“Please let me go,” Malfunction said, her real voice sounding shrill and almost pre-pubescent.
Before climbing off Malfunction, he peeled the shoulder guards and gauntlets off her. They carried bulk, and he worried they housed weaponry. Once she had nothing but a t-shirt and shorts on, he offered her a hand. She hesitated, glancing around the room at the now dormant machines and cameras. Malfunction accepted his help and shakily climbed to her feet. Danny felt her tremble and her heart pounding rapidly through the hand-mouths.
“That’s not an option,” Danny said. “You’re a wanted criminal. If it weren’t for me, you’d be getting away with—” He paused, glancing around the room. “Quite a bit of dangerous tech.”
“No. Please. You don’t understand!”
Most heroes carried zip-ties in their pocket or stronger bindings for when they captured a villain or their henchmen. They didn’t work against all foes. The League used containment grenades, power neutralisation collars, and Mind supers that could keep them in a trance. Danny, of course, had no such tools. He had no choice but to physically detain her until backup arrived. He hoped as a Fabricator in a room full of damaged tech, she wouldn’t put up much of a fight. The idea of hurting a little girl didn’t appeal to him either.
“How did you get here?” Danny asked, pulling her away from the nearby work stations.
“I don’t even know where here is,” Malfunction answered. “Ratking should be looking for an exit as we speak.”
“He’s not anymore. Talk. How did you even get here then? How did you find this place?” Danny tried contacting Becca and Beta through the communicator but struggled to find a signal. He recalled all surveillance in the room had shut down, too. Much to his relief, the HoloLens still appeared under his control.
She's jamming all signals in and out of here.
Malfunction hesitated. Her eyes moved between Danny and the door behind him. He hoped she wouldn’t try to flee. A chill had set in and he worried the bleeding would intensify if he didn’t clamp the abdominal wound with a hand at all times. Stopping her would require using enough force to break a limb or do worse damage. He couldn't stomach inflicting such hurt to a child.
“I can detect devices I’ve connected to before. The signal is stronger if I made them malfunction.”
“That explains how you found this place, but not how you got here.”
“You don’t understand,” she replied. “It’s not like a GPS. A piece of me stays behind in the machine. It’s like a ghost. A memory of me. I used a teleporter to get us here.” She glanced at the giant scorch mark by the room’s door. It was the size of a small car, and bits of warped metal and glass littered the area. “It exploded. That’s why we needed Ratking to get home.”
She’s a technomancer. Or some weird variation of one at least.
“Why even come here?” Danny pressed on, wondering why she was so forthcoming with answers. It occurred to him that she was hunting for a way out. The longer the conversation lasted, the more time she’d have to formulate a plan or use her powers to awaken a device to attack him. It also gave him time to get information out of her. Becca had outlined gathering intelligence as one of the mission's primary parameters.
Malfunction hesitated again. As soon as the eye floating behind her detected her foot move, Danny was on her again. She froze and threw her hands up in the air, her eyes giving away her terror.
“Answer me, Malfunction.”
“I hate that name,” she mumbled.
“Don’t make me repeat myself. I’d rather not get rough with you.” Danny paused. “In the most non-sexual way possible, of course.” The girl raised an eyebrow. The longer he looked at her the surer Danny became. Malfunction was in her early teen years at most. “Why are you even doing this?” Danny asked. “You’re just a—”
“Don’t call me a kid!” Malfunction hissed. She glared at Danny for a moment before continuing. “You know why they call us the Freaks?”
Danny didn’t have an answer for her.
“Because we’re either deformed, our powers are broken, or they’ve driven us mad. For some of us, it’s two if not all three of those. The only actual adults among us are Nyx and Roach. The rest of us aren’t even sixteen.” Her young face contorted into one of rage and hatred. “We were normal kids, you know. Powerless or pre-awakening. All of us kept our heads down and stayed out of trouble—except Mindpunch, but that’s not important. You know who took that from us?”
The machines littered around the room shook and electricity danced them. When Danny took another step towards her, all the devices stilled and the villain’s arms went up again. She sighed, glaring at him.
“It was Power Merchant. He did this to us. We were his lab rats. Since Talon is down, we thought we’d come after his gear.”
“Is he down because you made his gear malfunction?”
“He was going to lose anyway!” Malfunction exclaimed. “I only planted a seed so I could steal from him later. Okay? We weren’t supposed to come here… wherever it is.”
“And the teleportation device?”
