Contract – Decentralize

“Gears.”

“Yep.”

“There’s only three people back here.”

“Yep.”

“We loaded five.”

“Yep.”

“Would you like to explain this sudden reduction in captives?”

“Nope.”

“Let me rephrase that. Explain this sudden reduction in captives.”

“Well, Nomad. You see… do you believe in velociraptor attacks?” Well done sir. Trying to pass off blame to the velociraptors, of which there are probably ten of in the world, and now ridden by Mexican bandits. Classic.

“No.”

“Then that’s unfortunate, cuz that’s within the realms of possibility. Speedy little buggers they are.” You have no idea.

“Let’s try this one more time. Seriously this time.”

“OK. The tattoo ones apparently had serious teleportation powers, cuz they just up an’ vanished seven minutes ago, as I watched ‘em. Not invisible, gone. Clothes, rope around their hands, an’ a pair of sunglasses are still there, didn’t go with ‘em.”

“So why didn’t they do that the instant we captured them? I can understand the ‘not wanting to fight naked’ part, but this doesn’t add up,” said Nomad.

“Maybe it’s not teleportation, or at least not something they can control,” said Skulker. See everyone? I has critical thinking sometimes on occasion.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they had a sort of psychic link when I had to subdue them,” said Nomad.

“You also had to fight the clown guy, didn’t ya?” Some Joker wannabe.

“Yes. Though I doubt he was the cause. Unless he followed us, but you or Olivia would have picked up on that. Other than the weird telepathy, the tattoo guys didn’t have any powers.”

“Duplicator or duplicators?” asked Gears, getting out and leaning against the opened rear of the BAT, where the three remaining captives lay. I’m surprised he’s using it for this. I thought he liked to keep his pet away from shady activities such as this. The damn thing drives like an old refrigerator.

It was still the middle of the night. They’d driven north, near the city’s shantytown. Ramshackle huts, made of corrugated tin and whatever other building materials the inhabitants managed to scrounge up, leaned against abandoned and rotting buildings. This was the area the police avoided if at all possible. So long as they didn’t do anything overt, they wouldn’t have to worry about anyone. Olivia took care of Guardsman, so only Purifier would really come towards here. Skulker, Guardsman, and Purifier were the only sole vigilantes in the city. Vigilantes were unofficial, and only unofficial things happened in the shantytowns.

Skulker had found a private place for them to conduct an interrogation of sorts. I used to patrol around here, I know this place. An empty parking lot, surrounded by chainlink fence with fabric over it to hide it from the outside. He’d driven, with Nomad riding shotgun and Gears in the back keeping an eye out on the captives and making sure they kept their heads down. Miya packed her golem into Delta’s car, along with Delta and the cash taken from the Undead they would use to pay The Company.

“Don’t know. They looked different, so I’m guessing two, though one is also entirely possible,” said Nomad. How dare we narrow it down.

“How long ago was that? Odds of them trackin’ us to here?” asked Skulker.

“Was about seven or so minutes before we stopped here, so no, odds are good we’re home free, considerin’ you drive like a lunatic on speed.”

“So where are the others?” asked Skulker. They’d turned off the comms, except for Delta. Less transmissions for someone to accidentally pick up on.

“Olivia’s flying around for a bit. She’ll find us later. Delta and Miya should be here any time,” said Nomad. Makes sense. We drove separately after all.

“Oh yeah. Why was Miya pissed off?” He’d asked Miya herself when she joined him on the roof, and received a nice glare in response.

“She was messing with one of these guys,” Nomad motioned to the captives. “Olivia told her to stop, and Miya started trying to pick a fight with her.” Gears snorted in disbelief.

“She picked a fight with Olivia?” I couldn’t care less about these prisoners, but picking a fight with Olivia? That’s like picking a fight with a teddy bear. “Tha’s like pickin’ a fight with a teddy bear. Except it’s an actual bear in disguise. Why would she do that?”

“I don’t know,” said Nomad with a shrug, not volunteering any more information. Olivia will probably fly around til we’re done with the info extracting. Doesn’t seem to approve of this kind of stuff.

A car drove up to the gate to the parking lot. Gears walked over, looked at it, and unlocked the gate to let it in. Delta’s car.

“Alrighty then, fellas,” said Skulker to the guys in the back. “Out with you. Line up where I show ya.” He grabbed the nearest one and pulled him forward to his feet. The rest glared. Skulker pulled out a long knife and twirled it in his hand. They got the message.

“Let’s do this,” said Miya as she and Delta got out of the car. Vicious little girl. He twirled the knife again.

***

“Alright,” said Nomad. “One more time.” One more time for you to fuck up and show us if you’re bullshiting or not.

