against people like Miya. At least he finally stopped all human sacrifices in the seventies. That was a plus.

Grandmother had been too proud to work for any American, Miya’s parents had resigned themselves to a life of destitution. Miya took another option. Magic came easily to her. She found her specialty in biology, bones to be specific. She had power, she wasn’t going to sit idly while life passed her by while she controlled it.

Miya started with stealing food, money to pay the bills, things like that. Eventually a local magician named Don offered to teach her more of magic (she’d been working it out by herself), but for a price. The monetary kind. Demons were the only ones who used souls as a resource; they had a controlling interest in the soul market and didn’t appreciate mortals trying to muscle into their business.

She’d joined up with a small local gang, the Scorpions, to help pay for the ever increasing costs of lessons. Which isn’t to say the lessons weren’t worth it. Miya learned far more from Don than she had by trial and error. She’d even begun to like some of the gang members, but they were all dead now. Slim Jim killed them. Stop it with the info dump. Focus on the matter at hand.

The matter at hand was a tall man in only a pair of desert camo pants. He was thin and without any body hair that Miya could see. As in, no hair anywhere, on the head or anywhere else. He had almost no body fat, and his skin had no blemishes. No tattoos, freckles, or anything else. Except for the tentacle extending from beneath the skin of his upper arm, wrapped around Thomas’s neck. He stared at her without expression, snapping Thomas’s neck.

Miya tried to reform her golem, smashed when defending against Slim Jim’s attack. It happened fast. One moment Miya and Thomas were grabbing the alcohol while three more gang members unloaded the truck they had loaded the money into. Without warning Slim Jim’s tentacles tore open the garage door and entered the eyes of the three at the truck.

The tentacles weren’t really tentacles, they had no suckers, but Miya didn’t know what else to call them. They were two to five inches in diameter, green, wrinkly, and strong, as evidenced by what they did to the metal garage door. They emerged from any part of Slim Jim’s skin, more accurately from beneath. So far as Miya or anyone else knew, the only limiting factor to their numbers was how much skin Slim Jim had. No one knew how long they could get, it wasn’t as though Slim Jim sat down to discuss the limitations of his power.

Miya and Thomas went into combat mode before they realized who they were dealing with, Miya’s bone golem activating while Thomas opened up with his uzi. Slim Jim calmly walked forward, two more tentacles emerging to deal with the golem. Several bullets hit him in the chest.

Immediately several small tentacles emerged to cover up the wounds. They then turned back into skin, and it was as if he was never injured in the first place. He tore the gun out of Thomas’s hand while the rest of the tentacles grappled with the golem swinging a bone club at him.

Golem was the term for anything magically animated. Miya’s was made of bones, hence the name. She’d had to steal the bones from rendering plants and slaughterhouses. The result was an ever shifting mass of random cow bones, connected with the red ribbons of her power. They were cow bones for several reasons: they could get big, they were easily found at rendering plants, and bones of sentient species were magically…volatile. Miya had even thrown in a couple cow skulls to up the freaky factor.

“It’s Slim Jim. RUN!” Thomas screamed to Miya, right before a tentacle grabbed him by the neck. The tentacles were shattering the bones of Miya’s golem.

“I rigged that door to explode the moment it opens. It won’t kill you, just like I won’t kill you, Miya,” said Slim Jim without inflection. The golem was down, its components scattered. The tentacles receded back into Slim Jim, save the one wrapping itself around Thomas’s neck.

So there they stood, Thomas about to die, Slim Jim watching, and Miya trying desperately to figure out what was going on. He’s gonna kill me the second I turn my back now, doesn’t matter if he’s lying about the door. I can’t go toe to toe with this guy. Fuck it, I’m not gonna die without a fight.

“What do you want with me?” she asked to buy time. The golem was slowly coming back together, this time more under her control. Thomas’s neck snapped.

“Overlord would like to meet with you,” he said. Fuck me. She remembered Overlord’s old name, when he worked for dictators, rather than being one himself: Slave Driver. You are going to kill me before I go to him. I’m trying my chances with the door.

The golem, now reformed enough to be mildly useful, lunged at Slim Jim, while Miya bolted for the door. Slim Jim turned to face the golem, unconcerned. Did that seriously just work? She pushed open the door, heard an additional click, then the world went black.

***

Miya slowly regained consciousness. She could not however, move any part of her body. She knew it was there, but attempting to move anything resulted in nothing.

