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“Three ‘humanoid objects’ in that room.” Erich said. He glanced away from his HUD to step over the unconscious body of an unfortunate guard. Ample proof that his new less than lethal armament was effective.

“Guards? Drones? Clerks?” Gravity prompted. “I know this isn’t my first time bringing it up, but you’re sure you can’t do any better than that?”

Humanoid objects.” Erich reiterated. “It could be a trio of manikins for all I know.”

“Well thanks for nothing,” Zig-Zag said. Her form shifted to take on the slightly pudgy features of the downed guard. “How do I look?”

Erich looked her over. “Bit too pudgy.”

“Hair’s a bit too dark as well,” Gravity added. “He was more of an auburn.”

The shapeshifter nodded and made the appropriate changes. “Better? Worse?”

Erich shrugged as Gravity glanced back at the fallen guard and offered a thumbs up.

“Right, let’s do this then.” Zig-Zag pushed open the door. Erich’s cloaked form slipped in behind as Gravity stayed outside.

It was clearly a breakroom, complete with one clerk and two guards. Two of the occupants were deep in conversation about something, but the other guard glanced up from their coffee as the imposter strode over to the cupboard.

Despite himself, Erich felt his heart skip a beat as the woman’s eyes paused slightly on his cloaked form. His tech wasn’t perfect, and in the brightly illuminated halls of the facility he knew he appeared as a slight shimmer in the air.

Fortunately for him, it was a tiny thing. Easily dismissed.

Which was exactly what the woman did as her gaze settled on Zig-Zag. “Forgot your keycard again, Francis?”

“I know I left it in here somewhere.” The fake guard muttered, hands patting pockets as she glanced about the room.

The other guard tiredly rolled their eyes. “You’re lucky the chief ain’t here. He told you you’d be on report if you lost it again.”

“I know, I know.” Zig-Zag muttered as she pulled out a gun and shot the guard in one smooth movement.

Despite knowing it was coming, Erich found himself shocked by the suddenness of it. The shape-shifter had drawn and fired in a movement so smooth he barely saw it happen.

Fortunately for him, his cybernetic arms—he’d finally settled on a name—needed no prompting. The second Zig-Zag fired, they’d gone weapons free, tagging the other two occupants of the room before they’d even begun to react.

“Done?” Gravity asked as she stepped in.

“Done.” Erich said. “Though we’ve got a casualty here.”

“Did one of you take a hit?” Gravity started to ask in concern, before her eyes alighted on the guard that Zig-Zag had shot. “Oh what the fuck, Zig-Zag!? I thought we agreed to go non-lethal.”

The shapeshifter's disguise sloughed off. “You two agreed. I didn’t agree to shit.”

Erich wasn’t happy either. Though for reasons he suspected differed from Gravity’s.

He stepped away from the rapidly forming pool of blood to keep it off his cloak. “This is going to bring a lot more heat down on us, Zig-Zag. This isn’t like the West Coast. Body counts draw a lot more scrutiny. Media coverage. An active pursuit.”

The shape-shifter just scoffed. “As if what we’re doing won’t do that already? We pull this off and we get caught? We’re all getting the ball and chain anyway. Fuck, I get caught and I’m getting it anyway. Body-count or not.”

Erich frowned. He couldn’t deny what she was saying was true. As a shape-shifter Zig-Zag was already a massive flight risk.

Without some kind of political pull, which they wouldn’t have as West Coast natives, they were all but guaranteed to be convicted. Which meant Ball and Chain, regardless of the severity of their crimes.

“So, we’re just going to shoot everyone because we’re all fucked anyway, is that it?” Gravity asked.

“Just removing variables where I can, princess. A corpse has a hell of a lot less capacity for adding complications down the line than someone that’s been knocked out and zip-tied.”

“You didn’t seem to have a problem out there?” Erich put in.

“I didn’t shoot the guy out there.” Zig-Zag said. “She did. Didn’t seem worth kicking up a fuss in the middle of the hallway.”

“Well if you don’t want more complications right here and now, stick to non-lethal.” Erich said. “I added the setting to your gun for a reason.”

“That a threat, tin-can?” Zig-Zag eyed him.

Fucking West Coast mentality.

