BLACK OPS STAFF LOCKERS
There were over twelve thousand possible combinations to open the combination lock Vera Newman kept on her locker in the corner of the black ops staff and prep room. She had taken the smallest locker, in the corner, since she wasn’t expected to bring gear – all she needed was her face. Well, her collection of faces.
Twelve thousand possible combinations might have been a problem to someone else, but Solomon Swift’s fingers span adroitly around the dial. Three thousand and four… Four thousand ten…
He eased the locker door open. Quietly, quietly.
Wasteland was already in a mood. His Black Ops mentor and friend, Trick, was in the medical center. Doctors said it could go either way. His bad luck powers had overcompensated against a bad guy, and the guy’s whole string of grenades had gone off, catching Trick in the blast as well. Mission accomplished, sure, but an operative was down, possibly done.
The rest of the guys had met for a quiet drink, to tell a few stories. The usual stuff. His armor was in quiet mode, for now. Every Black Operative knew that Wasteland could move very, very quietly when he wanted to. It was a misdirection, part of a big plan to make him seem like a big ol’ tank that couldn’t drive straight if his life depended on it.
He put a hand on the locker room door, and paused. Goddammit, Trick. He knew better than to use his powers around explosives.
Solomon heard the door open and took a breath, slowly easing Vera’s locker door shut with the present inside. He managed to get just enough distance between the locker and him that he could look somewhat casual, a little less suspicious. Who was interrupting him? Hopefully it wouldn’t be –
Wasteland looked up, saw someone inside already. And then his eyes narrowed behind the helmet. “Solomon. This is really not the time to be around here. Half the guys here already ha…. Wait. Why the hell are you in the Black Ops room?”
Swift put on his best smile. “Hey, Thomas, I was just –”
Screams. They were always screaming, his name, asking why. It was his mom screaming, again, this time, why this time, in his ears. The fire raged around him. His breath hitched, and all he could see was fire and redness for a long moment. He took a breath. Another.
Wasteland’s armor steamed the very humid air around him as he went into that past mental state. The locker room went up several degrees as well, drying the air in a small thermal.
Wasteland’s voice went low, flat, and guttural with suppressed rage. “Solomon. Swift. I have… asked you… not to call me that. And this place… this is not for you. Last chance.”
“Alright, alright, I’m sorry, Wasteland. I was… meeting a friend here, that’s done, I’ll clear out.” He raised his hands in a pacifying gesture and moved towards the door.
Wasteland is lightning quick, and makes a grab for Solomon as he tries to pass. “You don’t have friends in here, Solomon. I know. These guys are my family.” That low, guttural growl is still there, and there’s something that Solomon hasn’t seen before in Wasteland’s body language. This isn’t Wasteland, nice guy and hero. This is Wasteland, soldier. Killer.
Solomon Swift is fast, but he expected Wasteland to let him pass – and so his shirt is grabbed in that gauntlet. There’s the hiss of heat against the plastic of his buttons. “Th- Wasteland, come on, you’re making a mountain out of a molehill -”
“Yeah?” Wasteland lifts Solomon up, one handed. This new suit, it is glorious. Not even a strain to his systems, lifting Solomon up. “On a day like today? Who’re you fucking with in here, Swiftie? Decided that maybe since Trick is out of commission, you should inherit his stuff? To the best go the spoils? Or maybe since Roberts and you had it out in the cafeteria because you two disagreed on… oh right, saving kids, you thought it’d be funny to mess up the pictures of his family? Well?”
The shirt starts with tiny licks of flame around Wasteland’s gauntlet, and that faint scent of plastic burning wafts through the locker room.
“No, no, no, dude, no, you – it’s not like that, it’s – I’m not a monster, man, it’s just -” He looks down at the flames burning the collar of his expensive shirt and cringes away. “It’s Newman, and it’s not a big deal, okay? You don’t have to do this.”
Wasteland digested this for a moment. “Huh.” And he walked, with Solomon, still in his upraised right hand, towards Newman’s locker. He opens it, assuming that the lock hadn’t clicked shut. He’s quiet, his suit is quiet, save for the quiet hissing of melting, bubbling plastic and tiny licks of flame from the shirt.
