Wunderkinder: Unqualified

FREELANCER RECRUITMENT OPTION,

DETROIT, MICHIGAN

 

They’re treating me like a human being, Mariah thought, fidgeting in her chair. I can’t decide whether that’s good or bad.

 

They were treating her like a human being, which should have been more reassuring than it was, but part of the job requirements sort of relied on her not being human. Moreover, the visit felt more like going to the DMV than potentially joining one of the great global powers, and Mariah had never been so far out of her element. Also, she couldn’t stop smelling like stale pizza grease, a new feature of her body since Vera started hanging around the apartment.

 

A woman looked at Mariah’s fourth piece of paperwork and frowned. “So, a gas station robbery?”

She didn’t sound impressed.

Continue reading “Wunderkinder: Unqualified”

Evolution: Homecoming

DETROIT, MICHIGAN

VERA’S SEVENTH HOUSE

 

After the promised ‘while’ (two weeks, to be exact), Mariah was jolted away from a couch nap to the sound of Vera’s keys jangling in the door.

 

“Ahh, shit,” Mariah hissed, “I’m so not ready.”

Continue reading “Evolution: Homecoming”

Evolution: Therapeutic

FREELANCER HQ, ARCHAVEN

NAMI MEDA’S OFFICE

 

The girl sitting in the comfortable chair was refusing to make eye contact – she played with her phone instead, curled up in the chair like a cat. She would look comfortable if she wasn’t so stiff.

“Good afternoon, Vera.” Dr. Meda’s voice was even. Dr. Meda’s voice was always even, her posture always perfect. The Freelancers called her ‘Medahuman’, because she was human but seemed to have an impossibly iron will. She was the longest-lived mental health counselor in the history of the organization, even after losing an eye to a violent client.

Continue reading “Evolution: Therapeutic”

A Stitch In Time: Family Dinner

CHEZ McGOWAN

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

 

Tabitha Armitage was dressed nicely, but not formally. A wide belt bisected her simple black dress, and a brown cardigan covered by a green shawl kept out the lingering March chill. Beside her walked Emi Surikabe, who wore a long-legged black romper with a burgundy silk shirt open and flowing over it.

 

“Apparently ey managed to suss the social situation well enough to know that Scoremaster wouldn’t see a sneak attack? I was equal parts terrified and impressed, if I’m being honest.”

 

“It sounds like Nat is really working out for you, love,” Tabitha smiled.

 

“Ey is. Are? No, it’s is.” Emi smirked. “Still learning. And yes, ey is. I know they’ve been a bit of a handful for you.”

 

“Nothing compared to Alice,” Tabitha laughed, and they stopped in front of the front door to the McGowan household. “Speaking of, are you ready?”

 

“Yes! I’m excited, actually; I haven’t seen the kids in too long.”

 

“Agreed,” Tabitha said, then rang the doorbell.

 

Alice McGowan opened the door, dressed in turquoise and fuschia. The bold jewel tones looked good on her, although she had a slightly strained smile. There was the smell of something burnt in the kitchen. Tim, her son, stood on the staircase behind her, waiting patiently for his two “Aunties” to enter and give hugs and kisses.


“So good to see you both.” Alice said.  “Please, come in, both of you. Scott’s just, ah, getting some catering. He’ll be right in.”

“Oh dear,” Tabitha smiled, offering Alice a hug. “Sorry if things went awry.”

 

Emi followed Tabitha in offering Alice a hug, then immediately slipped under her arm and swept Tim up in a big hug. “Tiiiim! How’s my guy?”

 

“Auuuuntie!” Tim squealed as the short woman spun him around after a long hug. “I’m going to school with civilians now, an’ I made some friends, an’ -”

“Hold on, Tim, don’t talk her ear off.” Alice said, smiling. “Why don’t you go set the table?”

He nodded and bounded off, full of energy.

 

“You have to tell me all about it over dinner!” Emi called after him, then chuckled. “He’s gonna forget to tell me all about it.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll remind him,” Tab pulled the door shut behind her. “Are you doing all right, Alice? Just regular stress, or is something else bothering you?”

 

“…It’s Ruth,” Alice finally admitted, folding her arms across her chest defensively, keeping her voice low. “She’s Emerged.”

 

She paused, biting her lower lip. “She’s a Null.”

 

“Oh, Alice,” Tabitha placed a hand on Alice’s shoulder.


“I’m going to go help with the kitchen,” Emi said, slipping away quietly. “I think you two need a minute.”

 

“How are you doing with it, hon?” Tabitha took both of Alice’s shoulders in her hands and pulled her closer.

 

“I always wanted her to be special, to be… one of us. Tim is, and I always thought she was just a late bloomer. But this? Being Null is no easy path. I want better for her, but…”

“It’s not easy, but who better to make it livable than you?” Tab drew Alice into a close hug. “Ruth will still have a good life. She’s your daughter. I know this is hard on you, too, that you were expecting… something else. But Scott is here for you, and Emi and I are here for you, and we are all here for Ruth. It’s going to be okay.”

