Contract – Real Time Cash Flows

We need to shut Nevermore down, now. Wait, of course they couldn’t hear that. It’s always fun trying to talk like normal when you don’t have a mouth. Or lungs. Nomad flowed forward, engulfing another Bratva soldier and slamming him against the wall. Nomad flowed off, taking the man’s gun with him and chucking it behind him, out of the construction site. Blackout and Whiteout followed behind him. I would tell them what to do, but I can’t talk right now. Several bullets hit liqui-Nomad, entering with a quiet plop and coming to a stop about a foot in. Never mind, I take back every complaint about my power.

“Right side, right side!” yelled out Whiteout. Blackout turned and began firing in that direction, giving the three Bratva a pause for thought.

Nomad snagged two nearby Bratva. He ignored the incessant sourceless whispering, the dim, flickering lights, and the fact that gravity oscillated in strength in certain places he spread out over. The gravity part is incredibly annoying, actually. Everything moved in almost slow motion. He pummeled one man (he could exert force within himself just as easily as outside), the other’s arm he twisted until something went pop.

The Undead had panicked once the attack began. Some thought the Bratva betrayed them, and proceeded to make Nomad and his group’s job much easier. Others ran directly into Gears and Miya. Rob didn’t bother with hostages or hand to hand combat, and Miya’s golem had a similar lack of remorse. The more dead Undead, the more likely they are to break up. Whatever helps me sleep at night. Olivia crushed one of the Undead’s cars as she came in.

The remaining six or so Bratva around Nomad’s group began to rally. The rest were either down or fleeing with their leader guy. These were Russian immigrants, some of them no doubt ex-military. Nomad would be surprised if at least one of them hadn’t served in Siberia or Afghanistan. Two took cover behind a concrete barrier and forced Whiteout to Nomad’s left to duck behind a concrete support column. The hail of bullets would overwhelm his shield rapidly, and then move on to his vital organs. Damn semi-auto weapons, and damn the competent people using them. Blackout actually had the advantage here, his shield kept them from shooting him with anything resembling accuracy, and bullets would not break it and force him to take the time and effort to reform it.

Nomad flowed and washed over them, one managing to dodge out of the way in time. Hey, there’s a grenade on one of them. He pulled the pin and flowed away as fast as possible. He joined Whiteout by the large support column, expelled the random bullets and dirt from himself, and reformed into his normal self. It took him a long moment to feel his hands and feet again. Hate that feeling. Nervous system doesn’t reform quite as fast, and it only gets worse the longer I stay a liquid. He heard the grenade explode behind him, accompanied by some screams as men died. Jesus, did that happen right next to me? That was extremely loud.

“We’re good, go,” he shouted to Whiteout next to him, now the noise muffled for some reason. Now it’s quiet, now it’s loud. This needs to stop. “Where’s Nevermore?” he asked. He winced as his earpiece shocked him, and the chatter from the rest of the team stopped. Damn it, why? Oh well, it doesn’t work when I’m liquid anyways. I’ll make do.

Whiteout poked his head around the column, Nomad doing the same from the other side. Through the flickering lights he saw Blackout drop his gun (it still remained strapped to his uniform), using a baton against an armored Bratva with a sword. A super, I’m guessing. Who uses swords nowadays? Cinder had broken through the ceiling, and had engaged the Galina woman. The rest of the Bratva had escaped or were dead at this point. This is moving faster than we thought. And is an incoherent mess.

“Found him,” said Whiteout. From his body language Nomad could tell he shouted, but it sounded like he yelled through a pillow. “Middle, for some reason.” And there he was, with two guards. Galina near to them let out an explosion of some kind, and the two guards staggered, one dropping.

“Blackout needs help,” shouted Nomad as loud as possible.

“WHAT?”

“BLACKOUT,” repeated Nomad, accompanied by a frantic gesture towards the armored soldier hacking at Blackout, who desperately backed up towards Nomad and Whiteout.

Too close together to shoot at them. Whiteout used his shield to interfere with the soldier’s sword swing while Nomad resumed liquid phase and came to Blackout’s side. The Bratva tried another stab with the tip of his sword towards Blackout. A white orb appeared between the two, deflecting it. Then Nomad was on him, twisting his arm to make him release the sword, then compressing his chest to knock the wind out of him. Nomad spat him back out towards Blackout, ready in case the man was more resilient than most. The man wasn’t, he provided no resistance when Blackout hit him with his baton twice more to be certain (no idea what his powers are, best to be cautious), then pulled out some cuffs. Real cuffs, not the zip ties we’re using.

In the middle of this, gravity suddenly increased threefold, and a horrible metallic screeching sound came from nowhere. Blackout stumbled, then everything blurred around them. Nevermore. He’s one of those guys who need time for their power to get to full strength. Nomad managed to flow away from the area of increased gravity, to a part resembling normal. Light from the spotlights struggled to illuminate the area.

Nevermore still stood in the same place on his own, the others around him were gone. Nomad didn’t see Miya or Gears, he knew Whiteout and Blackout were still behind him, Cinder and Galina hammered at each other, the ground occasionally vibrating from Galina’s explosions. Olivia was on her knees in front of an Undead member leveling a gun at her head. Bad. Nomad started towards her.

Her head jerked, and she fell to the side, beginning to get up again with only a slight pause. The guy shot again, and must have been feeling cocky, because he advanced to right next to her. She backhanded his knee, beginning to get up for a third time. How is she still moving? Her free hand shot forward and dug into the guy’s gut as he began to fall. Now on her feet, she pulled back with her grabbing hand. Her other hand hooked around to the base of the guy’s skull. Some blood and a separated chunk of skull, and the guy lay still on the ground. Olivia stood. Nomad made it about ten yards in the time it took this to happen.

His first thought: She can be pretty lethal when she wants to. His second: Holy shit. Olivia? The same one who protested killing people every step of the way? She turned to the closest person, Nomad, and began to growl. Fuck. Not this again.

He backpedaled quickly. Don’t provoke her, don’t provoke her. She considered him second, sniffed the air, then turned away and stalked towards Nevermore without a word. I hope this goes how I think it will go. The lights flickered on and off, giving a sort of strobe effect, and gravity once again threw down on Nomad. Olivia grunted and kept moving. Everything sounded normal again, just in time for Nomad to be nearly deafened by another Galina explosion. Cinder rocked back from it, managing to not let go of Galina’s arm. As loud as it was for Nomad, it must have been worse for Olivia, because she stopped and let out a roar of pain, hands held to her head.

It took her several seconds to get back fully on her feet, and Nevermore still just stood there. Gears and Miya reached Nomad in the intervening time.

“How we doin’?” asked Gears, coming up beside Nomad.

“OK. Olivia’s pissed. Where’s everyone else? My communicator’s not working.”

“Laura and the rest are fighting the fellas who escaped. Whiteout an’ Blackout left to help, they’re puttin’ up some good resistance.”

“That’s Nevermore, right?” asked Miya, pointing to Nevermore.

“Yeah,” said Nomad.

“He hasn’t run yet?” Olivia began to run towards him.

That’s… actually a good point. Why hasn’t he? “That one guy we interrogated said his power didn’t let him move,” he said.

“So why didn’t he stop using his power and run?” said Miya, some condescension slipping into her voice.

“They did mention something about him not having great control, and it feels like he’s been using it pretty hard,” thought Nomad aloud. “Maybe he can’t shut it off on his own at this point.”

Olivia didn’t take long (poor dude can’t even move), and everything snapped back to normal. No flickering lights, no strange gravity, no whispering from nowhere.

“That was straight outta Mortal Kombat,” commented Gears.

“Olivia?” asked Miya. “The hell? The fuck did they do to her?”

“Someone shot her in the head,” stated Nomad.

“Who?” asked Miya. Her golem shifted, taking humanoid shape and forming a large club capped with a cow skull on the end of the single arm.

“That corpse over there,” said Nomad.

“Oh. Well, that’s best,” she said, looking almost disappointed. Getting protective, are we?

“She’s remarkably spry then, all things considered,” said Gears with a chuckle. How is this funny? “Should we do somethin’ ‘bout scary Russian lady?” He jerked his thumb towards Galina.

She let out another explosion, and Olivia roared again. Fuck. Does she know friend and foe right now? Cinder finally got a good hold of Galina, and punched her in the temple twice. She went limp. That about wraps it up. Hold up…  Olivia still marched towards Cinder and Galina.

An oblivious Gears walked to intercept her, waving shouting, “Hey, fan-fuckin’-tastic job there!”

She flinched at the sound, then stood her ground and hissed at him, claws out. No, no, no, you idiot, Gears. Gears stopped.

“What the hell?” he asked her with no small amount of indignation, throwing up his hands with his shotgun in one. Wait, that’s right, he hasn’t seen her in a murderous frenzy before.

She reacted to the motion, rushing forward with her shoulder and ramming Gears. The seven foot tall mass of metal that was Gears in armor staggered back. A followup swipe of her hand tore off a part of the armguard he raised to defend himself. Olivia picked him up and slammed him on the ground, landing on him and pinning him to the ground. God damn it.

Nomad fired two shots in the air. That got Olivia’s attention. She recoiled away from the sound for a moment, before getting to her feet and off of Gears. “Back off, back off,” he shouted to Cinder and Miya, waving to the side at them to get away. “Gears, stay down, stay quiet.” Don’t agitate her. She doesn’t seem to like loud noises.

Olivia made a weird rumbling sound, stalking towards Nomad.“Olivia,” he said, enunciating each word clearly. “You know us, Olivia. Calm down.”

She advanced.  He slowly put his rifle off to the side. Won’t do too much good anyways, and I can just go to liquid if this goes wrong. “Olivia…” he repeated, raising a placating hand. That got a not-bad response. She stopped, hesitating, though still watching through narrowed, suspicious eyes. She stopped baring her teeth too, that’s a start. Now what?

“Calm down. We’re done now.” He advanced, slow and steady, hands out to the side. He stopped when she let out a hiss. “Olivia, come on now.”

