Meat Smoothie

“More meat sauce please.” The 7 foot tall bone and fur covered alien figure nearly growled at the man behind the counter. It was 9 PM in Archaven, and Apex was just now arriving for dinner, as was his usual routine. “Yeah yeah the usual I know big guy.” The chef, Kevin replied. Already used to the manbeasts ‘charm’. His too large for the cup and boney claw of a hand clicked clumsily against the plastic forks and spoons as he gathered his utensils. Finally he managed to get one, lifting it up like so many cheap claw machines you would see in an arcade. Snap. He hissed as the pieces fell in his spaghetti. “Just hang on a minute champ we have the metal ones in here. Always in such a big hurry with you.” The man said, leaning down under the counter. The creature clicked the raptorlike claw on his foot impatiently.




Corey looked at the spilt can of protein powder. It was newly opened this morning and a clumsy elbow knocked it over. His floor was a mess and he still need six hundred calories or he’d get a call from Dr. Bowman. And they’d discuss alternative nutrients.

Continue reading “Meat Smoothie”

Phonecalls from Beyond

A quiet evening.


Corey was in his workshop, fiddling with the Stormcore helmet. There was a quite hum of activity around him. A small Technosome that looked like a Roomba with eight spindly limbs happily tapped around with a smiley emoticon on her display face. Very occationally she’d level her legs upwards to peer curiously over Corey’s elbow.


“Oooooo,” she cooed. “That is pretty. I am learning.”


“He’s not ready yet, Koma. Close, but not ready.” Corey gave the young Technosome a slight smile.


“Hahaha no. He’s ready. You’re not.” And she skittered away, 😛 on her faceplate.


Corey considered flicking a nutbolt after her but his internal communication array picked up a phone call for him. The long series of digits were familiar.


He accepted the call, and straightened in his chair.


“Elder Sibling, hello.”


A deep voice, woman layered over male, came through to him. Familiar. Calm, relaxing. “Greetings my young friend.” Relic had always used that word. Friend. “How have your efforts been in Archaven? I heard they assigned you a new doctor….one with a nice eye on her, mhm?” The being mused.


“My efforts improve and progress. I’m almost ready to join the fight. I’d be ready by now except that I encountered an injury. And yes, Dr. Meda has a good eye.”


“The elevator incident? I had heard. It’s good to hear that you are alright. Still building your new suit then hmm?” Relic mimicked human speech very well considering it was a ship. Often adding embellishments like that. “Do you find yourself excited to join, or perhaps delaying?” Relic had a way of speaking that never assumed judgement. Honest curiosity always. Sincerity and caring as well. Though by always sounding this way….it only made the sarcastic moments that much harsher.


“Yes, the elevator incident. The elevator which I’m sure flew away. And yes, I am. I’m close to completion but Koma thinks I’m stalling. She may be right. I’m looking forward to becoming Stormcore. But…but if I never…” Corey paused. “It will be easier to be Stomcore. Much easier than being Corey.”


Koma came back at the mention of her name and hopped onto the table. She tapped at Corey’s hand with one limb. “Let me hear. Let me hear.”


“Will it be easier? Or is it just easier to tell yourself that?” Relic asked in deep contemplation itself. “We use the parts that life gives to us. It is our old saying. What keeps us from being thieves and barbarians of the void. You’re uniqueness makes you more like one of us than you could ever imagine my friend.”


“I am aware, yes.” Koma kept tapping at his hand and he flicked his fingers over her audio receptors.  


“Waahhh,” she flailed. “Mean.” Angry face >:C on her display and she raised her legs up to push her face against Corey’s. “Grrrr,” came from her electronic vocoder.


Corey sighed and sent the signal seamlessly to a speaker.


“Yes, I am aware of how I am more Technosome than human. It is still a trial. I think I made a human friend the other day, but I am not sure yet.”


“This is excellent news. Tell me about them at once!” The voice was teasing, the same way a mother or father might tease.


“It is difficult to know much, we have only talked online. She’s an Independant, she’s respectful and curious. She doesn’t judge. Heh. She believes what she does is magic. A moment, Koma wants to say something.”


Corey transferred the speech capabilities to the young Technosome. “Elder Sibling hiiiii.” Then there was a long pause. “What colours are space? Okay bye.” Koma settled down with a pleased :} face as Corey shook his head.


“Space is all colors and none my dear Koma. It is the blackness that is the night, and yet there are stars and clouds of dust ranging in every spectrum.” Relic said with a sense of awe and showmanship that matched the way one would speak to an imaginative child. “Did you attempt to correct her?” It asked Corey.


Koma cooed, impressed.


“No. I did not. It is not my responsibility or place to correct what labels people assign to themselves or the things that they do.” Corey paused. “Unless they are doing something stupid with machinery, that is.”


“Hmhm” There was an amused chortle from Relic at that. “I agree with your approach, and I am glad you have found yourself a friend. I get the feeling there is a lot you will learn from them.”


“That has yet to be seen, but thank you for your support.” Corey turned, looking at the Stormcore armour. “I appreciate it.”


“I’m always here for you Corey. Just send me a call.”


“I will. Thank you.”