 

“Thank you, Tabs. I’m sure it’ll get better, it’s just… gosh, it’s easier to be a General than a mother some days.” She smiles, and then the front door swings open once again.

“work easier than life? don’t get me started,” Tab murmured.

 

“Who’s hungry?” Enter Scott McGowan, holding bags labelled with BURGER CHURCH. “It’s still hot.”

 

“Well this certainly takes me back,” Tabitha laughs, eyeballing the bags. “I haven’t had Burger Church in years.”

 

“It’s good!” He grins. “I mean, the new fry recipe isn’t as good as the old one, but that’s okay. Can’t have too many carbs, I’m gettin’ old.” He shrugged off his jacket, revealing the MERCURY unit underneath. “Hey, you guys go ahead and get started, I’ll join you in a second. This thing ain’t much suited for dinner with the family.”

 

THE MCGOWAN DINING ROOM



The McGowan dining room was significantly more cozy than a stranger would likely have expected of the Earth’s premier Legionnaire family, but Tab and Emi were well used to it by now. Ruth was sitting at the table already, nose buried in a book. Tim fiddled with the silverware. Alice’s face creased into the slightest frown at the burger bags, but sat down without complaint.

 

As everyone settled in, Emi asked, “So, Alice, Scott, how’s work? Anything exciting going on?”

 

“Let Alice say grace first, Emi,” Tab reminded.

 

“Oop! Right, sorry.”

 

Alice smiles gratefully. “Thank you, Tabs. Thank you O Lord, for these gifts…” She kept her head down, reciting the old familiar prayer. Scott made eye contact with Emi over the table and gave a small, slightly exasperated smile. By the time Alice looked up, his face was jovial as before.


“Well, y’know, I’ve been in the garage a lot lately, working on projects. Kind of thinking about the whole semi-retirement thing,” he mused, spearing some fries on his fork and dipping them generously in gravy. “On the other hand, not sure how much work there is for a guy like me these days.”

“I have faith in your ability to never run out of projects, Scott,” Tabitha smiled, “I’ve seen you solve enough problems that may not have existed before you set out to solve them.”

 

“Well, there’s some underwater sort of exoskeletons I’m looking at – you know, the MERCURY isn’t really equipped for underwater, and there’s been revelations that make me think we really oughta be ready for that sort of thing. I mean, I’ll always be happy in the garage, but part of me itches for front line action again.”

“There’s less and less of it these days.” Alice sighs. “You know how it is, with the Freelancers…”

“Didn’t we agree they ain’t appropriate dinner table talk?”

“I know.”

“I promise I don’t mean to maintain a contentious line of conversation, and I’ll drop it if you’d like,” Emi cut in, “but I’m seeing some very encouraging coalition-building between Freelancer and Legion agents. Nat has been making friends with anyone who isn’t a Villain, and it seems to be going very well.”

 

“Maybe, maybe, some of their new recruits are worth working with.” Alice grinds her teeth. “But the organization is corrupt down to the core, if you ask me. Did you know they stole some of Scott’s work, used it for their own means? One of them threw me off a roof.”

“Hon. Yes,” Tabitha said. “We remember. We’ve known you for more than the years it’s been since those things happened. You’re right that there’s still corruption in the Freelancers, but Emi’s right too. The proliferation of social media, networking, and friendship across factional lines is something I’ve been watching myself, and it’s hard not to feel somewhat optimistic about it.”

 

“Well -” Alice began, but Scott cut her off.


“Did you know that we moved the kids into civilian schools, speaking of factions and optimism and all of that good stuff. They’re really flourishing. Great staff, great teachers.”

“Tim was telling me! That’s great to hear.’ Emi grinned, then directed her next question toward the McGowan offspring. “It can be a lot of work to adapt to new environments like that. Are the other kids treating you okay?”

 

“Yeah, we were playing tag, and everyone agreed that since I’m suuuper fast, it wasn’t fair to have me on a team, so everyone just tried to chase me, and it was so much fun, and I got up the jungle gym, and then one of them grabbed me as I went down the slide, and then Mrs. Sanderson told us we had to be careful, so we started playing some other games…”

Ruth just shrugs, pushing the fries around her plate. “They’re okay.”

“Well you can tell me all about it when we play later!” Emi told them, glancing up at Scott and Alice to read their reactions to the kids before returning her eyes to them. “School is real hard work, but you two are gonna do great at the new one.”

 

“Have you talked to Miss Herja about your plans for the MERCURY, Scott?” Tabitha asked. “She’s been doing some exosuit R&D lately, and would probably have useful things to contribute.”