She glanced to the side, at Gears dutifully laying on the ground (I really hope he’s not dead or something) and at Miya, watching on with concern. Olivia sniffed the air, then slowly curled her hands back up. She let out a breath and scratched the back of her head.

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

“You OK now, Olivia?” asked Nomad.

“What?” she asked.

“You OK now, not going to attack anyone?”

“What? I can’t hear you.” She looked over him with concern. “Wait, that was Gears back there.” She whirled around and rushed over to where he lay.

“Ow, fuck,” he said as he accepted her help standing up. “Why did you do that?”

At the same time Olivia said, “Sorry, sorry. I’m really sorry. I didn’t… I’m sorry.” She sounded close to tears.

“It’s all right, I guess,” said Rob. “What the hell were you doin’?”

Olivia stood there looking at her feet, hands behind her back, not responding. Gears cocked his head to the side. “Olivia, you with us?”

“Sorry. Did you say something?”

“Say yes if you can hear this,” he said. Olivia didn’t respond. Gears’ face is covered by a mask. She can’t tell what he’s saying.

“The hell was that?” said Cinder, joining them. “That looked an awful lot like a feral attack to me.”

Nomad sighed. Just one thing after another to deal with. “I don’t know. Nevermore might have messed with her head, I know some dude shot her in the head. And now it’s sounding like she’s deaf. I’m not sure if that was a pun or not but that was unintentional.”

“Wait, in the head?” asked Cinder.

“Yes.”

“Wow, alright,” he said, sounding more understanding. “You up to date on what’s going on outside?”

“No, my comm’s gone,” said Nomad. Delta’s going to be pissed to have to replace that.

“They’re wrapping up outside. The cops will be here soon, you and your people might want to scram.”

***

They pulled into the lair an hour later, split between Nomad and Gears’ cars. After the Watch made Miya give back their gun, and Delta took photo evidence of Nevermore’s death (and the Watch promised to forward them the official rulings). Olivia’s deafness put a damper on the otherwise high spirits of a contract completed. We still need to make sure the Undead split up, but I doubt that will be a problem. There are still a bunch of metahumans, and a power vacuum.

Nomad, Skulker, and Delta got out of his car, while Gears’ truck went around to the back. Nomad opened the door as Olivia and Miya’s bone pile climbed out of the back. Other than Olivia, no one received any injuries.

As everyone began peeling off gear, Chris pulled Miya off to the side. “Can you do anything with ears?”

She sighed. “Are there bones in ears?”

“Yes.”

“Seriously? Bones?” asked Miya as she went to check on Olivia. “I guess that does make sense, I wondered what those tiny ones were for. Now you,” she said to Olivia. “Hold still.” She grabbed her arm. After a moment, Miya said, “This is going to suck, I’m not gonna lie.”

Olivia said, “What?”

Miya held her free hand up to her own ear and mimed an explosion. Suddenly Olivia doubled over and thrashed, breaking Miya’s hold. Her feet clenched, cracking the concrete floor. Miya staggered back. “I was hoping that’d knocked her unconscious.”

Olivia’s hissing continued for a long, tense moment. The hissing stopped, and Olivia came back upright, noticed everyone watching her, then ducked her head again. “Sorry,” Chris heard her murmur.

“Hey, can you hear me?” asked Miya loudly. Olivia’s eyes scrambled.

“Ow,” she said.

“Crap. Sorry,” said Miya in a more normal voice. “Can you hear me?”

“I… can kind of hear you saying stuff. It’s all really muffled. But there’s still this weird ringing sound in my ear, I can hear that,” said Olivia.

“Miya?” asked Amanda.

“I don’t know how ears work. Sorry. I told the little bones to go back to the way they were before about a day ago. It’ll take some time.”

“No. That ringing’s tinnitus, I’m pretty sure.”

“So wha’s that mean?” asked Ben, joining them.

“Erm,” stalled Amanda as she got on the internet. “Could be permanent, could go away. It’s weird, it looks like.”

“We’ll have to wait and see,” said Miya. “Not much we can do.”

There was a prolonged crash behind them as Rob tripped over his armor mannequin. “Fuck,” he said as the bits scattered all over the floor.

“The fuck you doin’ over there?” asked Ben with a laugh.

“Shut up,” called back Rob, starting to pick up the pieces.

“Alright,” said Chris. “Amanda, you contact our client?”

“Lemme go do so,” she said.

“Who wants some celebratory food?” asked Ben enthusiastically.

“Not burgers again,” groaned Miya. “I swear I’ve gained ten pounds from the damn things.”

“Hey, that’s the fastest stuff that’s also meat for her,” Ben said, motioning to Olivia. Hold up a sec, she’s been sitting there watching us talk without knowing what we’re saying.

He pulled out his phone and typed “do you want food?”, then passed it to Olivia.

She read it and smiled slightly. “Yes please.”

“Um, we could get barbeque again,” said Ben.

Amanda said, “And they’re not open. Only fast food joints are open this time of night.”

Miya said, “I guess. I am starving.”

“Food is good. I like food,” called out Rob.

burgers?” typed Nomad. Olivia nodded.

“We’re good for burgers again,” he said for himself and Olivia.

“Right on!” Ben said.

As he drove off, everyone else began settling down, Olivia joining them when Miya waved her over. They settled into companionable silence. Which is good, because it would be a dick move for us to hold a conversation in front of Olivia while she can’t hear.

***

They spent the next two days monitoring the Undead. Nothing had been heard of them, and Jeremy seemed satisfied. The exchange happened smoothly, and entirely online. And I never have to be in the same room with that man again. It’s a win-win, really. The Watch had sent a message thanking them (we really need a name) for their help. Amanda and Chris reciprocated, and from what they could tell Marcus had finally gotten distracted by other things than hunting Olivia.

Olivia’s ears had healed enough for her to hear again, though she still mentioned a constant ringing in both. Which there’s nothing we can do about, which is driving Miya up the wall. Nevertheless, Ben and Rob declared it true celebration time, and dragged off Miya and Amanda to help them get more alcohol. As if all the rum, vodka, everclear, and beer he got last time wasn’t enough. And I’ve gotta figure out how much I’ll owe him for this.

Chris joined Olivia at the table. She’d been staring at the surface for the last ten minutes. I should very probably say something, I haven’t been around here that much lately. She’d spent most of the last day just flying around, and hadn’t really spoken much at all. He had no idea if she would hear him if he spoke quietly, and knew full well she wouldn’t like him raising his voice to louder than average levels. Normal, and hope for the best.

“How you holding up?” he asked.

“I’m OK,” she said. At his doubtful look, she added, “I think.”

“What do you mean by think?”

“I… um… I don’t know. It’s stupid.”

“Come on, Olivia. I’m not going to make fun of you or anything.” At least I guess that’s why she’s so hesitant.

She took a moment. “I killed a guy… again.” She sighed. “I hated every word of that sentence.”

“Olivia, a guy shot you in the head. I think that’s justified.”

“I know. It’s… I don’t know. Did Amanda tell you anything?”

What is this? “I don’t believe so.”

“Oh. Ummm… well… I… that… that’s happened before.”

“Yeah, with Freedom Fighter, right?”

“No.” Chris suppressed an internal groan. That can’t be good. She continued, “I… I forgot your name the first time we fought Membrane and Tod. And Miya’s. And everyone else’s. That happened again that night, and look what happened. I think I hurt Rob, and I’m an idiot, and-”

Chris cut her off. “Don’t worry about Rob. We went over this already. He’s fine, he’s not angry or anything, and this doesn’t sound like anything you can control. You’re not dumb, no more than anyone else.”

“But I killed people again.”

“So?” … wait. I goofed. Way to be an idiot, me.

“So?” repeated Olivia. “Weren’t you in the police? Why are you OK with this?”

“Because I don’t care about Nevermore or any of the Undead, and neither does anyone else,” said Chris. “There are over nine billion people on this world, Olivia. Human life just isn’t worth as much as it should be. Notice how we never really knew any of those faceless guys we mowed down? I just don’t care about any of them. Besides, there’s always more people. Each of them had their own struggles and emotions and everything else, and I couldn’t care less about any of that.”

“But it’s still not right,” said Olivia. Chris strained to hear what she said.

“So? Lots of people die, all the time. It’s them or us, and I do care about us. You get used to it, I guess. Protect and serve all you like, it’s hard to stop every dick with powers from causing at least some harm to the populace.”

“So why did you join the police?” asked Olivia. Chris sighed softly.

She noticed. “Sorry,” said Olivia.

“It’s a long story,” he said. “My parents died in a car crash when I was fourteen. That’s actually how I got my power, only reason I’m alive. The guy got about fifteen years in prison, and the state had the pissed off kid with new powers that was me. They sent me to a foster family, a married couple with no kids of their own. The husband is an accountant for the Freeman Company, the wife was an MHU officer. She’s retired now, don’t worry about the past tense.”

He gave a soft chuckle. “I have no idea how they put up with me for four years, but they did. They’re good people, we visit for Christmas and Thanksgiving. But looking back I want to punch young me in the face for being so obstinate, but they were patient.”

I was a temperamental, self-centered kid who was a jackass for no reason to everyone around him. It was more of a personal failing than anything else. And everyone would just chalk it up to the recent deaths and be so full of pity. Oh, the endless, goddamn pity. Whatever, don’t need to tell Olivia that. I don’t even know why I’m telling her any of this.

“I got better, met Alice once I got into high school a year later. She helped a lot, I’ll be honest.”

“Alice?”

“My girlfriend, yeah. I have no idea what she saw in me, but we made it work. Five years as of last month.” He stopped. Fuck me. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Olivia’s wing practically wrapped around him. He glanced at her. She kept her head down, eyes fixed on the table in front of her, fidgeting with the hem of her shirt.

“Anyways,” he managed, “the guy got let out on parole after about two years. At that point I decided to be a cop, so I could stop those kinds of things from happening.” And now I can’t, because even after all this, I’m probably blacklisted from the police and the military. God DAMN it, Marcus. “So, yeah,” he finished lamely. “That’s my story.”