“Take it as you like. You might be totally fucked if this goes south, but I’m not looking to draw any more trouble than I have to. Least of all because you get your jollies from murdering people when you don’t have to. Stick to the plasma-pulse.”

The shape-shifter scowled, eyes darting between the two of them, before the fight seem to go out of them.

“Fine. We’ll prance about like pussies if it makes you two feel better.” A wicked grin came over Zig-Zag's face. “But how much do you want to bet that the other team’s not bothering with prisoners when they come busting in here?”

Erich shrugged. That wasn’t his problem.

Just got to keep my own hands ‘relatively’ clean.

“Let’s just get to the control room.”


“How long?” Gravity asked.


“Eight minutes,” Erich said after glancing at his HUD. “Seven minutes until someone realizes something’s wrong.”

“Not great, not awful,” Gravity said. She watched the doorway leading to the control room. “How long will it take you to take the Ball and Chain offline.”

Third time she’s asked that. Conscious of the time, Gravity?

“Like I said during the meeting, depends on how much the system has changed since I last looked at it. Could be twenty minutes, could be five hours.” He forced down his irritation. A dozen-odd dots occupied the control room on his map. It was the largest concentration of prison personnel he’d seen thus far.

Which only makes sense really. The control room is the only thing that really matters within the facility, so they’d naturally congregate there the second they realized something was wrong.

“Though that time goes up if I have to work with damaged equipment,” he said.

“Which is why we’re using the less-than-lethal setting,” Gravity said.

The shapeshifter, who currently looked like one of the guards was sulking.

“Actually,” Erich interrupted, “the less-than-lethal would probably cause more damage than just hitting the consoles with a laser.”

The energy released by plasma formation fucked with electronics as well as nervous systems after all. It had certainly taken down a number of drones without issue, as the trio littering the hallway behind the group could testify.

The cheap pieces of junk barely had time to raise their guns before they were out of commission.

“So, what are we going to do then?” Gravity asked.

“Use the lethal settings, wipe the cameras, and blame it on Bronte?”

“What the fuck, Erich!” Gravity exclaimed.

Zig-Zag’s head whipped round, an unnaturally wide grin on their features.

Erich deliberately kept his eyes on his HUD. “Unless you have a better suggestion? One that doesn’t result in the consoles I need getting caught in the crossfire?”

Gravity cursed under her breath. Her eyes swept the hallway as she searched for another option. Erich didn’t mind, he was content to wait and catch his breath. The suit was light, but that meant less servos as much as less armour. Unlike his old suit, this one required that he use some of his own muscles to move it.

Which meant that after sneaking and fighting his way through half the prison, his muscles were burning from the exertion. More than that, breaching the room would only take a minute. From there he just had to get Zig-Zag on the comms to signal an ‘all-clear’. They’d blame the blackout on a communication fault.

Maybe the authorities would buy it, maybe they wouldn’t. Either way, it would buy them time.

Unfortunately for him, Gravity was a quicker thinker than he would have liked.

“What if we used that vent?”

Erich glanced at the vent in question. It was overhead and just wide enough for someone to squeeze through. He deliberated on it for a whole three seconds.

“Sure.”

Gravity beamed, strode to the vent and used her weapon to ‘loosen up’ the screws. “Right, I’ll go first, you two follow.”

Erich and Zig-Zag glanced at each other as the woman started clambering up, a mutual understanding forming between them. Erich activated his cloak. Zig-Zag turned the same colour as the brickwork and melted against the wall.

Ignorant of her allies’ actions, Gravity continued on.

“Right, I’m nearly—” Suddenly the entire partition she was clambering onto collapsed, sending her and a good chunk of the ventilation shaft clattering to the floor with an almighty ruckus.

“Oh, what the fuck!”

Exactly on cue, the doors to the control room burst open.Half a dozen drones swept into the hall, weapons immediately trained on the young woman sprawled on the floor who most definitely wasn’t supposed to be there.

“Intruder! You are trespassing in a restricted area. Remain in place. A security officer will be along shortly. Attempts to escape or resist will be met with penalties, up to and including lethal force.”

“Yeah, yeah. I surrender.” Gravity mumbled bringing both hands up.