 

“Oh, yeah, she’s been great.” Scott grins. “She’s on another level in a lot of ways, just… us technokinetics or whatever you call it each have our own brand of genius. I’m an execution guy, she’s an ideas person… It works out super well.”

“It’s all utterly alien to me, but it’s just fascinating to see what the lot of you come up with,” Tabitha says, neatly annexing a portion of her burger with fork and knife. “Valkyrie’s just everywhere these days. It’s inspiring. Perhaps when you retire, you could open up a workshop for hire with her.” It wasn’t clear whether that was in jest.

 

“Aw, hell -” Scott began, and Alice cut in.

Scott -”

“Heck, we’ve taken over a good portion of the fortress already, and we’re starting to bring in some real income. Enough that Alice is thinking about re-starting programs like the Kids Corps, we can finally afford to start bringing in real Administrative talent too. I know that’ll be a relief to you, Tabs.”

“I won’t know what to do with myself!” Tabitha faked a laugh for a moment, then deadpans: “For all that is good and holy, yes. To say my hands are full is a gross understatement.”

 

“She’s sleeping in her office,” Emi complained.

 

“I’m sleeping in my office,” Tab acknowledged, looking sheepish. “Things got a lot easier once we hired the Sthenographer, but that only made me realize all of the things that had been put off before she showed up. It hasn’t been great for my stress levels, if we’re being honest.”

 

“It hasn’t been great for your love life either,” Emi muttered under her breath, but audible enough to hear.

 

Emi, not at the table.” Alice chided. “But yes, I’ve been stepping up my recruitment. We’re finally starting to rebuild the Administrative sector. It’s hard, because if I find a promising candidate, I have to get them to sign ASAP. Cheney keeps poaching talent. But the promise of serving the Legion and having moral values seems to be a draw.”

“Yes, some of them slip away rather fast, don’t they,” Tabitha paused with a forkful of burger partway to her mouth. “At least the Freelancers didn’t get ahold of that Pariah girl. She seems to be doing a fairly good job over in Detroit. Markus worked with her briefly and had nothing but good things to say.” She put the forkful of burger in her mouth.


“She’s open to working with us?” Alice’s eyes brightened. “Oh my goodness, does she have an address?”

Tabitha held up a hand until she finished chewing. Then, “easy, hon. The coffin squad happened to be in her territory and she helped them contain a Wheird. I’m not sure how open she is to working with us outside of defending her home. We don’t have her address.”

 

“She did show up at Nat’s club when ey invited people, though,” Emi pointed out. “And there were both Legionnaires and Freelancers there. It seems like she’s at least not holding a grudge toward our agents.”

 

“Well, that’s good at least. I’m sure Scanner can help me find her. Once she hears my recruitment speech, I’m sure she’ll sign up.”

“We’re, ah,” Emi broached the topic in a delicate tone, “we’re actually thinking of something a bit subtler, Alice.”

 

“In my experience,” Alice says, looking proud. “Subtlety is highly overrated.”

Tabitha and Scott exchanged a Look, then Emi and Tabitha exchanged a Look, then Tabitha shifted in her seat, eyes down, before looking directly at Alice. “Actually, Alice… we’re going to send in the Damselfly.”

 

Alice considered this information briefly, before sighing. “I don’t have to like it,” she finally said.

 

“I would never ask such a thing of you, hon,” Tabitha said. “It’s just a matter of… the one thing we know about Miss Pauker’s MO is that she will show up if there’s a threat to her territory. Nat brings threats close to emself by nature. This is our best bet at having Pariah and Damselfly on the same side in the same room with a strong motivation to work with each other. If we’re going to establish a positive dynamic with Pariah, this is our best bet.”

 

“That sounds like a great idea.” Scott said with just a touch too much enthusiasm. Alice glanced at him, and then gave another sigh. “Kids, are you listening? Once you start your after school program with the Kids Corps, you’ll have to tackle problems with these. And it’s very important to be a hero who does the right thing, isn’t that right?”

Emi and Tabitha both bobbed their heads in agreement to reinforce the lesson.

 

Tim eagerly launched into another long speech about his thoughts on heroes and the Kids Corps. Ruth, meanwhile, had evidently finished pushing fries around her plate. “Mom, can I be excused?”

“Put your plate in the sink, please, honey.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know.”

“Nat is doing really well, honestly,” Emi said once Tim’s speech was finished. “Ey nonlethally subdued a Villain while on a completely unrelated mission, and did so more safely than I care to tell em. Ey… needs to tighten up on the combat awareness, but I’m very proud.”

 

“I don’t think I’ve met the kid yet.” Scott says, thoughtfully. “Probably seen ‘em around in the cafeteria, though. Kind of short, floaty, redhead?”

