“This is for you.”
Gravity looked surprised, glancing up from her Omni-pad with wide eyes as Erich’s latest project slid across the counter.
“What is it?” She asked, hastily sliding away her pad.
Erich shrugged as he slumped over the couch, “your answer to Bronte’s gauntlets.”
Erich sighed as he laid back. “Way back before the whole… everything happened, you asked me to build you something to put you on the same level as Bronte.
He waved vaguely in the direction of the device. “I’ll admit that it took me a while, but I finally got around to building it.”
He wasn’t looking at her, but he could almost hear an audible twitch as Gravity’s interest skyrocketed. In his mind’s eye, he could almost imagine two dog-like ears shooting to attention.
Need to get some sleep, he thought blearily, dismissing the mental image.
“How does it work?”
“Slip it on your shoulder, plug the jack into the port on the back of your helmet, and look in the general direction of whatever you want to die.” Erich murmured, eyelids gradually losing their battle with gravity.
“It’s not doing anything.”
Of course not, there’s a delay, he thought blearily…
“Wait, wha-” He managed to shout, just before an explosion rang out through the apartment, sending him ducking for cover.
Silence reigned through the apartment, in the aftermath, broken only by the sound of drywall crumbling.
“What the fuck!?” Erich shouted, as he looked between a helmeted and fully armed Gravity, and the rather large hole in the kitchen wall.
Despite her fully helmeted head, he could read the sheepishness in the woman posture, “I… I was aiming for the cup.” She murmured, gesturing to where a cup assumedly once sat.
Erich said assumedly, because the thing was likely little more than it’s component atoms now.
Along with a good chunk of the wall, he thought irritably, trying to calm his racing heart.
“Sisters.” He said, voice dripping with disdain as he remembered Sarah doing the exact same thing to his workshop.
“Hey!” Gravity protested as she pulled her helmet off. “I’m not like her… I just didn’t expect it to be so strong.”
She glanced back and forth between the shoulder mounted turret and the hole in the wall. “Why’s it got a delay anyway? And why’s it so strong?”
Erich slumped back into his chair, all sleepiness banished by the adrenaline that had recently shot through his system. Instead he was forced to deal with tremors in his limbs as the chemical ran its course.
“It has a delay to give you time to use your powers after designating a target with the retinal targeting.” He grunted, shakily returning his gun to its holster.
“Oh.” Gravity said, realization running through her.
For just a second, Erich feared the room was about to experience another ‘test run’ but to his relief, reason seemed to win out at the last second as his friend placed her helmet back on the counter.
Breathing a sigh of relief, he continued. “And the reason it’s so strong is because I mounted the pulse blaster on it.”
His last pulse blaster.
Or at least, the last one that wasn’t already in the hands of the drone downstairs, he thought, complicated emotions running through him as he considered the downgrade that was the laser pistol in his holster.
Something that, to his irritation, Gravity didn’t miss.
“Why are you giving it to me?” She asked slowly, “I thought…”
That he was hoarding the best gun for himself until he managed to the suit back up and running? That he could have gotten by with just mounting a laser or a regular gun? That he might even have gotten away with nothing, given that Gravity had clearly forgotten commissioning a new bit of tech from him?
All good questions, and ones he knew she wasn’t about to let him worm his way out of.
So instead he just built the bullet and answered.
“I figured I owed you one.” He muttered, resisting the urge to flare crimson, and dearly wishing the meta would drop the subject.
Of course, his prayers weren’t answered as she stepped towards him.
When are they ever?
“Owed me one? For what?” She asked, genuinely perplexed.
Erich muttered his answer, determinedly keeping his eye on a spot just up and to the left of Gravity’s eyes.
Sighing, Erich cursed himself for a sentimental moron before grunting louder, “for taking you to the slave market with me.” He snapped, “I knew it made you uncomfortable, and I took you anyway. I shouldn’t have put you through that.”
He wouldn’t apologize for seeking out a slave in the first place, but he could admit that taking her with him for protection had just been rubbing salt in the wound.
Blazing crimson, he hoped that would be the end of it.
Of course, he should have known better, and he felt horror building in his gut as Gravity’s confusion slowly morphed into a very familiar vulpine grin.
“Aww, Erich does care.” She teased, her tone of voice almost a mirror match for the one his sister used to use.
…Saccharine sweet, and just as mocking.
A tone of voice that had been utterly mortifying him as a child, and it seemed the passage of time and change of circumstances had done little to change that.