“Smart move, Miss,” said the security guard who emerged from within the control center. “I take it you’re the one responsible for our sudden ‘communications failure.”

“Something like that,” Gravity muttered.

The man holstered his gun to reach for his handcuffs. Of course, his hands never made it. The second his gun was safely holstered, Erich’s cyber-limbs grabbed him from behind.

“Don’t move, or I blow your brains out,” Erich’s mechanical voice intoned. He slowly backed up against the wall , human shield safely in front of him.

Naturally, the guard ignored him and reflexively tried to struggle, but the sensation of one of Erich’s weapon mounts pressing against his temple quickly put a stop to that.

Which was around the time the drones realized that something had happened behind them. “Intruder! You are trespassing in a restricted—”

“Yeah, that’s enough of that,” Erich said, using his two unoccupied cyber-limbs to gun down the pieces of junk.

None of them made any attempt to fire back. They couldn’t. Not with an ally in the line-of-fire. The best their programming could manage was to attempt step around to acquire a better angle.

Which, given that Erich had his back to the wall, was impossible.

They’re machines not people, Erich thought as he watched the last one hit the floor with a thunk. They follow their programming.

It was funny. He was used to being disadvantaged by that mechanical shortcoming. It was nice to see it work in his benefit for a change.

“Thanks guys,.” Gravity clambered to her feet. “Nice of you to volunteer me as bait.”

Erich started frog marching his now compliant hostage toward the door. “You volunteered yourself. Just not in the manner you expected.”

“Seriously princess, clambering through the vent?” Zig-Zag cackled as she unpeeled from the wall. “You’ve been watching too many movies.”

Gravity sighed, but didn’t argue the point. It had been a pretty dumb idea.

“Alright, anyone who’s still in the control room,” she shouted through the doorway. “As you can see, your valiant mechanical protectors are now so much scrap. If you’ve still got one or two in there with you, I can assure you, they won’t have any more success than these did. Step out now and I promise none of you will be harmed.”

“Fuck that,” a voice shouted from within. “We’ve got a nice bottleneck here. Come through and you’ll get a face full of lead. So yeah, I think we’re happy right where we are.”

Despite the bravado in the man’s words, his voice had an audible tremor to it as he spoke.

“I can assure you, if you don’t surrender, the only one who’ll be getting a face full of lead around here will be…” Gravity paused as she turned to their hostage. “…What’s your name again?”

“Fuck you,” the guard said, prompting Erich to tighten his gauntlet around the man’s throat.

“Terry,” the man finally muttered, causing Gravity to smile.

“As I was saying, we come through that door, the first person to catch a bullet is going to be Terry here. The drones won’t shoot with an ally in the way. So which one of you is volunteering to shoot dear old Terry here in the head?”

The whispered conversation from within renewed with fervour.

Alright, enough fucking around…

The sound of Terry’s wrist snapping like a dry twig echoed loudly in the quiet of the hallway. The sound took everyone off-guard. Even Terry was silent for nearly a second before the pain hit him.

Then he screamed.

Loudly.

Fortunately for Erich, Zig-Zag and Gravity, the time for silence had long since passed. Gravity frowned as she looked at the man’s mangled arm. Erich ignored her as his suit’s vocal caster allowed him to shout over his hostage’s agonized sobs.

“This isn’t an ice-cream social here people. Throw down your guns, put your hands on your head and step outside before I come in there and you have to make a very difficult decision about who’s going to murder a colleague today.”

The sound of Terry’s sobs were the only sounds in the hall for a few more moments before Erich heard the first gun clatter to the ground. The others followed soon after, and within moments the technicians and guards within were walking out of the room, hands on their heads.

“The drones?” Erich asked the nearest man.

“Deactivated.”

Erich smiled. What was deactivated could be reactivated without too much trouble. Sure, the drones were worth less than the metal they were made from in a fight as far as he was concerned. But waste not, want not…

“Seriously, what the fuck Erich ?” Gravity said as they zip-tied their now compliant prisoners.

“They were taking too long.” Erich dumped a sobbing Terry to the floor and non-too gently zip-tied his wrist. “Besides, if things dragged on, we might have had to go with the ‘human shield’ plan.”

And while he didn’t expect Terry to thank him for it, Erich figured the man would have preferred a clean snap of his ulna and radius over a perforated skull.