“That’s our Nat,” Tabitha confirmed with a slight hint of weariness in her voice. “Ey’s been a handful for me, honestly. I think that ey might already be–” her eyes darted to Tim, then back to her plate “–close… friends… with Brozerker and Jupiter Strike, and apparently ey’s started dating that cartomancer we’re trying to recruit? Nothing’s exploded yet, but I’m trying to stay braced in case something does. And I can’t deny that ey has already been an extremely effective covert agent.”

 

“Mm.” Alice said, lips thinning in disapproval. “Who wants dessert? I managed not to burn that, at least.”

“Dessert would be lovely, thank you,” Emi smiled brightly. Tabitha nodded as well.

 

Before long, Alice had carved up a decadent triple chocolate layer cake, serving large slices to everyone at the table. “Oh, speaking of Administration, Tabitha… Ah, well, there’s something you should know.”

Tab raised her eyebrows and inclined her head slightly; a ‘go on’ gesture.

 

“…Helen Havelock wants to return to the Legion. In a strictly civilian role, of course, considering her… injuries.”

Tabitha and Emi both froze in place, blinking in surprise, a forkful of cake already halfway to Emi’s face.

 

“Helen Havelock?” Tabitha breathed. “I’ll be damned.”

 

Alice smiled widely. “She’s actually a very nice woman. We talked for a while. She had a lot of advice for me.”

Well, that was no surprise. Helen Havelock had founded the Legion herself, taking on the title of Excalibur. Wielding golden armour and a longsword, she had fought the forces of the Third Reich, the enemies of humanity, and been a vanguard for social change. Without her, there would likely be no Legion. It was a shame her powers had been stripped away by the Battle of New York, so long ago…

 

“And, just for saying that word in my house, you can put the dishes in the dishwasher.” Alice said, half-teasing. Only half.


“I was going to do it anyway,” Tabitha teased back, her tone prim to the point of exaggeration. “So there.” She stood and walked around the table, collecting the empty plates and glasses.

 

“What kind of advice did Mrs. Havelock have for you, Alice?” Emi asked, sounding genuinely curious.

 

“We talked about the pressures of the lifestyle, and the difference between then and now. But most importantly, she told me to always keep faith. She puts the same emphasis on faith as I do. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Oh, absolutely!” Emi agreed. “We all have different things keeping us going, and it can be very important to find mentors who can identify with that. I’m happy for you, Alice.”

 

“Don’t be happy for me,” Alice jokes. “Be happy for Tabitha. Helen knows the Legion like the back of her hand. I’m sure she’ll be a big help in the coming days, and maybe Tabitha can sleep in a gosh danged bed.”

“She’d better, if she doesn’t want me to bring other people into it,” Emi smirked.

 

“Emi! We weren’t gonna–” Tabitha hissed from the doorway, then pressed her lips together and chirped, clasping her hands. “Dishes are done!”

 

“Tim, hon, why don’t you go set up your Nintendo?” Alice waited until her son left the room and then looked at her guests with wide eyes. “Are you thinking about divorcing?”

“I’m sure it was a joke,” Scott says, standing and putting a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “You know how crazy hours can get to a person, right?”

“Of course I was joking!” Emi laughed nervously.

 

“No no no!” Tabitha also laughed, also nervously. “We wouldn’t– that’s not what I meant at all.”

 

“We were just joking about the whole thing,” Emi shot a look at Tabitha so pointed that even Alice could catch it.

 

Tabitha wiped her brow. “Can I make some decaf for anybody?”

 

Alice glanced between the two of them, and then a lightbulb flared to life above her head. “Oh! Oh. I see. You know, I uh- I’ll take my coffee um, caffeinated. Black, please. Nice and strong, ha… ha!”

“Caffeine for everyone!” Tabitha disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Emi sweating silently, eyes darting between Scott and Alice.

 

“….. soooo.” Emi said.

 

“We – don’t need to discuss anything any further, thank you.” Alice says, red in the face and making intense eye contact with a light fixture. “Especially not with both of my children home. Your home, your marriage, your business.”

“Sure, s-sure,” Emi stammered, eyes averted. A moment later, she put her hands on the table and blurted, “it’s just–“

 

“Emi!” Tabitha rebuked from the kitchen.

 

“You guys are our best friends!” Emi continued, ignoring her wife’s objection. “It felt like lying to you. I lie to enemies, politicians. I don’t want to lie to friends. I hate lying to friends.”

 

Tabitha appeared in the doorway. “Emi, if Alice doesn’t want to know, Alice doesn’t want to know.”

 

“But she was–“

 

“It’s her call. Not ours.”

 

“What is there to know?!” Alice suddenly said, incredulous. “You – you have… extra… lovers. Okay, I know that. I’m aware. Are you planning to introduce me to any of them?”

“Well, we don’t, actually.” Tabitha folded her arms and shrugged. “Not yet. Look, I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have said anything, all right? I’m sorry, Scott, this must be terribly awkward for you.”

 

Emi put her face in her hands.