“No.” He snapped, ears burning, “I was just repaying a debt. Keeping our working relationship hospitable. It was business transaction!”
“Don’t be like that, Erich.” Gravity chuckled, “It’s ok to admit you care about your good pal Gravity.”
“…You are infuriating.” He spat, crossing his arms and looking away.
“Alright, alright.” The Meta relented putting her hands up and sinking down into the seat opposite him.
“I am genuinely happy though. This thing,” she said gesturing to the device, “might just save my life in a firefight. So, thank you, Erich.”
Erich determinedly didn’t look at her as he muttered something that might have been a close approximation of ‘you’re welcome’.
Determined to change the subject, he gestured to the hole in the wall. “So, I can’t help but notice that Sarah hasn’t run in to tear you a new one for ripping a hole in our wall.”
Kind of hypocritical given that the blonde had done the exact same thing when he gave her the gauntlets, but then again, Sarah had never pretended to be some unimpeachable bastion of moral authority.
“Grace neither,” Gravity pointed out as she fiddled with her latest toy. “Sarah’s off ‘liaising’ with our new employers,” the venom she put in the last word told Erich everything he needed to know about her opinion on the Saints, “and Grace is bright enough not to run to investigate the sound of a weapon going off.”
That made sense to Erich.
Almost like a cultural quirk unique to Portland, he mused.
As if on cue, the girl in question peeked her head out from the stairwell, and after a quick glance around to see that nothing totally out of the ordinary was going on, retreated back to the shop.
“Girl’s like a fieldmouse,” Gravity said, her smirk only tinged by the slightest hint of sadness.
Erich shrugged, happy not to have to deal with an additional bother.
“Anyway,” Gravity smiled, earlier cheer returning, “as thanks for finally getting this done, how about I join you in watching one of the only Portland exports I actually consider worth exporting.”
Lifting up her Omni-pad, Erich quirked an eyebrow as the easily identifiable logo of the Portland branch of the Death Dome came onscreen.
Yet another similarity between sisters, Erich thought, as Gravity started casting it toward the TV.
Not that it was a great surprise.
Death Dome was popular enough with the average joe for it not to be unusual – even in the US proper where it was illegal to view – to be discussed quietly.
Despite the authorities best efforts, streams from the deadly gladiator fights were easy enough to find on most torrenting sites, and even a casual glance at the average number of downloads could tell you that the vicious blood sport had long since outstripped more conventional sports like football and soccer in popularity.
God knows, Sarah loves it, thinking of the volatile woman’s passion for the gory spectacle, even if she often tried to downplay it in retrospect. Honestly, he was surprised she had yet to attend a live event.
Perhaps her scars are keeping away? Or maybe she’s just too busy?
So no, it wasn’t surprising to discover that even the more morally sound Gravity was a fan.
…Still, he had to ask, “I would have thought you would take issue with it… you know, after?”
“After what?” Gravity mumbled as she set about linking her Omni-pad to the TV.
“The whole… slavery thing?”
Gravity paused mid-screen press, and Erich wondered if he might have been better off keeping his mouth shut.
“It’s not slavery though.” She said finally, pressing down on the play button.
“Could have fooled me.” Erich muttered as the screen filled with the bombastic intro of the Death Dome.
“It’s not.” The Meta insisted, snuggling down into her seat. “If a meta falls into debt, they can join up with the Dome to have it paid off. Of course, they then have to pay the Dome back by taking part in the gladiator matches.”
Erich remained sceptical as the commentator on screen started to list the stats for the upcoming match.
“And how many actually manage it?”
Gravity shrugged. “Dunno, some? I guess it depends on how much they owed to begin with?”
The screen changed to show a young woman in armour that was about as impractical as one could get before looking outright silly. Erich couldn’t help but wonder if that was her choice or the Dome’s?
“But you’ve never actually heard of someone doing it?” Erich persisted, an idea forming in his head as the battle on screen commenced; the young woman from before lashing out with a glittering chain, against a man who could literally set himself ablaze.
“Nah, I’ve heard of a few. Last year’s champion freed herself. Although it was a close run thing. She took down more than a few heavy hitters before the end.”
“Did she now?”
And how many of those she went up against toward the end were also close to attaining their freedom?
More than a few he was willing to bet.
“Hey, where are you going?” Gravity asked as he stood up, “I thought we were going to watch TV?”
“We are,” Erich muttered distractedly. “I just need to make a quick phone call first.”