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A note from SoggyRedToast

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“I call dibs on the strip club.” Erich said, firmly putting his finger over the building’s location on the map.

Across from him he heard a hastily aborted laugh from Gravity, though Sarah and Hard-Light looked far less amused. Erich found himself regretting his spontaneous outburst, as the air in the hastily converted war-room started to grow ever more tense.

He firmly kept his finger on the map though.

“Fine.” Hard-Light eventually sighed, bringing up a hand to massage the bridge of his nose, “The kid gets to hit the titty bar.”

Inwardly fist pumping, Erich deliberately didn’t look at Sarah, who had quickly turned her glare on her father.

“Daddy!” She cried.

“We’re all hitting different targets anyway, so it was going to be one of us going. May as well let the kid have the titty bar if he wants it so much.” As the man spoke, he deliberately glanced down at Sarah’s gauntlets; which were still on her hands even though there was no need for them in the middle of Hard-Light’s mansion. “I figure he’s earned that much.”

Sarah looked like she wanted to complain, but after a few moments thought, she settled down. Though not without a final seething glance in Erich’s direction.

Which the Engineer studiously pretended not to see.

All the while, Gravity watched on with barely contained mirth.

Erich didn’t care. He was content to let his three compatriots believe his choice in target was for an entirely puerile reason.

It wasn’t.

He got enough bare tits flashed his way at home as it was. No, he had picked the strip club because it was likely to the least defended of the available targets.

Hell, if it had more than a bouncer or two for security, he would be surprised.

“Right, so Erich’s hitting the titty bar. I’m hitting another warehouse. Sarah’s hitting a drug lab. Where are you going?” Gravity asked, directing a speculative glance at Hard-Light.

“I’m hitting Integrity’s little club house.” The man grunted.

Sarah gasped, and even Gravity looked a little taken back. Erich didn’t have any reaction at all. He didn’t know what the ‘club house’ was – or more importantly, care.

“Daddy you can’t!” Sarah pleaded, her hair rising as static crackled through it. “Half the Brotherhood’s Metas could be there.”

“Much as I hate to agree with her, she’s right.” Gravity chipped in. “Not even you can just waltz in and out of that place.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Hard-Light ground out. “If we’re going to find the fuck who killed my people, we need to search the most likely spots.”

The man shrugged, “Besides, I think you’re both underestimating me. In fact, I think everyone is, including the fucking Brotherhood.” There was a light hum in the air as the man’s iconic energy swords came to life, “I think it’s high-time I reminded those Nazi fucks who the scariest meta in this shithole of a city is.”

This time it was Gravity who looked like she wanted to argue, but much like Sarah before her, ultimately kept her peace. She didn’t even bother with a venomous look either, as she moved over to sprawl out on a chair once more.

“Whatever. It’s your funeral old man.” She muttered.

“What was that?” The man in question asked, a dangerous edge entering his tone. One that sent shivers up Erich’s spine.

“Nothing.” Gravity said, paling as she suddenly sat up straight.

“Fucking right.” The Artificer said, swords dissipating into motes of light. The tension in the room dropping back down to normal levels only a few moments later.

That was not quick enough for some though.

I think I might need a new pair of pants. Erich whimpered in his mind, and judging by the look on Gravity’s face, he wasn’t the only one.

“Alright, now that Olivia is quite done wasting time,” Sarah said, completely unflustered by her father’s show of force, and apparently over her earlier horror, or hiding it. “I would say we need to move onto picking out teams for this little operation.”.

“Right,” Hard-Light grunted, “The kid can take Smith’s team. You can take Grey’s. Gravity can take Lopez’s, and I’ll take Grant’s and Tyler’s.”

Sarah thought it over for a second.

“Actually, I think I’ll take Smith’s team. With Sam gone he’s still pretty new to leadership, and I’d rather keep a close on eye on him for now. Grey’s team can go with Mechromancer.”

Hard-Light just waved his hand as if to say he didn’t care. Which he probably didn’t to be honest. Hard-Light was bit more ‘reality focused’ than most Artificer’s tended to be, but not by much.

In the two months or so that Erich had been in the gang, he had discovered that the actual ‘running’ of the place was pretty much left to Sarah. Hard-Light was ironically, both a cornerstone of the gang and a figurehead.

“What are we doing if we encounter the ‘Ghost’?” Erich asked, as he turned his thoughts back to the situation at hand.

Gravity quirked an eyebrow at him. “How do you know that name?”

“…by talking to people?” He said uncertainly.

“Yeah right.” The woman snorted, “You don’t talk to anyone. You barely talk to us and we live with you.”

Erich wanted to point out that Sarah didn’t live with him, but she was over often enough that it was kind of a moot point.