 

Scott leaned back in his chair, muttering: “Christ, this is hideously awkward, yeah.”

Alice was too shaken to even chide Scott on taking the Lord’s name in vain. “I… support… you? If you’re happy, that’s… good? And fine?”

“Thanks,” Tabitha replied, her voice as flat and cold as slate. “You know, I don’t really need coffee after all. Emi, I’m going to go get some fresh air.”

 

She walked out of the dining room with long, measured strides. Emi didn’t move.

 

Scott moved over to his friend and put an arm around her shoulders. “Hey.” he said. “Alice, why don’t you go check on Ruth?”

 

Alice acquiesced, standing and leaving the room, her face still incredulous and confused.

 

“Hey. Emi. Look at me.”

Emi turned her face toward Scott, lowering her hands. She wasn’t crying, but there was clear despair behind those deep brown eyes.

 

“What’s up?” He asked, keeping things simple at first. “Is this about the lying thing, or something else?”

“We weren’t expecting anything, Scott, we weren’t trying to… get you guys to do anything. This wasn’t supposed to change things, it was for us to actively be in each other’s lives. To be honest.”

 

“Yeah, I get that. Look, we’ve been kind of distant lately, but… hey, y’know, we’re all working and things are tense ‘cause of work and politics and all of that. But if you’re happy in your marriage, we think that’s rad and of course we support you. And you know Alice has come a long, long way that she said she supported it as well.”

 

He cracked a warm smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling up. “So, that’s out of the way. All of our cards are on the table. We’re still here. Let’s make this more regular, yeah? Keep the momentum building, work on going back to how things used to be, back when we were… what, in our 20s? We were so young.”

“Cards on the table,” Emi murmured, eyes downcast, then looked back up. “Scott, Tabitha is still in love with Alice.”

 

“Huh.” Scott said, and drummed his fingers on the table, processing that. “I didn’t know she was in love with Alice in the first place. Then again, I’ve been pretty oblivious to this sort of thing. And hey, look, Alice is an incredible woman. It’s hard to blame Tabitha, God knows I’ve fallen for her charms as well.”

“She was. Is. And it’s never hurt me or made me feel like Tab didn’t want to be with me. But she’s had this locked up for decades now, and I wanted– I told her that she should… say something. Not to change anything, just to stop holding onto it. But it’s Tab.”

 

“Tabs likes to sort things nicely and compartimalize them. She has her little filing cabinet over here for work –” Scott taps the side of his head. “And this little filing cabinet over here for the marriage, and I’m sure that Alice goes into another filing cabinet. That’s her system, and I think she likes to keep her files nice and separate. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. You two are just different.”

“I know.” Emi sighs. “I’ve known that for a long time. But I guess I needed to hear you say so. I don’t know. I just feel like it’s something I hoped she’d do, and then this happened and she’s going to clam up about it for another twenty years. I don’t really think it’s good for her.”

 

“Eh, we all indulge in shit that’s a little bad for us. You’re still in the field despite your knee injury, I’m still married to Alice -” he gives a wicked grin. “Seriously, it’s one thing to love her from afar, but bein’ in the thick of it is a whole other ball game. I have a few cigarettes… It’s great of you try to and fix things, but Tabs is an adult, she can make her own choices. Even bad ones.”

Emi frowned. “Yeah, I noticed– is stuff okay, Scott? Are you and Alice okay?”

 

“Yeah, we’re okay. She’s a great mom, a great person. This sounds arrogant, so you’ll have to forgive me – I’m a genius, and she’s… not. She’s a little dim. It was hard to deal with for a while, so we went into counselling, worked on some stuff. She’s a good woman. She has so much love to give. Y’know? Before I ended up with her, I dated around, slept around. I know what a good relationship is and isn’t, and this is. Even if she’s ah, kind of a doof sometimes.”

“I’m not going to try to tell you that you’re not a genius, Scott,” Emi smirked, “nor that Alice’s intelligence isn’t… focused elsewhere. And I’m very glad that things are fine. The two of you are good for each other.”

 

Emi took a deep breath, then let it out and glanced back up at Scott. “Do you think less of us, Scott? For opening up our marriage?”

 

“Absolutely not. I’d be a massive hypocrite if I did. I slept around for a decade straight before I ended up with Alice, and if she offered me the same deal, I’d be – well, I’d be tempted. You’re like a sister to me, Emi, alright? Your marriage ain’t gonna change that.”

“All right. Thank you.” She sighed. “I should go retrieve my wife. Knowing her, her brain has already eaten itself with anxiety.”

 

“And I should take care of my wife as well.” Scott gives Emi another hug. “Bowling. Next Friday. A McGowan-Armitage-Surikabe affair. I expect you guys at the lanes in the goofy shoes and big smiles at seven sharp.”

“I look forward to beating all three of you into the finely-polished floor,” Emi grinned.

