“…Yes?” He asked as the young man stepped into the room.

“Darius, sir.” The boy said, casting an askance look at Myra, “Darius Long.”

That hadn’t been what he’d been asking, but Erich decided not to make an issue of it. “Alright Darius, what do you need?”

Having decided that Myra apparently wasn’t a threat, the boy stepped over to the desk, bringing up his pad.

“We’ve got a new part, sir. One that the machine says should work but doesn’t.” He said, slightly nervous, as if expecting some form of rebuke.

Not that the man he was speaking to really noticed that fact. He was too busy being relieved at receiving a question in his field of expertise. Taking the pad from the nervous kid, he glanced over the displayed part.

“Cloud Space Aviation’s electric actuator,” he stated after a moment. “Limited number of them created due to the company going bankrupt only a year after the hit the market. Rare, if nothing impressive.”

The app had classified the somewhat specialized component as a generic actuator.

Easy fix, he thought as he updated the information fields, slotting the ‘new’ component into a few designs where it would fit.

“Done.” He said, passing the pad back, “anything else?”

A little wide eyed at seeing a problem solved in moments that had stumped him for a good while, Darius barely managed to recollect himself. “Uh, we’ve had a few more kids show up, sir.”

In the depths of his mind Erich sighed. It seemed that his little workshop was growing more popular than he had anticipated.

“Get them a pad each. I’ll have a few more beds installed in Habitation Block A before the day is out.” He said. “If they’re anything like the last lot were I doubt there’s any point in setting them to work today. Get them fed and watered, they can start tomorrow.”

Will have to increase the water and food quota for the Block accordingly of course, he thought as he mentally tallied the increased cost. Hell, at this rate I may as well open up a Habitation Block B while I’m at it.

It would be a pain, but it needed to be done.

“Thankyou, sir.” Darius said, all but bowing as he took the pad and swept out of the room.

Erich watched him go, perplexed as to what the kid was thanking him for.

“So that’s how you did it.” Myra chimed in from her spot at the wall, vulpine grin splitting her features.

“Did what?” Erich asked, irritation at the fact that the woman clearly found something amusing.

“Oh, nothing.” The woman chuckled, “just never took you for a bleeding heart is all.”

He was actually offended at that.

“I’m not a bleeding heart.” He stated deadpan.

“The full bellies, bushy tails and rosy cheeks on the kids down there say otherwise.” The purple Meta sing-songed. “How high are you cranking the heaters in there to keep the chill out?”

This of course, only incensed him more.

“A workforce that is half starved, dehydrated and half frozen is not a very effective workforce.” He hissed.

He couldn’t have his machines – even ones as pitiful as the Helot – being built by workers that were more focused on their next meal than the wires under their hands.

“Cold fingers do not make for nimble fingers.” He continued.

His anger only seemed to amuse her more, “and the beds? Showers? I thought the building next door was another warehouse, but it seems you’ve made yourself a little orphanage.”

“It’s an employee habitation block.” He grit out. “I’m not going through all the expense of fattening them up and giving them skills, only to have them freeze to death in the gutter or be press-ganged by one of the groups around here.”

“Kid seemed awfully clean. Clothes too,” Myra continued. “I think I could smell soap.”

“Have you ever smelled a room full of homeless people?” Erich shot back. “It’s not pleasant. Showers are mandatory. Once they have been supplied, clothes are expected to be kept clean using on-site facilities. Failure to do so results in wages withheld. Soap and washing powder is cheap. A workforce that is rife with disease due to unsanitary living conditions is not.”

Besides, clothing was especially cheap when he bought surplus stock in bulk. Who knew bright orange sold so poorly?

“You know what, that Santa Claus comparison is getting more fitting by the moment.” Myra grinned.

That was the final straw.

“Out.” Erich grunted, pointing to the door.

The woman was still chuckling as she sauntered out.

“Did she fall for it?”

Erich wasn’t surprised that those were Sarah’s first words to him after he accepted her call though his helmet’s comms.

