Erich woke to pain. Which wasn’t all that unusual. Muscle soreness. Hangovers. A fleeting sense of wrongness about the direction his life was taking. All were pretty typical sensations.
No. What was unusual about this particular pain was that it came about as a result of an elbow that was firmly jammed into his kidneys.
“God no.” Erich muttered, staring at his slowly waking bedmate.
“God yes, lover,” Sarah murmured as she leisurely stretched. Not unlike a cat rising from a nap.
“We didn’t sleep together.” He deadpanned, roughly shoving away the limb jammed into his side. “Well, we slept together. But at no point did we bump uglies… or get our uglies involved in any way.”
“You missed your calling in life, honey. You should have been a poet.” Sarah said, rising from the bed.
Even though she was still fully clothed, her hair was a mess, and she had a streak of oil across her brow, Erich had to admit that she looked ravishing in the morning light. Or mid-afternoon light, he corrected after a quick glance at the clock.
“Care to join me in the shower?” She teased.
He didn’t dignify the question with a response, rising from the bed and striding from the room with almost indecent haste; ignoring the delicate chuckles that followed him out.
He needed coffee. And a shower. One he could have now. The other would likely take a while. Time spent living with Gravity had taught him that much. He doubted Sarah would be any different.
Striding into the kitchen, he could see Gravity sprawled out on the couch. Fully clothed and just as filthy as he and Sarah were, she was the picture of feminine grace as she snored loudly.
Sighing, he set about making two cups of coffee.
“Wugh!?” The woman slurred, when a few minutes later, the warm beverage slammed down onto the coffee table next to her.
“Coffee. Drink.” Erich instructed as he slumped into his own chair. “Last night’s retrofits were good, but I want to make sure that everything is running perfectly before I’m forced into that metal hulk.”
It actually hurt him to say that, but his feelings were what they were. The knowledge that he was going to be the one riding the suit into battle had cooled his feelings towards it considerably.
“Really?” Gravity slurred blearily, reaching for the cup, “And what makes you think I want to spend another moment in that cave of yours, after spending damn near all night there?”
Erich quirked his eyebrow but said nothing. Even if he didn’t know exactly what the young woman wanted from him, now that he knew Gravity wanted something, he could leverage it to his advantage.
“Fine.” The woman groused after a few moments of silence, “But that bitch better not be there.”
If Sarah was there, she was there. Erich doubted she would be though.
As Hard-Light’s right hand woman she would probably be back at the mansion organizing the ‘troops’ for the attack. Despite Gravity’s apparent relative power, it had grown clear to him that she didn’t have nearly as much responsibility within Hard-Light’s organization.
He figured there was a story there, but the only part of it that he cared about, was the fact that she would be free to help him with the suit.
It was nearly half an hour later when Sarah finally emerged from his apartment’s tiny bathroom.
“Tada, children,” She sing-songed, “Your goddess is here!”
“Tch,” Gravity hissed, “you couldn’t just have showered back at the mansion?”
Erich might have said something similar, but he found himself rather distracted by the sight before him; Sarah clad in just a towel, skin glowing and fresh out of the shower was something of a sight to behold.
“Please,” Sarah scoffed at her irritated sibling, “Some of us actually care about our appearance. I couldn’t go out in public looking like this.”
“You don’t even have a change of clothes.”
“No, but you do.” Sarah pointed out.
Gravity looked ready to explode, but the blonde simply smiled and pointed behind her “Oh look, you better grab that shower before Erich gets to it first.”
Erich had been planning to do exactly that, figuring the brewing argument between the two sisters would serve as a great distraction for him to sneak in next.
That plan promptly went to hell as soon as Gravity glanced at him.
“You better not touch my clothes!” The woman called as she sprinted into the bathroom.
Erich watched her go, hopes of getting clean anytime soon dashed before they even began.
He sighed, directing a resigned glare in the blonde’s direction. “You’re the worst.”
The woman shrugged, a mischievous smile stealing over her features.
“No, listen you idiot.” Erich said, “I don’t care if you wear the armor. In fact, I firmly believe the genetic potential of humanity would experience a net increase if someone were to make your insides turn into outsides.”
He sighed, “But Hard-Light told me to check your kit, so put on the damn vest before I inform him that you care more about showing off your abs than following his instruction.”
The thug across from him grabbed the vest, but couldn’t resist a final a sneer as he swaggered back towards his little posse.
“And tell your gaggle of girlfriends to get their asses over here too.” Erich yelled, “I can still see a bunch of them without vests.”
For a second it looked like the band of angry young men were going to ignore him, but Sarah’s soprano voice sailed clear across the garage, “Do as he says people. We wouldn’t want any of you suffering nasty accidents, right?”
Despite the cheeriness in her voice, the threat was clear, and the reticent goons hurried over to him with almost unseemly haste.
Idiots, Erich snorted.
Even with Sarah’s intervention, getting the rest of the gangbangers fitted out took longer than it rightfully should. The whole farce only served to reinforce just how much the fancy hard-light barriers implanted into the vests were wasted on them.