“What? Why?” said the less than devoted Undead member. This guy had been the most cooperative. They had listened to the others, but the first one spouted nothing but lies and currently needed medical attention as a result. The first addresses he produced when prodded for information on where Nevermore liked to hang out happened to be a retirement home, a local restaurant, and a massive skyscraper owned by some bank. Miya only exacerbated the matter. The other just glared without speaking, and just spat every time they took out the gag. Nomad kept Miya away from the prisoners.

“Because once you finish we let you go, an’ your friend here doesn’t die. Last time,” said Nomad.

Looking uneasy, the guy fidgeted in his bonds and said, “Alright. Nevermore’s a guy out of Kansas City. He’s a cool enough guy, came up with the idea of getting into the drug dealing business ourselves, rather than just buying the stuff. We’re just doing stuff like ecstasy or weed, no meth or anything. He knew how to get better guns too. There’s a couple places we’re using…”

He began rattling off addresses, while Nomad nodded, encouraging him to continue. Gears loomed over the other two. Skulker kept half an eye on the proceedings as he kept lookout. He assumed Olivia was keeping an eye out in the sky, he hadn’t seen her since they raided the warehouse. Miya sulked near Delta’s car. Delta monitored everything the guy said. So far, everything checked out it seemed. The guy’s information hadn’t changed.

He came to the bit about Nevermore’s power. They hadn’t pushed him too far for anything on the other metahumans in the gang, that might make him clam up. Skulker perked up at that, Nevermore’s power sounded weird. “It’s a kind of area distortion thing. He doesn’t use it often. I know that he can’t move once he starts it, and it affects everything in the radius. I have no idea what the radius is, maybe a block or two. It fucks with everything. Gravity gets all screwy, you hear shit from everywhere, the lights flicker and go out. I’ve only been in it once for about a minute, and that was enough.”

Nomad asked a question Skulker hadn’t heard before. “Know anyone by the last name of Schrader?” What does this have to do with anything?

“Yeah, why?”

“One of you?” Nomad gestured the three captives.

“No. He lives at one of the other places. Why?”

“OK,” said Nomad, not answering his question. “Load them up.” He jerked his thumb towards the BAT.

“What? I thought you would let us go?” said the captive with a large hint of desperation.

“We’re in the shantytown, buddy,” said Gears, grabbing the angry one and hauling him to his feet. “We let the three of you go with that guy in that state, the lot of you are gonna die.” Has no one bothered to tell them we’re letting them go, still tied up, and then calling the police to come pick them up?

“The fuzz is still gonna getcha, but yeah, we’re droppin’ you off in a place we’re yer throat won’t be slit the second we drive off,” said Skulker. There we go. Honesty!

The guy’s protest was cut short by Nomad stuffing the gag back in his mouth and hauling him up. Good thing we cleaned those beforehand. Skulker and Delta grabbed the last guy, who stifled a scream of pain. Miya did something to his skeleton. She said it’d wear off in an hour or so. She’s a fucking idiot sometimes, that’s no way to get someone to tell you real information. Though that serves him right for standing between us and our paycheck.

They tied the captives down in the back so they wouldn’t pop up and escape or something. They hadn’t done that last time as they were more concerned with getting out of the crime scene they had just perpetrated.

The sun was beginning to rise, they would probably have to leave soon. “Anyone seen Olivia?” asked Nomad as Skulker tied the last guy down.

“She called in a bit ago. She’s fine,” said Delta.

“We gettin’ outta here now?” asked Skulker.

“We’re not just going to shoot ‘em?” asked Miya. The fuck is wrong with you? We said we’d let them go, and I’m not going back on my word, especially like that. There a reason you’ve got all weird all of a sudden?

“No. One, that’s kind of unnecessary. We don’t want a reputation for killing people in cold blood. Two, this’ll bring attention to the Undead. The bad kind. The force will see an opportunity with them weakened by us raiding that warehouse.”

“Yep. They found the drugs we left them. There’s a lot of radio chatter about them now,” said Delta.

Just then, Olivia landed. “Hey,” said Skulker as he waved to her.

“Hi.”

Nomad, Delta, and Gears talked by the BAT, while Miya still sulked on her own. She probably just needs some time to cool her head.

“Did everything go OK? Um… sorry I couldn’t help or anything,” said Olivia, casting a sideways glance at the three in the truck.

“Yep. Everything went fine. They cooperated, we got some good information out of them, the police will pick ‘em up at some other spot soon enough, everyone wins. Except them, of course.”

“We can’t just leave them here?”

“You get a look at this place?” asked Skulker.

“From the air, yes.”

“Did you notice anythin’ about it?”

“…no? Not really,” she said after a moment.