Where There’s Smoke: Pacification

Tags: Collateral, the Freelancers, Corey “Stormcore” Adams, Vera “Everyperson” Newman, Carolina “Ledger” Smith, Archaven








SUBJ: [URGENT] APEC: Collateral



Freelancer special resource Collateral has escaped handlers and is currently AT LARGE in the surrounding suburbs. Casualties mounting; more expected. All available Agents will receive 1.5x standard contracting rate for this All-Points Emergency Contract. Available and uncontracted participants in the Social Rehabilitation Program are expected to report to dispatch for possible deployment.


Collateral is to be disabled and subdued by any means. Damage to the head or spine of the contained body at Collateral’s center may cause permanent damage or death to the resource and may void reward.


Three people on a crowded dropship, heading toward ‘Suburb 14’. Fifteen minutes out, they’d said.


Carolina– no, Ledger –looked through her mask at the two available ‘partners’ she’d been assigned for the emergency mission. Corey she knew, though this was her first time seeing him in armor. They’d sparred. He was decent at it, but she knew that his specialty was firearms. The other woman… was the green-haired one who’d given her the cold shoulder in the hallway. Fun.


She shifted her shoulder holsters, still getting used to the light but ever-present weight of the specialized pistols they’d commissioned for her.


“So,” Everyperson said, finally breaking the silence. “How about, that, uh… Corey, don’t you like sports?”

Carolina winced behind the mask. What did this lady know that made her so pissed?


Corey was in the process of checking his systems. He looked up, his one brown eye blinking. “Sports? They’re good for team building?” He said with the hesitance of someone who hasn’t really played sports since he was seven. He picked up his assault rifle, checking the stun pulse shots, and shouldered the weapon. There was no sign of anything heavier on him. “But we should talk strategy.


“I suggest I provide heavy fire and distraction.” He could take it. “And the two of you evacuate any civilians left in the area.”


“They said that they’re gonna bring in a containment ship, but we have to pin her down somehow,” Carolina’s voice was nervous, “can… you do that by yourself?”


Corey considered the question. “Not physically. She’s in my old armour, and that was a tank, if I do say so myself. I can pin her down via firepower, but I’m unsure how much stun blasts will take to bring her to unconsciousness.”


“Here’s a question, what the hell am I supposed to do besides not die?” In truth, Vera knew that the others had no better impression than she did. She’d been given some photos with brief descriptions: this was Collateral’s husband (whom she accidentally killed back when her name was still Rae), her kid (ditto), the scientist who helped install her into Earthcore (dead, replaced by Dr. Bowman), but… it all seemed like shots in the dark. Dispatch had also mentioned something along the lines of providing a decoy for either Ledger or Stormcore, which sounded like a super great idea.


“I dunno,” Ledger shrugged, “um… what do you do, actually?”


“Ssssshape shifting. Uh. Perfect impersonation of any human being.”

There was a long pause as that sunk in. “… oh.”


“Yeah.” Vera busied herself with looking at the files.

Corey looked at the two of them, bemused. “Regardless, I’m trying to recall any weaknesses the Earthcore had. I’ve not been given any up to date schematics of the…attachments to Collateral. I’ll keep her busy and away from the two of you.”


“The dossier said that she can jump almost a half a mile in that rig,” Carolina’s anxiety about the mission managed to overtake the awkwardness. “With two of us evacuating, there’s no way that we can get all of the civilians clear.”


“Then the most important thing is that I lead her away.” Corey sighed. He slipped his helmet on, and it sealed, expelling air and pressurising.  “I hope that she’ll come after me in a rage and she’ll ignore the both of you.”


“That’s stupid. You’re the muscle, and you want her to be paying all of the attention to you? No, I’ll lure her, you two hit her hard. You uh, can hit, yeah Carolina? You’re… a Para now?”

Ledger sighed. “You should… probably call me Ledger now. And yeah, I’m a Para, and I can hit hard, but it costs me in a big way. If that’s what it takes, though, that’s what it takes.”


“So let me run, and you two gun. Comprehende?”

She looked over at Corey for confirmation. He seemed to understand this shit better than she did.


“I don’t like it. The threat to you will be much greater than to either of us. But it’s a decent plan. Stay under cover and keep moving.”


“I guess it’s a plan, then,” Ledger tried to keep the tremors out of her voice, “I’ll start out using the guns and if they don’t work I’ll break out the powers.”


“Alright. And we’re all Freelancers now, so we gotta trust each other. We can do this. When are we landing?”

Carolina pulled up the sleeve of her trenchcoat, checking her watch. “Less than five minutes.”


She unholstered one of the pistols they’d given her, checking its battery housing, lock, readouts, and settings. She’d practiced with the thing, but it felt weird going into combat with a gun that didn’t use plain old chemical propulsion.


“By the way, um,” she said, “in case this sucks and I croak– sorry about. Before. Hope your friend is doing all right.”


“Yeah, I’m sorry too about, uh, the cocaine thing. Friends? Or coworkers, at least?”

“Yeah. And for what it’s worth, I never really cared about… the cause. My parents were real gung-ho. I just wanted to be an accountant.” She checked the other pistol. “Just ended up accounting for the wrong people.”


“We all make mistakes. If we survive this, I’ll tell you about mine.”

