“You can stop sulking.” Erich muttered as soon as Sarah was out of earshot.
After a few more minutes of painfully stilted conversation, the scarred woman had retreated once more to her room.
Unfortunately, Gravity had not, and the heavy silence was beginning to get to him.
“I’m not sulking,” the woman muttered.
“Brooding? Angsting?” Erich suggested, “whatever it is, it’s getting distracting.”
The silence continued on, and he resigned himself to the painfully heavy atmosphere once more.
Normally a little awkwardness wouldn’t bother him, he was socially obtuse enough for it to roll off his back, but in the current circumstances… well, suffice to say that it was bringing up unpleasant memories.
Christ, it’s like being back home again.
He was on the verge of standing up to go… anywhere else, when Gravity finally spoke.
“Doesn’t it bother you?”
He froze, mid movement.
“Does what bother me?” He asked, genuinely confused.
Sarah pretty much taking over? He wondered. If so, the answer was a little. He wasn’t enamoured with the idea of being back under the volatile woman’s thumb. Not at all.
Still, he was smart enough to recognize that he needed her.
“This whole thing!?” The woman spat, “this was our chance to get out of all this crap.”
The woman stood up, hands glowing the faintest hint of green, “sure, it wasn’t ideal, but we didn’t have to be criminals! We could have just… sold stuff.”
Erich resisted the urge to scoff, “you do realize where we are right? Criminal isn’t a word that exists in this place’s dictionary.”
Gravity’s eyes narrowed at him as her hands slowly lost their glow, “you know exactly what I mean. The violence. The killing. The stealing. The constant power struggles. We didn’t have to get involved in it.”
The woman slumped back into her seat, “now my bitch of a sister’s back, and we’re diving right back in.”
Erich turned back toward the harness in front of him and resisted the urge to point out that he was the one to get them into this mess.
Sarah, or Bronte, he guessed, just planned to profit off it.
Which she probably would have done anyway, he reasoned.
“What did you think was going to happen?” He asked idly, “that she would wake up and not start looking for ways to claw out her own little kingdom?”
Gravity shook her head in disgust, “I don’t know… maybe? With the old man gone…”
“Seems to me that you have a very different perspective on things than Sarah.” Erich murmured, “you did what you did because you were terrified of the man.” Gravity made some sound of protest, but Erich rode over her. “Sarah idolized him.”
The sister’s circumstance reminded him of his own situation with his sister to be honest. The thought brought a frown to his face.
“You may have come from similar circumstances, but you’ve both adapted to them in different ways.”
Gravity and Sarah were never going to be alike. Even he could see that. They might have both been damaged by their father’s presence in their lives, but they hadn’t broken in the same way.
One resented her role and the other embraced it.
Seeing that parallel again, he thought irritably, dismissing it from his mind with a shake of the head.
“So, what am I supposed to do?” The woman asked, the slightest bit of vulnerability hidden under her feigned irritation. “Just accept it?”
Erich shrugged as he soldered the last few wires into place, “seems to be what’s going to happen.”
He wasn’t about to tell her otherwise. He still needed her as well.
The sound of Gravity standing up and striding angrily from the room made him sigh.
I didn’t get chance to give her the new equipment, he thought as he looked down at the recently completed shoulder harness.
He could do it later, he supposed, for now he had work to do.
Reaching over to the intercom, he tapped the button for the shop front, “Grace, send in ‘Limpy’. I have a few changes I want to make.”
He wanted the drone brought up to snuff before he and Gravity went out to search for an Artificer.
How difficult could it be to find one in a city like this, he mused.
Very, as it turned out.
A week later, and they were grasping at straws.
Of course, it might help if one of the searchers wasn’t dragging her feet, Erich thought as he glanced over at Gravity.
The woman in question refused to look back, steadfastly staring down the road as Limpy scanned the road in front of them. Her mood had not much improved in the days since their previous conversation.
Sighing, Erich glanced over at Limpy instead.
Not that the drone in question had a limp anymore. In fact, he had little in common with the initial Spartoi model. Instead, he was beefier, more armoured and rocking both a pulse blaster and shields.
A pulse blaster and shield stripped from ‘my’ suit, Erich thought irritably, feeling more than a little exposed out in public without it.