 

Where There’s Smoke: Concerns

DETROIT, MICHIGAN

 

A new text message arrives on both Vera’s and Pariah’s phones. It simply reads: “Need to talk. Urgent. – Wasteland.” Followed by an address. Looking up the address, it leads to a small warehouse on the outskirts of the city.

 

“Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck -” Vera is the one who volunteered to drive to the warehouse, holding onto the wheel with white knuckles and her jaw set. “Fucking… fuck.” As if in sympathy, her midrange McGowan model vehicle groans and shudders.

 

“Sweetie, you gotta calm down,” Pariah whispers, “please. Wasteland is… he’s a decent guy. It’s gonna be okay.”

 

“Easy for you to say,” Vera retorts. “You’re not in a social rehabilitation program. You’re not one fuck up away from being collared and put in isolation. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

She parks outside the warehouse and sighs. “Might as well just… get it over with.”

“Vera. VERA.” Pariah can’t shout, but she whispers as hard as she can, grasping Vera’s shoulder with her increasingly claylike hand. “That will not. Happen. We will vanish off the face of the fucking earth before I let them collar you. I will kill before I let them collar you. All right? We’ll go in there, we’ll talk to Wasteland, and we’ll figure it out.

 

“Okay. Okay. Okay. …Okay.” Vera rests her head on the steering wheel for a moment, then lets out a long breath. “Okay. Let’s go.” She unbuckles, opens the door, and walks towards the warehouse in the same way someone might walk down death row.

 

The warehouse is actually one that’s for sale, right now. There’s a nice little cheery sign that says if you’re interested in buying it or leasing, contact this number! Of course the cheery sign has been graffitied with different Human Supremacy or Paranormal Supremacy signs, slogans, and the same with the warehouse itself. There are a few broken windows, but over all, it isn’t something that’s clearly a horror movie waiting to happen. The doors in the front of the warehouse are open, however. Inside, there’s a couple of chairs, clearly for Vera and Pariah if they wish to sit, and in the armored suit, waiting like a statue, is Wasteland. He’s got his arms at this sides, and just looks… patient. Nothing scary, or frightening, despite that he’s a seven foot behemoth in a thousand pounds of armor, and a menacing helmet that the eye’s glow a fierce yellow. “Evening, Pariah. Vera.”

 

Pariah leads. She looks significantly less… grainy than she had at the club. Evidently she’s adapting again, and her substance looks a lot more cohesive and flexible. “Wasteland.”

 

Vera has lost four inches of height, even though she’s still Vera. “…Eve…ning…”

Wasteland holds up his left hand, palm facing them. “First off, I want to say I’m off the books here. My own time, not Freelancer time. Second, no one is recording or listening. My armor’s computer is scanning for anyone who might be listening in via electronic surveillance. Can’t do much about satellite or psychics, however.” He lets his hand drop, and looks from Vera to Pariah.

 

“Second, I want you two to know that whatever I have to say, is just advice. I don’t tell people what to do. I have some concerns, and I thought I should bring them to you. Whatever you do with it, that is up to you. You’re adults, and I’m going to treat you both like that. Okay?”

 

Vera looks left, looks right, and points at herself. “Wait, you know who I am? You’re actually giving me – like, friendly advice? You’re not…” She blinks, clearly unsure. “You’re not calling me Throwaway.”

 

Pariah shifts in place, dull blue eyes glancing between Vera and Wasteland.

Wasteland’s helmet nodded. Underneath the helmet, he grimaced. “Yeah. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone picked that name, it’s a shitty name to call someone. There’s reasons I call myself Wasteland, besides describing what I do to everything around me.” He pauses for breath, and his speakers manage to convey an even gentle tone, despite the mechanical boom.

“And yeah, I know who you are, Vera. I try to make sure I know who everyone is in the Freelancers, plus, you were on the take down team for that asshole, Otto De Fur or whatever the fuck his name was. ‘course I know who you are. And yeah, friendly advice. Free of charge. I ain’t Doc Meda, she’s the one who’s got better advice than me.”  He chuckles, the speakers in his helmet popping slightly.

 

“I guess we’d better hear it, then,” Pariah whispers. She still sounds pretty wary.

 

A tear rolls down Vera’s face, but her thin lips have quirked up into an uneven smile. “Yeah, yeah, okay. Advice. I’m listening.”

Wasteland nods again. “I know you two are roommates at the very least. Vera, I know you’re in the social rehab shithole, like I was a long time ago. Pariah, you’re independent. I know this is personal, but I have to ask. Are you two more than just roommates? Because of what I see on the Blue Bird’s feed, and such, I get worried. Partners in the Detroit Clean up? I’ve been following the police reports, the crime statistics, since you arrived here, Pariah.”

