“Put a damn shirt on woman!” Erich shouted after glancing up from the display in front of him.
Gravity, the woman in question, huffed but made no move to cover her nudity as she broke the tab on a cold beer. “A lot of men would pay good money to see what you’re seeing right now.”
Erich’s scowl was audible even through the suit’s speakers, “A lot of men aren’t in the process of learning how to operate half a ton of power-armor while you flash them.”
Any other time he might have been fascinated.
He would freely admit that Gravity was an incredibly well put together young woman. Her chocolate colored skin tone was only accentuated by the low light of the garage. Under the artificial light source she all but glistened; a thin sheen of sweat coating her athletic form.
In all likelihood, she had just finished her usual morning workout.
Sighing, Erich gave up on trying to get the criminal to clothe herself properly and returned his attention to the task at hand.
Figuring out how to walk in a suit of power-armor was proving to be surprisingly difficult. Not only was he suddenly a good foot taller, but the suit had a momentary delay between sensing his input and the synth-muscles acting on it. That meant he had to plan every movement he was going to make a few microseconds in advance. Which was harder than it sounded.
"I see you lowered the output on the synth-muscle again." Gravity said as she scooped up a nearby omni-pad.
“It was either that, or risk having my arms torn off every time I instinctively try to balance myself.” Erich explained as he carefully brought one leg up, slowly shifting his weight in time with the whirring of the suit’s pneumatics. “I figure I can start gradually increasing the strength again once this thing is closer to being calibrated.”
“I suppose that’s one way of doing it.” The woman murmured as her fingers flew over the display. “The right knee still looks a little stiff when you move. Want me to increase input sensitivity there again?”
Erich flexed the resistant joint himself a few times before nodding.
Gravity tapped the screen a few times, “Alright, try it now.”
This time when he moved it, it felt far more natural than it had a few moments prior. It still felt like he was moving through jello, but that was a hell of a lot better than moving like a jerky marionet.
He nodded. “Much.”
He had to admit, occasional bouts of exhibitionism aside, Gravity was proving to be a competent assistant. In some ways she was even better than some professional assistants he had worked with in the past. The more he worked with her, the more he came to realize that her work with the laser pistol the other week hadn’t been a fluke. She wasn’t brilliant by any stretch, but she was quietly competent.
Listening to her observations - while determinedly keeping his eyes elsewhere - he methodically ran the suit through a series of simple motions, and the end of it the whole thing was moving much more smoothly.
Of course, there was still a world of difference between ‘more smoothly’ and ‘smooth’.
"Alright, I reckon that’s all were going to get with you standing in place like that." The woman said as she took a sip of her beer. “You’re going to have to start moving around if we want to get the walk cycle down.”
“I know.” Erich groused, ignoring the undisguised anticipation in the woman’s voice.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward.
Almost immediately he overcompensated the swing of his right arm, overbalancing himself as the errant limb shot out wildly. Synth-muscle whirred loudly around the suit as the whole system tried to compensate for the change in balance. Erich didn’t try to fight it. Instead he watched on with depressed resignation as the suit slowly began to tilt.
The fall wasn’t physically painful. The suit had ample padding to protect the pilot against far worse than tripping. That was not to say that Erich was unharmed. The damage to his ego was catastrophic.
It was only made worse by Gravity’s great guffaws of laughter echoing around the shop.
“First walk cycle trial was a failure.” He ground out from his position on the floor. “Please don’t tell me you’re going to be reduced to hysterics every time this happens?”
If she was, then they were going to be here a while. Erich would count himself lucky if they managed to get the walk cycle ironed out within the first few hundred attempts.
Gravity shrugged, wiping a stray tear from her eye, “Not every time. The first few dozen though? Definitely.”
“Great.” Erich groaned.
There had been a reason he used to leave this sort of thing to one of his assistants. Hell, he would have had Gravity do it if he thought he could convince her to get in the suit. Unfortunately for him, the woman was far too canny for that.
Groaning, he tried to get a legs under him; wincing as the sparks flew out from where the limbs dragged along the ground.