“Grey probably told him.” Sarah said distractedly, eyes still firmly on the map, “I put her on his guard detail, and I’ve seen him talking to her once or twice.”

“Oh?” Gravity smiled, “Has a new woman entered our dear Mechromancer’s life? Trying to turn yourself into a real Mech-Romancer?”

“If I had a gun on me, I would shoot you for that god-awful pun.” Erich deadpanned. “And She’s been talking to me.”

And for the life of him he couldn’t figure out why. The tall and gangly tattooed woman had even less in common with him than the sisters, with zero mechanical aptitude at all. From what he could tell, she wasn’t even enjoying it.

“Sound’s about right.” Gravity grunted, slouching back into her seat. “God forbid you sought out human companionship yourself.”

Erich shot a glare at her before talking a calming breath. “My incredibly small social circle aside, I can’t help but note that none of you have said what to do if we encounter the Ghost.”

Which probably wasn’t the guy’s Cape name, but it was what Hard-Light’s goons had taken to calling him. The slaughter of Chavez’s team, and then later at the junkyard, had made more than a mark on all their psyches.

“The whole purpose of this operation is to smoke them out of hiding, and yet I’ve heard zero comment on how we plan to actually take them down once we do.” He continued.

Sarah looked slightly uncomfortable as she finally looked up from the map, Gravity’s grin had turned decidedly wooden, and even Hard-Light’s surly scowl had faded somewhat.

“We don’t know.” The old man grumbled. “They haven’t left any survivors, so we don’t know what his or her powers are.”

Sarah bucked up a bit, “But on both occasions they were active, it was at night, and only against human targets. So we are striking during the day, and keeping our metas with our teams.”

Great. So they were winging it and hoping for the best. Once more he praised his foresight in picking the strip club.

Sarah look him dead in the eyes, “I would also remind you that this operation has a secondary purpose. In the event that we do not encounter the Ghost, it’s almost a given that we will find other members of their senior leadership.”

Who would have information on the new meta in the Brotherhood’s ranks. Along with a host of other useful bits of information vital to prosecuting the continuing conflict. Sarah had already stressed to all of them that she wanted at least one of those people alive.

“Fine.” Erich sighed, running a hand through his hair, “I guess I’ll just have to improvise something.”

Gravity smirked from her position at the back, “Chin up, Erich. You’ve already taken down two Metas. What’s one more?”

Three too many. He thought.

 


 

As Hard-Light’s small army got loaded up and ready to pile into vans, Erich couldn’t help but notice one small fact.

It hadn’t gotten any smaller. Or at least, not appreciably smaller given the slaughter at the Junkyard the other week. Never mind, the various small conflicts between rival gangs’ members that had been occurring sporadically over the course of the feud.

He almost instinctively turned to ask Gravity what the deal was, only to realize she was over with her own team. So instead, he reluctantly turned to Grey.

“Irregulars.” The woman said as phlegmatically as ever.

Which then lead onto a particularly long discussion on the exact make up of Hard-Light’s gang. Or at least, long for both individuals involved. Erich loathed social contact as much as any put-upon genius, and Grey just wasn’t particularly talkative, despite her apparent irrational desire to be in his presence at the shop.

Which ironically, despite his words at the briefing, was one of the reasons he rather enjoyed her company. When Sarah was around, the woman could be positively chatty -if a little crude, but when her boss was gone, Grey could be relied upon to stand in stoic silence, occasionally handing him tools, while watching him work on whatever project needed doing.

It was almost as if the life went out of her whenever the blonde left her general vicinity. Which was a positive change as far Erich was concerned. It certainly made her more tolerable to him than most people he came across.

 


 

“…So you’re saying that Hard-Light’s organization only really has about fifty core members? The rest are more or less just menials and hangers-on? Bodies to crew his facilities?” Erich summarized.

The tall woman nodded, absently listening to her earpiece, much as she had been the through the entire explanation. Not even once on the entire ride over had he seen her switch channel or turn it off.

“We’re here.” She said without preamble, clambering out of the van and onto a non-descript, if a little rundown, street.

Erich trooped out after her, his suit whirring as the synth-muscles within warmed up again after the long drive over. It had been uncomfortable sitting in complete stillness within the immobile suit for the entire car-ride, and he found himself luxuriating in the sensation of being able to move his limbs once more.

“How are things going with the other teams?” He asked as he turned around to get a good look at the area they were in.

“Fine.” Grey said, as she watched her people disembarking from their group’s second van – a concession that had to be made given the size of his suit. “Gravity and Sarah are still en-route to their destinations, and Hard-Light has engaged three meta individuals at his.”