“This’s the shantytown,” said Ben. Aaaand you don’t know why that’s important. “Lots of unemployed. Lots of desperate people. Usually they gather on the outskirts of a city, but there’s a whole lot of nothing in terms of functioning businesses and whatnot here in this part of the city, so the homeless jus’ live here instead. Rent’s free in an abandoned building, same as a shanty, an’ Johnny Law only comes in here if he has to. Tha’s why we’re here. But if we leave those guys here, tied up, there’s a good chance they’ll die before the cops can come get ‘em.”

“OK,” she said, looking troubled.

“What’ve you been up to?”

“Just flying around. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that for fun.”

“Fun?” I guess that could be fun. “How’s it up there?”

“It’s nice. Kind of peaceful if the wind isn’t too bad,” she said somewhat defensively.

“Hmm. Gettin’ hungry. Me an’ Gears are probably gettin’ burgers after this. You want anythin’?” And then a nice long nap, because I could use some sleep.

“Sure,” she said.

Nomad spoke to the group at large. “Alright everyone-” The roar of cars on the roads outside cut him off, as well as something hitting the fence. A portion of the fence collapsed on Delta’s car, Miya barely jumped out of the way in time.

“Son of a bitch!” snapped Delta.

“Hello! Have you heard the good news about our lord and savior Jesus Christ?” screamed Membrane as he tossed a flaming Molotov cocktail through the opening in the fence. What the fuck is he doing here?

He saw Solid Tod standing next to him, both wearing the exact same outfits as before. Didn’t Olivia fuck up Tod? How is he back in action so fast? Beyond them, armed and masked gang members got out of three muscle cars. Skulker thought he spotted two with an inordinate number of tattoos. Well, they came back to bite us in the collective ass.

“Down now!” yelled Nomad, diving as the cocktail landed in the middle of the lot where they were parked. Gears and Delta followed suit. Miya had taken cover behind Delta’s car, still very close to the gun toting people outside, who began firing. This is bad. The only cover to be found was the two cars, one of which now partially under the fence. Skulker and Olivia, who’d walked a good distance off to the side and off balance from the small explosion, were out of only the most immediate of dangers.

Suddenly, Olivia flew off to crash against the fence on the other side of the parking lot (in all fairness it’s not a big parking lot). Never mind about that immediate danger part. In her place stood Tod.

“Get on your goddamn knees!” he spat in Skulker’s face. I’ll pass on that, thank you very much. Also, you don’t have good pattern recognition, do you? You did that to Olivia before, and look where it got you.

Gunfire, and lots of it, came from both sides. None came towards Tod or Skulker, no one wanted to hit their own man. Skulker managed to dodge out of the way of the haymaker Tod threw towards his head. Another dodged punch, and Skulker turned and teleported away to get some room. He turned around again, back towards Tod’s direction, and saw Tod lunge from a good fifteen yards away. I fucked up. Forgot about his power. Reflexively he froze time…

…and stopped Tod’s fist, an inch from shattering his skull. An inch, maybe two from my nose. Tod was frozen, and not just because of the time thing. He’d traveled about fifteen yards in the exact same position as he started, lunging fist first. At a guess: it’s a combo of teleportation and strength. He can hit things with the force of the teleportation, which isn’t instantaneous. And get moving, that’s two seconds already. His head already hurt.

He ducked under the fist, moving to behind Tod. Three.

Still moving. He grabbed his pistol. Four.

Still moving. Five.

He now stood behind Tod. He flicked the safety of his pistol. Six.

He prepared himself, standing firm and aiming directly at the back of Tod’s head, finger on the trigger. Seven. Time resumed instantaneously once he let it.

He pulled the trigger. A gunshot. Tod came to a stop where Skulker had been standing, then turned back towards Skulker and punched again, catching Skulker off guard. I fucked up…somehow. Also: ow. He’s gotta have some sort of invincibility if that bullet didn’t do anything.  Tod capitalized on his surprise, punching Skulker in the gut, elbowing him in the head, then grabbing Skulker’s head with both hands and driving it into Tod’s knee. Skulker mitigated the damage as best he could. Skulker’s thoughts devolved to: Fuck. OW. Fuck this shit. Fuck. Ow.

Skulker reeled back from the blows to the head, still standing somehow, and Tod would have kept attacking had Olivia not blindsided him with a tackle. Damn it, she shoved him, didn’t pull him to the ground. Skulker aimed his pistol and fired three shots. Two went close to Tod, missing, and the other hit Olivia in the wing, distracting her enough for Tod to wiggle free. Whoops. Fuck, I’m not at the top of my game today. And head injuries are not conductive to good aim. Though I don’t quite have a concussion, it felt like a standard guy hitting me.