“Well, it’s a good thing I’m planning on putting the paint on last.” He muttered.
Entering into something that might optimistically been called a crouch, a grim smile appeared on his face.
That momentary sensation of success proved to be his undoing.
Overconfident, he made the fatal mistake of trying to straighten his legs and back at the same time, resulting in the powerful leg muscles outpacing the hip ones. Like an ungainly toddler trying to stand for the first time he overbalanced once more, only this time he had the distinct sensation of vertigo that came with falling from a standing position straight onto one’s back.
Like a trust fall, but with no trustee in attendance.
“Wait. Wait.” Laughed Gravity. “I need to get my phone before you try the next one. I have to record this.”
For one brief moment, Erich wished he had installed the force blasters onto the suit first. He could almost imagine the targeting reticules being superimposed over his assistant's back.
“One hundred thousand dollars. One hundred thousand dollars.” He repeated over and over.
Erich was really beginning to question whether a mere hundred thousand dollars was worth it.
“I don’t do parties.” He repeated for what felt like the tenth time that night.
In the driver’s seat of her car, Gravity sighed, already beyond sick of hearing it. “You didn’t do parties. Then Hard-Light asked you to attend one. Now you do parties.”
Yes, well that was one of the reasons why he very specifically didn’t want to attend this party.
The crime boss for the local area, and a Meta so powerful that both other criminal factions in the city refused to move against his tiny gang for fear of his response. Not because they couldn’t take him, but rather because of the sheer amount of damage he would do to their own organization’s before he was brought down. Hell, even the cops and the Heroes Guild stepped carefully in this part of town.
And that was the man Erich now had to go and meet.
Call him naïve, but for a short time he had genuinely believed he could finish the suit and get paid without ever having to meet the man in person.
That naïve hope had held true for just over a week. Right up until Gravity mentioned offhandedly at the breakfast table that there was a party being thrown at the man’s estate, and the pair of them were expected to be there.
He had complained. Vehemently. But Gravity had refused to budge, and now they were sitting in a queue of cars, slowly trundling their way up the path to the supervillain’s mansion.
And the dozens of armed goons who occupied the estate were not the subtle in the way they eyed the guests on their approach. Most had their weapons concealed, but more than a few had more exotic armaments on clear display.
“Is that a plasma rifle?” Erich asked dubiously, as their car inched ever closer to the entrance.
“Probably.” Gravity shrugged, none of her usual teasing banter to be heard. Something in her voice caught his attention, and he looked over to see that the usually confident woman’s vibrant brown skin had taken on a distinctly pale pallor.
She was nervous.
Erich swallowed as he sank into his seat. His escort being nervous did not bode well. It did not bode well at all. Fortunately for his nerves, he get too long to stew on that discovery. In another minute they were at the front doors of the mansion, and a thuggish looking young man walked over to their car.
“Valet.” He grunted to Gravity as they stepped out, deftly catching her key’s as she tossed them to him. “Enjoy your evening.”
I doubt it, Erich thought as he watched the car - and his only means of escape - pull away.
"Ah, Olivia my girl. I see you’ve arrived, and you brought our latest employee with you.” There was no mistaking who the person who strode up to them was. Hard-Light was exactly as Erich had envisioned him. A brutal looking man who even at his own party was clad in his iconic skull-themed costume.
Of course, Erich was not so intimidated by the man’s presence that he missed out on Gravity’s real name. Though some of the fun was taking out of the discovery by the way the woman in question looked just as downcast as he felt as she turned to regard the man who could kill them both with a glance.
“Hello Dad.” She sighed. “I brought him just like you asked.”
Now that was a bombshell Erich figured he could be forgiven for not seeing coming. Of course, he wasn’t so uncouth as to gape, and he liked to think he kept any visible displays of surprise muted to just a slight widening of the eyes. Although that might have just been optimistic thinking on his part.
“Good evening sir, I just wanted to thank you for inviting me to this event.” He said recovering quickly and wondering if he should go in for a handshake, before deciding against it.
Somehow it just seemed too forward. Like an ant trying to shake hands with an elephant.
