Despite what many people might have thought about the Dome, their ‘business offices’ were little different from many others Erich had seen on the East Coast.
Big glass windows, reception desk, fountain. The only outliers here are those heavy duty automated security turrets bolted into the ceiling, and even those aren’t totally unheard of in the more ‘volatile’ neighbourhoods.
Of course, back home, they would have at least tried to hide those additions to the building. Here they were fully on display. A deterrent as much as a security feature.
The woman behind the front desk didn't even blink at the sight of Erich's suit, or his drones in lockstep behind him.
“Hello,” she said. “Who might you be, and how can I help?”
“Mechromancer,” Erich said. “I have a Nine O’clock meeting with Director Stevens.”
The woman nodded, smile unmoved as her fingers darted over the screen in front of here. “Right, there you are. The Director is already waiting for you with a few of your other colleagues in meeting room twelve on the third floor. One of our security personnel will see you up.” She gestured to the drones. “Your associates may accompany you of course, but we remind you that any displays of hostility will be met with lethal force.”
“Of course,” Erich said.
Nothing quite like a death threat to start negotiations.
Director Stevens was not a meta-human.
Short, bald, and with the beginnings of a pot belly, the man looked more like an accountant than a division head of one of the most successful and violent blood-sports on the planet.
The man’s presence seemed incongruous as he sat at the head of the meeting table, wide jovial smile on display.
He was the only one in the room smiling. Bronte sat on his right and Zig-Zag on his left, their pairs of chosen goons leaning against the wall behind their respective bosses.
Bronte had an uncomfortable looking Gravity, and a man in the attire of the Saints decked out with what looked to be enough Artificer-tech to level half a city block.
Little of it mine, Erich noted coolly.
Zig-Zag’s line-up was incredibly lackluster by comparison; two grunts whose combined Artificer-tech armaments barely made up half of what Bronte’s man was rocking.
All of it mine though.
Erich sank into a seat opposite the Director.
“Ah, Mechromancer,” Stevens said jovially, utterly unperturbed about breaking the awkward silence that had clearly pervaded the room prior to Erich’s arrival. “You’ve arrived, and I see you’ve brought your accompaniment for our little ‘mission.'” The man opposite him looked over the two drones.
“No people, Erich?” Bronte piped up. “Couldn’t get any of your munchkins to come with?”
Erich shrugged. “I didn’t ask any to come. Unlike some present, I find endangering children unnecessarily distasteful.”
“A commendable attitude,” Stevens continued before Bronte could speak again. “Though I can’t help but wonder if it is a wise one. Impressive as your machines might be—I particularly like the cloaks, very theatrical, they don’t seem very subtle.”
Unmentioned was that the mission they were going on was the supposed to be stealthy. If everything went to plan the group would be in and out with the prisoners before anyone outside the prison complex even knew what happened.
“The cloaks aren’t for drama,” Erich said. He resisted the urge to sneer under his helmet at the very idea. “They possess a practical use.”
Tapping a command into his gauntlet pad, he enjoyed the slight intake of breath that came from the rest of the room as he and the drones all-but disappeared from sight.
“Very impressive, my friend.” The Director grinned as Erich and his escort uncloaked once more. “Consider my earlier objection repealed.”
“Well mine aren’t,” Zig-Zag said. “They can be as invisible as they want, but they’re still drones. The facility guards aren’t fucking deaf you know.”
“These units have had a rubber sealant applied to their exteriors, effectively muffling the iconic ‘clatter’ from metal striking a hard surface.” It also made them run hotter than he might have liked but given that he was using these units for a one-off mission, he was fine with modifying them for the purpose.
“Quite,” Stevens interrupted again before either of Erich’s associates could complain again. “And, as I said earlier, I revoked my own objections. Since it is my opinion that my organization is listening to, mine is the only opinion that matters. The mission will proceed as it was presented in the information packets provided to you prior to this meeting.”
“I’m still not happy with how rushed all this is,” Bronte said. “An operation like this should have months of planning, not a few days and a few rushed phone calls.”
Yet you’re still here.
