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“This may be more difficult than I initially gave it credit for.” Erich surmised as they looked over the plans for the abandoned hospital that the New Brotherhood had converted into their ‘Meta Farm’.

“You can say that again.” Gravity frowned.

The place was massive. So big that Erich had no idea how a place of that size had been built in a city that desperately needed more hospitals, and yet was now sitting ‘abandoned’.

“Do you know why it was abandoned?” He asked curiously.

“The usual,” Gravity shrugged. “Corruption, mismanagement, politics and budget cuts. It was pretty big news back when I was a kid.”

That sounded about right.

“Right, so what did you manage to find out yesterday?” Erich said, getting back to the topic at hand.

“Saw at least two dozen Brotherhood gang members lounging about outside yesterday, but there’s definitely more inside.”

Definitely, Erich thought, support staff at least; doctors, nurses, orderlies… guards. Not just to protect the place, but to keep the prisoners in line as well.

And given the kind of work he thought they were doing in there, he was willing to assume that anyone present was an enemy combatant.

Which is just as well, because I need to silence them all anyway… including the prisoners.

That was going to be rough. No two ways about it.

Not for the first time, he considered just flattening the place from a distance and calling it a day.

“I know that look,” Gravity said. “The cops will ignore a lot of things, but they won't ignore people using heavy artillery in a city. If we're going to do this without drawing too much attention, we need to be careful."

Which translated to putting a few pounds worth of explosives in the right places to make it look like the place was destroyed by something else. Like two metas duking it out inside.

Erich sighed, and nodded.

Looks like I'm was going to be looking a lot of people in the eyes when I murder them.

“You think your bots are going to be up to it?” Gravity asked.

Erich glanced over to where the silent machines, now twelve in number, stood lined up against the back wall of his shop. He’d initially had them patrolling the place, but watching them prowling about at all hours had swiftly got on his nerves.

“One bot for ten gang members, assuming the same level of equipment and competence we’ve seen thus far.” He guessed.

The bots casing could shrug off most forms of small arms without much trouble, but like his suit, the design’s weaknesses were the joints. If you threw enough bullets at them, they would go down.

“That many?” Gravity whistled. "I thought you said they were about as good as a competent soldier?"

"I did." Erich shrugged. "And that makes them worth at least a dozen street thugs by my reckoning. Besides, ten's an ideal situation. Heavier weapons or Metas will scrap them without much trouble.”

It took a certain level of creativity to deal with whatever craziness a Meta might throw out, after all. Modern AI just weren’t capable of it.

“Alright, so I assume that’s our job then?” Gravity asked, a hint of nervousness entering her tone. “Dealing with any Metas that pop up?”

Erich didn't blame her for being nervous. He knew he certainly was, and he’d only heard about these ‘werewolves’ from her second hand.

Prior to her more detailed explanation of the brutes, his running theory had been that Hard-Light had been caught off guard by the Hangman's mindreading powers and taken out that way. But the more he heard about these new artificial metas, the more he worried that the man had simply been overwhelmed by a horde of the slobbering monsters.

Which did not bode well for their own chances, given that they were about assault the place they originated from.

No, he thought. If they had more than three available, they would have used them during the assault on the mansion.

And given that those three had perished – at the expense of nearly all of Hard-Light’s very well equipped goons – he was hoping that the Brotherhood had yet to create more.

Still…

“It is.” He admitted to Gravity's previous question.

Gravity looked like she wanted to swear, but in the end nodded stoically.

“Look on the bright side,” he said as he ran a hand through his hair, “there’s one Meta there that we can leave to the bots.”

“Who?”

“Hangman.” Erich said, “If you encounter him, direct the bots to take them down. If I’m right, and they’re a mind reader, the bots have an infinitely better chance of catching him off guard than we would.”

Integrity had proven that.

In an ideal world, Erich would have whipped up some kind of anti-mind reading device now that he knew what the Meta’s power was. Unfortunately, this was reality, and he had no idea how to even start on such a project.

How does one even ‘read’ minds?

That was the problem with powers. They didn’t play by the same rules that the rest of reality seemed to abide by. Speedsters should be pancaked by their own acceleration. Bruisers should crack concrete with their sheer density. Shooters should melt the skin of their own hands.

Hell, even chunks of my own tech is cannibalized from parts created by Hard-Light, Erich thought grimly.

Erich might have had a better understanding of technology than the old man ever did, but even he had no clue how the ultra-compact Meta-Tech batteries that powered the whole ensemble worked.

It just did.

“Well that’s a good. I wouldn’t want to mess with him after the pounding he gave you.” Gravity grinned, pulling him from his thoughts.

Metal closing in. Blood in the air. Screams in the dark.

“Quite.” Erich faked a thin smile at the woman’s small attempt at levity, ignoring the tightening of his chest.

Of course, Gravity noticed immediately – his acting skills were atrocious.

“You sure you’re going to be ok with this, Erich?” Gravity said. “You haven’t even started on a second suit yet.”

“I’ll be fine.” He said, ignoring the hairs rising on the back of his neck as he thought of clambering once more into a… suit.