“No problem at all, kid. I couldn’t very well have you building that dynamo of a suit for me without meeting you in person at some point." The man grinned as he thrust his arm toward the doorway behind him. “But we can save all that boring talk for later. It’s an important occasion, and my guys and gals need to blow off some steam. I’m sure you feel the same after being cooped up in that shop of yours for the last two weeks.”
Definitely, Erich thought. Just not here. Now. Or anywhere near you.
The heavy stench of sweat and sex billowing out from the mansion’s entrance, like sulfur wafting from the gates of hell, only served to reinforce his plan to leave as soon as humanly possible.
He had zero desire to spend an evening surrounded by mindless fornication, drinking, and drug use. Not because those things weren’t fun. They definitely were. But because he was almost entirely sure he would do or say something that would get him in trouble.
Still, he wasn’t dumb enough to say any of that aloud. “I’m looking forward to it, sir.”
Assuming that to be the end of their interaction, Erich was about to step forward toward the party, when Hard-Light’s arm slammed into his chest with enough force to draw a surprised grunt from the young man.
“Just before I let you go, I want you to know something, kid.” The villain said, “It’s been a rough year for me and my crew. First, that bitch Grey Hood took out my boy Death-Shriek, and now the Brotherhood’s causing trouble on my turf. That little toy of yours is going fix all that by giving us a new heavy hitter. So, I expect you and my daughter to be out there all night telling everyone about what the pair of you have been working on.”
This time when Erich nodded, he was far more genuine about it.
Hard-Light stared for a few more heart stopping moments before stepping back as if nothing had happened, “Enjoy the party, kid. Don’t forget what I said.”
And with that parting shot, the man was gone.
Slowly, Erich released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, and behind him he heard Gravity do the same.
“Yeah, and fuck you too Dad.” She muttered under her breath. “I’m doing great by the way. Having a real ball. Nice chatting with you.”
Erich wisely kept his own frustrations silent. It was unlikely the man would hear them at that distance, but he figured it was better to be safe than sorry.
“So, you never mentioned that Hard-Light was your dad.” He tried not to sound accusatory as he said it, but he was pretty sure he failed miserably. He was a shit liar; though not for lack of trying.
“It never came up.” Gravity shrugged, as she stepped into the mansion.
The place was about what Erich had expected. Once upon a time the ballroom they occupied might have had some level of class to it, but Hard-Light’s occupation of the estate had long since done away with that. The party goers and décor scattered around the place would have looked more at home in a strip club than a multi-million dollar mansion.
While there wasn’t quite an orgy taking place on the main dance floor, there were definitely a number of couples and threesomes scattered around the room.
“That’s not an answer.” Erich said, averting his gaze from a young woman and her paramour.
Paramours, He corrected as another man joined the festivities.
“What can I say, Erich?” She said, striding off to whatever new destination she had in mind. “Maybe I enjoyed being able to talk with someone who wasn’t scared shitless of my dad?”
Erich watched her go and could only think of her parting words as… kind of sad.
She enjoyed spending time with him? The thought boggled the mind. He had it on very good authority that he was an ass. And not the endearing kind either. The kind that grew on you over time. No, he was just a regular one.
If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been quite so terrified of partaking of the bounty of diversions available.
Just got to find a quiet spot and lay low for a while, He thought. ‘Olivia’ can tell people about the suit, and I can survive the rest of the evening trouble free-
“Erich!” Someone called as they barreled into him, nearly sending them both sprawling to the floor.
“Sarah!?” He asked, very conscious of the fact he had just nearly cold clocked the boss’s other daughter in a perceived act of self-defense.
“Yep.” The blonde said impishly, her slim figure pressed into his. “I’m so glad you made it. It’s so nice to be able to see you outside of that stuffy little shop of yours.”
“Yeah, Hard-Light invited me.” He said, searching for something, anything, that might allow him to escape.
“Hmmm,” The blonde woman nodded happily as she started dragging him toward the bar, “Daddy’s commanding like that.”
Erich nodded vaguely at the woman’s words as the bartender came over to take their orders. As he ordered, he could feel his mind whirring away inside his head.