He put away the pistol and pulled out a knife. I want to get close to you so you can’t do that annoying pulverizing strike of deadliness. Also, I’m copyrighting that for the kung fu game I hope to but never will make. Olivia slashed across Tod’s arm as he ran. Tod teleported away, ramming into the fence, though without enough force to break it. Skulker briefly considered letting Olivia handle him. Goddamn headache. Whatever. Quit bitching and get moving. One teleport, then two put him next to Tod. Before Skulker could stab him, Tod turned back and punched Olivia again.

Olivia staggered back, allowing Tod to teleport again. This is no fun, being on the other end of this. Things got even better. Another couple of cars drove up to the flanks of the BAT, where Delta, Nomad, and Gears ducked and returned fire at the original attackers, outside the fence. Fires on the asphalt from the Molotov cocktails Membrane used threw black smoke up into the sky. The new cars dropped off more gang members, who began firing at them. We can’t stay here.

Olivia apparently agreed with his assessment. She let out a roar and took flight. Wait a minute… He ducked right as Tod careened over him. Going for the head again. Tod overshot him, stumbling over Skulker. I’m a lucky son of a bitch. Skulker slashed with his knife, not caring exactly what part of Tod he hit. He gave a shallow cut to the back of Tod’s leg for his efforts. Before Tod could turn around Skulker drove a kick into the brand new knife wound. Tod dropped with a gasp of pain.

Right as Skulker was about to drive his knife into the side of Tod’s neck, gunfire erupted around him from the flank. He dove, rolled, and came up. Then a loud roar came from where the original cars came from. Good job, Little Bird. He pulled out his pistol with his other hand and fired in the direction of the new cars, not caring if he hit anything, just trying to keep them from shooting at him further.

With Tod forgotten, a series of teleports brought him to the others who’d moved out of the way of the flanking fire, except for Miya, who still hid by Delta’s car. He could hear Undead members screaming something about a feral attacking. Good job, Little Bird. Skulker heard the sounds of doors slamming shut. The gunfire from the flank dwindled.

“They’re running. Let’s get moving,” ordered Nomad.

Through the opening in the fence Skulker could see Olivia menacing the fleeing gang members. The tires of one car squealed as they began peeling out of the area, barreling down the street. They’re leaving in a bit of a hurry. They must have sent a message to the flanking cars, because they weren’t shooting anymore. Everyone began shooting at the fleeing Undead, making them panic even more. They left two people behind. Three, if Tod didn’t make it to them. Should have finished him off. Skulker and the rest pumped the back of the last car to leave full of holes.

Membrane had been left behind. He was busy trying to light the rag in another cocktail when Nomad shouted at him to get down. Membrane, who’d been focusing on the nearby Olivia, turned their way as the three of them sprinted towards them. Miya sat injured where she’d hunkered down for the firefight, and Rob went to cover her. Where’s the golem?

Membrane laughed and continued with his lighter. The rag caught the flames. Great. Before Membrane could do anything with it, Nomad shot him in the gut. Skulker teleported, caught the bottle before it hit the ground, yanked out the rag, and threw them in opposite directions from anyone. Holy shit, I caught that.

“Stay down,” said Nomad, catching up and shoving the business end of his rifle at Membrane.

Olivia and Delta joined them. Skulker kept lookout, to see if any more Undead felt like messing with them. He only saw the other guy they left behind. Still alive, too. It appeared neither side suffered any fatalities. Delta joined Nomad in keeping Membrane down, though no one wanted to get close to the man to fully subdue him. Whatever, it looks like the fight’s knocked out of him anyways.

“Be quiet, you,” said Delta to the laughing and crying Membrane.

“Nononono, you didn’t see her did you?” managed Membrane. Why the hell are you still bothering with that suit? Smells and looks awful, and there’s a lot of bloodstains on it. A lot.

Skulker looked around. A fire dying out in the parking lot. Buildings and shacks devoid of people. Olivia, Nomad, and Delta standing around the downed Membrane. The BAT with its windows shattered and bullet marks all over it, Gears leaning over Miya by Delta’s car. Skulker keeping watch. That was it.

“I don’ see anyone other than us,” said Skulker. “Who’s he talkin’ ‘bout?”

“No, you idiot! No. Her.” He jerked his head towards Olivia. He met her eyes. Then he spasmed, arched his back and screamed. His scream turned into more unhinged laughing.

“What about me?” asked Olivia quietly with an unreadable expression.

Membrane laughed on, heedless of the guns in his face. “She doesn’t… Bwa ha ha! She doesn’t know. HA! She doesn’t remember,” he gasped out, shakily pointing at Olivia with the three fingered hand, the other hand applying pressure to the wound in his gut. Membrane dissolved into maniacal laughter again. I think this fucker looks at all the bad shit in your past. And lives it, if he’s gone insane because of it. That probably means he sees someone’s trigger, if they had one. Holy shit, hold up…

“What are you talking about?” demanded Nomad.

