“Gravity, you better open this door, or so help me god…” Ignoring the pounding of his headache, Erich continued banging on the door to the apartment above his shop.
Specifically, his apartment. One that he was currently locked out of.
Still, even with his enthusiastic pummeling of the entrance, it took Gravity a full five minutes before she cracked open the door to his home. Naked, and looking none too pleased to have been woken up.
“You left me on a bench in the park.” He growled, refusing to be distracted by her nakedness - lovely as it was. “Someone stole my wallet, keys and phone, a police officer accused me of being a vagrant, and I had to catch a bus back here.”
The woman shrugged. “I didn’t want you throwing up in my car.”
“So you left me on a park bench!?”
“It’s a nice car.” She defended. “Besides, your stuff is fine. I took your keys, phone and wallet off you before I left. I even left you your bus pass.”
She almost sounded like she wanted to be thanked for that last detail. Unfortunately for her, Erich was not feeling particularly thankful. Perhaps it was the hangover. Perhaps it was the result of the morning shower that had woken him up. Perhaps it was being accused of vagrancy. Who knew?
“Listen you…” He started to say, only to cut himself off as he noticed something.
A love-bite. Actually, a few love-bites. Trailing along the woman’s collarbone. Fresh ones.
Rising horror dawned in him, “You didn’t.”
“I’m going to have to throw out that couch.” He complained.
Don’t be a baby.” She said, before grinning, “it’s not the couch you should worry about.
“My bed!?” He moaned in horror, “You slept in my bed. With some random jerkoff from the bar. While I was sleeping on a park bench.”
He hadn’t even slept with anyone in his bed!
“There wasn’t a lot of sleeping going on.” She winked, “besides it was a woman.”
“It’s not the gender I care about.” He hissed, “It’s the fact that you sullied my bed.”
Couldn’t they have used a hotel? He had no idea what kind of pay Gravity received from her criminal exploits, but he was pretty sure it was enough to afford a cheap motel.
“Christ, you’re like a kid worrying about cooties.” The woman muttered.
Erich ignored her, taking a deep calming breath before reaching inside to grab his keys off the key-rack.
“I’m going downstairs to work on the suit. In two hours I expect your partner for the evening to be gone, my sheets to be on their second wash cycle, and you to be ready to work.”
Gravity shrugged, starting to turn away before looking back, “You could come in and join us if you want? Consider it my apology for the bench thing, and a reward for your heroism last night.”
Erich froze halfway through stomping back down the hall. His heart thudding in his chest as blood roared in his ears. And other places.
He was tempted. Make no mistake.
It had been a while.
His pride warred against the pragmatic allure of a sexy threesome. How many times was an opportunity like this going to come up again?
“Just wash my sheets.” He huffed, before continuing his trek downstairs.
“Your loss.” Gravity shrugged, nudging the door shut as she retreated back into the apartment.
Erich was still cursing himself and his stubborn pride when he stepped into the shop.
In fact, he was so caught up in his anger and regret it took him a few seconds to note that he had just walked through a doorway that had been battered down last night. Spinning in place, he saw that the door looked good as new.
“Fresh hinges. Fresh lock.” He muttered.
Looking around the shop, he found that everywhere else was the same. The bodies were gone. The damage was gone. Hell, even the smell was gone. Replaced by a lemony fresh tint that seemed subtly out of place in a machine shop.
If it weren’t for the half melted remains of the laser cannon that was still stuck to one of his workbenches, he might have been tempted to write off the events of last night as a dream.
Whoever Hard-Light’s clean up crew were, they were very good at their jobs. Though it seemed even they had been stumped by the modern art exhibition that used to be the cannon and workbench. Hopefully they were going to come back at a later date to deal with that.
Sighing and dismissing the thought from his mind, Erich reached over to boot up a nearby omni-pad, scrolling through its menus until he reached the diagnostic app.
To his relief, the suit was entirely intact. His impromptu heroics had managed to keep the machine from any real damage.
“Good. Very good.” He grinned.
To be honest, he was surprised, and mildly disappointed in himself, that he had waited until morning to check it over.
Apparently, murdering a man threw me off my game more than I thought.
The reminder of what he had done the night before made his stomach to roil in a manner entirely distinct from hangover nausea. Cursing and seeking to distract himself, he got stuck into the installment of the suit’s coolant system.
…Though he did find himself stopping on two separate occasions to ensure that the door was still locked.
Nearly two hours later though, he was sweaty and tired, but bathed in the sweet satisfaction of a job well done. The suit’s coolant system was in place, and for all intents and purposes seemed to be working as intended.
Though he wouldn’t really know for sure until he put it through its paces.
Which I’ll need Gravity for. Whenever she deigns to grace us with her presence.