“Probably,” he admitted as he finished welding an arm onto another Spartoi. “Cameras caught her checking around the warehouse and the habitation block. Talked to a few of the kids. If she got a hint of anything untoward, she made no indication of it before she left.”

“Good, how are things going-” She started to say, only to be cut off by a loud screech from above.

“What the hell was that?” Her gruff voice asked in the silence that followed.

“Probably one of the kids upstairs.” He muttered, having barely noticed it. He’d learnt to tune the noise coming from the habitation block above.

Which was pretty impressive considering it had to translate though solid concrete to reach his little workshop in the building’s basement.

“You did manage to get this sub-level stricken from public record, right?” he asked nervously. “Because all this subterfuge is going to mean sweet fuck all if she sees that this place is supposed to have a basement.”

Sarah, or Bronte he supposed, considering she was currently ‘in character’ scoffed.

“This is Portland Erich.” Sarah laughed, an ugly thing considering her throat injury. “Public records don’t exist. Or if they do, it’s only as dossiers on all of the Queen’s rivals.”

Erich shook his head. Sometimes he wondered how this city functioned at all. Then he remembered.

Gratuitous use of Meta-tech and an incredibly low average life expectancy.

“Right, how are things going on your end?” He asked as he pressed a button on his omni-pad, watching with satisfaction as the Spartoi’s new limb displayed a full range of movement.

“Reasonably.” Bronte admitted. “The Kings are focusing the bulk of their efforts on the Hounds for now. The worst we’ve had to deal with are a few raiding parties without Meta support.”

There was a definite use of smugness when she continued, “it seems that despite him not being one of their ‘big names’ losing Alloy so easily has made them a bit skittish about taking on the Saints. It’s possible they’ll save us for last.”

Erich had no clue as to whether that was good or bad, so he made non-committal grunt instead of commenting. The strategic stuff was all Bronte’s domain anyway. He just had to focus on the supply side of things.

“What about Zigzag, any chance I’m about to get called to the front?” He asked, cutting to what he was really concerned about.

He couldn’t see it, but he had a feeling that the blonde was shaking her head on the other end of the call.

“No, not yet at least. If the Kings start pushing harder that might change, but for now I’ve convinced her that we’re better off with you supplying her forces with your tech rather than clomping around the place in that new suit of yours.”

Good, because his new suit still wasn’t finished. Too many other projects taking up his time.

He’d barely managed to squeeze in the time needed earlier to test out the things new active camouflage cloak.

Which worked like a charm, he grinned, a warm feeling running through him as he remembered the sensation of leaping from rooftop to rooftop, practically invisible to the naked eye.

The new molecular bonding system on his gloves had worked too, allowing him to scale vertical surfaces with ease. Almost like a spider.

All in all, his new suit was shaping up to be a far sleeker beast than his old stompy one.

“Good.” He muttered as he finally stepped back from the Spartoi to admire his handiwork.

Sleek and deadly looking, the Spartoi MK2 was a massive improvement over its predecessor. Painted up in the white and yellow of the Saints, the drone was equipped with a much improved seed AI. Now it would take cover, work in coordination with other units, and was capable of more advanced infantry ‘skills like fire and movement’. Armed with a Hot-Shot Carbine powered by its own internal generator, the machine was something he could genuinely say he was proud of.

Smiling happily at a job well done, he pulled a tarp over it to keep the dust off.

Stepping back, he stared admiringly at the sixteen other identical tarp covered shapes that stood in perfect rows at the back of the basement.

Then the moment was over, and he resigned himself to sneaking out through the hidden door once more.

The things I do to keep my work hidden, he thought tiredly as he activated his suits active camoflouge.

At least sneaking out was easier than it used to be with the new cloak. No more creeping around the habitation block in the middle of the night like some kind of…

Skinny Santa Claus, an imaginary Myra supplied.

“God dammit Myra,” Erich huffed under his breath as he started pulling himself up the basement’s ladder.


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Bio: A supervillain in the making

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