“Could you, uh, quit doing that boss?” Smith asked, the blonde young man stuttered from his spot on the van’s bench. “Your kind of making the rest of us nervous.”
Sarah gave him a considering look, eyes roaming over the rest of his team as she continued intermittently releasing sparks from her newest toys.
“Bronte.” She said.
“…Bronte?” The team leader asked in confusion, eyes intermittently flitting towards her hands.
“My new cape name is Bronte.” Sarah smiled happily, “After the Greek goddess of lightning."
Now that she finally had a power worthy of having a title, she’d been doing some research on what one she wanted. In the end she’d narrowed her choices down to the two divine handmaidens of Zeus. It had been difficult choosing between the twin goddesses of lightning and thunder, but eventually she decided that Bronte had less unfortunate overtones to it than her sister, Astrape.
Seeing the skepticism on the team leaders face, she let loose with another crackle of power, enjoying the way those in the van with her leaned away from the noise and the smell.
“You don’t like it?”
The chorus of affirmations for her new name was music to her ears.
Of course, she knew it was entirely fear talking, but that was fine. The novelty of it being her own power to elicit it, not fear of reprisal from her father, had yet to wear off.
Still, it did her little good to terrify her entire team into puddles before the mission even began. She needed them to be in some state to fight when they finally disembarked. So, with more than a little reluctance, she finally stopped flaring her powers. Though she did enjoy the barely audible sighs of relief that passed through the van as she did.
“Five minutes out,” the driver’s voice called through the grill connecting the back to the front cabin. The man’s fear was tangible, but it was only to be expected. He wasn’t part of the organization’s core. Just another nobody grabbed from one of their fringe businesses.
A part of her wondered if the man even knew he was working for a supervillain before today.
Absently, she started to check over her equipment. Her barriers were functioning fine and her laser pistol was sat on her belt, fully charged.
Most importantly though, her gauntlets were ready.
Oh, how excited she was to finally put them to use.
A few moments listening to the organization’s communications told her that her father had already engaged the enemy... and to her surprise, so had Mechromancer.
She wasn’t a great believer in karma - it was a bit hard to be a supervillain if you were - but she certainly felt there was some greater cosmic force at work there.
Still, as amusing as it was, it was also alarming. Strip clubs being defended by sex workers wielding rocket launchers was not the norm.
Nor was Integrity’s home having only three Metas present.
Something very peculiar was going on with the Brotherhood, but she had not a clue what it was. Which only reinforced the need for these missions. They needed some information on what was going on with the Neo-Nazis.
“Equipment check!” She barked out to the team with a vicious grin, receiving a number of affirmatives from the group.
As core members of the organization they were fully fitted out with barriers and laser rifles. Some even had masks designed to imitate Hard-Light’s own skull theme, as well as provide some minor vision enhancements in low light conditions.
Not that they would be needing them today, given that the sun was high in the sky. Perfect for ambushing an opponent who had only operated at night thus far.
“My barrier’s not working properly.” A young woman near the door called out, “It keeps flickering on and off.”
Typical meta-tech unreliability, She huffed. One reason amongst many that not everyone was running around with the advanced technology. An Artificer could only create so much stuff before maintenance became a full-time affair.
Still, nothing she could do about it now.
“Then I would advise not getting shot.” She shrugged.
“Yes, ma’am.” The girl swallowed nervously.
"We’ll be pulling up any minute.” The man said, “I can see people out front… I think they know we’re coming.”
Sarah scowled. Either the Brotherhood’s communications was more on the ball than they had anticipated, or someone had blabbed. And given that a strip-club of all things was apparently putting up stiff resistance against what should have been a surprise attack, she knew where she was putting her money.
“Pull over here then.” She shouted back, “No point in is getting to the originally planned point if we all die before even getting out the van.”
“Will do.” The man said, utterly failing to hide the relief in his voice.
Sarah shifted in her seat slightly as the van decelerated with the sound of shrieking brakes.
“Out.” She instructed before they had even fully stopped moving.
Newness of their leader aside, this team had done a number of raids just like this over the years - albeit usually against softer opposition - and obligingly piled out with a promptness borne from experience.
Sarah piled out last, keeping low to the ground so best to use the wall of shields created by her underlings personal barriers. Gangster usually weren’t much for ‘training’ as such, but the ‘shield wall’ technique had certainly been drilled into them over the years.
Rounds started to ping toward them, but Sarah was already glancing through the press of bodies toward likely spots for cover. Patting individuals on the shoulder to get their attention, she started directing people towards the best positions available. When there were only two people left, she used them as mobile cover to get to her own position, moving along by guiding them both by the shoulders while they continued to shoot.