Inside her locker, admit the clothes and bags and boots, is a small bag of –
Solomon snatches it, swinging off Wasteland’s gauntlet. The shirt is gone, ripped and burning in Wastelands hand. Shirtless and holding whatever it was, Solomon begins to sprint out the back door.
Wasteland’s world went red and orange. The fire screamed to be let out, to burn and ash Solomon, to utterly destroy. And he couldn’t… hold it back….much… he tapped his comm, broadcasted to the black ops folks.
“Someone. Anyone. Please. Get…. Dr. Meda. O-or…. Rooster. Or s-someone…. I’m about to kill Swift.”
And then there was nothing but incoherent rage as he chased after Solomon, the suit thundering after Swift, demolishing the steel bench between them into shattered, molten steel.
If Solomon Swift was anything but a speedster, he would have been dead already. He tore out the door and down the hallway, sprinting at top speed. For him, the lockers and doors just moved in a blur. “Fuck, fuck, oh fuck, someone get Meda, someone get Rooster, someone get me the hell out of here -”
There wasn’t anything smooth or pretty about how Wasteland moved as he barreled through the Hallway, his armor nearing fireball status. The walls burned, the footsteps torched the very pretty tile, and the steel warped with his passing. And then there was the speakers, broadcasting his wordless roar of rage that sounded, probably to Solomon, like the incoming roar of a backdraft.
And he ran, gaining speed. Somewhere, behind the rage, he noted that on his HUD, that people were getting out of the way, clearing quickly. Thank God. But that little voice was a very little voice, and couldn’t be heard over the roar of the Fire.
Loud and clear through the comms cut a calm, steady voice suddenly spoke, inserting itself between Wasteland’s red-hazed vision and his mind. Meda.
“This isn’t you, Wasteland,” she enunciated, “you are not this. Come back with me. Come to the beach. Standing on the shore, watching the whitecaps. It’s all right.”
Wasteland stumbles, but keeps going, the suit taking over, mostly, as the Fire suddenly gives way to a flash of a calm beach. Cool breeze. Waves crashing. But then the fire is back, raging, burning hot, and he keeps going. The little voice manages to get a little control, and he responds.
“It’s too hot… too hot… he’s… he wanted to hurt a friend. I can’t…. I can’t….” Wasteland gasps out, as he continues on. He catches sight of Swift as he turns a corner, then Wasteland crashes into the wall shortly after, hot on Swift’s heels. “NO ONE HURTS MY FRIENDS.”
“You’re justice now, Wasteland,” Meda reminded him, “and this isn’t justice. The fire isn’t justice. A painful death for Swift won’t make this right. Walk with me on the beach, Wastey.”
The waves on the beach crash against the fire, the soothing sound of the ocean. The hypnotic suggestions were a very, very good idea. The Fire gutters and snarls with incoherent rage as it dies a slow death, clawing for every inch of control before it’s gone, stuffed back in the iron willed control of Wasteland.
“I’m justice. I’m… I’m… I’m the one…” Wasteland saw Swift, again, and… halted…. Just…. Breathing. Trying to get control. Gauntlets on his knees. Everything hurt. It hurt so bad.
Why did everything hurt?
“You did it,” Meda assured him. “You are justice. You are strength. Calm waves and whitecaps. Placid sand and sunlight. You are Wasteland. You are in control. You are going to be all right.”
At this point, Swift was smart enough to stay out of sight, a couple of hallways over, panting and glistening with sweat.
Wasteland took another deep breath. His lifesigns were stabilizing, but the amount of radiation that he’d put out inside the suit…. He’d burned through two weeks of radiation absorbers in less than a minute. Oh dear.
He took another deep breath. The Fire was still screaming to get out, to just burn things. “Swift. Swift put… put something in Vera’s locker. C-caught him. He stole it before I could…. Could grab it. Put it in her locker. Ca-can’t let him get away with that.” At some point he’d fallen to his knees. When’d he do that? That… that isn’t right.
He stood, slowly. And started moving towards Swift, where he thought Swift was.
There’s one clue: the broom closet has a waft of burnt skin coming from inside.