Feeling slowly returned to her, and with it, pain. Primarily her face, though her hands, gut, and left leg hurt as well. She cracked open her eyes, that much she at least could do, and was promptly blinded by the light. She tried to speak, but the words came out as more of a burble than anything intelligible. Wha…?

Her eyes slowly adjusted, and Miya took the time to fight the chemically induced mental fog and assess what might be happening. Slim Jim attacked…for some reason. Door…was rigged. Most of the rest of the gang was in the house, they’re probably dead too. Miya couldn’t really bring herself to care. Thomas had been alright, but the rest were shortsighted and violent. Slim Jim wanted to…capture me? Maybe? Where the fuck am I?

Her eyes adjusted enough to make out what she took to be a small hospital room without windows. Everything was white, sterile, and utterly still, save for the machine she was hooked up to, monitoring her vital signs. She herself lay in a typical hospital bed. There was a closed door in front of her, no distinguishing features on it. A black orb on the ceiling directly above her signified a camera. Grey metal cabinets lay to her right, closed, with no hint of exactly what lay inside them.

She tried to raise her hand to get up, but found she was strapped to the bed. Oh this is just great. Just fucking splendid. I’m in some medical horror movie, after having just been attacked by Slim Jim of all people. Grandmother is laughing at me from hell right now, vindictive bitch that she is. She squirmed, not expecting to find any way to get out, but attempting none the less. Nope, good and tight.

She took stock. She could see that everything was still attached, she wasn’t feeling any phantom sensations from missing limbs. Though the left side of her face, besides feeling pain, felt odd. Almost numb. Plastic. Shit, shit, shit, shit. What did that door bomb thing do? There was no mirror in sight for her to check. She reached for her magic, and immediately felt a severe spike of pain in her head. She screamed in spite of herself.

She lay in the bed, panicking for a few minutes, when the door opened and a doctor in scrubs walked in, clipboard and all. A surgical mask covered his face, and a pair of glowing orange goggles covered his eyes. Not reassuring.

“Ah, you’re awake! Good,” he said before Miya could formulate anything to say. He continued, “Slim Jim dropped you off here two months ago, in pretty bad shape. Overlord was…less than pleased, shall we say? Though he was pleased the equipment he gave him worked.” He opened a cabinet, blocking the interior from Miya’s view with his body, and rummaged within.

“We actually had a bet going on, whether you would make it or not. A good chunk of your face was blown off; Doc Brown had to rebuild it. Did a good job too, I’ll give him that,” he nattered on cheerfully as he prepared a syringe full of a grey liquid. Fuck this. Fuck, fuck, FUCK.

“What is that?” asked Miya, her voice shaking.

“This? Oh, this.” He held up the syringe. “This here is full of nanites that should help your body adjust to the implants, rather than rejecting them. Designed them myself, with some help from Overlord. Last dose for you too. You should be good after this one. We could have used an automated machine, but I prefer a more personal touch.”

“IMPLANTS!?”

He looked at her. In a somewhat exasperated tone he said, “Yes, implants. Overlord has been wanting to incorporate magic into his technology, see if there was any way for it to be controlled. The only way we know to control magic so far is through people. A contact of Overlord’s in Arizona tipped us off about you, said you were very strong. Now hold still, unless you want to be sedated again.”

She thrashed wildly. I’m leaving now. He sighed. “Look, without this you might die. We don’t cause needless pain here.”

She stopped at the sheer stupidity of the statement. He took the advantage and stuck the syringe into her arm and depressed the plunger. “There. See? Didn’t hurt a bit. And we could have kept you awake for most of your twenty five surgeries. We kept you under instead.” This guy is a sociopath.

He looked around the room conspiratorially before leaning over her by the bed. “Now, before testing, I should probably explain the implants a little better. Using other test subjects, the research team determined that magic is activated from a certain portion of the brain.  A chip was developed that should allow us to control the magic of someone without restraint when placed on the frontal lobe.”

“This chip functions as a sort of receiver for commands to the rest of the implants. For example, if you were trying to escape this facility, when you passed a certain point, the chip receives a command to shut down all of your organs, done through other devices. We could have had it explode, but that chip already holds some key data we would like to retrieve at some point. Of course when I say we, I mean us at the medical division. Magic is not quite our forte, if you will.” He sounded awfully chipper about everything. Miya, for her part, was desperately trying to keep herself from imagining exactly how they did all of this.

