“I thought my request not to be bothered was unspoken?” Erich muttered as he looked up from his latest project, the shoulder harness hitting the desk with a clatter.
“That was an hour ago,” Myra shrugged. “I figured you would be more amenable to conversation after a little alone time.”
Erich sighed, and purple meta snorted.
“Yeah, should have known better when it came to your prickly ass.”
“Quite,” Erich nodded, as he reached over for a bundle of wires. “Still, you’re down here now, and I doubt anything short of sicking the drones on you is going to get you to leave. May as well say your bit.”
Myra grinned, white and yellow Saint’s uniform shifting in interesting ways as she sank into a chair.
“I was serious about that offer to join up with the Saints,” she said with unusual solemness. “They ain’t quite as hard as Hardlight’s old crew used to be, but they ain’t pushovers either.”
“And I was equally serious when I declined your offer Myra-”
“Prowler now actually.” Myra put in, “didn’t really bother with a moniker before, always thought it was kind of silly, but the new crew’s pretty serious about it and I ain’t in a position to complain.”
“Myra,” Erich reiterated, acting as if the interruption hadn’t irritated him, “I’ve got no interest in joining up with anyone. Last time that happened I got pulled into a gang-war and ended up fighting nazi strippers, werewolves and a psychopathic mind reading ninja.”
He sighed, running a hand through his hair, “and all that happened in the US proper, where things at least pretend to be somewhat civilized.”
As if to punctuate his point, the muffled sound of gunfire echoed outside.
The timing would have been eerie if the sound weren’t so common. As it was, it was just convenient.
“I don’t even want to imagine what a gang-war looks like out here,” he muttered.
Myra shrugged, “Bout’ the same to be honest. Bit less frantic. People can afford to take their time when they don’t have to worry about the cops or the Heroes Guild showing up.”
Erich nodded as he flicked a few buttons on his Omni-pad, watching with satisfaction as the contraption on his worktop whirred to life, the little camera on top unerringly tracking the movement of his hand as he waved it about.
“And if you were worried about getting in trouble,” Myra spoke up, drawing him grudgingly back to the conversation at hand, “you’ve got a funny way of going about it.”
“I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about,” Erich grunted.
Myra laughed, “sure you don’t. Just as I’m sure it wasn’t you who happened to crush poor Alloy’s head the other day.”
“That was an accident.” He muttered, before amending his statement, “picking the fight, I mean.”
He definitely meant to crush ‘Alloy’s’ head.
It had seemed a convenient way of nipping the issue in the bud. He had been hoping the implicit threat would be enough to make the Three Quarter Kings back off.
Which was clearly wishful thinking, he thought as he saw a distinctly vulpine grin spread across the purple woman’s face.
“By killing three of their guys out of the blue.” The woman chuckled.
Erich shrugged irritably, “it was dark. Couldn’t see the colours. I didn’t think they were part of a larger crew.”
Something he blamed on his currently still inoperable low-light systems.
“It was only after everything was said and done that I noticed they were all wearing something purple.”
…If only barely.
Fucking handkerchiefs hanging out their pockets!
Because of course they were too poor to use shirts or jackets or something.
And so his little journey out to ‘acquire’ a helper suddenly turned into a big fucking problem.
One he had admittedly hoped would blow over by itself.
Gangbangers get shot all the time after all, he had reasoned at the time.
Well, apparently it wasn’t quite common enough for it not to warrant a response. Hence his need to crush someone’s skill not even a day later.
“I had hoped by crushing the response, it would be enough to send a message.”
A message that he wasn’t easy prey, and the King’s would be better off forgetting any thought about receiving their pound of flesh in return for his actions.
“Well it wasn’t,” Myra shrugged. “In other circumstances it might have been, but unfortunately for you the Kings are trying to expand at the moment.”
“And that affects me how?”
The woman sighed as she sat up, “look, gang politics is all about momentum and reputation. Everyone wants to be on the winning team, so when a gang starts doing well, they start expanding quickly. Kids hoping for a better life, mercenaries seeking loot, and opportunists who see exactly that. Everyone flocks to a winner’s banner.”
“Not the most stable of recruiting tactics.” He mused as he thought of a gang swelling with recruits who originally defected from other gangs.
“No, it’s not.” Myra shrugged, “but it’s how it works around here. Most smaller gangs would rather defect wholesale with their territory rather than get involved in a fight they might not win and lose everything in the process.”
“So rather than fight for every bit of territory, a powerful group can pretty much just wait for it to come to them,” he guessed.
Myra nodded, “right, but the opposite holds true as well. Start looking weak, and that little empire crumbles almost overnight as the absorbed groups decide they might do better.”
Erich let his head thunk into the cool metal of his worktop.
“So they have to respond to you.” The woman continued, “otherwise they risk looking weak.”
“Couldn’t it just be… I don’t know…. beneath them to respond?” He moaned.
Myra shook her head, “when it comes to reputation in this town, nothing is beneath notice.”
