“He’s going to kill me.” Erich muttered as he threaded a coolant line through the suit.
Hell, he considered it a minor miracle that he had even gotten out of the party alive. It was only the timely arrival of Gravity, and her physically taking him by the arm, that had gotten him out the door and back to the car.
“Hard-Light’s not going to kill you.” Gravity said without looking up from her work. “He wants the suit too much for that.”
“She’s going to kill me then.” He said, very tactfully not pointing out that Gravity never referred to the man as her father. Always as Hard-Light.
His own family situation was complicated enough that he couldn't exactly go around pointing fingers at others.
“That’s… unlikely.” Gravity murmured, “Sarah might be a temperamental bitch, but she knows not to cross her ‘Daddy’.”
“Great. So the only thing standing between me and a very messy death is one unstable woman’s daddy issues.” He said.
Gravity was less than sympathetic, “What can I say, Erich? You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes. Was it that hard to just sit there quietly for a few hours?
He thought about arguing, explaining the subtle genius of his plan, but ultimately deflated. After all, the results spoke for themselves. He’d underestimated Sarah, and now he was paying the price.
“How are thing’s coming with those laser cannons?” He sighed.
That was the second topic his complaints had revolved around that evening. He’d specified force blasters in the parts list. Sure, laser weapons were a step up from conventional guns, but they still weren’t as powerful or flexible as force blasters. And they didn’t hold a candle to the destructive power of plasma weaponry.
Not that he was dumb enough to work with plasma. In any capacity.
“I’ve nearly extracted them from their coolant jackets.” She said as she rubbed an oily smear from her cheek, “though I still don’t see why you couldn’t have just left them as they were.”
Erich snorted at the very idea.
He wouldn’t have used those jackets to cool his beer, let alone high-tech weaponry. Hard-Light was one scary motherfucker, but he knew jack-shit about sustainable design principles. If Erich had installed those cannons as they were when he received them, he would have put two to one odds on them melting the suit’s arms within five minutes of its first real firefight.
“Well it’s nearly done now, so you don’t need to keep complaining about it.” He said, “Besides, those cannons will be easier to install into the suit once I’ve put my cooling jackets on them.”
His preening was cut short though, as the coolant line he was working on started to kink again. He swore.
At the very least his coolant jackets would be easier to install than this pig of a system. He had tried for nearly two hours to get it threaded into the suit conventionally, before giving up and simply pulling off the suit’s armor plating so he could get easier access to its innards.
As a result, the suit was currently a little bare. Just looking at it, he couldn’t help but see some kind of demented steampunk skeleton standing ready to receive an enema from the world’s coldest hosepipe.
…Though he wisely kept that observation to himself. He doubted Gravity would appreciate his artistic interpretation of current events.
A loud bang echoed through the shop, causing him to jolt his head against the suit’s frame. Cursing - more in surprise than pain - he looked up to see what idiot was making such a ruckus.
Which was why he got a perfect view of the shotgun wielding skinhead who burst through the shop’s side entrance, barrel smoking from where he had shot out the lock.
The two men’s eyes met for one heart stopping moment, before the skinhead was thrown backward. Erich heard a surprised shriek as the invader was bodily tossed back outside, but it was quickly cut off by the sound of the door slamming home once more.
He was like a kite caught in a sudden updraft, He thought numbly.
The repair shop owner simply sat in stunned incomprehension for a moment, before a powerful grip forcibly dragged him behind a nearby worktable.
"Get down you idiot!" Gravity shouted, drawing her pistol with one hand, while her other flared with strange green energy.
Ah, so that’s what threw him, Erich realized Gravity’s a Meta.
He had been wondering. What with her relation to Hard-Light. Though, one’s parent being a Meta wasn’t a guarantee of developing powers, but it was still far more likely than-
“Snap out of it.” Gravity hissed, shoving him in the chest, “Do you have a gun?”
A gun? He still had a few of the laser pistols he had been working on for… No. He didn’t. Gravity had taken them with her on the night of the party. They’d probably already been distributed to Hard-Light’s goons.
“Ok, I want you-” Gravity started, before turning to him with wide eyes, “Wait, you don’t have a gun!?”
He shook his head, numbly noting the sound of banging coming from the doorway, and the way that the energy swirling around Gravity’s hand seemed to flair in time with each thump.
“How don’t you have a gun!? You live and work in this neighborhood. Hell, you build guns!”
“Not before a fortnight ago.” He pointed out, a little indignation rising to the fore. “And the crooks around here are too terrified of Hard-Light to cause trouble.”
Honestly, it was one of the safer parts of the city. That had been part of the reason he set up shop here. Well, that and the fact that it was one of the only places he could afford.
Gravity looked like she wanted to slap him. “Well then, seeing as you are apparently utterly defenseless, stay behind cover and try not to get shot.”
He could do that. In fact, he was reasonably sure he could make it to the staff bathroom and squeeze out the tiny window in there. You couldn’t find much better cover than putting a city block between you and a firefight, could you? And besides, Gravity seemed to have everything well in hand here.
