“So, you have to be touching someone to use your powers?” Erich asked as he sat with a notepad. “Which are electrical.”
He noted with some pride that he managed to keep his voice level as he spoke. Likely helped by the fact that he was talking about work. Otherwise he wasn’t too sure he would have been as calm as he was while in a room with a woman of dubious mental health, and whom he was also involved in a vaguely defined relationship.
Sarah, in an entirely uncharacteristic move, shifted uncomfortably on one of his work benches, “I don’t have to be touching someone, sugar. But if I don’t have something to channel into, then the electrical current is likely to arc out and ground itself on whatever’s convenient.
Much like conventional lightning Erich surmised. Which meant she could generate a ton of power, but had no control over it. Which meant that in a fight she either had to be right next to her target or become a threat to everyone around her.
Friend or foe.
And even then, she’s not guaranteed to hit her original target.
He could see why that would be considered a ‘shit’ power.
The entirety history of human warfare could be considered an arms race in the field of attaining ‘reach’ after all. He who had the longer reach struck first. Even in the days of medieval warfare, it was the pike that was king of the battlefield rather than the more commonly depicted sword. After that came bows, then guns, then artillery, then intercontinental missiles. Nowadays someone could kill a man on the other side of the planet with a satellite deployed laser orbital strike.
Yes, in all things violent, reach is king.
“Alright, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what to do.” He said as he clambered to his feet.
“Really?” Sarah asked, skepticism and hope warring in her voice.
“Positive.” He said as he started pulling the components he thought he would need out of storage. Or rather taking stock of what he had in storage. Only once he knew what he already had, would he be able to start working on blueprints.
“Gauntlet or helmet?” He asked as he examined a capacitor, before throwing it away in disgust.
“Gauntlet or helmet.” He repeated, “As the platform for the weapon system? Which do you prefer?”
“I… gauntlet, I guess?” The woman said hesitantly, giving him a strange look as he started sorting through strands of copper wire.
“Gauntlet it is.” He grunted. “Should only take a few days. I reckon it should have an effective range of a few hundred meters and be somewhere around Gunner Three. Although I won’t know the exact numbers until I see it in action.”
“You can make something that can fire a cable that far?”
“Easily.” He said without thinking, only to pause as the meta-human’s words finally registered with him.
A cable? What does she mean by a cable?
After a few seconds thought, the penny dropped.
“I would never use anything that crude!” He said indignantly. “Far too unreliable. The reload speed alone would be horrific.”
Hell, if they were going for ridiculous concepts, he might as well create some kind of electrified whip. Honestly, the nerve. Might as well have just asked him to make some kind of crossbow like that charlatan Blue Archer.
Utterly useless waste of space that he is.
His unvoiced complaints about the bow-wielding hero were cut off as two soft, and all too familiar breasts pressed into his back.
They weren’t particularly large, but god were they perky.
“If you really can do what you’re saying you can.” The villainess whispered hotly into his ear, “You better be ready for me to fuck your brains out afterward.”
Erich coughed, accidentally throwing his neatly stacked pile of components into disarray with his arm in the process.
“Yes… Quite.” He managed to muster up, before firmly clamping down on his raging libido.
She’s crazy. Totally crazy. He reminded himself over and over. Insane, crazy, cuckoo…and totally unbelievably hot…
“Thirty grand, all up.” He managed to get out.
“What?” Sarah said, partway through softly crooning.
“Thirty thousand. For parts and labor.”
“The sex isn’t enough?” She asked in disbelief.
Not even close.
“I don’t do pro-bono work.” He said after a few moments of awkward silence.
Sarah continued to stare at him, tension mounting, before finally a tiny laugh trickled out of her.
“Thirty thousand it is then.”
Erich managed to stifle a sigh of relief, even as a bead of cold sweat dripped down his neck.
“I heard you’re making something to upgrade my half-sister’s power.”
Erich resisted the urge to slam his head into the dashboard.
Of course she waited until I was stuck in the car with her before asking.
Gravity might have liked to come off as a lazy and generally absent minded – and for the most part she was – but when she put her mind to it, she could be just as slippery as her half-sister.
