“So, it’s true that Hard-Light had another Artificer with him.” Miya said as she glanced around the shop. “I assume that makes you Mechromancer then?”
“In a manner of speaking.” Erich responded as he gestured to the drones standing sentry along the walls, “I’m without a mech at the minute though, so it doesn’t quite feel right to keep going by the title.”
“You’re still Mechromancer. Suit or not.” The woman insisted. “These little toy’s you’ve got keeping an eye on me are proof of that.”
Erich shrugged. He had hoped to be subtle about the fact that his guards were all still armed, but it seemed the gang leader had seen right through his wafer-thin deception.
“As you say.” He said for lack of anything else to say.
“Although, if you’re still hankering for a suit, you can come work for me. Me and my people could really use an Artificer. Might not have access to the same shit Hard-Light had, but with him gone… well, we have room for expansion.” The woman offered frankly.
“Let’s stop right there.” Gravity jumped in, cutting the woman off before she could say anything else. “You’re here to help plan out this assault on the Brotherhood and negotiate your pay, not try and poach away Erich.”
“Worth a shot.” The woman shrugged, utterly unabashed. "Would take you too if I could."
Erich coughed, getting his mind back on track after being caught off guard by the offer.
It wasn’t like he would have accepted anyway. It had been risky enough running with Hard-Light, who had been considered pretty much invincible before everything had gone south and proven that to very much not be the case.
Even if we still have no idea what happened to the man...
No, wasn't he about to sign up with a small time gang. Especially one that thought it was a good idea to piss of the same group that had done in the former most powerful meta in the city.
“Right.” Erich said as he handed both women an Omni-Pad. “I’ve been looking the place over, and I think our best chance is to use the same approach against them that they used on us. A lightning fast assault initiated by a kamikaze strike from a truck or equally heavy vehicle right through the front doors. From there we go in, slap down some explosives, and get out.”
“Who’s going to drive the truck?” Gravity asked, “one of the bots?”
Erich shrugged, “In a manner of speaking. I can rig up a simple drive system, if we can grab the vehicle we’re going to use an hour or so in advance.”
“Too risky.” Mira chimed in as she looked over the hospital map. “Look at this hallway. Much too thin. There’s a good chance we’d just end up creating an obstacle for ourselves and jamming the whole place up.”
Ah. He hadn’t thought of that. Then again, he was well out of his comfort zone, so it wasn’t really all that surprising. He was an engineer, not some kind of strategic savant.
Really, he would have prefered to pass it all off to Gravity, but it seemed that even with the loss of her father’s organization, she was far more content to be a follower rather than a leader. She was also far better at deflecting tasks than he was...
“How accurate are these bots of yours in a shootout?” The massive purple skinned woman asked.
He shrugged, “They’re machines so… very. So long as they get a second or two to acquire the target they should be accurate up to the range possible with their weapons.”
Which was a mishmash of different guns, given that Gravity hadn’t exactly had time to scoop up a dozen laser rifles while she dragged both Erich and her sister from Hard-Light’s burning mansion. Erich had been forced to arm his security force from whatever Gravity could buy from the various illicit arms dealers that roamed the local neighborhood.
Myra hummed in thought before tapping a few locations on her pad. “How about we place a shooter here, here and here in advance of the attack. From there they could take out any door guards before keeping those entrances suppressed.”
Erich watched as a number of red icons appeared on his own pad where she’d tapped.
“Won’t they notice us getting the bots into place?” Gravity asked as she took a dip of her drink.
Myra shook her head, “My people are familiar with that area, even if we didn’t know what was going on there. We figured it was just another drug lab, not a… what did you say it was again?”
“Trafficking ring.” Gravity put in before Erich could speak, belatedly remind him that the whole reason they were going through with this was to keep what was going on in that hellhole quiet. "We're also expecting a meta named 'Hangman' to be there. He was injured in our last engagement, so with any luck, he should still be there recuperating."
Because this was going to get really complicated if he wasn't. Given that all these changes had only come about after Hangman showed up, Erich was betting that the telepath was the source of them.
If they could take him and the hospital out at the same time, it would hopefully put a lid on the entire 'meta-farm' thing, before it managed to spread.
“Right.” Myra nodded, “The guards stick to the building itself rather than the surrounding street.”
She gestured at the watching drones, flashing them a mouth full of teeth that definitely weren’t human. It hadn’t been all that long ago that Erich had pointed out how rare it was for powers to come with visible ‘defects’ and for just a moment, he wondered what had caused the woman before him to have her powers develop in such a way.
