“You’re approaching the upper limits of your ability.” He stated bluntly, cutting off the woman as she opened her mouth to argue. “The closer you get to attaining freedom, the stiffer the competition becomes. In the last two months you’ve just barely managed to scrape out a ‘victory’ in each race you’ve taken part of, narrowly avoiding death by ‘timeout’ each time.”
Timeout being the lovely euphemism for the horde of wrecker drones that eliminated the last place car at the conclusion of each lap of the race’s second half. Each drone being piloted by a lucky, and invariably wealthy, VIP stream viewer who wanted to feel more personally involved in the action.
And of course, as the race had eight laps and sixteen racers, that meant a guaranteed twenty five percent casualty rate in each race.
At minimum, Erich thought, as he considered the racers who were eliminated by their fellow racers rather than the drones; that being a convenient way for a last place driver to avoid being eliminated via drone.
Of course, it wasn’t like any of the racers stopped fighting at the point where they were safe from elimination either.
With that thought in mind, Erich continued, “at the rate you’re going you’ll be dead in the next-”
“Fuck you!” The redhead hissed, startling him from his explanation.
Looking up, he barely avoided the wrench that flew past his face, ducking back at the last second.
“What the fuck!?” He shouted, scrambling further backward, nearly tripping over discarded tools as he went.
“Fuck you!” Overdrive reiterated, “coming in here, interrupting my sleep, and saying I’m going to die. I’ll kick your fucking ass!”
Erich punched her in the face.
The woman clattered back on her ass.
Silence filled the room.
For just a second, the pair stood there in equal parts incomprehension.
“You punched me?” The woman said, clutching her nose, apparently more stunned than angry. “You broke my fucking nose.”
“Hardly,” Erich muttered, shaking out his sore hand.
I definitely broke her nose, he winced, gripping his sore knuckles.
“It is broken.” The woman shouted back, showing him a palm full of blood. “The Dome are gonna take that out of your fuckin' hide.”
Somehow, he sincerely doubted-
...Yes, yes they would.
He’d just damaged their property. Gladiators were worth more when they were photogenic.
People didn’t want to see ugly people dying horribly after all.
“You attacked me!” He defended, mind racing as he calculated how much this would cost.
Overdrive was utterly unrepentant, “you said I was going to die, you fucking ass.”
“I was going to explain how I was going to help you not die you dumb cunt!”
“Well fucking lead with that next time.” She cursed, clambering back up to her feet, though to his relief it seemed she was in no hurry to continue their little squabble.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Erich began sarcastically, well aware that this was one of the reasons why he really should let Gravity or Sarah do the talking. “I didn’t expect you to attack me before I could finish my fucking sentence.”
“Well I’m sorry that the subject of my imminent demise is a touchy subject for me.” She shot back, “and that, combined with a schedule that allows for little in the way of sleep – sleep that you’re interrupting by the way - might make me a little impulsive than the average chick off the street. Would it have killed you to use even a hint of tact?”
No, but then again, the thought hadn’t even occurred to him.
He wasn’t about to admit that though, and by the looks of her, Overdrive wasn’t about to apologize for her attempted assault either.
So, the pair stood in stubborn silence, staring murder at one another.
Where did the sultry seductress from before go? He wondered absently.
“Do you want to hear what I have to say or not?” Erich finally ground out when his irritation at the time he was wasting finally won out over his need to win their impromptu contest in stubbornness.
“Sure,” the attractive woman grinned, clutching an oil rag to her bloody nose. Underneath it though, he could see that she was all but preening at her tiny victory.
That annoys me more than it should.
Barely throttling down his irritation, Erich continued, “As I was saying, before I was interrupted, your abilities as an Artificer are reaching their upper limit. I estimate that at the current rate you are going you will be eliminated within the next few races.”
The redhead harrumphed, but gestured for him to go on.
“Which is why, I am willing to aid you in improving your vehicle. With my aid you should be able to-”
“You’re an artificer?”
Again with the interruptions, Erich thought.
“I’m something better than an Artificer. Someone who’s actually halfway competent.” He snorted.
Overdrive laughed, “Ah, I get it now. You’re a crazy person.”
Erich physically throttled down the urge to punch her in the face again.
Calm, calm, he repeated. We prepared for this. Don’t blow it now.
Reaching into his pocket he pulled out his Omni-Pad.
“Take a look at this.”
Overdrive rolled her eyes, but dutifully plucked the device out of his hand. The pair stood in silence as the woman looked it over, one of her hands still clutching an oily cloth to her nose.