“I am not upgrading her power.” He sighed in the end, “I am creating a device to better facilitate her usage of her power in the manner she desires.”
In short. For murdering people.
“That’s what I said.”
“No, you said ‘upgrading’ her power.” He pointed out, “Which I wouldn’t even know how to start doing.”
“Just jam around with her DNA, right?”
Erich frowned, “First, I’m an engineer, not a geneticist. Second, no one even knows if the Meta-gene is real.”
Gravity gave him a funny look, “Of course it is. That’s what everyone calls it.”
Erich shook his head, wincing as one of their escort cars cut off another motorist, eliciting honks and general discontent amongst other vehicles.
“No one knows what creates powers.” He said, watching the general melee forming, “When they first started appearing, a lot of people suggested that it was a result of some undetectable form of radiation. One guy even dubbed it ‘Meta Radiation’.”
Erich watched out the window as one honking motorist finally saw who had cut them off, and very wisely went silent once more, hunching over in his car in an attempt to seem small.
“Of course, the newly formed Heroes Guild wasn’t too happy about that. The first atom bombs had just been dropped on Japan, and lots of people were suddenly very wary of anything even remotely related to the word ‘radiation’. So of course, the Guild hushed up that first guy, and started to rebrand powers as being a result of the ‘Meta-Gene’.”
He shrugged, noting that Gravity was listening intently as they cruised down the street.
“Not that it makes much difference. Powers are powers. We still have no clue what causes them. We know children of Metas are more likely to have an Event, but that their powers tend to be weaker than spontaneous ones.”
He felt his hand subtly clench as he thought of that, “But that’s no argument here or there. It could be genes, it could be a result of radiation from the parent affecting the child in the womb, or it could be something entirely different.”
Gravity nodded along as if all of this was news to her. Which it probably was. It wasn’t exactly common knowledge.
“Wait a minute!” Gravity shouted, shearing years off his life as she accelerated slightly at the same time. “That still doesn’t explain why you’re making some gadget for that my bitch of a sister. Make one for me too!”
“Can’t.” He gasped, heart racing in his chest.
“Why not? Because she’s sleeping with you?” The woman snorted, “If that’s the barrier for entry, I’ll pull over right now. We can find a quiet alley and I’ll show you what real fucking is.”
“Charming.” Erich groaned, “But no. The reason I’m making one for her, and not you, is because a lightning delivery system is easy. Some mystical tech that manipulates Gravity is not.”
Not that there weren’t Artisans out there with that technology, Dr. Moon came to mind as the most obvious example, but until Erich got a chance to look at a piece of said tech, he had not a clue as to how any of it worked.
Gravity mulled over his words for a few moments, and her face went through a number of emotions. Irritation. Frustration. Sadness. Irritation again, before finally, acceptance.
“Fine.” She huffed, “but I want dibs on the next cool gadget you build.”
Erich resisted the urge to scoff. The next cool gadget he built was going to him, thank you very much. Criminal affiliation aside, he had a business to run.
Still, he was wise enough not to say that aloud. At least, not until the woman had delivered him to his favorite lunch spot - and safely escorted him back home afterward.
Irritating as she could be at times, he couldn’t think of anyone else he would rather have between him and a room full of Neo-Nazi thugs.
That was also the reason he put up with his newfound shadows in the form of Hard-Light’s goons. Sure, he who sacrificed freedom for security might not deserve either, but he who gave up security for freedom wouldn’t live long enough be enjoying it for long either.
“Do you ever think about what your life would be like if you’d been one of the ‘good guys’?”
Erich stopped, another spoonful of vivid red and steaming mapo tofu halfway toward his mouth.
“What, like a hero?” He asked incredulously.
“Yeah.” Gravity murmured, her own meal left almost completely untouched after the first tongue scorching bite.
Immediately, Erich felt the need to look around to where Hard-Light’s goons were loitering around outside, looking rough and generally making a nuisance of themselves. More importantly, too far away for them to hear anything he might say.
“When I was younger. Much younger.” He said conservatively, depositing another spicy spoonful into his mouth, luxuriating in the sublime burning sensation upon his palate.
