The knocking did not abate.
“Not until you talk to me you jackass.” Sarah’s voice was muffled by the door, but her irritation was clear.
“Well you’re going to be there a long time.” Erich grunted as he cocked his new pistol. An entirely conventional model, but it was all he could get his hands on at short notice. Still, it would be plenty effective against Sarah.
“Not if I break this goddamn door down.”
Shit. She would do it too.
Fuck it. Let’s get this over with.
“What?” He asked as he cracked the door open a few inches, keeping his pistol just out of sight.
Sarah still looked furious, but she swallowed it down after a few moments. “I need to talk to you… I need to… apologize.”
Erich couldn’t believe his ears, “You? Apologize?”
“Yes.” She sighed. “Now are you going to let me in?”
He really didn’t want to, but he was pretty sure that Sarah wouldn’t budge on the matter. Grudgingly he opened the door.
The blonde scoffed at the gun in his hand, but stepped inside nonetheless. “About time.”
“You were much more charming when you were trying to kill me.” He deadpanned.
“And you were much more charming when you were terrified of me. And... I wasn’t trying to kill you.” She scowled, before hesitating, “...Well, at least not until the very end.”
Erich didn’t believe a word of it. Which must have shown on his face.
“I wasn’t!” The woman flushed. “Not until you insulted me at least.”
Erich shook his head, “Sure. Now why are you here?”
“Daddy wants me to bury the hatchet.” Sarah sniffed, “He doesn’t want his right hand and his lead mechanic at each other’s throats. Not if we’re going to be working together.”
Erich nearly choked on the glass of water he’d just grabbed. “Lead mechanic?”
The woman shrugged, “He must have been happy with what you were doing with that suit. He announced it as soon as he got back the mansion.”
Great. Erich thought. He’d just been unceremoniously moved into the supervillain’s permanent employ. So much for a quick repair job.
“Right. Well, message received. Apology accepted. You can go now.” He sighed, slumping into a chair.
The meta-human practically growled, “Do you have to be so aggravating?”
“You tried to have me murdered.” Erich said, nearly gesturing with his gun before thinking better of it. Being armed in her presence was one thing. Actually aiming a weapon at the boss’s daughter was another.
“You insinuated I was some kind… succubus!”
“Well you are, aren’t you? You string along men and them break them! It’s some kind of twisted game for you.” He pointed out.
The blonde actually started to flush red, “I do not! Where did you even get such a ridiculous idea?”
He almost said ‘Terry’ before thinking better of it. Mentioning that his primary source of information was the heroin dealer who hung out outside his shop probably wasn’t the smartest move.
Actually, using the man as a source of information suddenly didn’t seem so smart either…
“Hard-Light mentioned it to me the other day.” He remembered triumphantly, “He said he’s not ‘entirely ignorant of your little games’.”
Which certainly suggested to him that Terry’s info hadn’t been complete bullshit.
Though his confidence in that belief was left a little shaken when Sarah looked at him like he was an idiot.
“I’m Daddy’s right-hand girl. It’s my job to keep an eye on his underlings. That means I have to get close to people. And sometimes I have to deal with them if they’re getting out of line.” She shrugged, “If I’m a little flirty - and get rid of a few I don’t like as I do it - what of it?”
Ah, that made sense. In fucked up kind of way, to be sure, but sense nonetheless.
Not that he was about to admit that. “Sounds a lot like a succubus to me...”
“Shut up.” She hissed, “God, I can’t believe I was ever attracted to you.”
Erich couldn’t believe it either.
In fact, he still wasn’t entirely sure that this whole ‘apology’ wasn’t an act to lure him into a false sense of security.
Still, if what she said was true - and that was big if - they were going to be working together in the future. It would probably be for the best if they at least superficially buried the hatchet. That, and if Hard-Light was the one to instruct her to come here, he didn’t want to be the obstacle to the man’s desires.
Though he would be confirming that that was the case for himself later. He wasn’t an idiot.
“Right, I’m sorry as well.” He lied, running a hand through his hair, “I shouldn’t have said what I did.”
“I accept,” Sarah said, with what was probably an equally fake smile spreading across her face
Deed done, the pair stood in silence for a few moments.
“Now what?” Erich asked when it became clear that she wasn’t going to leave.
“Now you show me the suit, lover.” Sarah grinned, “If I’m to act as my father’s right hand, I need to know what capabilities his new heavy hitter will have. It will also aid me in picking out a pilot for it when it’s complete.”
Erich ignored the fact that the woman had returned to the pet names. Instead he was focused on the complicated sensation that arose in his stomach at the thought of giving away the suit. Sure, he had zero desire to pilot it himself, but he wasn’t entirely comfortable with someone else having it either.
Especially not some barely literate thug. He grimaced, Is this what if feels like for a father when his daughter is getting married?
If it was, he wasn’t a fan. Good thing he never planned to have kids.
“Right.” He said, pulling his mind away from the ridiculous direction it had turned, “I’ll take you down and show you around.”