“Wasteland, he works here.”
“Yes.” Wasteland’s voice is rough, and he opens the door quickly, nearly wrenching it open, but not tearing it off the hinges. “Yes, yes he does. And… I will report his transgressions, and make sure he…. Comes with me, and doesn’t hide what he’s done. And… I will make amends for the damage I caused.” His voice sounds steadier, quieter, and more like the Wasteland Dr. Meda has worked with and known for years.
Solomon Swift stares up at Wasteland in terror from the floor of the broom closet.
“Solomon.” Wasteland looks down at the man, and his gauntlets flex once. “Solomon, we’re going to go to the HR office. We are going to make a report. You are going to confess what you tried to do. I…. apologize…. For trying to kill you. I am going to pay you back for your shirt, and your medical treatment. Let’s go.”
“Okay.” Solomon says, standing. He looks at the floor as Wasteland walks him to the HR office, staying otherwise silent.
The HR office is empty of the usual administrative staff, which means they’ve been warned and told to clear out. Instead, Michael Cheney and Dr. Meda are waiting.
“Mr. Cheney. Dr. Meda.” Wasteland says stiffly. He stands at mostly attention. Still soldier Wasteland, in his mind set, the rigid, iron, self control.
“This is an issue with someone’s locker?” Cheney asks, giving the conversation enough respect to not have his feet up on the desk.
“…I tried to plant illegal drugs on Vera Newman’s locker so she would be removed from the black ops unit.”
“And I caught him in the midst of doing so. I lost my temper, sir, ma’am. It has… been a rough day for me, already. I apologize for not immediately taking this to a higher authority.”
“Well, Solomon, you’re paying for all the damages. And this is going in your record.”
Cheney clapped his hands. “I think we’re good with that, yes?”
Doctor Meda just… frowned. Silent.
“Yes, sir.” Solomon said again.
Wasteland blinks behind his helmet. Well, that was more than…. Okay, that was a major hit against Solomon. But the guy did try to get Vera screwed over. And arguing with superiors would probably be a Very Bad Idea. “Yes, sir.” He’d pay for a new shirt for the guy.
“Nami?” Cheney looked at the woman at his side.
Nami fixed her heterochromatic eyes on Swift for a moment, then said: “I recommend that Mr. Swift undergo a treatment program to address his inappropriate coping mechanisms.”
“My inappropriate -” Swift takes a breath. “Like, one of those seminars you can do at home? Sure. Okay.”
“No,” Dr. Meda’s voice was no louder, but firm as steel. “A supervised clinical treatment program. In my office, once a week, for a minimum of six weeks.”
Solomon glances at Wasteland, then looks at his feet again. “Okay.”
Wasteland doesn’t move from his stiff, statue impersonation. He expected a lot worse. Might be worse after Solomon leaves. He swallows a little. But doesn’t look at Solomon. Don’t want to feed any fuel to the fire.
Solomon blanches and turns, slouching out of the office, and Cheney turns to Wasteland.
“Did he deserve it?”
Wasteland pauses, thinking. “Sir… he didn’t deserve the beating I wanted to give him. Nobody deserves that kinda thing. With how angry I was, I might have killed him.” He takes another breath. “That said, you both know the things I’ve done, that the Black Ops teams do. We look out for each other, no matter what. If someone screwed with Apex, you know I’d have his back. Same with everyone, even Rodriguez…. Who is as much of an ass as Swift. And I’d know they’d do the same for me.”
Another breath. “Vera’s new to that part of the life. She’s going to get into the shit, real shit, soon. She needs to be able to know that she comes home to a safe place, with people who will watch out for her.”
“So no, he might not have deserved the beating that I was going to give. But he damned well deserved the terror that any operative should give him for even thinking of messing with us in our safe place. Sir. Ma’am.”
Cheney nodded. “Stay away from him. He’ll be working shit jobs for a long time. And he’s banned from the Anvil until this cools down between the two of you. Understand?”
“Understood, sir.” Wasteland nods.
“Dismissed, Wasteland.” Cheney span in his chair and then looked at Nami. “Talk to Vera, and make sure Solomon does his sessions.” He grins. “Sorry.”