Steven’s mega-watt smile utterly undimmed. “Yes, it is unfortunate that we must make haste, but given the somewhat… low level of information security present in the organizations taking part in this operation, upper management decided that a short planning period presented the best chance for success.”
Somehow Erich doubted he was talking about the Dome when the Director mentioned loose lips. It was mildly insulting, but entirely correct. Hence why he had stressed the need for speed, even if he’d declined to go into specifics.
“You’re welcome to pull out if it’s too hot for you,” Zig-Zag said. “More for the rest of us.”
“Not on your life, freak.” Bronte sneered across the table.
Steven’s loud clap interrupted the brewing squabble, “Capital! Well, if there are no further complaints, I would say we are ready to proceed with the operation.”
The two villains looked they still wanted to argue, with a final wary glance at each other, they nodded.
Erich for his part simply let out a sigh of relief. The director summoned up security guards to direct the group down to what he cheerfully called the ‘departures lounge’.
Right, now to get out of the frying pan and into the fire.
“That’s a vegetable,” Bronte deadpanned.
For the first time since Erich had met him, something close to a frown came across the Director’s face. “Please be respectful Miss Bronte.”
The group looked at a monitor displaying a hospital room filled with a trio of what Erich hoped were medical professionals.
The subject of the trio’s attention was a wheelchair bound man sitting across from a blank television screen.
“That’s Atlas, the pride and joy of the Dome’s transport division,” the Director continued. “I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the man across from you was instrumental in the founding and early operations of the Dome.”
“He’s drooling…” Gravity said, disgust and horror warring on her voice.
Erich wasn’t feeling much better. Sure, he was a cold calculating bastard, but even he felt uncomfortable staring at the living husk of a human being on display.
“Unfortunately our resident teleporter developed something of a weak conscience in our early years and attempted to quit. Given that he was integral to the operation of the then burgeoning group, the other four founders of the Dome were given no choice but to reject his request.”
If Gravity had looked horrified before, she looked even worse after the man’s matter of fact speech. “But why… that?”
Stevens quirked an eye at her. “He’s a teleporter ma’am. The founders couldn’t very well throw some chains or a collar on him and hope for the best. So they came up with this rather elegant solution. The frontal lobotomy has removed any desire to leave, or any desire at all really, but Atlas can still utilize his powers given sufficient persuasion.”
Erich couldn’t help but notice that Bronte was nodded along. “How did you know his powers would remain intact?”
Stevens smiled at her. “How else? Trial and error. Of course, Atlas’s former compatriots had to delay negotiations for his withdrawal, but our medical technicians came through in record time. Cost us quite a few eligible gladiators, but I would say that it was worth it to maintain the use of our resident teleporter's abilities.”
“Enough,” Erich put in, unable to stomach any more. “We don’t need the guy’s entire life story. We just need his abilities.”
“Of course, of course,” Stevens said. “Do forgive an old man his ramblings.”
Erich watched as the director spoke into the intercom that was the only notable feature in the otherwise featureless concrete box they’d been lead to.
“Myrcilla? Myrcilla dear? Is he ready to…”
Whatever else the man might have said was cut off for Erich as Gravity awkwardly sidled over to him.
“Did you know about this?” She whispered, her voice curiously neutral .
“Why would you think I knew about this?” Erich asked, a hint of irritation he couldn’t quite stifle entering his voice.
Fortunately, the distortion provided by his suit’s voice unit managed to hide what his flesh could not.
“Don’t fuck with me, Erich. I know you were the one who suggested this entire excursion. Did you know about... him?” She gestured to the horror on screen.
Erich remained silent for a second.
“I knew the Dome had a teleporter. Beyond that I knew nothing else. I didn’t need to know anything else.”
“And you’re ok with this?”
Erich knew a loaded question when he heard it. He also knew the right answer. The one she wanted to hear.
“Yes,” he lied. “I’m perfectly fine with it.”
And that was that. His friend didn’t say anything else. She simply walked back to her corner of the room, slipping her helmet over her head without another word.
Deep in his heart, Erich felt some small pang of loss.
It hurt less than I expected though.
He was learning.