“Okay, kids, we should be reaching the drop zone soon. We’re a ways out, because we don’t want to get so close that–“


The intercom was drowned out by a loud crash, metal slamming against metal. The vehicle lurched, then tilted, and the Freelancers drifted upward from their seats as gravity ceased to keep up with the craft’s downward momentum.


Corey stumbled then braced. He really braced. If he went loose in the vehicle, he’d cause some serious damage to both Ledger and Vera. Hands against the roof of the vehicle, and feet planted firmly, he wedged himself securely. Then he patched into the vehicle’s visual feed and nodded in confirmation. “She threw a car at us.”


“Oh, Christ -” Vera is gripping onto the handholds with all her strength. “We need to get on the ground, I can’t lure shit if I’m a smear on the wall.”

“Are you fuckin’ kidding me? We haven’t even started the mission–” Ledger threw her hands outward, trying to catch onto a handhold or wall, then finally gave up and thrust both arms straight outward. A spidery red script poured from her hands and snaked through the cabin, around her arms, around Vera, webbed Corey into the corner, and–




As the stars and the ringing in their ears died down, the Freelancers found themselves frozen in position, bound by the rigid energy cabling that Ledger had thrown up at the last moment. Then the script crumbled, dropping them all on the floor of the wrecked craft.


Corey was neither bruised or shaken by the crash. The suit was good for that. Instead he knelt up and tested his wings. They whirred, moving from closed position to wide open. Then he asked, “Are the two of you injured?”


“Not yet.” Ledger’s tone was resigned.


“Lil’ bit,” Vera grunted. “Broken ribs, I think. Fuck. Fuck. Hurts like a bitch, but I’ll be okay.” She stood and staggered up to Ledger, leaning in to whisper: “If I don’t come back from this, find the Pariah. Tell her I died of my own choice, doing a stupid fucking mission to earn my stupid fucking freedom.”

And then she stepped back, and she was no longer Vera.


She was Collateral’s mother.


And she took off at a sprint.


“She’s going to get herself killed.” Corey reached out and tapped Ledger on the shoulder. “I’ll go first.” He stepped out of the vehicle and zoomed up and out.


“Fuck’s sake,” Carolina groaned, clambering out of the wreckage as quickly as she could. “Noooo. If she hears that you died and I was there, she’ll force-feed me my mask!”


Stumbling steps took the Masked Ledger over rubble and ruin, through the streets of a once probably very nice suburb, until she caught sight of their quarry: it was hard to miss the giant hulking metal mass.


Collateral seemed to be holding still, for a moment, making only small, hesitant movements as she tried to process what she was seeing. A carbon copy of her mother, trying valiantly to get her attention.


Corey flew overhead, hovering to the right of Collateral where her file said her unenhanced natural eye was supposed to be. He hoped to be far enough and that Vera was distraction enough, that Collateral didn’t notice him. His rifle came out and he waited, studying Collateral in his old armour. He wanted her moving when he attacked. She’d have less chance of avoiding hits that way.



And then she took off at a sprint again. C’mon c’mon c’mon do I gotta piss in your eye –


The hunk of metal seemed to contract in on itself for a few moments, emitting an earsplitting squeal before Collateral’s amplified voice boomed out from unseen resonators, almost shaking the ground and even louder than the metal noises. “I AM NOT AN ANIMAL!!” She screamed. “YOU’RE NOT MY MOTHER! WHY ARE YOU TORTURING ME??!!!”


“Oh shit,” Ledger drew both of her pistols and took off running toward Collateral, moments too late: like a great robotic animal, the metal mess took off in a screaming, loping, four-‘legged’ run toward Vera, fast. Way too fast.


“HOJESUS I’M GON’ DIE -” Vera vaulted herself to the side, not able to roll with any grace, just launching herself away from Collateral’s impact point.


If that wasn’t Corey’s cue to swoop down, he didn’t know anything. He let gravity pull him as his jets blazed. His rifle was at ready and he hovered for a few scant seconds in front of Collateral and let loose a burst of stun blasts. White pulses of light spat out of his rifle, each connecting against the massive target that was Collateral. They should have disrupted her systems, and would more than sting. Then the turned and sped away, luring her away from Vera.


The scream of pain that Collateral let loose upon being struck with the stun blasts was enough to nearly deafen Ledger, and she imagined it must be worse for Vera, who was only paces away from the monstrosity. The hulk turned, and lurched, and stood still for a moment– then it was gone, only a crater where it stood moments ago.


A faint, tinny, muffled crash made its way into Ledger’s senses through her ringing ears. A moment later, Collateral crashed to the ground, only paces away from her. In huge, malformed metal ‘arms’, Stormcore struggled to avoid being crushed, or at least to bring his stun rifle to bear.


“Uh– UH–” Ledger raised one of her pistols and fired several times, but the stun bolts weren’t nearly as powerful as the ones Corey had fired earlier. She didn’t even know if Collateral felt them.


There was a scream of metal, but it was fine, it was just his precious wings being crushed. Slag smeltin-. Corey didn’t have time to swear, but this close to Collateral, he had one trick. Slapping a hand onto Collateral’s faceplate, he hacked into her own systems….and what did you know. She actually had some good firewalls. Corey felt his armour bend and redoubled his efforts. If he could get past her walls, he could paralyse her systems.


