“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.
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.
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.
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.”