Myra continued heedless of his thoughts, “Put some clothes on them like you did with the one at the front before sending them out at night. None of those skinhead fucks will pay them any attention. Probably just assume they’re another bunch of vagrants.”
Erich tapped a finger to his chin, drawn from his thoughts. “Sounds like a good idea, but that doesn’t exactly give us a way to gain entry to the place. We’re not exactly running a surpluss of energy shields here.”
Hospitals were tall and had lots of windows. Perfect places to snipe from. Even with his bots providing cover fire, he wasn’t eager to make a dash across that much open ground. Especially in a new, weaker, and entirely untested, suit.
“Energy shields?” The woman scoffed, “Shit, you rich folk and your fancy pants shit. We don’t need that. My guys can whip up a few smoke cannisters. All you need to do is chuck them out and run like hell for the doors.”
Erich didn’t like the sound of that, and from the look on Gravity’s face, she wasn’t a massive fan either.
“And what’s to stop them from gunning us down when we’re all nicely bottle necked at the door in this mad scramble?” She asked skeptically.
Myra grinned, razor sharps fangs peering out from between her lilac lips, “That’s what you’ve got me for.”
“Do you trust her?” Erich asked as he felt the third automated arm settle onto his suit’s back mount with a satisfying clunk.
Myra had left to gather her people after an another hour or so of planning their assault on the hospital. At least, she said she was gathering her people.
For all they knew, she was selling them out to the Brotherhood as they spoke. Which was why Erich had his drones on high alert, with four of them dressed up in casual clothes and standing sentry just outside the shop.
Gravity pursed her lips as she lazily nursed a beer. A low-carb one. Erich thought they were gross, which was probably why she kept buying them. It was a good way to keep him from raiding her stash.
“Trust is a strong word.” She said finally. “Everyone has their price, and in this business those prices are pretty damn low.”
“Not exactly a ringing endorsement.” Erich muttered as he tapped the screen on his Omni-Pad.
“I wasn’t finished yet and- don’t use me to test your suits tracking software!” She said, ducking as the arm swung towards her. It was pointless anyway, as the arm unneringly followed her every movement.
Erich shrugged, powering down the arm with another couple of taps to the Omni-Pad.
“As I was saying.” Gravity continued as she returned to her seat with a pronounced pout, “Myra will sell us out if she thinks it’s in her best interests. Fortunately for us, those interests align far more with ours than the Brotherhoods.”
Erich could see that being the case. The woman’s inhuman features would put her on the Brotherhood’s shit list no matter what she did.
And somehow I doubt the New Brotherhood’s use of ‘werewolves’ has changed that stance.
From what Gravity had told him, the Brotherhood had deployed the Metas that attacked her in a manner more fitting for disposable ordnance than a living asset to the organization.
“We also go back a fair way,” Graivity continued as Erich checked to see if the new connection had messed with the suit’s shielding system. An actual shield, rather than a barrier system, given the decreased size of the suit’s generator.
He was a bit concerned that the long length of the new automated arms would mean that they poked outside of the shields protective bubble.
“Surprising.” Erich said as he noted with satisfaction that their was no unnatural drain on the shields, “I would have thought hanging out with another gang would have been a big no-no while you were with Hard-Light.”
Gravity shrugged, “In case you didn’t notice, he and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye on a lot of things.”
Yes. He definitely had noticed that.
“So do you know just her, or the rest of her crew as well?” He asked, more to continue the conversation than out of any real interest. Gravity had already answered his initial question after all.
“I know a few of them. I imagine the memberships changed a fair bit since I last ran with them. Small-time gangs tend to have a pretty high turnover rate.”
Erich could see that being the case.
“So you didn’t just hang out, you were actually part of the gang for a while?” He asked with not-a-little surprise.
“Hard-Light wasn’t really in the picture back when I was actually a part of the gang.” She said, not that it was even really a proper gang back then. Hell, we probably had more in common with those vigilante groups you hear about.”
That caught Erich’s attention.
“You? A vigilante?”
Gravity actually flushed.
“Only a little!” She protested, “and only because we mostly hit other gangs. Small time ones like us, but ones that were into the really shady shit. Trafficking and the like.”
“And Myra was in on this?” He asked, trying to reconcile the massive woman from before with a youthful vigilante. She had seemed like many things, but altruistic wasn’t one of them.
The grin that had been forming on Gravity’s face died.
