I am one with the table. The table is one with me. I am one with the table. The table is one with-
A round winged through the table, narrowly missing Erich’s head as he clutched his pistol. He promptly dropped even lower, doing his best to imitate a worm burrowing into the earth.
“You know, after our last little scuffle, I was kind of expecting something a bit more impressive.” Gravity drawled as she casually plinked away with her laser pistol. “Are you going to get up and shoot any time soon?”
Erich looked at her like she was stupid. “Would it achieve anything other than me wasting ammo?”
If her upgraded laser pistol wasn’t getting through the Crusher’s shields, his pistol didn’t stand much of a chance.
“Might distract him from me for a few seconds.” She shrugged.
Hard pass. He was hunkering down and letting the career criminals do the fighting. A decision that was only reinforced by the sight of Sarah diving to the side as a spray of machine gun fire pelted the pillar she had been hidden behind.
Nope. Not a chance. He had a perfectly good justification to stay down and he was using it. The only possible reason he might have to get up and get involved were if-
“Oh look, he’s brought a few of your old friends, Gravity.” Sarah snickered from her position on the floor, just as a new voice chimed in.
“Kill that nigger bitch!”
Ah, The Crusher had brought the Brotherhood with him. Because of course the Neo-Nazis would hire a near worthless Artificer with an undisclosed addiction.
Just so long as he was white it was all gravy.
Unfortunately, he’d just lost his only justification to stay of the fight, because the two skinheads – a man and a woman – definitely weren’t wearing bullet resistant armor.
They weren’t wearing much at all if he were honest.
Now he was going to have to start getting involved in this little shootout.
“Yes, honey?” Sarah answered, somehow still managing to sound sensual while crawling across a rubble strewn floor in the middle of a firefight.
Not that he really noticed. He had other concerns. Like avoiding said firefight. “What color is the suit’s shields?”
“What?” The woman asked incredulously as she exchanged fire with a skinhead who was trying to advance on her.
“The shields. When you shoot them what color do they flare? And what shape?” Erich repeated as Gravity’s power lifted another thug into the air, prompting Erich to reluctantly aim a few shots in the man’s direction.
None hit, as he had half expected, and the thug fell back to the floor with a loud thud. Shot or not, that had to have taken the wind out of him though.
“It’s blue,” Gravity growled, aiming a stink eye his way for blowing their opportunity to take one of their assailants out of the fight. “And looks like a bubble.”
“What?” Gravity started to say, before Erich burst from cover and sprinted for the bar with all the speed his two legs could give him.
He would like to think it was sheer surprise at his sheer testicular fortitude that kept the two still upright gunners from shooting at him for the first meter of his dash, but after a millisecond of surprise, he felt the telltale whips of hot lead flying past him.
A few milliseconds of surprise was all he had needed though. Throwing caution to the wind, he dived over the bar with all the grace of a beached whale, sending discarded drinks scattering to the floor with a crash as he did so.
“Hi.” He grunted with a tinge of hysteria to the bartender he’d landed almost on top of. “Could I get a drink? Something with a high alcohol content? Real tractor fuel stuff.”
The woman looked at him like he was mad – which, covered in discarded drinks and shattered bits of glass, he might well have been – but after a moment’s hesitation reached out to grab a nearby bottle of spirits.
“Thanks.” Erich said as he tore a chunk of fabric from his shirt and stuffed it into the neck of the bottle, flinching only slightly as bullets continued to thud into the bar they were hiding behind.
Then he… hesitated, a sinking feeling forming in his gut.
“You don’t happen to have a lighter do you?” He asked, hoping desperately that he hadn’t just risked his life for nothing.
Fortunately for his continued sanity, she did.
Hefting his impromptu Molotov in hand, he recalled where his target was relative to his new position.
Then he lobbed it through the air, making sure to not let even a single hair on his head rise above the safety of the bar.
There was a reason he had installed Hard Light panels onto his own suit rather than the typical ‘bubble shield’ most people favored; bubble shields only intercepted objects traveling above certain speeds, or energy exceeding certain levels.
Of which a lazily lobbed Molotov cocktail possessed neither.
He wasn’t entirely sure he heard the impromptu incendiary device explode against the armored plates of the Crusher’s suit. He knew he definitely didn’t see it.
He definitely heard the screaming that started immediately after though.
“Oh god.” He cursed, pulling his shirt up as an impromptu face mask. “The smell.”
He hated that smell so goddamn much.