“I’m sorry. That’s awful. I couldn’t… couldn’t imagine losing one of you guys,” she said.

“No worries, we’re not going anywhere. And this was years ago,” said Chris, forcing some cavalier-ness (is cavalier-ness a word?) into his voice. “Cheer up, we just…” Don’t mention the contract, though she’s probably right. “survived a good amount of danger.” What the hell did I just say? “Come on, let’s get everything ready for the rest.” Something to do, rather than just sit there.

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Contract – Fast Track

The next day had an initially pleasant surprise: Amanda finally had Olivia’s phone ready.

“Here you go, give it a try,” said Amanda, passing the phone to Olivia.

Olivia took it and flipped open the phone. The screen read “Yes or No.” That was it. But… what’s the question? There’s no question on the screen. Maybe I’m just missing something. She pressed “Yes.”Error.” The “Yes or No” reappeared. She pressed “No.”Error.” What?

“Need some help?” asked Amanda.

“Um…” She showed her the screen. “I don’t think it works.”

“Damn it. That shouldn’t happen. It worked before.” Amanda grabbed it, muttering the foulest curses Olivia had ever heard.

“Hey, Amanda,” started Ben, wearing a plain red shirt. Amanda said nothing, probably trying desperately to ignore him. “Amanda. Amanda.” A pause. “AMANDA!” he screamed almost directly in her ear.

“WHAT?” she screamed back. Ow. Please stop shouting.

“Danger zone!”

“No. No. None of this,” she said. “Go away.”

“So how is yer great an’ superior techie power workin’ for ya?”

“Go fuck yourself.”

“Reserves of intelligence depleted?” Amanda glared. Ben continued, “Don’ worry, hon, happens to a lotta girls.” What did he just say?

At Amanda’s expression, Olivia gently smacked him upside the head on general principle. Gently in this case meaning his head jerked and he stumbled forward a little bit. Was he being sexist? I think so. Better safe than sorry.

“Stop it,” said Olivia.

“Get away from me, right now,” said Amanda, still glaring at Ben.

Ben snickered and rubbed the back of his head, leaving to join Rob, wearing a plain green shirt so everyone could tell them apart. Rob was doing… something over there, Olivia hadn’t asked what yet. Something that warranted lots of sharp metallic clanks from his anvil. Amanda took the cellphone back to her desk and plugged it in to a computer. Miya rolled her shoulder at the table in the meantime, working out any remaining kinks. She’s finally able to move it around without grimacing. A couple days ago Olivia had to separate her and Amanda; some tensions remained about Miya trying to leave. Chris talked on the phone outside of the lair. Then the door opened and Chris came back inside, putting away his phone as he did so.

“Look alive,” he announced to the lair at large. “The Watch just called me. They know where Nevermore’s going to be tonight. We’ll need to be moving in an hour or so.” Really? I kind of got the feeling that they didn’t like us too much.

“Seriously?” asked Ben, voicing Olivia’s skepticism.

“Seriously,” replied Chris. Everyone began gathering around him. One of their biggest hurdles, as it was with Freedom Fighter, was simply not knowing where Nevermore was.

“Apparently there’s a big meeting between the Undead and the Russian mob, the Bratva. The Watch wants to swoop in and break it up, but they don’t have enough manpower. It’s a big meeting, and the Watch only has four people right now,” said Chris. “They asked us to assist. I told them about the hit on Nevermore’s head, and they were OK with it.” Seriously? Am I just a strange anomaly when it comes to this?

“If they’re looking for manpower, why didn’t they tell the police?” asked Miya.

“The Watch’s got a weird relationship with ‘em. They don’ like runnin’ to the cops every time somethin’ major happens. They would’ve if we weren’t here, but they’d rather not,” explained Ben.

“And I’m guessing you and Olivia were the ones that told them about us in the first place?” asked Chris. They’d told him what they did when they got back last night, but he hadn’t asked any questions about it. Good. I thought Ben would have made me explain everything again.

“Yep,” said Ben.

Chris nodded. “OK. This meeting between the Bratva and the Undead is going to be a major one. There are going to be a lot of hostiles there. And even more footsoldiers, but we’re going to have the element of surprise if we do this right. The Watch wants to meet up in about an hour to talk strategy.”

“This a trap?” asked Rob.

“Possibly, but I doubt it. Also, tangent question for you, Ben. Why did you have so many explosives in your old apartment?

“I got bored,” was his glib reply. “An’ every problem can be solved with the proper application of explosions, might I add.”

“Yeah. That’s super illegal,” said Amanda.

“I’m aware,” said Ben. Of course you are.

Chris sighed. “That’s why the police are actively looking for you. Anyways, if the Watch was gunning for us, they wouldn’t have let Ben and Olivia go so easily. Laura was pretty clear about that, and she’s got a good head on her shoulders.” I don’t really know anyone outside of the five of you, do I? Chris continued, “I’m willing to meet with them, and I don’t think there’s any real reason to arrest Amanda, but if the rest of you aren’t comfortable with meeting them, you don’t have to.”

Ben and Rob exchanged glances and shrugged. Miya said, “I’m good.”

Everyone looked at Olivia. Oh, right. “Sure,” she said.

“Alright,” said Chris. “You have an hour to prepare,” he said to the group. “Also, the Watch told me they might have Purifier on board, just as a heads up. They’re not sure on that though.” Another vigilante. I really hope he’s not like Guardsman. The group dispersed.

***

“No Purifier?” asked Nomad as they walked into the back of the restaurant. Why is everything we do at night? It makes us seem… illegitimate. Wait, we aren’t exactly on the right side of the law. Never mind.

“Nope,” said Cinder as he held the door open. I can live with that. “This is owned by a friend of ours. Don’t mess with anything.”

Inside stood or sat Laura, Blackout, and Whiteout around a table. A beat up, crooked old table. Olivia could see three different deep gouges on the top, and a set of blueprints only partially concealed a large dark discoloration on the rough surface of the wood. The table wasn’t large enough for all ten people, so only Laura, Whiteout, Nomad, and Delta stood around it. The rest went off to the side, in easy listening distance. I can just look in over Laura’s head anyways.

“So what are we looking at?” asked Nomad.

“The Russians your people helped us apprehend were led by one of their boss’s enforcers, a woman named Galina,” said Laura without preamble. Getting right to it then. Also, that explains why there were two or three supers in that group of five people. “She escaped, but her men didn’t. They mentioned this meeting, and they’re well placed enough that we believe them to be credible. The Undead are mostly just kids playing part, but the Bratva aren’t to be underestimated.”

As Laura continued, Olivia overheard Cinder tell Blackout, “All we need to do is blast the national anthem loud enough. They’re Russian, they’ll just ignite. Like daylight to some vampires.”

“I, uh, I don’t think it works like that,” responded Blackout through the black cloth of his mask.

Olivia asked Miya next to her in a low voice, “Why are they Russian?”

“There’s a lot of Russian immigrants here, I think. Doesn’t snow nearly as much here,” said Miya.

Gears, to her other side, said, “Russia’s not a nice place to be, since the whole fall of communism thing. Siberians don’t really like humans.”

“What?” asked Olivia. What is this about Siberians? And the fall of communism?

“You’re going to have to be more specific,” said Miya.

“Sorry. What’s a Siberian? And what’s communism?”

“Wha’s communism?” repeated Skulker in a hushed voice. Laura and Nomad still talked, Delta and Whiteout chiming in on occasion. “Ya are familiar with what a government is, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s start here. Wha’s democracy?” said Skulker.

“Voting. Right?”

“Eh. Basically,” said Miya.

Gears said, “It’s super complex, an’ we don’t really have time to go into it, but basically us, ‘merica, and communists, Russia, were in a cold war, an’ occasionally hot, for about forty some odd years. Then their economy collapsed or somethin’, this was ‘bout when we were born so I’m not entirely sure on the specifics, an’ now here we are.”

“When you say hot and cold wars, does that mean…” Climate? No, that’s dumb. Um… maybe it’s…

Before she could finish her thought Skulker said, “Cold war is two guys talkin’ shit an’ sizin’ each other up.”

Gears finished, “Hot war is actually throwin’ punches.”

“While interesting, I still don’t know what communism is besides Russian,” said Olivia.

“It’s not Russian. At least not necessarily,” said Miya. “You’ve basically got the right wing way of thinking and the left wing way of thinking. Those are more economic schools of thought, but for right now I’m including some social implications. The right is more for the glory of the nation rather than anything else. I know Mexico is fairly right wing because of Cuauhtémoc’s philosophy. The US is considered moderately right, I think a good third of all presidents have also been active generals. The prevailing theory is freedom to do what you want with stuff leads to a sort of utopia, but if the Nazis proved anything it’s that that concept is very easily subverted. Communism is the exact opposite, trying to eliminate private property. Spreading the wealth for the good of the working class, spreading the revolution and whatnot. Ultimately the government tells you what to do, and a populist dictator takes over using proletariat rhetoric. None of this is exclusive to one country. Socialist, and I know that’s not the same as communist but you’re going to have to roll with it for now, exist everywhere, and corporations exist everywhere. So it’s a choice between the lesser of two evils. That’s my understanding at least, and grossly oversimplified, but people take entire college courses on this kind of stuff.”

Olivia, Gears, and Skulker stared at her. “How the hell do ya know all that?” asked Gears. That must have been too loud, because the talking at the grown up table faltered for a moment before resuming.

She shrugged. “My grandmother was pretty nationalistic, and not American nationalistic. My two older brothers gobbled that communism shit up from those pamphlets the communist party would sometimes go around distributing where I lived.” I didn’t know she had siblings.

“Alright everyone, gather round,” called out Whiteout. “We need to see if there’s anything glaringly stupid in the plan we’ve hashed out.”