As if to mock him for his thoughts, that was the moment that whatever power she had gave way, and the door exploded inward.
“Shit.” The woman swore, giving voice to Erich’s own thoughts, as the skinhead from before barreled back inside; his nose bleeding and clothes disheveled.
Not that his rage did him much good when Gravity casually shot him in the chest.
As she did, Erich was suddenly reminded of a funny fact about lasers, or rather, masers. People tended to assume that they created a nice and small, cauterized hole.
A perfect cut, as it were.
That wasn’t really the case at all. At least not with anti-personnel lasers. They were designed to move energy from point A to point B, as fast as humanly possible.
Specifically heat energy.
This sudden transference of energy has a pretty explosive effect on water. Any hit by the beam – of which the human body comprises eighty percent – instantly turns to vapor.
The name for this phenomena was ‘explosive vaporization’.
An effect Erich got to see firsthand as the beam struck the skinhead full in the chest.
If he were later forced to recount the experience, he would struggle to say which was worse. The sight of the damage wrought by the shot, or the vaguely damp pop that accompanied it. Needless to say, he looked away as the skinhead’s steaming carcass fell to the floor, mercifully dead before he even hit the ground.
A second figure dashed into the room. Another skinhead who’s eyes went wide as they took in the corpse of his compatriot. To his credit, he reacted quickly, spinning round to bring his pistol up even as he bellowed with rage.
Gravity already had him in her sights though. She shot him with the same cool confidence with which she had dispatched his friend.
Only this time there was no damp pop.
“Meta-Human.” Erich whispered, dread filling him, as the figure took the shot full to his chest and kept coming; a slight blemish the only thing to show that he had even been hit at all.
Both Erich and Gravity stared in mute astonishment, before the thug turned to hose down Gravity’s hiding spot with bullets. The woman gave a surprisingly girly yelp as she ducked down behind the worktable, narrowly avoiding the shots that winged over her toward the-
The suit! Erich thought. The moron is going to damage the suit!
Before he could even think, he was leaping out from his hiding spot. Ignoring Gravity’s surprised yell, he grabbed a nearby chunk of discarded armor, holding it in front of him like a shield as he jogged backward.
“Quit firing, you goddamn philistine!” He cursed the man, wincing as a stray rounds pinged off the metal in his hands. “Do you have any idea what your messing with here?”
His precious suit was not about to be sullied by the hands of this… this… thug!
Only, as he waited with bated breath for more shots to come, nothing happened.
Cautiously peeking out from behind his make-shift shield, he saw Gravity had not wasted his entirely unintentional distraction.
Both of her hands were flaring bright green as she pointed toward the Bruiser class meta-human. The skinhead was struggling and straining, but he was firmly pinned in place by the force of Gravity’s power. He was still standing, if only barely, but it was clearly taxing for him to remain that way as his arms remained slumped against his sides by the downward force being projected onto him.
“I’m gonna rip your fucking head off you whore!” The guy roared as his limbs trembled with the exertion of holding himself up. Even from a distance, Erich could see the veins popping up on the guy’s crimson face.
“Do something, Erich.” Gravity said, still calm, but with an audible strain to her voice as she held both arms out.
“…What?” Erich asked, slowly lowering his makeshift shield.
“Do something!” The woman roared, the light in her hands flickering.
Right. Do something, Erich thought as he looked around for something, anything. Welding torch? Nope. Spanner? Nope. Shotgun. Nope. Suit? Hell no. Cooling Jacket. Nope. Las- Yes, that might do.
“Hold him still.” Erich called out as he dashed across the room.
“What do you think I’m doing?” Gravity hissed.
Their temporary prisoner screamed. “You fucks killed Gregor. When I get out of this, I’m going to shove your head up his ass!”
“Charming.” Erich muttered as he started ripping out wires and realigning them with his bare hands.
“Quickly, Erich.” Gravity called, “I don’t know how long I can hold him.”
Because I was totally taking it easy before you told me that. He thought as he franticly jammed a power cable into a slot. The thought of your severed head compromising my rectum’s structural integrity was incentive enough, thanks.
“Just another second.” He called out as he started to turn the device he was holding toward it’s target, wincing as it audibly shrieked as it dragged along the metal worksurface.
Their prisoner was having none of it, and as the light in Gravity’s hands started to die his struggles became more pronounced. “Do you fucks have any idea who the fuck I am? Do you know who you’re fucking… with… what the fuck is that?”
“Laser cannon.” Erich said simply as he jammed two wires together.
The thug’s scream of agony filled the shop as a constant beam of searing red light hit him in the chest. The sheer intensity of the laser’s beam had Erich squinting as heat rolled off the cannon in front of him. Even his hands were beginning to sting where he was holding the cannon as the metal of the device started to heat up.
Because of course we’d already removed the coolant jackets.
For just a few seconds Erich feared the powerful weapon wouldn’t be enough; that the guy was a rank four Bruiser, or higher, and that the beam was just a painful inconvenience.
He needn’t have worried.