Membrane said, “She blames the universe, but no. NO! Only a small part deserves it. Very small.”

Let’s see if this works. “An’ wha’s the worst?” asked Skulker.

“They’re one and the same! Don’t you see! They’re one and the same! She’s looking for both, good and bad.” Oh come on. No riddles. Just say what you mean. That’s just maddeningly vague and unhelpful.

“Both? What do you mean both?” asked Nomad. Skulker shot a quizzical look at Olivia, standing there without moving. Membrane just laughed hysterically. That’s getting old now. Stop it.

“You ever read the Bible, kiddos?” asked Membrane in mock seriousness.

“Yes. What does that have to do with anything?” said Nomad. Membrane just laughed.

Delta holstered her pistol. “I don’t think we’re going to get a straight answer out of this guy,” she said. “Think anyone will care if we tie him up here? He’s definitely wanted, so the cops might pick him up eventually.”

“That’s probably a good course of action,” said Nomad, his attention on Membrane not wavering. “You should probably go check on the other three guys we left in the back of the truck, too. See if they’re alive or ran off or what.”

“Gotcha.” Delta set off in a light jog towards the BAT.

Olivia still looked like she was in a state of shock. Maybe we want to hold on to this guy, see what he knows. The early morning sunlight began asserting itself across the sky, they wouldn’t be able to move around in relative secrecy any more. We’ll deal. No one walked in the streets, no doubt a combination of being in the shantytown and the recent sight of a major shootout.

Membrane still chuckled softly to himself. Nomad shifted, glancing at Olivia. Membrane took the opportunity to kick him in the balls while grabbing at the barrel of the rifle, pushing it to the side so that the reflexive shot on Nomad’s part hit the ground. By the time Skulker brought his own gun to bear, Membrane was already on his feet and rushing towards him. Fast fucker, aren’t you. Skulker’s shots went wide as Membrane rammed into him.

“Where do you think Heather is now, Ben?” Membrane whispered to him. Ehhh?

Skulker’s pause allowed Membrane to hit him in the head (again, damn it. I don’t have infinite brain cells you know) and take off in the other direction. As Skulker recovered from the explosion of pain, Nomad went into liquid form and gave chase. He recovered from that ball kicking like a champ. Or does the physical pain go away when he’s liquid? Olivia still stared at the spot where Membrane had laid. Don’t break down now, Olivia.

Nomad suddenly backed off, Membrane had held onto his lighter and set part of his suit soaked in alcohol on fire. Jesus. What? Skulker took aim. Shit. Should I shoot him? That might kill him. We probably want him alive. In that moment of hesitation Membrane slipped out of sight.

Skulker ran to Olivia. “Hey,” he said, reaching up and shaking her shoulder, “He’s gettin’ away. Olivia?” No response. He sighed.

Skulker teleported to Nomad, who’d returned to human form and curled up. Nope, he did not recover. Skulker overtook him, and closed in on Membrane, still partially on fire. A car, one of the Undead’s, if the fresh bullet holes were anything to go by, pulled up. A door opened. Membrane tossed off the burning suit jacket and jumped in. The car sped off. Goddamn it. He fired off a couple shots after them on general principle, but it was no use.

Nomad shakily ran up beside Skulker. Skulker said, “He got in a car, they came back for him. He’s gone.”

“Fuck,” said Nomad, sounding short of breath. “Let’s get back to the others and get out of here.” Two fights tonight. Damn I’m tired.

“You alright there, bud?”

“No. I’m trying not to throw up right now.” It took everything in Skulker’s power not to laugh. It is a rare occasion where nut shots aren’t funny. Then again, they fucking hurt.

Nomad went back to a liquid and flowed back; Skulker just teleported. I ain’t jogging back. Olivia had finally come around, and was currently lifting the fence off of Delta’s car. Delta was patching up Miya as best she could. Gears was angry.

There was one the Undead member still left behind. He’d been shot, and crawled a small away. Gears walked up to him. “You FUCKERS,” he shouted, kicking the guy fully onto the ground. He cried out in pain, the kick must have hit one of his injuries.

“You shot up… my fucking… truck… you worthless… son of a bitch…” he shouted, punctuating every few words with a stomp to the guy’s head. The guy wasn’t moving. If he was, he’d be a fucking zombie that was immune to headshots, because he doesn’t have much of one left. That’s some scary shit right there.

“FUCK,” roared Gears to no one in particular.

“How are we looking?” Nomad asked Delta as that happened.

“Miya needs some real medical attention-”

“No, I’m fine,” managed Miya, cutting Delta off.