Everyone crowded around as best they could. “So the two gangs are meeting in this construction site in two hours. It was supposed to be a children’s hospital, but funding dried up.” Oh god, that’s terrible. “It is somewhat within Bratva territory, or at least what they claim as their territory. The police do have a good hold on some of it, but after Freedom Fighter, the mob has reasserted themselves in this part of the city.”

“What are they hopin’ to get from the Undead? Or vice versa?” asked Skulker.

“The Russians are well known weapons smugglers. The Undead are better entrenched in large parts of the southern parts of the city, and there’s no one who doesn’t want money. The two of them occasionally clash on the outskirts of each other’s territories,” explained Whiteout, his eyes on the blueprints. “That doesn’t change the fact that they’re going to be here, and in force. About seven parahumans, and maybe twenty to thirty foot soldiers.” This sounds really dangerous. Really, really dangerous.

“Now that all of us are here, and we have a rough idea of what everyone can do, we have a plan,” said Delta.

“Which will turn to shit the moment we meet the enemy,” said Skulker. Everyone looked at him. “What? It’s Murphy’s Law… I think.” That thing again.

Cinder snorted in amusement, and Delta said, “Anyways, there are three entrances, one of which is fairly out of the way. We split up and attack from both directions except one. That way will still be guarded, but they won’t know that. They’ll run for that, rather than standing and fighting and overwhelming us with their numbers. Me, Laura, and Skulker will…”

***

Olivia and Cinder stood on a tall building in the Tech Center, a sort of second downtown area primarily for businesses. Cinder surveyed the area with a pair of binoculars. At least I don’t need those. After another pass Cinder lowered his binoculars.

The ability to fly made them the most mobile of the group. They watched for the Undead, supposed to come in from the southern part of the city. Delta, Laura, and Skulker watched the third, hidden exit to the abandoned construction site. Gears and Miya took the Undead entrance to the meeting place, and Nomad, Blackout, and Whiteout took the Bratva entrance. And we get to be the advanced scouts. And we get to make our own entrance as well.

The plan called for the two flying bricks to hit the center of the meeting. Gears’ group and Nomad’s group would move in once everyone was sufficiently distracted. So it will be just me and Cinder against a bunch of people, on our own for a bit. And everyone else is in trouble if we don’t do this right. She took a deep breath. No cars came this way that she could hear. Her ears were better now. Of course they’ll be hurting just as much, if not more, by the end of this. The shotgun pellets she’d taken to the chest yesterday still hurt when she moved too much, but that wasn’t crippling, just mildly annoying.

She took a deep breath. Don’t mess up.

“Hey, you all right?” asked Cinder, making her jump. This was the first thing he’d said to her all night. “You look nervous.”

“Oh, sorry. Yeah. Kind of.” Good job me. Way to be weird.

“First time doing this?”

“Yeah. I haven’t done anything like this before.” The Freedom Fighter thing had been more trying to avoid a large fight like this, rather than instigate it. Everyone was expecting a lethal firefight. The Watch wielded submachine guns with some weird German name this time, and even had a spare one with enough spare ammo for Miya to use. They have a lot more money at their disposal than we do. Miya was pretty happy about the new toy.

“Eh. It’s alright to be nervous. So long as you don’t fuck up because of it, of course.” Of course.

“I know. I just don’t want anyone of ours to get hurt. And it is kind of depressing that this is a failed children’s hospital.”

“Wait, so you understand the implications of a children’s hospital running out of money, but you don’t know what communism is?” he said with a small smile.

“I know. I’m weird. I can’t remember a lot of stuff.”

“No kidding. That is unfortunate.”

“Olivia, Cinder, got eyes on the cars?” asked Delta through the comms.

Olivia, who’d been keeping an ear out, said, “No, nothing.”

“Alright. The Russians just arrived, so the Undead should come your way any moment.”

“Thank you, Delta,” said Cinder. The comms cut out, and he glanced sideways at Olivia. “You gonna be able to do this?” he asked.

“Yeah. Sorry.”

Another silent minute, then Olivia heard cars, approaching very fast. “I hear some cars.” No going back now.

Cinder perked up. “Where from?” She pointed him in the right direction. Three cars, like the ones that ambushed them in the shantytown, hurtled down the road. “Idiots,” she heard Cinder mutter under his breath.

As he kept track of them, Olivia said over the comms to everyone else, “Hey, the Undead are coming.”

The groups sent in their various confirmations that they’d heard, and Cinder attached his binoculars to his belt. He hovered up into the air, and Olivia took that as her cue to take flight. They followed the cars a fair distance in the air away from them. As they approached the meeting place, Cinder looked back to Olivia and motioned upwards. He flew with his arms held to his sides, and legs held as straight as possible. That looks awkward and uncomfortable, but he doesn’t fly using an enormous wingspan, so I guess I shouldn’t judge.

They reached the top of the half finished building. The skeleton of the hospital jutted out from a concrete foundation. The site itself had weed growing from the exposed barren earth. The construction companies had even taken the heavy equipment away to other, better paying projects. The only walls Olivia saw were the concrete walls of the foundation on the ground, where the meeting was supposed to occur. The Undead drove in through a gate in the chain link fence around the site. Some armed guards kept a lookout in the middle levels of the skeleton, but Cinder and Olivia flew silently.

They landed as quietly as possible, the rumbling of the idling engines masking the sounds of Olivia’s claws clanking and the thuds of Cinder’s boots on the I-beam. They looked down.

The Bratva had vigilant guards on their side, watching every which way. Everyone seemed to be packing heat, except the Galina woman from before, standing to the side of another, older man at the fore of the Bratva group. The Undead, in contrast, lounged by their cars in a blob, only one bothering to watch the way they came. Which is Nevermore? At least five different people smoked cigarettes. Olivia coughed. I’ve smelled it before, but that is just foul up close.

“Alright,” Cinder whispered. “Skulker, do you have a good idea how many there are up here with us?”

“Five,” he responded. I think I hear more nearby.

“Um…” said Olivia.

“What?” asked Cinder and Skulker.

“I think there’s six. Two there, there…” she pointed out the separate individual Bratva soldiers. Two talking in Russian off while patrolling on the partially finished third floor. Another sat in a hole on the second floor, overlooking the meeting place with one hand on a rifle. The other three were scattered about on the fourth floor. “One is behind a big support column, Skulker.”

“You sure?” asked Cinder. They’re not quiet in those boots.

“Yeah.”

“Not a deal breaker, but good. Skulker, you know who you’re shooting?”

“Yessah. I’mma shoot the guy on the overlook. His back’s to me, so he’ll fall right onto the rest of the party.” Guy on the second floor. I think. I hope. I don’t want to mess this up.

“Good. You get to kick this off.”

“Goody. I’ll tell you all when,” said Laura.

“We need to take out the guys up here,” said Cinder to just Olivia now. “You go in from the south, I’ll take the north. We’ll meet up in the middle, then Laura or Delta will have something for us. Worst come to worst, you lose contact or I die, go for Nevermore if you can. He’s the area affecting guy, he can fuck up everyone should he so choose. Be loud, don’t die.” Right. Don’t die. That’s important.

“Everyone else ready?” asked Laura.

“We cool,” said Gears.

“Ready,” said Whiteout.

“All good,” said Cinder. That’s everyone. Deep breath.

“Bueno. Shooting in five, four…” Skulker trailed off, presumably concentrating.

Once Skulker began his countdown, Cinder nodded to Olivia and hovered upwards. Get moving, me. You know full well where the guys up here are. Go. She jumped into the open air. Remember what they said. Move and take out quickly. Break bones. I really have no desire to do that. She turned as sharply in the air as possible, towards the first person.

Still too high to make visual contact with her target, she heard Laura in her ear yell, “GO.” A dull crack. She swooped in towards the soldier. Shouting from below. The woman saw her as she came in, beginning to bring her gun up. She collided before it moved more than a few inches. A couple reflexive shots went wide.

She landed on top of her, pinning her chest under one arm, Olivia’s other arm grabbing her gun arm. She heard shots from somewhere else on the floor. Cinder.

Gunshots sounded different, and so far all she’d heard were hunting rifles, shotguns, and various pistols; mobs, or her friends, or gang members using whatever guns they managed to scrounge up. The prolonged low rattling of Cinder’s submachine gun stood out to Olivia. Right, I have things to deal with right now. She’d considered shouting to check the “be loud” block, but couldn’t think of anything appropriate. Well, the gunfire will be good enough.

She elbowed the woman in the face as hard as she dared. Her head jerked to the side and she stopped struggling. Unconscious. Keep moving. She jumped to her feet. Cinder had the other two down. “I got the next two,” he shouted. “Get down there.” Did the lights just flicker?

For the second time she jumped out of the half finished building, this time heading for the ground floor. She nearly crashed as she heard a faint whisper from directly behind her, over the sounds shouting with various levels of panic. Whoa, what was that? People were firing guns all over the place now, sometimes without anything concrete to hit. Another whisper, followed by another crack from Skulker’s rifle, much louder this time.

She went down two levels, then dove in through an opening above the ground floor, tucking in her wings as far as she dared to avoid getting caught between two support beams. She landed in a roll on one the roof of one of the Undead’s cars. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Nomad in liquid form slam a Bratva soldier against the concrete wall. Another crumpled soldier laying against the opposite wall. He took up most of the entrance, allowing Blackout and Whiteout to move forward.

She smacked one Undead member aside with her tail, then grabbed another who reacted too slowly, jumping down from the hood. Something hit her back. That’s annoying. And the lights are getting all weird. She bent the elbow of the Undead she held. I’m really sorry. A crack, this time from bones. She threw the guy aside, not wanting to do any more harm to a guy who probably was out of the fight at that point. Then another crack, this time from Skulker’s rifle. This time she saw an exposed guy jerk a bit, then fall. Don’t think about that right now. Don’t.