Which was good, because he was going to need every inch of fortitude he could get for what was about to come.
“Alright people,” Steven’s booming voice clapped from up front. “Myrcilla says our boy is good to go. It can take him a few minutes to understand what she wants, so there’s not really going to be any warning. Try not to get too disorientated. One second you’re going to be here, and the next you’re going to be—”
Stevens was a filthy liar. Teleportation was not pleasant.
Erich had never been on a rollercoaster, but he figured the sensations were pretty similar, if a few times less intense when compared to what he’d just been through. At least he hoped they were as he resisted the urge to spew his breakfast into a nearby bush.
Fortunately for all of them, the Dome had been as good as their word, and the entire group had been deposited out of sight of the prison facility in the woods nearby. Which was good, because in their current state, the whole band of hardened criminals could have been taken down by a girl scout troop armed with sticks and a can-do attitude.
Well, assuming they weren’t vaporized by the drones first, being the only unaffected members of their party.
“Don’t even think about it,” a voice growled to his left.
“Think about what?” Erich asked innocently. He turned to Bronte, fingers slowly pulling away from where they’d been resting over the control-pad on his wrist.
The woman’s glare burned into him for a few more seconds, before she turned away, barking orders at her two underlings.
Watching her go, Erich shrugged. His window of opportunity had passed. By the time he’d even considered acting on his change in circumstances, the sickness and disorientation were already fading.
Easy come, easy go.
It had just been an idle thought anyway. A what if?
“How’s it look?” Bronte asked from the base of the tree.
“Like we suspected.” Erich was up in the branches. “I can see one or two guards patrolling the perimeter fence, but mostly looks to be automated turrets and drones.”
“MK One-Omni’s,” Erich scoffed. “No idea what operating system they’re using, but considering the chassis, I’m willing to bet it’s nothing too impressive.”
Bronte nodded slowly. “Good, looks like your hunch was correct.”
Erich scowled as he clambered down from the tree. It had been more than a hunch. It had been a reasoned conclusion.
Ignorant of his thoughts —or uncaring of them, Bronte turned towards the other two members of the infiltration team.
“Zig-Zag, Gravity, you two ready?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Gravity said as Zig-Zag nodded.
Bronte pulled a bundle of rope from her pack and tossed it to the pair. “Right, hook yourselves up.”
Erich frowned, but joined the other two and tying the rope around himself.
“Don’t drop us Gravity.” The distortion provided by his suit served to deaden the not insignificant amount of worry in his voice.
The woman’s eyes and hands started to glow with her signature eerie green.
“I’ll try not to.”
The trio started to rise.
“I wouldn’t mind a little more assurance than ‘I’ll try not to’,” Zig-Zag said.
The gravity manipulator didn’t respond as they continued to slowly rise above the treetops. In different circumstances, the glowing of the woman’s hands might have given the trio away as they drifted up the night sky. As it was, Erich quickly pulled the other two villains into an awkward hug, shrouding them with his cloak. The only part of them that might have been visible were the two metallic tentacles poking out from the bundle, the UV lasers within providing a very crude form of propulsion.
Still, it worked. It was slow going, but eventually the trio drifted deftly over the fences and patrolling guards, to land on the roof of the largest building of the prison complex.
“You’re up, Zig-Zag,” Gravity murmured. The glow faded with her powers. Sweat beaded her forehead from the strain as she all-but collapsed into Erich’s arms.
The shapeshifter just nodded, skin turning the same colour and texture of the roof as she melted down to the floor.
It was more than a little gross to watch, and Erich had to resist the urge to look away as the now amorphous blob slithered out from under his cloak, multitudes of tiny tentacles dragging it along the roof and out of sight.
Like the world’s most fucked up octopus.
Gravity’s voice drew him back to his present situation, standing on the roof of a maximum security prison complex, hugging a person he had very mixed feelings about.
How did my life become this?
“I thought we agreed on mask names for the operation,” he said.
“Mechromancer,” the woman corrected. “I know that after our last conversation things have become a little… awkward between us.”
Erich shrugged. Awkward was nothing new for him. Awkward was a good descriptor for most of the relationships he’d had in life.