The smell was the first thing to tip him off. Not entirely indistinct from pork, it filled the room just as the skinhead’s animal screams of agony started to trail off into silence as oily smoke wafted off him.
Still, Erich didn’t cut the flow of power to the laser. Not until it’s frame started to melt through the bench it was sitting on, and he could physically no longer hold it in place. Although, by that point their opponent was little more than a charred husk. Barely even identifiable as a human being anymore.
When he finally did cut the power he slumped back, ignoring the sound of bubbling metal as the thoroughly ruined weapon sank into the bench.
Honestly, Erich was amazed no one had come to investigate the screams. As he had said before, Hard-Light ran a pretty tight ship. Screams and gunfire were pretty rare sounds in this neighborhood.
Then again, why would they? It wasn’t like they had anything to gain by coming to see what the ruckus was. No community spirit in this part of town. Not even a decent degree of morbid curiosity. Better to leave it to Hard-Light’s goons, the cops or a hero to resolve. Though, did the Guild even come out-
“Huh?” He gasped, taking his first proper breath in the last few minutes. The tightness in his chest receded as fresh oxygen flowed into his system.
“That’s it.” Gravity patted him gently on the back. “Just breathe.”
What do you think I’m doing, he tried to snark back, but all that came out was a heaving cough.
“Come on, let’s get out of here.” The woman said, gently guiding him by the arm. “Some fresh air will help.
Momentarily he considered the possibility of their being other attackers outside, but after a moment’s thought, found he didn’t care.
He just wanted to get away from the smell.
The act of walking seemed a lot harder than it should have been though. His legs felt like jelly, and he had to put real thought into putting one leg in front of the other as he made sure to step around the corpse of their first attacker.
Am I in shock? He thought as the pair of them stepped out into the cool evening air, I’m making weapons for a supervillain, and I’m going to pieces over finally using one myself.
Some badass weapons manufacturer he was.
“You’re doing fine, Erich.” Gravity murmured, rubbing his back, “It’s rough on everyone the first time.”
“That’s what she said.” He coughed.
“Really?” She said with a wry twist of her lip, “That’s what you’re going with?”
He shrugged as he backed into a wall, luxuriating in the cool sensation of the brickwork on his back.
“Whatever.” She said, as she pulled out a phone. “You going be ok while I call up Hard-Light?”
“Just peachy.” He shrugged as he stared up at the night sky, breathing in the curious malaise of garbage and exhaust fumes that made up city air. It had rained recently, and dampness was soaking into his pants and shirt, but he found he didn’t care. He sat like that while Gravity walked away, and he was still sat there when she returned.
“Right, some of his guys should be on their way. They’ll take care of the cleanup.”
Of the bodies. Of which he was contributor.
“Do we need to worry about the cops?” He asked, more to make noise than because he was actually interested in the answer.
The last thing he needed was someone running a background check on him. That could unearth all manner of... uncomfortable truths.
“In this neighborhood? No. They know the rules.” Gravity said, “A hero might be more tricky, but I sincerely doubt we’ll catch any of those around here. Not enough rich folks to impress.”
"Seriously though.” The woman huffed, “The fucking Brotherhood? And a Meta? Hard-Light’s gonna be pissed. Someone from last night’s party must have talked. Still, didn’t think those racist assholes would be dumb enough to act on it.”
He shrugged, not really listening. The dynamics of the local criminal element weren’t really what he wanted to think about right now. Which was why he was taken completely off guard when he felt a strange force acting on him, lifting him to his feet.
“Come on,” Gravity said, tugging him by the arm as the residual light from her ability faded. “Let’s get out of here.”
Startled, he followed along as the woman dragged him toward her car. “Where are we going?”
His eyes goggled even as he slipped into the vehicle, “What about the bodies? Shouldn’t we be watching the crime scene?”
“Hard-Light’s guys will be here any minute. I figure the place will be fine if left unattended for a few minutes.” Gravity’s white teeth shone brightly in the darkness when set against her chocolate skin. Captivated by the sight, he nearly jumped out of his seat as her car came to life with a throaty roar.
He definitely felt his heart skip a beat when he was thrown back into his seat as the car flew out of it’s parking space and onto the street.
“The way I see it, you need a drink and a woman.” She said.
Even with his mind muddled with the events of the last few hours, he still felt his face flush at the frank statement.
The woman raised an eyebrow teasingly, “You should try it, kid. Sex after a shootout is the best. Nothing takes the edge off better.”
Erich resisted the urge to point out that she was only a year or two older than him. “Well, if you’re offering…”
Gravity laughed, not taking her eyes off the road as they sped through the night. “Nice try kid, but I’m an old fashioned kind of gal. You’ll need to do better than a shootout with Neo-Nazis for a first date if you want to try your hand at romancing me.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
She turned to grin at him, “Though you do get some props for saving my ass with the distraction, and that bit with the cannon.”
He had to turn away from the woman’s dazzling smile. “I was just saving my own bacon and protecting the suit. Nothing more.”
Gravity turned back to the road, smile still firmly in place. “As you say, Erich. As you say.”