The area was complete chaos. The Undead ran in different directions, firing wildly and blindly, except for three in the rough center of the construction site. A small group of Bratva surrounded and escorted the older man away from the area. The attention of the rest was mainly on the floors above where Olivia had been, though she saw some Undead and Bratva exchange fire. Galina kept with the escort, until Cinder burst down through a hole he just made. There was a huge one about ten yards to your right. Why did you do that? A concussive blast emanated from the woman, near the three Undead. Two fell, one just stood there. Cinder bore it, then charged. Ahhh! That hurt a lot.

The lights were definitely flickering off and on, and the whispering Olivia swore she heard became more insistent. Everything seemed to move more sluggishly, her limbs not responding immediately like they always did, instead with an almost imperceptible delay. From what she could see, the same was happening to everyone else. She saw a guy spin around for no reason, then trip. She could barely hear anything beyond a faint ringing sound in her ears. This is a weird feeling. Wait, what was Nevermore’s power again?

She removed her hands from her ears (when did I do that?) took another step in the direction of the three more composed Undead, which took a lot more effort than she was accustomed to. This needs to stop now. With Gears and Miya with her golem coming up to finish the last of the Undead, Olivia made for the last three, one of whom still lay writhing on the ground. The old Russian guy and his guards had left through the third entrance. Cinder and Galina engaged in round two. The remaining Bratva soldiers, about five or so, more than they had originally anticipated, fired at Nomad’s group, keeping Whiteout and Blackout under cover.

She ran, making a concerted effort not to trip over her foot claws. One guy, Olivia took him to be Nevermore based on the black clothing and raven mask, hadn’t moved from his original location, despite the fact that Galina and Cinder nearly leveled him a couple time. The other had dragged the third out of the way, and noticed Olivia. He opened his mouth, but no words came out. He shot. She stumbled as the bullets hit her chest, agitating the previous bullet wounds. He backed up as she continued forward, reloading.

Olivia had been hearing nothing but faint ringing for the last couple moments, no talking, no footsteps, gunshots were so faint she could almost take it as part of the ringing. Suddenly a piercing screech pierced her ears, drowning out the ringing and everything else. Her eyes scrambled. This continued for five or six second. Bad, I’m on my knees. Stop him. Kill him. She began to get up, and a foot hit her in the shoulder. She glared up, none of her momentum taken. The Undead soldier leveled his gun at her at point blank.

A bullet hit her in the skull.

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Contract – Crowdsourcing

Shotguns were very loud, especially when they went off right next to one’s ear. Please stop. My ears will be ringing for the next couple hours. Olivia raked her claws along the side of the shotgun, catching something, she didn’t know what, and yanking it from the grasp of the gang member. She grabbed his arm and twisted it to behind his back before he could get away. What did Ben call it? A chicken wing, that’s it. He started struggling, then discovered this only twisted his arm in a direction it was not meant to go even further. Olivia didn’t budge.

She hesitated to twist further, the fight mostly already knocked out of the kid. She wrapped another arm around his upper chest, lifted him off his feet, and dropped his face into the ground. There are probably better ways of doing that, but whatever, it worked. One knee on his back, she pinned both hands against his back and bound them with plastic zip ties. Handy little things, and Delta’s got about a million of them. She pinned his legs down and did the same to them with two.

Nomad kept two more restrained in his liquid body, only their heads not submerged. Skulker threatened the last with a knife to the throat. Skulker had given the guy a small cut to the forehead, a surprising amount of blood came from such a small wound. Olivia walked over to Nomad with more zip ties, Nomad twisting the guys within him to allow Olivia easy access to their hands and feet.

She heard the metallic clicking of a pistol from where Skulker and the fourth guy stood. “Down on the ground,” commanded Skulker.

With that done, Nomad snapped back to his usual self and said, “Thank you. That should be all. Skulker, how you doing?”

“We cool,” he responded. All four of the Undead, none with powers, lay on the ground, hands and legs tied down.

“Do you want to do the honors?” Nomad asked.

“Bueno,” said Skulker, pulling out his phone. In the other hand he held his pistol. He dialed 911. The operator picked up and Skulker immediately fired two shots into the air. “Gunshots at the corner of Evans and Holly. I think they’re the Undead. Four of them.” Another three shots and he hung up.

Nomad spoke to the Undead. “You heard him. Cops are coming, and we’re leaving. She’ll,” he gestured to Olivia, “be watching to make sure none of you escape.” They glanced between him and Olivia. “Good day to you,” he said as he inclined his head in a brief nod.

She nodded as Nomad turned into liquid again and flowed off, Skulker teleporting after him. Olivia watched the surroundings and the Undead, and took off once the sound of multiple cars approached. Oh, no sirens this time. Olivia’s group (we need a name) had done this before, they knew the process.

They had spent the last three days harassing the Undead, breaking up drug deals, taking out any armed bands they found, and generally terrorizing them. The police helped too. They had raided two more compounds like the one Olivia’s group had taken out three (or is it four?) days ago. Olivia’s group had given up on taking captives after the first fiasco at the shantytown.

Olivia flew back to the lair, the cops having found the bound Undead members and shoved them into the patrol cars. Wait, is that Skulker down there, sitting on the roof? It was. He talked on the phone, swinging his legs as he sat on the edge of the roof.

“…two, where’d he get one exactly like ours? You made it. An’ somethin’s off ‘bout him.” A pause as Olivia came closer. “Yeah. Fuck. Try to see what you can get on yer end, ‘K? Lock Corp. don’ always have the best security.” Another pause. “Yessah. Ciao.” Maybe this is something I shouldn’t be just stumbling into. Maybe.

“Hey!” he said as Olivia landed.

“Hi. Where’s Chris, err, Nomad? Sorry.” Whoops. Rob and Amanda were doing their own techie things, Miya was still healing, though she said she would be fine tomorrow. She’s been saying that every day, and every day Chris or Rob or Amanda tell her no.

“He went on ahead, I had to deal with some stuff with Rob. He’s talkin’ to the new Company fella,” said Skulker, not getting up. Olivia joined him.

“Something wrong?” she asked, concerned.

“We’ll see. Not right this moment.” He doesn’t sound like he wants to talk about it. I think.

After a minute or so, Olivia asked, “Hey, Skulker. I have a question.”

“Yeah?”

“Why do you always use a knife or gun or something? You don’t have to.”

“Haven’t we had this conversation before?” he asked.

“Well, kind of. I’m not judging, just wondering about, you know, the logic behind it. I don’t know why, I guess.” She’d given up on trying to get them to stop completely. I can still try to limit the bloodshed. Though I thought Chris and Amanda would be more on my side.

“Olivia, do ya realize how high up the power scale ya are?” he asked, sounding highly amused.

“High?” I’m not that strong. Am I?

“Insanely. You can afford to do non-lethal stuff a majority of the time. It’s hard to hurt ya. Me, an’ near everyone else for that matter, is a bit more squishy.”

“But…”

“But nothin’. I get shot, I’m losin’ blood. You see what’s goin’ on with Miya. Hell, I’m surprised she came with us in the field for that F.F. shit. Anyways, I like me more than I like whoever I’m hurtin’.” I guess that makes sense.

“So even people with powers, they all still seem to use guns.”

“Guns kill things. Powers help. Cyrus can rip the air from yer lungs if he’s lookin’ at ya. Any dipshit lookin’ at ya with a gun can also shoot ya an’ kill ya. Cyrus can fly. The average dipshit can’t. An’ by you I mean everyone who ain’t bulletproof.”

“Bullet resistant.”

“Wha?” asked Skulker.

“Bullet resistant,” repeated Olivia. “Bulletproof makes it sound like it’s nothing.”

“If it were somethin’, you’d be dead. I’m talkin’ to ya, so it ain’t a huge problem for ya.”

“It still really hurts. And I don’t think you can fully appreciate just how loud a gun is when I hear heartbeats on a good day” There are few things I’m certain of, and this is one of those things.

He shrugged. “Really? Cool.”

It’s not cool at all. “It’s more disorienting than anything else.”

“Eh, ya seem to be copin’ fine.” Before she could retort he said, “Ya really are super strong, so general complaining might not be taken well by most people.” Complaining? Complaining?

“I’m not that strong!”

“Yer perspective’s a bit skewed. There’s ‘bout three rough categories of powers, an’ they’re by no means cut an’ dry. The first third, well, more ‘bout forty percent, is the junk powers. They’re just so minor no one bothers. This one chick I knew could perceive a particularly vivid shade of blue. Tha’s it. Can’t do shit with that. The other forty is more powerful stuff ya still don’ use in a fight. Not everythin’ has to have a military application. Lots of techies jus’ aren’t good for fightin’. I think Miya falls in that category, most of what she does is touch based, I think. The last twenty is you or me or Tod or whoever. An’ you’re a bruiser, an’ bruisers usually only come in the powerful varieties.” Bruiser? What? I mean, I know I can hit stuff hard, but…

At her expression he laughed. “Nah, don’ worry, bruiser’s jus’ a rough class of power.”

“So why are they only strong?”

“Cuz triggerin’. Think about it. A power reacts to whatever’s causin’ stress, helps ya survive. If you’re a bruiser, tha’ means it was physical threat of some kind. An’ since we’ve established that not all powers are actually powerful, the weak bruisers get killed slash maimed pretty quick. Survival of the fittest and whatnot at it’s most basic. Mental stress ain’t quite so immediately deadly as a sabertooth bearin’ down on ya.” Physical. Someone attacked me? Why?

Skulker continued on. “You’re in the top ten, easy. Here only Cyrus is close to ya, raw power wise. An’ maybe Purifier, hard to tell. Depends on the situation.”

“So bruisers have more physical triggers?”

“Yeah… oh shit. You rememberin’ anythin’?”

“No.”

“So ya don’ know what he was talkin’ ‘bout with that Bible stuff.”

“Yeah. I’m sorry about letting Membrane go. I never got a chance to tell you and Nomad earlier.”

“Eh. S’all right. An’ besides, ain’t a bad thing to not remember yer trigger.”

“Why is that?”