“Shut up. No you’re not,” scolded Delta.

“Can she be moved?” asked Nomad.

“Yes. I. Can,” said Miya through gritted teeth, standing up to prove her point.

“Fine, be that way,” said Delta. “Two of the Undead we captured are dead. The last one left is that angry guy. How did they find us and how did Membrane escape you three?”

Skulker looked over to Olivia, who stared in horror at Gears, covering her mouth with both hands. Now what?

Nomad said, “He knew… stuff. I’m guessing that’s his power. He knows I don’t like fire. I’m not sure about Skulker though.”

“Good job, jackass,” said Delta condescendingly. Fuck off.

“Hey, fuck right off, hon. Nomad’s right. He knew shit.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Delta with no small amount of skepticism.

“It means he drags up all the bad shit in your past and uses it against you,” said Miya. “Secret shit you’ve never told anyone. Didn’t we tell you about him?”

“No, apparently not,” said Delta.

“Apparently. We can talk about this later. We need to get out of here. Think your car is working Delta?” said Nomad.

She got in and started the engine. “Yep.”

“Gears, outta here,” called out Skulker.

“Gotcha,” he called back, sounding much more cheerful. I bet that was cathartic if nothing else.

“Hey, Olivia,” Skulker called out next. She jumped. “You alright?”

“Sorry, yeah,” she said, looking away. Bullshit. Whatever, we’re leaving.

“We gotta go. You head back to the lair, yeah?”

“OK. Sorry.” You say that a lot. She jumped up and took flight.

He took the driver’s seat of the BAT, while Gears got in the back and Nomad took shotgun. Miya and Delta got into her car. “Where we headin’, Nomad? Sent Olivia back to the lair, but we got two bodies and a dude to offload.”

Nomad sighed, squeezing his eyes shut momentarily. “I’ve got a place in mind,” he said. And we’ve got to figure out how they found us so quickly, and why Tod and Membrane are with them, and why Tod’s in fighting shape. Never was a fan of mysteries.

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Hunting Season – Hide or Seek

“What? The fucking Koitsenko are here?” Miya shouted over the riot. She sounded genuinely concerned. She wore some spare clothes Delta had given her, though they fit loosely. Miya stood shorter than anyone else in their group, which meant she barely reached Olivia’s elbow.

“Soon,” said Nomad.

“How do you know this?” Delta asked Nomad.

“Cyrus is keeping me in the loop, as much as he can. He’s the one that gave me the advance warning at HQ when Marcus put up the warrant for my arrest. He’s not out of the Unit though, at least not yet.”

They moved on foot; the others had been forced to abandon Delta’s car by the mob (Olivia had flown directly above them, keeping low). This time, Freedom Fighter’s soldiers were in the mix, distributing guns and generally stirring up more chaos. A lot more people composed this riot; they were in a more densely populated area than the first. This riot was very similar to the first one otherwise, only an order of magnitude more violent.

Olivia and the rest passed a group of riot police launching tear gas into the crowds, Olivia flew far around to avoid those grenades. A police helicopter made its presence known with bullets; still better than inhaling tear gas. That would probably completely incapacitate me. Her nostrils burned anyway, just by the virtue of being in the general area as the police launched tear gas grenades.

Like last time, the closer they approached Freedom Fighter’s location, the more violent things got. Dead bodies unattended by the living. Fires, looted stores, shattered windows, wrecked cars, combinations thereof. More screaming. Olivia’s group hadn’t quite reached the point of no return, where Freedom Fighter’s power would actively affect someone. More than likely this riot was inevitable, Freedom Fighter or no. He just made things a lot worse.

Before they left the lair, there had been reports of riots breaking out in New York and around the capitol. People dissatisfied with the current state of the economy and/or the government, or people who would use any excuse for violence, all took to the streets.  Less violent protests formed in most other cities.

Olivia and her group made their way through side streets and alleyways. Rioters sometimes took shots at them, but by and large the riot focused more on the police, a visible symbol of what they protested, than they were on Olivia’s little group. Thankfully, their aim was terrible. Olivia hated flying so low, but the helicopters above them would probably spot her and shoot at her again if she went much higher. Normal handguns hurt, she didn’t want to feel what the much larger guns on the helicopters were capable of.

They ran below I-25, heading north. We must be getting close, there’s a lot of gunfire and shouting up ahead.

“We’re comin’ up on that fuck ugly factory. F.F.’s bolt hole is close, right?” asked Skulker. They slowed down as the top of the factory in question came into sight: a huge brick building, old, abandoned, the majority of the windows broken if not outright missing.