At least as far as Erich was concerned.
He didn’t even want to think about the fact that his upgraded laser pistols were in the hands of these men and women.
Not for the first time that evening, he found himself cursing Hard-Light’s decision to appoint him ‘head mechanic’.
“Only mechanic would be more accurate,” He muttered under his breath as he adjusted the frequency on a radio earpiece, before handing it off to a garishly tattooed young woman.
“All right punks,” Hard-Light’s voice bellowed out from over near a fleet of white vans, cutting through the noise with casual ease “Get your asses over here so I can tell you the plan.”
Erich stormed over, glad to be momentarily free of dealing with the masses.
“This is the warehouse we’re looking at,” Hard-Light said, gesturing to a crudely drawn map, “It’s been built in the typical eighties fashion, so any of you who have been on dock runs know what to expect. Wide open space, one set of big doors, two or three small exterior doors, and a gangway leading to the foreman’s office.”
Around him Erich could see a few people nod in recognition, before Sarah stepped up, “At first, we thought this was some kind of drug den, but some recent intel suggests they really are using it as a warehouse. Mostly for mechanical parts from what we’ve observed, but that may just be cover for heavier artillery.”
Hard-Light stepped forward again, a familiar gleam in his eye, “Which changes things. This no longer a churn and burn operation. It’s now a smash and grab. Kill everyone inside, and then pile everything that you can back into the vans before the feds show up.”
Typical Artificer. Erich thought. Avarice, Hard-Light is thy name.
Sarah nodded, “Which means that the vans will be full, and thus won’t be able to extract you afterward. So, if I were you, I would use these few minutes before the operation starts to plan out your escape route; because most of you are going to be getting home on foot.”
A muted grumble passed through the room, but it was instantly silence by a glare from Hard-Light.
"We going for ransoms?" A voice called out after a few awkward moments.
“No prisoners.” Sarah shook her head, a stony mask falling over her face. “Brotherhood never pays, and it’s too much of a pain in the ass to hold onto them.”
Erich tried not to wince at the number of eager chuckles ran through the crowd. To his surprise, and relief, Sarah looked almost as uncomfortable as him; though she was clearly trying to hide it.
After a few moments of restless shuffling, Erich willed himself to relax. What had he been expecting anyway? He knew what kind of people he was surrounding himself with when he signed up.
Now if only my subconscious could learn to accept that. He thought glumly, trying to stifle the uncomfortable rumblings of his gut.
“What’s happening with the suit?” A feminine voice called out, the crowd turning almost as one to regard where his beauty sat hunched over in the van that had brought it to the mansion.
In the low light of the garage, it looked pretty impressive. The paint was chipped, and some parts still had flecks of rust attached, but overall it gave off the impression of a simple, powerful, machine.
It was designed to break things and avoid being broken in return; every part of its design reflected that fact.
Hard-Light stepped forward again, a malicious smile lighting up his features, “Our newest associate will be piloting it.”
Erich had to resist the urge to shuffle once more as all eyes fell on him.
Instead he did his best to stand with his head held high. He knew that if he showed even a hint of weakness, a crowd like this would eat him alive.
“As the one who built it, he’s got the most experience with it.” Hard-Light leaned in, as if to tell a secret, “And considering he’s already bagged two Meta’s without the thing, I shudder to think what he might do with it.”
Huh, I suppose I have, haven’t I? How funny was that.
“Alright, you lot, start mounting up.” Hard-Light said, “The Brotherhood’s got a barrel of kickass headed their way, and we’re gonna be the ones to deliver it.”
Erich resisted the urge to sigh in relief as everyone started to walk away, ignoring attempts by people to draw him into conversation.
There was nothing here he wanted to hear.
He had a suit to clamber into. God help him.
“You doing ok?” Gravity asked, appearing out of nowhere.
“That a real question?” Erich responded, about to ask her where she’d been all evening. She’d all but disappeared the moment they arrived at the mansion.
It was only as he turned to look at her that he found out why.
“Nice costume.” He snarked.
Utterly unruffled, the woman grinned as she did a little pirouette. “You think so?”
Erich shrugged, “The helmet looks decent enough. Might stop a bullet.” Which was more than he could say for the rest of her uniform.
Though he had to admit that it did flatter her figure. The black and yellow did work very nicely with her chocolate colored skin. And the sleeveless nature of it did a lot to show off her nicely toned arms. Though he personally would have chosen something that might block bullets instead.
“What’s with the cat ears?” He asked.
She smiled, lifting it up next to her head, “They’re cute, and it’s where the sensors are held.”
That caught his interest. “Sensors?”
The villainess shrugged, “Sensors. Comms. Batteries. The total package.”
Hmmm, maybe she would let him a take a look at it later? Who knew, he might even be able to make some improvements?
“Focus.” Gravity jostled him. “We’re about to go into a fight. You can think about my helmet later.”
Erich scowled, but had to admit that she had a point. Swallowing his rising dread, he clambered into the van, ignoring the groaning of its suspension as he did.