“Pft. They suck a great magnitude and variety of penises, tha’s why,” he said with a laugh. Ummm. OK? Haven’t heard that before. “Jus’ trust me, ya ain’t missing anythin’.”

“So what was yours?” she asked. Skulker remained silent for several moments. His hands clenched into fists. I messed up, didn’t I? Wait, they’re awful, and I just asked him about a bad moment in his life. I’m an idiot.

“Sorry,” she stammered. “I didn’t… I mean… sorry. I-”

“S’all right. Ya didn’t know.” He didn’t sound cheerful for once. “But yeah. Tha’s not a thing to bring up.”

“I’m really sorry. I’m really sorry.” I’m an idiot.

He chuckled a bit. “I told ya, it’s all right. Ya didn’t know.” He gave her a light punch to the shoulder. “You stress out too much.”

“Sorry.”

He doubled over laughing for a solid thirty seconds. What did I say? He eventually straightened and hopped to his feet. “‘Sorry’ she says,” he muttered under his breath. “You’re funny,” he said in a more normal voice. “Come on, let’s get goin’.”

As she got up she said, “Do you hear that?” No, I take it back. Stupid question.

Without a pause he said, “Nope.”

“Gunshots. That way.” She pointed north.

“OK,” he said, walking to the western edge of the building, towards the lair. Come on.

“Should we help?” she asked.

He stopped. “You got yer own logic an’ opinions. Wha’ do you think? Do ya want to?”

“Well, yeah. If we can we should.”

He shrugged. “Alright, let’s go. Lead on.” What is this? No selfishness or complete lack of morals? What? Whatever, don’t complain.

She took off, flying low enough for Skulker to see her, and slow enough for him to keep up. I love traveling like this. No obstacles to get in the way. It’s great. She followed the sounds of fighting to another abandoned intersection. It’s the Watch. She landed on a roof overlooking the scene, waiting for Skulker and taking in what was going on.

In the middle of the street, some guy in a rough grey version of the Watch uniform lifted a woman by the waist and dropped back hard, driving her head into the asphalt. Whoa. He’s not wearing a mask, either. The woman, surprisingly enough, remained unphased. A concussive blast from her doubled Olivia over, hands over her ears. By the time she got back up, the woman and man were back on their feet, squaring off again, circling warily. Did that guy just ignore that? Did that woman cause that?

Two people she recognized as Blackout and Whiteout (are they brothers or something?) exchanged fire with three gang members. The gang members weren’t Undead; they were older, out of Undead territory, and yelled to each other in something that wasn’t English. She didn’t see Ryan or Lancer, the other two members of the Watch she’d met (well, fought) before. She didn’t recognize the man in grey. There was another one, a woman, wasn’t there?

“Wha’s it lookin’ like?” asked Skulker as he jogged up beside her.

“The Watch is fighting another gang, I don’t know which.”

“Hrm. Where’s Laura? I owe her a beer.”

“Who?” Come on, we shouldn’t just stand here. We can help. Maybe I can make it up to Blackout and Whiteout, too.

“Leader woman. No mask, early forties, doesn’t look like she’ll take shit from nobody.” Oh, her. And did he just say a double negative?

Just as he said that, a small golem made of concrete rolled out from behind a building, followed by a woman in a bandana. More gunshots from that area, and a woman who appeared to be Laura marched after them, firing a pistol.

“Well, that answers tha’ question,” said Skulker. “I don’ know who Cinder’s fightin’. Best give ‘em some leeway an’ let ‘em duke it out. She ain’t a lightweight if Cinder’s still dealin’ with her. You help out the other two fellas?”

Whiteout moved to flank the three other gang mooks, using his power to block incoming bullets. The shield, a pure white orb about two feet in diameter, shattered occasionally when shot, but she caught a glimpse of the bullet clanking to the ground, it’s momentum arrested. Blackout provided covering fire, using his own shield, exactly the same as Whiteout’s, only black, to obscure the three guy’s visions towards him. She knew anything physical could go through it, but light and sound couldn’t. Two gunmen just fired blindly in the general direction of Whiteout, the other shot with unerring accuracy at Blackout. All three were bunched up, no other cover besides the truck they hid behind. I can do that.

“OK,” she said. “Good luck.” Don’t get hurt by the concrete thing.

“You too,” he said, vaulting off the edge of the roof and teleporting the rest of the way.

Olivia took flight. The three mooks weren’t looking her direction, either away from her towards Whitout or towards Blackout to her left. She landed a few feet away, letting her her momentum carry her the rest of the way on her feet. She rammed the first guy shoulder first, knocking him into the others. She might have let out a snarl. Calm down. Calm down. Whiteout had taken advantage of the situation, she heard him sprinting towards them. Hey, he’s not bent on killing them, even though he could just shoot them. Cool!

As the middle guy turned his gun, yet another pistol, towards her, she grabbed his wrist and rammed it against the truck with her left hand, making sure it pointed away from her, just in case. The pistol dropped as she grabbed his shoulder with her right hand and tossed him to the side. She stepped on the first guy she rammed as he tried to get up, making sure to not put her toes on anything vital. The last guy shot her in the chest, a glancing blow. Ow.

She elbowed him directly in the chest. He slammed against the truck. Olivia caught herself swinging her other hand up towards his throat. No, no, no matter how much that shotgun hurt. He dropped to the ground, wheezing.

She took stock. She kept one man pinned down, another focused more on drawing breath than fighting, and the last… She whirled around to where she’d last seen him. He scrambled for his lost pistol when a white bubble encapsulated it. Whiteout ran up and stood over him with his pistol.

“Don’t move,” he said. The mook made a lunge for Whiteout, who whipped him in the head with the butt of his pistol for his trouble.

Whiteout turned to Olivia, not putting the gun down. “The feral’s here,” he said to no one. Or his comm thingy. And I have a name. Whiteout listened to someone say something over their team’s communicator thingys. Olivia couldn’t exactly make out the words, just buzzing. Please stop pointing a gun at me.

With no small amount of hostility Whiteout said to Olivia, “Hey, you understand me?”

Olivia nodded slowly. Why wouldn’t I? Oh, right…

“Step away from those men, now.”

She weighed her options. The one man with the messed up lungs wasn’t going to be a threat, but the other one she kept pinned could be a problem. He still squirmed, trying to get out from under her foot. Well, I think between me and Whiteout I think we can make sure he doesn’t do anything particularly stupid. She took a step back away from Whiteout and off the man.

Not taking his eye off of her, he said, “I think you can bring the car up now, pick these three guys up. Laura, Cinder, how you doing?”

“Busy!” shouted Cinder about fifty yards down the street. Another boom shook Olivia. She flinched, stopping herself from reflexively covering her ears again. That hurts. Really. Stop it. Through the resulting buzzing in her ears she heard a nearby engine start. One of the Watch’s SUVs pulled up. Hey, I recognize that! I like recognizing things. Blackout got out of the car, watching Olivia cautiously. Um… hi? Should I say hi?

Blackout started putting cuffs on the man near Whiteout. Right, forgot that. She fished some more zip ties out of her pocket and moved to the relatively uninjured man. Stuck between a large feral and a man with powers and a gun, he’d chosen to stay on the ground. Blackout and Whiteout immediately swiveled in her direction.

“Sorry,” she said out of pure reflex.

Blackout hesitated at that, but Whiteout said, “Back up.” They don’t want my help? Fine. She turned to where Cinder and the other woman were fighting.

Cinder hovered in the air for some reason, about three stories above the ground. He can hover? Cool. I can’t do that. He seemed to be searching for something. That woman he was fighting must have run off. She knew she could probably smell the woman at that moment, but it would be so jumbled up with everything else that the woman would be long gone by the time Olivia worked out how to find her.

Olivia jumped up, taking flight and reaching about the altitude Cinder hovered at. Out of the corner of her eye she swore she saw a black figure standing out against the roof of a building, but that vision disappeared. Weird. She circled around Cinder in ever widening circles, looking for movement. Hrm… nothing. Maybe she broke into one of these buildings. That dry cleaner has plywood over its windows, but then again most stores do.

Cinder wasn’t looking for the woman anymore, now rotating in place to keep view of Olivia. Should I say something? I don’t think I can just hover and hold a conversation… no, just go. Don’t be afraid to mess up, remember? Let’s think this through though, I’m going to have to shout at him as I pass.

She headed in his general direction, and motioned downwards towards Black and Whiteout. She landed, followed by Cinder. The two had packed the grunts into their car.

She turned to Cinder. “I… uh… couldn’t find that one person… you were fighting.” And you stopped looking for some reason, and I took that as a cue.

“What?” asked Cinder.

“I was, ummm, just-”

“No, I heard you. I stopped trying to find her because you showed up.”

“Sorry.” I’m an idiot.

“Cinder, I told you she wasn’t hostile,” said Blackout.

Skulker and Laura walked up to the rest of them, Skulker chattering on to Laura while dragging the unconscious golem woman behind him by her arm. The golem itself was nowhere to be seen. “Ya do remember the beer incident, yes? So we’re even?”

“You sent Lancer and Ryan to the hospital. Ryan’s still in recovery. Lancer won’t be able to use her arms properly until we can get a qualified doctor or magician to get a look at her, and the soonest that can happen is months from now,” said Laura

“Hey, in all fairness she was shootin’ frickin’ lasers beams at me. An’ there ain’t lasers shootin’ at me now, so I’m gonna go ahead an’ declare mission accomplished in that respect.”

“And your feral pummeled Blackout and Whiteout.” ‘Your’ feral?

“They shot her.” She grabbed his shoulder, stopping him. “What? I kept yer ass alive back there, so I guess it all evens out. So, yeah, still owe ya that beer. Hi, Olivia, everybody,” said Skulker, dropping the unconscious woman’s arm and waving to everyone.

The rest of the Watch stared at him with barely restrained hostility. Cinder’s hands clenched, Whiteout fingered the pistol at his hip, and Laura sighed. Ben, don’t do anything stupid.

“How are we doing?” Laura asked the rest of her team.