“As I said. We were a lot younger then.” She said finally, “the White Tigers are just another gang now. Not the worst around, but not much better either. The only good thing I’d say about them is that actually do provide some protection for the people they extort.”
Obtuse as he was, even Erich could tell it was a sore spot for the woman.
“So, why’d you leave?” He asked as the silence started to drag.
Gravity frowned, “My powers developed. Which was also when I finally found out who my father was.”
Ah, Erich thought, now I get it.
It wasn’t an amazingly uncommon practice. For villains or heroes. All one had to do was start leaving bastards all over the place. Which was easy enough for men of means, which most villains and heroes tended to be.
Sure, it was an investment that wouldn’t see any results for something like sixteen years, if ever, but it wasn’t like it was any great investment of effort on the part of the man either. All one had to do was keep tabs on the kid every other year and see if any powers developed.
For Heroes it meant easier access to protégés, and for villains it meant Meta underlings.
His thoughts must have shown on his face, because Gravity gave him a dry smile.
“Yep,” she said, “suddenly I’m no longer my own woman. I’m part of Hard-Light’s little organization. Sarah doesn’t talk about it, but her story’s pretty much the same. Death-Shriek too, before he got on the wrong side of Grey Hood.”
Erich didn’t know what to say to that.
“Pass me the next arm would you.” Was what he finally settled on.
Gravity looked dumbfounded for a moment, before sighing and reaching over to grab the appendage.
“I don’t know what else I was expecting.” She said as she passed him the arm.
Erich twitched slightly as he felt the suits four automated arms shifting on his back. It was an unsettling sensation to feel them moving independently of his will. Not unlike having a particularly large and cumbersome animal strapped to him.
“Nervous, kid?” Myra grinned over at him, mistaking his discomfort for nerves. Which wasn’t an entirely incorrect assumption to make. He was nervous as hell.
“Uncomfortable.” He said, thankful that the suit’s comm system meant he didn’t have to yell over the noise of the van. “This suit was a rush job, and I can feel it.”
“Doesn’t look like a rush job.” Myra said, eyes running admiringly over his latest suit. “I’ve seen plenty of Artificers use worse for much longer.”
“Which says more about the low standards of Artificers than it does my suit,” he pointed out.
The purple skinned Amazonian still looked skeptical, but nodded anyway.
“Fair enough.” She said before turning toward the rest of her people, who were so tightly packed into the vehicle that it was standing room only. An unfortunate side effect of working with such a low level gang was that the vans that Erich had taken for granted while working with Hard-Light were now far fewer in number.
Two to be precise. And one of those was his. Or rather, Hard-Light’s, but possession was nine-tenths of the law.
Besides, it’s not like he’ll be needing it anymore, he snarked as he thought of the likely long dead supervillain.
He would have preferred to go in the van with the drones rather than be crammed in here with the rest of Myra’s gang, but he doubted it could have taken the extra weight, even with Gravity riding along to try and alleviate some of it.
He was drawn from his lamentations by Myra beginning her pre-battle speech. Unlike him and her, the rest of her people didn’t have earbuds to communicate, so she had to yell.
“Right kiddy-winkles you know the plan. Mechromancer’s drones are going to be the first on station, and they’re going to be the ones to deploy smoke. That means we should have some cover when we arrive. Don’t think that means you can stand around scratching your ass when you jump out. The second your feet hit the ground I want you running for those hospital doors. Let's get inside, get these explosives planted, and get the hell out.”
“How will they know where the doors are if there’s smoke everywhere?” Erich asked, the idea only just occurring to him.
“This aint our first rodeo,” Myra grinned, “my driver’s done this a hundred times before. He’s going to point the rear of this truck directly where we need to go. All we need to do is start running when we get out.”
Seemed a little slapdash to Erich, but Myra seemed confident, so he withheld his skepticisms. It wasn’t like it mattered to him. The visual filters in his helmet would be more than capable of seeing through a little smoke. So long as enough of Myra’s goons made it to the front door to pull of the attack, he didn’t care if a few got picked off while they were stumbling through the smoke.
Erich dismissed them from his thoughts as he turned toward his own suits diagnostics window.
Shields, full strength. Synth-Muscle, primed and ready. Coolant system, operational. Back-Arms, functioning.
For good measure he had the system run its own check.
“Lasers Online. Shields Online. Targeting Online.” Gravity’s computerized voice announced, the familiar rhythm a balm to his worried mind.
Fuck it, he thougth with an eerie sense of déjà vu. Let’s do this.
At which point the van started to veer violently, and Erich was damn near thrown from his feet.