The rest of the firefight passed as he expected. A few more shots rang out, screams tapered off, and the sound of scampering feet could be heard, before the shop finally went silent.
“Erich honey, you still alive?” Sarah called out, sounding as exhausted as he felt.
Still bizarrely seductive about it though.
“For a given definition of alive.” Erich answered as he clambered back up to his feet, brushing bits of glass and beer off him as he did.
“Well you did a pretty decent job of taking out the mook with the mech.” Gravity grinned, gesturing to the smoking remains of the Crusher’s suit. He could see a few laser holes drilled into the suits carapace, which suggested that his Molotov wasn’t quite enough to finish it off.
It certainly provided an ample distraction though. He thought. Probably shorted out the shields too.
Which was exactly what he had been hoping for. Even if he hadn’t particularly wanted it.
Do I count that as me as killing him? He wondered, pondering over the shape his nightmares would be taking in the coming days. Does it matter?
“Do we need to run or something?” He asked, drawing himself from his melancholy thoughts.
The cops hadn’t shown up to his last shootout, but that had been at a secluded shop, deep in Hard-Light’s territory. The area they were in now wasn’t exactly affluent, but the residents could reasonably expect the cops to show up if they called them. As evidenced by the fact that most of the bar’s patrons were still cowering on the floor, waiting for someone to come and save them.
“Probably a good idea.” Sarah answered, “I’ll call Daddy from the car. He probably already knows, but it never hurts to let him know myself.”
Nodding, Erich started to turn towards the doors, only to freeze in place as the distinctive wail of cop cars echoed from outside.
Looking to Gravity for advice on what to do, his heart sank as she scowled and dropped her gun on the floor.
“Shit.” He said, doing the same.
“So… you have no idea why these individuals attacked the bar where you and compatriots – who are suspected criminals – were staying? You also don’t know where the weapon we found on you came from? And finally, you claim you had nothing to do with the deaths that occurred, despite their being at least seven individuals who have testified otherwise?”
“Yes?” Erich nodded uncertainly, trying not to squint at the bright light blazing into his eyes.
The detective in front of him sighed, slowly running a hand through her brown hair. “You do realize, even if the courts rule that everything you did in that bar was an act of self-defense, you’re still facing one count of illegal possession of a firearm? Which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three to five years. And that’s before we even get into the directed energy weapons your friends were carrying, or any involuntary manslaughter charges that might be levied.”
The tired looking Latina woman looked him dead in the eye, “Now for the last time, do you want to tell me what happened at that bar tonight?”
A loud bang caught Erich off guard, making him flinch as the woman’s partner slammed his hands into the table.
“Quit jerking us around you little shit!” The man roared, “We know you were there with Diego William’s daughters. Which means we know you’re guilty of something. The only question is what, and how many years we get to slap you with. And that slimy son of a bitch isn’t going to be there to help you.”
Erich respectfully disagreed. There was a very good reason that Diego William’s wasn’t behind bars, even with all the criminal acts attributed to his name.
As if to answer his thoughts, the door to the interrogation room opened, admitting a police officer in a fancy looking uniform. “Please uncuff the witness, detectives. He’s free to go.”
“What!?” The woman protested, “But sir, we-
“That was an order detective.” The captain grunted sharply before stepping back outside.
Erich struggled to keep the smirk off his face as one of the ashen faced police officers walked over to uncuff him. As he moved to stand up, the ‘good cop’ of the duo leaned over him.
“Don’t think your friend Hard-Light’s always gonna be there to save you. One day there’s going to be a reckoning in this city. And you and all the rest of your gutter trash friends are going to be washed away.”
Erich resisted the urge to laugh as he was lead outside. It was just so melodramatic. Idly, he wondered if his mother or sister had ever said anything similar. He could totally see it happening.
Not that what the female detective said would ever come to pass.
Once upon a time the power of the judicial system might have worked to put men like him away. Nowadays it had so many loopholes and corrupt officials working it, that it was little more than a whipped dog, quick to do the bidding of anyone with enough power or money to pressure it.
Head held high, he was still feeling smug when he stepped out of the police station’s double doors and onto the street.
That sensation disappeared immediately when he saw Hard-Light was waiting for him on the sidewalk, a bevy of his goons around him, and a very nervous looking Gravity and Sarah beside him.
“Do you have any idea what your little escapades have cost me?” The man growled as he sat on the edge of his desk, looming over all three of them. “The favors I had to call in?”