As if on cue, he heard the familiar sound of footsteps behind him. His muscles tensed slightly at the noise, before he chided himself for jumping at shadows. He wasn’t about to let the incident from last night turn him into a paranoid wreck. Or at least, more of a paranoid wreck.
“About damn time you got here, Gravity.” He grunted with deliberate calm, “If you’re quite done with your conquest of the evening, I need you to contact Hard-Light and ask him if he wants me to install the remaining laser cannon. We can do it; but having just one will make the suit’s oversized cooling system kind of redundant.”
Which he was loathe to let happen. Nothing frustrated him more than leaving a job half done.
“As gratifying as it is to learn my girl’s got a healthy sex life, that’s not why I’m here.” Hard-Light’s deep baritone caused him to jump, slamming his head into the frame of the suit for the second time in as many days.
“Fucking Christ!” He cursed, clutching at his throbbing skull, before turning to face the supervillain, “I mean… It’s good to see you, sir.
The man ignored his words, stepping past him to look at the suit. As he did, he dropped a bag full of something on the ground.
Erich was forced to stand in awkward silence, head stinging, as he wondered if he should start begging or get ready to run. Gravity had said Diego wouldn’t kill him for what transpired at the party, but now the man was standing in front of him, Erich wasn’t feeling quite so sure.
“You can quit pissing your pants over there.” The man said after nearly a minute of heart-stopping silence. “I’m not about to fly off the handle over my other girl’s little stunt. I’m not quite as blind to her games as people seem to think I am.”
Erich knew he should have felt relieved at that news. But he didn’t. The feeling of danger that had been present ever since the man had stepped into the room had not dissipated with his words.
“Though Erich, with what I’ve learned about your history.” The man said, finally turning to regard the stunned repairman, “you might be wise to be nervous. Or should I call you, Jason? Fake identities can be such a bitch to keep track of, right?”
Erich thought his heart would explode in his chest. For just a second, he considered trying to run; eyes darting to the open door as he gauged his chances.
The sound Hard-Light’s energy blade humming to life strangled that idea in the crib though.
“Don’t run.” The man growled. “Talk. Who knows, I like what I hear, and you might even walk out of here in one piece.”
Erich nodded numbly, feeling the fight go out of him as he slumped against a desk.
“If you know who I am, or was, you know who my sister is, right?” He said without preamble.
The supervillain nodded slowly.
“And my mother, father and grandfather?” He continued.
Again, the supervillain gave a slow nod.
“Right, well, not to knock around the bush, but I’m a genius.” Erich said, “I can do more with meta-tech than most Artificers can even dream. The fact that you hired me to work on that suit should be proof enough of that.” He said gesturing to the silent frame.
“It’s very impressive, kid.” Hard-Light said, “But I’m not hearing a reason not to take one of your limbs off for trying to deceive me and my crew.”
“Not intentionally!” Erich said, “I’m not like… some kind of… undercover agent or something.”
The villain shrugged, “That remains to be seen; though the fact that it was so pitifully easy for me to see through your fake documents, says that might not be total bullshit.”
The man looked momentarily contemplative, “The Guild would have done a much better job of creating a fake identity. That, and the fact that you helped my little girl last night, are the only reasons we are having this conversation.”
Erich nodded hastily, “Right. So I’m a genius. Top of my classes. In everything. Forever. Prodigious talent with Meta-tech… And it means sweet fuck all to anyone.”
Hard-Light quirked an eyebrow.
“I’m serious. All my life I’ve been in my sister’s shadow. In everything. Always.” Erich shrugged, “I didn’t particularly mind. Not even as a kid. It was what it was, and I never cared much for fame or being popular.”
“I’m not here to hear about your ‘awful’ childhood, kid. I want to know why the supposedly dead brother of the Blur is in my organization, wearing a fake name.” Hard-Light huffed.
“Right, right.” Erich said hurriedly. “Long story short. I couldn’t find a job. Anywhere. No one wanted me. Too much of a security risk, see. Too many guys like you - no offense - who would use me to get at my sister.”
Erich took a deep breath to calm himself, “Well, as it turns out, they were right. One day, out of nowhere, the café I’m in explodes. Literally explodes. Bodies everywhere. Very messy.”
He could feel a cold sweat forming on his neck as he remembered it: the heat, the flames…the smell of burning flesh.
“I get out by the skin of my teeth. A bit of tech I was tinkering with protected me. Totaled the device in the process, but saved my hide.” Erich grinned weakly, ignoring the queasy sensation in his stomach as he remembered just how close he’d been to dying. Pure luck had been what saved him.
“Everyone thinks I’m dead. Villains are coming out of the wood work left and right, all claiming to be the ones responsible.”
To date, he still had no clue which of the pricks was actually responsible. He didn’t really care either. He wasn’t Jason anymore. He was Erich.