“What’re you–” Corey heard her voice, confused, then scared, then he was through and wait a second no why was it feeding back it’s not supposed to


Collateral and Corey screamed together as his armor and hers caught each other in a vicious feedback loop, suffusing both users with blinding pain and sending arcs of electricity through the air. Though she shed plates and parts rapidly, Collateral’s grip remained, and Corey’s armor started to buckle in earnest.


“Corey, Corey – no no no -” Vera shifted again, into Collateral’s daughter. “Mom, no!”

It felt cheap.


But sometimes a cheapshot is necessary.


“Baby?” The feedback loop stopped for just a moment, and the mech turned, and plates unfolded, and a woman’s badly scarred face was visible– and she reeled as a stun bolt hit her face, dropping Corey so he lay just next to his stun rifle.


Collateral turned toward the offender, her face exposed in a mask of rage for just a moment before the metal closed down over it and she leaped upon Ledger, who shrieked in panicked surprise and dropped the stun pistol.


Corey, likely barely conscious by now, saw that most of the excess armor that had been piled atop Earthcore by Collateral’s horrific powers had sloughed away. She was almost uncovered. Almost.


… wait, was that an exposed elbow? When she pulled her arm back?


He reached for his rifle, painfully slow. Ah yes. His pain dampeners were overloaded. Crushed ribs were likely. The suit will worked despite all his damage alarms. He pushed himself up, synced with the rifle, aimed and fired one single accurate shot.


With a startled shudder, Collateral just… stopped moving. Corey’s suit struggled to inform him that the human host inside Earthcore’s twisted remains had fallen unconscious, and the device’s power had gone toward sustaining her life and repairing itself. They’d won.


“Oh God someone please help me,” Ledger croaked from underneath the metal hulk.


“HQ. Send containment in. She’s down for now. We require medevac.” It wasn’t sent in Corey’s voice, but through a synch version. He didn’t feel like he could manage manual vocalisations just yet. He pulled himself up, and yes, there was the suit digging into his side. He stumbled towards the metal hulk and tried to push it off Ledger.


Vera, wheezing and sweating and dealing with a case of shaky knees, moves to the other side of the hulk and strains with her skinny arms.


The hulk doesn’t move. Vera’s strength makes no difference whatsoever, and Corey’s suit, while it would have been able to do the job normally, was operating with limited hydraulic capacity thanks to its damage.


“Oh, this is going to suck so bad later,” Ledger whimpered before bracing herself and shoving the hulk away with ridiculous strength, using Corey’s efforts to roll it to the side as she lifted. That done, she collapsed on her back, pulled her mask up, and looked up at the sky.


“Really not looking forward to paying this one off.”

Between a Rock and the Anvil





The bartender on duty was a tattoo covered woman who knew when to pay attention to her patrons and when to ignore them. She was ignoring the slim woman at the bar – Vera Newman, who kept shifting her face to look like various Freelancers in an attempt to screw with the bartender.


Corey limped in soon after. It wasn’t that his leg was injured, more that he was walking in that stiff manner that indicated his torso was injured. He was dressed as he always was, in skin tight activewear, a cap, and a jacket with the Freelancer patch on the shoulder. He didn’t pause to look around, but just headed to the woman with the changing face.


She was surprised to see him; for a moment, her face got stuck as Rooster’s before it snapped back. “Hey.”

“Vera.” He nodded, levering himself onto a stool next to her. He looked different out of the suit, much shorter than and a lot thinner than expected, though still very fit looking. There were metal braces on his hands, and exposed circuitry on what skin you can see.


“You holding up okay? Sorry I couldn’t do more out there.”

“I’m fine. Just healing ribs and a patched lung. I’ve honestly had worst.” He ordered a diet soda from the bartender. “And I am relieved you’re not hurt. There’s a reason I like armoured suits.” He gives a faint smile.


A healthy-looking, uninjured figure stepped into the bar with a shuffling, wobbly gait. Once again in her dual-hued trenchcoat and hat, with her character-shifting mask firmly affixed, she nonetheless failed to cut a terribly heroic figure as she looked like someone who’d just come out of a marathon fifty shades of grey fanfiction reading.


She practically stumbled to the bar.


“Christ,” Vera said, her face shifting into Michael Cheney’s. “You look fuckin’ rough.”

That flickering mask stared at Vera for a moment, then Ledger’s voice croaked: “I’m goin back to the infirmary.”


“Yes, but imagine going all the way back there.” Corey sipped his soda and made a face. “Why are these things always so sweet?”


Ledger slid onto the barstool next to Corey with agonized, slow movements. “I’ll have two fingers of blow. Or whiskey, I guess.”


“Blow only comes out after midnight, sweetheart. Whiskey it is.”

Vera sips her chocolate milk. “You would not want to see what happens to this -” She shifts her face into Corey’s for a second. “When I’m high. Bad news bears.”

“Is this how you’re always gonna greet me when I finish paying off a debt?” Ledger picked up the proffered whiskey glass, raised it to her face, and… drank it through the mask? Technology, man.


Corey remained silent though the talk of narcotics and getting high as he sipped his soda like a professional designated driver.


Wasteland entered the bar area, the machinery whining softly as he moved towards the group. He signalled to the bartender, and nodded as he stood, rather than sat, near the group. “Hey, folks. Glad to see you all out of the infirmary.”