A voice called out ahead of them. “I seeeeee youuuuu! Gimme a torch,” followed by unhinged laughter. That doesn’t bode well. Olivia saw a pale man, smirking and staring at them from down the street. A swarm of people ran up from an alleyway behind him.

To their right, a large group of people, maybe ten or so, turned the corner and headed straight for them. Naturally, they all carried some sort of firearm, though otherwise none of them would stick out walking around on a normal day. They opened fire. “Get that door open,” ordered Nomad as he and Miya returned fire at the people to their right. Skulker and Delta fired in the direction of the man. I guess that means me.

She tried to door of the aging building to their left. Locked. Now what? Wait, I’m an idiot. She rammed the door with her shoulder, sending it crashing to the ground. Apparently I have a thing against doors, because I’ve destroyed about five of them now. “It’s open,” she called out to the rest, moving inward and out of the doorway for the others.

They filed in, Skulker bringing up the rear, pistol aimed out the door. Sweat, adrenaline, a little fear, but no blood that Olivia could smell from anyone. Skulker knelt by the door, pulling something from his explosives bag at his hip. “Claymore by the door,” he said over their comms, low enough so that no one besides them could hear him over the gunfire.

“Cut through, keep moving,” said Nomad.

Miya and Delta started moving, Skulker teleporting to join them. Olivia held back, waiting for Chris. She heard people shouting, approaching where they were. The building featured few windows and walls of concrete. That didn’t mean people couldn’t shoot through the door. Better I get shot in the back than you. He seemed to have the same idea, because he shifted to liquid form. Better a liquid get shot than me. No complaints here.

Olivia ran to rejoin the others, Nomad flowing behind her. Olivia gagged as something awful reached her nose. Something is burning, something that isn’t meant to be burnt. Then the wall caved in, a good distance away from the door.

In the newly made hole stood two men: the pale man Olivia saw moments earlier on the streets next to another, taller man. Kind of skinny, actually. The pale man wore the remains of a charcoal suit. Frayed bits of string marked where the buttons used to be, the right sleeve ended in a ragged tear around the man’s elbow, and a white-ish stain marred the pants. Don’t think about what that might be. At all. The once-white shirt beneath looked like it had been scribbled on with purple crayon. A noose wrapped around his neck in place of a tie. A noose. Why would it be anything else?

He held a rusty machete in his right hand, what appeared to be a burning stick in the other. On closer inspection, the stick had some sort of tar wrapped around it. She felt sick as the burning tar seared her nostrils, acrid smoke forcing itself into her lungs. The man holding it wasn’t much better. You don’t believe in personal hygiene, do you? The pinky finger on his left hand ended in a knobby purple stump.

In comparison, the man next to him was fairly ordinary. Dressed in green camo, he held no weapons in his hands, though a pistol holster was strapped to his hip. He wore a tan ski mask over his face, along with dark sunglasses. Behind the two men, more people like those on the street before rushed forward.

The pale man laughed and walked forward towards Nomad, back in human form at the sight of the burning torch. “Why thank you, Tod.”

“Shut up and kill the other, Membrane. I’ve got the feral,” responded Tod.

“Guys, help,” said Olivia on the comms, right as she heard gunfire from where they were. Too much to keep track of.

“Busy over here,” barked Skulker.

“I’ll skin you alive!” cried out Membrane, brandishing his machete and attacking. Nomad ducked under the swing of Membrane’s machete, trying to back up away from the man, presumably so he could shoot him. Membrane didn’t let up. Nomad would have to drop his rifle or keep dodging in hopes of getting enough space.

Olivia turned to help, when out of the corner of her eye she saw Tod move. Suddenly something hit her, hard, and she hit a wall, also hard. She barely had time to register the fact that Tod stood where she had moments before when he raised a fist and moved again. She hit the wall again, hearing it crack. Her head rang from being whipped into a wall twice, her ribs and shoulder hurt from where Tod hit her. Stop it.

Tod, now right next to her, seemed confused. Off balance, she tried to slash at him, forcing him to back up. Now with a little breathing room, she shook her head and regained her bearings. Tod still backed up, well out of arm’s reach. He stopped and moved forward, almost too fast for Olivia to catch. His punch connected, though he moved far faster than humanly possible. This time she did go through the wall and onto the street.

She started getting up, shoving down the pain. “How are you alive?” said Tod, right before he rushed forward again, with a kick this time. She managed to brace herself, and was shoved back a foot or two, her hands and feet leaving long gouges in the concrete of the street as the kick connected with her shoulder. She heard sharp cracks, and felt other, smaller things hitting her.

“Watch it, you idiots,” shouted the man hitting her. Kill him. She let out a threatening hiss and pushed forward. He tried backing up again, but she was done being cautious. She followed, now on two legs. He changed gears, darting to the right, then striking again. He didn’t hit nearly as hard as before, but she twisted, her heel claw getting caught in the ground and tripping her up. He drew his pistol and fired point blank while she caught herself from falling.