“Now, we know that your kind of magic occasionally requires you to maintain contact with your hands, so we put regulators of sorts in them. Apparently magic is a certain kind of energy. To be perfectly honest I don’t know the specifics.” He began unstrapping her. “Another note, if you try anything, Control up there,” he motioned to the camera, “can paralyze you, painfully. You felt it already. But enough talk, you’ve been sitting in a bed for over two months. Let’s see if you can walk, shall we?”

He held his hand out to help her up. It took all of her willpower to not faint, to scream, to fool herself into believing he was bluffing. I am going to kill everyone involved with this. EVERY LAST ONE!

***

The tests were less than successful, so they sold her to Freedom Fighter’s organization. A less than perfect prototype unit, they called her. Doctor Orange was almost apologetic about the fact, as if in that, and only that, he had wronged her. If you overlooked the mad scientist aspects and the complete lack of human empathy, he could be considered quite friendly. He actually wished her luck as he oversaw the exchange between Freedom Fighter’s people and Overlord’s. I will make that fucker pay.

Initially they made sure she could function, like walking unassisted, eating solid foods without vomiting, and regain at least some dexterity in her hands. Then they started their testing, which consisted of making sure the various devices in her worked. Now that she was conscious, they could refine the…things…that filled every nerve she had with agony. She’d felt the worst it had to offer when she snapped and attacked a technician within arm’s reach. Now it oscillated between an annoying buzz and agony when activated.

Those were nothing compared to the clumsy attempts by the scientists to control her power. She imagined having a stroke was similar to the experience of someone forcibly extracting an otherworldly force using her and her brain as the conduit. They couldn’t control what the magic did, not nearly as well as she could, but they didn’t appreciate her trying to do anything on her own. The fact they couldn’t control it was apparently a major disappointment.

Internally, Miya frothed at the mouth to hurt someone, in fact, several someones. Don, for selling her out, the only other magician she had ever met, the only one who could know exactly how powerful she was. The color coded doctors, for experimenting on her in the first place. Overlord, for enabling them (she never saw the man). Freedom Fighter, for buying her and giving her to Sanchez as a weapon. And finally, Sanchez, for being Sanchez. But she would wait. Let them think they have me under control. I’ll find a way.

After she had been purchased, Overlord’s people threw a bag over her head and shoved her in a car with Freedom Fighter’s people. After a long drive over a miserable dirt road, they came to a stop and shoved her in a plane. A small one by the sound of it, and by how any amount of turbulence sent her bouncing in her seat. Despite this she drifted in and out of sleep. After a couple hours they landed and transferred to a larger, better plane. They finally took the bag off her head in the dead of night. She saw only stars out the window, nothing on the ground.

They landed once again, as the sun came up to the left. She spent her time at a low end hotel in Venezuela, more specifically the middle of goddamn nowhere, so far as Miya could tell. They kept her prisoner there for three days, during which she nursed her hatred. They didn’t watch her closely, but then again they had the kill switch with them, running would very probably result in nothing but suffering. Overlord’s equipment had a very long range.

Then they packed her into another plane. Oh, no bag over the head this time. It must be Christmas. More flying, more driving, more sleeping for lack of anything better to do. The gentlemen accompanying her on the plane ignored her, save one. Her Spanish wasn’t the best, but she picked up the name Sanchez. She didn’t like the way he smiled when he looked at her. Even the other men seemed a little nervous around him. As well, he had a crude sort of telekinesis, making him the leader.

Freedom Fighter’s organization seemed to operate on might makes right on the combat level. She saw nothing of the actual brains behind everything. They didn’t truly fight for an ideal, only anarchy. This did not attract the best humanity had to offer. Sociopaths, rogue mercenaries, the odd lunatic, the dumb and illiterate, those were the ones Freedom Fighter used as cannon fodder.

They finally arrived at night in an abandoned runway where several cars awaited them. Miya caught sight of several signs telling them they entered Westward City. At least I’ll speak the language here. They drove to what appeared to be a district composed mainly of abandoned buildings, lots of homeless and few lit buildings. Graffiti everywhere.

Miya settled into their new building. This was easy, as she possessed absolutely nothing now. They showed her the room and tossed a prisoner jumpsuit at her, one that had seen better days. No need to spend money on little old me. Her room was devoid of anything beyond a bed with a disgusting mattress and stained sheets. Half the light bulbs were burnt out, and too much grime caked the window to be able to see through it. Naturally, the hot stream of the shower of the attached bathroom read cold, and the cold read hot.