“I was bluffing,” Gravity said, while making sure that none of their prisoners could hear.

Erich shrugged. “I wasn’t.”

Gravity looked like she wanted to say more but was cut off by the sound of Zig-Zag’s voice from within the control room.

“Alright guys, looks like we’ve got full control of the prison from here. Camera’s. Drones. Comms. The lot.” The shapeshifter said from one of the consoles.

Erich and Gravity stepped inside, mutually agreeing to put their argument on hold.

“Surprised you can identify half this stuff.” Erich scanned over the equipment and saw that the shapeshifter’s statement was more or less correct.

Zig-Zag shrugged. “I’m a shapeshifter. Lots of infiltrating and shit. Pays to have half a clue as to what the people you’re supposed to be impersonating know.”

Erich stepped over to the drone controls. He imagined the villain spent a good chunk of time pretending to be control center staff. Even if the gang’s she was infiltrating had a less… organized control setup. He plugged his Omni-Pad into the console.

“How long’s it going to take you to hack into the system?” Zig-Zag asked.

Erich didn’t look away from the long stream of code flashing across his HUD. “Not long.”

“How not long?” Zig-Zag continued. “Longer than it would take me to get one of those technical pukes outside to cough it up?”

It was funny. Torturing the password and login out of the technicians hadn’t even occurred to him. Funny considering what he’d just done to gain access to the room.

“No need,” he muttered. “I’m already in.”

It had taken barely a minute. More a result of the outdated nature of the prison’s security than any particular skill on his part. He started queuing up commands.

“Opening the front gates for Bronte and our associates,” he said. His gauntlets flew across the keyboard . “Listing the names of all staff on site as ‘escaped prisoners’. Giving all ‘unknown individuals’ the same privileges as visiting members of the Heroes Guild. Setting all drones to sweep and clear the facility.”

Lastly he made sure to wipe the bit of code that commanded the drones to give out a warning before engaging a target. The last thing he wanted was the remaining staff loose in the facility getting any warning that their automated security was now playing for the other team.

Satisfied, he stepped back, and with a small flourish tapped a key on his gauntlet. Almost immediately the communications system lit up with noise as staff started calling in to report their positions, report coming across downed security forces, or otherwise ask what the hell was going on.

Of course, those communications were almost immediately filled with shrieks of surprise and anger as the security drones accompanying those members of staff turned on their former allies.

“Fuck me…” Zig-Zag murmured.

The trio watched the camera feeds as all across the facility staff were gunned down or fleeing from the treacherous automated systems.

“This is non-lethal, right?” Gravity asked.

Erich didn’t dignify the question with a response.

Of course it was. The drones didn’t even have a lethal armament.

Instead he tapped into his comms.

“Bronte? The gates should be open now, and the security drones will be friendly. Be aware that staff may still be present within the facility.”

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A note from SoggyRedToast

I'll be posting a new chapter of book two each day until we reach the end of the book.

If anyone doesn't want to wait that long and/or wants the fancy book version (shameless self promotion here) book two is now up on Amazon: https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B086C17XCT


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About the author

SoggyRedToast

Bio: A supervillain in the making

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Emily_Rose ago

yay thanks for the chapter! Im glad you're okay I hadn't heard anything in ages over on hfy.

Mash_Potatoes ago

Thanks for the chapter! Nice to see that you're still updating

Zombie Unicorne ago

Erich was probably a Cape the whole time, the difference is that unlike the usual tinker, he can't make a miniaturized power source, instead he get's shortcuts for creating hardware, software and manipulating power sources. He probably can't explain how 1/3 of his machinarry works and he's to much of narcissist to notice the inconsistency in his projects, deeming them perfect.

    RE:favorite ago

    I disagree exactly BECAUSE he is such a narcissist. Him being a normal human is something he hates, I think he would be much happier if he was in fact a super. And I would in fact bet on Erich being able to explain exactly what he creates, minus the tinker parts.

    In fact, your whole theory angers me because it seems to me that you are explaining aways his hard work, dedication, and talent, to him just being given a power. Erich is narcissist precisely BECAUSE he understands how hard he had to work to get to where he is, despite being incredibly gifted in that field. That's my two cents.