Taking a steadying breath, he pressed the suit’s ignition key against the scanner positioned just under the armpit; the chest piece opening with a hiss to expose the padded interior. Sparing a final glance backward at the rest of Hard-Light’s crew clambering into their own vehicles, he sighed in resignation before climbing inside.
Which, despite his best efforts, had never quite become comfortable after the total mess Crusher had made of the initial design.
Parts jabbed into strange places. Some spots were oddly warm. Hell, he had a coolant line running right between his legs.
Still, he couldn’t deny the tiny tingle of excitement he could feel as the helmet closed back down around him. The shudder of electricity that ran up his spine as he felt the entire suit hum to life. The slight skip of his heart as synth-muscle stretched and strained as it started to warm up.
There was nothing quite like it; the feeling of power and invincibility that came from wearing half a ton of high-tech power armor.
“Mechromancer Online.” Gravity’s voice announced with entirely uncharacteristic solemnness.
When did she even get time to record that!? He cursed as the video feeds booted to life.
“Gravity,” Erich hissed, “Did you change my suit’s audio prompts?”
The woman didn’t even try to hid her grin as she slid her helmet over her head.
“Do you like it?” She asked, as she slammed the van’s rear doors closed and collapsed onto a bench.
Yes. Yes, he did. A hell of a lot more than the computer-generated voice he had been using before.
Would he ever admit that?
“The Mechromancer? Really?” He asked, latching onto the one thing he could think to complain about.
Even with her helmet clasped over her face, Erich could see her excitement in the way her hands twitched.
“It’s your Cape name!” She squealed gleefully, “If you’re going to be wearing that badass suit, you need a badass villain name.”
Erich couldn’t deny, it did sound pretty badass.
Again, not that he would ever admit it.
“It’s alright, I guess.” He attempted to shrug, only to wince as the suit held him firmly in place.
“Ha,” The woman pointed at him, “That’s ‘Erich talk’ for it’s totally amazing, but I’m too much of a weeny to admit it.”
“A weeny? really?” Erich sighed, “What are you twelve?”
The woman shrugged, sending a stab of envy through his shoulders, “I calls them as I sees ‘em.”
Suddenly the prospect of an assault on the Brotherhood’s warehouse didn’t seem so bad. For one thing, it would get him out of this van, and thus, out of this conversation.
“Don’t let her take all the credit,” Sarah’s voice chimed in over the radio, “I helped.”
Gravity scoffed, “Please, you didn’t even know what a necromancer was.”
“No, not until I looked it up.” Sarah replied, “but I know enough about Erich to know he wouldn’t have appreciated your other suggestions.”
Despite himself Erich was curious. “What other suggestions?”
Sarah sounded totally gleeful, while Gravity’s body language suddenly looked decidedly less so.
“I’ll save you from having to hear the worst of them.” Sarah laughed, “Let me tell you now though; the one she originally wanted to go with was ‘The Red-ucer’.”
Erich all but shuddered, and even though he couldn’t convey even a hint of body language through the suit, Gravity still managed to pick up on it.
“Hey!” She protested, “It was a good name.”
No. No, it wasn’t.
“Why red though?” He couldn’t help but ask.
Reducer was self explanatory, if a bit odd. Red made not a lick of sense to him though.
“Well it’s got red on it doesn’t it?” Gravity pointed out.
Yes. It did. If only on the bits that Erich still hadn’t gotten around to scraping off yet. The Crusher might have wanted to ride around in a big red target sign, but Erich was content to pick something more subdued.
And easier to camouflage.
“Thank you, Sarah.” Erich said over the open line, ignoring the look of betrayal from the woman in the van with him. “You picked a great name.”
“Not a problem, sugar.” The blonde’s smug voice came over the radio, “I love nothing more than…” Her voice cut off for a moment.
When she came back, she was utterly serious, “Get ready, we’re nearly there.”
Erich swallowed nervously, as he nodded.
The impromptu conversation on the way over had almost distracted him from the coming violence. Now that he had been reminded again, his guts were all but twisting themselves into knots.
“You’ll be fine, Erich.” Gravity said with surprising softness, one hand pressing against the cool metal of his suit. “You’ve been in two fights already, and you came out just fine. Better than fine even.”
Better than the other guys at least, he thought with grim humor, the reminder setting his heart a little more at ease.
“Thanks, Gravity.” He murmured quietly, trying to fight down the flush that threatened to overtake him completely.
If the yellow clad woman heard any indication of it, it didn’t show in her actions, as she gave him a quick thumbs up, before reaching out for the latch to the van’s doors.
“As I’ll ever be.” He joked.
Taking the weak attempt at humor for what it was, Gravity shoved the doors open, letting the cool night air spill into the muggy confines of the van.
“Let’s go then.”
“Blasters Online. Barriers Online. Targeting System Online.” Gravity’s computerized voice announced, each positive system announcement acting to calm Eric’s troubled thoughts.
“Fuck it.” He whispered, clambering out after her.