Despite himself, Erich had to give her credit for that. That had to hurt, and yet, other than her initial complaints, the gladiator hadn’t made shown any sign of her discomfort.
Clearly not a stranger to pain, he thought as his eyes roamed over her, picking out scars and bruises that he hadn’t notice before. Her body was a tapestry of them, a legacy of her time in the Dome. The kind that could only be attained through multiple scrapes with death.
He would know, he had plenty enough of his own from his own ‘rough and tumble’ childhood.
Shaking his head to dismiss memories that no longer held any relevance to him, he focused on the woman in front of him.
He was utterly sure that she would see the merit of what he was suggesting.
Annoying as she is, Overdrive’s still a competent-
“I’ve no idea what I’m looking at.”
Erich’s thoughts came to a screeching halt, nearly dropping the pad as it was carelessly tossed back to him.
“Excuse me?” He coughed.
“I’ve no idea what you were trying to show me,” Overdrive drawled, pointing to the pad clutched to Erich’s chest. “Explain it.”
“You know what this is right?”
Myra looked up from her inspection of a brand-new laser rifle contained within a glass case to glance at Erich’s Omni-Pad.
The purple woman gazed at the screen for a few seconds, before shrugging. “Can’t particularly say I do.”
“It’s a diagram!” Erich shouted, “a diagram of an engine!”
Myra seemed more amused than offended by his sudden outburst, and that amusement only grew as Erich deflated, slumping down against the counter.
“I take it this has something to do with the new stock you’ve got in?” She chuckled, gesturing at the wide array of gleaming new weaponry that occupied the store.
Erich snorted at the transparent attempt to gain information, “something like that. It’s payment for a recent ‘consultation’ I performed.”
Hopefully one of many, provided his client lived long enough to request repeat business from him.
“All this from a single consultation?” Myra whistled, glancing about the place.
Well, most of it was stripped out of the woman's wreck of a vehicle, once he demonstrated the he knew what he was talking about. Overdrive was positively eager to accept his help. Perhaps in other circumstances she might have been more suspicious and taken things slower, but as he had guessed, she was getting desperate.
“What can I say? I keep telling you people I’m good.” He shifted his head to aim a one-eyed look at the current occupant of his store. “By all rights, I should be charging you just for talking to me.”
“Aw, but Erich, I thought we were friends?” The purple woman said, adopting a wounded expression.
“Friends don’t spy on each other.” He pointed out.
“Clearly you’ve not spent enough time in this shithole of a city. Everyone spies on everyone. “Myra said without preamble, “and besides, ‘spying’ is such a harsh word. Consider this Zigzag’s way of looking out for you after stealing away both your lady friends.”
“The two thugs you’ve got hanging out on the street corner weren’t enough?” Erich asked.
Myra shrugged, prompting him to sigh.
“Well alright, you’re here, you’ve seen me. I’m still alive.” If only barely. He’d had to deal with all of three customers that morning, but the more time he spent in here, the more he was having flashbacks to running his crappy electronics shop back in New Granton.
By the time Myra showed up he’d been seriously considering ‘stealing’ another street urchin to run the store for him while Grace was out with Gravity.
I mean, what are the chances of me starting another gang war in the process? He wondered.
Knowing his luck, it was almost guaranteed.
…And yet, part of me thinks it might be worth it. Anything to escape the monotony that is working in retail.
“Trying to get rid of me so soon?” Myra asked as she returned her attention to his wares; this time, a pistol with an oversized capacitor that he would put decent odds on being able to pierce even a tanks armor under thirty paces.
Of course, it wouldn’t be good for much else after cranking up the output that high, but he considered anti-armor capabilities an even trade-off.
“Yes?” He hesitated, the statement coming off more as a question.
And that was the annoying thing.
He liked Myra. Or at least, as much as he liked anyone. Of his immediate acquaintances, he felt that her morals most closely aligned to his.
She wasn’t trying to rule the world or save it. She just wanted to live her life and grab whatever scraps of joy she could out of it as she did.
It was just unfortunate for him that that same mindset likely meant she would grind his skull into a fine dust if a situation ever came up where she felt she needed to. Supposedly an unlikely scenario given that they were now ostensibly working for the same boss, but they were both well aware of the wide gulf between ‘ostensibly’ and reality.
Hence, why the woman was checking up on him, and Bronte and Gravity had been split up.
“Is that indecision I hear?” Myra teased.
Erich sighed, slamming his head back into the counter.
When did his life get so complicated? He just wanted to build laser cannons and occasionally rain artillery down on the heads of the unworthy? Was that such a big ask?