Whiteout said, “We got the three gunmen.”

“That other woman managed to get away. She could cause explosions or something, because fuck me, I guess,” said Cinder.

“Alright. And what are you two doing here?” Laura asked Skulker and Olivia.

Ben’s better at talking. After a few seconds with no one saying anything, she shot Skulker a sidelong glance. He caught her eye and shrugged. “What’re you lookin’ at me for? You’re the one who dragged me along here.”

“What? I didn’t… drag you along.” What am I supposed to say?

“Figure of speech.” He gestured to the waiting Watch.

She took a deep breath. Ow. Shotguns hurt. “I, uh… well, I heard the gunshots… and…” Why, Ben, why? “… we came up here. To help. Hopefully. Yeah.” She studied her feet intently once finished.

“So you decided to follow the sounds of a firefight without knowing anything about what was going on?” asked Whiteout.

I’m not too good at logic, am I? “I didn’t want to just stand there if I could do something. Sorry,” said Olivia.

“How do we know you’re not just lying to us?” asked Cinder.

“She ain’t lyin’,” said Skulker. Why thank you.

Cinder opened his mouth to respond when Laura cut him off. “Don’t say what you’re about to say, James. Don’t.”

“Hey, so it’s been great an’ all, catchin’ up, but I think we gotta get movin’,” said Skulker, turning to leave.

“No,” said Laura, stopping him in his tracks.

He spun back around and said, “Yes.”

“No.”

“Sometimes.”

“You need to answer our question. What are you two doing out here in the first place?” asked Laura. Are we supposed to tell them about our job now?

“Ya know that Undead group, yeah?” asked Skulker.

“What about them?” asked Whiteout

“We’ve been paid to vigilante their asses,” said Skulker. I guess we are.

“So you’re mercs?” said Cinder.

“Rent don’t pay itself,” said Skulker. But we don’t pay rent.

“The feral’s wanted. Marcus reminds us every other day or so,” commented Whiteout to the rest of the Watch.

“Come on,” said Blackout. “She did just help us out, even though they didn’t even have to.”

Cinder grimaced. “I hate to say it, but I know the Undead have been having a hard time of it lately. That could be because of them.”

“She nearly killed us. He,” Whiteout gestured to Skulker, “put Ryan and Lancer into the hospital. You can’t seriously be considering letting them go.” He’s sounding a lot like Pathfinder.

In a voice that barely qualified as a whisper, Skulker said, “Get ready to book it if this goes south.” She glanced at him, saying nothing. Book it? You mean run?

In a normal voice Skulker said, “Hey, buddy. You shot her. That kills things, unless ya completely forgot.”

“She’s not dead,” said Whiteout.

“You sure as hell didn’t know that would happen,” Skulker retorted.

Getting tired. Chest hurts, that shotgun blast is going to keep me up all night. Everyone looks like they’re about to fight again. Great. Olivia sighed.

Skulker said “Ya know, we’re leaving. Also, you’re welcome”

Skulker turned to walk away again. Olivia watched the rest of the Watch with caution. Laura motioned to their own cars. “Come on. Leave them alone. For now.” For now?

“Oh. Um… Blackout? Whiteout?” The two of them stopped. She scratched the back of her neck. “Sorry… umm… about, you know, attacking you guys earlier. I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you or anything.”

Whiteout absorbed this without comment, then turning to rejoin the rest. Blackout hesitated, then said, “Uh… it’s all right. No harm done. So, uhhh…” They nodded quickly and went their separate ways.

Skulker was laughing when she rejoined him on the top of the building. “What?” she asked.

“It’s always funny listenin’ to two nice an’ socially awkward people talk.”

“I’m not…” Stop. I am horribly socially awkward. “He’s not-”

Skulker cut her off. “He is. I’ve met all of ‘em before. The lot of ‘em an’ me weren’t even considerin’ killin’ each other then, either. We had to take out this one guy with an army. We had a hulk, though, so it all worked out.”

“Sorry.”

He laughed and shook his head. “So what‘ve we learned today?”

I don’t know. “Um…”

“There’s no right answer. Though I think ‘people are assholes’ is applicable here.”

“I… uh… people can have a super hero name and a real name and go by either?” Laura called Cinder James, so maybe…

“That’s not what I expected, but yeah, true enough.”

“There are other gangs. And who were the people here earlier?”

“I thought that went without saying, but sure. They we’re in the Russian mob. ” Is he expecting something else? “I know you were doin’ somethin’ similar earlier before we found ya, but ya ever consider bein’ a vigilante?”

“But we’re mercenaries, aren’t we?”

“Doesn’t mean we’ll never ‘ave down time. An’ it can be fun. Meet all sorts of interestin’ people.” What exactly do you mean by interesting? “But we can put pin in tha’ for later. We should probably head back before Chris starts worryin’.”

“OK,” said Olivia. A vigilante? Didn’t they give me vigilante status or something like that before? Skulker started teleporting, and Olivia took flight.

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Hunting Season – Black and White

They drove through the dark streets in silence. There were few other cars, everyone staying off of the roads for fear of Freedom Fighter. This made Olivia somewhat nervous. We’re kind of sticking out this way. If anyone looks into the windows they might see me. Skulker and Nomad left their faces bare for that exact reason.

They had insisted on going by code names in costume, and their real names when not. Made things easier. Helicopters had passed over once or twice, but hadn’t stuck around. Skulker had a scanner built into the car’s radio to listen in on the police band. So far, they had heard nothing other than the usual chatter.

She didn’t like this. She realized that she hated being cooped up in tight spaces, but the back was full of Skulker’s stuff, and Nomad had told her flying wasn’t an option. They were looking for her, which meant aerial patrols were on the lookout for her.

Olivia nervously looked around for the umpteenth time. They were heading north, through a neighborhood called Lakewood. There was a car behind them, dark blue and low to the ground. Olivia didn’t recognize the brand or make, but it had been there for quite some time. Skulker and Nomad hadn’t said anything about it, so she trusted that they knew what they were doing. I’m just overreacting, it’s probably just someone going about their business.

They came to stop at a red light. They were at the intersection of two major roads, there was some traffic here, even at 11 o’clock. Maybe I should point it out. Couldn’t hurt.

“Hey, I think there’s a car that might be following us.”

She felt the change immediately. Their heartbeats spiked and she smelled the adrenaline. “What, the one behind us? All I can see is glare from their headlights. How long has it been there?” said Nomad, twisting in his seat to get a better look behind him. Olivia was mentally berating herself. She could see just fine, it was all in grey, but she could see everything.

“I don’t know. I noticed it about fifteen minutes ago.”

“Fuck, didn’t notice it. Can’t see through yer wings.” Olivia noticed that she blocked most of the rear window. “I’m gonna circle around. Keep tabs on him,” said Skulker.

They circled. The car was definitely following. “Yes, they’re following us. They fell back though. I think they’re onto us, realized what we’re doing.” They were driving slowly through a residential street, empty save for the two cars.

Skulker put on his mask in one fluid motion, Nomad pulled up his bandana. Suddenly a large black SUV backed up in front of them from the right, blocking the way. From the other side, another SUV came to life and cut off the route around the first SUV. The car that had been tracking them rushed forward from where it had been hanging back.

“Alright, motherfuckers! Fasten yer seatbelts, this is gonna suck,” shouted Skulker. He gunned the engine and rammed the SUV, jolting the occupants of both cars. Skulker swiftly put the Jeep in reverse after impact and backing up to ram the blue car before they could be pinned in place.

The second SUV had someone coming out of it. Olivia saw a man with a mask, and the image of a white eye on his shoulder. Then Skulker turned and drove on the sidewalk as fast as possible, refusing to be stuck where the eye people wanted them to be.

He tore past the first SUV, scraping the side of his Jeep against the front of it. Olivia doubled over at the sharp sound of the impacts, glass breaking, and metal shrieking and snapping. Oh, this is going to be a recurring thing isn’t it? Painful, painful noises. She gritted her teeth and forced herself upright. Gotta get used to it. An orange laser passed by them, narrowly missing Skulker’s door. Someone got off a couple shots; only one hit the car.

Skulker drove like a madman, fittingly enough. He flouted the very concept of lanes as he juked, barely dodged both incoming traffic and lasers, all while cackling madly. Olivia wished she were flying now, instead of cooped up and at the mercy of Skulker’s judgment. She shuddered a bit. I’m not going to abandon these two just to save myself. She winced as they came within two inches of being hit by a pursuing SUV. Though not being in here would be great.

She heard the police band talking now, talking about them. She was apparently the only one who heard it, the guys were busy concentrating on not dying. She yelled, “The police are on to us now.”

Nomad replied, “What, these guys aren’t just unmarked?”

“No, one had some eye insignia on his clothes.”

“OK, they’re The Watch then,” he said. She heard guns going off and Nomad yelled, “Keep your head down.” Easy for him to say.

The Watch was gaining on them, the car with the ruined front especially. Skulker suddenly skidded to a halt and proceeded down another road, the other cars scrambling to adjust. The Jeep wasn’t able to take turns as fast as the dark blue car, but they had the initiative. The pursuers were reacting to them at that point.

Olivia remembered asking why Nomad and Skulker didn’t leave her to her own devices. They had nothing to fear from the law, right? Only Skulker told her he would get convicted for other things if he were arrested, vigilantism primarily. Nomad pointed out that this Marcus guy would probably be able to get a bogus conviction on him, no matter what the evidence. And besides, both of them pointed out they weren’t going to abandon her when the going got rough. I could have hugged them both right there.

She was jolted back to reality when the car behind swerved into them, causing Skulker to almost lose control.

Nomad said, “We need a way to lose these guys.”

“Hey Olivia, you know how to set up a detonator?” Skulker called back to her.

“No.”

“Then I’ve got nothin’,” Skulker told Nomad. He barely dodged the car as it swerved at him again. Olivia had no idea exactly where they were now, somewhere nearer to downtown, maybe. The SUV’s were gaining as well.