Erich nearly choked on air at the woman’s casual utterance that Hard-Light was currently fighting three enemy metas.

Scary motherfucker or not, that was still a tall order.

“Is he going to be ok!?”

The tattooed woman gave him an incredulous look – or at least, as incredulous a look as she seemed capable of mustering.

“He’ll be fine.”

Erich wasn’t quite so sure, but he figured it would be wiser to keep his doubts to himself.

Besides, he figured. I should probably focus on my own task.

No matter how much of a cake walk it was going to be.

It was at that moment that the van across from him exploded.

The sudden fireball sent panicked goons hurtling, either to the floor, or the nearest bit of cover. Erich wasn’t much better, ducking pointlessly as a flaming chunk of debris whipped past his armored head.

Rocket. He thought numbly. That was a rocket.

A few moments passed before emotion swept back into his mind once more, filling his world with sight and sound.

Why did they have a rocket launcher? Why would they use it? Surely that violated some unwritten rule of street gang violence.

More importantly, could his suit survive a rocket to the chest?

Probably. Though it wouldn’t be much fun or leave me with much in the way of shields afterward… He guessed.

Could his suit survive two rockets to the chest?

Not a fucking chance. He snarled as he looked around for the nearest piece of cover, only to realize that there wasn’t any. Or at least, not any that wouldn’t detonate violently when struck by a fucking rocket.

“Did anyone see where it came from!?” He asked franticly over the comms, struggling to be heard over the frantic chatter of the thoroughly surprised squad of criminals.

“Second story window of the target location,” Grey’s calm voice answered back, somehow perfectly clear over the noise.

Erich’s eyes panned over to the spot, and sure enough, there was a rocket launcher poking out the second story window of the strip club.

What was even more surprising, even than the choice of weapon, was that the woman holding it was clad – or unclad – in clothes that left little illusion as to how she made a living. From other windows he could see guns emerging, as more women, and some scantily clad men, joined the fray.

“Nazi strippers,” Erich murmured in disbelief before he raised his arm. “Aim assist on.”

“Acknowledged.” Gravity’s somber voice came though the speakers, just before Erich fired. The force blast took the rocket wielding young woman straight in the forehead, which whipped back with what was likely an audible crack if he’d been close enough to hear it.

Only, as she fell, one of her colleagues ran over to deftly scoop up the weapon, bringing up to his shoulder with surprising competence. Erich was about to fire again, buoyed by the fact that his own allies had started to return fire.

“Shield at ninety percent.” Cursing, he realized that he was still standing out in the open like an idiot. Firing again and taking out the second rocket wielder, he searched around for cover, only to belatedly realize there was none. Or at least, none that would hide his massive bulk.

Even the still reasonably intact van was starting to look like swiss cheese as more and more shots peppered it.

Which left him only one option really. No matter how much he didn’t want to take it.

“I’m going in!” He yelled through the suits massive external speakers, suit humming as he charged toward the closed purple doors of the strip club.

Fire redoubled against his shields as the occupants within realized what he was doing, Gravity’s voice informing that his shields were now at eighty percent.

But it was too little too late. He slammed against the building’s doors with the force of a runaway train, shattering them as he crashed inside.

The sudden muting of the gunfire outside was odd, as he was left only with the humming of his suit and his panting breaths. It was an odd effect. Perhaps a result of some clever sound proofing with the places garish lilac curtains. It felt almost like he’d just stepped into another world. An effect only reinforced by the fact that the entranceway was completely empty of defenders. How peculiar Erich thought. Shouldn’t the entrance at the very least be guarded? Still it gave him a moment to catch his breath and survey the place. In truth he had never actually been in a strip club before, and despite himself, his eyes wandered just a little over the place’s cheesy décor. That which he could see through the hall’s second set of interior doors, gloomy interior and high intensity spotlight’s. Of course, that was the moment one particularly brave, or stupid, employee emerged from them to blast him full in the chest with a shotgun.

It achieved little beyond create a negligible decrease in his shields, but it did serve to remind Erich that he was here to destroy the place, not critique it’s interior. No matter how in need of critiquing it was.

Erich blasted his attacker with casual ease, ignoring the crack as the man flew back through the doors. Only, as he stepped forward to continue his assault once more, he heard it.

Squelch?

Heart filling with dread, he looked down to where the offending noise came from.

“It would seem the entrance was not entirely undefended after all, He thought with growing resignation. I’m going to have to break out the bucket again.

Assuming he lived long enough to do so, he thought as he heard the sound of trampling feet heading his way.

“Death by Nazi strippers.” He muttered, “Sis, if only you could see me now.”

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SoggyRedToast

Bio: A supervillain in the making

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