He was a cynical guy, and because of that he couldn’t help but feel that Sarah’s overt attraction to him was unnatural. Sure, he was an attractive enough guy, he supposed, but he was no great catch. Especially not for a supervillain’s daughter.
So he did some research. Which was a fancy way of saying he asked the drug dealer who hung out in the alley beside his store about her. Terry was connected like that.
What the guy had told him – after being bribed with a twenty – was about what he had expected.
Sarah destroyed men. She had a reputation for it.
The bubbly blonde had a list of former conquests as long as Erich’s arm. She chose men, seemingly at random, and charmed, seduced or forced, her way into their lives, and then destroyed them. With influence, with rumors, or once, with her own powers.
It said a lot about Erich, that that made a lot more sense to him than the meta-human simply being attracted to him as a person. So as the hours went on, he sat and nodded, without making any promises or accepting any advances. It was nerve racking, but he thought he was doing a reasonably good job.
"Can we skip this bit?" He blurted out.
"I... what?" Sarah said, stopping midstream.
"The bit where you worm your way into my good graces.” He murmured, “If you want to get your jollies off on destroying me, you really don’t need to bother with all the subterfuge.”
To her credit, the girl’s confusion was very believable, “Erich, honey, you’re not making any sense.”
“That. The whole ‘honey’ thing.” He said, “You really don’t have to bother.”
“You don’t like me flirting with you?” She asked incredulously. “Is this because of the thing back at your shop? That was just business, lover. No need to let it sour things. Besides, you’re working for Daddy now.”
Yep he was well aware of the fact that he was working for her father. That was the only reason he had finally managed to drum up the courage to speak.
“No, it has nothing to do with that.” Erich said, taking a sip of his drink. “I don’t like you flirting with me because it’s a prelude to you wrecking my life as part of some twisted little game you’ve got going on.”
“You… you can’t talk to me like that.” Sarah said as she finally recovered from her shock, the barest crackle of static electricity audible in the air.
As he shrugged, he wondered why she didn’t have a Cape name? Her old man and her, assumedly, half-sister did. Maybe he just hadn’t heard it yet?
“Looks like I can.” He said. Although, for how much longer, remained to be seen. “But by all means, fry me for my audacity... or leave me be.”
He was reasonably sure she wouldn’t kill him. Hard-Light wanted that suit. That was the method to his madness. He figured it was better to see off Sarah now, while he was still reasonably ‘indispensable’, rather than wait for whatever scheme she was cooking up to come to fruition.
Admittedly, not the best plan in the world, but he was quite drunk when he started putting it together, five minutes or so ago.
Inebriation wasn’t the worst thing in the world though. He would like to say it was his steely resolve that kept him calm as electricity arced between the woman’s fingertips, but if he was honest, it was probably the alcohol.
It was definitely the alcohol that had given him the courage to speak up in the first place.
“Oh, I think I’ll do one better than that.” The Sarah hissed, fire in her eyes.
He raised an eyebrow, “Oh really, what-”
His question was cut off by the sensation of a mild electric shock to the stomach. Instinctively, he leaned over, and as he did, he felt two soft lips press against his own.
His eyes were wide open, and so he found himself staring into Sarah’s own as their lips locked together. For just a brief moment he stared into those bright blue eyes. They were very attractive, even on a psychopath. Of course, then they had to remind him of that fact by taking on a distinctively vindictive twist.
Sarah slapped him.
In fact, it was so hard that the sound carried over the music and conversation all around them, drawing eyes from all over the party.
Even from the Ménage à trois he had spotted on the way in.
“Bastard!” Sarah shouted, very authentic looking tears forming in her eyes as she stormed off.
Erich watched her go, absently holding his throbbing cheek.
What the fuck was that? He thought.
To his credit, it only took him a few seconds to notice the many eyes on him. The many unkind and angry looking eyes.
Ah, of course, He thought, heart sinking into his stomach. It looks like I just forced a kiss on the boss’s daughter.
At the man’s party.
Surrounded by witnesses.