Another laser lanced out from behind them, striking the road ahead and to the right of them. This caused Skulker to reflexively slam on the brakes and juke the wheel to the left. The car behind them chose that moment to hit their rear left panel, hard. Skulker lost control, and the car flipped onto its side, skidding a few feet before coming to a stop.

It took a few moments for Olivia to regain her bearings. She wasn’t hurt, but she wasn’t sure of the others. She smelled blood, not her own. Nomad had turned into goo before impact, he was reforming, albeit slower than she had seen before. Liqui-Nomad had no blood, so by process of elimination that left Skulker. He hung there by his seatbelt, the airbag had deployed and currently filling the majority of the space up front. Skulker wasn’t moving.

She could still hear a heart beating and lungs drawing in breath, which meant he was still alive. She could also hear other cars coming up nearby, the click of weapons and the impact of boots on the asphalt. We need to get out of here, get moving again. She climbed upwards, ripping the door above her off the hinges to get free. Oops. Oh well, Skulker needs a new car at this point anyways. Skidding on anything that wasn’t the tires wasn’t good for a car.

She got out and jumped to the ground. The Watch was beginning to form a semicircle around the Jeep. She dodged to the side, putting the car between her and the majority of them. Got to do something. Anything. She grabbed the Jeep, pulling on it and putting it back on its wheels as gently as possible. She left ten long gouges in its side, and she had no idea if the engine would still work, but it was worth a shot. Nomad and Skulker should be able to get out easier if nothing else.

She looked back at the Watch members, five in all. A woman called out “Nomad, Skulker, get out with your hands up. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.” In a normal voice she said, “Blackout, Whiteout, you focus on the feral.”

That didn’t sound good. She saw Nomad, still in liquid form, flow out of the broken window on his side. Skulker remained in the car. She suddenly heard a murmur from him, almost too faint for her to hear, “I’m playin’ dead, don’ worry ‘bout me.” To himself he said, “I hope she heard that.”

Then, suddenly, everything went black. A complete absence of light. She could see nothing. The only thing she heard was herself. Wait, is that…my organs? There was absolutely no other sound. She moved forward, immediately bumping into something. It had no texture, perfectly smooth and spherical. I hate tight spaces. I’m going to go insane if I can’t get out of here in about three seconds. There was still asphalt at her feet, so unless her bubble had been transported, she was still on the street.

She braced herself and hit the offending wall. Nothing. It was getting hotter, her breath getting shorter. And louder. What’s going on out there? She hit it again, putting all of her desperate strength behind it. Nothing. A third time, and it shattered.

“…it’s breaking through. Shoot it! Shoot it!” said the masked man she stumbled into, knocking on his back. She came upright next to another masked man on her right in the process of pointing a pistol at her. Nomad and Skulker were nowhere to be found. She dodged to her left, swinging her hand at him to disrupt his movements. Suddenly she was encased in the blackness again, no light or sound. She froze, her tail was extended somewhat, it hadn’t been shoved inward like it had before.

Three rounds suddenly struck her in the gut. She screamed, partially out of surprise, partially out of pain, and ducked down a bit. She hadn’t heard them coming. These guys really want to kill me. Ow, that hurt. Now she was getting angry. Just leave us alone. Don’t make me kill you.

Ducking had gotten her free of the bubble. She caught a glimpse of the black bubble occupying the space where her head had been.

She heard the man behind her get up, well within range of her tail. She whipped it towards him, harder than she should have, but she was having a hard time caring. Her tail met something smooth and unyielding…and spherical. Oh, both of them. I’m willing to bet that if I turn around, that force field thing of his is white. She snarled audibly, then lunged at who she presumed to be Blackout.

Blackout was in his early thirties and dressed identically to the rest of the Watch. The masks, or lack thereof, being the only difference between the individual members. The mask he wore was straight black cloth which covered his entire face, except for the eyeholes tailored in. The Watch wore the same combat fatigues as Nomad, she noticed, except his didn’t have the eye on it, and theirs were a darker grey.

Blackout managed one stray shot at Olivia while desperately trying to back up. Two separate black bubbles engulfed her, but she ignored them, as well as a white orb meant to trip her up. His shot went wide, and Olivia made contact, wrenching the pistol out of his hands and striking him in the short ribs with a closed fist, resisting the urge to use an open hand. Shoulda used claws. He crumpled, and she brought down her other hand, this time opened to slash, when a white orb appeared between her hand and Blackout.

She hissed in frustration and turned to Whiteout. He looked the same as Blackout, only with a pure white mask of the same style instead. Everything went black again. She tried to just walk through it like she had before, but was stopped again. KILL EM BOTH! She broke through with far more ease than the first time, and was again greeted with gunfire, though this time she barely felt it.

Her swipes were met with white force fields as she advanced. The force fields seemed to be taking a lot out of Whiteout, especially when they were broken, which was every other time Olivia attacked, but he kept moving. She roared with frustration, he should be dead ten times over at this point. They had wound up with Olivia facing the Jeep again.

Nomad had taken cover behind the engine block of the Jeep, in his human form for some reason. The three other Watch members were behind their own cars. Skulker wasn’t where Olivia had left him. There were sirens in the air, and Olivia heard the sounds of an approaching helicopter or two.

A woman in a black mask with three diagonal orange stripes across it launched an orange laser from her hand, the same kind that had given them so much trouble on the road, at Nomad. Olivia saw the air shimmer around the beam, and the car melted slightly where the laser made contact. Her mask only had one eyehole, which explained her aim. At closer range the laser was much stronger than what had been shot at them on the road.

There were two others without masks, a woman and a young guy, no more than twenty. The woman was the same that had ordered them to surrender earlier. The guy had various pouches and pockets attached to his uniform. Both were shooting at Nomad with pistols, the same that Blackout and Whiteout had used. Nomad occasionally shot with his rifle over the hood, but never exposing his head

This brought Olivia back. She grabbed Whiteout, who was in the process of reloading. “LEAVE US ALONE,” she shouted to his face, tossing him to the side, then rushing to where the people shooting at Nomad were.

Blackout was up, and made a feeble attempt to grab at Olivia. When she brushed past him he yelled, “Ryan, incoming!”

The maskless guy, the closest of the three shooting at Nomad, turned and withdrew something from his pocket. Olivia drew closer, and he hit a button on the side of a small grey box. Immediately a piercing sound, impossibly high pitched, brought Olivia to her knees. Her screams couldn’t drown out that noise.

She managed to look up at Ryan, who smiled. He called out to the others, “Got her.” He held the box, the hateful thing that was the current source of all of her woes, closer towards her. She tried to move, but the pain interfered. She couldn’t even think.

Suddenly, Skulker teleported between Olivia and Ryan, grabbing the box with one hand over Ryan’s and stabbing a knife into Ryan’s wrist with the other. Ryan cried out and dropped the box, but had enough presence of mind to duck his head as Skulker ripped out the knife and slashed it across where Ryan’s throat had been. Ryan blindly grabbed for the knife and missed completely. Skulker’s knife still got him on the top of the head, but it didn’t kill him.

The box had fallen to the ground, Olivia could see it through her tears. Ryan had managed to free his bloody hand from Skulker, who gave him a hard kick to the groin for his efforts. Ryan went down with a strangled cry, and Skulker took the opportunity to stomp on the fallen box several times. Just like that, the noise stopped.

Olivia started to get up, but Skulker put his hand on her shoulder, stopping her. “Cover yer ears an’ look away from Nomad an’ the rest.” Once she did so, there was a loud bang. She got up, Skulker had vanished, and looked around. Skulker stabbed into the elbow of the laser woman, whose other arm was also lying limp to her side, bleeding profusely. Nomad had assumed liquid form and gotten a hold of the maskless woman. Ryan was still curled up, and Whiteout and Blackout helping each other stand, no longer in any condition to fight. I’ll apologize to them later. They’re just doing their job.

Skulker yelled out, “Gotta get outta here, NOW.” The sirens were much louder, and the helicopters were almost upon them. Skulker ran to the car and dug his rifle out of the roll Olivia had brought. Then he grabbed a small duffle bag, the one he called the bug out bag. Olivia ran to grab something else, but he blocked her. “No, not worth it.”

Nomad joined them. “Guys, we need to leave. And Skulker, I want to hear about how exactly you did what you did back there. Now, we go that way.”

Skulker teleported with his bag, while Nomad turned liquid again and started flowing faster than one might expect from goo. Olivia started to run after them, falling behind fairly quickly. Wait, I can fly. There is a solution to this problem. She took flight, going far enough above that she could keep track of them. Soon, they had left the scene far behind them. They regrouped in an old car dealership, dimly lit and devoid of anyone else.

Skulker put down the bag he carried, and removed his mask. There was blood flowing from his broken nose, an eye was puffy and swollen, and Olivia noticed a tooth was missing when he smiled. He sat between two cars, panting, “Fuckin’ airbag had a hate on for me or somethin’.” Nomad had several cuts on him, by the smell of blood Olivia got from him. Otherwise, he wasn’t even tired. Apparently liquids don’t get tired. Who knew?

Olivia wasn’t tired herself, either, despite the fact that she didn’t have the benefit of turning into tireless goo. She hurt where she had been shot, but that was to be expected. Her head still rang from the box that guy Ryan had. That was among the worst experiences I’ve ever had. She’d almost lost herself during that fight, she was trying not to dwell on it however.

“Are you alright?” she asked, “Both of you?”

Skulker made a noncommittal noise that could be considered either a yes or no, while Nomad said, “I’m good for now. And Skulker, what was that back there? You were standing next to Olivia watching me get my ass kicked, then suddenly a flashbang goes off and you stabbed Lancer in the arm.”

“I freeze time. Givin’ me a bitch of a headache right now.”

…Wow. Cool.

Nomad sighed, “Can you make it about another mile? We’re close to Delta’s place now.”

Skulker slipped his mask back on. “I’m ready. Like Magua, you shall show us the way.”

He got up, and they set off again.

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