During her brief time out in the open she’d counted about three dozen Brotherhood goons moving about, though as she peeked out from cover again, she saw that a good eight of those had been downed already.
Her own people had taken zero losses in return; more a result of their superior equipment than any great disparity in skill. Barriers allowed her people to peek up and shoot for longer, and their laser weapons burnt through all but the hardiest of cover. Even a glancing hit from the overpowered weapon systems could be debilitating.
Though not nearly as debilitating as being by one of my new toys.
She was tempted to just start blazing away with her own powers, but she resisted the urge.
She had to keep her mind on the tactical situation, not get caught up in the thrill of a firefight. Her time would come, it was just a matter of waiting for that ideal moment. One where she would get the maximum impact from unveiling her new ability.
Despite the fact that the firefight had started with her people outnumbered almost three times over, it was the Brotherhood who broke first; retreating back to the rundown apartment building that they had repurposed both as a safehouse and drug lab.
Sarah drew her pistol and aimed a few leisurely bursts at the retreating figures. Once upon a time she would have been forced to use single shots, but Erich’s upgrades had done a lot to nullify the weapons inevitable overheating issues.
I really should get him to look at the rifles too. She thought as she observed one of her people plinking away with single shots. It’s such a waste to not be able fire automatically when the weapons are almost entirely without recoil.
Of course, dragging Erich away from the suit would be a task in and of itself. As would negotiating him down from whatever extravagant fee he would no doubt charge for the service itself. It would be more than worth it, but it was still more than she was willing to spend.
Hard-Light might have thought that money was of no importance to the organization, but he wasn’t the one who balanced the books. They were well off, yes, but that was no call to spend money recklessly.
Sarah watched dispassionately as one final fleeing figure tumbled to the pavement just outside the doors to the apartment complex, her back torn open and steaming where it had been struck by a laser.
By her count, only about ten had made it inside, but it was possible there were more skinheads who had not taken part in the outside skirmish.
“Let’s get moving.” She said as she rose up, “We don’t want to give them time to barricade the doors.”
“We’ve got wounded, boss.” Smith trotted over, “Jenny took a round to her shoulder.”
Sarah looked over, Ah, the young girl with the faulty barrier.
“Will she survive another half hour?” She asked, returning her gaze to the door.
Smith furrowed his brows, “I’m not a doctor so I couldn’t…”
Sarah sighed, “Is she screaming and spraying blood everywhere? Or clammy and unconscious?”
“No, ma’am.” The leader said. “She’s awake and complaining about it.”
“Then she’ll live.” Sarah said decisively, “Have someone help her back to the van and then catch up with us.”
Smith frowned, but conveyed the orders to one of his teammates.
A token attempt was being made to barricade the door from the other side when they arrived at the entrance of the apartment complex, but a few rounds through the flimsy metal doorway discouraged the defenders from continuing.
“Break it open.” She said as she heard the sound of rapidly retreating footsteps.
One of her people shot open the lock, and then broke the door open with a few well-placed shoulder bashes.
Letting a few of her people go in first, she stepped inside to discover the corpse of one unlucky defender, and no other members of the Brotherhood in sight.
“They must be either waiting for us further inside, or they’re trying to escape out the back.” She surmised
Part of her wished she’d put people around the outside entrances to prepare against exactly that, but she didn’t have enough people to maintain a proper assault and surround the place. Not if they encountered an enemy Meta.
“Right, let’s get moving,” She said.
As it turned out, they Brotherhood had hunkered down on the second level of all places - likely as a result of panic and the location of the lab. The end result of which was that the new firefight was taking place in a myriad of rundown halls and apartments.
Sarah and her people were pulled into a drawn out game of cat and mouse as they were forced to hunt the skinheads down room by room.
Which was actually to her people’s advantage. Sure, the Nazis had the home field advantage, but the tight confines of the building’s hallways acting as a natural funnel. And within the concrete jungle the Brotherhood were utterly incapable of bringing their superior numbers to bear.
And even if they managed to get the drop on one of her people, their hard-light barriers were more than sufficient to let them sustain the surprise blow and turn it around on the unfortunate ambusher.
As was the case when Sarah stepped into a room and physically collided with an assault rifle wielding young man, bowling them both to the ground. As she clambered to her feet, she noted that under different circumstances she might have considered the man across from to be very attractive.
In a bulkier, more muscular, Erich sort of way.
Of course, knowing that he was a Nazi did quite a bit to sour the appeal of his obvious muscles, chiseled jaw and high aristocratic features.
Such a waste.
With a sigh she launched forward to grab at him, one hand around his bare wrist, as he tried to bring his gun around.
“Do me a favor and don’t shit yourself.” She hissed, looking into his startled eyes, just before she let rip with her power.
Nothing ruined the elation of a good kill like the smell of freshly cooked human feces.