She grunted as the bullets hit the palm of the hand she held up in the direction of his gun. The man said something else, Olivia didn’t know what. Something buzzed in her ear, she dismissed it. He turned, trying to get away. Close enough. Her tail whipped around and the tip took out the man’s knee. He went down with a scream, and Olivia lifted her foot to bring down on his head. He rolled as she brought her foot down, cracking the pavement. More things hit her, prompting a hiss of pain. She ignored them otherwise; the man hurt more.

The man attempted to crawl away, having lost his gun…somewhere. I’m forgetting something. He’s not it, he’s not food, he’s beaten. Don’t kill. Shouts and gunshots came from everywhere, but familiar scents came from that building, the one with the holes in it. So did something bad smelling.

She reentered the building. There were two other men fighting in a new room; one familiar, a blue thing over his face and a rifle clipped to his uniform; one dirty and laughing. She heard and smelled other recognizable people further down in the building. A couple other people eagerly watched the two fight, fingering various weapons.

Olivia struggled to remember the name of the familiar man. Not important. Needs help. She grabbed the nearest bystander, resisting the urge to simply tear something important out, and threw her into the other two, knocking them down. Olivia followed that up by running forward, bringing her foot down on a dropped rifle as a man reached for it, impaling his hand. Olivia lifted the impaling toe and roared. The three ran.

“Your mommy died screaming in that car. She shat herself! Too bad daddy was already gone. No saving him.” The familiar man froze momentarily at that. Don’t just stand there. She struggled to remember his name, but was reasonably confident she liked him more than the other. Nomad! That was it.  Tears ran down dirty man’s face, and his laughs sounded more like sobs, but he still advanced with machete in one hand, burning stick of wood in the other.

“How the fuck did you know these things?” Olivia heard Nomad whisper. Dirty man giggled/cried and swung the machete again.

Olivia let out a growl and moved forward to intercept the man. Alerted to her approaching, he swung his torch in her direction, prompting a violent spat of coughing from her as she breathed the burning tar. Nomad still wasn’t moving, though she thought she heard him whisper something else. Guns going off right next to one’s head deafened even normal people. Suddenly more shots rang out, from the interior of the building. More people to fight. A short woman was aiming at Membrane. Miya, her name is Miya. Don’t fight.

“The prodigal granddaughter returns!” Membrane shouted over the noise. Miya hesitated and stopped firing, lowering her pistol slightly before raising it again. “Yeees. I see things. Secret, secret, heart shaped things. Or brain, I never can remember.” A pause, the man twitched before continuing. “You will never find Don, or Overlord. And I’m here to make sure you don’t find Freedom Fighter.” The mention of seeing things evoked a recent memory. Membrane.

Miya looked stricken when more gunfire came through the holes in the wall, the gunmen probably didn’t care if they hit Membrane or not. Miya and Nomad took cover. People approached the doorway, but the first was killed by the claymore. The rest retreated. You will stop hurting them.

Olivia reached up behind Membrane, forcing herself past the burning tar. She tore the torch from his grasp, along with another finger of his, and threw it as far away as possible. Her other hand wrapped around his neck. He swung the machete at that arm, which bounced off harmlessly. She took that from him too.

Membrane grinned with bloody, or straight up missing, teeth (Nomad hadn’t been idle, contrary to popular belief) as he grasped at Olivia’s hand around his neck. “You can’t kill me! I’m already dead tomorrow.” Olivia threw him as hard as possible. He disappeared through the hole Olivia went through earlier. She heard a thud.

Olivia ran to where Miya and Nomad were. “Olivia, over here.” They had taken cover behind another interior wall, out of view of where someone outside could shoot them. Olivia’s ribs hurt. And her arms. And her head. And her back. And her everything else. Bullets hurt. Come back, adrenaline. And where are Ben and Amanda?

Suddenly, the amount of gunfire outside doubled. At the same time, less and less bullets came in. “Go, go, go,” said Nomad, pointing in the opposite direction. They got up and ran. They opened a door and came face to face with five heavily armed MHU officers, supported by two more hulking figures in power armor. Where did you come from?

“Don’t move.” The voice was eerily reminiscent of Delta’s, though Olivia couldn’t tell which it came from. Her ears buzzed from the constant audible assault of recent events.

Olivia hissed and moved herself between Nomad, Miya, and the rest. The two power armor figures raised their much larger guns in her direction.

“Olivia, no. Do what they say. Calm down.”

She froze, eyeing the officers warily. More boots behind them. We’re never getting this Freedom Fighter Business over with, are we?

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