“I’m sure it will be enlightening.” Sarah smiled thinly, no doubt noting that he had slid his gun into his pants rather than put it down. “Though you might want to get dressed and showered first, honey. You smell like a skunk that slept in a brewery.”
Erich glanced down at the crumbled clothes that he had been wearing when he collapsed to bed last night.
“Right,” he muttered, heading back towards his room.
"Sugar, who cares if the chest is better shielded?” Sarah grumbled wiping a stray hair from her soot stained face as she looked up from her Omni-Pad. “You’re leaving the shoulders almost completely unprotected.”
Equally filthy, Erich scowled as he fiddled with the suit’s shield emitters. “The shoulders don’t need shields because the pauldrons are the most heavily armored part of the suit.”
The woman huffed, “Yes, if you ignore the fact the joints are exposed every time the arms reach above its head.”
Ignoring her complaints – much as he had all morning - Erich slid down off the suit. “Alright, turn it on.”
The blonde rolled her eyes, but did as he asked.
With a low hum, yellow barriers made of solid light flared to life around the suit, creating a second layer of armor that floated just a few inches above the first.
Heart swelling at the sight, Erich’s eyes flicked down to his own omni-pad.
“Power drain is negligible.” Sarah murmured, giving voice to his own thoughts. “Heat generation is within acceptable parameters.”
Erich was impressed. The shields were beyond just being efficient. They were downright supernatural. Say what you would about the rest of Hard-Light’s designs, when it came to tech dealing with his namesake, the man was an unparalleled Artificer.
“Alright, now shift emitters two and four a few inches to the right and left respectively.” Sarah murmured, jarring him from his moment of triumph.”
The woman scoffed, “Just do it.”
Erich thought about arguing just for the sake of it, but reigned in the desire at the last second. Remembering that he was supposed to be playing nice, he did as she asked, his fingers dancing across the pad’s controls.
He could always change it back later.
Before his eyes, the solid light barriers started to twist around the suit. Sliding into a new configuration as the projectors on the armor’s surface shifted position.
“There, isn’t that much better?” Sarah smirked when the barriers finally stopped at their new destinations.
Erich hated to admit it, but it was.
The chest had a little less coverage than before, but the double overlay from before was still mostly intact. More importantly, the shoulder’s joints were now almost entirely covered by the floating panels of solid light.
“You’re good at this.” He admitted grudgingly.
To his surprise, Sarah blushed a little, before hastily covering it up with a disdainful sniff, “When your dad’s an Artificer, you pick up a few things. Even if it’s only to keep him from blowing himself and the house up.”
That… made a surprising amount of sense. It also explained Gravity’s surprising degree of competence and familiarity with Meta-tech. The pair of half-sisters had probably spent nearly as much time around meta-tech as he had growing up.
Though they both obviously lack my prodigious intellect, He observed.
“Speaking of which,” The woman said, a hint of eagerness entering her voice. “I still say that you should skip over force blasters entirely. Switch up to plasma and we can really turn this suit into something to be feared.”
Erich ignored the insinuation that his masterpiece wasn’t already something to be feared.
“Yes, it would be.” He acknowledged, “If only because it would be as much of a threat to it’s pilot and allies as any hypothetical enemy. The reason no one fucks around with plasma is because magnetic containment systems have a tendency to fail when some Meta decides to throw the suit containing them through a few buildings.”
And that wasn’t even getting into how cost prohibitive a plasma-based weapons systems could get; not just in manhours but maintenance costs, and initial set up.
Even madmen like the Master steered well clear of the stuff for that reason.
Sarah rolled her eyes, clearly about to continue, but she was mercifully cut off by the sound of Erich’s omni-phone going off.
Relieved at the interruption, Erich quickly glanced at the number before answering the call.
“I told you not to call me that.” The woman said from the other side of the phone, “I’m calling because I just got finished with the thing I told you about, and I was about to head down to the bar. Figured I would take pity on you and invite you along. Who knows, you might even manage to get laid this time.”
Erich sighed at the casual mention of his nonexistent sex life. The woman was obssessed.
Still, he did want to go. Sleeping was becoming something of a problem lately without a nightcap of one form or another. The usual rigmarole of a gulty conscience, he assumed. Getting knockout drunk of an evening was rapidly becoming his go to solution.
“I’ll be there so long as you swing by the shop to pick me up.”
“I can do that.”
“Oh honey,” Sarah singsonged from across the room, “Don’t you think it’s a little cold to make plans with my half-sister while you’ve got me here with you? Even after we promised to make up?”
Erich wondered how she knew he was talking to Gravity. Then he realized that it was a pretty easy guess to make. It wasn’t like he knew anyone else in this city. Which would be kind of sad if he didn’t find people an irritating inconvenience at best.
And he didn’t see how making plans with Gravity was snubbing Sarah.
“Who’s that?” Gravity teased through the phone, “Have you got a woman over? Damn kid, I’ve only been gone a day and you’ve managed to snag someone. Maybe you don’t even need my help to end that dry spell?”
Erich scoffed, “Hardly. It’s your sister.”
“Half sister.” “Half sister!”