“We’re done! We’re done!”
Erich sighed in relief as one stripper threw down her weapon. Then another. And another. Until finally every weapon not being held by a member of Hard-Light’s crew was on the floor.
The eight odd members that remained.
Two of them had caught bullets during the firefight and definitely weren’t getting back up. He assumed. He hadn't really looked if he was totally honest. He had his own problems at the time.
Speaking of which...
Cautiously, he looked over at the readout on his shields.
Thirty two percent.
Too low. Much too low.
Even with the shields still up, his left leg was moving a little slower than it should, which made him think something had managed to slip past the barrier system and damage the delicate joint. More importantly, his left pulse blaster was entirely out of commission after he overheated it barely five minutes into the fight.
Not that I had much of a choice.
Operational safety limits were one thing when you were drawing them up in the safety of your shop, quite another when some madwoman ran at you with a primed grenade.
He deliberately looked away from the blackened smear that remained of said woman, along with much of the wall that had been behind her.
Not that it was particularly out of place given the state of the building. The club, and the state of its occupants, reflected the carnage that had taken place there. If there was a single chair still intact or wall without a hole in it, he would be hard pressed to find it.
“On your knees. Hands on heads.” Grey drawled lazily, weapon still raised.
The tired and bloody denizens of the building were slow to comply, but once they realized Erich's people weren’t going to gun them all down on the spot, they moved out into the open.
As they did, Erich belatedly realized they weren’t all sex workers. Some of the men who he had mistaken for male strippers originally were just more gangsters in the classic Brotherhood style. Either that, or they were the least sexy looking strippers he had ever seen. Not that he was any great expert on strippers, male or female.
And it's not like anyone's looking sexy at the minute, He thought as he looked over the tear stained, bloody and traumatized faces staring back at him.
As the surrendering defenders finally started to settle down, he noted one man had remained behind.
He was an older geezer, one Erich hadn’t even noticed prior to this moment. Likely because he wasn’t armed, a scantily clad woman, or even standing up.
Instead he sat in a wheelchair, a look of irritated disgust written all over his face.
“Well this turned out to be a pretty fucking useless hiding place.” The man said as he turned to look at Erich's suit.
He looked expectant, as if waiting for Erich to react in some way, but Erich had not a clue why.
Instead he was debating the merits of threatening the wheelchair bound man into moving out into the open like everyone else.
“And of course, you don’t even recognize me. Just typical.” The man snorted after a few moments had passed.
At which point, one of Hard-Light’s goons, who had been in the act of collecting up the discarded guns, happened to glance over.
“Holy shit!” The man said, dropping the weapons with a clatter as he shakily brought up his own. “Integrity!”
The shout brought the attention of all the others present, and they were just as quick to turn their eyes away from the other prisoners to focus their guns on the wheelchair bound man.
Erich didn’t blame them. As soon as he heard the man’s name, he had been just as quick to bring up his own weapon.
“Now that’s more like it.” The man grinned, eyes flashing in the clubs dim light, utterly uncaring of the way his people were squirming uncomfortably as the threat of imminent violence rose.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Grey asked, the most calm of the bunch, but not by much.
“I don’t answer to the help.” The man sneered, turning his eyes back to Erich. “Surrenders should happen villain to villain.”
Erich could care less.
“Why are you here, Integrity?” He repeated, keeping a stutter from his own voice only through sheer force of will. "Why's the leader of the Brotherhood hiding out in a shitty strip club... and using strippers for muscle."
Rocket launcher armed strippers. Of all the ways he might have gone out.
Besides, the defenders here had been reasonably competent, but not nearly competent enough to justify the sheer amount of hardware he could see strewn around the room. This was the kind of stuff you gave out to your core membership, not some recently press ganged sex workers.
And that didn't even address the fact that Integrity hadn't entered the fray. The man was supposed to be an incredibly powerful speedster.
Although, not anymore, clearly. Erich realized as he looked over the man’s wheelchair bound state; more or less answering his own question and feeling like an idiot in the process.
“Why, I would have thought it was obvious.” The man chuckled, arms going wide to encompass the room. “This is one of the last remaining strongholds of the True Brotherhood in this town.”
The man’s smile faded slightly, but Erich could still see some bitter amusement in his eyes, “Although, I imagine if Hard-Light’s newest pet is here, my other operations are receiving similar visits. Would fit right in with everything else our new mutual friend has done.”
Erich said nothing, but somehow the man seemed to take that as an affirmative.
“Well done then,” The crippled supervillain sneered. “You’ve done the Hangman’s dirty work for him.”
Erich frowned, "Who the fuck is the Hangman?"
Integrity gave him a malicious grin, "I'm pretty sure you people call him the 'Ghost'."