“He’s acting oddly.”
“He’s Erich,” Gravity sniffed disinterestedly. “Odd is nothing new.”
Myra was unconvinced, scowling as she swatted a particularly belligerent prisoner in the head. The man in question fell into line with his compatriots, the purple clad Kings reluctantly clambering into the waiting vans.
What happened to them after that, Gravity didn’t know. She didn’t want to know.
Just a few more months, she thought. Something will come up.
Then for better or for worse, this would all be over with.
Her stomach gurgled at the thought.
“Odder than normal then,” Myra continued.
“Taking in kids? Building an organization?” Gravity shrugged.
Sure, it had sounded strange to her when she heard about it, but she could see Erich’s twisted brand of logic in it. Outwardly it might have seemed the actions of a man scrambling for power, but she knew enough about him to see what his real goals were.
Building and improving on his tech.
For Erich, tech wasn’t a means to an end. It was the end.
Though I could understand why Bronte and Zigzag might see otherwise, she mused. Zigzag from unfamiliarity and Sarah because she’s well… Sarah.
Her half-sister had never been much for nuance or subtlety, more willing to use violence or Hard-Light’s reputation to achieve her goals, but even with that in mind Gravity was aware that the Sarah they had brought to Portland was the same one who’d been mauled in their old family home.
She was more… volatile now.
Like a wounded animal, Olivia thought sadly.
Whether the damage was neurological or spiritual, the gravity manipulator couldn’t say, but she knew something was wrong with her half-sister.
By comparison, Erich’s – or Mechromancer’s – issues were small beans.
“Not that,” Myra frowned. “I can live with that. Hell, it’s almost… heroic in a fucked up villainous kind of way.” Gravity ignored the hint of wistfulness in the purple woman’s voice. “He’s… colder. Distant.”
“Treating people like they’re tools?” Gravity put in. “Struggling to understand the people around him?”
“…Yeah.” Myra turned towards her, wide eyed. “How did you… I thought you hadn’t spoken to him since…”
“Since Zigzag split us all up and set you to making sure we stayed split up?”
In an out of character move, Myra looked a little sheepish at that – and for just a moment Gravity felt like she was looking at a younger, less jaded, version of the woman.
A woman who had thought of Justice as something other than the butt of a joke.
“I haven’t,” Gravity sighed before the woman could lie, “but I know the signs well enough.”
She’d grown up with them after all. Not the exact same signs, people tended to develop differently after all, but it wasn’t hard to guess how Erich would change. Some small part of her had hoped he’d be the exception. The guy hadn’t exactly been enthused with the hero lifestyle – and he wasn’t a meta – but it seemed that her hopes were for naught.
“It’s the mask,” she muttered bitterly.
“The mask?” Myra chuckled, “I’ll admit it’s a creepy looking thing, but I don’t think Erich would fuck with anything that might fuck with his head. Dude’s too obsessed with his genius.”
“Not the literal mask,” Gravity sighed as the last captive member of the Kings at their site were loaded up. “Although, I suppose it’s a part of it.”
She frowned as she strode over to sit on the hood of an abandoned car, the purple woman trailing behind.
“People make a lot of fun of heroes and villains. The ridiculous costumes, the overblown attitudes and massive egos. What people don’t seem to realize is how intoxicating it is. Wearing a mask. Wielding power. The lack of accountability. A little flamboyance becomes inevitable really.”
“Sounding a bit more philosophical than usual there Grav,” Myra smiled humourlessly. “Sure, you’re still the same knucklehead I used to know?”
Gravity smiled back just as humourlessly, “let’s just say that I’ve given the topic a lot of thought.”
“So, what you’re saying is that our boy is letting the power go to his head?” Myra said, getting the conversation back on track.
Gravity shrugged, “basically, if you boil right down to it Erich’s never cared about people, but he paid attention to them because he had to. If he didn’t, he might end up as a smear on the sidewalk when someone took offense. Mechromancer doesn’t have that problem. He can do what he wants within his little kingdom and damn the consequences. All he cares about is his machines and how they function. Anything not related to that is probably going in one ear and out the other.”
“Sounds a bit much to come from just putting on a cape and a mask,” Myra frowned. “I know I ain’t like that.”
Gravity steadfastly refused to comment on the idea that a woman who was bulletproof didn’t let her invincibility influence her behaviour.
The bruiser wasn’t an idiot, but she had a habit of speaking bluntly. Not just with a lack of tact, but with the kind of bluntness that could get someone in serious trouble. The kind of trouble that no one would want unless they were a moron, or supremely confident in their abilities.
Gravity knew where her money was on that front.
Still, she knew better than to try and convince the woman that she’d started taking more risks than ever since she’d taken on the moniker of the ‘Prowler’ and the accolades that came with it.
…Or that Sarah hadn’t been quite as vicious before she’d become Bronte.
She even had a few memories of Hard-Light almost being a decent father when he wasn’t being Hard-Light.
Masks changed people.
There was power in taking on a mantle or title, and power invariably corrupted.
“Look, if it makes you feel any better, think of it as him developing hardcore tunnel vision while he’s in costume,” she argued. “Try and get him out of it and acting as ‘Erich’ every once in a while and he might go back to something approaching ‘normal’.”
Myra frowned as she contemplated the other woman’s words.
“Easier said than done,” she murmured, almost to herself. “He really loves that suit.”
