The local Headquarters for the Death Dome was as brightly coloured and ostentatious as Erich had imagined.
It was also just as heavily armed, with scores of guards in matching body armour patrolling the grounds around the repurposed football stadium.
The chain link fences tipped with razor wire and guard towers made the place look more like military base than a sports centre, but he supposed that when the sport in question was gladiator combat performed by superhumans, a little extra security made sense.
Still, as Erich clambered out of the van, he couldn’t help but admire the organization of it all.
Matching uniforms. Disciplined guards. Well-maintained and standardized equipment.
After so long surrounded by barely literate gangsters, it was good to see that the West Coast was actually capable of sustaining a more professional sort of organization. It was like a breath of fresh air, one that satisfied a niggling desire that he hadn’t known he had until just now.
Perhaps I could convince Sarah to revamp the Saints in the same way once all this was over?
Walking over toward the ticket booth, he surreptitiously gripped the laser pistol in his pocket, more for the sense of security it gave him than any real expectation of using it.
There was a queue, of course, and he had to wait in line with everyone else. In other circumstances he might have feared being pickpocketed in the tight confines of the crowd, but the watchful eyes of the guards positioned around the place must have been enough to scare off any would be pickpockets, because he didn’t have to fend off a probing set off hands even once.
“Hello, how can I help you?” A well-dressed young man asked from behind the glass as Erich finally made it to the front, not even blinking at Erich’s full facemask.
“I’m the Mechromancer,” he said. “I called earlier about speaking to one of the contestants about a business arrangement?”
The staff member blinked, before glancing at the screen in front of them, fingers dancing across the keys.
“Ah yes,” they said after a moment. “You wished to speak with the gladiator ‘Overdrive’, correct?”
Struggling not to cringe at the name, Erich nodded warily.
The clerk gestured over to the side, where a member of the security staff was waiting. “Great, if you would just speak to my associate over there, he should be able to sort you out.”
Erich’s words of thanks went unheard, the clerk calling for the next customer to step up before he’d even stepped away.
Unbothered by the brash treatment, Erich strode over the indicated guard.
“Sponsor?” The man asked without preamble, his voice distorted by the full-face mask.
“Something like that.” Erich shrugged.
“Name of the patron?” He continued, unbothered by the slightly vague reply.
“Never heard of you, so she’s not interested,” the guard grunted. “Girl’s got enough sponsors and is already approaching the end of her time here anyway.”
Despite the careless dismissal, Erich wasn’t so offended that he didn’t notice that the guy had said ‘end of her time’ rather than something more positive, like ‘the end of her debts’.
Which only lent more credence to the idea he had planned to make a cornerstone of his argument.
“I had to come over to you to be told that?” Erich said, “couldn’t the clerk over there have told me that?”
The guard shrugged, “it’s not his call. Who gets access to where is to be decided by the closest security official on site. That’s me, and I’ve decided you do not need access.”
Rolling his eyes, Erich reached into his pocket, ignoring the slight tensing of the guy in front of him, as he pulled out a roll of notes.
“Is this enough to convince you that my sponsorship would be beneficial?” He sighed.
Gripping the wad of bills, the thug didn’t even bother to count them before sliding them into one of his pockets, “of course. I’ll escort you to her room right now.”
Reaching his hand up to his ear, the guard went still as he assumedly spoke into his mic. As Erich watched, helmeted heads around the compound lifted up. Then, with almost indecent haste, one of them came running over.
“Alright, let’s go.” The first guard said as his replacement took up his position.
Following after him as the man took off toward the stadium, Erich couldn’t help but ask, “that was a quick response. You important around here?”
His escort laughed, the sound made unpleasant by the distortion of his helmet.
“Fuck no. Guarding the ticket booths just happens to be a popular spot. It’s where the most ‘bureaucratic lubricant’ comes in, if you catch my drift?”
Erich sighed at the casual allusion to bribery. He had been hoping his own admittance had been a one off. Instead it seemed that it was simply the done thing.
So much for professionalism, he thought.
Underneath the matching uniforms and orderly manner, it seemed that the security forces at the Dome had no more integrity than any other street gang.
Still, as the pair stepped through the winding corridors underneath the stadium, Erich found his mind turning toward the task ahead.
Although as he did, he found himself wishing he could have brought Sarah or Gravity. Speaking was more their talent than his.
Unfortunately, the ongoing cold war between the Saints and the Kings was beginning to heat up, and Sarah had thrown herself into the planning phase with a vengeance. If their was a meeting between the Saints that she hadn’t attended since their induction, he didn’t know about it.
…Which wouldn’t be hard. Given his lack of immediate use, Zigzag had more or less frozen him out of the decision-making process. A fact that would have annoyed him if, you know, cared.
Even Gravity knew more about the coming gang war than he did. Despite being a lot less invested in the Saints and Sarah’s inevitable coup, she seemed perfectly happy to hang out with Myra while familiarizing herself with the organization.
Although, when he considered that she was soon going to fighting alongside them, he could understand why she might consider it important to build up some rapport of her own.
Although it did leave him feeling more than a little exposed in the shop these days, with only Limpy and Grace for company.
Neither of which were great conversationalists.
Even if they were though, both were busy, as more and more members of the Saints had shown up at the shop to check out his wares.
At first, he had thought about they were just checking in on him, but it seemed most of them were genuinely interested in his wares.