Unfortunately, he had been forced to admit defeat on the suit front. Until they got a new Artificer he had no way of repairing some of the things key components.
And between a fully operational and improved sentry drone, and a barely functional suit, he had been forced to admit that the drone won out.
Hence Limpy’s current, and entirely temporary, upgrades.
At least I’m not entirely defenceless, he thought, feeling the comforting weight of the pulse pistol in his pocket, and the warm hum of the shield generator on his chest.
Still, that didn’t mean he was happy about being forced to walk through Portland’s busy streets.
“Remind me again why I’m being forced to walk like some kind of peasant?” Erich asked irritably.
Gravity turned away, and for just a moment he could see she was thinking about ignoring him.
“Because the slavers district doesn’t allow any vehicle larger than scooter within two kilometres of the place.” The woman finally snapped, “turns out they’ve had a bit of an issue with security in the past few years.”
In a very unladylike manner, she spat to the side, “turns out that even over here, some people have issues with slavers.” She chuckled bitterly, “who knew?”
Wasn’t really much Erich could say to that, so he wisely shut up.
Gravity had made her opinion on Sarah’s plan to obtain a meta-human through less than scrupulous means clear when there own attempts pulled up nothing.
She had also apparently been expecting Erich to weigh in on her side, awkwardness between them bedamned. Unfortunately for her, he wasn’t quite as bothered by the prospect of owning another human being as she was.
What can I say? I’m desperate.
He needed an Artificer to continue his work. And with the way strays Metas were snatched up by the gangs in the city he couldn’t see them finding one otherwise.
Would be nice if we just stumbled across one, Erich thought, but this isn’t a fairy tale.
Fortuitous fated encounters like that just didn’t happen to him. Everything he earned was through his own two hands.
No matter how dirty they might be.
Fortunately, he was distracted from any more thoughts about his slowly declining morality by the sight of the bazaar.
“Lovely,” Gravity cursed, spitting to the side once more.
Erich ignored her as he took in the view.
A shopping mall? An… outdoor, neon-lighty, armed, shopping mall?
After a few moments observation, it was clear that, it wasn’t much like a shopping mall at all, but somehow that image stuck with him. The principal was the same after all. Big colorful lights, posters, busy shoppers, and expansive windows showing the product within.
In this case, though the product happened to be people. Somehow the familiarity made it worse.
Sort of like an uncanny valley.
“Thought better of it yet?” Gravity muttered to his side.
“No.” He ground out, stepping forward into the mass of people and lights. Behind him Gravity sighed and followed.
“This is wrong Erich.” She continued, undeterred.
“I am well aware.” Erich muttered as he let Limpy clear a path.
“Then don’t do this. Or better yet, do something about it.”
Erich looked at her incredulously, “like what? Start a scene and up like that woman?”
He gestured to a lamppost from which a colorfully costumed woman hung, the words ‘Vigilante’ on a sign around her neck.
It had been a bit jarring the first time he saw one of those exhibitions, but by the third time the grotesque tableaus had just kind of faded into the background. Nowadays he just tried to pretend they didn’t exist.
Sort of like seeing a homeless person back home…
To her credit, Gravity didn’t avert her eyes, staring at the would-be hero as she spoke, “no. Just… don’t partake of all of this…”
Erich scoffed, “and I’m sure my act of passive resistance would mean a great deal to the slave trade of Portland.”
“It’s not about that. It’s about being better than this.”
Erich shook his head, gesturing to a storefront where a number of chained and nude, but remarkably clean, men and women were being leered at by a crowd and a large man shouted out there many benefits. As he passed, he overheard the words ‘spider control’.
Not a hell of a selling point there.
“Do you know the difference between us and them?” He said, dismissing the stray thought. “These!” He hissed, gesturing to the weapons at there sides and the shield unit on his chest. “And that.” He gestured at Limpy, who was, as they spoke, eying the surrounding crowds.
Surrounding crowds that were subtly eying the bot in turn, along with everyone else.
“That’s it!” He spat. “That’s all that’s keeping us from being the ones in those stores. And these things require components and money.”
Gravity scowled but didn’t look away.
“Is that your justification for this?” She grunted, “survival?”
Erich shook his head, pushing forward into the crowd.
That was all the justification he needed.
He would survive.
Not without hesitation, but without a doubt.