“Still kind of tender,” Vera says bashfully. “But I’m healin’ -” Her eyes move to the door and her face pops back into being her own and twists into a mix of disgust and incredulousness. “You know what, yeah, I’ll take something strong bartender, thanks.”

Solomon Swift enters, holding a heavy book by Dr. Atlas.


“Wasteland, come join us. We could have used you in that fight.” Corey gave a small wry smile.


Solomon sits just close enough to the group and listens in while pretending to crack open his book.


“I think I did pretty okay for my first Big Girl mission. I mean, I didn’t die! I totally expected to die.”

“Your… first big girl mission? W-what does that even mean—” Ledger sounds kind of horrified.


“Eh, the Freelancers used to put me pretty much exclusively on…” Vera shifts again and it’s suddenly Chloe Karsgaard, famed actress and celebrity sitting at the bar. “Y’know, pretendin’ to infiltrate certain interviews and stuff? Spreading propaganda and just generally being in the right place and the right time?”


“Which is desperately unethical -”

Vera scowls.

Ledger swivels in her seat to stare at Swift. It’d be more impressive if she actually had visible eyes.


Wasteland ignores Swift.  He does, however, join the group, nodding at everyone. “Wish I could have been there. Only got the call just as you guys were dropping. May have words with the dispatcher. Collateral… is a big gun. Rooster or I should have been there to back you up. But that you guys managed on your own? That’s major respect, even if you did take some hits.” He nods at the bartender, who gave him a beer, and he puts a straw from his gauntlet into it.


“I underestimated her.” Corey shrugged. “I should have been faster, kept my distance. “ He looked like he was about to say more, but only sipped his drink.


“I did great,” Vera bragged. “Perfect distraction, only got a couple of bruised ribs, didn’t die despite actively pissing someone who calls themselves Collateral off.”

Solomon leans past Vera and reaches a hand out to Ledger. “Hi, Solomon Swift.”

After pausing briefly, Ledger took his hand in her gloved one and gripped it, giving a single, decisive shake. “Ledger.”


“What’s your actual name?”
Oh here we go…”.

Ledger released his hand. “Ledgelie L. Rutledge.” Even without the benefit of facial expressions, the acid tone in her voice betrayed that Solomon had not impressed her. “Ha!”


Solomon rolled his eyes. “See, if you ask me -”

“No one did.”

“There wasn’t even a question. Here, let me: if I buy you a drink, will you leave me alone about my personal details? There. Now you’ve been asked.”


Wasteland is trying, not very hard, to hide his amusement. He fails miserably. The armor shakes a few times in suppressed chuckles.


“I’ll take an appletini.” Solomon finally says, voice dripping with – disdain? Really?

“I say, barkeep,” Ledger leaned against the bar, “your finest appletini for my lovely new friend. And I’ll have two more fingers a’ blow.”


Corey looked amused and decided that it was socially appropriate to change the subject.


“Wasteland, tell us about the time you defeated Cancer.”


“Wasn’t really much. Just a guy…. In a crab suit. I mean, the suit was pretty well made, but…. It was a crab suit. I don’t even understand why.”


“Just someone in a crab suit. Heh. I need to find some footage on this.”


“Wait a crab suit? Like, what, foam? One of those inflatable deals?” Ledger sounded skeptical. He had to be pulling her leg.


Corey hadn’t moved from his seat, nor was he holding a phone in his hand. He was staring at some midway point, then burst in a soft laugh. “No, mechanical. What was that foam string stuff he shot at you?”

“Foam string?


“Yeah, some kind of foam. It was…. Really, really dumb. But Cheney called me himself, saying that it was probably the best PR opportunity he’d ever seen.” Wasteland snickered.


Solomon scoffed. “You see, it’s people like that that are sullying the image a layperson has about Paranormals. Honestly, the code names and costumes are just degrading.”


“Shut up, kid.” Said the scowling black lady who came in, unloading her heavy bag onto the bar.

Without hesitating or even looking up, Ledger launched her empty whiskey glass across the surface of the bartop. Swift managed to lift his Appletini well before the glass collided with it, but the message was clear.


“What in the fuck,” said a woman who had just spent the last two days in near-constant pain, “do you know. About laypeople, mister Swift?


“I’m the only person in this bar using their real name,” Solomon said, unflustered and disdainful. “I’m the only person who doesn’t wear some stupid mask or spandex.”

“Sure you are.” Said Doc Brown. Who was wearing a sensible oxford and docs.

“Do you know what the name Corey Adams is associated with?” Corey turned a bland face towards the boy. “Do you know that by the time I was your age, I’d been a soldier for eleven years in a war I was forced to fight in? Do you know that I had caused the deaths of thousands of innocents by the time I was twelve? Do you really think that I want to be associated with that? Please do think about the experiences that others around you may have had that you have been fortunate enough not to have experienced yourself.” He took a calm sip of his soda.

“Like this kid’s name is actually Solomon Fucking Swift anyway,” Ledger growled, evidently trying not to get involved further but still visibly pissed.


Now that the topic was on his favourite topic (himself), Solomon became visibly animated. “Right, but that’s what I mean – I’m privileged, I recognize that, but I don’t try to remove myself from humanity. If you ask me, this whole Paranormal thing, this whole Freelancer and civilian thing – if you ask me, we should all be civilians.”