“Half-sister then.” He sighed, not really caring about whatever beef they had with each other, “She came over this morning to ‘bury the hatchet’.”
“And you believed her?”
No. But he wasn’t about to say that aloud.
“Sure. Why not.” He monotoned. “She’s spent that last few hours helping me with the suit.
“Whatever, I’ll be there in half an hour. Try and wear something nice.” He could practically hear the scowl in her voice as she hung up.
Sliding his phone back into his pocket, Erich turned to Sarah. Who was still watching him with an emotion he couldn't quite place.
“Well, I’m sure you can work out what that was about.” He murmured, “Thanks for your help today, but I imagine you’ll be wanting to report back to Hard-Light.”
“Actually,” the blonde said, momentarily hesitating, “I think I’ll join you and my… half-sibling for drinks.”
“I can’t believe you brought her.”
Erich stifled a sigh of relief that Gravity had finally broken the silence. The car ride over had been stiflingly awkward because of it. The tension between the two half-siblings had been tangible.
Even to him.
“I didn’t bring anyone.” He said as he took a sip of his drink, “She chose to join us.”
And he wasn’t about to tangle with the lightning flinging Meta a second time. If Gravity had a problem with her sister’s presence, she should have been the one to argue it.
“What’s the matter Olivia? Afraid of losing your new toy.” The woman in question gave a catlike grin from across the table.
Erich quirked his eyebrow at being referred to as a toy - and Olivia’s - but kept his peace as he sat back and sipped his drink.
“Don’t call me that, Sarah” Gravity growled, “And no, he’s not my toy. He’s an assignment. One that your precious Daddy saddled me with.”
Wow, if Erich were a more sensitive soul that might have hurt.
“He’s your father too Olivia.” The blonde smirked.
Gravity just scoffed, taking a hearty swig of her own drink.
“Besides,” Sarah continued, “I think we both know that our dear old Erich is more than just an ‘assignment’.
“We don’t all want to play your stupid power games, Sarah” Gravity scowled over the rim of her glass.
“So you say, but your actions say otherwise.” Sarah smiled, sliding around the table to lean up against a suddenly very still Erich. “You’re still sticking around long after your services are no longer required. Daddy’s got a couple of our employees watching over our newest asset at all hours. He’s assigned me as his new liaison. Do we really need the organization’s second heaviest hitter watching over him as well?”
Erich didn’t miss the trace of bitterness in the blonde’s voice when she mentioned Gravity’s power.
Was she jealous? Why? Lightning powers kicked ass.
Still, he wasn’t so distracted by the question, or the soft femininity pressed up against him, that he wasn’t fingering his pistol under the table.
Boss’s daughter or not, if he felt the slightest spark touch his skin, she was getting a round through the kneecap. He figured he could explain it away as jitters if pressed on it. It was pretty much the truth anyway.
“Hard-Light’s goons wouldn’t last five seconds if anyone seriously tried to get at him.” Gravity said with a flippant wave of her hand. “The Meta from the other night would have torn them to pieces without even breaking a sweat.”
What a lovely image.
Sarah shrugged, which did wonderful things to her décolletage – which, now that he thought about it, was probably the point.
“Perhaps, but that’s never mattered to you before. In fact, I can’t recall you ever taking an active interest in the actions of the organization. Dear old Daddy usually has to twist your arm to get you to do the bare minimum.”
Right it had been fun at first, but Erich was getting sick of all this double speak. Informative as it might have been.
“Alright I’ve had enough of this shit.” He sighed, “Sarah, you seem to think Gravity wants something from me? Well, I can tell you right now that’s total bull-
The door exploded.
The noise was so shocking Erich nearly plugged one into Sarah out of sheer surprise.
“Down!” Gravity yelled, flipping over the table and dragging him behind it. Idly he noticed that Sarah was totally ignored by her sibling. Fortunately for her, she was no slower in diving behind their makeshift cover even without her sister’s help.
“Again!?” Erich whined, as bullets sprayed through the windows, occasionally finding purchase in bar patrons who weren’t quick enough to hit the deck.
“Apparently.” Sarah said, as she unholstered and primed her laser pistol with practiced ease.
“We’re just that lucky, kid.” Gravity grinned from her position crouched next to him.
If he were in different circumstances, he might have wondered at the chances of two shootouts involving him occurring within a week of each other, but at the time his primary concern was whether the table he was crouched behind was bulletproof.
His gut instinct said no. Not even close.
Well, at least he had a gun this time. Even if it was diddy little normal pistol it would still be more than enough to put a regular person down if it hit.
After a few more seconds of heart stopping carnage the shooting finally stopped, and an eerie silence settled in, broken only by the sobbing of wounded and shocked bar patrons.
Then something stomped into the entryway of the bar.
That has to be the ugliest set of power armor I have ever seen, Erich thought as he risked a quick glance. Why the last time I saw something that shoddy- Oh…
“Where’s the fucker who stole my suit?” A familiar voice called out from within the metal monstrosity, “The Crusher has returned to take back what is rightfully his!”
Erich sank back behind the table with a heavy sigh.
Of fucking course. He thought as he eyed his tiny peashooter.