“You don’t look fine.” Gravity pointed out calmly. “You’re turning paler than usual.”

“I’ll be fine,” he glared.

If he thought that would make her back off, he was sorely disappointed. Which only made sense really; she’d lived her whole life surrounded by villains with short fuses and generally unstable personalities.

“You’re not fine.” She said. “You’re practically shaking.”

Erich firmly gripped his treacherous right hand to his chest, stopping its quivering by smothering it against himself. He glanced away from Gravity’s concerned gaze, shame blooming in his chest.

Which was morbidly funny, now that he thought about it.

I’ve never pretended to have any great moral fortitude, he thought.

He’d never pretended to be more than he was. A selfish and vain coward, desperately scrambling to save his own skin.

“I’ll do it.” Gravity said finally.

“What?” He said, taken completely off guard by the random statement.

“I’ll do it alone.” She said, resting a hand on his shoulder. “You don’t have to go. Me and the bots should be enough.”

No. They weren’t. Not even close. Even with him, this was liable to fail and get them both killed.

I want to accept though. So very badly.

“...No. You won’t.” He sighed, “you fail, and I’m toast anyway.”

Gravity stared at him, eyes roaming over his, if not determined, then no longer terrified, expression.

“And here I thought you would say something inspiring about always having my back,” she chuckled.

Erich shrugged.

He wasn’t that guy. He never would be.

“Well,” she said, “if you’re determined to come on this little suicide mission, you really need to get a suit of some description up and running.”

She gestured to the map.

“Otherwise we’re going to end up getting pinned down at the first bottleneck we come across. We need something to act as our breacher.”

Erich nodded tiredly, “give me a few more days. I’ll get something together.”

Gravity grinned.

“Good. I’ll see if I can’t drum up some extra manpower in the meantime. Hard-Light’s guys might have all gone to ground, but their should still be some smaller gangs roaming about with more balls than brains. Just a matter of waving some cash in their direction really.”

Erich wondered for a moment why she hadn’t mentioned this idea prior to now, before deciding it wasn’t really worth it.

“Just try and get a few that will wait until after we’ve destroyed the horrific torture factory before they stab us in the back.”

Gravity gave him a jaunty salute before she strode out of the room, one of the sec-units peeling off to join her.

Erich sighed, before turning back to his worktable.

A few days to put together a new suit? Yeah right…

 


 

Erich sighed as he looked over the initial designs for his new suit.

“Well… It’s prettier than the first one was,” he muttered.

It was also smaller and faster.

...With weaker shields, weapons and armor, as well as a shorter operational time, he amended.

Which was only to be expected when one considered that he planned to assemble it over a few days with half as many parts as his first attempt.

Still…

Erich heard the telltale beep of his drones entering combat mode and immediately dropped his Omni-Pad as he reached for his laser pistol.

“Report.” He said to the nearest yellow eyed sec-unit as he kept a wary eye on the door.

“Asset ‘Gravity’ has returned with an unknown individual.” The machine intoned with its artificial cadence. “Permission to engage unknown individual?”

“Permission postponed.” Erich instructed as he started walking toward the shop’s entrance, “All available units accompany me. Escort mode.”

“Acknowledged.” The drones said as they fell in around him with machine like precision.

Erich had a vague idea of what he would find outside: Gravity being denied entrance by the sec-unit at the door, accompanied by some two-bit gang-leader.

Probably a low-level Meta of some description.

Which likely meant a woman, given the disparity in Event rates between the genders.

Of course, there was also the possibility that she had been captured and was being held hostage at gun point. Which was why he was being accompanied by an entire compliment of his drones.

He had also taken to wearing one of the few remaining hard-light vests at all hours, so he was reasonably safe from being sniped the moment he stepped outside.

All in all, it was nothing to get particularly excited about, and he was far more interested in returning to the ‘suit’ that was taking shape inside his shop.

Which was why he was caught almost completely off guard when he saw who – or what – was standing beside Gravity on the street.

Or rather, looming over Gravity on the street.

“Yo, Erich.” Gravity’s voice called, no doubt taking pleasure in his poleaxed expression.

Not that he really noticed her, focused as he was on the seven-foot-tall purple skinned woman standing next to her.

“Who’s your friend?” He asked as soon as he recovered.

“Miya.” The woman in question answered. “Leader of the Forty-Five, and your ally in seeing the Brotherhood driven from this city.”

“As she said.” Gravity grinned, “her and her people are pretty eager to give the Brotherhood a bloody nose.”

“But not so eager as to forgo payment.” Miya said as she crossed her massive arms over her equally massive chest.

“That won’t be a problem.” Erich put in as he surreptitiously waved for the drones to stand down. “I think you will find us quite well suited to remunerate you for your assistance.”

No matter how much it pained him to do so.

“Good.” The woman said, “because if I’m going to be throwing my people into this meatgrinder, then I expect to be well compensated for the loss.”

Gravity frowned at the woman’s words, but Erich found himself looking at the statuesque woman with a newfound respect.

This was someone he could work with.

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The Spartoi Combat Drone for anyone curious (Artist: Pedro Campello)


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About the author

SoggyRedToast

Bio: A supervillain in the making

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