“The door is that way. Feel free to lead the way.”


Ledger glanced over at Vera’s face, then at Solomon. “You really think that’s an option for all of us?”


Wasteland LOOMS over Solomon. His beer is finished. He stares, and the yellow eyes seem a little brighter, staring at the little SHIT that said those things.

Sawbones perked up a bit. She liked that Wasteland kid.  She caught his eye and gave an encouraging smile.


Corey idly held his glass in his hand, his expression blandly amused.


Ledger stood, and put a gloved hand on Wasteland’s metal-shod arm (a faint hiss came from the glove, and she took a moment to be thankful that she was wearing gloves at all). She shouldered past him slowly.


“Solomon. I get that it’s real easy to think that everything works the way it’s supposed to work. Yeah? But the fact of the matter is that we are the way we are because life is flawed and complicated. It’d be real great if I should show my face or tell you my name and not worry about whether my life would be hell later. It’d be nice if Wasteland could take his armor off, ever.” Thank goodness she’d read a few dossiers. “It’d be real cool if Stormcore had an upbringing that’d let him… eat solid food. But none of those things are true. Get me?


“You’re coming at us like we’re aloof, acting above humanity. But it ain’t so. You’re just acting above us.”


“I’m just trying to start a conversation.” Swift shot back. “Have you ever thought about how -”

Vera punched him.

And he went down.


She stood, horrified, holding her hands over her mouth.


“I – shouldn’t have done that.”

“And you didn’t. I did.” Corey sipped his soda, still calmly perched on his stool. “And that’s what everyone else here will say. And if Cheney asks why, I’ll say it was to save his life or Wasteland would have done it.”

“Shit, I was all but about to go into Debt again to shut his dumb ass up.”


Brown gave a snort. “That’s what I saw.” She nodded.

“I’ve wanted to do that for years.” His tone is positively, demonically gleeful. “Thank you.”


“And Cheney ain’t gonna ask. Cheney ain’t doin’ shit.” The Doc seems rather sure of that.


Swift bolted to his feet faster than humanly possible and stared at Vera with something very close to hate. Then he stormed out of the Anvil, slamming the heavy front door behind him.


For the first time many of them could remember, The Doc actually looked not-grumpy! She raised her beer to salute the others almost cheerfully.


“You know,” Ledger returned to her seat and swiveled to face the bar. She lifted her whiskey glass and sipped it through her mask. “I was sorta worried that I’d have trouble getting used to this work environment. Don’t think I’m too worried any more.”


Vera relaxed. “Oh my God. Oh my God. I just punched Solomon in his stupid face. This is the second best day of my life.”

“I hope the first best wasn’t the one I was there for,” Ledger quipped.


“Did I get that on video?” Wasteland pauses for a moment. “Oh my god my helmet cam caught most of it. THIS IS GRAND.” He’s ecstatic. “Buying a round for everyone. And the next one. LIFE IS PERFECT.” And he does. He’s got the cash. Why the hell NOT.


For the first time, Vera finds herself being the hero of her peers. She turns pink, hunches down around her drink, and grins widely.


“Well. He’s already reporting this on social media.”


Sawbones drew herself up, and announced with the utter conviction that only old women who’d been through hell could summon: “Fuck that guy.” Ledger toasted to that. As did Wasteland


“It’s fine. I just sent in a report of the evening’s events taking full responsibility.”


“Good man. And this made my week. Aaaaah… Thank you, guys.” He chuckles again. Clearly he’s watching it inside his suit.

“Okay I gotta hit the little heroes’ room,” Ledger swiveled in her stool, then vaulted off of it. She looked a lot steadier than she had a half hour ago. “Back in a bit.”


As she walked away, she took her phone out of her trenchcoat pocket and started poking at it. Those who caught a glimpse of it would see a popular cat-trading game on the screen.


Corey considered another soda the same way teetotalers consider another drink. In the end, he cut himself off and got a glass of water.


The door swung open, and Vera turned to sneer: “Come back for another round, Swift?”

Instead of Solomon Swift, it was six armed people, wearing animal masks. Their leader held up a rifle and aimed it directly at Vera’s chest. Before the shapeshifter could react, a tranq bolt sank into her neck and she swayed and hid the ground with a thunk.


Sawbones was moving before she really even realised what had happened. Soon as she could get her old bones off that stool, she’d moved to hook her arms under Vera’s armpits and start dragging her behind the bar.


Ever seen a guy who was casually sipping a glass of water on moment and had dived for cover in the next heartbeat? Corey shook off the air of casualness like a veil and turned into a trained professional. He ducked under a table, flipped it over and ducked up with a handgun in hand. “Attention. You do realise that this is a Freelancer bar, correct?”


The six animal masks look up: Zebra, a Tabby, a Bulldog, an Elephant, a Goat, and an Anteater.


They don’t say anything. Hesitation or determination?


Sawbones went instantly into Doctor Mode. She pulled out the tranq dart, looking up at her bag, sitting up on the bar. Dammit. “My bag, kid!” She ordered in a voice that didn’t brook arguement.


Wasteland CHARGED at the group, hands blazing already. “This was a VERY BAD IDEA.” He swung at the nearest guy, probably Bulldog. He seems like a good choice.