Truly, no one made mapo tofu like Mr. Lin.
“Really?” Gravity asked, ruining the moment with her skepticism.
Still, she wasn’t wrong to be so. Though for different reasons than she probably suspected.
To say, even as a child, that he thought about being a hero might have been too strong. It had simply been a given. An expectation. As inevitable as the rising of the sun.
…Until it wasn’t.
In the end, he simply shrugged, “Even I was young and idealistic once.”
Patently untrue, he reflected, but he figured that it didn’t hurt to say.
“Me too.” Gravity gave a sad smile, “I think most kids are.”
Eric nodded in confused agreement.
“When do we grow out of it though?”
“When we realize that life is a little more complicated than ‘good’ and ‘bad’.” He said, scooping up another scorching mouthful.
“I suppose,” Gravity muttered, leaning back precariously on her chair. She almost put her feet up on the table before she saw his pointed look. With a resigned grunt, she kept them on the floor.
“What started all this off anyway?” He asked offhandedly.
Gravity startled in her seat, eyes widening, before a slow lazy grin stole over her features.
“Oh? Is the great Mechromancer taking an interest in the goings on of us mere mortals?”
“Don’t change the subject,” He said, discreetly glancing around the room.
Gravity’s smile remained in place, but the emotion slowly bled out of it, until finally she sighed and leaned back even more.
“That thing with Chavez’s team.” She said, “It really got me thinking about… everything.”
“Really?” He asked, “I would have thought deaths weren’t all that uncommon in this line of business.”
“Not as common as you might think,” She said, before correcting herself, “At least, not for us”
Erich could see that being the case. The other two factions had been tiptoeing around Hard-Light and his organization for a very long time. So long, that this sudden aggression from the Brotherhood was almost entirely out of the blue.
“So, what?” He said around another mouthful of mouth searing goodness, “You’re thinking of giving up the crime game?”
“Were it so easy...” She murmured, before glancing at him, “You better not repeat what I just said.”
He rolled his eyes. As if he would? Who would he tell? His many friends and acquaintances?
“I’m serious, Erich.” Gravity hissed with sudden heat.
“Fine. Fine.” He said, raising both his hands in surrender, “I promise not to say a word.”
“I’ll hold you to that.” She said, giving him a long hard stare.
A comfortable silence reigned between the two as Erich continued to eat, and Gravity studiously avoided her own meal. Occasionally she would bring a fork up to her lips, only to find herself reaching for her water the moment the red concoction so much as grazed her taste buds.
It was most entertaining.
“So, you don’t think about it anymore then?” She finally asked, eyes watering from the heat.
“Being a hero?” He prompted.
“Yeah.” Gravity nodded.
“No.” He said flatly, “My recent criminal enterprises aside, the Guild is very clear on precluding non-Metas from it’s ranks.”
He tried not to sound resentful about that, but he was sure he was entirely unsuccessful.
“What if that didn’t matter though?” She said, leaning in, “What if all the crime and the meta shit wasn’t a factor?”
He raised an eyebrow at her, but nonetheless deliberated over the question for a few lengthy seconds.
Be a hero? Like his older sister? His parents and his grandparents?
“No.” He said flatly, ignoring the wince that passed over Gravity’s eager face.
“You going to elaborate?” She asked after a few seconds passed.
He looked her dead in the eyes as he answered.
The ride back was mostly silent. Erich didn’t mind. His belly was full of delicious food. He had money in the bank. And he had an interesting project on his workbench. His relationship status could do with a little less complication, but he could live with that.
Compared to all that, the strange mood that had come over Gravity was hardly worth worrying about. If his friend - and he couldn’t believe he used that word – was having some sort of crisis of faith, then it was up to her to work through it. He doubted any words he might have to give would be of any help. He could only hope she worked through whatever conundrum she was suffering before they were invariably drawn into the next gang related shootout.
He half expected a shot to come ringing through the window as he thought those words; an inevitable result of him tempting fate. As luck would have it though, nothing happened, and the pair made it back to the shop without incident.
Things must have been looking up for him.