 

Pariah says nothing, managing to keep her already hard-to-read clay face fairly even. She turns slightly, looking over at Vera for a cue. She clearly intended to let the other woman take the lead on this.

 

“…Yeah, we’re uh, together. On a personal and a, uh, professional level.” Vera sniffs and rubs her eyes with her back of her hands. “I uh, guess you figured that out and I’m just confirming it, huh?”

“I think it was only a matter of time,” Pariah whispers. “We’ve become more integral to each other with each day.”

 

“I get that. I do.” The armored man crosses his arms before him, thinking. The metal grinds a little against his chest. “There are multiple reasons I’m worried, ladies. One, if I figured it out, and I’m no rocket surgeon, other people will too. Some jackasses who might turn you in, Vera.” And he looks at Pariah. “And I’m worried about the repercussions that might backlash on you, Pariah. I assume you know about the Social Rehab program, and how Vera can get in trouble. I’m not sure if you’ve thought about how it might hurt you, too. The Freelancers do not take to people using… and I’m using Cheney’s words, not mine, assets, kindly.”

 

“The second thing, is that there are others that use it. Not the public, though we have had some people hack in to find scream at Oathkeeper or yell at Rooster. But enemies might be watching it too. People who might hurt you, both. I’m not trying to say get out of the game, but I am hoping you’re aware of the risks. Like what Anathema did to Oathkeeper’s family. There are monsters out there. And you two have been bringing a war to the Human Supremacists, Pariah, Vera. Things might get nasty.”

 

Pariah nods slowly. “Yeah. We know. I… went into this kind of knowing that living the way I do was basically gambling with my life. I didn’t really expect to… have a partner. This is probably gonna kill us both at some point, and we do know that. But I appreciate you looking out.”

 

“Things might get nasty,” Vera agrees. “We’ll – look at risk mitigation. But… you served your time in the social rehab program. You got out. I’m never getting out. Ever. I can’t live like that. I need to – I have to do something -”

“If we get real, real lucky,” Pariah shakes her head, “maybe we can figure out a way for Vera to ghost. I can’t really imagine we’ll get that far, but I’d rather die in a futile attempt to get her free than watch her stay enslaved for the rest of our lives.”

 

Wasteland pauses for a long time, thinking. “It might look endless, but it isn’t. I know that. And hell, if they say it is permanent, I’ll say it isn’t. I’ll work with you, Vera, on seeing what we can do to get you out.” And his tone goes flat, and angry. Not with them, but in general. “Never say die, you two. Okay? The job we have is risky, violent. But don’t ever, ever expect to die. I’ve seen decent folks start to expect to die, then they turn towards seeking out the man with the scythe.” He takes a deep breath, relaxing. “I want you two to keep hope. And yeah, keep working with each other. Can’t do something smart, do something right.”

 

Pariah smiles slightly. “Well. Vera’s the only reason I haven’t done that already.”

 

Vera is now openly crying, even though she’s all smiles. “Yeah, yeah. I’m on board. Okay. We’ll – we’ll figure something out.”

“Cool. If things do get nasty, or if you need back up, let me know. I’ll be there ASAP.”

 

He pauses, then looks outside. “I’ve gotta get back, Bowman’s wondering if I go a little hotter. Y’ think the guy would learn after nearly putting a hole through his precious bunker…” He chuckles, and nods at Vera, and Pariah. “Stay safe, ladies. Keep up the good work.”

 

“I – I know you got the suit, but could I – I mean, can you hug, or can I hug -”

Wasteland pauses, as he was heading towards the door. “Uh, yeah. Sure. Just, careful. I’m somewhat pointy and such.” The suit is warm, but not uncomfortably so. Hotter than human temperature.

 

Pariah goes in for the hug too, wrapping around both Vera and Wasteland. She whispers, “see, love? Sometimes other folks actually give a shit.”

 

Then, after a moment, she whispers, “by the way, Wasteland? My name’s Mariah. And… thanks.”

 

Where There’s Smoke: A Friendly Favor

MICHAEL CHENEY’S OFFICE

ARCHAVEN

 

If there was one good thing about Michael Cheney, it was that he was predictable. The man followed the rules when it came to appointments and open door hours. And so, the great suit of armour containing Wasteland found itself sitting in a comically large chair in Cheney’s office.

 

“So,” Cheney said, flipping a fountain pen between his fingers. “You wanted to see me? You’re normally a self sufficient agent.”

“Yes, sir. I wanted to talk about one of our agents in the Social Rehabilitation program. Vera Newman, AKA Throwaway.” He shifts slightly, feeling like he is towering over Cheney even in the super sized chair. “I’d like to know more. She did some good work helping with Otto De Fe, standing up to the guy, knowing he could immolate her in a snap of his fingers.”

 

“We discovered Newman under some… unusual circumstances. She had been on our radar for a while, doing celebrity impersonations and racking up a good deal of cash. Nothing too terrible, and I can respect someone with that kind of business sense. She bought a few houses, I thought that’d be the end of it… And then she made that tape.”