Someone tossed the bag at Sawbones. Solomon Swift stares her down, as if expecting her to object. He must have snuck back in with that super speed of his.


She gave him a cursory nod, and dug into it, giving a series of rapid-fire orders. Yep, Swift was being bossed like a kid. Deal with it!


The Bulldog crumples under Wasteland’s assault, and the other five turn on him, automatic rifles firing all at once.


Corey aimed, his optic lens flashing, then fired one accurate shot. It hit the Zebra in the knee. He took aim again, finding a new target.


Zebra stumbled forward, colliding into Wasteland’s armour. The other four scattered, Anteater sliding under a pool table.


The automatic weapons didn’t really do anything but ricochet against said armor, firing lethal little pellets every which way. But at least it was concentrated on him. He put Zebra down with another fist, and looked at the scattering crooks. “You guys really might want to give up now.”


“Yes, do consider your life choices about now.” Corey tracked the Tabby and found a nicely exposed shoulder. He aimed and fired. Tabby cat cried out and no doubt learned a lesson in keeping cover.


“What in the hell—” Ledger emerged from the bathroom, a stun pistol in hand. She glanced about, then noticed an animal-masked figure hiding under a nearby pool table. “Glad you yahoos are in uniform,” she muttered, taking aim and firing immediately.


Anteater took a shot and fired back at Ledger, sending a burst of automatic fire her way!

Ledger reeled, throwing up her free arm to catch the gunfire, which mercifully glanced off of her armored coat with enough force that would leave bruises but not send her back to the infirmary.


“You fuckin asshole! Do not make me go back in the red!” She dove for the cover of another pool table, returning a volley of stun bolts.


Corey, too, ducked low when there was a burst of gunfire in his way. He stretched on the floor, idly checking his magazine. There was a lull, then he poked his head around the side and shot high, aiming for the light fixtures above one crook. He ducked back behind.


Wasteland launched himself at the Elephant, fists ready. “C’mon then!” He went after Elephant, relying on Ledger to take care of the asshole Anteater.


That left Goat.


Corey continued shooting out the lights above him in an obvious intimidation tactic.


Goat threw up his hands. “I surrender! I surrender!”

“Throw down your weapons, take off your mask, and lie face down with your hands on your head.” Corey wasn’t going to step out until Anteater had also been subdued.


Ledger kept blindfiring around the corner of her cover for a few moments, then muttered “screw this” and scuttled across the floor from her pool table to the goon’s. She peeked around the corner, then as her assailant thrust a gun in her face, she grabbed it and yanked hard, eliciting a yelp from Anteater. He grabbed her arm, only to scream even louder as she shifted her weight and neatly broke his.


A moment later, she stood up, dusted her coat off, and picked up the submachine gun from the ground.


“I go to take one leak.”


Corey reached into a pocket and handed a ziptie to Ledger. “And read him his rights.” He went to collar Goat and herd Tabby and Zebra to the center of the bar.


“No hold up! I haven’t memorized the speech yet! Also I’m still tipsy!”


“You have a speech?” Solomon asked in disbelief.


“The you have a right to remain silent, that kind of thing, Solomon.”


“It’s totally different here than it is in the states, and I wasn’t even a cop over there. I don’t carry the fuckin handbook everywhere.


“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Sawbones spat, and looked up at Swift. “She’s stable. Good.” she said, with the barest hint of approval. She didn’t say thank you, but it was Doc Brown so really, subtly acknowledging his help was enough. Right?


Corey sighed, poking at Tabby’s shoulder gunshot wound (and eliciting a scream of pain). “I’m calling in Emergency. I hope they have insurance.”


“Anyway, you all have the right to remain silent…”

Tennessee Brawlin’

Tennessee Brawlin’

Memphis, Tennessee


It was his 48th hour of being awake, and Wasteland was… weary. Not really sleepy, he never really felt sleepy anymore, but just weary. People partying was all well and good, but for every ten there was one that just had to make everything worse.


Fifty seven arrests, three murders, one mass poisoning, eighteen overdoses, and now this. A gang had started lighting cop cars on fire, and at least one was shooting more fireballs at other cop cars. All in the name of celebrating.


When he got to the Main Street, the place looked a bit like a warzone. More cars were on fire, and a few people looked injured. Up ahead on the street, there were a number of guys and girls walking in the middle of the street, laughing and drinking, all wearing a similar backwards cap. Assholes.


Wasteland tapped his comm. “Corey, Rooster, got a gang walking up Main Street. Unknown paranormals, they’ve cleared out most of the street and are heading North. Going to engage soon, ETA?”


“ETA three minutes,” came Corey’s even voice.


“Five or so for me – can you hold down the fort?” Rooster asked.


“Yeah, I got this. Pretty sure.” Wasteland cracked his neck and headed towards the gang, and turned his speakers up to 11.


OKAY, You guys in the caps! Stop what you’re doing, got some questions for you!” Wasteland shouted as he came up the street. The gang turned, and kinda laughed. Most of them were apparently drunk, high, or both. A few were clearly paranormal, or into body modification.


Their leader, a big, muscular guy in the center who looked like he’d gotten too many piercings in his face for his skin to handle, yelled, “Yo, asshole, ain’t answerin’ no quesstionss! We’re havin’ FUN. Party o’ the century, man!” And then he raised his hand, and it.. Changed, to some kind of iron hammer, and slammed down onto the pavement, cracking it. “Don’ fuck with uss, man!”