Erich wisely kept his mouth shut, shifting on what had to be the world’s most uncomfortable chair.
“Daddy, it’s not our fault…” Sarah started to say, only to be cut off by a glare that could melt steel beams. Figuratively. Hard-Light was a pure Artificer as far as Erich was aware.
“Not your fault?” He repeated, “Even though the lot of you were dumb enough to leave the shop - and the protection I posted around it - to go waltzing around the city? Did none of you think that just maybe the people who are after you might have seen an opportunity there?”
The thought that the Brotherhood would still be out to get him hadn’t even crossed Erich’s mind. In his head he had already partitioned the whole Brotherhood thing into a ‘past event’, with no bearing on his future.
Glancing around, he could see similar thoughts were crossing Sarah’s mind, but to his surprise, Gravity looked more defiant than confused.
“I didn’t think they would risk it that close to the Hero Guild’s branch headquarters.” She groused.
That bitch! He thought. She knew it was a possibility and invited me anyway!?
“Didn’t think they would risk it? In case you haven’t noticed dear daughter of mine, they’re gearing up for a war. My sources tell me they’re scooping up every low life meta they can possibly get their hands on. A little thing like city limits aren’t going to stop them.”
Well, that explained how the dearly departed Crusher came into their employ.
“Whatever.” The man grunted, “Get out of here. I don’t want to see any of you until the assault tomorrow.”
“Assault?” Erich chimed in, almost instantly regretting it as one bloodshot eye rolled towards him.
“Yes. Assault.” The man said, “The Brotherhood’s been hitting us for weeks, so we have to hit them back or risk looking weak. One of my boys' has found one of their warehouses. Probably used as a drug lab or some shit like that. We’re going to go in there and kill everyone one of those Nazi fucks we can find.”
Right. Of course. Supervillain stuff.
“And why do you need me there?” He asked sheepishly.
“I want the suit.” The man growled, “This is our chance to finally show our guys and gals that we have a new heavy hitter in our lineup.”
Erich was horrified, but to his immense relief, Sarah was the one to point out the obvious problem with that plan. “It’s not finished yet, Daddy.”
Not entirely true. The shields were in, and the force blasters were working fine. There was still a minor issue with the HUD, but that was the work of an hour or two. Heck, it could probably be fixed using a hot patch from off the web.
Not that Erich would ever lower himself to using one.
“I don’t care. It’s as ready as it needs to be.” The Artificer grunted.
“But Daddy, we don’t have our pilot picked out yet.” She said, “And even if we did, it will take us at least a week to calibrate the suit to them.”
“Is that so?” The man asked, not taking his eyes off Erich. Reluctantly, the young man nodded in assent.
“Well then. The solution is simple.” The man grinned.
“Our lead mechanic can pilot the suit.” The supervillain laughed, “I’ve seen the video of him walking around in it, so I know the suit’s already calibrated for him.”
Gravity actually had the temerity to scowl in the man’s presence, “That’s bullshit. It’s a completely unnecessary risk of one of the organization’s valuable resources. And Erich can’t aim for shit.”
The villain’s energy blade hummed to life with a threatening thrum, cutting off all his daughter’s protests instantly.
“He’s going in the suit. I expect to see him, and it, at this house tomorrow evening so we can go over the plan.” He scowled, deadly quiet, “Now everyone get the fuck out of my office.”
The three of them couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Only once they were well clear did Gravity choose to speak.
“Christ, I’d rather go through another firefight than deal with the old man when he’s like that.”
Sarah looked like she wanted to complain, but she was just as pale and shaken as the rest of them. “Daddy can be… intense. He wasn’t wrong though. The Brotherhood’s running rampant, and the Red Squares are doing nothing to rein them in.”
The blonde shrugged uneasily, “We need to score a win, and Erich’s suit will be our means of achieving it.”
Erich was reasonably sure they would survive another week without his suit doing anything. They’d survived this long, after all.
Hard-Light wasn’t having him pilot the suit because they needed it now. He was doing it because he was pissed and he wanted to take it out on someone.
Which fit right in with being a supervillain, honestly.
“I… I need to go run some diagnostics on the suit.” He said woodenly.
The two sisters stopped glaring at each other, turning to him with an eerie synchronization.
The two snapped back to each other, glares only redoubling.
Erich watched on with mild exasperation before walking away. He had doubted it before, but now he was coming round to Sarah’s way of thinking. Gravity did want something from him. She was just more subtle about it than Sarah.
“Going to be a long night.” He muttered.