Erich watched dispassionately through the displays within his helmet as the drones continued their advance.
“Second floor is c-clear.” Spit murmured, determinedly keeping her eyes on the pad.
Not once had she looked at the live-feed from the drones camera, evidently preferring to focus on the abstract display that was the ‘game’ system.
“Advancing to the third floor now.”
Erich didn’t much care. The bodies that now littered the second-floor hallway attested to her skill, even without a first-hand view.
Seven hostiles down thus far, he noted. Damage to the drones is purely superficial.
He would like to say that the success thus far was entirely a result of his superior craftsmanship – and to a degree it was, given that most of the King’s firepower was bouncing off his drone’s exterior armour – but he had to give credit where it was due. Spit was proving to be an able, and occasionally, quite creative commander.
Having one of the drones flank around the Kings first responders by leaping across to the nearby apartment before leaping back was inspired. The gunmen in the stairway didn’t even know they were under attack from behind until it was too late.
A feat that was only possible because of the incredibly dense nature of Portland’s city scape. The distance between the two apartment complexes had been all of a meter and thus possible for his Spartois to clear in a single leap.
I wonder if she learned to leap between buildings while growing up around here?
It certainly wasn’t something he would ever have considered, but he could see it as a viable option for a street rat running from pursuers. He supposed he would ask her later.
Right now I should focus on the task at hand.
“Where are they going, Ethan?” he asked as he glanced at the mini-map and saw the figures he had tentatively designated as ‘Kings’ continue to clamber up the staircase.
At least, he assumed they were Kings, given that they weren’t cowering in there rooms like most of the symbols on the display. Still, he had made sure to instruct Spit to leave a Spartoi on guard in each hallway as she advanced. Wouldn’t do to have Manacle slip out the back after the bulk of Spit’s forces had passed.
He doubted a single drone would be able to stop a meta-human if he did do that, but it would serve to warn him if it was being attempted.
Ethan glanced over at the display, and after a second to make sense of what he was looking at, answered.
“Could be getting ready to make a stand on a different floor, could be planning to make there escape from the roof,” the man in question shrugged. “Depends on whether or not Manacle thinks he can hold out until help arrives.”
Given that they were pretty deep in Kings territory, it said a lot about how fast the Spartois had chewed through Manacle’s guys that Ethan’s tone of voice indicated that he thought the latter more likely.
“Why not just jump from an earlier floor like the drone did?” Erich asked.
“Roof’s safer,” Ethan said. “Your Drone might not be bothered, but I wouldn’t want to make that jump. The nearest apartment is about a floor shorter than the one they are in right now, so it’s a pretty easy jump to get from one roof to the other. Wouldn’t surprise me if they picked the building they’re in right now for that reason.”
Erich frowned at that.
Really should have considered that they would have had an escape route available, he thought. Not that I would have considered jumping from rooftop to rooftop to be a viable escape route.
It was moments like this that tended to drill home to him how different the culture he found himself in was to the one he’d grown up in. For one thing, he’d started to wonder why they weren’t using the fire escape, only to realize that the rundown dump didn’t have a fire escape.
Jesus wept, Erich thought as he set off toward the building.
“W-where are you going, boss?” Spit called out as she noticed him striding off.
“To make sure they don’t escape from the roof,” he called back.
Pressing his palm to the brick surface of the building, he smiled as he felt it adhere in place.
Up we go, he thought as he slowly started clambering up the vertical surface of the apartment complex.
He moved with speed, the suit increasing his strength and the memories of his time on the old family climbing wall coming back to him with surprising ease.
Never thought those stupid lessons would ever come in handy, he thought with just a hint of bitterness, ignoring the screams, shouting and sounds of gunfire echoing from within the apartment complex.
Glancing at his HUD, he was relieved to see that every now and then the Kings were stopping to exchange fire with their pursuers. At the rate he was traveling he would beat them to the roof by a good twenty seconds.
“How are we looking, Spit?” The villain called over the radio.
“Two more t-targets down, Boss.” The young woman responded, “but uh, one of the drones has lost signal. I-I think Manacle did it.”
“Which one, a pursuer or a rear-guard,” he asked.
“Pursuer, the uh, p-point man.”
Frowning as he climbed, Erich spoke.
“Drone Eight, play last eight seconds of visuals before termination.”
“Acknowledged,” Gravity’s artificial voice intoned, as the mini-map in the top right of Erich’s HUD switched to a video screen.
The scene displayed was about what he expected. A stairwell. Occasional burst of gunfire at retreating purple targets. A brief flash of flame, then the video became an inferno of flames as multiple error messages popped up. The screen turned black moments later.
Probably melted the things internals, Erich scowled.
Which meant recovery wasn’t going to be an option. The drone probably looked like melted plastic.
“No matter, continue on,” he instructed before changing channels. “Ethan, any sign of reinforcement?”
“Not yet boss,” the man responded. “Usually a safehouse like this is where reinforcements come from not go to, so we probably have a bit of breathing room. Still, I wouldn’t risk it, so I’d try and finish as quick as possible… you know… if you don’t mind.”
Erich rolled his eyes at the man’s sudden sheepishness.
“I’ll try and keep that in mind.”
Right, he thought as he continued climbing. Now to fight a guy who can set fire to things by looking at them, as well as a good dozen of his armed friends…