“I understand. A large mistake. I understand that put her quite in debt in years towards the social rehabilitation program. However, from what I’ve seen from my interactions with her on and off the field, I believe she’s made progress. I was wondering if I would be able to help her with that rehabilitation.” The speakers boomed loudly in the little office, and Wasteland winced. He turned the volume down just a tad.

 

“Help her?” Cheney’s eyebrows rose. “Well. You have to understand, acts have values, yes? You paid off your rehabilitation quite quickly, as you’re… well, one of a kind. Newman, though, is of… limited use in the field. She could take a bullet to the heart, for instance, and our investment would be ruined. We’re keeping her in… low-risk scenarios.”

“ Of course, sir. Actions to consequences, and generating the maximum gain. In the field of combat, sir, perhaps.” He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts.  “But I’m not sure the Freelancers are using her shapeshifting talent to the best investment, to use your vernacular. In my time in… other situations, sir, that I obviously cannot discuss, there would have been a good use for greater intelligence. Situations like Otto De Fe, while helpful, aren’t key. But intelligence assets are.”

 

“You think we can trust her enough to bump her up the ladder, give her a promotion, get her into work that’d allow her to pay off her debt to society?” Cheney asked, one eyebrow staying high and the other dropping.

 

Wasteland paused again, thinking. He was a soldier, not a politician. He had to use his field of advantage. “Sir, you didn’t see her when she stood up to that maniac. She was scared, sure. But she didn’t let it control her. She acted, and then when it came time to get down and let others handle it, she did so. No wild heroics. No cowardice. Professional and straight to the point. I have a hunch, sir, and they usually pay off. I think we should give her a chance, to really make a difference, and pay off that debt.”

 

“I see.” Cheney said, and there was a pregnant pause. “You would take responsibility for Throwaway, then? I assume if we found anything that… jeopardized her employment, you’d be able to take responsibility for that?”

“I would take responsibility, sir.” He didn’t hesitate. If it got thrown under the bus, so would he. He felt in his bones, burning and irradiated that they were, that Pariah and Vera were doing the right thing. While the smart thing would be to bail and leave them to their fate, it wasn’t in him. If anything, fighting the human supremacist movement, supporting independents, and in general keeping the peace should be seen as a good AND profitable thing. But he couldn’t say that to Cheney. He was certain that if it came to light, Cheney could spin it so that it was a Freelancer outreach program, designed for better policing and peacekeeping. But Vera would never be free.

 

He nodded to the man, accepting it. “Also, she’s going to need a better codename. We’re Freelancers. The best of the best. Not trash.”

 

“…” Cheney watched him for a moment, and then broke out into another big grin. “Loving this enthusiasm and initiative, Wasteland. This is exactly what I want to see from our agents. Go ahead and set up a new codename with Newman, get her ready for jobs. As I always say, the less agents we have in social rehabilitation, the better.”

You have never heard Cheney say that, ever.

 

Wasteland blinked behind his helmet. That wasn’t… what. That…. oh shit. Well, time to ramp up the paranoia. Check everything. Make sure that Cheney and anyone else didn’t have anything on him, at all. Clean the history from his suit. Delete the porn…. well maybe not the porn. He’s pretty sure Cheney doesn’t care about that…. delete it anyway, just in case.

 

“Really? Thank you, sir. I’ll let her know. I’m sure she’ll enjoy a new codename.” And make triple clear that none of the Freelancers have anything on Vera or Pariah, at all. Kill Solomon Swift. Wait, that’s just a daydream. “Thank you for your help, I’ll forward you any new details and ideas I have for jobs across your desk first, of course.” He rises from his chair, and offers a metal gauntlet to Cheney.

 

Instead of shaking, Cheney bumps his own knuckles against Wasteland’s metal ones. “Good talk, Wasteland. Can’t wait to see how this turns out.”

 

“Uh… yes sir. Got a good feeling.” He nods, and shuffles around the giant chair, and out the door. It’s kinda awkward, being this big in an office.

 

Where There’s Smoke: Pacification

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

 

Pacification

DISTRICT 014 SUBURB

ARCHAVEN, EASTERN EUROPE

 

FROM: dispatch@freelancers.co.av

TO: uncontracted@listserv.freelancers.co.av; active@listserv.freelancers.co.av

SUBJ: [URGENT] APEC: Collateral

 

ATTENTION ALL AVAILABLE FREELANCERS

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–

 

CRASH.

 

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.


“HEEEEEEEEEEEY KIDDO C’MAWN AND GIVE YOUR MOM A HUG -”

“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.

 

“GET DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW YOUNG LADY,” Vera hollered at Collateral. “YOU NEED TO COME GIVE YOUR MOTHER A HUG.”

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.”