No sooner had she taken in her new surroundings then Sanchez filled the doorway, remote in hand and an evil smile on his face. “Let’s see what this can do.” He pressed a button and Miya’s pain receptors lit up. She screamed. He chuckled. “Ah, too easy!” He pressed another button and the pain stopped. “I don’t need a machine to do my work for me.” Miya crawled up to the bed, sitting upright and panting, regaining composure.

Sanchez continued, “You know what I want. You’ll open your legs to me, willingly once I’m done with you. I bet you got a good bit of fight in you, but you’ll give in willingly.” With that he left.

And so it was for the next three weeks. Sanchez randomly entered her room at night and beat the tar out of her. At the end, he would ask if she was willing then. Her response varied between a shook head and spitting. He treated it like a game, never using the control device from Overlord.

The one time she fought back, throwing a punch in desperation, he caught her arm and twisted. Just twisted for five minutes, going further every time she adjusted to the pain. She fantasized about all the ways she could kill him. Better than contemplate giving in, though the thought had crossed her mind. I will not be some damsel or delicate flower in need of healing. If you do not kill me, I will kill you.

The rest of the fighters usually ignored her completely, and there was no one else in the building. Sometimes the bastards forced her to do magic tricks for their amusement, procuring bones so they could force her to use her power, just because they could. They were lax in their security, talking openly in front of her, though she was technically confined to the floor her room was on. She heard them talking about the latest exploits of Freedom Fighter, about how they were going to bring down the pigs of America, and other nonsensical drivel.

One day, about two and a half weeks in, she overheard them say something about a feral. That’s never good. Though she had to stop herself from laughing when they mentioned Freedom Fighter lost his arm to it. It was a demon with glowing eyes and everything? Jesus, you guys are idiots.

So another night, and Sanchez walked in once more, doing his thing once more, when the lights went out. Sanchez stopped, tossed her on the bed, and stood by the door, observing that the lights were out in the hallway as well. He pulled out his phone. “Damn thing, work. There was reception five minutes ago.”

He returned and watched Miya, who watched back warily. Neither spoke. No signals, no electricity. There’s something weird going on. They both heard noises come from the hallway. Sanchez walked out again, and yelled, “What the fuck are you doing here?” Fuck yeah, other people.

Miya hesitantly reached for her magic, nothing blocked her. She hurriedly reached for some of the nearby bones and rushed towards where Sanchez had gone. Sanchez was trying to run, Miya threw herself at him, taking out two months of accumulated fury on him, screaming something incoherent. The bones drew closer. She hit his knee to bring him down to her level.

Sanchez threw her off him with his power and attempted to get upright. She regained her feet first, kicking him square in the face. The bones were in arms reach now, she grabbed the broken one with the point and shoved it into Sanchez’s throat. Drown in your own blood, you son of a bitch. She meant to say that, but it came out as another scream.

“Whoa, calm down now. He’s dead. Get up and drop the bone,” said a distorted voice. Miya had forgotten the other people, the ones she assumed had enabled her current near freedom. She dropped the bone, released the others, and turned. There were two others in the hall with her.

The first, the one who had spoken, pointed a pistol at Miya’s chest. She looked like a somewhat smaller than average riot cop, without the shield. The mask and helmet explained the voice, which said, “I’m guessing you aren’t with Freedom Fighter.” No shit I’m not.

The one behind the cop was a feral. Far taller than Miya or the other, with wings and claws. I can see where they got the demon angle from. No glowing eyes though.

Miya might as well see if they were hostile too. “You’re that feral people’ve been talking about. Tore off Freedom Fighters arm. I’m guessing you two ain’t with him either.” Then, to Miya’s eternal shame, her strength gave out and she collapsed.

The feral moved forward. Don’t eat me. Instead it helped her up, asking, “Do you have a name?”

…Huh. “Just call me Miya.”

“I’m Olivia,” said the feral. “That is Delta.”

Miya nodded. “Thanks for the save. You two wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with everything electrical going all wonky over here, would you?”

“Yes, why?” said Delta.

“Well, Overlord did some experiments with me. Got a kill switch that will be activated once things return to normal in me that I would like out.” Miya did not want to talk about Overlord, but her freedom would be short lived if something wasn’t done about the devices controlling her.

“Oh shit. Overlord? You’re lucky not to be a brain in a box right now.” Delta poked her head into Miya’s room and guided her to the bed.

“I think that’s what they wanted to do originally. Good thing they don’t know much about magic,” said Miya, sitting down at Delta’s gesture. The feral, Olivia, followed. Delta pulled out a smaller version of the wands they use at airport security, then paused.