“It’s a prototype. I stole it from Doctor Flux. You need to understand, though. Despite what the League and the newsfeeds say, we’re not the bad guys. We just need to stop Power Merchant. Not all of us escaped. The arsehole has more powerless and kids even younger than us. The police can’t stop him. The League doesn't seem to care enough to put real resources behind him.” Her nostrils flared. “You lot just don’t get it. He’s a monster, and we’re going to stop him. It doesn’t matter if everyone calls us villains—”
“The League has programmes for people like you,” Danny said. “Since you have intelligence on Power Merchant, they could give you special privileges. Maybe your criminal records will be wiped since you’re all underage—”
“How fucking naive are you?” Malfunction asked, raising her voice. “They’ll use us for intelligence and run tests on us. Everyone with shit malfunctioning powers will end up in juvi. The rest will get locked away in a hole so deep and dark the world will forget we ever existed. “
If Danny heard Malfunction’s speech before he saw Oracle’s recording, he would’ve written it off as extremist drivel. Now, he believed the fate was a likely possibility.
“Listen. I know the heroes working on shutting down Power Merchant. Maybe they can help you. You’re just a kid. We’ll find a way to help you. Just look for Druid when he returns to patrolling. He's a good guy. I'm sure he'll hear you out—”
A sudden explosion to Danny’s right knocked him off balance. A purple cloud washed over him. When he leapt out of it, pain coursed through his stomach, chest and waist. Danny winced, catching himself on the workstation covered in dismantled gauntlets. His floating eyes spotted the woman before the cloud cleared.
There was an odd familiarity about her. It felt as if he’d seen her before, but struggled to remember. The young woman wore her frizzy blonde hair in a high ponytail and her eyes glowed with a soft violet light. Two long, tentacle-like appendages hung from the back of her head and ended in a pair of glowing pink spikes. The colour matched the floating crack in the middle of the purple cloud.
The woman spun as the cloud disappeared into the crack in the air. Her tentacles whipped at Danny, forcing him to duck. One grazed his right sleeve, cutting the fabric like it was butter. Warmth trickled down his arm and collected near the elbow. However, he hadn't felt the spike touch his skin and the wound didn't hurt.
“Are you okay, love?” The woman asked, rushing to Malfunction’s side. She wore a long puffy coat with a fur bordered hood, jean shorts, and combat boots. No mask covered her face. “Did the bastard hurt you?”
“No,” Malfunction answered. “Not much anyway. He just wanted answers, Nyx. I think he wants to help.”
“I do!” Danny exclaimed, standing up. “She told me everything. We want to take down Power Merchant, too. Just let me introduce you to Druid. He's one of the good ones. I pro—”
The woman exploded into a cloud before Danny could finish his thought. The pink crack sucked the smoke in, taking Malfunction and Nyx with it. As soon as they disappeared, Danny’s mind felt foggy. He shook his head, trying to remember what had just happened. Malfunction was there one minute and then disappeared the next. He frowned, eyes dancing around the room.
“Hey! Rev! Are you there? Answer me, for fuck's sake!”
“I’m here, Beta.” Danny sighed. “I’m sorry, mate. They got away. How are things on your end?”
“Where the hell have you been?” Beta asked.
“Malfunction can disrupt communications.”
“If he’s a technopath, that’s not a big surprise.”
“Malfunction is a girl. She's well below sixteen.”
“What? How is that possible?”
“There’s a lot more to it. Do you need me for Roach and Mindpunch?”
“They’re long gone,” Beta answered. “You were right about the mover. She came in and took them. The Master you took down is gone as well.”
“Wait. You remember her?” Danny stumbled to the door, still clutching the wound. The pain had spread.
“We forgot her as soon as she disappeared. It's the same for everyone involved in the fight. The cameras reactivated after Mindpunch disappeared. We got her when she came back for Roach.”
“We didn’t get her face,” Becca said. “It’s good to know, though. The League will owe us for the footage. That’s if this breach doesn’t cost all the confidence and good will we’ve worked so hard for—”
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” Danny said. “They don’t know where this place is and failed to get anything from the repair workshop.”
“We lost a few old pieces in the arsenal,” Becca told him. “They don’t have power sources, but the Freaks might just pull it off.” She paused. “How are you doing? You sound weak.”
“Abdominal injury. I need food and water.”
“Do you need me to—”
“I’ll come to you,” Danny replied, feeling an additional source of pain consume his right arm. “I need to see what this Mover looks like. She got me good.”
“How did the suit hold up?” Beta asked.
“It saved my life, mate. Becca owes you a raise.”
“Hush, now,” Becca said.