“Uh, Boss? We’ve got a problem.”

Erich hissed with frustration as he set down a wrench.

“Can’t you handle it?”

Grace, he recalled after a few moments of staring at the nervously shuffling young woman.

“I… you want me to use the drone?” She said after a few moments.

“Spartoi,” he nodded. “That’s what it’s there for.”

He had given her control over it specifically because he didn’t want to be bothered by every little problem.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea, Boss.” She winced, “I really think you should see this.”

Of course, you do.

Seeing that he wasn’t about to get out of this, Erich irritably clambered to his feet, ineffectually wiping his grimy hands on his pants as he did. Ignoring the young woman’s obvious relief, he followed her as she fled back into the shop.

For just a second, he considered telling her to stop calling him ‘boss’.

I could get used to it though, he decided.

As he stepped into the store he became aware of the fact that someone was pounding on the front door with more enthusiasm than was strictly required.

“Why’s it locked?” he asked. “We’re supposed to open right now.”

Grace wordlessly gestured to the monitor behind the counter.

Ah, Erich thought as he took in the view from the camera.

Outside stood a good dozen people decked out in the paraphernalia of the same goons that he’d ‘rescued’ Grace from.

It wasn’t entirely surprising. He knew he’d made a mistake in letting one of them escape.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t like he’d had much of a choice. The suit’s aim-assist was still non-functional, and he’d been far from confident that he’d have been able to hit the running man without braining an innocent bystander.

Perhaps I should have fired anyway? He wondered.

“What’s the group’s name?” He asked, startling Grace, who had been nervously shuffling in the background.

It was kind of amusing, considering Gravity claimed the girl had quite the attitude around her.

Around him though, she was meek as a mouse.

Might have something to do with me murdering two gangsters in front of her, he decided.

“The Third Street Kings.” Grace finally responded.

“Are they strong?” He grunted, momentarily regretting his earlier rashness.

He blamed the low light of the alley. He’d thought the trio of gangsters were just another group of muggers. It had only been when he’d gotten close that he’d realized they were wearing gang colors.

Once again, he cursed the fact that his suit was barely operational. This was a problem he might have avoided if the night vision system was working.

“Uh… yes?” Grace responded uncertainly, either ignorant – or entirely aware of – the fact that he was mentally debating the merits of throwing her out in an attempt to assuage the angry group outside.

“Compared to who? The Saints? The United Front?” He said as he recalled the gangs in the area that he was aware of.

Unfortunately, who owned what changed daily, so the organizations he felt the need to be aware of a week ago weren’t the same ones he needed to be aware of now.

“Ummm… Stronger than the Fronters for sure, but I think they steer clear of the Saints.”

That… that’s good? He decided, Not ideal, but not a total disaster either.

Coming to a decision, he reached over to flick on the store’s intercom, “we aren’t open, so fuck off.”

The gang members flinched at the sudden voice, but recovered quickly. “We aren’t here to buy, motherfucker. We’re here to talk.”

Erich sighed, “not interested.”

The leader spat to the side, “I think you will be, fuckhead. I don’t think you understand how things work around here, so me and my pals are about to educate your dumbass.”

Erich felt himself twitch at being called ‘dumb’ by this philistine.

Off to the side, he noticed that at least Grace looked to be calming down. Either his confidence was rubbing off on her or she’d realized he wasn’t about to throw her out to avoid a fight.

Smart girl either way.

Well… smart for her location and position in life. He hated the idea of using the word ‘street smart’, so he mentally dubbed her as having a ‘low cunning’.

Sounds much better.

“Still not hearing a reason to open this door,” Erich responded, as his thoughts returned to the matter at hand.

The leader kicked the door again, “how about I give you a reason then? Open this door and I might let you walk away with just a beating for fucking with the Kings.”

Yeah, pull the other one asshole, Erich snorted.

He sincerely doubted that after killing two of their members they were about to let him off with a beating. More than likely they were here to make an example of him, and anyone else that might be conveniently nearby.

Still, there was an opportunity here.

“Alright,” he said. “Don’t do anything hasty. I’ll be right out.”

The look of horror on Grace’s face as he stood up was comical.

“That should buy me a few minutes,” he grunted as he flicked the intercom off. “Stay here in case they try to push in anyway. Don’t open the door.”

Ignoring the girl’s halfhearted attempts to stop him, he strode back into the store and over to his partially deconstructed suit.

Where did I drop that wrench?

“Is this asshole coming or what?” Chastity grumbled irritably from the back of the group; her gun casually laid over her shoulder.

Alloy shrugged, happy to let the guy stew before he tried to rush it along.

In his experience a little patience paid dividends when it came to pushing around shop owners. If you pushed too hard and cornered them, they were liable to do something stupid, like try and fight back.

More than a few of his buddies had learned that lesson the hard way; a belly full of buckshot from some middle-aged shop owner.

Nah, it was better to let them believe they had a way out. Less risk that way.

Besides, you could kill them even easier once they let their guard down.

Not that this guy is gonna be lucky enough to get a quick death, he thought.

The boss had been clear. Two of their guys were dead, and an example had to be made. Even if one of them was Darrel.

Creepy kiddy fiddling bastard.

“Probably trying to hide his wife and kids if he’s got em’,” one of his guys said. “Valuables if he don’t… or, he’s grabbing that suit that Gene mentioned,” the guy added as an afterthought.

Alloy shrugged. Wouldn’t do him much good either way. The Kings were old hands at this by now. An Artificer fresh off his event was nothing new. And if Gene’s description of just how crappy said suit was, this guy was very fresh.