“Yeah!’ “Fuck you!’ Came the chorus of replies. A few other paranormals, one kid’s hair lit on fire, a girl turned to ice, and another girl started flickering like she was unstable. Wasteland sighed. Goddammit.


“That’s destruction of proper-” The girl who flickered suddenly was by his side, and touched him. Blue red lightning coursed through his body and armor as a thunderbolt hit him. “FUCK YOU, COP.”


Wasteland went to one knee, armor sizzling and crackling from the overcharge. “Ow. Guys, gonna need some help, here.”


There a hum of jets. A rifle crack. And the girl went down with a scream, clutching her blown out knee


“I’m here.”


Corey was hovering in the air some few hundred meters away. There was a blaze as he shifted diagonally. The long muzzle of his rifle could be seen.


“Shit!” Shouted the big guy, and the rest of the gang went into action. Well, some of them. A few heard the rifle shot, and scattered, tossing their caps to the wind. The girl was down, crying and trying to put her knee back together.


Fire head guy unleashed a fireball at Corey, traveling at a decent speed for a fireball. The girl with the blue hair pointed, and spears of ice sprayed towards him. There was another, shorter girl who stood back, and watched, a smile on her face, as the big guy came lumbering after Wasteland, who was still restarting his systems. “Ah, damn, this is gonna hurt.”


From a side street came a blur topped with red and platinum blonde. Rooster barrelled into the big guy at right angles, checking him with her shoulder. “Fuck!” she shouted as they hit the ground.


There was a loud CLANG as Rooster checked him, and his fists, and hell, the rest of the guy, turned into what looked like solid steel. His hands were hammers, though. Kinda odd. He shook off the hit, blinking, and then took a few drunken swings after Rooster. “FUCK YOU, BITCH.”


Wasteland was back to his feet. “Dumb kids.” He sighed, and pointed a finger at the ice girl and fire guy, and a wave of heat, only a few hundred degrees, blasted towards them. The ice gal yelled in pain, but the fire guy looked dumbly at Wasteland, distracted. The girl far in the back, wiggled her fingers, and a few stones started flying at Rooster and Corey and Wasteland. Okay, chunks of concrete, but still.


Corey dodged the fireball by just cutting his jets and dropping a few feet. He’d raised his rifle back to his shoulder and was taking aim when a chunk of concrete barrelled into him just as he was about to restart his jets.


A startled “!!!!” sounded across the comms but Corey quickly recovered, kicking in the jets in his boots for a rough landing.

More concrete comes after Corey in flying waves, while Wastleland ambles up to the fire and ice duo. He does a soft (For him) roundhouse to the stomach, and flame head goes down, coughing and gasping for air. Ice girl withstood it, and glared, but even behind the drunkenness she put up her hands, and sank to her feet. “Givin’ up, this ain’ worth it.”


Rooster kept grappling the steel kid, grunting as his sloppy hammer fists hit her back. “Fuck you right back, kid. What is your fucking problem?” She tried to put him in a hold, while shouting, “Hey, Wastey, y’alright?”


“Yeah, I’m good, hadda reset after Lightning gal. How’re you doin’ with the Iron Dork over there?” Said Iron Dork was a terrible, terrible fighter, smelled of cheap whiskey, and was easily put in a hold. He squirmed and shouted and yelled much more mean things to Rooster. One or two vicious kicks to her, but nothing really with much force, considering the hold. Until a block of concrete comes careening after her head.

“Gah, shit! Corey, you okay?” Wasteland headed after the concrete chucker.


“I’m fine.” Corey shows no sign of stress as he deftly dodged the chunks of concrete. He gained height, and looked like he was going to head after the telekinetic when he noticed that Wasteland had the situation in hand.


A piece of concrete thudded against the back of Rooster’s skull. “Unh!” She tumbled forward, trapping her opponent under her momentarily as she regained her bearings. “The fuck …” She pushed herself upright, keeping the kid’s arm twisted behind his back. “You got a telekinetic on your shitty little team?” She glanced around for the source of the flying rocks – anyone touching two fingers to a temple, or gesturing around wildly?


That’s just it, the girl in the back is JUST chucking concrete, with her hands spread out, and she’s laughing wildly, drunkenly, and probably high as a kite. “I’m gonna be the next badass on the block! Takin’ out Freelancers! I’m the MOTHER FUCKIN’ CONCRETE CHU.. CHUCKER. YEAH.” She shouts, as Wasteland barrels up to her… except a large barrel of concrete underneath the street surges up, and she goes flying.


“I’m best fuckin’ concrete paranormal ever!” She shouts!


Wasteland blinks as the girl is suddenly airborne.


Rooster watches her soar and sighs. “Wastey, I don’t think this kid is a threat to anyone but himself right now. Time for a fastball special?”


There’s an echoing sigh from Corey and blaze of white armour as the Stormcore streaks out to grab the girl in midair.


He lands, shortly after, holding the girl up by the ankle. “So. Police?”


Wasteland chuckles. “Next time, Rooster. Our fastball just happened to be Stormcore.” There’s more cursing from the guy that Rooster is holding. “Police, I think.”