      Zombie Unicorne ago

      He would be happy if he knows.....Him being narcissistic and not so introspective is whats preventing him from finding out.

      If you feel really strongly for his character and in turn the story, how about joing Patreon? It would really help the guy out.

      RE:favorite ago

      I was with him on patreon, for at least 1 year. stopped cause I don't have spare money and he stopped updating the story after book 2.

      Zombie Unicorne ago

      Noice.

      So yeah, Erich would be elated if he actually knows.

      RE:favorite ago

      Still disagree with you man xD.

      Scarlust ago

      I'm pretty sure Erich's entire origin story is that he is the son of supers who was unable to develop powers despite constant testing. He went to the highest level academic institution where they were making military tech and was considered a genuis there.

      Given the amount of scrutiny he would be under both at home and as an academic, with people actively looking to unlock his powered potential, the chance of him being a powered person is so minute it is negligible.

      Leaving him without powers is also a major plot point. He's weaker and can't take any of the shortcuts that artificers can. The entire dynamic with his family and the reason he ran from home is related to it as well. Whilst I might be able to accept him becoming a powered individual later down the line from the stress of villain work. The character is truly at his best being a mere mortal in the land of the gods, as it were.

      For all his ability to be reduced down to just a superpower, the entire story would take a bad hit. It's too integral to the character and plot. And whilst Erich having internal conflict about all his accomplishments being a result of naught but a supernatural gift could be interesting. The tradeoff is much more damaging.

      Zombie Unicorne ago

      Good points. There has been no evidence how supers gets detected or tested thus far other than seeing thier powers being used but let's say there was, that doesnt mean he didn't get one during his self imposed exile.

      But your putting to much stock into this underdog theme, of how hard work and knowledge could overcome any powers. I never saw it as such, as soon as he got matterials from hardlight I knew he didn't lack power but the space and time to shine, something he never got under the shadow of his sister. I like to think Erich didn't leave because he was seen as a failure by his family and the super community but because of his ego being constantly humbled by his sister.

      Also, every tinker in this story is a clone of ironman. Where they can create a miniaturized power source but what about Erich? We see very little how his tech work and I'm sure thats intentional and also the fact that it's very hard and time consuming to convincely portray realistic scientific mechanics of outlandish weaponry like a antimatter tracking laser rifle.

      Techincally, writing would be far more easier if he is a super rather than making the descriptions sparse from then to now and to the future making his unpowered feats even more questionable.

      Scarlust ago

      As I am too tired to write a response, you will have to make do with this regurgitation of your own words as a retort to your flawed logic when it comes to reasonable reasoning:

      We see very little how his tech work and I'm sure thats intentional and also the fact that it's very hard and time consuming to convincely portray realistic scientific mechanics of outlandish weaponry like a antimatter tracking laser rifle.

      Zombie Unicorne ago

      Good, you anderstand that in a writing standpoint it's would be exponentially more unbelievable if his current pace of improvements would be simply be explained scarcely and is simply be a byproduct of his scientic knowledge. That his unpowered feats by it's nature becomes more suspect as times goes on.(like ironman)

      It's good that you have realize this of what I have been saying.

      RE:favorite ago

      The thing is I DONT believe that he has made a bunch of scientific improvements. Since the very first chapter of the very first book, he knew how to make all or most of this stuff, all he was missing was the technology to actually create it.

      Scarlust ago

      Yeah my response is the same as RE:favorite. He's got all the training and stuff. His situation at the start of the fiction clearly depicted him as lacking the either the artificer tech or the funds to make stuff good. And that along with time restraints have been his limiting factor ever since. It's the entire reason he sponsered the artificer girl in the races.

      I'd be willing to humour the idea that it's all because he has powers if there was evidence of him being able to make something he couldn't reproduce or he couldn't recall knowing how to construct. Without anything pointing towards it your argument weighs about as much as a helium balloon.

      You seem to be a bit stuck on the idea that he or some other character must be Ironman as well. There are so many other "Supers" with mechs you could also consider.

      Zombie Unicorne ago

      Finally Scardust!, Finally you realized that thematically, he was not some underdog, wrestling with giants. It's good that realized that your thematic theme you were trying push originally was flawed and did not fit. Theme like those are over and done with anyway. Glad that you see it my way now.