Though usually for different reasons than this one.
Ignorant of his thoughts, Gravity continued on. “But right now we need to work together if we’re going to pull off this… insanity. I need to know you have my back if something goes down. Hell, I need you to trust I have yours.”
Erich almost laughed. “Sure. No problem.”
Gravity frowned, looking like she wanted to say more, but fortunately for him she was interrupted by the return of their teammate, now human looking once more.
“Jammer’s in place. Cameras are down. If this thing works the way you claim, we’ve got about thirty minutes before they realize they’re cut off.”
Erich resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “If this goes to shit before then it won’t be because my jammer failed.”
It was the same device that the Hangman had used to such devastating effect after all, and it was the same one he’d used to talk to Overdrive without eavesdroppers.
The thing had been more than fully tested.
“We’re in,” Gravity called over the radio. “Jammer’s up and cameras are down. Not hearing any sirens or shouting, so I guess we’re still green. Starting infiltration now.”
“Good we’ll start moving into position,” Bronte radioed back. “If you could instruct your underlings to do the same, that would be nice.”
Erich rolled his eyes, but gave the correct command to his drones, just as Zig-Zag radioed her own instructions to her people on a private channel. Erich strode to the rooftop entrance. He didn’t hear Bronte start cussing up a storm over the radio, so he could safely assume that Zig-Zag hadn’t told their people to shoot her.
A quick glance at the doorway told him it was both locked and alarmed. Which only made sense really. Still, the extra-security was worthless against him.
“Laser won’t set off the alarm?” Zig-Zag asked as Erich’s weapons melted the locking mechanism.
“Would he be doing it if it would?” Gravity said.
Erich ignored them both as he cut the laser, satisfied that the security system had been disabled. He pulled the handle, leveraging his suit's strength and taking the door off it’s hinges with a shriek.
“Laser superheats the surface layer of the metal, creating plasma.” He listened for any sounds of alarm from within. When he heard none, he smiled in satisfaction.
“Plasma formation unleashes volatile energy waves, which disrupt electronics.”
…and human nervous systems, he added mentally. Which is why I have it as one of my settings. Makes for a handy non-lethal weapon. Or an interrogation tool in a pinch.
“Fascinating,” Zig-Zag droned. “Now get in there.”
“Why am I taking point?” He complained.
The shapeshifter rolled their eyes. “You’re the only one in power armour. Ipsofacto, you take point.”
“Stealth suit.” Erich gestured at the shifting pattern of his cloak. “Underneath the shields I’m as squishy as the next guy.”
He wasn’t. His suit might not have been a walking tank, but it wasn’t totally bereft of armour plating either.
“Are we really doing this now?” Gravity hissed.
They ignored her.
“Well as you mentioned,” Zig-Zag said, “you’ve got shields.”
“So do you!” Erich pointed out the offending bit of tech on the man-woman’s bandolier. “Both of you do.”
“You expect me to believe that you were selling the same shields in your store as you put on your suit?” Zig-Zag scoffed.
“They are,” he lied. They weren’t. They were so much worse. Still good for the price, but still mass-produced junk.
“Horseshit. Our shields glow yellow when they take a hit. Yours glow blue!”
That was her argument? She wasn't wrong about the strength difference, but it wasn't because of the fucking colour!
…The colour change was more of a byproduct of the difference in light density and wavelength.
“Well what about you then?” Erich said. “I’m a squishy human under the suit, whereas I’ve seen you eat entire magazines of bullets when you go ‘monster mode.’”
Well, he hadn’t ever seen it in person, but he’d seen videos. Which, now that he thought about it, was a pretty good reason to not argue with the person who could turn into a six foot tentacle monster from hell.
“Did you just call me a fucking monster?” Zig-Zag demanded. Though her argument against the designation was somewhat weakened by the fact that tendrils had already started to form on her neck.
Still it was enough to make Erich take a step back and subtly start powering up his own weapon systems.
“Fuck it, I’ll do it.” Gravity’s helmet disappeared down the stairs.
Well, ok then.
Sharing a wary final glance at each other, the pair followed the woman in.