“So we’re having a meeting with the leader of the Saints?” Gravity asked sceptically from her position leaning up against Erich’s workbench.
The disdain in her tone was echoed by her sister posture; who sat further back in the room, hooded jumper not quite up to the task of hiding her scars completely.
“Yes. A meeting.” Erich agreed irritably. “A meeting in which we will discuss selling to the gang, and maybe the possibility of us considering joining up.”
“You didn’t think to discuss it with us first?” Gravity snapped, “because this is a problem you got us into.”
Well, he couldn’t argue that.
Not that he was ever going to admit it.
“Last I checked, this was us discussing it,” he sighed as he slumped into his own chair. “It’s not like I’ve agreed to anything yet.”
“No, but the other gangs won’t be aware of that.” Sarah croaked up from her position at the back, startling both of them.
“It’s a meeting. Not a blood oath.” Erich muttered back, refusing to be thrown off by fact that those were the first words Sarah had said to… anyone, since her injury.
“Gangs won’t care.” Sarah continued, “if these ‘Kings’ are gearing up to expand, and the Saints aren’t about to roll over, then they’re going to be arming up. Everyone’s going to know it.”
The blonde woman’s frame was wracked by a fit of coughing, but she continued on with a scowl, “Gravity’s old pal has been here in full uniform. Erich picked a fight with the Kings and murdered one of their enforcers. As far as anyone cares we’re all practically a part of the Saints already. Another meeting will do nothing but confirm it.”
“This is a weapons shop,” Erich argued. “Is it really that strange that a gang member entered and left it?”
That seemed to snap Gravity out of her shock, because she finally stopped staring at her sister. “He’s kind of got a point there.”
Even underneath her hood, Erich could see Sarah’s scowl grow, “how many customers have you idiots had since you set up here? One? Three? None?”
Erich glanced at Gravity, because he didn’t have a clue. The less time he spent in the shop the better as far as he was concerned.
“…None.” Gravity admitted finally.
“Exactly,” Sarah wheezed. “All the shops around here will owe fealty to one gang or another. As part of the organization, or as part of its territory.”
A spark jumped from her gauntlet as she thumped her chest, as if to dislodge something in her throat, “the gang members will shop within the organization.”
“We didn’t do it that way back home.” Gravity whined.
Sarah shot her sister a look, “this isn’t back home. We might have ‘owned’ territory, but that was for the purposes of ‘protection’. Here it’s far more literal.”
“How do you know all this?” Erich put in curiously, because last he checked, Sarah had been in a coma until last week.
And she sure as shit hasn’t left the shop since she got healed. Or her room if she can help it.
The blonde’s severe gaze flicked back to him, “unlike the airhead over there, I was expected to lead the business one day. Had dreams of expansion.”
Another flurry of sparks leapt between her fingers.
“Fat lot of good they do me now.” She muttered bitterly.
Erich had no idea what to say to that.
So, he did what he always did: returned to the task at hand.
“So what? I just… cancel the meeting.”
“No idiot.” Sarah coughed, “like I just said, as far as anyone cares, we’re practically a part of the Saints already. Olivia’s old rug-munching friend took care of that for us when she showed up here after Erich’s fuck up.”
Erich let the insult wash over him. He couldn’t care less so long as he got answers. He did notice Gravity twitch irritably though. The woman opened her mouth to say something, before thinking better of it and sinking down sulkily.
“So… give up and repaint everything white and yellow?” Erich asked.
Because that’s not about to happen.
Like hell he was going to kowtow to another two-bit criminal.
He’d done it before because he was ignorant. Wasn’t aware of just how little meta-powers could mean…
He wasn’t powerless.
He was out of his element, poor and completely out of Meta-tech parts, but not powerless.
Fortunately, it seemed that despite her setbacks, Sarah was still the same woman he once knew.
Later that would scare him, but for now it was exactly what he needed.
“Yes and no.” The blonde continued, “because despite all sense, this is actually an opportunity for us.”
She smiled; a fairly disturbing thing given the scars. “We’re going to go to the meeting. We’ll take their money, listen to their promises, and for all intents and purposes become part of the crew. We’ll even help out in their little war.”
She gestured to Gravity, “in the meantime, you are going to somehow find us another Artificer on the side.”
Then Erich, “Using that Artificer, you’re going to improve on those drones I’ve seen wondering about the place, and you’re going to fix that suit.”
She sat back, “And finally, when the Kings and Saints are at each others throats, we’re going to make our own play for power and clear out both of them with whatever goons I can turn, and Erich’s little drone army.”
Erich liked it, especially the bit about getting a new source of parts, but Gravity’s scowl made her opinion clear.
“Aside from being morally bankrupt, it seems a bit optimistic to assume Erich can make enough Spartoi to take on two factions. Even if they bloody each other up first.”
Sarah waved a hand dismissively, “perhaps… which is why I’m going to spend the next few days getting the lay of the land. See if some of Daddy’s old assets are intact. The two of you focus on not fucking things up with our new boss and getting our hands on a new Artificer.”