“Hey Olivia, remember that thingy I gave to you for the roof? Go and turn it off. Bring it back down with you too.”

Olivia nodded and left. Did she just boss around the feral? I wouldn’t run the risk of pissing her off if I were Delta. Delta asked Miya, “So what do you know about what Overlord did to you? I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to do anything, but anything you can give me will help.”

“Chip in my brain, I’d rather you not go poking around with that right now. They told me everything was set up to ruin my organs, my heart I think. Wires to pain receptors, keep me in line. Some stuff in my hands, to regulate magic.”

“Magic, huh? Wait…there. She got it.” Miya stopped herself from reaching for magic again. Don’t give the system a reason to screw me. Delta waved the wand over Miya’s upper body a couple times, then put it away. She tapped her helmet, “Come on…and done.” Delta remained quiet for a couple seconds. “All right. I think I can stop it from killing you, and back at base I can disable the rest of it. But it’s going to hurt.” She pulled out a combat knife about as long as her palm.

Olivia chose that time to return, metal spike in hand. She eyed the knife and hesitantly asked, “Delta, what’s the knife for?”

“So Miya here doesn’t die once Freedom Fighter’s people come back. Come here.” She turned to Miya. “Lay on your back on the bed. There’s a wire to cut in you. Olivia, hold her down, no matter what.”

Olivia’s eyes widened, and she hesitated. Delta said, “Now. Trust me.” This is going to suck. Miya laid down, and felt a sudden shock, knocking her unconscious.

***

She came around again, a portion of her back on fire. Olivia and Delta were arguing elsewhere in the room.

Olivia was saying, “…don’t think you should do that without telling them first.”

“Hey, it’s over with. If she’d have been conscious there was a good chance something stupid would happen, like her twitching and me cutting something important.”

“I’m still not OK with it.” They stopped as Miya groaned and sat upright, hands seeking out where Delta cut, near her left shoulder blade. I’ve gotten through worse. There was a gash on her back, covered by a bandage of some kind, Miya couldn’t see it. Please be clean. She began to reach for magic when everything started hurting again.

Olivia was beside her, Delta not long after. Miya waved them off. “Forgot. Can still hurt, just won’t kill now. Still can’t get magic,” she managed through gritted teeth. Fuck, knife wounds hurt.

Delta said, “Alright, Nomad and Skulker will be here in about five minutes. The other men are still tied up, so once we’re all clear we call the cops and let them do their thing.”

“Good, where are they? I’m going to go kill them,” Miya said, getting up and shakily walking towards the door. A large hand on her shoulder stopped her.

“No. You’re not going to kill helpless men,” said Olivia.

“Helpless? Good. They’ll get what I got.”

“No,” Olivia repeated, blocking Miya’s way. Miya’s rational side was telling her to avoid angering the large feral in front of her, especially since Miya was unarmed and powerless. Miya glared, but receded. Whatever, they’re little fish in the grand scheme of things.

“Fine then. How long was I out anyways? Thank you for that, for the record,” said Miya.

“Almost ten minutes. Ah, the others are here, Olivia.” said Delta. Olivia left. After a couple minutes two guys walked in, led by Olivia. The first was a big guy with a bandana over his face, the other was shorter, in all black, with a smiling mask.

The big guy nodded to Delta, who nodded back and said to the smiling guy, “Alright, jackass. Help me and Olivia carry some computers.” The smiling guy laughed and the three left.

The guy said, “I’m Nomad, in case Delta or Olivia didn’t tell you.” He motioned to the door. “I’m told you want to help against Freedom Fighter?” Sanchez’s body still lay in the hallway, Miya stopped to grab the bones from the ground. The two walked down the hallway.

“Yes. Yes I do.”

“So do we. However, you should know that the four of us are wanted right now….” he stopped walking as Miya started laughing. “What?”

“So am I. That’s not a problem.” They started again, reaching the stairs and going down.

“You didn’t hear me out. We are accused of aiding Freedom Fighter. We don’t, of course, but you should know that now.”

“Nah, we’re all good.”

“Good.”

They reached the bottom, exiting the building to where a car waited. The others followed soon after, packing the back with the computers and papers they carried. Skulker got in the driver’s seat, Nomad taking shotgun, while Miya and Delta got in the back.

“Hey, I’ll just follow overhead. I don’t think there’s room for me,” said Olivia.

“OK. Just stay low,” said Nomad. Skulker started the car and they drove.

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