There was a rumbling from the side of the store as one of the garage doors finally started to slide up.

“Bout fucking time,” Chastity grumbled as she brought her gun up.

Around her the others did the same, and Alloy started to pull on his own powers; relishing the heady rush that ran through him as his entire body turned to steel.

At least, he assumed it was steel. He wasn’t entirely sure on the specifics, but he did know that steel sounded impressive, so that’s what he said it was whenever he was asked.

It was only though long experience, and faith in his abilities, that he didn’t jump like the others at the sight of the suit as it stepped out. Instead he stood still and took note of the many gaping holes in the thing’s structure.

This thing isn’t a threat, he scoffed.

“Motherfucker,” he scoffed, eliciting a few nervous chuckles from his compatriots. “If this is your attempt at scaring us off, you’re gonna be disappointed.”

Despite the intervening mass of metal, Alloy could see the way the figure within jolted at the sight of his silvery skin.

Asshole clearly hadn’t been expecting to fight another Meta.

Well, jokes on you numb-nuts, he thought with a grin. You and your piece of shit Artificer-Tech suit bit off more than you could chew when you tried to play hero.

Which wasn’t uncommon. So many punks got powers and assumed they were worth shit now. Most lived just long enough to learn that they were just another little fish in a big fucking pond.

So yeah, the real question was whether the punk was going to try and run now that he knew he was outmatched.

Not that he’s gonna get very in that hunk of junk, Alloy scoffed.

“Just a little extra protection for this… talk of ours,” the guy said finally, likely coming to the same conclusion.

Alloy shrugged. It made no difference to him. Suit or no suit, nothing was gonna stop him from tearing this guy apart.

“Yeah, about that.” He grunted, eager to get the façade over with.

He threw a punch, aiming for one of the holes in the guy’s armor.

…Only for his fist to slam into an invisible barrier.

“What the fu-” he managed to cry out before something clamped over his head.

Erich couldn’t help but feel a bit peculiar about the situation as he squeezed down on the Brute’s metallic head, wincing only a little as the screaming started.

Rounds started slamming into him almost immediately from the panicked goons, but they all bounced off his hard-light barriers.

Why Hard-Light never switched to ultraviolet light, I’ll never know, Erich mused, more than happy with his latest alteration.

Unfortunately, that was the only thing he was happy about in regard to the current situation; as with the sound of shrieking metal and a distinctly off-putting squelch, the screaming finally stopped.

Lovely, Erich grimaced, paling slightly at the sight of the now headless corpse dropping to the ground.

Yep, rising degree of comfort with cold blooded murder aside, crushing a man’s skull with his suit wasn’t something he thought he was ever going to be comfortable with.

And I still don’t know why he was so confident, Erich pondered as more rounds pinged off his suit, prompting him to grab the metalic corpse by the leg and fling it at the nearest thug.

Even a casual glance at the Meta had told him that his metal skin was loaded with impurities. Impurities that suggested weak and brittle metal. The blotchy texture of it had been so obvious.

Hell, it had been enough for Erich to pause to wonder if the guy had had some kind of backup waiting in the wings.

But nope, he was just an idiot, Erich concluded as he watched the headless projectile slam into his target with a crunch, sending both figures barreling to the floor.

Brittle or not, he doubted that thug would be getting up any time soon.

That was the moment the ‘Kings’ decided to cut and run, and for a moment Erich considered giving chase, before deciding against it.

The last thing he wanted to do was get involved in a running battle in the city’s back alleys. Not in a suit that was barely functional.

Hell, he’d been fortunate that he hadn’t had to step too far from the store, because the leg was still acting up.

New barriers are drawing a bit too much juice from the generator as well, he noted after quick glance at the HUD.

Which wasn’t all that surprising he supposed. He’d only just got them functioning with UV light that morning.

Striding over, he got ready to go through the tedious process of figuring out how to dispose of the corpses before…

Before what? He scoffed.

The cops wouldn’t be coming for them. The city didn’t even have cops.

Well, if you look at it from a different perspective, these guys were the cops.

And wasn’t that a mindfuck.

“Grace?” Erich called back to the store.

“Y-yes, Boss?” The young woman’s voice called out over the intercom.

“What to do people usually do with corpses around here?” He asked, wondering where he’d gone wrong in life that that was a question he actually had to ask.

“Uh,” the woman hesitated. “Normally the gangs just kind of leave them for…”

She trailed off just as Erich noticed that he was being watched. Or rather the bodies were. A few of the homeless population that had initially scarpered the second the shooting began had reappeared.

Suddenly he felt a bit ill.

“You don’t… you don’t eat them, do you?”

“What!? No!” Grace shrieked indignantly, disgust finally showing through her nervousness, “we don’t eat them you ass! We do… strip them for valuables though.”

Ah, that explains the interest.

Still, he didn’t want a pair of naked corpses stinking up his street any more than he wanted a pair of fully clothed ones - if not out of squeamishness, then out of the very real worry for disease.

“Oi, you!” Erich said, gesturing to the nearest bum – a young man who froze in terror as he turned toward him. “I don’t care if you strip these guys down to the skivvies, but I don’t want them to still be out on the street when I get back. Shove them in a dumpster or something.”

Problem solved, he turned to walk away, only to turn back as a thought occurred to him. “And don’t use my dumpster either.”

The last thing he wanted to do was have to explain to Gravity – and Sarah, he guessed – why there was a pair of naked gangbanger corpses in the recycling bin.

And yes, somehow the city managed to have a recycling service.


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Bio: A supervillain in the making

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