      Whattever arguament you may have, him being an uncape while handling exceedingly exotic tinker materials like a dark matter battery for example becomes more suspect as time goes on, especially the current way the story has been explaining Erich feats thus far. Sure, the story may just follow in the foot steps of ironman where we get some mumbo jumbo pseudo scientiifc termonloogies or just be vague about it but I believe that this story is better than that and the explanation we got so far isn't for convenience like the story i have said baove but intentional plot device.

      But the main crux of the debate that you have not responded to thus far is

      In a writing standpoint it's would be exponentially more unbelievable if his current pace of improvements(advancement, creation whatever) would be simply be explained scarcely and is simply be a byproduct of his scientic knowledge. That his unpowered feats by it's nature becomes more suspect as times goes on.

      With all that, I'm not just saying that there is a plausibility that he's a cape but also the benefits of him being a cape to the story overall makeup.

      I hope I have helped you and I'm glad that you are slowly seeing what i have been trying to convey. You are welcome.

      Ironman is the most famous example. There is also lex Luther and batman or in that alien tom cruise movie.lol

      Scarlust ago

      I have no idea if you are trolling me or simply misreading what I said. To be plain: I disagree with you Zombie Unicorn.

      Quick note: Can you use a term other than Cape because that usually refers to Heroes (powered or not) and I'm pretty certain that is not what you mean. Unless it is?

      My point earlier was not that he was an underdog but simply that he was without powers and the resistances to damage that come with them. The powered vs. ordinary themes in this story certainly exist but technology is the great equaliser and is very much something that Erich represents.

      I've not read the earlier chapter since they came out months ago but I have a vague recollection of Erich and Gravity being exceedingly careful with the weaponry on the mech he was building in his workshop. One thing I definitely know is that in his workshop with all the kids, they routinely get hurt and he had made equipment to allow himself and them to handle materials better. Not to mention there was stuff only kids from the Block Party could do.

      Regardless of what preconceptions you have decided to place over this fiction the fact is that it has been written so that any old reader can understand the concepts involved with artificer tech as the great stop-gap writing tool of items that can't be explained how they actually work.

      There are certainly elements which display the writer's understanding of deeper context when it comes to machinery which may come from research or experience. Despite that, the fiction is clearly intended to be consumable by many audiences and as such the crafting elements for technology which doesn't exist in our reality is purposefully vague enough that we have an idea on the possibilities provided even if we don't know the gritty details.

      Do you realise how gritty and tiresome a book with the full specifications, safety protocals and excessive details would be? It would read like a technical manual, not a fiction.

      You are misconstruing the Author's decision to make the fiction palatable as some kind of writer's ploy to reveal that the main character turns out to have superpowers despite all intext evidence suggesting otherwise.

      You are currently being as much of a fool as all the washee out villains assuming Erich is an Artificer because he is actually doing techy things rather than magicking them up.

      I responded to what you claim to be the Main Crux of the Debate in a previous response but I shall do so again for your benefit.

      The advancements he is making are not in the form of his abilities but in terms of his access to resources required to create things he already knows how to do in theory.

      Him being on the West Coast is like someone being transported to a medieval fantasy world and attempting to make a AK47. The base resources exist but not the specialist manufacturing methods required to make and arm an assault rifle. You'd probably be able to create a musket if you could get a good blacksmith and the resources. Maybe upgrade to smokeless ammo and so on from there. The difference is that Erich is able to occassionally find an ACOG sight in the recycling.

      Even if he was powered, he would be showcasing growth in abilities that was completely unprecedented. Otherwise, any of the Artificer's we've seen would have been able to make the same advancements he had. Hardlight was struggling for years and growing in power slowly. Not to mention that other powered individuals haven't see growth in their powers, just better control or augmentation (usually through equipment). There's no rationale Erich would be different.

Litrpg101 ago

HOLY SHIT THE MANS IS BACK!!!!!

😎😎😎😎😎😎😎

crisphine22 ago

Erich should use this opportunity to hack further into the system and download all sorts of juicy data that the prison has access to.

Derrior ago

Hah the only change is going to be the addition of lethal weaponry on the drones

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