“Faster, kid.” Hard-Light said, bringing up his energy blade with a deadly hum.
“I saw an opportunity!” Erich shouted, “A chance to escape from my sister and my family’s legacy. I took it. Easy enough to do. I knew a few people. People I could pay off to create an ID!”
Hard-Light still looked dubious. “So you, a genius, came to this shithole of a city and set up a repair shop?”
Erich shrugged nervously, “Makes more sense than you think. Forging an ID for a new identity is one thing, recreating all my qualifications is entirely another. No one in my preferred fields would hire me without them. Easier to set up shop. Better with tech than people.”
Hard-Light grunted noncommittally, Erich could see in his eyes that he was thinking about it though.
Not that it matters, Erich thought cynically. This life is over.
Even if the thug didn’t kill him, he would try and use him as a tool to get at his sister. As usual. He would be dragged back to being Jason once again. Probably be slapped with some criminal sentence for faking his death. The headlines would be all over it. A chance to smear a leading hero’s perfect image.
In the end that was all his life amounted to: a weak spot in his sister’s.
“Alright.” Hard-Light shrugged.
“Alright, what?” Erich laughed bitterly.
“Alright, I believe you.” The supervillain said, pointing to the bag he had brought in with him, “I’ve left the new weapons for the suit in there. Force blaster this time.”
Erich barely heard him. Hell, he could scarcely believe his ears.
“What? You’re not going to… I don’t know? Take me hostage?”
Hard-Light looked at him like he was slow, “Do I look like I want to tangle with the Blur? She’s so out of my league it’s not even funny. No, it’s better for me if everyone continues to believe you and your mechanical skills are dead.”
Erich had to concede that the man had a point. Blur would wipe the floor with him. It wouldn’t even be a fight.
Hard-Light continued, “As interesting as your origins are, they don’t change my problems. The Brotherhood’s getting to be more of a pain in my ass by the day. This latest attack is just the latest in a long line. I need that suit, and to get it, I need you and your scrawny ass to keep working on it.”
Erich couldn’t believe it was the simple.
…But he wanted to.
“Sure.” He said numbly, not quite able to believe what was happening.
“Good, get to it.” He said, already walking back toward the doors. “Don’t make me regret this, kid.”
“I won’t.” He called back.
As the doors slammed behind the supervillain, Erich slumped even further against the desk
“What the fuck?” He breathed leaning back against the metal, before wincing as a stab of pain went through his head where he’d banged it on the suit.
“Motherfucker,” He cursed, shooting up, “Fuck, I can’t be bothered thinking about this shit. I need some Tylenol.”
He winced as his sudden movement gave him a whiff of himself, “And a shower.”
Who knew? Maybe the world would start making sense again afterward.
…Though he sincerely doubted it.
Erich still didn’t quite believe Hard-Light words, even two days after the man’s visit. Sure, the guy hadn’t told anyone else Erich’s origins as far as he was aware, but he was still pretty sure the villain had some long term scheme for him in mind.
Even if Erich had no idea what it was.
At the end of the day, he decided not to think about it. It wasn’t like there was anything he could about it anyway. He had zero faith in his ability to evade the supervillain if he tried to go to ground again.
He was an engineer at heart. He built things. He fixed things. Fake names and living on the run was so far beyond him it wasn’t even funny. The fact that it had taken Hard-Light all of two weeks to find out his real name was proof of that.
Was he avoiding the situation? Probably.
He already had enough problems as it was; nightmares about the guy he had killed, and a general inability to sleep because of them ranking least among them.
As a result, he was feeling fairly groggy when he stumbled out of bed that morning, roused by the sounds of someone pounding on the door.
He got ready to yell out to Gravity to answer it, only to remember that she wasn’t there. Some criminal thing that would apparently keep her out for the day.
Under different circumstances he might have been worried about another Brotherhood attack, but Hard-Light had taken to posting a few goons around the shop at all hours of the day after their little chat.
To date, Erich still wasn’t quite sure whether they were protecting the suit, or watching him. Another thing he tried not to think about too hard.
Cursing his poor luck, he staggered toward the door, getting ready to cuss out whoever was so rude as to pound on his door first thing in the… he checked his phone.
Fuck, he needed to get over this guilt bullshit.
He ripped open the door with an angry sneer, “What!?”
To find the surprised face of Sarah Williams staring back at him, one delicate hand still raised to knock.
“Ah, hi?” She said, recovering quickly.
Erich simply stared in open mouthed stupefaction.
“You going to invite me in?” The attractive blonde criminal said. “We need to talk, and this hallway isn’t really the place-”
Erich slammed the door, running to find something to defend himself with, even as an indignant shout echoed from the hall.