Sure, it wasn’t meta tech, but even his conventional guns were better than the crappy knocks off that made up most of the West Coast’s weapons market. Albeit, with increased quality came a slight mark-up in price, but if that was negatively affecting his sales in anyway, he hadn’t seen it.
He was just pondering whether it might be worth investing in a second fabricator when the guard came to a stop in front of a heavy set steel door. Glancing at it, Erich could see the words ‘Overdrive’ stencilled on it in chipped and faded white paint.
Leaning over, the guard pushed his keycard up against a pad in the wall, prompting the attached light to turn green as a heavy set thunk came from the entrance’s locking mechanism.
“I’ll be back in an hour to let you out.”
Erich quirked an eyebrow, “you’re just going to lock me in there with her?”
He wasn’t too concerned about being locked in himself. The locking mechanism of the door looked sturdy enough, but he doubted it would stand up to a few overcharged blasts from his gun.
The guard shrugged, “she’s got a collar on that’ll lock her down if she makes an aggressive move, and most people aren’t dumb enough to damage the Dome’s property.”
“Still seems a bit risky.” Erich muttered as he pulled open the door.
“There’s a hefty bill attached to damaging a gladiator,” the guy said. “Which means that in the unlikely event you did manage to kill or maim one, you’d either be replacing them in the arena, or paying the Dome your own bodyweight in gold for damages. Either way, the Dome wins.”
But not the gladiator, Erich thought grimly as he stepped inside.
He hadn’t really known what he would see on the other side. A prison cell? An expensive apartment? Maybe even a stasis chamber with a rapidly defrosting gladiator?
A workshop hadn’t been outside the realm of possibility, but it wouldn’t have been his first guess.
Although it should have been, in retrospect, he thought as his mind took in the massive vehicle sitting in the middle of the garage.
After all, Overdrive was predominantly a Hell-Racer, and the contestants in those bloody vehicular contests would surely need an area to actually work on their vehicles.
And it was an impressive vehicle, he had to admit.
Heavily armoured, the six wheeled frame was built for combat as much as speed. Much like a battle tank, the armoured plates were designed to angle projectiles away from the frame rather than absorb the incoming kinetic energy. The fact those same angles helped to streamline the vehicle to improve speed seemed more incidental than anything else.
An impression reinforced by the 40mm turret welded almost haphazardly into where the passenger seat would otherwise have been.
Still, for all that it was an impressive looking vehicle, Erich could spot a half dozen deficiencies in the design. From simple ergonomics to an overdesigned autoloading system, the thing was rife with amateur errors.
The most glaring of which was the sheer number of redundant systems he could see haphazardly installed all over the vehicle.
As much as I enjoy seeing a decent backup system, this is just excessive, Erich thought as he pulled off his mask to better inspect what he suspected to be space set aside for a second engine.
Fresh weld marks, he thought, running his bare fingers over the seam. In fact, the more he looked, the more he found that most of these redundancies were new.
All of which set a disturbing - if in line with his own theories - picture.
“Like what you see?”
Erich nearly jumped out of his skin, as he spun round.
I do. I definitely do.
Overdrive was gorgeous.
And more than a little trashy, his brain absently pointed out, but he was quick to silence that mildly misogynistic comment.
The racer’s jeans were tattered, her tank top barely concealed anything, and what little was concealed looked to be fast approaching the limits of its structural integrity.
“Yeah, you do.” She grinned, as Erich felt a flush wash over him.
“Y-yes, It’s an impressive vehicle,” he grunted, trying to regain some decorum.
The redhead’s quirked eyebrow told him how little he was fooled by his deflection. Still, she seemed happy enough at the compliment, as she turned to run a hand over the pockmarked metal of her car.
“That she is.” The woman murmured, “but I already knew that. What I want to know is what you want?”
She hopped up onto the hood of the car, unsubtly giving herself a height advantage, “if you’re looking for a sponsorship deal, I’m afraid you’re a little late to the party.”
She gestured to her vehicle, which was liberally festooned with logos, “as you can see, I don’t really have much room left to work with.” She raised a finger, “and before you suggest I move some stuff around to fit your logo, know that I charge by the square inch, and there are already bought up. So no, I can’t move anything. Nor would I want to when I’m all of seven races off earning my freedom.”
She continued in the same bored tone of voice, as if she’d said this a thousand times before. Which, for all Erich knew, she likely had. “Although, I imagine you were already told all this by the assholes at the entrance, and insisted on seeing me anyway, which means you’re probably about to force me to hear your sales pitch anyway.”
Erich nodded absently, as he searched through his pockets. “Yes, that’s exactly what I intend to do.” Pulling out a cylindrical device, he placed it on the floor, flicking on one of the buttons, while she watched with vague curiosity, “You see I am here today representing Erich’s Armaments, a local store that supplies only the- and I reckon that’s enough.”
He grunted as he stood up again, eying the surroundings.
“Enough what?” Overdrive asked, as he stepped over to the door and pressed his ear against.
“Long enough for that,” he said, gesturing at the plain black cylinder, “to jam any bugs that might happen to be in the room. Right now they should be playing a little speech that I recorded on the way over here.”
If there was one good thing that had come out of his tussle with the Hangman, it was that he’d got his hands on an incredibly powerful piece of jamming tech.
“Wha- why?” His companion asked, seemingly thrown off her game for the first time since he’d entered the room.
“Why, to give you my real business proposition of course.” Erich grunted as he kept his ear to the door, making sure their were no eavesdroppers on the other side. “And just maybe save your life in the process.”